The biting air prickled the skin on his face. Caleb saved his hands by burying them in his coat pockets, but the cold still penetrated down to his bones.
It had been a terrible start to his new job. Possibly soon to be his old job if things didn’t change. His boss had taken him aside at the end of the day to warn him of his poor performance—as if he hadn’t known himself.
Walking towards his subsidized apartment along the deserted street, it took all of his willpower to keep the damning thoughts at bay. He’d messed up, and now the best he could hope for was a minimum wage job serving white middle-class accountants and doctors their morning coffee. It was a dead-end job, and he knew it.
Maybe it was better to just give up now.
Rounding the corner, he jumped as a dark shape ran towards him, his mind only retroactively registering that it was behind a metal fence. The shape, a black and white, hulking pit bull, stopped at the edge and stood up on his hind legs to try to reach him, his whole lower half shaking with his tail. He was panting with joy in his eyes as if he had been waiting just for Caleb.
With a worn smile, he reached his arm forward to let the dog sniff at his fingers. It’s mouth closed and head tilted as he—she?— did just that. Once the dog was satisfied that he was an acceptable companion, it bumped it’s nose into his hand, demanding pets.
Caleb’s smile became warm as he scratched behind the dog’s ears. He twisted the collar around to read the name on the metal tag: Daisy.
“Hello, Daisy,” he said, “It’s nice to meet you. You have such a beautiful smile sweet girl.”
Daisy licked his hand at his crooning, rubbing her head against his palm to keep him petting her.
And if he entered his apartment with a smile, no one else would ever know.
His visits to Daisy on his long trek home became routine. By summer, she waited for him like clockwork at the fence. In turn he brought her dog biscuits, toys, and bits of rope they played tug of war with.
Work got better. Actually, everything got better. By fall he had a job offer one town over that promised paid time off and benefits. He was being given a second chance, and while he was overjoyed now that his future seemed to only be getting brighter, there was another bright spot in his life that he would miss.
The day the moving truck was loaded, he knew it was time to say goodbye. He had bought a large box of peanut butter cookies meant for dogs from a local bakery, complete with a red bow on top and a card. It may have been overboard for someone who wouldn’t understand the gesture, but Daisy meant more to him than she would ever understand anyway.
Except Daisy wasn’t in the yard. It wasn’t unusual—he rarely ever saw her this time of day, so he shouldn’t have been surprised. But that didn’t move the lump forming in his throat.
Making an impulsive decision, he decided that if Daisy couldn’t come to him, he’d go to her. He rounded the corner to the building that was connected to the gated yard. It was an attached brick home, two stories with the black metal gate along the side. It wasn’t cheap, even for that area, but he was filled with an overwhelming need to see his rescuer before he left.
Gathering his courage, he walked up the concrete steps and knocked firmly on the door. He heard noises coming from the other side, and after what felt like minutes a stocky, white-haired older woman wearing a soft gray knit sweater opened the door.
“Can I help you?” she asked, her voice congenial but confused.
He floundered for a few seconds before he offered her the box. “I live in the apartment a few blocks down, but I’m moving away. I just wanted to give these to your dog, as a thank you.”
The woman shook her head, mouth thinning. “I don’t have a dog. You must be mistaking this house with another.”
Caleb furrowed his brow, mouth gaping at the unexpected answer. It was a strange request he was making, sure, but this was unexpected.
“Daisy isn’t your dog? Then who’s dog is she?”
The woman’s eyes widened, and she brought her wrinkled hand to her chest. She inhaled with a start, tilted her head in question. “Daisy? Whenever did you see Daisy?”
Caleb lowered the box of biscuits, his heart pounding with fear. Did something happen to his Daisy? “I saw her just yesterday, in the yard.”
The lady wiped at her eyes, shaking her head and mouth quaking.
“You must be mistaken, young man. Daisy died four years ago.”