The puppy sat at Justin's feet. A few minutes later, he lay down. Then he sat again. Then he lay down. Then he sat again.
"I get it," Justin said. "You want to go out. So do I. But I have to finish this first."
Justin went back to making a mess and the puppy sighed, lay down, and rested his sad little chin on his sad little crossed front paws.
He'd thought life would be perfect once he and Justin moved into their house that had an inside and an outside. The man from the all-inside house still came all the time, and sometimes he and Justin would do the boring noisy thing in the big warm bed, and then Justin would let him out into the outside place, to smell where the cats and squirrels had been and put his own smell everywhere so they'd know this was his, Hero's, very own outside place.
Other times they went to the inside house again, and Hero would put his smell all along the walk there. But he never put it inside the inside house, because the man, while very nice and someone who would give Hero bites of food when Justin wasn't looking, was not happy with him once when he put his smell on the door to the bathroom.
Even though Justin and the man put their smells there all the time.
Sometimes, the puppy thought, life was not very fair.
But that wasn't the real problem. The real problem was that Justin spent too much time making these messes and telling Hero, "I'll be finished in a minute and then we'll go for a walk," and then an hour would go by and he was still doing it.
One night the man had been there, and Justin had said it to him, "I'll be finished in a minute," and the man looked at Hero and Hero looked back at him. And the man said, "Not like we haven't heard that before, right?"
That time was okay, though, because there was pizza, and Hero and the man ate it all. Justin had to have scrambled eggs.
But usually there was no pizza, and just the problem of not being able to go for a better walk. Sometimes the man did take him, but he never took him to the good places Justin did. "I'm not tramping all over some alley, behind a foreclosed house, and into a lot full of hobo scat," the man said one night, when Justin asked him to take Hero out while he finished one of his messes. "You live in an urban blight zone. That was your choice. You had to get this dog. That was your choice, too. Now put down the fucking paint brush and walk him, and then get your ass back home and suck my dick. I'm dying here."
Hero did get his nice walk, but the man didn't sleep there that night for some reason.
For a few nights he didn't see the man, but then they went to the indoor house and did the noisy boring thing while Hero chewed on a nice shoe (in the morning the man said, "Good dog! Here, chew his other one, too."). So then things were back to normal, and they would sleep some nights at one house and some nights at the other, and Hero would trot back and forth, putting his smell everywhere along the way.
Anyway, back to the day when the puppy was sighing and sitting and lying and sitting and finally lying. After a long, long time passed, just when the puppy thought it was time to try a very loud sigh, the man came in.
"Can I take Hero out?" he asked.
Justin didn't look away from his mess, just said, "Sure…" Then he stopped. He put down his brush. He turned and looked at the man. "Brian. What did you say?"
"I asked," the man said in the same voice he used when he was trying to explain to Hero why it was in both their interests for the puppy not to eat everything he saw lying on the ground, "if I could take Hero out." After a second, he added, "For a walk."
Justin was staring at him, and said, "Did he text you while I wasn't looking?"
The man sighed, and Hero sat up. This was getting interesting.
"I know you're trying to finish for the show in Chicago next month. I'm just trying to be a loving and helpful partner."
Hero got up and went over to the man. He didn't really like going anywhere without Justin, but he'd been waiting a long, long time, and really, his outside place was getting boring. All the smells were the same.
Justin looked at the two of them, and then said, kind of slowly, "Okay. I guess. I just…"
"Great," the man said, picking up Hero's leash. "Let's go, mutt."
Hero expected to go around the corner to the alley, but the man surprised him by putting him in the car, where there was a nice soft blanket on the seat. He resisted for a minute, because usually the car meant the terrible veterinary place, but the man hoisted him in. "No vet today, Hero. This is a fun ride."
They drove for a long, long time and finally the man pulled into a place with lots of trees and grass, and even from inside the car, the puppy could smell things.
He could smell that the leaves were drying out. He could smell the air was getting cold. He could smell that if he ran one way, there would be some nice water and places where squirrels were, and if he ran the other, there would be… he didn't know what you called them, but they were very, very big, much bigger than him and bigger even than Justin and the man. They smelled very good and he thought he might like to run that way first and…
"Hey, mutt, get your paws off my windows!"
Hero didn't even turn his head, because the man never meant it when he yelled at him. He'd learned that very fast.
And then the man got out the car and opened the door for Hero, but first he put his leash on. And Hero couldn't stand it, he danced and pulled and jumped on the man and thought very, very hard about him taking off the leash.
He even barked, something Justin had explained he shouldn't do because of neighbors, whatever they were.
But the man just laughed and walked/dragged him to a little opening he knew was called a "gate," and when they were inside, he snapped off the leash and followed Hero while he ran and smelled and put his smell everywhere. It was the best place he'd ever been.
The man followed him, laughing and saying things, and Hero was very sure if only Justin was there it would be the most perfect place in the whole world.
"So," the man said, catching up to him down by the little place with the water. "Do you think Justin would like it here?"
Hero wagged his tail as hard as he could, because how could he not?
"I spent enough on the fucking fencing – ten acres, mutt. Do you think that's enough for you?"
Hero wagged some more. He didn't know what an "acre" was, but ten seemed like a nice number. Justin had ten toes and he always liked them.
"Let's see the house, then."
Hero followed the man into an inside place that seemed to be very big.
"No peeing," the man warned, and Hero wagged to show he understood.
It was big and had very few smells, and the floors were slippery just like they were at the man's inside house. Hero followed the man around, and found that some of the rooms weren't empty. There was a table and even a soft sitting furniture in a big room with lots of windows, and then in another room was… yes!... a big warm bed, and a little bed on the floor, just perfect for when the man and Justin did the boring noisy thing!
The man threw himself backwards on the big warm bed, and Hero jumped up, paws on his chest, tail wagging. He gave the man one kiss, which the man usually didn't like unless it was Justin, but Hero felt very sure this was a good place to come, and he wanted the man to know.
"Well," the man said, "with you on my side, he'll have to say yes, right?"
Hero was sure that was true.
They drove all the way back to Justin, and Hero was very confused when the man didn't tell him about where they'd gone.
"Fuck, Brian, where'd you take him, West Virginia?"
The mess was all cleaned up, and there was a good smell of food. Hero was also very tired from his adventures, so after he ate his dinner, he curled up on the bed. He hoped they would do the noisy boring thing out in the other room, because he was really very sleepy.
The next morning, he hoped they'd go to the big good place, but Justin just hooked on his leash and took him out on the regular walk. Hero was a little sad.
When they got back to the house, the man was drinking something in the little kitchen part, and he handed a cup of it to Justin, too. Hero ran to his bowl, and waited until Justin filled it up.
"So," the man said, watching Justin drink. "Feel like taking a drive? I thought I'd show you where I took Hero yesterday."
Hero wagged his tail as fast as he could, and thought very hard to make Justin say yes.
"Come on," the man said when Justin didn't answer right away. "The mutt wants to…"
"Don't call him that," Justin said.
"Hero would like it very much if you were to come with me," the man said.
Justin looked surprised, then said, "Okay. I guess… okay."
The man rolled his eyes around in his face. "Your eagerness embarrasses us both."
"Shut up. Where's my jacket? It's getting fucking cold out."
"True," the man agreed, tossing Justin's coat at him. "That's because it's autumn, a meteorological change that takes place with surprising regularity…"
"Oh, Christ," Justin said, putting Hero's leash on him. "It's going to be one of those days."
Hero wriggled around in Justin's lap all the way there, very happy because they were going back and also because he was very sure Justin would like it. He had to like it!
When they got there, Hero didn't even need his leash, he just ran over to the little gate and waited, tail whipping back and forth. He even jumped on it.
"Who's house is this?" Justin asked, perplexed, as they walked down the little path to the water place.
"Ours," the man said, then raced after Hero.
Justin caught up with them both. "What the fuck did you say?"
The man ignored him, and headed up the path toward the big inside place. Hero followed them, refreshing his smells from the day before, racing back and forth happily.
"Brian…" Justin was jogging along after them. "Where are you…" He stopped.
Hero looked at the place. It was just the same, although the smell was a little colder and more full of dry leaves. He pushed his nose into Justin's leg, and then they all went inside.
The man took Justin around the house, and then into a room that had fire in a little hole in the wall. Hero stayed far away from it, sniffing around the edges of the room, remembering that he wasn't supposed to put his smells in this place. There was a pile of blankets just near enough to the fire to be a little warm, but not near enough that it might leap out and burn him.
"Brian, are you crazy?" Justin was saying. "You bought this place?"
"I thought you and the mutt… I mean, you and Hero… would like it here," the man said. "You always said you wanted an country estate with room for him to run."
"I didn't think…" Justin stopped. "You bought this palace?"
The man's face did a strange almost-laughing thing, but he just nodded. "For my prince," he said. "And his dog."
Justin laughed. "You're unbelievable."
"It's true," the man said, walking over and putting his hands on Justin's shoulders. "I am."
"I don't know what to say."
Hero didn't like that. The answer was, "Yes," of course! They could live in this place forever!
He sat up and barked, once.
The man laughed. "Hero does."
Justin glanced at him, then back at the man. "You're trying to get at me through my dog?"
"Whatever it takes," the man said, his face getting serious. "All's fair in love and expensive real estate."
Justin's face changed in a way Hero knew usually meant the boring noisy thing, so he barked one more time. This time Justin and the man laughed, and then they were kissing and pulling on each other's hair and clothes.
Hero rested his chin on his crossed paws, and thought that everything in life was going to be perfect after all.