make this home Who: Gabe & Obed. What: Two dog owners meet at a dog park. Where: A local Newport Beach dog park. When: Early afternoon on a weekend.
Gabe leaned back against the metal fencing of the dog park, Spot's pine green lead wrapped around his right hand. He watched as the older dog meandered, mostly away from the other younger, more energetic canines that barked like children screaming at a playground. It wasn't that Spot was antisocial; merely (at least, in Gabe's mind) that he still liked some peace and quiet, because there were more interesting things to smell rather than screaming one's existence into the void.
It seemed Spot wasn't going to be left alone for long; a tiny black pomeranian wandered over, right up to Spot's face, into which it began to yip as only tiny dogs could. Spot ignored the smaller animal, turning about until nearly his backside had replaced where the pom was trying to get attention. Perhaps insulted, the pom ran around to the other side of the much bigger Aussie and began to yip anew.
He'd seen the smaller dog arrive with an older gentleman who wasn't standing too far off from himself. Gabe glanced from the canine pair to the pom's owner, whom he saw observing the scenario as well. Always open to the possibility of making a new friend, Gabe pushed off from the fencing (making it rattle in place for a moment, the vibrations slowly dwindling as he wandered away) and closed the distance between himself and the other man.
"I think your Siberian mini-snickerdoodle is trying to tell my Waxbeard something important, but he might have too much wax in his ears to listen," he started, coming to a slow stop still three feet away from the other man, the hand not wrapped up in dog leash slipping halfway into a pocket of his jeans.
Utterly caught off guard, Obed could not help but laugh. "I like both those names better than the real ones," he said. "Hanni thinks everything he has to say is that important. I often disagree with him on that." Obed closed the distance between them, one hand outstretched in greeting. "Obed Brandt. And that's Tiny Hannibal Lecter."
Gabe grasped Obed's hand with an enthusiastic friendliness. "Gabe Bautista, and that's...Spot. We like to keep it simple. I certainly hope that doesn't mean your dog is going to eat mine," he replied, grinning wide as he joined Obed more closely, his hand going back to his pocket. Obed chuckled, shaking his head.
"You know," he quickly added, glancing sidelong at Obed, "I think I might've seen you two around my apartment complex. Pax Letale? Do you live in the area?"
"We do," Obed answered. That they were neighbors did not give him pause; too many strangers he had bumped into ended up being fellow Pax dwellers, and Obed was beginning to think the building had a way of bringing people together, strange as that seemed. They were like a small fraternity, bound together by proximity and the inexplicable things that happened in their shared residence. "I'm in D3. Hanni is too, occasionally, or on the first floor. A, uh, joint custody sort of thing." He cleared his throat, quickly passing over this point and on to the next. "How are you and Spot liking it there? Did you move in recently, or…?" Have you been around long enough for the strangeness, the quirk in his brow seemed to add.
Gabe nodded at Obed's brief explanation regarding his dog, waving it away before curiosity might demand further questions. It sounded awkward and unnecessary for a first meeting.
"We've been there for a few months now. Since April of this year." He carefully let that sink in, unhurriedly glancing around the dog park as though there might be someone in close proximity who would overhear their conversation and make some off color remark. But there was no one, in that moment, which gave Gabe the unconscious permission to unwind a little. He slowly realized the two of them were feeling each other out. "And you? I don't think I've had a chance to make it to the Deluxe floor; the eighth is the highest I've managed to climb," he said, keeping a small, genuine smile on his face.
Obed smirked, a look that somehow seemed more self-deprecating than anything else. "The eighth is very nice," he said. "The Deluxe floor can be a bit.." None of the words that immediately came to mind felt right, and all of them could be construed as off-putting. Certainly not conversation for a sunny day in a dog park. So he shrugged the point off, instead turning his gaze to the park itself. Hanni had upped his already impressive efforts to gain Spot's attention, and was now pawing at the dog's snout while standing on his hind legs. The older dog merely flipped the smaller one with a shake of his head, Hanni's indignant barks punctuating his embarrassment. It wasn't long before the pom was back on his feet and sniffing around Spot in a counterclockwise circle.
"I've been there since February. One of the first to move in, back when it was even quieter than it is now. Not a bad thing, really. It does make working at home a bit easier." He nodded toward Gabriel. "I'm sorry for not meeting you sooner. I suppose I should make a bit more effort to get out and meet my neighbors now and again."
Gabe shrugged. "I don't get out enough, either. Stuck inside working all the time, well, most of the time. Sometimes I think I just get paid to bang my head against the wall." He glanced in Hanni and Spot's direction, watching as the Australian Shepherd started around and around in his usual circles, implying he was going to sit. Hanni followed, chasing, thinking they were in the beginnings of a game; he was sorely disabused of this notion when Spot plopped down without warning, almost on top of the little black dog.
"That is, when I'm getting work done around everything else that's happening. I mean, you've seen it too, right? I'm not just crazy?" A hand came up, scratching at his beard as he shot a quizzical look in Obed's direction. "I've had other people in my apartment who've seen the same things, so I'd like to think it's not just a pipe dream... Definitely not smoking as much pot as I did when I was in college."
"You're not crazy," Obed said, "or if you are, we're all mad here…" He slid his hands into his pockets and took a step closer, as concerned as his companion about being overheard. Enough gossip already flew around as it was; he did not need his name associated with insanity along with everything else. He turned to Gabe, watching his expression with a slight crease in his own brow.
"This morning, instead of a sunrise over the beach, I woke up to a bird's eye view of the street out front. The front closet opened onto a hallway. I decided I didn't need Hanni's leash that badly for his morning walk, so I just closed it and tried to pretend that didn't happen." A small, desperate smile twitched at one corner of his mouth. "I'm honestly not sure what else to do."
Gabe gave a slow blink, not sure he completely understood what Obed had described.
"Wait... You're saying your doors and windows changed?" He hadn't, as of yet, experienced anything of that nature, but considering everything else that had come not too long before...
"Which hallway? One in the building?"
"I think so. It looked more like a service hallway, though, than anything meant for tenants. But you know how this place is. I can't really be sure." Obed shook his head, but the motion did nothing to clear his muddled thoughts. "It's too late to find out now, anyway. After his morning walk I checked again, and it was just a closet. His leash, my boots, an umbrella. Nothing more."
Gabe's hand palmed his beard, eventually moving up to wipe over his mouth. His brain was struggling to understand this new... test? Feature, his mind amended, and then took it a step further. He chuckled to himself.
"This place really needs to warn us before they roll out new amenities, you know?" Obed laughed as Gabe shrugged. "I'm all down for more space than I'm paying for, but it sounds... incorporeal, maybe." Shaking his head, his hand fell back to his side as he glanced back at Hanni and Spot once more. Spot was on the ground, looking dead to the world, while Hanni was yipping up a storm as though he could convince the other dog to climb back to his feet.
"You got any theories on why any of this is happening? I mean, I'm noticing a particular theme with everything going on with me... butterflies everywhere, and there's this guy..." He stopped, chewing the corner of his lip for a moment as he considered, weighing his options. Then he spoke. "The guy in my dreams always has butterflies. He looks... He's Aztec. I looked him up online. Xochipilli. I mean, I've been to Mexico, but I didn't think that meant I'd be bringing back some kind of hitchhiker."
"Xochipilli," Obed echoed, letting the unfamiliar name roll off his tongue. He shook his head. "Your guess is as good as mine. Better, maybe. I've never been to Greece, and yet…" He allowed himself a small, self-effacing chuckle. "I dream about Hades, if you can believe that. Which is better than what I usually dream of, but not by much." He rubbed a hand at the nape of his neck, looking uncharacteristically self conscious. "I've worked in land development and real estate for years and I can't even begin to guess how anyone would pull this off. Much less why."
"It is pretty mindblowing," Gabe agreed, his brows having climbed his forehead after Obed name-dropped the familiar deity. Something like that almost sounded like a delusion; Xochipilli, on the other hand, sounded a bit like a made-up word. Something in the back of his mind admonished him cheekily, making him wince and wonder where the hell that had come from. But his thoughts quickly wandered back to their shared mystery.
"So this means you have no idea how they did all that set design in April? Because I know a couple of stagehands who would kill to be able to flip sets on a dime like that," he tried to joke, but the levity fell flat. "Seriously, though... between the dreams and the... goddamn harpy that appeared in my apartment not too long ago, I'm starting to wonder if I can break my lease. I just..." He sighed; images of Rafe started to drift through his head, filling him with warmth. "It's harder when there are more reasons than financial to quit a place, you know? If that even makes sense."
"It does." Obed's thoughts turned to Isobel, and to the tentative regrowth their damaged relationship had begun to display. So long as she was under this strange roof, it would take more than inexplicable hallways and impossible animals to convince him to leave. A small smile played over his lips, there and gone. "But if it does get to be too much, you wouldn't be the first to leave. People come and go, some under better circumstances than others. I guess we all have to decide what we're willing to put up with. And for how long."
"Mhm," Gabe agreed, the sound more of a grunt than an actual reply. He'd met so few of his fellow tenants, and he had to admit that it was nice, for once, to not be judged on a reputation he wasn't even aware he'd advanced. He made a mental note to get out of his apartment more, deadlines willing, and changed the conversation topic again.
"So you said land development, real estate. Sounds like vastly fascinating work, and...please don't take that as condescendingly as it sounded coming out of my mouth—there's an issue between actually thinking things are funny in my head and weighing them appropriately..." Gabe winced, the smile still present even through his apology.
Obed laughed, shaking his head to dismiss his neighbor's concerns. "It's all right. It's really not that exciting. My parents run a winery, which is certainly more interesting than most of my properties. But I apologize, what did you say you do?"
"Sorry, I didn't," Gabe replied. "I'm a writer. Screenplays, a couple of books. Pax was supposed to be a quiet place where I could buckle down and actually get some writing done but... that's kind of proven to be the opposite, hasn't it?" He folded his arms over his chest, glancing back at the dogs before returning his gaze to Obed. "I mean, in between all the hoopla it's pretty quiet, so I can't say I'm doing too bad. But a winery, you say...?"