"So you wanna get a dog?"
Ryan nodded politely to the old shelter owner from where he stood in front of the worn counter, raking fingers through his sandy blond hair. "Yes, sir. I figured that it's about time I had another living thing in my home." He joked half-heartedly and the old man sniggered, revealing fewer teeth than a person should have, before leading Ryan to the back room.
As soon as the door was opened, his senses were assaulted. The stench of wet fur and feces were strong enough to make his eyes water and the barks and howls of various pitches melted together into one big, obnoxious noise. He walked down the aisle, passing cages with dogs of every size, color, and age with barely a glance, before halting.
"I'll take this one." The dog he'd chosen was large and ridiculously furry, clearly a mixed breed. He wasn't anything spectacular to look at, but he wasn't barking like the others either, merely staring with large, round, brown eyes. Ryan liked that better.
"You sure? Ol' Snatchet ain't nuthin' but a mutt." The man warned, but Ryan's decision was set.
A name change and a bath later, Ryan was happily walking HIS dog, now lovingly named Mop, down the aisles of the pet supply store near his house.
Bath time had been a disaster, leading to a soaked bathroom floor and a necessary change of clothes by a sopping Ryan, but Mop's thick gray fur had come out an almost-white color and much neater after a brush and the cutting out of several mats. Mop seemed to be enjoying the fresh look as he snooped around the tiled floors of the store.
"Y'know, you don't say much." Ryan mused aloud as Mop sniffed curiously at a squeaky red ball. Ryan squeezed it once, grinning as Mop's ears perked up before tossing it into the cart along with a new leash, collar, food bowl, treats, and a large back of Kibbles N' Bits. "I like it." He finished his thought with a soft pat on Mop's head.
The dog enjoyed the warm Texas air, Ryan quickly discovered, prompting the man to switch his intended route after they had checked out from his house to the park he seldom visited, usually in an attempt to avoid human interaction; he was more of an introvert, hence the need of a dog for companionship in his mid-thirties. Brushing the thought away, he whistled once and Mop ambled out of the passenger's seat, remaining surprisingly still as the leash was hooked onto a clean new blue collar that matched his owner's eyes almost exactly.
They spent a while playing fetch with a fresh stick before the wood became riddled with saliva and bite marks and Ryan decided it'd be best for his hygiene if they walked the trail instead. "Y'know, you're really slobbery." He noted, laughing when Mop wagged his tail happily at him, tongue lolling out goofily. "And I talk to a dog. So I guess we're even."
And thus it happened so that he was prattling off the history of the park to the clueless dog as they strolled around the worn path when a sharp glint caught his attention. He squinted in the direction of the offender and was surprised by what he saw.
Under an oak tree sat a young man, the camera hooked around his neck held in front of his eye as he focused the lens. Only his profile was visible and Ryan could see from his distance on the path that he had wild golden brown hair that looked purposely mussed and matching stubble on tanned skin; his long nose and slender, handsome features suggested European descent and he was smiling at whatever he saw on the small camera screen, revealing the smallest hint of perfectly white teeth.
Ryan watched almost starstruck as the man, likely in his mid-twenties, snapped a few scenic photos before bouncing to his feet, nearly tripping, and jogging to a different vantage point. Ryan snorted to himself as the young man stumbled over his own feet as he stood and attempted to pass it off as a small skip. Mop bumped his nose against Ryan's leg at the noise, bringing him back to reality. "Sorry." He murmured, more to himself, as he continued their walk in the opposite direction rather hesitantly.
Ryan returned to the park the next day, walking Mop around the trail as he had before. The photographer was their once again, as Ryan supposed he'd secretly been hoping when he came back, and he was knelt down on one knee, snapping pictures of a young couple sitting on a wooden park bench and holding hands timidly.
"Alright, I'm gonna need you to help me out here buddy." Ryan whispered to his mutt before scratching his scruffy ears and tossing the small red squeaky ball Mop had designated as his favorite toy in the direction of the now-standing photographer. Mop took off after it, long ears flopping about as he chased gracelessly after it. The young man turned to watch the dog, throwing his head back with laughter as Mop's tongue lolled out before he took the toy between his teeth and turned to bring the prize back to his owner. The photographer's eyes followed the dog's path, green irises locking onto Ryan's blue for a breathtaking moment.
Ryan felt his face flush as he waved awkwardly, the gesture more of a reflex than something he had planned out; the man smiled and returned the greeting before the couple stole his attention once more, likely asking for the photo. Ryan leaned down and tousled Mop's head.
"Well," he sighed, watching the photographer follow the couple somewhere unknown with a disappointed sigh, "It was a valiant attempt, Mop."
Human interaction was hard, Ryan surmised. And he also might be the biggest idiot he knew, he added in his mind.
On the third day of returning to the park, Ryan started to think maybe he was coming off a bit creepy. "I mean, I'd like to believe I'm only going to the park because you like it." He explained to Mop as they walked the same path as before. "But I think we both know I'd be lying at this point, right?" The dog looked up at him and blinked once. "I'll take that as a yes. I don't know what's wrong with me. Talking is hard, I guess. Not to you, of course, but you can't really talk back. I flub my words otherwise and look like a dumbass. Who knows? Maybe I'll just be a weird dog guy for the rest of my life."
"Talking to your dog is a good way to get there." A smooth, British voice said and Ryan flipped around wildly, only to see nobody there.
"Um, hello?" He muttered cautiously, and heard a chirp-like giggle from above him. Looking up he saw, to his horror, the photographer. He was perched haphazardly in the tree they had just walked over, camera swinging dangerously around his neck and one arm clutching to the branch above him for dear life.
"Hi." The man waved with his free hand, swinging his legs around the thick branch he sat on. "Hold on a minute. Let me come down." He moved his arm and panic set in within Ryan; he had absolutely no idea what to say to this stranger, this man he'd come back to the park for again and again in hopes of finally speaking to him, and now he was drawing a blank.
And now this man was halfway down the tree.
And now this man had heard him talking to his dog.
And now this man was going to talk to him and probably call him crazy.
"Um, actually, I'm in a hurry."
And now Ryan was running. Running with Mop galloping beside him excitedly and obliviously as his owner fled like a coward, leaving that handsome stranger clinging to a tree in a park and totally confused.
He finally stopped on the other side of the park, dropping to sit at a picnic table shaded under a willow. His head fell into his hands and he groaned, low and loud. "God I'm so dumb! Why is this so hard? People meet people every day and I run away from guys in trees at the park!" Mop crawled up beside him and pressed his warm side comfortingly against Ryan's shoulder, making the man chuckle sadly. "Thanks, buddy. Maybe being a dog man won't be so bad."
"I like dogs." Ryan started again at the familiar voice and tensed in fear as he hesitantly looked up to see the gorgeous face he'd expected. "And, uh, sorry I startled you."
"You didn't startle me!" Ryan shouted a bit too loud, face flushing. "I mean, you didn't. I just... I don't know. I'm sorry I ran away. That was probably really weird..."
"I'm sure seeing a man in a tree startled you anyways." The photographer laughed, kicking at the grass nervously. "My name's Gavin, by the way."
"Ryan." The older man replied. A quiet 'boof' beside him made him snort and he pointed at the dog. "And Mop."
Gavin giggled, giving the dog a playful curtsy. "A pleasure and honour to properly meet the subjects of my favourite picture. Which is actually why I wanted to speak to you!" He rummaged in the bag strung across his shoulder and pulled out a folder, producing from it what appeared to be a photograph. "I wanted to give you this." He held it out to Ryan, tan fingers holding it securely. Ryan took it in his broad hands, greatly contrasting the photographer's thin ones, and examined it.
It was definitely a photograph, and one of him, he realized. His muscular arm was outstretched, tossing a stick that Mop was already in the process of running after. He was smiling, cheeks dimpling slightly, and his sandy hair was slightly windswept.
"I...I took it a couple of days ago and kept it to make a copy for my portfolio. I hope you don't mind." He hesitated, grinning sheepishly, and Ryan placed the picture on the table carefully.
"It's really lovely. You're very skilled."
"Hah, thanks." There was an awkward silence before Gavin went to open his mouth again, presumably to say goodbye. Ryan felt Mop nudge him and he furrowed his brow, interrupting him quickly.
"I was wonderwing!" He exclaimed, blushing when he realized he had messed up on his words. "Wondering. I was wondering if maybe you'd like to go to lunch or something. With me. And Mop, too." He added, patting the dog.
Gavin smiled brightly, the smile that had caught Ryan's interest from the first moment.
"I'd love that. But I'm bringing my cat, Egg."