by Howard Rue
Nicko discovers something strange while at the dog park.
|Nicko heard the varied yapping and barking but could not see any dogs. The dense brush of Florida's fauna and flora filtered any sightlines at this angle. Before, from his apartment window? A perfect view of his new friend, Eric, manspreading out on the top of the lone picnic table, the man usually playing with his very small phone and starting off into the creek.
Occasionally Eric would even look at his spastic poodle.
Hollister Eric looked even better from up close. He had that amazing style of always having a perfectly manicured five o'clock shadow, and it looked as if it pressed his cheekbones even higher. His chest banged the front of his gray Hollister tee, demanding viewing. And his jeans looked like he had been dropped into them from a height.
But despite his cut physique, a humble deameanor kept bringing Nicko back to certain realities. He was evidently a working stiff, someone who came home from work and changed into his comfortable clothes. His fingers were pale, calloused, with bright red scratches moving up his arms to his sleeves.
"You don't have a dog?"
"I wish. Lost the old bean when I moved away from-oh, nevermind. Just nice to have a furry to hold a bit. Right? Right, pup? Uncle Nicko's got some snackronis for you!" Nicko had picked up a few on his way home from work, and when this unraveled, he realized he was good to go. "So? Every day?"
"Yeah, gotta let the old girl out. She's my Mom's. Well, she was-She's not my kind of dog, I guess." They arrived at the gate of the small public dog park and Nicko was impressed with the setup. Two gates with a small corral between them to keep dogs from running to the nearby parking or into the murky waters nearby.
After moving into the first area, Nicko put the wee dog down and realized another sad honesty that he probably should have vetted.
He had no idea if this gentleman was not gay.
They moved into the field and Nicko noticed the area was cleaner than he expected. Several garbage bins were full, but the ground looked safe to walk across and the lawn had been recently been mowed. The dogs barking were in the next paddock over, one designed for larger dogs, but they were not visible, a large grove of domestic trees and palms interspersed the fence and made for a more private area on both sides.
The small poodle just stood there and shivered.
"Come on, girl. Time to go run your wee heart out," Eric squatted next to her.
She continued to shiver.
"Yeah, I thought so. So? Nicko, tell me about yourself? Something's got the young miss all spooked like, and I'm not in the mood to trek back. What do you do?"
"I make myself have long days, basically," he took a small snack out of his pocket and dangled it in front of the small dog's face. She ate and seemed to relax, moving out to the center of the field.
"There she goes. She loves this place."
"Nah, she's pretty private, but she doesn't mind them," Eric took out a pack of gum and offered one to Nicko. "Sorry, quitting smoking, and I'm getting tired of going to the gym constantly."
"No thanks, I need to go to a real one. I use the one here and it's just not worth it."
"You're good, here, let's go grab a seat. She'll get the crazies in just a few moments and the fun starts."
The dogs had stopped barking, but in Nicko's focus, he failed to notice. Instead, Nicko's focus strained on his new friend.
They failed to hear the huffing sound from the fence nearby.