My art has been up in Betsy’s gallery for a month now and so far every piece except two have been sold. The most expensive piece, “Bennett” was bought up immediately. I’m almost wishing I kept that one for myself but since I have the real Bennett with me 24/7 I tell myself I can live without it. I’m a little surprised the “Koi Pond” didn’t sell, but I guess fate will just bring the right person along.
My artwork is coming down in a few weeks and will be distributed to the buyers then. I made a lofty amount of money with this show and Betsy wants to show new work at the beginning of next year. I’ve also had a number of commissions come my way from fanatic pet owners who want abstract paintings of their beloved pets. Since Christmas is two weeks away I’m up to my eyeballs in deadlines and I love every second of it.
I’m not sure if it’s because I now have a steady boyfriend or if it’s because the stalker miraculously lost interest in me, but it’s been over a month since I’ve seen even a glimpse of him. My dreams have stopped as well. Completely.
I know in my gut that the situation has not magically resolved itself. I know the guy is biding his time, waiting patiently. A grudging respect develops for him…there’s no way I could wait that long to get back at someone who’s wronged me. But since I’m so busy he hasn’t crossed my mind much.
I did, however, make amends with Steve, Brett, Bill, Jason, Marc and Anthony. I made the decision to call all my ex-boyfriends who’s hearts I ripped out and apologize. It was also a clever way to find out if the stalker was any one of them. I wasn’t able to find a phone number for Will or Jerry and I was disappointed to find out that Alexander had been killed in a drive-by shooting out in Oakland. It makes me sad, however I’m not terribly surprised since he ran with the wrong crowd for so many years. It was one of the many reasons we didn’t work out.
I do realize it still could be Will or Jerry, but something in my gut tells me it’s not. It’s someone else completely and I can’t seem to figure it out.
Today I’m, surprise surprise, painting. I’m working on an interpretation of a Husky/Malamute mix named Wynter. She’s a stunning dog. Her owner, Sarah, wants to give it to her husband for Christmas. I think I can have it completed by the end of the day, but who knows. Wynter has an amazing face and I want to get it just right.
My phone dings at me from my desk.
- Party @ my house tonight. Be there bitch
I laugh and reply to Megan with: Alil notice would have been nice :p
- Stop complaining. Impromptu is the best
- Can Bennett come?
- He’s the only reason you’re invited ;p
- Nice. Thanks bitch
- Love you too! C u soon!
I laugh. Even though my brain is damaged I can’t help but feel somewhat grateful for having that accident. If it hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have sued the guy, bought this house, been gifted with Bennett, met Keith and now have this small group of friends who light up my life. It’s amazing to me how out of tragedy something so wonderful can emerge.
My phone dings again. It’s from Kim.
- I’m picking u up tonight for the party
Even though the stalker hasn’t been around, at least not visibly so, Kim and Keith are still on protection detail. They even managed to rope Sal, John, Megan and James into the mix. John was all-too happy to participate, saying, “I haven’t fucked someone up in years…this will be fun!” The man is just itching for a fight.
- Sounds good babe :)
- Oh…and I’m bringing someone
This is news to me.
- Say what? Like a date?! :))
- Yes ding-dong a date
- What’s his name? Profession? Social Security #?
- LOL! His names Drew. Some corporate gig. Makes good money. Came into the store a few weeks ago and we’ve been chatting
- Local? Y didn’t u tell me about him sooner?!
- Lives over the hill. Cuz I didn’t want u to get all excited if it turned out to be nothing.
- Fair enuf. Can’t wait to meet him! :)
I put my phone aside and resume painting. Tonight will be fun.
Kim pulls up to Megan and James’s house. It’s a beautiful place tucked back in the El Granada hills. I’ve been here a number of times but it’s sheer size and views always knock my socks off.
“So is this Drew guy meeting you here?”
“Yep,” Kim hops out of her car. She’s done herself up well tonight, looking every inch the Amazonian goddess. “He’s coming directly from work.”
We walk up the long stretch of stone steps, Bennett leading the way like he always does. He’s gotten HUGE over the past month. He’s easily 90 pounds and only going to get bigger from what my vet tech says. He’s my furry, brave, sweet monster.
“What about Keith?” she huffs.
“I think he’s already here. I wanna say he caught a ride with Sal and John.” It’s my first relationship where we both don’t need to know where the other is all the time or what the other is doing every second of the day. It’s oddly refreshing, this whole trust thing.
“Hey, Fu,” Kim stops me before we get to the door. We’re both winded from the million stairs we just climbed. “I just wanted to say that I’m so happy for you,” she pauses and inhales deeply, “You’re art show, Keith…I’m just so happy that you moved here. And these past few months have been some of the happiest times of my life.” She pulls me into a big hug.
I bite back tears as I whisper into her mane of hair, “You and me both, Kim. There’s nothing in the world I cherish more then your friendship. You’ve always been there for me.”
“What are you two hens talking about?” Neither of us noticed Megan open the front door. She hops down the few steps to get to us and wraps her arms around both our shoulders. She has to stand on her tiptoes to do it. “Get your asses inside and start drinking already. Hi, Bennett!” She kneels down and starts a rubdown over his silky coat. Megan has a particular infatuation with Bennett…I think it’s because when he reaches full maturity she’ll be able to ride him. He “woofs” his approval as we enter the house.
Megan is a big time lawyer in the city and James owns a very profitable construction company so of course their house would reflect their wealth. A gigantic crystal chandelier hangs in the foyer. A switchback staircase separates the house, with the kitchen, dining room and sitting area to the left. To the right is the living room, solarium and a few guest bedrooms and bathrooms. It’s too much house for the likes of me but I can still appreciate its beauty.
We walk into the living room and when Keith sees me he breaks into a huge grin and saunters over. He wraps his arms around me and goes in for a soft kiss. “Hey there, cutie. Missed you today.”
“I missed you too. Was work okay?”
“It got better when I knew I only had an hour until I got to see you,” he’s rubbing small circles across my back with his thumbs and it’s making me want to leave the party and just do naughty things to him. He leans over to give Bennett some love. They have become great friends. There’s a manly respect there that I find adorable. And it’s something I don’t completely understand which Keith seems to like because it’s something for just him and Bennett.
“Fu! Yay, you made it!” Sal sidles up next to us with John attached to her hip. We hug and John wraps his huge arms around both of us and squeezes.
“Has that fuck stalker shown up yet?” John asks in his John way.
I laugh, “Sorry to disappoint. No, I think he lost interest in me.”
“One more reason to hate this douchebag,” John says with a wink at me and Sal.
Keith wraps an arm around my waist and guides me to the bar.
James is standing behind the bar mixing drinks. He smiles at me and says, “Hey there, little lady. What can I get you?”
“I’ll have a white wine, sir, thank you.”
“How’s the commissions going? I can’t wait to see that Husky one,” James has become an unlikely ally in my art world. Maybe because he’s also a creator of sorts and can appreciate the artistic process. Either way, we’ve had extensive discussions over my paintings and his insights have helped me create some of my best artwork yet.
“It’s coming along. Her face is proving hard to capture just right…maybe you could come by tomorrow and give me your two cents?” I accept the glass he offers me.
“Aw, shit,” Kim says as she walks up, staring at her phone, “Drew didn’t know dogs were going to be here. He’s allergic.”
We glance over at Bennett and Boone getting their wrestle on. It’s become their thing…they wrestle and chase each other around whoever’s house we’re at, Boone will inevitably beg someone for food while Bennett gets some nostril licking time and then they will crash together on the floor.
“No biggie,” Megan pipes in, “We’ll just put the dogs out in the backyard. They’re used to it.”
Sal and I usher the dogs out the back door. They don’t even blink as they start running circles around the perimeter of Megan’s sizable yard.
“Lets get our drink on,” Sal says as she loops her arm through mine.
“Yes, indeed,” I laugh.
Everyone has a glass in hand and we’re all cozied up in the living room. A fire is burning hot from the fireplace and Megan’s Christmas tree is lit up like the New Years ball. It’s the kind of setting you would see in some Christmas movie. Keith even went so far as to put on a Santa hat.
“I want you wearing nothing but that hat later tonight,” I whisper in his ear.
A naughty grin nearly splits his face, “Yes ma’am.”
The doorbell rings throughout the house and Kim is out of her chair in a flash, “That’s Drew!” She’s clearly excited and that alone makes my heart happy. She hasn’t dated anyone in months and it’s nice to see someone tickling her fancy. “Be nice, everyone. Especially you, Fu.” She winks at me.
“When have I ever not been nice?” I ask, the face of innocence.
“Oh please…remember Jeremy Gasset?” She says over her shoulder as she races for the front door.
Everyone looks over at me.
“The guy was a stellar example of douche-osity,” I say with a shrug.
Everyone is still laughing as Kim escorts a tall, handsome man into the room. I size him up. Sandy blond hair, good build, green eyes, nice smile and he’s a good dresser. His suit screams money. Nothing screams douche.
Kim makes introductions around the circle. His voice is deep and melodic and I find myself drawn to him much like everyone else. I can tell right off the bat that he’s got an easy demeanor.
“And last but not least, this is Fu; best friend, esteemed artist and your classic ding-dong,” Kim says with a flourish.
“Jesus,” I mumble, “Thanks Kim.” I shake his hand and smile.
“Kim’s told me a lot about you, Fu. It’s so great to finally meet you.”
“Likewise. Although I will say that today was the first mention of you to me,” I give Kim the stink eye.
“Oh is that so?” Drew turns to Kim, who plasters on her winning smile to try and crawl out of the hole I just pushed her into. “Interesting.”
“You and me, Fu. We’re having words later.”
We don’t however. Drew drops right into our little group with ease. He’s funny, he’s articulate and he apologizes inside and out for keeping the dogs outside. He’s not lying though; thirty minutes into our visit has his eyes watering and sneezing like a foghorn.
“Just keep drinking,” John suggests, “Alcohol cures all.”
We toast to that.
It’s Christmas Eve and Keith and I are snuggled up on the couch with Bennett watching “Christmas Vacation.” We are both laughing so hard we have tears running down our cheeks. I’ve seen this movie a thousand times and it never fails to get me rolling. Even Bennett “woofs” occasionally, especially when Snots arrives. It still blows my mind how human my dog is.
Kim invited us over to spend the evening with her and Drew but I politely declined, saying I really wanted my first Christmas in my own house. And Kim, ever the understanding doll that she is, completely understood. I have no doubt she and Drew will have a nice cozy evening like we are.
I was able to finish all my commissions on time and I must say I’m particularly proud of the Husky. Sarah’s head almost fell off when she saw it.
When the movie is over we turn the TV off and turn on some music instead. We’re sipping champagne and nibbling on cookies that Megan brought over earlier. How that girl maintains her figure and bakes cookies this delicious is beyond me. I’d be fifty pounds overweight if I had that talent.
“So, Fu, is Santa going to bring you everything you wanted this year?” He’s teasing me but the question makes me pause. I look around at my house, my dog, my boyfriend and that feeling of joy and hope blooms in my chest like a giant sunflower.
“You know what? I don’t need a damn thing from Santa this year,” I kiss his cheek, “Everything I could have ever asked for is sitting right here in this room…or scattered around the houses in El Granada,” I add with a laugh.
“Really?” Keith’s eyes shine at me.
“Yes…really.” Our lips meet in a kiss that just about curls my toes. Bennett “woofs” beside me, which makes both of us chuckle.
“I have Bennet, you, air in my lungs and a house that is, literally, my safe haven…I don’t see how Santa can top that.”
We sit silently for a few minutes as my words sink in.
“Can I tell you something without freaking you out?” Keith has suddenly become very serious. His gorgeous face is looking at me head-on and I can’t tell if he either has really good news or he’s about to break my heart.
“Uh…okay.” I try to steel myself which doesn’t work very well. I can already feel my heart rate accelerating and that sunflower in my chest wilting. So I wrap my arms around Bennett. My brave little boy.
Keith takes a deep breath. He swallows multiple times. If he tells me Sally is back or something equally horrible I’m going to break my hand on his face.
“Fu…I’m in love with you,” he whispers as he takes one of my hands in his, it’s size dwarfing mine. “I love you so damn much…more than I think I loved Sally.”
The breath whooshes from my lungs and my whole body tingles. Relief like I’ve never felt washes over me in a wave so strong I sway where I sit. Keith loves me.
It takes me a moment to find my voice. Keith is looking at me in earnest, asking me with his eyes to say something already.
“God Keith,” I manage, “No one has said that to me in a very long time…at least not a man.”
He gives me a small smile, “That’s because all those other guys were asshats. I’ve loved you for a while now, I was just too chicken-shit to tell you.”
The sunflower is back in full bloom.
I give Bennett a little pat and use my other hand to cup Keith’s face. I look him directly in the eye. “I’m in love with you too.”
His whole body sags and the relief on his face is almost comical. “Thank God! This could have really screwed up my Christmas.” I jump onto his lap and start kissing him with all the passion I possess. This really is the best Christmas I’ve ever had.
I wake up on Christmas Day to an empty bed. Even Bennett has abandoned me. I hear movement in the kitchen so I know they aren’t far away. I rub the sleep from my eyes and take my time getting out of bed.
It’s freaking cold out, the sky cloudy. I throw on my Hello Kitty onesie for warmth and try to run a brush through my hair. Rats nest doesn’t even begin to compare. I brush my teeth as well because I’m still too self-conscious around Keith to sport potty breath.
I walk down the small hall into the living room and see Keith at work in the kitchen. His sweatpants hang low on his waist and he’s not wearing a shirt, allowing me a delicious view of his flat stomach and muscular shoulders. I’m openly gawking as I walk towards him. He gives me a devilish smile.
I’m clumsy on a good day, but when you throw a half naked god at me you may as well cut me off at the knees. So it’s no surprise when I stub my toe right into the fucking coffee table. Pain explodes in my foot and my eyes all but pop out of my head.
“Son of a bitch!” I scream at the coffee table. I’m hopping on one foot and clutching my other with both hands. “Oh, Christ, it hurts so bad!”
Keith roars with laughter.
“Stop laughing, you dick! I think my toe fell off!” I can’t help the smile though. It’s so goddamn typical of me to do something like this…while wearing a freaking onesie, no less.
Still bellowing guffaws, Keith walks over to me, scoops me up in his arms and carries me to the kitchen, “My poor little, clumsy Fu.” He sets me on the counter, picks up my foot and starts to examine my toe. It’s flaming red, much like my face.
“I’m such a dingleberry,” I whine, “I can’t even gawk at my boyfriend without hurting myself.”
“Seems like one of the better ways to injure yourself,” he says with a wink.
I smack his shoulder.
“This doesn’t look broken, cutie. I think you’ll survive.” He gives me a lingering kiss. “I like this onesie, by the way. Very you.”
“Go fuck yourself,” I mumble as I slide off the counter and move towards the living room. He chuckles.
I stop dead in my tracks.
The breath leaves my body.
Tears start to sting my eyes.
Bennett is sitting by the little Christmas tree in the living room. He has a huge bow tied around his equally huge neck. A vase of sunflowers and a vase of daisies are sitting on either end of my little mantle.
And hanging above my fireplace is “Bennett.”
Keith comes up behind me and wraps his arms around my waist. “Merry Christmas, cutie,” he whispers in my ear.
I cover my mouth with one hand as a sob escapes. I turn in Keith’s arms so I’m facing him. “It was you?” I squeak out. “You were the one to purchase “Bennett”?”
“You had to have him,” he says simply. He whistles and suddenly Bennett is leaning into my leg. I can’t help but drop down and bury my face in his silky coat, blubbering like an idiot. Bennett’s tongue tries to go up my nose.
I feel Keith kneel down next to me as he rests a gentle hand on my back. I throw my arm around his shoulders and pull him to me. “Thank you! Thank you so, so, so much.”
I’m so overcome with emotion it takes me a second to realize something is tied up in Bennett’s bow.
I wipe the tears from my face and peer into the many folds, “What’s in there?” I hiccup.
“Let’s find out,” Keith says. He eases me over to the couch (yes, I’m limping) and whistles for Bennett again. Bennett is instantly on the couch beside me, exposing his bow like he knows I’m about to go digging through it.
I paw through and find a little velvet drawstring bag. My clumsy fingers have a hard time untying the knot. I huff and sniffle and eventually Keith has to come in and do it for me. I’m still tearing up over my painting.
Keith gets the bag free from the bow and hands it to me.
“I love you,” is all he says.
I open it and dip my fingers inside. I gasp as I pull out an absolutely beautiful necklace. It’s a white-gold heart shaped locket. A small diamond sits in it’s center.
“Oh my God, it’s beautiful,” I breathe. I ease the locket open and nothing could keep the grin off my face. One side has a picture of Bennett. The other has a picture of Keith.
“My two boys,” I whisper. I see Keith sit up a little straighter with that. “You are such an amazing man, Keith. I absolutely love it…all of it.”
“You deserve it.” He helps me put the necklace on. It’s the perfect length, sitting just below my collarbone.
“Do you want your gift now too?” I ask. I’m still combating a few tears. Pull it together, Fu.
“Absolutely,” he smiles.
I get up off the couch, giving Bennett a lingering kiss on his large head. I just now realize he hasn’t stopped smiling since I first saw him by the tree. My little human dog.
I go to the tree and pull out a small box. Keith and I agreed to one gift each and now I’m wishing I went back on my word. “Bennett” looks extraordinary sitting on my wall. I’m bound and determined to repay the gesture. Keith deserves at least that much.
I hand Keith the box as I sit next to him and Bennett. “It’s not much, but I think you’ll appreciate it.” I start nervously scratching Bennett’s head, self-doubt trying to encroach on my good mood. What if he doesn’t want it?
“Fu, you could give me a bag of dog turds and I’d love it,” Keith exclaims as he starts to ripe off the wrapping paper. I bite back a smile.
I’m watching his face carefully as he removes the rest of the paper and opens the box. A small crease indents between his eyes, like he’s not too sure what he’s looking at. Not a split second later it smooths out and a look of wonder makes his eyes go wide. His mouth drops open.
“Oh my God,” he whispers. He holds up one of the spare keys to my house. His shell-shocked face instantly morphs into one of the most gleeful expressions I’ve ever seen. My tension instantly melts. “Is this what I think it is?”
“I didn’t buy you a new car, so no,” I say with a teasing smile.
He swats my knee playfully. “Are you really giving me a key to your house?” You’d think I just gave him the moon for how happy he looks.
“Yes sir, I am. You are free to come and go as you please, boyfriend.”
He lunges across the couch and engulfs me in a gigantic hug.
“I couldn’t want anything more, cutie.” His mouth finds mine and we kiss for what seems like forever.
We only break apart when we hear Bennett groan loudly. That’s his thing now…if we go too long kissing he will make his presence known. The only time he doesn’t do it is when we are having shenanigans. Then he just leaves the room.
“Sorry, sweetie,” I say as I rub him behind the ears, “This is a big step for us though, isn’t it?” That full smile is back and he “woofs” his acquiesce. “Hey, do you want to open some of your gifts?” Yes, I have become one of those fanatic pet moms. All the presents under the tree are for the dog and anyone who gave me lip about it got the tongue-lashing of a lifetime.
Bennett jumps off the couch and goes to nose the presents under the tree. It would appear he’s ready for his first Christmas.
Watching Bennett open his gifts is just about the most entertaining thing Keith or myself have ever witnessed. For how human he acts, he’s in full dog-mode with wrapping paper. Not one piece survives. The living room looks like a massacre at Santa’s workshop.
The clean-up is well worth the show, though. Bennett loves all his new toys and can’t seem to decide which one to play with. He’ll pick up the stuffed elephant and toss it around the room only to come across his new rope and then it’s a game of tug-o-war until he steps on his new squeaky bone and then the house is alight with noice for five minutes.
Keith orders me to play with “our kid” while he goes to the kitchen to start breakfast. Bennett and I run around the house like two toddlers, me laughing my ass off and Bennett “woofing” like a huge, furry banshee. I’m having so much fun I’m almost disappointed when Keith yells that breakfast is ready. He doesn’t yell because he’s upset…he actually has to yell over all the noice me and my dog are making.
“Okay, sweetie,” I pant as I kneel down and look into his panting face, “We will pick this up later.” I’m rewarded with a tongue up my nose.
I settle down at the dining table with Bennett and Keith. There’s a gigantic plate of pancakes, eggs, bacon and a pitcher of mimosas. Keith was even so kind as to chop up some bacon and mix it in with Bennett’s kibble.
As we eat, I can’t help but realize that this is what happiness is. Not money. Not fame. Not possessions. Happiness is sitting around the table with your dog and boyfriend and knowing in your heart that life happens for the soul reason of bringing people together.