Nick had no idea how long he’d sat on the living room sofa, cell phone in hand, pondering Shelley’s harsh words. BD lay quietly at his feet as if he fully appreciated the dilemma.
Finally, in a tired voice constructed with pain and despair, Nick asked, “BD, what are we going to do?”
The dog peered into Nick’s rheumy eyes and opened his mouth as if to speak, but he only panted. For some vague reason, it occurred to Nick that his dog could probably offer pretty sound advice if only he could speak.
Growing weary, Nick decided a walk might help. The house had become even emptier and more depressing as the waning sun cast eerie cuts of light through the bare windows of the open room. He would first clear his head and then determine how best to respond to Shelley’s curt messages.
Nick swept the main window’s curtains to the center of the rod and switched on both table lamps. He quickly changed clothes and shoved his billfold in the jeans’ back pocket; dropped his wedding ring in a flowered soap dish; brushed his teeth, then swallowed a couple of aspirin tablets, chased with a swig of cold orange juice from the side-by-side. He securely attached BD’s leash to the collar then grabbed his windbreaker and set of keys. In the driveway, Nick felt oddly compelled to turn and take another look at the house as if it would be his last.
As they moped down the sidewalk, both appeared to be a bit crooked, even bent, as if carrying great weights on their shoulders. On any normal day, BD would’ve been running, panting, sniffing, and pulling hard on the worn leather leash. Not today. Today he was there to support Nick.
Shelley seemed to be dead serious with her ultimatum, but how could he possibly part with BD? No family members or friends were in a position to take him. To give his best friend to a stranger was unimaginable. If he actually betrayed BD to such an extent, he would never again be able to face himself in the mirror.
The first four years of marriage had been happy and fulfilling; for the last two, it was neither. Shelley had changed—it seemed that everything had changed. Nick had tried as best he could, but, of course, he wasn’t perfect. The long hours he was forced to work had undoubtedly contributed to their problems.
In her California hometown outside Oakland, Shelley had been cheerleader captain in junior as well as senior high and was voted prom queen at both. After graduation, she moved to Los Angeles and spent over a year as a waitress in various restaurants while seeking employment with modeling agencies and auditioning for petty acting roles. Finally, following her parents’ messy separation and divorce, Shelley and her mother relocated to Chicago, where she eventually found work as a catalog model for J. C. Penney. Unfortunately, the two-year stint turned out to be her first and last job in the modeling/acting field, and she resumed her former career, waiting tables by day and cocktailing by night.
Her first husband was an agricultural lobbyist from Texas, a bipolar middle-aged gentleman with a beer-belly and pronounced eye bags, whom she had met when her employer catered an event at McCormick Place. His constant mood swings, escalating alcoholism, and the fact that the two had virtually nothing in common, all led to an uneventful and short-lived marriage.
Acknowledging his faults and shortcomings, the Texan honorably agreed to disregard an unconscionable prenuptial agreement in favor of more equitable terms and provisions set forth in a marital dissolution agreement. As a result, Shelley was financially comfortable for the first time. Following an uncontested divorce, she abandoned previous ambitions, obtained a real estate license, and immediately found work.
Shelley and Nick met shortly after his relocation to Chicago from southern Illinois, where a fledgling insurance company had offered him a position. It was not a dream job, by any means, but came with prospects of rapid promotion in exchange for hard work.
As he searched for an affordable apartment or small rental nearby, he found that Shelley’s agency held several interesting listings. To Nick’s surprise, the flamboyant young agent soon asked him out for a night on the town. Awash in the thrill of attention, allured by seductive glamour and provocative charisma, enticed by bold sexuality, Nick, a dating neophyte, at once fell under her spell.
Everyone who knew Shelley—even Shelley herself—was taken aback that she became involved with someone like Nick. Her search had been for a man of means who would instantly catapult her up the social ladder, not someone just starting out in the world, but a man who could offer stability, privilege, and prestige––a capital ‘M’ man.
Ironed blond hair, fuchsia lipstick, enhanced eyelashes, short skirts, tight décolletétops generously filled with their heaving cargo, chic stiletto heels highlighting long, shapely legs, and a perpetual tan all contributed to a striking look that turned men’s heads and raised women’s brows. She had learned to use her substantial assets early on and maintained them in her arsenal, always at the ready.
On the contrary, if Nick stood beside four other thirtysomething white males in a police lineup, men with medium brown hair and eyes, uninspired budget haircuts, average weight, and neither too short nor too tall, an eyewitness would be hard-pressed to differentiate him from the others.
Nick was neither an intellectual nor a dunce. He was not physically weak by any means but no marathon man either. Still, he possessed rare and enduring qualities. He was honest, patient, sincere, reliable, and loyal.
Shelley recognized Nick as an easy read, an open book with a large font. She had grown sick and tired of dating pretense and masquerades and lazily accepted with an almost flippant ‘why not?’ gesture when he proposed. And so, at the age of twenty-eight years, she married for the second time. Not for love, not for money, but rather for a predictable and compliant husband.
Nick knew being separated from BD would be more painful than being separated from Shelley. But could he really choose his dog over his wife? Should he? He shouldn’t be forced to make the choice, but here it was looking him squarely in the face. In all probability, if he parted with BD now, it would only be a matter of time before Shelley issued other unreasonable demands. He certainly didn’t want to lose both. Still, despite everything, he felt an obligatory need to save his troubled marriage and was willing to work on it. The rest was up to Shelley.
As if aware of Nick’s decision, BD returned to doingall the things dogs love to do; sniffing trash cans, trees, rocks, and shrubs; lifting a leg to hydrants and mailbox stands; licking, gnawing, and pulling discarded chewing gum hopelessly stuck to the pavement; and woofing at sundry objects of canine interest.
Nick reached for his cell phone, intending to reply to Shelley’s text messages but realized he’d left it on the sofa back at the house.