‘The Rival’ by Seana Graham
The dog started following us shortly after we left the pub. We were both a little drunk by then, and at first it was amusing, but soon I could see he was getting in the way of my game plan. I’d envisioned another drink or two at home, a hot meal and then the pair of us in bed. So I drove him back with a stomp and a curse or two. June laughed at me with her sexy laugh and grabbed me by the arm, telling me he would go away if I’d just ignore him for five seconds. When he followed us over the bridge, though, I lost my temper and shied a stick at him. I didn’t mean to hit him, but somehow I did, and then June wasn’t laughing anymore. She pulled her arm from where it had rested so snugly in mine and turned around, giving the dog a coaxing whistle.
“Come here, boy. We won’t hurt you.” But she was angry with me. She thought I had hit the creature deliberately.
“I wasn’t aiming at him,” I said, aggrieved. She ignored me. The dog sat in the road—a little further behind us than it had been, maybe, but that was all—awaiting our next move.
“Come on, June—this is getting ridiculous.”
“He might be hurt, Paul.”
But I was pulling her along now—not roughly, she couldn’t say that—but single-mindedly. She took a last glance over her shoulder and then stopped resisting. She didn’t look back and I didn’t dare to.
Though we’d been happy and even a little risque before, the mood had changed and neither of us said anything the rest of the way.
We reached the house and walked up the steps. I unlocked the door. The room was cold so I went to make a fire in the hearth. June stood at the door, looking out.
“He’s still there.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake!” The match that I was trying to light the kindling with had burnt my hand. That was my excuse for shouting, anyway.
She turned. “What’s gotten into you tonight?”
The fire flared up suddenly and I didn’t have to answer. We got our stew from the slow cooker and sat in front of the fireplace, eating. June didn’t go out to the dog, didn’t mention him, but I knew she was thinkin of him. Her thoughts, at least, were not on me.
“Aw, go on then,” I said finally. June leapt up immediately and went to the kitchen to get a bowl of stew for the cursed mongrel. She took the food out to the porch. But after a few long moments passed she came back in.
“I think he’s gone,” she said, disconsolate.
Much later, after we’d searched and called in vain, she went upstairs. I didn’t see much point in following. Instead, I lingered by the fire, wondering just how exactly I was going to win her back.