Welcome to a new series of short stories! The Dog Sitter is the story of Danny Warner, a nobody staying in an unfamiliar city for an internship. After meeting someone, Danny gets a crazy idea to ditch his apartment and live as a nomad of sorts, taking care of dogs and staying at people’s houses while they’re away.
The Dog Sitter is inspired by a true story and is dedicated to the best girlfriend on the planet, Carlie. Happy Valentine’s Day!
DOG SITTER AVAILABLE
Would Fido prefer to stay at home rather than be boarded in a cramped, expensive vet’s office? Young, able-bodied, experienced sitter looking to care for dogs in the Dallas area. Available to stay overnights for extended periods. Caring and available to work with a variety of dogs, great and small. Take the stress out of traveling by ensuring that your best friend gets the same love and care as you would provide.
Danny Warner is an experienced dog sitter. He brings with him eight years of experience. His soft tone and and caring nature works well with dogs, even those who don’t often respond well to strangers. He additionally brings with him a liberal arts degree. His plans were to become a writer, the sort of pipe dream romantic types with no real ambition or plans have. That plan is currently on hold, but he is working an internship right now, if that helps.
Danny is not a native to Dallas, nor should he be here. No one has ever thought of Dallas as a literary city. The internship he took was low-level, not something prestigious. He spends most of his days reading shitty poetry submissions from high schoolers for a big journal no one reads. But Dallas seemed important to Danny.
See, Danny had this friend, and then the friend died in a car accident, and now Danny is struggling to come to terms with that. Back when the friend was still alive though, he told Danny that there’s something magical about Dallas. That was probably just because the friend liked the Cowboys, but Danny got so hung up on those words that he shifted his career and life goals to include a trip to supposed Promised Land. And so far all he’s found has been disappointment and more questions.
Anyway, Danny is ready to care for your dogs, and he asks for almost nothing in return. All he wants is to stay at your place while caring for your companion! He will provide excellent 24/7 care when you’re away! Well, 24/7 minus the times he’s at his internship or out trying to make sense of his life. Call now because spots are filling fast! And if you don’t call, Danny might not have a definite place to spend the night.
He’s not trying to blame anyone for his problems. Honest. Danny did have a sublease on a shitty apartment, and he could’ve comfortably stayed there all summer before returning home with no additional career or life experience. But then he met this girl. She was far more successful than Danny, stood with the poise of someone years older than Danny. He only saw her once, and he can’t remember her name because he wasn’t in the right state of mind when he met her, but she was something else. You’ll have to take his word for it. She was the sort of girl you’d go way out of your way to find again. The girl, the Dog Sitter, was doing this thing that Danny found fascinating. She was staying in Dallas for an internship, much like Danny, but she had come up with a method to never have to pay for housing. She was staying at people’s places and taking care of their dogs. And she was free. She did what she wanted when she wanted. She was going to clubs and meeting people, dancing with groups she barely knew. And she seemed to be having fun, which Danny doesn’t believe a lot of people do anymore.
So when Danny met her, he decided he’d try to do the same. It wasn’t like he was happy before or anything. He was living with two roommates whom he hated before. They were filthy, far filthier than any dog could be. And he had a routine he hated. He went to work, played video games, and went to sleep. Sometimes he’d eat irradiated food. He’d tell himself he’d take the train somewhere noteworthy, but normally he wouldn’t. So apart from slight homelessness, there was really nothing to lose trying this.
And hey, if he somehow ran into the Dog Sitter somewhere along the way, he wouldn’t complain. He wanted a chance to show her that there was someone else who was almost on her level of enlightenment. He wanted to be able to say that he knew where she was coming from. Maybe she’d be impressed that someone else was able to do what she was doing, or maybe she’d appreciate that they cared.
Whatever. The main point is that I’m doing dog sitting. If you have an offer, feel free to call or email or text. I’m not that busy, and I’m pretty lonely, so I’ll respond pretty quickly. Can’t wait to meet your dog!
The Dog Sitter
I first saw the Dog Sitter dancing with a dude who wasn’t me at a rave in Deep Ellum. She looked happy there, happier than almost everyone else in the club, the variety of substances on display hitting her with better vibes than most of the patrons. I liked her smile. It was small, and a lot of it was shown in her lightly closed eyes. I wished that the guy she was with appreciated it. I had no idea if he did.
“Didn’t I tell you Zume was great?” That was Cory, the intern I liked the least. He had this gross undercut he kept his hair in and wood-rimmed glasses that tied his unsubtle style together. Zume was the DJ of the night. He was the entire reason we came out. Cory had been talking him up since our internship started, and I had used up all of my excuses for avoiding other team bonding since I got to Dallas.
I really had no idea how good Zume was. It should go without saying that this was my first rave. Really I didn’t even know how exactly to define a rave. I always envisioned them in the woods with ecstasy-fueled young people dressed outrageously in neon flailing their limbs to electronic noise. The scene I was in sort of fit the notion. It was indoors in a more intimate club than I expected, and the people were dressed more normally than I envisioned. There was still a lot of drug use though. I had to piss soon after getting there, and I had to wait to wash my hands because five guys were waiting for their turns to do lines off of the counter. I was worried there wouldn’t be any breathing room, but the club was just spacious enough where our group was able to have space to move our elbows. Zume’s music might have been good. It was really loud, hard for me to gather my bearings to judge the quality of the DJs beats. Everyone at the party seemed into it though, so I guess that’s a good sign.
“Totally,” Krista said a fairly long time after Cory asked his question. Krista was a chubby girl dressed like a librarian. We had bonded in the internship so far over both being embarrassingly socially inept. I think she was like me, there because she didn’t have a good reason not to be.
The fourth and final member of our team of interns, Rae, was off flirting with a group of guys dressed like the prototype of a fraternity brother. Rae wasn’t used to raves either, but she was better at adapting than I was. I had low-key hoped I would get my shot with her that night because I was the hopeless romantic type, and she was the prettiest girl in the workplace by far. She came off as the type who wanted to be into partying and the sort but obviously wasn’t.
Sometimes the bass took a drop, and the surprise of it caused me to jump just enough to spill a few drops of my drink onto myself. I’m pretty sure Cory kept commenting on Zume or other DJs he liked, but it was kind of hard to hear him, and also I didn’t care that much. Most of my attention was focused on the girl I’d call the Dog Sitter later on. Sometimes I’d catch how creepy I was staring unblinkingly at her, and I’d look away for a few seconds only to worry that I’d never see her again if she got lost in the waves of ravers, so my attention went back to her. She kept dancing, kept smiling. It was like a machine or something. I mean, it was drugs. That’s how these things went. But in the moment it looked a lot more magical.
I grew to hate the dude behind her though. I know I don’t really have that much to complain about since it wasn’t my place to intervene –I knew nothing about either party involved, judged based on completely circumstantial feelings, whatever– but feelings hurt, especially when it’s obvious that I’m not going to do anything about them. I’m a jealous person, okay? I hate that others can just act out when they want to.
The bass took another drop, and my hand flinched in a way that sent my entire drink onto my t-shirt.
“Whoops, party foul!” Cory chided. It’s easy to joke when one’s not wearing a cocktail as an accessory. I tried to laugh it off to show that I was cooler than I was, and then I excused myself to clean off best I could in the bathroom/coke room.
Zume’s beats continued to guide the ravers whom I had to push my way through to get anywhere. It was easy to get lost in the rapidly flashing rainbow lights. Health class taught me this myth that people in raves liked to stick strangers with AIDS-infected needles, so I kept myself on the defensive whenever a person’s flailing arm got too close. The bathroom was a lot emptier than before. The floor was covered in toilet paper and paper towels with occasional condom wrappers and dime bags strewn in to keep things interesting. I tiptoed my way to the sink avoid the germs almost certainly mixed into the floor. The mirror was covered with carved messages from patrons who thought they were much funnier than they were, but at least it was still intact for me to get a glimpse of what my half-hour at the rave had done to my person.
My eyes looked sadder than usual, a little bloodshot too, but that was normal. I chalked that up to being in yet another environment in which I didn’t feel like I fit in. My hair was ruffled to a degree that fit in with the chaotic nature of the club floor. I had put styling cream in it earlier that night to give it that exact look. As for the damage I came to check, my grey t-shirt, which I thought was the closest thing in my closet to what I thought people wore to raves, was sticky and stained with the amaretto sour I spilled thanks to Zume’s infamous bass drops.
I wish I knew what made up an amaretto sour. I always ordered them, but I didn’t know what was in them. A friend in college got one once, and I thought he looked cool ordering it, so I followed suit.
The hot water faucet didn’t work. It never does. Anywhere I go, the cold water always works without fail, like life is giving me almost what I want, but never quite what I needed. I reached for a paper towel, the last in the dispenser, and did my best to replace the unpleasant stickiness in my shirt with a slightly less bothersome wetness. I rubbed and scraped as though the increasingly unuseable, moist paper towel could do more than its designed purpose while my shirt took more damage than necessary.
“You okay, buddy?” a voice interrupted my bizarre struggle with myself.
I turned around to see a guy who might’ve been familiar. Everyone in the club looked mostly the same. They were all white, and white guys of a certain age do as little as possible to distinguish themselves from one another. But I was almost positive that this guy was the one dancing with the girl. He had green eyes that were half glazed over, and his light hair was taller than it was long. He was dressed similarly to me in a t-shirt and jeans.
“Yeah,” I responded hastily. “Just spilled a little on myself. You know how it is.” That sounded a lot less cool than I wanted.
“It’s a party man,” he responded as though we knew each other. “Let loose. Everyone here’s gross, and they’re all out there, not in here.”
I was almost insulted that this guy I didn’t know, whom I had a hidden jealousy for, was trying to give me advice like he somehow knew how to be happy. I mean, he probably did understand it a lot better than I did, but still.
“I’ll be out in a minute,” I answered. I rolled my eyes while attempting to feel superior to him. At least I didn’t feel the need to criticize others’ life choices in rave bathrooms.
“Seriously, you’re already here,” he continued his no-audience philosophy. “Lighten up. Nothing’s going to ever get better if you keep sweating tiny details like a stained shirt.” He dramatically lifted his arm up to reveal a hole that showed off his hairy armpit.
“I get that that works for you,” I said. I guess the frustrations of the night were taking their toll. “But not everyone can just dance it out and have fun and act like their problems don’t exist. Some of us are stuck in the real world, and it fucking hurts.”
His expression didn’t change a bit. He was still looking like a blank philosopher, a little smug about what he perceived as life experience. “Look, bro,” he started, scratching an itch on his scalp and then adjusting his hair to make up for the damage. “This is clearly your first time. Take this. Let loose. Enjoy your night.” The raver then stuck his hand in his pocket and carefully dropped the content of his hunt onto the counter. Without saying another word, he gave me that sort of half-nod people give each other when they don’t know each other and then left to return to his fun.
With a skeptical eyebrow I glanced at the counter and saw what the mystery man had left for me. It was a little pill colored peacefully green. A mind only slightly naiver than mine would’ve thought it was a kids’ vitamin. I was going to leave the pill where it was. If I was going to try anything, it certainly wouldn’t come from some stranger in a rave bathroom. But the pill spiked my interest. I didn’t realize they were so, well, cute looking. I know, that’s probably what the evil drug dealers intended, but still, it looked less intimidating than I thought. So, I went ahead and threw judgment to the side and used my thumb and index finger as a claw to grab the pill. Up close it had a little design on it, a curly lower-case m with an arrow coming from its tail.
It couldn’t be too harmless, could it? And besides, I kind of wanted to be on the same
level as everyone else at the party. They were having fun. They seemed happy. I wanted to be a part of that.
I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to take it. I tried to search online for methods, but I had no service in that bathroom. Did I let it dissolve in my mouth? Swallow it? Chew it? I contemplated and decided I’d go ahead and just swallow it. I hurried threw the thing into the back of my throat and used the faucet to give myself a handful of water to chase it with.
Start time isn’t really something I thought about when it came to drugs. The movies always made it seem instantaneous. Ingestion, trip. A few seconds. Bang. But as I stared at myself in the mirror waiting for my eyes to change colors, I instead found myself with nothing. Much like a lot of things in life, drugs were quite disappointing. Oh well. At least I could now say I tried it. Time to return to the group.
The three other interns were huddled together just outside of the main life of the party. Rae, having apparently struck out or lost interest with the guy she was flirting with, was slightly dancing while Cory and Krista were holding drinks with their arms crossed as they spoke to each other, yelling to overcome Zume’s volume. They reacted to my return as though I was only gone for a few minutes, so my bathroom excursion must not have been as long as it was in my head.
“I’m trying to settle something here,” Cory yelled to me. “Have you heard of Adrestia?”
I fought my eyes from their natural reaction of rolling. Who the fuck was this?
“Can’t say I have,” I said, giving a little wink to Krista to show that I understood the stress she had gone through in the last few minutes.
Cory dramatically threw up his arms and let out a moan. “You guys are killing me!” He went on to rant about Adrestia being another DJ he loved. He saw her perform on like a monthly basis or something.
While he went on his spiel, I tried to figure out the social structure of raves. It was chaotic and colorful, but there were rules, a class system. Closest to the the DJ were the true ravers, the ones that rave virgins drum up in their heads when they think of the parties. They dress like personified ecstasy and are the loosest of the partygoers. Outside of them are the casual ravers. They’re still partaking, still going at it, but a little calmer in dress and action. Another level out were the rave connoisseurs. They all looked like variations of Cory. These were the types who didn’t seem to really care about the drugs or the dancing, but whenever the DJs did something with the bass or the lights, they would light up like they reached Nirvana-level orgasms. They probably cared the most about the raves, but they also seemed the least in-tune with the whole idea of it all.
The Dog Sitter was in a fringe group, somewhere between the first two groups. Oh yeah, I managed to spot her after I returned to the group. I was initially a little worried; she wasn’t with the dude who gave me the pill. But then she was actually quite easy to spot. She was with a bigger group. They were all dancing, but she was putting the most effort into it. Her dark, wavy hair was rhythmically moving with the music while her limbs matched the intensity of those closest to Zume. I liked the way she danced. It wasn’t trying to be sexy, -even if it’d be a lie for me to say that’s not an adjective I’d use for her- but it was fun. That’s something I don’t think a lot of people seemed too interested in. Her friends seemed to take their energy from watching her. When she’d move closer to one of them, they’d light up a little more than before. The guy, whom I gave the temporary descriptor of the Supplier, was in the group. I hated that he was the sort to give me advice. He looked the least alive out of everyone in the Dog Sitter’s group. Still, sometimes he’d wrap his arms around the girl’s waist, and she’d entertain him for a few seconds.
I wish I knew when people were happy, or what made them happy. It’s hard to tell. There’s that cliche about people who smile the widest being secretly the saddest. I don’t know if that’s true, but faces sure as hell don’t do enough to tell the truth. I wanted something to tell me that the Supplier wasn’t happy. I didn’t want his advice to be sound. And he wasn’t smiling or anything. Of course, that was probably the drugs to some degree, but still. Why did he look more fulfilled being unhappy than someone like Cory did while he was smiling up a storm in an environment he had no idea he was not meant to be part of. And then there was the Dog Sitter. Was she happy? And then there was me? Was I happy?
Maybe Cory was right about Zume after all. There was definitely something about his music that was growing on me. He must’ve saved his better stuff for later in the set. The bass drops started feeling less like earthquakes to the inner ears and more like waves that resonated through the body with a tingling sensation throughout. Come to think of it, the lights were getting better too. They stopped being almost seizure-inducing, and the colors sparkled in the way I’d expect an idealized rainbow to look.
“Are you finally feeling it?” Cory looked ecstatic that I had been converted.
“I think so,” I said, unable to really explain what I was feeling. Zume must’ve been a magician because I was feeling like every happy thought I had ever had was being fired off at once. My hands started twitching. Then the rest of my arms. It wasn’t unpleasant. It was my body telling me to do more. So I embraced the twitch. I threw my arms up like I was praying in a crazed Appalachian church. I started swinging my hands in a predicted rhythm with Zume’s beats. I felt like Zeus, lightning bolts shooting from my hands with each flail. I let myself close my eyes, and the colors were still there, a kaleidoscope in my head.
“Woo!” Cory cheered like he had any idea what was going on. When I opened my eyes I saw that Krista and Rae were standing next to him. Each of them looked at me with the same smile, like they were parents watching a child grow up in front of them.
“Someone’s finally letting loose,” Rae said, still oblivious to the fact that she was only two drinks in and going home alone later.
“Yeah,” I said, in a tone that was two parts excited and one part spacey.
Without another word I shifted my eyes to the direction of the Dog Sitter. There were people in between me and her, but I moved in a straight line. I don’t remember shoving them out of the way. It felt like I was moving continuously forward, unobstructed. Maybe they parted for me, or maybe I used the energy I was harnessing to phase through everyone. My feet never felt like they moved. In my mind I was gliding across the floor, whose disgusting surface I had completely forgotten about.
“Hi,” I said, less than a foot away from the Dog Sitter, who at this point was still just a girl I had seen at a rave.
Everyone in her group except the Supplier gave me a raised eyebrow or their equivalent of the expression. The Supplier knew what was up; one corner of his lip was wrinkled upwards. I waited for someone to say something. In my head it was going to be the Dog Sitter. Of course it would be. She was the person I had been mildly stalking all night. My awkward silence was cut short when the music called me again. I felt that tingling up and down my arms again, stronger this time, taking over more than just my arms. Like a madman in front of a group of about eight, I threw my arms up and flailed them around while my head did a similar thing on its own axis. A few of the people laughed; others were just confused.
The Dog Sitter was smiling, but it was likely out of some level of confusion. The Supplier leaned in and whispered something into her ear. She then changed her expression to somewhere between amused and mildly concerned.
“Are you okay?” a voice said. It was initially tough to tell where the voice was actually coming from. I wanted to believe it was coming from the Dog Sitter. And now I can say that I’m pretty sure it was.
“Does anyone want to dance?” I said, paying no attention to the question given. I extended a noodly arm to where I thought the Dog Sitter was standing.
The Dog Sitter shook her head. I could tell that much. But still, she grabbed my hand and joined me in the arm flailing that I called dancing. It was magical. I felt like the lights were spinning in circles around us. I could see every glimmer of sweat on her nearly perfect face. She did that little closed-eye smile I saw her do when dancing with the Supplier earlier. The dancing could’ve gone on for a minute or an hour. I didn’t know. But I never wanted it to end.
She stopped dancing at one point and cuffed a hand around my ear. “What’s your name?” she asked.
I tried to put my dancing on hold. “My name’s Danny,” I said. “What’s yours?”
She answered, but I didn’t catch it.
“Nice to meet you,” I said. I was too nervous to ask her to repeat it. It might make it seem like I didn’t care.
Soon other members of her group opened up more to me too. They took turns introducing themselves. I lost track of the Supplier. He disappeared somewhere. It was hard to keep track of everyone. I couldn’t stop dancing. But I kept track of the girl. I didn’t want to lose her.
But then, as all good things apparently do, the lights started dying down, the music got quieter. Then the music changed to the sounds of a man’s voice. “Okay, ladies and gentlemen,” this must’ve been Zume. “That’s all I’ve got for you tonight. Hope you’ve had fun. Get home safe!” When the music stopped, it’s like my energy went with it. Suddenly my arms and legs were made out of lead.
Some of the people in the group said their goodbyes and left. I found myself still next to the Dog Sitter, but I couldn’t really move.
“Do you have a ride home?” she asked.
“I take the DART,” I replied confidently. She seemed like the type of person who valued someone who knew what they were doing.
“Does the DART run this late?” she questioned. I liked her tone. It was firm, but also it seemed to come from a place of caring about me.
“I think so,” I answered. I didn’t know. It didn’t, by the way. I learned later that the DART stopped at midnight. It was well past that.
“Come on,” she said. I could she her eyes roll. “I’ll take you home.”
“Oh,” I said, trying to hide my uncertainty. “Okay.”
School taught me that you should never drive under the influence or ride with someone who is. But I had to put this fear on the backburner. I wanted to spend more time with her, and I guess I also needed to get home. Quickly my fears were put aside. Her driving was unbelievably good. She drove like most people walk. It came naturally. Turns were already mapped out in her had before they happened. Slow cars were passed with satisfying grace. If I wasn’t already attracted to the Dog Sitter, this would’ve done the trick.
“Did I tell you my address?” I asked. She just made a sound of affirmation in response. I’m pretty sure I already asked that like twelve times.
“Where do you live?” I asked. Was that creepy?
She took a second. “I dog sit,” she said eventually.
“Huh?” I asked. I meant to keep that in my head but couldn’t.
“There are a lot of people here who need people to look after they’re dogs,” she made it sound so simple. “So I stay at their places while they’re gone. It’s a great system. I stay in rich people’s houses. There’s no rent. It saves a lot of money.”
“Wow,” This all came so naturally to her. I couldn’t tell if she realized just how impressive this was. “So you don’t have an apartment or anything?”
“Nope,” she said. “I’ve gotten by just fine doing this.”
“That is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard,” I said. I really was in awe of this.
She shrugged. “It’s whatever.”
It was much more than whatever. She was living the life I imagined she lived when I first saw her at the rave. She was free. She was not just living life. She was redefining the ways in which a person could live. I wanted so badly to say more than just “That’s cool” or “Wow,” but I couldn’t put the words together. This was an important thing she was doing, and I wanted her to know it.
Just then, I felt the car stop. “Well, here you are,” she said. I couldn’t tell if she was annoyed with me or not.
“Oh,” I was a little jostled that we were already at the apartment I didn’t want to go back to. “Thanks. I guess I’ll see you later.”
“Have a good night.”
And then I left. I waved when she drove off, but I don’t know if she saw that. My limbs still felt as heavy as lead. I couldn’t move.
More importantly though, I couldn’t get the Dog Sitter out of my head. I wished she was there, but she had already driven off. And I didn’t even know her name.