When (Name) moved into her new townhouse, she expected many things. She was well aware of the two flights of stairs she had to climb to get to her room and the tiny master bath it contained. The narrow splash of cement in her front yard that served as parking space was also anticipated. A square, lush green yard was also on her list of expectations. However, one fact had not been mentioned to her. A diminutive, unexpected detail had been left to surprise her.
Dogs – three gigantic ones, to be precise – awaited her beyond the confines of her yard. They prowled the path next to the fence, peeking through the holes, watching her. (Name) only had to poke her head out the door and they’d start snarling and barking. They’d scratch and jump at the fence with enough force to shake the whole thing. It made the dark wooden slats look like flimsy toothpicks. It was only a matter of time until they snapped and allowed the pack into her safe haven.
It was precisely this time bomb that had kept (Name) from entering her yard during the week she had lived in the house. She’d gone as far as to cover the windows that faced the canines’ domains with curtains. The least contact she had with them, the better. Every time she left or arrived home, (Name) would keep her gaze squared on anything but the fence. She knew they’d sense her watching and go crazy.
However, the lack of maintenance in the yard had brought on a bigger problem. The once lush, short grass was now tall enough to reach half of the fence. It was a wild, tangled jungle of weeds, dandelions, and grass blades nearly as wide as her palm. As if that wasn’t enough, she’d found a rat sneaking around the bottom floor of her house. It fled to the jungle in her backyard the moment she’d screamed. Apparently, it had chewed a hole in her door.
“Perfect,” she groaned. “Just perfect.”
Two days later, armed with courage and a glorified scissor, (Name) ventured into the outside world. The blades of grass rustled with the slight breeze. She gripped her tool tighter. As long as her neighbors didn’t start up a racket, she’d be fine. At least, she hoped so.
Sighing heavily, she lifted her brand new gardening scissor and began snipping away. She couldn’t afford a lawnmower at the moment, so the gigantic scissor would have to do. The stainless steel blades sliced cleanly through the weeds, cutting down chunk after chunk of them. Sweat gathered on her forehead. The midday sun beat on her relentlessly. Looking around, her shoulders slumped. She’d only made a hole in the jungle.
“Step by step, (Name),” she mumbled. “Step by step.”
This resolution kept her working even after her stomach began to growl. (Name) ignored it. She sheared her wild lawn until she reached the fence. There, she stopped. A tiny voice in the back of her mind told her to leave it as is. That little chunk wouldn’t hurt. But the image of the rat scurrying around the floor squashed the thought. Taking a deep breath, she dived in and decimated the remaining wilderness. What was once an untamed tangle of overgrown grass was now a mat of cut down, stepped on weed blades. The job was done.
(Name) dragged her shaky legs into the house. Her stomach was cramping horribly, screaming for food. Yanking some leftovers out of the fridge, she heated them up. Her mouth watered as she watched the small bits of bacon curl up. Its smell flooded her nose as soon as she popped the door open. Smokey and perfumed with fried grease, it made her toes curl. Snatching the plate and a fork, she wandered back outside.
When her stomach gave a particularly loud protest, she growled back, “You’re wrong if you’re thinking I’m not going to enjoy this and my hard work.”
With that said, she plopped down next to the fence, using the dark wood as a backrest. She stuffed a forkful into her mouth. Her eyes fluttered closed at the explosion of flavor in her mouth. Salty, greasy, slightly crunchy bacon mixed in with some smoky spices and wonderful textures overloaded her taste buds. For a moment, the world vanished around her. Only her singing senses and the overwhelming feeling of success surrounded her. A smile blossomed on her lips.
Sniff, sniff. Whine.
Something warm blew on her shirt, gluing it to the cold sweat on her back. (Name) jolted forwards and turned sharply. Apparently, the rat hadn’t just chewed a hole in her door – it had eaten through the bottom of the fence, too. Sticking out the gap was a large black nose. It twitched as it took in short breaths, smelling the air around it. Then the owner whined.
(Name) catapulted backwards, dropping her plate. It was one of the enormous dogs from next door. Her heartbeat challenged the world record of speed, bouncing like a pinball in her ribcage. The fingers that were curled around the fallen grass blades held on tighter, blood flow practically cutting off of them. Her mouth went dry. The scream stuck in her throat was terrified of leaving her trembling vocal cords. Her poor attempt at swallowing became some sort of choked gulp.
Her eyes fell on her food. The plate had landed safely on the carpet of debris, but too close to the fence for comfort. Another whimper came from her neighbor and the nose pushed forwards a bit more. However, instead of reaching her precious meal, it yelped and pulled its muzzle back. Nails scratched at the wooden fence. (Name) awaited the angry frenzy the canine would make at its failed attempt to reach her prized sustenance, but it never came. Pitiful whimpers and whines were her only response.
(Name) swallowed thickly and hoarsely stuttered, “Want some?”
The scratching became more eager, accompanied with what could be the most adorable yip (Name) had ever heard. It melted her heart a little. Steeling her nerves, she plucked a piece of bacon from her plate and held it up to the hole. The nose came back for a second, sniffing at the offering. Hastily, a rosy tongue replaced it, scooping up the piece from her fingers with a ticklish lick. (Name) giggled involuntarily. Something thumped against the fence. She assumed it was the canine’s tail. Gathering her courage, she tried it again, getting the same result.
“You’re cuter than I thought,” she whispered as she fed it.
The dog licked her fingers clean. (Name) assumed it was a sign of gratefulness. She pushed her hair behind her ear and murmured a ‘You’re welcome’ before she pushed herself to her feet. Picking up the plate, she glanced at the hole and laughed. The nose was back in its place, searching for the scrumptious smell of bacon.
“Sorry buddy,” she said. “No more for you.”
“Zhat’s his favorite, you know?” a heavily accented, deep baritone voice replied.
(Name) squeaked and snapped her head up. Once she was assured her soul had returned to her body, she focused on the newcomer. He was leaning on the top of the fence, his arms crossed, accenting his musculature. His skin was pale and momentarily hid under a black t-shirt before leading up a strong neck and defined jaw. Angular features followed, taking her eyes to cool ice blue orbs that held a hint of mirth. A few strands of platinum hair had escaped the confines of his slicked back hairstyle.
His lips were quirked up in a small smirk. (Name) felt her cheeks flood with heat and her gaze dropped to her booted feet. She twisted her hands nervously, unsure of what to say. His soft laughter interrupted her fidgeting.
“I’m sorry,” she babbled before he could speak. “He just sounded so cute. He is a he, right? I-I mean –”
“I’m not saying it’s a bad zhing, frau,” he cut in.
“It vas cute.”
Glancing up, (Name) could see his cheeks had tinged pink. His eyes had wandered to the side and one hand was rubbing the back of his neck. The gesture pulled a smile from her. It attracted his gaze back to her.
“I noticed how scared you vere of zhem,” he admitted. “So I made zhe hole in zhe fence to see if you’d varm up to zhem.”
“You did what?”
It was his turn to stutter as he tried to explain himself. After a moment, he gave up with a heavy sigh and smiled a little. He extended his hand to her.
“Ludvig Beischmidt,” he said, “owner of zhe scary dogs.”
(Name) took his hand and replied, “(Name) (Last Name), the silly neighbor scared of said not-so-scary dogs.”
Ludwig laughed and squeezed her hand gently before tugging her forwards as to lightly kiss her knuckles. (Name)’s face became a furnace.
“Vell, mein silly neighbor, vould you like to come over und meet your new friends?” he asked.
Feeling bold, she answered, “Throw in dinner and it’s a deal, Ludwig.”
“Dinner it is.”
He then hauled her up like she weighed nothing. An embarrassing squeal flew out her throat. Ludwig pulled her over the fence with a tiny, goofy grin on his face. (Name) discarded the idea of her face being a furnace. The heat that had invaded her skin had taken the matter to a whole new level. It had made her lightheaded, which caused her to stumble as Ludwig set her on her feet. He kept her balanced.
“(Name), zhese are mein boys,” he murmured, “Aster, Berlitz, und Blackie.”
Each dog barked in accordance to his name. First went the golden retriever, then the Doberman, and last, the German shepherd. The adorable act caught (Name) by surprise, especially when Aster approached her and sniffed her hand. He gave her fingers a few licks before plopping down and giving her the puppy eyes. (Name) caved under the gaze of those big, honey amber eyes and patted his head. Aster’s tail wagged so fast, it became a blur.
“The bacon lover, right?” she questioned.
“Ja; he’s obsessed vizh it.”
It turned out that Aster wasn’t the only one in love with a certain treat. Berlitz was quite fond of chicken strips. Blackie always had an appetite for one more chunk of steak. Slowly, the gigantic canine trio was losing its intimidating streak. They behaved like a bunch of puppies, jumping over each other with their tails trying to break the speed barrier. Her hands were often cleaned for her and cold noses periodically pressed up against her thigh. It made dinner a slight ordeal, but with one sharp command from Ludwig, they backed away. Of course, the order was forgotten minutes later.
The whole affair rewarded her with a new affection for the giant pups, (Name) gave each of them a pat on the head before she left the house, promising them treats in a not so discreet whisper. Ludwig’s impatience with his pets’ behavior had worn out a while ago; therefore he laughed along with her as the dogs wiggled in excitement. (Name) sorely regretted not approaching them before. They were sweeter than she’d thought.
Ludwig walked her home, idly chatting with her.
“You make a mean steak, Ludwig,” (Name) complimented. “I should come over more often.”
“You’re just saying zhat so you can sneak zhe terrible zhree more treats.”
(Name) put her hand on her chest and gasped dramatically, saying, “Why, I would never! How terrible of you to assume such a thing!”
Ludwig cracked a grin as she erupted into giggles and leaned on her door. He ran his hand through his hair, pushing back the stubborn strands that stuck to his forehead. (Name) smiled awkwardly as she looked down at the porch. A heavy silence hung in the air around them. They both tried to speak simultaneously, chuckled, and told the other to go first.
He cleared his throat and said, “Danke for coming over (Name). I really vould like it if you did visit again.”
“You won’t abduct me from my yard via over the fence again, will you?”
“Too bad. It was fun.”
Ludwig turned bright red and (Name) smiled warmly. He hesitated, then leaned forwards and kissed her cheek gently. It sent tingles to her belly, where they transformed into fluttering butterflies. His hand was on the door, his body hovering mere inches away from her. The smell of their dinner and some cologne teased her nose. (Name) swallowed nervously.
“Anozher abduction tomorrow, zhen?” he whispered.
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Wunderbar, mein silly frau.”
(Name) stuck out her tongue and returned the favor of a kiss on the cheek. She waited until his flustered form made his way back to his home before going inside. Her hand gripped the doorknob tightly. She’d gotten over her yawn crisis and had defeated a part of her dog phobia in one day. As a bonus, she’d made a new friend – or interest – in her dog owning neighbor, Ludwig.
Bring on tomorrow, life.