December 21, 2014 | Rome, Italy | Clear 15°C

Toby and Pico

By Annie Gold
Published: 2014-10-30

Puppies and strapping, attractive young men have strikingly similar effects.
W

hen Ada broke up with her boyfriend she picked herself up and headed right back to market. At first, she'd taken it hard. In three short months she'd accumulated a boot-size shoebox of memorabilia, all of which she returned one morning at an overlook on the Hudson River. The sun's glare of kept her from crying. And when tears did well up, she squinted them back as if doing so made perfect sense.

She insisted on unpacking the box and explaining exactly why she didn't want (among other items) that cheap bottle of Mezcal or the black scarf made of T-shirt knit. He'd picked up the Mezcal one evening on his way home and they'd spent hours in her kitchen trying to conjure its smoky soul by swirling it with chestnut honey and lime juice. When they could no longer resist, they'd taken to the floor: the counter space was taken and the bedroom too far away.

As for the black scarf, Ada had given it to him after an early date, when they'd discovered a mutual appreciation of the ultimate accessory. He claimed he had more than she did, so she offered him her little-used scarf. He tried it on, liked it and agreed to borrow it in the fall.

Things first ended between them in mid-August. But not before he'd used the scarf to tie her wrists to the bedpost. The stretch knit knotted precisely and held on tight. Later she found the scarf crumpled at the foot of her bed, still firmly attached.

He took the contents of the box back to his apartment, leaving part of her feeling lighter.

After a solid week of appetite loss and endorphin-boosting workouts, Ada emerged looking spectacular. Inside, she was sunken, but to the rest of the world she looked lithe and shiny. Maybe all of crying made her blue eyes shine more brightly. She piqued the attention of men everywhere she went.

Lightness was her only option. Depression wasn't in her nature. Even the universe chipped in. On a morning subway commute, a mariachi band suddenly entered her car and — smiling the whole time — surrounded her with ukuleles and trumpets. She'd been near tears at the time, and then this. She couldn't have cried if she tried.

Her friends warned her against dating again too soon. Ada ignored them. Then they warned her against dating too young, but she craved buoyancy.

Toby appeared like passing daydream. She saw him wandering by the West Village café where she was meeting a client. Robust and tall, you would have guessed-correctly — that he played soccer. His brown eyes sparkled and his legs (in shorts) bore the hard curves and long lines of a lifetime of training. What really caught her eye was the puffy leashful of youthful fur bounding ahead of him. It seemed to smile in the comical way only animals do. Big round eyes peeked out from a white fringe. Ada had the distinct impression that they were both staring at her.

She watched man and puppy round the corner and noted the time. Maybe they always walked at this hour? She rushed through the rest of her meeting and headed for the door.

Puppies and strapping, attractive young men have strikingly similar effects. Ada's whole body liquefied and suddenly her arms felt desperately empty. A desire to squeeze some adorable living creature pushed her to near-madness.

This was ridiculous. She breathed deeply and turned back toward the café where she'd chained her bike. After all, she was still hurting and he might not have anything interesting to say.

And then she heard it.

"Hey!"

She looked up in the direction of the voice. It was low and a little raspy.

"Hello?"

It was him. He too had returned to the café! Each of them had followed their own version of logic, and the prize was an exchange of smiles that left Ada weak in places well beyond her knees.

"I'm Toby," he ventured, "and this is Pico."

At the sound of his name, the pooch offered a shaggy paw and licked the Ada's kneecap three times.

"It looks like he has a crush on you."

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