Shrimp bounced down the sidewalk of Oak Grove like he owned the place. Head high in the air, tail wagging, nose sniffing everything, making sure the place was legit.
“Shrimp, slow down. I have to think. This walk is for me to think.”
Up ahead, on the opposite corner, I saw a man, lean and tall, walking an older, grumpy-looking basset hound. He looked from left to right, about to cross the street, I believed.
“Cross the street. Go ahead. Cross it right as I’m walking past, you fine, fine man,” I murmured to myself, hoping the thought reached his brain somehow and he would do as I wished.
To my delight, he crossed right on time, talking to the basset hound in a low voice, something about being steady and nice. This big guy wasn’t going to be mean to my Shrimp, was he? I slowed, though, everything in me wanted to meet this guy. No one is mean to Shrimp—no one.
“Good morning,” the man greeted me with a perfect smile, flashing white teeth that belonged in a commercial. He was casual, wearing khakis and a T-shirt, flip-flops on his feet. He had a ton of what looked like homemade bracelets up his wrists.
“Good morning.” As soon as the words left my mouth, Shrimp began shrill barking at the old dog, who didn’t bother to attempt to bark back. “Shrimp! Don’t be such an ass!” I bent to pet him and while holding his neck, allowed him to sniff the hound who looked like he had better things to do.
“It’s okay. My mom had a dachshund. They bark at everything.”
I nodded and straightened. It was early fall and a cool wind whipped around us, and along with it, this man’s provocative scent. He smelled like home and books, and the cedar candles my parents had when I was a kid. He was hygge all wrapped up in one scent. I’d been on a Pinterest kick lately, studying the Scandinavian art of making a home comfier and relaxing, and this man smelled like the most warming home to me.
“Yeah, he does, too.” I choked on the words, still in a daze from his cologne.
“Walking my way?” the man said and winked, taking a few steps in the direction I’d been going.
“I take these walks to think, but this guy won’t let me think.”
He turned to me swiftly, still striding along. “I’m sorry. We can walk ahead. Don’t feel obligated to stand around because of me A man needs time to think.”
I spoke up, a little too eager. “No, stay here with me. I mean, let’s walk together. I was coming up empty in my thoughts anyway. Not that I’m stupid or...I’m gonna shut up now.”
He laughed, and the sound cut right through me in the best way possible. I shivered, but not from impending autumn, but from this man next to me. “I like to talk in the mornings. Thinking gets you in trouble. Maybe a change of perspective will help you. Try me.”
Should I? Should I tell this man my troubles?
It would extend my time with him. So the answer was yes.
“I’m Tenn,” he said, extending his hand, still walking. I took it but didn’t want to ever let his soft skin go. “I’m Greer.”
“Where’s that accent from? Alabama?”
People always assumed Alabama or Mississippi. But I was a coonass boy, through and through.
“I’ve been down to New Orleans, but it was Mardi Gras time and even for me, that was a bit much.”
I laughed. Tourists always thought Mardi Gras was the place to be, but for us locals, it was more a fun-type annual nuisance.
“How about you? Local?”
“Yeah, but I travel a lot. Which I guess is why I haven’t seen you around. So, use me.”
I cleared my throat and tugged at my collar. “What?”
“For my advice. Spill your problems, Greer. I can walk all morning.”
I bet this Adonis had stamina for lots of activities.
“Well, I own this little cafe. But it’s failing. It’s outdated and in need of a ton of things. It’s no longer unique. My parents started it, but they passed away years ago. The Americano is no longer interesting in this town.”
He grabbed my elbow. “I’ve been to that place. Had some great burgers. I haven’t been in years, though.”
I stared at his hand. “That’s the problem.”
We continued our stroll, pausing several times at crosswalks to wait on a passing car. “Your dilemma is to redo or restart?”
We strolled in silence and, to my dismay, he’d let go of my elbow long ago. Then, out of nowhere, he laughed.
“What’s so funny?” I looked around for the cause.
“There’re these puppy cafes in South Korea. I went with a friend once. You pay by the hour to pet puppies. They make a fortune.”
I laughed. “Those would probably not do well around here. Everyone has a dog.”
“Very true. At least you have a true problem, Greer.” He kept saying my name, and I swore my dick bounced every time he did. It should be ashamed of itself—kind of. “Most people go out to think about ridiculous subjects like where they have wasted their lives and how they can change them.”
I squinted against the rising sun. “Are you speaking specifically?”
“I am. Personally, in fact. I came out here to decide what I’m going to do next. Or where I should travel next. I have to do something. I feel stagnant.”
“We are in the same place.”
He looked over at me and winked. My dick double bounced. So desperate. It had been a while since I’d been with a man. I craved human contact so badly, sometimes it made me cry. But I worked sixty hours a week at the restaurant crumbling beneath me and was to the point of contemplating moving into the tiny apartment-turned-storage-room above it and giving up my family home.
Something had to give.
“Well, Greer, this is where I turn. Gomez and I need to head home. He’s not as spry as he used to be. Take care and...” He stopped at the corner, ready to walk away from me, and damn it if I didn’t feel the absence already in my veins. “Take the leap. Change the cafe into something hip and fresh, something this town will never see coming.”
I nodded. “Thanks, Tenn.”
“You’re welcome. Hope to see you around.”
I nodded and watched him walk away. Khakis didn’t usually do it for me, but he wore them well.
I waited until he was out of sight then continued toward home. I passed Mrs. Newsome sitting on her porch. She was my wild and crazy, one-time-hippie neighbor, and I had learned to expect the unexpected from her.
“Good morning, Mrs. Newsome.”
She cackled. “How many times do I have to tell you to call me Bea?”
“Too many. Ice cream for breakfast, huh?” I gathered Shrimp in my arms and went to the stairs, ready to walk up to my apartment.
“Ice cream is good anytime. Come on, let Shrimpy have some.”
I sighed. Shrimp loved nothing more than ice cream. I set him down, and Bea made him a tiny bowl of vanilla with a glob of peanut butter on top.
I gasped at the sight and the idea. It became clear what I had to do.
“Bea, can you watch Shrimp for a while? I have some things to do.”
“Sure can. I love this little beast.”
I rushed upstairs and grabbed the first piece of paper I could find.