I took a deep breath of sea air, trying to enjoy the bright sun and the happy dogs playing in the surf. It wasn’t easy, but I forced myself not to think of the past. Instead, I focused on the ocean and my terrier Winston sitting next to me. Looking out beyond the breakers, I could see all the way from the sandy beach to the offshore islands. I could also see the large Labrador Retriever bounding towards me, his dark eyes fixed on the sandwich in my hand. In my other hand, the leash holding Winston snapped tight as he lunged without fear at the dog five times his size.
“Winston, no,” I yelled, jumping to my feet and struggling to reel in my frenzied animal. Raising the sandwich high over my head, I braced myself for the unavoidable collision. The dog hit me like a truck, knocking me into the warm sand in a flurry of slobber and fur. I thought my lunch, and possibly Winston were doomed when a deep voice boomed out.
I opened my eyes to see the lab panting patiently beside me. Even Winston sat down, responding in a way I hadn’t seen since before John died.
“Are you all right?”
I looked up to see the outline of a man standing over me, the sun behind him making me squint.
“I think so.”
A strong hand took mine and pulled me to my feet. “I’m so sorry about that.”
Staggering slightly, I took in the handsome stranger, his dark brown eyes filled with worried concern.
“It’s OK,” I offered, brushing sand off my shorts.
“No, it’s not. Buddy ruined your lunch.”
We looked down at the mangled dirt covered sandwich surrounded by scattered potato chips. Both dogs eyed the food but only Winston had the courage to creep forward and steal a chip.
“It wasn’t very good to begin with.”
“Let me buy you another one. There’s sandwich shop just up the boardwalk.”
“No, it’s all right.”
I hesitated, wondering if I should accept but something in his friendly smile touched me in a way I hadn’t felt in almost three years. “All right.”
I scooped up Winston, grabbed my bag and we headed off across the sand, leaving the food for the seagulls.
“My name is David.” He held out his hand and I took it, my heart fluttering at his touch.
“Lisa. And this is Winston,” I held up Winston who squirmed in my arms with a little dog’s desire to get down and tear Buddy to pieces. “He has a Napoleon complex.”
“So I see,” David laughed. “This is Buddy.”
“I know,” I chuckled. “We already met.”
David offered me an apologetic smile. “I’m truly sorry about that. Buddy was better behaved when my wife was…” his voice trailed off with an unmistakable sadness I felt deep in my heart.
“I’m sorry.” I placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I know what it’s like.”
His eyes caught mine, grateful for the understanding. “Thank you.”
We continued up the boardwalk in silence before the beautiful day and playful dogs lightened our mood.
“Do you come to this beach often?” David asked as we stepped in line at the sandwich shop.
“No, this is our first time.”
“I’m glad you came.”
I was about to agree when the counterman asked for our orders.
“Turkey on rye, right?” David asked. “I think that’s what you had on the beach.”
“How about roast beef on sourdough instead? We can start fresh without any bad memories.”
“Anything you want.”
David paid and in a minute we had our sandwiches and were sitting outside at a small table. Winston and Buddy quickly forgot their differences, positioning themselves next to each other at our feet to watch us eat.
“They’re really getting along,” David remarked, watching Winston sit up, his paws tucked under as he eagerly waited for me to slip him a treat.
“Food is the universal uniter,” I laughed offering first Winston and then Buddy a morsel of bread.
“And dogs.” David reached down, scratching Winston behind the ears. The dog cocked his head to one side, his eyes closing slightly in contented pleasure. “I know it’s a little early to ask but can I buy you dinner too?”
I sat back, wondering if I had the courage to say “yes” to a date and the possibility of more.
David’s smile faltered a bit under my hesitation. Then suddenly, Winston jumped up in his lap, cuddling against David’s chest. Watching the little guy accept David, I knew I could too.
“I’d love to.”
The wide smile returned to David’s face while he continued to pet Winston who wiggled and whined with excitement. “What do you say we take these two for a walk and work off some of their energy?”
“Sounds great to me.”
We strolled along the boardwalk, the dogs walking ahead of us in excited unity and the day, and somehow the future, suddenly felt brighter and clearer than before.