Prince, the Border Collie, was staring intently up into the eyes of Julien, his master, with a gaze that exhibited a mixture of pain, confusion, despair, and trust. But Julien wasn't looking at him now; he was looking into the eyes of the veterinarian, Troy, with essentially the same mix of emotions in his eyes.
"There isn't . . . ?" Julien started to say, but faltered, not able to complete the sentence.
"I'm afraid not, Julien, not really. Maybe he could go home for a couple of days with enough sedatives so that the pain was minimal. But he'd probably not be able to move. And I doubt he would eat."
"So, you think . . . ?"
"I can't tell you what to do, but if Prince were mine . . ." Troy couldn't complete that sentence. He had treated Prince for the past seven years. Prince was among the first dogs Troy had seen after he'd opened this vet hospital. It was almost like Prince was his. The love of dogs was what had brought Troy to this career-not just dogs in general but each and every one he treated. He swallowed hard. This wasn't about him. This was about Julien. He'd interacted with Julien too for those seven years. And it wasn't about Prince, really. Prince was fifteen years old. Prince was wanting to go; he was begging to go. Julien naturally couldn't see that in Prince's eyes. He was too close to the dog. Troy felt close to Prince too, but he could see it. Prince was ready to go; Prince's concern was for Julien.
"So, if I took him home . . . just for a couple of days . . ."
"There's little chance it would be painless for him or that there's any hope for recovery. He's fifteen, Julien."
"I know . . . but . . ."
"Would you like to go into the waiting room . . . if . . . when . . ." He stopped. He knew what was needed. Prince knew what was needed. But he couldn't be the one to say it or to suggest it. Julien had to accept it. Julien had to say it-or give some sign.
Julien took Prince's paw in his hand. Prince whimpered, lowered his head, and licked the hand.
Troy stood there, watching the man, waiting.
"No . . . I'll stay here. I owe it to Prince. I owe it to Lloyd."
At the sound of Lloyd's name Troy stiffened a bit. Prince had actually been Lloyd's dog. Troy hadn't known that for nearly a year after he'd seen Prince for the first time. It had always been Julien who had brought Prince in. And only Julien long enough for Troy to have developed an interest of his own in Julien. And then he'd learned that there was a Lloyd in the picture. And that Prince had been Lloyd's dog before he and Julien had hooked up. But Lloyd was dead now. Gone for nearly a year. He'd been older and had had a heart condition. Julien hadn't taken it well. He didn't accept the inevitability of it. He wasn't taking this well either.
Well, if it weren't for his professional obligations-and knowing what Prince wanted, needed, Troy wouldn't be taking this any better than Julien was.
"So, you've decided . . . you're giving permission . . ."
"I'll stay . . . I won't leave him until it's over."
When it was over, Julien sank to the floor beside the table, in tears.
Julien called for an attendant, and they both managed to get Julien back to his feet.
"Sam, take Mr. Wilson to . . ."
"I can't go back to the waiting room like this," Julien whispered in a hoarse voice. "It wouldn't do for the other pet owners to see me like this-to think of their own pets in this situation."
"No, certainly not," Troy said. "Sam, please help Mr. Wilson to my office. And get him a cup of coffee."
"No, thanks. I don't need coffee."
"A glass of water then. I'll be in in a few minutes, Julien. After I've . . ."
"I can't have him burned, Troy," Julien said in a panicked voice. "Lloyd wouldn't have wanted . . ."
"No. We'll talk of that later," Troy said. "There are options, and we'll talk about that later. Go on into my office and sit for a while. When you're ready, I'll drive you home."
"But my car? And you have work to do."
"We can get your car back to you tomorrow. And there's nothing I need to do here more than to see you home safely. You needn't hold back with me. I understand."
"Do you? Do you really? He was the last connection I had with Lloyd. Do you really understand?"
"Yes, Julien, I think I do. Prince was special to me too. You're special to me. Go rest a while in my office and then I'll take you home-I have a few things to take care of here and then I'll be with you."
After Julien left the room, Troy wrapped Prince in a receiving blanket and called in another assistant to take the dog from there-the assistant would know what to do.
Then Julien went into an adjacent supply closet, locked the door behind him, sank to the floor, and gave himself ten minutes to control his own tears.
* * * *
"You just sit here on the sofa, I'll get you something from the kitchen. The fixings for coffee easy enough to find?" There were photographs everywhere Troy turned in Julien's house. Nearly all of them were of the three of them-Julien, Lloyd, and Prince. Troy didn't want to see them, but they were everywhere, like this was a shrine. It was bad enough for Julien that Lloyd was gone, but Prince was gone now too.
Maybe that's why Troy wanted to get into the kitchen-maybe there wouldn't be any photographs, two-thirds of death, staring at him. But there was one on the refrigerator, he saw, now that he'd entered the kitchen.
The voice wafted in from the living room. "My car. I don't know . . ."
"I'll come back for you tomorrow," Troy called back. "We'll go someplace where there's a pet cemetery . . . if you're ready to look. Then I'll take you back to where you can pick up your car. I see the coffee maker, but where do you keep your coffee?"
Troy poked his head out of the kitchen. "I don't mean to rush you on the pet cemetery idea . . . maybe you're not ready yet to-"
"I think I'd like that. A cemetery for Prince. The coffee's in the freezer. But there's liquor under the sink. I think I need a slug of something. If you'll join me. Not too early?"
"No. Not too early for me. Not too early at all."
Troy came out of the kitchen with a bottle of scotch and two glasses. Julien looked so lost, hunched there on the sofa. Troy went over and stood by him at the sofa, poured scotch in both glasses, and hand one to Julien. Julien didn't seem to notice he was there.
"Here, Julien. Drink this."
Julien reached out, without looking, coming first into contact with Troy's thigh. Troy shuddered. He ached for Julien. He'd always been aroused by him-increasingly after he'd learned that Julien was living with Lloyd, who Troy had known was gay. And a bottom, like Troy was. He felt jaded, being aroused like this under the circumstances. But he couldn't help himself. And sometimes in grief . . .
Troy reached down and took Julien's hand and raised it to take the glass of scotch. Julien's hand was trembling, but the glass went straight to his lips and was drained within seconds.
"Again, please," Julien murmured. He lifted his face and the expression in his eyes was achingly similar to that Julien had given Troy when they were consulting on the inevitable "what to do" for Prince. He poured Julien another slug of scotch, which was downed almost as quickly as the first one had been. The third one, he nursed.
Troy downed a glass of scotch himself and stood there, not knowing what to do next, knowing what he wanted to do next.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," Julien whimpered. "Both gone. I feel so empty. I just don't know . . ."
"You're going to go on," Troy said, sinking down on the sofa beside Julien and taking him in his arms. "They both had a good run, and they both were lucky to have you."
"I just don't know. How to I begin again? Who would ever . . . ?"
Troy quickly downed another slug of scotch and turned to Julien and said, "I would."
The vet already had his hand on Julien's basket and Julien wasn't pushing him away. Instead, he was moaning and responded, hungrily, when Troy came in for a kiss. Troy had Julien's cock out of his trousers and sank to the floor between his knees.
They first fucked right there on the sofa, with Troy sitting in Julien's lap, facing him, and raising and lowering himself on Julien's cock.
Early the next morning, Julien woke to find Troy sitting on the side of his bed, already dressed and putting his shoes on.
"Troy . . ."
"I'm sorry, Julien. It must have been the scotch. I wouldn't have taken advantage . . . for a million years . . ."
"No apologies. The shock of it was what I needed. It had been so long since I'd . . ."
"Not since Lloyd?"
"No. I thought it was over after Lloyd. I thought I didn't need it anymore."
"I'm sorry," Troy repeated.
"I was wrong about not needing it anymore. It isn't even light yet. Do you really have to go?"
"Yes . . . yes, if you'll be OK for a while. I'll be back after lunch to get you-to go to that pet cemetery and then back to your car."
"Prince? Will we be taking him today?"
"If it's not too soon for you."
"No. Not too soon. The sooner we can put him to rest, the better."
"OK, we'll take him with us." Troy stood, but Julien grabbed his arm, his grip strong, painful to Tony. Misunderstanding, Troy looked down and repeated, "I'm sorry, Julien. I got carried away."
Julien was pulling him down, though, and rising to meet him. They kissed.
"Thank you, Troy. I needed that," Julien said after they'd parted.
Troy's answering smile was weak. "I think I needed it more."
* * * *
"This is it," Troy said. "I hope it will do."
They were standing on a hillside, trees around them, but not set too close together. The land was rolling. They were in a small fold in several hills. A smattering of small tombstones surrounded them.
"It's perfect," Julien. "How did you find this cemetery? It's so isolated, but so peaceful. It's just perfect."
"This is my land. I established the cemetery here when I opened the vet hospital. I wanted there to be this option."
"Yes. My house is just over the ridge there. If this is fine, you can pick out a spot while I go to the car for Prince and the shovels . . . I can, if you don't think you can . . . or want to . . ."
"No. I want to help. I owe it to Prince . . . and to Lloyd."
They stood there, arm in arm, leaning on the shovels for many minutes afterward, Troy waiting for Julien to be ready to go. Eventually, with a little sob, Julien came out of a reverie he'd been in and said, "We can't stand here forever. I guess we'd better go ahead and go. I'd like to be able to . . ."
"You can come back here any time you want," Troy said. "You saw how we got up here. There's no lock on the gate at the entrance. You can just open and close it yourself when you want to come up here. I'd like you to come to the house now . . . if you feel like it."
"Will there be scotch?" They both laughed, nervously, both striving to break the tension.
"There can be if you want."
"Will there be sex?"
This time neither laughed, and Troy paused, before replying. There was a catch in his voice. "There can be if you want."
"I think I do want."
"First I'd like to show you something."
* * * *
"His name is Duke. He's two months old."
They were kneeling over a cardboard box in Troy's garage. A puppy was trying to make up its mind which man's arm it wanted to try to climb up.
"It's a Border Collie!" Julien said. "It's adorable. Is he yours or are you caring for him for a client?"
"He's yours, if you want him."
"Mine?" There was a catch in Julien's throat when he said that and he was frowning. For a moment Troy thought he'd overstepped. "I don't know. Maybe's it too . . ."
"It's not too soon, trust me on that," Troy said. "In each end, there needs to be a beginning. This would be a beginning for you. There's something you should know before you decide, though."
"This is a Border Collie, yes, but not just any border collie. Prince is this puppy's grand sire."
"This puppy's from Prince?"
"Two steps down, yes."
"How do you know?"
"I checked the records in my office. Spent all morning tracking this little feller down. If you don't want him, of course, I'll take him. I thought it would help you to maintain that connection you regretted losing."
"No. I'll take him. I don't usually make decisions this quickly. Maybe I should start doing that, though. New beginnings and all that. And speaking of that, are you part of my new beginning?"
"I can be." Troy looked away, not wanting to see what he didn't really want to see in Julien's face-what he was afraid he'd see. "I'd like to be," he went on to say in a small voice.
"It means the world to me that you would do something this thoughtful. I guess I've been living in my own world too long-not aware of what life has to offer."
"I've been here for you for a long time, Julien."
"Do you have a bedroom in this house?" It was almost a whisper.
"Yes, of course."
"Can we go there now."
"Yes, I'd like that. I'd like that very much," Troy answered.