Cross-Country Buddy

This absolutely adorable picture was sent in by Kayla 🙂 Isn’t her dog cute!? He looks like he is totally digging the biker lifestyle!

I should probably give a disclaimer to this story so that I don’t get backlash– I specifically used an exaggeration of the situation to show a love of dogs. Whatever message you think I am trying to send, dial that down about ten times, and you’ll be much closer to how I actually feel about things. Did I just confuse you? Probably, but I don’t want to give away the story up front. Once you read it, this paragraph will make a lot more sense (I hope…)

Also, with some stories, finding the words and flow can be exceptionally difficult for some reason. This was definitely one of those for me, so if you feel like things are a little disjointed, that’s how I felt writing it… At least I had a fun picture to keep me smiling, even when I got bogged down 😀

biking
Photo Credit: Kayla Hinkle

Here is ‘Cross-Country Buddy’:

~~

“Jake, did you hear me man? They’re separating. Becks and Gavin are separating.”

Jacob Ellis looked open-mouthed across the table at his friend Asher and tried to process what he had just heard. Separating? They’d only been married two years. The longest two years of his life. It was hard watching the girl you’d been madly in love with since college being with some other dude.

“I, no, uh, I hadn’t heard,” he eventually got out. “That’s too bad. Did they say why?”

“Becks says he’s been treating her pretty bad. Lots of emotional abuse and stuff. She said he’s been seeing other women, too.”

“What a loser.”

“Yeah, really. Apparently he won’t let her have the dog either. He kicked her out, but kept the mutt.”

“Sparkles? But Becks loves Sparkles.”

“Dude.” Asher shook his head. “I never want to hear that word out of your mouth again.”

“It’s the dog’s name.”

“I don’t care. One more time, and I’ll demand your man card.”

Right at that moment, the object of their conversation and Jake’s dreams walked through the door of the small, mom-and-pop restaurant they all frequented. She looked around the room, then smiled when she made eye contact with Jake. Even though he had known Becks for six years, it didn’t stop his stomach from lurching at that smile.

“I was hoping someone would be here,” she said as she dropped into one of the table’s chairs. “I didn’t want to eat dinner alone. Did you guys order yet?”

“Just.”

“Good. It’s been a long day, so you guys have to cheer me up, ok?”

Jake cleared his throat and said, “Asher just told me about you and Gavin. I’m sorry to hear things have gotten so bad.”

“It’s ok.” She ran a hand through her long, dark hair. “There were always warning signs, you know? I just chose to ignore them, and now look at what’s happening. From now on, I trust my gut. Which leads me to my next big announcement.” She looked back and forth between the two guys, excitement on her face. “I’m moving to Nashville!”

“Wait, what?” Jake leaned forward in his chair, really hoping she hadn’t just said what he thought she did.

“You know I’ve always wanted to be a country singer, but I put it off because of my relationship with Gavin. Now it’s time for me to follow my dreams instead of his.”

“So you’re packing up and leaving, just like that?” said Asher. “Nice. I wish I was gutsy enough for something like that.”

“But, what will you do?” Jake sputtered. “How will you afford it? I’ve heard it can be pretty pricey there. I guess you’ll have to save for a while first, right?”

“My parents are going to help me pay for everything,” Becks said, beaming. “Isn’t that great! They feel so terrible about everything that’s going on with Gavin. I think they just want me to get away from it all. A chance to recover and stuff.”

“It’s really far away.”

“Yeah, that’s part of the point, Jake.”

“What about your dog?” Jake asked, grasping at straws. “How can you leave without—“ He stopped and looked over at an expectant Asher. “The dog,” he finished.

“I hate to leave Sparkles behind.” Becks face fell. “I really do. That dog means everything to me. I’ll miss him every day.”

“Wait, your dog’s a boy?” Asher asked. “How could you name him that?”

“Anyway,” Becks continued, ignoring his comment, “there’s nothing I can do about it. Gavin is the one that paid for Sparkles, even if it was for me. And I can’t bear the thought of fighting a battle with him over it. I’ll just have to hope that one day he gets a heart and sends my little baby back to me.”

The rest of their dinner was spent with the two men listening and nodding as Becks talked non-stop about her upcoming move.

Within the week, she was gone, and Jake was still trying to come to terms with it. He was trying to be happy for her. Being a country singer really had always been her dream, and everyone deserved a chance at their dream.

He sat straight up in bed, replaying that last thought in his head. Everyone really did deserve a chance at their dream. Didn’t that mean him, too? Didn’t he deserve a chance to try and win Becks over? Sure, it hadn’t worked for him in college before she had met Gavin, but he had been scared back then. Scared to make the first move and face rejection. He was older now. Wiser. It was time to be a man.

He got up and began pacing. What if he went to Nashville? What if he went to see Becks? Proved to her that he supported her dream and would be willing to move heaven and earth to be near her? It was totally doable. He’d been working two jobs since graduating college while also living in a camper at the back of a friend’s property. With a steady income and very few outgoing dollars, he’d been able to put back a decent amount. Plenty and then some to take a few weeks off for a trip to Nashville.

Showing up out of the blue, though, would be weird. He needed a reason to make the trip east. What was a valid, totally not creepy reason to show up on someone’s doorstep?

The next morning, Jake found himself standing on the porch of Gavin’s house, 300 dollars in his pocket. He was hoping it would be enough to talk the man into giving up Sparkles. A small price to pay in the name of love.

As soon as Jake rang the doorbell, Sparkles began his high pitched yapping inside of the house. It was an obnoxious bark, one that quickly wore on the ears of whoever was close enough to hear it.

“Shut up, Sparkles!” Gavin yelled from inside right before he opened the door. “Jake?” he said when he saw who was standing in front of him. “What are you doing here?”

Jake was surprised at how rough Gavin looked. Dark circles under the man’s eyes indicated he hadn’t been sleeping well. It also looked like his usually clean-cut face hadn’t been shaved in a couple of weeks.

“I came about the dog,” Jake said, motioning to the white ball of energy that was trying to squeeze out past Gavin’s legs.

“Sparkles?”

“Yeah, I was going to see if—“

“I’ll give you fifty bucks,” Gavin said quickly.

“What?”

“Fifty bucks if you take this dog off my hands.”

“You don’t want him?”

“No. I can’t stand him. I don’t want to take him to the shelter, though. Seems wrong after he’s had a good home for his whole life.”

Jake shook his head, confused.

“Let me get this straight,” he said. “You are offering to pay me fifty bucks if I take Sparkles off your hands.”

“Yeah, but there’s a no return policy. If you take my cash, you keep the dog. I never want to see him again. Deal?” He held out his hand, his eyes almost pleading looking.

“Yeah, ok, deal.” Jake clasped Gavin’s hand in a firm shake.

Thirty minutes later, he was back in his camper with a toy poodle that was running circles around the small space, yapping the entire time.

“Get your energy out now,” Jake told him, “because tomorrow we head out, and you aren’t going to be doing a whole lot of moving around.

The rest of the evening was spent planning the best route for the 2000 mile trip from Nampa, Idaho to Nashville, Tennessee. Since all Jake had for the trip was his motorcycle, he also rigged up a nice little side pouch for Sparkles that would allow the dog to poke his head out of a hole to see things without it being big enough to jump out of.

The next day, Jake covered a morning shift at work, then he and his new dog got on the road. Sparkles wasn’t sure what to think of his little pouch at first, but once he figured out there was a space for his head to stick out, the dog seemed genuinely excited about the drive.

Jake wasn’t really sure how often he was supposed to make sure the poodle got water and a chance to take a bathroom break, so he set an alarm for two hour intervals, refusing to calculate in his mind how long it would take them to travel to Nashville with such frequent stops.

At the first rest area, Jake felt like a complete fool pulling a little poodle off the side of his bike. It got even worse when he had to walk the little thing around a dog area where another man had two giant mastiffs on leashes. Despite the size difference and his rhinestone color, Sparkles lunged at the end of his leash for the two dogs, barking as ferociously as he could.

“Cute dog,” the man with the mastiffs commented as he started to head back to his car.

“Thanks,” Jake muttered under his breath.

As soon as Sparkles was done with his business, he pulled toward the motorcycle, like he was actually excited about getting on the road again.

“You like the biker life?” Jake asked him. “Ok, then. If that’s the case, we can’t be sticking with a name like Sparkles. You’ll never make it. Until we get to Nashville, you’re Sparky.”

Instead of stopping at a rest area for the next bathroom and water break, Jake got off at an exit and found the nearest pet supply company. He threw the old rhinestone collar into the very bottom of the pack carrying Sparky’s stuff and put the new, black, leather, spike-studded collar around the dog’s neck.

“Alright, now we’re getting somewhere,” he said.

By the time they stopped for the night, they had only made it as far as Ogden, Utah. It had taken them seven hours to do a drive that could have been done in five.

“Rookie mistake,” Jake told Sparky after they had parked in front of a cheap looking motel. “Tomorrow, you only get bathroom breaks every three hours.”

Once Jake had gotten his few things settled in his room, he took Sparky out for a walk around the dilapidated lot.

“That’s one fierce looking dog you got there.”

Jake looked toward the voice to see a man sitting against the side of the motel, a medium sized, tan colored mutt next to him. A cigarette drooped between two of his fingers. He also had an impressive beard that dropped almost down to his chest.

“Yeah, well, he does what he can with what he’s been given,” answered Jake. “You got a nice looking dog, too.”

“Thanks. Old Beau here’s a trooper. He’s already done almost 800 miles with me.”

“800 miles? Like, you walked 800 miles?”

“Yep. We started in San Francisco a couple months back, and we’ve been kind of moseying around ever since.”

Jake had thought tackling 2,000 miles on his bike sounded like a long trip. He couldn’t imagine hoofing it 800 miles.

“Why?” he asked.

“For the fun of it. How many people do you know that get a chance to walk around the states for a while?”

“Not many.”

“Exactly. This has always been my dream, and I’m finally living it. And I can’t imagine doing it with a better buddy than Beau.” He patted the dog lovingly on the head.

Since Sparky was pulling toward the wanderer and his dog anyway, Jake took a few steps closer to the man.

“Doesn’t it get lonely out there?” he asked. “I mean, I know you’ve got the dog, but still.”

“Nah, man. Beau’s all I need. He gets me. Dogs are great about that. They let you think when you need to think, and they give you love when you need it the most. I know he’s got my back, too. You should give it a try. You’ve got the dog and two good feet.”

Jake looked down at Sparky and laughed.

“I don’t think he’d really be the best companion. I’ve also got some plans for the future.” Jake’s mind went to imagining a life with Becks, and he couldn’t help but smile.

“Some plans are made to be demolished.”

“Not this one. Got a long day on the road tomorrow, so I better turn in.”

“Nice talking to ya.”

“You, too. Good luck with your walk.”

As Jake settled into bed, Sparky jumped up and hunkered down on the blankets next to him.

“What do you think, Sparky? Think we’d enjoy a trip walking across the states together?” The little dog happened to give a little huff at that moment. “Yeah,” Jake continued. “That’s what I was thinking, too.”

The next day, after putting another hundred or so miles under his wheels, Jake stopped at a small restaurant off a backcountry exit to grab an early lunch. He found someplace that had outdoor seating so Sparky could hang out with him while he ate. Once he had his food, he grabbed the dog from the side pouch and tied his leash around a leg of an outdoor table.

There was a couple sitting at a table nearby. The woman had on a waitress outfit for the restaurant, while the man had on an old t-shirt and ripped jeans, a baseball cap settled on his head.

“Cute dog,” the woman said, smiling over at them. “Poodle, right?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“You think?”

“He’s not mine. I’m delivering him to someone.”

“Nearby?”

“Nashville.”

The man whistled and said, “That’s quite a ways for a dog delivery on a motorcycle.”

“You’re telling me.”

“Maybe I should get a dog to take along in the big rig, Cara. Might be nice to have some company.”

“No way. I’m the one that would be taking care of it when you’re home on the weekends, and I have enough to do as it is.”

“I’ve heard dogs make great traveling companions, though.” The man looked over at Jake. “Would you say it’s been pretty nice traveling with the dog?”

“I mean, he’s fine, but he’s more a means to an end. I’m really just using him to get the girl.”

“No need to rush into relationships. You should enjoy some time traveling first. Just you and the dog.”

“Kirk!” the woman chastised. “How can you say that? Aren’t you happy having a woman in your life?”

“Of course, hon, you know I’m happy. I’m just saying he should get out and explore a little first.”

Before the woman could get any more riled up, Jake quickly said, “Thanks, but I really just want to get to Nashville.”

He finished off his burger while the couple continued a debate about the merits of relationships versus the freedom of solitude, then snatched up Sparky, and they got on the road again.

That night, when Jake walked into the lobby of the motel he chose, there was a massive Rottweiler lying just inside the door. The big dog lifted his head to stare Jake down and watched him walk all the way up to the check in desk.

“Quite a dog you got there,” Jake said to the motel clerk, an older woman with a name tag that read ‘Judy’.

“Thanks. He’s my security.”

“Security?”

“Yeah. It’s not always so safe working here in the middle of the night. I know Julian will take care of me if anyone seedy comes in. He certainly has before.”

“Nice. I just need a room for the night, please.”

“You got it.” As the woman worked to get his keycard ready, she glanced out the window. “That your dog on the bike.”

“Yes. No. Well, he belongs to a woman I’m going to see out in Nashville.”

“He’s cute. I’d just keep him.”

“Why do you say that?” Jake asked as he took the card she handed out to him.

“You’re visiting a girl in Nashville. Let me guess. She has dreams of being a star?”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“My ex-husband did the same thing to me. Decided he wanted to be famous and walked out, heading for Nashville. Said I was keeping him from his dream. I bought Julian to replace him, and the dog has treated me a lot better than my husband ever did. Take my advice. Leave the starry-eyed woman behind and keep the dog. Maybe travel around for a while. You’ll be much happier.”

“Thanks for the advice, but I’d really rather have the woman.”

The clerk shrugged and said, “Well, I guess it’s your choice. Have a good night.”

“You, too.”

Along the rest of the trip to Nashville, Jake decided Sparky really was a good traveling companion. He certainly had a heck of a lot of enthusiasm about life, and he really seemed to enjoy riding on the bike. Maybe when things were going good with Becks, all three of them could take evening rides together. Head somewhere with a view and take in a sunset. Watch Sparky run around and sniff everything. It sounded just about perfect.

Since Becks had texted all of her friends her new address in Nashville, Jake had no trouble finding the house she was renting. It was a nice little brick ranch on the outskirts of the city.

His heart thumping in his chest with anticipation, Jake walked up the front steps. He had placed Sparky in a different bag, one without a head hole.

Jake reached out and pressed the doorbell, trying to dampen down the massive smile that wanted to break out across his face. He had to play it cool. Not seem too excited. Becks might think it was weird if he seemed too happy to see her.

Soon, the door was opened by the gorgeous brunette of Jake’s dreams.

Confusion passed through her face, then what seemed to be genuine delight.

“Jake? Wow! What are you doing here?”

“I have traveled 2,000 miles to bring you one heck of a surprise.”

“A surprise? I love surprises! What is it?”

Jake reached down into the bag and pulled out Sparky.

Becks stared in bewilderment at the dog. Whatever excitement and happiness Jake had expected to see on her face was entirely absent, and he began to have doubts about the entire situation. Sparky looked even less excited to see Becks than she was to see him.

“Sparkles?” Becks said hesitantly, as if she didn’t even really recognize the fluff ball. “You brought Sparkles?”

“Yeah. I mean, you said he meant everything to you. You said you wanted him, but Gavin refused to let you have him. So I went and got him for you.”

“Oh.” Looking uncomfortable, Becks motioned to the porch steps. “Have a seat,” she said. She sat next to him, clasping her hands in her lap. “Look, I appreciate the effort and everything, but I can’t have a dog here. I mean, I’d have to pay a pet deposit. Find someone to let him out during the day. Put up with his barking while I’m home. I just can’t handle any of that right now.”

“But you said—“

“Yeah, I know. But I didn’t actually want Sparkles. I just had to make Gavin look as bad as possible, and that was one of the ways I did it.”

“What?” Jake set a squirming Sparky on the ground and let the dog explore the area of reach his leash gave him.

“I knew I couldn’t move to Nashville without my parents help, and they’d never approve of me leaving Gavin just because I didn’t want to be with him anymore. Just because I wanted to follow my dream. So I had to make him look bad.”

“But you told all of your friends about it, too.”

“Well, of course. I had to keep the same story all around. Otherwise, I knew things would get all confused and crazy and stuff.”

“Gavin wasn’t cheating on you?”

“Are you kidding me? Gavin? The man can barely function without me. He actually cried when I told him I was leaving. Can you believe it?”

Yes. Yes he could. Jake could totally believe it because he would have been the same way. Suddenly, Gavin’s appearance when he had handed off Sparky made a lot more sense.

“I’m glad you’re here, though.” Becks intertwined her arm with his and scooted a little closer. “And even though I won’t be keeping Sparkles, I acknowledge that what you did was very sweet. It has definitely earned you a chance to take me out for dinner tonight. There is so much I want to tell you about my singing so far!”

Jake sat next to her on the cement steps, listening to her go on and on about auditions, and recording sessions, and voice coaches. All he could think about, though, was what she had said about Gavin. Everything Jake thought he knew about her was crashing down. If he had to be honest with himself, though, he’d never tried to see what she was really like. He’d been too enamored to think of her as any way but perfect.

Sparky, done with exploring his small leashed area, came to stand on the steps. The dog looked over at Becks with very little interest in her, then he raised a small paw and set it on Jake’s leg. When he was sure he had Jake’s attention, the poodle ran to the end of his leash, very clearly trying to pull back toward the motorcycle sitting in the driveway.

Without even looking at Becks, Jake stood, pushing her arm away from his as he did.

“Jake, what’s wrong?”

“Ready to go, Sparky?”

“Jake, seriously, what are you doing?”

Jake let his dog pull him to the bike. He reached down and scooped up the poodle, then deposited him in the side bag.

“Jake!” Becks called, looking confused and mad at the same time.

“Have a nice life, Becks,” Jake called back to her.

“Where are you going?”

“Oh, just around.”

Jake snapped the strap of his helmet under his chin and brought the bike to life.

“What do you think, Sparky? A trip around the states? Just a man and his dog?”

Sparky gave an excited little yip, almost as if he understood what was being said to him. If not the words, then at least the meaning in them.

“Me, too, buddy. Me, too.”

They pulled out of the driveway to the fading sounds of Beck’s yells.

One thought on “Cross-Country Buddy

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