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Dog Lover

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Dogs were a mistake.

Or at least, Alma reflects, this particular dog was a mistake, and the worst part is that the blame rests solely with Alma. They are the one who brought the interloper home on a whim one day after passing by a shelter. The dog, a middle-aged chocolate lab mutt named Mugen, had looked up at Alma when they passed by his cage with the saddest, most soulful eyes in the universe, and had continued to watch Alma throughout their visit. By the time Alma had to leave, they couldn’t get more than five steps to the exit without guilt hunching their shoulders. So they took the dog home.

The easy reception Alma and the dog received from Yuu, Alma’s partner and roommate who can still barely tolerate cohabitation with Alma on some days (and Alma is fairly neat and probably not as needy as a dog), should have been immediately suspicious. However, Alma was too relieved to notice at the time. They were just glad that they wouldn’t have to slink back to the shelter and return Mugen. They had no inkling of the terrible truth that would become clear during the following weeks – which is that Yuu is a massive dog person.

Now Alma is reduced to sulking on one end of the sofa, eating a sad potato salad while Yuu sits on the other end with Mugen, who is pretending he’s small enough to be a lapdog. Antiques Roadshow plays on the TV in the background. The soundtrack to Alma’s misery.

“What’s the matter with you?” asks Yuu.

“Nothing,” Alma mumbles.

Yuu scoffs. “Say that again when you’re not sighing into your potato salad every five seconds. So what is it? Not enough mayonnaise?”

“The mayonnaise is fine ,” Alma says stubbornly, crossing their arms and definitely not pouting.

Yuu scowls at them, gently shifting Mugen into a more comfortable position on his lap, before rolling his eyes and turning back to the TV, where a vase with two cows mating is being priced at 40 000-60 000 USD.

Silence stretches between the two of them. On the show, a woman begins telling the story of how the sculpture of a naked man came into her possession.

Alma is the one to break the silence. “You never let me sit in your lap,” they mutter.

“Too heavy,” Yuu says swiftly.

“That dog is at least two hundred pounds!” Alma cries indignantly. “I totally weigh less than that!”

“You sure?” Yuu asks, directing a smirk at Alma.

Alma jabs a finger at him. “You know I’m right.”

Yuu shrugs – as much as he can without dislodging Mugen, at least. When Mugen still squirms a bit, Yuu pats his head and he settles.

“You never pet my head, either,” Alma says with an accusatory tone.

“Because you’re not a dog, Alma,” Yuu says.

“Yuu,” Alma says, setting aside their potato salad and staring straight into Yuu’s eyes, “I’m going to ask you a serious question and I want you to answer me honestly . . . do you love Mugen more than me?”

Yuu looks at Alma like they’re insane, then seems to come to a realization. “Wait a minute,” he says with the slow beginnings of a grin. “Are you jealous? Of the dog ?”

“No. . .” Alma says, a weak denial, and Yuu chuckles. Alma gives his shoulder a shove, which disturbs the dog. Mugen barks once and clambers off Yuu’s lap to attack Alma’s face with kisses.

“Ugh, your breath stinks, Mugen,” Alma complains once they’re free. They wipe at the slobber on their cheeks and make a face, but when they look at Mugen they can’t help but smile. “You’re right, Yuu,” says Alma. “I’m being silly, just ignore me.”

Yuu scrutinizes Alma for a second before he gestures for Alma to stand up. “Hold on. I’ve got an idea.”

Yuu’s idea is for him and Alma sit side-by-side on the sofa, Yuu’s arm around Alma’s shoulders and Alma rests against Yuu’s chest. Mugen, heavy and dozing, lays across both their laps.

“Happy?” asks Yuu, a hand on Mugen’s flank.

“Happy,” Alma confirms. They feel as though they could fall asleep from contentment.

On the TV, there is a man with an antique bureau that has been passed down in his family for generations. It’s appraisal is unimpressive, but the man shrugs and says that he hadn’t been planning to sell it anyway; he had only been curious.

(“So . . . do you love Mugen more than me?”

“Would it make you feel better to know that I love you as much as I love Mugen?”)