John opened the door to the flat he shared with his boyfriend, Stephan, and was greeted by the usual ecstatic chorus of barks. There was Strudel, the elderly dachshund they’d had adopted after seeing a Facebook post from the local shelter about how he’d been there for six months with no interest. Then there was Nudel, also a dachshund, who after a year was slowly coming to the realization that John was not a murderer who broke into the flat every evening.
Today there was a third bark, lower than either of the dachshunds. What could best be described as a freckled blur burst down the hallway, jumped up on John, shoved it’s head into the bag of groceries he was carrying and then bounded away, floppy ears and flagged tail wagging furiously.
John looked censoriously at both dachshunds. “Have you got a friend over?” He asked them, giving them their evening head pats. Emboldened, Strudel tried to shimmy his way into the grocery bag as well, forcing John to walk into the kitchen with it held high above his head. Further back in the flat he heard the sound of his boyfriend frantically whispering before a door shut and the man appeared in the doorway of the kitchen at an unusual speed.
“Oh! Hello John!” Stephan said cheerfully, moving to take the bag from him. “Strudel! Nudel! Gehs in betts!” He ordered the dachshunds, who obeyed, if slowly. He leaned down and kissed John on the cheek. “How was your day?”
“Oh, fine. A new pallet of record requests got delivered to the office, so we’ve been combing through them, looking for anything interesting.” He said, watching Stephan putting away the eggs, spinach, and milk one handedly, admiring his grace. He didn’t often wear his prosthetic at home. (“Ack! Who will see me?” he’d said, soon after John had moved in and commented about it. “It’s not a surprise to you? That it’s fake?” He’d asked, taking off the hot pink poly-carbon arm he’d worn that day, before they’d both dissolved into giggles.)
A suspicious scratching sound arose from the direction of their bedroom. Stephan jolted and then tried to pretend he hadn’t, trying not to catch John’s eye. “Did you want to get pizza?” He asked.
John shook his head. “No, remember, I told you I was making my pasta tonight, and then we were going to watch Bake-Off.” He replied, smiling, pretending that the scratching hadn’t been joined by a plaintive whining. He bumped Stephan in the hip as he crossed the kitchen to grab the pot and put it on to boil. “What did you get up to, today?”
Stephan looked blank for a moment. “Oh. Um. I um, went to the gym?” He said, taking the colander down from the overhead pot rack to hand it to John.
“Oh good!” John replied, enthusiastically. “And then afterwards?”
The scratching continued. Stephan looked off into the middle distance. “Oh, I went to work. We’re finalizing the wheelchair basketball league marketing, I told you about that.” Was it just John, or was he talking a little louder, and more quickly?
“You did!” John replied, who had taken down a smaller pot to throw butter, a can of tomatoes, and an onion into for the sauce. “That is very EXCITING.” He said, over the persistent yip, yip, yip now emanating from the bedroom.
Stephan, John had concluded early in their relationship, looked like someone had brought some old Gothic archangel to life. And he looked particularly like that when he was guilty. It was something about the frown, and the anguished set of his eyes. He was currently looking particularly angelic right now. He took a deep breath.
“It is worse, you know, when you do this.” Stephan said at last.
John looked up from putting the sauce together. “When I do what?” He asked, barely able to keep the laugh out of his voice.
“When I have done something naughty and you ignore it in such the way where you know I have been naughty, but you never say so.” Stephan replied, turning pink.
John softened, turning from the stove to wrap his arms around the gigantic German, who now was looking heavenward. “I disagree. I cannot think of a time when you have been, as you say, naughty. It escapes me.”
Stephan sighed, and begrudgingly returned the embrace.
“However, ” John added. “I would enjoy being enlightened on how our flat suddenly has an English Springer Spaniel infestation.”