Brent first spotted her at a café in the west end. She was ordering a latte, but a skinny one, and somehow it just emphasised everything that was so perfect about her — her thin, tanned arms, her long blonde hair, the way her teeth flashed when she laughed. It turned out the buddy he was with used to work at the same company as the girlfriend she was with, so they all sat down together to sip their coffees. An hour later he had her phone number.
Her name was Charlie, and she was the sort of woman who could show up for a date in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and still look like a million bucks. She worked as the book-keeper for a small construction company. As far as Brent was concerned, she could quit that tomorrow and get a job as a model for Victoria's Secret, no problem.
He took her out for dinner and a movie a couple of times, and learned that the jeans-and-suede-boots look wasn't something she had learned out of a magazine. Charlie came from the country, and had grown up helping her parents raise horses. She still had one back on her parents' ranch that was hers, and she showed Brent pictures of it on her cell phone the way that other dates had shown him pictures of their nieces and nephews.
By pure dumb luck, her horse turned out to be a breed he recognised and knew a little about. Charlie gushed more horse trivia at him, and didn't pull away when Brent touched her hand.
"You should come over for dinner," she said. "Next time we get together, I'll fix dinner. Steak and baked potatoes sound good?"
He agreed it did, and they decided on a date and time together.
Brent showed up at precisely five minutes to the appointed hour, with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of red wine in hand. Charlie opened the door to her apartment wearing a black sheath dress, fishnet stockings, and pink terry bunny slippers. With another woman Brent would have been disappointed at the lack of attention to detail, but on her it just looked adorable. She led him to the living room and indicated he should sit on the couch.
One of Charlie's sweaters was on the seat, and Brent glanced down to pick it up and fold it over the back of the couch. When he was seated and looking up again, he found himself eye to eye with the biggest Great Dane he had ever seen.
"That's Mr. Ed," said Charlie. "Are you okay with dogs?"
"Me?" said Brent. "Oh yeah, yeah, we had a black Lab when I was a kid. Mr. Ed — sort of like Mr. T or something?" He craned around the dog's massive skull and tried to estimate how tall the animal would be if it stood on its hind legs.
"He's named after a horse in this old TV show my dad liked to watch when he was a kid," said Charlie. "The horse could talk, but he only talked to this one guy, so the guy could never tell anyone about how he had a talking horse. They have clips on YouTube. It's funnier than it sounds."
"Ah." Brent flashed what he hoped was a winning smile at Charlie, who excused herself to the kitchen. When Brent turned around again, he was staring into the ice-grey eyes of Mr. Ed.
Odd. He'd thought that only huskies and wolves had eyes that colour.
Mr. Ed turned in a very deliberate half-circle and sat down on top of Brent's feet.
"Good doggy," said Brent, scratching him behind the ears. The dog's shoulders extended a good ten centimetres past the top of Brent's lap, and Brent had to reach up slightly to pat him on the head.
Charlie entered the room, carrying two glasses of wine. "Oh look, Mr. Ed likes you," she said, setting the glasses on the coffee table. "So you really are a dog person! I'll just leave you two to get acquainted while I finish the salad." She gave Brent a wink and left again.
Brent tried to shift forward to reach the glass of wine waiting in front of him on the table, but his hamstrings gave out before he made it much past the Great Dane's nose. He flopped back and stared at the paintings of horses Charlie had decorated her living room with. His feet were starting to go numb already.
He tried pulling his feet out from under Mr. Ed, but they wouldn't move. He wiggled his toes, just to make sure he could. The dog turned to stare at him with its frozen-coloured eyes.
"You're massaging my balls when you do that, you know," the dog said.
"What?" The voice had definitely been male, and Mr. Ed's mouth had moved in synch with the words. But a talking dog...
"'What?' is rude. You're supposed to say 'pardon'," said Mr. Ed. "Did you think Charlie's father just named me randomly when he gave me to her?"
"I, ah, um...."
"Everything all right in there?" Charlie called from the kitchen.
"Um, sure, just getting to know Mr. Ed," said Brent. To the dog he hissed, "Why didn't she just put you in the circus or something?"
Mr. Ed licked his nose with his enormous pink tongue. "She doesn't know. I only talk to guys I need to scare off."
"Scare off? Look, I really like Charlie, she's — " Brent stopped as Mr. Ed yawned in his face. With his jaws fully open, it looked like the dog could bite off Brent's face in one chomp.
"Dinner's ready!" At the sound of Charlie's voice, Mr. Ed woofed and launched himself off of Brent's shins. Brent stood up, and then found that he was having a hard time walking. There was no sensation left in his feet at all. He gingerly picked up the wine glasses and shuffled to the dining room.
Ninety minutes later, Charlie skidded her pink terry bunny slippers through the motions of tidying the kitchen. "Oh Ed, why do they always scare off after I have them over for dinner? I get too serious too fast, don't I?" She shut the dishwasher door and bent down to give the Great Dane a hug.
Mr. Ed gave a soft, intentionally ambiguous woof.