George cringed as Patch raced through the shallows after the nearby game of Frisbee’s errant throw.
Heedless, the mottled mutt bounded through the water after the disk, the plastic floating like a cherry-red pie atop the waves.
The Frisbee players laughed, and one, a chicken legged boy with neon-orange trunks, chased after him. As the depth increased, Patch’s retriever nose and the white tip of his Beagle tail became the sole indicators of his progress. The boy splashed and then dove head first, swimming past the mutt like a fish. Popping out of the frothy water, the boy claimed the Frisbee and waved sun-kissed arms, earning a round of cheers from the beach. As the boy started for shore, Patch turned about and with an undaunted dog-paddle made landing.
George waited, hands on hips, as Patch received a rub on his head from the boy for his canine efforts.
“Come on, Patch.”
The mutt lifted his head and stared at him across the sands, body rigid. Following the dog’s snout, the boy winced and held the Frisbee like a shield.
“It’s not your fault,” said George.
Grinning, the boy gave Patch a final ear ruffle, and then sprinted back to his game.
Patch meanwhile shook from head to toe, flecking the sand with briny specks.
“Come on, boy,” said George.
With salted spikes of fur, a wagging tail and lolling tongue, Patch traipsed over.
Francis stopped at George’s side. With a weighted sigh, the dog trainer folded his arms across a bared chest.
Grimacing, George locked eyes with his approaching mutt who had slowed to a wary slink. “I guess we’re not improving.”
“I would say not,” said Francis.
Barking increased behind them.
“I need to see to the others,” said Francis. “Preferably without a distraction.”
“I understand,” said George. He fished his wallet from his mint-green Bermuda shorts. Handing over the required cash, he signed at the few old receipts remaining behind.
“Should I expect you next week?”
“I think we’re going to need a little break.”
Francis nodded, and pivoted.
“Let’s heel people!” He marched away, the soft grains squishing under his crisp, barefoot stride.
George found the clip at the end of the leash as Patch approached. “Did you enjoy that?”
Patch barked, his tail increasing its sway.
Shaking his head, George caught Patch’s collar and clipped the line. The mutt strained against the cord, but after a tug, slowed to a jagged walk at George’s knee.
Taking a route away from Francis and the others in the behavioral class, George weaved between towels and mats laid out for picnics, pasty summer travelers seeking a sun bath, and glistening locals of all shapes and sizes flaunting bared body parts not condoned for city streets. As they ventured from the parking lots and boardwalks enabling access to the nearby stores, the crowd began thinning.
George lengthened Patch’s leash and the dog took quick advantage of the freedom. Nose to the ground he stiffed at the sand, snuffing as grains flew after each quick dig. He wandered up into the dunes, and back to the shallows, weaving like a drunk driver.
Letting the mutt wander, George cast his gaze over the water. He traded hands occasionally as Patch circled, keeping the leash from coiling and cutting his legs out from under him like his once-held job and the expectant mound of bills. Avoiding a descent into mundane concerns, George absorbed the serene ocean waves flowing toward the horizon, the lapping creating a soporific beat against the shore. The rhythm, drenching mid-day sun, and Patch’s pattern of investigation, lulled George into a standing stupor, one worlds away from the troubles waiting at his door.
The sudden tug on his arm, however, broke his daze. Patch barked, and strained against the leash.
“Quit it,” said George.
Patch looked up, tail alert.
“Come here, boy.”
As if directed otherwise, Patch wheeled, and yanked George toward whatever interesting prize he’d discovered. Stumbling after him, George avoided popping his shoulder out of joint, but created an encouraging amount of slack in the line. Patch charged, but finally halted a few feet further down the beach. With his front paws he scraped at the surface.
Nearing, George spied a glint of sunlight pooling on whatever Patch had found. Gathering the line, George finally hauled Patch away by grabbing the dog’s collar.
Even kept at arm’s length, Patch barked victoriously as George stared at the half buried treasure.
Dropping to a knee, George plied away the neighboring sand around the glass, careful to keep his hands from the jagged edges his instincts warned lay below. As rounded edges appeared, and the slope descended into cooler depths, he released Patch and dug with both hands. The mutt bounded around the hole, wagging his tail.
Gradually, the object resolved into a bottle, the glass clear except for the barnacles adhered to one side and the scars of wear. Lifting the bottle out from the hole, George plopped onto the neighboring sand. Patch sat by his side as he cupped the neck and end.
Within, George spied a roll of sepia tinged parchment. Working the wax off the mouth, he upended the bottle, the page slipping into his hand. He set the bottle aside and carefully unrolled the sheet.
Crinkling followed, but the ink gleamed, evidently protected until now. George’s eyes grew wide as he read the text once, and then a second time, and then noted the familiar coastline etched onto the page. Bracing his arms upon his bent knees, George allowed the page to curl.
After a scan across the water, George locked on to one particular island glimmering at the horizon like a faceted jewel. He tallied the needed supplies for the short journey to the opposite shore. Expending his last paycheck seemed a worthy exchange for the promised return offered by the bottle’s note.
George’s mouth stretched into a broad grin as he gazed at the emerald spit. He scrubbed Patch’s neck.
“Good boy, Patch. Good boy.”