By Sandra Beasley

As I’ve told James, the dog-walker has a crush on the girl in 5C. The girl in 5C doesn’t know this. She’s never heard what I’ve heard: how for weeks he arrived with “Baxter? BAXTER?! Hey there BAXTER!” He’d jiggle the key in 5C’s lock as Baxter cannonballed to the door. I could hear the beagle’s collar jingling against the carpet as he bellied up for a scratch.

“Aren’t you a goooood boy!” the dog-walker would croon. I’d smile at his bright, goofy voice. (No need to tell James that part.) “Where do we go TODAY?”

Then came the time–she running a little late, he a little early–when the dog-walker saw that blonde hair and that gold-tan trench coat the girl in 5C wears even when it’s 20 degrees outside. Now he clears his throat when he rounds the corner of our hallway.

“Anybody home?” he calls out in a mature voice: an MBA-ed, kickball-on-the-weekends voice. Ugh.

Most days she’s home. “How about that rain last night?” he asks. Did she get that FedEx off? Has she been following the Nationals?

Abandoned, Baxter comes to our door and paws it, whining.

As I’ve told James, the girl in 5C does not deserve the dog-walker’s crush. He’s never heard what I’ve heard: phone calls to her friends about This Guy who “drives a Boxer, total fish dick” or That Guy who took her “to P.F. Chang’s, Jesus! I was wearing Marc Jacobs!”

Or “Mom, I love you, but the gym closes at 9.”

I never set out to learn the girl in 5C has a beagle named Baxter or a 2-carat ring requirement. But that’s the nature of city life. Each time I climb five flights to our apartment I pass the concert pianist in 2A, the lusty-lunged newborn in 3D, and the fourth-floor double that fills our building with the smell of lentils.

Once I opened the door to find a tortoise placidly surveying the hallway. Two minutes later I opened the door again; the turtle was gone. To work at home is to witness the weirdness of daily humanity.

So I hear the dog-walker come and go. And I miss his old voice. (No need to tell James that part.) He may have sounded like a cartoon before, but he sounded happy.

None of this justifies the braided leash and felt-lined collar I bought at CVS last night. “Purple,” the check-out clerk said. “Cute.” Me, who has not owned a pet since Beowulf the fighting beta-fish. Beowulf, who promptly committed suicide by jumping out of his bowl.

I stuffed the leash in the bedside stand before James got home. We’ve been together for four years now, half of that in this apartment. Love starts with fireworks and ends in Scrabble games, but it’s still love. At night he migrates from his pillow to mine–and proceeds to drool on it. I still like him in the morning. That’s gotta be love, right?

Thursdays are the bane of freelancing. That’s the day you realize how much you’ll work in the coming weekend. Perhaps if I ever bothered to get dressed I’d be more productive, but there’s something to be said for wearing a satin-dragon robe when you know your friends are out there in suits.

I take a sip from my 5 PM coffee and stare at an edit with half-focused eyes. The dog-walker is late today. I hear the girl in 5C step into the hallway.

“Baxter! Stay! Don’t–ahh, no–STAY. See you tonight.”

I tuck my foot under me and turn a page, trying to pretend the thought of intercepting the dog-walker hasn’t wakened every nerve in my body. What would I do if I could?

Soon I hear his familiar baritone–intertwined with an even more familiar voice. The dog-walker. . . and James. Talking about Nats scores. It’s James who steps into our apartment. James, with his hazel eyes and warm smile.

“Hi babe.” A kiss. He disappears into our bedroom to hang up his tie.

“GOOD BOY! GOOD BOY!” On the other side of our door, Baxter is experiencing an apoplexy of belly-scratches. His cathartic yelps punch through the plaster.

Lucky dog, I think, taking another slug of coffee.

That’s when James walks in holding the collar.

You live long enough in a city, you learn every type of moment. The non sequitur of a reptile in the hallway. The fight that would never happen given one less beer. The click of a blonde’s heels as she goes out to greet the night in a thin coat and thinner confidence. And the ease with which a boyfriend can take your hand, lead you to a bed, and lay you down on its quilting.

“I can explain–” I say, though I can’t. James presses a finger to my lips.

“Shhhh,” he says. “The neighbors will hear.”

He loops the collar around my wrists, fastening them to our brass-barred headboard, and pulls the buckle tight, draping the leash behind us. He parts the folds of my robe and snakes my underwear down over my hips. It’s been awhile.

What follows, follows in perfect silence, as I arch up to take him in. Our mouths stay tight on each other, every break for breath buried in the others ear or shoulder. With my hands bound I can’t resist how his fingers roam, pinching and rubbing in slow, ridiculous circles. I laugh without sound. I bark without sound. And when I crest he presses his palm to my lips so that the cry has nowhere to rush but inwards, a wave that knocks me down and sweeps me clean.

The world is full of dog-walkers afraid their sweeter, sillier selves won’t get the girl. You have to find your James–the guy who’s not looking for permission. Sometimes you’re the one who needs permission. Sometimes, it takes a collar’s clinch to let a girl unleash.

–Sandra Beasley

Photograph by Seth Kushner