“You can move closer, I’m not going to bite.”
“Aw, c’mon, he must love me now—”
The Chihuahua’s low growl cut Josh off. Staring at the dog, Josh deadpanned, “This is my house.”
Rebecca rolled her eyes and put the dog on the floor. “I’m sorry about him. Usually he gets used to other people quick enough, especially since we see you so often.”
“Think it’s more like a running joke now.” Josh bent down and slowly extended a hand to Moose. The Chihuahua, after looking confused as to why Rebecca put him down, sniffed Josh’s hand and gave it a small lick. With that blessing, Josh gave Moose’s ears a quick rub before getting comfortable in his computer chair again.
“Alright.” Rebecca, after glancing at the floor to be sure she wouldn’t run over Moose, scooted her chair closer to Josh. Moose seemed content to ignore the humans and wandered off. “What are the second-player controls for this game? I’m so used to being player one.”
“Maybe we should switch then,” Josh said. “Last time I played this, I was second player. Do you ever let Sarah be the first player?”
“She’s player one once in a while,” Rebecca said. “Usually when she sets up the video games. Think it’s just because I’m older.”
“Yeah, you’re so old.” Josh grinned as Rebecca elbowed him. “Changed my mind, think you’re too close now.”
“Too bad,” was the young woman’s response.
“What is Sarah up to anyway?” Josh asked, clicking away on the computer’s menu to set up their game. “I thought I’d be squished between both of you here.”
“She’s babysitting,” Rebecca said. “Once she got to the kid’s house, she realized that the kid didn’t have his house key, so they were locked out, making her need to bring him to our house. He’s not a bad kid, but Moose isn’t thrilled with children sometimes… Or teenagers…”
“Or grown men?” Josh teased.
“Depends on the guy,” Rebecca said, sending Josh a smirk. “Thanks, though, for letting me bring him.”
“He’s always welcome—” A yowl followed by a couple of short barks interrupted the pair, and both Josh and Rebecca leaped out of their chairs to investigate. Josh reached the bottom of the stairs leading up to the second floor only to nearly trip on his cat as Peanut, with Moose right behind her, raced down the stairs and around the corner.
“Moose!” Rebecca recovered faster and ran around after her dog. “Leave it!”
Josh was right behind her and saw Moose hesitate at the stern warning, but he couldn’t quite help himself in chasing Peanut. The cat ran into the kitchen and leaped up onto the kitchen table to the counter before looking down at Moose with her short hair standing on end. Moose was bouncing next to the counter in a hopeless attempt to reach the feline.
Upon realizing that both the cat and the dog were safe from the other, Josh took a deep breath and leaned against the threshold of the kitchen. Rebecca was right next to him under his arm, her face flushed as she too paused.
“Moose,” she said, “enough.”
The Chihuahua halted his growls at Rebecca’s cold tone. Josh didn’t blame the dog – even he took a step back from the woman.
“I’m sorry,” Josh said. “I thought all the doors were shut upstairs—”
“What?” Rebecca raised an eyebrow at him as she gathered the dog in her arms. “You have nothing to apologize for. This is your house. I’m mortified that Moose behaved that way.”
“Well, usually dogs chase cats,” Josh said, reaching over to pick up Peanut as well. His cat nearly jumped into his arms. “No harm done in the end.”
Rebecca sighed. “Thank you…” She shook her head at Moose, who seemed to be realizing that chasing the cat was not what he was supposed to do. Josh took a closer step to Rebecca and Moose, keeping the animals far away enough so they wouldn’t try to get at each other while bringing them close enough to sniff.
“They’ll learn to get along eventually,” Josh assured Rebecca. “May take a while, but it’ll happen. You guys aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, right?”
She gave him a crooked smile. “No, we’re not.”
“Good.” He grinned at her before walking out of the kitchen. “I’ll go bring Peanut back upstairs. Go get comfortable at the computer again.”
Rebecca readily agreed and, with Moose in hand, went through the living room while Josh took the steps two at a time back toward the bedroom.
“C’mon, if I can make friends with Moose,” Josh told his cat, “you can too.” Peanut curled back up on his bed and her ears flickered. The gaze she gave Josh indicated that she thought he was crazy.
“We want to stay friends with them, okay?” Josh said, double-checking on Peanut’s water and food dish. He chuckled bitterly to himself. “I can’t just up and move again, you know? I doubt you’d like riding in a car and going to a new place, too.”
Deeming Peanut comfortable enough, Josh hopped back down the stairs and froze when he heard Rebecca give a short scream. It was followed by a male voice stumbling over an apology for startling her, and Josh poked his head back into the living room.
“—Thought I’d be seeing Josh’s mug rather than a lady’s.” There was an awkward laugh as Josh came closer to the computer and into the view of the webcam. Josh ignored the twist in his stomach as he waved to a beaming Ethan. “Josh, there you are! Introduce me to your pretty lady friend!”
“Ethan, this is Rebecca Miller,” Josh said as he took his seat next to Rebecca again. “This doofus is Ethan Griffith.”
“Josh, man, you mentioned the Miller sisters,” Ethan said, “but you didn’t say how cute they were. There are two of you, right?” He seemed to glance around as if he could spot the second sister.
“Yes, I have a younger sister, Sarah, but she’s at home,” Rebecca said. Josh glanced over at her, seeing her sitting up straight with a small, polite smile plastered on her face. Moose, in her lap, was glaring at the computer screen, ears flattened but apparently humbled enough by his earlier scolding to keep quiet.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Ethan said, toning down his enthusiasm and giving Rebecca a genuine grin. “Good to know that Josh wasn’t just making up that he met some new people on that side of the country.
“On that note, sorry for interrupting.” Ethan looked to Josh. “Saw you were online and thought I’d try to catch you before going out for lunch.”
“That’s alright,” Josh said. “It’s good to see you.”
“Of course it is,” Ethan teased, “but I shouldn’t take your attention away from Rebecca.”
“No worries,” Rebecca said. “I can let you two catch up—”
“No, no, don’t leave on my account,” Ethan said, stopping the young woman from getting out of her chair. “I’ll take off in a minute. Besides, I’m sure you’re sick of hearing all about Josh’s best friend, right?”
Josh’s stomach could get a job at the circus with all the flips it was doing. Rebecca, however, grinned and said to Ethan, “Oh, of course not.”
Ethan laughed. “You probably will soon, and I apologize in advance for it. Josh, I’ll talk to you soon, and Rebecca, hopefully I’ll see you again and meet your sister at some point.”
“Looking forward to it,” Rebecca agreed.
“Have fun at lunch,” Josh said and, after another minute of goodbyes, Ethan signed off. Josh busied himself with signing out of the online messenger until Rebecca spoke up.
“We’ve been hanging out for almost four months and you’ve never mentioned Ethan,” she said. Keeping her tone casual, she asked, “Why is that?”
Josh shrugged and, instead of looking at her, reached over to pat Moose’s head, mentally thanking the Chihuahua for allowing it. “Just never came up, I guess.”
“Your best friend?” she asked dubiously. “You know the names of all my and Sarah’s coworkers, along with the usual kids Sarah babysits, and the bridal party of my friend who is getting married at the end of summer. Meeting Ethan right now, though, I’ve come to realize we know next to nothing about your other relationships. It’s curious.”
He glanced up at her then, unsure if she sounded mad. Instead, Rebecca just stared back at him mildly, contemplating.
“Is this a difference between men and women?” she asked after a moment.
Josh gave a short, fake laugh. “Must be.”
Rebecca reached out and patted his knee. “If you say so,” she said. “I don’t believe you, but if you say so… Shall we play?”
The game’s menu was still on the computer and Josh cleared his throat. “Yeah, yeah… Let’s play. I’ll use the mouse button and arrow keys to move my character, while you use the space bar and these keys…”