You've Got Mail
copyright 2011 comidacomida
In all the time that Paul had been with AHB he had only worked a Sunday on one other occasion, and that had been the day before the first Mein Hund advertisement was due. Everything had been chaotic; people were running here-and-there. Normally calm and collected coworkers were rushing around, sometimes forgetting what it was they were after in such a hurry. Paul had promised himself that he was going to meet every deadline ahead of schedule so he'd never have to go through anything like that ever again-- unfortunately, the second-ever Sunday was worse than the first... much, MUCH worse.
At first, Paul thought he must have somehow driven to the wrong commercial park but, upon double-checking, he realized that he was at the right place; the status of the parking lot was what threw him off. On any normal day about one third of the spots would have been full. Paul would have expected for the majority of the lot to be empty considering it being Sunday, but that was decidedly not the case. Everywhere Paul looked there were media vans, mobile satellite dishes, camera men, and numerous reporters that he recognized from various local TV station news broadcasts. The moment fingers started pointing at his car he knew that the day was going to get much more... interesting.
It took Paul twenty minutes to get the 40 feet from his car to the front door of the office. The media converged on him like hungry piranha with words being shouted out at top volume. Lights blinded him, camera flashes strobed continuously, and microphones came out of nowhere to try and fight for the prime real estate closest to his mouth. And then, out of nowhere, a hand reached through the crowd and latched onto his shoulder with a powerful grip. Before Paul knew it, he was hauled through the front doors of the office by Ben. The tall, black man then moved the poor, startled photographer further inside. With a firm, no-nonsense tone Ben said quite clearly, "There will be no comments at this time." and closed the door.
It took Paul a few moments to steady his breathing, and a few seconds more to realize that Ben was addressing him, "Huh?" he asked.
"I said, 'are you alright?'." Ben repeated.
Paul took a moment to check himself over as if looking for some kind of wound and then, still bleary, nodded, "Yea... I think so."
"Good. Mr. Aimes is waiting for you in his office." Ben noted and, with nothing more to be said, the big, black man walked off down the hall to the right toward the central offices, leaving Paul alone to gaze leftward toward the executive hall. Swallowing a developing knot in his throat, Paul took a breath and proceeded toward his apparent meeting with one of the business owners.
The young man came to a stop, facing the oak door with the brass name plate with the clearly stylized "Chris Aimes, Operating Partner" imprinted on it. Taking another deep breath, Paul spoke quietly to himself, "Alright... this can't be THAT big of a deal... just say hello to Mr. Aimes, see what's up, and don't freak out."
"Are these self-directed pep-talks normal for you, Paul?" Mr. Aimes' voice came from behind him. rotating around slowly, Paul came face-to-face with Chris Aimes, who stood just outside of the men's restroom, door slowly swinging closed behind him. The owner's expression was unreadable.
"Just when I'm really REALLY in need of them... uh... sir." Paul responded.
"Come with me into my office, Mr. Miller... we need to talk for a little while." the executive stated, moving past Paul to open the door to the office. Paul had seen the room once or twice, but it never seemed quite so imposing. Three black leather chairs were situated around a large, executive style cherry wood desk-- one behind it and two in front of it. Chris Aimes moved to take the single chair and, once seated, motioned for Paul to sit, "Either one is fine." he added verbally.
Paul took a seat in the left chair, hoping that, if it were a test that he made the right decision. Mr. Aimes' face was unreadable, and Paul kept wondering if he had chosen wisely. He fidgeted, eyes glancing all around the office at absolutely anything and everything that wasn't Chris Aimes. He looked at the paintings, a potted plant, the flat-screen of the owner's computer--
"I assume you know why we're here?" Mr. Aimes questioned.
"Isn't that a question man has been asking since we first began to philosophize?" Paul spoke before he could make himself stop.
Mr. Aimes smiled... but only for a half-second-- then it was gone. "Why the management and senior employees are working today, Mr Miller." he clarified. Paul shrugged in response. His boss reached out onto the desk and picked up a sleek, black remote, and pointed it at the flat screen TV hung on the middle of the office wall. Once on, the television showed camera feed of the front of AHB, complete with the mob of reporters and press still waiting at the front door.
"Oh..." Paul nodded, "There is that."
"Yes..." Mr. Aimes nodded, "That."
"Mr. Aimes... I--" Paul began, but was cut-off.
"Now, Paul... you know it's against HR guidelines for any employee to be singled out for any number of reasons. I don't care what you do, how you do it, or with whom you do what you do however you do it--" Mr. Aimes paused for a moment, which was a good thing, because Paul's head was starting to spin thanks to the rapid-fire usage of pronouns and verbs. "So I am not going to ask anything of you, that you speak up on your own behalf, or really say much of anything about the topic."
"The news--" Paul started to speak but Mr. Aimes held up a hand for him to stop.
"The news tends to pick up on stories and sensationalize them, Paul." his boss stated neutrally. Mr. Aimes leaned back in his chair, resting his hands behind his head, "As long as they keep their cameras pointed at the front of the building then we get free publicity."
"Mr. Aimes..." Paul began, barely listening, "I don't know why they said--" and he paused half-way in his sentence when his boss' comment registered; did Mr. Aimes WANT the media there. "What?" he asked, using the single word for clarification.
"Paul..." Mr Aimes sat up again, tenting his fingers together as he rested his elbows on the desk, "Like I said; I don't care whether what the media says is true or not-- if you can do your job then you're a good employee. Your job has been and always will be to make AHB Marketing get noticed. Whether you do that by your exemplary work with a camera, your skill with handling the ornery talent, or by keeping the media interested in what we're up to, frankly, I don't give a damn."
At first, Paul thought he was being let off the hook over the media issue. As Mr. Aimes continued his monologue, however, those hopes began to be torn apart. The young man was hesitant to ask, but did so anyway, "But... what the media says--"
"It doesn't matter what the media says, Paul." Mr. Aimes noted, "Eventually they'll move on to something else and everything will go back to the way it was... the only difference is how long we're on the news because the longer that happens the more free publicity we get."
The strange, pragmatic approach his employer was taking to the event was both reassuring and infuriating at once. On one hand, Mr. Aimes made it apparently quite clear that Paul wasn't going to be losing his job but, on the other hand, Paul had a very uncomfortable feeling that he wouldn't like where the discussion was going, "Then...." he took a half-breath, afraid of the answer, "what do you want from me?"
Mr. Aimes took that opportunity to unmute the television, catching Paul's attention, "--but local contacts remain skeptical due to the lack of information. Paul Miller has been unavailable for comment and representatives at AHB Marketing have refused to comment on the matter citing a confidentiality policy as far as personal information of their employees."
Paul glanced to Mr. Aimes then back to the television, "Earlier today, however, Mr. Chris Aimes, senior operating partner for the firm provided this station with the email address for Paul Miller, informing us that he would be provided time on the clock to answer any questions he felt comfortable addressing. We received footage earlier today of--"
The executive hit the mute button again. The mute button, however did nothing to hide Paul's work email address where it appeared at the bottom of the screen. In over two decades Paul had never felt the simultaneous inclination to both faint and vomit at once-- after having suffered through it, he wished fondly that he could have gone his whole life without having felt it. Sadly, he figured he'd feel it a lot more often before the day was out.
"Thank you for your time, Paul... now, if you like, your desk is waiting for you and I'm told that some of your coworkers have already turned on your computer." Mr. Aimes's cell phone started buzzing on the desk. Reaching for it, Paul's boss noted quite clearly, "Just remember that you have a right to non-disclosure involving any questions they ask that might make you feel uncomfortable." the executive noted in an almost monotone, by-the-books voice. "Hello, Chris Aiems." he noted, speaking into his cell, "Hold on." he added quickly, turning back to Paul as the young man stood up, "One more thing, Paul..."
"Yes, Sir?" Paul asked, feeling a little dizzy.
"Please try to respond to any questions via emails in a neutral manner... you know... either 'no comment', or no definitive answer-- people are going to think what they want to regardless of your answer." Mr. Aimes offered.
"Yea... thanks." Paul noted, numbly picking his way out of the office. It was going to be a LONG day. Walking down the hallway back to the general work area, Paul wondered why Mateo had chosen to spread the rumors about him. Did he know, or was it just a random bit of slander that just happened to hold a shred of truth? Paul didn't know, but he realized he'd have to save the conjecture for another time-- Ben, Candy, Miranda, and Ray were all waiting at Paul's cubicle.
"He's a fucking prick, Dakota... a real asshole." Miranda spoke up before anybody else could. Paul nodded quietly at her rant.
"I always thought he was a nice guy, but, then, I'm not always the best at reading someone's character." Candy offered, her tail wagging reassuringly. She pulled Paul's chair out for him and he took a seat.
"Thanks." he offered. It was hard for him to believe, but it wasn't even ten o clock yet and he was already exhausted, "he just... kinda flipped." Paul explained.
"You can say that again..." Candy nodded, "anybody who would do something like that really doesn't deserve to be your friend, Dakota." she patted him on the shoulder and leaned down to nose his cheek, "Don't worry, sweety... it'll all blow over soon enough."
"Might want to nix the PDA, Candy," Miranda bristled slightly, "Paul doesn't really need anyone thinking he really IS into Dogs."
"Miranda, that isn't helping." Ray stated with a scowl.
"Well neither is rubbing her nose all over his face." Miranda countered.
"Enough. Everyone." Ben spoke up, his voice booming in the enclosed space, commanding enough that it made several people elsewhere in the room sit up and take notice, "If you're here to support Paul then do it-- if you're here to gawk then clear out-- we're working, remember?"
"Don't worry, Dakota... everything'll be fine." Miranda noted, patting his shoulder, "Just answer a few emails-- go for the easy ones." she looked around at the other people present, the cubicle more-than-cramped due to the audience, "We should ALL give him some space." she suggested, then glanced back at him, "I'll be over at my desk if you need anything, alright, Dakota?"
"Yea..." he nodded, letting out a deep sigh, "...thanks."
Miranda ushered everyone out of the cubicle, pausing at the doorway, "You know, Paul..."
"Hmm?" he looked up. He didn't miss that she switched from his nickname back to his real name once they were alone.
"One of the easiest ways to get past these nasty rumors would probably be to stop hiding away from everyone and everything..."
"Not sure I want to walk out onto a feeding frenzy of reporters, thanks." Paul noted dismissively.
"No," Miranda laughed, "we should go out sometime this week..." she offered, "you know... just as friends." was added quickly, "The media just needs to grab a few pictures of you together with a human lady and they'll forget all of this in no time."
Paul nodded numbly, not liking the way the direction the discussion was headed, "Right... thanks, Miranda."
She smiled back, "Anytime... Dakota." Miranda winked, and then disappeared from his sight. Letting out a deep breath of relief, Paul looked back to his computer, logged in, and clicked on the mail icon-- he almost choked when he saw -218 NEW MESSAGES-.
Scrolling through the enormous list, Paul saw everything from religious condemnation to solicitations from interested parties. He saw numerous posts with email addresses from TV stations and newspapers as well one or two political bodies-- but the majority of them looked like they were emails from 'John Q Anybody'. Paul laughed to himself as that name went through his mind; it was a generic name his dad had always used when describing nobody-specific. His heart almost froze in his chest when he suddenly wondered if any of the coverage was transmitted to sister-stations back in his own state.
"Hey." the mellow, calming voice pulled Paul out of his sudden shock. Ray knelt down next to Paul, holding out a can of Mountain Dew, "If I remember right, you don't like coffee."
"Thanks, Ray." the young man replied, accepting the soda, "Yea... smells great but the taste kills me." he let out a sigh, setting the can on the desk beside his keyboard.
"Takes some getting used to." the golden retriever smiled.
"Dulling my taste buds to it isn't high on my priority list, I guess." the young man noted with a casual shrug. He sighed.
"I'd ask if everything was okay, but I'd be afraid of the answer." the retriever offered, rose once again before seating himself on a clear portion of desk.
"There's over two hundred emails here." Paul motioned to the computer.
"Hit refresh." Ray noted, pointing at an icon along the top. Paul complied.
"I mean almost three hundred." the human lamented, screen now reading -286 NEW MESSAGES-.
"Just come up with a system, Dakota." Ray offered.
"That's almost three hundred people contacting me over some fabricated story Mateo made up... what kind of system COULD there be for handling something like this?" Paul questioned, somehow managing to keep the sheer horror he felt in the situation out of his voice.
"Well... what about that one?" Ray asked, pointing to a message indicating fire and brimstone.
"I don't even think I want to open it." Paul replied with a sigh.
"Then delete it." Ray countered.
Paul was about to object, but instead found himself doing just that.
"Good." Ray nodded, "Now go ahead and clear out the rest of the box the same way." he took a swig from his coffee, "And drink your Dew, Dakota... I have a feeling you'll probably need it today." he chuckled, tail beating an encouraging drum solo in the desk.
"You haven't ever had to deal with anything like this, have you, Ray?" Paul asked. If he could only find someone who had to go through even a portion of what he was facing he knew it would make him feel better.
"I did some photography in the early 90s while I was in Desert Storm... got a huge amount of public backlash." the Dog responded, "Why?"
"Just hoping someone else out there shared my misery at some point." the human offered a weak smile.
"Well, I'm showing you a system I found to work, aren't I?" Ray grinned.
Paul almost managed to smile as he went through the rest of his in box. "Alright... that was almost 40 emails." he announced, and refreshed the computer. -253 NEW MESSAGES- Paul wanted to cry. "This ISN'T working..."
"You're making progress." Ray countered optimistically, "Just keep going." he noted, leaning forward to brush his paw across Paul's hand, taking the mouse from him, "So... what about these?" he inquired, highlighting several emails from TV stations, "How about it, Dakota: feel like answering a ton of media questions?"
"To be honest?" Paul inquired, "Hell no."
Ray nodded and, with a chuckle, cleared out more of the email, "Alright... that's almost a hundred deleted right there." The Dog clicked the refresh button -171 NEW MESSAGES-. "See? Progress... and it looks like they're slowing down too."
Paul had to admit that Ray did seem to be doing well with the system, "So... do YOU want to do this for me?" he offered a sheepish grin.
"Nah... sorry, Dakota, but I have my own work today." Ray responded.
"I thought everyone was here to support me, or something." Paul countered.
Ray smirked, "Getting a little full of yourself, are we?" the Dog grinned, "Nah... Mein Hund bought some TV air time for marketing and now Eizenzahn wants us to prep some commercials for him."
"Really?" Paul inquired, "They aren't even in America but they're still moving forward?"
"Apparently so." the Dog confirmed.
"Wow..." Paul sighed, "I bet Aimes and Burke are loving that."
"Not really... Mr Howe is the one that secured the contract... showed em both up." Ray laughed.
"I thought he was just a silent partner." Paul pressed, thankful to have FINALLY hit on a topic that had nothing to do with him.
"He is, for the most part... but he was the one who got the Mein Hund contract in the first place. You can believe anything you want, but if you ask me, I'd say that Mr Howe is the one who has the most business sense outta all three of em." Ray winked.
"How come I didn't hear about it?" Paul asked, "I thought Eizenzahn wanted me to head most of their projects."
"well... from what I gather," Ray offered in a casual manner, "I think he heard that you were a little busy with a special project of your own." the comment made Paul blush fiercely, "But enough of that-- you're letting yourself be distracted from YOUR job."
Paul sighed, "Couldn't you just hang out for another... I don't know... eight hours or so?"
Ray laughed, "Nice try, Dakota... but we all have things we gotta do. If it's any consolation, I don't envy you." the retriever leaned forward and touched his nose to Paul's forehead, "I'll check back on ya in a bit, okay?"
Paul reached up and pressed his fingers against the front of Ray's shirt, pausing as he felt the tell-tale presence of a set of tags hiding beneath the cloth. Ray smiled, tail beating softly against the desk and Paul felt himself blush, "Alright..." he pulled his fingers back, "Thanks, Ray."
"No problem, Dakota... you're a good guy-- I'm sure you'll do just fine." and, with that, Paul was on his own.
With no further hope for help or reprieve, the young man looked back once again to the computer and got to work with his system of email management. Thanks to Ray's suggestion, Paul was able to weed out all of the 'undesirable' emails. Aggressively pruning his in box, Paul managed to somehow clear out all except about two dozen emails based on tag line and email address alone. Faced with no further way of trashing the messages, Paul finally bit the bullet and, reluctantly, opened his first one.
I HAD ALWAYS WANDERED, WHAT IS IT A LEASHER WANTS FROM THEIR BURB DOG. I HAVE HEARD MANY STORIES AND WANT SOME CLARIFICATION. ARE THEY INTERESTED IN SEX, COMPANIONSHIP, SOMEONE TO TALK TO, OR JUST A PET? IS IT OKAY TO NOT CARE WHETHER I'M A BURB DOG FOR A MALE OR FEMALE HUMAN? I DON'T REALLY KNOW WHERE I'M SUPPOSED TO GO WITH QUESTIONS LIKE THESE.
IF YOU COULD PLEASE INFORM ME ON A FEW OF THESE THINGS, IT WOULD BE MUCH APPRECIATED.
THAT PITCH BLACK LABRADOR,
DASHAWN DARK SHADOW-
Out of all of the things that an email could contain, Paul had never expected it to be such mundane questions. The consideration of topic aside, the Dog that sent the email was just looking for advice. The simplicity and straight-forward interaction caught Paul completely by surprise. He stared at the email for over a minute and reread it twice. They were questions... just questions.
Paul had no idea why the Dog expected him to be a master on the topic or have all of the answers, but there it was. At first, Paul wanted to delete the letter along with the rest of them but, for some reason he couldn't explain, the young man found himself pressing the REPLY button. Cracking his knuckles, he composed a response.
I DON'T KNOW IF I'M QUALIFIED TO ANSWER THESE KINDS OF QUESTIONS, BUT IT LOOKS LIKE THEY'RE BOTHERING YOU, SO I'LL TRY.
YOU SHOULDN'T TRY SO HARD TO FIT INTO ANY KIND OF GROUP. BE YOURSELF AND LOOK FOR WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY. IF YOU STAY TRUE TO YOURSELF THEN IT'LL HELP THE RIGHT PERSON FIND YOU BECAUSE THEY'LL SEE YOU FOR WHO YOU ARE. IF BEING A BURB DOG MAKES YOU HAPPY THEN LOOK FOR THE RIGHT KIND OF PERSON TO BE YOUR LEASHER. ONLY YOU CAN DECIDE WHAT'S RIGHT FOR YOU.
Sitting back, Paul read what he wrote. He thought it sounded kind of canned and a bit sappy, but he didn't really know what else to do. With no other options, he hit SEND. Letting out a deep breath, Paul clicked on the next one.
MY NAME IS HAY BAIL BUT I GO BY BAILEY. I WORK AT HARRISON PACIFIC, THE I.T. COMPANY THAT AHB CONTRACTS WITH. I'VE SEEN SEVERL OF THE ADVERTS YOU WORKED ON AND I WAS WONDERING IF YOU KNEW ANY LEASHERS WHO MIGHT BE INTERESTED WITH A SLIGHT INEXPERIENCED DOG. I'M THILL NEW TO THE WHOLE THING AND WAS WONDERING IF YOU KNEW ANY LEASHERS WHO WERE LOOKING.
SINCEARLY, BAILEY HAY BAIL.-
Paul took a few moments to examine the email... It seemed genuine enough considering the typographical errors-- he made enough of them himself on most occasions. He got a little squeamish however when he considered being a go-between for Leashers and Burb Dogs. Paul had enough trouble finding matching socks, let alone finding someone a compatible significant-other. His first inclination was to pass on answering but, compelled to respond in SOME way, Paul started composed a reply.
I DON'T MAKE IT A POINT TO PLAY MATCH-MAKER AND I DON'T PRETEND TO KNOW ALL OF THE INS-AND-OUTS OF RELATIONSHIPS. GENERALLY I'D SUGGEST TAKING ANY RELATIONSHIP SLOW AND DON'T LET ANYONE DICTATE WHAT YOU SHOULD OR SHOULDN'T DO UNTIL OR UNLESS YOU'RE READY. IT'S OKAY TO BE NEW AT SOMETHING BECAUSE EVERYONE HAS TO START SOMEWHERE.
Paul looked at the email and quickly revised it; the whole thing sounded too much like discussing sex with a teenager. He quickly revised it to denote that inexperience was something everyone dealt with at some time and that if it was a big concern he should probably find someone with patience who was willing to accommodate that. Feeling squeamish, Paul quickly hit the SEND button and moved on.
The next email gave Paul an even bigger pause for thought.
I FEEL A LITTLE AKWARD ABOUT WRITING TO SOME ONE I DON'T KNOW ON THIS SUBJUECT, ALONG WITH A LITTLE HESITANT. I HAVE JUST STARTED GETTING INTO THE BURB DOG SEEN. ONE OF MY FRIENDS KINDA TUNED ME INTO IT, AND STILL NEW TO IT AND TRYING TO FIGURE IT OUT. SOME HOW YOUR NAME CAME UP IN THE CONVERSATION TODAY... YOU KNOW, ALL THE NEWS STUFF AND EVERYTHING.
SO I GUESS I WANTED TO KNOW WHAT YOU LOOK FOR IN A BURB DOG. SHOULD A BURB DOG ACT LIKE A HOUSE DOG, OR IS IT SOMETHING ELSE? PLEASE DON'T TAKE THIS AS ME ASKING YOU TO BE MY LEASHER. I KNOW IT MAY SEEM LIKE IT. I'M NOT REALLY SURE WHO TO TALK TO ABOUT IT, SO SINCE THEY PUT YOUR EMAIL ON THE TV I FIGURED I COULD AT LEAST TRY AND SEE IF THERE'S SOMEONE I CAN ASK.
FRANK, ONE HUNDRED FRANCS-
Paul sat back in his chair and slumped. At first he was tempted to respond with a very straight-forward "I'm not a Leasher so I have no freaking idea.", but the "pep talk" from Mr Aimes weighed heavily on his mind. The young man thought about just deleting the email because that would be easy enough too. He mulled his options over in his mind for several minutes as he tried to compose something that would avoid any negative results; it was not easy. In the end, he did manage to come up with something.
-ONE HUNDRED FRANCS,
REGARDLESS OF WHETHER I'M LOOKING FOR A BURB DOG OR A NEW REFRIGERATOR, WHAT I LOOK FOR DOESN'T MEAN THAT IT'S SOMETHING EVERYONE WANTS. I WOULD IMAGINE THAT IF I WERE LOOKING FOR A RELATIONSHIP WITH SOMEONE IT'D BE EASIER IF I KNEW WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR INSTEAD OF WHAT THEY WERE LOOKING FOR. IF YOU ARE REALLY TRYING TO FIND A LEASHER THEN YOU SHOULD CONSIDER THE KIND OF LEASHER YOU WANT. IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE TRYING TO BE SOMETHING SOMEONE ELSE IS LOOKING FOR UNTIL YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS YOU'RE LOOKING FOR.
I HOPE THAT HELPS,
Leaning forward, Paul looked over his short response once... then a second time... then a third time. For a few moments he wondered if he had actually written it; the whole response almost seemed like some psychobabble from a relationship self-help book. Despite his critical review of it, he realized something: it was an answer and, surprisingly, as far as he could tell, not an entirely bad one.
As he hit the SEND button he wondered if he was actually helping people or if it was in his own mind. In the end, he had to decide it was the second and hoped that it was making a difference-- if so, at least SOMEONE could benefit from the chaos in his life. Letting out an even, dedicated breath, he dove right back into it.
It took Paul literally hours to go through his email box. He refreshed every so often, adding even more to his workload. After sifting through the numerous emails, deleting most and setting the rest aside, Paul slumped in his chair; "Good GOD! Do these emails NEVER end?!?"
"You COULD just delete them all." Miranda spoke up from over the cubicle wall. Paul glanced to her, seeing her peeking over it and down at him, "I mean... not answering comes across as mysterious, and that's all Mr Aimes wants from you, right?"
"Huh?" Paul inquired.
"He wants you to create more news." she answered, "NO COMMENT is a great way to get a response from the media."
"A lot of the people emailing me aren't from the media." Paul countered, motioning to his computer, "A lot of em are just regular people looking for information."
Miranda laughed, "Information?" she shook her head, "Poor hopeless people... if they go to you it's just like the blind leading the blind."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Paul challenged her, the comment having struck a chord.
Miranda stopped laughing, "I just meant that people are coming to you for advice on Burb Dog stuff, Dakota... I didn't mean--"
"They're asking about life and relationships, not just Burb Dog stuff." Paul countered, "I think that's pretty much the same for anyone whether they're Burb Dogs or Leashers, or whatever."
"And what do you mean by that?" she asked with a smirk, "That being a Burb Dog or a Leasher is normal?"
"Tryning to find someone with the same interests and attitude... someone who's compassionate and compatible with your dreams and desires." Paul corrected, "It might not be 'main stream' but if you put that aside they're still just people looking for someone who 'gets them'." His comments came to an immediate end when he saw the curious look on his coworker's face. He felt his cheeks starting to flush in embarrassment... but, he realized, it was also from a little bit of indignation.
"You're a lot more open minded than I am then, I guess, Dakota." Miranda shrugged, "I think Dogs who wear collars and people who walk Dogs around on leashes have a few screws loose upstairs."
"So what ARE you here for today?" Paul asked, a little more pointedly than he had planned, "Are you supposed to be helping with the Mein Hund thing, or what?"
Miranda chuckled, "No... actually I'm here to support you."
"Well right now you're distracting me, and that's NOT helping." Paul answered, pausing for a half second to wince at the ire that came out in his voice, "So if you want to support me, the best thing you can do is to support me from across the room."
"Alright... alright..." Miranda noted, head disappearing behind the cubicle wall again, "you're under a lot of stress-- I can respect that."
Paul let out a deep sigh thinking to himself, ~Miranda, you have NO idea.~ and he returned to his computer.
It was already dark by the time Mr. Aimes came through the offices to tell everyone to go home. Paul had responded to over one hundred emails including but not limited to relationship advice, general questions, specific questions, how-tos (a topic that Paul did his best to dance around), and even a few job offers. A web master asked him to assist with a photo essay for his website, a private contributor to a Burb-Dog magazine asked if he was looking for freelance work, and even someone who identified himself as 'a fellow Leasher' was looking for a second opinion on why his Burb Dog acted the way he did.
For the most part, Paul made it through the majority of the emails without any intense bouts of blushing or embarrassment but, then again, the moment he identified emails that included topics of that sort he was lightning-quick with his mouse and the TRASH button. Logging off his computer, Paul shut the machine down and turned off his desk light. Letting out an exhausted sigh, the young man made his way out of his cubicle and toward the hall leading out of the building; Ben and Candy were there to stop him.
"Where are you going?" Ben asked.
"Home." Paul replied simply.
"You REALLY don't want to go out the front door, Dakota." Candy explained.
"Why would I want--" the words got stuck in Paul's mouth, "They're STILL THERE?!" he blurted. Both of his coworkers nodded affirmative.
"Head out the back door." Ben pointed, "Ray has your keys and he's bringing your car around."
Paul checked his pockets, remembering suddenly that he had taken the keys out and set them on his desk. The retriever had stopped by his cubicle and borrowed them for something-- the event was mostly a non-issue for Paul because he was trying to finish his emails. "You guys are great." he offered a weary smile.
"Save it for when you get home." Ben stated flatly.
True to the plan, Ray pulled right up to the back door for him. Ray got out of the car, leaving the engine running while Paul slipped past him and got in. With little more than a 'Goodnight-- see you tomorrow.', Paul was heading out of the parking lot and on his way home. The trip, though uneventful, felt like it took forever. Waiting at a red light, Paul made the mistake of turning on the radio. After about six minutes, Paul's name came up and he quickly switched it off with a groan; he was pretty sure that he hadn't heard the last of the media.
Driving up to his condo, Paul cursed his prophetic sense. A number of media sources had filled up all available space in front of his home... some even brought tents; the young man had never realized how literal a term "camping out" was to some reporters. Making a split-second decision, Paul quickly pulled up alongside the curb and turned off the car. He knew of a back entrance to the condominium grounds and he silently prayed that nobody had it staked out. He was just about to get out of his vehicle when his cell phone buzzed, startling him.
"Hello?" Paul answered.
"Good evening. Is this Paul Miller?" an unidentifiable voice spoke up.
Paul pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at the caller ID. The number wasn't listed, but it was from New York-- he hoped it was safe. "Yes. That's me."
"Hello, Paul. My name is Zachary Carpenter. I'm a production assistant at Walter Media Group."
Paul sighed and quickly disconnected, "How in the hell...?" he lamented. The phone buzzed again but he quickly pressed the button to send it to voice mail, "i can't believe this..." he murmured to himself, and got out of the car. Locking it, Paul hiked across two yards and through a row of arbor vitae, cursing silently when he encountered a spiderweb. The human did a quick I-Have-A-Spiderweb-On-Me dance, and paused, taking a moment survey the scene. He was at the back entrance to the condo complex and he didn't see a single member of the media.
"Thank god." he whispered, finally glad that he could catch a lucky break. Running from cover of one building to another, Paul got to the back side to his condo and quickly unlocked the door, slipping inside before closing and locking it again. Tanner looked up from his spot in the dining room, a laptop on the table in front of him.
"Paul!" he stood up and the two moved to embrace one another. Tanner slowly pushed him to arm's length, looking him up and down, "Damn... I figured they were going to tear you apart from the way they were acting out there."
"Hence the back door." Paul replied calmly, thumbing toward the back entrance. He walked to the hallway and deposited his keys and newly-buzzing phone in the usual bowl; he didn't bother looking at the cell.
Tanner followed him, pausing and cocked his head to the side, "You're taking this well."
Paul shrugged, "I've been dealing with it all day... after awhile it just kinda becomes background noise."
"That sounds like an improvement..." Tanner shrugged, "Sorta."
"Yea..." Paul nodded, too exhausted to care, "at least until the next bomb drops."
"You think there are going to be more bombs, huh?" Tanner asked.
"This is MY life, Tanner... there are ALWAYS more bombs." Paul sighed. Walking over to the sofa he flopped down onto it. The German Shepherd joined him, lifting the human's torso up so he could sit down, and then lowered Paul down, resting the young man's back against his thighs.
Paul closed his eyes, focusing on his breathing, and the feel of Tanner's paws softly caressing his head. Neither spoke for many long minutes until, at long last, Paul opened his eyes again and looked up into the caring brown eyes of his lover gazing down at him, "Thank you." he said softly.
Tanner smiled gently, "For what?" he asked, ears perking.
"Just for being here." Paul noted.
"Hey..." Tanner replied with a warm smile, "there's nowhere else I'd rather be."
"And nowhere else you COULD go without having to brave the media." Paul chuckled softly, then paused, half-sitting up as he looked around, "Where's Casey?"
"In his room." Tanner responded, "Relax." the Dog eased him back down. Paul took a deep breath and did as was requested, laying across Tanner's lap. He yawned, kicking off his shoes as his lover continued to caress his head. Everything seemed right when he was with Tanner. Anything going on in the world seemed like it could easily have been miles away for all he cared. There was something about the Dog that made him know that whatever happened he would still have Tanner, and, with that thought, Paul drifted off to sleep in Tanner's lap.