This afternoon, when the temperatures had risen until it felt as though there was nowhere left for them to rise, when the grass seemed suddenly brittle and flat, with a thin layer of burnt yellow beneath it where there had been dark, wet earth only yesterday, when the sun had reached its zenith and even the shadows had taken refuge to whatever sleepy place it is they go, Duncan decided he needed to walk. He'd tired out early this morning when the sun was still low but hot, choosing instead to roll in the shaded grass beneath the elms. I wondered at his decision but he was insistent and I could tell there was someplace he needed to be.
He led me across the park, pulling me behind him in the same way he has pulled on frigid, white winter days when he has somehow figured out there is a ball buried in a drift waiting for him. I trust him on these missions and so I followed, the leash between us taught, barely bouncing with each step we took. His path was straight and determined, unwavering and without pause. Nothing interrupted his focus: not the squirrel sitting at the base of a tree we passed, nor the big yellow butterfly that danced just above his head for a moment, not even my occasional pleas for him to slow down. He led me to the lake, disinterested in the other walkers and their dogs, or the small children who stumbled over their own feet and called, "Goggy! Goggy!" as they held out their awkward, splayed fingers for him, fingers he usually loves to lick for an stray residue that might be concealed there.
And then we were there, at the cool, shaded spot behind Hero's Pets where the honey locusts grow over the wide cement steps and the bench mounted there that looks out over the lake trail and the mountains. Two people were sitting close together, each holding a cup of build-your-own yogurt from Nella's, the mom and pop place that opened earlier this summer. Duncan sat down not far from them and simply watched, finally yipping softly and wagging his tail until the woman turned and noticed us. Her face immediately lit up as she set her cup down behind her.
"Hi, boy," she cried. "Oh, he's beautiful! Can I pet him?"
Duncan was up and rushing to her before I could respond. I nearly lost my grip on his leash and staggered after him.
"He's so dark," she said, running her hand across his back, entwining her fingers in the curls that beckon to be played with. Duncan leaned up against her, tail flapping madly, a whine in his throat. He shuffled back and forth between the two of us, turning this way and that, putting on His Best Cute, licking her hand, then spinning around and gently slapping her with his shaggy tail. She cooed at him while her grinning boyfriend looked on. "I love Goldens," she said. "They're the best dog. So loyal and so smart."
And that's when I noticed his face buried in her cup, his pink tongue hurriedly lapping up her French vanilla yogurt and the bananas and strawberries she's topped it with.
"Duncan," I cried and tugged on the leash. His tongue held firm, though, and the cup stayed in place long enough for him to lap up at the last of its contents, gulping down a strawberry, red juice and vanilla foam clinging to his chin like water on a tall, icy glass.
I don't know how he knew she would be there and that she'd be such a sucker for him, but he did. Mission: Accomplished.