“Then what?” Shelby runs her fingers over the drawing. There are little animals inside the box. Sad eyes. Foxy faces.
“I think he wants the best for you,” Shelby’s mom tells her.
Then summer is over, gone as quickly as it arrived. The days are crisp and filled with brilliant orange light. At sunrise a shimmer of color spirals over the asphalt. Shelby usually walks her dogs along the river, up to five miles on her days off. But today she’s in a cab on her way to Central Park. It isn’t easy to find a cabbie willing to take a fare with dogs, especially a huge Great Pyrenees, but finally one stops. He’s curious about Pablo. “I never saw anything like him,” he tells Shelby as she herds the dogs into the back of the cab. “I thought he was a polar bear.”
“They used this breed to find people in the French Alps,” Shelby says. “They were search and rescue dogs.”
Shelby gazes out the window. Save something. She thinks about that when she’s at the animal hospital on Mondays, and then when everyone leaves and she and Harper stay on to be together, she tries to convince him to start over. They’ll go to California and change their names. He’ll never have to go home again. That’s why she’s going to see him on an off day, since they never get together on the weekends. Shelby looks casual, wearing jeans and an old sweater and hiking boots. She wants it to seem like a coincidence when she runs into Harper, rather than the desperate act of someone who is willing to humiliate herself by plotting out an accidental meeting on the path she knows he walks on Sunday mornings.
If this is love, it makes her do stupid things. From the start Harper has been saying he’s waiting for the right time to leave his wife, but nearly a year has passed and that day has yet to come. She wants more than Mondays, and those weekends when his wife goes to see her parents in Buffalo. She has never been to his apartment, never gone out to a restaurant with him, never seen his dogs. Maravelle has met him only once, and then accidentally, as he was leaving to rush home before his wife returned from a visit to her parents. Maravelle and Jasmine had arrived so they could take Shelby with them to Rockefeller Center to see the tree. Harper hugged them both; he’d heard so much about them he felt he knew them and he wished he could stay, but he was already out the door.
“A cheater,” Maravelle said when he’d left. “You should stay away from him.”
Shelby trusts Maravelle’s intuition, but hasn’t followed her advice. She’s under a spell and she can’t snap out of it. Shelby and Harper have sex in the locked lounge of the veterinary office on a fake leather couch. Shelby is sometimes catapulted backward in time to the hospital and all that sex she didn’t want. But this is different. This is love. All the same, she can’t imagine what Maravelle would say if she ever found out. Do you think you’re worthless? Is that all a man has to do to get into your pants? Give you one night? Maravelle would never sneak around like a woman who’s been hexed by some sort of dark magic. What will Shelby do next to win Harper? Perch outside his window? Beg for his love? Haunt him as if she were his personal ghost?
Harper lives on Eighty-Ninth Street, so Shelby asks the cabbie to drop her at Fifth and Seventy-Ninth, so she can walk behind the Metropolitan Museum. If they ever were to get married, she would like to have the ceremony in Central Park, so the dogs could be there. Fall would be nice, or spring. Actually, a winter wedding would be beautiful, a bower of snow, a perfect and cold blue sky. The dogs are excited to be in the park. This is not their usual walk. Shelby unhooks the General, who likes to walk ahead of the pack. Shelby respects him for that. She had been looking for a man who has some of the qualities the General has. She thought she’d found them in Harper Levy. But what does it mean when a man won’t leave his wife? Is he loyal or disloyal? Trustworthy or a lying manipulator? The General looks over his shoulder to make sure they’re behind him. Blinkie is so slow Shelby scoops him up to carry him. Everything smells like leaves and smoke. Light spins down through the leaves.
She has to get the timing right so she can bump into Harper when he walks his dogs. She hates women who do things like this. She hates the other woman, even in movies, but that’s what she’s become. Shelby heads to the park entrance at Ninetieth Street. She can see the white circle of the Guggenheim Museum. Her pulse is pounding. Here she is with her dogs, walking through the leaves, irresistible, perfect for him. What more can Harper want? However, despite the fact that he’s told her he takes this walk with his dogs faithfully every Sunday, he doesn’t appear at eight, or at eight fifteen, or even eight thirty. Shelby’s dogs mill around, and the General gazes watchfully at the steps to Fifth Avenue. If only he were a person and not a bulldog, Shelby could marry him and forget about Harper.
There are more people out now. It’s a beautiful day. Shelby knows she doesn’t belong on the Upper East Side. People here are well dressed and she’s not. Her hair is now long enough to clip up, and she looks younger than her age, like a dog walker or a personal assistant for one of these elegant East Side ladies passing by. The brownstones seem like castles; it’s as if she’s entered a fairyland, but she doesn’t know any of the secret passwords. Sick of waiting, Shelby crosses Fifth Avenue and heads down Eighty-Ninth Street. She knows Harper’s address. He hasn’t hidden much from her. Except for his wife. He says it’s too depressing. He’s only told Shelby that they met in college and fell into marriage the way people fall over their own feet.
Shelby stops in front of his building. Her dogs are confused, and thinking they may have arrived somewhere, they start up the steps, but Shelby pulls them back. Her heart is beating so fast she thinks she might be having a heart attack. She has it all: pain down her left arm, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea. Harper lives on the sixth floor. Maybe his is the window with the beige curtains, or the one with slatted shades. Shelby realizes she shouldn’t be standing outside the door, but before she can walk on, a pretty young woman with two large dogs comes through the door. The woman is Sarah Levy, Harper’s wife.
There is a photo of Sarah in Harper’s office at the animal hospital, and yet Shelby has never thought of her as three-dimensional, which she most certainly is. A real live woman in a navy jacket, corduroy slacks, a tweed cap. Her hair is so pale it shimmers. She’s beautiful, with a light sweetness of spirit. She chats with the doorman as she clips leashes on the dogs, then heads toward the park.