This story is by Megan Dineen and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A three-headed dog made for an interesting meet-cute.
Despite the oddity of the animal found in my trunk, amongst my destroyed chips, I was more shocked to discover myself sitting in the air-conditioned booth of a diner, just off Route 66 with the owner of said dog.
The stranger-Aiden-sat back and studied me with unabashed interest. Not to say I wasn’t pretty. Still, I’d like to see how you’d turn out driving for five hours straight in the Arizona heat, sans air conditioning. Just because everyone called me Hel, since Helen always felt like an old name, didn’t mean I enjoyed the melting sun.
And despite the lack of reservations I had concerning my meal companion, I was astonished at how he’d convinced me to go to an early lunch just minutes after meeting him at the side of the road. Sure, he’d changed my tire, reclaimed his adorable dogs and wanted to make penance for them destroying my food. But this surely had to be on the list of “How to be a Serial Killer’s Next Victim.”
Then again, I was beyond hungry.
“Will they be okay in the heat?” I nodded towards the window, where, outside, Cher, Bee, and Russ sat patiently in Aiden’s red convertible, their lolling tongues making me smile.
Aiden shrugged. “They’ve seen worse heat. This was supposed to be a road trip for us to bond. You know, before they jumped ship into your car.” He turned back to me. “You never answered my question.”
“Which was?” A waitress walked by with a plate piled high with steak and eggs and my mouth watered, the rumble in my stomach outdone by my sigh.
The splat and pop of burgers and fries being grilled drowned out his question to passers-by but it came through when he leaned forward. “Why are you not freaked out about a three-headed dog?”
It wasn’t an unfitting question. Why wasn’t I more weirded out or hell, booking it in the opposite direction like they were demon hounds nipping at my heels? “I’m a dog person,” I supplied with a shrug. “The more, the merrier.”
I smirked as he raised his dark eyebrow. “Look, I don’t know why I’m not freaked out. Honestly, I’m still convinced I’m hallucinating those three.” I jerked my head towards the window, indicating the patiently waiting pups.
“Plus, I’ve seen my fair share of weird things. This is just another to add to the list.”
He grunted with amusement and sat back, still studying me with those piercing blue eyes. It just wasn’t fair. His dark hair was flawless, tied in a small bundle at the nape of his neck. No sweat dripped onto his pristine white polo. Dirt seemed to avoid landing on his crisp blue jeans and the dark sneakers looked like they were plucked from a box the day before.
Meanwhile, my green blouse was splattered with dirt, water and sweat. My shorts had tears in the thighs and my bare toes were brown with dust, matching the hue of my sweaty hair.
“What kind of weird things?” His gentle question jerked me back to reality.
But I shook my head. Now was not the time to get into what I’d seen before my mother’s oddly timed accident.
So, I deflected. “Where are you from?”
My question startled him but he recovered quickly. “Hell.”
Despite the similar sound, he wasn’t using my nickname. “Michigan?”
He flashed me a warm smile, the curve of his lips decidedly seductive. “Let’s go with that.”
“What do you do?”
“I own a lucrative business.”
He quirked an eyebrow. “Is this some kind of interrogation?”
“Haven’t you ever gone to lunch with someone?”
“For business.” He blew out a breath. “Never with someone who wanted my life story.” He leaned forward again. “And it’s a long story, in case you were curious.”
I shrugged. “I can get it out of you.”
That evil grin was back, his eyes flashing in excitement. “Wanna make a bet of it?”
He cleared his throat and stayed quiet while the pleasantly plump waitress dropped our meals off, making her exit after we waved off her offer of anything additional. The chatter of the surrounding tables enveloped us as I dug into my pancakes, eager for the first morsels of food since I’d woken up.
“If you can’t get my whole life story out of me,” he began, after a couple bites of his omelet. “You need to continue the conversation over dinner.”
“What makes you think I can’t get your deepest, darkest secrets out during our late breakfast?” I teased around the pancakes.
“I enjoy a little competition,” he shrugged. “What do you say, Hel? Afraid of a little challenge?”
My eyes narrowed in amusement at his use of my nickname and I placed my hand in his larger one over the well-used diner table and pumped up and down quickly. A blast of heat brushed me in the face and I turned around to eye the kitchen, wondering how hot that stove had to get to reach me.
His smooth voice brought me back to the crispness of the cool air-conditioning, the quick heat vanishing. “Good luck. I’m not an easy conversationalist.”
And wasn’t that the understatement of the year. The next half hour saw me firing question after question, deflecting his own concerning my life and why I was traveling from LA. He didn’t need to know about my mother’s sudden passing and my new digs with my aunt and cousin in New Mexico.
By the time the check came, all I knew about Aiden was that he was from Hell, enjoyed the heat and had just inherited Cher, Bee and Russ from his uncle.
“How long did he have them?” I asked as I sat back, unwilling to leave the cool air for now.
Aiden hesitated. “Years,” he finally admitted.
“But,” I argued as I glanced out the window again. Russ and Bee popped their heads up, barking in my direction, as though they could sense me gazing at them. “They’re still babies,” I cooed.
“When they want to be,” he murmured and smiled when I turned to him. “Seems you didn’t get my life story.”
“Says you,” I argued lowly.
He smiled that slow, sinful smile at me again. “When you get to Albuquerque, keep an eye out for me. I’ll be making good on that deal.” He slid out of the booth and smiled down at me. “It was delectable meeting you, Hel. I’ll see you soon.” His voice slid over me like silk, unfitting of the squawks of the waitresses, the sizzle of the grill. He winked at me as he made his way to the front, wallet at the ready.
Had I told him I was going to New Mexico? Who knew anymore. The continuous heat really was getting to me. It made me accept that this man owned a three-headed dog, who continued yipping at the door, sensing their owner readying to leave.
I downed another glass of water, still watching this mystery of a man over the rim but smiled at the memory of the dogs giving kisses just before we entered the diner, as I’d walked over to greet my new friend. Despite their owner’s arrogance, Cher, Bee, and Russ were the cutest things ever.
Those were such cute names, too. I quirked my head, mouthing the names in tandem. They sounded right together. Like the strong, fear-inducing name of a…
A guard dog.
Cher. Bee. Russ.
With a jolt, I straightened and looked towards the front, catching Aiden’s gaze as he signed a slip. His lips curled into a smirk again as realization hit me. As if he could read my mind.
He was from Hell.
Didn’t mind the heat.
And, I mentally slapped myself on the forehead for it taking me this long, he had a dog with three heads.
A flash of color caught my eye and I glanced over, barely reacting at the pink-tipped, white lily blooming in front of my eyes, the end tucked between the table and scarred wooden wall, the open petals nearly impossible in this kind of heat. But there it was, bloomed and ready for my gaze alone.
And due to my late mother’s insistence I know more than just history, the mythological side of my brain recognized it as the flower of the dead, allowing the soul to be returned to innocence following death.
It shamed me how long it’d taken me to recognize the situation for what it was. I really should’ve known the second I opened my trunk to find a dog with three barking heads. Frankly, I blamed the intense heat.
I just made a deal with Hades.