Chapter One

The Runaway Dog Interruption

Amy shut down her computer, her body shaking with sobs. Had she just broken up with Sheldon? The man she loved? Yet, the choice she made did not seem wrong. That feeling she usually got in the pit of her stomach, the one that told her when she was making a wrong decision, wasn't there. She simply felt nothing. Soon, her sobbing stopped, and she sat there, staring at the top of her desk, wondering what was next.

She already decided to cut herself off from Sheldon for a while. Maybe a week to start. See what it's like without him. After the whole five-year anniversary, Flash incident, she seriously began to consider the relationship. Everything seemed to move at a glacial pace with them, and she felt embarrassed about all the times she threw herself at him, only to be rebuked. Was there truly any hope on an intimacy front with them? He told her he loved her, yet gave her no consideration when he applied to go to Mars, an incident after she once again threw a fit and he conceded. Was that their relationship? One desperate for attention while the other seems indifferent and only concedes to keep the status quo? This was not a healthy situation for either of them.

Amy stood up and went to the kitchen to get a drink of water. Leaning against the counter, she pondered her current situation. She would no longer be seeing her friends Penny and Bernadette either. She knew they were only friends with her through Sheldon, and she needed to remove herself from everyone. Of course Penny would speak on Sheldon's behalf, which would not help the situation. No, she needed time on her own.

Time on her own. She was used to being alone. Until that fateful day in the coffee shop, when she met Sheldon, she was used to doing everything on her own. The past five years had been a whirlwind, with having a boyfriend and real girlfriends for the very first time. She initially went into the relationship with Sheldon with no expectations, but as they went along, her feelings changed. She wanted more – a life together. Sheldon, however, seemed continuously annoyed by her persistence. Still, he had kissed her willingly. She slept over recently for the first time, although a rather chaste encounter, at the insistence of her boyfriend. Yet, the final kiss they shared on their anniversary, she had to admit, was hot. He initiated rather suddenly, and when he placed his hand on her leg, she was certain it was leading somewhere. Somewhere they'd never been. She'd been patient, waiting for him, knowing he needed time to process. She thought he would take the next step, on their anniversary no less. And then they were back to the beginning, him talking about some television show. Would he ever want to be with her? Did he even find her attractive? Did he find anybody attractive? Was he even interested in intimacy? What the hell was she doing?

Amy growled, and put her glass in the sink. Her mind churned with all these questions only Sheldon could answer, but wouldn't. She knew what she had to do – remove Sheldon from the picture for at least a week, focus on her work, and then approach the problem again. She needed time.

As she got ready for bed, she decided to set her alarm, even with the next day Sunday. The weather was supposed to be beautiful, and an early morning walk would be a nice way to start what would probably be a difficult week. Turning out the light, she felt instantly sleepy, which surprised her considering how full her brain had been moments before. She fell swiftly into a dreamless sleep.

The next morning, she put on a pair of sweats she rarely wore except for lounging around the house, a Minnie Mouse hoodie she got from Disneyland last time she went with the girls, and a pair of sneakers. She decided to walk a couple of miles, heading through the lovely park down the street from her apartment and beyond. The May air was crisp and held the scent of the impending summer. She plugged into her iPod, found her Vivaldi playlist, and began walking. Not many people were about, and she kept a quick pace. She felt good this morning, ready to begin this week focusing on herself and her work. Her mind wondered to the week ahead, and she mentally made plans for work, thinking about her study, next steps, the participants . . .

Her eyes suddenly focused on a small white and orange dog running up the path towards her. It looked like some sort of terrier, and it was running fast. A distance behind the dog, a man came running, shouting, holding a leash in his hands.

"Hey, please grab my dog," he shouted at Amy.

Amy unplugged her earphones, and dashed for the dog, which quickly darted past. Amy turned and ran after the dog, now running into the grassy area of the park. After putting a little more energy into her pace, she bent down and dived for the dog, getting a hold of it. Sitting on her knees in the grass, she brought the little dog up onto her lap.

"Uh oh, looks like you're going to be in a lot of trouble," Amy whispered to the dog, who licked her nose.

The man came up beside Amy and fell on his knees beside her.

"Thank you so much," he said, grabbing and re-leashing the dog. "Honeybee just loves to go out on her own."

"No problem," said Amy, standing up and brushing herself off. "She's really cute. What kind of dog is she?"

"Just a terrier mutt," he replied, standing and turning to face her. "A rescue when she was only one. She's good, most of the time."

Amy found herself looking into the eyes of a rather strikingly handsome man. He stood several inches taller than her, about six feet, with a medium build. His voice, although deep, held a pleasant melody when he spoke. His sandy blonde hair moved in the slight wind, and he had a five o'clock shadow that framed a pleasant, toothy grin. Amy blinked twice when she realized she'd been staring at his hazel eyes for perhaps a few seconds too long.

"Well, um, I'm glad you have her back. Those terriers can be quite fast," Amy said, turning back to the path.

"Tell me about it. I've been thinking about taking her out when I run, but I don't think she can sustain the distance. She's more a short distance runner. I think her Olympic event would be the 100 meters," the man continued, keeping pace with Amy. "I'm Erik, by the way."

"Amy," she replied, stopping to turn and shake his hand, immediately unsure why. Something about him put her at ease.

"Very nice to meet you, Amy. Such a great name. One of my favorite aunts is named Amy. She always made the best chocolate chip cookies and let us watch all the movies our mother wouldn't." He smiled, and Amy felt herself smiling back. "Hey, I think you live in the same building as me. The blue apartments, right on the edge of the park."

"Yes," she said. "For a couple of years."

"I just moved in a month ago. Got a job with Disney doing photography and video for their advertising department." He motioned to her Minnie Mouse hoodie. "You part of the Disney machine as well?"

"Oh no. Just a fan. I'm a neurobiologist. I work for the university as a professor and researcher," Amy answered.

"No kidding? That's awesome. I've always loved science. Always had the best science teachers in school. Still, photography and graphic arts became my thing," he said. "What do you study?"

Amy and Erik walked slowly through the park together, chatting. She talked about her education and work, what led her to living in Pasadena. He talked about his background: grew up along the southwest Washington coast in the small fishing town of Ilwaco, photography and graphic arts degrees from the state university, working for a series of local newspapers and advertisers before freelancing for National Geographic, and now working for Disney in their parks advertising division.

"While on an assignment in western Africa, I did an amazing portfolio on primates. I'd love to show it to you sometime, what with you working with monkeys and all," he said.

"I'd love that," she replied, suddenly realizing they'd been walking in pace together around the park for quite some time.

"You know, it's really nice to have someone to talk to, Amy. I've just been going to work and coming home. And even then, I work a lot out of home. Disney gave me equipment to work with to put together advertising for their online platforms. I just usually end up at the parks once a week to shoot material," he said. "Hey, there's a bench. I think Honeybee needs a break."

He sat down, and Amy felt this would be a good time to part ways. She really should, after all. The whole goal was to begin focusing on herself. Yet, she sat down beside Erik as he pulled a dog treat out of his pocket to give to Honeybee.

"It is nice to have someone to talk to," she echoed his last comment.

Erik glanced over at her and smiled. "Yeah, I'm not sure how long I'm gonna last in this whole SoCal mess," he said, gesturing out over the park. "I've been thinking about going back home, but working for Disney has always been a dream of mine. And going back home might be more painful than I'd like to admit."

"Why?" Amy asked, her curiosity peaked.

"Oh, well, you know we just met, and well…" he hesitated.

Amy glanced at the time on her iPod. Had they really been talking about work, school, monkeys, traveling, and Disney for over two hours? What was she doing? She was not like this, like, ever. Talking to a strange man walking a crazed dog around a park, now midday on a sunny Sunday. She was supposed to be invisible and socially awkward when noticed. Yet, he immediately put her at ease. And she could use a friend right now…

"You know I never do this, just start talking to people," he admitted, bringing her out of her thoughts with a shock, since he seemed to be echoing what was in her head. "I'm an introvert. I'm awkward. I quietly take pictures and work on the computer."

"Me too. Well, except instead of photos, I work with monkey brains," she laughed, but stopped suddenly. They sat their awkwardly for almost a minute.

Erik finally broke the silence with laughter. "Perfect. Now I've made a new friend who appreciates the art of awkwardness. This is a good day after all, and I have Honeybee, the incredible escaping dog, to thank for it. Can I walk you back home?"

"Okay," Amy replied, standing up and heading back across the park with Erik.

The two took their time returning to the apartment building, Amy telling him about fun things to do in Pasadena, Erik talking about backstage at Disneyland. Walking up the stairs in their building, Erik paused at a door on the second floor.

"Well, this is me. Let's do this again sometime," Erik said, unlocking his apartment and letting Honeybee inside before starting to walk in himself.

"I'm one floor up. 314. Let me know when you walk Honeybee again," she called down as she mounted the stairs.

Stepping into her apartment and closing the door, she felt happier than she had in a long time. She'd made a new friend, something not easy of her. She felt good about her decision with Sheldon and knew the time away would help her think about the future. She plugged her iPod into her speaker to hear the Vivaldi playlist she had neglected and curled up on the couch with her dog-eared copy of The Decameron. Before cracking open the book she couldn't help but think about Sheldon. Did he miss her? Or was he happy not to have the stress of Amy Farrah Fowler in his life? She felt sadness clench her heart suddenly, and she quickly turned her attention to the book.