A sleepy head emerged from beneath the blankets, tousled blonde hair in disarray, blue eyes stubbornly refusing to open

Beginning of the End

by Tracy LeCates

A sleepy head emerged from beneath the blankets, tousled blonde hair in disarray, blue eyes stubbornly refusing to open. Beside her she could hear the deep, even breathing of her companion. Outside the closed bedroom door the sound of whimpering, which had woken her, continued. "...hey..." she mumbled, reaching over to nudge the sleeping man. "...wake up..."

"Mmmmmph." The shape beneath the covers shifted away from her poking hand.

"The dog," she continued insistantly.

Tom Ryan groaned as his eyes reluctantly opened. "I'm up." Wearily, the detective moved, sitting up, and sliding his legs over the edge of the bed. Running a hand through his short, sleep chaotic hair, he slowly stood and reached for the pair of sweats hanging over the exercise bike by the bed.

"Hang on, Sneakers," he called out to the German Shepherd pacing in the hall. "Shoes," he mumbled to himself as he bent down to search beneath the bed.

Cassy's voice was muffled by the pillow she'd pulled over her head. "Why don't you just open the door, and let him out instead of taking him all the way down the block and back?"

"Because I don't want him getting hit by a car. There's too much traffic on this street," he explained for what seemed the millionth time. "Besides, he's a puppy, he needs the exercise. And, the attention." Tom quickly finished dressing and tied his jogging shoes before hurrying out to find the leash. "Besides, I like jogging on the beach, myself."

The instant he emerged from the bedroom, the ten-month old puppy greeted him with a full-body wag, and grateful eyes.

Tom scratched his new friend's head on his way by. "C'mon Sneakers. Sorry to make you hold it this long," he apologized. Saturday mornings had always meant lounging in bed, but now he had someone else's bladder to think about. Sneakers had come to live with them just a few weeks earlier, after being abandoned by a neighbor who moved out and left the unwanted puppy behind to fend for himself.

He snapped the long red leash onto the puppy's collar and opened the front door. Sleep was instantly banished from him as the enthusiastic dog nearly dragged him down the steps to the street, headed straight for the nearest tree.

Cassy heard the front door close behind her husband, and stretched languidly in the big, empty bed. Her eyes at last began to open, and she glanced at the clock beside the bed. "Ten o'clock," she groaned. Married life had changed her routines and daily habits more than she'd expected. Saturday mornings had been, in her single days, spent at the gym, or shopping, cleaning the house, or some other mundane activity. Tom's habit of sleeping in had become infectious, though it left her feeling unproductive and lazy.

"Okay, time to get up," she coached herself as she crawled from beneath the covers and reached for her robe. The instant the robe was cinched around her waist, she automatically moved to straighten the sheets and make the bed up.

Cassy rummaged through her dresser drawers for a pair of old, comfortable jeans and a shirt, something appropriate for the day of housecleaning ahead. Since Tom moved in, and since the arrival of the puppy he'd insisted on taking in, housecleaning was no longer an hour or two of vacuuming, dusting, and a load of laundry.

Her eyes landed on the framed photos on the dresser. Wedding photos. A ghost of a smile tugged at her lips. The wedding had turned out to be such a big production, when she would have been happy with a flight to Vegas to elope. 'I would have been happy just living together without that fuss and bother,' she admitted to herself. Tom's enthusiasm in proposing and planning the wedding had swept her along, and before she'd known what was happening she'd been walking down an aisle in his grandmother's wedding gown.

'Still have to get the name on my credits cards changed,' she reminded herself, never dreaming of how many changes and adjustments would have to be made because of those two little words - 'I do.' "Cassy Ryan," she repeated to herself a few times. "I'm not even sure who that is."


Business taken care of, Sneakers didn't seem to be in any hurry to return home. With boundless energy, the large puppy dragged his master from one tree to the next, his nose glued to the ground, following some endlessly intriguing scent. Tom nodded polite greetings to neighbors he recognized from his daily excursions with the dog. Everything looked brighter to him lately. He and Cassy had celebrated their three month anniversary the night before, and he couldn't have been happier. *New wife, new home, new dog,* he mused silently. *Life is just really starting for us, and we've got our whole future ahead.*

*A puppy this year, maybe a baby next year.* The thought brought a smile to his face. He'd broached the subject with Cassy only a few days ago, and though she'd been adamant about waiting, he was certain she'd soon warm up to the idea, now that they were married. She just hadn't had a chance to think about it yet. *Have to start thinking about looking for a real house. Maybe three bedrooms, so we have a couple to grow into. And, a big back yard. Kids need a back yard.* The image formed in his head as Sneakers picked up the pace and he found himself jogging to keep up

The quick trip down the block turned into a jog around the neighborhood, heading back in the direction of the beach. His eyes, having minds all of their own, involuntarily attached themselves to a woman jogging in the opposite direction as she passed. Catching himself with a guilty smile, he turned his gaze back to the sidewalk in front of him. *I'm a married man, now,* he reminded himself. *Happily married.*  He didn't kid himself, he knew he and Cassy had things to work out. Differences of opinion to iron out, and adjustments to make for both of them, but he loved his wife, and would do anything it took to make her happy. Adjustments and compromises were common in all new marriages.

"C'mon, Sneakers. Time to head for home," he said, pulling the leash to the right as they reached the corner."

Moving into the bathroom, Cassy grumbled under her breath at the sight of the socks on the floor.  She stopped to snatch them off the floor, dropping them into the laundry hamper, just two feet away. "Now, was that so hard?" she said out loud, pulling up short at the sound of her own voice uttering those words. A hard knot formed in the pit of her stomach as she wondered how many times she, as a young child, had heard those same words from her mother's mouth. The same condescending tone she'd heard until she was twelve years old had just issued from her own lips.

She deposited her own clothing in a neat pile on the counter, opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out her birth control pills, swallowing one down with a glass of water before brushing her teeth. "Sorry, Tom,' she apologized mechanically. Kids just weren't in her immediate plans. *Too much to do, and I'm not ready to give up my career yet,* she rationalized. Shedding her robe, she turned on the shower and stepped in under the spray.

Tom heard the sound of the shower running as he came up the stairs to the master bedroom and quickly shed his shirt, a grin appearing on his face. Perfect timing, he congratulated himself as he slipped into the bathroom. Time to start working on that new addition to our family. "Honey, I'm home!" he happily announced as he stepped out of his sweats and stripped off his socks, dropping them on the floor by the hamper.