Someone was breathing down my neck. I was seated at a kitchen stool, laptop opened on the counter, and my browser set to PAWSChicago.org.
I tried to ignore the toasty sensation -- was it pleasant or irritating-- until a voice forced me to turn around.
"So you're finally doing it. I was wondering how long it would take you to move ahead on getting a dog?"
It was Tommy, my deceased husband. He often visited me in my imagination, so I wasn't particularly startled at this apparition. In fact, I was curious as to when he would show up at my new pad. I hoped he was here to give me his popular "thumbs up" for my cushy abode, but I soon realized he had a different agenda.
I was happy to note that this Tommy leapt from my memory full-voiced, not limited by the aphasia that dulled his final years. (Of course, I loved him throughout his illness, but it was pure joy to remember Tommy at his best.)
"You claimed -- to everyone in earshot and online -- that you moved to this building so you could get a dog. One month is already up and I don't see evidence of a pooch," he said.
His brown eyes were bright, and he had a smile, sort of like the ones he wore when he was telling one of his silly jokes: I have wavy hair; it's waving me goodbye. He wasn't angry, just ribbing his widow.
"I wanted to get all settled first," I said, preparing my alibi as carefully as a crime suspect. "New apartment, new building, new routine, new tasks..."
He laughed. "Hah! You were all organized and at home on Day Two of your move. Try again."
By now, he had taken the other counter stool and turned my laptop to face him.
"And I have to consider the expense, Honey," I said. "You can see I'm already living beyond my means." I leapt off the seat to wave my arms across my convertible studio. "All of this is not cheap."
"What about Shadow?" Tommy said, staring at the screen and dismissing my excuse. "Labrador Retriever, nine months."
I had opened the website that morning, just to browse, with no intention other than flicking through photos. The process had made me nervous, similar to the emotions I had felt on JDate, Our Time, and Match.com. The possibility of commitment felt as exhilarating, and frightening, as my forays on those dating sites.
"Three strikes against him," I said. "No puppies, I want a senior dog. And Shadow will grow too hard for me to handle. Plus, he's ready for adoption; I want to foster first."
Suddenly I heard thumping coming from the living room floor. And then a second more muffled, atop my bed. Our two dogs -- Sasha and Buddy -- had joined Tommy in this celestial scenario.
"That is so unfair!" I said. "Bringing along our Golden Retrievers." Of course, I couldn't resist rushing to pet and cuddle each -- Sasha who lived to 12 and Buddy, who died at 14, a few months before his human dad.
Tommy's wicked smile had returned; he had used his instincts about my devotion to our dogs to score points in his favor.
"Okay, no puppies," Tommy said. He was back at the keyboard scrolling through the profiles. "How about Margie; eight years old, Hound mix, 45 pounds. You work out; you can handle her."
He was trying flattery again, but I had two rebuffs. "First of all, I want a male. Buddy was so much easier to handle than Sasha." A whimper from our girl on the bed, and a bark from our boy on the floor, made us both laugh.
"And secondly, Margie is ready for adoption. Fostering will help me learn if I can manage the responsibility of owning a dog. If I foster, PAWS pays all expenses; that will certainly help."
My anxieties about the whole idea were rising. "Remember, I don't have a car. I'll have to rely on a friend to ferry dog and me to vet. And, I have a trip to L.A. planned for July. Will a dog even fit into my life, which is pretty mellow now? Do I really want to shake it up?" I said.
There was no answer. I looked around. Tommy was gone. Sasha and Buddy were nowhere to be found. My apartment was quiet. Despite my cute IKEA furniture, paintings and photographs on the walls, and terrific views, it suddenly felt empty.
Where was the partner or pet that needed me? Where were loved ones who delighted in my homecoming?
I returned to the laptop.