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“But then it was almost New Year’s Eve,” she said, “and I thought about facing it all alone, and I thought, ‘Oh no!’ ”

December 28, 1997. She remembers the date she jumped into her little white Miata and drove down to the Humane Society on Sherman Street and got her first look at Jake.

“There were four or five people who wanted him, but I saw him first.” Jake, now more than two, is a handsome dog with a sleek body and a shiny black coat. He has a spotted chest and paws and amber-colored eyes. When I saw him at Kerstin’s apartment, I sensed about him a charge, the kind that electrifies the air with a thoroughbred horse just before a race. Jake was wired to catch attention and hold it. Like Renee’s Pumpkin Cheeks, the dog draws a crowd.

“Everywhere we go, people stop and admire him. If he is on a leash or in the car, couples walk by and say, ‘Look! What a beautiful dog!’ They stare and make funny sounds, sometimes they talk to Jake before moving on, but always they turn back to get a last look.” She admits she can’t understand his appeal. “Maybe,” she laughed, referring to his markings, “it’s because he looks like a Chippendale dancer with a permanent tuxedo vest.”

And Jake is not just good looking. He’s smart (placing near the top of his graduating class at obedience-training class) and eager to please. Kerstin says he loves people more than any dog she’s ever seen, and yet he’s still a fine watchdog. “And he’s affectionate and cuddly.”

Kerstin’s December breakup did not stick. Jerry and she continued to see each other, though they weren’t getting along. Kerstin agreed to spend Valentine’s Day with him. She told herself this would be a final test.

“We were on our way to his place in Tijuana when he turned in to the Vons on Midway Drive. When he came out, he had my Valentine’s Day card. I asked myself then, was this all I meant to him?”

At his home in Tijuana, she saw ugly aspects of his personality that she’d earlier tried to ignore. He was so negative, she recalled, and mean. She told him it was over.

* * *

Kerstin stares out the picture window that dominates the living room of her South Mission Beach apartment. Against a backdrop of sunny sky and blue water, private yachts and powerful speedboats trolled past from the docking harbor on their way to the open sea. On the hardwood floor, Jake’s long legs tucked under him, the dog kept his eyes glued to his mistress. She turned away from the window, saw him, and smiled.

Looking at Jake, she was reminded of a remark made by one of the pastors at her church, Clairemont’s Horizon Christian Fellowship. “If humans tried on a daily basis to be faithful to each other, happy and forgiving, kind and encouraging, to be completely loving, we still wouldn’t be half as good as our dogs.”

“You know, I love Jake, and my cats too,” she said, referring to Tiega and Rhaja, the cats asleep in opposing corners of her living room. “But I’m born again, and even if they should pass out of my life, I won’t ever feel alone again.”

Kerstin is not waiting for a man. When God is ready, she says, the right one will come into her life, one that will be a spiritual companion. She is not impatient.

“God’s time is not our time.”

She has turned back to the window.

It’s two years since her breakup, and Jerry — who’s never strayed from her thoughts — has slipped back into her life. He’d asked if she thought it was possible to turn back time, to start over again. So far, she’s given him no answer.

As Kerstin gazes at the scene on the other side of the glass, her eyes turn as blue as the water they watch. From his place on the hardwood floor, Jake, his eyes amber gold, watches her back.

— Jangchup Phelgyal

Jangchup Phelgyal is a recipient of a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University.

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