Their trips to the drive-in movie theater were always the same. He would fall asleep and she would quietly leave the vehicle to get popcorn, Milk Duds, and soda. As she walked back with her goodies, the car-side speakers stopped and the screen went black, throwing the entire lot into darkness. She stopped, temporarily blinded. Then, the screen lit back up again, showing…

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)  

Scooter likes movies. Even more, he likes the car. Sometimes the car takes them to the lake to swim. Other times, he gets french fries at the drive-up window. Even when it’s just errands, he always gets to stick his head out the window, tasting the smells on the air and enjoying the wind in his fur.

Mostly, though, he likes going places with Dylan. And lately — since Aimee stopped coming around at least — it seems like drive-in movies are Dylan’s favorite thing. So now they’re Scooter’s favorite, too.

The drive-in smells like cars. Oil. Gasoline. Hot rubber tires coated in the lingering scent of asphalt. Under that car smell is people. Lots of people. Scooter smells date-people — clean and shampooed and sometimes doused in cologne — and family-people, too. Kids smell better than most big people, like sunshine, grass, and sweat. Fun.

More than anything, though, the drive-in smells like food. Popcorn is king, and its delectable scent travels far and wide. More discerning noses, like Scooter’s, notice rich undertones of chocolate mingling with high notes of nacho cheese. Add the meaty scents of hot dogs and pepperoni pizza and it’s a perfect symphony of smell.

Not that Dylan buys food. Ever. Scooter, thinking maybe this foolishness was Aimee’s fault, was excited the first time they came alone. Maybe Dylan would buy hot dogs or even a bucket of popcorn. But, no. Though he’s grateful for the bowl of kibble at home, Scooter swallows his disappointment. Drive-in food is clearly not part of Dylan’s plan.

Tonight, they’re watching a superhero movie. Scooter doesn’t know which one. It’s hard to distinguish costumes without seeing colors but the soundtrack is killer. Dylan reclines his seat and Scooter’s tail thumps happily.

Whenever Dylan reclines, he sleeps.

The first time it happened, Scooter missed the opportunity entirely. He stayed, loyal and obedient, by Dylan’s side, watching the second half of a double feature — a slasher film soaked in colorless blood, alone. He’s since realized his mistake.

Tonight, Dylan’s first snore is quiet, more of a gasp-snort-sigh than a true snore at all. Scooter cringes at the series of explosions onscreen, each one louder than the one before. But Dylan sleeps through it all, the roar of engines and screaming bystanders barely eliciting a snuffle.

That’s when he knows Dylan’s really out.

One tidy hop and Scooter has four paws on weed-choked gravel. He shakes out his fur and pants happily. Freedom.

His stomach growls. It’s time to find some grub.

He cocks his ears, listening for the voices of children. Kids are the most likely to be talking throughout the film. Their attention span is even shorter than Scooter’s. That’s good news for a dog, though. He trots between the cars, peeking into windows and open tailgates. Kids always have food.

As usual, there’s plenty of popcorn, and an old man tosses an entire hot dog out the window of his truck. Scooter catches it neatly in his mouth — people are way more likely to throw more when he catches — and makes short work of it. One little boy offers him some M&Ms cupped in his grubby hands, but an older sibling snatches them back. “Chocolate can kill dogs!” she cries.

Scooter, who remembers that he once knew that fact, was nonetheless about to lap the child’s entire offering into his mouth, so he’s relieved for the last-minute save. When both children offer up hands filled with goldfish crackers, he knows he’s hit a jackpot.

Snaking his way between the rows of cars, up and down columns, Scooter takes the opportunity to indulge in a little extra sniffing. He meets four other dogs that night. Most are securely inside their vehicles, but a sleek little terrier mix with one dark-brown ear seems to be indulging in the same routine as Scooter.

A cursory sniff reveals that she isn’t spayed. Scooter, too, has avoided the embarrassment of neutering. Dylan cancelled the appointment with the vet, citing a feeling of solidarity that Scooter didn’t understand, but could definitely appreciate. Now he does his best to ensure that there will be terrier-shepherd puppies in her future.

With a full belly and a general feeling of doggie satisfaction, Scooter trots back toward Dylan’s car. He’d stopped paying any attention at all to the film, and so it takes him completely off guard when the screen goes dark. The car-side speakers, usually too loud for his sensitive ears, fall quiet. In a rare moment of panic, Scooter worries that it’s time to leave. He barks and picks up speed, afraid that Dylan will go home and forget all about his best friend.

His heart surges when he recognizes Dylan’s car — it smells exactly like his socks — exactly where he remembers leaving it. He bounds into the window on the passenger side, out of breath and drooling. Two things happen at once: the screen bursts back to life in dazzling black-and-white, and Dylan shifts in his sleep, murmuring something that sounds like “Aimee,” though Scooter is equally certain it could’ve been “frisbee.”

The second film turns out to be Lady and the Tramp. Nice! Scooter settles into the seat next to Dylan, deciding he can let his friend sleep after all. He’s happy enough to lose himself in the romance of this particular film, the intoxicating brown eyes of a certain terrier never far from his thoughts.