Carrie L. Weston
Dana Santanelli turned from the Gantt Chart in front of her. “What was that?”
“Call Bob.” Leo, her Jack Russell Terrier, jumped up from where he had been nosing a group of buttons on a pad in the middle of the living room of their duplex. Both words had their own button, and Leo depressed each with his nose in turn as a mechanical voice sounded. Other buttons included the important words “walk” and “eat.”
When her veterinarian, Robert Hagen—Bob—mentioned that Leo was smart enough to train with communication buttons. she was thrilled. Dana had seen videos online of animals using such devices and was soon filming Leo “talking” using the buttons. Dana had called Bob for help and was pleased to learn that he lived close by in Sturgeon Bay. They became friends and enjoyed training sessions that often ended with Dana cooking dinner.
“Call Bob.” Leo pressed the buttons one more time and looked out the sliding door where Bob usually entered and the waters of Green Bay could be seen.
“Are you sick? Do you feel bad?” Dana used terms from the buttons as Bob had taught her to do. Leo looked at her, tilting his head. He then moved back to the buttons on the floor but picked two different ones this time.
“Don’t we all, buddy.” She laughed. “It doesn’t sound like I need to make an appointment at the clinic, but I can text him. I have a new recipe for carbonara. But”—she stopped for a moment and rubbed the spot on Leo’s head that made his back leg twitch—“you know he won’t be interested in anything beyond friendship, right? He’s a handsome, single doctor. Have you seen that photo of him holding a kitten on Instagram?” Leo cocked his head to the side. “No, I guess not. I know you prefer Facebook.” Still, she started a text asking Bob to visit for some training and lunch.
“Hello? Anybody home?” The sigh of the sliding door alerted Dana as Bob stuck his head inside.
“Come in. Leo is so excited to see you. He must be antsy for some treats.”
Bob grinned his familiar crooked grin, showing the small scar on his chin. He said it was from an overzealous puppy nipping him years before. “I think we both know you’re the one that gives Leo too many treats.”
“But he’s such a good boy, with over 10,000 followers now!” She smiled at Leo with affection, feeling a little like a mom bragging about her child’s accomplishments to his dad. The three of them moved into their well-oiled routine. Dana turned on the camera on her computer to record the sessions. Later, she would look for interesting portions to post.
Bob began warming up with Leo by taking him through some of his established tricks, and Dana spied him sneaking the dog more than one treat.
After working for an hour, humans and canine alike were hungry. Dana moved to the kitchen to begin cooking while the others relaxed in the living room. She could hear them chatting, but couldn’t make out the words over the sound of the pasta maker.
She did hear Bob’s phone ringing from the other room, though, and after a brief conversation he called out. “I’m sorry. I have to go. A patient got caught on a fence and cut her leg.”
“Oh, that’s too bad!” Dana tried not to let her sadness at the interruption show as they made tentative plans for Bob to return later if the injured animal wasn’t too hurt.
Hours later, Dana realized she had never turned off the webcam. There was at least an hour’s footage of her scrolling through her phone and watching TV. She reviewed the video, scrolling back until she saw a shot of Bob and Leo after she left the room. She stopped and watched with a smile, and then a gasp. Reversing the footage, she turned the volume up higher to make sure she hadn’t misheard. On the screen, Bob sat while Leo circled the buttons until he found what he wanted.
“What?” Bob’s gaze turned from Leo to peer toward where Dana’s figure had left the room.
“Okay,” Bob’s recorded voice was quiet but clear. “But be cool. I can’t have her hearing that before I figure out if she would be interested. Even if she wants a date, she’s not in—”
The slide of the door behind her interrupted Dana’s rewatch. Her head whipped around to see Bob come to a sudden halt at the sound of his own voice, “—love with me.” Their eyes connected and held in shock.
“I–I’m sorry!” He put his hands up as if pleading with her to forget what she had heard.
“What are you sorry about?” Her voice raised to a pitch she barely recognized. “Being in love with me, or me hearing it from my dog?”
“Um…” he stopped as if paralyzed, the sliding door still slightly ajar. He then straightened, his mouth a firm line. “Actually, neither.” He strode toward her and grabbed her hands. “Leo’s right. I love you. I have for some time, but I treasure your friendship, too. If you don’t feel the same way, say the word and we’ll pretend this never happened.” He paused. “But please don’t say the word.”
Dana smiled. “I think I’ll let Leo speak for me.” She gave Leo a short gesture. “We’ve been working on something privately. Just in case.” Leo ran to his buttons, locating the two he needed. Dana and Bob’s first kiss was accompanied by the sound of a mechanical voice, speaking repeatedly.
She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and an M.A. in Strategic Communication Management. She is interested in telling the stories of small communities of people, and of the importance of setting as a character in fiction.
You can find her online at her website, and on Instagram and Twitter.