“Come on, Bella girl,” Liam calls from the front doorway, leash in hand.
Bella does not come.
“Here girl,” he tries again.
Still no Bella.
It’s time for the big guns. “Let’s go for a walk!”
‘Walk’ is a forbidden word in
their his house, guaranteed to make dogs come running. And yet, still no Bella.
Liam, dejected, puts down the leash. Everything is harder than he expected. Why should Bella be the exception?
Liam finds her curled up on
their his bed. When Bella notices she’s been caught out, she flattens her ears, guilty. But Bella doesn’t feel guilty enough to get up and go for the walk Liam was offering.
“Me too, girl.” Liam pats her head. Liam doesn’t blame her. Liam never wants to get out of bed anymore. Unfortunately, he’s a people and if anyone has the right to demand his presence at dinner it’s Lori. He cuts Bella the slack he wishes he’d be granted, and leaves her without a walk.
He pays for it later when he comes home to discover she’s peed on the floor. “Bella, this is not cool,” Liam says. He thinks about leaving it to deal with in the morning but tomorrow is going to suck enough without this hanging over him. Every day sucks.
Another time Liam is out of the house for several hours, Bella takes every pot and pan out of the bottom kitchen cabinets. The next time, there’s a trail of fluffy white stuff from the front door to the living room, where Bella’s destroyed all the pillows piled up on the couch for nap time, outsides shredded and stuffing spread everywhere.
Liam cries at that one. Then he calls the vet.
They run a series of tests at Liam’s insistence, since he’s willing to pay. They all come back negative. There’s no easy solution for the diagnosis.
“You can’t be depressed,” Liam tells Bella when they get home. “There’s only room for one depressed person in this house, and that’s me.”
He pauses. “What’s that?” Pause. “You’re not a person?” Pause. “Well, you got me there.”
The vet gave him the number for a dog therapist. A therapist for dogs that is, not a therapist that is a dog. Liam is skeptical. He’s been dutifully going to a people therapist and doesn’t feel any better for it. But he doesn’t know what else to do. So he calls and schedules an appointment for Bella.
Dog therapy looks a lot like making Bella sit, then making her lie down, then making her retrieve a stuffed giraffe, interspersed with a lot of petting her and telling her how she’s such a good dog. Liam doesn’t see any immediate changes at home, but he keeps bringing her. People keep telling him these things take time.
It’s the dog therapist who points out how bored Bella must be. She’s not just lonely but unemployed too. She’s used to working.
“Should we find you a job?” Liam asks.
Liam is back at work. Liam missed a lot of last season, and doesn’t really remember the parts he was there for. But somehow time keeps happening, and another hockey season has started. It’s better than the indeterminate slog of summer. It’s a reason to get out of bed, to leave the house, and he almost looks functional when he heads to the studio after makeup is done covering the dark circles under his eyes.
So Liam decides to find a job for Bella.
It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Liam’s first thought is kids. Liam liked working with kids when the team would send him to schools and hockey clinics.
He finds a Montessori school who would love to have a service dog come visit.
Even on their best behavior, the kids are a lot. They ask questions like ‘what does Bella do?’ and ‘why does someone need a dog to do that?’ that Liam was not prepared for. When they watch Bella retrieving fallen objects, Bella picks things up with aplomb. But she is equally unprepared for dozens of little hands touching her ears and her hands and her feet.
“Let’s never do that again,” Liam says to her on the car ride home.
Liam’s next attempt is even worse. He makes it half-way to the hospice before he’s shaking too hard to keep driving. The only person Bella comforts that day is Liam.
Liam’s third attempt nets Bella a job interview. Bella and Liam drive over to the physical therapy rehab center and meet with the staff. Bella shows off her skills.
Bella has officially been on more job interviews than Liam. But Bella doesn’t know enough to be nervous about it. She’s a dog. Being nervous while they wait to hear falls entirely on Liam.
Bella gets the job.
“Did you hear that girl? You’re hired.”
Bella gets to go assist people getting used to their new reality. The first Monday, Liam hits snooze four times and doesn’t change out of his sweats before dragging himself out to drop Bella off.
Bella is as unenthusiastic about being abandoned there as Liam was too wake up that morning. And Liam is already dreading needing to make a fourth attempt at this job thing.
But there’s nothing but praise at how wonderful Bella was when Liam picks her up at the end of the day.
So Monday, Wednesday, and Friday Liam has another thing to wake up for. By a few weeks in, if the alarm doesn’t drag Liam into wakefulness, Bella’s wet nose in his face, up and ready to go will do it.
Bella’s stopped turning
their his house upside down every time Liam leaves her alone for a while too. Although now that she has a job, Bella’s home alone a lot less.
The network asks Liam if he can fill in for their rink-side commentator on an upcoming trip. It’s to Edmonton. The thought hurts like a bruise, but well, Liam likes bruises in the right circumstances.
Ben flew down for the funeral, but it’s been ages since Liam has seen Vicky and the kids. He’s been unwilling to travel the last few years. And Roge and family still live there.
Liam puts in for vacation for Bella, and calls the dog sitter.
The day before Liam leaves, Bella goes to work like normal. Liam spends the day picking up dry cleaning and packing and getting ready to go.
Liam picks up Bella at the end of the day like always.
“H- H- Hey S- S- Sir,” someone calls out. Liam ignores it. It’s always bustling here.
“B- B- Bella.”
There’s a guy walking down the hall towards them, slowly, stride an uneven shuffle. Bella heads toward him taking Liam along with her.
“Hi,” the guy says when they reach each other. “B- B- Bella is r- r- really great.”
“Yeah, she’s a good girl,” Liam agrees.
“Th- th- they d-don’t th- th- think I’m going to get b- b- better.” Each word sounds like a struggle. Liam waits for them. He learned patience. “Th- th- they w- w- want t- t- to send me home.”
“I’m sorry,” he says. Liam doesn’t know why he’s being told this.
“C- c- can I get a dog like her?” Oh.
Liam gives the man the name of the organization from which they adopted Bella. He thinks of the lists and the research and the puppy photos he has tucked away on his laptop. It’s useless now. He won’t need another Bella.
“I have all the research from when we got her. There are a couple of different groups that train service dogs, and they can have a wait list. I can bring it in all the information for you.”
“Y- y- you’re not the d- d- dog trainer?”
“No.” Liam doesn’t want to have the conversation this is about to become, so he barrels through to the end. “I have to get going, I’m heading out of town this weekend but I can bring all the dog information on Monday when I drop Bella off. Okay. Bye” Liam turns to go.
Whatever stole this man’s motor control hasn’t slowed down his thoughts. And Liam isn’t rude enough to just leave when the words cost this man such effort. “Whoever you d- d- did that r- r- research for, whoever y- y- you g- g- got her f- f- for. Th- th- they’re lucky to h- h- have y- y- you both.”
Liam misses Mike.
“Yeah, he was.”