Read part 1 first.

The silence ticked by slowly to the crunch of her teeth on croutons. He had not said something since she sat down and offered a quiet “hello” from her dry throat. Half her salad gone, Vera stopped and leaned her plastic fork against the rim of the container.

“So, how’s it going?” she asked.

Niles, his sandwich halfway to his mouth leaned back and let the sandwich drop about half way to the table. But he did not set it down, his mouth still slightly open and ready to take a bite.

“Alright, I guess,” he mumbled.

“Yeah? It’s been a long day in accounting,” she admitted with a half-smile.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Oh, you know, just one of those days,” she replied.

“Yeah, can’t wait for the weekend,” he said.

Vera grinned.

“Absolutely! Doing anything fun?”

“Ah, well, I was going to head out to Vegas with some buddies of mine, but I can’t find a sitter for the dog,” Niles sighed.

Her heart thumped. How unfair of him to blame the dog like that! Vera’s appreciation for Ray bristled and then reversed wildly. This was an opening she had not anticipated.

“I could watch him!” she blurted out.

The sandwich, once again half-way to his mouth, was finally set down on the table as he gapped at her.

“Really?!” he smiled for the first time at her. “That’s awesome!”

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t really have any plans this weekend,” she tried to backpedal her excitement and began to smash oversized pieces of Romaine in her mouth.

Arriving at Niles house on Friday after work with a bag full of dog biscuits in her arms and a chew toy, Vera was overjoyed. Finally a chance when she and Ray could really bond. Niles had dumped the keys on her desk an hour before closing and dashed out with a laid back, “have a good weekend”. He had neglected to mention where the dog food was kept.

The key fit smoothly in the lock and Vera sucked in her breath expecting Ray to come bounding out at her with barks of surprise and defensiveness. But the house was cool and silent. She stepped through the door on tip toe and peered around the corner. There was nothing, just the dark carpeting underlying the basic home furnishings she expected of Niles. A cold inch of dormant coffee in the glass pot, a pile of mail on the counter, a few pairs of shoes (and dirty socks) by the couch. There wasn’t much there really. It reminded her of her own place.

Across from the entry the sliding glass door to the backyard revealed barren dirt and a barbeque grill stained black from use. Only a little red showed through in spots where soot and smoke had not yet swathed over the original color. The corner of some patio furniture came into view. It was new. And clean. She stepped to the side to see it more clearly.

There in the yard, attached by a long chain to the trunk of a large tree, was Ray. Vera rushed to the sliding door and yanked it open. Ray’s head, resting on his paws, perked up instantly at the noise. His ears pressed forward. With a bark he stood.

“Ray! It’s me Ray!” Vera called.

Ray barked again and began panting then all at once he lunged forward, kicking back dirt as he raced to meet her and then stopped short. The length of the chain dragged him back to the tree with a jolt and yelp. She rushed out to Ray and embraced him, rubbing his back and shoulders with her nails. His tail wagged.

For the whole weekend, she stayed at Niles home, on the couch. She allowed Ray to curl up by next to her while the television lulled them both to sleep. Then she woke up in the morning, slide the back door open and crack into a can of fresh dog food. She sipped coffee while he ate, smiling to herself.

But as the weekend came to a close, and time for her to leave approached she realized something obvious. She would never get away with taking Ray for herself. Not while Niles entrusted her to watch him. The idiocy of having missed this knocked against her head for the last remaining hours of her Sunday with Ray. And then she would reflect on how nice that sounded, Sunday with Ray. She would just have to think of some other way.

Continue to part 4.

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