A Lilac Creek Christmas ( a Lilac Creek Dog Story) (2 page)

BOOK: A Lilac Creek Christmas ( a Lilac Creek Dog Story)
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Chapter Three

The trip to Wilmot was about a twenty minute drive in good weather.  Fortunately it wasn’t snowing and the roads were clear and dry.  The previous snowfall still clung to the trees making the countryside look like a Christmas postcard.  Julia cranked up the volume of her Christmas CD and sang along to her favorite carols.  Jasper sat upright in the back seat, watching the countryside roll by.  He looked very festive in his red and green dog bone print bandana.  As she belted out her songs, Julia laughed to herself thinking that Jasper was probably grateful that his hearing was gone.

As they approached the turn into the hospital parking lot,
Jasper started whimpering and pacing from one side of the car to the other.  Maybe he wasn’t able to hear or see that well anymore, but his sense of smell and place was as strong as ever.  He knew exactly where they were and who they were going to see.

As Julia approached, she saw that the usual driveway had been roped off with yellow tape.  A police officer was redirecting traffic to a different ent
rance.  As she crawled along, following behind the row of cars ahead of her, she had a chance to take in the damage that the fire had done.  Most of the hospital had remained untouched, but the wing where Henry stayed was pretty much gone.  The wing had been added on to the hospital for patients who were still fairly mobile.  Everything was contained on a single level so the residents had easy access to their rooms, a big central common room and a kitchen.  There were wide double doors that opened onto a large patio area where folks with both wheelchairs and walkers could enjoy the outdoors.  Julia remembered sitting on that very patio many times.  At first, it had been the only place where they could bring Jasper to see Henry.  Henry had made significant progress after he had spent some time with his old furry friend, and he and Brinn had spent many afternoons just sitting and enjoying each others’ company.  Eventually the hospital had recognized the health benefits that Jasper’s visits brought, and Jasper was allowed into Henry’s room.  Although never formally certified as a therapy dog, Jasper had certainly proved very therapeutic for Henry and for Brinn.

Julia pulled into the designated parking area and opened the windows a crack for Jasper.  “I’m not just sure what to expect when I get in there, so I think you’d best wait here this time.”  She gave
Jasper’s head a pat as she spoke to him.  There was a question in the big brown eyes that asked why he was not being allowed to go visit his friend.  Not feeling the least bit foolish, as she once had, Julia continued her conversation.  “It’s ok, bud.  I’m not going to visit Henry without you.  I’m going in to get him and bring him home.  You just have to wait for a bit.  I’ll be right back.”  Although there was a time when Jasper knew the words wait, and be right back, his old ears had long since quit working and he couldn’t hear the words anymore.  But judging by the smile on Julia’s face, he accepted that there was a good reason why he was not going in with her, and he accepted it.  He flopped all 75 pounds of his furry self down on the back seat and rested his big head on his paws.  He trusted Julia completely that she was always doing what was best for him, so he waited.  As always, Julia handed him a jumbo sized homemade dog treat before she walked away.

Julia headed up the walkway to the side entrance, a little unsure of where she would find Henry once inside.  She assumed there would be someone there to help her.  Other visitors entering the hospital appeared just as disoriented as she did.

As she walked past a row of low bushes in front of the
building, she noticed movement out of the corner of her eye.  Stopping to see what it was, she caught a glimpse of a medium sized dog sniffing around in the garden.  He was all black with just a small patch of white at his throat.  His fur was fairly short but shiny and smooth.  He certainly looked far too well cared for to be a stray, and Julia wondered what he was doing there. When Julia stopped, the little dog sat and watched her closely. She walked towards him, speaking in a soft, calm tone, but when she got close, he darted off around the side of the building.  For a minute, Julia considered following him, but she knew Henry was expecting her and decided instead just to mention him to someone inside.  The dog hadn’t looked at all threatening or aggressive. “
Probably just a local dog out for a walk
,” she thought to herself. By the time she spoke to someone at the reception desk and found out where to find Henry, all thoughts of the black dog had left her mind. 

Before she had a chance to speak to Henry, a nurse
stopped Julia to give her the instructions she would need to care for him in the weeks to come.  There was a list of medications and their dosages, some suggestions for physical therapy and a schedule of home visiting personnel. Julia made certain she was clear on everything before thanking the nurse and heading in Henry’s direction.

He was sitting in his wheel chair looking out the window as she approached.  His shoulders were slumped and the expression on his face seemed a million miles away.

“Henry?” she said softly, not wanting to startle him.  He turned at the sound of her voice and Julia was surprised at the depth of sadness in his eyes.  In spite of all that had happened to him over the past two years, Henry was always smiling and happy.  Today, however, that spark was most
definitely dim.  He managed a half hearted smile for Julia and reached out to take her hand in his.  As he struggled to speak, tears welled up making the formation of words even harder.  Since suffering a major stroke Henry had worked hard to regain some speech.  Now, with great effort he spoke only two words.  “Anna’s gone.”

Julia’s heart broke for the old man.  “Yes, Henry, Dr. Armatage told me.  Anna is gone.  I’m so sorry.  They told me you two had become quite close.”

Henry nodded. Looking up at Julia, his raspy voice full of emotion, he spoke again. “I need to say goodbye.”  Julia squeezed his old gnarled hand.

“We’ll be sure to get you there to say goodbye. 
The funeral is the day after tomorrow, but you’re coming home with me right now, okay? How about we gather up your things and go see Jasper.  He wasn’t happy about having to wait in the car so we better hurry before he starts chewing up my leather upholstery just to get even.”  A tiny bit of a smile appeared on Henry’s face and a glimmer of light returned to his eyes.  Jasper as usual was good therapy.  A nurse had already packed Henry’s things and the suitcase was sitting next to his chair.  Julia picked it up while an aid helped Henry into his winter coat.  The aid offered to push Henry to her car, but Julia declined.  It was only a short distance, and she was already dressed in winter attire, which the aid was not.  “Thank you, but I really don’t mind doing it.  We’ve had lots of practice haven’t we Henry?” she said, patting the old man’s shoulder. “Now, let’s go see Jasper.”

She pushed Henry easil
y along, her thoughts already moving ahead to getting him settled and comfortable at home.  She was so deep in thought, that she barely noticed that the black dog had appeared again.  This time he was sitting in front of their parking space amidst the bushes that edged the parking area.  He was sitting very still where he could observe them as she got Henry out of his chair and into the front passenger seat.  Jasper was whimpering and trying to lick Henry’s face over the back of the front seat. Henry stroked the big furry head as best he could and let the dog slather him with wet kisses.  When Jasper’s whimpers turned to more of a whine, Henry turned in the direction that Jasper was looking and noticed the black dog. The dog looked intently at Henry and a strange little smile lit up his face as he extended his hand out the open car door before Julia had a chance to close it.  She was about to say that she didn’t think it was a good idea to call the dog over when the look on Henry’s face stopped her.  The old light was back in Henry’s eyes and a soft smile touched his lips.  Julia watched in amazement as the black dog crept slowly forward, never losing eye contact with Henry in spite of all the noise Jasper was making from the back seat.  When the dog reached Henry, he sat back on his haunches and licked Henry’s outstretched hand.  Henry stroked the soft head for several minutes but made no attempt to speak.  After a few minutes, the dog gave a short bark and sauntered off, disappearing once again into the bushes.  Julia helped Henry swing his legs the rest of the way into the car and closed the door.  Jasper had been quite impatient through the whole ordeal and now wanted to reclaim his old master’s attention, thrusting his head between the front seats to get as close to him as possible.

“Well that certainly was strange,” Julia said to herself as much as to Henry.  She wondered if maybe Henry had met the dog on some previous occasion, but since it was so hard for him to speak, she chose not to ask him about it.  She settled instead for being grateful for the look of complete contentment that had settled on Henry’s face.  Eventually Jasper decided to lie down again and the rest of the trip back to the farm was filled only with the sounds of
Christmas music coming from the CD player.  Julia hummed along this time, but didn’t sing out loud, figuring she would her spare her passengers that discomfort.

Chapter Four

Just as she had expected, the girls were home from school and she could see Brinn’s face pressed against the window watching for them.  She waved enthusiastically when she saw them pull into the driveway and in less than twenty seconds, the front door opened.

“Henry
,” she squealed as she ran to the car. “Henry, you’re here!”  It was all she could do to stand still while Julia parked the car.  Then the passenger side door was thrown open and her arms were around Henry’s neck.  Brinn had formed a very close bond with Henry in those first days when she had come with them to visit him at the hospital.  It was almost as if Henry had given her her life back when he gave her Jasper.  The first words she had spoken after two long years of silence were, “My doggy, my doggy for keeps,” in response to the announcement that Jasper would be coming to live with her and Sam. In the days that followed she and Henry had become the best of friends.  She became a little chatterbox and never tired of unleashing her verbal overflow on Henry.  As crazy as it seemed, that same endless chatter was the catalyst for Henry’s speech recovery.  Over time, he learned new ways to work with his slack muscles and could muster enough words to communicate quite well.  Brinn had immediately tuned in to his unusual speech patterns and they could spend hours together chatting and sharing their love for the four footed friend who had brought them together. 

Now
Brinn’s Christmas was going to be extra special with her dear friend here as a guest. Once she released her hold on Henry’s neck, she flung open the back door to give Jasper his freedom.  After jumping up to give her a big slobbery kiss, Jasper stood to the side while Henry slowly swung his legs sideways.  Julia had retrieved the folding wheelchair from the trunk and had it ready beside him.  With a little help and support, Henry pushed himself from the car seat to the chair.  Brinn was determined to push him into the house herself which allowed Julia to retrieve bags and belongings from the back.  Jasper trotted along beside the chair his bushy tail waving like a flag of victory in the air.  He was bringing his two masters home, and he couldn’t be more proud.

Inside, Sam, Emma and Kaylee waited with a bit more decorum than Brinn had displayed.  Emma was still a bit shy around strangers, and she had only visited Henry a few times.  Kaylee, still a bashful toddler, hid behind a smiling Sam as they entered the room.

“Look who’s here everybody,” shouted Brinn.

“Henry,”
Sam said offering his hand as Brinn wheeled him in.  “Great to see you, and welcome!” Henry smiled as he shook hands with Sam and then looked at the two other girls standing quietly behind him.  Not wanting to frighten them off, he did his best to smile and offer as clear and normal sounding hello as he could.  His famous smile did the trick, however, and both girls relaxed and smiled back.  In no time at all, Kaylee was trying to climb into his lap for a ride in the wheelchair.

“Okay, kids,” Julia interjected.  “I think I’ll take Henry into his room now so h
e can get settled.  There will be plenty of time for a good visit at the dinner table.”  Julia dislodged Kaylee from the chair and sent her off with Brinn and Emma to get a cookie and a glass of milk.

Julia chatted away to
Henry as she put his things away, explaining where everything was and what the schedule was going to be like.  Henry sat listening but didn’t try to say anything.  He nodded when she asked if he would like to lie down for a while and Julia helped transfer him from the chair to the bed.  As she turned to leave, he grasped her hand, and working hard to speak, he said simply, “Anna?” with a question in his voice.  Julia understood what it was he wanted to know, so she explained.

“The funeral service is the day after tomorrow at the
Wilmot Chapel.  Sam and I will take you there and make sure you get a chance to say goodbye.” Julia couldn’t help the tears that threatened to cloud her vision. “Don’t you worry for one second.  We’ll get you there.”  Henry nodded, and she knew he understood.  But the sad look had made its way once again into his tired blue eyes.

Dinner was anything but a quiet affair.  Brinn kept up a constant flow of chatter about school and
Christmas and everything else going on in her life.  Jasper had spotted a squirrel travelling back and forth across the patio and was barking out a warning, while Kaylee squawked with her usual protest at eating anything that didn’t look like a cookie. It was complete mayhem and just the way Julia liked it.  She and Sam just smiled at each other across the table, sharing the same thoughts about how much they had to be grateful for.  Henry didn’t seem to mind all the noise either, and the grin on his face was the biggest Julia thought she had ever seen. She was glad that the kids and dog were keeping his mind off his sadness, at least for a while.

After dinner everyone moved to the living room to sit around the tree and admire the lights.  Sam got out his old guitar and p
layed some simple chords to accompany a few carols.  Then Julia gave the nod to putting on the TV to watch the Christmas special for the night.  Tonight The Grinch was playing, and it was one that everybody loved. Julia had moved Jasper’s bed over beside Henry’s chair and he curled up with a big sigh once everyone got settled.  His people were all around him and he could feel all the love and special excitement that came with this time of year, and he was a happy dog.

BOOK: A Lilac Creek Christmas ( a Lilac Creek Dog Story)
4.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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