Taylor looked at his hands.

I saw his struggle and sighed. One of the things I’d learned was to be patient. Not to pressure him into talking. And to stay positive. “Don’t make any decisions tonight. The dog is here. You’ve already begun to bond. If you give him back now, what message are you giving to him? Rejection? He might not trust you again.”

Taylor didn’t respond, but his brows furrowed, and he looked at Thor, petting his fur. I admired how the dog stayed right by his side, sensing Taylor needed him.

“I have a suggestion. Tonight, keep your door open. That way, when Miller goes to the bathroom, he won’t be able to help himself but take a peek at the dog. There’s never been a dog he didn’t love. Once he accepts Thor . . .”

“If.”

I shrugged. “If . . . Maybe that will break the ice between you and then you can talk. Help him to understand why you got Thor. This is going to be touchy any way you look at it, for both of you. Let’s try and take each day as it comes.”

Taylor nodded in agreement. “Okay. I’ll try anything. He’s my kid brother.” Taylor’s voice broke. “I haven’t been very nice to him lately. I know that.” He looked up at me from the floor and our eyes met. I was stunned to see his were watery. “But I love him.”

He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk—that anything—could give him so much happiness.

—A Christmas Carol

Chapter 17

Taylor

The following morning I awoke feeling a little disoriented. Oddly rested. I blinked hard to pull myself from my sleepy stupor and turned my head toward the window. The curtains were drawn but shafts of bright white light broke through the borders, telling me the sun was already rising. I shifted my gaze to the bedside table and grabbed my phone. I couldn’t believe it was almost 8:00 a.m. I’d slept for six hours! I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept so long. I ran my hand over my head. It had to be Thor. The dog was the reason I could sleep for the first time in months—because I felt safe.

Remembering the dog, I turned on my side and rose up on my elbow to peer over the mattress to his dog bed on the floor. I couldn’t believe what I saw and stifled my laugh of surprise. On the floor in the enormous dog bed I saw Miller sleeping with his arm around Thor’s neck. My frozen heart cracked.

I quietly, carefully, snapped a photo with my phone. I didn’t think anyone would believe me if I told them. It was the very image of innocence. I wanted to remember this moment always, to look at it when I needed something good to hold on to. Lowering the phone, I thought of my mother and her wise advice. She’d always been there for me. Even when I was at my worst. She made me want to be a better son.

I rose to sit. Immediately Thor reacted and climbed to his feet to check on me. I felt the intensity of those dark brown eyes searching my face. I reached out to pat his head.

“I’m okay, boy,” I told Thor with a fond chuckle at the spectacle of Miller’s having been tossed and awakened on the floor.

Miller sat up and rubbed his eyes while yawning.

“You must be freezing.” He wore socks, but he’d slept on the floor without a blanket.

“I’m okay. Thor kept me warm.”

“So . . . you like him?”

Miller nodded. “Yeah.” He released a reluctant smile as he reached out to pet the big dog’s back. He was rewarded with a sloppy kiss from Thor.

“He likes you.”

“Yeah.”

I caught Miller’s grin. I rubbed my palms together and gathered my thoughts. “I didn’t intend to get him before Christmas. I know how much you wanted that puppy. The timing just worked out this way.”

Miller kept his gaze on Thor as he continued to stroke his back. He didn’t respond.

“You see, Thor is specially trained to help me with my PTSD.”

“I know,” Miller said in a monotone. “Mama explained all that to me.”

I looked at his hurt expression. “But that doesn’t really matter, does it? You still didn’t get a dog. It still isn’t fair, is it?”

Miller tightened his lips and shook his head.

I exhaled a long breath, making my decision. “I didn’t think so. So, I’ve been thinking. I have a responsibility to the dog. And the dog has a responsibility to me. I can’t give you Thor. But I also have a responsibility to you. My brother. Now,” I continued, “there are rules on how to behave with service dogs we must follow. But I was wondering if you would help me take care of Thor. If you would be his friend.”

Miller swung his head up to look at me. “What? Sure!” He leaped up and hugged me tight. “You’re the best brother ever,” he choked out.

I hugged him tight, not feeling the least bit nervous or uncomfortable with the touch. After another tight squeeze I released him. Miller slid back to the floor and began petting Thor with a proprietary relish.

“He’s a great dog.” Miller beamed. “When I came in last night, he came right up to me and sniffed me. Then he licked my face. Right off the bat. That’s a good dog, right?”

“He’s the best.”

Miller pet Thor a while longer, lost in thought. “So, we’ll both take care of him?” he asked, wanting to be sure he got it right.

“He’s big enough for two.”

Miller laughed at that. “Yeah, he sure is.”

“There is a lot to do,” I said, warming to the idea. “Feeding twice a day, walking him, grooming him. And of course, the training. Oh, about that,” I said, thinking of Clarissa. She would not allow Miller to train in class. “Since he’s a service dog, I’ll have to do the formal training in class.”

“No problem. I get it.”

This is a good start, I thought, taking heart. I was talking to my brother again. I knew he loved me. But I had a ways to go before earning back his pride.

Never underestimate the value of good sleep. I was more focused, less angry, and willing to get out of my room. Things went smoothly the next few days as Miller, Thor, and I fell into a routine. We fed and groomed the dog together. Most significant, we also took Thor for walks together. These were important forays for me out of the house. I recalled what Clarissa had said about Thor needing his own time. When Miller and I took him out in the woods, we stopped at an open field and released his leash. Thor ran the length of the field, relishing his freedom. The air was crisp and the sky was clear. The wind had a bite so we pulled up our hoods over our ears as we watched our dog prance like a racehorse. When I called him back, he returned with speed, moist from the exertion but with what Miller and I agreed was a grin.


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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