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I went to Alistair’s office and sat at his desk in front of the computer. Turning it on, I began to search for articles on PTSD. I hadn’t realized how many there were. I settled in and began to read.

Two hours later the phone rang. Thinking it might be Alistair, I lurched for the phone.


There was a pause, no doubt because I’d almost shouted, then a woman’s voice. “Hello, this is Clarissa Black from Pets for Vets. Is . . .”

I silently groaned, thinking how I couldn’t deal with a soliciting call now. “We’re not interested,” I interrupted, and began to hang up the phone.

“Wait! Please. I’m calling for Taylor McClellan. Is he there, please?”

When I heard Taylor’s name, I hesitated with my hand midair, then brought the phone back to my ear. “I’m sorry; I thought you were some solicitor. Who did you say you were?”

“I’m Clarissa from Pets for Vets. We provide service dogs for returning veterans. Taylor submitted an application months ago. I’m following up.”

“Service dog?” I was completely surprised. I’d just been reading about service dogs on the Internet. There were so many heartfelt stories from vets who claimed that having their service dog had changed their lives. She had my full attention. “Taylor asked about a dog?”

“Yes, he did.” She paused. “Are you a family member?”

“Yes, I’m his mother.”

“Okay,” she replied, accepting that. “To be honest, I’m surprised he didn’t talk to you about this. We encourage applicants to get the whole family involved. The dog becomes a member of the family.”

Suddenly it all became clear. This was someone who could help Taylor. I gripped the phone, eager to talk to this woman. First, however, I glanced over my shoulder to make sure Miller was out of earshot.

“I’ve read about this. The dogs can wake them up when they’re having nightmares.”

“That’s one of the many things they do. There are different kinds of service dogs trained for different needs. The blind, for example. I work specifically with dogs trained to help servicemen who’ve returned home with PTSD.”

“And my Taylor applied for a service dog, you said?”

“Yes. A few months ago.”

“So long ago?”

“Actually, his case moved along quickly. It’s a long, complicated process.” She paused. “And I have some good news for him. Is Taylor there?”

“No, I’m sorry he’s out. He’s at the doctor’s. I’m not sure what time he’ll be back.” I debated whether to tell her what had happened, but I didn’t know how much Taylor had confided in her. So I opted for less is more.

“Could you ask him to call me? As soon as possible. He has my number.”

“Of course.” Then I blurted, “Clarissa?” I hesitated. “Taylor’s been having a very hard time. Very hard.” I could feel my emotions welling up and my voice beginning to shake. I took a breath. “Will this dog help him out of his depression?”

“That’s our hope. We work very hard to make that happen.” Her voice grew filled with compassion. “These dogs are not pets, Mrs. McClellan. They’re companion animals that can be the lifesaving therapy that many returning servicemen and women need.”

I felt the tears welling. “You have his dog, don’t you?”

There was a pause. “Please, have him call me back.”

I hung up the phone and almost fell to my knees in a prayer of thanks. Something in her voice told me that, yes, she had Taylor’s dog. The timing was too close to be coincidental. This was an answer to my prayers! My Christmas miracle.

“Ghost of the Future!” he exclaimed. “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.”

—Scrooge, A Christmas Carol

Chapter 14


Bundled gloomily in my wool coat, sitting slump-shouldered in the passenger seat of my father’s car, I stared out at the passing world in silence. We passed the buildings, shops, and houses that I knew as a child, feeling as if I were a kid in trouble again. Worse, a total failure. Not just in my eyes, but in my father’s eyes. My father had always been the man I’d looked up to, the captain I’d tried to impress. I’d measured my success by the gleam of approval in his eyes. I’d basked in his gaze. There was a time I was his pride and joy.

I closed my eyes and saw instead the image of my father sitting in the waiting room of the hospital when I was released. He had filled the small chair and sat hunched over, his elbows on his knees, his big, ruddy hands holding a pitiful paper cup of cold coffee. He wasn’t reading. He was staring out with a blank expression on his face. When I’d approached him, he’d risen slowly, and when he faced me, I saw despair, confusion, even fear, clouding his pale blue eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I’d blurted out. It was all I could think of to say. I wished I could take the experience away. I’d never meant to hurt him or Mama. To cause them this pain.

“Let’s go home” was all he’d said before he turned and led the way out of the hospital to the parking lot.

I ran a hand over the stubble along my jaw. I felt unwashed, unshaven. I should have shaved, I thought, glancing at my father’s clean profile as he drove. I wouldn’t have been such an embarrassment to him at the hospital. I might have felt a little less pitiful, too. My eyes were dry and gritty from lack of sleep, my stomach was queasy, and I still felt hollow inside. I looked down at the book in my hand: A Christmas Carol. I don’t know why but I carried the book around with me like a talisman. Maybe because it reminded me of a rare moment of connection with my brother. Maybe, too, because holding the book reminded me that I could find a way to break the ponderous chain I was dragging. And maybe because it helped me hope that I could survive my past and present to a better future.

Beside the book lay a bag of pills in my lap. So many different ones. I wondered if suicide wasn’t easier.

I didn’t know how they let me go home. The doctor asked me the same questions the three previous doctors had. I’d got a new prescription for depression, another to help me sleep, and a few others for God only knew what. If the pills kept the nightmares way, I didn’t care what I took.