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“I know it’s been an emotional day, and you two need time to hang out and bond. We can continue tomorrow.” Her tone of finality signaled that she was leaving. “Is ten o’clock good for you?”

“Tomorrow?” I didn’t expect another training session at home. There would be continuing group classes later, likely after the Christmas holiday.

“Absolutely. Training your dog to be a service dog is not something that can be done in a day, a weekend, or even in a month. It will be an ongoing process continuing for the whole life of the dog. However, the most intense training will be in these early days and weeks. Taylor, after this rush of excitement there will be days when you will feel you are not progressing, and in fact you may think the whole process is going backward. Keep in mind that these days are normal, as long as they only happen occasionally. Training requires consistent, daily effort.”

She paused and looked at me square on. “If you don’t have the time to do this, or you aren’t willing to spend time working and practicing with your dog daily, a service dog may not be for you. A lot is expected of them, and they deserve the right care. Every day, without fail, he must be cared for. This means he’ll need to be taken out several times a day, cleaned up after, fed a nutritious meal at least once a day. His ongoing training must be maintained, even improved. He’ll need mental and physical exercise and stimulation, to be groomed when necessary. Basically treated as a living, breathing creature under your care. If that sounds like too much of a commitment of time, a companion dog may be a more appropriate choice.”

“I’ve got nothing but time,” I replied lightly.

She studied me with the same intensity Thor had earlier. “Taylor, see”—she paused—“it’s not just the training. As smart as Thor is, he’s in some ways like a child, dependent on you for his well-being. You’re a team. Where you go, he goes. He’s more than your dog. He’s your partner. Your guide. Your best friend.”

I realized what she was telling me. This was a lifelong commitment. A decision to deal with the ups and downs of a dog at my side day in and day out. I shouldn’t, couldn’t, take it lightly. I looked at Thor, sitting closer to Clarissa than to me, calmly waiting for his next command. I knew a sudden fear that she was having second thoughts. That she would take Thor away. At that moment I knew I couldn’t let her do that.

I gave Thor the command to come. He trotted immediately to my side and sat, looking up at me patiently. I looked down at this great dog. He quietly exuded a steadfast patience and a willingness to serve. If I would dare. We had work to do, sure. There would be mistakes. But we’d solve them together.

I put my hand on Thor’s head and looked up at Clarissa. “I understand. My commitment is absolute. This is my dog.”

She smiled and I could see she was convinced.

I almost smiled back, but at the moment I heard a high-pitched voice behind me.

“What’s going on?”

I swung around to see Miller standing at the threshold, still in his parka, his cheeks ruddy from the cold, his backpack hanging from one arm. His eyes were wide under a shock of brown hair falling across his brow.

“You got a dog?”

But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time . . .

—A Christmas Carol

Chapter 15


“It isn’t fair!” I shouted.

All the adults—Taylor, my mother, and some blond lady I never saw before—swung their heads to stare at me with surprise on their faces. They weren’t expecting me. I’d finished my exam early—aced it. My attention was caught by the big dog when it stood up and took a step in front of Taylor, blocking him, his eyes on me.

I stared back at them, my hands in fists and bubbling over with rage and, most of all, hurt. They’d lied to me! Taylor got a dog! It was always Taylor getting the attention. Taylor the big war hero. Whatever Taylor wanted, Taylor got. No one cared what I wanted. We could afford a dog for Taylor but not for me? How could my mother be so mean? How could Taylor get a dog when I told him how much I wanted one?

My mother spoke first, in that tone she uses when she doesn’t want me to get hurt. “Miller . . .”

I didn’t give her time to speak. “It isn’t fair!” I shouted at the top of my lungs. Dropping my backpack, I spun on my heel and ran from the room. I heard my mother following me. All I knew was I couldn’t bear to see her or talk to her. I had to get away from her and Taylor. I had to try to outrun the hurt clawing at my chest. So I ran.

I ran out the back door, around the house to the street, and there I just kept running. I felt tears streaming down my cheeks and I was sobbing out loud. Even as I ran, I thought to myself I’d never heard myself cry like that, like a baby, loud and deep, from my heart. But I couldn’t stop it. It came bubbling out from some deep well that I’d been filling for weeks. My feet pounded the pavement, my arms punched the pace, tight-fisted and close to my body. At first I didn’t know where I was going. I was running from something. But when I reached Pinckney Street and passed the shops, the fog in my mind cleared. My sobbing stopped and I could hear my footfalls pattering on the street and my breath keeping pace. I knew where I was going.

“Miller, how nice to see you.” Mrs. Davidson smiled at me in surprise when she opened the door. I hadn’t been to the house in a few weeks, not since my daddy told me I couldn’t have Sandy. When she looked closer at my face, however, her smile wobbled some and she got that sad expression that told me she’d seen that I’d been crying.

“Can I see Sandy?”

Her face scrunched in worry. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

“Please. Just one more time?”

Her face softened and she smiled again. “Sure, okay.” She opened wide the door. “You know where they are. I’ll get Dill.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

I passed her and ran into the back room. All the puppies were in a larger pen now, higher and wider. I couldn’t believe how much bigger they’d gotten in just two weeks. They were cuter than ever, rolling and playing and nipping at each other. One was sweeter than the next. They all looked so bouncy and happy, I wanted to get in there and roll around with them, just bury my face in their fur and let them climb over me with their puppy breath until I felt better.