I was making my morning coffee in the kitchen and wondering how I would get through the day, especially with the rain coming down, when Tony’s picture toppled from the mantle in the family room. Again. Ever since my husband died two years earlier, that gold-framed photo—Tony posing with his prize hunting dogs—kept falling. That wasn’t all that was happening. Sometimes the TV would turn on out of the blue. And I’d get this feeling that Tony was still with me. Was it just the wishful thinking of a lonely widow? I couldn’t be sure.
I picked up the frame, dusted it off and put it back in place. I stared out the window that flanked the fireplace, thinking of Tony. If only he really were still here. I needed him now more than ever. It had been the most difficult two years of my life. Not only had Tony died of liver failure. My mom died around the same time too. Then came more bad news. The night before, my brother called. He’d been planning on moving into my spare room. Not anymore.
“I have cancer, Patricia,” he told me on the phone. “It’s terminal.”
This wasn’t how I’d pictured my golden years. Tony and I had had big plans. I was a photographer and drug addiction counselor. Tony was a Vietnam vet who’d risen through the ranks to become a master chief petty officer in the Navy. We’d moved around a lot, every three years to a new naval base. It didn’t matter where we lived as long as we were together. After Tony retired, we decided to settle in one place for good. Tony was a country boy who loved nothing more than biscuits with gravy and Hank Williams. We moved into a farmhouse on 55 acres in north Georgia. I imagined a lifetime of sipping sweet tea on the back porch, while Tony spun yarns about coon hunting. His dream was to raise champion hunting dogs. Meanwhile, I had my heart set on getting a sweet little Yorkie.
“Can’t I talk you into a beagle or Lab?” Tony said, poking fun at my choice of a dog, one that could fit in my handbag. Yorkies weren’t exactly farm dogs. But I’d wanted one since I was a kid.
“You enjoy your hounds,” I said. “I’m getting a Yorkie.”
We had so many plans, so many dreams. But some months after we’d moved in, I found Tony on the porch, looking unsettled. “Doc says my liver is failing,” he said. “I’ll need a transplant.”
Like many soldiers who’d served in Vietnam, Tony had contracted hepatitis C and been exposed to Agent Orange. In my eyes, he’d always been invincible—a larger-than-life Southern gentleman, as tough as they come. I didn’t want to believe he could die. For eight months, we waited for a donor match. My mom, meanwhile, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I stayed up night after night, researching both Tony and Mom’s conditions, hoping to find some detail the doctors might’ve missed. Finally Tony got a transplant. He recovered sooner than expected and was home in no time. But the victory was short-lived. Two months later, Tony suffered a massive blood clot and died. He was only 60. And Mom was gone too.
Our farmhouse, which had once been so lively and filled with laughter, was eerily quiet. So dark and empty. There was no one to greet me when I came home from work. No one to sit with on the back porch. No one to walk with around our property. These were the saddest two years of my life. And now my brother was sick too. I didn’t want to go through another battle all alone. I didn’t want to watch another person I loved die. I stared out the window at the rain, which was coming down even heavier now. I was about to head back to the kitchen when I happened to notice movement. Something small and furry emerged from the woods in the backyard. It trotted right up to the house.
I set my coffee cup on the counter, grabbed my raincoat and dashed outside. The animal darted back into the woods. I knelt and waited, staying calm. A minute later, a dog came running out. He pressed against my knees and looked up at me. He was shivering, his brown fur matted and covered in mud. But there was no mistaking him.
A Yorkie. The kind that could fit in a handbag. I stared at the dog in amazement. Yorkies were relatively rare, an expensive breed. My house was surrounded by 300 acres of woods and farmland, without another house for miles. So what was this dog doing on my property? How had he survived in woods full of coyotes?
I carried him into the house and dried him off. The Yorkie made himself right at home. He curled up at my feet on the porch. He followed me from room to room in the house. And I swear he cracked a doggie smile when I played Hank Williams. The dog had no collar, no tags. I asked around in town. Posted his photo online. Nobody had lost a Yorkie. No one came looking for him. He was mine to keep. I named him Hank. He never left my side.
Just as devoted as the one who’d sent him.
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