I almost didn't go in.
"I'm afraid of dogs." The whimper came from the other side of the door, shrouded in the dark of a lonely hospital room. From the slit between the wall and the heavy door, I could see drawn shades obscuring the happy, late day sun.
"That's okay." I nodded down at my patient mutt, telling him with my eyes that we needed to move on. Ebony eyes blinked up at me, but he didn't move. I nudged him with my ankle.
"Can I see him?" I could still barely hear the voice but it sounded a little stronger. "Can you just bring him inside the door so I can see him?"
"Sure." Loosening the leash, I followed Brave into the room. Expecting to hop up on her bed and cuddle like he usually does, Brave pulled toward the bed where a young woman lay curled on her left side. She looked terribly uncomfortable with both her right leg and right arm tickling the air near the floor.
"Stop!" She cried out as we broke the dark shadows of the door jam. I held Brave tightly at the end of his leash, knelt beside him and began to stroke him calmly.
"Hi," I said. "My name is Abby and this is Brave. We're a pet therapy team that comes to visit the hospital. You don't have to touch him, and I'll keep him away from you, but he's just here to brighten your day and make you happy." I paused for a moment. "How are you feeling today?"
"Not so good," came her reply, but my one question seemed to open the flood gates of pent up conversation. She proceeded to talk to me, nary taking a breath and never once taking her eyes off of Brave.
"He looks like a teddy bear." Her lips crept upward into a smile.
"I get that a lot," I agreed. "He's no special breed though, just your average mutt. I think he turned out great though and he's super soft. Are you sure you don't want to pet him?"
"I'm afraid of dogs," she told me again. "I got chased by a couple of them once and ever since, I don't really like them. Well, I like them, I'm just scared of them."
"I understand," I assured her. "I think that would scare me, too. But Brave is super friendly, and he's taken lots of tests to prove that he's well behaved and safe to be in a hospital."
The conversation turned. She told me about her daughter, her brother, her growing up years. She talked about living on a farm and loving animals and big family holidays. Finally, I glanced at my watch and realized Brave and I needed to move on to the next patient.
"I'm so sorry," I told her. "We really have to go now. Brave needs to visit some more patients on this floor and we have a whole 'nother floor to see today, too." I straightened my aching knees and reached to pat her hand. "Thank you so much for letting us come in though. I really enjoyed talking to you." We turned toward the door.
"Can I touch him?" Her question surprised me.
"Do you want to?" I asked. "You don't have to."
"He looks so sweet and cuddly. I want to try." She leaned even farther over the edge of her bed, stretching her right arm toward Brave.
"He'd love to have you pet him." I moved Brave slowly closer to her bedside.
Her hand shook violently, like an autumn leaf clinging with shuddering breath to its brittle branches. We waited. Slowly, her finger tips brushed against Brave's ear. She jerked back.
"I touched him," she exclaimed. "But look at me shaking!" It seemed almost funny to her. She stretched out her hand again. This time, her the pads of her finger tips pressed into the side of his cheek and curved around to cup his chin. Brave looked up at her with liquid eyes, blinked slowly, never moved.
I held still, watching the miracle and surprise of new found courage unfold across the woman's countenance. Her smile curved higher until it creased her eyes.
"I think he likes me!"
"I'm certain he does." My eyes filled with tears. One quick blink and they rolled into the wrinkles of my own smile. Other floors could wait. Other patients would still be there, the need for warm puppy eyes and furry, unconditional love would still be there when we finally left this room. But for this moment, I wanted to sit with this dear woman and wonder at the miracle of budding friendship.
Learn more about me on my website: http://predatory-lies.com/about-me/
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