Brandy was a Labrador Retriever. Her red coat was faded. Her tail was trapped in a perpetual wag. Her mouth always seemed to hang partially open with her tongue visible much of the time. She panted in order to get air no matter how warm or cold it was.
Brandy was no longer a young dog. Her flanks had grown broader as she aged. While she once ran like the wind, she rarely went faster than a quick walk these days. It was like she only had so much energy left in her and she knew it needed to be conserved if she was to keep going.
Brandy belonged to Doctor Jim. He started out working at the local children's hospital. He worked in the cancer wing and he was accustomed to the pale faces, bald heads, sunken eyes, and pained expressions of his patients. He wanted to work with children because he had none. He wasn't sure he would have children any more.
He'd once been able to smile at his kids, but they rarely smiled, and what did they have to smile about. It was a matter of doing all he could do for them, and he'd let the rest of his staff smile and put on a happy face, if they could.
Dr. Jim went into partnership with another doctor, who owned a clinic. He only treated children with cancer, and so Dr. Jim, having a lot of experience with kids struggling with cancer was able to treat his patients his way.
He'd love to be able to cheer up the kids he treated, but it was more important for him to help them feel better. He believed in the power of ice cream, cake, balloons, and a certain amount of candy. Frequent visits from his red Labrador, Brandy, brightened the sickest kid's day. Most children, if given the choice between ice cream or Brandy, his dog would win hands down.
Propping her head on the sickest child's lap never failed to brighten their day. On the days Dr. Jim started bringing Brandy to work with him because of his long days. Once he found out what a positive effect she had on his patients, Brandy became a constant visitor to the rooms of the sick.
It wasn't unusual for Dr. Jim to enter one of the rooms to find Brandy curled up around the child's feet. Once Brandy decided on the child she would spend the day with, she'd stay close to the lucky patient. The nurses, other doctors, and the kids enjoyed her quiet presence.
As time went on, Dr. Jim worried about Brandy's diminishing energy, and in the past week she'd gone off her food. Before work one morning, he let Brandy get in the car, and he drove to the vets, Dr. Miller. He'd been seeing Brandy since she was a pup when he attended the birth of the red head. They'd all grown older together.
Dr. Miller allowed Dr. Jim to stay with Brandy as he examined her.
"Off her food? No energy? That's about it?" Dr. Miller asked, not wanting to state the obvious.
"For a week or two. She's not eating enough to stay alive. She's been with me since I got out of med school, Doc. She's always been healthy and eating what I give her."
Dr. Miller listened to her heart and checked her eyes. He petted her often. Brandy licked his hand when he did. As always, she was the perfect lady. She never objected even when her doctor gave her a shot. Her good manners could have been because of the treats Dr. Miller kept in his coat pocket, feeding them liberally to his patients.
"She's tired, Jim," Dr. Miller said.
"She gets plenty of rest, Doc. That's all she does. She just isn't eating."
"She's old and she's tired, Jim. The big tired. Fifteen years is a good run for one of these fellows. They don't go on forever, as much as we'd like them to. You've got to deal with the realities. Brandy has been your companion and friend for a long time. For her it's forever, and when their time runs out, well, they get tired, and we need to let go of them, Jim. We let go because it's the right thing to do," Dr. Miller said. "Buy her some steak. Give her anything she wants. Let her know you are still her best friend, and she'll let go when it's time."
"No," Dr. Jim said, "Not yet. She's going to be OK. She just won't eat, Dr. Miller," Dr. Jim decided.
"OK, Jim. Have it your way. Pamper her. Just listen to me now. Let her do what she wants. Let her eat what she wants. Steak, ice cream, just let her have whatever appeals to her. When you're ready, I'll take care of her. I watched her being born, Jim, and I'll send her off peacefully. No one gets out of this life alive."
"It's not her time, Dr. Miller. I'd know if it was."
"Right, Jim. You have it your way. Treat her good. Let me know if you need me. Call me no matter the hour."
Dr. Jim had a hitch in his throat as he drove back toward the house. He lived alone except for Brandy. She never fussed at him. She took him at face value. They took each other at face value. They just suited each other after so many years. She was always glad to see him and he was always glad to see her. It wasn't her time yet.
Dr. Jim's pager went off as he turned into his street. He thought of taking Brandy on to the house, but then he decided to keep her with him today. He'd put her in his office and get someone to go out for something she liked. Brandy walked beside him with no idea of straying as the door to the emergency room opened automatically making her jump. Dr. Jim headed for his office and put Brandy inside.
He asked one of the orderlies to get a roast beef sandwich from the vending machine and take the meat off and give it to Brandy. She'd love that. He wanted to keep her with him but he wanted to know where she was. Wandering the halls wouldn't be allowed today.
As the orderly opened the door to the office with sandwich in hand, Brandy darted between his legs, heading down the hall. She knew where she was going.
The smells assaulted her nose at first. They masked Dr. Jim's scent but she wasn't looking for him. Brandy had another destination. With each door partially open she knew the smell she was looking for and she knew the room. Dr. Jim spent some time there the day before.
Brandy didn't like being closed in. She didn't like being left alone at the house. There were so many people at the clinic, it was definitely more fun than waiting for Dr. Jim to come home.
Brandy thought it would be nice to have a little boy of her own to play with. The little boy Dr. Jim spent time with yesterday was the right age and he needed a friend. It was lonely for anyone in one of those rooms. Brandy would return to his room. She'd be there when he woke up today. She'd be there for him to pet and smile at.
Brandy sniffed at two doors before finding the right one. She scurried past the nurse and around the foot of the bed. She jumped up on the chair beside the bed and put her chin on Bobby's arm. He was still sleeping but he'd wake up soon and would he get a nice surprise.
The nurse knew Brandy and it wasn't the first time he'd visited one of the patients she attended. Bobby Goodman hadn't been awake in weeks. Dr. Jim had done everything he knew how to do for Bobby, but he was losing the battle. Brandy being there would hurt nothing.
Dr. Jim wasn't looking for her. He was with Sally, a girl he operated on earlier in the week. She'd had an asthma attack and nothing more. She was breathing easier by the time Dr. Jim arrived. He spent time checking the wound and it stopped draining the day before. Her color had improved.
Dr. Jim worried about a life threatening seizure that wasn't uncommon after removing the kind of tumor he'd taken out of Sally's brain. She'd come through the surgery fine, and there were no complications so far.
A page about a patient like Sally got his immediate attention. He didn't live far away and he could be there ten minutes after he got a page, Sally was the patient he was the most worried about. A little medication in her I.V. and a single pump from the inhaler did the trick. She was resting comfortably and Dr. Jim would get Brandy and they'd enjoy the rest of his day off.
Leaving Sally's room the nurse remained to monitor her oxygen and breathing. It was the orders he'd left when he was done the night before.
Dr. Jim returned to his office for Brandy. On his desk, the unopened roast beef sandwich. There was no Brandy. He didn't understand why she wasn't there. He told Roger to get the sandwich and give the meat to Brandy. The sandwich was there and Brandy wasn't.
Roger was coming out of a room down the first hall Dr. Jim checked for him.
"Roger, my dog?" Dr. Jim said. "What did you do with my dog?"
"Sorry, Dr. Jim. She out-foxed me. Ran out as quick as I opened the door. I wasn't expecting that kind of move and she took off down this hall. Looking for you I guess."
"Help me find her, Roger. She couldn't have gone far." In the third room Roger checked he found Brandy. He stepped back into the hall to tell Dr. Jim.
"I should have checked there first," Dr. Jim said. "I was in Bobby's room most of the afternoon yesterday."
"You won't believe what she's doing," Roger said.
"Hard to say," Dr. Jim said.
"She's being petted by Bobby. He is sitting up in bed," Roger said.
"That's impossible. He's barely alive, Roger."
Dr. Jim stepped into the room and looked at the bed.
"I was just going to call you, Doctor. Now what do you think of that?" Nurse Windsor said.
"Did you put his bed up, Nurse?"
"No, sir. He reached on the nightstand and did it himself," Nurse Windsor said.
Nurse Windsor, Roger, and Dr. Jim watched Bobby pet Brandy. He was all smiles and he paid no attention to anyone but Brandy.
Brandy was lying half on the bed and half in the chair. Her head was on Bobby's stomach as he petted away.
At twelve, Bobby wasn't very big. He'd been sick all his life, and in the hospital for two months this time.
Dr. Jim had been treating him for lymphoma. The boy never spoke. He never smiled. He hardly ever looked at Dr. Jim any more. It was a sad case and he no longer knew what to do. He'd been drifting in and out of a coma for the last week. Bobby was petting Brandy and he was all smiles.
Brandy didn't move when Dr. Jim came to stand in the doorway of Bobby's room.
"How about that, Doc. I haven't seen that kid smile like that before. He's always sleeping when I clean his room. He doesn't open his eyes and I make noise when I clean."
"Come on, girl," Dr. Jim said. "Let's go."
Brandy blinked her eyes but she didn't respond. She was Bobby's dog for the moment.
"Don't take her. I've always wanted a dog of my own," Bobby said, still petting Brandy. "My parents told me I was too sick to take care of a dog. Don't take her," Bobby Goodman begged his doctor.
"That's tough," Roger said. "That kid has never asked for anything before. I didn't know he could talk."
"He hasn't talked for the last two weeks," he's been in and out of coma."
"I wouldn't take your dog out of here for a million bucks. Anything that makes that kid smile is worth a million, Doc," Roger said.
"Leave her be. Her vet told me to let her have it her way. She wants to stay with Bobby, and I have more work than I can get done. I may as well get to it, Roger."
"She's doing him no harm. Looks like she's doing him some good," Dr. Jim said. "My prescription is, plenty of Brandy, and he's not to be disturbed. Can you check on her every half hour or so? While I'm here, I need to check on some tests I'm waiting for. Nurse Windsor, looks like our patient is doing fine. If you have other duties go take care of them and check in on him every half hour or so. Just peek in the door to be sure he's OK."
"Nothing I've done has done much good. I didn't know if he'd wake up again or not," Dr. Jim said.
If Brandy helped him feel better it was fine with him."
Dr. Jim went to the lab and looked at some slides of the tumor he'd removed from Sally Gates. He read the lab results on the tumor. He made notes to reduce her medication tomorrow. He stopped to think about Bobby.
He'd need to be here for twenty-four hours to monitor her reaction. Once the heavy duty drugs wore off he'd know more about her condition. She appeared to be doing fine.
An hour later Dr. Jim went back to standing in Bobby Goodman's room. Bobby was sleeping now. He was resting easier than he had in weeks. Mostly drugs allowed him to sleep, but because of the coma, he'd removed the stronger drugs. He'd come out of the coma and he didn't seem to be in any discomfort at all.
Brandy looked over her shoulder at him but she didn't move. She usually came right to him if he'd been out of her sight for more than a a few minutes.
Dr. Jim wasn't sure why she stayed there on the bed. She wasn't allowed on the furniture at home. Jim thought Brandy was acting oddly, and why this room? Bobby hadn't responded well to the treatment. Since coming to the hospital he'd only gotten worse, and Dr. Jim was running low on the tricks that worked at times.
Dr. Jim called to Brandy.
"Come on, girl."
She looked over her shoulder at him before putting her head back on the boy's arm.
This wasn't like her at all. He remembered what Dr. Miller told him. He was going to leave her alone. She obviously wanted to be with the boy. She'd always been good with children.
An hour later Dr. Jim returned to Bobby's room. He was sure Bobby would sleep longer than he did, but he was back to sitting up in bed and petting Brandy.
"You do know this is highly irregular," Nurse Blake said to Dr. Jim as he leaned his back against the doorjamb.
"He has a nice smile," Nurse Windsor said.
He wasn't just awake, he was happy. Brandy had his full attention. He heard the nurse and doctor talking but he wasn't listening.
"Highly irregular. You're the doctor. You tell me what it means. Should I reduce his medication? He's been nearly vegetative for the last week. He might be getting better, don't you think?"
"No, I don't. I've reduced his medication as far as I'm going to let it go. That could explain him waking up but I didn't expect him to wake up at all, Nurse Windsor. You are as aware as I am, Bobby isn't getting better. I can't explain this. Bobby, how do you feel?"
"I feel OK," he said, not letting his attention stray from Brandy.
"There you go, Doctor. He's fine," Nurse Windsor said.
Dr. Jim moved to the nearside of Bobby's bed. He felt for his pulse, shined a light in his eyes, and he ruffled the boy's hair.
"All looks good, bobby. Who put your bed up for you?"
"No one. I wanted to see the dog," he said as if it was a natural thing to do.
"You know how to ring the call button if you start feeling bad?" Dr. Jim asked.
"Yes, sir. I know how," he said, and Brandy lifted her head to look at her master.
"I'll spread the word. It's going to be more difficult for the nurses to sit and hold his hand. They all do it when they take a break. Now your dog wants to stay in that spot."
"The more the merrier, nurse. My dog gets to do it her way today and so does Bobby. It's out of our hands."
Dr. Jim nodded as Nurse Windsor walked away. She was in charge, except when a doctor was in the room. She wasn't as tough as she pretended to be. He didn't known the nurses came to sit with Bobby on their breaks. They knew his prognosis and didn't want him to be alone he suspected.
"Hey, Roger," Dr. Jim called. "I'm going back to my office. I've got enough paperwork to do to keep me busy the rest of the day. Check in on them when you have time. He'll fall asleep soon. See if you can't get Brandy to come with you to my office when he does. Don't waste a lot of time with it. I'll go down when I need a break."
A couple of hours later, the door swung open and Roger stood there with Brandy in his arms.
"I caught her napping, and I picked her up to bring her to you, Doc. She didn't like the idea but I had a good grip on her. Never seen a more hardheaded dog," Roger said. "She sure didn't want to come here."
"I'm sorry, Roger. I should have gotten her. Come here, girl," Dr. Jim said, as Roger set her down.
Brandy started toward Dr. Jim. As soon as she had her freedom, she dodged around Roger, going back out the door. "If that don't beat all, Doc. What's gotten into her? Well, I don't have any more time. I've got work to do. You're on your own, and good luck," Roger said, leaving.
Dr. Jim had a hunch he should start this search where the last search ended. He was right. He stood at the door watching the boy who was now sitting up in bed, smiling from ear to ear, and he looked at Dr. Jim, though Brandy kept her back on him.
"Hi Bobby," Dr. Jim said, expecting the usual stony silence.
"Hi. This your puppy? She's beautiful. I never seen a prettier dog," he said, petting her faded coat.
"Yeah, that's Brandy, Bobby," Dr. Jim said.
He realized immediately that Bobby and he were not seeing the same dog."
"How do you know my name," Bobby asked, as if he'd never seen Dr. Jim before.
"I'm your doctor, Bobby."
"I'm sick? I feel OK. What's wrong with me? What happened to my hair? She licked my head. I'm bald," he said, seeming surprised.
It was a new twist in a crooked day.
"You haven't been feeling well, Bobby. The treatments make your hair fall out," Dr. Jim said, knowing that this was not the way someone in Bobby's condition acted.
"Maybe you should stop those treatments. I don't think I like it without hair," he said.
"I think you might be right," Dr. Jim said, baffled.
He'd never seen such a radical remission. He heard about such cases but he'd never had one. They usually went in one direction or another and rarely did it change radically. If this wasn't a radical change, he'd eat his stethoscope.
Brandy's chin never raised off the boy's arm. He continued to pet her and beam. Brandy seemed indifferent but tolerated the boy's affectionate petting. She rarely let anyone make a fuss over her for long.
Dr. Jim was amazed to be carrying on a conversation with Bobby. He didn't speak. His eyes had become brighter, more alive than he'd ever seen them.
"I'll be damned," Nurse Windsor said. "I checked ten minutes ago and he was sound asleep. The dog was gone." "Who's she?" Bobby asked.
"I'm Nurse Windsor. You haven't been feeling well and I take care of you," she said, holding her fingers over her mouth as if she was seeing something nearly impossible.
"Get his parents on the phone," Dr. Jim said.
"They've gone away. I have a number, but I don't know what I'd say. How long will it last?" Nurse Blake asked.
"I have no idea. It's impossible," Dr. Jim said.
"That's what I thought," Nurse Blake said.
"I'm going to get him a bowl of ice cream. May as well give him something he'll enjoy, while he's able. Stay with him. Keep him talking. This might end as abruptly as it started. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Dr. Jim rushed into the cafeteria and began rummaging in the freezer. He collected some bowls and put chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream one flavor to a bowl. He headed back to Bobby Goodman's room.
"For me," Bobby squealed, seeing all that ice cream.
"What flavor. Take your pick," Dr. Jim said, knowing he probably wasn't going to eat much ice cream.
"Chocolate. I want chocolate," Bobby said. Digging into the bowl, Bobby was all smiles.
"Strawberry or Vanilla, Nurse Blake?"
"Vanilla," she said. "Oh, don't let the dog lick it."
Dr. Jim watched Brandy licking the ice cream. Bobby giggled and held the bowl out to her, and she licked the cold sweet treat.
"It's not sanitary," Nurse Blake said.
"Right now, who cares about sanitary. The boy is delighted, and my dog is eating something. It's win win," Dr. Jim said, as Brandy rested her chin back on the boy's lap as he ate ice cream.
Brandy watched Dr. Jim approach the bed. Once he was beside her, she batted her eyes and laid her chin back down on Bobby. He held his bowl of strawberry ice cream out toward Brandy. She lifted her head and licked the treat. She licked it for a few minutes, got her nose dipped in the ice cream, and she licked it clean before resting her chin back on Bobby.
Dr. Jim patted her head. Bobby dug into his ice cream. He was winging it now. Nothing he was seeing seemed possible, but he was seeing it, even if it couldn't last.
Dr. Jim went to his office to set up examinations for Bobby. He needed to see how far the remission had gone. He knew Bobby Goodman couldn't possibly be sitting up in bed eating ice cream but that's what he was doing..
It was getting dark when Dr. Jim finally decided he needed to get home and get some rest. It was his weekend off, and he'd spent most of the day at work. He wanted to call Brandy and go, but he wondered if he should stay with the boy a little longer.
"I'm really tired," Bobby said, as Dr. Jim watched him lower his bed.
Brandy jumped down as soon as the bed moved, and Bobby reached out to pat her head before falling asleep.
Brandy went straight to Dr. Jim's side.
"You're tired too aren't you? You're a better doctor than I am Brandy. You've been a very good dog today," he said. "I'm going to call you Dr. Brandy," Dr. Jim said, patting Brandy's and she followed him out of the room.
Brandy stayed close to his leg for about a minute before she turned back. Just when he thought things were getting back to normal, she's off again.
He turned around and walked back to Bobby's room. Once he reached the door he watched Brandy on the chair beside Bobby's bed, she was licking the boy's pale face. Before Dr. Jim called to her, she got down and went to him.
"Saying goodbye to our patient, Dr. Brandy?" Dr. Jim asked.
This time they made it to the car together and Brandy seemed content on the ride home. She stood by the backdoor, wanting to go out, as Dr. Jim took a sirloin steak out of the fridge.
He let her out and he began chopping the steak into bite sized pieces. He was sure he was losing his mind. Cooking steak for a dog wasn't normal. Brandy had gone around the bend and he wasn't far behind. Dr. Miller ordered steak for his dog. Who was he to argue with the doctor?
When he let her in, Brandy headed straight for her dish. She stuck her nose into the juicy hot treat. She looked at Dr. Jim questioning what she found in her bowl.
She did eat some of the steak, leaving an equal amount in the dish. If she got hungry, she knew where to find it.
Dr. Jim ate a salad and he chewed on some carrot sticks and celery. It had been a long day and he was tired. As he headed for his bedroom, he noticed Brandy lying on the throw rug next to the garage door. It wasn't one of the places she usually laid, and he thought about that but he'd let her be. She'd come to the bedroom when she was ready.
"Well go over to see him in the morning. You don't need to stay there all night. I know what you want," he said, and she followed him to the bedroom, lying beside the bed in her usual spot
It was still dark when Dr. Jim sat straight up in the bed. It was completely silent. He reached for Brandy beside the bed. She wasn't there.
He slipped into his slippers, "Brandy. Here, girl. Brandy!"
There wasn't a sound. No jingle from her collar when she got up to come to him. He walked into the hall calling her name, looking in the places she liked.
He thought to look beside the door to the garage and that's where he found her, lying on her side. He immediately knew there was something wrong. Brandy didn't sleep on her side.
Kneeling beside her, her breathing was shallow and labored. Her pulse was almost undetectable.
Still in his pajamas and slippers, he called Dr. Miller.
"Meet me at your office. It's Brandy," Dr. Jim said.
"I didn't expect it this soon," Dr. Miller said. "I'm on my way, Jim. I'll be there when you get there."
They both pulled into the lot at the same time from different directions. Dr. Miller immediately went to Dr. Jim's car. He looked Brandy over.
"Bring her in. She's in bad shape," he said, jingling keys as he headed at a quick clip toward the office.
As Dr. Jim got Brandy through the door his beeper went off.
"No. No. Not now. I don't want to leave her, Dr. Miller. They can wait," he said. "Why now. Nothing ever happens on the weekend. I want to be with her now," he said. "She needs me."
Dr. Jim shut off the beeper after lying Brandy gently onto the examination table. Dr. Miller fussed around her. He checked her tongue, her eyes, and her pulse. She stayed perfectly still with her tongue hanging lifelessly out of her mouth. Dr. Miller patted her head. Dr. Jim's beeper sounded again. He shut it down, throwing it against the wall so it shattered into pieces..
"She's so weak, she won't last the hour, Jim. Go see what they want. I'll stay with her. If you want to use my phone, go ahead, but they wouldn't beep you if you weren't needed. Go, Jim. I won't leave her alone. You're needed elsewhere."
Jim petted her head.
"I love you, girl. You're my best friend in the whole world," he said.
He tried not to cry as he said his final goodbye.
"She's almost gone, Jim. She doesn't know you are here. Go on. I was with her when she came into the world. I'll be with her when she leaves it. She knows it's her time."
Spinning his wheels, he headed for the clinic.
At the same time Bobby Goodman was having a dream. He was running in a field, jumping, and playing with the most beautiful Labrador Retriever puppy he'd ever seen. Her coat was shiny red. She was sleek and full of energy, dashing this way and that, not leaving his side for long.
They rolled together in the tall grass and Brandy licked his face. Bobby had always wanted a dog, and now he had one of his own for keeps. This was the best day ever. He'd never felt this good. When he fell down and rolled in the grass, realized that it wasn't a dream. The grass was real. Brandy was real and he felt better than he'd ever felt before, and he had a dog all his own.
Brandy licked Bobby's face and he giggled. What a beautiful day.
Dr. Jim ran into the main corridor. Nurse Blake came toward him.
"Is it Sally?"
"No. Bobby Goodman. He died a few minutes ago," Dr. Jim leaned against the wall to sit on the floor.
Holding his head in his hands he said, "My dog died a few minutes ago. Bobby was better today than I'd seen him before. I can't believe it. Brandy spent the day with him. Could she have known?"
Brandy had the little boy she'd always wanted and she was but a puppy again.
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