Why is my dog whining?"_
_"She was licking my hand."_
_"She's begging for attention."_
"And is that better than the other?"
"No, it's not." The dog was lying in a huddle on the floor, a blanket wrapped around her, staring up at him. It wasn't until that moment that he realized she had a name. A name he liked.
She looked so pathetic, and he loved her for it. He crouched down next to her and rubbed her ears. He stroked her neck and she leaned into him, as if she understood. "Why are you whining?" he asked her, his voice calm and gentle.
He scratched her behind the ears. She whined again.
He laughed. "I don't think she understands you. But she understands me."
The dog licked his fingers and whined again. She looked up at him and panted. He stroked her ears and felt her head move as she tilted it back and forth. He thought she might be listening.
He continued petting her until the tears began running down her face and he realized she was crying. He was a grown man with a heart of stone but her sad little whimpers touched his soul. "Shh," he said. "Shh, it's all right. It's all right."
# Chapter Six
Abby held the phone against her ear while she ran her fingers through her hair and pulled it back into a long ponytail. She had been on the phone all night. She'd called John, and then called Ben. When the phone rang for the third time, she grabbed it.
"Yes. I'm so sorry. Are you okay?"
"Not really. I haven't been sleeping. I didn't know what to do. I thought about calling you and I thought about asking to see you, but I didn't know what that would mean."
"And do you want to see me?"
"Yes, but I'm not sure what that would mean."
She couldn't help the smile that crossed her face. "I can drive out to your house and bring you some tea and honey, and you can go for a drive with me. Is that what you want?"
"I'm going to get ice cream. Do you want anything?"
"Yes, I'll get some too. I'm going to the supermarket to get the essentials."
"Can you wait five minutes?"
"Sure, but you aren't having ice cream?"
"I never did when I was a kid. I've been a little sick lately."
"Are you sick with pneumonia or your heart?"
"It must be hard to be out of the house."
"I'm not even here anymore, Abby."
"You're doing better, Ben."
"I just want to sleep."
"I'd better go now. You can sleep as long as you like. I'm coming to get you some tea. I'll be here for about an hour."
"I'm scared to be alone."
She smiled again. "Me too. I'm just going to lie down. I won't be any trouble."
"I'll come when you get back, but I'll try not to disturb you."
"I'll go get the tea. I'm glad you called."
"I'm glad you're here. I'd feel better if I knew you were there."
The phone went dead before she could say anything else.
Abby looked at the phone and then picked it up and dropped it back into the cradle. When she left the house ten minutes later, she saw a box of tissues on the corner of the kitchen table, and she picked up a couple of them and headed out the door.
The sky was covered with thick clouds, and the cold winds were whistling as they raced through the trees and fields. The air was chillingly dry, and there was no sign of spring anywhere in the landscape.
Abby remembered a time not so long ago when she and John had driven out to the park. The weather had been sunny and mild, and the grass had been green. John had been in a great mood. At one point he'd asked her, "If we ever have children, will they come out into the park and play?"
Abby had started to tell him that he didn't have to worry about them playing in the park. "We're not _that_ crazy. But you've got to let them play outside once in a while."
John had been thinking about it. "You're probably right," he'd finally said. "It's just that I'm not going to let my kids play outside in the wintertime. It just doesn't seem safe. But once in a while, we'll take them out there, and I'll make sure they get a blanket. In the summertime, we can let them swim in the pool."
Abby glanced at her watch, and she knew the kids would have been running around the kitchen when she'd called.
She pulled her car into the garage and left the motor running as she grabbed the box of tissues and went back inside. She opened the box and grabbed the first tissue.
She walked into the living room and stared down at the floor, where John had always left that big, soft cushion, the one he used to nap on. He always slept on the couch, and Abby slept on the floor beside him.
She remembered that first day of John's heart attack. She remembered the night he'd come home from the hospital and how pale he'd been. He'd had a few broken ribs, and a piece of skin and flesh had been torn from his neck, but somehow he'd just got up and carried on.
She walked across the room to where he'd slept, and she lay down beside him. She rested her head on his soft, black pillow. "I'm really sorry, John," she said. "I'm so sorry about this." She didn't know what else to say, but she needed to say it.
"It's OK, Abigail," he'd said. "You've always been a good friend to me. I'll be just fine. You don't have to worry about me."
He'd looked into her eyes and smiled. "You've always been a good friend to me, too, Abby."
It had been early December, but still cold. He'd walked into the kitchen and started eating a bowl of ice cream that Abby had left out for him.
"You still got that bowl of ice cream?" he'd asked, and she'd thought, Oh, yes, I forgot to put it in the freezer.
He'd eaten the ice cream down to the last spoonful, and then he'd looked up at Abby.
"Abby?" he'd said. "You want some ice cream?"
Abby took a deep breath. She nodded, and John pushed the ice cream over to her. He put it in her hands, and she put it down on her lap. "Why don't you eat some?"
"OK," she'd said. "I will."
"We'll save some for dinner," he'd said. "Tomorrow."
"Yeah, that's a good idea," she'd said. "I'll