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“It’s truly okay, I promise. Are you okay, though?”

“No,” he replied. “But that’s normal.”

I wished he understood that there was nothing normal about not being okay.

“You can talk to me, you know. I know it’s against the rules and all, but you can, Jackson. I’m a safe place.”

I watched his Adam’s apple move as he swallowed hard, and his body began to tremble. He parted his lips to speak, but his eyes glazed over before any words could escape his mouth. He fought hard to keep the tears at bay, but by the way his body shook, I knew he was close to losing the battle.

I stood from my seat and moved closer to him. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

He cleared his throat, and his bottom lip twitched. “Tucker’s gone.”

“What?” I gasped, placing my hand on his arm. “What do you mean gone? What happened?”

“He, um, he passed away five days ago. I woke up, and he couldn’t even walk. I took him to the vet and was told he was in organ failure. They said he probably wouldn’t have made it through the week, so I had to make the decision to put him down.”

“Oh my gosh…Jackson…” I moved to hug him, and I watched his body tense up. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

“It’s not.”

“Yeah, but—”

“Jackson, this isn’t the part where you argue with me.”

“Then what part is this?” he asked.

“This is the part where you let me hold you.”

He separated his lips to speak but surrendered as his shoulders slumped forward. He nodded his head a little, and within seconds, I’d wrapped my arms tightly around him. I held on as I felt his tense body slowly relax against mine.

When he asked me to let go, I held on tighter because I knew he needed me close in that moment. After a while, he stepped back and pressed the palms of his hands against his eyes, shaking his head.

“Will you do something with me?”

“Anything,” I promised. “Whatever you need, I’m there.”

* * *

We walked through the wooded area of Jackson’s property. He held a box in his hands, and as we walked farther through the trees, we reached a clearing. There was open land, and the setting sun touched every corner of the space. In the middle of the field sat an easel with a canvas resting on it. There were paint supplies surrounding the stand, and a small cross made with paintbrushes.

“That’s where we buried my mother’s ashes,” he told me. “This is where we were supposed to build her art studio. I just thought it would be nice to have Tucker buried beside her.”

“I think that’s a beautiful idea, Jackson.”

He set the box on the ground then pulled out Tucker’s stuffed elephant toy and his water and food dishes. Then he pulled out the small urn of ashes and set it down. He cleared his throat, and as he stood, he grimaced. I took his hand into mine and squeezed it lightly.

“He saved my life,” he told me with a somber look. “A few years ago when I overdosed, Tucker found me and led Alex from the auto shop to me.” He swallowed hard, and his voice cracked. “He’s the reason I’m alive today.”

My heart kept breaking for Jackson’s pain. I held his hand a little tighter but didn’t offer any words. There were no words for a story like that. Just thankfulness that Jackson was still alive and well.

“I don’t know how to say goodbye,” he softly spoke, staring at the empty bowls.

“Then don’t. Just say good night until tomorrow.”

Jackson closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he moved over to Tucker’s final resting place and kneeled. I stepped back a bit, wanting to give him as much space and time as he needed. I didn’t move too far back, though, because I needed him to feel my presence. I needed him to know he wasn’t alone even though he had his space.

“Hey, buddy,” he said, his voice smooth like whiskey. “I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to let you go.” He sniffled, wiping his nose with his hand. “You were a good boy, the definition of unconditional love. When everyone left me, you stayed near. You loved me on the days I didn’t deserve it. You stood by my side on the good days and the bad. You put up with my moods and loved me regardless of my shortcomings.” He sniffled and lowered himself to the ground, laying his hand upon the grass. “You were there when I had nothing. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, and I’m not gonna lie; this hurts.

“This hurts more than I knew it would, but you wouldn’t want me to fall apart, so I won’t. I don’t believe in heaven, but today I will for you. I hope you’re running through the biggest park filled with bones and chew toys. You were the best dog I could’ve ever wished for, and I can never thank you enough. I love you, Tuck. I always will. Always and always. Good night until tomorrow.”