Two weeks after her accident, the door to Ellie’s room opened. Two people and a black rug entered.
“Oh my gosh! Stella! Reid! Misty! Wow, do you need to see the groomer or what?” The puppy danced around the room, sniffing at everything.
Stella laughed and turned to Reid. “I’m pretty sure that comment was only meant for Misty, but I’m calling my stylist when we get back to the car.” She winked at Ellie, who returned the gesture.
Misty tracked Ellie’s scent to the bed, clawing the sheets and jumping as high as she could until Reid picked her up and held her out to Ellie.
As excited to see the dog as the dog was to see her, Ellie let the pup lick her face a few times and them pulled away. “Reid, Stella, thanks so much for taking care of this little troublemaker for me. I hope she hasn’t been too horrible for you guys.”
Stella rounded the bed and bent over to hug Ellie. “She hasn’t been any trouble for me, but then Reid’s the one who’s been puppy-sitting for you. It’s so good to see you, El. It’s been waaaay too long.”
“It has, hasn’t it? You look fabulous, girl!”
Stella laughed. “Wish I could say the same for you. Ouch!”
Ellie squirmed, knowing she was teasing her, but also knowing it was true. “I know. I’m a mess. What I wouldn’t give for a real bath. But how did you guys sneak her in here?”
“No sneaking, required.” Reid spoke for the first time and hearing his voice after so long gave Ellie goosebumps. “I got your little monster here a job as a therapy dog.” He smiled, tousling the black mop on Misty’s head. “I’m sure everyone will love her, if she can learn to keep her tongue to herself.”
“Good luck with that.” Stella swiped her hands down her face, then looked at her fingers as if she could see the germs on them.
“Awww, don’t let them give you a complex, Misty. You’re perfect.” Ellie planted a kiss on the puppy’s head. Deep brown eyes stared out from under a fringe of black hair. Eyes that always melted her heart. Eyes that looked so similar and yet so different from Murphy’s. How he’d stared at her that last time, lifting his paw for her to see. Had he wanted her to fix it? She couldn’t do anything but look into his liquid brown eyes and tell him she loved him and that help would be there soon. He’d laid his head on her shoulder for a few minutes so she could scratch his ears before he went back to his makeshift bed.
“Ellie? Are you in pain? Do you want me to buzz the nurse?” Stella’s eyes searched Ellie’s, distress evident on her face.
“What? Oh,” Ellie wiped the tears away. “I’m always in pain, Stella. I can’t have morphine anymore and I’m trying to wean myself off the other stuff.” Why did Murphy’s death haunt her? “But I’m okay. I’m handling it as best I can. Did I zone out?”
“Yeah, Reid asked how important those red high-heels are to you?”
Ellie glared at the puppy. “You didn’t.”
“She most definitely did.” Reid grimaced. “She figured out how to knock the dog gate down, too. It’s in pieces in the dumpster. Small, chewed-up pieces.”
“Oh no. I named you wrong. I should have called you Miss D, as in demon.”
Stella chuckled. “Cute. So her name’s really Miss T?”
Ellie nodded. “Yes, T as in Trouble. But it sounds like Misty so that’s what I call her.”
Stella’s phone buzzed in her purse. She glanced at the screen and held a finger up, an apologetic look on her face. Ellie nodded and Stella left the room.
Ellie’s nerves kicked in. Being alone with Reid, even after nine years, still frazzled her. She cleared her throat. “So . . . other than my red shoes, have there been any other casualties?”
Reid’s focus had drifted to her cast-encased leg. “Other than the gate, you mean?”
“Yes. Anything else?”
His eyes locked on hers. “If you had any secrets in the trash, they’re safe.”
Ellie groaned. “I bet that was fun to clean up. Anything else?”
Stella returned to talk with Reid. “I’m afraid I’ve got to get back to work. You ready to go?”
“Okay, I’m going to run to the restroom.” She hugged Ellie. “I’ll be back soon. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
“I agree. Thanks for coming, Stella.”
“Love you sweetie. Heal fast.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Stella paused at the door, winked at Ellie, then turned to Reid. “I’ll meet you at the car?”
“Yep, I’ll pull up to the front doors.” After Stella left, Reid turned back to Ellie, holding Misty close so she could say her goodbyes.
“You be good, you little devil.” She rubbed the pup’s silky ears and got licked in the face in return. “Thanks again, Reid. It was probably quite a shock to get that call from my dad.”
He shrugged. “Maybe at first. I couldn’t figure out why you wouldn’t ask for Stella instead of me. But it’s not important. I’m glad to help you. I haven’t been much of a friend so I’m trying to make up for that by spoiling your puppy until she’s unmanageable.” His smile was evil.
“Don’t you dare! I’ll dump her on your doorstep and make you live with the consequences!”
“You know I’m teasing. Maybe I’ll teach her some tricks and surprise you.”
“Good luck. She’s stubborn like her owner.”
“She’s a sweetheart like her owner.”
Ellie’s eyebrows rose in surprise. Reid had only complimented her once, sort of, about her hair. She felt uncomfortable, but laughed it off. “Nice try, mister. I’ll still dump her on you if you don’t watch it.”
Reid laughed. “I’ll be good. Take care, Ellie.” His hand squeezed her shoulder.
He walked out the door and her head fell back on her pillow. She stared at the ceiling. Maybe it felt awkward because it had been so many years. Then again, Reid seemed to actually want to talk to her today. In the past, he only spoke to her if he needed something.
Stella, on the other hand, hadn’t changed. She was still beautiful, her dark red hair twisted up in a French knot. Ellie hadn’t realized how much she missed her friend until she showed up today. Maybe when she got out of the hospital, she’d plan a girls’ night out for the two of them.
Ellie buzzed the nurse and asked for a pain pill. Several minutes later she returned, spilling an oval-shaped pill Ellie had never seen before into her hand. “What’s this?”
“Your doctor prescribed a narcotic.” She held up a hand, cutting Ellie off before she could get a word out. “Ellie you just had surgery two days ago. You’ve got to be in constant pain.”
“I want to get out of here. I want to go home. I figure that will happen faster if I’m not drugged up all the time.”
“Pain stresses us out, too. You have to rest in order to heal. Take this so you can sleep well.”
Ellie sighed. “I hardly ever take over-the-counter pain killers,” she grumbled. The nurse handed her the humongous glass of water which always sat on her bed tray. Ellie took a moment to analyze the pain. She probably couldn’t sleep well until it eased up a bit. So, with one last dirty look directed at the nurse, she swallowed the pill.
The nurse smiled. “You are probably the sweetest, most-compliant patient I’ve ever had. Except when it comes to taking your meds.” She shook her head. “Try to sleep now. I’ll check in on you in an hour or so.”
Ellie drifted off, suddenly exhausted.
Reid appeared in her dreams again. He and Ellie walked hand-in-hand around the farm where she’d grown up, kissing in the barn and beside the spring-fed stream that ran through the property. They saw Murphy, hiding in the tree line, and she called to him. He raced toward them at full speed and Ellie laughed, knowing he’d come right up to them before he swerved off. He’d played this game with her all his life.
Ellie watched, spellbound, whenever he ran full-out like that. He was glorious and graceful, especially in the moments when all four paws were off the ground—two stretched out in front with one slowly falling, preparing to touch down and start the sequence again, and two stretched out in back where they’d just left the earth. His mouth was open, tongue lolling out to the side. He looked like he was smiling at her.
Tears filled her eyes. “Oh, Murphy.” She and Reid stood side-by-side. Murphy would swerve any second. Ellie watched the Border Collie alter his gait, gathering his hindquarters under him like he did whenever he jumped. Was he going to try to leap over them? Ellie ducked, trying to drag Reid down with her but he let go of her hand. Murphy, growling ferociously, lunged for Reid’s throat.
“No, Murphy!” Her eyes popped open.
Ellie looked around, trying to get her bearings again. She was still in the hospital. All of her lights were off, but she could see from the light coming in under the door. It must be the middle of the night.
She closed her eyes, trying to recover from the nightmare. Seeing Reid earlier that day had obviously brought back the dreams. Maybe she’d always have those “what if” kinds of dreams where the two of them had a life together. But the accident had changed her. She no longer wanted to pine for someone she could never have. She wanted to be happy and content.
The first thing she would do when she went home is grab those journals, take them to the farm, and burn them. After that, she would do some serious thinking about the present as well as the future. If she could do anything, what would it be? Ellie fell asleep thinking perhaps it was time to empty her guest room.