In her short life Bella Carney had been through a lot. She had been abused--emotionally and sexually-- by her high school English teacher, and was now, despite having counseling since she was 15, considering dropping out of high school altogether.
The best parts of her day were her parents and her boyfriend, Jeremy Kipling. While their parents were worried about Bella becoming too dependent on Jeremy, Bella was happy to have him.
Her life became even more complicated when she was diagnosed with not just anxiety and depression but with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). After hitting many walls in therapy, her therapist Shannon finally made a suggestion.
"Have you considered getting a dog, either as a pet or a service animal?"
Bella picked at her dark, stringy hair.
"No. No one in my family really had animals growing up." She mumbled.
"Maybe you can change that. I think it would be good for you, the dog could also help with your PTSD and other symptoms."
"Maybe…" Bella mumbled, "I'll think about it."
Her parents seemed to second the idea.
"I think it would be good for you, help you with your day-to-day life and get you out of your head. I'm not discounting anything you went through Bella," her mother said one afternoon after a particularly difficult therapy session, "but maybe Shannon has a point."
Bella shrugged as she reached for a cookie on the counter.
Her mother continued:
"I'll talk to your father and then we'll see about getting a dog."
"So…" Jeremy ventured, "you don't want a dog?"
"Shannon said the dog could be trained to help me. Alert to my panic attacks and keep people away if I want."
"So it's all good then?" Jeremy leaned over and kissed her forehead, "I don't want you to leave school Bells, who am I going to go to college with?"
"You act like we're going to get married." Bella muttered dryly.
Jeremy laughed and stretched out on Bella's bed.
"I don't know… Maybe?"
"Okay, you win, I'll get the dog."
Bella applied for a dog later that year. She knew they could take a long time because teaching the dog the specific tasks took months, sometimes even years! She didn't know what her match was going to be, but she was eager to find out. That surprised her.
One evening, she and Jeremy were sitting on her bed.
"Shannon was talking about something they could teach the dog to do for me. She mentioned deep pressure therapy and using touch for anxiety and stuff. She says it can be weird with people sometimes if you don't always have someone with you… I wouldn't ask just anyone for some deep touch."
"You know I'll help." Jeremy whispered.
"Sure, but it may be a little weird."
"It's okay, I'm here, whatever you need."
Bella walked Jeremy through what Shannon had described to her, the positions and types of touch. She knew it would be different with a person then it would be with a dog, but this was the next best thing.
A short time later they were lying with Jeremy lying behind Bella, his arms wrapped around her waist and up towards her chest.
"Hold me… Tighter…" Bella murmured.
Jeremy tightened his grip slightly, his breath going steadily in and out in her ear as his lips teasing the back of her neck. This only momentarily distracted her. She leaned into him, feeling his weight and strength.
"Better?" Jeremy asked.
"Mmm…" Bella murmured; she sounded half-asleep.
"Are you good for now?" Jeremy asked as he leaned down and kissed her neck.
"For now…" Bella whispered, "you'll be there if I wake up at 3 AM?"
"Always." Jeremy answered. "Just answer one question."
"What?" Bella asked drowsily.
"Don't let your service dog take my spot on the bed."
"I won't," Bella whispered, "you know what?" She pressed her back into his chest, letting her head fall onto his shoulder.
"What?" Jeremy asked.
"You're my next best thing."
"Woof!" Jeremy replied, then he chuckled.