This story is dedicated to the voice of Anne Marie, who passed away way before her time.
The Meaning of Goodbye
"Squeaker, do you really have to go?"
Charlie lay beside the young girl, his muzzle buried in her lap, hoping to help calm the small child. At first she didn't reply, instead, she leaned back into the pillows and gazed out the open window before them. Her short Snow White-like hair danced in the evening breeze.
"What's Heaven like Charlie?" she asked after a while.
A moment passed before the German shepherd answered. He could always go about it the right way, and say he'd never been there long enough to know, or he could make the girls' last moments and create a fantasy.
"So would that be a 'yes' then?" Charlie questioned, "Can't you hold on a little longer?"
"Charlie," Itchy murmurs from where he sits on Anne Marie's left. The three were tucked beneath Anne Marie's comforter. It had been a week since the attack; Charlie had practically begged Annabelle, and probably Gabrielle too, (but he wasn't sure as he'd never met the guy) to let him stay on Earth for just a while longer. It was that night that they'd found that Anne Marie was deathly sick, dying as they spoke. Her foster parents had brought her to every hospital in New Orleans, but nothing could be done. They all requested she be brought home and cared for, as she lived out the last couple of days of her life.
"It's just not fair," Charlie murmured, reaching out to lick a tear away from the little girl's face, "Why do they have to take you?"
"Charlie," Itchy warned, his voice stern.
Charlie stopped realizing what he was doing. He had to make the most of it, put on his con artist smile, and make what could be their last night together, one of the greatest, if only to see her smile. "Okay, what was your question again?"
"What's Heaven like?" Anne Marie repeated, her voice shallow. Charlie reached for the glass beside her bed and handed it to her before continuing.
"Well, you know cotton candy?"
Both Anne Marie and Itchy nodded their heads, "The clouds look like it. And Heaven's made up of clouds. They're so puffy and when the sun shines just right they look a little pink."
"Can you eat them?"
Charlie put his paw to his chin, thinking for a moment, "Hmm, I suppose so. I've never tried. Though I heard they taste different to everyone."
"And what about the other dogs?" Itchy asks, caught up in the moment.
"Um," Charlie starts beginning to say that there's a separate Heaven for dogs, but decides to go along with it, "There's a huge gate. And it opens to let in new arrivals, both dogs and people. And you just go through in whatever you died-" his eyes move to Anne Marie, whose watching him intently, "um, well passed on in, but then they give you a halo and wings and you're good to go."
"Sounds amazing," marvels Anne Marie as she begins to lay even further down into the mattress, "Oh, ow."
"Squeaker?" The smile drops from the German's face as the little girl's face crumbles for a moment.
"I'm okay Charlie. Just my heart," Anne Marie touches the center of her chest with a small smile, "I just have one more question Charlie."
"Anything," Charlie replies taking her hand, and leaning in close. He could practically hear their hearts being in unison, but then once or twice there was a skip from Anne Marie's.
"When I go to Heaven-"
"Please don't talk like that." It came out in a short whisper, but Charlie had never felt surer about anything. Though usually not a superstitious dog, even the thought of putting such words into the universe made his skin crawl. He couldn't loose her now, not yet. After everything they'd gone through, after he'd pleaded with an archangel for god's sake, and now here they were taking her away from him. First his life, now his girl.
Charlie felt the tears he'd by trying to hold back cascade down his cheeks. No, no, he couldn't loose her. Not yet, not now. He loved his little Squeaker with all his heart, he do anything for her. But this, this. He'd never felt so helpless before.
"Don't cry Charlie." And then he felt her hands, slowly, but soothingly she ran them down his back, again and again. Here she was dying, and yet she was the one comforting him. He knew it should be the other way around, but he just couldn't stop the shivers that danced through his body when he thought about it, "No Squeaker, please. You can't leave me."
"Shh Charlie, it's going to be okay."
"No, please, don't go."
His shoulders shook in her tiny frail arms, but he continued to sit there with her. More then anything, he just wanted to be with her. Slowly, without realizing, the movement across his back began to slow. Her responses were farther in-between, and she wheezed as she spoke, but they still held one another with Itchy watching nearby. "Anne Marie," Charlie spoke, breaking a long moment of silence between the three, "I love you. I always will, you know that right?"
He waited for the response, the usual, 'I love you too Charlie!' But the minute of silence become a moment, and when Charlie finally looked up, he saw that his Squeaker's eyes had closed. Her little head was lolled to the side, pressing into a soft pillow. Charlie licked her cheek, flinching at the cold he already felt.
"I'll be seeing you kiddo," he murmured softly, "in Heaven."