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Will was sitting out on his back porch watching his dog, Simba, run around the yard with the two others dogs he owned.  They were having a great time in the fenced-in area, as they always did, chasing each other, play-biting, and occasionally tackling each other.  Simba was the biggest of the bunch, despite being the youngest.


Will smiled as he watched the dogs having fun.  He loved all kinds of animals and had had many pets in his lifetime.  Fortunately, his wife did too, and together they had amassed a virtual petting zoo at their home.  In addition to the dogs, they had a couple rabbits, a few hamsters, a couple of birds, and a fish tank loaded with all sorts of fish. 


Of all the pets Will had had in his lifetime, he never had a connection to any one of them like he did with Simba.  No matter where Will was in the house, Simba was never far behind.  He always laid next to Will on his bed.  Whenever Will came home from somewhere, Simba would run around the house and bark like crazy.  When Will came through the door, Simba would jump on him and lick his face profusely.  It was clear that Simba loved Will, and he love his dog just as much.  Almost as much as his own children, in fact.


Will’s twelve-year-old son, Jason was suddenly sitting next to him.  “Whatcha doin’, Dad?”


“Eh, just watching the dogs,” Will answered as he put his arm around him.


“It sure is great that we have all this space in our backyard, huh?”  Jason asked.


“Yeah, it is.  They get no shortage of exercise out here.”


“Lola loved it too.”  Jason was suddenly distant.


Will flinched, as he always did when Lola’s name came up.  It felt like he’d been punched in the gut.  “Yeah, she did.”


The two were quiet for a moment, then Will looked at his son.  “You alright?”


Jason appeared a bit bewildered.  “Yeah, why?”


Will knew that Jason wasn’t telling the full truth; he had seen the pain behind Jason’s eyes, the same pain that had been there for almost a year now.


Jason’s dog, Lola, had only been about eight months old.  She was a German Shepard, so she was a decent size for this age.  One day, the dogs had been let out back to run around and go to the bathroom.  It was perfectly normal for them to simply let the dogs out the sliding back door and leave them for a bit.  They would play, do their business, and be ready to come back in after a short while.  But on this day, Will’s wife had run through the house yelling, “One of the dogs is down!”  Will had run to the back to see what was going on, and found that one of the other dogs had their jaw stuck in Lola’s collar.  The dog was pulling and pulling, trying to get loose, but at the same time, Lola was being choked to death.


Will ran out there as fast as he could and tried to free the dog’s jaw from Lola’s collar, but to no avail.  Will screamed for someone to get a pair of scissors to cut the collar off, but by the time he did, it was too late, and Lola was dead.


Just then, Jason had come out the back door and saw Lola lying on the ground.  He ran out to them and asked, “Dad, what happened?”


Will was already in tears – Jason had adored this dog and they had a very similar relationship to the one Will had with Simba.  “Lola, she’s … she’s dead, buddy.”


Jason had burst into tears and laid on his dog, screaming his pain to the heavens.  It was a scene that broke Will’s heart every time he thought about it.  When Will got ready to bury Lola, Jason had run into the house and retrieved his blanket, one that he had had most of his life.  It was a pale green with all sorts of sports stuff on it – tennis racquets, footballs, baseball bats, that kind of thing.  He wanted Lola to be buried with it. 


In fact, the only reason that Will even had Simba at all was because Simba was originally supposed to be Jason’s dog.  Will and his wife had gotten Simba for him to try and make him feel better.  But Jason’s heart was still broken from the loss of Lola, and he just couldn’t connect with Simba.  So Will had taken him on as his own.   


Will let the terrible memory go and hugged his son tighter.  “I’d give Simba back in a heartbeat if it would bring Lola back for you, buddy.”  He had said this to his son many times, and he meant it. 


“I know, Dad,” Jason said.  “But you’re happy with Simba, and that makes me happy.”  He got up and walked away before Will could even reply.


Will grimaced inwardly.  He knew that Jason had also meant what he said, and that made it hurt all the more.  Jason had never quite been the same after that horrible ordeal.  A part of his innocence had been stolen that day, and he would never get it back.


Afterwards, Will had called the dogs in and gone on with his day.  The rest had proceeded as normal.


That night, Will woke up thirsty.  He sat up, looked around, and was startled to find a young woman with red hair sitting on a chair on the other side of the room.


Will jumped out of bed, on his feet in a split second.  “Who are you?  What do you want?  Get out of here before I call the police!”


“Well, you’re rude,” the red-headed woman replied, not the least bit threatened.  “Is that any way to treat someone who has come to help you?”


“How exactly is breaking in to my house helping me?”  Will asked.


The woman’s expression became incredulous.  “Double rude!  In no way did I ‘break in to your house’.” 


“How did you get in here then?  And why didn’t the burglar alarm go off?”  Will asked this last part almost to himself, as he suddenly realized it was true.


It was also true that Simba, who had been laying at the foot of the bed, had not woken up and started barking his fool head off.


“I just appeared here,” the woman answered simply, as if it was the most normal thing in the world.


Will had had enough.  He snatched up his cell phone off the nightstand and dialed 911, but when he put the receiver to his ear, the line was dead.


“What is going on here?”  Will asked.


“You will not be able to make any phone calls, and everyone in the house is sound asleep.  No matter what you do, they will not wake up.”  The woman explained all of this as if she had said it a million times before.


Will looked over at his wife, then reached across the bed and shook her harshly.  “Honey?  Honey, wake up!”


She didn’t.


“Is she dead?”  Will asked, frightened.


“What’s wrong with your hearing?  I told you she’s asleep!”  The woman asked, clearly annoyed.  “She will not wake up, neither will your dog or the children.  This conversation is private.”


“Who are you?”  Will asked again.


The woman stared at him with clear blue eyes.  “My name is not important.  What is important is that I am an angel.”


Will frowned at her.  “A what?”


“An-gel.”  She said it slower as if speaking to a child.


“Is this a dream?”  Will asked.


“No.”  She was exasperated.


“How do I know you’re an angel?”


The woman rolled her eyes, then extended her left hand, palm up.  With her right, she snapped her fingers, and a blanket appeared.


It was Jason’s, the one that had been buried with Lola.


Will’s eyes were wide and he was suddenly at a loss for words.


The angel shook her head.  “Now, not only are you thirsty, but it appears that a cat got your tongue.”  She suddenly frowned in thought.  “I’ve never understood that expression.  Does that happen to you humans a lot or something?”


Will was still speechless, so much so that he never bothered to ask the angel how she knew he was thirsty.  The angel stood up and walked over to him.  “Here, take it.  See that I am not lying.”


Will looked down at the blanket and blinked before taking it.  It was just as soft as he remembered.  


The angel took a couple steps back.  “Alright, I have other places I need to be, so let me do what I came here to do and I’ll be gone.”


Will was still in shock over this whole thing, but he managed to pull himself together.  “What do you want from me?”


The angel glanced down at Simba.  “Your dog.”


Will was puzzled.  “Simba?  Why?”


“Did you not tell your son that you would trade Simba for Lola ‘in a heartbeat’ if it would stop his pain?”


“Well, yeah, but …” Will’s voice trailed off, then he shot a look back at her.  “Wait, how did you know that?”


“Really?”  The angel asked, disbelieving.  “After all you’ve seen, you still have to ask that question?”


Will had slipped into silence again, so the angel continued.  “Look, let me take Simba, and when Jason wakes up, he will find Lola at the foot of his bed.  He will have no memory that anything ever happened to her.”


Will was silent for a moment longer, pondering this.  “Will I remember?”


The angel shrugged.  “That’s up to you.  I can make you forget if you want to, but then you won’t remember your best friend.”


Will began to feel a pain in his chest as the situation began to come into focus.  He looked down at Simba, still sound asleep.  “Is he going to die?  Will it hurt?”


The angel looked down at Simba as well.  “As far as his life, it sort of depends on how you look at it, but I can assure you that he will feel no pain.  He will be happy and live a carefree life with us.”


Tears started to roll down Will’s cheeks.  “Can I at least say goodbye?”


The angel smiled lightly.  “Of course.”


Will knelt down and rubbed the top of Simba’s head.  “Goodbye, Simba.  Thank you so much for coming into my life.  It was a pleasure to know you.”


Will sniffled a little bit and stood back up.  “This isn’t some cruel trick, is it?”


This time, the angel ditched the attitude and sarcasm.  “No, Will.  It will be exactly as I’ve told you.”


“I’d like to remember him,” Will said, looking down at Simba for one last time.  “He doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.”


The angel smiled.  “You are a good man, Will.  Jason is lucky to have you as a father.”


Will half-smiled back and wiped his eyes.  “Thank you.”


“I will do you one last favor,” the angel said.  “I’m positive that you’re going to have trouble sleeping after this, so …” With this, the angel snapped her fingers.


The next thing Will knew, it was early morning and he was waking up.  His wife was already up and making breakfast – Will could smell the bacon.  Suddenly the door burst open.


Lola came running into the room and jumped on the bed, followed by Jason.  “Come on, Dad!”  Jason said.  “Mom’s making breakfast, and I’m starving!”


Will was petting Lola, who was licking his cheek feverishly.  Then Lola darted back to Jason, who laughed and hugged her tightly.


“Yeah, I’ll be there in a minute, buddy,” Will answered.


Jason smiled.  “Come on, Lola!”  He called, and Lola followed Jason out of the room.


Will closed his eyes and remembered the events of last night.  His chest tightened at the thought of Simba being gone, never to be seen again, but that one exchange between Jason and Lola had made it all worth it.  Will hadn’t seen Jason smile like that in a long time.


“Thank you so much,” Will whispered into the air, as a lone tear rolled down his cheek.



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