The alarm clock jangled loudly. Beth moved quickly to silence it's annoying noise. Cuddled next to her was Casey. He had stirred when the alarm rang. He nested deeper into the covers. It was snowing outside and the morning air was chilly. He would much prefer to say where he was, warm and safe in bed. For a brief time Beth felt the same way. To many things to do, it was Christmas Eve, no time to linger!
Steve was coming back from California today. It would be good to have him home. Beth had been lonely without him. This was Steve's first trip away since Maggie's death.
Maggie was Casey's dam and Beth's first Boxer. Casey and Beth still felt Maggie's loss a great deal. Maggie belonged to Beth before she and Steve married. Casey's life had evolved around his dam. Things just weren't the same for any of them. A void existed where a beautiful soul had dwelled.
Beth let Casey out for his morning exercise. Quickly Casey performed his morning rituals and returned to the back door. Mornings were so different when Maggie lived. The two of them would have taken a little extra time for a good romp in the new snow. Beth watched as Casey ran to the door. Poor Casey, Beth had no way of communicating to him his mother would not return. Casey, fearful that Beth would disappear like Maggie, dared not let Beth out of his sight. Beth eyes filled with tears again, was there no end to the pain?
Beth spent most of the morning baking the last of her cookies. She wrapped her gift for Steve. She had forced herself to shop for Christmas presents only the day before. The Christmas Spirit just wasn't in her heart this year, not without Maggie. Casey laid at her feet under the table as Beth put the finishing touch on Steve's gift. She had bought him the beautiful leather jacket he had admired at the mall earlier that fall. Steve thought it had been to expensive; but buying the jacket had made Beth feel better for at least a short time.
Beth knew in time her heart would heal. Her concern centered on Casey. He was becoming to dependent on her. How could she help him? She tried playing with him. They practiced their obedience lessons. They sometimes went for rides in the car. Casey loved to ride in the car. Now even the jingle of car keys got little reaction from him. He was acting more like an old dog with no energy rather than a three-year-old boxer just beginning the prime of his life. It seemed like his own identity had died with his mother. He was no longer "Casey the Clown."
The phone rang as Beth placed the last of the gifts under the tree. It was Steve. His plane had been delayed because of snowstorms. He would be almost three hours late getting home. With luck the connecting flight would have him at the airport by 10:00 o'clock. Steve insisted Beth go to see her family for the evening as they had planned. He would not hear of Beth and Casey spending Christmas Eve alone. A change of scene would help both her and Casey.
After saying goodbye to Steve, Beth called her Mom who understood Steve's delay. Disappointed that Steve wouldn't make it, she was still happy Beth and Casey would come. She insisted them come earlier for dinner. What is it about mothers? They are always afraid their children never get enough to eat! A grown woman, married for five years and on her own for six and Mama still wanted to feed her. Beth smiled as she hung up the phone; quite simply it gave her mother pleasure. The visit would be good for all of them.
The dinner was great; the family companionship was wonderful. Casey even played a few games of fetch with Jake, Beth's younger brother; however, Beth was never far from Casey's sight.
When time came to leave for the airport, Jake insisted on driving Beth. It was a long drive and a woman alone in this weather just wasn't safe. Beth insisted she would have Casey for protection. Jake was adamant. Casey couldn't pull her car out of a snowdrift. He cleaned the snow off his jeep and warmed the engine; he was taking her and that was that!
Beth reluctantly put on her coat and fastened Casey's lead. She had wanted Steve's homecoming to be a little more romantic; now her little brother would be tagging along. Beth smiled as she recollected years before. Jake had spent a good deal of time tagging along when she dated Steve - so what else was new?
Once outside Casey hopped into the back seat of the jeep. Beth slid in the passenger seat. When they arrived at the airport, Jake dropped Beth at the terminal while he parked the car. He offered to wait with Casey. Beth and Steve would need a few minutes privacy. He wasn't as dense as Beth thought about such things. He knew too that Casey probably would be frantic when Beth left him behind. This was a special Christmas gift. He loved Beth, he had spent his early teenage years with Maggie and he absolutely adored Casey. Losing Maggie had been hard on them. Although it was no big deal, it was his way of showing affection and concern.
Steve's plane had just landed as Beth scurried down the concourse. Beth was glad now Jake had insisted on coming; poor Casey would have been frantic in the car alone. Beth then realized her brother's strategy. Of course, if she accused him of being tender and considerate he would deny it. She knew the truth though and Jake's gesture succeeded, at least for Beth.
Casey sat motionless staring out the window. He began to whine as Beth disappeared from sight. Jake's attempts to divert his attention failed. Casey would have none of it! He just stared in the direction Beth had disappeared. He began to remember the last car ride he took with his mother. He had watched Beth and Steve carry her into the vet's office. Casey could still see his mother's eyes as she looked back; they reflected such pain and sadness. When they returned she was not with them. Beth had been in tears. She had clung tight to him all the way home. Casey didn't understand what Beth was saying. He knew his mother was very ill but she had spent the night at the vets before, wasn't this just another visit for his dam? As the days passed and Maggie did not come home, Casey began to understand Beth's sorrow. Then his own pain began. He just couldn't bare any more grief. He would wait until Beth came back no matter how long the wait!
Beth ran to Steve when he walked down the ramp. She flung her arms around him. Their embrace was long and loving. They kissed. Steve smiled. "It's not Christmas yet, at least. I was beginning to think I wasn't going to get here in time to give you your present."
"That's okay, honey, Beth replied, I'm a big girl I can wait until tomorrow."
Steve chuckled, "Well maybe you can but your present won't! You stay right here, I left another bag on the plane."
Beth knew Steve usually traveled with a carry-on bag, but why two?
Steve offered his explanation as he motioned to the flight attendant standing just inside the gate, "It has your Christmas present inside."
The flight attendant handed Steve a large bag. A few steps away Steve placed the bag on the floor and began to open one end.
Beth's heart began to pound, she recognized the type of bag, it was a pet carrier, "Oh, Steve, what is it?"
Steve grinned, "Aren't you the same person who said you were a grown up and could wait until tomorrow? Patience my dear, patience. Good things are worth waiting for."
As Steve finished opening the bag, out toddled a chubby boxer puppy. She trotted to Beth's feet. Beth couldn't focus; her eyes were brimming with tears. This time though the tears were joyful, not filled with the pain of the past several weeks. "Oh Steve, how . . .?"
Knowing Beth so well, Steve interrupted, "She's Maggie's granddaughter. I made a trip to the Whitaker's while I was in Los Angeles. I went seeking their help in finding a puppy for you and Casey. I never expected them to have a litter. They were delighted to repay your kindness for giving them Casey's sister years ago. Merry Christmas, Honey."
Beth scooped the puppy into her arms. Quickly she was greeted with lots of puppy wiggles and licks. "She's just beautiful. She looks just like her grandma. Oh, Honey, come on, I can't wait to show her to Casey."
Casey spotted them first. Not once had his eyes turned away. Steadfast he kept his vigil. They were walking arm in arm. Steve carried two bags. Beth had something cuddled in her arms. Casey's tail wagged with anticipation; he was fascinated by the figure in Beth's arms. As they got closer, his tail went into overdrive! It was a puppy! The old, or perhaps new, revitalized Casey erupted into endless energy. He bounced back and forth from the front to the back seat trying to get to Beth and the puppy.
While Steve and Jake loaded the bags Beth introduced the puppy to Casey. They sniffed at each other. The puppy gave Casey a playful swat; Casey was in ecstasy.
"Be careful now, Casey," Beth cautioned. "She's just a baby, it will be sometime before she can romp with you. You will be her favorite uncle and big brother all rolled into one.
The drive home was enchanting. The puppy wove her magic over the two broken hearts. Beth's face softened, her tear stained face now glowed. Casey's eyes shone bright again. The three of them, oblivious to their surroundings, were swept up in the sheer exhilaration of being alive.
It was midnight when they arrived back home. The moonlight glow made the snow glisten like a winter wonderland. Beth and Steve hugged as they stood at the door watching Casey frolic in the snow. The puppy cheered him on, barking her approval from the patio. Suddenly, it was just too much for her. She leapt into the snow. Beth and Steve laughed as she disappeared and emerged covered with snow. Casey licked the snow from her face. A few more minutes play and it was time for bed.
Beth placed a crate at the side of the bed. Some puppy howls of objection, then the exhausted puppy was fast asleep, warm and snug on her grandmother's blanket. Casey curled up on a pillow next to the crate; he could hop up on the bed later. His new canine companion needed his company. It had been weeks since he had allowed Beth to leave the room without him. He never raised his head as she slipped into the bathroom. His heart had begun to heal.
Maggie's spirit could now rest. The void of her loss would never completely be filled but, a bridge had been built to Casey and Beth's hearts, a new soul would make their world right again.
Beth slipped into bed and snuggled in Steve's arms. As they drifted off to sleep, Steve asked, "What are you going to call her, Honey?"
Filled with peace and love, Beth replied, "I'm going to call her Spirit, my Christmas Spirit."
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