The Gift

The unwelcome sound of the alarm clock screeching through the quiet morning air woke everyone from a sound slumber.  With my eyes still closed I did my best to ignore it but everybody around me moaned and I felt guilty for being so selfish.  I fought against the bright sunlight that was filtering in through the blinds to survey the room to make sure that all is as it should be.

Daddy was hugging the left side of the bed, conforming to the ten inches of bed space he is allotted.  Well, almost conforming, after all, his tummy was hanging over the edge of the bed, but I will allow it because technically it is not taking up space in the sleeping area.  Check! 

Mommy was snug and curled up on the right side of the bed, drool running down her cheek.  Perfect! 

Rapi, the big ginger cat was stretched out between the pillows, his butt firmly in Mommy’s face.  Excellent! 

Bella, the attention-seeking grey cat, was smack dab in the middle curled up into Mommy’s arms.  Sickening, but as should be.

Mylo, the tan lab mix with legs that stretched on to forever, was draped across Daddy’s body, his cheek nestled up against Daddy’s.  Suburb! 

Cindee, the big brown dog with floppy ears, hey wait, that is me, anyway, I was in a ball between Mommy and Daddy’s feet.  This has been my place for eight years. 

Lastly Yehudi, the small but cute tuxedo cat who always snuggled up to …

Wait! Yehudi?

Earlier, when I said everyone moaned, I really meant almost everybody.  As usual Yehudi’s voice was absent. Somehow, until this very moment, I had never realized that poor Yehudi doesn’t have a place in the bed.  Feeling both curious and sorry for Yehudi, I sprang from the mattress and landed with a bound.  My day has begun, and I am off to find the little black and white cat.

Aware that I am the only one brave enough to greet the new day, I tip-toed through the house trying my best not to disturb anyone even though the alarm has gone off twice now.  That too is par for the course in this home.  It’s Saturday morning, and Daddy has set the alarm because he doesn’t want to lose any of his precious time off from work sleeping, yet he has already shut the alarm off and drifted off for another hour or so of slumber.  My parents sure are strange right?

Anyway, I sneak across the hallway and peek into Mommy’s office, but there is no cat in there.  Having checked both rooms on the upper floor, I decide to use my swift sense of deduction and conclude that she must be on the first floor.

Each stair creaks and groans as I descend the staircase, complaining that I need to go on a diet.  Halfway down, I come to halt and poke my head between the wooden spindles on the staircase so I can look down at the living room below me.

My heart flutters and then breaks at my discovery. 

“Awwwww,” the sound slips past my lips of its own accord when I take in the sight of the little black and white cat curled up into a tight ball, shivering all alone in the corner of the sofa.

“Poor thing,” I whisper trying not to disturb her, but her little head pops up and she looks over at me with bloodshot eyes.

“Morning Cindee,” the feline says hoarsely.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you,” I apologize while nimbly descending the remaining steps. 

“It’s okay,” the little cat reassures me.

With my teeth, I snatch up the thick plaid throw that is on the other end of the sofa and drag it across the room and drape it over Yehudi.  With a gentle kiss on the top of her head and a step back, I look on as the young feline snuggles into the warmth of the covering and closes her eyes.

“Thanks, Cindee,” she squeaks with a smile.

“You’re welcome, Yehudi,” I answered, then jumped up onto the sofa and settled in on the other end.  A moment later I joined my cat friend in a deep relaxing nap.

A pair of soft warm lips pressed against my nose.  I had to open my eyes to see what was causing this delightful sensation and was pleased to see Mommy’s rich brown eyes staring into mine.  I knew it had to be her.   Mommy’s kisses are one of my most favorite feelings in the world.  They give me the tingles all over. 

“We need to go out for a while and do some Christmas shopping,” Mommy says in her sing-song voice, then adds another kiss for good measure.

“You be a good girlie sweetie,” Daddy says as he leans over to smooch me on the snout too. 

It’s never any fun when they leave without me, so I give them my best sad puppy dog eyes, but it doesn’t work this time. 

“You are in charge Cindee, don’t let Mylo and those cats get into trouble,” Daddy reminds me, as he closes the door behind him.

A quick glance at the sofa and I discover that Yehudi is still safely buried under the throw and is busy snoring away. 

“It’s time to get this day started,” I say softly to myself with a big mid-morning stretch.  But what do I do with my day?

First stop, the kitchen in hopes that a cookie magically appeared on the table. 

“Humpf.  Nothing.  Boohoo for me,” I giggled quietly. 

Next, I checked the counters.

“What’s this?”

“What’s what,” a deep Latin voice came from behind me.

I jumped in the air and landed on all fours, my hair standing on end as I spun to confront the intruder.

“How many times do I have to tell you not to sneak up on me Rapi,” I growled at the big orange tabby cat, who responded with a snicker.

“What’s what,” he repeated the question.

“That box,” I said pointing with my paw.

“Oh that?  I don’t know,” the cat responded.

“Well, don’t just stand there, go up there and look,” exasperation was oozing in my tone.

“Geez, you don’t got to get all huffy about it,” he grumbled.

“I need a little help,” he said, nodding to his tummy, which was almost brushing against the ground.

“Oh yeah, sure, no problem,” I said squatting down.

The orange cat sprang onto my back, landing as gracefully as a twenty-pound cat can.  I let out an audible grunt the moment his stubby legs made impact with my spine.  Though it was an involuntary reaction, I regretted the sound the moment it escaped my lips.

“You complaining about my weight now?  Just remember I am doing you a favor,” he said with no effort at hiding his irritation.

Needing this to be over, I stood as quickly as I could, and a moment later he launched himself up onto the counter.

“Hey, there is some cool stuff up here,” he said, his voice back to its normal happy-go-lucky tone.

“Really,” I answered back, imagining all the things that could be up there.  It was something I had always wondered about, but right now, I was a dog on a mission.

“The box,” I reminded Rapi.

“Oh yeah, sorry, I got distracted,” he apologized.

I watched from my spot on the floor as he circled the box a couple of times then stopped and looked over the side of the counter at me.

“It’s just a gingerbread house,” he called down.

“But there is some chocolate, a thing in a small box called a panettone, which smells delicious I might add, and …” his voice went on and on, but I confess I was no longer listening.

“Rapi, come on down, I have an idea,” I barked softly so as not to disturb the sleeping cat on the sofa.

I watched Rapi fly gracefully through the air as he dismounted from the counter, but all illusion of gracefulness disappeared at the loud thud he made when he landed on all fours.

“Quick grab Bella and Mylo, and for goodness sake be quiet about it.  I really need all of you to help me with this!”

The chubby orange tabby could sense how much this meant to me, so without hesitation, he turned and bolted upstairs.

“Meet me under the Christmas tree,” I called after him. 

He glanced over his shoulder and winked at me before disappearing out of sight.

I was sitting next to the tree diligently working on tearing the box open when Rapi, Bella, and Mylo came scampering down the staircase, each wearing an expression of excitement.

“What is it?  What’s the plan, Old Lady” Mylo barked loudly.

“Quiet, remember,” Rapi grumbled, coming up behind the tan lab mix.

“Yeah, what’s so important you needed to interrupt my beauty nap?” the grey and white cat grumbled.

“I oughta slap you, Bella,” the orange cat threatened with a scowl.

I eyed all three of them, unable to hide the annoyed look on my face, which they immediately picked up on.  They each found a place to sit, Rapi looking hurt, Bella sniffing back tears, and Mylo, well, Mylo was being Mylo.

“It’s a surprise,” I whispered, using my paw to indicate Yehudi, who was still sound asleep under the blanket.

“With a gingerbread house,” Rapi asked staring at the box.

“I’m confused,” Mylo said, screwing up his face.

“You’ll see,” I said, offering a reassuring smile to let them know I wasn’t losing my marbles.

The tabby and the lab mix looked at each other and shrugged.  The gesture was enough to give me hope that their initial excitement would give them the necessary patience to see the project through to completion.

“Hey guys, can you give me a hand opening the box,” I asked.

The cats nodded enthusiastically and immediately immersed themselves in the task, tearing off little pieces of cardboard here and there.

“Don’t forget to be careful, we may need the instructions,” I gently reminded them. 

“You got it,” the orange cat purred.

“Mylo, you can help them too, just please be especially careful!” I added.

I observed them in action for a few moments to make sure they were okay, then set off on my next task, which would take me upstairs to Mommy’s office.

I was dragging the small extra cat bed down the stairs when I noticed that they had finished with the box and were laying under the tree staring up at the lights.

“All the sparkly colors are so beautiful,” Rapi said, marveling at the bulbs as they flashed on and off.

“I like how the lights reflect off the balls,” Bella said with a happy sigh.

“Me too,” the young lab mix agreed.

It was unusual to see the two cats sharing their feelings with each other, and I felt bad that I was about to interrupt this wonderful moment.

“Ready guys?” I asked in a low voice.

Rapi jumped to his feet, startled by my sudden arrival. 

“What’s with that thing,” Mylo asked, pointing to the bed.

“You’ll see,” I said with a sly smile.

“Okay, let’s get this house built,” I added, redirecting our attention to the open box.

I glanced at the directions, while Rapi and Bella stared on, impatiently waiting for their next assignment. 

“You guys wanna get that big one in place,” I asked pointing to one of the two large slabs of gingerbread. 

They nodded and set to work, pushing it out of the box and into place while I re-read the instructions.  They seemed simple enough.

“What about me?” the lab mix asked.

“You can keep an eye on Yehudi.  Let us know if she wakes up okay Mylo?”

“You can count on me,” the dog answered, puffing his chest out proudly.

“Done Cindee,” Bella reported in a hushed voice.

“Great, now we need to put some icing on, like this,” I said, pulling one of the tubs of frosting from the pile of contents that had been neatly packed into the box.

“I will line it up and you guys step on it gently until it covers the edge,” I instructed them.

Patiently, I would move the tube a little at a time, while the cats would take turns stepping on it until we had all four edges of the base covered in icing.  Once we had finished with that task, we all stood around high-fiving, proud of our accomplishment.

“Now what?” Rapi asked.

“Hmmm, let’s see,” I said taking another look at the directions.

“It says we need to take these pieces and place them against the floor with the icing on it … oh, I see, they are the walls,” I added with a giggle.

Rapi and Bella looked at each other and smiled widely.

Together the three of us picked up one of the walls and maneuvered it into place.

“Okay Bella, you need to stay on the inside and hold it up, and Rapi, you need to do the same thing on the outside,” I told them.

“For how long,” Bella asked.

“The directions say for a few minutes.”

“We can do that,” Rapi replied.

“We can,” Bella added enthusiastically.

“Good.  While you are doing that, I will chew open the door,” I said, thinking a step ahead.

“Good idea,” Bella agreed.

“But don’t eat any of it, because it will make you sick,” Rapi reminded me.

I took a big bite out of the panel where the outline of a door had been marked, and immediately made a mad dash to the kitchen and spit it into the garbage.

“What’s wrong Cindee,” the tabby asked.

“It tastes nasty,” I said, still gagging a little.

The cats, who are supposed to be my friends, simply chuckled at my misfortune.

Rapi placed the last gumdrop on the house and adjusted it until it was just right.

“I think that is it, we’re done.  Mylo come check it out!”

We all took a few steps back to admire our handiwork. 

“It’s beautiful,” the lab mix said, his lips curling into a smile.

“It is beautiful,” Rapi and Bella agreed.

I was speechless.  I couldn’t believe that the four of us could make something so exquisite.  It was a house made from gingerbread, just like the box had said it would be.  Somehow, we had managed to line everything up perfectly. 

“Wow,” a hoarse little voice squeaked from behind us.

We all turned to find Yehudi poking her head out from under the covers, her eyes lit up and her smile, well, her smile was perfect.  The small tuxedo cat scanned the gingerbread house with her eyes.

The roof was covered in frosting to make it look like fresh snow.  That had been difficult to do because I had to have Rapi standing on my back again while he scattered glittering silver sugar all over the freshly laid icing to make it sparkle.

Rapi also decorated the side with red gumdrops, and Bella made a gingerbread cookie in the shape of a tree, which she covered in green frosting, then decorated with little sugar balls. 

Just looking at Yehudi, well, all I can say is it made my tummy flutter and my heart go pitter-patter.  I loved it!

“What is that?” Yehuda asked, still unable to tear her eyes from the newly formed decoration.

“It’s a gingerbread house that we build just for you,” I barked enthusiastically.

Rapi and Bella looked at each other, puzzled by my statement and Mylo smiled widely, with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth.

“For me,” Yehudi asked, her face almost as stunned as the other cats.

“Yes, for you!  We felt bad because there is never enough room for you in the bed, so we wanted to make a special place just for you.  Go on inside and see!” I howled with excitement.

“Yes, go inside,” Bella urged the little black cat on now that she understood everything.

“We even put a bed inside for you,” Rapi added proudly.

Yehudi entered through the makeshift door and looked around before plopping down in the bed and using the window to peek out at us.

“I love it!  Thank yous all so much, I really do love it!”

Mylo and the two cats came over and plopped down next to me so we could all watch Yehudi enjoy her new home, at least for the holidays.

“Thank you for including us,” Rapi said, looking up at me with a smile.

“Yes, thank you so much Cindee,” Bella added as she continued to watch Bella through the window opening.

“No, thank you, guys.  Without you, it would never have been possible,” I reminded them.

“I am lucky to have yous guys for a family,” Yehudi called out.

“We are all lucky,” the golden-haired lab mix answered back.

“Yes, we are,” I said, before laying down and listening to Rapi and Bella regale the little black cat with the story of how the gingerbread house was built with love.

“So very lucky,” I mumbled one last time before drifting off into dreamland, my heart filled with love and happiness.

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