“Wowwie! I love Christmas Eve don’t you Rapi?”
I couldn’t help but let my enthusiasm spill out. I mean it is the most magical night of the year and there was always something so special about it at our house on 6 Autumn Lane.
“I sure do, Cindee,” the big orange cat purred.
A giggle slipped out of me. I had raised a paw to my lips to try and stifle it, but I was too late. I mean, really, one look at his face and that smile beaming from one chubby cheek to the other was too much.
“Nothing, it’s just, well … you are so handsome when you are in a festive mood!”
“Well, Christmas makes you shine a little brighter too brown sugar!”
We both turned our heads to find the owner of the chipper voice trotting into the living room. The tan lab mix wore a set of those cheap dollar store antlers on top of his head.
“You mean Merry Christmas, Mylo,” the tabby corrected him.
The adolescent canine dropped his head and scowled at the cat.
“It’s true, trust me,” I said, coming to the feline’s defense.
“Humpf. I don’t understand.”
His head was now tilted to the right and his forehead scrunched up in obvious confusion. I could appreciate where he was coming from, I was a puppy once too, plus this was the first Christmas that Mylo was old enough to understand.
“Okay! Let’s go! It’s bedtime. We don’t want to keep Santa waiting!”
Mommy patted each of us on the head and began to turn out the lights.
“Wait! The book,” Rapi roared.
“I’ll get it,” I said.
I had already turned and begun to hustle off to the living room before the words had escaped from my lips.
I dashed towards the bookcase as fast as my old legs would take me but skidded to a stop when I passed the coffee table. The book was already out and just waiting to be read. They must have forgotten about it.
There was no time to waste. I quickly snatched it up with my teeth and scampered for the family room, where I plopped down right in front of Daddy and gave his knees a poke with my paw.
“Cindee,” he grumbled looking down at me.
What he saw was an old chocolate lab mix staring up at him with a pair of sad puppy dog eyes and a thin booklet hanging from her mouth.
“Oh, I almost forgot to read this year, didn’t I. I am so sorry about that. Let’s go!”
With a gentle pat on my head, I surrendered the Clement Moore classic to him and followed him to the sofa.
He sat in the middle. I grabbed a seat on his left while Mylo and Rapi found some space on his right. Daddy opened the cover, then cleared his throat.
“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”
The famous line wafted through the house, enticing two more cats, one a tuxedo, the other a chubby grey and white one to join us. They each found a spot on the back of the sofa where they could look over Daddy’s shoulder and admire the pictures.
I closed my eyes and listened to the words while my imagination took over and formed a movie in my mind of the whole scene.
“But I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight- Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
As the last word left Daddy’s lips and floated off into the Christmas ether, we all let out an ear-splitting hooray!
“Okay, okay, let’s get going, we don’t want Santa to pass us over because of some overly excited cats and dogs who don’t want to go to bed.”
Oh that Mommy, she has such a way with words. She was right though, we were all wound up, and we did need to get to bed. None of us wanted to risk Santa not stopping at our house.
Like a herd of cattle, Mommy and Daddy led us up the stairs and into bed. Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for sleep to come. Rapi and Mylo were out like a light, and I followed very soon after.
“Cindee, get up!”
It was Rapi and there seemed to be an urgency in his tone, but I just could not keep my eyes open.
“Oh for goodness sake, move over, I’ll do it!”
I recognized Mylo’s voice instantly. My eyes shot open, and terror filled my chest. When the tan canine said something, he meant it. Before I had a chance to say anything he had pounced on top of me with the full force of his weight.
“Get up Old Lady!”
His paws were right under my chin and unfortunately for me, he had begun thrusting them like he was performing CPR on my face.
“Mylo,” the orange cat hissed.
“Wakey wakey old timer!”
Mylo,” the tabby growled this time.
“Time to get up Sleeping Beauty!”
I had begun to struggle beneath him, but his forty-five-pound frame was too much for me to move. Out of the corner of my eye, I was able to catch a glimpse of a large orange furball sailing through the air and landing on top of the bed with a thud.
Panic was beginning to set in. The young dog was still performing chest compressions on my nose, but then out of nowhere a muscular orange arm came flying through the darkness landing a solid blow on the tan pooch’s nose.
“Ouch! What did you do that for?”
“Cindee is awake Mylo, see,” the chubby cat said pointing in my direction.
Mylo looked over at me and shrugged.
“What is so important that you had to wake me up?” I asked, reaching for my head with my paw, where a small pain was beginning to blossom into a full-blown headache
That’s when I heard the pattering begin to dance about on the ceiling overhead.
“Mice?” I asked looking up.
Before anyone had a chance to answer, a strange scraping noise began. We all looked at each other for a moment.
“Santa,” I barked, breaking the silence.
The three of us raced to the window. Somehow, we had made it just in time to see eight reindeer pulling a sleigh with a rather chubby occupant in a red suit holding onto the reins.
All three of us stood opened mouthed until Santa and his team had disappeared into the night.
“That was awesome,” Mylo barked, unable to contain the excitement of the moment.
“He dropped something,” the cat mumbled.
“It was, wasn’t it,” I said in agreement with the younger dog.
“It landed right over there,” the feline said, pointing towards our front yard.
“I’m sorry, did you say something Rapi?”
His ginger hair stood up and he glowered at me. That was all it took to temper my exuberance.
The cat sucked a lungful of air through his nostrils, closed his eyes, ran a paw over his face, then looked directly into my eyes.
“I said, something fell out of Santa’s sleigh and landed in our front yard!”
“Do you think it was something important?” I asked.
“Dunno,” the cat answered.
The look on his face was all I needed to see. He was concerned.
“Let’s go check,” I said, leading my two friends to the top of the stairs and down.
“I wonder what it could be?”
I let the tan canine’s question bounce around inside my head. He was right. What could it be?
We stood on the front porch, scouring the yard for the object. Fortunately for us, it was a clear night. The sky was filled with stars looking down on us, but it was the full moon that would turn out to be our best friend.
Silver light had found the object and reflected off its surface in a smattering of glittering sparks. I was the first to see it and couldn’t believe my eyes. Unquenchable excitement filled me, yet all I could muster was a whisper.
“I found it!”
The words had come out in a puff of mist, and I was rushing towards the thing before it could dissipate. Whatever it was, it had landed in a snowbank just a few feet from where the flower garden would normally be.
“What is it?” Mylo barked, now halfway to reaching me.
Without waiting, I leaned down to examine the item but was interrupted by a muffled scream but I was too excited to worry about it. Ignoring the screech, I leaned forward but before I had a chance to really look at the thing, another scream cut through the night air. This time it was blood-curdling. Now, my hair was standing on end.
I wasn’t the only one spooked. Mylo had stopped dead in his tracks and was looking around for the source. It seemed that it was coming from behind him, but nothing was there.
“Hey, Mylo, where is Rapi?”
The tan dog looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.
“He is right behind … hey, where did he go?”
The young dog froze in place. His head dipped forward and his tail curled between his legs.
That was when an orange head popped out of the snow.
“Help! I am drowning!”
He was visible just long enough to get the cry for assistance out before he sunk back under the snow.
“My gosh! He is too short to be out in this snow,” I mumbled.
“Don’t worry Cindee I got him!”
I looked on as Mylo scampered to the spot as fast as he could. Shock filled me when the young canine stuck his head into the snow. He fished around for a few minutes. It wasn’t until his head rose above the snowdrift; that I could see that he held a chubby orange cat by the scruff of the neck. The tension evaporated and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Now that I was sure that everyone was safe, I turned my attention back to the thing laying on top of the snow. Leaning closer, I squinted and examined it, then let out a giggle.
“What is it?” the cat asked, now next to me but still dangling from Mylo’s mouth.
“It’s an ornament. There is a tag on it too.”
“What does it say?” Rapi asked.
“Merry Christmas Mary Lou! I hope this will brighten your days and make you feel better,” I said reading the words to my friends.
Both just stared back at me blankly. It was someone’s Christmas gift from Santa, and they were sick. Thinking about poor Mary Lou without her gift was starting to make me feel ill too.
“Geez, we gotta do something,” Rapi said.
“Mum wum whoa der,” Mylo mumbled, his mouth still full of cat. He could, however, still nod, and nod he did.
It was a box, and on that box was a tag with the recipients name on it.
“Mary Lou Martinez,” I whispered.
Rapi’s eyes brightened.
“That’s that girl that lives in the green house down the street. You know Cindee, the one in the hospital with that heart problem.”
“You’re right Rapi. We need to get this ornament to her before morning.”
“How? She is in the hospital. Before you say Mommy and Daddy will help, you know they won’t take us until tomorrow.”
Rapi was right. They wouldn’t. This is Christmas though, and Mary Lou needs to wake up with this ornament. I don’t know why, but it is important, or else Santa wouldn’t be taking it special delivery to her. All seemed lost. Until …
“C’mon guys. I have a plan!”
We came to a stop in front of a two-story brick house. Mylo set Rapi down in the driveway and stared at me, more than a little puzzled.
“Isn’t this Cleopatra Jones’s house,” the cat asked.
“It is,” I answered.
“I don’t get it, how is a middle schooler supposed to help?”
“The hospital will only let humans in, Rapi, and Cleopatra Jones is a human that would be more than happy to help us!”
“True,” Rapi agreed, “but how are we supposed to get her attention? Her bedroom is on the second floor?”
I smiled and nodded at the garbage can.
“No, no this is not a good idea,” the cat began to protest.
I grabbed him by the scruff and deposited him on top of the blue container. The only response he had was to scowl at me.
“Just think of Mary Lou,” I said, batting my eyelashes at him.
That was all he had to say. Mylo took a seat next to me and looked on as the cat hopped from the garbage can to the fence. His rather large stomach swayed a little too far in the wrong direction. Mylo and I gasped; sure he was a goner. There was no way to get him if he fell and landed on the other side of the wood barricade.
Luckily the cat still had a life or two left because by some miracle he managed to regain his balance and tip-toe his way along the fence and up onto the roof. Feeling more confident now, he scampered along the gutter until he reached the sill of Cleopatra Jones’s window.
“Just tap on the glass,” I answered.
He looked at me and nodded. The cat was just about to knock when the sash flew open, and a round face adorned with chubby cheeks and long curly hair popped out. The cat stumbled back and was about to fall from the roof when the young girl reached out and snatched him from thin air.
“What in the world are you doing?” she asked Rapi, pulling him into the safety of her arms.
Mylo and I glanced nervously at each other. By the time we looked back at the bedroom window it was already closed, so we did the only thing we could do. We waited for Cleopatra Jones at the door. When she arrived with Rapi still clutched tightly in her arms we began to explain the situation to her. She did not need any convincing at all!
“Let’s go,” she called over her shoulder.
“What’s the plan?” I asked, staring up at the six floors that made up Community Hospital.
“It’s simple, silly dog,” Cleopatra Jones said, her face adorned with a wide grin. “I take this in and leave it in her room,” she explained as she plucked the box holding the ornament from the sled that she had been towing behind her.
“Do you really think it will work,” Rapi asked.
“Watch and learn cat … watch and learn.”
And that is what we did.
Two sets of doors slid open inviting Cleopatra Jones in. We watched in awe as she walked calmly down the hall and stopped at the reception desk.
“Please let her in,” I said, whispering the prayer under my breath.
Our friend stopped and held the box up in the air with both hands and said something to the receptionist.
“I wish we could hear her,” Rapi complained.
“Me too,” Mylo agreed.
The receptionist rose to his feet and looked down at Cleopatra Jones. My heart began to rumble in my chest. What was going on? I just wanted to scream. The man pointed down the hallway to the left. Cleopatra Jones smiled, then waved and disappeared out of sight.
“She did it!” Rapi shouted.
In his exuberance, he lost his balance and tipped over and out of the sled onto the asphalt. He was back on his feet and dancing around before we had the chance to see if he was okay.
It wasn’t until Cleopatra Jones came dashing out of the hospital empty-handed that I was able to feel a sense of relief come over me. We had done it.
“You are not going to believe this, Mary Lou had a small Christmas Tree in her room, so I snuck in and left the gift underneath it just like Santa does at our house!”
The young girl was so excited she was speaking a mile a minute.
“Awesome,” I barked.
“Uh oh,” Cleopatra Jones said, her eyes growing wider and wider.
“What is going on?”
That voice. I knew that voice. This was not so awesome. Daddy was here.
“You guys have some explaining to do.”
Oh no, Mommy too. I prepared my best lost puppy dog face, then turned to face them.
The car ride home was quiet. I don’t think they wanted to cause a scene in front of our friend. But as soon as we crossed the threshold of our home, well, that is when the fireworks began.
“You guys have no idea how worried we were about you.”
It was Daddy that began the speech. I knew the look on his face. He wasn’t angry. No, it was worse than that. He was disappointed in us.
“It is Christmas, and Santa dropped Mary Lou’s present. It was important that she got it when she woke up,” Rapi tried to explain.
“She is sick, and she needs a magical Christmas,” I added.
Daddy didn’t say anything, he just looked at us with that look still on his face. I felt my head drop. It was all I could do to stare at my paws.
“We could have taken it to her first thing in the morning,” Mommy finally spoke up.
I was about to answer her, but before I had a chance a deep voice cut me off.
“But this Christmas needs to be magical. It may be her last you know.”
Startled we all turned to see where the words had come from. Standing next to the Christmas tree, dressed head to toe in his red suit and sporting a beard that ZZ Top would be envious of was Santa Claus.
“I know it is my job to make sure that Christmas is filled with love and magic. What can I say, I dropped the ball on this one. I am just lucky these three and their friend stepped up to help me out.”
All of us were silent. There was something soothing about the deep timbre of his voice that just held you rapt. Daddy was the first one to break free from the spell.
“I guess, maybe, sometimes even magic needs a hand,” Daddy said, unable to take his eyes off Santa.
“You are so right. Well, ho ho ho, gotta go,” he called out, then picked up his sack of gifts and lay a finger alongside his nose.
We all blinked, and he was gone.
The whole family dashed for the door, making it just in time to see him rocket out of sight on a 1950 Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide Sport Solo Panhead motorcycle.
He fishtailed at the end of the street and came roaring back by us. The bike growled loudly and disappeared around the bend in the road.
It wasn’t until the sound of the Harley began to fade in the distance that we heard the jolly old elfs voice dancing on the night air.
“Merry Christmas to all … and to all a good night!”