It was Christmas Eve, and it was time to go… no, actually, it was past time to go. Jackson, at four days old, was crying at the top of his lungs. Lily, who was pumped full of sugar after dinner, was now crashing and also crying at maximum capacity. For my part, I had just come from the hospital the day before, and had not slept yet. Like my children, I was in rough shape and ready to go home too.
“Where’s Indie? Did you let him out?” I asked Brinton.
“No, did you?”
Instantly and simultaneously we realized that Indie had been outside the entire day… and night. Indie had bounded into the snow the moment we had arrived, and had trotted off into the woods as usual, happy to run free at his grandparents’ house in the mountains.
Brinton bundled up, went outside, and called into the woods, again and again. No sign of Indie.
It had been below-zero all day, and it was turning into an even colder night. A thick layer of ice was coating everything–making things very beautiful, but also very dangerous. The ice storm had made the national news and had prevented any of our family from coming to see us in the hospital when Jackson had been born. Doctors and nurses had been stranded.
At that very moment, both Lily and Jackson started screaming a little louder. I suddenly felt the dull throb of a migraine creeping up on me. It occurred to me that Indie could be gone… like really gone.
Brinton knew what to do. Very decisively, he said, “I’ll find him. After I take you guys home.”
In the car, we both peered into the darkness as we slowly drove home. Looking for what? A flash of eyes? Movement in the woods? A furry body on the side of the road? By the time we reached the main road, I was sobbing, silently, hiding it from Lily, not wanting to ruin Christmas.
At home, Brinton put on all his layers, ski gear, and a head lamp. He tossed an extra headlamp for his cousin, plus a container of dog food and biscuits and Indie’s favorite toys into a backpack. Feeling hopeful, I hugged my husband.
Then I waited. And waited. And waited. I imagined the worst, our furry best-friend frozen to death at the bottom of ravine somewhere, or worse, captured by a trap or an animal, or hit by a car. As it grew later, it seemed more and more impossible that Brinton would find anything.
Finally, just as I had begun to make plans for how I would tell Lily in the morning (Christmas morning) that Indie was gone forever, my phone rang. I shook as I picked it up. This is it. I thought. He’s dead. Bracing myself, I answered.
Brinton sounded like he had just run a race. I was reminded how cold it was outside. His breath actually sounded cold on the phone. “We found him.”
“Holy crap! No way!”
“Yes. We trudged out into the snow, and he was just sitting in the woods, not more than a few minutes away, smiling at us. Like nothing happened.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
I hung up and collapsed onto the couch, wiped a few tears away, pulled a quilt over me, and fell asleep.
In the middle of the night, Indie, all warm and furry and cute, made three circles, scratched the quilt, made three more circles, and then settled on top of my feet.
He let out heavy doggy sigh, sounding like a dog who was glad to be home.
I wiggled my toes, warm under the blankets and the weight of a dog, and felt satisfied that he didn’t move away, but instead pushed himself a little closer to me.