“My darling girl,” she told Cricket and hugged her tighter. When I came closer, her hand went to my shoulder. “Take him to the living room,” she instructed. I began to walk away, but before I could take more than one step, she hugged my neck. “I’m sorry for you too, boy. I know you loved him very much.”
I nodded, afraid to speak for fear I’d break down, and took Eugie to the main living room. I laid him on the plank flooring by the large windows and just sat beside him.
No one prepares you for the death of a pet. It’s not quite like losing a human loved one, obviously, but you cannot help but feel a tiny bit of despair. After all, they serve you so loyally. I think they genuinely love you, and they’re so protective of you. They do their jobs so instinctually and so exceptionally because that’s how God made them.
I remembered stories from my childhood, when my mom used to take Bridge and me to church. They were the stories of St. Francis. Through St. Francis, we were reminded just how these creatures of God served humans, and by serving His humans, they served and praised God. I always thought of animals as nothing more than soulless creatures before those stories, never once thinking that they too had a purpose. I had seen a statue of St. Francis in a courtyard once and the image was of him bending down and scratching a dog behind his ears and I thought, if a man so close to God gave respect to even the lowliest of God’s creatures, they must be worth loving.
Cricket came into the living room and sat beside me, taking my hand in hers.
“He was such a good boy,” she said simply.
“He was,” I agreed.
We sat, staring out the window, watching spring melt the leftover snow right before our eyes, coming to terms with the drastic turns our life had taken in the past few hours.
She squeezed my hand. “We’ll have to bury him,” she said softly.
“There’s a little dogwood tree right at the bottom of our main homestead,” she began.
“I know it,” I told her, which made her smile.
“He liked to sleep there with me when we were both little.”
“That’s sweet, Cricket.”
She nodded with a gentle smile. “The ground will still be too cold to dig by hand.”
“I can get the digger.”
She looked at me and smiled again. “Thank you.”
I stood, ready to do what I needed to. “Stay here. I’ll come get you when it’s ready.”
She stood up as well and reached for my hair, running her hands through the length before placing her palm on my cheek. “Thank you,” she said, kissing the crease of my mouth.
The digger was in the carriage house, so I walked there with a heavy heart. I started the machine and drove it down to the dogwood she used to sleep under with Eugie as a little girl. I tried to imagine her as a small girl, as if she could be any smaller, with a puppy-sized Eugie. I pictured her again, older, recently, sitting on the bottom of the stairwell with a book in her hand and Eugie laid about at her feet. That’s how I decided I’d always remember them together, and the thought made me warm through.
I dug a hole wide enough and deep enough to accommodate him and set the remaining dirt beside the grave. When I was done, I jumped from the digger and placed two shovels in the mass before heading back up to the carriage house, hosing off the digger and locking it all up.
The whole process took approximately an hour and in that time, all the hands had arrived, along with Jonah, and Bridge had joined them all at the house. We all walked to the bottom of the property. I carried Eugie with Cricket at my side.
We laid him inside and Jonah and I shoveled in the dirt while Ellie and Cricket held hands.
Afterward, Emmett said a little prayer asking God to give the family peace, and we went home to eat lunch. Everyone told their personal stories about Eugie, some funny, some hilarious, some sad and some silly, but all were heartfelt.
After lunch, Ellie asked where Ethan was. That was my cue to leave Cricket and take a shower back at the trailer. On my way down the lane, I passed an affectionate Jonah and Bridge, which made me simultaneously want to gag and smile. Go figure.
I had a plan, and now that I had an opportunity with Cricket, there was nothing that could stop me.
“Is a Miss Cricket Hunt here?” I playfully asked Ellie at the front door.
I handed her a small bouquet of flowers, which delighted her.
“Where did you get these?” she exclaimed.
“In town. I had to get a few things for our first date, which included flowers for one Miss Ellie Hunt.”
“Charming,” Ellie said, kissing my cheek. “Thank you. They’re lovely.”
I’d called Cricket from Kalispell, surprising her and asking her to dinner.
“Where are you going?” Ellie asked.
“Dinner, then who knows? I’m hoping to keep things casual. I know she’s going through a rough time, and I just want to distract her a little.”
“Thoughtful,” Ellie said, her smile reaching her eyes.
Just then, Cricket descended the staircase, stunning me speechless. Ellie nudged me with her elbow and winked.
“Caroline Hunt is sporting a black lace sheath with boat neck, cap sleeves and scallop-edge hemline,” Ellie teased, her hands gesturing gracefully at Cricket as she descended the staircase. Cricket played the drama well and would stop to pose every few steps. “Notice the ankle-strapped black heels, accented quite nicely with a cluster pearl choker, and to top the ensemble off, a black beaded clutch.
“Caroline has decided to wear her hair down tonight and curled with a swept bang with simple makeup to accent her daring red lipstick,” Ellie finished. She looked at me and winked. “Tell me we country folk can’t clean up real nice,” she added with an exaggerated accent, making me laugh, before kissing Cricket on the cheek. “Have fun. Be a good girl.”
Ellie left the room to us and I found an overwhelming need to call her back. I had no idea what in the world I was going to tell the magnificent creature in front of me. She descended the staircase with ease and approached me with an easy smile, totally unaware of how unbelievably gorgeous she looked. She dazzled me, dazed me, stupefied me.