Unconditional love. Most people spend their whole lives chasing after the often elusive idea of unconditional love. According to my single girlfriends, some of us are lucky enough to have it, but it's damn hard to find. Perhaps they aren't looking in the right places.
These are the faces of unconditional love, my sweet girls, Hayley (black) and Abbey (grey). Joining our family in 2007, these sisters from the same litter knew all about this thing called unconditional love.
It was automatic for them, just like breathing, blinking, and chasing rabbits.
They didn't care if my hair was a mess, and I wore no make-up. They loved me anyway.
Whether I was gone for five minutes or five hours, they showered me with their unconditional love every time I walked through the door.
I could be sad, angry, nervous, or happy, and they were there to support me with their love.
And I loved them fiercely in return. I loved everything about them. I loved their soulful brown eyes that never failed to melt my heart. I loved their stubby, little tails that wagged enthusiastically when I came home. I loved the feel of their soft fur. I loved their smart, sweet personalities. I even loved their sassy barks...I loved them unconditionally.
Then I had to love them enough to let them go when it was time, even though it broke my heart. We said goodbye to Hayley on Labor Day, 2019, due to an untreatable blood clot in her heart. And we said goodbye to Abbey two days ago. Her poor little body couldn't fight her enlarged liver another day. My sweet furbabies are together again: chewing on bones, playing tug-of-war with their favorite toys, snuggling on their blanket, and chasing rabbits.
Gone, but never forgotten. We have thousands of pictures and wonderful memories to keep them alive in our hearts and minds. And my girls will be forever immortalized in my cozy mystery novels where they appear as the main character's own pups. Jillian loves her fur babies as deeply as I love mine. They go most places with her, including her children's bookstore, where they are often the center of attention when young customers clamor for some puppy love (see the teaser below).
~~~Opening the door, a store filled with customers greeted her. When Jillian walked in with the dogs, children swarmed around Abbey and Hayley clamoring to pet them. Standing obligingly still, the pups accepted all the love and affection being lavished upon them by their new friends. With their tails wagging, bodies quivering, and tongues seeking a cheek to lavish puppy kisses on, the girls had their moment in the spotlight. Once Jillian let the girls off their leashes, they obediently headed for their blankets behind the counter.
“It’s really cool you bring your dogs to the bookstore, Ms. Edwards.” One of her former third graders looked wistfully at the pups as they scurried away. “Wish I had a dog, but my mom says I can’t. My little brother is allergic.”
“Maddie, you’re welcome to come here anytime you want, and love on my pups. They enjoy all the attention.” She winked at the girl, then sent her off with her purchase.
Turning her attention back to business, Jillian watched Trixie breeze around the Main Room assisting customers. While her assistant rang up a sale, Jillian took the opportunity to help a young patron find the newest “Dragon Master” book on a shelf in need of restocking. Grabbing some books from her office, she took care of that issue while showing a little girl where the Dr. Seuss books were located. The girl chose “The Cat in the Hat”–a classic. She took it to a cozy chair under the window, pulled her little brother onto her lap, and began reading it to him.
Watching the siblings together, Jillian put her hand to her chest, a tiny glimmer of joy spreading there. This is exactly the way Jillian had pictured it–her store full of children discovering the joy of a good book. Everyone seemed happy, and this made her very happy.
Telling Trixie to holler upstairs if she needed help, Jillian whistled, and the girls followed up to the three rooms, previously bedrooms, now serving as storage spaces. Walking into the room she’d dubbed ‘The Book Bin,’ she marveled at the rich color of the walnut cabinets Ethan and Bryan had built and how well they matched the store’s gleaming woodwork. Boxes of books stacked around the room begged to be unpacked and placed on those shelves. Jillian tore into the first of the cartons.
She’d barely made a dent when Ethan’s heavy footsteps clomped up the stairs. Whistling to himself and smiling, he walked into the room and greeted Jillian.
“Hey there. You ready to go talk to this friend of yours?”
“Let me wash up and get the girls settled.” She took a deep breath. “But before we go, I should warn you about Mr. Erickson.”
“Why? Is he a senile old man who thinks he knows more about the law than the police? If that’s the case, I’m not the right person for this interview. I’ve dealt with enough people like that, and it rarely turns out well,” Ethan sighed, shaking his head.
“No, not exactly.” Jillian hesitated, not looking forward to sharing Mr. Erickson’s less than positive qualities. “He’s an old man–a little rough around the edges, but I don’t think he’s senile. He does have an aversion to the police, and he only agreed to talk to you because of me. He’s gruff and grouchy, so handle him the way you might a slightly hostile witness.”
“Great. Perfect,” Ethan said. “This is not how I had planned my day, Jilly.” The happy, whistling Ethan had been replaced by cranky, irritable Ethan.
“Suck it up, Detective. Maybe you’ll get some information that will actually help your case.” Jillian patted him on the back, walking past him and out of the room. ~~~
The fictional Abbey and Hayley, like my own sweet girls, are smart, sassy, affectionate, and loyal. Their presence adds a touch of fun and whimsy to my novels, and they will appear throughout the series. More dogs will be introduced along the way because, in my opinion, you can never have enough dogs—more dogs=more love.
For those of you with pups, you understand the concept of unconditional love, and you know how wonderful it can be. Despite the heartbreak of saying goodbye to them way too soon, it's the reason we keep bringing fur babies into our families. For those of you who've never had a dog, I can't encourage you enough to make one (or two) a part of your family. It will be one of the most rewarding decisions you've ever made.
To my Abbey and Hayley-you are missed terribly, and our hearts are broken, but we know you've crossed that Rainbow Bridge and are together again. Enjoy the wind in your beards, chase those pesky rabbits, eat as much pizza and pie crust as you want, and take care of each other.
Until next time,
Jodi (schnauzer mama)