Oakley's First Christmas at the Rainbow Bridge
by Linda Rollins
It's always the little details that get you, not the big stuff. And as I was finding out, that's true even here at the Rainbow Bridge. It was the details that were making me sad.

Ever since I was a tiny kitten I knew about the Rainbow Bridge. All pets do! I knew it was where all pets go when they die. No one is old, sick, injured, or maimed. No one is ever hungry, thirsty, wet or cold, ever again. They're all young and healthy and happy. Especially happy. But not me. I wasn't happy.

I had only been here a few days and it was the details that were getting me down. I just wasn't happy. I was happy enough running around and playing cat games with Juliette, and even Samantha and Thomas. And even though Mandy spent most of her days running and sniffing and playing dog games with her best dog buddy, Lacey, she always found time for us to take a walk together and reminisce about things before we got here. I enjoyed all those things.

No, it was naps and bedtime that made me sad. I had spent so many years napping and sleeping with Meowmy that to have to do it without her was very depressing. Cats spend a lot of their time napping, so yeah, I was also spending a lot of time still missing her.

I had finally figured out how to visit Meowmy while she's sleeping, so that part was good. She can't feel me there of course, but I snuggle up next to her and purr in her ear as she sleeps. Gizmo had been promoted to Head Cat and was now living with Meowmy and Pawpaw. But he slept on the foot of the bed and didn't snuggle up next to Meowmy. She needs kitty cuddles, and he's slacking in his Head Cat duties! I haven't figured out yet how to tell him he needs to get with the program, but I will eventually.

Mostly, I needed to check and make sure Meowmy was okay. Not that I didn't trust God, because I certainly did, but, well, I wanted to see for myself. Her fur has all grown back, and although she's still not as strong as she was, she's all well again. That was the important thing. And while I didn't regret asking God to let me take her cancer away--I'd do that all over again--I just really missed her.

Fortunately, pennies come from heaven, and I've discovered I can push pennies off the Rainbow Bridge and get them to land where Meowmy can find them. It makes me happy that she knows they're from me, but it's not the same thing as cuddling up with her. I just plain wanted to be with Meowmy. So while I'm not miserable, neither am I happy. I'm supposed to be happy.

Consequently, I wasn't in the best of moods when Juliette came running up, all out of breath, her tail puffed up and eyes wide with excitement.

"Quick, Oakley! We have to go! Thomas is having a meeting! Hurry!"

"Why? I don't feel like going to one of Thomas' stupid meetings."

"Oh, but you have to!" She said. "Thomas told me tell everyone they needed to come." Juliette was still too much in awe of Thomas, even here at the Rainbow Bridge.

"He's not in charge anymore, Juliette. We don't have to do anything we don't want to."

Juliette hesitated. "I know, but he said it was really important. Please, Oakley."

"Oh, alright. Let's go and get this over with."

I deliberately walked as slowly as I could. I really wasn't in the mood for any of Thomas' pomposity.

"C'mon, Oakley! Don't be so slow. Everyone else will already be there."

I just rolled my eyes and flicked my tail at her. We'd get there soon enough. I mean, c'mon, what was the hurry? Where else were any of going?

"Everyone's here now, Thomas," Juliette gushed as we arrived.

"Then let's get this meeting started."

I looked around and sure enough, everyone else WAS there! The cats, Samantha, George, Gracie, Duffy, and Stacey were all there. So too, we're the dogs, Mandy, Lacey, Zoe, Riley, Xena, even Jackson and Sissy were there. I was actually impressed! At least until Thomas started to speak.

"As you all know, it's almost Christmas, and you know what that means."

Christmas! I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I knew what was coming next: Thomas' annual quest to bag a reindeer. He did it every year, and every year he failed to bag one. I thought he'd given that up by now, but guess not.

"Thomas," I hollered from the back of the group, "It's only March. Don't you think it's a little early to start your reindeer preparations?"

Everyone turned around and looked at me. Suddenly, I felt very self-conscious. Mandy quietly moved over next to me, and with the kindest eyes and softest voice whispered to me, "Oakley, it's December."

"It can't be," I sputtered, "I just got here. It's March."

"Time goes by quickly here Oakley," she said very kindly. "That's what makes the waiting for Mom and Dad to arrive to take us across the Rainbow Bridge so much easier."

I just stared down at my paws. God had told me that would happen, but I guess I really didn't fully understand it until now. December! I'd been so certain it was still March. Instead, I'd made a fool of myself in front of everyone else.

Thomas just cleared his throat. "As I was trying to say, Christmas will soon be here. Everyone is to start on their Christmas gifts for Meowmy and Pawpaw immediately, and have them ready for Santa to deliver on Christmas Eve."

You could hear everyone murmuring and nodding their heads.

Thomas waited for it to get quiet again. "If there are no questions, this meeting is adjourned. Remember, Christmas Eve!"

I was speechless. Everyone else was chattering to each other, so no one even noticed me as I slipped off to be alone and ponder all I'd just heard.

Nine months! I couldn't believe I'd been here nine months already. I honestly thought it had been about a week. And now this Christmas thing. Where was I going to find a gift for Meowmy and Pawpaw up here? I had nothing to give! No catnip mice, no scrunchy balls, nothing. How could I show up Christmas Eve with empty paws?

If I was unhappy before, I was now really depressed and miserable. I just wanted to be left alone.

How would Meowmy and Pawpaw ever know how much I loved and missed them if I didn't have a gift to send down to them with Santa? I was totally miserable and avoided everyone. I didn't even feel like eating or sleeping. That really doesn't matter at the Rainbow Bridge, of course, but still, my heart just wasn't in it.

I didn't know when Christmas Eve was, but I figured I was just going to run away and hide until it was over. Maybe nobody would notice I wasn't there. So that's what I did. I avoided everyone, even Juliette and Mandy, although they did try to find me. I just refused to answer. I don't know how long I stayed away, but it really didn't matter. Or, at least not to me.

It was dark when I heard what sounded like bells way off in the distance. As I listened, they got closer and closer. It wasn't long before I could see a sleigh being pulled through the sky by reindeer! It was Santa! Quietly I slipped up to get a better look. I'd never seen him before, and now, there he was! Time to be really still and quiet and hope no one misses me.

All the others came rushing up to the sleigh as soon as Santa landed. I could hear them all talking excitedly. Thomas was trying to keep order and calling out "Is everyone ready to give Santa their gift for Meowmy and Pawpaw? Hurry up now, Santa has a lot of work to do tonight!" I could even see Juliette jump up on Santa's bag of gifts in his sleigh and start trying to see what was in it! She never did have any sense of decorum.

When everyone stepped back I could see Santa holding a glowing ball of...well, glowy stuff. I didn't know what it was, but it glowed and he was handling it very carefully.

"Is that everyone?" he asked, looking around.

Mandy quietly went up to Santa and whispered something in his ear. I couldn't hear what she said, but when she stepped back Santa turned around and looked over at where I was hiding.

"Oakley?" he said very gently. Oakley, are you out there? Come on out Oakley. It's okay. Come on."

Cautiously I crept out of my hiding place and sat down, my tail curled tightly around me and my head hung down in shame.

"Come over here and tell me what's wrong. Maybe I can help."

I crept a little closer, although I knew he couldn't help me.

"That's it. Come on over here. Here, jump up in my lap and let's talk."

Normally I do not EVER jump up into the lap of someone I've just met, but, well, he was Santa Claus after all! So I did. And, oh my! Did it ever feel good to be sitting in someone's lap being petted again! I couldn't help myself. I told him how I didn't have a gift for Meowmy and Pawpaw and now they'd never know how much I loved and missed them.

"Oakley," Santa said, "you've already given your Meowmy the ultimate gift. You gave your life for her. You took her cancer so she could live a long life, remember?"

I nodded, but didn't say anything. To me that wasn't anything that special. It was just what anyone else would have done if they'd been in my position.

Everyone else though, was suddenly whispering and giving each other questioning looks. I could hear them asking each other if they'd known I'd done that.

"Why did you do that Oakley?"

"Because Meowmy loved me so much, and I wanted her to know just how much I loved her in return."

"So you see Oakley, you've already been giving the most precious gift anyone can give, and that's unconditional love."

"Love! Really? Oh yes, Santa! I've got lots and lots of love to send to Meowmy and Pawpaw! I didn't know that's what Thomas was talking about. I thought he meant things like catnip mice and such." I felt SO relieved!

Santa just chuckled. "Well, Thomas gets a little dramatic sometimes." I could hear Thomas in the background making an indignant noise.

"So how do I give it to you Santa?"

"Just open your heart and let it flow out, Oakley."

So I did, and it was SO easy! I closed my eyes and could feel all my love come welling up and pouring out. When I opened my eyes, the glowing ball was at least twice the size it had been. It was then I realized that this was our love Santa was holding! It was a glowing ball of pure love!

I nuzzled Santa and whispered "thank you" to him as I jumped off his lap. My heart felt lighter than it ever had since I arrived up here.

"Okay, Juliette," Santa chuckled, "time for you to get out of there and jump down."

"Okay, Santa! I'll see you next year," she purred.

Once she was down, Santa carefully placed the glowing ball of our love on top of his bag of gifts.

"Merry Christmas everyone! I'll make sure this gets delivered safely!"

Slowly the sleigh rose into the air as we all waved and wished Santa a Merry Christmas as well.

I stayed behind after everyone had dispersed to go find comfy spots to sleep. I couldn't help but be amazed at how things had turned out. I had been so sad and worried, and all for nothing!

Wrapping my tail around me, I sat down to watch Santa's sleigh travel through the night sky, our ball of love making him look like a meteor streaking through the night.

I figured it was Mandy I heard padding quietly up behind me. It was. She sat down beside me, as together we watched Santa's sleigh slowly disappear from sight.

"Do you think in twenty years Meowmy and Pawpaw will still love us and remember us, Mandy?"

"I do. Remember, Oakley, love never dies. Love is immortal. And we'll keep sending our love down to them until they finally arrive for us to all cross over the Rainbow Bridge together."

I nodded, and was quiet. We both looked down in the direction of home and saw the light of a single candle we knew Meowmy and Pawpaw had lit for us. Suddenly I could feel a rush of love, happiness, and yes, a little sadness, come over me. I looked at Mandy and could tell she was feeling it too.

"I guess this means Santa got our gifts delivered safely."

Mandy nodded. "One of these days Oakley you'll have to tell me about you and Mom."

"I will," I promised, "I will. But now, I think I'm finally ready to get some sleep. Some good sleep."

"That's a really good idea Oakley, think I'll do the same."

"Sleep well, then Mandy. I'll see you when you wake up. And Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to you too, Oakley. "

We both got up, stretched, yawned, and wandered off to find cozy spots to sleep.

I don't know how long I'll be here waiting for Meowmy, but however long it is, I'll be okay now. I might even be happy.
Comments would be appreciated by the author, Linda Rollins
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