Stella had been prepared for her husband's death. Since the
doctor's pronouncement of terminal cancer, they had both faced
the inevitable, striving to make the most of their remaining time
together. Dave's financial affairs had always been in order. There
were no new burdens in her widowed state. It was just the awful
aloneness...the lack of purpose to her days. They had been a
childless couple. It had been their choice.  Their lives had been
so full and rich. They had been content with busy careers and with
each other. They had many friends. Had. That was the operative
word these days. It was bad enough losing the one person you loved
with all your heart. But over the past few years, she and Dave
repeatedly had to cope with the deaths of their friends and
relations.  They were all of an age -- an age when human bodies
began giving up.  Dying. Face it -- they were old!  And now,
approaching the first Christmas without Dave, Stella was all too
aware she would be on her own. With shaky fingers, she lowered
the volume of her radio so that the Christmas music became a muted
background. To her surprise, she saw that the mail had come. With
the inevitable wince of pain from her arthritis, she bent to
retrieve the white envelopes from the floor. She sat on the piano
bench to open them.  They were mostly Christmas cards, and her sad
eyes smiled at the familiarity of the traditional scenes and at
the loving messages inside.  She arranged them among the others on
the piano top. In her entire house, they were the only seasonal
decoration. The holiday was less than a week away, but  she just
did not have the heart to put up a silly tree, or even set up the
stable that Dave had built with his own hands.  Suddenly engulfed
by the loneliness of it all, Stella buried her face in her hands,
and let the tears come. How would she possibly get through
Christmas and the winter beyond it! The ring of the doorbell was
so unexpected that Stella had to stifle a small scream of
surprise. Now who could possibly be calling on her?  She opened
the wooden door and stared through the screened window of the
storm door with consternation. On her front porch, stood a
strange, young man, whose head was barely visible above the large
carton in his arms. She peered beyond him to the driveway, but
there was nothing about the small car to give clue to his
identity. Summoning courage, the elderly lady opened the door
slightly and he stepped sideways to speak into the space.  "Mrs.
Thornhope?" She nodded. He continued, "I have a package for you."
Curiosity drove caution from her mind. She pushed the door open,
and he entered. Smiling, he placed his burden carefully on the
floor and stood to retrieve an envelope that protruded from his
pocket. As he handed it to her, a sound came from the box. Stella
jumped. The man laughed in apology and bent to straighten ,It was
a dog! To be more exact, a golden Labrador retriever puppy. As the
gentleman lifted its squirming body up into his arms, he
explained, "This is for you, ma'am. He's six weeks old and
completely housebroken."  The young pup wiggled in happiness at
being released from captivity and thrust ecstatic, wet kisses in
the direction of the young man's face. "We were supposed to
deliver him on Christmas Eve," he continued with some difficulty,
as he strove to rescue his chin from the wet little tongue, "but
the staff at the kennels start their holidays tomorrow. Hope you
don't mind an early present." Shock had stolen her ability to
think clearly. Unable to form coherent sentences, she stammered,
"But...I don't...mean...who..?" The young fellow set the animal
down on the doormat between them and then reached out a finger to
tap the envelope she was still holding. "There's a letter in there
that explains everything, pretty much. The dog was bought last
July while her mother was still pregnant. It was meant to be a
Christmas gift." Unbelievably, the stranger was turning to go.
Desperation forced the words from her lips. "But who...who bought
it? Pausing in the open doorway, he replied, "Your husband,
ma'am." And then he was gone.  It was all in the letter.
Forgetting the puppy entirely at the sight of the familiar
handwriting, Stella had walked like a sleepwalker to her chair by
the window. She forced her tear-filled eyes to read her husband's
words. He had written it three weeks before his death and had left
it with the kennel  owners to be delivered along with the puppy as
his last Christmas gift to her. It was full of love and
encouragement and admonishments to be strong. He  vowed that he
was waiting for the day when she would join him. And he had sent
her this young animal to keep her company until then. Remembering
the little creature for the first time, she was surprised to find
him quietly looking up at her, his small panting mouth resembling
a comic smile. Stella put the pages aside and reached for the
bundle of golden  fur. She had thought that he would be heavier,
but he was only the size and  weight of a sofa pillow. And so soft
and warm. She cradled him in her arms  and he licked her jawbone,
then cuddled into the hollow of her neck. The tears began anew at
this exchange of affection and the dog endured her crying 
without moving. Finally, Stella lowered him to her lap, where she
regarded him solemnly. She  wiped vaguely at her wet cheeks, then
somehow mustered a smile. "Well, little guy, I guess it's you and
me." His pink tongue panted in agreement. Stella's smile
strengthened and her gaze shifted sideways to the window. Dusk had
fallen. Through fluffy flakes that were nowdrifting down,  she saw
the cheery Christmas lights that edged the roof lines  of her
neighbors' homes. The strains of "Joy to the World" floated in
from the kitchen.  Suddenly Stella felt the most amazing sensation
of peace and benediction washing over her. It was like being
enfolded in a loving embrace.  Her heart  beat painfully, but it
was with joy and wonder, not grief or loneliness. She  need never
feel alone again. Returning her attention to the dog, she spoke to 
him. "You know, fella, I have a box in the basement that I think
you'd like.  There's a tree in it and some decorations and lights
that will impress you  like crazy! And I think I can find that old
stable down there, too. What d'ya  say we go hunt it up?" The
puppy barked happily in agreement, as if he understood every word.
Stella got up, placed the puppy on the floor and together they
went down to the basement, ready to make a Christmas together.  --
author unknown

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