Day 29 (yes, I know I skipped 28.) I must have been pretty desperate, climbing out of bed at 2:00 in the morning, throwing on clothes, surely something on backward, and driving four miles into the town Kroger. My constant coughing was either trying to kill me or make me want to kill, so I surrendered myself to the drug aisle.
On my way into town, about a mile from respiratory relief, I heard a noise that made me question my consciousness.
"Meow. Meow. Meee-ooowww."
This cannot be happening.
I prayed my way into a gas station, my heart pounding as I parked and turned off the engine. I began walking around my car, making clicking noises, trying to lure a cat from out under the hood.
It was the middle of the night when the crazies come to life so no one seemed to mind that I was talking dirty to my car, "Come on, baby, it's me, come to mommy," but at least one dude seemed intrigued.
"Hey, you having some car problems?"
"Well, not exactly. I think my cat is under the hood of my car."
He looked confused. And disappointed.
"How long you think you've been driving?"
"Oh gosh, maybe three or four miles."
His question made my mind see dark, for the first time I realized I had been driving - who am I kidding, I had been hauling ass - for four miles, trying to get to Kroger so I could finally sleep.
I looked at my new friend, and I gave him no choice. "Hey, since you're standing there, I'm gonna pop the hood, but I'm super nervous. So just stand there, will ya?"
He took a step back, hesitating, "Sorry. I just really like animals."
He kept some distance but stayed close while I nervously lifted the hood, please-God-please-let-her-be-okay. As the hood released, there she was.
"Oh my gosh, Millie."
My Millie girl. Not even an ounce of panic in her eyes. There was my Millie girl, as if all she needed was a ride into town.
I scooped her up and brought her in close, and as I stepped back to shut the hood, little Rusty boy squeezed his head up from behind.
"Oh my goodness. They're all in there."
"How many cats do you have?" I had almost forgot about my new friend.
"Three. Only three."
With Millie in my arms, my friend reached for Rusty, scooping him out, and together we peered down, both expecting to see number three.
But no Ginger.
I turned back to my friend, "You think, I mean, if something happened, you think . . . you think we'd smell it?" Not the kind of thing you ever expect to ask a stranger at 2am.
"Yeah, sure, I'm sure we would." He had his phone light out, peering into the maze of steel, hoping or not hoping to find number three.
"I'm just gonna take these two back home. Thanks so much. Really, thanks for your help."
I put the two cats in the car, and we headed back home, my heart not fully recovered from the scare.
Ginger, where are you?
I pulled into our drive, parked, opened the car door, and scooped Millie and Rusty off the passenger seat. As quickly as I set them down, my Ginger girl ran out to greet us. I could tell she was as worried as I had been.
Call me crazy or deliriously exhausted, but I swear I saw them group hug.
It was now almost three in the morning, and I still had to run to Kroger. I pulled back onto the road, my mind finally at ease and my heart trying to catch up. I glanced out the window and there they were, all three cats, one right after the other, running up to the porch.
Oh, thank God.
There's no greater peace than to know that all your babies are safely home.