The door opened and I was greeted with the kindest eyes and an honest smile.
“I remember your dad,” she said. “He always told me stories about you and your mother before giving me a generous donation for the farm. Would you like to come in? We’ve got lemonade and fresh watermelon.”
It is impossible to turn down lemonade and watermelon in the middle of the summer.
It took approximately two minutes for Lisa and me to connect like long-lost best friends. I had not intended to stay very long, but the lemonade and watermelon were perfect for stirring conversations about all of life. Lisa got a good laugh out of my puzzle frustrations, and I lost track of how many cups of lemonade I had listening to her stories of the wisdom she’s gained from working on a farm.
“I cannot control the weather or the success of that year’s crops, but I can control whether or not I do my work every day. I can control my attitude. I can control how I treat anyone and everyone who comes this way to smile at sunflowers. Being a farmer boils down to working hard, living simply, and looking for every silver lining you can find.”
Watermelon turned into sandwiches and chips late in the afternoon, and I knew I needed to get on the road.
Standing on her porch, Lisa gave me another brown, clasped envelope. Stapled to the clasped envelope was a white, business-sized letter.
“First,” was all that was written on the white envelope.
I thanked Lisa for her generosity and creating a fun place for good memories. She hugged me tight. We exchanged numbers and sincerely promised to keep in touch.
“And next time, bring Fagan! I wanna meet this dog whose kingdom spans from Idaho to Alabama.”
As soon as I pulled into my favorite and familiar driveway and shut off the car, I opened the door and yelled for Fagan like I usually do. Over the years, we have developed our own routine, much like the secret high fives of athletes. I’d yell, then he’d run and stop on a skid, sitting not-so-patiently ten feet in front of me. He’d wag the entire lower half of his body and blink his eyes dozens of times until I finally walked over, shook his hand, rubbed his ears, and tossed him some kind of savory snack.
“Fagan! I’m home!” I called a second time.
Even in the dark, I should have been able to hear him coming.
I felt it deep in my gut, something was wrong.
I found Fagan collapsed inside the art studio, whining and covered in pee and poop. He was trembling and unable to stand. In a surge of terrified adrenaline, I picked up my pup and carried him to the car as fast as I could.
I sped the entire way to the emergency veterinary clinic.
Fagan had had a stroke.
The vet recommended putting him to sleep.
I sat on the floor with his velvety ears and heavy head in my lap. I petted Fagan and told him just what a good boy he was. I thanked him for his companionship all across the country and smiled through my tears as I talked through his adventures at Shoshone Falls Park. The vet gave him a shot and, a few moments later, said, “It’s done. You can stay in here with him as long as you want.”
I do not know if there are dinosaurs in heaven, but I believe with all of my heart Dad and Fagan are having a lot of fun together, feasting on burgers that would make Arthur green with envy.
I walked out to the car with an empty leash and collar in hand and sobbed.
Nick sent condolences in the form of an assortment of flowers, a box of chocolates, and a short note.
“Dogs are family. I’m so sorry for your loss, but glad you two had each other.”
Lisa drove down and spent a day with me. She cooked and cleaned in my kitchen, and we looked through pictures of the protector of the garden, greeter of Loveland Pass, and defender from dinosaurs. She gave me the strength I needed to keep going.
When she left, I finally decided to open the next clue.
Clue Number Seven
Only open the second envelope
when the riddle is solved.
And another $500.
At first, I thought it was the “A” by itself that was the key to the whole clue. I didn’t think Dad would create a puzzle where “A” equaled “A,” so I assumed it was an “I.” I wrote out alphabet after alphabet trying to make “A” equal “I,” but couldn’t find a discernable pattern. After three hours, I was tempted to take a picture and send it to Nick for help, but I was too stubborn to admit that I needed help again. I was even more tempted just to forget the first part and open the clasped envelope, but I knew I’d feel guilty for the rest of my life.
I don’t do well with guilt.
That’s how Dad navigated my teenage years. If I broke a rule, any rule, he could read it on my face and in my inability to eat anything.
I tried to paint and not think about the jumbled letter mess, but my mind became obsessed with the 13-letter clue, which was a welcomed distraction from not having a four-legged friend following me everywhere.
I was so focused on the first letter of the puzzle that I missed the last letter. It was only one of two letters out all thirteen that was duplicated.
Of course, I guessed the wrong popular three-letter word first.
“And” followed by blank, blank, blank, “d.”
I solved the clue without any help.
X marks the spot.
I opened the second envelope and pulled out a map.
Of Walt Disney World.
In Orlando, Florida.