Inside, on this cold morning on the first day of December, it is warm and cozy. Sadie Roberts is dreaming about ballet and the pointe shoes she will soon graduate to and is dying to break in. Outside it is a different story, however. A blizzard has reached its way to Brookton, Maine overnight, and the roads are impossible to negotiate. It would be stupid to even try.
"Wake up, kiddo," Sadie's father, James Roberts, says, turning on Sadie's bedroom light and popping her peaceful ballet dream bubble. "I got good news and bad. What do you want first?"
"The good," Sadie says, rubbing her eyes and propping her pillow against the bed's headboard before sitting up.
"No school today," her father says. "Too much snow."
Sadie looks out of her bedroom window, but with the darkness outside and the bedroom light on, she can't' tell if a blizzard has hit or if it looks like a beach in Maui outside.
"So what's the bad news?" she asks. "I'm not all that pumped about missing school."
"I know you're not. That's what I love about you, Sade," James says. "You're mother got snowed in at the hospital, so I need you to feed the pups while I fix breakfast."
"Again, Dad, what's the bad news?" Sadie asks. "I like feeding the dogs."
"I also want you take them outside for their morning ritual. Mail delivery. And try to clean everything up. I don't want to be walking on landmines come spring."
"There's the catch," Sadie sighs, although it was more for their usual dad-daughter routine than any great dislike of picking up dachshund poop. The twelve dogs could be a handful, but she loves every one of them. Even Lyle, who she is sure Santa Claus himself would probably create a new category for. Not naughty; not nice; just "Lyle."
"And make sure that the older guys don't try to steal Desmond and Daphne's share. Give them a rap on the snout if you have to."
"I will," Sadie says, getting out of bed in preparation to throw on her coat and snow pants to feed the dogs. "What's for breakfast?"
"Anything you want, kiddo, as long as we have the ingredients in the fridge," her father answers.
"I'd like egg on toast," Sadie says in a faux-scholarly tone. "Two pieces of bread, lightly toasted -- but not too lightly!" she emphasizes with a dramatic raise of her index finger. "Two eggs, sunny side up. And no egg shells this time, Dad."
"I'll try my best, but no promises," James Roberts says. "C'mon, sweetheart, let's go do our chores. Try to be down in four minutes. I'll put an extra egg shell piece in your breakfast for every second you're late. Ready? Go!"
"Wait, Dad?" Sadie says. "How long is Mom going to be stuck at the hospital?"
"I have no no idea, kiddo. If she isn't home by this afternoon, I promise I'll try to think up some sort of adventure for a little girl who gets disappointed when she misses school because of snow. Maybe calculus.
C'mon, you have twelve dogs to feed, and I have one breakfast to try to not turn into an eggpocalypse."
Frenchie isn't sleeping. Even in the early morning dark, Sadie can tell by the light shining off of his wet eyes that he's awake. Nadine isn't sleeping, either. They're the old ones, and they sleep a lot less than the newer ones. Not a one of the twelve stir, however, the sleeping and the awake. Sadie's feet fall on the kennel floor like a piece of tissue falling on carpet. To wake one is to wake them all, so she tip-toes up the stairs to the second floor of the kennel.
By now the young ones are stirring, but they know the routine. Years ago, before Sadie was born or her mother developed breast cancer, James Roberts invented a method of feeding his dogs all at once. The feed would be put into individual shoots and released simultaneously to each dog in its individual cage. It usually worked. Even when it didn't, it wasn't so bad.
Sadie fills the shoots and checks downstairs. There are twelve dogs but only ten shoots. That's because Frenchie and Nadine share a cage. So do Desmond and Daphne, the two young siblings,. After them, running down the line, are Reggie, Clayton, Sir Charles, Paula, Clifford, Daisy, Sandlewood, and Lyle.
"Awake, dogs and dogettes!" Sadie shouts as the food is dispensed into their bowls. Some of the dogs are more enthusiastic about breakfast than others. Frenchie sighs, his front paws extended downward as if to say, "I've been around this carousel before." Nadine, similarly, doesn't budge. But the rest of the dogs eat, and heartily. Even Lyle.
Before Sadie leaves the kennel, she opens each cage and gives each dog a kiss on the nose. No kisses from Frenchie, Nadine, or Lyle. Maybe next time.
Then she hurries up to the homestead, where her own breakfast awaits.
But she'll be back soon, to pick up dog poop in the snow.
I thought snow days are supposed to be a surprise vacation, she thinks to herself. This day sucks.