Wish You Were Here
Author's note: I'd like to dedicate this very short story to my father, who died 10 years ago today, and also to others who have lost a loved one.
The shrill scream of a siren ripped through the quiet night, seeming to cry out for the tragedy left in its wake...
"I'm sorry Mrs. Taylor," the doctor said, "He's gone."
Lana Taylor's eyes widened. "What? No! He can't be!" The doctor stared at her, his sympathy expressed in his eyes. Lana's features crumpled in despair as the full impact of the doctor's words hit her. Dale was gone, gone forever. Burying her face in her hands, she began to cry tears of grief.
Huddled with her little brother on a hospital bed, Danica watched her mother grieve. Dad was gone! How could he? He promised he would never leave her, not for years and years. She heard her mother and brother crying, but she could not shed any tears herself. Dani felt as if a black hole had opened up underneath her and swallowed her hole. She never knew what people meant by a broken heart until now. It hurt so much.
The doctor's voice caught her attention. "Would you like to see him?"
Lana nodded silently and then said to her children, "You don't have to see him if you don't want to, kids."
Dani was torn. She still hoped it was all a dream and seeing him would make it real but she didn't want to be left alone either. "I'll go," she said. She looked over at Aaron. "Staying or going?"
"Going," was all he said.
Dani and Aaron held hands as they followed their mother and the doctor down the hallway. The doctor stopped in front of a room and said, "He's in here. I'll leave you alone for a while."
Lana went in first. Dale was lying peacefully in the bed, with his eyes closed and features wiped of all expression. The yellowish hue of his skin was the only indication that he was no longer alive. Dani only took the time to see her mother cry out and hug her father before the pain became too much. She turned and fled down the hall, trying to run away from the hurt and the nightmare that threatened to shatter the world she had come to know.
5 years later...
A cold, October wind whipped through the trees, disturbing fallen leaves that littered the ground. Dani shivered and pulled her jacket tighter around her body. She knelt down on the grass and brushed away several leaves that covered her father's headstone.
"Well Dad," she said. "I'm 16 now! Just got my driver's license today and Mom is buying me a car! Just think, I'll be able to drive on my own!" She pulled the license out of her wallet. "The picture looks horrible, doesn't it? My friends tell me I looked like I'm stoned." She shrugged and put the license back. "It doesn't matter, I guess." Her face softened a bit. "I wish you could have been here. I've missed you so much. We've all been doing good though. Aaron has grown a lot in the last few years. Mom is working hard to keep us happy--I know it's a tough job for her, to raise us all alone."
A drop of rain splashed Dani in the face. She looked up at the cloudy sky and sighed. "More rain." She stood up slowly and stretched the kinks out of her legs. "I have to get going Dad, don't wanna get soaked. I love you." She turned and walked away, the lone figure in the cemetery.
Maysville Football Stadium...
"...And I am proud to be a member of the Class of '97," the valedictorian droned on in a toneless voice, "We will carry the memories of Maysville High School with us forever."
"Blah, blah, blah, blah!" one of the students muttered. "Why do we have to go through this ridiculous ceremony anyway? Memories? Ha! Scars are more like it! Maybe someone should shut her up, right Dani?" The student looked over at her friend and nudged her with an elbow. "Dani? Dani, you alright?"
Dani shook herself out of her reverie and said, "I'm fine, Mel."
Mel flashed Dani a sympathetic look. "Wishing your dad was here?"
Dani smiled sadly. "Yeah. One of the most important days of my life and he's not here."
"Well you know he's watching from where ever he is," Mel replied.
"I know but it's not the same."
Mel patted her on the shoulder and then said, "Look alive! They're calling us up now."
As Dani walked across the stage to receive her diploma, she thought "This one's for you Dad."
St. Paul's Church...
She paced nervously in the vestibule, waiting for the wedding march to begin. Mel, sick of Dani's endless pacing, exclaimed, "Will you stop that? You're getting married, not being sacrificed at the altar! And it's not like Mark will run away or anything! Sheesh!"
Dani sighed and adjusted her veil. "I know, I know. I'm still nervous though...I mean what if I make a fool of myself out there?"
Mel rolled her eyes, "You've been watching too many episodes of America's Funniest Home Videos. Nothing will happen! You'll go out there, look beautiful, say your lines, and viola! You'll be Mrs. Mark Brandon!"
Aaron stuck his head through the door and said, "It's time!" He noticed Dani's nervousness and asked, "Are you sure you don't want me to walk you down the aisle? It might make you less jumpy to walk with someone."
Dani shook her head emphatically. "No, I can go alone but thanks anyway."
"If your sure?"
"Ok then. Let's get this party started!" Aaron scurried away before Dani was able to reprimand him.
Mel hugged Dani as the music started and whispered, "I'm going to miss you. Good luck!" Then she swept down the aisle, leaving Dani behind.
Dani closed her eyes and said softly, "Well here goes nothing. Are you with me Dad?" Opening her eyes, she started her walk down the aisle. A peace stole over her and she knew that her father was watching from somewhere. And just before she reached the man whom she was to start her knew life with, she thought she heard a whisper in her ear saying, "I love you, Dani."
A small house...
Dani turned as her daughter ran through the door. "Yes dear?"
"Why do I only have one grandpa?" Leslie said, gazing up at her mother.
"Why do you ask that?"
"Because we were talking about our grandparents today at school and most kids have two grandmas and two grandpas! I want to know why I have two grandmas but not two grandpas!"
Dani sat in a chair and pulled Leslie up on to her lap. "Well Grandpa Taylor died a long time ago when I was 11."
"Well one night his heart just stopped and he died."
"I bet that made you very sad."
Dani smiled a little. "Yes it did. It still does sometimes."
"Mommy, promise me you'll never die," Leslie said with a serious look on her small face.
Dani started at her daughter's words. It brought back memories of a time...
A young child thrashed wildly in her bed, as the nightmare grew worse. Suddenly she awoke and sat bolt upright. She started to cry. A light turned on in the hallway and a figure stood in her door.
"What is it Dani? Did you have a bad dream?"
Young Dani reached out as her father sat on the bed beside her, enfolding her into a great hug. "Yes," she sniffled. "I-I dreamed that you got really sick and died and left us all alone. I was so scared." She started to cry. "It won't happen, right? Promise you won't leave me?"
"Oh Dani, Dani," her father said soothingly, "I don't plan on dying for a long time yet. I promise I won't leave you anytime soon." He held her close until her sobbing eased and she was fast asleep.
Leslie's voice brought Dani back to the present. She smiled down at her daughter and said, "I promise to do my best."
Danica watched as her mother's casket was lowered into the grave. Now both her parents were gone. She felt an arm go around her shoulders and let her husband led her to the car. She watched the landscape roll by without really seeing it as they drove home.
"Dani?" Mark asked. "Do you want to talk about it?"
There was silence in the car for a moment before Dani replied, "No, I just miss her so much." She sighed, "Who would have ever thought that you'd need your mother at 63?"
Mark took her hand. "She was a special woman and did a great job in raising you and your brother. I admired her for her strength."
Dani smiled and looked over at her husband, whose features had creased with time. "That she was. If I only had half that strength, I'd be a happy woman. In a way though, I'm glad she's finally at peace. She's with Dad again."
"I'm afraid she doesn't have much longer," the doctor told Leslie. "I suggest that you see her now."
Leslie nodded and reached out for her son, Dale. "Come on, let's go see your grandma."
They entered the airy bedroom and walked over to the large bed by the windows. There lay Dani---mother, grandmother, career woman, wife. She had seen her father, mother, brother, and husband go before her and it was finally her turn.
"Mom?" Leslie said softly, "I've brought Dale here to see you."
Dani opened her eyes and took Dale's hand. "I think you get bigger every time I see you," she said.
"Are you going somewhere, Grandma?" Dale asked. "People keep saying that you are and you don't have much longer."
"Yes, I'm afraid so Dale."
"Can I go too?"
Dani smiled sadly, "I'm afraid not, at least not for a long time."
Dale hugged her and said, "As long as I get to see you again. I'll miss you, Grandma."
"I'll miss you too, Dale. Now run along. I have to speak with your mother." Dale scampered out of the room, leaving the two women alone. Leslie burst into to tears as soon as he left. Dani reached out and took her daughter's hand. "Leslie, I wish I could tell you not to cry but I know you have to. I'm not scared because I know where ever I'm going, Mom, Dad, Aaron, and Mark wait for me."
Leslie knelt by the bed and stroked her mother's face. "I know that. I-I-I-just don't want to loose you. I'll miss you so much."
"I'll miss you too but we'll be together someday." She pressed Leslie's hand. "I'm very proud of you and I love you, dear." She lay back on her pillow and closed her eyes for the last time.
A nameless place...
Golden light suffused the field. A young woman walked among the flowers towards a large group of people. One person broke away from the crowd and met her halfway.
"Welcome home, Dani," said the man, enfolding her into a huge bear hug. He was just as she remembered him.
The young woman smiled heartbreakingly and held him tight. "Thanks, Dad."
© 2000 Copyright held by the author.
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