The sun was beginning to set on a July evening in the small town of Madrel. Audrey Firestone took in the vibrant colors of red, orange, and violet that painted the sky. She gingerly stepped out of the yellow cab and into the cool Maryland night. Her black heels hit the pavement of the sidewalk outlining her childhood home. The bags were unloaded from the trunk of the cab by the driver. He wheeled them around the car where the beautifully clad business woman stood staring at the white victorian style home where she was raised.
“That will be eighty-four dollars and sixty-five cents.” The cab driver spoke as he transferred the luggage from his hands to the manicured hand of his customer. Audrey reached into her black messenger bag and pulled out her Michael Kors wallet. She retrieved a hundred dollar bill and exchanged it with the driver.
“Keep the change.” She muttered cooly.
“Thank you, miss.” At that the driver shut the open doors and trunk and sunk back into his vehicle for his journey back to Washington D.C.
Audrey looked up at the home and was overcome with feelings of apprehension. She had not visited home in over two years. Once she took her job teaching at George Washington in the city she found it easier to spend her time consumed with work and research rather than traveling the short journey home. Recently, a call from her sister, Colleen, described one of Audrey’s biggest fears: the inevitable aging and poor health of their parents. As she began to tread toward the front door she held tightly to the handle of her wheeled suitcase. Once on the porch she took a deep breath and proceeded to knock on the front door.
“Audrey!” She was welcomed by her mother’s voice and embrace. It was as snug and warm as Audrey had remembered. Following this Welcome Home gesture her mother stepped back and took a concentrated look at her youngest daughter.
“You’ve lost some weight.” Her mother sounded critical, but Audrey took this as a compliment.
“I’ve joined a gym. I go to a class four times a week.” Audrey felt like a justification for her fitness was necessary.
“Let me help you with those bags. Did you pack enough?” Melanie Firestone joked as she helped alleviate Audrey of her load and stepped out of the doorway to allow her daughter to enter the house.
Once inside Audrey instantly was taken aback by all of the American flags strewn throughout the home. She had forgotten how much her mother loved decorating to celebrate Independence Day. In the Firestone home it is the event of the year. Melanie always had invited all of the members of the extended family over for a party and fireworks in the back yard. With two days before the party on the fourth it was easy to see that she had begun the decorating already. As she walked through the entryway Audrey saw the door to the guest bedroom was open. She peered in and saw that her father, Gregory, was asleep in the four poster bed.
The curtains were closed for the evening in the bedroom and the gentle humming of the machines hooked up to Gregory were barely audible, but present. Audrey looked at her mother with a look of surprise. It had been six months since Gregory was diagnosed with lymphoma. Audrey had found it easier not to visit than to confront the terrible disease that was quickly taking her father. She knew that it would be too hard to see the man she used to play soccer and golf with lose his strength and stamina. He looked so small and weak. Audrey immediately was overcome with tears. She walked over to his bed and gently kissed her father on the cheek. His eyes fluttered open and a faint smile appeared across his face.
“Audrey, you made it.” He whispered softly.
“Of course, Dad.” Audrey wasn’t quite sure how to respond. It had taken a lot of persuasion on her mother’s part to get her home. However, it was the mention of this being her father’s last Independence Day that finally convinced Audrey that she was needed this year and that no excuse would stand up to that fact.
“Audrey is just arriving. She needs to unpack and you need your rest, Gregory.” Melanie said to her ailing husband.
“I’ll see you in the morning, Dad.” Gregory began to close his eyes once again and Audrey kissed him on the forehead before retreating from the guest bedroom. She followed her mother upstairs to her own childhood bedroom.
“What’s wrong, Audrey?” Melanie said as she set the bags down in her daughter’s long abandoned room.
“I didn’t know he was that bad. I would’ve come sooner. I feel so terrible.” Audrey said sitting down on the bed sobbing.
“No one blames you, Audrey. You’ve built a life for yourself in the city. We can’t expect you to put your dreams on hold because dad is ill.” Melanie comforted her daughter. They sat embracing for a couple of minutes and then Melanie jumped to her feet.
“The tent is arriving tomorrow. Colleen and the kids will be here after lunch to help with decorating. If you would like to help out you are welcome to as well.” Audrey nodded and then Melanie closed the door to allow Audrey to get herself ready and off to bed.
The next morning Audrey was dressed and ready for the decorating festivities by ten. She made her way down the stairs and to the kitchen. Melanie was laboring away at the stove top making eggs and bacon.
“I was just going to wake you. I’m finishing up a fried egg for you. Would you like fresh orange juice as well?” Melanie questioned. She remembered the preferences of her daughter.
“Absolutely. I can do the squeezing.” Audrey wandered over to the bowl of fresh fruit on the marble island in the middle of the wide and spacious kitchen and removed several oranges. She pulled the juicer out of the cabinet under the island and began to squeeze the oranges.
“The tent company will be here shortly. The fireworks will arrive at three and they will take a few hours to set them up in the back yard. Colleen is bringing the centerpieces for the tables…” Melanie began to audibly go over the schedule for the day.
“How can I help?” Audrey asked her mother.
“However you’d like. Colleen mentioned that you could help her arrange the tables. Do you remember the way I like them to look?”
“Of course, Mom.” Audrey knew that her mother hadn’t intended for the question to injure her, but all Audrey heard in that statement was disappointment in her not attending the last couple of parties.
The doorbell rang.
“That must be the tent. Do you mind to finish up breakfast?” Audrey nodded. Melanie passed the cooking spoon over to Audrey and rushed toward the front door.
After she had finished eating her breakfast in the peace and quiet of the kitchen the doorbell rang once again. Melanie was out in the back yard dictating to the tent crew the exact location where the tent is set up every year so Audrey decided to take the liberty of answering the door in her mother’s absence. The large wooden door opened to reveal her sister, Colleen, and her three children: Maggie, Martin, and Mauve.
“Auntie Audrey!” The children yelled in unison as they wrapped their arms around Audrey. She smiled at Colleen who smirked in response.
“Well…well…well if it isn’t the hard working diva herself.” Colleen joked as she hugged her sister. Once again unintended words of injury plucked at Audrey’s heart strings.
Within minutes Audrey, Colleen, and the children were all in the back yard setting up the tables in the tent and decorating them with an elaborate red,white, and blue floral arrangement.
As they were decorating the next to last table Colleen grabbed one end of the tablecloth while Audrey had possession of the other end.
“Has Dad seen you yet?” Colleen asked.
“Yes, briefly last night. He was sleeping so I didn’t make a fuss.” Audrey said as she smoothed out the tablecloth.
“He’s been asking for you.” Colleen said solemnly.
“How long do they say he has?” Audrey asked Colleen.
“Hospice has been called in. The doctors are unsure. It could be a month, a couple of weeks, or a few days.” Audrey was shocked by the lack of time her father was expected to remain on Earth in his present form.
As they laid the tablecloth Martin and Maggie, twelve year old twins, came and began to work on the table decorating. Audrey and Colleen finished off the last table and then Audrey excused herself to her bedroom. She sat down on her bed once again and wept. She wept at the fact that her time with her father was so limited. She wept at the guilt she felt for being so selfish as to put her own life and career before her family. She wept because Colleen had solely held the responsibility of caring for her ailing father and bitter mother. As she wept she peered out the window to the back yard where she saw everyone going to great lengths to ensure that this year’s party was as grand as those of the past despite the heartache that each was feeling as each passing day marked one less day before the departure of Gregory. As the tears streamed down her face she heard the sound of a bell coming from downstairs. It was distinctly different from the tolling of the doorbell. Audrey began to venture downstairs as she recognized that it was her father calling for attendance.
She stood in the doorway of the guestroom and saw that her father was sitting up in the bed.
“Oh good. I was hoping to see you.” Gregory muttered. He seemed to be doing considerably better than yesterday. Audrey approached the bed and grasped her father’s hand in her own.
“What do you need, Daddy?” She asked trying to mask the evidence of tears on her own face.
“Where’s your mother?”
“She and Colleen are outside decorating for the party. You know how particular she can be. It may be a while. Let me know what you need and I can help you.” Audrey muttered.
“Please stay. I’ve missed you.” He spoke in short sentences. He breathing was laborious, but he wanted to keep his long lost daughter near to him.
“I’m so sorry, Dad. I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner. I’m sorry that I wasn’t here to help out more. I wish I would’ve known things were this bad.” Audrey began to cry out.
Gregory calmed his daughter with a look.
“You made it just in time.” A smile froze across Gregory’s face. Audrey bent down to kiss him and realized that his faint breathing had grown undetectable.
“Dad!” Audrey cried out.
She heard the back door open and the hurried feet of her mother and Colleen. They came into the bedroom as the machines began to beep loudly. Gregory laid lifeless, but peaceful in the bed.
“We knew he was waiting for you.” Her mother said sadly. She took the hand of her spouse and kissed it.
“But, how could he know?” Audrey asked.
“He told me this year would be a celebration of your return and his independence from the disease. We knew this was coming. We just prayed you would be here in time.” Melanie opened her arms and embraced Audrey. They were all in tears as they said goodbye to the honorable man than Gregory Firestone had been.
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:31-32. The Parable of the Lost Son.
All fiction writing on this site is originally written by The Ameri Brit Mom. All rights to these pieces are reserved for the author. It is unlawful to reproduce or plagiarize this work.