Thirteen Years Earlier – Julia, Age 7
“Where we going, Momma?” I asked, gripping my mother's hand as we walked down the tiled pathway.
“You'll see. I want to show you something before Theo takes you to ballet.”
I glanced up at her and smiled. The long blonde waves that framed her face shimmered in the morning sun, and her white sundress swayed with each step she took. She reminded me of the angel we would put on top of our Christmas tree every year. We continued along the path, and as our house faded from view, I couldn’t help but wonder where she was taking me. I played outside all the time, but coming down this far wasn’t something I was allowed to do—at least not by myself. After a few minutes, the path led to a small clearing in the trees, and as we stepped through it, my breath caught in my throat.
We stood in a meadow.
Hundreds of wildflowers scattered the open field, ranging in color from deep purples to light pinks. I stood and marveled at the sight before me, but also saddened to see so many patches of dandelions.
“Did you know, Julia, dandelions are actually considered weeds?” she asked, bending down and pulling two of the fuzz balls from the ground. I shook my head. I didn't know that, but I understood the reasoning behind it. In a field full of pretty flowers, they were the ugly oddballs. She handed me a dandelion. “Dandelions are special though. Do you want to know why?”
“What is so special about a dead weed?” I asked, taking it from her hands and sitting down in the grass.
My mother sat down beside me. “Once the flower dies, the seeds are the only thing left. Long ago, some people believed the seeds were little fairies. By blowing on them, you were setting them free. In return for your kindness, they would grant you a wish.”
Amazed, I stared at the little white fuzz ball in my hands. I handled it with care, afraid I'd lose some of the precious seeds if I moved too fast.
“I know you're worried about landing the lead role in ballet. I thought maybe you'd like to try it.” My mother looked down at the dandelion in my hands. “Go ahead, Julia, make a wish.”
I pulled the dandelion up to my face and examined the little seeds that sprouted from the center white bulb. If I was going to make a wish, it had to be a good one, and ballet just didn't seem good enough.
“What's wrong, Julia? Do you not want to make a wish?”
I shook my head. “No, Momma. I want to save it for a wish worth making.” My mother’s lips tipped up into a smile, and she placed a kiss against my forehead.
“I love you, Julia. I love you so much.”
Now it was my turn to smile. “Are you going to make a wish on yours, Momma?”
Standing up, she said, “No, dear. I made my wish a long time ago.” She held her hand out, waiting for me to grab it. “We should get back. I'm sure Theo is already waiting for you.”
I placed my hand in hers, and we made our way back toward the house. Halfway there, I stopped abruptly. I was curious. I had to know. “Did it come true?”
“Did what come true, sweetie?”
“Your wish. Did it come true?”
She stood for a moment and then knelt down in front of me. Reaching her hand up, she brushed away a stray piece of hair that fell from my bun. “I'm looking at her,” she said, her finger caressing my cheek. “I wished for you, Julia.”
As we walked the rest of the distance to the house, the anxiety that had me on edge all morning vanished. Mom always knew exactly what to do or say. By the time we made it back to the house, our driver, Theo, was waiting beside the car for me, my pink ballet bag clutched in his hands.
“I’ll be right back,” I exclaimed, running back through the house. When I made it to my room, I dropped the dandelion on top of my dresser.
One day. One day, I’ll have a wish worth making.
As I made my way down the stairs, disappointment hit me full force as mom stood beside the front door. I wanted her to come with me. She must have read my expression, because when I stopped in front of her, she looked down at me with sad eyes.
“I’m sorry I can’t be there with you today, sweetheart.”
“I want you there, Momma. Please,” I begged. I didn’t understand what was more important than coming with me. I knew Daddy wouldn’t be able to come because he had important meetings all day.
“I would, sweetie, but Mommy has a doctor’s appointment.”
I frowned. “Are you sick?”
She pondered my question for a moment and then tilted her lips up in a soft smile. “No. Look, I promise as soon as you get home we will celebrate, okay? What do you say we go to Big Dippers for ice cream?”
“Okay,” I said, a smile replacing my frown. Mom pulled me into a tight embrace and walked me down the front steps. Theo had already placed my bag in the trunk and resumed his position in the driver’s seat as mom buckled me in. She dropped another kiss to my forehead and then closed the car door. As Theo pulled out of the driveway, I waved to my mother, watching her figure become smaller and smaller, until she disappeared from view.
* * *
“I did it, Theo! I got the lead role,” I yelled, as I ran toward him. The moment I reached his embrace, he picked me up and spun me around.
“I knew you could do it, Miss Julia. I’m so proud of you.” He set me back down on steady ground, his smile shining through his chocolate brown eyes. “What do you say we go home and celebrate with your parents?”
I nodded my head in agreement, and moments later, we pulled out of the studio parking lot, heading for home. Excitement trilled through my veins, making it impossible to sit still. Landing the lead role in ballet was an accomplishment anyone would be proud of, but what made it even more special, was the fact I was the youngest in the class. I couldn’t wait to get home to share my news with my parents.
Halfway home, the loud sirens of a passing ambulance broke the quiet silence of the car. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck rose, and when consecutive police cars flew by—their sirens blaring—an uneasy feeling settled in the pit of my stomach. Theo and I exchanged looks through the rearview mirror, and I didn’t need to question what he was thinking. Concern flashed in his eyes, and as we reached the large black wrought iron fence that separated our driveway from the main road, his expression grew into one of silent panic.
The engine of the car roared down our cobblestone driveway, drowning out the sounds of my thumping heart. In the distance, bright red and blue lights flickered above the cars they sat on, and uniformed men and women scattered our property. With yellow tape in their hands, two men walked in circles draping it around the entrance of the house. Its bold black letters—CRIME SCENE-DO NOT CROSS— scrolled through my mind.
“What is going on, Theo? Where is Mom and Dad? Why are there police everywhere?” The words spilled from my mouth quicker than I could comprehend saying them.
“I'm not sure, Miss Julia. Please wait in the car and do not get out. Do you understand me? I’m going to go and talk to the policeman and see if I can find your mom and dad.”
I nodded, unable to speak around the lump in my throat. The lump was most likely my heart because I could no longer feel it thumping against my chest. Opening the door, Theo stepped out, his black suit standing out amongst the dark blue and black uniforms. After minutes of waiting, and Theo no longer in view, I slumped back into my seat, trying to settle my trembling hands. I wanted to listen to Theo. I wanted to stay in the car like he asked me to, but I wanted to find my parents more.
My fingers wrapped around the small black handle of the door, and as I pushed it open, a cool breeze hit my face. I dropped my feet to the ground and on unsteady legs moved toward the front steps of the house. As the distance to the front door grew smaller, a chill twisted down my spine, meeting the unsettling feeling in my stomach.
My legs stopped moving.
Something in my brain told me to look away, but my eyes remained glued on the sight before me. A group of medics gripped the side rails of the gurney, trying to carefully navigate it down the stone steps. My eyes searched frantically, trying to catch a glance at who occupied the moving bed, but when I finally caught a clear view, my lungs struggled to breathe. The black bag that sat upon it, was zipped closed, and a man stood nearby with a clipboard in his hand. His words, “approximate time of death: fourteen hundred hours,” shot through the air like a directive.
Fourteen hundred hours. Time of death. What does that even mean?
“Whoa.” The sound of a deep voice cut through the commotion, and my eyes traveled to the older brown-haired gentleman it belonged too. “Lawson! We have an issue over here.”
One of the police officers turned around to face me. “Oh. Whoa. Where did she come from?”
“I don’t know. But figure out where she came from and get her out of here, would you?”
As the police officer walked toward me, my knees gave out beneath me, and my body crashed to the ground. A painful burning sensation stung the corner of my eyes, and as I fought to keep the tears from falling, my father and Theo entered my line of sight. Supported by Theo, my father stumbled down the steps, his eyes red and swollen, his cheeks soaked with tears that continued to fall. His gaze landed on me, and I wanted to call out to him, but the words didn’t come. They got lost somewhere between my throat and my mouth.
“Daddy,” I sobbed. Pushing up off the ground, I moved toward my father. His legs ate up the distance between us, and the second he reached me, he pulled me against his chest. “Daddy, where is Mom?”
My father’s hold on me tightened, and his silence was deafening. The medics. The gurney. The black zipped-up bag. Time of death. Everything hit me like a ton of bricks to the chest.
“She’s gone, baby. She’s gone,” my father cried, his hot tears falling against my cheeks and mixing with my own. The image of my mother sitting in the grass beside me just hours ago entered my mind. Closing my eyes, I focused on the warmth of her hug, the soft sound of her voice, trying desperately to commit them to memory. I stayed like that until the sound of the commotion dissipated and darkness swallowed me.
* * *
Opening my eyes, I stared at the white ceiling above me. Black shadows from the swaying trees danced among them, and as I rose to a sitting position to glance at the clock, my eyes landed on a wrapped box sitting beside it. A coordinating bow adorned the top, and the perfectly creased edges gave away the person who had wrapped it. With shaky hands, I picked up the card resting against it, and slid my fingers under the glued seal of the envelope. My heart hammered in my chest as I read the card.
Congratulations, Julia! I’m so proud of you! -Xoxo, Mom
I placed the card back down on my nightstand and tore the paper from the box. My fingers traced the corners, hesitant to lift the lid and reveal its contents. When I summoned enough courage, I pushed a heavy breath from my mouth and opened the box. My eyes fell to the antique butterfly clip that rested in it, and the breath I was trying to take died in my throat. Blue rhinestones covered the broad expanse of its wings, and as my fingers traced the sparkling jewels, I jumped from my bed and darted toward the window. My heart felt like it was beating entirely too fast in my chest, which was strange, because I was positive it had stopped beating altogether a few hours ago. Looking out the window, I scanned our property. The yellow tape had disappeared, and the driveway was empty.
Maybe it was just a dream. Please be just a dream.
I swallowed hard, and moved to my dresser, placing the white box on top of it. All the proof I needed was staring at me in the form of a dead weed. The delicate dandelion I placed on my dresser this morning, rested in the same spot. When reality hit me, I grabbed the dandelion from my dresser, and headed straight for the back door. Theo and my father sat on the couch, a sad silence passing between them. As I raced past them, I ignored their calls, ignored the dark sky above me, and the chirping of the crickets. My legs moved along the tiled path in quick long, strides and when I entered the meadow, I dropped to my knees.
My chest burned. My lungs struggled to swallow the air they were grasping at, and when the image of my mother sitting in the grass appeared before my eyes, I lost it. My body folded to the ground, uncontrolled sobs left my throat, and the weight of the day’s events pressed against my chest crushing it. All I wanted to do was stop the ever-growing pain in my heart, but I didn’t know how. Staring at the dandelion still clutched in my hand, I rolled to my side and crawled across the meadow, the long blades of grass and flowers crunching beneath my knees as I made my way toward another patch of dandelions. I needed all the wishes I could get. When I reached the patch, I gripped a handful of the brownish-green stems and pulled them from the ground.
The warm tears that raced down my cheeks, turned cold as a cool breeze blew through the meadow. But despite the breeze, my entire body felt like it was on fire, like it was going to self-implode. And I hoped it would. I hoped it would because I couldn't believe anything could hurt worse than the agonizing pain that filled my heart. The delicate seeds sprouting from the center white bulbs swayed, and before they had a chance to break free, I closed my eyes and blew a heavy breath, sending them soaring through the air.
I didn't make just one wish. No. I made several. I wished I could see my mom again, to feel her wrap her arms around me one more time. I wished this day had never happened. I wished for the fairies to go to heaven and bring her back.
Because, God, I wanted her back.
I wanted to tell her I loved her, and that I needed her. But I knew. Deep down inside, I knew none of those wishes would come true. Because fairies weren’t real, and she was never coming back no matter how many wishes I made. So I sat there, watching the dandelion seeds dance through the air.
And then I felt it.
I felt my heart break in two. Part of it kept beating, pumping blood through my veins, keeping me alive to deal with all the pain. The second half of my heart stopped beating altogether. That second half died that day. It died with her.
And I was convinced that part of my heart would never beat again.