This story is by Holly Davis and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Whoever coined the phrase “Time heals all wounds” has never experienced an earth-shattering loss. Nineteen-year-old Rebekah’s wounds lay on her skin as fresh as when she received them. Every time she heard the voice on the other end of the call, her mind never processed the words fast enough, never wanted to believe them.
“I’m sorry, Rebekah. He’s dead.”
She knew she was being unreasonable. She couldn’t accept the deaths of her loved ones, and maybe never would.
“Pull yourself together…” she murmured through smooth lips. “You’re not the only one who’s been through a loss. And it won’t be your last.” She choked on that last part. Who would be next? Who would leave and shatter her already fragile world?
She steered the car, wishing she’d forget the route to the cemetery, but every memory of that fateful day remained etched in her mind.
She didn’t know why she was going there alone. She was being a masochist. But her sister lived 1,753 miles away in Phoenix and her mom hadn’t set foot on his grave since the burial. That was six years ago.
She turned into the cemetery entrance with relief and dread. She parked her car on the side of the gravel path, leaving enough space in case someone else visited their own lost soul.
Rebekah grabbed a bouquet from the passenger seat and exited the car. Her feet tread softly past the rows of tombstones before finally settling into place- uneasy, but in place.
She scanned the engraved letters on the gray-slated tombstone before her, fighting with herself to actually read the name and dates as fact. “Happy Father’s day, dad,” she said, gulping back tears.
“It’s been six years since you passed away. Six years…but my tears are just as close, my longing for one more minute with you just as strong.” Rebekah bit her lip. “It hurts, but it also means those memories are still that close and my love still that strong. Time won’t take that away.”
She rested the flowers on the ground, wiping her nose on her sleeve. As looked up, she did a double take. The once clear blue skies now turned a gorgeous array of pink, purple, and blue hues. Clouds rolled in like a pot over-boiling as growing white puffs filled the expanse.
“What the-?” Rebekah started, but her breath escaped her.
Figures broke through the clouds, scattering their fluffy shapes. Rebekah squinted to make out their forms before her eyes widened. The forecast didn’t call for it, but it was raining…angels. They plummeted closer to the earth, their translucent forms shimmering in the berry-colored sky.
She stepped backwards, gasping as angels swirled around her. She wrapped her arms around her father’s tombstone and squeezed her eyes shut, hoping it would all go away, if any of it was even real. If they were angels, she didn’t want to see them. They were dead- dead like her father. She wouldn’t have it.
Before another thought could reach her mind, a soft voice called out, “Rebekah…”
Rebekah shrieked, clutching the tombstone tighter.
Wait. She knew that voice. It brought back memories of snowball cookies at Christmastime and stories of serving in the WAC during World War II. Her eyes shot open. “G-grandma?”
Floating before her was her grandma, looking healthier and happier than she remembered in her last days. She didn’t like those days. Her grandma smiled warmly.
“W-what’s going on?”
“We’ve been given the chance to visit our loved ones- those who need to see us one more time.”
“Every day I get to watch you live your life in the most beautiful way.” She moved closer to her, resting a hand on her cheek. “But I see the sadness that you hide behind your eyes. I don’t want to see you like this.”
Rebekah’s heart broke. She understood her grandma’s words, but she didn’t want to accept them. “How do I do that? How do I do that when I miss you, and dad, and-”
“Shh…” she said before fading back into the mass of swirling spirits behind her. “You will…”
“But…grandma!!!” Rebekah cried, rising up.
She spun around in place before recognizing another form in the middle of the sky. A cattle dog barked as he ran playfully among a group of dogs.
The dog stopped in place, one ear raised and one paw lifted.
“Mickey!” Rebekah called out. She tumbled backwards as her childhood dog jumped on her, licking her face in a slobbery mess. She wiped the saliva away, not caring that she now smelled like angelic doggy breath.
Mickey bounded off of her, stretching his paws out, bottom raised in a playful bow.
Rebekah found a stick on the ground and raised it up, giggling as Mickey perked both ears up. “You want it?” she said, “Go get it!” She flung her arm forward, watching as stick and dog collided. Mickey wagged his tail with stick in mouth before happily trotting off into the clouds.
A smile spread across Rebekah’s face. She got to see her grandma again. And now she knew the Rainbow Bridge wasn’t something her mom made up to make her feel better.
Sensing another presence behind her, Rebekah whirled around in shock. How could she face him after all of this? She didn’t want to accept his death. Now she had no choice.
Her eyes glazed over before she finally admitted his presence. “D-dad…?” her voice cracked.
Her father stood before her, face worn and wings outstretched.
“No, no, no!” she cried, curling into herself. She wanted him to be with her again, but only if he were alive. This hurt too much, to see him as another spirit, to see him dead. Dead like the ground, cold and lifeless, dead like the memories they could no longer build upon. Stopped. Halted. Dead.
His voice broke her. She sobbed, the tears pooling into her cupped hands.
She finally opened her eyes again, swallowing hard at the nickname he coined for her. She fought against her fear. Her grandma and dog had not stayed for long. He probably didn’t have much time either.
“Dad…I’m sorry I haven’t visited you every birthday or Father’s day. I wanted to see you more, I really did. It’s just hard for me.”
Her dad’s expression softened. “Don’t apologize, Bek.”
“I wish you could’ve been there…for graduation, for my solo in the musical, for that cooking contest I won…for everything.”
Her dad stepped forward. “I…I was there. I saw you. I heard you. I always have.”
Rebekah sniffled. “You…you have?”
Her dad nodded. “I’m so proud of you, Bek. You need to keep doing good. Do good, and good things will happen to you. Keep making me proud. You can’t do that if you’re stuck in the past.”
“But I miss you!” Before she knew it, her arms wrapped around his torso and she buried her face into his shirt.
Her dad embraced her tightly. “I miss you, too.”
“You feel so real…” she said, voice muffled as she clung to him.
He drew in a sharp breath at her words. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that for years, he had been real. Six years ago, he fell out of love and divorced her mother. He couldn’t tell his little princess he was leaving her. He was her hero and protector. So they lied for him. He had never died. For years he lived with that lie, but everything changed when he was killed in a car accident last year. Now…now he really was dead.
He could tell her about his past, but what good would it do now? It would only hurt her more. The truth didn’t matter anymore, for now his heart was no longer beating, just as she had always believed. This was his only chance to make up for his mistake, to change what he had done to her and help her move on.
“I love you, dad.”
A tear rolled down his cheek, and he reluctantly broke away from her grasp. He looked up at the sky, noticing the number of angels dwindling. “I love you too, Bek, so much. But I have to go. Please, don’t let what I’ve done stop you from enjoying life. I want to see that smile reach your eyes.”
Rebekah smiled. “I will, dad. I promise. I know you’re watching, and listening, and…I know you’re there.”
“I always will be.” She watched as her dad flew into the crowd of spirits, engulfed by the wisps and wings of the dead.
She held a hand to her heart, head tilted to the sky. She wasn’t scared anymore…of the deaths of her past and of those to come. She would honor her father’s death by living her life to the fullest. She never felt more grateful for it all.
“Remember you used to tell me I was daddy’s little angel? Well daddy, now you’re my angel.”