It was just as Presley remembered, but better. She was still here.
“Pres, can you get the basket?” Ross asked her. He carried Kiora in his arms.
“Yes. Yes, I can.” Presley took the basket filled with goodies out of the trunk and followed her husband and daughter to find a place on the beach.
It was the first day of summer and they decided to celebrate by having a beach day. Kiora was so excited, she couldn’t sleep the night prior. But now, she was exhausted and slept on the way there. She was still asleep in her father’s arms.
“I think we should wake her,” Presley said as Ross gently placed Kiora down on a towel.
“Let her sleep,” Ross said. “She’s too cute to disturb.”
“She’s going to miss out on all the fun!” Presley gently shook Kiora awake.
“Mommy?” Kiora rubbed the sleep out of her eyes.
“We’re here, sweetheart,” Presley said. “We’re at the beach!”
“The beach!” Kiora’s eyes lit up and her sleepiness was forgotten. She sat up and looked around her. “The water is so pretty!”
“Come here and take a picture! We’re going to want to remember this.” Presley scooted to make room for Ross on the large beach towel. With Kiora in her lap, Ross snapped a picture of their happy little family.
“Let’s put on sunscreen before you burn.” Ross handed Presley the sunscreen and Presley lathered it onto Kiora’s exposed skin.
“Can we build a sandcastle?” Kiora asked.
“Sure, why not? Ask your dad to go get some water.” Together, they built a castle worthy of a princess and her pet dragon. Then they had a picnic lunch with all their favorite foods. Kiora kept her smile on and it was the best thing Presley had ever seen.
“Can I go swim now?” Kiora begged her mother. She had impatiently waited a bit after finishing lunch to ask.
“Sure. But you stay close to your father, do you understand?” Presley said.
“Yes! Daddy, let’s go swim!” Kiora ran to her father and pulled him toward the ocean.
Presley watched from shore as Kiora and Ross swam and played in the ocean. She knew it looked peaceful and serene and happy. It was supposed to be. It was supposed to be a happy start to the summer, one that Kiora would tell her children about. It was supposed to be the first of many summer beach days. But Presley knew how the day would end.
As the waves roughened and she started to lose sight of Kiora and Ross, Presley closed her eyes. She thought of a photo of their smiling faces three years ago in a state fair. That was a fun night. She focused on Kiora’s young, sweet, and innocent face. She felt the familiar tingle in her feet. They traveled up her legs to her torso and arms, and finally her head. Time for another happy memory.
~ ~ ~
Kiora saw a commercial advertising the state fair. She was enchanted by the foods, colors, and rides the commercial showed. She begged her parents to take her there. After getting a good grade on her spelling test, Presley and Ross decided to take Kiora as a reward.
“Everything is so colorful!” Kiora exclaimed. “Look at all the people and balloons and rides!” She took a deep breath. The sweet and salty air tickled her nose. She smelled one food that made her taste buds water. “Can you smell the funnel cakes, Mommy?”
“I sure can.” Presley took Kiora’s hand in hers. “We can get some if you’d like.”
“Yes, please!” Kiora eagerly nodded her head.
“But not before we go on the rides,” Ross said. “We don’t want you to throw it all back up.”
“Yuck.” Kiora made a face. “Rides first then funnel cakes. Then games!” They passed by a ring toss booth.
“Yes, yes! We’ll eat all the foods, ride all the rides, play all the games, and win all the prizes! Is that what you want?” Ross teased.
“I want it all!” Kiora said.
“Then you’ll get them all.” Presley reassured her.
The first stop was the Ferris Wheel.
“Look Mommy! You can see everything from up here!” Kiora looked down at the fairgrounds beneath them.
“Careful, Kiora. Stay inside here next to me.” Presley gently pulled Kiora back toward her and the seats.
“Huddle close everyone!” Ross snapped a picture of the three of them against a nice blue sky background.
They spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening at the state fair. By the time they left, Kiora had an armful of stuffed animals and a belly full of delicious state fair food. She promised to do well on her math test so that they will come back. Presley thought of a photo that captured her favorite memory with Kiora.
~ ~ ~
“Ready for a story?” Presley sat down on Kiora’s bed. It was a quiet Sunday night. The three of them spent the day together and now it was time for bed. Presley always read a story to Kiora at bedtime. On this particular night, Ross had snapped a picture when Presley wasn’t looking. It was just the two of them reading a book. Nothing beats memories like these.
“Ready!” Kiora fought back a yawn.
“What book should I read to you?”
“This one!” Kiora held up a book about a lost princess who has to find her way home.
“This one’s your favorite, isn’t it?” Presley opened the book and began reading. Kiora laid her head on Presley’s shoulder, listening to her mother tell the tale of a princess on her quest.
“Can you stop reading, Mommy?” Kiora asked. They were in the middle of the book.
“What’s the matter, Kiora?” Presley set the book aside. Presley didn’t remember this happening. Kiora nestled in Presley’s arms.
“I… I don’t feel well, Mommy.” Kiora looked up at her. Presley pressed her palm against Kiora’s forehead.
“You don’t have a fever. Tell me exactly how you feel.” Kiora pushed away from her mother.
“I feel… I feel different. Funny.” Kiora scrunched up her nose.
“Funny? Like sick funny?”
“No. Not sick. Just funny.” Kiora looked down at her toes. She wiggled them.
“Kiora, tell me how you’re feeling.” Presley wanted to know. Kiora looked up at her.
“I have this feeling, this funny feeling, that you shouldn’t be here, Mommy,” Kiora said softly.
“What? What do you mean, sweetheart?” It pained Presley to hear Kiora say those words.
“You… don’t belong here.” Kiora patted Presley’s cheek.
“Of course I do! I belong wherever you are.” Presley hugged Kiora tightly.
“No. No you don’t. Not right now.” Kiora wiggled out of her mother’s arms.
“Kiora? What are you doing?” Presley asked.
“You need to go home, Mommy. You’ve been here too long. Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa, Poppy, and Nanny all need you right now.”
“What about you, sweetheart?” Tears welled in Presley’s eyes.
“I’ll be okay, Mommy.” She placed a small hand on top of Presley’s. “We will see each other again, I promise.”
“I’m going to miss you.” Presley stroke Kiora’s dark hair.
“I love you too, Mommy.”
“I love you so much!” Presley held out her arms and Kiora went back into them.
“Tell Daddy I love him too?”
“Of course, I will.” Presley felt the familiar tingle in her feet.
~ ~ ~
Presley opened her eyes. She was back at the chapel and a large portrait of Kiora’s face smiled at her. They had taken her coffin a couple of minutes before.
“It’s time to go.” Ross placed a hand on her shoulder. “They’re waiting for us.”
“I’m coming.” Presley silently followed Ross out of the chapel. Presley knew one thing for certain: she didn’t want to relive today’s memories, not when there were other memories to relive.