Stepping outside into his old backyard at night. Harold closes the sliding glass door behind him. Shutting out the sounds of chatting guests, clacking plates, clicking cups, and smacking lips. Loosing his black tie, desperate for air. Harold's feet crunch their way through the snow slipping out of sight against the side of the house. Pulling the last cigarette out of his pack with a lighter. Harold sparks up a flame and inhales burning an ember into the tip. Putting the lighter away, he fiddles with the empty cigarette box running his fingers along the back edge.
Flipping the box around, revels a note. Last one. Time to break the habit. Love, Lilly.
Crumbling the box in his hand, Harold shoves it in his pocket with a grunt. Cold from the wind, Harold rubs his arms and hands together. Taking a huge drag from his cigarette, he exhales looking over the massive oak tree resting in the center of the yard. With a sigh, Harold sneaks past the glass door into the darker area of the yard. A cool breeze rocks the branches to and fro against the black sky and smokey clouds. Resting in the center of the tree sits an old treehouse.
The pristine barn house red paint, now nothing more then a diluted rust color. Cracked and chipped. The treehouse feels like an old painting waiting to be found. Longing to be restored to it's former glory. Perfect white trim, now soaked and faded into the wood lines the edges around the rust red spiderwebs of walls. It was just like his father to use those colors. He had grown up on a farm in Golden Valley not far from here. Funny how close the shape of the treehouse itself resembled a barn.
So many times his father had called this little home his Golden Valley treasure. Even when he split his thumbnail with a hammer. Harold still sees the love his father put into building this place for him. Each board of weathered wood nailed into the tree making the ladder still has a story tell. Every rusted hinge and nail, all of the weathered wood. They all have a tale of his father built inside.
Chuckling for a beat, Harold remembers his father hanging the long tire swing far out across from the treehouse. How many tries it had taken him to finally tie the knot in the ropes? Watching it rock like the trees branches, it sways suspended in air by thick frayed hemp ropes.
Placing a hand against the frigid bark of the tree. Harold runs his fingers along it walking in a circle back toward the house. Staring inside the glass doors. Harold watches his family, friends, and even a few strangers mingle together in his old home. Some seem happy. Others seem genuine. In the end they all look sad. All dressed in black. On this solemn winters night. Taking one last large drag from his cigarette, Harold flicks the firefly off into the snow and checks the quality of the ladder. Still built tough, he ascends and pushes the trapdoor open.
Screaming on its hinges, the trapdoor crawls across the opening and slams on the floor inside the treehouse. A cloud of dust fills the air as Harold crawls inside. Choking on the dust bunnies, Harold waves his hand and rips the ancient curtain from its rod nailed to the wall. Icy air sweeps through the open window clearing the dust out through the trapdoor. Pulling out his phone. Harold turns on the light app and looks around. Finding a old lantern. Harold blows the dust off and out of it and lights it with his lighter.
Turning the light on his phone off, Harold puts his phone away. Setting the lantern down on the small table. Harold fixes the curtain he ripped down and closes the trapdoor. Alone with his thoughts. Harold drifts off to years prior. Back to when they first moved into the house. How he watched his dad come home every night after work just to go work on the treehouse. How every night he asked for Harold to come and help. How many times he worked alone, while Harold played with friends. How this treehouse became the place to be, and brought his friends together. How many times Harold retreated into its walls for comfort from the world. How this treehouse had become something that he built for his son to love. How as Harold grew up he never got mad about the lack of thank yous or hugs.
Harold's head swirls as the memories flow. How many things he had taken for granted in the moment. How Harold moved away without ever really noticing how important this was. How important he was. How his father didn't have much to say, but his actions could have said it all. If only he had understood.
His father was like this treehouse. Every year it decayed a little more like their relationship, and it waited patiently like his father for his return. He would call, and Harold always claimed to be busy. He would push the calls off, but they never stopped. He would skip holidays, but the invitation came every year. Every year his father would reach out. Hoping like this treehouse. Harold might return, if even for a day. Such as today.
It could have been what they needed. It could have made the peace, but Harold never could swallow his pride after their fight. How could he? His father never approved of Lilly, and Harold moved away because of it. No. This was the first time he's been home in years. Harold never truly felt back at home until this moment inside his little barn of a treehouse.
To Harold, this treehouse had been a safe place, a haven to hide away in. A place he could get away from his parents. Somewhere for him to be him without the weight of the world. It was his father who gave him this. He knew his son. He knew what it was like to be the sole child of the family. How important it was to make his family feel loved, even if you don't get the same in return.
Thinking of his own son, Harold looks to a piece of wood his father carved an inscription onto. Harold's Hideaway. To My Golden Valley Treasure. Love, Dad.
Something so simple. Harold never remembered seeing this before. His father must have put this in here sometime throughout the years. A little something his own father had said to him. Spotting his loving wife Lilly, holding their baby boy speaking to some of the guests. Harold touches the wood and whispers. “Thank you.”
Climbing down, Harold closes the trapdoor above him and hops down into the snow. Brushing himself off of any dirt and dust. Lilly notices him through the glass doors and slides them open.
Taking a step out onto the walk, snow begins to fall as Lilly closes the doors behind herself. Still holding their son, she cradles him saying. “What were you doing honey?”
“Nothing really. Just. Hanging with dad.”
“Do you need more time? Everyone's waiting.”
“No. No. I'm okay. Let's go inside.”
Watching his breath fade across the air. Harold walks up to Lilly wrapping one arm around her. He gives her a peck on the cheek before sliding the door open and heading back inside. Shaking a few hands. Getting a few nods and passing looks. Harold makes his way to the podium at the front of the room. Lilly takes a seat at the front of the small crowd gathered in the living room. Standing in front of the memorial. Pictures, candles, flowers, candy and more all placed decoratively behind the podium give the room an almost festive feel.
Harold clears his throat, looking at his wife holding his baby boy. “I never understood my dad. Not really at least. Not until today. Not until I found my own golden valley treasure.”