Hazel waits patiently on her small princess bed, having already chosen a book for her parents to read to her. She can only understand a few of the words in the title considering the fact that she’s just in Kindergarten. But the little girl, based off the book cover, knows for sure that it’ll be a fairy tale, her all time favorite type of story.
As she looks around her room, wiggling her toes underneath her pink blanket, the time on her castle clock catches her eye. It reads 8:30 P.M, making Hazel furrow her eyebrows. Her parents are never late to do their usual routine of reading her a bedtime story and tucking her in for the night. They always come rushing into her room at exactly eight o’ clock, her assigned bedtime.
The little girl grows more impatient as the minutes pass by. Where are they? Her mom and dad have never, ever skipped a night without reading to her. So, at 8:45 P.M., she decides to go and figure out what’s taking them so long. She uncovers herself and hops down from her bed, putting on her princess Crocs that she got as a birthday present from her dad. Hazel makes her way to her bedroom door, getting on her tiptoes to open it, and trips on the threshold as she steps into the hallway.
She’s about to make her way to the stairs that go downstairs, but gets stopped by the sound of someone crying. It appears to be coming from her parent’s room. The sudden realization of them being sad makes the little girl’s heart break. Her mom and dad are always happy, having a big smile on their faces all the time. What would make them sad?
Hazel rushes to the direction of the crying, struggling to run with her short, chubby legs. She sees the door of her parent’s bedroom slightly ajar and takes a peek inside. She finds her mom sitting down on the edge of the bed, crying into her hands. Feeling sorry for her mom, the little girl walks inside to get closer. Her mom looks up at the sound of the creaking door, her eyes all puffy and red from crying.
“H-hazel, sweetie. W-what are you doing here? It-it’s past your bedtime. Go back to your room,” her mom sniffles, feeling a new batch of tears swell up in her eyes.
The little girl gets up on the bed next to her. “But what about my bedtime story, Mommy?”
Her mom shakes her head. “N-not today, Hazel. Just go to your room. Y-you have school tomorrow.”
Hazel pouts, not understanding anything that is happening. “Why are you crying, Mommy? And where’s Daddy?” She suddenly realizes that her dad is nowhere to be found. He usually is always home from work at around this time.
Her mom tears up again, taking a deep breath to regain her composure. “H-h-he…,” she croaks out, failing to hide her emotions from her young daughter.
The little girl gets on her mom’s lap and hugs her. She doesn’t know why her mom is crying, but she’ll do everything to make her feel better.
Hazel looks through the window at the dark, stormy sky. She can see a few drops of rain hitting the window, making her nervous. She hates the rain, especially the lighting and thunder. It makes her heart start to beat really fast. But her dad sings a song with her whenever the weather gets bad that always somehow makes it better. He’s like some kind of wizard.
Remembering the song, the little girl whispers, “Rain, rain go away. Come again another day…”
Her mom looks at her through the rear view mirror with watery eyes recognizing the song.
“Are we gonna go see Daddy? I miss him and I want him to sing with me.”
Instead of answering, her mom looks away and concentrates on the road ahead.
It’s been a couple of days after seeing her mom cry in her bedroom. And now her and her mom are going somewhere wearing all black. She asked her mom why that color. She hates the color black because it makes her feel all sad inside. But her mom just looked at her with sad eyes, her only form of communication nowadays. Ever since the other night, she has been really silent. Why? Did she do something wrong?
When the car stops, waking Hazel from her quick snooze, she unbuckles her seat belt and gets up from her seat. She turns around and sees the big, scary looking gate they just passed. “Where are we?” she asks, but her mom doesn’t hear because she’s already out of the car. She comes around to the other side and carries her out.
As they head to the dark building, the little girl glances around, looking at her family members that followed them here all dressed in black as well. They all carry a look of sadness as they all take turns talking to and hugging her mom. A few of them look at Hazel and give her sad smiles.
“Mommy, what’s wrong? Why is everyone sad?” she asks. She doesn’t like seeing the people she loves get sad.
“Shh, Hazel. The ceremony is about to start. Let’s go,” she answers, grabbing her small hand.
She walks along just noticing the rows and rows of big, grey blocks on the grass. “Mommy, what are those big, grey things?”
“They’re gravestones,” her mom says in a small voice.
When they enter the building, Hazel is surprised to see a portrait of her dad surrounded by a circle of sunflowers. Daddy’s favorite. He would always go out with her in the evening to search for the beautiful flowers. Every time they found one, her dad would pick the petals off, each one representing a wish. He always gave his wishes to the little girl, never once wishing for something. One day, noticing that, she asked him why he did that.
“Because princess...,” he began, stroking her curly, brown hair. “I already have everything I could have ever wished for. I have you. Your mom. A great job that I love. What more can I ask for? I’m the happiest man in the world.” He then proceeded to give her the biggest, most genuine smile. The little girl had never seen him so happy before.
Coming back to reality, Hazel sees a long, brown box next to her dad’s portrait. She’s about to ask what it’s for, but gets interrupted by her Uncle Jim’s voice.
“Today we are here to honor the life and legacy of my brother, Richard. And I thank you all for coming,” Uncle Jim says solemnly. “He was a great man and a hero. He was loved by his wife, Samantha, and his daughter, Hazel. He took the role of firefighter, knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy and that it required many sacrifices. But that was his calling in life. To protect others and he did. He saved many lives and he will always be remembered...,” he continues.
“What’s in the box, Mommy?” the little girl asks her mom, once Uncle Jim has finished speaking, tugging on her shirt. She didn’t really understand his whole speech, only the fact that he spoke about her dad. He used all kinds of big words that Hazel didn’t know the meaning of in the slightest bit.
She takes a deep breath. “Y-your d-dad is in t-there.”
Hazel furrows her eyebrows, confused. “But why?” Why would he be in there?
“H-he’s sleeping,” her mom answers, putting a strand of the little girl’s hair behind her ear.
“When is he going to wake up?” she asks with doe eyes.
She looks down at her hands, unsure of how to tell her daughter. “He’s not going to wake up, sweetie.”
“Because…,” her mom begins. “That’s just how it was supposed to be.”
“So I’m not gonna see my daddy anymore,” she says, now understanding why everyone is sad. “But-but I didn’t say goodbye.”
She wraps her arms around her, hugging her tightly. “I’m so sorry, Hazel.”
The little girl blinks away tears and after a moment asks, “C-can I see him one last time?”
She hesitates. “Yes, of course, sweetie. Come here,” her mom says as she picks her up and walks her over to the box. She takes a moment before she opens it.
Inside, lays her dad in a suit with his arms on his stomach. Looking peacefully asleep. He’s not going to wake up, sweetie. That replays over and over again in the little girl’s head. Her dad is gone. Forever.
She looks away, not able to look at him anymore, and buries her face in her mom’s neck. Both her mom and her begin to sniffle.
Everything makes sense now. That night in her mom’s bedroom. Everyone wearing black and having sad faces. It was all because her dad isn’t coming back.
The sudden realization of it all hits her like a wrecking ball. And even more because her mom didn’t want to tell her all this time to protect her. To not make her sad. Not only did Hazel lose her dad. Her mom lost him too. The love of her life.
Hazel lifts her head and places her little hands on either side of her mom’s face, wiping her tear stained cheeks. “Don’t cry, Mommy. Everything will be okay. I pinky promise. I’m here with you.”