Sitting on her knees, Annie lifted Emily Ann’s favorite stuffed animal from the rocking chair. After one last snuggle and sniff of baby powder mingled with other baby smells, she placed it the in the box and sealed it with packing tape. On the outside, she labeled the box—baby clothes and stuffed toys. She rocked back and crouched on the balls of her feet. There, she’d done it. It had taken her almost two years to get to this point and pack up Emily Ann’s things. Their precious daughter had lived just over six months when SIDs took her, shaking Annie’s sanity and almost ruining her and Stu’s marriage. It had taken over a year of intensive counseling for Annie to recover.
She stood, pushed the box out the door and with a shove, let it slide down the stairway. As the carton thumped its way down, Annie gave a nudge with her foot when it slowed. At the bottom, she stacked it on top of one of the others. It was the last one. She strode to the fireplace and lifted the photo of Emily Ann from the mantle. Grinning, with two bottom teeth shining, she was the image of good health. Those beautiful red curls; she’d inherited the color from Stu and the curls from Annie. Annie could almost feel their springy texture. Her baby’s blue eyes looked out with such delight, as if the world and everyone in it was her plaything, which wasn’t far from the truth. Tears pooled in Annie’s eyes, and she struggled to not let them fall. She didn’t know why God had taken her baby, but he had, and Annie had to move past her grief and enjoy the memories.
The wall clock in the hall chimed five o'clock. She’d better start dinner. Stu would be home early tonight. Stu had teased, “Maybe I have a long lost ancestor who’s left us an old house that’s haunted.” Yeah right, more likely the casino was being sued, and they wanted Stu there to take charge of the paperwork or maybe testify against them.
The front door opened and Stu entered the entry hall and dropped his keys in the ceramic bowl on the small cabinet by the door. He set his briefcase on the floor.
His tie was unfastened; his jacket was folded over one arm. It must be over 100 degrees outside—not a fun day to navigate the airport inside or out. She hurried over to relieve him of his coat. “I’ll take that.”
He leaned down and gave her a brief kiss. “Thanks.” She laid his coat across the back of the sofa for him to take upstairs later. He strode to the bar and fixed a drink. After taking a swallow, he raised his glass. “You want one?”
Surprised at his actions—they rarely drank—she shook her head. “No, thank you.”
He nodded and tossed back the remainder of his drink, and set the empty glass on the tray, and turned to her.
Worry lines that hadn’t been there this morning etched Stu’s mouth and eyes. A muscle in his jaw clenched. She was startled. Annie walked toward him and enfolded him in her arms. "What's wrong, Stu?"
His arms locked around her like steel bands, and he dropped his forehead to hers. His voice hoarse, he rasped out, "No matter what I tell you today, Annie, remember I've loved you since the day I laid eyes on you and always will."
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