Mary straightened after unpacking the last box and looked around at her new home with pride and joy. She and Frank had just moved into the smaller home in which they intended to live out the rest of their years together. They had recently celebrated their 53rd anniversary and knew it was time to enjoy their lives without the extra hassle and expense of the larger house that their kids had grown up in and eventually moved away from. She set up the coffee maker and went to find Frank as it brewed.
She found him on the porch with their oldest son Mike. The two men worked together to hang Mary's porch swing that she'd had since the early days of their marriage. She'd nursed the babies on that swing as she'd watched the tides come in and the sun rise. Of course now the babies were grown and married and had babies of their own -- except one. Alison was six when she was killed in the attack. She was a beautiful girl with laughing blue eyes and curls so blonde they were nearly white. Mary found herself thinking about Alison often, but she shook off the memories before they could make her melancholy.
"Are you men about ready for a break? Sit down for a few minutes. I'll bring us some coffee." Mary bustled about arranging chairs on the porch until Mike shooed her back in the house.
"Go make the coffee, Mom. I've got this," Mike admonished as he kissed her affectionately on the cheek.
When Mary brought their coffees back outside, they all gathered round the table on the small porch and looked out at the ocean. They chatted about the new house, the grandkids, and the kids. Eventually the conversation wound its way around to their early days as a family. When Frank and Mary met, she was a young nurse. They fell in love and got married, and their early life together was fairy tale perfect. Little Alison came along and Mary stayed at home to raise her. When Frank was drafted into the Navy, Mary chose to take Alison and herself and work for the Naval base hospital as a civilian nurse so the family could stay together.
Life couldn't be more perfect. They were young and in love and Alison completed their family. They lived in Paradise -- Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Every day was like being on vacation until that fateful, infamous day. That morning Mary had offered to work an extra shift at the hospital. Frank dropped Alison off with a neighbor before he left for his job on base.
Mary was at work in the Emergency Room when she heard an unusual amount of ruckus even for the Naval base. Planes flew overhead almost before she realized it. Bombs exploded. Shrapnel flew all over. Jeeps hurried past and sailors ran to their posts. Almost immediately, the ER doors burst open with casualties. Mary immediately went to work triaging patients, directing traffic, and doing her best to turn the melee into some semblance of organized chaos. She worked efficiently, quickly determining those who needed immediate help, those who could wait, and those who couldn't be helped at all. Mary shut her emotions away in order to give her patients the professional care that she had trained and prepared for her entire career.
That's when Mary's life changed forever. A strange man came running in with a little girl covered in blood. The little girl had beautiful blonde curls but the rest of her face and body were mangled and bloody. As professional as Mary was, her maternal instincts took over. She screamed in horror and grief. Her coworkers came running when they heard her, and they immediately knew what had upset her so much when they saw the little girl. They veered off into two groups -- one group took the little girl for treatment while the other group ushered Mary out of the triage area.
The Chaplain took over for Mary so her teammates could get back to the business of saving lives. She still didn't know the extent of the chaos outside. She only knew that her Alison probably wouldn't survive the next hour. Mary had to endure the rest of the day alone. Frank was out there somewhere, fighting an enemy that Mary only knew about when she caught bits and pieces of conversation as people hurried up and down the halls.
Mary still hadn't heard from Frank when she got the news. The little girl that had been carried in that morning wasn't Alison, but she did pass away. The little girl had been hit by a stray bomb as she played in the playground that beautiful, Hawaiian, Sunday morning. She had been playing with Alison when the bomb exploded. Alison died immediately from her injuries but the unknown little girl lived long enough for the man to carry her to the base hospital.
Mary felt like her life was over. Her grief almost overcame her, but Frank supported her when she was weak. He held her when she cried, and when she eventually healed, he gave her four more babies that she loved as much as Alison. She never forgot Alison, and Alison lived on in her mother's heart.
Mary shook off the ancient memories. She realized that she'd been lost in the past when she noticed her husband and son gazing at her intently. She gave them a warm smile to let them know she was okay.
That night, Frank and Mary lay in bed together. He held her tightly in his arms. He couldn't explain it, but he sensed that something had happened that afternoon on the porch. He knew that Mary's inner strength had brought her through the crisis. He missed his little girl terribly, but he hadn't been there when the little girl came into the Emergency Room. He could only imagine the terror that Mary had lived through that day. He intuitively knew that as horrible as it was for him, it had to be so much worse for his beautiful bride who loved her little girl so much.
Frank fell asleep to the even sounds of Mary's breathing. His lips rested on her soft, white hair as they slept in each other's arms. During the night, something woke Frank up. He found Mary already awake and glanced at the clock. 2:58 When he turned to ask Mary what woke her up, he saw it. Rather, he saw HER. A little girl stood at the end of the bed, smiling at Mary. Mary was transfixed. Her gaze never wavered from the little girl with blonde curls standing at the end of the bed. He gently spoke to Mary, "Who is that? Why is she standing at our bed?" Mary didn't even hear him she was so intent on the little girl.
Frank gently shook Mary. "MARY! Who is that?" Mary glances over at Frank but doesn't say anything. She returns her gaze to the little girl, and they look at each other for long moments. Soon, the little girl seemed to fade away. The room looked the same, but Frank noticed that it almost has an ethereal glow. He waited patiently until Mary comes out of her trance-like state. He's never seen her quite like this before, but he sensed that Mary isn't scared. In fact, she seemed to be more at peace than he's ever seen her. "Mary, honey? Who was that little girl? Why was she here?"
Mary reminded him of what had happened in the Emergency Room that day almost a half century ago. She immediately knew that it was the little girl who had been carried into her triage area. She also knew the little girl had died. She couldn't explain why she had come to them nor could she explain the sense of peace and comfort that she felt from the little girl's presence.
Mary went back to sleep soon afterwards, and slept soundly and dreamlessly. She'd always been a restless sleeper, but on this night, she slept deeply. Frank laid awake the rest of the night trying to work out the events in his own mind. When Mary awoke, she felt refreshed and contented. She felt the bed beside her, but Frank had already arisen. She pulled on her robe and joined him in the kitchen. Frank wanted to talk to her about the strange events of the night, but he couldn't even make enough sense of it to bring it up in conversation. He chose to leave it be for now. Mary didn't mention it at all, but she had a sweet, serene smile on her face. He wasn't even sure if she remembered it. For that matter, he wasn't even sure it actually happened.
That night, they both awoke at 2:58 to find the apparition again standing at the foot of their bed. The little girl and Mary almost seemed to be communicating, so he remained quiet. Once again the little girl just faded away. By the next morning, Frank had lost his speechlessness, so he had questions for Mary. "Mama," he began gently, "I need to understand. Why is that girl here? What is she saying to you? What does she want with us?"
Mary replied, "She wants me to know it's ok. Alison is ok, and she's waiting for us. Alison sent her to us. She's been watching over us all this time. The girls didn't want us to have another experience as traumatic as that one, so they've been protecting us and our family."
Frank felt a shiver go down his back, but no matter how much he questioned Mary, she couldn't give him any more answers. That night they went to bed. As he always did, Frank fell asleep with Mary tucked tight against him. He felt a sense of foreboding, but he soon drifted off into slumber. At 2:58, the little girl again appeared. Mary woke as she had the last two nights, but this time, Frank didn't. Mary knew that the little girl had come to take Frank to be with Alison. She watched as the little girl walked away with her hand raised slightly as if she were holding an adult's hand.
Mary reached over to Frank to touch his neck. She instinctively knew, but she had to be sure. When she couldn't find a pulse, she gave him one final kiss then called 911.
In the days that passed, Mary was surrounded by family and friends. Nobody allowed her to be alone; she only had that luxury when she went to bed at night. Her kids tried to convince her to stay with them, but she insisted on sleeping in the bed she'd shared with Frank all the years of their marriage. She went to sleep thinking about the little girl, but the girl didn't appear. Mary didn't even awaken during the night.
Mary watched for the little girl with anticipation. She wanted to go be with Frank and Alison. Every night she hoped she'd see the little girl, and every morning she awakened with a slight sense of disappointment. She kept her days very busy spending time with the grandbabies and her children. She never let a day go by without telling each of them how much she loved them.
Several months passed. Mary waited for the little girl to no avail. She didn't tell her family about it because she didn't want them to worry. She just kept waiting and watching. Finally one night the little girl showed up again. Mary woke promptly at 2:58 to find the little girl looking at her from the foot of the bed. When the little girl faded away, Mary sighed and lay back down. The same thing happened the next night. On the third night, when Mary woke, the little girl was back but this time she wasn't alone. Frank and Alison were with her. Alison held out her hand. Mary got up, stood between Alison and Frank, and put her hand in theirs. As they faded away, Mary looked back and saw her body on the bed -- still sleeping peacefully.