Some things don’t mix, like oil and water. Some things can’t be separated, like light and laughter.
Standing here on the front porch, I can move no further. I’ve been gone too long, trying to be worthy of the divine beacon within the open door. The light flooding the porch paralyzes me. Deer-in-the-headlights.
Inside, Lita giggles as her sister-in-law enthusiastically describes some new feat of her little boy. Across the room, her brother humors a flaxen-haired angel with a Barbie doll.
I remember doing the same for my baby sister. She had hated being left to her own devices, and my imagination had often been enlisted in elaborate Barbie kingdoms.
“Lita, when are you going to close that door?” Karen says with a sigh. “After all this time, he’s not coming back.”
“I keep my promises, Karen,” Lita replied quietly.
Now that I think about it, Lita had promised something about the doors of house and heart always being open to my return. I strain to see the expression on her face. The only thing I see are down-turned eyes, the same sweet brown eyes I first fell in love with.
The angel walks over to Lita. “Mommy, why do you keep the door open until it gets dark every night?”
“To bring your daddy home, sweetheart.”
Mommy? Daddy?! That’s Rebecca? My heart thumps beneath my ribs, so hard I can hardly believe that they don’t hear it. She’s gotten so big …
“Will he come home soon?”
“He’ll come home once he gets better.”
“Is he sick?”
“Very sick, sweetheart. But he promised that he would come home when he got better.”
Karen and her husband listen to this exchange in silence. They know what Lita means by sickness. So do I. I turn away from the door, but the angel’s sweet voice stops me in my tracks.
“I’ll pray for him to get better.”
“You do that, sweetheart. Somewhere out there, he’ll hear you calling, and he’ll come home.”
Am I better? I wonder, knowing that at this point I could still go either way. I exhale slowly and start to leave. My shoe catches on the jagged step, and I sprawl in the gravel walk.
Lita darts to the door and cries out, “Who is it!”
A brief glance at her silhouetted form against the screen sends me down the walk at a dead sprint. I can’t face her now, not after two years of total absence.
But she recognized me instantaneously, and she leaves the screen door to slam in her brother’s face. She catches me halfway through a flying tackle, and we hit the lawn at the side of the driveway together.
“Hank,” she sobs. “Hank, you came back.” She wraps her arms around me and buries her face in my shoulder, whispering my name over and over.
“Mommy?” The angel steps forward cautiously as Lita turns to face our worried daughter. “Mommy, why are you crying?”
“Rebecca, darling? Tell Daddy welcome home.”
She looks up at me with large, trusting eyes. Her smile is the warmest I’ve seen in months. “Welcome home, Daddy.”
Lita kisses me and hugs me tightly as Rebecca wraps her stubby arms around both of us.
“Welcome home, Hank.”