Pulling the photo album off its shelf, Dottie brushed dust from its edges and nestled into the couch. Could she browse through it today without the intrusion of ancient pains? It was risky. With a cup of hot tea on the table beside her, she opened the album and noticed her hand didn’t tremble. That’s a good sign.
The first photo to catch her eye was Matt in the delivery room, proudly displaying his newborn.
A picture sprang to Dottie’s mind of her infant daughter swaddled and lying in her arms, bright baby eyes watching Dottie’s face. She felt the start of a smile. But reality knocked it away. If only . . .
Two more pages in the album and the twins appeared, Matt chasing after them. By the age of three, they’d become conspirators in mischief.
In her mind, Dottie saw her girls making snow angels near the foot of a barren oak tree in the front yard. A sigh escaped her lips.
More mental pictures sprang forth. Her husband pushing the girls on swings at the park or holding one on each knee as he read them a story. She saw herself watching as he tucked them into bed, and then knelt to commit them into God’s hands. Her eyes glistened. If only they . . .
No, she wouldn’t go there.
Image after image flooded over her. The first day of school, as she helped them climb onto the bus. . . gathering their clothes for a sleepover at a friend’s house. . . one girl braiding the other’s hair. . . the sharing of homework. . . both of them coming home all excited over a batch of newborn puppies. Dottie chuckled.
Her gaze wandered to the trees outside the window and she could clearly envision the girls as they competed to determine who could climb the highest. They were rivals but always in a cordial way. There were spelling bees. . . hours of ping pong in the basement. . . bike races. . . who could build the biggest snowman. . . who could set the table the best. . . who could catch the prettiest butterfly.
She shook her head and returned to the book on her lap. There were the twins in Disneyland, staring with awe at a life-sized, walking, talking Cinderella.
Her daughters could have been Cinderella. They were so pretty. . . so sweet. . . so loving. . . so ‘perfect’.
The girls grew and their challenges changed. Science projects. . . tennis matches. . . swim meets. . . who could find the most memorable saying on a T-shirt. . . which one could wear the most outrageous makeup or the most distinct hairstyle. . . who wanted the flashiest car.
Then came their interest in boys. Dottie remembered fingering fabric in a store, envisioning prom dresses. Her stomach ached and a tear escaped to slide down her cheek.
The album yielded more photos. There was Matt, his expression a mix of pride, love and the barest hint of sorrow. He was escorting Paige down the aisle, leading her to her beloved.
Dottie put the book aside. The pictures were still too much to handle. She reached a trembling hand for her cup and brought it to her lips. The tea was cold. Cold like the stone that had lodged again in her heart.
She willed happy images back into the front of her mind. Images of her girls winning trophies, of high school graduation – with honors, of visiting them at college. Images of two beautiful weddings and equally beautiful, precious grandbabies.
But what she envisioned only increased her longing. Dottie’s shoulders shook and sobs tore from her throat. She would be forty-eight in a few weeks, yet these old photos still held power to wound. It was a mistake to have opened the album. She couldn’t be witness to her brother’s joy as a father or the childhood years of her nieces and nephews without breaking apart.
If only she and Curt had been able to have children of their own.
If only those images of two girls traipsing through her mind had been real.
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