It was time.
Adeline’s lips were dry and cracked, but she no longer cared enough to drink from the straw her daughter offered. She was just too tired. She was tired of being the fighter, tired of her gnarled hands and useless body, tired of waiting.
It was time.
Her daughter Mary’s sobs blended with the beeps from the machine, the single remaining indicator of her life. She longed to wrap her daughter in one last embrace, but she’d already said her good-byes. Giving in to the heaviness pulling her into her last slumber, she let it settle over her like a lead blanket.
As she slipped peacefully away, she was surprised to feel a tug on her hand.
Oh, Mary, please let me go, she thought as she opened her eyes for the last time. Adeline’s eyes flew open wide when she saw it was Joe standing before her, smiling as he held her hand.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, as he took her in his arms and lifted her from the bed. She hugged him tight and snuggled into his neck, never wanting to let go.
“Dear Joe, how I’ve missed you,” she told his neck, showering him with twenty years of pent-up kisses and love for the man she’d married sixty-two years earlier.
“My darling Princess,” he replied as held her. Joe ran his fingertips down her face, caressing her with a sweetness and tenderness that took her breath away. He fingered the auburn locks of her youth cascading down her back, headily breathing her in.
He kissed her deeply, then released his grasp. Settling her gently down, he stepped back in a sweeping bow. “After you...”
Adeline drew a sharp intake of breath as she turned to see a stunning gold and white chariot with six magnificent horses. It looked as though it were pure, spun glass. Looking down, she saw that her hospital gown had been replaced by iridescent, gossamer robes, shimmering like liquid diamonds. She squealed with delight as she danced with joy, twirling circles around Joe.
He laughed as he grabbed her waist and waltzed her into the waiting chariot. Tenderly, he helped her onto the cushioned seat and climbed in beside her, that familiar gleam she had missed so dearly in his eye.
“Oh, just wait, my Sweet Adeline,” he told her, unable to keep the grin off his face.
As the horses whisked them away, Adeline turned to Joe, really seeing him for the first time. This wasn’t the Joe who had died of a heart attack on their basement steps, aged and shrinking with each passing year. This was the young, handsome man who’d stolen her heart at the tender age of nineteen.
He, too, was dressed in finery. She saw a golden light emanating from deep within him, her own happiness reflected in his eyes. She felt an enormous peace, too big to contain. Contentment and love replaced the pain and suffering she’d left behind.
Joe was trembling with excitement as he clutched her hand. “My love,” he said. “We have arrived.”
The door opened as a footman waited to help her down. “Princess Adeline,” he said, offering a gloved hand.
She heard a dull roar, which grew louder with each step. Joe was right by her side. All around her were familiar figures, exuding love as they helped her along the luminescent, pure gold road before her. Just ahead, she saw an enormous castle, shining with the brilliance of a million precious stones.
“Oh, Joe,” she breathed. “I never dreamed…”
“I know,” he said, squeezing her hand once more, laughing with the giddiness of a schoolboy.
The roar, more defined now, had turned to sounds of cheering and singing, interspersed with laughter and shouts of joy.
“What are they here for?” she asked Joe, eager to join in the celebration.
“Why, you, of course,” he told her.
Stunned into momentary silence, she was forming her reply as the resplendent doors before her opened.
“Enter!” she heard a loud, booming voice command. Its tone softened, wrapping her in warmth. “Come to me, dearest one,” the voice said.
“Is he talking to me?” she whispered to Joe.
“Yes, Princess Adeline,” the voice boomed in reply. “Come.”
Joe nudged her forward. “Go,” he whispered as he leaned over to kiss her temple.
Adeline closed her eyes as she inhaled deeply, her heart more full than she’d ever known.
Opening her eyes, she stepped forward, entering the Kingdom.
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