“You’re needed in Mr. Serino’s office right away,” came a slightly pinched voice through George’s office phone.
George gulped. What had he done this time? He didn’t care much for his job anymore, but he still didn’t particularly want to lose it.
He knocked on his boss’s broad oak door and heard a muffled “Come in.”
He pushed his way through and found Mr. Serino at a large desk that matched the door in impressiveness.
“Have a seat.” Mr. Serino gestured to a modest but comfortable chair. “We need to talk about your work performance. Your monthly reports are once again missing. You’ve done good work for a long time, and I know you’ve been experiencing some stress at home, but George, this is your last chance. If I don’t see some changes soon, we’re going to have to let you go.”
George took a deep breath as he left and walked back down the hall toward his office. He was relieved to still have a job, but maybe it would be better to just quit. The company would do fine without him, just like everyone else in his life.
Truthfully, he was a mess. How long has it been since the accident? Oh right: one year, two months, and six days. Like he could forget the moment everything had changed forever. Everyone expected him to get back to normal, but how could he when his little girl…
The fluorescent lights in the office made his head pound. He had to get out of there, get some fresh air. He clocked out early for the day—things couldn’t get much worse, right?—and headed to the parking garage. There was only one thing that could help him today: the mountains.
He noticed a new voicemail on his phone. It was from Stacy. Fantastic.
“Georrrrge, you pathetic fool. You’ve ruined both our lives, you know that, rrrright? I will never, ever forgive you for what you did. You ssshould do everyone a favor and go jump off a bridge.”
Wow, drunk already? It was only 2:00 p.m. That was early even for Stacy. He tried to remind himself that her life had been destroyed too. He was almost jealous that she had found something to numb the pain.
He parked at the trailhead and put on some tennis shoes he kept in the trunk, then powered forward onto the trail with a fervor fueled by his inner turmoil. Everyone told him it wasn’t his fault. Well, everyone except his ex. But he couldn’t shake the guilt of what happened. He hadn’t seen it coming, the tow truck that had t-boned him. The police said George ran a stop sign, but he hadn’t seen that either. He had walked away from the accident with a little whiplash. His little Josie was gone forever.
He tried to shake the image of her bloodied face, her dimpled cheeks that hadn’t yet lost their baby fat. Her big brown eyes, normally wide with curiosity or dancing with mischief, blank. Lifeless. She was only six years old. She was his reason for breathing.
The sky above seemed to reflect his broken heart and tumultuous mind. Ominous gray clouds gathered above the treetops, but George didn’t care. He deserved to get rained on.
Why did this happen? What did my sweet girl do to deserve such a short life? It’s not FAIR!
At this moment, the skies opened up and the sudden storm emptied. George lifted his head and looked toward heaven, blinking tears and rain out of his eyes.
He let out a guttural yell, condemning God for his cruelty. His foot slipped on the quickly accumulating mud, and he fell to his knees, catching himself with his hands, barely registering the pain from the slick rocks.
How could he have let this happen? He had betrayed his precious, innocent child, and now his heart was irreparably shattered. His chest constricted painfully. How long could he carry this burden? Thunder rumbled not too distantly as the rain hammered the ground. His shirt was already soaked from the deluge, and sopping hair dripped into his eyes.
Then, just as suddenly as it started, the rain trickled to a stop. The sun found its way through the clouds, and a magnificent rainbow appeared over the sparkling meadow. His little JoJo had loved rainbows. They had painted one on her ceiling at home, right above her bed. A resplendent warmth spread through his body, and he was overcome with emotion. He could feel her presence in that rainbow.
“Is that you, JoJo? I miss you so much. I’m so sorry,” he choked. The floodgates opened, and he wept, releasing all the pent-up guilt, anger, and sorrow he had been shouldering all year. He was a shell of the man he used to be. He didn’t want to be this person anymore, crippled and empty.
Still on his hands and knees in the mud, he raised his face toward the light. The sun was strong at this altitude, quickly drying his tears.
In his mind, George distinctly felt the words It’s ok, Daddy.
The emptiness George had been feeling the past year changed, and for the first time, he felt hope. Josie wouldn’t want him to live like this. Maybe it really wasn’t his fault. Maybe things were going to be ok. He felt his little girl was in a good place, even though he missed her desperately. She forgave him, and it was time to forgive himself.
He hiked back down the mountain, noticing the moss on the rocks, the smell of fresh earth, the flowers that insisted on growing even in the harshest conditions. The world seemed a little bit brighter coming down the trail. He had been given a second chance, and he was determined to make the most of it, for his little JoJo. He wanted to make her proud.