Early morning light filters through the semi-open net-curtains, bathing the room in a warm glow. A small form lays silhouetted amongst the rosy pink sheets, the steady rise and fall of her chest and shallow breaths the only indication that all is not peaceful and well. She shifts restlessly, her arms unconsciously tightening around the tattered and torn teddy with its bald patches and missing eye.
Above her, the handcrafted wooden mobile spins slowly, the ballerinas dancing to a tuneless song in the gentle puffs of breeze from the open window. She shifts again, kicking the sheets into a crumpled pile on the floor at the end of the bed.
Her eyes crinkle tightly then flash open, revealing clear blue orbs. Her chest heaves, leaving her panting. Her eyes dart around, taking in the pictures on her nightstand, the handcrafted figurines on her dresser and the rumpled bedding, reassuring herself that it was all just a dream.
Stretching, she sits up, her hair falling in long tangled ringlets down her back. Two thin, twisted stands frame her face, showing off a face full of innocence. Scooting forward, she swings her legs over the side of the mattress, feeling her feet sink deep into the plush carpet. Wriggling her toes for a moment, she stands, her white nightie falling loosely around her body.
Her hem brushes against her thighs, the material whispering softly as she makes her way over to her dresser. Reaching up with the hand not holding her teddy, she pulls a small trinket box from the top, clutching it to her chest tightly.
She kneels down, slipping her small body in between the dresser and the bottom of the window sill, feeling the cool breeze wash over her skin, making her nightie and long ringlets flutter in time with the dancing ballerinas. The sweet scent of wet earth and the promise of rain fill her nose, and the faint calls of hungry birds fill her ears.
But this she does not notice. She only has eyes for what is hidden in the bottom of the silver trinket box. With slender fingers, she delicately extracts a long chain, two metal tags attached. She traces a finger along the words engraved.
Semper Fidelis, one reads and she knows this means 'Always faithful'. The other simply reads, Kelly. Her name.
Clenching the tags together, she slides the chain around her neck, shivering as the cold metal touches her bare skin. The familiar weight and sound of the tags chinking brings unbidden tears to her eyes. She blinks them away, sniffling quietly into her teddy's head. She settles back quietly, clutching the teddy and fingering the tags, watching as the dawn sun lights the room.
She knows not how much time passes when she finally becomes aware of dishes banging followed by the tasty smell of warm pancakes, maple syrup and fresh lemon juice. Shimmying out of her hiding spot, she pads softly over the thick carpet of her bedroom floor, feet barely making any noise as they come in contact with the wooden floorboards of the landing.
Still in the simple white nightie, adorned with the dog tags and threadbare teddy, she makes her way downstairs, avidly listening to the sounds from the kitchen. She stops short of the doorway, hesitant. Slowly, her small head peeks around the corner to see her mother sitting on a stool at the breakfast bar, back to the entryway.
Curious as to who is cooking breakfast, she steps further into the room, still unnoticed. Her eyes breath hitches and her heart leaps as her eyes widen in realization. The person turns, sensing he and the woman are not alone. He smiles, his whole face lightening as he braces himself.
"Hi Kelly," he greets softly, voice gravelly. The girl launches herself across the room, ringlets and nightie flying.
"Daddy," she screams, burying her face into the warmth of her father's hug, breathing in the familiar smell that is uniquely him. She hugs him tightly, afraid to let go, but manages to look at his face all the same. Two pairs of clear blue eyes meet each other, both filled with love. "I missed you, daddy," she says, tears trickling down her face. The man reaches up with a rough thumb and brushes the tears away.
"I missed you, too, Kel," he answers back, eyes prickling with his own unshed tears. She buries her face back into his shirt.
"I love you, daddy," she mumbles.
"I love you, Kelly. I always will." And this time the tears do fall.