Lauren heard the last wisp of breath slowly leave Daniel's chest and then he was still. A wave of anguish welled up within her, and she wanted to scream at the heavens and demand to know why. Daniel Pope was a good man, he'd reached out to her in his moment of need, and she'd come, only to have him die in her arms. She closed her eyes as a kaleidoscope of images of their time together assaulted her from every direction. She reeled at each crystal clear memory, tears formed as she remembered the day they met, his impish uncertain smile, the flash of interest in his eyes. His laugh, his clumsiness, his intellect, their walks, the late nights, the seasons in Boston, but now he was gone. She was battered by the thoughts and images of the life they had once shared, and finally she had no choice but to give in to grief. She cried silently, for him, for his daughter, and for herself. The memories kept coming, an avalanche of their time together that gathered momentum, and threatened to completely unhinge her. Lauren's tears rolled down her face, fell on Daniel's skin, and then, drop by drop, met with the river and were swept away toward an unknown destiny.
Donovan Nash awoke as the sensation of soft breath tickled his cheek. He opened his eyes with a smile. His five-year-old daughter, Abigail, still in her pajamas, was perched wide-eyed, hovering over him.
"Daddy, my tummy is empty. Make me pancakes like you promised!"
Donovan reached up and grabbed her under her arms, lifting her free of the bed to hold her at arm's length. She squealed with delight and put her hands out like wings, and Donovan spun her around like an airplane until he finally allowed her to drop next to him into the soft bedding.
Amidst Abigail's giggles, Donovan threw back the covers, sat on the edge of the bed, and pulled on a t-shirt. He picked up his cell phone. No message from his wife, Lauren. That perplexed him. As a consultant for the Defense Intelligence Agency, she'd been called away to a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. That had been five days ago, and she was scheduled to arrive back home at Dulles Airport this afternoon. Her flight out of Geneva departed at what would have been five in the morning Washington D.C. time, so she promised she'd send a message that she'd made her flight so as not wake him. The lack of a message was odd, but not cause for immediate alarm.
He turned and motioned for Abigail to jump up for a piggyback ride, which she did without hesitation. With a firm grip on both his phone and his little girl, he headed downstairs for the kitchen. "Special pancakes!" Abigail cried out as she slid off Donovan's back to sit on the kitchen counter.
Donovan opened the refrigerator, pulled out the orange juice, and poured Abigail a glass. "There you go, sweetie. Let Daddy start the coffee, and then we'll make special pancakes, okay?"
Abigail nodded as she drank her juice.
With the coffee started, Donovan found the bowl with the spout he liked, pancake mix, milk, and eggs. He set the pan on the stove and began to prepare the batter to the perfect consistency.
"What time does Mommy get home today?" Abigail asked as she finished her juice.
"You know the answer to that question." Donovan said as he whipped the batter with a wooden spoon. "We've talked about it every day since Mommy left for Europe. You tell me what time Mommy gets home."
"Two fifty-five!" Abigail held up both hands as if she'd scored a victory, clearly overjoyed at her mommy's return.
"What are we going to do before Mommy gets home?" Donovan asked, knowing the answer was going to further supercharge his daughter.
Abigail's eyes grew even larger as her excitement accelerated. "Horseback riding! Daddy, make me a pancake of Halley."
Donovan dropped some batter in the pan to test the temperature and found it perfect. Halley's Comet was the full name of the Welsh pony that Abigail rode and loved dearly. Halley had been her pancake request for the last two months. Using a spoon, he carefully poured batter to make the horse's torso, and then running legs, a neck and oval head, then he used tiny drops of batter for the ears, followed by a flowing tail. He grabbed two plates, butter and syrup, and returned to the stove just in time to carefully flip his creation. With Lauren out of town, he and Abigail often ate in the kitchen with her sitting on the counter, one of the many father-daughter rituals they enjoyed.