God Bless the Broken Road
chapter one Spring Cleaning Day 429
AS SOON AS the alarm goes off, Amber forces herself to say it.
“This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Today, Amber actually believes it. She’s so close to the end.
She shakes off the night and her covers. Her bare feet touch the cool, glossy oak floor. The floor she and Darren sanded, stained, and polished together when they bought this old Victorian eight years ago in Clarksville, Darren’s hometown.
Amber flies around their king-size bed to the en suite bath with the claw-foot tub she found at a vintage store the summer after they bought the place. She loves this tub. She loves soaking in this tub. She loves looking at this tub. She hates cleaning it. And boy, does it need a scrubbing.
Amber grabs her robe from the hook that hangs next to Darren’s. His robe hasn’t moved in 429 days. Neither have his toiletries on the top two shelves of the medicine cabinet. Even his shampoo bottle is still propped up on the rim of the shower stall, just as it was the morning he left for Afghanistan.
Amber enters Bree’s darkened room and sits on the edge of her daughter’s bed. She lightly touches her eight-year-old’s
shoulder. Bree’s eyes flutter open as she rolls onto her back. Most of her long, brown, wavy hair still covers her face, and Amber brushes it aside to look at her gorgeous brown eyes. A gift from her father. Nothing like Amber’s fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes.
Amber sings, “This is the day . . .” She waits for Bree to echo the response.
“No, Mom. I’m tired.” Bree pulls the covers over her head.
“This is the day . . . Come on,” Amber teases.
Bree’s head shakes from under the quilt. “It’s Saturday.”
“That the Lord has made.” Amber echoes that part on her own: “That the Lord has made.”
Amber pulls the covers off Bree’s face.
“I wanna sleep in.”
“You can’t hide. Time to get up.” Amber tickles Bree’s sides. Bree squirms under the quilt.
“Keep singing,” says a muffled voice.
“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Bree peeks out from under the covers and joins in on the last line. “This is the day that the Lord has made.” Bree stretches her arms above her head, reaching her fingers to touch a photograph she knows is taped to her headboard. Her father in his military uniform.
“Is today the day?”
“No. But not too much longer.”
“That’s a lot.”
“It’s less than two weeks, Bree. We have so much to do before then.”
Amber thinks about the roof that needs repair, and the yard that needs raking, and the fence that could use a coat of white paint, and the house that needs a good spring cleaning. How did she let so much go over the year?
“We’re gonna clean the house and rake the yard today,” says Amber, who knows she’s biting off more than they can chew. “And afterward we’ll go downtown and get ice cream.”
Bree hugs her pink camouflage butterfly pillow, a gift from her dad from the post exchange on base. “I have an idea. Let’s make pancakes and watch cartoons instead.”
Amber opens the blinds, sending the sun streaming into Bree’s room against the powder-puff-pink walls, filling the room with warmth. Outside she notices the daffodils and tulips have bloomed overnight. She cracks the window open and warm spring air flows in, smelling like moist soil and fresh grass. The yellow ribbon she and Bree placed around their big oak tree that stands in the yard at the end of their house flutters in the breeze. It’s looking faded. She should replace it before Darren gets home. Glancing across the lawn, she notices for the first time all winter that it’s no longer brown and crumpled. Instead, a light-green hue has cropped up overnight. In a couple of weeks the grass will be long enough to mow.
And Darren will be home.
Amber starts to sing lightly, “This is the day that the Lord has made.”
“Why do we have to clean the house? It’s just gonna get dirty again.”
Amber laughs. Bree’s spunk and sense of humor make the long days without Darren more tolerable. What would she do without her daughter?
“No more arguments. Up and at ’em, kiddo.” Amber goes to Bree’s closet and selects two outfits. “Which one?” Amber holds up a hot-pink shirt in her left hand and a yellow-sailor-striped one in her right.
Bree slides out of bed, slipping her feet into her oversize pink elephant slippers. She points to the one on Amber’s left.
“You always pick the pink one.”
“It’s Dad’s favorite.”
“Can’t argue with that. Let’s get it on.” Amber hangs the sailor shirt back on the bar. Bree treads over to her mother, elephants slapping the wooden floor with each step. Amber lifts her pjs over her head and slides the shirt on in their place. “Brush hair and teeth, and meet me downstairs for breakfast.”
She sends Bree to the bathroom and heads back to the master, entering as she hears her phone. She dashes over to find she’s missed a call from Darren, hits redial, and prays she can get a connection. Pacing back and forth, Amber wills the call to go through.
“Come on. Come on. Pick up. Let’s see, it’s nine o’clock here, which means dinnertime there. Come on, Darren. You were just there.” After the fourth ring, Darren’s line goes to voice mail.
Amber doesn’t bother leaving a message. It’s happened this way a million times before. By now she should be used to the missed calls and cutoff conversations. But she isn’t. It’s been more than a week since she’s heard his voice.
She shrugs off her momentary letdown. In ten days they’ll be able to talk and talk and talk. No interruptions.