Dreams are like the doorway to one's reality.
Savannah Blake shouted, “Daddy,” right before waking up from the nightmare she would not remember. She glanced at the clock; it was a few minutes after nine. She couldn't believe she oversleptâif sleep was what it was really called. Savannah had plans on meeting her father for breakfast to discuss an idea about her new business venture. Unlike the old ones, this idea would be right up his alley. This one was to own and run a project-management consulting firm. With her father's keen sense of business, Savannah couldn't fathom making a decision without his approval, and she was certain she'd have it this time.
Savannah took a shower, and while the water slid down her body, she thought about her mother. Her father never let her forget that she was the spitting image of her. Ellen Danielle Blakeâthat was her mother's name. Both of them were petite and chose to wear their jet-black hair long and wavy. Ellen had died a few months after giving birth to Savannah's youngest sister, Asia. The bittersweet memory of losing her mother when Savannah was only age six still stung. Savannah wiped away the lone tear that fell from one eye. Her father raised them in Louisiana until his job re-assigned him to an office in Texas. Savannah and her sisters lived in Texas, but their father never let them forget their Louisiana heritage.
As she dried off, she glanced at the clock. “Sheesh, where does the time go?” she asked rhetorically, seeing that she was late. Being punctual was something her dad had instilled in them all. Her sisters, Montana and Asia, would tease her if they knew she was late. She prepared herself for a lecture from her dad.
Savannah dialed her father's number while exiting her town house, taking brisk and wide strides. “That's odd,” she said as she called his cell phone, just in case he was outside working in the garden. Her father never went anywhere without his cell phone.
Arriving at her father's house a short time later, she pulled out the spare key, without a thought to ringing the bell. “Sorry, I'm late,” she shouted, entering the house, instantly taking in the aroma of fresh brewed coffee and bacon and eggs, which filled every inch of the air. Cooking was just one of many talents her father possessed.
“Daddy, where are you?” Savannah shouted again, when she didn't see him in the kitchen or dining room. Only then did she notice that the patio door was ajar.
Expecting to find her father outside tending to his geraniums, she stepped over the threshold and onto the brick deck, the same deck she and her sisters had helped him lay.
As if a flash of bright light had taken her vision, she was blinded by the view ahead. She screamed at both the instant surprise and the sight that lay before her. Her father lay sprawled out on the ground. It was as if a camera flashed, leaving behind a portrait that would forever hang on her mental walls.
“Daddy! Daddy!” she shouted.
The words, the sound of her own voice at that pitch, caused her head and ears to ache and her brain to delay its registration of data.
The mental delay continued. Blood seeped through the brown multi-striped shirt he was wearing. She knelt down next to his body.
“My father... ,” she slurred the words out loud, hoping to rush the process along. “My father has been shot,” she panted, dipping her shaking hands into her pocket for her cell phone. Her heartbeat increased to a rapid pace. “My father. . . ,” she said, grasping for control of her voice, turning her head away from his body while dialing 911. She glanced back, “Oh God!” she squealed as the operator came on.
“911,” the operator said, sounding controlled and emotionally well managed.
Savannah shouted the ill-rehearsed lines her brain had just at that second computed. “My father's been shot! Oh my God!” she screamed.
“Ma'am, we need you to calm down,” the operator said, still sounding fully controlled.
The conflict of the woman's calm voice versus the scene that lay before her tightened Savannah's stomach, or maybe it was her brain's fault that she was feeling instantly sick. For now, her brain was bringing in the moment full forceâthe sounds of the flies buzzing in the Texas heat, the smells of the coagulating blood on the bricks, the water pouring out of the water hose.
“What's the address?” the woman asked.
Holding her face, Savannah felt the moisture on her hands. “Oh God, his blood is on my hands,” she gasped, giving way to hysterical tears.
“The address?” the woman repeated.
In between the tears Savannah managed to stammer out her father's house number and street. “There's blood everywhere,” Savannah added, looking at her blood-covered hands. “I think I touched him. I must have touched him.”
“It's okay, ma'am. Just stay calm. Now I need to know if he's conscious.”
“Conscious?” she asked. She saw her father's eyes flutter. “Yes, but. . . ,” Savannah's voice trailed. “You have to come . . . now!” Panic set in instantly as she hung up the phone and again gave her attention to her father. This time she was conscious of her actions. She knew what she was saying and doing.
“Daddy,” Savannah whimpered as her hands hovered over him. She pondered if she should move him, or if she could help him somehow. Finally she gave up in her attempt to reason and scooped him up in her arms. “Daddy. . . ,” she cried.
“Baby girl,” he whispered, choking on the blood that was no doubt forming in his throat.
“Shh,” Savannah said as she held him and rocked him the way he used to rock her on so many scary nights when she was a child. Sleep had never been her friend, and so all she could figure was that he would fight this last good-bye. Tears soaked her face, and now his.
“The box is in the attic... The key . . . go to bank . . . safe-deposit,” he whispered.
“Wha-what?” Savannah asked, figuring he was delusional, or her ears were playing tricks on her. How could he be thinking about a key and a box when his life was in jeopardy? “I love you, Daddy... They are coming, and things are going to be all right. You don't have to go to sleep. Stay awake with me,” Savannah said, refusing to give in to anything negative. He had to be all right. Her mind couldn't grasp being without him, her only parent. Again her stomach tightened as the sound of the sirens filled her ears.
He managed to spit out, in between coughing up blood, “I love you.”
“Daddy. . . ,” she squealed, squeezing a stream of fresh hot tears from her squinted eyes.
“Your sisters . . . Contact Bridges. He'll know what to do for your sisters. . .”
“Just hold on, Daddy. I hear them coming,” Savannah begged. She wanted to show him she was strong, and he was going to be all right. But she knew this time her faÃ§ade of strength would not hold. Her performance as a pillar of fortitude was a flop.
Her dad shifted in her arms, and suddenly, as if full of clarity, as if moving from this life into the next oneâa happier oneâin a clear crisp voice, he said, “I love you.”
The floodgate of tears opened. “Daddy . . . Dad, Iâ”
“Shh, sweetheart.” He paused, then attempted to raise his hand to touch her but dropped it listlessly to the ground. “I'm proud of you. You're stronger than what you think you are.” He appeared to be looking past Savannah into the distance. It was so definite a gaze that she, too, looked over her own shoulder. Looking back, she caught his eyes closing.
“No, Daddy, stay with me. Please don't do this.” Savannah rocked him back and forth, holding him close, not concerned about his blood covering her shirt.
“Don't cry, baby. Everything is going to be all right,” he mumbled.
Tears streamed down her face. “Not without you.”
Silence caused her to release her tight grip and look at her father's face again. She had to know if he was still alive. He had to be alive!
“Savannah, promise me you'll protect your sisters,” he said before his eyes closed. This time it was for good.
She envisioned Major Blake, her father, rising from the ground and stepping through death's door. Gone was the bloodstained shirt that adorned his earthly body; a long white robe now replaced it.
With Savannah holding his body with one arm, and raising her hand to wave at him with the other, she gave in to the momentary out-of-body experience she found herself in. “Good-bye,” he said, smiling at her before following a tall, handsome man standing beside him. The scene disappeared into the portal of her mind's eye. She glanced back at the body in her arms.
All her senses were on alert. “Daddy?” she called.
The door opened as the paramedics burst onto the deck. They were late. They were a moment too late.
Some came through the house, some through the back gateâlate, all the same.
She could tell people were surrounding the house. That's when she noticed the Dallas police officers' uniforms, in addition to the firemen's and paramedics'. So many uniforms of different types were there. Her eyes fluttered, but she held on to the moment. This was not a time to give in to the mental overload.
With tears streaming down her face, Savannah kissed her father on his forehead for the last time before those men, with forcefulness and tactless hands, shoved her out of the way. “Excuse me, miss,” one said, noticing her falling back onto the deck with a thud.
As she watched them work, she could only think of their poor timing. They were seconds too late to save the one man in her life who never disappointed her, and who meant the world to her. Major Blake died in her arms, but his legacy would live on.
Soon they, too, would want to know the answers to what she already questioned. Who had killed her father?
But what they didn't know was that Savannah had made a vowâwhoever it was, they would not go unpunished.