From the moment I woke up today, I knew I'd end up here. It is Dad's birthday, after all. I even took the day off of work. I haven't done that since I went back about a year ago. It worried Francie enough that she offered to come with me, but I assured her I was fine and wanted to be alone.
I've been sitting here for a while now, and it's actually very peaceful, which is the last thing I was expecting. I just wish he were here, so we could celebrate, instead of me being here alone staring at this cold stone. But I know he'd be glad I'm healthy again, and relatively happy.
"Happy birthday, Dad. I'm glad I was able to come here today. I really miss you, and I hope... I hope wherever you are, that you're proud of me. I never even told you that I was proud of you, or how much I appreciated everything you sacrificed for me. I love you, Daddy."
'I love you too, sweetheart. I'm glad you remembered to come here today. I miss you, too.'
I looked around, very sure of what I'd heard.... but there was no one. I quickly got up, walked briskly to the car, got in, and headed for home. As I drove, I shook my head once or twice, trying to clear it. I'd been recovered so many months now. I was sure hearing any kind of a voice couldn't be a good sign. I suddenly felt very afraid I'd go back to the shell of myself that I'd been just over a year ago.
When I got home, Francie was in the kitchen, cooking. As was her usual way, she saw right away that something was bothering me, but I didn't explain. I went directly to my bedroom, went inside and locked the door. After awhile, Francie came to the door and knocked.
"Sydney, you've been in there for three hours. I know where you were going when you left. Did something happen? Please tell me."
My eyes widened in surprise. I hadn't realized I'd been closed up in my room for so long. I walked over and hastily unlocked the door. Francie entered immediately, pulling me into a hug.
"Sydney, thank god you let me in. I've been knocking asking you to open the door every fifteen minutes for the last hour and a half! Didn't you hear me calling you?"
I shook my head weakly, growing even more afraid now. "I didn't hear you at all, until now. I guess I was really lost in my thoughts. Sorry."
Francie sat down on my bed, gently pulling me down beside her. "Thoughts about what, honey? What happened today?"
I hesitated for just a minute, wondering if I should tell her anything, and exactly how I should say it. Since I'd gotten well the last time, she and I had talked things through, and she wasn't so afraid of my illness anymore. Still, I paused again, as if speaking the words out loud guaranteed my slipping back into the darkness I'd been in a year ago.
"Fran, I... When I was visiting at the cemetery, I heard a voice. I looked around very carefully, there was noone else nearby. But I know I heard a voice. It... it was Dad's."
Before Francie could say anything, I began to cry, finally relieving some of the anxiety that had built inside of me. She hugged me again, tighter this time. My voice was muffled against her shoulder as I went on, but I had to tell her the rest, before I lost my nerve.
"I was so afraid, I nearly ran away from the place. All the way home I tried to convince myself that it wasn't real, that I just thought I heard him because I miss him so much. I don't want to get sick again, Fran! Everyone went through so much the last time, not just me. It won't be fair to ask anyone to help me again."
Francie ran her fingers through my hair and held me very tightly until my tears eased. Then she said, "I think you're getting ahead of yourself, Syd. I know you're scared, but today is your dad's birthday, and I know how much you miss him. So, you imagined you heard him. That doesn't mean you're getting sick again. When I make a mistake in the kitchen, I sometimes still hear my grandmother's voice in my head, correcting me. Things like that just happen. Have you heard him again since you got back?"
I lifted my head from her shoulder and shook it. Francie smiled. "See, I bet you're just fine. If anything else happens, you can tell me, then we'll decide what you should do next, okay?"
I sighed, feeling better than I had since I'd gotten home. "Okay, Fran. I know it's past lunchtime, but is there anything left? I'm starving."
"Sure, I made plenty. You can have as much as you want." She paused after we had both stood up from the bed, looking very worried again. "Sydney, don't you think you should call Michael and tell him about this? I think he'd want to know."
I sank down onto the bed again. "Oh, God, Fran. I hadn't even thought about that. Not tonight... He's probably busy, and you said you don't think it's anything serious. He'll just worry, and I don't want to ruin his night like that."
She sat down beside me again, gently running a hand through my hair. "Syd, if your positions were reversed, wouldn't you want him to tell you something like this? Even if it didn't seem like a big deal?"
I sighed, placing a hand over my eyes for a minute before meeting Francie's gaze again. "Yes," I answered simply.
"All right, then let's go do that. I can talk to him for you, if you want. I mean... if you're afraid you'll start crying again, or something."
I sighed again, this time out of relief. "Please. Just this once... I'm hoping this never happens again."
We both stood up again, and Francie took my hand as we walked toward the kitchen. "So am I," she whispered.
A few minutes later, as Francie sat at the table explaining things to Michael as carefully as she could, I found myself trying to tune out the half-conversation. I wanted to forget about the whole thing. Francie was probably right; hearing Dad's voice today, of all days, was likely nothing to worry about. True, it had sounded very real, but it hadn't seen like the other times, when I'd been so sick. There had been no visions of him, no other sensations at all. I snapped back to attention as Francie tapped me on the shoulder.
"Syd, he wants to talk to you. He's really worried, like you said he'd be. Maybe hearing your voice will make him feel better."
I took the phone from her, barely taking time to say hello first. "Michael," I went on quickly. "I'm fine, really. Francie and I talked about it, and she'll be here all night if I need her."
"Syd, nothing like this has happened to you for almost a year now. I'm glad you're not that worried about it, but I am, I can't help it. I was supposed to go hang out with Eric in a little while, but I can call him and tell him there's a change of plans. He probably won't mind, and I'd rather be there with you right now."
I almost wished I could get angry at him, tell him to stop worrying too much, and keep his promise to Eric. But he sounded so tense and concerned, I couldn't refuse him. "All right, Michael. I'm sorry I made you worry. Francie said it would be better if I told you. I'll see you in a little while, okay?"
"Yes. I'll hurry. Goodbye, Sydney. I love you."
"I love you too, Michael. Bye."
Michael arrived at Sydney's house only a half hour later. When he first arrived, he asked Sydney to describe for herself what had happened that morning. After that, though, he didn't bring that subject up again. Instead, he and Sydney got comfortable on the couch and watched a movie. Before it ended, Sydney was asleep. Michael was glad to see her slumbering peacefully. He carried her to her bedroom and settled her comfortably on her bed, kissed her gently on the lips, then left, calling a quiet goodbye to Francie as he headed out the front door.
In the early hours of the morning, long after both Sydney and Francie had fallen asleep, the single window in Sydney's bedroom slid open with a whisper. The visitor entered through the opening as quietly as possible, praying Sydney would not wake. He'd waited outside for quite some time, biding his time until he was sure the house was at peace for the night. He hadn't come here to disturb anyone. He even hesitated to touch anything in the room once he was inside.
For this reason, he simply stood beside Sydney's bed watching her, rather than taking a seat in the chair directly beside the bed. As he'd feared, the horrible burns she had suffered a year before had left her hands with scars. He couldn't take his eyes off of them for nearly five minutes. After this, he looked around the room, taking in all the details he could in just a couple of minutes. The majority of things were roughly the same as they were the last time he had been here. There were some new things, though. New curtains at the window, a quilt he'd never seen before folded up on the end of the bed. What caught his attention most, though, was a picture in a wooden frame resting on the nightstand.
A picture of himself.
If he'd needed any further confirmation of how deeply Sydney had been wounded in the past year, that photograph sitting where it was provided it. Never before had Sydney had any pictures of him anywhere in evidence in this house. And now, here one was, in the room where he suspected she spent many of her waking hours as well as her sleeping ones. He dared take a couple of steps closer to the bed, when Sydney suddenly stirred in her sleep. He froze, simply watching her again. She whimpered softly in her sleep, then spoke just four tearful words.
"I love you, Daddy." The words were so soft that noone on the other side of the door could have heard them. Sydney tossed restlessly for a few moments, and a tear slipped quickly down each cheek. She didn't wake up, though, and once Sydney had become still and quiet again, her observer dared to speak. His words were likewise in a barely audible whisper.
"Daddy loves you too, Sydney. Very, very much."
With those few words, Jack Bristow turned and exited his daughter's room the way he had come in. He slid the window shut behind himself, then went off into the darkness. Now, he could at last get a few hours rest. When Sydney was ready, he would reveal himself to her. He didn't know how long it would be until that time came, but he was willing to wait for as long as it took. She'd been through so much, he wanted to be absolutely sure she was prepared before he came back into her life. She would have so many questions.... dozens upon dozens of questions. Right now, Jack was as unprepared to give the answers as Sydney was to ask the questions.
Despite the clear evidence of her burns, Sydney had looked so beautiful, lying there fast asleep. Jack had never told his daughter this, but often when he was home, throughout her childhood, he'd come in and watch her sleep, just as he had tonight. He would stand beside her small bed and marvel at the simple fact that she existed... and she was his daughter. A daughter that needed him more often than he was able to be with her, and who bitterly resented his absences.
Now, things were different. Sydney still needed him, that was true. What had changed was the fact that Jack refused to allow anything to keep him apart from his daughter from now on. Even though Sydney would not see him in person for quite some time to come, he would be watching over her, loving her from afar. And thanking her silently for giving him a reason to fight to come back home again.
For giving him a reason to live.