Every bird has to leave the nest one day, leaving the parent birds behind to regroup and find a way to move on. Allison and Joe knew the day was coming soon that their nest would gradually grow emptier, but as it always is, that day came sooner than they'd like – too soon.
The first to leave was Ariel, her room packed into cardboard boxes before either of them could bat an eye. Off to Arizona State, off making her own road on the map of life – no parents, no annoying younger sisters to hold her down. Her phone calls home were vivid recollections of parties with hot boys and a boyfriend named Steve whose parents owned a cabin for skiing. Studying? Who had time for studying when there was a life to be lived?
Bridgette grew into the role of the older sister, one she had been silently preparing for her entire life. And now that Ariel was gone, now that Ariel's old room had reverted back to being Marie's – with Ariel's bed still intact, for when she could tear herself away from her new life – she blossomed without her older sister's shadow hovering over her. Her parents couldn't have been more proud. Once she graduated from high school, an acceptance letter to a large university in California shoved in her back pocket, she knew she would be like Ariel in at least one respect – she couldn't look back once she was already gone. There were phone calls and e-mails, but it wasn't the same.
And then there was little Marie, the baby of the family. If Bridgette believed that she was living in Ariel's shadow, Marie had it doubly hard. But, as she ascended into the position of being the sole focus of her parents' attention on a daily basis, punctuated by the occasional dream that her or her mother had regarding Bridgette or Ariel, which would invariably lead to long, drawn-out phone conversations with one or the other, she realized that she liked being the only one living at home.
At least it meant that when it was her own time to fly, she had her older sisters' examples to guide her path onward and upward.
Allison walked through the house one day, just a short time after they had seen Marie off to her new college halfway across the country – so far from home! The house was so much quieter these days, no trio of blonde daughters careening through the halls, no television shows being blared or tempers being flared over the sharing of the bathroom mirror. Just a car driving by, the radio volume turned so high that she could make out the words through the walls, a distant child's yell – the normal sounds of a neighborhood. She ran her hand over the backs of the kitchen chairs, remembering mornings spent pouring cereal, making sure that everyone had everything ready for the day, be that permission slips or car keys.
Instead, it was her and Joe, in their empty little DuBois nest, just as it had been before they had a family.
She continued to hold the back of the kitchen chair, staring off into space, lost in a wave of nostalgia for when her children were still children. Not that she was disappointed with how they had turned out. Not at all. But there was a big part of her that missed the way things used to be. From behind her, she felt a pair of familiar arms being wrapped around her waist, and a familiar chin finding its traditional resting place on her shoulder. "Hi," Joe said, pulling her closely to him. "Is this party just for you, or can anyone join if they wanted?"
She sank against his chest and tilted her head up to look at him. "Not just for me," she said, her voice almost cracking. "You can join my pity party if you want."
"I miss them too," he said, nuzzling his chin against her neck. "They're doing fine though; Ariel sent us Sophia's birth announcement the other day, remember? And Bridgette is settling into her new job well, and Marie is starting classes."
"But don't you remember when they were our little girls?"
"They still are, and always will be our little girls. That's never going to change," he said. The room grew silent as they swayed back and forth together, the faint strains of long-ago laughter echoing through the halls, enveloping them.
The sun gradually fell beneath the horizon, casting the room first into brilliant oranges and reds, then into darkness. And as they crawled between the sheets later that night and cradled against each other, instinctively seeking each other's company, they knew that even though their baby birds had flown the nest, the two parent birds would still have each other.
Plus, their children could always come back for a visit.