Raising the head of her hospital bed, Flynn Laramie angled her face toward the window. Her trembling lips upturned into a weak smile as she watched the red, yellow and orange leaves fall gently into the drying grass.
Clutching the large construction paper leaf between skinny white fingers, Flynn expelled a long, rattling breath from her lungs. She was going home today.
Looking at the leaf in her hands with big, dark green eyes, the young girl, read the scribbled names of the nurses, doctors and other staff that had cared for her. Zak Farmer. Ginger James. Doctor Holland McKinney. Logan Clark. Georgia Pepper and so many more. She would miss them all. Breathing as deeply as she could, Flynn winced. She knew they would miss her as well.
The first time she had entered Desmond Memorial Hospital, she had been six-years-old. Winter had brought on a chill she couldn't seem to shake. She grew more and more weary; more than the average, vivacious six-year-old should have been.
Flynn really didn't understand the diagnosis at first. Cancer? What did that mean? The doctor had used a really long word that she couldn't even pronounce. Mom had cried and Dad kept hugging them both.
She had been poked and prodded, x-rayed; hooked to machines that beeped and squealed. Chemotherapy and radiation had been the worst; sickness, hair loss and teasing from classmates made Flynn want to crawl into a hole. Why? Why was this happening? She had heard her parents both ask the same question after they thought she had fallen asleep. Doctors said Flynn had a very slim chance of making it through the year.
However, she had proved them wrong. Tomorrow would be her twelfth birthday. The girl had gone into remission; for a while. She felt good. She smiled more. She even laughed and got to go back to public school. Even though her hair was painfully short, it was better than being bald. Everyone treated her better when she was "normal".
Flynn sighed loudly and leaned back into her pillow. Normal. She hadn't known that mental or physical state long; before or after the diagnosis. Closing her heavy eyelids, a fond memory flitted to the forefront of her mind.
Just a few weeks after she had turned eight, she had helped Daddy rake some leaves in the front yard. They were so pretty.
"I love autumn best," Flynn told her father as she scooped up an armful of leaves and threw them onto a growing pile.
"Oh?" Mr. Laramie leaned on his rake as he watched his lookalike daughter. "Why's that?"
"Well, spring's too wet with all the rain, summer's too hot and winter's too cold." Flynn scratched a rosy cheek with a gloved finger. "Autumn's just right with the beautiful leaves, air crisp and fresh, apple cider and pumpkins."
"That's a good description, honey," Mr. Laramie grinned. "But I like winter best. My favorite thing is making snow angels."
"Oh, I can make an angel," Flynn threw down her rake, turned her back to the pile and fell rigidly into the reds, yellows, oranges and browns. As she wiggled her "wings" she giggled as the crunching sounds reverberated in her ears.
Mrs. Laramie had watched from the kitchen window as father and daughter laughed and ran around the expansive yard, throwing hands full of leaves at one another.
"Ready to go?" Her Mom's voice questioned happily.
Flynn opened her eyes and nodded her bald head. She didn't want to use the wheelchair that her mother had pushed into the room but she didn't have much choice. She was too weak to walk.
"Daddy's so sorry he couldn't be here. He had to go on that business trip to Huntsville, you know? He's going to call you tomorrow."
Looking into her mother's smile, Flynn could tell she was trying but the woman's cheerfulness was poorly disguised.
"Let's go," the girl slowly moved her scrawny legs over the bedside and allowed her mother to maneuver her frail body into the rolling chair.
The next morning, Flynn was awakened to the aroma of cinnamon-apple oatmeal. Mrs. Laramie crept into the room carrying a wooden breakfast tray laden with a variety of foodstuffs.
"I didn't know what you would want this morning," she said softly as she placed the tray on the nightstand.
"I want to go outside," Flynn announced.
"Outside?" Mrs. Laramie chuckled. "Don't you want to wait until Daddy gets home or at least until he calls?"
"No, I want to go outside and enjoy the leaves." The girl wheezed as the words hung heavily in her throat.
"I don't know..."
"It's my birthday." Flynn tried not to sound irritated. "Please?"
"Daddy raked up a pile of leaves before he left. There aren't many on the trees to look at anymore."
Big, pleading green eyes looked into bloodshot blue ones.
"Oh, okay." Mrs. Laramie wavered. "But we have to use the wheelchair and you have to wear a jacket."
Flynn nodded in agreement as she coughed into the crook of her elbow. Moments later, mother and daughter were out on the sidewalk in the chilly air.
Pointing at the pile of leaves, Flynn whispered, "Closer."
Mrs. Laramie pushed the rolling chair over a crack in the sidewalk. "Sorry, dear," she exclaimed as Flynn bounced and the wheels twirled and twisted.
"It's ... okay ... Mom." Flynn gritted her teeth and sniffed loudly.
Mrs. Laramie watched in amazement as her beautiful, ailing daughter grasped each armrest on the wheelchair and stood on shaky legs. "Flynn!" she shrieked.
Moving slowly, Flynn faced her mother. "I love you, Mom." Deep lines etched between her non-existent eyebrows and around her delicate mouth revealed excruciating pain. "Tell Daddy I love him too."
Mrs. Laramie reached a hand into the breeze as the young cancer patient fell rigidly into the reds, yellows, oranges and browns. Flynn wiggled her "wings" for just a moment, hearing the soft crunching sounds reverberating in her ears as she took her last ragged breath.
A solitary tear trailing down her face, Phyllis Laramie whispered, "Happy Birthday, angel. I hope there is autumn in Heaven."