A Short Story by Maribeth Shanley
On February 15th, 2077 Dakota Mahoney sat on the slant tree looking up at a star-lit sky. He was thinking of his parents. He wiped his cheek with the sleeve of his shirt as a tear trickled down.
Five years prior, his father, Sean, passed away. He died sometime during the evening of Valentine’s Day. After fighting cancer for several years, his mom, Emily, passed three years prior to Sean. She died on February 15th. Among the family members, it was strongly believed that she fought to stay alive for one more Valentine’s Day.
Sean and Emily had been in love most of their lives. Early in the relationship, the couple began a tradition of giving each other a special card for special occasions such as Valentine’s Day, their anniversary and birthdays. It was one of their unique ways of professing their love for one another.
Dakota felt the warmth of love for his parents as he considered the evenings he would sit in their kitchen watching Emily and Sean exchange cards. Their special ceremony was always conducted at the kitchen island. It was like watching his parents fall in love all over again as they shed tears and giggled during their ceremony. It filled Dakota’s heart with bittersweet love to think of these things and of the uncanny coincidence that both parents died at Valentine’s.
When Sean was found the morning following Valentine’s Day he was seated in his favorite chair. An empty wine glass sat between his legs. Dakota smiled as he thought of the many times his dad would fall asleep with an empty wine glass between his legs. This time, however, there were cards in Sean’s lap, down the side of the chair and strewn on the floor. Sean had been reading all the cards he and Emily exchanged over the years when he quietly slipped away.
Then Dakota thought of the last night before Emily passed. How incredible that Mom died the day after Valentine’s Day. She wouldn’t leave without being able to give Dad one last testament of her undying love.
Then, just as Dakota thought this, he watched a falling star shoot across the sky. A warm chill ran along his spine as he recalled how, on that last Valentine’s evening, he carried his frail mother out to the slant tree where Sean was waiting. This would be the scene of their last Valentine’s exchange. A very special place for the couple, it was where they first met and fell in love.
Could that be Mom saying hello? He wanted to believe it but the science side of him brushed it off to coincidence. Then he thought of how many times Emily had discussed the notion of reincarnation with her family.
Emily firmly believed in reincarnation. Although he never talked with the same passion, Sean did as well.
Dakota was deep in thought when he heard his wife, Trish, call to him from the base of the tree. “Dakota, it’s late. You should come to bed, sweetie. You have an early day tomorrow.”
“You’re right. I’ll be right in, Trish.”
A few minutes later, Dakota walked into their bedroom. Trish had just changed into her nightgown and was standing by her side of the bed.
She turned to ask, “Were you thinking of Sean and Emily tonight, Dakota?”
“Yes. I can’t explain it but I just feel a little sadder this year than in previous years. I miss them so very much.”
Trish walked over and put her arms around Dakota’s neck, “I miss them too, sweetie. I especially miss your mom. She was such a special lady.”
“I know this sounds silly,” Dakota blushed, “But I watched a falling star shoot across the sky just before you came out. I wanted to believe that it was Mom saying hello; but, I know it was just a shooting star.”
“Well, Dakota, you may be a scientist; but it’s really ok to have such frivolous thoughts. After all, Emily did believe in reincarnation with all her heart; and, I can’t help myself. I think she was onto something. I still think of all the uncanny conversations she and I had before she died; and, I can’t shake the feeling that we were more deeply connected than merely mother and daughter-in-law. So, go ahead and think the star was your mom. It’ll be our little secret. Besides, I love that explanation!”
Dakota held Trish close and kissed her sweetly. “I love you so much, Trish. My lucky stars were shining down on me the day you came into my life.”
Later that evening, as Dakota drifted off to sleep, he thought of the shooting star. He wanted so much to believe he would see his mother and father again in this life. He then thought of what Trish told him just prior to Emily’s death.
Emily asked Trish to tell Dakota how much she loved him and that she would see him soon. Emily’s words to Trish were the last thoughts on Dakota’s mind just prior to slipping into a deep slumber.
* * * *
Dakota often thought about his vivid dreams. Sometimes, when he woke from such a dream, he sensed a mysterious feeling that he had been visited during the night. Many of the dreams felt as if his mother had spoken to him. Once he woke feeling that Sean had visited him. He wanted to believe these visits were more than mere dreams. Yet, the reality of the conscious state of mind and science itself would always dismiss the visits leaving Dakota convinced that he was merely dreaming. This night, however, just prior to dawn he had such a dream.
He was sitting on the side of his bed when Emily came to him. She was beautiful, dressed in an airy, light pink floor-length dress. She seemed to float across the bedroom floor. She sat down next to Dakota, took his hands in hers and began talking.
“Dakota, I’m so excited. We’re going to be together again. Shannon is pregnant. She’ll find out tomorrow and will tell you and Trish this weekend. She won’t know for a while, but she’s going to have a little girl.”
Dakota smiled, “Mom, are you going to come back as my granddaughter?”
Sounding ecstatic, Emily said, “Yes. Isn’t that wonderful? I just can’t wait.”
“What about Dad, Mom. Has he come back yet?”
“That’s the exciting part, Dakota. He transitioned over just a short while ago. He’s a little boy. Before I left my body, your dad promised me he’d come back as a boy because we knew I would come back as a girl. We promised one another we would find each other so we could be together again.”
“Do you know who his parents are, Mom?”
“I’m not supposed to, but you know what a devil my grandfather is. Mom used to tell me he was mischievous.” She giggled, “I’ve had so much fun here with him! Grandma made Grandpa promise not to divulge your dad’s name; but he whispered it to me while Grandma was busy helping Sean transition. I think I told you that Grandma and Grandpa decided to stay here rather than come back. They’re in charge of helping souls transition back to life.”
Then Emily looked at Dakota and said, “Anyway, this is important, Dakota.”
Dakota could tell by her tone that Emily was about to say something significant, so he looked directly at her and listened intently.
“Your Dad’s new name will be Peter McGregor. When you wake, you need to write that name down? Will you promise me you’ll do that, Dakota? I know I won’t remember once I transition, but, if you knew the name, it could help us find each other faster. I know that’s cheating, Dakota, but Grandpa told me it was like a little white lie. He called it a little white cheat.”
“I’ll remember, Mom; and, I promise to write it down.” He momentarily closed his eyes tight and scrunched his face like he was trying hard to commit her request to memory.
“Oh, thank you so much, sweetie. I just can’t wait to be with you again; and, just think. This time you’ll be my teacher and caregiver. Won’t that be fun?”
“It’ll be more than fun, Mom. It’ll be a miracle!”
“Mom, I just remembered something. You said Dad transitioned a short while ago. Do you remember what day and time it happened?”
“Oh, honey, I have no concept of days or even time. You know those are notions created by humans. There is no time here. Why are you asking?”
“Well, earlier tonight as I sat on the slant tree thinking about you and Dad, I watched a shooting star fly across the sky. I felt a strange attachment to the star. I just can’t explain it. Do you think it was Dad’s soul?”
“Wouldn’t that be wonderful if it was? It could have been. Let’s just believe it was your dad. Oh, Dakota, I just can’t wait to be with your dad again. It’s been wonderful being here with him. It was as wonderful but even more wonderful than when we were both alive. There are no worries here and love surrounds everyone. I just can’t explain the purity of love I feel for you father. It’s all encompassing.”
Then, looking harried she said, “Well, sweetie, I need to scoot. You’re about to wake up and I want you to remember I was here. This wasn’t a dream, Dakota. I know you think these are dreams; but, Dakota, they’re not. They’re real. You know, your dad and I also used to think these were mere dreams. But, before we were married, we were both visited by your great-grandma, Martha. She wanted us to know she was really there visiting us together so she managed to have our minds merge during her visitation. She was clear that she was visiting us. It’s when she told us that the baby I was pregnant with was the soul of your grandfather, Davie. Your brother, Davie was Sean’s father in his previous life. One day something will happen and you’ll finally know these are visitations and not dreams. When that happens, you’ll finally understand and believe in what I am telling you.”
As Emily finished her sentence she stood, kissed Dakota on the forehead and said, “I love you, Dakota. I love you with my whole heart.” She said this as she floated back across the room disappearing in a pool of light.
* * * *
Dakota woke up to the beeping of his alarm clock. He got up, stretched, slid on his slippers and went to the bathroom to shave. As he looked at himself in the mirror he said out loud, “Peter McGregor.” He was stunned and didn’t know why he said those words. Yet, something deep inside, encouraged him to write it down on a piece of paper which he stuck into his wallet that was sitting on his sink counter. Later that morning, as Dakota rode the hour to work, he recalled his entire dream. He also recalled the shooting star. This time, he felt certain he was visited by his mom. The dream was vivid and he promised himself, once at work, he would write down some of the details.
As he thought of the name, Peter McGregor, and then the shooting star, he was sure his mom told him this would be his dad’s new name. Dakota was glad he momentarily let go of his skepticism in order to write the name down. Later, while sitting at his desk, he made a few notes about the dream and stuffed the note paper in his wallet next to the note with Peter’s name. This would be the last visitation Dakota would have for many years; and, so, he became convinced that the visitation was nothing more than wishful thinking.
In the meantime, his daughter, Shannon did indeed have a baby girl. Shannon and her husband, Tom, would name their little girl with flame red hair, Molly.
That weekend, Shannon and Tom took both parents to dinner. Once they all ordered their meals, Shannon and Tom held up their glasses and proposed a toast. It was Tom who spoke.
“We wanted to share some very special news with you. Shannon went to the doctor two days ago.”
Before Tom could say another word, Trish exclaimed, “Is that why you ordered ginger ale? I thought that was odd for you that you weren’t ordering an apple martini.”
“Yes, Mom.” Shannon laughed. “That’s why. Isn’t it just wonderful?”
The three couples toasted the news and chattered excitedly during the remainder of the meal. They discussed names. Tom and Shannon told their parents they decided to name their little boy after Tom. If, on the other hand, they were to have a little girl, they would name her Molly. The baby was due sometime in mid-February. In fact, the doctor predicted the birth would become a Valentine’s present to them. Dakota recalled that his mom told him Molly would become her new name.
* * * *
On the way home that evening, Dakota recounted his dream, the name Peter McGregor and told Trish that he remembered the name Molly from his dream.
“Dakota, maybe it’s all true. Maybe we do come back again and again. Oh…I just can’t wait to find out what happens. I feel like I’m a character in a wonderful story.”
Nine months passed. It was Valentine’s Day and Dakota was in New York City at a conference and having dinner with several colleagues when he felt his phone vibrate. He picked it up to see he had a voice message from Tom. Dakota hit a button, then held the phone up to his ear.
He heard Tom’s voice say, “Baby girl. Born at 8 p.m. Weighs 9 lbs. Shannon and Molly are doing well. Her hair is flame red and she has a ton of it! See you soon.” Then a big happy face showed on the screen.
Dakota excused himself as he walked out of the restaurant to call Trish. She answered immediately, “Did you hear?”
“Yes, Tom just left me a message. God, I can’t wait to see her. I can’t believe she was born on Valentine’s Day, which reminds me. Don’t forget we have a date tomorrow night. We’ll start off at the kitchen island then go out to dinner. I love you my little Valentine!”
“Oh, Dakota. I love you too. I haven’t forgotten our date. I have my special card all ready to give to you. I’m going to the hospital to meet Molly in the morning. Did Tom tell you that Molly’s hair is flame red?”
“Yes, and that she has a ton of it. I can’t wait to see her! Well, honey, I better get back to my group. I love you so much. See you tomorrow night.”
“Ok. I love you too, Dakota. Just one more thing before I hang up. There just may be something to this whole reincarnation thing. Too many coincidences to be mere coincidences.”
The two hung up and Dakota went back to the group where he announced his good fortune.
* * * *
The first time Dakota held Molly, he felt a chill run down his spine. Later Trish would acknowledge that Molly had a familiarity about her that was uncanny. She couldn’t explain it, but she emphasized that Molly seemed to be in heaven when Dakota held her. Even Shannon and Tom acknowledged how content their little girl seemed in her grandfather’s arms.
Over those first few years, it was evident to everyone that Molly and Dakota had a very special relationship. She adored her grandfather; and she was the apple of Dakota’s eye.
Molly and Dakota spent endless time with each other going to movies, shopping and having tea parties in the garden around the slant tree. They spent time as well sitting on the tree where he often read her all her favorite fairy tales. It filled Trish up to watch their relationship blossom. Molly kept Dakota young and grounded.
Trish would often comment to Dakota, “I’m so happy you and Molly are so close. You have a tendency to get caught up in work. Molly keeps you planted to earth. She loves you so much, Dakota.”
* * * *
On Molly’s fourth birthday Dakota and Trish planned a birthday party for Molly the following day, a Saturday. Tom’s parents drove in from Connecticut for the party.
As Trish and Peggy, Tom’s mom, decorated Trish’s kitchen and frosted the cake, Molly asked Dakota if they could go out to the slant tree. Molly loved the slant tree.
They were out at the tree for about a half hour when Shannon, Tom, Trish, Peggy and her husband, Mark walked out to join them.
Molly asked Dakota, “Grandpa, what are those things on the tree?” She was pointing to the trunk where Sean had carved five slash marks on the trunk.
“Your great-grandpa, Sean, made those marks with a knife your great-grandma, Emily, gave him to celebrate their first Christmas.”
"The marks represent a very special day for your great-grandpa and great-grandma. They loved each other very much. You know, Molly, your great-grandpa would often visit your great-great-grandma, Martha, who lived in our house a long time ago.”
Dakota had Molly in his arms and they were standing in front of the tree as Molly ran her tiny hand along each of the slash marks.
Suddenly, Molly became very quiet and pensive as she seemed to almost caress the slash marks. Then, in a dreamy-like voice, yet loud enough for all to hear, she said, “I remember, Grandpa. I lived over there then didn’t I?”
Molly was pointing to the house directly across the street.
Everyone became silent as Molly made the remark and Dakota didn’t know what to say.
He turned around to see Trish and the other three adults standing close by and they all looked stunned.
Dakota finally stuttered the words, “W, Well, y, yes, Molly, that’s where your great-grandma, Emily, lived when she was just a little girl.”
As soon as he finished his sentence Trish exclaimed, “Who wants to go celebrate Molly’s birthday?”
That broke the strange silence that hovered over the moment as Molly clapped her hands and excitedly yelled, “I do, I do. Let’s go, Grandpa!”
* * * *
Later that afternoon, and after Tom’s parents left, Dakota, Trish, Shannon and Tom were sitting around the kitchen table. Molly was in the TV room watching one of her favorite Disney movies.
Shannon looked at Dakota and said, “That was strange, Dad.”
“What was strange, Shannon?”
“The comment Molly made about remembering that she had lived in the house Grandma lived in. Where did she get that from?”
“Beats me. I was just as surprised as you and everyone else. Maybe it’s from all the stories she’s heard about your grandfather and grandmother.”
“Maybe so; but, I can’t help thinking there’s more to it than that. After all, we’ve all experienced some strange happenings over the years. Do you remember that last Christmas Eve before Grandpa died?”
“How could I ever forget?”
Tom looked puzzled. “What happened?”
Shannon said, “Beth, my Uncle Davie’s youngest daughter came running into the bedroom where all the grandkids were sleeping to tell us there was a little girl sitting on the slant tree. We all went into the bathroom to look out the window and sure enough, there was a little girl with long, bright red, curly hair sitting at the bottom half of the tree. We could see her clear as could be because it was a full moon and the moon illuminated her body. Grandpa came in and moved to the front so he could see her better. Then, we all saw something shiny in the little girl’s hands. She was holding the object as if cuddling it at the same time. I recall how Grandpa cried a little and muttered the name Emily.”
“Who was she?” asked Tom.
“That was the strangest part. She wasn’t a little girl at all. We all think she was Emily’s spirit and that she came back so Grandpa could see her. The shiny object she was holding was a Swiss Army knife she gave Grandpa on the very first Christmas after they met. They were both twelve at the time.”
“Oh, come on, Shannon, you don’t believe that stuff do you?” asked Tom.
“I don’t know, honey, it sure seemed real that night. Later we all sat on the bed and floor of Grandpa’s bedroom and he told us the story of the knife. The way he told it made us all believe that we had just been told a very real fairytale. Believe it or not, it did happen, and as much as I have wanted to dismiss it over the years, I can’t. It really did happen. I swear I’m not making it up.”
Trish and Dakota were both nodding their heads as Trish commented, “We all saw the little girl, Tom; yet, when Davie went out the back door to see who she was, she was gone. It was really, really bizarre!”
“Well, whether it really happened or not, I’m not telling my parents that story. They’d think I married into a nut house,” Tom said as he laughed nervously. Shannon poked him in the side and they all laughed loudly.
* * * *
Later that evening Dakota and Trish discussed the strangeness of Molly’s question.
"I’m telling you, Dakota, this is all very strange yet it isn’t strange at all. I can’t explain it. I’m beginning to believe Molly is Emily.”
“Me too, Trish. Me too.”
* * * *
As the year went by Dakota began to occasionally take Molly to work with him. He was the CEO of BrainPower which was founded by his father. Sean was a world renowned neuroscientist. Dakota followed in Sean’s footsteps. He took over the foundation once Sean retired. Also in Sean’s footsteps, Dakota had developed a reputation within the discipline for ground-breaking discoveries and advancements. The foundation was well known for its work with Alzheimer’s disease and PTSD as well as having discovered a remarkable cure for cancer.
When Emily was diagnosed, the foundation was on the brink of discovering the cure which was linked to training the brain to rewire in order to cure itself. Unfortunately, however, the cure didn’t come fast enough for Emily.
In the meantime, whenever it was possible, Dakota loved taking Molly to work with him and secretly hoped she would fall in love with neuroscience as she grew so he could pass the foundation on to her. She was smart as a whip and, not only a fast learner but, at four, already showing signs of great imagination.
* * * *
It was a Saturday morning, February 14th, Molly’s fifth birthday, that something very strange happened.
Dakota and Molly planned to meet Trish, Shannon and Tom in Boston where the two women spent the morning shopping. The four adults were taking Molly to an afternoon performance of the ballet, Swan Lake, which was playing at the Boston Opera House.
Molly loved the ballet and was relentless in begging her parents to let her take ballet lessons. They were scheduled to meet Trish and Shannon at 1 p.m. for lunch then go on to the 3 p.m. performance. Tom would meet them at the restaurant for lunch as well. Molly insisted on wearing her pink tights, and tutu she got that previous Christmas.
Molly was dancing down the hallway at BrainPower when she danced right smack into a little boy who was coming out of the men’s room. Both children fell to the floor. As the little boy was helping Molly up, the boy’s father walked out of the bathroom. Dakota heard the commotion, came out of his office and had just rounded the corner to see the boy helping Molly.
Dakota recognized the father as one of the young scientists the foundation had recently hired. Dakota only knew the young man as Tim, so, as he walked toward the area just outside the men’s bathroom, Dakota extended his hand to Tim. “Why, Tim, what are you doing here on a Saturday morning? You should be home enjoying your weekend.”
“Hello Dr. Mahoney. I came in to show my son, Peter, where his father was now working. I hope you don’t mind?”
“No, not at all. We’re glad to have you on board.”
Dakota bent over slightly and shook the young boy’s hand. “Peter, it’s so nice to meet you. Enjoy your visit today.”
The boy shook Dakota’s hand and simply said, “Thank you, sir. I will.”
Then Dakota said, “Well, Tim and Peter, we need to leave soon.” Then, with brimming pride, “This is my granddaughter, Molly. Today is her fifth birthday and my wife, daughter, son-and-law and I are taking her to the ballet.”
The two men shook hands and bid each other a good weekend. Just as Dakota and Molly were about to head back to Dakota’s office, he turned and asked, “Tim, I’m embarrassed. I don’t remember your last name. Can you tell me again so the next time I don’t embarrass myself?”
“Of course, Dr. Mahoney. My last name is McGregor.”
Dakota smiled, as the name didn’t yet register.
Then Peter called to Molly, “Molly, I’m sorry you fell. I hope you’ll be ok. Happy birthday!”
Molly giggled, “It’s ok, Peter. I think I’m the one that ran into you. Well, bye. I hope I see you again.”
Molly turned, took her grandfather’s hand and the two continued walking back to Dakota’s office. Once back at the office Molly noticed Dakota had a strange look on his face. “Are you okay, Grandpa?”
“Yes, sweetie I’m fine.” He said this as he reached into his back pocket, took his wallet out and pulled an old, worn out piece of paper from his wallet. As he unfolded the paper and read the note, he fell to the chair behind his desk.
Molly exclaimed, “Are you sure you’re ok. You look sick, Grandpa!”
Dakota began to laugh loudly as he read the name on the paper out loud, “Peter McGregor.” He then hit his forehead with the heel of his hand as if to express, I could have had a V-8.
“I’m better than ok, Molly. That was Peter McGregor!”
Molly giggled, then shrugged her shoulders and said, “Yea, so what! Can we go now? I’m getting hungry.”
Now it was Dakota who was giggling and marveling to himself. My God, what if Mom really visited me and all this is real? I can’t wait to tell Trish. This is strange beyond weird.
Molly was laughing hard at her grandpa for acting strange as she expressed, “I love you, Grandpa!”
“I love you too, Molly. Let’s go celebrate your birthday!”
She was still giggling as she begged, “Can I have strawberry ice cream for dessert today? Please, Grandpa.”
“Molly, you can have anything you want today. It’s your special day.” He said this as they walked hand in hand out the elevator toward his car.
She sang, “Goodie, goodie. Let’s go. Hurry up,” as she ran over to the vehicle.
Dakota simply laughed and repeated to himself, “Peter McGregor. My God. I just can’t believe this is all happening.” Then he thought, what a miracle all this would be if it is all true.
Once at the restaurant, Dakota had a moment where he excitedly told Trish about the encounter with Tim and his young son, Peter McGregor. At first the name didn’t register with Trish. However, when Dakota pulled the worn out paper from his wallet and showed Trish, she gasped as she covered her mouth with her hand. “Oh my God, Dakota. I can’t believe it!”
Still looking surprised and bewildered, he mustered, “Neither can I. Neither can I; but it happened and this little boy’s name is Peter McGregor.”
Later, as they all sat looking at the menu, Trish looked at Molly and said, “I heard you met Peter McGregor today, Molly.”
“Yes, Grandma, I bumped into him at Grandpa’s work. I danced right into him as he came out of the bathroom. We fell on the floor.”
“That’s what I heard. What did you think of Peter, Molly?” Trish just couldn’t help herself.
Molly shrugged her shoulders and nonchalantly commented, “Oh, he’s ok. He’s just a boy; and, you know boys are stupid, Grandma.”
Molly made a gesture with her hand as if to exaggerate the stupid portion of her answer. This made them all laugh. As they laughed Dakota, who was holding Trish’s hand under the table, squeezed it. They looked at each other and laughed even harder.
Later the four adults enjoyed watching Molly’s facial expressions as they all walked into the opulent opera house. Dakota spared no money to purchase five seats up front; just above the orchestra. He thought about getting seating just behind the orchestra, but decided not to. He wanted no obstructions to prevent Molly from experiencing the entire production. As Molly danced in the isle just in front of them, he was happy he chose these seats.
“Molly, come over and sit. It’s about to begin,” called Shannon.
Molly came over and sat between Shannon and Dakota. She gasped as the conductor and orchestra walked in and everyone rose up and cheered.
Then, as the conductor tapped his wand on the podium, he looked in Molly’s direction and gestured a tiny wave with his free hand.
“He’s waving at me, Grandpa,” she exclaimed excitedly.
“He is indeed, Molly. That’s because you are a very special person. Wave back.”
She did, then she sat still and tall.
Trish grabbed Dakota’s hand and squeezed it. She leaned close to Dakota’s ear and whispered, “Oh, Dakota, this will be a day to remember for all of us. Peter McGregor. I’m so excited! My God, I love life; it’s so full of wonderful surprises!”