Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: PICNIC - deadline 7-12-12 @ 9:59 AM NY Time (07/05/12)
TITLE: Beneath the Willow Tree
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It was almost midnight when she got home—her husband and kids already asleep, as usual. Relieved, she carried her briefcase to the den and pulled the files she’d been working on. Maybe she’d finish everything in time for the meeting, after all.
After just a few hours of sleep, Irene was back at the office. Just a few things to finish for the big presentation. Taking a sip of coffee, she rehearsed all she’d planned to say.
The phone rang, interrupting her thoughts. “Mrs. Montgomery, you have a call from your kids' school. It’s an emergency,” her assistant said with concern.
“It will have to wait,” she replied. “Meeting’s in five minutes. Call Gary…or… someone…to take care of it. Thank you.” Walking to the mirror, she adjusted her suit coat and made sure everything was in place.
The presentation was a success, and Irene’s new office was much bigger. She still had a view of the park, and she’d occasionally take a short break from work to admire the scenery. As usual, every day, the woman and her daughter came to the park. They would spend hours there—playing in the playground, taking long walks, or just sitting beneath the willow tree.
One of the days, Irene looked out her window and saw the woman on the swing, her daughter comfortably on her lap—their heads tilted back in laughter as they swung lazily back and forth. “I don’t understand…” she sighed, shaking her head.
“What was that, Mrs. Montgomery?”
Irene was startled by the unexpected voice, and turned to see her assistant standing in the doorway. “I’m sorry; I… didn’t hear you come in…”
“Oh, I was just bringing the files you requested. I didn’t mean to interrupt you during your break…ma’am.” The assistant shifted awkwardly.
“I was just… That woman out there...” Irene turned toward the window again. “I knew her from high school. Michelle Doyle. Not a close friend, but…I do remember this: voted ‘most likely to succeed.’ It’s just such a waste. Thought she’d be a doctor, a lawyer…have her own business by now. Something…more…”
After an uncomfortable silence, the assistant headed for the door. “The files are on your desk, ma’am…”
“Mandy…you have a lot of potential. Do something worthwhile with your life.”
“Yes, ma’am…” Mandy smiled nervously, closing the door behind her.
It was awhile before Irene saw Michelle Doyle again. She was too caught up in meetings and paperwork to notice, but when she saw her sitting alone in the park one day—she realized how long it had been. “Maybe she’s actually doing something worthwhile with her time…” she sighed and went back to work.
The following week, a new tree had been planted near the old willow tree. Michelle sat beneath the willow tree—alone, a bouquet of flowers in hand. Irene could not look away as Michelle stood solemnly and kneeled before the newly planted tree, gently laying the flowers beneath it—then walked slowly away.
Irene tried to focus on work, but finally she had to leave. Stepping into the sunlight, she absorbed the splendor that surrounded her. The park was more beautiful than it appeared from her office window. Walking slowly toward the newly planted tree, Irene saw a small memorial stone beneath it.
“In Loving Memory. Shelby Doyle….” Irene whispered, gazing at the dash that separated the years. “She was only seven…” She shook her head solemnly. “Same age as my Abby…” She spent the rest of the day beneath the willow tree, staring at the memorial stone.
A few weeks passed, and Mandy walked into the empty office. On the desk once piled with papers was a card with her name on it. Mandy read the beautiful cursive writing—pausing when she reached the last sentence: “…and Mandy…make sure you do something worthwhile with your life. Sincerely, Irene Montgomery.”
Mandy walked to the window and looked out at the park. There, on a colorful blanket beneath the willow tree sat her former boss with her two children—laughing and enjoying their picnic.
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