"They're here!" Rosalie shouted from the living room. Her voice rose with excitement. She'd gone to look out the window every few minutes, waiting for their daughter and her husband.
"Is it Donna?" Harry asked. He was no less excited than his wife.
"Yes," Rosalie said, letting the curtain fall back into place.
Harry struggled to get to his feet, and instantly Rosalie was at his side. She brought him the walker he hated and then slid her arm around his waist, guiding him into the hall.
"How do I look?" she asked.
Harry pretended to study her, noting her carefully combed hair, a soft lovely gray, and the antique cameo she wore with her dark green dress. "You couldn't be more beautiful if you'd tried."
At his words, Harry could see the blush of pleasure that crept across her cheeks.
The door opened and in breezed his daughter, with Richard, their son-in-law, both of them laden with parcels and bags. Soon everyone was kissing and hugging. Rosalie had tears in her eyes and, for that matter, so did Harry. Seeing his daughter renewed his waning strength.
All their married life, Rosalie had been a gracious hostess, and as soon as Donna and Richard had taken their coats off, she led them to the formal living room and brought out a tray of coffee and cookies.
Donna helped serve, and before long they were all sitting together, chatting and catching up. Harry watched his daughter's animated gestures, and his heart swelled with love. In appearance, Donna resembled Rosalie's family, with her dark brown hair and eyes. Her personality, though, was all his. She was practical but enjoyed taking a risk now and then.
Donna was a teacher and had taught kindergarten and first grade for nearly thirty years. She was close to retirement, as was Richard. They'd met in college and married soon after. They'd presented him with two wonderful grandsons, two years apart.
"Tell me about Scotty," Rosalie said, eager for news of their youngest grandson. In a recent conversation, Donna had hinted that she had something special to share.
Donna and Richard smiled at each other, and Richard reached for his wife's hand.
"Scott's engaged!" Donna said happily.
"Is it Lana?" Harry asked. Their grandson had stopped by to visit in September and had brought a young woman to meet them. Harry recognized the look in his eyes. The boy was in love.
"Yes. Everyone likes Lana," Donna said. "We're all so pleased. Rich and I recently met her parents, and they're just as thrilled as we are."
"When's the wedding?" Rosalie asked.
"February," Donna told her mother.
"So soon!" his wife trilled, her eyes glowing. "Oh, I'm so glad."
"Lana wanted to wait for June," Donna said, "but Scott said a Valentine wedding was more romantic."
"Who would've guessed that about Scott?" Richard asked.
Rosalie glanced at Harry and they exchanged a smile. "He gets his romantic heart from his grandfather."
"Dad?" Donna did an exaggerated double take.
"Your father's sent me flowers every Valentine's Day since the year we met. Even during the war." Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at him. Pulling her lace-edged handkerchief from her sleeve, she dabbed her cheeks. "This is such good news, isn't it, dear?"
Harry nodded. All his grandchildren would be married now. Although Harry had only met Lana that one time, he believed the young woman was a good match for his youngest grandson.
"That's not our only news," Donna said. Once again she smiled at Richard. "Phillip called last week and Tiffany's pregnant."
Rosalie squealed with delight.
"Rich and I are going to be grandparents."
"Oh, my goodness," Rosalie said, clasping her hands. "That means Harry and I will be great-grandparents."
"You're much too young to be a great-grandmother," Harry teased, just so he could watch Rosalie blush once more.
"Nonsense," his wife countered. "Some of our friends are great-grandparents several times over."
That was true, and Harry didn't bother to comment. He'd hoped to live long enough to meet his first great-grandchild but that wasn't to be.
Richard helped himself to another cookie. Rosalie had picked them up at the bakery on Saturday, and although he wouldn't tell her this, Harry thought they were as good as any she might have baked. Actually, he wouldn't mind a second one himself. As soon as he stretched out his arm, Rosalie immediately lifted the platter and offered it to him.
Donna was still talking about the baby. She'd be the perfect grandmother, Harry knew. She'd been an excellent mother, and after all those years spent teaching six- and seven-year-olds, she had a real way with kids. Donna's students loved her; it wasn't unusual for teenagers and adults to come and see her - people, who at one time, had been in her class.
"When's Tiffany due?" Rosalie asked.
"July," Donna said. "We don't know if it's a boy or a girl, although I don't think anyone really cares. The timing is certainly good."
Richard smiled. "Phillip's out of graduate school now and the job he got with Microsoft seems secure. Or as secure as any corporate job is these days." He turned to Harry, who nodded. Over the years, they'd often discussed the economy and related issues.
"Phillip does a bit more traveling than either of them would like," Donna added, "but he's in training, so that goes with the territory."
Richard sipped his coffee. "I understand the two of you are planning to sell the house," he said.
Rosalie sighed and aimed a sad smile at Harry.
"Unfortunately we had some bad news regarding Liberty Orchard," Harry told him. In retrospect he'd give just about anything to have handed the administrator a check for the deposit the day they'd toured the facility. "Apparently the only available unit has already been taken."
Donna leaned forward. "That's what Mom said, so I phoned Liberty Orchard and talked to Elizabeth Goldsmith myself."
"She can't wave a magic wand and make another unit appear." Harry didn't want to admit how much the news depressed him. This was to be his last gift to Rosalie before he died, and now it wasn't going to happen.
"When I phoned," Donna went on to say, "Ms. Goldsmith said she was just about to contact you."
"The unit's available?" Harry felt a surge of hope.
"Not the one you originally saw, but another one."
"Did someone die?" Rosalie asked, frowning.
"No, it belonged to a couple. Perhaps you met them. Ralph and Daisy - I can't remember their last name."
"McDonald," Harry supplied. He remembered talking with the two and had quite liked them. Their children both lived in Chicago. "Are they moving closer to their son and daughter?"
"When?" Rosalie asked.
"They hope to be out by the fifth of January. It'll take a couple of days to give the unit a thorough cleaning and then it'll be ready for you and Dad by the tenth."
"I'll get them a check right after Christmas," Harry said, unable to hide his pleasure.
"It's all taken care of, Dad," Donna said. "I knew you'd want the unit, so Rich and I put it on our credit card."
"I'll get the check to you then. Immediately." The fact that they'd used credit bothered him; he couldn't help it.
Donna gestured magnanimously. "Consider it your Christmas gift."
Harry wouldn't allow his daughter to do that; still, the certainty of acquiring the unit afforded him real peace of mind.
"That's wonderful news," Rosalie agreed, nodding vigorously.
"It's even better than you realize," Donna said. "I'll be here the entire time to help you move."
"What about school?" Harry asked.
Donna smiled. "That's my other surprise. I'm retiring. As of now."
Harry stared at her. "But...it's the middle of the school year."
"Actually, this is a good news/bad news situation," Rich explained. "Donna needs knee-replacement surgery."
Their daughter nodded. "I guess that's what I get from all those years of crawling around on the floor with my kindergarten classes. It isn't extensive surgery, but it'll require several weeks of rehab. I'd already decided to retire at the end of this school year. But with the wedding, the surgery and the baby, Rich and I felt it made more sense to do it now."
"I think this is wonderful," Rosalie said again.
Rosalie had always supported their children's decisions, even when they gave Harry pause. She was loyal to a fault; he loved that about her.
"The paperwork's been turned in and everything's a go."
"You should've told us," Rosalie chastised.
"I couldn't until I got the final word. I didn't mean to hide it from you, Mom, but I know how you worry."
While Donna claimed it was the surgery, the wedding and the baby, Harry suspected there was another reason his daughter had chosen to retire early. "So you'll help us pack up the house," he said.
"Absolutely. Lorraine, too."
This was welcome news to Harry. His prayer had been answered - they had a place at Liberty Orchard now. And his daughters would both be here. If God should choose to bring him home, Harry could be assured that Rosalie would be well looked after.
This was going to be the best Christmas of his life. And the last...