He stood there, watching the cloud of dust behind the stage fall to the ground speck by speck until there was nothing left but the image in his head.
He imagined every single moment over again. She'd left her mother's arms, her eyes rolling slightly at the tears that were shed by the both of them, and taken the two steps across the platform to reach him.
Two steps. And in those two steps she'd traveled nearly fourteen years.
He remembered those first hesitant steps when his heart had lodged deep into his throat as his daughter had managed to put one foot and then the other in front of her little body and walked across the floor into his arms.
Then her first solo ride on a horse, her hands on the reins instead of the saddle horn. The smile on her face was one that shone with freedom and dreams fulfilled that he thought he'd never see bettered.
Another day when she'd followed her brother up the stairs to the schoolhouse with lunch pail in one hand and her slate in the other. She'd talked of nothing else for weeks and still, she'd stopped at the door to look back him and smile, her braids long against her shoulders.
Later, her first dance and the dress she'd sewn with her mother's help. How she'd tugged on his hand and led him to the dance floor insisting that she had to dance with him first. How she'd smiled and giggled as he'd fumbled through the dance because all he could do was look at her face and realize that she'd grown while he hadn't been looking.
Now, she was leaving for an adventure. Going places and meeting people he could only imagine and couldn't begin to protect her from.
It was hard, so very hard, to understand that she wasn't just going on an adventure… she was growing up and when she came home the young woman she would be… would be a stranger.
That was what scared him the most.
"Jimmy?" He felt Lou's hand warm in his, her fingers lacing through his as she leaned against his shoulder. "Honey, she'll be all right."
He squeezed his eyes shut and nodded once… and again. "Yeah," he gasped out and was surprised he had a voice, "I know." He wasn't sure how he could tell her what thoughts were really worrying him.
A moment later she'd wrapped her arms around his middle, looking up at him as her chin bumped into his chest as she smiled. He saw the tears gathering in the corners of her eyes and wrapped his arms around his wife, feeling the comfort of her touch. "We'll be all right, too." Her smile faltered a bit and he felt the shudder that rolled through her slender frame. He squeezed Lou tight, holding her to his heart as he'd done so many times over the years.
"And when she comes home she knows we'll be here waiting for her… and we'll hear all of her stories… and get to know the woman she's become."
He knew Lou was right, so many things would change in their time apart but they'd all find each other again down the road. Dara would be fine and all the better for her adventures, but as a father, he still wished that she'd stayed.
inspired by Brad Paisley's song "I Wish You'd Stay" - at the beginning of the video they have a quote
Author's Note: Thanks so much to Liz M for her whip cracking