274 DAYS • by M.A. Scudiero

Two hundred and seventy-four days. That was how long Samantha had been waiting. Seconds slowly ticked away as Samantha re-checked the clock. Days felt even longer in school. She tried listening to her algebra teacher talk about theorems and equations, but she ended up doodling in her notebook. Much to her relief, the bell rang signaling morning break. Usually that meant snacks and drinks before third period, but today, a Veteran’s Day assembly was scheduled.

Samantha swapped out her books in her locker. An American flag hung near the back surrounded by pictures of her and her dad in uniform. She smiled and tried to fight the tears forming at the corner of her eyes.

“Wanna skip the assembly and head to yearbook?” Christy asked. “Ms. Garner is usually in her room during break.”

“Definitely,” Samantha said as they headed out into the hall. The last thing Samantha needed was an assembly that would only keep reminding her that her father wasn’t home.

“Ready?” Christy asked, shutting her locker.

Samantha nodded and they headed to Ms. Garner’s room down the hall. As Christy had expected, Ms. Garner was there, but she appeared to be in a hurry.

“What are you two doing here?” Ms. Garner asked as she finished locking her desk.

“We are wanting to do some yearbook work during break. We have some drafts due tomorrow and—” Christy said before Ms. Garner interrupted with a wave of her hand.

“Any other time, yes, but we need to get to the assembly and fast,” Ms. Garner said, looking at Samantha. “You’re late.”

“We promise not to let anyone else in,” Samantha said with a smile.

The smile might have worked on her dad, but Ms. Garner was not impressed. “Sorry but no,” Ms. Garner said as she waved the girls into the hall. She locked her door and ushered them towards the gym. “You can’t miss this assembly.”

By the time they got to the gym, the rest of the school had filled the bleachers around the stage while the teachers sat on each side. Samantha and Christy sat near the front with Ms. Garner. There were many American flags lining the stage with a large flag hanging behind the podium. Principal Griffin stood behind the podium waiting for everyone to take their seats.

Once they had, he cleared his throat and spoke into the microphone. “Quiet, please.” Some of the noise subsided, but it was still noisy. “Quiet, please,” he said with a little more volume in his voice. The gym went quiet. “That’s more like it. This assembly has been called to mark a very important occasion. As you know, today is Veteran’s Day and we wanted to do something special to celebrate.”

A few cameramen shuffled from the sides of the stage to film the crowd.

“Please join me in welcoming to the stage Corporal Andre Staggart and Staff Sergeant Jennifer Rogers.”

The assembly erupted in cheers.

“These veterans have graciously offered their time to speak to us during your history classes today on their experiences and what Veteran’s Day means to them. So please give them a warm Bearcat welcome when you see them throughout the day.”

Samantha’s hands started sweating. She eyed the exit door a few feet away. She could probably make it in a few steps and no one would notice.

“Today I’m also offered an opportunity that not many principals get,” Principal Griffin continued. “Today, I get to announce that a hero has come home early.”

Samantha calculated five quick steps and she would be out of this assembly. Samantha glanced over to Ms. Garner, who was crying.

Principal Griffin extended his hand towards the side curtain. “Please join me in welcoming home Sergeant Andrew Williams.”

“Daddy?” Samantha whispered as the crowd stood up and cheered.

Sergeant Williams walked to the stage and shook Principal Griffin’s hand as well as Corporal Staggart’s and Staff Sergeant Roger’s hand. He then turned to look out in the crowd. He saw Samantha and smiled.

The next thing Samantha knew she was running towards him. He jumped down from the stage and opened his arms as Samantha leaped into them. The crowd cheered even louder.

“I love you, daddy,” Samantha whispered into his ear.

“I love you too, darling. I missed you so much.”

Samantha felt herself melt into her dad’s arms. She’d missed his hugs. She’d missed his voice, but most importantly she’d missed him.

Two hundred and seventy-four days. That was how long Samantha had been waiting for her dad to come home. And in his arms, she didn’t mind the seconds ticking away.

M.A. Scudiero enjoys writing for his wife, daughter, and dog in Mississippi. If you hear someone cheering, it’s probably him. This is his first publication.

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Every Day Fiction