Always and forever, p.26
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       Always and Forever, p.26

           Lurlene McDaniel
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  “I miss her too. Sometimes I think of something I want to tell her and I pick up the phone and get your number half dialed before I remember that she’s not there.”

  “I’m still pretty mad about it,” Michael confessed. “Why Melissa? Why her?”

  Jory thought of what Melissa had written in the letter. People will ask, Why Melissa? She thought back to what Mrs. Austin had once told her, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.” Jory rubbed her palm along the rim of the basket. “We may never know the answer to that, but I think Melissa found some answers for herself. I have a friend, Michael, a guy whose mother had cancer. She beat the odds and recovered, but he had the same sorts of questions. His whole family went through counseling and I’ve talked with him a lot over the past months, and he’s helped me understand some things.”

  Michael glanced at her, but said nothing.

  “I was angry about Melissa’s being sick for a long time. I even denied it and told myself that she’d be all right. When she came out of remission and had to go back to the hospital, I got depressed—so depressed, in fact, that I had symptoms myself. My heart beat faster. My palms sweated. Whenever I even thought about Melissa’s dying, I actually lost control of my own breathing. That’s what happened to me on the day of the funeral. I stressed out.” Jory shifted and the basket tilted with her. “And I felt guilty, Michael. I felt so bad because I was perfectly healthy, and she wasn’t. Yet I didn’t want to take her place. And that made me feel more guilty. Maybe that’s why I worked so hard on the blood drive. I was trying to make it up to her.”

  A small knowing smile crossed Michael’s mouth. He folded his arms over his chest. “I know all about guilt. It was my bone marrow, remember? But then when it started working, I thought, ‘All right! This is it. She’s home free.’ But she wasn’t, was she?”

  Jory heard the pain in his voice and wanted so much to touch him. She clung to the basket. Michael Michael tipped his head and asked, “Do you know that when she was sick the last time, I was actually mad at her for not getting well? I’d done my share. Why wasn’t she doing hers? I thought she was giving up.”

  “I don’t think she gave up. I think she just came to accept death. There’s a difference between giving up and accepting. If we’re going to get over Melissa’s death, we have to accept it, too, the same way she did.”

  Michael sighed heavily. “I’m not there yet, Jory. I’ve still got a lot to work through.”

  Jory nodded. “Me too. But every day it’s better for me,” she added.

  “I’m glad you’ve found some answers for yourself. In her letter to me, Melissa said that you ‘loved life and people too much to let either get you down for long.’ ”

  The way he quoted it brought a lump to Jory’s throat. “She wrote me a great letter too, Michael. I’ll treasure it for as long as I live.”

  “I told you in the truck, Jory, that I brought you up here because Melissa asked me to. But I also brought you for a reason of my own.”

  Her heart tripped and she smiled shyly. “To throw me over the side?”

  He returned her smile. “I guess it must seem that way to you at times. I was never very nice and I’ve wanted to say I’m sorry for a long time.”

  Surprised, Jory straightened. “I know I’ve always been Melissa’s pesky little rich friend to you, Michael. It’s no secret.”

  “You shared things with her, Jory, that I couldn’t share. I was only her brother, but you—well, you were her buddy. You two always seemed to have secrets, especially during her last visit to the hospital.”

  The notion that Michael had been jealous of their friendship stunned her. “Cripes, Michael, we were best friends and girls! Girls are like that. They just”—she hunted for the right words—“share things. But you were her brother and she worshipped the ground you walked on.”

  “You won’t hold it against me?”

  “I could never hold anything against you, Michael.”

  They stood staring at each other across the basket as it bobbed in the gathering morning light. Michael’s face was awash in pink and gold, and his eyes had trapped the gold. Jory felt warm and content. She remembered the night she’d almost shared her body with him. Her feelings for Michael remained, but they had changed. She loved Michael Austin, and a part of her would always love him. But Michael belonged to the sky, and to her childhood dreams.

  Lyle, on the other hand, was like the earth—firm and solid and constant. Best of all, Lyle loved her, and she knew then, with the dawn inches from her fingertips, that she loved him too.

  A gentle breeze blew, filling the basket and caressing Jory and Michael. It felt like silk against Jory’s skin. “I feel like Melissa’s here with us, Michael,” she whispered.

  “I know. I often feel like I’m in a cathedral when I’m up here. Like the earth’s too small. Maybe that’s why I came today and why I wanted you to come too. Maybe I thought the two of us together could touch her one more time.”

  Jory stepped next to him, and shoulder to shoulder they looked across the glowing heavens to where the curve of the horizon met the curve of the earth. The last clouds of night clung to the sky, then suddenly, the brilliant red-gold rim of the sun punched through them. Jory’s breath caught at the sight and she felt an overwhelming sense of joy. She said, “We’re going to make it, Michael. All of us are going to make it just fine.”



  Lurlene McDaniel, Always and Forever



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