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A WALK TO REMEMBER: AN EPILOGUE

Landon Carter died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 86.  He died not as an unremembered man in a small town, but rather he would be remembered by many as both a good friend and as a famous medical researcher.  He not only made it out of Beaufort as he had hoped, but became a doctor and played a part in many important medical breakthroughs that occurred in his lifetime.  Landon was guided by Jamie’s words every step of the way: “… you can do anything.”

Landon’s funeral was held in Beaufort, so he could finally be laid to rest in the plot he had reserved next to Jamie’s.  His memorial ceremony was held in the same Baptist church where Jamie’s parents were married, where he and Jamie were married, and where everyone had gathered sixty-eight years earlier to remember Jamie.  The small church had been expanded several times in the years since Jamie and Landon were married there, but the crowd that gathered to honor Landon still filled the main sanctuary.  There were doctors who had worked with Landon, as well as those of his friends from medical school who were still alive.  Not many of Landon’s friends from high school survived him, but there were the faithful few, Eric and Belinda included.  The children and grandchildren of those who had already passed also came, many of them remembering Landon more as an uncle than as a family friend.  Eric had been chosen to deliver the eulogy.  Time had taken its toll on him; his hair had turned to white and he walked with a slight limp.  He still stood proud, however, as he made his way to the pulpit to speak in remembrance of his best friend.

“Landon Carter was a great doctor,” Eric began.  “You can see that if you just look around and see how many other doctors are here to remember him.  But more than that, Landon was a wonderful friend, whether we were riding our bikes around the neighborhood in first grade, working on cars or just being lazy in high school, or getting together for a soda on some warm summer day.  He was a brilliant man, more so I think than any of his friends (myself included) had realized when we were younger.  I mean - I never would’ve thought when we were at Beaufort High that Landon would be famous for developing an amazing medical treatment.”  Eric paused.  “At least, not if it hadn’t been for Jamie.  I’ll always remember the day when, we decided to pull a prank on Jamie and hand out flyers of her face on some swimsuit model’s body.  I’ll never forget the look on Landon’s face when he found out, or the surprise we all felt when we saw him punch out Dean and walk away from us.  I don’t think any of us really understood at the time, but Jamie really changed him.  It was only later that we found out Landon had more love in his heart than we knew.  More than I think even he could understand.  Even after Landon and Jamie got married, I don’t think I understood fully.  Not until the day when he and I were just lounging in his living room, drinking some lemonade, when the phone call came telling Landon that the medical community had approved his treatment for leukemia.  He looked up at me with tears in his eyes, and when they asked him what to call the treatment, he could only say one word: ‘Jamie’.  That’s when I understood what Landon Carter was all about.  He was a man full of caring, respect, and love.  He even found it in himself….”  Eric trailed off, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye.  “He even found it in himself to forgive us for all of the terrible things we did to him and Jamie in high school.  I’m thankful every day that he was such a good person.  I don’t know what I would’ve done without my best friend.”

After Eric left the stage, the gathering of people proceeded to say their individual goodbyes to Landon.  As the people passed by, a lone piano in the sanctuary sang out the notes of “Only Hope”, the song Landon had requested to be played at his funeral many years earlier.  The coffin was lifted into a limousine, and the procession went on to the cemetery where Landon and Jamie had spent so many hours looking toward the heavens.  After the prayers were recited, Landon Carter’s body was laid to rest beside that of his wife.

Landon Carter opened his eyes and slowly, almost agonizingly rolled out of bed.  He looked around, but he couldn’t quite see clearly.  He felt the same as he did every morning, but somehow different.  As he got dressed and walked down the hallway, he felt that he wasn’t really in his house - yet, it was the same house.  The same white, two-story house he and Jamie had moved into after their wedding.  The same home he had lived in since he left Beaufort when he was 18.  The furniture, the decorations were all the same as he had left them the night before, but in a strange way they weren’t.  As he walked down the stairs, Landon tried desperately to clear his mind and to shake off the cobwebs.  But he couldn’t.  His mind seemed cloudy, foggy.  The past and the present were suddenly all a blur to him, and he felt like he couldn’t bring anything distinctly forward.  When he got to the bottom of the stairs, he thought he saw something move in the living room.  He rubbed his eyes, thinking maybe his blurry vision was just stopping him.  When he looked again though, he knew he wasn’t dreaming the first time.  The something was actually a someone, a young woman from the looks of things.  She turned to him and smiled.

“Landon!”

The woman ran up to him and wrapped her arms around him.  Still confused, Landon tried to push her away.  Before he could, however, she looked up and kissed him.  And then it happened.  The moment her lips met his, everything came rushing back to him.  He remembered being in kindergarten, watching as a small girl with dark brown hair walked into the room and sat down.  He remembered his father leaving him and his mother.  He remembered the crazy stunt in his senior year of high school with Clay Gephardt.  He remembered spending the night in jail, and the following months with his leg in a cast.  He remembered being forced to help the janitor, tutor disadvantaged kids, and participate in the school play.  Most of all, he remembered Jamie.  He remembered blocking her out the first time she had tried to talk to him on the bus.  He remembered when she gave him a ride home after play rehearsal and he had rudely dialed her radio to his own preference.  He remembered asking her to help him with his lines, only to blow her off in public in front of his “cooler” friends.  He remembered the play and seeing Jamie in all of her beauty for the first time.  He remembered their first date, taking her to the state line, giving her a fake tattoo, and kissing her at the pier.  He remembered their wedding day, the joy they both felt and the happiness they shared the following summer.  Landon also remembered the pain - the anger he felt when he found out about her leukemia, the fear and uncertainty he felt when she passed out and was taken to the hospital, and the loneliness he experienced for the many years after she died.  All of his memories flooded his mind in a wave - the emotions, the people, the places.  When he looked back at the woman, he realized it wasn’t just any other person in his home, it was her.  It was Jamie.  His Jamie.  The love of his life.  His wife.

It was then that Landon looked down at his hands.  They were no longer the wrinkled hands that had been worn by time.  His hands looked younger, stronger.  He turned and looked into the decorative mirror that sat on the wall next to the staircase.  The face he saw wasn’t the face of an old man.  He was eighteen again.  He turned back to Jamie, and exploded in a burst of laughter and tears.  He pulled her close to him, holding her like he had wanted to do all those years.  She whispered in his ear, “I’ve been waiting so long for you.”  He looked deep into her eyes, and when he saw the loving sparkle that he knew he had missed for a long time, he kissed her.

An hour after the funeral had ended, Eric sat next to Landon’s grave, saying goodbye to his life-long friend.

“Hey buddy.  I know it wasn’t easy living all these years without her.  But all that loneliness, all the pain - it’s over now.  You’re finally together.  You’ve been a great friend all these years, and I want to say thank you for all you’ve done.  I’ll miss you, but hopefully I won’t be lonely too long either.  I’m glad you’re finally with Jamie now.  You belong together.”  As Eric got up to leave, drops of rain suddenly began falling from the sunny sky.  Eric laid his hand on Landon’s headstone once more, and looking up to the sky, said, “Well Lord… I guess there really are tears in Heaven.  Happy ones at least.”

Landon lied back in bed, cradling Jamie in his arms.

‘It’s been far too long,’ he thought to himself.

Jamie stirred and turned around to face him.  She kissed him lovingly, and said to him, “I’m so happy you’re finally here.  You’ve done so much with your life Landon, you have no idea how proud of you I am.”

“Thank you, Jamie,” he replied.

“For what?”

“For everything.  I might not have discovered a treatment for leukemia, made it through medical school, or even gotten out of Beaufort if it hadn’t been for you.  I wouldn’t be here now, that’s for sure.  You saved my life Jamie, and you saved my soul.  I love you Jamie.  I’ve never stopped loving you.”

“I love you too Landon, with all my heart and soul.”

Jamie smiled, the same joyful smile she had smiled when the two of them had gotten married.  She looked down at the wedding ring that had all but become a part of her, and then back up at Landon.  She wrapped her arms around him and said to him, “Welcome home Landon.”