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A Perfect Summer

 

By:  Jamie Sommers


Email:  jamiesommers23@hotmail.com

 

Rated:  PG 13

 

Synopsis:  This is a chapter story in which an older Landon, shares his memories with someone, of his time spent with Jamie during their summer together as husband and wife.  It will take you through their wedding, their marriage and Jamie’s funeral.   

 

 

 

Prologue:

 

 

 

“I remember her saying, ‘In your arms--that’s where I want to die, Landon--in your arms,’ and the look on her face when she said it--so matter of fact.  By that point in her illness, we both knew she didn’t have much longer before,” he cleared his throat, “…before that would actually happen.”

 

“I walked back over to her and knelt down, cradling her face in my hands,” he held his hands out in front of him as though he were performing the task, “and I said, ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way’.” A tender smile formed on his lips, never quite reaching his eyes.

 

“Our family and friends just stared at us in disbelief.  My mother made up some kind of excuse to go back into the house and Jamie’s dad…well, I could see the disappointment in his eyes.  Not because it was my arms she wanted to be in when she left this world but because we both seemed to just accept the inevitable.  Jamie was dying.”  His chin dropped as he focused on a spot between his feet. 

 

“It was going to happen whether we liked it or not.  There was nothing we could do to stop it from happening and we all knew that.  It was just harder for some people to admit…me included…for a while anyway.”

 

He stood up and began to pace back and forth across the wooden planks of the porch.  “It’s not that we didn’t care about her dying, it was just that we knew there was no way to stop it so…what choice did we have but to accept it.  It’s what God wanted.”

 

He stopped and looked over the railing at the passing cars and continued.  “We even planned her funeral.  We went shopping for caskets and tombstones like some people would shop for a prom dress,” he said with a sad smile across his face.

 

“It had to be the perfect fit.  This was eternity we were talking about and it had to be…well, it had to be perfect.  We talked about the music she wanted to hear at the service and even picked out songs for the choir to sing,” he paused and closed his eyes as though he were listening to the harmonies that filled the church on that devastating day.

 

“You know what the easiest part of planning it was?  Picking out the plot.  We knew exactly where she would be buried.  Our cemetery.  We even found the perfect spot, a double plot--meaning there was room for me when I passed away too--right under the branches of a tree so there would be some shade during the day, but with a view of her star at night.  She wasn’t too happy about me insisting on a double plot but…” a slight grin lifted the corner of his mouth, “oh, she was so mad.  She didn’t think I should’ve been planning my death too,” he held up his hands in defense, “and…I swear…I wasn’t, but she was absolutely sure I was giving up on life.”  His grin was now a full-blown smile.  “She hadn’t looked that mad since that afternoon I showed up at her doorstep asking her to run lines with me.”

 

He walked over to the porch swing and sat down, pushing the ground with his foot to start the momentum.  “We used to sit on her father’s porch swing and run lines after school for that…” he shook his head back and forth, “…awful play that Eddie Zimmerhoff wrote.”  He chuckled a bit at the memory of the first run through they had, in which he butchered his lines.  “Oh, I was so bad.  I knew I was going to be the laughing stock of the whole school if I didn’t get some help.”

 

“It was that play that brought her to me though, so I should be grateful, and I am. Thank you Eddie, wherever you are.”  He said to no one in particular.

 

“When I saw her on stage that night…she looked so beautiful…so…she took my breath away.”  He stopped the swing from moving and looked at the family that lived across the street packing up their car--obviously heading to the beach for the day.

 

“She used to love taking walks along the dock--day or night, didn’t matter.  For the first few weeks of our marriage she was able to do it on her own, but then…after a while…” once again his head hung down as he recalled how painful it was for Jamie at the end.  “…we had to get her a wheelchair so she could get around.  At first we just brought it with us wherever we went…just in case she got tired.  Eventually, she was just too weak to stand…to walk…to breathe.”  His eyes began filling with tears, blurring his vision of the family. “That chair became her legs and it never fazed her.  Never.  Not once did she complain about having to use it.”  He wiped away the tears with the back of his hand and continued.  “Yet despite all of that…Jamie and I had a perfect summer with more love than lots of people have in a lifetime…”

 

 

 

North Carolina 1996

 

“I can’t believe it.  I’m Mrs. Landon Carter.  MRS. LANDON CARTER!” She screamed as she launched herself into his arms.

 

His laughter echoed through the vestibule of the church as he caught her and twirled around in a circle.  “I can’t believe it either, Jamie.  You’re,” he put her down and captured her face in his hands, “my wife.” He kissed her on the mouth, quick and hard then threw his head back and yelled in jubilation, “MY WIFE!!” 

 

They headed out of the church and walked briskly through the downpour of rice; towards the limousine Landon’s mother got them as a wedding gift.  The chauffeur stood waiting with the car door open as Jamie turned her back to the crowd and threw her bouquet of fresh flowers over her shoulder, then stepped into the waiting vehicle. 

 

 

 

Chapter One:  The Wedding Reception

 

 

 

“Would you like to go directly to the restaurant or would you like to take a ride first, Sir?”  The driver of their limousine asked.

 

“A ride.”

 

“A ride,” they said in unison.

 

The moment the car was underway their arms wrapped around each other in a tight embrace.  

 

He buried his face in her hair, inhaling her sweet fragrance--a combination of Jasmine and something else he could only classify as Jamie.  He ran his hands over her back, her shoulders and down her arms to capture her fingers in his.  Lifting them up to his lips he turned them over and placed a light, lingering kiss against her wrist, then another on her wedding band.  Looking deeply into her eyes he said, “Mrs. Jamie Carter.  I like the sound of that…a lot.”

 

She giggled softly, “It does have a nice ring to it,” she paused and tilted her head to the side.  “Thank you Landon.”

 

“What for?”

 

“For marrying me.  You have no idea how much this,” she looked down at her wedding band, “means to me…and not just because it was my number one, but because…” She was at a loss for words.  Unsure of how to tell him how much he altered her life, she simply looked at him and said what she was feeling in her heart.  “I love you so much, Landon.  You’ll never know what it is that you’ve given to me.”

 

“Jamie,” he interrupted.

 

“Don’t, Landon.” She placed her fingers over his lips to silence him.  “Don’t say anything.  Just hear me out, okay?”

 

Willing to concede he nodded his head and made a gesture with his hand as if she should go on.

 

“Maybe we didn’t start off on the right foot.  Maybe we both made some mistakes along the way.”  She thought of how hard he tried to maintain their budding friendship during the play, how diligently he pursued her after it was over and she was engulfed with guilt for pushing him away.

 

He recalled how terribly he and his friends had treated her over the years.  Sure, he was nice to her when no one was looking, but that somehow made it even worse.  It was as though he were saying he was ashamed to be seen with her and, for a while, he was.  Feelings of remorse filled his heart as love filled his eyes.

 

“I should have told you sooner about my leukemia but I just didn’t want it to end.  It was like…” she looked around the backseat of the limo until her eyes rested upon his.  “It was like, as long as I was with you nothing could hurt me, not even my sickness.  Before you happened I accepted that I was at the end of my life.  I knew I needed to prepare for it.  Now…I feel like my life is just beginning.  I thank God everyday that you never gave up on me, Landon.”  Tears escaped unknowingly from the corners of her eyes.  “I thank Him for the gift He’s given me in you.  And if this sickness is the price I have to pay for knowing your love, then…I’m willing to pay it.  I would gladly give my life just to spend one day loving you.” 

 

He leaned over and kissed her tear-streaked face, squeezing her hands tightly within his he said, “What about me?  Do you think I’m not getting anything out of this marriage?”  He shook his head side to side and began to speak, “Jamie, you…you ‘re everything.”  He leaned his forehead against hers.  “You’ve changed my life in so many ways.  I don’t know exactly when it happened but…I believe now Jamie.  I believe in you…in God…in faith…” he paused as he looked into her eyes, in me.  You made me a better person and I could never thank you enough for that.”  He lifted his right hand up to stroke her face and captured her hand in his left one.  Running his thumb lightly over her wedding ring he told her what’s been in his heart ever since that fateful night, when she told him about her cancer and devastated his world.  “If I could…I would die for you, Jamie…I swear, I would.”  After a long pause he told her, “I love you.” 

 

The remainder of the trip was ridden in silence, with her head against his shoulder and his arms wrapped securely around her.  They felt the car coming to a halt as he brushed his hand across her cheek, their lips met for a gentle kiss--a confirmation of the love that filled their hearts.

 

The reception was being held at the same restaurant where they had their first date and by the time they arrived it was already in full swing.  The three-man band was on stage playing soft music; some of the guests were dancing while others were nibbling on platters of food the waiters were carrying around. 

 

As the host walked Landon and Jamie in, the band ceased playing.  “Ladies and Gentlemen.”  The lead singer announced.  “Please welcome, Mr. And Mrs. Landon and Jamie Carter.”  Thunderous applause broke out as friends and family offered them well wishes.  Hands were shaken and hugs were given as they made their way through the crowd to take their prospective seats at a table for two, located in the center of the outdoor dining area.

 

Another announcement from the band brought silence to the crowd as they said, “At this time we would like to invite the bride and groom’s parents up to the stage to make a toast.”

 

Landon’s mother went first.  Holding onto a flute of sparkling cider she stared at the contents of the glass and released a deep breath.  “I’m standing here, trying to remember when this happened?  When did you all grow up?”  Amusement lit up the faces of the younger crowd, while understanding crossed the faces of the older guests.  Looking directly at Landon she asked, with a somber look upon her face, “When did you become an adult?  I keep wondering--did I miss it?  Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was still yelling at you to pick up your room?  Or grounding you?  Then I remembered…that wasn’t yesterday but it was a couple of months ago.”  Quiet laughter broke out amongst some of the knowing guests.  “I’ve watched you grow in these past few months from a sullen boy, with a chip on his shoulder to a responsible, caring man with a deep love for life and for this woman.  I couldn’t be prouder.”  She looked down at her feet before continuing.  “Thing is…I can’t really take the credit for that transformation.  As much as I would like to say you’re the man you are because of my parenting skills…we both know that’s not true.  Jamie,” she directed her next statement to her new daughter-in-law.  “You gave my son something his father and I never could.  Hope.  When everyone around Landon doubted him, you looked past all that and found something good and decent inside of him.”  She lifted her chin with pride as she said, “Welcome to our family.” 

 

 

“Well, son.”  Landon’s father shook his head in disbelief, as he began his toast.  Son.  Feels good to say that again and mean it.”  Clearing his throat he continued his speech.  “First I’d like to thank you for giving me the honor of standing next to you in church today.  That’s something I never thought I’d get to experience and I’m eternally grateful that you asked me to be a part of this momentous day,” he sniffled.  “I missed out on so much of your life, Landon and there are no words, or actions that could ever express my sorrow.  I’m not proud of what I’ve done, of the time I’ve wasted, but I want you…both of you, to know that I will be here for you, from here on out.  No matter what, I’ll be here.”  He stopped to rub his thumb over the teardrops that were beginning to form in his eyes.  “Landon, when you were born, I held you in my arms and I knew the greatest gift in the world was being your father.  When I lost that…” he trailed off.  “Thank you for giving it back to me.”  He swallowed hard and walked down the stairs to grasp his son firmly against his chest in a bear hug.  “I love you, son.”

 

Landon found a sense of security come over him, that had been missing for too long, in his father’s embrace and said, “I love you too, Dad.” 

 

Reverend Sullivan removed some index cards from his jacket pocket and stood silently at the microphone.  Looking around the crowd his eyes landed on the man sitting before him, the man he called, ‘the worst kind of boy’; just weeks earlier and wondered when he began to respect him.  “I wrote down some things last night,” he said unconsciously, “but…” Tucking the index cards back in his coat pocket he began speaking.  “Mr. Carter,” he said in the identical tone he used the first time Landon walked into his living room.  “It was not that long ago I was certain that your future was a dim one.  I was positive that you were living your life on the wrong side of the tracks and perhaps…at the time…I was right, but now I see that I was wrong.” 

 

He remembered the day he knew that Landon Carter was going to change life, as he knew it.  “It was a weekday--I’m not sure which one--I was standin’ at the pulpit, practicing my Sunday sermon when I heard the door to the church open.  I had a fleeting thought that perhaps one of my parishioners needed some counseling and when I looked up and saw you…  Let’s just say I was less than enthusiastic about it.  You stood before me and asked to take my daughter out for dinner--to which of course I immediately replied ‘NO’.”  He chuckled at the memory. 

 

Jamie leaned over in her seat and whispered sarcastically in Landon’s ear, “I thought you said he was ‘cool’ about it.”

 

“But you were relentless in your quest.  You apologized for your harsh treatment of her in the past, saying that you knew she deserved better and then you asked me for ‘something I teach everyday in church’.  Faith.  I wasn’t sure if I was ready to give that to you.” 

 

He rubbed his chin as though he were thinking, “You see…I had heard you two run lines together while you were on the porch and as much as I hate to admit it, you didn’t sound half bad, Landon. With the exception of the line where you commented on Jamie’s beauty, you were pretty convincing.  I had spent a week listening to you two recite scene after scene, and after that week, I knew that play almost as well as I know the Lord’s Prayer.” 

 

He took a breath and let out a secret not many people outside of the drama department knew.  “I watched you both performing on stage that night and you were doing a commendable job, Son… until she took off her cloak.  I’ll never forget the look on your face when you said she was beautiful.  You meant it.  You had finally seen my daughter with not only your eyes, but with your heart as well, and that was a hard thing for me to accept.  The way you watched her every move while she sang…  I knew you weren’t supposed to kiss her, Landon.”

 

“By agreeing to let her go out to dinner with you, I knew I would lose her heart to you.  I know I was reluctant with my decision in allowing her to date you but that was because I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do.  I was afraid of losing my little girl.  What I didn’t realize at the time, was that she had more than enough room in her heart for the both of us.”  He turned his attention towards his daughter.  

 

“I knew, as a man of the cloth, that God expected me to forgive Landon his mistakes, but my expectations as a reverend were blinded by my concerns as a father.  As a parent, it was my job to teach you right and wrong, but in the end, it was you, the child, that did the teaching.  You showed me how to trust…to forgive.  You helped me to find my way again.”  He looked lovingly at his daughter and her husband as he said, “I’ve never been happier in my life to be proved wrong about someone, Landon.”  He smiled as he lifted his glass and said, “To my beautiful daughter, Jamie and my new son, Landon.  I know I’m not alone when I say; it’s a privilege to witness the gift of everlasting love that God has given to you.  Congratulations.” 

 

Glasses were lifted in good will.  Dinner was served shortly after.  The cake was cut and now it was time for celebrating.  Friends and family pulled up chairs, encircling the happy couple as entertaining stories were told about Landon and Jamie’s childhood.  One story, in particular, regarding Landon losing his swim trunks at a scouting function had everyone in stitches.

 

“If you’ll all excuse me a moment.” He stood up from the table feigning annoyance.

 

It was Dean that threw his words back at him, “It’s just a joke.  Laugh, buddy.” 

 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he laughed.  “I’m going to get a drink.”  He leaned down to Jamie and asked, “Do you want something?”

 

“Sweet tea please,” she answered then turned to listen to Eric’s version of Landon and his lack of acting abilities.  It wasn’t until his comment about being in the front row with tomatoes that she took note of the music that was playing in the background. 

 

The noise level from the crowd slowly quieted down as they recognized the familiar melody. 

 

Jamie stood up from her seat and began scanning the area for Landon.  The band repeated the introduction to the song for the third time when she finally found him.  He was standing on the dance floor…alone. 

 

Once he was certain he had her attention, he looked at her with all the love in his heart and asked her over the microphone, “Will you sing for me?”

 

She walked slowly through the group of awed guests, taking her place next to Landon. 

 

He turned to leave but she held onto his hand for dear life intent on keeping him by her side and began serenading him with her flawless voice.

 

“There’s a song that’s inside of my soul.

It’s the one that I’ve tried to write over and over again.

I awake in the infinite cold,

But you sing to me over and over and over again.”

 

He watched as she poured her heart and soul into each word, each note.  He thought of the night she first sang that to him, the night he realized he loved her.  He didn’t know when it happened, all he knew was that he needed her in his life and somehow, he had to find a way to keep her there…always. 

 

“So I lay my head back down,

And I lift my hands and pray to be only yours.

I pray to be only yours.

I know now

You’re my only hope.”

 

She closed her eyes as she sang those words.  When she had written the lyrics to this song, she had no idea how much it would mean to her, how much of an impact it would have on her future.  She opened her eyes to see Landon watching her intently, cherishing every note and she felt her heart swell with joy. 

 

“Sing to me the song of the stars.

Of your galaxy dancing and laughing and laughing again.

When it seems like my dreams are so far.

Sing to me of the plans that you hide from me over again.”

 

Eric watched, as Jamie continued mesmerizing everyone with her melodious voice.  He thought about the phone call he received from Landon’s mother asking if he had seen him.  Landon’s father had called her and told her about Jamie’s cancer and no one had seen him since.  He told her not to worry.  He was sure that Landon would be home soon and asked her if he should come over.  By the time Eric had arrived, Landon was standing at the edge of the water, looking vacantly at the sunrise.  He didn’t know what to say to him, how to help him through this, so he tried something that he hadn’t done in years.  He told him the truth.  “I didn’t understand.”  Watching them together now he finally understood the depth of their love.

 

“So I lay my head back down,

And I lift my hands and pray to be only yours.

I pray to be only yours.

I know now,

You’re my only hope.”

 

Reverend Sullivan listened to his daughter sing as he thought back to the night that Landon was putting together her telescope.  He had asked him if he would like some help, if there were anything that he could do, but Landon was determined to do this for her on his own.  If he needed help he would ask for it, but for right now, he just needed the remainder of the parts, in order to finish putting it together.  It was around 3am when Landon walked into his house and woke him up from a dreamless sleep.  He had needed help carrying it up to her balcony.  As they were lifting the cumbersome object Landon said, “I wanna ask her to marry me.”  At first he didn’t know how to respond to Landon’s statement.  He knew of Jamie’s To Do List for her life and was afraid that Landon was only asking in order to give her another check mark on her list before dying.  “I love her Sir and I’m going to ask her with or without your blessing.  I’d rather ask her with it.”  He wasn’t sure if he should try to talk Landon out of it or not.  He knew the boy loved Jamie something fierce, but he was so young.  He had his whole life ahead of him.  Would he really want to make that kind of lifetime commitment to a girl that wouldn’t survive another six months?  “Reverend.  I love her.”  He looked in Landon’s unwavering eyes, “In my heart, Sir, she’s already my wife.”  

 

“I give you my destiny.

I’m giving you all of me.

I want your symphony,

Singing with all that I am.

At the top of my lungs,

I’m giving it back.”

 

“So I lay my head back down,

And I lift my hands and pray to be only yours.

I pray to be only yours.

I pray to be only yours.

I know now, you’re my only hope.”

 

Their lips came together of their own accord, as the song ended the band started playing another.  “Would you like to dance with me Mrs. Carter?” Landon asked.

 

“I would love to.”

 

He held her hand firmly against his chest as his other arm went around her waist, drawing her nearer to him.  He listened as she sighed and mistook it as a sign of exhaustion.  “Are you tired?  Do you want to sit down?”

 

“Landon, I’m fine.  In fact, I haven’t felt this good in a long time. So please stop worrying.”

 

He cradled her face in his hands and searched her eyes.  “Are you sure?”

 

“Yes,” she whispered, “I’m sure.”

 

He kissed her on the dance floor.  It started off as one of their gentle brushes of lips, but it soon turned into something more.  Landon knew he was getting carried away and forced himself to stop.  “I’m sorry. I’m stopping.”

 

She looked at him with innocence and curiosity as she said, “Why?”

 

“Don’t you want me to stop?”

 

She shook her head ‘no’ in answer to his question.

 

“But you always wanted me to stop before.”

 

“We weren’t married before.”

 

For weeks he had been holding back.  They had slipped twice, that he could remember, and kissed each other with more fervor than she would normally allow herself.  It’s not that he didn’t want to kiss her that way; it’s just that he tried not to let it cross his mind.  The whole time they were dating he never once expected her to compromise her principles by letting him cross that line, but now…it was as though she was asking for it and he was more than willing to accommodate her.

 

With his hands on either side of her head, he leaned in and kissed her the way he dreamed about.  With tongues, teeth, lips.  His tongue plunged into her mouth with light pressure as if saying, ‘I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long.’

 

She imitated his motions with her own tongue as if answering him, ‘so have I.’

 

Nostrils flared as his trembling hands got lost in her hair.  They bodies stood unmoving, their heads tilted and twisted as they stood still kissing each other in the middle of the dance floor--not caring in the least who was watching.  All they knew was that they had waited for this moment for too long to let curious onlookers ruin it for them--they were going to relish every minute of it. When they finally pulled apart, their lips were moist and swollen.  Their breathing ragged.

 

They rested their foreheads against one another as she said breathlessly, “Turns out I’m seducible after all.” 

 

Landon knew that it was impossible for them to go any further than what they had just done, but he also knew that if he were going to kiss her like that again, he wanted it to be someplace private.  “You wanna get outta here?”

 

Without a second thought she said, “Yes.”

 

Their limo ride was shorter than Jamie had expected.  She was sure that the hotel was further away.  “Why are we stopping?”

 

Landon shrugged in reply as their driver opened the door to the limo.

 

“Landon Rollins Carter, what’s going on?  Where are we?”

 

He laughed as he explained himself.  “Listen.  Before we get out of the car, I’ve got a surprise for you.”

 

“A surprise?  What is it?  Another sweater?  Oh, I know, you built me another telescope,” she joked.

 

“You’ll see.”  Landon stepped out the car and held his hand open for Jamie to grab hold of. 

 

They stood on a sidewalk in the middle of a residential neighborhood, directly in front of a two-story home with a white porch.  Sitting on that porch, was the telescope she had in her bedroom at her father’s house.

 

Looking at him with a cautious glance she asked, “Landon?  Why is my telescope on that porch instead of at home in my bedroom?”

 

“Because, baby…this is home.”  He watched her face, trying to gauge her reaction.

 

“What do you mean?” 

 

“I mean…number fifteen.  Own your own home.”

 

Shortly after their engagement, they exchanged lists, both of them making a solemn vow that they would do everything in their power to help make as many of those dreams come true, for the other.

 

“Oh, Landon!  Are you serious?” 

 

They began to walk…run up to the front door as Landon dug through his pocket for the key.  Once found, he placed it in Jamie’s open palm giving her the honors. 

 

The heavy door opened with a click of the latch.  Before Jamie could take a step inside, he scooped her up into his arms and carried her over the threshold.  “Welcome home Mrs. Carter.”

 

Squealing in delight she said, “Landon put me down so I can see it!”

 

“Nope.  I kind of like you here.”

 

She was anxious to see it all.  It was furnished with some contemporary looking pieces in the living room and what looked to be an oak table in the dining room.  She tried to crane her neck around in order to get a better look.

 

 He jiggled her slightly in his arms and kissed what he could reach of her neck.  “I like carrying you.  It feels kind of good, don’t ya think?”

 

“Yes, it feels fabulous, but Landon if you don’t put me down, I’ll…”

 

“You’ll what?”  He smirked.  “What’ll ya do?  It looks to me like I’m the one holding all the cards here,” he said in a teasing tone.  “Tell you what…why don’t I just give you the tour myself.”

 

“Fine.  I want to see the kitchen.  Is it in there?”  She pointed to the room adjacent to the dining area as the tour of the Carter residence began. 

 

He showed her each room the best he could, with her in his arms.  The dining room, which did have a solid oak table and 6 chairs surrounding it.   The fully stocked kitchen, supplied with cookware, flatware and an abundance of food.  The sliding glass doors leading out from the kitchen to the wooden deck, on which a small metal table and two matching chairs sat.  There was some other furniture outdoors but he didn’t bother with that, he wanted to get to the best part of the house and that was still a few rooms away.  As he passed a few doors he decided to save some time and simply call out what each room’s purpose was without actually going inside of them. 

”That one leads to the bathroom…the basement…utility room.”

 

Finally he headed upstairs.   Securing her in his arms he walked directly to the room he’d been waiting to show her, passing all the other, less significant ones, he called out, “Guest rooms…bathroom…linen closet.  When he reached the end of the hallway he said with a hint of excitement in his voice, “Go on.  Open it.”

 

She opened the door to reveal a large master bedroom fully furnished with a queen sized bed, a TV and VCR--he told her later that those were guy necessities--a walk-in closet, an attached bathroom complete with a claw foot tub and a separate shower stall.  But the best part--the reason he bought the house for her--the French doors that lead them out onto their secluded balcony.  On it sat the telescope he built for her. 

 

Finally placing her down, she stood in the middle of the room, looking around, trying to take it all in.  “Landon,” she said nervously, “this is beautiful.  But how did you pay…I mean…did your father…”

 

“Sort of.”  He knew he would have to explain where the money came from for the house sooner or later but he was hoping it would be later.  “After my father left…after my parents broke up,” he corrected, “my dad sent checks every month for child support.  At first he would stop by with gifts for my birthday and holidays but after the first year or two he realized that I didn’t really care if he was there or not so he just started sending me checks for everything.”  He shook his head in disgust thinking about all the time that he could have spent with his dad and all the time he missed out on because of his own stubbornness.  “If it was my birthday--I’d get a check.  If I lost a tooth--I’d get a check.  Easter--a check. You get the idea?  Between my “gifts” and the monthly child support, it added up to quite a bit and with the exception of my car…well…I’ve never touched a dime of it.  Until now that is.”

 

“But Landon, wasn’t that supposed to be your college money?”  She gave him a look of concern.

 

“Don’t worry, Baby.  There’s plenty left over for school.”

 

“College is very expensive and medical school…”

 

“Jamie.  Trust me…don’t worry about it, my mother and father have,” he searched for the right word, “…lucrative careers.  Besides I didn’t pay for the whole thing.  My parents paid for half of it.”

 

“Another wedding present?” She asked in disbelief.

 

“Yeah.” A thought suddenly hit him, what if she WANTED to live at home with her dad for the last few months of her life?  “Hey?  Are you okay with this house thing?  I mean, if you want to live with your dad I’m okay with that, as long as he doesn’t mind me living there too.”  He chuckled a bit in an attempt to lighten the mood

 

“I’m fine with it.  More than fine with it.  I just can’t believe it.  You’ve given me so much already….and your parents…”

 

“They wanted to do this, Jamie and so did I.  Okay?” Please, he thought, please be okay with this.

 

“Well, I’ll have to call them tomorrow and thank them properly.”

 

“What about me? Are you going to thank me too?”  He teased.

 

Placing her arms around his neck she placed a kiss on the tip of his nose and said, “Thank you.”

 

She looked around the room at the dressers and asked, “Landon.  My clothes?”

 

“Don’t worry about it.  Your dad packed up everything for you and we brought it all over here this morning.  Why do you think my mother insisted on you getting ready at my house?”

 

“Is everything here?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Everything???” She asked in astonishment.

 

“Uh, huh.”

 

“Good, because I’d really like to get out of this dress.”  Facing her back towards him, she lifted up her hair and veil and placed it over her right shoulder.  “Would you mind unzipping me?”

 

“Ummmm,” he gulped, “sure.”  He lifted his hands to the catch at her neck and released it, then slowly lowered her zipper to reveal a glimpse of her white undergarments.  His heart skipped a beat.

 

She looked back over her shoulder--at the nervous look upon his face and gave him a simple, “Thank you.”  She pulled her arms from the sleeves and proceeded to step out of the dress still facing away from him.

 

Landon couldn’t believe what she was doing.  He watched as she sauntered across the room to hang up her gown and tried earnestly to listen to her chattering about the day’s events.  He was certain when she got dressed that morning, she didn’t think twice about the simple white satin bra and slip she was wearing, or the effect it would have on him. 

 

He tried not to stare when she sat at the vanity and began pulling pins out of her hair.  There goes the veil, he thought.  Or when she stood up and let her slip fall to her feet.  Oh, Lord, he thought, I don’t think I can take much more of this.  He knew however, that he had to leave the room when she lifted her foot onto the bed and began unsnapping her silk stocking from her white lace garter belt and began removing it from her leg.  Oh, yeah, he thought.  I have to leave the room…fast!

 

“Ummm…is it hot in here?”  He ran his fingers under the knot in his tie.  “I think I could use a drink.  Would you like a glass of water?”  He asked her as he raced for the door.

 

“No thank you.”

 

“Well, I could use one.”  He said as he made his escape. 

 

He paced back and forth across the kitchen floor talking to himself.  “Calm down, Landon.  You know you can’t do anything with her, so just calm down.”  His walk becoming less hurried, he continued his conversation with himself.  “You can do this.  Just go upstairs and pretend she’s not…she’s not what??  Pretend she’s not the most beautiful woman you’ve ever laid your eyes on?  Pretend that the sight of her in a bra and slip isn’t enough to drive you over the edge?  And that garter belt?   Geez!”

 

“Landon!” She called, “What’s taking you so long?”

 

“I’m just trying to find the glasses,” he lied.  “I’ll be right up.”  He opened up the cupboard to the right of the sink and took out a glass, filling it with cold water he reminded himself, once again, that he could do this.  He had gone this long without thoughts of sex invading his mind when he was around her, he can just push those thoughts to the back of his head again and not think twice about it.

 

“Laaaaaandon!”

 

“Coming.”

 

He walked up the stairs and took a deep cleansing breath before opening their bedroom door.  His jaw dropped at the sight that stood in front of him.  Jamie was standing at the edge of their bed wearing a white silk nightgown.  Her hair was flowing around her shoulders, her eyes sparkling with anticipation.  And Landon had forgotten every word he had just told himself not five seconds before.

 

 

 

Chapter Two:  The Wedding Night

 

 

 

“Jamie,” he breathed.  “I…”

 

“Come in, Landon,” she said wistfully. 

 

He didn’t know what to do.  Up until 15 minutes ago the thought of being with Jamie in that…certain way, had never crossed his mind.  He would entertain brief thoughts about it every now and then, but those were usually in his dreams.  Never when they were together and absolutely never when she was within touching distance.  Jamie was different, she didn’t just walk around saying she had morals like the other girls did, she actually did have them and she adhered to them.  He used to make fun of her--along with everyone else--for those, but in time he came to see them as admirable and he was trying to pattern his life after the example she set.  But tonight…tonight she was changed somehow.  She wanted something from him, something he wanted to give to her, but he couldn’t. 

 

“Are you coming in or are you going to stand in the doorway all night?” She asked playfully.

 

He needed to make her understand, what she was doing was driving him crazy and that she would have to stop doing…whatever it was she was doing.  He blew out a breath and ran his hand through his hair leaving it a disheveled mess. “Jamie…” he turned his head towards the side and saw a matching robe to her nightgown hanging on the back of their closet door.  “Are you cold?  Maybe you should put your robe back on?”  Chicken, he thought.  Quit avoiding the topic at hand.

 

She glanced at the hanging garment and then looked back at him with a hint of panic in her eyes.  “I don’t want to put it back on.”

 

“Well…maybe you should.” He insisted.

 

“Well…” she was beginning to feel very uncomfortable.  She had been dreaming about tonight since the very first time Landon kissed her --although she would never admit that out loud.  She was sure Landon was nervous, she could see it in his eyes, but now she wasn’t sure if it was fear she was seeing or distaste.   No, she thought, it couldn’t be.  “I don’t want to put my robe on, Landon.” She had to find out.  “Do YOU want me to put it on?”

 

After a minute of careful consideration he reluctantly said, “Yeah.”  The pain that showed in her face reminded him of that day by the lockers.  She was hurt, and with good reason.  Her husband just turned her away.  He needed to make her understand that it wasn’t her.  It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do this.  It was that he couldn’t.  How could he?  She had leukemia.  It wasn’t that long ago he was spending the night in the hospital holding her hand and praying that she would make it through the night and now she wanted him to…NO, he thought.  NO WAY!  I cannot do this. “I think it would be for the best if you covered up.”

 

She gave him a curt nod and walked to the closet to retrieve her robe.  She threw it on over her shoulders, not bothering to put her arms in the sleeves and walked out through the French Doors onto the balcony.  She stood staring at the stars, thinking about that night they spent in the cemetery.  The night she told him her number one.  Maybe she should tell him that becoming his wife, in more than name only is a number on her list too.  Then maybe he wouldn’t feel so repulsed by the thought of being intimate with her.

 

He hurt her.  He knew it.  Now what?  Landon thought.  Now what are you going to do?  He watched her walk right by him and onto the balcony.  He knew he should talk to her, tell her what he was feeling, but he didn’t know how. 

 

They both stood in their perspective spots for what seemed like an eternity.  Landon changed into some pajamas then turned on the TV set.  He continued to glance at her, she never moved.  This is ridiculous, he thought.  This is our wedding night and I don’t want to spend it watching TV.  He shut it off and walked out onto the balcony with every intention of putting this unpleasant incident behind them.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Hey,” she said quietly.

 

“Wanna show me your star?”

 

“Not really.”

 

“Well, are you going to just stand out here all night?” he said lightly prodding her to talk to him.

 

“Nope.” She snapped.

 

“Then what’d ya wanna do?”  Whoops, he thought.  Shouldn’t have said that.

 

“Well, I wanted to make love with my husband,” she looked accusingly at him, “but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.”

 

“Look, Jamie…”

 

“No.  You look, Landon.”  She turned to face him head on, intent on giving him a piece of her mind, but unable to once she saw the distraught look on his face.  “What is it?  Why don’t you want me?  Aren’t I pretty enough?”  Her last question came out as a strangled whisper.

 

He was shocked, “Not pretty enough?  Is that what you think???  Do you think I don’t want to be with you?”

 

She nodded her head and looked back out towards the sky.

 

Shaking his head from side to side he said, “Well, you’re wrong, Jamie.  You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on.  I’ve never wanted anyone or anything so much in my entire life.” 

 

She turned to face him again, “Then why did you turn me away?”  Tears started falling from her eyes.

 

He wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her, show her just how much he loved her, how much he wanted her, but if he touched her even once, he would be lost.  “Jamie, you’re illness…”

 

“I’m sick Landon, not dead!”  She stormed back into their bedroom and stood at the edge of the bed with her back towards him. 

 

Landon followed, “I know you’re not dead. But…”

 

“But what?” Her hair flung across her face, strands of it got stuck in her mouth when she twirled to face him.

 

He reached out to remove the hair from between her lips and confessed, “I’m scared.”

 

Her features softened, “Scared of what?” 

 

“Scared of everything,” he admitted and plopped down on the bed’s edge.  “I’m scared of hurting you, scared of what might happen if we do…you know.  I’m scared it might cause you to become sicker or take you away from me sooner or…”

 

She knelt between his knees and lifted up his drooping head with one finger.  “Landon,” she whispered attempting to get him to focus on her.  “Look at me.”  She waited until his eyes fell upon her face.  “I haven’t felt this good since we did the play.  It’s like God has given me this burst of life before…” his tearful eyes averted her penetrating stare.  “Look at me.” She needed him to focus on her.

 

“I can’t.  It’s too hard.”  Holding back his tears was beginning to make his body quiver.

 

“I’m sick Landon.  I’m going to die whether we like it or not.”

 

“DON’T SAY THAT!”  He finally looked right at her and the dam of tears burst from his eyes.

 

“But I am, Landon!”

 

“Just…don’t say it, okay?” His voice softened.

 

“You have to accept this.  You can’t keep pretending that it’s not going to happen.”

 

“I’m not like you Jamie.  I can’t just accept your death like it was nothing.  I know it’s going to happen.  I know that.  I just don’t…don’t want it to.”  His head fell into his hands as his gut wrenching sobs shook his quaking body.

 

With tears streaming down her face she asked him, “Do you think I WANT to die? Do you?  Well I’ve got news for you.  I don’t.  I want nothing more than to grow old with you, have children with you…grandchildren.  I would give anything to spend the next hundred years showing you how much I love you, but--Please, Landon.  Look at me.”  She begged him.  He lifted his eyes to hers.  “I don’t have a hundred years.  I don’t have ONE year.  All I have is now and I don’t want to waste it.  Please Landon.  Let’s not waste what little time we have.”

 

He fell to his knees, crushing her lips to his and holding her close.  “I love you so much, Jamie.” 

 

Holding his face between her hands, she said, “Then show me.”

 

 

He stood with his pajama bottoms on, looking out over the balcony, thinking about tonight and coming to the realization that he would never be able to make love to Jamie again.  Being with her was beautiful--a sharing of the soul, but it would harm her too much to do that again.  He felt her walk up from behind him and circle his waist with her warm arms.

 

“What’re you doing out here?  I got worried when I didn’t see you lying next to me?”  She laid her head between his shoulder blades and gave him a squeeze.

 

“I couldn’t sleep so I thought I would come out here and think.”

 

“Think about what?”

 

“About you…about me.”  He looked over his shoulder at her luminous face and realized that she was wearing the matching pajama shirt he had overlooked before going outside.  “You look cute in my shirt.”

 

“Thank you.  Quit changing the subject, Landon.  What were you thinking?”  She hoped he wasn’t sorry about tonight.  Afterwards they both knew that they would never be able to be that close again.  It would be too hard on her health, but during…her health and his worries never factored in. 

 

“I was thinking that,” his voice was so soft.  “I’m glad I waited.”

 

“Waited?” She was confused about what he waited for.  “Waited for what?”

 

He pulled her around to his side and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.  He was pretty sure that Jamie didn’t know tonight was a first for him too.  “For you…for us,” he whispered.

 

“When I was a kid--I must’ve been about sixteen--I was going on my first car date and my mom thought that she should sit me down and have “The Talk” with me.”  He laughed at the memory.  “She was pretty nervous about it.  Times like that I bet she could’ve used my father around.  Anyway…she started lecturing me on the use of condoms and teen pregnancy.  You know…all the typical sex talk stuff.  Of course I--being too cool for the room--only half listened to her and kept rolling my eyes.  It was pretty hard for me to talk about things like sex.  And with my mother, of all people.  Ewwww.  I just wanted the conversation to be over so I could take out…geez…I can’t even remember her name anymore.  Well, anyway, I just wanted to go out on my date, but on my way out the door she stopped me.  Thinking back on that night, I realize that it wasn’t the talk about teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases that stopped me from giving my virginity to someone; it was what my mother said.  I’ll never forget it.”

 

“She said, ‘Sex is not a game, Landon.  It’s not something you do because your girlfriend wants you to, or even because YOU want to.  It’s not something you should be pressured into doing by your friends…or anyone else for that matter.  It’s a gift and I promise you, Landon…if you look at sex as nothing more than a recreational sport, you’ll never know the joy…the feelings it can bring to you.  You’ll never have the pleasure of knowing what it truly means to be one with someone.’  At the time I had no clue what she was talking about and up until tonight, I still wasn’t quite sure I understood what she meant.” 

 

He turned to face her, to look directly in her eyes when he told her, “I know I’ll never be with anyone else in my life and I’m okay with that, because for the rest of my life, I can take pleasure in knowing that I was able to share something perfect…special, with you and only you.” 

 

 “I’m glad we waited till we were married because…I know what my mom meant now, when she talked about becoming one with someone.  We made a promise to pledge our lives and our love to one another, but tonight…in there,” he tilted his head towards their bedroom, “we sealed those vows and there’s nothing in this world that can be as miraculous as that.”  He brushed his fingers against her cheek and whispered softly against her lips, “you’re my soul mate, Jamie and I’ll treasure tonight for the rest of my life.”  He kissed her gently on the mouth and forehead, then scooped her into his arms and carried her to bed. 

 

“I love you.”

 

“I love you too.”  Spooning his body behind hers, they drifted off to sleep, secure in the knowledge that making love to each other tonight--this one and only time--would be enough to last them both for the rest of their lives.

 

 

 

Chapter Three:  Learning to Breathe

 

 

 

She woke up wrapped in his strong embrace.  His right leg was thrown over her hip, his foot tucked between her legs and his arms circled her upper body in a bear hug.  His head rested on the same pillow as hers as the soft hum of his snore echoed in her ears.  In short…it was the best morning of her life, but it was time to wake up. 

 

“Landon,” she said softly.  When he didn’t budge she spoke a little louder.  “Landon.”  Still--no movement.  “LANDON.” 

 

“Hmmmm?” He replied groggily.  “No school…t’saturday,” he slurred. 

 

She giggled softly and began squirming her body trying to break free from his grip.  “Landon.  Come on.  It’s time to get up.”  She couldn’t seem to escape his arms and legs.  “LANDON!!!”

 

“What?”

 

“It’s time to get up.”

 

“Mmmkay.  Just five more minutes, Mom,” he mumbled.

 

Laughter bubbled from her throat, “We’re going to be late for church.”  She nudged him with her elbow a little, “Come on, Landon.”  She felt the rhythm of his breathing change and knew she was finally making some headway.  “We’ve got to get up.  Now!”

 

His eyelids fluttered opened as he adjusted to his surroundings.  He was in bed…it was morning…Jamie was in his arms…JAMIE WAS IN HIS ARMS!  Oh, shit…what’ll her dad…wait a minute…

 

She felt him startle for a second then relax, “Is everything okay?”  She couldn’t make out his face due to the position they were lying in, but she pictured it.  She couldn’t see his smile, but she knew it was there.

 

“Yeah.  Everything is just fine…perfect.”  He snuggled closer to her and thought, what a way to wake up.

 

“We need to get out of bed Landon.  I don’t want to be late for church.”

 

Church.  That’s right.  It was Sunday and they needed to get ready for church.  Now that he was the reverend’s son-in-law there would be no skipping out of that.  The funny thing was, since he and Jamie began dating, he actually looked forward to going to church.  He would sit in the pew with his mother while Jamie would sing in the choir.  She always looked right at him when she sang and it always sent chills down his spine.  “Hey?  Are you singing this morning?”

 

“No.  Why?” His grip finally eased up and she rolled over to face him.

 

A look of disappointment flashed across his face.  “I just like hearing you sing.”

 

“Well, I’ll be taking a bath in a few minutes, if you want I could keep the door open and you could listen to me sing in the tub.”  She giggled.

 

“Gee, thanks,” he said with a hint of sarcasm.  “Listen, why don’t you take a bath and I’ll get breakfast ready.”

 

“Okay.”

 

 

 

They had gone to church and afterwards invited their family back to their house for some lunch.  They were cleaning up the lunch dishes when Jamie asked, “Landon, would you do something for me?”

 

“Sure.  What?”

 

“Would you take me shopping?”

 

“Of course.”  He hadn’t expected Jamie to ask him to take her shopping, read the bible with him, or even pray with him, but not shopping.

 

“So, what’d ya wanna get?  Need a new dress or something?”

 

She put down the towel she was using to dry the dishes and looked at his back.  “A casket.”

 

He stopped sweeping and turned to look in her direction.  She had to be kidding.  “A casket?”

 

“I’ve been thinking that…since I’ve been feeling pretty good these past few days we should probably take advantage of that and start planning my funeral.”

 

“Your funeral?  We just got married yesterday.  Don’t you think you’re jumping the gun a little here?  Why don’t we wait a few weeks then we can talk about it?”

 

“A few weeks?  Landon…I may not have a few weeks.”

 

“It’s just that you’ve been feeling so good lately…I thought…” he blew out a breath and walked into her opened arms as realization hit home once again.  “I’m sorry.  It’s just that times like these it seems like there’s nothing wrong, you know?”  He held her for a minute then said into her hair, “We should make a list of things you want done.  What kind of service you want, open or closed casket.”  He pulled away and looked into her face, “Where you want to be buried.”

 

She gave him a gentle smile and said, “Our cemetery.  We’ll have to look and see if we can find a plot there.”

 

“Yeah,” his smile was soft, his words even softer, “We’ll go tomorrow.”

 

“Thank you.” She rested her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes taking in the moment when a thought hit her, “What will I wear?”

 

He knew she wasn’t talking about tomorrow; she was talking about what she was going to wear after she left him.  “The blue dress you wore on our first date and the sweater I gave you.”

 

She lifted her head off his shoulder and smiled into his eyes.

 

 

 

Landon made an appointment with the gentleman at the cemetery for 1:00 that afternoon.  Before that they were going to a few of the local funeral homes.  The first stop was a small funeral home led by a stuffy old man named Boris.  Nope, they both thought.  The second place was a bit bigger, but the person that was in charge was out of the country for two weeks and they decided that they would come back if they didn’t find anything else.  The third place was a quaint funeral home set in an old Victorian house.  It had a garden out back with a fountain in the middle of it.  There was a small pond at the edge of the garden where some swans and geese resided.

 

“This is it, Landon.  It’s perfect.”

 

They went inside and spoke with Brigid, the funeral home director.  She had a way of making everything seem so normal.  She discussed with them the importance of certainty--making sure that what Jamie got was what she wanted.  “This is your day, dear, so make sure it’s what you want.”

 

They discussed music, mood, prayers, and floral arrangements and by the time they had to choose a casket, both Jamie and Landon felt a little more at ease. 

 

“How about this one?”

 

“Mmmmm.  I don’t really like it.  How about this one over here?”

 

“Jamie.  It’s black,” he whispered.

 

“So?”

 

“You don’t belong in a black casket.  Let’s check out the other room.”

 

They walked into the second room and saw it immediately upon entering.  It was off white on the outside with matted silver handles.  The inside was cushioned in a thick-pillowed padding, lined with a soft pink, material made of silk.  Brigid began explaining the features to them, but they heard none of it.  They just knew that this was the one. 

 

They finalized everything--Landon promised to bring back a tape with Jamie’s favorite music sometime during the next week and they headed off to the cemetery.

 

The gentleman in charge of the cemetery, Mr. Hargrove, seemed very understanding when they explained the situation.  “Feel free to look around at the spaces that are available.  There are a few spots that have markers in them--those are already spoken for and please…take all the time you need and let me know what you decide.” 

 

They walked around the cemetery in silence, both of them remembering that last night they spent here.  The night she told him she loved him, the night he gave her the star.  They walked around graves and headstones towards the empty knoll ahead of them and stopped under a tree.  It was there that they found Jamie’s resting place. 

 

“This is perfect, Landon.  I’ll have shade during the day and I’ll still be able to see my star at night.”

 

“Well, then…I guess this is it.  I’ll let Mr. Hargrove know that this is where we’d like our plots.”  He turned to walk back, when her arm reached out to grab his.

 

Our plots?  What do you mean?” She asked with a very concerned look on her face.

 

He gave her that knowing grin and said, “Well, you don’t think I’ll let just anybody spend eternity next to my wife, do you?”

 

“Landon.  This isn’t funny.  What do you mean our plots?  I thought we were planning my funeral, not yours?”

 

“We are.  I just figured I should get the plot next to you for when I…go.  Don’t you want me next to you?”

 

“No, it’s not that.  Its just…Landon.  What if you get married after I…”


“That’ll never happen,” he looked so sure of himself, of his statement. 

 

“But it might.  I don’t want you to give up on life just because I’m not here.”

 

“I’m not giving up on life.”

 

“Then why are you buying a cemetery plot?”

 

“Because I want to spend eternity next to you.  Is that okay?”  Landon tried to get her to understand that there would be no one else after her.  She was it.  “Why would you think that I’d find someone else?”

 

“Because…I can’t stand the thought of you being alone.”

 

He held on to her upper arms and said, “I won’t be.  I’ll have you with me wherever I go.”  He brushed his lips against her forehead and felt her arms come up around his back in a gentle embrace. 

 

“I’ll always be with you.” She kissed him.  “Always.”

 

 

 

Their morning customs seemed to be set by the past few days’ events. Jamie would wake up Landon, by nudging him in the gut a few times.  Landon would go down and prepare breakfast while Jamie bathed, then he would hop in the shower as she washed the dishes.  They did this everyday for the first two weeks of their marriage.  It was as though they were living normal, regular lives.

 

Jamie’s energy level had been erratic.  One day she would be chattering away to him the next she would have bouts of fatigue, but for the most part she seemed fine.  On the days of her doctor’s visits--twice a week--they would stop by her dad’s house for a few hours then swing by his mom’s for dinner.  Jamie had felt like their life was becoming a routine, something she never thought possible and she loved it.  They spent some days at the beach and some days at home just relaxing together on the swing they had out back or lying in their lounge chairs in the sunshine.  At night they would go to the harbor and take a walk along the water, or look through her telescope at her star.  They would sit in silence for hours at a time, not needing to say anything, just enjoying each other’s company.

 

Today however, Landon’s friends had stopped by with a picnic basket full of food and Eric brought a boom box along with a bunch of the weirdest music Jamie had ever heard.  She did however, like one song.  It was fun and upbeat and when Eric heard it on the radio he sighed, and said, “You’re really messin’ with a brother’s groove now, girl.”    But she didn’t care--she liked it. 

 

So it came as no surprise when Landon walked into the kitchen and heard her singing it to herself.  What did surprise him was what she was doing.  He watched her making a pitcher of mint tea for their guests, dancing from refrigerator to sink to cupboard, and listening to her as she sang the chorus over and over again.  He knew he would never forget this moment.  This was the quintessential Jamie--full of life, love and happiness and not ashamed to show it.  Her smile, lighting up the whole room.  God, he thought, how I love her. 

 

She jumped when she saw him standing next to the counter.  “How long have you been there?” 

 

“A little while.” He said with a crooked grin. 

 

“Here.  Why don’t you carry this outside?”  She handed him a tray with the pitcher of iced tea and some glasses on it.  “I’ll be right out.”

 

“Yeah, but I don’t want to miss the encore,” he joked on his way out the door.  Life was good.  That Saturday was one of the best days of his life.  His friends became their friends and for one afternoon they were all healthy and happy eighteen-year old kids with not a trouble in the world.  Unless, of course, you counted Eric’s exceptionally bad taste in music.

 

 

 

 

“Jamie,” he whispered.  “Jamie, it’s time to get up.”  He shook her gently.  “Baby, we’re gonna be late for church.”

 

Her eyelids fluttered open, then closed, and then open again.  “Landon?”

 

“Yeah…it’s me baby.”  She had looked disoriented.  Probably just cause she woke up, he thought.

 

“Landon.” Her thoughts were becoming clearer as she tried to focus on her husband’s concerned brow.  “What time is it?”

 

“It’s almost 7:30.  The service starts in an hour.”

 

“I just need a few more minutes, okay?”  She let her heavy lids droop and drifted back to sleep.

 

 

 

“How long has she been asleep?”

 

“Since last night.  Well, she woke up for a minute this morning, but then she went right back to sleep again.”  He thought of waking her up several times this morning but she just seemed so exhausted that he didn’t have the heart to go through with it.  Her father would understand if they missed the church service this week.  Yesterday was a long day…maybe too long.  Their friends had stayed until after dark and by the time they were ready to turn in for the night Landon had to carry Jamie up the stairs to their bedroom.  He climbed into bed behind her and fell asleep listening to the steady hum of her breathing. 

 

He’d been watching her sleep for over three hours now and he was beginning to get worried.  He had placed a call into her doctor’s office, but her regular physician was out of town and the person they had on call for him didn’t know Jamie’s case too well so Landon called his dad.

 

“I’ll place a call to the hospital and have them send over her home care providers.”

 

“Thanks, Dad. But…do you think I should bring her into the emergency room?  What if it’s something serious?”  Landon heard his father release a deep breath on the other end of the phone’s receiver.

 

“It is serious,” he paused.  “She’s got cancer, Landon.”

 

“I know that, Dad, but she seemed to be doing so much better.”

 

“Landon.  Jamie experienced what most terminally ill patients go through.  There’s no medical term for it.  It’s just a burst of energy that seems to come right before…before the end.” 

 

Landon’s breath caught in his throat, “Do you mean…today?”

 

“No!  No! I’m just saying, it doesn’t surprise me that she was doing so well but…  Look Landon.  A lot of times it turns out to be a mind over matter type of situation.  I’ve been monitoring Jamie’s health ever since you brought it to my attention and although she hasn’t had any major changes for the worse, she hasn’t showed any signs of improvement either.”

 

“But…but…Dad…if you could’ve seen her these past two weeks…”

 

“Landon.  Jamie’s a very strong willed individual, but even the strongest of mind can’t avoid the repercussions of this disease.”  After a minute he said, “I’m sorry, Son.”

 

“Yeah.”  Landon’s heart felt as though someone had just let the air out of his lungs.  “So, are you coming?” 

 

“Yes.  I’ll be there shortly.  In the meantime, I’ll call the hospital and arrange for homecare to start back up again.  They’ll inform her doctor’s office.  You should call her father and your mother…”

 

“Her father already called here this morning when we didn’t show up for church.  He’s on his way with mom now.  Should I try to wake her, maybe give her something to eat?”

 

“You could, but I’m not sure if she’d be able to keep it down right now.  Maybe just some warm liquids to start off with.  Hot tea, some broth…things like that.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Don’t worry.  I’ll be there soon, Landon.”

 

“Thanks, Dad.  Bye.”

 

“Landon?”  Her throat was dry and her voice weak.

 

“Jamie!  Are you all right?  I’ve been worried sick…”

 

“Mmmmm.  I’m fine.  Just a little tired.  How long was I asleep?”

 

“A while.  Are you hungry?  Thirsty?”

 

“A little thirsty.”  She struggled to sit up and Landon rushed to her aide.  “It’s okay. I can do it.”

 

It was hard for him to stand back and watch her struggling on her own to sit up.  “I’ll go make you some tea.” 

 

He stood in the middle of the kitchen thinking, it was just yesterday she was singing, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and dancing across the room.  The past two weeks flashed through his mind.  Jamie walking down the aisle, Jamie singing in the bathtub, washing dishes, brushing her hair, holding hands as they walked along the dock where they had their first date and kissing her in the moonlight.  Feeling the soft, velvet skeins of her hair blowing in the wind against his skin, her hands running up his back, the sound of her voice whispering ‘I love you, Landon’ against his lips when he made love to her on their wedding night.  He missed her already. 

 

The rest of the day was a blur.  Jamie’s father and his mother showed up within minutes.  The hospice workers arrived and began running different tests.  Landon’s father got there shortly after and ordered blood to be drawn, and an IV to be put in until she was able to eat.  By the end of the day Jamie lied in bed with tubes coming out of her, machines beeping, and an IV dripping. 

 

Landon realized that he wasn’t ready for this yet.  Not yet.  They had just gotten married.  He knew they didn’t have much time, but this was just too soon.  He sat at the edge of the bed and ran his hands through his hair then stood up and walked out onto their balcony as his tears started streaming down his cheeks.  He looked towards the heavens and began speaking to God in a horse whisper.

 

“What did I do?  Was there something…somewhere in my life I could’ve done something to prevent this from happening?  Am I being punished?  If you want someone so damn bad, why can’t you take me??   Why??  She’s never done anything but good.  She’s spent her whole life believing in you…in what you stand for.  She’s the best person I’ve ever known.  Why??  Why??”  His sobs shook his body as he began bargaining for Jamie’s life with God.  “Look…I know I haven’t spent as much time in church as I should have.  I haven’t lived the kind of life you expect people to live, but I will.  I swear.  I’ll do anything you want…anything… if you’ll only…please don’t take her away from me?”  He begged.  “Please!”  He collapsed as the rain started to come down in buckets.  “I don’t know what I’d do without her.  I’ll do anything you want.  Anything.  Just don’t take her.  Not yet.  Please!  Not yet.  Just a little while longer.  Please.”

 

 

 

Chapter Four:  Keeping The Faith

 

 

 

He lay back on his bed with his hands behind his head, looking up at the sky, awaiting the darkness.  The moon gradually appeared as the stars popped up one by one within the dark background.  The moment he was waiting for would be here soon and when it came, his world would be full again.  Full of love…hope…life.  A flash of white streaked across the night sky creating a star that shined brighter than all the others.  He looked to his side and saw her walking across the cemetery towards him, her feet never quite touching the ground. 

 

She was wearing her wedding dress.  Her hair was cascading down her back in soft waves and would billow around her shoulders when the breeze caught it.  Her skin was luminescent, her eyes bright and her smile even brighter.  She held her arms out in front of her, waiting for his hands to capture hers. 

 

He pulled her down to join him on their mattress and kissed her--a soft kiss of exploration.  He could hear her voice whisper softly “I Love You Landon” with every warm breeze that caressed his skin, but her lips never moved. 

 

“Jamie,” he whispered.  “I miss you so much.” 

 

She lied in his arms sharing warm, tender kisses and gentle touches until the sun began to rise.  He dreaded the rising sun, for with it, came the pain of losing her again.  He began to shake violently as the fear of loneliness consumed him.

 

“Landon,” she said softly in his ear.  “The birds are singing.”

 

“Jamie,” he whispered.  “Don’t leave me.”  His stomach was churning.  He tried to hang onto her, but she was fading into the sunrise.  “Don’t leave me.”

 

“Landon,” her voice gradually getting louder, “the birds is ringing.”

 

He tried to control his trembling, as he heard Jamie’s voice wake him from a deep sleep, “Landon.  The phone is ringing.”

 

The bright sun accosted his eyes as he held onto her tightly.  Relief washed over him as he slowly came to the realization that it was only a dream.  It was just a dream, he told himself.  She’s still here.  She’s still here.

 

“Landon.  The phone.”  She could feel his erratic breathing, his body quivering against hers.  “Landon?  Aren’t you going to answer that?”  When she got no reply she asked, “Are you okay?” 

 

He struggled to get out a reply.  “No…yeah…just…just give me a minute.”  The ringing of the phone subsided.

 

She tried to face him but his grip on her was too strong.  “Landon, I can’t move.”

 

“Just wait a sec, okay?  Just….” He buried his face in her hair and breathed deeply.

 

“What’s wrong?”  She was starting to get worried.  Ever since her home care started back up again a few days before, he had been having nightmares.  She begged him to tell her what they were about, but he never did.

 

“Nothing’s wrong.  I just need to feel you for a minute.”

 

“Did you have another nightmare?”

 

“Don’t worry, baby.  I’m fine.”

 

She wanted to press him to share his troubles with her, but before she could try the phone intruded once again.  She watched as he went through his morning routine before answering it. 

 

He sat on the edge of the bed and ran his hand over the razor stubble that grew during the night, and then raked his fingers across his scalp leaving his hair sticking up in little tufts all over his head.

 

“Hel…ahem,” he cleared his throat.  “Hello.”

 

“Oh, hey.  What’s up?  Did you hear anything?”

 

She could only hear one side of the conversation but from Landon’s replies and the tone of his voice, she knew it was his father.  They had been waiting for some test results to come back regarding her blood count. 

 

“Mmmmm hmmmm….Yeah….She’s right here….Nope…She seems to be…Great…So when will they….Okay…Okay…Sounds good Dad…Talk to ya later.”

 

“So?” She asked, anxious to hear the results of her most recent blood test.

 

“Well,” he turned around to face her. “Your white blood cell count isn’t up but your red count is down.”

 

“Oh, no.” She looked dejected.

 

“No, baby.  That’s a good thing.  Well...not a good thing per say, but it’s not as bad as if your white cell count went up.” He reached for her hands being extra careful for the IV that was still in place.  “That means that it’s the anemia, not the leukemia that’s causing you to feel this way.  My dad said that your condition is still basically the same, but if we don’t watch out for the anemia then it could cause some major problems for you.”

 

“Anemia?  That’s it?”

 

“Yep.” He hugged her tightly.  “That’s it.” 

 

She felt the relief wash over her.  “So all I have to do is increase my iron intake?”

 

“Well…it’s a bit more complicated than that, but…yeah.”

 

“Oh, Landon.  This is wonderful.”

 

“And you know what else?”

 

“Hmmmm?” Her smile was lighting up the room again.

 

“You get to get rid of all of this shi…stuff today too.”  He said making a gesture towards all of the medical equipment that had recently taken up residence in their bedroom. 

 

“When???”

 

“As soon as your homecare providers get here.”

 

She pulled back and looked at him as laughter seemed to bubble up from her throat and echo throughout the room.

 

“What’s so funny?”

 

“Your hair.”  She was holding on to her stomach from laughing so hard.  “You should see it.  It’s got this…pinwheel thing….”

 

“What’s wrong with my hair?” He asked as he made his way over to the mirror hanging above their dresser.  “Oh.” He said as he took in the site that greeted him.  “Scary.  Well.  I guess I should probably get cleaned up before they get here, huh?” 

 

“Unless you want to scare them to death…” she couldn’t seem to control her laughter.  It wasn’t just his hair it was…everything.  She had gone to sleep every night for the past few nights thinking that she wouldn’t wake up the next morning and now she and Landon were laughing uncontrollably at his morning hairstyle.

 

 

 

Her regular physician had come and gone, along with her day nurse.  They examined Jamie and removed her IV and disconnected her from the monitors that had been running.  Her doctor gave her a list of daily supplements to be added into her diet and told Landon to call him if her condition changed for the worse.

 

“Look, Landon.” She was waving her left hand around.  “It’s gone.”  She was speaking about the tube that had been providing her with nutrients and fluids for the past few days.

 

“Better make sure that you follow that diet or else that IV will be back in there before you know it.”

 

“Yes, Sir!”

 

They walked across the room, into each other’s embrace silently thanking God for the second chance that she had been given…that they had both been given.  Closing their eyes they held onto one another, cherishing the beat of their hearts.  Life would go on, for faith endured.

 

 

 

“I love it in this room.”  She sat on the piano bench with Landon and looked around her father’s living room.  “It’s like I can feel my mom all around me.” She said and rested her head on his shoulder.  “Hey,” she said quietly.  “You know what we should do?”

 

“What?” he looked at her lovingly.

 

“Why don’t we go through some of my music and pick out the songs I want at my funeral?”

 

Up until this morning, it was hard for Landon to think about her funeral without wanting to die himself, but after his father’s phone call, he felt as though he should be grateful for every minute with her.  He had made a deal with God a few nights ago--to live his life the best he could--if only He would spare Jamie’s life for a little while longer.  God had answered ‘yes’ to his prayer and Landon wasn’t about to go back on his part of the deal, even if that meant looking at Jamie’s funeral the way she did--as the beginning of a magnificent journey.  “You know what?  I think that’s a great idea.” 

 

They had gone through stacks of music narrowing their choices down slowly but surely.  Landon was reading the sheet music for one song in particular and smiled.  He handed her the music and asked her, “Can you play this?”

 

“Sure,” she said, when she looked at it and smiled back into his eyes.

 

Her fingers slid delicately over the piano keys as she played the introduction to the song, then she began to sing, filling the room with her crystal clear voice.

 

“Lying here with you,

Listening to the rain.

Smiling just to see,

A smile upon your face.

 

These are the moments

I thank God that I’m alive.

These are the moments

I’ll remember all my life.

I’ve found all I’ve waited for,

And I could not ask for more.

 

Looking in your eyes,

Seeing all I need.

Everything you are

Is everything in me.

These are the moments

I know heaven must exist.

These are the moments

I know all I need is this.

I’ve found all I’ve waited for,

And I could not ask for more.

 

I could not ask for more than this time together.

Could not ask for more than this time with you.

Every prayer has been answered,

Every dream has come true.

Right here in this moment

Is right where I’m meant to be.

Here with you.

Here with me.

 

As she played the musical interlude, Landon thought about the words to the song.  He was certain that when this song was written the author must have had him and Jamie in mind. 

 

These are the moments

I thank God that I’m alive.

These are the moments

I’ll remember all my life.

I’ve found all I’ve waited for,

And I could not ask for more

 

I could not ask for more than this time together.

Could not ask for more than this time with you.

Every prayer has been answered.

Every dream has come true.

Right here in this moment

Is right where I’m meant to be.

Here with you.

Here with me.

 

No, I could not ask for more than this love you gave me,

Cause it’s all I’ve waited for.

And I could not ask for more.”

 

“Neither could I, Jamie,” Landon said placing a soft kiss against her forehead.  “Neither could I.”  A feeling of tranquility rose up from deep within him, as he finally understood the gift that was given to him on this day.  He was given the chance to live, really live his life to the fullest.  The words to her song went through his mind, ‘These are the moments I thank God that I’m alive.’  Yes, he thought, they most certainly are.

 

Reverend Sullivan watched them as they went through the various sheets of music and books--reading lyrics--finding some that they thought appropriate and disregarding others.  It bothered him that they were able to find pleasure in doing something that was so agonizing to him.  They seemed to discuss her demise as easily as some people talked about what they were having for dinner.  Over the past few months Jamie had asked him several times to help her plan the funeral, but he continually put it off as though avoiding it, would somehow prolong her death.  He loved his daughter and wanted her to be happy, but he couldn’t watch this.  He couldn’t watch her and Landon go on with their lives as though tomorrow would never come.  It would.  And when it did, it would take Jamie away.  As happy as he was to see Jamie up and around again, it pained him to watch what she was ultimately planning for.  When he heard her begin to sing, he felt his heart breaking.  He questioned the Lord’s wisdom for taking such a sweet and innocent soul.  And when he heard Landon’s response to her song, he questioned his own wisdom.  He had dedicated his life to God, yet he was still unable to accept the Lord’s plan for his daughter’s life as readily as Landon was able to.  How can I preach the word of God, he thought, when I don’t agree with it? 

 

 

 

It was hard for Jamie’s father to watch them go through this.  Landon knew that, but it was even harder for Jamie as her father gradually closed himself off.  She missed him.  They had spent just over two hours at his house the day prior and he had hardly said two words to them.  He was surprised to see her--happy even, but he just couldn’t seem to look her in the eyes.  Landon called Eric and asked him to bring Sam over for a while and to sit with Jamie while he was gone.  He needed to run some errands in town and he needed to have a little visit with his father-in-law.

 

“Hey man!”  Eric called to Landon from his parked car.  “You sure you want Sam in there?  What if Jamie doesn’t want him to come inside?”

 

“Jamie will love him.  Come on!”

 

Jamie sat on a lounge chair outside getting her fill of the morning sunshine, when she saw this huge fur ball coming at her.  “Oh, my goodness,” she dropped her book.  “Who is this?”  She sat on the edge of the chair and let the giant mutt cover her face with wet, sloppy kisses.

 

“This is Sam,” answered Landon, “Eric’s dog.”

 

“Where’s Eric?”

 

“He’s hiding in the kitchen cause he thinks you’re going to kill him for bringing this big, dirty mutt inside of your house.”

 

“Oh, don’t be silly.”  She began to rub the sides of the dog’s face and behind his ears.  “I love animals.”

 

“That’s what I told him…”

 

Eric peeked his head out from the sliding glass doors and asked, “Is it safe?”

 

He got his answer when he looked at Jamie and Sam.  The dog had thrown himself down to the ground and Jamie was rubbing his belly and laughing at the rapid movements of his hind leg.  “Oh, Eric.  He’s great!  Thank you so much for bringing him over.”

 

Landon slapped Eric on the back and said laughingly, “You may never get him back buddy.”

 

 

 

Jamie watched as Landon left that morning and turned to Eric.  “He’s gone.  Let’s go.  We only have a few hours.”

 

“Okay, but are you sure we should be doing this?  I mean what if something happens while we’re out?”

 

“I’ll be fine, Eric but we’ve got to hurry.  I want it to be all set up before he gets back.”

 

 

 

Landon had felt guilty at first for leaving Jamie with Eric, but then he realized that she probably wouldn’t even notice he was gone--Sam had monopolized her attention from the minute he licked her face.  He pulled up in front of the church and took a deep breath.  Well, he thought, here we go again.

 

Reverend Sullivan was standing over his pulpit putting on the finishing touches to Sunday’s sermon when he heard the door open.  Looking up he saw his son-in-law walking up to him as he’d done once before.  “Landon.  What brings you here?  Is Jamie with you?”

 

“No, sir.  It’s just me.”

 

“Is everything all right?  Nothing’s wrong with Jamie is there?”

 

“No.  No Jamie is fine, she’s home.  I…ummm…I wanted to talk to you…alone.”

 

“Well, sit down.  Sit down.” He made a gesture towards one of the pews.

 

Landon wasn’t sure where to begin--he knew he needed to do this--he just wasn’t sure how to go about it.  “Sir?  Are you aware that your daughter is sick?”

 

Reverend Sullivan was taken aback by the directness of Landon’s question.  “Landon I’ve been aware of it for sometime now,” he said sharply.

 

Landon made every attempt to be gentle when he asked the next question.  “Well then, why are you treating her as if she were already dead?” He asked under his breath

 

“Landon!  You have no right…”

 

“Reverend, I’m not trying to disrespect you, but you must know that your treatment of her isn’t going to change anything, except for maybe the way Jamie leaves this world.”

 

He tried to control his temper, but what Landon was saying was hitting too close to home.  “Just because you’re my daughter’s husband doesn’t give you the right to speak to me that way.  I have been dealing with this for years Landon.  I’ve been the one to watch her go through treatments, to hold her hair back when she couldn’t keep food in her system, to help her dress, help her walk.  I was the one sitting at the hospital, praying for God to make her better.  So don’t ask me if I’m aware of Jamie’s pending death.  It’s all I’m aware of.”

 

“I know how you feel.”

 

“No!  You could never know how I feel.” He pointed an accusing finger at him.  “No one could ever know how I feel.” He hung his head, fighting off tears.

 

“You’re wrong.  I know exactly how you feel.  It’s like your heart is being ripped out of your chest,” he gulped.

 

“I had nothing in my life before your daughter came into it.  I thought it was full, but it turns out that all the things I thought were important, weren’t really that important after all.” 

 

His voice got softer as he slipped back in time, “I remember the first time Jamie told me she loved me.  It was like God had forgiven me for everything I had done wrong in my life--and there was a lot to forgive.  He gave me this wonderful…beautiful girl to love and for some reason she loved me back.  I don’t know what it is I’ve done in my life to deserve her.  I don’t know why she chose me.  Hell…I don’t even know why she said yes when I asked her to marry me.  The one thing I do know is that she loves me and I love her and to waste what little time God has seen fit to give us, with regret or remorse, would be a sin.” 

 

He stood up to make his way out of the church, turning when he got to the edge of the pew.  “Your daughter loves you.  She misses you.  She needs you …and so do I.  I don’t know what you need to do to help you get past this, but you need to do something, because before you know it, you’ll look back and realize that life just passed you by.  I threw away too many years to count, by not letting my father in my life.  Don’t make the same mistake I did, Reverend.”  He waited for a response and got none.  “Well…I guess I’ll see you on Sunday.” 

 

 

Landon walked into his back yard around dinnertime, expecting to see Jamie and Eric lying around with Sam underfoot.  What he saw was Jamie lying in a hammock with Sam by her side and Eric nowhere to be found.  Citronella candles surrounded the area that they occupied and Eric’s boom box was sitting on a table close by playing soft music, accompanied by two glasses and a bottle of sparkling cider.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Hey.” Jamie turned her head leisurely to face him.  “Welcome home.”

 

“What’s all this?” He said gesturing towards the hammock and the other paraphernalia that she had set up. 

 

“Eric helped me do it.  Do you like it?”

 

“Yeah.  I do.” He leaned over her lounging form and kissed her hello.  “Speaking of Eric…where is he?  I didn’t see his car outside.”

 

“I sent him home about an hour ago.”

 

“Jamie,” Landon looked at her as though he were about to scold her.  “You know you shouldn’t be alone right now.”

 

“I wasn’t alone.  I had Sam.”  At the sound of his name the dog’s tail started wagging.  “See.  He’s protecting me, aren’t ya boy?” She said to the animal.

 

Landon chuckled at the dog’s reaction to Jamie and thought; back off Sam…she’s mine and I’m not sharing.

 

They ate a light dinner, drank sparkling cider and eventually made their way over to the hammock. 

 

Landon lied on his back with Jamie tucked in the crook of his arm, facing him.  Sam had taken his place underneath the hammock and occasionally Landon’s hand would brush against his soft matted fur. 

 

“Landon?  Do you love me?”

 

His eyebrows furrowed, “Of course I do.”

 

“Then will you do something for me?”

 

The corners of his lips lifted in a smile as he thought of the first time they had this conversation.  “Anything.”

 

“Will you tell me about your nightmares?”

 

He turned his head away from her for a moment considering her request then looked up at the sky and began speaking.  “It’s after your funeral and I’m in the cemetery.  Our bed is in the exact spot that I placed the blanket that night--remember?  And I’m just lying there on the bed with my hands under my head, looking up at the sky--waiting for night to fall.  I watch as the stars come out and then with a flash of light…you’re there.  I look across the tombstones and see you walking towards me--your feet never quite touching the ground.  You’re wearing your wedding dress, but you don’t have on your veil and your hair looks like it did that night in the play.  You look the same every night, but the sight of you always seems to leave me breathless.  We spend the night together--never actually talking, yet somehow we’re able to communicate.”

 

“What do we do together?”

 

He looked at her gentle smile, and began lightly rubbing his hand up and down her arm.  “We kiss, hug…sometimes we dance…sometimes we make love,” his voice scraped.  “But it always ends the same way.  The sun comes up and no matter how hard I try to hold onto you…you just fade away with the sunrise.”

 

“Oh, Landon.  That doesn’t sound like a nightmare to me.  Spending every night in your arms--loving you.  It’s sounds like heaven.”

 

“I guess I never looked at it that way before.”

 

“How could you not?  You know what I think?”

 

“What?”

 

“I think it’s God’s way of telling you that he’ll never take me away from you.”

 

“Yeah…I think you’re right.”

 

He looked deeply into her eyes as he whispered the words that had been running through his mind.  “These are the moments I thank God that I’m alive.  These are the moments I’ll remember all my life.  I’ve found all I’ve waited for, and I could not ask for more.”  He leaned in to place a light kiss against her lips, but when he felt her gently part them for him he lost himself in her soul. 

 

 

 

Chapter 5:  Dare You To Move

 

 

 

“Have you seen my shoe?” She checked under the bed.

 

“What shoe?”  They had fallen asleep in the hammock again last night and woke up late this morning.

 

“My black shoe?  The one that matches this one?”  She stuck her foot out to show him the shoes’ mate.

 

“Nope.  Did you look in the closet?” He said adjusting his tie then finally just ripping it off in disgust.

 

“Yes, I looked in the closet.  Where on earth could it have…” She trailed off as she began looking around the room.

 

“Ummm….Jamie?” Landon interrupted.

 

“Hmmm?”

 

“ I think I found your shoe.”

 

She gave him a questionable stare.

 

“Take a look,” he pointed towards Eric’s dog Sam, who had taken up residency with the Carter’s since Wednesday of that week.  Eric had come to pick him up the day after he and Jamie set up Landon’s new hammock, but Sam didn’t want to go and Jamie didn’t want to let him go.  Eric agreed to let the dog stay for a while and promised to bring back some of the dog’s necessities, like food, water bowl, toys…

 

Jamie looked at the fluffy dog and sighed.  “Oh, Sam.  What am I gonna do with you?”  She removed the slobbery shoe from the dog’s dripping mouth by the thin strap on the back.  “Well…I guess I’ll need to wear a different pair of shoes.”

 

Landon noticed that she sat down instead of going to the closet to get a different pair of shoes and offered to get them for her.  “Which ones?” He called out from their walk-in closet.  The brown ones or …” he came out of the closet holding a pair of flats, “…these black…” he stopped mid sentence and dropped to the floor in front of her, shoes forgotten.  Her pallor came as a shock to his system.  She had gone from vivacious to lifeless in a matter of seconds.  “Jamie!  What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing…I juhhst… need to…cahhh…catch…. my breath.”  The pain hit her suddenly.  She felt like a thousand white-hot needles were stabbing at her limbs.  It’ll pass, she thought.  Just give it a minute and it’ll pass.  She continued taking deep breaths and thinking positive thoughts.  This is nothing.  It’s just a little twinge, she told herself.  As her pain began to subside she heard Landon’s voice in the background.

 

“Here,” he made to pull the covers down, “lie down.”

 

“No…Lahhndon…Really…aahll…be fine.  Sometimes it…just hits me…that’s all.”  Closing her eyes she took a deep cleansing breath and blew it out.  “See,” she lifted the corners of her mouth in a smile that never reached her eyes.  Some of the color was coming back to her skin. “I’m fine.”  The pain was gone now, but Jamie knew it would be back.  She was getting worse.  She could feel it.  Her energy level was gradually decreasing.  She found herself sleeping more each day and eating less.  The anemia, that she had been warned about, was turning from bad to worse and her leukemia was right behind it.  “Come on,” she said as she stood up to put the shoes he pulled out from the closet on.  “We don’t want to be late for church.”

 

“Maybe we shouldn’t go?”

 

“Landon, if we don’t go to church again this week, my father is going to start thinking that you’ve gone back to your old ways,” she joked.  “Besides, Eric’s bringing Sam’s stuff today and I personally would rather he stopped using my shoes as a rawhide.”

 

 

 

They rode to church in silence.  Landon’s left hand was draped over the steering wheel while his right hand gripped Jamie’s. 

 

She looked out the window, appreciating the beauty God had created: flowers in full bloom, birds singing, the blue sky, white fluffy clouds.  She inhaled the smell--a mixture of fresh cut grass, salt water and wild flowers--filing it away in her memory for future reference. 

 

When they pulled into church it was Landon’s mother that greeted them, not Jamie’s father as she had hoped.  He’s probably just busy.  The service would be starting soon.  We were running late today, she told herself as they took their seats and listened to the choir sing a beautiful rendition of “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” 

 

They went through the customary readings, prayers, hymns then Reverend Sullivan stood at the pulpit looking down at his flock, his eyes coming to rest on his daughter and the man she married.  “Good Morning,” he said solemnly.

 

The congregation replied in unison, “Good morning.”

 

“I’d like to begin this morning’s service with a prayer that I read a long time ago.  It’s one that I hadn’t thought about in years, but a few days ago I was reminded of it by someone close to me,” he glanced at Landon and began to read. 

 

“One night a man had a dream.  He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord.  Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.  For each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonging to him and the other to the Lord.  When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand.  He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints.  He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of his life.  This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it.  ‘Lord.  You said that once I decided to follow You, You would walk with me all the way.  But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times of my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand.  Why when I needed You most, You would leave me.’  The Lord replied, ‘My son.  My precious child, I love you and I would never leave you.  During your times of trials and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.’ ”

 

He looked out amongst the congregation and confessed.  “For a long while now, I was sure that the Lord had left my side.  That He had forgotten about me…about my daughter.  He must’ve left me, for why else would He allow something so horrible to happen to my child?  There could be no other explanation, right?”

 

“As a minister, people look at me as though I am infallible…at times…myself included.  I forget that--all though I’m a disciple of the Lord--I am still just a man.  A man--like any of you.  Filled with hopes, dreams…fears.  I have to remind myself, that I am not perfect.  That my hopes and dreams--although the right choice for me--may not be the right choices for others.  And that sometimes fear is not a sign of indignation in a minister, but a sign of humility in a man.”

 

“For weeks now I’ve stood up here and spoke to you about sin, about guilt, lies, deceit.  I’ve spent my sermons putting the fear of God into all who would listen.  I told you that God wanted us to take Him into our lives and that we should emulate Him in everything we do and if you didn’t…well, then you were wasting this wonderful gift of life that He has bestowed upon us.” He looked down at the ground in shame, “Easier said than done I’m afraid,” he slowly lifted his head.  “I come to you today to ask your forgiveness…to ask the Lord’s forgiveness…to beg for my daughter’s forgiveness.  I apologize.  At the time, my words…my actions reflected that of a feeble man and not that of a man of God.  So today’s sermon will not be about wasting our lives, but about giving thanks in the life we’ve made for ourselves. Celebrating the joys, the gifts and even the heartaches that God has given to us.”

 

“At this time I’d like to ask my daughter if she feels well enough to bless us with a song--a song that is more than fitting with today’s message.”

 

Jamie nodded her head in agreement.  She got up slowly, with Landon’s hand guiding her by her elbow; she made it across the church to the piano.  Sitting down she smiled a knowing smile when she saw the music her father had already placed on the stand before her.  She began playing the song that her father had taught her many years ago…after her mother died.

 

“I’ve had lots of tears and sorrow

I’ve had questions for tomorrow

There were times I didn’t know right from wrong

But in every situation

God gave blessed consolation

That my trials come to only make me strong.

 

I’ve been a lot of places

And I’ve seen a lot of faces

There were times when I’ve felt so all alone

But in those lonely hours

Yes those precious lonely hours

Jesus showed me that I was His very own.

 

Through it all

Through it all

I’ve learned to trust in Jesus

Learned to trust in God

Through it all

Through it all

I’ve learned to depend upon His word.

 

I thank Him for the mountains

And I thank Him for the valleys

And I thank Him for the storms he put me through

Cause if I’d never have the problems

I’d never know that He could solve them

I’d never know what faith in God could do.

 

Through it all

Through it all

I’ve learned to trust in Jesus

Learned to trust in God

Through it all

Through it all

I’ve learned to depend upon His word

Yes, I’ve learned to depend upon His word.”

 

Reverend Sullivan’s heart swelled as he listened to her singing.  He didn’t notice when she wasn’t able to hold her notes as long as she should have, or when she came in late at the beginning of a stanza because she was catching her breath.  To him, Jamie’s voice was the most exquisite sound in the world, second only to the sound of her laughter and what she was singing was the most valuable message that could be conveyed:  without suffering, there would be no compassion. 

 

 

 

“Where’s my Sammy?” Eric asked as he made his way into Landon and Jamie’s living room.  “What’d ya do with him?  Sam?” he began calling out, “Yo!  Sammy!”

 

Jamie giggled as she said, “He’s out back.  Come on,” she led the way to their back yard where one giant fur ball lied in the shade under a tree. 

 

The second Sam heard the sliding door open he jumped up and bolted towards Eric and Jamie.  “Ya see,” Eric said, “he misses me…aww shit.”  His optimism deflated as the running dog made his way straight into Jamie’s arms.

 

“What’d I tell ya, buddy?  You ain’t never getting him back,” laughed Landon. 

 

“Lannnndon?”  His mom called from the kitchen.  Where do you keep your glasses?”

 

“Hold on a sec, Mom.”

 

“I’ll help her,” said Jamie.  “It’ll be nice to have some time alone with your mother.”

 

“You sure?”  Landon asked with a look of concern in his eyes.  Jamie had two more spasms of pain since this morning and he wasn’t completely convinced that it was nothing--as she kept insisting it was.  “I don’t want you to push yourself.”

 

“I won’t,” she leaned on her tiptoes and placed a kiss on his forehead.  “I’m feeling much better now and I really think your mom is gonna need some help with lunch.”

 

“Maybe we shouldn’t have invited everybody over today.  I mean…if we had planned it that would be one thing, but…” the doorbell rang interrupting him mid sentence.

 

“I think it’s too late,” Jamie whispered and made her way to the kitchen as Landon answered the door.

 

Everyone was there.  Jamie’s father, Landon’s mother--his father was on-call and couldn’t travel that far away from the hospital--Belinda, Dean, Tracy, Sally, Mr. Kelly--all of their closest friends had stopped by after church to just spend some time with them.  Jamie looked around her house, it was cluttered with people’s purses, light jackets, dog toys…it looked lived in and she loved it.  On the patio Belinda and Tracy were having a war with Eric over what radio station should be played and Reverend Sullivan, Mr. Kelly and Ms. Garber had their heads together, deep in conversation.  Landon had come in the kitchen and offered to help with lunch and his mother readily put him to work getting glasses, plates, and utensils…  Their heads shot towards Jamie as they heard the loud crash.

 

“Jamie!!!  Baby!!!”

“Oh, my God!” They cried out in unison.

 

In less than a second Landon was by her side, cradling her in his arms, kissing her forehead, whispering, “Shhhh…it’s all right.  It’ll be all right,” as he rocked her back and forth gently in his arms.  “Shhhh…baby…shhhh.”

 

Jamie tried to relax but the pain was just too great.  The stabbing pains she experienced earlier had gotten worse, her lungs felt like they were burning and she couldn’t catch her breath. 

 

“Mom.  MOM!” he yelled when she didn’t respond right away.

 

“Yes,” she said breathlessly, “what can I do?”

 

“Around that corner, in the closet you’ll find a small oxygen tank…get it.  FAST!”  He continued to rock Jamie back and forth, whispering to her, “Oh, baby, baby, everything’ll be all right.  It’ll be all right.”  Landon knew he had to remain calm.  He had to keep focused.  Get her some air then call the doctor, he chanted over and over again.  His mother came barreling around the corner with the oxygen and he told her what to do.  “Slowly turn the knob on top until you hear it start to hiss.”  He waited for the sound, then he said, “Now take those little tubes and put them into her nostrils…wrap that part,” he gestured with his chin towards the elastic band, “around the back of her head to keep it in place.”  He watched as his mother performed the task, then ordered Jamie to take in the air.  “Slowly.”  He watched her cringe when she tried to take a deep breath.  “I know it hurts baby, but you’ve got to breathe.  Come on…in through your nose…out through your mouth…again…inhale…slow…slow…good…it’ll get easier.  Just let the oxygen work for you.  Don’t close your eyes…look at me…try to focus on me.”

 

She lay there limp and lifeless, wanting to scream in pain, but unable to for lack of air.  She could hear Landon barking orders out to his mother, heard the slamming of a door and saw the concern in Landon’s face when she opened her eyes and looked into his.  “Lahhhn…”

 

“Shhhh, baby.  Don’t try to talk.  Don’t say anything…just breathe.”  He leaned down and placed a kiss atop her brow, whispering into her hair, “…just breathe.”

 

“Landon?  Should I call her doctor?”

 

“Yeah, Mom…if you don’t mind.”

 

“Where’s the…”

 

“The number is programmed into the phone, just hit the pound sign then number one.”

 

After a few minutes Jamie’s breathing began to steady, the throbbing began to fade but for the occasional twinge that accosted her legs. 

 

The doctor had told them that pain like this was normal for someone in Jamie’s condition and that he could prescribe something to help ease it.  The shortness of breath was a side effect of the anemia and other than giving her oxygen when she needed it, there was nothing more that they could do.  “Just make her comfortable.  If her symptoms get worse you can bring her into the emergency room, but…other than giving her painkillers and oxygen, there’s just nothing else…I’m sorry.”

 

 “Mom?  Would you mind telling everyone we’re sorry, but we’ll have to cut today short?  Jamie needs to…”

 

“No, Landon,” Jamie’s hand reached out to squeeze his arm. 

 

“Jamie, I don’t think…”

 

“I want them to stay.  I’ll be fine.”

 

“Look.  The doctor said…”

 

“I know what the doctor said.”

 

“I think I’ll give you two some privacy,” said Landon’s mother.

 

“Landon, don’t ask them to leave.  Please,” her eyes pleaded with his, “for me?”

 

He gave her a lopsided grin and agreed to let her enjoy her company as long as she kept the oxygen on and laid in one of the lounge chairs.  “That means, no helping my mom in the kitchen.  No running after Sam.  No…”

 

“Fun,” she finished for him with a little giggle.  Holding two fingers up she said, “Scout’s Honor.”

 

He lifted up her third finger and placed a kiss on it saying, “You forgot one.”  He carried her out to the patio and laid her down in an empty lounge chair.  Kneeling down next to her he said, “I’ll be back.  I’ve got to get your oxygen tank.”  He stood up and started walking towards the open screen door when her voice stopped him in his tracks.

 

“In your arms--that’s where I want to die, Landon--in your arms,” she looked at him with such certainty.

 

He could feel the tension fill the air.  His mother stood up and said that she needed to clean up the mess in the kitchen.  Reverend Sullivan got that familiar look of disappointment in his eyes as others started swallowing like they had lumps in their throats.  Not a sound could be heard other than the brushing noise of Sam’s tail against the wooden planks of the patio.  Without the bat of an eye he walked back to her and knelt down beside her.  Smiling brightly into her eyes he cradled her face in his hands saying, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”  Leaning in to place a soft kiss on her lips he mouthed, ‘I love you.’

 

 

 

Chapter 6:  Once Upon A Time

  

 

 

He sat there and watched her as she slept peacefully.  It had been five days since they had their friends and family over for lunch.  Five days since Sam left his semi-permanent residency. Five days since Jamie’s doctor started her on medications for pain management and to help increase her production of red blood cells.  Five days since she had been able to sleep without pain, without a burning heat radiating through her limbs--a tingling in her legs and feet.  Five days since she had eaten more than just a few bites of her food.  Five days since she had been able to walk on her own.  Five days since she had left their bed and in those five days Landon felt his world slowly begin to crumble. 

 

The pain medications that the doctor had prescribed to begin with didn’t work and only caused Jamie to shake and vomit.  They had tried adjusting the dosages, but it just didn’t seem to be the right medication for her.  They had started using Tylenol #3 a few days earlier and it seemed to be working, the only problem was that she slept constantly and when she wasn’t sleeping she was nauseous and dizzy. 

 

Landon preferred the constant sleeping to the not sleeping at all.  He had spent the last week holding her night and day, rocking her when she would wake up trembling in pain, rubbing her sore muscles, giving her sponge baths, spoon feeding her bland soups and clear liquids.  He watched as the pounds melted off of her already thin frame.  Her breathing was getting more and more difficult and her skin more and more pale.  The doctor assured Landon that once they found the correct dosage of the proper medication, she would eventually adjust to the side effects and be able to start doing things on her own again, but until then, Landon had to watch her slowly wither away.  

 

If it’s this bad now, he thought, what the hell will it be like at the end?  How will you deal with this when she gets closer to… Don’t think about it Landon, he told himself, just don’t think about it.  You’ll find a way to make it through.  She need’s you to be strong.  He started making a mental list of things to do, things to prepare for.  I’ll have to make a record of her medications--keep track of what she’s taking, when she taking it, side effects.  What medications don’t work for her.  Allergies… the beeping of the alarm brought him out of his stupor.  He jumped up and reset it before it scared Jamie, then he got a fresh glass of water and started preparing her next dosage of medication. 

 

He counted out the pills:  two for the pain, one to increase red blood cell production, one for nausea, one for the tingling in her extremities, two for the white blood cell production…by the time he finished counting there were 10 pills in all.  The next time the alarm went off she would only have to take 6, but after that she would be back up to 10 again.  No wonder she couldn’t stomach any food, he thought.

 

“Jamie,” he whispered as he sat on the bed’s edge.  “Jamie, I need you to wake up baby.  It’s time to take your meds.”  He ran his hand down the side of her arm and gently shook her.  “Baby, it’s time to take your pills.”

 

Her eyelids fluttered open.  She tried to get her thoughts about her but they were just too fuzzy.  Landon was saying something to her; he was helping her sit up.  Mmmmm Landon, she thought, I don’t want to wake up.  She tried to move her lips, to tell him that she wasn’t hungry--she didn’t want whatever it was he was giving her--but all she could manage was a faint whisper, “not hungry…so tired.”

 

“I know baby.  I know,” he said as he placed a couple of pills on the tip of her tongue and made her sip some water.  “Just swallow these and then you can go back to sleep.”  He gave her a few more sips of water then made her eat a few saltines before giving her the remainder of her medication. 

 

Jamie was gradually becoming aware of her surroundings.  She was chewing on a cracker when she looked at Landon and said, “You look horrible.”

 

“Gee.  Thanks,” he chuckled.  “Nice to see you too.”  He grabbed her hand and lifted it to his lips placing a soft kiss against her fingers.  “Hi.”

 

“Hi,” she smiled.  “What time is it?”

 

“Around one or so.”

 

She looked at the darkness through the French doors and asked in disbelief, “in the morning?”

 

“Uh huh.”

 

“Mmmmm.  What’re you still doing up?”

 

“Watching you sleep,” he confessed with a crooked grin.

 

“Sounds exciting.” 

 

“Oh…very.  About a half an hour ago, you rolled over from one side to the other…it had me on the edge of my seat,” he laughed quietly.

 

“Why didn’t you come to bed with me?”

 

“I wasn’t tired.”

 

“Hmmm,” she gave him a gentle nod and asked, “then why do you look so…”

 

“Horrible?” he finished for her.

 

She smiled up at him and said ‘yes’ with her eyes.

 

“Well…I guess I haven’t really gotten much sleep lately.  It’s been kind of hard for me to relax, ya know?”

 

“So why not lie down with me now?”

 

He looked at her, unsure of whether or not he should. 

 

“Come on,” she urged.  “I’ll help you relax and you’ll be asleep before you know it.”

 

He continued to look doubtfully at her as she patted the empty spot on the bed to her right.

 

She watched him as he finally conceded to come to bed with her.  He removed his clothes and put on his pajama bottoms, then climbed hesitantly into bed next to her.  The moment he got in a comfortable position, she placed herself in the crook of his arm and put her head on his bare chest.  She listened to the rapid beating of his heart, felt the tension in his arms and knew he was worried about falling asleep. 

 

“Landon.  Relax.”

 

“I’m trying to, but…” He trailed off thinking about her next dosage of medication--it was in less than four hours.

 

“But what?”

 

“I’m just worried.  I don’t want to miss your next dosage and what if my tossing and turning keeps you awake?  I just,” he looked down at her soft features, “ You need your rest.  It’s been a tough week for you.”

 

“For you too.”

 

“Nah.  It’s been all right.”

 

“Landon,” she glanced up at him with raised eyebrows, daring him to tell her that nothing that had happened in the past few days fazed him.

 

“Okay…it’s been a little nerve wracking,” he confessed, “but I think I’ve been holding up pretty well.  Don’t you?”

 

“You’ve been doing a great job…I think,” she looked ashamedly down, “I can’t really remember much of what’s happened.”

 

“Yeah…I suppose that’s a side effect from the first prescription.  You didn’t handle that one too well, but I think this one should be okay.  At least I hope it’s okay.  You seem to be doing all right with it--you’re sleeping better anyway.  That first prescription--Perceset--really made you sick.  It took away your pain but replaced it with…” He looked down into her smiling eyes and said, “I’m not really relaxing am I?”

 

She shook her head against his chest and said, “Nope.”

 

“I’m sorry, baby.  I’ve had a lot on my mind lately.”

 

“Well why don’t you let me help you take your mind off of things for a while.”

 

“Okay,” he agreed.  “How’re ya gonna do that?”

 

“Hmmmm,” she thought for a minute.  “I know.  I can tell you about us.”

 

“Us?”  He gave her a questionable stare, “What’d ya mean, us?”

 

“You know…our future.”

 

He looked down at her trying to understand what she was saying.  Was she talking about her funeral again?  How was that supposed to take his mind off of this past week?

 

“We’ll still be living here--I love my house--and we’ll have our family and friends over every Sunday after church for lunch.  And somehow…we’ll have to get Eric to give us custody of Sam.”  She looked up into his confused face and continued, “How many kids do you think we’ll have?  I’m thinking two…a boy and a girl, but not till we’re done with school.  I think it’ll be too hard to manage both college and children, don’t you?” 

 

He was starting to get the hang of this little game now.  “Definitely.  We wouldn’t want Tommy and Alicia to feel neglected.”

 

“Tommy and Alicia?”

 

“Our kids.”

 

“Oh,” she smiled at the thought of naming their two unborn children after the characters they portrayed in the school play.

 

“When do you think we should have them?”

 

“Probably, after I graduate from medical school.”

 

“With honors.”

 

“But of course.”

 

“Is that before or after I join the Peace Corps for a year?”

 

“After.  Don’t you remember?  We joined the peace core right after high school.”

 

“Oh, that’s right.  You were so nervous about getting your malaria shots.”

 

“Hey.  Can ya blame a guy?  Did you see the size of those needles?”  They both laughed at the make believe memory, wishing it were true.

 

“Do you remember our first Christmas?” She asked.

 

“How could I forget?” He said softly, “I remember you waking me up on Christmas morning.  You were so excited about the presents under the tree that you couldn’t wait till we got home from church to open them up so you woke me up while it was still dark outside.”  His hands began stroking her arms, as his lips got lost in her hair.  He kissed her head lightly and whispered, “It was the best Christmas of my life.”

 

“Mine too,” she sighed.  “I wish we didn’t miss the Fourth of July celebration this last week.” She was starting to let reality intrude, “Oh, Landon.  I’d give anything to spend one Christmas with you.” She looked up at him and asked, “Did you know that Christmas is my favorite holiday?”

 

“Yeah,” he figured that.  He wasn’t quite ready to let reality rear it’s ugly head yet, so he continued with the fantasy. “But I know what other holiday you like.”

 

“Oh, yeah?  Which one?” she smiled as she laid her head against his chest again.

 

“Halloween.”  He smiled thinking about the year he was in the 6th grade and Eric had dared him to ring Reverend Sullivan’s doorbell.  Jamie had been sitting on the porch and she had asked him if trick or treating was fun.  Landon realized that Jamie had never gone and when she went back into her house he had left his full bag of candy on her porch for her to find in the morning.  He had told Eric that Reverend Sullivan took his bag of candy as punishment for playing a prank on him.  “You love getting dressed up every year and taking the kids trick or treating.”

 

“So what if I do?”

 

He chuckled at her, “I just think it’s…cute.”

 

“Cute?”

 

“Uh huh.   Especially when you dress up in your butterfly costume.  That’s my favorite costume.”

 

“Well it matches my tattoo.”  They both laughed softly.  “Landon?”

 

“Hmmm?”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“For what?”

 

“For taking care of me.”  She could feel her medications start to affect her.  She was getting light headed and her thoughts were starting to become fuzzy again.  “For loving me.”  She said softly as she closed her eyes and let sleep claim her.

 

Landon lied with her in his arms for a few minutes before reaching for the phone.  “Mom?” he said quietly.  “Sorry for calling so late, but…could you do me a favor?”

 

 

 

Landon was standing at the sink washing the dishes that had built up over the past few days, when he felt two frail arms encircle his waist.  He closed his eyes when he felt her lay her head between his shoulder blades and said her name as if a benediction, “Jamie.”

 

“Good morning.  Where you going to wake me?”

 

He dried his hands the towel that was slung over his shoulder and turned to hold her in his arms.  “I wasn’t sure if I should.  How are you feeling?”

 

“Pretty good.  I was thinking…I’d like to go to church tomorrow?”

 

“Are you sure you’re up to it?  Your father would understand…”

 

“I feel up to it.  And I really miss my dad.  I’m not sure if I can get ready on my own though.”

 

“Well, I think I can help you out with that.”  Landon leaned in for a good morning kiss when a thought dawned on him, “Hey.  You walked down the stairs by yourself.”

 

“I know,” she smiled.  “It didn’t hurt to stand up today.”

 

“I think we may have found the right medication.  How’s the nausea?”

 

“Well…I’m hungry, so I guess it’s doing all right.”

 

“Here sit down,” he pulled out a stool from under the counter.  “I’ll make you something to eat.” 

 

Landon watched as Jamie ate and they made plans to go to her father’s house.  “If we go today, we can spend the night there and then go to church together in the morning.”

 

“Oh, Landon.  Are you sure you don’t mind?”

 

He could see the excitement in her face.  She needed to get out of this house for a while, she needed a change of pace, and more than that, she needed to feel like she was still alive.  “Yeah.  As long as your dad doesn’t mind.”

 

“He won’t mind. I know he won’t.  I’ll call him right now.”

 

 

They had a great day at Reverend Sullivan’s and met up with Landon’s mother at church the next morning.  They had turned down several invitations for lunch afterwards opting to go straight home.  Jamie was tired and all this walking was starting to take a toll on her.

 

Landon pulled the car up to the front of their house and shut off the engine.  Placing his hand on Jamie’s arm he said, “Wait there.”  He walked around the side of the car and helped her out.  Scooping her up in his arms he carried her to their front door and tried to control his excitement.  His heart was pounding, his palms were sweating--he wanted her to enjoy this, to just forget about everything and enjoy their life together.  He put her down on her feet, turned the key and pushed the door slowly open.

 

Jamie felt her heart jump the second she looked inside.  There was a fully decorated Christmas tree standing in the corner of their living room with presents underneath it and colorful lights blinking, stockings were hanging above their fireplace. On the walls were giant red hearts with white lace trim, plastic Easter eggs were in a basket in the middle of their coffee table, a giant green shamrock was on one side of the sliding glass door, a decal of an American flag was on the other, a big plastic jack-o-lantern was sitting in another corner of their living room accompanied by a brown bag overflowing with candy.  On the kitchen counter was the top tier of their wedding cake that Landon’s mother had put in her freezer the day they got married; next to it was a card that said “happy anniversary.” 

 

He stood in their vestibule waiting--watching her face light up, her eyes gleam.

 

“Oh, Landon,” Jamie’s hands came up over he mouth in disbelief as she walked through her festive living room.  “I can’t believe…when?”  Tears of joy escaped from the corners of her eyes.

 

“My mom did it for me while we were at your dad’s last night.”  He threw his keys onto the little table next to the doorway and walked over to her.  “The other night you said that you wished we could have one Christmas together and I thought, why stop there.”  He watched her as she touched the ornaments and said to her back, “Did I over do it?”

 

“NO!” she turned quickly to face him, “No…it’s…perfect.”  She walked into his arms clinging to his back she began to let her tears flow, “I never thought that I’d…” she choked.

 

“Shhhh,” he whispered into her ear, “Don’t cry baby.  Please don’t cry.”

 

She held onto him for what seemed like an eternity then said, “Are those presents real?”

 

He pulled back and looked into her smiling eyes, “I don’t know.  Let’s check it out.” 

 

They both got down on their knees and started digging through the boxes that were placed under the tree.  Some of them were wrapped in Christmas paper, some in birthday paper, some in anniversary paper and all of them had either Jamie’s or Landon’s name on it. 

 

“So, which do you want to open first?” He asked.

 

“Hmmmm.  I don’t know.  You choose.”

 

“ ‘kay,” he picked up a birthday present and handed it to her and said, “Happy Birthday Jamie!”

 

They spent hours talking, laughing.  Hiding Easter eggs.  Opening presents from not only Landon’s mom but his father and Jamie’s father too.  They were all pretty traditional gifts--not that they’d have any reason to use a gravy boat, but the fact that they got one made them both giddy with delight. 

 

They spread out a blanket in the middle of the living room and had a picnic of cold fried chicken, potato salad and iced tea.

 

She lifted her glass in a toast.  With a mouthful of food she said, “Happy Fourth of July.”

 

He lifted his as well and said, “Happy Fourth,” he hesitated for a moment and said, “I just wish I could’ve arranged for some fireworks.”

 

“Oh don’t worry,” she swallowed a sip of her tea, “I’ve got that covered.”

 

“Oh really?”

 

“Uh huh, but you’ve got to wait till nighttime.”

 

They cut their cake and kissed each other over the kitchen counter.

 

“Happy Anniversary, Jamie.”

 

“Happy Anniversary, Landon.”

 

It was starting to get dark outside and they decided to shut the lights off so they could appreciate all the twinkle lights that were strewed around their living room and across the Christmas tree.  Landon turned up the air conditioner until their living room felt like the North Pole, and then he built a fire in the fireplace. 

 

Jamie lay flat on her back in front of it--feeling the warmth--Landon laid on his side gazing down at her.  It was getting late--the day was almost over.

 

Their fingers began to slowly entwine, their eyes were locked in a passionate stare, filled with love and devotion.  Their noses rubbed gently from side to side as they breathed each other in. 

 

He saw the reflection of the fire flicker in her eyes.  Her skin was glowing, her velvety soft hair shimmering.  His open lips brushed gently against hers as he threaded his fingers through the hair at her temples, cradling her face in his palms.  Their lips continued rubbing timidly back and forth across each other, no heavier than that of a gentle summer breeze--their eyes never closing.  They were so close now that Landon’s head blocked the reflection of the fireplace from her upturned face.  He felt her flick her tongue against the corner of his mouth as though she were taking a taste and his breath caught.  Shivers rode outward from every pore of his body.  Behind them the clock quietly chimed the new hour.

 

Jamie raised her free hand to brush his cheek with her fingertips, “Happy New Year, Landon,” she sighed against his lips.

 

“Happy New Year, Jamie,” he said chokily.  His lips poised, his heart pounding in his ears.

 

Her fingers curled into the hair at the nape of his neck as she melted into his kiss.  Minutes later she pulled away.  Her words were soft, breathy and made the hair on his arms stand, “Mmmmm…Fireworks.”

 

 

 

Chapter 7:  Moonlight Serenade

 

 

 

The gentle ping of rain bouncing off of her telescope echoed through the tranquil night.  She sat up, trying not to disturb Landon’s sleep and walked down the stairs.  She smiled when she opened the sliding glass door, remembering the shamrock that had been taped there just a week before and walked barefoot into the rainfall.

 

He heard the crack of thunder and watched the ripple of lightning pierce the sky.  He looked at the alarm clock and saw that it was flashing 12:00.  “Hmmmm…power must’ve gone out,” he said to himself, before noticing the empty space to his left.  He wondered where she was and called out, “Jamie?”  He got out of bed and checked the bathroom--nope, not there.  He called her name again as he walked down the hallway, stubbing his toe on the railing of the dark staircase he winced and exclaimed, “Shit!” A flash of lightning followed by crash of thunder that rumbled the night sky.  “Ooops.  Sorry God,” he said looking up at the ceiling, “I meant to say Shoot!”  He looked around their living room and started calling her name again gradually getting louder, “Jamie?  JAMI…” he stopped short when he saw her through the sliding glass doors.

 

She was standing in the middle of their yard with her arms wide open and her face raised to the sky.  Her nightgown--the matching shirt to his pajama pants--was plastered to her body and her hair was dripping down her back.  He went to the hall closet and grabbed an umbrella before going outside.  He walked over the mushy ground--wet grass squishing between his toes--and called out to her, “Jamie?  What’re you doing?  Why on earth…” he quickly covered her with the umbrella.

 

Her arms dropped to her sides, as she felt him wiping away the droplets of rain from her face.

 

“You’re going to catch a cold standing out here like this.  What the heck were you thinking?”

 

She slowly opened her eyes and looked at his furrowed brow, “Oh Landon, can’t you feel it?”

 

“Feel what?”  He was confused by her actions; maybe the doctor shouldn’t have increased her medication so much yesterday.

 

“The splendor…the beauty…” she tilted her head to the side giving him a beguiling look and said,  “…the rain.  It feels so warm…so…”

 

“Wet?”

 

She giggled, “Yes.  Wet.  But there’s something so wonderful about it.  So…” 

 

He watched the different emotions transform her face as she described the heavy rain shower and was amazed that she could find magic in the most basic things that life had to offer.  Her eyes glowed as she described the feeling she got when she woke up and saw that it was raining.  He watched as rivulets of water dropped from her hair, down her face.  His eyes followed a single droplet of rain as it rolled down her dainty nose, over her full lips and dripped off of her jaw.  He couldn’t help himself when he leaned in and kissed her--interrupting her mid-sentence. 

 

“…mysterious, it’s mystical…” he placed a kiss on her moist lips startling her.  He had looked so angry, just a minute ago, because she was standing out here in the middle of the rain and now he was kissing her.

 

The umbrella fell slowly to the ground as Landon grabbed her in a full-bodied embrace.  Rain was pouring down on them--saturating their hair, their clothes.  He could feel the water seeping through his pants from her skin.  Taste it dripping between their lips; his fingers got tangled in her wet locks as her hands clutched desperately at his slippery back. 

 

She shivered, not from the coldness of the downpour, but from the wonderful things his mouth was doing to her lips, her chin, her ear.  “Ohhhh,” she moaned as she felt him gather her up in his arms and carry her back inside their kitchen and out of the rain.

 

He placed her feet down on the cold kitchen floor and continued kissing her as puddles of water formed at their feet.  “We’re soaked,” he said throatily, against her mouth.

 

“Mmmmm, I know.”

 

He kissed her again, “We’re getting water all over the place,” he said, not caring in the least.

 

“Maybe we should…” she kissed his neck, his jaw, “get out of these wet clothes?” She reached down and pulled the drawstring on his pants to release them, but they clung to his wet skin.

 

He smiled against her forehead and said, “What’re ya doin’?”

 

“I’m just trying to help you…I wouldn’t want you to catch a cold,” she said with feigned innocence.

 

“Oh, really?”

 

“Uh, huh.”

 

“Jamie,” he looked down at her with concern, and whispered, “We can’t.”

 

She looked at him for a moment trying to decide whether or not she should push the issue, but she knew he was right.  There was no way her body could handle making love to him again.  But oh, how she wished she could.

 

“I know,” she finally conceded.  She tucked her head beneath his chin and closed her eyes. 

 

After a few minutes he said, “But you can help me get out of these wet clothes…that is…if you really want to.”  He felt her smile against his chest and closed his eyes as he felt her hands trail down his slick back and settle on his hips.

 

She listened to the beat of his heart steadily increasing as she moved her hands over his body, and felt the shallowness of his breath in her hair.  She slipped her fingers under the waistband of his pajama bottoms and lifted her face to look at him as they fell to his feet with a wet splash.  She knew he wore nothing underneath them--she watched him get ready for bed every night.

 

“My turn,” he said tenderly as he stepped away from her and began unbuttoning her nightshirt.  “I love it when you wear my clothes to bed.”  He leaned down and placed a soft kiss on her collarbone, his fingers undoing the last of the buttons.  Pulling back, he looked at her face and pushed the shirt off of her shoulders.  He listened to its resounding splat as it joined his pajama bottoms at their feet. 

 

They stood in their kitchen with the moonlight scintillating off their bodies--highlighting their features.  They had seen each other many times since they got married, but they had never actually taken the liberty to really look at one another as most married couples have.

 

He looked down at the smooth curvature of her legs; they seemed to go on for miles.  He smiled at the pair of plain, white cotton underwear she had on.  His eyes slowly traveled up her body--taking in her slender hips, the feminine dip of her waist, the slopes of her breasts, her narrow shoulders.  “My God!  You’re beautiful!!” He said huskily.

 

She couldn’t get her fill of him--his sinewy arms and legs, his long torso, the sprinkle of fine hair that gathered at the base of his navel and pointed downward.  “So are you.” 

 

He placed his hand in her outstretched one, and let her lead him to their bedroom. 

 

She stood just inside the doorway of their bedroom and said, “I know that we can’t…but,” she looked down as if she were embarrassed about something. 

 

He lifted up her chin with his finger and ducked his head down to look directly into her eyes.  “You don’t have to be afraid of me, Jamie.  I won’t bite,” he gave her a lopsided grin and said, “unless you want me to.”

 

She smiled at his offhanded joke and asked him, “Would you hold me, Landon?  Like this?” She looked down at their naked bodies and said, “I know that you might feel uncomfortable…”

 

“Shhhh,” he silenced her.  “Wait here,” he said softly then walked to the bathroom for one of the candles that sat on the ledge of the tub and a towel.  He removed the remainder of her wet clothes and dried her off, then sat her down at the vanity.  He picked up a brush and ran it through her wet hair, gently pulling it through the snarls that he had caused earlier.  He caught her looking at the reflection of his chest in the mirror and watched as a slight blush crept up her chest and landed on her cheeks.  What did I ever do to deserve someone so beautiful, he thought.

 

When her hair was free from tangles she stood up and repeated his words to him, “My turn.”  She was nervous.  They had never done anything like this before.  Landon had given her sponge baths in bed when she was sick.  He had helped to dry her off after her baths and it never bothered her before, but this…this was different.  She looked down at her trembling hand and took hold of the brush.

 

“Are you sure you want to do this, Jamie?” He asked so sweetly, compassionately.

 

The moment she looked at him she forgot everything but the sweet yearning that filled her heart.  She nodded ‘yes.’

 

He straddled the chair--facing her instead of the mirror--trailing his fingers up and down the back of her bare legs as the bristles of the brush gently bit into his scalp.  Her skin was so soft, smooth.  It felt like silk beneath his touch. He inhaled deeply--taking in her scent--she always smelt like fresh flowers. 

 

She knelt down on the floor in front of him--the wrought iron back of the small stool stood between them--and put her hands on his face.  She placed a delicate kiss on his upturned lips and whispered, “Take me to bed Landon.”

 

She explored every inch of his body and he hers--never once having feelings of regret for what they weren’t able to do, but reveling in what they could do.  Appreciating the love that they could share in every touch, every kiss.  In the back of their minds they both knew that things were changing--their lives would be different soon.  They wouldn’t be able to simply love one another as husband and wife.  Landon’s role was gradually shifting to that of a caregiver--a father figure.  He had to do more and more for her each day--not that he minded--it was what he promised to do, to cherish her, all the days of their lives.  But tonight…tonight they were simply two young people in love.  Landon and Jamie, husband and wife.  They slept late into the next day with Landon spooned against Jamie’s back, his leg thrown over her hip, the candle burnt down to nothing; leaving her medications untouched and the alarm clock blinking 12:00.

 

 

 

Chapter 8:  Remember Me This Way

 

 

 

He put the finishing touches on the breakfast tray he had made up for Jamie, granted it was well after lunchtime, but it was their first meal of the day so technically that should be considered breakfast, he thought.  They had missed a couple of doses of her medication last night and this morning so Landon tried to hurry and make something quick so that she could catch up on her dosages.  Toast, scrambled eggs, juice, hot tea and a daisy he picked from their back yard. 

 

She heard the pounding of his feet getting nearer, his whistling getting louder and smiled.  Thoughts of last night filled her mind.  Landon brushing her hair, kissing her in the rain, whispering her name across her back as he trailed his lips up and down her spine and as if by some miracle, he appeared before her.

 

Landon walked into the room--hoping to wake her up--but was just as happy to see her lying there with her eyes wide open gracing him with her bright smile.  He got a visible chill down his spine as he took in the sight of the afternoon sunlight beaming down upon her.  Her long dark hair was spread across her bare back, the sheets were entwined between her legs leaving her hip and buttocks partially exposed, her breasts were flattened to the mattress and the look on her face was wholesome…angelic…downright sexy.

 

“Good morning,” he placed the tray on his nightstand and watched her as she sat up.  He had put on a fresh pair of pajama’s when he got up and left the matching top strewn across a chair in hopes that she would put it on in lieu of her robe.  He wasn’t disappointed. 

 

She grabbed the shirt and gave him a quick peck on the cheek as she made her way into the restroom to take care of morning necessities.  She had felt lightheaded when she stood up, but figured it was because she hadn’t eaten anything in a while.  “What’s for breakfast?  Smells good.”

 

“Scrambled eggs, toast, juice…” he heard the sink shut off and watched her as she came back into the room giving her a mischievous grin and a wag of his eyebrows, “…hot tea…me.”

 

Standing before him today she had felt more like his wife than she did the day she said ‘I do.’  They had been through so much together already…good and bad.  She sashayed over to him and stood directly in front of him, his nightshirt barely skimming the tops of her thighs.  Picking a piece of toast up off of the tray, she took a bite and held it out for him to take one also.  “I think we need a little sustenance first, don’t you?”

 

He was lost in her eyes.  Oh, the things they did to him.  One glance from those chocolate brown beauties and he melted. “Who needs sustenance?” He asked as his arm crept slowly up her back.

 

She felt herself losing control again; her head was getting foggy, her legs weakening, then…nothing.

 

He watched as her eyes rolled back in her head, her legs crumbled beneath her and she collapsed in his arms.  “JAMIE??  JAMIE??”  He cried, “Oh God…please…nooo...”

 

 

 

“It’s my fault, Dad.  I shouldn’t have let her miss her medications.  I should’ve known better.”  He was pacing back and forth in the hallway of the hospital outside of Jamie’s room door.  Her father was in the room with her now--he wanted a few minutes alone with her.

 

“Landon.  You’re not perfect son.  People make mistakes.”

 

“Yeah,” he looked up at his father berating himself the whole time and said, “but I could’ve cost her, her life.”

 

“No,” he put his hand on his son’s arm trying to console him, but Landon just pulled away. “It’s not your fault.”

 

“Yeah.  Right,” he said under his breath.

 

“Landon, what happened this morning would’ve happened whether or not you gave her, her medications.  It had nothing to do with pain or her anemia.  It’s the leukemia now.  It’s getting worse.”

 

“But she’s taking something for…”

 

He shook his head ‘no’ and told him, “There’s nothing she’s on that can stop the progression of this, Landon.  The only thing that could help is Chemotherapy and Radiation treatments, but those things are no longer working for her.  Her body is well passed that stage of the disease.”

 

“What about bone marrow? Can’t she get a transplant?”

 

“I’m sorry Landon,” he continued shaking his head, “That’s not an option either.”

 

Landon turned and walked toward the waiting room windows, looking out he watched as people passed by bringing flowers, balloons.   Grandparents coming to celebrate the birth of their new grandchild, people in crutches walking out to their waiting vehicles, nurses coming to work with a healing grin ready for their patients needs.  He just wanted to scream; don’t any of you know what’s going on in here?  Don’t any of you realize that my life is coming to an end?  He put his hands on the window, laying his forehead against the cool pane of glass and began to cry.  His father stood behind him not knowing how to console him, not knowing what to do.  His mother walked up to him and put her hands on his back but he just shrugged them off.  He just wanted to be left alone.  Just leave me alone, he thought.  Go away. 

 

Reverend Sullivan walked into the waiting room and took a quick assessment of the scene before him.  Landon’s father was standing to the side with his head down, his mother was choking down some tears and Landon himself was hunched over with his hands slowly sliding down the glass window, his face covered in tears.  He walked over to this boy and gathered him up in his arms.  He fought Landon’s resistance and just held him, “It’ll be all right, Landon.  It’ll be all right.”  When he felt the tears and shaking subside he began talking to him in a lecturing tone, “It’s fine if you get this out of your system, but don’t bring it in that room, Landon.  My daughter needs you to be strong for her right now.”  He held onto the sides of Landon’s face and lifted it, looking him directly in the eyes, “I need you to be strong.  Can you do that, Son?” 

 

Landon gulped down his remaining tears and pushed his regret to the back of his mind, “Yes sir,” he swallowed.  “Yes sir.”

 

“All right.  Now you go get cleaned up and go see her.  She’s waiting for you.”

 

 

 

“Hey.”

 

“Hey,” she looked at him with such sorrow.  She knew he felt guilty about her missing her meds, but it wasn’t his fault.  She felt this coming before she went to bed last night.  She’s been feeling it come ever since her body stopped responding to treatments 2 years ago. 

 

He sat down on the chair beside her bed and asked, “How’re you feeling?”

 

“I’ve been better.”

 

He lifted his lips in a halfhearted smile.

 

“How’re you?” She asked.

 

“I’m okay.” 

 

They were both quiet for some time then both of them spoke at once.

 

“Look, Jamie I’m sorry. I should’ve never forgotten…”

“Landon, I’m sorry. I should’ve told before I went to bed…”

 

They both laughed a little at their similar reactions to the situation.  Both of them wanting to apologize to the other, for causing something, that neither one of them could control.

 

“You first,” he said.

 

“Okay,” she took a deep breath and said, “I didn’t feel well last night before I went to sleep.  I thought it was from the medicines that my doctor increased, but…I think that somewhere in the back of my mind…I knew that something like this was going to happen.  I should’ve warned you.  I’m sorry.”

 

“No,” he shook his head in disbelief.  He couldn’t believe she was trying to take the blame for this herself.  “It was my fault.  I should’ve made sure you had your pills before we…I just…” he began to choke.  “I’m sorry,” he cried, “So sorry.  Why didn’t I set that damn alarm?  I could just…”

 

“Shhhh.  Don’t do this Landon.  Please.  It just happened.  It had nothing to do with my missed pills.  It has everything to do with my leukemia.”

 

His back was hunched over, his head leaning on the bed, his hands grasping at hers.  “I’m not ready for this yet.  I’m not ready to say good-bye to you.”

 

“Neither am I.  Shhhh,” she ran her hand through his hair and tried to console him.  “I just need a day or two in here to build up some strength again, then I’ll be home.   Everything’ll be fine.  You’ll see.” 

 

He lifted up his tear-streaked face and looked at her soft features, “You never lose faith, do you?”

 

“I try not to, but sometimes…”

 

“You don’t.  You never have.  You always believe don’t you?”

 

“I guess,” she looked down at their joined hands then back up to his face and said, “Don’t you?”

 

“I’m trying, Jamie.  I thought I did, but then something like this happens and I’m just not sure anymore,” he admitted.

 

“Excuse me,” her nurse came in with a needle and said, “Your doctor ordered this for your pain.”  She injected a clear fluid into Jamie’s IV tube and said, “That should help to relax you.”  She laid a compassionate hand on Jamie's leg and left, holding the door open on her way out for Landon’s parents and Jamie’s father.

 

“Hi sweetheart,” Landon’s mom said as she placed a soft kiss on Jamie’s forehead.  “How’re you feeling?”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“Jamie,” his father said, “I just talked to your doctor and it looks like you’ll only have to be in here a day or two.  They just need to adjust your oral medication and you should be able to go home either tomorrow or the day after.  I’ve also called an old friend of mine--she used to be a nurse here--and asked her to give you a hand with Jamie when she goes home Landon.  I know that you’d like to take care of her on your own, but sometimes even we men need a helping hand.”

 

“Tell me about it,” Landon’s mom interjected.  “Did I ever tell you about the day you were born?  Your father--Dr. Useless--passed out in the delivery room when your head came out...”

 

Jamie laughed at the thought of this fearless doctor fainting from the sight of his newborn son’s head.  Leave it to Landon’s mom to ease the tension in a room.  She was such a wonderful woman.  Now she knew where Landon got that take-your-mind-off-of-your-troubles-quality from.  She heard his father trying to make up a lame excuse for his actions that day, and listened to Landon chuckle at the spontaneous repartee they were sharing.  She was floating in and out of sleep.  “Landon…where are you?”

 

“I’m here Jamie,” he took her hand and kissed it.  “I’m right here.”

 

Her eyes were closed when she said, “Lie with me.”

 

He climbed into the hospital bed with her, their parents looking on--and laid his head upon her chest. 

 

“Tell me about them.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Tommy and Alicia,” she spoke so softly now he could barely make out what she was saying.  “Please.  Tell me about the day they were born.”

 

He swallowed the lump that was forming in his throat and started, “It was a Sunday and we were having a barbeque after church.  I was standing at the grill when your water broke.  I was so nervous…”

 

“So was I,” she whispered.

 

“You didn’t look it though, you looked so strong, so sure.  We knew we were having twins we just didn’t know what sex they were…” he continued telling her a make believe tale about their life--filing away every word, every memory as if it were true--until she fell into a peaceful slumber. 

 

The last thing she remembered hearing was Landon’s strangled whisper, “I believe Jamie.   I believe.”

 

 

 

“Good morning Mrs. Carter.  And how are you feeling today?” Asked Jamie’s new homecare nurse, only it came out sounding, “Gooood mohrnun Missus Cahtuh.  An’ how are yew feelun taday?” 

 

Jamie smiled at the nurse and replied in her sweet voice, “Fine, thank you.  And yourself?”

 

“Oh, Ahm juss fine Missus.  Juss fine.  We got some tests we’ll need to be runnin’ taday so lets get this unduhway.  Mistuh Cahtuh, do ya think ya’ll be willin’ to give me a han’?  Yohr daddy tells me that yohr wantin’ to be a doctuh…”

 

Jamie and Landon fell in love with the wonderfully rotund woman the instant she walked in the room.  Her name was LuAnn--after her “mama’s mama”--she had been nursing for almost 20 years and gave it up three months earlier to watch her grandkids grow.  She had worked with Landon’s father at the hospital for sometime when he was still living in Beaufort and when he called her and asked her to do him a favor; she dropped everything and pulled her stethoscope out of retirement.  She had a vibrant demeanor and a contagious laugh; all of this combined with her slow southern drawl endeared her instantly to Landon and Jamie’s hearts.  She spent her days showing Landon how to care for Jamie: dispense her new medications, which meds are taken with meals and which meds needed to be taken on an empty stomach, how to take her vital signs – blood pressure, temperature, oxygen saturation etc… And unfortunately, one day he learned how to administer a shot of morphine for pain.  “Now we only use this in case of a ‘mergency.” 

 

He had learned more in that one week than he had the entire four years he went to high school.  LuAnn stayed with them night and day, disappearing whenever she felt they needed time alone.  She helped Landon with the upkeep of their house, controlled visits.  People seemed to be coming out of the woodworks to see Jamie.  And she gave Jamie a gift that Landon had never thought of.  A wheelchair.

 

Jamie was still able to walk, but she got tired so easily now that they brought it wherever they went…just in case.  They didn’t go to very many places--church on Sundays (LuAnn’s day off), drives along the waterfront, occasionally they went to his mother’s or her father’s house and one Saturday night they ventured into town to meet the gang.  Jamie didn’t want her wheelchair to get in the way so she decided to walk into the somewhat smoky club. 

 

Landon hadn’t been near this place since the night that they saw Belinda and Tracy outside of it.  The night that Jamie told him about her cancer.  He pushed all thoughts of her sickness to the back of his mind--Jamie was determined to have a normal night hanging out with friends.  The minute they walked in everyone swarmed around them.  Dean pulled up a stool for Jamie and Landon helped her get into it.  She had looked pale and drawn from the short walk from his car to the club. 

 

“You okay?”

 

“Fine,” she gave him a reassuring smile.  “A little thirsty though.”

 

They sat together enjoying the music and the company even more.  Eric--being the guy that he was--got several stern looks from Landon when he got carried away with his language.  “Sorry man.  I just forget sometimes, ya know?”

 

The music slowed down and they watched as people paired off and took to the dance floor.  Landon heard Jamie humming along with the song and leaned over to whisper in her ear, “Do you feel up to dancing?”

 

She shook her head and gave him a breathy, “No.  I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be.  It’s okay...  We’ll just sit here and enjoy the song.  Ever heard it before?” He took a sip of his soda and looked at her.

 

“Mmmmm hmmmm,” she gave him a sideways glance.  “It’s called ‘Remember Me This Way’.”

 

The song ended and the group started forming around the table again.  They had only been there a little over two hours but Landon could tell that Jamie was getting tired and decided it was time to go.  “Where’s Dean?  We gotta get outta here.”

 

“I don’t know man,” Eric said while craning his neck trying to locate their missing friend.

 

“Well, let him know we had to go.” Landon stood up and grabbed Jamie around the waist.  He felt her using him for support a little more than usual and gave her a concerned look. 

 

Her eyes silently comforted him as if saying, ‘don’t worry.  I can make it.’

 

He felt her legs wobble a little then bent down to scoop her up, carrying her the rest of the way, out to the car.  Her arms went around his neck and her head rested on his shoulder.  “I’m sorry.  I guess I didn’t realize how tired I was.”

 

“Don’t be sorry, baby.  I’m tired too.  I wanted to leave.” He strapped her into her seatbelt and said, “I guess that just isn’t my scene anymore.”

 

“Hey man!”  Dean shouted across the sidewalk, “Hold up.”  He leaned into the car and said good night to Jamie then slapped something into the palm of Landon’s hand.

 

“What’s this?” He looked down at the cassette tape Dean had given him.

 

“It’s that song she was hummin’ in there.  I just thought…I was dancing with Tracy and kind of listening to the words and…”

 

Landon knew what he was getting at and thought he’d give his friend a break.  “Thanks man.  Appreciate it.”  He got into the car and looked over at Jamie’s tired form.  “Do you remember Tommy and Alicia’s first day of kindergarten?”

 

She turned her head to face him and said, “Tell me.”

 

 

 

She’d been home from the hospital for two weeks now and he found himself spending more and more time watching her sleep and telling her tales about their make believe future than anything else.  They had checked off many things from her “To Do” list, but there was still so much left to do and not enough time to do it in.  He ran down the list, “Marry in the church my parents married in,” he smiled. “Check.  Get a tattoo. Check.  Be in two places at once. Check.  Befriend someone I don’t like,” his whole face lit up.  “Check.  Own my own home. Check.  Peace Core…medical discovery…graduate high school… comet Hiakutaki …Rothman’s list of American authors…get kissed in the rain…never lose my faith…watch the sunset over the water…” Wait a minute, he thought, I don’t know if we’ve done this one yet. 

 

The warmth of the sun felt good on her face.  Landon had surprised her tonight by taking her to the spot where he first kissed her for a picnic.  He had his radio set up on the blanket and soft music was playing quietly in the background.  Dinner was good but she hadn’t had much of an appetite lately and she couldn’t finish it.  He had just finished telling her about their 15th wedding anniversary in which the kids thought they could make a cake for them, but forgot to crack the eggs first.  She laughed and silently wished he could find that kind of happiness with someone after she was gone, but knew deep in her heart that he would never betray the vow he made to her.  She watched him as he stood up from the blanket and reached into his pocket for something--the setting sun causing a nimbus around his face.

 

He leaned over the radio and turned up the volume.  He held out his hands to her as music filtered through the air, “Would you dance with me?”

 

She knew the song; it was the one they heard in the club just over a week ago.  “I don’t think I can.”  It hurt her to turn him down, but she just didn’t have the energy.

Every now and then we find a special friend
Who never lets us down
Who understands it all
Reaches out each time you fall
You're the best friend that I've found
I know you can't stay
But part of you will never ever go away
Your heart will stay

I'll make a wish for you
And hope it will come true
That life will just be kind
To such a gentle mind
If you're losing your way
Think back on yesterday
Remember me this way
Remember me this way

 

He turned her wheelchair away from their blanket and scooped her up into his arms sitting in it himself.  With her settled on his lap and her arms around his neck he said, “Hang on.”  He twirled her around the dock to the easy sound of the music, turning the wheels back and forth.  Their last dance, he thought, would be one he’ll always remember.

 

I don't need eyes to see
The love you bring to me
No matter where I go
And I know that you'll be there
For ever more a part of me you're everywhere
I'll always care

I'll make a wish for you
And hope it will come true
That life will just be kind
To such a gentle mind
If you're losing your way
Think back on yesterday
Remember me this way
Remember me this way

And I'll be right behind your shoulder watching you
I'll be standing by your side in all you do
And I won't never leave as long as you believe
You just believe

 

He stopped the movements of the chair and looked at the tears that filled her eyes.  She was whispering the words to him…

 

I'll make a wish for you
And hope it will come true
That life will just be kind
To such a gentle mind
And if you're losing your way
Think back on yesterday
Remember me this way
Remember me this way

 

“You know how I’ll remember you, Jamie?”

 

She shook her head ‘no.’

 

“I’ll remember you singing in the school play.  Playing jacks on your porch as a little girl.  Rolling around in the grass with Eric’s dog, but you know what I remember the most?” He looked intensely into her eyes, “The way you looked when you walked down the aisle to me.  I’ll never forget that.  Never.” 

 

She laid her head on his shoulder and felt his arms encircle her waist.  They watched the sunset over the water and she whispered, “twenty two.”

 

 

 

Chapter 9: Forty-two

 

 

 

“You sure this is cool?”  Landon looked over at Eric’s big, fluffy dog Sam, as he walked right over to where Jamie was sleeping and laid his head on her lap--waiting patiently for her to stir.

 

“Yeah, man.  Don’t worry ‘bout it.  Besides, I’m leaving soon anyway.”

 

“That’s right.  When do you go?”

 

“Wednesday.”

 

“Wow.  Kinda hard to believe, huh?”

 

“Yeah….college.” Eric looked over at Jamie and asked, “So, how’s she doing?”

 

“All right,” he shrugged.  “She’s got good days and bad days.  The doctor increased her medication about a week ago and ever since she’s pretty much slept the whole time.”

 

“That must be hard, man.”

 

“What?”

 

“Just watching her like that…”

 

“Sleep?  Nah…” Landon shook his head.

 

“No…I mean…” Eric looked down at his feet and then back up at his best friend, “…watching her…just watching her die.  I don’t think I could do it.”  His voice was thick with emotion as he looked towards Jamie once more.

 

“Yeah…well…” he cleared his throat, “…I guess…” Landon looked at his wife roll her head towards them and saw her eyelids flutter, then close again.  “You know what?” He looked at Eric and gave him a peaceful smile.  “I’d rather spend a hundred years watching her sleep, just knowing she’s here, then live one minute without her.”

 

Eric stood there, uncertain of what to say…what to do.  He heard the doorbell ring.

 

Landon knew it was hard for some people, especially his young friends to accept Jamie’s fate the way that he did.  It took a long time for Landon to accept it himself, but now that he had, he was determined to make these last few weeks of Jamie’s life as normal as he possibly could. 

 

“ ‘scuse me Mistuh Cahtuh, but Missus Cahtuh’s doctuh is here,” LuAnn poked her head out of the sliding doors and spoke to the two young men.

 

“Oh, sure.”  Landon looked at Eric and said, “Sorry man, but…”

“Oh, yeah…I gotta go anyway.  Got a lot of packing to do.” 

 

She could hear voices, but she wasn’t sure who they were. One was Landon--she smiled.  The other though…  She tried to open her eyes, but they were so heavy.  She felt the dog’s head on her lap and knew instinctively who the other person was.

She could make out a few things that they were saying, ‘college…leaving Wednesday…sleeping…watching her…just watching her die…then live one day without her.’

 

They both turned their heads when they heard a soft exclamation, “Sam.  What’re you doing here?” 

 

“I brought him by,” Eric said as he walked over towards her.  “Landon said you two would keep an eye on him for me since I’ll be leaving soon.”

 

“Mmmmm,” she ran her hand across the dog’s matted fur and smiled, “We’d love to.  Thank you for thinking of us.”

 

“Good morning Jamie.  Landon.”  Jamie’s doctor walked out onto the patio with LuAnn behind him carrying a tray with Jamie’s medication on it.

 

“Well,” Eric said, “I should be going.”  He leaned down and pecked Jamie on the cheek, “I’ll stop by before I leave, ‘kay?”

 

She smiled up at him and said softly, “That would be nice.”

 

“Landon slapped his hand on Eric’s back and said, “Come on man.  I’ll walk you out to your car.”

 

As she watched Eric leave his words kept echoing through her mind, ‘sleep…watching her die’ and she knew what she had to do.  Her doctor began taking out the blood pressure cuff from his bag, LuAnn was preparing several small plastic cups--filling them with a variety of pills--chatting away to the doctor about Jamie’s progression as though she wasn’t there.  Jamie laid a hand upon each one’s arm and gave them a knowing look. 

 

Landon walked Eric to his car and they made plans for Eric to stop by on his way out of town Wednesday.  He was waving him off and turned to walk back inside when he noticed Jamie’s doctor leaving.  “Hey?  What’s up?”  He knew that there wasn’t much they could do for her now, but he usually spent more time than this with her.

 

“Mr. Carter…I think you need to talk with your wife.”

 

Landon looked down at the ground and said dejectedly, “How long?” 

 

“I don’t know.  A day…maybe two.  Landon, I never expected her to last this long, but…” He gave Landon a nod and laid a passing hand on his shoulder as he headed for his waiting car.  Turning around with one last thought he said, “Landon.  Your wife’s a very lucky woman.  God bless.”

 

He walked in his house and saw LuAnn heading for the closet, removing her suitcase.  “Leavin’ huh?”

 

She smiled at him and said, “Jamie’s ready Lahndun.  This time here’s for family, not for doctuhs and nuhrsus.”

 

He swallowed the lump in his throat and looked through the sliding glass doors at his wife.  “Thank you, LuAnn.  For everything.” 

 

 

 

“Hey.”

 

“Hey,” she turned her head to look at him.

 

“So…”

 

“So…” she said absently stroking Sam behind the ear, “…I’m sorry Landon.  I just don’t want to take them anymore.” She was referring to her medications.  “I don’t want to spend my last days with you…” she looked down at her wedding ring.  It was too big now and slipped down her finger.  “…I don’t want you to just sit back and…watch me die.”

 

He knew she must’ve heard Eric’s and his conversation, “Jamie…”

 

“No Landon, don’t say anything.  Just listen, okay?”

 

“Okay.”

 

“When I take these pills,” she gestured towards the bottles that were left on the small table, “I do nothing but sleep.  They make me dizzy…nauseous and when I do finally wake up, I don’t know where I am half the time or who’s around me.”  She laid her hand on his leg and said, “I don’t want you to sit back and watch me die, Landon,” she smiled into his eyes and said, “I want to live the rest of my life--with you--not sleep it away.”

 

“Jamie,” he said gruffly, “you’re going to be in so much pain.”

 

“Pain can be controlled.  You’ll just have to help me keep my mind off of it.”  She squeezed his leg and said, “So…what’d ya wanna do today?”

 

He let out a slight laugh, and said, “I would’ve been happy just watching you sleep.”

 

“Mmmmm, but I’m awake now Landon.”

 

He looked down at her hand that was resting on his thigh and pushed her wedding ring back on, “How about we finish reading one of Rothman’s books?”

 

 

 

Jamie’s eyes flew open as she felt the searing pain go through her body.  She reached out for Landon and shook him.  “Landon.  Landon.”

 

He jumped up in bed, heart racing--something’s wrong with Jamie.  “What is it?  Jamie?”

 

“It hurrrrrts.”  She was slowly curling into a fetal position.

 

“Shhhhh.” His arms came around her, his lips pressed up against her ear.  He whispered through her hair, “Shhhh…it’ll be okay.  It’ll be okay.”  His mind raced, what do I do.  She doesn’t want any painkillers then her words came back to him.  ‘Pain can be controlled.  You’ll just have to help me keep my mind off of it.’

 

“Jamie, do you remember our trip to Hawaii?   It was right after the kids left for college, we thought we deserved a second honeymoon.”  He took in a deep breath when he heard her wince in pain.  He continued stroking her arms and whispering his tale in her ear, “We had rented one of those bungalows with a private beach.  The sand was white and the water was so blue you could see straight down to the bottom of the ocean’s floor.  Our days were always filled with excitement.  We would go swimming, snorkeling…” he could feel the tension slowly leaving her body, “then there was that really bad foray into parasailing.  Remind me never to do that again.  But at night…oh, it was so peaceful at night.  We would take walks along the beach letting the water flow over our feet, our toes would squish in the sand.”  He looked down at her closed eyes and asked, “Do you remember?”

 

“Yes,” she whispered.

 

“We sat against a rock and let the water splash all around us and we watched the sunrise from the balcony of our room.  I kissed you…”

 

“Mmmmm.  Do you remember that cave we found that day?  I seduced you in that cave,” she said with a flirtatious grin.

 

“My how times have changed over the years,” he laughed softly in her ear.  “Feel better?”

 

“Mmmmm hmmmm.”  She took a deep breath and noticed the sky beginning to get lighter, “Landon?  I know it’s not Hawaii, but,” she turned her head to look up at him, “would you like to watch the sunrise from our balcony?”

 

“I’d love to.”  He stood up and went to pick her up, but she stopped him.

 

“I think I can walk.”

 

“You sure?”  She hadn’t been able to take more than one or two steps without losing her balance for weeks now.

 

“Yeah…I’m feeling surprisingly good right now.”

 

They walked out onto the balcony and watched as the sun slowly rose over the trees, Jamie’s back leaning up against Landon’s front.  Their arms entwined around her waist.

 

She watched the sun and said, “Just think, somewhere out there a rooster is crowing, children are getting out of bed,” she looked at him over her shoulder, “families are getting ready for church…” She turned slowly in his arms.  He was so beautiful.  His eyes were always so full of love.  She raised her hand and cradled his cheek in her palm, “I might kiss you.”

 

Their lips smiled against each other as they welcomed in the new day. 

 

 

Landon and Jamie were surprised to see Landon’s father and his wife at their church this morning and decided since Jamie was feeling so well, they would invite everyone over to spend the day with them.  Landon’s mom suggested they all go out for a quiet lunch then to Landon and Jamie’s afterwards.  They had spent the day together, eating, laughing and playing pictionary.

 

“Daddy!  That’s cheating!”  Jamie had said of the symbol he had drawn on his piece of paper.

 

“I prefer to call it, playing creatively.”  They all laughed. 

 

“I think she’s right Sir.  No symbols allowed.”

 

She smiled a sweet smile and said, “Thank you Landon.”

 

Reverend Sullivan looked over his shoulder at his “teammate” and said, “Landon?  Sometimes I miss that rebellious young man.”  The laughter got louder then came to an abrupt halt.  “Jamie!”

 

She gasped and held her hand out for Landon to grab.

 

He raced over to her side and sat behind her, rubbing her arms and speaking softly in her ear.

 

His father had run into the living room and grabbed his medical bag, immediately going for a syringe full of morphine to ease her pain.

 

Landon held out his hand to stop his father from giving her the shot and continued whispering, “...she looked so beautiful Jamie.  She was wearing your wedding gown.  Tommy sang as she walked down the aisle.  The flowers were in bloom and the sun was shining…”

 

The incident passed and Jamie apologized to everyone, “I’m sorry for ruining the fun.”

 

“You didn’t ruin anything baby.” Landon said putting her mind at ease, but the laughter was scarce during the remainder of their game.

 

It was getting late.  Dinner was eaten, coffee drunk, dishes cleaned and put away and now it was time for goodbyes.

 

“I still can’t get over how good you look today,” Landon’s mom said.  “I’ll call you tomorrow, maybe we can plan a barbeque for later in the week?”  She kissed Jamie’s cheek and gave Landon a squeeze.  “Good night.”

 

“You take it easy young lady,” came Landon’s father’s warning.  They looked at each other like they had shared some sort of secret.  Something the others didn’t know, or didn’t want to know. “Don’t overdo it.”

 

“I won’t.  I promise.”  She placed her arms around his neck and hugged him, whispering in his ear.  “Take care of him for me.”

 

He pulled back and nodded.  “Landon, why don’t you walk me out, son?”  They walked into the living room where his father’s medical bag lied open.  Taking the unused syringe of morphine out Landon’s father said, “I’m assuming you know how to administer this for her pain.”

 

“Yeah, but dad she won’t use anything for the pain.”

 

“She may tonight.”  He placed it in Landon’s palm along with some alcohol swabs and said, “Just in case she changes her mind.”

 

Landon looked at the needle and nodded, “Yes sir.”  He took a deep breath and hugged his father tightly.  “Thank you for everything, dad.”

 

Jamie had been tired, but she wanted to walk her father to the door, “Are you sure you want to go, daddy?  You don’t have to, you know.  You could stay here.  We have plenty of room.”

 

“No, sweetheart.  You two don’t want an old man like me hanging around.”  He smiled at her, his heart full of hope and said, “I’ll see you in the morning.  Breakfast, right?”

 

“Right.”  She hugged him tighter than she normally did and kissed his cheek just a little longer.  “I love you, daddy.”

 

“I love you too.”

 

She watched him walk away and said quietly to his back, “I’ll miss you daddy.  Good bye.”

 

Landon watched her as she said her farewells and asked, “You ready for bed?”

 

“Not really.  I was wondering.  Would it be okay if we laid on the hammock for a while?”

 

“Sure.” He put his arm around her waist to help her back outside.

 

She looked down at his other hand and asked with her eyes, ‘what’s that?’

 

“My father thought you might want to use something for the pain tonight.”

 

The corners of her lips lifted and she said, “Maybe later.”

 

They lied on the hammock---Sam beneath it--looking at the night sky.  They talked about their past and the path that led them to each other.

 

“You looked so cute in your costume.”

 

“I don’t even remember what I was that year.”

 

“I do.  You were a vampire.  You had blood covered fangs,” she said with a crinkle of her nose.

 

“Oh, yeah,” he smiled at the memory of that fateful Halloween and remembered her saying, ‘when I grow up I’m gonna let my kids go treat or tricking whenever they want…just don’t tell my father.’  And his response to her, ‘It’s trick or treating not treat or tricking.’

 

“The day you came up to me and asked me for help with your lines,” they both chuckled at the memory.  “You looked like you’d rather go through a root canal then be seen with me,” she laughed.

 

“Hey,” he said, “I had a reputation to uphold.”

 

“Oh, yeah,” she laughed at the memory.  ‘I need help with my lines…hey Eddie Zimmerhoff deserves the best…please, Jamie.’ 

 

“Granted it was a really stupid reputation, but…” he shook his head back and forth remembering her response to his plight, ‘I’ll pray for you…you’ve never asked for help before…you’ve got to promise not to fall in love with me.’  If only he’d known then what he knew now, he thought, I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

“So when you said that my dad was ‘cool’ with you asking me out…what really happened that day?”  She smiled as she listened to the uncut version of what really happened between Landon and her father.

 

“…I pretty much threw myself at the mercy of the church with that one and since he is the Reverend and all…” he shrugged, “He really didn’t have much of a choice but to give in.”  He laughed and thought back to their first date.  ‘I can’t believe you asked my father’s permission,’ and thought, you were worth it, Jamie.  You were worth it. 

 

“He was so angry that night he caught me kissing you in front of your house.”

 

“Well, he was afraid you were trying to take advantage of me.”

 

“ME?” he said with feigned innocence.  “I would never…”

 

“Oh yeah, right!” She laughed.  “So tell me…that night in the cemetery, the night you gave me my star, were you really trying to seduce me?”

 

“What’d you think?”  He asked looking at her with a flirtatious light in his eyes.

 

“I think it’s a good thing we got married when we did,” she giggled and laid her head back down on his chest.  “I don’t know how long I would’ve stayed unseducible.”

 

“You wouldn’t have given in to me?” He looked down at her and said with raised eyebrows, “Would you???”

 

She replied with a teasing grin and a lilt in her voice, “Guess we’ll never know.”

 

He shook his head in astonishment.  This woman--his wife--never ceased to amaze him.  He remembered the feeling that came over him when he gave her, her star.  ‘This is wonderful…I love you.’ The same feeling that still comes over him whenever she says those words. 

 

“You told me you loved me for the first time that night.  I didn’t know what to do.  I still don’t know what to do,” he chuckled. “Do you know what happens to me every time you tell me you love me?  I get this feeling…this…it humbles me, Jamie.” 

 

“I know.”

 

“And when you told me your number one, I thought, I’m gonna make that one come true too.”

 

“I know.”

 

“You did?”

 

“Mmmmm hmmmm.”

 

“How could you know I wanted to marry you, even back then?”

 

She shrugged her shoulders in reply.

 

“So is that why you said yes to me when I proposed?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Then why’d you say yes?” He quietly asked.

 

“Because,” she lifted her head off of his chest and bestowed upon him a smile that made all the troubles in their world disappear.  “We really had no choice.  It was in the Lord’s plan.”

 

They were holding onto one another and watching the stars shine when the wave of pain hit her.  It was devastating--the shock of it stealing the very breath from her lungs.  “Lahhhhnnnnnn.”

 

“Shhhh, baby,” his arms tightened around her, “Shhhh.”  His mind raced trying to come up with something to occupy her thoughts but he knew nothing he said would be able to ease this torture.  “Jamie?”  His voice was so calm.  “Would you like me to give you something for the pain?”

 

“Yehhhhhsss.”

 

He got up and grabbed the syringe full of pain reliever, he wiped the area where he was going to place the needle with an alcohol swab, then gave her the injection--his hands never faltered.  “Just give it a few minutes, it should work pretty quickly.”

 

“Lahhhhndon. Lie with me,” she reached a tremulous arm out to him and clenched her teeth.

 

He climbed in the hammock and cradled her against his chest.  He said softly against her hair, “It’s our 65th wedding anniversary.  We’re at the restaurant were we had our wedding reception watching our grandkids dance and our great grandkids run around the dance floor driving their parents nuts.  The band is playing your song…our song.  We look around at all our friends and family and we know…we’ve lived a long and happy life together.”  He could feel her breathing ease, her body was starting to relax--the medication was working.  “I was looking at you and I just kept thinking how you looked just as beautiful to me as you did the day I first kissed you.  So beautiful.  Jamie…my Jamie.” He placed a kiss against her forehead.  What will I do without you here by my side, he thought to himself.

 

Jamie took a deep breath and released all the tension, letting go of the pain.  As if reading his mind she answered his silent plea, “I’ll always be with you Landon.  All you have to do is look around and I’ll be there.”  Her head was getting light, her pain melting away with every breath.  “Do you know what the best thing I ever did in my life was?”  It took so much energy to lift her head to look at him.

 

“What?” He said, cradling her face in the palm of his hand.

 

“Number forty-two.”

 

He drowned in her eyes, letting her love wash over him.  Humbling him.

 

“I love you, Landon.”

 

“I love you, Jamie.”  Their tremulous lips touched, their eyes remained open.  He tucked her head under his chin and wrapped his arms around her in a tight embrace.  “I’ll always love you,” and they slept under the stars, with the moon shining down upon them and Sam curled below their hammock.

 

There is coming a day

When no heartache shall come

No more clouds in the sky

No more tears to dim the eye

All is peace forever more

On that happy golden shore

What a day

Glorious day that will be.

 

There’ll be no sorrow there

No more burdens to bear

No more sickness

No more pain

No more crying over there

And forever I will be

With the One who died for me

What a day

Glorious day that will be.

 

What a day that will be

When my Jesus I shall see

When I look upon His face

The One who saved me by His grace

When He takes me by the hand

And leads me through the promise land

What a day

Glorious day that will be.

 

What a day

Glorious day that will be.

 

The church was packed.  People were crowded in the pews, squashed together standing against the walls.  Landon looked around the room as he made his way to the pulpit.  He opened the book before him and said, “This is from Romans 5:1-11

Peace and Joy,” he cleared his throat and began.  1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

 

He closed Jamie’s bible and looked once again at the room full of people.  “Some of you may not know this, but when Jamie found out about her cancer she made up a ‘To Do List’ for her life,” he chuckled and looked down before addressing everyone, “I was number forty-two.  Now, it’s not what you think,” he laughed again, “She didn’t have written down, marry Landon Carter.  Number forty-two was befriend someone you don’t like.”  He swallowed the lump that was forming in his throat. 

 

He looked to the side then focused his eyes on Jamie’s father.  He was staring at the picture that was placed on her casket.  He looked around the room again and noticed many people staring at it as though she were in there.  “She’s not in there you know?  She’s not in that casket.”  People began to focus their attention on him as he let them in on his secret.  “The only thing in there is the empty body that once carried the soul of an angel.”  He looked at her father’s wavering eyes and said, “She’s here,” he pointed to his heart.  “She’s in you,” he turned and looked out at the crowd again, “She’s in all of you.  She’s…” he smiled as the tears slowly ran down his cheeks, “…she’s everywhere.  All you have to do is look.”

 

His eyes closed as he inhaled deeply.  “She’s the smell of fresh flowers in the air.  She’s the sound of children’s laughter.  She’s the wag of a dog’s tail.  The beam of sunlight that wakes you every morning.  A glass of sweet tea on a hot summer’s day…a dance in the moonlight…the star that shines brighter than all the others…the rain that falls from the sky…the whisper in the wind. She’s hope.  She’s faith,” he paused.  “She’s life,” he said thickly.  “Don’t morn her death, because she’ll live.  As long as we remember to celebrate her life, she will live.”  He looked once again towards the picture on the casket then lifted his head and said softly to the heavens, “Thank you Jamie.  My life began with forty-two.”

 

 

 

 

Epilogue:

 

 

 

 

“I’ll never forget that last night we spent together.  We lied there in that hammock just talking and laughing.  It really felt like we had spent a lifetime together.” He paused, “She died that Sunday night right where she wanted to…in my arms.  We buried her Tuesday and …” Landon ran his hand through what was left of his hair, and looked to the sky. 

 

“I went to sleep that first night, waking up every hour.  I would reach out and touch her side of the bed, but I knew…she wasn’t there.”  He gulped, “I had to get out.  I couldn’t stay in our house one more night.” He shuffled his feet and said, “I left with Eric the next morning for college.  I packed a suitcase and,” he smiled to himself, “I put the bottom of my pajamas in a Tupperware container.  Then stuck it on the shelf.”

 

Explaining his actions he said, “After Jamie’s viewing that Tuesday morning--she looked so beautiful--she was wearing that blue dress she wore on our first date and the pink sweater I gave her.  Her hair was pulled back in a clip and she had on the shoes that Sam slobbered all over.  I thought she would like that,” he said as an afterthought.  “Brigid the funeral director came up to me and said, ‘Mr. Carter.  We’ll be closing the casket soon.  Would you like a minute alone with her?’”  He swallowed the lump that was beginning to form in his throat.  “I wanted more than a minute, I wanted a lifetime.”  He cleared his throat and shook his head, clearing it too.

 

“Everyone had left for the church.  Reverend Sullivan was one of the first to leave.  I couldn’t blame him.  Jamie’s death…well, first he loses his wife, then his daughter.  That’s not an easy thing for a man.” 

 

“I had brought something into the funeral home with me that morning, something that only Brigid had known about,” he remembered what happened next. 

 

 

 

“Are you sure you want to do this on your own, Mr. Carter?  This can be a very difficult thing.  I’d be more than happy to do it for you.”

 

“I’m sure Brigid, but…thank you.”

 

 

 

“I brought in my pajama shirt--the one she wore the night in the rain--and I put it on her.  I folded the clothes she had been wearing and placed them by her feet.  I took her shoes off and laid them next to her clothes, then I took her hair out of its clip and let it flow around her shoulders.  It took me awhile to do, but I did it.”

 

“When I got home that night I had put on the matching pajama bottoms…I just wanted to be close to her.” He turned his head towards the road and watched the neighbor’s van return back home. 

 

It pulled into the driveway across the street, the family piled out of the car, looking as though they had a full day.  The father reached into the back seat and pulled out a sleeping child, carrying him into the house--returning shortly for a few of the items they had packed in the vehicle earlier in the day.  He lifted his head and waved across the street to Landon, calling out, “Good evening, Reverend.  Nice night, huh?” Then turned, with his arms full of blankets and a small beverage cooler hanging off of his fingers, towards his house.

 

“I graduated from college and medical school at the top of my class.  I did my residency here in Beaufort, then…when I was through with it my dad had offered to let me join his practice, but I turned him down.”

 

He looked down to the ground and ran his hands along his thighs, lifting his eyes in a mischievous grin.  “It wasn’t long after that, that I decided to become a minister.” 

 

“I went to the seminary then I joined the peace core--intending on spending a year over seas--it turned out to be 8 years.  I was too valuable to them--a doctor that held Sunday sermons.”  He laughed to himself, “I could set a broken bone and baptize you all at the same time.”

 

“One day I got a telegram.  My father-in-law was sick.”  The laughter that had recently bubbled from within him quickly disappeared.  “He refused medical treatment, saying he missed his wife and daughter and it was finally time he went home.” 

 

“I cared for him the best I could, helped him with his sermons.”  He stood up and walked slowly across the porch, “He passed away within a week of retiring from the church--it was mine now--I was Reverend Carter.”

 

“I preached in that church every Sunday for 40 plus years--I retired just a few months ago.  They didn’t want me to, but I had to.  I can’t do what I once did.  I’m old now…tired.”

 

He looked to the heavens and searched out Jamie’s star.  He pointed up to it and said, “There she is.  That’s my Jamie.” 

 

 

 

He walked back into their house, looking around the living room--remembering the day his mother had decorated it for them.

 

 

 

There was a fully decorated Christmas tree standing in the corner of their living room with presents underneath it and colorful lights blinking, stockings were hanging above their fireplace. On the walls were giant red hearts with white lace trim, plastic Easter eggs were in a basket in the middle of their coffee table, a giant green shamrock was on one side of the sliding glass door, a decal of an American flag was on the other, a big plastic jack-o-lantern was sitting in another corner of their living room accompanied by a brown bag overflowing with candy.  On the kitchen counter was the top tier of their wedding cake that Landon’s mother had put in her freezer the day they got married; next to it was a card that said “happy anniversary.” 

 

“Oh, Landon, I can’t believe…when?” 

 

“My mom did it for me while we were at your dad’s last night.  The other night you said that you wished we could have one Christmas together and I thought, why stop there.”  He watched her as she touched the ornaments and said to her back, “Did I over do it?”

 

“NO!” she turned quickly to face him, “No…it’s…perfect.” 

 

“Are those presents real?”

 

“I don’t know.  Let’s check it out.” 

 

“So, which do you want to open first?”

 

“Hmmmm.  I don’t know.  You choose.”

 

“ ‘kay,” he picked up a birthday present and handed it to her and said, “Happy Birthday Jamie!”

 

 

 “Happy Fourth of July.”

 

“Happy Fourth,” he hesitated for a moment and said, “I just wish I could’ve arranged for some fireworks.”

 

“Oh don’t worry,” she swallowed a sip of her tea, “I’ve got that covered.”

 

It was starting to get dark outside and they decided to shut the lights off so they could appreciate all the twinkle lights that were strewed around their living room and across the Christmas tree.  Landon turned up the air conditioner until their living room felt like the North Pole, and then he built a fire in the fireplace. 

 

Jamie lay flat on her back in front of it.  Landon lay on his side gazing down at her.  It was getting late--the day was almost over.

 

Their fingers began to slowly entwine, their eyes were locked in a passionate stare, filled with love and devotion.  Their noses rubbed gently from side to side as they breathed each other in. 

 

He saw the reflection of the fire flicker in her eyes.  Her skin was glowing, her velvety soft hair shimmering.  His open lips brushed gently against hers as he threaded his fingers through the hair at her temples, cradling her face in his palms.  Their lips continued rubbing timidly back and forth across each other, no heavier than that of a gentle summer breeze--their eyes never closing.  They were so close now that Landon’s head blocked the reflection of the fireplace from her upturned face.  He felt her flick her tongue against the corner of his mouth as though she were taking a taste and his breath caught.  Shivers rode outward from every pore of his body.  Behind them the clock quietly chimed the new hour.

 

Jamie raised her free hand to brush his cheek with her fingertips, “Happy New Year, Landon,” she sighed against his lips.

 

“Happy New Year, Jamie.”  His lips poised, his heart pounding in his ears.

 

Her fingers curled into the hair at the nape of his neck as she melted into his kiss.  Minutes later she pulled away.  Her words were soft, breathy and made the hair on his arms stand, “Mmmmm…Fireworks.”

 

 

 

He choked down the tears as he made his way slowly up the stairs, stopping midway for a breath, he muttered to himself, “Gettin’ old Carter.”  He walked down the long hallway; passing the rooms that barely got used anymore, remembering the day he carried her down this same path.

 

 

 

“Guest rooms…bathrooms…linen closet.”

 

 

 

They were so young, so in love.  He placed his hand on the doorknob and remembered the feeling of her in his arms as she opened that door for the very fist time.

 

 

 

“Go on.  Open it.”

 

“Landon,” she said nervously, “this is beautiful. 

 

 

 

He walked into the closet, running a passing hand along the edge of the vanity table she would sit in front of each night and remembered brushing her wet hair--remembered her brushing his.

 

 

 

“My turn.”  She was nervous. 

 

“Are you sure you want to do this, Jamie?”

 

She nodded ‘yes.’

 

He straddled the chair--facing her instead of the mirror--trailing his fingers up and down the back of her bare legs as the bristles of the brush gently bit into his scalp.  Her skin was so soft, smooth.  It felt like silk beneath his touch. He inhaled deeply--taking in her scent--she always smelt like fresh flowers. 

 

She knelt down on the floor in front of him--the wrought iron back of the small stool stood between them--and put her hands on his face.  She placed a delicate kiss on his upturned lips and whispered, “Take me to bed Landon.”

 

 

 

 

He removed his clothes and placed them in his hamper, then reached for the Tupperware container that was on the shelf above her side of the closet.  He pulled it down and sat with it on his lap for a long time--his heart racing.  It took him a while to pry the lid off, but when he did the scent hit him in the face immediately.  It was talcum powder, fresh flowers…it was Jamie.  He gathered the pants up in his arms, holding them to his nose and inhaled deeply.  He dropped the container to the floor; laying his head down on the bed and closed his eyes for the last time.

 

 

 

 

He lay back on his bed with his hands behind his head, looking up at the sky, awaiting the darkness.  The moon gradually appeared as the stars popped up one by one within the dark background.  The moment he was waiting for would be here soon and when it came, his world would be full again.  Full of love…hope…life.  A flash of white streaked across the night sky creating a star that shined brighter than all the others.  He looked to his side and saw her walking across the cemetery towards him, her feet never quite touching the ground. 

 

He knew what to expect.  He had been here many times before--his dreams.  Over the years his image changed, he got older while she always looked the same.  She always wore the same thing, her wedding dress.  Her hair was always the same way, in flowing curls that cascaded down her back and billowed over her shoulders.  She never spoke to him, but he could hear her saying “I love you Landon” every time the wind caressed his skin. 

 

Tonight was different though.  He couldn’t put his finger on it, but it was definitely different.  Her feet no long floated across the cemetery ground, but instead pit- patted down the long hallway of their house towards their bedroom.  She wasn’t wearing her wedding dress, but his pajama shirt.  Her hair wasn’t curled but straight and she wasn’t alone.  Sam walked down the hallway by her side, his tail waging in tempo with their footsteps.  Landon glanced at the mirror and noticed his reflection.  He was wearing his pajama bottoms and he was 18 again. 

 

She stood directly before him and said, “You.”

 

He replied, “Me.”

 

They catapulted into each other’s arms--their lips meeting in a passionate kiss--years of waiting over. 

 

Landon was the first to pull back, “Jamie?  Is this heaven?”

 

“It’s our heaven, Landon.”  She smiled up at him and ran a hand along the side of his face.

 

He could feel Sam’s tail brushing back and forth across his foot and looked down at him.  “You know…Eric always said he was with you.”

 

She looked down at Eric’s old dog and said, “He was right.”

 

“Your father?” He questioned.

 

“He’s with my mother.  I can’t wait for you to meet her.” She looked into his eyes and said, “I’ve waited so long for you Landon.  I’m so proud of what you did with your life.”

 

“I did it for you.  Everything I did, I did for you.”

 

“I know.”

 

He cradled her face in the palms of his hands and said, “I love you.”

 

“Then show me,” she whispered against his lips.

 

 

 

 

He stood out on the balcony, looking at the sky when he felt her arms come around his middle. 

 

She laid her head between his shoulder blades and said, “So…what’d ya wanna do today?”

 

He turned around and draped his arms loosely around her waist.  “We’ve got an eternity, right?”

 

“Mmmmm hmmmm.”

 

“Well,” he said with a glint in his eyes.  “Why don’t we spend the first hundred years in bed, then we can go from there?” 

 

She lifted the corner of her mouth in a smile and asked, “Just the first hundred?  An eternity is a long time.”

 

“Okay,” he said, thoroughly getting into this, pulling her just a little closer, “five hundred years.”  He leaned in to give her a kiss.

 

“Well…I was thinking the first thousand years, then…” her lips met his.

 

“Then?” he said against her mouth.

 

With the tilt of her head and a gleam in her eyes she said, “There’s always the hammock.”

 

He lifted her in his arms and carried her back into their room lying her down on their bed. 

 

The sun rose in the sky as two spirits found eternal bliss--two souls becoming one.

 

 

 

The End