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Sunday, June 22nd, day 22
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
—St John 3:16
Julius was the last thing I thought about when I went to sleep, and he was my first thought in the morning.
Mostly because he was no longer there.
Inexplicable panic seized me, and I looked wildly about. The sheets beside me were smooth and flat.
But there was no time to dwell, because my mom was standing in my doorway. Which was probably why I had woken in the first place. I resented her a bit at that moment.
“We’re going to church and you’re coming,” Mom said simply, before closing the door again. I lay in bed, tears pricking my eyes. Why did I have to go to church? There were so many better things to do.
“That was close.”
I jerked. Julius had been behind the door, and he came now to stand beside my bed. As my heart was stilling, I breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn’t left after all. “You’re still here,” I said softly.
“Yup. Though I most say, you snore like a horse.”
He reached out to comb a tangle out of my hair. “So you’re going to church.” His expression was odd.
“Uh-huh. I don’t think I have much of a choice in the matter. My mom is pretty set in her ways.” The ways of this country, I added silently.
Since my hair was pretty much a lost cause, he reached for the brush on my dresser and sat behind me to comb it for real. “Do you believe in God, Hanuara?”
I sucked in a painful breath. I felt the weight of his question like the world on my shoulders. I knew what the correct answer was, the truth, but I was so tempted to lie it tasted like vinegar on my tongue.
“Yes, I believe in God.”
“Oh.” then we were both silent. I was more than happy to leave it at that.
After he had brushed all the kinks out of my wavy blond hair, and a long lingering kiss, Julius hopped off my balcony railing and disappeared through the back garden gate. I gave myself a sloppy ten-minute manicure, and admired the wonderful job he had done with my hair. If Faith had been here, she would have hired him as an assistant stylist on the spot. While I was drying my nails, I mentally went through my closet to try and pick out something to wear. I settled on a green pleated skirt and a bright yellow blouse with a brown leather belt to go over top.
“Very stylish,” I told my reflection. I turned on my high-healed sandals and went downstairs.
Mom frowned at my outfit, and Dad hardly seemed to notice. He was doing some last-minute typing, with Mom standing over him and trying to get him to hurry up.
“Vernon, we’re going to be late and it will be all your fault.” She poked his arm.
“Just one more second—okay—done.” He shut the computer with a satisfied click. “Okay, ladies, let us be off.”
The phone rang. “Hello?” Mom could barely hide the annoyance in her voice at the interruption. “Hello? Hel-lo.”
Suddenly the phone dropped from her hands. Her hand flew to cover her heart, and she swayed on her. feet. “Susan!” Dad rushed toward her. “What’s wrong?”
“He’s watching us,” she gagged out. “He said he’s watching us.”
“What do you mean? Who’s watching?”
“Him. The Poet. He called to say that he’s watching.”
“We need to call the police. Right now. And then we’re going to church.”
I was about to argue, but when I saw the look on her face, I knew she was going through a crisis and needed her church. I fought the urge to stomp through to the limo. Casey, the new chauffeur now that Evela had taken a three-week leave, revved the engine and gunned it at my mother’s command. We passed the police on our way out.
I couldn’t have been more surprised when we entered Araura Constance’s Chapel. Taking up most of the rows were many students from Virginia’s, and among them were Lee, Araunah and Jada, and Diana and Julia.
“Hi, Hanuara!” Araunah waved at me, and motioned for the people in her row to make room for us.
“Mom, Dad, these are my friends Araunah and Lee Palener, and Jada Allens. Over there is Gray Inglefield, and Loraligh.” They chorused hello, and the preacher looked over at the sound. There was a lot of them.
My parents smiled graciously, and upon sitting, struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to Lee. I looked around and I saw no sign of Sophia, but maybe she was running late. So I settled between Araunah and Jada, and prepared myself for a long boring hour of ignoring the sermon.
“That’s Milo Sevence. I’m a working student with him at the hospital.” Lee leaned toward me, pointing at the man my parents were speaking to. “He’s the one who made me join Virginia’s. He and your parents met the first time they came here.”
“He made you come to Virginia’s?”
“Basically. I wasn’t as artistic then as I am now.” He winked.
The preacher started up. “Holy beloved, we have gathered here today…”
Lee tapped my shoulder. “Hanuara, wake up. Its over.”
I started awake. I hadn’t meant to fall asleep. People were filing out of the pews, heading to the basement. Lee stopped me before I could join my parents.
“Do you want to come with me before lunch?” he asked. “I want to show you something.”
We came to a closed door, which opened to a long, tightly wound staircase. I asked Lee where we were going, but he simply told me that it was for my lesson. My curiosity mounted with each step up. We emerged in the open bell tower.
The bell was so big I could’ve fit inside, and it appeared to be solid gold. It hung from a rope about as thick as half my body from a tall rafter high above us. The tower was white, with a plastic railing wrapped around it. down below, I could see the golden sunlight on the trees lining the streets which were now so small. The buildings and houses were like ones belonging to dolls, with brick chimneys and swept front steps. The cars were like toys. A trillion tiny gems made up the crystalline ocean, puffy white clouds drifted lazily, completing the scene. “It’s beautiful.”
Lee nodded, his eyes slightly glazed over. Leaning against the railing like I was, his tall strong frame was almost inconsequential. A stray breeze tickled the hair on his forehead. “Yeah. Art is beauty, in more ways than one. It makes you feel beautiful, as well as make you appreciate beauty itself. You feel on top of the world, don’t you?”
I nodded. “I wish I could stay here forever. Do you come here often?”
He looked away. “No.” And he didn’t say anymore.
Memories drifted through my head, undiluted. Once Adam had taken me for a ride in a helicopter he borrowed from a friend. We flew over the Crow’s Nest Pass, and it was winter. The sun shone on the snow-topped mountains and trees. There was just something about being high in the air that made you feel powerful, if only because it’s the closest you can get to flying. Watching a bird float in the clear blue sky was like a dream unborn, but being up there was living it.
Suddenly, the wind picked up, snatching my felt hat off my head. “Darn it!” I swiped the air, but the hat evaded me. It soared over the trees, and disappeared down the street. “Darn,” I said again.
Lee laughed. “Too bad. I liked that hat.”
The sweltering heat made everyone reluctant to leave the cool chapel. The congregation shook hands with the pastor and he blessed them, but their replies were limp as they tried to glare at the bright sun. “This weather sure can bring a good man down,” my father said cheerfully, wrapping an arm around my mother. She shook him off, wiping her forehead with her un-gloved hand.
Despite the fact that I had been coerced into going to church, I couldn’t have been happier about the heat. Julius had promised to come by, to take me on our date. He refused to say where we were going, but as long as I was with him I didn’t care. Plus, since my father was such a contrary man, he would be in a great mood because of the weather. All the better to reintroduce him to Julius.
I was just about to get into the car when I saw her standing under a thick oak tree that was half hidden by the chapel building, looking lost. My stomach clenched.
“I’ll be right back,” I said, firmly insisting that Carl and Sam stay in the car. Slowly trudging away.
Her face lit up when she saw me. Stiffly, I shifted to the left, where we were hidden from the car by the chapel. For the first time, she didn’t look in mourning or in pain. She curtsied at me, and dropped my hat on my head. I was frozen in place, too terrified to move. What did she want?
“Who are you?” I whispered. “What do you want with me? Why do you insist on making my life so difficult?”
Her face fell, like I had just confirmed for her something she had hoped was not true. “The Lord God will forgive you no matter what you do!” she wailed.
My trance was broken. “I really don’t need this right now.” I started to turn away, but she gripped my hand, her sharp nails digging into my skin. “Just leave me alone, okay?” A sharp tug only made her grip harder.
“You do! You do need this! You need to forgive the Lord!” Panic started to be evident in her trembling voice.
“I’m not mad at God,” I snapped. “I’m not mad at anybody.”
“Then why are you ignoring him?” she asked despairingly.
I had had it. “That isn’t any of your business. Look, if you think you can just show up whenever you want, and babble about stuff that doesn’t make sense, or cry your stupid eyes out and expect me to care, then you can just—”
But I stopped. It was one thing to hallucinate, but a completely different thing to talk back to your hallucinations. I jerked my arm again. If I was only hallucinating, than I only thought I couldn’t get free. I stopped pulling to close my eyes, and imagine my arm getting loose of her tight grasp, and saw her falling to the ground with a thump.
“I’m just trying to make you admit it to yourself,” the woman in white insisted. Breaking my concentration. “I know why you’re ignoring Him. But how would you like it if someone you loved couldn’t bear to look at you because you reminded them of someone they lost?”
My jerking got more frenzied. “Just leave me alone.”
But her eyes took on a blind look, and her gaze went right through me. “You need to come to terms with Adam’s death, Hanuara Maria. You need to start living again. You are not the one who died.”
“Leave me alone!” I screamed. “Stop talking to me! Go away, go away!”
“Hanuara!” my dad shouted as he ran toward me. “What’s the matter?”
“Honey?” my mom’s voice joined in. Slowly, I looked up from the ground where I had been lying into the concerned eyes of my parents.
So it had been a dream. Maybe I should see a doctor. Randomly falling asleep throughout the day could not be normal. Maybe something was actually wrong with me—
“Hanna!” Mom exclaimed. “What happened to your wrist?”
“What do you mean?” I lifted my hand to look at it. “There’s nothing—” But I stopped. My wrist was dripping with my blood.
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