“You don’t recognize me.”
The mechanic glanced indifferently at me around the hood of my car. “Should I?”
“I didn’t recognize you at first, either.”
“Look, lady, if you want me to know who you are, you’ll have to tell me.”
I gave a small smile. “I’m Melissa Yorker. Your little sister and I were best friends.”
Only the tiniest glimmer of expression crossed his face. He tinkered with some mysterious part of the engine. “What brings you to town?”
“Just visiting my parents. Then my car had some trouble, so I brought it in. I didn’t know you worked here.”
“Well I do.” He leaned into the bowels of the engine. “Of all the days to come.” He yanked his head out again. “Do you even know what day it is?”
“I brought flowers to her grave this morning.” Kathleen Joy Hinkle, the marker had said. May 30, 1984--January 17, 1998. “She would have been twenty today.” I looked at her brother as he pulled on a wire, remembering when he had helped Katie and me build a fort. And remembering, too, how right before she died he had been so excited to get his driver’s license that he’d been willing to drive us anywhere we wanted to go. I glanced at the sign on the office door. “Hey, it’s almost closing time. You want to get coffee and talk?”
“Talk?” I was shocked at the harshness of his voice. “Talk! You want to talk about how I killed Katie? About how a stupid video was more important than my sister?” I could only stare with my mouth open as he vented. “Mom told me it was too icy to go out. But did I listen? No! I wanted to get that video. I don’t even remember why I took Katie.”
“Joel. Katie didn’t blame you.”
He slammed the hood. “And how would you know that?”
I frowned. “Joel, don’t you remember what she said before she died?”
“She died before anyone talked to her, you idiot!” He shouted the words, his breath hot on my face.
For a shocked moment I could hardly breathe. Then suddenly it was all clear. Tears began pouring down my cheeks. “Oh, Joel. You don’t remember, do you? I talked to her before she died. I told you about it, but--but you were on all those pain medications.”
The waitress set steaming cups of coffee on the table. Joel’s hand trembled as he reached for his. “I never knew you talked to Katie before she died. My family didn’t talk about that day much.” He clutched the cup tightly. “That stupid song!”
“What song, Joel?” I frowned, trying to remember.
He sighed. “Our band wanted to perform this song from a movie. It had just come out on video and I wanted to try to learn the guitar part.”
“Katie mentioned the song.”
“She did? By the time my parents got to the hospital, Katie was in a coma. How...?” He searched my eyes pleadingly.
“Dad heard the call on his police radio. We lived close to the hospital and he used the siren on the way there. You were already headed in for surgery. I’m not sure why they let me in to see Katie. I was only a kid and I wasn’t even family.” If I closed my eyes I could still see her--my bubbly, bouncy friend lying pale on that white bed, a bloody bandage wrapped around her head. “She smiled when she saw me. Her voice was weak, but she told me--” My voice broke. “She told me, ‘Tell Joel that he’d better learn that song really well, ‘cause when he gets to Heaven I’m gonna want to sing it with him. And I’m gonna have perfect pitch!’”
Joel cried then, tears running unashamedly down his cheeks.
“She didn’t blame you, Joel,” I whispered. “Maybe it’s time you forgave yourself and let God forgive you.”
He was silent for a time, praying perhaps. Then he leaned forward. “Melissa, thank you. Thank you for coming today and telling me this.”
“You’re welcome. But Joel, it really wasn’t me. I didn’t even know you were a mechanic. It’s Someone Else we need to thank.”
Smiling a little, he nodded. “Yeah.” He pushed his chair back. “Melissa, I’d like to keep in touch.” He swallowed hard. “But, if you’ll excuse me now, I think there’s a song I need to go learn.”
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