I watched her detach from the group, yanking her heart back to its cage. I felt as if she’d ripped herself out of my patch of reality and gone to a land where I couldn’t follow. I watched her as long as I could bear it, and because I cared for her, I let it go.
No one noticed at first.
The seasonal church outing was scheduled for the same weekend as her youth group, and on the same camping grounds. I let her go ahead, promising myself I would catch up. My chances were better with witnesses around. The noise was the worst, as the teenagers had filled the air with shrieks of laughter and off-key singing. They were happy. She was not.
Chera sat on the very edge of the group, as far away as she dared, her face pinched and eyes scrunched in a perpetual squint. Her tangle of ordinary brown hair was twisted up into some sort of bob, as if one of the beauty-queens-in-training had taken it upon themselves to give her a makeover. She watched them as I watched her and after the devotions were read, she offered to pray.
That took me by surprise, for it was the last thing I expected her to do. She had spoken so rarely, it caught my breath at the sound of her honey-touched voice. She excused herself for the night when finished. Several from her group groaned in disappointment and a couple of the girls begged her to stay, but she shook her head, melting off into the nighttime woods.
I followed her this time.
She came to our spot, the little hill near the cliff, where the egg-shaped rock kept guard. Sinking to the ground, she wrapped her arms tightly around her shoulders. I hesitated for a moment.
“Come and sit down, Giles, I know you want to.”
It was strange to hear her voice directed to me after the past few days of silence. I awkwardly sat on the ground beside her. A shiver passed through her and my chivalry demanded use, so I gingerly rested an arm around her shoulder, wondering how long that would last.
She snuggled into my arms at once. “I’m sorry I-”
“It’s okay.” My mouth said. “As long as you’re okay.” Something I didn’t want to decipher flickered through her eyes as I held her close.
“I’m fine.” She told my shoulder. “Just fine.”
“Mom’s getting out of the hospital on Friday.”
I took a moment to absorb the good news concerning my mother-in-law’s health. So was it. “That’s wonderful, Cher.”
Her hands tightened around my jacket collar and the happy high plunged low. “Can I ask how your tests went?”
A long, quiet sigh came from her lips. “Why, Giles?”
“Anything that worries you, worries me.” I pressed a kiss to the side of her head. “We go through things
together. Life’s not a solo thing.”
“So you always say.” One arm curved around my neck. “It’ll be great to have Mom back.”
“It’ll be great to see the two of you together again.”
“Promise you won’t give up fudge chocolate cake.”
I tried to pull back to look at her, but the second arm looped around my neck, refusing to allow any backward movement. “I love it as long as you make it, babe.”
“Nuh-uh.” Her breath was soft on my neck. “You can barely hold your chocolate.” A brief laugh snuck out.
I captured the moment in my mind, pulling her onto my lap. “Am I allowed inside your head tonight? Or must I beg for the keys to your heart’s cage?”
“Have I ever taken them from you?” She countered. “You went straight to the one who made them and asked so honestly that He gave you your own copy.”
“And now He’s taken them back, because He knows we need to talk, Chera. I know you need your space, but three days-”
“I’m dying, Giles…and I’m too selfish to share that with you.”
The tears streamed down her cheeks, rusting open her heart’s cage. It melted into my own as she shifted and I saw the expression of pain. “Cher-”
“No, Giles.” Her voice was still soft. “He’s calling me…and I’ve had my ears plugged. Both to you and to Him. Selfishly self-absorbed.”
Hot tears trickled down my shirt collar. “Not selfish.” My mouth said.
And I cried with her.
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