Simon shuffled toward the meetinghouse, pebbles on the sidewalk pressing into his bare feet. Despite the pain, he scarcely lifted his legs as he walked, preferring the discomfort to the effort required to relieve it.
He hoped they would let him in. Street urchins, with their grime and crime, were excluded from such gatherings. Yet, this was one of their own. Weeks before, Cameron shared a ratty blanket with Simon. Then, good fortune suddenly seemed to shine on Cameron.
The boys had been begging together along the street a month previous. A lady - clearly from high society - dropped her handkerchief right by them.
Cameron retrieved it. Simon planned to ask for it later, in exchange for a bowler hat. Before he could, however, Cameron did something shocking.
"Excuse me, mum," Cameron said, tapping the lady on the back. "You dropped this."
Simon's mouth dropped. Urchins were to never speak to, much less touch, anyone outside their kind. Friends had been beaten for less.
Simon retreated and turned his head, watching the two discreetly. He didn't want to be seen as Cameron's cohort.
"Why, thank you." She took her handkerchief from Cameron. "What is your name, young man?"
Cameron lowered his eyes. "Cameron, mum."
"Just call me Kathy." She smiled. "Cameron, where is your mother?"
"Dead, Miss. Pa, too."
Kathy held Cameron's dirt-caked hands. "You poor boy."
She looked into Cameron's eyes and smiled. "I'd like to help you, Cameron. Will you come home with me?"
"Mum?" Cameron's jaw dropped.
Simon discarded his plan for discretion. He stepped closer and gawked.
Kathy smiled gently. "I'd love to take you in, Cameron, if you'd like."
"Oh, yes, mum. Thank you, mum." Cameron danced down the sidewalk, grabbing the woman's outstretched hand. The two walked off.
Cameron hadn't turned to wave goodbye, and Simon wasn't surprised. He was getting a new life: why look back?
Over the next couple weeks, Simon heard gossip from local vagabonds. Cameron had his own room in a mansion. He ate four full meals a day. Kathy would adopt him.
Then, suddenly, the scuttlebutt turned grim. Cameron had fallen down a flight of stairs. He was in the hospital. The doctors couldn't help him.
Finally, just the day before, Simon learned Cameron was dead and his funeral was noon today, in the meetinghouse.
Fellow urchins had discouraged him from going, saying he'd never get into such a fine gathering. Simon was undeterred.
"Gotta go, fellas. If they don't let me in, they don't. I hafta try."
From the location of the sun, Simon could tell noon was fast approaching. He quickened his pace slightly, reaching the meetinghouse as several finely-dressed people entered.
He recognized Kathy right away. She stood at the meetinghouse door, greeting guests as they entered. Once the crowd cleared, she grinned and beckoned Simon, who stood beside a lamppost just outside the doorway. He approached cautiously.
"You must be Simon." The boy looked up and was immediately drawn into her warm eyes and gentle smile. "Cameron told me so much about you."
"He surely missed his friend Simon. In fact, we were planning to come calling on you when..." She lowered her eyes briefly and sighed. "I do miss him, but it's a blessing to know he's in a better place, isn't it?"
How could she say that? Cameron was dead; how was that better than being rich in a fine house with a kind woman? And why was she smiling? Was she happy Cameron was gone? Simon bawled.
"Oh, Simon, don't cry." Kathy cupped his dirty face in her hands. "Cameron is in heaven."
Simon choked back further tears.
"Of course I'm sad that Cameron is dead, Simon. But he believed in Jesus before he passed on. Now he is in the most wonderful place, waiting for me - and for you, too.
"If you believe, Simon, you will see him again. And while we wait, we can know this: our friend Cameron is full of joy - more than we can imagine. For that we can be happy, yes?"
"Mum, I have to believe? How?" Simon pleaded. "I want to see Cameron again, and go to heaven. It sounds so much nicer than this place."
Kathy took Simon's hand. "The funeral is beginning, Simon. Come in with me and help us remember your friend. I'll tell you about it once you come back home with me afterward - if you'd like to, of course."
Simon nodded, full of hope, and entered the meetinghouse with her.
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