We had an early flight out of Phoenix the next day, and we both managed to oversleep. It was a frantic morning, trying to pack, check-out, return the car.
I almost forgot the rosary in the bedside drawer. Almost, but not quite.
Takeoff was delayed, lucky for us, and we all sat packed into the small waiting area. Woody went off in search of breakfast. I tried to read the newspaper, without much luck.
Suddenly, a small hand reached up and knocked the paper out of my hand with a smack. I looked down into the chocolatey, laughing face of a little red-headed girl. She was all of about 18 months, I'd guess. Her cheeks were round and puffy, a tell-tale sign of prednisone use.
"Megan, no, sweetie!" The little girl's mother ran after her and scooped her up into her arms. She turned to me. "I'm sorry about that."
"No, it's okay," I said. The mother pulled a pack of wipes out of her bag and went to work on her daughter's face.
"Look at you, messy face girl!" Megan giggled and squirmed.
"Thanks." The mother smiled. She kissed the girl's nose. "She's my little miracle girl," she said more to herself than to me.
The little girl reached out her hand and took my finger. "How long has it been since the transplant?" I asked quietly.
The mother turned to me in surprise. "How did you..."
"I'm a doctor. I recognized the prednisone."
The mother looked away and smoothed Megan's curls. "She had a liver transplant eight months ago. We'd been on the list since she was born. I wasn't a match, and my husband wasn't a good candidate for a live donor. Then eight months ago, he was killed when lightning struck a tree and it fell on his car as he drove home from work. It was a freak thing." Her eyes darkened, but then she looked down at her daughter with a radiant smile. "But Megan was able to get part of his liver, and she's doing great." The little girl cooed and let out a little peal of laughter. The mother shook her head. "I can't believe I'm telling this to a complete stranger. I'm so sorry!" she said with a laugh.
"It's okay. Really."
Pre-boarding for our flight was finally announced over the P.A. The mother swung Megan onto her hip and rose. "Well, that's us. Off to see grandma."
"It was nice to meet you, Megan," I said. Megan waved over her mother's shoulder as I watched them board.
Woody appeared then with a bottle of juice and a muffin. "For you. Please eat. I'm worried about you." I peeled the wrapper off the muffin with a laugh. "What's funny?"
"You're like a mother hen." He looked away, and I knew I'd hurt his feelings. "Thanks, Woody. I mean it."
We were quiet on the way home. I tried to read the newspaper again. I could see that Woody was watching me with concern. I looked up at him occasionally, and he would give me a reassuring smile.
Maybe I was finally seeing him in a different light. Why hadn't I ever really noticed before?
We hit unbelievable turbulence as we crossed the Mississippi. I've never been a good flyer, and I dug my nails into the armrest. Woody's hand reached across and found mine.
We had been flying through gloomy, blackness for miles. I could hear Megan's laughter every time the plane dipped. At least she was enjoying it.
I shut my eyes tight and leaned my head back. What if Woody was right? Maybe things just happen. Awful, tragic things for no reason at all. Maybe the things that happened to us were a far cry from what God wanted for us, but maybe He didn't show us the darkness without also showing us the light.
"Look, Jordan," I heard Woody's voice say. He was pointing out the window.
We were coming out of the black cloud just then. The sky was blue and brilliant.
Well, no one ever accused God of being subtle.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. We were both exhausted and gathered up our bags in silence. He had taken a cab to the airport, so I drove him home in my car. I pulled up to the curb in front of his building, and we sat for a moment.
He turned to me. "I'm sorry if I said anything that caused you any pain during this trip," he said slowly. "That's the last thing I wanted to do, Jordan."
"It's okay, Woody," I said simply. "Thanks. I don't think I could have gotten through the last few days without you." It was inadequate and ineloquent, but words were lacking.
It was an impulse...I leaned over and kissed him once, soft and very quick. Maybe it wasn't love and romance. Not now. But it was more than friendship.
The next few days were hard. I cried a lot at first, but every day was better than the last. I kept putting off going to my father's house. I wasn't ready for that.
I called the Pogue. Everyone was very kind and full of condolences. I hadn't changed my mind about the funeral, but maybe a big old Irish wake was in order.
I wasn't sure what to do with the ashes. The would have to sit in my closet until I could decide. It could wait. I don't know...it made me feel like he wasn't really and truly gone.
Woody called every day to check on me. I called him on Good Friday, but he was on his way out the door to Mass. He asked me to come, but I said no. Not yet.
I finally ventured out on Sunday morning. It was bright and sunny, and I wandered around the neighborhood. Kids hunted for eggs in their front yards, old ladies strolled to church in their new Easter hats.
I didn't know what the future held. I wondered what good could possibly come of all this. Maybe my life would find some unknown purpose. Maybe my father's death would finally bring closure to my mother's murder.
Or maybe it would be something, or someone, that had been there all along.
I stopped in front of an Episcopal church. I smiled to myself. The old priest from my grade school days used to sneeringly refer to the Episcopal church as "junior varsity Catholics."
I could hear familiar Easter music coming from inside. The service was just starting, and I found myself climbing the stairs then. There was an usher standing just inside. I almost turned to go, but he handed me a service bulletin.
"The Lord is risen," he whispered warmly.
"He is risen indeed," I heard myself whisper in response. Funny how those things come back to you after so many years.
It was all so familiar: the music, the smell of candle wax, the hard, cold wood as I eased into the back pew.
I raised my hand to my forehead, the center of my chest, my left shoulder, my right shoulder.
Easter came early for your father this year...
I don't know. I hoped so.
I closed my eyes as the organ swelled to a triumphant peak, and my lips formed the words of a silent prayer.