DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em; ready, willing and able to stage a coup
A/N (please read): There were a lot of reasons for me NOT to post this: the beginning, the setting, how Jordan got where she was and the event she witnessed are all very vague and I left them that way; the story is deeply personal – perhaps the most personal thing I've written in fic (which, as this is my 5th fandom, says something); there is a LOT of discussion of matters of faith – and God. There probably weren't nearly as many reasons TO post it, except the fact that some of you have consistently said lovely things about my writing (in other words, I'm something of a feedback whore g) and, despite – or because of – the personal nature, I do hope the story has value to someone out there.
If you don't like vague stories, stories that are a bit dark in some ways or those that deal with faith and God, feel free to exit now. If you do read on and wish to send me feedback, that would be great. My only request in regards to feedback is that it focuses on the writing, characterization, etc. If my views on certain personal matters don't match up with yours, I'm fine with that and I only ask that you be equally as fine with it. (In other words, I'm not getting into a religious debate here).
Okay, if you're still reading…on with the show.
"Do you believe in God, Dr. Cavanaugh?" The man asked her, his eyes focused on the coffin before them.
Jordan twisted her hands. "Um… I – I… try." She gave a self-deprecatory chuckle.
The man smiled softly. "That's an honest answer."
They were silent for a moment. Jordan eventually gave the man a sidelong glance, summoning up the courage to ask what he had. "Do you? Believe in God?"
He nodded. "Absolutely."
She inhaled slowly and held the breath. "Can I ask why?"
He looked over at her, studying her, as if assessing her readiness for his answer. She must have passed. "The easy answer would be because I was brought up to believe in God." The man paused. "But that isn't the – the real reason." He gave her another soft smile. "The best reason."
Jordan nodded, for no reason she could name.
The man gestured to the coffin. "She was."
The M.E. looked perplexed. "But… you said… she was – was so – only forty-five, you said. And – And…."
"And the disease?" He shrugged.
"I would have been angry," Jordan declared.
"She accepted it."
Jordan shook her head. "I couldn't do that. Give in." She glanced up. "Sorry."
The man shrugged again. "I didn't say she gave in, Dr. Cavanaugh. I said she accepted it. There's a tremendous difference."
She was quiet, trying to absorb what the man said, trying to reconcile his calm with the loss he'd suffered.
"God has a plan, Dr. Cavanaugh," the man said at last. "We don't always understand it." He laughed gently. "Actually, I think we hardly ever understand it. My wife trusted Him; she trusted His plan."
"And she's dead. How can you be okay with that?" Her voice rose sharply.
"Because while she was alive, she lived as thoroughly and as deeply as anyone I have ever met or hope to meet again on this earth. From the moment she was diagnosed – and believe me, being diagnosed at thirty-five with a condition that generally kills by thirty, well… anyway, until the moment her body gave in, she cherished each moment for what it brought her. She didn't let it stop her from doing the things she loved, the things we loved. She didn't let it stop her from doing what she could to help others. She didn't let it stop her from trusting God – and she told anyone who asked her what you asked me about that trust. And love. And peace."
Jordan looked at him. It was by far the most words she'd heard him utter at one stretch, maybe all together. She felt tears prick her eyes. "She didn't want to know why?"
He laughed gently again. "Oh, I bet she's asking God some pretty hard questions by now. She never thought it was fair, but she knew life isn't fair. She knew she had two choices – place blame, get caught in anger and pain and wait for a miracle or accept the situation, find the positives and believe that all life is miraculous in and of itself and meant to be lived for what it is." He pursed his lips. "She chose the second option."
She twisted her hands once more, hunting for something to say. "She sounds like a saint," she finally managed.
He shook his head. "No. Hardly. And she'd have told you that. And don't get me wrong, Doctor. She had days. Days when she cried and asked the burden be taken away; days when she couldn't quite get her breath and the look in her eyes said she was calculating how many sleeping pills were left in the prescription bottle; days when she was selfish and demanding, using the illness to get what she wanted."
"Thank God," Jordan muttered.
"Yeah." The man chuckled. "She'd have been hard to live with if she'd been perfect. No, there were moments. But that's all they were – moments. She talked the talk and walked the walk."
The M.E. nodded, envisioning again the scene when she'd stumbled into the chapel. She cleared her throat. "Um… I didn't mean to intrude, but – uh – when I came in…. People were – they were sharing their memories. It sounded like – like she … influenced a lot of people."
The man reached over and plucked one of Jordan's hands from its twisting grasp of its twin. "She loved a lot of people, Dr. Cavanaugh. She gave willingly and fully of herself and there were times that she got hurt. Badly, in some cases. But, for the most part, what you saw here today? That's how it was. She got as much back as she gave." He scuffed one toe on the carpet in front of them. "She told me once that she would consider her life worthwhile if people meant the things they said about her at her funeral." He looked at Jordan, his eyes brimming with tears for the first time. "You heard them."
She gave his hand a squeeze. "They meant it." Jordan thought about the words she'd heard and the words she'd read on the back of the program. Words of comfort from a dying woman to those who would be left behind. "When did she write it?"
He shrugged. "I never knew. I think in the first year. She planned the whole service, left me instructions so that I wouldn't have to worry about any of it. If she could have managed it, I think she would have even bought me the plane ticket and made reservations where she wants her ashes placed."
Jordan grinned at him.
"And all of her friends were told long ago to start rounding up eligible women for me when she was gone.
Jordan laughed. "She didn't mean it-"
"Oh, no. She meant it. Believe me."
She extricated her hand and clasped both between her knees as she bent forward. "Thanks."
She glanced over her shoulder at him. "I'm never going to be like your wife was, but you gave me a lot to think about. Maybe… some things I needed… to think about."
Jordan stood up to leave. She exited the pew and turned once more, wanting to say something else, anything, but finding nothing. She settled for a slight curve of her lips and then left.
Jordan rapped her knuckles against the door of Woody's office, ever mindful of barging into his sanctuary since… she straightened her shoulders… since she'd found him kissing Lu Simmons. It hurt she told herself. But it didn't kill me.
"Yeah," he called out.
She opened the door and poked her head around the corner. His blue eyes went wide at the sight of her. She forced a tentative smile onto her lips. He smiled. "When'd you get back?" His mouth went back to a straight line. "And where'd you go?"
She slipped inside and shut the door behind herself. "Mind if I…?" She motioned to the chair across from his.
"No, no, of course not. Sit down."
Jordan sat and, for a few moments said nothing as she studied the carpet beneath her feet. At last she looked up to find him watching her with a mixture of concern and wariness. The last she'd earned; the first… the first couldn't be earned; it simply was. "I – uh – I…." Her voice broke. "I had to – to get away. From Boston. From – From all the memories." From the moment when the last tie to my childhood snapped; from the moment we put my dad in the ground.
Woody didn't respond.
"I'm sorry, Woody."
"For – For not letting someone know where I was. I… I thought – hmm – I thought there were things I needed to sort out. Alone."
He nodded slowly. "And now?"
She gave him a watery smile. "There are things I need to sort out. But I don't need to do it alone." She took a very deep breath. "In fact, I'm not sure I can do it alone."
"Garret too busy to help out?"
She fixed him with a baleful glare, anger flaring briefly.
"Sorry," he muttered.
She could almost hear the man's voice in her head. She had two choices… she chose the second option. The anger fizzled and drifted into an ashy ruin. She leaned forward, elbows on Woody's desk, hands reaching across the top toward his. "I need you, Woody. I'm asking you to help me sort out all… all the things that need sorting out."
"Why now?" He spoke so softly.
And the story poured out. The chapel in the snow. The lights from within. The singing. The people. The man who had lost his wife. The wife who had sought to comfort those around her, even from the grave. The words written who-knew-how-long before, written in love and peace in the face of monumental struggle, written to console and not for the writer's own consolation.
"Ten years, Woody. She had ten years to live a lifetime, once she knew. I've been thinking… of how I've spent the last ten years."
"You've done a lot of good things, Jo," he reminded her softly, her hands now firmly grasped in his across the space of his desk.
She shrugged. "I hope so."
"I know so," he insisted.
Jordan smiled at him. "Maybe. But I've also spent those years – really all the years since my mom died – avoiding living, afraid of being hurt or hurting others, looking for answers when that was really just an excuse to keep everyone else away. Even my dad." She sighed.
She studied him in the dimming light. Something in him had loosened while her story had spilled forth and his face was younger somehow. His eyes were bluer if that was possible. The hint of the smile at the corner of his lips reminded her of the fresh-faced Wisconsin boy she'd met all those years ago. She took a deep breath. "I have two choices."
He gave her a puzzled look.
She leaned all the way across his desk and kissed him softly. "I'm choosing the second option."