Copyright© 2004 by Jennifer Ann
When someone dies, an angel is there to meet them at the gates of Heaven to let them know that their life has just begun.
Floating upside down in space Jacques St. Pierre tilted his head backward and looked up at the Earth floating below him. For a brief moment, he was lost in its beauty. Then quickly, he began the task for which he had left the relative safety of the space station for the cold hard vacuum of space.
At the moment, his safety and that of his companion on the Europa - the European Union's answer to the American and Chinese space stations - were tenuous. Something had gone wrong in one of the fuel cells that powered the electrical systems. The fuel cell was registering dangerous overpressure and temperature. If the fuel exploded, it could severely damage the space station and possibly kill the two crew members. Jacques was attempting manual activation of the relief valve, which had failed to operate normally. In order to reach the valve he first needed to open one of the panels accessible only from outside the station.
Strapped to the sleeve of his pressure suit by a lanyard was a battery powered torque wrench. The wrench was about eighteen inches long about three inches thick at its widest point and down to two inches at the handle. The handle then tapered down to about one-half of an inch where the lanyard was attached.
Using the wrench, he quickly backed-out the bolts holding the panel in place. The panel then swung open on its hinges, allowing Jacques access to the emergency valve's handle.
The bulkiness of the pressurized space suit made it difficult to reach the handle. However, this was something he had practiced in training He knew where the handle was and how to reach inside and turn it, allowing the pent up pressure to escape through the vent line into space.
His gloved hand was inches from the handle when the line split open. Very high pressure and hot gas escaping from the split line formed a cutting torch, which cut through the tough layered fabric of the space suit burning his wrist and forearm.
Quickly the small split grew wider and the metal gave way with an explosive decompression. The resulting explosion flung him backward from the station into the solar panel array behind him, shattering many of the solar panels and severely damaging it. Quickly bladders in the space suit expanded, effectively sealing the suit just above his elbow. It could do nothing for his arm, which was open to the cold vacuum of space. Nor did it stop the bleeding of his badly torn arm.
For a moment he was stunned and shocked; however, quickly his training took over. Using his attached safety line, he pulled himself toward the open air lock, ignoring the frantic radio calls from his crewmate.
Hannu Heinonen, his crewmate was waiting for him when the air lock opened. Quickly he helped Jacques get out of the damaged suit and applied first aid. Things then went from bad to worse. The explosion had caused massive damage to two or three of the other fuel cells and they were starting to heat up dangerously. Destruction of the solar panel array meant that the space station was on battery power and would soon be with limited power. Mission control was fearful of more explosions and decided to abandon the station.
With efficiency and speed the station was powered down and the two crewmembers crawled into the escape capsule and departed for Earth. Surprisingly, it turned out the station did not suffer any more explosions. However, it was decided by the directors of the EU's space program not to attempt salvaging the station, but, instead to bring it back to Earth. Engineers on the ground fired the rocket motors to slow the station down. And so it departed its orbit and reentered the Earth's atmosphere.
In all the confusion and haste to save the crewmembers no one realized that Jacques St Pierre's torque wrench had become detached from his suit in the initial explosion and was still floating in space, where the space station had been.
Because, it was not affected by the firing of the station's motors, it continued orbiting the Earth. Nevertheless, ever so slowly, the pull of gravity caused it to slow down. Now, some eleven years, seven months and two days later, it too was about to make the fiery plunge to Earth.
"Welcome back to CNN's on-going coverage of the US Mars mission. In a little over three hours the Carl Sagan is expected to return to Earth after its eighteen-month journey to Mars and back. We have been speaking with members of the four-person crew.
"Now, we will speak with the junior member of the crew. Maj. Julie Myers is the pilot and at 29 she is the youngest member of the crew. She attended the US Air Force Academy where she finished 3rd in her class and received her degree in Engineering. Maj. Myers was first in her pilot training class and did tours of duty in the F-16 and F-22 fighter aircraft.
Later the Air Force sent her to MIT where she received her Master's..."
Finally, the last interview was over, the cameras were shut down and, the last item was stowed in its proper place. The crew went to their seats and prepared to start the final checklists.
"Nine out of twelve satellites locked on."
"Less that two meters."
"Shut down astrogator."
"INS functioning and updated."
The checklists were meticulously completed and checked. At the proper time, the descent capsule with the four crewmembers separated from the rest of Carl Sagan, fired its braking rockets to slow down and started its descent back into the Earth's atmosphere.
The crewmembers were now passengers. Sitting there, monitoring the computers which were now in control. If something were to happen, there wasn't much they could do anyway. With time on her hands, Julie Myers started thinking about returning home.
It felt strange. It was wonderful to be returning home. Yet, she would miss the Carl Sagan and its crewmembers. They had become like family. Now, after debriefing and public appearances they would go their separate ways.
For the last three and one half years all she had thought of was the mission. It was a great privilege to have been selected for this mission. Yet, it was the payback for all the years of study, work and denial of a personal life. She had put any personal life on hold by focusing on the upcoming mission. Everything else had been secondary. Actually, if she was honest with herself, she had been putting tasks and goals ahead for many years. Ever since her Dad died and she promised herself to make him proud of her, she had always wanted to be first in everything she did.
Now what would she do with her life? She knew that there would be weeks of debriefing. Then there would probably be a nearly endless number of TV interviews and talk shows. She would be invited to parades as the grand marshal. The public would be clamoring to see and meet her. She was now a public figure. No longer entitled to a private life.
Would she ever have a personal life? Would she ever have privacy, a husband, children? Would she ever have family of her own? Would she ever be able to take her children to school and birthday parties, to shop and buy clothes for them?
Julie suddenly felt sad and sorry for herself. Sad for the life she had given up to embrace this life. She was almost thirty and practically still a virgin. Oh, she had slept with two men. Big deal! The first was just so she could tell herself she was no longer a virgin, to remove the stigma. The second guy? Well, he had happened along the one time she let her discipline slip. Neither was good, neither was love. Were the fame and her place in history books going to be worth what she had to give up? At this moment, she didn't know.
Jacques St Pierre's lost torque wrench had entered the atmosphere. As it impacted the air molecules in the upper atmosphere it began to heat up. The first thing to go was the still attached lanyard. It could not withstand the quickly rising temperature and so it burnt quickly. With the lost of the lanyard, the wrench now became less stable. Not designed to fly and without the trailing lanyard acting as a rudder, the uneven air pressures on its surfaces caused it to start tumbling slowly. The wrench was made of a titanium alloy so it could withstand much higher temperatures before it vaporized.
The small size of the wrench made it impossible for radar or optical tracking devices to detect its presence. Besides, if NASA had detected it, there was nothing anyone could have done. Both the wrench and the returning capsule were committed to meet.
The capsule, traveling at a much faster speed than the wrench, had to come in at a much steeper angle, in order to bleed off its excess kinetic energy. In fact, it was traveling about three thousand miles per hour faster. The wrench was lazily turning end over end and picking up speed as gravity pulled it toward the Earth. As fate would have it, it was just when the small one half inch end of the wrench pointed directly at the approaching capsule the two met.
The wrench's weight on Earth [at sea level] was only 5 pounds. However, when five pounds impacts something at over three thousand miles per hour, the kinetic energy [or energy] of the impact is 1.5 million ft-lbs. The designers of the capsule never imagined it would have to withstand an impact of this magnitude. The wrench hitting the capsule with a force of 1.5 million ft-lbs ripped a three-inch hole in the heat shield, allowing high temperature high-pressure air into the capsule.
Once again, the world watched in horror. The televisions of the world replayed a scene of some twenty years earlier as pieces of the capsule blew apart like Fourth of July fireworks. Maj. Julie Myers and her crewmembers never knew what had happened.
Julie was flying. Like a bird, she was swooping, climbing and rolling.
This is fun! she thought. I don't even need an airplane.
Way off in the distance was a bright white light. She was heading toward the light.
I am dead, she thought to herself. Funny, I don't remember dying.
Oh yes, I was returning home from the Mars Mission. Then there was this bright light and heat. Suddenly, here I am flying like a bird toward that light and I am dead.
Without warning, Julie was back in the hospital room where her father lay dying. She was fourteen. He was forty-four. He had always tried to get her to do her best.
"If it is good enough to do," he often told her, "then it is good enough to give it your best."
"I will do my best, always Daddy," she told him through tears, as he lay in the hospital bed. "I will make you proud of me. I promise."
Always a good student, her studies took on a new meaning. She took flying lessons and became a pilot. Then she decided to attend the Academy. She started putting aside personal pleasures when they interfered with something that would help her to achieve her goal. Often this included her friends.
Julie now saw the friends she had neglected in the name of being the best. She saw James Nutt. The boy in the eleventh grade who had had a crush on her. She had dated him for a while. But she had thought he was too immature and clinging.
Now, she saw how her drive to be the best had come between them and how he had really needed her friendship when his parents got a divorce. She could have really helped him, if she had only taken the time to be his friend.
She saw Matthew Latava. She and Matt had been student pilots together. She had liked him a lot. However, she had decided that she didn't want to get involved emotionally. It would lessen her chances of being number one in class and getting the fighter slot she wanted after pilot training.
She saw now that he actually had loved her. She saw that if she had taken the time to really know him, she too, would have fallen in love with Matt. She saw the children she didn't have by Matt, their children, her children. Children who would have grown and contributed to making the world a better place for all.
She saw other occasions where she could have helped people if she had taken the time to care. She had missed opportunities to love. Julie realized that although she was not a bad person, she had never given of herself to others. She had lost sight of the real goal in life. In other words, she had never learned to love. All at once, Julie knew that her thoughts just prior to her death were her attempt to reconcile the missing pieces in her life. She wished desperately that she had had more time.
Her heart felt a despair and pain worse than anything she had ever felt while alive.
"If only I had known," she cried. "If only!" It seemed her anguish and pain had no bottom or end.
As she approached the light she couldn't help but notice it beauty. In spite of her anguish and sorrow, there was a sense of familiarly about the light. The closer she came to it the stronger this sense of familiarly.
As she got closer, the light became brilliant but not blinding. Emanating from the light was an unbelievable feeling of love and compassion, along with the feeling that she knew the light. She stopped and found herself standing on the ground. A figure materialized and walked out of the light.
"Hi, baby," he said while smiling at her and love radiating from seemingly every pore of his body.
"DADDY!" cried Julie, as she threw herself into his arms and sobbed.
Once again, Julie was a little girl and her Dad's arms comforted her. As she cried in his arms, the anguish and sorrow seem to melt away. When she had finished, her emotions spent and her body had ceased to shake, he put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back, so he could see her face.
"I asked if I could be the one to greet you," he said.
"Wha... what do you mean?"
"Whenever someone dies, they are met at the gate. I asked if I could be the one to meet you and give you the offer, especially since I did have something to do with how your life turned out."
"I don't understand, Daddy," said a confused Julie.
He smiled again and in a sudden flood of knowledge everything became clear to Julie. Now she understood that she was at the gate to eternity -- heaven, in the language of the living. She realized that unless one has learned and lived life's lessons -- in other words, learned about and lived a life of love, one could not enter through the gates.
Most souls would spend a period of time learning and applying these lessons. The learning and applying came in various ways; all designed to best help the individual. A few could never learn. They were doomed never to enter into heaven.
However, some people were selected for a special task. These souls were given an option of returning to Earth in order to fulfill a special mission of love. Julie had been chosen for such a task. If she agreed, she would find herself back on Earth at the time and place where she was needed.
"You want me to return to Earth in order to learn how to love?" asked Julie.
"Yes, we do. Think of it as becoming an Angel," replied her father. "However, it's more than that. We want you to return so you can help someone else learn how to love.
"In the process, you will learn what real love is. Julie, your mistake on Earth was in failing to realize that love comes before everything else. If you agree, we will send you back to Earth at a time and place of our choosing. You will know only what you need to know. Then it will be up to you," finished her Dad.
"Will I know who I am and who you are?" asked Julie.
"No, you will think of yourself as someone else," answered her father. After a slight pause, he asked,
"Will you do it?"
A chance to go back and make up for the pain I caused to others and to myself, thought Julie.
"Of course, I will," exclaimed Julie. "Oh,... and Dad?"
"Will I see you again?"
"I will always be with you, Julie," he said lovingly. "I will be with you when you need me. I will be with you forever."
Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.
The coal-fired steam engine slowly pulled its way up the mountain grade, blowing huge plumes of thick, black smoke to show its progress. Finally, it crested the pass and headed downward into the small town of Bozeman, Montana.
After almost two weeks of traveling, Julie Myers was having trouble suppressing her excitement and anticipation. As the train approached Bozeman from the east, she could see the majestic mountains to the south and northwest. Never had she seen such mountains. They made her eastern mountains seem tiny in comparison. When the track followed a curve around the mountain ridge, she surveyed the small town nestled in the broad valley surrounded by mountains. As the train slowed, approaching the station, she once again thought about why she had accepted a teaching position in such an out of the way place. What could have possessed me to leave Philadelphia for Montana, she thought? Yet, in the back of her mind, she knew she needed to come here. So, when the letter from her Aunt had arrived, followed by those from the selection committee, she decided to accept the position. Why, she did not know. Intuition told her this was where she meant to be--in Montana. The train finally pulled into the simple station, and Julie quickly gathered her belongings and prepared to disembark and start her new life.
She was the only woman who got off the train. Therefore, she wasn't surprised to see three people, two men and a woman, approaching her from the station and looking as if they knew her. The greeting party, she assumed.
"You must be Miss Myers?" asked the older man with the large-bosomed woman standing next to him.
"Yes, I am," replied Julie.
"Welcome to Bozeman, Montana," he continued, "I am Preston McDonald, the mayor of Bozeman. This is my wife, Elizabeth."
"How do you do?" replied Julie extending her hand.
"This gentleman," he said, looking toward the taller and thinner man standing next to him, "is Mr. Rufus Stevens. He owns the general store and hotel. He is also the head of the school committee."
"We are delighted that you accepted our offer to teach, Miss Myers," announced Mr. Stevens as he shook Julie's hand. "Your late aunt spoke most highly of you. I am sorry for her passing and your loss. Please, accept our condolences."
"Thank you," replied Julie.
Then looking at Julie's bag, Mr. Stevens asked, "Do you have any other luggage?"
"Yes, I do," answered Julie, "I have a trunk and a large crate."
"Yes, I love music and play the piano. So, I decided to bring my piano."
"Oh, you play the piano?" asked Mrs. McDonald excitedly.
"Yes, I do."
"Oh wonderful, could you have a recital for us sometime?"
"Well, yes!" replied Julie, slightly startled at the suddenness of the request, "I would be happy to. However, I will need time to get unpacked and start teaching."
"Certainly!" exclaimed Mrs. McDonald. "And, if you wish to teach music, I am sure we can find you some students."
"Come!" interjected Mr. McDonald impatiently. "We best see about Miss Myers' luggage and get moving."
Mrs. McDonald looked at Julie and roller her eyes as they walked toward the luggage sitting on the dock. Mr. Steven went to get the wagon.
The one-room school was located right off Main Street. Next door to the school was the small house that came with the teaching contract, where Julie would be living.
As they entered the school, a small boy of about twelve appeared.
"Oh good, Justin," exclaimed Mrs. McDonald, "This is Miss Myers, your new teacher, you can help with her trunk."
After the boy had left to retrieve the trunk from the wagon, Mrs. McDonald explained, "Justin works here. He lives with his dad several miles south of town. The poor man was just devastated by the loss of his wife a few years ago. She and her baby both died in childbirth. He still hasn't gotten over her death.
"Anyway, Preston had the dickens to get Mr. Fellows to let Justin attend school. A proud man he is. Finally, Preston convinced him to send Justin to school by allowing him to work here sweeping and cleaning the place. The town pays Justin for his work, and Mr. Fellows allows him to attend school. Mr. Stevens provides Justin with a place to sleep and meals at the hotel when he can't make it home."
"Why, that is wonderful," exclaimed Julie, happily. "You and Mr. McDonald are wonderful people."
"Well, thank you Miss..."
"Julie! Please call me Julie."
"Julie," continued Mrs. McDonald, "it was we, the ladies of Bozeman. We couldn't let that poor boy suffer because of his pa's stubbornness. He is such a sensitive child. I had to prod Mr. McDonald... Preston... some, but he came around," she finished with a chuckle and knowing wink at Julie.
It took her over three weeks, but Julie finally got everything ready. She and Justin had washed the walls and scrubbed the floors. Some townsmen had applied a fresh coat of paint and repaired a few loose boards and broken items. The school was ready, and she was ready. She had decided to place the piano in the school.
"I want the children to experience music," she replied when asked why.
Mrs. McDonald and some of the town's women planned to use the open house to introduce Julie to the town and to allow her to meet the students and their parents. This would also be the night of the piano recital. At the persistence of Mrs. McDonald, Julie had agreed to have the recital with the open house.
"The parents will love it, and you will get students," she had argued over Julie's reluctance to combine the two events.
Julie selected four short pieces; two of them were old favorites she felt everyone would know. The last was the recently released song, "America The Beautiful," a copy of which she had brought with her from Philadelphia. She would close with her favorite short Beethoven piece.
Justin had helped set up the tables, bunting, and other decorations. The town's women had baked cookies and cakes, and one of the men brewed a keg of root beer. Mrs. McDonald and Julie greeted each family as they arrived. Soon the welcoming and eating was finished and it was time for her recital.
As she sat on her bench and the audience waited and wondered what this new teacher would play, Julie could feel the tension. She worked on clearing her mind of the people and the day's activities. Pausing, she allowed the music to flow from within her and outward. She reached out with her arms, softly touched and pressed the keys. Within two musical bars, she was in her own world.
The last note had ceased, and evaporated like morning dew to the sun's warmth before she was aware of the clapping and cheering. The town's people loved the music, and Julie felt accepted. As she curtsied and smiled to her new students' parents, inside her heart felt warm and happy. She was glad she had come to Bozeman.
Julie looked out the window and saw the first snow of winter painting everything white. The last few months had flown by. School was going well, and Julie loved the children. She had picked up four children for music lessons, Mrs. McDonald's son, who really did not want to be there, and three girls. Of the four, only one, Maria, had the desire and patience to learn the piano properly. Unfortunately, she only had mediocre talent.
Christmas was approaching, and Julie had decided to have a Christmas concert for her parents. Her four students each had pieces to play. Maria was learning the melody of "Greensleeves," to which William Chatterton Dix had added lyrics, turning it into a Christmas song and calling it "What Child is This?" The girl had been struggling with the song, and Julie was wondering if she had made a mistake in giving it to her.
Julie had finished Maria's lesson and left the girl practicing to go next door to her house for a few minutes. When she walked back about one half hour later, she heard "Greensleeves" from outside the building. Maria was still practicing.
The girl is getting better, thought Julie as she walked into the schoolhouse and stopped short.
"Justin!" exclaimed Julie, in shock. There, sitting on the piano stool, awkwardly playing "Greensleeves" was not Maria, but Justin.
At the sound of his name Justin stopped, spun around on the stool and stammered, "Miss... Miss Myers... I'm, sorry. I didn't mean no harm. I just heard the music in my head and tried to play it."
He stood up to leave.
"NO!" shouted Julie, "I mean no, Justin," in a softer voice. "Don't stop! You are playing well. I want to hear you."
"I'm sorry, Miss Myers," continued Justin, as if he didn't hear her. Then with an uncertain look, he asked, "Huh? You mean you aren't angry with me?"
"No, Justin," said Julie as she hurried to his side, knelt, and hugged him. "I am not angry. I am pleased that you can play so well."
Then looking into his eyes, she asked, "Justin. Would you like to learn how to play the piano?"
"Yes, Miss Meyers, but my pa, he don't have no money for music lessons. He won't let me."
"Don't worry about money, Justin," said Julie smiling. "You have a wonderful gift. It will be a privilege for me to teach you music."
The next afternoon, Julie borrowed a buggy, and she and Justin rode out to his ranch. She had never met Justin's dad. She wanted to meet him and talk about piano lessons for Justin. Arriving, Julie was somehow surprised to find a sturdy log cabin with equally well-built sheds and storage buildings. There was a garden with what looked to be onions, carrots, and other winter vegetables growing. Next to the house she saw several cords of firewood cut and neatly stacked. She realized that Mr. Fellows was a man who took pride in what he did.
Abraham Fellows stepped out the door as the buggy pulled up. Julie could see that Abraham was a short and stout man. He looked to be very strong, having large hands and broad shoulders. Julie, being tall for a woman, thought that she was almost the same height as he.
"What did he do?" asked Mr. Fellows, in an accusatory tone, before she stepped down from the buggy.
"He didn't do anything," replied Julie, smiling and walking toward him. She said, while offering him her hand, "I'm Julie Myers, his teacher."
He looked at her hand and seemed uncertain whether to shake it or not. Barely touching her fingers and then withdrawing his hand, he asked, "Then why are you here?"
"I came to ask your permission to teach Justin the piano," stated Julie. "He has-"
"No?" questioned Julie. "But-"
"I said no! Can't you hear?" exclaimed Mr. Fellows, rather emphatically.
"Yes, I can," replied Julie, taken back and stunned by his retort. Nevertheless she asked, "I don't understand," Mr. Fellows. "Why not?"
"Miss!" answered Abraham Fellows, as if he were talking to a dimwitted child.
"Julie, Julie Myers," interrupted Julie.
"Miss Myers," he continued, "Because, I am his Pa. That's why, and I say no."
"But, Mr. Fellows," exclaimed an exasperated Julie, "Your son has a gift for music. It would be a shame for him to waste his talent."
"I don't care nothing about no music talent," retorted Abraham Fellows. "I said no. And who do you think you are coming here meddling and trying to tell me what I should do? No one, especially a woman, is going to tell me what I should or should not do with my son."
Julie got angry. Her frustrations over his pointless recalcitrant rejection and her fears for Justin's future boiled over. "A woman! So, since I am only a woman, I don't know a thing about musical talent. I guess you think I don't have the brains of one of your cows? Is that what you think? You... you... condescending jerk.
"What do you know about music and how it can touch someone's soul? Your son played "Greensleeves" without a single lesson... just by hearing it played. Do you know what kind of talent that takes? Do you know how rare that is? Do you know how cruel it would be to suppress such talent? Why, it would be like... ," Julie struggled to find an analogy that Mr. Fellows might understand, "... like taking an eagle and chaining him to a post so he could not fly and taste the freedom of the sky. Is that what you want for your son?"
Julie stopped to take a breath and realized that he wasn't looking at her. He was staring straight through her, into the distance behind her. Without a word, he turned and walked into the house, closing the door behind himself. Julie looked at Justin and saw that he was just as confused as she was.
Walking to the door, Julie hesitated. She was torn between just getting into her buggy to return to town and going into the cabin. She feared facing that man again. Suddenly, she thought of Justin playing "Greensleeves" and knew what she had to do. With a silent prayer for strength, she opened the door and stepped into the house.
Mr. Fellows was sitting at the table with his back to her. His face was buried in his hands, and he was crying. Julie could see the huge shoulders shaking as he sobbed. Her heart moved and filled with pity for the man who obviously was in some sort of anguish. What could have happened? She didn't think she had said anything to cause this reaction? Moved by what she saw, Julie reflexively walked up to him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Fellows," she said softly. "Please forgive me. I didn't mean to... it's only because of Justin. I have grown very fond of him, Mr. Fellows. He really is a hard-working and lovable boy. When I saw him playing that piano, I could not believe my eyes and ears. Here was a child who had never sat at the piano before, playing a piece of music he had only heard someone else playing."
Her voice took on a pleading quality, "Do you realize what that means, Mr. Fellows? Your son is a musical genius. He has to be. God has given him a wonderful gift. I just want to help him... that is all. To waste such talent seems a crime to me. But, you are right. I have no right to tell you what to do. I'm sorry."
Julie turned and left. She did not notice that Mr. Fellows had stopped crying.
That night, she had trouble sleeping. She kept thinking of Justin and his father. She kept replaying the scene over and over in her mind, trying to figure out what had happened. His reaction seemed to be out of proportion. Why had he reacted so? Eventually, fatigue got the better of the struggle, and she drifted off to sleep.
Julie dreaded the next day. Justin showed up on time and did not say a word about the day before. After school, he did his chores and went home without talking to her. It was the same the next day and the day after.
By the fourth day, she felt the strain was draining both of them. What was the poor child feeling? she asked herself. Julie briefly considered letting Justin practice on the piano. However, she rejected the idea. She knew that it was not right and would only make matters worse. She was working on cords with one of the girls when, from the corner of her eye, she saw someone standing in schoolhouse door. Looking up, Julie saw Mr. Fellows standing there, hat in hands. Caught off guard, she stared for a moment.
"Oh, Mr. Fellows, please come in." Julie motioned for her student to leave. "Please, have a seat."
Abraham Fellows walked in, but he continued to stand, and he looked down at Julie, who was still sitting. "You said Justin played 'Greensleeves'?"
"Yes, he did."
"Can you play it for me?"
"Yes... why of course," answered Julie puzzled.
She turned around and started playing. When the last note had died, Julie slowly turned around and saw Mr. Fellows staring through her once again. He obviously was in his own world. There were tears in his eyes, tears he did not bother to wipe away.
"Melanie was a musician," he started, speaking as if to himself. "She studied and played the piano for years. She gave it up to come out here with me. She was English, and "Greensleeves" was one of her favorite songs. We didn't have a piano. However, she often sang it to Justin when he was a baby. I always felt guilty for taking her away from her music.
"When she died, the music died with her. A part of me also died. When you came and started talking about piano lessons, it all came back, the pain and sorrow I had forced myself to forget. When you mentioned "Greensleeves"... ," he paused and relived a memory.
"I'm sorry," whispered Julie.
"You and Melanie are a lot alike," he continued, as if he had not heard. "She had your same temper," he said with a slight smile. "Look. Miss Myers, I apologize for my rudeness the other day. I was wrong."
"It's okay. I understand," replied Julie.
"No! It ain't okay. You were right. I was a jerk." This time his smile was full and it filled his face. Julie thought that he was quite handsome when he smiled.
"Look, Miss Myers. Justin can take piano lessons with you. However, I want to pay you. I don't have much money. Would you consider barter, say a dozen eggs each week?"
"Of course, Mr. Fellows, a dozen eggs will be more than adequate."
With that, he turned toward the door. Upon reaching it, he turned and looked at Julie.
"Thank you, Miss Myers. Thank you for... bringing back the music."
He was gone before she could reply.
We are, each of us angels with only one wing; and we can only fly by embracing one another.
--Luciano De Crescenzo
The first couple of weeks, Abraham Fellows sent the eggs with Justin. The third week, he brought them himself. For a while, he alternated with Justin in bringing the eggs. By the third month, he was bringing them to Julie almost every week. At first, he would just bring the eggs and leave. Gradually, he began to sit and talk over coffee. Julie found that he was much more than the sad, stubborn farmer/rancher she has first met.
He was indeed the salt of the earth type. She respected his hardworking values. Yet she found that he could occasionally be funny and open. Julie realized that behind Abraham's rough exterior was a sensitive man who had suffered deeply. She soon began to look forward to his visits and missed them when he had to be away.
A few months later, he and Justin started escorting Julie to church each Sunday. The three of them would sit side by side in the pew with her in the middle. Often Julie would cook for them after church. Then she and Abraham would sit out on the stoop and talk.
Sometimes when the weather was nice, Abraham would invite Julie to go riding with him in the mountains. They were beautiful, and Julie enjoyed the openness and beauty of the mountains. Abraham told her that south of them was Yellowstone, where there was a great hot spring that would gush forth into the air every hour or so.
"One day I will take you to see it," he told her.
Justin's piano lessons were going well. He learned almost effortlessly. Julie seldom had to explain or show him something more than once. Often he would figure things out on his own. At the rate he was going, she knew that within a year he would be playing everything she had. She decided to send off for more difficult works by the great classical composers of piano music.
When the next recital rolled around, each student had his or her own piece to play. However, Justin was the star performer. The next issue of the newspaper ran a feature article on the amazing playing ability of the thirteen-year-old boy. What was not printed was the look of happiness and pride on his father's face, as he listened to his son play for the first time.
One Sunday about three weeks before Christmas, Julie and Abraham were sitting in the parlor talking, when he pulled out a small package from his coat pocket.
"Here, Julie. Open it."
"What is it, Abraham?" she asked.
"Open it, and you will see," he replied chuckling.
Julie opened the package. Inside was a small box which contained a gold wedding band.
"Abe!" exclaimed Julie.
His huge hands were holding hers. He looked into her eyes, and looking back she could see love in his eyes.
"I was thinking, Julie. In a just about a month we will be entering into a new century. I would love it if you would begin the new century as my wife."
Then pausing for a moment, "Will you marry me?"
Julie was taken back by his proposal. She admired and cared deeply for Abraham. However, did she want to marry him? What would people think? What about a replacement teacher? These thoughts and others filled her head. Caught in a moment of trepidation, she vacillated. Uncertain how to answer, she looked at Abraham and saw that he was waiting, apprehensively and anxiously, for her answer. Suddenly, her fears and concerns left her, and she knew her answer.
"Why yes, yes-" Anything else she might have said was lost as he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
On Christmas Day they were married in front of the congregation. Justin was the best man. One week later, on January 1, 1900, they celebrated the New Year as man and wife.
The next three years were ones of struggle and growth. Julie found that being both a wife and a mother to a young teenager was very hard work. Often, by the end of the day, she was exhausted. She sometimes wondered where she would find the energy to continue moving.
Her maternal feelings, which had nudged her to help Justin with his piano lessons, now drove her to provide and care for him and her new husband. The two of them became the focus of her life. Most of her waking moments were consumed with providing for their care and comfort.
Julie and Abraham had to learn to live as a married couple. Although Julie loved Abraham and she knew that he loved her, after so many years alone, living with Abraham and Justin sometimes tried her patience. He thought and moved at a slower pace than she. He was deliberate in his thoughts and actions, sometimes making Julie want to scream at him in frustration. Often he could be stubborn and not listen to her advice. Frustrations led to arguments; pride led to tension. Gradually, however, each began to learn how to trust and depend on the other person. Trust and love helped them in adjusting to each other's personalities and styles.