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Now and Forever

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27-year-old Emory sneezed, turned the radio up, and rolled the windows of her old truck down. Her short, black and bleach blond hair waved in the wind and her face was clear of makeup, with only a nose piercing as adornment. Lady Gaga announced that she was born this way to everyone stopped at the light. She surveyed the intersection. It had been about seven years since Emory drove through here; it had been before she quit college and started doing her own thing. A strip mall had replaced the huge old house on the corner; otherwise, the neighborhood stayed the same. Her eyes began to tear up. She grabbed a tissue from the glove compartment and wiped them.

“Stupid allergies,” Emory said quietly to her self. The medicine the doctor gave her wasn’t working. The light turned green. The old truck accelerated and passed under the light. Apartments and shopping centers flew by as she drove through the community. The next intersection came slowly, though it was only a short distance from the last one. Once again she had to stop.

Now Emory saw the sign, a stone sign put up when she was in high school. It was a message to potential developers that they were not interested in selling. Now it merely stood for a place that lived on, even after eighty-five years of wear and tare. All the trees on the wooded land were green, full of the life of spring.

She accelerated as she pulled into the gravel driveway. They still hadn’t paved it. The log cabin, the mobile home, the “speed limit 15” sign: it was all the same. Memories of driving down this path four or five times a week danced through her head. Time had passed so quickly. So many nights and days blurred together. It was hard to believe it had been nine years.

The crossroad came up; she looked both ways and remembered walking up this path during a harsh thunderstorm to get to the relative safety of the gym on the right. She slowed almost to a stop and just listened. All was quiet except for the distant sound of kids’ delighted screams, one of her favorite sounds. She decided to park at the gym. She turned right and pulled into a parking space. No one was in sight, so she stayed in the car and looked around. Everything looked pretty much the same. Both gyms stood tall, one on one side of the parking lot the other on the other side. The fields on the opposite sides of both gyms looked well used, as normal.

Some people came out from the gym. She waited for them to leave. A new group of kids and their moms arrived. She might as well to go in the new gym. Very few people here would still recognize her anymore. Her bright orange converse hit the dusty dirt parking lot with a poof. The car door almost had to shut itself. Emory was nervous, but she had no reason to be. She walked up the steps to the glass doors of the gym. Emory had walked in on a basketball practice that was getting ready to start. She moved to the bleachers and took a seat, watching the teens that were running the practices, remembering what it was like to try to get ten nine-year-old boys to cooperate. Those days had been good ones for Emory. If only she could have them back.

The seats all around her were empty until a mom comes hustling in the door pushing her son in front of her. They were about three minutes late. Both of them were huffing as if they ran from the car. The mom shooed him to his practice, walked up the stairs, and plopped down on the seat next to Emory.

“So which one is yours?” the lady asked in a friendly voice.

“Ummm…. none of them. I used to, um, work here, and I was just visiting, reliving memories.” A screaming memory flew through her head, but she quickly pushed it away as her voice grew more confident. She could do this.

“Oh! So did I! What summers did you work?” Emory froze. The last thing she wanted was to be identified
“Aww it was only a few weeks for a summer or two when I was in high school. Not enough for anyone to remember me,” she said quickly. Not that anyone would want to recognize me. The thought was followed by a picture of her high school self: a cute, sassy teen with all the confidence in the world, wearing basketball shorts and a tee shirt.
“Well that’s a shame. I love meeting people that I worked with when I was here. Now what did you say you name was?” but she was interrupted by her phone. “Oops! I got to answer this. One moment.” The woman stepped off the bleachers and hurried outside. Emory stood and walked out a different door. She remembered her and did not want to be recognized in return.
She walked back out to her car and almost convinced herself to get in, but the pull of the main camp area was too much. She went around the older gym and jumped down an incline to a ditch that lead back to main camp.
The field was just like any other well-used field. Grass covered most of it, with bald patches sticking out in some places. The sand volleyball pit had been raked smooth. The putt-putt course had been cleared of pine straw. She walked farther and could see the main office in the distance. She would keep her distance from there.
Buildings approached on either side of the dirt road, each with its own special memories. The service staff cabins: Jacob and the guys, afternoons with Anna, Katie’s shirts that all got bleached. The shop: something was broken, and oops wrong building. The infirmary held enough memories that she walks up to it. There was the time that her foot got cut and the camper who complained all the time and was always “sick” and hanging out with Emily, the nurses aid. Next came the dining hall. Innumerable pictures flashed though her mind covering almost ten years worth of camp. The nostalgia was unbearable. So many things in her life changed after those years.
It became too much. Tears began to fall.
She stood, hoping to hold back the tears that brim on the edges of her eyes. She didn’t even notice footsteps coming up behind her. A kind hand brushed her arm.
“Emory?” a voice inquired.
She jumped and began to step back, her eyes filling with horror as the tears overflowed. He was still here. Of all the people to find her standing in front of the dining hall crying, this was the last person she wanted to confront. The middle age man standing before her had been like a father to her for most of her life.
“Emory.” He paused looking for the right words. She couldn’t find the heart to run. “It’s really good to see y-”
“What do you want?” she interrupted harshly. He appeared wounded.
“ I, umm, Emory, we missed you. Chelsea and I have prayed everyday. It’s been nine years. I had almost given up hope that you would ever come back.”
“What makes you think I’m back? I’m doing a design project on childhood memories for one of the advanced classes I’m taking at the university. Why would I want to come back here?” They could both hear the lie in her voice. The man sighed.
“I made some coffee in the old office. Why don’t you come and have some?” She was tired, hot, and thirsty by now, and ready to sit down. She didn’t have to tell him anything.
“Fine,” and she turned and walked to the office with him following behind.
The office looked the same. Just like the other buildings. Just like everything else around there. The man caught up and reached the door before she did. He opened the door softly.
“Hey Daniel!” a woman asked, “Where did you put the extra copy paper?” she was bent over an unorganized stack of stuff, but Emory recognized her anyway.
“Chelsea, we have a old friend who’s stopped by.” His voice held meaning that Chelsea totally missed.
“Oh really! Who is it?” Chelsea looked up, saw Emory, and froze. Tears began to pile into her eyes. “Emory,” she whispered. The tears were falling. Emory could barely keep to her tough chick appearance. Chelsea never cried.
Emory had to say something. “Oh Chelsea, stop. Its not like I was dead.” Emory’s words became choked and her tears returned. Unable to keep herself any longer, Emory took a step towards the woman who had always been one of her closest friends. Chelsea responded by running the short distance across the room and giving her a tight hug. Both women were crying. Daniel placed his hand on Emory’s shoulder.
“Like I said, you were missed.” Emory laughed. She gave Daniel a hug too.
“Ugh! I don’t know why I’m so hard headed. I should have come back to see you guys way before this.” They sat on a couch in the corner of the room.
“So are you still studying design at the university?” Chelsea asked.
“Yeah, only part time though. I’m working at the Barnes and Noble in Davington full time now.” Emory said. Daniel was looking down at the floor. But Chelsea was full of questions.
“Oh that’s so good! I’m glad you were able to find a job nearby. You get to see your family all the time. By the way how are they doing? Your mom? Angie? Philip? He‘s in college now right? We haven’t heard much since…” Emory’s face hardened and she looked away from Chelsea. Chelsea began panicking. “Emory, I’m so sorry I won’t mention any of that if you don’t want me to! Please forgive me. I-“
Daniel interrupted, “We are just concerned about you and your family. All of you were here all the time for almost six years, until the accident.”
“It’s okay guys,” Emory managed a sad smile, “it’s not you I’m mad at.” She got up and walked to the window.

“So how was college?” Daniel asked this time.

Emory’s head filled with her college memories. There were very few that she would be willing to share. Most of her college experience was all about parties and boyfriends. How could she sum that up, so they could get the point without outright saying it?

“Well, I joined a sorority my sophomore year. Met a lot of new people and had a lot of fun. I had a job at the school store.” Emory looked out the window, knowing the look Chelsea and Daniel were exchanging behind her.

“That’s awesome!” Chelsea exclaimed, sounding so genuinely glad for Emory that she turned and sat back down. Right as they began to talk about working at the local elementary school a cry was heard from the other room. Emory looked at her friends.

“What’s that?” she asked. Daniel smiled at Chelsea.

“I’ll be right back,” he said. Daniel got up, winked at Chelsea, and walked through the door out of the room. Chelsea cleared her throat and held up her hand. A diamond sparkled brilliantly from her ring finger.

“No way!!” Emory squealed. “He finally decided to be a man and ask you!! When was the ceremony and how did I miss that?”

“Oh it was almost six years ago now. We tried to find you, but not even your mom knew where you were. I think it was about six months after you left college.” Emory’s heart sank. She would have readily given up that job in Las Vegas for a chance to be at Daniel and Chelsea’s wedding.

“I had a job in Vegas. Paid really well. I didn’t care about much of anything, other than myself. I’m sorry I missed it.” They were both quiet for a minute.

“Hey Emory.”

“Yeah.”

“Why did you leave?” Silence.

Emory sighed. “Oh, I should have known that if I came someone would ask.”

“If you don’t want to say that’s fine. I know those few months were a hard time for you.”

“No, of all people, y’all deserve to know.” Emory paused for a moment preparing to tell her story.

“Well for starters, everything piled up slowly. School got hard and I started dating Branton, after about three months of that I had convinced myself I was in love. One night we were hanging out at his house, and, well, we lost control.” Emory choked up. Chelsea tenderly put her arms around Emory as she began to cry. Daniel was standing right outside the door. He had his hand covering his eyes.

“I-I-I-,” Emory sniffed. “I killed him. My baby boy. I killed him.” Emory poured her heart out in tears. For almost ten minutes Chelsea had her arms around the sobbing woman, holding her, bringing her the comfort she needed, and silently praying that God would guide her words.

Daniel entered the room and sat on a chair nearby. The young couple said nothing. Then Emory jerked away from Chelsea and sat on the edge of the couch straight as a board.

“I never told anyone. Not even Branton.” Her voice had gone cold, as if all her reasons for living had been swept away. “After that was when Aaron died in the car wreck. That was hard. He was a great brother and my best friend. Then when mom started acting weird, that’s when I gave up. I gave up on family. I gave up on people. I gave up on God. I gave up on life.” Emory sat, solid as stone, telling her story without an emotion or tear. Chelsea had a look of deep concern on her face, and Daniel seemed as if he wanted to interrupt.
“I could have dealt with one or two of those things at once, but God pushed it too far. So I decided that I wanted to get as far away from Him as possible. So I did.” Her tale ended there. She gave no details, no other reasons.

“What do you think now?” Daniel asked. Emory looked at him. Her eyes glistened with tears once again.

“I don’t know, but whatever it is I don’t have it now.”

“I think you need to go back to where you were.” Emory stared out the window.
“Where is that?”

“I can show you,” Chelsea stood and held out her hand, “Come on.” She took Emory by the hand and led her out the door. Outside there was a hill. At the bottom of the hill were rows of benches. The benches were in a semicircle with a lake and fire pit on one side. Behind the pit stood a cross.

Emory let Chelsea lead her down the hill, past the cabins and picnic tables. Heading straight for the cross. At the back row of the benches they stopped.

Chelsea turned to Emory and looked her in the eyes.

“Do you want me to go with you?” Chelsea said.

“No,” Emory replied. “I have to make this right myself.” She smiled grimly, lowly walked down the aisle, and sat on the front bench.

The camp seemed to brighten in Chelsea’s eyes as she walked up the hill, not turning around, not looking back. She stopped and looked up the hill at the rest of camp. Life was good.

About an hour later Emory came up the hill. Her eyes were wet with tears, but joy shone in them. She didn’t go back to the office, but she knew she would be back. Right now she had to go see her mom. Then she would visit her brother’s grave. Everything she messed up in the past few years had to be fixed. But the most important thing had been fixed. God’s everlasting grace had covered her, for now and forever.





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