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My mother just died.
Tate studied the phone in his hand, turning the words of the text over and over in his mind.
Died. There were softer ways to say it. Passed on. Passed away. Or one that he’d heard a few people say around him… Stepped into glory.
His mother had done just that, stepping into glory not thirty minutes earlier as Tate, his father, his sister, and his soon to be brother-in-law had gathered around her bedside, telling her goodbye as the cancer finally took her from them. Stepped into glory, his father would have said, his pastoral heart led to affirm it to his children even through the tears that he shed and the mourning that had just begun in earnest in his heart. Beth Anderson had not lost a battle to cancer – Christ had won eternity and given it to her long before she’d ever gotten sick.
These were the things they said in the room where she’d died. Well, this is what everyone else had said. Tate had stayed silent, letting their words flow around him but not quite touch his hurting heart.
Then, he’d left the room soon after his mother’s passing, pulling his phone out of his pocket as he’d made his way to the privacy of his room, knowing just who he needed to text, who would be there for him. He’d stared at the phone for a good long while, though, unable to do it, unable to make this moment real, unable to embrace the finality in the words he would type, admitting out loud that his mother was really gone –
No. He could do this. And he did, his fingers moving across the screen as he spelled it out.
My mother just died.
Just as he finished sending the text, the door to his room opened. No knock of warning or consideration, just the door flying open and Jude, his sister’s fiancé, stepping in, reaching out his arms immediately, one hand to Tate’s neck the other to his shoulder, pulling him in for a hug.
Jude wasn’t from around here. No, he was from Africa, back where the Anderson family had been missionaries once upon a time, back where it must not have been so odd for men to touch each other in grief like this. And while the greater grief certainly rested on the three Andersons, there was plenty of grief in Jude’s heart as well. Jude, who loved Tate’s sister, Lucy, and who was very nearly family to the rest of them as well now.
“You do not need to be by yourself,” Jude said, whispering it fiercely into Tate’s ear, holding him close. “Not right now.”
“I know,” Tate managed through the tears that were coming again, his phone still in his hand, his arms coming up to squeeze Jude back, appreciative for this comfort so freely given. “I need to be there for Dad, for Lucy –”
“Shame, man,” Jude said, looking at him. “No. They need to be there for you. You all need to be together. There’s to be no grieving alone.”
They weren’t alone in this. Tate nodded, recalling all the hard conversations they’d had leading up to this point, about how they were going to help each other, how this loss would be one that God would use to make them stronger – both individually and as a family – and how they would stay together.
“I know,” he said to Jude, running his arm up under his nose as the other man released him. “I just came back here to call a friend.”
Jude nodded, watching him closely. “Good,” he said simply. “You need to have friends, too, walking with you through this. Some guys from school. They’ll be a help to you.”
Tate nodded back absently, not telling Jude the truth.
He hadn’t texted one of the guys from school. School was… well, it was another long, sad story in Tate’s life, one that was directly related to the story of his mother, the story of the terminal cancer. He’d started the school year in Africa as an eleventh grader, going to the German school in Swakopmund while also taking online college courses, preparing himself to be able to jump back into his senior year once they came back to the States from their year abroad with his parents’ missionary assignment. Oh, how Tate had worked hard in those months, envisioning a grand return back to his normal high school and his life in Louisiana, where he had so many friends, a whole array of extracurricular activities to look forward to, and even a girl who he was certain would be his girlfriend during his last year of high school. Tate had continued with his studies, confident that there was an exciting year ahead for him back home.
And then, his mother had gotten sick.
Cancer. The same cancer she’d beaten before when Tate had been just a little boy, but there had been something different about it this time, about how quickly his mother’s health began to fail, about how worn out she was when the signs were too obvious to ignore, and about the puzzling way she just seemed to accept it, ready to stay in Africa and let it all happen as God willed. Thankfully his father hadn’t been nearly as accepting of it all, promptly getting her to a doctor, then to specialists they referred them to, spending a lot of time on the phone with her oncologist back in the States, and finally making plans to get her home.
They’d come back to the States and gotten all the expert opinions and diagnoses, none of which were positive. And in time, the Anderson family let everyone else in on what was going on.
Terminal. It was terminal. There would be no radiation this time, no chemo. Just a short road to hospice care and then… death.
It was a lot for a teenage boy to handle. And Tate had struggled, as the visions he’d had for that last year of high school, living a normal, fun, epic senior year changed to something very different. The friends who had been easy and natural with him before he’d left, before his mother’s diagnosis, were stilted around him, uncertain and unsure. What did you say to someone whose mother was about to die? Someone who had been in Africa for the last several months? Someone who was depressed and sullen, and angry and confused?
Tate had been declared a senior by the standards of his school, given all the online work he’d done while also attending school overseas, and he’d reasoned, when things were difficult and he felt so out of place in his American school, that it would be no hardship for him to work extra hard and graduate early. He could drop all the extracurricular activities he’d had in mind, focusing on his school work and his online studies, losing himself in the solitude of working at home, available to help his family out while his mother slowly died in the next room. Then, he’d be done with this chapter in his life. He would turn eighteen in the fall, clearly not too young to start college. The sooner he got out of his high school, the better.
The work he was doing, combined with all the time spent by his mother’s bedside, had distanced him even further from his school friends. He honestly wasn’t sure when he’d last texted one of them.
He certainly hadn’t texted them to tell them his mother had died. No, the person he’d texted was someone different.
Jude was still expectantly watching him, no doubt thinking that it was just one of many absent friends who was praying for Tate even now.
Not so much, Tate thought to himself.
When the phone rang in his hands, the face that flitted through his mind wasn’t one of the guys from school.
But Jude was none the wiser, putting his hand to Tate’s shoulder and nodding his head.
“You should speak with your friends,” he said. “Let them be here for you right now, Tate. And let us be here for you, too.”
Tate nodded numbly, watching as Jude left his room, then darting his eyes back to the phone.
They usually just texted one another. Back and forth, all the time, multiple times a day ever since the day that he’d first met her, when she’d given him her number and her Jeep, back in Houston where they’d gone for the final diagnosis on his mother’s health.
She’d been there for him then. She was there for him even now.
He could still remember her leaning over the driver’s side door of her Jeep, just out of earshot of her mother and Jude as they stood out in the driveway. At the time, he’d marveled over how there was such understanding in Edie’s eyes as she’d looked at him as though she really knew him, even though they’d only just met. “I’m really sorry that your mom is sick, Tate.”
That day with Edie had come about when the Andersons had come back to the States to discuss Beth’s treatment options. Edie’s family was connected to friends on the mission field, and they’d stepped up, offering a guest house to the Andersons for their time in Houston. Edie had gone farther than that when she’d met Tate, though, offering her car to him as well.
Her car and her sincere apologies.
“It’s okay,” Tate had said, lying outright because nothing about any of this was okay. “Thanks for letting me borrow your car.”
Edie had shrugged. “No big deal,” she said. “Maybe it’ll give you the ability to get away from everyone else once in a while if you need to.” She’d lowered her voice. “I know I always appreciate the ability to get away from people, you know?”
He hadn’t. No, Tate wasn’t a loner. He needed people. Not in large crowds or huge quantities, but he needed people just the same, a few really good friends around him, all the time. He’d had no idea at the time what he was going to return to with his old school, the loneliness that was up ahead…
“If you have any trouble,” Edie had said, pulling out her phone, “with the car or the house either one, you can text me.” She’d handed the phone to him. “If you want, I mean. You can put your number in there.”
He’d nodded absently at this but had done as she’d suggested, entering in his number then handing the phone back to her.
With just a few quick swipes and some typing from her side, he’d felt his phone buzz in his pocket.
“And now you have my number,” she’d said. “You know, in case you need someone to talk to.”
And that had been that.
Except it hadn’t been. There were moments in Houston when he’d found himself texting Edie, asking her to pray. When Lucy, lost in her own frustration and grief, exploded at him, then at Jude, when Jude left for a while and Lucy was even worse to them all, when there was no news from the tests that his mother had done at the hospital, when there was even worse news than no news, Tate had texted Edie, over and over again. And once, before his parents had shared the diagnosis and the plan with them, right before they’d left to go back to Louisiana where Tate knew – he knew – his mother would die, he’d texted to see if Edie would meet up with him.
And there on the front porch of the Huntingtons’ house, with this girl who had become his friend in that tough time, Tate had cried over the loss he knew was just ahead.
“I’m sorry, Tate,” she’d said, knee to knee with him as they sat in the last of the summer’s heat, as she’d held his hands in hers, as she’d cried with him. “I’m so sorry that this is happening.”
She’d prayed for him, and he’d felt every word of intercession, bolstering him and strengthening him for what was up ahead.
There had been hard days back home. His mother’s health had declined quickly, they’d all struggled with the reality that God was dealing out to them, and Tate had been numb through it all, feeling as though he himself was dead as he walked through a life that didn’t even feel like his.
But there had been Edie, a calm, strong, and faithful witness on the other side of his phone, always listening, ever caring.
On the day that his mother had died, Tate texted her, and as the phone continued to ring in his hand, he knew who it was.
He took a quick breath and answered it.
Just that. There wasn’t a need for anything else.
He could hear Edie crying on the other end of the line. “Oh, Tate… I’m so sorry.”
Not sorry that Beth Anderson had passed on to glory. No, Edie was a believer, a stronger believer than he was honestly, and had been there to pray with him and to remind him in every moment on this long, hard road that what his mother was heading towards was far better than what she was leaving behind. An eternity with Christ certainly trumped an earthly war with cancer.
But she was sorry, she kept saying it again and again, for his loss, for what this year had been like, for what the time ahead would be like.
“It was peaceful,” he said to her, wanting her to know this, knowing that she’d prayed it so for all of them. “She passed really peacefully. Wasn’t in any pain in the end. Had clarity for all but a few hours. And we were all with her.”
They had been. His father had been holding her in his arms, Tate had one of her hands in his, Lucy had the other. And Jude had been holding onto Lucy, singing praise songs with them all as Christ had led Beth into eternity.
Just what Beth would have wanted, just the way she would have chosen to spend her last few moments on this side.
“I’m thankful for that,” Edie said. Tate could hear her blowing her nose.
“You prayed that it would be like that,” he said. “We prayed it together.”
They’d prayed for everything, the two of them, physically separated by distance but not separated by emotion, by this connection that they had.
“And now there’s more to pray,” she said softly. “For you, for the next season.”
He supposed so, in a detached, removed sense as he thought about all that was up ahead. He would finish his last year of high school in a semester, then…
What? What was next?
He couldn’t think. His mother’s death… it was like a fog that was making everything about the future cloudy.
“I wasn’t going to be able to come to the wedding this weekend,” Edie said. “But now… there will be a service for your mother this week, won’t there?”
Lucy and Jude’s wedding was just a handful of days away. Horrible timing. They’d have to bury Beth…
Tate closed his eyes, unable to handle the enormity of the thought, the mere mention of the funeral and burial. Just when he’d been thinking that the worst had happened – that he’d watched his mother die – he realized that there was worse to come. He felt as if a thousand voices were yelling all around him, threatening to overcome any sense of normalcy or rightness in his life. Chaos, upheaval, and sorrow, such debilitating sorrow –
“I’m coming,” Edie said. “I’m going to come, somehow, and be there with you, Tate.”
And there was peace in this.
She would be his peace.
“Okay,” he whispered in response.
So it was just as she’d said it would be. Edie was there by his side at his mother’s funeral, right on the front pew with the rest of the Anderson family and Jude. He’d expected that she would protest this and say something about staying back to sit with her sister, who had made the trip with her, but she’d simply let him take her hand in his and had followed him wherever he needed to go that day, from the first moment she’d shown up at the church until late that night when she said her goodbyes at the Anderson house.
“Why are you leaving?” Tate asked as she sat on his bed with him, still holding his hand, just as she had all day long as she’d listened to him talk and when she’d sat in complete silence with him.
Tate had known her presence, even over a phone line, was a great soothing comfort, but he was amazed to find that her real presence – physical and tangible – was even more reassuring.
They had something different between them, something that defied explanation or logic. Almost like what Jude and Lucy had, able to communicate a wealth of information with just a look or a simple expression between the two of them.
Tate wasn’t ready to lose the comfort of Edie so soon.
“I have to go back to the hotel,” she’d said softly.
“Why?” he asked.
“Tate,” she said, empathy in her voice, even as she gave a little laugh, “I can’t stay here.”
Probably not. But if he’d thought his plight and his situation would convince her to do so, he would have called attention to it all again. Please, Edie, don’t leave me here alone all night. Not because he had anything inappropriate in mind. Just because he needed her…
“I really need you with me,” he said, his voice broken as he released the words to her.
She’d taken a breath and squeezed his hands. “I’m going to be here for the next few days,” she said softly. “I’m just leaving for the night, but I’ll be here in town. Through the wedding. And every day I’m here, I’m going to be here for you, to do whatever you need me to.”
This was a gift. A gift greater than she could probably fathom. In the days that came, while Tate grappled with his grief and the newness of what life would be like now that his mother had passed, Edie spent the hours with him, being his comfort. She was there for the wedding, and afterwards for the reception and its conclusion late in the afternoon, leaving Tate’s side only to drop her sister off at the hotel so that she could pack their bags for the trip home the next morning, then driving her Jeep back to Tate’s house.
His dad was visiting with relatives who were still in town for the funeral, for the wedding, for this truly monumental week in Anderson family history. Tate had begged off, knowing that Edie would be on her way to the house, though it hadn’t taken much talking to convince Joey to let him go.
There wasn’t much talking at all between him and Joey, between any of them. The house would be even quieter without Lucy now, without Jude quietly attempting to help them through their grief.
And what would it be like without Edie?
“You know what I like about you?” Tate said into the silence in his room, the pizza they’d half-heartedly picked at earlier laying in a box on his desk, a constant thumping of a tennis ball hitting the wall across from his bed, where he and Edie were lying against his pillows, each of them alternating catches and throws.
His dad would have freaked out about him having a girl in his room like this. Theoretically. Tate had never had a girl in his room before, but he could imagine. And before all of this, Tate wouldn’t have dared to bring a girl back here anyway, wanting to be above reproach and temptation.
But this, Edie in his space, curled up next to him, was different. She was a girl most definitely, but she was so much more than that. What they had was far greater than any attraction or high school relationship either one. They’d never specified or defined what they were. Tate had never seen the need as they just were who they were. Besides, any label would have been insufficient.
Edie wasn’t just a friend. She wasn’t a girlfriend either.
She was everything.
“What do you like about me?” she asked as she caught the ball then tossed it back, ricocheting it off the wall and into his waiting hand.
“I like that you don’t have to fill every silence,” Tate said. “My aunts and my cousins…”
He released a long breath, thinking about them. Courtney, married to his dad’s brother, had attempted to talk to him about his feelings and his emotions, as though she was talking him through some stages of grief program, which was brutal. That, however, was preferable to his aunt Haley, who couldn’t even manage words, just sobs as she’d held onto him and mourned the loss of her brother’s wife, her childhood best friend.
And his mothers’ sisters were even worse, sobbing so many words to fill the silence –
“They’re talkers,” Edie said simply, hearing what he didn’t even say.
He twisted the ball in his hand, looking over at her. “I would say it’s a woman thing, but you…”
“I’m not a talker,” Edie answered, her eyes meeting his. “Or not like that, at least.”
Tate directed his gaze back to the wall and threw the ball again. “Silence is okay,” he said.
And it was. He could feel Edie relax even further, not at all bothered by the silence.
But that was the funny thing. Even though silence was completely natural and comfortable with her, he found himself wanting to talk, wanting to fill these last few moments with her with words. He didn’t have enough time with her. He knew that. Maybe he was being fatalistic, thinking about mortality more than he had given the circumstances, or maybe it was just the realization of how lonely life would be now, now that he’d experienced Edie in person, in real life, now that she would be going back to Houston in the morning…
“I’m going to miss you,” he said.
She caught the ball then threw it again.
“You can always call me,” she said softly. “And we can just sit there on the phone, being quiet together.”
The very thought made him smile as he caught the ball and held onto it.
“I’ll just picture you smiling, just like that,” she said, smiling back at him. Not a smile that said everything was okay or even better, but a smile that said he’d get through this.
There was faith in that smile, and Tate loved her for it. Faith in him, faith in God to work in his life, faith that there would be better days.
He began to believe it himself the longer he watched her. And he began to love her a little more.
Maybe it was the emotion of everything. Maybe all that he’d been through was making it impossible for him to sort out all that he was feeling. Maybe this overwhelming attraction he felt for her wasn’t entirely about her but about his circumstances.
He didn’t try to reason it all out in the moment. No, with Edie lying there beside him and looking up at him, her smile fading to something different the longer he stared, he thought only of how thankful he was that she was here, that they were together right now.
So he leaned down and put his lips to hers, softly and tenderly. Gently and sweetly he kissed her, even as she responded in kind, her hands making their way up into his hair, holding him there for a precious, beautiful, long moment.
He backed away a few moments later, wondering only briefly what he should say, what words needed to follow a moment like that.
But Edie just took the ball from his hand and threw it again, expecting that he would catch it effortlessly, which he did.
She was okay with silence, and Tate, settling into the peace this brought, fell in love with her even more.
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