Dream big, that's what my brother had always told me. Never let anyone tell you that you can't make it. My older brother, Wes, was ten years older than me and my hero in life. The first time he told me to dream as big as the sky I had been five years old. He had been in his first year of high school that year. Wes has also known that big things were right around the corner.
Back then, he had the biggest faith. You see, I'm always putting God in a box. (Yeah, I know it's bad, but I'm learning not to.) Wes always believed that God would do anything, anywhere, at anytime. As a five year old, seeing that made me want what he had. So one Tuesday night, Wes led me to the Lord on the living room floor. That was the same night he told me to dream big.
So that's what I'd been doing my whole life. Now here I am, graduating high school, walking down from that platform, I look out into the crowd for my big brother. I see him with tears in his eyes. After all of the names had been called, and everyone had walked the last walk of high school, I ran to my family. Wes wrapped me in a big bear hug.
All of my friends soon made their way to us. He gave them all high-five and congratulated them. He looked through the crowd for a minute, worry written in his eyes. Then he looked back at me. I knew who he was looking for. His best friend, Joe, hadn't showed up. Not even for his little brother, Aiden, who was quite possibly my best friend and I had a huge thing for him.
I glanced at Wes as he searched to crowd for Aiden again. My friends were all still surrounding my brother. I took that moment to slip out of sight. I knew right where Aiden would be. It didn't take a genius to figure it out. He was waiting for his brother in the basketball court right outside of the middle school. It had been the first place that Joe had forgotten him.
My heart broke for him. Joe had promised that he would be there. Then again, Aiden's whole life had been a series of disappointments. Thanks to Joe.
I walked up behind Aiden and wrapped my arms around him. His shoulders dropped a little and I knew that he was fighting back the tears that he'd been trying to hide all day. "I'm so sorry, Monster," I said, using his nickname. When we were younger, he always terrorized me and my friends. That was okay though. He had been the cutest little boy on the block.
"Lace, why didn't he come?"
"I don't know." It was an honest answer. I didn't know what to say. Joe was always off doing something important. He'd been letting Aiden down for as long as I could remember. That's what I didn't get about Wes and Joe's friendship. Wes was dependable and faithful. Joe was irresponsible and erratic.
Aiden moved away from me and picked up the basketball off of the ground. He shot once and made it. "He promised, ya know, and I believed him. I should have known better. He'll never be like Wes."
He must have read my thoughts. As though it were second nature, I smiled and said, "Dream big. Isn't that what Wes is always saying? Nothing is too impossible for God."
With that, Aiden turned toward me. "Yeah, who'd have thought that we'd make it this far, huh?"
His eyes were still full of sorrow. We walked toward each other and he hugged me. If there was one place that felt like time slowed, it was with Aiden. I smiled into his shoulder.
"Sorry for the waterworks."
I let go of him. It wasn't the first time I'd ever seen him cry and it wouldn't be the last. "It doesn't make you any less of a guy. Not in my eyes."
"Thanks, Lacee girl."
"What do ya say we go find my family? Wes was quite worried about you."
A small smile appeared on his face. "I've always kind of wished that Wes was my brother. At least then, Joe couldn't let me down."
"Yeah, but then you'd be my brother and that would just be weird."
His lips curved even further into a smile and his green eyes lit up. I really did love that look in his eyes. "I guess you do have a point there, Munchkin."
Monster and Munchkin, the unstoppable duo.
Aiden grabbed my hand and started to walk back toward the high school. I looked back at the basketball court and smiled. "One minute," I said as I ran back and grabbed the basketball. With a quick movement, I shot from the three point line. Swoosh! "And this girl could still beat you at a game of one-on-one."
He game me an immature grin and grabbed my hand again. "Any other time, I'd be the first one out on the court with you, Lacee girl, but not today." So we walked back together, hand in hand. Before we reached the doors, he stopped and looked at me. I couldn't identify the look in his eyes. I'd never seen it before. Shock mixed with something else. Uncertainty, maybe. I wasn't sure.
"What're you thinking about?"
I searched his eyes, trying to find answers. In that moment, Wes and the rest of my family decided to come through the doors. A slight sense of disappointment shot through me. I could almost always tell what he was thinking. Wes and Aiden walked away then. The only thing I could do was stand there in a daze.
When we left the school, my mind was still in a fog. I didn't know what was going through Aiden's mind. That bothered me. The rest of the day went by in a haze. Sometime after dinner Wes and Aiden disappeared somewhere. I seriously wanted to find out what was going on.
"So I was thinking that we should definitely…" I wasn't hearing a word of what Aiden was saying to me. It had been two days since graduation and Aiden was acting like himself again. While that thrilled me, I wasn't sure what was going on. I really wanted to know what was going on with him.
"I think I lost you somewhere, babe," he said.
I tried to snap out of it. "Sorry, everything is just starting to sink in a little more." I said, trying to assure him.
When I got the infamous eye roll, I knew that he wasn't buying it. He knew me just a little too well. "You've been weird since the other day. Seriously, Lace, what's going on?"
"It's nothing, Aiden, really."
I was trying so hard to get him to believe me. "You're lying. Why are you lying to me?"
Just as I was about to jump into what was bugging me, Aiden's phone rang. He answered it and I tried to tune it out.
"Slow down, Joe."
Joe was on the phone? He never called Aiden unless he needed something. First he doesn't show up to graduation and he disappears for two days. Now he's calling. I scoffed and walked out of the room. That was so like Joe. It kind of made me mad.
How could he be so inconsiderate of Aiden and his feelings? I stomped to the kitchen and tried to get a grip. I really didn't like how Joe treated his little brother. It was like Aiden was disposable to him or something. I took a moment to thank God that my brother wasn't like that. Wes wouldn't ever treat me like that.
I hear footsteps behind me and I spun around to face Aiden. "What'd he wa…" I couldn't finish that sentence. His eyes were red and he was crying. Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong.
"Lacee…" his voice completely broke me. I knew right then.
The tears fell before I could speak. "Where's Wes?" When he didn't answer, I grabbed his shirt and pushed him. "Where is he, Aiden?"
"I'm so sorry, Lace. He went to pick Joe up and before he got there, Wes was in an accident. He's at the hospital now. It doesn't look good."
Tears burned my eyes as they fell. I shoved passed Aiden, grabbed my keys, and ran to my car. Aiden was too quick for me. He got in front of me and took my keys from me. "You aren't driving anywhere. Hop in shotgun."
I had no choice. I got in the passenger side and slammed the door. Not Wes. Not my big brother who was the world to me.
The words came to me like he'd just said them.
Three hours later, we were still sitting in the waiting room. My family had gotten there before me and Aiden. My mom and dad were talking quietly to the aunts and uncles who had showed up a few minutes ago. Joe was sitting quietly by himself in the corner, trying to stay out of everyone's way.
All of this was his fault, the same way every major letdown in Aiden's life had been Joe's fault. I wanted to go after him and hit him. Aiden held me back. He was sitting beside me, holding my hand. I hadn't spoken a word since we'd left the house. I was grateful for Aiden's support right now. If it hadn't been for him, I would have probably punched Joe in the face. He deserved it.
Wes was in surgery. Last we were told it still didn't look good for him. I couldn't believe that this was happening. I looked at Aiden slowly. He squeezed my hand and I pulled away from him. At that moment, the only thing I wanted to do was run away. I wanted to find that none of this was true. I got up and walked out of the waiting room, needing some fresh air.
This morning everything had been fine. I'd woken up and found Wes in the kitchen just like everyday. We'd joked around and laughed just like everyday. Then he'd left and promised to be back in time for a movie marathon and a giant bowl of popcorn. That was why Aiden had come over.
Now it wasn't just like any other day.
Because any ordinary day wouldn't have found me here. In the hospital.
As I stepped through the sliding doors of the emergency room, I felt the rain hit my skin. It was cool and sent a shiver down my spine. Dream big, I heard in my head again. How big could I possibly dream?
My life felt like a perfect tragedy at the moment and I didn't like it at all. I rarely say I hate anything, but I hated this part. I knew what was coming next. I knew it with my entire being. Oddly, I felt peace, even if only a slight bit. It was like at that precise moment, God was telling me that it was going to be okay. I didn't understand it. And I didn't know if I wanted to.
Wes had lived his life so loudly for God. I'd always wanted that. It scared me that I was already thinking my brother wasn't going to make it. It scared me knowing that if he didn't come through this, my only brother would be no more than memories.
"It's going to be okay. If it's not okay, it's can't be the end, Munchkin." Aiden's voice was close to my ear. I turned to face him and fell into his open arms. "Come back inside, we don't need you getting pneumonia or something."
I followed him back inside, but we didn't go to the waiting room. He led me to the hospital cafeteria. He bought us each a cup of hot chocolate while I picked a table. He came back with two very hot cups of cocoa and sat across from me.
For a moment, his green eyes clouded. "I'm sorry, Lacee, if Joe hadn't called him," his voice broke. I reached over and grabbed his hand.
While I had been thinking the same thing earlier, I didn't want to show it. Wes was larger than life to both of us. "He always seems so invincible."
Aiden's eyes shot up and caught mine. "I think it was because of his faith. It never wavered. Ugh, he always told me that dreaming big started with dreaming with Jesus."
I'd heard Wes say that before. Many times. It was his trademark profound thought. I was doing it again. He wasn't gone yet and I am already thinking there is no hope.
So much for my unwavering faith.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Joe walk in. Being who I am, I shot him a look that could've killed. If looks could kill, that is. "Just breathe, Lace," Aiden coached me.
"Hey guys," he said sorrowfully. Well, I guess I would sound like I regretted something if I'd just single-handedly caused my best friend to be in a horrible car accident too. "Lacee, I know you blame me. And I deserve that. It is my fault. Trust me though, I never," his voice broke, but he continued. "I never wanted this to happen."
Aiden was silently telling me to hold my emotions back. But I just couldn't. I let go. "Then maybe you should keep your promises every once in a while. Then you wouldn't have had to call my brother and we wouldn't be here. He never gave up hope that you could change. Always another chance. You wanna know something, Joe? You're beyond hope." I threw at him angrily. "You've used up every chance that you could. And look where it got all of us."
I looked at Aiden. I don't think I'll ever forget the look in his eyes. He was ashamed of me. I could see it. Joe stood there taking the verbal beating. In one quick instant, I regretted my words. Wes wouldn't want me to do this. And more importantly, God was probably shaking his head at me. I felt like a fool.
Aiden must have noticed my sudden shift in demeanor. He smiled at me. "Sorry, Joe, I didn't mean those things. It's just this is Wes and I can't imagine not having him here."
"Don't apologize, you're right. I deserved everything you said and more. I took every chance that anyone has ever given me and in doing so I wasted the chances I should have taken."
"I'm going to go back to my parents and see what they've found out." As I got up to walk away, my dad walked in. I could tell by the look in his eyes. Wes was dead.
I questioned him with my eyes, begging to hear what I already knew. "The doctors just came out. He didn't…" his voice faltered. I turned toward Aiden and mouthed the word 'no'. He was out of his seat, catching me before I hit the ground. The moment was surreal for me. It felt like the ground was falling out from under me.
Wake up! Wake up! I was yelling silently to myself. This all had to be a dream. A nightmare. Even as I thought it, I knew it wasn't true. My eyes found Joe, who had fallen into a chair. He had his head in his hands and was crying. I watched helplessly as Joe broke down.
None of us had ever seen Joe shed a tear. He was always the tough guy. None of this seemed to make any sense to me. Aiden held me as I cried into his shoulder. Was it possible that we could be here in this moment?
"Daddy?" I said without looking at him. "D-did they s-say wh-what caused…" I spoke in fragmented sentences and broken speech.
"He had brain damage and was losing too much blood. They said it looked like he was going to pull through, but then he turned for the worse."
I clung to Aiden even tighter. I didn't even care that we were sitting on the floor of the hospital cafeteria. Things were spinning out of control fast.
"Dream big," Aiden whispered to me. "Nothing is too much for God." I closed my eyes as Aiden continued. "Don't let go of God, Lace. Dream with Jesus."
He spoke the words that Wes was always saying to me. I needed those words at the moment. I needed Aiden. More importantly, most importantly, I needed Jesus. I needed to hold onto Him, even when I really wanted to let go right now.
In what seemed a series of bad events, I was soon standing in front of my brother's casket. It felt so morbid. Aiden was standing right beside me, saying something that didn't even begin to make sense to me. I don't know if I'd heard anything in the past six days. I closed my eyes as I walked away, letting a few more tears fall. Just when I thought that I was fresh out of tears, my eyes let some more go. It felt never ending. Every part of me was clinging to hope. Though it seemed that there couldn't be any hope, I fought my way back to the surface and found some.
For the last five nights, I'd cried myself to sleep. Feeling like I was falling and there was no way back to any form of normalcy had gripped me almost constantly that first night. It was like I'd forgotten how to breathe. Forcing myself to do things that had been so easy became what I had to do. I was trying so hard to lean on Jesus, just like Wes always told me to.
I looked back at Wes' casket and remembered his favorite Bible verse. 'Casting all your cares upon him, for he careth for you.' The words of 1 Peter 5:7 rang in my ears. I took a seat at the back of the room and looked at Aiden. His eyes were full of sorrow and understanding. I tried to smile, to be brave, but it didn't work.
He took my hand a squeezed it lightly. "Sorrow lasts for a while, but joy comes with the morning, Munchkin."
"I'll be right back," I said needing some time alone. He nodded and let me go. I walked out the back door, escaping for a moment into my own world. Once the cool breeze hit my face, I felt the emotions begin to fall. The blockade that I'd so carefully placed in from of my heart that morning as I prepared for this horrible day faded away the instant that I was alone.
It wasn't that I couldn't show this in front of anyone, everyone knew how close I was to my brother. I just didn't want to lose it. My parents needed me to be brave. I had to keep it together for them. If I could have traded places with Wes right now, I would have.
"Everything is falling apart so fast, Lord. I don't know if I can take this anymore. I miss him so much. It's like a place in my life has become empty." I wiped at my tears, willing them to go away. "I just want one more minute. One more of his stupid jokes. One more of the little nuggets of wisdom that Wes was always telling me."
Suddenly, I felt like I was back at the hospital, hearing my dad tell me that my brother was dead. My legs fell from under me, except this time Aiden wasn't there to catch me. I hit the ground and cried even harder. In my life there had always been two people I could lean on after Jesus, Wes and Aiden. Now Wes wasn't here.
I don't know how much longer I was on my knees, praying and crying and just trying to find a place of mercy and grace. "I just want one more moment," I whispered to the wind. A slight sense of comfort drifted over me.
"God had a special place for him, I think." I turned my head slightly to find Joe walking up. "Wes always told me that he couldn't wait to sit at his Savior's feet. So I think that he must've gotten a special crown. If there was one thing he always looked forward to, it was Jesus, face-to-face, and Heaven."
The reality of the moment hit me quite hard. Joe was right, of course. I could almost picture Wes sitting at the feet of Jesus, not wanting to move.
"It's still my fault, Lacee. I'd change that if I could. If it were up to me, it would have been me that night, not him."
For the first time, I really meant was I was about to say. "I'm not sorry it wasn't you. You have a lot of lost time to make up for. Aiden needs his brother now. I've had a brother my entire life. He hasn't." The words were harder to say than what I thought, mostly because I was bringing Aiden into this. "You've been in and out of his life like he is just another stop on your tour of life, every once in a while, you stop by to grace him with your presence. If you learned anything from Wes, learn that being a brother takes work, patience, and a whole lot love. Wes knew that."
Joe stared consciously at the horizon, as though he were really thinking about what I just said. "It's not that easy, Lacee."
"It never is. Wes knew that too. We had our share of disagreements, most of the time because of you. I thought he should just drop you as a friend and let it go. He always knew there was something hiding within you that you didn't let out."
Joe shrugged and continued to stare at nothing. I half wondered if maybe he was trying to picture my brother in Heaven. Only God and I knew how much time I'd spent imagining my brother where he always longed to be. With his Savior.
Moments of silence lapsed into an unspoken language. I'd always figured Joe to be somewhat of an arrogant jerk. Seeing him with no barricades made me realize that he was human, not only the creep I'd assumed him to be. He and Aiden looked so much more alike than I'd ever really realized. For a moment, I thought that I was looking at Aiden.
A noise at the door snapped me out of my thoughts. As though my thoughts had brought him to me, Aiden stepped through the door. Anger flashed through his beautiful emerald eyes. He sat beside me on the ground. I knew what he was thinking. His questioning eyes bore through me. What did Joe do?
I looked Aiden in the eyes. "He didn't do anything, Aiden," I whispered. He didn't believe me, I could see it. "He did make me realize something, however. Wes spent everyday wanting to see Jesus, looking forward to the day when he'd walk the streets of gold. Now he's there. How can I be so selfish and want him back here when everything he ever wanted is in Heaven?"