Part 2. Redemption
Selena returned to the apartment still furious from her encounter with Justin. She was confused and hurt. She could not believe that he could be so heartless where Willa was concerned. Even worse, he didn't even flinch when she, not once but twice, invoked Helen's name. She was really wondering if she knew the man at all.
But once in the apartment she took a deep breath. Emmeline came out of the bedroom, her face filled with a very deep concern.
"How is she?" she asked.
"She's curled up tight in a little ball, hugging her dolly close," her cousin replied. "I've tried to penetrate her thoughts, but she's locked up tight. Auntie Meg taught her well. I do think I know what may be wrong. I think that she's feels guilty."
"But she saved Willa," said Selena.
"And not the others," answered Emmeline. "Not that she could have. She's a powerful child of light. But she doesn't understand the extent or limits of her foresight. I really do think that she may be too young to be out here. Now that Kenneth is out of the picture, I think that she would go home with you willingly."
"I can't go home," she replied flatly. "And she'll refuse."
"Because of Justin?" she asked pointedly.
"Because of Willa," she said. "Trelawney Rose saved her life. For one such as her, it will mean that she feels responsible for her."
"In my desire to get her out of here," said Emmeline thoughtfully. "I had forgotten that. But what will she do when Willa leaves?"
"Why do you think that Willa will leave?" asked Selena with an edge in her voice.
"The girl has no reason to stay," answered Emmeline bluntly. "When she sees how her father feels, it will be the final straw to break the camel's back. You must accept the fact that he will not change his heart. Is this the man that you want to marry?"
"This is, perhaps, the man that I am fated to marry," she said, sitting down. "I cannot tell you how I know it, I simply know it. I believe that we are destined to have children together."
"Then I feel sorry for you," said Emmeline with her usual forthrightness. "He will be a most challenging husband. And you are not Helen."
Selena looked back at her but did not answer. She was hungry and went over to the small pantry to see what food she had. She didn't tend to keep much on hand because they were eating most over their meals these days with the family.
"I've already checked things out," said Emmeline. "There's some leftover chicken and vegetables and bread. I can make us some soup."
Gratefully Selena nodded and went into the bedroom. As Emmeline had said, Trelawney Rose was curled up in a little ball on the bed. She sat down beside her.
"Where is my little lamb?" she asked softly as she stoked the soft blonde hair.
But there was no answer. Once again, her little lamb was lost inside herself. Worn out, she lay down beside her and put her arm over her. Trelawney Rose snuggled into her arms. She didn't say a word, but she didn't need to. As always, her little lamb had come home to her.
Emmeline went into the bedroom to get Selena after she finished making the soup. But she found the two sisters fast asleep. She didn't have the heart to wake them up. The soup would keep and she didn't have much of an appetite. She knew that her words to Selena had been harsh, but she had needed to make her point. Selena was still in denial about the true nature of the man she loved.
If indeed, she was fated to be his wife and destined to bear his children, she was going to have to look at him clearly and see the truth for what it was. Justin was as flawed a human as any she had known. But Selena was still in the throes of her infatuation with this older man who represented stability, comfort, and safety. She needed to get past that or she could end up very miserable.
She could sense her disappointment the minute that she entered the apartment. Her expectations were very unrealistic. And it was not as if Justin had ever tried to deceive her. In fact he was brutally honest about his true feelings for Willa. It was Selena who refused to see what was clear to everyone else, even the little one.
Several hours later, when they awoke, Selena felt much refreshed. Trelawney Rose looked over her shoulder at her.
"I do believe that I am hungry," she said.
"I do believe that Em has made us some soup," she replied. "Perhaps if we ask her nicely, then she will warm some for us."
"She has already warmed some for you," said Emmeline entering the small room. "I knew that you would be up soon."
Selena and Trelawney Rose gratefully followed her out. The soup was filling and further strengthened them. Selena was glad because she knew that they must speak seriously with Trelawney Rose about what had happened. The girl seemed to sense that because she tried to eat her soup very slowly. But she was too hungry to really pick at her dinner and she was finished fairly quickly.
Emmeline made a pot of tea, a comforting drink at any time of the day. The three sat around the table sipping until Em finally broke the ice.
"Well, love," she said kindly to Trelawney Rose. "It's time that you were out with it."
"I could have saved them," she said simply.
"No you couldn't," replied Emmeline. "You were only able to save Willa because you could see her aura. You saw none of the others."
"I saw the white lights," she insisted.
"Which meant nothing to you," Selena said. "Darling, you were emotionally on edge. There is no way to know whether the white lights you saw in your dream were for Mum and Papa or them. When you woke up at midnight you thought that you were back at Auntie Alma's."
"I saw the white lights when it happened," she said. "I was there. And I saw the angels, truly I did."
Selena and Emmeline looked at each other.
"At that point there was nothing for it," said Selena. "You have a very powerful prescience, darling. It is a great burden. You will have to learn to live with it."
"I suppose that I will," she replied. "Must you tell Uncle David about this?"
"It is better if we don't," said Emmeline right away. "If he knows, he will bring you home immediately, with or without Selena."
"That is why I asked," she said.
"Do you want to go home?" asked Selena.
But the girl closed her mind. She looked at both of them.
"I want to go to bed," she said. "That way you may talk about me all you want."
"What shall we do about her?" asked Selena after she left.
"For the moment," replied Emmeline. "The choice is yours. But if you are not very careful, the choice will be Dad's. I've heard from him today. He's furious with you, especially since he has learned of your feelings for Justin. Once he hears of this he will be dreadfully fearful for the little one. This world is too complex and full of violence for one such as her. Face it, Selena. She may need to return to the village for her own safety.
"And you're not out of the woods with the broken betrothal yet anyway. Kenneth has taken off for Timbuktu where his Uncle Cyrus is digging about in the ruins. He's the archaeologist you know. Old Padraic has told him that if he doesn't stay out here with a family member then he has to come home."
"Do you think that they will try to force us to marry?" she asked.
"No," said Emmeline. "But you still can't marry without Dad's blessing and Padraic signed the contract with the family. It benefits them more than us, you know. Lewis is in the village now to sort things out, but he didn't write the contract."
Selena looked discouraged.
"If it is any comfort, Lew was at school with Kenneth and could never stand him," said Emmeline. "He always thought that he was a little twerp. He'll fix things. Don't worry about that. And Dad will give in on Justin. No, your larger concern is the little one. Mum promised to keep you together, but Dad promised to keep her safe. After everything that has happened, Mum may be the one to give in this time. You had better be very certain of what you want before you make any irrevocable decisions."
But Selena had already realized that.
Jerry Connelly heard the reports of the deaths of the six high school students and listened carefully to the names. But he had already known that Willa was not among them. He had a feeling that if anything had happened to her, then he would have felt it as soon as it happened. He wanted to contact her, but he didn't know how. He needed to stay away from the Tressidors, but he didn't know how he could have called the house anyway without raising suspicions.
He decided to go to the diner on Monday morning. On the off chance that Willa might use the bus to get to school so that she could see him. Despite the fact that they had lost six of their own, the high school was still holding final exams. He thought that it was rather heartless, but no one else did. None of the kids involved had been what you might call popular.
But he was right about Willa. On Monday morning around 8 am she came into the diner dressed in black and dark purple. She looked around and then made a beeline for his table. Jerry looked up at her sympathetically. She wasn't even trying to play the tough broad. Looking thoroughly chastened and deeply saddened, she sat down across from him and politely thanked the waitress when she brought her coffee.
"So," he said. "You look like you've been to hell and back."
"I feel like I've gone to hell and never left," she replied with more spirit than she clearly felt.
"Why weren't you with them?" he asked gently.
She stared ahead.
"The little weirdo pitched a fit when I tried to leave the house on Friday night," she answered dully. "And Miss Emmeline blockaded the door. I think that she and Miss Selena thought that the kid would go nuts if they let me leave. Man, you don't want to mess with that broad. She is much stronger than she looks. Then she sat with me until my Dad finally pulled down the trellis that I use to escape from my bedroom window when he grounds me. He was pretty pissed about that."
Jerry didn't know what to say. The little girl had saved her life. She must have known, seen it in the aura or something. This was a very powerful child of light and she had just demonstrated why she was out in the world. Saving the life of another is no small thing. But she must have seen something like this before if the cousin knew how serious her tantrum was and what it potentially meant.
"Do you feel grateful to her?" he finally asked.
"To the kid? I don't feel anything," she said. "Six of my best friends are gone. I'm supposed to be taking my English final exam right now. But I don't care. It's all so stupid."
"Yes it is," he replied seriously. "When all of the sorrowing and anger dies down, those policemen who let them drive off in that van will have a lot to answer for."
"That's what Miss Selena said," she said. "She said that back home they would have thrown them all in jail and made their parents come and get them. At the very least they should have been arrested for possession. There is no way that Dirk should have been driving. He was a pretty bad driver to begin with, but even worse when he was drunk."
"And then they left the other lad alone," he added. "I'm sure they could have arrested him too."
"Well, if I know Snake's Dad, he would have told them to let him sleep it off," she explained. "He never took his drinking too seriously. He's just like my Dad. And the cops didn't know that the other guys would get into an accident or that there was a loaded gun in the house. They were probably trying to smooth things over for their parents."
"It sounds like you've talked this out pretty well," he said carefully.
"Miss Selena came to see me yesterday, even though it was her day off," she replied. "Trelawney Rose insisted. We even talked about Pam."
"What about Pam?"
"Oh, her parents had just freed her from being grounded after the party a few months ago when we wrecked the house. She was supposed to be grounded until graduation, but she begged and they gave in," she said. "If only she had stayed grounded . . . "
She would still be alive, finished Jerry in his mind.
"Tell me about the little weirdo's scene on Friday night," he said.
Willa took a drag off her cigarette and had another swallow of coffee. Seeing that her cup was empty, Jerry motioned for the waitress to come back for refills. Once again, Willa thanked her politely.
"It was really crazy the way that she was crying and screaming that I couldn't leave the house," she finally answered. "And she and Miss Selena and Miss Emmeline kept staring at each other. It was a little creepy, like they were communicating with each other, you know, like mentally telepathically or something, like in the movies. But the weirdest part was when she said that my Mom was frightened. That was when Miss Selena almost went nuts too. Then, after Miss Emmeline prevented me from leaving the house, Miss Selena asked if my Mom was still scared and she said no."
Jerry was silent. Looking across the table, he could see that Willa was deep in thought remembering the scene. He was able to glean more information without making her talk. She was confused by the Tressidor cousins, but deeply hurt because her father hadn't seemed to care at all. Even after he got the news, he was more concerned about his colleagues who had lost their children, than his daughter who had lost her best friends. And he didn't exactly seem overjoyed that she had escaped.
Now of course, from a parent's perspective, losing a child was much worse than losing a friend, but for Willa, those friends had been the surrogates for the family that she had alienated herself from. He knew that she thought that they were all she had. And none of them were bad kids, just foolish and misguided. What was the expression? Live fast. Die young. Leave a beautiful corpse. He also knew that their parents must be feeling very guilty because they had decided to let them do their own thing.
That had been Justin Harrington's philosophy. He figured that if he followed the path of least resistance with her, then eventually she would come around. Or so he thought. But this had caused a rift between him and Miss Selena. They were no longer speaking and Miss Selena had stayed away from the whole family except for her. She and the little girl were determined to comfort her anyway that they could. For the first time since her mother died, Willa felt special to someone. But as a survivor she felt guilty.
No one needed to tell him about how much fun the kids in the van were having before it was wrecked. They probably never knew what hit them. But the boy back at the house, Snake, that boy had greatly suffered. The way the paper told it, he heard the news on the radio and then got out the gun and killed himself. He didn't leave a note. There was nothing ambiguous about his action. He put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
It was such a bloody waste. And he didn't doubt that Willa was not the only child suffering. One of the girls had a younger sister who wasn't with them because she had gotten a date to the real Prom. Many of the children had siblings, younger and older. But he couldn't worry about them. He was there for Willa Harrington. It was always going to be a long journey back to spiritual peace for her and it just got longer. He was there for her, but the end, he didn't really know if he could save her. He could only try.
"Willa," he said tentatively. "There's a friend of mine that I'd like you to meet."
"Is it someone who will help me get established in San Francisco?" she asked without real interest.
"No," he said. "It's someone who I think can help you to get by right now. His name is Pastor Jason."
"I thought that I told you that I don't believe in God," she replied testily, but without her usual sarcastic edge.
"Pastor Jason isn't going to try and convince you to believe in God or make you pray or anything like that," replied Jerry. "But he is a thoughtful and caring person. And he knew your friend Pam. Her parents used to make her go to his church."
"Really?" she commented. "Well, he must not be very good, at being a pastor or whatever. Pam was an atheist like the rest of us."
Jerry decided to let it go. Pastor Jason would only be able to help her if she was willing to sit down with an open mind and heart. The time was clearly not right for her. As he looked across the table at her he realized that she was luckier than she knew. Someone up there was giving her a second chance. He knew that it was part of his job to help save her. The little girl had not only saved her life, but had given him the chance to save something more than her life. He had the chance to save her soul. She had done her part and now he must do his.
He couldn't hang around with her all day, so he had to leave her before noon. He suspected that she would stay out of trouble. Aside from the fact that she no longer had anyone to get in trouble with, she was too depressed. And he knew that there were three people at home looking out for her. It was a pity that one of them wasn't her father.
A day later he went to visit his friend Pastor Jason.
"Couldn't get her to come?" he asked when he saw him.
"No," he replied. "I told you that she was a real hard case. It's a shame. She's a pretty girl and very smart. But she doesn't trust anyone, not even me really."
"I'm sorry that you couldn't get her to me," said Pastor Jason. "I knew her mother. I helped her to come to grips with certain things in her life before she passed on. I helped her find her way back to God. But we ran out of time and she left some unfinished business. She had wanted me to say the funeral and counsel the family when the time came. I even helped her write a letter to her family. But they never called."
"I wonder why," said Jerry.
"Oh, it was the grandmother, her mother, I'm sure. That was why Helen left the letter. She was hoping that they, her father and her husband, could stand up to her," he replied. "She had not wanted any kind of a wake, but it was a huge thing. I went over one night to pay my respects. The family was all in shock except the grandmother. She was greeting everyone like it was a White House reception or something. I remember seeing young Willa. Dr. Wallace, the university chaplain, was trying to comfort her."
"Well, if there was a time to step in and help her it was then," said Jerry. "The work is harder now, but it is not impossible. She needs to get away from the family for a bit, but first she's going to have to get passed the funerals and graduate."
"Yes, the funerals," said Pastor Jason. "I have young Pam's tomorrow. Her folks are beside themselves. Her mother keeps saying over and over that she should have kept her grounded for one more weekend. My friends Mark and Paul have one each at their churches. Poor Bob has two, one of whom was the driver. But Dr. Wallace has the worst of them."
"Snake?" he asked.
Pastor Jason looked at him sharply and said, "Simon. That was a ridiculous nickname. This whole mess is so senseless."
"What will happen to young Simon?" asked Jerry. "He wasn't such a bad sort really. It's a pity that he had to go the way he did."
"Yes," said Pastor Jason. "However all of that business about suicide damning one's soul to hell for all of eternity is pure nonsense. Our Father in heaven forgives all, even unto death. Uriel took good care of him. The ones that go like him are always handled by Uriel, rather than Samael. Such an action is never fated. I can't tell you any more than that."
"But aren't there rules about burial in sacred ground and all that?" he asked.
"Man's rules, not God's rules," replied Pastor Jason. "Since the family held to no religion, Dr. Wallace is taking care of them up at the university. They do not want a religious service or cemetery anyway. And he is used to dealing with agnostics. I know that they're in good hands. It's going to break up the marriage though. She'll never forgive him for having that gun in the house. The boy was their only child."
"This has destroyed all of those families no doubt," mused Jerry. "I don't know how you guys do it."
"We support each other," said Pastor Jason. "When the last of them is laid to rest, we'll come together and talk it out and pray on it. Then we'll pick up the pieces and move on. We all have suffering children in our parishes, not to mention the grieving parents."
"It's rather sad, you know," said Jerry. "There's one parent out there who is not grieving. But I have a feeling that he still doesn't fully realize how lucky he is right now or what he has."
"It sounds to me like the girl isn't the only hard case," commented Pastor Jason. "It's really quite a pity. Her mother loved her more than any of the others really. And the irony of it is that she loved her so much because she saw so much of her father in her. We talked about it, and her in particular. Helen had asked me to take special care of her. But I never got the chance."
Jerry looked at him oddly.
"Pastor Jason, I know that you have been sent here for someone," he said. "That's the way it is with you fellows. I have a feeling that you will be meeting her soon. But it's not Willa Harrington."
The Mourning Time
The wakes and funerals took up most of the week before the high school graduation. The normal celebrations were muted. When the reality that six of their classmates, even if they were outsiders, wouldn't be walking with them, many of the students felt remorse and regret. Many of those kids had been in school with them since kindergarten. Those that had "lived" on the west campus with them turned it into a shrine, with flowers, candles, notes, and pictures. Willa and Wendy, the two survivors of the inner circle spent their time sitting there in silence.
In between finals, their friends would come out and join them. One of them got cassette tapes of their favorite music and played it on someone's battery powered cassette player. Some of the teachers came out to pay their respects, but since the kids had been marginal students at best, they really didn't know them well enough to say anything of substance to the two girls.
By coincidence they both shared the same guidance counselor. She came out to try and talk to them but the girls wouldn't even look at her. She was a young woman with a large caseload of students, over 400. The only reason why she was able to recognize Willa and Wendy was that between Willa's dicey graduation prospects and the fact that it looked like Wendy was going to have to repeat junior year, they had taken up a lot of her time. But both girls knew that she had always considered them lost causes so her sympathetic gestures now rang just a little bit hollow.
Selena and Justin were still not speaking, so Emmeline took it upon herself to organize things so that Willa go to the various wakes and funerals. It was a brutal schedule. Justin of course attended the wakes for the four students of his colleagues, Snake, Barb, Dirk, and Brad. Willa went with him. It was decided that Selena would bring her to Pam and Mel's wakes. None of the other children were going, except Jay who wanted to go to Barb's since he knew her brother. But the funerals were another story.
Justin did not know any of the parents well enough to feel that he should go the funerals. Willa insisted that she wanted to go to all six, despite the fact that Selena and Emmeline tried to talk her out of it. Selena was afraid that after the six wakes, it would be too much for her shattered mind to comprehend. However, in talking it through with her, she realized that she had different reasons for wanting to say goodbye to each of them. Emmeline offered to take her. It would be less painful for her since she didn't know any of them.
Willa really didn't care who drove her. When she went to each wake, she spoke to the parents, and then stared at the casket, which was always closed. When Selena took her, she was amazed at how poised and mature she was. In each case, she spoke lovingly of her friend and the great times that they had together. She spoke of the loyalty that they had shared. Selena was not surprised to discover than they had been friends since grade school. Watching the parents, she could see that Willa's words were true words of comfort.
Many people who attend wakes and funerals do so for the living and not the dead. In the case of the passing of a child, many work friends and colleagues who never knew the deceased attend and can only offer vague words of sympathy and comfort. Yet Willa had grown up with these children and was not afraid to speak about her feelings for them. In each case, the parents hugged her and thanked her for coming. They knew that she was grieving deeply herself. As one of the only survivors, it took a great deal of courage for her to face them.
She wondered how she behaved when she attended the wakes with Justin. He said nothing about it, even indirectly through Emmeline. But Jay, who went to one of the wakes with them, did.
"I don't know about Willa anymore, Miss Selena," he said when they got back. "I feel like I never knew her before tonight."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"She was so kind and thoughtful," he said. "Mrs. Christian kept asking her questions about what they did and all that. She never said a word about all the drinking and stuff. And she said that she had been a great friend."
"Yes," said Selena. "She was like that with the parents that I took her to see."
"It was too bad about Dad though," he commented.
"What do you mean?" she asked carefully.
"He got a little impatient," he said. "I think that he was real uncomfortable around all of those crying people. But he couldn't just make Willa leave Mrs. Christian. She just wanted to keep talking about her daughter. She was holding on kind of tight."
"Well if one goes to a wake or a funeral to comfort the grieving," commented Selena. "Then that is what one does. Willa can offer these parents something that no one else can. She knew her friends better than their own parents did. It is quite sad. She is carrying a heavy burden, but so far she has been carrying it gracefully."
"What about the graduation ceremony?" Jay asked. "Did you hear what they are doing?"
"No," she replied. "I had wondered about that."
"They are going to have six chairs in the spots where they would have sat with their graduation caps on them," he said. "They are going to call out their names with everyone else's. They will give the diplomas to the parents later."
"That is a rather fitting tribute," she said. "And very thoughtful. I wonder whose idea it was."
"It was Willa's," said Jay. "And one of the girls from the orchestra is going to play Let It Be on the piano. Mrs. Christian thanked her tonight. She's going to go with Mrs. Wilson and they're going to sit together."
Selena was silent. She suspected that this was the real Willa, the kind and sensitive girl who, in her own grief, devised a remembrance for the friends that she loved that would be comforting for their parents. Justin must know of her actions if Jay did. She had not had a private conversation with him since she had yelled at him on Saturday night. He had not been angry with her. He had simply looked confused. Even now when he looked at her it was with a combination of sadness and confusion.
She knew that he loved her completely, but didn't know how to make things right. He still did not understand that she wanted him to find a way to love Willa as much as he did the other children. It is very difficult for someone who does not understand the unconditional nature of God's love for us to understand how to give this kind of love to others. She finally decided to try to talk things through with him. Emmeline helped them to have some privacy.
She made a point of getting all the kids but Willa out of the house. Willa was upstairs sleeping, exhausted by her days of attending wakes and funerals. Justin was working in his study when she tentatively approached him. He was so focused that he was unaware of her presence.
"Justin?" she said hesitantly, as she stood before his desk.
"Selena!" he replied, immediately rising and walking around to her.
He swept her into his arms and held her close, but did not attempt to kiss her. She allowed herself to rest in his arms before speaking. It had been nearly a week since he had held her and as angry and hurt as she had been at him, realized how much she had missed him. She buried her face in his shoulder as he stroked her hair.
"Oh, my darling, I have missed you so much," he murmured. "Can you ever forgive me?"
She couldn't answer but she looked up and nodded. He bent his head over to kiss her gently, and then more deeply, but not forcefully. Despite her lingering misgivings, she could not help but respond. Now that there were no longer any barriers to the ultimate fulfillment of their love, she had discovered physical desires that she had not dreamed of. She suspected that she was awakening the same dormant feelings within him. But she felt safe. She knew from their many talks that there were physical relations that he had reserved only for his wife.
When he released her, they walked into the living room where they could sit close together in the love seat. He put his arm around her and she rested her head on his shoulder. With his other hand he stroked her hair. It was a soothing gesture. She realized that it was her turn to speak.
"I've missed you too," she said quietly.
"Do you really forgive me?" he asked again. "Can you truly forgive me?"
She was pensive. Before she could answer that question, they needed to talk.
"I am afraid that I cannot answer that question until I know where your mind and heart are concerning Willa," she said. "I would like to have a rational conversation about this. It is very important to me."
"I have finally realized that for myself," he replied humbly. "I had never seen you so angry before. And I never thought that you would speak to me of my wife as you did. But I have also realized that you are right."
"About what?" she asked.
"Are you going to make me say it?" he asked sadly.
"I know that it will hurt," she replied. "But unless you say it for yourself, in your own words, even you will not really believe it. In our culture, we can perceive the thoughts in one another's minds. But when we are dealing with things that are painful or sorrowful, we must always say the words aloud."
He stared into space. Selena knew that he did not want to confront what he had realized about his relationship with his daughter. But until he did, they would not move forward. Willa would know if the reconciliation that he wanted to offer was genuine or not. His ability to articulate it with real feeling would tell her.
"I have neglected my child," he admitted. "I have neglected her for years. Before she died, Helen asked me to take special care of her, to protect her from Bernice. But from the beginning, I failed. I not only failed my daughter, I also failed my wife. After she died, when Bernice took charge of our lives, it was a battle that I couldn't fight and win, like every other one that I ever had with her. But after she left, I had no excuses. I should have done more. I should have tried harder."
"Why did you expect so much more from her than the others?" she asked.
"Sometime I will show you pictures from that time period," he said. "Jay has been growing taller in the past year, but at that time he was small, as were the others of course. Willa has always been tall for her age and at fourteen, almost fifteen really, she had reached her full height."
"She is several inches taller than me," commented Selena.
"As was Helen," he replied. "I have no doubt that all the children will eventually be taller than you. If you look at the pictures you would think that Willa was more of an aunt than a sister to the younger ones. In my own grief, I forgot how truly young she was. And everyone told me that she was old enough to help. But I didn't know how to ask her or what to expect that she do. Bernice had her doing so much. I know now that I expected too much and I never gave enough thought to her needs."
"It is not too late," she commented.
"You told me that several months ago," he said. "But even then I didn't try hard enough. And I will admit it. I only agreed to try harder with her because I wanted you to stay. I did not really have my heart in it. It was too easy to fall into the old pattern of pushing her away when she pushed me away. And she is a constant reminder of how I have failed Helen. I'm afraid that I don't like thinking about that."
"Justin," she said kindly. "I would like to give you some perspective on this. You have been given a second chance. Willa was not in that van. It is a gift from God that those other parents did not receive. All of kids, to one degree or another, were failed by the parents, who found it easier to let them do their own thing than demand that they behave appropriately. Right now, she is up in her room safe and sound, but profoundly grieving. It will not be easy, but you can still make this right."
"I don't see how," he said. "After the last wake, Snake's, I tried to talk to her and she told me to 'blast off.' She told me that she didn't want my offerings of guilt reconciliation just because I knew that I was just like Wendell and couldn't really care less about my kid. She called us both selfish, career-obsessed jokers. But when she was with the Wendells she was actually very kind."
"And I am afraid that despite her inelegant way of stating it," said Selena. "That she is right. I am not trying to hurt you, but you do need to take a hard look in the mirror and see yourself for who you are."
"And she is still accusing me of only trying to make up with her to make up with you," he added. "She knows about the rift between us, of course all the children do.
"I am not surprised by what did she when she faced Snake's parents," she replied. "I saw it with the other parents myself. And Jay said that he saw it with Barb's parents. But you have still not convinced me that you are determined to make up with her for her own sake."
Justin stared ahead.
"She was like a different person," he admitted. "She told them about how Snake was her best friend. Ever since middle school they had always stuck together. She talked about the things that he liked and how happy he was that he was going to Berkeley instead of UCLA. That made Wendell feel better. He had pulled some strings to get him in. Marion, his wife, hugged her for a long time. She said that she was sorry that she had never gotten to know her better. Snake had always looked at her as his best friend."
"There is a lot about Willa for you to be proud of," said Selena. "She is a changed person because of this. She doesn't realize it, but she has been given a second chance too. The tribute that she conceived at graduation for her friends is rather incredible. It will be a comfort for herself as well as the others. She is neither hopeless nor incorrigible. She is lost, but she can be found. However, you can only find someone who is lost by looking for them."
Once again Justin was silent. Selena could see that he was struggling.
"Can you, Emmeline, and Trelawney Rose really perceive the thoughts of others?" he asked.
"Yes, it is a part of our nature," she said simply. "We never speak of it and only rarely make others aware of it. But even then we never fully reveal it."
"Then you know what I am thinking," he stated.
"Yes," she said. "I always have."
"And you still love me," he said.
"Yes," she replied. "I always have. If you love someone as I love you, you accept him for who he is. But that does not mean that I can reconcile myself to things that can be changed. You have it within your power the ability to change your relationship with Willa. What I do not know is whether you have the capacity to love her unconditionally, as a parent should. I must know that before we . . . move forward."
"Why is that?" he asked.
"If we pursue our feelings to their logical conclusion," she said simply. "Then we may have children of our own. There are no guarantees that none of those children would be as challenging, shall we say, as Willa. I cannot marry a man who would not love our children, all of our children, with equal devotion. A true parent must love as God loves, unconditionally, no matter what."
Justin stood up and walked away from her. Then he turned back to look at her. She looked straight back at him openly and honestly.
"This is why you mentioned Helen last week," he said quietly.
"Yes," she said. "This is how Helen would feel if she were sitting before you now as I am. She is the only one who would know how I feel. There is no doubt in my mind that Helen was a loving mother and an extraordinary human being. I can see that in all of her children, including Willa."
He returned to her and knelt before her. Then he took her hands in his and gently kissed them.
"I want to marry you, Selena," he said, "I want you to . . . bear my children. I understand now why you feel so strongly about this. I am not sure that I am worthy of you or your love."
She looked at him searchingly.
"I do not judge you for your worthiness or anything else," she replied. "I love you absolutely. But this is not just about us, and our feelings for each other. If I marry you, I may lose my sister. I cannot control that. But I do not want you to lose your daughter as well.
"I have come to know her in this past week better than I ever thought that I would. She is a wonderful, beautiful, and strong young woman. I suspect that she is very much like her mother in that regard. I have grown to love her very much. I do not want to lose her either, but it is for her own sake, not yours or anyone else's."
"You're too good for him, Selena," said Willa, who had entered from the side. "And you're much too good for me. I don't deserve you as either a friend or . . . anyone else. You know if you want to have a private conversation you should have it in a place where people like me just can't walk in."
Before Justin could speak, Selena did.
"We haven't said anything that you can't hear," she said quietly.
"You were talking about me," she said, but without her usual edge. "I heard you talking about Mom and how great she was. And I'm flattered that you think that I am like her. But I don't deserve that compliment either."
"I repeat," said Selena. "We were not discussing anything that you cannot hear. I have not said anything that I would not say to you directly and you know it. All of you children know how we feel about each other. And I have made no secret of my feelings for you. You might not have been downstairs on Saturday night when I told your father that he needed to build a better relationship with you, but I am sure that Jennie has shared the details of that exchange. We have no secrets from each other."
"Willa," said Justin. "I have let you down and I have let your mother down. You have every reason to hate me and be angry with me."
"You know that's what Trelawney Rose says," said Willa. "She says that Mom is weeping for me and she's disappointed in you. Did you know the kid sees angels?"
"No," said Justin looking at Selena.
But Selena was looking at Willa.
"Trelawney Rose has said that she sees your mother?" she asked. "She has said it before last Friday night?"
"Yeah," she said. "Whenever she comes to see me after you've grounded me in my room she tells me that Mom loves me and is sad for me. But she hasn't talked about Mom since that night."
"You haven't been grounded since that night," commented Selena.
"No, I haven't," she replied thoughtfully. "Do you think that she knew something?"
"What makes you say that?" asked Selena warily.
"Well, no offense," answered Willa. "But you have to admit that she is kind of odd. And when she was holding onto me it felt kind of weird. But I don't mean bad weird. I mean strange weird. And every once in a while she says something and then shuts up."
"Can you give me an example?"
Willa thought for a minute.
"One time I asked her why she was bringing me food when I got sent to my room without dinner," she said. "She said that she was taking care of me because 'she promised.' But she wouldn't say whom she promised. I figured it was you, but then I thought that you would never defy Dad like that."
"But she did," said Justin.
"That is because she is a difficult child," she answered. "Like me. At least that's what she told me."
"What else did Trelawney Rose tell you?" asked Justin sitting down beside Selena.
He gestured for Willa to sit down in the chair across from them.
"She said that it wasn't fair for you to expect me to do so much after Mom died," she replied. "She said that I needed time to grieve."
"Willa," he said slowly. "I realize that now. I realize that I tried to put too much responsibility on you when you were still young. And then I lost my temper with you because I was frustrated and angry. But it wasn't fair of me to take it out on you. I truly am sorry."
Willa looked at him hard.
"For once," she said. "I actually think that you mean it. And I don't think that Selena is making you say it."
"Miss Selena," he corrected.
Willa looked at her.
"I told Willa that she was old enough that she didn't have to call me Miss Selena anymore," she said. "We are trying to be friends. She's closer in age to me than she is to either Max or Jennie."
"Or you, Dad," added Willa, but ironically, not spitefully.
"Oh," said Justin.
Selena could see that he was bothered by the age comparison so she explained further.
"It was my idea," she said. "Willa is eighteen now. If we are going to have adult expectations of her, she should be allowed to speak to me as an adult."
"Willa," he said turning back to his daughter. "I truly do love you as much as the other kids. I will admit that for the past three and a half years, I haven't always liked you very much. But I almost lost you last Friday night through my own carelessness and stubbornness. That has forced me to look at my own behavior very closely. I have been wrong and I am hoping that you can forgive me and we can move forward."
Willa looked at him searchingly and then looked at Selena.
"I appreciate your feelings and your honesty," she said. "But I am still not sure of how I feel right now, other than really mixed up."
"That is understandable," he said. "Why don't you think about it and we can discuss it later."
The sound of the other kids coming in with Emmeline suddenly filled the house.
"We went out to the arcade," said Max. "And it was a blast!"
"I'm glad you had fun," said Selena with a smile. "You look a little ragged."
Emmeline looked back at her wearily.
"Thank goodness it's a school night," she replied. "I hope that I never see another pinball machine again as long as I live."
Then she looked around.
"Are we all on speaking terms again?" she asked.
But before any of them could say anything, Jennie piped up.
"I hope not! It's been great not having to listen to Willa for the past week."
"Jennie!" exclaimed Jay.
"That's what Max said," she tattled. "And you agreed."
Trelawney Rose looked at Willa and then looked at them all very sadly. Willa had assumed her old oppositional stance. Justin looked confused, but as usual did not correct the younger children immediately. Selena suddenly felt very weary herself.
"Justin," she said. "You can put the children to bed. I need to take care of Trelawney Rose."
The Tressidors left the Harringtons standing there looking at each other. Only Willa really knew what was wrong and perhaps Jay. Selena put her arm around her sister. When they returned to the apartment, she looked at them very seriously.
"Poor Helen," she said. "Will she never be at peace?"
The next morning, Willa rode the bus to school for the last time. It was senior day. The PTA was holding a special breakfast for the seniors. There would be an awards ceremony, and then graduation practice. But Willa got off the bus and immediately went to the diner where Jerry was waiting for her.
"Have you made up your mind?" he asked, after she had sat down and lit up a cigarette.
"I'm going," she said flatly. "I can't deal with it. It's too much. Selena tried, but even she can't perform miracles."
"Was your Dad that bad?" he asked.
"Well, actually he was coming around," she said. "We were having the first real conversation where we were both talking and listening to each other in a very long time. But then the younger kids came home, Jennie made a fresh remark, and he let her get away with it. He has changed, but not enough."
"I see," he nodded. "So then it's not just about him."
"It is and it isn't," she said. "The kids are obnoxious and he never does anything about it, just like he let me get away with it. I can't live with it now. Sooner or later I'm going to get fed up and answer one of them back. And then I'll just get sucked into the whole thing again. If I'm going to have a shot at changing, then I have to get away."
"I wish it were different for you," he said. "You are choosing a hard road, even if you are making the right decision. But I have a place for you to stay with good people. They will help you find a job and give you a safe place to live while you work things out."
"What's the catch?" she asked.
"The catch is," he continued. "That you have to live under their house rules. They won't charge you any rent, but you will have to keep your room clean and your things in order. You will have space in the pantry and refrigerator for your own food, and you won't eat anyone else's. You'll clean up after yourself and do whatever chores you're assigned."
"That all makes sense," she said. "But what's the catch?"
"There will be no drugs or drinking," he said. "And you will have a curfew. If you get caught drunk or stoned or even smelling of it, you'll be out right away. And no smoking cigarettes in the house, but you can out in the yard."
"Once again," she said. "That all makes sense. What's the catch?"
"You'll find a church and go every Sunday," he finished. "And if you don't find one for yourself, you'll go with Fiona and Reg. I guess that is what you would call the catch. If you are going to make it, you will need God in your life."
"Oh," she said. "Are these like holy-rollers or something?"
"These are good Christian people who have been financially fortunate in life," he said. "They've both got big hearts. A couple of years ago, they decided to open their house, which is quite large, to lost kids who needed a place to stay while they figured things out. It's not a permanent place, but it will give you a start. You can put a little money aside so that you'll have more choices in a few months."
"Will I see you?" she asked.
"I do get up there every once and again," he answered. "But it's better for you if you can clear your head without too many reminders of the past. Don't worry. I think that you'll like talking to Fee. She's a sweet Scottish girl, a bit like Selena, and just as kind."
"I'm sorry now that I gave her such a hard time," Willa admitted. "She really has always cared about me."
"That's a good sign, love," said Jerry. "It means that you're starting to think of someone besides yourself. And it means that you're beginning to look at your own behavior more honestly. You're not a bad sort you know. This past week has proved it. You have had the strength to carry on, in spite of everything that has happened."
"That's what Selena told me," she said. "She told me that she was very proud of me. She told me that she loves me and, well, I believe her."
"What about Trelawney Rose?" he asked curiously.
"Oh, she loves me too," she said. "In fact she loves me more than my brothers and sister put together. She's really not a little weirdo. She's different from anyone that I've ever met before, but that's mostly because she is so good, kind, and honest. I think that she is the person that I am going to miss the most."
"Will you miss anyone else?" he asked curiously.
"I'll miss Selena a little," she replied. "But there's no one else left to miss. Sometimes I feel as though they've . . . I feel like the crew left me behind. You know, all alone."
"Try not to feel that way," warned Jerry. "If you start thinking along those lines and you reach a low point, it could be very dangerous."
"I know," she sighed. "I'm thinking of Snake. Of everyone, he was always the nicest, you know. He was the real joker, the funny one. And he really cared about everyone. It must have been hell for him when he heard. I wish I could have helped him."
"But Willa," said Jerry. "You can't have any regrets about that. The truth is that when you were back in that time and place you were a different person. You couldn't have helped any of them. You could only have gone with them."
"And it's only thanks to Trelawney Rose that I didn't," she mused. "How did she know?"
"I can't tell you that," he said carefully. "I can tell that she is a very sensitive child from what you've told me. Perhaps she knew what you were about when you were leaving and she didn't want you to get sick or hurt or something."
"But she never tried to stop me before," she said. "She always 'knew what I was about.' You can't hide anything from her. And when she held onto me, I felt this warm sensation, like she was trying to protect me."
"She's a very special child," he replied. "You should be glad to know her. And I'm glad that you don't think that she's a little weirdo anymore."
"No," she said. "And you know, I don't think that she has ever expected me to love her, but I do. She knows how to love without expecting a pay off. It's actually pretty easy to love someone like that."
"Is that the way your Mum loved you?" he asked.
"Yes, it is," she said thoughtfully. "But sometimes I feel like she's the only one who ever did. Maybe my Dad loved me like that once, but not anymore."
"I'm sorry to hear that," he replied. "A good father needs to love all his children unconditionally."
"That's what Selena told him," she said. "She is worried that if he can't love me like that then maybe someday if they have a difficult kid, then he won't love them either. But she still loves him. She's too good for him. And she's too good for me. I don't deserve the kind of love that she wants to give me. And she told me that I was like my Mom. She seems to really admire her."
"And what kind of love does she want to give you?" he asked.
"She wants to love me like my Mom did," she said. "She even told Dad that she knows how Mom would feel if she knew how he felt about me. Dad didn't like it when she told him that. But that was because it is true."
"You're not the only one with a hard road, Willa," he replied. "She's got one too. But I think that you will both make it."
"I hope so," said Willa. "I hope that if I ever come back that she'll still be here, and her sister too. It would be nice to know that I have at least two people who love me."
"Accepting the love of another is another big step forward," he said. "It means that you may be able to build trust."
"I trust you," she said.
"I think that you think that you do," he answered. "But I'll not be insulted if you have your doubts. It's more important that you trust Fee and Reg. Now, are you sure that you won't stay for graduation?"
"There is no point," she said. "I blew off my finals. But whenever I want to come back and take them, then I'll get the diploma."
Jerry smiled at her.
"Aren't you disappointed in me?" she asked.
"No, lass," he said. "It means that you'll be back. You have left unfinished business that will insure that you come back."
"I hadn't thought of it that way," she said.
They talked some more about different things. For the first time in a very long time, Willa felt at peace. She knew that she was making the right decision. And Jerry was right. She would be back. But it didn't take her long to end up in a bad mood once she got home.
The younger kids were all going nuts because it had been their last day of school. The only one who was anything approaching normal was Trelawney Rose, but she beat it out pretty quickly to go to Georgina's. Willa didn't blame her. She locked herself in her bedroom and packed. She planned to travel light. She looked regretfully at her record collection. She figured that Selena would take care of her things. Then she packed a couple of her favorite pictures of her Mom.
It was almost midnight when she picked up her knapsack and her bag. The kids were all in bed but her Dad wasn't. She saw that the light was on in his study. She had planned to leave without saying goodbye, but at the last minute she changed her mind. She realized that if she just disappeared then it would be worse for Selena. But in the end she didn't have to guts to own up to her failure to graduate.
Justin was deep in thought reading a report on the Apollo 13 mess from last year when a voice broke into his thoughts.
"So long, Dad!" said Willa.
Justin looked up with a start.
"Where are you going at this time of night, young lady?" he asked sternly.
"Away," she said casually. "Forever."
Justin was stunned.
"I decided that I would save myself the trouble of picking up the diploma in person," she continued. "Don't worry, they'll mail it. I also had no desire to have to listen to all my relatives telling me what I lazy slob I am because I'm not going to college. I'd rather prove it by becoming a hippy."
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"The bay area," she replied with a shrug. "I know people who know people. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll hear from someone if I get into any trouble."
Justin was speechless. Willa had been threatening this for months but he had refused to believe it. He thought after their conversation last night that she had turned over a new leaf. He had even hoped that he might be able to convince her to take a course or two at the community college.
"Ciao!" she said cheerfully and then left the house. Justin stared into space. He was deeply sorry. He knew that he had failed Helen terribly.
It was midnight. Trelawney Rose suddenly woke up and realized that Willa was in the driveway. She was leaving to run away. Without thinking, she jumped out of bed and was out of the apartment in no time. When she reached the driveway, she could see Willa with a man who was helping her into a car.
But he wasn't any man. He was one of them. She could see it in his aura. She then felt relaxed.
"Willa!" she called.
Willa and the young man turned around and looked at her in surprise. It was then that she realized that she was standing barefoot in the driveway wearing her long, white nightgown with her golden hair flowing loosely down her back. She used the intervening seconds to run up to them.
"Will you be taking care of her now?" she asked Jerry, having perceived his name, seriously.
He looked at her equally seriously. He did not want her to interfere with his mission. But she could not control her impulse to be sure.
"Yes, love," he said. "But you shouldn't be out here like this, right Willa?"
Willa was staring at her. Despite her efforts to control it, she knew that her aura was glowing powerfully with strength and goodness. It was possible that even Willa could perceive it.
"Go back inside, you crazy kid," she ordered.
"Goodbye, Willa," she cried, hugging her close. "Do take care of yourself. Your mother will be most concerned if you do not."
"I suppose that my mother is sorrowing for me again," she replied.
Trelawney Rose stood up very straight with her hands neatly folded in front of her.
"No," she said quietly. "Your angel no longer weeps. She is not pleased, but she is not displeased."
"No?" asked Willa.
"She is hopeful," the girl replied.
She turned to see Emmeline coming toward them. Jerry immediately hustled Willa into the car and jumped in. Before Em could reach them, they had driven off. She looked off down the street where they had gone. Emmeline grabbed her.
"What are you doing out here?" she said harshly. "You scared me half to death. If Selena wakes up and finds you missing . . . Never mind. We will discuss this in the morning."
Because she knew that Willa was now in good hands, she very cooperatively returned to bed and fell asleep. She was unaware that Emmeline had difficulty going back to sleep. She had also recognized Jerry for who he was and was now very confused. How could one of them have helped the girl run away? Selena had worked so hard to build up her trust and friendship. After everything else, this could be devastating for her.
But Trelawney Rose had worked equally hard to build up her trust and she seemed almost pleased by the turn of events. Emmeline suspected that as usual, the little one knew something that the rest of them didn't. She was so deeply connected to the universal consciousness that she might know that this was best for Willa. Hopefully, she did. And hopefully, this was not the last of Willa Harrington in their lives.