Marrowed (PG)

Earl wasn't sure how he was supposed to feel when he heard that Cristina was sick. He had been crazy for her once but then he grew to hate her and recently he had been trying to forget the pains of his past while moving on with his life.

Cristina was the prettiest girl alive and Earl developed an instant crush on her when her family moved into the Hilltop neighborhood of Hillsboro the summer before freshman year. Cristina had long blond hair, a round face and the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. Earl was awestruck from the very first time he saw her.

Cristina's father was a dentist, her mother was a banker, the family had status, and it turned out that Cristina was a snob who didn't think much of Earl who suffered from a stutter, wasn't the best looking guy around, and was known to be a klutz. Despite his shortfalls, Earl was determined to gain Cristina's attention, convinced that if only she got to know him she would like him and want to be with him. Cristina, of course, had no interest in getting to know a kid like Earl and she went out of her way to snub him at neighborhood events, ignore him at school, and make fun of him to her friends.

The more Cristina resisted his overtures, the more Earl ill advisedly pursued her and that proved to be his unfortunate mistake. He'd write her mushy poems and heart felt notes. He'd call her on the phone hoping to talk. He'd track her down in the school halls and at her locker to chat but Cristina would insensitively deny him at every turn. She trashed the poems and notes, often ripping them up and throwing him in his face. She refused to come to the phone and she instructed her brother to threaten Earl with bodily harm whenever he called. She'd embarrass Earl at school by publically insulting him and having her crushes push him around.

Earl's friends warned him to let it go and forget about her. They said Cristina was bad news, wrong for him, and not worth the energy Earl was exhausting trying to get her to like him. Earl's siblings were not happy with their brother's idiotic and immature behaviors either and they gave him a hard time about being pathetically screwed up. They were embarrassed by the neighborhood gossip caused by Earl's continued fixation on Cristina.

Earl was already considered the outcast of the family because of his stuttering, clumsiness, and inability to play sports so the added annoyance only made him even more of a burden. The fact that Earl's sisters were friendly with Cristina didn't help matters either.

But Earl was hopelessly smitten and he was foolishly bent on capturing Cristina's attention. He didn't see himself as threatening or dangerous. He just wanted to get to know Cristina because he thought she was the perfect girl. He often walked by her house (often being about seventeen times a day) and Cristina's mother called Earl's mother several times to complain. The cops finally showed up at Earl's house one day to tell him to stop harassing Cristina and that became the talk of the neighborhood. Earl's new nickname became "The Stalker" and Cristina was more than happy to embellish the story to make Earl sound like a psychopathic mass murdering sex fiend.

High school suddenly became a miserable experience for the still stuttering Earl who now had the reputation of being a complete weirdo. Cristina used her popularity and status to victimize the misunderstood Earl and there was no recourse available to him given Cristina's influence and popularity. Earl was hurt that an innocent romantic infatuation had turned into such an unfair attack on his character and he resented Cristina's vindictive snobby personality that allowed her to go way out of her way to successfully paint Earl as a freak. Months after he made his last phone call or written his last poem, Cristina was still raking Earl over the coals and he was often bullied for the image he had been tarnished with.

Earl was crushed that his simple vision of a romantic notion had been turned so ugly and it stopped him from pursing other girls (who would want anything to do with a weirdo stalking psychopath sex fiend anyway?). He never escaped the reputation he had been so unfairly given and Cristina continued to be mean to him, even though he tried to avoid her and ignore her. Earl was embarrassed and humiliated by what others thought of him and while he realized that he was probably more obsessed with Cristina than he needed to be and perhaps he went to far in his interest toward her, he was forever resentful and bitter at the force of her retaliation that basically ruined his life.

Earl's violations had been innocent, sweet and matters of the heart while Cristina's reaction was cruel, mean, and totally annihilating, so much so that Earl never recovered from the mistreatment and abuse spurred by Cristina's unnecessary revenge.

Earl was quick to get the hell out of town as soon as he graduated from high school, enlisting in the Army where he was freed from his previous reputation although he still had to contend with his stuttering problem and lack of coordination. But Earl was determined to succeed and prove Cristina wrong and his commitment to do well enabled him to enjoy his Army success. Earl probably would have made the Service a career had he not been wounded twice and then severely injured in a hard helicopter landing. The extent of his back and neck injuries resulted in a medical discharge and Earl returned to Hillsboro hoping for a chance to erase the past.

But his job prospects were limited because of his physical limitations although Earl finally landed a position as a dispatcher and booking agent for Integrity Bus Company, a local family owned business that had been in Blue County for nearly eighty years with a fleet of twelve coaches, two mini coaches, several limousines, and more than 100 school buses. The bright blue and yellow travelling coaches were used for one-day and multi-day tours to places like the Statue of Liberty, Bronx Zoo, Washington DC, Boston, Canada, and Penn Dutch Country and Disneyworld among other locations, usually used by local school groups, churches, and social organizations. Earl felt good that he had overcome his speech impediment enough to be able to function as a dispatcher.

Earl's family treated him as a hero but Earl held a grudge for the way his siblings treated and ridiculed him as a teenager. He had his ghosts and challenges from his war service but truth be told his PTSD symptoms had more than to do with Cristina and the trauma she caused than they did with his war experiences. Mostly, Earl just wanted to be left alone although he did hook up with a couple of his more supportive friends from the neighborhood.

Earl was familiar with Cristina's life after high school. His friends wrote to him in the Army providing periodic updates, sometimes making fun of Cristina in an effort to make Earl feel better. Cristina graduated from Smith College and opened a plush and swank high end preppy boutique called (what else?) Cristina's not far from the Green College Campus. She was living with an equally as snobby guy who recently graduated from Law School and was working for a local Law Office.

Earl tried not to think about Cristina because that part of his life remained a painful memory. What Cristina had done to him hurt much more than any of his wounds or injuries ever had.

Earl rented a dumpy apartment in downtown Hillsboro and he rarely ventured to the Hilltop neighborhood where his folks and Cristina's parents still lived. Earl hadn't seen Cristina since the night of high school graduation and he really didn't want to see her again, fearful he might say something rude, vulgar or just plain mean. Earl's resentment was always bubbling just below the surface and he was afraid he might go off on his old nemesis should they meet again.

It was his sister Eileen who first told Earl that Cristina was sick. She saw him sitting in the Bullpen Tavern having a beer one night and she joined him at the bar. Eileen was almost thirty-one, a secretary for a local plastics company, still unmarried but content with her hometown life and proud of her brother's War Service. She had colored her hair a few times too often and it now looked bleached even though she said it was yellow blond.

Earl tried to avoid his family since his return to Hillsboro because they reminded him of a past he'd rather forget but Eileen had something she wanted to tell him on this night.

"Leukemia," Eileen said with a grave face and sad eyes, cutting to the chase after making awkward small talk with her brother for a few minutes.

Earl tried to look disinterested by Eileen's news but deep down he felt a knot in the pit of his stomach remembering the image of the beautiful girl he had first seen those many years ago before he discovered what a Mean Girl Cristina really was.

Eileen explained that Cristina had undergone chemo and that she didn't look so great. She had lost weight, cut off her beautiful hair, and was wearing a wig. Despite the aggressive treatment, the disease lingered and the doctors were now opting for a bone marrow transplant. Eileen and some of her friends were organizing a Bone Marrow Donation event to see if a match could be found.

"Would you be willing to be a donor candidate?" Eileen asked cautiously.

Earl couldn't help but laugh. "I'm pretty sure Cristina would rather die than receive mmmmmmmmmmy bone marrow," he said disparagingly.

Eileen looked horrified but in the end she really couldn't argue with Earl's assessment.

"It would be awkward," Eileen conceded, nursing her beer.

Eileen was two years older than Earl and she had been one of his most vocal critics during his high school misery, calling him a pathetic loser and a cretin for stalking Cristina.

"I…I… never considered it s….ss..talking, you know," Earl remarked as they sat at the bar. "My intentions were always h…..hhh….onorable and never perverted."

"Let's not go there now," Eileen sighed as she took another swig from her mug. "I prefer to think of you as the war hero instead of the pathetic high school kid."

That was the dilemma Earl faced every day. He still felt like that kid from high school but most wanted him to be the returning war hero. Earl felt like he was living a double life.

"Wouldn't it b…..bbe weird if I turned out to be the mmmmmatch for Cristina?" Earl asked with a true appreciation for the ironic.

"You have a better chance of winning the lottery or being struck by lightening," Eileen pointed out.

"And yet you want mmmmeeee to be a donor."

"Somebody has to be the winning ticket," Eileen said with a shrug. "Besides, you'd probably never know if you did match anyway. It's all done anonymously."

Cristina's family held the event at the Greenville Country Club on a late Saturday morning. Those interested could get their mouths swabbed to see if they were a possible bone marrow match. The family thanked those who took part in the event by providing a catered buffet lunch.

Earl nervously entered the country club banquet room and he was impressed by the number of people who showed up to support Cristina. He saw her right away, sitting at the head table with her lawyer boyfriend who was dressed in khakis and a yellow polo shirt, looking like he just walked off the cover of GQ.

Earl's breath was momentarily taken away when he saw how sick Cristina really was. She was down to a skeletal hundred pounds, her skin had a grayish tint to it, and her eyes were sullen and dark. It was obvious she was wearing a wig and Earl had to force himself not to stare at her. If she saw him amongst the crowd, Cristina didn't make any indication of recognition.

Earl felt confused. A part of him couldn't help but think maybe Cristina deserved what happened to her – Karma and the Cosmos paying her back for her bad behavior– but he realized that was a selfish and self-serving attitude to take. Nobody deserved to be sick but Earl was still too bitter and resentful about the past to approach Cristina. Still, he certainly hoped Cristina would be able to find a match and get better.

People who knew the back story history were surprised to see Earl at Cristina's bone marrow swab party and he wasted little time making his way to one of the swab tables where he quickly filled out the paperwork and got swabbed. The pleasant representative from the National Bone Marrow Registry informed Earl that his sample would be entered in the national data bank and that he would be contacted if he were found to be a match – not just for Cristina, but for anybody seeking a donor.

Earl chatted with a few familiar faces as he headed for the exit, not interested in eating, socializing or hanging out. He felt uncomfortable being among Cristina's friends and family and he certainly didn't want to cause a scene. Cristina's mother stopped him at the door to thank him for coming but she said it in such a condescendingly sarcastic way that Earl knew she was being insincere at best. He wondered if Cristina was as unforgiving as her mother for his past sins.

Earl forgot about the swabbing until a month later when he received a call from the National Donation Bank.

"Congratulations, Mr. McCarthy, it looks like you're a match!" The voice on the other end informed him with enthusiasm.

The voice wouldn't tell Earl who the person was but he was told that more testing would needed to be done to see if he was the best possible match for the patient in question.

"You sssssssure you can't tell me who the patient is?" Earl asked.

"I'm sorry, Sir, but patient information is confidential," the voice replied. "We can tell you will be helping this person immensely if you agree to continue with the process."

Earl scratched his chin as he gave the situation some thought. Chances were the patient wasn't Cristina but if the Army taught him nothing else it did teach Earl that sacrifice, giving, helping others, and putting others first was a tenant of his training and so he agreed to volunteer his donor services as the national bank needed.

A few days later, Earl was at Boston General Hospital receiving additional swabs and other tests, waiting to see if the doctors were interested in selecting him as the best donor. He had to take the day off from work and drive a couple of hours into the city but he knew he was doing good and that reality was good enough for him. He was told about the donation procedure, possible risks involved, and potential side effects that could occur. He signed the consent form even though he still had no idea who the patient might be.

Earl's marrow donation was a surgical procedure conducted in the operating room. He had undergone enough operations from his Army days to know what to expect and he wasn't worried about that part of the process. But Earl did have to take another day off from work when he was selected as the donor and this time Eileen had to drive him to Boston General's Outpatient Facility early in the morning. He was prepped and given anesthesia for the pain during the procedure and he was unconscious during the donation. The last thing Earl remembered was lying on his stomach and when he woke up in the recovery room he was still on his stomach with several small incisions through the skin over the back of his pelvic bones. The incisions were less than one-fourth inch long and there weren't any stitches where the doctors had inserted a special hollow syringe needle through the incisions to draw out the marrow.

Earl was kept under observation until the anesthesia wore off and it was determined that his condition was stable enough for him to be released. Eileen was smiling with pride as she drove Earl home, happy that he was willing to undergo the procedure to help a total stranger (Eileen was convinced that there was no way he and Cristina could be a match).

"That would be just coincidentally bizarre, freaky and messed up," Eileen said. "I like the idea of helping out somebody you'll never know or meet."

Earl received several phone calls over the next few days from the National Data Bank asking him how he felt and if there were any side effects from the procedure. Earl had no complaints although there had been some lower back pain that first night, he seemed fatigued for a few days, and he felt some stiffness while walking but all of that went away after a few days. Earl asked one more time if he could be told who the patient was.

"Sir, it's up to the patient to decide if he or she wishes to contact the donor," he was told by the social worker representing the donor bank. "I suggest you not worry about it unless you are contacted by us again."
The calls stopped coming and Earl soon forgot about the bone marrow transplant. He went back to his life, even though he was still bothered by the entire Cristina legacy. The haunts from his teenaged years combined with his Army traumas left him feeling insecure, vulnerable, paranoid and damaged. It helped to know (through Eileen) that Cristina had moved to Arizona because of her health. Although it struck him as odd that she would leave her hometown and her family in the middle of an illness, Earl was relieved to know that he wouldn't have to worry about accidentally bumping into Cristina around Blue County.

### ### ###

Two years passed since the bone marrow donation. Earl was sitting in a booth at Johnny C's Diner late one Saturday morning reading the paper and having a BLT sandwich when he felt a presence and he glanced up, surprised to see an attractive woman staring at him.

She looked a lot like the way he remembered her the very first time he saw her as a thirteen year old girl. The color was back in her face, her hair had grown out, she was back to her proper weight and she was as pretty as she had ever been. For a moment Earl thought he was seeing a ghost or perhaps she was a momentarily figment of his imagination.

"CCCCCCCCCCCCCristina," Earl stuttered, instantly hating himself for still so easily becoming tongue-tied.

"May I sit for a minute?" She asked uncomfortably.

"I…..I…..I," he fumbled nervously, folding the paper, stunned that any of this was happening.

Cristina took his mumble as a yes and she slid into the booth, sitting across from him.

Earl glanced around the diner. "Where's the lawyer?" He asked sarcastically.

"We broke up a long time ago," Cristina replied. "I'm damaged goods."

"Damaged goods?" Earl asked with confusion.

"He couldn't deal with the possibility of me getting sick again," Cristina explained. "He didn't like not knowing and not having any guarantees."

"I'm sssssssssssorry," Earl said. "Sounds like he wasn't very ssssssstrong."

"He wasn't very willing," Cristina said.

"You look well," Earl observed.

"I am well," Cristina told him. "Total remission. Bone marrow transplant saved my life. Turns out it was my best and only option. A gift that gave me a second chance."

"I…..I….I thought you moved away," Earl said, still not able to look directly at her.

"Yes, Phoenix," Cristina confirmed. "There's a Mayo Clinic out there and my parents thought that was the best place for me to have a chance. My aunt lives there and I stayed with her."

"I'm glad you're better," Earl said (and it was the truth, but there didn't seem to be much else to say).

She stared at him for a long moment. "You were the donor," she finally announced.

Earl sat back in his bench and stared at her. "How could you possibly kkkkkkkknow that?"

"I asked," she answered simply. "They keep things mum for the first year or so until they're sure you're going to make it and then if you're really interested they tell you."

Cristina dug into her pocketbook and produced a card, sliding it across the table. Earl glanced at it and saw his name, birth date, gender, and blood type underneath the National Bone Marrow Transplant Center's logo

"What were the chances, huh?" Cristina asked.

"And I never won the lllllllllllottery," Earl replied, remembering Eileen's comment from that night in The Bullpen Tavern.

"I did," Cristina said, looking him straight in the eyes. "Thank you," she added with a whisper. "I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for you."

Earl swallowed but he didn't know what to say.

"I'm sorry I wasn't very nice to you," Cristina said quietly. "I'm sorry for what I did to you."

He swallowed hard but no words would leave his throat.

"I know I hurt you," she said softly.

Cristina reached her hand out across the table as if she was going to take his in hers but Earl pulled his hand back and dropped it into his lap.

"You're not going to let me apologize?" Cristina asked. "You're not going to grant me forgiveness?"

Earl looked at her, surprised at the level of hurt, pain, and anger that was bubbling just beneath his internal fault line.

"I should have been nicer to you," Cristina admitted. "Instead of cruel."

He still couldn't find his voice.

"I'm sorry, Earl," Cristina said. "I need to make it up to you somehow."

"No, you ddddddddddon't," Earl finally said, surprised by the amount of vile in his tone.

Cristina was taken aback by the anger in his voice.

"I don't blame you for hating me," Cristina said. "I deserve to be hated."

Earl threw a quick look at her but he didn't say anything in response.

"You know, when you're lying in a hospital bed not knowing if you're going to live or die you sort of get a new perspective," Cristina said, eyeing him. "For example, my perspective of myself and of my high school experience is different now but I know I can't change how you remember me. I hate thinking about particular incidents and moments from my past but I'm trying to make amends for my mistakes and to be absolved when possible."

"I don't know if I can fffffffffffforgive you," Earl admitted. "It still hurts too much."

Cristina nodded in understanding and Earl saw her eyes water with tears.

"We're living our lives, Earl," Cristina said. "Does it really matter now that I hurt your feelings so long ago? Can't you move on from those hurts and rejections?"

"It matters to mmmmmmmmmeeeee," Earl answered sharply. "I never was able to recover from what you did to me."

"The past is supposed to forgive us as long as we learn our lessons and embrace ourselves in the present," Cristina sighed.

"Look, weeeeeeeeeeeeee both know how pathetic I was but you took great pleasure in humiliating me for my faults," Earl replied. "I never want to go back to that ppppppppppainful place or even remember what it felt like."

"I'm really sorry," Cristina said, standing and giving him a look of sadness. "I wish I could take it all back but what's done is done."

"Yes," Earl agreed coldly.

"I know I can't give back what I took from you," Cristina said. "I'll always regret that. And I'll always be grateful to you for saving my life."

She turned and walked out of the diner, leaving Earl behind wondering why he didn't jump up and scream "Wait!" She apologized, she seemed sincere, and she looked great, yet his stubborn pride, misguided resentment and lingering bitterness allowed Earl to let her go. How strange that he was willing to sacrifice the only girl he ever cared about over the pains of the past. Maybe he was the one who deserved what he got.

### ### ###

Thirty five year old Eileen McCarthy was (finally) getting married. The Executive Secretary was saying "I do" to Rick Zelman, the IT Coordinator at her company. The couple decided on a low key back yard ceremony with family and friends and Eileen's parents were happy to host the event. Earl didn't invite anybody to attend his sister's wedding with him and he showed up at his parents' house stag a half hour before the vows were scheduled to be delivered.

There were about seventy people in attendance and Earl politely made small talk with family members he hadn't seen in a while and old acquaintances from the neighborhood. His life was going along 'all very fine but not very well'. His job with Integrity Bus Company was enjoyable and successful and he had settled into a nice routine professionally but his social life remained guarded and cautious and Earl spent most of his time regretting letting the remorseful Cristina go. She had made a big mistake in her youth but his big mistake came in his adulthood when he allowed a second chance to walk out of his life.

Earl was mingling in the backyard when his eye caught sight of her and he was instantaneously transported back to his thirteenth year when he first saw Cristina. Here she was again, standing by the rows of chairs set out on the back lawn chatting with his sister Elaine and it was as if he was seeing Cristina for the first time all over again. It never occurred to him that Eileen might invite Cristina to the wedding and he was awestruck as he stood staring at her.

Earl hadn't seen Cristina since she left him in the diner nearly two years ago. Now, seeing her again, he couldn't help but feel a lump in his throat. She looked great! He had spent the last two years second guessing himself for not taking Cristina up on her peace offering, beating himself up for being such a bitter fool, and regretting the missed opportunity he let pass that day.

Earl never told anybody about his conversation with Cristina in Johnny C's that day and he was pretty certain Cristina hadn't shared it with anybody either. It was their private little secret and most assumed that it was Cristina who wanted nothing to do with her former (alleged) stalker and that Earl was probably still pining over this fantasy girl even after all these years. What would people have thought if they had known it was Earl who wanted nothing to do with Cristina!?

Cristina smiled when she noticed Earl gawking at her and he took that as an invitation to say hello. He slowly and nervously crossed the yard and stopped a few feet in front of her. Cristina was wearing a lovely white summer dress with fancy sandals.

"HHHHHHHHHHHHHello, Cristina," Earl said.

"Hi, Earl," Cristina replied politely.

"I didn't know you were going to be hhhhhhhhhere," Earl admitted.

"I could tell by the look on your face!" Cristina laughed.

"How are you?" Earl asked with legitimate interest.

"I'm well," she answered cheerfully. "Still in remission. Doing great. I work as a Pre-K teacher's aide."

Earl glanced around. "You didn't come aaaaaaaaaaalone, did you?"

"No," Cristina smiled and Earl was surprised at how disappointed he suddenly felt. "I came with my mother," she added with a smirk.

Earl smiled with relief. "Oh," he grinned.

"I'm living with my parents," Cristina explained.

"Oh?" Earl asked with surprise.

Cristina nodded. "I've taken things as they come since I got sick," she explained.

"Well, it's nice to see you aaaaaaaaagain," Earl told her.

"Do you still hate me?" Cristina wanted to know.

Earl blushed, embarrassed by the question.

"I'm sorry," Cristina remarked. "That was a stupid thing to say."

"I've been learning how to let go of the pppppppppppppast," Earl said.

"Me too," Cristina replied.

"Can I sit with you?" Earl asked, gesturing to the row of chairs behind her.

"I'd like that," Cristina said with a smile.

They took seats on two of the white plastic folding chairs and Cristina's mother joined them a few minutes later as the ceremony was getting ready to begin. Earl was relieved when Cristina's mother was polite and pleasant to him. Cristina must have told her mom that it was Earl who was the donor.

The ceremony was simple but lovely and Earl was very happy for his sister when Eileen and her new husband said their final vows and left the podium to music and cheering.

"Wow, that was romantic!" Cristina gushed as she walked with Earl toward the catered buffet set up by the garage. Cristina's mom had already ventured off to mingle with the masses.

"I guess good things happen to those who wwwwwwwwwwait," Earl remarked, thinking of his sister who had found happiness at thirty-five.

"Yes," Cristina agreed, throwing a glance at Earl.

They went through the 'chow line' as Earl phrased it and they sat at table near the back of the tent. The caters had set up for 125 guests so there was plenty of room and Cristina and Earl found themselves alone at the table. Those who were aware of the long ago back story between the two wedding guests were eager to leave the two former enemies alone.

The food was good and the two didn't say much as they ate from their Styrofoam plates.

"You have to understand," Cristina suddenly said out of the blue. "I always got what I wanted. I was spoiled, protected, and treated special. I never had to take responsibility for anything I did."

Earl nodded in understanding but he didn't say anything.

"It wasn't until I got sick that I realized how much I had wasted my life," she sighed. "The college degree? Who cares? The snazzy boutique? Big Deal! The perfect boyfriend? Not. The only thing that mattered as I waited to see if I lived or died was my family and my sins."

Earl glanced at her and waited for her to continue.

"I was filled with such shame and regret when I thought about the way I behaved and how I acted," Cristina continued. "I kept telling God that if he gave me a second chance I would amend my life and make a difference for others. I'm a volunteer at the Women's Health Center talking with women with cancer. I belong to a cancer support group. I'm on the relay for life committee. I work with little kids to teach values and manners and politeness and the importance of being nice."

"WWWWWWWWhy are you telling me all this?" Earl asked.

She sighed and sat back in her chair. "I just wanted you to know, I guess."

She slowly moved her hand across the table and this time Earl didn't move his back. He let her take hold of his hand and he gave hers a gentle squeeze.

"I probably should have been flattered," Cristina realized. "You were the only boy who really seemed to care about me."

"I…I….I….didn't do a very good job respecting your boundaries," Earl admitted. "I…..I…I was pretty messed up back then."

"We all were," Cristina sighed. "Being a teenager was absolute hell. Did you know I never ate from Wednesday morning until Friday night?" She asked.

Earl looked at her with shock. "Why in the hell not!?"

"Weight control," she said, rolling her eyes. "You weren't the only one with issues, Earl."

"Well, we're both better nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnow," Earl told her.

"You saved me, Earl," Cristina let him know. "Not just my life, but my soul too."

Earl felt the catch in his throat.

"I thank God every day for my life," Cristina said.

Earl chewed on his bottom lip, not sure how he was supposed to respond to that.

"What do you mean when you said you never won the lottery?" Cristina asked. "That day at Johnny C's?"

"Eileen told me that I had a better chance of winning the lllllllllllottery or getting hit by lightening than I did being a mmmmmmmatch for you," Earl explained sheepishly.

"But don't you see?" Cristina asked, looking him straight in the eyes. "You did win the lottery!"

"I did?"

"I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for you, Earl," Cristina reminded him. "So in a way, you won…me."

Earl swallowed hard. "I always thought that if yyyyyyyyyyou just got to know me, you'd get to like me," he confessed.

"I do like you," Cristina assured him.

"I'm glad," he said with relief.

"Will you forgive me now?" Cristina wanted to know.

"Yes," Earl said and suddenly he felt like a fifty pound sack of potatoes had fallen off his shoulders. "I should have forgiven you a long time ago."

"I still need to make it up to you somehow," Cristina told him.

"You already have," Earl said with a smile.

"I have?" She asked hopefully.

He nodded affirmatively.

"I'm glad," Cristina said with a smile. "You know," she said with a smirk. "You and I are marrowed now."

Earl smiled. "I like that sound of that."

"Me too," Cristina grinned.

"Would you like to marrow out onto the ddddddddance floor?" Earl asked.

"I would," Cristina replied. "But we have to wait for the bride and groom's first dance."

"I've been waiting a long ttttttttime," Earl realized. "I can wait a little longer."

"Me too," Cristina said.