Rose and Justice — Installment Fifteen

This is Installment Fifteen of the novel Rose and Justice. It includes Chapter IV.viii and the Epilogue. It is 5,513 words long. As installments are posted, links for each will be added under the tab labeled “The Novel” at the top of this page. Enjoy!

IV.viii

            Hannah shook Justice’s shoulder.  “Wake up.  Justice, wake up.”

Justice sat up quickly and looked at his cousin in the dark.  “What is it?  Is it Uncle Aaron?  Is everything okay?”

“Daddy’s fine.  Everyone’s okay.  I just need you to wake up.”

“How did you get here?”

“I walked.”

“That’s over a mile and it’s . . . ” Justice looked at the clock beside his bed, “Jesus, it’s 4:15 in the morning.  What the hell is it, Hannah?”

“He came to me in a dream.  You have to trust me, Justice.  I need you to do exactly what I say.”

“He?  Who’s he?  You walked over here and woke me up at 4:15 in the morning because you had a dream?”

Hannah smiled, but Justice couldn’t see it in the dark.  She spoke again, this time softly and firmly.  “Justice, I have never asked anything from you, have I?”

“No.”

“Well, now I am, and I need you to do exactly what I say.  You need to get up and get dressed.  Dress warmly, you’re going to the shore.”

“There is no way I’m going to –“

“Justice!  Have I ever asked anything from you?”  She almost sounded angry, and Justice had never heard that from her before.

“No.”  He said it again, but with more acceptance.

“Get up.  Get dressed.  Go to the ocean.”

“And what am I supposed to do there?”

“You’ll know.”

Justice looked at her for a moment and then resisted again.  “I’ll know what?  What was this dream?  What am I supposed to do when I get to the ocean?”

Hannah whispered this time.  “Get up.  Get dressed.   Go to the ocean. Do it now.  It’s time.”

“Time for what?”  Justice spoke in a whisper too, but didn’t know why.

Hannah seemed far away. “If you knew, you would wish you could fly.”

“Hannah.  Are you sure you’re okay?”

Hannah reached her hand out to touch Justice’s face.  She had done that when they were younger to “see” him.  She placed her fingers gently on his temple, then slid her hand down his cheek until only her fingertips touched his lips.  “Go.  It’s time.”

Hannah left his room, left his house, and began the journey back to her own, in the dark, with eyes that could not see.

Justice rose and got dressed.  He considered the option of going back to sleep, but only briefly.  He knew he would go.   He would do anything Hannah asked.  He walked down the stairs and out the front door, thinking that perhaps Hannah had been sleepwalking.  She had seemed to almost dance out of the room.  Was it possible for a person to sleepwalk almost two miles to a precise location and then have a conversation?  He doubted so for a normal person, but Hannah had proven to be extraordinary many times before.  Maybe her blindness made it easier for her.  For her the walk was no different in dark or light.

His walk to the ocean was more difficult, he was certain.  The full moon of the night before was low on the horizon now and hidden by the trees.  Justice carefully stepped his way along the familiar path, trusting his memory more than his sight.  He crossed Ocean Road and walked quietly through the dark residential street that led to the beach.  He reached the water’s edge and stopped.  What now?  He looked to the still dominant light of the stars for something – an answer, a sign maybe.  Hannah had said he would know what to do next, but he didn’t, so he just stood still.  He would wait for the dawn and when nothing had happened, as he was beginning to rationalize that it, of course, wouldn’t, he would go home and make some coffee.   He hadn’t put on his watch and wondered what time it was – 4:15 when he was awakened, 15 minutes or so of debate and then dressing, the walk, it was probably a few minutes before five.  He enjoyed the smell of the salt air in the last few moments of night and the chilly mist from the waves that floated up to his face.  What the darkness took away from his vision it seemed to make up for in his other senses.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shooting star.  He had never seen one and wondered how rare they might be.  He stared at the spot in the sky for a long time, no longer wondering about his purpose for being here, now just standing strong and still.   He was almost in a trance when the sky began to soften with light at the far edge of the water.

He watched the stars melt as the glow overtook them.  The water began to sound different in the light, and it changed from black to dark blue, then to green and teal.  The few clouds on the horizon were painted bright pink on the side closest to the dawning light.   He saw the precise moment that the sun first peeked in on him and thought how many times that had happened in his life and how few times he had seen it.  He had such an awareness of being alive that he wondered why he didn’t rise early to make this walk more often, and vowed he would do so in the future. The air began to get warmer, and the gulls began to circle and cry out for a morning meal.

“Well, Hannah,” he said out loud, “I have done what you asked.”  He watched the gulls for just a minute more, then thought how good a cup of coffee would be.  He turned to go, turned to his right until his back was to the ocean, then, slowly, back to his left, until he looked south down the beach.

Even 100 yards away, he knew it was her.  That same profile, that same nameless feeling that she could give him through doors and across miles, that intuitive knowing of something – what was that something? – that he could get just by thinking of her or hearing someone talk about the flower that bore her name.  He held his breath for a long moment, then let it out in a long, slow, even exhale.  He was 39 years old, and he was ready to open the door.  His father could no longer make him stand outside a classroom, an arm’s length away from his desire.  He had been given another chance, and he was not going to let this one slip away.

Without taking his eyes off her, he began walking.  His steps were measured, slow but deliberate.  She stood at the water’s edge, tall and erect, her head up as if waiting to see something.  He thought he should call out, warn her that she wasn’t alone, but he couldn’t.  He could only walk toward her, feeling his heart beat against his chest.  He walked in rhythm with the ocean, three steps to every one wave reaching the shore.  He thought she would sense him, turn and look at the approaching stranger.  He didn’t want her to be afraid.  But all he could do was walk.

He kept walking until he was beside her, just a couple of feet away.  She stood there, still waiting for something.  He thought she must see him out of the corner of her eye, but he wasn’t sure what to do.  Should he speak?  Could he speak?  Before he could decide, she turned her head to face him.  She was still and unafraid.  Neither moved for a time, until she found the voice he had seemed to lose.

“Is it you?” she whispered.

“Yes.”

The ache she seemed to have been born with slipped away, carried to other shores by the tide.  One simple moment in time, a chance meeting on a shore, and every pain she had ever known evaporated.  She knew him.  Instantly, she knew him.  And she could sense that whatever this was she was feeling, this wholeness, was being felt by him too.

They stood, strong and still, looking directly in each other’s eyes, held there by an unseen force.  There was no effort, no conscious act.  Rather, they were suspended, completely supported and guided by a warm and perfect current they both felt.

At some point, Rose began to get an awareness of the earth around her again, the waves and the rising sun.  As she did so, she realized with surprise that she really did know him.  She hesitantly returned to the present.  “Justice, isn’t it?”

“Yes.  Rose.”

“That’s right.  I remember you liked my painting and, ironically, I just saw a shooting star.”

“I saw it too.”

She paused and looked carefully at him for a moment.  “How is it that you’re here?”

Justice turned away reluctantly to point at the roof sticking up through the trees in the distance.  “That is the roof of my house.”

“You’ve lived here all along?”

“Yes.  Well, I spent some years in Athens after graduation.  But, my family is from here, and I was raised here.”

“I was born and raised just a few miles away.”

Justice wondered how soon he could tell her that he had waited for her all his life, that he had saved himself for her alone, that he knew the first time he met her that he loved her.  Rose wondered why she was suddenly compelled to hum a song she had heard on the radio.

“Do you have anywhere you need to be?”  Justice took a deep breath and then decided to take the biggest risk of his life.  “I can have some coffee brewing in just a few minutes if you’d like to come back to my house and talk.  We can watch the rest of the sunrise from my deck.  Because, you see,” he paused slightly, then dove headfirst into the surf pounding against his heart, “I don’t want you to get away this time, and that’s just the God’s honest truth.”

Rose smiled.  “Coffee would be nice.”

They walked in silence, past the live-oak tree where Hannah had first found Rose long ago, across Ocean Road and up the path through the marsh that Justice’s ancestors had trod, and the Creek before them, and then through the woods.   The path was cleared from centuries of use, but still he would turn to hold a branch out of her way or make sure her footing was solid over exposed tree roots.  When they entered the house, Justice pointed the way for her.

“Follow those stairs to the third floor.  The door to the patio will be on your right.  I’ll be up with coffee in just a moment.”

Rose climbed the two flights and opened the door.  She was stunned by the view before her, the ocean spreading out even farther from this high up.  She walked to the rail.  She was consciously aware of feeling no fear.  What Justice had said to her did not frighten her.  She had expected him to say just that, though she didn’t know why.   If she had stopped to rationalize, thought about the fact that she was in the house of a virtual stranger waiting for him to bring her coffee on a Saturday morning, she might have analyzed herself into finding an excuse to leave.  But there was something far bigger than rational thought at work here, and somehow she knew it.  There was no place else she should be at this moment in time.

The coffee maker dripped at the rate that the Ice Age ended, or so it seemed to Justice.  When it finally finished brewing, he filled two cups, placed them on a tray with cream and sugar, and climbed the stairs, commanding his hands to stop shaking so that the entire load didn’t come crashing down.   He used his back to push open the door to the patio, then twisted around for it to close behind him.  He saw her and just stopped, momentarily forgetting he was Justice Malone of St. Simons Island, GA, but rather feeling somehow divine.  Her back was to him.  She stood at the far rail looking out at the horizon.  Justice briefly wondered if she would always have that effect on him, making him feel holy just by being in her presence.  He came back to his senses and set the tray down on the patio table.  He began talking as he walked toward her.

“The coffee’s here.  I didn’t know if you wanted cream or sugar, or both, or neither.”  She turned and smiled, and the smile seemed to reach into his soul.  He reached her side and spoke again, more softly than before.  “I used to watch you.  Through the window on the door when you were teaching.”

“I know.”

“You knew that?”

“I knew someone was watching.  Now I know it was you.  I thought you might come back and see me at the office.  Why didn’t you?”

“I guess I was young.  And scared.  You don’t know how many times I wished I’d had.  But, it’s probably better this way.”

“Why?”

“Because there were other obstacles then.   When we were younger, other things might have gotten in our way.  Now, there’s nothing to stop us.”  Justice shook his head hard.  “Jesus, I can’t believe I’m saying this.  You’re probably going to think I’m crazy.”

“I don’t.  I have no idea what’s happening, but I like it.  I even think I need it in some way.”

Justice paused.  “Do you believe in love at first sight?”

“I didn’t.”

“I do.”

“Honestly now, do you really believe you fell in love with me in a ten-minute interview over twenty years ago?”

“No.  I believe I fell in love with you the first time I met you.”  He put his hand gently on her shoulder and turned her around.  “Under that big oak tree, right there by the old Coast Guard Station.”

Rose was confused at first, but then the memory came back to her, slowly at first, like trying to remember a dream when first awaking.  “The little blind girl I met on the dune.  You . . . you were the boy.   That’s right.  I remember now.  The boy’s name was Justice.  And I said – “

“And you said, ‘I always hoped there would be justice in the world, and now I’ve found you.’”

Rose turned back to the oak tree.  A tear came down her cheek.  “It was right here.  It was right here all the time.”

Justice turned her around again and held each of her hands in his own.  “Rose, I have no idea what’s happening.  But I feel like I’ve been looking for you all my life.  I hope I don’t scare you away.  It would kill me if I did that.  But, I love you, Rose.  I don’t know how I know that, I just know I do.  I know it deeper than I have ever known anything.”

She put a finger to his lips.  The touch melted his fear.  “I don’t need an explanation.  I’m not sure either of us could give an adequate one.  But, whatever you’re feeling, I’m feeling it too.  I never thought I would want love again in my life, but now I’m not sure I ever really knew what it was.  I want you to woo me.  But, do it quickly.  Because I want you to make love to me.  Now.”  She felt carried on by a higher power.  She was not initiating the words, but some pleasant force, as if the universe had taken her hand to lead her on this part of her journey.

Justice took her in his arms.  He kissed her, softly at first, an introduction, an exploration.  The first touch of his lips on hers brought a pleasure beyond pleasure, a joy past joy.  Then he kissed her a thousand times more, gently, firmly, passionately.  He pulled her body into his, and it fit perfectly.  He felt her arms around his shoulders, pulling him closer still, her hands on the back of his neck, in his hair, touching his face, and the touch was electric.  He felt a burst of energy flowing from her heart to his, and then back again, that made him tingle in warmth.

He laid her down on the deck and forced himself to stop kissing her.  Looking at her and kissing her were equal pleasures fighting for attention.  He knelt above her and traced the line of her jaw with his fingertips.  She smiled up at him, that smile that first made him love her, that seemed to shine on his most infinite depths.  She unzipped the front of her jacket.  Justice leaned her up to take her coat from her, the rising sun having now warmed the air around them.  Whether she meant it as an invitation or was simply getting too warm was not debated in Justice’s mind.  He kept undressing her, his eyes moving from each new part of her he was discovering back to her eyes.  There was no shame, no fear, no inhibition.  They wanted to be naked together on this balcony by the sea in the light of day.

When Rose was completely naked, Justice began unbuttoning his own shirt.

“No.  Let me.”

He smiled at her and became passive under her touch.  As she removed his shirt, he spoke.  “There are no words for how beautiful you are.”

She stroked his chest with her hand.  “Well, if you discover them, let me know, so I can use them to describe you.”   They both grinned.  It was a real smile, the result of pure joy, a simple and immediate reaction to perfect bliss.

He stood to pull off his jeans.  Never had he been so completely exposed to another and never had he felt so wrapped in love and security.   He laid her back again on her jacket and eased himself down on top of her.  The first meeting of their bodies was so overwhelming that they simply lay there, completely still, for minutes, maybe hours, maybe days, they didn’t know.  When he could breathe again, he began to kiss her.  He kissed her lips, her nose, her eyes, her neck and shoulders, and then her chest and stomach and thighs.  And she kissed him, tasting every part of him, his ears and back and chest.

They made love together like a well-choreographed ballet.  They were neither passive nor aggressive, just loving and consumed by the act of love.  It felt like the first time and like they had been loving for centuries simultaneously.  And when they were through, the sun was setting behind them.

 

EPILOGUE

            They had no way of knowing it would be their last walk on the beach together.

Cade had been home for the Thanksgiving holiday with his wife and three girls.  Rose loved the opportunity to cook the holiday meal for a houseful once again, but at 86 the task proved a bit more daunting that it had in the past.  Cade noticed this and insisted that she and Justice take a walk to the shore together while he and Emily cleaned up the kitchen.

Standing at the water’s edge had been Rose and Justice’s daily meditation for 42 years.  This particular time, the last time as it would turn out, they had watched the waves for awhile, her hand in his, until they broke the silence with talk of gratitude, inspired by the season, but a theme they shared much more than once a year.

It was a chilly day and, despite his turtleneck and cardigan, Justice had caught a cold, a hacking cough which held on for a week until it turned into pneumonia.  He was hospitalized the following Friday and on Saturday afternoon the doctors had told Rose there wasn’t anything more they could do.  He simply didn’t have the strength to bounce back, and he would eventually drown in the fluid filling his lungs.

Cade flew back in from Chicago, but alone this time.  The girls had school, and he secretly wanted some solitude when he said goodbye to the man he had loved like a father.  He arrived at Justice’s bedside at 2:30 that Saturday afternoon, and Rose feigned hunger so she could go to the cafeteria and leave her son and her husband alone together.

Cade talked to Justice for a long while, told him he loved him and how grateful he was for the way Justice had loved his mother.  He didn’t know if Justice heard any of this in the semi-comatose state he was in, but was glad he had said it anyway.

Rose and Cade sat in the room throughout the afternoon talking in whispers.  Justice would rouse periodically, but they were never sure if he was aware of their presence.  At 7:00 pm Rose told Cade to go to the house and rest.

“Mother, I’m here to relieve you.  Why don’t you go and get a good night’s sleep?  I’ll sit with him through the night.”

Rose stood as if to go, but instead walked to her son’s chair and laid a hand on his shoulder.  “Honey, I’m only going to say this once.  I will not leave my husband’s side, and I would like at least one more night alone with him.  I am certain I will be happy to see you in the morning, but you must go now.”  Then she leaned over, supporting her weight on her son’s strong shoulder and the cane in her right hand, and kissed Cade’s forehead.   Cade knew that it was futile to argue with her.

After Cade left, Rose settled back into the reclining chair beside Justice’s bed.  He was sleeping, his breath rattling heavily with the fluid in his lungs.   Rose knew he was going.  She didn’t even consider praying for a miracle or hoping he would defy the medical facts.  It was time.  She just couldn’t quite decide if it was bitterly ironic or sweetly serendipitous that he would ultimately drown in the ocean they loved right here in a hospital room.

She didn’t talk to him.  She felt the spoken words somehow too clumsy for what she felt and knew that silent heartfelt messages ultimately traveled much further and were heard in the marrow, not in the ears.  So she watched his chest rise and fall as if by a great effort and thought of their life from the very beginning.

She smiled when she remembered her father’s initial reaction to Justice, one of wariness and distrust, and how quickly the sweet nature of Justice had won her father over until Phillip had become one of his biggest fans.  She remembered the silly, tongue-in-cheek ritual her brothers cooked up the second year they were together to make Justice an honorary black man.  He had laughed good-naturedly through the event and made them even that much more accepting of him.   Her family had been loving and kind to Justice, after the early shock wore off, and Rose was still grateful to them for that, but it had been Justice and, perhaps more importantly, the way Justice loved Rose that had won their hearts and opened their arms to welcome him into the family.

She remembered the night, before they were married, when Justice nervously set out to tell her the story of his family, their legacy of hate and racism, the generations of bitterness and separation.  Somehow he had been frightened that she would love him less for this.  But she had loved him more.  He had resisted his inheritance and made himself into a loving, accepting, and open-minded man, one who would follow his heart into love with her without a single hesitation.   When he finished his story, she wrapped her arms around him and said, “Oh, how far you came to find me,” and he laid his head on her shoulder and cried nonstop for an hour or more.

She remembered Marsh and his much more difficult journey to acceptance.  He was a hard man, a man created for the game of football, a “man’s man.”  He was never much a part of their lives.  He came back only that one time, to sell the property he had inherited.  Rose had tried to make him feel welcome and at home, but his own discomfort wouldn’t allow it.  She knew that he and Justice had spent some time in the marsh together, fishing and walking the old tower path, and felt certain they had talked about important things together, but Justice never mentioned the conversations and she never asked.   She only knew that when he left, he was a little softer somehow and said to her, rather gruffly, yet still sweetly, “I hope you and my brother are very happy together.”   Marsh died of a massive heart attack when he was only 60.  Rose truly hoped he had found peace and joy in his life before he passed away.

She remembered the patient way Justice had worked to win Cade’s affection.  He had never pushed the boy, but rather let Cade determine the speed at which their relationship would develop.  By the time they had been married a year, Cade was as comfortable with and grateful for the new man in their household as if Justice had been his own father.  In fact, a teenage flirtation with defiance and rebellion was probably squelched by the presence of Justice, and Rose had been almost as thankful that her son had a father figure as she was that she had found this immense and wonderful love.

Sometime in her remembrances, she became sleepy.  She was still facing Justice and still exploring her memories, but she didn’t realize her eyes were shut until she heard him call her name.  At first she thought it was in her memory, but then she heard it again, in a weak, rattling whisper.

“Rose.”

She opened her eyes and straightened up in her chair.  “Justice?”

He smiled faintly.  “I was just thinking about our wedding day.”

Rose smiled.  “You looked so handsome.”

“And you were the perfect Rose of beauty.”

“No, I was and still am the Rose of Justice.”

His eyes were watery and weak, but they began to sparkle nonetheless.  “Your father thought we were crazy.”

“Well, I suppose if Cade had told me he was going to marry someone he had only known for three weeks, I would have thought he was crazy too.”

“I had known you much longer than three weeks.”  Justice smiled again.

Rose just looked at him for awhile, not wanting to tire him out with too much talking.  After a time, she spoke.  “I was thinking of Hannah just a little while ago.”

Justice’s eyes softened.  “I miss her.”

“I know you do.  I was thinking about how she always saw deeper into things than anyone else seemed to, how she would always say, ‘God is workin’ in every situation.’  And I was thinking that she might come to you in a dream.  I’m sure she’s watching out for you right now.”

“I’d rather she watch out for you.”  Justice spoke between breaths.  “She loved you . . . so dearly.  I could have been jealous, of both of you, but it was so perfect, her loving you and you loving her.  Besides, she did come to me in a dream once.  I’m just not sure if it was her dream or mine.”

Rose cocked her head to one side and gave the innocent, open-faced look she had never lost.  “Perhaps it was my dream.”

“Well, whoever’s dream it was, I’m just glad we never woke up.”  Justice paused and closed his eyes for a long moment.  Rose thought he might have dozed off again, but then he spoke, in even more of a whisper than before.  “Rose?”

“Yes, darling.”

Justice opened his eyes.  “Can you come sit on the bed beside me for a minute?”

Rose stood and paused at the bed in front of her, then sat on the side, placed one hand on Justice’s ailing chest and the other in his open hand.

Justice looked directly in her eyes, and for an instant he looked like a young man again, just a boy really, the lamplight shining in his eyes like a sunset.  “I love you, Rose.  I could say more, could try to find more words and more ways to say it.  But the beginning and end of everything is that I love you.”

Rose felt tears sliding down her cheeks.   They came easy, but certain, tears that would enter the room quietly, but enter they would.   “And I love you, Justice.  My memories start with you.”  She paused, struggling with the words she knew she must say.  “I have been grateful every day of the last 42 years that you found me on that shore.  But, it’s okay . . . for you to go now.  You don’t need to stay around for me.  I want you to go where you can walk on the beach again.  I want you to go and stand on another shore and wait for me there.”

Justice closed his weary eyes.  Rose felt the slight grip in his hand slacken.  His chest rose and fell more slowly, and she knew that he had fought off the sleep as long as he could.

Rose moved back to her chair and settled back to watch her husband sleep.  Within moments, she felt her own eyelids drooping and she was soon asleep as well.  She dreamed that Marsh and Hannah were riding horses along a beach, but the horses were galloping in an odd way, almost dancing.  Rose’s father stood on the beach and motioned for them to stop.  Then he pointed off in the distance, as if telling them something important, and seemed to be telling them to hurry.  Marsh and Hannah nodded to Phillip and then rode off in the direction in which he had been pointing.

Her dream was interrupted by a sudden sharp pain in her chest.  Rose sat upright in her chair, wide awake now, and certain she was having a heart attack.  It felt as if a knife was being plunged into her chest just to the left of her sternum and the pain made her breathless.  She had heard about pain so intense that even vision was affected and thought this must be the case now because the entire room seemed to be getting brighter, almost glowing.  One spot on the ceiling was brightest of all, almost too bright to look at, yet not hurting her eyes.  Just when she was certain she was indeed dying the glow began to fade and the pain to subside.  She took a deep breath and thought she might need to press Justice’s call button for a nurse to come take a look at her.  She reached for the edge of his bed and then stopped short.  Justice’s chest was not moving.  His body lay perfectly still.  His face was slack.   She stared at him for a long moment, and then gently pushed the call button.

When the nurse arrived, Rose said nothing about her own pain.  It had eased to a dull ache, one somehow familiar and not scary.  She simply said, “I believe my husband has passed away.”  The nurse checked for Justice’s pulse and, feeling none, nodded gravely and left the room.  Rose called Cade, and then sat on the edge of the bed and held her husband’s hand until the nurse returned.

 

Rose passed away in her sleep less than a month later.  After Justice’s memorial service was over and his ashes had been scattered into the ocean, she never visited the beach again.  She sat in a chair on the third floor deck and watched the horizon, as if waiting for her sailor-love to come for her.   She remembered how she had once yearned for a life of solitude.  Now, solitude felt like nothing more than emptiness, peaceful and without struggle, but empty all the same.  That which she had hoped was more than fiction had come to her, filled her completely for the last 42 years, took away the ache with which she had been born.  And now it was gone.  He was gone.

She willed herself to join Justice.  There was nothing to hold her to earth any longer.  She was ready to leave and, three-and-a-half weeks later, her body finally followed the command of her spirit.

She had gone to sleep in the wicker chair on the deck, but she woke up in his arms, blinking her eyes at the brightness that was all around him.  Over his shoulder she saw her father and Hannah.

She tried to speak to him, but seemed unable to make a sound.

He didn’t speak.  He just smiled.  But in her spirit she heard his voice, “Take your time, Juliet.  Take all the time you need.  We’re Here to stay.”

END  

© Deborah E. Moore – 2011

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