Kate couldn’t believe how quickly the day passed. She was so happy about the way things were going with Kevin that she didn’t think anything could bring her down. She felt like everything in her life was going exactly right for the first time since her dad had passed away.
She practically flew to the band hall after school to retrieve her instrument and head home. She’d barely gotten to the end of the school grounds and was preparing to cross the road when she spotted her Mom waiting for her in the car. Her mom was usually at work at this time of day, so Kate knew something wasn’t right. The elated feeling began to evaporate like water in the midday summer sun leaving her with a heavy feeling in the pit of her stomach.
As she got in the car, her mom smiled and asked her if she’d like some ice cream. Ice cream was a rare treat in their household. Her mom didn’t believe in allowing them to have much junk food at home, and eating out was too expensive to do very often. Kate thought maybe she’d been mistaken. Maybe this was good news, but that heavy feeling didn’t budge. She just knew something wasn’t right.
They pulled into the parking lot of SpoonMe, the new ice cream shop in town. Kate had been wanting to go there for a while but her mom always said no before today. They got out of the car and headed inside. Her mom told her to get whatever she wanted, and even suggested she get a double scoop. Kate knew for sure something was up. Her mom never let her do that.
They took a seat in the back and talked just a little bit as they sat eating. When Kate was finished, her mom sighed and said, “Honey, I’ve got some bad news”.
Kate was prepared for almost anything, but she wasn’t prepared for what her mom said next. “Bones is dead, baby. I’m so sorry.”
Kate just stared at her mom, unable to believe what she was hearing. “When, Mom? When did he die?”
“I don’t know for sure, sweetheart. He was dead when I got home this afternoon for lunch,” she answered.
Kate looked out the window, blinking back tears. She felt like she’d lost everything that mattered. She forgot all about Kevin, all about the thumbdrive, all about the events of the past 5 days. All she could think about was the fact that Bones wasn’t going to be there for her anymore.
“Honey, I know you’re hurting right now, but it’s better this way. He was in a lot of pain, sweetheart,” her mom said. Kate could hear the pleading in her voice, but she didn’t want to hear those words right now. She didn’t understand why God would take Bones from her. She needed him.
“You don’t care. You never cared about Bones. You wanted to take him to the vet. You’re just glad he died so you didn’t have to pay for him anymore,” Kate spat out, her pain and anger spewing out of her like vomit.
“Kate! You know that’s not true. I did everything I could for him. I can’t help it that he died,” Kate’s mom replied, but Kate couldn’t hear the pain in her mother’s voice. She was too angry and too upset to listen.
“Take me home, Mom. Just take me home. I want to see him,” Kate said, her voice choking on the unshed tears she was holding back through sheer willpower alone. She suddenly felt so very, very tired.
“Sure, honey, whatever you want,” her mom said, cleaning up their table and grabbing her purse as Kate headed out the door in front of her. Kate stood at the car waiting for her mom to arrive. She couldn’t help but think of all those times she didn’t check on Bones, let herself get too busy to walk him or to hang out with him. She thought about how happy he’d looked that Saturday night, and how sad his eyes had been when she’d left him alone that night in the basement. She felt guilty that Bones had died alone while she was eating lunch with Kevin.
She managed to keep her tears at bay until they got to the house, but when she saw him curled up in his doggy bed on the back porch she lost it completely. She buried her face in his fur and cried like she hadn’t allowed herself to cry since her father died. It was almost like losing her father all over again. Her mother stayed in the house and allowed Kate her privacy, something Kate was grateful for even in her anger and pain.
When she was finished crying, she wiped her eyes and went back into the house. “Where are we going to bury him, Mom?”
“I thought we’d bury him by the apple tree in the back yard,” her mom said, quietly.
Kate nodded her consent. “Let me bury him, Mom” she said, heading to the garage to get the shovel.
“Kate, he was my dog, too. I loved him, too. You aren’t alone in this. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true,” she said sadly.
“Then why aren’t you crying?” Kate said accusingly.
“I cried my tears before I came to get you,” her mom said simply, “and I haven’t got any left.”
Kate felt two large tears leak out of her eyes as she headed to the garage. She knew she was hurting her mom, and she knew it wasn’t her mom’s fault, but she was so angry and she needed somebody to blame right now. She was really angry at God, but He wasn’t available so it all ended up coming out on her mom instead.
She grabbed the shovel off of the wall of the garage and headed out to the apple tree in the backyard. She began digging, putting all of her anger and her hurt and her misery into every shovel full until she’d gotten the hole big enough and deep enough that she was satisfied. By now, her muscles were screaming and her back was aching, but better than that she was too tired to be angry anymore. She’d spent all the energy on digging the hole.
James and John and her mom gathered at the hole as Kate placed Bones’ body in her old red flyer wagon and wheeled him out to the site. She was reminded of the times when she was little and she would tie Bones’ leash to the handle as if he were a sled dog, allowing him to pull her along behind him. Now it was her turn to pull him on his final journey.
She took the body out of the wagon and carefully laid him in the grave. She started to shovel the dirt over Bones but couldn’t make herself do it. She began to cry again, and her mom took the shovel out of her hands and she and the twins took turns covering his body. Kate finally pulled herself together in time for the last shovelful. Kate’s mom and the twins took turns saying goodbyes to Bones. Her mom gave her a hug, and then the three of them headed back inside leaving Kate alone.
“Oh, Bones, why did you die on me? Why did you leave me behind?” Kate moaned. “I’m sorry, Bones. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you like I should have been. I’m sorry I didn’t stay with you Saturday night. I’m so, so, sorry.” She burst into tears again, the remorse for all the times she failed to love that dog the way he’d loved her coming to mind.
Finally, she’d cried herself out and didn’t feel like she had any more tears to give. She headed back inside the house. “Mom, where’s the keys to the car?” she asked her mother without a word of explanation.
“In my purse, honey, why?” her mother looked at her quizzically.
“I need my violin. I’ve got to practice,” she said simply.
Her mom nodded and pointed toward her purse. Kate pulled the keys out and went to get her violin. She thought that maybe concentrating on the music would help her feel better. She grabbed the violin case out of the car, locked it back up, and headed downstairs to the basement. She spent two hours practicing Toreador, letting her mind wrap itself around the music and embrace it until it carried her away.
She might have kept playing all night if her mom hadn’t interrupted her at a quarter past eleven. “Sweetheart, you need to get some sleep,” she said gently. Kate nodded and packed her violin carefully back in its case. She knew her mother was right. She felt so very tired. She was afraid that if she slept she might never want to get up again, but she said nothing. She just went upstairs and fell into bed without bothering to get undressed.
It was only by sheer force of will that she got herself up when the alarm went off the next morning. She headed to the bathroom to shower, kicking her jeans into a pile on the bathroom floor. She’d forgotten all about the thumbdrive in her pocket. She felt only a little bit better than she had when she went to bed last night.
Snow had fallen that night covering Bones’ grave and everything else in her neighborhood in a coat of white. It was almost like Bones had taken the last of the summer sunshine with him when he died. She grabbed her coat and her violin and headed off to school. She was running late when she got there, with barely enough time to put her violin in her locker and sprint off to English class. She didn’t see Kevin during any of her passing periods, but she couldn’t rouse herself enough to really care.
At lunch, she headed to the cafeteria and picked a spot all by herself. She didn’t feel much like eating and she felt even less like talking. She got a drink out of the vending machine and pulled a book from her bag. It happened to be A Warrior’s Guide. She wasn’t in the mood for funny right then, so she put it to the side and looked for something else to read, but had no luck.
She sighed and was about to get up from the table when Kevin appeared and sat down. “Hey, I called last night, but nobody answered. What happened?”
Kate felt tears welling in her eyes and pushed them back, “My dog died yesterday, and I was burying him last night.”
“Oh, Kate, I’m so sorry,” Kevin said, reaching for her hand. “Anything I can do?”
“You can tell me why God took my dog from me,” she said, the gesture of kindness drawing the tears out of her like a syphon.
“Kate, I wish I could tell you why. But I do know that God works all things for the good,” Kevin said.
“I don’t believe that. I don’t believe my dog dying is good. I don’t believe that my dad dying is good. How can you believe that?” she said bitterly.
“I didn’t say those things were good, Kate. They aren’t. I said that God would bring something good out of them. That means He will use what isn’t good as a tool to make something good,” Kevin replied calmly.
“How can you be so sure? How can something so bad be used to make anything good?” Kate demanded.
“I’m sure because I’ve seen it, Kate. I’ve seen it happen. God’s used all kinds of bad things in my life to make me a better person, to make me stronger. I’ve lost people, too, Kate. People I loved just as much as you loved your dad and your dog. God used that loss and that pain and that hurt so I could help someone just like you get through something like this. That’s how I know,” Kevin said.
“Who have you lost?” she asked, sniffling. She found his words comforting, even if she wasn’t sure that she really believed them.
“I lost my Grandpa last year. He was my best friend. We did everything together. I love my dad, but my Grandpa was special. I miss him so much sometimes it hurts, but I know that he’s not really dead. God just has hold of him right now, and someday I’m going to get to see him again. I lost my Grandma on my mom’s side three years ago. I miss her, too, but I know that she’s in heaven and I’ll get to see her someday when it’s my turn to go,” Kevin replied.
“You really believe that?” Kate asked. “You really believe you’ll get to see them again?”
“Yes, Kate, I really do. I still talk to them, too. I know they can hear me. Sometimes I can feel them with me, too,” Kevin said to her. She put her hand in his and for the first time she felt like someone understood what she was going through. His presence alone was comforting.
“Thank you,” she said softly.
“For what?” Kevin asked.
“For being there and for understanding,” she said.
“Kate, I will always be here for you,” he said.
“Will you? Why?” she asked, looking him in the eyes for the first time.
“Because, Kate, I care about you,” he answered.
“Why do you care? Because you need me to be one of your warriors?” she asked, angry again all of a sudden.
“No, Kate. I’ve liked you for a long time. That’s why I recommended you. I just didn’t know how to get you to notice me,” he said.
Kate found that statement so absurd that she found herself laughing. Kevin looked puzzled.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“You. You didn’t know how to get me to notice you? Every girl in school notices you, Kevin. Everyone notices you. You’re the most popular boy in the whole place and you didn’t know how to get me to notice you?” she said, laughing in between every word.
Kevin looked at her in surprise. “Kate, you walk around like you never even notice the people around you. I had no idea you even knew who I was. There’s about a million guys who want to ask you out, but they’re all afraid you would say no. Did you not know this?”
Kate stopped laughing. “You’re serious?”
“Yeah, Kate, I’m serious. You’re amazing in so many ways, but you act like you don’t need anybody,” he finished.
“Maybe I act like I don’t need anybody because I don’t want anybody to know how much I need somebody to care,” she blurted out before she could stop herself.
Kevin looked at her with sudden understanding. “Kate, people want to care. You just never left the door open for them.”
“What do you mean?” Kate asked.
“You don’t smile at them, you don’t talk to them, you don’t act like you like them. You’re smart and focused and you have good things to say, but you always sit alone and you never invite anyone to join you. The way you act practically screams ‘stay away from me’ – so people do,” Kevin finished.
“I’m afraid of people,” she admitted. “I’m afraid they won’t like me, or won’t want me around.”
“Wow. You always seemed so confident, so sure of yourself. I never would have guessed you were so lonely,” Kevin said.
Kate shrugged, “I’m used to being alone.”
“You don’t have to be, you know. You can make friends,” Kevin said.
“That’s easy for you to say. Everybody likes you,” she replied.
“Do you want me to teach you the secret to being liked?” Kevin asked.
“If you learn to love people, rather than being afraid of them, people will naturally gravitate towards you. We all want the same things in life, Kate. We all want to be loved. If you love them, they’ll come right to you,” Kevin said.
“Love people I’ve never even met? How can I possibly do that? Why would I want to do that?” Kate asked, incredulous.
“Because all people are worth loving, Kate. All people have goodness inside of them built right into their hearts, and love is the only thing that ever helps that goodness find its way to the surface. We’re all connected in this world, and we all need each other,” Kevin answered.
“But how can I make myself feel something for someone I’ve never even met?” Kate asked.
“Love isn’t a feeling, Kate. That’s your mistake. You think it’s something you feel. Love is a choice you make to put the needs of the other person ahead of your own,” Kevin said.
“What if the other person doesn’t do the same thing for me,” Kate asked.
“Most of the time, they won’t. But that’s not the point. You don’t love other people for what they can do for you, Kate. You love other people because the act of loving them – just that simple act of selflessness – makes YOU a better person,” Kevin replied.
“I don’t want to be a doormat,” Kate said, confused.
“It’s not about being a doormat. Doormats don’t know they’re being walked on. They aren’t making a choice, they’re just being used. This is you, making a conscious decision on how you’re going to behave regardless of how the other person does. This is you, deciding to take control of your life by controlling how you handle yourself no matter what other people do,” he said.
The bell rang and the two of them headed out of the cafeteria. Kevin walked Kate to her classroom and gave her hand a squeeze as he left her at the door. “I’ll call you tonight, okay?” he asked.
“I’ll be sure to answer tonight,” She said with a smile.
“Please do,” Kevin said before jogging to his next class.She watched him leave before slipping into her desk.
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