There was an error in this gadget

Friday, March 11, 2011

MID-REVISION CONFESSION (Ch. 22 to the end, Intermediate draft)

Yes. I've been avoiding you. Sorry. I'm getting geared up for the Tucson Festival of Books and my first time as a presenter there. The line-up at the festival is truly amazing. I'm reading in the Teen Author Lounge right after Louis Sachar. Yes, Louis Sachar. I raised my kids on his WAYSIDE SCHOOL books. Maybe some of his brilliance will linger on the podium and rub off on me!

I'm reading, teaching a workshop on writing YA novels, and participating in a panel on publishing with Janette Rallison and Lisa McMann. It's going to be exciting, but kind of scary, too.

So, that's my excuse for not posting more revised chapters since Tuesday. Pretty good, excuse. But it's not the truth.

The truth is blogging a revision is kind of impossible. But I promised I'd do it, and I love getting to chat with you all. The chapters I've posted so far are from my first read through. I focused on titling the chapters and poems, filling in Michael's dive logs, adding stage direction to the dialogue, remembering to put Leesie's ring on her finger, and fixing continuity errors.

And it worked for awhile, but then I found problems that I needed to go back and fix in the beginning. But I still needed to read through to the end to find all the problems. Aaaaaah!  Tear out my hair.

I'm not good at multi-tasking. I can only focus on so many things when I work back through a manuscript. My revision process is all about layering. Reading through and fixing one thing, then going back over it and fixing something else. Each time I read through, I check for errors, try to polish the language more, and keep the voice true. With every read through I try to focus the picture better and better.

So after I posted on Tuesday, I surged ahead without you. I read through to the end and realized I need to go back and build Leesie's secret from Michael better--from the very beginning.

Then I need to go back through and try to visualize every scene. Can I see them moving? What are they wearing? Then I need to add scents and sounds.

I want to read through with the blog open and check all your comments.

And then I need to read it one more time--out loud--to test the language and polish.

I can't blog that layering. I don't want to post "revised" chapters without it. What to do? What to do?
I know you're all waiting for the finished book, and this dilemma is blocking me up.

So, here's my plan. I'm going to hide away out of sight for a few days (sorry!) and work through the whole novel several times. At this point, I need to see the whole thing, uninterrupted. (I'm sure you feel the same way!)

When I get close to a final draft, I'll post it all again--in big long chunks. Deal? Thanks so much. You've all been incredibly patient and supportive.

This journey has been amazing for me. I usually loathe trying to write the first draft of a novel. It's so lonely. You guys changed that. I'd love to find a publisher who would let me write every novel here on the blog with your feedback spurring me on and helping me shape each new scene.

I usually have tons of energy for revision. I need to find that so I can finish this novel and get the printed book in your hands.

If you guys want, I could post the rest of this intermediary draft, so you can compare it with the finished one. Should I? I did promise to include you in everything. Okay. Here goes. All in one huge swoop.


CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

GUILTY

MICHAEL’S DIVE LOG – VOLUME 10

Dive Buddy: Leesie and Pres. Bodden           
Date:  06/17
Dive #: first one here
Location: Grand Cayman
Dive Site: Cayman Branch of the Mormon Church
Weather Condition: nice
Water Condition: fine
Depth: hard to tell
Visibility: clearer
Water Temp: warm
Bottom Time: 45 minutes
Comments:

Leesie’s back in Pres. Bodden’s office. I’m in there this time. Leesie glares at me like I’m the biggest snitch in history. The guy sits back in his chair and looks from her to me.  
A picture of Jesus wearing a red robe standing in front of a door, knocking, hangs on the wall just above Pres. Bodden’s head. I don’t know anything about this Jesus stuff, but I do know I need help. I hate when she’s deceptive like this. Freak. She flat-out lied to me out there. This isn’t the girl I fell in love with. Maybe this guy and his Jesus picture can help me find her again.
Who knows what she told the guy. Nothing good. For all I know she told him we’re doing it ten times a day. The look on his face got to me. It wasn’t disgust or loathing, though. It was pain. Sorrow. Like he’d just lost a child. His voice was full of love—calling her back. He says it again, “The Lord loves you, Sis. Hunt.”
She pulls her scarf off her head. The long scar shows through her inch-long hair-do and creeps down her forehead. “I drove my brother off a cliff and killed him.”
I reach out and put my hand on her arm. “There was ice on the road. She was hurt really bad.”
“We were having a huge fight.” She closes her eyes. “I was mad enough to shoot him. And driving way too fast. I killed him. Manslaughter, at least.”
“He didn’t have a seatbelt on. It as an accident. Tell her.”
She shoves my hand off her arm. “Don’t tell me it was just an accident. Don’t tell me I’m not guilty.” She clasps her hands together and leans toward Pres. Bodden. “He doesn’t understand. I’m lost. Murder.” Hysteria grows in her voice. “No forgiveness in this life. Read him that scripture!” She hides her face in her hands.
I lean over and grasp her shoulders, try to calm her. “At first she went on and on about stoning, you guys don’t do that do you?”
“No. That’s biblical.” Pres. Bodden rises and comes around the desk, stands next to Leesie but doesn’t touch her. “Sis. Hunt?”
“She told me—”
She drops her hands. “That’s enough, Michael.”
I put my hand over hers. “She told me the rules don’t matter any more. That she was lost forever so it would be okay—”
 “And you—?”
“Didn’t believe her.”
“You protected her?”
“From me. I’m no hero.”
Leesie looks from me to Pres. Bodden. Her eyes glitter. She blurts, “But I did everything I could to get him to sleep with me. And I’m not giving up.”
“Sis. Hunt! Why are you tormenting this young man who obviously loves you? That is cruel.”
Leesie starts, shakes her head wildly. “I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s all I can think about. Every day. Every night.” Her eyes swim with tears. “I’ve made it so hard for him. I am cruel. It’s evil I know. That’s who I am now. It’s hopeless, President. I am lost.”  Tears stream down her face. “You can’t find me.”
Pres. Bodden sits down behind his desk, reaches the box of tissues and hands it to Leesie. He doesn’t say anything—just lets her cry.
I try to comfort her, but she pushes me away. She finally blows her nose and says, “It’s eating me up, President. What do I do? I can’t live like this. We need to just sin and get it over with.”
“The guilt you’re feeling is real. I’m not going to tell you, you did nothing wrong. We both know that isn’t true.”
My eyebrows jut upward. “But it was an accident.” What’s with this guy?
“Guilt is a warning flag that leads us to repent. It is a gift from God. It will wrack your soul until you turn back to Him. But if you don’t turn back to Him, it will eat you up from the inside out.” The expression on his face reminds me of Leesie’s dad.  “And then you’ll become hardened. Past feeling. All you’ll want is sin. What you’ve told me tonight, Sis. Hunt, concerns me greatly. You’ve given your guilt to the adversary.”
The adversary? “What’s that?”
“Satan. She’s under his influence now.”
I stare at Leesie wondering if she’ll go all Carrie on me. “What is she guilty of?”
“She can tell you.”
Leesie sits up, lets me take her hand. She whispers, “Anger. Blinding anger and hatred toward my brother. That cost him his life.”
Pres. Bodden nods. “Go on.”
“Hurting my family. Recklessness.” She fights down a sob. “I am responsible for that accident.”
Pres. Bodden studies her face. His voice is hushed, holy. “But you didn’t murder him, did you?” His words open Leesie’s heart. There’s a power under them that even I feel.
Leesie looks at me and dissolves in a pool of sobs. “No.” She falls into my arms. “No, I didn’t.”

LEESIE’S MOST PRIVATE CHAPBOOK
POEM #93, SHE COMES TO ME 2

            Crying on Michael’s chest
            the wall I built to keep out the light,
cracks, splinters
            and in cleansing white glory

She comes to me,
a pure and shining presence,
knocking on my soul.

            “Sis. Hunt?”
            My grandmother smiles on my heart.
            Pres. Bodden’s voice filters through
the rapture I’m encased in.
“Do you know your
            very worst sin?”

defogged, unfuddled
reveling in perfection

            I sit back from Michael,
            wrap my arms around my chest
            so I don’t fracture into millions
            of pieces at the exquisite force
            so intense, so unearned, so blessed.
           
Along with my grandmother
            blooming in my heart,
            there’s whisperings of something
            that can only be Phil.
            I’m sorry Leesie. I love you.
            I bow my head and whisper,
            “Me, too.”

            Michael rubs my back.
            “Are you all right, babe?”

spilling joy that
embraces my sorrow
they smile
and wave
farewell.

            Tears flow like water pounding
            from a spout, splashing, gurgling
            filling a baptismal font like the one
            I stood in at eight with my father’s
            hands full of power to cleanse me.
            Pres. Bodden’s voice extends an iron rod
            to rescue me from endless wanderings
            in a faceless field full of the lost.
            “Your worst sin, Sis. Hunt, was to believe
            your Savior has power to save everyone—
            but you.”
           
            I grasp Michael’s hand and meet the man’s gaze.
            “I testify to you,”—his words soft but strong,
            pierce my stubborn, stone heart,
            “He loves every vile murderer in every
            penitentiary and somehow, someday
            in the great Eternal realm, they will all
            find their own salvation through Him.”

            I rest my head against Michael’s cheek.
            He strokes my face and whispers, “Listen
             to him, Leesie. Listen. You need this.”

            I study every word Pres. Bodden’s mouth
            creates. “He waits with open arms,
            spread wide to welcome you home
            with love and forgiveness if you will
            repent.”

            Emotion overtakes me again.
            I sob with my head down on the desk—
            tears—the only offering I have left to give.

MICHAEL’S DIVE LOG – VOLUME 10
Dive Buddy: Leesie           
Date:  06/17
Dive #: --
Location: Grand Cayman
Dive Site: highway to East End
Weather Condition: clear skies
Water Condition: salty
Depth: heart to heart
Visibility: full of stars
Water Temp: hot
Bottom Time: 53 minutes
Comments:

            Leesie’s calm as we drive home. Before we left the church, Pres. Bodden rattled off a list of what she needs to do. Assignments. In real life he’s a teacher. Grade school principal. He does the church stuff as a volunteer. Their whole church runs like that.
            First on the list. Leesie’s supposed to “pray until her knees wear out.” And I’m supposed to pray with her.
            Second, read her scriptures. I saved them for her. She hasn’t unpacked them. Don’t know if she even saw them. I know she found the sheets of poetry I scavenged off the side of that mountain. She’s got them hidden in a drawer. Maybe she’s ready for those now, too.
            Third, go to church this Sunday. He said she could take the bread and water thing they do. That shocked her. She figured she wasn’t “worthy.”
            Fourth, move out of the apartment. That’s the big one. He’s going to try to find her a place tomorrow. We’re meeting him at the church with Leesie’s packed bags. I wanted to protest that one—but with everything going on at that apartment with Seth and Dani and Gabriel and Alex, I have to agree. She needs to get out of  there.
            The last assignment? Apologize to everyone she’s hurt.
            She starts with me. “I’m sorry.” That brings tears close to the surface again. “If I really loved you”—her lip trembles—“I wouldn’t have made it so hard for you.”
            I tilt my head and so does she until they touch. “You don’t have to go there.”
            Her hands cling on my driving arm. “I do. I was awful. But I do love you—even if I didn’t act like it. I’m sorry.”
            “You are ten times forgiven.” My eye moves from the road to her eyes and flicks back. “Am I doing it right?”
            She kisses my arm.
            She hangs on me the rest of the way home.
            When we get back to the apartment, she takes her phone out on the balcony where the signal is best and keys in a phone number she knows by heart. “Hi, Mom. It’s Leesie.”
            She pulls the sliding door shut and turns away.



CHAPTER 23

REUNION

LEESIE’S MOST PRIVATE CHAPBOOK
POEM #94, TOGETHER

I’m crying so hard
I can’t speak.
Mom gets Dad on the phone.
We all three cry
together.

The call lasts
minutes?
hours?
forever?

I hang up and don’t
know if I even told
them anything.

“I’m sorry.”
I got that out.
“I love you.”
We all said that.

“Whenever you want to come
home, Leesie-girl, is fine with us.”
That was Dad.
How does he know
I’m not finished here
when I don’t even know
myself?

“Give Michael our love”—
is all I remember from Mom.

And Dad’s, “Tell him
we’ll be proud
to call him son”
made my heart burst.

I sop my face
with the last three
tissues on earth
and stare out at the stars
and moon shining hope
on the water.

My cell rings.
It’s Dad saying,
“By the way, Leesie,”
he’s that sweet, sheepish
farm boy my mom fell
in love with,
“Where are you?
We forgot to ask.”


CHAPTER 24

YOU

MICHAEL’S DIVE LOG – VOLUME 10
Dive Buddy: Leesie           
Date:  06/17
Dive #: --
Location: Grand Cayman
Dive Site: the balcony
Weather Condition: night but still hot
Water Condition: we can hear the waves breaking on the reef
Depth: enveloped both of us
Visibility: it’s dark but I can see farther than I have for a long time
Water Temp: perfect
Bottom Time: 67 minutes
Comments:

            Everyone else is asleep when Leesie slides back open the balcony door. I’m awake in my cot. “Babe,” I whisper, get up, trip over Ethan. He curses me, rolls over, farts.
            This could be Leesie’s last night here—last night with me. For all I know, her parents want her to get on a plane tomorrow and go home.  I’ll quit, go with her. They’re okay here with Dani back. I hate to bail and leave them short-handed, but Leesie comes first. Maybe if I deliver her looking so much better like she does, it’ll get me on her parents’ good side. I did call her dad—and he was grateful—but I also stole their daughter. Do they understand why I did it? What did Leesie tell them?
            And then there’s Mr. Branch President dude. Who knows what crazy stuff he’s got in store. Probably, same idea. An airline ticket home. Best I can imagine is an apartment I can rent for her. A marriage license? If he insists, I’m not going to debate it. Not any more. It’s out of my hands. It’s all up to her now.
            I reach Leesie. She’s pretty much drenched in tears and other facial fluid. “You okay?”
            She holds her hands out for me and starts crying again. I step into the warm night air on the balcony. “Hey, hey, hush now. I’m here.” I fold her up in my arms. “Are they making you come home?”
            Her voice squeaks through her tears. “Dad says I can stay here as long as we need to.”
            I close my eyes, don’t want to say this. “I can take you home tomorrow. Just say the word.”
            A shudder moves through her body. “Let’s talk to Pres. Bodden first.”
            “Does your dad have a shot gun? Or that razor knife. Is he buying new blades?”
            She shakes her head—trying to remember. “He said something sweet about calling you, ‘son.’”
            “He always does that.”
            “He meant it different this time.”
            I rest my lips on her soft, furry head. “What does that mean?”
            She bites her trembling lip. “I think it means you can’t get rid of me no matter what.”
            “Even if I’m not a Mormon?”
“My dad’s got a lot of faith.” She sniffs and loses it again.
I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean. So far—it’s all good. “Were they angry?” I sit on the chaise lounge and pull her down beside me.
            She shakes her head and squeaks into my shoulder. “We were all devastated together.”
            I stroke her head. “You’ve been holding it in.”
            “It’s coming out now.” She wipes her hand down her face. “All over you.”
            I squeeze her. “Any time, babe.”
            “24/7?”
            “If that’s what it takes.”
            “I don’t deserve you.”
            “I don’t deserve you.”
            “No way we’re even.”
            I kiss her nose. “Don’t worry. I’ll collect.”
            “Michael!” She slugs my arm.
            I love every note of her protest. I kiss her to make sure. All her old barriers are back up. “Freak.” I rub my face against hers. “You’re back. You’re really back.”

LEESIE’S MOST PRIVATE CHAPBOOK
POEM #95, REDEMPTION?

Hesitation clutches my stomach
before I enter Pres. Bodden’s office.
Does lost Leesie lurk in the corner
where Grandma and Phil’s heaven sent
light left her licking her wounds
and planning a counter offensive
to retake my soul at dawn’s first light?

Michael guides me through the door—
my buffer, my strength, my love.
The room feels sweet, inviting, holy.
I whisper a prayer of thanks as I sit.
The Spirit washes over me in healing
waves. Slowly, slowly. It whispers. Go slowly.

Michael reports my phone call home.
He knows I’ll unstoppable tears will
pour from me again if I try to speak of it.
I stood in the shower for a half hour
last night before I stopped sobbing
enough to sleep.
President Bodden leans forward,
hands clasped, eyes concerned.
“Are you leaving us then, Sis Hunt?”
Is he disappointed?
“My dad said”—I  swallow and sniff,
blink watery eyes, “I can stay if I need to.”

President Bodden smiles. “The Lord works
in mysterious ways.”
Michael doesn’t understand. “I can take
her home whenever she wants to go.
She’s known that from the start.”
“I appreciate that.” Pres. Bodden’s voice
calms the water. “I have an opportunity
for Sister Hunt to consider.”
I sit up straight and try to focus.
“Like a place to stay?”
“Like a job?” Michael voice
and concern entwine mine.

Pres. Bodden’s mouth splits into a welcome
grin. “Let’s call it a service project.”
Michael frowns back at him.
“That’s what she called me.”

“A sister in the branch—
we all call her Aunty Jaz—”
Michael’s eyebrows shoot up.
“Aunty Jaz is a Mormon?”
“You’ve had her fish?” Pres. Bodden closes
his eyes to savor a succulent memory.
Michael does the same.
Inhales a phantom scent.
“It’s the best.”

The story unfolds—
Hot oil. Burned foot. Blisters.
Bad infection. Diabetic. Not healing.
Released from the hospital but needs
help round the clock. Sisters
have taken turns all week.
Her daughter in the states
just had twins. Her son on
Cayman is court-ordered
to keep his distance.
Fish shack closed. No money
coming in now for weeks.
“We’re looking after her utilities
and food, but hiring a companion
is beyond what we can do.”

I sit up tall, straight, feel the Lord’s
hand redeeming my life.
“I can do it. I can. I looked
after my grandmother.”
Pres. Bodden holds his hands up,
slow down, girl, slow down.
“You’ll have to cook and clean.
She does have a nurse
stop in to dress the wound
and bathe her.”
“Yes, yes, yes, please let me try.”
I’ve wallowed in guilt day after day
week after week, months now.
I can serve, Lord. I can.
Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.

“Are you sure, Leese?”
Michael’s hand rests on my knee.
I nod. So sure.
His eyes turn to Pres. Bodden.
“What about the son?
Will she be safe?”
“Aunty Jaz hasn’t heard
from him in two years.”
How sad. Poor Aunty.
If not for Michael—that could be me.
Estranged forever. But now I’m released.

“You should pray about it, Sis. Hunt.”
I make a strange sound halfway
between a laugh and a sob.
“I already did. I’m ready now.
But, first, President, will
you give me a blessing?”
I need Michael to see this,
to feel this,
to know the power
he’s brought back into my life.

Pres. Bodden blinks his eyes
to ease the water that fills them.
“I’d be honored.”

MICHAEL’S DIVE LOG – VOLUME 10
Dive Buddy: Leesie           
Date:  06/18
Dive #: --
Location: Grand Cayman
Dive Site: Mormon Chapel
Weather Condition: intermittent showers
Water Condition: calm for now
Depth: no longer flood stage
Visibility: remarkably clear
Water Temp: 80
Bottom Time: another half hour
Comments:

            Leesie wants one of those blessings things like her dad and Jaron did back in the hospital before I take  her to Aunty Jaz’s. All the sudden she’s moving in with a sick old lady. Aunty Jaz’s fish shack was my dad’s favorite place to eat on the island. A dump from the outside, but the best fish—spicy and moist. It’s sad she had to close the place. The woman’s a perfect stranger to Leesie. But the way her and Pres. Bodden talk about Aunty Jaz, she’s close as a real aunty. Sister this and Brother that. I got used to that when I was in Provo before Christmas last year, but it still sounds weird. Especially, Brother Walden. That sounds the weirdest of all.
            I don’t mind slowing down. Making sure Leesie thinks this through. If this blessing deal gives her a chance to do that cool.
            Pres. Bodden invites a second dude to join us. This guy is short, sunburned, mostly bald with a buzzed blonde fringe. Pres. Bodden wears a dark suit, white shirt and tie, but this guy’s got on tan docker with the obligatory white shirt and tie. He smiles at Leesie, runs his hand over his head. “I like your do.” He speaks with a British accent.
            “This is Brother Clark.” Pres. Bodden’s eyes rest on my face. “He’ll assist.”
            Brother Clark has a silver cylinder on his key chain like Jaron did. I feel totally useless. If he was here, he could do this for Leese—instead of these strangers—“brothers” or not.
            Bro Clark opens the cylinder. “This is olive oil, like they had at the time of Christ, that has been consecrated”—he notices the puzzled frown creasing my forehead—“blessed for the healing of the sick.”
            “She isn’t sick.”
            The two men stand on either side of Leesie’s chair. Pres. Bodden grasps the back of it. “Physically, she is well. But spiritually . . . ”
            Leesie whispers, “I’ve got a long way to go.” She closes her eyes.
            “Can I stay?”
            “Please do, Brother Walden.”
            Brother Clark puts a drop of oil on Leesie’s head. He and Pres. Bodden place their hands on her head, too. Brother Clark says a few rapid words I don’t catch, their hands lift off Leesie’s head a beat and then rest down again.
            “Leesie Marie Hunt.” Pres. Bodden’s rich Caymanian accent fills the room. “By the power of the Holy Melchezedick priesthood which we hold, we place our hands on your head and give you a blessing. . . . ”
            The rest is intimate, personal, holy. I don’t feel right writing it down. I couldn’t if I tried. He blessed her with health, strength, and the power to conquer temptation. Does that mean me or just sinning with me? I get a strong impression that it doesn’t mean me.
            He says stuff about the accident and Phil. Her family loving her. God loving her.
            And then he says, “You’ve found the love of a valiant son of God. Cherish that love. Build upon it. Eternal happiness can be yours.” My first thought is he’s talking about Jaron. Dump this jerk and get home to your destiny. Then a powerful force hits me in the heart, and I know that it’s me. Pres. Bodden is calling me that. A son of God. Valiant. Me?
            I don’t recall anything else in the blessing after that.
Leesie can be eternally happy with me? I didn’t think that was possible. I thought I was against all the rules—even if we got married.
            I can’ t marry you if you’re not a Mormon. How many times has that echoed in my mind since I proposed the first time, and she threw my ring back at me? That’s not fair. She cried. It hurt her as much as it hurt me.
            What’s changed now?
            What’s so different?
            That power speaking to my heart whispers—
You.


CHAPTER 25

JAZZED

LEESIE’S MOST PRIVATE CHAPBOOK
POEM #96, AUNTY

Michael drives me to a world
I didn’t know existed on Cayman.
Narrow roads, no sidewalks.
Cinder block walls, corrugated
metal roofs, wire fences.
Fat chickens and skinny dogs.
Laundry outside drying on lines
strung from trees, baking
in the hot Cayman sun.

No manicured resort lawns
and tropical gardens. No beach,
no sand, no ocean.
Jungle-like growth encroaching
each habitation, green upon green
punctuated by scarlet bougainvillea
in rampant profusion climbing
telephone poles, fence gates,
houses and engine-less cars
rusting in the front yards.
Dusty black children play
in dirt yards.

Aunty Jazz’s fish shack is truly
a shack. Vines entangle the tiny
structure as if they’ll pull it apart.
Pres. Bodden told us she lives
in rooms behind it.

Michael parks in front.
“Are you sure, babe?”
He looks up and down the street. 
“This part of the island
isn’t what you’re used to.”
A rooster struts across the road.
“I come from a farm full of pigs.
My grandma had chickens.”
He frowns, uncomfortable.
“But every body here is—”
“Poor?”
“A different color.”
I frown right back.
“Those cute black kids
over there don’t look scary.”
His hand rests on my head.
“I’m not leaving you here
until I know you’re safe.”
I lean over and kiss him.
“Deal.”
I climb out and a small boy
with a huge dog calls from across
the street. “Aunty Jaz is sick.
No fish, lady.”
I cross the street and pat
the mutt’s head. “Hi, I’m Leesie.
I’m Aunty Jaz’s friend.”
The kid’s lower lip juts out.
“How come I never see you before?”
The dog growls.
I recall my hand. “I’m a new friend.”
“I thought so.”

Michael won’t unload my bags
until we check things out.
We pause in front at windows
closed with heavy wooden shutters
painted yellow and purple.
And a locked pink door.
“Around back,” the boy yells.

“Keep behind me.”
Michael shields me with his body,
quietly creeping, in case
we’re attacked by—
the two large, laughing women
we find on a screened porch.

“Don’t make me laugh, sister,”
a gray-haired one shrieks,
“it hurts my foot.”
“Laughing hurts your foot?”
“Everything hurts my foot.”
They see Michael and stop.
“Aunty Jaz?”
She frowns. “The restaurant’s closed
young man.”
I step out from behind Michael.
“Pres. Bodden sent us.”
Her hands flap up and down.
“Mercy, where’s my manners?
You’ll be Sister Hunt?”
I can’t help but smile back at her.
“Leesie, please. Can I call you
Aunty Jaz?”
“Only if you come right here”—
she holds open her arms—
“and give this old soul a kiss.”

The other lady opens the screen
door wide, beams and nods.
I go right up to Aunty Jaz,
lean over, kiss her sunken cheek.
She hugs me to her expansive bosom.
Her eyes move from the ring
on my finger to Michael and back
to me. “I bet you got a good story for me.”
“Leesie’s a poet.”
Michael stands in the doorway.
“You don’t say.” She moves
over so I can sit beside her
on the sagging couch.
“I’ll be having that after dinner then.”
A void in my soul makes my head drop.
“I can’t. Michael saved some rough scraps,
but all my good stuff is lost.”
Aunty Jaz’s shoulders heave up and down.
“Write me more then—after dinner.”

“Excuse me.” Michael disappears,
returns with my bags.
He pulls the scribbles he rescued
out of the side pocket, dumps
them in my lap. “Time you got to work.”
“I’ll leave you the laptop.”
I pick the bundle up, stare at it—
“So I can stay?” I whisper.
“I have a good feeling about this.”
He turns to Aunty Jaz. “My dad loved
your fish fry. Do I get a kiss, too?”
Aunty Jaz grins and puckers her lips.
Michael kisses her cheek like I did.
She kisses him back. “Sit down, boy.
Sit down and we’ll have us a visit.
I’ve a good feeling about you, too.”

LEESIE HUNT / CHATSPOT LOG / 06/23/2010  3:17 PM

Kimbo69 says: You moved away from all those beautiful boys before I could come visit?
Leesie327 says: Poor Mark. Do you drool like this when he’s around?
Kimbo69 says: We have a mutual agreement about eye candy.
Leesie327 says: You’ll love Aunty Jaz.
Kimbo69 says: Why do they call her that?
Leesie327 says: Her name is Jasmine—like the flower.
Kimbo69 says: Does she smell good?
Leesie327 says: Michael thinks it’s a sign from his mom. She used to wear gardenia perfume. It’s like one tropical flower to another.
Kimbo69 says: He’s getting as crazy as you are.
Leesie327 says: He took us to church Sunday. I didn’t even ask. All the sudden there he was in front Jaz’s shack, honking the horn of a used car he just bought because the 4X4 he’d rented was too hard for Aunty Jaz to get into. He had a brand new white shirt and that Valentino tie I Ebayed for him when I made him go to that dance with me.
Kimbo69 says: He went to church with you?
Leesie327 says: It took both of us to get Aunty Jaz in the front seat of the car. It was worth it, though. She was so excited to be going to church again. She used to take a bus. Can’t now with her foot.
Kimbo69 says: Is her house really a shack?
Leesie327 says: Pretty much. There’s running water, a real toilet, electricity—no AC. We spend a lot of time on the porch.
Kimbo69 says: How sick is she?
Leesie327 says: I have to make sure she eats and gets her insulin shot. We test her blood sugar, too. The nurse came Friday, and I helped her change the bandages on Jaz’s foot—it’s bad.
Kimbo69 says: I’d hurl.
Leesie327 says: I’m tougher than you.
Kimbo69 says: It sounds like you like this stuff.
Leesie327 says: I do. I’ve got something to do other than flail myself with guilt over the accident or fantasize myself crazy about Michael.
Kimbo69 says: You’ve stopped fantasizing about Michael?
Leesie327 says: I’m trying—it’s not that easy.
Kimbo69 says: No fantasizing? That’s not healthy.
Leesie327 says: I’ve got to repent.
Kimbo69 says: Even your thoughts?
Leesie327 says: Yeah. That’s the hardest part. He walks into the room, and I have to start all over again. Let those thoughts go wild, and it’s hard to tame them.
Kimbo69 says:  I’ll never figure you out.
Leesie327 says: It’s not such a mystery. If I can’t sleep with him, it makes it worse if I’m constantly thinking about it. Duh.
Kimbo69 says: Are you still getting married?
Leesie327 says: I hope by the end of the summer like we planned. I’m never giving him his ring back. He’s stuck with me.
Kimbo69 says: That doesn’t sound too definite. What’s wrong?
Leesie327 says: Nothing. I have to go home first—he promised my dad.
Kimbo69 says: Can you do that now?
Leesie327 says: I’ve been on the phone with my parents every day since that first call. I think I’ll be ready. I have to be ready. So we can get married.
Kimbo69 says: Is Michael pretty stoked? It’s what he wants, isn’t it?
Leesie327 says: We’re not talking about it. There’s still one big complication.
Kimbo69 says: You’re still holding the Mormon stuff against him?
Leesie327 says: That doesn’t matter to me anymore. I just want him.
Kimbo69 says:  Tell him then.
Leesie327 says: I tried—and I choked on the words.
Kimbo69 says: He deserves this, Leesie. Don’t be such a wimp.
Leesie327 says: I know. I know.
Kimbo69 says: How often do you get to see him?
Leesie327 says: He drives all the way over here every night after work. Hangs out until midnight and then goes back to East End. That’s a lot of driving.
Kimbo69 says: I’d call it devotion.
Leesie327 says: Aunty Jaz told me her husband got baptized twenty years after they got married. I’d wait that long for Michael—I would.
Kimbo69 says: What if he never gets baptized?
Leesie327 says: He brought me back. He must believe a tiny bit.
Kimbo69 says: He knows you need it—that doesn’t mean he believes it.
Leesie327 says: I know. That’s why I’m too afraid to even bring it up. After all we’ve been though, I can’t risk offending him.
Kimbo69 says: You’ve got to talk to him.
Leesie327 says: I think I’m going to watch and wait. Nothing else feels right.
Kimbo69 says: That’s it?
Leesie327 says: And pray.
Kimbo69 says: Pray?
Leesie327 says: Pray. A lot.


CHAPTER 26

JAZ’S TEST

MICHAEL’S DIVE LOG – VOLUME 10
Dive Buddy: Leesie           
Date:  06/25
Dive #: first one in the new kayak
Location: Grand Cayman
Dive Site: Turtle Reef
Weather Condition: sunny
Water Condition: calm
Depth: 50 ft.
Visibility: 80 ft.
Water Temp: 82
Bottom Time: 4 minutes at a time
Comments:

            I lucked out. It’s slow today. The new kayak I ordered is in at the scuba shop. Aunty Jaz’s nurse comes Thursday afternoon. Which all adds up to me and Leesie paddling out to the mini wall just off Turtle Reef. Jaz lives in West Bay. Close to here where I certified to free dive as a kid. North Wall is close, too. Great diving. Too bad I’m down in East End, but we’ll make it work. I bought a car.  It’s cool.
            Okay, I lied. I’m doing all the paddling. Leesie’s facing me instead of turned around in paddle ready form. She’s lying back on the rugged black nylon the boat’s made out of, eyes closed, fingers trailing in the water. She wore an old one-piece swimsuit with a t-shirt over it. I’m wearing swim shorts and a rash guard so I don’t get burnt. Too warm today for wetsuits—even a dive skin.
            I hold the paddle so it drips on Leesie’s face.
            Her eyes open. “Are we there yet.” She wipes the drops from her face.
            “No.”
            Her eyes close again. “When can we go swimming?”
            “Can we talk first?” We haven’t talked alone much since she moved to Aunty Jaz’s.
            “I’m hot.” She sits up and drops her head on my shoulder.
            I lower my paddle. “Let’s swim then.”
            She slips out of her t-shirt and hits the water before I can even stow my paddle. I hand her fins, snorkel and mask. “Babe, you gotta wear this stuff. You’re in the ocean.”
            She takes them and smiles. “Have I told you I love you?”
            “Not today.” I slide into the water and kiss her.
            She pushes me away. “That’s so dangerous.”
            “I know.” I hook one arm on the kayak and watch her. “I’ll be good.”
            Her face gets bleak. “I’m not worried about you.”
            “You’re going to flip out and attack me?”
            That coaxes a faint smile. “Yeah. Brace yourself.”
            I maneuver the kayak between us. “How’s this?”
            She hooks her elbows over her side and stares across at me with her chin propped on her fists. “Perfect.”
            “How’s it going, babe? All that stuff Pres. Bodden told you to do?”
            “Okay, I guess.”
            I frown at her. “You didn’t eat the sacrament thing Sunday.”
            “You saw?”
            “Pres. B said you should.”
            Her eyes study the bottom of the boat. “I know. I need to do it, but I’m scum. It felt wrong.”
            “Hey.” I lift her chin. “Why?”
            “I listened to the wrong voice.” Her masked eyes search for mine. “I felt horrible that I didn’t take it. This Sunday for sure I will. Will you drive us again?”
            “Of course.” I rest my hand on her shoulder.
            “It’s not too boring?”
            I squeeze her arm. “How’s the other stuff going?”
            She inhales deeply, slips her mask up. “I emailed Krystal yesterday. I haven’t heard back. That’s the last apology I can think of.”
            I slip my mask up, too. “What about all that praying?” I stroke her cheek.
            She leans against my hand. “I’m doing that, too.”
            “President Bodden said I should help with that.”
            “It’s okay, Michael.” She slips from my touch. “I can handle it. I know all this stuff makes you uncomfortable.”
            I don’t know what to say to that. Am I relieved? Or upset that she’s blocking me out? I pull myself into the kayak and help her back in. She picks up her paddle. We stroke in sync a few minutes up-current along the mini-wall to a good free-diving spot. I rest my elbows on my paddle and lean forward so I can whisper to Leesie. “It doesn’t.”
            She cranes her neck around. “What?”
            I stroke her wet, velvet head. “Your church stuff. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable anymore.”
            She bows her head.
            I wrap my arms around her. “You’re praying right now, aren’t you?”
            “Just saying thanks.” She cups my face in her hand.
            “Let me hear.”
            She twists to face me, takes hold of my hands and bows her head again. “Dear Heavenly Father, Thank Thee for Michael.”
            I rest my forehead against hers. “That’s what you pray?”
            “All day. Every day. 24/7.”
            Then we get in the water, and I feel like everything is slow motion. Breathing down for a free dive, falling through the water to the wall, floating with a couple angel fish, kicking my huge free dive fins back up to Leesie. It’s like a dream. My mom is there all around me—in every drop of water, every smile Leesie gives me, every ray of sunshine that lights the ocean we dive through.
            I get Leesie to try a few free dives. She’s awful at it—can’t hold her breath. She tries, though. We stay out on the wall until I’m almost too tired to paddle back in. Leesie’s tired, too, but she’s good with paddle.
            When we get to Aunty Jaz’s, I corner Jaz on the porch while Leesie’s changing. “How do I know that what I feel is what you guys say it is? It feels like my mom. You know she died?”
            Aunty Jaz shakes her head. “I’m sorry, sweet boy.” She pats my knee.
            “Me, too. What Leesie says is your Holy whatever feels to me like whispers from my mom. I know that’s real. Why should I believe the way you guys explain it?”
            Aunty Jaz hands me a Book of Mormon she was reading before I sat down. “Turn to the back. It’s marked.” She leans across me, flips the pages to a couple underlined verses.
            It says if someone reads the book and asks God about it, He’ll tell him if it’s true. “That’s it?” I look up at her. “I just have to pray?” That’s kind of their answer for everything.
            Aunty Jaz grins and winks at me. “Read that book and pray.”
            I close it up and hand it back to her.
            She pushes it to me. “You keep it. My gift.”
            “Are you sure?”
            “Of course.”
            I put it away before Leesie comes back out.
            Read the book and pray.
            How hard can that be?

LEESIE’S MOST PRIVATE CHAPBOOK
POEM #97, SABBATH SURPRISE
Sunday.
Church.
Michael holds the silver
bread tray for me until
I take
a tiny white crumble
and put it in my mouth.

I chew slowly, waiting
for a lightening bolt
to fry me in my seat.
I close my eyes, feel
Michael’s fingers winding
around mine.

Did You know he would
be such a miracle?
The heavens don’t answer.
I’m left to ponder until it’s
time for the water.

I don’t hesitate at this
second emblem of renewal.
I feel it washing me inside
as it trickles down my throat.

Michael senses success,
squeezes my hand.
He cares so much
that I find my way
back to a Savior
he doesn’t
admit exists.

Is he pretending?
Is this all show for me—
so I can get that crutch
back under me?

I want it to be
as real as the intensity
his eyes reveal
when he catches mine
and smiles.

After dinner at Jaz’s,
while she snores on the couch
with her bandaged foot propped
on a tower of pillows balanced
on a wispy coffee table,
Michael sits beside me
on the step that leads to
a kitchen full of dirty dishes
that I need to wash.
I lean into him and inhale
his presence.

His lips rest on the top of my head
for a moment and then
he carefully places an open
Book of Mormon in my lap.
“I don’t get this part.” He
points to a verse.
“Can you help me?”
I sit up, study his face.
My eyes find his and hold them.
“You’re reading this?”
Tears threaten and a lump
in my throat chokes off my words.
He did this on his own? all alone?
Without me?

I sniff and pull a ragged tissue from my pocket.
He kisses my forehead. “Aunty Jaz told me
about that test at the end.”
I try to stay calm, match his nonchalance,
focus on the page open in my lap—
Lehi’s dream? My fingers smooth
over the page as my heart
beats loud enough for him to hear it.
“What do you think so far?”

“I don’t know I just started.”
His arms go around me.
“More action than I expected.
I thought holy guys were wimps.”
I snuggle into his embrace. “Not Nephi.”
“Yeah.” He raises a hand to his neck.
“That dude’s dangerous.”
“We don’t chop off heads at midnight.”
He laughs and stretches his legs out.
“Do you think I’m Laman or Lemuel?”
“The bad boys?” I frown at him. “No way.”
“Who then?”
“Sam?”
“No.”

I hunch over thinking, with elbows
on my knees and my chin in my palms.
“I know”—I sit up and twist to face him—
“You’re Zoram.” He looks puzzled.
I flick the pages back, searching.
“The guy they capture and force
to come along. Here.” I point to the verse.
He reads and shakes his head. “That’s what
I thought. Join us or die.”

I lean close and press my lips to his.
“That’s not your choice.”
He holds my face against his.
“Join us or lose you.”
I kiss him again.
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Even if,” he murmurs across
my mouth, “this test is a flop?”
I bow my head onto his shoulder.
“Have you prayed yet?”
“I’m on page fourteen.”
I look up. “So?”
“Don’t I have to finish
the whole thing first?”
I take his face between by hands
“Pray ever time you open the book.”
He leans forward and kisses me.
“Like now?”
We kiss again. “Uh-huh.”
He sits up, serious now.
“Can you do it?”
“No.” I push his hair out of his face.
His eyes move away from mine.
“You know I don’t believe
I’m talking to anybody?”
I take his hands and whisper,
“Then what will it hurt?”
He bows his head, closes his eyes.
“Dear Leesie’s God-guy,
Can you get her to explain
this dream bit to me? Amen.”
I squeeze his hands.
“I could call the elders. The guys
at the branch are nice.”
“Nope.” He lifts my hands to his lips.
“This is just between you and me.”
“And my God-guy.”

We sit side by side and bend
our heads over the verses.
“Lehi’s boys couldn’t figure the dream
out, either. The naughty ones sat around
and complained. Nephi prayed and look”—
Michael’s eyes follow as my fingers turn the pages—
“the Lord answered.”
He picks up the book and reads.
“This is talking all about Jesus.
He wasn’t in the dream.”
“The Tree of Life is God’s love.”
I point to the verse.
“Nephi received a vision of Christ
because His mission to earth
is the greatest manifestation
of the Father’s love for us.”
“But aren’t they the same guy?
I know that much from Gram’s church.”
“No.” I flip to a picture of the first vision.
“Father and Son—just like you
and your dad—with bodies like
ours, but perfected—Eternal.
Glorified.”
He strokes my cheek.
“And you’re His daughter?”
I kiss his fingers.
“And you’re His son.”
“Like Pres. Bodden’s blessing?”
“You remember that?”
He meets my eyes with intensity.
“I can’t forget it.”

I put my arms around him and draw
him close. “Thank you—for trying my world.”
I kiss him with all the love in my heart.
He hangs onto me. “Don’t let go or I’ll panic.”
“Don’t worry.” I squeeze him. “I’ve got you.”
He rests his forehead on mine.
“What if you’re God doesn’t speak to me?”
I shake my head in wonder that he
does see what’s so clear.
“He already has or we wouldn’t be here.”
Michael draws away. “That’s my mom.”
I pull him back close.
“She’s on His side.”


CHAPTER 27

Q&A

MICHAEL’S DIVE LOG – VOLUME 10
Dive Buddy: Leesie           
Date:  06/29
Dive #: --
Location: Grand Cayman
Dive Site: Aunty Jaz’s
Weather Condition: hot
Water Condition: the only water I’m in is what’s thick in the air
Depth: too deep
Visibility: murky
Water Temp: tepid
Bottom Time: all afternoon
Comments:

            As I drive home from Aunty’ Jaz’s and all the next day while I’m diving, I keep thinking about what Leesie told me. To become a Mormon I have to believe in Jesus Christ. Not just that he was a great man who taught stuff that changed the world—for good or ill—depending on your point of view. I have to believe He’s God’s son—a God himself—my brother. And He came to save me. From what I’m not sure. I need to ask Leesie.
            Leesie says God and Jesus aren’t some indescribable divine force. Joseph Smith saw them. They have physical bodies. What about the Holy Spirit? How does He fit in?
            And there’s this huge hole in Leesie’s logic. If God is literally the father of our spirits, don’t we need a mother up there, too? Is that supposed to be Mary? But how could she be Jesus’s mother on earth while she was being a mother in heaven.
            I only have to work the morning. After I unload the dive boat, I grab a sandwich and head out. When I get to Aunty Jaz’s, Leesie’s in the front clipping the giant bougainvilleas that overwhelm the shack.
            “Ouch.” She yells and drops the clippers. “Did you know these things have thorns?” She shoves her thumb in her mouth. 
            “Yeah. You need gloves.”
            She kicks at the clippers. “And better clippers.”
            “Want me to help?” I look at the mess she’s making. “We used to have these in Phoenix.”
            “I don’t know.” She takes a few steps back and surveys her progress. “It seems hopeless.”
            I slide my arm around her waist. “We can do it together.” I kiss her, and she squirms.
            “Gross. I’m all sweaty.”
            I kiss her again. “I like sweaty.”
            She claps her hands over her ears and starts humming a tune that sounds like something they sang in church Sunday.
            I laugh and release her. “I’ve got some questions for you.”
            “Really?” She slaps at a mosquito on my arm. “We need more bug spray, too.”
            Leesie washes up quick while I take cover from the mosquitoes with Aunty Jaz on the screened porch.
            “That girl just doesn’t stop—does she?”
            I sit beside Aunty Jaz. “Not when she gets her mind set on something.”
            Aunty Jaz looks back to make sure Leesie’s still inside, leans over and whispers, “She’s been busy at that computer late at night and early in the morning. She won’t read any of it to me, though.”
            “Me, neither.” It’s good to hear she’s working on her poetry, though. She’s progressing faster than I expected.
            “How are you doing with that Book of Mormon?”
            I lower my voice. “I kind of got stuck. Leesie’s helping me. Is that allowed?”
            Aunty Jaz’s face splits wide with a smile. “Of course. So that’s why she gave me that big kiss last night.”
            I give her a big kiss on the cheek, too.
            Leesie catches us. “Are you trying to steal my fiancĂ©?”
            Aunty Jaz slaps my back. “I’ve turned his head, sweetie. I have that affect.”
            Leesie takes my hands and pulls me to my feet. “Mind if I try to win him back?”
            “You can try.” She winks at me.
            Leesie winds her fingers through mine. “We’ll be back in a couple hours. You’ll be okay?”
            “My nurse arrives shortly.”
            “We can stay until she comes.”
            Aunty Jaz shoos us with both hands. “Get along.”
            As soon as we’re on the road driving towards Georgetown, Leesie bites her lower lip and folds her hands in her lap. “You have questions?”
            “Yeah.” I swallow. My thoughts are in a jumble. “First, how does the Holy—”
            “—Ghost?”
            “—fit in?”
            “He’s the third member of the Godhead.”
            “With God and Jesus?” I glance over at her. She nods. I look back at the road. “Why do you call him a ghost? That’s weird.”
            “He doesn’t have a physical body like Jesus and Heavenly Father so he can communicate with our spirits.”
            “Okay. Whatever. You know, this whole Heavenly Father thing has a big problem. Who’s the mother?”
            “We don’t know.”
            “You think God had all these children by himself? Think about it, babe. That makes no sense. Is it Mary?”
            “No. She’s Jesus earthly mother.”
            “And Joseph’s his father—so how is he different than everyone else?”
            “Check your Bible stories, hon. Joseph wasn’t his father. Mary was a virgin, remember?”
            Not really. Never read the stuff. “So it was like magic?”
            “You read the scriptures about it yesterday. The spirit overshadowed Mary and then she was pregnant. Mary says ‘great things’ were done to her.”
            “You’re saying she slept with God?”
            “I’m saying we don’t know the details. But she’s called a handmaid of the Lord. In the Old Testament handmaids bore children for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They became wives.”
            “Wives?” I frown, confused. “You think God’s a polygamist? I have to believe that?”
            “No. I’m guessing here. God made the rules. His relationship with Mary wasn’t based on sin. All you have to believe is Jesus was His son.”
            “Not a fast-talking Jewish girl’s bas—”
            “Don’t say that.” She grabs my arm. “It hurts.” She presses her hand to her heart.
            “I’m sorry.” We drive in silence a couple miles. We reach the outskirts of Georgetown and traffic slows up. We get stopped at a red light. I turn to her. “You believe all this stuff—literally?”
            “Yes.” She meets my searching gaze. “We do believe in a Mother in Heaven, but she’s not Mary.”
            I shake my head. “I’ve never heard you pray to her.”
            “No. We pray to the Father in the Son’s name.”
            “What does that mean?”
            “Jesus takes our prayers to the Father and pleads for us.”
            “And what does the mother do?”
            “We don’t know for sure. I think she’s there, part of everything—sharing like parents do.”
            “Are you making this up? You’ve never mentioned her before.”
            Leesie’s voice takes on an intense tone. “It’s very sacred doctrine.”
            “So we were one big happy God family?” Sounds more like sci-fi than religion.
            “In heaven? Before we came to earth? Very big. Mostly happy.”
            I lean back and shake my head. “How could perfect, all-powerful God-parents make their children live in such a horrible place? Suffer like—” Me. And her.
            “We chose to come here. Fought for the privilege.”
            “Fought? Who?”
            “Our other brother.”
            We’re at the store, so the question I have about that gets lost in buying mega-clippers, two pairs of thick gloves, six different types of mosquito killer, and a giant bag of potato chips.
Leesie naps on the drive back to Aunty’s Jaz’s, so we don’t get back to our private discussion until late that night when Leesie kisses me goodnight. “Did I freak you earlier today with the Heavenly Mother stuff?”
            “Nope.” I smooth my hand over her furry head. “It’s no stranger than everything else.”
            “It’s why the temple is so important.” She can see I’m not following. “The family is a divine entity. The heart of everything in heaven and earth.”
            “So you need to stick them together?” I stroke her cheek.
            “Seal them.” She presses her lips into my palm.
            I hug her close. “Why isn’t it automatic?” It should be. People who love each other should be together forever if they want to be.
            “Nothing’s automatic.” She leans her face onto my hand. “God’s too good of a teacher to go for that.”
            “He’s God.” I crouch down so we’re eye to eye. “He could cut us some slack.”
            “If this is a test”—she touches her nose to mine—“he’s got to make it hard enough for us to grow.” She kisses me and retreats to the doorway. “Have you prayed?”
            I shake my head.
            She blows me a kiss. “Try.”

LEESIE’S MOST PRIVATE CHAPBOOK
POEM #98, I CAN?
I blew it.
I blew it.
I’m sure that I blew it.
Too much, too fast,
too little, too slow.
I bungled it all
in a mixed up jumble.
He thinks it’s crazy.

I wish he’d let me
call in the elders.
They could stop by
tomorrow to help
with the yard.
Service Project.
He’d see through that
and never speak to me
again.

Maybe he already won’t speak
to me. Did I really bring up
Heavenly intimacy?

I pull my hide-a-bed out of the couch,
hit my knees beside it,
weary the Lord with my whining.
“He says he wants me to teach him
like he taught me,
but, but, but—”

You can do this.

“I can? I’m not a missionary.
I don’t know what I’m supposed
to teach him first or second.
What if I get something wrong?”

Just open your mouth.

“Really?”

A glorious, hopeful peace
blooms from my heart
and wafts warmth
to the panicked
doubt in my brain.

I crawl into bed,
curl under the sheet,
kick it off—get up,
readjust the fan,
sit on the edge
of my flimsy mattress,
staring at the black room
and chant,
“I think I can.
I think I can.
I can.
I can.
I can.”           


CHAPTER 28

REALITIES

MICHAEL’S DIVE LOG – VOLUME 10
Dive Buddy: Leesie, then solo           
Date:  06/30
Dive #: --
Location: Grand Cayman
Dive Site: Jaz’s then the blow holes
Weather Condition: clear
Water Condition: decent breakers
Depth: just beneath the surface
Visibility: shining
Water Temp: refreshing
Bottom Time: hours with Leesie, a few minutes alone
Comments:

            Long day. I teach pool and classroom sessions in the morning, and I’m out on the boat with the students all afternoon. I’m stuck filling bottles and fixing a reg after that while everyone else disappears.
            I don’t make it to Aunty Jaz’s until after 9 PM. Leesie’s got the front outdoor lights blazing—she’s still clipping. She meets me at my car door. She’s all over me before I can even get all the way out. Doesn’t seem to care that she’s sweaty tonight. Not that I’m complaining.
            I get my lips free for a minute, wipe a streak of dirt from her cheek. “Hey—this is sweet. What gives?”
            “I waited and waited.” Her arms are scratched up from her long struggle with stubborn bougainvillea vines. “I thought maybe I’d come on too strong yesterday, and you’d flown off somewhere.”
            “Why didn’t you call?”
            “I did. You didn’t pick up.”
            “Sorry, babe. No cell service out on the ocean.” We move off the dark sidewalk under the bright pool of light where she worked. “Looks like you took it out on the bougainvillea.” The vines are butchered.
            Her legs are scratched up, too. “Did I mess it up?”
            My eyes move from the branches littering the yard to her face, and I know she’s not talking about gardening. “No. No. You helped a lot.” I bend down and kiss her.
            She’s trembling. “I thought I’d scared you off for good.” She buries her face in my chest.
            I hold her, stroke her head. She could tell me she believes in holy flying penguins, and I’d be back. “You can’t get rid of me that easy, and look—” I hold up the Book of Mormon I’d shoved in the back of my jeans when Leesie attacked me. “Can you read with me? It’s hard by myself.”
            She raises her head from hiding and takes the book. “Do you have more questions?”
            I nod.
            I get one more kiss, and she pulls me around the back to the screened porch. She already put Aunty Jaz to bed.
            We sit, side by side, on the couch, knees, arms, ankles touching. She reads, stops, explains—paints the sacred stories of her childhood. She’s beautiful in her element.
            I listen and love her.
            We get to the part where the father dies. The mean brothers want to kill Nephi. Leesie gets emotional. “Droop in sin,” she reads. “That’s what I did. I’d still be stuck there, miserable, if you hadn’t forced me into President Bodden’s office.” She strokes the open page on her lap and presses her cheek to mine.
            I put my arm around her. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
            “You don’t think that was inspiration?”
            I lean my cheek on her head. “Desperation.”
            She keeps reading. “I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh.” She chokes up—makes me continue.
            I finish the chapter—it’s just a few more verses. It’s beautiful. I hold Leesie, and we share an intense moment born of all we’ve been through together—my grief, hers, our ups and downs, the love that battled its way through it all. If anything is divine—that is. The love we share is truly holy.
            It’s midnight when I tenderly find Leesie’s lips and whisper good night.
            As I drive back to the East End, I remember the feeling I had back in the temple garden in Hong Kong and the tunnel with all those BYU kids singing hymns. The power that stopped me from going into Leesie’s room that first awful night we spent in Cayman wasn’t my mom. I didn’t sense her in Hong Kong and in the tunnel like I did the other times she helped me. But something was there. Something real. Something like I felt with Leesie tonight.
            I pull the car off the road when I get to the blow holes and wander out on the coral rocks—close enough to the waves forcing themselves up through the coral tubes to feel the fine mist on my face—and stare out at the night ocean.
            The sky overhead is heavy with stars.
            I owe this to Leesie. At least once.
            “Is it—I mean—are You—real?”
            The ocean surges, seethes. An unusually large wave hits hard enough to drench me with spray.
            I wipe my face and whisper, “Is that a yes?”
            I have to admit there is a power in the night beyond me, beyond the ocean, beyond the sky, beyond the stars.
            Something is out there.
            Something big.
            Something real.
Something I can no longer deny.


CHAPTER 29

NEW BEAT

LEESIE HUNT / CHATSPOT LOG / 07/01 9:17 AM

Kimbo69 says:  Hey girl! You’re online for once.
Leesie327 says:  Why are you up so early?
Kimbo69 says:  Actually I’m up late. Mark’s off on a trip with his friends. I can’t sleep without him.
Leesie327 says: Michael leaves every night. I hate that.
Kimbo69 says: But good-bye’s can be sweet.
Leesie327 says: Amen to that. The way he kissed me good night last night was beautiful—like a prayer.
Kimbo69 says: That’s definitely not how Mark and I said good-bye.
Leesie327 says: I’ll take what I can get.
Kimbo69 says: What are you guys doing for the 4th of July this weekend?
Leesie327 says: I don’t know. Michael will have to work, but maybe there will be fireworks somewhere we can watch that night.
Kimbo69 says: Mark will be back. We’ll have our own fireworks.
Leesie327 says: Are you done rubbing it in?
Kimbo69 says: Why is Michael always working? Isn’t he loaded?
Leesie327 says: He wants to learn so when he starts his own dive operations he doesn’t lose all his money.
Kimbo69 says: And he’s diving. That’s not really work.
Leesie327 says: He loves it—but it’s hard work.
Kimbo69 says: It’s not all that fair. He dives all day with beautiful girls, and you sit around with a sick old woman.
Leesie327 says: I don’t sit around. I’m totally busy.
Kimbo69 says: Are you happy—like he is?
Leesie327 says: I’m all over the place. Happy one minute—fighting tears the next. My mom says that’s normal.
Kimbo69 says: I’m glad you’ve got your mom to talk to again.
Leesie327 says: She makes more sense than I ever gave her credit for.
Kimbo69 says: What big plans have you got for today?
Leesie327 says: I did a massive hatchet job on some bushes. I got to clean up the mess.
Kimbo69 says: Sounds like a blast.
Leesie327 says: Good exercise.
Kimbo69 says: When is Michael coming over?
Leesie327 says: Late. He’s got another long day.
Kimbo69 says: Is it gross—changing diapers?
Leesie327 says: What are you talking about?
Kimbo69 says: The old lady!
Leesie327 says: She doesn’t wear diapers.
Kimbo69 says: That’s a relief.
Leesie327 says: I help her in the bathroom and get her dressed. Make sure she eats. Test her blood. Give her meds.
Kimbo69 says: Shots?
Leesie327 says: She jabs herself.
Kimbo69 says: Is she getting better?
Leesie327 says: Her foot looks worse to me. I’m worried it’ll get infected again.
Kimbo69 says: You have to take care of that?
Leesie327 says: Yeah. When the nurses don’t come.
Kimbo69 says: Gross. I’d vomit.
Leesie327 says: I almost lost it yesterday.
Kimbo69 says: I couldn’t do it.
Leesie327 says: You could. You can do anything you really want to.
Kimbo69 says: That’s what you think.
Leesie327 says: Hey Kim—I gotta go—Michael just walked in.
Kimbo69 says: Is something wrong?
Leesie327 says: I don’t know.
Kimbo69 says: You can’t just leave me like this!
Leesie327 says: Bye.

LEESIE’S MOST PRIVATE CHAPBOOK
POEM # 99, HIS CONFESSION

My kayak paddle digs
deep into the turquoise water.
I pull the blade through,
raise it, dig deep again
in rhythm with Michael
paddling behind me.

He’d burst into Jaz’s shack earlier,
bundled me and Aunty Jaz into his car
and sped to the big hospital near
my clinic. “Hurry, we’re late.”
Is the only clue he divulges.

By the time I manage
to get Jaz on her feet
he’s back with a wheelchair
and a beautiful nurse
with a clipboard and thick,
long, long back hair.
I’m frozen by that hair.
But Aunty Jaz pipes up,
“Dear boy, you’re mistaken
I don’t have an appointment.”

Michael ignores her, eases
her into the wheelchair
and races away.
I lock my hands behind
my back so I don’t touch
the inch and a half long
growth that covers my head
or pull a handful of the nurse’s
beautiful hair off her
innocent, unsuspecting head.

I follow through double doors,
down halls, around a corner,
notice a “Dive Medicine Clinic” sign,
worry that Michael’s bent again,
realize that makes no sense at all.
“Wait here.” He motions me to a
waiting area as he pushes Jaz
through more glass doors and
around a corner.

I sit on a yellow waiting room couch,
wait and wait until—there he is!
I barge through the glass doors.
“They are prepping her for the chamber.”
He’s totally lost me.
“Aunty Jaz isn’t bent.”
He grins big and takes my hands.
“Oxygen therapy. Great for wounds that won’t heal.”
I frown, worried. “She can’t afford this.”
He shrugs. “I can.”

We’ve got two hours to ourselves.
He’s taken the whole day off.
So here we are paddling
out to his favorite free dive site.

He stows his paddle to signal
our arrival. I tuck mine alongside his.
Instead of bailing over the side,
he opens his arms wide.
“Come here, babe.”
I maneuver into them,
snuggle my face
against his neck,
while his arms wrap me up.

He kisses his favorite spot
on my mangy skull and whispers,
“I think something answered.”
I bolt up—almost tip the kayak.
“You prayed!” My lips attack
in jubilation before he can answer.
He holds me off.
“Not fancy words like you—
I just asked.”
I have to kiss him one more time.
“That’s all you have to do.”
I sit back, so he can explain.

“I didn’t hear a voice
or anything or see stuff
in my head like you do,
but I had this feeling—”
He pauses, can’t speak for a moment.
He swallows and grips my hand.
“I, um, I—wasn’t alone.”

I hug him and good tears sting
my eyes. His lips
rest on my forehead,
his arms squeeze me.
“Do you know what that means?”
He gazes off into the distance.
“We’re not alone.”

Before I can answer, he props me
up, and holds me by the arms,
gives me a shake. “I woke up this
morning with this idea for
Aunty Jaz burgeoning in my brain.”
I smile, and try to say something,
but he gets there first.
“It grew and grew until
I picked up the phone and called
the chamber.”

I let joyful tears slip down my face
to consecrate the moment.
He wipes them away.
“I love the way this feels.”
I touch his cheek. “Me, too.”

He takes my hand and
kisses my palm.
“Do you think this can happen
again or is it a one shot deal?”
I gather both of his hands in mine,
kneel on the kayak floor in front of him,
gaze forever into his eyes.
“Whenever you’re willing
to pay the price—it’s there.
You’ve felt it before.”

He nods. “What do you we now?”
I swallow and wipe my nose
with the back of my hand.
“We can call the missionaries.”
His forehead creases concern.
“I love reading with you.
Can we keep doing that?”
That makes me start crying again.
He holds me close—our lips meet,
but it’s more like our hearts
mesh than our mouths.

I rest my ear against his chest
try to hear if he beats a fresh rhythm
to match mine. The fuzzy outlines of
forever with Michael become
a detailed sketch, glowing and radiant.
“Did I tell you I love you today?”
He rolls over the kayak’s side
into the water, deftly bringing
me with him. “Not enough.”



CHAPTER 30

LOVE

MICHAEL’S DIVE LOG – VOLUME 10
Dive Buddy: solo           
Date:  07/01
Dive #: --
Location: Grand Cayman
Dive Site: East End dock
Weather Condition: calm night
Water Condition: not enough water pressure in the shower
Depth: sprinkling down on me
Visibility: shining
Water Temp: intense warmth
Bottom Time: hard to know—just minutes I think
Comments:

I was on a total high all day today. When Leesie and I picked up Aunty J, she beamed at me and swore her foot felt better already. Wound treatment in the hyperbaric chamber takes a series of one or two hour sessions over days—maybe weeks—so it was probably just the O2 high talking. She made me feel amazing, though.
Amazed. Astounded. That’s kind of how I’ve felt since last night. The high lasted all afternoon while Jaz telephoned all her friends from church with the good news and hit them up for rides to and from the hospital, and Leesie and I slowly forged ahead reading The Book of Mormon. We’d read, she’d explain, and I asked questions.
I got suspicious when she insisted on skipping a whole bunch of chapters.
“What’s in it?” Maybe that’s where they hide all the secret stuff about polygamy.
“Isaiah. Bible prophet. He wrote in code so the king wouldn’t off with his head. I get lost. Nephi explains what it means here.” She smoothed down the page.
She was so intensely happy. I didn’t want to question her. I’m tempted to give a thumbs up to the missionaries just so I can watch her flip out. I want to keep her happy. She hasn’t been like this for so long. I always knew this was a huge deal for her, but seeing how thrilled she is that I’ll finally admit there seems to be a divine power out there makes me wish I could have come to this sooner. I was grieving, angry. Stubborn. Proud. An idiot.
But now as I drive through Georgetown at rush hour worrying that I won’t make it back to East End in time for the night dive I swapped my morning dives for, cursing my own stupidity for not taking the northern route, I wonder what’s in those mysterious chapters. Maybe I’ll read them myself. No harm in looking.
How can I doubt—doubt those feelings that seem so real to me? I know—it’s stupid. I know she wouldn’t lie to me, but how do I know the divine essence I felt are the Beings she describes? That’s a huge leap.
I’m working hard searching for that essence in the Book of Mormon. So far I’m touched and intrigued, but who is to say I won’t find the same sacredness in other holy books? Should I study those, too, and pray about them? Does the Book of Mormon being true make everything else false? Leesie believes in the Bible like other Christians, plus a bunch of stuff Joseph Smith wrote. Not stuff. Revelations.
If I were in love with a Budhist girl or a Catholic girl or a Jewish girl, would I have these feelings about her faith? Am I imagining everything to please Leesie? To keep her?
I used to think all religion was crap—crazy stuff used to enslave people. Isn’t that what most educated people think? Whether they go to church or not? But if there is something real in the concept of God, is there something real in all religion? Is some lies? Some truth? How does He feel about all the evil stuff people have done—still do—in the name of religion? Is He down with crusades, burning witches, and suicide bombers?
I can’t comprehend the whole Jesus Christ dying for my sins thing. Leesie says no one does—you have to take it on faith. Feel it.
Faith. That’s another thing I don’t get.
I see it in Leesie. She’s got too much faith—in me.
I make it to East End with no time to spare for dinner. It’s okay. Leesie fed me and Jaz a giant lunch. I’ll live. I bolt down to the dock and start flinging tanks into the boat, pushing myself into a frenzy so I can’t think up more doubts, more questions. I work so fast the boat is ready ten minutes before anybody’s going to show up.
I’m sweaty and hot, so I slip off my T-shirt and stand in the dock shower a minute in just my swimsuit. I close my eyes and try to recapture how I felt when Leesie and I prayed together before I left Aunty Jaz’s shack.
Leesie didn’t make me kneel down or do anything freaky. She took my hand and bowed her head right there where we were sitting. “Bless Michael as he learns line upon line that he will come to know and Love Thee, Thy Son, and Thy gospel.”
Line upon line. Step by step. Standing on the lonely dock with my face turned up to the refreshing cool water, I try to address Him—Leesie’s God—not just a divine essence. “Dear Heavenly Father,” I whisper and can’t continue.
I’m engulfed in love.
Intimate.
Personal.
Overflowing.
A father’s love.
A brother’s love.
A love that feels like home.


CHAPTER 31

PRODIGAL

LEESIE HUNT / CHATSPOT LOG / O7/03 2:22 PM

Leesie327 says: Good you’re online. I so need to vent.
Kimbo69 says: What’s he done now?
Leesie327 says: Michael? I’m not mad at HIM. Michael is perfection.
Kimbo69 says: He’s hot—but the guy’s got his flaws.
Leesie327 says: I didn’t think I could love him more, but every day I do.
Kimbo69 says: So that study thing you’re doing is going well? He’s swallowing the Mormon stuff?
Leesie327 says: It’s not like that. This is the most beautiful experience. I wish I could explain it to you.
Kimbo69 says: No thanks. Don’t turn your religious zeal on me. We have an agreement, remember?
Leesie327 says: He prayed. Really prayed. And God answered him. He called me so excited.
Kimbo69 says: God or Michael?
Leesie327 says: Very funny.
Kimbo69 says: So you’re going to live happily ever after?
Leesie327 says: I was going to type YES, but then I thought of Phil. That will always hurt—but Michael is trying so hard, dropping all his barriers—for me.
Kimbo69 says: How are you going to tell him that you and Phil were fighting over him in that pickup?
Leesie327 says: I’m never going to. I won’t tell anyone. Promise me, Kim. Never say a thing.
Kimbo69 says: Calm down. You know you can trust me. So what interrupted perfection in paradise.
Leesie327 says: It was dumb. I shouldn’t let stuff like that upset me. I dealt with so much worse every day in high school.
Kimbo69 says: You’re making me crazy. WHAT HAPPENED?
Leesie327 says: Michael has to work through the 4th of July weekend, so he slept on Jaz’s porch last night and too me back down to East end this morning to go diving while Aunty Jaz got her treatment. Jaz’s friend picked her up and took Jaz to her hourse for a change of scenery. She must be having a good time. She’s still not back.
Kimbo69 says: Did you get hurt diving?
Leesie327 says: Dani and Seth were on the boat with us.
Kimbo69 says: Did Miss Sleeze-bucket hit on your man?
Leesie327 says: No. She tried to save him from the clutches of the evil Mormon devil-worshippers.
Kimbo69 says: What?
Leesie327 says: She grew up in the South going to one of those churches that show anti-Mormon videos to protect their flock.
Kimbo69 says: Churches do that?
Leesie327 says: She said that if I don’t turn away from my evil ways and find Christ, I’ll be damned. Apparently, I’m no longer a Christian.
Kimbo69 says: She lectured you?
Leesie327 says: And I just sat there in stunned silence.
Kimbo69 says: She’s really one to talk.
Leesie327 says: My dad always taught us “contention is of the devil.” Arguing with someone who just wants to fight makes everyone angry. Pointless.
Kimbo69 says: You let her get away with that?
Leesie327 says: I didn’t want it to get ugly in front of Michael. Turning the other cheek is a lot harder than it sounds.
Kimbo69 says: So what happened?
Leesie327 says: Michael told her to shut up. Seth almost decked him.
Kimbo69 says: That sounds peaceful. You did this in front of all the paying customers?
Leesie327 says: No. We were up front. Michael was driving the boat.
Kimbo69 says: He defended you. That’s so cool.
Leesie327 says: I brokered a truce. By the time we got out to the dive site, they were all business as usual.
Kimbo69 says: Flakes.
Leesie327 says: I don’t know. Maybe Dani really believes that stuff about us. Lots of people do.
Kimbo69 says: Then they should keep it to themselves.
Leesie327 says: No way I can say that. Our missionaries go all over the world NOT keeping it to themselves.
Kimbo69 says: What are you going to do if she starts in on you again?
Leesie327 says: Smile and thank her for her concern. I don’t want her angry and bugging Michael. He’s with these people all the time.
Kimbo69 says: Get God to zap her. You’re tight with Him.
Leesie327 says: He’d say I’m supposed to love her.
Kimbo69 says: Hah! You are crazy.
Leesie327 says: Certifiable—crap—there’s noise in the restaurant. Somebody’s in there.
Kimbo69 says: Maybe Jaz came home.
Kimbo69 says: Leesie? Where are you?
Kimbo69 says: Are you okay?
Kimbo69 says: You’re scaring the panties off me.
Kimbo69 says: If you don’t come back and answer me, I’ll never chat with you again.
Leesie327 says: There’s a massive black guy in there scrubbing the counters down. I think it’s Aunty Jaz’s son.
Kimbo69 says: The criminal?
Leesie327 says: No one said he’s a criminal.
Kimbo69 says: Get out of there now!!!!
Leesie327 says: What if Jaz comes home, and he hurts her?
Kimbo69 says: What if he hurts you?
Leesie327 says: I’m going to go out back and call Michael.
Kimbo69 says: Can’t you call someone closer? Like the police?
Leesie327 says: Oh, yeah. I wonder if 911 works here. I could try that. Pres. Bodden. I’ll call him. Right after Michael.
Kimbo69 says: Go hide.
Kimbo69 says: Get help from the neighbors.
Kimbo69 says: You’re gone aren’t you?
Kimbo69 says: Crap. girl. You better phone me.
Kimbo69 says: What’s happening? I’m sitting right here. I’m not going anywhere until you tell me you’re okay.
Kimbo69 says: Don’t do anything stupid.
Kimbo69 says: Geeze—now you’ve even got me praying.

MICHAEL’S DIVE LOG – VOLUME 10
Dive Buddy: the whole gang
Date:  07/03
Dive #: --
Location: Grand Cayman
Dive Site: Jaz’s shack
Weather Condition: late, windy
Water Condition: kicking up white caps
Depth: wish I knew
Visibility: zero
Water Temp: weird, I’m cold
Bottom Time: too, too long
Comments:

            When I steer the boat close enough to shore to get cell coverage on our way back in from the afternoon trip, I pick up a text from Leesie.
            J’s son in rstrnt calling Pres B
            Jaz’s son? Do I know Jaz has a son? I think so. What did they say about him? Restraining order? That’s it. He can’t come near his mother. No one ever said why. That’s why I was nervous about Leesie staying there. I forgot all about it as soon as I met Jaz. She’s overpowering. Did he hurt her? Threaten her? Where has he been? Why is he there now? Freak. I think Leesie’s alone there.
            I dial Leesie. Her phone goes straight to voicemail. She always forgets to charge it. Way to go, babe.
            Or maybe the dude turned it off.
            I try Jaz’s land line. It’s busy. Off the hook? Cut? Freak. Freak. Freak.
            I push the boat into high gear.
            I’m working today with Gabriel and Cooper. Alex drove Leesie back to Jaz’s for me this morning.
            Cooper yells, “What are you doing? This is a no wake zone.”
            “I think Leesie’s in trouble.” I toss him my phone and explain.
            Gabriel joins us at the front, catches the gist of the situation. He examines the text. “Who’s Pres. B?”
            I concentrate on the steering the speeding boat. “The guy from her church.”
            Cooper puts his hand on my shoulder. “Calm down then. He’s handling it.”
            I shrug him off. “What if he’s not? What if she didn’t call? Or he didn’t pick up? I gotta get over there.”
            Gabriel hands back my phone. “We’ll go, too. You might need us.”
            “Are you sure?”
            “Of course, dude.” Cooper slaps my back and yells, “Hang on tight! We’re coming in hot!”
            The divers in the back sit down and grab something.
            Cooper gets his phone out of his dry bag and starts dialing the guys. He gets a hold of Brock who promises to have Ethan and Seth ready to go as soon as the boat touches the dock.
            Gabriel grabs hold of an overhead bar for balance as I slam the boat through the cut in the reef and speed across the flat lagoon to the dock.
            Dani’s there to catch the ropes and offload the divers. “Go, go! I’ve got this.”
            Gabriel, Cooper and I tear out of the boat and up to the parking lot. Ethan, Seth, Brock, and Alex wait by my car.
            Gabriel greets Alex with a hug. “Don’t worry, mi cielo, I’m sure we’ll be fine. See you later.”
            Alex glares at him. “Like hell you will.”
            “You’re not going.”
            “And who’s going to stop me?”
            Aparently not Gabriel. All the guys cram into my car, and I take off—heading North. It’s a mile or two longer but there’s no traffic and the road is open so we can speed. Gabriel and Alex follow in his sleek red Porche. I wish this bucket I’m driving had that kind of speed.
            Ethan’s in the front seat beside me. I chuck my phone at him. “Keep trying to call her.”
The car is silent except for the sound of muted dialing and the obnoxious engine. I grow more and more tense. Grip the steering wheel so hard my knuckles turn white. My arms ache.
“Freak!” A slow car ahead blocks my progress. I pull into the oncoming lane and zoom around it. An approaching car lays on its horn and brakes hard.
“Watch it.” Seth yells as I whip back into my lane and the car I passed starts to honk.
I ignore him and press down on the gas, check the rearview mirror. Gabriel aims his Porche at the gap in the middle of the road between the slow car and another car coming the other direction. He pulls up close behind me.
I focus on the road ahead. This piece of junk I’m driving shakes too much at 90 mph, so I ease it back to 85—keep it there the whole way.
I screech up to Jaz’s, bail out and sprint around back. “Leesie?” I yell. “Are you here? Leesie!”
The porch is empty.
The living quarters, too.
I hear noise in the restaurant.
I burst through the door screaming, “Leesie!” with all the guys and Alex at my back.
Leesie and Aunty Jaz sit at a table eating fish.
I turn from them to find a massive black guy with a head full of dreds barreling down on us wielding a fish cleaver.
“No! No!” Leesie leaps up, gets between us. “It’s okay.” She backs hard into me and holds her hands up to ward off the guy. “Didn’t you get my text?”
“That’s why we’re here!” I hold my arms out to keep the guys back.
The fish guy backs off.
Leesie turns around. “Why didn’t you call?”
I grab her shoulders. “I did.” I shake her. “A thousand times.”
“Oh, no.” She sticks her hand in her pocket and pulls out her cell phone. It’s dead. “I didn’t realize. I’m sorry.”
I’m shaking I’m so upset. “I tried the landline, too.” I get a hold of myself, stop shaking her.
“Jaz has been using it.” She takes my hands. “I thought you were still on the water.” She peaks around me at all the guys and Alex—fists clenched, panting—ready to defend her. Her face goes crimson. “I’m so so sorry.”
“Well,” Aunty Jaz pipes up from her table, “now that you’re here, you can help celebrate. Junior’s come back to me—and he’ll make fish for you all.”
Junior smiles like Aunty Jaz. “Of course. Of course. Come in. We’re re-opening the shack tomorrow. You’re our first guests.”
I collapse at a table in the back and slump down on it. Hide my face in my hands. Leesie introduces everyone to Aunty Jaz and Junior.
A few minutes later, Leesie scoots a chair close to mine. She strokes my back. “I can’t believe I put you through that.”
“Freak, babe. It was hell.”
She combs my hair with her fingers. “I didn’t know my phone was dead.”
“You could have sent another text. Or left a phone message.”
“You’re right. I’m so stupid.” Her voice shakes.
I look up. She’s gone really pale. “Are you okay?”
“I am now.” She squirms close.
My arms encircle her. “Were you scared?”
Her head bobs up and down, bangs my chin. “I heard him in the kitchen, got a look—hid out back. Sent you the text. Called President Bodden. He was concerned and told me to stay put until he got there. He was fast—twenty minutes—but it seemed like forever.”
“He just showed up by himself?” I rest my cheek on her head. It’s sweaty. Poor, babe.
“One of the members is a cop. He came, too. They told Aunty Jaz to stay put, but she got here about the same time.” She puts her hand on my neck.
I cover it with mine. “They confronted him?”
She shrugs. “They made me stay in the cop car until it was safe.”
“Thank God, you’re okay.”
“They all just left like five minutes ago. I should have called you, though. I wasn’t thinking. Will you forgive me?”
I kiss her forehead. “Uh-huh. I would have come anyway.”
“But not with the posse. I feel like a fool.”
“Are you kidding? They’re getting the best fish on the island. Look at them.” I loosen my grip on her so she can peak over my shoulder. “They’re loving it.”
“Where’s Dani?”
“She offloaded the boat, so we could leave right away.”
Her forehead wrinkles up. “Isn’t there a night dive scheduled?”
“Dani can guide it. They’ll find somebody to drive.” I squeeze her hand. “No big deal.”
She snuggles close to me. “It is a big deal. You should be really mad.”
“I know.” I release her hand and tip her head back so I can see her face. “I’m just glad you’re safe.”
She kisses me. “Thank you.”
“I love you.”
“I know.” She kisses me again.
Junior puts a plate of steaming fried fish on the table in front of me. “You want more, Sister Leesie?” He waits beside the table.
She lets me go and sits up. “I’m stuffed. Thanks.”
I bend over the plate, inhale the spices, suddenly starving. “Thanks, man.”
Junior grins. “You know my mum’s fish?”
 I nod while I load up my fork and shove it in my mouth. I close my eyes and chew in bliss while the sweet, tender fish and crisp spicy coating party in my mouth.
Junior’s off frying more fish by the time I open my eyes and start digging for another bite.
“Oh, crap!” Leesie jumps up, knocking over her chair. “Kim!” She runs through the door into Jaz’s living quarters. I follow with my fish.
Leesie’s laptop is dead, too. I plug it in for her and watch over her shoulder. Kim’s frantic. Steamed at first like I was, but calms down when the whole story comes out.
She wants to know Junior’s story. I do, too, so I eavesdrop.
The gist of it is he took his dad’s death hard. I can relate. Junior got mixed up with drugs, stole from Jaz, threatened her. She turned him in. The judge imposed a restraining order. He got probation and community service—left the island, ashamed, as soon he could. Poor, Jaz. That must have killed her. He got a job frying fish in the Bahamas, cleaned up, worked hard. Came home when he heard about Jaz’s foot. He called his sister—homesick for news.
I bend over and kiss Leesie’s cheek. That could have been me if it wasn’t for her. I took my parent’s death hard. But she was there.
Leesie signs off with Kim. We sit out on the back porch holding each other—not talking or even making out. Just being.
That’s all I really want.
To just be.
With her.

CHAPTER 32

THE PLAN

LEESIE HUNT CHATSPOT LOG / 07/06  5:30 PM

liv2div says: hey babe, it’s me…I borrowed Alex’s computer.
Leesie327 says: Does this mean you aren’t coming over tonight?
liv2div says: I have to teach…last minute
Leesie327 says: We missed you at church yesterday.
liv2div says: I missed going.
Leesie327 says: Really?
liv2div says: don’t get mad…I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon without you
Leesie327 says: That’s amazing! Read as much as you want.
liv2div says: I got to the part where an angel stopped that rebellious guy and his friends and told them to change their evil ways…I feel kind of like that
Leesie327 says: I never said you were evil.
liv2div says: who says you’re the angel?
Leesie327 says: I forgot what a snot you are when we chat.
liv2div says: how’d you get to church?
Leesie327 says: Junior has a vintage VW bus.
liv2div says: whoa, classy wheels
Leesie327 says: He got it back from a friend on Saturday. I helped him scrub it this morning, but it still smells like pot.
liv2div says: how do you know what pot smells like?
Leesie327 says: Today was an education.
liv2div says: So, babe, what do you want to do now that Jaz doesn’t need you?
Leesie327 says: She still needs me—lots. I’m going to help with the fish shack, too.
liv2div says: how long?
Leesie327 says: Until you’re done here, I guess.
liv2div says: And then I can take you home?
Leesie327 says: Yeah. For sure. Let’s go so there’s plenty of time before school starts.
liv2div says: time for what?
Leesie327 says: To see my parents and Stephie. Visit Gram, and um
liv2div says: spill it…what else?
Leesie327 says: Maybe enough time to have a quiet wedding in the backyard?
liv2div says: What if I got baptized? Would there be time for a wedding in the temple?
Leesie327 says: Excuse me. I just had heart failure. Did you really say that?
liv2div says: it doesn’t seem impossible anymore
Leesie327 says: Listen, I’d love to have you get baptized that soon, but I don’t want to rush you. Take your time. You have to be a member for a year before you can go to the temple.
liv2div says: A whole year? That’s a new one. I thought all I had to do was get baptized.
Leesie327 says: Baptism is a huge step. Don’t do it until you’re totally ready. But marry me before we move down to Provo.
liv2div says: what if I decide not to get baptized?
Leesie327 says: It won’t make me love you less. I’ll respect your decision and pray you’ll change your heart.
liv2div says: if you start praying, I won’t stand a chance!
Leesie327 says: So I can tell my mom to start planning a wedding?
liv2div says: no…don’t do that
Leesie327 says: Please, Michael. I’ve got your diamond on my finger. End of the summer. You promised.
liv2div says: in the backyard? even if I’m not a Mormon?
Leesie327 says: If we’re married, we can have our own apartment, no more saying good-bye every night, and we can—24/7, remember?
liv2div says: I know
Leesie327 says: Don’t you want that?
liv2div says: I forgot what a flirt you are when we chat.
Leesie327 says: So we can get married?
liv2div says: let me think about it
Leesie327 says: You’re not getting out of it.
liv2div says: what am I supposed to do in Provo?
Leesie327 says: That’s your problem.
liv2div says: maybe I want to come back to Cayman and work or go somewhere else
Leesie327 says: You need to go to college. You could go to the U or UVU.
liv2div says: and study what?
Leesie327 says: I don’t care. Our kids need an educated father.
liv2div says: KIDS!
Leesie327 says: Uh-huh. Three girls and two boys.
liv2div says: FIVE?
Leesie327 says: Don’t you want kids?
liv2div says: Yeah. I do.
Leesie327 says: I’m starting young. We can have lots.
liv2div says: We’re just 19.
Leesie327 says: I’m almost twenty.
liv2div says: not…maybe we should wait that year
Leesie327 says: No. No way. You’ll take off. Leave me again. I’ll lose you.
liv2div says: give me some credit…I’ll stay in Provo…I won’t let you out of my sight
Leesie327 says: But that puts all kinds of pressure on you to get baptized right away. I won’t do that to you.
liv2div says: you aren’t doing it…I am…you really want to be a mom at twenty?
Leesie327 says: So we’ll wait a couple years on the kids. Let’s just get married. The backyard will be full of flowers in August.
liv2div says: and what will you tell those kids of ours when they want to do that instead of hang on for the temple?
Leesie327 says: That their father drove me crazy every time he walked into a room, and we’d suffered long enough.
liv2div says: you just want my body?
Leesie327 says: Uh-huh.
liv2div says: aren’t you the girl who taught me we came to earth to be tested?
Leesie327 says: That’s not fair. You’re too good a student.
liv2div says: get used to it, babe
Leesie327 says: So we wait? Crap. What do we do next?
liv2div says: I guess we better call the missionaries…if I’m going to do this, let’s do it!

LEESIE’S MOST PRIVATE CHAPBOOK
POEM #100, DISCUSSIONS
The next time
Michael pulls up
in front of Jaz’s hopping shack
and I flurry out to meet him,
I’m shy—
to touch his hand,
to kiss his lips,
to tell him the requested
missionaries, sufficiently stuffed
with fish soaked in buttermilk,
breaded with Jaz’s secret recipe
and fried to perfection by Junior,
wait on the porch.

He’s different—strange to me—
I no longer lead, guide, walk beside.
He’s taken control of his destiny
and mine.
His lips taste familiar
as we linger at the roadside
reconnecting after five days apart.
“Are we going to do this?” His
whisper stirs my hair.
I nod—find his lips again.
“What was that for?”
“In case you never kiss me again.”
My face gets hot. “Remember last time?”
A phantom from his last
missionary encounter rises
menacing between us.
He wafts it away with a wave
of his hand, strong and tan,
that cups my chin.
“That’s not going to happen—
Those guys were right.
I didn’t have ears.”

He takes my hand
and pulls me along the path
to meet the two smiling elders
who know him from church.
Guys his age—humble, excited to teach.
Michael reflects their energy,
listens, nods, accepts, believes.
At the end, he says the prayer
when they ask.
“Dear Heavenly Father”—
his voice is tender and full of love—
“Thank you—thee—for opening
my eyes and giving me
Leesie to fill my heart.”

I join his “amen,” in the name
of Jesus Christ, and offer my own
silent thank you, in awe of the man
beside me who shakes
the missionaries hands, makes
the next appointment, sees them off,
then reaches for my hand
and brings it to his lips,
kissing, one by one, the nail prints
he left so long ago when he showed
me his wounds and I tried to anoint them
with the only balm I knew.

He pulls me into his arms,
kisses me tenderly,
like I’m a daughter of God.
And my brimming heart knows
he’s ready to be
a son.


CHAPTER 33

COMMITTAL

MICHAEL’S DIVE LOG – VOLUME 10
Dive Buddy: Leesie and the elders           
Date:  07/26
Dive #: --
Location: Grand Cayman
Dive Site: Jaz’s porch
Weather Condition: muggy
Water Condition: it’s so hot I wish I was in it
Depth: high and dry            
Visibility: into the future and it looks good
Water Temp: it’s probably pushing 90
Bottom Time: forever
Comments:

            “So, Brother Walden, would you like to seta date for your baptism?” Elder Kitchen is from northern Arizona.
He was stoked when I told him I’m from Phoenix. “My I-don’t-know-how-many-great grandparents pioneered in Mesa.” They went south from Salt Lake when Leesie’s dad’s ancestors went north to Idaho. Elder Kitchen punched my arm and said, “Cool. I come all the way to Grand Cayman to teach a bro from Phoenix.” He grew up in Snowflake—tiny place, mostly Mormons, up on the UT/AZ border. They have winter there. Not sure why you’d want to live in Arizona where there’s winter, but Elder Kitchen loves it—misses the place like crazy.
            I look from him to his companion, Elder Quincy from Ohio, to Leesie. She’s holding her breath, turning blue at the edges.
            “Breathe, babe.” I reach for her hand. “You think I’m ready?”
            Elder Quincy, who has only been a member for a couple years—and one of those was spent on his mission, rolls his eyes. “Dude, you’re a lot more ready than I was.” His family cut him off when he got baptized, but his ward (ie. Mormon congregation) back in Ohio is paying for his mission.
            Leesie sets our hands on her knee and places her left hand on top. Her ring catches the sun that streams in behind us. “The question is—do you think you’re ready?”
            After the fourth of July holidayers left, business really slacked off out at East End. It’s not as dead as it will be in August when hurricane season starts to heat up, but I’ve only been working one dive a day—sometimes not even that. Gabriel can instruct, too. He’s been taking all the students—training Alex. They want to buy a place, maybe over on Cayman Brac, and go into business together.
            I’m the only guy the elders are teaching. They’d much rather teach me and eat free fish than pound on doors or try to talk to people on buses or the streets. Beach missionary work is against the rules.  So we’ve spent hours every day this month, except Mondays when they get a day to do laundry, write emails home, and play basketball and on their community service days, running the fans full blast on Aunty Jaz’s back porch trying not to melt without A/C and talking about Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ, Heavenly Father and what He’s got planned for me.
            I close my eyes and look inside. Am I ready? Can I ever be ready? My eyes drift open. “I’m not done reading the Book of Mormon.”
            Leesie pats my hand. “You’re close.”
            Elder Kitchen leans forward with his hands clasped, his eyes serious. “Have you prayed about it?”
            I nod.
            Elder Quincy mirrors Kitchen’s pose and speaks with a solemn voice. “And you know it’s true.”
            I swallow and look at Leesie. Her eyes are on my face. I whisper, “Yes. I do.” Those three words bring a powerful surge of warmth, a feeling I’ve come to crave.
            A grin grows on both elders’ faces. Elder Kitchen sits up. “Then let’s set a date. When are you leaving?”
            Leesie and I are lost in each other. Elder K’s questions doesn’t register. Happiness makes Leesie glow. Joyful. That’s what she is. I know it sounds corny, but that fills me up, too.
            Elder Quincy clears his throat. “Are we in the way here?”
            Leesie gets pink and turns to them. “We’re leaving the tenth of August.”
            It was going to be sooner, but Gabriel and Alex are going to Cayman Brac to asses a dive operation that might be up for sale soon and convinced us to go along. Gabriel and I are staying with a friend of his who works on the Brac. The resort is comp’ing Alex and Leesie a room. Leesie made Alex promise Gabriel would not be allowed in that room before she agreed to go.
            Leesie’s parents were disappointed at the delay, but they were cool about it. Her dad has been cool about everything.
            I put my right hand on top of Leesie’s to complete the stack on her knee. “Do you think Leesie’s dad could baptize me?”
            Leesie leans her head onto my shoulder. “He’d love, too. Call him.”
            Elder Quincy’s face falls. “Oh, man. We wanted to dunk you.”
            Elder Kitchen elbows him. “It’s okay, Elder. We’ll survive.”
            I realize what they’re saying. If I wait until we go home, these guys who I’ve come to love like brothers, can’t be there. “I could fly them all here. Leesie’s family and Gram. I want Gram to be here—to feel this.” I put my hand on my heart.
            Leesie lifts her head. “It’s getting close to harvest.” Her voice wobbles. “Dad can’t leave the farm.” I can tell she’s thinking that he’ll be doing it alone this year. No Phil to help. She turns to me. “I’d like to drive truck for him while we’re there.”
            “Whatever you want, babe.”
            Edler Quincy stands up and puts his hands on his hips. “You call him then and set the date. We’re not leaving until you do.”
            Elder Kitchen stands, too. “We want a wedding invitation, okay?”
            Leesie releases my left hand, pulls her phone out of her pocket, taps “home” on her favorites. “Hey, mom. Is dad around? Michael wants to ask him something important.” She listens to her mom’s reply and hands me the phone.
            I walk over to the far side of the porch, wait for Leesie’s dad to pick up, keep my back to Leesie and the elders. What am I doing? A voice that’s been gnawing at me for about a week now takes over my brain. I’m not religious. Never have been. Like my parents. We believe in diving. That’s it. How do I know these feelings and thoughts I think are from God are real? Maybe it’s all just crazy Mormon voodoo.
            “Hello? Michael?”
            The sounds of his voice brings me back to my purpose. “Hello, Brother Hunt.”
            “What did you want to ask me?” He doesn’t sound happy. There’s strain and sadness in his voice. Grief. How long did I sound like that? I think I still do sometimes. Maybe I always will. He probably thinks I’m calling to ask if I can marry Leesie. Does that make him sadder?
            I close my eyes and rest my forehead against the porch post. “Would you baptize me?” My throat is dry. I croak the words.
            “What?”
            “When Leesie and I are back in August—will you baptize me?”
            His reply shuts that gnawing voice up. “I’d be honored, son. Of course, I will.”


CHAPTER 34

CECILIA

LEESIE’S MOST PRIVATE CHAPBOOK
POEM #101, THE BRAC

A tiny plane,
a bumpy landing,
a crescent shaped skiff
of sand with nothing but
bat-filled caves, half-dozen
dives operations, one dirt road
that stretches from end to end,
diving my first wreck,
MV Capt. Keith Tibbits,
a Russian relic renamed
for us tourists,
snuggling on the beach
with Michael while he,
Gabriel and Alex toss pros and cons,
ups and downs, hows and how-nots
into the inky sky dotted with pinpricks           

morphs overnight into

rain, winds, warnings,
boats called in, airport shut down,
hotel evacuation to the island’s
built-in shelter—deep caves
that won’t wash away in the onslaught
that’s only hours away.
The bats lining the ceiling don’t seem
to mind sharing their subterranean palace
with fifty human bodies wrapped in hotel
blankets and foil-lined emergency heat sheets
that crinkle when we move
and make me sweat.

I huddle with Michael in the mass
and sip bottled water.
“Are you scared?” He shakes
his arm that’s gone to sleep
holding me.
“No. You’re here.” I try to imagine
the last hurricane he faced. “Are you?”
He smiles at me. “Terrified.”
“Did you hear this one’s name?”
“Cecilia.” His eyebrows draw
close together.
I touch his face. “Will she
haunt us like your Isadore?”
He wraps his arms back around me.
“We’re safe here. Don’t worry.”
I cuddle in close and hand him my water.
The sound of the wind shifts to a new key.
“Here it comes.”

I brace myself for storm surge waves,
sheets of rain, vicious winds
to swamp our dry hide-out,
peel back the roots and dirt
and smash the coral skeleton
that encases us in it’s embrace.
Nothing happens.
The sound mounts, echoes, screams,
but we are safe—barely even soggy.
Cramped, tired, trapped,
but safe.  Michael prods
me to my feet and stretches.
We wander with refugees, careful
not to step on sleepers, meet up
with Gabriel and Alex, who’ve
decided not to spend his trust fund here.

“Did you hear if it’s hitting the big island?”
I’m worried about Jaz and Junior.
Alex shakes her head. “I don’t know.”
We hang out with them, laughing
and talking like this is just another night
after a long day diving.
Hours roll by. A lady from the resort
comes along with a big basket of cereal bars.
Michael turns his nose up, but takes a handful
“Guess we won’t starve.” He offers them to us.
When the wind dies, I’m not sure if it’s day or night.
Michael and Gabriel venture to the cave’s mouth,
return to report. “Definitely the eye, mi cielo.”
Gabriel’s arm circles Alex. “You should
sleep in the stillness.” They slip away.

Michael and I find a quiet place to whisper.
I doze and wake to find him studying my face—
troubled. About our future together?
The giant stride he’ll take next week
into a brand new world with a soft woosh
of water in a baptismal font in Spokane?
Waiting a whole year to get married?
I kiss his cheek. “You know,
we can get married any weekend
if waiting gets too hard.”
He tries to wipe the trouble
off his face. “I’m not worried
about that. Are you?”
My face heats up, and he kisses me,
sucks ever so gently on the corner
of my lower lip.

I let him think he’s distracted
me, enjoy the kiss, initiate
another, then take his face
in my hands and try to fathom his eyes
in the waning glow of two electric lanterns
that struggle to light the cave.
“What does worry you then?”
“Nothing, babe.”
“Don’t lie to me. I see it.
Is it Isadore?”
“No, Leese.” He closes his eyes.
“It’s you.” He bows his head
so our foreheads touch.
“There’s something I need to know.”
I touch my lips to his.
“You are my life—my forever.
You know everything—my best, my worst.”

His eyes open—I can’t breathe
while I wait for him to speak.
“You have one secret, babe. I
don’t want to get close to,
but I gotta know—
was it me?”

MICHAEL’S DIVE LOG – VOLUME 10
Dive Buddy: Leesie and Cecilia           
Date:  08/06
Dive #: --
Location: Cayman Brac
Dive Site: the caves
Weather Condition: Category 3
Water Condition: sounds wild out there
Depth: somebody said the storm surge crested at 20’
Visibility: murky
Water Temp: feels cold
Bottom Time: lost track
Comments:

            Leesie’s face, eerie in the cave’s flickering light, blanches white. She hides it against my shoulder.
            I bend my head and speak into her ear. “That fight you had with Phil. You never told me what it was about.”
            She wraps her arms around me—too tight. I feel something damp soak through my T-shirt. Her reaction makes me want to take back the question.
            I rub her back and stroke her head. I don’t want to know what she’s so carefully hidden—don’t want to stain the perfect picture we’ve painted—her dad baptizing me next week, a year engaged in Provo, a wedding next August at her temple in Spokane. I don’t know if I can survive what I’ve guessed she’s going to say.
            I want this joyful haze we’ve been walking around in to last forever. But as we sat here waiting out the storm, with hours to reflect, the tiny flaw in her story about the crash cracked open. Now I feel like I’m dangling on the edge of a deep crevice hanging on by my fingertips.
            She turns her head to speak, but keeps her cheek pressed against me. “My mom said I should tell you.”
            “They know?” How can I ever face them again? Every time they see me they’ll see the guy who caused their son’s death. “And they still—”
            “It doesn’t change anything.”
            “Freak, Leesie, it changes everything.”
            She grabs a handful of my shirt. “Don’t go down that road Michael.” She sniffs and wipes her face. “You saw what it did to me.”
            I can’t reply. I’m cold—inside and out. Turmoil tosses my heart against a wall, and it shatters into a million pieces.
            Leesie tries to kiss me, but I pull back.
            She retreats into my T-shirt. “It doesn’t change how much I love you.”  Her arms tighten around me.
            I can’t breathe. I try to break her grip, get up, get away. She won’t let me. I inhale and hold my breath, stop struggling.
            She kisses my neck, squeezes her eyes tight a moment, then opens them up starts to speak through her tears. “I love my brother”—she swallows hard—“but it’s not your fault he’s dead. It’s not my fault, either. I didn’t undo his seatbelt. I didn’t put ice on the road. I didn’t say vile things about you.”
            “You’re blaming him now?” The wind starts to blow again outside. Cecilia’s back.
            “I let him get to me.”
I bend my ear towards her mouth so I can hear better.
Leesie raises her voice. “He slept while I drove up through the forest and into the mountains. I tried to figure out how I felt about Jaron, and all I could think was you.” She touches my face. “Surrounded by all that beauty and stillness, the Spirit finally got through to me. I saw I’d misjudged you cruelly. Every mile closer to home brought me back to you. I was so happy.” She squeezes me again. “It was sacred. I should have kept it to myself. But I didn’t.” A sob stops her. She gets control and continues. “Phil drug all my sublime feelings into the gutter. I blew up. Lost control. You know the rest.”
             I turn my face to the wall—trying to escape her voice.
            She yells so I can hear over the roaring storm. “It’s Phil’s fault. It’s my fault. It’s ice on the road.”
            I shake my head, struggle to get free of her arms again.
            She still won’t let me go. “You had nothing to do with it.”
            I look down at her. Freak, I stole her entire life—even her brother. “If you’d left me alone—”
            “Suffering like that? How could I?”
            “Phil would be packing his bags for BYU and making out with Krystal.” The weight of that reality smacks me hard. It unlocks the dark place where the guilt I struggled with when I failed to save my mother when Isadore had us both in her clutches and stirs it up into a rampage.
            I break free of Leesie’s hold, get to my feet. She bows her head to the ground and sobs. Part of me longs to kneel down beside her, hold her, comfort her. But the other part needs to breath. I’m suffocating in this cave.
            I trip over bodies and step on fingers as I race to the entrance and stare over the sand bag wall I helped build earlier. A Cecilia fueled wave breaks against it. The spray that hits my face beckons me.
            I climb over the wall and into pure wildness. Rain and waves drench. Powerful winds drive me back. I fight them with each step forward I take. There used to be a road between the path that leads up to the caves and the exposed broken coral that creates the shoreline. Now all I see is water swirling white around my ankles as the wave recedes. The wind is full of sharp shards of shell and glass, tiny sand pellets, and bits of slime that used to be palm fronds. A piece of corrugated tin torn from a roof flies by me.
            Inhale. Hold it. Exhale. Repeat. Inhale. Fill my gut, my chest, my throat, my head. Hold it. Hold it. Hold it. Isadore didn’t get me. Maybe Cecilia’s interested. I struggle three steps forward. Cecilia blows me back.
            “Michael?”
            I close my eyes. I can’t Mom. I’m sorry. I tried. But I can’t do this without you guys. I hurt everybody I love.
            “Michael! Michael! Where are you?” My mom’s voice melds with Leesie. “Michael. Come back. Don’t leave me alone.”
            The voice advances on me. I glance over my shoulder. She’s followed me. “Michael!” She screams frantic. She sees me, rushes forward. “Michael! Michael!”
            Cecilia flings a mangled chunk of metal at Leesie.
            “No, babe!” I scream as she goes down.
            I let the storm blow me to her, grab her limp body from the swirling ebb before waves suck her out with them. A wave crashes just behind us. I scramble to the cave’s mouth and over the wall before a monster attacks and drags us out with it.
            I kneel by the wall, panting and praying. “Please, Heavenly Father, let her be all right.”
            Her eyes don’t open.
            She doesn’t touch my face and whisper, “I love you.”
            I bury my face against her wet head. She’s breathing. I press my hand over her heart. It beats.
            Strangers discover us—try to take her from me.
            “She just hit her head.” I won’t let anyone touch her. “She’ll be all right.” I try to remember what the doctors said about her last concussion. Something ominous about further injury. “Please, save her. Please,” I pray.
            No one asks what the hell we were doing out there. They seem afraid of me. Do I look that freaked?
            I hold her close and cry. “Come on, babe. Please.” I rock her until I fall asleep.
            When I wake my arms are empty.
            I leap up. Cast my eyes around the cave. Where did they put her?
            And there she is.
            A few feet away from me.
            Talking to Alex.


CHAPTER 35

DIZZY

LEESIE’S MOST PRIVATE CHAPBOOK
POEM #102,  ONLY ONE THING

Michael drops to his knees
beside me. “Thank God!
You’re all right.”
My head throbs but I
manage mustering a weak
smile. “Just dizzy.”
I turn to Alex.  “He always
makes me feel like that.”
Alex decides she’s thirsty
and tactfully disappears.
I turn back to Michael,
stare at his knees
afraid of what his face
will tell me. “Are we
all right?”

He pulls me onto his lap
and kisses me until
I can’t breathe.
“So you’ll still have me?”
I murmur when he lets
me up for air.
He kisses my forehead
and whispers, “Are you sure?”
I press my mouth on his—
relief, love, gratitude
pouring out of me
and all over him.

He wipes tears
from my face and his.
“Don’t cry, babe. I’ll
deal with this. If you don’t
blame me, your parents don’t—
I guess I can learn not to
blame myself.” He examines
the knot on my forehead.
“There’s only one thing
I can’t deal with.” His voice
throbs with emotion.
He clutches me close.
“I know,” I whisper. “Don’t
scare me like that again.”
He will, for sure. I can’t
guarantee I won’t scare him.
That’ll be our life, our test.
With enough love, enough faith,
enough understanding it won’t
destroy us.

He traces the scar
that snakes through
two inches of wispy hair
coating my head.
“Let’s get to that temple
of yours. I want you forever.”
I kiss him until he
can’t breathe as Cecilia
screams outside.

She isn’t the first storm
we’ve faced.
She won’t be
the last. I pray
we can weather them all
clutched in each other’s arms.


EPILOGUE

LEESIE’S MOST PRIVATE CHAPBOOK
POEM # 207, THIS DAY

As I stand gowned in white
satin and lace glowing
with thousands of seed pearls,
shaking hands and hugging
a blurr of happy people
parading through the same gym
at our stake center next to the Spokane Temple
where Michael and I first danced, first fought,
 I’m not sure if this is real or one of the thousands
of dreams I’ve conjured of this day.

Next to me, there’s Kim, maid of honor,
BYU roommie bridesmaids and Stephie
looking too grown up in her matching dress.
Mom and Dad anchor the line wearing
truly happy expressions.
My bouquet is laced with pure white gardenias
in memory of Michael’s mom. I know
she’s here, smiling on us.

Michael beside me—very real in a black tux
with dark green leaves and white blossoms
fragrant on his lapel.
The guys next to him—shaking hands
and looking after Gram, who presides
in a big, cushy chair
are companions from his mission.
Yeah. His mission.

After his baptism—
intense and beautiful in it’s simplicity
and purity, Michael glowing
and handsome all in white,
like he was at the temple this morning,
my dad in the water immersing
him with the same power, same hands
that gently lay eight-year-old me
backward in the font
and brought me out all new,
Gram, Stephie, Mom and me
in the front row holding hands and crying—
Michael floated four feet above the ground
until we went down to Utah
at August’s end.

He bought a condo in Orem.
I moved into an apartment near BYU
with Cadence and Dayla from last year.
Sundays trying to go to his ward and mine together
were crazy until I got called as Relief Society president
and couldn’t go to his at all.
He preferred his ward full of beauty school girls
and UVU students to my nerd-stocked congregation,
so he went by himself, and I hid my jealousy
until it boiled over in an ugly fit.
He took off for Cayman—stayed away three
long, lonely weeks, came back worried.
“It isn’t the same here—as in Cayman.”
“The gospel isn’t true in Utah?”
His face gathered into a knot.
“Just feels different.”
I nod—he’s right. “There’s nothing
like a branch.” Even the one
I grew up in. “More like a family.”
Is that what he searched for?
What he found? Not me? Not God?
He saw trouble storm my eyes,
kissed my hand like he always does,
and rested his cheek on my head.
“Be patient. Give me time.
There’s way more to being a Mormon
than I thought.”

I took the hint, backed off, let him breathe,
lost myself in classes and callings,
smiled when he took off to dive all the hottest
spots in the South Pacific, made the most
of the time we spent together,
and loved him wherever he was,
physically or spiritually.
He started classes at UVU after Christmas,
business stuff for when he and Gabriel
invest together in a dive op.

(They are here, by the way,
Gabriel and Alex, sitting
at a table with Kim’s Mark,
and Jaron and his wife,
who’s expecting their second,
eating chocolate dipped strawberries
and black forest cake.)

Michael liked school more than
he expected, enough to miss it
when we went home May to August,
where I worked with Dad on the farm,
helped Michael move Gram into
the local Care Center—private room
furnished with her own dresser,
chair, living room flowered rug,
and that picture of Michael
with his mom and dad in a giant hug,
bit my tongue every time Mom
lectured me like I was fourteen again,
and hung out with Stephie
who’d grown solemn and sad
over the past year.

Michael got ordained an elder
in August, and we made
wedding plans for Thanksgiving
if the temple was open.
At our first meeting with Pres. McCoombs
about going to the temple,
he shook Michael’s hand
and said, “I’m impressed, Bro. Walden,
to call you on a mission.”
“We’re getting married,” I reminded
him, sure he’d lost his mind.
He held up his hands, pleading
innocence. “I’m merely the messenger,
Sis. Hunt. The Lord wants him to serve.”
Michael got this look on his face
like he’d just seen the First Vision.
“You’re not going to say yes?”
He jumped at my voice like he’d
forgot I exist. “Yeah. I am. It’s perfect.
Maybe I can get close to what you deserve.”
“Two more years?”
His face went pale. “That won’t be easy.”
He turned back to Pres. McCoombs.
“Can she go, too?”
“Not with you.”
“I know—I’m not that green.
She’s twenty-one in December.
Does your inspiration inbox
have a call for her, too?”

So he went to Brazil, and I spent
eighteen months in the parts
of the Geneva mission that are in France,
caught in a visa war between the church
and the Swiss government.
My French is good.
His Portuguese is better.
When Jaron came through the line
earlier, he, Michael and the best man
all got jabbering—just hope it wasn’t
about me.

We shake the last hand, hug
the last hug, eat cake and throw
flowers. I avoid Kim who will give
me advice about my wedding night
that I don’t want.
My mom helps me change, cries
as she undoes twenty satin-covered buttons
down my back. I hug her, cry, too,
sense she’s missing Phil.
“I wish he could have been here.”
She closes her eyes and lifts her face
towards heaven. “He was. Don’t worry.
He was.”

I run through a shower of birdseed
to Gram’s old car that Michael doesn’t
have the heart to sell.
It’s covered in Oreo’s and
whip cream “Just Marrieds.”
I hug Stephie and Dad,
Michael tucks me in the front seat,
shuts my door, shake’s Dad’s hand,
who pulls him into a hug.
“Take care of our girl, son.”
“I will, sir.”
“Dad.”
Michael hugs him again.
“Sure, Dad.”
We zoom away.

At the end of the lane
that leads from the temple and church
to Highway 27, Michael hands me
an airplane eyeshade.
“What’s this?”
“Humor me.”
Our honeymoon is a huge
secret surprise.
I play, put it on.
“Thanks, babe.” He kisses me,
slips into an intensity
we’ve always held back,
has a hard time getting
free of my blindfolded clutches.
“We’re not going far tonight are we?”
“Hush.” He pulls out onto the highway.
Turns right. I think.
I slide over next to him—
gotta love that old bench seat—
chew on his ear while he drives.
He pushes me away.
“Get over there and buckle
your seatbelt or we’ll end up
in the back seat of this old clunker
after all.”
That sounds like a great idea, but
I obey—don’t want to ruin
all he’s crafted for our first time.

Where ever we’re going,
whatever it looks like,
whenever we get there, 
whether he’s chartered a boat
or rented an island, whether
it’s his condo in the Keys,
Cayman, or Thailand or
somewhere brand new,
it’ll be the perfect
consummation
of the forever
we pledged
to our Savior
and each other
in His holy house
this day.

MICHAEL’S DIVE LOG – VOLUME 14
Dive Buddy: Leesie           
Date:  three years from Cayman
Dive #: 1
Location: secret
Dive Site: secret
Weather Condition: nice night
Water Condition: a little bumpy
Depth: not saying
Visibility: forever and ever
Water Temp: no comment
Bottom Time:  no comment
Comments:

            As we drive away from the reception, man and wife, alone for the first time since we vowed to love each other forever, I try to stay calm, cool, but my heart—that I used to be able to slow at will free diving, beats so hard it pulses in my fingertips. My palms sweat. I grip the steering wheel way too hard. Good thing Leesie’s blindfolded. If she saw what a wreck I am, she might want to trade me back in.
            She’s sniffing the air like a bloodhound, trying to figure out where we’re going. I cut through a subdivision to disorient her.
            “Can I let my hair down?” She wore it up all day. It’s long again. She grew it out the whole time I was serving in Brazil learning to be the man of God she deserves. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly be there, but serving the Lord taught me so much. I’ve got my own cylinder of consecrated olive oil swinging from my key chain and know how to use it. I felt like I’d stepped through a time warp when Leesie met me at the plane with her hair long and gorgeous, catching the sun like the first time I caught her staring at me in physics.
            I pat her knee. “If you promise not to peak.”
            “That’s big of you. The hairpins kill.” She holds the blindfold to her eyes with one hand, slips the elastic loose with the other—pulls pins out and throws them at me.
            “Ow! Are you peaking?”
            She shakes her freed hair, combs her fingers through it, finding more pins, and shakes her head again. The car fills with the smell of hairspray and a tiny hint of her sweet banana mango shampoo.
            “Do you know what you’re doing to me?”
            “Who me?” She slips the blindfold elastic back around her head and folds her hands in her lap.
            We stop at a red light. “Get over here, then.”
            She’s in my lap in a second. We make out until the car behind us blares its horn. I keep her close, drive the rest of the way with one hand and my arm around her, worrying she’ll recognize the highway we’re on, but she chews on my fingers instead of playing bloodhound.
            I turn off the highway onto a gravel road, relieved we’re almost there.  When I slow way down and turn right onto a bumpy dirt road, she sits up straight. “This isn’t the airport.” She elbows my ribs. “Roll down your window.”
            I obey. Pines lining each side of the road invade their car with their sharp sweet scent.
            She sniffs. Sniffs again. “This is our lake road—at Windy Bay.”
            I hold my breath.
            “It’s washed out. Dad said—” She hits my thigh. “You got my dad to lie?”
            I move my hand from her shoulders to the steering wheel. Even in good condition this road is dicey. I’ve got my hands full managing it.
            “We’re going to our lake?”
            Yeah, babe. Don’t you remember our first date here?
            “We’re camping”—her voice rises in pitch—“tonight?”
            I wish for a video camera and bite my cheeks to keep from losing it.
            “Did you rent a swank RV?” She fiddles with her blindfold. “Buy a cool sail boat?”
            I keep silent.
            “Not a tent, Michael. Please.”
            As soon as the car stops, she rips off the blindfold and climbs out over me. She stops dead in her tracks when she sees the lights. She spins around. “You did this?”
            My eyes move from her to the cabin and back to her astonished face. “I wanted to do something for your family—to make up for—you know.” A pre-fab log cabin on their empty water front lake lot won’t bring back their son, but it makes me feel less guilty for stealing their daughter.
            Leesie bows her head and wipes her eyes.
            I close the distance between us in a stride and scoop her up like I did when she was hurt. I haven’t picked her up like this since then. I sense she’s awash in the same memories that course through me.
            “I love you.” She snuggles her face against my neck.
            I inhale her hair and carry her towards the lit cabin.
            “Wait.”
            “What?”
            “I need my shoulder bag from the back seat.”
            “Why?”
            “I have a surprise, too.”
            I carry her back to the car, get the bag, slide the strap on my shoulder—all without putting her down.
            I carry her into the cabin. “Do you want a tour now?”
            “No.” She chews on my neck.
            I head upstairs.
            “Was that Gram’s couch in the living room?”
            “I couldn’t pitch her stuff. Your dad stored it at the farm when we rented Gram’s house.”
            Her lips press against my cheek. “I like that.”
            I open the door to our “honeymoon suite.” The big window and king-size four-poster bed are draped with white gauzy stuff. The bed’s made up with a six-inch thick down comforter and piled with cushy pillows.
            “This is beautiful.” Leesie squirms out of my arms, takes her bag, and disappears into the bathroom. A high-pitched, muffled, “Look at that tub,” comes from inside.
            I sit down on an armchair by the window, take off my tie, slip off my polished black dress shoes, stare at the closed bathroom door, grip the arms of the chair to keep myself from breaking it down. The sound of my heartbeat echoes in my ears. I’m sweating. I close my eyes, inhale deep. Hold it. Exhale. My eyes fly open at the sound of a turning door knob.
            Leesie hesitates in the doorway. She wears the long silk skirt I bought for her in a Thailand market and a bra-top made of turquoise shells and beads that I’ve never seen. The Cayman-colored shell necklace I gave her there hangs around her neck. My diamond on her finger flashes in the bright light coming from the bathroom.
            Her cheeks flush rosy. “I packed for our island.”
            “I love it.” I cross the room—take her hands—kiss her fingertips, her fingers, each palm—turn her left hand over and find those faint scars that fit my fingernails, kiss them one by one.
            We sink to our knees. She bows her head onto my shoulder. I bury my hands in her thick, fragrant hair and offer our first married prayer, whispered thanks that she’s mine.
            I gather her into my arms and carry her to the bed. “Are you scared?”
            Her eyes are big, but she whispers, “No.” She reaches for my lips. “Are you?”
            My eyebrows rise. “Terrified.”
            Her lips find mine, and our embrace yields to the passion we’ve held back for years. “Don’t worry”—she’s breathless as I lay her on the bed—“I’ll let you up for good behavior.”
            She pulls me down beside her, and I’m enveloped in silk, beads, long hair, and Leesie.

THE END


2 comments:

  1. I loved it even more the second time! My favorite quote was "I’ve got my own cylinder of consecrated olive oil swinging from my key chain and know how to use it." I would have been devestated if Michael hadn't ended up a member of the church and with Leesie, and that quote somehow verifies both. I can't wait to have the book on my shelf but i'm also enjoying seeing the editing process!

    ReplyDelete
  2. OMG! the end... i can't read it!!
    i just finished taken by storm a couple of minutes ago.
    i'm going to begin to read unbroken connection!
    are you going to publish this book?? please say yes!!
    :D

    ReplyDelete