~ The Wrong Path ~
Finding contentment in the midst of what was the darkest night of her life came as a total surprise to Laurie ~ and a mighty pleasant one at that. She felt as though she had been thrown a surprise Birthday party by those she adored but had never believed had loved her, with their actions proving her wrong. And it felt so great... so much so that not only did she forget her woes, but those of her companions, as well, which meant when Carol buckled over in pain and almost stumbled to the ground, her friend's afflictions came as a horrible shock, vehemently clawing at her heart.
"I'll be alright," Carol insisted, allowing Laurie to help keep her upright, but insisting the younger woman not cause a fuss. "This will be all over soon. The Trader will help me, and all will be well."
"How do you know, Carol?" groaned Laurie, doubt forever ready to lead her thoughts and feelings. "I still think we should get you to a hospital."
Carol lifted grey eyes to Laurie, not needing words to express how disapproving of that idea she was. The older woman glanced at Joy as the youngster continued chewing away, never moving from Laurie's side, then at Benjamin as he turned his back on them, and started anxiously rubbing his hands once more - as though he could not face the reality taking place about them.
To Laurie, Carol spoke firmly. "It's never too late to turn back, Laurie... You still have free will. No one is forcing you to come with us to see the Trader. Not even he would force you to seek him."
Into sober grey eyes Laurie gazed, looking beyond what her own eyes could see and into the depths of Carol's soul. "Why do you trust him so...?"
"Because he's not a man that he should lie." Before Laurie could respond, Carol insisted, "We must walk on..." and as they did, she stated, "Since I was a little girl, I've loved the countryside. Life never allowed me to spend my days there, but I loved it just the same, and longed for it with all that I am. I felt like I belonged there... as though such a place was made for me. The thought of a country home, with timber furnishings, and gardens overflowing with daisies, fruit trees and vegetables always caused longing to rise in my heart. I belong there... I know I do..."
"For me,"Laurie pondered, "it is the thought of a city apartment, with a mass of windows where natural light would fill the room so I could paint 'til my heart is content." To the distance, she confessed, "I always wanted to be an artist. To paint my version of the beauty I know exists in this world."
"You don't live like that?" Carol asked, smiling at Joy as the youngster studied her feather and moved a little closer to Benjamin - who, in turn, shied beneath the youngster's acceptance of him and scratched his bowed head.
Repeating Carol's statement, Laurie lightly grinned and said, "Life never allowed me to spend my days there..."
With a smile of understanding, Carol nodded. "Where I am going, I know there is a country home awaiting me. I just know it. It makes going that much easier..."
"Where are you going?" Joy wanted to know, taking hold of Benjamin's hand as he finally gave in to her charm. "Can we all go?"
With deep affection in her eyes, Carol informed, "There are times along the pathways of our life where we must go alone. Where I go soon, I go alone... but that's not to say we won't meet again. And when you do pass my way again," she said to Laurie now, "I will invite you into my garden and into my home, and we will talk of the world where we learned to love through the trials and lessons that came our way."
Not knowing why so much emotion was welling up inside her, Laurie blinked back stinging tears and realised, "I would like that very much..."
Sniffing, Carol's voice grew a little shaky. "We may be parted for some time, I don't know how long, but hearts that have been bound in this world never separate; they will forever cross paths so love can be strengthened and given once more. You will visit me," she warmly declared, squeezing Laurie's hand with what felt like deep affection, "when the time is right. And I will visit you in your home, and see the art you will delight in producing... but please, darling, please don't go there until it's your time... Wait for the perfect moment... The Trader knows when that is. When it is your time to go, he will come for you, and all will be made well... but, please, child, don't go until he has prepared that place for you. Until then," she added with a tear, her lips tightening and trembling with emotion, "wait... Live, laugh, love... and wait... and in waiting, trust..."
(to be continued...)