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I hope this letter finds you well rested after your big adventure here in Africa. I also hope you had a blessed Christmas and New Year's Day. We had an especially nice holiday. Visitors on safari, friends of Paul's parents in North Dakota, came through laden with two suitcases full of presents from home: Canned goods, flour, real chocolate chips, peanut butter...plus piles of gifts. The boys could hardly believe all their loot, but to their credit, they wrapped up many of the gifts and gave them to the kids here at the Children's Home. It warmed my heart to have them behave so generously. (All without me nagging them either!)
Paul whisked me away for New Year's Eve in Kampala at the Hilton. Decadent woman that I am, I soaked in a hot tub until I turned into a prune. Missionary life in the bush really makes a girl appreciate such goodies as perfumed soap and real shampoo!
I know you're anxious about word of Kia and Alice. Kia continues to blossom--thanks to you. As for baby Alice, well, she's won all our hearts. Both girls are living with us. Yes, it's crowded, but neither is ready to be assimilated into one of the family units yet.
The girls living in the family units are a big help to me with Alice. They take turns feeding her several times a day, plus give her plenty of hugs and cuddling. Unfortunately, Dr. Gallagher says he doesn't feel qualified to repair her palate. So I guess it's up to us and the Good Lord to keep her nourished and healthy until a qualified cranial-facial surgeon arrives from the Mercy Ship when it docks in Kenya this summer. I'm telling you this so that you won't be worried about her--I know how special she is to you.
We all miss you. You're one in a million, a bright and lovely young woman who deserves the best. I pray for you every day, that God wi11 ease the ache in your heart and help you resume your life. Follow your dreams--whatever they may be now.
And give yourself permission to mourn for Ian for as long as you like. There is no time limit on grief, you know. None of us will ever forget you and the brave thing you did for Kia and Alice. Please write and keep us informed of your plans.
In His Love,
PS. Ed Wilson is mailing this for me when he returns to the US. He says "Hello" and that you're his hero (heroine) for all time!
Heather Barlow lay on her bed reading and rereading Jodene Warring's letter, memories of Uganda flashing through her mind like postcards. Some images were wonderful: the exotic beauty of the African landscape, the smiling faces of the children at the Kasana Children's Home and hospital, Paul, Jodene, their four children, Heather's friends from the Mercy Ship. Some pictures were frightening: the storm at sea, the sick and dying children in Kenya, her night flight to freedom with baby Alice. And over every picture in her mind's eye, she saw Ian. His smile. His deep blue eyes. She would never see his beloved face again. He would never hold her again and call her "lass" in his rich Scottish accent.
Sadness engulfed her, and she fumbled for his journal on her nightstand. Thank you, Jodene, for giving this to me, she thought. She ran her hand across the smooth leather surface. It was all she had of Ian now. All she would ever have. She wiped her teary eyes with the edge of her comforter.
She had spread photographs from her months in Africa on her desk, picking and choosing between the ones she would put on her bulletin board and in her scrapbook. Every face that smiled out at her made her long to turn back the clock and repeat every day of her trip. Against her parents' wishes, she had nixed enrolling at the University of Miami for the winter term. She didn't feel ready to jump back into her life stateside. And Jodene's letter had made her feel even less ready. She felt restless, at loose ends, unable to pick up her life where she'd left off before her mission trip.
A knock on her bedroom door startled her. "Yes?"
"It's me--Amber. Can I come in?"
Heather glanced at her clock radio. Four o'clock. Amber was home from high: school, no doubt bursting with trivia she couldn't wait to dump on Heather. "Sure," Heather said, putting the journal aside.
Amber came to the bed and sat on the edge, careful not to disturb the rows of photos. "Still going to the movies with me tonight?"
Heather had totally forgotten her promise to go out with her sister that evening. "Uh--sure." She held up the letter. "This came from Jodene today. She says Alice can't have her surgery until maybe this summer."
"That's not so far away."
"She needs the surgery now.''
"It's not your problem, sis."
"How can you say that? What if everyone took that attitude? Who would take care of these orphans? Someone has to jump in and help, you know. Why not me?"
Amber leaned back and held up a hand. "Hey, I didn't mean to make you mad. I was just saying that she's there and you're here. She'll get the surgery eventually. What else can you do from three thousand miles away?"
Heather swung her legs over the side of the bed. "I wanted Mom or Dad to go over and lend a hand. I figured one of them would."
Heather had talked nonstop after returning home, certain she could infect her family with her enthusiasm for Uganda, positive that she could persuade one of her parents, both cranial-facial surgeons, to fly over and perform the necessary surgery on baby Alice. But although her parents had listened intently and praised her work, both had said they were overwhelmed with cases in their practice and couldn't possibly take a leave of absence. Plus, her father was training student doctors in the use of new laser technologies at Miami's medical school. Neither of them could possibly think about doing pro bono work overseas for a year or more.
Her mother had said, "You know your dad and I want to work in the developing world, Heather. My goodness, we spent years in the Peace Corps, so we know how great the need is for skilled volunteer help. And once we retire, we plan to help out plenty, but for now, we can't. We have hundreds of patients who depend on us. We can't just go off and leave them."
Now Amber was sounding as indifferent as their parents. "I don't think you can convince them to go right now," she said. "I think they'd really like to help you out, but they're not going to disrupt their lives just now. Or lose prospective patients."
"They make old people look young again," Heather fired back. "How noble is that? What does it matter if some rich woman gets her face redone when a baby like Alice needs reconstructive surgery to live a better life? And why are you defending Mom and Dad? You're the one who's usually at war with them."
"Well, excuse me if I see their side of the argument. For once I agree with them--you can't expect them to run off to Africa just because you think they should. You're not the only one in the family, you know."
"Well, thank you for your support. But what you're really saying is this is your senior year and you don't want anything to rock your boat. If Mom or Dad come to Africa with me, Amber just might be ignored."
"Whoa," Amber said, jumping to her feet. "You are majorly off base. School is perfectly boring and I'm forcing myself to even go to classes until June. This past year hasn't exactly been a picnic for me, you know. Dad's all over me about college in the fall." Amber did an imitation of her father's voice. "'Have you filled out those admission forms yet, Amber?' 'Did you talk to your guidance counselor about the college that's right for you, Amber?'" She threw up her hands. "Has he ever asked once if I even want to go to college? Has he ever thought I might like to get a job and earn some bucks?"
"Get real. Of course you're going to college."
"But I will."
"Trying to get rid of me?" Where did Amber get off, trying to make her feel guilty about taking some time to figure out what she wanted to do with the rest of her life? Amber had no idea what Heather had been through during the past six months. "What would you spend the money on, anyway? Your closet is already overflowing."
"Well, maybe everyone isn't cut out to save the world like you are. Maybe I'd like to have a good time before I grow old and die."
Exasperated with Amber's self-centered attitude, Heather said, "At least you have the opportunity to grow old. I met kids in Africa who'11 never grow old. They'll be dead from AIDS or TB or malaria before they get out of their twenties."
"Then maybe I'll just sit around my room and feel sorry for myself like you do."
"Out," Heather said, pointing to the door. "This is my room and I don't need you sniping at me."
"I'm on my way. And forget about coming to the movies with me tonight. I'd hate to take you away from your pity party."
Heather slammed the bedroom door as soon as Amber had walked out. Then she sat and seethed. What was the matter with her family? Didn't anyone understand what she was going through? Especially Amber. Her sister had always looked up to her, come to her for advice. Now they were at each other's throats. Why couldn't Amber understand how the past six months had affected Heather's life?
She threw herself across her bed, scattering the photographs across the floor. She didn't care. Amber was correct about one thing: Heather couldn't return to Africa and make everything right for Alice. At the moment she couldn't even make everything right for herself.
Her gaze fell on Ian's diary and her heart lurched. "Why, Ian? Why?" she asked aloud. What had it all been about? Why had she given everything in her heart to the missionary journey aboard the Mercy Ship and to Uganda, only to have it all snatched away? It made no sense. And she didn't have Ian to talk to about it either. She was going to have to go it alone.
Alone. The word sent a shiver down her spine.
Heather buried her face in her pillow and began to cry.
From the Paperback edition.