A steady breeze outside stirred the leaves and swept them over the roof shingles near an overgrown branch that was beating a rhythmic cadence against the house. The noise seemed magnified, even ominous, in the dark space of the attic. With just the flashlight beam to guide her through the indistinguishable maze of the attic floor, Meg stepped carefully, throwing the circle of light around to make sure she didn't walk into any spider webs. Considering how little she ventured up here, there were plenty to watch out for, along with the mementoes of happier times tucked away in boxes and trunks and old dresser drawers. "Out of sight, out of mind" had been her refrain for too many years.
But she'd received a letter from an old friend that had stirred up memories and propelled her up the dim attic stairs when Joe wasn't around to question her. And now she was about to break her own long-held rule and lift the lid of the large trunk now sitting stoically in the light beam. Meg stood motionless for a while, then sank to her knees, slowly lifted the lid, and trained the flashlight on the remnants of her past.
* * *
In what had become a Saturday-night ritual, Meg settled into a corner of a faded couch across from a picture window in the living room. She gazed unseeing out that window and thought about all the nights she had sat here and waited.
Her eyes swept around the dark room—the two armchairs she had reupholstered three years ago, the braided rug her grandmother had given them for a wedding present. The window treatments she had painstakingly made the first year they moved into the house—heavy fabric, pleated and lined that she had found on a clearance table. She had been so proud of those drapes. "Just like the kind you can get through the Sears and Roebuck catalog," her mother had proclaimed. "Imagine that, Meg. I didn't realize you had such a talent for sewing."
The room had started out with so much potential, but now it maybe was a metaphor for her marriage. Not quite broken. But faded and taken for granted. With a sigh, she clicked on the flashlight to illuminate the book that lay in her lap. The cover of the thick volume had the words "Greenville High School 1941" stenciled in gold leaf across a dark green background. Her fingers traced over the words while her thoughts flew back almost twenty years.
She heard the wind pick up outside, that familiar sound that happened as it hit the eaves, rolled under the roof, and swirled the wind chimes on the porch. Meg carefully opened the book as if she were opening Pandora's box—afraid to let the good memories dance into the corners of her life when she had purposely kept them at bay for so many years. However, she discovered, once she turned the first page, it got easier. The flashlight moved slowly across the scrawled messages and senior pictures as she randomly paged back and forth. Familiar faces smiled at her from the black-and-white boxes that had captured them all those years ago. When she came across the Js, she ran the beam of the light across her own picture, captioned "Margaret Johnson," where she had written Meg Daley, Mrs. Joe Daley, Mrs. Margaret Sue Daley, over and over again in the hopeful handwriting of someone young and in love.
She flipped backward through the pages to find Joe's picture. So handsome. So confident. So full of life. She moved the light to the side where Joe had written his message: To Meg, my future wife, my future everything. I love you, Joe. Meg smoothed her hand over a small wrinkle in the glossy paper, one that ran right through Joe's handwriting.
She now started back at the beginning, letting the images from forgotten time parade past her in that ubiquitous alphabetic order. A message here, a small heart there, a picture of a young Larry Ledet, grinning for the camera in his graduation gown, the same one they all wore as they posed for posterity. In the row beneath Larry's picture was Sharon Lester. Meg flashed back to the moment in church six months after graduation when the pastor had told the congregation that Sharon had been killed in a car accident. Meg felt again the pang at the shocking news—she'd been so young, full of dreams ... just like Joe and she.
Meg looked closely at the picture of Kathryn Mason and wondered if she'd ever made it to Hollywood. Probably not. She turned another page and found the reason she had dug the book out in the first place. A big hand-drawn heart surrounded Norma Meiers' picture on the opposite page. In Norma's familiar handwriting, Best friends forever! When Norma moved away from Greenville years ago, the two had tried to fill the void of their friendship with letters. But life had managed to get in the way for both of them, and eventually the correspondence tapered off to Christmas cards and quick scrawled notes about family.
And then, just yesterday, a short note from Norma saying she was coming home to Greenville and she hoped to see Meg in church on Sunday. Meg hoped Norma's visit would be long enough for them to really catch up. Meg had deeply missed her old friend and had wanted to talk to her many times over the years. But now that she was going to have the opportunity, she paused to wonder how much she actually would share with Norma. Some things are just better left unsaid, she thought as she turned another page.
There was one of her favorite pictures—Meg and Joe together, smiling as they sat atop a picnic table in front of the high school. Under the picture the words read, "Meg Johnson & Joe Daley. Most adventurous couple." Next to that picture was one of Bo Gene Conroy in a fedora slanted low over his forehead, a pipe in his mouth and his index finger pointed at the camera. The caption: "Bo Gene Conroy. A rising star!"
Meg turned another page and let the beam of light skip across the paper, then back again to focus on another handwritten message in the margin: "Meg—you're the one thing I envy Joe Daley for ... be happy. Love, Luke." Meg frowned and moved the beam to the left. Luke Ramsey's handsome face stared back at her. His smile had left girls weak at the knees—the same girls who whispered about his Cary Grant eyes, deep, meltingly brown. He could have had any girl at Greenville High, Meg thought, but he dated sporadically, a homecoming dance here, a hayride or church social there. He'd asked Meg out many times, but she had been head over heels in love with Joe Daley, and no matter how many times Luke complimented her or flashed her his high-watt smile, she always refused as politely and firmly as she could. Luke was a flirt and a catch, and he knew it. He had girls speculating endlessly about who would finally capture his heart—and then his family moved away in the middle of their senior year. And nothing was heard of them since.
Restless now, Meg closed the yearbook and moved over to the darkened window. A flash of distant lightning lit the horizon and the looming clouds above it. She waited for the thunder, but the storm was far enough away that she could barely hear the rumble above the wind. Just another Kansas storm. Meg turned back to her vigil.
One More Sunrise by Michael Landon, Jr., and Tracie Peterson
Copyright © 2008; ISBN 9780764203626
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.