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 Dying to Live

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: Dying to Live   Mon Sep 11, 2017 7:10 pm

Chapter 14

            Ari had just sat down on the couch. He had spent ages struggling into a loose fitting pair of jeans and tee shirt to see if he could dress for church the next day. He sat lengthways on the couch and was leafing through the sports pages when there was a knock on the door. On Saturday morning he suspected that Ryan was just dropping by to say hello. It was too early for Reece to be there, from what he knew about his friend. He was looking forward to having a chat to the pastor, his new found mentor, and he called cheerily, “Come in, the door’s open.”

Juzzy stepped into the room and fixed him with a silent stare. The jolt of seeing her sent Ari’s mind into turmoil. His mouth moved and he tried to speak but nothing escaped his lips. Eventually regaining some equilibrium Ari uttered, “Juzzy... what are you doing here?” Immediately he said it, Ari realised it was an inane remark.

“I could ask the same of you.” There was some angst in her comment. She followed up quickly with, “And what was Thursday all about? Do you have any idea what you did to your loved ones... putting them through that... that sham?”

Justine was trembling with a tidal wave of emotions, tension and anger. She still stood near the door looking accusingly at Ari.

“I’m sorry Juzzy, it seemed like a good idea at the time,” he attempted a wry smile without any response from the girl he cared about more than any one. “I really am sorry Juzz. I know how upset you were. Everyone looked upset. I regret the whole thing now.” Ari scanned her face for some softening, or recognition of his remorse. Instead, an icy cold glare formed, and then she took a step and a reproachful pointing stance.

“You were there! You were watching people mourn your passing.” Juzzy looked appalled. Ari felt like scum, dirty, like some reprehensible malcontent. He didn’t know what to say, but he didn’t want Juzzy to think the worst about him so he attempted to salvage some minimal respect.

“Juzzy, I can explain. There were complicated circumstances...”

“What did you hope to achieve? Was it some sort of practical joke? You trying to prove one of your philosophical theories?” she was becoming increasingly contemptuous. With tears welling up in her eyes she wondered what was happening to her... what was happening between her and Ari?

“And you just sit there!” her frustration at his inaction... his ignorance of how she needed him to leap up and show some interest. At least try to console her by getting up and giving her a seat to talk. But he just sat there. Was she infuriated, disappointed or just wounded by this hoax? Juzzy pulled a face. “Ari, you’re weird... and don’t bother getting up, since you haven’t bothered yet. I can see myself out.” She spun about and stormed out totally unaware of the cast that restricted his movements, which was hidden beneath his loose fitting jeans. While Ari tried to grapple his crutches from behind the couch he heard her steps receding.  By the time he got to the door Juzzy was pulling her old Toyota into the traffic.

            Ari felt sick in the stomach. He had a glimpse of how others saw him and he hated himself now. He needed to talk Ryan. So he lurched his way to the pastor’s house. Even though Ryan was deep into his sermon preparation, he dropped everything when he saw Ari’s despairing expression. He deflected all Ari’s apologies for the interruption and talked with him for the remainder of the morning. Penny came in and brought them both a sandwich and they sat and talked warmly before Ari left. 

            Back in the bungalow he was packing his things. “Forget what is past and press on,” Ari mumbled to himself. “It’s easy for him to say,” he half smiled. The pastor had told him that what he had done—staging his own funeral—may have saved his life. It had certainly given him an opportunity for a new life—‘the New Life’ Ryan had said. He had also advised that Ari keep a low profile for a while to let his leg heal, learn more about his new faith and give the police time to investigate the cause behind his recent near fatal predicament. He rang Marree apologising for everything he had put her through and asked if it was okay to move back home tomorrow, after church. She scolded him for asking permission to come to his own home, but she was secretly pleased that the self centred, self confident, self sufficient boy that she had known was now more considerate and conciliatory.

 

            Sunday; for the first time in his life came the thought that it meant church. He again battled to get the jeans on and eventually made his way to the service. He was early and edged his way to Ryan’s office. The pastor was busy with last minute preparations as some of the congregation were moving in, but he paused to talk to Ari. He assured Ari that there was nothing he could do to help and that he should find a seat and relax. Ari moved toward the back to the left and sat near the wall, placing his crutches under his seat. He watched as church members filed in, chatting, greeting and sorting out their seating. It wasn’t until after the singers had sung a few warm up, pre service songs that Jen and Reece came in and almost sat down before noticing him. As they came across to join him Sissy and Jo came in. They too sat near Ari, greeting each other quietly, but still getting some reprimanding stares from those nearby. Marree came in and searched around before locating him. She gave a little wave and then went and sat with some friends.

            Ari was surprised that he found the service quite uplifting and encouraging, causing him to focus more on the strength and sufficiency of Jesus and less on his own failures and inadequacies. ‘Confession and forgiveness’ were two things, he thought, that he would become very familiar with. Apart from feeling a bit awkward when everyone stood for the songs, Ari really enjoyed his time in church. It may have had something to do with the fact that he had willingly chosen to attend but he felt it was more likely about his new relationship with the church founder. At the end of the service he heard a voice behind him.

“Didn’t I attend your funeral?”

He spun around and came face to face with Zoe. She had a big smile and immediately introduced Jess to Ari. After shaking Jess’s hand he shrugged and pleaded, “It’s a long story.”

“Don’t worry I think I know more than most. I had a chat with Detective Meadows the other day. I rang him up to ask about your death and he filled me in on the fact that it was set up to protect you.” She suddenly looked concerned, “So it wasn’t an accident?”

Ari looked uncomfortable, “I’d rather not talk about it. I really feel a bit ashamed about it. It was a mistake.”

“Look, if you need help, I’m a policeman.” Jess offered seriously. Ari thanked him but noted that he could barely have finished his cadetship. He said he felt that Detective Meadows had it in hand. Privately, however, he felt insecure about where things were heading. They talked a little more about the way people drive, as if that were somehow related to what had happened to Ari.

Zoe turned to him while the others were quizzing Jess on his limited traffic experience.

“Do you want me to talk to Justine for you? We had a good talk at the funeral and I told her I’d been speaking to you and the whole thing was a complete shock to me. She was pretty broken.”

“She knows.” Ari replied softly.

“And?” Zoe was now curious how these odd events would work out.

“And, she is very angry, very upset, and has every right to be.”

“So, what are you saying? It’s over between you two?”

“It wasn’t too good before this. It will be a miracle if she ever speaks to me again.”

            When the conversation started to wane he excused himself. He thought again about the attempt to get at him and wondered ‘who’? As he moved across to say hello to his grandmother he breathed a prayer that it would ‘work together for good’. The hug from Marree was full of love and comfort and acceptance. He told her he was ready to take his things to the car when she was ready.

“I’ll help you with your things.” He jumped. The voice behind had given him a start. Jo must have followed him across the auditorium. He could have hugged her because at that point he realized that he could not carry his own bags, and he didn’t want Marree to be left with the job.

“Thanks,” he said facing Jo and realizing that she reminded him so much of Juzzy. They could have almost been twins though Jo was slightly shorter and still had flowing long blonde hair, while Juzzy had a neatly shaped shorter style.

            As Jo put the second of the bags into the car she called across to Sissy who was just walking to her car. “I’m going with Marree and Ari, Siss, thanks for the lift… might see you tonight.”

She piled into the back seat.

“You don’t have to do this. How are you going to get home?” Ari queried.

“I know I don’t have to, I want to. And, you’d be surprised; I don’t live far from your place.” And he then remembered picking up Juzzy at her place.

            Little was said on the way home and Jo helped them all inside with the luggage. She stayed for lunch in response to Marree’s invitation and they shared a roast which had been cooking slowly during church. Jo sat next to Ari and talked about what university was like. Ari thought of his attraction to Juzzy, he could see similar personality traits in her pretty younger sister. Jo was talkative and direct, but she had a caring nature. Ari watched her talking, and heard the words as a sort of background noise. His mind was going elsewhere. He was thinking that the difference between loving someone and liking them was that you loved them despite their faults. That’s what he thought about Juzzy, except he couldn’t think of any faults. As far as he could see all the issues between them were his faults. Jo dug him in the ribs.

“Where are you?” she looked across to Marree and grinned. Ari looked at Jo and then at his grandmother. They were enjoying some private joke.

“Er yeah,” he bluffed, but it didn’t change their gleeful expressions. “Sorry, what was that? I wasn’t listening,” he admitted.

“We were just saying that the sooner you and Juzzy sort yourselves out the sooner there will be some normalcy in our lives.”

Ari felt knots in his stomach as he recollected their last meeting. “That’s not going to happen anytime soon I think.” There was a touch of bitterness in his reply.

Marree felt suddenly disappointed. It was the old Ari; the self pitying, resentful Ari who blamed the world.

            He looked up and saw her downcast face. Ari rose slowly to his feet, “Sorry Gran, I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn. Thanks for your help Jo.” Ari took his crutches and slowly swung his way to his room. Jo kept her face down to avoid embarrassing anyone until Ari was gone. She then helped clean up after the meal.

“Do you think they’ll get over this?” Jo was looking at Marree doing the last of the dishes.

“You might know better than me. She’s been put through a lot... I guess it depends on how she views what has happened.”

“What do you mean?”

“She could dwell on the negative... she was deceived and badly treated, or she could reflect that someone she cares about didn’t die, they have a future if she wants it.”

Jo looked thoughtfully, and then gave Marree a big hug, “You’re a wise woman Marree James.”
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