...Monday morning Sarah waited in the hallway of the science building. She decided the missing student in B lab was way too effeminate and manicured to ever be caught dead in a sweat shirt of any kind. As the student in D lab entered the room, he did so without a limp or a gray hoodie, but he was bent over and had multiple bruises on his cheek and jaw. The young student was wearing black leather gloves but was wearing a blue windbreaker. It was dark that night, maybe Chrystal had made a mistake. Sarah took a picture of the boy with her phone. Then, she turned the audio recorder on, held it to her side, and introduced herself to the stranger. “Hi, I’m Sarah. What’s your name?” He looked up, but didn’t answer. “Your name?” she asked again.
The boy looked around the room. “Is this some kind of joke?” he asked through swollen lips.
“What? A joke? Heaven’s no,” she said. “I just wanted to get your name.”
“Isaiah,” he said shyly. “Isaiah Carpenter.” He extended his hand and shook Sarah’s. “Nice to meet you, Sarah.” He sat on the gray metal lab stool and set his backpack on the counter. “Are you a new student too?” he asked, making room for her at the next stool.
“Goodness, no.” She blushed at the thought of Isaiah thinking she could possibly be a medical student. “I’m a journalism major.” Then she took a wild shot. “I’m Chrystal’s roommate.”
He put his laptop on the desk. “Who?”
“Chrystal Jennings. She’s my roommate.”
“I’m sorry. Am I supposed to know her?” he asked, flipping up the screen.
The graduate student running the lab cleared her throat and motioned to the door. Sarah whispered, “She was attacked last Thursday,” and then left. As Isaiah looked back to his laptop to turn it on, he noticed a card with Chrystal’s name and number. He glanced back to the door, but the girl with short brown hair had gone, so he slipped the card into his pocket and quickly busied himself with the lab assignment posted on the whiteboard.
Two days later, as Isaiah walked down the hall towards his lab, he recognized the brown haired girl from Monday. Sarah was standing at the door to his lab with the red-headed girl from the courtyard. She was smiling at him. “Isaiah,” Sarah said, pointing in the direction of her friend. “This is Chrystal…my roommate.”
He held out the gloved hand and Chrystal shook it. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said.
Isaiah was befuddled; people actually wanted to talk with him, but it was time for lab. He pulled his hand free from her grasp and added apologetically, “If you don’t mind, I’ve got class.”
“Did you get my card?” Chrystal asked.
“Yes,” he said, looking past the two women and into the awaiting lab.
“But you didn’t call,” she said.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve got class and I’m already a week behind.” Isaiah slipped between the two women and into his lab.
“Wait,” Chrystal said. “I need to talk with you.” They watched him take his seat, but he never looked back.
“You sure that’s the one?” Sarah asked.
“Absolutely,” Chrystal answered looking through the small square glass window to the room. “I’d remember that voice anywhere. And look, he’s still wearing the gloves.”
Sarah couldn’t imagine the scrawny little boy scaring anyone off. “He’s sweet, but he’s just a kid. I mean he’s what fifteen…sixteen at the most?”
“So where’s the limp?” Sarah failed to notice the lack of bruises on his lip and face. “Come on,” Chrystal said as she pulled Sarah from the little window in the door. “He
won’t be out of class for another hour. Now that we know who he is, we can print off his class schedule and find him any time we want.” Chrystal checked her watch and ran on to her own class. “I can’t afford to miss my class either.”
They ran their respective ways: Sarah to world literature and Chrystal to calculus. Her math class ran five minutes over-time, so as soon as the professor dismissed them, she bolted out of the room and over to the science building. By the time she arrived, the lab was completely empty. Chrystal ran out of the building and scanned the campus for any sight of Isaiah. Off in the distance, down the sidewalk beside the early education department’s affiliate school, Chrystal caught sight of the back of a blue windbreaker. Isaiah! She ran after him.
Isaiah rolled his neck from side to side. The bruises had healed quickly, but the stiffness in his neck and back were lingering. He had taken quite a beating. Isaiah walked down the shaded area of the sidewalk, past the preschool manned by Everbrite’s education students. As he glanced over to the playground full of children, a little girl waved at him. He waved back. When she waved again, her other hand slipped momentarily from the swing’s chain, causing her to flip back out of the seat and land awkwardly on the ground. She screamed as she got to her knees and discovered her right arm bent back behind her, dangling loosely. Isaiah was over the chain link fence in a single leap. As children scrambled chaotically, screaming for the nearest teacher to come see Izzy’s arm, Isaiah rushed to the little girl’s side.
Chrystal watched quietly from the other side of the fence as Isaiah looked toward the school building one more time before removing his black gloves, rolling up the girl’s sleeve, and touching her arm. She screamed for anyone to save her from the strange man, but the moment Isaiah touched her skin, she stopped. The little girl stared in awe. She straightened her arm and moved it back and forth without pain. Even though he was a complete stranger, something about him seemed to calm her. Isaiah whispered something in her hear as he wiped her eyes with his left hand; she stared into the eyes of the strange man kneeling over her. It was a moving sight. Chrystal felt the tear rolling down her own cheek. Isaiah whispered something else, picked up the gloves in his left hand, and grabbed his right arm that had gone suddenly limp, pulling it to his side. Isaiah bit his lip as he doubled over in pain and shuffled to the fence. He glanced back once more to see if anyone was watching before struggling to climb back over the fence. As soon as Isaiah got one leg and the upper part of his body over the edge of the fence, someone grabbed his jacket and steadied him as he fell to the ground. Isaiah winced in obvious pain. As Chrystal reached for his hand, he pulled away. “Don’t touch me!”
“Sorry,” she said.
“Just give me some room,” he snapped as he struggled to put the gloves back on his hands.
“What’s going on?” she asked. Chrystal looked back and forth between the little girl who stood silently waving and Isaiah who was bent over in pain, cradling his own arm. The moment Chrystal grabbed Isaiah by the shoulders to make him face her, he dropped to his knees. He slumped over and cried silently for a moment or two before rising, pulling away from her grasp and running off. He cradled the injured arm with his left. Chrystal started to follow after him, calling, “Isaiah!”
“Leave me alone,” he said. “Just leave me alone!”
Chrystal let him go. Instead she returned to the playground. The little girl leaned against the fence, gripping the chain links with both hands, and watched Isaiah run away. “What did he say?” Chrystal asked. But before the girl could answer, one of the preschool teachers found Izzy, pulled her from the fence, questioned her about the stranger and examined her arm. She turned and chided the children gathered around for lying and corralled them all back inside. Chrystal stood silently for several minutes before realizing she was once again late for her next class. Isaiah was hiding something, and she was determined to discover what his secret was.
Three days later, around four in the afternoon, Chrystal spotted Isaiah across the courtyard in front of the library and waved him down. He waited for her. “Where have you been?” she asked.
“You missed class yesterday.” She looked at his right arm holding the heavy backpack containing his laptop. “I’m so confused,” she said, pulling her long red hair behind her ear. Isaiah noticed her slurred speech and alcohol soured breath. He set the pack on the ground and motioned to a nearby bench. Chrystal sat. “I saw it” she swore, pointing to his shoulder. “Your arm was hurt.”
Isaiah stretched it out and showed her nothing was wrong. “I’m okay.”
“But I saw you,” she challenged. “You touched the girl, healed her arm, and yours was suddenly broken.”
Isaiah pulled the windbreaker’s hood back and smiled. “There’s nothing wrong with my arm.”
“No, no, no” Chrystal said, waving her finger back and forth in Isaiah’s face. “You can’t fool me. It’s just like my ankle.”
“You don’t know what you’re saying,” he said, leaning away to take a breath of fresh air.
“You touched my ankle, and then you limped away. Today you don’t have any limp. Your arm was broke and now it’s not.”
“Are you drunk?” he asked.
“Want some?” she asked. Chrystal smiled and put her arm around his neck. “You’re cute. If you weren’t so young, I might just take you home with me.” She winked.
“No thanks. Besides, I’m not as young as you may think,” Isaiah said. He looked at his watch. “You’re drunk and it’s only four in the afternoon. What’s going on?”
“It’s Saturday.” She grabbed a lock of his chocolate brown hair and twirled it between her fingers. “Do your parents let you go out yet?” she asked, nuzzling against his shoulder and neck.
“My parents aren’t alive; they passed away several years ago,” Isaiah said, scooting down the bench to create a little more space.
“Oh, no!” she said. “I’m soooo sorry.” When she said it, she let out a big breath of air, right in his face. Then she covered her mouth and giggled. “How did they die?”
Isaiah waved the fumes from his face. “Natural causes, why are you suddenly so interested in me?”
“You’re cute!” she said. Then, scooting back toward him on the bench, she asked, “Do you think I’m cute?”
Isaiah didn’t know how to answer. If he said, “No,” he’d hurt her already fragile ego. But if he said, “yes,” he’d encourage more of her inappropriate behavior. He’d just tell her the truth and let her deal with it. “Chrystal, I think you are a beautiful woman, but not so much when you’re drunk or being promiscuous.”
“You think I’m beautiful?” she asked.
Isaiah pulled away from her touch and stood next to the bench. “Not right now, I don’t.” About that time, a familiar group of athletes came their way.
“Chrystal,” one shouted. “We’ve been looking all over for you.”
Isaiah looked deep into the girl’s bloodshot eyes. He knew exactly what lay before her. He’d seen it before…too many times before. “You don’t have to do this,” he said.
“You don’t understand,” she said. “Someone like you would never understand.”
“Like me?” he asked
“Come on, baby, let’s have some fun,” another one said. “We brought the stuff.”
Crystal looked up into Isaiah’s eyes and matched his glance. He could tell her eyes were distant and full of sorrow. She seemed momentarily to plead with him for help, but then she winked, blew him a kiss and said, “Let’s party, boys!”
Isaiah turned to the crowd of men. They were as drunk as Chrystal. “Leave her alone, guys. She’s in no shape to party.”
The leader of their group stepped forward and grabbed Isaiah by the collar. “Hey, it’s the black gloved freak again. I thought I taught you a lesson the other day, but…” Before he finished the sentence, he punched Isaiah in the stomach and kneed his face. Isaiah reeled backward and fell to the ground, grabbing his face. “Come on, Chrystal, the guys are waiting.”
She was torn, even in her inebriated state. She wanted so desperately to help Isaiah as he had helped her, but she didn’t want to jeopardize her popularity with the in crowd on campus by sticking up for the outcast. But he looked so helpless and desperate, lying there in the fetal position. Once again, Chrystal’s desire to be social won out and she left in the groping arms of the men. She hated herself for it, but didn’t have a choice. Did she? She needed to be needed, if even just for sex.
Later that same night, there was a knock at his door. “Pizza,” she said.
“Just a minute,” Isaiah said as he put the gloves on his hands and grabbed the money from the counter. He opened the door. “Sarah?”
“What happened to your nose?” she asked, noticing the broken nose and the swelling eye. “Some jocks on campus…”
“Who?” she asked. “Let me know and I’ll…”
“Do nothing,” he said. “Every campus has them.”
“Well, that doesn’t make it right.” He smiled. It felt nice to have someone come to his
“I appreciate the sentiment,” Isaiah said, “but it’s best if we just leave it alone.”
“I don’t think leaving it alone will help anything,” Sarah said. “Those bullies need to be taught a lesson.”
“They will one day. Trust me; they will.” She could tell he didn’t want to linger on the subject. He was grateful for her keen sense of perception.
“Hey, I didn’t know you lived in Pembroke Apartments.”
“Yeah,” he said, handing her the money. “It’s cheap and close to campus. Keep the change.” He wished he could give her more. These were the kinds of people he wanted to help.
“Thanks,” she said. Pointing to her red hat with a caricature of a short stumpy Italian man tossing a pizza, she said, “Goofy, huh?”
“Not really,” Isaiah assured her. “It’s my favorite place. Besides, nothing to be ashamed of; it’s an honest living.”
“Well, I have to pay for school,” she said.
Noting that Sarah wasn’t rushing off, Isaiah said, “Won’t you get in trouble if you’re late getting back?” He opened the box and offered her a slice.
“Not really,” she said as she shook her head to the offer of pizza. She’d eaten enough pizza to last her a lifetime. It was cheap and when someone failed to pick up his order, they were allowed to eat it. Those were free, and even Sarah couldn’t pass up a free meal. Right now she had other things on her mind. “But you probably want to be alone,” she offered picking up on his subtle cue.
Isaiah smiled. Sarah was the first person in decades to actually show interest in his opinion. “Not really,” he said. “It’s just ends up that way…a lot.” He put his hand to his ribs as he bent over and set the box on a small coffee table.
“You okay?” she asked, noticing the wince on his face.
He cocked his head to the side. “I’ll be fine; thanks.” Turning to the curious girl, Isaiah added, “You’re welcome to hang around…if you want.”
Sarah looked at the clock on her phone and said, “I gotta go.”
“Sure,” he said, “I understand.”
“But I get off in a couple hours.” Then something hit her. “Oh, I better not, Chrystal would kill me.”
“I wouldn’t worry about Chrystal,” he said. “She’s occupied at the moment.”
“I meant…you know…she kind of likes you.”
“Oh!” He was taken back that Sarah would be concerned for her roommate’s relationships, but not for her reputation.
“I definitely wouldn’t concern yourself with that. I have no romantic interests in Chrystal.”
“Who talks like that anymore?” Sarah asked. “I know this is none of my business, but I am a journalist after all. How old are you, really?”
“Forty-seven,” he said with a straight face.
“Yeah, right,” she said. “I meant chronologically.”
“I’m a whole lot older than I look,” he said with a smile.
“Okay, so don’t tell me.” She put the red oven bag under her arm and turned for the door. “You sure it’s okay if I stop by later?”
“Of course,” Isaiah said. It would be nice to have company, especially intelligent, nice company. The years had left him feeling incredibly lonely. “My door is always open to you.” Sarah left and he secured the door behind her. Once she was out of sight, Isaiah took the gloves from his hands and started to take a bite of the pizza, but stopped. They never believe me, he thought. Isaiah looked in the mirror. Why should they? He’d stopped aging right after his sixteenth birthday…right after his dad…
Isaiah’s cell phone rang. “Hello.” He listened to the aged voice quivering on the other end of the phone. “Hey sis,” he finally said. “What’s up?”
There was a long pause. “Isaiah, I know I swore I’d never ask this of you again, but he’s really bad.” Isaiah took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He really didn’t want to go through this another time. “If you could just come back home…just for the day…just long enough to…”
“Marcie, you know I can’t. Some things are just meant to be.”
“Just one more time, Isaiah? Please, for me? Henry’s in a lot of pain. His heart isn’t strong enough to go through another attack.” He didn’t answer. The silence was deafening. “Just once more? I promise I won’t ask again.”
Isaiah wiped the tear from his eye and covered the phone as he sniffled. “I’m sorry, Marcie. As much as I hate to say it, 'no.' It’s his time. It’s been his time for the last five years.”
Suddenly her demeanor and attitude did a one-eighty. She turned angry and violent. “Don’t you be a selfish little twit, Isaiah Carpenter! Don’t you dare turn me away this time…” She never got to finish the thought for Isaiah hit the red button marked, “end.” He pushed the pizza box away and sat down. He put his head in his hands.
Two hours later the knock woke him. “What? Coming.” He opened the door and there stood Sarah.
“You look awful,” she said. “Should I come back another time?” He waved her in. She noticed the untouched box of pizza. “What happened?”
“I got a call,” he started, but choked up. “My brother in law…he passed.”
She put her hand tenderly on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry.” She followed him to the small table and sat down. The apartment was tiny with only a small kitchenette, a bed and a bathroom. “Would it be better if I left you alone, or do you need company?”
“If you don’t mind, I’d prefer you stay,” he said. It had been so long since he had someone to talk with…someone who wanted to give…not just take from him. He asked her to stay, and she did; they talked for hours. After the first half hour, Sarah stopped her journalistic probing and just chatted casually with Isaiah. They had more in common than either realized. The two talked and laughed until Sarah received an emergency text and had to excuse herself.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
“It’s Chrystal,” she said with a sigh. “She’s gotten into a little trouble again. I’m going to go get her.”
“Do you need any help?” he asked. She nodded with a smile. He was cute, even with the broken nose and blackening eye. It was too much of a shame he was so young. Even though he had to be in his mid to late teens, he acted more maturely than all of the other college guys, even those twice his age. They got into Sarah’s car and drove to the frat house across campus. When they pulled up, they found Chrystal lying sprawled out on the lawn. Her skirt was torn up the middle; her lip and cheek bloody.
Sarah and Isaiah helped her up and put her into the back seat of Sarah’s car. “Let’s get her to the hospital,” Sarah said.
Isaiah took a slow deep breath and said, “That won’t be necessary.”
“Of course it’s necessary,” Sarah scolded. “Look at her. Who knows what else they did to her.”
“Just bring her to my apartment,” Isaiah said. “I can fix her up.”
Sarah objected, but Isaiah finally persuaded her to do as he said. All the way there, Chrystal mumbled Joe’s name and the words “stop…please stop.”
“I’ll kill him!” Sarah said.
As much as he understood the feeling and wanted to hurt Joe himself, Isaiah asked, “And what would that accomplish?” They put Chrystal’s arms over their shoulders and helped her into Isaiah’s second story apartment. Once they lay her on the bed, he turned to Sarah and asked, “Can you keep a secret?”
“Yeah, of course, why?”
“I’m serious,” he said. “I know as a journalist it’s not in your blood, but I need you to swear secrecy.”
“Fine, I swear,” she said. “Off the record.” Sarah crossed her heart with her hand. As soon as she did, Isaiah removed his gloves and touched Chrystal’s lip and cheek. Both wounds healed immediately. She couldn’t believe her eyes. As she started to ask something, she looked up and noticed Isaiah was bleeding from his lip and cheek. “Oh, my god!”
“Not even close, but thanks for the compliment,” he said with a smile. Isaiah cleaned himself up in the bathroom, returning with bandages over his lip and cheek. “It’s the price I pay for the gift.”
Suddenly, everything came clear to Sarah. “The limp? You took her broken ankle?” He nodded. “But your ankle’s fine now.”
“It takes about three days, minor wounds quicker, but I heal completely.” Sarah crumbled to the floor, her hand over her lips. “It’s kind of like I’m a hybrid of Wolverine and Rogue,” he said in an attempt to explain.
“You know…the X-men? One who takes the other person’s power and one who heals quickly.”
Sarah had no clue what he was saying. She turned to face Isaiah. His wounds were fresh. “Does it hurt?”
“For a while,” he said. He could see the wheels turning in her head. “You promised.”
“What? No…I won’t tell a soul.” She looked at his hands. He had put the gloves back on. “Why the gloves?”
“I can’t always control the transfer,” he said.
“The little girl?” she asked, thinking of Chrystal’s tale the other day.
“Yeah, that really hurt.”
Then Sarah returned to his previous comment. “Transfer? What transfer?”
Isaiah sat on the floor next to her and leaned against the bed. “I can take someone’s wounds, but I can also pass them on.” He held the gloves up and touched her face. “Without these, you’d be sitting here with a bloody lip and cheek.”
Sarah suddenly had a disturbing thought. “You mean we could go back to the frat house and…”
“No, Sarah. We can’t.” He got up and stared out the window. The thought had crossed his mind many times before. In fact he had given into the temptation once long ago. So many others deserved the pain even more than Joe did. But he had promised his father. He would never again use the gift for harm, only for good. “There’s also a possibility I could transfer the gift by accident.” Isaiah had taken it as a curse. His father called it a gift and did his best to convince Isaiah of that truth. His mind returned to Sarah and her desire to inflict pain where pain was given. “I can’t do that. Even if I could control it, I can’t play God and exact judgment.”
“Well if anyone deserves a little payback, it’s Joe Harrison.”
“I’m not going to argue that point,” Isaiah said coldly. He turned to face her. “It’s not my calling to inflict the pain, just take it away.”
“What a crappy gift,” she said. “Sorry, that came out wrong.”
“I just meant it’s crappy for you. Everyone else gets healed and you have to suffer their pain. How long does it last?”
“About three days. I just told you that. Remember?”
“I’m sorry. This is a lot to digest in one day.”
“Believe me, I understand. It took me a long time to accept it and I live it.”
Sarah felt so badly for him. “Were you kidding about your age?”
“Yes,” he said and blushed.
“So you’re not forty-seven?”
“Right numbers, wrong order. I’m actually seventy-four years old.”
“No way!” She laughed. He didn’t. “Seriously?”
“Swear to God,” he said.
“So why do you look so young?”
“I stopped aging when I received the gift. I didn’t even realize my father had passed it on to me until shortly after my sixteenth birthday.” Isaiah stood and turned, displaying the marvel of his ageless body. “I was helping a friend who had fallen off of her bicycle when we both noticed the transfer of her wound to my body.”
“Wow! Can you die?”
“I don’t know,” he said with a chuckle. Of course his father had, and he had the gift before Isaiah. Then he added, “I’ve never tried.”
They both laughed at the ridiculousness of it. How would you even investigate that concept? Chrystal stirred and mumbled something. Sarah got up to check on her. “Hey, girl, I’m here.” As Chrystal opened her eyes, she could tell she wasn’t in her own bed. She suddenly panicked. Her mind was still blurry. Although Isaiah had healed her wounds, he had not cleared her intoxication. Chrystal closed her eyes and drifted back asleep. Sarah crawled up next to her and gently stroked her hair. Isaiah made himself a pallet on the floor.
He woke to the sound of running water. Sarah was cuddled next to him on the floor and Chrystal was gone. The shower. That must be Chrystal in the shower. Isaiah eased Sarah’s arm from his stomach and set it on her hip. He rolled away and stood. What time is it? He looked at the clock. It was only seven in the morning. He still had plenty of time to make it to church.
“Hey,” she said, coming out of the bathroom wrapped loosely in a towel. “You and Sarah getting cozy?”
“Sarah?” Isaiah looked back at the pallet. It did look as though they had slept together. They probably had, but not the way Chrystal was implying. “Friends…we’re friends.”
“Since when?” Chrystal asked, drying her hair with a small hand towel. As she rubbed her hair with the small towel, the other began to loosen from its wrap around her body. The slightly larger towel barely covered her and was never meant to be a body wrap. Isaiah was afraid she might spill out and shyly motioned for her to return to the bathroom. He turned away. “There’s a robe on the back of the door.”
“I know. I saw it.”
“Please use it,” he said. As soon as he turned back to see if she had complied, she winked at him. “Don’t worry, I won’t jump you,” she joked. By that time Sarah woke and was gathering her things as well. “I don’t mean to be rude,” Isaiah said, “but I would like to get ready for church.”
“Me too,” Sarah said. “Don’t worry; we’ll be out of here in a jiffy.” She leaned in and whispered, “And your secret is safe with me.”
“Thanks,” he whispered back. He actually believed her. It had been a difficult burden to bear. The secret of his gift only served to increase his loneliness.
After church Isaiah grabbed some drive-thru for lunch. He pulled into the parking space designated for his apartment. He saw a woman sitting there and secretly hoped it was Sarah; it wasn’t. He was disappointed to discover it was Chrystal instead. “Now that I know where you live,” she started, “we don’t have to be strangers.”
Great. Just what I wanted. Isaiah forced a smile and got out. “I don’t know what you want from me, Chrystal, but I’m really not interested.”
“I just want the truth.” She followed Isaiah up the steps to his apartment. “Are you mad at me?”
“She didn’t seem to care. Are you and Sarah in love?”
He laughed out loud. “Wow. Is that all you think about? Can’t a man and a woman be friends without it having to be more?” Isaiah unlocked the door and walked inside. Without being invited, Chrystal followed. “Help yourself,” he said with heavy sarcasm.
“I know you don’t like me,” she said. “You think I’m a drunken whore, and Sarah’s a goody-goody church girl.”
“She’s the first person to befriend me in a long time,” he said, setting the bag on the table. “I don’t think you appreciate the value of that.”
“Oh, I like Sarah, but that’s not why I’m here.” Chrystal sat at the table. “Why did you help me?”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
She stood and reached for his injured lip. Isaiah pulled away. “I may have been drunk last night, but I remember that.” She pointed to his cheek. “That too.” Chrystal took her seat again at the table. “I don’t know how you do it, but you healed my ankle, my head, the little girl’s arm, my lip and my cheek.”
“That all sounds pretty amazing,” he said, trying to laugh it off.
“It is,” she said. “I don’t care how you do it. All I want to know is why?”
Why not? “That’s funny because most people want to know how.”
She smiled and stood, pointing her finger in his face. “I knew it!” She realized it sounded accusatory, so she quickly apologized. She settled down. “But why me?”
It was a good question. He normally didn’t get involved unless the person deserved a second chance. Did Chrystal deserve a second chance? “I don’t know,” he admitted. “You just looked like you needed help.” He looked up. “You still do.”
“Still?” she asked. “I’m not hurting anywhere.” She looked over her body.
“Of course you are,” he said. He pointed to her heart. “But I can’t take that kind of pain from you.” He had watched her for months. He had wanted to help her, to tell her she had value greater than her physical appearance…far greater than her body. He wanted to sit her down and help her see life as he did now. If he could only give her that gift, it would all be worth the pain in the world. But he couldn’t. Whatever gift or curse he had been given many years ago only healed physical wounds. Emotional pain…spiritual pain…they were beyond his gift…beyond his power.
She began to cry. Before long her body was shaking with the heavy sobs. “I’m so ashamed,” she said. “I’m so sorry.” He didn’t know what to do. He wanted to take her in his arms and hold her tight, to assure her as a father would his own daughter that everything was going to be okay. She needed to hear she was loved as a person and not just a body, but she wasn’t ready to hear it from him. It would only confuse her more. She still couldn’t separate the two. “I just wanted to belong…”
Isaiah couldn’t stand it any longer. “Chrystal, you do belong, but not to that life...not to that group.” He searched for the words that could make everything clear. He had never been good with words…especially with women. “You’re more valuable and have a much greater purpose in this life than…than…”
“Than being a drunken whore?” she asked.
“I didn’t say that.” He knew he should have kept his mouth shut. His life had been so much better when he had learned to keep to himself.
“You didn’t have to. It’s true.” She wiped her nose with her sleeve. “I’m the easy girl on campus, I know. It’s just like Joe said, I’m ‘used merchandise.’”
“You don’t have to be,” he said. “You have the power to change all of that, and you’re the only one who can change it.” That’s what he had wanted to say. That’s what she needed to hear. She needed to stop being the victim and start taking control of her own life. He wanted to tell her about the pastor’s sermon this morning, the story in the Bible about the woman caught in adultery. She’d messed up. She’d chosen the wrong kind of life, but she’d also been forgiven…she started over…she changed.
“Yeah, I’ve tried.”
“Then try again.”
“Why? No one would want me now anyway.” she said. “You don’t.” Chrystal wiped her runny nose again. “All I wanted to do was get out of that crappy little town and…I just wanted to fit in. Is there anything wrong with that?” She’d opened the door, so he told her about the woman and about Jesus. If Jesus could forgive that woman, He could forgive Chrystal. “That sounds a little too simple,” she said.
“Yeah, that’s the beauty of it,” Isaiah began. “The forgiveness is there; the love is there. All you have to do is accept it.” He stopped suddenly at the sound of screeching car tires and a loud thump. Isaiah and Chrystal both rushed out the door. A woman with short brown hair lay face down in the street down beneath his apartment. The man shouting obscenities from his car, hitting his steering wheel with his head, looked familiar.
“Oh, no!” Chrystal cried. “Sarah!” She ran down the steps and into the street. “Sarah, are you okay? Please be okay.”
“I didn’t see her,” the man said, stumbling out of his red Camaro.
“Joe!” Chrystal knelt beside the limp body of her friend. “How could you?”
“I can’t handle this,” Joe said, stumbling back to his car. It was obvious he was still drunk. He slipped and fell to the pavement.
“Don’t you dare run away, Joe Harrison. For once in your miserable life, stay and make this right!” she screamed.
Isaiah knelt beside Chrystal and pulled the hair from Sarah’s face. Blood began to puddle around her head. She wasn’t breathing. “Sarah?” he whispered.
“Oh, God, she can’t leave me.” This time it wasn’t an explicative…or a curse…or even a flippant word. This time she was calling out. “Sarah,” Chrystal cried. She looked up. “Not this; Not now, please.”
Isaiah looked over at Joe, who sat on the street, leaning back against his car. His hand reached up for the door handle, but his body didn’t have the wherewithal to follow. Isaiah wished so desperately it had been Joe lying here and not Sarah. Isaiah dismissed the thought that plagued him and resolved to do what he was gifted to do. “Chrystal, I want you to remember you have value and purpose.”
“What?” she asked.
“I need you to remember something.” He took his hand, grabbed her chin and turned her head. “Look at me!” She did. “When you lose perspective, think of others. Love them more than you love yourself. And please, love yourself too.”
“What are you saying?” Chrystal said. “Sarah’s dying; help her.”
“I will, but first I need you to promise you’ll remember what I said.” She nodded. “Okay, take Sarah’s hand,” he said as he pulled the gloves from his hands. Chrystal slid to the side and made room for Isaiah. He put one hand on Sarah’s forehead and the other on Chrystal’s hand. “You may feel strange for the next day or so, but don’t worry.” Oh, God, please let this work. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. As he did, his head began to bleed and his body slumped over Sarah’s.
Sarah suddenly gasped for air. Pushing herself from the pavement, she rolled the limp lifeless body from her back. As soon as she saw the blood seeping from Isaiah’s cracked skull, she cried, “No!” But it was too late. His body lay still beside her. She took his hands and put them up to her face. She pleaded with him to come back to her. She touched his wounds and prayed that she could take his pain. But it was futile. Isaiah Carpenter died in the middle of the street. He gave more than one gift that day. It’s hard to say which was greater.
Chrystal knelt beside her best friend who was dead but now alive, and she finally understood why the strange boy had come into their lives. He came to teach and to heal. He came to give hope and to give life…even if it cost his. And at that moment, Chrystal understood her newly found purpose. She felt surprisingly alive and strangely powerful. She pulled Sarah close to her chest and held her tight. “It’s okay, Sarah. It’s going to be okay.”