Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Morning

The sun rose brightly above the treetops at Mt. Olivet Cemetery and chased away the chilly Easter morning air. A daughter, an only child, I stood over my folks' gravestone and spoke to them, telling them about my year.
It's a ritual I'd been following since they died four years ago, only months apart after long, happy lives.
"Mom, Dad, I'll be graduating in June—a registered nurse! Hurray! " I threw my head back and grinned at the cloudless blue sky. "And I have a job lined up at a Genesis Convenient Care Clinic. Double hurray!  Aren't you proud of me? Took awhile—six years—working nights, going to school part time, but I made it, and I can't thank you enough for your love and support."
I paused to catch a breath.
I was talking out loud to my folks. I always did. I know it's stupid, but I felt surely they could hear me better if I talked out loud.
"No, Mom. No, Dad. No guy in my life. No romance. That part of my life is hopeless. No future grandchildren, either. You guys can't help me with that. Sorry. School. Working. Studying. There just hasn’t been time."
I paused again, but not to catch my breath.
I'd heard a nose—a twig snapping?—and felt a presence behind me.
I spun around. My jaw dropped, and a shiver rippled up my spine.
I stared at a tall man dressed in a blue blazer, dark slacks, a white shirt open at the throat—a sandy-haired man about my age. My concern wasn’t how much he'd heard but what were his intentions. Was he a stalker?
I barely sucked in enough air to remain calm.
"Don't be alarmed," he said from ten feet away in a soft voice. "I'm here for the same reason you are. I've just spoken to a loved one and was on my way back to my car—I heard someone. I came over..."
I backed up, but when I saw his warm blue eyes and handsome features, I relaxed and felt a bit sheepish. "I come here every year," I said. "Easter's always been a special holiday in my family. My dad came back from Viet Nam on Easter Sunday, wounded but safe and alive."
"My wife died of cancer," he said, nodding solemnly. "Three years ago. On Easter Sunday. She—"
He halted abruptly and swallowed.
"I'm so sorry," I said.
He looked at me. Shrugged. "She was always positive and upbeat and told me to get on with my life, let her know how things were going, and so that's why I come here every Easter morning, but there's not much to tell." He smiled for the first time. "It's a wonder we haven't met before."
"I'm here really early this morning because the weather's so nice."
"I'm Tim McFadden," he said, his smile growing huge. "Your painless dentist."
I smiled back. "Riley Hanson, your newly graduated nurse in June, ready to save lives."
"Congratulations," he said, as we shook hands, his grip warm and firm. Then, "Where's your car?" he asked. "Maybe we can walk together."
Turns out, we were headed in the same direction, and as we meandered among the tombstones and trees, chatting in the early sunlight, he slipped in the fact that he had no children, and I—well, I mentioned I'd never married.
When we reached our cars parked on a gravel lane, we stopped alongside mine. He cleared his throat. He looked serious. Oh Lord! Was he going to ask me for a date? In a cemetery? On Easter Sunday? We'd known each other—what? Ten minutes. Fifteen—tops.
He cleared his throat again, shuffled his feet, and finally said, "You're talking to the Easter Bunny—you probably didn't know that, did you?"
What I didn't know was how I stopped from laughing. "The Easter Bunny?"
He nodded. "After services, St. Paul's Church has an Easter Egg Hunt in the churchyard for kids. I always volunteer to be the Easter Bunny in a furry costume—long, floppy ears and a bushy tail." He cleared his throat once more.
"Would you join me for services and the hunt?" He glanced at his watch. "In an hour?"
That was enough time for me to go home and dress for church, which I intended to do anyway. Why not St. Paul's?
I peered over my shoulder toward my folks' grave and blew out a deep breath.Then smiling up into Tim's handsome face, I said, "Mr. Easter Bunny, I'd love to attend services—and help with the hunt. But only if you guarantee I don't get trampled."
"Guaranteed!" he said, laughing. "See you in church."
Climbing into my car, I said really loud, "Thanks again, Mom and Dad!"