“Here, Noelle.” Timmie’s voice was comforting. “Here’s a wet paper towel. Place it on the back of your neck. Does that help?”

Noelle focused. “Yes, thank you.”

Timmie took her place opposite Noelle on the couch, wishing she had been more disciplined in coming up with a workable game plan.

The friends both opened their mouths to speak, which led to half-hearted giggles. Timmie butted in.

“I wanted one more day with you. I was going to tell you tomorrow.”

“Tell me what, Timmie? What’s going on? Where are you going? When will you be back? Or, will I need to visit you? You and Aunt Nessie?”

“Aunt Nessie should be receiving both her transplants within the month, which is amazing and wonderful and such great news.”

“Timmie! I’m so happy for you both. So thankful. What a surprise! So you’re going to stay with her? That makes perfect … .”

“No.” Timmie was gruff. Noelle stopped. The paper towel no longer working.

“As we both know,” Timmie was slow and careful with her words, “one transplant is much more money than I could ever imagine having. Two transplants are out of the question.” Noelle started to say something, but Timmie kept on. “I couldn’t allow insurance to begin to pay because Aunt Nessie wouldn’t be able to afford deductibles or food or her home or any of the living she has left to do. Some months ago, I guess not long after Dr. Salmonson first brought up the need for the transplants, a memo came across my supervisor’s desk. It was a shared venture between SpaceFree and Outer Realm. In addition to shuttling civilians to the space station, the companies have teamed up to quietly explore in space what it would entail to grow and create resources for people to use on earth. On a planet that orbits our sun, to be exact.”

Noelle again tried to say something, but what? How would a person begin to make sense of what was happening? Timmie paused, but she couldn’t wait for Noelle. Her nerve would be lost.

“They were configuring a group of people, building a team. They were looking for specific characteristics and personalities. They wanted certain job qualifications, skills, passions, expertise. In return, they would give a one-time payment of $33 million. I inquired.”

“Is that where you’ve been?”

“Yes. I received a phone call the next evening after I submitted my application. Come to find out, and this is interesting, the trek to this planet can only be launched once every three years or so. It has to do with planets and how they align. The companies didn’t want media and press about it, so everything has been fast and furious. Training and such. This is their second launch, their Part 2 of the mission. They’ve named our capsule Pontem, or ‘bridge’ in Latin.

Noelle studied her friend’s face, looking for a way out, a slight smirk from a joke-gone-bad. “You’re not an astronaut.”

“No.” With each response, Timmie methodically sucked in a big breath of air. The room seemed to be losing its share. Noelle waited for a better explanation.

“No, I’m not an astronaut. We have two going with us for technical reasons, of course. The rest of us, though, our purpose is to survive, to live. We have a list of experiments in growing food and oxygen, recycling fuel and trash, constructing habitats and shelters.”

“You’re being paid to lose your life?”

“No!” Timmie refused the idea her future would be for naught. “It’s doubtful we’ll make the target, exactly, but we hope the lessons we learn and share will provide deeper understanding … .”

Noelle stood up. “This is nonsense, Timmie.”

“I didn’t want to tell you.”

“Is this what the past couple of days have been about?” Noelle’s voice was increasing in inflection. “Not my breakup or healing but you? This. How you’re leaving, how I’ll never see you again, how I have no say? How you didn’t want to tell me, so you strung me along? You’re worse than Sam.”

“Noelle, stop. I wouldn’t … .”

“What? You wouldn’t what?

“This is so much bigger than either of us. My aunt saved my life years ago. My parents didn’t want me. My mom left. My dad spent years taking from me what she took from him. Aunt Nessie sacrificed her life way back then to care for a scared, unwanted girl. She didn’t go to college. She didn’t pursue the career she wanted. She didn’t travel the continents or see places she read to me about. She didn’t spend leisurely on herself because she chose me. My heart wants to stay here with you both. Noelle, I physically feel it breaking, knowing we have so few hours together. But my heart also says, ‘What if?’ What if the money they give will extend my aunt’s life to where she is able to fulfill her dreams of beginning a center to help more young girls and young women like me? What if she can use her experiences to lead them to the Lord? And what if my expertise in research and information collection and preservation can lead to innovations in healthy food sustainability for the least of these? What if a discovery is made that will teach and empower and bring about positive change for people who are devastated by abuse of power?”

“If this is your purpose, if this is your calling, why not tell me? Why intentionally keep it from me until there is no room for good-byes?”

“Because, Noelle, you could say the word, and I would stay.” Timmie’s loud, unsteady voice took them both by surprise. She shook her head, trying to banish the hot, salty water filling her eyes. She stood up, walked to the naked window and peered out, unable to see clearly.

“So I could ask you to stay, and you would?”

A thick, deep pause.

“Yes.”

Noelle kept her eyes focused, staring at her friend. She moved toward Timmie, but grief began to overwhelm. She shifted her eyes, hoping to recompose. It was a last-ditch effort to hold onto the moment, to pull it up. Sustain it in air, protect it from falling out of sight. She turned away, opened the door, began the exhausting walk back to her car, slowing to gently shut the door.

Love is given, she whispered. JMJ


Julie Johnson enjoys cooking and gardening and learning. “The Glass Menagerie” is one of only a handful of reading assignments she finished in college. The writing has stayed with her. Julie is editor in chief of Homegrown Journal. She also writes, edits and designs for Jumajo Writing Company. She lives in Missouri.