"I'm just saying I can't see past March 30," he said. "I can't fit anything after that into a context."

"Don't you see anything at all after that day?" I asked. "Easter? Your birthday?"

"Maybe Thanksgiving at Sandy's house," he answered finally. "But I'm not sure if I'm seeing it or just wanting it."

"Well, what do you see? Do you see people? The table? Do you see Christmas after that?"

"Mom, please let's hush. Let's just sit here. I have to memorize this."

"But, Mattie, we're videotaping this," I said. Mattie always liked to tape a minute of sunrise, shut the camera for 10 minutes, then tape another minute so that everyone back at the beach house could see what they had missed.

"No, I'll remember what this looks like, what it sounds like. I have to memorize what this feels like," he countered. His voice had no trace of sadness or melancholy. It was more like an expression of "Wow, I'm really going to miss this," an anticipatory loss.

By now the sun was almost fully risen. It was one of the gorgeous, brilliant sunrises, not at all a gray and muted shift into the day but a ruby pink with shades of orange. Mattie commented that it looked more like a sunset than a sunrise—a gift from God, he said, because it combined his favorite color, the color of sunset, with his favorite time of day, sunrise.

I stopped trying to reassure myself, and we just sat quietly and looked out to the horizon. I put my hand on top of Mattie's and told him I loved him. We said that to each other a hundred times a day, every day, and we meant it; it wasn???t just words. But it especially needed to be said then.

Everything looked as wonderful as it ever did—blue, cloudless sky; sun sparks dancing on the waves; strong, bright light. We even began to see movement in the water—dolphins. It was a common sight on the Outer Banks, but one that always delighted us. Except this time we saw water spouting up. It wasn???t dolphins but whales! Water was spouting out of their blowholes—calves and their mothers. We could even hear their beautiful, haunting song.

We watched the whales as they moved farther and farther away from land and finally swam out of sight. Then we sat just a minute more before slowly turning around to roll back.

The next morning, after a last day of diving into vacation giddiness with the others, we loaded our things into the van and headed for home. It was Mattie's 10th birthday.
Excerpted from MESSENGER by JENI STEPANEK. Published by arrangement with New American Library (NAL), a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright©Jeni Stepanek, 2009.


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