They had traveled everywhere together. Could it be the same with one of them gone?
Your attention, please. Flight one-ten, nonstop service to Phoenix, will begin boarding in five minutes.” My best friends, Laura and Kathy, and I looked at each other.
“That’s us,” Laura said. Kathy and I nodded, but none of us could bring ourselves to get up from our seats by the gate. I’d hoped this trip to Phoenix with “the Girls” would lift our spirits, but now I wondered if we’d be better off just staying home. Something was missing. Someone.
If we’d been the four directions on a compass, she would’ve been our true north. She was the glue of our group. The nurturer. The one who kept tabs on everyone. B–that’s what we called her–made sure we had the best time together.
It had been five years since we lost B to breast cancer, and things still felt off. Like they’d lost their meaning without her.
We’d met more than 20 years earlier, when we were working as admissions counselors for competing colleges across Iowa and Nebraska. One recruiting fair took place in a high school gym so small our booths were practically on top of each other.
Maybe it was the close quarters, but Kathy, Laura, Brandi and I bonded right away. We were all fresh out of college and had lots to talk about.
That season we kept running into each other on the college-fair circuit. We’d grab lunch together, making jokes about the rivalries between our schools. Soon we were hanging out on weekends too. We were more than just colleagues–we were friends for life, the Girls.
One by one, though, we moved on with our careers. We settled in different places around the country and met our husbands. I stayed in Iowa, Laura moved to Missouri, Kathy to Ohio, and B all the way out to California.
But we always made time for the Girls. We joked that it was written into our wedding vows: Our hubbies had to grant us two trips per year.
“Let’s go to England!” we said one year. Then it was Canada and Mexico. Once we had kids, we chose destinations a little closer to home: Kansas City, Missouri; Defiance, Ohio; and Des Moines, Iowa.
I kept the scrapbook of our trips–we’d done more than 25 of them–with photos and notes about our sometimes luxurious, usually frugal travel habits.
The first thing we did when we heard about B’s diagnosis was visit her. Kathy, Laura and I flew out to California and did everything in our power to support her. B fought hard, trying every treatment available, but after five years we had what we all knew would be our last meeting.
“I want you all to keep going on trips,” B said. “Our friendship is forever.”
If only that were true. By then Kathy and Laura had moved back to Iowa to raise their families, so getting together was easier, but take away any one of us and the group just wasn’t the same.
“Flight one-ten to Phoenix is now boarding!” the announcement blared. I looked at Kathy and Laura and tried to think of something to break the gloom that had settled over us.
I noticed Kathy’s shoes–soft brown suede, simple yet elegant. “Nice shoes, Kathy,” I said.
“Thanks,” Kathy said. She crossed her legs. “I got them at–”
What was that? There was something on the sole of her shoe. Something colorful. A piece of gum? A candy wrapper?
“What’s on the bottom of your shoe, Kathy?” I asked.
She swiveled her foot and peeled something off. A yellow sticker. She went to crumple it up, then froze. She turned the sticker in her hand so Laura and I could see what was on it.
A single character. The letter B.
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