Where am I? What is this place? Am I dead? I can't be, because here I am, looking right at this woman who's fighting for her life. And her family's out there...praying for her...waiting for some news...There's something vaguely familiar about her...I need a closer look...Oh!
Oh God! This can't be happening! That woman..in the bed is...is ME!
I stood there by MY hospital bed, looking at MYSELF! Where're my clothes? Why do I feel so different? All this light surrounding me...
My body seemed lighter than air; I thought I was floating. I was dressed in a flowing white dress; my hair fell in loose waves around my shoulders. I was barefoot, yet my feet detected no coldness of the linoleum floor. Actually, I never felt more at peace, more free from pain; I even felt younger, more invigorated.
Now, I've heard all about near-death experiences, and how people claim to see God, Jesus, Buddha, their grandparents, The Light, even the Devil and Hell - But I never thought I'd experience anything like this!
Maybe I am dead...
I knew I felt something when Claude and Kyle rushed me into the emergency room. I remember hearing Claude weeping over me; I remember Kyle offering to fill out paperwork. Later, I would learn that Rodney and Josh - two of my favorite students - offered to stay at the hospital practically all night. They were indispensible, kept Claude company, and told him amusing school tales, just to keep his spirits up. Let them do this, Claude...They're only trying to help out...they just want to make you feel better...
I felt the life drain away while dozens of medical personnel swarmed
around me. I felt needles prick my skin, and an oxygen mask placed over
my face. I remember blacking out right there on the table; then, the next
thing I knew, I was standing in the ICU, watching myself fight - or, in
this case, not fight for life.
I walked over to the bed and gazed at the still-pretty face - a face that seemed so lifeless, so...
Maybe this is it...Maybe it is my time...I never got to say goodbye
to my family, my friends...Not even to the man I love...Oh Claude...Momma...Daddy...
...This isn't fair...I wish I could be with all of you, but...I'm ready to go home now...
I walked out into to the corridor, then took the few steps to the waiting area. Many people gathered around, waiting for news. There were my parents, looking older than their years.
My mother, stylishly dressed in her dark blue pantsuit with contrasting blouse and the ever-present gold bangles, sent up numerous silent prayers. My father, neat in his casual sportcoat a slacks, and the famous wire-rimmed glasses, silently grieved for me. His firstborn, his pride and joy, he said to Claude Frollo, was now battling for her life. But I'm not fighting, Daddy...This is my time...
My sister, Cherie, was there. Funny, but I always took Cherie as the one with the all the strength. She had not only lost her best friend; but, now, she was about to lose her eldest sister. Cherie was so overcome with grief that Arletta's sister, Robbie, offered to take Cherie so see Kenya. "Maybe you can both cheer each other", Robbie said to Cherie.
I saw Jacki Darcey, the inventor of the Time Traveler, along with Tony and Kyle. Fern would arrive later with her husband, Dwayne. In a way, Jacki was instrumental in saving my life - not that it would've mattered anyway. Then again, if Claude and I had taken off to the 15th...I would've died right there in the P of J...without my family around me...
The only one missing was my sister, Vernice, who immediately took off from work, and was currently driving the five-plus hours from Nashville. In a way, I didn't want to see Vernie so grief-strickened - She's always been the happy one, the one Wood girl with all the warped humor and, what Momma called, "good-time" fun.
I walked up to Claude Frollo, who stood at the window and stared out blankly at the Downtown skyline. The tears coursed down his handsome face; he was so utterly dejected, that I wanted to take him into my arms and comfort him. But when I touched his shoulder, he felt nothing - Claude never responded to my touch.
"He can't see you, Nisha. He can't hear you, nor feel you. No one in this room can see, feel, or hear you."
That voice sounded mighty familar. I turned in the voice's direction,
and blinked. I couldn't believe this!
There he was, resplendid in his white suit. A silver cross dangled from his neck, and his white shoes were expertly polished. His hair glowed with a brilliance reminscent of the spring sun. This very handsome young man, who, I'd always said favored Babyface, extended his hand to me. His voice was like music and the air around him was sweetly perfumed.
"Danisha, it's time I showed you why you can't leave. And I've brought along someone else -- someone who I think you already know."
I blinked again, but there no denying that voice, or his handsome face.
"Yes, Nisha, it's me. Don't be afraid; for, as you can see, I"m very much at peace in my afterlife."
I still didn't understand: If that woman, lying in that bed, was me, then why did Del say, "You can't leave"? I mean, I'm dead -- Right? Del knew exactly what was on my mind; he immediately put his arm around my shoulder, then said, "Honey, you are experiencing what the old folks call 'out-of-the-body'. It's your spirit, your soul, stepping out momentarily to comfort those who love you. No, Nisha, you're not dead, but you're fighting life. That's why I'm here - Why Jules is here - to keep you from dying before your time."
Now, I was still too overwhelmed by what Del said about my spirit and comforting my family and friends; but, when he said, "Jules"....
"Hello, madamoiselle", came the young voice from behind. I turned around, and my eyes met those of Jules de Chateaupers. This is the kid I befriended that summer I met Claude...I remember him...and his sister...and his brother...
...I remember what he did when that whole conspiracy against Claude blew up...He left Paris after torching the Court of Miracles... ....Then he returned while Claude vacationed with me, in my time...then he pulled a cruel prank...then he died...Why is he here?
"Jules? Why...You look just like that sweet-faced boy I met that
Indeed, Jules, in his afterlife, appeared with all the fresh vigor of youth. His face glowed; his bright blue eyes were clothed in laughs and smiles - Something I rarely saw in life. His abundant dark hair tumbled about his face; it was glossy and thick, just as I remembered it.
"Madamoiselle, please, listen to M. Davis. He says it isn't your time, and you have to fight for your life. Please, you have to live for your family, for Minister Frollo, and don't forget my sister, Renée."
Del took my hand in his and said, "Honey, let us show you a few
things - Things that may come to past if you had never met Claude Frollo.
He was right: You still don't know how much you have impacted his life."
That said, Del and Jules took me on a journey that I would never forget for the rest of my life.
The things they showed me...I guess I never really knew how much of an impact I've had on Claude's life...Or on anyone's life...
We stood in that waiting area - Jules, Del, and I - witnessing the depths
of grief and uncertainty as my doctor, Wanda Rescott, and another surgeon,
delivered news of my condition, and it was not good. My life hung in the
balance, and it was only a matter of time whether I lived, or went home
to my Creator.
Wanda sat down with my family, although Claude chose to remain standing; he never wavered from his spot near the window. All through Wanda's explanation of my condition - and it was serious enough - Claude remained as calm and cool... That is...Until he decided to 'get some air'...
"Mr. and Mrs. Wood", began Wanda, "Danisha suffered another
hemorrhage; the inside surtures from her previous surgery had ruptured.
To tell you the truth, I don't ever recall a case like this -- interuterine
bleeding happens to women in the best of health -- but coupled with the
Wanda stopped long enough to introduce the other surgeon on the team; she then continued, "We managed to stop the bleeding, but..." She stop momentarily to regain her composure - I admired her for her compassion, and her concern for her patients.
"...But she went into shock right after she was brought in. She..."
Daddy, his eyes bright with tears, held my mother's hand and said to Wanda, "Are you saying my daughter nearly died -- Again?" My eyes quickly shifted from my family to Claude. I could tell that he was profoundly affected by this news, although he remained calm. Claude...If only you knew I was here...I'd comfort you right now...You may not show it, but deep down inside you're really torn up...I love you...I don't want to leave, but I have no choice...If I could only hold you...
The other surgeon explained that I had lost a tremendous amount of blood; and, if a generous donor hadn't made himself available right then and there, I might have died. There wasn't enough of my blood type in stock, but this last-minute donor was a match, so whoever this person was, he or she saved my life.
Who was this donor? Kyle? Rodney? Oh no...not...Claude?! Why would he do such a thing? A man from the 1480's? I know what the medical mindset was like back then...Did Claude Frollo actually consent to donate his own blood to save my life? I don't understand...
"Judge Frollo", Wanda said, "I'd like to thank you personally for your generosity. If it hadn't been for you..."
My eyes were now on my folks, who, up to now, never learned that the "generous donor" was Claude Frollo himself! They were extremely grateful to him; my mother cried her thanks and my father clasped Claude's hand in silent gratitude. Yet, Claude played it all off when he addressed Wanda.
"My dear Dr. Rescott. I only did what I had to do, to save our
Danisha's life", came the quick, and brief response. He then asked
about my prognosis.
Wanda told him, and everyone else, that I wasn't out of the woods yet.
"She's still unconscious, and that's what worries me. She's not responding to treatment, and if she doesn't regain consciousness soon, she may..."
It was now my mother's turn to speak. "Wanda, are you saying that
Nisha's not fighting for her own life? Even after Claude has saved my baby's
life, she's lost her will to live? I don't understand this. She's always
been a strong person..." Momma could say no more. At once, she broke
down in tears; Daddy held Momma as she cried. Even Claude began to lose
his otherwise firm grip on his emotions. I never knew the devastating consequences
that would have resulted if I was no longer among the living.
Oh my goodness! Claude did save my life...He said he'd return the favor...And I'm not fighting to stay alive...Wait! Where's he going?
I watched Claude Frollo leave the room in silence; he said absolutely
nothing as he slowly walked down the corridor to my room. I watched as
he softly wept at my bedside.
"My Nisha, my darling..." His voice broke with sobs as he knelt beside my still body; he held my limp hand, and demanded that I fight for my life.
"Danisha, can you hear me? My blood now flows through your veins; I did what I had to do, to save you. Don't you dare leave me, Danisha. You have to be strong...Where is that fighting spirit, that joy of life? Please, darling..."
I stood next to him and, without thinking, embraced him. I had to do
to that; I had to let him now that I was here, if not in body, at least
But Claude...You don't understand...I've made such a mess of my life...Even after we made up...Things can't ever be the same...BC has won...He's now rid of me...Now that he'll never get his hands on Marcus, he has no use for me...He always said he'd waste me...I'll finish the job for him...
Suddenly, I heard Del's voice firmly call out to me, "No, Danisha!
You can't do this! BC will pay the ultimate price for his journey
down the easy road. Don't let that man mess with your mind and soul! You're
on the right road, Nisha, and you'll earn your reward. But -- It is
not your time."
I listened to what Del said, and it made a lot of sense. I mean, if it's not my time, then why am I so anxious to go home?
Del laughed when I asked him this, and said, "Nisha, that's because you're not afraid of Death. You've stared Death in the face many times, and always you've bounced back. Come on, let me show you something else."
I followed Del out of my room, only to see Claude leave - He decided he needed some air, and some time to himself. Del and I followed him to the hospital's chapel - I was surprised that Claude would find this so quickly. I was also surprised that Claude would even enter this place - It was so unlike the grandeur of Notre Dame, or any of the grand cathedrals in and around Paris. The room was starkly furnished, but attractive and reverent in its own quiet way. It exuded peace and tranquility - It was exactly what Claude needed in his solitude.
All alone, Claude knelt; his handsome gray-haired head bowed in prayer.
"O Blessed Maria:
Please help Danisha. She is too sweet, too kind, too loving, to leave us so soon...
She has so much to live for: A family who loves her, legions of children who adore her, a wealth of friends who cherish her...I include myself in that circle of special friends...
...Nisha, for some strange reason, has lost the will to live...I don't know what I'd do without her...
The thought of never hearing her laughter, her voice...Never again to look upon her charming face...The pain she's endured at the hands of this monster who was so briefly her suitor...
She told me that she had lost, then regained, her faith...She thought she had been abandoned because she chose to suffer in silence...She lost a child...
...Give her the strength to fight for life. Please, don't take her from us too soon."
Claude broke down in tears; then I, out of habit, immediately went to him, and embraced him. Somehow, I got the feeling he responded that time, because Claude regained his composure, and began to relax. He sat on a bench and stared blankly into space; he appeared tired, haggard, worn.
"Don't worry, Claude. I'm with you. I love you, and I won't leave you." Did his expression brighten? Did I detect a ray of hope deep in his eyes...
At that moment, young Kenya White entered the chapel, she was in a wheelchair.
I never got to tell Claude the extent of her injuries.
You see, when BC shot Kenya, the bullet grazed, but didn't sever, her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. The paralysis was temporary, that is, until Kenya was strong enough to undergo the delicate surgery to repair her damaged nerves.
"Hi, Your Honor", came the cheerful greeting. Kenya never looked prettier, that is, considering her circumstances. She was dressed in a pink, lace-trimmed nightgown and pink satin slippers. Her hair was tied, with matching ribbons, in two thick pigtails. For a fifth-grade girl, Kenya was the epitome of the sweet-faced pre-teen - Arletta insisted that her girls hold onto their childhood as long as possible. "I don't want them to grow up too soon, if you know what I mean", she said to me on several occasions. Hmm...maybe that's why Arletta didn't accompany Del and Jules on this journey...She's where she's needed most...With her girls...She'd be so proud of Kenya...
Kenya wheeled up to Claude, then asked, "Are you thinking of Nisha?"
Claude looked intently at this child; then, I watched him as he struck-up
a friendly conversation with Kenya, the very child who I always said nursed
a potent crush on Claude Frollo.
I turned to Del, and when I told him this, he laughed so hard and so long, that I wondered if maybe, just maybe, someone would hear us.
"Just as I said, Nisha. We can't be seen, felt, nor heard. But, when you said my niece had a 'thang' for the good judge, well, I wish Kenya could see me. 'Cause I'd tell her she's way too young for His Honor."
We both smiled and laughed as Kenya engaged Claude in friendly, uplifting converstion.
"You know what , Your Honor? I come in here almost everyday, and pray for Tamara. She's still scared 'cause they haven't caught BC yet." Claude, to my total surprise, knelt before Kenya, and placed his hand in hers. His voice was calm, his manner gentle.
I've seldom seen him this way with kids before...Yes I have...That snowball fight...It was a few days after I rescued him...Much later, he would meet Arletta's girls...He told me he seldom showed that side of himself... "Except when I am with you", he said to me...That was night he told me all about the foundations of our friendship, and how it has held us together all these years....and I never fully realized how much he truly leans on me...
Just how much did I impact Claude Frollo's life? I was to find that out very soon, and what I discovered nearly broke my heart.
Go To Chapter 19 - Part 2!
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