"Who's your friend, Joshua?" Joshua's mother asked as she joined us along the way.
"This is Mary, she's from Magdala," he said.
"Mary, what a good name" she said and smiled. I noticed they had the same deep brown, twinkling eyes.
"Mom!" Joshua replied, "shouldn't you be keeping an eye on the little ones?"
"They're in good hands," she said easily. "James is watching out for them. I thought I'd walk with you for a bit."
Joshua sighed and then smiled. And we so we spent a good part of the day talking and walking with Mary.
I should tell you that I always liked Mary--Joshua's mom. She was gentle and kind, with she had a devilish sense of humor. She was incredibly smart and intuitive. And full of faith, a trait I've both envied and admired. Mary was, for me, easy to talk to and good at listening. And I loved walking with her. The sting of my mother's death was still sharp and there was not only compassion from her, but that innate mom-ness that I craved. My own mother's illness had been both long (almost all of my life) and all encompassing. I was drawn to her and I craved being with her almost as much as I longed to be near Joshua.
At the end of that day, we stopped to camp for the night. Mary took me with her and I helped her make dinner, my father joining us and it felt like family. My first real sense of that. My life had so revolved around illness that the art of the family meal, sitting and talking about the day, laughing, telling stories--all that was somewhat new. The fire went from roaring to dwindling, and still there were tales being told. It was one of the happiest nights of my young life.
Our parents engrossed in conversation, Joshua grabbed my hand and we moved away from the crowds. The black night was framed by the brightness of the stars and we wasted no time looking at their patterns in the sky. He smelled like sweat and boy. It was the first time I had been so close to him, to a boy and he pointed out the constellations, discussing how they had been a guide for so many travelers. My eyes flickering back and forth between his arm and his face and those distant points of light. As quietly as we had left, we rejoined the group, our absence unnoticed by all but Mary. She smiled at us, but there was distress in her face.
I tried to sleep, but found myself awake, under the stars, wondering where they would lead.