She knocked and rang the bell repeatedly, to no avail.
"Spence, please open the door."
Nothing. Not even the sound of movement. What if I was wrong? What if I've left him alone too long? What if he's….
More urgently now. "Spence!" Then, "Spence, did you forget? I still have a key."
She started to work through her keychain to find the right one. As she did, the door opened. But she still couldn't see him. He was standing behind it.
JJ walked in and turned to close the door behind her. There he was, standing against the wall. He seemed to be looking at her. But then she realized he was looking right through her. As though he couldn't focus his eyes. As though they were still focused on something else.
Someone else, she knew. And in that horrible place.
The sling was gone, and he seemed to be able to move his arm. She could tell he probably hadn't shaved since that awful day. But he'd showered and changed at least once. His hair looked like it hadn't been combed since she'd last seen him. His face was gaunt.
"Spence." Her voice came out soft, deep, laden with the sorrow she felt for him. The sight of him nearly brought her to tears.
"Spence." He still hadn't brought his eyes all the way to hers. "Spence. I'm here, it's JJ. Please look at me."
He never could refuse her anything. Reid moved his eyes in her direction, but they were still unseeing.
Worried, JJ took his arm and brought him over to the sofa, both of them stepping over obstacles on the way. She'd been so focused on Reid that she hadn't noticed the state of the apartment. But it was impossible not to notice it now. There were books… so many books, strewn everywhere. On the tables, on the desk, still spilling from the bookshelves, all over the floor. Many of them were open, and there were markers in some. She began to realize that this hadn't happened in a fit of anger or grief. Reid had been searching them, looking for something. Or someone.
She sat him down, and set herself beside him.
"Spence, please look at me. Tell me that you see me."
He brought lifeless brown eyes to hers. "I see you, JJ."
A connection. Thank you, God.
"Spence, I'm worried about you. You stopped answering my calls. You haven't answered anyone else's calls. We're all worried about you."
With virtually no inflection to his voice, he answered her. "You don't need to worry about me, JJ. No one needs to worry about me. See, I'm here."
And he raised a hand to show her that he was still flesh, and blood.
She held her tongue, studying him. "Have you been eating?" Already sure that he hadn't.
"Have you slept at all?" She couldn't tell whether his face was drawn by fatigue or grief.
He hadn't responded to either question, and she didn't push him. Looking around again, she asked about the books.
"Spence, what happened here? What happened with your books?"
This question penetrated. She could see immediately that this was a topic he was willing to address.
"I was looking for the answer. But I couldn't find it."
"Looking for the answer. The answer to what?"
"To where she went. She was there one second, and the next, she was gone. But she couldn't just be gone, could she? She had a life force, she had so many thoughts in her head, so many things she wanted to accomplish, she had a future, she had a soul. Where did it go? It was an energy. It can't just cease to exist. Can it?"
The way he'd said those final two words broke JJ's heart. She knew the words he wanted to hear. But she didn't know if she could say them. She'd asked a child's version of the same questions many years ago, when her sister died. And she hadn't found the answers yet.
Instead, she asked another question. "And you were looking for the answers in your books?"
"These are learned people, JJ. Great authors, philosophers, even theologians. They've thought about this. They've written about it. But I can't find the answers. All they seem to do is ask more questions." He got a curious look on his face. "It's funny, I never noticed that before. That they don't have the answers. I guess it just didn't matter as much before."
His face carried a look of disappointment in the great minds he'd come to trust so much. They'd failed him when he needed them most.
"I don't have the answers, either, Spence. But I can tell you that there have been many times when I've felt my sister with me, long after she died. It still happens. It's a real feeling, a real sense of her, so much so that sometimes I think she really visits me. So I guess I've always thought that there is something else, something that comes after…after we die. That we don't just cease to exist. And that we still get to connect with the people we love."
He seemed to be listening intently, and JJ prayed he would find some comfort in her words. Reid yearned for her to be right. He yearned to believe that Maeve could still be present to him, even if he remained in the world, as JJ had so fervently begged of him.
For days he'd fought an internal battle. At first, he'd thought that his brain was simply refusing to process the fact that Maeve was gone from his world. Then he realized that his brain had actually done all it could do to drive that fact home. After all, it had presented him with visual images of her lying dead, it had processed the words of sympathy from his colleagues. Tellingly, it was no longer processing any verbal input from her. His brain knew that Maeve was dead.
And yet, he had such a strong sense that it couldn't possibly be. That, like he'd said to JJ, her spirit, her life force, couldn't have been so inconsequential as to have been stopped by a bullet. Intellectually, he analyzed that he was simply having an emotional reaction to the situation. But it was an emotional reaction based on a very real, very vivid, life..or death…. experience. He explained it to JJ.
"When I had that experience in the shack, when I nearly died, I saw a light, and I felt a Presence. I wasn't afraid at all. But then I came back, and it was all gone. So the truth is, I didn't die. I can't know if that's what it's like to actually die."
He'd been staring in the direction of the window, even though the curtains were drawn. Now he turned to JJ.
"But I hope it's like that for her. I hope she's in the light. I hope she feels the Presence."
He shook his head. "I don't know. I never much believed in God before that time in the shack. And I've struggled with the idea ever since. But, maybe… I hope so, I guess."
He was silent for a long time after that. JJ sat with him in his silence, not knowing how to help him.
Then, she realized there was something she could do. It wouldn't ease his existential anguish, but it was the only way she knew how to help right now. And he badly needed it.
She rose and stood in front of him. Taking his hands, she pulled him up and turned him around.
"Go. Shower and change. Don't come out until you have. And then join me in the kitchen."
He was about to protest, but he didn't have the strength. It was easier to obey.
In the kitchen, JJ found stale coffee in the carafe, nothing but a single mug in the sink. There was no sign that he'd eaten at all in the past week. Surveying her options in the refrigerator, she determined what she could put together for a meal.
While she waited for him, she went back to the living room and opened the curtains, letting light into the room. She sat back on the sofa, and picked up the book on the coffee table. The Narrative of John Smith. Opening it, she saw the inscription from Maeve, and nearly came to tears. Without paying attention to what she was doing, she flipped through the book, her eyes coming to rest on the final page. Now a tear did fall, creating a transparency on the page. She quickly tried to blot it up.
JJ put the book down and stared out the window without really seeing. Her mind was on Spence.
It's the most normal I've ever seen him. Tragedy, the great equalizer. No recitation of obscure facts, no fascination with irrelevant minutiae, no incessant rambling about anything. None of that. Just silence, and staring, those faraway eyes. Just abject grief.
I don't know what to do for him. I wish I could hurt for him. Take just a little bit of the pain away. Maybe there would be just the slightest spark in his eyes again. Maybe something he could rekindle himself with. But I can't. And he wouldn't let me anyway. He's holding on to his pain, holding it close, feeding on it. Not realizing that, really, it is consuming him.
She was exhausted herself. Between caring for Henry alone, and work, and worrying about Spence, she'd gotten too little rest. She put her head back on the cushion and closed her eyes, intending to catch a short nap. Instead, she found herself praying. For him, for Maeve, for herself, for guidance. She prayed she would be able to be to him what he needed her to be.
He didn't come out for forty-five minutes. He was taking so long that JJ almost went in after him. But, finally, he emerged, clean, dressed in jeans and a T shirt, still unshaven. His hair was wild after the shower.
"Go back and comb your hair, you'll never get it untangled." JJ felt like she was talking to Henry. Mothering Reid, the essentially motherless child.
She got busy in the kitchen, and nodded her approval when he came back. Pushing him into a chair, she laid a plate of scrambled eggs and toast in front of him.
"JJ, I don't think I can….."
"You can, Spence. Try, anyway. Take a few bites. Eat as much as you can." This really was like taking care of Henry.
He managed most of the plate, not realizing that she'd snuck more eggs onto it when he'd refilled his coffee cup.
She'd been sorely tempted to pick up the apartment while he was in the shower, but knew enough to wait for his permission. Now, having fed him, she asked for it.
"Can I help you put the books away?" She waved her hand at the many tomes lying everywhere.
He followed her hand, and looked around. It was as though he was noticing the mess for the first time.
"You don't have to…"
"I'll take that as permission." With that she bent, picked up a few books and headed toward the shelves.
"Wait, don't do it that way."
She turned to him.
"They were in order. By author." He looked almost embarrassed at having said it.
JJ put the books down on a table and started sorting. "Okay, we'll organize them first."
When Reid got up to help her, JJ turned away from him and smiled. The Spence she knew was still in there. She could help him come back. All she needed was time, and patience, and grace.
An hour later, they were nearly done. They would have finished sooner, but he started reading passages to her every so often. Quotes that he and Maeve had shared with one another. He'd explained how they'd been in the habit of sending each other the thoughts of famous authors and philosophers in their correspondence. JJ remembered seeing some of them in the letters the team analyzed when Maeve was kidnapped.
Reid picked up a book with a marker in it. "Hmphh. I thought I could find the answer here. I mean, Thomas Aquinas is a famous theologian, right? But all he says is this: "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible."
He looked at her, his frustration evident in his face. "What does that mean? Does it mean I'm without faith? Will I always be? Does it even matter?"
Without waiting for her to respond, he picked up another book, this one also with a marker. "Here's another one. Pascal. "In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadow to blind those who don't."
He shook his head. "Is it a choice, JJ? Is it as easy as that? Do I just make a choice?"
His voice was starting to get a frantic tone to it. She realized how desperate he was to understand.
"Spence, you're asking me questions that I can't answer. I don't even understand the questions. I just know that someone I hold very dear has lost someone he held very dear, and I want to be with him. Can that be enough for today?"
As she spoke, she gently took the book from his hand and put it on the shelf. Then she led him back to the sofa. After he was seated, she settled herself on the far side of it, facing him.
"Tell me about her."
"Tell me about Maeve. What was she like? I know so little, but it seems like she made you so happy. Tell me about her, Spence. I want to know."
He looked at her, suddenly shy. She was asking him to tell her about the woman he loved, and why he loved her. In asking about Maeve, she was asking him to share himself with her.
She smiled at him, encouraging him. "Tell me about the first time you spoke with her."
That, he could do. And so he started. And, having started, he couldn't bring himself to stop. Talking about her was bringing her to life again, if only for the moment. Reliving their conversations helped Maeve emerge out of the past and brought her into the present.
JJ listened, and watched. Their love story was beautiful, if unique. And the expressions on Reid's face….the surprise at the beginning, the concern in the middle, the joy at being loved, the frustration at not being able to tell her….spoke eloquently of the depth of his feeling. Here was the passionate love everyone wanted to experience in their lives. Here was the passionate love she wanted.
As he wound down the story, his thoughts inevitably advanced to that moment he'd lost her, lost his future, lost hope. And he began to weep.
JJ rose and went to him, wishing she could hold him as she held Henry when her little one needed comforting. But, instead, she became like Brownie was to Henry-the little stuffed dog her son had gotten from Spence for his first Christmas. She became the one held, the faithful one who offered unconditional love and comfort in times of distress. For a long time they sat together, sometimes quiet, sometimes weeping, both battered by the losses in their lives.
Holding JJ freed him to feel. To leave the intellectualizing behind, and experience the emotion of loss. And there was so much loss. Loss off the joy of loving, and being loved. Loss of a future he'd only recently begun to imagine, and long for. Loss of hope. He'd shrunk from his emotions in the days before this, overwhelmed by the immensity of them, fearing them. Now, holding JJ provided a mooring, something that kept him in place even as he was tossed by waves of sorrow. She could feel him tighten his embrace every so often, and felt him lower his face into her hair, and knew that some memory was overtaking him. Each time, she tightened her embrace in return, and prayed he could feel some of the love, and support, and strength she was so ardently trying to send to him.
A long while later, JJ nodded toward the book on the coffee table. It was the only one that hadn't been put away.
"I hope you don't mind, Spence. I didn't realize it was special when I picked it up. But I looked through the book before, while you were in the shower. What beautiful quotes she gave you. That one at the beginning…that's what she was talking about when…" JJ flushed. How stupid are you, exactly, bringing that up?
He'd felt her tense and realized she was upset with herself. "It's all right, JJ. It's not like I can forget it. And yes, you're right. Merton was a favorite of both of us."
Grateful for his understanding, she settled back into him. "I think I like the one at end just as much. It says so much about what you did for each other."
He shifted, taking his arm from around her. "What one at the end?"
"The quote she wrote at the end of the book."
He sat up quickly and grabbed for it. As he was flipping to the end, he explained. "I'd already read the book, I never thought to look through the whole thing."
And then he found it. Inscribed just after the last printed page. A quote from Albert Schweitzer.
"Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light."
Below it, she'd written, "Thank you, dearest Spencer, for being my kindling. With all my love, Maeve"
He stared at the page for a long time before lifting his eyes to JJ. He could barely get the words out.
"Thank you. Thank you, JJ. I didn't know. I hadn't seen it." He stared off for a moment, and she could tell he was experiencing something.
He turned back to her and explained. "It feels like you've given her to me again. Thank you."
There. Just as he'd prayed for, he had his answer. He knew. He felt it. He felt her. Unmistakably. He felt Maeve, just …..there. Present in the words she'd written. Present in the serendipity of JJ finding them. A life doesn't just end. Love doesn't just end.
JJ saw it. Just a glimmer. A tiny spark of light, coming back into his eyes. A kindling. Something she could fan back into flame.
Thank you, Maeve.