“Love Eternal... One More Time," a novel of love, loss, and reincarnation - Excerpt
The Time: Fall, 1962
- Ronnie (Byron), a high school football hero
- Julie, his sweetheart and true love, just crowned Homecoming queen
- Spider and Penny, Ronnie and Julie’s “greaser” counterparts
- Henry, the narrator, Byron’s deceased grandfather, a former college English professor
- Clive, Henry’s deceased brother and Byron’s uncle, a dashing British soldier who died in the Great War
- Father Angelico, a deceased medieval priest now in charge of coordinating the passage of souls to the afterlife
The following is the scene that separates Ronnie and Julie, and sets in motion the quest for them to find each other again over the next three decades. The narrator is Ronnie’s grandfather, Henry, a deceased college professor observing now in the afterlife, along with his brother Clive and Father Angelico, a medieval monk.
With a flourish, Ronnie finished carving “Byron and Julie, ’62,” Into the old bridge over Rainbow Lake. The two lovebirds sealed the pact with a long kiss. Above, the full moon glowed like a pale, round lemon. Surprisingly moved to empathy by this youthful devotion, I prayed quietly that they would savor this moment against time, the subtle thief of youth.
Their roofless car was parked under the trees, radio playing. And here was that song again. “When you just give love,” crooned the lovelorn vocalist.
“Our night, our song,” sighed Julie. Byron bowed to her, romantic as any troubadour.
“My princess?” he inquired. She extended her regal hand. They danced slowly on the pitted asphalt. I must admit it was a romantic night. Rainbow Lake sparkled in the moonlight. The lights of our little town glowed on the bank. Father and Clive were, for once, silent. Maybe they were captivated by the spell of young love, like – I must admit – I was.
“My Knight. Tell me you’ll always be there for me,” whispered Julie.
“Princess Julie, I’ll always be there for you,” promised Byron dutifully.
“You really showed those losers tonight, Sir Ronnie,” Julie murmured.
Byron smiled at the memory. “We sure did. That spook won’t be scoring touchdowns for a long time.”
His attitude bothered me. You’d think my grandson would have some compassion.
They kissed again, deeply. I felt uncomfortably like a peeping Tom.
“Clive, what are we doing here? Father?”
I was answered by the roar of angry engines. Suddenly, we were surrounded by a flock of souped-up jalopies, each growling aggressively. Dazed by the intrusive headlights, Byron and Julie broke apart. That hood - I mean that boy, Spider - jumped out of one of the vehicles, followed by several friends and his Viking girlfriend. My goodness, I’d never seen so much leather.
Spider swaggered into the center of the headlights as Byron protectively pushed Julie behind him.
“Not so brave now, are we?” Spider sneered. “You rich kids think you can get away with anything, don’t you?”
“We won that game, fair and square,” retorted Julie. Byron pushed her behind him again.
“You cheated! We woulda won,” shouted the girl, Penny. Her hair was piled so high she reminded me of Marie Antoinette, if I could be allowed one historical allusion. However, the Queen of France probably didn’t chew gum. Or start catfights.
“If you’re so cool, come out and fight me, Queenie!” yelled the Valkyrie.
Julie looked down her pretty nose, then tossed her head with regal disdain. “I can’t touch you. You have cooties.”
The hairspray gang gasped at this insult, but Julie couldn’t let well enough alone. “Besides, I couldn’t take advantage of you.”
Penny looked puzzled as Julie delivered the coup de grace, “You have no brain. We all know a rat got in your hair and ate it.”
Well, no surprise, Penny was really furious. She darted up, snatched Julie’s crown and put it on her own bouffant head, strutting around in a mock Queen promenade. The greaser girls laughed hysterically. Now Julie was incensed.
“Give that back!” She tried to grab the crown but Penny pranced out of her reach. Julie stopped, then turned away disdainfully with a dismissive wave of a well-manicured hand.
“Oh, keep it. Not even the Orkin man could get the bugs off now.”
Penny whirled around, ready to take her on. I couldn’t say that I blamed her. But Spider held her back as Byron protected Julie.
Clive stepped next to Byron – it was about time – and whispered, warrior to warrior, “Let it go, Old Chap. Their pride is hurt. You won the game. Just walk away.”
Byron considered this otherworldly advice, and quickly disregarded it. “Still want to fight? OK, we’ll race you. First one to the old cemetery wins.”
I didn’t like the sound of this. “Clive, let me try.”
As usual, my all-knowing brother refused to listen to me. I looked at Father. But he was silent. My vibrational rate intensified, in spite of my recent class in meditation.
Spider clearly liked the idea of a race. But one of his friends, a gawky boy with a big nose, shook his head. “Only one car can get across this bridge at a time.”
“Right, and that car will be the winner, won’t it?” retorted Julie.
“You’re on, Mr. Homecoming King. J.D., do the honors,” snapped Spider.
Spider hopped into his jalopy. Now I saw it was decorated with a huge black widow spider. My apprehension grew. The very air seemed charged with a dangerous electricity. As if we were all being swept forward by an implacable destiny.
“I say, you don’t have to do this,” Clive counseled Byron. This time Byron seemed to be listening. At least he hesitated.
“Come on. We can’t let them get away with this," Julie whispered angrily.
Byron made his decision. He climbed into his convertible, and Julie piled in beside him.
“Julie, stay here,” he ordered. Now that’s a sensible suggestion. At last.
“No way. I’ll always be there for you, Ronnie. We promised.” Her morning glory eyes beseeching, long lashes fluttering – what male could resist that?
She wasn’t going anywhere and Byron knew it. She snuggled tightly into his body, as if afraid he would disappear unless she was glued to his side.
Seeing Julie beside Ronnie, Penny quickly jumped into the arachnid car beside Spider. The two vehicles lined up. Spider’s friend J.D. blew his oversized proboscis on a Kleenex, lifted the soiled tissue, and released it, letting it flutter to the ground. As it touched the pavement, they were off.
We, of course, were in the back seat. My first drag race. It was like a roller coaster, and I hated those things. I was not deferring to Clive anymore.
“Byron, I know you love this girl. But think rationally. This is dangerous. Think about the consequences.”
Julie slid even closer to Ronnie, distracting him so that he couldn’t possibly hear me. Damn, I mean darn, that girl. Why was she making this so difficult?
The two roadsters were engine to engine. Spider looked over at us, spite in his grin, and bumped us with that old jalopy. Sparks flew. Byron veered, but stayed on the road. Reflexively he bumped Spider back. Now it was Spider’s turn to struggle for control. I wanted to cover my eyes but I knew I’d see it all anyway.
They were coming up to that bridge now. I remembered this place. More than one car had run afoul at this site.
“Father, what’s going on?” I demanded.
Father perused that large book he always carried on missions. As usual, he didn’t answer me.
“Ronnie, be careful,” I admonished. Strangely, Clive was silent.
They – we - were almost on that bridge now. Ronnie stayed his course even though Julie clutched his arm with all her might, her scarlet fingernails like tiny gashes. We shot onto the bridge first.
Spider’s car didn’t have room to maneuver across the narrow causeway. He rammed into the bridge rail, sending splinters flying. Like a would-be Superman, his old jalopy sailed off the bridge into the water, sliding into the depths with a dull splash. Oh no, this was awful.
To his credit, Byron pulled over and stopped. He and Julie ran to the broken bridge railing. Only the taillights of the Spider-mobile were visible in the dark water below.
“Byron, go get him,” Clive ordered, sounding for all the world like a sergeant ordering his troops into battle.
Byron was ready to jump over the railing to the rescue. But that troublesome girl grabbed his arm, sapping him of moral strength. “No, Ronnie, you might get hurt.”
“But they could drown,” he protested.
“Let their friends help them.” Julie snapped, a little fear diluting her defiance, I was glad to hear.
Sure enough, lights appeared over the hill. The greasers - I mean Spider’s friends - were approaching. But still Ronnie hesitated. I knew he wanted to do the right thing.
“We could get in big trouble. Think of our future,” Julie warned. Then she played her trump card. “You said you’d always be there for me.”
This girl was like Delilah, sapping my Samson of his God-given moral fiber. Ronnie just looked at her frightened yet determined face, and he was lost; I knew it. He gave one more glance at the sunken car, one more up the hill to see the oncoming vehicles before he and Julie jumped back to the convertible and started their engine.
Just then, Penny popped up in the water, her huge hairdo melted into what might be a reasonable facsimile of a rat’s nest. Her make-up ran in black streaks all the way down her chin.
“Help!” She flailed noisily in the water with the desperation of the non-swimmer.
“Wait! Don’t leave them!” I pleaded. But Julie glanced back just once, before she turned away and the royal homecoming couple roared off.
As the gang’s motley fleet of jalopies arrived, boys shed leather jackets and dove into the lake. I watched in horrified fascination until Clive and Father pulled me back into Ronnie’s car. The greasers were not our assignment.
“Listen to me, Soldier. You can still go back, try to help them,” Clive spoke urgently into Byron’s ear.
But Julie spied lights behind them. “Ronnie, they’re following us. Hurry up!”
So of course, Ronnie sped up.
“All right, I demand to know what’s going on!” I glared at Father and Clive with what I hoped was an intimidating stare.
Father intoned, “There’s a contract in place that must be fulfilled. If not, then, plans change.”
“What contract? What plans?” I demanded. Astral goose bumps crawled all over my aura. Something was very wrong.
Julie craned backward to see their pursuers. “Ronnie, step on it!”
She extended her foot and stomped on the gas pedal herself. Byron lost control and veered across the highway. He tried to get back in his own lane, but a huge truck appeared at the top of the hill, its headlights enormous and blinding. Through the windshield I spied a beefy man’s face, eyes wide and mouth open in surprise. Two hazy wraiths on either side of him told me his spirit guides were on board.
“Look out! It’s coming right at us!” I couldn’t help myself; I covered my eyes.
When the crash came I felt nothing. Not even a tingling in my astral being. But suddenly we were in the woods. The roofless car was quite demolished. Hopefully it was insured. Ronnie and Julie had vanished.
But no, there was Ronnie, emerging from a glade in the darkness. And he could see us.
“Hello, Byron.” Wouldn’t you know Clive would get in the first word.
“Who are you guys?” Byron was suspicious, rightly so, to be wandering the woods at night and run into a World War I soldier in uniform, a bald old man in a robe, and a distinguished professor in a patched sweater. Then he recognized me.
“Grandpa? But… didn’t you die?”
“You’ve had a ruddy bad shock, Old Chap,” said Clive. “But you’ll be right as rain. I promise.”
“Wait a minute. Are you guys ghosts?” Ronnie was still trying to figure this out.
Then Julie stumbled into the clearing, hair disheveled despite its liberal coating of hairspray, shoeless, dress torn, dazed but otherwise looking unhurt. I was very relieved, in spite of my annoyance with her reckless behavior.
In the distance I heard sirens. Thank goodness. These kids might have a concussion or something. You never knew.
“Ronnie!” Julie cried.
She clung to him. They kissed. Again.
“Ronnie, we’ve got to get out of here, and get help.” She glanced into the dark woods fearfully. “There might be snakes out here!”
That was Clive’s cue.
“Listen to me,” he stepped toward Ronnie. “We missed each other this time round, but I’m your great uncle. I died in the Great War. I didn’t want to, but it happened. It’s not easy to understand at first – “
“Hold it right there, Weirdo. What are you talking about? I’m fine.” Ronnie had that stubborn look.
Then Julie screamed. She had seen something, someone, leaning against a tree. The two lovebirds ran over, holding hands for mutual support.
Oh no. Oh no. It was Ronnie’s body.
Julie’s horrified gasp turned into a muffled shriek. Ronnie quickly covered his fear with bluster.
“All right! Put me back in! Now!” he ordered. As if it were that easy. I was getting nervous again. I had thought this was one of those near death experiences, but with both of them here…
Julie shrieked again. She’d found her own body. Not a pretty sight. Blood on her face, limbs at odd, impossible angles.
“Ronnie! What’s happened to me?” She turned to us, furious. “Fix me. I can’t let anyone see me like this.”
“Now, steady on. You’re quite all right,” ordered Clive. “You’re still attached, see?”
He pointed out the silver cord that ran from Julie’s body to her agitated spirit. She reached out, and her hand passed right through it. Very reassuring, Clive.
Father Angelico cleared his throat. Finally, maybe we’ll get some answers here.
“Your plan just wasn’t working out, my child.” Amazingly, he sounded almost kindly. “The path you chose was leading you away from what you came here to do. Many people could have been harmed.”
“Wait a minute.” I didn’t like this one bit. “He’s just a boy. Give him a warning and I’m sure he’ll straighten out.”
“Yeah, Grandpa’s right. Just tell me what you want,” ordered Ronnie, covering his fear with belligerence.
Father shook his head. “You two came together for a reason, but you couldn’t overcome your old patterns. Instead of going forward, it’s best to start over.”
“No! No way. We’re not going to be separated. I promised her,” Ronnie protested.
“He promised me!” cried Julie. They clung to each other. Byron looked terrified but touchingly brave, as if he would defy all the forces of heaven and hell to protect his girl.
Sirens were getting closer, reverberating through the woods. Suddenly the blaring stopped. Two men clambered noisily down the hillside, lugging a stretcher. Julie stumbled over to them. “Thank God you finally got here! I’m over here!”
The two men spied Julie’s body and grimaced.
“Whew. Isn’t this the Homecoming Queen?”
“Yeah. She doesn’t look so pretty now, does she?” They chuckled at their black humor.
“Well, get me to the hospital and fix me!” Julie glowered. They carefully loaded her on the stretcher. Two more rescuers slid down to the site to cluster around Byron’s body, shaking their heads.
“I’m going to be all right, you’ll see,” Byron told them forcefully. “Take care of her first. Just hurry up.”
“Kids and cars,” sighed one as they struggled up the hill with their precious cargo.
“Father, I know what you’re trying to say, but let us work with them. We can turn this around. I’ve done this dozens of times with my students. Given time, these adolescent fixations run their course The folly of youth - ” I knew I was babbling but I had to do something. Ronnie was too young. They both were.
Father shook his head again, working those winged eyebrows for emphasis.
“You moderns are so permissive. But you’re not going to talk me out of this one. I remember that German. Don’t interfere, they said. People have free will. So what happens? Millions arrive here early and we’re still not caught up.”
“But Father, these are just two kids…”
Suddenly we were in the hospital emergency room. The doctors huddled over Julie and Ronnie.
“Pulse is stabilizing. She’s holding her own. But that leg. It might have to come off.”
“Don’t touch my leg!” Julie screamed. “How would I dance? I’d be a freak!!!!”
“You’re going to be all right, my dear,” Clive tried to reassured her. “Really. It won’t be the same, but you’ll be -”
His bedside manner wasn’t working tonight. Julie whirled on him.
“I want it the same! My life is perfect! This is the best night of my life!!!!” she raged.
Now she was sobbing onto Ronnie’s chest. He held her fiercely. “I promise. Princess, I’ll make it all right.”
“Young man, you are not a deity, despite your arrogant behavior.” Father was getting a bit hot under the collar. But this was not the time for a lecture.
Another team of masked medical types worked on Ronnie. But something was wrong. They stopped.
“Too bad. Such a good-looking kid,” sighed a graying, bespectacled man. Maybe he had children himself. Surely he would keep trying -
“With that head injury, it’s probably the best thing,” said another, younger physician, dismissively. Probably just an intern. What did he know?
Regretfully, they removed their masks. A nurse pulled the sheet up to cover that handsome, regal face.
“Wait! I’m not dead! Don’t give up on me!” Byron shouted desperately. But they paid no attention.
If ever anything happened that threatened my belief in a divine plan, this was it. Sensing my dismay, Clive put his arm around my shoulder, shocking me with this display of sensitivity.
“Courage, Old Boy. He’ll need us soon enough and we’ll both be there for him.”
“We?” When did Clive ever come through on a promise? This would fall in my bailiwick just like all the other detritus from his self-absorbed lives.
But the tragedy had only just begun. Through the hospital walls I could see the older doctor approaching Rose, Joe, and Shelley in the hospital waiting room. Rose slowly collapsed into racking, soundless sobs. My poor, poor little girl. Joe seemed angry, confused, disbelieving - and devastated. Shelley looked as if she had been slapped, both shocked and resentful at the same time. It was as if – all are punished. But why? Why?
The emergency room doors burst open and more stretchers rolled in. I recognized Spider and Penny. But they weren’t my responsibility right now. Ronnie was. Already I could see the tunnel, pulsing with color, its pull irresistible, opening up behind him.
“Ronnie! You promised you would never leave me!” Julie clutched at him, but he was slipping way. No one could resist the force of the tunnel.
“I won’t. I promise. I’ll find you!” Ronnie’s determined, frightened voice faded as he disappeared into the void. Not even his powerful will could break its inexorable hold.
My own heart was frozen as he was slowly sucked into the vortex. Despite their faults, this was the love we all wish we could find in our earthly lives. A passion I never experienced, but which we all envy.
“Clive, Father…” But there was nothing I could say. Or do.
Today died Adonis, whose fall and fame should be an echo and a light for all eternity. Dead, but young and fair as aught of mortal birth.
For now to sorrow must we tune our song, and set our font to notes of saddest woe.