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Chapter 10 - For All Time

Isabella sat on the tan leather couch with her feet slightly hanging off the edge, talking to her mom on the phone. The large window behind her revealed a sky covered in dark clouds, looking as if it were going to rain any minute. In front of her was a brown coffee table with a marble top, holding a fancy bowl of fruit in the center and two of her favorite books on each side; Moonwalk and Dancing the Dream, both written by Michael Jackson.

“We all have such busy lives now, mom. Gracie is seventeen years old, and Spencer is fourteen. Can you believe that?”

“My how time has flown by” Her mother replied.

“I know, and they always have something going on; whether it’s school, friends or extracurricular activities.”

“How is Nathan doing?”

“He’s doing great. His orthopedic practice has grown so much that he’s never home either. He’s extremely successful, but with that comes a price. He works way too much. Or maybe it just seems that way because I’m in between film projects.” She said laughing slightly. “Still, I long for the days when we got to spend more time with each other.”

Door closes

“Mom?”Gracie called out.

“Gotta run, mom. Gracie’s here. I’ll call you later...In here.” She yelled back.

Gracie poked her head around the corner into the den. “Oh, there you are.” She said smiling.

Hi honey. How was dance practice?”

Gracie let out a big sigh and sat down in a chair across from her mom. The sun shined brightly through a break in the clouds highlighting her gorgeous brown curls for a moment.

“Horrible.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m just not getting it! I’m not picking it up as fast as I hoped I would. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I want to win the competition but at this rate it’s not going to happen.”

Michael’s Magic Box began to shimmer. It was sitting on top of a mahogany octagon shaped table, glistening brightly. Isabella looked over at it, then back at Gracie. “Maybe Michael has something to say about it. Let’s see.”

She picked up the box and gave it to Gracie to open. Gracie gently lifted the lid with a slight grin in anticipation of what she was going to hear.

Thinking is the biggest mistake a dancer could make. You have to feel. You become the bass. You become the fanfare. You become the clarinet, and the flute and the strings and the drums.

Gracie closed the lid and looked at her mom waiting for her to say something about the message. Isabella followed it up by saying: “So is that what you’re doing? Are you over thinking it?”

Gracie looked up like she was visualizing herself dancing and laughed. “Yeah, I guess it is. I’ve been counting the beat trying to make sure I stay on track.”

“That’s your problem.” Isabella affirmed. “You can’t think. You have to feel. You know what you should do? Pull out some of my Michael Jackson DVDs and watch him dance. He always said study the greats and become greater, and he is one of the greatest!”

Gracie raised her eyebrows, considering her suggestion. “That’s not a bad idea. I’ll do that. Thanks mom!”

“Don’t thank me” Isabella giggled. “Thank Michael’s Magic Box.”

Gracie looked down at the box still in her hands and said “Did you ever think this little box was going to have this much of an impact on your life when Grandma Allen gave it to you?”

“I never really thought about it. I was only 7 years old when she gave it to me.”

“If you had to pick one message you’ve received over the years that you feel is the most significant, what would it be?”

“Hmm…” Isabella pursed her lips as she began thinking about it. Before she could answer, Michael’s Magic Box began to shimmer again. They both laughed and Gracie opened the box.

Wherever you go, in every country, on every continent, people yearn and hunger for only one thing, to love and be loved.

“Yes, that's definitely the most significant message I’ve received.”

“Why do you suppose that one is the most significant?”

“Because I think that message reveals the very purpose of life: to love and be loved. Yet, that seems to be what humanity has the most problems with.”

“Maybe that’s why it’s the purpose of life.” Gracie laughed.

“Probably so.”

“Thanks for the chat mom.” Gracie gently placing Michael’s Magic Box on the table, leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I’m gonna take a shower. I’m going out with some friends tonight, okay?”

“Okay honey.”

Isabella got off of the couch and moved over into the chair Gracie had been sitting in so she could look out the window. She began contemplating the conversation they just had. Tapping her finger to her mouth she said out loud, “Why is it that people have such a hard time with that?”

She was about to find out.

Nathan arrived at his office at 4:00 in the morning so he could finish doing some research on the latest advances in his specialty. He was reading various trade journals and reviewing information he brought back from a conference he had just attended. “I need to get this information organized and into the computer” he said, shuffling papers around. When his office assistant arrived he called her into his office.

“Cindy, can you come in here for a minute please?”

“Sure Dr. Slater. Be right in.” Cindy opened the door to his office and saw the big mess he had created. “Wow” she exclaimed, holding her mouth open in disbelief. Her hair was cut in a shoulder length bob, red in color. She was a slim lady, probably in her late 20’s, dressed in a blue v-neck shirt with a black jacket covering it and black slacks.

Nathan said letting out a big sigh. “Yeah, that’s why I called you in. Can you help me get things organized and into the computer?”

“Of course.”

“I will even buy you lunch” he offered.

“Okay, I’ll take you up on that.”

“Here’s lunch” Nathan said holding up the bags as he walked through his office door.

“Great, I’ve been at this for hours. I’m ready for lunch. What did you bring us?”

“Mexican food” he said with a smile.

“Umm, love it.”

She put aside the papers and got the food out of the bags while Nathan cleared a place off of the table in his office for them to eat. They spent the next few minutes talking, laughing and devouring their meal.

Isabella walked by Cindy’s desk and saw that she wasn’t sitting there, so she proceeded to go straight into Nathan’s office unannounced. Carrying two bags of food, she put one bag under her arm while she grabbed the door handle. She intended on surprising her husband, but she was the one who got the surprise. The door closed behind her softly enough that Nathan and his assistant didn’t hear her come in. When she entered she was shocked by what she saw. Cindy was facing Nathan, sitting directly across from him, looking at him in a way that made Isabella uncomfortable. Her hand was resting on top of his. Nathan wasn’t dressed in his usual white doctor’s coat. He had on a black pullover shirt and his dark brown hair was brushed back, calling attention to his deep blue eyes. She couldn’t make out what Cindy was saying to him, but it didn’t matter, she was touching him!

Isabella quickly exited so they didn’t see her. A wave of pain shot through her body. She briefly doubled over in response, then ran out of the hospital, throwing the bags of food in the garbage forcefully on her way out; but she should have stayed longer because she didn’t get to see what happened next.

"I really appreciate everything you do for me Dr. Slater. You’re a great boss. Thank you.”

Nathan automatically pulled his hand away from Cindy's, uncomfortable at her gesture.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Slater. That was inappropriate.”

Looking annoyed, he said: “You should go back to your desk now.” When she left, he sat back down and rubbed his face into his hands, flustered at what had just happened.

Nathan walked in through the garage door after a long day’s work. “Hi Hun” he said giving Isabella a kiss.

“Hi” she replied coldly.

Noticing her aloofness he said, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Where’s Spencer and Gracie?”

“Spencer’s at a basketball game and Gracie just went out.” Isabella wouldn’t even look him in the eye.

“What’s for dinner?” He said rubbing his hands together playfully.

“I’m not very hungry. Just get something for yourself.”

“Okay. How come you’re not hungry?”

“I’m just not” she snapped.

“Alright” he said holding his hands up in defense. “I’ll get something myself.”

Isabella grabbed one of the books at random from her bookshelf in the den and opened it. She tried to read but she couldn’t stop thinking about what she saw earlier and how it hurt her. “I remember that feeling so well” she thought to herself. “It’s the same one I felt when I was a teenager, the day I saw Tyler and Paige dancing slowly together.” She slammed the book shut and whispered to herself, “Ugh, I just read that entire page and couldn’t repeat one word I read. I might as well put it away.”

Hours later, she informed Nathan she was going to bed. She stood at the bottom of the stairs, looking into the TV room at him.

“Already? It’s only 8:30.” He said surprised.

“I know, but I’m tired.”

“Are you sure you’re ok? Are you mad at me for something?”

“No, I’ll be fine.” She turned away from him and walked upstairs. Nathan just shrugged his shoulders.

Isabella heard music coming from Gracie’s room as she approached the landing, so she knocked on the door.

“Come in.” Gracie called out.

She walked in to find Gracie sitting close to the TV watching Michael Jackson’s concert Live in Bucharest, studying his dance moves intently.

“Oh so you took my advice I see?”

“Yeah, I’ve been watching everything I can get my hands on to study him. The way he moves...it's so powerful. I can feel the energy oozing from him through the TV. Once the music starts playing he gets lost in the beat."

“Yes, I know” Isabella said grinning. “Believe me, I know.” She laughed.

“I can’t get enough of watching him. I’m learning so much.”

“That’s good. Don’t stay up too late though. I’m going to bed. Goodnight honey.”

“Goodnight mom” She answered, not taking her eyes off the TV.

“Goodnight bud” Isabella said popping her head into Spencer’s room.

“Night mom.”

Isabella and Nathan’s relationship got worse as the weeks went by. They spent a lot more time apart from each other. You could feel the tension between them. They bickered about everything and it was affecting the kids too. They were becoming more reclusive, keeping to themselves to avoid hearing their parents fight. Then one morning things took a turn for the worse.

“Who’s taking me to practice?” Spencer asked to no one in-particular as he walked down the stairs with his baseball gear in hand. “I’ll be in the car.”

Gracie was already gone doing her own thing, Isabella was cleaning, and Nathan was catching up on some paperwork he had brought home from the office.

“Would you mind Isabella?”

“Yes, I would.” She answered abruptly. “I’m cleaning the kitchen. Can’t you take him?”

“I’m busy doing paperwork Isabella. Can’t you just take a break for a few minutes? It’s only 10 minutes away.” Nathan said frustrated.

“Well if it’s only 10 minutes why can’t you do it?” She chided back.

“Fine!” He shrieked, throwing his pencil down on his desk. “I’ll do it.”

Upon his return he inadvertently let the garage door slam.

“Why did you slam the door?” She said with an attitude.

“I didn’t mean to. I swear Isabella I can’t do anything right anymore. I’m tired of this!”

“You’re tired of it? Fine, then leave” she shouted at him.

“What?” He tilted his head in disbelief at what she had just said.

“Nathan, we need a break from each other. I think you should leave for a while.” She said softening her approach.

He just stood there in shock staring at her for the longest time. “Fine…I’ll leave.”

With a suitcase in hand, Nathan walked down the stairs, turned the corner to exit through the garage and left. Isabella watched him through the front room window as his tires squealed around the bend. Her heart was heavy and a tear fell down her cheek, so she began doing what she always does when she’s upset. She cleaned the house.

The hot clothes fell from the dryer into the laundry hamper. She walked upstairs slowly with the basket in hand. After folding each one carefully she placed them in the linen closet, then went down into the den and started organizing the books on her bookshelf. Michael’s Magic Box was still sitting on the octagon table next to it. She hadn’t received a message in weeks. It was really bothering her.

Later that evening, Gracie and Spencer arrived home at the same time. “Where’s dad?” Gracie asked innocently.”

Isabella was nervous about having to tell them. “He left.” She said apprehensively.

“What do you mean left?

“We need some time away from each other. He moved out for a while.”

“What has happened to this family?” Spencer yelled angrily. They both rolled their eyes and went upstairs to their bedrooms.

Isabella just sat down on the couch and started crying.

After Gracie and Spencer finished their breakfast, they headed out the door to school. Isabella grabbed her favorite book off of the table in the den, Dancing the Dream. She thumbed through a few pages scanning poems and pictures until she found one that grabbed her attention. It was called “Love.”

Love is a funny thing to describe. It's so easy to feel and yet so slippery to talk about. It's like a bar of soap in the bathtub -- you have it in your hand until you hold on too tight. Some people spend their lives looking for love outside themselves. They think they have to grasp it in order to have it. But loves slips away like that wet bar of soap.

Holding on to love is not wrong, but you need to learn to hold it lightly, caressingly. Let it fly when it wants. When it's allowed to be free, love is what makes life alive, joyful, and new. It's the juice and energy that motivates my music, my dancing, everything.

As long as love is in my heart, it's everywhere.

It was that last line that got to her the most, particularly the word heart. Her mind drifted back to the day Grandma Allen gave her Michael’s Magic Box. She remembered her exact words:

Every person on earth begins life with a heart filled with love, but sometimes things happen that cause you to close your heart. Then you can’t feel the love anymore. If that happens, it makes life very hard. When your heart is closed, you can’t love and accept yourself or others. It makes you see people through the eyes of judgment, and that is very painful, for you and for them.

In that moment, she realized what she had done. She had closed her heart off to Nathan. She didn’t even give him a chance to explain what happened that day she saw him in his office. It brought up old wounds, feelings of inadequacy she obviously hadn’t dealt with; and the worst part, she took it out on him.

She walked over to the octagon table and grabbed Michael’s Magic Box from it. She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a soft cloth, then began wiping away the dust that had gathered on it. She gently wiped the top of the box in a circular motion, revealing the gold underneath. Suddenly, she understood the symbolism of the dust on Michael’s Magic Box. It represented her closed heart. That’s why she hadn’t received any messages in weeks.

The second she finished wiping all the dust off, the box began to shimmer, signifying a heart that was beginning to open again. Isabella lifted the lid to hear the message, feeling so much better already. This is what she heard:

And baby through the years, even when we’re old and gray, I will love you more each day, ‘cuz you will always be the lady in my life. Stay with me. I want you to stay with me. I need you by my side.

When she closed the box, the tears started to flow. She couldn't believe after all she had learned about love throughout the years, she still closed her heart off to Nathan. Michael’s message rang true. She realized that Nathan had indeed loved her more each day. “I always want to be the lady in his life” she whispered to herself, “even when we’re old and gray.”

Gracie and Spencer arrived home from school around 3:00 in the afternoon. Isabella asked them to sit at the kitchen table for a minute so she could talk to them. They both sat down eyeing each other feeling a little nervous about what she was going to say.

“I owe you both an explanation of what’s been going on between me and your dad” she said sitting down at the head of the table.

“Okay.” Gracie replied.

“Remember a few months ago when we were talking about Michael’s Magic Box and you asked me what the most significant message was that I had received?”

“Yeah, it was to love and be loved right?”

“That’s right. And remember how I said that so many people have problems with that?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve come to understand why that is and unfortunately I had to learn it the hard way.” Isabella shifted herself in the chair. She went on to tell them what had happened the day she went into Nathan’s office. “When I saw that I immediately closed off my heart.”

“Why?” Spencer asked, adjusting the blue baseball cap that covered his short brown hair.

“Sometimes things like that can bring up feelings of inadequacy buried deep within. I remember when I was a teenager, I caught my best friend and my boyfriend together and it really hurt. When I saw Cindy with her hand on his, it brought back all those feelings.”

Isabella took a drink from the red cup sitting in front of her and continued. “I remember now that when those kind of feelings come up, it means you’re thinking of yourself as unlovable, which I know isn't true. Michael taught me years ago that love is the answer to all that I am.I just temporarily forgot that.”

"Wow. That's a great lesson." Gracie stated appreciating her candor.

“Exactly!” Isabella confirmed. “It was a lesson. This whole experience has made me realize that people close their hearts off when they have a fear of not being loved back. You think closing your heart off to someone is going to protect you from getting hurt, but it doesn’t, because they aren’t the ones causing your pain, you are.” she said pointing to herself.

Gracie and Spencer sat there listening, hanging on to her every word. “When you close your heart off, it creates a distorted perception that the other person caused your pain and that can make you angry, resentful and judgmental.

Suddenly Michael’s Magic Box began to shimmer. Isabella opened the lid.

Before you judge me, try hard to love me

Isabella closed the lid and shook her head. “Michael knows a lot about this because he experienced it first hand. I remember my grandma telling me about how he was shamed and ridiculed and condemned by a lot of people. When I began studying his life, I discovered how right she was. I was stunned to learn that he was the subject of entire television programs where the intent was to invite audience members and viewers to judge him; laughing, ridiculing and dismissing him as someone not worth loving. Yet, all he ever wanted was to love and be loved.

My grandma always talked about his favorite loves – children and fans. They were so special to him and now I see why; because they loved him back. He didn’t get loved back by many of the adults in his life, but children and his fans always showed him love.”

Isabella set Michael’s Magic Box down and continued. “I really believe that Michael’s light, his capacity to love, his greatness and ability to achieve extraordinary success, brought out feelings of inadequacy in some of those adults and rather than own those feelings, they blamed him for their pain and as a result became angry, resentful and judgmental of him.

She picked up Michael’s Magic Box in her hands and continued. “Michael was the target of lies, character attacks, public scrutiny and so much more, yet he still maintained his amazing capacity to love. I’ve always wondered how he did it, but now I think I know. He didn’t let the fear of not being loved back cause him to close off his own heart. There’s a line in one of his poems that explains it perfectly.”

As long as love is in my heart, it’s everywhere.

“If you can understand that” she said holding her fingers up into a point,’ “it will set you free.”

Nathan couldn’t concentrate at his office. He was reviewing a patient’s chart, but his mind was not on the patient. It was on Isabella.

“Dr. Slater. Dr. Slater?” Cindy said getting louder this time. Nathan was jolted out of his fog when he heard his name the second time.

“Oh, sorry.”

“Are you okay?”

“Oh…it’s nothing. Thanks Cindy. I’ll be fine.”

“Sounds like you could use a friend. Let’s go get some dinner. I’m off right now.”

“No I can't. My daughter is dancing in a competition tonight at 7pm.”

“It’s only 5:00 right now. We’ll have time to get something quick.”

After a slight pause, Nathan said “Alright.”

The restaurant was decorated in red and white checkered table cloths. The smell of pizza filled the entire room. The sun was starting to set through the window.

“So tell me what’s going on?”

“My wife kicked me out.” He confided.

“Oh that’s too bad” Cindy said insincerely. She picked up his hand in hers and started caressing it. “I’m here for you.”

Nathan felt a twinge in his heart. He pulled his hand away from Cindy’s, quickly realizing that this woman may have ulterior motives. “Cindy, I love my wife. Thanks for your support, but I’ve gotta go.” He abruptly got up from his seat and left the restaurant.

The seats in the gymnasium were filled with families waiting to see their children compete in the dance competition. A loud murmur ensued across the room as people talked amongst themselves. A banner was draped across the doorway that said “Spring County 3rdAnnual Dance Competition.” Girls were rehearsing all over in the halls, frantically trying to get that last bit of practice in before having to face the judges. After several other performances, finally it was Gracie’s turn. Isabella and Spencer sat on one side of the bleachers cheering her on. Nathan was on the other side directly across from them.

The music began to play. The sound of breaking glass startled people as Gracie pumped her arm into a strong pose at its command. Isabella got excited when she realized Gracie had chosen Michael Jackson’s song Jam to dance to. 1.2.3.4. JAM!! She quickly went into a spin and she was off!

Gracie danced her heart out, letting the music dictate her every move. When she was finished the crowd cheered loudly. Nathan, Isabella and Spencer were all whistling and clapping ferociously. Gracie was grinning from ear to ear. She knew she nailed it!

They all sat anxiously awaiting the results from the judges. Gracie was standing on the floor with the other girls, her family in the bleachers.The sound of a microphone being tested filled the room. Nathan and Isabella’s eyes locked briefly as they waited for the results. Then the judges spoke.

“3rd place for the individual dance competition goes to….”Payton Smith.” The crowd cheered for a few minutes. “2nd place goes to….Avery Martin.”

“Okay, here we go” Isabella said patting Spencer’s arm in excitement. “And the first place trophy goes to……”Gracie Slaterrrrr!” They all immediately stood up and cheered, clapping wildly, feeling proud of her accomplishment. She walked over to the judges table and collected her trophy, holding it up high as if she were showing it to someone in heaven. Isabella smiled at her gesture realizing that Gracie was acknowledging Michael for helping her learn how to feel the music.

The crowd made their way out of the auditorium, slowly moving inch by inch through the door. Spencer spotted Gracie across the room. “There she is” he motioned to his mom. “Over there talking to dad!” They continued to push their way through the crowd trying to get to Gracie. By the time they reached her, Nathan had left. Isabella ran over and gave her a big hug. “That was awesome Gracie. I’m so proud of you!”

“Thanks mom.” she said grinning from ear to ear.

“Pretty cool, sis.” Spencer said with a nod of his head.

“Thanks bro.”

“Where’s your dad?”

“He said he had to go.” Gracie shrugged her shoulders in response.

Isabella was disappointed.

The next morning she heard a knock on the door. “Who is that this early?” Isabella said looking at her watch. She slowly opened the door to find Nathan standing on the porch, holding a bouquet of roses; the sunlight gently caressing his neck from behind.

No words were spoken between them. They just stared into each other’s eyes. After a moment, Nathan handed Isabella the roses. She embraced them in her arms taking in their flowery scent as she held them up to her nose.

“Michael’s Magic Box is shimmering” Nathan said pointing to it on the table as he looked in through the door. “I’ve missed that thing.” Isabella smiled and grabbed him by the hand, gently pulling him inside. She put the roses down and picked up the box to let its message play:

Sun comes up on this new morning. Shifting shadows, a songbird sings
And if these words could keep you happy, I'd do anything

And if you feel alone, I'll be your shoulder
With a tender touch, you know so well
Somebody once said, it's the soul that matters
Baby who can really tell, when two hearts belong so well

Maybe the walls will tumble, and the sun may refuse to shine

But when I say I love you, baby you gotta know that’s for all time

“There’s Michael working his magic.” He smiled, silently flirting with her while taking Michael's Magic Box out of her hands. She looked at him with apologetic eyes. "Still love me?"

He grabbed both of her hands in his and said, "For all time baby...for all time."

© Linda Higgins, 2013, All Rights Reserved

 

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