The Open Way
The door burst open. I jumped to my feet, ready to run- then relaxed as I recognized the person who’d just dashed in. "Jacen? What is it?"
Jacen bent over, panting. I waited impatiently for him to regain his breath. After several moments, he straightened up, pushing his mop of red hair out of his face. "Dia- the Way- it’s open!"
"What-?" I stared at him, not quite comprehending. "What do you mean?"
"I mean the Way is open." Jacen looked at me expectantly. "Like you’ve been waiting for. The Waykeeper sent me to tell you."
"Oo-oh." I started towards the door into our back room. "I should tell Lexa."
"Tell me what?" Alexa, my older sister, appeared in the doorway. She offered Jacen a smile. "Hello, Jacen. How are you?"
"I’m fine." Jacen grinned eagerly back at her. "Alexa, the Way’s open!"
Alexa glowed, just as I knew she would. "The Way is open?" She swept towards me, her light blue robes swishing. "Dia, can you believe it? We can go home!"
"Home." The word came out less excited than I’d intended it. "Finally."
Alexa and Jacen’s joyous expressions faded. Alexa stopped halfway to me. "What’s wrong, Dia? Aren’t you exciting?"
"Y-" The word choked in my throat. I’d learned my lesson about lies, even small ones, all too well. "Not really."
"What?" Alexa made a disbelieving gesture. "We’ve been waiting two years-"
"Right. We’ve been here in Therae for two years." I stared at my hands in my lip, fiddling with the green sash tied around my waist. "And I know you’ve wanted to go home all that time But for me, this feels more like home than Earth ever did." I waved a hand at our surroundings: the wood-paneled walls hung with ivy, the comfortable wooden furniture, the large windows and skylight, the forest outside. "I’m not sure I want to go back."
Alexa drew back as if I’d slapped her. "Dia, don’t be like that. Don’t you miss home? Our friends? Mom and Dad?"
"I told you. Home is here." I shrugged. "And all my friends are here. I hardly had any to miss back on Earth."
"And Mom and Dad?" Alexa asked, her voice stern.
"I miss them." I wove the end of my sash through my fingers. "I’d like to see them. But we both know how the Way works. If I go, I can’t come back."
Jacen spoke up hesitantly, as if afraid to intrude in our argument. "If your family’s there, Dia, maybe you should go. You know what they say: ‘Don’t break branches on your family tree.’"
He had a point, but I didn’t want to admit it. "Do you want me to go?"
"No!" Jacen looked as if I’d just insulted him. "You’re my friend. Both of you are."
Alexa gave me an "Enough being stubborn" look. "Dia, stop. We shouldn’t even be arguing about this. We belong on Earth, not Therae. This isn’t our world."
"Isn’t it?" I asked, more sharply than I’d meant it. "We helped save it, Lexa. Why wouldn’t it be our world? Because we weren’t born here?"
Alexa nodded. "Yes. Because we weren’t born here, and because our family is on Earth. That’s why we don’t belong here."
"I don’t think I belong on Earth." I crossed my arms, raising my head to stare her down. "I never felt like I belonged there. Not like I do here."
"Belonging isn’t a feeling." Alexa met my gaze with no sign of backing down. "Belonging is being a part of something."
I threw my hands up in exasperation. "I’m a part of something here!"
"And you’re a part of a family at home!" I could tell Alexa’s control over her temper was rapidly slipping. "Isn’t that more important than anything here?"
Jacen broke into the conversation. "Why don’t we ask the Waykeeper for his advice?"
Alexa and I both perked up. I turned and headed for the door. "That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day. Let’s go."
I led the way over the swinging tree-to-tree bridges to the Waykeeper’s home in the lower branches of the tallest tree in the forest. Of the three of us, I’d been there the most times. Gerren, the Waykeeper, helped me understand what happened when Alexa and I stumbled through the Way two years ago, and since then, his company, his advice, and his special tea had kept me coming back.
The door stood open when we arrived. I started to go in, but Alexa held me back and knocked on the doorframe. "Waykeeper?"
Gerren’s voice came from inside. "Come in!"
I pulled free from Alexa and stepped inside the sun-dappled front room. I’d loved this place from the first time I’d come here. Something about it made me feel safe.
Gerren, a burly man who seemed like he should’ve been more at home on the ground than in the trees, rose from his seat by the largest window. "Hello, Alexa, Dia, Jacen. What can I do for you? You didn’t come to walk the Way already?"
"No!" I shook my head emphatically.
Alexa shot me an annoyed look and then turned to Gerren with her usual calm manner. "We, Dia especially, need your advice. It has to do with the Way."
"Ah." Gerren waved us towards him. "Sit down, then, and I’ll see what I can do."
Before long, Gerren had settled us all into cushioned chairs and had given us each a mug of his special tea. I sipped mine eagerly, nearly burning my tongue. If I went back to Earth, I would miss my time with Gerren most of all.
Gerren settled into his special chair by the small stove on which the tea kettle sat. "Now, Alexa, Dia, what’s your trouble?"
I opened my mouth to speak, but Alexa beat me to it. "Dia doesn’t want to go home. Can’t you explain why she should, sir?"
I bristled. "What if I shouldn’t go?"
Alexa started to reply, but Gerren raised his hands. "No arguing. Dia, why don’t you care to go back to your world?"
I shrugged. "I don’t even know if it is my world anymore. I miss my family, but . . . Therae feels more like home than Earth did."
Gerren turned to Alexa. "And why do you say she should go back?"
Alexa replied promptly, "Because, sir, Earth is where we belong. We were born there; we’ve waited two years for a chance to return."
My fingers tightened around my mug. "You belong there. That doesn’t mean I do."
Gerren gave me his "Dia, behave" look, and I shrank back. He looked at Jacen. "Do you have anything to add?"
Jacen jerked up straight as if surprised to be asked. "Me? Well, Alexa and Dia are my friends; I’d love for them to say. But their family’s on Earth, and family should be together."
"Good advice." Gerren nodded approvingly. "But I haven’t heard the best reason to do anything yet." He surveyed the three of us. "Have any of you considered what the Father wants you to do?"
I looked down at my tea. Alexa shook her head slowly. "No, sir."
"I guessed as much." Gerren gestured to the bookshelves surrounding the main trunk of the tree, which stuck up through the floor. "Dia, will you bring me the Word, please?"
I set aside my tea and hurried to the shelves. I slid the soft, leather-bound book off the shelf and, holding it carefully, carried it over to Gerren.
He took it. "Thank you, Dia." Once I’d returned to my seat, he bowed his head. We all followed suit. Then he prayed: "Father God, we come before You now to seek Your wisdom and Your guidance for Alexa and Dia. Please show us Your will for them and help them see what path You desire them to take. Amen."
We all lift our heads. Gerren pages through the Word. "Now, your question: stay or go? It would not be unlike Adonai to have called Dia to remain here. Many times, in both Therae and Earth, He has summoned one of His servants to a new home in a distant land."
He paused. "However, He does not often call people to such a change, especially when it comes to travel between worlds. The Father places people in certain worlds for a reason. Sometimes He’ll call them from one world to another for a short time, perhaps a year or two, but rarely do they stay forever."
"So you think I should go back?" Disbelief tinged my voice; I’d hoped Gerren, at least, would support my desire to stay.
"I think you should follow the Father’s call." Gerren leaned back in his seat. "Do you feel called to stay here, Alexa, Dia?"
Alexa shook her head readily. I started to nod, but stopped. "No. Not really. But I’m not sure I feel called to Earth either."
"Maybe that’s why the Father opened the Way, though?" Jacen looked at Gerren as if seeking affirmation that he was on the right track. "Isn’t that usually why He opens it? He’s calling someone from one world to another?"
Gerren beamed at Jacen. "There’s a lad with a good head on his shoulders. The Way opening is a call, Dia. It always is."
I gulped, staring down into my tea. "I don’t want to leave."
Gerren stood and walked over to me. He patted my shoulder comfortingly. "I know. I don’t look forward to saying goodbye either. But how often are we called to something we want to do."
I managed a small smile. "I guess that’s true." I took a deep breath. "All right. I’ll go."
We spent the next two days preparing to leave and saying our goodbyes. Every farewell seemed to chip off a little piece of my heart that would remain in Therae forevermore. Finally, nothing remained to be done, and Alexa and I returned to Gerren’s house for the last time. We carried nothing with us; we had come to Therae with nothing except the clothes on our backs, and we would leave the same way.
We found Gerren waiting outside for us. He greeted us with a sad smile. "Hello, Alexa, Dia. Are you ready?"
Alexa nodded confidently. "We’re ready." I found that I couldn’t seem to reply at all.
"Very well, then." Gerren led us across a series of bridges that criss-crossed between his tall oak and other nearby trees, all the while going steadily upward. It took nearly ten minutes to reach the Way at the very top of his tree. It looked like just another tree-hut, minus a platform surrounding it. However, through the open door and windows we could see nothing but light filling it.
We paused a few feet from the door. I glanced back. I could still turn around and stay here. I had time. But no. I’d been called back to Earth; I would obey the call.
Alexa and Gerren bid each other a rather formal farewell. Then Gerren turned to me. I hugged him before he could speak. "I’ll miss you."
"And I you." Gerren gently returned my hug. When he stepped away, he dug in his pocket for something. "I have something for you before you go." He produced a small bag and handed it to me.
I took it and peered inside. "Tea?"
Gerren nodded. "I know how you like it. Maybe it’ll help while you’re getting used to Earth again."
"Thank you." I clutched the bag tight. "Not just for the tea- for everything."
"You’re welcome." He nodded towards the Way. "I suppose you’d best go on."
"Right. Goodbye." I looked at Alexa and we joined hands.
Gerren moved to the side so we could pass. "Goodbye, Dia, Alexa. May the Father watch over you."
I couldn’t seem to speak again, so Alexa replied for us. "And you as well." Then we walked forward to the Way. The door was only wide enough for one at a time, so she entered first. I looked around the forest one last time, trying to store my last moments here.
And then I faced forward, took a step, and entered the Way.