Sophie Matthews was a very kind young lady. She had chestnut-brown hair, light skin and blue eyes. She was very smart, receiving nearly straight A’s in all her school years. She was very popular and had lots of friends. Her mother was a dentist, and her father was a surgeon. Some say she had everything a teenager could ever want, but she never boasted about it. Her parents were usually away working, and her grandfather, who she always called Pops, would come and spend time with Sophie whenever he was available, telling her silly stories from his childhood, and occasionally sneaking her extra tips on how to hide candy in her room.
Sophie’s best friend, Ezra Bradley, was also an eighth grader. She had dark brown skin and wavy black hair. She had large green eyes and was unnaturally tall. She was also very kind but would better be described as a “tough love” kind of person. She was keen to serve others and was always helpful. Emma and Sophie both attended South Palm Middle School in Alabama. They’d known each other since they were in diapers, and their families were very close.
One warm humid afternoon, Sophie and Ezra were swinging in Ezra’s front porch swing. They both had slippery glasses of lemonade, and they had kicked their shoes off and pulled their hair up in ponytails because of the immense heat. They’d planned on going to the park that evening, but they’d both decided it was much too hot.
“I’m so happy its summer already!” Ezra exclaimed. “I was getting tired of Mr. Bailey.” She said, wrinkling her nose as if she could smell his old man cologne.
“I think he’s nice,” Sophie lied. She’d disliked their aged math teacher as much as Ezra, but she felt bad for him because she didn’t know a single student who truly liked him.
“You are talking about Mr. Bailey, right?” Ezra teased. “He was awful. The ‘pop quizzes’ every Thursday were horrible,” She complained, doing air quotes with her finger as she said ‘pop quizzes’. Sophie laughed, taking her glasses off her face to wipe the sweat away from the bridge of her nose.
“C’mon, let's go jump in Mrs. Tellar’s pool!” Ezra said, slipping on her flip flops. “I’m sick of this heat, and she said we could swim if we wanted to.” Sophie agreed and they grabbed their suits and headed to their elderly neighbor’s house.
Mrs. Tellar was a seventy-two-year-old woman, living in her tiny house with her three parrots that were certain to outlive her. She had fraying white hair and enormous rhinestone glasses. She had a wrinkly face, but a kind smile. She walked with a hobble in her steps, always carrying a twisted cane with her. She loved to have the neighborhood kids in her pool, since she couldn’t swim in it anyway. She almost always had cookies or little treats for the kids when they visited. She was like the ‘neighborhood grandmother’, as Ezra liked to call her.
They arrived at Mrs. Tellar’s house and knocked on the bright yellow front door. She slowly opened it, revealing her big, toothless smile.
“Ah! Sophia and Emma, come in, come in!” She was a tremendously kind, generous lady, but she didn’t have a very good memory. She always got the children’s names incorrect, but her guesses were usually close. “Are you here for the pool on this hot day, my children?” She asked kindly, ushering them into the house.
“Yes ma’am,” Sophie said, smiling.
“Oh!” Mrs. Tellar exclaimed. It was one of those exclamations where you freeze for a split second, thinking something was wrong. Then she added, “Please, ladies, do not call me ma’am! We’re family!” She called over her shoulder as she hobbled to her kitchen. Emma and Sophie laughed at themselves, then hurried to the pool. Ezra dropped her towel by the door, kicked off her flip flops and cannonballed into the pristine water. Sophie had a much more practical and calmer approach. She just stepped off the edge and slipped into the water, hardly making a ripple.
Sophie and Ezra dove and splashed, raced and cannonballed until their fingertips and toes were wrinkly. After a few hours, they calmly tread water, watching the birds and bees fly overhead. Then, Sophie said,
“We should probably head back now.”
“Aw,” Ezra said, pouting her bottom lip. “It’s so calm here, and now we are going to have to go back to Sam?” Sam was Ezra’s younger brother, who was a crazy kid with a huge crush on Sophie. Sophie smiled at her and said,
“Yup!” The two girls laughed and got out of the pool. After a quick dry, they passed through Mrs. Tellar’s house again.
“Thanks again, Mrs. Tellar!” They called.
“Oh, you're welcome, sweeties! Come back soon!” She called back. Then her blue parrot squawked,
“Come back soon, come back soon!” They laughed again and left the little house for Ezra’s home.
The next morning, Sophie’s grandfather came to pick her up. The adults had talked long about boring adult stuff while Ezra helped Sophie pack up her bags.
“What are you going to do today with your Pops?” Ezra asked.
“I don’t know. We’ll probably work on our bird house that we are building!” Sophie said cheerfully.
About thirty minutes later, Sophie and Pops were pulling out of the driveway of the Bradley household.
“How was your time with Ezra?” Pops asked, looking at her from his rear-view mirror. He always made her sit in the backseat of his car wherever they went because he said he wanted to keep her as safe as possible.
“It was great!” Sophie exclaimed happily. “We went to Mrs. Tellar’s pool last night because it was so hot outside!” Sophie told her grandfather all about the sleepover on the way home from Ezra’s house. Her grandfather was his same, quiet, listening soul as always.
When they pulled into their driveway, Sophie and Pops gathered her bags and stepped out of the car. This would’ve been a completely normal thing to do, but Sophie noticed out of the corner of her eye that her Pops pitched forward slightly and winced.
“Pops, are you ok?” Sophie asked tenderly. Pops gave her a forcibly quizzical smile, as if he didn’t know what she was talking about.
“Of course, Soph!” he answered. “What do you say to a glass of lemonade and a fresh coat of paint to our bird house, eh?” Sophie smiled and agreed but watched him carefully the rest of the day. She just couldn’t get her mind off his little spasm earlier that afternoon.
“Bye, Pops!” Sophie yelled, waving from her bedroom window as he pulled out of the driveway that evening. He waved back and smiled. It was around 8 o’clock, and her mother had just come home from work.
“Dinner!” She called. Sophie lingered at her window, watching her grandfather’s car get smaller and smaller, until it eventually disappeared around the curve of the hill. Sophie headed downstairs, her stomach rumbling.
“Hi, mom!” Sophie said, hugging her mother around the waist.
“Hey, sweetheart!” She said, kissing her daughter’s head.
“How was work?” Sophie asked.
“Oh, it was just fine! In fact, it was quite an eventful afternoon!” Her mother went on talking about a kid with more cavities than she’d ever seen. Sophie zoned her out, occasionally saying things like, ‘umm’ or ‘really?’. She was so busy with her own thoughts that she almost missed when her mother asked her how the sleepover was.
“It was really fun!” Sophie said, trying to think about something other than her kindly grandfather. She told her mother all about the pool, and Ezra’s family. After dinner, Sophie went to bed, feeling almost back to her normal self. She slept quite soundly, even when her father returned from work late into the night.
The next morning, Sophie groggily walked down the stairs, rubbing her eyes and yawning.
“Good morning, Soph!” A strangely sad voice said. Sophie opened her eyes, waiting for them to clear her vision. Then she saw her gentle father sitting in a kitchen chair.
“Daddy!” she said, giving him a huge hug.
“Hi, sweetheart!” He said, laughing despite his sad face. Then Sophie noticed her mom there, too.
“Wait, what’s going on?” Sophie asked. “You guys are never here this late in the morning.” Then her mother said,
“Honey, your grandfather...” She trailed off, and Sophie’s eyes widened, expecting the worst.
“He’s in the hospital,” her dad finished for her. “He had a heart attack, and your grandmother barely got him to the hospital in time.” Sophie’s eyes filled with tears, and she sat down next to her father.
“Are the doctors going to fix him?” Sophie asked, knowing she sounded like a little kid. Her parents gave her the saddest smiles in the world, and her mother said quietly,
“Sophie, we are going to the hospital to say goodbye.”
Sophie stood in the doorway to her Pop’s hospital room. Her parents were behind her, hands on her shoulders. Tears flowed down her face like rivers as she watched her grandfather, her Pops, the man she’d looked up to all her life, peacefully breathing his last breaths.
Ezra was riding in her car, encouraging her father to drive faster. Her best friend, Sophie, was at the local hospital, waiting for her grandfather to pass into heaven.
Sophie walked closer and closer to Pop’s bedside, one step at a time. Tears continually flowed down her cheeks, dropping off her chin and nonstop splatting on the floor like rain.
Ezra jumped out of her car almost before her father had fully stopped it. She burst into the hospital and ran up the steps, praying to God that He would guide her to say the right things to her best friend.
Sophie sat on the bedside chair, an enormous lump painfully sitting in the back of her throat.
“Pops?” she squeaked. She rested her hand on his.
Ezra ran to room 34, and stopped in the doorway, surveying the scene. Two nurses were standing in the back of the room, heads sadly bowed. Sophie’s parents sat in two hard, black chairs next to the doorway. Sophie’s grandmother stood by the head of the bed in the middle of the room, her eyes closed. She looked like she was praying. Then, in the middle of the room, Sophie sat next to the large hospital bed which had her grandfather laying in it. Her head was bent down, tears falling into her lap. She sniffled. Ezra stepped into the threshold of the room, her eyes tearing up. She slowly walked and stood next to her friend. She wasn’t sure how long she stood there with her hand on Sophie’s warm, heaving back.
It was so quiet in the room that you could hear a pin drop. The only sound was the steady beep of the heart monitor. Even that was slowing down. Ezra crouched next to her friend and whispered in her ear. She whispered a prayer, talking to God about everything. Sophie, her grandfather, her grandmother, and the rest her family. She asked God to watch over the Matthews family, to bring their grandfather safely to heaven.
When Ezra opened her eyes, she saw Sophie’s cheeks freshly wet. She hugged her best friend until she thought her ribs might crack. Sophie sniffled and looked at her dying grandfather. She watched him breath his last breath, and his heart monitor slowed to a stop. Sophie’s voice squeaked, and tears poured down her face. She stood and leaned toward her grandfather, kissing his cheek and whispering a heartfelt goodbye.
She stood back and buried her face into Ezra’s shoulder. She heaved heavy, devastated sobs. Ezra supported her friend with a large hug and kept whispering prayers into her ear all the way home. Sophie cried and cried until she had no more tears to cry.
Ezra went home with Sophie, just wanting to be there for her friend. Before bed, Sophie sat on the floor against her bed. Ezra walked into the room from the bathroom and found Sophie sitting there, looking at a picture. Ezra sat down next to her, looking at the picture. It was of Sophie and her grandfather, both with fishing hats on and holding fishing poles. Sophie was about five in the picture, smiling a huge, gap-toothed smile at the camera. Her grandfather looked like he was laughing. Ezra saw Sophie’s face, and more tears were flowing down her face. But this was different. She was smiling, remembering the time that the picture was taken.
“He was a great one, wasn’t he?” Ezra asked softly.
“I miss him already,” Sophie responded. She laughed slightly, the saddest laugh that she could laugh.
“God is with you, Soph. His timing for taking your grandfather home was perfect.” Ezra said, taking the picture from her hands.
“But...” Sophie started, then stopped.
“I know it’s hard, but it’s for the best,” Ezra said, hoping that didn’t make Sophie upset. She was expecting another wave of heartbroken tears, but they never came. Ezra looked expectantly at her friend, seeing that she was looking out her window.
“I was going to say...I don’t believe in God,” she said quietly, looking sincerely at Ezra. Ezra wasn’t sure why, but this surprised her. She composed herself and stood. She walked to her bag that her mother had brought her and grabbed her bible. She sat close to Sophie and opened it. After browsing the pages, she read,
“Mark 11:22-24. And Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.’”
Sophie reread the verse over and over, the concept sinking in about the third time.
“But I don’t believe in God,” Sophie repeated. Ezra smiled.
“It’s never too late,” she said.