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With a sigh, he lowered himself onto the uncomfortable bench that was just outside the conference building where he’d find himself in a couple of hours. For now though, he would just enjoy sitting outside in the sun.

He should have brought his laptop – then he could have sent Doc Johanson an e-mail. His laptop however was in the hotel room, so he’d have to make do with the leaflet he’d picked up a few minutes earlier, when the helpful woman at the desk had given him his entrance pass.

The leaflet contained the program of the day. There were several lectures planned, and the one he was supposed to give, was nearly at the end of the day. Perhaps there were some interesting lectures he could attend while he was waiting.

Then again, the lovely Spring weather was making every effort to keep him outside. Despite the fact that he had lived in the Big Apple for quite a few years now, the pull to be outside for hours on end had never left him, so whenever the opportunity presented itself, you could find him in a park somewhere, just enjoying the fresh air.

Lazily, he flipped through the leaflet. Suddenly a name jumped out at him, and unconsciously he straightened. He hadn’t seen her in years. They had kept in touch, though mostly through Christmas cards, and the notices of a change of address. He didn’t even know what she looked like. All he knew was what she’d looked like when she was a young girl.

With a look at his watch, he quickly checked the schedule again, and saw he had to hurry if he wanted to find her before she would be giving a lecture.

As soon as he reached the lecture hall where the lecture would take place, he stopped dead in his tracks. How was he going to find someone in a crowd of at least a hundred people, when he didn’t even know what she looked like? Spying the entrance, he could see that the hall had yet to be opened. Good, he’d start there. Perhaps someone there could help him out.

Upon reaching the door, he was about to ask the woman whose nametag identified her as one of the organisers of the event, if she could point out the next speaker, when he saw a dog weaving through the crowd. She’d told him about her dog in one of the Christmas cards. Patiently he waited for the owner of the dog to appear. Sure enough, holding onto the dog’s leash was a blond-haired woman, dressed professionally, and walking with a quiet confidence. This was her, he was ninety-nine percent sure.

As she moved to pass him, he raised his hand to stop her.

“Excuse me, Sir,” she said, looking up to see the face of the person who was blocking her way. The golden retriever at her side kept a watchful eye on both his owner and the man that appeared to purposely stop them.

Digging deep in his memory, he made what he hoped was the sign for ‘Sue’. That stopped her.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” she asked, signing at the same time. Now that she stopped and looked more closely, there was something vaguely familiar about him, but she couldn’t remember why. There was something about his eyes…

“I’d say so,” the man said, a smile spreading slowly on his face. “I know it’s been a long time since you were seven, and I was seventeen, but yeah, we know each other…”

Suddenly the pieces of the puzzle fell together. “Clint?” she asked, completely taken by surprise. “Clint Cassidy??”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the man said, glad he had found her.

“Wow! Clint, it’s been so long! It is so great to see you!” Sue exclaimed. Ecstatic, she promptly gave the man a hug, which he returned. Pulling apart again, Sue breathed out, taking in the appearance of the grown-up version of the boy who had helped her so many years ago. “How are you doing? And what are you doing here??” she asked.

“I’m fine. I’m giving a lecture in about three hours, was flipping through the program, and saw your name. So here I am. And how are you doing?”

“I’m great,” Sue replied. “And now that you’re here, even better.” She felt a push against her leg, and quickly apologised. “Oh, I’m sorry, Levi, this is Clint; Clint, this is Levi – my hearing dog.”

Clint leaned forward to greet the dog. Deciding he liked this human being, and he didn’t appear to be a threat for his boss, Levi let his approval be known by licking the human’s hand.

“He likes you,” Sue told Clint, who laughed. “Then the feeling is mutual.”

The woman who Clint had wanted to question, was gesturing at Sue.

“Oh, ehm, I don’t really have time to talk right now,” Sue said, glancing down at her watch, then searching quickly through the crowd, before returning her attention back to her childhood friend. “The lecture is about to start.”

“That’s ok. I have some time afterwards…?” Clint said.

“Me too. I’ll talk to you then. Where do we meet? Are you going somewhere now?”

“Well, as a matter of fact, I heard there was this really interesting lecture that’s about to start right now, and seeing as I have time anyway, I was thinking of going there…” Clint said. “It’s about sign language, and its uses in the more unusual jobs.”

Sue grinned. “Ok, so I’ll see you inside then.”

“You got it,” Clint said with a wink. “You waitin’ for someone?” he asked, seeing Sue glance through the crowd again.

“Yeah, my partner. He said he’d meet me here, but- Oh, there he is,” Sue said, interrupting herself when she saw the special agent appear out of the group of people that were about to enter the hall. “Hey Jack,” she said, “this is Clint Cassidy, a friend of mine, whom I haven’t seen in years. Clint, this is my partner, Special Agent Jack Hudson.” The pride shone through her voice, although she wasn’t aware of it.

The two men shook hands. “Pleased to meet ya, heard you’re keeping Sue here safe,” Clint said, grinning when Sue mock hit him. Jack gave him a half smile, feeling a little jealous of this doctor. The easy camaraderie with which they interacted, despite it having been years since they last saw each other, indicated that they must have been really good friends.

Jack was about to reply, when he noticed the more frantic waving of the organiser, so instead he put a hand on Sue’s elbow. “I think someone wants you to come in and start.”

Sue grinned. “Yeah, yeah, I’m going, I’m going. You coming too, Clint?”

“After you,” Clint said. Jack gave the doctor a searching look, unaware that he was exuding he message to keep some distance. Amused, Clint waited for Sue, Levi and the special agent to enter, after which he followed.

Sue made sure that Clint didn’t sit all the way at the back, pointing out a chair next to Jack’s, on the front row at the side. Soon the room was filled with people, and Sue took her stand on the stage.

Jack focused his attention on Sue, which came naturally to him. After all, he’d been in love with this woman for a couple of years now, so when she was in the room, his senses were automatically tuned to her movements. He just hadn’t told her he loved her. He hoped that she knew, and there were signs that she could possibly feel something for him too. He knew she hadn’t dated anyone in a while, because they had been spending so much time together. He’d thought that she’d enjoyed spending time with him, had hoped that the reason she wasn’t dating anyone else, was that she was waiting for him.

Today however, this Clint Cassidy had shown up. Jack had been on the other side of the room, when he’d seen Sue and Clint hug. He’d been shocked, and had been frozen in place for several minutes.

‘He was too late!’ ran through his mind, before he pulled himself together. Sue had hugged him, Jack, after having met him only a little while beforehand, so, this hug did not have to mean anything. ‘But it could…’

During the break, Jack found himself easily drawn into a conversation with the other man. Apparently he was a doctor who had moved from Montana to New York, and had lived in Indonesia for almost a year, working for Compassion International, before returning stateside. Jack listened with interest, and told some of his life-story. Despite his earlier thoughts, he just couldn’t help but like this man.

There was a sense of peace surrounding the man, which had a calming effect on other people, including Jack. His walls were lowered, almost unconsciously, and he talked to Clint as if he’d known him for years.

After a little while – Sue was still answering questions – Jack hesitated, before asking the question that he’d been wondering about. “So… how did you and Sue meet?”

Clint’s eyes searched the other man’s face, and Jack had the feeling that Clint could see right through him. There was a twinkling in the doctor’s eyes, as if he knew why the special agent had asked him this question. And perhaps he did.

“We met at a Summer Camp, long time ago. Sue was a 7 year old girl at the time, having some trouble dealing with the fact that she was deaf and was being treated differently by the other kids.”

This surprised Jack. He thought they would have met later, when Sue had been grown up, not when she’d been a young girl. He found himself wondering at the other man’s age.

“At that time of the year, I had my own trouble dealing with things. The anniversary of my Mum’s death had passed only recently, and my Dad’s death anniversary was coming up in just a few days. I was seventeen, and had some big decisions ahead of me.” The doctor’s eyes had gotten a faraway expression, and Jack could tell that he was lost in his memories, as if he was back at that Summer Camp.

“I found Sue at night; she’d been sitting outside by herself.” Clint chose to leave out the part that he’d found her crying. That was something Sue would have to tell Jack herself. “We talked, we prayed, and after that we teamed up. Sue taught me some sign language, and together we scrounged through the Bible, trying to soak up as much as possible.” Clint chuckled. They’d been quite a pair. “That one day…” Clint’s now softer voice said, “I was having a rough time. Then this girl hopped over, and asked me questions about what my parents had been like. Helped me focus on the good things.”

Jack had been completely silent, listening to this man talk about his meeting with Sue. Then Clint seemed to focus on the present again. “Anyway, we really helped each other out that Summer Camp. We’d become good friends.”

Jack nodded, having gotten a completely new perspective on this old friend of Sue, and their relationship.

“Would you believe it that today’s the first time we’ve seen each other since that Summer Camp?” Clint asked amused. Jack’s eyes bulged. “What?! The first time since then? But, but how? How did you know it was her?”

Clint laughed. “Well, I saw her name on the leaflet, and considering the subject and the fact that we’re in Washington, D.C., I thought the odds of there being two Sue Thomas’ talking about deafness, here in Washington, were rather good.”

Jack nodded. “Yeah, that’s true.”

Sue joined them, and the conversation turned in another direction. After a few minutes, Clint excused himself, saying he needed to make a phone call.

Sue looked at Jack. “How am I doing?” she asked, a little nervous. Immediately, all thoughts of the doctor fled, and Sue was Jack’s sole focus.

“You’re doing great! You’ve got the attention of the entire room,” Jack said.

Sue nodded. “That’s why I’m so nervous.”

Jack’s hand grasped hers and squeezed it encouragingly. “Don’t worry about it. You really are doing a great job.” To emphasize his point, he signed it too. Sue smiled, and took a deep breath. Looking into his eyes, she felt a large part of her tension flood away. The expression in those eyes were overflowing with confidence and support. It was exactly what she needed. With a smile, she thanked him, then moved back to the microphone. Clint slid into his seat, just as she was about to start again.

“In a world that is so diversified, setting people apart, it is important to focus on what makes us one. We should be looking at what brings us together.” With a smile, she was reminded what a 17 year old boy had told her years ago. “Someone once told me that we all have a purpose in our lives, and that my deafness need not be a handicap but could be an asset. Now, I’m glad to say that God has put me in a position where my deafness and my ability to read lips brings people together. And I’m very grateful to be in the place where I believe God wants me to be at this time. That’s not to say I’m restricted to this job though. You see, being deaf, it’s only a part of the whole me. What I want to tell all of you is that, what for me is my deafness, it is something else for you. You’re all ‘handicapped’ in your own way, and despite that, you can make a difference.”

After the lecture, Clint and Jack congratulated Sue. She really had done magnificently. They decided to go for a coffee, and while Sue went to quickly freshen up, Clint and Jack sat down at a table. Jack was unaware that he was staring in the direction Sue had gone, and of the fact that Clint was studying him.

“You know, Jack,” he said, breaking the silence between them, and causing Jack to look up. “Let me tell you something. I told you that I went to Indonesia, right?” The other man nodded. “Here’s the reason. For four years, I’d been working together with a certain nurse, Nancy Nichol. We got along really well, and we’d both entertained some thoughts of a romantic relationship, but we were afraid of making that step. We’d seen others come and go, and while helping the romances of our friends, we grew even closer. Some day though, Nancy decided it was time for a change. Nothing had happened between us, and she felt that she couldn’t stand the being together yet not being together. If nothing had happened so far, she had no reason to believe it ever would. So she told me as much. I’d been about to tell her I loved her, but I backed out at that point.” He sighed, then continued. “I started realising just how much I’d miss her, and with a little prodding of a good friend, I decided I just had to tell Nancy how I felt about her. And I did.”

Jack waited for a moment, then asked, “Didn’t it work out? Is that why you moved to Indonesia?”

Clint shook his head. “Nope, we got engaged that evening, and I decided to go with her to Indonesia.”

A big smile formed on Clint’s face as he thought back. Jack grinned. “Well that’s certainly the better outcome. So what now?”

“Now, we’re married, and have been for over a year.” This time his face was practically glowing, and Jack couldn’t help but wishing he could have with Sue what Clint obviously had with this Nancy.

“Why are you telling me this?” Jack asked suddenly, wondering at the looks Clint had been giving him and Sue.

“Because, Jack, in those few cards Sue and I send each other every year, there hasn’t been one where she hasn’t mentioned your name, ever since she moved to D.C. And seeing you with her today, I have the feeling you’re going through what I went through with Nancy. Don’t wait till she’s ready to move across the Ocean.”

Jack’s mouth hung open for a second, before realising it, and he quickly closed it. “You don’t waste your time, do you?” he asked. Clint shrugged, and settled back in his seat.

“Done that enough already,” was the response. They remained silent, leaving Jack to munch over Clint’s words. After a few moments, Sue returned, and they talked about other things. Then it was time for Clint to go to his lecture, and Sue and Jack left. As they walked away, Jack glanced over his shoulder one more time, just in time to see the country doctor embrace a blond-haired and obviously pregnant woman. Seeing the looks of joy and love, Jack looked down at the woman he was currently guiding with a hand in the small of her back. Perhaps Clint had been right…

“Hey Clint,” Nancy said, as she reached her husband. “Hey Nance,” was the reply, as the country doctor hugged her, one hand moving down to rest on her belly. “I’m glad you’re here. I missed you.”

Nancy gave him a radiant smile. “Missed you too. So what was that call about? You said something about meeting someone from your past?”

“Yeah. Have I ever told you about a Sue Thomas?” Clint asked, as he moved his arm around her shoulder, and they started walking towards the lecture hall. Nancy slid her arm around his waist, and put her head on his shoulder, and listened. “Well, our paths crossed years ago… and today our paths crossed for the second time. And I have the feeling that both crossroads have had a large impact.”

They reached the lecture hall, just as he finished explaining. Then it was time to focus on something else. Clint was convinced however, that forgetting his laptop had been a small blessing in disguise.

The End