The old church at the end of the single lane road was surrounded by Nootka lupine, the purple stalks standing waist-high and rippling in the breeze. Even at a distance, the white facade and towering steeple stood out for miles around. When Amelia saw it, she signaled once and turned the old car onto the narrow road.
“You sure this is the place?” Kristen asked as Amelia pushed the accelerator. “It doesn’t look like much.”
Amelia shrugged. “It matches the description in grandad’s journal.”
“What do you think is it in there?”
“We’ll know soon enough.”
“What?” Amelia asked.
“You always do that, you know? When you’re not sure about something, you always play it off with a non-answer.”
“Sorry,” Amelia said.
“It’s fine, love. I’m just surprised you haven’t noticed it by now.”
Amelia pulled the car into the unlined lot outside the church and killed the engine. They sat in silence for a moment, studying the place.
What would they find in here? Her granddad had been a native of the region, but that was before he immigrated, before he had children. Amelia was of an entirely different generation, from an entirely different nation. She had no familial attachment to this place — only an old journal and a dying man’s request to visit an old church.
“You think he was trying to convert you?” Kristen asked.
“No. He wanted me to say something to someone in here. You can wait in the car, if you want. It shouldn’t take long.”
“Only if you want me to.”
Amelia looked at the wooden doors and nodded. “I think it’s better,” she said. “I’m not sure how people here would feel about us, and I’m not trying to make waves.”
“I get it,” Kristen said. She forced a smile. “Good luck!”
Amelia threw the door open and hauled herself out of the car. She crossed the parking lot, hooked a hand around the door handle and pulled against it. To her surprise, the door swung open.
Stepping inside the foyer, Amelia studied the wood-paneled walls and the table advertising service hours and methods of giving back. She picked up a brochure and thumbed through it before she pushed over the swinging wooden door to the sanctuary and strode inside.
An older gentleman sat in a pew in the front row. He looked up at the pulpit, at the cross mounted on the rear wall, though he didn’t appear to be praying. Amelia let the door swing closed behind her.
“Excuse me,” she said.
At the front, the old man turned. When he saw her, he leapt up. “Oh! My apologies. I was so lost in thought that I didn’t hear you come in. How can I help you today?”
“I’m looking for Anton Klarsson,” she said, recalling the name from her granddad’s journal. “Is he here?”
The old man smiled. “I am he.”
“My grandfather was Elfar Aldarsson. He asked me to come here,” she told him, “to let you know that he died a few weeks ago.”
The man in front of her sucked in a long, ragged breath and let it out. “I am very sorry to hear that,” he said after a long moment.
“If it’s not too much to ask,” Amelia said, “were the two of you close?”
“Very close. Pardon me.” Anton sat down in the pew and dragged a kerchief out from his pocket. He dabbed at his eyes and sighed. “I’d always hoped to see him again before the end. He always talked about making trips back home one final time.”
Amelia nodded. “He couldn’t afford it. I know he wanted to come. Were you childhood friends?”
“We grew up together,” Anton told her. He helped me plant the lupin that you drove past when you came in. The grasslands here were eroding, and he read about the lupin somewhere in a book. We stole some of it from over the mountain there and planted it along the roadside. I think about him every morning when I come here, about how he saved this place.
There was something about the way Anton spoke — that familiarity, that kindness — that rang in Amelia’s ears. There was something deeper there, something unsaid.
“Hang on just a second,” Amelia told him.
She hurried out of the sanctuary, opened the front door of the church and motioned Kristen inside. They walked back into the sanctuary together and started for the front row.
Anton watched them with a curious gleam in his eye. “Hello,” he said.
“This is Kristen,” Amelia said. “She’s a good friend of mine — probably as close to me as you were to my granddad.”
Anton gave a knowing smile. “Then perhaps your grandfather left me better company than I gave him credit for. Would you like to know about him?”
“Come to the kitchen,” he said. “I’ll make some tea and we can sit a while.”
Kristen’s hand snaked over, wrapped around Amelia’s. They looked at one another and smiled.
“We’d love to,” Amelia said. “Lead the way.”