I found Buck waiting for me in our special spot behind the caboose. My heart skipped a beat when his eyes met mine, and I ran to him and threw my arms around his neck. For a moment, we just held each other. I wanted to stay there forever and never let go.

"Buck, I'm so, so sorry," I whispered, a catch in my voice.

"For what?" He pulled back to look me in the eyes.

"For being a lousy friend. For going dark on you. For—how did Connie say it?—not giving you enough credit."

"I'm not sure I know what you mean." He seemed bewildered by my sudden confession.

"Oh, uh… It's nothing I guess," I stammered, then changed the subject. "How are you holding up?"

He let out a deep sigh. "To be honest, it's been tough. I've been through a lot of heavy stuff, Jules. You know that." I nodded. "But this… Well, it's different than all that somehow. I mean…she's gone, Jules. It's just so weird thinking about someone our age being…dead."

He paused for a moment, then took a deep breath.

"And I've been so worried about you. When you were unconscious…I was scared. I don't know what I would do without you. I even, well…I even tried praying. You mean a lot to me, Jules, and—"

A tear traced his cheek. For the first time, I saw a glimpse of the broken little boy he really was inside, and my heart broke for him.

"Hey-hey-hey—it's okay. I'm here now. And I'm not going anywhere anytime soon. Look—" My fingertips brushed the back of his hand, and his ocean eyes stared deep into mine. "Buck, there's something I need to talk to you about. I mean, I know you said you're not interested in all the religion stuff. So did I, I guess. But something happened to me a few nights ago, and I'd really like to tell you about it."

He reached for my hand and squeezed it gently.

"Go ahead. I'm listening."