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The one plan we kept was that we'd always be friends

It was a rare, rainy weekend in the desert with lightning crackling across the sky and wind whipping the palm trees until they reared like horses.

My husband and I had just finished cleaning up the debris from the last storm when out of nowhere, another storm struck.

In minutes, all the work we had done was undone. I could almost hear God laughing. We are pilgrims on the sea of life; we don't get to steer the ship.

When I went inside, my cell phone chirped: Two messages, both from my hometown. Not a good sign. The first one said, "Call me." The second one told me what I didn't want to hear.

Jane — my friend for more than 50 years — had "passed away," as we say; she had left this world for the next.

It was not unexpected. Jane had been in poor health for too long. But no matter how "expected," death always comes as a surprise — especially when it comes to someone you can't imagine not being alive.

It's hard to mourn from afar. I spent hours on the phone and reading e-mails from friends who wrote to be sure I'd heard.

Bad news travels fast in a small town. We circle the wagons. We pull each other close. We tell and retell all the old stories, lest we ever forget.

I know a lot of stories about my friend Jane. I've written a few of them over the years. Maybe you recall them, too.

For example, I wrote about how we met in second grade. She sat on my desk, started asking nosy questions, I stood up, the desk flipped and accidentally broke her nose.

We were best friends from then on. We even roomed together in college, though it almost ended our friendship.

After I left the South, we'd call each other long distance and she'd end every talk with the same question: "When are you coming home?"

"I don't know."

"Well, I'll be waiting."

And she would be.

I wrote how as little girls we planned to grow up, marry the men of our dreams and live happily ever after, next door to each other, sharing recipes and children and jewelry.

But life doesn't always go as planned. We lived 3,000 miles apart. She never married or had children of her own. When we'd get together, she made me do all the cooking. And she never let me near her jewelry.

The one plan we kept was that we'd always be friends.

I wrote about the time a bear came in her yard and chased her up a tree; how she once called 911 and got the Rescue Squad to bring her a grilled cheese sandwich; and I described in detail one of our last visits after she broke her wrist, how I had to help her get into her bra.

Jane was easy to write about. But there were some things I never made as clear as I should.

I probably never told her how much I loved her parents, the impact they had on my life, and how lucky she was to be theirs.

I failed to say how very much I admired her career in social services, working with what she called "babies having babies."

I never confessed that in some ways I envied her for having stayed in the town and in the life I left behind.

And while I often said, "I love you," I never told her that I loved the light in her eyes, and the fierceness of her loyalty, and the infinite ways she could manage to make me laugh.

I never told her that I will miss her more than I ever dreamed possible.

So I say those things now in the hope that she can hear me.

And I hear her, as ever, asking in return: "When are you coming home?"

I don't know.

But I know she'll be waiting.

Contact Sharon Randall at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson, NV 89077, or at