The next morning, June ate a solid breakfast with the others, then it was time to get ready for her speech at the conference. While June’s energy and general level of giddiness made up for a lot, her physical appearance was still showing the effects of her disease. Karen volunteered to help with June’s makeup, but June finally made the decision to be as she was.
It should have been a controversial move, especially since June made a point of being honest about her condition during her speech. But somehow, she found a way to talk about starving herself with a great deal of sensitivity for the many women in the room from places where famine held sway and starvation was about politics and not about compulsive behavior.
“Any time a human being is denigrated, we all suffer,” June told the crowd. “Whether it’s the careless indifference of established prejudice or wholesale genocide. We’re seeing the effects of it every day. It’s just a matter of degree. The good news is that we have the answer right in our own hands. We can choose to love. It’s that simple. It’s not easy, but it is that simple. I am here today, once again in recovery because four women chose to love and made me see it. And I have had to choose love in the face of violence, as some of you must.”
June continued on, unaware that in the wings of the stage she was on, her brother Mark was standing with a slap-happy grin on his face.
“She’s back!” he whispered. “Thank God, she’s back!”
He looked around. Close by, Sharon and Karen were also watching June’s speech from the wings. Mark went over, caught their attention, then swooped them both into a tight hug.
“I don’t know what you two did last night, but it worked,” Mark hissed with glee.
“It wasn’t just us,” Sharon whispered. “And June is doing the hard work.”
“I’m just so relieved,” Mark whispered.
“We are, too,” Karen said. “She’s not entirely out of the woods.”
“But it will be a lot harder for her to get some steam going again,” Sharon added. “We’ll be watching out for it and she knows we’ll come after her.”
“Be my guest,” Mark said. “I haven’t seen her this happy in, well, years. This is a miracle.”
Chuckling, Karen faded back and went over to Niecy as Carla slid up to Mark and Sharon.
“I have to say, she’s rocking it,” Carla said, her voice still tinged with skepticism. “I didn’t believe she could, but she is.”
“Really?” asked Mark, his eyes narrowing.
Carla sighed. “I may have misjudged June. One of my many failings. I have no patience for poor little rich girls.”
“And yet you are one,” Sharon pointed out.
“Probably why I don’t have any patience.” Carla shrugged. “At least I had the good grace to acknowledge how well off I was.”
“That and you prefer people with substance,” Sharon said.
“And June is that,” Carla said.
“I’m glad you think so,” Mark said. “June has gotten me through some pretty rough times. I don’t know where I’d be without her.”
He noticed Sharon and Carla looking quickly at each other and realized they had some idea of how rough those times had been. He wondered how much June had told them. He trusted Sharon, but Carla was an unknown. It didn’t matter. Mark had always known it was possible that his secret would get out and was ready for when it did. If it did. The important thing right now was that June was better, if not over her relapse.
The crowd roared as June finished and Mark couldn’t stop grinning.
The speech was quite the success, and for the rest of the morning, June was followed rather relentlessly by well-wishers. She decided it was a relief when she and the rest of the Americans boarded Air Force One shortly after lunch. She was even happier when, shortly after take-off, the crew made up the beds and the lights were turned down in the cabin.
Almost 12 hours later, and a few more to go before landing, everyone on board was pretty much awake and functioning. June looked at a text on her phone and went to Mark’s office cabin.
“Come in,” Mark called.
“Mark, do you know what’s going on with Matt?” June asked, shutting the door.
“What do you mean?” Mark glanced up from his tablet.
“I’ve gotten three texts from him, begging me to not run off to New York as soon as we get in,” she said. She frowned. “He’s not planning some sort of intervention, is he?”
Mark laughed. “No. But he does have something nice planned for your birthday, and I wasn’t supposed to say that much. So please act surprised.”
“I didn’t want anything for my birthday,” June said.
“I know. But can you do me a favor and don’t spoil it for him?” Mark asked. “He’s been really worried about you.”
June sighed and ducked her head. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“June, we get it. It’s not something you can control that easily and we’re not mad at you. We’re just glad you’re back. That’s all.”
“I’m glad I’m doing better, too. And I do owe you guys an apology.”
Mark got up from his desk and folded June in a warm hug. Then the buzzing of his phone sent her back to the main cabin.