Scarlet put her book on the table and brought her blanket with her. She pulled her legs up on the couch and leaned her head against Luke’s shoulder. He didn’t move to touch her. Scarlet folded her hands in her lap, gazing at Aurora.
“She’s beautiful,” she murmured.
“She’s an angel,” he countered. He looked down at Scarlet. “She’s blessed to have you for her mother.” She quirked a smile but tears began leaking out of eyes.
“Thanks,” she said quietly.
Luke wanted to kick himself for making her cry. Instead he reached into his pocket to produce a white cotton handkerchief.
“Here,” he put it in her hand. “Don’t cry.” Scarlet was a goner and she knew it. His voice was so tender. She took hold of his free arm and picked it up, draping it around her shoulders so she could lean against his chest. Luke’s heart stuttered as the light weight of her head rested on his chest and the sweet smell of her shampoo intoxicated his senses. She closed her eyes and memorized this feeling: the steady rise and fall of Luke’s chest as he breathed, the constant and quiet beat of his heart, and the soft strokes of his hand on her back.
Luke felt himself on a precipice. Scarlet was on one side – evidently the side with far less certainty. Safety was on the other side. There was safety in the gloomy memories of Brooke. There was safety in solitude. There was safety but there was no Scarlet and no Aurora, no sunlight. Scarlet and Aurora both needed someone in their lives to be present, to care, and a hired agent was not what he meant. But it was more than that. He needed them. He needed Scarlet to smile at him because without it, the world was too cold. He needed Aurora to fall asleep in his arms because if she didn’t, the world would be too cruel. He needed to see Scarlet’s green eyes alive with laughter because if they weren’t, the air would be unbreathable. He needed to watch Scarlet holding her daughter, singing over her with the melodies she and Maggie used to sing in the sunlight. If he didn’t hear her, the moon and the stars would cease to hold each other in place. In the same way that Scarlet needed to feel Aurora’s weight in her arms, Luke needed to feel Scarlet’s in his because if he didn’t his heart would just stop beating. If Scarlet was not in the world to set it ablaze with passion and beauty, Luke wished to be blind. He would rather see nothing at all than see a world without Scarlet Kaitlyn Clint.
“Lord,” he prayed silently. “How did I ever live without her? How can I ever thank You enough for putting her in my life? Jesus, Scarlet could never replace Brooke and I never want her to feel like a replacement. Help me to love Scarlet in a way I was never able to love Brooke. Jesus, You’ve given me Your love. Now help me pour it out to Scarlet and Aurora. Let me love Scarlet in such a sacred way, it can’t be understood by human minds. Let me love her as You love her. And, please, Lord, help me lay Brooke’s memory down. It’s been a burden to carry. My season of mourning is over. This new season is full of life. Help me forgive myself for Brooke’s death. You are still in control and You still have good things to give me.”
“Sometimes I think it should have been me in that coffin,” Scarlet admitted, interrupting his prayer. Luke took a deep breath.
“Why?” he asked simply.
“Because Aurora will never know her real mom. My family was so enriched by Maggie.”
“Scarlet,” Luke tried not to sound like was minimizing her problems. “This is called survivor’s guilt. If you had died Maggie would be saying the same things you are. Aurora is blessed to have you as her mom. You’re here for a reason and Maggie chose to leave. Life – being the one who survived – that’s not a curse.”
“It’s just so weird to be alive without Maggie. We were inseparable our whole lives. Going on without her is like getting a heart transplant. My brain can still function normally and everything looks ok but my heart knows that what ought to be is not and what was is no more.”
“It knows something huge is missing.”
“Yes,” Scarlet looked up at him. His expression was understanding and compassionate. “You know how that is.” It wasn’t a question but a statement.
“I do,” he answered. “Brooke – in both life and death – consumed my life for a very long time.”
“I’m learning how to lay down her memory,” Luke said with certainty. “It’s been a long process but I think it’s coming to completion. Brooke will always be here, in a way. I loved her very much when she died. It was not a situation where my love for her dissipated and I was able to walk away with closure. She was stolen from me and ruined before my eyes. But God has given me a new kind of love. His love is incredibly different from what non-Christians consider love to be. God’s love is never ending and unconditional. The love Brooke and I shared was neither of those. You’re miraculously blessed, Scarlet, to have been raised in a family where God’s love is the natural and normal one.” He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “I don’t know which is more difficult: losing someone because they walked away voluntarily or having them stolen from you.”
“Maggie chose to die, Brooke didn’t.”
“No, she didn’t chose to die, but she did chose to walk away. Would Brooke have walked away had Blanch not seduced her?” he shrugged. “I don’t know. All I know is that I’m sorry for the hurt but the way God has brought healing has been an incredible experience. There is joy to come. I promise you that, Scarlet. Through the hurt, joy will come.” He looked at her with that gentle and powerful promise. Her eyes told him that she believed him.“I trust you,” she said quietly. She doubted he knew exactly what she meant but he would learn. Trusting him with her life was easy compared to trusting him with her heart.