Connie held Jason's hand as they walked into the wilderness. The sunlight caught his features, showing his strong profile, the outline of the planes of his face, the scar on his left cheek. So perfect. How had she taken him for granted? So soon after they were married, how had she possibly ignored someone so beautiful?
Losing the baby had shattered her, diverted her affections, dulled everything. Without that, everything would have grown more wonderful each day as she got to know him, nothing to intrude on their happiness. She should never have let it go so far; she should have mourned the baby and moved on. He had lost the baby too but hadn't tried to retreat into oblivion.
She was moving on now. She had to. She couldn't dwell on the pain anymore, and she realized how unhealthy it was. How much of a toll it had taken on their relationship. Could they ever go back to the way it was? There had to be a way she could make it up to him, but she didn't know how. What did he need? She wasn't sure, but she wanted to give him everything possible. She thought showing him the place she should have shared with him might be a good place to start.
"It's this way," she said, and led him on the path through the grass, now hardly visible since she hadn't been here for several days.
"This is off the beaten track," he said.
"Yes, well I wanted to escape. It helped me."
"I can see why."
She stopped, looked at him. "Jason, I can't get over how I treated you."
"Connie, after the second time Gray captured me—I was a wreck. I almost left you. You stayed with me through all of that and helped me get better. I wanted to do all I could to help you this time, especially since he was our baby. I just wish I could've helped you more."
"You did all you could. I just wouldn't let you. I'm sorry."
"You don't have to be sorry. I get how much it hurt—I felt it too."
"That's why I should've been with you instead of…disappearing like I did. I don't know if I can ever make it up to you."
"You don't have to."
She led him into the trees, the canopy of leaves diffusing the sunlight into rays of gold. A stream glittered through the grass; birds trilled in the air, echoing like music from a fairytale.
Large flat rocks lay by the stream and she sat down on one. Jason sat down beside her. She slipped off her shoes and dangled her feet in the cool water.
"This is a beautiful place. No wonder you came here."
"I couldn't go any longer without sharing it with you. Now that we're…better."
He smiled. Brought his hand to her hair. She closed her eyes as his fingertips brushed her cheek. When his fleeting touch withdrew, she yearned for more. How had she gone so long without him? She didn't want to rush this. After all that had happened, she didn't want to destroy what they had by going too fast. She wanted to savor every moment of being with him.
He slid his bare feet into the water next to hers. They sat there on the sun-warmed rock, the water gurgling a constant melody. Minnows flashed like silver. A little ways down the opposite bank, a cluster of lavender flowers grew.
"Are those forget-me-nots?" she said.
"Looks like it. A little late for them."
"They're so pretty. I didn't notice them before."
"I'll get them for you."
"You don't have t—"
But he had already jumped off the rock into the stream. The water surged against his legs, sloshing against his pants where they were rolled up to his knees. He walked diagonally through the stream, reached the other side, and snatched up the bunch of flowers that hung over the bank. Then he came back. Just as he reached her, he slipped and fell to his knees in the water.
She reached for him. "Oohh, Jason, are you okay?"
He grasped her hand. "Yes, I'm fine. I saved the flowers, see?" He gave her the forget-me-nots with his other hand and climbed onto the rock beside her.
"Not a big deal."
"Wet jeans aren't comfortable."
"They'll dry out. Small price to pay." He smiled wryly.
"They're beautiful." She breathed in their scent, the tiny flowers tickling her nose. Forget-me-nots….She never wanted to forget Jason or take him for granted. What he'd just done, he did every day in so many different ways as he expressed his love for her. How could she deserve someone like him?
"Jason." She turned to him. Her voice caught. "I never ever want to forget about you like that. It shouldn't matter what happens. We're supposed to be in this together."
"That's basically what we vowed when we were married."
"I thought I took it seriously—I mean, how could I not—but then the baby—and I guess I just wanted happiness so much that when something bad happened I couldn't deal with it."
"It was so soon after we were married. No wonder it nearly tore us apart. We hardly had the foundation of marriage…."
"It's not like it doesn't happen to other people. They deal with it."
"We had so many things happen we hardly had a chance to recover. We needed some happiness and then—" Tears hovered in his eyes. "God knows what he's doing."
"That's another thing. I didn't trust God in all of this."
"At least we know our baby's in heaven now. We'll meet him for real someday."
Tears spilled from her eyes and she reached for him and he embraced her, nearly crushing the flowers. "I will see him again," she said, hope filling her, spreading over the piercing sorrow like the dawn blazing through darkness.
She brushed back the lock of hair falling over his forehead, caressed his face. "You never know how long you have, do you?"
"Till death do us part. After that, we'll be together again."
"I don't want to waste the time I have here." She grasped his hand. "Now that I know what pain can do, I really know what those vows mean now. More than I did before. I will stand by you no matter what happens, in good times and bad times. I'll come to you instead of running away and we'll get through it together because we need each other. I don't want to hurt you, ever."
He squeezed her hand. "You're more important to me than anything in this world. You're worth so much more than anything I could ever give you. I love you, Connie, with all my heart."
"I love you too, Jason." She kissed him gently on the lips. He kissed her slowly, tenderly, like they had at their wedding, his hand against the back of her neck, hers against his cheek.
He leaned back and they grasped each other's hands and bowed their heads.
"Dear Lord," prayed Jason, "thank you that we will see the baby again someday. Thank you for bringing Connie into my life and help me to protect her and love her with all my heart. I pray that You would strengthen our relationship and help us grow stronger every day. Help us to know the right thing and to follow You and not get sidetracked. Help me to always think of Connie first, and help us to know the next steps to take—"
Just then, Jason's cell phone rang.
Jason grabbed for the phone in his pocket. Still damp, it slid out of his hands and clattered onto the rock. He snatched it up. "It's Dad."
"You better take it."
Jason lifted the phone to his ear. "Hi, Dad. What's up?" A silence as he listened. His brow furrowed. "Hold on. Is something wrong?"
Connie's heart flipped. "Is Whit okay?" She couldn't help but leap to the worst-case scenario.
"He's fine….Yes, Dad, Connie's here…..Oh."
"What is it?"
"Dad wants us to go to Chicago. No—DC."
"I'll tell you in a minute." He continued talking to Whit while Connie waited and wondered what could be going on.