Trigger Warning: There is a death in this chapter, but I promise that it will end on a happy note. :-) Just like on the show, sometimes greatness rises out of the ashes.

He rubbed her hair back out of her face. The frazzled, blonde curls like a mane framing her beauty. She was working hard. Very hard. And all he could do was stand and sit and watch and massage. And pray.

The doctors and nurses were in and out. The monitors beeping and chiming.

The contractions timed one, two, three, four. Five minutes apart. Four minutes apart. Three minutes apart. Two.

Her body preparing. Five centimeters. Six centimeters. Eight centimeters. Ten.

Go time.

The doctors and nurses were rushing and talking loud. A cold rag on her forehead was not helping. Her cries broke his heart.

His cry pierced the room. Took his Daddy's breath away. He was peeing all over the place. Laughter ensued. The doctor was sprinkled. The nurses were sprinkled. Daddy was sprinkled.

Mommy was mesmerized. And tired.

Luke Jarrick Thornton was flawless. Eight pounds, six ounces. Twenty-two inches long. Ten fingers, ten toes. Scored a perfect ten on his Apgar.

His thick, blonde hair was curly and wet and his Father's cowlick was already present in the front. His eyes were piercing blue, just like his Mother's.

Everyone was overjoyed. Grandma and Grandpa, Nana and Pa-paw. Uncle Tom and Aunt Natalie and their two little ones. Mommy's only Sister and her latest boyfriend. All waiting to meet their newest family member.

Jack cut the cord and put his first diaper on him. Swaddled him tightly in a thin, white muslin blanket with green stars on it. The one his Mommy picked out. He nursed like a champ right away and then it was lights out for a few hours. He was passed around from arm to arm, sleeping soundly, exhausted from his entrance.

Grandma and Grandpa and everyone else left to go get lunch, giving Mommy and Daddy some time to themselves. She picked at her food, but was mostly too weary to even feed herself. Jack encouraged her to sleep while the baby slept. He would take care of them both.

The first night passed and little Luke was up every two hours to eat. Then Jack would burp him, swaddle him tightly and rock him until he was asleep again. It was a long night.

Welcome to parenthood.

The next morning there were more visitors. Long-time friends from college, friends from the hospital, friends from the force and friends from church. The balloons, flowers and little blue outfits overwhelmed the room.

Jack still couldn't convince her to eat much. She looked tired and pale. The nurses kept track and checked on them hourly. The blood pressure cuffs filled and deflated, bloodwork for Mom and heel pricks for baby Luke. Everything was going fine.

Until it wasn't.

Jack was sitting next to the bed and Luke was nursing. They were talking about going home and the nursery they had painstakingly prepared. Nature-themed. Gray, orange and teal. Foxes, bears and porcupines. Bunnies, raccoons and a moose. Beautiful white birch trees meticulously painted on the aqua wall behind the crib. Birds flying on the mobile. The rocking chair waiting in the corner. For her. For him.

Her words started to slur and he thought she was just too tired. He grabbed for the baby as her arms went limp. The monitors blaring. Doctors running. Mysterious codes called overhead.

He was pushed aside, holding his son, now crying for his milk. They came in like a hurricane, throwing things aside, pushing tubes, starting IV's and central lines. Words like clot and stroke and hemorrhage flying about.

They were pumping her chest and checking her for a pulse. The monitors still shrieking and the line was flat.

Watching from the foot of the bed, he felt even more helpless than he did the day before, but now he was begging for her to scream, to curse at him and to tell him she was never doing this again. But she was silent.

He was silent.

The next few days were a torrent of forms and signatures and tears. Bottles of donor milk and nurses rocking their son so he could sleep more than an hour.

A birth certificate and a death certificate. Both filled out in the same day.

It wasn't fair. He looked like death and he wasn't even the one who died.

The nursery felt like a cruel joke now. Why would they send this baby home with me? I don't have a clue what I'm doing. This was where she shined. Why didn't You take me instead?

Baby Luke looked up at him with his Mother's blue eyes. His Daddy sobbed.

A flood of family members and friends came to help. Trying to make sense of it all. Trying to give him whatever relief they could.

Grandma and Grandpa eventually stopped coming. It was too painful and they lived too far away to make the trip. They were too damaged from their loss to be helpful with the addition.

Nana Charlotte and Pa-paw Tom were his rocks. He went to work knowing that Baby Luke was in better hands with them than they were when he was home. He was too broken, too desperate. The sheets were cold, her closet stale.

He left the Force. He left his dream. It was too dangerous for a single Dad. He took a new job, a Security Officer for a large, well-known corporation. It had a gym and a renowned Early Childhood Center. And it had on-site counselors available to anyone who needed them.

And he most-definitely did.

He told his parents to go home.

And so they did.

He needed to be a man. To step up and raise his son. To be mom and dad for the boy that they made together.

He handed his 6-week-old baby to a woman with brunette curls that he had never met. She looked young, but she took his baby boy into her arms with grace and ease. She assured him everything would be fine and that it would be harder for him than it would be for Luke.

She was right. Luke didn't even whimper. Jack kissed him goodbye and tucked Luke's fox diaper bag into his cubby. She was already rocking him when he closed the door behind him.

It was time for him to be in his office, but he just couldn't. Instead he went to his truck and cried. He wept. For the life that was left behind. For the new life he was forced to live.

She rubbed Luke's head as he slept soundly on her chest. His soft, blonde curls entwined in her slender fingers. For 26 months, she had rocked him. For 26 months, she had fed him. For 26 months, she had loved on him. For 26 months, she had watched his Father pick him up Monday through Thursday and a blonde-haired woman pick him up every Friday.

With her Master's Degree coming to completion, her research was finished and she now had a job waiting for her in the new year. A real career. Her time lollygagging in the Early Childhood Center of her Father's business was soon to be over. She had started by simply observing the children for her thesis, just filling in where help was needed. But the kids lured her in and she found that she couldn't drag herself away most nights. Especially away from Lukie. After all, he had grown up quite literally in her arms.

Many nights, Jack was later than the rest of the parents. She didn't know what his job entailed, but it seemed to demand a lot of his time. The hours were variable. She often stayed late with Luke, playing or just rocking him while they waited. Jack seemed to have a hard life, and this seemed like a small thing she could do to help him out. They would always chat for a while and he would always apologize sincerely. He was a hard worker and a great Father, if a little green at times.

She didn't know his story; it seemed to be one that no one spoke of. Was there a separation? A divorce? All she knew was that Jack always looked sad. For months and months, he looked sad. But he was there. And as soon as he saw his son, he lit up. Just for him.

She had snooped in his paperwork once, learning that 'Natalie Thornton' was the blonde woman authorized to pick Luke up on Fridays. Luke loved her and was always thrilled to see her, and she likewise. She must be Luke's Mother. I guess? Maybe the pick-up and drop-off is just more convenient for Jack since he works here. But where is his ring? And why not on Fridays? Did this woman only have visitation on the weekends?

Over time, Elizabeth and Jack had grown friendlier with each other. She surmised that a familiar face is always welcome, especially if your toddler really loves that person. His smile had grown warmer and their conversation grew more personal. Often he would show up only a couple minutes after the next-to-the-last kid was being picked up. Like he was trying to be last.

Twenty minutes passed as she fell deeper and deeper into her thoughts about Luke's family. She continued to stroke his back, finding them both warm and sweaty. Always my little heater. She smiled. I should really lay you down, but I just can't bring myself to. I never can.

She giggled to herself, convinced that Lukie was aware of the fact too, as she was his clear favorite. She wasn't looking forward to saying goodbye to him in particular at Christmas. Or his Father if I'm honest with myself.

All of the other kids were long-gone tonight and Elizabeth had even dismissed the Director, Florence, to go home to her family. She would wait for Jack. After all, it was Wednesday, one of his days. And by now, Luke was so out, he was drooling all over her chest, exhausted from his busy day.

Jack told the officers that he had to go pick up his son, but that he would return to the station as soon as he could. They took his word, having known him for years, and let him leave as the sun was setting.

He parked and ran into the building, knowing how late he was. His hand reached for the door and he looked inside.

There he was. Eyes closed.

There she was. Eyes closed.

Rocking his baby boy in her arms, just as she had for the past 2 years. Luke's curls matted against her chest, his body melted into hers. His chubby, dimpled hand outstretched across her chest. It was like she was made for him. His eyes stung and he blinked hard. He took a few deep breaths and opened the door.

She opened her eyes, but didn't move a muscle except to smile genuinely.

"I'm so sorry, Elizabeth. I was working off-site today and on the way back here, there was a really bad accident. I'm so sorry I'm late."

She whispered, so as to not wake Luke. "It's okay. Is everyone okay? Were you hurt?"

"I wasn't involved, thankfully, but I suspect the at-fault driver was drunk. It happened right as I approached the intersection and I saw the whole thing. I have to go back down to the station tonight and give my account of what happened."

"Oh my! Well I'm glad that you're okay," she spoke sincerely and quietly. "As you can see, Lukie here is pretty exhausted. We played hard and he learned to count to 22! He's such a smart little man."

"I know I've kept you so late, but would you mind if I call my brother and see if he and Natalie can watch Luke tonight while I go to the station? It'll only take a minute. And I'm happy to pay the overage tonight for being so late."

"Go ahead, it's fine! And don't worry about it. I would probably be here working on my thesis even if he wasn't here. It's no problem at all."

She watched him walk back out into the hallway, the wheels turning in her head. So Natalie is your Aunt, isn't she Luke? She brushed her fingertips on his plump, pink cheek. But where is your Mama?

Jack walked back in, his brow furrowed. "They're all at church tonight. I don't know why I didn't think of that. My parents are out of town, so I'll just have to take him with me to the station. I don't think they'll mind though—they all know us since that was my station before Luke was born."

"I don't want to overstep my bounds, but I wouldn't mind staying with him if you need the help. A police station isn't really a great place for a toddler at bedtime."

Jack sighed. "I know." He scratched his head. "I'm not going to get anything done with the mood he'll be in. And you know him better than anyone else. Some days I think he'd pick you over me if it came down to it," he chuckled.

It was the first time she'd seen his dimples when Luke wasn't looking right at him. "Oh, that's not true. He talks about you all day long. 'Daddy pway Thotas and Pawsy' and 'Daddy me eated i-fream!'" She giggled.

"Yes, my boy is a choo-choo man! Thomas and Percy are his favorites. And he loves ice cream just as much as I do." He smiled wider. "But what I hear all night is 'Melly kickles!' and '1, 2, 3, whewe Melly?' and he runs around looking behind all of our doors for you."

"Awh. He's so sweet. We play a lot of hide-and-seek, but he hides in the same place every time! And he is so ticklish, especially under his neck."

Jack's eyes grew wider as his smile lit up his face. "Have you tickled his thighs? Up by his hips? It's so funny! That's his most ticklish spot for sure. He laughs and laughs and keeps saying 'Kickles! Kickles!' He loves being tickled."

Jack's voice trailed off and it was silent again. Elizabeth bit her bottom lip. "So are you going to take me up on my offer to help you tonight? I really don't mind."

"Let me call one more friend. I'd really prefer that he be at our house so he can just go to bed. He's clearly down for the count if he's sleeping through this."

"Okay. But I don't mind watching him at your house if you don't mind me working while he sleeps."

Jack pulled up Lee's number, hoping that he or Rosie might be free. It rang and rang, without an answer. Voicemail.

"No luck. I really hate to impose. Maybe I can just go tomorrow." In the back of his head, he knew what that would mean for the case against the drunk driver. A fresh witness is always better.

"Nonsense. I'll just follow you home and I can put him down. I do it every day here, so it's not a problem at all." She waved him off. "I insist. I'll gather my stuff while you get him into his car seat. Where are you parked?"

"I'm right out front actually, illegally parked. I hope they didn't tow me. I wanted to get in here as quickly as I could, knowing how late I was."

Elizabeth pursed her lips. "Why don't you go check first and I'll get his bag?" She shifted Luke up on her shoulder further and stood easily with him perched on her chest. Luke didn't even open an eye.

Jack ran out quickly, relieved to see that his truck was still out there. He turned it on and started warming it up in the cool, autumn air. He walked back in to see Elizabeth standing there with Luke's bag on one shoulder and him on the other.

"Still snoozing?" he was amazed. "You really wore him out, didn't you?"

She smiled and handed him the bag. "I'm the black Audi over there." She clicked the button on her keychain, illuminating the lights and starting the car. "I'll grab my bag and will be right behind you. Do you mind texting me your address just in case we get separated in the traffic?"

He looked toward her car and blinked a couple of times in confusion. "Sure, no problem. What's your number?"

He watched as she walked past him and sat Luke in his car seat, rattling off the number. He was impressed that she knew exactly what she was doing, securing the straps snuggly and the chest clip in the proper position. She saw Luke's beloved star blanket in the middle of the car and reached in to grab it.

Jack had to peel his eyes off of her body as she bent in front of him. "I sent you our address, but I'll go slow so I won't lose you. Thank you again for doing this. It's above and beyond, really." Your body is above and beyond too. His thoughts surprised him and he blinked hard. He hadn't entertained ideas like that for a very long time.

"It's really no big deal. I'll just work while he sleeps. My thesis defense is in about six weeks, so it's crunch time."

She walked past him again, heading back in the building. He got into his Pilot and pulled up beside her A6. How does a graduate student working at an Early Childhood Center afford that?! Thatcher must pay her well!

True to his word, he drove slowly and carefully, making sure she made each traffic light behind him. She followed him into a nice neighborhood, in the suburbs of Chicago. It really was quite a drive, 20 minutes past her own house back in the city.

Jack pulled into the garage and Elizabeth, not thinking, pulled in right behind him. As soon as he turned the truck off, Luke woke and began to cry. Jack began unbuckling him as big, crocodile tears fell down his cheeks, his little body spent.

Elizabeth watched as Jack soothed him and followed him through the garage entrance into the home. The interior was also immaculate—whomever decorated it had a very nice style. She walked down the hallway, following Luke's fussing, to the nursery. It took her breath away.

Jack was changing Luke's diaper and trying to put him in some pajamas, which he was fighting to the death. Elizabeth stood in the doorway. "Hey Lukie."

Luke's eyes got wide and he immediately stopped fighting Jack, instead searching the room for the voice. "Melly?"

He smiled wide as she approached and Jack pulled the zipper of the sleepers up to his neck. "Do you have choo-choos on your jammies?" she cooed.

Luke was energized now. "Choo-choo belly!" He patted his tummy and looked at his Daddy. "Melly herwe! Melly herwe! I find herw!"

"Yup! You found her! Miss Ellie is here to watch you tonight for a little while. She's helping Daddy."

"Yay! Melly pway wif me!"

"Oh, well I think it's your bedtime, little man," she smiled. "But maybe I can rock you?" Elizabeth persuaded.

"No, no, no! Melly pway!" His little feet pitter-patted out of the room quickly, running down the hardwood floors.

Elizabeth and Jack exchanged glances and laughed. "You might not get much work done tonight now that he knows you're here."

She pursed her lips and grinned. "It's okay. He'll wear out eventually. They always do."

"And I'll try to keep them moving quickly so I don't keep you too late. I'll call when I'm on my way."

They followed Luke's voice. "One, two, fwee, wherwe Melly?"

"Those pajamas are too much. I just love footie sleepers." She smiled as she looked for Luke.

"I'm going to be sad when he gets too big for them." Jack sighed. "Well, I should probably go. The sooner I get there, the sooner I'll get back."

He squatted down, knowing exactly where his son was hiding under the dining room table. "Bye Luke, I love you. Be good for Miss Ellie, m'kay?"

Luke came running to give his Daddy a hug, throwing his pudgy arms around Jack's neck. Elizabeth almost melted into a puddle right there. Then, without another word, Luke reached for Elizabeth's hand and pulled her away. "Melly pway me!"

Elizabeth trotted after him as Jack walked to the garage. He started to get into his Pilot and then realized that Elizabeth had parked directly behind him. He could probably get around her, but he didn't really want to take the chance with a $75,000 car.

He walked back inside to giggles and shrieks. "Hey Elizabeth?"

She looked out from under the table with Luke in her lap. "Yeah?"

He laughed at the site of Luke, happy as a clam in her lap. A far cry to the screaming, fighting boy he'd struggled with just 10 minutes prior. "You're parked right behind me. Do you mind if I move your car so I can get out?"

"Oh my goodness. I'm so silly. I don't know why I didn't think of that. My keys are on the counter. Just take my car if you want."

"Oh no, that's okay. I'll just move it over to the other bay and take the truck."

"No really, you should take my car. That way if there's an emergency or something, I'll have Luke's car seat."

Jack's face scrunched up. She has a point. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure. Just leave your keys on the counter. We'll be fine!"

He smiled sincerely. "Thank you again. I'll fill up your car before I get back."

"My Dad filled it up this morning when we went to breakfast. No worries."

"Bye-bye Daddy!"

Two hours later, Elizabeth had finally convinced Luke to go to bed and she had her thesis spread out in front of her on the coffee table. She was meticulously scanning it and referencing other papers and articles on her laptop. Her phone rang.

She jumped to her feet and ran to the counter. "Hello?"

"Hey Elizabeth. It's Jack. I'm leaving the precinct now, so I should be there in about a half hour."

"Okay, great! Luke's asleep and I'm just studying. Everything is good."

"Fantastic. I realized that you probably haven't eaten anything. Can I stop and get you something?"

"Oh, actually I made Luke and I some dinner. I hope that's okay. There's plenty left for you if you're hungry."

"Wow. Okay. That sounds great. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

A short silence followed.

"Uhm, well, I'm headed your way, so it shouldn't be long."

"Sounds good. Drive safe. Bye Jack."

"Bye Elizabeth."

Her heart raced at the sound of her name rolling off his lips. Don't you even, Elizabeth Thatcher. You don't even know him, much less if he's even single or not! There doesn't seem to be a woman living here, but someone decorated this house and I'm betting it's not him. She frowned as she gathered up her papers and packed everything back up. She walked into the kitchen and turned on the oven so she could warm up a plate for him.

She made sure all of the dishes were clean and the countertops and stove were wiped down. She didn't want to make any extra work for him on what was such a long day already.

He entered quietly to find her in the kitchen pouring a large glass of water. She turned around and jumped, not expecting to see him behind her, spilling the water down the front of herself. "Oh my goodness!" She shrieked and pulled at the wet clothing.

"I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to scare you." He chuckled. "I was just trying to be quiet so I didn't wake Luke. Let me get you a towel."

He walked past her and pulled a hand towel from a lower drawer and she couldn't help but notice how good he looked in his dress pants.

Her shirt looked two sizes too small now that it was semi-transparent and clinging to her chest. He averted his eyes and handed her the towel. "I'm so sorry."

"'Accidents happen!'" she laughed as she quoted Thomas the Train, knowing Jack was sure to catch the reference.

He laughed happily, if still a little embarrassed. "God, I hate that show so much. He sings that song all the ever-loving day!"

She dabbed at the water and decided it wasn't worth the effort. She returned to the oven and pulled out his plate. "It's just chicken nuggets, mac and cheese and green beans, but it's all homemade."

He looked at the plate mysteriously. "You made all of this from what you found in this kitchen?"

"Yup! The nuggets are parmesan crusted and I used some your old bread. The mac and cheese has Monterrey Jack and Cheddar, which I also used the rest of. I hope that's okay." She bit her bottom lip.

He raised an eyebrow. "And Luke ate this too?"

She nodded affirmatively. "Yeah! Six nuggets and he had two servings of the mac and cheese. We had to play a little game to get him to eat the green beans, but he ate them."

"Wow. Impressive! I think it's just because I'm a terrible cook, but he's usually quite picky."

"Nah, they're all picky at this stage. It's all about presentation." She motioned to the island. "Sit down. Eat. I know you're starving." She smiled and handed him his plate and he sat down. He watched her refill the glass of water and carefully bring it back over. "Don't need a repeat performance of before!"

He smiled. "Would you like me to get you another shirt? I'm sure I have something that might fit."

"Nah. I need to head home anyway. 6 a.m. workout tomorrow before school." She walked to his living room and picked up her bag.

He squinted as he watched her, realizing everything she was wearing was expensive-looking, as was the bag. Hmmmmm. "Let me walk you out. Can I pay you?"

"No, no, of course not. He was no trouble at all. Sit, eat. I can show myself out."

He stood anyway and followed her out the door. There was no way he was going to let her walk outside in the darkness alone, even if it was a safe neighborhood. "Thank you again. Really. For watching Luke, for making dinner… hell, you even cleaned the kitchen. I really… I don't know what to say. Thank you doesn't seem adequate."

She smiled shyly. "Everyone needs a little help sometimes. You just can't be too afraid to ask for it." She unlocked her car with the key fob and started the ignition, their bodies illuminated by the headlights.

"We've gotten used to it just being the two of us for so long. I'd forgotten what it feels like to be taken care of." He swallowed hard. The words were out.

She looked up at him, wondering just what had happened to him, but not feeling like it was appropriate to ask. Not right here. Definitely not right now. A small smile was all she could muster. "Happy to help."

He opened her door and let her get in.

"Text me to let me know you got home okay if you don't mind."


And then he watched as she drove away.

The cool, night air filled his lungs as he stood there in the darkness, unsure what the hell just happened to him. He walked back inside to his plate, the first delicious, homemade meal he'd eaten in who knows when. He devoured it in record time and rinsed the plate for the dishwasher.

His eyes gazed under the dining room table, remembering Luke's deliriously happy grin as he peeked out from under it, sitting in Elizabeth's lap. I can't let myself think like this.

He looked over at his living room sectional where she'd been working and saw something shiny under the coffee table. It was a pair of tiny, hoop earrings, encircled in each other. Luke must have been grabbing at them. He does that to Natalie too. They had to be hers. He rubbed his fingers over them, imagining them on her ears. Her soft skin. Her perfect smile. Her delicate neck.

He shook himself from the reverie, again surprised at himself. He hadn't been on a single date since Luke was born. Hadn't really even thought about it, despite Tom and Natalie taking Luke every Friday night, presumably to try to get him out of the house. Luke had been his whole world for the past two years. He didn't have time for anyone else in his life.

Do I? Can I? He retired to the bathroom to brush his teeth. Stripping down to his underwear and looking at himself in the mirror.

The whole day had been so unexpected, such a roller-coaster of emotions. He'd received a promotion with a much-appreciated salary bump and even a performance bonus. And then he'd witnessed the accident that took someone's life and made him late. And Elizabeth had been there rocking his boy, keeping him safe. And then she volunteered to come to his house and help him out.

Sweet, beautiful, young, Elizabeth.

But if she's working on her Master's thesis, she can't be that much younger than me. Maybe a few years? She certainly LOOKS younger than me. She's gorgeous. It's no wonder Luke loves her.

Why is she still single? Maybe she's not. That thought was like a slap across the face.

She drove home in the darkness. Lost in thought. Narrowly missing a deer right in his neighborhood. That would have been embarrassing. She patted at the wetness of her shirt and turned the vents to blow on it. She hadn't realized how transparent it was until that very moment and her cheeks turned red.

As she played with Luke throughout the evening, she had noticed there were only a few pictures scattered throughout the house. Over the mantle, there was one candid snapshot of Jack and Luke, when he was about a year old. It was before his first haircut, which she remembered. She had been so glad to see that his curls had come back in full force as it grew out.

There were a few more candids on the refrigerator, pinned up with alphabet magnets, of Luke's smiling face. Another of Luke and two blonde adults and another, presumably of Luke and his Grandparents.

And then there was the picture in the nursery. Up on top of Luke's dresser. It was very clearly taken right after Luke was born. Jack looked so happy. Luke was snuggled in a blonde woman's arms in his star blanket and Jack was sitting next to her in the hospital bed.

But where is this woman? Where is his wife? Luke's Mama? Why isn't she taking care of them?

She continued her drive, blazing through the busy streets. Trying to shift her focus onto something else. Her thesis, her Qualifying Exams, her Defense, her new job… but every train of thought ended up the same.

It ended at the little boy who had stolen her heart from the moment she laid eyes on his dimpled cheeks and his chubby, little hands. And his handsome Daddy.

She took some deep cooling breaths and rolled down her windows. Her hair blew in the breeze. What would my parents think? He works in the company somewhere. Who knows where, Daddy may not even know him. It's a huge company after all. I know they want more Grandchildren desperately, but what would they think of this?

She pulled into her driveway and signaled the garage to open. Her house was much larger than Jack's and it was just her. She hadn't thought so before, but somehow it now felt very empty and lonely.

She sat her purse and her bag on the pristine countertop and took out her phone.

"I made it home. Thank you so much for inviting me over."

Nope. He didn't invite me. I invited myself really. She deleted the message.

"I'm okay. Made it home without incident."

That's almost a lie. Because I almost hit that deer. Backspace.

"Safe and sound. See you in the morning."

Does that sound like I want to see him in the morning? Because I do, but he drops off before I arrive on Thursdays. She rolled her eyes. I'm overthinking this.

His phone vibrated.

"Safe and sound. :-) "

Short and to the point. But there's a smile emoji. What does that mean?

"Glad you made it okay. Can I take you to dinner or something to thank you?"

Nope. I can't send that. He deleted the sentence.

"Glad you made it okay. Thank you for everything."

Nope. I already said that. And then he saw the earrings on his bathroom countertop. He smiled.

"So glad you made it alright. I found your earrings under the coffee table. Can I bring them to you tomorrow around lunchtime?"

Gulp. Send.

He laid down and pulled the cool sheets up over him. He glanced over at the picture of himself and Faith on his nightstand and sighed. I know you would want him to have a Mom. And that you'd want me to be happy. Right? Is this your way of telling me it's time?

His phone vibrated again.

"Sure, that'd be great! But I'm not going to be at the ECC until around 2 though. I'll be in the gym at 6:30 a.m. and then I have a meeting with my advisor from 9 until 12."

"Do you mean the company gym?" Maybe I'll work out in the morning instead. Lord knows Luke will already be up.

"Yup. Running 3 on the trails if it's not raining."

"Maybe I'll see you there. If not, would 12:30 be okay?"

"Sounds like a plan! Just message me where. Goodnight Jack."

"Goodnight Elizabeth."

He put his phone on the charger and laid back into his pillow. Every reminder of Faith had been removed from the house. Except for the two pictures. He wanted Luke to know about her, but it had just been too much, too painful for him to see it all.

He finally felt closure, like he could breathe again. Like it was okay for him to smile and be happy again, not just for Luke, but for himself. Maybe, just maybe, he was ready to move on. He put the picture in the drawer.

A new chapter was beginning.

Let me know what you think. I've got two other involved stories going, so I don't know how often, or when, this will get updated. I just had the idea and ran with it. Hope you enjoyed the idea after you got through the heartbreak.