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Then he kissed me.

He kissed me slowly, gently, and filled with love.

He didn’t even have to say it, but I felt our love. I felt it shoot through my body as his lips pressed against mine. Our souls intermixed, and our flames were infinite.

It was simple, the way we loved. We loved the scars of our past, and we loved the unknown of our future. We loved the mistakes. We loved the celebrations. We loved our darkness, and we loved the light.

Our connection wasn’t something built around hurt anymore.

We existed only on hope.

I didn’t expect Jackson Emery.

Out of all the prayers I’d prayed, I never thought I’d receive a man like him. We didn’t believe in the same God, but still, that was okay. We didn’t always love the same things, but still, that was okay. We didn’t always agree, but still…that was okay.

Because love—real love—didn’t mean always holding the same beliefs. It didn’t mean we had to see eye to eye on every subject. Yet what it did mean, what real love stood for was a mutual understanding. A respect for one another’s dreams and hopes and wishes and fears.

Jackson respected my choice to pray to God while I respected his not to do the same.

We took the time to learn how each of our hearts beat, and in that journey, we learned that oftentimes, in the most important moments of the night, that our hearts? Our hearts beat in sync.

From that point on, we were inseparable. We were committed to our future and learning to let go of our past. I was thankful for all my blessings I didn’t even expect to kiss my life. The blessings I was too blind to even realize were coming my way. That was a lesson I had to learn over time. The lesson that sometimes for the blessings to arrive, one had to get out of their own way.

Everything happened exactly as it had to unfold. Even the hard days led me to where I needed to be. All the dots connected, I just couldn’t see it while I was walking down my path. Without Finn betraying me, I would’ve never crashed into Chester, Georgia, all those months before. Without all the heartbreak, I would’ve never known what love was truly supposed to feel like.

For that, I was thankful. For the ups and downs, for the wrongs and rights, for the heart breaking and healing. I was thankful for it all, and each night as I lay down to sleep, I’d closed my eyes and softly speak my prayers.

Dear God, it’s me, Gracelyn Mae…



“My dad’s retiring,” Grace stated over dinner one night in late June. “Judy is taking over, and she’s preaching for the first time in front of the church this Sunday. Will you come down with me?”

“Of course.”

That was a given. When something was important to Grace, it was important to me. We hadn’t been back to Chester in months, and I’d be lying if I said returning wasn’t hard for me. That town stood for a lot of demons to me but showing up with Grace’s hand in mine made it a bit easier to swallow down.

Loretta came with us because even though she wasn’t looking forward to seeing Samuel, she loved her daughter enough to get past her discomfort.

We arrived at the church Sunday morning, and I could see Loretta’s nerves as we walked up the steps. I placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed lightly. “You good?”

She nodded. “Just taking small breaths.”

Samuel was standing at the door greeting people, and when we walked up, I watched his eyes dance across Loretta’s figure.

“Hi,” he spoke.

Loretta stood tall. “Hello, Samuel.”

“You look…stunning.” He was a bit shocked and overtaken by Loretta’s beauty—which seemed odd to me—all the Harris women were beautiful.

She gave him a small smile and shrugged her left shoulder. “Of course, I do.” Then, she walked inside.

“Hi, Dad,” Grace said, moving over to her father and kissing him on the cheek.

“Hey, Buttercup. You doing okay?” he asked her.

She wrapped her arm around mine and grinned ear to ear. “Better than okay.”

We walked into the church and sat in a pew. I couldn’t think of the last time I’d been inside a church, let alone watching a person preach, but it was a big moment for Judy. I didn’t believe in church, but I did believe in family.

So, I sat, and I listened.

Judy preached about the power of forgiveness. She spoke on how life sometimes came with its twists and turns, yet at the end of the day, you were always promised a reset button come morning.

She stood there confident, as if all she was ever meant to do was preach sermons. She found her passion, and it was powerful to watch her live it out loud.

After the service, she came over to Grace and me, and I swore I never saw a person look happier. “How was I?” she asked.