I narrowed my eyebrows and bit my bottom lip. My feet started walking in his direction. The closer I got, the more steps he took toward me. When we stood in front of one another, I studied the caramel color of his eyes, a color I might never see again, and I held that sight close to my heart. I’d remember those eyes as long as I could.
“Tell me what ingredients you think are in it, and then I’ll tell you the final one.”
He shut his eyes and began to speak. “Cinnamon, ginger, fresh lemons.”
“Yes, yes, yes.”
“Hot red peppers, sugar, black pepper.”
“Uh-huh.” I breathed out, chills running up and down my spine.
“And peppermint extract.” When his eyes opened, he stared at me as if he could see a part of me that I’d yet to discover.
“That’s all correct,” I said.
He smiled, and I almost cried, because when he smiled, I always felt at home.
“So, what is it?” he asked.
I glanced around the area, making sure no one was within earshot, and I leaned in closer to him, my lips slightly grazing his ear. “Thyme,” I told him. I stepped backward and gave him the kind of smile that forced him to frown. “Just give it a bit of thyme.”
“Thyme.” He nodded slowly, stepping farther away from me.
“Sorry, ma’am, but I can’t wait here all day,” the taxi driver called after me.
I turned to him and nodded before looking back at Graham, who was still staring at me. “Any final words?” I joked, nerves rocking my stomach.
He narrowed his eyes at me and combed my hair behind my ears. “You’re the best human being of all human beings.”
I swallowed hard. I missed him. I missed him so much, even though he was standing right there in front of me. I could still reach out and touch him, but for some reason, he felt farther and farther away. “One day you’ll be happy we didn’t work out,” I promised him. “One day you’ll wake with Talon on your left side and someone else on your right, and you’ll realize how happy you are that you and I didn’t work out.”
“One day I’m going to wake up,” he replied, his mood somber, “and it will be you lying beside me.”
My hand went to his cheek, and I placed my lips against his. “You’re the best human being of all human beings.” A tear rolled down my cheek, and I kissed him slowly, lingering against his lips for a moment before finally letting him go. “I love you, Graham Cracker.”
“I love you, Lucille.”
As I opened the taxi door and stepped inside, Graham called out to me one last time.
“Time,” he softly said.
He shrugged his left shoulder and allowed it to drop quickly. “Just give it a bit of time.”
That night I awoke from a dream only to find myself in a waking nightmare.
The left side of my bed was empty, and Lucy was on a flight, traveling far away from me. It had taken everything inside of me to not beg her to stay when that taxi pulled up in front of the house. It had taken every ounce of me to not allow gravity to force me to my knees. If she’d stayed, I would’ve never let her go again. If she’d stayed, I would’ve started all over from day one, learning how to love her even more than I already had. If she’d stayed, I would’ve always flown, but I knew she wouldn’t—she couldn’t. With my current situation, there was no way I could’ve kept her and given her the love she deserved.
She was my freedom, yet I was her cage.
I lay in bed, my chest tight from the longing my heart felt, and I almost fell apart right then and there. I almost let my heart harden back to the way it was before Lucy walked into my life, but then a beautiful little girl started crying in the nursery, and I hurried to go get her. When I arrived, she reached for me and instantly stopped her crying.
“Hey, love,” I whispered as she curled in against me, lying her head on my chest.
We headed back to my bedroom, lay down, and within minutes she was sleeping. Her breaths rose and fell, and she lightly snored as she curled up against me.
It was in that moment I remembered why falling apart wasn’t an option. I remembered why I couldn’t allow myself to fall into a pit of loneliness—because I wasn’t alone. I had the most beautiful reason to keep moving forward.
Talon was my savior, and I’d promised myself to be a dad to her, not merely a father. Any person could be a father. It took a real man to step up to the role of being a dad. And I owed that to her. She deserved to have me fully.
As she clung to my shirt and found dreams that brought her comfort, I allowed myself to rest, too.
It amazed me how love worked.
It amazed me how my heart could be so broken and yet so full all at once.
That night my greatest nightmares and most beautiful dreams intermixed, and I held my daughter closer, as a reminder of why I’d have to rise in the morning, just like the sun.
Jane moved her things into the house the following week. She made herself comfortable in a home that held no love for her. She went about doing things as if she knew what she was doing, and every time she picked Talon up, I cringed.
“I was hoping the three of us could go out to dinner, Graham,” she told me as she unpacked her suitcases in my bedroom. I didn’t care enough to tell her not to sleep in my room. I’d sleep in the nursery with my daughter. “It might be good for us to start reconnecting.”
She looked up, bewildered. “What?”
“I said no.”
“I just want to make something really clear to you, Jane. I didn’t choose you. I want nothing to do with you. You can live in my house, you can hold my daughter, but you need to understand that there’s not an ounce of me that wants you.” My hands formed fists and my brow knitted. “I chose her. I chose my daughter. I’ll choose her every second of every day for the rest of my life because she is my everything. So, let’s stop pretending that we are ever going to live happily ever after. You are not my final sentence, you are not my last word. You are simply a chapter I wish I could delete.”
I turned and walked away from her, leaving her standing stunned, but I didn’t care. Every moment I could, would be spent with my daughter in my arms.
One day, somehow, Lucy would come back to us both.
Because she was always meant to be my last word.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Mari told me as I walked into Monet’s Gardens.
I took off my hat and nodded. “I know.”
She stood tall and shifted her feet around. “You really should go. I don’t feel comfortable with you being here.”
I nodded once more. “I know.” But, I stayed, because sometimes the bravest thing a person can do is stay. “Does he love you?”
I held my hat against my chest. “I said does he love you? Do you love him?”