His voice was stern, but not mean, straightforward, yet not cold.

She parted her lips as if she were going to argue, but when she stared at Graham she probably took strong note of his stare. His eyes always told a person all they ever needed to know. It was clear that he’d never be hers, and it finally clicked in Lyric’s head that she’d never truly wanted him. She slowly nodded in agreement. “I’ll sign them at your desk,” she said, walking into his office.

When she was out of view, I watched the heavy sigh leave Graham’s body.

“Are you okay?” I asked him.

He kissed me to say yes.

“You came back to me,” he whispered, his lips against mine.

“I’ll always come back.”

“No,” he said sternly. “Just never leave again.”

When Lyric walked back into the room, she told us the paperwork was signed and she’d be no more trouble. As she stepped out of the front door, I called after her.

“Mama’s last words to me were, ‘Take care of Lyric and Mari. Take care of your sisters. Take care of my Lyric. Take care of my favorite song.’ You were her final thought. You were her final breath, her final word.”

Tears rolled down her cheeks and she nodded, thanking me for a level of peace only I could give her soul. If I had known how heavy it weighed on her heart, I would’ve told her years ago.

“I left Talon a gift,” she said. “I figured it was better for her than it was for me. It’s sitting on her nightstand.” Without another word, Lyric disappeared.

As we headed to the nursery, my hand fell to my chest as I saw the gift Lyric had left for her daughter—the small music box with a dancing ballerina that Mama had given her. It sat there with a note on top, and tears fell down my cheeks as I read the words on the paper.

Always dance, Talon

When Christmas came around, Graham, Talon, and I had three celebrations. The day started with us being bundled up and drinking coffee in the backyard with Ollie’s tree. Each day Graham visited that tree and he’d sit and talk to his best friend, his father, telling him every story of Talon’s growth, of his growth, of us. I was glad he had that connection—it was almost as if Ollie would live on forever in a way.

It was beautiful to see his tree standing tall every morning and night.

That afternoon, we headed to Mary’s home to celebrate the day with their family. Mari joined us, and we all stayed close, laughing, crying, and remembering. The first Christmas without a loved one was always the toughest one, but when you were surrounded by love, the hurts hurt a little less.

That evening Graham, Talon, and I packed up the car to go spend the remainder of the holiday with Mama’s tree. Mari told us she’d meet us up there a few hours later. On the whole trip to the cabin, I stared at my hand that was linked with Graham’s. My air, my fire, my water, my earth, my soul.

I hadn’t known a love could be so true.

“We’re doing this, aren’t we?” I whispered, glancing back at Talon, who was sleeping in the back seat. “Staying forever in love?”

“Forever,” he promised, kissing my palm. “Forever.”

As we pulled up to the cabin, everything was lightly dusted with snow. Graham climbed out of the car and hurried over to the tree, carrying Talon’s car seat in his hand. “Graham, we should head inside. It’s cold.”

“We should at least say hi,” he told me, looking at the tree. “Can you plug in the lights? I worry if I put Talon’s car seat down, she’ll cry.”

“Of course,” I said, hurrying over in the chilly air. When I plugged them in, I turned to Mama’s tree, and my chest tightened as I saw the lights spelling out words that forever changed my life.

Will you marry us?

“Graham,” I whispered, shaking as I slowly turned around to face him. When I did, he was down on one knee, holding a ring in his hand.

“I love you, Lucy,” he said, not calling me Lucille for the first time ever. “I love the way you give, the way you care, the way you laugh, the way you smile. I love your heart and how it beats for the world. Before you, I was lost, and because of you, I found my way home. You’re the reason I believe in tomorrow. You’re the reason I believe in love, and I plan to never let you go. Marry me. Marry Talon. Marry us.”

Tears formed in my eyes as I stood in front of them. I lowered myself down so I was kneeling beside him. I wrapped my body around his, and he held me close as I whispered yes repeatedly, the word traveling from my lips and straight into his soul.

He slid the ring onto my finger, and as he held me close, my heart pounded more and more, knowing that my greatest hope had finally come true.

I was finally planting my roots in a home so warm.

“So this is our happily ever after?” I asked softly against his lips.

“No, my love, this is merely our chapter one.”

When he kissed me, I swore, in the darkness of the night, I felt the warmth of the sun.

Six Years Later

“And he was your best friend, Daddy?” Talon asked as she helped me dig around in the garden. The summer sun touched our faces as we picked green peppers and tomatoes for dinner that night.

“My very best friend,” I told her, knee deep in dirt. The sunflowers we planted a few months ago were as tall as Talon. Whenever the wind blew past us, the flowers Lucy picked out lit up our senses.

“Can you tell me his story again?” she asked, placing her shovel into the ground. She then picked up a green pepper and bit into it as if it were an apple—just like her mama. If I were inside and couldn’t find the two, they were normally in the backyard eating cucumbers, peppers, and rhubarb.

“The dirt is good for the soul,” Lucy always joked.

“Again?” I asked, arching an eyebrow. “Didn’t I just tell the story last night before bed?”

“Maktub,” she replied with a sly grin. “It means all is written, which means you were supposed to tell the story again.”

I laughed. “Is that so?” I asked, walking over to her and scooping her into my arms.

She giggled. “Yes!”

“Well, okay, since all is written after all,” I joked. I walked her over to Professor Oliver’s tree where three chairs were lined up. Two full-sized chairs and one child’s plastic chair. I placed Talon in her chair, and I took mine beside her. “So, it all began when I was in college and failed my first paper.”

I told her the story of how Professor Oliver came into my life and how he planted a seed into my heart that grew into love. He was my best friend, my father, my family. Talon always loved the story, too. The way she smiled as she listened closely always filled me up with love. She listened like Lucy—wholeheartedly with a sparkle in her eyes.