“Students, please take your seats.” The professor, a librarian-type with reading glasses perched on the end of her nose and a tight bun situated at the back of her head, addressed the class.
Audrey claimed the seat next to Destiny and powered on her iPad. Happiness sparked her day as the home screen came into view. Sweet little Grace’s face smiled back at her from the picture on the screen. Grace was sitting in the shade of an apple tree, a drooly smile lighting up her chubby face. The memory of that moment was etched on Audrey’s heart. Maggie and Andrew had propped Grace in the sitting position several times before getting a decent picture. Grace kept toppling over just as Audrey was about to snap the photo. Grace belly laughed every time she landed in the soft grass.
A notification popped up. “This morning, we will review … ” The professor’s voice morphed into faint background noise as Audrey read a message that scrolled along the top of her screen. It was from Mr. Preston.
I Believe We Have A Break In Your Case.
Audrey gasped, drawing the attention of those around her. Destiny peered over at Audrey’s iPad, her brow knit in concern. Audrey needed to read the rest of the message in private.
She hugged the device to her chest. “Take notes for me.”
Destiny nodded, seemingly happy to play a role in Audrey’s drama.
Audrey gathered her belongings, and hurried out of the classroom. She ran to the nearest vacant lounge area and dropped her backpack onto a chair. Her mind was a tangled web of what ifs. What if they found her attacker? What if Grace looked like him? What if this wasn’t her attacker after all? She sat down, said a brief prayer, and read the message in its entirety.
Call Me At Your Earliest Convenience. A Suspect In Serial Sexual Assaults Has Been Detained. Incriminating Evidence May Link Him To Your Case. Several Pieces Of Jewelry, Along With A Stash Of Date Rape Drugs, Were Confiscated From His Glove Box. It Is Believed That He Saves Jewelry From Each Of His Victims.
A sick feeling roiled in Audrey’s stomach. What kind of sicko keeps mementos from his victims?
She stood and began to pace. She’d always assumed she’d be elated to have her attacker found and punished. Instead, feelings of disgust rushed at her. She didn’t want to lay eyes on the pervert. Didn’t want to know his name. Didn’t want to waste another minute of her life thinking about him.
But in order to put him behind bars, preventing him from attacking another woman, she felt a responsibility to participate in the investigation.
She dialed Mr. Preston’s number.
“Hello, Audrey. I was expecting your—”
“Was there a diamond necklace?” Audrey’s voice was shaky, barely a whisper. Her throat felt almost too tight to speak.
“Audrey? We must have a bad connection. Can you repeat that?”
Audrey cleared her throat. She took a deep, calming breath, releasing it slowly. Her hand was so sweaty that she almost lost grip on her phone. “I need to know … was there a diamond necklace in his glove box? A teardrop diamond on a gold chain.”
Mr. Preston hesitated for what felt like an eternity. Audrey heard a shuffling of papers on the other end of the phone. Finally, he answered.
The friendly chatter of women, the clinking of fine China, and the scent of baby powder filled the Hayes’ home. Mrs. Mitchel chose a gift bag from the pile at her feet and folded back the tissue paper. She pulled out a set of board books, and held it up for everyone to see. “Thank you. I love Sandra Boynton books.” There was a collective voice of agreement.
Audrey played with her wrist watch as she tried to contain her excitement. Her gift to baby Grace was next on the pile. Audrey had already given Grace numerous outfits and toys over the past four weeks since her birth, but this gift was special. Mrs. Mitchel read the small card aloud. “To: Grace. From: Aunty Audrey.”
The room quieted as the guests anticipated Audrey’s gift. You could hear a pin drop as Mrs. Mitchel peeled back the paper on the box. Peering inside, tears instantly filled her eyes. She removed the scrapbook from the box. Audrey prayed that Mrs. Mitchel would like it. On the first page was a heartfelt letter to Grace where Audrey told her she loved her very much. She explained that she wasn’t ready to be a mother because she was very young but that God had chosen special parents for her.
She told Grace of God’s great love. Lastly, she closed with the Bible verse that had given her the courage to follow God’s will. 2 Corinthians 12:9. The next few pages were filled with pictures of Audrey from birth to the present time. The rest of the book was blank. “You can fill the rest of the book with cards, letters, and photos I send her throughout the years.”
“She’ll love it.” Mrs. Mitchel wiped away tears with a tissue. She stood up and came to Audrey, pulling her into a hug. “We love you, Audrey.”
“I love you too.” The Mitchels were like family to her now.
The scrapbook was passed around the circle for each guest to admire while Mrs. Mitchel opened the rest of the presents. Baby Grace was also passed around. It was Darcy’s turn to hold her, and she did a fine job of smothering her with kisses and “I love yous.” Audrey was admiring the two of them when Mrs. Mitchel announced that she had a gift for Audrey. She handed the last package from the pile to Audrey, a small square box. Audrey opened it to find a gold ring with a row of delicate roses etched into it. It was simple, yet elegant.
“Thank you.” She held it to her heart. “It’s gorgeous.”
“You’re welcome.” Mrs. Mitchel held out her hand, revealing a matching ring. “I also have one for Grace—for when she’s older.”
Audrey was moved beyond words. She removed the ring from the box, placing it on her finger. She hugged Mrs. Mitchel. “I’ll never take it off.”
Mrs. Mitchel smiled. “I’ll always wear mine too.”
Audrey showed off her ring to her mom and sister. Becca joined the huddle to check it out as well. Audrey held out her hand to Grace who was lying in Darcy’s arms. “Look at my pretty ring, Grace. I’ll wear it every day so that a connection to you will be with me everywhere I go.” Audrey caressed the baby’s hand, and Grace responded by wrapping her tiny fingers around Audrey’s pinky. A warm feeling ran through Audrey from head to toe. She loved Grace so much it hurt. But at the same time, she was incredibly happy because she knew she was giving Grace the best life possible.
Her mom excused herself to cut the cake she had prepared. It was cherry chip, Audrey’s favorite. Victoria Hayes started a pot of coffee brewing and put the tea kettle on the stove. Audrey sat on the couch next to Darcy, Grace holding her finger as she drifted to sleep.
“Do you want to hold her? I think everyone else has had a turn.”
Audrey nodded. She had been aching to cuddle Grace all afternoon but allowed the guests to hold her first. Carefully, she removed the sleeping baby from Darcy’s arms. Audrey gazed down at her angelic face, admiring her long eyelashes, rosebud lips, and round cheeks. Her look had already changed since Audrey had held her in the hospital four short weeks ago. The separation from Grace had been heart wrenching after carrying her for nine months, but it had also given Audrey an opportunity to begin healing and start planning for her future.
Pondering her plans, Audrey stared out the window at the same view she had from her own home. The pond was filled with ducks swimming lazily about and squirrels skipping among the branches in the lush trees. She was enrolled in classes for fall at Bethel. She’d be living off-campus in an apartment with a couple of runners from the cross-country team, whom had shown her nothing but love and support upon hearing the reasons for Audrey dropping out of school last winter.
Likewise, her coach was welcoming her back to the team with open arms. Audrey’s life was on its way back to normal. But there was one more piece of her life’s puzzle that needed tending to before she could really move forward. She let her eyes drift from the gorgeous view of the waterfront to one that made her heart beat wildly no matter how hard she tried to restrain it. Trevor.
He was standing at the grill, spatula in hand, shooting the breeze with the husbands of the shower guests. She’d visit the guys out back later.
Audrey wasn’t sure what their future held, but she was hoping that Trevor could still find a place in his heart for her, whether it be friendship or something more. It wasn’t a question of whether or not she loved him. She always had, and she always would. But she had become a changed person through all that she had endured. Now she carried baggage that could take a lifetime to sort through. Trevor was still young at heart, and his life remained a clean slate. Would the two of them still be compatible? Or would their differences be too great? There was only one way to find out. She needed to talk to him.
She ate her cake quickly and then asked Mrs. Mitchel if she could take Grace outside to show her off to the guys. “There’s someone who hasn’t met her yet.” Audrey was nearly bursting with anticipation.
“Take all the time you need.” Mrs. Mitchel stroked Grace’s blonde hair. “Tell the men there’s cake in here. We have enough left over to feed an army.”
“I’ll let them know.”
Audrey lightly draped a receiving blanket over Grace’s face to block out the sun’s rays before stepping onto the patio. The warmth of the summer sun was a welcome sensation after sitting in the air conditioning for the better part of the day. It was a very nice shower, playing games and eating hors d’oeuvres. But Audrey felt that she was more in her element outdoors.
Her dad spotted her right away as she padded barefoot across the grass. He was in the middle of taking a bite of a big juicy burger. He waved her over to the picnic table where he was seated with Pastor Mitchel, Jake’s dad, and Trevor’s dad. Audrey made her way over, all the while completely aware of Trevor’s gaze following her. He and Lucas were seated on lawn chairs, in the shade of an oak tree, balancing plates filled with burgers, chips, and pickles on their laps. Audrey smiled in his direction. She would go to him next.
“Hi, Dad.” She took a seat on the end of the picnic bench.
Her dad wiped ketchup from his chin with a napkin. “Hi, honey, how’s the shower? It’s not wrapping up already, is it?”
“Not yet. I just thought I’d come out for a while.”
“Any good loot?” Pastor Mitchel rubbed his hands together.
“Definitely. Grace got so much clothes, she might need a bigger closet. And thank you for the ring, Pastor Mitchel.” She held up her hand for all to see.
His eyes sparkled. “You’re so welcome. And you really need to start calling me by my first name. We’re family now.”
“That might take some getting used to.” Pastor Mitchel had told Audrey this before. He and Mrs. Mitchel had also said that they would love to have Grace call her parents Grandpa Tom and Grandma Lydia. In fact, they insisted. They were thrilled that Grace would have grandparents living close by.
Grace squirmed in Audrey’s arms. Peeking under the blanket, Audrey saw that she was getting restless. “I better get Grace in the shade.” She scooted off the bench. “Oh, and we saved some cake for you guys. I was supposed to let you know.”
“I told your mom that the cake would be more than enough, but she tossed and turned all night worrying about it.”
Audrey laughed. “Sounds like Mom.”
Jake’s dad stood from the table, gathering his empty plate and cup. “Your mom makes the best cake of any lady in the whole church. Don’t tell my wife I said that.”
“It’s no secret. Everyone knows my mom could open her own bakery.” Audrey was happy that Mr. Preston had attended the shower. There had been a remarkable positive change in his demeanor recently. He’d been showing up to more church events, and he agreed to help Audrey find her perpetrator. It seemed that he and Jake had grown closer too. “Mr. Preston, thank you for helping with my case. I mean, we don’t have much of a case yet, but maybe with your help we can actually catch my attacker.”
“I won’t rest until we find the slime ball and put him behind bars.”
Audrey’s dad nodded to Mr. Preston, a gesture of gratitude.
It was time to talk to Trevor. As she made her way over to him, her heart beat so loudly, she thought it would wake up Grace. The past month of reflection and prayer had led her to believe that she was ready to rekindle her relationship with Trevor. She felt terrible for the harsh way she had treated him, giving him the cold shoulder. She needed to be sure he understood that she only did it because she cared about him so deeply. But she should have gone about it in a different way. In hind sight, she should’ve been up front and honest with him about what had happened at that party and then explained that she needed time apart from him. But she couldn’t undo the past. She could only ask for his forgiveness.
“Hey guys. I have someone I’d like you to meet.”
Lucas stood up. “Take my chair, Audrey. I’ll be going in for cake after I get a look at the little munchkin.”
“Thanks.” Audrey took him up on his offer, knowing that Lucas was allowing her and Trevor time alone. “Trevor and Lucas, meet baby Grace. Grace, this is Trevor and Lucas, our knights in shining armor who swooped in and delivered us to the hospital just in time.”
Trevor scooted his lawn chair closer to hers to get a better look at the baby. “She’s so cute.” Sweetness dripped from his words. “Can I hold her?” He already had his arms outstretched, waiting.
Audrey placed Grace in his arms, instructing him to be mindful of the baby’s neck. Trevor glowed as he held her, and Audrey wished she had a camera. Instead, she took a picture in her mind, memorizing the expression on Trevor’s face, the awe and admiration he emanated. A lump formed in her throat. Not because she was sad. It was just such a beautiful moment. Trevor loved Grace. It was evident in the way he held her so gently, the way he caressed her soft cheek with his finger, and the way he closed his eyes when he snuggled her against his chest. He really loved her.
A tear slid down Audrey’s cheek because the beautiful picture in front of her demonstrated the depth of Trevor’s love not only for Grace, but for her. He really was amazing. He had been so patient with Audrey, persisting in his quest for answers when she ignored him, and then giving her the space she demanded. Most men would have given up long ago. But Trevor’s love was steadfast.
“You did good, Audrey. She’s adorable.” Trevor’s eyes remained fixed on the sleeping infant as he spoke.
“She’s a cutie,” Lucas chimed in. “I’ll leave you three alone now while I go get myself some cake.”
“Enjoy!” Audrey called out as he moseyed back to the house.
Now that they were alone, there was so much Audrey wanted to say to Trevor, but she didn’t know where to begin. She decided an apology was a good place to start. “Trev, I’m so sorry.”
He looked at her, his eyes twinkling. “For smacking me in the elevator? Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing a little plastic surgery can’t cure.”
Audrey laughed. It was just like Trevor to break the ice like that. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Oh, you meant for making me pass out and hit my head on the cold cement floor? I’ll recover from that eventually too. It’s not a problem.”
Audrey doubled over in laughter. “That was your own fault. You need to buck up a little.”
Trevor feigned insult. “My fault? I was being a perfect gentleman. I even offered to carry you over the threshold, and what kind of thanks did I get?” He scoffed. “A smack in the face and a goose egg on the side of my head.”
“Okay, I’m sorry about all that.” She was barely able to contain her laughter. She became more serious then. “But I’m also sorry for everything else. For shutting you out.” Ashamed, she looked down, feeling lower than the dirt beneath her feet. “I hope you’ll forgive me.”
Trevor gently lifted her chin with his fingertips until their eyes met. “I forgive you. I’m just happy to have you back in my life.”
Their eyes held. “Me too.”
Grace let out a soft whimper that quickly morphed into a loud cry. Audrey lifted the baby to her shoulder, gently patting her back. “Shh, it’s okay, Grace.”
Grace’s cries continued to grow in intensity. The men at the picnic table heard, and Andrew came over. “Sounds like somebody’s hungry. Do you want me to have Maggie fix her a bottle? I can bring it out to you.”
“Actually, do you mind bringing Grace in? I really need to finish talking to Trevor.”
Andrew scooped the crying baby into his arms. “No problem. She could probably use a diaper change too.”
Audrey watched Andrew walk away with the baby in his arms. Although Grace was still fussing, she was settling down. There was no question in Audrey’s mind that she had made the best decision for her daughter.
There was a flutter of movement in the periphery of her vision. She turned to see a robin, perched on the gate that leading down to the pond. Audrey watched as the bird flew landed on the grass and pulled a fat juicy worm from the soil. The robin flew to a nest in the oak tree where tiny baby robins squeaked in hunger. Audrey smiled. It was as if God were reminding her once again how he would take care of her, just as he takes care of the tiniest bird. She silently praised God.
Trevor didn’t seem to notice the robin or the surge of emotion coursing through Audrey. He was still watching Andrew trying to soothe his daughter. He chuckled. “That little one has a temper.”
Audrey smiled at his comment. “It’s called a strong will, and it means that she will be very successful in life. She won’t let anything get in her way.” She laughed. “That’s what my mom always said about me.”
Trevor reached over and touched Audrey’s arm, sending a current of electricity surging through her body. “Like mother, like daughter.” His hand rested on her forearm, and it was all she could do to stop herself from squealing like a crazed pre-teen fan at a boy band concert. She hoped that he hadn’t noticed her dramatic reaction to his touch. He hadn’t meant for it to be romantic. This was exactly the reason why she had avoided him during her pregnancy. There was no way she could’ve stopped herself from falling madly in love with him had they kept in touch.
But now there was no reason to keep him at arm’s length. On the contrary, it was time for her to move on with her life.
She had planned to take things slowly with Trevor, to allow time to rebuild their friendship and see what path it would travel. But now, sitting next to him, feeling his touch, and hearing his comforting words that held no remorse, she knew that more time was the last thing Trevor needed. He had faithfully stood by, waiting for her to come back to him. He had made his feelings clear all along, and now he deserved to know her true feelings.
She leaned closer to him, feeling the weight of his hand on her arm grow stronger. She looked into his alluring blue eyes and said the only words that held the power to convey her feelings. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
They kissed. It was gentle and soft, filled with forgiveness and hope. When Audrey drew back from him, holding his gaze, she felt stronger feelings for him than ever before. In spite of everything that she had been through, he had loved her unconditionally. She knew at that moment, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was the love of her life.
Trevor cleared his throat, preparing to say something important. “Before this moment slips away, there’s just one thing I need to tell you.”
Audrey’s heart pounded in her chest. She didn’t know whether to be nervous or excited.
He took hold of her hands and looked deep into her eyes, putting her at ease. “Audrey Chapman, I want to marry you someday.”
Audrey’s heart flooded with joy. She’d never been so happy to hear those words. She giggled. “You promise?”
Dressed in a hospital gown and hooked up to monitors, Audrey rode out the contraction one painstaking breath at a time. This was it. The day her baby would be born. She’d planned a dinner for next week to introduce the adoptive parents to her mom and dad. Instead, the meeting would take place today in the hospital.
The door to her hospital room opened and her mom entered the room. “Mom, I’m so glad you’re here.”
Her mom came to her side and held her hand. “Sorry I didn’t come sooner. I forgot to turn my phone back on after Bible study. I went to the grocery store and when I was standing by the limes I remembered to turn my phone on, and then I saw all of your texts.”
“It’s okay, Mom. Trevor and Lucas drove me here so I wouldn’t be alone.” Truthfully, she hadn’t thought she’d last another minute without her mom.
Her mom brushed a loose curl off of Audrey’s forehead, tucking it behind her ear like she used to do when Audrey was little. “How are you doing?”
Audrey sighed. “Oh, I’m fine. But it hurts really bad.”
As if on cue, a contraction started. Audrey drew in deep breaths as the nurse had instructed, exhaling slowly through pursed lips. She trained her eyes on the machine at the bedside, watching the numbers climb as pain gripped her abdomen and back. Finally, the numbers steadily decreased again, and Audrey relaxed.
“Honey, you can get an epidural so it won’t hurt so much.”
“I already got an epidural. The nurse said that it shouldn’t take away all the pain. She said it will be easier to push if I can feel more. Plus, my labor is going really fast for a first-time mom. I guess that makes it hurt more.”
“So where is Trevor? I didn’t see him when I came up.”
“He and Lucas are in the waiting room. It was too awkward having them in here when the doctors and nurses keep doing stuff to me.”
“That makes sense.”
“Yeah, well Trevor probably couldn’t handle all the medical stuff anyway. He already fainted once.”
Her mom laughed. “That’s why women have the babies. Men couldn’t handle it.”
“That’s what the nurse said.” Audrey would laugh too if it weren’t for the constant ache in her lower abdomen.
“Is he okay?”
“Actually, he got a pretty big goose egg on the side of his head. They gave him an ice pack, a Tylenol, and a Sprite. They told Lucas to keep a close eye on him. I think he’ll be alright.” Talking took great effort at this point, but it helped to keep her mind off the pain.
“The poor guy.” Her mom stifled a laugh.
There was a light knock on the door and her dad and Darcy walked in. “What’s so funny?” Her dad kissed her mom lightly on the lips.
Her mom shook her head. “Absolutely nothing, dear.”
Her dad kissed Audrey’s cheek. “How are you, honey?”
“Don’t ask.” Another contraction was tightening her belly.
This contraction was longer and more intense than any other. It seemed it would never end. She looked to her dad for strength and saw tears welling in his eyes. He locked eyes with her until the pain let up.
“Well, honey, you sure did a number on Trevor.”
Her mom laughed. “So you heard about him fainting?”
He chuckled. “Yeah, and I also heard about Audrey slugging him.”
Her mom looked at Audrey quizzically.
“I forgot to mention that part.”
“I’ll fill you in later,” her dad told her mom. “I told Trevor and Lucas they could go, now that you’re mother and I are here.”
Audrey moaned, tightening her grip on her mother’s hand. “It hurts so bad, and I think I have to go to the bathroom.”
“I remember that feeling.” Her mom jumped to her feet. “Usually that’s the baby telling you it’s time to push. How dilated did they say you were?”
Audrey couldn’t answer right away. She bit the inside of her cheek and moaned. Through clenched teeth, she answered with all her strength, “like eight or something.”
Her mom pressed the nurse call button.
The pain was unbelievable. Just when she thought it couldn’t get any worse, the next contraction would make the previous one feel like a picnic. Pushing was hard. She didn’t know if she was doing it right. All she knew was that it hurt. Toughen up, she’d tell herself.
While she was incredibly thankful for her parents’ arrival, they were quite possibly making her more anxious. Her mom kept rubbing her temples between contractions. And then when the contractions came, she would squeeze Audrey’s hand so hard that it gave her a second reason to moan in pain.
Her dad remained calm, but he couldn’t hide the tears in his eyes. They were tears of love and concern but also of regret and sorrow. Audrey didn’t want to think about the bad thing that had happened to get her where she was today—laying in a hospital, painfully birthing a child she would have to say goodbye to. For now, she just needed to think positive thoughts so that she could survive each contraction. Her sister was a quiet source of comfort, mostly keeping to herself.
The best distraction from the pain was the anticipation of her family meeting the adoptive parents. It was disappointing that the dinner plans hadn’t work out, but it would possibly be more fun for the meeting to take place here in the hospital. Audrey had called Ally at the adoption agency as soon as she was in labor. Ally said she would contact the adoptive parents and tell them it was time to go to the hospital.
It was Audrey’s choice whether or not she would invite them into the birthing room. She decided to invite them in after she’d had a couple of minutes to hold the baby. Ally said that she would poke her head into the delivery room to let Audrey know when they had arrived. So when the pain wasn’t too consuming, Audrey fixed her eyes on the door, watching and waiting for Ally.
Finally, after pushing for an hour, Ally entered the room. But with her presence came something that took Audrey by surprise. Sadness. She had been so looking forward to Ally’s arrival, yet with it came the reminder that she would have to say goodbye to her baby, almost as soon as she said hello.
Audrey watched her mom go to the door and introduce herself. Her mom promised Ally that she would send a nurse to let her know when the adoptive parents were welcome in the room.
Half an hour later, the doctor told everyone to get their cameras ready. A shrill cry filled the room as the baby breathed for the first time. The sound roused emotions in Audrey she’d never felt before. Awe and wonder washed over her. Nothing could have prepared her for the overwhelming feelings of joy and love that consumed her with the sound of that first cry. Tears streamed down her face as she gave one last push, her chin to her chest and her eyes squeezed shut.
The doctor placed the squirming infant on Audrey’s abdomen. Audrey wanted to open her eyes to see her baby, but overcome by exhaustion, she laid her head back onto the pillow. Reaching a hand down, she felt the baby’s soft cheek. Slowly, she summoned the strength to lift her head and look at her baby.
“She’s beautiful,” the doctor said. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” Audrey whispered, overcome with emotion. The doctor was right. The baby girl was the most beautiful thing Audrey had ever laid eyes on.
A nurse stepped in and rubbed the baby vigorously with a blanket, causing her to cry louder. A protective instinct kicked in and Audrey wanted to order the nurse to be gentle. As if reading her mind, the nurse explained that crying helps to clear her lungs.
Audrey touched the baby’s miniature fingers, marveling at the perfection of each one. She cupped the baby’s delicate hand in hers. “Shh, baby Grace. You’re okay.”
The nurse placed a pink hat, topped with a pom-pom, on the baby’s head. Then she wrapped her in a dry blanket and placed her in Audrey’s arms. The baby instantly quieted and struggled to open her eyes. “Hi, sweet girl. Welcome to the world.”
Audrey’s family gathered around the bed, hugging, snapping pictures, and oohing and aahing. But no photo could capture the bittersweet emotion welling in Audrey’s soul. She had never experienced a greater love in all her life than at that moment, gazing into her daughter’s eyes. “I love you, Grace.” She kissed a downy cheek and breathed in the fresh newborn scent.
Darcy captured the moment with a click of her phone’s camera. “She’s so cute!” Darcy snapped a couple more pictures. “And I’m not just saying that because I’m her aunty. She is honestly cute.”
Audrey’s mom leaned in to get a closer look at the infant. “She looks just like her mother.” Nostalgia shone in her eyes.
The nurse offered to take a picture of the entire family gathered around the head of the bed. Everyone posed, soaking in the joy of the moment. Capturing it on photo as well as in their hearts. “One big, happy family.” The nurse handed the camera back to her dad.
The nurse’s words stung. If only it were true. If only Audrey could take baby Grace home. They could be one big, happy family. The nurse was well aware of the situation, and Audrey wished she had been more sensitive. Truthfully, the family was incomplete, so far. The other members were outside the room, praying and waiting for Grace’s arrival. It was only fair to include them in this beautiful moment.
But first, Audrey took a moment to memorize each detail of her daughter’s face, smoothing her delicate eyebrows, kissing her soft pink cheeks, and nuzzling her button nose. Then with eyes spilling over with tears, and a heart overflowing with a mingling of sorrow and joy, she nodded to the nurse. It was time to introduce the adoptive parents to their new baby girl.
“Are you sure about the adoption? You think you can say goodbye?” Worry creased her mom’s brow. Although she supported Audrey’s decision, she was unconvinced that it was God’s plan.
“Mom, I promise you that I found the perfect couple.”
Her mom nodded weakly.
“Would you like to hold her?”
“I’d love to.”
Carefully, Audrey handed the baby to her mom. Grace’s eyes were wide open, and she made gentle cooing sounds. Her mom smiled at the baby. “Hi, little girl. We love you so much. You’re mommy did a great job bringing you into this world.” She held the baby to her chest. “Jesus loves you, precious girl.”
The door creaked open. Audrey held her breath.
Pastor Mitchel and Mrs. Mitchel walked in.
Her mom greeted them, cradling Grace in her arms. “What a nice surprise. Audrey didn’t tell me you were coming.” She positioned Grace so they could see her face. “Meet my new grandbaby.”
The Mitchels stared at Grace in wide-eyed wonder. Then they looked at Audrey.
Audrey lifted her hand in a dainty wave, hoping the Mitchels would be as excited as she was about the arrangement.
Mrs. Mitchel clutched her chest as joyful sobs overtook her. Pastor Mitchel wrapped his wife in his arms, also crying like a baby. It was a better reaction than Audrey had even imagined.
Her mom struggled to put the pieces together. “What’s going on?”
Audrey giggled. “Mom, I would like you to meet Grace’s new mommy and daddy.”
Ally, from the adoption agency, stepped into the room behind the Mitchels, a sly smile curling her lips. She winked at Audrey, and Audrey winked back. They’d pulled off the surprise. Audrey sat back, watching it all play out.
“Yes!” Darcy ran to Pastor Mitchel and threw her arms around his neck. “This is so awesome!” She hugged Mrs. Mitchel next.
“Thank you, Darcy,” Mrs. Mitchel returned her hug. “We feel very blessed.”
“And incredibly grateful,” Pastor Mitchel added.
Audrey’s mom was speechless, her mouth agape. Her dad strode across the room and shook Pastor Mitchel’s hand, and then hugged Mrs. Mitchel. His eyes were glistening when he released her. “We are also blessed … and incredibly grateful.”
Finally, Audrey’s mom embraced each of the new parents separately, holding Grace in the crook of one arm. “My heart is bursting with joy.” She stood back, soaking in the site of the adoptive parents—her friends. “Audrey was right. This adoption truly has been orchestrated from Heaven above.”
Audrey smiled. “Now do you believe me, Mom? They’re the perfect parents, right?”
“Hold on a minute,” Pastor Mitchel chimed in. “Those are some pretty high expectations you’re placing on us first-timers.”
Audrey laughed. “I’m sure you’ll do great.” She had no doubts.
“Hold your daughter.” Her mom extended the little squirming bundle.
Mrs. Mitchel stepped gingerly around the doctor who was finishing her work at the foot of the bed. She sat down on the vinyl-covered hospital chair. Pastor Mitchel stood beside her, his hand on her shoulder. Her mom placed Grace into Mrs. Mitchel’s open arms.
Darcy took pictures as everyone else looked on, tears of joy streaming down the faces of all present, including the doctor and nurse.
All attention was on the family of three, united for the first time. Audrey knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had designed this family. She was grateful to have had a part in its formation.
Trevor turned up the volume on his car stereo, singing along to the music. He’d just completed his last final exam of his sophomore year and was ready to celebrate. With his bags packed for a long weekend at home, he pulled out of the driveway of the house he shared with his college buddies. Donning a Twins baseball cap and a Joe Mauer jersey, he commenced the drive home where he would pick up Lucas before heading to Target Field. He checked his wallet for the tickets—for at least the third time. Yep. Still there. The seats were great and the weather was perfect for outdoor baseball.
As he neared his parent’s house, the familiar melancholy overcame him. Whenever he came home, he couldn’t escape the painful reminders that Audrey was no longer a part of his life. Since Christmas, he’d stayed away from home as much as possible, keeping in touch with his family mainly by phone calls and texting. His mom gave him frequent updates on Audrey. She was still living at home, working as a nanny, and nearing the end of her pregnancy.
His mom said she was giving her baby up for adoption and had recently chosen the adopting couple. Trevor had mixed emotions about that. He was happy that Audrey was able to make such a brave decision. Knowing Audrey and her tender heart, it must be hard for her to relinquish her child. She probably decided the baby would be better off in a home with a mom and a dad. But Trevor also felt a twinge of sadness that he wouldn’t get to know Audrey’s baby. Maybe it would be a strong-willed, curly-haired pixie like Audrey. Trevor grinned. That would be too cute.
Audrey’s car was parked in the Chapman’s driveway; she must be home. He wanted so badly to knock on the door and give her a big hug. He bet that she probably needed one right now as her due date neared. But with respect to her wishes, he resisted.
“Well look what the cat dragged in.” Lucas welcomed Trevor home with a firm slap on his back.
Trevor set down his laundry basket towering with dirty clothes on the front entry rug. Then he shrugged off the bag draped over his shoulder. Lucas was dressed in a pair of red gym shorts and an old T-shirt with the sleeves ripped off. Anxious about the time, Trevor checked his watch. “Dude, get dressed. The game starts in less than two hours.”
“Relax. I was just on my way up to shower.” Lucas tipped off Trevor’s hat as he breezed past him.
“You don’t have time to shower.” Lucas was already upstairs, turning on the faucet. Left with no choice other than to take his brother’s advice and relax, Trevor carried the laundry basket into the laundry room and loaded the washer. As the machine filled, Trevor hoped Lucas was getting doused with a blast of cold water. Then maybe he would get out of the shower sooner.
Ten minutes later, Lucas showed up looking more like he was going to a baseball game and less like he had just finished playing a game of pick-up basketball. He slipped on his shoes and grabbed his keys off of a hook next to the front door. “Whatchya waitin’ for?”
Trevor had to admit that Lucas had gotten ready in record time, so he let his irritation slip away. Stepping outside, he put on his sunglasses. The sun was bright with just a few lazy clouds hovering in the light blue sky. Movement next door caught his attention, and Trevor looked over to see Audrey. She was locking her front door, a large bag slung over her shoulder as if she might be going away for the weekend.
Trevor’s heart rate quickened at the sight of her. All the months apart hadn’t dampened his feelings for her one bit. He was deeply in love with her, and knew he always would be, no matter what the future held. I’m gonna marry her one day.
When she turned from the door, Trevor was shocked at the size of her belly. If he hadn’t known better, he’d have thought she was carrying twins.
Lucas nudged Trevor with his elbow, and then he called out to her, “Hey, Audrey.”
She looked up then, her eyes instantly locking with Trevor’s. It didn’t matter that she was pregnant; she still made him weak in the knees.
Looking just as shocked to see him, her feet stuttered temporarily. She gave a quick wave as she practically waddled to her car. But just as she was about to open the door, she grabbed her midsection and winced.
Panic coursed through Trevor’s veins. “Are you okay?” He ran across the yards to her. She was hunched over with her hands on her thighs. “Audrey, what’s wrong?”
When she didn’t answer, he tucked her hair behind her ears so he could see her face. Her eyes were squeezed shut. She sucked in a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “I’ll be fine.” She straightened, looking much better. “I just need to get to the hospital.”
Lucas was also at her side then. “Is the baby coming?”
Of course the baby was coming. Nothing was wrong. She was going to have the baby. A new sense of urgency flooded Trevor’s mind. He grabbed her bag and threw it into the backseat of her car. “We’ll take you.”
Audrey hesitated but not for long. She slid into the backseat.
Trevor thought about the Twins tickets in his pocket. He had really been looking forward to the game. But there would be many more games. Although disappointed about missing it, he was mostly relieved that he could be here for Audrey. He hated to think of what could’ve happened had she tried to drive herself to the hospital.
Trevor took the driver’s seat, and Lucas sat in the front next to him. As he drove, Trevor kept an eye on Audrey in the rearview mirror. A few minutes later, she cradled her belly with her arms and groaned.
Lucas noticed also. “Hurry up, dude. There she goes again.”
Trevor checked the speedometer. He was already violating the speed limit. “I’m going as fast as I can. I don’t wanna get in an accident.”
“Well I don’t want her to have a baby in this car.”
The contraction slowly let up and gradually Audrey began to relax again. “Trevor, you don’t have to speed.” She was short of breath. “Just get us there safely. My doctor said I’ll be in labor for several hours since it’s my first time.”
Trevor tried to slow down but his racing heart wouldn’t let him. He was terrified to be responsible for getting a woman in labor to the hospital. At the same time he was elated to have this time with Audrey. He had missed her more than he had ever thought possible. A protective feeling came over him. He would do anything to keep her safe right now, and he wished he could take away her pain. But right now his job was to get her to the hospital, so he focused his attention on the road like a man on a mission.
Finally they reached the hospital, and Trevor pulled up to the front doors. Audrey needed to wait for a contraction to pass before getting out of the car.
Trevor looked to the front doors, expecting to see medical personnel running out to assist them, but no one seemed to be alarmed or rushing over to help. A girl in scrubs pushed a wheelchair holding an older gentleman through the automatic double doors. The man held a vase of flowers on his lap. Trevor couldn’t help but think that the poor guy looked worse for the wear. Trevor looked around for someone else to help but when he didn’t see anyone, he called to the girl in scrubs. “I have a woman in labor. I need help.”
The girl smiled, evidently unalarmed. “Go in and talk to the lady at the front desk. She’ll direct you where to go.”
Although the girl was friendly and slightly helpful, Trevor was appalled at her calm demeanor. Couldn’t she see that this was an emergency? “Can you get us one of those wheelchairs?” Trevor helped Audrey out of the car.
Audrey patted his arm. “I can walk.”
Trevor was skeptical about that. He needed to take control of the situation since everyone else seemed to have a laissez faire attitude. “Lucas, you park the car and meet us inside. I’m gonna stay with Audrey.”
The lady at the front desk had silver hair tied up in a bun on the top of her head. Her long painted nails clicked on the keyboard as she entered Audrey’s information into the computer. She, too, was in no hurry. Finally, she looked up from the computer. Pointing over her shoulder, she directed them to a bank of elevators. “Go up to the third floor and take a left. They’ll be expecting you.”
Trevor grabbed Audrey’s hand and started for the elevators before the woman had a chance to finish her sentence.
“Thank you,” Audrey called as Trevor dragged her away.
Trevor pushed the “Up” button three times before a set of elevator doors finally opened, revealing a mother toting three young children. One of the kids was crying because he didn’t have a turn to push a button so was refusing to exit the elevator. A second child was whining that he was hungry, and a baby girl in a stroller had dropped her pacifier on the floor. These people could take all day to get off the elevator so Trevor decided to help. He picked up the pacifier and popped it into the baby’s mouth. At least one of the children was happy now.
The mother, however, chose that moment to reach her boiling point, and took out her frustration on Trevor. She pulled the pacifier from the baby’s mouth, causing the little one to scream loud enough to drown out the voices of her brothers. The woman glared at Trevor. “Do you know how many germs are on this floor? Would you eat off of this floor?”
Just in the nick of time, another set of elevator doors opened behind them. “Sorry, ma’am.” He pulled Audrey by the hand into the empty elevator.
Leaning his back against the wall of the elevator, he exhaled. Then he looked at Audrey. She had her eyes shut tight again and had a hand bracing her lower back. Trevor looked up at the digital numbers illuminating the floor they were on. How long could it take to go up three floors? Finally the doors opened on the third floor. “We’re here, Audrey.” He pulled on her hand, but she didn’t budge.
She shook her head. “I can’t. It hurts too bad.”
Bending down, he tried to pick her up. One way or another, he was getting her to labor and delivery.
Audrey punched him square in the face. “Don’t touch me!”
Stunned, Trevor backed away from her, wedging his foot between the elevator doors threatening to close.
Slowly, the contraction receded, and Audrey relaxed. She looked up at Trevor, noticing the dazed look on his face. “Oh no. I’m so sorry I punched you. I really didn’t try. It just hurt so much.” She giggled.
Trevor smiled, rubbing the sting from his cheek. It was pretty funny, he had to admit. He remembered then about hearing of women’s erratic behavior during labor. “It’s okay. I should’ve known better. Now let’s get off this elevator already.”
Audrey took a step forward and then gasped. She looked up at Trevor, her eyes wide open. “My water just broke.” A trickle of water pooled at her feet.
The lights dimmed. Trevor’s body went numb. That’s the last thing he remembered before falling to the floor.
Fireflies flickered in the tall grasses bordering the pond. Audrey watched them from her window, contemplating catching a few in a jar like she had done as a little girl. But that would just be procrastinating. She needed to look through the album of adoptive family profiles. It was a daunting task, but the baby could come any day. Time was running out.
She sat on her bed and carefully lifted the cover of the album. She turned the pages slowly, absorbing every detail on each page. Each family was uniquely special and so deserving of a child. There were couples turning to adoption after years of unsuccessful fertility treatment. Others had biological children and now wanted to share their loving home with a child in need of a family. Some couples were older and settled while others were young and adventurous.
How would she ever choose? She lifted her eyes from the book and gazed heavenward. God, show me who to choose. Make it clear; I don’t want to make the wrong choice. Show me your will.
She flipped several pages ahead, skimming through the various profiles. Suddenly, her heart skipped a beat. She turned back a page, not believing her eyes. Scrolled across the top of the page was Proverbs 3:5-6. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. The verse Pastor Mitchel had instilled in her heart. Her breath caught in her throat as she examined the pictures. The couple’s eyes shone with love. A love that also emanated from the words that beautifully spilled from their hearts onto the page. They possessed the qualities she had been looking for—a dedicated marriage and an unmistakable love for Jesus. This was the couple who would raise her child.
With trembling hands and a heart surging with joy, she picked up her phone and made possibly the most important call of her life.
“Zoe’s Place. Ally speaking; may I help you?”
Audrey froze, too consumed with emotion to speak.
Ally spoke again, more impatiently this time. “Hello? Is anybody there?”
“Yes. I’m here. This is Audrey Chapman.” She strained to speak, her words a faint whisper.
“Hi, Audrey. How are you?” Her voice was gentle again and now rang with compassion. She knew Audrey well, as she had mentored her through the pregnancy and now guided her through the adoption process.
Audrey took a deep breath before speaking the next sentence. “I’ve made my decision.”
“That’s wonderful. Would you like to come to the office so we could talk about it?”
Audrey inhaled deeply, and let the air out slowly. “Yes. I’m ready.”
They made plans for Audrey to come to the adoption agency first thing in the morning. Audrey would reveal the family she had chosen for her child, and they would make plans for her to meet with the couple as soon as possible.
Audrey ended the call and released a sigh as she collapsed onto her down comforter, her heart filling with peace. She knew she was doing the right thing. God already had a home prepared for her baby.
The Hope Church youth group gathered around the television in Pastor Mitchel’s living room. Audrey collapsed into a recliner and elevated her feet. The other kids occupied the couch and loveseat, and sprawled out on the floor. Although the Mitchel’s home was modest in size, it was just big enough to accommodate the group who had gathered to congratulate the graduates. Pastor Mitchel slid a DVD into the machine, and the boisterous crowd immediately hushed.
A baby picture of Jake filled the screen, sending oohs and aahs bouncing around the room. Next was a picture of Jake as a toddler, perched on Santa’s knee. Elementary and middle school pictures followed. Jake wasn’t one to embarrass easily, but his face was flushed bright red. Finally, more recent photos of Jake, taken during youth group events, flashed on the screen—wakeboarding, flaunting a walleye he’d caught in the boundary waters, and playing broom ball on the Chapman’s frozen pond.
Similar slideshows of Becca and Gavin followed, set to the tunes of their favorite songs. It wasn’t until a sappy song played that the viewers were reduced to tears. Accompanying the music were group photos of the kids throughout their years at Hope Church. Trevor’s face appeared on several images, melting Audrey’s insides to mush.
Audrey looked around the room, capturing the reactions of her friends. Becca had her head resting on Jake’s shoulder, her face stained with tears. In contrast, Gavin and Darcy had dry eyes and smiles on their faces.
But it was Pastor Mitchel’s response that struck Audrey the most. Pride emanated from his eyes, almost as if the kids were his own. And in a way, Audrey supposed, they were. He had played a big part in raising the youth group kids. This year had been especially important. Pastor Mitchel’s accident had profoundly impacted the teens and had taught them that there were more important things in life than partying.
When the DVD was finished, Pastor Mitchel said special words he had prepared about each of the graduates as he had done the previous year when Audrey had graduated. Then he presented each of them a unique gift.
Becca received a compass. Pastor Mitchel described Becca as a leader, saying that a compass symbolically would guide her in the right direction. Gavin was given a rock, symbolizing that he stood firm in his faith. And Jake was presented a football with everyone’s signature and favorite Bible verse inscribed on it.
The night brought back memories for Audrey of the gathering around the campfire to celebrate her high school graduation, when she was so eager to start a new chapter of her life. The baby rolled in her belly, reminding her of all that had happened since that night.
With the DVD and the gift presentation finished, people dispersed throughout the house, some going back to the kitchen for snacks and some retreating to the basement for a game of ping pong. Audrey heaved herself out of the recliner and headed straight for the bathroom. Her bladder seemed to be the size of a pea these days.
Making her way down the hallway, she admired the framed photographs hanging on the walls. Audrey paused to look at a picture taken on the Mitchels’ wedding day. Mrs. Mitchel was radiant in her white gown, and Pastor Mitchel looked equally handsome. There were more pictures of people Audrey didn’t recognize, probably family. At the end of the line of pictures hung an aged-looking photo of a beautiful woman in striking resemblance to Mrs. Mitchel. The woman’s eyes were gentle and kind. Audrey felt oddly comforted just looking at the woman’s photo.
“She’s my mother,” Audrey heard a voice say behind her.
Looking over her shoulder, she saw Mrs. Mitchel. “She’s beautiful. She looks just like you.”
“Thank you. This picture was taken when she was about my age.”
“I’ve never met your mother.”
“She passed away several years ago.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” Audrey couldn’t imagine life without her own mother. “Do you still miss her?”
Mrs. Mitchel crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the wall. “I miss her with every fiber of my body.”
“I guess that was a stupid question.” Audrey didn’t know what to say in these situations. She’d never lost anyone close to her.
“No, it wasn’t.” Mrs. Mitchel had a pensive look in her eyes. “They say time heals all wounds, but I would disagree.”
Audrey felt bad for making Mrs. Mitchel sad, but she seemed to like talking about her mother. “Is your father still living?”
Mrs. Mitchel shrugged. “I never met him. My mom raised me all on her own.”
“Wow, she must have been amazing.” Audrey put her hand on her belly, thinking of the choice she had made to give her baby up for adoption in order for her child to have a two-parent family. Mrs. Mitchel, although raised by a single parent, turned out perfectly. Second thoughts crept into Audrey’s mind about the adoption plans, but she immediately dismissed them, knowing that she had prayerfully made the right decision.
Pastor Mitchel came from the kitchen with a handful of pretzels. He leaned against the wall next to his wife and popped a pretzel into his mouth. He read the serious expressions on their faces. “Am I interrupting something?”
Audrey pointed to the picture of Mrs. Mitchel’s mother. “I was just looking at the photographs.”
“Ah.” Pastor Mitchel nodded in understanding. He nudged his wife’s elbow. “Did you give Audrey her gift yet?”
Mrs. Mitchel shook her head. “Not yet. I’ll go get it.”
Although touched by the idea of a gift, Audrey thought about her bursting bladder. She looked at the bathroom door longingly but decided she could wait a couple more minutes.
Mrs. Mitchel opened the door to their guest room and removed a package about the size of a shoe box from a drawer. It was covered in lavender paper with a delicate floral pattern; a tag dangled from the lid by a matching satin ribbon. What caught Audrey’s eye the most was not the box, but the room from which it was retrieved.
Once simply decorated with neutral tones and housing only a bed, a dresser and a nightstand, the room was now transformed into a nursery complete with a crib and rocking chair. Pale yellow walls complemented the Winnie the Pooh theme covering the crib sheet, a baby quilt draped over the rocking chair, and the curtains framing the corner window. Audrey had always wondered if the Mitchels would ever have kids. Maybe there was something she didn’t know.
Mrs. Mitchel must have seen Audrey’s bewilderment at the room. “Do you like the nursery?”
“Yeah, it’s adorable.”
“Come on in and look around.”
Audrey stepped into the cozy room, admiring the sweet touches that had been placed around the room. A framed photo of Pastor and Mrs. Mitchel sat on the dresser next to a baby book picturing the lovable red-shirted bear on the cover. No detail had been overlooked. Baby hangers hung in the closet. A basket of diapers, wipes, and ointment sat on the changing table next to a second basket filled with shampoo, lotion, washcloths, and hooded towels.
Audrey sat in the rocking chair. Closing her eyes momentarily, she imagined rocking her own baby in such a cozy room. “It’s so cute. Are you guys expecting?”
“No, no. We decorated the room last fall. I don’t know if Pastor Mitchel ever mentioned it to you, but I had a miscarriage.”
Audrey gulped. She hadn’t even known that Mrs. Mitchel had ever been pregnant. Overcome by a strange feeling of guilt, she folded her hands across her abdomen, as if hiding her pregnancy. “I’m so sorry.”
Melancholy colored her features, yet Mrs. Mitchel smiled. “Thank you.”
“So are you guys trying again? To have a baby?”
Mrs. Mitchel ran her hand along the rail of the crib and then straightened out a wrinkle in the sheet. “We’re praying about it.” Just then she remembered the gift that she had tucked under her arm. “Oh, this is for you.”
Audrey took the box and read the tag. Dear Audrey, Fill this box with treasures of your precious little one. May you experience blessings as rich as the blessings you are providing this dear child of God. Love, Pastor Mitchel and Mrs. Mitchel
Tears sprang to Audrey’s eyes. It was the perfect gift. She could fill it with items such as hospital photos, footprints, and the baby’s first pacifier. The Mitchels knew exactly how precious these items would become. Audrey wondered if they had a similar box of their own to commemorate the baby they had lost. “Wow. Thank you so much.” Audrey sniffed, overcome with emotion. “So you guys have had a pretty tough year too, huh?”
Pastor Mitchel put his arm around his wife’s shoulders, giving her a light squeeze. “More than you know.”
The Mitchels had been through so much with a miscarriage and a horrible car accident that easily could have taken Pastor Mitchel’s life. “How do you stay so strong?”
Mrs. Mitchel’s eyes lit up. “By the grace of God. It wasn’t easy. A struggle with infertility and then a miscarriage challenged our marriage. We each dealt with the grief differently.”
Pastor Mitchel kissed Mrs. Mitchel’s cheek. “But God was the glue that held us together. In fact, our marriage is stronger now than ever before.”
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Audrey quoted the verse God had placed on her heart recently. “I think God has been teaching me about grace.” She said the word to herself, letting the meaning percolate in her mind. Grace. Through the events of the last year, she had experienced God’s grace in so many ways. “You know, if I have a girl, I’m going to name her Grace.”
Mrs. Mitchel clutched her hand to her chest. She looked as if she might fall over. Grace was a pretty name by anyone’s standards, but Mrs. Mitchel’s reaction was greatly exaggerated. By the look in Pastor Mitchel’s eyes, he seemed to be experiencing a similar reaction. Obviously, the name held some sort of significance for them.
“What? Was that your baby’s name?”
“No.” Mrs. Mitchel self-consciously dropped her hand from her chest and regained composure. “Grace is my mother’s name.”
Pastor Mitchel kissed his wife on the forehead. “It’s the perfect name.”
“If you guys want to use that name for your kid someday, I’ll find something else. Really, I don’t mind.”
The pair shook their heads dramatically, insisting that wouldn’t be necessary.
Audrey hoisted herself up from the rocking chair, knowing she needed to get to the bathroom urgently now. “Suit yourselves.” She hugged first Mrs. Mitchel and then Pastor Mitchel. “Thanks for the gift, you guys. I’ll treasure it always.”
Audrey pulled a T-shirt over her head and stretched it over her rounded belly. Then she put on a pair of shorts and stood before her full-length mirror, examining her reflection. From the back she could almost pass for any normal eighteen-year-old girl. But from the side, she looked like an eighteen-year-old girl who had swallowed a beach ball. Now eight months into the pregnancy, she didn’t see how her body could expand any more than it already had. And she still had a couple weeks to go.
The changes that had warped her body over the past few months had been terrifying. The skin over her abdomen was stretched so thin that it was taut, she suffered random nose bleeds, and constipation and heartburn plagued her day and night. There were days she felt angry and so depressed that her mom had to coerce her out of bed. But once in a while, she would have a day where she felt hopeful and even mesmerized at the idea of a baby growing inside of her. Today was one of those days.
The house was quiet as she padded downstairs. Her dad had left for work a few minutes earlier, and her mom was out buying flowers with Trevor’s mom at the local nursery. She plopped down on the chair in the entryway to put on her running shoes. Reaching around her belly to tie them was getting more difficult each day. Running in general was becoming more difficult each day. Her body felt heavy now, and the baby bounced on her bladder with each step. In spite of the discomfort, she was determined to run up until the day she delivered. Without running, she thought she might lose herself entirely. A moan escaped her lips as she pushed herself to a standing position and waddled out the door.
Warm May sunshine kissed her cheeks. She breathed in the scent of freshly cut grass. Closing her eyes momentarily, she relished the newness of spring. It had been a long, cold winter and this spring in particular was a welcome sight.
She set her Garmin watch, which reminded her how slow she was these days, and headed out. Passing by Trevor’s house, she said a prayer for him. It had been nearly five months since they’d talked up in her bedroom. He had honored her wish and hadn’t tried to contact her, but a perpetual ache in her heart didn’t allow one day’s passing without her thinking of him.
She prayed for him whenever he came to mind. She prayed that he was getting along fine without her, and she prayed that if God wanted them to be together one day that He would give each of them patience for when the time was right. She also boldly prayed that if it wasn’t in His plan for them to be together that she would be able to let him go.
Her talks with Pastor Mitchel had been helpful. He’d resumed calling her every Sunday night since discharging from the hospital. Only Pastor Mitchel would be thinking of others while recovering from a near death experience. He prayed with her and encouraged her that God had a plan in all of this. As well as a plan for him and Mrs. Mitchel.
The first few minutes of the run felt awkward as Audrey adjusted her gait to accommodate her growing body, but soon her legs found a natural rhythm as she ran through the neighborhood she had run through too many times to count. She had the sidewalks memorized, down to each crack. She could accurately anticipate the bark of each dog behind the fences. Her feet knew the route without her having to tell them where to go. Not a day had gone by without her running, with the exception of Sundays. Running was the one consistency in her life.
She loved being in the sunshine and fresh air, getting the exercise her body craved. But mostly she loved that running gave her time to think and to pray with no interruptions. And she’d had a lot of thinking to do lately. There were important decisions to be made and time was running out. She needed to decide what to do once the baby was born. She pondered the options.
The first option was that after giving birth, she and the baby would continue living with her parents. Her mom volunteered to watch the baby while Audrey worked. Audrey would do her best to save up money in hopes that one day she would be able to move out and be self-sufficient in raising the child. In addition, she would commute to school. But that was asking a lot of her mother.
Audrey leaned toward option number two. Adoption. This would allow Audrey not only to return to school but also to live on campus. Her mom and dad would be able to enjoy being empty nesters once Darcy would graduate. The baby would have mature, financially stable parents. It seemed to be the obvious choice, except for one thing. It would break her mom’s heart.
Not that placing her baby for adoption would be easy for Audrey either. The idea of handing over her baby to strangers was pretty scary, but not as much if Audrey was able to choose the family herself. Ally said that waiting couples put together an autobiography in scrapbook fashion. The scrapbook page would give Audrey a good picture of the home her baby would be raised in. Audrey would even get to meet the couple before the baby was born, so they really wouldn’t be strangers.
Even so, it would be difficult for Audrey to say goodbye to her child. What if, after the baby was born, she would fall in love with him or her—only to never see her baby again? She put a hand on her belly and was surprised at the gut wrenching tug on her heart. This baby was a part of her, after all. She couldn’t just give it away.
There was no good option.
Overwhelmed by the weight of her decision, Audrey stopped dead in her tracks. Her paralyzing emotions refused to let her body take another step. A young boy, who had been approaching on his bicycle, swerved onto the grass to avoid hitting her. “Hey, be careful, lady!”
She stood, unmoved.
Above her, a breeze rustled the leaves on a tree branch extending over the sidewalk. She looked up. Through the leaves, she saw a robin perched on the side of her nest. Audrey watched as the bird rose into the air and circled above her before landing on a nearby fence post.
If only I could be a bird, Audrey thought, without a care in the world. It reminded her of a Bible passage that talked about how God takes care of even the smallest sparrow. The point was that as God’s children, we shouldn’t worry. If He takes care of the birds, of course He will take care of His children. Something like that.
Staring into the bright blue sky she begged aloud, “God, show me what to do. Make your plan clear. I promise to be obedient, just show me what to do.” She stood still, her prayer resonating in the spring air.
She sucked in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Amazingly, as the air seeped from her lungs, a peace washed over her and settled her racing heart. She felt her shoulders rise as the load of her burdens miraculously lifted. She knew that God had taken the burden from her, and in time He would reveal His plan. She just needed to trust Him and His timing.
Feeling renewed, she began to move her feet again. For the first time since that awful night last fall, Audrey felt free. Free as a robin soaring through the sky. She experienced freedom from the guilt that had rested so heavily on her conscience, freedom from the responsibility of deciding how to handle her pregnancy, and freedom from the fear of her unknown future. It was all erased in a matter of seconds.
It was what Audrey called a “God moment.” It was the kind of moment she could never put into words because no words could do it justice. It was a moment where God spoke clearly and unmistakably to her heart. She still didn’t have the answer to her dilemma, but she knew that God did.
Her footsteps gradually quickened and soon she was bounding down the sidewalk, a smile spreading across her face. The vibrant colors of the tulips bordering the sidewalk seemed brighter than ever before, and the scent of lilacs had never seemed so lovely. For that moment, all seemed right with the world, all because God was in control.
She ran two more miles, enjoying the newness of spring and basking in the Lord’s palpable presence. With just a couple of blocks to go, a reference to a Bible verse came to mind: 2 Corinthians 12:9. Only she couldn’t remember the words. All she remembered was learning it at church camp years ago and feeling power in the words like she’d never experienced from the Bible before. It was her first God moment. She hadn’t experienced that same power since, until today.
What were the words to that verse? She’d never been good with memorizing scripture. Never retained them much more than a week. With the exception of the verse Pastor Mitchel had pounded into her head.
She raced home and ran up to her bedroom, out of breath, her heart pounding. Paging through her Bible, she finally found 2 Corinthians. Her anxious eyes scanned the pages until they fell on chapter twelve, verse nine. The words were highlighted in red, showing that they were words spoken by Jesus. It read, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Chills ran down her arms. He wanted her to be reminded of the verse again today, didn’t He?
His grace was sufficient.
That was where the peace had come from that she experienced standing under that tree. No matter how bad her mistakes, God would extend His grace to her, His forgiveness and His mercy. And at her weakest moment, when the weight of her problems became too much to bear, His power overcame her weakness.
In His power, she was able to move one foot in front of the other and continue her run. Not just finish her run, but run with her head held high and joy in her heart. In the same way, God would empower her to walk through this difficult time in her life.
Audrey closed her eyes and spoke to the Lord. “Thank you for your grace. Thank you for taking care of me.” She put her hand on her belly. “Thank you for taking care of this little one. I give this baby to You, Lord. I will do whatever you lead me to do for this child. You know what is best for her … or him. If you want me to be a mom, I will. And I will love this baby with all my heart. But if you have another family chosen for her … or him, please help me to find them. And please give me the strength to let my baby go.”
The infant squirmed under Audrey’s hand. She opened her eyes to see something that could’ve possibly been a miniature foot glide across her abdomen. She giggled, amazed by the truth that a little person, alive and well, was being formed inside of her. She rubbed her belly, where she guessed the baby’s back to be. And speaking straight from her heart, she quietly said, “I love you, baby.”
It was true. She did love this baby. She loved the baby so much that she was at peace with whatever God would want her to do. She had enough love to care for her child and to be the mother God would equip her to be. But if led in a different direction, she also had enough love to give the child to another loving home.
God promised to take care of the littlest sparrow. Likewise, He would take care of Audrey, and He would take care of her baby.
Audrey showered and lay down on her bed, sinking into the downy softness. Running took a lot more out of her these days. A nap would be nice, but her mind was wide awake. She brought Facebook up on her phone and scrolled through the entries. There were food pictures, snapshots of pets, vacation photos, and then a post that caught her attention. A middle-aged woman from church was posing with her elderly grandmother in a botanical garden. The caption read, Early Mother’s Day celebration.
This Sunday would be Mother’s Day. It was a tradition for Audrey and her sister to bring their mom breakfast in bed. Each year, they placed a corsage on the breakfast tray that their mom would wear the rest of the day. Something to make her mom feel special. Something to show everyone she came in contact with that day that she was someone special. That she was loved.
In that moment, a realization dawned. Mother’s Day was for her mom. It wasn’t for her. She wasn’t going to be a mom.
She’d felt all along that her baby belonged to someone else. Yes, she would always be the birth mother. She’d always have that connection to the child, and nothing could change that. But someone else would raise the child. Like Ally had said, God had been preparing her to place the baby for adoption. Now she recognized that beyond a shadow of a doubt. It was time to let her mom know.
Audrey’s mom was seated at the table, paging through her Bible. “Hi, Mom.”
Engrossed in her study, her mom didn’t answer. That’s okay. It allowed Audrey a few more minutes to prepare how to break the news.
Her stomach growled. She rummaged through the refrigerator and then the cabinets. It was difficult to make any decision with her mind preoccupied by her anticipated conversation with her mom. Empty-handed, she came over to the table and sat down next to her mother.
Her mom looked at her. “Couldn’t find anything good?”
“Actually, everything looks good. I need a minute to decide.” Audrey put her feet up on a chair and leaned back, lengthening her torso to make more room to breathe.
“I’ll heat up a cinnamon roll for you.” Her mom rose from her chair. She placed the roll on a pretty plate warmed it in the microwave. “Would you like butter?”
Soon the aroma of cinnamon and warm butter filled Audrey’s senses. Her mom placed the roll in front of Audrey, along with a tall glass of milk. “I’m happy to see you’ve got your appetite back. I have to admit I was worried about you not getting enough nutrients for a while.”
“It’s back with a vengeance.” Audrey took a bite and licked gooey cinnamon off her fingers.
Audrey had always loved when her mom made homemade rolls. As a little girl, Audrey would sit at the counter watching her mother knead the dough. Her mom would break off a piece of it so Audrey could mold it like Play-dough.
Her mom folded her Bible closed, tucking her worksheets neatly between the pages and set it aside. “It won’t be long before the baby will be here.”
“Funny you should mention it.” Audrey sighed, picking at crumbs on her plate. “I’ve been thinking about that.” She looked up from her plate and out the window facing the pond. “I don’t feel ready.”
“You don’t feel ready for the baby to come? There is a lot to do. We could go out and do some shopping today. We need an infant bathtub and baby shampoo—”
“That’s not what I mean.” She looked her mom in the eye. She had to just hurry up and say it before she’d chicken out. “I mean … I don’t feel ready to be a mom.”
“What are you trying to say?” Her mom’s fingers were trembling.
“I’ve decided to place the baby for adoption. I’ve prayed about it a lot.”
Her mom didn’t say anything, but the expression on her face told Audrey that she was deeply saddened. She placed her hand on Audrey’s belly and closed her eyes. Maybe she was praying for her grandchild. Or maybe she was memorizing the feel of the little kicks.
“Mom, I’ve always wanted to be a mother … and I still do. But not now.” She wanted her mom’s approval so badly. “Is that selfish of me?”
Her mom withdrew her hand from Audrey’s belly. She touched a strand of Audrey’s hair, still damp from her shower. “No. It’s not selfish.”
Audrey breathed a sigh of relief. “You have no idea how much I needed to hear you say that. I mean, I love this baby. But keeping it just doesn’t feel right. I want my baby to have a good life with a mom and a dad. I know we have a good home, but I want more for my baby. Know what I mean?”
“Yes. I’m sad, but I understand.” A tear slipped down her face.
“I’ve already talked to Ally at Zoe’s Place about adoption. She’ll walk me through every step.”
Her mom hugged her. “Honey, are you sure this is what God wants?”
Audrey didn’t have to hesitate. “I’m sure.”
Trevor opened the door to the Vic’s Pizza Shoppe on campus at the U of M. The wooden booths, red and white striped aprons of the servers, and the juke box stationed in the corner gave the impression of stepping back a few decades in time. From the outside, the place looked like a dive with a faded green awning perched over a door with a little bell that jingled every time a customer arrived. That this restaurant hadn’t changed from its original form was exactly what brought in customers. The food was delicious, and the service was just as friendly as it had been back when Vic himself was baking the pizzas.
Trevor spotted Jake Preston, wearing a black beanie over his short, dark hair, at a table by the front window. “What did I tell you? Isn’t this place great?” Trevor shed his coat and slid into the seat opposite from Jake. He breathed in the aroma of baking pizza dough.
Jake lifted a plastic drinking glass filled with ice water. “Very retro.”
“Thanks for meeting me for lunch. So you have the day off of school?”
Jake shrugged. “Yeah. Teachers have a convention or something.” The bell jingled and a trio of guys walked in with back packs slung over their shoulders. “It’s pretty cool being on campus. College sure beats high school.”
Trevor opened his own menu, although he already knew what he wanted. “Do you know where you’re going to college?”
Jake took the black beanie off his head and flung it onto the booth next to him. “I haven’t made a decision yet. My dad wants me to follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer, but I have no interest in that.”
“You’ve had recruits interested in you. Are you thinking about playing college football?”
“Yes. The Gopher coach has been practically harassing me to play here at the U of M.”
“That’s great, bro! You can get a big fat scholarship, and it’s only a short drive home on the weekends to get laundry done and eat a home cooked meal. You can’t pass that up. I’ll show you the ropes around this campus.”
Jake’s eyes lit up in excitement but soon dimmed. “It’s ideal, right?”
Trevor set his menu down and leaned in, letting Jake know he had his full attention.
A silver-haired woman approached the table, a pad of paper and pen in hand. “What can I get for you boys?” She looked at them over a pair of colorful reading glasses.
“Can you give us a minute?” Trevor tapped the menu. “Too many good choices.”
The older woman nodded, poking her pen into a bun secured at the base of her neck. “Take all the time you need, honey.”
Trevor turned his attention back to Jake. “So you said playing at the U is ideal. I heard a “but” coming on.”
“But … I have no desire to be a lawyer. I don’t want to be anything like my dad.”
Trevor knew that Jake’s dad had disappointed him on countless occasions. His work often trumped his fatherly obligations, leaving Jake to feel less than important. Like parent night for Hastings High School football. His parents didn’t show up, so when Jake’s name was called, he found Pastor Mitchel in the bleachers and delivered the yellow carnation to him. And that was just one example. “I get it. But you don’t have to be a lawyer. You can major in whatever you want.”
“Yeah. My dad’s really pushing me to go to the U because that’s where he got his bachelor’s degree. I guess I wanna go somewhere else just for spite.” Jake took a long pull of his water. “Maybe Baylor.”
“Baylor is cool. Texas, huh?”
The waitress returned to their table, and Trevor ordered hot wings and a large sausage pizza with extra cheese. She scurried off to the kitchen. “Did you hear that Pastor Mitchel came out of the coma? Mrs. Mitchel posted on Facebook this morning.”
“Yeah, I heard. Becca texted me. It’s good news. The dude had me worried. Senior year is supposed to be a blast, but I’ve been stressing big time. First there was the whole Audrey-thing … that happened at my house. And then Pastor Mitchel almost kicks the bucket. Crazy.”
“You can say that again.” Something Jake said stuck in Trevor’s mind. “Hey, Jake, you know it wasn’t your fault that happened to Audrey.”
Jake looked off into the distance, his light brown eyes pensive. “It never would’ve happened if I hadn’t had that party. So yeah. It kinda was my fault.”
“She doesn’t blame you.”
“Well, I wish I could find the guy who did it. It’s creepy that someone like that was in my house and did that to my friend. Audrey is, like, the sweetest person ever.” Jake gritted his teeth. “I wanna pound the guy.”
“I know the feeling.” Trevor had to work to stay calm whenever he thought about coming face to face with Audrey’s attacker. He took a couple deep breaths. “Jake, I’m starting to doubt we’ll actually catch the guy. Even if we figure out who did it, proving he raped her would be next to impossible.”
“Are you saying we should just give up?”
Trevor ran his fingers through his hair. “I don’t want to let Audrey down.” There didn’t seem to be any other option. Then an invisible light bulb dinged above his head. “Your dad is a lawyer. Have you asked him about any of this?” Why hadn’t he thought of this earlier?
Jake laughed humorlessly. “No. He turns red in the face every time the subject comes up. So I avoid the topic. I was hoping we could figure this thing out without his help.”
The waitress delivered wings to the table. “Roberto made these extra hot for you. My eyes are watering just from carrying them to your table.” She dabbed her eyes on the sleeve of her shirt. “Enjoy!”
Jake picked up a wing dripping with sauce and sunk his teeth into it. “It’s not that hot.” He licked sauce from his fingers.
Trevor sat back, waiting for the heat to hit. It wouldn’t be much longer. He waved the waitress back to the table just as Jake’s face turned bright red and his upper lip began to sweat. “Can you bring a glass of milk, please?”
The woman nudged Jake’s shoulder. “I warned you.” She disappeared into the kitchen for just a minute before bringing back a tall glass of milk.
Jake chugged the milk. “Is this your idea of hazing? I’m not officially a freshman here yet.”
Trevor laughed. “I call it a rite of passage. By the way, do not rub your eyes. I learned that the hard way.”
Jake coughed a few times; his eyes were red and watering. “So if I can survive the hot wings at Vic’s, then I suppose I can survive talking to my old man.”
“That’s very insightful.” Trevor smothered a wing in ranch dressing before taking a bite. “It wouldn’t hurt to run it by him before giving up altogether.”
“I’ll do it for Audrey … and Pastor Mitchel.”
“What does this have to do with Pastor Mitchel?”
“Before his accident, he was always telling me to try to find common ground with my dad. A way to connect with him. You know? My dad isn’t into football or anything I’m interested in. I don’t even know how to begin asking him about his job. But this could be a way for us to relate to each other.”
“Cool. You’ll do Pastor Mitchel proud.”
Audrey took a seat in the waiting area of Zoe’s Place. The Christian music playing softly in the background helped to soothe her anxieties. The song was by Jamie Grace—one of Audrey’s favorites. But no distraction could disguise the fact that Audrey’s pregnancy was soon to be over, and she needed to come up with a plan.
Audrey’s long talks with Pastor Mitchel had sustained her through the second trimester of her pregnancy. Now as she entered the third trimester, she needed support more than ever. With Pastor Mitchel in a coma, Audrey turned to Ally at Zoe’s Place for advice.
“Audrey?” Ally’s voice rang out into the waiting area.
Audrey greeted her with a hug. They walked down a short hallway to a cozy room housing a loveseat, piled with cute decorative pillows, a coffee table, and a comfy chair. Audrey took the loveseat, settling into the nest of pillows and putting her feet up on the ottoman.
“Would you like a drink? Tea? Water? Coke?”
“Coke, please.” Audrey suddenly felt parched.
“Sure thing. I’ll be right back.”
Ally left the room, leaving Audrey alone with her thoughts. She looked around the room. It was decorated in a shabby chic sort of fashion with gauzy curtains filtering sunlight that shone through the corner window. A painted bookshelf held an assortment of items: books, a tissue box, plush blankets, and packages of saltine crackers. Audrey knew what the crackers were for—morning sickness. She was thankful that this room was pretty, comfortable, and welcoming. Unlike her obstetrician’s office that was decorated with pictures of pregnant women or mothers and babies. Even this far into her pregnancy, it was difficult for her to identify with images of mothers. Which was what brought her here today.
“Here you go.” Ally came through the door, popping open a can of Coke.
Audrey took a drink of the ice cold beverage, enjoying the refreshing fizz slide down her throat. “Thank you. I didn’t realize I was so thirsty.”
Ally relaxed in the comfy chair, crossing her legs. She held a steaming mug by the handle and took a sip. “Me either.”
Audrey braced herself for a barrage of questions. But none came. Ally appeared relaxed, as if she was just hanging out with Audrey as a friend.
“I heard about your pastor. I’m sorry.”
Audrey sighed. “Thanks. He’s still in a coma. I really think God will save him.” Audrey thought of Jake, crying at Pastor Mitchel’s bedside. “I don’t think God is finished with him yet.”
Ally smiled. “I hope you’re right. From what I’ve heard, he’s an amazing man.”
“He is.” Audrey set down her Coke. It was time to talk about what she came for. “I wanted to discuss something with you.”
Audrey placed her hands on her belly. She could feel gentle stirrings inside. “Zoe’s Place does adoptions, right?”
Ally nodded. “We do. We help match birth mothers with adoptive parents if that’s what they choose.”
Audrey took a deep breath, preparing to voice her most inner thoughts she’d been safely guarding in recent days. “I’d like to learn more about that.”
“Sure. You don’t need to be ashamed, Audrey. I see the guilt in your eyes. Giving your baby up for adoption is a selfless gift. You’d be giving your baby a chance to be raised by two loving parents whom you would choose. Parents who share your faith in the Lord.”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking about. I’m not a mom. I mean … I am, but … ” She struggled to put her thoughts into words. “I want this baby to have a mom and a dad. I want the baby to have its own room, all decorated with cutesy baby stuff. I can’t give the baby any of that.” She gained confidence as she spoke her heart. The most difficult part would come next. “I’m not excited about the baby. I mean … I love it. I know God has a purpose for it otherwise he wouldn’t have created it. But, I want someone else to be the mom.” A tear trickled down her face. She felt like a horrible person for saying that about her precious little baby. Ally would probably kick her out of the office.
Ally stood up.
Audrey held her breath.
The woman sat on the loveseat next to Audrey and hugged her.
“It’s brave of you to be honest. I can tell you’ve given this a lot of thought. Have you prayed about it?”
“Every day. I pray that God will make me excited about the baby the same way that my mom is excited.”
Ally nodded, patiently listening.
Audrey grabbed a tissue from the box on the coffee table. “When I daydream about the baby growing up, I picture her or him in a different family. I see a mom kissing the kid goodbye before sending him onto the school bus. I see a mom and dad kneeling at the child’s bed at night, saying prayers, and then tucking her in for the night.” She looked into Ally’s eyes, craving her genuine reaction. “It’s like I forget that I am supposed to be the mom.”
Ally’s eyes remained compassionate. “What do you see when you look into your own future? Of course, no one truly knows our future, except for the Lord. But what do you envision?”
A smile came to Audrey’s face. “I see myself going back to college. I want to be a social worker. Like you.”
Ally’s eyes welled with tears and creased at the corners with a tender smile. She put a hand over her heart.
“I want to run on the cross-country team again, and I’m hoping my friend Becca decides to go to Bethel with me. That would be so fun.” A vision of Trevor came to mind. Someday, she saw herself marrying him. But she decided to keep that idea to herself. “I’m impatient for this pregnancy to be over, so I can resume my normal life. But then I remember. Oh yeah, I’m going to be a mom. I don’t know if I can go to school or run on a team ever again. I’ll have to keep working as a nanny. But then who will take care of my baby? My mom? She wants to be the type of grandma who spoils the grandkid, not be the one to raise and discipline it. I don’t want to do that to my mom.” Audrey covered her face with her hands. She took a moment to compose herself before continuing. “Somewhere there is a mom and a dad praying for a baby. Maybe this is their baby.”
“What?” Audrey had been expecting Ally to tell her that God gave her the baby because she was capable of raising the child, especially with the support of her parents. That she should stop being so selfish.
“I agree. Maybe God has been preparing you all along for giving the baby up for adoption. Maybe that’s his plan for this child. God will give you the desires of your heart. As long as you are praying about your decision, God will show you what to do.”
“I really do love this baby.” She wanted to make herself clear on that.
“I understand. It’s because you love the baby so much, that you want the very best life for him or her.”
“Yes.” Audrey’s heart seemed to burst with relief that Ally understood her point of view. “That’s exactly it. But what if the baby doesn’t get that? What if the baby feels that I rejected it some day?”
Ally shook her head. “If you feel God leading you to give the baby up for adoption, then you have to believe that his will is the best way. Entrust the child to his care. He loves this baby even more than you do. Keep praying throughout the child’s entire life. Ask God to help him or her to understand your decision.”
Audrey felt as though a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. “I’m pretty sure I want the baby to be adopted, but can I think about it for a while?”
“Of course. We, at Zoe’s Place, will support whatever decision you make. I can pray with you now if you’d like.”
Audrey folded her hands and bowed her head. She listened as Ally prayed a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving for the child in Audrey’s womb. She begged God to show Audrey what decision to make about raising the baby or giving him or her up for adoption. Then Audrey prayed, first thanking God for Ally, and then echoing Ally’s request to lead her to the right decision. “And please, God, show this baby that I love him or her. More importantly, help this baby to know your love. In Jesus name, Amen.”
Audrey left Zoe’s Place feeling light as a feather. She could sense the Holy Spirit walking with her. She was pretty sure that God had a plan for a different family to raise her baby. She could live with that decision, even though it would be difficult to say goodbye. But there was one person she feared would not be able to live with that decision.
The February sun beat down on the road, reflecting off the melting snow. At the first stop light, Audrey took her sunglasses from the front pocket of her purse. Her phone chimed, signaling a Facebook update.
She lifted her phone from her purse and saw the blue blinking light, affirming that there was a Facebook update. Possibly news about Pastor Mitchel’s condition. Or a maybe just a food picture from a distant relative. Or another picture of her fifth grade teacher’s sleeping cat. In a mere ten minutes, she would be home and could safely check her phone. She dropped it back in her purse just as the light turned green.
Facebook could wait. The biggest thing on her mind was telling her mom she was considering placing her baby for adoption. As she continued the short drive home, she considered her mom’s possible reactions. There was a possibility that her mom would be happy that Audrey would be able to finish her education. Plus, her mom maybe felt too young to be a grandma. She didn’t even have gray hair yet.
Audrey was fooling herself. Her mom was excited to be a grandmother. To her, the baby was something positive that came from the experience. She talked about how the baby was proof of how God works through evil situations, making good come from them. To be honest, her mom would be heartbroken about placing the baby for adoption. She would consider it another loss.
How could Audrey do that to her?
She pulled into the driveway, and shut off the engine, no longer feeling light as a feather as she had back at Zoe’s Place. “God, please give me the words.” She grabbed her purse and made her way into the house.
“Audrey!” Her mom smiled, her eyes lighting up like a Christmas tree. She dropped a mug into the dishwasher she’d been loading and drew Audrey into a hug. “Did you hear the good news?”
Audrey plopped herself down on a stool at the island. She didn’t think she could take the wide swing of emotions she was going through today. “No. What is it?” She prayed it was good news about Pastor Mitchel.
“Maggie Mitchel sent out a post on Facebook. He’s awake. Pastor Mitchel is awake.” Her mom bounced on her toes, doing a little happy dance.
Audrey’s heart filled with relief. She checked her own phone, wanting to see proof with her own eyes. There was a picture of Pastor Mitchel, still looking horrible, but his eyes were open. He mouth was tipped into a sideways line. Quite possibly, he was trying to smile. “Are you sure he’s okay?”
Her mom settled down a bit and sat next to Audrey. “Did you read the post? He’s been coming-to slowly. It doesn’t happen all at once like in the movies. But he has said a few words, and he recognizes Maggie. He doesn’t remember the accident, but his memory is intact otherwise.”
“I’m so happy. Mom, I wasn’t sure if he was going to live.” It finally felt safe to openly acknowledge her concern to the contrary.
“We’ll keep praying for his full recovery.” Her mom jumped off the stool, too excited to stay seated. “I wonder if Victoria heard the news yet.” She went to another room to call Trevor’s mom, her best friend.
Audrey wondered if her best friend had heard the news. Under the Facebook post, there was a list of people who had reacted. There were many people from church, some names she didn’t recognize, and finally … the name she was searching for. Trevor Hayes.
She would love to call Trevor so they could rejoice together over the phone. There was so much she would say. She’d tell him how bad Pastor Mitchel had looked in the hospital. How she had feared he wouldn’t survive. She’d tell him about the unsettling conversation Mrs. Mitchel shared with her mom about their troubled marriage.
An ache filled her chest. A physical pain from missing her best friend. She needed him more now than ever before, but keeping her distance was imperative. Truly, she was keeping her distance for Trevor’s sake, even if he didn’t understand that. She was not girlfriend material at the moment. She may never be. Trevor would be better off finding someone else. A girl without all the baggage she now carried. She stood up and slid her phone into her back pocket.
It was lunch time so she opened the fridge and pulled out fixings for a lettuce salad. She wondered if Trevor had dated anyone this school year. The ache in her chest doubled. There had to be girls interested in him. He was undoubtedly good-looking. A gorgeous, modest, nice guy was a rare find. And Trevor possessed all of those qualities.
“Why do you have that dorky look on your face?” Darcy strode into the kitchen, catching Audrey by surprise.
“I don’t have any look on my face. Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”
“You look like you want to make out with that head of lettuce. And we have the day off. Teacher convention or something.”
Audrey had to admit she’d probably been starry-eyed when thoughts of Trevor had sashayed through her mind. “Whatever.” She ripped pieces of lettuce from the bunch, piling them onto a plate. She sprinkled shredded cheddar on the greens and drizzled ranch dressing on top. “Have you heard from Trevor lately?”
“Ha!” Darcy laughed. “I knew you had a dreamy look in your eyes.” She got a plate of her own and began shredding lettuce onto it.
Audrey shrugged, not denying it. “So? Have you heard from him?”
“No. Nothing other than an occasional Instagram post.”
Audrey hadn’t noticed him on Instagram lately, although she hadn’t been checking it much with everything else on her mind. She sat on a stool and stabbed a fork into her salad. While she chewed, she opened Instagram on her phone and viewed Trevor’s profile. There was a photo of a tree covered in ice crystals, the sun shining through it. Audrey giggled. Since when did Trevor become a nature photographer?
The next picture made Audrey’s stomach turn. “Who’s that?” She angled the phone for Darcy to see the selfie of Trevor and a college-age girl sporting matching U of M hats at a Gopher basketball game.
“Oh, that’s Esme. Some girl Trevor is friends with. I don’t think it’s a big deal. Her Facebook profile says she’s in a relationship. There are lots of pictures of her with a guy named Henri.” Darcy patted Audrey’s back. “I creeped on her Facebook page and Instagram to be sure. Her hometown is in Iowa. She’s an art history major. She five foot, eleven inches tall and plays intramural basketball. She has a cat named Cupcake, and she voted for Donald Trump.”
“Thank you for the extensive biography.” She’d expect nothing less from Darcy. But Audrey still wasn’t convinced there wasn’t something more going on. She breathed a sigh of relief nonetheless. “If you say so.”
“I warned you that other girls would be crushing on him.”
“He only has eyes for you.” Darcy smiled.
“Yeah, well, he hasn’t seen me like this.” Audrey patted her belly, puffing out her cheeks.
Darcy burst out in laughter. “All the more to love.”
Audrey laughed too. Something she hadn’t done in far too long. She and Darcy ate their salads, rinsed their dishes and put them in the dishwasher. “Darcy, are you excited about the baby?”
“Of course. I love babies. I can’t wait to be an aunty.”
Audrey had been hoping Darcy would say something along the lines of having a baby around would be a little weird, but that somehow they’d get used to it. However, she hadn’t sensed the least bit of trepidation from her sister.
But Darcy’s life wasn’t going to get turned upside down by becoming an aunty. She would just get a cute baby to play with and cuddle.
Darcy crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. “Are you excited to be a mommy?”
She hesitated. “Sure.” Her brief silence had said it all.
“That’s good because this baby is coming in a few months.”
Audrey looked around the corner, making sure her mom wasn’t in ear shot. “What if I’m not ready to be a mother?”
“I’m sure you’re not. But that’s not the point. This baby is coming whether you’re ready or not.” Darcy cupped her hands around her mouth and in a baby voice said, “Ready or not, here I come.” She laughed at her own joke.
“I’m thinking about placing the baby for adoption.”
Darcy’s jaw dropped.
“I’m still praying about it. Don’t tell Mom and Dad yet.”
Darcy rubbed her forehead. “Why do you always do this to me? I hate keeping secrets.”
“This is serious, Darcy. Don’t tell anyone. I wanted to run it by you before I bring it up to Mom. I know she’ll be sad. She’ll probably try to talk me out of it.”
Darcy nodded. “She’s been buying tons of baby stuff. She ordered a crib on Amazon this morning.”
Audrey’s heart dropped. “I don’t want to disappoint her again.” She toyed with her running watch. “I’ll let her enjoy the good news about Pastor Mitchel while I pray about this decision.”
Darcy crossed her arms. “I have to admit that Mom isn’t the only one who will be sad.” She turned her lips into an exaggerated frown. “I was super excited about being an aunty. But I get it.” Darcy made a zipping motion across her mouth. “I won’t tell anyone. Not even Trevor. Cross my heart.”
A few days after Pastor Mitchel’s accident, Audrey and her mom browsed through a store, choosing items to fill a gift basket for Maggie Mitchel. Pastor Mitchel had shown little improvement, so Audrey hoped a care package would lift Mrs. Mitchel’s spirits. The cart was filling up fast with a pair of comfy slippers, a crossword puzzle book, Debbie Macomber’s latest novel, and snacks—both healthy and unhealthy.
“That should do it,” Audrey tossed a box of Little Debbie’s into the cart for herself. Her feet were screaming at her to sit down. “Let’s check out.”
“Just one more thing.” Her mom veered in the opposite direction from the registers. “I have a coupon for diapers. We should start stocking up as long as we have a coupon. Diapers are so expensive these days.”
“Seriously, Mom? Isn’t it a little soon to be buying diapers?” Even though the ultrasound had made the whole baby thing seem more real, it was still hard to believe that an actual baby would appear in a few months.
Her mom just kept walking as if she was going to pick up something ordinary like a carton of milk. “The baby will be here before you know it.” She stopped in front of a rack of bibs, receiving blankets, and teething toys. “Oh for cute. Look at this.” Her mom held up a pink bib that read, ‘Grandma loves me’. “Of course, we don’t know if it’s a girl or a boy.” She hung the bib back up on the display. Audrey breathed a sigh of relief. She was already struggling with the idea of purchasing diapers. Bibs were taking it to a whole new level.
“Here we go.” Her mom led the way down an aisle that smelled like baby powder. Audrey’s stomach turned at the powerful scent. “Now I’m getting excited.” Her mom reached for a package of diapers.
A lady pushing a cart with a drooling baby strapped into the seat grabbed a package of the same brand of diapers. “These are the best deal, and they never leak. Well, except for those blow-outs the first few months. Nothing can contain those.” The lady laughed. Then she kept walking.
Audrey failed to see the humor. “What’s a blow-out?” The toddler she nannied for never had a so-called blow-out. All this baby stuff was making her feel that she was in over her head.
Her mom smiled and placed the mom-recommended diapers in the cart. “You’ll find out soon enough. Trust me; ignorance is bliss.”
Audrey rolled her eyes. This moment did not feel like bliss. “Can we please go now?” She turned the corner to a wide aisle where she finally escaped the powder fresh scent. A couple of girls she recognized from Becca’s class were shopping in the junior’s section. They were having fun, holding dresses up in front of mirrors. It reminded her of shopping with Becca or Darcy. She couldn’t wait for this pregnancy to end so she could be carefree like that again.
The cashier was a cheerful woman with silver hair and bifocals dangling from a chain around her neck. When she scanned the diapers, she did a double-take of Audrey’s belly. Then she turned to Audrey’s mom, “Are you the lucky grandma?”
“I sure am.” A smile lit her mom’s face.
“Bless your heart. You don’t look old enough to be a grandmother.”
Her mom didn’t state the obvious fact that her daughter was a teen mom. Instead, she accepted the compliment. “Thank you, dear. This is my first grandchild.”
“Well, you are going to love every minute. You get to spoil the grandkids, you know.” She perched her glasses on her nose and announced the total of the bill.
“Mom, I’ll wait for you in the car. Can I have the keys?” Audrey held out her hand.
“Sure, honey.” Her mom fished her keys out of her purse. “Are you alright?”
Was she alright? Hmm … no. She was a pregnant eighteen-year-old college drop-out who wanted nothing more than to just be a regular girl shopping for dresses with her friends—from the junior’s section, not the maternity department. Meanwhile, her mom was dragging her around the store to find the perfect package of diapers while daydreaming about being a grandma. Not to mention that the person she looked to for advice was in a coma. “I’m fine. I just need to sit down.”
When would the lies stop?
Basket in hand, Audrey tapped on the glass door of room one in the Intensive Care Unit. “Come in.” Mrs. Mitchel’s voice was raspy, as if she’d been sleeping, even though it was mid-afternoon.
Audrey slid open the door and stepped inside, bracing against the shock of what she was about to see. Mrs. Mitchel was curled up in a recliner, wrapped in a thin white hospital-issued blanket. A plush blanket would have been a nice addition to the gift basket. “Hi, Mrs. Mitchel.” Audrey handed her the basket, maintaining her focus on Mrs. Mitchel and off of Pastor Mitchel. The antiseptic smell and beeping machines were unsettling enough. She wasn’t ready to see Pastor Mitchel lying lifeless in the bed. “We brought you something.” She handed Mrs. Mitchel the basket.
Mrs. Mitchel looked over the contents. “I’ll put these to use right away.” She put the slippers on. “Thank you so much.”
Audrey’s mom walked to Pastor Mitchel’s bed. “How is he doing?”
Mrs. Mitchel sighed. “Not much change. They were hoping he would’ve come out of the coma by now. The sooner he does, the better his prognosis.”
Audrey forced herself to look at him. Her gaze followed the tubes and wires up to the machines lit with digital numbers and squiggly lines. She drew in a deep breath and looked at his face. Tears instantly blurred her vision. Pastor Mitchel, a pillar of strength, was now vulnerable and weak—unable to even breathe on his own. A bloody bandage was wrapped around his head, and a tube was literally taped to his mouth.
The world seemed to be spinning off its axis. She’d always believed the world to be good. She had believed that through her unshakable faith in Christ, all things were possible. Live, laugh, love could have been her motto. She used to pride herself as being smart, strong, and brave. She was Audrey the Brave after all.
She had been wrong about all of that. Her faith was shakable. And her new motto was live, cry, and puke. She sat on a couch under the window, her knees feeling wobbly.
Her mom seemed to be holding up okay. “Hi, Andrew. It’s Lydia Chapman. Audrey and I are here to see you.” Her voice was rich and steady. How did that woman stay so calm? Why couldn’t Audrey have inherited that trait? “You look good.” Pffft.
Apparently Audrey had inherited the liar trait. He looked horrible. “We’re praying for you.” She rested her hand on his shoulder and bowed her head. When she looked up again, her eyes were red.
Audrey cued her mom to sit beside her by patting the couch. Her mom sat down, folding her hands in her lap. It was quiet for a few minutes, sadness filling the room like a living, breathing thing.
“We were on the mend.” Mrs. Mitchel spoke softly.
Audrey’s mom nodded as if she understood what Mrs. Mitchel was trying to say.
“Andrew gave me a dozen red roses after the first grade Valentine’s Day program. He does that every year, but this year it meant more after everything that’s happened.”
“Valentine’s Day is a perfect day for a relationship to get a fresh start.” Her mom always knew what to say.
Mrs. Mitchel dabbed at the corners of her eyes with a tissue. “After the program, I got in my car and noticed a sticky note from Andrew on my rearview mirror.” She almost smiled. “He sent me on a scavenger hunt that eventually led me to the Italian restaurant where he’d proposed to me. He could have just said he was sorry. But he went out of his way to make me feel special.” Mrs. Mitchel sniffed. “I took him for granted all that time.”
“You can’t think like that. Every relationship has its ups and downs. You came through it and were stronger for it in the end.”
Audrey sat quietly listening. She had no idea that the Mitchels had been having problems. She felt like an idiot for venting all her problems to Pastor Mitchel while he was having troubles of his own.
“Lydia, I just can’t understand why God would take him from me after bringing us through those hard times. What was the point of all that?”
Her mom fidgeted, twisting her wedding band around her finger. “In the worst case scenario,” she cleared her throat, “you’ll have closure to that difficult time. You loved each other through it. You won’t have any regrets. That sweet scavenger hunt and romantic dinner will be your last memory of him.”
Audrey stiffened. Her mom was implying that Pastor Mitchel might die.
“Or … God plans to heal him and wants all that negativity to be in your past so you can concentrate on the beautiful future the two of you will share.”
Audrey breathed a sigh of relief. “That has to be it.”
Mrs. Mitchel smiled. “I prefer option number two as well.”
Audrey’s mom stood up. “We better not overstay our welcome.” She hugged Mrs. Mitchel, and Audrey followed suit.
“Thank you for coming. It really helps to have visitors. When it’s too quiet, I get all inside my head.”
The visit had been good for Audrey as well. It had helped her to look outside herself. She’d been so focused on herself ever since that party. “Mind if I come back tomorrow? I’ve been spending too much time inside my head too.”
“I’d like that.”
The next evening, when Audrey stepped onto the Intensive Care Unit, there was a bustle of activity at the nurse’s station. Mrs. Mitchel was leaning her elbows on the counter, speaking rapidly to the nurse on the other side. She was wearing the new slippers. Audrey ran to Mrs. Mitchel’s side, trying to grasp what was happening. The nurse didn’t appear concerned.
“I saw his lips move. Like this.” Mrs. Mitchel demonstrated a slight grimace.
The nurse followed Mrs. Mitchel into the room. She studied the monitors and then Pastor Mitchel. “I’m not seeing any changes. Are you sure he moved?”
“Yes.” Her eyes were pleading with the nurse to believe her. She picked up Pastor Mitchel’s hand cradling it in hers. She gasped. “He moved his finger. Did you see that?”
The nurse bent over the bed to get a closer look.
Audrey blinked, focusing so she could see the slightest movement. Her gaze traveled from his hands to his face. His eyelashes made a discreet flutter. “He’s trying to open his eyes.” Her heart danced with hope.
The nurse was underwhelmed. She explained that involuntary movements were common with coma patients. She bent down close to Pastor Mitchel’s face. “Andrew, how are you doing?”
“Can you open your eyes?”
“Andrew, move your fingers if you can hear me.”
The nurse straightened. “I’ll let the doctor know what you saw. We’ll cross our fingers that he does it again. Keep talking to him. He may be able to hear you, and you may be able to coax him out of this coma.” She looked over the monitors again before leaving the room.
Mrs. Mitchel continued to stare at Pastor Mitchel, watching for movements. Audrey was torn between sharing Mrs. Mitchel’s hopefulness and embracing the more realistic speculations of the nurse. She took off her coat and laid it on the couch. It was warm in the hospital room. She pushed up the sleeves of her pink maternity sweater. Then she joined Mrs. Mitchel at the bedside. “I don’t think it was involuntary movements.”
Mrs. Mitchel tore her eyes from her husband to look at Audrey. Her light brown eyes were filled with desperation. “Audrey, will you pray with me?”
“Of course.” Audrey bowed her head.
“Dear Lord,” Mrs. Mitchel began, “Thank you for saving Andrew’s life. Thank you for giving us a second chance at our marriage. Lord, please continue to heal him so that we can live a long life together.” She sniffed. “Please let him remember me.”
Audrey was taken back by Mrs. Mitchel’s prayer. She hadn’t considered the fact that Pastor Mitchel could have amnesia. Overwhelmed by the dire situation, her palms began to sweat. “God, we need a miracle. We beg you to restore Pastor Mitchel to complete health. With his memory intact. His dorky sense of humor intact. And his love for Mrs. Mitchel intact. We trust in you, Lord. You are the divine healer.” As she prayed, her confidence in his recovery increased. God was capable of anything. He created the universe, after all. So healing Pastor Mitchel would be cake. “In Jesus name, amen.”
Mrs. Mitchel giggled, wiping tears from her cheeks with a tissue. “Audrey, you already made me feel better.”
“Sorry I asked for his sense of humor to be restored. I should’ve asked for a less dorky sense of humor.” Audrey was glad they were able to joke a little bit. She sensed Mrs. Mitchel needed the laughter even more than she did. She sat on the couch. It was firm and covered in vinyl or something. Poor Mrs. Mitchel had been sleeping on this.
Mrs. Mitchel sat on the recliner. “Let’s talk about you. How are you doing?”
“I’m good.” She placed a hand on her ever-expanding middle. She felt a little kick from the baby.
“Really?” Mrs. Mitchel opened a bag of chocolate covered pretzels that Audrey had packed in the gift basket. She offered some to Audrey, and she gladly accepted. Then Mrs. Mitchel nibbled at one.
Okay, so Mrs. Mitchel wasn’t just making small talk. She was settling in for a heart to heart conversation. “The baby is healthy. I’m healthy.”
Mrs. Mitchel nodded. “You have that pregnancy glow.”
“I guess that’s a real thing. My hair is extra shiny. I guess that’s a perk of pregnancy. Who knew?”
“Have you been sleeping well?”
Audrey knew she was asking about the nightmares that had been keeping her up at night. Flashbacks of the party would fill her dreams as soon as she’d fall asleep. “Now the baby keeps me awake, kicking as soon as I lay down in my bed. It has its days and nights mixed up.”
“I’ve read that babies do that in the womb. All day when you’re up walking around, the baby is rocked to sleep. When you lie still, the baby wakes up and thinks it’s playtime.”
“That makes sense.”
“How are the nightmares?”
Audrey sighed. “They come less often. I’m hoping that eventually they’ll stop coming altogether. I’ve been talking to Ally at Zoe’s Place about it.”
“I’ve heard good things about Zoe’s Place.” Mrs. Mitchel replaced the bag of pretzels in the basket. “Do you have any leads on who your attacker was?”
She shook her head, dropping her gaze to the floor. She hated thinking that the guy was still out there. “I don’t have the energy to invest in searching for him. I’m just trying to survive this pregnancy for now. I feel guilty knowing he might be doing it to other girls, but—”
“You have nothing to feel guilty about, Audrey. The guilt belongs to the one who violated you.”
“Besides, I know someone who is looking for him as if his life depends on it.”
Audrey snapped her focus back on Mrs. Mitchel. “Who?”
“Trevor Hayes.” Mrs. Mitchel smiled coyly.
“Seriously?” Audrey’s stomach did a little somersault. “What do you mean?”
“He and Jake have been collecting names of everyone at the party. Trevor calls them, asks them for names of kids that were there, and then he questions everyone on the list. The girls too.”
“Wow. I had no idea.” She should’ve known Trevor would do something like that. He was the most caring person she’d ever met.
“He’s been researching date rape drugs and trying to figure out where a kid in Hastings might get them. He’s a good guy to have in your corner fighting for you.”
Heartburn crawled up Audrey’s throat. She wasn’t sure if it was from the chocolate pretzels or the guilt of turning her back on Trevor. Add guilt to her new motto.
There was a rapping on the door, and Jake Preston entered the room. His eyes were red and puffy. “Mrs. Mitchel, I’m so sorry.” He crossed the room and gave her a hug. “I’ve been praying nonstop ever since I heard about the accident, but I just had to come see him. I hope you don’t mind.” He spoke quickly, almost erratically. Fear emanated from his eyes. “Is he going to be okay?”
Audrey’s own heartsickness doubled, seeing her friend so distraught.
“Thank you for coming, Jake. Andrew is … ” Mrs. Mitchel gestured to Pastor Mitchel. “ … still in a coma. We’re waiting for him to come out of it. You can talk to him. He may be able to hear you.”
Jake stepped up to the bed. “Hi, Pastor Mitchel. It’s Jake. I just wanted to let you know that everybody’s praying for you.” His voice was shaky. “You have to get better. I’m not ready to say goodbye.”
Mrs. Mitchel inhaled sharply.
Audrey’s heart broke for Mrs. Mitchel, having to witness people voicing goodbyes to her husband. She hoped there wasn’t a need for goodbyes, yet she understood Jake’s sense of urgency. Andrew’s condition was serious. And although she didn’t want to admit it, there was a chance that Andrew wouldn’t recover, on this side of Heaven.
Jake held a fist to his mouth, stifling a cry between clenched teeth. He released a quiet sob, and then began again. “I need you.” Jake’s voice cracked, and a tear slid down his face, dripping onto the white bed sheet. “You mean more to me than you’ll ever know. Well, I wanted you to know that. That’s why I’m here tonight. I needed to tell you how much you mean to me. And I wanted to thank you for being there for me.”
Jake’s words took Audrey by surprise. Not because she doubted Andrew’s positive influence in each of the youth kids’ lives, but because Jake had seemed resistant to Andrew’s influence. He’d let his grades slip over the year and he’d continued drinking, despite what had happened to Audrey at his party.
Maybe Pastor Mitchel had been mentoring Jake the same way he’d been mentoring her. Pastor Mitchel had a way of making each person feel special, as if that person were his biggest priority. Tonight was proof that Pastor Mitchel had made a big impact on Jake.
The nurse entered the room and logged onto a computer. She entered numbers from the monitors. Then she began listening to Pastor Mitchel with her stethoscope. Audrey put her coat on and hugged Mrs. Mitchel. “I better go now.” She patted Pastor Mitchel’s shoulder. “Bye, Pastor Mitchel. Get better soon.” She gave Jake a hug, and he reciprocated with a hug tight enough to take her breath away. She never would’ve guessed that Jake Preston was such an emotional guy. “He’s going to be okay. We need to have faith that God will heal him. I need him too.”
“He doesn’t look so good,” Jake whispered in her ear. He pulled back from his embrace and sucked in a ragged breath.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” Audrey managed a smile.
She walked away with her hope dangling by a thread. Jake had put a voice to her feelings that she was afraid to face, and it was difficult to hear. He was right. Andrew looked awful. Scary awful. Blood had soaked through the bandage on his head, and he had a black eye. His body was unnaturally still, except for the rise and fall of his chest. She wanted so badly to take her own advice and believe that God would heal him, but by the looks of it, only prayer could save him now.
Read a chapter a day from Bittersweet Goodbye right here on this blog, beginning September 1st, 2019.