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?”
Read a chapter a day from Bittersweet Goodbye right here on this blog, beginning September 1st, 2019.