A Light in the Darkness, Ch. 23 & Epilogue

Chapter 23

 

The first understanding Holly had the next morning was how incredibly bad her head hurt.  No.  Hurt didn’t do it justice.  Throbbed.  Jabbed.  Stabbed. That was closer.  Ached.  To be sure.  Spun, wrenched, pounded.  All those had a place in describing how utterly horrible she felt.

 

Forcing her eyes open although that only made her nauseous, she looked around the room.  Rebecca’s bed was fully made with all the stuffed animals in place on the pillows.  The thought of class pulled Holly up, but that made it worse.  Much worse.  She sank back into the pillows with a low moan.  She put her hand to her head, wishing it would just stop pounding for a minute.  Six seconds.  She would’ve taken six seconds of relief.

 

Her lungs hurt.  Her arms hurt, too.  Slowly a centimeter at a time she turned her head to catch the digits on the clock. 10:33.  She coughed softly, moving as little as possible because that felt like a jackhammer to her brain.  She’d missed class no matter what day it was.  Her brain tried to find that information.  Day?  Umm… The last thing she remembered… She squinted to find it.

 

Sitting on some steps on campus.  That was the last thing she really remembered. It hurt to think that hard, but it was important for her to know what had happened after that.  Slowly images and information began to resurface.  “Ugh.”  She rolled over, wishing the world would just go away.  Had she really embarrassed herself that badly with her friends?  They were going to disown her.  Thoughts of her mother did nothing to make anything better.  Holly wondered if she had called again.  Her luck she’d been trying to call since yesterday, and Holly would be in for another lecture.

 

Knowing it was going to kill her but knowing also she had to at least check, she rolled slowly back over and sat up.  The room swayed and pitched around her like a sailboat tossed in a storm.  She put her hand to her head and the other to the edge of the bed, trying to make it stop.  “Ugh.”  This was destined to be the longest day of her life.

 

She pulled herself to standing and swayed several times as she swallowed the dryness in her mouth and tried to remember where she might have put her purse.  There was literally no telling.  The memories held only bad, so she stopped going there.  Maybe if she got some coffee and something easy on the stomach like bread, maybe then she would feel good enough to think about finding it.

 

Sniffing back the offensive odor in her nose, she stumbled to the door to her room and out into the hallway.  She listened for voices, but there were none.  That was good.  At least she wouldn’t have to face her friends.  She put her hand to her head again because it felt so heavy it might fall right off her shoulders.  She’d turned the corner and was in the middle of the living room before her gaze caught the movement on the couch. It stopped her with a whack that almost pitched her to the floor.

***

Gabriel turned the second he heard her and dropped the paper he’d been trying to read for two hours.  He swung to standing, breathing in the fact that she really was in the same room he was. “Holly.”

 

“Gabriel?”  Her arms came up around her chest, and she looked down at what she was wearing—a teal and purple night shirt and matching purple pants.

 

For as bad as Emily had made it sound when he’d arrived this morning, Holly certainly looked better than he’d been worried she would.

 

“What…?”  She pushed the bush of hair out of her face.  “What’re you doing here?”

 

Perfect peace washed through him.  She was here.  She was safe.  Everything else they could deal with.  Knowing it was the best he could do, he stepped over to her and gathered her into his arms.  All he wanted to do was hold her forever.

 

At first she hesitated, but he didn’t let go.  In fact, he let the prayers of thanksgiving flow right through his arms.  As the hug continued, she relaxed and melted into his arms.  That was even better.  To feel her stop fighting, stop running—that was the best feeling ever.

 

“I was so worried about you,” he whispered into the strands of hair just under his chin.  “You had me scared me to death.”

 

Holly backed up, gazing at him in complete confusion.  “Why are you here?  How…?”

 

When Gabe looked down at her, there was no more reason to deny she was who God had chosen for him. All that remained was to convince her of that. “I called Mr. Teracini last night when I couldn’t get a hold of you.  He sent me on his plane to make sure you were okay.”

 

At that she let go of him totally and stepped to the couch back.  “But… they’re not together anymore.  Why would he care?”

 

Puzzled concern slid over Gabriel.  “What do you mean—why would he care?”

 

She didn’t answer.

 

“Of course he cares, Holly.”  Gabe put his hands on his hips feeling the chill of his arms without her in them.  “What makes you think he wouldn’t?”

***

It was all too much for her—Gabriel being here, the images from the previous nightmares she had lived through, the concept that her life meant anything to Luke.  She sniffed it all back, trying to keep it behind the dam that was weak and cracking.  Squeezing her eyes to keep the tears back only made her head hurt worse.  She hadn’t realized she was holding her breath until the gasp ripped through her.  Desperately she fought to swallow all the emotions attacking her, but they were vicious and overpowering.

 

And then he was there.  Gently his hands came to her arms.  She felt them, warm and strong, not wavering, not running.  Like a soft breeze he turned her to him, and with nothing else to grab onto, she latched onto him.

 

“I thought I’d never see you again.” The words flowed out of her freely, the dam being washed away in wave after wave of disappointments and fears.

 

He didn’t say anything, just held her.  The feel of his soft jacket was like the warmest pillow she’d ever felt.  And without really thinking past how thankful she was to have a shoulder to cry on, Holly let the tears stream out of her soul and down her face.  “Mom called.  She said it was over.  I knew what that meant.  We never go back. Never.  She wouldn’t let me if I wanted to.  In fact, she’d be furious if she knew you were here right now.”

 

It was the truth.  She could hear her mother’s yelling even as she stood there. Gathering some composure, Holly wiped her nose and stepped back.  “Why are you here anyway?”

 

“Because I knew you needed me.”

 

The simplicity of that answer shook across the belief she’d grown up with—the belief that no one would ever love her at the moment she needed them most, that they would never even know the moment that she needed them the most.  “But it’s across the country.”  More thoughts, saner thoughts came to her.  “And you’re missing classes.”  She turned to him, intent on explaining why he should not waste his time on her.  “And what about your mom?  She’s going to flip.”

 

His smile was soft and full of peace.  “She said to tell you she’s praying for you.”

 

Shock and disbelief snapped into her.  “I thought she hated me.”

 

Slowly Gabriel shook his head although his gaze never left her.  “Not after what you did for me.  Besides, she knows how I feel about you.”

 

That was too much.  “Gabriel, don’t.”

 

“Don’t what?  Say that I love you?  It’s true, Holly.”

 

She shook her head, sending her balance tipping and sliding. “No, it’s not.  You don’t even know me.  You don’t know all the things I’ve done.”

 

For one second he said nothing, and then determination came over him. “Okay, then tell me.  Right here.  Right now.  Put all your cards on the table.”

 

Somehow it was easier not to, easier to make the decision for him.  “Gabriel…”

 

He planted his hands at his beltline. “No, Holly.  I’m serious.  You keep acting like you’re made of kryptonite or something, and if I get close, I’m going to spontaneously combust.  Well, if it’s so bad, whatever it is, then tell me because right now, I’m not seeing what’s so horrible.”

 

It really wasn’t fair to be asked to do this on an empty stomach with a hangover the size of Mount Everest. However, she was tired of fighting it.  She was tired of trying to be someone she clearly wasn’t.  Last night should’ve proven that beyond all questioning.  She reached up and rubbed her hand across her forehead.  “Fine.  But don’t say you didn’t ask for it.”

***

As Holly walked around the couch and sat in the side chair, Gabe prayed whatever it was that he would in fact have the guts to stay.  “Lord, please,” he breathed, “whatever it is, help me to be here for her.”  He followed her and sat on the couch, where he shifted to get comfortable, anchored his gaze on her, and fell silent.

 

She never even looked at him.  Her gaze was glued to her hands which were folded in a clench on her knees.  A moment.  She closed her eyes, took a breath, and the words came.  “I grew up knowing I wasn’t enough.  My dad left before I was one.  He died when I was two.  I don’t even remember him. After that, there was a whole string of guys—some real prospects, some just a fix for the night.  I didn’t know most of them.  They left before I got up in the morning.  It wasn’t at all a surprise to find a guy I’d never met in the kitchen eating breakfast.

 

“I guess I figured that’s the way everybody lived, the way it was done, you know?  It was all I ever knew. So that’s how I did it, too.  I went on dates, if you could call them that.  Most of them were more make-out sessions than dates.  We rarely did much more than find a dark spot with good visibility control.  That was my idea of being with someone.  By the time I saw them at school the next morning, they didn’t even remember my name.

 

“Everyone knew about how I was.  The girls made comments, the guys made different comments.  I pretty much avoided everybody because that was easier.” She let out a breath.  “We moved so much about the time everyone figured it out, I’d be gone again.”

 

The question of if he really wanted to hear this drifted through him, but he forced the air into and out of his lungs in measured amounts.  God had forgiven her, now he had to find the strength to follow that lead.

 

“When I was a senior, we were living in Missouri, and I met Chase Morgan. He was different than all the other guys.  I don’t know why, but he was the first guy who really liked me for me.  He asked me to a dance, and we actually danced, you know?  We didn’t head out to his truck at the first intermission.  After the dance, he took me home and kissed me on the cheek.  That was something so different.  Something I’d never had before.  I didn’t tell anyone—especially Mom.  She had this theory about guys like him that I won’t even repeat.  It was really bad.

 

“Anyway, Chase and I started going together, and things were going great—or so I thought.  He asked me to the Winter Ball, and I was so excited, I couldn’t stand it.  Of course by that time we were finding out of the way places to meet too, but that was okay—at least it didn’t start out that way.  The night before the dance I did my dress rehearsal.  Mom said she’d let me borrow Grandma’s pearls. I felt like a real princess.  Mom and Jack, her husband at the time, made a big fuss over me.  They took all these pictures, and I was just floating.  Finally something was working out.”

 

The words stopped, and Gabe could tell she was fighting to keep going.  He wanted to say something, to assure her it was all right, but before he had the chance, she started again.

 

“The next night I was getting ready for the dance.  Mom was at work at the hospital.  I knew Jack was home, but I didn’t really think much about it.”  She wiped across the bottom of her eye although Gabe knew she wasn’t actually crying.  “So I went into Mom’s room to get the pearls, and I heard him come in.”  There was a long breath.  She shook her head, the battle to say the words was clear.  “I don’t know how or why, but he asked if he could put them on me.  I said, ‘Yes.’  He did, and then when I turned around…” Pain sliced through her features.  She slammed her eyes closed. “Oh…” The breath was hard and laden with hurt. “I can’t do this.”

 

In his spirit Gabe was already hacking gashes into Jack. That he’d hurt her badly was pretty much certain by that point.  “It’s okay, Holly.  It’s okay. Take your time.”

 

She nodded, heaved a breath, and then took a slower one.  “He wasn’t rough about it, but I knew what he wanted.  He kept telling me how beautiful I was and how he’d always been in love with me.  I didn’t want to stay.  I didn’t.  I just wanted to get away from him, to get away from there, from what was happening, but he told me he’d leave my mom if I didn’t.  He said he’d tell her if I ever said anything.”  Strangely, the tears, the emotions left, leaving a void in her voice that was unsettling.  “After it was over, I got up, I got ready, and I went to the dance.”

 

Her gaze slid ahead of her to some undetermined point in the living room.  Distancing, he’d seen that look, had felt it in his own spirit.

 

“Chase asked me to go steady on the way to the dance.”  The laugh was hollow and ache-filled.  “How could I say yes by then?  You know?  How?  He didn’t know what he was asking, who he was asking.”  Her gaze fell back to her hands.  “I told him no, and by the time the night was over, I was with Eddie Danillo, and Chase hated me.”

 

Slowly she pushed a strand of her hair over her ear. “A month later I graduated. I went to junior college there in Lanford because Mom said it was smart, and then one night they had a fight.  Jack walked out.  Two months later she met Bradley. I thought things would get better.  I wanted them to so bad.  I really did.  School was going good.  I was dating again.  And then one night, he came home drunk.”  She was distancing again.  It was painful to watch how easily she shut off the emotions.  “He started making comments about how beautiful I was and how Mom had nothing on me.”

 

There was no real breath, more a pause to absorb oxygen. “The next day I packed up, and I moved to Boston—not harm, no foul.  Not even an explanation.  Of course in six weeks, Bradley was history.  Three months later she married Dan.  He was a good enough guy.  Too good for her probably.  His family was really nice to me, too.  They even gave me Christmas presents.  Course I was forbidden to ever see them again when she left him in March.  He had agreed to help me with college, and then when she left him for Luke, I was cut loose again.  Now she’s left Luke for Brian somebody who I’m sure is an upstanding pillar of the community type of a guy.  And in six months, or three, or two, who knows?”

 

Somehow in all the names, he still hadn’t heard the one he’d expected to hear.  “Wait.  What about Steve?  How does he fit into all this?”

 

“Steve?” She seemed genuinely confused by the question.  “I don’t… Oh.”  Again her eyes fell closed. More memories.  More wounds opened up.

 

It killed him to open them, to make them bleed again.  But he needed to know, needed not to be rummaging around in the darkness of her life he couldn’t clearly understand.  He leaned forward slightly and waited, hoping this was something completely trivial with no real connection to all the other junk.

 

“Steve was Jean Paul’s friend.”  Her voice was hollow again, a million miles away.

 

Gabriel shook his head.  “Who’s Jean Paul?”

 

“Luke’s nephew from San Francisco.  They hooked me up with him—presumably so I wouldn’t make a play for Luke.”

 

“Luke?” That angered as much as confused him.  “Why would you do that?”

 

“Because when Jack walked out, he told Mom about him and me—only he made it sound like I was the one who did it, like I was the one who made a play for him.”

 

“Ugh.”  This story got worse and worse.  Gabriel let his gaze travel to the sunlight streaming from the windows.  He didn’t want to leave, but he had to have a moment to process everything.  A moment and another, and he forced his gaze back to her.  “That still doesn’t tell me who Steve is.”

 

Holly’s head fell with her gaze.  When she shook her head, all he saw was the part in her hair and the sadness cloaking her.  “We went out one night—Jean Paul and I.”  The breathing became heavy and hard again, and he knew she was fighting the tears vehemently. He just couldn’t tell who was winning.

 

With everything in him, Gabe wanted to go to her and hold her, but he wasn’t sure if that would help or hurt.  Finally he slid from the couch and knelt at her feet.  His gaze found her face which was etched in indescribable pain.

 

“We went to the beach.” She took an awkward breath to calm the words.  “They played the key game.”

 

Gabe closed his eyes.  He’d heard of that from some of the guys on campus. They made it sound like the coolest thing ever.  To him, it sounded like the most disgusting thing ever.

 

“I didn’t know what it was.”  She shrugged.  “Until later…  I really… I didn’t want to, but Steve…”

 

“That’s when you showed up at the carriage house.”

 

She nodded.  Far from hating her, he loved her now more than ever.  She had survived hell.  Gently, he wrapped her in his arms. As he did so, he vowed that what was past was past.  Never again would she be caught up in that yuck with no one to turn to.

***

Holly leaned into his embrace mostly out of exhaustion.  Physical. Mental. Emotional. Spiritual.  She was wiped out.  She had a thought that pulled her back where she could wipe her eyes.  “Did Luke really ask about me?”

 

Gabriel’s gaze was inches from her—steady and concerned.  “What do you think—I  stole his plane without him knowing it?  That would be grand theft airplane.  I don’t think so.”

 

She laughed softly, but it fell into the hurt of knowing she had surely lost more people she had grown to so love.  “He’s probably hacked, huh?”

 

“Not at you.”  Gabriel pulled her to her feet, sat down in the chair, and pulled her down into his embrace.  “Look, I know this is hard for you.  It’s hard to separate yourself from all the junk your mom has done and brought into your life, but the way I see it, you have a choice.  You can keep letting her jerk you around, or you can start making your own decisions—standing on your own two feet.”

 

Holly knew that, but it was so very difficult.  “But when they drop her, they drop me too.”

 

Under her, Gabriel shifted his legs suddenly, but he caught her with no effort.  “Just like me, huh?  I dropped you the minute I found out.  Yep, that Holly.  She isn’t worth keeping around anyway.”

 

She knew he was kidding both by the tone of his voice and by the mischievous glint in his eyes.  “Haha.”

 

“What?  You don’t believe me?”

 

Playfully she whacked his arm.  “You know what I mean.”

 

“No, I know what you meant, but don’t you get it?  That stuff’s in the past if you let it be. Look around you.  Your friends were hysterical looking for you last night, and I flew for the first time in a plane that felt like it was going to crash in one of those cornfields the whole way here.  Why did we do that?”  He tilted his head to look at her.  “Why, Holly?”

 

Holly felt the question go through her.  She put her head down at the implication. “I don’t know.”

 

“Because we love you, that’s why.  Not because of who your mom is or where you’re from or what you have or don’t have.  We love you because of you.”  He nudged into her.  “It’s time you realize, you’re not that person anymore.  You’ve changed.  Give yourself some credit.  You made it through all that, and here you are with friends who love you and a guy who can’t live without you.”

 

Shock hit her, and she looked at him.

 

“I know. I know.  I’m a sap.  So sue me.”  His gaze grew serious.  “I completely freaked out last night when they couldn’t find you, Holly.  I just kept thinking, ‘What if I never see her again? What if she got on that plane, and that’s the last time we’ll ever be together?’”  His gaze fell.  “I couldn’t let that happen.”

 

Holly understood her own need for him, but the fact that he still wanted to be with her made no sense.  “But what about all the other stuff?  What about all the stupid things I did?”

 

“Is that who you are now?”

 

“It was last night.”

 

“Why?”

 

Answering that hurt.  “Because I knew that’s all I deserved.  I didn’t think I’d ever hear from you again or Luke.  I just wanted to bury the hurt.”

 

“Did you have to?”

 

It was a question she hadn’t considered.  “Well, no.”  She shook her head, seeing the other options that had really been available.  “Em and Becca would’ve listened.”

 

“And so would’ve I.”

 

She smiled as that touched her heart.  “And so would’ve you.”

 

“You’re not alone anymore, Holly.  Okay?  You’re not.  You have people here who love you, who want to help… if you’ll let us.”

 

It was more than she ever could’ve imagined was possible.

***

Paybacks were in order.  Holly had tested their friendships to the limits, and they had come through… again.  At two she suggested making the others a special supper, to thank them, and Gabriel agreed.  They were elbow deep in Gabriel’s four-alarm chili when Rebecca made it home at four.

 

“What is that smell?” she asked, stepping into the kitchen.

 

“Supper.”  Holly felt lighter than she had in years—maybe in forever.  “Go call the guys and invite them.  We’re celebrating.”

 

Rebecca glanced over at Gabriel who stood stirring the huge pot.  “What are we celebrating?”

 

With a smile that would’ve lit New York, Holly sighed. “Life.”

***

“That was incredible,” Jeremy said, leaning back in the chair.  “You should open your own restaurant, Gabe.”

 

“No kidding.” Emily flipped the last piece of her bread back to her plate. “I’m stuffed.”

 

Holly jumped up from the table.  “But there’s dessert!”

 

Everyone groaned.

 

“Can we wait on that?” Eric asked.  “If I eat any more, I might explode.”

 

Putting a pout on Holly turned to them.  “But I worked a long time on it.”

 

Rebecca reached out and put her hand on Holly’s arm.  “Later.  We promise. Right now, let’s get this cleaned up.”

 

Gabriel stood next to Holly and picked up three dishes and a pan. Feeling how wonderful it was to be in his presence again, she reached out for the things he had.  He handed them to her and grabbed more.

 

“So, Gabe,” Eric said as he, too, gathered dishes, “you’re in management?”

 

“Trying to be.   Just two and a half semesters left.”

 

“Enjoy it,” Jeremy said as he entered the kitchen with the others.  “I kept thinking, ‘Can’t wait to get out… Can’t wait to get out… When I get out… Only one more year…’ Now I’m out, and it’s ‘Man, what was I thinking?’”

 

They laughed.

 

“Well, that and ‘Is my tux ready yet?  Have we got the hall booked…?’” Rebecca teased.

 

“No, that’s Emily’s department,” Jeremy said quickly.  “I try to stay as far away from that as possible.”

 

“Smart man.”  Eric clamped Jeremy on the back.  “Smart man.”

 

Rebecca angled an elbow into Eric’s stomach.  “Watch it, Mister.”

 

From the other side of him at the sink, Jeremy caught him in the ribs with another elbow.  “She’s onto you, man.  You’d better run for your money.”

 

“What am I a punching bag?” Eric backed up from the soapy water.

 

“It’s okay, Eric.”  Holly stepped up behind him to put another pot in the water as she put her hand on his back.  “Some of us are grateful you’re a good punching bag.”  She smiled at him with thankfulness in her eyes.  He had stepped between her and hell at least three times now.  How she’d ever gotten so lucky to have all of them, she couldn’t clearly tell, but she was grateful nonetheless.

 

“You hear that, Eric?” Jeremy asked, whacking him again. “You were born to be a punching bag.”

 

“You know, you’d better watch that elbow.  You might get to eat that thing.”

 

“You’ve got to excuse them, Gabriel,” Rebecca said.  “I’m sure the guys out west are much better behaved.”

 

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”  Gabriel glanced at Holly and smiled.  It was a world only they knew.  “You think that’s true, Holly?”  He stepped across the kitchen and put his arms around her.  “Are the guys out West better?”

 

She was swimming in his eyes.  They held such peace and love—even now.  How that was possible, she had no idea.  “I’m not complaining.”

***

On Sunday, Gabriel knew he couldn’t stay forever.  That didn’t mean he wanted to leave.  At her apartment complex, he knocked, but when she came to the door, he didn’t want everyone and their dog to be around for this moment.  “Morning.”  His hands slipped up to his waistband.  It still did funny things to see her, especially like this.

 

She had on her jeans and a cable knit sweater.  It wasn’t fashionable or even particularly nice.  But it was comfortable and easy-going just like the real her.  “Morning.”

 

She stepped closer to him, and he took her into his arms.  He closed his eyes, soaking in the feeling and righting the promise in his heart.

 

When she let go, he gazed at her.  “What do you say we go out here for a while?”

 

That seemed to throw her, but she recovered quickly.  “Okay.”

 

She shut the door behind her and wrapped her hand in his as they started outside.  The October sun had yet to really relinquish its warmth. Bright and inviting, it shone down upon the early fall morning.  There was a little walking trail through the courtyard that led down to the sitting garden.  It wasn’t much more than six sets of flowers and a bench, but Gabriel angled their steps that direction anyway.

 

“Oh, I was going to tell you,” Holly said, suddenly excited. “Luke called me last night.  His new secretary is giving him fits.”  Her laugh lifted his spirit.

 

“Can’t get the receipts from the groundskeepers, huh?”

 

Holly laughed.  “Something like that.  You know how difficult Darius can be.”

 

Gabe joined her laugh.  “He’s better than I ever was.”

 

She clutched his hand tighter. “I wouldn’t know about that.”

 

They walked in silence several paces.  With a toss in the breeze she flipped her hair out of her face.

 

“I guess Luke’s ready to get his plane back, huh?” Gabe asked, glancing over at her.

 

She took two long, slow steps. “Actually he said he’s scheduled a trip out here in a couple weeks.  He said it’s business, but I think he wants to check up on me, too.”

 

His gaze swung to hers. “That’s good, right?”

 

Her smile was soft.  “Yeah, that’s good.”  Three more steps. “I think Mom’s moving to Seattle.  She called me last night.”  Sadness drifted over her.  “I wish I could do more than just pray for her.  She’s really struggling.”

 

“Hey, don’t discount prayer.  It’s why I’m here.”

 

“Yeah, me too.”  The sigh she heaved was laden with the desire for time to stop. “I don’t want you to leave.”

 

Gabe arched his arm and put it around her, hugging her to him tightly.  He leaned over and kissed the top of her head.  “You could come with me.”

 

“Yeah, right.”  She put her hand onto his chest, feeling the strength and solidity there.  “I’ve got school, remember?”

 

They’d arrived at the tiny garden, and he pushed through the wrought iron gate.  “There are schools in California. You know? Good schools.  Schools that can teach you how to be an excellent kindergarten teacher.”

 

Suddenly the fact that he might be serious crashed into her.  “Are you serious?”

 

At the little wrought iron bench, Gabe sat and pulled her down with him.  He didn’t say anything for a long moment. “I don’t know.  Am I?”

 

Holly sat up and looked at him.  Nowhere in his eyes did she see teasing.  Levity left her as well.  “Gabriel, what are you saying?”

 

He looked away, closed his eyes, and then his gaze came back to her face.  “Look, I know you haven’t had anything solid in your life, and I know you want to put down roots and find that stability.”  He leaned forward and took her hands in his. “And I want you to do that with me.”  He shook his head.  “I know it’s crazy to ask.  We’ve both got school, and we can’t think about marriage right now.  But Holly, you’ve got to know, I can’t see tomorrow without you.  I can’t.  I don’t want to walk away again, hoping you won’t find someone to replace me.”

 

In his voice was hope and hopelessness.  Holly sat, looking at him, knowing he couldn’t be asking what she thought he was.  His gaze trapped hers.

 

“Look, I know you’ve got school here and friends, and I have no right to ask or even anything to offer other than the fact that I love you, and it’s killing me not being with you.”

 

She stared at him, searching his eyes for what any of this meant. “But how?  I can’t just transfer in the middle of the semester.  And where would I live, where would I go?”  All the questions attacked her at once.

 

“I’m sorry.” Pain scratched across his face.  “I shouldn’t have said anything.”  His gaze fell to their hands.

 

“No.  No, we need to talk about these things, but I just don’t see how right now.”

 

He nodded, and when he looked at her, it was with acceptance.

 

“I’m not saying, ‘No,’” she said softly, wanting to quell the hurt in his eyes, “but I’ve lived my whole life with one impulsive decision after another—because it was easier, because Mom couldn’t live without him.”  She took a long breath.  “You know that I love you?”

 

Again he nodded.

 

“Then we’re going to have to trust that.  If it’s meant to be, it will be.”

***

When Holly put him on the plane an hour later, she had never doubted a decision more.  Still, she hugged him, kissed him, and told him good-bye.  However, by the time she got home, she knew he was right.  Being here without him, being anywhere without him wasn’t something she ever wanted to do again. In her room, she grabbed her calendar and then the phone.  It was a leap of faith, she knew, but it was all she could think to do.  “Hello. Yes, is Luke there?  This is Holly.”

***

The plane ride home was worse than the plane ride to Boston.  Exhaustion filling him, Gabe laid his head on the window and watched the tiny world float by below.  He knew she was right.  She needed to be there.  It made no sense to pick up and move everything.  He shouldn’t have even asked her.  It was just that walking away, watching her walk away ripped his heart in two, and he wasn’t sure how many more times he could do that.  As he closed his eyes, he asked God for the strength to hold onto the knowledge that He had a plan for them.  That plan would be done in His way and His time.  It was a matter of whether Gabe could stay in one piece until that happened.

 

Yanking himself from the thoughts, he picked up True Power & Real Peace.

 

The ability to wait on God is a hallmark of the rich soul.

Gabe laughed out loud.  How God could do that every time, he wasn’t at all sure.

 

The trust that this waiting requires does not totally diminish with the proven times God has worked in a life, but those times do help.  They give the rich soul solid proof that God does work, that His ways are above the ways of the world, that if it hasn’t worked out now, the rich soul can always add the word, “Yet.”  It hasn’t worked out “Yet.”  It hasn’t worked out the way I thought it would “Yet.”  I don’t see how it can ever work out “Yet.”   Yet allows the rich soul to walk through the darkness of what is now, believing that the light is only a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if.’

God is a God of when, not if.  Hope comes from having faith in the ultimate victory of God.  Not if, but when.  As rich souls walk through life, they might not see evidence other than through their faith that anything about their present situation might work out.  But the rich soul will stand in the secure understanding that God’s timing is worth waiting for.  Instead of forcing, vow only to take the step He is asking you to take at this moment, knowing that “yet” is coming and “when” is a conclusion not a question mark.

 

For when it is right, when it is ready, when it is His will, He will most assuredly grant the desires of your heart.  Take this step.  This one—in trust and faith.  In doing so you can walk in True Power & Real Peace knowing all the questions are already answered in His time, in His love, and in His wisdom. It will happen.  It just hasn’t happened yet.

Gabe put the book down with a sigh. “So I’m supposed to trust even now?”

 

“No,” God’s voice blocked out even the plane.  “Not even now.  Especially now.”

 

Why was it God had an answer for everything?  But still, Gabe smiled. “Okay, I get it.  I’ll take this step.  This one, and I’ll put the rest in Your hands.  Your timing, Your will, Your wisdom be done this time and every time, now and forever. Amen.”

***

“Don’t shoot me,” Holly said that night as the three of them sat around the table eating leftover chili.  “But I’ve made a decision.”

 

Rebecca looked at Emily. “Uh-oh.”

 

Holly couldn’t look at them and say the words, so she anchored her gaze on her chili.  “I’m moving to California in December.  Luke has agreed to let me come stay with him.  I can go to school right there in the Valley.”

 

Her friends exchanged looks.

 

“So, you’re not going now?” Emily managed to ask.

 

Slowly Holly shook her head.  “I need to finish out this semester.  I’ve got my classes and my credits to think about.  I need to do that for me first, but then…”

 

Silence drifted through the room.  After a full minute, Holly looked up at them.  “I’m sorry.”

 

“For what?” Rebecca asked, gazing at her.

 

“For leaving, for not being here with you guys anymore.”

 

Emily’s gaze fell to her bowl.  “Well, I’m not going to be here either.  We’ll be staying in Colorado after the wedding.”

 

More silence as the import of those words hit each of them.

 

“And I’ve only got another semester after that,” Rebecca said.  “I’ll be doing my internship next semester, so I won’t be around that much either.”

 

Holly was having trouble understanding.  “Then you’re not mad?”

 

“Why would we be mad?” Rebecca asked.  “Gabriel’s a nice guy.  He’ll be a very lucky guy to marry you.”

 

“Marry?” Holly asked, jumping.  “Who said anything about marriage?”  But as she let the word into her consciousness, she realized she’d been thinking the same thing.  “Do you really think he’d ask me to marry him?”

 

“Are you kidding me?” Rebecca shrieked.  “That guy is ga-ga over you.  Haven’t you seen how he looks at you?”

 

Embarrassment seeped into her. “I must’ve missed that part.”

 

Emily nodded in agreement.  “When you guys left this morning, I figured that’s where you were going.”

 

Holly’s eyes widened.  “Really?  I just thought we were going for a walk.”

 

“Trust me, those walks can change your life forever,” Emily said with a smile that sent hope spiraling through Holly.  Maybe, just maybe Emily was right.  If so, she couldn’t wait for that special walk.

***

“I’ve made a decision,” Holly said later as she lay on her bed, staring up at the ceiling with the phone at her ear.  “I talked to Luke today, and I’m moving back to California…”

 

“Oh, Holly, I’m sorry,” Gabriel said, stopping her.  “I shouldn’t have asked you to do that.  It was selfish of me, and…”

 

“Hey!  Hello!  Drama King, let me finish.”

 

He stopped. “Oh. Okay.”

 

“I’m not moving right now, but this is my last semester here.  I talked to Em and Becca tonight, and this makes sense.  Em will be staying in Colorado after the wedding anyway, and Becca only has one more semester after this one.  There’s no future for me here, and besides, Luke’s excited about having me back.”

 

He didn’t say anything.

 

Concern twined through her spirit. “Say something.”

 

“I don’t want you to do this for me.”

 

“I’m not,” she said as a smile of conviction spread through her.  “I’m doing it for us.”

 

“Us?” There was a hint of a smile. “I like the sound of that.”

 

Epilogue

 

Cold hardly did the weather justice.  Frigid was a better description.  Frigid with a generous snow pack which was being added to by the second was even closer.

 

“I don’t think these dresses were designed for sub-zero temperatures,” Rebecca said, pulling the bodice of the cap-sleeved, ice-blue bridesmaid dress up.  It fell in a perfect sheath down her figure.

 

“Where did your wrap go?” Holly asked as she readjusted the soft blue bow of the flower girl’s dress.  They’d only met the night before, but they’d become fast friends.

 

“Well, first of all, satin and six inches of fur is not going to help.” At the mirror in the church’s little chapel, Rebecca adjusted the top of the dress.  Her hair, now cut in a chopped and flipped style, framed her glasses-free face.  However, she was used to neither the hairstyle nor the glamour.  And Holly had reason to suspect there was another matter not making her the normal, down-to-earth Rebecca Holly knew so well.

 

“So is this what happens when you get a rock on your finger?” Holly teased.  “You become unbearable to live with.”

 

“Haha.”  Rebecca held out her hand for the ninety-seventh time since she and Eric had stepped off the plane.  “It is beautiful, isn’t it?”

 

“Hello! A little help here, please!” Emily called from the other side of the door.

 

Holly jumped to her feet and raced to it.  Opening it, she couldn’t help but marvel at the dramatic change in both her roommates.  Emily, normally the coolest of them all, rushed in, a large white bag in her hand.  Behind her the veil streamed, held to her flowing hair by a dazzling tiara.

 

However, her outfit didn’t match her headdress.  Instead of a flowing white gown, she sported a black velour sweat suit and black snow boots.

 

“Ugh.  We almost got stuck!” she wailed, unzipping and removing whatever she found at the speed of light.  “Can you help me with this?”

 

Holly bounded into action.  “What do you need?”  As if she’d done this before, she had Emily in the dress and elegant shoes in no time.  “Oh, Em. That dress is to die for!”

 

Delicate gold accents swept side to side across the top of the bodice with the same cap sleeves as her bridesmaids.  The faint gold embroidery then flourished into a wide belt at the waist, finishing in a cascading v down the front. It had a dramatic fall from the waist to the chapel length train on the back.  With her hair up but tumbling down in loose spiral curls across her shoulders, she was unbelievably gorgeous.

 

“Thanks.”  Then as Emily turned and looked in the mirror, the understanding of what was happening slipped over her features.  She stepped forward, mesmerized.

 

It was a moment of hope as the three friends gazed into the mirror, Emily in the center of them.

 

“Knock. Knock.”  The photographer entered, took one look at them as they turned toward back to the door, and fawned.  “Oh, that’s perfect.  Perfect. Don’t move.”

 

And thus began the most magical day of Holly’s life.

***

“Gabriel made it,” Rebecca said, stepping back into their now-prison in the chapel.  The moment guests started arriving, Emily’s mom had banished them into this beautiful but not overly big space.

 

Holly’s heart slammed into motion.  She hadn’t seen him since the night before at the rehearsal.  The need to see him overtook her.  “Do you think your mom will mind?”

 

“Go ahead.” Emily waved her off happily. “She’ll get over it.”

 

With a squeal, Holly went to the door and quietly opened it.  She slipped out, careful not to open it wide enough for anyone to see in.  One breath and she knew she’d made the right decision moving.  She’d only been in California three days before they had to hop another plane out here, which was a good thing because they’d beaten the snowstorm’s onslaught by mere hours.  Now here she was snowed in and happier than she’d ever been in her life.  He was already looking out over the pews for a good seat.

 

“Gabriel,” she whisper-shouted.  “Gabriel!”

 

Several people turned, and then Eric, bless him, realized what she was doing.  He reached over and tapped Gabriel on the arm and then pointed back at her.  The look in Gabriel’s eyes when he turned was worth every moment of terrible they had been through. His search for a seat forgotten, he walked back to her.

 

“Look at you.”  And he was looking at her head to toe.  “Wow.”

 

Holly spun slowly so he could get the full effect.  “My wrap is back in there.”

 

“Well, except that you’re going to freeze to death like that, I don’t mind.”  He put an arm around her, and Holly let him pull her close.  She closed her eyes to breathe him in.  Her hand went to his chest, and she felt how wonderful it was to be near him again. When he let her go, he took one more long look before pulling her to him to kiss her forehead.  “I’d better get a good seat.  I wouldn’t want to miss that walk down the aisle.”

 

Ducking her head as embarrassment flooded through her, she nodded.  “Don’t have too much fun without me.”

 

“Never.”

***

The music swelled to life, and Gabriel watched Jeremy, Eric, and the other groomsmen come in down front.  The priest came in with them, and then all gazes swept to the back.  First came a young lady with flaming red hair.  Audry.  Gabriel had met her the night before.  However, his gaze held her for only a moment because it was yanked backward by the beauty now walking in behind her.

 

His heart lifted to the point that he couldn’t breathe.  Soft, blond hair, delicate features, grace that defied gravity. Everything about her was so right—even the soft, gentle smile.  It made him smile like an idiot for no real reason other than he felt like the luckiest guy in the world.  Just then her gaze chanced on him and locked there.  As she stepped ever closer, he saw all the emotions—gratefulness, hope, joy, peace, love—flow through her.  A moment and with tears glinting on her lashes, she let her gaze drop and stepped past him.  Still his gaze followed her all the way to the front where she took her place and tossed her hair back to watch the others.

 

Not because he wanted to but to be polite, Gabe retraced his gaze to the aisle where Rebecca, the maid of honor, beaming at Eric standing as best man at the end of her walk, came down the aisle.  Gabe was sure it wouldn’t be long, and this would be the two of them.  It was clear this dress rehearsal was full of happiness as well.

 

And then the bridal party was in place.  The priest raised his hands, and everyone stood.  The organ announced the majesty of the moment as at the back Emily appeared.  Gasps of awe swept through the congregation.  Emily, her face obscured by a thin veil, walked between her parents—neither of whom looked especially comfortable.  However, Emily never faltered.  Her gaze was on Jeremy who stood gazing at her like she was an angel sent from Heaven.

 

They never broke the gaze one to the other the whole way down the aisle. At the front the parents Emily’s parents kissed her and stepped away.  Jeremy and Emily took two steps toward the altar side-by-side and then turned to each other.  Gently even though he looked like he might burst with love and happiness, Jeremy took hold of both sides of the veil and lifted it carefully over her head.  One long look into each other’s eyes, one smile of utter gratefulness, and he put out his arm for her.  Looking like she might in fact float right off the deep rose colored carpet with the gesture, Emily accepted his arm, and together they stepped into a new life.

***

It was a good thing Holly had brought tissue, hiding it in her bouquet.  She only hoped now that her makeup would hold up under the onslaught of tears.  It was all just so beautiful, so right.  Emily and Jeremy were made for each other, and she couldn’t help but wonder as she watched them, could her own wedding ever be this beautiful?

 

“Please be seated,” the priest said to the congregation after the readings.

 

The wedding party was to stay standing, and so Holly shifted her flowers and squared her shoulders.  All gazes might be on Emily, but it was a pretty sure bet that one might be looking at her.  She tamped down that thought because it threatened to make her squeal with joy.

 

“Emily and Jeremy, it is an honor to be here today to celebrate with you,” the priest said. “I can’t help but think about how far the two of you have come to be in this place together.  As I reflected on your readings, one thing jumped out at me, and that is your total and uncompromising reliance on God.  We have talked at great length about how important this is to the two of you—how there were times you felt Him guiding you even though you weren’t sure you could step into what He was asking of you.

 

“But by doing so, by stepping into that place He was calling you with faith and trust, you have opened your lives to His Kingdom to come into your lives.  You may not have known how it could work at certain times, but you trusted that it would just the same.  That is what Jesus meant in the Our Father.  ‘Thy Kingdom come.’  That doesn’t just mean it will come some day, that means, ‘Please, Lord, come into our lives right now.  Let God’s Kingdom start right here, right now in my life.’  I challenge you now to step into this new life He has called you both to—where the two shall become one.  One flesh, one love.

 

“A love that has the qualities spoken about in the second reading.  Patience, kindness, never jealous, never rude, not self-seeking, rejoicing in the truth.  This is the love we wish for the two of you as you come to the altar to begin your lives together.”

 

Holly glanced over her shoulder, and her heart floated with the smile and wink Gabriel sent her way.  God’s Kingdom come.  Right here. Right now.  Step into it.  Risk loving, really loving, holding nothing back—not the good, not even the bad.  She let her eyes fall closed to make her own life vow.  That was the way she wanted to live now, not just because of Gabriel, but because that’s what she so wanted for her life.

 

Jesus had given her a second chance. Gabriel had shown her how.  Now, she had to learn to accept good things rather than always expecting the bad.  There was a reason she was here.  It was because she’d finally let others in, let them love her, let them get close.  Was that risking something?  Yes, to be sure.  But as she turned to watch Emily and Jeremy pledge their love to each other, it suddenly was perfectly clear to her that love was the only way to live.  All the other junk wasn’t really living, it was fighting not to die, and there was a very big difference.

***

Even as they stood at the dance later, the evening winding down around them, every second they were together solidified Holly’s vow.  Watching Gabriel as he talked with Eric so easily, Holly couldn’t help but be grateful she had waited.  Yes, Eric was a great guy, and she was eternally grateful for his friendship.  But he wasn’t the one God had in mind for her.  True, the waiting and the getting here had nearly busted them all apart, but it was for the best.  She could see that now.

 

As she looked at them, she couldn’t help but remember Gabriel’s words:  “God has a plan.”  Yes, and it was becoming clear how much better His plan was than anything she had ever tried to make work.  He was so smart, and she had never been so grateful.

 

“What?” Eric said, his glasses flashing with the light.  “It wasn’t my fault.  She wouldn’t leave me alone about it.  She kept saying, ‘Man, you’re jumpy.  What is wrong with you? Are you sure you’re okay?’  I finally couldn’t take it anymore.”

 

“So you asked her to marry you on the plane?” Gabriel lifted his punch to his lips.  “Smooth.”

 

Eric shrugged.  “Hey, it’s memorable.  I bet there aren’t ten other couples in the world who could say they got engaged on a plane.”

 

“I’ve heard of some that got married on a plane,” Gabriel said, “and even some that got married jumping out of a plane.”

 

“Oh, my gosh.”  Holly shook her head, her eyes going wide.  “Don’t even say that!  Rebecca will shoot you.”

 

Eric too looked positively horrified.  “Rebecca?  I might shoot you.  I’m crazy, but I’m not that crazy.”

 

“That’s debatable,” Rebecca said, walking up to the little group.  “What’s up?”

 

As his arm came around her, Eric gazed down at her. “Hey, if I’m crazy, what does that say about you?”

 

She shrugged.  “That I like crazy?” She arched her lips to him.

 

“Me too.” He kissed her.

 

Gabriel and Holly laughed.  It looked so snuggly wonderful, Holly slipped under Gabriel’s arm loving the fact that she was no longer a third wheel.  Rebecca was right.  This was much better.

 

Rebecca took Eric’s hand. “Come on, crazy.  We’re needed for carrying presents duty.  They’re going to start cleaning up.”

 

“Oh. You need help?” Holly asked.

 

“Nah, we got the twins to help.” Rebecca rubbed her other hand down Eric’s back. “One more big, strong guy ought to do it.”

 

“Big, strong guy?” Holly asked with a teasing smile.  “Maybe you’d better take someone else.”

 

“Haha.”  Eric smirked at her.  “Drink your punch.”

 

She complied with a laugh.  The two of them walked off, he still in the tuxedo, she still looking gorgeous in her bridesmaid dress.  It was a pretty sure bet that Jeremy and Emily would’ve stayed longer, not to mention all the guests, but the predictions of more snow coming in over the mountains had sent everyone scurrying for safety.  In fact, the entire wedding party sans bride and groom hadn’t even changed yet.  They were supposed to, but it seemed everything that was supposed to happen hadn’t quite turned out that way.  It was a Holy Spirit thing according to Emily.  She’d always wanted a small wedding.  Weeding the invitations hadn’t worked, but the snow had.

 

Holly sighed at how perfect it all was.  The God has a plan thing was catching hold of her soul in ways she couldn’t quite comprehend.  “We should go help.”

 

“Oh, okay,” Gabriel said as if snapping out of a trance.  “Yeah, we’d better.”

 

Concern drifted over her.  “You okay?”

 

“Yeah.”  He looked down at her and with a half-smile.  “Why wouldn’t I be?”

 

With a small scowl she perused his eyes once more.  There was something different about him, but she couldn’t quite tell what it was.  “Then let’s do this so we can get out of here.  Stuck in the snow on the side of a mountain does not sound like fun to me.”

 

“Chicken.”  He threw his cup into the trashcan one of the twins was bringing around.

 

“Not chicken.  It’s called being smart.”  Holly got on one side of the table, Gabriel on the other, and together they un-taped the tablecloths.  It was really too bad the night had to end so soon.  She was just getting used to the magic.

***

“We’ll follow you,” Gabriel said, as the four of them stood at the hall door bundling up for the ice and snow beyond.  The guys had already been out, clearing the snow off the vehicles and getting them started.  That, apparently, was a task in and of itself.

 

Eric made one more check of himself and grabbed Rebecca’s hand. “Okay. Try to keep up.”

 

“Hey, this isn’t a race!” Holly called as the four of them darted into the sleeting darkness.

 

“Speak for yourself!” Rebecca called over her shoulder.  Then she ducked and made a true break for it.  “Aaahhh!  It’s freezing out here!”

 

Hurrying but trying not to slip, Holly held her breath until she jumped in the cab of the rented 4 X 4.  Two layers of coats did nothing to stop the chill through the satin dress.

 

“Brr!” Holly huddled over herself as Gabriel slammed his door and flipped the heater on higher.  He reached over and tucked her under his arm, which helped but not as much as a nice warm fire would have.

 

He stayed like that for a minute. “That was nice.”

 

Happiness drifted through even the chill as Holly looked up at him.  “So you had fun?”

 

“Of course.”  He leaned closer to her head.  “I was with you, wasn’t I?”  He caught her in his gaze, and time gave way to the moment. His lips came to hers, and a fire would’ve been no comparison.  The world around them dissipated into the warmth of that kiss.

 

She melted into him, wishing they never had to leave.  Even the shivers subsided.  Who needed two coats when he was around? At that moment there was the blare of a car horn, and with a jerk they both looked out the front window.  “Party poopers,” Holly said, shivering again as she realized who it was.  “Fine. Let’s get back to the inn.  I’m thinking hot chocolate and s’mores sound awesome.”

 

“Well, you’re easy to please.” Gabriel laughed as he put both hands on the wheel and followed Eric out into the night.  “The inn it is then.”

***

Tucked next to the side of the mountain, surrounded by trees so tall the tops were visible only from a distance was the Innsbrook Inn.  It wasn’t big or overly fancy, but it was much like everything else in Remlin—small, cozy, and just right.  Gabriel let Holly out at the door so she wouldn’t have to walk through the snow, which didn’t exactly work because the swirling stuff was everywhere.  Once inside, she went right to the enormous fireplace that was in fact roaring in the corner.

 

The heater in the truck had helped, but her hands still felt like ice.  She held them up to the warmth, letting the firelight dance over them.  Never would she forget tonight.  Gabriel at the wedding and dancing later.  Getting to introduce him as her boyfriend and just being with him.  It was more than she ever could’ve asked of life.

 

Behind her, Eric and Rebecca tumbled in the door.

 

“Good grief! It is like an icebox out there,” Eric said, shaking the snow off of himself.

 

“Make room!” Rebecca plowed through the room toward the fire.  She raced up next to Holly and barely got stopped before going headlong right into it.  “Remind me to send Emily the bill for the pneumonia I’m going to catch.”

 

Holly was already thawing out.  She turned her back to the fire as she slid out of her coat.  “Oh, man. Wasn’t her going away dress gorgeous?”

 

“Just like Em,” Rebecca agreed. “That sparkly stuff on the midnight blue.  I especially liked the tiara.  She looked like a princess.”

 

“Yeah, and Jeremy was so sweet. ‘Honey, I’ll go start the car.’ ‘Okay, Honey, we’re ready.’” Holly snuggled into the memory.

 

“He’s a sap,” Eric said, shaking his head as he joined them.

 

“A sap, huh?  And what did you tell me when we got in the car?” Rebecca asked, bumping into him.

 

“Fine. I’m a sap too.”

 

The front door whooshed open, and a half-frozen Gabriel rushed in.  “Ugh! Who would want to live here?  Give me sunshine and waves any day.”

 

“Well, get over here and get warm already,” Rebecca said, beckoning to him.

 

Holly should’ve said something, but his entrance had taken her breath from her.  That curly black hair, the persistent stubble, and those green eyes that could buckle her knees without trying.  It just wasn’t fair to a girl that he could look so good.  In a breath he was next to her, warming his hands, his presence warming her heart.

 

“I hope Jeremy and Emily made it,” he said.  “It’s really starting to come down out there.”

 

Eric’s cell phone beeped.  “Well, guess who.”  He turned it on and lifted it to his ear.  “Tell me you made it, and I don’t have to come dig you out of somewhere.”  He turned away from them to have the rest of the conversation.  Still, Holly and the others continued to listen. By the sound of it Jeremy and Emily had in fact made it down the mountain to Silverthorne.  They would stay there until Tuesday when they were scheduled to fly out of Denver to honeymoon in Florida.  Florida.  It sounded wonderful.

 

However, at that moment Gabriel put his arm around her, and here sounded wonderful too.

 

“So are we doing s’mores or what?” Holly asked.

 

“Sounds good to me,” Rebecca said.

 

Eric beeped the phone off.  “They made it.”

 

“Cool.” Rebecca huddled to Eric.  “I was not looking forward to digging them out.”

 

“Me neither.”  He put his arm around her, and peace settled over all of them.

 

“Ugh. I really need to get out of these shoes,” Rebecca said.  “They are killing me.”

 

“What do you say we go up and change and meet back down here?” Eric asked.

 

Rebecca was already taking her shoes off. “Sounds good to me.”

 

The two of them started for the stairs.  Holly took a step to follow them, but Gabriel held her back with a tightening of her hand.  She looked back at him in concern.

 

He lifted his chin to the others. “Why don’t you guys go on up?  We’ll be up in a minute. I want to show Holly something.”

 

“Oh, okay.”  Eric held out his fist which Gabriel hit.  “Behave yourself.”

 

Gabriel laughed.  “Always.”

 

Eric looked at Holly.  “Don’t believe him, Holly.  He’s dangerous, I tell you… Dangerous!”

 

Rebecca yanked Eric to the stairs.  “Come on, you.  Let’s give the lovebirds some time.”

 

Lovebirds?  Holly’s gaze fell in embarrassment on the word.  She laughed and shook her head, hoping Gabriel wouldn’t be mad.  “Those two.”

 

They were gone now, and suddenly Holly realized she and Gabriel were truly alone for the first time since they’d gotten here.  She tried to brush that off.  “So, what did you want to show me?”

 

Gabriel turned to her, and panic struck her at the uncertainty in his eyes.  He put his head down so she couldn’t see into his eyes, and it was all she could do not to freak out.  He looked like he was about to do the unthinkable, and fear slammed into her. He wouldn’t break up with her now, would he?  No, he couldn’t.  Not after the day they’d had. She tried to get the air into her lungs, but it was fire hot and suffocating.

 

Holly, stop it. Just stop it, she finally told herself. Whatever it is, God has a plan. Trust Him. For once, just let go and trust Him. She forced the air into herself and let it calm her.  “Gabriel, whatever it is…”

 

“Holly?” He looked at her again with that tentativeness that was not making trusting very easy.

 

“What?” she asked, gazing at him, hoping it wasn’t as bad as it looked.  “Just say it.”

 

His gaze locked with hers, and solid decision came into him.  “I wish I could give you some guarantee, but all I really have to give you is my heart.”

 

Somehow this wasn’t at all what she expected.  “What…?”

 

With a breath, he stepped back from her and carefully dropped to his knee.  Her eyes widened, and her heart flipped over.  “Gabriel.  Oh, my gosh.”  She put her hand to her mouth to keep herself from screaming.  “Oh, my…”

 

When he looked up at her, there was absolutely no uncertainty anymore.  Where the ring came from, she couldn’t quite tell.  One minute it wasn’t there.  The next it was.

 

“I talked to Luke before we left,” Gabriel said, gazing up at her, “and he’s given us his blessing.”

 

“Luke?” The thought of how sweet that gesture was melted her heart.  It was hard telling which was better Gabriel asking or having a real dad to say yes.  She bit her lip to keep the tears back, but it wasn’t working very well.

 

“So,” Gabriel’s green eyes became even more rock-solid, glinting in the firelight.  “Holly Jacobs, you know I love you with all of my heart.  And I know, without a doubt, you are the woman God put here on earth for me.”  For a moment he couldn’t continue, and when he looked up again, it was with a smile that radiated through every part of her.  “Will you be my wife?”

 

The shaking of her head was only because she couldn’t believe this was really happening.  More tears jumped to her eyes, and her breath was choking to get out. “Yes.  Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes!”

 

“Really?” He sounded like he’d thought she might say no.  “Are you serious?”

 

“Yes, I’m serious! Are you kidding?”  She wiped her eyes, knowing she had mascara pouring down her face.  If the wedding hadn’t done it, this surely would.

 

Gabriel slipped the delicate ring on her finger and stood, taking her into his embrace.  “I’m sorry it isn’t bigger.  Maybe someday…”

 

“Someday?”  She whacked him.  “I don’t think so.  It’s mine, and I’m never taking it off.”

 

“Never?” he asked, once again sounding a little worried.

 

“Never.”  She arched her head and pulled his lips to hers.  Brilliant, radiant, warm, glowing light burst through every remaining piece of darkness left in her. “Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.” She breathed in the love, the hope, the gratefulness, the peace. “Oh, Gabriel, I love you so much.”

 

He was smiling and kissing her at the same time. “I told you God had a plan.”

 

Pure unmitigated joy flowed into her heart, spilling out over her lashes.  “How could I ever have doubted Him?”

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2007

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About Staci Stallings

Staci Stallings shares her heart for God with her novels, articles, and conversations. She loves making new friends, writing, and playing piano and guitar.
This entry was posted in A Light in the Darkness, Novels and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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