Every few seconds, the swish-swish of the wipers brushed against her windshield but Jessica didn’t hear them. She was lost in her own thoughts, oblivious to everything but the road ahead and the thoughts turning around and around in her mind. It has been a good conversation with Mom and Dad, and while she may not have liked their thoughts and opinions on what was a very sensitive subject, she had been the one to ask them for advice. It irked her to know that, while said as innocently and non-threatening as possible, essentially her parents were siding with Rob and she knew there was a lot of truth in their words. She sighed, knowing that he was probably awake and waiting for her to get home to continue their earlier conversation. She hated it when they argued but the idea he’d suggested earlier in the day was threatening her safety net, and she had instinctively responded to protect her world.
As she turned onto their street, she checked her little ones in the backseat. While the noise of the windshield wipers had kept her thoughts going in a matching rhythm, it had also soothed her children to sleep. She laughed out loud as Emily’s head kept falling forward and as Wyatt was hunched over, almost in a fetal position. She often wondered how her children could possibly be comfortable enough to sleep in such positions. These trips to and from her parents house were so routine and so often that they usually fell asleep within minutes of leaving the driveway, no matter what position they were in. She pressed the button of the garage-door opener and turned into their garage. Jessica was trying desperately to keep the thoughts and emotions at bay; at least until her children were safely tucked into their beds and oblivious to the conversation she and Rob were sure to have.
As she lifted Emily into her arms, she looked up to see Rob in the doorway leading into the house. She gave him a slight smile, a gesture indicating a white flag of sorts. He returned the weary smile and she knew that he’d spent the day in agony over their fight too. It made her feel a little better, knowing that he suffered throughout the day too. He moved to the other side of the car and unbuckled Wyatt from his car seat. Without a sound, the two parents moved in unison to tuck their children into bed. At the foot of the stairs, Rob and Wyatt moved towards the nursery at the back of the house, while Jessica carried Emily up the steps to the pink, princess room.
Slowly she laid Emily under the covers and gently removed one sock and shoe, and then the others. As the twining feelings of love and protectiveness overwhelmed her, Jessica dropped on the bed next to her daughter. With a featherlike touch, she traced Emily’s blond eyebrows, her plump, still toddler-like cheeks, and her lips; Jessica kissed both eyebrows and inhaled the scent of Emily’s apple shampoo. She closed her eyes, remembering how she did this to Emily as a newborn, and wondered how time had passed so quickly. She smoothed a wayward lock of hair and stood up. “Please, Father, may she always know the love of her mother and father. May she always be this tender-hearted, this sensitive. And may you grant Rob and I the skills and knowledge to shape and mold her to use those gifts for You. She is a wonderful blessing, dear Abba, and I thank you for her!” She finished her silent prayer, kissed Emily on the forehead, and started for the door. She stopped short at the sight of Rob watching them from the doorway and again, she smiled that weary smile. They stood for a second at the door, both lost in their own thoughts of parenting and the gifts that they were blessed with.
Jessica silently shut the door and the two of them made their way down the steps to the kitchen. “Coffee?” she asked him, knowing that they were going to be up for a while. After a fight, their usual routine consisted of ice cream and coffee at the kitchen table while they discussed pros, cons, hurt feelings, miscommunications, and everything else associated with marital discord. He shook his head no at the coffee suggestion, “None for me. But I will take some of that Triple Fudge ice cream.” She laughed, feeling a little lighter as she prepared the two bowls. There was a sense of comfort as she prepared their ritual, knowing that no matter how bad the fight or how hurt the feelings, that they could always come to this and try to understand each other’s side.
As they dug into their respective bowls, each wondered who was going to take the first step. Just as Rob laid his hand across the table to cup hers, Jessica decided to let him make the first move, she’d already said too many hurtful things that day, better to let him set the tone for the conversation. “Jessie, I’m so sorry, I know I sprung this on you. I should have known better than to expect you to jump with excitement.” Jessica lifted her eyes and saw that his shimmered with tears, and hurt. And with that, all the walls that she’d built up throughout the day came tumbling down.
“Oh Babe, I’m the one that’s sorry. I can’t believe I accused you of making decisions behind my back.” Once the confession was purged from her conscious, she hurled herself into his arms. After both had cried and murmured their apologies to each other, they finally felt ready to tackle the real problem at hand. Jessica wiped at her watery eyes, and dug back into her ice cream, which was half melted at this point.
“Jess,” Rob ventured, hating that he wanted something so much, yet knowing how much it was going to hurt his wife. “I had no idea they were even looking at me for this promotion. I’m just as surprised as you are.” Jessica turned her head, as if trying to ward off the sudden chill that went down her spine. “Please,“ he continued, “won’t you at least think about it?”
Jessica raised sad eyes, “But Rob, California? Are you serious? You know I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else but here. This is home. This is where our families are, this is where we met and married. I can’t even begin to fathom living any where else.” With each word, she could see the hope in Rob’s eyes growing smaller and smaller; she hated herself for it but the thought of living so far away ripped at her heart.
“Just think of the possibilities though, Jess. I’d be getting a huge raise, one that would allow you and the kids to fly here every other month for a visit. I’d be challenged again… You know how bored I was getting in this job; I was resenting the morning commute. Heck, I started resenting my boss and you know that’s not me! This is an incredible opportunity for me… for us. Just think of the vacations and experiences we’ll give Emily and Wyatt.”
Jessica felt her love and patience conflicting with the anger that threatened to spew forth. “Yes, let’s talk about Emily and Wyatt,” she said. The bite of her words belied her quiet tone; her temper threatened to tear loose. “Do you really think they’re going to care 10 years from now about the vacations they took? Or the fact that they lived where grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins could love them on a daily basis?” Rob reeled back, as though Jessica had physically reached out and slapped him. Daughter, you know not what you do. Remember, child, a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Jessica cringed, regretting the words the minute they left her mouth. She didn’t know why she was acting this way; she’d already decided to give Rob the benefit of the doubt on her drive home.
Yet it didn’t change the fact that she didn’t want to do this; with every fiber of her being, she wanted to stay here, near her sisters, her parents, their friends, their church, and everything that was familiar to her. The conversation with her parents drifted into her head and the words of truth of her mom had spoken. “Jessie, you are my hard-headed one, my passionate one. I know this going to be hard for you, and for us; the thought of you, Rob, and my grandbabies so far away hurts my heart. But I’ve got to trust that Rob is doing what’s best for you guys, not to mention that there is an incredible God-plan in place.” Jessica had chuckled to herself. God-plan - a word their mother had made up a long time ago to discuss anything that God was doing in their lives.
She again crossed to her husband, her eyes pleading for forgiveness. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.” She paused and with a silent plea for strength said the very words she knew Rob needed hear. “Let’s go over the details, I’m sure California is going to be a great adventure.” And when Rob answered with a joyous whoop and wrapped her in a bear hug, she knew that she had said the right thing. With that, the two of them sat at the kitchen table until the early morning making plans to move across the country; Jessica sat with a heavy heart, while Rob spoke with excitement in every word.
Abby and Kyle drove home in silence, Kyle with his fists clutched tightly on the steering wheel and Abby staring out the side of her window thinking how appropriate that the rain matched her mood. Dinners at her parents used to fun, used to be something that she looked forward to, but lately, every time she was around Jessica and her niece and nephew, she was reminded that her womb lay empty. She leaned her head against the window, everything in her hurt. She thought she should be used to this by now, but each month the pain seemed to get worse and worse.
Kyle played with the stereo, trying to find a station that wouldn’t send Abby either into a rage or into tears. Usually they listened to the local Christian station, but as of lately, whenever a song came on promising fulfilled prayers or hope through Jesus, Abby would snap it off, muttering something about “easy for them to say” or “just empty words”. And so Kyle did his best to keep things as smooth as possible. He was concerned and wondering how much more of this she could take. He’d suggested going to a specialist but Abby was having none of that. “My mom and sister had no problem conceiving, why should I?” she wondered. She was determined to ride it out but with each passing month, their hopes of conceiving without help grew dimmer, and her heartache was that much stronger.
He laid his hand on her knee, hoping to bring her back to now, to him, so they could discuss it. She jerked in reflex, not wanting to be touched. “Abby, please, let’s talk about this,” he countered, trying again to touch her. As if resigned, she let his hand stay on her knee but still she refused to answer him, turning once more to the rain falling outside. Kyle remained silent the rest of the way home, hoping that Abby knew he was there, that he was willing to listen when she was ready to talk.
The two of them silently got ready for bed; Kyle watched as she took the thermometer and laid it by the alarm clock on her nightstand. He hated the wretched thing, and had tried to convince Abby on more than one occasion that it wasn’t needed, or to at least try a cycle or two without it. But like all Cooper sisters, when she’d made her mind up about something, there was little that could change her mind. Kyle turned on the nightly news while Abby finished her routine in the bathroom. The newscaster was talking about the local sports team that was being projected to go to the World Series when Abby finally made her way to bed.
Neither said a word to each other as the TV was turned off and as Kyle turned on his side to draw her into his arms. It was only then did he feel the heaves of her sobs and feel the wetness of her tears on his arm. “Oh Ab,” he cried, as he laid his head on her back. “I hate what this is doing to you; what it’s doing to us.” He held on tightly as she continued to cry and only when her sobs began to subside, did Abby feel his own tears through the back of her shirt.
She turned around until they were face to face on their pillows; Kyle’s tears were just shimmering in his eyes, while her tears had left streaks on her cheeks. He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her lips; she responded by holding on to him. “I just don’t understand,” she whispered. “We’ve done everything right. We’ve been faithful to God, we go to church every Sunday, we tithe, we were both virgins on our wedding night, we’re strong Christians, heck, you’re an elder in our church! I don’t get it Kyle, where is our heart’s desire?”
He moaned as he laid a kiss on his wife’s temple. “I don’t know Abby, I don’t have any answers. I just gotta trust that there’s a reason for this heartache. Maybe God will use it someday to help others… I just don’t know.” He paused, afraid to suggest what he’d been thinking for a while now. “Maybe we need to take a break. Maybe a trip to Mexico, or skiing in Colorado, maybe we just need something to take our minds off it for a while.”
Abby shut her eyes, afraid to take a break, but wondering if Kyle was right. She wasn’t sure how much more her heart could take. By taking a break, would she be telling God that she no longer had faith? She couldn’t fathom not trying, for two years she had scheduled their lives around the days she was most likely to conceive and now Kyle was asking that she throw all of that to the wind. She shivered, as a chill swept her body, “How long would it take to schedule a trip to Mexico?” she asked.
She could feel the relief in his body. “Give me a week to finalize details and we can be there in two to three weeks,” he said. He was so happy that she was open to the idea, and grateful that he’d already been in touch with their travel agent a week earlier. His plan to whisk her off to the place where they’d honeymooned was going smoothly. And he was even more excited at the idea that the thermometer, the third wheel on weekend trips and vacations for years now, would be left behind.
As Kyle started drifting off to sleep, Abby’s mind was racing. She hoped she’d be able to block out the pain and fear that was her constant companion; she wondered if she’d even be able to enjoy such a trip when all she wanted was to hold a baby, their baby, in her arms. When Kyle started snoring, Abby turned on her side to face the wall. She knew she was facing another sleepless night imagining the what-ifs of her life.
Brooke left her parents house earlier than the others, she’d brought along her textbooks and planned to stop at her favorite, all-night coffee shop to put in a few hours of studying before her first class the next day. She smiled as she pulled into the parking lot; after three years this place had become a second home in the midst of papers, exams, and the heartaches of growing up. She grabbed the books from the passenger seat and pulled her backpack off the floorboard of the backseat. She was anxious to get into the warmth of the shop and settle into one of the high backed, overstuffed chairs that were plush and welcoming. She slammed the door to her silver Saturn shut and made her way to entrance, trying to shield her hair from the rain as much as possible.
When the ding of the door sounded, Sammi, the matronly owner, looked up from her spot at the counter and waved at Brooke. Brooke smiled in response and dumped her books on the nearest chair. With a smile on her face and a mischievous twinkle in her eye, she made her way to order her usual drink. “What’s up, Sammi?” she asked. Sammi turned from the counter where she was preparing Brooke’s drink. “Not much… did you just come back from your parent’s house?” she asked.
Brooke smiled, “Of course. It was good to see them, especially since I won’t be able to make it back home for the next three or four weeks. Besides, I gotta get my auntie-fix.” Sammi made her way back to the cash register and leaned her elbows on the counter, as if to settle in for a chat with a long-lost friend. They discussed Brooke’s family, Sammie’s daughter, and Sammi was anxious to hear her thoughts about the Campus Crusade seminar that had taken place the day before. Sammi was always one for sharing her love of Jesus and felt that the coffee shop was a great ministry to the young students on campus. Brooke couldn’t have agreed more.
Just then a crowd of young freshman walked in and Brooke sighed, knowing that her conversation with Sammi was going to be cut short. She handed her payment for the drink and settled into her seat to learn more about the anomalies of animal DNA.
She became so engrossed in the subject that she didn’t even see the guy sit in the chair at the table next her. Nor did she notice his furtive looks and the fact that he was trying to get her attention. Brooke had always been one to become engrossed in whatever she was reading, to the point that her family joked that the house could burn down around her and she’d never notice. She missed seeing the guy’s Adam’s apple bob up and down in nervousness as he thought about starting a conversation with her but before he could act she put down her book and grabbed her cup for a sip. Over the rim of her cup, she noticed intense brown eyes staring at her and she absently looked down to see if she’d spilled something on her shirt.
“Hey, I’m Logan,” he said and stuck out his hand in introduction. Brooke was taken aback, guys rarely approached her and often without the confidence that was radiating from Logan’s eyes. She smiled in return and held out her hand. “I’m Brooke. Do you go to school here?” she asked. He laughed a slow, rumbling laugh. She wondered what she’d said that was so funny.
“Not really, I graduated a few years ago, so I’m no longer considered a student… which is a relief.” She laughed in return, easily understanding why someone would be happy to done with the strain and stress of school. He indicated her book, “I see that you’re still going though.”
She shrugged, unsure of what kept her interest in the conversation. Holly often joked that Brooke found more interest between the pages of a book than in the male species; and most admirers were let down in five minutes flat. “Yes,” she responded. “I got one more year to go.” She intended for that to be her closing line and to return back to her books but Logan was having none of that. “Then what?” he asked.
“Then what… what?”
“Then what do you plan to do?” he persisted.
She sent him a look, one that said she highly doubted he really cared what her plans were after college but she decided to indulge him. “Then I plan to get married, have five babies, and become a soccer mom.” He laughed boisterously at her sarcastic remark, loud enough that others in the coffee shop looked up from their own studies. She looked around, wondering why she was still sitting there in conversation with a virtual stranger.
“Not you, Blue Eyes. That doesn’t fit you at all.” She lifted an eyebrow, both in surprise at his audacity of being so familiar with her that he’d give her a nickname and disbelief that he’d chosen a nickname that her parents had given her so many years ago. She leaned forward,
“What makes you so sure of that?”
His eyes twinkled back at her, “Because I think there are other plans for you.”
She shook her head in frustration, she knew that. She already knew that God had other plans for her, but they’d yet to be formulated or finalized in her own mind yet, let alone being ready to talk about them with a complete stranger. “Ok, Logan, who-used-to-be-a-student-but-is-thankful-to-be-done, what are you doing right now?”
He smiled, a very charming smile if Brooke was to be honest, “Well, I’m currently one of the adult leaders at Campus Crusade.” Her eyes lit up in recognition and Logan saw it instantly. “I was wondering if you were going to recognize me.” She nodded, a bit speechless at the moment. She and Holly had seen him at one of the first Campus Crusade meetings of the fall semester but hadn’t seen him since. Holly swore a huge crush on him and Brooke laughed in response at her boy-crazy roommate.
Logan continued, “I see myself there another year or two but then I have bigger plans.” She smiled, urging him to continue. As he described his plans for his future, Brooke was reminded of a discussion he’d led last semester about the mission field being in their own backyard. At that time, she’d nodded in agreement with everything he’d said and had even gone back to her apartment to write some of his key points in her journal. She still referred back to those notes on occasion.
One hour turned into two hours, which turned into three, and Brooke and Logan still sat in their chairs discussing Campus Crusade, their thoughts on what God was doing on the campus, and learning about each other’s families. The whole time Sammi watched them out of the corner of her eye. They were both favorites of hers, strong young things who knew what they believed and weren’t afraid to stand up for it, no matter the cost. She often thought they would have made a dynamic couple but had left it alone, God always knew better than she anyway. How funny that He would see fit to bring them together in her shop. She chuckled to herself, “You’re a crafty thing, aren’t you, Lord? This will be a beautiful thing to play out, don’t you think? Thanks for the front seat.” And with that, Sammi returned to spot behind the register, loving the sound of two voices rising and falling in conversation and laughter.