Brooke and Holly were laughing over a joke that Tom, one of the local transients, had shared with them. The three of them sat at one of several picnic tables that dotted the grass of the park sitting on the outskirts of town. They were going through an unseasonably warm period and some from Campus Crusade had taken advantage of it. There were about fifty-five young coeds milling about the park; grills had been dragged out of storage units, dusted off, and taken to the park in the hopes of food, fun, and fellowship. When Logan first heard of the plans, he suggested this park instead of the more popular one on campus. The group had heartily agreed, most having heard both Logan’s seminar last semester and hearing of his rendezvous to this park on a twice monthly basis. That’s how the group found themselves at the park better known for its homeless population than for the young bodies playing Frisbee.
At the sound of Brooke’s laugh, Logan looked up from his place at the grill and smiled. He and a few of the guys had been serving lunch here at least twice a month for the past year. When he’d first lain eyes on Brooke last fall, he’d wondered if she’d ever join them and had instinctively known that she’d be a natural with this outreach. He chuckled when Tom threw out another joke and Brooke laughingly laid her hand on his shoulder and countered with a joke of her own. Tom was one of Logan’s favorites; despite the dire circumstances of his life, he was always smiling and always wanting to make others laugh. It warmed his heart to see Brooke and Tom connecting in the same way he and Tom had.
Logan turned his attention back to the grill and the task of distributing hotdogs and hamburgers to the next in line. Brooke was constantly invading his thoughts these days; he was completely unsure of himself where she was concerned. It was a foreign feeling for a go-getter like himself; he always knew what the next step was going to be in any other situation. He knew where he wanted this to go and he was almost positive that he understood God’s direction, but he was completely out of his comfort zone when it came to what Brooke was thinking and feeling.
While they’d officially met only a few weeks ago, God had brought Brooke to his attention months ago. He’d seen her walk in with Holly, walk up to a new group of underclassmen, and welcome them to Crusade when he heard it loud and clear. That’s her, my son, that’s one the one you’ve been waiting for. While the voice no longer surprised him, he recognized the Lord’s prodding by now, he was surprised at the notion of a spouse, or even a girlfriend for that matter. This didn’t fit his plans at all. Upon his graduation, he’d dedicated his life to serving God and that was his only plan for the next five to ten years. A wife and family just didn’t fit into the equation, especially not now. But with the voice resonating in his head, he started rethinking the original plan. When it became apparent that Brooke and Jason Reed were seeing each other, he took a step back, thinking he must have misunderstood.
Yet week after week, he couldn’t help but be drawn to Brooke and her obvious, sincere love for God and of His children. When God placed them both in Sammie’s coffee shop that night, weeks ago, Logan decided to take advantage of the opportunity. When Brooke revealed that Jason had called things off, he felt his hope soar. In the three weeks since their initial meeting, they’d spent most of their free time together but no lines had been crossed regarding a more romantic relationship. Theirs had grown into a rewarding friendship and Logan was unsure of the next step; unsure of whether Brooke wanted the relationship to cross that line or not.
He looked over at Brooke, mesmerized as she engaged Reagan, a thirty-something year old woman with Down syndrome who called the park “home” in a conversation. He smiled as Reagan told Brooke about her friend, Jesus, Brooke smiling knowingly and listened to Reagan’s plans for the following week. Just then Brooke looked up, as though sensing Logan’s anxious thoughts, and caught his eye. She lifted her hand in a wave and sent him a sparkling smile. He felt himself blush and he groaned inwardly.
One of the most charming things about Brooke was the fact that she was so unaware of her own beauty. But the kicker, the thing that really drew him in, was the way she shined every time she talked about her Lord. It was obvious that her every thought, every action, every move was an extension of a real, fulfilling, and deep relationship with God. He’d never met anyone whose life was wholly dependent on being and giving their best for God. And just by being Brooke, she was challenging him to grow stronger. Yes, he knew that he wanted Brooke for his wife; it was no surprise since he was utterly fascinated by her. He swallowed the lump in his throat; he had no clue how to go about this.
Brooke swung the Saturn into the left lane, barely missing the truck’s fender and Logan dug his fingers into the seat, trying desperately to hide his fear. Brooke bit the side of her cheek to keep from laughing; Logan looked as though he could bolt from the car at any moment… if she’d slow down long enough for him to open the door. The two were headed to her parents’ house for Easter dinner. When she’d heard that Logan was planning to spend the day alone, she’d insisted that he join her and her family. He’d look thrown at the invitation but hastily agreed to come.
“I truly enjoyed yesterday,” she told him. “It felt so good to get out and really do something for a change. Most just want to sit around and talk about reaching out to those in our community.”
He closed his eyes as another semi came within inches of his window. “That’s the idea. How can we save the world, when we can’t even fix the problems here?” he asked hypothetically.
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye; so many guys she knew had such grandiose ideas, yet rarely acted on them. Jason had been such a guy, often blaming his lack of action on lack of time or resources. Logan was such the opposite, starting his twice monthly barbeques for the homeless with one grill, 10 hamburger patties, and two other guys from Crusade. Brooke was certain she’d never met another like him.
Her eyes clouded briefly as she thought of Jason. Rumors had floated through Campus Crusade for a week or so; Brooke paid no mind to them, determined to give Jason the benefit of the doubt. But when Holly confirmed that yes, he was engaged to a woman from his hometown, Brooke closed her eyes in preparation for the pain she was sure to come. She was surprised to feel nothing. Maybe it was the company of Logan that had brought her a distraction. Maybe she had prepared herself for such news when he’d first broken things off with her. But truth be told, she knew that her feelings for Jason had dissolved quickly because they’d never been real to begin with. Once again she was thankful for a praying mom and dad, knowing that through those prayers, she’d been spared a broken heart.
Brooke again jerked her car into the right lane, and looked down in surprise when Logan grasped her hand that was sitting on the console. With tightly shut eyes, Logan mumbled, “I’m scared, all right? And if you tell anyone about this, I’ll deny it to my dying day.” Brooke chuckled as she sped past the slow Camry, giving a cheerful wave as she did. The driver looked up in surprise as the Saturn passed her. “That’s it,” Logan groaned. “If we get there safely, I’m driving back.”
Brooke laughed out loud, carefree as could be; what an incredible, joyous day to be alive. She couldn’t help but think how right it felt to have her hand in Logan’s. Inwardly, she giggled like a school girl, anxious to get her mom and sisters’ opinions on Logan. She pressed her foot on the gas and urged the Saturn a little faster.
Jessica was shocked at Abby’s appearance and wondered what could be causing the shadows in Abby’s eyes. Abby had walked into the kitchen with her infamous egg salad and seemed to melt into the stool at the counter. Jessica exchanged a look with her mom but stayed at the stove to finish steaming the asparagus. Aubrey left her peeled potatoes in the sink and crossed the room to her middle child. Without a word, she drew Abby into her arms and smoothed a lock of hair from her brow. Aubrey smiled, memories of rocking Abby as a child sweeping over her. She felt Abby object at first, ever the independent one, but slowly she relaxed until Aubrey felt like she was being used as a life vest. Aubrey frowned, wondering what was bothering her child. She drew back, kissed Abby on the temple, and murmured into her ear, “I’m here… whenever you need me… I’m here.”
Abby responded with a weak smile but turned the attention to her older sister. “So, Jess, how’s the moving plans progressing?”
Jessica groaned, not even bothering to hide her displeasure at the idea. “Let’s see, the company wants Rob out there in three weeks, we haven’t had any interest on the house, and just by looking online, I highly doubt we can afford anything as nice as what we have here.” She sighed, trying to lower her rising voice. The last thing she needed was for Rob to hear her; things were still a little strained between them, especially now that they were making plans for Rob to go ahead of them.
Aubrey resumed her position at the sink and continued peeling the potatoes. “What happens if you don’t sell in time?” she wondered.
“The company puts Rob in a furnished condo and we’ll stay here until the house sells.” Jessica was torn; part of her was ecstatic at the thought of staying a little longer, the other part fearful of being apart from Rob.
Aubrey raised an eyebrow; she was sure she didn’t like the idea of a husband and wife living separately from one another. A number of verses came to mind but she wisely tucked those away until she and Jessica could talk privately.
Just then she heard a car pulling into the driveway and the toot of the horn as Brooke announced her arrival. Aubrey looked out the window to see Emily skipping across the yard, dressed in her Easter finery, to greet her beloved “Aunt Ookie” – short for Brookie. Brooke emerged from the car and swept her niece into a hug. When a young man surfaced from the passenger seat, Aubrey bit her lip in concentration. Brooke had never brought a guy home before and had wondered what made Logan special enough to do so. Even when Brooke insisted that the two were merely friends, Aubrey had felt a small nudge at the back of her mind. She watched as Brooke introduced Emily to Logan and Aubrey was surprised when Emily reached out her arms to be held by him. Surprised because Emily was rarely that friendly with strangers, let alone a man, but there she was, content as could be.
“Watcha looking at, Mom?” Jessica wondered as she made her way to Aubrey’s side. She raised her eyebrows in surprise at the sight of her baby girl being held by a very attractive man. “Uh oh,” she breathed.
“What?” Abby asked as she joined them at the window. “Who’s that?”
“That,” Aubrey whispered, as she dried her hands on the kitchen towel, “is Logan. He’s a friend of Brooke’s.”
“Friend, huh?” Abby asked incredulously, watching Logan casually take Brooke’s hand into his own. They both watched as Brooke’s face lit up in laughter at something Logan had said. The older sisters exchanged mischievous, leering smiles. “This is going to be fun,” Jessica conspired with Abby.
“Hush you two,” admonished Audrey. She snuck another look out the window, thought that they did make a beautiful couple, and then called for her husband. She moved to the front door to welcome her baby and her baby’s… friend.
The dining room table was littered with the evidence of a meal that had been well enjoyed; a half-eaten ham sat at one end of the table, while empty bowls of side dishes littered the length of the table. Emily had snuck off to enjoy another movie, this time the sounds of Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato could be heard from time to time. Every so often, she tiptoed back into the room to steal a bit of chocolate from her Easter basket, but would hurry back to watch VeggieTale’s The Easter Carol. Thomas sat at the end of the table, with Aubrey next to him. Both had eased their chairs back from the table and in spite of the fact that Thomas was carrying a conversation with Rob and Aubrey was discussing Kyle and Abby’s upcoming trip to Mexico, the two of them held hands. It was an action that neither of them registered; it was a move that was so routine, so natural. On the other side of the table, Jessica was feeding bits of egg salad to Wyatt while engaged in a conversation with Logan and Brooke of Crusade’s plans for the rest of the semester. To an outsider, it was a room full of chaos and noise, but to the Cooper family, it was the norm.
Abby half-listened to her mom and Kyle discuss their plans for Mexico; she’d heard plenty already about the trip from Kyle. He was so excited to leave in a couple of weeks; he had every minute of their vacation already planned. They’d be busy the moment their plane touched down. Half the time she wasn’t even listening, she just nodded her head from time to time and it seemed to pacify his need for her attention. She looked over at Wyatt, who had thrust his mother’s arm away. Jessica was so intent on her conversation, that she didn’t even notice Wyatt rubbing his eyes. Abby smiled to herself, he was precious, that nephew of hers.
As Wyatt’s eyes continued to droop and as Jessica continued to be oblivious to the growing pile of egg salad on the floor, Abby excused herself from the table. She grabbed a napkin to wipe Wyatt’s hands and face. Jessica looked up in surprised when Abby removed Wyatt from the highchair; Abby motioned for her to stay seated. “Wyatt’s tired,” she explained. “I’m going to put him to sleep.” Jessica nodded her appreciation and returned to the conversation.
Abby shifted Wyatt against her chest and could feel his head growing heavy on her shoulder. She disappeared into the back corner room; the room that used to be Jessica’s had been turned into a nursery, complete with a rocking chair. Abby smiled, knowing that there was nothing her mom enjoyed more than rocking any baby, especially the grandbabies, to sleep. She crossed the room and pulled down the shade. The nightlight cast shadows across the crib and changing table; Abby eased herself and Wyatt into the rocking chair.
She rocked back and forth, singing some of the same lullabies that her mom had sung to her as a child. Wyatt’s head seemed to fit so perfectly in the crook of her shoulder; she felt his body get heavier and heavier as he drifted to sleep. She ended with ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and continued to rock. Abby moved Wyatt from her shoulder to her side; there were times when she couldn’t bear to be in the same room with him. Those were the times that she felt like God was mocking her; dangling the proverbial carrot in front of her nose. And then there were times, like now, where holding Wyatt was a balm for her hurts.
‘Why Lord?’ she wondered. ‘Why am I denied the pleasure of becoming a mother? What have I done to deserve such a nightmare? Please Lord, please! Kyle and I just want the opportunity to become parents; surely we’ll be good ones!’
Abby looked down at her baby nephew, in awe that he would be celebrating his first birthday shortly. She watched as he murmured in his sleep; his cheeks rosy from lying on his aunt’s shoulder and the hair on his head curling from the sweat. She wondered what a baby of theirs would look like. Would he have her blue eyes, her button nose? Would she have Kyle’s brown curls or his almond-shaped eyes? She felt the pressure building in her chest, the pain becoming so unbearable she could barely breathe. Before she could stop them, tears coursed down her face and she wept. Why was the one thing she wanted more than anything else, the one thing she couldn’t seem to achieve? For the next hour, while 11-month-old Wyatt slept in her arms, Abby wrestled with the Lord.
Thomas was lying in bed, the nightly news was playing in the background, but his mind was on other things. He’d enjoyed the day with his family; he always did. He smiled at the memory of Emily squealing with delight during her Easter egg hunt; he’d enjoyed explaining the meaning behind each item in the Resurrection Eggs; and his heart had leapt for joy when Emily had announced, “He is Risen” when they’d come to the empty egg. He may have been too busy as a father to stop and enjoy those small details with his girls, but he’d learned his lesson and he was making up for missed opportunities with his granddaughter. He sighed deeply; the thought of them moving so far away was a little more than he could bear. But after talking to Rob, he knew they were doing the right thing. If only Jessica would jump on board; it was obvious she was dragging her feet every step of the way. He frowned when he thought of the discord that was evident in their marriage right now. He prayed that this rough patch would be short-lived.
Aubrey was just getting out of the shower when the weather came on the news; he listened to the weatherman predict a continuation of the warm spell with one ear and listened to the clatter of his wife’s lotions and perfumes with the other. He laughed when he heard Aubrey knock some off the shelf and the annoyance in her huff as she picked them back up. His thoughts returned to the day. His concern for Abby was growing stronger each time he saw her but Kyle assured him that she was just tired and overworked. He hoped the relaxation and sun would chase away the shadows and bring back the happy, content daughter he missed. He trusted Kyle; now there was a man who loved his wife with every breath he took. Thomas had no doubts that Kyle would move heaven and earth to make Abby happy. There was no need for concern in that marriage relationship.
Just as his thoughts turned to his youngest and the young man she’d brought home, Aubrey finished in the bathroom. She bounded into the room, lighting it up with the energy that he loved, even this late at night. He smiled at her as she literally bounced into bed. She tucked her legs under her chin, cocked her head, and with a gleam in her eye, asked, “So what did you think?”
“The question is,” he countered, “what did you think?”
She smiled, thought of answering with a cryptic response, but knew he was searching for a sincere answer. When Jessica and Abby had each brought Rob and Kyle home to meet them for the first time, her sixth sense had kicked in and she had known after spending one evening with them that she and Thomas had just met their future son-in-law. Thomas knew about, and respected, the gift that God had given her and often deferred to her intuition on such things. Even though an opinion had already formed in his own mind, he was anxious to hear her thoughts.
She smiled at him, “I liked him. I really, really liked him.” She paused, thinking about the sparkle in Brooke’s eyes and the ease with which they had interacted with each other. “I wasn’t able to get him alone, but when Brooke and I did the dishes, she couldn’t stop gushing about him.” She laughed, “I think I know more about him than I do my own daughter!”
“Well,” Thomas began, “I did get him alone for a little while and you need to brace yourself.” Aubrey felt her breath hitch and her heart stutter. “He wants to marry her.”
“Marry? They’re already talking about marriage? How can that be? They’ve only known each other a short time.” She paused for a moment, thinking back on their conversation in the kitchen. She shook her head, “No, you must be mistaken. Brooke would’ve mentioned that to me. I’m sure of it.”
“Whoa, Tiger, slow down. Don’t get in such a tizzy.” He held up a hand when Aubrey opened her mouth to interrupt. “He was pretty straight forward with me; he said that Brooke had no idea how he felt but that he was sure that this is where they were headed. He wondered how I’d felt about it.”
“And…” Aubrey said impatiently, eager for him to continue.
“I told him the same thing I told Rob and Kyle when they came to me. My hope that they’d both always put Christ first, that being best friends was more important than the flash and heat of passion, and that she was my baby, and as such, I expect her to be treated like a queen.”
Tears filled Aubrey’s eyes and she reached across the bedspread to clasp Thomas’ hand, “Oh Tommy, our baby.”
Thomas felt his own grow misty and he cleared his throat. “Well, I have to say I was impressed with his thoughts on the problem with the disappearing generation in the church.” He chuckled at the memory of Logan’s enthusiasm on the subject. “Yes, I think our Brooke may have met her match.”
He gathered his wife into his arms, and she willingly allowed herself to be held. She had no doubts that a Cooper wedding was in their near future; she just never imagined the hollow feeling of watching her youngest take such an important step. She drifted to sleep with memories of Brooke playing “Bride” with her older sisters.
Thomas looked down at his sleeping wife and tightened his grip. He absently brushed her hair, smiling at the gray that lay interspersed with the auburn strands. He was a bit alarmed at the speed of which Brooke and Logan seemed to be progressing toward the altar but he trusted his girls implicitly. They knew their hearts and little could be said to deter them once minds had been made up. He rubbed his temple in concentration, unsure where the uneasy feeling was coming from. It could be stemming from any of his girls’ situations but he had a strong feeling that it had nothing to do with them. ‘Lord, what are you trying to tell me? Is there something you want me to do?’ Silence was the only answer, so he turned on his side, pulling Aubrey against his chest, and fell asleep.