Second grade teacher, Rebecca Albertson, lost her daughter and husband on the same date, two years ago, and her grief now consumes her life. On the anniversary of her family's death, she finds herself at a dinner party at her brother's home, right along with the new single minister, Reverend Mark Andrews, from her brother's church. Mark tries to get her to live again, but she keeps the wall up in her heart, holding God accountable for her family's deaths. But it seems that God has a plan, and no outside force, including all the single women vying for Mark's attention at the church, can hurt this budding romance.
Two years of loneliness while waiting for a prayer to be answered was a long time. Rebecca Albertson lifted her eyes toward the giant oak tree filled with colorful leaves waving in the slight late-afternoon breeze with the sun shining down on her. Events from the past two years consumed her. Everything wonderful had ended on this exact date in October.
The swing attached to the tree swayed in the wind. She imagined her beautiful daughter, Abigail, on that swing, for she would've turned six a week ago. The image of her little four-year old daughter lying in a hospital bed attached to tubes filled her mind. Rebecca lost everything in her life the instant her daughter died. As soon as she'd died, Rebecca's husband, Rob, had turned and left the room in anger, only to die in an automobile accident while heading home. Two lives lost less than an hour apart. This thought of the two-year anniversary was too much for Rebecca to bear.
With the overwhelming sadness weighing on her shoulders, she sat on the swing while the autumn leaves drifted down around her. She lowered her head into her hands, the tears finally making their way onto her lashes. Why did God take everything from her?
"Rebecca," she heard, knowing it was her brother Will. "We're ready to eat." She felt a hand on her shoulder, helping her to her feet. Will's arms pulled her in for a hug while she cried. Cruel fate dictated that she'd end up at this very spot on her daughter's death date. It was Abigail's favorite place in the world…that swing.
"I'm always here if you want to talk about this," he said.
She took a breath and tried to stop crying, but the tears trickled down her cheek. "I don't want to burden you." She backed away and wiped her cheeks, trying not to cry. "Besides, you have three wonderful children to concentrate on, and with Eloise expecting your fourth…" She tried to hold back her tears, but as she took in her breath, a sob escaped, making way for many more gasps between the tears. "Your family will be wonderful," she managed to eek out.
Will looked down at his shoes, and Rebecca knew she'd said something wrong.
"I'm sorry," she said, sucking up her tears. "I don't mean anything by it."
"It's been a tough two years." He lifted his eyes to hers and she could see the tears he tried to hold back. "We all miss them. But we have company and I don't want them waiting for dinner."
"Company?" She had to concentrate on the present. "You didn't tell me you were having company. Maybe I should just go home."
"No, you need to be here. These are fun people." He put his arm over her shoulder and guided her up the hill toward the house.
"Please don't tell anyone what today means," she said, wiping her cheeks. "I want to move on and put this all out of my mind."
"I won't tell if you won't tell."
As soon as they entered through the sliding glass door to the dining room, Rebecca headed off to the side into the restroom to wash her face. No one needed to know she'd been crying. She took time to pull herself together, but really wanted to be alone.
Who did Will invite to his home for dinner? She thought she'd be the only guest, but he seemed to have forgotten to tell her more.
Her stomach fell just thinking about it. What if they were single men and he was trying to fix her up? She really hated being single. If Will had done that, she'd just refuse to go along with his plan. Maybe she should call their parents from their Florida retirement home and tell them to come back to Indiana to get Will in trouble.
Determined to eat and run, she walked out of the bathroom and right into the chest of some man. Single, no doubt. She glanced upward…blue eyes, brown hair and about five or six inches taller than she was. He was also incredibly handsome, looking like a model. There was no way this guy was single, either. He was too beautiful, probably a player.
"I'm sorry," she said, backing off. "I didn't know you were there."
A soft smile lit his lips. Slight dimples graced his cheeks, making him even more attractive. "It's okay," he said. "Dinner's almost ready." He extended his arm, to shake her hand. "I'm Reverend Mark Andrews, the preacher at Will and Eloise's church."
A preacher? He couldn't be a player. But he was just too good looking, the type of man she could hardly speak to because his beauty would overwhelm her. However, she could put it in perspective, because she'd known a lot of preachers in her life, thanks to her dad who was also a preacher. A preacher would never hit on her, so she relaxed and shook his hand. "I'm Rebecca, Will's sister."
"With your blonde hair and blue eyes, I should've noticed the family resemblance." He put his other hand on hers. "I've heard good things about you."
She didn't believe it. "Oh really?" She doubted her brother told him anything, other than how sad she was.
His blue eyes smiled right along with his lips as he leaned closer. "According to Will, you're one of the best second grade teachers they have in the entire district. What he told me is very good and nothing about how you used to tease him when he was younger."
The thought surprised her. Her eyebrows rose, studying his face. "Will told you that?"
The man laughed. "He didn't have to. That's usually how it goes." He backed away, moving his warm hands off hers. "Save me a seat."
"Sure." She watched him enter the bathroom and shut the door, not sure what had just happened. The feel of his warm hand still lingered on her skin, making her wish she knew him better.
As she headed into the dining room, she saw another couple, as well as Will, his three young children, and his wife, Eloise, who looked like she could give birth at any moment. The women were setting the table with the food in the center, making Rebecca feel guilty for not being inside to help.
"Put me to work," Rebecca said to Eloise.
"It's all done." She rested her hands on her stomach. "Are you better now?"
"I guess so. Thanks for giving me some time."
"That's what I'm here for."
Rebecca leaned closer to Eloise's ear. "Will didn't tell me there were other guests coming."
"I know. He wanted to surprise you, since you're always alone. You needed fun people around you today, he said." Eloise rolled her eyes. "Men. They're insane."
"Definitely true." Rebecca forced a smile to her lips, but wanted to run away. Before she could even inch toward the front door, Reverend Andrews entered the room. He had some sort of charisma, because every person seemed to cheer up and speak to him. How could he be the life of the party, given he was a minister? Although, when she thought about it, her dad seemed to have that charm, too. Maybe it went with the job.
Eloise addressed the group. "After the blessing, we'll eat."
"I'm hungry now," six-year old Ben said from beside Rebecca. He was blond, just like the rest of Will's family, with big blue eyes. Even Eloise was blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Ben had two sisters, Emily, who was eight, and Jenny, who was four.
"In a minute," Eloise said. "Reverend Andrews, this is yours." A pained look crossed her face. She closed her eyes for a long moment and took a breath, then seemed fine again. But Rebecca knew better. Eloise was good at hiding labor pains and her labor was usually quick. Rebecca needed to keep an eye on the woman, surprised Will didn't say something. He was a family doctor, doing well in his own practice, so she figured he'd know if something was going on.
They all bowed their heads and Reverend Andrews said a quick prayer. No sooner had he said 'Amen' than Eloise screamed and fell to the floor on her knees.
"Oh, no," Will said. "Not now." He seemed more than irritated and Rebecca was ready to let him have it. Eloise needed him and he could be nicer.
"Sorry. This wasn't my idea," Eloise yelled.
He and the other two men helped her to her feet and out to the kitchen floor, because she refused to go any farther. "I can't move," she said. "This kid is coming fast. I can feel it."
Interesting dinner party. It definitely wasn't as sad a day as Rebecca had anticipated.
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