Two years of loneliness while waiting for a prayer to be answered was a long time. Rebecca Albertson had given up hope on that prayer ever being answered, certain it was never to be fulfilled.
Rebecca lifted her eyes toward the giant oak tree filled with colorful leaves waving in the late-afternoon sunshine. 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 from two years ago, of her little four-year-old daughter lying in a hospital bed attached to tubes filled her mind. Rebecca had 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. The thought of the two-year anniversary was too much for Rebecca to bear. God had abandoned her, so she turned away from everything. Two long years of loneliness walled away from anything happy.
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? He must really hate her, but she didn't know why.
"Rebecca," she heard, knowing it was her brother Will. "We're ready to eat." She felt a hand on her arm, helping her to her feet. Will 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 can't 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 eke 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.
"Don't tell anyone what today means," she said, wiping her cheeks. "I don't want pity."
"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 bathroom 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. Now she had to be nice to people she probably didn't even know. Will could've told her.
Her stomach fell, imagining the worst. What if her brother was trying to fix her up with some lonely guy who lived in his parent's basement? She really hated being single. Maybe she should call their parents from their Florida retirement home and tell them to come back to Indiana to get Will in trouble. She loved having that power.
Determined to eat and run, she walked out of the bathroom and slammed 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 playboy type. He definitely didn't live in anyone's basement.
"I'm sorry," she said, backing off. "I didn't know you were there."
A soft smile lifted his lips. Slight dimples graced his cheeks, making him even more attractive. "It's okay." He shook her hand. "I'm Reverend Mark Andrews, the preacher at Will and Eloise's church. You can call me Mark."
A preacher? Oh brother. Now she even had to play the game of being a Christian. However, he definitely wasn't a playboy, but he was just too good looking to be a man of the cloth. He was the type of guy she could hardly speak to because of his looks. A preacher, though? It was almost as if she'd been set up.
Since her dad was a preacher, she didn't put any of them on a pedestal. Not even model preachers like this guy.
She had to be nice. "I'm Rebecca, Will's sister." She shook his hand.
"Blonde hair and blue eyes. I should've noticed the family resemblance." He dropped her hand. "I've heard good things about you."
What a liar. She didn't believe it and crossed her arms. "Seriously?" Her tone was sarcastic, because she doubted her brother had told him anything other than sad stories.
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. "Will told you that?"
The man laughed. "He didn't have to. That's usually how it goes." He backed away. "Save me a seat."
"Sure." She watched him enter the bathroom and shut the door, not sure what had just happened. He was fun to be around, even if he was a preacher. On one hand, she wished she knew him better, but on the other hand—a preacher like her father? Really?
As she headed into the dining room, she saw another couple she didn't know. Will, his three young children, and Eloise, his wife, were there, as well. Eloise 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." And a preacher to boot. Ridiculous. She should just go home.
"He wanted to surprise you. He said you needed fun people around you today." Eloise rolled her eyes. "Men. They're insane."
"You're right about that." Rebecca forced a smile to her lips, but wanted to run away. She considered it, but 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. Even so, it couldn't be his real personality.
Eloise addressed the group. "After the blessing, we'll eat."
A blessing, too. Rebecca wanted to get out of there fast.
"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. Now Rebecca had to stay. If anything happened, she'd never forgive herself for running away. This should be good—if Eloise went into labor and that minister was there, he'd run for the hills.
Rebecca needed to keep an eye on the woman, surprised Will didn't say something. Will was a family doctor, doing well in his own practice, so she figured he'd know if something was going on. Even so, she had to watch to find out how they'd all react to the potential crisis that may happen. She almost laughed to herself, thinking about it.
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.
Here we go. Rebecca glanced toward the minister. He'd probably pray about it instead of help.
"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.
"This wasn't my idea," Eloise yelled.
Will and the other two men helped her to her feet and out to the kitchen floor. She fell to her knees, unable 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. Now she'd be even more amused if minister-man fell apart.