A/N: If you've gotten here and this is the same thing you just read in chapter 25, I apologize. I loaded this chapter twice. Chapter 25 is corrected now (as of 2/9/09). I hope you'll go back and read.
Britt - WOW! I'm not quite sure what to say about your review. That is a huge compliment and I don't even know what to think. This is the first thing I've ever shared with anyone, so to hear that about my first story is encouraging. VERY encouraging! LOL I have committed this one to FP just to see how it was received, but I haven't thought much about what will happen with the final revisions.
Thanks to everyone who has been reading and reviewing. I appreciate all the input I'm receiving.
When Sunday morning dawned as bright and cheery as the day before, Macy prayed fervently that Aaron would join them for church. Her mind stayed busy with prayer as she dressed and started breakfast, and as each family member joined her at the table, her heart sought out God in more prayer. Even Alex noticed how distracted his grandmother was, but no one questioned her. Rebecca paused at Macy's side as they all moved out the front door later. Macy glanced back, looking hopefully at the stairs, before she turned with a disappointed sigh to the younger woman at her side.
"I had hoped," Macy said softly. Rebecca only nodded, and they walked to the car in silence.
At the church, Julie noticed Macy's downhearted mood. She smiled encouragingly at the woman as the family made its way to a pew. Moments later, she slid in beside Macy.
"Are you all right?" Julie asked with genuine concern.
"I guess I'm discouraged," Macy admitted. "I'm sure God will lift me with your husband's words though. He always does."
Julie smiled warmly.
"Let me know if you need to talk. Either Samuel or I can be available to you anytime."
"Thank you. I will."
Julie slipped out of the pew and moved away. Macy closed her eyes, praying silently. Her mood was already lifting, and she turned over her heavy thoughts to God. As the weight lifted, she smiled, eager to hear the pastor's sermon. When he invited them to open their Bibles to Psalms 27, she knew she wouldn't be disappointed. She found Julie after church and hugged the other woman tightly.
"Thank you," Macy whispered. "You and your husband were just what I needed today."
Julie returned the hug warmly.
"I'm so glad," she said.
Rebecca and the boys were already outside, so Macy moved to join them. She slowed when she saw Peter approaching Rebecca. The young woman smiled brightly at his approach. Turning away, Macy decided to give them time to talk and moved off to join a group of ladies.
"How did things go yesterday after you left here?" Peter asked when Rebecca let the boys leave to join some friends.
"He was distant like always, but he didn't seem as angry. It's hard to tell. He spends all his time in the office or away from the house."
"Maybe that's best," Peter suggested.
"No," she countered quickly. "He's so lost, Peter. He needs to realize that he's not alone. I-I just don't know how to convince him."
Peter nodded thoughtfully.
"I'll pray on it with you," he offered. "I wish I could offer you more, but I don't know what to say."
Rebecca nodded and smiled her appreciation.
"Join me for dinner?" Peter asked with a mischievous smile.
"Peter," Rebecca sighed, her smile fading and her eyes growing wary.
"I know," he replied with a chuckle, hoping to put her back at ease, "but I thought you might need time away from the house yourself."
"Things are confusing right now," she said as she studied the ground.
"Rebecca," Peter urged gently, lifting her chin so her eyes met his. "I just want to be your friend through this. You need one, now more than ever. Let me be your friend?"
"Okay," she agreed timidly. "But, let me think about dinner?"
"Deal," Peter agreed.
They were interrupted by Alex and Andrew asking to go to the stream. While Rebecca was denying their request, Macy joined them, ready to return home. With a weak smile at Peter, Rebecca followed her family to the car. Peter waved as they drove away, his mind busy in prayer for Rebecca and his own heart, knowing he was in danger of being hurt if he wasn't careful.
Aaron stood on the front porch sipping a cup of coffee when the family returned from church. Rebecca studied his face for any emotion, but there was none as he watched the family climb from the car. Alex ran to his father and hugged him before he hurried inside to change his clothes. Andrew and Michael followed the boy, each hurrying so they might spend some time outside before they returned to the church. Macy and Rebecca approached the porch more slowly, Aaron's gaze on them as they did.
"Good afternoon," Macy greeted him as she climbed the steps to stand beside him. Aaron nodded at her greeting but didn't speak. "I had hoped that you'd join us this morning," she admitted, drawing his eyes back to her face.
"Why?" he asked honestly. Macy smiled at the surprise on his face, something she'd rarely seen.
"You came to the picnic," she shrugged a moment later. Aaron frowned and turned his attention to Rebecca. He searched her face for some insight into Macy's words but found none. Macy patted his arm and moved toward the house.
"She was pretty upset this morning," Rebecca offered gently once Macy was inside.
"She shouldn't have been. I never said I'd go to church."
"She still hoped," Rebecca replied. Aaron took another long swallow from his cup, his eyes roaming over the yard.
"I didn't mean to give anyone false hope," he stated absently. "I shouldn't have gone yesterday."
"We were glad you did," Rebecca said quickly. "Alex was so excited to introduce you to all his friends."
Aaron turned and studied Rebecca a moment. Confusion flickered across his face.
"I don't get you," he said finally. "One minute you act like you care about me and the next…."
"I do care about you, Aaron," Rebecca interrupted softly. She lowered her head to avoid his searching gaze, so he turned his head away.
"Tell me about you and Peter," he said amicably. Rebecca's head snapped up, and she studied him cautiously before she spoke.
"We're friends," she said slowly, unsure of Aaron's reason for the change of subject and afraid of his intentions.
"But he wants more," Aaron stated casually. When Rebecca didn't answer, Aaron turned to look at her. He raised an eyebrow questioningly.
"Yes," she admitted halfheartedly. "He would like more."
"Have you dated him?" Aaron asked, still in a neutral tone. Rebecca hesitated, her forehead wrinkling as she struggled to understand Aaron's motive.
"He's asked, but I've never accepted. Why does any of this matter?"
"Alex told me once that you never dated anyone. You seem to like this guy. I'm just curious why you've never dated him."
"What difference does any of this make?" she protested. "I really don't think we should even be talking about this."
Aaron shrugged and turned to study the landscape again. Rebecca watched him a moment, her mind warring with itself.
"He's not the reason I won't be with you," she offered guardedly, hoping she'd guessed his reason behind the questioning.
"He's a good Christian man, right? That's what you say you're looking for now. So, why have you turned him down?" Aaron replied offhandedly, his gaze never turning to her.
"I have my reasons," she stated firmly. "I should go change now. I'm sure Macy will need my help with lunch."
Aaron nodded, not looking up as Rebecca moved toward the door. She paused and glanced back at him after she pulled open the door.
"He wants to take me to dinner this week, as friends," she offered hesitantly, unsure why she felt compelled to share with him. She swallowed hard as she stared at his motionless back.
"What did you tell him?" Aaron asked when he finally turned to face her. His expression was impassive, and it caused Rebecca's heart to drop unexpectedly.
"I told him I'd think about it," she admitted quietly. Aaron nodded and turned back away from her. Rebecca sighed and shook her head in defeat. "I'm not trying to play games, Aaron," she said solemnly, closing the door and moving to his side again. "I want what's best for our son, and that means you here with him."
"You wouldn't plan to replace me with Peter at some point," he asked coolly.
"No," Rebecca stated emotionally. "You are Alex's father. No one will ever replace that."
Aaron nodded and finished his coffee. He studied the cup as he moved it in his hands. Rebecca watched him, her heart racing and her head screaming at her to walk away.
"I don't spend my nights alone," Aaron stated in an emotionless voice. Rebecca felt the wind knocked from her lungs and her body grew cold. She stared blankly when Aaron turned to face her. "You should go with him," he stated with a nod.
"Why?" she whispered, unable to speak louder.
"Why not?" he returned softly, almost gently.
She shook her head and looked away, unsure how to answer. Aaron leaned down to within inches of her face, drawing her attention back to him. His eyes were intense as he stared at her a moment before the force of his gaze faded to a strange sadness.
"You need to go," Aaron replied in a whisper, his breath warm on her cheek as his eyes lowered to her mouth. Rebecca quickly stepped away from him, disoriented by her conflicting emotions. She hesitated only slightly before she turned and ran away.
Confusion gripped Rebecca as she sat at the table with the family. Aaron had stepped into the kitchen long enough to rinse his coffee cup before he left without a word to even Alex. Rebecca's heart still raced over the last moments on the porch with Aaron. She could still feel his breath on her face, but she also still felt the sting of his words. 'I don't spend my nights alone,' he'd told her, and Rebecca couldn't help the pain that shot through her as she thought of what that meant.
Macy noticed her distraction but didn't question Rebecca. Instead, she allowed the boys to chatter through the meal as she watched the other woman across the table. Michael excused himself first and hurried to his car to join friends from church who were meeting before the service. Macy knew it was a certain young lady that caused her son to leave in a rush, and she smiled knowingly as she watched him. When the two younger boys had excused themselves as well, she reached for Rebecca's hand across the table.
"Something's troubling you," Macy stated. Rebecca nodded and squeezed the older woman's hand.
"I-I talked to Aaron earlier," she stammered, still unsure about the whole conversation. She frowned and shook her head gently. "He…he asked about Peter. He…he thinks I should go to dinner with him, with Peter."
Macy's forehead wrinkled in thought. Rebecca studied the older woman, eager for some insight into the situation.
"What do you think, Macy?" she asked when she didn't receive a response. "I've been trying to wrap my brain around it since he said it, but I can't. Not after everything that's been said between us."
"I don't know," Macy admitted. "Let's pray about it and see what God directs you to do."
Rebecca nodded, and they both bowed their heads. Rebecca was still deep in thought, and often in prayer, when the family returned to the church that evening. Peter greeted them at the door, frowning when he saw the distressed look on Rebecca's face.
"Is something wrong?" he asked, pulling her to the side. His face mirrored her concern so much that she almost smiled.
"Aaron and I talked this afternoon. He wanted to know about us."
"As in you and him?" Peter asked.
"No. Us, as in you and me," she corrected. Peter's mouth opened in confusion. When he recovered, he studied Rebecca's face for answers but found none.
"What did you tell him?"
"I told him the truth," she said in a shaky voice. "Even about your dinner invitation."
"And?" Peter asked, his curiosity showing in his eager response.
"And…I don't know. I feel terrible for thinking this, but I'm worried that he's trying to hurt me somehow. He…he admitted he's seeing someone," she said, struggling with the last part. She lowered her eyes to hide the tears that suddenly threatened.
"I'm sorry, Rebecca," Peter whispered, his heart breaking at the pain in Rebecca's voice. "I'm so sorry."
"I should have expected it from him," she suddenly sobbed. Peter quickly drew her into his father's office. He left the door open but pulled Rebecca into his arms. He stroked her back as she sobbed against him, cradling her against him comfortingly. When Julie appeared at the door minutes later, Peter smiled weakly and beckoned her into the room silently.
"Is there something I can help with?" she said softly, coming close to rest her hand on Rebecca's shoulder.
"Just stay, please," Peter whispered as Rebecca continued to sob, seemingly unaware of Julie's presence. A moment later, Rebecca looked up into Peter's concerned face.
"I shouldn't care. I wish I didn't care, Peter, but I do. It hurts that he's spending time with another woman…or other women," she cried. "I-I saw what his life was like in New York. Alexander watched him. We saw the society pages and gossip columns, so I know…I know what he's used to now."
"Shh," Peter whispered soothingly. "When your heart is involved it's hard, no matter what you should or shouldn't expect."
"You say that like you know," Rebecca said, looking up at him as she wiped at her tears. With a heartrending smile, Peter lightly brushed the tears off one cheek.
"I do," he said tenderly. Both Rebecca and Julie stared at him in surprise, but Rebecca soon erupted into tears again.
"I'm sorry, Peter. I wish…. I…I…."
"Don't, Rebecca. All of this is God's plan. Aaron. You. Me. We might not get what we want, or even think there's a reason for any of it, but God has it all worked out before it even happens. Don't be sorry, Rebecca. I'm not."
"I just wish I could change this," Rebecca sniffled, again wiping her tears away, but this time not looking up at Peter. For the first time, she noticed Julie and as her eyes swung up to the older woman's face, her face heated. "Julie," she whispered, embarrassment evident on her face.
"It's all right, Rebecca," Julie soothed. "Would you like me to get Macy or Mariah?"
"N-no," Rebecca stammered, glancing at Peter before she pushed herself away from his embrace. "I-I just need a minute."
"Take all the time you need, dear," Julie said with an understanding smile.
"I'll just go splash some cold water on my face," Rebecca said. She moved for the door, but Peter caught her arm.
"Use the bathroom in here," he said, pointing her to a door along one wall. Rebecca nodded and moved to the small bathroom, shutting the door behind her.
"I had no idea," Julie said to her son as soon as they were alone. She moved to his side, taking one hand in hers. "I knew you cared, but…."
"She wasn't ready," Peter said with a feeble smile. He shook his head. "She probably won't ever be ready, but I fell anyway. Even knowing we might never be together…I just couldn't stop myself, and I fell."
Julie reached out to hug him, tears stinging her eyes for her son's pain.
"I wish I'd known," she whispered just before she released him.
"It's better that you didn't, Mother," he chuckled. "Now I'll have to see that sad look every time you think of it. I've given it to God. Like I told Rebecca, this is all God's plan. Whatever the outcome, I know He has a reason."
The bathroom door opened, and Rebecca stepped shyly out. She glanced nervously at Julie and Peter as she crossed the room toward them. Peter reached out to lightly take her arm. He guided her to the couch along one wall and urged her to sit beside him while Julie stood nearby.
"What do you want to do, Rebecca?" he asked softly once they were settled.
"I don't know," she said shakily. She turned her attention to her hands and picked at her nails nervously. "I don't know what I want, Peter."
"But you think he's trying to hurt you?"
"He was almost too nice," she replied. "He was too calm. Like…" she paused, remembering Aaron's expressions and words. A chill shook her body. "He was detached. Like he really didn't care, except…except he…he tried to kiss me."
"He tried to kiss you?" Julie asked as she moved to kneel near Rebecca.
"Yes. No," Rebecca said, shaking her head as she replayed that moment with Aaron. "He…he leaned forward like he was going to kiss me, but…but he stopped and told me to go. Maybe that wasn't his intent, but…."
Julie looked at Peter, concerned for his reaction. He only studied Rebecca thoughtfully. A moment later, he leaned forward, taking her hands in his.
"I don't know what his game might be, if there is one," he admitted, " but I think you should come to dinner with me Friday night."
"Peter," Rebecca protested feebly.
"Like I said earlier, we'll go as friends. I want to help you, and I can't help you if I'm confusing you."
"Then why insist on this," Julie questioned suddenly, frowning at her son. Peter smiled at his mother then looked at Rebecca's questioning face with a twinkle in his eye.
"Because Aaron did," he replied with a shrug.