Calder watched me, seeming to take in my words and turn them over in his mind. After a minute he said, "Your deep compassion. That's what makes you glow."
I breathed out a small laugh. "That's what makes you glow."
A look of hurt passed over Calder's face despite the small smile he gave me. "Sometimes I wish we didn't glow so brightly."
I reached over and touched his cheek. "Me neither. But we do. We earned it. So let's make the most of it. Let's go out and find some darkness, Calder Raynes. Let's light it up."
He laughed softly and grabbed my hand and kissed it.
He leaned back in his seat and stared out the front window for a minute. "Hector tried to kill me." A shaky breath escaped his mouth. "But he saved my life, too. Once upon a time, regardless of his motives, he ended up saving me from a sure life of hell with the monster who was my real father."
He stared out the window for another minute as I waited for him to organize his thoughts, his emotions.
"I don't know what to do with that. I hate him to the depths of my soul for what he did to me, to you, to all those innocent people, and yet . . ." he shook his head and looked over at me, his whole heart in his eyes, "what fell into Hector's heart when it broke, Eden? What things did he have attached to him that became part of the fabric of who he was when he broke open?"
I creased my brow, my eyes searching his face. "Shame, grief, rage," I said. "It's hard to even imagine. Add in some insanity and just a touch of charisma . . ." I took a deep breath. "We'll never know completely what was in his mind, and I have to think that's a good thing. If we understood it, it would make us like him."
He nodded. "Yeah . . ."
"I think . . . I think, Calder, that we have to figure out how to forgive, not for the people who wronged us, but for us. We can't keep bitterness attached to our hearts because eventually, it might become part of us—so deeply ingrained we can't work it back out. I think we have to focus on the beauty we've been given in this life, and make that the thing that defines us. Because people defined by bitterness end up destroying themselves from the inside out, and eventually they destroy everyone who tries to love them, too. That's not going to be us."
Calder looked at me, love clear in his expression. He leaned over and gathered me in his arms. "You're so damn smart. You must have had a really good life teacher."
I laughed and sniffled. "I did. And he was hot, too. I wanted to do dirty things to him."
Calder smiled and nuzzled in my neck. "Maybe you can describe that to me in more detail when we get back home."
I laughed softly and pulled away, smiling into his face and brushing my thumb over his full bottom lip. "I will." My expression went serious. "I love you, Butterscotch. You have the most beautiful heart of anyone I've ever met. And maybe you feel like a mess sometimes, and life is a mess sometimes, but the way I see it, you're the beauty that came from the mess."
Calder let out a breath and leaned his forehead on mine. "I love you, Morning Glory. It's always been your heart that kept me alive. Your love. Your sweetness. I painted you to keep you alive, and that's what kept me breathing, too."
I looked into his tender expression, loving him so deeply I could hardly breathe. I kissed him softly on his lips.
We got back on the road and Calder made a phone call to the police. He asked for Detective Lowe and when he got on the phone, he took a deep breath and told him everything we'd discovered on our trip. I sat listening and squeezing his hand. Detective Lowe must have been stunned because there weren't many pauses on Calder's end where he was just listening. I heard Calder tell the detective we'd be home around three. A small, white lie. One last statement—I knew we'd be okay—but it'd be nice to have a few more hours to prepare. Plus, we needed to fill Xander in before the police. He deserved that.
We pulled into my mom's driveway at noon.
The sun was high in the overcast sky and the air had dropped quite a few degrees since we'd left. When we got out of the car, no cameras came toward us, no journalists came running. I breathed deeply. One lone car door opened and closed and we looked back to a young man in jeans and a brown leather jacket jogging slowly toward us.
"Hey," he said, a friendly smile on his face. "Sorry to bother you guys." He ran a hand through his hair and looked down as if he was a little embarrassed. "I know you get harassed all the time. It must suck."
Calder chuckled and pulled me into his side, draping his arm over my shoulder.
"I just, uh," he held out his hand, "my name is Ryan Scott and—"
"Daddy?" a little girl called, getting out of the back seat of the car and walking toward us."
"Kelsey, honey," Ryan called, "I'll be there in just a sec. Get back in the car, okay?" He turned toward us. "Sorry, I was just taking my little girl to the park when I saw you pull in. My news station had me camping out here for weeks." Color moved up his neck. "I saw you and it seemed like fate or something."
The little girl, not having listened to her father, joined him and looked up at us shyly. Her blonde hair was in braids, she wore a pink jacket, and she was holding a kite in her hands. She clearly had Down Syndrome. She blinked up at Calder, instant adoration in her expression. When I looked at her sweet face, it brought tears to my eyes. She looked so much like Maya, and her trusting smile must have melted Calder's heart, too. He gently got down to her level and looked her right in the eyes.
"Hey there," Calder said reaching out his hand to her, "I'm Calder. This is Eden." The little girl glanced up at me, her gaze innocent and direct, and then back at Calder. She took his hand and squeezed it and I watched as Calder's eyes widened.
She held up her kite with her other hand. "You like to fly, don't you?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said, his voice gravelly and filled with a note of wonder. He cleared his throat. "I do." She grinned at him as if she'd known what his answer would be.
Ryan smiled down at his daughter and said, "So we won't keep you, and I wasn't stalking you, I swear. I mean, I was stalking you for a while," he grinned an embarrassed grin, more color moving up his face, "but I wasn't today." He shook his head and I couldn't help smiling. "Anyway, I had to stop and ask if you'd be interested in doing an interview."
Calder stood and I glanced at him, something unspoken moving between us. Calder looked back at Ryan. "Yeah, I think we'd be okay with that. I don't know how much we'll be able to talk about. Some of it is still an ongoing investigation."
Ryan's eyes widened. "Right. Yeah, of course. People really just want to hear your story, you know?" He paused, his brow creasing. "I have to be honest with you though. We're a small station. You'll get better offers from the big ones. I wouldn't feel right if I didn't mention that. I know you're a young couple, just starting off." He ran a hand over his daughter's head. "My wife and I are in the same boat. And I'd totally understand if you needed to take a bigger deal, we—"
"We'd like to go with you," Calder said. "You're right. Something about this feels like fate." He smiled back down at Kelsey and then over at me.
"Yeah," I said. "I couldn't agree more."
A few weeks later, Calder and I called my mom into her living room to tell her that we had rented a small house just ten minutes from her. She looked crestfallen, and truthfully, I was a little sad, too, because the environment in her house had been a hundred times better since we'd returned from Indiana. And I finally felt like our relationship was moving forward. Molly had told me about her conversation with my mom about embracing Calder and Xander, and it seemed she had really taken it to heart. But it was time. And soon, we'd need at least a little extra space.
Calder stood up to retrieve something he'd been working on up in the guest room using supplies we'd gone out and purchased when we first got home.
When he returned, he handed my mom two wrapped paintings and glanced at me nervously before sitting down.
"What is this?" my mom asked, smiling as she opened the one on top.
Neither one of us answered, just watched her as she tore the last of the brown paper off and brought her hand to her mouth, gazing down at the painting of me when I was fourteen, a small, secret smile on my face and a morning glory in my hand. She stared down at it, tears coursing down her cheeks. When she looked up at Calder, she opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. "Thank you," she mouthed, standing up and going toward where he sat. He stood up, too, and hugged her as she cried. I wiped the tears from my eyes as well and laughed when she pulled away, laughing and fanning her face as if that would stop the tears.
"Open the other one," I said, nodding my head at it and biting my lip.
"Another one? I don't know if I can handle another one." She laughed softly and stared at the one of me again, a small, joyful smile on her face. But she tore the wrapping off the second painting and sat staring down at it, confusion in her expression. It was her, holding a baby wrapped in a white blanket, his or her dark hair just barely peeking out.
"The first one was the past . . . that one's the future," Calder said, his voice gravelly, a note of nervousness in it.
My mom brought her head up, her eyes wide, going back and forth between the two of us. "I . . . you're . . ." she squeaked out, looking at me. "I'm going to be a grandma? You're going to have a baby?" she asked, more tears coursing down her cheeks.
I nodded and Calder glanced at me, not saying anything. "We hope you'll help us, Mom," I whispered. "We're going to need lots of it."
My mom's face crumpled and she cried silently for a moment, but there was a smile on her face beneath the tears.
She stood up and rushed to me, bending down and taking me in her arms. "A baby," she kept saying. "You're having a baby!" She grabbed onto Calder's shirt and pulled him toward us and wrapped her arms around both of us. "Thank you," she whispered to Calder. "Thank you for all the gifts you've given me today." We all hugged and laughed and cried, my heart bursting with relief and happiness.
A month after that, we sat holding hands on a set in a very small studio where we told the world our story. We didn't provide every detail. Those were ours and ours alone. But we talked about growing up in Acadia and living with Hector. We talked about the religion we'd believed in and why we had started to doubt. We talked about the forbidden nature of our love story and what we'd risked to be together.
We also talked about the day of the flood and that was the hardest. But we were together and that made it bearable. And there was healing in the fact that there were no more secrets, nothing more to hide.
We told the world about how we'd lived without the other for three long, grief-filled years. And how miracles sometimes happen to even those of us who feel the least deserving.
We made it clear it was the only interview we were interested in doing and, for the most part, the press left us alone after that day.
Now that the police and the press had a real name, they delved into Hector's past, into his possible motives, his mental state, and his history. Articles and books were written about him, and he was added to the list of cult leaders who had convinced large groups of intelligent people to believe their lies. All kinds of speculation ensued about how Hector predicted the disaster that happened that day, and his role in the tragedy. I was fascinated, too, and spent more time than Calder would have liked reading case studies. He accepted it, though. Knowledge made me feel powerful and enlightened, it always had. He had given me that gift, so I knew he'd never take it away.
Some things there would never be answers to, some things Hector—if he even knew—took to his watery grave.
Unbelievably, small groups the news dubbed, 'Hectorites' popped up around the country, people who tried to mimic the religion and society Hector had created. I was at a loss with that one. Humanity astounded me sometimes. The positive thing, Xander joked, was the whole new eventual influx of members for ex-cult member mingle dot com.
One wonderful thing resulted from our one very public interview and that was a young woman who called in to the station while we were recording. We were given her name and number afterwards—a Kristi Paulson (formerly Smith) who lived in Florida with her husband and one-year-old daughter.
Calder, Xander and I called her on Skype later that day and we all cried and laughed. I stood up and turned to the side, smoothing my dress over my growing belly. She shrieked and put her hands over her mouth and I laughed. She invited us to Florida to visit her for a "babymoon," and we said we'd try our very best. There are angels on Earth. And for us, she'd been one.
Life had gotten pretty busy since we'd returned from Indiana. We moved into the house we'd rented, a charming bungalow with a front porch that had a cushioned swing and a big, bright room on the second floor that Calder set up as his studio.
We bought a king-sized bed and spent too much money on bedding and officially christened it The Bed of Healing, Version 2.0. We spent lazy Sundays lounging there until noon and long nights snuggled in safe warmth and deep intimacy, whispering our secrets, and talking about our fears and worries, our hopes and dreams, and sometimes, the things that still haunted us. It was the place where we could dig down deep into the darkness of our own pain and curl into the love that always waited to soften the ache, and where the most deeply soothing words always came from the other: "I'm here. You're not alone." And yes, there was healing.