Page 36 of Finding Eden

Calder bought me romance novels and piled them up on my bedside table. I laughed and eventually, I read each one of them. He said it was one of the best investments he'd ever made. And we did finally find out what became of Hendrix and Polly—and it was as satisfying as we both imagined it would be.

We browsed stores for things that felt special enough to fill our home with, I learned how to cook and how to bake, and Calder started painting again.

On a magical, snowy day in March, two months after Calder got his social security card in the name, Calder Raynes, we went down to the courthouse and vowed forever to each other. It felt like a mere formality. It felt like a miracle. It felt like destiny.

Later that night as we snuggled in bed, Calder said sleepily, "I guess I became Calder twice in my life." I turned toward him and studied the planes and angles of his face in the moonlight streaming through our window. "Once when I was three," he said, "and now again at twenty-three."

I thought about it for a minute. "Yes, and you did it beautifully both times," I said.

His deep eyes gazed at me in the dim light, seeming to speak a thousand words. He pulled me close and held me tightly in his arms.

When the springtime came, my mom helped me plant a container garden on the small deck off the back of our house and she poured over baby magazines with me, helping me put together a neutral nursery in creamy yellow and crisp white. I sat in there at night rocking in the overstuffed glider and dreaming of our baby's deep brown eyes and gentle smile.

Just as I knew she would, my mother grew to love Calder with all her heart once she allowed herself to see him for who he was, no longer seeing him as a competitor. And he loved her back, fully and completely. My heart felt full with the knowledge that we both got the mother we so desperately needed. Each Sunday night, she hosted dinner at her home where Calder and I, Xander and Nikki, and Molly and Bentley gathered. Her home was filled with laughter, love, and more children than she ever bargained for. She came alive. Molly told me she'd never seen Carolyn looking so content and carefree. It made my heart so very, very glad.

When the weather turned warm and the roses were all in bloom, my mom and Marissa, together, threw me a baby shower that was ridiculously fancy and obscenely overdone. I loved every minute of it.

Calder had two gallery showings that summer, the first showcasing gorgeous canvases of birds and rainstorms and church windows—all sorts of things he'd never painted before. The second was my favorite, though, a series of people who had lived at Acadia: Mother Willa's ageless eyes, Myles sitting on his mother's lap in Temple, sucking his thumb, Maya's pure and joyful smile. It was a beautiful remembrance. Calder wasn't at the point yet where he could paint his parents or Hector. Maybe he never would be. And either way, it was okay. Both showings sold out in an hour.

We splurged on a baby grand piano for our front room and I taught lessons there on Mondays and Wednesdays.

We both talked about getting our GEDs and going back to school. We'd studied together once, to do it again felt right. But that would wait until after the baby came.

My husband planted a small morning glory bush at the edge of our garden and when it bloomed, he'd leave flowers for me in places I didn't expect. I always had one in water on my windowsill and it brought me joy.

And I slipped butterscotch candies into his pockets and under his pillow.

On a balmy day in early July, my water broke as Calder and I took an evening stroll around our neighborhood. He rushed me to the hospital and I delivered our son five hours later. We named him John Grant. Grant after Felix who had saved my life once upon a time, and John, which means God is Merciful. And as our beautiful boy blinked up at us, the fragrance of heaven still on his newborn skin, we believed it with all our hearts.

As I woke up late that night, drowsy from sleep, I saw Calder in the corner, standing and swaying with our son in that universal baby sway. "Hey, Jack," Calder whispered, using the nickname we'd agreed we'd call him. "I'm your dad. I'm going to do my very best to be a really good one." He hummed some nameless tune for a minute until Jack was still again. "I'm sure I'll mess up now and again. I'll probably give you way too many sweets because I like them, too, and I'll probably make you roll your eyes because I'll kiss your mom in front of you a whole lot." Jack let out a small, dissatisfied squeak and I almost laughed, but I didn't want to disturb the moment so bit my lip instead. "I know," Calder crooned, "it's going to be so gross." He swayed quietly for a few minutes. "I won't always be able to protect you from the world. But I'm going to do my very best. And when I can't, what I can promise you, buddy, is that I'll always be there to help you through it. And I will never, ever be the one to hurt you. Okay? And I'll always, always nurture your dreams. The rest . . . well, we'll figure out, all right?" Jack was quiet, lulled into dreams filled with milk and warmth and love, nestled in the safety of his father's arms.

EPILOGUE

Calder

My eyes focused on the place where the mountains collided with the sky as we turned down the dirt road, dust filling the air outside the windows of our rented minivan.

"Is that it, Dad?" Jack asked from the backseat. I looked at him in the rearview mirror as he leaned forward, his dark blue eyes scanning the desert landscape.

I moved my eyes back to the window where the worker cabins were just appearing around the curve in the road. "Yes," I said, "that's it. That's Acadia." My heart pounded hard against my ribs.

I grabbed Eden's hand in the seat next to me and she met my eyes and smiled a small, encouraging smile. In the backseat, our two-year-old daughter, Maya, let out a small whine as she came awake. She'd slept most of the way from the airport.

We had found out a month ago that the land Acadia had been built on was being sold to a developer who was planning a luxury spa. The healing water of the double spring was going to be the draw. It was our last chance to see Acadia before the buildings were torn down. It'd been ten years since we'd been there, but both of us agreed that visiting it one last time would bring us that last piece of closure.

Five minutes later, we were pulling up in front of what had once been the Temple. Eden and I sat there for a minute, breathing, taking in the now old and neglected building in front of us, me picturing a small, beautiful girl walking through the doors and into my heart. There were going to be ghosts everywhere here. I took a cleansing breath and pulled on the door handle.

"Mom! Dad!" Jack said excitedly, bouncing up and down in his seat, eager to get out and explore. To him, this was an adventure.

We all got out of the van, Eden taking Maya in her arms as Maya's thumb went to her mouth and she laid her head down on her mother's shoulder, still tender from sleep. I leaned in and kissed her smooth, still babyish cheek and drew in her sweet scent. "How's my girl?" I asked. "Sleep good?"

She nodded her head, and smiled sleepily around her thumb.

"Dad, look at this!" Jack exclaimed. I looked behind me to see him squatted down, a green lizard staring back at him from a rock. He reached out to touch it and it darted away. Jack stood up, looking disappointed. I chuckled.

"You gotta be real quick to catch a lizard," I said. "Ask your mom for some tips. She used to wrangle snakes when she lived here." I winked at Eden

Jack's eyes got wide as he looked at her, too. "You did?" he asked, incredulously.

Eden laughed. "It's true," she said. "I did."

Eden put Maya down and we all strolled together, Maya toddling in a zigzag as we followed behind her and Jack checked out the things that were interesting to a six-year-old boy.

I took my wife's hand and squeezed it. "How do you feel?" I asked, taking in a big breath of the dry desert air.

Eden tilted her head, considering my question. "Sad, and kind of scared." She looked at our kids and then back at me. "But thankful. So thankful."

I nodded. That about summed it up for me, too.

We walked into the Temple. It was run-down, with glass on the floor and lots of leaves and debris littering the center aisle, but other than that, it still looked the same. Eden picked Maya up so she wouldn't walk over the glass.

"What happened in here?" Jack asked, looking around.

I squatted down in front of him and looked him right in the eye. "In here," I said, "a man told a lot of lies to people who were very vulnerable, people who were looking to belong, people who were desperate to belong."

He seemed to think about that. "Why didn't they already belong somewhere?"

"Well, because life had been really hard on them. Life had taken everything they had, and the man, he promised to return it all, and even more. And to those people, his lies sounded like the truth."

He frowned at me, concentrating hard, seeming to consider his next question. I smiled—the look on his face was all Eden. "Dad? If life is hard on me, how will I know if someone is lying?"

I smiled, and tapped on his chest. "You listen to your heart, Jack. And you listen to the voice that comes to you when you close your eyes. You'll know it because it will be something between a feeling and a whisper. And that voice? Jack, if your heart is good like yours is, that voice never, ever lies." I glanced over at Eden who was listening to us as she swayed Maya in her arms. Her smile was somehow happy and sad at the same time.

Jack glanced at his mother and then back to me. "The voice, Dad, will it always tell me the easiest thing to do?" he asked.

I smiled. "No. But it will always tell you the right thing to do."

He nodded, chewing on his lip.

"You know what else happened in this building?" Eden asked, coming closer to us.

Jack shook his head.

"I first saw your dad in this place," she said, and her voice sounded like it did when she said prayers with our children at night. The locket at her chest glinted in the light coming through the open door—the piece of jewelry that had brought her to Felix, and to her mother, and ultimately back to me. Inside was a photo of our children.

We walked back out into the bright sunlight and we all shielded our eyes. "Where did you live, Dad?" Jack asked.

"Come on, I'll show you."

We walked a little ways and got to the first worker cabin. Somehow they were even smaller than I remembered. "You lived in all these?" Jack asked.

I laughed. "No, just one. This way." Jack frowned.

"How could anyone live in just one of these? They aren't even as big as my room."

We got to the doorway of my cabin and I paused, taking a deep breath. Grief gripped my chest as I pushed the door open. Jack raced inside and through the two little rooms. "You lived here?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said quietly, my voice scratchy. I cleared my throat. Eden and Maya came in and Eden put her arms around me from behind and hugged me tightly while the kids explored. There wasn't much to look at, though.

I took Eden's hands in mine from the front and squeezed them. And as I looked around the cabin where I'd spent most of my life, what came swift and fierce into my gut was that I forgave them. The ache would last forever, but the bitterness wouldn't. They had made their choices and I was making mine. I let out a breath, and in that breath . . . it was gone.

"I love you," Eden murmured, laying her cheek on my back.

"I love you, too, Morning Glory."

Jack came walking back to us from the other room. "I'm glad life turned out better for you," he said, giving me a sympathetic look. I let out a surprised laugh and ran my hand over his dark hair.

"Yeah, me too, buddy."

We stepped out of the cabin. It was the very last time I ever would.

"Where did Uncle Xander live?" Jack asked.

I squinted behind us and pointed to another cabin a little ways away. "Over there." Xander had built Jack a treehouse in our backyard last year that was just about the same size as the cabin he grew up in. It was hard to believe. And now he owned a company that built large homes all over Cincinnati. My friend, my brother. I was ridiculously proud of him.

We all walked around the small cabin toward the trail. "A mama fwower," Maya said, pointing her little finger at the side of my old cabin. We all turned our heads and right there, growing up the side of the wood were morning glories, vining their way right to the top. Maya had recognized them as the same ones Eden always kept in water on our kitchen windowsill.

"Cool," Jack said, picking one off and handing it to Eden. She turned to me, her eyes wide and full of wonder, and I looked back over my shoulder toward the overgrown fields behind us.

When I squinted my eyes, I saw those deep blue flowers all throughout the weeds, leading right to the edge of the field. The seeds must have blown over to the cabins and now they were growing up the outside of a few. I sucked in a shocked breath. "It took over," I said very quietly, pulling Eden into my side, picturing the small plant I had nurtured so long ago, taking care of it so I could make a princess smile with its gifts.

As pretty as a flower . . . as strong as a weed.

We turned to see our little girl toddling away, following a trail of the morning glories up the edge of the field toward the main lodge.

Jack ran to catch up to Maya and took her hand so she wouldn't fall. As we walked behind them, Jack bent down to pick morning glories here and there until he held a bouquet of them in his hand.

Our feet slowed as we walked past the area that had once been the cellar. It was filled in now, just a large area of new, compacted soil. But the morning glories grew there, too. Eden took in a shaky breath and squeezed my hand. As the kids waited for us, throwing pebbles into a small puddle, we stood holding each other and letting the grief wash over us. This place was hallowed ground.

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