Seven years ago…
“Are you sure about this, Erica?”
Twenty-two-year-old Erica Stevens met her mother’s worried gaze. She nodded, hoping and praying her eyes would not betray the way she really felt.
“We can transfer churches,” her father suggested.
Erica shook her head. “This is a great opportunity to be able to further my studies.”
Her mother sighed. “As long as you are sure this is not because of what –”
“I’ve been helping them for the past four years, mom,” Erica cut off. “It’s time that they do this on their own.”
Her father studied her intently. A few seconds later, he finally nodded.
Erica smiled, relief coursing through her veins. “Thank you.”
Her mother smiled slightly. “Go get packing then, young lady. I’ll call the school.”
* * * *
Erica Stevens slipped to the only vacant chair at the back of the church just as the music team started struck the first chord. Distractedly, she surveyed the room, wandering to see if it has changed since she had left seven years ago.
She inhaled. In a blink, she was lost in worship.
All too soon, the service ended. Picking up her bag, she slipped out the door before the crowd could get to big. Quickly, she sent her parents a brief text informing them that she would meet them at home.
Making sure to keep her head down, she quickly slipped through the crowd and made her way to the escalator. She was nearing the exit when a familiar feminine voice stopped her in her tracks.
“Erica?” the familiar voice called again. “Is that really you?”
She turned around slowly, hesitantly.
In a second, she was engulfed in a bone-crushing hug and just as quick she was released.
“Oh, my gosh, Erica,” Yna Carver exclaimed. “How could you not tell me you were coming?”
Erica grinned sheepishly. “I was hoping to get a few days of rest and family time before I told people I was back. But, I guess, that plan’s out the window now that you found me.”
Yna threw her head back in laughter. “Come on. Let’s go get a cup of coffee. My treat. We have a lot of things to catch up on.”
Erica shook her head. “Uh, no. This will be my treat.”
“Fine,” Yna agreed. “E-mails can’t even begin to cover all the happenings in the past seven years.”
* * * *
Twelve years ago
Eighteen-year-old Erica stared wide-eyed at Yna Carver’s bloodshot eyes. “What?”
Sobs wracked her body once again. “I don’t know how he could do it! After everything we were taught – ” Fitful sobs overcame her once again.
Hiding her own despair, Erica pulled Yna into her arms, trying to console her distraught friend.
“Hey,” Erica began. “We’ll get through this, I promise. Have faith, Yna. God is still in control.”
She looked up. “You’re not hurt by this?”
Erica bit her lip. “I am. He made promises to me, too, Yna. But, it doesn’t matter. I don’t have the right to feel this way. All I can do is have faith and believe that God still has a plan for us. All we can do is pray.”
“But you love him.” It was a statement, not a question.
“I do. But it doesn’t matter now. He sees me as a friend. Because of this incident, I don’t think anything can happen beyond friendship now.”
“You can’t be my sister-in-law anymore?”
Erica smiled sadly. “Whatever happens, we’ll always be sisters.”
* * * *
“So, tell me,” Yna began, “How have you been?”
Erica grinned sheepishly. “Well, I’m almost done with my residency.”
“Oh, my gosh, really?”
Erica nodded. “Well, I had a lot of time on my hands.”
“They were the reason you ran?” she asked bluntly.
Erica twisted her engagement ring nervously. “Yna…”
“Is that what I think it is?” she cut her best friend off in exclamation.
Erica grinned. “Yeah, I am. We’re getting marr –”
“Erica Stevens?” A familiar male voice called.
She felt her heart stop as she met Yna’s gaze. In her eyes, she saw confirmation. Taking a deep breath, she turned around, meeting the eyes of the man who broke her heart twelve years ago.
* * * *
Twelve years ago
The incessant knocking at their gate woke Erica up at dawn. Blearily, she crept down the stairs. Their housekeeper met her at the stairs.
“It’s for you,” she told her.
Erica nodded her thanks.
She found her closest friend, Rachelle Turner, huddled on the couch.
“Rach?” she called out, taking a seat beside her. “What are you doing here?”
Rachelle turned to her, a sheen of tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Erica.”
“What are you sorry for, Rachelle?” Erica asked gently.
Tears slowly rolled down her cheeks. “I made a mistake.”
A sense of foreboding fell upon Erica. “Whatever it is, Rachelle. I promise I’ll always be here.”
“I’m pregnant.” Her voice was just above a whisper.
Erica bit her lip and closed her eyes.
“You’re mad,” Rachelle said.
“I’m not mad. I’m…disappointed.”
“I never meant for it to happen. It just did.”
Erica shook her head. “You can’t tell me this just happened, Rachelle. This didn’t happen in just one night.”
Rachelle looked away.
“Do your parents know?”
Rachelle shook her head.
“Who’s the father?” Erica asked, but in her heart she already knew.
Just like that, Erica felt her heart breaking all over again.
* * * *
Matthew’s deep brown eyes were filled with emotion. “You’re back?”
“Unless, it’s a ghost you’re seeing, I’m right here,” Erica snapped, surprised at her own outburst.
Matthew stepped back, shocked.
Erica ignored him. He didn’t talk to her before she left, so why should she talk to him, now? Her eyes were drawn to the boy beside him. He was the perfect mix of his parents’ features, though his father’s were dominant.
“CJ?” Erica asked unsure.
The boy’s eyes widened. “You know me?”
Erica glanced back at Yna with a question in her eyes.
Yna stepped forward. “This is your Auntie Erica, remember?”
The boy glanced back at Erica. “You were my mom’s best friend.”
She nodded. “I was.”
“My Dad loves you more than he ever loved my mom.”
It was Erica’s turn to step back. She kept her eyes on the boy, trying to gauge how an eleven-year-old boy could come up with such declaration.
“CJ,” Matthew warned, his deep baritone sent a shiver down her spine.
The boy barely glanced at his dad, keeping his eyes on Erica. “Why did you leave?”
Erica bit her lip. “I was given the opportunity to study abroad. Your mom encouraged me to go.”
“I’ve been praying for a new mommy.” His gaze seemed to penetrate deep into her soul. “Will that be you?”
“That’s enough,” Matthew chastised his son, before turning to Erica. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into him.”
She ignored him again. “CJ, I’d like to hang out with you before I leave again. Would you like that?”
“You’re leaving again?” he asked shocked.
She smiled. “I have one year left of residency then I’m coming back.” She paused. “But I would really like to get to know you.”
CJ glanced at his dad. “If it’s alright with my dad.”
Matthew nodded, keeping his eyes on Erica who ignored him.
“Good. I’ll text Yna,” Erica told him with a smile.
“Yna,” Matthew began, “could you take CJ home with you. Erica and I need to talk.”
“Who said I wanted to talk to you?” Erica snapped, meeting his gaze harshly.
Yna looked from Matthew to Erica before nodding. “Come on, kid. Let’s go home.”
“I’ll buy you ice cream or something,” Yna interrupted.
“Fine,” CJ agreed begrudgingly.
Erica glared at Matthew. “I’m going home.”
He gripped her arm, preventing her from leaving. “Erica, please.”
“I have nothing left to say to you, Matthew,” Erica snapped.
“Erica,” he pleaded.
She met his gaze. “Fine. You have five minutes.”
He glanced around them. “Let’s get out of here.”
* * * *
Fourteen years ago
Sixteen-year-old Matthew Carver dribbled the ball in his hands before passing it to his best friend, Erica.
She caught it deftly and began dribbling. “What’s on your mind, Matt?”
He straightened. “How could he do that?”
She stopped dribbling. “How could he do what?”
Erica turned and headed for the bench knowing Matthew would follow her. She sat down. “Honestly, I don’t know. It’s kind of sad knowing that he’s left another broken heart in his trail.”
“What’s sad is that we were taught to respect women, but,” he shook his head. “I don’t understand. I just don’t.”
“Maybe, it’s because he hasn’t fully understood what salvation truly means.” She paused. “If he did, he would know that respecting women is a way of honouring God.”
He stood up abruptly. “We’re pastors’ kids, Erica. Salvation has been ingrained in our heads since we could talk. He has no reason – no excuse – to disrespect women.”
“Matthew,” Erica began softly. “Just because we’re pastors’ kids does not mean that salvation is something we just inherit. Yes, our parents can drill it into our minds, but ultimately, the choice is ours. It doesn’t matter what our parents’ do. Receiving the gift of salvation is our choice.”
He sighed and met her gaze. “Promise me something, Erica?”
“Tell me. Tell me when I’m on the edge of that line – if I’m on that road.”
Erica shook her head. “I’m not the right person to help you in that area, Matt.”
He shook his head adamantly. “I know. But I still want you to. Promise me, please?”
Reluctantly, she nodded.
“Thank you,” he breathed. “I just can’t imagine doing something like that to a girl. I can just imagine what I will do if a guy did that to my sister. I would kick his butt to the next century.”
Erica nodded. “I know, Matt. But, the sad reality is temptation is everywhere.”
He nodded. “I know that. I promise, Erica. I won’t be that guy who plays with girls’ feelings. I won’t that guy who leaves a trail of broken hearts.”
* * * *
“Let’s just stop this, Matthew,” Erica stated tiredly. “Let me live my life.”
He turned to her. “You want to be in my son’s life. That means you will be seeing a lot of me.”
“We can be civil.”
He shook his head. “I just need to clarify some things.”
“You have nothing to clarify –”
“I do,” he insisted.
“Whatever you have to clarify was clarified seven years ago.”
“You have nothing –”
“I still love you!” he shouted cutting her off.
“What?” she whispered.
* * * *
Seven years ago
“You should go,” Rachelle said with a smile.
Erica smiled. “You think?”
Rachelle nodded. “As long as you’re not contemplating on leaving because of us.”
“Rach, I would never –”
Rachelle cut her off sharply. “Don’t you dare lie to me, Erica Stevens.”
Erica drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I want to give you a chance to be a real family. CJ deserves that. You deserve that.”
Rachelle shook her head. “Don’t do that, please. Matthew clearly loves you. Not me. I don’t want to be a replacement. I may have a child with him, but that’s as far as it goes. What happened between us may have been a mistake, but it gave us – me – a beautiful child.”
“I have to do this,” Erica insisted. “For myself.”
“I’m not going to convince you otherwise, am I?”
Erica shook her head.
Rachelle sighed. “Just promise something?”
“If something happens to me, promise you’ll take care of CJ?”
“Promise, Rachelle. I’ll love him as though he were my own.”
“Another thing, Erica?”
“Promise me you’ll give Matthew a chance when you get back?”
Erica remained silent. “You know I can’t promise you that.”
* * * *
“I still love you,” Matthew repeated hoarsely.
Erica drew in a sharp breath. “You can’t.”
She took a step back. “Matt.”
He sighed, resigned. “I know.”
She closed her eyes. “I’m getting married.”
He was quiet. Shock was clear in his eyes. “What?”
“I have to go,” she muttered.
He nodded his absentmindedly.
She turned to leave. “I’ll call Yna tomorrow.”
“I’ve already lost you, haven’t I?” he asked softly.
She paused, glancing back at him. “How can you lose something that was never yours?”
* * * *
Twelve years ago
“Erica, wait up,” Matthew called breathlessly.
With a heavy heart, Erica ignored him. She knew if she faced him, the dam of emotions she was holding back would break.
She kept walking.
A hand gripped her forearm tightly. “Erica, please.”
She tried to shrug free of his hold, tears gathering in her eyes. “Matthew, please, just let me go.”
He turned her around to face him. The pain and regret in his eyes seared into her heart as he pulled her into his arms. “I’m sorry.”
“How could you?” she asked him through her tears. “How could you do this to her? To your sister? To your parents? How could you do this to me?”
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, over and over again.
“Why did you do this?”
He looked away. “It was a lapse in judgement.”
She shrugged out of his hold. “In less than nine months, these so-called lapses in judgement can no longer happen.”
“Erica, please –”
“Please what?” She cut him off. “Please be on your side? Please tell you what happened was okay?”
“I know I hurt you, Erica –”
“Enough please. Just stop talking,” she cut him off again. “I kept my promise to you. I warned you about going over the edge. You have a responsibility to Rachelle and I won’t stand in the way of that.”
Matt took a deep breath. “I –”
She held up a hand. “Please don’t ask any more of me.”
* * * *
Erica collapsed on the floor as soon as she shut the door to her parents’ house. Emotions she thought she no longer had suddenly overwhelmed her.
She looked up through her tears seeing her fiancé staring at her worriedly. The sight of him just made her cry harder.
He crouched beside her, pulling her into his arms. “Darling, tell me what’s wrong?”
Sobs continuously wracked her body, preventing her from speaking.
“Oh, darling,” Chris sighed. “Just let it all out.”
“Erica?” her mother’s voice penetrated though her haze. “Oh, honey, what happened?”
Erica just continued to sob.
“You saw him, Erica, didn’t you?” It was a statement not a question.
Chris looked torn.
Her mother sighed. “I’ll leave you to talk.”
Erica dried her tears and nodded. “I think that would be best.”
“Go talk in the living room,” her mother suggested. “I’ll make sure your father does not bother you.”
Chris stood pulling Erica with him. “Thank you, Mom.”
“Let’s talk, darling.”
* * * *
Seven years ago
“You can’t take that decision away from us – from me,” Matt thundered, frustration clear in his eyes.
“I’m not making any decisions for you, Matt,” Erica stated softly. “I’m making the decision for me.”
“Even if I love you?” he challenged.
“You have a responsibility to your son,” Erica said instead.
“What about to the woman I love?”
Erica inhaled. “You have a responsibility to your family, Matt. You have a son and his mother to take care of. It won’t be long before CJ will be starting school and he’ll soon be wondering why Mommy and Daddy are not together.”
He remained silent, studying her.
She clenched her jaw.
“Look at me,” he demanded.
She met his gaze unflinchingly.
“Are you really leaving to study or because you can no longer bear to see my son and what he stands for?”
“I’m leaving because I love your son enough to give him a chance at a normal family,” she repeated, knowing she could not keep this up for long.
Matt sighed, realization dawning on him. “You still haven’t forgiven me.”
Erica closed her eyes and stepped back. “I’m sorry, Matt, but my mind’s made up.”
* * * *
“What happened, darling?” Chris inquired softly.
“He’s really big now,” Erica mused. “CJ, I mean. I missed so much of his life. He’s nearly a teenager.”
Chris smiled. “You missed him.”
“I do – I did. Seeing him after all these years,” she sighed. “I feel as if I haven’t been fulfilling my promise to Rachelle.”
He took her hand in his, placing a tender kiss on the palm of her hand. “You are fulfilling your promise, darling.”
Erica sighed. “I know.” She paused. “Matthew was there.”
Chris inhaled sharply. “What did he want?”
“He told me he still loved me,” she admitted softly. “Well, CJ told me first.”
“Do you love him?” he asked, studying her intently.
She froze. “What?”
“Do you love him?” he asked, slower this time.
She pursed her lips, before walking towards him.
He averted his gaze.
She took his hand, pulling him to his feet before wrapping her arms around him and leaning her head against his chest listening to the steady beat of his heart. After a moment’s hesitation, he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tighter against him.
“You would have let me go,” she told him, meeting his gaze.
He smiled sadly. “If that was what you wanted, I would have.”
She grinned at him. Standing on tip toes, she kissed his cheek. “And I love you all the more for that.”
* * * *
Seven years ago
Erica placed her last bag on the cart, before turning back to her parents. “Thank you.”
Her mother smiled sadly at her. “Are you sure about this, honey? It’s not too late to turn back.”
Erica smiled weakly. “I need to do this – for myself.”
Her mother nodded. “Okay.”
Erica stepped forward and wrapped her parents in an embrace. “Thank you. I promise I’ll call once I get settled. Besides, I’m going to be staying with Aunt Rachel. I’m sure I’ll be fine with her.”
Her parents nodded. “We’ll come to visit in few months.”
She stepped back. With one last look at her parents, she continued to the check-in counter.
Half-way through the airport, a hand clamped down on her arm. “Don’t leave.”
He stepped in front of her, four-year-old CJ in tow. “Erica, please. Don’t leave me – us.”
She ignored him, kneeling in front of CJ instead. “Hi, sweetie.”
The boy tugged his hand out of his father’s hold, bottom lip wobbling. “’Rica leaving?”
She pulled the boy in for a hug. When she pulled away, she smiled sadly at the boy. “I’ll be gone for a while. But you can always call me, alright?”
CJ wiped the tears away with his pudgy hands. “Okay.”
She smiled at him, kissing the boy softly on the forehead. “Love you.”
He smiled at her. “Love you, too.”
Erica stood up and met Matthew’s gaze. “Do you love me enough to let me go?”
Matthew averted his gaze and she had her answer.
She pursed her lips. “That’s why I’m doing this. This is my choice to make – for myself.”
* * * *
CJ stared at Chris intently from across their booth at the fast food chain.
“CJ?” Erica called uncertainly.
The child turned his gaze to her. “Why don’t you love my Dad?”
Yna and Erica shared a worried look.
Chris gripped Erica’s hand tightly.
“So?” CJ asked.
Erica swallowed hard. “CJ, your Dad and I just don’t love each other that way.” She paused. “I’m sorry, dear, but…” she trailed off trying to look for the right word.
“You’re not going to be my new mom,” he stated bluntly, disappointment clear in his gaze.
“CJ,” Erica pleaded.
He looked away.
Chris laid a comforting hand on her shoulder as Erica sent Yna a helpless look.
“CJ,” Chris began. “I know you’re disappointed that Erica won’t be marrying your father.” He swallowed. “Sometimes, God doesn’t give us what we want, because He has something better in store for us.”
CJ titled his head slightly toward Chris studying him.
“Think of it this way,” Chris continued. “This way, you’ll be getting an additional family member, too, and maybe some cousins along the way.”
“You’re not…” CJ trailed off and swallowed. “You’re not taking Aunt Erica away from us again?”
“What?” Erica exclaimed.
CJ looked away ashamed, red staining his cheeks.
Erica pulled her hand from Chris’ hold and took both of CJ’s in hers. “CJ, darling, I told you, I’m coming back. Alright?”
CJ looked expectantly at Chris.
Chris glanced down at Erica before turning his attention to CJ. “CJ, kiddo, I am not taking her away from you.” He chuckled. “I’m not even sure I could and I, honestly, don’t want to.” He grinned at the child. “I was actually hoping you would call me ‘uncle’ before long.”
CJ watched them expectantly. Eyes studying both Chris and Erica trying to gauge it there was a lie somewhere. When he seemed to be satisfied, he rewarded them with a shy smile.
Erica resisted the urge to breathe a sigh of relief.
CJ glanced at Chris. “I can call you Uncle Chris?”
Chris smiled. “Sure, kiddo, you can call me that.”
. * * * *
Twelve years ago
“You’re going to burn a hole in the floor,” Erica muttered from the uncomfortable chair in the hospital waiting room.
Matthew abruptly stopped his pacing.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Relax. They’re both going to be fine.”
His eyes softened a bit, gazing at her tenderly.
She looked away unable to withstand the intensity of his gaze.
“Sometimes,” he trailed off.
She looked up and met his gaze. “Sometimes, what?”
He swallowed, eyes wandering over to where the doctor was expected to come through.
“Matt?” she called softly.
He gazed back at her, a mix of regret and longing in his eyes. “Sometimes, I wish it was you.”
She froze. “What?”
He looked away as if in pain. “I wish it was you and it was at the right time.”
“Congratulations, Mr. Carver. You have beautiful baby boy,” the doctor announced as he stepped out.
Erica sucked in a breath.
Matt gazed at happiness in his gaze. “Erica, I –”
Erica smiled. “Go. Be with Rachelle and your son.”
He gazed at her sadly. “I’m sorry.”
* * * *
“I like him,” Yna stated after a moment’s silence.
Erica tilted her head, eyes wandering over to where CJ and Chris stood heads bent over inspecting a Nerf toy. “I love him.”
“You certainly do,” Yna agreed. “More than you ever loved my brother – more than you could ever love my brother.”
“I know,” Erica said. “But, I guess, Matt and I still have some unfinished business to attend to.”
Yna nodded. “You do.”
Erica swallowed. “I’m not sure I want to see him again just yet.”
“But you will,” Yna reminded her.
“Come on,” Yna called. “Let’s go rescue your darling fiancé before CJ talks him into buying him more toys.”
* * * *
Seven years ago
“Erica,” Matt came after her, grabbing her forearm, stopping her.
“What?” she snapped, turning her glare to him.
Erica pulled herself free from his hold. “You what? Didn’t mean to confuse CJ? Didn’t mean to demean Rachelle’s position? Didn’t mean to put me on the spot? You didn’t what, Matt?”
He looked at her pleadingly. “Please, Erica.”
Erica took a deep breath. “I can’t keep doing this, Matt. I –”
“I love you,” he blurted out.
She closed her eyes, softening a bit. “I know.”
“Then why can’t we make this work?”
She shook her head, tears of frustration threatening to fall over. “I—I don’t know. I just feel as if I’m intruding on so many moments – like I’m robbing CJ and Rachelle of a normal life.”
He cupped her cheek. “You’re not. I – we both want you to be there. You’re always going to be a major part of CJ’s life.”
A sad smile tugged on her lips. “I don’t think this is a healthy environment – relationship – for CJ. He’ll grow up confused. I—I can’t have that.”
He clenched his jaw, determination clear in his gaze. “This will work, Erica. Please, just give us a chance.”
“I’m sorry, Matt,” she whispered pulling away from him.
She backed away. “I’m sorry.”
* * * *
“Matt’s on his way,” Yna announced as she reached them.
Erica felt Chris tense beside her. She swallowed the taste of bitterness in her mouth, forcing herself to nod.
“Really?” CJ exclaimed. He turned his attention to Chris. “Can my Dad join us for dinner?”
Chris cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Sure, kiddo.”
The child grinned. “Thanks, Uncle Chris. I can’t wait for you to meet my Dad.”
“Hey, CJ,” Yna called. “Remember that book you wanted? I saw it at the bookstore a while ago. Want to go check it out?”
He jumped up from the bench. “Can we buy it?”
Yna grinned. “We’ll see.”
Erica shook her head, pulling a couple of bills from her wallet and handing it to CJ. “Go buy your book, darling. We’ll wait for you here.”
“Thanks, Aunt Erica,” he called over his shoulder as he dragged Yna to the bookstore.
“What are you thinking?” Chris murmured in her ear as soon as CJ was out of earshot.
“I think Matt and I should have that long overdue talk by now,” Erica stated bluntly.
Chris nodded. “Do you want me to be there?”
Erica shook her head. “No, but thank you for asking.”
He smiled tenderly at her and wrapped an arm around her pulling her close.
She laid her head on his shoulder. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
She squeezed his hand before meeting Matt’s gaze with a soft smile. “Hi, Matt.”
* * * *
Four years ago
“Hey, Rachelle!” Erica greeted with a smile as her friend’s image came through on Skype.
Rachelle grinned at her. “Well, don’t you look happy? Isn’t med school supposed to drain your or something?”
Erica chuckled. “Isn’t being mother supposed to be the same?”
Rachelle giggled. “Well, you got me there. But, then again, CJ can sleep through the night already – he could since he was a toddler. He is already in school, too. So, yeah. Not really too busy now.” She paused, eyes squinting. “But, you on the other hand, look happy – happier than I’ve ever seen you in years.”
Erica just bit her lip to keep herself from blurting it out.
“You’re in love,” Rachelle realized, wide eyed.
“I am,” Erica admitted softly.
Rachelle pursed her lips. “What about Matt?”
“What about him?”
“You don’t love him anymore?”
“I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving Matt, Rach,” Erica whispered. “But, I don’t think I can love him in the way he wants me to.” She paused. “I realized that now. And he—”
“—didn’t treat you the way you deserved to be treated,” Rachelle finished.
“Does he?” Rachelle asked earnestly.
“He does,” Erica told her honestly.
“Then that’s all I need to know.” Rachelle paused. “I’m happy for you, Erica. I’m so excited to see what God has in store for your future.”
* * * *
They sat in silence at a side booth in their favourite coffee shop – the place where he told her loved her the first time.
She gripped the mug in her hands tightly. Words failed her.
He watched her. Marvelling at how different she was. The girl he loved had turned into a woman of strength, faith, and compassion. At that moment he realized how much he led her back all those years ago. How selfish he was to ask her to stay. Seeing who she had become now was a wake-up call.
She bit her lip. “I love you.”
He met her gaze surprised. “I thought –”
“I love you,” she said again, cutting him off. “But not in the way you want me to. I don’t think I ever loved you in that way.”
He nodded. “I’m sorry.”
She raised an eyebrow at him.
“I took you for granted. It was selfish of me to ask you to stay – to assume that things were more than they were supposed to be,” he told her. “I was holding you back. You had your own dreams to follow. We were being led in two different directions and I failed to realize that.”
She nodded. “But I was running away too.”
“It was wrong to saddle you with a responsibility that was not of your making.”
She shook her head. “I liked it. I liked being there for you – all of you. But…”
“It just reached a point where you realized that you had your own life to live,” he stated.
“We were kids then,” he reminded her.
“Our relationship will never be the same you know,” he told her.
“I know,” she admitted. “But we can at least try – for CJ’s sake.”
He nodded. “We can.”
She extended a hand. “Shake on it?”
He grinned and shook her hand.
“Thank you,” he told her. “For still being here for CJ.”
She pushed her chair back and stood up. “I always will, Matt. As much as you’ll let me.”
He stood too. “Chris seems like a good guy, Erica. I know he’ll make you happy.”
She grinned at him. “He is.” She paused. “We’ll see you at the wedding?”
Slowly, he grinned at her. “I’ll be there.”
* * * *
Five years ago
Erica fell to the floor with a crash, an assortment of papers and medical books scattering on the floor.
In a second, a man knelt beside her.
“I am so sorry,” he told her earnestly.
She bit her lip and simply nodded as she gathered her things.
Without prodding, he helped her. As she picked up the last of her papers, he stood up and offered her a hand.
Not wanting to seem rude, she accepted his help.
“Thanks,” she muttered.
He looked apologetically at her. “I really am sorry, you know.”
She nodded again.
“Wait, are new here?” he asked her curiously gesturing around the sanctuary.
“Yeah,” she acknowledged. “Just moved here.”
His eyes widened. “What a welcome I gave you, huh?”
A small smile tugged on her lips. “Not the welcome I expected.”
“Let me remedy that,” he told her and extended a hand. “I’m Chris Tyler.”
She shook his hand. “Erica Stevens.”
“Well, Erica, how about I introduce you to one of our small group leaders?” he suggested.
She grinned. “I’d love that.”
Not even five minutes, later, she was introduced to a small group leader and found herself with a new group of friends.
“Well, Erica, I’ll leave you in these girls’ capable hands,” he said as a way of goodbye.
She nodded. “Thank you, Chris.”
He grinned at her. “No problem, Erica. Hope to see you around.”
She smiled back – a real one this time, not the one she’s been using for the past years. “I hope so too.”
His grin grew wider. “I have a pretty good feeling that you’ll be staying.”
It was then she heard that soft whisper in her heart again. He’s the one, child, he’s the one.