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A Gift of Grace

Cute little girl with a bunny rabbit has a easter at green grass background

Sometimes good can come from the worst moments…In a moment of grief, Caleb Tucker made the biggest mistake of his life. He gave away his wife’s baby, born under the most tragic circumstances. Three years later he gets a second chance. All because Sophie Owens walks into his feed store with her little girl—a little girl who looks a lot like his late wife.

Prologue

CALEB TUCKER’S WIFE died on one of the prettiest days ever lent to Albemarle County.

Channel eight’s morning weather anchor had declared it the pearl in the oyster of spring – get out and enjoy it, folks! – but to Caleb, the beauty of the day was simply another irony in the nightmare that had taken over his life.

He sat on a chair by the metal-railed hospital bed, his skin chilled by air conditioning lowered to a level more appropriate for preservation than comfort.  He wondered how many other people before him had sat here in this same spot, not willing to let go.  In the past eight months, he had come to hate this chair, this room, as if they alone were responsible for the misery now etched into every cell of his body.

He clutched his wife’s hand between his own, the backs of his knuckles whitened, his grip too tight, too desperate.

A half hour ago, two somber doctors had walked into the room where he’d sat waiting, both his parents and Laney’s parents hovering behind him.  He’d watched their mouths move, the words sitting on the surface of comprehension.  “We’re sorry, Mr. Tucker.  We were forced to perform an emergency Caesarean.  There were complications from the anesthesia.  I’m afraid she’s gone.”

No.  Not possible.  Not after everything she’d been through.  She was going to get better.  She had to get better.

He’d asked to see her, alone, trying to block out the sounds of Mary Scott’s keening grief.  The doctors led him to the room, one on either side of him, as if they thought he might not make it without their help.

He had only wanted them to go away, leave him alone with her.

Once they closed the door behind them, he stood staring at her beautiful face, saw nothing there to hint at the life she had carried inside her these past months.  Nothing to hint at the act of violence responsible for that life.  She looked peaceful, accepting, unmarked by any memory of what had happened, peace erasing all traces of pain or fear.

For that, he was grateful.

It was all he could find to be grateful for now.

The day had arrived after months of dread, of willing time to slow, praying for God to bring her back to him.  But Laney—the woman he had loved since he was sixteen years old—- was no longer here.

The door to the room opened and hit the wall with a bang.  Mary Scott stood in the entrance, her face haggard.  She looked as if she had aged a dozen years in the past few hours.  Behind her, Laney’s father, Emmitt Scott, put a restraining hand on her shoulder.

“Mary, come on,” he said.  “Don’t do this.”

She stared at Caleb now, her eyes glazed with blame.  “This is your fault,” she said, her voice ragged, high-pitched.  “Because of you, my daughter is dead.”

Caleb let the words settle, the knife of accusation stabbing through his chest.

“If you had been the kind of husband she had wanted you to be, none of this would ever have happened.  You know how many times she came home crying to me about the two of you never seeing each other?  About work coming before everything else, including her?”

The last few words rang out on the edge of hysteria.

“Mary, stop now,” Emmitt Scott said, taking his wife’s arm.

But she jerked away, crossed the floor in a couple of strides and slapped Caleb hard across the face.

He sat, too numb to register more than a momentary flash of pain, and then had a sudden sense of gratitude for the realization that he could feel anything at all.

Mary glanced at her hand, then back at him.

“Mary!”  Emmitt swung her up in his arms, his face taut.  “I’m sorry, Caleb.  We’ll come back when you’re done,” he said and carried her from the room.

Caleb stared at the door long after it had closed.  No matter how much Mary blamed him, it could never equal the blame he had leveled at himself.  He dropped his head onto the icy bed rail, grief swallowing him, the sounds coming from deep inside nearly inhuman.  No tears, though.  He’d never shed one.  Not since the police had found her broken body behind a dumpster twenty miles from the mall where her car had been left with the driver’s door open, the contents of her purse spilled onto the pavement below.

A thousand times he had asked himself why he hadn’t driven with her that night.  One decision made under the carelessly arrogant assumption that they would have other nights, other opportunities.  “Come on, Caleb, you can fix the tractor in the morning.”  He heard her voice as clear as if it were yesterday.  “We’ll just go buy Mama’s birthday present and then eat at that new Italian place I was telling you about.  When was the last time we went out to dinner?”

“I can’t, honey,” he’d said.  “I need to get it going so I can get hay off the ground tomorrow.  We’ll go this weekend, okay?”

One small flicker of disappointment in her blue eyes, and then Laney smiled, as she always did.  Forgave him, as she always did.

She had gone on without him, kissing him on the mouth when she left, telling him he worked too hard.  She’d be back soon.

And he’d taken that for granted.  Because of course she would be back.  That was how life worked, wasn’t it?  One day blending seamlessly into the next until a man never thought to question his right to it.

He leaned forward, pressed his lips to the back of his wife’s wrist, stung by its increasing coolness.  Despite all the words he’d heard countless times from doctors renowned for their expertise in brain damaged patients, he had continued to hope that this moment would never actually happen, that she would wake up, come back to him.  “Laney,” he whispered.  “Oh, dear God, I’m so sorry.”

Footsteps on the tile floor echoed, penetrating his consciousness far enough to prompt him to raise his head.

Dr. Richards stood at the foot of the bed, his short dark hair disheveled, as if he’d been running his hands through it.  He cleared his throat.  “Mr. Tucker.”  The pause held a note of hopefulness.  “Are you sure you don’t want to see the baby?  It might make a difference.”

Caleb stared at him, as if the man had spoken a language Caleb didn’t understand.  “Call the agency,” he said.

For a brief moment, the doctor’s composure slipped, and under a burdened sigh, he said, “If you’re sure then.”

“I’m sure.”

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