Epilogue

Alex took the bottle from the warmer and shook it over his bare wrist to test the temperature. Destiny’s little fists were waving and her face was getting red. Her mouth was open in a silent wail, but the next one would wake Carmen. He leaned over the bassinet and reached down, scooping her into his arms.
“Come to daddy,” he whispered, lifting her and shifting her to one arm so he could hold the bottle with the other hand. Holding her head elevated, as Mums had instructed, he offered the bottle.
Destiny didn’t need any encouragement. She latched onto the nipple, sucking so hard that air leaked between her lips and the nipple with a squeaky sound. Her tiny fingernails dug into his hand as she eagerly nursed.
His gaze shifted to Carmen. It was two in the morning on Saturday and she had only been asleep a few hours. She had tried not to wake him when she came to bed, and hopefully he had convinced her she didn’t. She had to be physically and emotionally exhausted. Mums assured them that Destiny would eventually settle down to a schedule. So far Carmen had been incredibly patient with Destiny’s demands. She didn’t jump the minute Destiny made a sound, but she did tend to her needs, speaking in a soft loving voice. That always seemed to calm Destiny.
Some said that babies recognized their mother’s voice when they were first born because they had listened to them in the womb. That might be true. Maybe that was why Destiny was afraid of being left alone. Maybe having one mother leave and not come back.... no, surely they couldn’t reason that early in life.
Carmen had amazed him with her selfless offer to Lori. The adoption issue that had been an obstacle for Carmen so long now appeared to be fair in her eyes. As she had said, Destiny would have the love she deserved, and Lori would have the time to recover from grief before her decision became irreversible. Lori had six months to change her mind.
To his surprise, the entire Reynolds family welcomed the decision and insisted that Josh would have wanted it that way. But then, they had never been that fond of Lori, and they all adored Carmen. Women were a strange and fascinating gender.
Lori was hard to figure though. She left the hospital and the state the same day. None of them had been able to convince her to wait until the estate was settled. She insisted she didn’t want anything to do with the insurance money or the farm - she wanted to get away from everything that reminded her of Josh. Maybe it was a good idea. Carmen said her family had moved to California after Lori graduated. She thought Lori had stayed in Arkansas because of Josh.
Alex sighed and sat down in the rocking chair. Two young lives wasted because they fell in love with the wrong person. It had nearly happened to him once. A pang of guilt shot through him as he studied Carmen’s soft features in the dim light. Delivered from the brink and guided to a woman like her. He had it all, and like Josh, he had treated her so badly that she was ready to leave. As always, the memory made him sick to his stomach. He wouldn’t have thought he was capable of doing that to anyone, much less the woman he loved more than life itself. As far as he could tell, she had borne it all without breathing a word to anyone else. He had to be the luckiest man in the world. Never again would he doubt her – nor hurt her in any way.
Carmen was sure that Josh had neglected to change his will. The longer he knew Carmen, the more certain he was that Josh wanted her to have everything – even his child. It had crossed his mind that Josh intentionally ended his life. There was no way to know, and he wasn’t about to bring it up. The passing of Josh was painful enough to everyone as it was.
Alex had instructed Carmen to put the insurance benefit in a money market where it would draw interest until Lori had time to recover. No doubt Lori would eventually come back for the money. Destiny was another story. For a woman who adamantly insisted from childhood that she didn’t want children, an infant was a lot of responsibility. For Carmen’s sake, he hoped Lori would forget about the baby.
His gaze dropped to Destiny and found her asleep. He smiled. Jonathan had named her Destiny Lane. Carmen loved the name. It was hard to believe they had two children now. Maybe there would be more now that Carmen was willing to adopt. He hoped so.
He carefully stood and gently placed Destiny in her bassinet. Crawling back into bed, he snuggled close to Carmen and put an arm around her waist. Gently hugging her, he kissed her neck.
She stirred, cuddling his hand and breathing a sigh of contentment.
After all she had been through; she finally had the things she had wanted for so long. He had been at least partly responsible for dashing her hopes. It felt good to be at least partly responsible for reviving them.
He closed his eyes and said a prayer of thanks. Once again he asked for forgiveness. God would forgive him, and Carmen said she did. Now he had to learn to forgive himself.


****

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The Darkest Hour
Linda Louise Rigsbee
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