Sunrise
Luke a poem the night before his wedding. It focused on how quickly a child grows up and how the little lasts in life can often go unnoticed.
    A lump formed in Ashley’s throat. Never mind that Reagan was laughing about how she had been scared to death before her wedding, not sure if the Baxter women would like her, and never mind that Erin was saying as long as she had a few weeks’ notice she could take a few days to come back to Bloomington for the shower and help with the wedding plans.
    The atmosphere around the room was vibrant, the way Ashley had felt just a few minutes ago. But now, in her own corner, a wave of tears fought for release. Was she the only one missing Mom? Her dad was saying that if they had a luncheon shower, maybe Elaine could help with the cooking, and Ashley wanted to shout no. That could never do—having Elaine help in a place where only Ashley’s mother should be.
    Suddenly Ashley couldn’t take another minute. The planning and excitement, as if their mother never existed. She needed to be alone, to wrestle with her feelings and find a way to come out on top, in control before she broke down. She forced a smile and swallowed her sadness. “I’ll be back.” Then she passed the kitchen and headed upstairs to the bedroom at the far end of the house, her parents’ bedroom.
    The box of letters from her mother was still on the shelf in the closet, but she wouldn’t look for it, wouldn’t bring it down. Everything in the box belonged to her father. He had said he’d put together a scrapbook of letters when he had the time. Ashley had learned her lesson before—the box was off-limits.
    But the bed wasn’t. The bed where her mother had lain dying of cancer just a few years ago.
    Ashley sat on her mother’s side and put her hand on the pillow. “Mom . . . I miss you. . . . Why aren’t you here?”
    Her whisper was the softest sound, caught in a cry that came from deep inside her. She ran her hand over the cotton pillowcase. This was where her mother had helped Ashley plan her wedding, where she had told her how grateful she was that Landon was finally going to be part of the family. It was where, on a day when her mother wasn’t feeling so weak, she had done up the buttons of Ashley’s wedding gown, one button at a time.
    They had bonded here, connected at a deep level. And all the while Ashley had prayed for a miracle—that her mother might beat cancer and live to see not only the wedding but the lives of her children unfold around her.
    The tears came then, streams of them. Hot and tender, they trickled down her cheeks as her eyes remained fixed on the pillow. Her mother should’ve seen the birth of Devin and the way her town had picked up the pieces after the tornado last spring. She should’ve been at Dayne’s side after his accident, and she should’ve been at the front of the group of people when Dayne and Katy came home from Hollywood to their new house on the lake.
    She should’ve held Hayley’s hand as she walked outside with the other children—slower, yes, but so miraculously healed that she no longer needed a wheelchair or even a walker. Little Hayley, whom her mother had prayed for day and night. The miracle was happening, but Mom wasn’t here to see it.
    Ashley closed her eyes and imagined the scene downstairs. Here they were planning a wedding and a shower for Katy Hart, celebrating the astounding faithfulness of God to bring Dayne into their lives—and not just for a meeting but forever.
    She hugged herself and wished that one more time her mother could hold her, rock her, and tell her everything was going to be okay. But instead, downstairs in the seat next to her father was a woman who didn’t really belong. She was her father’s friend, but the way they looked today during dinner was too much like . . . too much like the way he’d looked with her mother. Comfortable and happy and connected . . .
    But not in love. Certainly not.
    Her father would

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