Forever and Always

Author's note: This story contains more detail, in one scene, of what Emma went through with Derek.  While I would not classify it as graphic, it may be hard to read.  ~Jenni


Wednesday, July 8th        Monday, July 13th        Friday, July 17th

Sunday, July 19th        Monday, July 20th        September 23rd

September 26th        September 29th        September 30th        October 30th


Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Peter woke up when he heard the floorboards creak.  Remaining still, he listened.  Perhaps Emma only needed to use the bathroom.  After a few moments, he heard what sounded like dishes clanking.  Peter frowned.  Emma was up and probably making spiced milk... which likely meant she'd had a nightmare.  Rising from his bed, Peter went to check on his fiancee.

Emma was standing over a sauce pan, absently stirring its contents.  Peter felt a twinge in his heart when he realized she was wearing Joshua's hoodie.  They kept the apartment at a moderate temperature and he was sure she didn't need it for warmth, at least not physical warmth.

"Emma," he softly called, not wanting to alarm her.

Emma turned away from the stove and gave her fiance a tearful smile.

"I, umm, couldn't sleep so... spiced milk.  I'll add more so you can have some, too."

Peter returned her smile with his own wavering one.


"Then... then maybe we could sit on the couch for a while?" Emma requested.

"Of course."

"But, I mean, if you need to go back to sleep then..."

Peter circled his arms around her waist and kissed her brow.

"I'm fine.  I'd like to sit up with you."

Emma returned his embrace and rested her cheek against his T-shirt.  He was so sturdy, so real...

Peter felt subtle tremors run through Emma's body.  He suspected she had been shaking badly when she'd first woken up.

"Sweetheart, why don't you go sit down?" he suggested.  "I'll finish up with the milk."


"It's okay.  Really."

"Thank you."

Grateful to get off her shaking legs; Emma smiled, kissed Peter's cheek, and moved to the couch.  A couple minutes later, Peter joined her and handed her a mug.

Emma sighed after taking a sip.

Peter followed suit.

"Delicious.  And soothing.  I'm glad Maryam gave you her recipe," he commented.

"Me too."

They snuggled together with their drinks for a few moments before Peter spoke again.

"Do you want to talk about anything?  Did you have a nightmare?"

"I did, yeah, and I... I guess."  Emma placed her mug on the table then drew in and let out a deep breath.

"You don't have to, Emma.  I don't want to push if..."

Emma shook her head before resting it on Peter's shoulder.

"I dreamed that we were at the theatre.  Just us.  We were waiting for the others, I think.  But... but Derek came instead and he... he..."

Peter set down his mug and wrapped both arms around the woman.

"He beat you really badly a-and I was afraid you were... were going to die and I wanted to call 911 b-but he grabbed me a-and wouldn't let me un-until I did things and then... then you... you wouldn't look at... at me."

"Oh, Emma..."

Peter continued to hold his fiancee as she sobbed.  He softly patted her back and kissed her hair.  When she'd quieted, he spoke.

"Emma, sweetheart, that's not going to happen.  Two reasons.  First, Joshua told us that Derek was out of your life.  Permanently.  Second, if something like that did happen, I would look at you.  And I would love you.  You know that there's nothing... absolutely nothing... that you could tell me about your past that would make me stop loving you.  Don't you?"

Emma remained still and silent.

Peter closed his eyes, praying for the words to reach her. 

Nothing came to him.

Peter realized that in itself was an answer.

"Sometimes I...  Emma, I feel like sometimes..."

Struck by the emotion in Peter's voice, Emma sat up and peered into his eyes.  She was heartbroken when she saw he was crying.

"What is it?" she gently prodded.

"I just... I don't know what else I can do to... to prove to you that I love you... that you can trust me to never stop loving you, Emma.  I wouldn't have asked you to marry me if I didn't mean to be around for the rest of my life."

Still weeping, Emma buried her hands in Peter's shaggy hair and rested her forehead against his.

"I... Peter, I do trust you.  But it's like there's this... this little part of me who... can't.  And it's not because of anything that you've done or... or not done.  It's something inside me.  And that part... it is getting smaller and smaller and quieter and quieter.  But it's just... it's not gone yet.  And I want it to be gone.  So much!  Because I love you so much.  I do..."

Peter relaxed as she kissed him, first tentatively and then with more confidence, more passion.

After a few more kisses, Emma pulled away and cupped Peter's face in her hands.

"I promise I'll keep working on everything.  Because I do want to get better... and not just for you.  For me, too."

Peter smiled.


Emma yawned.

"And now I feel that special sorta comfortably tired and I don't even want to move..."

"Do you want me to move so you can sleep on the couch?"

"Only if you want..."

"I could stay.  Big couch."

With a smile, Emma nodded.  She took another sip of her milk then removed the hoodie and folded it up into a makeshift pillow. 

Peter grabbed a throw off the back of the couch and soon they were snuggled together beneath it.

"G'night, Peter.  I love you."

"I love you, too, Emma.  Sleep well."

"Mmm hmmm...  Night, Joshua."

"Good night, Joshua," Peter echoed before turning off the nearby lamp.

In the darkness, Peter prayed for continued healing for his beloved Emma.


After spending a couple hours at Dusty's and then, with Peter, meeting potential sponsors for St. Genesius' upcoming season, Emma arrived at her appointment with Dr. Amber-Marie Sayer.  As always, Dr. Sayer greeted her with a smile.

"Hello, Emma!  How's your day been?  Looking forward to your vacation?"

"Today's been good!  And yeah!  I really, really am.  I saw Monica and Liam earlier and was told you've already heard plenty about that."

Dr. Sayer laughed.

"Oh yes.  Liam's very excited.  I think it's wonderful that you're all doing that.  Hopefully it'll get you all rested up before the next season, huh?  Oh!  That reminds me..." 

The psychiatrist stepped over to her desk and picked up an envelope.

"For two season tickets," Emma remembered, reaching into her purse for another envelope.

Emma laughed when, after they'd switched envelopes, the doctor clasped her tickets to her chest.

"I was so, so excited when you told me that you're all doing The Secret Garden!  I adored that book when I was growing up.  I was so desperate for a garden that my parents bought me as many window boxes as we could fit around our apartment.  And I've probably listened to that soundtrack at least a hundred times!" Dr. Sayer gushed.

"Aww!  I'm glad you're looking forward to it.  I've never actually seen it so... learning curve!"

"I'm confident that you and Peter and all the others will make it a show to remember!"

The two women sat down in comfortable chairs across from each other.

"Thanks!  But first we've got to get through Camelot and, of course, Superstar.  And whatever we decide to do for Christmas.  Probably a revue again."  Emma bowed her head for a moment, praying that Joshua would again take part.

"And how are you feeling about all of that?"

Emma smiled, realizing that Dr. Sayer had officially entered psychiatrist mode after her fangirl moment had passed.

"Really good.  Earlier today, Peter and I met with some sponsors who are really psyched."

"And working with Peter is still going well?"

"Oh yes.  I mean it's not like we're always around each other.  We have separate hobbies and outings, alone time.  But working together and living together... I love it.  Although..."

Dr. Sayer cocked her head and smiled gently.

"What is it, Emma?"

"It's umm...  I had a bad nightmare last night and I... I told Peter and it made him realize how much I'm still struggling with... with the trust thing.  And it is frustrating!  Because when I'm in a good mood, like now, I feel like running down to the courthouse and marrying him today.  But the other moments... they happen enough that I can't even bring myself to... to set a date.  And I feel awful saying that because it makes it seem like I don't want to marry Peter.  But I do!  Even in my lowest times, I still want to marry him.  But it just doesn't... seem right."

"Okay, let's talk about that.  What about the dream made Peter realize that you're struggling to trust him fully?"

Tears filled Emma's eyes and she took a tissue from the doctor.  With a shaky voice, she relayed the nightmare.

Dr. Sayer patted her hand.

"Do you think you're worried that if Peter found out about specific things that happened in the past then he would be upset with you?"

"Right now?  No.  And it... it seems disloyal to say so.  And, intellectually, I know he wouldn't because...  Well, we were watching a special about the Cosby accusers and... and, first of all, it was really hard to watch.  But I wanted to because it was kind of empowering, too.  And Peter was really bothered by some of the women saying that people doubted them because it didn't happen like they assume rape happens.  So I know Peter understands that just because Derek didn't attack me or... or threaten me with violence... well, not at first, at least... it doesn't mean I wanted everything to happen.  And I can say that now with total confidence but at other times... like after that nightmare... I don't feel so sure.  And poor Peter...  I know it hurts him because he's done everything he can to win my trust but..."  Emma let out a shuddering sigh.

"How long have you known Peter, Emma?"

"Almost two years."

"And how long have you been together?"

"Just a few months less."

"And what happened with Derek went on for over a year and then the aftereffects covered over a decade of your life before you began to heal, Emma."


"Peter is a wonderful man and he does a fantastic job playing everyone's favorite miracle worker."

Emma smiled.

"But he's not a miracle worker, Emma.  At least... no more than we all get to take part in making miracles happen.  And this miracle... it's going to take time."

"I know...  I just...  I wish we could set a wedding date."  Emma stared down at her ring.  "Like I told you, two of our friends just got married and shortly before that another couple of friends set their wedding date.  And two other friends are expecting twins..."

"Well, what's keeping you from setting a date?"

"It's obvious isn't it?" 

"I think it would be good if you said it, Emma," Dr. Sayer encouraged.

"It's just... if we get married then we'd be supposed to have sex.  And what if we set a date and I... I still feel like I might have a flashback and start freaking out or, worse even, push Peter away and hurt him?"

"Has Peter said anything to you to indicate that he would be sorely disappointed and/or angry if you didn't have sex on your wedding night?"

"Well... no.  But isn't that assumed?"

Dr. Sayer squeezed Emma's hand. 

"These days it's pretty much assumed that if two people move in together, they're going to have sex.  Peter apparently doesn't hold that viewpoint."


"Is that the only reason you're hesitant to set a date?  Is there anything else that makes you doubt that you want a future with..."

"No!" Emma interrupted.  She blushed when she realized how loudly she'd spoken.  "Nothing makes me doubt that I want to be with Peter.  He... he's everything I could ever want.  More even.  He... he does things and says things that I didn't even know I wanted done and said.  I mean... it's not that I think he's perfect.  I really do wish he'd learn how to use a hamper... and maybe not make the enchiladas quite so spicy..."

The psychiatrist laughed.

Emma smiled. 

"Well, there will always be little irritations, I suppose!" Dr. Sayer declared.  "But given you don't have any other hesitations, I find myself wondering if you might have an easier time trusting Peter... completely... if you absolutely knew that he was committed to you for life.  Engagements can be broken.  People can move out.  But having talked to both you and Peter, I know that you view marriage as a lifelong commitment.  Emma, I'd hate to see you put it off if, in fact, it's marriage itself that might be, if not the solution, then at least a big help in conquering your trust issues.  I wouldn't advise all my clients this way but with you...  I truly believe Peter would be patient."

"Yeah..."  Emma sniffled.  "He would.  He's already been way more patient than most men...  A-and maybe that's why I'm hesitant.  It doesn't seem fair to ask for patience before getting married and then get married and ask for more patience before I'll sleep with him."

"What do you think Peter would say to that?"

"I... I think he would say that he would never pressure me and... and if we spend our wedding night watching Frasier reruns, that's okay."

"You know, I can just imagine Peter saying that.  But I think, for your homework over these next two weeks when we won't see each other, that's what you should work on: talking to Peter about your concerns.  I'm not saying I expect to get a wedding date when you return because I don't want you to feel pressured, Emma.  But when you first started seeing me and I asked you what you most wanted for your life, marrying Peter was awfully high on your list.  So I think moving closer to that goal would be good, huh?"

"Very good," Emma responded, her mind beginning to drift to thoughts of the wedding she sometimes imagined.

Dr. Sayer left Emma to her daydream for a few moments before gently calling her back to the task at hand: making that daydream real.


Peter swayed slightly as he stood on the doorstep to St. Mary Magdalene's rectory.  He didn't wait long before Fr. Mike opened the door and greeted him with a hug.

"Hey Peter!  Come on in.  Lucky for you, I was just getting back from a visit home when you called which means... I have cookies from my mom."

Peter laughed.  "Yeah...  I could kinda tell."


Peter patted the corner of his mouth.

"Got yourself some frosting."

"Oh!"  Fr. Mike wiped it away.  "Thanks!  Well, the cookies I haven't yet sloppily eaten are in the study so why don't we hang out in there?  Can I get you some milk or anything else to drink?"

Peter smiled, feeling like he was six and showing up for a playdate.

"Milk would be good.  Thank you."

"Okay, let me grab that.  You go on in and make yourself comfortable."

"Will do, thanks."

Once inside the priest's study, Peter surveyed the assorted photos hanging on the walls and perched on the shelves.  He chuckled when he came to one he hadn't seen before.

"I love this photo of you and Rabbi Yakov at a bar," Peter shouted.
  He chuckled at the phrase "A priest and a rabbi go into a bar..." that was written on the plain, wooden frame. 

Entering the room, Fr. Mike grinned.

"Thanks.  Tiva took it.  And captioned it.  She gave it to me last week after our ecumenical meeting.  Thank you, again, for letting us use the theatre."

"It's our pleasure and, well, it seems only fair since I've been seeking your priestly counsel so often even when I'm not Catholic.  I hope it wouldn't get you in trouble if anyone ever..."

The priest handed over the glass of milk and shook his head.

"Absolutely not.  It's not like I'm canceling other appointments or Mass or anything to meet with you.  I'm allowed to have friends... even Protestant ones," he teased.

Peter responded with a sheepish smile.


"And if we're going to start up with who does more for who, our Spanish lessons mean a lot to me.  It's been really nice to be able to carry on actual conversations with my Spanish speaking parishioners so... gracias."

"De nada."

Fr. Mike clapped his visitor on the back then handed him a plate. 

"Now... cookies and talking time."

Peter selected three cookies then settled into the chair he usually occupied during their informal sessions.

"So how was your visit home?" he asked.

The priest beamed.

"Wonderful as always.  Well, maybe not for my waistline.  Even though she taught me to cook, I sometimes think my mom doubts by ability to feed myself.  And Dad was his usual animated self.  He's been meeting up with Reuel and trying to determine if our two worlds have any common ancestors.  So how are things with you and Emma?"

Peter sighed.

"Pretty great.  I still love having her with me.  And working with her...  I know some people say that's really hard but for us it works.  It's a lot nicer visiting sponsors with her as opposed to doing sales calls alone like with my old job."

"That's really great, Peter."

"Yeah.  But... the nightmares still come sometimes.  And occasionally things on the news trigger something."

"Did what happened last month exacerbate anything?"

Peter gave a rueful smile.

"No, actually.  Those demons obviously knew very little about Emma.  They gave her the standard 'lose your love interest' nightmare but it was nothing on what she sometimes sees all on her own.  Lately she's been having a few in which Derek comes back and I don't fare so well."

Fr. Mike cringed.

Peter finished off a cookie before continuing.

"Last night's was probably the worst so far."

Grateful that Emma had given him permission to confide in the priest as much as he needed, Peter relayed the nightmare.

Fr. Mike squeezed his hand after he had finished.

"I have to say... it hurts to know that even some part of her thinks I would act like that," Peter admitted.  "A lot.  But I also know Emma's not entirely in her right mind immediately following those nightmares.  And I do know she trusts me because... well, we slept on the couch after that.  Together.  Not obviously..."

"I know.  And, yes, I think that's a great sign that Emma trusts you very much.  We're very vulnerable when we're sleeping."

"Yeah, true."

"Can I ask something very blunt?" the priest requested.

Peter gave a shy smile.


"Have you and Emma talked much about sex?  Like what you would expect when you eventually move to that level?"

"Well... no.  I guess not.  I don't want to upset her."

"I know, Peter.  But here's what I'm thinking: As I've mentioned before, this parish was pretty hard hit by the sexual abuse horrors before I came on.  And the ripples of that... they still surface.  I'd have married couples come in who would tell me their love life just wasn't working out.  And for a few sessions we'd discuss things like division of labor, romance for romance's sake... i.e. not just buying flowers because you want sex, and so on.  Weren't getting any where...  Then the truth would come out.  One or the other spouse had been victimized when they were younger and a certain word or act in the bedroom would send them reeling back to that time and they'd basically shutdown.  But, because they were so traumatized and undeservedly ashamed, they wouldn't tell their spouse what those triggers were.  And, I'm sorry to say, in same cases the spouse wasn't willing to forgo whatever it was.  Sadly, those marriages failed.  But..."

Peter blinked back tears.

"So... so what if I can't get her to talk to me?"

Fr. Mike rose and hugged him.

"You will, Peter.  The difference between you and those couples is I don't think the other spouse wanted to hear about it.  They just wanted a perfect, problem-free partner.  There were other cases in which the couples went on to have very good, very healthy marriages.  Because the survivor came to realize that they could tell their spouse anything and it wouldn't scare them away.  And the spouse also knew that some things... maybe they weren't going to happen for them or would only happen under certain conditions.  They never made their husband or wife feel guilty about those restrictions."

"I... I'd give up anything," Peter promised.  "Even sex entirely if I had to.  I just... I want to marry Emma.  I want to know that she's not going anywhere and... and that she knows I'm not going anywhere.  And if, God forbid, something happened to me, I want to know that she'd be protected."

"I know.  And, more importantly, Emma knows.  But there's an insidious little voice that tells her otherwise.  A voice that tells her to be ashamed, that she doesn't deserve this happiness.  It's a voice that this culture, unfortunately, planted in her and it was fed by all the people who failed to protect her.  But I think one strong, loving, fearless voice could go a long way in silencing it.  Yes, it will be awkward.  Yes, it will be painful.  But I believe it will be healing, Peter.  And Joshua, his Dad, the Spirit... they'll be with you."

Peter drew in and let out a deep breath.

"Yeah... they will be."

As he embraced the priest, Peter stared over his shoulder at a photo of Joshua and prayed.


Monday, July 13th

Emma's heart swelled as she watched Clay and Kylie enter their cabin, both smiling and teary-eyed.  During the five hour drive from Virginia, Emma had noticed the fervent glances in the rear-view mirror.  For most of the ride, one or the other of the couple had sat up front with Adam.  Emma and Peter had offered to let them sit together but they'd refused.  She knew it was in part because they wanted to spend time with the angel of death but she also suspected they were trying to avoid excessive PDA.  Turning away from the window, Emma couldn't help but grin.  She was fairly confident it would be a while before they saw the newlyweds again.

"So wanna get unpacked and settled in our room?" Rose asked.

Emma nodded.  "Sure!  I barely had a chance to look at it.  Just dropped my stuff and came back here."

"How about we escort you ladies back to your room and then we'll do the same?" Max suggested, motioning to Peter.

"You just want to know where our room is so you can steal my Kindle," Rose teased.

Max laughed.  "Well, you wouldn't let me pack the entire Harry Potter series so what if I need a fix?"

"Okay, okay!  C'mon."  Rose grabbed Max's hand and pulled him up the stairs. 

Smiling at each other, Emma and Peter followed them.

"This is our room," Rose informed.  "But you need to knock before coming in.  Emma and I might be having very important girl talk sessions."

"I solemnly swear that I will knock," Max vowed.  "And you have to do the same in case Peter, Owen, Sy, and me are having very important guy talk."

Giggling, Rose hugged him. 

"I promise.  Wanna meet up in the living room after a while?  I wouldn't mind taking a walk just to see the area."

"Sure!" Max agreed.  He kissed Rose's cheek then stepped away.

Peter hugged Emma tightly. 

"You wanna join them for their walk?" he whispered.

Emma nodded.

"Then I'll see you in the living room shortly."

"Good," Emma murmured before kissing him.

Grinning, Peter stepped away and followed Max.

Rose sighed as she and Emma stood in their doorway, watching Max and Peter enter the room they were sharing with Owen and Sy. 

Emma patted the younger woman's back.

"Just think, if we do this again next July, you and Max will get your own room," she encouraged.

Rose beamed and nodded.  After they both entered the room, she shut the door.

"Do you think you and Peter might be married by then?  It's okay if not.  Just wondering cause... I mean... if you do think you might be getting married soon then you'd be more than welcome to tag along on florist visits and craft store runs and the like.  I know you probably won't get much outta looking at our Harry Potter themed choices but... you could glance around at other offerings!"

"Aww, thanks.  I... well, we're still not sure on a date.  But that would be fun!  I mean... it's going to happen sometime soon.  I just..."  Emma sighed and opened her suitcase.

Rose set a gentle hand on her back.

"It's okay, Emma.  No sense in rushing."

"I know...  But it's not like I'm uncertain.  I absolutely know I want to marry Peter.  It's just the when..."

"Yeah.  That can be tough.  Max and I really would have preferred an autumn wedding but it just wasn't realistic with school.  The changing leaves and chilliness would have fit in really well but neither of us wanted to be exhausted and stressed because of homework and who wants to spend their wedding night answering essay questions!"

Emma laughed.  "No one!  I'm glad you both thought of that.  So how did you settle on June 25th?"

"Well, the 24th is John's birthday so we thought it might be fun to have a birthday cake for him... hoping he shows up.  That was part of it.  At first we'd looked at June 4th because it looked good on people's calendars, too, and then Independence Day woulda been our monthiversary.  But... then we remembered that June 5th is Draco Malfoy's birthday and neither of us wanted to wake up on our first married morning thinking that the sniveling brat was having a birthday."

Emma's laughter increased.

"And not to mention...  I mean what if we actually conceived that night?  We'd be thrilled, of course.  But on Draco's birthday?!"  Rose gave a sheepish smile.  "Sorry.  This all probably sounds kinda crazy but..."

"I think it sounds adorable!  That's great that you and Max have an interest that you share.  And I think John will love the birthday cake whether he's there or not.  But given he'll surely know about it... I'd be surprised if he didn't show up.  With Joshua and Maryam and Yosef, too!"

Rose squeezed her hand.

"I hope so!  Anyway...  If you're set on a June wedding and do decide next year will be good, you're welcome to the 4th!  Since you and Peter aren't total Potterheads, the Draco thing shouldn't matter."

Smiling, Emma hugged Rose.

"I'll keep that in mind.  I did always kinda daydream about a June wedding...  But... you're sure you wouldn't mind?  That's kinda tacky to knowingly set your wedding right before someone else's."

Rose shrugged.  "Neither Max nor I would care a bit and we'd make that very clear.  Think of it this way: it'd force us to take a day off from stressing about our own wedding and just dance and eat cake and have a good time.  I mean the other thing to consider is that June 11th would be the anniversary of Nen's and Tzila's mischief... which maybe it'd be nice to reclaim that day but I dunno..."

"And we would never pick the weekend before yours and Max's," Emma vowed.  "So definitely not the 18th.  That really would be tacky and rude."

"We really wouldn't mind."

"Aww, thanks but... well, another way to think of it is since it does seem likely Joshua and everyone would come..."

"It'd be nice to space that out a little..." Rose reasoned.  "Assuming you and Peter did take the 4th and went on your honeymoon right after, you'd barely be back before it'd be our wedding and you could see Joshua again! And then, too, seeing him at your wedding would likely help Max and me calm down if we were stressed or jittery."

Emma's eyes glittered as she thought about this possibility.  Then the old anxiety surfaced and a tear slipped down her check.

Rose steered Emma to her bed then sat beside her and wrapped her up in a bear hug.

"Oh, Emma...  Please, please don't feel pressured into this now," she pleaded.

Emma began to sob.

"But... I... I want nothing more than... than to go over there," she waved to the hall.  "A-and tell Peter all this but... but what if I'm not ready by then?  What if I'm a total spaz on our wedding night?  I... I... just wanna get married!"

"You will, Emma," Rose soothed.  "In Joshua's time.  And it'll be the perfect time."

Emma nodded against her shoulder.

"And it'll be a beautiful ceremony and an even more beautiful marriage," Rose prophesied.  "And if you have children, they will grow up knowing they have a mommy and daddy who love each other very much and love them tremendously, too."

Emma calmed as Rose continued her hopeful musings.  They were interrupted by a text from Max, informing them that he and Peter were waiting downstairs. 

"Well... we didn't get much unpacking done.  Do you want me to tell them we need more time or would you rather go for a walk now?" Rose checked.

Emma drew in and let out a deep breath.

"I think some fresh air would do me good."

"Good idea.  Off we go!"

Rose pulled Emma to her feet.

"Is my face all blotchy?"

"Your eyes are a little red but..."

Emma peeked into a mirror and shrugged.

"Peter will know regardless..."

Rose hugged her.

"And that's okay," she encouraged.

With a smile at her and Rose's reflection, Emma nodded. 

Once they were in the living room, Emma managed a quick smile for Max then hugged Peter, resting her head on his shoulder.

"Hey there...  You okay?" he quietly asked as he stroked her back.

"Yeah...  Just had a little bit of a crying spell but Rose helped me through it... and now you're helping."  Emma tilted her face up so they could share a quick kiss.

"And you're okay to go for a walk?  Because we can stay..."

Emma shook her head. 

"I think getting outside will be good.  It looks beautiful out there."

"It does," Peter agreed with a smile, pushing some matted hair behind her ears.  He turned to Max and Rose.  "Lead on!"

"Aye-aye!" Max replied, holding open the door and ushering the others out into the sunlight. 

As they walked along gravel roads and amidst towering trees, Emma sometimes tore her gaze away from the beauty of nature to peer at Peter.  Catching her, Peter smiled and brought her hand to his lips. 

Emma felt anew that this was the man she was meant to walk through life with.  Glancing up at the clouds, she sent a prayer of thanksgiving to Joshua and the Father.


Friday, July 17th

"Higher!" Emma cried as the swing she was on swooped into the air.

Peter laughed as he pushed her.  Accompanying Andrew, JenniAnn, Monica, and Arthur on a trip to the park with the kids was proving to be more fun than he'd anticipated.

"You go much higher and you'll do a 360, sweetheart."

Emma swiveled around to grin at Peter. 

With a chuckle, Peter gave a little extra oomph to his push.

"Woo!" Emma cheered.

As he continued to push Emma's swing, Peter noticed Liam studying them from where he was perched on a jungle gym.  He waved to the little boy.  Liam waved back then approached them, settling into a nearby swing.

"You need a push, Liam?" Peter asked. 

Liam shook his head.

"No.  Just thinking."

Emma skidded to a stop.

"About what?  Or is it personal?" she checked.

"Just thinking that I've never seen a grown up getting pushed on a swing."

Laughing, Emma reached over to lightly tousle his hair.

"Well, getting pushed on a swing is still fun even when you're a grown up."

"Oh, good," came the boy's earnest reply.  "Sometimes Uncle Andrew and Aunt JenniAnn let me push Belle in her swing.  But they don't have that kind of swing here.  She's too little for this kind.  I asked."

"I'm sure Belle loves that when you do, Liam.  You're a very good cousin," Peter encouraged.

Liam's face flushed but a smile spread across his face as he peered over to where his little cousin was climbing the steps of a small slide.

"Are you going to have babies?" he blurted out.

"Umm...  Well, hopefully... eventually," Emma replied. 

"Do you think you'll have twins?"

"Well, maybe not twins," Peter answered.  "Twins are pretty rare."


Emma and Peter glanced at each other, both realizing that since Liam's arrival, he'd known of two sets of twins and only one single birth.

"They are but our group's been very blessed," Emma explained.  "Of course, babies who come on their own are big blessings, too."

"Like Belle."

"Exactly," Peter agreed.  "And like you and Jacob and Shelby and Manny and... well, all of us."

"We're all Joshua's and his Dad's babies," Liam intoned.

Emma felt her eyes fill. 

"That's right," she agreed.

"I hope that when I'm a grown up, I have lots of babies.  Babies are cute and happy... well, mostly happy.  But Monny says it's best to get married first.  Or get a blessing like her and Daddy.  I think I'd rather get married.  You get presents."

Emma and Peter stifled their laughter, afraid they would upset the boy who seemed quite serious.

"What do you want when you get married?" Liam queried.  "I can draw.  Not as good as Jacob, though."

"Aww, honey, we'd be happy with a drawing of whatever you'd want to do," Emma replied.  "I think you're a very good drawer."

"We both do," Peter assented.

"Maybe flowers..."

Emma nodded.  "Flowers would be nice."

"I'm drawing an owl for Uncle Max and Aunt Rose.  Maybe two owls.  Like Joshua made them."

"I'm sure they'll love that!" Emma gushed.  "You're sure good at planning ahead, Liam."

"Monny says it's good to be prepared.  And when you plan ahead, you get to have the fun of thinking about what's going to happen."

Emma stared down at her ring.

"You know something, Liam?" she asked.


"I think your Monny's very wise."

"What's wise?"

"It means really smart," Peter explained.

"Oh!  Yeah.  Monny's wise!  I'm going to go tell her."

Emma and Peter watched as Liam jumped off the swing and scampered towards his mother.

"Smart mom, smart kid," Emma murmured.

Peter sat down on the swing next to hers and clasped her hand.

"Yeah.  Would you want to go out for dinner tonight?  I mean... I don't mean that we have to talk about wedding plans or anything.  But we haven't had that much alone time.  I miss it."

Emma squeezed his hand.

"I miss it, too.  And I'd love that."

Peter grinned.  "Good.  How about I pick you up in the main room at 6:00?"

"It's a plan!  Now..."  Emma stood up.  "I get to push you."

Laughing, Peter began to pump his legs and was soon soaring.


Peter beamed as Emma came down the stairs, donning a cocktail dress she'd bought from Monica.  She, too, was smiling.

"Ooh... I like this tie," she opined, grabbing for it when she was within reach.  "Matches my dress!"

"And it wasn't even intentional.  Guess we're on the same wavelength," Peter hypothesized.

Emma's eyes twinkled.

"Guess so."

"You look beautiful, Emma.  You always do."


Before they got too googly-eyed, Adam stepped forward from where he'd been waiting in the kitchen area.

"Okay, here are the keys.  Drive safe, have fun, and have our girl home by... well, whenever.  You're both adults," the angel teased.

Laughing, Peter took the car keys. 

"Thanks, Adam.  And will do."

Emma hugged the angel of death.

"Thanks for letting us borrow your car!"

"No problem at all.  It's at least a little cooler than the Jolly Green."

"Hey!" Andrew shouted from where he sat on the floor, playing with Belle and her building blocks. 

Alerted to what was going on, Belle gasped and scurried to Emma.


Emma happily obliged when the little girl held her arms up.

"Pitty..." Belle repeated as she got a closer look at Emma's necklace and earrings.  With a giggle, she kissed her aunt's cheek.

Emma returned her kiss.

"Thank you, sweetie.  Uncle Peter and I will be back soon and we'll see you after nigh-nigh."

"O-ay."  Belle reached for Peter who took her from Emma and exchanged kisses before tousling her curls.

Laughing, Belle reached up to do the same to Peter's hair.

The man grinned. 

"I think she approves of me leaving my hair longish year-round.  Don't ya, Belle?"

Belle nodded then twisted around to grin at Adam.

Peter passed her off to the angel of death.

"Pay?" she pleaded.

Adam laughed.  "I hope that's an invitation to play blocks and not an attempt at a money grab."

Belle replied with a laugh and repeated her demand.

Chuckling, Peter took Emma's hand.

"We'll leave that for the three of you to figure out.  See you later!  Thanks again, Adam!"

"No problem!  Have a great time!"

"Don't skimp on dessert," Andrew advised.

"We wouldn't dream of it!" Emma assured.  "In case you're all asleep by the time we get back...  Good night!"


"Good night!"


Just before closing the door, Emma and Peter heard another cry of "Pay..." and laughed together.


After a stellar dinner at a fancy restaurant, Emma and Peter decided they wanted to take in some more local color.  They stopped by an ice cream shoppe then made their way to a nearby park with a lake.

"Such a beautiful night..." Emma admired.  "I love this warm breeze.  And, of course, the company."

With his free arm, Peter gave her an affectionate squeeze as they approached a bench.

"I'm glad we could get away for a while.  I love being with everyone but I've missed our time together."

Emma sat down then planted a kiss on Peter's cheek once he was beside her.

"Me too.  I miss snuggling before bed."

"Yeah...  And I miss knowing when you get up.  At the cabin, it could be anyone.  So... how have you been sleeping?" Peter questioned.

Emma stirred her sundae before answering.

"Mostly good.  I had a vague sort of nightmare last night but no others."

"I'm glad it's just been that one.  Do you wanna talk about it?"

Emma shrugged.

"I just had this feeling...  like I was trapped.  But I couldn't see any walls.  I just... I couldn't move."

Peter rested a hand on her arm.

"I can only imagine how trapped you must have felt back in Massachusetts."

"Yeah...  No where to turn.  Not even to my own mom or... or school or church.  And then, once I left, I felt trapped by my past.  I'd be working at Dusty's and see these little old men come in with their little old wives... holding the door open and 'Yes, dear' and 'What are you having, my love?'  And young couples... dewy eyed and plastered together on one side of a booth.  And I'd think 'I can never have that.  No one will want me, knowing what I've done.'"

"I want you," Peter murmured.  Then he saw the unspoken response flash in her eyes.  He didn't know what she'd done...

Emma took another bite of her ice cream.

Unsure of what more to say, Peter began to hum.  It wasn't until Emma started singing that he realized what he was humming.

"'I've been living to see you... dying to see you but it shouldn't be like this.  This was unexpected.  What do I do now?'"

"'Could we start again, please?'" Peter replied.

Emma set down her sundae and stroked Peter's face.  They kissed then kissed again.

After a third kiss, Peter pulled away slightly but rested his forehead against his fiancee's.

"Emma, I... I've been thinking about us.  And I can't make myself believe you don't... don't trust me.  And I can't believe you don't trust Joshua who... who brought us together.  I just can't.  So the only thing I can think of is that... that there's still some part of you that can't believe how truly good you are... that can't believe you're worthy of being happy, of being loved.  But you are, sweetheart.  The moment I saw you a-and even more when I first spoke to you, I felt... not just warmth but the desire for warmth coming back to me.  After Jaz died... I... I didn't want to get close to anyone because it would only mean risking that sort of pain again.  But with you... I wanted to know you, to be your friend, and eventually... eventually I wanted to love you.  Tremendously, Emma.  And because of that... I stuck around St. G's.  I... I got to know who Joshua was. I got to spend time with him, I got to grow to love him more deeply.  Because of you.  Emma, Judas Iscariot... our Yehuda... he's in Heaven now.  And that's a lot to do with you.  You saw good in a man who has been vilified, reviled, and despised for almost 2,000 years.  See the good in yourself, Emma.  Please."

Emma screwed her eyes shut and conjured the memories of her time with Joshua in Eternity.  The radiant colors... the peace... his love everywhere.  She remembered clutching his shirt, so afraid, even then, that she'd be taken away from him. 

"You are my little girl.  Always will be."

Emma nodded.  Joshua knew everything, everything she had ever done and everything that had been done to her.  He still loved her.  Why couldn't she?

When no answer came, Peter resumed speaking.

"I'll tell you about the good I see.  I see good when I look across the breakfast table and see you sipping your coffee and your eyes smile over the rim at me.  I see good when I stop by Lily's Loot and there you are... taking extra time to help one of your students master a step or sequence.  I see good when I visit you at Dusty's and find you helping a single mother get her kids settled into a booth.  I see good when you talk, for as long as they need, to audience members who get a little overwrought after Superstar... even when I know you're exhausted and dealing with your own emotions.  I see good when you sing to Joshua... yes, sometimes I hear you.  Emma, I see good every single time you hug me or kiss me and tell me that you love me.  I just... I wish you could see yourself through my eyes because I see a woman who is... is beautiful inside and out and who is utterly lovable."

Emma brushed at her tears.

"Oh, Emma...  If I could give you my eyes, I would," Peter murmured.

Staring into his glistening eyes, Emma felt something... almost electric... surge through her body.  Her gaze traveled to her hand which was resting on Peter's upper chest.  She looked back up at his face.  From the moment she had first glimpsed Peter, she had thought he was handsome and the impression had only grown stronger the closer they'd gotten.  But he was beyond handsome...  In the moonlight, with his gaze so intent yet gentle and his hair windblown, Emma realized how sexy he was.  She wanted him... not just for a friend, not just for a roommate, not even just for a fiance.  She desired him as her husband and lover.

But still the latter terrified her...

Though maybe not quite as much as it had even an hour ago...  Her face flushed as she briefly imagined them together in his... their... bed.

"I... I see... something," she replied.  "Something... good.  I just..."  Emma felt as if her head was spinning and her heart might pound out of her chest.  "I need a little time to... think about it.  Then... we can talk?"

Letting out a relieved sigh, Peter nodded. 

"Sure.  Okay.  I...  Emma, I'm glad you see something good."  He kissed her forehead.

Emma moved so that her head was nestled beneath his chin.

Peter rested his cheek against her hair and stroked her back.  He startled when Emma jolted.

"Ice cream!  We had ice cream!"

Peter laughed.  "Oh right..."

They both reached for their largely melted sundaes then shrugged.

"Still good... soupy," Emma opined.

"Yeah, definitely."

After they'd both taken in a few slurps, Emma reached over and cupped Peter's chin.

"I'm going to marry you," she asserted.

Peter buried a hand in her hair.

"Good... because I'm going to marry you, too."

The couple smiled then, leaning against each other, finished their sundaes in companionable silence.


Sunday, July 19

Emma sat on the back porch of the Friends' cabin, admiring the view, as she thought over the past two days.  During the ride home on Friday night, she and Peter had stuck to talking about plans for the theatre's upcoming season.  The previous day, they'd been inseparable at the Western North Carolina Nature Center.  The feelings that had surfaced on Friday night hadn't left Emma.  They had, however, begun to feel even less frightening, especially after they'd enjoyed breakfast as a group that morning.  Zeke and Diana, Kemara and Sean, Kylie and Clay... they had made marriage work.  Granted, none of them shared her sordid background but she'd also gotten the impression... and in some cases outright knew... that at least one, if not both parties, had arrived at their marriage beds far from virginal and baggage-free.  There was hope...

Emma was ruminating over this when someone squeezed her shoulders.  Turning around, she saw Kylie.

"Hey, Emma!  Did you lose Peter to the group who went to get movie snacks for tonight?"

Laughing, Emma nodded. 

Kylie took a seat beside her.

"Clay went, too.  He said it was to keep Caleb in line but I think he just wanted to be sure they get graham crackers and frosting.  He's been craving them."

"Isn't that how you two met?"

Kylie blushed and nodded.

"Yep.  I was making graham cracker and frosting sandwiches in the kitchen of the veterans' hospital, with Adam, and Clay came looking for some more and..."

"And the rest is history!" Emma finished with a wide smile.  She squeezed her friend's hand.  "So, umm, how's the cabin?"

"So nice!  C'mon, I'll show you!"

"Oh, I don't want to..."

"It's okay.  Really!  Kemara and Sean decorated it so nicely and, of course, the twins' beautiful path..."

Kylie helped Emma to her feet and the two headed down the twinkle light lined walk.  After Kylie had unlocked the door, the two stepped inside.

"Aww..."  Emma admired the rustic yet beautiful cabin.  Her eyes landed on a sign posted above the bed that read 'And they lived happily ever after...' with Clay's and Kylie's names and wedding date beneath it.

"An Andrew and Owen project," Kylie relayed.

"So sweet!"  Emma approached the bed stand.  "And these candles look real but..."

"LED. Scented, though.  Here."  Kylie turned one on and waved it beneath Emma's nose.

"Ooh... lilies and... maybe a little gardenia?"

"I think so.  And this..."  Kylie flicked on a lamp that had a gauzy, rose-colored pashmina tossed over it.  "I'm totally stealing this idea for our bedroom.  Perfect mood lighting." 

Emma giggled then hugged her friend.

"I love seeing you so happy, Ky!"

"I love being so happy.  And Clay and I are so grateful to all of you.  This..."  Kylie waved around the room.  "I mean we would have been happy with the smallest, plainest room in the big cabin.  This never even occurred to us!"

"We all wanted to get it for you the minute we saw that the owner was offering this one, too.  We had to celebrate you two!  Of the three of us couples who got engaged one right after another, you and Clay are... are the first to... to actually get married."  Emma bit her lip.

Hearing the catch in Emma's voice, Kylie led her to a bench that was situated against one wall.  They sat down together and Kylie hugged Emma's shoulders.

"Have you and Peter talked any more about setting a date?"

"No...  The Wednesday before we left, I talked to Dr. Sayer about it and there's stuff Peter and I need to talk about but I didn't want to bring anything up before vacation and put a damper on it if things got weird or awkward or just sad.  The thing is... I really believe that if I said to Peter 'Let's elope tomorrow!' then he would.  Well, he'd probably want to wait just long enough for his family to come along.  It's just... me."

"And he understands that, Emma.  You know he does."

Emma nodded then, with a flushed face, peered into her friend's eyes.

"Can I ask you something really personal?  You won't have to answer."

"Sure.  Go ahead."

"How was your wedding night?  I mean... I don't want details!  I just mean... did it go okay?  Or... or did you have flashbacks to Jett or..."

Kylie smoothed some hair behind Emma's ear.

"It was really beautiful, Emma.  And I did think about Jett briefly.  I thought about how nervous I was that first night with him... and how I wasn't nervous with Clay.  And I thought about how I'd had sex lots of times but... but with Clay I felt like I was making love for the first time.  I felt safe and cherished."

Emma watched as Kylie reached for what was, presumably, one of Clay's shirts and began to caress it.

"I talked about it with Clay a few days later," Kylie continued.  "I told him how surprised I was when I found that I really, really wanted to have sex with him.  With Jett, it was always so wrapped up in duty and... well, just trying to keep him calm and happy.  But with Clay... it was just about Clay and me and how God gave us this love that somehow...  It's not like it made all of the pain of the past go away.  I still feel sad when I think of how things were with Jett and me... who I was when I was with him.  Not really myself.  And... and it makes me sad to think of Joshua... and to a lesser extent, Adam... having to see that.  But it's a... less lonely sad, I guess.  Because I know I can tell Clay all of that and he'll listen and hold me and then the past doesn't seem so powerful."

"That sounds... really beautiful."

"It has been.  But, Emma, it's different for everyone.  You know how much I'd love to see you and Peter married but I don't want what I just said to hurry you into it if you're not ready.  That's the last thing any of us would want.  Peter included."

"I know...  And that's just it.  I... I feel like it's all about me.  And I don't want it to be all about me!" Emma stressed.

Kylie played with a button on Clay's shirt as she tried to think of how to say what she felt without offending her friend.

"I guess I just see it like... well, like..."

Emma rested her hand over Kylie's.

"Just say it.  Please."

"I mean what if Peter had, say, leukemia.  Then don't you think you would go out of your way and even make sacrifices just to be sure he felt as good as he possibly could?"

Emma swallowed the lump in her throat.  The idea of Peter being sick devastated her.  She nodded.

"Even if you really, really wanted to, say, go to Coney Island but Peter was feeling awful and wanted you near, you'd stay home with him, wouldn't you?"


"It's just... you've struggled for a long time, Emma.  And, like with cancer, the treatment has its own pain and negative side effects... in this case having to truly face and talk about what happened with Derek.  And just as you would do or not do whatever you could to help Peter in that hopefully-never-to-happen scenario, Peter is going to do or not do whatever he can for you.  That's okay.  Because there may come a time when you're going to need to give everything you can to him.  'For better and for worse' doesn't necessarily mean the better times and the worse times are going to be the same times for both people.  Sometimes taking that vow means slowing down even when one's own preference might be to go full speed ahead.  And that's okay.  I don't think it's at all a bad thing that you and Peter are learning that before you get married."

"That makes sense.  Thanks."

Kylie hugged Emma tightly.

"Peter loves you so much.  Everyone can see it.  And a lot of us still remember how he was when we first met him.  Emma, it's like... he's come back to life.  That's no small thing.  Sure, he wants to get married!  But he's not unhappy now.  You have to realize that."

Emma's mind flooded with memories of laughter filled candlelit meals, dancing on their balcony, and chores at the theatre which often turned into spirited games of hide-and-go-seek.  No, Peter wasn't unhappy. 

"I am going to give you some advice, though..." Kylie warned.

Emma smiled.  "Which is?"

"Don't get so worked up about the wedding night.  For all you know, the both of you are going to dance until three in the morning and then pass out.  And that's fine!  It's not like if things don't happen that night, you're doomed.  In fact, I think in that case you'd do better to wait.  Who wants to spend their first time with someone thinking 'I just wanna go to sleep!'"

With a giggle, Emma nodded.


"Whatever happens and whenever... it'll be fine, Emma," Kylie comforted.  "You'll see."

Emma gazed down at her engagement ring.  So perfect...  Peter, even without much help from Joshua, had known exactly what sort of ring she would want.  She knew she could trust him to honor her needs and wants throughout their marriage.

"Do you know how long Last of the Mohicans is?" Emma asked.

"Two hours, I think.  Why?"

"We watched it in high school but I couldn't remember and I was hoping maybe it wouldn't go too late and Peter and I could have a talk afterwards."

A smile spread across Kylie's face. 

"If we stick with our plan to start at 8:00, it'd only be just after 10:00..." she reasoned.

"Yeah..."  Emma's own face brightened.

Smiling, they two women embraced each other.


Peter began to feel uneasy as the scene unfolded.

Alice edged closer to the cliff.

Magua leered. 

Alice looked at the rocks beneath her.

Magua beckoned.

"I need some fresh air!" Emma cried, bolting from her seat beside Peter and dashing out the door and into the dimly lit yard.

Andrew scrambled to stop the movie and Kylie hurried to her feet.

Peter rose and shook his head.

"No, keep watching.  Please.  I think we need some time... just the two of us."

"I'm sorry!" Kemara apologized.  "I wasn't sure about this and tried to feel her out earlier."

Peter smiled sadly and patted the woman's shoulder.

"I know.  I brought it up, too.  Don't worry.  She'll be fine.  We'll be back later."

Just before he stepped outside, Peter heard Zeke suggest that they all take a few moments to pray.  The knowledge that the Friends were praying for them calmed Peter.

"Emma?" he called, surprised that she wasn't on the porch. 

"Down here."

Peter glimpsed Emma peeking around the back corner of the cabin.  He hastened down the steps and joined her.

"I... I just didn't want anyone to see me," she explained.

"Are you okay with me being here?" Peter checked.

Emma nodded.

"This side is Andrew's and JenniAnn's room, right?"

"Yeah.  The kids are on the other side.  And Andrew and JenniAnn are upstairs so this is pretty private."


Peter was glad that there was a bench nearby.  Emma looked shaky on her feet.

"How about we sit down?"

After giving a nod, Emma allowed Peter to escort her to the bench.  To his surprise, she motioned for him to sit down first.  He obeyed and was further surprised when his fiancee settled onto his lap and hugged her knees.

"Hold me.  Tightly."

Peter wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on her hair.  He listened as Emma began to perform some of the breathing exercises that Dr. Sayer had taught her.  Having her so close, Peter could feel how tense Emma's body was.  Clearly she'd had a flashback.  Wanting to help, Peter dug his right palm into his fiancee's back and began to knead.  Emma moaned softly.

"Do you want me to stop, sweetheart?"

"No," came her response, muffled by her knee.

Peter's focus shifted to her left shoulder and then her right.  Gradually, Emma unwound from the tight ball she'd put herself in.  With greater range of motion, Peter reached for her neck and gently massaged it.  He stopped for a moment when Emma gasped.

For a split second, Emma found herself back in the alley near Dusty's.  Derek groped her and his hand drifted from over her mouth to her neck.  Then, just as quickly as it had surfaced, the memory was gone.  It was only her and Peter and he was taking care of her.  He was loving her.  She sighed and reached back to squeeze his hand.

Peter continued his ministrations.  He pushed some hair away and lightly kissed the nape of his beloved's neck.

After a few more moments, Emma swiveled and covered Peter's face in kisses before pressing her lips to his. 

"Emma..." Peter murmured when they broke apart.  He caressed her cheek and held her gaze for a long moment.

Seeing a look of love that was rivaled only by Joshua's, Emma knew she could no longer hold anything back.

"I... I want to talk, Peter mine.  To... to tell you everything."

"And I will listen... to every word, my Emma," Peter vowed.

Emma settled beside him and rested her head on his shoulder.  She couldn't quite bear seeing into Peter's eyes as she spoke.

"I remembered that part in the movie," Emma began.  "Mostly.  I knew that Alice jumped... I knew the subtext was that Magua was going to hurt her... probably rape her... if she didn't get away.  But I didn't think I'd get that upset.  After all, that was nothing like what happened with Derek.  But... but then when he waved for her to come towards him...  I...  A memory hit me really strongly.  That... that first time...  Derek kissed me and... and I... I was so shocked that... that I couldn't move a-and didn't pull away.  Not even when he kissed me again.  Then he... he started to undo my top and... and I backed away then.  I said it was wrong but he... he said it was right and that he loved me and he asked me if I loved him and I... I felt so badly for him.  He looked so sad...  I... I said yes.  I tried to say that I wasn't in love with him but then Derek... he talked about all the help he'd given me.  He said that he'd done it all to show me he loved me and now... now I should show him that I loved him."

Tears poured down Peter's cheeks.  He longed to console his fiancee but he knew she had to be allowed to speak without disruption.

"Derek beckoned for me and I... I came closer again.  He kissed me and... and then he... he led me into the guest bedroom and... and said he felt so blessed that... that this was finally happening.  A-and he actually used that word!  'Blessed.'"

Peter gripped the arm of the bench until his knuckles turned white.

Emma stared straight ahead as she continued.

"He finished getting my shirt off a-and then my bra and... everything.  He told me to lay down and then he... took off his clothes and then he kissed me a few more times and asked if I was nervous and I said yes.  He asked if I was sure I wanted to do this and... and I nodded because... cause what if I said no?  I'd already kissed a married man a-and he'd seen me naked and he did... he did say he loved me.  Then it started.  I... I was just in shock that it was happening.  How... how would that be happening?  Derek wasn't violent or forceful but I did nothing to... to stop him."

Peter opened his mouth to offer a defense, to remind Emma of how young she had been and how manipulative Derek was.  However, he stopped himself.  Emma needed to say those words... and, more importantly, she needed to recognize how true they were.

"After that, he justified what was happening by... by saying that Jodi didn't love him any more and that they hadn't had sex since Zoe was born.  He said that wasn't normal a-and what we had was normal.  And one day, after he felt he'd built up enough of a case to get sole custody, he'd divorce her and... and we'd get married and raise the girls.  And I know it sounds absolutely crazy that I believed that but..."

Peter shook his head. 

"No, no it doesn't, sweetheart." 

While maintaining a calm, soothing veneer,  Peter inwardly seethed.  As repulsive as it all was, that Derek had used Emma's love for Joccy and Zoe, and the promise of a future with them, to harm her made it even worse.

"He was the first person in a long time to... to tell me he loved me," Emma explained.  "And... and, at the time, all the weirdness and the embarrassment and the discomfort seemed worth it... for that.  So I... I would go when he'd call and say to... to meet him somewhere.  And for the first month or so... at times I actually... I felt good a-and loved and... and valued."

Emma let out a shuddering breath.

Peter tightly clasped her hand.

"Then Derek...  One day, he told me to tell my mom that he and Jodi were going away overnight and I needed to babysit until the morning.  But it was... was us who went to a hotel.  We had sex and then... then Derek said he wanted us to watch a movie.  It... it was an adult movie and really... really bad.  And afterwards, he... he said he wanted to... to try some of what we'd seen.  So... so... he p-pushed me to my... my knees a-and told me to... to..." 

Emma burst off the bench then looked around, her eyes wild and bloodshot. 

With blurred vision, Peter watched as she grabbed a log and began to swing it at the hillside behind the house.  He let her take a few swings but when the hits became more erratic, Peter wrested away the log and enclosed Emma in his arms.

"You're safe, sweetheart.  I have you now.  No... no one is ever going to make you do anything you don't want to do.  Never again," he promised. 

"I... I didn't want to do it!" Emma wailed.  "I... I threw up right after a-and... and he told me to stop being a... a baby."

As Peter stroked Emma's hair while she nuzzled his neck, the thought occurred to him that Joshua may have sequestered Derek in a monastery as much to keep him from wreaking vengeance as to get the man to repent and leave Emma alone. 
The last thing Emma needed was to testify at a trial if he'd attacked Derek.  Peter said a silent prayer to Joshua, thanking him for his wisdom and asking him to take away the hate and anger in his heart.

Peter led Emma back to the bench.  She spent a few moments doing more breathing exercising before continuing.

"After that... he... he was out of control.  Sometimes he... he'd come home early when I was babysitting a-and tell me to put Zoe in her playpen and get Joccy settled with a movie and then we'd go into the guest room and... and...  It... it would be so awful when one of the girls would start crying a-and he wouldn't let me go.  And I know you're probably wondering why I didn't run then..."

Peter once again struggled to bite his tongue.

"But he still told me he loved me and in some weird way... I needed to hear that even more because I felt even worse about myself and... I... I didn't think anyone else would ever want me if... if they found out."

Peter tenderly caressed Emma's tear soaked face.

"I want you, Emma.  I love you.  There's a whole cabin full of people here who love you.  And a lot of people Up There who love you, too."

Emma peered at the stars that Peter was pointing to.  She managed a smile before letting out a shaky breath.

"He... he was very, very wrong."

"Yes, sweetheart."

"I... I felt indebted... he made me feel indebted... and then he used that debt to... to get me to do what he wanted... when-whenever he wanted.  A-and he never loved me at all.  He... he lusted.  Because if he'd really loved me, he wouldn't have made me do what I didn't want to do a-and he wouldn't have called me a baby when... when I didn't like it.  And he didn't let... let me take... take care of... of the girls who... who I did truly love.  Do... love.  He used them, t-too.  To string me a-along.  But then... then I ended up losing them for... for so long because of... of what we did...  And he made me scared... scared that if I got too... too close to anyone then... then they would start... start demanding things that... that made me feel bad.  Then they would belittle me a-and not respect me and... and use me.  B-but why... why didn't I break off contact after... after that first time?" Emma implored.

Relieved that she was finally looking into his eyes, Peter kept his own eyes locked on his fiancee's as he spoke.

"Because you did love Derek, Emma.  I believe that you weren't in love with him.  I completely do.  But this is someone who had been kind to you, someone who had a place of honor in your school and church, someone whose daughters you adored.  He made it incredibly hard for you to break away.  And don't you think he knew exactly what he was doing when he took your virginity?  Derek knew what sort of education you were being given... complete with a handful of toxic messages.  And he knew you would feel guilty and sinful.  You said it yourself earlier.  You already felt guilty for the kisses and for him seeing you naked.  He created a scenario where you would already feel tainted.  Because he knew that would make it harder for you to say no and even harder... impossible... for you to tell someone and get help.  But, sweetheart, you were not tainted.  God wept over the sin that was being committed against you.  You know He did, Emma."

Emma nodded and rested her forehead against Peter's.

Burying his hands in her hair, Peter continued.

"And I am so, so sorry for how much you suffered.  And I want to spend the rest of my life doing the best that I can to... to keep you from further suffering.  I... I know I won't always be able to do it.  But I will try.  I swear to you, Emma, that nothing you've said tonight has changed how much I love you... how wonderful I think you are.  I... I still want to marry you.  So much.  And I promise that... that when that day comes and with every day we're married, I will never, ever ask you to do anything... anything at all... that makes you feel less than the extraordinary, beloved woman you are."

"A-and what if... if there are some things I... I can never do?" Emma questioned. 

"Then I'll do without them and continue to feel very grateful for my wife."  Peter cradled her face.  "I love you... so much."

"I... I love you, too, Peter.  With... with all my heart a-and soul," Emma replied before throwing her arms around him.

The couple held their embrace for several moments, drinking in the other's presence.

Emma let out a wearied sigh.

Peter rubbed her back as he spoke.

"Do you think maybe we should head inside?  I'm sure you're exhausted."

Emma nodded.

"Yeah...  And I think we maybe have Clay and Kylie held hostage in there.  I don't want to keep them from their cabin any longer."  Emma turned and smiled at the structure just down the little hill.  Then her face clouded.  "But... but I'm scared to go to sleep.  A-and I love Rose but... I... I don't want to tell her why I'm upset if... if I have a nightmare tonight when... when it's all so... fresh."

Peter helped Emma to her feet.

"We'll figure something out.  Let's see what's going on inside, okay?"


Holding hands, the two made their way back inside the cabin.  They found the main room cleared out except for Clay, Diana, Zeke, and Kylie who had Manny in her arms. 

"Hi," Peter greeted.

Diana was the first to her feet and hugged the two, kissing Emma's temple.

"Hi," she replied.  "How are you doing, sweetie?"

"Better."  Emma looked to Peter with a teary smile.  "Sorry if we..."

Diana shook her head.

"Everything's just fine here.  We all... we prayed for you."

"Thank you," Emma whispered as she hugged her.

Peter followed with his own hug.

"Is everyone else in their rooms?"

"Yes," Zeke answered as he approached.  "They asked us to text them when you were back in, though.  Is that okay?"

"Of course," Emma agreed.  She was touched that they were all waiting up.  Peeking around the Wilsons, Emma smiled at the Stanfords.

"I'm sorry if you two felt that you couldn't go out to your cabin," she apologized.

Kylie returned Manny to Diana then hugged her friend.

"It was just fine.  I enjoyed my time with the little man.  A lot.  I... I just hope that... that your talk went well."

Emma linked her arm around Peter's waist and nodded.

"It was... healing.  But now... now I'm really tired so..."

"After the movie, Rose went downstairs to check on the kids and she decided to stay with the girls tonight," Kylie relayed. 

Emma cringed.  "I hope she didn't feel like she needed to."

"Not at all," Kylie assured.  "But..."  She leaned in closer so only Emma and Peter could hear.  "She knows that sometimes it helps to have your fiance near.  Andrew has a sleeping bag that he hasn't used.  It's in there.  Not that anyone thinks Peter needs to use it but... just in case."

Emma glanced at Peter who only smiled gently at her.  She knew this was her call to make.

"That, umm... actually, that might be perfect." 

"Sounds good to me," Peter assented. 

Kylie hugged them both. 

"Then we'll let you both get to bed."

A round of hugs and well wishes began.

"Sleep well," Clay wished.  "You'll be in our prayers."

Kylie took his hand and nodded.

"Thank you," Peter replied, reaching over to squeeze Clay's free hand.

Zeke gave Emma and Peter bear hugs.

"I love you both... Joshua loves you best of all.  I'll pray that you feel him near tonight."

"Th-thank you," Emma choked out.  "Love you, too.  All of you."

"Very much," Peter added.

After Zeke took Manny, Diana gave the couple hugs, too, and looked intently into their eyes.

"You let me know if there's anything you need.  We'll keep the phone nearby.  Just text if you want your spiced milk or anything."  Her eyes flitted back to Manny.  "I'm already on mom duty tonight so... I'd love to do that."

"Aww, thanks.  We will," Emma assured.  "G'night, everyone."

"Good night!"

"Rest well!"


"See you in the morning."

Peter smiled at his friends then took Emma's hand and followed her up the stairs.  They separated for a few minutes to change and get ready for bed.  When he returned to Emma's room, Peter found her standing in front of the window.  She turned and smiled at him.

After encircling his arms around her waist, Peter softly swayed.

Emma twisted around so she could rest her hand over his heart and her head on his shoulder.

"I... I'm so tired that... that the words won't come," she admitted.  "Will you pray for us?"

"Sure."  Peter kissed her hair then, looking back to the night sky, began to pray.  "God, thank You for helping Emma to be so brave.  Thank You for bringing us together and for helping to build trust between us.  Thank You, too, for this amazing group of friends that You built up around us.  More than anything, we thank You for being our Friend... who loves us best and first.  Please, continue to heal Emma and help me to know how I can best help her.  Because I... I love her and because she's helped me... so much... to find beauty and excitement in life again.  We love You very, very much.  Amen."

"We love You.  Amen," Emma echoed.

Peter tightened his embrace for a moment then peered into Emma's eyes.

"Where would you like me to sleep?  I'm fine with anything.  Truly."

Emma's face flushed.

"I... I'd like you to sleep with me but... but feeling like I do tonight...  I'm afraid everything is too... close to the surface a-and I would maybe hurt you if I woke up a-and was uncertain where I was and... and with who."

Peter nodded.  "Good point."

"But... but I'm also afraid of... of being alone tonight."

"How about I put the sleeping bag right by your bed?  If you need me, you won't even need to get up to wake me.  Okay?"

"You're sure you'll be okay?  It can't be very comfortable..."

"I'll be fine, Emma.  C'mon, let's lay down."

As Peter unrolled the sleeping bag, Emma got settled into her bed.  When she was done, Peter crouched by her bedside and kissed her forehead.  He smiled when she clasped his neck and guided his lips to hers.

"I love you, Peter," Emma murmured. 

"And I love you, Emma.  Remember, wake me up if..."

"I will."

"Good night, sweetheart."

"Good night, Peter mine."

Once Peter was tucked into his sleeping bag, Emma turned off the light.  Peter closed his eyes but remained awake, listening for Emma's breathing to settle into a steady rhythm.  Only then did he allow himself to drift to sleep.


Monday, July 20th

Emma was relieved when she opened her eyes for the fifth time and realized that, finally, it was daylight.  Four times nightmares had woken her up and, four times, Peter had helped calm her. 

Peering over the edge of the bed, Emma saw that Peter was still sleeping.  She glanced at the clock and noted it was just after 7:00.  Unfortunately, they had to get up soon.  At least she could make waking up more pleasant...

After getting out of bed, Emma laid down bedside her fiance and began to caress his face and hair.

Peter smiled before opening his eyes.


She moved in for a kiss which Peter readily welcomed.

Emma snuggled against him.

"It's 7:08.  We should probably get up soon."

"Soon..." Peter echoed as he rested his cheek against her hair and stroked her back.

Emma sighed with contentment.

"Thank you for getting up with me all those times."

"Of course.  I just hope you're feeling okay."

"Better than okay.  You?"

"Definitely better than okay.  I got woken up in a very nice way."

Emma smiled and kissed him again. 

"I have a request," she murmured.

"And what is your request?" Peter encouraged as he brushed hair behind her ears.

"I'd like to spend a little time alone tonight... so we can discuss a wedding date."  Emma's eyes filled as she looked into Peter's.

With tears in his own eyes, Peter nodded.

"I... I'd like that a lot.  We'll make it happen."


After a third kiss, the couple cuddled for a few moments longer before rising so they could get ready for an exciting day at Chimney Rock with the Friends.


"Okay, ladies, smile on the count of three.  One... two... three," Peter counted off before snapping a photo of Emma, Joccy, and Zoe in front of the flag atop Chimney Rock. 

"Now one of you and Emma!" Zoe called before dashing towards Peter and taking his camera.  Her older sister moved behind her and studied the couple.

"Aww!  Now, Zoe!" Joccy directed.

With a click, Zoe captured a sweet image of Emma and Peter looking at each other just as the flag unfurled in the wind.

Joining the two and peering over Zoe's shoulder, Emma's eyes misted when she saw the picture.

"It's perfect."  She embraced the two.  "Thank you, girls."

Joccy kept hold of her arm and Zoe grabbed Peter's.  They led them out of the way of the prime photo-taking spots.

"At lunch, we were talking to Andrew and JenniAnn and Zeke and Diana and they were thinking that maybe it'd be fun to have a picnic dinner at one of the parks near the cabin," Joccy began.  "So if you want to do that, that's totally cool.  But if you don't... Zoe and I would really like to make dinner for you at the cabin."

"It would be romantic!" Zoe gushed.  "We'd go to our room after fixing it all up."

"Aww, girls..."  Emma hugged them both.

"We really, really want to," Joccy stressed, sensing that Emma was going to turn them down.

Emma glanced at Peter who nodded. 

"That would be very nice," Emma assented.  "I love that idea.  But you don't have to eat in your..."

"We'll come up for dessert, maybe?" Joccy negotiated.

Peter laughed. 

"I think they're pretty set on a romantic dinner for two, sweetheart."

"Yep!" Zoe verified.  She grinned at Emma then grew more serious.  "It's just... we've been able to tell that... that you've been sad sometimes and maybe... maybe having us around is a little hard and..."

Emma shook her head and wrapped an arm around each of the sisters.

"No, no.  Not at all.  Seeing you and spending this time with you makes me very, very happy."  Emma lowered her voice.  "You know that what happened between your dad and me... that's completely separate from what I feel about you girls.  I love you so much!  But... I have been having some personal issues.  Peter and I... we've been working on those a lot and I'm getting so much better!  In fact, we were hoping to have another talk tonight so your dinner idea is absolutely perfect!"

"It really is," Peter agreed as he squeezed the girls' shoulders.  "Thank you.  I'm really looking forward to tonight!" 

"Yay!" Zoe cheered.  "We want to make this really yummy pasta recipe that our grandma taught us.  Do you like ricotta and tomatoes?"

"That we do," Peter assured.  "But I don't think we have ricotta at the cabin."

"Andrew said he'd take us to the store," Joccy relayed.  "He has to go after we leave here, anyway, because Belle needs more juice.  He says she's suddenly decided she doesn't like apple juice and wants grape juice."

Emma laughed.  "Reminds me of when someone suddenly decided she'd start throwing her cup whenever I gave her milk instead of the Juicy Juice she really wanted."

Zoe giggled when her babysitter playfully glared at her.  She continued to laugh when something caught her eye.

Following her gaze, the other three saw Andrew come trudging up the last of the steps with Belle on his back.  A wearied but far less exhausted JenniAnn was just behind them.

"Thank... You... God..." the angel of death got out as he huffed and puffed.

"Pitty!" Belle shrieked when she saw the flag.

"Okay, okay!"  JenniAnn began to remove Belle from the carrier.  "We'll look at the flag while Daddy takes a much needed and much deserved rest."

Peter and the girls shifted so Andrew could take a seat beside them. 

"Thanks."  He took a long sip from his water bottle then whispered to Zoe who was nearest.

"Yep!  They agreed.  But are you going to feel up to going to the store?"

"Oh, yeah."  Andrew nodded.  "Just remind me to get ice packs, lots and lots of ice packs."

Peter grinned at him.  "You're a very good daddy, Andrew.  Now, as soon as you can stand again, get up there.  We need a picture of you three by the flag."

With a smile, Andrew nodded. 

"That would be nice.  There's a break in the crowd so I can do it now."  He got back onto his feet.  "Laja, let's do a photo."

"Aww, definitely!"

Once the three were posed, Peter took a couple photos.  Turning back to where the girls were, he was struck by how at ease they seemed.  Zoe's head was resting on Emma's shoulder and Emma was redoing Joccy's ponytail so she wouldn't have hair sticking to her neck.  Peter took a candid shot then continued to admire the tableau.  Not wanting to upset the teenagers, Peter fought back tears as he reflected on how truly beautiful his fiancee was.


Emma took a break between bites of her pasta and smiled at Peter who was clearly enjoying the dish.

"Joccy and Zoe sure know how to cook," Peter praised.

Emma nodded.  "I'm just glad they're getting to spend so much time with their grandma.  I only met her a couple of times but she just lights up a room."

"They've changed a lot... for the better... since I first met them that day they came to Adrian's.  They were so shy."

Emma glanced around to be sure neither Joccy nor Zoe happened to have come back upstairs.

"Shell-shocked, I think.  Little things they say sometimes make... make me realize how unhappy their home life was.  And lonely...  It does make me so glad to see how they've fit in with the other girls.  Girlfriends are a great thing to have.  I sometimes wonder how things would have been if I'd had a few really good friends back in high school.  But I do now... and now is what matters.  And the future, too." 

Sensing the conversation had taken a turn, Peter reached across the table and squeezed Emma's hand.

"I really would like to set a wedding date," Emma began.

"Me too.  Very much."

"Did you have any in mind?"

"Why don't you pick and I'll be sure to clear my calendar accordingly," Peter teased.

With a grin, Emma continued.  "Well... Rose made a strong case for June 4th.  And I do really like the idea of a June wedding.  And while I'm tempted to... to speed it up, I also like the idea of having time to actually plan.  It's like Liam said.  A lot of the fun is in the expectation.  Of course, I would want to double check with Max before telling everyone... just in case he thinks it's too close to their date... although I'm sure Rose knows his feelings on the matter.  But first...  What do you think?"

Peter rose and crouched beside Emma, taking both of her hands in his. 

"Nothing would make me happier than marrying you on June 4th, 2016." 

Emma knelt in front of her fiance and caressed his face.

"Thank you for... for being so patient and compassionate... for loving me even... even when it must have been really difficult."

"Emma..."  Peter shook his head.  "It was al-always... worth it."

Emma sighed when he brought her hand to rest over his heart.  She moved in to kiss him, wrapping her arms around his neck.

"You think we could call Max now?" she asked when they were apart.

Peter nodded.  "We can try!"  He pulled out his phone and dialed then put it on speaker phone.

"This is Max."

"Hey, Max.  It's Peter.  And Emma.  Any chance we could ask you and Rose something and, umm, is there any way you could be sure the others don't hear?"

"Sure.  Most everyone's at the playground area.  Let me grab Rose and head to one of the gazebos.  I hope this is what I think it is..."

Emma and Peter smiled at each other, listening as Max fetched Rose.

"It's Emma and Peter.  They need to talk to us... yeah, just us.  Let's head to the gazebo for privacy."

After some shuffling noise, they heard Rose's voice.

"Hi!  How's the romantic dinner?"

"Delicious and romantic," Emma replied.  "And the picnic?"

"Fun.  But not very romantic and pretty loud." 

"Maja and Dad had to deal with a little bit of a meltdown when someone wanted to play before eating... but Violeta's fine now."

Laughing, Emma and Peter envisioned Belle pitching a righteous fit.

"So..." Max prodded.  "Should I make sure I'm not scheduled at the comic book store on June 4th?"

"Max!  Don't be so pushy!" Rose protested.  "They could be calling about anything.  But it's about that?  Isn't it?  Huh?  Huh?"

Their eyes alight with amusement and joy, Emma and Peter could only smile for a few moments.  Finally, Emma spoke.

"Yes...  We're calling just to make absolutely sure that you're both fine with us getting married three weeks before you two."

"To be honest, I'm really touched that you even asked us," Max replied.  "But since you did... yes!  Definitely!  Rose mentioned that there was a chance and I've been hoping ever since.  Congratulations!"

"So happy for you!" Rose gushed.  "And we absolutely promise we won't tell anyone but... please don't make us hold this in for too long.  Please?"

Peter chuckled.  "We wouldn't think of it.  I think we need to tell Joccy and Zoe and then, of course, call my family.  Dusty, Doug, and Samson, too.  But we should have those calls done by the time you're all home and then we'll tell everyone.  Sound good?" he checked with Emma.

"Sounds great!"

"I can't wait til June..." Rose sighed.

Emma beamed at Peter.

"Me neither."

"It... it'll be something... something wonderful," Max agreed.

There was a long pause and Emma and Peter got the idea that Max and Rose would likely appreciate a bit of alone time in the gazebo.  And they had news to spread!

"Thank you both so much," Peter told the couple.  "We'll let you go now so we can start those calls.  See you soon!"

"Yay!" Rose cheered.  "Enjoy!"

"We will," Emma assured. 

"Have fun!  Talk to you later!" Max replied.



When the call ended, Emma and Peter peered at each other.

"Should we call the girls up?" she checked.

"Actually... looks like they texted us while we were talking.  They want to know if we're ready for dessert."

"Can you tell them we are so they'll come up?"

"Definitely."  Peter typed a quick message.

Only a few seconds passed before they heard footsteps coming up the stairs.

"How was dinner?" Joccy asked.

"Absolutely delicious!" Peter gushed.  "It makes me very excited for dessert."

"But first..."  Emma reached out and took the girls' hands.  "Peter and I have something we want to tell you."

The sisters exchanged a quick, hopeful look.

Peter stepped nearer and wrapped an arm around Emma's waist.

"Joccy... Zoe... Peter and I are getting married on June 4th of next year."

The announcement was met with screeching and clapping.  Both girls hugged Emma first then moved to Peter before deciding a four-person hug was the best way to show their support.

"I'm so happy for you both!" Zoe cried.

Joccy's eyes filled.  "So happy..." she echoed.  "I... I just wanted you to... to be happy, Emma.  A-and Peter... you're so great and... this is... is perfect."

"Aww, sweetie..."  Emma kissed her hair.  "Thank you."

Peter patted her on the back.

"That means a lot to me, Joccy and Zoe.  Both of you girls mean a lot to me and Emma and I are so happy that you're with us now to celebrate." 

Emma sniffled when both girls hugged Peter.

"I need a photo."

"But then we need a photo of you and Peter!  To remember tonight!" Zoe insisted.

"Absolutely," Emma agreed.  "Now, one, two, three..."

Emma's eyes filled when she looked at the three smiling faces on her phone.  For a moment, she remembered Derek's false promise: to marry her and raise the girls with her.  After drawing in and letting out a deep breath, Emma beamed.  Joshua's plan was so much better.  She was going to marry the man she truly loved and who truly loved her and, together, they would help raise Joccy and Zoe.

"Can I have a print?" Joccy quietly asked as she peeked over Emma's shoulder.

"You bet."

After Emma had given Joccy an affectionate squeeze, Zoe grabbed her hand and led her back towards Peter.

"Picture then dessert!"

Emma and Peter happily posed for the teens then joined them for brownie sundaes.

As they sat around the table, wedding planning began.

"Will you get married in your church?" Zoe asked.  "Or maybe Dyeland?"

"I think it'd be cool to get married in the theatre," Joccy opined.

Struck, Emma and Peter glanced at each other.

"I love that!  Getting married where we met..."  Emma began to dreamily imagine it.

"And the setup's perfect.  We have seating, an aisle, the lobby for the reception...  And it... it's also where we met Joshua."

"Do you think Joshua will be there?" Zoe asked after loading up her spoon with ice cream, brownie, whipped cream, sprinkles, and chocolate sauce.

"I really hope so," Emma responded.  "He's two for two on Friends' weddings."

Zoe sighed.  "It'd be so nice to see him again."

Joccy silently nodded as a lump formed in her throat.

"I wish he was here now.  Physically, I mean.  He'd be all over this sundae bar."

The girls met Peter's remark with laughter then began to joke about ways to integrate Froot Loops into wedding fare.

By the time they started their phone calls, Emma's and Peter's cheeks were sore from all the smiling and laughing they'd done.


September 23rd

Dr. Sayer smiled when she stepped into the waiting area of her office and found Emma perusing a wedding magazine.  It had become a common sight since Emma and Peter had returned from their vacation two months before.

"Emma, are you ready to come on in?"


Emma stuck a bookmark in the magazine and followed her psychiatrist into the counseling room.

"So have you found any good ideas?"

Emma laughed. 

"Well, I saw where, for favors, the bride and groom loaded mason jars with jam they'd made.  I don't know anything about making jam but Peter and I make our own salsa sometimes... mango, pineapple, corn, traditional...  That seems like it'd be fun."

"I definitely wouldn't complain!  Sounds delicious."

"It is!"  Emma smiled.  "Maybe Mama and Abuela could help us."

Dr. Sayer looked up from her notes.


Emma's face flushed slightly. 

"Peter's mother asked me if I would have any interest in calling her Mama... like Peter does.  At first I was a little taken aback but... but I like having a mom again.  And Mama just seems more... right than Rosario at this point.  We've talked a lot.  Actually...  The reason I couldn't make my appointment last week is she and Abuela... Renata... flew up to spend some time with Peter and me... mostly me.  It was more time than we'd ever spent together, just the three of us, and... and I ended up telling them everything.  It was easier than when I told Peter... I guess cause I'd already done it once... but still hard.  But they both hugged me so tight and cried with me.  I haven't felt that sort of love since the last time Joshua's mother was in town.  I talk to her... to Maryam... all the time but it's nice to have a couple mother figures who I'll be able to see more often."

"That's wonderful, Emma.  I'm very happy for you and that you could tell Peter's mother and grandmother about what happened shows how much progress you've made.  Congratulations!"

"Thank you.  I couldn't have done it without you and so many others," Emma demurred.

"I believe that's why we're put on this Earth.  To help each other.  I happen to know you do a lot of helping, too, Emma," Dr. Sayer reminded.

"I really try."

"And it shows.  So did you do any wedding planning or shopping when your Mama and Abuela came to town?"

"A little.  We bought some things for decorations and browsed dresses just a little bit."

"And how was that?  Have you felt at all stressed?"

"Oh no.  Not about the wedding.  It helps to think about how we're getting married in a place I feel so comfortable in.  St. G's really is like a second home.  And Dusty, my boss, is insisting on doing the catering.  No charge.  That's his gift to us.  So... comfortable place, comfort food."

"Good!  Any stress with the idea of marrying Peter, in general?"

Emma blushed.

"Actually... a little.  But in a good way, I think.  We're still really set on waiting until we're married.  But now that's... well, it feels more like resisting temptation than nervousness or worry.  I mean I'm still a little nervous about having a flashback or something but... I also feel excited.  I trust Peter and I love Peter and I'm excited to become even closer."

"That's wonderful, Emma!  And a perfectly normal, healthy way to feel.  Your pre-wedding counseling is going okay?"

"Oh yeah.  We have a couple friends, Zeke and Diana, working with us on that.  They've been married for almost twenty years."

"This is 'Judas', right?"

Laughing, Emma nodded.  "Right.  And Diana played a disciple our first year but she sat last year out because their baby was still nursing and, well, it's kinda a lot.  Anyway, that's been great.  And then I have you and Peter talks with Fr. Mike who, actually, he just asked to be his best man.  I really, really like that idea.  Peter and I both have a history with the Catholic Church... complicated ones.  But we both took some really beautiful things from it, too.  I don't think I could ever get married in the Church but having Fr. Mike there will be a nice reminder of those beautiful parts."

"It sounds like it.  It all sounds beautiful, Emma, and I can't wait for the big day!"

"Me neither..."

For a split second, Dr. Sayer saw Emma's smile falter.  She reached out and clasped her hand.

"Emma... something's bothering you.  What is it?"


After inhaling and exhaling deeply, Emma unloaded her latest worries onto Dr. Sayer.


September 26th

Emma twirled in front of one of the mirrors backstage, admiring the royal blue and golden gown that Monica had made for her.

"Oh... it's so beautiful!  Actually... I wouldn't mind something like this in ivory for my wedding."

Monica smiled.

"It could be done.  What color would you want the satin trim to be?"

Continuing to admire the dress, Emma thought. 

"Green.  Like the pashmina that goes with my Mary Magdalene costume.  It'd be nice to echo that.  But you don't have to worry about going to the trouble of making my dress, Monica.  Especially after all these costumes and then with The Secret Garden to come!  I'm sure I'll find something to buy.  This is so beautiful, though..."

Sitting nearby, Kemara smiled.

"I don't know, Emma.  Once one captures your heart, it's hard to think of any other dress," she cautioned.

"But I'm sure it's fun to look," Monica offered.  "Still... if you don't find any that capture your heart, you know where to find me."

Emma hugged the angel.

"Thank you.  It really is... just absolutely gorgeous." 

"You look gorgeous in it!" Kemara complimented.  "You should go see what Peter thinks."

With a grin, Emma nodded and moved to peek out onto the main stage where Andrew was directing Caleb, Peter,and some of the other guys in a sword fight.  The angel of death smiled when he saw her.

"All right, boys, let's pause it there.  I think maybe right now we're in need of a mood shift.  Maybe some 'I Loved You Once in Silence.'  What do you think, Emma?"

Hearing his fiancee's name, Peter spun around to look for her.  His face lit up with a wide grin when he saw her.

"I think I would like that very much," Emma replied.  "So long as my knight agrees."

"Heartily, milady," Peter replied, reaching for her hand.

Eric, modeling his King Arthur garb, stepped over from the other side of the stage.  He smiled as he studied the two.

"Andrew, what do you say to an Act II edit where Guenevere and Arthur have a very civil divorce, she and Lance marry, and Arthur runs off with one of the most beautiful stagehands ever?"

Neela smiled from where she was seated in the first row.

"And Mordred sees the error of his ways and, I don't know, maybe finds himself a really nice, cute audience member?" Caleb added on.

Andrew chuckled.  "I'd say I love it but I think Lerner and Loewe may disagree.  But I really do think we need to give Jenny and Lance a moment.  So everyone else clear the stage, please."

The rest of the cast and crew moved quickly, excited to see Emma and Peter perform as the star-crossed lovers for the first time in costume.

"Let's start right with the song," Andrew suggested as he looped his arm around JenniAnn's shoulders and balanced a CD player on his lap.

"Got it," Peter responded.

Though the scene wasn't properly set for the ballad, Emma and Peter took their places on either side of a riser, pretending it was Guenevere's bed.  Emma nodded to Andrew then, gazing at Peter, whose head was in his hands, she began to sing.

I loved you once in silence and mis'ry was all I knew.  Trying so to keep my love from showing, all the while not knowing you loved me, too.'"

Peter raised his head and gave her a tearful smile.

"'Yes, loved me in lonesome silence; your heart filled with dark despair.  Thinking love would flame in you forever, and I'd never, never know the flame was there.'"

Emma slid closer and reached out to Peter who clasped her hand in both of his.

"'Then one day we cast away our secret longing; the raging tide we held inside would hold no more.  The silence at last was broken!  We flung wide our prison door.  Ev'ry joyous word of love was spoken.'"

Peter's shoulders heaved.  He enveloped Emma in his arms then kissed her neck.

Emma shifted so their foreheads were touching.  She buried one hand in Peter's hair and used the other to lightly stroke his back.

"'A-and now there's twice as much grief, twice the strain for us; twice the despair, twice the pain for us as we had known before.'"

Peter kissed Emma who sunk against him for a few moments before pushing away.  She burst onto her feet and soon stumbled.

Peter went after her and wrapped his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder.

"'Jenny, it's because we're here, here in Camelot that everything is so wretched.'"

"'No, Lance.'"

"'Jenny, come away with me.  To Joyous Gard.  Let us have it open and above board at last!'"

Emma wrested herself away from him.

"'Lance, I've told you a thousand times I shall never leave Arthur.  Ever!  Now, let us say no more about it!'"

Peter stalked away from her and beat his hand against his heart.

"'But this agonizing torment!  Day after day, year after year.  Would God I had your talent for acceptance, your invincible English calm!'"

With tears in her eyes, Emma spun around and glared.

"'Oh, the insensitivity of sensitive men!  Always suffering so much they can suffer nothing for others!  You think you're the only one in torment?  I'm just as tortured, just as anguished as you.  But what would you have us do to this man we both love?  Run away?!  Leave him?!  Make him publicly miserable?!  Force him to declare war on... on you, where either one of you... if... if not both... would be killed, as well as hundreds of others?  What sort of heartbreaking solution is that?'"

Emma slumped onto a riser and began to sob.

Crestfallen, Peter knelt beside her and rested his head against her knees.

"'Forgive me, Jenny.  I shall never mention it again.  I swear.  Nor shall I come to you again.  I... I swear that, too.'"

Sitting up, he brought her hand to his lips then moved to leave.

Emma stood up and held her hand out.


Peter turned back to her.

"'Ha-have we no more tender words to say to each other?'"

Peter closed his eyes briefly then strode towards his beloved, clasping her hands.

Emma offered him a teary smile and resumed her song.

"'The silence at last was broken!  We flung wide our prison door.  Ev'ry joyous word of love was spoken.'"

"'And after all had been said, here we are, my love,'" Peter replied, reaching up to caress her cheek.

"'Silent once more, and not far, my love.'"  Emma grabbed his hand and covered it with kisses.

"'From where we were before,'" the couple finished together before clutching each other in a passionate embrace.

The Friends were silent for a few moments before responding with thunderous applause.

Emma and Peter, their arms about each other's waists, beamed.

"Thank you.  Really felt that one!" Peter revealed.

"Very, very much," Emma agreed, giving him a quick peck.

Caleb raised his hand.

Andrew laughed.  "Yes, Caleb?"

"I would like to conscientiously object to one of my duties in this musical.  Like that lady in the news.  But not illegally.  And because I have really good reason."

"Oh no..." Edward muttered.

"And what is it you object to, Caleb?" Andrew prodded, repressing his laughter since he couldn't tell if Caleb was joking or genuinely distressed.

"I don't want to pull those two apart!  Mordred sucks!  And what the hell was he doing slinking around a lady's bedroom, anyway!?  That's creepy!"

"Well... he is the villain," Sean pointed out.

"Still..." Caleb pouted.

Peter winked at Emma then, with her, descended the steps.

"Caleb, we hear your conscientious objection and will offer you an accommodation.  You have to pull Emma and me apart at the end of this song.  It's just...  It's how it's written.  But then... we'd like you to DJ for our wedding reception.  So you'll get to setup the songs my beautiful bride and I will dance to as we celebrate never being parted.  What do you think?"

Caleb beamed.  "I definitely like the sounds of that...  Accommodation accepted!"  He hugged Emma and Peter tightly.

Andrew winked at JenniAnn and stood.

"I'm glad we have that settled.  So now how about a lighter, group song?  Everyone up for 'Lusty Month of May'?" 

The majority of the group hurried to the stage while Emma and Peter lingered.

"I could get used to this look," Emma teased as she rested her hand against the open neck of Peter's tunic.

"You're looking exceedingly beautiful yourself," Peter replied.  "And this material feels really nice."

"Uh huh..."  Emma kissed him then hurried away and up the steps, grinning at him from onstage.

Peter let out a deep breath and jolted slightly when Eric clapped him on the back.

"We've all come a long way from those early JCS practices, huh?"

"A... a very long way," Peter agreed through the lump in his throat. 

"Thank Joshua for that."


The two men smiled at each other then moved offstage from where they would enter as Arthur made the fateful introduction of Lancelot and Guenevere.


Emma smiled when she heard singing coming from the costume room.  Stepping inside, she found Diana swaying with a sleeping Manny in her arms.

Diana returned the younger woman's smile then gently laid her son down in his playpen. 

"Now to get back to arranging these costumes!" she whispered.

"You really don't have to.  If you want to head home then I..."

Diana shook her head.  "Thank you but Zeke is hanging out at True Light until dinner and Sy and Kendra went with Ivy and Violeta to take Shelby to a movie for her birthday.  They'll probably have dinner at Willowveil so... Manny and I are on our own until 7:00 or so.  I wanted to try to get these all sorted by character.  You certainly have a lot of costume changes, Queen Jenny."

Emma laughed.  "I'm surprised Monica's fingers aren't all pin pricked and bloody!"

"I suppose when you have hundreds of years of practice..."


"Where's Peter?"

"He went with Andrew and Owen to pick up some wood for the sets.  I was thinking of just heading back to our apartment but when Kylie said you were in here..."  Emma stared down at her hands.

Diana placed a gentle hand on her friend's back.

"Emma, what is it?"

"It's something... kind of private that I was wondering about."

Diana waved to a faded but comfortable couch they kept in the room.

Emma sighed as she sat down.


Diana nodded.  "She loved this old couch.  She told me it was the first piece of furniture she and Doug bought together."

They were both silent for a few moments as they remembered her taking naps there on chemo days.

"Did you, umm, ever think it was odd they only had one kid?" Emma queried.  "I mean... they were so Catholic and... and they loved Toby so much."

"They would have liked to have had other children but it just didn't happen for them."

"Oh.  Was there... something wrong?"

Diana peered at Emma, trying to figure out why she was suddenly asking about Lucy and Doug.

"It... it's just...  Back in May when I was maternity clothes shopping with Kemara, Kylie, and Rose; I got to thinking about how with... with all the guys I've been with... and especially with Derek... I never had so much as a single pregnancy scare.  A-and with Derek... for a while I wasn't even on birth control.  And while I mostly had safe sex after that... I... I mean... well, sometimes condoms broke including with Er..."

Emma's face flushed.

Diana patted her on the back.

"With Eric.  Sweetie, most of us suspected something had happened between you two."

"It was just a one night stand.  I swear!"

"Does Peter know?"

"Yeah.  I told him before Eric even resurfaced.  Cause, well, he was the last person I was with..."

"And do you know if Neela knows?"

Emma nodded.  "I asked Eric and he told her... also before he showed back up."

"Well, if neither Peter nor Neela cares then there's no reason for anyone else to," Diana consoled.

"Yeah..."  Emma gave her a wavering smile. 

"So are you worried that you're infertile?" Diana softly questioned.

With tears in her eyes, Emma nodded.

"Well, I don't think Lucy would mind me telling you that she struggled with endometriosis.  That's why she and Doug only had Toby.  Emma, you'd know if you had that.  It's painful."

"Poor Lucy..."

Diana glanced up at the ceiling and smiled.

"I know it was a disappointment to her and Doug but they didn't wallow over it," she assured.  "They adored Toby and then they had those three beautiful grandbabies.  And they had kids like you, Emma.  So many St. G's babies!"

Emma smiled as she remembered Lucy's tenderness and Doug's continued care for her. 

"That's true.  And we love them..."

"We do," Diana concurred.  "You know, Zeke and I struggled for a while.  Hailey, Sy, and Kendra came so easily!  I'd always wanted to have four kids and Zeke agreed but..."  She looked over to Manny with glossy eyes.  "We just couldn't get pregnant again.  The doctors never could decide on a cause.  We wouldn't have Manny if Joshua hadn't..."

Emma hugged Diana.

After warmly returning the hug, Diana wiped at her tears and smiled at Emma.

"My point is, even if something were wrong... it's not hopeless, Emma.  There are treatments... and miracles.  And other options like adoption.  But I also don't think it's good to get worked up when you're not even sure you have a problem, sweetheart.  You were under duress when you were with Derek.  Stress is never going to be conducive to conception."

"Yeah... Kemara said that.  And Dr. Sayer, too, when I discussed this with her.  But the other times..."

"I know what Derek did to you was awful.  But I've also gotten the impression that your other partners... your time with them wasn't ideal.  Would you say you were ever unstressed when with them?"

Even though she hated revisiting those memories, Emma pushed herself to.  Eventually, she shook her head.

"No.  Because I was always worried that... that I'd have a flashback.  Or...  I... I slept with them because I was scared of being alone because I knew what I did to myself when I was alone."  Briefly, Emma's hand rested over her scars.  "But then I... I also knew that sometimes... sometimes they weren't good people to be with.  So I was scared of some of them, too."

"That may be the answer right there Emma.  And you'd be in a totally different, much better situation with Peter.  Still... I think for no other reason than peace of mind, you should see a doctor.  Have you?"

Emma bit her lip and shook her head.

"Not since this came up.  I intended to after that talk with the other girls.  But...  I actually went in for a physical and pap smear and everything shortly after Joshua left that first time.  I didn't totally freak out but I got really anxious and started shaking and everything and it kind of weirded the doctor out," she admitted.

"I'm sorry to hear that but I'm glad you went then."  Diana squeezed her hand.  "Everything was normal?"

Emma nodded.

"That's definitely a good sign.  Do you think going to Portia might help?  I know it could be a little awkward but I also think being with her might be less intimidating."

"I thought about that but if I still get worked up then Portia might feel bad and..."

"Emma, Portia works with the Phoenix.  I'm sure that wouldn't be the first time she'd experience that," Diana reasoned.

"Yeah... good point."

Diana could tell the prospect still made Emma nervous.

"Do you want me to go with you?"

"It's not going to be much of a fun outing," Emma fretted.

Diana gave her a sympathetic smile.

"No.  But it's important."

"I do think you being there would make me less nervous," Emma ventured.  "You have such a calming presence."

"Thank you, sweetie.  Do you want to try to call Portia right now?"

"Sure," Emma agreed with a nod.

When she didn't move, Diana reached for her own phone.  She dialed and put it on speaker then clasped Emma's hand as they waited.


That night as they ate dinner, Peter could tell that Emma was on edge.  She was slow to respond to his attempts at making conversation and kept absently staring out the window, at the fireplace, or at him. 

"Emma, sweetheart, what's wrong?" he finally asked.

Emma swallowed her salad then set her fork down and took a deep breath.

"I'm, umm, just in a weird mood, I guess.  Kind of anxious.  I, well... can I ask you something about Jaz?"


"Why didn't you two have kids?  Didn't she want them?  Or did you not at the time?"

"No, no.  We both definitely wanted kids.  But Jaz was a dancer and just about to take off at Julliard when she died.  She wanted a few years to enjoy her career first and I decided to use the time to earn a nest egg for us.  We, umm, thought we had time but..."  Peter smiled sadly and shook his head.

Emma reached for his right hand and clasped it in both of hers.

"I'm sorry."

Peter shrugged.  "I think it's for the best.  It would have been really, really hard to tell a little one that his or her mother wasn't coming home.  And, to be honest with you, I'm not sure I would have been the best father.  I really did go through a workaholic streak.  Over that now."  He smiled.

"Yeah...  You are."  Emma leaned over to kiss him. 

"So what brought that up?"

Emma blushed.  "Well...  I talked with Diana after you left with the guys and, umm, I told her about something that's been worrying me."


"It's just that, well, I... I'm kind of afraid that... that maybe I'll have trouble conceiving once we're... there."

Peter blinked.

"Emma, why would you think that?"

"It's just... don't you find it at all worrisome that... that with my past I... I never got pregnant or... or even thought that I might have gotten pregnant?  I mean don't get me wrong.  I'm glad I didn't because I could barely handle myself let alone an innocent child but..."

"I guess I don't really since you were on birth control and it was mostly safe sex," Peter answered.

"But accidents happen..."

"True.  Is there anything happening... or not happening... that has you concerned?"  Peter's heart began to race when it occurred to him that maybe Emma was unwell.

"No!  Not really,"  Emma reassured.  "I just..."  She heaved a sigh.  "Maybe I just got paranoid because I suppose I have babies on the brain a little.  I mean seeing Brittony and Diana with their little ones...  And even though she's older, Belle's still such a little cuddler.  And then Kemara...  I know everything's kinda scary but still...  To know such a huge miracle is happening inside of you!  I just... I want us to have that."

Peter hugged Emma tightly. 

"I want that, too.  But you mentioned Belle.  Belle's adopted.  And I know Andrew and JenniAnn think of her as a miracle... and rightly so.  How she came to them is a miracle, too.  It would be really, really great if we could have kids but that's not the only way, Emma.  Our miracle might happen in any of countless ways."

"You wouldn't be disappointed?"

"Well, sure.  Not at you.  Never at you.  And, for all we know, maybe I'd turn out to have difficulties.  I have no reason to believe that but you simply never know.  The situation would be disappointing but we'd get through it and welcome children into our family however God saw fit to send them to us.  But I still...  I don't want to see you worked up over something that's possibly nothing.  I wouldn't be the least bit concerned until we'd been trying for a year or so."

"Yeah...  So logical."  Emma smiled at him and caressed his cheek.  "Still... I made an appointment with Portia.  I'm overdue anyway and Diana thought maybe it'd give me peace of mind."

"I think that sounds like a great idea.  When's your appointment?"

"Tuesday at 3:00.  Diana's gonna leave school a little early to go with me.  I would have asked you but I thought it might help to have another woman with me."

Peter kissed her temple.

"Of course.  I understand completely.  I was planning to meet with Fr. Mike then so we'll be praying for you, sweetheart.  I really believe everything will be just fine."

Calming, Emma kissed Peter's hand.

"Thank you.  I hope so.  I really would like to see a mini-Peter Garcia-Campbell."

Peter chuckled. 

"I'm not sure about that.  I was a pretty homely baby."

"No, you weren't!  I've seen the photos!"

"Totally was!" Peter countered with a grin.  "My ears were practically the same size as they are now.  I looked like Dumbo."

Emma giggled. 

"Okay... your ears were a little big...  But they'd be perfect on our baby."

Peter's expression softened.

"They would be," he agreed, caressing Emma's face.

For a few moments, each was lost in imaginings of their future and the little ones they hoped would be part of it.


Tuesday, September 29th

"So do you think she has any reason to worry?" Peter asked as he helped Fr. Mike pot mums to be delivered to the sick and homebound in the parish.

The priest shook his head as he dumped another cupful of soil into a bright green pot.

"I really don't.  One of my sisters had a hard time getting pregnant.  Then, after four years, she and her husband announced they were expecting.  We were all thrilled, of course.  My sister, always a sensitive soul, ended up confiding that she had a really combative co-worker who was making 9 hours out of every day hellish.  She conceived a month after the co-worker was shown the door.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  But I think it's proof that stress can do bad things to our bodies.  Between stress, birth control, and protection... I don't think it's at all startling that Emma never got pregnant."

Peter let out the breath he'd been holding. 

"Good.  That's what I think, too.  Just helps to hear you say that."

"I'm glad.  But... it does beg the question: would you be okay if it turned out you and Emma couldn't conceive?" Fr. Mike gently inquired.

"Disappointed... in the situation, not her.  And that's exactly what I told Emma.  And also that, for all we know, it could be an issue with me.  But it does worry me because I know how she is.  First, she felt bad because she thinks she put me through a lot.  And, yeah, there were some scary times in the beginning... like when she ran away from Joshua.  But the good has outweighed the bad and it's not even been a close competition.  Then she felt bad thinking about how our first time might be difficult... and that made her put off setting a date.  But I really believe we can get through that.  But if there is something to this worry of hers...  I wonder if I'll be able to convince her that I'm not upset with her?  I really would be open to adoption."

"But maybe Emma's not."

Peter dropped the spade he was using.

"How can you think that?"

Fr. Mike grimaced.

"Sorry!  That came out very ungracefully but I had a sudden thought.  Hear me out, please.  It's not that I think Emma would be opposed to adoption.  But what if she's wary of it?  You told me what Derek did... how he used Jocelyn and Zoe.  I think it's possible that, in Emma's heart, she already adopted two children.  And she lost them."

Tears welled in Peter's eyes.  He thought of how Emma interacted with the girls.  Motherly was definitely the word.  He remembered, too, how broken up she'd been about missing so much of their lives.

"Thankfully, they've reunited," the priest continued.  "But Emma did miss out on a lot, Peter.  So the idea of adoption might be really scary for her.  Do I think she could move past that?  Absolutely.  But that could be part of what's driving her worries now.  She may think that the only way she'd be guaranteed to be able to keep her child is if she physically delivered that child.  And if she can't do that?  Yeah, I can see where the possibility would shake her."

Peter let out a ragged sigh.

"I think you're right... totally right."

"I think it was an inspiration from Joshua," Fr. Mike admitted. 

"He does know her heart," Peter murmured.  "I'll try to talk to her about this."

"Good idea."  Fr. Mike clapped him on the back before reaching for another mum and pot. 

"Hey, what time is it?" 

The priest glanced at his watch.


"Emma's heading into her appointment.  Could we say a prayer?"

"Absolutely.  You lead?"

Peter nodded and took his friend's hands.

"Joshua, please bestow your peace on Emma.  Make her feel as comfortable and calm as possible.  Help her to focus on Diana's and Portia's support and care... not the pain.  And, please, Joshua... if it's Your will... give Emma some answers so she can let go of this worry.  And if you could give me the words to confront her underlying fears, I'd really appreciate that."

"Josh, surround both Emma and Peter with Your unceasing love.  Please use this current trial to bring them even closer.  We've already seen so many miracles that You've worked through their love.  We know there are more to come and we turn it over to You to decide what form those miracles will take."



Peter hugged Fr. Mike.

"Thanks.  I already feel better."

"Good.  For what it's worth, I think you already made a good first step with comforting Emma tonight." 

Peter smiled at the pot of asters that the priest had waved to.  He'd bought them for Emma when they'd gone to pick up the mums.

"I hope so."

After allowing himself a brief pause to imagine his fiancee's sparkling eyes as she peeked over the blooms and drank in their scent, Peter resumed working on the mums with his best-man-to-be.


Emma smiled as she breathed in the fresh scent of the flowers that were awaiting her when she returned home. 

"Thank you.  I love them... but I love you more."

Peter smiled as she nuzzled his neck before kissing him.

"I love you, too.  I'm glad you like them.  How was your appointment?"

"Uncomfortable but not awful.  And... I didn't freak out.  I held Diana's hand during the bad parts and I was fine.  I won't have the test results for a couple of weeks but Portia didn't see anything alarming.  And she gave me this."

Emma pulled a thermometer out of her purse.

"A thermometer?"

"Yeah but a special kind.  It tracks basal body temperature... which is your temperature right when you wake up, before you even get up.  It gets kinda technical but the short version is that if I notice my temperature spiking slightly at a particular time every cycle then that means I'm ovulating.  Which would be a big deal because Portia says ovulation disorders are one of the main causes of infertility.  Sorry, this is probably too much information."

Peter wrapped an arm around her waist.

"Not at all.  But if Portia doesn't suspect anything's wrong, why did she give that to you?"

With a slight blush, Emma reached into her purse again and withdrew a chart.

"I'd use this for tracking.  Portia thinks if I can just see the spikes month after month then it'll make me feel better.  She really is a wonderful doctor.  It's not that I doubted before but... now I know personally.  She knows that this is bothering me so even if it's nothing... she just knew I needed something concrete to make myself feel better."

"Portia's a wonderful doctor and friend.  We're both very blessed in the regard.  Actually... I had a kinda big moment with Fr. Mike."

"Oh?  Tell me about it?"

"Sure.  Is there anything you want to do first, though?  Change or..."

"Actually... I'm dying for a shower.  Is that okay?"

"Absolutely.  I'll start some dinner."

Emma kissed his cheek.

"Thanks, Peter mine."

"You're welcome, my Emma."

Beaming, Emma went to her room to collect some fresh clothes.

While she was showering, Peter preheated the oven for a pot pie.  Since it would be a while, he got out some carrots and spinach artichoke dip for snacking.  He was slicing up a pepper when Emma returned.

She laughed when she saw what he had.

"You do love your spicy food!"

Peter grinned.  "Almost as much as I love chocolate."

"Well, at least we won't be arguing over our wedding cake!  The more chocolate the better.  Although I suppose we should have an alternative for the non-chocolate eaters."

"True.  Maybe we can ask Adam about his vanilla raspberry cake."

"Yum.  I'd have to have a slice of each," Emma opined as she dunked a carrot.

"Me too."

"So now... Fr. Mike."

"Right.  Let's go sit down first."

Peter grabbed the tray and brought it to the coffee table.

Once they were both seated, Peter took Emma's hands in his.

"Emma, I mentioned our talk on Saturday with Fr. Mike because I..."

"Peter, you don't need a reason.  I told you that you could confide in him about anything.  I trust Fr. Mike.  Joshua does.  John does.  So why shouldn't I?"

Peter smiled.

"Yeah, thanks.  I appreciate that a lot.  Anyway, he asked me about how I felt about adoption and I told him what I told you.  And then he brought up that maybe adoption would be difficult for you.  It occurred to me that I didn't ask you how you felt about it, Emma."

Emma bowed her head as her eyes welled.

"I... I don't want to adopt."

Peter stroked her hair.

"Is it because of Joccy and Zoe?  Fr. Mike thought maybe..."

Emma jolted in shock.  She was surprised that the priest would have made that connection.  Her lip trembled as she tried to keep from crying.  She felt like she'd done enough of that lately.  But it was no use.  She nodded as the tears began to trickle down her cheeks.

"I... I wanted to adopt them."

"I know, sweetheart."

"B-but then... then they drove me away from them a-and I didn't even get to... to say good bye.  I... I wasn't there for... for so long.  I... I diapered and fed and bathed Zoe and I helped Joccy fix her hair and pick out her outfits and do her homework and I'd soothe them when they cried or had nightmares but then... then nothing."

Peter held Emma as she softly cried.

"I don't want anyone to... to take away my babies ever... never again," she quavered.

"Oh, Emma...  My poor Emma...  No one will," Peter assured.  "Even if we did adopt, those stories that make the news... they're such a rarity.  Think of Andrew and JenniAnn.  They even met some of Belle's birth family and Belle's still with them.  That's the way it usually is.  But I am still so sorry about what happened to you and Joccy and Zoe.  And I can understand now why that would make adoption not seem like a real option and how that would then feed into your worries about not being able to get pregnant."

Emma nodded against his shoulder. 

"I... I just want to have my own baby so... so I would know..."

Peter ran his hand up and down her back.  He knew this fear was unlike the infertility one.  Emma only had small reason to worry about being unable to conceive.  But losing a child one hoped to adopt?  That had been reality for her and no amount of reason would help in that moment.

"I want that for you... for us.  So let's put any idea of adoption aside for now, okay?"

Emma swiped at a tear and nodded.

"It... it's not that I don't think it's a really, really good thing to do but..."

"I understand, I do."

Emma attempted a smile.

"Thanks.  A-and seeing Portia did make me feel more optimistic about us having kids.  She said that there are treatment options if it did end up being an issue.  We even talked about some."

"Good.  I'm really glad you feel better about that.  But Emma, there's just one more thing I want to say about this."

"Go on."

Peter cradled her face in his hands.

"I am truly sorry about what happened to you and the girls.  But now that you're back in contact, I hope you can see how much you mean to them.  You're a natural with them.  So I know, however it happens, you're going to be an amazing mom someday."

Emma sniffled.

"You really think so?"

"I absolutely know so.  You have doubts?"

"Being a mom is different from being a babysitter, Peter."

"I know.  But you're much more than a babysitter to Joccy and Zoe, sweetheart.  They don't need a babysitter any more but they still need you."

"Yeah...  And I need them."

"I know."

Emma sighed and sunk against her fiance.  She closed her eyes and let the sound of his heart soothe her until she felt completely calm.

"I want Joccy and Zoe to be in my bridal party," she announced.

Peter's face lit up.

"I think that's a great idea!  I'm sure they'd love that."

"I'm going to call them now!"

Peter beamed as Emma burst up from the couch and went for her phone so she could call the sisters.

While she was talking to them, Peter stared at the photo of Joshua on the mantel.  He prayed that Portia's hunch would be correct and that Emma would be fine so she wouldn't have to face her deeper fear. 


Wednesday, September 30th

The following night at Bible study, Emma and Peter were taking their turn watching the kids.  They sat in the window seat of the playroom, not wanting to intrude on the children.

"I have a feeling Shelby might turn out to be a teacher," Emma posited as she watched the older girl patiently play an alphabet game with Omar and Belle. 

"Could very well be," Peter agreed.  "It runs in her family."

After abandoning a doll she'd been playing with, Aiyla plopped down beside Belle and hugged her.  Belle giggled in response and threw her own arms around her cousin.

Nearby, Liam looked up from the truck he'd been pushing.  He left it sitting on its track and headed over to the others.

"Looks like everyone wants to play with the alphabet!" Emma chirped.

However, it soon became apparent that was not the case.

"She's my cousin!" Liam bellowed.

"Uh oh!" Peter exclaimed, rising from his seat and heading towards the kids.

"Liam!" Shelby cried.  "Everyone here are cousins so..."

Not content to be defended, Aiyla stood up and put her hands on her hips.

"She's my cousin, too!" she shouted.

"She was my cousin first!" Liam countered.

Omar began to bawl.

Belle crumpled to the floor.

"Oh no..." Emma murmured as she hurried towards the squabbling and crying group.

"Liam, Aiyla, you're both Belle's cousins," Peter reminded as he wedged himself between them.  "And you know what, you're also each other's..."  He stopped speaking when he saw Emma pick up Belle and cradle her.

"B-Belle?" Liam whimpered, trying to step around Peter.

Emma peered down at the toddler who was squinting and holding her stomach.

"Peter, go get Andrew and JenniAnn.  I think she's having a s-e-i-z..."

Peter nodded before leaving the room.

Shelby gasped and knelt beside Emma.

"Oh Belle..." Shelby murmured, reaching for her hand.

Belle let out a shaky breath then began to whimper.

"It's okay, sweetie.  Mama and Daddy will be right here," Emma cooed as she snuggled Belle closer.

Still crying, Omar crawled over to Emma and rested his head on her knee.

Emma stroked the boy's thick curls which were nearly identical to Belle's.

"Did... did I hurt Belle?" Liam asked as he knelt in front of them, his eyes brimming.

"No, Liam.  Belle just sometimes gets a little sick but she'll feel better soon.  We're all going to have to be very gentle and quiet, though.  Can you do that?"  Emma peered at Liam and Aiyla.  "Peter and Shelby were right earlier.  You're both Belle's cousins and it doesn't matter who was first.  Belle loves you, Liam, and you, Aiyla, and you, little Omar.  And because you're all her cousins, that also means you're each other's cousins.  So you should all be friends.  Okay?"

"Okay," Liam and Aiyla answered in unison.

"Hug?" Aiyla checked.

Through his tears, Liam smiled and nodded.

"There you go!" Emma cheered as the two embraced.

Watching, Omar decided he needed hugs, too.

Once the younger boy had released him, Liam again gazed intently at Belle.

"I... I think I did hurt her.  I made her sad and then... then..." 

"Liam, have you ever had a headache?"

The little boy nodded.

"Okay, well, what Belle has is kind of like that," Emma explained.  "And it happens, sometimes, when she gets upset.  But sometimes it just happens for no reason anyone can tell.  You didn't do this to her.  But I think it would be a good idea to play quietly because she's going to be pretty tired for the rest of the night.  Actually... you know what I think would really help?"

"Wh-what?" Liam pressed.

"Could you sing a song to her?"

Liam nodded.

"Can I sing, too?" Aiyla whispered.

Liam and Emma both nodded.

"Do you know the Beauty and the Beast song?" Liam asked.

Aiyla responded with an eager nod.

When Peter returned with Andrew, JenniAnn, Vincent, Monica, Arthur, Isra, and Behnam in tow; they found the little group clustered around Belle with Liam and Aiyla singing.

"'Tale as old as time, true as it can be.  Barely even friends then somebody bends, unexpectedly.'"

"I'll go peek at Belle but looks like Emma has this under control," Andrew whispered.

When she saw her father, Belle gave a weary smile but didn't move beyond squirming so she could better see Liam and Aiyla.

Shelby stood up and hugged Andrew.

"Belle had a seizure," she reported, her voice hushed.

Andrew nodded.  "I know.  Peter told us.  She'll be fine once she rests and she looks pretty comfy right now."

"Emma did a really good job.  She got Aiyla and Liam to stop fighting and took care of Belle and Omar.  He was crying."

Emma eyes filled as she peered down at Belle who was attempting to sing along.  She found herself wondering if her and Peter's baby might look at all like Belle with her olive skin and thick, dark curls.

Once the older kids had finished their song, Andrew crouched near Emma and lightly squeezed Belle's hand.

"Hi there, baby girl.  How are you feeling?"

"Eepy..." Belle replied.

"I know..." Andrew bent to kiss her forehead before directing his attention to Emma.

"Thank you, Emma, for taking care of our little elf.  Do you want me to take her now so you can go back to the group?" he offered.  "JenniAnn and I were headed in here soon, anyway."

Emma smiled and shook her head.

"Actually...  This feels really nice.  I wouldn't mind keeping Belle."

Approaching, JenniAnn heard Emma's response.

"She does look awfully content...  Aren't you, sweet girl?"

Belle gave another sleepy smile and patted her mother's hand. 

"You wanna stay with Aunt Emma?" JenniAnn checked.

Belle nodded.  "Aunt Emma..." she cooed, smiling at the woman.

Emma returned her smile and caressed her face.

Monica stepped closer and set a hand on JenniAnn's shoulder.

"I'm going to stay.  Liam's still a little upset.  If anything more happens, I could run and get you and Andrew," she offered.

Reluctant to leave but also sensing she wasn't really needed, JenniAnn nodded.  She kissed Belle's hair.

"Daddy and I are gonna go back downstairs, is that okay?"

Belle nodded again.

Vincent stepped towards them, holding out Belle's blankie which he had fetched when he saw how lethargic she was.

"Appa..."  Belle reached out for him and the blanket. 

Vincent smiled and knelt in front of his granddaughter, laying the blanket over her.

Emma gently tucked it around the girl.

Belle let out a contented sigh and turned into Emma before closing her eyes.

"Thank you, Emma," Vincent whispered.

"It's no problem at all.  But I think I am going to move back to the window seat where it's quieter."

Peter helped his fiancee to her feet.

"Monica, how about we get the older kids focused on a game?" he suggested.  "Cheer them up."

The angel readily nodded.  "Very good idea."

Noticing that Belle kept opening her eyes, Andrew took JenniAnn's hand.

"Let's go.  I think we're just keeping her up.  You're sure you're okay, Emma?"


JenniAnn hugged her shoulders.

"Thank you."

"You're very welcome.  We'll see you soon."

JenniAnn nodded to Andrew then, with Vincent, they briefly talked with Isra, Behnam, and Arthur before all six left the room.

Peter rested a hand on Emma's shoulder.

"I'll go help Monica so long as you're good here?"

"Very good."

Peter stooped to kiss her cheek.

"You are," he whispered.

"Thank you," Emma replied, smiling at him.

Peter nodded, returned her smile, and then joined Monica and the kids in putting together a Frozen puzzle.

Emma stroked some curls away from Belle's forehead.

"You want to go to sleep, sweetie?"

Belle nodded.

"Okay.  It's okay."

"Awn?" Belle requested.

"Song?" Emma checked.

The toddler gave a nod.

"You bet!"

Emma began to softly sing Maryam's lullaby, shifting to humming when Belle drifted to sleep.

Looking up from the girl, Emma caught Peter staring at them.  She blushed slightly when she saw the wistful look in his eyes but there was something else, too.  Pride.  Emma peered back down at Belle.

"I can do this," she whispered.


A half hour later, the group in the playroom joined the others for cookies and ice cream in the ballroom.  Belle had roused a bit and sat on JenniAnn's lap, gnawing at an oatmeal cookie.  Diana, Kemara, Kylie, Rose, and Emma were clustered around them as they enjoyed their own desserts.

"So how did you know she'd had a seizure?" Kemara asked Emma.

"She just dropped to the ground so suddenly but it didn't seem like she'd ever lost consciousness so I didn't think she'd fainted," Emma explained.  "Then she just looked so confused and tired.  Poor love..."

Belle smiled when Emma reached over to pat her head.

"I'm sure that's what happened," JenniAnn agreed.  "I can remember when I was younger and one hit, I ended up sitting at the boys' lunch table.  Eeek!  But it was just because I had to sit down right that moment because I was too exhausted to walk a few more steps to my usual table."  She kissed Belle's curls and gave her an affectionate squeeze.

"I'm glad she doesn't convulse because that can be so dangerous but it's also kind of worrisome that it's so hard to tell.  What if one of the twins has that sort of epilepsy?  How would I know?" Kemara questioned.  "Especially when they're tiny and don't move much, anyway?"

JenniAnn cast her friend a sympathetic look.

"Well, they can sometimes tell with brain scans and stuff.  It also helps that the best treatment is just what we're doing now: comforting Belle, letting her sleep when she wants.  If Ian or Joy fussed, even if you didn't know the cause, you or Sean would console them.  They'd be fine."

"True..."  Kemara smiled at her niece and imagined. 

"How you feeling, sweetie?" Rose inquired

Belle nodded but refused to relinquish her cookie in order to speak.

JenniAnn laughed.  "Back to normal, I take it.  But it will be an early night to bed."  She turned to Emma.  "You really did do a wonderful job with her.  Andrew and I were a bit torn about going back to Bible study but she just looked so content with her Aunt Emma."

"Aww, thanks.  I was pretty content myself.  It felt so nice to cuddle."  Emma sighed happily.

"Peter and Shelby said you were really great with the other kids, too," Kylie relayed.

Blushing, Emma shook her head.

"It was nothing.  I think Liam and Aiyla would have resolved their disagreement on their own with more time.  And Omar just needed a little attention."

"Still...  Sometimes when Belle's like this, I get so wrapped up in her that I'm not sure I woulda had the wherewithal to deal with the other kids.  It's really great that you could," JenniAnn praised.

Diana patted Emma's back. 

"She's right.  Take the compliment, Emma," she whispered.

"Thank you," Emma murmured.

"You're very welcome," JenniAnn replied.

"I have a question."

Emma turned to Kylie who had spoken so softly.


"During our prayer requests, you thanked God for a promising outcome from a doctor's appointment.  I was hoping... did that have to do with what we discussed when we all went shopping for Kemara's maternity clothes?"

Rose and Kemara each roused from their own mental musings and directed their attention to Emma.

With a smile, the woman nodded.

"I don't have any test results yet but Portia was pretty optimistic.  She definitely didn't see anything that caused her concern.  So that was really great to hear.  And she also went over what we discussed that day... stress and everything.  And it's not that I didn't believe all of you but..."

"Of course it's more assuring to hear it from a doctor," Rose offered.

"Yeah.  But then... I got a little uncertain about whether I'd actually be a good mother... a fear Peter immediately shot down but... it was still there a little.  Tonight, though..."  Emma's eyes misted.

JenniAnn reached over to set a hand on hers.

"Tonight should reassure you, Emma.  You handled everything beautifully."

Kemara nodded.  "And it's not like, when you have a baby, you have to know everything right away.  Sean keeps reminding me of that... and of how much support we have.  I know I can call Diana or Zeke or Andrew or JenniAnn or our parents and so on if I have a question."

"And questions are normal," JenniAnn confirmed.  "I mean Andrew's crazy old and he didn't even know everything."

Emma laughed.  "That also makes me feel better!"

 "It should," Diana responded.  "Emma, I think you'll be a wonderful mother."

"Seconded!" Kemara chimed in.

"Thirded," Rose echoed.

Kylie laughed.  "Fourthed."

"Fifthed," JenniAnn finished.  "And I think Belle here would 'sixthed' if she could pronounce it... and if that cookie wasn't just so good!"

Emma beamed at them all and began a round of hugs.

"Thank you... that does make me feel better."

"And thank God for that!" Diana cheered.

Belle popped the last bite of cookie in her mouth then smiled at Emma.


Laughing, Emma turned to JenniAnn.

"Did she just ask for another cookie?"

Sighing, JenniAnn nodded.

"She loves her sweets just like Mama and Daddy.  I suppose one more would be fine."

"Belle, can I take you to pick out another cookie?" Emma offered.

Belle nodded and held out her arms towards her aunt.

After relinquishing Belle, JenniAnn smiled after her and Emma.

"I think this is definitely one of those times Joshua worked Belle's condition for good," she observed.

The other four women nodded as they watched their friend and niece approach the snack table.

"Thank you, Joshua," Kemara prayed.

"Amen," the others echoed.


When Emma and Peter returned to their apartment, she began making spiced milk while he started a fire.  A few minutes later, they cuddled together on the couch.

"I was so proud of you tonight," Peter praised as he kissed Emma's forehead.  "I have to admit, I was a little bit terrified when Belle was so dazed but you... you knew exactly what to do."

"Except I didn't really.  I mean if you'd asked me what to do after a child has a complex partial seizure... I would have been clueless.  But it just seemed right to snuggle with Belle.  Andrew and JenniAnn said they'd leave her feeling confused and weakened and who wouldn't want to be cuddled then?"

Peter nodded.  "You have good instincts, sweetheart.  Now do you feel more confident that you'll be a good mom?"

Emma gave him a smile and a nod.

"Yeah and I think you'll be a very good daddy.  Omar was hanging all over you.  And I saw that big hug Liam gave you."

"Poor little guy.  I think tonight's gonna stick with him longer than it will for Belle.  And Omar's great.  Doesn't say much but such a bright little fellow.  You should have seen him getting those puzzle pieces in place!"

"Isra was telling me that Vincent asked a Helper to evaluate him since he's speech-delayed.  I think there was a little concern about autism.  But the lady thinks Omar is just so self-sufficient that he hasn't really grasped how useful speaking is... and that maybe Aiyla's just a little bit into the habit of speaking for him.  Anyway, the specialist is pretty confident that the more he's around other kids and sees them laughing and chatting, the more he'll join in.  I thought he was already a bit more chatty than the first time we met him."

"I think so," Peter agreed.  "I'm pretty sure he was trying to tell me about Yonah at one point.  Do you think Vincent will let them have a dog or cat or some sort of pet in the house?  Both Omar and Aiyla seemed awfully into Fawn, Lulu, and Theo."

Emma rested her finger against her lips and grinned.

"Ah, Isra mentioned something else, I take it."

"Yeah.  I guess Vincent actually approached her and Behnam about it after he noticed how much the kids love the Willowveil pets.  They're going to start looking, ideally for a cat and a dog since Aiyla seems to prefer cats and Omar likes dogs."  Emma sighed.  "It feels good to know that, when we do have kids, they'll be surrounded by such caring, generous people.  And the girls and I were talking about how nice it is to have other, more seasoned parents to run things by."

Peter chuckled.  "I think, in the years ahead, Diana and Zeke especially may be fielding panicked but not terribly serious phone calls."

"Definitely!  And some of them will be from us, you think?"

Peter cradled Emma's face and nodded before resting his forehead against hers. 

Emma stroked her beloved's hair before leaning in for a kiss.  Then, abruptly, she stood up.

"I just remembered!  I have something for you and meant to give it to you before Bible study," Emma announced.

Peter laughed as she hurried into her room.

"Please tell me I didn't forget an important date."

Emma smiled and shook her head when she returned.

"No.  I just wanted you to have this."

Peter beamed as he took the small box Emma held out to him.

"Thank you."

"I hope you like it.  I think I'll have to explain a little."

"I'm sure I will, sweetheart."

Peter ripped away the paper then pulled the lid off the box.  At first, he thought the gift was a bracelet.  Only when he removed it from the box did he see what it truly was.

"Abuela mentioned how much you used to like her rosary and how you'd sometimes pray with it.  But then she also told me about how you wouldn't touch it after you found out about why your family left the Catholic Church."

Peter gave her a wistful smile as he fingered the beads.

"I just couldn't understand why anyone... let alone a whole church filled with supposedly good people... wouldn't want my Mama and Daddy to be married.  Of course, I understand now that it was a bunch of racist people who just happened to be Catholic... not that Catholicism itself is racist.  But as a kid..."

Emma hugged him.

"I know.  Anyway, I saw Father... Tunnels Father... with a rosary which I thought was kinda weird since he's not Catholic.  So I asked him about it and he said it was an Anglican rosary.  He showed it to me and this is what it looked like."

Emma pulled the rosary from the box so Peter could better see the beads arranged in four groups. 

"Father wrote down how to pray it.  That's the note there.  But he also said the beads are often just used for aids.  So I thought you could pray whatever you want.  And I also thought...  Since it's four groups and since we've been talking about having kids...  Maybe it could be about that.  Family.  The first group for Joshua and then for Yosef and then for Maryam and then for Joshua again.  At least, that's the way I was thinking of praying mine.  Asking them for guidance, you know?  I made one for myself, too."

Peter blinked back tears.

"You made this?"

Her cheeks flushed, Emma nodded.

"Andrew gave me bits of wood he wasn't going to use and various stains.  It was actually really fun making the beads.  At first I was kind of disappointed about how they're not at all uniform but..."

Clasping the rosary, Peter embraced Emma tightly.

"Knowing you made it makes me love the gift even more.  It's perfect, sweetheart."  Peter kissed her cheek.  "Thank you.  And I... I really like your idea on how to pray it.  And... and tonight, I'll use it when I thank the three of them, Joshua, Maryam, and Yosef, for helping us come together because I can't imagine the past year and a half without you, Emma.  I love you so much... so, so much."

Emma felt both dizzy and wonderful as Peter covered her face in gentle kisses.  Gazing into his love-filled eyes, Emma knew that she could make it through any challenge that they would face together... with Heaven on their side.



Friday, October 30th

"It's that door just on the right, girls," Emma directed as she and Peter, holding hands, strolled behind Joccy and Zoe.

"Ooh, I like this place!  It's like a home!" Zoe gushed as she stepped inside.  She smiled at a woman who hovered near a coffeemaker.

"Well, hello, young lady!  How can I...  Emma, Peter!"

Emma gently pushed past Joccy who had hung back near Peter.  She approached Gayle, Dr. Sayer's assistant.  The two women embraced.

"Hi Gayle!  I know it's not my usual day and we won't stay long but Peter and I just wanted to drop in."  Emma waved to the two girls.  "This is Zoe and her older sister, Joccy.  I used to babysit them when they were two adorable little girls.  Of course, I still think they're awfully adorable."

Beaming, Zoe approached and held her hand out to Gayle.


The older woman returned her smile and shook her hand.  "Hi there, Zoe!"

Shyly, Joccy mimicked her sister.

"Hi," she murmured.

"Nice to meet you, honey."

"Joccy and Zoe are staying with us over the weekend so they can celebrate Halloween at St. Genesius'," Peter explained. 

Gayle clapped.  "Wonderful!  My grandkids are so looking forward to it!"

"Me too!" Zoe chirped.

Emma wrapped an arm around Joccy's shoulders.

"The girls are also here to help us make some deliveries.  Dr. Sayer wouldn't happen to be in between clients, would she?" she asked hopefully.

"As a matter of fact, she is.  She's having lunch, actually, but I know she won't mind being interrupted.  Let me go get her."

While Gayle went to fetch the psychiatrist, Emma withdrew two envelopes from her purse.

Peter smiled and squeezed her hand.

"Emma!  And Peter, too!" Dr. Sayer greeted as she approached, a wide smile on her face.  "And who have you brought with you?"

"Dr. Sayer, this is Jocelyn... Joccy... and her younger sister, Zoe," Emma introduced.

Dr. Sayer smiled tenderly at the two teenagers. 

"Hi, Joccy and Zoe.  I'm so happy to meet you.  Emma speaks so warmly about you two."

"We're so happy to be here!" Zoe gushed. 

"We love visiting Emma and Peter," Joccy added.  "Especially this weekend."

"Because of Halloween?" Dr. Sayer guessed.

"Well, that, too..." Zoe answered, casting a furtive glance at the envelopes in Emma's hand.

Peter laughed.  "You better hand em over, Emma.  Zoe's about to burst."

Grinning, Emma glanced down at the envelopes and handed the appropriate ones to the two women.

"Isn't this beautiful?" Gayle mused as she carefully broke the seal on the envelope.

Emma noticed her psychiatrist had tears welling as she opened her own missive.

"It really is beautiful," Dr. Sayer praised as she admired the card it contained.

"June 4th..." Gayle murmured.

Peter stepped behind Emma and set a hand on her shoulder.

With tears in her own eyes, Emma nodded.

"Gayle, that first time I came in here with Joshua and Peter, you were so kind and calm.  And all the times you sat with me as I waited for my appointment...  And... and, Dr. Sayer, I'm not sure Peter and I would have gotten to this place without your guidance so... so we didn't want to get married without you there... if you can be and want to be."

Gayle hugged Emma and then Peter.

"You can count on me!" she accepted.

Dr. Sayer brushed at a stubborn tear and sighed contently.

"Me too.  I... I'm going to add it to my calendar the very moment I get back to my desk!"

Emma's smile lit up her face as she embraced her psychiatrist.

Before breaking away, Dr. Sayer clasped her hand.

"I'm so proud of you, Emma."  Her gazed shifted to Peter.  "Of both of you.  This..."  She looked back down to the save-the-date card she was still clutching.  "This is going to be an amazing wedding that's going to lead to an even better marriage.  I can't wait!"

As Emma was again swept up in hugs from Dr. Sayer and Gayle, Zoe stood nearby and smiled giddily. 

Peter noticed that Joccy, though, appeared to be on the verge of tears. 

"Joccy, what's wrong?" he questioned in a hushed voice.

"Will... will you still let us visit when you and Emma are... are married?" the girl asked.

Peter was stunned for a moment, wondering why Joccy thought that would matter.  Then he remembered...

"Sometimes he... he'd come home early when I was babysitting a-and tell me to put Zoe in her playpen and get Joccy settled with a movie and then we'd go into the guest room and... and...  It... it would be so awful when one of the girls would start crying a-and he wouldn't let me go."

Peter hugged the teen and patted her back.

"Joccy, I promise you that I will never, ever try to come between you and Zoe and Emma.  And I wouldn't even want to.  I care about you girls, too.  An awful lot.  Mi casa es tu casa," he vowed.

Joccy smiled, remembering all the times she'd called Peter for help with her Spanish homework.  He'd never once told her to stop bothering him or that it wasn't a good time.  Maybe he really did care.

Alerted to Joccy's absence beside her, Emma turned away from Dr. Sayer and Gayle.  Glimpsing her fiance and the girl, Emma felt her heart flutter.  Maybe her and Peter's broken hearts weren't the only ones Joshua was healing by bringing them together...


Emma sang and pranced around the gilded, flower-filled stage, flitting her skirts and twirling as the ensemble danced around her.

"'It's May, it's May, that gorgeous holiday!  When every maiden prays that her lad will be a cad...  It's mad, it's gay, a libelous display!  Those dreary vows that everyone takes, everyone breaks, everyone makes divine mistakes, the lusty month of May!'"

"Guenevere" glowed as she sang, enchanted by the romantic sights around her.  Emma's joy and amusement were contagious and every member of the audience couldn't help but smile at her sweet, impish ode to the spring and romance.

One patron, however, was particularly taken in.  Because walls were no barrier to him, he could see Emma's beloved knight standing offstage left, gazing adoringly at his bride-to-be.  They made for a beautiful pair.

Sitting in the private box, Joshua beamed.  When the song ended and the audience roared with applause, Joshua took a moment to gaze down at the save-the-dates that had been waiting for him there.  He traced the delicate writing on each envelope.



Ama and Abi

In his mind's eye, Joshua saw the stage transform.  The medieval garden fell away and was replaced by less frenetic florals and a cross... the same cross he had carried and that Peter had carried after him.  Zeke stood in front of the cross with Emma and Peter, their hands clasped.  The couple peered into each other's eyes with such love and devotion.

Coming back to the present, Joshua watched Arthur/Eric introduce Lancelot/Peter to his lady.  He felt the electricity of the moment when Emma and Peter took each other's hands.

"It is good," Joshua intoned.

On stage, Emma and Peter both felt a surge of immense love.  Unable to help themselves, both looked up to the box and saw Joshua smiling down at them.

Not wanting to  disrupt the show; Joshua held up the cards, blew the two a kiss, and disappeared.

A giggle escaped Emma but, thankfully, no one except Peter took it as any more than a display of her character's occasional immaturity.

The scene proceeded as if nothing unusual had happened but, as soon as it ended, Emma and Peter hurried offstage and embraced.

"He was here..." Peter murmured.

"He... he was...  And he will be again.  On June 4th.  I know it," Emma insisted.

Smiling from ear to ear, Peter swept his fiancee into his arms and spun her around as they celebrated.

The End

Works Cited:
The Secret Garden musical and book
Jesus Christ Superstar
Harry Potter
The Last of the Mohicans
"Tale as Old as Time" from Beauty and the Beast
Genesis 1- "It is good"

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