Chapter Thirty-eight

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The night at the cabin had been an answered prayer, renewing his faith in God, himself, and the life he'd stopped living for six long weeks. She'd come back to him, wandering along a path of hurt and uncertainty until she found herself securely back in his waiting arms. And for the second night in a row, in the comfort of their bedroom, he'd fallen asleep beside his wife and not a ghost. All the little pieces of Sunny that she'd kept hidden were now his once more. Her silky hair on the tips of his fingers. The gentle brush of her foot against his. The calm sound of her breath as she drifted off. Though he knew the days ahead of them were still unclear, with shadows hovering around them, he was filled with hope for the first time in a long time.

He sat up in bed, rubbing his tired eyes and listening. Their bedroom was dark with only the muffled sound of Bunny's breathing in the air. A check of the clock along with a familiar pain in his heart confirmed his worst fear. With a heavy sigh, he fell back in defeat against his pillow. He laced his fingers behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. There was nothing new to focus on. He'd lived this routine for weeks. He was certain, just a few hours before, that his nights would be what they once were and that searching for Sunny in the hours before sunrise were over. Mathew swallowed hard knowing that the tiny bit of growth they'd cultivated at the cabin had withered away in just a day's time.

As he stared up at wood beam above him, he wondered. Would she be sitting the rocking chair, holding the happy Steiff bear while her tears rained down on his little stuffed head? Or would she be on the twin bed, studying the black and white images of his ultrasound pictures? Had she fallen asleep on the floor beside the crib amid a collection of cherished children's books? Perhaps she found the box of letters, and was now fighting her way through every emotional line. He sighed again and sat up, bringing his feet to rest on the floor beside the bed. With his head in his hands, he tried to collect himself. Though he'd staggered down the dark hall from their bedroom to the Lucien's room many times, he suddenly felt weak.

He made his way into their bathroom. A splash of cool water on his face and a quick sip from the tap was followed by a look in the mirror. A good, long look. As much as he wanted to run to her and drag her away from reality, he knew deep down that reality was the only thing that could bring her back. Real life. Real feelings. Real love. Those were the things she needed, but only when she was ready. She's operating by her own hourglass. Dr. McNichol's words bounced around inside his head for a moment, giving him his own shot of reality...and one that he frankly didn't like. He wanted to speed up time. Get them down so far down the road that they could barely recall the sleepless nights and days without a light switch. But to distort the pain would distort the image of a little prince. And that was something Mathew never wanted to forget.

Another sigh escaped him as he turned to make the fateful journey down the hall. His legs were much heavier this time, with the harsh realization that their return to happiness would indeed take more than just one night in each other's arms. The door at the end of the hall seemed to drift further and further away and with each step he took the hallway resembled an endless corridor. The anger he'd felt on other nights, taking this same walk, was now replaced with disillusionment. He'd lost her once. He didn't know if he could do it a second time.

He stood at the closed door, listening for signs of life. The room was quiet and he could find no trace of light from within. With his hand on the doorknob, he took a deep breath.

He peeked inside, surprised to find the room just as it was when he went to bed. The rocking chair was still. The bed was neatly made. All toys and books were quietly resting in their places. There was no sign of Sunny...and for that he was thankful. He returned to the stairway, praying she was just one floor below and not sitting alone on a cold concrete bench in the dark. He could see a dim light coming from the living room and as his feet hit the wood floors at the bottom of the stairs he turned and caught sight of his wife, curled up on the couch, a book balancing on her lap. Silently he made his way to her, smiling as he observed a serene expression on her sleeping face. He studied her delicate hands for a minute, noticing for the first time the absence of her mother's ring on the middle finger of her left hand. Was it a sign or merely an oversight? He'd been hurt too many times to allow himself to read too much into it. His eyes traveled down the length of her body, stopping at her feet. Again he smiled, seeing Lucien's tiny toes in hers. Unable to resist, he sat down gently on the edge of the sofa and rubbed her feet with a soft touch.

"You never could let me rest, could you?" she whispered before opening her eyes.

They sat without speaking for several minutes as Mathew continued to rub her feet. Sunny closed her eyes once more, shifting into a more comfortable position.

"Are you okay?" he asked, finally breaking the silence.

"I'm fine." She gave a slight nod.

"When I rolled over and you weren't..."

"You thought the worst?" She opened her eyes and stared at him with a serious expression.

"I'd be lying if I said otherwise."

"Mathew, I can't guarantee those nights are over. I just can't think that far ahead."

"I understand."

"I did walk down to Lucien's room. I stood at the doorway for a long time, you know, trying to decide if going in would..." Her voice trailed off and she dropped her eyes from view.

"You don't have to explain. And don't feel like you have to hide it from me either. I just want you to promise me one thing."

"What's that?"

"Don't try to do this on your own."

"I know," she whispered, avoiding his eyes.

"Sunny?" He lifted her chin.

"Yes?"

"I love you."

"I know you do. And that's made all the difference."

He turned his attention to the book in her lap, eager to see what she'd chosen to give her thoughts over to in the middle of the night. He hadn't seen her touch a book or magazine in weeks. As far as he knew, the thousands of words she hadn't spoken over the past month and a half were buried somewhere deep inside her. But seeing something as simple as a book in her hand filled him with relief.

It was just one step closer to the real Sunny.

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