I stood in front of the church, looking out at the solemn faces of family and friends. Standing up here so they could all look at me wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to curl up in a ball beside the casket in front of me and cry like a baby. This all seemed so unfair. I’d done this before: standing in front of a crowd of tear-stained faces and talking about a man I’d loved but that had been taken from me.
Now, here I stood again. I was expected to talk. To say something about the man in front of me. The one I’d trusted with my life. The one I’d clung to and wept on when I’d found out I was going to be a single mom. The one I’d known would never leave me. He was now gone.
I looked over to see Jeremy standing in his suit and tie, watching me carefully. He was still here. He wasn’t going to leave me. I still had him. He gave me a silent nod, and I knew if I asked, he would come up here and hold my hand while I did this. I kept my eyes on him as I opened my mouth to speak. Seeing him there would give me the strength I needed to go on.
“In life one never expects to lose those they love. We don’t plan on standing in front of our friends and family and talking about someone who meant the world to us. But it happens. It hurts. It never gets easier.” I stopped and swallowed the lump in my throat. Jeremy took a step toward me and I shook my head. I would do this without him. I had to.
“We aren’t promised tomorrow. My daddy taught me that when I was a little girl and I didn’t understand why my momma wasn’t coming home. Then again, when I lost the boy who I thought I’d grow old with, I was reminded of that fact one more time. Life is short.” I dropped my gaze from Jeremy. I couldn’t look at him while I talked about Josh. Seeing the pain in his eyes only made the tears burning my eyes sting worse.
“I’ve been lucky enough to know what unconditional love is. I’ve had it twice in my life by two different men. They loved me until the day they died. I will hold them close to me for the rest of my life. I only hope that the rest of the world is as lucky as I am.” The back doors of the church opened, and I stopped talking. The world around me seemed to move in slow motion.
Cage’s blue eyes locked with mine as he stood in the back of the church. I hadn’t expected to see him today. I hadn’t ever expected to see him again. I wasn’t ready to face him. Especially not today.
Jeremy’s arm was around me, and I could hear him whispering something, but I couldn’t focus on his words. The mix of emotions in Cage’s eyes held me frozen. It had been six months since I’d seen his achingly beautiful face. Even longer since I’d been wrapped up in his arms. He’d been the biggest lie of my life. I’d thought he was the one. I’d been wrong. I now knew you were only given one of those in life, and when Josh died, so did my chance at being loved completely.
“Let’s go sit down.” Jeremy’s words finally registered. He was worried about me. I was going to finish this though. Cage York showing up wasn’t going to stop me from finishing this. He’d stopped me from so much already. I wouldn’t let him control this, too.
“Not a day will go by that I don’t think about my daddy. His memory will stay tucked close to my heart. I’ll be able to tell my daughter all about her grandfather one day. What a good man he was. How much he would have loved her. I won’t ever go to bed at night feeling unloved because I was loved by one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.” Jeremy’s hand tightened on my waist. I glanced down at the diamond ring on my left hand, and my chest tightened. Daddy had been so relieved the day Jeremy had put this ring on my finger. He’d been worried that I’d be left alone when he was gone. Jeremy had eased that fear for him.
“ I love you, Daddy. Thank you for everything,” I whispered into the microphone.