She was suffocating. Her breath stilled just as her baby's had inside her womb. She'd been so close to holding a child of her own at long last. Now she couldn't seem to find the reason or desire to breathe again.
Samuel. I don't understand how we could have lost you.
Amberlyn Lyons suffocated in her husband Cain's strong, loving arms. Unable to face him, she remained rigid with her back against his chest in the bed where they'd made love, conceived Samuel, played and laughed for the past two years.
She felt like she was dying. Tell me you love me, her battered heart bled without a sound. Tell me your love didn't die with Samuel. With all the miscarriages. Please say you don't blame me for the accident that caused his death, Cain. Not the way your parents do.
She wanted to weep until she felt nothing except numb acceptance. But she couldn't allow herself, her grief, to become Cain's burden. Hadn't that been the very first vow she'd made when he said he loved her, too?
Why do you hold me so tightly? she wanted to ask him in a whisper that wouldn't cause more pain. Why do you come to me if you can't share your heart?
She wasn't sure she could bear to see his wounds again, not like the tears he'd cried in the hospital when he thought she was asleep. She'd never get the sound of his weeping out of her soul. For that reason, she didn't let him see her own grief.
In the week and a half since she'd lost her baby, she'd been more confused than ever, torn between overwhelming emotions that were impossibly contradictory. During that time, she'd close her eyes and forget how to sleep. Avoiding Cain's gaze and staring at him whenever he didn't face her, she'd insist he go to work--she was fine. Only then had she confronted the death of her heart at his eager withdrawal.
They'd married only two weeks after they met and agreed eagerly to start a family right away. Things hadn't worked out as smoothly as they'd expected. She'd lost four babies in two years. Her body seemed unable to sustain a pregnancy for longer than a few weeks. Cain was supportive through their devastation, accepting her doctor's explanation of "these things happen" each time, while his parents whispered the exact opposite behind her back. Amberlyn worked too hard, they said. If she would just quit her job and devote herself to her family, none of the miscarriages would have happened.
After the first one, she had cut back to eight hours a day, five days per week--no more overtime. The last time, when she'd found out she was pregnant again, she'd curtailed those few hours even further, to only three per day. Her duties had been light, without stress. She'd passed her first trimester with a healthy baby inside her womb. Only then had she and Cain become infused with a tiny ray of hope that the pregnancy would stick. Four months went by. Six. Then eight. So close. They'd abandoned a flicker of hope in favor of all-out excitement about holding their first son in less than a month. They'd felt God was finally answering the prayer of their hearts.
Now she wondered. How much of their life had been real in the past two years? Following each disappointment, Cain had pulled back a little more to protect himself from hope. In a way, she knew he couldn't understand why God had taken the children they'd wanted so badly, this last one in so cruel a manner.
Cain's faith had been shaken. He'd withdrawn, too, because his experiences with love had taught him not to give everything. After all, loss could happen in the blink of an eye. Each time they suffered another devastation, he'd nearly killed her with his need to protect himself. But she'd loved him all the more to make up for the bad experiences he'd endured. He might not recover this time, and she no longer had the strength to help him when she didn't even know how to help herself. Every time his sister Janine came over asking to pray with her, pray for her, to listen if she needed to talk, Amberlyn had wanted only to be left alone. She'd told Janine that the last time she'd come, painful as it'd been.
She couldn't be here anymore. In less than two weeks, she'd become a stranger in her husband's arms.
She closed her eyes tightly when Cain moved behind her, putting his head on hers, his rough cheek to her smooth one. She relished the scratch of his well-trimmed beard and moustache against her skin, even while it felt like daggers straight through the heart to be so near him, and yet worlds away. The intoxicating scent of his cologne brought the sharp sting of tears to her eyes.
No, I can't cry! I can't show him how much I need him now. I can't lose everything, Lord. She didn't want to believe she already had lost it all. That she'd failed.
Cain's breathing, timed to hers, came harsh with emotions she couldn't make herself open her eyes and see. If he only played a part, waited for her to recover so he could tell her it was over... I can't stay here and wait around for my own death sentence.
"You okay, baby?" he asked softly. She nodded without opening her eyes. He brushed his familiar fingertips over the hair falling across her cheeks, pushing it back and tenderly tracking the curve of her face. When he urged her to turn and face him, she couldn't resist. He kissed her, and she couldn't shake her desperation to escape the agony. Everything had changed. How could it ever be the same between them?
His mouth swept hers again, and he whispered, "You sure?"
She nodded, squeezing her eyelids together tighter. "I'm okay, Cain." Her voice trembled in the thick, barely-there whisper. She hadn't spoken in more than twenty-four hours, not even in the fervent prayers that usually sustained her.
Propping up on an elbow, he leaned down and kissed her forehead. "I love you," he murmured.
Seconds later, his weight rolled, and she instinctively reached to stop him. She watched him turn back to her instead of leaving the bed, confusion in his breathtaking, navy-blue eyes.
"Cain, do you... do you blame me?" she asked, wiping frantically at the tears blocking her vision. She had to see his expression. "Do you think there was anything I could have done to prevent the accident or the miscarriages?" Her voice sounded rough and shaky to her own ears.
He held himself rigidly, making every effort to hold her tearful gaze, she knew. But then he swung his head away. For an instant, she saw his tears... and the truth he couldn't articulate. He held her responsible for everything, for the death of Samuel, their son.
Oh God, please, it can't be happening.
After endless, agonizing minutes of holding the sob... the scream... in her throat, she watched him rise from their bed. Amberlyn curled into a ball, listening intently while he put his jacket on. For an instant, he hesitated at the door, as if he didn't want to leave her. Abruptly, he walked out. She strained to listen to his departure until she could no longer hear anything. Only then did she allow the grief to rip her soul in two.
* * * *
Dragging herself out of bed, Amberlyn went to the closet. She bypassed the eight-hundred-dollar floral tapestry luggage set and pulled out her old, oversized duffel bag. She would take only what she brought into their marriage or purchased with her own money.
Carefully avoiding the memories she knew would come if she looked closely at anything around her, Amberlyn dressed and packed. Those tasks completed, she faced the jewelry box on her dresser. Her mother-in-law insisted expensive jewelry was the crowning glory of a truly worthy female, especially a Lyons' female. Amberlyn could never be that kind of woman. She was all about comfort in her own skin. In every way, she tried to be who she was, nothing more, nothing less. Cain had told her often that she was the only 'real' woman he'd ever met. He loved that about her.
She couldn't help glancing at her reflection in the mirror--at her easy, straight hairstyle so unlike his mother's expensive coifs; her pale, unmade-up face, too full lips--the top one without the little cupid's-bow a true beauty possessed. Pregnancy's glow had disappeared. Even in her own estimation, her wide, tipped eyes looked hollow and devoid of life.
Amberlyn lifted her left hand and looked at her wedding ring. As Cain had done so many times, she raised the ring to her lips and kissed it. Then she brought her fingertips to her mouth where Cain's had rested not long ago. Knowing she didn't feel comfortable in huge, sparkling rocks, he'd nevertheless spent a small fortune on the intricately carved and inset band of white gold. She fought the memory of the day he'd slipped the wedding ring onto her finger, vowing to love her forever with God's strength should his own fail.
Though she'd never felt completely comfortable in Cain's home because a part of her couldn't accept that she belonged there, in the last week she'd become a stranger to her familiar surroundings. The two-story, look-on-in-reverence-but-don't-touch log cabin was anything but rustic. It was sophistication in the first degree. This past week had forced her to face a truth his parents had been whispering in his ear since she'd met them, a truth she'd never wanted to accept: she didn't fit into Cain Lyons' well-ordered, high-class world. No matter how much the two of them wanted to fight that truth, the horror of the past couple weeks had brought them both to a place where they couldn't hide from the fact that they didn't belong together.
"Who are you to expect to be pampered? Are you royalty? No. You have hands, you work. You have a brain, if you want to use it. You get nothing out of life; you don't deserve anything out of life. You work so you don't become a burden to those around you. If you don't, you fail." The words echoed from her past, when both her mother and grandmother had drilled those concepts into her. Now their view of life testified to Amberlyn's failure.
You've let everyone down. You have to take care of yourself. You can't allow anyone else to do that for you. Not even Cain. Especially not Cain.
God help me.
But deep down she knew she wasn't willing to let Him or anyone else help her.
She removed the ring and pressed it into the jewelry box. After she snapped the lid closed, she made the bed carefully, then grabbed her duffel bag and fled the room.
She got behind the wheel of her decrepit, but usually reliable, Tercel, jammed the key in the ignition...and found she couldn't breathe. In only two, blurred years, she and Cain had lost so much. I'm suffocating here, and I'll suffocate when I leave. Leave Cain...leave the only man I've ever loved. The only man I will ever love...
She gripped the steering wheel and held on in a strangling grip when the crush of loss slammed into her full force.