Harper woke to the good smells of something cooking in the kitchen. She put her warm robe on, grabbed the walker, and went out to investigate. There was Blaise adorned in one of her bright pink aprons. It was a site to behold, and she couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
“Well, good morning, Sunshine. How did you sleep?”
“Probably better than you.” She waved toward the couch, which was obviously much shorter than Blaise’s tall frame.
“Nah, it was fine. I can sleep anywhere. So . . . what do you want on your waffles?”
“By the way, the pink looks good on you.”
“Ha, very funny! I’ve never had my colors done, but I can almost guarantee you that pink is not my color. But about those waffles? They are vegan organic, gluten free and cooked to perfection . . . maybe. We’ll see.”
“Wow, I didn’t know you could cook.” She was genuinely impressed.
“Well, the proof will be in the tasting, but I used your recipe here in this notebook; so hopefully, I got it right. For toppings, I have Canadian maple syrup sans formaldehyde,” he announced and smiled. “I have cashew cream, leftover vegan chocolate hot fudge, organic applesauce, and sliced organic strawberries that are still good, but on the cusp, so they need to be used quickly.”
“And is that coffee I smell! I have missed my coffee!”
“Absolutely! I actually have a percolator that I brought from my apartment. It makes the best tasting coffee, so I thought to break your Lent fast, I would provide the best. Your coffee is fair trade, organic, and shade grown—covered all the bases. Oh, and fully caffeinated.” And at that, he bowed.
“If it tastes as good as it smells, I will be thrilled.”
“So, may I serve you, mam? One waffle or two?”
“I will take one, please; and those strawberries and syrup look perfect.”
“I assume you want your regular vanilla almond creamer with your coffee?”
“Yes, thank you.” Blaise served her with a flourish, obviously enjoying his role as chef, server, and maître d. Harper enjoyed her first breakfast back home, and having it with Blaise only added to her joy. She would not have wanted to ruin the moment with a real camera; but mentally, she took a snapshot to hold it in your mind.
“So, after you get dressed, if it’s all right with you, I’d like to drive you out to Clutch’s grave. I have a bag of dried rose petals that I saved when I clipped all the roses back. I hadn’t planned to use them this way, but I thought maybe you might want to place them on the site. What do you think?”
“That sounds great to me—just like breakfast. This was wonderful! Let me get cleaned up and dressed. It might take me a bit, but I’ll go as fast as a gimp can.”
“Should I call Elise to help?”
“No, I think I’ll be okay. I’ll yell if I need help.”
When she came out, Harper opted to take the cane she had been sent home with instead of the walker. Blaise walked by her side out to the truck to be sure she was stable, then helped her up and in. He had not wanted the site to be disturbed, so had gone quite a distance out in the desert to dig the grave. When they turned off the main paved road, they drove quite a piece on a rough, dirt trail. His four-wheel drive came in handy when the hard pack dirt turned more to silt. He drove as far as he could, then helped Harper out of the vehicle. They followed a small path for a bit, but soon the path became more uneven and overgrown. Harper did not admit it, but Blaise knew it would be too much for her, so he swept her up into his arms and carried her the last fifty feet.
He set her down beside the pile of rocks placed over Clutch’s body. Blaise had made a sign out of wood and planted it at the head of the grave. It read: “Clutch, beloved pet and forever friend.” Emotion welled up in Harper’s chest. It wasn’t just that she had loved that dog. It wasn’t just that he had been a faithful companion. Saying goodbye to him now was also saying goodbye to Graham, to a hard-won marriage, to a life and a love lost. The past, with its joys and pains, its questions and disappointments, had clung tightly to her for such a long time. Her sorrows were hard to bear; but at the same time, they were like a comfortable worn garment that she kept wearing because she felt insecure about trying on anything new. And if she cast aside what had become comfortable, well . . . what would come next? Though her future held more promise now than she had thought possible even just a few months ago, she was at the same time scared of the unknown.
Blaise handed her the bag of dried rose petals, and she leaned down to place them on the rocks so some would be trapped in the crevices. She knew the wind would take most of them away, but that was okay. It was her final goodbye. “I loved you, Clutch. You were such a good dog—such a good friend. Goodbye, my good old boy. Goodbye.” Tears ran down her cheeks as she took the remaining handfuls of flower petals and threw them up in the air, letting the wind twirl them around and carry them off. She watched them move across the desert in a dance.
Blaise put his arms around her and drew her into his chest. After a few quiet moments, he spoke softly into her ear: “Do you know when I first loved you?” He didn’t wait for an answer; he went on speaking “I loved you the first time I went into your shop. When I saw you standing there behind that enormous wooden candy counter thing, your white curly hair, softly framing your face, your downturned mouth, and that dark cloud over your head . . .”
“Wait, what?” She pulled away and looked into his face. Blaise was smiling down at her.
“Are you teasing?”
“Yes . . . but not really. I loved your little frown. Still do.”
“So, was it that bad?”
Blaise got more serious. “You looked sad, wounded. I recognized it so well because it was like looking into a mirror. I had been where you were. I didn’t know your story then, but I could see your pain with my eyes, and I felt it in here.” He placed his hand on his heart.
“Well, how could you have loved that? You probably just felt sorry for me.”
“To be honest, I fought it—for a long time. But looking back, I know that’s when I first felt love for you. I was content with singleness. With all I had come through, I knew that the passion of my life had to be for Christ, and I was convinced there would be no room for a woman. God, yes. Christ-followers, yes, but a woman? Romance? No. But the more we became friends, the more my love for you grew.”
“I fought it, too. I didn’t think I could ever walk that road of relationship again. There was too much pain, too much loss; and then, there was really my loss of faith. I don’t think God had let me go, but I had mostly let Him go. I didn’t think I could ever trust Him again, let alone a man.”
“I understand that. I went through that, too. Well, not the man part.” He grinned. “That is why I recognized the wounds so well.” He pulled her in tight again.
Harper rested her head on his chest. “Do you want to know when I first loved you? When we danced and worshiped in the snow. It was like deliverance for me, and I loved you in it.”
“Harper, my first passion and desire is for Christ and to be used in His kingdom here on earth . . . and I know that is yours, too. But do you think as we work together for Him, you would have room in your heart . . . I mean, do you think you could continue to serve Christ while being my wife? Harper, will you marry . . .?
“Yes, yes, I will! I love you, Blaise, with all my heart.”
Their lips met soft at first, then they kissed, long and hard. Bodies close; hearts beating as one. “Harper, I love you, I love you, I love you. Be my wife.”
Blaise swept Harper up to carry her back to the truck. And as they walked through the desert, Harper looked around at all the wildflowers that were springing up in the dry sandy soil. There was color as far as she could see—blue, yellow, white, orange—color and life blowing in the desert breeze. It had been a cold, hard winter, but spring had finally come to Shiloh.