Chapter 27

After Gavin’s departure, I couldn’t face Mom or Dad, so I made my way around the kitchen in a numb state: tidying the counter, turning off the oven, leaving the pie on a cooling rack. Finding my way to the kitchen phone, I pushed through my mental fog and punched in Val’s number, listening while it rang. “Hey, Val. This is Hope. I need to get out of the house for a bit. Mind if I come over?” I cut to the chase.

“Not at all. You know you’re always welcome here,” she offered. “What’s going on? You sound upset. Does this have anything to do with Gavin?” Concern hedged her words.

I swallowed the lump forming in my throat and fought back tears. “Yeah. I’ll tell you all about it when I get there; but, right now, I just want to get out of here. Is now a good time?”

“Sure. Come on over,” she offered. “I’ll be here. Let yourself in when you get here if I don’t hear the doorbell.”

“OK. Thanks,” I said, closing my eyes against the ache in my heart. “See you in a few.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The drive across town blurred through the front windshield as I fought back tears that kept threatening to spill down my face. I breathed heavily between red lights and stop signs, trying to hold back my emotions which proved to be a monumental task. I could smell Gavin on everything—my hair, my clothes, my skin—I could even still feel him on my lips. The surrealness of the afternoon lingered, strong and menacing, and I wanted it to make sense. I needed it to make sense.

Rolling down the windows, the late summer noises and sweltering heat transported me back to a picnic wonderland where sitting on a blanket with Gavin promised security and a future, my hand nestled safely in his. The ache in my heart pulsed through my veins, causing tears to drip from my chin. They saturated my shirt and tormented my sanity. Things are never going to be the same.

As I rolled to a stop in front of Val’s house, Kenny Loggins’ song “Forever” sang out of the car’s tape deck:

The night took a hold of my heart
And left me with no one to follow
The love that I lost to the dark
I’ll always remember
Forever in my heart
Forever here you’ll be
And know that when I’m gone
You’ll be near to me
Forever in my life
Always thought I’d be
I’d be yours
Forever….

I turned off the car’s engine and began to sob. “God, I don’t understand. I waited and waited for Gavin to like me. I sat by for years and watched as he sowed his wild oats and flirted with other girls, but I thought that was over. I thought we had turned a corner, taken another step, gotten beyond the childish games. I truly thought he wanted to be with me—the real me—not just experience some feel-good moment. How could I have been so stupid?” Stuttering breaths shook me to the core as I wiped the palm of my hand across my nose. “What did I do to deserve this…this…disrespect? It’s just plain…mean.” Climbing out of the car, I trudged up Val’s front walk and tapped on the front door.

One glance, two open arms, and a welcoming embrace broke the dam again. “He doesn’t want me. I don’t know what I did, but something went wrong—so terribly wrong.” Overwhelmed with emotion, I gasped for air.

Like a big sister, Val secured her arms around my shoulders and lent me support to walk into the house, through the living room, and into the back sunroom. She helped me sit down on her plush brown couch then perched beside me on the armrest, handing me a tissue to wipe away my tears. “I’m sorry things didn’t play out the way you wanted,” she empathized, “but I’m even more sorry that it resulted in you getting hurt.”

“Gavin will never be mine,” I cried some more. “I was an idiot to believe there was ever anything between us. I just can’t get over how stupid I was—to think that I believed him!”

“You don’t know that it’s over,” Val countered, handing me a second tissue. “Maybe once the dust settled….”

“But, I do know,” I interrupted. “He still has a girlfriend. He kissed me like I was the only girl in the world, but he still has a girlfriend. Him. Me. It was all a lie. And I’m the sucker who fell for it.” A suffocating anxiety rose from inside me, guilt strangling my words. “Why would he do that to me? I’m not a cheat. I’ve never been a cheat. He knows that!” I couldn’t wrap my mind around the reality of what had happened.

“Oh, Hope, this isn’t a reflection of who you are. You would’ve never kissed Gavin had you known he was dating another girl. Anyone who knows you knows that. Don’t let his actions define you. This one’s on him. Don’t beat yourself up over his poor choices.” I could hear the agony in Val’s voice.

“I know, but I feel like such an idiot! I really believed the feelings between us were authentic. I would’ve never invested in a one-sided relationship.” Anguish stabbed at my heart. “I must have had ‘sucker’ written on my forehead—thinking I was special and different from everyone else. He doesn’t even love me. He just said what I wanted to hear, and I bought it—hook, line, and sinker. I’m so stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid!” Tightness strangled my chest and my temples began to throb.

“Oh, Hope, don’t do that to yourself. The feelings you had and have for Gavin are real,” Val consoled, “and that’s what matters. Love is never a stupid decision.”

“But it doesn’t make sense. It wasn’t like it ‘just happened,’” I used air quotes. “He kissed me a couple weeks ago, so he had time to think and plan and know what he was doing.” I grappled with the irrational happenings of my day. “He’s known for years now how I feel about him, yet he’s the one who chose to kiss me this afternoon. What was all his talk today about seeing us together as if we had a future? And don’t go telling me it was just testosterone, either. There’s more between us than that. You’ve even said so. If his advances had just been an in-the-moment thing this afternoon, he wouldn’t have stopped himself from kissing me a long time ago.” Tears continued running down my cheeks. “I don’t know what to think, because the Gavin I know would’ve never done this to me. Nothing’s adding up.” I twisted wet matted tissue between my fingers and watched as it disintegrated, just like all my dreams of Gavin and me together. “I don’t want to love him, but I can’t make my heart stop wanting him.” I reached for a clean tissue and swiped at my eyes.

“But you do love him, don’t you—the kind of love where you can see forever, huh?”

I nodded slowly.

“That’s a toughie,” Val acknowledged, “because you can’t argue with feelings. They just are.”

“It hurts thinking about him,” I agonized. “It’s like I can’t breathe. My heart literally aches—a deep, stabbing kind of pain. It’s like a part of me is dying inside, and I don’t know how to make it stop. I don’t know how to let him go.” Val reached out and squeezed my hand. “All my future dreams and plans had him in them—every. last. one of them. Now he’s gone, and none of it makes sense. It’s like I’m watching my life crumble before my eyes. No marriage. No raising a family together. No sharing Jesus in ministry or enjoying our golden years as a couple. There’s no fixing this damage. No prayer is big enough to bring him back. We’re through.” Heavy, heaving sobs consumed my body. “Make this hurt go away,” I begged. “I don’t want to feel like this.”

“If you love him, Kiddo, the best gift you can give him and yourself is to hand all of it over to God. If it’s meant to be, God will bring him back to you. If He doesn’t, then you wouldn’t have wanted to be in that relationship anyway.” Val’s soft-spoken words helped sooth some of the chaos in my mind.

“But he’s not coming back,” I shared my dejection. The look on Gavin’s face had spelled finality. “There’s no use hoping for a different outcome. I know what I saw. I just don’t know how to say good-bye. It was always supposed to be him, but now it’s not; and I’m not sure what to do with that.” Regret spilled down my cheeks in hot, tormenting tears. “Nothing has ever hurt this badly.”

“I’m sorry you’re not getting the closure you want, but trust God to give you the support you’ll need,” Val persuaded. “Focus on something positive, like Psalm 57:1-2 [NIV]. Do you remember that verse from seventh-grade Bible class?”

I nodded, reciting the former texts from memory. “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in You I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings until the disaster has passed. I cry out to God Most High, to God, Who vindicates me.”

“Look how far He’s brought ya,” Val rallied. “You’re a fortunate one. God has already given you a pretty strong track record. Unlike some, you don’t have to wonder if He’s going to be there for you or not. You know from personal experience that He will be. Trust Him, Hope. He’s gonna get you through this, too.” Val’s smile revealed a peace I wished I could harness for my own well being.

“I wish I had the perfect answers or that I could at least explain why you’re having to go through all of this right now,” Val continued, “but I can’t foresee the future any more than you can. What I do know is that God will be with you each step of the way; and, if you trust Him, that’ll be enough. He’s not going to fail you.”

I sighed and nodded my understanding. “Guess it’ll have to be.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Greg tilted his head, sadness wilting his shoulders. “So, what happened next?”

“That night, down on my knees, I prayed for Gavin. I prayed like I’ve never prayed before. I asked God to place the perfect person or people in his life to help bring him back into harmony with God, because I knew he was struggling.” I pulled a tissue out of the box on the end table as tears started trickling down my cheeks, then wiped the wetness from my face. Pausing a moment, I allowed some of my emotion to subside before continuing to speak.

“Gavin never said as much, but I knew he was struggling to find himself,” I added. “Even though he was raised in the church, I’m not sure he knew where God fit into the personal picture of his life. So, it became my prayer that God would make sure Gavin didn’t go down any crazy paths as his search for truth unfolded.” I bit my lower lip and soaked in my reality. “I even requested God bring the right girl into Gavin’s life to fulfill God’s will for him—even if that wasn’t me.”

“That was an awfully selfless act on your part,” Greg acknowledged.

I shook my head, not willing to accept accolades for what I had felt needed to be done. “Not really. It was the only thing I could do.”

“Not true,” Greg replied. “You could’ve chosen self-pity for yourself, withdrawing from the world and wallowing in darkness; but, instead, you chose life. You chose to live beyond the changes and challenges that came your way. That was a truly brave decision on your part.”

I forced a smile and acquiesced. “If you say so.”

“I do.” Greg picked up his pen and flipped the yellow sheet on his notepad, revealing a clean page. “So, how did that prayer transform your thinking? Most people I counsel mention they notice improvements in their attitudes or perceptions when prayer is involved, even if their circumstances aren’t altered. Did you notice any change or see any differences in your life?”

I smiled at Greg’s curiosity. “Leaving everything in God’s hands gave me a good amount of peace,” I admitted. “Over time, the overwhelming sadness lifted, too. However, it wasn’t easy moving on.”

“Understandable. It rarely is. When did you make contact Gavin again?”

I exhaled slowly and thought a moment. “When Gavin left my mom and dad’s house that afternoon, I didn’t see or speak with him for probably about five years. He stepped out of my life without a second thought, and I let him. Only reason I knew what he was up to was because I’d run into his parents at church on occasion, and they’d fill me in.”

“I see. So, when did you actually reconnect with Gavin in person—or have you ever?”

I stared at my hands for several seconds, feeling the heaviness that came with the memory. “I saw Gavin at church the summer before he married Caitlyn. He was happy and healthy, and his vibrancy for life had returned. Everyone could see it. He had come home to show off his bride-to-be, and it was very obvious he was in love.” I played with the nail bed of my thumb, the day repeating vividly in my mind, like the morning it happened. “When it came my turn to meet Caitlyn, the moment was kind of awkward and clumsy, but I still appreciated being included in the introductions.”

“And how did you feel after learning of Gavin’s impending nuptials?” Greg ventured.

I gave half a laugh and produced a crooked grin. “Shocked. I know that sounds weird, because I knew he’d get married someday. I just hoped I was wrong about the feeling I had been carrying around in my gut. I always figured, after much soul searching, he’d come back to me. He always came back to me. So, as long as he wasn’t married, there was hope.”

“But?”

“But, this time he didn’t come back. Marrying Caitlyn finalized a lot of things.” I released a controlled sigh and laid out the rest of my frustration. “The maddening part about all of it was that I couldn’t even be upset with God. Caitlyn was everything I had prayed God would give Gavin—strength, honesty, support in his Christian walk. She is a wonderful, God-fearing woman, and they make a great team. Anyone can see it. So, I thank God for answering my prayer in such a positive way.”

“But, she wasn’t you, was she?” Greg sensed my unspoken feelings.

“No, she wasn’t,” I slowly shook my head. “But that’s not what hurt. The hardest pain to swallow was never having the chance to fight for him. I was written off the moment Gavin left my parents’ house, and that was it. I didn’t have a say.” I pressed my thumb and forefinger against the bridge of my nose and furrowed my brow as real tears found their way down my cheeks.

“And it’s still affecting you,” Greg noted.

“Sure it is.” I rested my hand in my lap and looked up at him. “It still hurts—a lot. Probably because I never received closure.” I grimaced at the childish sound of my voice. I can’t believe I’m admitting this to a stranger. I must sound so immature. “Gavin’s decisions didn’t affect just him,” I continued. “My plans went right out the door, and it didn’t matter. All I could do was sit there and watch my dreams go up in smoke.” I held the tissue under my nose, begging back a nasal drip.

“I imagine that would hurt. It was a pretty devastating life event,” Greg affirmed.

“I felt lost for months,” I admitted. “I spent endless days trying to figure out which way was up, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning. After all, what was the point? I had no clue what to do with the broken pieces of my life, so why try?”

“I get that. So, where did life take you after Gavin got married?” Greg probed.

I drew in a deep breath and remained somber. “To the beach.”

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