Read His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage Online

Authors: Patricia Davids

Tags: #Fiction, #Religious, #Romance, #General

His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage (18 page)

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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Chapter Seventeen

C
aitlin couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, as pain crashed like a tidal wave through her. She didn’t dare turn around.
Please, Lord, I’m not strong enough for this.

She kept her eyes down. If Mick had Beth—if she saw her baby girl just once—she’d never be able to leave her again.

She forced her wooden legs to start walking toward the stairs at the end of the hall.

“Running again, Caitlin?” he called after her. “I thought you said you loved her?”

Her feet stopped even as her mind screamed for her to keep going. She tilted her head back to stare at the ceiling. “What do you want from me, Mick?”

“I want answers.”

“I don’t have any.”

“I need to know why you abandoned your child. Why?”

Abruptly, anger at Mick replaced her desire to flee. If he wanted answers, then she’d give him what he wanted to hear.

“Because I couldn’t do it, okay?” she shouted. “You were right all along. I couldn’t take care of her. I couldn’t be a mother. I couldn’t manage because I’m too stupid to learn how to read.”

“You aren’t stupid.” His voice was right behind her.

“I am. You said it yourself. I could have killed her.” Tears slipped unheeded down her cheeks.

She took a deep breath and steadied her voice. “Anyway, she’s better off with you. You’ll give her a good life. A life with a real home and clothes that don’t come from a thrift store. She’ll have all the things I’d never be able to afford.”

“That’s a lie, and you know it. This isn’t about things. I deserve to hear the truth.”

Stunned by the pain in his voice, she spun around. Just as she feared, Beth lay snuggled in the crook of his arm. Caitlin pressed a hand to her lips to hold back a sob.

Her baby. She was so beautiful—more beautiful even than Caitlin remembered, and her heart swelled with painful happiness and pride.

“How could you walk out on her?” he demanded. “How could a mother do that?”

Caitlin closed her eyes. Suddenly, weary beyond words, she knew he wouldn’t go until she admitted the bitter truth.

“I did it for her—to keep her safe. May God forgive me.”

“I don’t understand.”

He didn’t. She had to make him understand. She struggled to find the words. “I hurt her, Mick.”

“I know you didn’t mean to.”

“My mother never meant to hurt me, but she did. So many times! And I forgave her every time. I believed her each time she said she’d change—but she never did. Listening to her say how sorry she was didn’t erase any of the pain. It didn’t ease my hunger when she spent money on dope instead of food. It didn’t make the slaps and punches less painful when I wouldn’t sell drugs for her pimp of a boyfriend. Then one day, I just ran out of forgiveness, and I started to hate her.”

Caitlin raised her face, her gaze drawn to her sweet baby. “I didn’t want that for Beth.”

With her heart in broken pieces, she looked away. “I couldn’t take care of her any more than my mom could take care of me. Maybe the reasons are different, but that doesn’t matter. Yesterday in the E.R., when I heard myself stammering the same excuses—I was sorry—I didn’t mean it—I’ll do better—I realized I was just like her. That’s why I left. So I’d never hurt Beth again. I know you love her. I know she’ll always be safe with you.”

Looking up at Mick, a ghost of a smile crossed her face. “God must truly love you, Mick O’Callaghan. He’s given you the greatest gift.”

Mick studied Caitlin’s pain-filled, tear-streaked face. Slowly his anger and confusion faded. Whatever he had expected, it hadn’t been this. Compassion welled up in him. As a child, she had suffered what no child ever should. Now she was willing to suffer even more to spare her daughter the same fate.

Like the two women who came before King Solomon, the true mother had been willing to give up her child rather than see him harmed. Mick felt humbled in the face of Caitlin’s sacrifice.

Lord, make me worthy of this woman.

He loved her. He understood what she had done and what it had cost her. Even if she didn’t love him, he couldn’t separate her from Beth. He needed both of them in his life. But how could he convince Caitlin of that when she believed he only wanted her child?

He glanced from Caitlin to Beth—his daughter in every sense of the word except one—and his heart ached for what he knew he must do. There was only one way he could prove to Caitlin that he believed in her, that he forgave her.

Forgive my arrogance and my pride, Lord. Grant me Your wisdom. I’ve never needed it as much as I need it now.

“Caitlin, you are not your mother,” he said gently. “Everything you did—even leaving—was because you wanted what was best for Beth. No one can love Beth more than that. She doesn’t need things. She needs her mother’s love—your love.”

Startled, Caitlin’s gaze flew to his face. Had she heard right? Was he offering her a chance to gain back everything she had thrown away? “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that Beth needs her mother, and I think her mother needs Beth even more.”

A powerful joy unfolded in Caitlin. With trembling hands, she took Beth from him and drew her close. The sweet fragrance of her baby was her undoing. She broke into gut-wrenching sobs. “I’m so sorry, Beth. I’ll never leave you again. Never! Never! Thank You, God. Thank You.”

Elizabeth held her door open wide and Mick helped Caitlin to the sofa. It was several long minutes until she regained a measure of control. When she was able to stop crying, she kissed Beth’s face, then looked at him. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t have words to tell you how much this means to me. How can you forgive me for what I did?”

Choking back the lump that filled his throat, he said, “I know you love Beth, and I knew you would come back.”

“I came back to make sure she was okay, not to take her away from you. Only to tell her why I had to leave, and to tell her that I always loved her. I just need to get my head on straight, first.”

He tilted his. “It doesn’t look crooked to me.”

She smiled, but quickly looked down. He lifted her chin with one finger. Fear and indecision gathered in her bright eyes. “What if I can’t do it? What if I
am
like my mother?”

“You’re not.”

“I think I’m scared.”

“I know. So am I.”

“You? Of what?”

“The same things you are. That I’ll make a lousy parent, that I’ll be too strict, or too lenient. That she’ll run into the street when I’m not looking, or that she’ll break my heart when some guy wants to marry her. It scares me to death, but I know that God loves her and she is always in His tender care.”

“Yes.” Caitlin gripped his hand and squeezed. “I believe that, now. He was never far away. I just wasn’t looking with my heart.”

* * *

Early on a Sunday morning two weeks later, Mick stood in his own kitchen trying to find a pot holder. “It’s coming, it’s coming. Take it easy,” he said in a harried voice.

Beth was screaming in her bouncy chair on the kitchen table. Nikki whined in sympathy and got in Mick’s way as he hurried to fix her formula. He pulled the bottle from the pan and checked the temperature by shaking a few drops onto his wrist. It was almost warm enough. He put the bottle back in the water and turned off the heat. Grasping the handle of the pan on the stove with his shirttail, he turned and headed for the sink but stumbled over the dog. He lost his grip on the pan of hot water and it crashed to the floor. The bottle of milk went rolling under the table.

Nikki dashed after it. Proudly, she came back to sit in front of him. The bottle swayed from the nipple clenched in her mouth.

Two nights of getting up every three hours to feed Beth had worn him to a nub.
Please, let Caitlin get here soon.

“Give me that!” Exasperated, he yanked the bottle away from the dog, but the nipple stayed firmly in her teeth, and milk sprayed from the topless container in a wide arch that hit Beth, the table and the kitchen wall.

After a moment of stunned silence, Beth’s wailing skyrocketed, Nikki dropped her prize to lap up the spilled milk, and the doorbell rang.

In a daze, Mick stared at the disaster. The doorbell chimed again. He lifted Beth from her chair, wiped her dripping face on his sleeve and carried the still-screaming baby with him to the front door. His hope that it might not be Caitlin died swiftly when he pulled open the door and saw her.

His heart jumped into double time. The words
I love you madly
hovered on his lips, but he held them back. This wasn’t the right moment.

“Perfect timing!” he growled. “Now you get to see my inept attempt at being a parent.”

“Hello, to you, too, Mick. And how’s my little precious girl? Did you miss me?” Caitlin plucked the wet baby from his arms, relieved him of the empty bottle and marched toward the kitchen. At the doorway, she halted. “Oh, my!”

She looked back at Mick and burst into laughter.

With the sound of her adorable mirth still ringing in his ears, Mick retreated to the living room and sank into his chair. It was there that she joined him ten minutes later. Beth, clean and dressed in fresh clothes, sucked contentedly on a pacifier.

He gave Caitlin a rueful grin. “I’m
so
glad you’re home. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I said I’d watch her for two days. How did your show go?”

Her smile was beautiful to see. It warmed him all the way to the bottom of his heart.

“It went well. I sold enough prints to keep Beth in disposable diapers for—oh—at least a month.”

“We missed you.”

“I missed you, too. Was it really bad?”

“I don’t know how you find time to do portraits and take care of her. You amaze me.”

“Thanks, Mick. That means a lot.” She paused as if she wanted to say more, but rose instead. “I’d better get going.”

“There isn’t any rush.” He racked his mind for something else to say, for some way to keep her close a little longer.

“Beth and I’ll be late for church if I don’t get going. Your mother’s expecting me to help with the nursery today.”

“Send the cab away. I can give you a ride to church.”

Her face brightened. “I’d like that. If you don’t mind?”

“Not at all. I’ll be ready in two minutes. What do you think of Pastor Frank’s little church?”

“Everyone at the Westside Christian Church has been wonderful. You can really feel God’s grace in the way people care about each other there. I’ve been so blessed, and a lot of it is due to you, Mick.”

“You found the Lord in your own heart, Caitlin.”

“I know He was there all along, but you’re the one who helped me to understand that. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to repay that gift. You’re a very special person.”

Mick felt the heat rise to his face and knew he was blushing. “Have lunch with me after church, and I’ll consider us even.”

Was it too soon to let her know he had grown more than fond of her? He didn’t want to press her or scare her off. He waited with his heart pounding in his throat for her answer.

“I have a better idea. I’ve invited your mother over for lunch. Why don’t you join us? I’ve been learning to cook some new things. I’m making spaghetti today.”

Mick blinked twice. His smile slipped a little.

Caitlin gave him a puzzled look. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

“I want to,” he answered quickly. Gazing at her, his heart grew light at the sight of the soft smile on her face.

Thank You, Lord, for bringing this woman into my life. This time, I’m not going to lose her so please forgive this little white lie.

“The fact is,” he said, “I love spaghetti.”

Epilogue

C
aitlin lifted Beth in her car seat from the back of a cab. Now seven months old, her tiny premature daughter had grown into a happy baby with a sweet smile and chubby arms and legs. The pediatrician's scale showed she was definitely making up for her slow start. Caitlin asked the driver to wait, then turned to see Mick sprinting down the steps of his house toward her. Her heart did this crazy flip-flop whenever she saw him. How much longer could she hide the fact?

She was head over heels in love with the guy, and he continued to act like a perfect gentleman. But sometimes she was sure he saw her as more than a friend, and Beth's mother. But if she were wrong, she might jeopardize the easy relationship they shared. For Beth's sake, she didn't want that to happen. Then yesterday something occurred that gave her renewed hope.

Mick reached her side in a few long strides. “Let me give you a hand.” His voice seemed more breathless than the short trip to the curb warranted.

“Thanks.” She handed him the baby's carrier and tried to stay calm as she walked ahead of him up to the house.

“What time will you be back?” he asked, holding the door.

“I meet with my reading tutor until noon, then I'm working at the gallery until four-thirty, so let's say five. Will that be a problem?”

“Not at all. You know I'll keep Beth any chance I get. How's the new job going?” He set Beth's carrier on the floor.

“It's great. I put my nose in the air and pretend I know more about art than the people who come in to buy it. Most of them can't resist a piece if a snob tells them it's a steal.”

“I can just see it. By the way, have I told you how proud I am that you are learning to read?” he asked quietly.

She looked up to find him staring at her intently. A flush heated her cheeks. “You are?”

“Yes, I am. That took a lot of courage.”

Looking to her child asleep at her feet, Caitlin said, “No, it didn't. Not after what happened to Beth.”

From outside, the cab honked once. “I guess you'd better get going,” Mick said.

“In a minute. Woody came into the gallery yesterday. He told me something interesting.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“I mentioned you were coming over for dinner Friday, and he said as long as I didn't feed you spaghetti I'd be safe.”

“Woody has a big mouth.”

“I've fixed you spaghetti a dozen times in the past few months. You've never complained once.”

“Well—I—I like it the way you fix it.”

“You do?” She smiled to herself. Yes, there was definitely hope for her. “Guess I'd better run.”

He caught her arm as she turned away. “Aren't you forgetting something?”

His touch sent a tingling spiral of warmth through her. Her gaze moved from his hand to his face. “What?” she managed to ask in a husky whisper.

“A goodbye kiss—for Beth.”

“She's asleep. I don't want to wake her.” The tingling grew stronger. He pulled her closer.

“I could save one for her. For later,” he suggested.

“Yeah...that's...a good idea.” Caitlin didn't care that they weren't making any sense because as soon as his lips touched hers, she only wanted to keep on kissing him. Her arms circled his neck. All the joy she had kept hidden in her heart bubbled to the surface leaving her giddy with happiness.

The cab honked again, and Mick broke the kiss. Caitlin pressed her cheek against his chest and was thrilled with the feel of his strong arms around her.

“Whoa!” he said between deep breaths.

“If you say you're sorry, I'll hit you,” she threatened.

He chuckled and kissed the top of her head. “Sorry? No, sorry wasn't what came to mind.”

“Well, it should be!”

“Why should I be sorry?” Concern filled his voice.

“Because you took so long to do this!”

“Honey, I wasn't sure how you felt. I didn't want to rush you into anything that you weren't ready for. You've had so many big changes in your life.”

She pulled back and gazed into his eyes. “I love you, Mick O'Callaghan. I love you. I've been waiting months to tell you that.”

“I love you, too. More than you'll ever know. I love you the way the night sky loves the stars. The way the sun—”

“Shut up and kiss me again.”

He did, and quite thoroughly.

When they broke apart, he stroked her cheek with his knuckles, then slipped his hand behind the nape of her neck and pulled her close until his forehead touched hers. “Will you marry me?”

“Yes.”

“No hesitation?”

“God brought you into my life so that we could be together as a family. Who am I to argue with a plan that good?”

“I don't deserve you, but I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to make you happy.”

“You do that without even trying.”

Vaguely, she heard the cab honking. Mick held her out at arm's length. “Your driver is getting impatient.”

She nodded in resignation. “I'm going to be late for class.” In her carrier, Beth began to fuss.

“You could skip today,” he offered.

Oh, how she wanted to. At one time, she would have, but Caitlin shook her head. “And set a bad example for our daughter? I don't think so.”

“Say that again.”

She wrinkled her brow. “I don't think so?”

“No, the part where you said ‘our daughter.'”

Caitlin grinned, happier than she ever remembered being. “
Our daughter
is awake and if you don't have her bottle ready in two minutes or less, she'll scream the house down.” As if on cue, Beth's crying rose in volume.

He let go of Caitlin and lifted the baby from her carrier. “She's a lot like her mother in that respect,” he said with a knowing smile. Taking Caitlin by the elbow, he walked her to the door. “Tonight, you and I are going to have a long talk.”

“Talk? I had more kissing in mind.”

“Okay, a little of that, too.” He gave her a quick peck, then a gentle push toward the street.

Reluctantly, Caitlin climbed into the cab. As it pulled away, she rolled down the window and blew a kiss toward the two people she loved more than anything in the world and gave thanks to God for the blessing He had showered upon her.

Mick's shout reached her as the cab turned the corner and she sank back onto the seat with a contented smile. She met the driver's eyes in the rearview mirror and sighed. “Wasn't that the most beautiful thing you ever heard?”

“I missed it, lady. What did he say?”

“He said ‘Hurry home. We'll be waiting for you.'”

* * * * *

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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