Emma stood at the edge of the cliff, staring blindly at the jagged rocks far below. Hugging her arms about her chest and the breaking heart within, she told the cold world about her, "They didn't tell me it would be like this..." Here she was, only 17, and already she was wishing her life to be over...
A tear, silent beneath the mourning of her soul, hot against the iciness of her cheeks, slipped over her pale skin and plummeted to the earth and all its ignorance. Her soul longed to follow after.
It was the squawking of a seagull that drew her attention to the heavens, and the ominous dark clouds hovering over ocean's horizon that drew her heart's eye to times long gone, immediately whisking her emotions back to the darkest day of her life: Her mother, frail and trembling beneath the weight of cancer, lay upon the bed she had shared with her husband for less than ten years. Emma had only been 7 at the time.
Every ounce of Emma's heart stirred to life as she vividly recalled that day in her mother's room. In part, it was a memory she did not wish to hold on to, yet, at the same time, it was a memory she treasured.
Stepping into her mother's room that day, Emma had been careful not to make a noise, watching with a mixture of dread and wonder as her mother lay propped up against a mound of pillows, staring silently out through the door leading out into her private garden. A weak, but evident smile on the woman's face radiated warmth and peace as she watched the rain pounding the earth.
"I love gardening," her mother startled her by saying; Emma fearing she had disturbed her mother when she had been so careful not to. Directly to Emma now, Mother smiled... and while love shone in her eyes, pain was etched deep in the lines marking her lips, eyes and brow, causing Emma's heart to ache greatly.
Mother inhaled with great effort, then, on a hiccup and a sigh, reached a hand out to her firstborn. "Come."
Emma hesitated, recalling how Father had warned her never to disturb Mother's rest.
Mother's smile fell away as sorrow struck her weary features. "Darling... please... Come sit with me... It's okay," she reassured... "It's okay..."
Emma couldn't help it. As soon as she reached Mother's side and Mother drew her into her arms, guiding her to lay by her side, Emma wept hard and long... It had felt like an eternity since she had been allowed to hold her mum, and she knew - somehow, she knew it would be an eternity before she would hold her again.
As Emma feared the moment when she would have to let go, Mother tilted the young girl's face towards her and smiled through silent tears. "You are Mummy and Daddy's little princess," Mother breathed through quivering lips; the arm she had used to cradle Emma drawing her daughter a little closer. "You will always be our little princess..."
It was at that moment Father stepped into the room, annoyance rushing in with him. "Emma! What are you doing?! Your mother needs rest!"
"Joe, it's all right..." Mother wearily demanded. "I needed to hug our princess."
"You need rest," Joe insisted, guiding Emma from her mother's arms.
Broken, Emma caught her breath, sensing a pain in her chest like none she had ever experienced before.
It would be ten years later before she would realise that the moment her father had ripped her out of her mother's arms deep grief had come to take the place where her heart once dwelled, and her heart had remained with her mother.
Looking up at the dark clouds on the horizon, she wondered if that was the reason she felt her soul had been buried with her mother. Because her mother possessed her heart.
As grief sliced through her once more, Emma threw open her arms and with more passion than she knew she possessed she screamed out towards the heavens. "God...!!!!!!" she bellowed. "Give her back...! She was the only person whoever loved me! Give her back...!"
Upon her knees she fell, weeping long and hard into her open palms, her heart - or what remained of it - violently twisting within her tight chest, threatening to break her completely. God, how she hated this world and everything in it!
With a strained whisper and locked jaw, she managed to choke out, "Oh, God... it wasn't meant to be like this..." Was it? Surely life wasn't meant to be this hard! This painful! This cruel...
Holding her aching stomach now, with her blurred vision set on the rocks far below, studying them as they seemed to call for her to join them, she mourned for the child within - the one she had been...and the one she carried. "I'm not your little princess anymore, mumma..."
Momentarily, she closed her eyes, sensing more tears rising from the pain that would not cease, only to swiftly open them again as she heard the rocks calling to her with greater passion; beckoning her to come find peace.
Peace... She couldn't remember the last time she had felt peace. Not since Dwayne had held her that night, vowing to love her forever. But then, afterwards, after she had succumb to his sweet words of forever love, he had cast her aside like a used cigarette butt, taking her from her perfect fairy-tale and tossing her into a nightmare that just would not end.
He stopped replying to her text messages that day, and no longer took her calls. Whenever she dared to stop by his house, his mother would tell Emma he was not home...until the woman had finally felt sorry for the girl and suggested Emma find a new 'friend'.
If that hadn't been bad enough, his mates now looked at her as though she were a joke; forever sneering when she walked by, cruel taunting laughter in their eyes, disgust tilting the corner of their smirking lips. She had believed they all hated her now, until she realised each and every one of them believed they could be next in line, as though she were a prostitute, desirable solely for manly urges but worthy of no money or respect, whatsoever. But they couldn't have her. They would never had her... Only Dwayne.
But now she felt so used. So dirty. And nothing she did, and nothing any of her friends said, made those feelings go away.
Dwayne had been her one and only love, and she had been convinced he loved her as much as she loved him. But, on looking back, able to see him through the eyes of reality and not fantasy now, she believed that if he had truly loved her, he would've willingly waited as she had desired to.
"All is not as bad as it seems," a gentle voice startled her by saying.
Somewhat frightened, she looked up to see her father standing by her, tears in his eyes.
With a mixture of anger and dread, she looked away, not wanting him to know what she was feeling beyond the hatred she held for him. "What are you doing here?"
His voice was so tender it stunned her. "I don't know. I just had this urge to come here... Your mother thought it was a good idea--"
"She's not my mother," Emma abruptly interjected. "She's your wife, and that's all she is to me."
"She loves you, Em."
"Don't call me that! I hate it when you call me that!"
Silence followed her outburst and just when she thought he had gone, he came to stand directly beside her kneeling, and trembling, frame, his vision cast out to sea. "I miss her, too."
A new stream of tears shot forth, and Emma rushed to silence them. They had never spoke about her mother. Not once. And she wasn't sure she wanted to do so now. "Don't you have somewhere else to be? Surely Joanne needs you to do something around the house."
"I loved your mother, Emma."
His words struck her like a lightening bolt through her chest. She caught her breath and held it for the longest time, guarding herself against further heartache. "Then why did you remarry so soon?"
With a sigh, he shrugged and kicked a loose stone over the edge of the cliff. Emma watched it disappear into the waving sea. She looked up at her father just in time to see him offer a tilted grin and wipe a tear from his cheek.
He shrugged. "Seemed like a good idea at the time." He glanced at her and Emma felt a foreign sensation move in her chest, confusing her heart. They hadn't made eye contact in over ten years.
"You regret it?"
"I have a few regrets, yes."
"You don't love Joanne?"
With a trouble grimace, he dared to say, "You would probably prefer I didn't, wouldn't you?"
She looked away, not answering; both of them already knowing the truth.
"I met Joanne long before your mother became ill, but, as nice as she was, I was never attracted to her. It wasn't until she started coming around to visit us, after your mother... Well... after... It wasn't until then that we really started to talk, and she just seemed to fit so well into our family. She cooked for us; cleaned... took you kids to and from school when I wasn't able to. And your brother loved her."
"I hated her."
"But that didn't seem to matter to anyone but me."
"Yes, it did."
Emma grunted, shaking her head. "Whatever."
"It mattered to me, Em-uh-Emma...and it mattered to Joanne. She never tried to take the place of your mother. She just loved us..." As Emma shook her head once more, her father asked, "Is it so wrong to want to love and be loved?"
His question slapped her hard, hitting a raw nerve.
"She's no different than you and I, Em. Joanne has a heart just like you and I; only, she has to keep it back from you because the constant rejection is tearing her apart. Do you know what it feels like to be rejected, Em? To be openly rejected every single day?"
Yes, she did...but grief stopped her from saying so.
"A person's worth isn't based on the blood they have in their veins. Joanne is no less worthy of love than your mother just because she doesn't have the same blood as you. Your mother was so special to me, Emma. I loved her with all that I was. I didn't want her to die..." On that last note his voice broke. He stepped away, just as love broke through Emma's wall. She reached for him, but he didn't see her do so.
With his back to her now, and over his shoulder, he said, "I'm just a man, Emmie."
Oh, God, she inwardly wept. He hadn't called her that since she was a little girl.
"I didn't have the power to heal your mother... but if I did have -- oh, God," he wept, catching a breath as he tilted his face towards the heavens. "If I did have it, I would've used it. She was my best friend for most of my life. When she left there was this huge emptiness inside me... "
She wanted to run to him, to hold him, to take his pain from him... but... she just couldn't.
"I've tried, Emmie. All these years I've tried to love you, your brother, and Joanne, while still mourning over the loss of your mother. But now," he told her, turning his side to her, but not his face, "now I see I've failed everyone. Joanne is convinced she did wrong by all of us on entering into our lives. Your brother never talks." He smiled there, and for a brief second, Emma was transported back in time, to when he used to laugh and play with her. He was the first man she ever loved... "I can't even see him half the time beneath that black hair of his."
Despite herself, Emma smiled. "He's a good kid, Dad. He just has a lot of emotions and things to deal with, too, ay."
"Yeah... but I just wish he'd bring them to me."
She rose to her feet there, forgetting the full extent of her own worries, suddenly feeling a lot older than what she had a few minutes earlier. Stepping towards him, she said, "Why would he? When was the last time you trusted your emotions to him? Gee, Dad, this is the first time you've opened up to me since... well, since... forever! You stopped mentioning mum the day she died. If you cried, we never saw it. As far as James and I were concerned, you never mourned over mother. It was like you'd simply shut the door to a stranger, and got on with your life. And it really was your life, Dad."
Regret carved its way across his features, but now that the truth was finally being unleashed, Emma continued to face it, without tripping over any compassion she may hold for the man she called father.
"James never wanted to play soccer. He hated soccer. But you insisted he play because 'all boys should play sport', and it fit nicely into your schedule. James wanted a guitar, not a soccer ball. Did you know that...? Did you care...? And what about me, Dad...? I hated ballet lessons. I don't dance. I don't like to dance. I like to surf... I love the feel of the salt water on my skin; the exhilaration that races through my soul when I catch that perfect wave. I even love the relief that hits me when I rise to take a breath after a strong wave has smashed me back to the earth. Dad..." she demanded, moving to make him look at her; neither his tears nor hers stopping her from spilling forth that which had been bottled up inside her for so long, "did you ever stop to look at us? To see who we are? Did you ever stop to think that we are more than a reflection of you?"
Over quaking lips, he barely managed to get out, "I'm so sorry..." and Emma instantly threw herself into his arms, holding him for the first time in over ten years; holding them without any walls between them; holding him without needing his love for her, but longing to give her love to him.
Several moments later, when the tears had finally stopped, and he tilted her face to look up at him, just as her mother had done that fatal day, Emma knew his confession of love was coming and she quickly broke away, before he could say it. Suddenly, she just couldn't take it.
Unable to face him now, she said, "I'm not your little princess anymore, Dad." She waited for a response, but when none came she dared to face him again. If she never knew his love again, she would take the memory of his embrace, and the weight of the tears he had shared, and carry them with her until her dying day... for only now did she realise just how much she loved him; how much she needed him...how much she missed him.
"I know I haven't been the best daughter... but... I was scared, Dad... And," she added on lowering her head, "I hated you. On the day mother died, you took me from her arms, when she wanted to hold on to me, and I never got to hold her again... and I hated you for it." He went to say something, but she stopped him. "Please let me finish... When Dwayne started to show interest in me, I felt like I was somebody's princess again. And when he held me..." she sniffed, unable to hold back several stray tears, "uh...when he held me, I..." She closed her eyes, tightly, remembering, but wanting to forget.
"No, Dad," she pleaded, holding up a hand to him and inhaling deeply, in the vain attempt of calming her soul, "I want you to know." Directly at him, she confessed, "I hadn't felt that loved since mother held me that day. I blamed you from taking that love from me, Dad, and I thanked Dwayne for giving it back. But, Dad--" she broke as he came rushing towards her, pulling her trembling form into his solid arms and holding her firmly against himself, "he didn't love me..."
Later that night, as Joanne prepared to wash the dinner plates, Emma stepped into the kitchen, bracing herself for further confrontation.
Joanne glanced over her shoulder, offering Emma a feeble smile as she turned her sad eyes away. "I was three years older than you when I lost my baby," Joanne stunned Emma by saying, continuing on with her chores.
"You had a baby?"
Joanne nodded. "She died one month before she was due to be born..."
Unexpectedly, sympathy gripped hold of Emma's soul, tightly, and, with both hands, she held her stomach, sensing the child within.
"Her name was --no... her name is Krystal..." With a faint grin, she said, "My little gem..." She turned to the bench in the centre of the room, and continued to pack, clean and sort leftovers. "I never got to hold her. I was a single mum, and as my mother was always there to help me, when she told me I would always regret holding my deceased child, I believed her... but my mother was wrong. I've always regretted not holding her... Oh, don't get me wrong, I don't hold that against my mum, but there is a bond between mother and child that not even death can sever, and I miss Krystal so much that sometimes I wish I got to touch her just once." She struggled to blink away her tears.
Directly to Emma, Joanne pushed beyond her inner torment and humbly confessed, "I've been praying for you. I've known for awhile now you're pregnant. I saw the pregnancy test in the bin when I emptied it."
"You didn't say anything?"
"I figured you'd say something when you were ready. At least, I prayed you would. I didn't tell your father."
With shoulders lowered, Emma admitted, "I keep waiting for him to tell me he hates me."
"Why would he hate you?"
"Because I'm not a little princess anymore."
Joanne grimaced as her shoulders rose in what appeared to be determination. "I'm sorry, darlin', but I won't have you think that way. You weren't treated as a lady should be treated, as a woman needs to be treated, but that doesn't make you any less worthy of love than anyone else. If our worth is based on what we do, or what is done to us, then none of us are truly worthy of love, Emma... but, our true worth is found solely in God. In His eyes, and because of His heart, we are. And, truly, in the end, it's only His opinion of us that matters." She smiled, and added, "You will always be His little princess. Always. No matter what... Darling, with all His heart, He loves you."
Emma recalled some of the sermons Joanne had taken her to in the past; she remembered the words of love, but, "I don't feel it."
"You don't feel my love, either, Emma... yet," she faltered over trembling lips, hugging her arms about herself as though she were guarding herself against the cold, "I love you as much as I love Krystal, and," she relayed, breathlessly, emotionally, "I love her with all that I am."
When Joanne moved an arm in order to dry her tears, Emma felt like that seven year old child again, but instead of running into her mother's arms, she ran into those of her step-mother. The wall had come down, and there, on the other side of the pain, there was love, waiting for her, wanting her, needing her... "I'm sorry," was all she could choke out. "I'm so sorry..."
When their tears had almost stopped, Joanne stepped back to look into Emma's eyes, not letting her go. "I can't promise you happily ever after, and I can't take away your pain, no matter how much I truly long to, but I will guarantee I will be here for you whenever you need me, and I will always love you."
From the depths of her humbled, unguarded heart, Emma sniffed, "Thank you..." and with every part of her being, she meant it...
That day turned their lives around,but not because everything was perfect all of a sudden - because it wasn't; there was still a lot of healing and adjusting to do- but because for the first time in her life, Emma realised she was somebody worth loving, and so were the members of her family, even if they did not possess the same blood in their veins... For it wasn't their blood that mattered, she came to realise... it was His...