This wasn’t home.
After a moment, when she allowed the confusion to clear, she understood this was where she lived now. It was her new home. She’d survived a stroke, but even through her days of hell, balancing on the edge of leaving this world, she’d never once considered not fighting her way back. She’d lost faith only once in her life, and never again would she believe that taking the easy way out was actually easier. Some days were harder than others, but she pushed on. She couldn’t give up.
She’d done that once. That had been a time in her life when she was young and foolish, believing everything she wanted was something she couldn’t have. She had always been looking for something better, not understanding that what she already had was all she needed. It was right in front of her, but then, at times she hadn’t been able to see it. She had been making choices in fear, acting as if she knew everything. She soon discovered, as the years went by, that she knew nothing at all.
There was a lot to be said for age and wisdom, for living through every heartbreak imaginable—many of her own making. She hoped she was a better person, all her choices having brought her to this one moment in time. She was Becky Ann Friessen, Rodney’s wife, mother to Brad, Neil, and Jed and their wives, Emily, Candy, and Diana. She was a grandmother, a friend.
A breeze picked up, whistling as it stirred the waves over the salty ocean. Becky could hear them pounding the white sandy shore. She could smell the salt in the air, and she breathed again until it settled her. She wanted to go down to the water, to walk there herself and wade into and through the waves as they slapped against her legs, soaking her linen pants. But she wasn’t there yet. Almost, she told herself. She believed it as she stared at the cane resting against the light oak nightstand beside the bed, beside the easy chair she was sitting in.
Her skin was damp even with the breeze blowing in. It was warm again, like every other day in Cancun, the home she and Rodney had retired to. She was in the perfect chair before the open window, staring out at the vibrant colors from the gardens below: the reds, greens, oranges, and pinks. Her roses, orchids, and lilies were all in full bloom, and it was in moments like this, when she caught a scent from her garden, that she would remember the young girl who fell in love, had her heart broken, and then pulled a knife across her wrists, allowing the blood to flow out of her just to make the agony stop.
She stared at the white lines now, faded from forty years ago. The memory too had faded over the years—what she had done, what her husband had done. Something happened when you stood between life and death that reminded you of everything you’d forgotten. Becky tried to forget and blank it out as she moved through life, becoming stronger, more confident, and finally feeling as if she was worthy of her husband’s love.
She took a breath to clear her head and took in the warm tones of her room, the white trim, and the floor-to-ceiling windows in the pocket doors that could transform the bedroom into a veranda on a whim. This was new, and her son Neil had taken it upon himself to change this bedroom into a paradise while Becky was recovering from her stroke in the rehab center. It was comfortable and nice—and because it was Neil’s idea, as always, it was over the top.
She took in the ivy green sectional, the ottoman, and the large flat screen mounted to the wall. She had teased Rodney that their large bed was made for a king, but to her, Rodney was a king, not just for who he was but because he had stayed with her and worked on their marriage, loving her for her.
Rodney wasn’t a saint. He was rough around the edges, and he’d made his share of mistakes, her tall, dark-haired, devastatingly handsome man. At times in his younger days, she’d teased him about what a stick in the mud he could be, so set in his ways. He was cocky, arrogant, confident, and there hadn’t been a woman around who didn’t try to get his attention. He was the son of a wealthy rancher, a senator, a rodeo star. He had been everything to her, as only a young girl with starry eyes could see him.
Rodney had always known what he wanted. Anyone who paid attention could see that. It was in his walk, the way he took in what was going on around him and everyone he was with. He was brilliant. Even at such a young age, as a young man of nineteen, he had known there was more to people than what they said. She didn’t know that at the time, but then, everything she’d learned now from her years of struggles allowed her to see how truly special her husband was.
Rodney was the eldest Friessen son. He was a hard worker who made a success out of everything he did: the cattle ranching, his time in the rodeo. He had set eyes on Becky for the first time when they went to the same school, Berkley. She’d heard he was in the rodeo, and she remembered their first date, when she had tagged along with him to the rodeo grounds. He’d ended up facedown in the dirt, scrambling to get out from under a bucking bronco after making his time. He had been amazing.
She remembered it as if it were yesterday. The blueness of his eyes had made her heart skip a beat in her slender chest. Her throat had squeezed at something in his expression that she couldn’t put her finger on. His powerful eyes had been set on her. Maybe that was what had made women from everywhere want him. She sure as hell had. He was heart stopping, the best-looking man she’d ever seen, with a body she had wanted to step closer to. The way he moved, his slim hips and long legs…even his deep red checked shirt hadn’t been able to hide his chest and shoulders. Rodney Friessen had grabbed her attention.
She’d been sitting on a worn bench, wearing a yellow sundress, watching him. A white sunhat perched on her head, her waist-length hair flowing in soft waves. He glanced her way, then looked once, twice, three times. There was no mistaking it: He’d noticed her. Then he had dug in with each step and walked towards her. It had been a moment in time she’d never forget, burned into her memories. That had been their first date—and the moment she realized she had to have Rodney, that he was the one.
“There you are,” her husband’s deep voice called out behind her. “Your nurse is downstairs, ready to go for the day. Are you sure you don’t need her to stay?”
She had to blink as her memories flashed from a young, dashing Rodney to her tall, older husband. She swore the man was even more handsome today than he’d been forty-five years earlier. How was it possible for a man to have aged better than a woman? His eyes softened as he stepped closer, resting his large hands on his hips, his gold band flashing on his finger. Then he touched her where she sat in the easy chair, another of Neil’s new additions.
Rodney didn’t pull away, instead running his large hand over her shoulder and leaning down to kiss her cheek. She pressed her hand over his, maybe to hold him there. She loved his touch and didn’t want him to walk away.
“I’m good,” she said. The words were coming easier, not as slurred and unclear, but then, she’d fought an aging body and a debilitating stroke that had left her with paralysis on one side. Her mind had remained clear, but she was stuck in a body that didn’t want to work. It had been so hard in the beginning, because in her mind, she was still that young, beautiful girl who had stolen Rodney Friessen’s heart. Only when she caught a glimpse of the old woman in the mirror staring back at her did the icy reality crash in.
“You sure? This is your first day home.” He was worried. She could see it in his expression even though they’d both wanted this for so long.
She patted his hand again and then forced herself to slip to the edge of the chair and push herself up. She reached for the cane as she stood, willing her body to move as she once had. Rodney, of course, didn’t let her go but instead held on to her, helping her stand up.
“Don’t look so worried. I’m stronger than you think,” she said. This was the man she’d married, and she couldn’t imagine spending another moment away from him. At the same time, she didn’t want him playing nursemaid to her—to see her as useless, frail, and weak. “I wouldn’t be home if I couldn’t look after myself. You know that. Now why don’t you take me downstairs so I can talk to my son about his need to redo our bedroom?”
“You don’t like it?” He was still holding on to her, and she loved his touch as a husband, not as a man worried she couldn’t keep herself together. “I wanted you to have a space you’re comfortable in. I wasn’t sure…”
What was he going to say? Was he expecting the nurse he hired to sit up here all day with her? She hoped not. Although she liked Nola, she needed to look after herself. She had struggled to bathe and dress herself for weeks, and she’d be dammed if anyone would treat her like a child incapable of tending to her personal needs. It was degrading, that’s what it was. She wouldn’t have come home if that were the case. Maybe Rodney needed to understand that.
“Rodney, my love.” She reached up and patted his cheek, taking in her wrinkled hand and the dull gold band still on her finger, the same one she’d worn for almost forty-five years from the day Rodney had slipped it on her finger. She didn’t think she could get it off now even if she wanted to. “Stop worrying so much. I’m home, and I don’t need Nola hovering over me as if I’m going to fall at any moment. This change…” She took in the newly renovated bedroom and the sheer curtains that fluttered when a breeze swept in. “It’s lovely. Now let’s go.”
When she slipped her hand on his arm, he gave her a look as if he didn’t quite believe her, but at least this time he started walking with her to the door. His hand latched over hers to hold her to him.
“So tell me, when are all my children arriving?” she asked. They made it to the top of the stairs, and she focused on the circular stone steps. At one time, she’d loved the deep orange tile, but going up and down these stairs now was better than an aerobics workout at the nearest gym.
She nearly dropped her cane at the chorus of voices, looking down into the open foyer where her grown boys, their wives, and her seven grandkids were waiting. “You’re here already! Oh, this is wonderful.”
One, two, three—she counted them again: Brad, Jed, and Neil with Cat sitting on his shoulders. Her daughter-in-laws, Emily, Diana, and Candy, stood with their husbands, each with an eye on their children, her grandkids. There was something about each one of them, something in their tired, distracted expressions, that Becky recognized all too well. Each woman was holding on to something.
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