Zach paced back and forth in the hallway. He could hear the muffled voices coming through the door, but they were speaking in hushed tones such that he couldn’t make out the words.
“What’s going on?” EJ asked, rubbing his eyes and trying to stifle a yawn.
“Everything’s okay, no worries. Go on back to bed” Zach guided EJ back into his room and tucked him into his bed.
“Is Mom okay?” he asked, breaking into another yawn.
“She’s fine. She, uh, fell, but she’s okay. Your grandma is in there making sure she didn’t hurt herself.”
“Okay, Uncle Zach. Goodnight.” The sleepy boy rolled over and, in no time, began to breathe peacefully. Zach backed out of the room and closed the door just as Ronnie opened the door to Kayla’s room and stepped into the hall.
Zach couldn’t read the look on her face. He felt like a teenager being called to the principal’s office. Would she lower the boom on him?
“Let’s talk,” Ronnie said, brushing by him to go to the living room.
Zach hadn’t felt this nervous since his first day at West Point.
“Is Kayla okay?” he asked. He barely recognized his own voice. It was filled with worry and tinged with regret.
“She’s fine,” Ronnie answered as she lowered herself into the arm chair. Zach took the couch and leaned forward on his knees, his face in his hands. He waited for Ronnie to speak before looking at her.
“Zach, I’m not blind. I’ve been around a long time, and I can read people pretty well. I’ve known for almost a year that you are in love with Kayla. And I’ve known for almost as long that she’s in love with you.” She took a deep breath as Zach anticipated her next words.
“You’ve been around our family enough to know that we look out for each other and that we rely on God to show us the way.”
Zach nodded, and Ronnie continued.
“I’ve been waiting patiently for God to lead you two to each other. I didn’t know how or when it would happen, but I had confidence that it would. I believe we are at that place and time now. But, Zach, Kayla is going to need some time to process everything. This week has dealt her one blow after another, and she feels like she’s in the driver’s seat of an eighteen-wheeler going downhill without brakes. Between the diagnosis, Henry’s death, and your news,” the raised brow and frown let him know that she knew exactly what he had told Kayla, “I’m afraid she’s in a state of shock.”
“You don’t seem surprised,” Zach said. “About my past, I mean. Did Aaron tell you?” Ronnie shook her head.
“Zach, you forget who Kayla’s father is. He knew from the moment he met you that you were no ordinary soldier. If you had been Navy, he would have pegged you for a SEAL. He suspected Green Beret or something along those lines. So, he did some research and learned the truth. You can find anything on the Internet these days.”
Zach nodded. “And you never told Kayla? And you’re both still okay with me, with us?” He was shocked that they had known all this time yet still treated him like he was their own and kept his secret.
Ronnie laid her hand on Zach’s arm. “That wasn’t our call, Zach. It still isn’t. I’m not going to tell you we were thrilled. You’ve got a lot of baggage, a lot of things you’re going to need to work through, that you’ve been working through, I assume.” Zach nodded, and Ronnie continued. “But Kayla loves you, and you love her. Trevor and I have no doubt that you will take care of her and the boys. But for now, Kayla needs some time.”
“I understand, Ronnie. I feel terrible that this all happened like it did. I never wanted to hurt Kayla. That’s why it took me so long to tell her, why I kept backing off. I was so afraid that it would be more than she could handle.”
“Oh, believe me, Kayla can handle a lot. She’s one of the strongest women I’ve ever known, daughter or not.”
“You’ll hear no argument from me,” Zach said closing his fingers into a two-handed fist and resting it beneath his chin. He wasn’t sure what he was expected to say.
“She will come around, but it’s going to take some time.”
Zach nodded. “What should I do in the meantime?”
“Pray,” Ronnie told him. “Pray for Kayla, for her health and well-being. Pray that she’s able to make the decision that is best for her, for all of you. Pray for her boys. Pray for Henry and his family. Pray that they find this madman before he takes someone else’s child. Just pray. And ask God to show you what is expected of you now and in the future.”
Zach looked down at the floor between his feet. Ronnie’s words weren’t quite what he’d expected to hear. Praying was all good and well. He did it all the time. But how was that supposed to help him now? Her advice gave him no place to go, no hope or promise, not even doubt or worry. It just left him confused.
“I’ll stay here tonight. You can go home,” Ronnie said as she stood. “Thanks for calling me.”
That was it. He had been dismissed.
“You’re welcome,” Zach responded though he felt like he should say more. “Ronnie, I—”
“Go home, Zach. Go to bed. We’ve all got a lot on our minds. Things will be better tomorrow.”
Zach hoped she was right, but in truth, he was more than a little concerned about what tomorrow would bring.