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      Mari stood looking out at the water and breathing in the clean scent of the ocean. To her, there was nowhere closer to heaven than this spot. It was odd, but she felt safe here. The peace that filled her in being here was created before she could even form words. She could stand here all day.

“You picked the perfect spot.”

She looked over her shoulder where Blake stood beside Miranda’s grave with one hand on the headstone. Seeing him there, having him there with her felt…right. She flashed him a quick smile.

“I wasn’t kidding when I said she loved it. I feel like I lived years of my life right here. And sometimes it feels like she’s still here.”

“She would make sure pictures got to me. There were quite a few of the two of you up here. The grins on your faces were a mile wide. I’m sure in one of them those grins were covered with slushy coloring from the ones Gage says you’re so fond of.” His smile was soft with remembrance.

“I absolutely believe that.” Her laughter tapered off in a sigh. “She was a great mom. The best. Sometimes it just hurts that I never got to know the woman.”

“She was born to be a mother.  Your mother. I’m convinced of that. The bond between you two was something special to see.” He seemed to get lost in the past for a moment.

“After these last few days, I can tell you if you want to know who Miranda was as a woman, all you have to do is look in the mirror.”

She made a soft sound in the back of her throat as she tried to fight off the emotion. “Do not make me cry,” she complained.

He chuckled. “I just wanted to give you some of the answers you were looking for.”

He’d known her mother better than probably anyone else on the planet. Many people had told her she looked just like Miranda. For him, of all people, to say she was like Miranda in personality meant the world. She absorbed his words, cherished them.

“Thank you.” She inhaled deeply and busied herself opening the bag strapped across her body. “I got you something.”

His brow raised and warmth filled his face. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know, but it felt right.”

She pulled out the woodcarving she’d asked Leo to do for her. It was wrapped in paper to keep it from chipping. She offered it to Blake.

      “It’s just something to mark this…us…”

“I understand. It’s a beautiful thought.”

      He took it from her hands and gently unwrapped the paper from it. A young girl stood with her hand stretched up toward a male figure looking down with his hand reaching toward hers. The fingertips just touched, symbolizing a beginning.

      She’d shown it to Tyler first, wanting to make sure it was something Blake would appreciate. He’d been silent at first, making her worry, but then he’d assured her she’d chosen well. She wasn’t convinced until she caught him toying with it a few times. She could still see his embarrassed grin when she promised to have Leo make something for him.

      She watched as Blake drew a finger over the etched details. Finally he lifted his head. The tears filling his eyes immediately made her eyes water.

      “Thank you,” he whispered.

She nodded, not trusting her own voice. Then, before she could second-guess it, she stepped into him for a tight hug. His arms closed around her, holding her close.

“This is only goodbye for now,” he promised after long moments.

“I know.”

Mari didn’t lift her head from his chest, cherishing the opportunity to hug her father. There was so much more to learn about him, but there would be time. He was no longer a blank in her life she had no hope of filling in. Whatever came of this, she was grateful for the days they’d had.

He didn’t speak again or break the hug. Only when she finally pulled away did he release her. He cleared his throat and wiped at his eye.

“I have something for you too, although it’s not nearly as nice.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a phone. “This is a more discreet way for us to stay in touch until we’re able to see each other again.”

Mari grinned and took the phone. “It’s not as pretty, no, but I think your gift beats mine. Thank you.”

“My number is in there. Reese’s is as well, although I don’t expect you to need it.”

She nodded her understanding and tucked the phone in her back pocket. Rocking back on her heels, she looked up at him. Words dried up in her throat. He was leaving and while it wasn’t a permanent goodbye, she still felt emotional about it.

“Goodbyes are hard,” she admitted with a sheepish laugh.

“They are. And they never get easier, but we’ll fill the times between them with enough goodness to make them worth it.”

She liked the sound of that. They turned together to start back down the hill in companionable silence, their shoulders brushing.

They’d agreed to say their goodbyes at the house rather than the airport and she knew that would be better. The stop at Miranda’s grave had been for Blake who wanted to go one last time before he left. It was the perfect end to his visit.

Reese and Gage were waiting for them inside the house when they returned. Gage wrapped her up in a huge playful hug and she pressed a big messy kiss to his cheek. “Take care, Old Man. And watch out for the other old man too.”

“Yes ma’am. You take it easy on Reese. Don’t you be givin’ him a hard time.”

Mari batted her eyes. “Me? Would I ever do that?”

Gage snorted, making her laugh. She was always sad to see Gage go. It was even harder this time.

Even though they’d already hugged, Blake pulled her in for another while Gage spoke quietly to Reese. She knew there was a touch of desperation in her hug, but she didn’t loosen her hold.

“I’ll see you soon,” he promised in her ear as he stroked a hand over her hair.

“I’ll look forward to it.”

He pulled back first and lifted his bag from the couch. Gage did the same with his and she followed them to the door. Reese held it open and she stood in the doorway while Blake and Gage got in the car. She waved with a smile that faded as they backed out and headed for the road. She stood there until the car was out of sight.

“They’ll be fine.”

Reese’s voice made her jump and she looked back at him. His smile was faint.

“He has added motivation to take care of himself now.”

The idea warmed her. She would hold onto that and trust Reese’s words.

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