James fell back against the rough pillow.
“Emily, I feel so frustrated. I want to be in the thick of it and help the relief effort. I’m not used to being on the receiving end.”
“Soon you’ll be able to help,” she said. “You must give yourself time to get completely well.”
He took her hand, and she saw the tenderness and pain in his eyes.
“I know that, in time, San Francisco will become a more beautiful and exciting city than ever. And my greatest hope in life is for us to help make it happen . . . together.”
She found herself unable to meet his eyes, but he gave her hand a squeeze and went on quickly.
“My dearest Emily, I will never pressure you in any way. You are very young, and so gifted. You’re like an exquisite painting that is already beautiful, but is still in progress. Just as adding colour and light brings a painting to life, you will become even more fulfilled with all the new experiences and adventures that are waiting for you.”
“James, you have always been good to me. You’ve opened up a new world, and you’ve been so generous.” Her heart swelled with affection for him even as anguish swept through her.
“It would be wrong for me to ask you to make a commitment so soon. But Emily, life is long, God willing, and full of twists and turns that we can never predict. Will you promise me to reach deep within yourself, and choose the path that feels right and true? That is all I ask of you, for now, anyway. For my sake, and for the people who love you. Most of all, for yourself.”
With effort she looked into his gentle eyes, but she couldn’t find her voice. She only knew that she was filled with gratitude for his wisdom and selfless love. From the opening of the tent, the last golden shafts of sunlight shone, and through the radiance she saw the sky awash with colour.
From across the field she saw Will coming towards them. She had told him about James, and Will had come to meet him.
Now he, too, had a decision to make.
Emily was filled with memories of home, yet the vibrant pulse of San Francisco beckoned. James’s eyes were upon her, and Will was walking towards her. Then, quite suddenly, and for the first time in what felt like years, her heart was calm. She knew what her decision must be.
She touched her mother’s handkerchief, remembering her voice.
You must never forget that you have something special, my darling girl, something that glows inside you.
Emily’s eyes stung with unshed tears. How she missed her mother. She yearned for her father and Sarah and the family – for the familiar comfort of the cottage, the laughter, and the love.
But she could not go home. Not yet. She knew now that she must honour herself, the independent young woman she had become. It would only be then she’d be able to give herself wholly to anyone. Her mother would have understood that.
She hoped that in time, her family, James and Will would, too. Emily took a deep breath, filling herself with courage and determination. She knew she would need it.
But her heart soared, for it seemed that the world around her had awakened and had begun to sparkle with excitement for her future here in this magical city, where anything could happen.