One Perfect Love

By: Jessie Evans

Chapter One


“Parting is all we know of heaven

and all we need of hell.”

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Gabe is alive. Gabe is alive. Gabe…

I know I may be fooling myself. There is probably a logical explanation as to why none of the funeral homes in town have received Gabe’s body, and none of the hospitals near Giffney, South Carolina have treated a Gabe Alexander in the past few days. My head tells me the chances that the man I love is still alive are slim, at best, but my heart…

My heart is on fire.

I go through the motions of the day with hope burning a hole in my chest. I help my best friend, Sherry, make my little brothers and niece breakfast with flames whispering against my ribs, making my blood burn and the mounting heat of the mid-summer day even harder to handle. I can’t wait to go to Darby Hill tonight, to slip my lock pick into the servants’ entrance door, and to tease the pins the way Gabe taught me, until the knob gives under my hand.

I feel like I’m only half in my body, the other half of me already tiptoeing through Gabe’s parents’ mansion. I help Danny and Ray clean up the blanket fort in the living room, but I don’t see our shabby carpet or the couch that sags in the middle. I see priceless antiques and oil paintings, illuminated by yellow moonlight. I clean up the breakfast dishes with my mind racing, tracing the route I’ll take up the servants’ staircase to make sure Aaron and Deborah Alexander are sleeping in their bed before I start my investigation. I give Emmie a bath with my pulse fluttering wildly at my throat, as if I’m already shifting through Deborah’s desk, looking for clues, not scrubbing toddler toes.

By the time I change Emmie into her favorite pink tee shirt, white bloomers, and rainbow tutu, my arms are trembling, and I know I need to calm down or I’ll be exhausted before sunset.

“Play animals?” Emmie asks, pointing to the pile of stuffies on her toddler bed.

“Sure,” I say, hoping it will help keep my mind off more dangerous subjects. But as I watch her skip across the room to grab her favorite stuffed koala, tutu bouncing around her waist, I can’t help but think about the day Gabe bought the skirt for her at the French Heritage festival.

It was only a few weeks ago, but it feels like another lifetime. Back then, I had no idea the man I loved was living in the shadow of his own impending death, or that this summer would be the only one we’d ever have. It’s only been four days since I learned that Gabe had chosen life on his own terms over the risky brain surgery that would ravage his memories and personality, even if he were lucky enough to beat the odds and come out alive. Four days since his mother told me that Gabe had died in the hospital. Four days I’ve lived with this shredded, ravaged feeling, like my soul has been sliced apart and left bleeding in the still, gray fog that is a world without Gabe.

Gabe. Gabe is alive. He has to be alive.

I have to see him one more time. I have to hold him, kiss his stubble-covered cheek, inhale the scent of his skin, and promise I will never forget. I have to swear to him that—if we made a child our last night together—I will love our son or daughter enough for both of us. Because Gabe loved me enough in six weeks to last a lifetime. I don’t want to move on without him, but I can, and I will, if there is no other way.

But inside, I’m hoping for a miracle, praying with everything in me that I will find something in Gabe’s parents’ house that will prove his mother lied, and that the grief, that has threatened to devour me whole, can be put away. At least for a little while.

I need more time, if only to make sure I give the most important person in my life a proper goodbye.

“Do you need something?” Sherry asks later in the morning, nudging my hip with hers as we stand side by side at the kitchen counter making peanut butter sandwiches to take to the park.

“Like what?” I slap jelly on Ray’s sandwich and reach for the honey for mine and Emmie’s.

“Like a Xanax? Or a stiff drink? Your hands have been shaking all morning.”

I let out an uneven breath, willing my arms to relax. “No. I’m good.”

“Are you sure?”

I nod. “Yeah. I don’t want to be out of it in the middle of the day.”