If You Stay


Twelve Months Later


The letter that I hold in my hands is old and yellowed and precious. Tears blur my vision as I read it and I slowly wipe them away, careful not to smudge my makeup. I set it aside and look up at my sister.

"So much has happened this year," I say softly. Maddy nods in agreement.

"Yeah," she agrees with a laugh. "Who would have thought that I'd actually grow to love Pax?"

I roll my eyes. "How could you not? He's amazing. He's done everything that he promised he would."

And he did. True to his word, Pax continued to see Dr. Tyler. He put in so much work on changing the way he handles things and communicates that I couldn't be prouder of him, and our relationship couldn't be more healthy or whole. He's beautiful, inside and out. He completely gave up whiskey and drugs. The only thing he touches now is wine at dinner, with me.

"I can't believe he gave up Jack Daniels," Madison says wryly, shaking her head. "That blew me away. Especially when all of that legal stuff was going on with his mother's killer. It was so stressful. But he never even blinked. He didn't mess up once. I have to say, I'm impressed with him, Sis. Truly."

I nod absently, thinking about how hard that 'legal stuff' had been for Pax to deal with.

Leroy Ellison is the name of the mail man who violated Susanna Tate. DNA evidence proved it within a 99.900% level of accuracy and Pax identified him in a line-up, in addition to describing the snake tattoo on Leroy's hip.

Leroy is in jail now, awaiting trial. The Tate family attorneys don't expect the trial to last long, since the evidence is conclusive.

"And then, for his grandpa to turn up and try to make amends... Pax had so much pressure from every direction. I thought for sure he'd slip up. But he didn't," Madison says, staring at me.

I have to admit, I had been a little nervous too. When William Alexander had showed up at Pax's lake house and wanted to talk, I thought all kinds of shit was going to hit the fan. But he and Pax had taken a walk and talked through things.

And over the course of the past year, as Pax's head became clearer and less clouded by his past hurt, he had decided to take an interest in the family company. He will someday take it over when his grandfather dies.

In the meantime, he is working from a home-office at the lake. He is learning the business and has met with his grandfather several times.

In one of those meetings, his grandfather gave him an old box of letters, written from his mother to Pax, beginning with the day he was born.

Maddy nods toward the letter sitting beside me.

"What's the deal with that letter, anyway?"

"Apparently," I explain, "When Paul moved Pax to Chicago, he left a bunch of Susanna's stuff in their old house. He just couldn't bring himself to throw it out. Pax's grandfather sorted through it for him and when he did, he found a box of letters in Susanna's closet.

"I guess, when she was pregnant, she got emotional and hormonal and had decided to start writing Pax letters for special occasions in his life, in case anything ever happened to her. Paul said he teased her about it, but she did it anyway. It turned out, her foresight was a good idea."

"Oh my god," Maddy breathes. "That gives me goose bumps. It's amazing."

I nod. "I know. William kept them for Pax all of these years."

"Why did Pax want me to bring you that one this morning?" Maddy asks curiously.

I flip it over and hold it up for her to see. She obviously hadn't looked at it when she carried it in to me.

The envelope is labeled, For Pax on his wedding day.

His wedding day is today.

Maddy's eyes widen. "Oh, wow. What does it say?"

My fingers shake as I read through the elegant writing once again, this time aloud for Madison. I struggle not to cry, because the words are just so beautiful.

To my beautiful son,

Looking at you now, as you toddle about my garden collecting caterpillars, I can't imagine a day when you will be grown, when you will be a man. I can't imagine a day when your tiny chubby hands will grow into big, slender ones like your father's and that you will be one day be big enough to find a woman that you love.

But I know that day will come, because days like that always do. You will be big and strong and beautiful and your wife will be lucky to have you. And you will be lucky to have her, too. Because anyone who captures your heart will be beautiful and amazing, as well. You will suit each other in every way. That is my hope for you.

If you're reading this, then I am not there with you. But I want you to know that my heart is there. My love is there. My love will always live on in you. And when you hold your children and your grandchildren, my love will pass through you to them, because love is never-ending. It goes on and on and on.

My beautiful son, I love you. I hope that your married life is full of wonder and laughter and love. You deserve all of that and more. Please know that I am very proud of the man you have become. I know that even now, even as you are still a boy. I know it because of the potential that I already see in your eyes.

Pax, don't be upset that I'm gone. I believe in heaven, in a wonderful place full of forgiveness and love, and because of that, I know that I will see you again someday. Until that day, may your wife keep you happy and safe and loved.

All my love,


Your mother

My tears drip onto the fragile paper and I yank it away. I can't ruin this letter. It has to be put away and saved, so that our children can read it someday.

Love never fails.

It is a sentiment that has become a pledge for Pax and me. In fact, it is inscribed in our weddings rings that we will exchange today. And in this most perfect of letters, his mom has echoed that thought. His mother, the woman who gave her life to protect her son because she loved him that much.

And I do too.

I recognize that truth as I put the letter away and adjust my veil in the mirror. I love Pax more than life itself. Like his mother, I would protect him with my life. Wherever Susanna Tate is, I hope she knows that.

"Are you okay?" Madison asks quietly as I wipe away the little smudge under my eye. I nod.

"I'm fine. It's just beautiful. I hope that I live up to her expectations of me."

Madison smiles and adjusts my dress. "Of course you will. You're amazing, just like she said you would be."

Warmth wells up in me and as I'm hugging my sister, Tony sticks his head in the door. He's wearing a tux...to walk me down the aisle in lieu of my dad.

"Are you ready?" he asks as he holds out his elbow.

I nod and Madison kneels to gather my long, white train.

Of course I'm ready.

I've never been more ready.

As we position ourselves in the back of the church, the church that I have seen so many times in my dreams, I am filled with hope and boundless joy. This church that housed my parents' funeral is also hosting my wedding, illustrating once again that life is full of all kinds of good and bad. Pax and I have been through it all and we'll continue to go through it, because that's how life works.

I stare at Pax and suddenly, I am filled with peace. Like his mother before me, he is my peace now.

His eyes meet mine and he smiles, beautiful and radiant in the morning sunshine as he waits for me at the front. He's so handsome, so tall and strong, that it takes my breath away.

I take a breath.

The music starts.

Each step that I take brings me closer to him.

And when I finally get there, his fingers entwine with mine.

I look up into his eyes, eager to become his.

I repeat my vows after the minister and end with, "I will love you all of the days of my life."

And I know that I will.

Because true love never fails.

It never dies.

It just goes on and on and on.


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