A Ray of Hope

The wheels of the train continued their rhythmic click-clack as Anna leaned over the black iron railing. Rain pelted the tracks below and mist plastered a few loose ebony tendrils to her face.

It had been raining that night too.

In a matter of hours, she went from laughing at one of Peter’s corny jokes, to half crying, half screaming in a cold hospital room in Milwaukee. The doctor pulled his hands away from Peter’s chest, his expression somber.

Time of death, twenty hundred hours”

It wasn’t fair.

Three years stationed out west in hostile territory. Countless nights sitting at his bedside at the infirmary in Minneapolis, comforting him through his night terrors. Every night she had prayed for him, that the Light of Christ would shine through the darkness in his soul. Then, one Sunday morning last month, he’d risen from his wheelchair in front of the entire congregation at St. Mary’s. Taking her hand in his, he’d asked her to marry him.

Now he was gone.

As much as she fought the darkness the past several days, it consumed her. She leaned farther over the railing, one foot lifting from the platform as her thick black skirt rustled around her ankles. Rain splattered on her fingers and thunder rumbled in the distance.

Just one quick movement and her life would be over.

You know, that’s not going to solve anything.” A deep voice caught her off guard. Who would be out here at this hour?

A hand pressed gently into her shoulder and pulled her back. She fought for a moment, but then relented. Whoever had found her certainly wasn’t about to give up. Anna turned and her breath caught in her throat.

Tall and lanky with sandy blonde hair, his blue eyes reached deep into her soul. She blinked and lowered her head. What could he be thinking of her right now? That she was hopeless, a lost cause?

Leave me alone.” She wiped a mixture of tears and rain from her face.

Sorry, but that’s not going to happen.” The man reached into his pocket, pulled out a bright white handkerchief and handed it to her. “I know a troubled soul when I see one, and I’m not about to abandon you when you obviously need help.”

Anna took the handkerchief and wiped her eyes. “So you just happened to be out for a walk this evening.”

As a matter of fact, yes.” He put a hand on the railing. “I enjoy watching and listening to the rain. There is something cathartic… cleansing about an early spring storm.”

Well, I’m fine.” She handed the damp kerchief back to him. “So you can tell whoever sent you out here that I’m not going to throw myself off the back of the train.”

He held up his hand and shook his head. “Keep it. And I don’t mean to intrude, but you sure don’t look like you’re doing fine.”

Anna closed her eyes and exhaled. Then she opened them, and though a teary haze the thin crescent moon shone through a gap in the parting clouds. Every particle of her being told her to walk away. And yet, this man seemed sincere. He at least deserved an explanation.

I… my fiancé died last week.” Anna’s shoulders sagged. “The funeral was yesterday. I thought I could…”

You thought wrong.” He reached out and took her hand in his own. “Don’t you know how much God loves you?”

A cool breeze blew through the observation deck, carrying with it the scent of Ivory soap and vanilla. Just like Peter.

I used to believe that.” Anna pulled her hand away. “I sang in the choir every Sunday at church. My favorite song used to be ‘Amazing Grace’.”

The man lowered his head. “That was my wife’s favorite song. I sang it at her funeral last year.”

Oh.” She pressed her fingers to her lips. “I’m so sorry.”

He walked over to the railing. “I know how hard it is. I wondered why God would take away someone I love. Then I remembered something my wife told me before she died. When darkness surrounds us, God is still there. Five minutes ago, all you could see was the storm. Then the clouds parted, and there it was, the thin crescent moon. Not much, but see how it lights up the raindrops?”

How could she have missed them? In the distance, a glittering line of droplets covered the tracks, stretched before her like a roadway.

A path back to God.

You’re right.” A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as a tear slid down her cheek. “It’s beautiful. And I wouldn’t have seen it if I had thrown myself on the tracks.”

Then it’s a good thing I came along. Would you like to join me for a cup of tea?”

I’d like that.” She blinked away her tears and brushed the back of her hand against her cheek. “My name is Anna.”

Nice to meet you, Anna.” He extended his hand. “I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself earlier. My name is Raymond.”

She placed her hand in his and warmth radiated through her palm.

So.” She bit her lower lip. “What brings you on a train to Chicago?”

To tell you the truth.” He opened the door to the observation car. “I woke up this morning and had the strangest feeling that I should hop a train to Chicago for the day. Like my life depended on it.”

Anna’s eyes widened at his words and a flutter swept through her heart. “Or maybe my life?”

Maybe.” Raymond grinned and led her into the nearly empty train car. A rush of warmth surrounded her, bringing with it a new scent. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but then Raymond stepped aside. There, on a table behind him, a white porcelain bud vase held a single daffodil.

A bright, sunny ray of hope.

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