This is for every reader that has patiently waited for Darby and Trace’s story. I hope you love them as much as I do.
There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast. -Charles Dickens
THE DAY THAT I met Trace Chamberlain I was four years old. That event altered the course of my entire life.
Trace is my most important person. My life, my memories, my heart—none of it would be what it is if I didn’t know him. Everything that I am, and all that I’ll ever be, can be linked directly back to that first afternoon in my backyard. Without a doubt I know that my life is far richer for having him in it.
Some people believe that love should never hurt. That’s so ridiculous as to be insane. Anyone that thinks love can be all roses and smiley faces has never loved with everything that they have. We’re all made up of things that are good and bad. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Some people are just adept at hiding them. Trace and I—we never hid from one another. The good, the bad, and the horrifically ugly—it’s always been out on display.
The deepest and truest love comes to be when you’re able to accept every single thing in a person—even the things that you think could be different. Trust me, I’m not saying that accepting bad behavior or taking abuse is okay—far from it. If someone treats you like an emotional or physical punching bag, leave. That’s not love. Sometimes love hurts, it’s true, but real love would never call you a fat slut or punch you in the kidney.
The reality is that true and abiding love is like life. There are ups and downs, peaks and valleys. Expecting your partner to be flawless is a recipe for disaster. If you aren’t willing to fight through some adversity, how much can you really love someone? When people get married, the vows clearly state in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. People want to believe that there will be no bad and no sickness, but that isn’t realistic at all. Only through struggle do you find strength.
Real love is sometimes painful. It isn’t just the highest of the high—it’s also the lowest of the low. It’s being on that bottom rung, holding on with half a finger as you struggle to breathe through the pain. There have been times that I hated things that Trace did—mostly to himself—almost as much as I loved him.
For all that, even in the darkest moments, a small spark of hope always existed. I learned that true love couldn’t be snuffed out. It could be ignored or avoided, but the spark remained.
There is no cure for love—no medication or magic to make it go away. Absence does nothing to erase love either. If it did, how many widows and widowers wouldn’t pine for their spouse until the day that they themselves took that last breath?
Love is not perfect because perfection doesn’t exist. Even the most beautiful things have a flaw. Deep and abiding love sees the flaw—and continues to love in spite of it. Perhaps the love even grows bigger because of it.
At some point, you might find yourself going under because the pain is so intense that you’re no longer able to remember the beauty. Believe it or not, hitting rock bottom can be a blessing. It gives you a place to kick off from in order to launch yourself back up.
There’s a feeling, just before breaking the surface, when you’ve been down for so long, that you falter. When you get that feeling and you’re positive that you can’t go any farther, certain that you won’t get to take that much needed and life-saving breath, that’s the place where miracles can occur.
The miracle is finding out who’s waiting for you at the surface. There’s nothing quite like feeling the hand of the person you love being there to pull you the rest of the way up.
That first breath when you break the surface and inhale for the first time changes everything. What seemed so difficult before that moment is suddenly crystal-clear. You’ve survived the pain and, in the aftermath, you have clarity.
In that moment, you know that your love is strong enough to survive. When you’ve gone through hell and the love endures, you know just how lucky you are to have something that so few people ever find.
True, do or die, lifelong love.
Anyone lucky enough to experience it knows that they should never let it go.
THE DAY THAT I met Trace and Tristan Chamberlain had started out badly for me. My family and I were in the midst of moving into our new home and I had been in a full-on bratty snit.
“Darby McKenzie, you need to drop this attitude and stop smarting off to your mother and me about this ‘stupid house.’ This is our home, and that is not going to change,” my dad said in his matter-of-fact way. “If you can’t behave yourself, you’ll have to sit in your new room and stare at the walls while Mom and I unpack, and Austin has fun in the yard. Is that what you want?”