When we open the book that will become the story of our life, the pages lay naked, wanting, beckoning us, coaxing us, until the words begin to appear, slowly, one by one, where we can clearly make out each letter as its ink blots the page. And then suddenly, in quick succession, sentences and paragraphs and chapters begin to form. Beginnings and endings. Endings and beginnings.

Life holds no promises. There are no five year guarantees. When life knocks us down we can choose to fall down the tunnel, spinning and spiralling out of control until finally we think we have hit rock bottom, only to have another cavern open up and swallow us in deeper. Or we can dust ourselves off, pick ourselves up, straighten our collars, and put that shoe that flew across the room back on. And we can give ourselves a hearty pat on the back and say, “Well done you! You made it! You might be tattered and your edges might be frayed, and like the Velveteen Rabbit your insides may be falling out and the threads holding your eyes in might be somewhat loose, but hey, you’re still here.”

And do you know what that means? It’s means that you’ve still got work to do. The world needs you. Because each day you wake up and go into the world, you have the opportunity to change someone’s life.

We are living in the Age of Enlightenment, which means that we are waking up. Sometimes it is in the act of awakening that we experience the most pain. But it’s all good, because that pain is moulding us into the greatest version of ourselves, and often that pain – as raw as it is – can be channelled as a healing tool towards someone else who is drowning in that abyss.

Blame, guilt and retribution are tools of the coward. We cannot change the past. We cannot feed ourselves a daily breakfast of what-ifs and if-onlys. We can only thank the past for its lessons and somehow find peace as we learn to live with the consequences of our choices, knowing that others are living with them too.

Had the map of her life been offered to Claudia on a silver platter when she entered this world, and had the lessons been hidden from her, she would have brushed the platter aside and sent it crashing to the floor. Had she seen the lessons, the gifts that were going to be revealed to her (admittedly through many hours of alternating screaming and sobbing and desperation), she would have graciously accepted the journey that lay ahead of her.

In hindsight however, it was probably better that she didn’t know.

Disbelief, anger, hurt, betrayal; there was not one of these words that she did not experience in its full magnitude during this decade of her life. She was crushed with the weight of eight years of expectation. Her fault, she realised, but the trajectory of that particular course of her life had already determined itself and she found herself backed up against a wall, just waiting to die. Which she wanted to. Many times. A bridge over a highway. A dark street where nobody would know. A truck driving the other way. That packet of pills. But somewhere deep in her soul, Claudia knew that giving up was not an option. Life could – and would – still go on, except that this time, she would be writing the terms and conditions.

And so she picked up the shattered pieces. She said her goodbyes. She packed up her belongings. And she left.

Kyle and Ross hugged her and cried with her and told her, with unwavering hope in their eyes, that everything would be okay, as long as they were together. That everything would be okay in the end. Because if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

But when nobody was looking, or asking, in truth Claudia felt as if she was dying. The guilt over Gareth’s death, compounded with Alex’s betrayal, was suffocating her. She sobbed her heart out driving to the office. She sobbed it out driving back home again. She would lie awake at night wondering when that big hole was going to open up. She wondered how long she could keep things up. She wondered whether she could keep her sanity in check. How Claudia wished that her mind would just wander off and never return.

But it stayed.

Because she still had work to do.

As Claudia closed the chapter on that part of her life,  her eyes were not dry and her heart still ached for all that was lost; but her soul was on fire. It was alive for the first time in years. She felt as if she had taken a flaming sword and cut through everything that was holding her back from being the authentic human being that her soul had been crying out for her to be all along.

Claudia learned that sometimes a person needs to lose everything to find themselves again. Her journey had been the most heart-wrenching rollercoaster ride ever, but, in the end, that’s life; sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s just downright terrible. But what counts the most, Claudia realised, is that no matter what part of the rollercoaster a person is on, it’s the people who are sitting beside you and in front of you and behind you, all screaming, or crying, or laughing with you. And some of them are holding your hand. Or wiping the tears from your eyes. Or kissing your forehead. Or grabbing you by the shoulders and shaking you to wake up.

Alex and Claudia found their way back to each other eighteen months later. They understood their soulmate contract, for everything that it was, and they knew that their relationship was over, forever. Alex, as soulmates often do, had come into her life to shake it up, to shake her up, and to force her to open her eyes to everything that she had been missing. She had, ironically, been there to do the same for him.

It took her some time, but eventually she made peace with herself, and with Alex. She forgave him for his meanderings when it became apparent that all was not as it had appeared to be. He had been a complete asshole, there was no questioning that, but, like Claudia, he was still figuring himself out. She had been his channel. Their ending, as seemingly ill-timed as it had presented itself, was a necessary ending.

Kyle and Ross grew into fine young men. Although their journey was difficult, it gave them a greater sense of empathy and connectedness towards other human beings.

Claudia learned to love herself again. When she was ready, she opened the door and welcomed love back in, and her heart began to mend.

She still speaks to Gareth when nobody is watching.

Four in the Morning is available in Kindle and paperback format on Amazon stores worldwide. Customers residing in South Africa can order an autographed copy of the book from Red Pepper Online.

You can read the first five chapters of the book by clicking here.

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