An excerpt from The Peacegiver, published by Deseret Book.

Daddy, I want a drink of water.”

Rick cleared his bleary eyes and saw a tussle of hair. It was Lauren, her little head just high enough to peer over the side of the bed. Like clockwork, here she was again at 2:00 a.m. Rick could count on one hand the uninterrupted nights of sleep he’d had over the last few months. Lauren was addicted to middle-of-the-night drinks, and the full glass of water Rick placed on her nightstand every night apparently tasted much better if Daddy got out of bed to give it to her.

Rick sometimes resented that he was the one who was always up with the kids, and this night was no different. But as Lauren took her drink, pointed her cheek at him for a kiss, and then said, as she always did, “I love you, Daddy,” as he walked away, he was grateful for the mop-headed interruption.

Rick could usually quickly resume his dreaming, but tonight sleep eluded him. Thoughts of David, Abigail, the road to Carmel, and his grandpa whirled through his mind. Rick remembered the example of a Church-member friend who had told him that he slept with a tablet of paper by his bed so he could record whatever was on his mind in the early morning moments when he awoke. This brother claimed he had discovered some of the most poignant counsel of his life on that tablet come morning time. This thought too began to nag at him, keeping him awake, but he knew of no paper nearby, and the cold night shoved him further under the covers.

Rick lay thinking about what he had just witnessed. The visit with his grandfather remained as tactile and real as any real-life memory. He could still almost feel the desert breeze. And he remembered David and Abigail down to the threads of their robes. Although the dream, with its details, remained vividly with him, he struggled mightily with its implications.

Carol lay next to him, still facing away and hugging her side of the bed as she had been a few hours earlier. His grandfather’s message echoed within him. Remember three things, he had said. First, Christ took upon his own head the sins of those who have wronged us. Second, because of this, he stands between us and those whom we think have wronged us, asking us to realize that the atonement is sufficient for those sins and to therefore repent of our grudges and give up our enmity. And finally, if we forgive, the atonement fills us with what we have lacked and either washes away our pain, or sustains us in it.

The memory of that counsel softened Rick a little more, and as he looked at Carol, he felt a tinge of regret for his part in the events that had pushed her to the far side of the bed. As he looked upon her sleeping form, he wished for her to be back in the center, where she used to sleep, and reached timidly to rest his hand against her back. Strange, he thought to himself, how someone married for twelve years could feel as awkward touching his spouse as he did the first time he held her hand. As he lay pondering this, “tragic” seemed a more appropriate word.

So you hurt like I hurt, he thought, remembering the moment in his dream. The cold I have felt from you is your desperate attempt to freeze out the pain of failed expectations and the humiliation of spousal rejection. He was cold in just the same way, and for the same reasons.

He had often complained to himself that Carol made herself as difficult to love as she could and then held it against him when he did not love her fully. But he had a new sense that he might perhaps be doing something similar to her. They were locked in a kind of death spiral-an insane game of chicken where each of them found themselves barreling toward an unthinkable end, each so committed to the justice of their own course that they were refusing to turn until too late.

Why would we do that? he wondered. What’s the point? Why are we so willing, even driven, to risk everything? He didn’t have a clue, and although he was feeling tinges of regret, he was filled more than ever with despair.

So what are we going to do? He asked himself, now turning to his back and looking at the ceiling. How can we get out of the mess we’re in? How is it possible?

Why would it be impossible? came another thought.

This new idea was so unlike his normal despairing thoughts of late that he reflexively looked around the room to see if someone was there. Finding no one, he turned his eyes back to the ceiling.

Okay, he thought, turning the question into a challenge, why would it be impossible? But he couldn’t fully take the bait, for the second voice within him kept insisting that healing was possible. Notwithstanding this, however, the first voice didn’t believe it would happen. He, or Carol, or both, wouldn’t be able to do what was needed, it told him. And the first voice was winning the argument.

If it is possible but you don’t believe it will happen, then you don’t really want it to happen, came the second voice. There is something you want more than healing.

What would I want more than healing! Rick retorted, joining the internal battle.

Unhappiness, pain, despair.

That’s absurd!

Is it?

Why would I want to be unhappy, in pain, or despairing?

Good question. Why do you?

I don’t!

Then why are you?

Because-well, because Carol makes happiness impossible! he exploded, adding an angry, unspoken expletive.

Rick had recently begun swearing internally, although the habit had not yet reached his lips. That one who knew better would be driven to profanity was to Rick just additional evidence of Carol’s downward influence.

Sure, she seems fine now while she’s sleeping, he defended himself. And I might be able to imagine things being better between us. But I know what she’ll be like come morning. And I don’t deserve it! I don’t deserve what she does to me!

So you want what you deserve, do you? came the second voice.

Yes. That’s all I’m asking, answered Rick.

“Are you sure you’d be willing to live with that?”

But this voice didn’t come from within.