“And then he just left, and his dad was standing there all smug and mean and, and, I’m never going to see him again.” Melissa grabbed another tissue and cried harder.
“You’ll see him again,” her cousin, Jamie said. “You guys can’t stay away from each other.” She patted Melissa on the shoulder and pulled her feet up onto the couch. Jamie had beautiful furniture and a cozy home, but Melissa had been kind of hoping to move into Troy’s house soon. Now that dream seemed impossible.
“I mean, like, seriously, he had been kissing me literally two seconds before that, okay, two minutes before that, but still. We were totally making out and now he’s just gone.”
“Don’t stress, Lizzy. He just needed some time. One of these days he’ll show up at your work or come knocking on the door and everything will be perfect again.”
There was a soft knocking on the front door and both girls jumped.
“Do you think that’s him?” Melissa asked in panic.
Who else would be knocking on our door this late at night?” Jamie asked. “Why don’t you go answer it and find out?”
“I can’t answer it.” Melissa squeaked out a response. “I look terrible. I look like I’ve been crying all night.”
“You have been crying all night.” Jamie scrambled to get off the couch and strode across the room to open the door revealing a very haggard looking Troy Weller. “Good evening, Troy, have you been crying as much as my cousin?”
“Guys don’t cry.” Troy’s gruff voice strained with emotion as he stepped into the living room, slipping off his shoes at the door.
Liar. Melissa didn’t stand to greet him just huddled in the corner of the sofa, not even bothering to wipe the mascara from under her eyes.
“Mind if I sit down?” Troy moved slowly across the room and didn’t wait for Melissa to answer his question before lowering into the middle of the sofa closer to Melissa than to the other side.
She didn’t hesitate but climbed right up onto his lap and held him as he wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her hair. They didn’t kiss. They didn’t talk. They just held each other.
“Gosh, look at the time,” Jamie said somewhere in Melissa’s peripheral thoughts. “I have to work in the morning so I should probably get to bed.”
Neither Troy nor Melissa moved an inch to indicate they’d heard her cousin leave. The just held each other.
Eventually Troy whispered, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too,” Melissa whispered back, not really sure what she was apologizing for.
“Guess I didn’t do as much research as I thought I did,” Troy said. “I mean, we’ve got our Bible Doctrine and Practice explaining our beliefs. You guys need to have a manual or something.”
“We do,” Melissa said. “It’s called the Book of Mormon.”
Troy pulled back but kept his arms around her waist. “And you seriously think that’s scripture?”
“I know it is.” Melissa kept her arms around his neck.
“How do you know?” He still sounded skeptical.
“How do you know the Bible is scripture?”
“Because it just… is,” Troy said.
“How do you know?” Melissa asked again.
“I read the Bible every day.”
“I read the Book of Mormon every day,” she said. “And I cross reference back and forth with the Bible.”
“But the Bible contains the teachings of Jesus Christ,” Troy said.
“So does the Book of Mormon.” Melissa felt as if she were winning this debate, but she had one more point to make. “Have you ever gotten down on your knees and asked God if the Bible is scripture?”
“Asked him? Like ask him ask him?” Troy sounded confused. “Why would I do that? I already know it’s scripture.”
“How do you know?” She knew she was baiting him, but they needed to get past this.
“I don’t know how to answer that question,” he admitted.
“Can I tell you how I know the Bible is scripture?” Melissa asked, looking him in the eye. He nodded. “Because it feels right. In here.” She poked him gently on his chest.
“Yeah, that’s a good way to describe it.” Troy nodded.
“That’s how I feel when I read the Book of Mormon too.”
“Can I interrupt?” Jamie said from the doorway to the hall holding a little blue book. “When I was serving as a missionary, I gave away dozens of these and I’d like to gift one to you as well.” She stepped tentatively into the room and handed Troy a copy of the Book of Mormon.
“Oh, I couldn’t take your book from you.” Troy tried to push the book away. “Books are expensive.”
“Our church gives them away free to anyone who wants one.” Jamie rested the book in Troy’s hands.
“If you insist.” Troy chuckled and smiled up at Jamie. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Jamie winked at Melissa. “Goodnight.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Troy whispered. “This is a lot to take in.”
“I’m sorry.” Melissa bit her lower lip.
“You don’t have to be sorry.” Troy set the book on the little table in front of the couch and wrapped both arms around Melissa, holding her close. “Thank you for being patient with me.”
“We’ll get through this, Troy,” Melissa said. “Just like we’ll get through lots of other tough things in this life.” Melissa yawned and tucked herself into his arms, resting her head on his shoulder.
“You’re exhausted. I should let you get to bed.” Troy rubbed her back.
“No, don’t leave yet. I just got you back.” She snuggled herself even closer.
“Okay.” He continued rubbing her back.
“Just hold me a little while longer,” Melissa whispered. Her words had started to slur.
“Okay,” he whispered back. Within a minute or two Troy’s breathing evened out, slowing to meet her breathing. Before falling asleep, Melissa heard Troy whisper a sleepy, “I love you.”
She tried to answer him, but the words never left her thoughts.
Book Club Discussion Questions: Have you ever read the Bible and/or the Book of Mormon? I'll send you a signed copy of one of my books if you've ever read Bible Doctrine and Practice, an explanation of the faith and practice of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. My copy has seven sticky notes and a bookmark. I've never kept track of how many times I've read the Bible because I've been reading it since I was a kid, but I've kept hashmarks in my Book of Mormon and I'm almost done reading it for the seventeenth time! The answer is, no, I don't sleep. Much.
“Dad, this is Melissa,” Troy said, wrapping his arm around Melissa’s waist and almost presenting her to his dad. “Melissa, this is my father, Jonathon Weller.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Weller.” Melissa stepped forward with her hand extended. Jonathan didn’t take her hand. She wondered if this is how Troy felt meeting her parents.
“What is she doing here?” Jonathon asked, glaring at Troy with wide angry eyes.
“I was just showing Melissa the home I’ve commissioned to be built.”
“If you were showing her your home, why are you outside with your eyes closed, in each other’s arms, kissing?”
Melissa had a difficult time not breaking into laughter. Jonathon had a good point.
“We… uh… got distracted.” Troy cleared his throat and glanced at Melissa, who finally lost her resolve and snickered, covering her laugh with a cough.
“This is why you are discouraged from courting,” Jonathon stated. “You should not be alone with this woman.”
“Dad, our general contractor and about six of his employees are in various rooms of this house. We are most definitely not alone.”
“You shouldn’t even be together,” Jonathon said.
“Why is that?” Troy folded his arms across his chest and took a protective step in front of Melissa, as if standing between her and the rest of the world, even if that meant standing up to his own father.
“She is not of our faith.” Jonathon’s statement was definitive, as if that explained everything.
“She is a Christian who loves the Lord, our God. How is that not of our faith?”
“She has not been baptized,” Troy’s dad said.
“Excuse me, Mr. Weller, but I was baptized when I was eight years old.” Melissa lifted her chin in defense. “By a man holding the Aaronic Priesthood.”
“Your priesthood is not valid in God’s eyes.” Jonathon didn’t back down.
“Why is that?” Melissa asked.
“You are Mormon,” Jonathon said.
“Mormon was a prophet who lived about sixteen hundred years ago,” Melissa said. “I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
“What does that mean?” Troy turned to Melissa with confusion in his eyes. “I thought you were a Mormon.”
“That’s a commonly used misnomer. A nickname if you will. The term actually was originally used in a derogatory way but has come to be more like a badge of honor.” Melissa was surprised Troy didn’t know this about her religion. “We believe in Jesus Christ. We believe that Christ took upon himself our sins and died on the cross and rose on the third day as a resurrected being. Jesus is my Savior just like he is your Savior.”
“Why Mormon?” Troy asked. “If that’s not the name of your church?”
“Because we read the Book of Mormon,” Melissa said. “It’s another testament of Jesus Christ, just like the Bible.”
“There is no other scripture besides the Bible,” Troy said, taking a step back. He bumped into his father, who seemed vindicated. There was almost underlying smirk. Troy looked confused. He stammered. “There is… no other… I need a minute.”
“Troy—” Melissa tried to hurry after him, but Troy’s father held up his hand and stood between her and the door.
“I think he’s made it clear that he needs a minute.” Jonathon folded his arms across his chest.
Book Club Discussion Questions: I had no idea the chapter was going to take this direction. No wonder I was having trouble writing it all evening! Now that this happened, I know exactly how tomorrow’s chapter will look. Now I need to go write it. So, did this surprise you as much as it surprised me?
“This is the best view from anywhere in the house.” Troy pulled her gently from the main foyer, dodging stacks of lumber in the nearly finished open living area.
“The kitchen?” Melissa raised her eyebrows playfully, stepping up to the stainless-steel sink with top quality Kohler fixtures. “So that I can enjoy the view while I’m doing dishes?” The sink had been positioned at the corner of the room with a three-sided window frame providing a panorama of the landscape.
Troy came up behind her and wrapped one arm around her waist and with his other arm pointed out the window to the rolling hills below where shoots of green plants were just starting to pop up out of the soil. “And if you’re lucky, right down there will be a hunk on a tractor slaving in the hot sun to bring home the bacon.”
“Those are soybeans, Troy. But good try.” He missed her sarcasm about doing the dishes. In reality this was the nicest kitchen she’d ever dreamed of owning. Solid surface countertops, glazed tile backsplash, stainless steel appliances. And he was right. The view was incredible.
“Okay, okay, we’ll buy the bacon from your father. I’ve seen his livestock barn and he has some of the nicest hogs I’ve ever seen.”
“He does grow some good piggies,” she acknowledged, snuggling back into Troy’s strong arms, allowing her back to press against his firm chest. “Are you sure you’re allowed to hold me like this?”
“I’m definitely not allowed to hold you like this.” Troy leaned down and kissed Melissa’s neck just over her collar bone. “Which is one of the many reasons I look forward to marrying you. But not yet. I have to show you the rest of the house.” He backed away and grabbed her hand playfully, lightening the mood.
She laughed and allowed herself to be pulled along, loving seeing this side of him. In a way she felt like she’d known Troy for years even though they’d met just over a month ago. They’d spent so much time getting to know each other those first couple of days before the drama started that their whirlwind romance seemed to have spanned six months.
“They designed the main floor of the house in a way that the kitchen, living room, and home office all walk out onto this wrap around deck.” He pulled open the large sliding glass door and led her onto the hardwood deck that had already been sanded and stained a natural finish that blended well with the landscape.
Melissa leaned against the railing and gazed out over the rolling hills below. “This is incredible, Troy. How much of this is yours and how much is your brother’s?”
“Ours,” Troy corrected her, leaning against the railing beside her.
“How much of this is ours?” Troy said. “You’ll need to take ownership of the land because once we’re married, what’s mine is yours. We’ve tried to maintain the continuity of the fields, but you can sort of see where the edge of his property starts based on that tree line over there.” He pointed off to the west.
“You know I’m not marrying you for your land and fancy house,” she teased, only half joking. They needed to have this conversation. People were already questioning how quickly they’d fallen in love and thought they were rushing into a marriage that was doomed to failure.
“Why are you marrying me?” Troy turned with a teasing smile and leaned his hip against the railing so he would have his hands free to pull her closer. He brushed a thick lock of her long strawberry blonde hair off her shoulder.
“Because during our first conversation you told me the names of your chickens.”
Troy threw his head back and laughed heartily. “You like chickens, huh?”
“I like the names of your chickens,” she said, watching his face grow serious again. “Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.”
“I’m impressed you remembered them in order,” he said then cleared his throat.
“One of my seminary teachers made us memorize the twelve tribes of Israel when we were studying Genesis thirty-five.”
“Verses twenty-three through twenty-six,” Troy confirmed, meeting her gaze.
“That says something about a man,” Melissa said in a low voice. “I could tell that you were more than a cocky farmer boy who needed a new roller chain for his no-till drill. You were a man who loved the Lord enough to know God’s scriptures so well that you named your chickens after the sons of Jacob.”
“They provide my physical nourishment every morning while I sit at the kitchen table reading my spiritual nourishment,” Troy said. “How better to honor the service they provide?”
“Don’t you think they’re going to have gender identity issues if you name them after guys?”
“Nah, they don’t mind.” Troy brushed off her concern.
“Really? Did they tell you they don’t mind?”
“They still give me eggs every morning, don’t they?”
“How do you like your eggs cooked?” Melissa asked, added weight to the question, not just asking how he prepared his own eggs but how he’d like her to cook them for him.
“I usually just crack a bunch of them into a frying pan with some butter and stir until they look done.”
Melissa laughed heartily. She could picture him doing just that.
“Why? How do you cook your eggs?” His eyes gleamed.
“I try something a little different each time I cook,” she said.
“I’d love to try something different once in a while.”
“I’d love to cook you something different every morning.” Melissa stepped closer and rested her hands on Troy’s arms. “Maybe you could read scriptures to me as I cook eggs.”
“I’d love to read you scriptures as you cook eggs laid by our chickens who freely roam our property and sleep in our chicken coop as we sleep upstairs in our master bedroom.”
“Does our master bedroom have a beautiful view of the rolling hills also?” Melissa asked.
“Heck no.” He shook his head with a mischievous grin.
Melissa creased her brow. “Why not?”
“Because I don’t plan on having the curtains open while we’re in there.” Troy pulled her closer and apparently forgot all standards of premarital activities because his lips crushed against hers again, hungry for the chance to take her upstairs to their nearly completed master bedroom and close the curtains.
That was the moment Troy’s father stepped out onto the deck and growled, “Get your hands off my son.”
Book Club Discussion Questions: How much do you love the names of the chickens? It was brought to my attention that we needed a little more substance to Troy and Melissa's relationship beyond just love at first sight. I hope this helps.
“What the heck were you thinking?” Craig yelled the minute they were out of the hardware store. “You just made the biggest mistake of your life.”
“I disagree,” Troy said, heading toward his truck. When arriving at the Farm and Tractor Supply twenty minutes ago, Troy had slid into the parking lot and created his own space, diagonal and taking up three spots. When he’d gotten several texts from his friends telling him that Melissa’s ex-boyfriend was at the store, he’d left the restaurant faster than he could pay for his lunch. Thankfully he and Craig had driven there separately because he left without saying goodbye.
Craig caught up with him before Troy could reach the driver’s side of his pickup. “You just kissed a woman to whom you are not married. In public. In front of dozens of people who had cell phones raised taking pictures and videos of you kissing that woman in public.”
“You said that twice.” Troy ignored his horrible parking job and turned to his brother. “Would you rather have me kiss her in private like you did with Jessica?”
“What I did with Jessica was nothing compared to what you did with Melissa.”
“How would anyone ever know?” Troy asked, baiting him. “At least I’m honest in the way I feel about Melissa. My love for her is written all over my face for the world to see. I can’t hide my love for her any more than I can hide the nose on my face.”
“I’m honest with my feelings about my wife.” Craig seemed a little less emboldened now that he’d been called out. “I don’t need to make a public fool of myself to show that.”
“Yours was an arranged marriage. How do you know whether or not you would have loved each other if you’d met each other and fell in love without having someone tell you that she is the person you should love?”
“Love is a choice,” Craig said. “I’m glad that our fathers and the minister recommended that we should marry so that I wasn’t blinded by how beautiful Jessica is. And believe me, she’s beautiful. I love everything about that beautiful woman.”
“Melissa’s beautiful too, what’s your point?” Troy spun his car keys around his finger.
“I don’t lust after my wife the way you lust after Melissa. And I’m glad that she was chosen for me so that I didn’t ever have to question whether I was marrying her for the wrong reasons.”
“And what are the wrong reasons?” Troy asked, lifting his chin and not liking the direction of this conversation.
“Her looks, her body, the way she gazes into your eyes and sees your soul. What does that even mean?”—Craig reached for Troy’s right hand and practically flung it in Troy’s face— “The way she washes your hands. That’s not a reason to love each other. And that’s not a reason to marry each other or to build a lifetime foundation. You don’t even know that woman. And how could you kiss her when she has betrayed the man to whom she is betrothed?”
“She is no longer engaged to that man.” Troy pointed his finger in the direction of the store, knowing Melissa’s ex-boyfriend was still inside, presumably saying goodbye forever.
Craig ignored Troy’s insistence. “She kissed you right in front of the man she promised to be with for the rest of her life. If she did it to him, she’ll do it to you. She’s a cheater. And once a cheater, always a cheater.”
“She is not a cheater,” Troy yelled right back at his brother. “She broke up with him.”
“She promised her life to him,” Craig said. “There is no stronger bond than that. Divorce is not an option.”
“She was never married to him,” Troy said. “Just because she promised to get married doesn’t mean that she ever was married.”
“That’s not the way the church will view this situation.” Craig shook his head with disgust. “You have defiled her. You have defiled her parents. You have defiled yourself. You have defiled your commitment to the church.”
“Good thing I don’t claim to be perfect, just like you’re not perfect, and father isn’t perfect, and mother isn’t perfect, and Jessica isn’t perfect, and Melissa isn’t perfect, and no person in our church or her church is perfect.” Troy took a moment to calm down, knowing this spirit of contention was proving the validity of his rant. “That’s why we have the power of repentance. That’s why God sent his son Jesus Christ to be our Redeemer. Because we’re not perfect. And we never will be.”
“You’re just a walking sermon today, aren’t you?” Craig sneered. “And after your brazen display of sinful behavior. You shouldn’t even be entertaining the thought of marrying that woman.”
“I’m not entertaining the thought,” Troy said with finality. “I’m planning a wedding.”
With that, Troy stomped over to his pickup truck, flung open the door, and spit gravel as he sped out of the parking lot.
Book Club Discussion Questions: Troy has shifted from the rebellious kid he was at the beginning of the story to a submissive, humble man willing to follow God's will, and now to a determined man who is not willing to live by someone else's rules. Or is he?
“Troy, wait!” Melissa called as he stormed away from her office. She disentangled herself from Andy’s arms and hurried after Troy, following him down the short hallway and into the main showroom floor.
Dozens of customers seemed to suddenly need to shop in the sporting goods section of the store near her office. She ignored them.
“Troy, stop! Come back here.”
He wheeled around to face her. “I just needed to see it for myself that you did indeed have your ex-boyfriend with you in your office. Now I know where I stand.”
“Is this the guy your father said you weren’t allowed to marry?” Andy asked, coming up behind her. “Is he the reason you left me?”
She spun on Andy. “I did not leave you for Troy. I left you because I didn’t want to marry you.”
“Wait, is this the guy who only wanted to be with you because you were beautiful?” Troy asked.
Melissa now stood between the man she almost married and the man she wished she could marry. They glared at each other with vitriol in their eyes.
“That is not true that I only wanted her because she was beautiful,” Andy insisted. “But it is true that she’s beautiful. Every man in this building thinks she’s beautiful.”
“But she is so much more than her beauty,” Troy said in hushed awe.
“I am very aware how much more she is than her beauty,” Andy insisted. “I have known her for years. And I’ve loved her for years. I know the strong independent woman that she is. I want to serve by her side forever.”
That was hitting below the belt. Andy knew that if Melissa married Troy, she wouldn’t be his equal and she wouldn’t be able to get married in the temple forever. They would only be married until they died, and not for eternity. Mennonites didn’t believe that marriage could last forever if a couple is sealed in a temple.
“You deserve to have a temple marriage.” Andy turned to her and pleaded with his eyes. “You deserve to be married in the everlasting covenant. You deserve to have your children born in the covenant. You deserve to have a man who will treat you like a princess.”
“I don’t want to be worshipped,” Melissa said. “I want to be loved.”
“Love is not the only thing that makes a marriage,” Andy said. “You and I have a connection that’s eternal.”
“We can’t even get along for an entire conversation,” Melissa pointed out. “We’re arguing about whether we’re in love.”
“I’m not arguing with you. I’m fighting for you. Because I love you, and I’ve always loved you, and I will always love you. You have my heart, and you will for eternity. Please, I’ll do anything. I’ll move here so you can continue working. I can find a job here in Michigan, or I can work remotely. I want to be by your side. I want you to feel the kind of love that we felt at the time that I got down on one knee and gave you that diamond ring.”
“Your daddy bought that diamond ring.”
“And I’m still paying him back.” Andy chuckled.
“Giving you that ring was the best choice I ever made.”
“Accepting that ring was the worst choice I ever made.”
“I can’t believe that to be true.”
Would Andy never give up? Time to bring out the big guns. Two could play at this game. Melissa squeezed her eyes shut. “Andy, what color are my eyes?”
“What are you talking about Melissa?” Andy sighed. “Why does it matter what color your eyes are?”
“Just tell me. Do you remember what color my eyes are?”
“I think they're hazel, right?”
“You tell me.”
“I haven’t seen you in forever,” Andy said.
“Really?” She kept her eyes shut. “Because you’ve been standing in my office looking into my eyes for the past half an hour. Now go for it. Tell me what color my eyes are.”
“They’re hazel,” Andy stated confidently.
“Troy, what color are my eyes?” Melissa continued to stand there with her eyes closed knowing approximately what his answer would be before he said it out loud.
Troy’s voice lowered to a husky, burning undertone, and he almost whispered, “Sometimes they’re a dark jade. But when the light hits them just right they sparkle like emeralds.”
“That proves nothing!” Andy said. “All that proves is that he thinks you’re beautiful also.”
“No, it proves that Troy has looked into my soul.” Melissa finally opened her eyes and faced Andy. “Troy knows me on a deeper level than any man has ever known me before. It doesn’t matter that Troy and I have differences in opinions about doctrine. It doesn’t matter that Troy and I belong to different churches. It doesn’t matter that Troy and I are going to disagree about a lot of things. What matters is that Troy and I can’t keep our eyes off each other. We can’t keep our hands off each other. We’ve never kissed before, but I know that once we start kissing, we’re never going to want to keep our lips off of each other either.”
“I remember a time when you couldn’t keep your lips off me either.”
“I never felt anything when I kissed you the way I feel when I look in Troy’s eyes.” She turned around and pierced her gaze right into Troy. “I love you. I’ve loved you for weeks and I can’t imagine my life without you. Please come back to me. Please don’t shut me out. We can find a way to make everything work. I love you and I want to be your wife and I want to serve by your side or behind you or in front of you. Whatever you want. I want to raise your babies and I want to sleep next to you every night. I want to live beside you for the rest of my life and die in your arms.”
Troy didn’t hesitate a second beyond Melissa’s heartfelt speech. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her with a passion that she never knew possible.
People throughout the store whistled and catcalled and applauded.
Somewhere in Melissa’s peripheral vision, Andy took a step back, completely defeated. Maybe now he would head back to Utah and realize their breakup was forever.
When they finally pulled apart to breathe, Troy whispered, “I’ve wanted to do that since the day I met you.”
“Oops,” Melissa said with a nervous chuckle. “I guess we didn’t wait until our wedding to kiss each other for the first time. You wanted the minister to give you permission to kiss your bride.”
“Well since my minister won’t give us permission to get married anyway, it doesn’t really matter what he says.” Troy chuckled in irony. “I would like to get married civilly right away though because I can’t wait to kiss you again.”
“I’m totally on board with that plan,” she said.
“I know exactly what kind of engagement ring I want to buy you,” Troy said with a cocky grin.
“You do?” She bit he lower lip playfully. “What kind?”
Book Club Discussion Questions: Knowing how fast social media travels… how much trouble did Troy just step into?
Melissa gasped. Not a face she was expecting to see in Lowell, Michigan at her store. “Andy? What are you doing here?”
He was still as hauntingly handsome as he’d been the day she gave him back the enormous engagement ring he’d purchased with his daddy’s money. His clean-cut missionary haircut paired well with his smooth, chiseled jaw, Polo shirt and khakis. “Your mom called.”
That traitor! “What did she say to you?” Melissa demanded.
“She told me you were having a hard time and could really use a friend,” Andy said, his humble smile sincere. “I felt terrible that I wasn’t here for you, so I hopped on the next available flight to Grand Rapids.”
“You shouldn’t have come here.” Melissa shook her head in disbelief, keenly aware that they had an audience of store customers, most of whom probably knew that she and Troy had parted ways the previous week.
After driving home from Saginaw in near silence, Troy had dropped Melissa off at her cousin’s house and disappeared down the road. She hadn’t heard from him since. She cried every night and had bags under her eyes from lack of sleep. She didn’t need Andy showing up to make her feel better. She needed Troy.
Melissa glanced over at the little café in the corner where younger men had returned in recent days to drink burnt coffee and eat complimentary donuts. Likely they all hoped she would get over her infatuation with Troy and notice one of them. “Come on, let’s go to my office where we can talk in private.” She turned and strode to the back of the store, knowing Andy would follow her.
Melissa propped open the door to her office so Andy wouldn’t get the idea that she wanted that much privacy with him. “Have a seat.” She pointed to the chair opposite her desk.
“Can I have a hug first?” Andy asked, holding open his arms and offering subtly pouting lips. How many times had she kissed those lips? Too many.
“I think we’ve given each other all the hugs we’re ever going to give.”
“I have a hard time accepting that.” Andy reached for her hand and gently pulled her closer. “I still don’t understand what I did that made you want to take a break.”
“I never said I wanted to take a break,” Melissa told him, ignoring the betrayal she was feeling in her heart at wishing Troy was the man holding her hand. “I said I wanted to break up. There’s a difference.”
“When two people love each other enough to promise each other forever, that kind of love doesn’t just go away. At least it hasn’t for me.” Andy pulled Melissa just a little closer and rested his hands on her hips. The way he held her felt so natural, so comfortable, so benign. He still didn’t elicit any fire from her middle, any racing heart, any accelerated breathing.
They’d been engaged for six months. They’d dated for five months prior to that. Yes, she’d loved him. She probably still did love him. He apparently still loved her. He loved her enough to drop everything and come to Michigan to comfort her.
Andy always treated her with respect. They never disagreed about anything. Andy could give her every imaginable luxury in the world. His family loved her, and her family loved him.
On paper, Andy was everything Melissa wanted and needed. They read and interpreted the scriptures the same way. Andy held the priesthood. He served as a missionary. He had a college education. They’d attended the same college.
They knew each other’s secrets. Andy knew what kind of chocolate she wanted on the day before her period. He could go to the grocery store and pick out exactly what kind of pads and tampons she wanted.
He knew her birthday. He knew her parents’ birthdays. He was there the day her grandma died. He had loved her for longer than she knew he existed.
Their babies would be beautiful. Their babies would be raised in the church. They would never have to compromise their values or doctrinal beliefs to be together.
If Melissa married Andy, they could be sealed in the temple for time and all eternity in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.
The only excuse Melissa could give as to why she couldn’t marry Andy was because he said that she was beautiful. No, he said she was eye candy.
Was that such a bad thing?
Melissa had never come right out and told Andy that she’d overheard his conversation with his buddy. He was probably justified in his confusion.
“You called me eye candy,” Melissa whispered, lowering her gaze. She was eye level with his strong chest muscles, so well-proportioned inside his stylish shirt. The muscles of his arms had just the right amount of breadth. He was the perfect size. Everything about Andy was perfect.
“What? When?” Andy lifted her chin with his finger and Melissa raised her gaze to meet his.
“You were talking to your friend, John, and you didn’t know I overheard you. I could barely stand to be around you after that. I was so hurt.” Tears fell from each of her eyes.
“Sweetheart, I don’t remember saying that, but if I did, I’m sorry. It’s true that you’re beautiful. Any man who can’t see that is blind.”
“You sound like my mother,” Melissa said through her tears.
“Your mother’s a smart woman.” Andy pulled Melissa closer, and she finally submitted to his embrace, allowing her head to rest on his shoulder.
There was still no spark between her and Andy even as she wrapped her arms around his waist and held him close. She wished there could be. She knew what passion felt like now and nothing could compare. She just couldn’t love Andy as more than a friend, maybe a sister.
That’s probably not how things looked when Troy came racing around the corner and slid to a stop near the door to her office.
Book Club Discussion Questions: Why do you think Troy is there and what is he thinking?
Why do I do this to myself?
Why am I writing another controversial book?
You may know by now that I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly referred to as Mormons for short, however much of a misnomer that is since we worship Jesus Christ not the prophet Mormon). So why am I writing a book with a main character who is a Mennonite?
Because of my friend Troy (last name withheld for confidentiality). He was at my office one day a few years ago and I made a flippant comment about a man in my office who wasn't treating me very well and looked down upon me for being a headstrong woman.
I am a headstrong woman. Probably to a fault.
I'm a headstrong business woman who's taking on the world and standing up for the causes I believe in. I'm fighting for justice on behalf of the people and natural resources of our community. I'm a scientist. I'm a lobbyist. I'm a fighter.
But I also honor my husband as the head of my household just like Troy's wife presumably honors him as the head of her household.
The man I don't honor is the jerk who was treating me poorly at my office. He's gone now. He left years ago. I'm pretty sure he doesn't even live in the State of Michigan anymore. Good riddance. No man should ever treat a woman (or anyone) with disrespect. No one, male or female, should treat anyone else, male or female, with disrespect. I tend to believe that my friend Troy would agree with me on that.
But when I admitted that I'm a headstrong woman, Troy asked me, (I'll never forget his words so I'm putting them in quotation marks!) he asked me, "How does that work out at home?"
That stopped me in my tracks and I was speechless.
Did I not just state a moment ago that I honor my husband as the head of my household? Do most women honor their husbands as the head of their household? If you're ready to say something snippy to me about how men and women are created equal, let me ask the question of you, Is that really true?
Men and women are extremely different. I don't need to launch into an anatomy and physiology lesson here for you to visualize what I'm talking about. Is one better or worse? No, we're different.
Women are God's chosen vessels on this earth. We are the only gender able to have children. We are the only gender able to willingly agree to have a spirit body enter a tiny little physical body and carry that little physical body inside our larger physical body, endure an incredible amount of pain in order to push that little body into the big, scary world and then we hold that little body in our arms, crying with happiness that he or she was entrusted to us to nurse and love and teach and help become a larger physical body who will someday create more little physical bodies and bring them into the world to house God's spirit children.
And who is going to protect us (as mothers) as we protect these little physical bodies? It's not a trick question. You can say it out loud. Who has God asked to stand as protectors of the mothers chosen to create these little physical bodies? Our husbands.
If not our husbands, then who? Should we hire a bodyguard? I love my husband. He's way more than a bodyguard. He treasures me, not just as the woman who willingly accepted the little physical bodies who house the spirits we call our children. He LOVES me. I would not want any other person on this planet to stand as my protector. He provides for me. He goes to his job every day and brings home money that can be used to support me and our children. He would rather work two jobs than to ask me to hire someone else to nurse our children so that I can help bring in money to support our household.
So when Troy asked me, "How does that work out at home?" I realized, I'm not like this at home. I'm not a headstrong business woman who's taking on the world and standing up for the causes I believe in. I'm not fighting for justice on behalf of the people and natural resources of our community. I'm not a scientist. I'm not a lobbyist. I'm not a fighter.
Because I don't have to be.
I can come home and take off the business suit, and let someone else protect me for a change. I can snuggle into my husband's arms and let him protect me. He can make the decisions for just a little while. He can lead me and help me and care for me. And he's good at that. Because that's the way God made him.
Troy didn't tell me that's how it should be. He merely reminded me that my husband is there for me.
So, thank you, Troy for asking that poignant question that I haven't forgotten to this day. Is it any wonder that I had to name my character after you? You're old like me. I don't know what you were like as a young man. My character may not be anything like you. My character is not a real person. But he was inspired by you.
I hope that my story, called The Refusal, does justice to the teachings of both our religions and the gospel principles we hold to be true. You may not agree with how I chose to end the book, but that's okay. The book is fiction. The characters are not real. But maybe something in this story will touch your heart in the same way that your poignant question touched mine.
Sincerely, Julie L. Spencer
“Thank you for lunch, Mrs. Dalton,” Jessica said. “This is lovely.”
“You’re welcome, Jessica.” She set a plate of sandwiches on the table beside a large pitcher of lemonade and a fruit salad. “You can call me Jan.”
Melissa wanted to feel hope that everything would work out but had a sinking dread in her heart. All she could think about was the conversation her father and Troy were having in the barn. She wasn’t confident they would come to any sort of common ground. Troy was too willing to back down from confrontation, and her father was just bullheaded enough to take advantage of that.
“Relax, Melissa,” her mom said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “Things will work out for the best.”
“I’m not so sure your definition and ours are the same with that respect,” Craig said. “I’ve been trying to warn Troy since the day he met Melissa that he was playing with fire.”
“Well, I’m certainly not going to burn him if that’s what you’re implying.” Melissa folded her arms and lifted her chin.
“I don’t think you understand the severity of Troy’s predicament. Whatever transpires between him and your father is irrelevant.”
“Why?” Her mother sat at the table across from Craig. “Because my husband won’t give his permission? Or because Melissa will never submit to being looked at as someone’s property?”
“Because Troy will be excommunicated if he marries your daughter.”
Melissa and her mother both gasped. They looked at one another with wide eyes, then Melissa turned to Craig. “Isn’t that a little extreme?”
“That is serious departure from sound doctrine,” Craig said. “If Troy won’t tell you himself, my duty as his older brother is to inform you on his behalf. I never dreamed things would get this far or I would have told you sooner. If you choose to marry him, you are willfully taking him away from fellowship in his church and his family.”
“Are you saying that he would not be welcome among your family if Troy marries Melissa?” her mom asked.
“In certain settings he will be allowed into the gathering.” Craig nodded. “In others, he will not.”
“I can’t do that to him, Momma.” Tears filled Melissa’s eyes and fell down her cheeks. “I can’t take him from his family.”
“Maybe it’s for the best that you find this out now before you do something rash and end up regretting a marriage that was never meant to be.”
“That’s a terrible thing to say, Mother.” Melissa stood and balled her fists. “I am in love with Troy, and he is in love with me.”
“Love is not all that’s needed to build a forever marriage,” her mom said.
“You’re just still mad I didn’t marry Andy,” Melissa said.
“You were engaged for six months, Melissa. That’s hardly enough time to build a foundation for a marriage.”
“The fact that we were engaged for six months should be proof that we were not right for one another,” Melissa said. “If we’d been meant for one another we would have gotten married right away.”
“You are betrothed to someone else?” Craig asked. “And yet you were encouraging my brother?”
“No,” Melissa stated emphatically. “We broke off the engagement months ago.”
“But your parents made a promise to that man. You are defying your parents’ wishes.”
“I do not belong to my parents,” Melissa said through clenched teeth. “And I do not belong to Andy or Troy or you, or anyone else.” Melissa ran from the kitchen and stormed up the stairs to her childhood bedroom, throwing herself face down onto her bed and sobbing into her pillow. She felt like a little girl letting her emotions get the better of her this way.
Not surprising her mother knocked on her door five minutes later and peeked her head in the door. “Can I come in?”
“Whatever,” Melissa said with sarcasm. “You own this house and everything in it, apparently.”
“You know that’s not true, sweetheart.” Her mom sat beside her on the bed. “We’ve never treated you as if we own you.”
“It’s true you’re disappointed that I’m not marrying Andy.” Melissa waited for her mother to respond. Her hesitation spoke louder than her response.
“I just want you to be happy.”
Liar, Melissa thought. “I’m happy with Troy.”
“Are you happy though, sweetheart? You’re crying, he’s ready to drive home, your father’s upset, his brother’s upset. This would never work. You’re too different.”
“We’re not too different,” Melissa insisted. “We both love the Lord and want to follow his teachings. Shouldn’t that be enough?”
“People don’t always interpret the scriptures in the same way,” her mom said. “You have to do what’s right for you, and Troy has to do what’s right for him. Having been married to your father for almost thirty years, I can say with confidence that we’re happiest when we’re on the same page.”
Melissa rolled over and looked up at her mom. “I want to be on the same page with my husband.”
Her mother sighed. “I fear you’ll have a difficult time staying on the same page if you’re reading from a different book.”
Her father interrupted from the doorway to Melissa’s bedroom. “Troy and his family are waiting by his truck. Would you like to go with them? Or would you rather your mother and I give you a ride home to Lowell?”
“I’ll ride home with them.” Melissa scooted to the edge of her bed and gave her mom a hug. “I love you, Momma. Thanks for the advice.” She walked to the door and tucked herself in her father’s arms.
He kissed the top of her head. “Your mother and I love you and want what’s best for you, Melissa. I hope you know that.”
Melissa trudged down the stairs and out the front door.
Troy was waiting by the passenger door, leaning against the side with his hands in the pockets of his jeans staring off into the distance where corn was just popping up in the fields beside her parents’ feedlot.
The world felt right for that one tiny moment and Melissa wanted to run down the porch steps, throw herself into his arms and demand that he marry her today. She wanted to be with Troy forever. The thought occurred to her that if she married Troy, she would only be with him until they died, not forever. And he would be excommunicated. And she would be heartbroken.
Melissa trudged down the stairs and approached the truck. When Troy turned to face her, his façade fell for the briefest of seconds and she saw the same desire in his eyes that she felt in her own. Then he pulled his face back into a mask and opened the door for her.
He offered his hand to help her up and she slid into the leather seat as he closed the door and walked around the front of his truck.
Neither of them spoke to one another or Craig and Jessica in the back seat.
After Troy clicked his seat belt into place but before he put the truck in gear he stated in a quiet tone, “Your father said no.”
That was that. Melissa turned her face to the window and allowed a few tears to fall down her cheeks. The ride home was quiet.
Book Club Discussion Questions: Do you think Melissa should walk away to protect Troy from disfellowship from his family?
Pulling up to Melissa’s parents’ modest farmhouse had Troy’s stomach dancing with butterflies. What were her parents going to think? They probably already thought he was nuts for his old-fashioned way of requesting an audience with her father.
The rain had let up as they’d driven east and now a light haze hung over the freshly planted fields all around the perimeter of the Dalton’s feedlot. Theirs was a decent sized livestock operation, commercial but not industrial.
Troy pulled his truck around the circle drive and parked close to the front door with the passenger side toward the house so that the women wouldn’t have to walk as far. He hurried around the front of the truck to hold open the door for Melissa as Craig helped unclip baby Jesse from his car seat harness before walking around to hold open the door for his wife.
Melissa’s mother stepped out the front door and smiled down to them from the porch. Her eyes met his and he returned her smile, lacing his fingers through Melissa’s and trying to calm his nerves.
Because he was watching Melissa’s mom so intently, Troy knew the minute her mom saw Jessica climb down from the truck because her smile faltered, and her lips pursed. That didn’t take long. She’d pieced the puzzle together even more quickly than Melissa. With a forced smile and hardened eyes, Mrs. Dalton stepped off the porch and approached her daughter.
“Mom, this is my friend Jessica, her husband Craig, and their adorable baby Jesse.” Then Melissa pulled him closer and said with pride in her voice. “And this is Troy.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Dalton.” Troy reached out and offered his hand. “Thank you for allowing us to come meet you and your husband.”
She hesitated a second or two longer than was socially acceptable and Troy wondered if she was going to leave him hanging. Finally, she clasped his hand with the firm, calloused grip of a farmer’s wife. She didn’t respond with words just looked at her daughter with raised eyebrows.
“Where’s Daddy?” Melissa asked, glancing toward the barn.
“I’m right here.” A gruff voice pulled Troy’s attention back to the front door where an intimidating man stepped onto the porch, his hardened expression an outward display of his disappointment at seeing the man holding his daughter’s hand.
Troy made a split-second decision to drop Melissa’s hand and approach her father with a confident stride and an outstretched hand. “Mr. Dalton, my name is Troy Weller. I’m honored to meet you, sir.”
“Melissa, you didn’t tell me your friend was Amish.” Mr. Dalton didn’t reach for Troy’s hand.
“Mennonite, actually, sir,” Troy said, clearing his throat and not lowering his hand.
Mr. Dalton looked Troy up and down with disdain and Troy wondered if this was how Melissa had felt when he’d brought her to his uncle’s restaurant. Perhaps they both should have been more upfront with their families and friends.
Perhaps their families and friends should be more accepting of their choice in life partners.
The teachings of his youth came pouring into his heart. You will be excommunicated if you marry outside the church.
Troy wondered if this was the case with Melissa’s faith as well. Would she be excommunicated from her church if she marries him? Was he taking away her fellowship with her friends and family if he takes her away and keeps her for himself? He dropped his hand and lowered his gaze. No wonder their families were upset if that is what they all believed.
Melissa rushed to his side and wrapped her arms around his waist. Troy forgot his promise to keep his body away from hers as he pulled her close. This was different. There was nothing sexual in nature with this embrace. This was his future wife clinging to him for comfort and support and he was man enough to provide that for her.
Craig stepped forward. “Perhaps we should return home. If we’re not welcome here…”
“No,” Troy insisted. “This good man and woman are Melissa’s parents, and I will not leave until I have shown them the proper respect due to them.”
“Of course, we don’t want you to leave.” Melissa’s mom stepped forward. “Your religious preferences just took us by surprise, that’s all.”
“Are you going to force our daughter to dress in homemade clothes and cover her head whenever she’s out in public?” Mr. Dalton asked Troy but pointed to Jessica as if she was dressed in rags, instead of a modest and quality piece of clothing she’d spent hours to craft.
“Mr. Dalton, I think you misunderstand our religion, sir. The devotional head covering is scriptural based right out of the Bible and should only be worn by a woman who is truly converted to the Lord’s will.”
“Are you saying my daughter is not following the teachings of Christ if she doesn’t put a little cap on her head?” Melissa’s father narrowed his eyes at Troy. This wasn’t going well.
“I’m saying that Jessica is wearing that cap on her head as an outward symbol of her devotion to Christ and to her husband.”
“You mean her submission to her husband.”
“We submit to the will of the Lord in all that we do, sir,” Troy said with confidence. “Just as Christ submitted to the Father, men are provided to women as their protector and women are provided to men as a helpmeet.”
“Men and women are created equal,” Dr. Dalton insisted.
“I beg to differ, sir. I may not be married, and I may not have seen a woman without clothing, but I know enough about men’s and women’s bodies to know that we are very different.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“God made us different on purpose,” Troy said. “He made us this way so that we can bring forth children and raise them unto him.”
“And you think women should stay home and raise up babies and do the housework and cook you dinner?” Mr. Dalton asked.
“Who else would you have nurse your grand babies? Would you prefer we hire someone to do that?” Troy lifted his chin.
“Did you get my daughter pregnant?” Her father took a step toward him but Troy didn’t back down.
“How could I get her pregnant when I have never even kissed her? I’ve never been alone with her. I will not take her to our marriage bed until we are married.”
“I’m never giving you permission to marry my daughter.” His words were definitive.
“Then I think our visit has concluded.” Troy’s heart fell at the realization. “At least now I know where you stand.”
“Wait, I made lunch,” Mrs. Dalton said. “You must be hungry. Can’t you stay for a little while? I want to see my daughter.”
“The spirit of contention is not becoming to those who follow Christ,” Troy said. “I know when I’m not wanted.”
“I want you,” Melissa said. “I don’t care what my parents say.”
Melissa’s mother gasped. Troy didn’t blame her.
“Well, I do care,” Troy said. “You belong to your mother and father until at which time they choose to give you to a man to be his wife. I will not go against their wishes.”
“I don’t belong to anyone,” Melissa said, pulling her arms from around his waist. “Nor will I ever.”
“I’m truly sorry to hear that,” Troy said, wishing he could pull her close again. “I would have loved to have you as my wife. But not if I cannot obtain your parents’ permission.”
“What are you saying Troy? That you’re breaking up with me?”
“I don’t know what I’m saying, Melissa. I don’t know what to think about this. I’m confused and I need a few minutes alone.” Troy took a step backward, then looked around the small circle of family. “If you all want to go inside and have a bite to eat, please do. I’m sure whatever Melissa’s mother cooked for you will be much better than a fast-food restaurant on the way home. I’ll go for a walk and ponder some things while you’re eating.”
“How about you and I take a walk together,” Mr. Dalton suggested. “I’ll show you my livestock barn.”
“I’d like that, sir. Thank you.” Troy lifted his chin with confidence and felt hope for the first time since they’d met.”
Book Club Discussion Questions: This is going to be a tough book to write. I need to make sure that I convey the message that both families wish their children will marry within the faith without portraying either religion as being less than or more than the other.
Melissa will not be excommunicated if she marries outside her church, but Troy will be (unfortunately). I will not show that within the pages of this book, but it will be made clear, and it will be a source of heartbreak. Just like Troy doesn’t want to take Melissa away from the fellowship of her church, Melissa will have similar feelings. This is one of the many challenges that will almost break them up.
One challenge I will face in writing this book is to make sure I’m staying true to the strong gospel principles of both faiths without allowing readers to see either religion as being backward or not keeping up with the times.
God’s laws do not change based on what is politically correct, but political correctness can change readers’ opinions about me as an author and both churches’ gospel principles. I will do my best to package all of this into something enjoyable to the correct readers. I can’t please everyone, but I will try to please my readers. I’d love your thoughts and opinions. -Julie L. Spencer
“Mr. Dalton,” Troy spoke confidently into the phone. “I’m in love with your daughter and I’d like to come meet you, sir.”
“Pardon me?” The voice on the other end of the phone sounded as confused as Troy expected. “Who is this?”
“My name is Troy Weller, sir.” Troy coughed lightly, suddenly more nervous than he had been while tapping numbers into his phone. “I met Melissa here in Lowell where she works, but I understand you live up near Saginaw so I figured I’d better call first before showing up at your door unexpectedly.”
“Uh… she’s been there three weeks.”
“I know that, sir. I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to call you. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow so I won’t be able to get out in the field, and I figured you would be free as well. I felt it was best if I come meet you as soon as possible. What time would be agreeable for you?”
“T… tomorrow?” Mr. Dalton sounded almost angry. “Is this a joke? Are you on drugs, son? What kind of plants are you growing down there?”
“Well, my current rotation is corn and soybeans, but I always plant cover crops with alfalfa and some radish before harvest, and of course I farm mostly no-till with some mulch-till every couple of years. I try to take care of my soil, sir.”
“That’s not what I meant…” Mr. Dalton hesitated, then sighed. “How many acres you got, son?”
“A hundred and eighty, sir. But some of it’s wet and swampy so I’ve set that aside for wildlife and left some wooded. I only plant about a hundred sixty.”
“Not like you do, sir. Just a few chickens in my yard. But I buy my beef from a very reputable organic farmer down by Clarkesville.”
“And you like my daughter?”
“No sir, I love your daughter.”
“How could you possibly love her this quickly?”
“Well, my father always told me that love is a choice, and once he found a wife for me, I’d learn to love her. But with Melissa it was like God chose her for me instead. We may run into a couple of snags along the way, but I know we can push through them and choose to make this work.” Troy felt like he was talking too fast, so he stopped and waited for Mr. Dalton to respond.
“I don’t know what to do about this…”
“Well, perhaps if I come meet you and shake your hand and look you in the eye, you can decide if I’m an acceptable man for your daughter.”
“Sounds like that’s… probably a good idea.”
“How early can I come meet you, sir?”
“Is Melissa coming with you?”
“Of course,” Troy said. “And my brother and his wife and their baby. I would never presume to travel that far without a chaperone, I promise.”
“Well, how’s late morning sound?” Mr. Dalton asked. “I’ll have my wife make us some lunch.”
“That sounds wonderful, sir,” Troy said. “I look forward to meeting you.”
Book Club Discussion Questions: What do you think of Troy's old-fashioned request to speak to Melissa's father? Did you catch the one controversial line that's going to (eventually) get Troy into trouble?
“Would you like to take a walk with me?” Troy asked Melissa before they settled into the living room after dinner. “There’s something I want to show you out behind Jessica’s garden.”
“You are not taking her over there,” Craig warned.
“I won’t. Geesh. I just want to show her.”
“Show me what?” Melissa asked, an excited lilt to her voice.
“You’ll see.” As soon as they were around the corner into the hallway, Troy lifted her hand and intertwined their fingers. Knowing hand holding was about as far as he should take his physical contact with her prior to marriage, he was embarrassed by the conversation he’d had with his brother about wanting to kiss her. Yes, he wanted to kiss her, but Craig had been right. The church was clear on this matter. Troy never understood the reasons behind the commandment until Melissa came into his life. He turned his attention back to her and gave her hand a little squeeze. “How was your day?”
“Nice to have an excuse to leave the store at a decent hour,” she said. “Not that I mind staying late. I need to get acquainted with all facets of the store from opening to closing if I’m going to be an effective manager.”
“You’re doing a great job so far.” He held open the back door for her to step down into the yard.
Troy changed the subject and held his arm out in a sweeping gesture indicating the beautifully tended masterpiece that monopolized most of the half acre this side of the knoll. “This is Jessica’s garden.”
“It’s incredible,” Melissa said, walking forward along the cobblestone path. “They must do a lot of canning because there is so much here. Or do they sell the vegetables at a farmer’s market.”
“Just Jessica,” Troy said. “Craig doesn’t work in the garden much.”
“I thought he was a farmer.” Melissa brow creased.
“Farming and gardening are not the same thing,” Troy explained. “What Craig and I do is mostly riding a tractor and doing repairs and upkeep on the tractors and planters, soil analysis, seed preparation, weed control, harvesting, that kind of thing. Gardening is an art.”
“Well, Jessica creates beautiful art.”
“Yes, she does,” Troy agreed. They came to the end of the garden where cobblestone steps led to the top of the knoll. Troy held Melissa’s hand as they ascended the stairs, watching her face for her reaction when she saw the view for the first time. He wanted to capture this moment in his memory.
“Oh, wow.” Melissa’s face glowed with wonderment and Troy understood why. The rolling hills between Craig’s property and Troy’s were breathtaking. They were sometimes frustrating to plant and harvest, and the low-lying areas often flooded in the spring, but the view was awe inspiring.
“See that little house over on that hill?” Troy pointed across the field to where his home was nearly complete. “That’s the home I’m building where I can raise my family.” His voice had lowered to a reverent declaration of love. He released Melissa’s hand and wrapped his arm around her waist.
Melissa surprised him by wrapping both of her arms around his waist. Troy could understand why this was a bad idea and knew he needed to pull away. One stolen moment with her body against his and then he wouldn’t allow himself this much temptation again until their wedding night.
“I purposely built the house on top of the hill rather than on the protected side of the hill because I wanted to be able to look out the windows and see this.” He gestured his arm wide, showcasing the beauty of the landscape, then turned himself toward Melissa and looked down into her eyes. “I haven’t picked out paint colors for the walls yet. Or carpeting. Or furniture.”
The softness of her gaze told him that she understood his message. He was waiting for her. In more ways than one. In all ways physically and emotionally possible.
“I hope my brother is watching us right now,” Troy said.
“Why?” Melissa creased her brow.
“Because then he’ll know that I resisted the overwhelming temptation to lean down and kiss you right now.”
“Is that against your religious convictions? To kiss me?”
“The first time I kiss you will be when the minister gives me permission to kiss my bride.” Troy’s voice had grown in intensity and hunger.
“That is the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard,” Melissa whispered.
“And then I’m not going to stop kissing you for a very long time.”
They both chuckled and pulled away from one another.
“Anyway, I wanted to show you our home, and the view from the kitchen window.” Troy took her hand and turned back toward the cobblestone steps leading down into the garden.
“I’d like to see the view from inside that kitchen window one of these days,” she answered, swinging their arms between them, playfully. “And maybe some paint swatches.”
“And carpet samples?” He lifted her hand to support her carefully down the steep steps.
“I don’t know. We should probably have hardwood floors,” Melissa said. “I know how much disregard farmers have about taking their shoes off at the door.”
“Maybe just carpet in the living room,” Troy suggested. “Where we can have a nice big easy chair where I can sit with you on my lap while we read scriptures together each evening after dinner.”
“That sounds heavenly.”
“Which? Sitting on my lap? Or reading scriptures together?”
“Both.” She wrapped her arms around his waist again when they were almost to the house and Troy realized he needed to clarify some boundaries.
He stopped her about ten feet from the house and pulled back slightly, pulling her arms from around his waist and holding her hands in his. “I need to tell you a couple of things.”
“Okay.” Her face fell in confusion.
“Reading scriptures together is something we can do before we’re married. And doing so will help us to keep our minds and hearts focused on Christ as we’re preparing to enter the covenants of marriage.”
“I would love that, Troy.” Her voice was soft as she gazed up at him. He hated to take away any happiness from this moment, but this conversation needed to happen now, or he wouldn’t have the strength to resist her later. The more he held her, the more he wanted to hold her.
“This is as close as we can get.”
Melissa kind of glanced side to side with a crease on her brow.
“To each other,” he clarified. “I should not have wrapped my arms around you, and I should not have allowed your arms to wrap around me. My body is confused and frustrated and I will spend time this evening on my knees repenting of the carnal thoughts I’ve had about your body today.”
“Troy, isn’t that kind of extreme?” She gulped.
“Matthew 5:28 teaches that whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her in his heart,” Troy said. “I have definitely lusted after you. And I need to stop.”
“Okay.” Her voice was nearly a squeak and her eyes sparkled with unshed tears. “I won’t wrap my arms around you again.”
“And I won’t wrap my arms around you again,” he promised.
“I’ll try,” they said at the same time and then chuckled.
That was the moment Craig opened the back door with a stern but compassionate expression. “Jessica has desert ready.”
“Brownies,” Troy told Melissa, giving her hands a little squeeze.
“I love brownies.” Melissa turned toward the house and Craig held the door open for them.
After she had stepped inside, Craig placed his arm on Troy’s shoulder and looked him in the eye. His whisper was sincere. “I’m proud of you.”
With that one statement Troy knew that his older brother had indeed been watching from the house the whole time they’d been standing on the hill. Troy nodded with conviction. “I’m proud of me too.”
Book Club Discussion Questions: Having done some research last night I came to the firm conclusion that kissing before marriage is an absolute no-no in the Mennonite religion. Rather than making my character a complete rebel, I've used this opportunity to show how difficult this will be for him, but also a great way to fight against temptation. I'm not sure if I could have shown this much restraint prior to our marriage but I wonder if avoiding kissing would have made those weeks and months leading up our wedding a little more bearable. Your thoughts?
“I don’t want you to leave us alone or anything; I just don’t want you to… listen.” Troy smiled sheepishly.
“Listen to what?” Craig asked, then held up his hands and backed up slightly. “Wait, you are not proposing to that girl! You barely know her.”
“Of course not…” Troy scuffed his boot into the gravel and kicked a large stone at the side of the driveway. “I want to… try to… kiss her.”
“You’re not supposed to be kissing her before you marry her,” Craig scolded. “You know the rules. Why do you want to be such a rebel?”
“You telling me you didn’t kiss Jessica before you got married?”
“That is none of your business…”
“Yeah, see. You act all high and mighty like you’re this perfect saint and I’m a heathen for even wanting to try to kiss my sweetheart.” Troy poked at his brother in his side, forcing him to smile. “Besides, you tell me I can’t marry her… yet. Then you tell me I can’t kiss her until we’re married. How fair is that?”
“Have dad and mom even met her yet?” Craig raised his eyebrows, then wrapped his arm around Troy's shoulders, dragging him up the stairs to the front porch. “Have you met her parents?”
“Her parents live up near Saginaw somewhere,” Troy said. “But no. I haven’t brought her over to meet mom and dad yet. One step at a time, right? I haven’t even seen her since Monday.”
“Ooh, you’ve gone a whole day and a half without being near her? I’m impressed.” He opened the door and called to Jessica. A little blond boy toddled into the hallway wearing only a diaper and dragging his bath towel behind him.
“Grab him, will you?” Jessica called. “I can’t get him to sit still long enough to get these clothes on him.”
The brothers came around the corner to see a very disheveled-looking woman on the floor in the bathroom, covered up to her elbows in bath water, muddy toddler clothes strewn everywhere and mud covering every wall of the tub. Jessica looked up at them and sighed.
“He heard you guys coming up the stairs and he just squirmed out my arms.”
“How about if I help him get dressed,” Troy suggested, scooping his nephew into his arms. “Craig can clean up the bathroom, and you can go… change into something… dry.”
“What time are Melissa and her cousin going to be here?” Jessica pushed herself off the floor. “I need to finish getting dinner around.”
“About twenty minutes,” Troy called as he was walking toward his nephew’s bedroom. He started tickling baby Jesse and shoving arms into sleeves. “You hold still for Uncle Troy now. You hear me?” It took almost half of those twenty minutes to wrestle the little guy into his clothes, but Troy was less nervous afterward.
“Tell me again what she’s like,” Jessica called from the kitchen. Troy walked in and was amazed at how quickly she had been able to pull herself together. She had changed into a clean dress, straightened her disheveled bun and replaced the cap on her head, and was calmly pulling a casserole dish from the oven as if she hadn’t just been up to her elbows in bathwater ten minutes prior. “Becca said she was really sweet.”
“Can we not talk about Becca tonight?” Troy leaned against the counter and lifted one corner of a cloth to reveal a plate of brownies.
“Get out of there!” Jessica slapped Troy’s hand away. “Those are for after dinner. Tell me about Melissa.”
“She’s…” Troy felt his eyes glaze over and he sighed. “She’s feisty.”
“Headstrong, confident, passionate… the most amazing emerald eyes.”
“I heard she’s beautiful.” Jessica raised her eyebrows. “From… like… everyone.”
“That’s what people keep telling me, but she’s so much more than that. I don’t even know how to describe it.”
“Oh, you have fallen hard for this girl, haven’t you?”
“More than I want to admit…” Just then there was a knock on the door, and Troy jumped from where he was leaning against the counter. “She’s here!”
Jessica shook her head and grabbed the kitchen towel from the rack by the stove as she pushed past him. “I’ll get the door.”
Craig beat her to it. He and baby Jesse were already greeting their guests and Melissa’s cousin was cooing over the baby, taking him in her arms. Troy met Melissa’s eyes, and it seemed there was no one else in the hallway. An invisible force pulled him forward and before he realized he’d walked down the hall, his hand was laced with hers and her soft smile reached all the way into his soul.
“Ms. Dalton, so good of you to come,” Troy whispered.
“Mr. Weller, thank you for having me over.” Melissa squeezed his hand just slightly.
“Hey,” Jessica barged into the conversation. “It’s my house you’re visiting. Troy can gaze into your eyes for the rest of his life. It’s my turn to get to know you.”
Jessica broke up the handholding and pulled Melissa away toward the kitchen. Melissa glanced longingly back at Troy and shrugged her shoulders in mock defeat. Troy leaned against the wall in the hallway and watched her walk away. He listened as Melissa complimented Jessica on how wonderful the freshly baked bread smelled and how lovely her kitchen was.
Yeah, he’d admit it. He was falling hard for Melissa. What was he going to do now? He refused to leave the Brethren, she refused to leave her faith. Both of their denominations expected young people to marry within their church. Yet here they stood, falling in love.
“What’s your next move, little brother?” Craig leaned against the wall in the hallway where they could hear his wife talking with Melissa, getting along like kindred spirits.
“Want to take a drive with me up to Saginaw?” Troy asked his wise older brother. “I think I need to go introduce myself to Mr. Dalton.”
Book Club Discussion Question: Are Mennonites allowed to kiss before marriage? I haven't been able to find a definitive answer.
Conversation at lunch had been understandably strained and Melissa got the impression they would discuss their confusing predicament at a later date and time.
“I have a confession to make,” Troy said. He offered his hand to help Melissa up into the passenger side of his truck.
Troy stood beside the car and reached his hands up to hold onto the door frame, tucking his fingers into the crease there. He leaned slightly forward, allowing his arms to support his weight. His face was close to hers but not too close. His light brown eyes pierced into her as he took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“I’ve never kissed a girl before.”
Wow, okay. So, he’d been serious about never having dated prior to her. That’s not such a bad thing. Melissa reached up and touched his cheek. He leaned his face into her hand and closed his eyes. “Why are you telling me this now?”
He opened his eyes. “I just thought you might want to know what you’re getting yourself into.”
“Probably a little late for that,” Melissa whispered.
“You’ve fallen for me, haven’t you?” Troy baited her.
“You already know the answer to that question, and you’re a cad for asking me to admit it.” She slowly drew her hand away from his face but smiled softly.
“Sorry,” he whispered and returned her soft smile.
“You’re not even supposed to be alone with me, are you?” Melissa asked.
“No, not really,” he admitted. From what little Melissa knew about the Mennonite religion, dating was not allowed. No wonder every Mennonite in that restaurant had looked at Troy like he was a cockroach bringing a harlot into their midst. They had been just as angry at him as they’d been with her, probably more so.
“So, what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to ask my brother and his wife Jessica to have us over for dinner soon so I can spend more time with you… in the company of a chaperone.”
“Don’t you trust yourself with me?” Melissa realized her voice had taken on a lighthearted flirtation.
He answered by firmly shaking his head back and forth emphatically. “No, ma’am, I do not.”
They both chuckled, breaking the seriousness of the situation.
“And I need to meet your father as soon as possible.”
“My father?” She raised her eyebrows.
“Yes, I will not disrespect him by continuing to pursue your affection.”
“Do I get to meet your parents?”
Troy gulped. “Of course.”
“They’re not going to like me, are they?” Melissa wondered if meeting his parents would be like an intensified version of how things played out in the restaurant.
“They’ll grow to love you,” Troy said. “Just like I do.”
“It’s too soon for you to love me.”
“I don’t believe that.” He reached for her hand and brought it to his chest, positioning her palm over his heart. “When it’s right, you can feel it. In here. Piercing you to your core.”
“In a romance novel, they would call that insta-love,” she teased, not pulling her hand away.
“I’ve never read a romance novel,” Troy said, keeping his hand over hers. “I just know what I read in your emerald eyes.”
“What do you read in my emerald eyes?” she whispered.
“That you’re the woman God made for me,” he whispered back. “And I’m the man God made for you.”
“That was very nice of him,” she said.
“I need to spend some time in prayer and consecration,” Troy said. “And prepare myself to be worthy of you.”
“You’d better take me back to work then.” Melissa told him softly, wishing she could pull him down for a first kiss but sensing that her first kiss from him would be at the altar, should they continue this trajectory. She had a strong suspicion that was exactly where they were heading.
Troy raised her hand to his cheek again, pressed his hand outside of hers and held it there against his cheek. His eyes closed for a few seconds and he seemed to breathe in the scent of her wrist.
It was quite possibly the most romantic moment of Melissa’s life.
Troy finally released her hand from his face but held it gently in his for a moment more and looked into her eyes. He squeezed her hand, placed it on her leg, then stepped away from her. He closed the truck door, walked around and climbed into the driver’s side, turned the key in the ignition and backed out of the parking lot.
Neither of them spoke during the drive back to the store and they never touched again, even as he held the car door to let her out at the entrance to the Farm and Tractor Supply store. One last longing look into her eyes then he walked back around, climbed in his truck, and drove away.
Book Club Discussion: In the book my friend gave me called Bible Doctrine and Practice, which is an explanation of the faith and practice of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, there is a whole section that discusses the need to avoid courtship and keep their thoughts pure. Although the book goes into a lot more (and less) detail, the way my friend described how a young man in their faith chooses a bride is to speak to his parents and/or minister, ask the minister to speak to the young woman's parents asking permission to marry their daughter, and only after they have accepted the proposal, will the young man and woman be officially engaged. After that, they are encouraged to marry as soon as conveniently possible. One challenge is that the book states that the young man should not ask for the young woman's hand in marriage until he is sure they are in love with one another. My question is: how do they know if they're in love if they're not allowed to date? That's kind of more like a rhetorical question, but something that niggles at my mind.
“A Mormon girl and a Mennonite guy,” Troy whispered. He sat back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. “What an interesting combination.”
“How’d you know I was Mormon?” Melissa pursed her lips.
“Apparently I’m better at doing research than you are.”
“I hadn’t realized I needed to make a trip to the library in order to go on a date,” she said.
The tension in the air was almost palpable when Becca came back with their drinks. Melissa had her arms crossed and Troy still had his hands behind his head. Neither of them broke eye contact long enough to give Becca any acknowledgement that they were ready to order. She stood with her little notebook in her hand, pencil ready, and cleared her throat.
“Becca, can I ask you a question?” Melissa smirked at Troy to watch for his reaction.
“How long have you known Troy?” They still didn’t break eye contact.
“As long as I can remember, why?”
“Would you say he’s a good man?” Melissa saw him shake his head almost imperceptibly.
“Why are you doing this?” Troy whispered. Melissa ignored him.
“Should I be in any way concerned to be alone with him, like for instance if he asked me out on a date?” Melissa already knew the answer to her rhetorical question, so she continued. “Would you think that it would be necessary to… research his background before going out with him?”
“Uh…” Becca stammered. Melissa finally broke eye contact and smiled sweetly up at Becca.
“Would you want him to research your background before he took you out on a date?”
Becca barely glanced at Melissa before meeting Troy’s piercing eyes. Something passed between the childhood friends and Becca seemed to take a half step back.
“If I had to make an educated guess right now…” She almost sounded like she was choking back tears. “I’d guess… that I will never get the chance to find out.” With that, she ran from the room.
“Was this your way of showing me about your religion without having to tell me? By bringing me here?”
“When were you planning to tell me that you’re Mormon?” Troy leaned forward and forced her to look him in the eye.
“Why does that matter?” She barely squeaked out her question.
“Are you ever planning to leave your faith?”
“Of course not.”
“Well neither am I.” With finality, he sat back in his chair and took a deep breath.
“Then why are we even sitting at the same table?” Melissa whispered. She felt a tear fall down the side of her face, but she ignored it. If she reached up to wipe her cheek, everyone in the restaurant would know she was crying. She had no intention of letting any of them have that satisfaction.
“Because I think I’m in love with you,” Troy whispered back. The hardness had yet to leave his eyes, but his words were soft and pure.
“What?” Melissa’s breath caught in her throat. “You barely know me…”
“And you’re in love with me, too.”
Melissa stood up suddenly and tried to calm her breathing. “I… I need to use the ladies’ room. Excuse me.” She turned around and ran right into Troy’s Uncle Patrick.
“Could you point me in the direction of the ladies’ room, please?” She managed to choke out. He reached out his right hand, pointing to the hallway by the kitchen. She casually tossed her long hair off the side of her shoulder, letting the curls fall down her back, held her head confidently and strode over to the hallway, never looking back.
Melissa opened the door to the ladies’ room so hard that it crashed into the side wall, causing the girl sitting on the floor crying to jump and look up from where her head was tucked into her arms. “Becca? What are you doing in here?”
“Getting away from Troy.” There was almost an underlying ‘obviously’ at the end of Becca’s statement.
“What a coincidence…” Melissa sighed and then sat down hard on the floor next to the girl who probably woke up that morning thinking she was someday going to marry Troy Weller. They sat in silence for a few moments. Finally, Melissa looked over at Becca and frowned slightly. “He just told me he’s in love with me.”
“Well, he just all but told me that he’s not in love with me.” They both sighed at the same time and chuckled over at each other.
“What are we supposed to do now?”
“I guess I need to shake off the childish fantasies I’ve clung to all these years and get on with my life.” Becca tucked her knees up to her chest tighter and rested her chin on them.
“I guess I’m gonna need to figure out how to tell my Mormon parents that I’m in love with a Mennonite guy.”
“I don’t even know what a Mormon is,” Becca said.
“Well, I know very little about the Mennonite faith either.” Melissa reached over and tugged lightly at one of the white strings hanging down from Becca’s cap. Becca reached over and tugged lightly at one of Melissa’s long strawberry blond curls.
“Maybe we can teach each other.”
“That sounds good,” Melissa replied. “You know what else sounds good?”
“Your pot roast here. I heard it’s delicious.” She smiled over at Becca.
“It is,” Becca acknowledged.
“I could use a good waitress to bring me a plate of it.” She raised her eyebrows. “I tip well.”
“You had better make Troy pay for your lunch or I’m going to smack him upside the head.” They both chuckled and Melissa stood up and brushed herself off, then reached down to offer Becca a hand.
As they walked out of the ladies’ room arm in arm, Melissa whispered over to Becca, “I guess I need to go reconcile with my new boyfriend before he finds some other girl to take to lunch.”
“Wonder what religion she’ll be…” They giggled and ignored the stares from all the tables nearby.
Melissa enjoyed the confusion and fear in Troy’s eyes as she slid into the seat across from him. Becca smiled at him peacefully.
“You want the pot roast too, Troy? Or do you need some more time to decide?”
“Thank you, Becca,” Troy said, a soft smile playing across his face. Although he answered Becca, his eyes never left Melissa’s. “I think I have decided that I would like the pot roast.”
He reached cautiously across the table and opened his hand, inviting Melissa to meet him halfway. She smiled back at him and laid her small hand inside his, allowing his strength to flow through her.
Becca chuckled and walked away.
Book Club Discussion Questions: Well, they're over one hurdle. But their challenges are far from over. I have conducted a lot of research about both religions in preparation for this novel. In fact a friend of mine who's a Mennonite brought me a large book of their doctrine and I read it cover to cover! How about you? Do you know enough about either or both to be able to compare and contrast the two? If so, what do you think will be Troy and Melissa's biggest stumbling blocks?
“My lady…” Troy held the passenger door of his truck for her, and Melissa climbed up into luxury. She touched the leather seats and gaped at the state-of-the-art sound system, powerful speakers, and wood trim. When Troy came around to the driver’s side and clicked his seat belt into place, she raised her eyebrows at him.
“What’d you do? Get the fully-loaded version?”
“What?” Troy’s purposely innocent face revealed a sheepish grin. “It’s a working truck. Don’t you like it?”
“Yeah, right. Working truck. Humph.” She shook her head and grinned at him.
“How was your weekend?” Troy reached over and casually took her hand from where it rested on the seat. She felt her breath speed up. His hand was strong and masculine. She tried to pull herself together so she could answer him.
“Oh, you know. Worked all day Saturday, church on Sunday.” She spoke dismissively, as if she hadn’t spent the whole previous afternoon roaming the countryside trying to figure out which farm was his. “You?”
“About the same.” He winked at her. It didn’t take more than a few minutes to pull into the parking lot of the little restaurant and he came around to help her out of the truck. When her feet hit the ground, he kept his hands on her hips for just a little longer than he needed to and looked down into her eyes.
Her heart raced and she almost thought he was going to lean down and kiss her. Instead, he made a little sound in the back of his throat, took her hand and led her through the parking lot toward the entrance. He paused and looked at her nervously.
“Now, just remember. Everybody knows me. It’s a small town, and you are new and exciting. People are going to stare and gawk. You’re kind of like… a celebrity. Don’t let it go to your head too much.”
“It sounds like maybe you need to try not to let it go to your head too much.” She bumped her shoulder into his arm playfully. “I mean, you are holding the hand of a celebrity.”
“Maybe it’s you who is holding the hand of a celebrity and you just don’t know it yet.” He paused again and the piercing intensity of his eyes bore into her.
She saw that hunger in his eyes again. She gulped and felt like she couldn’t breathe. She wished he would just kiss her already and get it over with, but again he pulled away slightly and gripped her hand a little tighter. Something shifted in his expression. He’s nervous. Why?
Troy took a deep breath, let it out, and led her toward the door. When Melissa first entered the small dining room, not many people paid her much attention. Until Troy stepped up beside her. Then some people did a double take, leaned over and whispered to the person across the table from them and that person would turn around as well. It made her extremely uncomfortable, but she reminded herself that he had warned her ahead of time.
The case of cookies and pies pulled her gaze off to her right and her mouth started watering. The smell of fresh baked bread overpowered her senses and she almost moaned. Her stomach growled and she was tempted to skip lunch and head straight over to the case of delicacies. Someone clearing his throat drew her attention back.
A man with a hardened expression stepped up to the host stand and picked up two menus. His monogrammed shirt read Patrick, and Melissa got the impression that he was the owner of the restaurant.
“Troy…” He spoke through clenched teeth then turned a forced smile to Melissa. “Will it be just the two of you?”
“Yes, Uncle Patrick,” Troy replied. He reached his arm around Melissa, resting his hand lightly on her lower back. “I’d like you to meet Melissa Dalton. She just moved into town.”
Melissa could almost hear the warning in his voice telling his uncle that he’d best make her feel welcome. She raised her eyebrows at Troy and mouthed the word “Uncle?” He just winked at her and turned back to his Uncle Patrick.
Patrick spun on his heel and started walking toward the back of the dining room. Melissa took that as a cue that she should follow, and Troy gestured for her to lead the way. He kept his hand protectively on her lower back and she might have felt comforted by it if it weren’t for the stares coming from all around her. She confidently held her head high and followed to where Patrick was laying placemats and menus on the table.
Troy held her chair for her, but as she sat down, he suddenly stiffened and stepped over to his uncle. He spoke quietly and firmly and sounded almost angry. “When did Becca start waitressing here?”
“Last week, why?”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me? I wouldn’t have brought her here.” Troy and Patrick both glanced her way and Melissa felt her stomach drop. “Don’t you dare give her to us for a waitress.”
Uncle Patrick held up a little card that was already in his hand with a name written on it in flowing, feminine handwriting. The name of their intended waitress. He set it down on the table and Melissa read the name… Becca.
“She’s the only waitress who is not already over-sat. You’re a big boy. You can handle it.” With that, Patrick turned and stomped away.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Troy mumbled under his breath, almost too quietly for her to hear. He slowly walked around the table, pulled out his chair and sat down hard. He lowered his gaze and gripped his hair.
“Ex-girlfriend?” Melissa guessed. Troy looked up with vitriol in his eyes.
“We were never a couple,” he insisted. “We have never been a couple, we will never be a couple, and it is not my fault that she clings to the childish notion that we ever will be.”
“Gee, tell me how you really feel, Troy.” Melissa reached across and pulled his hand from the entanglement of his hair, brushing the disheveled hair back into place but keeping his hand resting in hers. She squeezed his hand gently and smiled lightly.
“How do you do that?” Troy whispered.
“How do I do what?”
“Calm me down like that.” His eyes were soft, almost in awe.
“Guess I just have a soothing touch.” She brushed her thumb across the back of his hand and raised her eyebrows. He raised his right back at her. Her breathing sped up at the suggestive nature of their non-verbal conversation.
Melissa felt a presence at her left elbow. Troy’s hand quickly released hers and he suddenly picked up the menu that rested on the table in front of him. Knowing he probably had the menu memorized, Melissa guessed correctly that the young lady standing beside her was Becca.
Melissa looked up to see a beautiful girl with big brown eyes, a hand sewn dress and apron, hair tucked up in a delicate twist, and on her head rested the traditional Mennonite cap.
Oh my gosh. Melissa felt her stomach plummet and she turned back to Troy. His eyes were nervous, almost apologetic. She raised her chin slightly and looked back up at Becca.
Becca’s eyes bore into her with disdain, but she spoke in the sweetest fake enthusiasm she could muster through clenched teeth. “I know what Troy wants, but what can I get you to drink… Melissa?”
“Nice to meet you, too Becca.” Melissa spoke just as curtly back. “I’d like a Diet Coke.” Becca didn’t even look at Troy, didn’t write anything down, just turned and walked quickly away.
Melissa watched Becca leave, then took a moment to glance around the dining room. Many people were still staring, some were trying to pretend they weren’t, and some patrons were oblivious. As she looked around, it was suddenly very clear that every waitress in the building was dressed in traditional Mennonite clothing as were about a third of the patrons in the dining room. Many of the men wore the same neatly trimmed beard as Troy’s.
Some patrons looked like businessmen and women from the local stores and offices. Melissa would have fit right in with them. Those people were mostly ignoring her. It was as if they had no idea there was a scandal brewing. The Mennonites were staring at her like a cockroach that needed to be exterminated… immediately.
Melissa turned back to Troy and tucked both hands in her lap. She took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. He still hadn’t spoken and wasn’t smiling. Puzzle pieces she didn’t even know were missing fell into place, completing a picture she wasn’t sure she could hang on her wall. Her whisper was little more than a breath. “You’re a Mennonite.”
Book Club Discussion Questions: Well... it's all on the table so-to-speak. Except, what does Troy still need to know about Melissa?
“This guy sounds kind of dreamy,” Jaimie said, teasing Melissa as they drove to church on Sunday.
“Dreamy? Really? What decade are we living in?” Melissa chuckled and looked away but whispered under her breath. “But yeah. He kind of is…” She was enjoying living with her cousin but had barely seen her since she’d moved in on Monday.
Melissa had been at the store from the time it opened until the time it closed every day all week, trying to acclimate herself to the way her new building was normally run. So far, she hadn’t seen any major changes she wanted to make to their work environment. The previous manager had done a good job of keeping things running smoothly and Melissa believed in the philosophy of not trying to fix what isn’t broken.
“Are you nervous that he isn’t a member of our church?” Jaimie asked. “Does he even go to a church? Maybe you should invite him to come with us next week.”
“We haven’t talked about religion at all.” Melissa played with the hem of her blouse.
“You turned down a perfectly good returned missionary at BYU to come home to Michigan and marry a country boy from the middle of nowhere.”
“One, I’m not marrying him! We met less than a week ago.” Melissa snapped her head toward her cousin, heat rushing to her cheeks. “And two, Andy and I were not in love. I’m not going to marry a guy just because he’s a good guy. You sound like my mother.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Jaimie taunted. “Your mom told my mom that he was just marrying you for your body and good looks.”
“I don’t even think he wanted my body,” Melissa admitted. “He just wanted me on his arm at social events.”
“I think I want to find a guy who wants me for my body. Twenty-five years is a little long to wait for… you know… some action.”
“Jaimie!” Melissa reached over and smacked her cousin’s leg. “You’re scandalous!”
“What? You saying you’re not looking forward to rolling around in the hay a little with your cute farm boy?”
“Stop!” Melissa turned away and bit her lip, trying not to smile. She tried to compose herself. “I have dated farm boys most of my life and I have never once wanted to…”
“Never once?” Jaimie smirked.
“Okay, okay, I felt a little heat from Troy last week when he was holding my hand in the parking lot at the store.” She spoke really fast and tried to pretend she didn’t know her face was turning beet red. “But that was the first time! Ever.”
“Yes, ever!” Melissa tried to stop smiling, but it wasn’t working. “We are on our way to church for heaven’s sake. You need to stop talking about this.”
“Don’t worry,” Jaimie said, turning her car into the church parking lot. She blinked her eyelashes innocently. “You can just repent of your impure thoughts while you’re taking the sacrament in a few minutes.”
“You are so bad.” Melissa laughed and reached into the back seat for her purse and scripture bag. The whole conversation gave Melissa a reason to reflect on the way she and Troy had gotten to know each other. They’d connected on a deeper level because they’d taken a step back to really talk. Texting all afternoon, holding hands and walking together, talking about everything and nothing. She was falling for him. Hard.
“Seriously though,” Jaimie pointed out. She reached over and put her hand gently on Melissa’s arm. “Don’t you think it’s a little telling that Troy is the first guy to make you feel this way?”
Melissa bit her lip and smiled softly. “Yeah, maybe it is.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Want to go for a drive in the country after church?” Melissa wagged her eyebrows and grinned conspiratorially at her cousin.
“Let me guess, you want to drive down to Pratt Lake? Do you even know where he lives?” Jaimie climbed into her car and strapped herself into her seat belt.
“No, not exactly… well, not at all. I just want to get the lay of the land, so to speak.”
“Nothing but a bunch of Mennonite farms down that way,” Jaimie said. “But hey, he’s a farmer. He ought to fit right in, right?”
“Right,” Melissa said. “This is gonna be fun.”
They drove south out of Lowell, then turned east and wandered aimlessly, munching on granola bars and tortilla chips, windows down, breezes in their hair, gravel roads and a hint of corn rows popping up in freshly-tilled fields.
“Wonder if any of these fields are Troy’s,” Jaimie called over the noise from the wind.
“No way, Troy uses no-till farming. He would never expose his soil like this.”
“What do you mean?” Jaimie creased her eyebrows, glancing around at the beautiful fertile fields.
“It’s a way of drilling the seeds right into the ground without turning the soil over,” Melissa explained. “The no-till drill cuts right into last-year’s debris and puts the seed in place without exposing the topsoil. That’s how we met.”
“He snapped a roller chain on a broken piece of glass and came into the store for a new one.” Melissa saw up ahead an example. She pointed. “That’s what I’m talking about! See how the corn stalks from last year have been cut down but not pulled out of the ground? It holds the soil in place so it can’t blow away in the wind.”
“That’s really cool,” Jaimie said. They watched as a little family got out of their car and started up toward an old farmhouse. The two little girls and one little boy all ran ahead, and their mom and dad lagged behind, holding hands and walking more slowly. The girls and the mom all had homemade dresses and wore little white caps on their heads. “I once asked a Mennonite woman what the cap symbolized.”
“What did she say?” Melissa kept her eyes on the little family as they passed, even turning almost completely around in her seat to watch them for another few minutes. They were fascinating.
“She said the cap was to symbolize her submissiveness to God and to her husband.”
“What?” Melissa turned back to her cousin and her mouth dropped. “I can understand being submissive to God, but men and women are created equal.” She shook her head in disdain.
“Actually, you’re wrong.” Jaimie corrected her. “Men can’t have babies.”
“Ooh, you’re so right, Sista!” Melissa reached over and gave her cousin a little fist bump. “Girl power.”
“Girl power!” Jaimie shouted out the window. They were too far away from the farmhouse that there was no way the family could have heard them, but Jaimie gunned the engine, speeding away. Melissa reached her head out the passenger-side window whooping like a cowgirl.
They eventually wandered their way back to civilization and felt high on life as they headed home. When they pulled in Jaimie’s driveway, Melissa pulled down the vanity mirror and tried to tuck her windblown hair back down and pull it into a ponytail holder. It felt like coarse straw. She shook her head at the lost cause and instead smiled at her own fiery green eyes in the reflection.
“Girl power,” she whispered, shut the mirror, and walked into the house.
Book Club Discussion Questions: How do you think Melissa’s going to feel when she realizes Troy is a Mennonite?
“Ms. Dalton?” A light tap on her open door drew her attention away from the computer screen where she had been tracking inventory and preparing an invoice. One of her employees stood in the doorway with a tiny smile playing on his lips. “You have a… delivery.”
“Can’t Benjamin handle it in receiving?” She cocked her head to the side.
“This one requires your signature, and it came to the front desk, not out back.”
Melissa was intrigued but took a few seconds to close out the screens she had open and lock her computer. At the counter stood a delivery man from the local flower shop holding a single pink rose and a tiny note. She hesitated, took a deep breath, confidently squared her shoulders and felt her face flush, knowing every man in the café was watching to see her reaction. She looked up at the delivery man.
“Do you really need my signature for this?”
“No, not really.” He shook his head. “The gentleman just asked me to make sure I hand it directly to you and not just leave it on the counter.”
“Thank you, Dave.” She read the embroidered name on his polo shirt. She held the rose close to her face to allow for the obligatory sniff test, then opened the little card. No name. Just a phone number and a single, carefully scrawled word.
Melissa allowed a tiny smile to creep across her face, knowing every guy in the building wanted to see her face when she read the note, then turned and walked back to her office without saying another word or glancing over at them.
She sat down in her rolling chair, leaned back and glanced out the window. She closed her eyes and held the rose to her face again, drinking in the aroma. Then she pulled herself forward and reached for her cell phone. One quick text and then it's back to work.
She hit ‘send’ and logged back into her computer. Still think I smell bad, huh?
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
That one text led to a back & forth conversation that lasted all afternoon. Melissa found it easier to talk to him if she wasn’t distracted by his light brown eyes and sandy-colored hair. He was planting, but modern technology allowed a farmer to sit in an air-conditioned cab and let the tractor do most of the work.
By the time nine o’clock rolled around, Melissa had shared half her life story, and she had a working knowledge of Troy’s crop rotation, the layout of all 160 acres of his fields, the names of the chickens that roamed freely in his yard, and the dimensions of every room in the new house he was building near the little village of Pratt Lake. She’d never been to Pratt Lake, but suddenly had a strong desire to drive out into the country and see the landscape.
By the time she got done working it was too late for dinner, so they settled for an ice cream cone and a stroll through downtown Lowell. The old Historical Museum rose majestically from the town square casting shadows on the little building next door. They walked past closed storefronts along the cobblestone street and came to the corner near the fire station.
“See that little restaurant?” Troy pointed down the street at the side of a brick building.
“Brickstone Oven? Is it a bakery?”
“Sort of,” he answered, then began to pull her back the way they’d come. “They make a great chicken salad and have the best pot roast you’ve ever tasted. We should go to lunch next week.”
“Are you asking me on a date, Mister Weller?” She pretended to be coy and even batted her eyelashes at him playfully.
“I believe I am, Ms. Dalton.”
“Well, I accept. What day should we go?”
“It’s supposed to rain on Monday…” Troy suggested.
“The place will be pretty packed then.” She looked up at him and pursed her lips slightly.
“That’s good. You’ll have a chance to meet the whole community.”
“I think half the town’s been sitting in the little café most mornings.” Melissa kicked a little rock, and it tumbled a few feet ahead of them, resting near the edge of the gutter. “I think I’ve already met half the community.”
Troy tapped the little rock with his foot, and it fell over the side of the curb. He faked a country drawl and bumped her shoulder playfully. “Well, then you’ll get to meet the other half.” Then he cleared his throat and apologized. “I’ll be kind of busy over the weekend with family stuff, but I’ll pick you up a little before noon on Monday, okay? Get a table before the crowds invade.”
“Is it that good of a bakery that there will be crowds?”
“You never know…” He chuckled. “It is going to rain.” He walked her back to where they’d parked their cars and held open her door like a gentleman. He shut her into her car, and she thought she saw him wink just slightly as he took a step back. She smiled, started the ignition, and pulled slowly from the parking lot with a content sigh and a soft grin on her face.
Book Club Discussion Question: Not really a question, I just can't wait for you to see the next few chapters!
“Wish I’d cut my finger.” A guy named Steve walked over from the cafe and leaned his arm against Troy’s shoulder. Troy was still in a near trance when he wandered over to the other guys, carrying his newly purchased roller chain. Steve was a year younger than Troy but had played basketball at the local high school and had quite a height advantage. Troy barely noticed the weight on his shoulder. All the guys watched him with jealousy in their eyes, but Steve was the only one who spoke up. “I see you’ve met our new store manager.”
“Store manager?” Troy spun around and found Melissa’s eyes again from across the room. One corner of her mouth turned up slightly as if she was encouraging him to come back anytime he needed another chain… or any other supplies for that matter.
“Lucky son-of-a-gun.” Steve sighed.
With that, Craig grabbed Troy’s arm and pulled him out the door, new drive chain and all.
“You’re playing with fire, little brother.” Craig grabbed the keys out of his hand and led Troy over to the passenger side of his own truck. Troy didn’t even hesitate. He wasn’t sure he could find his way home. He was afraid if he had control of the wheel, he might turn his truck back around. “She won’t fit into your world. She’s a rich college grad and you’re a poor farm boy.”
“Excuse me,” Troy corrected him. “I think the fully-loaded fifty-thousand-dollar truck you’re driving and hundred and sixty acres of land we’re about to plant speaks differently. I am not a poor farm boy, and I don’t care how much education or money she has or doesn’t have, she’s just plain Melissa to me.”
“But she’s not plain, Troy.” Craig took his eyes off the road long enough to look over at his brother. His eyes held a firmness that bordered on disciplinary. Troy pulled his gaze away and stared out the window, allowing the rows of freshly planted fields to distract him from his brother’s accusing glare. “Didn’t you get a good look at her? She’s not plain at all.”
“What if I don’t care that she’s not plain? Huh? Did you think of that? What if I don’t care what she looks like?” Troy lowered his voice to a near whisper. “You probably didn’t notice how good she smelled.”
“No, I’m sure I didn’t.” Craig reached over and pulled Troy’s left hand from where it was resting on his leg. “I didn’t have her groping me like you did.”
“Groping me? She was washing my hands!” Troy yanked his arm away.
“I think… just maybe… at twenty-three-years-old… you know how to wash your own hands.” Craig turned forward again, driving more carefully back to the field to repair the no-till drill, and Troy turned defiantly to stare back out the passenger-side window.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The store closed at nine o’clock and Melissa fumbled with the keys, listening as her employee, Kathy chatted on about the guy she was going to meet at the bar that night. As they walked away from the building, they both halted when they noticed a man leaning against a dark blue truck parked next to their cars. His arms were crossed, a soft smile played across his face and Melissa’s stomach dropped.
“Why, Troy Weller.” Kathy’s tone of voice was flirtatious. “What on earth are you doing back here again?” She put her hands on her hips and flipped her hair, then hesitated when it was clear Troy had never even glanced at her. His eyes were firmly locked with Melissa’s.
“Good evening, Kathy.” Troy had still not taken his eyes off Melissa.
“Well, gosh…” Kathy stammered. “Look at the time. I’m going to be late for my date. I’ll leave the two of you to… uh… get acquainted. See you tomorrow, boss.”
“Please don’t call me that.” Melissa didn’t look away from Troy, but her instruction was not hesitant. She intended to start things off right with her employees, and chumming around wasn’t in her plans.
“Sorry,” Kathy said. She dug through her purse for her car keys, then climbed in and drove away without another word. Melissa hesitantly stepped the last ten feet forward.
“What are you doing here… Troy?”
“What? No more Farmer Boy?” His voice was husky and soft. “I had to see you again.”
“Because I didn’t get a good enough look at you earlier today.”
Melissa crossed her arms and huffed, highly doubting he hadn’t looked at her. He had stared into her eyes in a way that had allowed her to see almost clear to his soul.
“My brother told me I was blinded by the way you made me feel.” Troy looked down at the pavement and shuffled his foot. He glanced back up at her, his light brown eyes darkened by the casting shadows of twilight. “But I told him I was blinded by the way you smelled.”
“So now I’m old and I smell bad?” Melissa teased.
“Oh, my heavens, definitely not!” Troy chuckled. He let out long breath and shook his head. “And here I stood there smelling like manure.”
“You didn’t smell like manure to me,” Melissa whispered. “You smelled like soil. There’s a difference. And maybe a little like sweat.”
“It was rather hot earlier today.”
“It kinda still is…”
“But I showered off all the sweat and soil… hey did you say I smelled like soil?”
“Most people would call it dirt.”
“My daddy would’ve hog-tied me and thrown me in the swine barn if I’d called it dirt.”
“A woman after my own heart.” Troy spoke reverently. “I think I’d like to meet your dad someday.”
Melissa gulped and took a step back.
“Hey, I didn’t mean it that way.” Troy held out his hands, halting the line of thought. “Sorry we got off on the wrong foot.”
“More like the wrong hand,” Melissa said. She reached down and picked up his bandaged hand, holding it up in the waning light. She noticed he had replaced the bandage she had applied with a new one, probably after his evening shower. She couldn’t help recognize that he no longer smelled like sweat or soil. More like a natural musky scent mixed with a tasteful dash of cologne. She took a deep breath before asking if his hand was feeling better.
“It’s feeling much better.” He turned his wrist so she wasn’t holding his hand, rather he was holding hers.
Having Troy hold her hand evoked very different feelings than when Andy had. Andy’s caresses had been superficial, almost forced. Like he didn’t want to touch her any more than she wanted to touch him. This was new and different, and a little frightening.
From Troy, she felt a hunger. She saw it in his eyes as well. She sensed he felt that same hunger from her. She knew she needed to get away from him immediately, before she did something crazy like reach up on her toes toward those full, softly-parted lips and brush hers against them.
Melissa pulled away suddenly realizing she had almost done just that. She had almost kissed him. She released his hand and stepped quickly away, fumbling with her keys, rushing around the car, and hopping in. She tore out of the parking lot and pushed the accelerator to the floor of her little sedan. I almost kissed him.
Book Club Discussion Questions: I originally named this chapter Playing with Fire and Soil. Fitting, don't you think?
“Dang, why’s this place so busy on a Wednesday morning with the sun shining?” Troy wrinkled his brow and pursed his lips, looking at the café where a few old men usually hung out to drink burnt coffee and talk about the weather.
It wasn’t really a café in the literal sense, it was just a sitting area with a couple of tables next to a counter filled with complimentary donuts and bagels. Sometimes he wondered if the guys didn’t come here more for the camaraderie and free pastries than to get supplies.
That day there were at least twice the number of men sitting around, and many of them were much younger than the usual crowd. He shook his head and started toward the counter so he could inquire about getting a new drive chain. A strange conversation caught his attention and he halted in his tracks, listening to a familiar voice in the next aisle.
“Since y’er new in town, y’er gonna need someone to show you around. I could take you for a drive in my new Chevy and give you the grand tour.”
“Thank you, I’m sure I can find my way around just fine.” The curt tone of voice spoke volumes. She wasn’t interested in his advances.
Troy decided to play the gentleman and rescue the damsel, whoever she was. He came around the corner and stepped behind a woman with long strawberry blond hair, barely glanced at her but made firm eye contact with his arch enemy.
“You know Dean, I don’t think the lady is interested in riding around in a Chevy truck.” Troy leaned against the shelving unit, putting a tiny bit of space between the woman and her pursuer.
“What’s it to you, farmer boy?” Dean took a step toward Troy, who straightened his stance protectively. “You think she’s gonna wanna ride around in yer fancy new Ford?”
“Thank you for the compliment Dean, but I think the lady can find her way home in whatever car she drove here this morning.” Craig came up behind his brother and Dean took a step back, narrowing his eyes.
They stood there a moment more, three men staring one another down, and one woman with her arms crossed and her chin raised. Dean was the first to back down.
“Whatever, farmer boy.” Dean tossed the bag of lug nuts back on the shelf and walked away.
“Thank you,” the woman said with annoyance, finally turning to Troy and Craig. The hardness in her eyes startled Troy. He had expected her to be grateful for his defense. Instead, she looked offended. “I’m pretty sure I can take care of myself from now on.”
“Uh… I’m sorry—” Troy read her temporary name tag and realized she was probably a new employee at the store “—Melissa. I was just trying to help. I didn’t mean to make you more upset.”
Melissa shook her head, rolled her eyes and turned around, confidently walking away. He hurried to keep up with her.
“Look, the guy’s a jerk, okay? He needed to be put in his place. He can’t just think he can make advances at any ol’ woman he wants.”
Troy halted to a stop when she suddenly turned to face him, eyes narrowed, a firm stance, arms crossed.
Crud, I’ve offended her again. “Not that you’re old. That’s not what I meant. You’re… I don’t know how old you are… but you’re definitely not old. It’s just that… it’s not about you. It’s about Dean. He’s a jerk.”
“You said that already.” She lifted her eyebrows. “The feelings must be mutual because he sure doesn’t seem to like you either… farmer boy.”
“Eh… I stole his prom date once and he’s never forgiven me.” That brought a little smile. “I’m kidding. We didn’t even go to the same high school. Plus, I’ve never actually dated a girl before. He just doesn’t like me because I called the cops on him for setting a field on fire when he was drunk one night a few summers back.”
By that time, Melissa was openly laughing at him and Troy realized he was rambling. He stopped, took a deep breath, and shoved his hands in his pockets. His finger sliced against glass and he pulled out the broken piece of beer bottle.
Troy held up the piece of glass with his right hand and stuck the side of his bleeding finger in his mouth. He cringed at the taste of blood mixed with manure and spit it back out, wiping his mouth on his sleeve and wrapping his finger in the hem of his shirt.
“I need a new drive chain for my drill.” Troy tried not to gag, wishing he could run over and take a swig out of one of those cups of burnt coffee just to get the flavor of manure out of his mouth.
“It looks more like you need a bandage than a chain,” Melissa said in a fake southern accent.
“Yes, please.” Troy nodded. “That, and I need to wash the manure off my hands, and somehow get the taste out of my mouth.”
“Come on.” She grabbed his shirtsleeve and playfully dragged him over to the counter where she opened the cooler of sodas and grabbed him a Coke. Shoving it into his hand, she led him further back to where a door led to a storage room.
Troy twisted the cap off the Coke and swigged half of it down as he walked straight over to a washbasin. He held his bleeding finger under cold running water.
Without hesitation Melissa scrubbed Troy’s filthy hands against a bar of soap.
Troy held very still. This was different from when his mom used to scrub his hands. Melissa probably didn’t see it that way, but to him it felt almost suggestive. Too soon, she turned off the water and calmly wrapped his hands in a cloth towel. He watched her walk away, but she didn’t go far.
From a cabinet nearby, she pulled out a small first-aid kit and rummaged around until she found a bandage. Almost mechanically, she pulled the towel aside and unwrapped the bandage, carefully pulling the little plastic tabs and sealing away the blood.
Troy almost felt like he was going to fall over, not from the loss of what little blood had flowed from his finger, but from the way it felt to have her caring for him. He wanted to sigh with contentment, but instead cleared his throat and took a step back.
“There, you’re all better.” She smiled up at him, clearly not as affected by the situation as he was. “Now, let’s go find you that… chain.”
Her eyes finally met his and she didn’t look away. In the low light of the utility room, her eyes shone like emeralds. The fluorescent lights cast shadows across her strawberry blonde hair, turning it a classic shade of mahogany. Troy had the uncanny desire to reach out and grasp one of the long curls between his fingers to see if it felt as soft as it looked. Thankfully, the throbbing in his hand, and his strict upbringing reminded him to show a little more restraint. He shook his head and looked away, breaking the spell.
“Yes,” he whispered. “A chain. I came in here for a drive chain.” His breathing was heavy and fast, and he could tell hers was as well. She took one last deep breath, then walked from the storeroom. He watched her walk away, then quickly followed.
“What are you doing, Troy?” Craig asked, still standing near the door of the storeroom, arms crossed and furrowed brow.
“Buyin’ a chain…” Troy barely acknowledged his brother as he walked past and followed Melissa.
Book Club Discussion Question: Is it okay for a strong, independent woman to allow a man the chance to be chivalrous?
“It’s a good job, Mom.” Melissa pushed another pile of clothes into her suitcase and strode back across her room. She had barely unpacked the jeans and sweatshirts from college before loading up slacks and professional blouses. She hesitated as she held up her favorite Brigham Young University sweatshirt then shoved it back in the suitcase along with her nicest pair of jeans. “Don’t you want me to have a good job?”
“I just want you to be happy. Is this really the life you envisioned for yourself?” Jan Dalton, Melissa’s mom, sat on the edge of her twin bed. She glanced around Melissa’s childhood bedroom and fidgeted with a loose thread on the comforter. “Working at a hardware store?”
“Farm and Tractor Supply is hardly just a hardware store! We provide premium quality supplies to the rural community in a way that no other store can compete with. I’ve worked for the company all through college and we’re farmers for heaven’s sake. You and daddy have practically raised me to have this job.”
“You sound like a walking commercial.”
“I’m passionate about what we do.” Melissa held up two pairs of shoes, one that went with every dressy outfit she owned, from church clothes to work slacks, and the other a casual pair of loafers. She tucked them both in her suitcase and threw in her work boots for good measure. Then she realized she should have a grubby pair of jeans and flannel shirt as well. That led to a few of her favorite t-shirts. Before she knew it, she had re-packed half the clothes she’d brought home from college.
“But being a store manager is a huge responsibility,” her mom said.
“I’ve been an assistant store manager for almost two years, and pretty much ran the place while Donna was on maternity leave. I know what I’m doing, and I’m excited to transfer over here.”
“But rural Michigan is not the same as Utah.” Her mom shook her head and sighed.
“I grew up in rural Michigan. Right here in this house. On a farm. With farmers, remember?”
“Northern Michigan is not the same. You’re heading south. They’re different down there.”
“It’s beautiful down there. Rolling hills to the west. Open farmland to the east. Corn fields and sugar beets as far as the eye can see. My new office overlooks a pasture with horses so beautiful it takes your breath away. At my interview, I felt like I had finally found my home.”
“But it’s so desolate,” her mom whispered, apparently forgetting that Lowell was a suburb of Grand Rapids, the second largest city in Michigan. “How are you ever going to find a husband all the way down there?”
“That’s what this is really about, isn’t it?” Melissa stopped packing and sat on the bed next to her mom. “You’re still upset that I’m not marrying Andy.”
“He was a good man. Your refusal devastated him. He would have made a fine husband.”
“He didn’t love me.” Melissa felt the heat rush to her cheeks. “And I didn’t love him.”
“You did at one time…”
“He only wanted me as a trophy wife, to show me off. He called me ‘Eye Candy’ to his friend. I heard him say it. I don’t want to be sought after just because I’m beautiful. I want to be loved for who I am on the inside.”
“You can’t get around that, Melissa.” Her mom’s brow furrowed. “You’ve always been a beauty, and you’ll always be my gorgeous little girl. Your looks will always be the first thing men notice. It’s inevitable. But I understand your frustration. I’m sure when the time comes, you’ll meet someone who will see inside and fall in love with your fiery, confident personality… he may need to be blind…”
“Well, gee, maybe there’s a blind guy down there just waiting for a fiery, passionate, confident farm girl.” Melissa nudged her mom with her shoulder. “You know, I’ve prayed about this decision. I know this is where God wants me to be at this time in my life, and I’m going to keep my beautiful green eyes open to the possibilities. But I’m honestly not looking for a husband right now. I’m just going to have fun living with my cousin, going to church with her every Sunday, letting her drag me around to meet every young single adult in the Grand Rapids area, enjoying my new job, and finding my place in this world. Finding a husband will have to wait.”
Melissa stood up and finished packing, ignoring her mom until she finally left the room.
* * * * * * * *
“Blasted!” Troy kicked the tire on his no-till planter, where his drive chain had jammed right at the edge of the field. He crouched down and picked up the piece of broken glass that had been the culprit. The late-morning sun warmed his back, reminding him that his perfect day had just been ruined by some irresponsible kids throwing beer bottles in his fields again. Troy mumbled under his breath, “Seeds won’t get in the ground without a working drill.”
Troy waved to his brother in the next field over, holding up his roller chain. Craig climbed down from the tractor and came over to investigate the broken links. “Guess we’re gonna need to make a trip into town.”
“I don’t have time for this!” Troy hauled back his arm like he was going to chuck the piece of glass as far as he could throw it, then stopped himself at the last second realizing that wherever it landed would cause more problems at a later date. Instead, he tucked it into the pocket of his jeans, brushed off his hands and started toward the truck. His eyes lifted to the clear, blue sky and he started grumbling. “Rain’s going to be here in a day or two and I won’t have my beans in the ground. This is just perfect. Can’t get a break.”
“You need to relax.” Craig rushed to catch up with him and laid his hand on Troy’s shoulder, slowing him down. “We’ll get done in time.”
“You’re just glad we got your fields done yesterday.” Troy pushed his brother’s hand away and climbed into the driver’s side of his new Ford F-450. The keys were already in the ignition. This far out of town, anyone close enough to steal his truck was probably related to him and wouldn’t dare. He cranked the ignition and let the purr of the engine lull him out of his bad mood. The new car smell rushed from the air conditioner, reminding him what a good choice he’d made at the dealership. He reached up and ran his hand along the dashboard.
“You know, if you would just marry Becca you wouldn’t need to have an improper relationship with your new truck.” Craig raised his eyebrows and smirked suggestively.
“I don’t wanna marry Becca.” Troy ground his teeth together, and pouted.
“You know she’s the girl father chose for you…”
“I don’t care,” Troy said. He put the truck in reverse and backed out of the drive. “Don’t I get a choice in the matter?”
“That’s not the way it works in the Mennonite church,” Craig reminded him. “It’s time you grow up and accept your responsibilities as a Brother in the faith.”
“I’m not ready to grow up yet.” A devious grin threatened the corners of Troy’s mouth. Troy put the truck in gear and peeled out of the drive, fishtailing the back end of the truck and spraying gravel over the edge of the field.
“Geesh! Let me at least get my seatbelt on!”
Troy knew his brother wasn’t really mad at him for driving like a daredevil. The smile plastered on Craig’s face as he held the grab-bar above the door told Troy everything he needed to know. He cranked the steering wheel back and forth one more time, leaving ruts in the field behind him.
“Dad’s going to kill you!” Craig hollered above the country music blaring from the stereo.
“It’s my field now, I can do with it what I want.” Troy hollered back.
“Dad’s been cultivating those fields longer than we’ve been alive, and when are you going to grow up and quit listening to that horrible music?”
“I’ll grow up when I’m good and ready.” Troy smirked over at his older brother. “You were just as much a rebel when you were my age.” Craig smiled back and they raised their arms, bumping fists in solidarity.
“Good thing you don’t have a family to feed. You’d be taking better care of your soil.”
“That reminds me—” Troy reached over and turned off the radio, knowing his brother would appreciate it. His speed slowed to a more reasonable fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit and he creased his eyebrows. “Is little Jesse feeling better? Did he get over his cough? I’m sorry I forgot to ask this morning.”
“You’ve been a little distracted,” Craig acknowledged. “Yes, he’s fine. Nothing that can’t be fixed with a little homemade chicken soup and Jessica’s loving arms.”
“Must be nice to be married.” Troy sighed. He did want that. He just didn’t want it with Becca. He couldn’t understand why no one else in the community didn’t see that. She was more like a sister to him. He wasn’t even remotely attracted to her in a physical way. Yet, she followed him around at church, dropping hints about how nice his house was coming along and how she couldn’t wait to see what it looked like on the inside. It was like she, and everyone else, was just assuming that one day he would turn around, look down into her big brown eyes, and realize that she was the perfect girl to come and sew some curtains to hang in his new kitchen.
“Watch it, little brother!” Troy snapped out of his daydream soon enough to swerve back off the shoulder of the road. “You won’t live long enough to get married if you don’t learn how to drive.”
“I’ll show you how to drive.” Troy grinned and sped up again, making it to Farm and Tractor Supply in record time.
Book Club Discussion Questions: See any conflicts?
Paul fidgeted in the pew, adjusted his tie, and pulled at his collar. He’d been attending services all his life at the community church with his parents, and was still getting used to the differences in meeting style here at the LDS church.
The hymns were different. The sermons were different. The setup of the chapel was different.
But the doctrine was perfect.
He had to keep reminding himself that. The rest of these things were just habits and traditions. He knew he’d grow more and more comfortable with everything in time.
Paul knew the gospel of Jesus Christ was found in the doctrine. Reading the Bible and the Book of Mormon brought peace to his heart. He couldn’t deny that. He couldn’t turn his back on the teachings of the church now and face himself in the mirror. He knew the teachings were true. And once a person knows something, he can’t un-know that something.
He wanted to shout the message from the rooftops. The gospel of Jesus Christ is true! He sat up a little straighter in the pew with renewed confidence.
The topics for discussion that Sunday morning were on missionary work. All of a sudden, they were speaking his language. As if his internal shout had been heard by God and he’d swooped in to provide exactly the words Paul needed to hear.
An older teenager who was preparing for his mission was the first speaker. He seemed nervous, but excited.
A recently returned missionary was the second speaker, and she seemed confident and self-assured.
An older married couple sat side by side on the stand until the wife stood up to speak about how much she loved being a mission president’s wife. She described the bond she felt for the young men and women who served in their area and treated her like a mother. She pulled several tissues from the box on the podium before taking her seat and allowing her husband his opportunity to speak.
The mission president talked about how much he loved the young missionaries and how much he loved serving with his wife. He encouraged older couples to consider serving a mission together and urged young people to submit their papers to the church stating their intention to serve a mission.
Somewhere between watching the older sister missionary testifying about her love for the young missionaries and the mission president’s encouragement, Paul realized that the whole day’s talks had been prepared so that Heavenly Father could tell him what he already suspected. He was going to serve a mission. And he was suddenly terrified.
He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know who to talk to about it, or even if he should yet. He’d only been a member of the church just over four months. It would be another eight months before he could even leave. There was so much he needed to know.
How much was it going to cost? What types of things did he need to do to prepare? What paperwork would be required? What clothes and supplies would he need to buy?
And then there were the tougher questions. What would his parents think? How would they feel when he told them that he was going to take some of the money he’d been saving to purchase their farm and use it to serve a mission? How was he ever going to finish college?
Every question seemed to float away like a balloon on a string when he realized none of them mattered. This was his chance to wear a little black tag on his lapel and shout from the rooftops that the gospel of Jesus Christ was true!
“Amen,” Paul said a little too loudly when the mission president ended his talk. The lady in front of him turned around and smiled politely. He gave her a nod and smiled back, feeling his cheeks heat with embarrassment.
The closing hymn was Called to Serve, and Paul sang out with a hearty voice. Called indeed. He was going on a mission!
Book Club Discussion Questions: What do you think? Predictable? Do you think Paul's going to make a good missionary?
“Well, here’s to lost causes.” Caleb held up his glass of punch and reached over to Paul. They clinked their glasses together in a solemn toast as they stared wistfully across the room at the girl they both loved dancing in the arms of her new groom.
He wasn’t sure why they’d even come to the wedding reception. It had been mere weeks since Ashley had dumped both of them and they were still in shock. But they were family now. It was too late.
Paul in particular had always been family, having lived next door to the Hardman’s all his life. Caleb had just been part of their lives for the past two years, but it was enough that he’d probably always feel comfortable with them.
He’d been surprised to receive the invitation. He never would have expected to feel this resigned about watching his ex-girlfriend get married. He and Paul had decided to go to the reception together in an act of camaraderie and joked that they might meet some nice women there. Unfortunately, Ashley didn’t have any girlfriends and there weren’t many people in attendance who were the right age. They were stuck with each other and were seriously considering ditching early.
“What the heck are we supposed to do with our lives now?” Paul’s question wasn’t really a question.
“Well, what would you have done if I’d married Ashley?” Caleb asked him.
“I hadn’t gotten that far,” Paul admitted sheepishly.
“Well, I’m going to Germany,” Caleb declared.
Paul raised his eyebrows. “Why?”
Caleb backpedaled to explain himself. “I used to live there, remember?”
“Uh, I guess I don’t know that much about what you did prior to meeting Ashley,” Paul admitted. “I think Ashley was always trying to shield me from knowing too much about just how rich you really are. She knew how intimidated I was by you, and everything I learned about your wealth made me that much surer that I didn’t stand a chance next to you.”
“Well, my parents are wealthy beyond either of our imaginations.” Caleb rolled his head around to look over at Paul. He was starting to sound like a man who had spent the past few hours drinking himself into a stupor. He was slouching back in his chair and his face was forlorn. “My dad’s a retired CEO from the North American Division of Porsche.”
“Seriously?” Paul looked over at him with a slacked jaw. “No wonder she didn’t tell me.”
“I really don’t know what the big deal is, but maybe that’s just because I grew up with money.” Caleb was almost slurring his words. “I spent half of my childhood traveling back and forth to Germany. I think I’m going to go see if I can find that angel who introduced me to the Church.”
Paul started laughing kind of loudly and Caleb joined in even though he wasn’t sure what they were laughing about. He reached his glass up again and they toasted to their own laughter. People at the tables around them politely looked over at them in curiosity.
“Who is this angel of whom you speak?” Paul spoke with a lilting Shakespearean accent.
“I thought she was asking me on a date.” Caleb shook his head and chuckled. “But I didn’t speak enough German to realize that she was taking me to church.”
They both laughed loudly again and this time they caught the attention of more people at the surrounding tables. Their behavior was beginning to draw a few dirty looks. People probably thought that they’d been drinking.
“Maybe if I can find her again, she’ll see that I’m a strong, upstanding returned missionary who can take her on a real date!”
“Hey, I like going to church,” Paul said. “I think that sounds like a great place to meet chicks.”
“It probably is, actually.” Caleb sat forward and looked at his young friend more seriously. Even though Paul had only been a member of the church a few weeks, he had embraced the gospel so fully that Caleb could already tell how important it was in Paul’s life.
Paul shifted his gaze away from Caleb’s. “I still think I should have changed the shape of that pretty boy’s nose the day he stole her from us.”
“I was very impressed by your restraint.”
“Yeah—” Paul smirked. “That’s only because you were standing in between us holding me back. If only you hadn’t…”
“Their wedding pictures would have looked a little different,” Caleb mused. They grinned at each other conspiratorially.
“Here’s to meeting someone new at church,” Paul said, holding up his glass again.
“Here’s to a second chance with my angel in Germany.” Caleb reached over and clinked Paul’s glass. “Yeah… here’s to a second chance.”
Book Club Discussion Questions: This chapter is an edited version of the epilogue for The Farmer's Daughter. Not really a question, just a notation.
Sarah didn’t need to spend the morning in the library while Paul was in class because she ended up taking a tour of the Stoddard Living Center, a grouping of small apartment buildings behind the Institute of Religion building.
Mostly populated by students who attended Michigan State University or Lansing Community College, the Living Center was almost exclusively LDS. The students got together regularly for institute classes, scripture studies, and church meetings. But they also had a place to hang out, have dances, sit around the campfires that they built out back, and go canoeing and hiking.
Paul dropped Sarah off with some friends he knew, and they showed Sarah what college life was like in East Lansing. Sarah loved the place immediately and turned in her application to rent an apartment before she’d even been accepted to Lansing Community College.
Her parents were very supportive, and Sarah suspected they were glad to see her finally leaving the nest and doing something with her life. They even agreed to pay for her apartment, since she didn’t have a job.
Sarah had never had a job. What Paul said the day before about her relying on her good looks and voice was true. She knew she needed to grow up, and this was the first step.
Book Club Discussion Questions: This is more of a comment. I'm not feeling this book, which is probably why Chapter Four is skeletal at best. Thank you for your patience with me as I work through this. -Julie
“Paul, can I ask for your advice?” Paul looked up from his work to see Sarah leaning against the side of the stall. That was not normal.
Sarah rarely came into the barn, and he knew she wasn’t here to pick up a shovel and lend a hand. He straightened, leaned against his pitchfork, and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his brow. He cleared his throat and tried not to portray the shock he felt at seeing her standing there.
“I want to go to college,” Sarah said.
“What do you need me for?” Paul asked. His question wasn’t intended to be mean or condescending; more that he was baffled that she felt that he had some knowledge that would help her.
Paul had only been in college two years and was far from an expert. Plus, his studies were in agribusiness management and he knew that she had no interest in farming.
Sarah may be a farmer’s daughter, but she had never embraced the lifestyle. She was more suited for luxury and took advantage of the fact that her parents allowed her to live under their roof with no plans for her future. Although she was five years his senior, in many ways Sarah was far less mature.
“I don’t know how…” She looked down at her perfectly manicured fingernails and pouted a little.
“You don’t know how to apply for college?” Paul was trying to see where she was going with this.
“I don’t know… that I’m smart enough for college.” She finally looked up at him and her face reminded him of an insecure puppy who was looking for positive reinforcement. Paul sighed and realized he had more work cut out for him than he’d realized.
“Sarah, you’re smarter than you give yourself credit for.” He set aside his pitchfork and walked over to her. He stood in front of her and put his hands on her shoulders. She let her eyes fall to the side, avoiding his gaze. “Look at me.”
She met his gaze with the vulnerability of a little girl.
“You’ve always relied on your good looks and voice to let others praise you, but it’s time to grow up,” Paul told her firmly. “You’re not some little damsel in distress. You’re a grown woman and it’s time you started acting like one. You’ve played up this role of being a goodie-two-shoes and it’s time to stop. Accept yourself for who you are.”
“I don’t know who I am,” she admitted.
“Well for one, you’re a child of God.”
“You sound like my dad!” Sarah pushed Paul’s arms from her shoulders and walked over to one of Ashley’s horses, petting its mane with her feminine hands.
Paul couldn’t help but notice the difference between Sarah and her younger sister, his childhood sweetheart. Ashley was always so much of a tomboy and never cared about what her hair looked like or whether her clothes were covered in soil and horse manure. He felt the nostalgia of wishing Ashley were here instead. He tried to turn his attention back to the girl in front of him. “Your dad’s a smart man.”
“Which reminds me”—She turned to him— “Why are you still here? You’re not dating Ashley anymore. Don’t you think you should get on with your life and go do someone else’s chores?”
Paul snorted as he realized that no one other than himself and Stan Hardman knew their little secret. “Your dad’s been paying me to help out on his farm for years. I just never told Ashley, because I didn’t want her to think that the only reason I was coming over was to get a paycheck. I really did love her and loved working alongside her.” He sighed and looked away.
“I’m so sorry Paul.” Sarah reached out to him. “I know I haven’t always been very nice to you and I feel bad now.”
It was true; Sarah could be downright mean to him and everyone else in her path. She was always kind of a stuck-up snob who cherished any opportunity to rub it in whenever something went wrong in his life. This was incredibly unlike her to humble herself enough to admit that she’d been wrong.
“I forgive you,” Paul said. “I’m trying to learn this whole ‘forgiveness’ thing.”
“Hey, how do you like being a member of the Church… after all these years?” she asked him. “Do you feel the Spirit, and all that cool stuff?”
“I love it,” he quietly admitted. “Don’t you? Do you… have a testimony of the Gospel?”
His voice was almost a whisper. He wasn’t sure why he was asking her. He almost assumed that she didn’t have a testimony. She sure didn’t act like someone who had committed her life to following Christ’s teachings.
“Heck yeah!” Sarah swung her arms around her and twirled like a little girl. “I love being a member of the Church! I read my scriptures every night and everything. Sorry if I’m not a very good example.” She stopped and smiled at him, sheepishly.
“People can change,” he pointed out.
“I’m working on it,” she admitted. “Which brings us back to my reason for coming out here and bugging you. Will you help me apply for college? I hear that Lansing Community College is good for someone just starting out and they don’t look down on people who are starting school when they’re… older.”
“You’re not that old,” Paul told her. “But yes, I can take you up there next week when I go. LCC and MSU are practically next door to each other. My Wednesday classes are pretty light. You can wait in the library or something and then I’ll take you over to LCC and help you figure things out.”
“Thank you so much.” Sarah actually sounded sincere. This was going to take some getting used to.
Now, get out of here and leave me alone. I’ve got work to do!” He teased her and shoved her away.
“Yes, and since my dad is your employer, that means I can boss you around!” She teased back.
“I don’t think so. You are more like an annoying older sister, and your dad doesn’t pay me enough to be considered my boss anyway. Besides “When I get done buying my parents farm in a few years, I’ll own way more land than he does. He doesn’t intimidate me, and neither do you.”
Paul walked over to pick up his pitchfork and got back to shoveling straw into the horses’ stalls. He grinned to himself as he worked and felt lighter than he had in weeks.
“So, Caleb,” Sarah cooed, stepping closer to him. “Now that my sister’s out of the picture, what do you say you and I try going out on a date?”
Caleb took a step back and almost spilled his glass of punch. He couldn’t believe that after so many months of rejecting her that Sarah still had the gall to keep trying.
A mere three weeks had passed since he’d been dumped by Ashley, and it was hard enough to be in the same room with her family and Paul’s family for the baptism.
Caleb’s mind was on Paul and the importance of his decision to be baptized, so he wasn’t prepared to deal with Sarah. He’d all but forgotten about her because he hadn’t been spending any time at the Hardman’s house.
Sarah had been an annoyance to him since the first time they’d met, and it appeared that he was going to have to make it very clear that he was not interested in taking this conversation any further.
“Sarah, it’s not going to happen. So, give it up.” Caleb didn’t mean for it to come out snippy, but he was tired of her advances. This was one part of dating Ashley that he wouldn’t miss.
“What, I’m not pretty enough for you?” Sarah pouted and batted her eyelashes with an expression that told him she knew just how beautiful she really was. He rolled his eyes at her and shifted his attention away, unfortunately catching Ashley’s eye from across the room. He looked away quickly and inadvertently looked right back at Sarah. He sighed and shrugged his shoulders in defeat. “Or am I not smart enough?”
Suddenly Caleb realized that she was feeling a lot more insecure than he had given her credit for. Here she was the older sister to Ashley, who was acing her pre-med classes at the prestigious University of Michigan.
Ashley had drawn the attention of three men in recent years; he a recently graduated medical doctor, Paul, who was a straight ‘A’ student at Michigan State University, and now she was engaged to a young veterinarian.
No wonder Sarah thought she wasn’t good enough.
Caleb finally felt pity for this woman who was much closer to his own age than Ashley had been and would probably make a good trophy wife for the right man. But she was right; Caleb wanted someone who could hold a conversation intellectually with him, not just look good on his arm.
In a way, Sarah reminded him a lot of his own mother. She had been very beautiful when she was younger but had never gone to college nor had she needed more than her own charm to get her through life. His father was wealthy enough that his mom never had to lift a finger. She spent a good deal of her time hosting bridge club, attending fundraising luncheons, and raising her children. His mom and dad seemed happy together and still very much in love, so something must have worked out right. Still, he knew that Sarah was not the right woman for him. He took a deep breath and looked at her with new understanding.
“Sarah, look. I appreciate your interest, but I’m really not your type.” There, he thought; throw it right back on her. “I’m sure you’re plenty smart, and you know how beautiful you are. I just think you need to look for someone who is in a better place mentally. It’s going to be a long time before I’m ready to pursue another relationship. Your sister messed me up pretty bad, and I just need to get away from dating for a while. I hope you can understand.”
That should help; Caleb had taken Sarah’s sister a little farther off the pedestal that everyone seemed to elevate her on and made it sound like it was him who wasn’t good enough for her. He hoped that would be enough to stop her advances, but he also knew that the best thing he could do was put some distance between him and Sarah.
If Paul hadn’t asked Caleb to baptize him, he most definitely wouldn’t be here today. He wasn’t ready to be in the same room with Ashley right now and he was sure that Paul probably felt the same way. Yet, Ashley was practically Paul’s family, and there wasn’t any way to avoid the inevitable.
Suddenly, there she was standing next to her sister. Ashley looked up at him and smiled slightly, almost apologetically. This was the first time he’d seen her since he and Paul had confronted her and Roy that first day in the barn. Caleb had heard that Ashley and Roy had been inseparable since the day they met and were planning a wedding in just a few weeks.
Caleb understood why. When you know you’ve found the right person, there’s no reason to wait. He should have known all along that Ashley wasn’t the right girl for him. They had never felt that overwhelming need to be together all the time like she seemed to have with Roy. It still hurt. He knew it was time to get this over with.
“Hello Ashley,” he said, formally but with slightly more confidence than he felt. “How are you?”
“I’m good Caleb, how are you?” she asked, quietly. Her voice was just as beautiful as ever and it almost brought tears to his eyes knowing that he would never hold her in his arms again, would never kiss her or tell her that he loved her. He coughed lightly and decided to change the subject.
“I’m very pleased for Paul today. He made a good choice, and I’m glad to have been here for him.”
“I’m proud of him too,” she confirmed. “It was really nice of you to take the time to share the gospel with him this way.”
Caleb snorted slightly, knowing that it was years in the making and he was just the last catalyst to put Paul over the edge. Caleb still didn’t fully understand why Paul had asked him to baptize him when he lived next door to his new bishop and his family. But Caleb had gone along with it because it felt like the right thing to do.
“I think the credit lies mostly with you Ashley,” he pointed out. “It was the story about Joseph Smith that you shared with him in the meadow outside your house that did it. You’re a really good missionary.”
“If I were a good missionary, he would have been baptized years ago.” She blushed from his compliment.
“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” he whispered. He couldn’t understand why he was doing this; why he was allowing himself to get drawn back in by her. He decided to change the subject again. “Your sister and I were just discussing you before you walked up. I was telling her that I’m going to be missing you for a long time and she seemed very understanding about my insecurities.”
“Yes,” Sarah interjected. “He seems much more confident than he did just a few minutes ago. Sometimes it helps to talk things out and understand our own feelings. I think he’ll get over you just fine!” She winked at him, but not in a flirtatious way, more a conspiratorial way. He smiled back at her, knowing that Sarah was probably right; things would all work out for the best.
“By the way—” he turned his attention back to Ashley. “Congratulations. I understand you’re finalizing plans to go to the temple in a few weeks.”
“We are. And thank you.”
“I wish you all the best,” Caleb nodded his head slightly in a way that almost felt regal. He was happy for her, but he was ready for this conversation to be over. “Now, if you ladies will excuse me, I should go offer my congratulations to the man of the hour. I can tell that Paul would love someone to pull him away from talking to his great-aunt. It was nice talking with you both.”
With that, Caleb walked away from them with more confidence than he’d felt in weeks.
Book Club Discussion Questions: I this gives Caleb a little closure, don't you?