“Caleb—” Ashley started, then cleared her throat. “I prayed about you in the temple last week.” They were walking slowly across campus, Ashley needing to get to class, and Caleb needing to get over to the hospital, but neither of them were in much of a hurry. They walked along holding hands, just being together.
Caleb raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips then took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “Okay?”
“I still haven’t gotten an answer,” she said quietly.
“This must be really hard on you.” Caleb pulled her gently to face him. “I’m so sorry that we’re making this so difficult for you.”
“You’re not making this difficult; I am.” She looked up into his eyes.
“I want you to marry me, Ashley.”
She gasped lightly and tears fell from her eyes. He’d never said those words to her.
Paul had said them so many times over the years, but never had Caleb admitted he wanted to marry her. She suspected it, but he had never vocalized his intentions.
“You don’t have to say anything right now,” Caleb said. “And I’m sorry that I’ve just put even more pressure on your shoulders. But, I feel like you should at least know how I’m feeling. You know I love you.”
“I love you too, Caleb.” He leaned down and kissed her gently, right there on the sidewalk in the middle of campus. They pulled away just slightly and looked into each other’s eyes.
“Lying next to you last week,” he whispered. “Falling asleep in your arms. It was the most amazing feeling. I want to sleep in your arms every night for the rest of my life. Every night for the rest of eternity.”
She smiled up at him. The painted picture was beautiful and she couldn’t release his gaze. He was beautiful. He could provide everything she could ever ask for. It no longer mattered to her that he wasn’t raised on a farm, or that he didn’t drive a truck with a trailer hitch to haul her horses, or that he was beyond wealthy to the point of intimidation. It didn’t matter that his parents weren’t members of the church, or that he was going to be a busy doctor who would sometimes work long hours. He loved her. And she loved him.
“I want that too, Caleb,” she whispered up to him. She reached up on her toes and kissed him again, more passionately than before. They held each other for a long time that way, not caring who saw them, who walked by. There was no one else in the world in that moment.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Hi, Paul.” Caleb stood in the open door to the swine building. Caleb had never been inside Paul’s facility, and he looked around in wonder. It was much neater and tidier than Ashley’s barn. This was not a family farm, but a real agricultural facility.
Suddenly Caleb saw a different side of Paul. A businessman. A man who took command of the many workers who walked in and out of stalls, manning equipment, feeding the swine, stacking boxes.
Paul looked up from his clipboard and nodded to the man standing beside him. He quickly signed the invoice in front of him, then walked over to where Caleb was standing. He reached out and shook his hand.
“Can we talk?” Caleb asked.
“Sure,” Paul reached over and set down his things and brushed himself off a little. They walked out of the barn and down the path, away from the path that led to Ashley’s house, out along the fence beside the neat rows of corn. “What’s up?”
“Ashley and I had a nice talk yesterday,” Caleb started. They hadn’t seen one another since the morning that Caleb had rushed out of Ashley’s house and sped down the driveway, leaving Paul standing there glaring at him. “I told her I wanted to marry her.”
“I figured as serious as you seem to be with Ashley you’d have gotten past that point in your relationship a long time ago.” Paul laughed with a half-hearted chuckle that was almost a snort. “I mean, I’ve asked Ashley to marry me a hundred times, or at least told her I wanted to marry her. Maybe it’s time to get down on one knee and present her with the ring I’ve had sitting in my top drawer for years.”
Caleb swallowed hard and spoke carefully. “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea right now.”
“Why? What did she say?”
“Well, she sort of said that she wanted that too.”
“Sort of?” Paul turned and looked at him. “What do you mean by ‘sort of’ exactly?”
“Well, we’ve talked a lot about what happened last week, and we both feel really bad about the position we’ve put everyone in. But when it really comes down to it, I loved sleeping in her arms.”
“I don’t want to hear this.” Paul turned away and his hands clenched into fists. “I’ve never had a chance to sleep in Ashley’s arms. I would never have even attempted it. I’ve dreamed about it for years. I’ve dreamed about her for years. I’ve imagined what our babies would look like. I’ve imagined waking up next to her every morning, and going out to the barn together to feed the animals, and coming home to her every evening when I was done with a hard day’s labor.” He turned farther away from Caleb.
“She took some time to pray about it in the temple,” Caleb said. “Unfortunately, she hasn’t come up with an answer yet.”
“What is it about these temples?” Paul turned back to him, wiping the tears away from his face. “Why do you guys hold so much faith that these temples are some magic solution to everything? Don’t my years of loving her mean anything? Can’t I be good enough for her without taking her to one of these temples?”
“That’s the point, Paul,” Caleb said, trying to get Paul to look him in the eyes. “You are good enough for her. She knows it. She knows it with all her heart. That’s one of the reasons that this decision is so hard for her. You are an amazing man, and she would be lucky to have you for a husband.”
Caleb couldn’t believe he was saying this, but the words just flowed. What he wanted to do was to push this man from Ashley’s life so that he could get on with his. He wanted to marry the woman he loved and walk off into the sunset together.
But suddenly it wasn’t about him anymore. It wasn’t about Ashley anymore. Caleb felt a kinship to this man who was his brother more than anything else in that moment. A peace came over him that he couldn’t explain.
“I want to be baptized, Caleb.” Paul looked up with tears still falling. “I want to know what you guys know. I want what you guys have. I want this Holy Spirit in my life that you guys talk about. I want the fullness of the Gospel in my life.”
Caleb felt panic set into his heart. He knew that he should be overjoyed for the monumental choice that his friend had just expressed. He knew that he should be rejoicing that a choice son of Heavenly Father had found his way home. But he realized very quickly that this decision was going to complicate further the choice that Ashley was trying to make.
Ashley would no longer be choosing between a man who could take her to the temple and a man who could not. She’d be choosing between two good men, both worthy of the ordinances that would seal them together for eternity, both willing to make that commitment, and one who lived the life that Ashley had always known. One who could give her a life on her farm, away from the intimidation of a wealthy family who didn’t necessarily approve of their son marrying a farmer’s daughter, away from the unknown. Tears fell from his eyes as well, and he grasped hold of Paul’s arm, trying to steady himself.
“Being baptized because you’re in love with a girl is not a good enough reason,” Caleb whispered. He was trying to rationalize his thoughts; convince himself that Ashley was the only reason that Paul was making this choice.
“It’s not about Ashley, Caleb.” He grasped Caleb too, as if he were propping him up from falling over. “It’s about me. It’s been about me for a long time. I’ve known the Church was true for years; I just didn’t want to admit it. And I didn’t want her to feel that I was choosing her church over mine just because I was trying to influence her to marry me. I want her to marry me because she loves me, not because I can take her to the temple. I wish I’d admitted it a long time ago.”
Caleb needed to clear his head for a minute before responding. He knew he needed to set aside his feelings for Ashley and put on his missionary hat. He needed to search his heart for the lessons he’d taught while he’d been on his mission. Unfortunately, they all came to his mind in Spanish.
“We need to get you to the local missionaries, Paul,” he whispered. “I can’t do this right now. I can’t help you right now. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
“I want you to be the one to baptize me, Caleb.” Paul’s voice was quiet, but confident.
“What?” Caleb felt like he couldn’t breathe. “Why?”
“I feel like you’re a brother in a way,” Paul explained.
Caleb realized that he had just thought of Paul the same way a few moments prior. He couldn’t argue with Paul’s observation.
“We’ve shared a really parallel experience this past year. I know that I could ask Bishop Hardman, or Greg or Steve. But I’ve thought about this, and I want you to be the one…” His voice trailed off.
“This is not what I had planned for this conversation,” Caleb said, trying to catch his breath and pull himself together.
“I’m sorry,” Paul said, shuffling his feet. “Maybe I shouldn’t have asked.”
Caleb realized that Paul shouldn’t have to feel sorry. He should be embracing this moment. So should Caleb. He took a long deep breath and closed his eyes.
Father, Caleb prayed. Help me with this!
Caleb opened his eyes and looked at his friend with a new outlook. His missionary heart had taken over, and he knew that he’d been placed in this man’s life for a reason.
Caleb was here to share the Gospel with Paul. He grasped Paul in a big hug and patted him on the back then took another deep breath and pulled away from him.
“Alright,” Caleb said with conviction. “Let’s do this.”