“Paul…” Ashley hesitated. “I’m going out on a date next week.” They were riding horses on a well-worn path through the back end of her father’s property.
It was early December and they had just enjoyed the first real snowfall of the year. The whole world was blanketed in white, and it being the first morning after the storm, the smooth surface of crystals was undisturbed and peaceful. It was the perfect time for a trail ride.
The bright, crisp morning reminded Ashley of a Robert Frost poem or a song about a white Christmas. The air was still very cold but offered a hint that the sun would eventually melt half the snow into muddy puddles by later in the day.
She should have felt light and free, but instead was weighted down at the prospect of having to drop this bomb on Paul’s otherwise peaceful world.
“So, where are we going?” he prodded lightly, knowing full well what she was implying, yet trying to pull some humor into what he could tell was not going to be a fun conversation. “The movies? Out to dinner? Should I dress up? Or are we wearing our jeans and cowboy boots?” He looked over at her with a clearly hurt and sad look in his eye.
“His name is Caleb,” she told him quietly. She knew Paul didn’t really care what the guy’s name was. He just cared that the jerk was stealing away his girlfriend. But he nodded politely and looked forward again, letting his horse lead.
“That guy from your church class up at the university?”
“Yeah.” she didn’t add anything else.
“Is it serious?” he asked.
“Not really,” she said. “You know I’m not ready to get serious. I’m so young.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard that one before.” He took a deep breath and looked back over at her. “But you like him? A lot?”
“I like him…” She hesitated. “I don’t know about ‘a lot,’ I barely know him. But he’s really nice, and he treats me well, and he wants to take me out to dinner.”
“And he’s a member-of-your-church.” Paul’s words held more than a hint of sarcasm. “I still don’t get that, Ashley. What makes you think that guys who are members of your church are so much better than guys who aren’t?”
“Well, it has a lot to do with getting married in a temple.” She tried to explain, but even that sounded a little lame and very rehearsed.
All her life she’d been taught over and over again that she should plan to be married in the temple and not to settle for anything less. It was just what was expected of her.
But Paul was right. Paul was just about as good a man as she could ever pluck out of the universe, and he was going to make a great husband someday. The question she kept asking herself was if he was going to make a great husband for her someday.
That was one of the main reasons she wasn’t willing to make a commitment. Not because they were young, or because he wasn’t a member of the Church, or that he couldn’t take her to the temple. Because she didn’t know how to tell if he was her ‘eternal companion.’
She’d heard it talked about all her life; that she would just know when it was right. Maybe it was because they were so young, and because she was so confused about all the rest of it, that she wasn’t ready to know if it was right.
In a lot of ways, she wanted Paul to be the right man for her. He was almost everything she wanted. He treated her like a princess even as he was standing next to her with a pitchfork helping her clean her horses’ stalls. He loved her, and she loved him, and she was never happier than when he was by her side.
“So, if I could marry you in one of these temples, you’d marry me tomorrow?” he asked. That was a loaded question, and it took her right back to the thoughts that had been running through her head for the past few minutes.
Five minutes ago, she probably wouldn’t have hesitated to answer affirmatively, but now she wasn’t sure. She understood suddenly that it was more than that. She needed a lot more time to figure it all out.
She had just turned nineteen, and so had he. There were so many things in life that she needed to do before crossing this bridge. She looked over at him and looked him firmly in his eyes.
“No,” she said. “I wouldn’t. I’m not ready for that, and neither are you.”
“Yeah, I am, Ashley. I’ve been ready to marry you for years. I wouldn’t keep asking you if I weren’t. I want to be your husband, and I want to lie in bed next to you every night, and I want you to have my babies.” He was dead serious. She wanted to lighten the mood.
“That’s your body talking, not your head.” She laughed lightly at him.
“No, it’s not.” He stopped his horse and waited for her to realize he had stopped, and she turned Shelly around to trot back to him. Now their horses were facing in opposite directions, and Ashley and Paul were looking each other firmly in the eye. “If I want to blow off steam, I’m going to go throw around some straw bales or something. I’ve never made a move on you. Not that I haven’t wanted to or anything. But I respect you, and you know it. Just because I want you for a wife doesn’t mean I’m going to let my body make decisions for my head.”
She felt bad for her accusation, but also a little embarrassed. She knew that she’d thought about him one too many times over the years in that same way.
Paul was handsome and strong and attractive and smart and fun, and he felt good in her arms. Really good. He’d make a good husband in a lot more ways than she normally let herself think about. She wanted him about as much as he wanted her. But she respected him just as much.
That was a gift neither of them were going to take away from each other. If they did get married, that would be an awesome night. But, no sooner. Not with each other, or anyone else. That was something that was non-negotiable.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean to imply anything. It’s just that, I want to be married to you too. I’m just not ready.”
“Well, you aren’t ready to make any commitments to him either, right?”
“No commitments to him, either.” They smiled at each other, and in that moment she wasn’t even interested in going out with Caleb again. All she wanted was Paul. But he turned his horse around and they headed back to the barn in silence.
Ashley sighed with contentment as she took the saddle off Shelly’s back and placed it on the saddle rack. He came around and held her gently in his arms. They held each other like that for several minutes and then pulled away to finish putting away the horses.