“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.