“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.