“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?