“Thank you for lunch, Mrs. Dalton,” Jessica said. “This is lovely.”
“You’re welcome, Jessica.” She set a plate of sandwiches on the table beside a large pitcher of lemonade and a fruit salad. “You can call me Jan.”
Melissa wanted to feel hope that everything would work out but had a sinking dread in her heart. All she could think about was the conversation her father and Troy were having in the barn. She wasn’t confident they would come to any sort of common ground. Troy was too willing to back down from confrontation, and her father was just bullheaded enough to take advantage of that.
“Relax, Melissa,” her mom said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “Things will work out for the best.”
“I’m not so sure your definition and ours are the same with that respect,” Craig said. “I’ve been trying to warn Troy since the day he met Melissa that he was playing with fire.”
“Well, I’m certainly not going to burn him if that’s what you’re implying.” Melissa folded her arms and lifted her chin.
“I don’t think you understand the severity of Troy’s predicament. Whatever transpires between him and your father is irrelevant.”
“Why?” Her mother sat at the table across from Craig. “Because my husband won’t give his permission? Or because Melissa will never submit to being looked at as someone’s property?”
“Because Troy will be excommunicated if he marries your daughter.”
Melissa and her mother both gasped. They looked at one another with wide eyes, then Melissa turned to Craig. “Isn’t that a little extreme?”
“That is serious departure from sound doctrine,” Craig said. “If Troy won’t tell you himself, my duty as his older brother is to inform you on his behalf. I never dreamed things would get this far or I would have told you sooner. If you choose to marry him, you are willfully taking him away from fellowship in his church and his family.”
“Are you saying that he would not be welcome among your family if Troy marries Melissa?” her mom asked.
“In certain settings he will be allowed into the gathering.” Craig nodded. “In others, he will not.”
“I can’t do that to him, Momma.” Tears filled Melissa’s eyes and fell down her cheeks. “I can’t take him from his family.”
“Maybe it’s for the best that you find this out now before you do something rash and end up regretting a marriage that was never meant to be.”
“That’s a terrible thing to say, Mother.” Melissa stood and balled her fists. “I am in love with Troy, and he is in love with me.”
“Love is not all that’s needed to build a forever marriage,” her mom said.
“You’re just still mad I didn’t marry Andy,” Melissa said.
“You were engaged for six months, Melissa. That’s hardly enough time to build a foundation for a marriage.”
“The fact that we were engaged for six months should be proof that we were not right for one another,” Melissa said. “If we’d been meant for one another we would have gotten married right away.”
“You are betrothed to someone else?” Craig asked. “And yet you were encouraging my brother?”
“No,” Melissa stated emphatically. “We broke off the engagement months ago.”
“But your parents made a promise to that man. You are defying your parents’ wishes.”
“I do not belong to my parents,” Melissa said through clenched teeth. “And I do not belong to Andy or Troy or you, or anyone else.” Melissa ran from the kitchen and stormed up the stairs to her childhood bedroom, throwing herself face down onto her bed and sobbing into her pillow. She felt like a little girl letting her emotions get the better of her this way.
Not surprising her mother knocked on her door five minutes later and peeked her head in the door. “Can I come in?”
“Whatever,” Melissa said with sarcasm. “You own this house and everything in it, apparently.”
“You know that’s not true, sweetheart.” Her mom sat beside her on the bed. “We’ve never treated you as if we own you.”
“It’s true you’re disappointed that I’m not marrying Andy.” Melissa waited for her mother to respond. Her hesitation spoke louder than her response.
“I just want you to be happy.”
Liar, Melissa thought. “I’m happy with Troy.”
“Are you happy though, sweetheart? You’re crying, he’s ready to drive home, your father’s upset, his brother’s upset. This would never work. You’re too different.”
“We’re not too different,” Melissa insisted. “We both love the Lord and want to follow his teachings. Shouldn’t that be enough?”
“People don’t always interpret the scriptures in the same way,” her mom said. “You have to do what’s right for you, and Troy has to do what’s right for him. Having been married to your father for almost thirty years, I can say with confidence that we’re happiest when we’re on the same page.”
Melissa rolled over and looked up at her mom. “I want to be on the same page with my husband.”
Her mother sighed. “I fear you’ll have a difficult time staying on the same page if you’re reading from a different book.”
Her father interrupted from the doorway to Melissa’s bedroom. “Troy and his family are waiting by his truck. Would you like to go with them? Or would you rather your mother and I give you a ride home to Lowell?”
“I’ll ride home with them.” Melissa scooted to the edge of her bed and gave her mom a hug. “I love you, Momma. Thanks for the advice.” She walked to the door and tucked herself in her father’s arms.
He kissed the top of her head. “Your mother and I love you and want what’s best for you, Melissa. I hope you know that.”
Melissa trudged down the stairs and out the front door.
Troy was waiting by the passenger door, leaning against the side with his hands in the pockets of his jeans staring off into the distance where corn was just popping up in the fields beside her parents’ feedlot.
The world felt right for that one tiny moment and Melissa wanted to run down the porch steps, throw herself into his arms and demand that he marry her today. She wanted to be with Troy forever. The thought occurred to her that if she married Troy, she would only be with him until they died, not forever. And he would be excommunicated. And she would be heartbroken.
Melissa trudged down the stairs and approached the truck. When Troy turned to face her, his façade fell for the briefest of seconds and she saw the same desire in his eyes that she felt in her own. Then he pulled his face back into a mask and opened the door for her.
He offered his hand to help her up and she slid into the leather seat as he closed the door and walked around the front of his truck.
Neither of them spoke to one another or Craig and Jessica in the back seat.
After Troy clicked his seat belt into place but before he put the truck in gear he stated in a quiet tone, “Your father said no.”
That was that. Melissa turned her face to the window and allowed a few tears to fall down her cheeks. The ride home was quiet.
Book Club Discussion Questions: Do you think Melissa should walk away to protect Troy from disfellowship from his family?