John watched his best friend’s widow from across the wheat field. His heart ached over her pain and loss, the eight grueling months since the death of her husband. Grueling, not just because of his grief and hers, but because he worked both farms now. Though she helped where she could, there were three children in that house who needed her.
Exhaustion pulled at his muscles, made his body sore, and clarity of thought was gone. He knew what he wanted, but the fear that she would hate him sharpened the pain around his heart. With the loss of Neil, he couldn’t stand the possibility of losing her presence in his life, too.
“Lord, please, don’t let me make a mistake here. . . .”
He leaned down to crank the gate closed on the irrigation ditch, and when he looked up Emily had gone into the house. Laundry danced on the breeze, chickens flapped their wings in the yard, and one of the children ran with the dog.
John walked the trail that would lead him right into their midst, where the kitchen would be warm and the food would be better than anything he could put together on his own. If she sent him away, his loss would be magnified, because he loved Neil’s children, too.
As he neared the porch, a sob slammed into his throat, taking his breath. It had been weeks since he cried over the death of his life long friend, the man who had been closer than a brother and a good husband to the woman inside. Why was it worse again today?
He stopped at the edge of the steps and stared at the three rockers set out on the wide porch floor, clamping down on another wave of grief. Neil had always trusted him around Emily, never doubting his respect for her and the commitment they had.
The grief was worse because today he was going to tell her the truth.
Stepping up on the creaking boards—another chore he needed to get to—he couldn’t take his eyes off the chairs. Three of them; representing hours and years of sweet conversation, laughter, prayer, shared plans, trust. . . .
The door opened and Emily stood there, wiping her hands on a dish towel, and looking at him through her own exhaustion. The dress hung from her shoulders like it never used to. Shadows lined her eyes, inside and out, though they faded when she smiled briefly with relief and welcome. That smile gave him strength, hope.
“Lunch is ready.” Her tone was inviting, but missing the laughter that had lined it every day he had known her. . . before.
He blurted, “I need to talk to you, Em.”
She looked back inside at the children. “Raymond, watch your brothers.”
They left the porch and walked to the garden, moving down two parallel rows of foot high corn. Stopping in the middle of the path, Emily finally looked up at him, and she frowned a little, probably noticing his uneasiness. She knew him as well as he knew her. Would that count against him or for him?
“There is something you don’t know about the day Neil died and I think it’s time I told you,” he said, hearing his own voice cracking with tension. Her frown of concern deepened as she studied him.
“What is it?” She put a hand on his arm, offering the encouragement he needed.
“Neil told me that I had his blessing. That I shouldn’t wait too long to marry you, Em.” Emily choked, eyes wide, as her hand gripped his arm.
He talked fast. “You don’t have to decide today, but I can’t keep going like I have been. If we join together, I can take better care of you.”
She stared. “But what would you get out of it, John? You could marry me and next year the woman you should have waited for could walk into this valley!”
“No, Em.” John put his hands on her shoulders. “Neil said that because he knew how I felt about you, that I had buried my love for you very deep in my heart out of respect for him and for you.”
“Felt about me?” Emily sounded like her voice was strangled.
“I love you, Emily, and I’m asking you to marry me. Let’s be a family. We have Neil’s blessing.”
Emily’s eyes slowly came to life. She didn’t hate him.
She came into his arms, and his heart could beat again.
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