Maddie's fingers grazed the hard surface in front of her. She frowned at the unfamiliar texture. “What's this, Gampa?”
Maddie's grandfather chuckled at her reaction. “Little one, that's an apple tree. Here, let me lift you up so you can feel what the fruit is like.” She felt her grandfather surround her waist with his hands and boost her to his shoulders. Something caressed the delicate hair of her head.
“Let me take your hand.” Her grandfather directed her touch to a rounded object.
“Can I eat it, Gampa?”
“No, child. It isn't ripe quite yet.”
“Tell me what it looks like.”
“It's like a ball but harder. You can't bounce it. It hangs from a thin stem from the tree. Right now, it's green but when it ripens it will turn red.”
Four year old Maddie thought red was the most delightful sounding word she had ever heard. If apples were red, and she knew how apples tasted, then red must be a delicious color. She said so to her grandfather.
She heard him laugh again but his chuckle felt sad this time. Gampa's hand tightened around hers and his shoulders heaved slightly. When he spoke again, he sounded like he had swallowed something the wrong way.
“Maybe someday, Maddie girl, you will see how beautiful everything is around you. Maybe someday.”
“Come on, Maddie. Let me have your hand. I want to show you something.”
Maddie smiled. She felt the glow of the sun on her face and the warmth of Jeremy's arm around her shoulders. He was guiding her somewhere on her grandparents' farm. Long grasses rustled past her ankles and tickled her bare legs. The skirt of her dress billowed slightly from a gentle breeze.
“Here, let me help you.” Jeremy's hand directed her fingers toward something. She recognized the texture of the apple tree trunk. Her fingers brushed against a groove in the bark. With one hesitant finger, she traced the shape of a heart. Her own heart was pattering against her chest as her fingers deciphered the initals J L and M H.
“Maddie Harmon, will you marry me?”
Maddie fumbled her way through an overgrown field, the grasses clutching at her feet. She could hear Jeremy's footsteps behind her. Theresa, their six year old daughter, sobbed uncontrollably somewhere ahead of her.
She stumbled over something on the ground. A new chorus of wailing erupted from Theresa. “I didn't mean to make Andy do it, Momma!”
Maddie reached for the silent form at her feet. Her hands sought out and cradled her son's head in her aproned lap. She traced the contours of his cheeks and kissed his eyelids. Her tears trickled down the line of her jaw.
“He didn't hafta try to get me that apple. I tol' him not to.”
Maddie lifted her face toward the sky. “Why, Lord?” she cried.
Theresa dipped the spoon into the canning jar and scooped the pulpy golden sauce into a stoneware bowl. She could hear her mother's mumbling from the small makeshift bedroom next to the kitchen.
“Coming, Momma.” Theresa capped the jar and returned it to the refrigerator. Cupping the bowl in her hand, she entered her mother's room and pulled up a chair beside the bed.
“Here, Momma. Let's put that towel over your pretty nightie so it doesn't get dirty.” She tucked the terrycloth bib under her mother's chin. “Now, open wide. This is sauce from this year's crop of apples. I canned them myself.”
Maddie's fingers twitched at the blankets of her bed as she obediently opened her mouth.
Maddie opened her eyes. The world had changed since she dozed off. A myriad of colors dazzled her and a young man stood before her, his eyes crinkled by his welcoming grin.
“Momma, you finally arrived. He said you would.”
Maddie stared with wide eyes at flowers, grasses, and fruit trees. She somehow knew the names for all of these things without having ever seen them before. Behind her son, an apple tree stood, heavily laden with crimson fruit.
“Maddie.” She turned her attention away from the wonders around her. She knew that voice and knelt in awe. Nothing equaled the sight of her Savior's face as He cupped her chin and lifted her gaze toward Him. Nothing was finer than His tender touch.
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