Ellie sat staring at the photo in the tarnished silver-edged frame. Had it really been 12 years? Some days it felt like just a few months ago; others, a lifetime. Ellie picked up the picture of the young bride and groom clothed in hastily-hemmed, threadbare attire garnered from the local thrift store. Their lacklustre wedding arrangements hadn't bothered them at all; if anything they'd served to augment their devotion, as their focus was not merely the wedding and its outward accoutrements, but the marriage it symbolised.
Ellie and Pete had been together since the age of 14. From the day they shared their first lunch in the school canteen, each was the other's world. Many attempts were made to separate them. The captain of the school soccer team was not reticent when it came to his feelings for Ellie, to the point where she could preempt his advances and 'take cover'. And many a nasty rumour had been spread with regard to Ellie's 'good girl reputation' during their time at high school, each slanderous attack a desperate attempt by a shallow 'it' girl to drive a wedge between her and Pete. Their efforts were futile, though; he'd never believed them, so deep was his trust in his beloved Ellie.
It was no surprise when they married the year after graduation. At only 18 years of age many speculated how long they would last. Friends and family watched with great wonder at how they scrimped and saved to afford even the basics of life. Why, just living on baked beans and stale toast for the first year of marriage would have been enough to break many marriages apart, but not Pete and Ellie; they seemed to revel in the challenges. Year in, year out, they stood up to the tests of life; poverty, sickness, job loss, relocation. Nothing had come close to breaking their devotion to one another.
They knew a tour of duty was a strong possibility when he'd enlisted in the Defence Force two years earlier. They were 'warned' of the strain their marriage could endure if/when Pete was deployed, but they were confident their commitment to one another would not wain. Perhaps if she'd listened, Ellie mightn't be in this position now.
It had been 9 months since Pete's regiment flew out to Afghanistan; he'd likely be there for at least another six. Evenings were the worst. Ellie would make dinner for herself and, then what? Read? Watch reruns on TV? Tedium was a foreign concept for Ellie, and it battered her lonely soul relentlessly.
If only she hadn't accepted her friend's offer of dinner those few months ago.
If only her friend hadn't invited Harvey. Interesting, attractive Harvey who clearly liked her, whose wit and conversation drew her in, leading her mind to places it should not go, but could not be halted.
Harvey, whose image was slowly replacing that of her beloved Pete.
Last night he'd made it clear to Ellie that he felt more for her than plutonic friendship. He'd moved closer, his eyes focussed only on her. He'd taken her hand in his, kissing the back of her fingers tenderly, sending her heart racing like it hadn't for so, so long. Ellie had pulled away, but she knew it was not quickly enough. Her hesitation had given him hope. He'd leave her be for a while, to consider, think, struggle with her feelings; but the ultimatum had been made, and she had a choice to make.
Now, Ellie sat and wept, her face etched with the strain of the internal conflict. She flicked back and forth through the album of her mind; Pete, her one true love but so very far away. Harvey, superficial, but so very close-by. Absentmindedly, her finger wiped away a stray tear from the glass protecting the photo. As she looked down, Ellie was grateful for the unseen covering protecting its integrity after all these years. And at that moment, she knew exactly what she needed to do.
Clutching the photo frame in trembling hands, she got down on her knees and sobbed.
"Dearest heavenly Father, I recommit our marriage to you. Holy Spirit, continue to be the unseen covering over Pete and I. Keep the integrity of our hearts intact, no matter who or what may come to try and separate us. Be our strength, the centre of our commitment to each other. Amen."
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