And Then It Happened
I woke up slowly. My pillow was still damp, and I felt dried tears on the sides of my face. Sliding gradually out of bed, I felt my muscles stiffen unsettlingly. Last night had not been restful at all.
As I dragged my bare feet to the bathroom, I clicked on the radio. "It's the second day of spring," said the announcer, "and we're already seeing some sun in the Flowerbud area. Today's low temperature is at forty-five degrees, with the high at seventy."
Gazing at the sad image in the mirror as a song began to play, I rubbed my eyes and ran a hand through my tangled, unwashed hair, moaning in disgust with myself. I was completely miserable, and it showed.
I turned the radio off and stripped down for a warm shower. As the water ran down my body and the shampoo cleansed my nasty hair, I prayed aloud. "God, I don't know what to do. Please help me. You're the only One who understands this. Is Kai the one I'm supposed to be with? Is he sorry about what happened? Please show me at least a little bit of the plan You have for me…I'm so lost, and so confused, Lord." I groaned and again fought tears. "With whom is my heart?"
When I was all clean and fully awake, I got out the shower and brushed my teeth. I looked a little better in the mirror. After dressing myself in jeans and a plain old tee shirt, I absent-mindedly began putting on my everyday jewelry. As I picked up my pretty engagement ring I hesitated, then slipped it into my pocket.
It was quiet in Flowerbud Village. As I idly strolled the narrow paths of the lower section of town, my footsteps and the sounds of crickets were all I heard. It was early morning, foggy, gray, and chilly. With arms crossed I gazed at the buildings as I passed them.
The potion shop dealer's dog barked at me, then ran up to pant and drool all over my jeans. I petted its head inattentively, then ruffled his ears. Jiro seemed satisfied, running back again to his home.
I heard the opening and closing of a front door ahead of me and looked up to see Anella, the midwife, stepping outside her tiny house for a breath of morning air. "Karen," she greeted me with a light smile.
"Good morning," I answered, my disposition dull as I approached her. "How are you?"
"I'm doing well," she replied. As she looked into my eyes, I knew that she knew my trouble. "Yourself?"
I started to say "fine," but shook my head and responded, "Not so good."
"I heard you've been engaged," Anella said, somewhat enthusiastically. "Congratulations."
I nodded and tried to smile. "Thank you, Anella."
A few seconds passed. She stared into my eyes as though examining my mind. As I returned her gaze, I felt she understood me. Finally, she reached out to touch my arm and said, "You're afraid he's not the one."
I inhaled shakily and couldn't find my voice as I fought my emotions. Letting out a large breath, I shrugged and sniffled.
She never broke eye contact. "Come inside," she said.
Little May lay sleeping on a small bed against the wall. I heard the bubbling of brewing coffee and the ticking of a grandfather clock. The house was bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside, but cozy and warm and welcoming. There was a small square table in the center of the one-room home, and as Anella sat, she beckoned for me to sit with her. "Where's your ring?" she asked me, speaking soft and low so as not to wake the little girl.
"It's in my pocket," I whispered back.
"Because I… I just… I don't know if I really want to marry him."
She asked me if I wanted coffee as she got up to pour herself a cup, and I accepted. "What's not to marry?" she queried, after sitting again.
As she slowly sipped her steaming coffee, I cupped my hands around my own cup and stared into the rising steam. The liquid was still circling, mixing in the cream. I watched and wondered. What wasn't to marry about Kai? "We almost had sex yesterday."
Nothing surprised Anella. "Not something you were planning on doing, eh?"
"No," I replied plainly, my eyes never leaving the swirling coffee. "It wasn't."
"You say 'almost.'" The old lady took another small sip of her drink, and I could feel her eyes on me. I looked up into them and found comfort. "Why only 'almost?'"
I blinked slowly a few times. "I made him open the door. My cousin was there. Kai was upset, I could tell. He says we only went to his bedroom because the couch wasn't big enough for us to just mess around…but I think he wanted more. I don't think he… I don't think he was going to…" I couldn't get the words out.
"You don't think he was going to stop there," Anella finished my thought.
I nodded. "And I think I would've stopped him, had it gotten too far… But there's no way I can know that, and I'm just thinking about what might've happened if Cliff hadn't been at the door right that second. Even if the door had been opened… things still could've happened." I looked into Anella's eyes and wiped at a tear before it could run down my face.
"Have you talked to Kai?"
I felt my lip quivering and tried to steady it. But when my fingers began to tremble and my nose began to run, I knew there was nothing I could do to control it. My right hand clasped the fingers of my left, and I bit my lip hard. "I don't want to break up with him."
"But you don't want to marry him."
My eyes stung. I restrained the tears and wiped at my wet nose. "No. I don't. Not now."
I blinked hard and felt the moisture on my eyelashes. "I don't know, Anella."
The wise old woman leaned forward slowly in her chair, reached across the small table, and held my quaking hands. I was trying as hard as I could not to cry. "It's all right, dear. It will all be all right."
But I didn't believe her. I didn't even think she meant what she said. I looked at her and took a deep breath. "That's not good enough, Anella. Please help me. I don't know what to do."
I saw a hint of pain behind her eyes, and then it was gone. It was almost like there was something she had to say, but she knew she couldn't say it. Her eyes left mine for an instant as Little May stirred in her slumber, but they immediately returned. "Do you love him?"
I was silent. "I told him I did. When he proposed. He said he loved me, and I said I loved him, too."
"But do you?"
I looked down at my coffee, and it was still. "I think I do."
The woman released my hands and leaned back in her seat, drinking of her coffee. "What do you love about him?"
I smiled a little. "I love his love and respect for me. I love all the fun I have with him. I love his eyes. I love his voice. I love his thoughtfulness and his willingness to please me."
"What is there about him that you don't want to marry?"
I thought. "I don't want to marry his lust. I don't want to marry his kisses."
"His kisses?" Anella actually looked somewhat amused.
My tears faded into nothing as my mind was calmed by the elderly lady's warm face. Squinting my eyes and tilting my head, I formed words for what I was thinking about Kai's lovely kisses. "Don't get me wrong; he's a great, great kisser. Like, great. But we just kiss so often and so intensely and for such a long time that…"
"It loses its passion."
I nodded, deep in thought. "Not all the time, though. Sometimes I really love it, but other times I just want him to hold me, which he's great about, but…" I was lost, trapped, and confused in my own words. "Okay, what I really mean is: He knows when to hold me, and he holds me at all the right times. But he sometimes kisses me at the wrong times, or with the wrong…feel. Like when I just want a goodnight kiss, he'll like, engulf me, and…"
"Okay, moving on." Anella's eyes sparkled, and I smiled. "What else?"
"I don't want to marry…" I mustered the guts. "I don't want to marry a nonbeliever."
"A non-Christian." As Anella repeated my statement, her eyes grew misty. "You are a Christian."
She did not speak as though it was a question, but I nodded in response.
"You are a Christian, as Joe was a Christian." She was staring into nothing, it seemed. Her old blue eyes were moist and distant. I let her sit in silence for several seconds. Finally she spoke, "Did you know that May's mother was a Christian before she died?"
I shook my head. "I didn't." I had never known May's mother.
"Zack, my son, had forgotten it after she died, but now that Joe's grandson has begun spreading it again, he's remembered. He's been studying for two seasons now."
"We pray he'll accept salvation soon," I told her boldly.
Anella looked at me with questions in her eyes. "Salvation," she said. And as she repeated it, the conversation quickly shifted. "Salvation."
He wrapped his arms around me and squeezed me tightly. As he picked me up off my feet I laughed aloud and secretly enjoyed the affection in his antics. "Oh, Jack, I'm so happy!" I cried, unable to control my grin.
Jack set me again on my feet and slightly stepped back to make eye contact as he spoke. "I'm happy, too," he told me, a smile on his face. For almost an entire second, I swear I saw something different in his bright brown eyes. But he continued as the unusualness faded, "I mean, Karen!"
I laughed for no reason, perhaps just at the vocalization of my name.
"Karen, she's a village elder! This is such a…such a breakthrough!" He smiled, and his expression became softer. "And I have to admit, that in even in my deepest faith…I never thought we'd reach an elder."
"He has, Jack," I told him softly, wrapping my arms around his neck. As he embraced me around the waist, I tilted my head against his and breathed.
I loved this.
But I felt wrong. "Jack," I said, pulling back. "There's something you don't know."
"What's wrong?" His face darkened. In my peripheral vision I saw his hand rise to touch my face but fall before it made contact.
Looking into his eyes, I again felt ashamed of my actions. Even knowing Jack would never look down on me for my mistakes, or even come close to judging me, waves of guilt washed over me as I stared into his eyes, into his heart.
Commanding myself not to cry, yet again, I told him of my trouble. I told him everything. Remaining silent until I was finished, he never looked away. "So that's why Cliff and I wanted to have that Bible study," I sniffed with a shaking voice. "Because I messed up, and now everything is so completely…just all screwed up, and – "
He pulled me close and murmured softly against my ear. "Oh, Karen, I'm so sorry… I'm sorry."
I buried myself in his arms and took deep breath after deep breath, battling what had become my enemy: tears. "I just don't know what to do," I said, for what must've been the thirtieth time that morning.
"Here, we'll talk," he said, stepping away, towards his new kitchen. "What do you want to eat for breakfast?"
We sat at his kitchen table and agreed to speak complete honesty. We decided advice was no good if it was not given in honesty.
I really wasn't surprised when the first question Jack asked me was, "Do you love him?" It had been a question of Anella's, too.
"I think I do, Jack, but I don't know." I chewed my bacon and savored the taste.
"Is the non-Christian thing what's mainly holding you back?"
"I'd say so."
Swallowing a mouthful of egg and cheese, he replied, "So it looks like your choices are: A, talk to him about God and then marry him, B, marry him and then talk to him about God, or C…"
"Break if off." The words stung me. I lost my appetite and dropped my fork.
Jack saw the pain in my eyes and didn't ignore it. "Can you see yourself breaking up with him?"
I winced. It was like my relationship with Kai had become a part of me. Breaking up with him seemed like sawing off my left arm. "I guess I could if I really tried, but… in all honesty…"
"You don't want to try."
Sighing in antipathy of myself, I answered him. "Right."
"Karen," he said, taking a drink of milk to clear his mouth. "Just tell me what's in your head right this second."
I began without hesitation. "I don't want to marry him. Not today, not next summer, and I don't know that I ever will. Even if he did get saved, I don't think I'll ever look at him the same. Jack, yesterday, in his room, things were going to keep rolling. We had both agreed just weeks ago that we were going with purity until marriage. I'd told him that's what I wanted, and he had agreed. I thought he respected that decision and was going to live by it, but I guess I thought wrong. And the fact that I haven't spoken with him since then hasn't helped this decision at all. It's not like I went to him to talk to him about it, but he didn't exactly seek me out, or else we'd have discussed this already." I paused and inhaled, feeling a thin layer of my blanket of stress being stripped away as I vented to Jack. My eyes wandered absently as I kept speaking every thought that entered my mind. "I mean, I don't even know if he's sorry. I don't even know if it's crossed his mind again. I just don't even know.
"But, Jack, breaking up with him seems so scary. I mean…we've been together for a whole year… Our anniversary is next week, on the day of the Sowing Festival." I shuddered. "And I don't even want to talk about that, because that day is the day we celebrate the first day we made out on the beach, and uggggh, that is a tired topic in my mind."
I saw Jack grimace and stare in confusion, but quickly decided that the afore mentioned was not important.
"The point is that it's been a year. I've spent a whole year with this man, but honestly…I never anticipated marriage until just recently. Maybe…" Tears began to form. "Maybe he was just a boyfriend, Jack." From the corners of my eyes they began to roll out, streaming down my face with a train of more behind them. "Maybe he was just a boyfriend."
And all the thoughts of all the good times I had shared with Kai began to play like a motion picture in my mind. Jack was startled when I began to narrate them. "Oh, we used to sit on the couch and just snuggle and watch TV… He would play with my hair, and I would lean on his chest and just listen to him breathe. We would go the beach all the time and swim together, then go up on the shore and just sit and talk and laugh… Ann and Gray and Cliff and Elli and you would come hang out with us at the bakery. And everyone knew we were together, and I was just so proud that I had found someone to be with." I cried and cried as I spoke. Jack didn't move; he just listened. "And we'd clean the house together and laugh about my father's anger and my mother's shyness. He bought me a locket for Christmas, and it has this adorable picture of the two of us kissing, but I guess I'll have to give it back to him because…I just…" Sobbing uncontrollably, I was determined to spit out the words. "Because we just can't be together, Jack! We just can't be together! It's over, Jack, I can't believe it's over…"
I bent over the table to cry into my folded arms, and Jack calmly stood and walked around the table, taking my hand and pulling me into his arms. I sobbed into his chest with deeper sorrow than I'd ever felt. He held me tight, and I buried myself in his warm, soft sweatshirt.
I forgot everything except the sadness in my heart and the memories of Kai, and wanted nothing more than to cry the last tears over him.