Abbie paused at the pasture gate. A whippoorwill was calling in the distance and the rhythmic cadence of evening peepers was a sound noted but not intrusive. Her cotton dress was light for this early in the spring, and she regretted not throwing on a sweater before leaving the house.
How long had it been since she had walked this lane? Four years? Somehow it seemed longer since the city had claimed her. Working at a nondescript job in a nondescript office; a face waiting for a bus, a tip for a waitress, a sales opportunity for the car dealership.
A soft whicker sounded nearby and a slender mare came close to renew acquaintance and see if she had an apple or a lump of sugar. “Hello, Lady. Have you come to welcome me home?” She stroked the silken neck with one hand and with the other scratched under the forelock of the handsome animal. “I forgot your apple, girl. Tomorrow, for sure.”
A last pat and Abbie turned back to the path alongside the enclosure. The mare matched her stride in a companionable silence. Abbie’s mind drifted back to Michael. Efficient Michael; young man on the move. Michael of the blue eyes and thick black lashes. Michael, who loved her. Why didn’t she say, Michael, the man she loved?
A gnarled tree with a limb so close to the ground it became a natural seat for those who passed this way stood close beside the lane. She sat, rubbing her arms to create warmth, and watched the sunset. The trees were still bare enough of foliage to create graceful silhouettes against the rosy mauve of the Indiana evening. She could make out the deep blue of wild violets around her feet and snowy dogwood nearby.
Michael was coming tomorrow to meet her family. He had wanted to come with her Wednesday, but she had persuaded him to let her come on ahead. She knew it was because she wanted them to herself a little longer. She wanted to be Abigail Peters; daughter, sister, cousin. Time enough to be Abigail Mathers. Years to be Abigail Mathers.
She shook her head. Enough of this. Time to get back to the house. Mother would have supper on the table. They wanted to know all about Michael. What had she told them? That he was a draftsman in an architectural firm. That he liked to ski and hike. That he would love the farm and her horse. That he liked children and wanted several. And yes, Syl, he was good looking!
She hadn’t told them how his lips covered hers with a softness as natural as breathing. How his hands were strong and gentle at the same time. How his eyes got that special look when he caught sight of her across a room. How he could make her heart pound just by saying her name softly. And how afraid she was that he would quit loving her someday.
How could she know if the love he felt for her now would last a lifetime? What if he found someone else who could make him happier? Like the voice of a mischievous demon, the doubts kept running through her mind. What if? How long? How did they know they could beat the odds that said one of every two marriages would end in divorce?
Tomorrow was Sunday. She knew her parents would be going to Church. She also knew her mother would be careful not to mention it in case she didn’t want to go. They knew she had let that habit lapse while she made her way in the city. They would be surprised when she got up early and accompanied them to worship services.
But she wanted to go. She needed to find bedrock on which to plant her future. She smiled to herself as she reached the back door. Yeah, they would be surprised at the doubting daughter who never seemed content with their answers.
Before she went to bed that night, she found her Bible tucked away on a shelf in the closet. She turned to the concordance in the back and looked up passages about love and marriage. She read for a long time, seeing a teaching emerge with which she had not been at all familiar as a teen-ager. When she turned off the light, she lay there in the moonlight and reconnected with the God she had left in the cornfields while she played at being sophisticated.
“Father, it’s been a along time since I prayed. I’m not sure I even know how anymore. Maybe you aren’t listening now, but I want you to know I’m back. Not just back here, at home, but back here with you. Could you please help us know how to have a good marriage and a long one?”
She paused. How would Michael feel about her renewed interest in God? They’d never talked about that kind of thing before. Would he think she was a kook? Was that why she had been so unsure of her feelings? Tomorrow would be a day of answers. “I promise.” she said aloud.
Sunday morning announced itself with bright sunshine, the song of a mocking bird in the apple tree outside her window, and the smell of Mom frying bacon. Abbie stretched luxuriously. How wonderful to wake in a place you knew so well, and in which you were so well known! She slipped into a light robe and went down to the big kitchen. The table was set in the sunny alcove where the finches gathered on her mother’s bird feeder made a bright spot of ever-changing color just outside the window.
“Good morning, Mother. I’d forgotten how good this place smells on Sunday morning! Wait until Michael tastes your cooking. I may never get him back to New York!”
Mary Peters smiled as she whisked the scrambled eggs. “Looks like a beautiful day to meet a fiancé. Did you say he was to get here around one?”
“Umm…” Abbie said around a crisp slice of bacon. “I gave him my usual meticulous instructions, so he should have no trouble finding us.” She watched her mother at the stove. What was it like to have been married forty years? Had she ever regretted marrying young and staying in one place all her life? Mom was decidedly plump, and looked more like the grandmother she was than a wife. How did marriage feel after the romance had turned to the every-day-ness of living? Now she asked, “Mom, what was it like when you and Dad first got married? Did you ever wonder if it would last this long?”
“I never thought about whether it would last or not.” She scraped the eggs into a bright blue bowl. “Back then, you got married for life. Oh, some couples got divorced, but they were the exception.”
“Didn’t you ever want to leave Dad? Did you ever come close?”
“Heavens, yes! And I’m sure he felt the same way at times! But, like I said, we married for life, good and bad, richer or poorer. You know, through thick and thin, chewing tobacco and all my hobbies. We each had our moments.”
“Are you glad you stayed with him? Do you ever wonder how it might have been if you’d married someone else or lived somewhere else?”
Mary heard the uncertainty in her daughter’s voice. “Are you having second thoughts about Michael, Abbie?”
“No, not really. I can’t think of ever loving anyone but him and I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than where he is. But what if he doesn’t feel that way? I mean, deep down in his soul. What if we don’t last?
“You asked if I was glad I stayed with your dad. There were rough times. Times we didn’t feel as though we loved each other. He made me furious and I known I infuriated him as well. But, Abbie, we found that goes with the territory. And, every time you get past a rough spot, you care more and you’re more deeply committed than before. I guess, honey, it just takes a lifetime to make a marriage work.” She put her hands on Abbie’s shoulders and planted a light kiss on the top of her red-blond curls. “Be sure you love him and not the idea of ‘playing house’, then commit yourself to him no matter what. OK?”
Abbie put her hands over those of her mother. “Thanks, Mom.” The conversation ended there as her Dad and sister, Sylvia, came in for breakfast.
If her parents were surprised at her going to church with them, they didn’t show it, although she thought she detected a special glow about her mother. The sermon did not especially speak to her situation; there was no influx of spirituality. Rather, there was a feeling of being at home. The same feeling she’d had when she woke that morning. Of being in a place of warmth and acceptance; a place where love was woven into the fabric of reality.
Later, when Michael’s bright red Ferrari came up the drive, Abbie could hardly wait to introduce him to the family. His bag was taken to Bobby’s old room and they sat in the living room eating fresh-popped corn and sipping soft drinks. Bobby and his wife had come over with their two little boys and everyone was laughing and talking about old times. Abbie listened closely to the rhythm of her family. “Does Michael feel this?” she wondered. “Does he sense the love we have for one another?”
Just then, Michael looked down at her as the others were caught up in a conversation about something that had happened in town. “Penny for your thoughts, Red.”
She squeezed his arm and said, “Let’s take a walk and you can have them for free!” She looked at her mom. “Mind if I show Michael around the farm?”
As they rose, Bobby warned Michael, “Watch out for her, Mike, she’s lethal with a slingshot!” He caught his four-year-old by the belt loops. “You stay here with us, Benji. You can run later!”
As she and Michael took a tour of the buildings it was fun watching his architect’s eye size up the big barn. When she told him it was made entirely of hand-hewn walnut take from the farm years ago, he gave an appreciative whistle. “Your folks have so much of what most of us city people work all our lives to to afford. Here, it just seems to go with the territory.”
“I guess that’s true. But it’s been hard to staying in the farming business these last ten or fifteen years.” She pointed to a tractor with wheels higher than their heads. “That machine cost more to buy than this farm originally cost my Grandad. And the crops are bringing in almost the same prices folks were getting then. It takes a town job to make ends meet.”
“Why do they stay?” asked Michael. “Why don’t they get into some other line of business?”
“Because this is their life. It’s as much who they are as what they do. A lot of the younger ones are leaving, though. I used to think I couldn’t wait to get to where people were thinking about something other than where the money would come from to pay next month’s bills, or whether the bank would still extend credit for the spring planting. Now, I know we just trade in one set of problems for another when we change locations.”
“Like a city guy with dishonorable designs on you?” Michael put his hands on her waist and swung her around to face him.
“They’d better not be dishonorable! Remember you’re on my turf now!” She planted a light kiss on his lips and headed for the path to the pasture. “Wait ‘til you see Lady!”
After Michael had duly admired the chestnut quarter horse, she showed him the ‘sitting tree’. “This is where we all did our dreaming. I probably thought of you first, right here.” There was room for both to sit side by side on the limb, and Michael lifted her to it, and then sat beside her.
The warm spring sun was on their backs and a light breeze set the pasture grass to rippling. They sat without speaking for a few minutes, taking in the beauty of the day. The Peters’ farm lay along a creek so there was an area of woodland bordering the fields. Wildflowers lay scattered over the grass at their feet and the wood was bright with blossoming trees. “What a beautiful play you grew up in, Abbie. No wonder you’re so special. Don’t you miss the peace of this place?”
“Are you kidding? You’d never guess how many times I’ve wanted to pack up and come back here!”
He looked at her with an expression of uncertainty on his face. “Don’t you think you could be happy in the city?”
“Would it make a difference if I weren’t?
He took her hands in his. “Do you know how much I love you, country girl? How can I be sure you will want to be with me in the city and not get homesick?”
Abbie looked at him with wonder. “Would you believe I’ve been thinking almost the same thing? Do you ever worry that maybe we’ll end up just another statistic? Do you ever wonder if we really know what love is?”
Now it was Michael’s turn to look surprised. “Of course I’ve worried about that. The happier I am with you, the more worried I get about the future.”
“How long do you want to be married, Michael?” Abbie felt the absurdity of her words as soon as spoke them. No one wants to marry temporarily.
He pulled her to him and said with his face against her hair, “I plan to marry for life. How about you?”
“Oh, Michael, that’s what I want, too!” She pulled back to look into his eyes. “But don’t you think all engaged couples say that? What makes it work for one couple and not for another?”
“I hear we’re going to say something about ‘til death we do part. Are you afraid I won’t mean that?”
‘Abbie snuggled into his arms. “Just knowing you‘ve been worrying about it, too, makes me sure we both want the same thing.” She paused, then went on, “Have you ever gone to Church, Michael?”
“Sure, my folks took me all the time when I was a kid. I guess I just got out of the habit when I went to college. Why do you ask?”
“I went with my folks this morning and it felt right, like I was really home. How would you feel about finding a Church when we get back to the city that we can both get involved in?”
“Sounds good to me. You’ve been doing a lot of thinking about us lately, haven’t you? Are you really that worried about marrying me?”
“Not any more, city man!” She jumped down and ran toward the woods.
“Hey! Wait up! Where are you going in such a hurry?” He caught up with her and took her hand.
She stood under a dogwood tree in full bloom, “Just checking out slingshot material. A girl can never be too careful when she’s out with a good looking city slicker!” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly. “I marry for life, too, Sir. And don’t you forget it!”