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Authors: Sharlene MacLaren

Tags: #General Fiction

Tender Vow (6 page)

BOOK: Tender Vow
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He’d spent most of Saturday at the Wilcox homesite, determined to meet deadlines. He expected township inspectors next week, so, as was his custom, he made his rounds, reassessing the electrical wiring and plumbing—and enjoying the solitude.

Candace met him at church for the eleven o’clock service. They lived about the same distance from the church, yet in opposite directions, and so they usually met there and then left Candace’s car in the parking lot while they went out for brunch afterward. Jason didn’t mind restaurant food, but he would have enjoyed an occasional home-cooked meal, even if it meant making a joint effort of it. The trouble was, neither of them knew enough about cooking to whip up anything appealing. Not that he couldn’t learn, he supposed. He just didn’t have the gumption, and neither did Candace. He often wondered what life would be like for them if they got married. She talked about wanting a spectacular house. Would it include a gourmet kitchen? If so, for what purpose?

After brunch at Rawlings Family Restaurant in Cadillac, they headed for Jason’s condo for an afternoon of lazing around. They drove both cars so that he wouldn’t have to take her back to the church come evening.

When they entered his place, Candace kicked off her high-heeled pumps and walked barefoot to the sliding glass door to look outside. “Too bad it’s raining,” she mused aloud, “or we could have gone for a walk today. There won’t be many more of these nice fall days. Look how the trees are starting to change colors already.”

Jason tossed his keys on the sideboard table by the door and hung his lightweight jacket in the coat closet. Candace hadn’t removed hers yet. “It is late September, hon,” he reminded her.

Rather than join her at the window, he walked to the fridge to grab a soft drink. “Want anything?” he asked as he bent over to scan the mostly bare compartments and shelves. Briefly, he wondered if Rachel’s fridge had a better supply, then scoffed at his wandering thoughts.

“No, thanks.”

He flipped the tab on the can and took several swigs of the cold drink before walking into the living room, frowning at its unkempt state and wondering if Candace noticed or even cared.

His bi-level, two-bedroom, two-bath condo was nothing spectacular, but it was comfortable and decorated to fit his taste, with a leather sofa and matching chair, several chunky end tables, a couple of paintings by a local artist, a thick throw for those nights when he felt like stretching out in front of his wide-screen plasma TV, several bronze lamps, and a shelf full of books: novels, a few philosophy texts, several classics, and three different translations of the Bible.

The lower level included a recreation room, a laundry area, and plumbing for an additional bath, which he doubted he’d ever need. He and Candace had pretty much decided they would sell his place once they got married and build a bigger home. Of course, the notion had come more from her than him. She seemed to think that since he owned Evans Construction Company, building his own place would cost next to nothing. Wrong.

Candace pivoted her tall, slender body to face him, her black shoulder-length locks curving around her neck, her hands stuffed into her jacket pockets. “Can you come home with me next weekend, Jason? And don’t dare tell me you can’t, or I’ll be very disappointed. Mom’s birthday is October sixth, and I know it would mean a lot to her if you came.”

He took another big swallow of cola. “Next weekend?” He didn’t enjoy the long drive to her parents’ home in the Chicago suburbs, but it had been a couple of months since he’d accompanied her there. “I’ll try, but I can’t promise. Deadlines are looming at the Wilcox house. I spent all day yesterday there.”

“Jason, you have a whole crew working for you. Don’t tell me you can’t afford to take off one Saturday,” she whined, reminding him of a pouty child. He opened his mouth to protest, but she went on. “You always come up with some excuse or another not to go with me.” As pretty as she was, God had blessed her even more with the uncanny ability to guilt him into almost anything.

“Well, then, I’d better not try to come up with one,” he teased.

To that, she responded by flinging herself at him in a full embrace. “So, you’ll come? I’m excited! Wait till I call Mom. She’ll want to fix something special, of course.” She kissed him square on the mouth, and he found himself returning the brief kiss.

“Tell her not to go to any trouble,” he said.

“Are you kidding? She’ll treat you like royalty.”

That’s what bothered him. Lately, he’d been questioning his level of commitment to Candace. Going home with her wasn’t something he took lightly, particularly since her parents would read more into his visit than he wanted. Even now, he questioned the wisdom in going. He peeled her hands from around his neck. “Want some dessert?”

“Hmm, what kind of dessert are we talking about?” she asked in a flirtatious tone, standing on tiptoe to kiss his cheek.

He grinned. “Not the sort you have in mind. I picked up a pumpkin pie at the market yesterday. It looked good.”

She took off her coat and tossed it on the sofa, then followed him to the kitchen. “Why didn’t you pick up something chocolate, instead? I’m not wild about pumpkin. Did you forget?”

He couldn’t keep up with her likes and dislikes. He opened the freezer. “There’s some ice cream in here, and…let’s see….” He started searching the refrigerator shelves. “I think I have some chocolate syrup somewhere….”

“Oh, don’t bother,” she said. “I’m trying to lose a couple pounds, anyway.”

He stood up straight and shut the freezer door. She didn’t need to lose an ounce. If anything, adding a few pounds to her model-thin frame would give her a healthier glow. “Well, then, I guess I’ll forgo dessert if you don’t—”

“No, no, go ahead. I’ll just watch you eat.”

He didn’t want to eat in front of her, but the pie looked good, so he cut himself a slice, set it on a plate, got himself a fork, and sat down at the table.

She pulled out a chair, sat down across from him with clasped fingers, and did as promised. Watched. “It’s good. You should have some,” he urged her, washing down his hurried bites with the rest of his cola.

“No, thanks,” she said, beaming. She had a perfect smile, thanks to braces in junior high. She brushed several wisps of stray, shiny, dark hair away from her green eyes.

He finished off the pie in record time, scraping up the last of it with his fork, all the while knowing she watched in amusement. “What?” he finally asked, mindlessly swiping a stray crumb from his chin with the back of his hand.

“Just thinking, that’s all.”

“Uh-oh. We’re in trouble now,” he joshed. “What are you thinking about?” A signal flashed across his brain, warning him that he shouldn’t have asked.

She showed him a dreamy-eyed gaze. “Oh, what it’ll be like sharing life with you, waking up together, seeing each other off to work every morning, coming home after a long day and finding the other waiting…. Won’t that be amazing, Jason?”

The statement caught him off guard. She didn’t have a ring on her finger, yet she presumed they were going to wed. And why wouldn’t she? It wasn’t as if they hadn’t discussed it, and she had to know that he’d already purchased the ring. A twist of his gut made him fear that his downed piece of pie would come back up.

“Won’t it, Jason?” she pressed, the tiniest frown passing over her expression.

“Uh, sure.” He pushed back in his chair and walked to the fridge for another cola, remembering the days when he would have reached for something stronger. Right now, he almost wished for it but knew better. Jason’s personality did not mix well with alcohol, and since dedicating his life to the Lord, he’d discovered his desires for strong drink had lessened almost without his knowing it. Of course, he’d traded one addiction for another—alcohol for caffeine.

Rather than sit back down where he’d be forced to look into Candace’s scrutinizing eyes, he walked to the sink, leaning the back of his brawny frame against the counter and crossing his legs at the ankles.

“When, Jason?” came the direct question. “When are we going to make it official?” Candace stood up and came over to him, wrapping her arms around his middle and snuggling close. Almost out of duty, he set down his drink to enfold her in his arms. “I love you, you know,” she whispered.

He rested his chin on her brunette head. “I know,” he said.
. What was wrong with him? He couldn’t even whisper words of love to her anymore.
Lord, give me wisdom
, he prayed silently.
Tell me what to say. Help me know what to feel. I’m at a loss.
“I’ve been praying about us, Candace—our relationship.”

She craned her neck and looked up at him. “What do you mean by that?”

Her reaction stunned him. “Well, haven’t you?”

“Uh, of course, but…are you breaking up with me?”

Candace never had been one to mince words. A good quality in most, but, sheesh! He would have liked a little warning once in a while. Was he breaking up with her? “No! I’m just saying I think I need some time, that’s all.”

A pained expression shot across her suddenly ashen face. “Isn’t that what you’ve had for the past year? Time? Haven’t I been more than patient?” He couldn’t fault her there. “How much more time do you need? Most couples come to some sort of conclusion about the direction their relationship is taking after two years of dating.”

With his arms still loosely wrapped around her frame and his hands clasped at her lower back, he felt his stomach knot like a rawhide bone. “I hear what you’re saying, Candace, I do. But, listen—remember when I recommitted my life to Christ not long after John’s accident? I told you I’d been doing a lot of reading and studying God’s Word, generally looking for true purpose.” Her head bobbed up and down, her eyes probing yet wary. “Remember how I told you about that one night, when I dropped down on my knees and asked God to take control, to basically take all of me? Well, since then, things have changed in my heart and life. I look at everything in a different light now. Things that once held value to me, like having the best car, the best house—earthly possessions—they’ve moved down on my ladder of priorities. I really want my life to count for God, and I need to know that you share my convictions.

“This morning, Pastor Ray talked about having a sold-out life for Christ and what that means. Yielding our all to Him, saying, ‘Everything I have is Yours, Lord. Take my life and do with it what You will.’ Did that sermon touch you like it did me?” He prayed it had.

Candace turned her gaze away, her brow knit in a deep frown. “I think I found my mind wandering a bit. Sorry. Sometimes, Ray’s sermons are a little too emotionally charged for my liking. I don’t think God means for us to give people the very clothes off our backs. We’d all be walking around penniless if that were the case.”

“Huh? That’s not what Pastor Ray said, Candace. He was talking about surrender, giving God our all—telling Him that everything we have is His—and then living a life of obedience. That’s where true peace and joy come into play. Sometimes, it means giving materially, but it mostly means realizing that God owns it all.”

Her scowl only deepened, an expression made more ominous by the sudden flash of lightning outside the window, followed by a thunderous boom overhead. “Whoa!” she said with a jolt. “I think I might go home if you don’t mind. I hate driving through bad storms, and it feels like one’s coming. Besides, I think I need a nap before I start a new week.”

He tipped her chin up with his finger, wondering if he’d pushed too far with his spiritualizing. “You can take a nap here, if you want. You only just got here.”

“I know, sweetie. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize this storm would move in so fast.”

“Well, maybe you should stay and wait it out.”

“I’d just as soon go home.” She stepped out of the circle of his arms. “We’ll talk more later, okay?” Funny how she’d been all about settling matters of their future until he’d started talking about Pastor Ray’s message. It made him wonder, even bugged him, why she’d committed herself to him long before he’d squared things with God. Considering his former, rather untamed lifestyle, barhopping and living the high life, that didn’t say much for her spiritual state, even though she never failed to attend Faith Fellowship Church with him on Sunday mornings. Even before committing his life to the Lord, Jason had always attended one church or another; it had seemed important and right, whether he was truly living for God or not. Besides, old habits took their sweet time dying. He’d gone to church since infancy. Unfortunately, he couldn’t say the same thing about Candace. She seemed to go because he expected her to.

She put her jacket back on and slipped into her pumps. At the door, she merely blew him a kiss. “Call me tomorrow, okay?” she said.

“I promise.”

She gave a desultory smile before closing the door behind her.

Jason stood in the kitchen entryway, staring at the front door. He half expected it to open, until a glance out the front window at a shiny, red Toyota pulling out of the driveway confirmed that Candace had left.

He expelled a heavy sigh and headed for his bathroom, where he kept his biking shorts. But what was he thinking? He couldn’t take his usual bike ride in a drenching rain, much less a thunderstorm. He pivoted and walked to the sofa instead, prepared to watch some golf.

Call Rachel. The notion hit him as he plopped down on the sofa. Huh? He glanced at the cordless phone, lying on the coffee table. Rachel had made it clear that she had no interest in seeing or talking to him anytime soon. He decided to wait a bit longer before contacting her again, and he propped up his feet and grabbed the TV remote.

Call Rachel. The impression was more insistent. Still, he resisted picking up the phone, opting to wait and see if the inclination passed.

Chapter 5

Rachel spent the day in self-absorption, accomplishing the essentials but moving about the house as if her shoes had lead weights in them. Even taking care of her kids seemed an insurmountable task on this rainy, dreary day, and so, when her funk hadn’t lifted by mid-afternoon, she called her mom to see if she might be willing to keep the kids for the night. All she wanted to do was curl up in a ball and hibernate.

BOOK: Tender Vow
6.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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