Gabe lay on the floor exhausted. It was too hot to move anyway. Angela was prone on her bed, blubbering, her pillow soggy with tears.
“I didn’t think it would be so hard to say no, Gabe. I was so sure. But the look on his face…I don’t think he’ll ever want to see me again.” She wiped her scarlet nose.
“John will understand.” Gabe tried in vain to console her. “Just give him time. He just hadn’t realized your commitment to the King. He’s committed too. He’ll understand.”
That morning John had told Angela that he loved her and asked her to marry him. Now he was pacing along a row of corn behind their family’s home, wondering where he had missed the mark. So many nights he had sat awake in the dark prison, thinking about that moment and Angela’s joyful response. He had had lots of time to think about it; he had been in prison often. It seemed only Angela and Gabe managed to avoid it. But he had been lying to himself. All of his daydreams were just that – dreams. He ripped off part of a stalk.
Gabe felt helpless. Whenever someone was in trouble, he would say, “The King will make a way.” He believed it fully, and he used the line often. Now it didn’t seem like those words could mend these two broken hearts, two hearts he dearly loved.
Angela sniffled. “Gabe, could you talk to him? Check on him for me. See if he’s okay. Explain to him again for me.”
Gabe didn’t answer right away. He was thinking he’d rather visit Vulpine than go on this mission. I’d rather jump in the lake in winter. I’d rather live out on the roof for a week. I’d rather eat a slug. Gabe let out a little laugh before he caught himself and pretended his throat needed clearing. “I’ll go tonight when it’s cooler outside,” Gabe answered. And when John is cooler.
That evening Angela went to the meeting at Caleb’s house. Gabe went alone to John’s. He purposely showed up late so he wouldn’t have to talk to John, not yet at least. John’s father spoke to the group. He lived the King’s words, and they flowed out of him with little effort.
When he finished his message, Winnie stood up. In his preoccupation with John and Angela, Gabe hadn’t noticed her. She looked each person in the eye. “I need to say I’m sorry to everyone. I used to come and talk foolishly with you all. I talked too much and told too much and cared too much about what everyone was doing. Basically, I was a gossip. I haven’t been to meetings for a long while, but I have been reading the King’s law. He has hard words for people like me. Well, hopefully, people like I was. I think I have learned my lesson.” With a smile, she added, “And I’d like to thank Gabe for kicking me out of your meetings and sending me home until I learned it.”
The group seemed as if they were waiting for Gabe to make a response. He was bowled over by her openness and her courage to keep seeking the King on her own, and he stood up and told her so. “And welcome home. You’re part of our family again.”
Everyone was on their feet. The women hugged her and kissed her cheeks. It was a thrill for everyone to see this happy ending after having seen others leave the meetings never to return.
After the meeting, Gabe lingered as the others left. John knew he was there to talk to him and eventually made it easy. “Do you want to come see the corn?”
Gabe saw through the offer and acted eager to see the crop’s progress. The two walked out past the barn and hopped over the fence rail into the field with only the sound of the crickets accompanying them. John halted on the other side of the fence and leaned against it. He reached down, plucked a tall piece of grass and started ripping it into little pieces.
“It’s been a bad day,” John started. Gabe had been hoping John would do all the talking. “I’ve been driving myself crazy thinking about the past year, more than a year, every moment I’ve ever spent with her. I know it was all the King’s work she was doing. I know she wasn’t doing it to be with me but maybe some of the time, I was doing it to be with her.” He stopped fidgeting and looked at Gabe. “That’s what I’ve realized today, going over everything over and over in my head. I realized that I wasn’t only serving the King. I was also serving myself by wanting to be with your sister.” He rubbed his forehead.
Gabe realized John wasn’t going to say anything else, and he was going to have to think of something to say. He scanned the night sky and took in the stars. Something came to him. “Well, I guess the question is now, do you want to serve the King even if it means never being with Angela?” Gabe bit his lip.
John didn’t turn to look at Gabe; he set his gaze over the horizon and spoke into the hazy night sky. “King, I’ve never met you, but I know you are out there. Gabe says that somehow you know everything, so know this: I choose to serve you until I die, whether tomorrow or a hundred years from now. I love Angela and will always love her as another one of your servants, but I give her up to serve you. In fact, I want to be like her and give up my own life to serve you all the way.”
He understands. The King did make a way.
“I want to go tell Angela I understand her decision. Let’s go to the inn.”
The night was warm but a relief from the baking sun. Angela was looking out the window when she saw them in the distance. She pulled on a shawl to cover her bare arms and leaned out the window, resting her elbows on the window sill. Her eyes met John’s as he approached, and she knew from their warmth everything was okay. “I’ll be right down,” she called to him and withdrew from the window. She walked down the stairs one at a time, taking a breath with each step. She wanted to look calm when she walked out the door. She had been anything but calm all day.
John thought the first frost would nip before Angela managed to get outside. He hung his head and decided she must have changed her mind and didn’t want to see him.
“Gabe, I’m going to—”
“Hi, John.” Angela cut off his exit.
“Angela.” At first, that was all he could say. Looking at her with the full moon reflected in her eyes, he almost forgot, just for a moment, his confession to the King.
Gabe came to the rescue. “John really understands, Angela. He wants to tell you.”
John snapped to from Angela’s mesmerizing eyes. “Yes, I do. I understand why you said no. And I’ve told the King.” He stopped and smiled. Angela smiled back but raised her eyebrows. This time he avoided being drawn in by her shining eyes. “I did. I told the King that I wanted to be like you and commit myself completely to his service.”
Angela held onto Gabe’s arm, trying to draw on his strength by osmosis. It would take strength not to think about her past with John or the ‘what ifs’ of the future. “That’s really wonderful, John.” She looked at Gabe while she spoke.
She could feel the calm slipping away.
She looked up at John and smiled. His heart skipped a beat when he saw her tear-filled eyes. Now it was his turn to feel weak.
Angela pressed the corners of her eyes with her finger to stop the tears from spilling. She looked away and said, “Mrs. Bollix brought over some food for us to deliver to Widow Jenkins tomorrow. I think I’ll go get it packed up so it’s ready.” She braved one more glance at John and whispered, “Goodnight, John.”
Angela hurried inside and John swallowed hard, unable to speak. He slowly walked home and made one last trip to the corn field. He sighed heavily and spoke to the corn. “If this was supposed to be one of the best days of my life, what’s tomorrow going to be like?”