SHILOH was listless even as she leafed through the pages of Before Amen. It felt like she bore a colossus weight right at the centre of her heart and that her mind was drained and sapped of every mental strength.
She liked him.
Well, not kind of. She really did like him. He was a little bit on the conservative side and a trifle too earnest for her usual taste, but she liked his unassuming good looks. Physical looks were always important to her. Not too remarkable, you started to feel competitive or too insignificant, you started to consider the word “ugly” as a possible descriptive adjective.
She liked a manageable balance. And Jeth possessed that manageable balance. He was also persistent to the point that you admired him even when you were exasperated. Then he had a great sense of humour, had a love for good food, good music and good movies and then he was thoughtful and kindly in his ways. But best of all—he had and plainly showed his respect for her mind and her choices.
She hadn’t given him an answer and he hadn’t pressured her.
It had been obvious that he’d had his hopes dashed; which can be hurtful for anyone. But he had only smiled, asked her to take her time and think about his request and then shifted the conversation to other things for the rest of their evening out.
It’s been a week now and though they continued to talk regularly and they’d even gone out for an early dinner after Thursday’s evening service, he hadn’t broached the subject or put her under any pressure.
It made her all the more attracted to him. She liked a man who believed in a woman having the right to choose and to decide for herself which way to go. She liked that in the last eight days, he’d continued to call and chat with her and yet, not once, had he, even in the most subtle manner, made reference to the matter of his relationship proposal.
He hadn’t troubled her but it was her heart, her restless mind, that troubled her.
She thought of him constantly. She thought of his request for a relationship with her. She thought of what her response should be—and she wasn’t still sure what she wanted it to be.
“You know, your silent and broody mood is starting to worry me.” Her mother stood in the doorway of her bedroom. She had a small bowl of diced watermelon in her hand and a careful smile on her face. “When you become too pensive, the tendency to withdraw into yourself is almost the next natural step. I don’t want you to slip back into depression.”
She’d been there, buried deep in depression and self-pity, when her father had died.
“I will never again slip into depression, mum.” Shiloh sent her a soft smile. “I know now that talking helps even if it doesn’t bring a solution.”
“Why haven’t you been talking to me then?” Joy came forward and sat on her bed. “I’ve been here, available with my big fennec fox-like ears to hear you.”
“I guess I’ve been trying to resolve it on my own.” Shiloh took the fork she handed over and forked up a square-cut watermelon. “He asked me to date me. He wants a chance in my life and in my heart.”
“It was clear he was headed that way.” Joy said mildly, studying her and worrying that she might still be suffering from self-doubt. “What answer did you give him?”
“None.” Shiloh shrugged. “I told him I didn’t know what to say. That it was all too soon for me.” She eyed her mother. “I was being honest, mum. I am confused what to say to him and I am worried all this is happening too fast.”
“A man who knows what he wants never wastes time going after it. I see in Jethro the trait of one who truly knows his heart and is only going after what his heart desires.”
“What about what my heart desires? Doesn’t that count?”
“Of course, it does. But the real question should be: what does your heart desire?”
“I don’t know.” Shiloh felt the lurch in her stomach and pressed her palm against it. “I feel this rumble of fear inside of me. I don’t want to be hurt, mum. Not ever again.”
“We can’t entirely prevent pain from being a part of our lives, dear.” Joy said gently. “But let us first establish the most important factor. How do you feel about him? Do you have any feelings at all for him?”
“I…” Shiloh inhaled and forced her jumping nerves to relax. “I like him. I am attracted to him. He’s a little too conventional for me, but that is not a major strike. I am even getting to like his stick-in-the-mud ways, especially as it doesn’t affect his humour or his joie de vivre. He’s a nice man. One can even call him a ‘good man’ but…” she exhaled. “Maybe that is what worries me. That lingering concern that he might be too good for me. I am not exactly a fresh rose, mum.”
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘fresh rose’.” Joy crooked her fingers. “But I know every rose comes with thorns and no one ever judged a rose ugly because it had those thorns. No one.” She reached over and tipped up her chin. “He’s not too good for you. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, Jethro with his just-two body count is not too good for you. I’m beginning to wonder why he is not a virgin even. Like the real deal. I was hoping for that for my beautiful, brilliant daughter.”
Shiloh grinned. “Now that would have had me completely panicked and running as fast as my legs can take me.” Then she inhaled and shook her head. “I am just fussing over this for nothing, right?”
“If you like the young man and he has same feelings for you, I don’t see why there should be any fuss at all.” Joy smiled kindly at her. Because as a woman, she understood her little fears. “The bible didn’t say old things are passed away so we can cling to them and build insurmountable walls out of them, you know. It is not yesterday that defines us. It is who we are today.”
“Yes, it is today that matters most. I cannot change yesterday, even if I wanted to, but today I am a better woman.” Shiloh agreed and smiled. “And that woman deserves a man like Jeth. I will say yes. That, after all, is what my heart really wants to say.”
“Good.” Joy gave a nod of approval. “But don’t call him and tell him. Wait until he broaches the subject again. Then look him in the eyes and with a serious I-won’t-take-nonsense expression, tell him that yes.” Joy winked and stood up. “I am going out. Furo has this cousin who wants her living room redecorated. I’ll see you later.”
“Love you, mum.” Shiloh called after her, beaming.
“Love you too, Shiloh.” She called back.
JETH was restless. He’d been feeling the tugging pull of disquiet and dissatisfaction since their dinner last week Friday. Her non-committal response to his request for a relationship with her had not only been disappointing, it had left him somewhat fearful as the days swept by and she still said nothing, for instead of his emotions dwindling, they seemed to grow in bounds for her.
He was fast tilting towards being in love with her and even he was beginning to fear the rapid pace with which his feelings were moving. He’d never felt anything like what he did for her for any other woman. He’d never had his feelings go so fast from one state to another in a matter of days. And he’d never so desperately needed anyone to be a part of his life as much as he needed… wanted her to be.
He’d been miserable these last few days. Not diabolically so. But still, he’d been discontent and more than a little impatient. It still surprised him how he managed to sound and appear calm and unaffected when they talked or while they’d dined out on Thursday.
He didn’t think he could pretend to be patient any longer.
He wanted her response. He wanted to know where he stood with her.
Was she going to give him a chance? Or was she going to tell him no?
He desperately hoped it wouldn’t be a no. He couldn’t stand it if it was. He didn’t know if he could accept it if her answer was negative. He didn’t know if he could give up his pursuit of her and just let her go like that.
He wouldn’t want to. But would he have to?
But you, take courage!
Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.
The words from the second book of Chronicles filtered through his mind and Jeth narrowed his eyes in a thoughtful frown. That could also mean him not allowing his heart to weaken in its pursuit, couldn’t it? No one who gave up ever won a good thing, right?
She was what he wanted, what his heart desired and was learning quickly to love, and he couldn’t just let her go. Not even if she said no. A woman can say no at first and give a contrary answer if a man persisted; it happened often, didn’t it?
Jeth flung his legs down the side of his bed and pushed to his feet. He was driving himself crazy worrying what her answer would be when all he ought to do was just ask her if she’d thought about his request. He’d given her a week, surely that was time enough?
He picked his phone off the chest of drawers by the bed and dialled her number.
She picked after two rings and said teasingly. “I’d been expecting you to hassle me with another call since morning. Lost your phone somewhere or were you buried deep in those house chores you whined about earlier?”
“First, I didn’t whine.” Hearing her voice always lightened him up, so Jeth was grinning as he cradled the phone against his ear. “I only complained that I had too much to do. And hardworking man that I am, I have done them all and was just trying to take a nap.”
“Why trying, couldn’t you sleep?”
“No, I couldn’t. You kept disturbing me.”
“Me? Pray tell, how did I manage to do that all the way from across town?”
“You kept me awake with thoughts of you.” Jeth pushed his free hand into the pocket of his slacks. “I want to see you. May I come over?”
The quick response of acquiescence surprised Jeth. “Did you just say yes or did I imagine I heard yes?”
“See you in half an hour or you’re in trouble.” She ended the call.
Jeth stared at his phone, grinning. No, her answer wouldn’t be a no. Not with a snooty, playful attitude like that. And if it was, he would just persist until he heard a yes.
He considered changing his clothes. Then dunked the idea. She always teased him about his too-formal dressing more than half the time. Well, the easy-wear cotton slacks and plaid short-sleeved Polo shirt would let her know that he knew how to dress it down when he wanted to.
Whistling, he grabbed his keys and strode out of the room.
He was five minutes over the half-hour she gave him late when she opened their front door. But they both knew that was still on-time given weekend traffic and all.
“Hello, Brother Jethro. Come right in.” She stepped back from the door.
She was on shorts and a T-shirt and it was the first Jeth was seeing her in shorts. Or in anything that ran above her knees. Tiny, crawling creatures trailed around his stomach walls at the very feminine look she made with her curves all nicely accentuated.
“Shorts suit you.” He said. “And seeing you in them in making feel weird tingles.”
Shiloh looked at him. He was smiling but his eyes were serious. “Well, just ignore the tingles. They are likely to flutter away when you do.” She dropped into the sofa and patted the space beside her. “Come sit. We’ll watch a home video. My mum’s not home. She’s gone to appraise someone’s living room.”
“Okay.” He sat beside her and tried to ignore the tingles which unfortunately seemed to have increased instead of fluttering away. “I got you both a couple of chocolate bars.” He passed her the paper bags in his hand. “And then some pastries for us to snack on.”
“Oh Snickers, I was dreaming of them!” Shiloh dug out one from the paper bag and shot him a grin. “You’re not helping my weakness for sweets getting them for me.” He’d gotten her some on Thursday too. “Do you want me toothless before I turn thirty?”
“Well, since I don’t know how many more years you have before that, I can’t quite answer that.” He felt an odd temptation to hold her close and that unsettled Jeth.
“Two years. I’m twenty-eight now.” Shiloh bit into the chocolate bar as she stood up. “I’ll set the pastries in a dish and get us some juice to go along with it.” She gave him a quick appraisal. “I like the look of you. You look boyishly relaxed.”
“Thank you. Although I don’t know if I should be worried about the boyishly part.”
“No need to be.” Shiloh chuckled and started towards the kitchen. “It’s a compliment in this case. Have you seen Mr and Mrs?”
“Mr and Mrs who?” Jeth rubbed a hand down his scrambling stomach.
Shiloh laughed. “Mr and Mrs—a movie. Mum and I have seen it before but I feel like seeing it again. So, that’s going to be our entertainment for the afternoon.”
“Oh, a movie. Right.” He stood to take the tray of pineapple juice pack and two glasses from her. “I am sometimes not good with movie titles and I’ve not seen it. It must be a good one for you to want to see it again.”
“It was interesting. I think I enjoyed it more than mum did though. She’d not allowed us watch it again since that first time.” Shiloh took the glass of drink he’d filled and held out to her. “It’s Nse Ikpe-Etim and Joseph Benjamin.”
“Luckily, I know both of them and love them.” Jeth sat back with his drink. But watched as she took a long sip of hers. “I’m nervous. Not nervous really; but jittery and a little unsettled.”
Shiloh lowered her hand and stared at his earnest face. “And why is that?”
“I think it’s being close to you whilst you are wearing shorts. I find you very… very attractive, Shiloh. I have feelings for you that are swinging between love and desire.” Jeth set down his glass and clasped his palms together. They felt clammy… and unsteady. “I am falling in love with you, Shiloh. I know that is way too fast but my heart is not listening to me here and I am finding it impossible to do anything else but just follow its lead.”
“I’ve never known a man like you, Jeth.”
Jeth smiled. A little shakily. “Well, that’s a relief. I rather like being unique.”
“I don’t want to be hurt and I don’t want to hurt you, Jeth.”
Jeth reached over, took the glass from her hand, set it on the table and then took her hand. It felt warm but like his own, quivery. He lifted it to his mouth and kissed the back.
Shiloh’s hand shook involuntarily at the touch of his lips and she let out a low gasp.
“I won’t hurt you, Shiloh.” Jeth held her eyes. “I am promising you this. I will never hurt you as long as I can help it. And the biggest way you can hurt me now is saying no to me being a part of your life. A meaningful part of your life.”
Shiloh stared into his eyes. She had never seen such sincerity and openness in a man’s eyes before. A man other than her late father.
“All right. Yes, you can be a part of my life, Jeth.”
Relief, pleasure and love washed through Jeth. He heaved up and drew her into his arms. “Thank you. I will never make you rue this choice. I promise you.” He slid his arms around her waist and hugged her close. “Hmm, you smell so nice.”
“And that is our cue to end this embrace.” Shiloh pushed out of his arms and picked her glass of juice. “You smell nice too, by the way. I love your cologne. Now, go slot in the movie and stop looking at me like you are mesmerised or something.”
“I am mesmerised. And I suspect I will be for the rest of our lives.” Jeth chuckled at her roll of the eyes, leaned forward and gave her a peck on the cheek and then dodged the smack she aimed at him. “Hey, it’s just a peck.”
“Yeah. And that’s all you are ever getting.”
But she was grinning when he turned to shoot her a wink.
Dedication: For all March celebrants. Love… Life and Happiness.