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No Engagement Ring

No Engagement Ring

Copyright 2017 Julie Sewcharan

Shakespir Edition

Shakespir Edition License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author. It you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favourite authorised retailer. Thank you for your support.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Dedicated to my loving, romantic husband who believed I could do this and to Heavenly Father for making my dream come true.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

About the author

Chapter 1

Hannah looked around the small front office frantically. She was hoping to have completed her mission quickly and be out of there before her nerves failed her. Alas! that was not to be.

There was no one at the reception desk even though it was strewn with papers. Maybe the person who sat behind that desk had just popped out and would be back soon? she thought hopefully. How long would that take though? she wondered despondent. Looking around nervously, she spotted another office just down the passage. Someone was in there.

Making her way gingerly towards the office, she breathed deeply. I can do this, she kept thinking as each step brought her closer to the office.

The large man in the office, behind the desk, was facing away from the door, looking in the filing cabinet, so he was not aware of her presence. Even with his back turned to her, she felt intimidated. Suddenly, the warmness of the air conditioning was stifling, whereas initially, she had not even felt it.

Timidly, she knocked on the door but he didn’t turn around. Stepping into the big office that housed an heavy oak desk placed quite a way inwards from the door, she called out, “Excuse me!” in her soft lilting voice.

The man turned around with a startled expression which was replaced with a suspicious look. He towered over her even from behind the desk.

“Yes?” he quizzed with slight impatience.

Hannah swallowed but answered steadily, keeping eye contact with the man. “I’m looking for Pastor Jonathan Chandler,” she answered timidly but steadily.

“That’s me,” he informed, still looking at her suspiciously.

The instinct to bolt was great but Hannah knew she needed to complete her mission. At least try to complete it. But no words came out of her mouth at the confession of his identity. She just stared at him. He could not be more than thirty to be pastoring a congregation this size – the building could easily accommodate three to four thousand people. And he was too good looking, the rolled up sleeves of his formal shirt, tucked into his perfect fit jeans, displaying strong, muscular arms.

It must have been a long stare because he said in an annoyed tone, “May I help you?”

Blinking, Hannah apologised. “I am sorry. I was expecting someone…” she trailed off.

“Someone else?” he finished.

“Yes,” she confessed. His eyes narrowed. “Aren’t pastors supposed to be much older, married with lots of children?” she rushed on voicing her thoughts then blushed. Her mother had warned her, previously, to be careful about voicing her thoughts.

His annoyance was more pronounced as he recited, “Joseph became ruler over Egypt at thirty, David became king of Israel at thirty, Jesus began His ministry at thirty. I had a wife but she left when I told her I was going into full time ministry.” He ended by giving her a take it or leave it look simultaneously wondering why he mentioned his divorce. He never divulged that to just anyone; in fact the majority of his congregation did not know this. But it was too late to take back. It didn’t matter; it was highly unlikely he would see her again.

“Point taken,” she smiled an apologetic smile that lifted the scared look she wore on her face. “I was told that you had a vacancy for a teacher in your school,” she forged ahead mentally bracing herself. This man really intimidated her.

“And who told you this?” he asked candidly.

Hannah had the urge to bolt again but she suppressed it by taking a deep breath, licking her lips and pushing her unruly curly wisps of hair, that had escaped her winter hat, back underneath it. “Pastor George Henderson of Care Community Church. I attend there.” Her last statement was more pronounced than she intended but she didn’t flinch.

He seemed pacified with the information. But the drilling had only begun. “You are a teacher?” he asked in a tone of disbelief, as if she would lie about something like that.

Squaring her shoulders, she answered frankly, “I have been teaching grade two for the past two years at a public school.” Well, almost two years, she justified mentally.

“And you left because?” It sounded like he wanted to trap her.

“I don’t like the politics and atheism they display in public schools and would much rather teach in a Christian school.” Her voice sounded steady in her ears even if her heart was beating so loudly she was surprised pastor Chandler didn’t hear it. At least her answer was partially true, she justified again.

“A bit strange to leave in the middle of the year though, isn’t it?” His dark brown, almost black, evenly spaced eyes were probing hers but she didn’t flinch.

Holding his gaze, she answered just as steadily, “It…became unbearable.” That part was true, she commended herself. His eyebrows rose but he didn’t comment. “I have a CV that has all the details and the contact numbers for references,” she waved the paper she had in her hand, slightly.

He came around the desk and stood in front of her. Hannah stepped back a good few paces and stretched out her hand. He looked at her puzzled but grasped the document by the outer edge. As soon as it left her hand, Hannah stepped back another two paces. Noticing the movement out of the corner of his eye, he compelled himself to not glare at her. What a strange woman! he thought unceremoniously.

Jonathan glanced at the cover of the document before returning to the other side of the desk. He sat relaxed in the big leather chair.

Looking up at her, he stated frankly, “This is a school decision. I will pass your CV to the principal. They will make a decision and if they decide to call you, then well and good.” He placed her CV on a pile of papers to the right of his desk.

It was a dismissive statement but Hannah was grateful she would be dealing with the principal rather than him. “Thank you so much. And goodbye.” She was out of the office before he could say another word.

Outside she breathed normally, relieved it was over. She had done it! She had just applied for the post that was brought to her attention out of the blue, especially when she had lost hope of ever finding a position. She gave a victory jump of joy, then quickly looked around to see if anyone had seen her. Thankfully, no one was around.

Shaking his head, Jonathan placed the CV at the back of his desk with no intention of giving it another glance. The woman was pretty young even if her CV stated she was twenty three. Dressed in layers of warm clothes that engulfed her, she looked like a teen. Nope! He was going to shelve her CV.

“Hire her!” the voice was very clear.

“What!?” he asked more to clarify for himself. He had heard clearly the first time.

“Hire her!” the voice was firm and very clear.

“But Lord, she is not suitable. She is far too young, very timid and far too pretty. Did I say that out loud?” he asked a hand over his mouth.

“Hire her!” the Lord said again.

“Fine!” he said defiantly. “You’re the boss.” Jonathan just could not understand why he was so against her coming into their lives especially if God wanted her to be there. It just didn’t make sense. Timid though she looked, she didn’t display any threatening traits. In fact she looked very honest. He shook his head, perplexed. Why did he want to fight this?

Later that afternoon, he walked over to the school. Built at the back of the property, it offered security to the pupils and staff in a safe environment and out of view of the public. The only entrance to the school was via a security gate which required sign in with proof of identity for entrants other than parents, security badges for parents and finger prints for staff. No pupil was allowed in or out of the property without a parent or guardian in possession of the badge.

Fifty three year old Sarah Hart, was in her office doing paper work when Jonathan approached. He stood in the doorway and knocked.

A welcoming smile broke out on Sarah’s smooth, make up free face, reaching her grey eyes, at the sight of Jonathan. “Please come in Jonathan,” she invited pleasantly.

Jonathan complied. Mrs Hart was always such a welcoming figure of a woman. Motherly looking though she was, she still dressed in elegant attire and was full of encouragement. He’d liked her immediately she applied for the post of principal. Her Christian values and morals were of utmost importance to her, matching the Church’s ethics and instilling them into the children was clearly her mission.

She got on very well with the teachers and they liked her too. Not a bad word was spoken about her. Thanks to her the school ran smoothly every day.

“What can I do for you?” she asked kindly. Her soft spoken question belied the iron strength she possessed.

“We need to hire this person for the Grade R post.” He placed the CV in front of the principal.

Baffled she scanned the first page of the CV before turning a questioning gaze on him. “Why am I getting involved in this? You usually do the hiring.”

“I would like her to think it is a school decision.” He was vague.

“Why?” Sarah was candid.

“I think she is unsuitable for the position but He,” Jonathan pointed upwards, “thinks she is the one for this post.”

Sarah nodded with understanding. “And when He speaks we must obey. Alright, I will get Madeline to set up an interview.” She was matter-of-fact about it but not uncharitable.

“I want to be in on the interview and…include Emily,” he said casually.

Sarah was too respectful to voice her question as to why. They had never done interviews in this manner before. Sarah usually did the second interview on her own after Jonathan sent them to her as approved.

“Thank you,” he said humbly, not adding ‘for not probing.’

“You’re welcome!” she said with a brilliant smile.

Hannah was very surprised but relieved to get a call from Sarah Hart’s office the very next day. Her encounter with Pastor Jonathan Chandler was not very forthcoming and certainly not positive; she knew he was not keen to have her on the school staff. That didn’t bother her at all for she knew that she would not be dealing with him if she did get recruited by the school.

Even though she had wanted the position badly – her money was running out here in the city – she knew that the ultimate decision lay with God. Would He want to help her though, after the way she had behaved these last couple of months? She wasn’t sure. But He had granted her an interview. For that she was very grateful which she told Him many times that day.

Dressing carefully for the interview, she ensured her attire was modest and respectable. Wrapping herself in layers of warm clothes she added a thick jacket over and donned sensible shoes. Piling her thick locks on top of her head, helped to make her look older and more mature – she had often been mistaken for a teen – and highlighted her high cheekbones. Her only make-up was lip gloss that had a tinge of pink. Stud earrings completed her ensemble.

Ensuring that she was there well before the time slot allocated to her, afforded her the opportunity to explore the church building. It was a beautiful place and she could feel God’s presence here. One could spend hours in this serenity, she revelled. A pity she had run from His presence all those months ago, but maybe now she could find her way back. If she got the job.

The large hall was filled with bolted down comfortable chairs. A stage was erected against the far wall, not large but roomy enough for many instruments and people to be on at the same time. She sighed. The church she’d left behind at home was much smaller than this one and homely.

One day perhaps she would be able to go back home without cringing. “Afternoon, miss!” a middle aged man greeted her cheerily as he carried some boxes towards the back of the church, breaking into her reverie. He probably worked at the church, Hannah deducted.

“Good afternoon!” she called back amicably then looked at her watch. Lost in her musings, she had lost track of the time. She’d better get to the school.

Instructions on how to locate the school had been received by her and she was glad that it was easy to find from the main church building. Signing in was a task as it required personal information such as identity and contact numbers, etc. Not that it bothered her though; it was an indication that the children were in safe hands.

Madeline, the school secretary, led her to the interview room, all the while chatting about the school in a very welcoming mode. As if Hannah was already a staff member there. Not that she minded at all! Quietness reigned in the corridors as the school day was over and no children were around. A sense of peace came over Hannah. It was a totally different atmosphere to what she was used.

It was a relaxing walk, though, and Hannah’s nervousness dissipated along the way to the interview. However, it came right back when she walked into the room. They were using one of the classrooms for the interview. Three people were ready to interview her. She hadn’t expected pastor Chandler to be there!

Hiding, her distraught state was not easy but she managed to stay calm and cool. One of the woman, she knew would be the principal but who was the other woman? They both had grey hair and kind, eyes. One grey and the other light blue.

“Hello, Miss Wilkens! I’m Sarah Hart, the principal.” The principal’s greeting was warm and inviting. “This is Emily Garrick,” she pointed to the other woman, older than herself. “She is taking care of the grade R class in the meantime.” Ah, that would explain why she was there. “And I believe you met Jonathan Chandler.”

Hannah nodded nervously, greeting everyone, with a barely audible, ‘hello’. Why was he here? Her mind was in a turmoil but she couldn’t let it affect her just now. Focus on the principal, she told herself sternly. They all sat down around the teacher’s desk. Hannah was grateful for the table between them and her.

The two women asked her some questions, pertaining to school and qualifications, in a gentle manner but Jonathan remained quiet. Even though he was silent, Hannah still felt intimidated so her answers were short, as she gripped her jacket tightly which lay over her lap having taken it off when she entered the warm room. It gave her some comfort.

When they seemed satisfied with the questioning, Sarah turned to Jonathan. “Was there anything you wanted to ask Miss Wilkens?”

With a masked expression, he looked her straight in the eyes and said, “In order to work at this school, you would have to become a member of this church. Are you prepared to do that?”

Her hesitation was ever so slight but she answered with conviction, “Yes!”

“You would also have to teach under the supervision of Mrs Garrick for two weeks..” Hannah accepted.

“There is a discipleship course which runs for four weeks on a Saturday from nine am to four pm that you are required to attend,” his gaze remained steady ignoring the surprised look the women on either side of him gave him. He was surprised Hannah did not pick up on that but then her nervousness would blot out everything. Even though she didn’t look nervous, he was well aware that her entire body was stiff with the effort of remaining calm. Although she looked a lot more mature and older than yesterday, not to mention more beautiful, he had seen the uncertainty in her eyes when she spotted him in the room. Suppressing the pity he felt, he had remained quiet for most of the interview. It surprised him that she managed to remain in the room until now and answer all the questions with clarity.

Hannah didn’t hesitate this time, “That would not be a problem.”

“There’s a course starting next Saturday,” he said ever so casually.

“Wait, does that mean I’ve got the job?” Hannah asked with bated breath after digesting the information.

“Yes!” It was Sarah who answered with a smile.

Hannah jumped up and profusely thanked them then sat back down in a poised manner. “Sorry, you were saying…”

“We don’t tolerate tardiness. Do you have reliable transport?” he asked mercilessly.

“As reliable as buses are,” she shrugged. “I see that the bus stops right here outside the church.”

They wrapped up the process and told her that she was starting the very next day – Hannah didn’t question the expeditious hiring – then released her.

With sincere appreciation, she exited the room with a speed they were surprised at from such a small built person.

“The discipleship course?” Emily asked puzzled once they were alone. “None of our other teachers were forced to attend.”

Jonathan shrugged not willing to share his thoughts.

“You were pretty hard on her,” Sarah said also puzzled. “I have never seen you like that with a woman before.”

“Call it male ego,” he excused. They gave him a bewildered look. “Usually women are running into me but this one just wants to run away from me,” he elaborated.

Both women laughed heartily.

“But why have me supervise her?” Emily asked baffled. “I am not a qualified teacher and I only agreed to supervise the children until you find a teacher.”

“I just feel she is far too young,” he shrugged.

“At twenty three, I already had a one year old child,” Emily retorted with raised eyebrows.

“She is a very young twenty three year old,” he sighed. “And very timid. Imagine what the children will do to her! I would rather you kept an eye on her and if she is not coping, it would be better to rectify now,” he stated with authority.

“And prove Him wrong!” Emily muttered under her breath.

“Well I think she is lovely,” Sarah interjected. “I’m sure she will do quite well.”

“We’ll see,” Jonathan said thoughtfully as they wrapped up and left the classroom. He was not sure what they were in for but he was not eager to fight God on this one. Over and over again, he’d learned it was better and more blessed to do His bidding.

Chapter 2

The next morning, Hannah made sure she was at the school a whole hour before the start bell.

“Welcome, Miss Hannah!” Errol, the security guard at the gate, sporting his name badge proudly, greeted her enthusiastically. “They told me you were starting at our school today. I’m sure your staff access will be sorted out by the end of today.” He smiled encouragingly.

“Thank you Errol! I’m sure it will be.” She smiled warmly at him before proceeding to the school office.

Madeline was already there, cheerful as usual. “Good morning, Hannah!” she greeted brightly. “You are nice and early.”

“Good morning, Mrs Camp! I didn’t want to miss the bus,” she gave a small laugh.

“Madeline please! It is a good thing you are early. You can complete your paperwork before the day begins and before we forget.” Hannah was agreeable.

Madeline clipped some papers onto a clipboard and handed it to her before bustling off to do other things while the forms were being filled in. As soon as Hannah completed the documents, she handed it back to Madeline who placed the papers into a folder marked ‘confidential’. After that formality was taken care of, Madeline took Hannah on a quick tour of the school ending at the teachers’ lounge. Hannah was impressed with the beautiful school building and everything she saw.

“Help yourself to some coffee,” Madeline offered.

“Thank you but maybe a bit later,” Hannah said nervously.

“Any time! There will always be a supply available,” Madeline said amicably.

Just then Sarah walked in. “Oh, good morning, Hannah! You’re early!” she said pleased. “Good morning, Madeline!” she greeted the secretary just as kindly.

“Good morning, Mrs Hart!” Hannah greeted back timidly with a shy smile.

“Good morning, Sarah!” Madeline greeted her boss robustly.

“Is Emily here already?” Sarah called as she entered her office and deposited her bag and jacket in the cupboard.

“Not yet! But I’m sure she’ll be here any minute.” Madeline answered confidently. “Shall I take Hannah to her classroom in the meantime?”

Sarah thought for a bit before answering, “Probably a good idea. I’m sure Emily is on her way.” Her tone held no worry, so Hannah relaxed.

Emily would not renege on her duty especially if Jonathan Chandler gave the orders would she? Of course not! Hannah reprimanded herself. Emily was not the type of person to shirk her duties. She had come across as very conscientious.

The classroom for the grade R was superb sporting every resource available to teach with. It was a conducive environment for learning. Hannah didn’t feel lost when Madeline left her alone in it. Instead, she studied all the material and resources in the room, to keep occupied whilst awaiting Emily’s appearance. It was still ten minutes before start bell.

Hannah sat in the chair supplied for the teacher and waited. Panic set in when at five minutes to start, Emily was not yet there. Not that she was incapable of teaching the class, she just wanted to meet all of Jonathan’s requirements. Relief, therefore, flooded her when just after that, Emily arrived, out of breath.

“Sorry, I’m late!” Emily apologised profusely removing her jacket before hanging it on the coat hangar standing in the corner of the room behind the door, together with Hannah’s and placing her bag in the drawer of the desk that held Hannah’s things.

“No problem at all,” Hannah said relieved. “I’m just glad you are here.”

They had no further chance to talk as the children came in from the play area where they usually waited before school began. Emily introduced Hannah as their new teacher then opened in prayer. That they began their school day with a prayer first and foremost, delighted Hannah.

Having been trained to teach grade R to four, Hannah was soon into the swing of things on her first day. Emily, watching mostly, assisted whenever Hannah asked. Emily was quite impressed with the small in stature but big on creativity woman, who thoroughly enjoyed teaching this age group. She was animated and alive, full of go and eager to impress the lessons on the children without causing them discomfort.

Soon the day was over. “Some children will be collected to go home and others would be sent into after care until they are fetched,” Emily filled Hannah in on the procedure at the school as soon as the bell went off. Either way the children were always safe.

“Did you enjoy your first day?” Emily asked as Hannah packed away the day’s used equipment and material.

She stopped and her eyes took on a dreamy look. “Yes, very much so. I always wanted to teach this age group but my previous school only had an opening for grade two. It is much better to be teaching at a Christian school though.” She smiled widely.

“I think you did very well. You are a natural and know you way around the material. I don’t think I will need to be here for much longer,” Emily made up her mind.

“Oh, no!” Hannah blurted with a stricken face. “Pastor Chandler won’t like that. Please stay until he is convinced that I can do this,” she pleaded.

“Are you afraid of him?” Emily asked taken aback, taking in Hannah’s rigid stance.

“Very!” Hannah confessed unashamedly. “Aren’t you?”

Emily laughed. “I am far too old to be afraid,” she said with a smile. “I’m sure you will feel differently in a few days.”

Hannah doubted that but she kept it to herself. Emily didn’t bring up the issue of her discontinuing supervision sooner, again.

The week passed quickly and Hannah felt like she had been teaching at the school for more than a week. She checked in every day with the principal who was happy that she was making good progress in such a short time. Emily came in every day still even though she thought it was a waste of time. But she wanted to appease Hannah.

Hannah liked having Emily around. Emily was motherly, kind and always very supportive. Slightly taller than herself, and slim, Emily had a lot of energy for her age. She never criticised even when things didn’t go well. Gently, Emily initiated her into the school policy, values and mission. A very solid foundation indeed, Hannah thought and was glad she was able to be a part of it.

Friday after class, they were packing things away when Hannah asked casually, “Mrs Garrick, do you know where I could find a place to stay that’s close to the school but not too expensive? I’m currently staying in a place that charges a daily rate and it’s becoming unaffordable.”

“Well, I have a one bedroom cottage that’s not being used, if you would like to occupy it. It’s at the back and secluded so it will give you complete privacy. We can work out something for the rental,” Emily offered generously. “It’s about a block away from here.”

“Sounds perfect. When is it available?” Hannah asked joyously, making her elfin shaped face light up.

“You can move in tomorrow,” Emily said positively. “The cottage is fully furnished.”

“Gosh! This is just so awesome!” Hannah’s eyes filled with tears of gratitude.

“Isn’t God just amazing?” Emily asked with a smile as she hugged the young woman she had come to love already.

“He is!” Hannah agreed wholeheartedly. “Did you not have someone renting in your cottage?” Hannah asked curiously as an afterthought.

“The house always had a cottage but we never wanted to rent it out. We decided it would be ideal to let visiting pastors or patrons or just desperate people, use the place once we furnished it. In that way there would always be a place available. Which was a good thing. When my youngest son was recovering from a broken relationship, he lived there until he could move on,” Emily explained unashamedly.

Hannah was delighted that Emily could trust her with family information but she didn’t want to pry so didn’t ask any more information on Emily’s son’s relationship. It was none of her business anyway.

With directions on how to get there, Emily left. Happily Hannah continued to set up for the next week before leaving. It was weekend so she could settle in nicely at the new cottage.

The cottage was bigger than Hannah expected. Fully furnished with everything necessary and curtains already hung up. It was beautiful and perfect for her. Emily came to see her settled in before inviting her to dinner that evening.

“Oh, I couldn’t impose on you,” Hannah toyed with the idea.

“No imposition at all. You’ll get to meet my husband, Derrick.” Emily was insistent.

Hannah had no choice but to accept. After packing away her things, she relaxed. From next Saturday, she would have no chance to relax having to attend the required course. She was rather looking forward to it. The church back home didn’t run courses, simply ‘Bible Studies’ on a Tuesday – a not too in-depth look at scriptures in her opinion.

Dinner was a wonderful affair. Just the three of them. Derrick was a delight. He was very welcoming and friendly, as well as encouraging and funny. Something she would not expect from a plumber who ran his own business. Very eager also, to hear all about what she thought of the school.

He also spoke very highly of the church and it’s pastor who was much younger than him. This was a man who respected authority, Hannah realised. Soon the companionable evening ended and Hannah helped Emily clean up.

“Would you like a lift to church tomorrow?” Emily asked Hannah before she left for the cottage.

“Oh, that would be lovely, thank you,” Hannah gladly accepted. She had to attend this church as part of the agreement for teaching at the school and with a lift there, she would not flounder. “What time do we leave?”

“We like to attend the first service but if you would like to go later, we can,” Emily said with ease.

“You have more than one service?” Hannah’s light brown, round eyes were wide with amazement.

Emily nodded her head. “The congregation is far too big to have one seating. Currently we have two seatings.”

Still reeling from the number of services, Hannah said dazedly, “Early is good for me.”

“Good! We’ll leave at eight am if you could wait out front.”

Hannah nodded acceptance, then said goodnight and went off to her place. It felt good to have a ‘place’ of her own and she felt she would have complete freedom here. It was convenient and a bus trip was short and inexpensive. She slept like a baby that night.

The service was very invigorating, different from the other churches she’d attended. Although, Emily and Derrick sat up front, Hannah decided she would stay at the back where she was more comfortable. From that far away, Jonathan Chandler wasn’t so intimidating.

After the service, Emily and Derrick wanted to chat with friends and Hannah didn’t want to intrude so she took the bus back home. She didn’t know anyone yet even though new comers were encouraged to meet with some of the elders and junior pastors in the church. She declined that invitation, not ready to get involved. The condition hadn’t said she had to be involved in the church; just be a member. That she could handle and was happy with.

“Monday is a good day!” Hannah said to herself, humming as she excitedly got ready for school. Not wanting to inconvenience Emily, Hannah took the bus to school so she could be early. Emily came in later as she realised that the children were getting used to Hannah.

Jonathan popped into the school during the day when the children were on break. Having spotted him, Hannah took a turn away from the office to the playground where she could be shadowed by the trees so that she wouldn’t bump into him. Not that he saw her. Avoiding him would be the best recourse for her to not feel intimidated, she excused her action.

“Hello, Sarah!” Jonathan greeted amicably, casually walking into her office.

“Jonathan, I haven’t seen you for a long time,” she said excited to see him again. It was true, she hadn’t seen him since Hannah started.

“It has been busy,” he sighed sounding a bit tired. But he didn’t reveal the culprit for his tiredness. “How’s it been with our new teacher?” he cut to the chase.

“Why not ask Emily?” Sarah suggested kindly. “I’m happy with Emily’s report but best you speak with her directly.”

Jonathan nodded and Sarah asked Madeline to fetch Emily from the teachers’ lounge. While they waited, they chatted about things at the school and whether there were other things to implement or change. Jonathan was always looking to improve, change or make additions that would benefit the pupils and staff. Sarah had learned very early in her post, that he was a born leader and change was his consistent. Off course, he drew the line where discomfort was concerned and all the staff were thankful for that. Gratitude made them hunker to do his bidding.

It wasn’t long before Emily arrived at the office. “You looking for me?” she directed the question at Sarah after greeting Jonathan.

“Jonathan wanted to find out first hand how the new teacher was doing,” Sarah explained with a twinkle in her eye.

“She certainly knows her stuff,” Emily said with conviction. “You need not worry about the children walking all over her. She looks timid but she knows how to handle them.”

“Sounds like you two have cut the probation period,” he smiled.

“I am convinced that God knew what He was doing in hiring her,” Emily said slyly.

“Mm!” Jonathan humphed. “I didn’t see her at church though.” He casually shifted the subject matter but his eyes were probing.

“Oh she was there! Derrick and I drove her. She didn’t want to stay afterwards though. Probably too shy to meet new people.” Emily shrugged.

Sarah smiled. Task one completed for Hannah.

“Let’s see if she pitches at the course this Saturday,” he said without a smile.

“I have no doubt she will,” Emily stated boldly.

Jonathan shrugged but said nothing further, leaving the ladies on their own.

“I wonder why he is so harsh with Hannah?” Sarah asked thoughtfully.

“The Lord only knows,” Emily sighed, rolling her eyes. She went back to the teacher’s lounge before the break was over.

The week was uneventful but Hannah was sad when it came to an end. She had to say goodbye to Emily as a supervisor. But at least she would see her during the week at home. That Friday, Emily left early.

Sarah came to say goodbye to Emily and thank her for her assistance. She stayed after Emily left.

“Are you enjoying your class?” Sarah asked Hannah.

“Very much!” Hannah’s face lit up in a broad smile. “Thank you for offering me the opportunity.”

Sarah didn’t correct her that it was Jonathan who’d asked for her to be hired. Or rather God! Sarah just smiled warmly.

“You comfortable with everything?” she asked instead.

“Absolutely!” Hannah smiled. “I love this classroom. It is so very much what a child needs when spending so much time here.”

“That’s what attracted me to this school.”

They chatted a while about the school and Hannah was surprised it was a fairly young school, only four years in existence starting very small and growing fast. But the four years had been fruitful years, she concluded.

The conduct of the school was tied to the church itself. All patrons of the school had to uphold the principles of the church. Strict measures were in place for any deviations.

“Have you had anyone expelled?” Hannah asked in awe.

“In the beginning, yes. But over the last two years, there haven’t been any expulsions,” Sarah confirmed.

“Is there allowance for children of parents who do not attend this church, to learn here?”

“If we have capacity but so far we had no space for outside children,” Sarah said ruefully. “It would benefit them greatly if they were to attend. They don’t only learn academics but also the word of God.”

“It is a pity there isn’t room,” Hannah agreed. “I’m grateful I got in,” she said lightly.

Sarah laughed. “I hope that you don’t want out at any time.”

“Not a chance! Unless off course pastor Chandler asks me to leave.” Hannah shivered.

“I doubt that will happen,” Sarah said with vigour, knowing that Jonathan would not go against God’s wishes. Unconvinced, Hannah just smiled.

Chapter 3

Saturday morning was bitterly cold but Hannah made her way with determination to the training room on the church grounds for the course she had to complete. She was glad that she wasn’t the only one togged in a beanie, scarf and gloves.

There were quite a few people attending – it was amazing that so many people had joined this church recently – and many were there already. Registration was quick and delegates could help themselves to a hot drink while they waited to get started.

Seating was comfortable and the course began on time. It was a gruelling day but very informative. Fortunately, no one wanted to linger and chat for Hannah was tired and she just wanted to get home. She wanted to go straight into the shower and into bed thereafter. But it didn’t pan out that way.

Emily waylaid her as she opened the gate. “Hi!” Emily greeted enthusiastically ushering Hannah into the house and placing a mug of something hot to drink in her hand. “How did you find the first day?”

“It is quite an awesome course. Very informative. I thoroughly enjoyed it.” she said genuinely.

“Most people who attend the course have said that,” Emily nodded.

“Whoever came up with that course is brilliant. Great way to get people to realise their worth in Christ.” Hannah was dreamy.

“It was started by Jonathan actually. It was not meant to be a course. He intended it to be done in small groups during a weekday night. It was Ethan Jackson who championed it into a course. Ethan is a junior pastor who looks after the evangelism side of things.” Emily filled her in.

Hannah just nodded. “I’m going to read over my notes again tonight. Sounds like the next session will be quite interesting.”

“Yes it is. You must be tired,” Emily said suddenly getting revelation.

“A bit,” Hannah confessed. Emily released her then and before long, Hannah was asleep without having supper. In the morning, she was ravenous when she got up.

Church was just as awesome as the week before even though someone else preached. She supposed, she would get used to all the ministers and leaders at some stage but for now she was content to just sit and enjoy the service.

Once again, she did not wait with Emily and Derrick. This week she chose to tutor at the Donna Music Academy. Normally she didn’t work there on a Sunday but with having to attend the course on Saturdays, there would be no opportunity to tutor; something she really enjoyed doing.

Working at the academy, had kept her going financially while she had been waiting for a job and she was grateful for the fifty percent she earned with every lesson she gave. The thought to stop offering her services at the academy occurred to her but because she enjoyed doing it she was not sure when she would stop. Also, the students liked her and most wanted to remain with her which was not possible now that her schedule was different. Some, however, changed their schedules to accommodate hers. She was blessed!

She decided to continue and make a difference in people’s lives while she could. Most of her students were children, which she appreciated as it was her heart’s desire to teach children. Either their parents wanted them to learn music or make the music grade at their school. School hours just did not allow for students who struggled, hence the extra lessons. Donna’s…was grateful for the business.

At some stage, she guessed she should call it quits at the academy but until then, Hannah looked forward to inspiring music.

She was settling into her new life. Emily and Derrick invited her to supper every now and then. Although reluctant to intrude, she felt it more rude to decline.

Evenings spent with the couple, were enjoyable but they hardly spoke of their children; just tit bits of information here and there. They never probed about her family either, for which Hannah was grateful. She wasn’t quite ready to talk about her life just yet.

Her first month at the school flew by and Hannah felt as if she had been there forever. Principal Hart popped in now and then into the class but never made Hannah feel threatened or belittled.

During this time, she did not engage with Jonathan but she expected that he would check up on her sometime. That sometime was a Thursday afternoon! Hannah was preparing for Friday when Jonathan popped in.

“Hello, Hannah!” he greeted pleasantly.

She jumped because she hadn’t seen or heard him come in. “Oh, hello, Pastor Chandler,” she greeted timidly. Her hand was still on the puzzles she was laying out.

“Jonathan please,” he said with the same pleasantness.

Hannah shook her head. “I couldn’t call you that,” she said without explanation.

Puzzled, he walked forward and stopped in front of her. Hannah under pretence that she needed to get other items, walked away to stand behind her desk where she relaxed her shoulders, feeling safe. He stood where he was. Was he ever going to get her to stop trembling with fright whenever he was in close proximity to her? Especially since they would be in each other’s company quite a lot now that she was teaching at the school.

“Why can’t you?” he asked blankly.

“Call you by your name?” she reiterated.

“Yes,” he said slowly.

“You are the senior pastor and as a member of your church, I have to call you by your title. It’s what I’ve been taught.” She said with finality.

He wanted to laugh at the ridiculousness of the statement but the seriousness on her face stopped him. He let it go.

“You’ve been here a month,” he stated instead. She nodded. “Are you enjoying it here?”

There was no expression on his face or in his eyes, Hannah noticed. Perhaps, out of duty, he asked every knew teacher that. There probably were no new teachers since the school opened, though, she figured. She knew the previous kindergarten teacher had left only because her husband had taken a better job in another province and they had to move. No one actually wanted to leave the school.

“Yes, I am,” she said honestly, with humility. “Thank you.”

“I’m glad,” he said still without expression.

An awkward silence hung between them. Hannah wondered if he was thinking about what to say next or if he had some news to tell her that wasn’t pleasant.

“Did you enjoy the discipleship course?” he asked at length.

“Yes,” she nodded. “It ends this weekend. It is a brilliant course. I am so glad to have attended it.”

He looked at her with an expression Hannah did not recognise but didn’t say anything in reply. Instead he said goodbye and left. Unconcerned by his abrupt exit, Hannah sighed with relief, breathing normally again.

The next day, Jonathan visited Sarah. “How are things going?” he asked conversationally.

“Brilliantly. We are ready to start with the year end programme,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

“That’s wonderful,” he said distractedly.

“What’s bothering you?” Sarah asked after a short pause.

“I guess I’m just unhappy that she’s proving me wrong,” he sighed running a hand through his short, thick black, straight hair.

“Hannah,” Sarah stated. “Come with me,” she said firmly.

Jonathan obeyed, following her down the passage. All the well equipped, elegant classrooms had window panels that allowed one to look into the classroom from the passage. As they walked along the passage, they briefly glanced in at the classes being conducted. It was a delight to know that the pupils were paying attention.

Eventually, they stopped outside the kindergarten class where Hannah was telling the children a Bible story. She was seated on the floor with the children surrounding her in either a repose position or lying on their stomachs with their heads resting on their chin.

Hannah’s back was to the passage and she was shoeless, like the children, sitting crossed legged with her feet under her knees. She was totally comfortable as she read them the story. Each child was listening intently. Not excluding the children by just reading the story, she got them involved in it. By enacting the story with simple, effective actions and the children complied enjoying themselves.

Jonathan just stared into the classroom.

“She doesn’t love her job,” Sarah said gently. Jonathan’s head snapped in her direction with a look of panic, but Sarah was looking fondly at the group on the other side. “She loves them.” She inclined her head to the children.

For the first time, Jonathan could see why they were champions for Hannah Wilkens. He sighed. God knew she was good for the job but that was not the reason He wanted her here at The Shepherd’s House of Excellence and at Gateway to Eternal Life Church. He wished he was privy to that information but God would reveal all in His time.

“Just accept her,” God said so clearly that Jonathan wondered if it wasn’t Sarah who had spoken the words. But a glance at her told him she was rapt with the group in her sight and could not have spoken.

Rather than fight the One who was far mightier than him, Jonathan accepted that Hannah Wilkens was here to stay. They left without Hannah ever knowing they’d been there.

Saturday was a blistery day for the last day of the discipleship course. To end the course on a lasting impression, they were encouraged to sign up as volunteers at any department in the church to ‘grow’ them into disciples. A list was handed out for them to put their details against.

Hannah gave the praise and worship department a skip; even though they did an excellent job – no other church she attend had such a Spirit filled team. She also gave the children’s church a skip. Most of the others she was not sure she wanted to be a part of. Finally, she settled for the department doing charity work on behalf of the church. At least there she could blend in and not have to stand out.

During the four Saturdays on the course, she had made some friends around her age or slightly older; mostly single people except for one couple who was about four years older. They were married for a few months now and had just joined the church recently. In the short span of their membership, they were raving about the church and it’s pastors.

All the friends she made were great people and Hannah enjoyed their company. But she wasn’t apt to becoming bosom buddies with any of the people she befriended. At least not right away. Besides, she enjoyed spending time alone.

With promises of getting in touch with Hannah, they said goodbye. They would meet up again soon, not that it bothered Hannah if they didn’t. Emily was home when Hannah got in.

“Are you glad it’s over?” Emily called from her kitchen door which overlooked the cottage entrance.

“In a way I am,” Hannah confessed truthfully. “A part of me, however, would like to continue. It was so interesting. In all the years I’ve been a Christian, I’ve only just learned some of the most important things a believer should know.”

“It is an eye opener that course, which is why Jonathan insists every volunteer should attend. He strongly recommends it to the new comers as well.”

“And of course the school staff,” Hannah added.

Emily looked at her blankly then remembered that Jonathan had wanted Hannah to attend because he was not sure of her belief. Quickly, she nodded her head.

“Did you sign up for any of the departments to volunteer in?” Emily steered the conversation in another angle.

“I did. I thought the charity work one would be a good challenge,” Hannah said humbly.

“Oh, lovely. I help out there sometimes and it is a very rewarding service even if it is quite hectic. But they have an awesome team. It’s also Jonathan’s favourite department.”

Hannah grimaced; she seemed to be thrown towards him more than she wished for. Was God trying to drown her in Jonathan’s overpowering personality? Quickly recovering she asked, “How long have you been at Gateway to Eternal Life?”

“Since it started,” Emily informed.

“It seems that you have helped out almost every where,” Hannah said in awe.

“I lend myself wherever I can,” Emily said humbly. “Besides at my age, I have a lot of time on my hands,” she laughed heartily.

Hannah laughed too. She was aware that Emily was in early retirement. “I look forward to serving then.” Rubbing her arms to keep warm, she excused herself.

“Oh, how remiss of me,” Emily said aghast. “Please, do go inside and warm yourself.”

Gratefully, Hannah escaped into the cottage.

A message from the charity work department came sooner than expected – within that week. They were calling a meeting for all new volunteers to bring them up to speed on what they were all about. Fortunately, the meeting was scheduled for the Friday.

Also in that week, a long staff meeting was called. Hannah wondered what was going to take so long to discuss. It was scheduled from five to seven pm.

With two days out of her week, Hannah wasn’t going to see some of her regular students at Donna’s. She prayed they would be assigned good tutors. Sadly there was nothing she could do about missing those tutoring days.

All the teachers arrived at promptly five pm or just before for the meeting. Now that she knew most of the teachers, Hannah was comfortable with them. They were all very friendly and she even shared tea or lunch breaks with some of the younger teachers. There were some male teachers amongst the staff but the majority were women and all at least five years older than her.

Mrs Hart chaired the meeting while Madeline took minutes. Refreshments were provided which most partook of during the meeting. Almost nervously, Hannah thought amused. First, Sarah dealt with the usual stuff then moved on to the most important points of the meeting.

“Firstly, let’s discuss our matric farewell which falls on the first week of September and seeing that it is closer to the start of spring, it would be nice to have a spring theme,” she put out. “What do you think?” she asked the teachers.

Everyone was in agreement and already had ideas for how it should be set up. Madeline noted all ideas.

“Wonderful,” Sarah encouraged enthusiastically. “Now I need some teachers to volunteer to be chaperones. It is going to be held on a Thursday…” she looked hopefully around the group.

“I’m sure I could,” one of the male teachers said without a firm confirmation.

“Let me check with my husband, and I can let you know by the end of the week,” another teacher said.

Hannah feeling sorry for Sarah, immediately offered her assistance. “I can help,” she said firmly.

Madeline noted that as a definite. Others offered to let her know by the end of the week.

Sarah accepted that and moved on with the meeting. “Let’s get down to the business of the annual school production,” she said with great enthusiasm.

Everyone groaned except Hannah who was bewildered. Being new she had not even heard of the year end production until now and was curious why the rest were less than enthusiastic about it.

Timidly, she raised her hand. “What is the year end production?”

“Oh, off course, you don’t know,” Sarah said with realisation. “Madeline will you please fill Hannah in.”

She left the floor open for Madeline who with vigour and verve explained the whole thing to the group. “It is our team effort to display talent and engage all students. There is a lot of work involved but the children get a chance to shine for one night. The parents love it as much as the children,” she concluded excitedly.

At least Madeline was excited, Hannah mused. “Where is it held?” Hannah asked thoughtfully not having seen a stage in any of the rooms.

“In the main church,” Madeline answered.

Hannah nodded. It made sense. “When does it take place?” she asked her eyes widening.

“The first week in October. We allow for the children to study for exams afterwards.”

Again Hannah nodded. Even though it was only a few months away, she was sure they were used to the whole thing. Being new she was certain she would not need to be fully involved, probably play a small part in the whole thing.

The next part of the meeting was taken up with the discussion of the theme and what would be involved. Each teacher would be practising an item their class was to perform in the production. That sounded easy enough to Hannah. Along with some of the other teachers, Hannah was assigned as part of the committee. As a newcomer, she was to be the stage hand. Meaning, she was to ensure everything was available and in order for the production to run smoothly.

Overwhelming though it sounded, Hannah didn’t say anything contrary to their expectation. She could do this, she kept telling herself. She had to if she wanted to continue at the school. It would mean giving up her part time job at the academy. Sad, though it was, Hannah decided the school was more important.

With everyone in the know about the upcoming events, the meeting was adjourned with fervent prayer. Hannah was going to need the prayer and more prayers.

Chapter 4

Friday’s meeting was a lot less intense. The couple that headed the department were middle aged and welcomed everyone warmly before passionately introducing them to the work they were going to be involved in.

As overwhelming as it all was, Hannah knew that it was manageable, since they were not expected to be totally involved; just assist as necessary. Most of the work would already be done by the dedicated team which they had in place and who oversaw the entire programme of events.

All new members were assigned a team leader whom they had a chance to meet at the end of the meeting. Hannah’s team leaders was a lovely young couple who were just as passionate about charity work as the department leaders.

Hannah was convinced she was in good hands. They even noted who would need transport to and from the events. Very thoughtful! Hannah applauded. In fact so thoughtful that she got a lift home after the meeting.

Approximately, nine pm, Hannah started her weekend with a buzzing headache. However, a good sleep and headache pills, plus prayer, relieved her of the headache the next morning. She was ready to go again and took off early to Donna Music Academy, possibly for the last time.

The start of the week at school, was interesting in that after her class was dismissed, she reported to Madeline for the necessary equipping towards the production. Her head was spinning by the time she was given all the information and paperwork.

“Just let me know where you need help, “Madeline encouraged. “It is your first time and it can be overwhelming so don’t be afraid to ask.”

Hannah sighed with relief. “Thank you!” she whispered gladly. “I most certainly will. I am glad that you understand.”

“We all started there at one stage,” Madeline smiled sympathetically. “But you’ll get the hang of it quickly.”

Hannah hoped so. Although she had been involved in the annual year end in her church, it was nothing compared to the size of this one. Her role at home was minimal.

Taking all the information home with her, she spent the entire evening sorting through it and making notes as to how she would attend to the tasks.

In this manner, it wasn’t difficult to put things into perspective. And by the time she got to bed, she felt more relaxed about the whole thing. At least she wasn’t involved in pulling the entire production together. That was someone else’s task; a task she was glad she did not have. With each individual item being practised and then coming together with regards to timing, it seemed a mission impossible to Hannah. She shuddered at the thought.

Every afternoon, during the week, the production committee was expected to gather together and liaise with each other. As part of the committee along with the co-ordinator, the costume designer, make up artist, choreographer, etc., Hannah was expected to attend promptly for discussions on the layout. She made sure she did.

Individual items were to be practised during school hours within the confines of the classroom. Closer to October extra evening practises would be held, with all children who were involved in the actual production. The younger groups would need to be there only intermittently as theirs was a small part to play. Hannah was grateful for that.

Jessica Lacey was the co-ordinator for the production and was very thorough and knowledgeable. Hannah later found out that Jessica was the one who’d done the previous years’ co-ordination as well. Quickly Hannah got into the swing of things as the production layout slowly unravelled itself.

At the end of each day she was exhausted but excited by what would come out of it. Everyone else was too. It was only a week into the planning but things were already progressing.

Fortunately her Saturdays were not fully occupied which was good, Hannah reflected when she was called up to serve with the charity team that very weekend. They would be doing a soup kitchen at a nearby shelter.

It was a sad thing to see so many people homeless and without much in the way of finance, especially so close to a suburb where everyone was prospering in wealth. The members of the Gateway to Eternal Life Church, Hannah was sure, were almost all, if not all, prosperous people. It was something to thank God for and they were generous in their giving towards events like this.

The team was united in their efforts to feed and minister to the people who were there. By the time they were driving back, Hannah knew she had made the right choice in joining this department. Her team leaders dropped her off at home with a promise to get in touch with her soon.

Hannah didn’t hold her breath; they were busy people, Janet and Ron Moody. Yet, to her shame, they did make time to call her and find out how she found the outing and whether she was comfortable doing this sort of thing. Contact was made within the week, a pleasant surprise for Hannah. Yes, she would continue doing charity work.

The first rehearsal with the major group took place on the Wednesday afternoon, after school in the main church hall. Hannah had to be there to take notes as to what would be required for the scenes as well as any changes that needed to be made. It was the senior group who were starting off the practise that afternoon.

Jessica barked out instructions pertaining to how the scene would be enacted, both to the group and Hannah who wrote furiously. Then they settled a bit into the practice. After about twenty minutes into the practise, Hannah made a note in her book. It was more a question she didn’t want to voice.

‘Would it not be better to use song and dance for this part of the production?’ was the question she wrote down. Then continued to pay careful attention to the practice.

Enthralled by all that was going on in front of her, she was not aware that Jonathan had joined them. He had taken a seat in the row behind them. Not long after, Jessica allowed the group a five minute break.

“How’s it going?” Jonathan asked as soon as the group started to move off stage.

Hannah flinched and all her papers fell off her lap onto the ground. Jumping off her chair quickly, she retrieved everything in an untidy pile and stood up. He was leaning forward in his chair, his arms folded on the back of the chair that was vacant between Jessica and Hannah.

Hannah looked at him with wide eyes. After looking at her with an amused expression for a few seconds, he turned his attention to Jessica who had poised herself to face him.

The other committee teachers came into the loop of conference, preferring to stand with Hannah; much to her relief.

“It’s early days,” Jessica said mildly. “So we can’t really tell but they are putting in quite a bit of effort already.”

He didn’t say anything just nodded. Hannah got the feeling he thought it was lacking something and she gazed at him trying to gauge if it was so but could not read his expression and he wasn’t looking at her. If only she could share with him her thoughts! That would take a lot of courage to do, she reminded herself, so she endeavoured to keep silent.

“They usually start off uncertain but they end off quite polished,” Patience added with a smile.

“That is so true,” Lydia piped. “Remember last year, that boy, Owen? He had us pulling our hair out until the last minute and then put us to shame with his brilliant performance.”

Hannah looked from one teacher to the other at the information being passed out.

“All thanks to Jessica, it always is a superb production,” Greg complimented.

“Thanks guys,” Jessica said modestly.

“And it is going to be a superb production this year too,” Jonathan said with great faith before leaving.

Break over, the practice began again, ending at five pm. Allowing the other teachers to leave, Hannah assured them she would be fine to clear up and get everything back to the office. After all, she had no family to rush off to.

Not long after they left, Jonathan came back into the main church. “Did they leave you alone to clean up?” he asked concerned.

Fortunately she was up on the stage, a great distance from him, so was able to answer him without tripping up herself. “Oh, no! They didn’t deliberately leave me,” she answered softly. “I offered to do it.” She looked at him with truthfulness.

“You don’t mind?” he asked looking up at her with wonder in his eyes.

“Not at all! They have families they want to get to.” She smiled reassuringly.

“And you don’t,” he stated thoughtfully. Hannah just looked at him. “Do you miss your family?” he asked after a pause knowing that she was from Crystalview, a town at least three hours drive from Redlin, one way.

“Yes,” she answered simply. “But I get to speak to them every day. Besides I have made great friends here.” The gratefulness in her voice was enough to satisfy him.

“Here let me help you,” he said jumping onto the stage.

“Oh, no you don’t have to,” she said rather too quickly stepping away.

“But I want to, okay?”

A battle of wills ensued as they stared at each other. A battle that Hannah lost. Shrugging, she let him help her. Even though, she had succumbed, she was no push over, Jonathan realised gladly.

As they worked he asked questions. “So they made you the stage hand?”

“I believe all new teachers are to be stage hands first before they can be anything else,” she answered dismissively.

“Really? I must admit I am clueless about that rule.” He sounded casual, not upset.

“I actually think it is a great way to get used to the workings of the whole thing without feeling swallowed up by it,” she said without guile.

“That is actually a wonderful observation, Hannah. I should perhaps adopt that with the newbies.”

He said her name so easily as if they were friends and Hannah felt shy, forcing down the urge to bolt. “Thank you!” she said awkwardly.

They were done and after putting the last item into a box, he asked, “So what do you think of the production?”

“From what I’ve seen so far, it is great,” she replied with honesty.

“But lacking something,” he said aloud what she was thinking.

Her eyes grew wide with unease. “I think it’s fine,” she attempted.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he held up his hand. “It’s good but I feel it needs a bit of something to make it fantastic. It needs…spicing up.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Jonathan wondered why he felt it so easy to share his thoughts with her.

However, she was looking at him with understanding. No wonder he felt connected to her. She knew exactly what he was talking about.

“You think so too,” he said cautiously.

“I…No I think it’s fine.” She shook her head – the golden brown curls that escaped her knot, swaying with the movement – partly to deny what he was saying and partly to get her thoughts under control.

“It’s okay Hannah. Whatever you tell me will remain confidential.” His voice was soothing.

Hannah hesitated but the look of encouragement goaded her into telling him what she thought.

“I was thinking that song and dance routines would do the production more justice,” she began.

She could see his mind working. “What exactly were you thinking of?” he asked encouragingly.

His voice was so mesmerising that Hannah felt herself eager to share her thoughts. For the next ten minutes, they discussed what could possibly work.

“That is amazing, Hannah,” Jonathan praised when she was finished. And she hadn’t widened the gap between them!

“Really?” she asked very surprised.

He didn’t comment further but asked, “Would you mind if I put it to Jessica after giving it some thought of course?” The stricken look on her face, rushed him to add, “I won’t tell her it came from you if you don’t want me to.”

After a bit of thought, Hannah nodded. She did not want to upset anyone but she would like the production to be fantastic and if her ideas helped, then that would be wonderful. Jonathan’s pleased smile put her ease about her thoughts.

It was several days later, though, when Jonathan discussed with Jessica the changes he thought would be good for the production. He was careful to make it seem as if Jessica had initiated it and also careful to leave Hannah out of it.

Even though Jonathan would have liked to give Hannah the credit because he was very impressed with her ideas, he respected her wish to remain unnamed in the idea. He knew from her CV that her major subject was music but he had no idea how much she knew until the day she shared from her heart the ideas for the production. An endearing trait; her sincerity.

Jessica was in favour of anything that ‘spiced up’ the production. She needed help though on how to bring those changes about and enlisted all the committee members for input. They were ever ready to put forth ideas. Only Hannah was quiet. Eventually, Jessica turned to her.

“You’ve been awfully quiet, Hannah but I’m sure you have some ideas. Music was one of the subjects you included in your curriculum for your diploma wasn’t it?” Jessica asked encouragingly.

Hannah turned red, biting her full lower lip. Jessica, she knew had read her CV as she did everyone’s who was involved in the production. It helped her to know their strengths to be able to draw from. Not particularly geared to make suggestions directly; always via someone else, Hannah was reluctant to voice any. However, this was a chance to use her talent and she should, she knew. God had given it to her not to hide it under a ‘bushel’ but to let it shine for Him. And He had made it possible for her to be a part of the production.

Taking a deep breath, she started with a basic intro that got every one talking again, excitedly. They kept turning to her to fuel the ideas and finally they got a very good idea on what to do. Hannah was glad. She was, however, to continue as the stage hand which she accepted with relief. She didn’t fancy herself as co-ordinator.

With the new format, they were ready to practise again. Which meant at least twice a week, now. Evenings with Emily and Derrick were fewer but very welcome. It took the pain out of preparing a meal for herself. Hannah enjoyed talking to them and finding out more about the church and it’s beginnings. It helped her relax too.

Emily was always animated when she spoke about the church. But she never spoke intimately about herself. Yet Hannah felt a connection with this much older woman.

“So how is the school production going?” Emily asked conversationally.

“Great, actually!” Hannah answered positively. “I think the children are going to pull it off.”

“I’ll toast to that. I never get involved with the production but I know from Sarah that it is a nightmare to pull together. But the end product belies that nightmare,” Emily smiled.

“Same as the one the children’s church runs every year, which envelops about the same amount of children. Things can get pretty steamy among people when they’re practising but one can never tell there were tears and heartache when watching the performance,” Derrick laughed.

“I guess we keep missing the part where God says, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’”, Emily stated thoughtfully. “I tell you the angels are with those teachers whenever they practise and with those children when they perform.”

“True,” Derrick agreed with passion.

Hannah was awed by the couple’s understanding of one another and their togetherness. But she’d seen that between her parents too. They were always supportive of one another and never had Hannah or her siblings felt like they were unloved. Even now. She hoped someday she would find a spouse who understood her.

“Do you help out with the year end children’s church programme?” she asked the Garricks now.

“Us?” Derrick laughed. “No, we’re too old. But we don’t mind helping out with the Christmas programme.”

“We do assist a little bit with the year end programme, with the area planning and that kind of thing,” Emily confessed. “Nothing major.”

“Sounds like it’s going to be wonderful. I can’t wait to see it.” Hannah’s eyes shone with the hope of watching it.

“It is and your school production will also be wonderful,” Emily said encouragingly.

“I have no doubt it will be. Jessica is a wonderful co-ordinator,” Hannah praised.

“And every teacher and pupil is a wonderful participant,” Derrick said wisely.

Their faith in the production helped Hannah’s hope to soar. Even though no one would know of her actual involvement in the production, namely the musical pieces, she would feel the criticism worse than the others.

But these lovely people always made her feel encouraged and strengthened. She thanked God for bringing them into her life.

Chapter 5

With renewed energy, she was at the practice the next evening. But the evening did not go well. Jessica seemed to be distracted and the children were a little bit on edge. Eventually, they were dismissed. But no one dared to question Jessica who behaved as though nothing was wrong.

With a little more time this evening, Hannah decided to write lyrics, something she had not done for a while now. However, her attempts didn’t flow. Frustrated, she gave up and just watched television instead.

Although, she wasn’t completely paying attention to the programme on the screen, her head jerked up when she heard the word, ‘forgive’. The television was on a Christian channel – the Garricks had extended their paid channels to the cottage – and the preacher was speaking about being forgiven and forgiving.

It wasn’t so much the topic that caught her attention as the voice of the person presenting it. The voice was almost in her ear and ever so gentle. Hannah paid closer attention to the programme and by the end of it, she had tears streaming down her face.

Her breakdown was healing for her so much so that before she went to bed, she had the lyrics to a new song.

The next afternoon’s practice didn’t go so well either. Jessica was very distracted and let several hiccups go un-righted. But no one dared to question these oversights. Reason for Jessica’s behaviour, though, was soon to be revealed.

Just before the children were due to arrive for the next practice, Jessica stormed into the church and announced, “My mother is in hospital. I have to take the next few weeks off. I am sorry to do this to you but someone will have to take over. I will, however, finish today’s practice.”

With that she continued as if she had not dropped a bombshell. The team had to wait until after practice to sympathise with her as the children were already strolling in.

Jessica was a strong woman and Hannah admired her for not breaking under the pressure. As soon as she left, the others were flustered as to who would run the production. Hannah didn’t even want to voice any opinions. She just kept quiet.

After much deliberation back and forth, the others suddenly turned on Hannah. “We think you should be the one to take this production to the end,” they all chorused.

Hannah shrank back. “Me?” she screeched.

“Yes, Hannah. You could do this much better than we could. It was your ideas that made a great difference in the production.” It was Lydia who was pressing this point.

Hannah, however, was not in agreement with them. They went back and forth on the issue, ending up talking all at once.

“Are we having a discord here?” Jonathan asked mildly amused. Although he did not use stealth to enter the main hall, no one had noticed his appearance until he spoke.

Silence ensued as everyone stopped at the same time.

It was Greg who spoke up. “Jessica has taken the next few weeks off,” he stated.

“Yes, I know,” Jonathan said calmly.

“We need a new co-ordinator and we think Hannah should be the one to take her place, seeing that she came up with some good ideas for the changes we made,” Greg continued.

Jonathan gazed at Hannah who shook her head ever so slightly. But he was thoughtful. A few seconds of silence dropped on the group as they waited for Jonathan to speak.

“I think it will work,” he said at length, ignoring the horrified look on Hannah’s face.

“Thank you, Jonathan!” Patience said robustly.

He shrugged. “I have just as much faith in Hannah as the rest of you.”

Hannah wished the earth would swallow her. What had they got her into? Or more pointedly, what had Jonathan got her into?

“We all think she will do a stunning job,” they chorused. But Hannah wondered if they weren’t just trying to shirk the load. In all honesty, though, they did have families to consider and she was single without any encumbrance.

However, that didn’t make her feel any more capable. What if she botched up the whole production? What if she failed?

Jonathan watching Hannah while the others spoke, saw all the fleeting emotions of fear pass over her face and knew that he would have to do something to allay those fears.

The opportunity came when they all moved off in the direction of home now that the matter had been settled. All except Hannah who still had to pack up everything.

“Here let me help you,” he said taking up a box.

“I think you’ve helped me enough,” she said tightly busying herself with the task at hand.

“Hannah, I know you are afraid of doing this…” he began but she cut him off.

“Afraid? I’m terrified!” she looked at him with a heavy look. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“I know but you have to believe that you are not doing this alone.” He was gentle.

“How can I take on something like this? I know the others were being kind but do you really think they believe that I can? Or did they just say that so that they would be released from the task?” Agitatedly, she started moving around again, packing things back into the production box. “What did I do to deserve this?” She was close to tears.

“Hannah, stop!” Jonathan called patiently but she either ignored him or didn’t hear. She was mumbling again. “Hannah, stop! Look at me.”

His forceful tone made her jump but she stood still and looked at him, eyes wide, strands of curls falling over her left eye. She had not noticed him getting so close to her. She moved a good few paces backwards. With a sigh, Jonathan remained where he was. Already distraught, he didn’t want to upset her further.

“Hannah,” his voice was more gentle, “Philippians 4:13 says ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’. You are not doing this alone. Jesus will be at your side throughout the entire project. His angels will be given charge over. You don’t have to be afraid. You can do this with Christ. Remember it’s about Him and what He can achieve through us. We never do anything in our own strength.”

As he spoke, he could see that she was processing the words. When he finished, her shoulders drooped and she let out a deep breath.

“Will He help me?” she asked finally, doubtfully.

Instantly, Jonathan knew she was waging a war in her spirit but his spirit told him not to engage in that war just yet. There was coming a time when she would be able to reveal what was on her heart. And then he would be able to help her or rather God will help her. He silently prayed that for now she would give God a chance to work on the production with her.

“Remember, it’s about Him; He doesn’t care what we’ve done or where we’ve been. As long as we give Him our fears and discouragements, He will make all things work out. Nothing is impossible with God.” He smiled encouragingly.

A thoughtful look appeared on her countenance. “I am so sorry!” she suddenly burst out humbled. “Off course, it is about the children too. I forget that He is more than willing to help us. Thank you!” She gave him a grateful look.

“Good!” he said “And to assist you, I have just the person who could come on board.”

A wary look filled her eyes as she said, “Oh?”

“He isn’t in the school but he does work in our media department. It could help take away the overwhelming feeling,” he pitched with raised eyebrows.

“I’d like that, thank you.”

Her simple acceptance and trust in him, made him soar. It was the first time, she had felt comfortable with him. And he had been exposed to her inner fears! He didn’t doubt that she would be more comfortable around him soon for he was beginning to enjoy being around her. Her innocence and gentleness was soothing. And she was so beautiful! Jonathan pulled himself up short to stop his thoughts wandering where they shouldn’t.

A good while before practice began the next day, Jonathan, true to his word, introduced her to her ‘assistant’, whom she had to introduce to the rest of the team later as they were not present when Jonathan brought him to the main hall.

Luke Keller was young, around Hannah’s age, and full of fun, she would later discover and good looking too. They became instant friends. Luke made Hannah feel comfortable; he didn’t assume charge but waited for her instructions even though she was younger than him and less experienced. She was thankful for his willingness to help.

As members of the church, the others knew him and was not against him being there. A big relief for Hannah who could now go forward with the practise.

“Won’t this take up too much of your time?” Hannah asked Luke as they were clearing up after the practice.

He shrugged his broad shoulders in that easy manner of his. “I don’t have anywhere in particular to be and anyway it’s my passion.”

“What about your family?’ she asked thoughtfully.

“I don’t live with my parents so they won’t be affected. My room mate doesn’t have a say at all,” he grinned a dimple appearing on his right cheek.

“And what about a girlfriend, fiancée?” she raised an eyebrow.

“Are you always this frank?” Luke laughed, his eyes filled with mirth.

“Sorry!” she mumbled.

“Hey, no sweat!” he smiled encouragingly. “It’s nice to know you are working with someone who honours honesty. But to answer your question, I don’t have a fiancée; maybe a girlfriend but we’re not sure whether we’re going into a relationship. She is a bit sceptical so I have to be patient and move slowly.”

Hannah searched his face to gauge whether he was teasing or being serious as he had shared quite a bit with her on their first meeting. She herself was not open to sharing, and honest might be the last thing she was.

Satisfied that he was not pulling her leg, she answered supportively, “I pray that it will all be settled soon. After all, a good looking, sweet guy like you is quite a catch, I am pretty sure,” she said without amusement or teasing.

“Wow! You will give me a big head,” he laughed embarrassed. “But I am hoping our relationship will be settled soon!” he grinned. “In the meantime, we meet in the group.”

“Group?” Hannah asked puzzled.

“Yeah, it’s a group for young, single people who want to have fun without the worldly influence. We meet on a Saturday afternoon. Hey you should join us,” he said suddenly excited.

Not sure that she was ready to be a part of a ‘group’, Hannah didn’t say anything.

Picking up on her scepticism, he urged, “Just come see this Saturday and if you don’t like it, then you don’t have to attend ever again. I’ll fetch you so you won’t have to feel lonely.” His sincere plea washed over Hannah.

She couldn’t hide forever, she realised. So she agreed to give it a try. The first Saturday was actually not bad. Luke fetched her as promised and drove her to one of the group member’s house.

The group consisted of fifteen young adults between the ages of twenty and twenty five. Some of them she remembered from the discipleship course. They were very welcoming and friendly. Even Meredith, the woman Luke was hoping to start a serious relationship with.

Hannah could see why he was hooked on her. She was a Godly person with the right values and a caring nature, as well as pretty, tall, almost as tall as Luke, and slender. Meredith and Hannah fast became friends. Hannah joined them every Saturday thereafter.

The first Saturday, they played some board games as it was too cold to go outdoors. Everybody brought some refreshments and the day was delightful. Unaware that they had to bring refreshments, Hannah felt awful for coming empty handed but they soon dispelled her unease.

“Luke tells me you’re the new grade R teacher at the school,” Meredith stated conversationally.

“Yes, I am and loving it,” Hannah filled in before she was asked. She was seated with Meredith, Cheyenne, Gloria and Beth.

“He also said you were handling the school production,” Meredith continued.

“I wouldn’t say I was ‘handling’ it,” Hannah gave a small laugh. “I was made co-ordinator by default. The entire team is working on it so I guess I have a part to play,” Hannah said taking a deep breath.

“I think you are very brave to be taking on such a responsibility,” Beth said with awe.

“I do feel overwhelmed most of the time but then I remember what pastor Chandler told me,” Hannah said thoughtfully.

They all leaned in a little closer at the mention of Jonathan’s name, except for Meredith. It was Cheyenne who asked, “What did he say to you?”

Hannah realised she should not have mentioned Jonathan; they were being far too curious. “Oh, he said that we never do anything for ourselves but for God and that in Christ we can do all things,” she answered dismissively, trying to be as devoid of emotions as she could be.

They seemed disappointed. What were they hoping to hear? she wondered with disapproval.

“Oh, was that all he said?” Gloria asked disappointed.

Hannah looked at her confused. “Don’t mind them,” Meredith said soothingly. “They are always fantasising about him – in a romantic way,” she added at the blank look on Hannah’s face.

It took a few minutes before she actually got what Meredith had said. Hannah blushed. She acknowledged that Jonathan was a very attractive man; he certainly received the greater portion of attractiveness with a very muscular, well toned body and she should expect females to gush over him but she just hadn’t thought of him in that light. Or not allowed herself to. Anyway, she was far too intimidated by him to even think along those lines, she concluded dismissing the idea as ridiculous. And he probably thought she was too young and naïve. Good thing too! At present, her heart was not ready for a romantic involvement.

She was glad when one of the others interrupted to do some joint activities. She did not want to hear the girls discuss Jonathan while he was not present. He was a wonderful pastor and a caring person, she’d come to realise and she didn’t want to hear them turning him into something else. The afternoon ended with a delightful competition of games.

Chapter 6

With the support and help of everyone, Hannah was getting the production into place. She prayed every day for guidance and wisdom, something she hadn’t done in a long while. And God did not withhold guidance and wisdom. He was superb in giving that to anyone who asked. She hadn’t realised how much she’d missed out by not speaking to her Heavenly Father.

Luke was a pillar and very supportive. More than once she told him that. And each time he would laugh; his smile lighting up his square, strong face, the blue eyes becoming darker, making his wavy, shoulder length hair seem blonder.

She was grateful to Jonathan for lending her Luke. It must put a strain on the media department, though, she guessed. However, neither men seemed to mind. Not that she spoke much to Jonathan but when she did see him, he seemed quite happy that Luke was there for her. Hannah cherished the thoughtfulness but she didn’t dare voice it to Jonathan…yet.

All too soon, July was at an end. August was school holiday month. Usually, this holiday was taken up with practice which parents did not mind as they had some place to leave their children during the day while they were at work. And Hannah was not going to change that plan at all. Happily, she gave up her holidays, not that she had much to do in them anyway.

In light of the practice, the school ran a spiritually uplifting holiday programme for the children and during the programme, groups were pulled out one at a time to practice. The school hired a professional company to run the holiday programme which was a relief to the teachers as they could spend it with their families. At least those not involved in the production would.

The process worked very well. During this time, Hannah saw Jonathan more often but she maintained a safe distance between them. Often he would pop in during their practice session. But he never commented on anything.

Jonathan enjoyed watching how the production was unfolding; he was ever so glad that Hannah was taking it on so well. She really put her heart into the whole thing. Often, he had seen her coming early into the hall to pray before practise began. It thrilled him that she would do that.

It was a joy for him to, sometimes, see her working. She had an endearing way of gauging things; the movement of putting her head to one side when in thought, became familiar to him. He would sit at the back of the hall as the scenes unfolded before him but he never interrupted her.

Even though she looked so young and vulnerable, she never let the students take advantage of her. Jonathan was amazed at the authority she displayed. He should know better than to judge by appearances!

Several days later, thinking everyone should be gone home – it was well after practice – he went into the main church just to sit and pray. It had been a long, busy day and he needed some quiet time to replenish.

He was quite surprised when he walked in to find Luke and Hannah still there, discussing the production he assumed. They were standing quite close to each other. Hannah was looking up at Luke and they were laughing about something. He noticed they were very comfortable in each other’s presence. A pang shot through him and he reeled.

What was that? he thought and almost instantaneously realised that he was jealous. Of Luke. The horror of his reaction engulfed him. He just stared at them from the back of the hall for several minutes until he could move.

Quickly, he took himself off to his office and prayed for grace. But the words that came out were, “Lord, I love her!” With the realisation, came sorrow. He didn’t just love her with an agape love but with a physical love too. He wanted her to be in his life as his wife! He reeled from the realisation since he had not wanted to remarry. Yet here he was ready to marry a woman he had only just met. A women who was soft, gentle and caring, beautiful not only on the outside but also on the inside and no doubt Godly!

But she was so intimidated by him. Would she ever see him as anything more than her pastor? It was a torment he’d have to face until God revealed the truth to him.

“Tell me what I must do? Is she going to love me? Am I going to get hurt?” His questions were full of anguish. He didn’t want to get hurt…again.

But the only answer he got was that he should love her as God loved her. It was so frustrating when God would not give him a full answer. But that was what it was all about; waiting on God. And that’s what he would do as he always did.

That evening, he decided to take Emily up on her offer of dinner. He always found Derrick’s conversations soothing and soon he forgot his ailment. However, it returned quickly, when as they were sitting down, they heard the gate opening.

“Do you have another dinner guest?” Jonathan asked perplexed, not wanting extra people joining them tonight.

“No, that’s just Hannah,” Emily said casually.

“Hannah? What is she doing here?” he asked alarmed.

“She lives in the cottage,” Emily said as if he should know.

“She’s living in the cottage?” he asked slow in comprehending.

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?” Emily realised suddenly.

“No, you didn’t. Not that it is any concern of mine.” He strived to keep his voice casual.

“Mm, I wonder if she would like to join us for supper?” Emily voiced her thought.

“Why?” Jonathan was on edge.

“What is it with you?” Emily asked a little irritated.

“Sorry, it’s been a rough day.” Jonathan was striving to keep his voice normal but he could not face Hannah…just yet. This was the first time that happened. Normally it was she who was running away from him. He was thankful, Hannah had disappeared into the cottage.

Letting herself into the cottage, Hannah just wanted to get some rest and try to write a few more lyrics. So when Emily knocked on her door and invited her to dinner, she was more than elated that her yawn was big enough to swallow Emily.

“Oh, excuse me, Mrs Garrick,” Hannah said apologetically. “Been a tiring few weeks. I’m just gonna have something light and hit the bed. But thank you for the offer.” She smiled brilliantly.

Emily accepted her declination. “Next time maybe,” she smiled and went off.

Hannah sighed with relief. She had seen Jonathan’s Lexus in the drive and did not have the courage to see him in a social setting.

By the time Jonathan left, he was feeling much less agitated and he was sure the next morning things would look much better. God had this and whatever was to happen, must happen in God’s timing. Stressing about it won’t make the situation better.

After Jonathan left, Derrick helped Emily clean up. Jonathan had offered but both Emily and Derrick had declined saying that he needed to get some rest. Emily was thoughtful as she packed things away.

“Alright, spill it,” Derrick said lightly.

Startled, Emily’s head jerked up. Seeing the knowing look in her husband’s eyes, she sighed. “I get the feeling that Hannah is avoiding Jonathan and for some reason, he was avoiding her tonight.”

“Maybe they had a falling out about the production,” Derrick soothed.

“I doubt it. Sarah would have mentioned it and from what I hear, Jonathan has been a huge supporter of the production. Something he has never done in previous years.” Emily was thoughtful again.

“Maybe because Hannah is new and pretty young,” Derrick explained away.

“True. But it’s not the first time she has avoided him. Almost every time they’re in the same surrounding, she makes a fast get away. In the beginning she did admit that she was intimidated by him but I thought that was because she was new.”

“Then what makes you feel that she is avoiding him?” Derrick puzzled.

“I don’t know. Just a sixth sense. But I think I am going to investigate further,” Emily resolved.

“Are you thinking of playing at matchmaking?” Derrick asked fearfully.

“Only God can do matchmaking,” Emily retorted. “Besides I learnt my lesson a long time ago,” she sniffed. “There is something between them and I intend to find out but only God can get two people together if they are meant for each other.”

She closed the subject there but spent numerous hours thinking about it. She needed to speak to Hannah; she was probably the easier target. But opportunity didn’t come easily.

Saturday came so quickly for Hannah. This week there was another charity event which she attended. Energy levels were low when they were done but she was looking forward to spending time with the young people who met regularly. They were going to the movies – at least it was a relaxing activity – and Luke had offered to fetch her. She was ecstatic that Meredith was in the car. Already the pair seemed to be quite comfortable with where their relationship was heading and it seemed to be heading towards a possible engagement, Hannah thought happily.

She had been praying for the two of them for they were very dear to her but she knew that although, she felt they were meant for each other it didn’t mean that God did. She would have to let His plan prevail. Wasn’t it better to let God be the matchmaker? After all, He did create each person’s spouse long before they even existed. But how did one know who was that spouse? It was a mystery to her.

Although it was a pleasant day, most of the young people hadn’t pitched; they ended up with just seven of them. The seven who really loved Jesus. Afterwards they went for burgers. It was a fun dinner, very informal and lots of laughter. Hannah realised she missed being in a youth group. At home, her church had a small group of youngsters but they were like family and Hannah had felt comfortable. Now too, she realised, she was comfortable, even though in the beginning, she was sceptical they would accept her.

She had grown up or rather matured, she told herself. Never before had she been away from her family; this was the first time in her life. Scared though she had been at first, she had adjusted quite well. God had truly been with her even though she didn’t think He cared. And this group of young people made her realise that she was doing rather well on her own.

Talk around the tables was general until Meredith announced that her family was adopting.

“Who are they adopting?” James asked surprised.

“It’s a young female who was rescued from a brothel,” Meredith said with feeling. “She is sixteen now, but has been there since she was nine.” Meredith continued to tell them how the teenager had been cunningly lured into the sex trade and could not escape the violent environment.

That sparked off indignant comments about the absolute evil surrounding children. Hannah was too distressed to comment. She didn’t know much about human trafficking or the sex trade business but she did know that an innocent child had lost her childhood and will never regain it, all because of some people’s selfish desires.

It hurt to think that there hadn’t been anyone to protect the young child and she wanted to cry but she held it back while the others tore apart people they knew nothing about.

Around nine pm, the group dispersed. Luke dropped Hannah off before Meredith. As soon as she got into her cottage, she locked the door behind her and wept for the child who had been wronged. When her tears were spent, she prayed that God would help her to help children in this predicament. How that would come about, she didn’t care for she decided she could not stand by and do nothing.

Her sleep was induced with images of crying children. And only prayer for peace helped to soothe her sleep.

Sunday morning, she was exhausted and pre-occupied with what she heard the night before. When Emily knocked on her door, she opened it distractedly.

“Oh!?” Emily said questioningly, taking in Hannah’s disturbed countenance. “I wasn’t sure you were coming to church today.” Hannah was usually waiting out front.

“Sorry, Mrs Garrick,” Hannah apologised tiredly.

“Are you alright?” Emily questioned concernedly.

“Let’s talk in the car,” Hannah said with hope. And on the way to church, she recounted the topic spoken about, among her friends.

“I feel so useless,” Hannah sighed.

It was Derrick who counselled with her. “Hannah, life is filled with evil people and they aren’t going anywhere any time soon, especially since we are living in the end times. God knows evil exists in this world but He cannot take our free will away.”

“But why would people do such things to children?” Anguish racked Hannah’s voice.

“That is a question that plagues us too but God loves everyone unconditionally and His heart breaks when we hurt each other. But the burden is not for us to bear; it is for God and He can handle it. He wants us to continue praying for both the victim the victimiser and know that God loves them equally. Otherwise our faith in Him is rendered useless. Let God redeem them, Hannah.”

Derrick spoke with such tenderness that Hannah became placid. She understood that she was not trusting God when she felt useless because God was the only one who could mobilise those who are part of His plan. Still, she wanted to be a part of the redeeming plan but she didn’t say anything to the Garricks. Besides, they had parked the car a long while ago.

“Why don’t you sit with us?” Emily offered kindly.

Hannah hesitated before answering, “Sorry, Mrs Garrick, I promised to meet up with Meredith.”

“That’s okay! We can meet up after service.” Emily looked long at Hannah before asking, “Are you okay? About the whole matter?”

Hannah nodded. “I understand what Mr Garrick was saying.”

Unconvinced, though she was, Emily didn’t pursue the subject. Instead, she gave Hannah a brief hug before releasing her. She made a resolution though, to get Jonathan to chat with Hannah. Emily was quite aware that Hannah held Jonathan’s advice in high esteem. And throughout the service she became more convinced that was what she should do.

So as soon as service was over, Emily sought out Hannah who was chatting with Meredith. Both women smiled warmly when they saw Emily.

“Mrs Garrick!” Hannah acknowledged pleasantly. “This is Meredith!” she introduced.

“Hello, Meredith!” Emily greeted lovingly.

Meredith returned the greeting before bidding them farewell, knowing that Emily was there for a reason. Hannah, too, suspected that Emily was there for a specific reason. That suspicion was confirmed, when Emily got right to the point.

“I couldn’t concentrate on the service today,” Emily began. Hannah looked at her wide-eyed but didn’t interrupt. “I don’t believe that you were fully convinced about what Derrick said to you in the car.” Hannah looked guilty. “Don’t be ashamed, Hannah!” Emily soothed. “Our revelation doesn’t always come immediately. So I was thinking that you should speak to Jonathan about your anguish,” Emily finished strongly.

Hannah cringed. Although, she knew he would be the right person to speak to – she believed and acknowledged his word – she just could not bring herself to approach him.

“I guess I should when I get a chance,” she stated.

“Why don’t you go speak to him now?” Emily suggested pointing to where he was.

Jonathan was busy chatting to some older men whom Hannah knew were the church board members. Off course, they wouldn’t mind interruption but Hannah was not bold enough to do that or face Jonathan.

“Oh, no, I am sure that I could do that in the week,” Hannah said turning away.

“I see that he is coming this way,” Emily said joyfully.

Hannah’s heart started beating faster. “Gosh, look at the time,” she stated not looking at Emily. “I have to go to the academy.” Not waiting for Emily to reply, she hurried off towards the exit.

Emily shook her head. She was now more than ever convinced that Hannah was avoiding Jonathan. She would have to confront Hannah soon.

Chapter 7

Soon came that afternoon when Hannah got home from the academy. So as not to be labelled a liar, Hannah spent the afternoon tutoring there.

It was five in the afternoon and Emily was in the kitchen. Derrick was out visiting so Emily took the opportunity to make pies for freezing.

“Hi, Hannah!” Emily called out of the half opened door of the kitchen. “Come and have a drink with me.”

Although Emily’s voice was cheery, Hannah had the feeling the older woman had an hidden agenda. Could she decline the invitation without seeming too rude?

“You look like you could do with a nice apple pie and cocoa,” Emily decided for her.

Hannah had no option but to comply. Smiling sweetly, she entered the kitchen and sat at the table while Emily dished up some apple pie for both of them then set about to make the cocoa. It was a painstaking wait for Hannah who wanted to know what Emily was really up to.

Emily, however, was determined to make Hannah wait it seemed as she took her time to make the cocoa and chatted about menial things. Finally, Emily sat down at the table with Hannah.

“So how has your music tutoring been going?” she began.

“Very few and far between since I don’t have much time to tutor now,” Hannah said politely even though she wanted to get to the point.

“I guess we have to give up some thing if our schedules are too busy. I hope though that you would be able to get back into it once the production is over.” Emily took her time to sip cocoa, not expecting an answer.

Unable to touch anything at the moment, Hannah just looked on as Emily enjoyed a sip of cocoa.

“Did you give the subject we spoke about this morning, any more thought?” Emily asked kindly, after a while.

“Actually, I did think about it but not as much as before. I understand that these things require a lot of prayer,” Hannah said evasively.

“You really should speak to Jonathan,” Emily reiterated.

Hannah nodded without verbal commitment to do so. Emily stared at Hannah who squirmed inwardly at the scrutiny she was undergoing.

Suddenly Emily burst out with, “Why do you always avoid Jonathan?” wearing an uncomprehending expression.

Taken aback, it took Hannah a few seconds before she could answer. “I don’t avoid him,” Hannah tried to deny fruitlessly.

“Like this morning? He was coming our way and you rushed off. I’ve noticed that you’re not comfortable around him.” Emily was sympathetic rather than judgemental.

Hannah felt ashamed. Nervously, she confessed, “He is an intimidating figure. Don’t you feel that he is?”

Emily gave a short laugh. “I guess he can be. Probably doesn’t want to end up like his father who died when Jonathan was twelve. His father was a minister who died from burnout,” Emily explained. “From all his siblings, he was the most affected.”

“Wait, pastor Chandler has family?” Hannah voiced with genuine surprise.

Emily looked at her puzzled. “Everyone has to have family. How did you think we come about?”

“I know it sounds silly but it’s like he just was,” Hannah said lamely. Emily gave her a blank look. “Sometimes I think that he just existed,” Hannah explained. “Like he’s always been there – human but not like the rest of. For me he comes across tough and unbeatable. It’s as if he will just come flying in to rescue the needy or if there is a crisis he will sort it all out with no mess or fuss,” Hannah described hopelessly her eyes pleading with Emily to understand what she was getting at.

“You mean like Superman?” Emily asked incredulously.

“Yeah, I guess so. He just seems so… not of this world.”

Emily looked ahead thoughtfully. “I guess I never saw him like that but come to think of it, even as a little boy, he was always attempting to be a hero. He would never accept defeat.”

Hannah stared at Emily as she processed the statement just made.

“Oh, my gosh, you’re his mother,” Hannah covered her face with both hands, momentarily, as the revelation hit her.

“Yes,” Emily said uncertainly.

“I am so sorry, Mrs Garrick for saying all those things about your son,” Hannah apologised profusely, her face red.

“Nonsense! I think it is refreshing to hear someone speak so honestly. Very few people do that these days.” Emily laughed. “Anyway, I don’t think Jonathan would mind being called Superman. Or anyone else for that matter.” She laughed heartily.

“Please don’t tell him or anyone else I said that,” Hannah pleaded.

Emily simply nodded without committing not to. Naively, Hannah accepted that she would not.

“So if you are his mother, then he is the son who stayed in the cottage?” Hannah asked dreading the answer.

“True,” Emily acknowledged.

Hannah groaned inwardly. Would she never be rid of the connection that seemed to be between them?

“When did you and Mr Garrick marry?” Hannah asked to avoid thinking about it and to not ask questions about Jonathan’s divorce which she was pretty sure was a closed subject and had nothing to do with her at all.

“Eight years ago,” Emily stated.

“And where are your other children?”

“My oldest, Paul, is in Dubai for a few years. He’s an IT Specialist. Ruth, my youngest, is living in the UK with her husband. They’ve been married for a year now. She writes for a travel magazine.”

“Does Mr Garrick have children?”

“Yes, he does,” Emily nodded. “Two daughters, both married and living abroad. Ashleigh and her husband work at the TBN studios and live there. Grace lives in Canada. She’s a doctor.”

Hannah didn’t want to ask about Derrick’s first wife and was surprised when Emily volunteered that his wife divorced him when the children were very young. He hardly got to see them because they lived in a different province. He had not been a believer back then but came to know the Lord when he was in the midst of trials and tribulation.

“What a testimony!” Hannah exclaimed. Just then the subject of their conversation walked in.

“Is that apple pie I smell?” he asked cheerily greeting the ladies as he came in.

It was a cue for Hannah to leave which she gladly did in a hurry. She didn’t want to spend any more time talking about their families, especially hers. Not just yet, anyway.

Hannah reflected on the information Emily had given her about her family. Why Hannah thought that Jonathan was an only child or with no parents around him, she could not fathom. She just did. And that was remiss. Off course he was human even if he came across as invincible.

She sighed with regret for having voiced her thoughts to Emily. But it was too late now. However, she trusted the older woman not to repeat it.

Emily, however, was amused at Hannah’s perception of Jonathan. She had never heard her son being described in such a way, especially by a woman. Many women had complimented him on his looks, physique, manners, even doting on him, dreaming of becoming the next Mrs Chandler. It was the first time someone had not seen him as husband material.

Emily sighed! Hannah would make the perfect wife for him but she was not going to match make. His first wife had been her matchmaking and what a disaster that turned out to be. No she was not going to interfere in her son’s life especially where marriage was concerned. He was happy to let God sort that out and she should be too. God knew who should be the woman to stand with Jonathan in his ministry, if there was to be a wife, and interfering would only get her into trouble.

“What are you puzzling about?” Derrick asked watching his wife struggle with something.

“Oh, nothing to puzzle about, actually. I was just thinking about Hannah and what a wonderful person she is. Do you know that she thinks of Jonathan as a kind of superman?” Emily laughed at Derrick’s look of pure surprise then proceeded to tell him about the conversation the two women had earlier.

“I have never heard anyone describe Jonathan like that,” Derrick laughed. “I can only imagine how high his ego will soar when we tell him.”

Emily agreed but they didn’t get a chance to tell him until Wednesday. They invited him for supper which he readily excepted.

Hannah was in the cottage when Jonathan arrived for supper. He was surprised that Emily didn’t ask Hannah to join them. But it wasn’t for him to say anything. After all he had not wanted her there the last time he had come for supper. Of her free will, Emily disclosed Hannah’s reasons for not joining them..

“Hannah didn’t want to join us. She is working on the production,” Emily said as an afterthought. No one commented on the statement. She was glad because she had readily accepted Hannah’s declination, earlier. They went ahead with supper.

“How’s your day been?” Derrick asked casually.

“Better than it’s been in a while,” Jonathan confessed.

“How’s the production going?” Emily asked also casually.

“Very well from what I can see,” Jonathan said levelly.

“I guess Hannah’s doing a great job,” Derrick said proudly.

Jonathan looked at the man with a wondering look. When did he also become an Hannah fan? “Yes, I would have to admit that she is. I guess looks can be deceiving.” He smiled at the memory of her doing her job to the best of her ability.

“It sure is,” Derrick agreed readily.

“I must admit I didn’t have any doubt in her from the beginning,” Emily said proudly. “She certainly has proven herself. Makes you wonder why God sent her here.”

Emily was looking at Derrick intensely and Jonathan wondered what they were up to. He had a feeling they were wanting to say something but didn’t know how.

“I guess the support of the group also helps,” Jonathan added, shrugging.

The two older people nodded. “But you have to admit she isn’t like anyone we are used to.” It was Emily who brought the topic back to Hannah.

“I guess not,” Jonathan said dismissively. He had always thought she was different but he was not prepared to discuss his thoughts with anyone, especially his mother. He remembered how hard she had taken his divorce.

“She comes from a small town but she certainly doesn’t have small ideas,” Emily continued thoughtfully. “She only has good things to say of everyone she comes in contact with.”

Wondering where the conversation was going, Jonathan just nodded. However, he was wide eyed when Emily poured out, “Do you know she thinks of you as Superman?”

He wondered if he heard correctly but Emily continued to relate to him the conversation she and Hannah had the Sunday before. At the end of it, Jonathan’s ego was definitely boosted.

Emily and Derrick thought it was funny but he cherished what Hannah thought of him. He was well aware that she would never approach him with that sort of thing. There had to be a way to allow her to get to know him. He knew he had to try.

It also disturbed him that he might never get to tell her how he felt before she might develop feelings for Luke, if she hadn’t already.

But allaying Hannah’s intimidation of him was proving more difficult than he anticipated. She was determined to stay away from him and spent no time with him alone. In fact she never approached him about anything of her own volition. Therefore, it was a huge surprise when she burst into his office one day before practice.

It was towards the end of August when the school would be opening soon and the production practice would return to the usual afternoon slots. Much practise had taken place during this time, more so than in previous years, thanks to Hannah’s availability and dedication.

He had just finished meeting with some parents and was preparing for the next meeting when Hannah burst into his office. She was furious. He had never seen her that angry. He just stared at her.

“How could you?” she ground out.

He wondered how she could still be in control of herself with so much fury radiating from her whole being. And look so beautiful in that moment. He shook his head. He needed to focus.

“Hello, to you too Hannah!” he greeted pleasantly with absolute calm. But she just glared at him. “Do what?” he asked calmly.

“How could you take Lisa off the production? At this late stage?” Her hands were curled into fists.

He wanted to smile. For all her display of calmness and self containment, she really was hiding a lot of passion, he observed. But to point that out, would just fuel the fire.

“Lisa broke the rule of fraternisation on school property and she needs to bear the consequences of breaking the rule. We cannot tolerate disobedience.” He was calm and cool.

At first she just stared at him but the anger in her eyes didn’t dissipate. With a cold look, she said in a very steady and calm voice, “Even God shows grace and mercy to the disobedient,” before storming out of his office.

It took Jonathan a full five minutes to grasp what had just happened. He could not believe that the Hannah who was so fearful to stand in close proximity to him, had just spoken to him so vehemently. But he would learn that when she was fighting for someone else, she rooted out self.

And she was correct. They had not considered speaking to Lisa about her actions and making the seventeen year old understand where these things could lead to. He had failed the youth. And it had taken a very brave teacher to point that out.

Hannah was still fuming when she got back to the hall but kept her emotions under control while adjusting the team to replace Lisa. Fortunately, she had trained two students for the role and Lisa’s replacement, Genevieve was more than adequate, maybe even better suited.

Although the children did not pick up on Hannah’s disposition, Luke did and he ensured that he didn’t further irritate her.

“Tough job, eh?” he said jestingly when they were packing away.

“What?” Hannah asked dazed.

“You’ve hardly acknowledged any of the team today,” he pointed out in a mild manner.

“Oh, gosh, I’m sorry!” she said apologetically. “Just frustrated by school rules.” She smiled but refused to divulge what or who had upset her.

Luke left it alone although, he pretty much suspected it had to do with Lisa being replaced.

The next day, at practice, Hannah was surprised to see Lisa in the hall with the other children.

“Hi, Lisa!” she greeted the youngster pleasantly. “Don’t you have classes to attend?”

“Not any more! Pastor Chandler has allowed me to participate in the production but not in the role I was supposed to. He said maybe they should have had more grace towards my indiscretion.” The girl shrugged, smiling gladly.

Hannah was stumped. He had heard her? He had heard her, she thought ecstatically. He really was a remarkable man. And not afraid to admit his mistake, she analysed. That was really big of him. A warm glow came over her at the thought of him heeding her words and she hadn’t even been nice to him about it. An apology and thank you was in order. But she never got a chance to thank him until much later that week.

Chapter 8

By Friday, Hannah was sure that she was doing something wrong! Genevieve was just not getting one verse of the song she was to sing in the production, correct. Although she was very tired and looking forward to going home and resting – the next day the singles group was meeting at Putt Putt for a social – Hannah stayed after all the other children left, practising Genevieve’s solo with her. Luke promised to drop her off afterwards, which was a blessing as she wasn’t sure she could manage a bus ride home in her exhausted state.

Jonathan thinking that everyone was gone made a turn to the hall to see if Hannah needed help with packing away. She had been working hard and he could see that she was very tired. As he entered the hall, he was transfixed by the sweet singing he heard. Edging into the hall, he was surprised to see Genevieve and Hannah at the keyboard.

He was even more surprised when he saw that it was Hannah who was singing as she trained Genevieve. She would sing a line or two and get Genevieve to repeat then correct the pitch or whatever was lacking. Then she would play a bit of the piece on the keyboard for Genevieve to sing to and correct as necessary. It was a beautiful sound and Jonathan had no idea that Hannah could sing like that. This woman was full of hidden talent, it seemed.

Engrossed in the practise, the two females didn’t see Jonathan come all the way to the front of the hall. They continued to practise until Hannah said, “I think that’s enough for now. You are doing really well.” Hannah smiled encouragingly.

“I really don’t know why I can’t get that piece,” Genevieve wailed.

“Maybe you’re just a bit shy,” Hannah said lightly.

“Or maybe just a bit scared?” Jonathan piped in.

Startled, the two turned their heads in his direction and looked at him nervously.

“You two are beautiful singers,” he complimented with a winning smile.

Genevieve acknowledged his compliment with a shy smile. Hannah, on the other hand, just looked away but not before he caught a look of distress on her face.

“Genevieve, you should pray and ask God what is causing a block in that piece,” he suggested helpfully.

“That is a very good idea, Genevieve,” Hannah agreed.

Now it was Jonathan’s turn to look startled. He hadn’t expected her to agree with him after she had not been very happy to see him there.

“I will, pastor Chandler, Miss Wilkens,” Genevieve said with conviction. “Thanks for the advice. Goodbye.!”

They greeted her goodbye and Hannah began to pack up, ignoring Jonathan. Uninvited, he helped her.

“You really do have a beautiful voice,” he attempted casually.

“Thank you,” she acknowledged disinterestedly.

“Does it run in the family?” he asked lightly.

She looked at him blankly before realising that he was referring to her singing. She felt bad; he was really genuinely complimenting her and she was being rude. Being thrown by his presence was no excuse to be rude. She just wished he had not heard her.

“Singing was a requirement for the music module in the teaching diploma,” she shrugged answering indirectly. “We had to do it,” emphasising the tediousness of the task.

“In my opinion, no one sings like that unless they’re born with a voice for it,” he said zealously. “But you don’t like to make it public knowledge,” he stated knowingly.

Expecting him to tell her that she should give God the glory through her voice, like she often heard, she was thrown by his non-judgemental manner. She stood still and just looked at him, seeing for the first time, his Christ-like character.

“Thank you,” she said humbly with feeling.

“For what?” he asked taken aback. He was not expecting her to be anything but distant.

“For not judging me,” she voiced.

Oh, I judged you alright, when you first walked into my office, he thought but he was not going to tell her that, especially now.

“Most people are telling me that I am not honouring God with my voice by keeping it to myself,” she continued. “But I just don’t feel the pull towards singing publicly. I feel more comfortable with teaching people to sing rather than actually singing.” She was surprised she actually confessed that to someone she had not known for very long. She didn’t usually air her inner thoughts and feelings.

“Then that’s probably where God is leading you,” he said thoughtfully. She looked at him puzzled. “Often we think that everything should add up. But God knows the plans He has for us and it certainly isn’t what other people think it is. It is what He knows it is. And that’s Whom we follow,” he explained.

Hannah thought for a moment. It made so much more sense, even if it did sound complicated. “Gosh, that puts a lot of things in perspective,” she said amazed. “You certainly have an inspired knowledge of the word of God.”

“Well, I didn’t go to Bible School for nothing,” he grinned.

It took Hannah a few seconds to get that he was teasing. But when she realised that he was, she couldn’t help but smile.

“I am glad that you feel better,” he said gently.

“I do, thank you,” she smiled.

“That’s a lot of thank you’s in one evening,” he said amused. “I think I am going to keep you around as my champion.”

She laughed. “Don’t know if that’s a good idea,” she answered good naturedly. “But I have one more thank you.”

“Keep it coming,” he teased.

“I want to thank you for letting Lisa back in the production.”

“I should thank you,” he said humbly. “You made me realise that grace and mercy abounds abundantly from God and we need to exercise that as well.”

“Oh, no need to thank me. You would have figured that out soon,” she said lightly with a twinkle in her eye.

Jonathan was mesmerised by those eyes. He could stare into them forever. He pulled himself up short. He wanted to spend forever with her but he didn’t want to alarm her and send her running away from him. It was enough that she was in the same room as him. Should he start the ball rolling with small talk about things other than the school or the church?

As he was contemplating his options, Luke walked in with a cheery greeting which they both returned; Hannah just as cheery, Jonathan not so cheery.

“You still busy with packing?” Luke asked redundantly.

“Sorry, I took longer with Genevieve than I anticipated. I’ll be as quick as I can,” she apologised getting back to packing up.

“No sweat. I have nowhere to go anyway. I’ll help you pack up.”

“Sure, that will be great,” Hannah welcomed the extra help. ”Don’t want you getting home too late,” she added.

Nonplussed, Jonathan was deep in thought as to what their plans were. Obviously, they were leaving together. But to ask would be rude. He had no right to intrude in her life, at least not yet. Staying to help though was torture for him, as the two of them conversed with each in an easy manner, so as soon as they were almost done, he excused himself. The other two didn’t seem to mind which caused him more torture. Neither Luke nor Hannah were aware of how miserable he was as they wrapped up.

Putt Putt was an interesting game for Hannah, never having played it before. It was also very enjoyable she decided. Relaxing too. Something she sorely needed right now with the stress of the production taking its toll. Afterwards the guys went off for another round while the ladies sat around the wooden table. The weather was a lot more pleasant than it had been.

They chatted about fashion, magazines and guys. Not at all fashion conscious, Hannah barely paid attention to their conversation and only responded when a question was directed at her. She came fully awake though when they asked her about the school.

“Are you enjoying teaching at the school, Hannah?” Chloe asked conversationally. Chloe was the doll like beauty. Hannah remembered she was dating one of the guys in the group, named Cole. He was as handsome as she was pretty.

“I’m loving it,” she answered with passion.

“You were quite fortunate to get into the school,” Chloe said with a smile that her eyes didn’t reflect. Hannah was bewildered. “From what I know they only hire married teachers who are older than twenty six.”

Hannah tried to comprehend what Chloe was saying and why she was being offhand, but the next statement completely shifted her thought pattern.

“You must get to see Jonathan daily,” Angela, another pretty girl said dreamily.

“Er…no.” Hannah was starting to feel uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going. She was already put off by the familiar use of Jonathan’s name.

“You are so lucky to be near him so often,” Jade said with glazed eyes. “He’s so dreamy. I envy the woman who is going to marry him.”

“Hannah’s at school all day, working, so I doubt she would get to see him often,” Chloe said smilingly but Hannah saw the look of disapproval and dislike in her eyes. Hannah shivered. She had suddenly become the victim of their malice and she didn’t even think of Jonathan in a romantic way. Did she?

“Girls, I don’t think you should be talking about our pastor in that manner,” Meredith said firmly.

Relieved that Meredith had come to her rescue, Hannah sent her a grateful look. But the others gave Meredith a narrowed look. They were vultures, Hannah thought, sadly. And Chloe seemed to be the worst one among them, even though she was dating someone.

That night, still upset about the treatment from the other girls, Hannah played their conversation over in her mind, while she made herself a sandwich. Admittedly, Jonathan was very good looking; tall and broad shouldered – a woman could lean on him with trust – perfectly chiselled, clean shaven features, a strong forehead and square chin, hair as black as ebony, straight, short and neat. She had seen women turn their heads admiringly in his direction, when he walked into the room. But to attack her for being in the school just because he was in the church more often than not, was a bit far fetched. They saw her as a threat and she couldn’t understand why.

If only they knew that her relationship with Jonathan Chandler was strictly professional and she was absolutely certain he would not look at her in a romantic way. Especially with so many more beautiful women surrounding him. She laughed aloud at the ridiculousness of their musings. But a small voice asked, “Is it ridiculous?”

Hannah stood still! Why would that question be asked? She and Jonathan hardly spoke to each other and she could not bear to be close to him. Didn’t that indicate just how intimidated she was?

Intimidated or afraid that you would lose your heart to him? The small voice asked.

Hannah reeled! Was she afraid not of him but of herself? She didn’t want to think about it and shoved the thoughts aside. She had other more pressing things to think about right now. But the niggling feeling remained.

September marked the beginning of the last term of the year, the last month of practice, the matric farewell party and warm weather. Fortunately there was another committee to handle the matric farewell, leaving Hannah to just pitch up and chaperone. So she could put that event out of her mind until the farewell date.

With just one month before the production, every one was nervous. And as with every event, anything that could go wrong went wrong.

Lydia the costume designer, was in a frenzy over the required material not arriving as planned. The company she’d ordered it from had only just informed her that they did not have stock.

“What am I to do?” she wailed to the group who sympathised with her. They were meeting to discuss the final stages before they started practise.

It was Hannah who calmed her down by saying, “Lydia, don’t fret so. God will make a way for us. Everyone, let’s make a few calls to friends and families to see if anyone knows of fabric shops that could possibly stock it.”

Lydia was a little relieved if not completely satisfied that her world wasn’t going to fall apart. Hannah immediately called her mother and asked for her help. This off course forced Hannah to invite her parents to the production as they were excited that she was co-ordinating it; her first big one.

It didn’t take her mother long to get back to her with the number of the fabric shop back home. They had what Lydia was looking for. Handing the number to Lydia, Hannah felt wonderful! She had trusted God and He came through for her and Lydia.

She hummed as she was packing away that evening. Luke had gone off early.

“I thought there was a bird in the hall!” Jonathan teased.

Hannah froze. She was not aware that there was anyone left on the grounds except the caretaker. She blushed as Jonathan looked at her.

“Please, don’t feel embarrassed,” he said gently. “We’re meant to be joyful, even when everything is going absolutely wrong.”

She looked at him, taking in what he said. Then realised that he would know all about being joyful in both the good and bad times. He saw revelation dawn on her face, but her eyes said she wished someone had told her that a long time ago. However, she didn’t voice anything and he didn’t press for information.

“Any particular reason you are joyful?” he asked lightly, not really wanting to hear the answer, afraid that Luke might be the reason.

“Not really,” she answered before turning back to her task.

That didn’t help him at all, Jonathan sulked. He wanted to know what her relationship with Luke was. Sure they only knew each other for a short time but that didn’t mean a thing as far as relationships go. After all, he only knew her for a short space of time too and already he was head over heels in love with her.

He helped her pack away, hiding his sulking. “How are things coming along with the production?”

“Good thank you.”

Jonathan groaned inwardly. He wished she would answer him with more than single phrases where feelings were concerned. He wanted a decent conversation with her. He wanted her to get to know him – as a man.

“Still feeling overwhelmed at doing it?” he tried again.

She stopped what she was doing and looked at him. He stopped too and looked at her questioningly.

“I am grateful that you talked me into it. And showed me that I am never on my own, that God has my back. I really appreciate it.” Off course, he hadn’t only helped her realise it with the production but in her personal life too. Only she wished, he had been there all those months ago. But she wasn’t going to share that with him.

The humility in her voice stirred him and he had the urge to hug her but he knew that to touch her would be the worst step he could take at this stage.

Instead, he smiled warmly. “It’s my pleasure and my duty,” he grinned.

She smiled back and for a moment, he saw a connection but it disappeared as quickly.

“Goodnight!” she said as she gathered her things to leave not waiting for a response from him.

“Goodnight!” he called after her retreating back.

He shook his head. She was not going to co-operate with him so he would have to create opportunities to be alone with her and get her to see him as more than her pastor.

Chapter 9

An opportunity came not too long after. He knew that Hannah was involved in the charity department and according to Ron Moody, Hannah was really into charity work and wanted to do more than just the usual. He was banking on that being exactly what he needed to fuel their relationship.

Certain that she would not be inhibited to talk about charity work, he went in search of her the next day and found her in her classroom. She was getting ready for practice.

“Hi, Hannah!” he greeted amicably.

“Hello, pastor Chandler!” she greeted with a smile.

Jonathan winced at her insistent use of his title. But his face remained placid. Soon, he hoped to hear her call him by his first name.

“How can I help you, today?” she asked pleasantly.

“I was wondering if you would like to go to the shelter for abused woman in the city centre? We could go on Saturday afternoon.”

Initially, her eyes lit up with interest but then she looked at him, processing what he was saying. After a short pause, she cocked her head and asked, “Which team is going?”

“No team. Just the two of us.”

She shook her head. “We can’t. You have a reputation to protect and the two of us going alone would not bode well for you. Sorry, I have to go set up now. Hope you find someone who can go with you,” she said kindly, exiting gracefully.

She was so matter of fact, that it took a good while for Jonathan to understand that he had been rejected. Not in a bad way though; she was more concerned about him.

“So much for that opportunity!” he muttered. “Lord what am I supposed to be doing?”

“Just let Me handle this,” the Lord said with understanding.

Jonathan knew better than to argue. He went back to the church only to be despondent. Luke and Hannah were well into a conversation that they were both enjoying while waiting for the rest of the participants to arrive. They seemed so intimate! Without intruding, he went to his office and prayed.

Hannah and Luke were getting on quite well and they made a great team but Luke was more perceptive than Hannah was aware. If he had any aspirations towards being more than friends with her, he would have to quell them immediately! But since he didn’t, he was off the hook. However, he wondered if Hannah was aware of her feelings for the man she saw as only her pastor?

He doubted it or she was good at hiding that away, a big surprise since she was such an open book. Neither was the man who had her heart aware that he did. It was not something he was going to get involved in, Luke knew. The Lord had ways to work out things and he certainly didn’t doubt this would work out.

But for now, he was aware that she was concentrating hard on the production. Small wonder! It was her first time and she was doing very well. With just over three weeks to go, the children were almost ready. Luke was certain that the production would be a success.

Exhausted, though she was, Hannah was looking forward to the matric farewell party that evening. Luke had quickly run her home and waited for her to get dressed in her ‘spring coloured’ clothes before dropping her off at the school again where he parted ways with her. The chaperones were required to dress as they would for school so that there would be a distinction between teachers and pupils.

Hannah didn’t mind as she had no ‘party’ clothes. Tonight, there was no practice for the major participants were attending the party. Three teachers would be on duty at the matric farewell. It was a sufficient amount of teachers to oversee the small group of matriculants.

At five fifteen, Hannah entered the school hall. It was big enough to hold the number of children in the school all at the same time. Constructed in a rectangle, it allowed for a small platform on which to put the podium and the microphones. Tonight, the usually bland, hall was decorated beautifully, with all things spring.

Last minute adjustments were being made to the room before the children were to arrive at six o’clock in their ‘black tie’ attire. Hannah was looking forward to seeing them all dressed up. Secular music was playing in the background as the hired DJ tested the sound system. Soothing sounds emanated from the speakers; not the heavy music most teenagers were listening to these days.

Lending a hand was not a difficult thing for Hannah, but everything was under control she was told so she just walked around the hall taking in the transformation and layout. It was going to be just Hannah, Carter and Bernice in attendance. They would have to ensure that everything ran smoothly and without incident. A task that, hopefully, was not too difficult.

The other two teachers arrived at five thirty, also dressed in spring colours. Pupils, with their dates, started arriving just after six in beautiful array. The girls were resplendent in beautiful ball gowns, with smart hairdo and make-up. The boys wore tuxedos, polished formal shoes and neat hair styles.

The three teachers walked around the hall as the pupils socialised before the formalities. At just before six thirty, Mrs Hart arrived with her husband to give the speech. Everyone was called to be seated at six thirty promptly. Only the three teachers were standing on the outskirts of the seating area.

Mrs Hart’s speech was warm, generous and encouraging as she paid tribute to the hard working students who would no longer be a part of the school, next year. She applauded their outstanding character and eagerness to learn as well as their willingness to help. Every pupil seated there had a proud look on their face.

As Sarah, spoke, Hannah’s thoughts drifted to her matric year. She had attended a government school with more than quadruple the amount of matriculants. Theirs was quite a riotous farewell with most students getting out of hand. Her father had fetched her early from the party. It was just as well, she had admitted afterwards, even though it was embarrassing at the time.

The date she had taken to the farewell had ditched her not long after they’d arrived, so it wasn’t that she needed to cling to him. Not that she minded; it was a bargain they’d struck. He was her cousin.

After Sarah’s speech, the pupils were treated to a buffet supper followed by dancing and socialising. Mr and Mrs Hart would leave after supper. Sarah’s husband was a delightful man; quite comical. He was about the same age as his wife, not a very tall man but quite slim and still handsome. They were seated with the other teachers at a table separate to the pupils. Hannah thoroughly enjoyed Mr Hart’s company. Alas, the Harts didn’t stay very long, leaving immediately after dessert.

As soon as the Harts were safely out of earshot, the pupils ‘let their hair down’. Noise reigned in the hall even though they were not a large crowd. The music was turned up and they danced and laughed and chatted and had good, clean fun. It was endearing to watch them.

By nine o’clock though, Hannah was very sleepy. She leaned against the wall for support as she watched the pupils, not that they were any trouble; she was just doing her job! A yawn escaped her mouth, which she couldn’t help.

“These things can be a real bore,” she heard Jonathan’s amused voice behind her.

Hannah’s skin prickled. Where had he come from? She hadn’t seen him enter the hall but then with her back to the door, it would not be possible to see anyone enter.

Straightening up, she turned to face him and almost bumped into him. Was she that sleepy, that she didn’t even know how close he was?

Moving back a few paces, she answered, “Oh, no it isn’t boring. Just different. Why are you still here?” she asked to take the spotlight off her. She didn’t fancy sharing her matric farewell experience with him in case he asked.

“Just popped in to see how the party’s going,” he shrugged taking in the scene before him.

“How long does it run for?” she asked stifling another yawn.

“Until around ten. They do have to be at school tomorrow, so they need to get home before it is too late.”

Looking at her watch she thought aloud, “Just about fifty five minutes to go.”

Jonathan looked at her closely. Her beautiful face looked weary which should be expected. Giving more than was necessary to the production and helping at the matric farewell was taking a toll. “I could stand in for you if you want to go home,” he suggested mildly.

She looked at him warily then softened her look as she realised he was trying to help. “That sounds very tempting but what about Bernice and Carter?”

“They’re old hands at this. Besides, they don’t have to help with the production,” he offered.

She thought for a while before answering, “If you let them know that you offered, I will gladly take you up on the offer.”

He laughed. “You drive a hard bargain, but I will hasten to do your bidding.” He made a bow as if on stage and went off to speak to the other two teachers. Hannah shook her head.

It wasn’t long before he returned. “They have no objections!” he reported like a soldier. “And Sarah will not oppose it either if she were here.”

“Thank you!” she sighed. “Good night!” She started to walk towards the door and suddenly stopped. Turning back to him, she said woefully, “I just realised that I was getting a lift home with Carter.” She shook her head.

“I could drop you off,” he offered keeping his voice steady but he could see the indecision on her face. “It won’t take me long to do that and get back here.”

She was torn between being alone with him in his car and passing up the early night. A battle waged within her. Was she brave enough to withstand the close proximity? Finally she decided that she would have to be or faint from exhaustion.

“If you don’t mind the trip?” It was more a plea.

Five minutes with her. His heart leapt with joy but it would do him no good to display any form of excitement.

“Off course,” he answered coolly. “I’ll let Carter know.”

It was a short drive to Emily’s. As soon as they got there, she jumped out of the car without waiting for him to open the door. Relieved to be able to breathe normally again, she said a quick goodnight and disappeared through the gate. Jonathan shook his head in frustration.

Once inside the cottage, Hannah slowed down and took a deep breath. That was too much, she decided. It consumed her to be in such close proximity to him, even thought she tried to sit as close to the door as possible. Sleep did not come easy that night even though she was exhausted.

Bleary, she trudged into the school grounds the next morning with a weary greeting to the guards. She wondered how late they actually finished and didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Hey, Hannah! You look tired still,” Bernice said as she approached the teacher’s lounge. Usually Hannah was there earlier than most of the teachers but today, she could not drag herself out of bed.

“Too many late nights, I guess,” she tried to smile.

“It must be heavy on you, your involvement with the production,” Bernice said kindly.

“Almost there,” Hannah said with a stronger voice. “What time did you and Carter leave?”

“We left not long after you. Jonathan said he would watch the pupils for the rest of the duration. That was so nice of him,” Bernice said gracefully.

“Yes, that was nice,” Hannah agreed casually but her heart swelled at how thoughtful he was.

She was getting to know more about him as a person and was liking what she learned, scary though it was where her feelings were heading.

Dwelling on his kindness, throughout the day, was not helping for she found her mind drifting to all the kind things he’d done for her since the day she arrived there. It even played havoc with the practise. Luke had to give her a shake every now and then.

“You are more tired than you wish to admit,” he eventually stated seriously.

Hannah nodded glad that it was the excuse she could use, even though she knew it was not the reason for her lack of concentration. But she wasn’t going to let anyone know about what was in her heart.

But her heavenly Father knew! For that night, she dreamt that she was in a chapel in a brilliant white wedding gown walking down the aisle. The beauty of the dress surpassed anything she had seen; not even a master designer could have created that dress. The brightness of it bathed the entire chapel in a warm glow.

Stage smoke filled the chapel making only outlines visible. No guests were present or if they were she was not able to see them. As she walked down the aisle, she could see her groom standing in front with his back to her. He didn’t turn when she approached; only stretched out his hand.

Looking down at the hand held out to her, she thought, ‘I know these hands’ although it wasn’t anyone’s she had seen. Before she could look up to the face of its owner, she woke up in a sweat wondering why she had dreamt that and what it meant. That dream had never occurred before and it would not occur again. Only much later would she be privy to its meaning.

Pondering on the dream, she got out of bed and made herself an herbal tea. It was only two in the morning. Getting back to sleep might prove difficult, she thought. So she put on a CD and sang along. Worship came easily after the first two songs.

How long she worshipped, she did not know for when she woke up, the sun was streaming in through the gaps in the curtains. And with it, came the vivid memory of her dream. A dream she was beginning to cherish.

Stretching, she got out of bed and checked her phone for messages, then gasped as she realised the time. It was already eight o’clock. Never had she slept this late, except when she was ill and that wasn’t often.

Panicky, she rushed to the bathroom, then realised that it was Saturday; no school or practise today. She had the day off, sort of. Although she wasn’t at school, or attending the young people’s group gathering – which they had postponed – she was going to give music lessons which she did now and then; not as often as she used to. However, it was a good two hours before she needed to be there.

Leisurely, she showered and dressed, then made some breakfast. Just as she was sitting down to eat, Emily knocked on her door.

“Hi, Mrs Garrick!” she greeted cheerfully letting Emily in.

“Good morning, Hannah,” Emily said distractedly coming into the cottage. “I saw your light on in the early hours of the morning,” Emily got right to it. “Is everything okay?”

The concern on her face warmed Hannah’s heart. She loved Emily more each day. “Yes, Mrs Garrick. I just had a puzzling dream, that’s all. Nothing serious.” Hannah smiled reassuringly.

Emily let out a breath of relief. “I’m glad. Do you want to talk about it?”

Hannah shook her head, unconcerned. It was one of those dreams one didn’t want to share; at least not right away.

“That’s alright. As long as you are okay.” Emily’s eyes held a question.

“I am great actually. I am not affected by it,” Hannah said, adding, ‘adversely’ in her mind.

Emily looked at her for a moment. Hannah got the feeling the older woman was assessing her. She cringed inwardly.

“Why don’t you join us for supper tonight?” Emily invited non-committal.

“Sure!” Hannah agreed quickly to shift the focus off her dream. It was a long time since she had fellowship with the Garricks, anyway.

That evening, Hannah was seated in the Garricks’, sitting room waiting for supper to be ready. Emily had a lasagne in the oven that needed a few more minutes. They were discussing biblical issues when the doorbell sounded.

Hannah looked at Emily questioningly. “That must be Jonathan,” Emily announced as Derrick got up to open the door.

Had Emily forgotten to mention that Jonathan would be there for supper or had she deliberately refrained from mentioning it? Hannah wondered. Emily and Derrick were both blasé about the whole thing so she assumed they had forgotten. It was going to be an awkward supper, especially with her conflicting feelings for Jonathan, but she couldn’t very well leave now.

Forcing down her nervousness, she greeted Jonathan who was just as surprised to find her there. But he quickly masked his surprise and smiled warmly at her.

Supper was a strange affair. Derrick, Emily and Jonathan did most of the talking. Hannah answered with short sentences when necessary. No one questioned her though on her lack of participation. Much to her relief.

After supper, Hannah was glad to escape to the kitchen to help Emily clean up. Dessert followed immediately after the dishes were packed in the dishwasher. It was during this time that Derrick decided to share some of his experiences as a missionary when he first gave his heart to Jesus.

It took the strain off the evening for Hannah who was mesmerised by his accounts of what took place in the mission field. Here and there he interjected some funny moments. This was welcomed by Hannah who felt the heaviness of the experiences he was imparting.

It wasn’t long before Jonathan excused himself for the night, though. Hannah was surprised that she had actually not felt so intimidated while they were talking about mission work. It was almost as if he was not there. Which she chided herself for. Her parents had taught her never to ignore anyone, no matter who or what they were. She repented silently.

Jonathan’s departure signalled the end of the evening. Emily welcomed Hannah’s assistance in getting the kitchen cleaned.

Driving home, Jonathan mulled over the evening. Neither Emily nor Derrick had mentioned that Hannah would be joining them for supper. It was a bitter sweet surprise for him. Though Hannah had not participated in the conversation much, he was delighted that she was there. He prayed that she would be more at ease in his presence, though. And soon. He sighed! It was all in the Lord’s hands…

Chapter 10

Sunday service was just as invigorating as always for Hannah. This Sunday, though, one of the other pastors did the preaching. Good though the sermon was, Hannah missed Jonathan’s ministry. For her, he was always spot on with the message. A mesmerising voice also kept her rooted to his every word.

Sunday afternoon was a restful one for Hannah. She took advantage before the school week started and with it, the rush to polish everything for the staging of the production in three weeks. She couldn’t believe that there were only three weeks left. Taking a deep breath, she kept telling herself not to panic.

The three weeks passed very quickly. In those weeks, she found she and Jonathan were simultaneous dinner guests at the Garricks’. She was beginning to wonder if the couple were not playing at matchmaking. She dismissed the idea. They wouldn’t do that especially since she arrived on the scene only a short while ago – too soon for any kind of character deduction?

That idea she was glad she had dismissed when during the week she met Isabella. A tall and beautiful woman who was also very friendly. Quite by accident she met the beauty; she was sure she was not meant to.

Having dismissed the group after a strenuous practise, Hannah was taking stock of what she needed to step up in the production. Luke had taken off for the evening, having helped her pack up already. He had been very sweet to offer to take everything back to the school. Which she gladly accepted.

It was already eight o’clock when Jonathan walked into the hall with Isabella, her arm linked in his, looking comfortable. If Isabella was not laughing when they walked in, Hannah would not have even noticed them. But the tinkling sound of her laughter, made Hannah lift her head in their direction.

At first, she felt a stab – of jealousy probably – which she refused to dissect. They stopped short when they spotted her.

“Hannah,” Jonathan said surprised. “Why are you still here?”

He didn’t sound upset to see her but Hannah wondered if perhaps he was. He had been quite close to the woman next to him who was almost his height and she wasn’t wearing very high heels. And she was gorgeous, Hannah thought, without envy. Her head was covered in thick, blonde curls which framed her oval face. Her laugh enhanced the high cheekbones and perfectly set emerald green, almond-shaped eyes and shapely eyebrows. Her full lips were painted in a dark lipstick that wasn’t severe.

“Just getting some paperwork done,” Hannah shrugged.

“Isabella, this is Hannah, our pre-school teacher and co-ordinator of this year’s production,” Jonathan introduced.

Hannah thought he introduced her rather proudly but she couldn’t be sure as Isabella came forward and stretched out her hand, taking Hannah’s in a warm grasp. Hannah couldn’t help but feel drawn to Isabella.

“It’s good to meet you,” Isabella said with a genuine smile.

“Same here,” Hannah returned, with a warm, friendly smile.

“Gosh, how do you manage with a production this size?” Isabella asked with astonishment.

“I have help,” Hannah said with a small laugh. “Besides, God is gracious and ever so willing to make things work out, if we just leave it to him.”

Isabella nodded acknowledgement. “He is never far from us; just a call away.” Her voice held conviction and Hannah had a feeling that Isabella had experienced God in a mighty, personal way.

“Absolutely,” Hannah readily agreed. She wanted to ask Isabella where she came from as her accent was different to theirs and Hannah could not place it but she felt it would be intrusive to ask.

Jonathan must have read her mind for he said, “Isabella is visiting from Guatemala!”

Hannah’s face must have shown fascination because Isabella said quickly, “I’ve only been there for the last ten years. I went there to help with the human trafficking situation in South America.”

“Oh, gosh! It’s there too?” Hannah asked sadly. Jonathan noted Hannah’s distress.

“All over the world, I’m afraid,” Isabella said just as sadly. “I am part of just one group who works to destroy this evil. There are many groups around the world doing exactly what we do.”

“At least you are doing something about it,” Hannah said with self deprecation. Jonathan made a mental note to address Hannah’s perception at some stage. She couldn’t very well be saving the world unless God wanted her to.

“I guess we are each called to do something we are made for,” Isabella shrugged. “God knows where we should be,” she smiled encouragingly before saying, “We better get going,” more to Jonathan.

Hannah wasn’t sure if she had been dismissed or they just had to be somewhere by appointment but she felt a bit dumped after they said goodbye and left. That should not be, she chided herself. Jonathan was entitled to be with whomever he pleased. Especially someone doing something so big for the Lord. Still she felt slightly rejected. Unable to concentrate on the task, she decided to call it a night.

Isabella, however, she did not see again but the beauty’s face kept haunting her until she decided to pray about it. At peace once, again, she was able to carry out her duties. Neither was Isabella mentioned at the dinners with the Garricks.

Dinners she was glad for. There was much talk of God’s mercy, goodness, grace and love at these dinners and Hannah was beginning to realise that God never left her no matter how much she had stayed away from Him. It was a new peace that came over her. But she still felt restless about the children who were forced into the sex trade. Closure over this issue of feeling helpless towards these children also came at one of these dinners. It was Emily who broached the subject.

“I heard more families are adopting children who were rescued from brothels,” Emily said excitedly.

“Yep,” Jonathan said pleased.

Hannah looked from the one to the other with more than a little interest.

“I am sure glad that more families are getting involved,” Emily said with relief.

“What is the criteria for families to adopt?” Hannah asked, surprising everyone.

“They would have to be stable couples with children, and be married a good number of years and must embody unity, love, charity and kindness. Off course there would have to be recommendations from their local church, communities, or bodies they are involved in. Thorough investigation is done before they can be approved. Thank God, they have such families on a list.” Jonathan’s explanation was lapped up by Hannah.

“What other ways can these children be helped?” she asked hopelessly.

“Prayer,” Jonathan said simply. “Due to the high volatility of the situation, people are not just allowed to jump in and provide aid. It is understandable,” he added quickly at the disagreement she was displaying. “They have been hurt and their trust stolen. It will take a long time to regain their trust and without God, it is an impossible task.”

“Then how do we ensure they don’t end up in that situation?” Hannah asked passionately.

“We can’t! Unless someone is praying for their protection, there is nothing to stop the enemy from stealing them.” Jonathan said sympathetically.

Hannah thought about that. Prayer was easy enough but how do you see results? Jonathan could see her struggling with that. She wanted to be mobilised into doing something where the fruit could be easily seen but it wasn’t always going to be like that.

“Like Abraham believed and trusted God for the promise of a great nation even when Isaac was to be sacrificed, we need to believe that God is in absolute control and busy at work when we pray and don’t see the fruit of it,” Jonathan said gently.

Hannah looked at him full on for a few moments. What she saw there was an understanding of the frustration she was feeling. Suddenly, she knew that she was not the only one who felt that way but she was the one who didn’t completely trust God. Ashamed, she bowed her head.

“Hannah, God does want to use us in bringing hope to a dying world but on His terms and He doesn’t hold anything against us, if we don’t follow His instructions. All we need to do is be obedient to His voice and follow His path and He will do the rest,” Jonathan soothed with the same gentleness. “And God knows that your heart is in the right place but it does not mean that we are to act on it. David was a man after God’s own heart, yet he was not allowed to build a house for God. God even told him that he did well to have it in his heart to build a house for Him but it wasn’t David’s calling to do so. Same with us. We want to do good things but it isn’t always our calling,” he explained wisely.

Hannah looked up at him again. This time with understanding. It was as if they were the only two at the table. Without doubt, she knew that Jonathan had just given her the answer she was seeking. He was truly a man of God!

Jonathan held Hannah’s gaze allowing her to be comfortable in her new found knowledge of where all this was leading. He hoped she would always feel free to approach him about these matters.

“You know I never thought of it that way,” Derrick broke the silence.

A discussion ensued on the what’s and how’s of God’s workings; a discussion Hannah was glad for. She had all her life thought she must do something in her capacity and no one had corrected her until now. Being a preacher’s kid made it all the more difficult for counselling by her own father and everyone else kept their distance. She had to admit she was grateful for Jonathan Chandler’s insight. She was only just getting to know this great God whom she had given her heart to a long time ago.

From then on, she prayed everyday for the children who had no one to champion them to God and she prayed for Jonathan too. Something she had never thought of doing before. He was always taking the time to allay fears, misconceptions, misunderstandings and anything that could take a person down the wrong path. Now when they were at dinner with the Garricks, she felt she could ask any question and not look unlearned.

Dinner with the Garricks, though, came to an end soon after it started when Jonathan had to cry off invitations due to some late meetings and counselling. Sad news for Hannah! She had learnt so much from these dinners than she had learned in her entire life. And it was in a setting where her nervousness was minimum – a feeling she was starting to enjoy. Outside of these dinners, she could still not be comfortable alone with him. Besides, she had a secret that she didn’t want him to discover.

With just over a week to go towards the production, she was also pleased that he was not a distraction; seeing him so often, made her dwell on him more than she should. And not knowing what his relationship with Isabella was, made it dangerous.

Now that Luke was helping her, Jonathan hardly presented himself. Although she missed seeing him, she was far too busy thinking of the production to let it bother her too much.

Butterflies were playing havoc with her insides, on the Thursday before the staging of their production. She was nervous about everything and thus spent most of her time in the hall alone, running over the list she had in her hand, again and again, before the final dressed rehearsal.

She was busy pouring over the main dance routine when she heard a gleeful, “There’s my lovely daughter!”

Dismayed, Hannah whipped around as Aaron and Elizabeth Wilkens approached her, her mother following her father at a slower pace.

“Mum, dad! What are you doing here?” she asked flabbergasted.

“You invited us to the annual school production, remember?” Aaron replied hurt.

“Yes, I did! But that is only taking place tomorrow. I didn’t expect you two to arrive so early,” she whined.

“Don’t worry, love,” her mother soothed. “We won’t get in your way. Besides, we can help you with all the last minute things for tomorrow. But already I can see that you’ve done a great job,” Elizabeth said looking around. “So we’ll just help keep you calm.”

“Thanks, mum,” Hannah replied agitatedly her eyes darting around.

“You’re upset that we’re here,” her mother said knowingly.

“No, no!” Hannah denied quickly. “It’s just…I won’t be able to spend time with you until after tomorrow night,” she excused not voicing her greater concern that Jonathan would have a chance to chat with them. Something, she did not want to take place.

However, she was not going to win this one. Jonathan sort of crept up on them.

“Hello, Hannah!” He was really looking at her parents while greeting her. Both her parents were contributors to Hannah’s good looks. Light brown eyes and curly hair, she’d inherited from her father but the colouring from her mother. The older woman was still beautiful and stylish.

“Mum, dad, this is pastor Jonathan Chandler,” she dove right into introductions without bothering to greet him.

“Aaron,” her father held out his hand admiringly. Being shorter than Jonathan he had to look up in greeting.

“Elizabeth,” her mother extended her hand, also with admiration but for different reasons from her husband as her blue eyes took in the dashing figure in front of her. Shorter than her husband, she had to extend her head further back to look Jonathan in the eye.

Jonathan greeted them both pleasantly and amicably as Mr and Mrs Wilkens. “Did you come to visit Hannah?”

“We’ve come to see her big production,” Elizabeth answered proudly.

“It’s not really mine, mum,” Hannah said curtly

“You shouldn’t be so modest, Hannah!” Jonathan winked at her which she dismissed with an icy stare.

“Beautiful church you have here,” Aaron said looking around him. “How do you manage such a size as this?” he asked in awe.

“Not easy,” Jonathan laughed.

“I don’t have anything near the number you have. You must give me some pointers,” Aaron smiled.

“Oh, you’re a pastor!” Jonathan raised an eyebrow, giving Hannah a narrowed look. “Hannah didn’t mention that.”

“She didn’t?” her father reiterated with mild amusement taking in Hannah’s red face.

“Oh, Hannah never volunteers any personal information unless it is a matter of life and death,” Elizabeth excused lightly, rubbing Hannah’s arm lovingly. “We’re actually surprised she is taking on this mammoth task. She usually hides from anything and everyone. You must be doing something really well.” Elizabeth nodded.

“Mum!” Hannah glared at her mother, embarrassed at being on display.

“We should compare notes,” Jonathan suggested taking the heat off her but Hannah was more dismayed than appreciative of the suggestion. “How long are you in town for?”

Panic rose in Hannah and she tried to distract them by answering as if he was intruding, “Just until Saturday since dad has to return to his church. And they promised to spend the time with me.”

“Then why don’t we chat now in my office. It’s much quieter there. It will also allow Hannah to calm down. She has become so edgy since the last few days. Must be the pending production.” Jonathan grinned at her.

Hannah gave him a murderous look but before she could say anything, they disappeared in the direction of his office. Hannah humphed but her mother didn’t seem to notice.

“Nice young man that,” Elizabeth said, instead, with a twinkle in her eyes.

Hannah didn’t comment. Instead, she furiously busied herself with the task she’d been occupied with before her parents interrupted. A task she could not concentrate on.

Chapter 11

Elizabeth chatted away as she helped Hannah with the last minute preparations for the next night. Not that there was much outstanding or many changes required. Elizabeth absently folded, stretched, righted or moved things around her.

Forty minutes later, Hannah stood up and paced. “What could they be talking about?” she wailed.

“Honey, what is eating you up?” Elizabeth asked concerned dropping whatever she was doing.

“What could the two of them be talking about?” she nodded in the direction the men had taken.

“Church stuff, probably,” Elizabeth said dismissively.

“I hope dad’s not telling him about my predicament. He just can’t tell pastor Chandler,” Hannah flopped into a chair in despair.

“Hannah, your father will never tell anyone about what you went through. It’s not his style. Besides, why does it rile you so? Do you have feelings for Jonathan?”

“No!” Hannah denied vehemently giving her mother an annoyed look. Then she simmered down. “Unless you call intimidated…feelings.” She just was not prepared to confide in any one just yet about her confusing feelings for Jonathan especially since she wasn’t sure where she stood with him, what his feelings toward her were.

Giving her an odd look, Elizabeth sat next to her and hugged her. “Dearest, your father will never tell anyone without your permission,” her mother soothed.

“You’re right. But pastor Chandler has a way of drawing things out of people even if they don’t want to divulge.” She was morose.

“Don’t worry, your father is also a minister and he is pretty aware of your feelings.” Elizabeth chuckled as if Aaron was more than a match for Jonathan.

“You’re right, mum. I should give dad more credit,” Hannah humbled herself, knowing that Jonathan would respect her father and honour him.

“That’s my girl,” Elizabeth said proudly.

“Thanks, mum!”

But her anxiety was only allayed later, when Aaron and Elizabeth were leaving to their guest house where they were staying the next couple of nights. They didn’t want to be in Hannah’s way when the cast was doing their final practise.

“Did you have a good conversation with pastor Chandler?” Hannah asked casually as they stood at her father’s car.

“I certainly did. Very enjoyable conversation indeed.. He is a wonderful young man,” Aaron marvelled.

“So…what did you speak about?” Hannah was amazed that her tone remained casual.

“Mostly ministry. We exchanged advise. I must admit, I thought he would be arrogant and not want to listen to an old minister but he truly is God’s servant,” Aaron laughed sheepishly.

Nodding her head absently, she acknowledged the statement before pitching, “Did my name by any chance come up in the conversation?” Hannah held her breath.

“Sweetheart. I would never discuss my children with a stranger.” Aaron stated knowing full well what Hannah was referring to. Although understanding, he was still shocked and hurt by her question.

“Sorry, dad! I should know better.” Hannah hugged her father.

“That’s alright sweetie. You went through a rough patch.” He hugged her back. “But he did give us his mother’s number and took ours to give her. He would very much like them to take care of us tomorrow while you are busy with the production.”

“What a thoughtful young man,” Elizabeth said with feeling. Hannah agreed that Jonathan was very thoughtful indeed.

As they drove off she felt relieved; her mind was at rest. They should be safe with Emily and she wouldn’t ask them anything personal, she knew from experience.

Friday dawned bright. The weather was lovely and bragged of wonderful things to come. But Hannah was not feeling so bright. The butterflies had increased overnight. She had slept fitfully and her eyes showed it.

Adrenaline, however, was pumping and Hannah was rearing to go. She wished it was already six pm. But there was a class to teach still and children to encourage. Pushing the nervousness aside as much as she could possibly do, she finished her daily routine.

Although, Mrs Hart had given the teachers off early to go home before the production, especially for those who had children participating in the production, Hannah carried her evening wear along. She would get ready at school so that she could oversee any last minute changes if necessary which she was hoping would not be required. The school bathroom with a shower would have to do.

Everyone at school was abuzz. Excitement permeated every classroom and concentration on lessons was minimal. Eventually the teachers gave up and allowed the children to practise their items in their classrooms.

When the school bell rang, teachers let out a sigh of relief. Now though, the work started for everyone involved in the production. The stage was already decorated by the time Hannah got to the hall, having changed into a simple but smart, knee length, black skirt and purple silk blouse. Locks of hair were pinned into a fashionable style. She even wore make up, especially for her eyes.

Luke was the first one on the scene and he gave her a low whistle. “You look smart,” he said with a rewarding smile.

“Thank you,” Hannah accepted distractedly. “Anything on the wrong side?” she asked looking around.

He understood she meant with the stage and surrounding area. “Everything is in order,” he reported like a soldier.

“Sorry!” Hannah was more than aware that everything was in order but her nervousness was making her ask questions that were irrelevant.

And it must have shown because Luke squeezed her hand as he pacified her. “Hey, you have every right to be nervous, it’s your first big event!” He grinned.

It was at that moment Jonathan ventured into the hall to see how Hannah was holding up. “Might as well not have bothered,” he muttered when he saw Luke holding her hand. Masking his disappointment, however, he approached them.

Luke quickly let go of Hannah’s hand at the sight of Jonathan. But Hannah was oblivious of vibes the men were sending out.

“Is everything well?” Jonathan asked professionally.

“It’s too early to tell,” Hannah blurted out nervously.

“I’m sure it’s going to be well,” Jonathan counselled. “With God on our side, what can go wrong?”

Luke would have liked to shake Jonathan up. Why didn’t the man just take hold of her hand or something, to show that he cared about the evening and the impact it would have on her. But when he saw the look of awe on Hannah’s face at Jonathan’s words, he knew that she had just been touched without any physical contact. Luke was amazed but didn’t’ utter a word.

Hannah didn’t have time to thank Jonathan for his reassuring words as the rest of the team entered noisily but she did appreciate the boost it gave her. He always knew what to say and he was always putting God first. She could learn from him.

A discussion ensued about the production and Jonathan slipped away quietly. He had prayed for the production and especially for Hannah and knew that she was in good hands. He had wanted so much to tell her that she was looking gorgeous but couldn’t. A remark like that would have thrown her into a frenzy. So he had opted to give her words of wisdom instead. Aargh! he groaned inwardly.

Children started arriving early with their parents who were treated to some refreshments while waiting for the production to start. Hannah was grateful that the parents were committed to the production bringing their children early to get kitted out.

Mrs Hart made an appearance backstage fifteen minutes before the start and touched sides with the teachers who were involved.

“I know that tonight is going to be an awesome night because I have the best teachers in the world,” she said with sincerity. “I also want you to know that I appreciate your efforts and all your hard work. No where else have I seen a team who worked so well together.’

The teachers murmured their thanks. At this point, Jessica pitched up with a wide smile. Ever since she got back from seeing her mother who had been diagnosed with cancer, she had not interfered with the practise. Instead, she had deliberately remained away from it with the excuse that she needed to be available for her mother. Now she simply congratulated Hannah on pulling it off and hugged her warmly.

“We haven’t pulled it off yet,” Hannah laughed. “But I am trusting God for a wonderful performance by the children. After all it is their night.” She smiled wholeheartedly.

They all agreed. Luke gave them the curtain call and in three minutes the show was on the way. Very focussed on getting the children on and off stage, Hannah wasn’t aware that they were at the end of the show. When she heard the loud applause from the hall, she looked around in surprise.

“We did it Miss Wilkens,” Genevieve said proudly and excitedly. All the other children were in agreement.

Hannah was awed. But they had to keep quiet again as Mrs Hart for the second time that evening, spoke from the stage. She thanked all the parents for supporting their children and for the time they gave up during practise and tonight. Then she called the team of teachers up one at a time with congratulations and thanks.

Fear permeated Hannah’s being. She did not like being on stage and when Mrs Hart called her name after saying that all of it was made possible by her, Hannah was not able to move.

When Mrs Hart called, “Hannah?” the pupils had to practically push her on stage.

Shyly she accepted the applause and joined the other team members. Next Sarah called out the children to take a bow. The evening was over. Hannah was glad to be off stage. The pupils started leaving with their parents but not before most of them hugged and thanked Hannah.

Touched by their gesture, she hugged them back and told them how proud she was of them. After the children left, Emily and Derrick came backstage together with her parents to congratulate her. Hannah was aware that some of the congregation would attend even if they had no children attending the school, but she had no idea that the Garricks would.

“You are here!”she stated idiotically.

“Off course we came. We are so proud of you, Hannah,” Emily hugged her.

“It was a splendid production,” Derrick said heartily.

“Thank you but it really was God’s work with the help of all the participants,” Hannah responded humbly.

“But you did give yourself to be used,” her father said proudly. “And that goes a long way to success.”

“Thank you, daddy!” Hannah laid her head on her father’s shoulder in appreciation of what he said.

“We are so proud of you, darling!” her mother said with tears in her eyes. “You have grown into a lovely young woman.”

The hug her mother gave her squeezed the breath out of her but Hannah didn’t mind. Her parents had always supported her and her siblings, in whatever they were doing.

“It is getting late, so your mum and I should probably head off to the guest house. We’ll see you in the morning, baby.” Aaron smiled lovingly at his daughter.

“Yes, dad, see you in the morning, seven am sharp,” Hannah smiled back.

“Love you sweetheart,” her mother hugged her again quickly.

“Love you too, mum,” Hannah returned.

They waved as they left.

“We better get going too,” Derrick pointed out. “You need a lift home?”

“I’m getting a lift with Luke after we wrap up here. Thank you for looking after my parents,” Hannah said gratefully.

“No problem. They are wonderful people. I see where your wonderfulness comes from,” Emily smiled.

Hannah blushed and all she could say was, “Thank you,” as she followed them to the front of the stage. Everyone else was gone, except Luke who was busy putting away the sound equipment.

“Gosh, you’re almost done here,” she said apologetically.

“No sweat! You needed your spotlight moment,” he grinned. “But tomorrow you are definitely doing most of the work,” he teased.

Hannah nodded. They were going to take down the stage décor tomorrow after her parents left. Some of the older children would be coming to help so Jonathan was okay with them doing it the day after the production.

She helped him put away the last of the equipment. As soon as it was done, he turned to her and said, “That’s it. The evening has officially come to an end.”

“I can’t believe it’s over,” Hannah shook her head.

“You did it Hannah,” Luke said proudly.

“No we did it. Thank you Luke for being there. I couldn’t have done it without you and the others off course.”

“I enjoyed working with you, Hannah.”

She hugged him. Jonathan coming in, saw them in that embrace and was irritated. What was the relationship between these two? He needed to find out and soon. He also needed to tell Hannah very soon how he felt about her. Looking so gorgeous, she wasn’t helping his senses either. And he was so very proud of the splendid job she did in bringing the stunning production together.

With a pleasant voice, he intruded. “That was an awesome production, Hannah!”

They pulled apart without guilt or shame and he was even more determined to speak to Hannah.

“Why does everyone think I was the one who pulled it off?” she asked with genuine confusion.

“Because you made yourself available and poured your heart into the whole thing. I don’t recall seeing anyone else come in early and stay late for practise. Or even encourage the children during the whole practise.” Jonathan was diplomatic.

Jonathan was looking at her with sincerity and honesty which made it difficult for Hannah to refute his words. “Thank you!” she accepted shyly.

An urge to take her in his arms suddenly came over him and the fight to resist that urge caused every muscle in his body to become sore. Rather pain to himself than to completely lose her, he kept telling himself.

A short pause ensued before Jonathan cleared his throat and said, “Shouldn’t you be getting home? You don’t want to be sleepy when meeting with your parents.”

“Yes, I should be. And also let Luke get back to his girlfriend,” she answered lowering her gaze.

“Luke has a girlfriend?” Jonathan asked totally surprised.

“Sort of. We aren’t in a serious relationship yet; just dating, but I am hoping it would be,” Luke said shyly.

“And she has been very kind to allow him to spend his evenings with a group of rowdy children instead of her,” Hannah said with awe.

“Yes, that is very kind. She sounds wonderful,” Jonathan said distractedly. He was thinking that it was the best news he’d heard. The news meant that Hannah had no romantic notions about Luke and neither did Luke towards Hannah.

“Better get going,” Hannah said nudging Luke who was her lift home. “Good night!” she greeted Jonathan not waiting for a reply.

“Goodnight!’ he called after them. He shook his head. Now that Luke was not a threat to him, he had the dilemma of working out a way of connecting with her.

Chapter 12

At precisely seven am, her parents collected her from her cottage and drove to the nearest restaurant where they were having breakfast. After which, her parents would drive back home. Right now, Hannah didn’t want to think about them leaving.

Having them for the weekend, even for a short while, made her realise how much she missed her family. And according to her parents, they missed her. But when she would see them all together again, was not a question she could answer just yet. Even the holidays were not something she could think about and she had been grateful that she had to work during the last holidays.

The restaurant was not very busy so they could catch up with each other. With orders out of the way, they were able to bring each other up to speed with their lives.

“You seem happy here, darling,” her father commented as soon as the waiter disappeared with their order.

“I am, daddy. I feel as if I belong here. And everyone has been so nice to me. I also believe God wants me here.” Hannah sounded content.

“I’m glad honey,” her mother covered her hand with hers. “It’s been a rough year for you.”

Hannah nodded a lump in her throat. She never dwelt on what was and neither did her parents, respecting her wish to not speak about it.

“Your pastor is a very good man,” Aaron said steering the conversation away.

“Yes, he is,” Hannah agreed readily. “He speaks only the word of God and never attempts to advise from within himself. He is always aligned with the word of God.”

“That is amazing especially for someone so young,” Aaron said admiringly.

“I thought so too but I guess we should never judge by the outward appearance. For God sees the heart of man not our outside,” Hannah smiled.

“You have blossomed, darling,” her mother said proudly.

“Thank you mum!” Hannah accepted humbly.

“And brave for having handled such a large cast of people in the school annual play,” her father laughed. “Or maybe you were always brave…” he added thoughtfully.

“Oh, dad!” Hannah laughed lightly, her eyes dancing.

They talked about her siblings, and what was going on in the community and time passed quickly. Soon she had to say goodbye to her parents.

“I wish you could stay,” Hannah groaned.

“We too, baby,” her mother said sadly. “But you will come visit?”

Hannah didn’t reply. She didn’t want to think about the holidays and was hoping something would come up to excuse her from going back home even though she badly wanted to spend time with her family. They would not be able to come visit her here in the city, she knew. Maybe she shouldn’t be selfish…

“There is still time before you have to make a decision,” her father said wisely, cutting into her thoughts. “You are always in our thoughts and prayers, Hannah.”

“Thank you dad, mum! I know that is a fact. I love you guys.”

“We love you too,” her mother answered her eyes moist.

All three pairs of eyes were moist as Aaron dropped Hannah off at her place before leaving for home.

Sadly, Hannah watched as they drove off. Emily came outside just as the car disappeared.

“Oh, did I miss your parents?” Emily asked disappointed.

“Sorry! I didn’t know you were in. I should have asked them to say goodbye,” Hannah answered apologetically.

“No worries! I am sure we will see each other again.”

Emily was positive but Hannah couldn’t see that happening. With her father never wanting to leave the church especially during the holidays, it would be a long while before they did come this way. But she didn’t say anything.

Luke fetched her not long after to finish the job at the church. It was early so they were sure to have it done before too long. Maybe they could still catch the meeting with the young people, Hannah suggested to Luke as they drove.

He did not answer, just smiled. To her surprise, the group that had met at the movies were there already helping. Overwhelmed with gratitude, she could not even say thank you properly.

“How did they…?” she asked with a lump in her throat.

“Luke figured you could do with some help and it was a great way to have our weekly get together,” Meredith smiled.

Hannah hugged the woman and didn’t mind at all that they were meeting like this. It was the best get together ever. Even the pupils who came to help – a lot less than the number who initially volunteered – made the whole thing superb.

It took far less time and they could all enjoy pizzas afterwards. Glad that they had pitched to help, the pupils thoroughly enjoyed the pizza.

The next morning at service, no one could tell there had been a performance that Friday. Hannah was glad. She enjoyed the service and was glad that Jonathan was preaching. He seemed to be distracted though or was she just imagining it?

With no more practices to go through, Hannah was at a loss what to do with herself so she started penning more lyrics and music. It seemed to be much easier now.

Monday, at school, brought much praise for the team who pulled off the production and Mrs Hart was particularly proud of Hannah who showed she was tougher than she looked. All the compliments were making Hannah dizzy. She just wanted to run and hide.

Thankfully it stopped by the afternoon. By then all the senior pupils were gearing up for exams. A part of which, Hannah and the other teachers of the younger grades were not. But those teachers would be busy with year end reports soon and that was work enough.

That afternoon she was on her way to Madeline’s office when she literally bumped into Jonathan right outside the school office. Breathless, she apologised moving as fast she can to the other side of the narrow corridor.

“Hi, Hannah!” he greeted professionally. “Sorry, didn’t see you coming along there.” He held the door open for her, wondering if she would go through. It would cost her dearly to have to be so close to him, he smiled inwardly. He had seen her confusion at the electrical spark that ignited between them when she bumped into him.

“Oh, are you going into the office too?” she asked dazed not moving toward the door.

“I was coming to see Sarah,” he affirmed.

He was still holding the door open, Hannah realised. She had to either go through it with him standing just outside the door or walk on past. The latter would look ridiculous, especially since she had already made him aware what her destination was.

Just as she contemplated running through the door, Genevieve called out, “Miss Wilkens, I am so glad I ran into you.”

“Hi, Genevieve!” both Hannah and Jonathan greeted.

After greeting them, Genevieve rushed on in a bubbly tone. “My mum was so impressed with my singing in the production. And when I told her that you coached me, she wants me to take singing lessons. That’s if you are willing to give them,” Genevieve added hopefully.

Stunned, Hannah answered, “Er…sure!”

“What a wonderful idea,” Jonathan chipped in.

“I think so too,” Genevieve bubbled. “I have always wanted to sing and now with you training me, Miss Wilkens, I can. Off course, I’ll never be as good as you,” she added ruefully.

“You will be better,” Hannah soothed encouragingly. “I’ll get your mum’s contact number from the office and make arrangements.”

“Thank you Miss Wilkens,” Genevieve responded excitedly.

Hannah smiled as the girl ran off.

“That was a lovely thing you did for her,” Jonathan observed. He had let go of the door while they were chatting with Genevieve.

Hannah looked at him blankly.

“Giving her hope,” Jonathan stated with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh!” Hannah said simply. “She has a good voice and with that amount of enthusiasm, she will become a fantastic singer.” Hannah shrugged. “Besides, God will be the judge of her talent.” She quickly moved past him, opened the door and got inside the office before her nerves could fail her.

Feeling, bereft, Jonathan followed at a slower pace. Hannah was already at the other end of the room in the opposite direction of Sarah’s office, ignoring him. Madeline was not in the office. No wonder she didn’t rush out to see why they were standing in the corridor, a habit, Madeline hated.

Hannah was glad when Jonathan disappeared into Sarah’s office. She breathed a sigh of relief. It was already four months and still she was not able to stop trembling in his presence. And she could not figure out that electric spark that struck her when she bumped into him. It was so confusing!

“Hi, Hannah!” Madeline greeted as she breezed into the office. “Ready to push off for the day?”

“Hi, Mrs Camp! Almost. It just feels so wrong to leave at the usual time,” Hannah mused.

“I know what you mean. For so many months, you were here such long hours, you might as well have slept here and then poof! you are no longing holding wads of papers and costumes and lining pupils up,” Madeline recounted what Hannah was going through.

“I guess it’s the same every year,” Hannah replied foolishly.

“Every year,” Madeline agreed. “You should give yourself a pat on the back, Hannah. You did not experience burn out,” Madeline added at Hannah’s quizzical expression.

“I almost did but the support was overwhelming,” Hannah smiled.

“You’ve got a lot of talent, kiddo,” Madeline encouraged.

“Thank you,” Hannah said feeling blessed. “I couldn’t have done it without God.”

“Amen!” Madeline approved. “Well, I’m off. See you tomorrow.”

Hannah nodded making her way out behind Madeline. But her escape wasn’t so easy. Sarah called out to her, “Hannah, can I speak to you a moment?”

Hannah squeezed her eyes shut causing her face to bunch, but she couldn’t very well disregard her boss. Schooling her features, she turned around and stepped towards Sarah’s office. Standing in the doorway, she asked innocently, “Yes Mrs Hart?”

“Firstly I would like to thank you again for the superb job you did with the production,” Sarah began.

“Thank you,” Hannah mumbled humbly. She realised that no one was going to give the thanks elsewhere so it was easier just to accept the praise graciously.

“Jonathan and I were just discussing starting up a music class next year,” Sarah continued. Hannah looked at Jonathan surprised but his expression gave nothing away. “Would you be up to the challenge? That’s if you are still here next year,” Sarah added hopefully.

Stunned, Hannah just looked from the one to the other. They thought she was capable of running the music class. Phew! No pressure. “Can I think about it?” she asked at length.

“Off course, Hannah,” Jonathan said gently. “Maybe we should meet during the week to run over the requirements and if you don’t like it then you don’t have to take it on. But we would like to give you first opportunity for the post before looking externally.”

“Sure,” Hannah said uncertainly.

“How about Wednesday? After school?” Jonathan prompted.

“Yes, that will be fine,” Hannah said hesitantly.

She was not keen on meeting in Jonathan’s office alone with him but she couldn’t very well decline the meeting in front of Sarah who was looking at her hopefully. It was settled.

As she walked back to her classroom to fetch her bag, she suddenly wondered why she was meeting Jonathan to discuss the post and not Mrs Hart. Tomorrow, she would ask Sarah that question.

However, tomorrow did not allow for the question to be asked. Sarah was not available the whole day and neither was she available on Wednesday. Which meant that she would have to ask Jonathan himself. And to make sure she attended the meeting, Sarah had Madeline remind her of it.

The front office was empty when Hannah got to Jonathan’s office. Laura had left it seemed. Knocking first on the open door of Jonathan’s office, she entered.

“Hi, Hannah!” Jonathan greeted gladly.

“Hi!” Hannah greeted stiffly.

Jonathan came around to close the door and Hannah sidestepped him to move further right. Ignoring his frustration, he said pleasantly, “Please sit down.” Hannah obeyed, stiffly. “Would you like something to drink?” he offered hospitably.

Hannah shook her head. She was too nervous to hold anything in her hand. She wanted to bolt but she knew it would be rude to leave before the meeting even started. “You wanted to share the post of music teacher,” she cut to the point.

Looking at how stiff she was, he decided it would be best to get right to the subject of the music teacher. He explained what that would be all about and as he spoke he could see her relax. She really loved music and already ideas were forming in her mind. She asked lots of questions which he was only too willing to answer. He was elated that she was conversing with him in a relaxed manner, even if it was on an impersonal subject.

When the discussion was over, he looked at her hopefully. “Do you think you could take on that responsibility?” He really wanted her to; she was so talented. And music was her language. Evidence had been her rapt face when discussing the post.

At first she seemed to be ready to answer but then he saw a questioning look come into her eyes. “Before I answer that, I would like to ask, why is this discussion not taking place with Mrs Hart but with you? Is it not a school matter?”

Jonathan realised he had been caught out but honesty was always the best policy and Hannah would not appreciate anything less than honesty.

“Actually all school posts come through me,” he said simply.

Hannah took a few moments to process that. “But the day I brought my CV, you said that it was a school decision,” she stated non-accusatory.

“I know,” he agreed. She stared at him waiting for an explanation. But her eyes held no animosity. “When you appeared in my office asking about the job, you were so timid and fearful, I was certain you would not be able to fill the post. Besides, we require our teachers to be over a certain age.”

She narrowed her eyes thoughtfully but didn’t say anything. He continued. “Not wanting to cause you any more distress, I took the easy way out. However, after you left, God said we had to hire you. I was still not convinced but when God speaks, we must obey,” he finished lamely.

“That’s why the panel interview and all those requirements,” she stated looking down at her hands.

“I apologise for that.,” he said humbly. “Back then I thought I was protecting the school but actually I was protecting myself.”

Hannah’s head jerked up, fixing him with a puzzled stare.

“In these few months, I’ve realised that I cannot run away from God’s plan. And Hannah you are part of that plan. I want to spend my future with you,” he said it so gently that Hannah didn’t quite comprehend at first.

After a few moments, comprehension dawned and she looked at him wide eyed. He loved the way her eyes widened when she gained understanding of something. So innocent.

“I love you Hannah and want to marry you,” he said with the utmost gentleness and meekness, trying not to scare her.

Hannah froze! He was saying that he loved her? Marry her? Her mind was whirling. How could that be. It was not possible. She just stared at him idiotically until panic settled in. He should not be asking that of her at this point in time, she wanted to scream.

But all she could do was run. Jonathan saw the agonised look she gave him before bolting out of his office. However, by the time he was able to get to the door, she was no where in sight.

Chapter 13

What had just happened? He had been so gentle in his approach, even if it was very unromantic but he had been thrown by her question. It hadn’t been his plan on revealing his feelings in this manner. Actually, prior to now, he had no idea how he was going to do that. Maybe this was how God created an opportunity?

A scouring of the grounds revealed that she wasn’t there. He would try and catch her at class tomorrow, early in the morning, or between breaks. Try, he must. Success, however, was not his and neither was it over the next week. He just could not get hold of her. She was being very elusive.

She must be looking out for him, he decided, because every time he walked into her classroom, she was not in it. But she was at school, he knew from Madeline. By the end of the week, he was so desperate that he sought Emily’s help.

Explaining what had happened and ignoring the excitement at his proposal to Hannah, he asked if Emily had seen or heard from Hannah.

“Sorry, son,” Emily said soothingly massaging his shoulder. “She never mentioned your talk but that will explain why she was not very keen on spending time with us. She isn’t here right now and I doubt she would give you ear even if she was. Let me talk to her, okay?”

Jonathan nodded defeated. What else could he do? He only hoped that he had not sent her running forever.

Hopeful, Emily waited for Hannah to come back and although it was already nine thirty at night, she didn’t give Hannah a chance to hide. As soon as Hannah unlocked her door, Emily opened the kitchen door and called out, “Hi, Hannah!”

“Mrs Garrick! You startled me,” Hannah quivered.

“Sorry, dear! I didn’t want to miss you,” Emily said frankly.

The hair on Hannah’s neck prickled. “Why is that, Mrs Garrick?” she asked innocently.

Emily gently shoved her into the cottage and closed the door. “Jonathan tells me you are avoiding him,” Emily, to the point, stated emphatically.

Shamefully, Hannah hung her head. Denying it to Emily, would be useless, but she couldn’t divulge her reason to Emily either.

“Now, I don’t need to know why you are avoiding him as it does not concern me but I do firmly believe that you owe him an explanation,” Emily said sternly but not unkindly. “No matter what it is, it can be said. We are children of God and we forgive each other, no matter what the outcome is. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think you hold Jonathan in high esteem. And the same for him toward you. Trust me, he does not go around giving people he comes into contact with that high a rating, they have to be special to him.” Emily’s eyes held sincerity.

Hannah knew that Emily spoke wisely and was instantly ashamed for treating Jonathan that way. She owed him an explanation and an apology. What gripped her though was Emily’s kind words about Jonathan holding her in high esteem. Did he? Well… he did say he loved her even though he hardly knew her. That was something to smile about but instead she had become scared.

“You are right Mrs Garrick. It is thoughtless of me to leave him feeling as if he’s done something wrong. I will make right tomorrow.” Even if it kills me, she added silently.

Emily knew that Hannah was struggling but whatever it was, she also knew that Jonathan was strong enough to handle it. For now she nodded satisfied. Before she left, she prayed with Hannah.

Once Emily was back in her house, Hannah sat down heavily on the sofa. No matter how weak or scared she felt, she would have to make good on what she told Emily she would do.

“Please dear Lord, give me the strength and wisdom to speak the words I must,” she prayed earnestly.

Puffy eyes, in the morning, were indicative of her fitful sleep but some cucumbers soon helped to lessen the hideousness. She avoided as many people as she could for the day and was glad when the school day was over.

Her nerves were taut as she contemplated how she would approach her business. Finally, she just walked up to Jonathan’s office, hoping he would be there. Laura had fortunately left already.

Composing herself by taking a deep breath, Hannah walked into Jonathan’s office. A sigh of relief escaped her as she saw that he was there. Quivering, she closed the door quietly and just stood against it.

“Hannah!” Jonathan greeted pleasantly surprised but his eyes were gently probing. He had given up hope that she would come out of hiding. Quelling the urge to jump up and hold her just so that he could feel she was really there and not a figment of his imagination, he remained seated so as not to distract her.

“I owe you an explanation,” she came straight to the point, moving to stand in front of his desk. “But first I would like to apologise for running out on you and for hiding from you,” she said quietly looking him directly in the eyes with those big, brown, frank eyes that he had come to love.

He didn’t say anything just nodded slightly. She sat down in the chair opposite him, clasping and twisting her hands. then suddenly shot up as if the chair had ejected her. He could see she was nervous and uncertain.

He remained where he was, giving her the space she needed. Still he didn’t say anything. Patiently, he waited.

After a lengthy pause, she breathed deeply and began, her head bowed. “I was the keyboardist in the band. I loved playing for the band and helping my father out wherever I could. He was the guitarist. He came to our church four years ago. He is a very good guitarist. And very good looking.”

She stood still taking another deep breath. “My dad made him leader of the band which he deserved. He was very kind and encouraging. Always good to everyone.” She paused, her stance contemplative. “I cannot say exactly when we became more than friends,” she continued with a tremor in her voice, “a huge surprise for me, but I can tell you we got engaged a year ago.”

A tear slipped down her cheek and she sat down again. Still she didn’t look at him. Taking another deep breath to steady her nerves, she continued. “We planned to have our wedding in June. I did not question the date or timing. As with everything else, I pushed aside my doubts and just accepted it.”

She stood up again, restless but still did not look at him. Jonathan felt the struggle she was experiencing. Realisation that she had not told anyone what she was telling him now, pained him. His heart was breaking for her even though she had not completed her story. Quietly, he came around to the other side of the desk and stood behind her, a good length away, though, waiting for her to come to complete restoration.

Twisting her hands, she continued with a voice that belied her anguish. “With the help of my mother I began planning the wedding.” Her voice caught on a sob.

As much as Jonathan wanted to take her in his arms and rock her, he stayed where he was.

“Thankfully, everything was still in the planning stage, when two months before the wedding, he walked into the church with his wife. She was the lead singer.” Hannah closed her eyes as if to blot out the painful memory. “I was still wearing my engagement ring.”

Jonathan closed his eyes as her pain washed over him. Coming around to stand in front of her, he gently, lovingly took her hands in his.

Hannah looked at the hands covering hers but they were not the hands of the man standing in front of her although the hands were just as gentle, soft and warm but the nail piercings were very vivid. Hannah just stared at them. These were the hands she had seen in her dream where she walked down the aisle to her bridegroom. Her heart raced.

The voice coming from above was ever so sweet and comforting. “I’m so sorry, Hannah!” A gush of love flowed from the voice.

She knew that Jesus had not abandoned her. He had been with her all along, never leaving her side even though she felt like He had. Now He was encouraging her to voice that question that burned in her heart; the question that had cut a hole so big in her heart that she often wondered if it could be healed. A question once voiced, would bring her freedom.

At this moment, she was absolutely certain she could share it with the man in front of her. Jesus was encouraging her to voice the question. The man in front of her was Jesus to her. She knew she could trust him as she could trust Jesus.

She looked up into Jonathan’s dark eyes, her own filled with tears waiting to spill over. Jonathan maintained an encouraging gaze, full of understanding and compassion, whilst keeping her hands in his.

“It didn’t hurt when he couldn’t come to me and tell me first. It didn’t hurt when the other woman was my friend. Or that it was done in front of everyone whose eyes were filled with pity. But there is just one thing I can’t get past.” Her voice was filled with sorrow.

Perplexed though he was, he just held her hands tightly in a reassuring grasp, waiting for her to put into words the one thing she needed to get past. Something he knew would bring release to her.

With great effort, she finally voiced, “Can a man kiss one woman passionately and make her feel special and at the same time love another?”

Many uncouth thoughts floated in his mind about this man that had hurt her so. He wanted to tell her that it should never be like that, that the man was an idiot, not worthy of her tears but that, he knew, would not make her feel any better right now. No man should ever portray Jesus as anything less than good but God was in the business of turning bad things around for the good.

Instead, he just wrapped his arms around her and held her close. Hannah knew her answer – Jesus was saying she should not have been hurt or betrayed like that but that she had to push past it. Give it to Him. The tears fell unheeded and her sobs were heart wrenching.

Jonathan’s heart broke for her. She was so small in his arms.

It was some time before she could speak again. “Thank you,” she said finally, in a muffled voice against his chest, when the sobs subsided. He didn’t say anything, just continued to hold her.

Supporting herself with her hands, against his chest, she pushed her upper body away from his but didn’t leave his embrace.

“I am so sorry for crying all over you,” she said shyly, the steady look back in her eyes.

“Don’t be,” he smiled back. “I’m more concerned about your healing.”

For a while they just stared at each other until Hannah lowered her gaze and stepped back. Something magical was happening but she didn’t know if she was ready for it just yet.

“I have to make a confession,” she said sadly, her gaze still lowered.

Jonathan’s heart stopped for a moment. Would he like the confession? “Whatever, it is,” he said bravely, “remember God forgives openly.” So can I, he told himself.

“I…,” her hesitation was longer than he liked. “Simon and Gloria came back only to apologise in person, which I thought was big of them; they could have sent a note.” She shrugged. “And also to resign from my father’s church. I couldn’t let that happen, so I chose to leave. My father needed Simon more,” she explained her reasoning.

Jonathan’s eyes grew wide with amazement at this wonderful woman who was so prepared to put her needs aside for others. But before he could say anything, she continued.

“It was also for selfish reasons, I guess. With everyone witnessing my demise, I could not see myself being around any of them. So I chose to run away. To allay any worry for my parents, I promised I would attend another church. I went to different churches where you didn’t have to be accountable or God fearing. It suited me fine. For two months, I ran away from God. Even though I was dutifully going to church, I did not read my Bible, or pray or even talk to God; I was so mad with Him for not taking care of me.”

Jonathan wanted to let out a whoop of joy. That was the confession? he thought joyfully. If Jesus showed Himself in person, he would kiss Him. God’s plans were amazing! He knew that God had brought the spouse He always had for Jonathan to him even if the circumstances were painful for her. At the same time, God was healing her! To tell her that right now, though, would put a spokes in the works.

Instead lifting her chin, he said, “Hannah, that is not an unforgivable thing. God knew all along you were hurting and He never left your side. In fact He has been watching over you for as long as you’ve been away from home. He sent you here to heal not feel condemned.”

She smiled, a beautiful smile. “Ever so the minister. But I figured that out when I started attending services here. I felt Him reaching out to me and I started reaching out to Him. I’ve been able to write music again.” She said the last excitedly.

The phone buzzed. Jonathan looked at it blankly before groaning.

“You should answer it,” Hannah said softly

With an irritated sigh, he returned to the other side of the desk. It was one of the junior pastors.

“The meeting?… Oh, yes the one with Gary and the team. Give me five minutes.”

Replacing the receiver he was about to address her when she stated, “You have a meeting.”

“That I can re-schedule,” he said firmly.

“No, please, don’t. It’s important.”

“You’re more important. And right now I don’t want to leave you.”

“Truly, I am better than fine. Thanks to you. I feel lighter. We can talk tomorrow,” she gave him an encouraging smile.

“Are you sure?” he was torn.

“Positive!” She was already walking to the door.

“I hate doing this to you,” he raked a hand through his hair.

“If I am to live this kind of life, I guess the present is the best time to start getting used to it.” With a small laugh, she was out the door before he could respond.

Jonathan sat there flabbergasted. Did she…just accept his marriage proposal? He could not be sure that he heard right. He should go after her to make sure. Unfortunately, his phone rang insistently, making it impossible for him to do that.

He winced. There was no way he could find out now and by the time the meeting ended, Hannah would probably be asleep. He would have to wait until tomorrow after school. How he would manage that, he didn’t know.

Fortunately, for Hannah, neither Emily nor Derrick were around when she got in. For this, she was grateful. She was in a turmoil right now and could not deal with anyone just yet.

She needed to process all that had taken place in the last two hours. Agonisingly, she did. By the time she was ready for bed, she had pretty much sorted out her feelings. Today, she had been blessed and freed.

A pity she had not done this sooner. Never before did she feel so alive. The last thought she had before falling off to sleep was of Jonathan’s strong arms around her as she cried. He was so comforting and a pillar. No longer could she deny her love for him.

Chapter 14

The next morning, she woke in high spirits. There was a lilt in her step. Even Emily, who was hanging up washing, commented on it.

“Morning, Hannah! You look so sprightly. Have you changed your hairstyle?” Emily questioned thoughtfully.

“Good morning, Mrs Garrick! No I didn’t but I do feel different today. Must be something in the air.” Hannah smiled secretively.

Emily nodded absently before Hannah disappeared to the bus stop. School was a breeze. She sailed through everything with more enthusiasm than before.

Jonathan sat in his office and watched the clock. It was still four hours before Hannah was done with her class. It was killing him not to go to her. Several times, he thought he would just pitch up at her class and have her excuse herself, just so that he could get a straight answer from her.

But that would be selfish not to mention against school policy. So he bided his time. Alas, time was not his own. During the waiting period, he was inundated with calls, crisis and ad hock meetings. By the time he was ready to see Hannah, it was already three o’ clock.

He went in search of her but did not find her in the classroom. Sarah was not sure of Hannah’s whereabouts either but she promised to let Hannah know that she was sought. Although he played it cool when asking for her, Jonathan suspected that Sarah read more than she was letting on. Sarah, he suspected, knew from the very beginning that romance was inevitable between him and Hannah.

It was five o’clock when a knock sounded on his door. Hannah popped her head in and said with a mischievous glint in her eye, “You were looking for me, pastor Chandler?”

Jonathan rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Yes! Please come in.” He sounded very much the pastor. His secretary who was listening, didn’t voice her opinions. Instead she closed the door to his office behind her after stating that she was leaving and would see him tomorrow.

After sharing with each other, yesterday, he expected her to be less intimidated but still she kept her distance. He started to doubt what he thought her parting words were.

“About yesterday,” she began ruefully. His heart sank. “I am not usually that teary.” She was looking directly at him as she usually did but this time he had the feeling she was looking for something within him. “I’m sorry if I came across as weak.”

“Oh, gosh, Hannah, not all! You are the bravest person I know, even if you don’t look it.” He smiled affectionately. She looked at him blankly but didn’t pursue it. “Hannah what you did yesterday took guts. I’m assuming that you spoke to no one about it before yesterday?” She nodded gravely. “I’m sorry that you had to keep all that in. We were never designed to bear burdens alone. And for you to be so forgiving especially when you were hurt so badly, takes real guts.”

She looked at him with a frown. “I didn’t forgive them right away,” she confessed.

“But you did eventually,” he pointed out in a telling manner. She nodded again. “That is all that matters. God loves you for who you are not what you do.” She nodded again. “Right, yesterday, you said we could talk today. Can we?” He was uncertain.

Hannah had never seen him uncertain before. It was amazing that she could cause him to be uncertain. But she didn’t like it. “Yes, we can,” she replied shyly.

“Before you left my office you said something but I am not sure that I heard correctly. What did you mean?”

“Does your offer for marriage still stand?” she asked hesitantly, not mincing words.

He was around the desk in a jiffy. “Yes!” he almost shouted gladly.

“Then I accept,” she said humbly with deep sincerity.

He searched her face for signs of doubt, frivolity, amusement but found none.

“Wait, I have to do this properly.” He got down on one knee taking her trembling hand in his and asked, “Hannah Wilkens, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”

“Yes,” she said simply.

“Thank you!” He breathed in relief, getting up from the floor and hugging her tightly before releasing her.

“On condition that there is no engagement ring.”

“I’m afraid there can be no engagement ring.”

They spoke at the same time, she firmly, him regretfully. Then laughed.

“I just can’t have everyone overwhelming you if the news gets out,” he apologised.

“That suits me just fine. I wouldn’t wear it anyway.” Hannah laughed, but a tinge of sadness laced her voice. Jonathan understood it would take some time for her to heal completely so didn’t take offense at her comment. “Thank you for thinking about me!” she said soberly.

His heart was soaring; he wanted to kiss her but knew that he had to tread lightly.

“So do you still feel intimidated by me?” he asked casually instead.

“Yes!” she replied honestly.

“Tell me what to do to change that,” he groaned.

“For starters, you can stop looking at me like you are going to devour me,” she said seriously.

“I do? I’m so sorry! Okay I will try to change the way I look at you. But I don’t know if I will get it right. Especially since you are so beautiful!” He grimaced. “But I will try. So what was the other thing?”

Hannah hesitated but the look on her face told him there was more.

“What is it?” he asked gently.

“I…” she turned red. “Promise me you won’t get upset if I tell you,” she requested beseechingly.

“I won’t get upset,” he promised solemnly.

“It’s just that you seem so invincible. So tough and unbreakable. Like conquering the world would be all in a day’s job for you. I feel that if I come anywhere close to you, I will probably get incinerated; it scares me,” she said softly but he heard.

Expecting a negative reaction, she was thrown by the amazement in his eyes. This clouded her thoughts so she babbled on. “I sometimes wonder if you are human at all. As if you would be unscathed by any disaster.” Her eyes were imploring him to understand.

“Invincible,” was all he said as his thoughts raced. Then suddenly he laughed a victorious laugh. “That’s exactly what we should be as children of God. Invincible is how the devil should see us. You have just given me my next sermon. Hannah you are so brilliant, I could kiss you but I’ll settle for a hug,” he added quickly at the anxiety on her face.

“I have? I am?” she questioned confused against his arm that embraced her in a bear hug causing her breathing to be slightly laboured.

He let her go and said tenderly, “You certainly are my darling. And I have to write these points down quickly before I forget.”

With that, he grabbed a piece of paper off his desk and wrote something on it then returned it to the other side of his desk.

“That is the most flattering thing ever said to me,” he grinned. “I feel like superman!” his eyes held amusement.

“Oh, no! Your mother told you even though she said she wouldn’t!” Hannah gasped.

“Don’t be upset. She thought it was sweet. However, it might be tough for me to maintain that standard,” he said with mock hardship.

“Oh, dear! I didn’t mean to make it sound like a burden,” she gasped. “I am so sorry!”

“Don’t be! I rather fancy having a wife who thinks of me as superman,” he laughed. “I am ever so grateful that God brought you into my life,” he said soberly.

“And you into mine,” she said with a wide smile.

“Now, about our marriage,” he began. Hannah raised her eyebrow. “I want to get married soon, before Christmas. I don’t think I can wait even that long. We can have a small wedding, mostly family and close friends if you’re happy with that.” His eyes were hopeful; hers were wide with astonishment.

She studied him for a long while before agreeing, “I don’t want a big wedding and all the trimmings.”

“Perfect for me too. A family affair?”

“Yes, that will be fine,” she answered distractedly.

“The first Saturday in December?”

Her head was spinning at how fast everything was moving but she had known that it was going to happen. Hadn’t the Lord told her already? He just hadn’t informed her it would be this soon.

“I would like to continue teaching after we’re married,” she bargained gently but firmly.

“Off course you should!” He was taken aback that she would think he would take away her joy. “Which reminds me that you haven’t replied as to the music teacher post?”

“Need you ask?” she lifted her eyebrow.

He broke into a grin. “About the marriage date?” he asked gently.

“Won’t it be too soon? We hardly know each other,” she stated matter of factly.

Looking at her with understanding, Jonathan asked, “Do you have doubts about marrying me?”

It was a gentle, neutral question and Hannah didn’t hesitate to answer. “No doubts! Do you?” she added as afterthought.

“Not at all!” he readily replied. “Hannah,” he continued, taking her hand in his and looking her in the eye, his shining with all the love he felt, “we both want this and since we are both committed to it, we have a lifetime to learn about each other.”

Hannah chewed on that a bit before answering, “Alright!” with trust. “The first Saturday in December. But no kissing until we’re married.” She was firm.

“For someone who looks so timid, you sure are tough,” he smiled. She gave him a withering look not backing down. “Agreed. No kissing until we are married, I promise.” His eyes held no emotion as he made the promise but his head was trying to wrap itself around it. For Hannah’s sake he would try very hard to keep his promise, no matter how difficult it got. She seemed satisfied.

“Do you have a preference for the officiating minister?” he asked suddenly.

She looked at him blankly. Then shook her head. Her father would have to walk her down the aisle so she would definitely not want him officiating. And the other ministers of her father’s acquaintance, she did not know well enough.

“Then it’s okay if I choose?”

She nodded.

“I would like my mentor to officiate, Reverend Matthew Plain from Grace Christian Church.”

“Certainly! If you hold him in high esteem, then I’m happy with that,” she responded agreeably.

“He does, however, require all couples to attend marriage preparation counselling. We do run a course for engaged couples but it would be disastrous for me to attend with those who are doing it in this church. They would never be able to get through it without feeling intimidated.” He said the last with a grin. “Also, I would not like to introduce you to the congregation just yet. I would like to keep that for after we are married.”

“Then how are we supposed to do it?” she asked ignoring his teasing about intimidation.

“Grace Christian Church runs a similar course for their engaged couples. We could attend there. It just means driving forty five minutes there and forty five minutes back.”

Hannah shrugged. “I’m fine with that. Will you manage it?”

“Attending it with you? I most certainly will,” he answered decisively.

“Oh, we have to tell our parents!” she said suddenly. “I haven’t said anything about my feelings to them,” she said fearfully.

“Both our parents will be expecting the announcements,” he declared.

“Uh?”

“I already got your father’s blessing when he visited. So he would have shared with your mother by now. But I swore them to secrecy until I could speak to you.”

“You asked my father’s blessing?” she echoed looking at him in wonder. “And he agreed?” still unable to fathom it.

“He did not answer for you,” Jonathan reassured. “He told me that the decision is yours to make and he would be happy with whatever you decided. He did seem surprised though.”

Hannah was thoughtful for a moment. “You knew back then already that you wanted to marry me?” she asked shyly.

“I knew for a very long time but I wasn’t sure what your relationship with Luke was so I couldn’t announce my feelings for you until now,” he said painfully.

“Oh, my!” she put her hand to her chest. “He is like a brother to me,” she stated.

“I didn’t know that,” he defended. “Besides you two were pretty close.”

“We are!” she affirmed. “But only because he was not expecting anything from me,” she said gladly. “All my life people expected me to be someone or something I am not. Even with Simon, I seem to lose my identity. And since everyone was excited about our engagement, I didn’t want to voice my doubts. And just when I would think that I should tell him, he would kiss me and make it seem as if I was imagining things. He had a way to make me think all was as it should be. You’re the only other person who sees me as me,” she said with feeling.

Jonathan was so grateful for her confession; he hoped that he would forever uphold her view of him. He determined to go the extra mile to do just that. And it would be easy if he just kept his focus on how God saw Hannah. At least he now understood her reason for not wanting to be kissed.

“Hannah, you are created by our wonderful, loving Father, and He sees you as He created you. I couldn’t see you as any less than that. Otherwise I would be false to my calling,” he said sweetly.

For those words of affirmation, he received a long hug. She was all the wonderful things he didn’t deserve and all that God wanted for him. Thankful, he kissed the top of her head.

“What about your family?” she asked, remaining in his embrace.

“My mother knew well before I did, so it won’t be any surprise to her. I will let my siblings know soon. But for now, I would like to just bask in the happiness of having you in my life,” he whispered.

Hannah felt a tingle go through her entire being. It felt good to be loved by someone who accepted her for who she was. She enjoyed being there in his embrace and didn’t want to leave it but the phone rang breaking the magical moment.

It was a member of the congregation who had interrupted them but they couldn’t blame the person. They were not to know that they were interrupting. After a few minutes, the call ended and Jonathan could again focus on his wife to be. He could still not believe that it was happening for him. But he knew better than to doubt his Father.

“Sorry!” he apologised.

“No need to. I am fully aware that I cannot stand in the way of what God called you to do,” she said with complete understanding and maturity.

Jonathan just looked at her with awe. She was by far the most wonderful person he had ever met. He must have been staring at her too long for she became uncomfortable as she asked, “Is something wrong?”

“With you? Absolutely nothing. I was just wondering what I did to deserve such happiness,” he said with conviction.

Perching on the chair opposite him, Hannah laughed with relief. “For a moment there, I thought you were regretting your decision.”

“Not a chance!” he confirmed.

“I’m glad! Now I better get going to inform my parents and book my family for the date,” she said businesslike.

“I better do the same,” Jonathan said reluctantly. He did not want her to leave but she was right, they needed to get the ball rolling. “I had better also get us enrolled on that course at Grace Christian Church.”

“Thank you for taking care of everything,” she said as if it meant the world to her.

“You are welcome. And Hannah, it’s okay to say no to anything you don’t like,” he said softly.

Shaken by his astuteness, she looked at him with tears in her eyes. Mostly people hardly ever took her feelings into consideration; not that it was their fault for she had let them decide for her. Now she was given the mandate to say no.

Love swelled for the man she would marry soon. “I love you!” she said instead of responding to his statement.

Jonathan could not have been more blessed. Why did he promise not to kiss her until their wedding? Fortunately, the desk provided a good barrier. “I love you too!” he said with feeling before she left his office.

Chapter 15

The first thing he did after she left him alone was to thank God profusely for intervening and making it all possible. Thereafter, he phoned his mother to tell her the good news. Emily was over the moon. She already set a date for them to dine together as a celebration of the good news. He wondered if Hannah would be ready for that. Before hanging up though, he made Emily promise not to spread the word just yet. Reluctantly, she promised.

As soon as Hannah got home, Emily waylaid her. “I heard the good news!” Emily burst out excitedly taking Hannah by surprise.

“You and Jonathan must come to dinner tomorrow night to celebrate,” she continued without waiting for a response from Hannah. She also didn’t give Hannah a chance to decline the dinner invitation. Overwhelmed, Hannah just nodded.

“Have you notified your parents?” Emily asked curiously.

“Er, not yet. Going to phone them now,” she managed finally.

“Oh, sorry, yes! Forgive me. There’s so much I would like to ask but that can wait until you are finished or even tomorrow.” Emily let her go.

Making the call to her parents was relieving for both sides. They were delighted with the news but cautious about the preparations.

“Honey, are you okay with going through this again?” her mother asked cautiously.

“I think so mum,” Hannah replied calmly.

“Your dad and I have known for a while,” Elizabeth confessed quietly.

“I heard,” Hannah said without condemnation.

“We know this is what God wants for you,” Elizabeth encouraged, with tears in her voice. “I knew the moment I set eyes on the two of you in the same room,” Elizabeth was ardent. “Anyway, we have a wedding to plan in such a short time.”

“Nothing fancy, mum,” Hannah commissioned.

“Off course dearest,” Elizabeth scoffed.

“And mum?” Hannah said hesitantly.

‘”Yes, darling?” Elizabeth encouraged.

“Can I use grandma’s wedding dress?” Hannah’s voice held uncertainty.

“Baby, is that what you want?” Her mother’s tone was pending.

“Yes, it is!” Hannah said with conviction.

“Then that’s what you must wear. Off course we will have to alter it a bit but I don’t think it would be too difficult. I will need to send it to you for fitting. Let me see what will be the best way to do that.”

Hannah was relieved her mother didn’t talk her out of wearing her grandmother’s wedding gown. Old fashioned though it might seem, Hannah didn’t care. It would need a slight change here and there but Hannah could still picture how beautiful it was in her eyes, when she first saw it.

Her mind wandered to the day when her mother was airing out the attic and found the dress in a bag – well preserved. The silk was still white and the simplicity of the style was what she needed. The dress flared slightly at the waist, had short sleeves and lace overlay which she might have to remove. But the buttons down the back all the way from the high collar to below the small of her back, was the deciding factor for her. They were pretty and intricate making it look fancy. The veil was still in good condition. Yes! Hannah was certain that she wanted to wear it.

She didn’t see Jonathan the next day until dinner. Still shy about the whole relationship, Hannah only allowed him a quick hug in front of their hosts.

Talk at the table revolved around their marriage. Still getting used to the idea, Hannah contributed little to the conversation. She was grateful that no one spent too much time on the wedding itself. Fear was still embedded in her that it might not take place.

Before the evening ended, Emily wanted to know about invitations. “If we don’t get them out soon, then the people you want there will not be able to attend. It is taking placing in December after all.” Emily raised an eyebrow.

She made a good point, Hannah realised. Many will be preparing for holidays so might not be too available. Invitations, though, meant it would be official and Hannah was still cautious about the whole thing.

“My parents are fine with the date and they will make sure my siblings are too,” Hannah stated without enthusiasm.

They laughed at that. “I like your parents,” Derrick grinned.

Hannah coloured after realising what she said. Jonathan covered her hands with his, supportively.

“I guess I will have to make sure that Jonathan’s siblings are fine with it,” Emily laughed. “Now who are the other guests and where are you having the wedding?”

Both Jonathan and Hannah looked at each other startled. Excited about getting married, neither of them had thought about the venue.

“You certainly can’t have it at the church,” Derrick interjected. “The whole congregation will want to be there.” He laughed at that.

But Jonathan knew it could happen. If they wanted to keep it small and private, they would have to find a venue that was not public. At this short notice, he wondered where. And Hannah would not be privy to places in the area.

“Do you have any preference, Hannah?” Emily took a shot.

“I’m not familiar with the area,” Hannah said hesitantly.

But there was a place on her mind, Jonathan realised. And she didn’t want to voice it in the group.

“Let’s see what we can come up with in the next few days,” he said kindly, squeezing her hand reassuringly.

Hannah instantly knew that Jonathan was aware of her idea for a venue. Grateful, she squeezed his hand back, letting him know that she trusted him.

Emily agreed to not rush into a decision on that. They wanted it to be special, she realised and interfering would be uncalled for. Everyone was happy with that.

In order not to create smoke around their relationship, Jonathan agreed he would not visit Hannah at school, difficult though it was. The best they could do to see each other was at the Garrick’s house for which he was grateful. Anyway, they had a lifetime to spend with each other after the wedding and that kept him sane.

Since Hannah didn’t want to chat about the venue with anyone else, Jonathan was at a loss of how and where they could do that. Opportunity came via Sarah. The school was in need of a male supervisor for the Grade R outing since the male teacher who was to be involved was off sick.

At short notice, Jonathan was roped in. Not that he minded. It was the opportunity to be alone with Hannah even if there were twenty children with them. Only an hour was allocated to the outing but it was more than enough for Jonathan.

When they reached their destination, the children were taken care of by the people there, leaving Hannah and Jonathan waiting for them. They were offered the opportunity to explore the building, on the their own, which they immediately took up.

With no one else around, they were able to talk. It was then that Hannah confessed that she had seen a beautiful garden on one of the charity runs they did. But she wasn’t sure that it could be used by the public. But it didn’t look like a residential garden either.

Jonathan made a note of the place and promised Hannah he would make inquiries. Or get Emily to do that.

“Maybe Mrs Garrick should do that,” she suggested. “It will be less telling,” she pointed out at his thoughtful look.

Once again, she was right, he conceded, making a mental note to get the information to Emily. Time was moving so slowly towards their wedding, but he was well aware that God’s way was best. If it was up to him, he would sign the register yesterday already.

Hannah, on the other hand, didn’t seem to be in a hurry to get to their wedding day. But then he realised that she had been disappointed before and would be cautious about the second time. Maybe the idea to get married without the wedding would be better, he pondered.

No! he felt God saying to wait. Whatever for, he had no idea but he had learnt a long time ago to trust God’s judgement.

“A penny for your thoughts,” Hannah’s sweet voice cut into his thoughts.

He hadn’t realised that he was far away. “Just wishing it was December already,” he smiled pensively.

Hannah’s eyes grew wide. She couldn’t believe that he would be impatient to marry, especially in light of his first marriage ending disastrously, if his tone when mentioning it to her on that first day was anything to go by. Not that she wanted to bring it up. Waiting for the right time was always best to discuss things like that.

“I know it must seem like it might not take place. From your side, I understand it will seem unreal and I don’t want to make you uncomfortable about the whole thing. For me, it is very real. I’ve known that the moment you crept into my heart. I will try my best to make you happy, Hannah.” His words came straight from his heart.

Hopelessly, she looked at him. She wanted to believe that everything was real but she had been duped before. That was why she insisted he did not kiss her until they were legally husband and wife. She didn’t want to make him feel bad, not at all. Jonathan was a good man and no doubt will make her very happy; she just needed to trust God that it will take place. But it was going to have to take its course.

Further conversation was impossible as the children joined them noisily. Jonathan smiled lovingly at her wanting her to feel secure with him. He would wait for her to fully trust him and that could only happen once she could trust God completely. He wasn’t worried; they had a lifetime for that to happen. He turned his attention to the children who were crowding him listening to their chatter and encouraging them in their stories.

Stumped by what she saw in Jonathan’s eyes, Hannah could not move until one of the children pulled on her hand. Pushing aside her thoughts of him and the unmasked love she was privy to a few moments ago, she paid attention to the child.

Neither she nor Jonathan spoke of personal things again that day. It was difficult though for her to concentrate for the rest of the day. Her mind kept drifting to Jonathan. He was genuine, she could feel it. Unlike Simon, Jonathan was transparent. He was not doubtful about their future. Neither was he putting demands and pressure on her.

That night, she prayed in the quietness of her sanctuary that God would help her to believe and trust and that His will was always better no matter what she thought. Sleep was restful after that.

The next evening, Emily knocked on her door. “I have some good news for you,” Emily said inviting herself in.

Hannah greeted the older woman with a smile. She knew better than to ignore Emily. “I like good news,” Hannah stated unsure whether Emily’s news was good for herself or Hannah.

“That garden you were thinking about for your wedding, it is not for public use,” Emily stated.

How did Jonathan get the details to his mother so quickly? Hannah asked herself pleased that she was his priority. Even the news that it was not a venue for hire didn’t erase the dizzying sensation of that thought.

“Oh, that’s alright,” Hannah said pleasantly. “I am sure we could find another venue.”

“However,” Emily continued as if she hadn’t spoken, “the owners when they heard why we inquired have agreed to let us use it.”

Hannah’s mouth dropped open. Did she hear correctly?

“Yep, that’s what I said,” Emily spoke as if reading her mind.

“I…I don’t know what to say. They would do that?” Disbelief made her voice squeaky.

“Off course I told them that you were getting married to a pastor. I was careful not to mention which pastor,” Emily held her hand up in defence at Hannah’s concerned look.

“That’s fantastic news, not just good news!” Hannah cried with excitement. She was getting the venue she would like for her wedding and wearing the dress she wanted.

This could only be God’s hand. “I have to tell Jonathan,” Hannah said excitedly.

“I’ll leave you to it then,” Emily said briskly with a smile and left promptly.

The excitement in her voice was catchy as she told Jonathan the news about the venue. “Oh, Jonathan, it can only be God!” she stated emphatically.

He agreed and was excited that she could see God’s hand in this. He had prayed that the venue would be theirs, for Hannah’s sake, and once again God proved Himself faithful. No matter how many times he saw God at work, Jonathan still felt awed. Now they could send out invitations!

Early that Saturday, Elizabeth phoned Hannah. “Hi, darling!” she greeted enthusiastically. “I have found someone coming your way next week Tuesday. They are willing to deliver your wedding dress to you.” Elizabeth was excited.

“Thanks mum,” Hannah said with heartfelt gratitude. “Just message me the details for pick up.”

“Oh, no! They will deliver to your door but probably around eight in the evening. That okay?”

“Yes, off course! I’ll be here. I’ll just let Mrs Garrick know.”

“Everything else on track?” Elizabeth asked casually.

“I think so. We have a venue.” Hannah said this in awe.

“Sounds like it’s unreal to you,” Elizabeth stated reading her daughter well.

“It all feels unreal, mum!” Hannah confessed. “Do you think it will take place?” Hannah asked doubtfully.

“Oh, sweetheart, I know you are uncertain and I can’t give you a definite answer. Only God can make that call. And if it doesn’t happen? Would you still love Him?”

“I’ve learned that it is best to leave things in God’s hands.”

“Wise words indeed,” Elizabeth approved.

“Jonathan taught me that,” Hannah confessed. “He’s a real stalwart. Deep down I know that he won’t abandon me. He’s even prepared to skip the wedding and just do the nuptials.”

“That’s what your father said about him,” Elizabeth conferred. “Then what’s wrong?”

A moment of silence ensued before Hannah could confess, “It’s just so hard to get rid of the fear.”

“Yes, it is! However, don’t for one moment think God will use it against you. Just confess the fear to Him and leave it there. Whether He removes it immediately or later, He is going to make things right,” Elizabeth counselled.

“I’ll do that mum. Thanks.”

“I used to worry about you a lot, Hannah. From a young child you used to always give in to others at the expense of yourself. It frightened me but at least as a child I could protect you but when you got old enough to make decisions on your own I couldn’t and that was difficult for me. These days, I can relax. You have become the woman you were always created to be.” A sob caught in Elizabeth’s voice.

“I love you mum,” Hannah said in a muffled voice.

After speaking to her mother, Hannah felt better, stronger. She was going to be alright. Following her mother’s instruction, Hannah gave her fear to God and waited. It didn’t feel different but she trusted what her mother said and would wait. In the meantime, she would plan her wedding in faith.

That afternoon she acted as she normally did at the young people’s group meeting. Again it was just the seven of them which was a blessing to Hannah as she didn’t fancy facing the clawing females. None of them saw any difference in her which was good even though her mind wandered several times.

Chapter 16

It was becoming more difficult to keep her engagement secret at school, though. Everyone seemed to notice a difference in her. Sarah herself even commented on it.

”Spring suits you, Hannah!” she said one day with a twinkle in her eye. Hannah laughed not commenting. She suspected that Mrs Hart knew but was being discreet.

Tuesday came and with it the excitement of getting her dress. Suppressing her excitement was difficult especially towards the afternoon. Fortunately everyone was too pre-occupied with exams and therefore no one inquired about her state of excitement.

When the knock on the door came that, evening, she was ready and waiting. Emily had directed them to her door. After thanking the young couple, whom she recognised from her father’s church and who filled her in on their move to the city a while back before her engagement fiasco, they left to get home.

Taking a deep breath, she opened the case and therein was the dress just as she remembered. Before she could lift it out, Emily knocked on her door.

“I couldn’t wait to see it,” Emily confessed like a child.

“That’s okay,” Hannah laughed glad that she could share her excitement with someone.

Together, they unfolded the dress and laid it on the bed. “It’s beautiful!” Emily stated genuinely.

“Huh, huh!” Hannah agreed, dreamily, staring at the dress. She was glad she’d had no inclination to wear it first time around. Simon had not inspired her to wear the dress and she was not sure that he would have approved. So she had never even asked him.

“I would like to replace the lace though,” Hannah said thoughtfully.

“Just say the word and I can oblige,” Emily said encouragingly.

“You sew?” Hannah asked surprised.

“Oh, no! But I know of someone who does. Don’t worry, it’s someone who’s coming to the wedding,” she added quickly at Hannah’s alarmed look. “She just doesn’t know it yet. My younger sister,” Emily proudly answered Hannah’s questioning look.

“You have a sister living here?” Hannah was still surprised. “Gosh I have so many people yet to meet. I guess my first impression of Jonathan just coming into being would be great now,” she laughed.

Emily laughed heartily. “I still can’t get over that one!”

“I don’t think Jonathan will either,” Hannah said with mirth.

It was settled that Emily’s sister would make the changes to the dress. And Hannah knew that the dress was in good hands. She informed her mother as soon as Emily left. Elizabeth was relieved.

The next evening, she and Jonathan had dinner with the Garricks. It had been some time since they saw each other. For some reason, Jonathan had become very busy lately. He looked tired Hannah noted, wishing she could do something about it. Thoughtfully, Emily and Derrick always gave them some time alone after dinner.

“I have booked the marriage preparation course which starts next week. We will complete it in time for the wedding,” he informed with accomplishment.

“You look tired,” she said instead of acknowledging the information.

Jonathan looked surprised but was elevated that she cared. “Just this time of the year syndrome,” he joked.

“Will you manage the course?” she asked matter of factly. “I don’t mind if we wait.”

Cupping her face in his hands, he said firmly, “I mind. I have made sure that there will be no distractions on the days we are to attend. Besides, I have competent staff who can handle any issues that may arise.” He said the last with a warm smile.

“Okay!” She was breathless. His closeness was playing havoc with her senses and she wasn’t sure what to do with it except stare at him with round eyes.

Jonathan was fully aware that she was as affected by his closeness as he was by hers. Several moments passed as they gazed at each other. He wanted to kiss her badly but the promise he made filled his head. Instead, he kissed her forehead.

Hannah was relieved that he broke the spell first. She was torn between giving in to the desire to kiss him; in that way he would not be breaking his promise; and the torment of not finding out what his kiss would tell her.

Reluctantly, Jonathan removed his hands from her face and shifted away from her. It would be best to keep some distance. Maybe he should adopt her stance before his confession of his feelings for her? The thought made him smile.

“What’s so funny?” she asked mildly.

“I was just thinking that I should adopt your method of keeping my distance from you so that I don’t break my promise. The way you used to remove yourself from me before I proposed?” he reminded her.

Hannah laughed. “See there’s always a reason for everything.”

They laughed about the preposterous idea but Jonathan wasn’t so sure it was preposterous. It was easy for her not to fall into temptation. Not so for him. Although it had been a struggle in the beginning after his divorce to remain sexually pure, it had eventually become easier with the help of the Holy Spirit and he had not transgressed since. No woman had, for a long time now, been physically attractive to him. Since meeting Hannah, however, he felt he was slipping. She was proving to be a passionate woman and he wasn’t sure how long he could exercise self control around her. He groaned inwardly! Marriage was still four weeks away.

Blissfully unaware of Jonathan’s dilemma Hannah asked questions about his family. Coming back to the mundane things, helped. But he kept his physical distance in any case.

The day of the start of the course came quickly. Hannah wasn’t sure what to expect, except that it was a course on preparing for marriage. She had never attended one before; they didn’t have these things at her dad’s church, and was looking forward to the evening. It was also an opportunity to get to know Jonathan better. He seemed satisfied with the knowledge he had of her but she wanted to know more about him. Asking Emily was not something she fancied. Besides, mums were always biased.

Jonathan was punctual and they were on their way immediately. The traffic getting out of the area was still heavy but not too troublesome. At least they were leaving well in time.

Once out of the traffic, Hannah commented, “Gosh! I didn’t realise just how awful the traffic is in the city.”

“That’s because the city has more roads than your town,” he teased.

“Hey! I don’t come from a small town, just a smaller town than the city,” she said with mock defensiveness. “And it’s just easier to drive in my town.”

“So you do drive!” he teased still.

“Off course I drive!” she stated emphatically. “I do have a licence to drive but I don’t know if I will ever drive in this place. It’s just so scary!”

“You’ll get used to it,” he said compassionately.

“Maybe,” she pondered.

“What’s it like in a small town?”

“It’s different,” she began slowly. “Everyone knows everyone so it is pretty hard to keep a secret.” Her voice was tinged with sorrow.

Jonathan reached over and covered her hand. Hannah jumped then apologised. “Sorry! Still getting used to all this.”

“Did you live all your life there?” he asked conversationally, keeping her hand covered with his.

“Yep. Never been anywhere else even though I am in possession of a valid passport. My parents insisted we always be prepared in case the Lord called us to some place else. We renewed our passports dedicatedly,” she enlightened, explaining away their logic. “Because I have not been away from home, my parents were so worried when I decided to come to the city. My sister is the traveller. She’s currently in Germany for six months, working. Very different from me. I am not sure that she will make it to our wedding. My brother will probably leave home on completion of his studies.”

“What is he studying?”

“Marketing Management. He is a creative person and very bold.”

“Sounds like the right choice of career.”

“What he wants from that career is to travel the world. He figures that if he gets into an international company, he will achieve this.” She sighed.

“And you don’t think so?” It was a conversational inquiry.

“Oh, I’m sure he’ll achieve it. I just think he is going into the working world with the wrong reasoning. I am sure there is more to being in your work place than just doing a job.”

“That is a very wise observation, Hannah,” Jonathan praised.

She looked across at him. “Really?”

“You need to give yourself more credit. I think you understand the joys of doing what you are doing. It took me a long time to understand that.” He sounded regretful.

“Oh? Why do you say that?”

“I studied Mechanical Engineering because I always liked building things. But with engineering, you hardly ever get to physically build what you design.”

“That doesn’t sound very joyful.” Her tone wasn’t patronising rather empathic.

“It isn’t if you are a hands on person,” he agreed. “However, the salary’s very good and if you get caught up in that, there’s no regret for your dreams not coming true.”

“Did you feel obliged to stay in that field?” she asked cautiously.

“I guess after I got married, it was not option,” he said without bitterness.

Hannah didn’t want to open up old wounds but she was longing to know about his first wife and how much she would feature in their relationship. Better to get it out in the open sooner than later.

So she plunged in and asked, “What is she like? Your ex-wife?” She hoped she sounded casual and undemanding.

“Noelle?” At least the ex-wife now had a name. “Beautiful, sensual and enjoyed living. Very persuasive too. I guess that’s what blinded me.”

“Did you know her long before you got married?”

“Pretty long. We practically grew up together. Her father was my father’s right hand man in the church. I guess that’s why it made sense for the two of us to get married. Both our parents were very much for it. I am quite certain my dad would have approved too if he were still alive. We were only twenty two then. So naïve about life.” He said the last with regret.

“Can I ask what happened?” Hannah ventured timidly.

“Darling, you have the right to know everything about me; I just didn’t know if you were ready to receive all this knowledge. Just remember, she isn’t going to be part of our lives. Last time I saw or heard from her was five years ago. She’s probably still living in Australia.” He kissed the back of her hand before proceeding.

“When I was still a child, everyone was adamant that I would follow in my father’s footsteps. There were a few prophesies testifying to that. As I got older though, I was pretty certain I didn’t want to do what my father was doing. It seemed to take all of his time. When I turned twelve, he died from burnout and to me that wasn’t very Godly.”

He paused as if remembering the pain of his father’s death and Hannah stroked his hand gently. But he continued strongly. “I didn’t hate God or leave the church or anything like that. I simply saw it as a sign that I should not go into ministry which is why I studied a different field altogether.

“Noelle and I studied at the same university and spent a lot of time together. As soon as we graduated, we got internships. It set the road for our relationship to move to the next level. I guess we were happy, living our lives without thinking about the future. We didn’t get involved in church ministry, activities or even serving. Come to think of it, we lived pretty selfish lives and thought life was great.

“Until my terrible accident.” Hannah gasped at this new knowledge but didn’t say anything. “I had a very dangerous hobby when I was much younger. Motor bike racing! I spent a lot of time racing on the track and was very good at it. It was a passion for me and Noelle encouraged me to continue. She attended every race.

“Off course, being mechanical, I maintained my own bike. I guess that is why I loved the sport so much. It was the last race of the season and I was in the top five. You can imagine how good I felt. I was ready to win that one.” Jonathan paused as if remembering the event. Hannah waited patiently.

“It was almost the end of the race and I was in third place when I was involved in an horrendous crash involving more than four bikes. Flames shot up all around me, I remember clearly.” Hannah groaned at the thought of it. “It must have been a pretty bad crash but all I can remember is seeing angels rising from the flames and ministering to me.” He said it with awe.

“I remember nothing else until I opened my eyes in the hospital. When I opened my eyes, the doctor was there and he was frowning. Thinking the worst, I prepared myself for what he was going to say. Therefore, it took me by surprise when he said, ‘Son, I don’t know how it is possible but you should not be alive after that crash. It’s a miracle you sustained absolutely no injury either’. I thought I was dreaming so I pinched myself and realised that he was very real.

“However, he didn’t discharge me immediately, keeping me in hospital for a good few days even though I was perfectly fine to go home. Probably wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to suddenly go into a coma or something.” Jonathan gave a small laugh. “Those few days I was thankful for as it really helped me get things into perspective. I was made aware that God wanted me back in His plan. I knew He had preserved me for something greater.

“It took some soul searching from then. For me at least. Noelle didn’t want to accept that God was calling us into ministry. She threatened to leave if I did go into ministry. I believed she would. It was a tough decision but I knew that God came first. I asked her to give me some time to think things through.

“She agreed. It was quite a battle but eventually I realised that if God wanted me in a certain place, then He had prepared that place already. He would work on Noelle. Decision made, I confronted her about going into ministry. Contrary to what I thought God was going to do, she filed for a divorce. Said she could not live that sort of life.”

“I am so sorry,” Hannah whispered heart sore.

“You think you know a person…but only God truly knows them,” he sighed.

“So true,” she answered reflectively. “How did you get through that?” she asked amazed.

“With much difficulty,” he laughed now. “It took me six months to come to terms with it but during that time, God sent me amazing mentors. Still I was reluctant to give up the wallowing until one day God spoke directly to me. He reminded me about Job and how much more blessed his latter years were. It was the start of an incredible journey with God. During Bible School, I learnt more than I ever did in my previous years. But the best part of my misery was learning to lean on God and hearing His voice.

“I have never looked back. And His word is coming true already. It might have taken five years but she finally arrived in my life.” He took his eyes momentarily off the road to give her a loving look.

Hannah’s heart warmed. “Thank you for sharing that with me, Jonathan. It makes you more human.”

She didn’t mean for it to be funny but Jonathan said with a hearty laugh, “Oh, no! There goes my superman status.”

“Do you still race?” she asked cautiously, not feeding his teasing.

“I would like to but I don’t have the time.” He sounded regretful. “But too long out of the game and it will be difficult to get back in.” He shrugged.

There was no time for a response as they had arrived at their destination. Hannah left it at that. Maybe another day they would talk about his hobby that he had loved and probably still did.

Chapter 17

Grace Christian Church was so much smaller than Gateway to Eternal Life. It couldn’t house more than six hundred people, she figured, similar in size to her father’s church. It was also an old fashioned building. And the people were friendly and welcoming.

Four other couples were attending the course with them. They would all be sitting in a semi-circle. Already Hannah was feeling shy and nervous. With ten minutes to go before the start, Hannah and Jonathan had a chance to meet the facilitators – a husband and wife team; older than them by far and wise looking. Thankfully, Jonathan did all the talking.

“What church are you members of?” Brian Galloway asked.

“Gateway to Eternal Life,” Jonathan said casually without emotion.

“Oh, I’ve heard that it’s a fantastic church. Also heard they have a very good pastor,” Gloria said excitedly.

“You heard correctly. We have an amazing pastor, who honours God in everything and cares about people,” Hannah answered truthfully and proudly before Jonathan could say anything. “You should come visit sometime,” she invited.

He turned warm, surprised eyes on her. He wasn’t aware that she thought so highly of him. It made him feel special.

“We should!” Brian said readily. “Don’t they run a course in your church for couples getting married? I remember pastor Michael mentioning it.” Brian was puzzled. “In fact our course is based on the one your church runs. We just tweaked ours a bit to do the basics.”

Not knowing what to say, Hannah kept quiet and was thankful for Jonathan’s quick wit. “We missed that one and the next one is too far off. We’re getting married the first Saturday in December,” he announced, putting his arm around Hannah’s shoulder.

Unused to public display of affection, Hannah blushed but remained where she was.

“That soon!” Gloria exclaimed. “But I can see that you two are ready for marriage. And you are going to have a blessed marriage.”

They didn’t have time to thank the elderly couple as the other couples arrived but Hannah kept that in her heart and would ponder it in days to come.

One of the couples were older than the rest and they learnt later on that for both of them it was their second marriage. This couple was also from another church. The rest were members of the hosting church.

“Okay, let’s open in prayer,” the female facilitator announced at promptly seven. So the course began.

Unsure what to expect, Hannah squirmed when they were required to introduce themselves to the group with their name and occupation before the session actually began.

When it came to their turn, Hannah raced through her introduction all the while wondering how Jonathan was going to reveal his occupation without giving away his leadership.

She turned laughing eyes on him when he stated, “Theologian,” with a mischievous grin. That was not entirely untrue he told her later which she agreed on when he explained it to her. Fortunately no one else in the group noticed the exchange between the two.

Exactly one and a half hours later, they were done and Jonathan and Hannah left immediately after so that they could get home before too late even though they were offered coffee and a chat with the facilitators.

“Gosh my head is buzzing,” Hannah confessed as soon as they were on their way. “That was a lot to take in. I was clueless about marriage.”

“We all are,” Jonathan soothed. “When you realise just what God intended for marriage to be, it becomes easier to get over yourself.”

Hannah was quiet for a while, processing the information she received tonight. “Do you think we will get it right?” she asked at last uncertainly.

“To be honest, I don’t know but I know I’m willing to try it God’s way.” He was silent for a while before stating boldly, “And I am certain that you are too.”

“I pray that I can. I really do want to do things God’s way and I don’t want to let you down. I just don’t know if I can.” She sounded hopeless.

Jonathan’s hand covered hers in a reassuring grip. “That’s why there’s two of us,” he said simply.

It never ceased to amaze Hannah that Jonathan could with the right words and tone, topple all her fears.

Unable to speak any words that could describe how encouraged she felt, she simple kissed the palm of his hand. Jonathan moaned. She had no idea what that was doing to him.

She quickly released his hand and apologised. “Sorry! Am I distracting you?”

“Not in the way you think,” he said huskily. “Let’s just say it is more a physical thing.”

Hannah chewed on that for a bit but he could see she was at a loss. “Don’t worry about it,” he said soothingly. “No harm done!” There was a smile in his voice that put Hannah at ease instantly.

Suddenly she asked innocently, “Do you think our parents understand what marriage entails?” Jonathan laughed. “I mean when I think of my parents’ marriage, I have never seen my mother go against my father’s word ever. It’s like she agrees with everything.”

“Maybe in public she does,” Jonathan answered wisely. “Perhaps she disagrees with your father in private? A good parent never exposes their children to disharmony especially if it is damaging.”

“Oh, that’s very wise.” Hannah was at that moment proud to be marrying such a wise man. He seemed to know just what to say.

“I can’t take credit for all of that,” Jonathan said firmly. “The Holy Spirit is the one who points these things out. He is the wise and knowledgeable One.”

“Would you teach me about the Holy Spirit?” she asked hesitantly. “Most ministers don’t teach enough about Him. Even my dad hardly touches on that subject.”

Surprised, he glanced at her. She was living the fruits of the Spirit but she was asking him to teach her. Not wanting to play down her request, though, he simply answered, “Off course!”

“Thank you,” she said graciously.

After some deliberation, they finally agreed that they would meet in the main church at six thirty for short discussions on a Friday as all staff left early on that day. After which Jonathan would take her home. They had reached her home by that time. Parking at the gate, he switched the engine off.

“I hope you are not too intimidated by the session tonight,” Jonathan stated hopefully.

“I was a initially but it helped to talk about it. I don’t know if I will sleep easily or have a million more questions after going over things in my head,” she smiled.

“Questions are good,” Jonathan said lightly. “The more you ask, the more you learn.”

“And I should know that,” she laughed. “Being a teacher?” she quipped at the blank look he gave her. He laughed too. “I learned a lot tonight,” Hannah said quietly after they stopped laughing. “Thank you. And goodnight!”

Not waiting for him to open her door, she got out of the car and waved as she went in through the gate. Shaking his head, Jonathan waited for her to disappear inside the cottage before driving off. There was plenty of time to work on them being ‘together’.

Pondering on all the information she gleaned from the course, it took Hannah a long time to fall asleep. In the morning she was still going over things that intrigued her. She would have to ask Jonathan more questions.

Class was difficult; she had to concentrate harder on what she needed to do and was glad when the bell rang. Prior to last night, she had never longed for the school day to be over.

It didn’t help as much as she would have liked though; she would have to wait for Laura to leave before she could go see Jonathan. Alas, it wasn’t to be. He was not in his office and it didn’t look like he’d been there for a while.

There was only one thing to do, ask Emily and Derrick. Thankfully, they were at home and delighted to help her with any questions she had, if they could, they added.

First, however, they prayed for wisdom and knowledge before she could begin. What a difference that made, she later reflected as so many things became clear to her.

By the time they finished, it was supper time. “Stay and have supper with us,” Emily invited.

“Oh, no I have intruded enough already,” Hannah declined.

“Nonsense!” Emily dismissed. “You are family now.”

Hannah looked at her in wonder. The wedding was still a few weeks away but already Emily was treating her like family. Hannah was grateful to have a mother-in-law like Emily.

“Besides, my son would not forgive me if I didn’t feed you after that strenuous discussion,” Emily joked.

“Then I accept. Don’t want you getting into trouble, especially with Jonathan.” Hannah laughed as did the Garricks.

Talk at the dinner table was mostly about the upcoming wedding. “We need to get you to my sister to check out your dress. She needs your approval before finalising the changes,” Emily suddenly remembered.

“Sure. When does she want to see us?” Hannah included Emily as support.

“Let’s go on Sunday afternoon. We can visit with her at the same time.”

Hannah agreed. She was eager to see what modifications were being made to her grandmother’s dress to suit Hannah. Curious too, to get to know Emily’s sister.

Friday evening took longer to get there than Hannah wished. She was eager to start her studies on the Holy Spirit and with school going the last mile towards end of year, Friday was just taking forever.

Finding something to keep her occupied while waiting was just as painstaking. At last six thirty arrived. Jonathan was waiting for her. No one else was around.

“Sorry!” she apologised breathlessly. “Have you been waiting long?”

“No just a few minutes. My last appointment got cancelled so I had time to kill,” he grinned.

“Oh, pity I didn’t know. We could have started earlier. It was torture waiting for the time to pass,” she confessed.

“That eager uh?” Jonathan teased.

“Very,” she agreed.

“Then let’s not waste another moment,” he said philosophically.

Hannah was a dedicated student, Jonathan discovered and she did not take things at face value. Asking questions and clarifying where necessary. Jonathan could hardly believe that the woman sitting with him was the same one who tried to avoid contact with him previously. He was falling deeper in love with her.

An hour passed before he halted the session. Even though Hannah was still energetic and animated, they both needed a break.

“Time to get you home,” he said eventually.

“Oh, off course,” she relented. “A person could get carried away studying the word of God.”

“Don’t I know it,” he said mildly. “Just give me a few minutes to close up and then I’ll take you home.”

Hannah nodded. “Thank you,” she said as an afterthought.

“No need to thank me. I thoroughly enjoy it.” He smiled at her affectionately.

Hannah returned the smile. Reluctantly, Jonathan left.

While Hannah waited for Jonathan to take her home, she pondered all that he had taught her about the Holy Spirit. She was both excited and fearful to try out what he had asked her to do.

Deep in thought, she did not see Luke come into the main church. “Penny for your thoughts?” Luke asked, mildly amused.

“Luke!” Hannah greeted excitedly. “Why are you still here?” she asked suspiciously.

“Had to get some work done for tomorrow’s event,” he shrugged. “Why are you here?” he asked just as suspiciously.

“I am waiting for pastor Chandler,” she said briskly.

“Still pastor, uh?” Luke lifted an eyebrow. “I thought by now you would be calling him Jonathan.”

Hannah looked at him blankly.

“Has he proposed yet?” Luke’s eyes held un-spilled laughter.

Hannah became uncomfortable, stiffened and went red. “What are you talking about? she asked trying to maintain a distant look unconvincingly.

“He has!” Luke let out a whoop of joy. “It’s about time.”

“What!?” Hannah feigned ignorance.

“It was only a matter of time. You two are bad liars.” Luke was grinning widely. “I could see the attraction from a long time ago but you two kept missing it,” he explained when she looked puzzled.

“You knew?” she asked flabbergasted.

“When the two of you are in the same room it was pretty obvious, at least to me,” he shrugged. “The man was in agony a long time ago.”

Hannah chewed on that a bit then suddenly looked at him in alarm. “You can’t tell anyone just yet though,” she cautioned.

“My lips are sealed,” Luke made the action of sealing his lips. “But I am so glad for you. You deserve to be loved the way he loves you.”

“You think so?” Hannah pondered.

“Yep! You are truly an awesome person and Jonathan’s lucky to have your heart.” Luke was positive.

“Thank you!” she quivered.

Luke hugged Hannah tightly. Just then the doors flew open. Pulling apart, they both stared at the figure standing in the doorway. From where they were, they could see that the female was badly hurt.

Hannah couldn’t remember whether she gave Luke any instructions or he her, except that she found herself running to the back of the church as Luke ran off in the direction of Jonathan’s office.

By the time Hannah reached the back, the female had fallen face down on the threshold. Shocked, Hannah knelt beside the figure. Bile rose up in Hannah as she took in the appearance of the girl – she couldn’t be more than sixteen. She was wearing scanty clothing and had been badly beaten up, even stabbed. Blood covered almost all of her.

“Help me!” the girl cried out gripping Hannah’s hand before lapsing into a state of unconsciousness.

Helpless, Hannah just sat there in shock and horror. Suddenly, Jonathan appeared opposite her, kneeling. He was saying something but Hannah could not hear a thing. Her ears were blocked by the haziness that filled her. Everything was becoming dark and despair filled her.

Chapter 18

On Luke’s urgent call from the passage, Jonathan had reacted immediately. Something needed his attention. Rushing to the scene, he had been sorry that Hannah had seen this. From the ashen look on her face, he knew she had never been exposed to situations like these. She was going into despair.

Gripping her arm firmly, he called out, “Hannah! Just keep your focus on Jesus.” But he could tell that she couldn’t hear him. So he prayed against every dark and evil spirit in order to counter their attack on Hannah.

Feeling Jonathan’s hand on her arm, Hannah looked at him. He was saying something but she couldn’t make out what it was. It was getting cold and a heaviness gripped her. Things were starting to look grotesque. She felt hopeless.

She wanted to scream out, “Help, me!” but the words wouldn’t come out. Jonathan’ lips were moving but still she couldn’t hear anything.

Suddenly the hand on her arm changed to that of Jesus. A calmness covered her and she heard a gentle voice say, “Pray for her Hannah!”

Mobilised, she murmured a prayer for the girl until the dark lifted and an unsurpassable peace enveloped her and everything around her.

By that time, paramedics were all over the place. Gently they pried the girl’s hand from hers as they tended to her. One of the paramedics saw to Hannah, cleaning off the blood and checking for any cuts on her hand.

“Just making sure that there is no chance you could be exposed to HIV,” the paramedics explained as Hannah stared at the paramedic, unable to comprehend his actions.

Hannah’s mind was whirling. Why would the paramedic say that?

As soon as the paramedic was done, Jonathan lifted her up and held her against him, whispering that it was alright. It didn’t take the paramedics long to get the girl onto the stretcher and take her to the ambulance.

As they stood watching the ambulance drive off, Hannah asked, “Who would do such a thing? She is just a child.” Her voice was filled with anguish.

Heartbroken for her, Jonathan took her in his arms and held her. “I’m afraid men are cruel when they don’t get what they want.”

“Where did she come from?” Hannah looked up at him, her eyes filled with sorrow.

“She might have been running away from a brothel or a sadistic client.”

“You mean she was a…” Hannah could not voice the word.

“Probably a sex slave,” Jonathan said with sympathy.

“Oh no!” Hannah was close to tears. “She seems so young.”

“She probably is,” he confirmed.

“That’s the reason why the paramedic mentioned HIV,” Hannah said realisation dawning.

“Yes,” Jonathan said carefully. “But there is no need to worry about that.”

“Certainly not,” Hannah said passionately. “God is our protector and since He wants us to help others, then He will protect us.”

Her absolute faith in God in this moment was staggering. Jonathan had no words to express the emotion he felt at her confession of God’s greatness. He pulled her into his embrace and held her for a long while.

After some thought, she asked carefully, “Can we visit her in hospital?”

Jonathan looked at the woman beside him with great admiration. It did not bother her where the girl came from; she only had a deep sense of concern for the stranger.

“We certainly can. That’s what Jesus would want us to do.”

She smiled up at him. “Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow indeed. Nine thirty.” He smiled back.

“Is that visiting hours?” she asked curiously.

“No but pastors get special preference. Besides, we want to get there before they discharge her.”

“So soon? She looked in a pretty bad shape.” Hannah was dismayed.

“Not everyone gets treated with respect,” he said sadly.

“Then we should pray that she is cared for until she is better,” Hannah said simply.

“I love you, Hannah!” Jonathan whispered, his heart filled with love. In one night she proved to be tougher and far stronger than she looked. And more caring than anyone he knew. Early in the morning, he would contact Raymond, from the company that took care of the cleaning needs of the church buildings and grounds, to get the entrance cleaned. For now, he just wanted to hold Hannah tightly, thankful that no harm had come to her!

Surprisingly, Hannah slept well, even though she had stayed up quite late to pray for the girl who had asked for her help. She was grateful that the girl had not died. Obviously, God had a plan – what happened that night could have happened any night but it had happened on the night she was present at the church. There were so many people needing God’s help and Hannah determined she would make herself available for God to use her to help those in need.

The last thought or rather question she had before falling into deep slumber was ‘What happened to Luke?’ Only much later would she find out that he had remained in the shadows, keeping out of the way and exited with the paramedics. No explanation was given for his action and Hannah had not needed one. Everyone dealt with tragedy differently, she accepted.

Approximately nine o’clock in the morning, Jonathan made an appearance. Hannah was on the phone with her mother. He kissed her cheek in greeting not wanting to force her to end the call. Still on the phone, she followed him to the car.

All he could hear Hannah say was, “Yes, mum!…No, mum!…I will mum.”

Hannah could not ignore her mother’s call, so she patiently heard what her mother was saying. Elizabeth wanted to discuss the wedding and since opportunities were far and few between, Elizabeth didn’t want to hang up even though Hannah mentioned several times she was going out.

Once in the car, however, Hannah firmly said, “Mum, I have to go. I will call you later, I promise.” Without much opportunity for her mother to say no, Hannah ended the call. “Sorry!” she apologised.

“No need to apologise. Mothers are difficult to get rid of.” There was a smile in his voice and Hannah had to laugh, breaking the tension she felt.

“Did you sleep well?” he asked concerned. He had been up most of the night worrying about her and praying for her.

“Surprisingly yes,” she said firmly. “I prayed until late last night. Experienced no nightmares!” she declared victoriously.

Letting out a sigh of relief, Jonathan said, “Thank God! It was a pretty horrific scene to be exposed to and I am guessing you have never seen anything like it before.”

“True. But the worse thing wasn’t seeing her all beaten up, but the engulfing darkness. It was as if something was trying to pull me into a place I did not like at all,” Hannah reminisced.

“Evil spirits,” Jonathan stated clearly. “As soon as she touched your hand, they were trying to get to you. Thank God that we have authority over them in Jesus Name.”

“Oh!” Hannah said as she thought about that. She did not have a very great understanding of the spiritual realm, especially about demons and other evil spirits.

Realising her meagre knowledge about what he’d just shared with her, Jonathan divulged some truths about that. He took the rest of the journey to enlighten her. When they reached the hospital, Hannah insisted Jonathan pray before they get out. He was pleased to oblige.

A very enthusiastic nurse greeted them at the ward desk, with an appreciative look at Jonathan. She obviously knew Jonathan, Hannah concluded, although he seemed at a loss as to who she was.

Ignoring the nurse’s perusal of him, Jonathan politely made inquiries about the girl brought to the hospital. “Oh, the prostitute!” the nurse exclaimed. Both Jonathan and Hannah winced but the nurse was oblivious of this. “I believe she was found on the threshold of our church,” the nurse volunteered. So that would explain the nurse’s familiarity with Jonathan. “She’s in the last cubicle.”

Jonathan thanked the nurse with a tolerant smile and proceeded down the passage with Hannah in tow. Once out of earshot, Hannah could not resist with a snigger, “I think I just met your number one fan.”

Jonathan glanced at her with a sideways look of distaste. “Sorry!” she mouthed trying hard to keep the laughter in. Jonathan looked forward again but not before Hannah saw the smile on his face.

The young girl was awake but heavily sedated. She looked at them when they entered and recognition dawned at the sight of Hannah.

Jonathan introduced himself and Hannah. It was Hannah who initiated a conversation, asking her how she was doing and whether they were treating her well. Jonathan was proud of his fiancée.

When drowsiness threatened to take over the girl whom they discovered was called Clare, they said their goodbyes. Hannah expressed her wish to visit again if Clare would allow them to. Clare readily agreed. They prayed with her.

“Goodbye, Clare,” Hannah said with a hopeful smile.

“Goodbye Mrs Chandler, and thank you for saving me,” Clare said attempting a grateful smile.

Hannah looked up at Jonathan at the misnomer but Jonathan shook his head. Later he would explain that to have rectified would only cause more confusion to the girl. Anyway, Hannah would soon be Mrs Chandler.

Another nurse was seated at the desk when they passed. Jonathan on impulse stopped and asked the nurse about Clare’s condition and who her doctor was which the nurse readily revealed. The doctor they would not be able to see but the nurse was very forthcoming about the patient’s diagnosis, and other medical information. At least Hannah knew that she could bring some food for Clare, which she shared with Jonathan in the car on the way back home. He thought it was an excellent idea.

As they got ready to depart, the first nurse came back to the desk. “I hope to see you again, pastor Chandler,” she called out huskily.

Hannah kept her head down to stop the bubble of laughter popping out. But as soon as they were in the car, she could not hold back.

“And what is so funny?” Jonathan asked mildly amused.

“Nothing!” Hannah denied mischievously.

“That much laughter for nothing? I guess we will just sit here in the parking lot until you confess.” And to prove his point, he did not turn on the ignition.

“Sorry, her attempt to grab your attention was too much.” Hannah was still shaking with laughter. “And your face! Especially since you had no clue who she was.”

“How am I supposed to remember all four thousand plus people?” he asked mildly.

“True! It must be a schlep,” Hannah agreed soberly. But the smile remained on her face as she said, “I suppose you get a lot of females drooling over you.” It was an observant statement.

“I wouldn’t like to brag but…” his eyes held a mischievousness that was very attractive to Hannah.

Mesmerised, she said huskily, “I don’t blame them.”

They stared at each other, the desire to kiss strong but the promise he made, keeping them apart. A car starting up somewhere near them, broke the spell. Awkwardly they shifted in their seats to get moving out of the parking lot.

“I would like to visit Clare again tomorrow,” Hannah said thoughtfully as soon as they were moving.

While Jonathan appreciated that Hannah could so easily move from the sensual to the normal, he would have liked for the moment to last a little longer. It took him a little while to process what she was asking.

“I don’t have the availability until the afternoon,” he said stiffly from the difficulty of shifting modes.

Either Hannah didn’t notice or want to take notice of his tone for she said rather sweetly, “I can make my own way there.”

“Oh, no you won’t,” Jonathan said even more stiffly. “It is dangerous.”

“Dangerous?” Hannah feigned innocence. “If someone like Luke and Meredith went with me?”

Jonathan groaned inwardly. How could he not succumb to such sweetness? He was in for quite a marriage.

“Fine!” he said after a short pause. “I will confer with Luke though,” he threatened in case she had ideas to misuse Luke.

“Off course,” she surrendered. “By the way, Luke knows about our engagement,” she dropped casually.

“How?” Jonathan was shocked.

“He said he predicted it,” she informed with a shrug. “Said our feelings for each other were very evident whenever we were in the same room together.”

“Very astute young man,” Jonathan smiled. “I think a lot of people knew, some even before me.”

“Oh!??” Hannah’s interest was piqued. “Like who?”

“Sarah for one. My mum.”

“How is that possible?” Hannah’s voice was full of wonder.

“Intuition? Don’t you women have that sort of thing?” he teased.

“Off course, we do. That’s why I was running away from you,” she said smartly with mirth.

“Hannah Wilkens, you are funny!”

“You are the only person to tell me that,” she said soberly.

They had pulled up outside Emily’s house. Jonathan turned to look at her. “Then they haven’t been paying attention.” He kissed her cheek. “I see mum is home. Better go say hello to her.”

Emily was glad to see both of them but Jonathan could not stay, needing to prepare for tomorrow and Hannah was joining the young people for their get together that afternoon.

That afternoon, the group was larger than the previous weeks. Chloe and her pals were there. Dreading their inquisitiveness, Hannah had to remain as placid as she could to avoid rousing any suspicions about her pending marriage. Not an easy task but one she managed to pull off, even though the barbs were much more pronounced. Or perhaps it seemed more pronounced, now that she was hiding the secret from them.

Chapter 19

Luke and Meredith were glad to accompany Hannah to the hospital. They were touched by Clare’s story. Clare, looking slightly better, was overjoyed to see Hannah. She was still under sedation though. It was a relief, Clare didn’t address her as Mrs Chandler again. In fact, the girl did not address her at all during that visit.

On the way back home, Meredith shared about the adopted sister in her family and the similarity to Clare’s situation. As she spoke, a thought occurred to Hannah.

“Do you think someone in our church could adopt Clare?’ she excitedly interrupted Meredith and apologised immediately.

“I don’t see why not but how would we get the word out?” Meredith asked also excited.

“Why not go via the charity department. They are always claiming they want to do more,” Luke stated.

Hannah rolled her eyes at Luke’s unfetching description of the department. But he did give her an idea. “That is just where we need to start,” she said agreeably. “I will get in contact with them.” After I run it by Jonathan, she told herself.

When she got home, Emily was waiting for her. Hannah had forgotten about the visit to Emily’s sister but Emily was not at all aware of that fact much to Hannah’s relief. Thankfully she was back in time from the hospital to leave again for the visit.

Abigail was similar in looks to Emily. They were both thin, same height, greying, short hair and lively, light blue eyes. She was also very kind. A feat applauded by Hannah who was privy to the information that Abigail’s husband had left her with three young children. Broken though Abigail had been, she had coped well and brought up her children in the Lord. Her children were doing very well in different parts of the world. Today, she chatted with Hannah as if she’d known her all her life.

Overwhelmed, Hannah just nodded or answered with short sentences. “How do you converse with my nephew if you are too afraid to speak with an old woman? He is much more intimidating,” Abigail laughed.

Hannah looked at her in awe. “You agree that he is?” Hannah asked delighted that someone was on her side.

“I kept telling his mother that but she didn’t want to believe me. He could get anyone to do anything he wanted,” Abigail recollected. “Not that he took advantage. Especially of the older folks.”

“Now you’ve just fuelled the fire,” Emily said with mock despair. “Hannah used to avoid him like the plague because she felt that he was.”

“Ah, just the woman he needs,” Abigail said wisely.

Hannah looked at her nonplussed. How could she be the woman he needed if she was intimidated by him?

“At least you see him as he is and not as you want him to be,” Abigail filled her in. “Too many woman want a husband to be as they fantasize they should be and when they don’t live up to that fantasy, then their marriage ends in ruins.”

“Wow!” Hannah thought aloud. She had never seen it like that before.

“Now let’s look at your dress,” Abigail suddenly changed the subject while Hannah was still thinking about Abigail’s statement. Shifting her focus took some doing.

The changes to the dress were awesome. It was almost identical to what Hannah wanted done, if not better. Amazed and pleased, she profusely thanked Abigail. All that needed to be done was put it together.

It wasn’t until Monday evening that Hannah had a chance to speak to Jonathan about Clare. They were on their way to the hospital to visit Clare together.

“Do you think Clare has a place to go to when she is discharged?” Hannah broached the subject thoughtfully.

“Unlikely.” Although to the point, Jonathan was sympathetic. “Usually, girls in her position, don’t have many choices.”

Hannah sighed. “I wish there was a family willing to take her in even if it was just for a short period of time. At least until we know her history and what to do for her.”

Even though Hannah had not come out and said it directly, she was looking for his guidance on what to do with Clare. He picked up that she wished to establish the young girl within a family unit. He might have just the thing or more aptly, the people for the job. Two widowed, elderly sisters living alone. But he would have to ask them first before committing to anything.

So all he said was, “Let me make a few inquiries.”

“You will?” Hannah asked joyously.

“Yes.”

“Thank you.”

The joy in her voice was very evident and Jonathan wondered how it came about that he gave in so easily to her since she had not even voiced her request? Looks were definitely deceiving. Demure on the outside but fiery on the inside. He was hooked. Smiling, he shook his head.

Clare was very happy to see them. She was looking much better than the day before. Hannah was sure that it wouldn’t be too long before Clare was discharged. They would need to find a place for her soon.

The hospital was not the place to speak to her about her life and the incident that brought her to that place. In the meanwhile, both Hannah and Jonathan made her feel comfortable, gave her hope and encouraged her.

On the way back, Hannah asked without guile, “Do you think they will ever find the person who did this to her?”

“I hope so,” he said without emotion.

“I guess it won’t matter even if they do; the damage has already been done. No amount of punishment will undo it,” Hannah stated again without guile.

“You are a very perceptive person, Hannah Wilkens,” Jonathan said in amazement kissing her hand.

“Why thank you,” she accepted graciously. She knew better than to question his praise.

The very next day, Jonathan paid a visit to the widowed sisters, Caroline Thomas and Denise Rainey, who were pleased to see him. They were always hospitable and plied him with refreshments whenever he visited which he accepted, not wanting to offend them.

They listened carefully to what he proposed, giving them the full details of Clare’s situation, their grey eyes absorbing his every word as their grey heads bobbed now and then. At the end, he offered them the option to think about it.

“Nonsense!” both women exclaimed simultaneously.

“What is there to think about? The child needs caring for and that is what we are on this earth to do. Care for one another. It’s God’s desire for us,” Denise completed.

“Besides it would be good to have another person in this large house. It gets rather quiet and lonely with all this space,” Caroline reflected.

It was settled, Clare would live with them at least until things were sorted. The sisters were the dearest people he knew from his congregation and they had a special place in his heart. They loved taking care of people and since neither of them had children of their own, Clare would be a welcome child to them. He prayed that Clare would remain with them for a long time.

He couldn’t see Hannah that day or the next; so he wasn’t able to give her the good news. Fortunately Luke was available to take her to the hospital, so he was at peace about her visit with Clare. On Wednesday, when he picked her up for the course, he didn’t tell her right away, either. Instead they spoke about general things on their trip to Grace Community Church.

However, before they left the parking lot, Jonathan pulled Hannah back and said, “I have some good news regarding Clare.”

Hannah was all ears as she looked at him with expectant eyes.

“I have found a family for Clare!” he announced triumphantly.

Hannah flew into his arms, even though he had not given her full details and if she wasn’t much smaller than him, he was sure she would have knocked him over.

“You are amazing!” she said breathlessly hugging him tightly. “How did you manage to get someone so quickly?”

He was amazed that she trusted him so completely, taking his word for it that the family was plausible and not questioning their suitability or anything in that light. Joy pervaded him. As they walked, hand in hand, to the building, Jonathan, gladly, told her about Caroline and Denise.

“They sound absolutely stunning,” Hannah said excitedly. She stopped him just before the door. “Thank you!” she said sincerely and standing on tip toes, kissed his cheek, lingeringly.

A rare action from her. Hannah was not very generous with kisses, he had observed. It was the first time she had done that and it felt wonderful. “You are welcome!” he managed to say before the door opened and they were forced to go inside.

That evening, the delegates were called to mention the one thing that attracted them to their partners.

Hannah squirmed and Jonathan put his arm around her shoulder, drawing her to him. Fortunately, they did not have to go first, giving Hannah time to pluck up the courage to speak. To help, Jonathan volunteered first from the two of them.

“Hannah’s honesty,” he said briefly. “She is a very honest person and I love the way she looks at things with total sincerity.”

Hannah was warmed by his observation of her and it encouraged her to say, “He has a very mesmerising persona.”

Jonathan looked at Hannah in wonder. He had no idea she saw that in him. He was pleased he was learning more and more about her and liking what he learned.

The session took them through the phases of marriage from honeymoon to children to latter years. They spent ample time on children and their effect on marriage.

On the ride home, Jonathan observed that Hannah was even quieter than usual. Lately, she had been taking more initiative to start conversations but not tonight. He learned over the last couple of months, that when she was this quiet, she was contemplating something or mulling over an issue. He was certain it had to do with the evening’s session.

“Want to talk about it?” he asked quietly.

“Er?”

“You seem to be deep in thought,” he explained.

“Sorry!”

“Hannah, you do not have to be sorry all the time,” Jonathan reprimanded gently. “You know you can be yourself with me.”

“Yes, I do,” Hannah said fondly, gratefully. “I was just pondering on children. Did you…? Have you…?” Hannah found it difficult to word her question.

“I never wanted to have children,” Jonathan helped her out. “My dad hardly ever had time for us, not that he didn’t love us but the church was always coming before us. I didn’t see the sense of having children if your life was going to be too busy to spend time with them.” He paused.

“And Noelle? Did she want to have children?” Hannah asked, uncertainly, to fill the silence.

“She didn’t either,” Jonathan confirmed. “But after I got to know God, I realised that children were His and not really ours. Every child born is for God and we are just custodians of these precious gifts. That revelation made me realise I should want to have as many children as God will allow! Since I wasn’t thinking of remarrying back then, I did not spend much thought on it. After you came into my life, that changed. It is very much my desire to have children.”

Hannah breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s great! Because ever since I can remember, I have wanted as many children as I can have. As God wills off course,” she added with great hope.

“I think He won’t deny us that desire, especially with two willing people,” Jonathan said with a smile. Hannah agreed wholeheartedly.

That Friday, they met for another session on the Holy Spirit and Hannah was glad to learn more. Jonathan was equally glad to have the opportunity to teach. During these sessions, he could see why God brought Hannah into his life. Not only did she challenge him but she also supported him. Also, they were drawing closer to each other. He was more than grateful.

Still part of the young people’s group, Hannah continued to attend the gathering. This Saturday entailed a Bible discussion. It was an intense and interesting discussion, one Hannah did not engage in too much. Since she wasn’t comfortable to talk about things she wasn’t absolutely certain of, she only offered view points when necessary. Also, she didn’t want her engagement to slip out.

“For a teacher, you sure don’t talk much,” Chloe stated sarcastically in front of the group.

Hannah smiled patiently. “I just want to preserve my voice for the children,” she stated.

Both Meredith and Luke gave her a look to let her know they were proud of her. Hannah felt great. She had not felt intimidated by Chloe nor was she upset with her. In fact, she felt rather sorry for the girl and wondered what had caused her to have such an outlook on life. She was glad not everyone knew of her engagement to Jonathan. How would girls like Chloe treat her then?

Afterwards, Luke took Hannah to the hospital to visit Clare. Meredith was unable to join them. Although Clare was glad to see them, she had a closed look in her eyes.

“Clare, what is the matter?” Hannah asked perceptively, her voice full of concern. Clare hesitated. “It’s okay. You can tell me and I will do whatever I can to help,” Hannah encouraged.

“They are discharging me tomorrow,” was all Clare said but Hannah was instantly aware that she was worried about where she would find a safe place to stay outside of the hospital.

“And you don’t have a place of your own to go to,” Hannah said with understanding. “Don’t worry. Pastor Chandler has already organised a place for you.”

Clare looked at her suspiciously. “Where exactly did he organise it?” Barriers went up.

“With two lovely widows who happen to be sisters. They are eager for your arrival. We were just not sure when you would be discharged but they have your room all ready.”

Clare searched Hannah’s face and when she was satisfied that Hannah was telling the truth, she nodded. There was no shout of joy or excitement, Hannah noted and her heart ached for the girl. Why should she get excited? Most likely, the girl had not had opportunities to be or get excited.

Hannah stroked the girl’s hand and smiled encouragingly. “What time do you think the doctor will discharge you?”

“Other people got discharged around ten o’clock in the morning,” Clare informed unenthusiastically.

“I’ll be here before then, okay?”Hannah said reassuringly.

Whether Clare believed her or not was hard to tell. The girl simply nodded without emotion. That evening, Hannah phoned Jonathan to inform him that Clare was being discharged and could he let Caroline and Denise know? She also informed him that she was going to the hospital earlier to be with Clare when the doctor discharged the girl.

“And who is going to take you to the hospital?” he asked with unease. As much as he was glad Hannah was being very helpful, sometimes he worried that she forgot she was living in the city and how dangerous it was to go anywhere alone.

“I will ask your mum and Derrick to drop me off,” she said with ease.

“And how will you get to Caroline and Denise?”

“I am sure I could get Meredith to fetch us,” Hannah said confidently.

Jonathan had no choice but to accept that Hannah was going to be alright. He himself could not go with her until after the second service which would be too late. Neither could Luke go with her, he was needed until end of second service too.

Suddenly, he was reminded that he needed to trust God in this. Hannah obviously trusted God and even though he wanted to make sure that no harm came to her, he understood that he had no control over anything and therefore had to leave her in God’s hands.

When they ended the conversation, he was more relaxed about the whole thing. Tomorrow, Clare’s new journey began. An opportunity for both him and Hannah to speak into the girl’s life.

Chapter 20

The widowed sisters were ecstatic to welcome Clare into their home, even if Clare was not displaying any kind of gratitude. After the first service, the Garricks were more than willing to drop Hannah off at the hospital.

“Are you sure you don’t want us to wait with you?” they asked for the umpteenth time.

“Yes, I am,” Hannah answered gently. “I don’t know exactly what time the doctor is going to get here. Besides, I already made arrangements with Meredith to fetch us. But thank you.”

Reluctantly the Garricks left but not before she disappeared into the hospital. Hannah felt a swell of love for her future in-laws. They were really such caring people. Unsure how long she would have to wait, she made her way to Clare’s ward.

Eventually, they were out of the hospital and Meredith deposited them on the widowed sisters’ doorstep, then left, not wanting to intrude. It was scary enough for Clare, she excused.

Now, Hannah accompanied them on a tour of the house and Clare’s room which was upstairs with the other bedrooms. Hannah spent most of the afternoon at the house, getting to know both sisters and making Clare as comfortable as possible. The widows provided them with a mouth watering lunch and plied them with refreshments throughout the day. At least it was the one thing Clare was grateful for, Hannah noted.

Luke arrived in the evening to take Hannah home. With a promise to visit the next day and a hug, Hannah left a wary Clare behind. There was nothing Hannah could do so she prayed that Clare would start to feel comfortable almost immediately.

After school, the next day, Hannah paid a visit to Clare. She was glad that Clare was not sulking too much. Both Caroline and Denise were more than adequately equipped to handle Clare, reassuring Hannah that these things took time but eventually, Clare would learn to trust them. Hannah didn’t doubt that the sisters would be able to get Clare to trust them and others. They were such wonderful ladies.

Hannah spent the evening with the three of them, getting to know Clare’s story. She even got dinner, although she didn’t want to intrude but Clare had shown her neediness to have Hannah there, forcing Hannah to stay. It was already seven when they were done and Hannah wondered how she would get home. Calling Jonathan would not be very wise in light of keeping their relationship a secret. She didn’t want to bother Luke as she knew he and Meredith were going out that night.

As if she had prayed, the doorbell rang. It was Jonathan! He had come to see how everything was going. Though, she was very happy to see him, Hannah had to hide her reaction from the rest of group, wondering how Jonathan managed to school his features so easily. For if he was surprised to see her there, he didn’t show it.

Half an hour later, he was ready to leave. It was Denise who suggested that he give Hannah a lift. If the sisters saw any emotional connection between the two young people, they were discreet not to mention it.

“How did you know I needed a lift home?” Hannah asked immediately they were in the car.

“Instinct?” he teased. “Actually I was going to see the ladies yesterday but had no opportunity. This was the first one I had,” he confessed.

“Well I am glad you did,” Hannah sighed. “I got carried away and didn’t realise how late it was.”

“And what caused you to get carried away?” he asked slightly amused.

“The sad way things turned out for Clare. It was heart-rending to hear that she was abandoned by her mother when she young and the emotional abuse that she suffered from her father caused her to run away when she was just ten. She hasn’t yet revealed how she got into the position she was when we found her, though. To be honest, it took much cajoling to get even some part of it from her.” Hannah sighed.

“It will take time for her to open up fully but I have full confidence that you will find a way to make her open her heart,” Jonathan soothed.

“Oh, that is brilliant!” Hannah exclaimed. Now it was Jonathan who was looking at her with wide eyes. “I know exactly what can open her heart, I think,” Hannah ended uncertainly.

“Yes?” Jonathan encouraged.

“Music,” Hannah continued uncertainly. “People like music even if they don’t all like the same kind of music. I could teach her music!”

“And she could tell her story through music,” Jonathan said with revelation. “I knew I was marrying a genius,” he smiled.

They had reached her place. Hannah leaned over and kissed his cheek. “You are going to give me a big head,” she said happily.

“I doubt it,” Jonathan said passionately. “You are far too modest!”

She kissed him on the cheek again. Before he could say anything else, she got out of the car, realising just how dangerous it was for her to be doing that. Jonathan sighed. Hannah was more perceptive than they both realised.

Music was something that Clare did relate to. Immediately, Hannah began lessons with the girl. With a slow start – Hannah didn’t want her to retreat into a shell – it was difficult to gauge if there was any positive response but Hannah was determined to see it through. Also, it was a delight to both Caroline and Denise.

Hannah was loving the company of the sisters too. Both of them were quite perceptive, giving her and Jonathan side long, knowing glances. But they were discreet about their observations and kept it to themselves. Their delight, though, was in spoiling her and Clare. Hannah did not mind at all and was pretty sure Clare didn’t either, even though no one could tell what the girl was feeling or thinking. This she could live with for now, Hannah determined.

School for Hannah was a breeze in the weeks leading up to the end of the school year. Most students were writing exams and the younger grades were not able to make much noise. Instead, they were given quieter activities.

Between school, music lessons with Clare, getting together with the young people and planning the wedding, Hannah hardly saw Jonathan except if he visited Clare which was not frequent and on the Fridays when they went over the teaching on the Holy Spirit. But there wasn’t much time to spend with each other at either of those meetings. She therefore looked forward to Wednesday evening which would be the third session of the course. It wasn’t as daunting any more and with Jonathan encouraging her to ask questions, she felt good about it.

“I need your help,” Jonathan stated as they drove.

“My help?” Hannah reiterated dazed.

“The worship team needs something new for the upcoming year end programme and I was wondering if you could perhaps give them some pointers?” He asked hopefully.

“Oh I forgot about the year end thing,” she said unconcerned. “Do you take a lot of strain with it?’

“Me? Not at all. Thankfully I am not involved, directly at least. But they do come to me for me input if they feel the necessity. So can you help?”

“With new material?” She paused a moment. “Let me see what I can do. There’s so much out there so it shouldn’t be too difficult. Give me until Friday?”

“I would like to but the event is this Saturday,” he said sighing.

“And they left it until now?” she asked incredulously.

“Apparently they were not contemplating anything new prior to today,” he shrugged.

“Do you think they could pull it off by Saturday?” she asked doubtfully.

“I believe so. Anything is possible with God.”

“Yes! What was I thinking?” she berated herself.

“Trust me, that would have been my reaction a few years ago. But after seeing miracle upon miracle, I have no doubts.”

“It must awesome!” Her voice took on a dreamy state.

“Absolutely. When what you are seeing is far from the positive, it is stupendous how God makes the impossible happen.”

“I can’t wait to experience that,” she said enthusiastically.

“But you already are,” he said truthfully.

“I am?”

“You live in the city alone, right?”

“Yes,” she stated hesitantly wondering how that fitted in with their conversation.

“You made it on your own. What about your job? Clare?”

Realisation dawned at the many things she achieved with God. “Oh, I never thought of it like that,” she stated in awe.

She pondered that realisation throughout the evening and beyond. Later she had to go through the material of the session they explored that evening, not having paid too much attention to the teaching.

Before going to school the next morning, Hannah took a trip to Jonathan’s office. Fortunately, he was there and Laura wasn’t…yet.

“This is a lovely surprise,” he said smiling as she entered his office. At least now he could stand next to her and not worry about her deliberate removal of herself from him. She didn’t do that anymore.

“I thought I’d better drop this off before the start of the day,” she waved some papers after greeting him distractedly. “The sheet music for the something ‘new’ you asked about,” she explained at his blank look.

He made to take it but she pulled it back. “You just cannot tell them where you got it from,” she pleaded, looking at him imploringly.

“Certainly!” he said impatient to see it.

Satisfied that he would keep his word, she handed the sheets to him. “The score for keyboard, guitar and even saxophone are all in here. The rest they can work out for themselves.”

“Wow, that is impressive!” he said with great admiration. “But how do I explain where I got this from?”

“You’ll come up with something. You were ingenious with your occupation on the first day of the course,” she reminded him with a smile recollecting his answer.

“Oh, that!” he shrugged more interested in the music sheets he held.

“I prayed earnestly about this song and was led to share it. But no one must know. You are the only person I trust with that knowledge.” She was firm in her stance.

Jonathan pulled her into his embrace. “Thank you. I will most certainly keep that trust.”

“Thank you.” She was confident that he would. “But if they don’t like it, then I will keep looking for other artists’ work.”

“I don’t see how they would want to look further than this,” he said positively.

“Wait until you hand that to the worship leader,” she smiled weakly. “I have to get to school before Mrs Hart reprimands me,” she said hurriedly. “With exams on, she is very edgy.”

Jonathan laughed. “That’s a very mild way of describing her temperament.”

“Then you know I can’t be late,” she gave him a hug then exited before he could say anything else.

Jonathan did not worry too much as he looked at the piece of music in his hand. He was no maestro but the lyrics were awesome and he was certain the music would be too. He couldn’t wait to hear the band play it.

As soon as Troy, the worship pastor arrived, he paid him a visit. “I have something you might be interested in,” Jonathan announced handing him the sheets. “New music,” Jonathan explained at Troy’s blank look.

“Oh, wow, that was quick.” Troy took the sheets and looked at it several minutes. He didn’t comment.

“And?” Jonathan asked casually.

“Let me give it a try. Right now I think before things get hectic.”

“Will you let me know once you’ve given it a run through? I’d like to hear it,” he stated authoritatively.

“I’ll give you a call as soon as I’ve done a practice,” Troy promised, heading off to the main church.

Anxious, though he was, to hear Troy’s comments, Jonathan had to suppress his emotions and behave as if he was just doing his duty. He would hear soon enough, he was sure. Being busy helped and by the time Troy called him, he had put the music sheets at the back of his mind. Now, though, he hurried to the main church, excited and anxious at the same time. No doubt, Hannah would take rejection much better if that were the case.

Troy was playing the keyboard when he arrived. A lovely sound emanated from it. As soon as Troy spotted Jonathan, he stopped.

“Wanna hear it?” Troy asked with a grin.

“Sure,” Jonathan answered casually.

Troy played out the song on the keyboard. Jonathan was stunned. It was absolutely beautiful. He heard Hannah play music and sing before and it had bowled him over but this was beyond that. She was a music gold mine. However, he could not ask more of her than she was offering. Someday, he prayed she would come out of her shyness and let the world enjoy her music but only when she was ready.

“So? What do you think?” Troy had finished playing.

“It’s awesome!” Jonathan answered still reeling.

“Where did you get the song from?” Troy asked without looking at Jonathan.

“A friend,” Jonathan said quickly almost revealing Hannah’s name.

“Your friend has a great eye for music. From our congregation?”

“Yeah,” Jonathan said nonchalantly.

“I’d like to meet him to find out where it came from,” Troy said enthusiastically.

Jonathan shrugged not correcting the gender. “I’m sure you will. You going to use that then?”

“Most definitely! It won’t be difficult for the team to practise it either. Which reminds me, I better get cracking on the preparations for the practise session.”

Jonathan was relieved that Troy didn’t pursue the identity of the ‘friend’. Impatience to tell Hannah, took hold of him but it was only eleven o’clock. School was not out for another few hours. He would just have to bide his time. Back in his office, however, he was required for a number of things which helped to quench his impatience. By the time he got to the school, it was already five.

Madeline was about to leave but he quickly caught her. “Is Hannah still here?” he asked distractedly.

“Sorry, Jonathan, she left already.”

Jonathan just nodded. She was probably on her way to see Clare or Genevieve. He just could not remember which days she was giving music lessons to which girl. It would have to wait until tomorrow, even though he would have like to tell her right now.

Blissfully unaware of the excitement Jonathan was housing, Hannah was busy doing music lessons with Clare. Since exams were in progress, Genevieve’s parents put a hold on the singing lessons. This gave Hannah more time to spend with Clare. Feeling she was getting Clare to open up, she appreciated the extra time.

Friday was just as busy for Jonathan and he didn’t get a chance to see Hannah during the day either. Therefore, it was with gladness he met her at six thirty that evening.

“You look smug!” Hannah pointed out when he arrived in the main church; after greeting him.

He took her hands in his and kissed them both. “I am feeling smug because I am marrying an amazing woman.”

“You are?” she asked with mock puzzlement. “Do I know her?” she teased.

“Very funny!” he laughed. “Your song is amazing!” he said with passion.

“You heard it?” she asked nonplussed. “How?”

“Troy played it as soon as I handed it to him. Eager to meet the writer.” His eyebrow lifted.

Hannah ignored his plea. “I can only thank God for that song. It is His!”

“And you made yourself available for it to become known. Thank you!” He stroked her cheek. He so badly wanted to kiss her but his promise reared its head.

“I am glad Troy likes it,” she said humbly.

“And the church is going to hear it on Saturday,” he said proudly.

Hannah stiffened. “Oh, no, that’s tomorrow! I didn’t even think about that,” she wailed.

“Don’t worry! No one knows it yours, although I wish they did.”

She chewed her lip thoughtfully. “You are right, no one knows the writer of that song, so it should be cool.”

Jonathan saw the hesitation but he wasn’t going to give her any more room for panic. Instead, he said, “Shall we begin with the study?”

She shook her head to clear her thoughts. “Yes!” Wrapped up in the study, she forget her anxiety.

Chapter 21

The next evening, she brought Clare along to the year end production. They sat quite a distance away from the stage. Emily and Derrick had been only too glad to fetch Clare on the way to church. Caroline and Denise were not able to attend but they were glad that Clare was going to be there and grateful that Hannah fetched her.

As soon as they got to the church, Clare showed a few signs of anxiety, especially going through the doors. Supportively, Hannah put her arm around the girl’s shoulders. They were the same height. She was glad that Jonathan had warned her to expect these sort of things for a while.

Going further into the church, Clare calmed down sufficiently. Awed by everything around her, the young girl stayed close to Hannah, who squeezed her hand reassuringly. When Meredith’s family sat in the same row as theirs, Hannah was especially glad. It was an opportunity to introduce Meredith’s adopted sister who came from the same background as Clare. The girls bonded immediately, sitting together for the entire duration of the performance.

The performance was amazing but Hannah was too nervous to catch most of it, waiting for her song to come on. Finally, it did. Instead of feeling insecure, though, she was in awe of it. This was the first time she heard it sung by someone else and the band did an extremely good job. She was lost in the beauty of their rendition.

Everyone clapped loudly, bringing her out of her enchantment and causing her to blush.

“That was something new, as I am sure you are all aware of,” Troy said from the stage once the applause died down. “So I think we should give the team another big applause for that.”

Another clap went up from the congregation, a deafening sound to Hannah. She couldn’t believe that they liked the song so much. The team did deserve praise for that but she knew the real praise went to God. The song had come to her when she had wept for forgiveness. Wow! she thought with tears in her eyes which she had to get rid of quickly as they ended the evening.

“That was awesome!” Meredith’s adopted sister, Julia, said. “Maybe next year I can participate.”

“I don’t see why not,” Meredith encouraged.

Clare didn’t share anything about her experience of the performance and no one pushed her for opinions. Julia and Clare continued to discuss other things.

Since Clare and Hannah were going back with the Garricks, they had to wait for them. There was plenty of time to chat with each other during the wait. It was also an opportunity for Meredith and Hannah to catch up as there had been no group meeting that day due to the evening’s event. It wasn’t much later that the took their leave of each other. Julia and Clare promised to keep in touch, getting permission from Meredith’s family to visit each other which was gladly granted.

Hannah was still reeling with the beauty of the entire evening when Jonathan came up to them. Since she was with Emily and Derrick, she had no choice but to stay.

He briefly greeted Hannah and Clare, then shifted his attention to Emily and Derrick who were saying that they enjoyed the production.

“Did you enjoy it Clare?” he asked kindly, after everyone shared. Hannah’s heart skipped a beat at the kindness he displayed and for the umpteenth time thought how blessed she was to be marrying him.

Shyly, Clare nodded. She was still afraid to speak to men or anyone for that matter but they knew it would take time and prayer before she could trust anyone.

“What did you think of the new song?” Jonathan asked casually, his question encompassing the entire group.

Hannah bowed her head not wanting to look at anyone while they answered.

“That was a fantastic song,” Derrick chirped. “Hope they will teach it to us for Sunday worship,” he added with eagerness and great desire to sing along.

“I agree,” Emily said with gusto. “I certainly would like to sing along.”

“It is the most beautiful song I’ve heard,” Clare said softly.

Hannah looked at the girl with wonder. She wasn’t even aware that Clare was paying attention most of the time during the entire evening. I guess people digest differently, she was thinking when Jonathan asked, “What did you think Hannah?” His eyes held a hint of mischief when he looked at her.

Narrowing her eyes, she tossed her head and replied, “I think they were great!” She was not going to give him the satisfaction of drawing her out. “But then my opinion doesn’t matter,” she muttered so only he could hear. Annoyed at him for putting her on the spot, she glared at him. Even though there was laughter in his eyes, she spotted a look of pride too. But totally ignored it, even though she felt ten feet tall.

She was thankful when Derrick said they should leave. Tomorrow was Sunday after all. Mad though she was with Jonathan, she felt sorry that he would have to stay until late with the rest of the production hands to help clean up and set up for tomorrow. But she couldn’t tell him that; not in front of so many people anyway.

With a stiff goodbye, she left with the Garricks and Clare. But that night she basked in the feeling of victory. Her Father had brought her far; so far that she was now prepared to share her music. She just wasn’t prepared to be recognised though. A sense of peace prevailed over her. There was no need for her to be recognised, as long as the Father was. With that she slept a wonderful sleep.

The next day she woke up with a start! Today was her birthday and exactly a week to her wedding and marriage. Before now, busyness had kept her from feeling the strain of it but suddenly it returned. Anxiety, too, returned. Would it take place?

Everything was ready. Invitations had gone out a good few weeks ago. Only twenty people, nineteen without her sister, would be attending, a number still too big for her liking. The numbers were made up of her parents, brother, aunt and uncle, Jonathan’s mother, Derrick, Jonathan’s sister and husband, Jonathan’s brother, his wife and two children, Emily’s sister, Pastor Michael, Sarah and her husband and a couple of Jonathan’s closest friends. Her friends, who were also friends with Simon, she did not invite. Everyone on the guest list had been sworn to secrecy.

Her dress was all ready and looking beautiful. The venue was sorted, the reception afterwards was taken care of. They did not have to pay a cent towards that. It was a gift from the restaurant owner who was a dedicated member of the church. A very generous member too, Hannah reflected gratefully. And how he managed to keep their secret, was beyond her comprehension. Keeping their secret, though, said a lot about his character.

Still Hannah panicked. It didn’t mean it could not all just blow away on the wind. She needed reassuring. The only person who could do that was Jonathan but he would be preaching today so she was not going to be able to see him alone.

Her phone rang insistently. Her parents were calling to wish her for her birthday and shortly thereafter her sister called. Hannah hid her concerns well for no member of her family picked up on her feelings. Worse, though, was that it was the first birthday she was spending away from her family and since she had not divulged the date to anyone here in the city, no one else knew about it. At this point, it did not matter, she frowned.

Getting through the first half of the day was not easy and she moped around the cottage after service. So when the knock on her door came just before lunch, she was glad to answer it, thinking it was Emily.

It was Jonathan, though. She just stared at him as if he was a figment of her imagination. “Hannah?” he called her name bemused.

“It’s really you,” she blinked close to tears.

“Honey, what’s the matter?” he asked concerned, leading her into the cottage.

“I needed to see you,” she said emotionally.

He sat her down and took her hand. “What is it?” he asked gently.

“It’s a week to our wedding,” she just stated.

“Yes,” he confirmed hesitantly.

“I just needed to know that it was going to take place.”

She didn’t have to say another word. Jonathan immediately knew what her dilemma was. Grabbing her into a tight embrace, he rocked her. “It most certainly will be, darling! I promise I will be there waiting for you.”

“Sorry!” she sniffed.

“I understand! And you know that you can call me any time.”

She nodded. “How did you know I needed you?” she asked after a little while.

“Intuition?” he teased. “I wish you had called me earlier though.”

“I didn’t want to disturb you with some silly notion,” she dismissed.

“It is not a silly notion,” he reprimanded lovingly. “You have every right to demand reassurance.”

“Thank you!” she said humbly. He kissed her head. It was then Emily chose to interrupt with an invitation to lunch which they both gladly accepted.

Lunch, though was a pleasant surprise for Hannah. As soon as she entered Emily’s house, they shouted out “Surprise!” wishing her happy birthday. They had planned a birthday lunch for her! Hannah was stunned and her eyes filled with tears of gratitude.

“How did you know?” she directed the question to Jonathan.

“I read your CV remember?” he grinned.

“And you remembered!” she was pleased. She had actually forgotten about her birthday with all that was going on and with her first song being sung in public. It was endearing that he would remember.

Abigail was also present at the lunch. Hannah received treatment that made her feel special and she momentarily forgot her woes. They even gave her gifts which was so thoughtful, she told them feeling embarrassed at the attention she was receiving.

To end the day, she got to spend time with Jonathan in the garden until the sun went down. They spent the hours talking about anything and everything. She wished the day didn’t have to end but the next day was Monday…Reluctantly they said goodbye to each other.

Monday saw the pupils very excited. Exams were over and it was the last week of school. They were not doing any lessons, just waiting for the marking to be completed and reports to be handed out.

Even the younger grades were not doing any work as teachers got their reports ready, a lot less work than the higher grades, though. It was more tiring though than doing a lesson. So when Emily called to Hannah as she was going into her cottage, she wasn’t very eager to spend time with Emily but couldn’t very well refuse.

Obediently, she walked into Emily’s lounge and stopped dead. “Deb!” Hannah exclaimed with great delight spotting her sister in Emily’s lounge. “I thought you were not going to make my wedding!” she said stunned, still unbelieving that her sister was actually in front of her.

“Miss my little sister’s wedding? No ways.” Deborah gave her sister a long hug, which Hannah returned.

“I can’t believe it,” Hannah said with tears in her eyes.

“You better believe it. I couldn’t let you have a wedding without a maid of honour,” Deborah teased with a twinkle in her eye.

“Thank you!” Hannah said with deep feeling. “It means so much to me. When did you get here? And where are you staying?”

“Got in a short while ago and came straight to your place only to discover that you were still at school. And in your wedding week!” She made a tut tut sound. “Will need to still find a place.” Deb answered the second question, pursing her full lips.

Just like Deb, Hannah thought smiling, taking in the sight of her beautiful sister. They were similar in looks but Deb was slightly taller than her and a bit more filled out. Whereas, Hannah wore her hair long and always tied, Deb wore hers short and it was straight. Their light brown eyes had the same specks of gold and when they smiled it deepened.

Before Hannah could voice any opinions about Deb’s accommodation, Emily piped up, “Why don’t you stay with Hannah? I am sure you two girls shared a room once before and can do so for a short time?” She lifted her eyebrows. She had taken an immediate liking to Hannah’s sister. They were so similar except that Deborah was not at all shy. Very different from Hannah in that aspect.

Both girls squealed with delight at the generous offer. “You don’t mind?” Hannah asked timidly.

“For my daughter in law? Not at all. We are family now.” Although Emily’s voice was steady, her eyes were slightly moist.

Hannah hugged her and whispered, “Thank you!”

Deb’s accommodation sorted out, the girls proceeded to the cottage. They had much to catch up on. Hannah could not believe her good fortune of having her sister with her the whole week.

“Does mum and dad know you’re here?” Hannah asked as soon as they got inside the cottage and disposed of Deb’s luggage in the bedroom.

“I called them from the airport. They are excited that I could make it.”

“Oh, Deb, this means so much to me.” Hannah cried.

“I know Hannah. My boss also realised how important this was for me. Off course it means I can’t come home for Christmas.” Her tone was not condemning.

“Oh, no!” Hannah cried horrified.

“I don’t mind. I get to spend it with Karl.” Deb winked.

“Karl?” Hannah looked confused. She didn’t remember her sister mentioning Karl in any of their messages to each other.

“Mm mm!” was all Deb was offering.

“Is he the man in your life?” Hannah asked knowingly.

“We’ll see! We haven’t done any serious dating yet but a girl can hope. Anyway we just met.”

“Does he work with you?”

“No! We met at the church I am attending there. He has been helping me find my feet in Germany,” Deb stated that with a dreamy sigh.

“Have you prayed about it?” she asked superfluously.

“I have and things seem pretty much going in that direction.”

“So what’s he like?”

“Tall, blonde and handsome. And very kind,” Deb said dreamily.

“Sounds like you’re in love,” Hannah said in amazement.

“I think I am but I don’t know if he thinks that way.”

Hannah understood all too well that it didn’t have to take years to love someone. After thinking on it for a moment, said with dawning, “If you decide to get married, will you live in Germany permanently?”

“Most probably. He is a natural citizen there and he hasn’t indicated that he would live elsewhere. But who knows what the Lord has planned. Either way, I can handle it.”

“Yes, you could,” Hannah agreed readily.

“Enough about me,” Deb said like a mother hen. “You are getting married. And you never said anything before this.”

“Sorry!” Hannah felt guilty for not involving her sister from the beginning. “But I wasn’t sure of anything and still am not sure that it will all go ahead.”

“Because of Simon?” Deb asked regretfully.

“No!” Hannah said firmly. “That is a bygone. Come to think of it, it’s like it never happened. I just guess I feel like it’s a dream; not real. I could never have imagined me finding a man like Jonathan. He is everything I have dreamt a husband should be. And most times those dreams don’t happen. That’s why it seems surreal.”

“Wow, Hannah! That sounds real to me. God wants you to have your heart’s desire and now it’s coming to pass. You need to accept that God wants to give you this marriage.” Deb sounded convincing and absolutely certain.

“You sound just like Jonathan,” Hannah laughed.

“Ooh, I can’t wait to meet him then. And if he is anything like his mother then I am sure he is wonderful. Emily simply adores you and I am guessing so does Jonathan.”

“You’ll definitely like him,” Hannah said enthusiastically.

“If he can capture my little sister’s heart in such a short space of time, then I know I will.” Deb hugged Hannah in a loving grip. “I know that you were not really in love with Simon.” Deb said the last as a by-the-way.

“How did you know that? I never said anything to you.” Hannah was perplexed.

“I could read between the lines. I am ever so glad you did not got through with that relationship.” Deb let out a sigh of relief.

Hannah refused to comment on that statement and said instead, “I am so glad you’re here!” her eyes glazed with wonder.

“Me too, sis.”

They chatted well into the night until Hannah yawned. “Sorry, sis! I forgot you still have to work,” Deb apologised.

“That’s alright,” Hannah replied sleepily. “I don’t often get to see my sister. Anyway, I will be on holiday soon. Can catch up with sleep then,” she yawned. That night she slept content.

Chapter 22

During the day, Deb planned to go shopping while Hannah was at school. She needed some things for the wedding still. Even though Hannah didn’t want to be away from her sister, she knew she had no choice. That evening, Hannah rushed home to spend time with Deb. All her other activities, she put on hold for the rest of the week, except the course. The two of them decided to have supper outside since it was quite warm.

Dressed in shorts and sleeveless t-shirts, they sat at the round stone table on the half moon seats. With supper out of the way, they were relaxing and catching up. It was still bright at six in the evening.

Absorbed in their conversation they did not see Jonathan come up to them. “Is this a private party or can I join?” he asked bemused.

“Jonathan!” Hannah squealed jumping up excitedly. “I didn’t know you were coming over.”

“I wasn’t but I thought it was too long since I saw you.” He kissed the top of her head.

“This charmer must be Jonathan,” Deb said with a wide smile.

“Sorry!” Hannah moved out of Jonathan’s embrace. “Yes, this is Jonathan. This is my sister Deborah.” Hannah made the introductions.

Jonathan wanted to shake Deb’s hand but was pleasantly surprised when she pulled him into a warm hug and said, “I am very pleased to meet you.” She mouthed to Hannah, ‘He’s gorgeous!’ as she released Jonathan. Hannah’s smile was acknowledging.

“Same here!” Jonathan said warmly thinking she definitely did not feel shy to give hugs. “I thought you were not going to make it home for the wedding,” he added confused.

“I wasn’t but I traded with my boss. Christmas for your wedding,” Deb added at Jonathan’s questioning expression.

“That’s very big of you,” he said with heartfelt gratitude thinking she was very forthcoming with information. Very unlike her sister.

“Thanks. I couldn’t miss my little sister’s big day,” Deb smiled.

“Did you have supper yet?” Hannah cut in.

“I am actually having supper with mum and Derrick,” he announced.

“She didn’t mention that you would be dining with them,” Hannah said puzzled.

“Neither did I. She invited me just now.”

Hannah nodded acceptance.

“Come join us until it’s time for supper,” Deb invited unabashed.

“I don’t want to disturb your catching up,” he said graciously.

“Nonsense!” Deb reprimanded good naturedly. “You did come to see Hannah after all and I don’t want you to be disappointed.” Deb grinned mischievously.

Trapped Jonathan joined them, sitting next to Hannah. He had to admit, he was intrigued by these two sisters. The one he loved dearly and the other he liked already even though he’d just met her.

“So how did you meet?” Deb fired away and was soon laughing at the story Jonathan was telling.

“Just like my sister not to divulge any information. Does she also frustrate you with having to prompt her for information?” Deb teased.

“It’s not frustrating but she does keep a lot of things to herself,” Jonathan teased also.

“Like the fact that she can play most musical instruments, some of which she taught herself or that she has a masters in music or that she won the school talent show at age eight?” Deb inquired slyly.

“No she did not tell me any of that,” Jonathan said with mock disappointment, ignoring the look of agitation on Hannah’s face. He was really enjoying Deb’s company.

“Up against others from age eleven to eighteen, she played keyboard and sang, ‘Greatest love of all’.” Deb stated this fact proudly.

“Wow!” Jonathan was impressed. “I did say to her that a voice like hers can only be one you are born with.” He winked at Hannah who was quite red already.

“For sure. Everyone was so impressed and the judges didn’t have too much trouble deciding a winner. Off course, she wouldn’t go up to collect the prize without my parents so we all ended up on stage.”

“I didn’t want the prize,” Hannah protested.

“That’s true, she didn’t,” Deb agreed addressing Jonathan. “In fact, she didn’t want to enter the talent show either so we entered for her – actually I did. And I paid dearly for that. No one had ever seen Hannah so furious as that day and has not since either.” Deb laughed at the memory.

“Really?” Jonathan smiled not surprised, remembering the day she had stormed into his office over Lisa.

“Oh and her favourite superhero is Superman,” Deb continued.

“I kind of got that one.” Jonathan laughed.

“Hey, I’m still here,” Hannah protested.

“Sorry, honey!” Jonathan said not at all sorry.

“Do you know that she will never wear her hair loose or why?” Deb raised her eyebrow. Jonathan shook his head, baffled. Before Hannah could protest again, Deb rushed on. Hannah buried her head in the palm of her hands. “Our school used to have this cancer fund raising day when everyone was allowed to spray their hair with colours for a small fee which allowed us girls to wear our hair down. When Hannah was twelve, she and her friends were waiting to have their hair sprayed when a boy, one grade higher than Hannah, came up to her and stroked her hair and said in awe, ‘Such beautiful, soft locks!’ Off course the others girls teased her mercilessly for months! The worst part was that Hannah thought of boys as revolting,” Deb finished off laughingly mischief written all over her face.

“Deb!”” Hannah groaned. Deb was really enjoying revealing all of her life in one evening and it was embarrassing for Hannah. As Deb said, she never liked to talk about herself. She wanted to run and hide but Jonathan pulled her into a comforting embrace. Hannah was grateful to be able to bury her face in his shoulder.

“Sorry, sis!” Deb said with a mischievous smile. But she did stop telling stories about her sister. “Do you guys have your dance song?” she asked instead.

“We don’t need…” Hannah began but Deb cut her off.

“Off course you need one,” Deb said decidedly. “Everyone must have a song.”

“We’re having the reception in a restaurant,” Jonathan stated matter-of-factly. “Neither of us thought of a dance.”

“Did you discuss your favourite song?” Deb continued as if he hadn’t interrupted.

Neither of them said anything. “Off course Hannah didn’t tell you what her favourite song is,” Deb laughed knowingly. “Her favourite song is I will be here for you by Michael W Smith. Has been ever since it was released,” Deb proudly announced.

Jonathan was captured by her choice of song. “Then that’s our song!” he said decisively. Hannah gave him a look as if to say ‘Just like that?’ but he ignored it.

“Good!” Deb also ignored Hannah’s look. “I will make sure they play that.”

“Can we please talk about something other than me?” Hannah pouted.

“I am quite enjoying the conversation,” Deb said laughing but she didn’t pursue the subject. Instead she started to ask Jonathan some personal questions.

He was able to handle her inquisitiveness. These two sisters were so different, he observed. Good different though. And they had a very strong, loving relationship. For which he was thankful.

Before he left, he whispered to Hannah, “Are you doing alright after Sunday?”

Hannah’s heart filled with love. That’s why he came to see her. He was concerned. She nodded unable to speak. He kissed her on the forehead before saying goodbye to the sisters.

“You know you can kiss him in front of me,” Deb said teasingly as soon as he was out of sight.

“I know but he won’t,” Hannah said secretively.

“Why not?” Deb’s mouth dropped.

“I made him promise not to kiss me until we’re married,” Hannah shrugged.

“And he made that promise?” Hannah nodded. “And he’s kept it?” Deb was incredulous. Again Hannah nodded. “Wow, he has a lot of self control.” Deb whistled.

Hannah was mildly surprised. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, Hannah you are so naïve! A man around the woman he is going to marry, must want to kiss her to show her how he feels.”

“Yeah and does it really tell a woman that? I would rather not feel anything that I would have to relinquish if for some reason we do not get married,” Hannah said tightly.

“You know he’s not Simon right?” Deb said with more kindness.

“Off course I know. Haven’t I said that Simon is history?”

“Then why are you still holding on to those fears?” Deb asked wisely.

Hannah didn’t say anything as she pondered what her sister was saying. It made sense but Hannah was not prepared to go there. She also knew that Jonathan would not break his promise. But now she did feel horrible about making him take that promise. It was too late to whine about it now, though!

Since Wednesday was the last course date, Deb decided that she would spend the evening and the next day with a friend and return on the Thursday evening. Hannah was fine with that. Knowing her sister was not alone during the day made her feel better. Deb left mid-morning on Wednesday.

Hannah didn’t have time to miss her sister when she got home that evening for she had just put down her bag when Emily walked into the cottage. “Got the keys, let’s go,” she announced.

“Go where?” Hannah asked taken aback. She didn’t remember having an appointment with Emily.

“To see the home you are going to call yours in three days,” Emily stated as if Hannah should know this.

“Oh!” Hannah had not thought of moving even though it was inevitable in marriage. And since Jonathan was the one with a house, she knew she would be living there. But saying it out loud was a bit daunting. “Won’t that delay me for the course?” she asked hoping it would be an excuse not to go.

“It won’t take more than twenty minutes so there’s plenty of time. You’ll be back long before Jonathan gets here.” Emily was a little impatient to get going. Rather than argue with her, Hannah followed the older woman out.

The house was five minutes from the church in the opposite direction to Emily’s. While Emily chatted away, Hannah sat quietly contemplating the next few days. They were so close to the wedding but still Hannah wondered if it wasn’t a dream.

Emily pulled up at an estate where she used the entrance token to get in. The houses were lovely in the estate and each one was a stand alone house. Beautiful, spacious double storeys lined the entrance boulevard.

As they drove further in, Hannah could see the estate housed a lot of buildings. They soon came to single storey houses that looked delightful. Emily parked at a light brown one with a neat garden and a double garage.

Suddenly it hit Hannah that she would be living here. Heart beating fast, she followed Emily into the house. It was very neat and cared for; it looked lived in. It was a two-bedroom house. One of the bedrooms was converted into a study. The lounge cum dining room was the centre of the house with the bedrooms to the right and the kitchen and guest bathroom to the left.

The main bedroom had an en-suite bathroom. It was not a large house but spacious enough. The kitchen was small but more than adequate.

The lounge had French windows that led to a big garden, which they explored last. When they got back inside the house, Hannah sat heavily on the sofa, looking straight ahead.

“Are you okay, Hannah?” Emily asked concerned.

“This is really happening!” Hannah exclaimed overwhelmed.

Emily remained quiet for a bit then asked, “Are you having second thoughts?” Although not accusing, her voice was strained.

“Am I going to be a good wife?” Hannah asked with a quiver in her voice not answering Emily directly.

“Oh, darling!” Emily sat down next to Hannah and put her arms around the girl’s shoulders. “A good wife is determined by how her husband treats her. Just as a good husband is determined by how his wife treats him. You can’t judge by any other standards. And I know that Jonathan will take good care of you. To him you are the world.”

Daunted, Hannah thought about that for a bit. Would she be able to uphold that? But she didn’t ask that question. Instead she asked, “Then you think I can do this?”

“With God by your side, you can. I am not saying that everything will be great; there may be moments when you may feel overwhelmed but when you focus on Jesus, you are sure to overcome that feeling. Besides, you will have lots of help from your mother, myself and any other matrons of marriage.”

“Thank you.” Hannah squeezed Emily’s hand then got up and looked around her. “This is a lovely home,” she declared.

Emily squeezed her shoulder lightly. “Now let’s get going before you are late for your last session. You know how Jonathan does not like being late for anything.”

“He doesn’t?” Hannah asked lightly, smiling, knowing too well that he didn’t.

Emily laughed but they were back home a good while before Hannah had to leave again.

Hannah handed Jonathan the keys as soon as she got into the car. “Your house keys,” she said redundantly.

“Oh?”

“Your mum showed me your house,” she explained as they set off.

“Our house,” he corrected. “And what do you think?” he asked patiently.

“It’s beautiful!” she said simply.

“You know that you can make any changes you would like,” he stated.

“Thank you,” she said appreciatively.

“What’s the matter?” he asked knowingly.

“I..don’t know,” she confessed with a sigh. “I just feel…I have no idea what I feel.”

Covering her hands with his, he said, “You are allowed to be unsure.”

“About marrying you I am quite sure. I just don’t know if I am ready,” she said.

There was a slight hesitation before he asked, “Would you like to postpone?”

Although his voice was even, she had seen the muscle in his jaw twitch. “Oh, no I don’t want to postpone,” she quickly reassured. “Must be just nervousness. Let’s not worry about it. Deb will talk some good sense into me.”

They laughed at that thought. Throughout the evening, though, Hannah was aware that Jonathan was quiet. Instinctively, she knew what she said in the car was affecting him more than he cared to admit. Vagueness clouded the last session of the course because her mind wandered throughout the entire evening but finally the course came to an end. With the course completed they were handed a certificate of attendance to present to the officiating minister.

Before releasing them, the facilitating couple prayed for each attending couple earnestly, expressively and purposefully. Hannah took their words to heart and pondered on it many times after that. It was a beautiful prayer and she appreciated it more at that time than they would ever know.

The drive back was quiet and Hannah regretted saying what she did on the drive to the course. As she prepared to get out of the car, Jonathan laid a gentle hand on her arm.

“Hannah,” he said her name gently, “you will tell me if you decide not to go through with the wedding, won’t you?”

“I promise that I will tell you if anything is amiss,” she said with conviction, kissing his cheek lingeringly.

Chapter 23

That night she slept fitfully. Why had she voiced something she should have discussed with Deb first? And how could she make it right? When Deb returned maybe she could shed some light on it. Prayer did not bring an answer or perhaps her mind was too restless to hear it. But she knew God had her back and He definitely wanted her to get married to Jonathan. But she had just cast doubts in Jonathan’s mind.

It was a bleak morning when she got up. School was a blur. Reports completed for the pupils to be handed out the next day, the teachers had not much more to do except prepare for the holidays. They still had to keep the pupils occupied though and that was easier said than done. They were glad when the school day was over. There was, however, a staff meeting after school.

Sarah discussed next year’s planning and informed the staff that Hannah would be teaching music next year. Everyone was very enthusiastic and encouraging. Hannah felt overwhelmed. She had not expected to receive such positive, encouraging feedback.

A new grade R teacher had already been identified whom they would only meet in the new year as she was currently serving out her notice.

Results for the matriculants would only be coming out in the second week of December but Sarah was positive that there would be a hundred percent pass rate and she believed every pupil did very well. The teachers were glad when the meeting was over and they could get home.

When Hannah walked out of the school grounds, her parents and brother were waiting for her. “Mum, dad, Ben!” she squealed with delight, hugging them in turn with a tight squeeze. “I thought you guys were only coming tomorrow.”

“Your mother twisted our arm,” Aaron teased.

Her mother gave him a playful punch on the arm. “I was done sooner with what I needed to get done so we came a day earlier. Fortunately, the guest house was able to put us up for the extra night.”

“And off course since I was done with my exams, they insisted there was no point in waiting until tomorrow,” Ben interjected with mock regret.

“It’s so good to see you, brother,” Hannah gave him another squeeze.

“Deb said that we could meet her at Kate’s Kitchen,” Aaron said. “Are you okay to go straight there or do you need to go home first?”

“Straight there is fine,” Hannah acquiesced.

“Let’s go then. Ben can drive,” Aaron ordered. Unlike Hannah, Ben was eager to drive.

Half an hour later, Deb arrived while Hannah was catching up on Ben’s studies. Her parents and brother were ecstatic when they saw Deb. They could not get enough of her. Hannah suddenly realised how tough it must be on her parents having both daughters away from home; one extremely far away. But they never showed it.

The family enjoyed each other’s company as well as the food. It was quite late when Aaron dropped his two daughters off with a promise to see them tomorrow. Surprisingly, the Garricks were awake still and came out to greet Hannah’s parents and meet her brother. They insisted that they do tea in the morning at the Garricks home. Aaron accepted graciously.

“Deb, I did something foolish yesterday,” Hannah confessed as soon as they got into the cottage. Deb looked at her with narrowed eyes. “I told Jonathan I don’ know if I am ready for marriage and now he thinks I am wanting to cancel.” Hannah refused to look at her sister.

“Dearest sister,” Deb said with understanding. “That was foolish. However, when he sees you walking down the aisle, he will no longer doubt your decision.”

“Do you think so?” Hannah was still clouded in doubt.

“Definitely!” Deb stated firmly. “Now don’t think too much on it. We have only one more day together. Actually only half with you at school for half of it. Let’s spend it with happy moments. We are going shopping tomorrow.”

“Shopping? What do I need now?”

“Nothing! It’s just a fun thing to do together and it will get you less stressed about the wedding.”

Reluctantly Hannah agreed, regretting that she would not see Jonathan until the wedding; if he pitched. She didn’t sleep too well that night, dreaming that he didn’t arrive at the wedding and her worst fear was realised – she would be left standing at the altar! Fortunately, her restlessness didn’t wake Deb and the next morning she was glad Deb was still asleep when she left for school. She didn’t fancy sharing her nightmare with her sister.

There was much joy and excitement when the school bell rang for the last time that year and it went off earlier than normal. The holidays had begun! Most will leave early. Only the after care staff and pupils remained.

Ben was waiting for her with Deb outside the church grounds when she walked out. They were all three going to the mall to spend the afternoon. She was glad they were all three together again. After tea with the Garricks, her parents had opted to stay at the guest house and give the siblings a chance to catch up.

Indeed it was fun! Hannah thought as she got into bed that night. Exhausted, she slept well, all anxieties and worry set aside. When she got up in the morning, however, panic set in.

“It’s my wedding day!” she gasped.

“That’s what it said on the invitation,” Deb stated amused.

“I feel queasy,” Hannah declared.

“Bridal nerves,” Deb said soothingly. “Here I made you some herbal tea. It should calm you down.”

Hannah took the cup gratefully and sipped while Deb laid out their plans for what they would be doing before they had to be at the venue.

“Your appointment at the hairdresser is at two, make up at two thirty and dressing up from three. That will give us enough time to get to the venue.”

Hannah groaned and dove deeper under the covers. “I have to do all of that?”

“Naturally! Did you think you would just pitch up at the venue in your jeans with unkempt hair and looking dowdy?”

Hannah groaned again. She hated being subjected to the hands of others. However, she wanted to look beautiful for Jonathan so she resigned herself to the treatment. She wished she could see him even for just a moment. He was always so reassuring and right now she needed his strength.

You only need My strength, Hannah, Jesus said so calmly that Hannah wondered if she heard it or wished so hard that she thought she heard.

“A good breakfast is what you need,” Deb said wisely, cutting into her thoughts.

“I don’t think I could eat much,” Hannah protested.

“Fine! But you have to eat something.”

Hannah obeyed and after brushing her teeth, she managed to get some toast down. Emily came to check on her. “How are things getting on here?” she asked excitedly.

“Jitters,” Deb smiled. “But otherwise all on track.”

Wisely, Emily prayed with them before leaving. Hannah needed the prayer and she calmed down by the time they had to leave. Lunch with the rest of her family, at the mall before attending to the necessary treatments, was a welcome blessing.

It was soothing to spend some time with her family. “You look good, darling!” her mother said pleased. “I am glad there are no bags under your eyes.” She laughed.

“Do brides usually have bags under their eyes?” Ben asked curiously.

Both Aaron and Elizabeth laughed. “I have seen many a bride who had sleepless nights before their wedding day. I don’t actually know why they spend the entire night worrying about the wedding which they want to look good at and then have bags under their eyes.” He shook his head.

“At least dad won’t laugh at you, sis,” Ben said pursing his lips.

Hannah didn’t really find that funny but didn’t comment. At that moment, her mind was preoccupied with thoughts about Jonathan.

Simultaneously, Jonathan was thinking about her. It was only three hours before their wedding; a wedding he hoped was going to take place. Disappointed though he was that she had voiced her feeling, he knew he could not fault her for thinking along those lines.

Understandably, she was overwhelmed and seeing her new home must have made it all the more difficult. Perhaps his mother should have waited. Either way, he was not sure if she was having second thoughts. Not seeing her since then, was not helping either.

Maybe she wants to make sure she isn’t the one left standing at the alter, the Voice said so quietly, it took him a while to fathom.

Wrapped up in his own disappointment, he had not thought of what she would be going through, having been disappointed herself. He had been selfish! He prayed now for both him and Hannah. Even though, he wanted her as his wife, he was prepared to let her go if she so wished it. But he would be there. Whatever took place today, he knew it was all in God’s hand and if God can part the Red Sea, then He could pretty much do whatever He liked. He, Jonathan had to obey the voice of God rather than worry about things out of his control.

At five to four, Hannah arrived at the venue. Looking out the window, she gasped at the beauty of the transformed garden. Decorated exactly the way she pictured it should be, Hannah was awed.

“It’s time, baby,” her mother said from outside the window.

Hannah nodded, as her father opened the door for her. “You look beautiful, sweetheart,” Aaron said, his eyes moist as he took in the locks of hair swept up into a chic style making her face more clear, her high cheekbones more prominent. Her make up was minimum and expertly done, looking natural and not overdone. With flawless skin, she needed no foundation. She certainly was a picture of beauty.

“Oh, daddy, please don’t cry,” she implored.

“Me, cry? Never!” he said jovially making her laugh.

Deb gave the two an impatient stare. “Mum and Ben are already seated,” she stated. “You two need to get in line or the groom will think you are not coming.”

Although, Deb meant it as a joke, Hannah jerked into action. She scanned the area for Jonathan and when she saw him waiting in front of the minister, her heart leapt with joy. He was there! Looking handsome in his tuxedo.

The steps she took to the sound of the wedding march, were far too slow. She was impatient to reach him but she couldn’t very well pull her father along. Instead, she focussed her eyes on Jonathan as if he would disappear if she shifted her gaze.

Jonathan turned when the march began and breathed a sigh of relief. She was here! Was she still in doubt though? He couldn’t tell from so far. It was taking forever for her to get to him. He needed to look into her eyes and see whether this was what she wanted. Maybe she was going through the motions. He didn’t know; he didn’t know.

Finally, she was at the front. Then her father was handing her to him. The veil was so very concealing, he could not tell a thing. But he thought he saw her smile at him.

The minister began. Their ceremony was on the way. Hannah was half listening. Jonathan looked so uncertain. She tried to smile reassuringly but he didn’t seem to take note. She needed to prove to him that she wanted this marriage as much as he did.

When it was time to say their vows, she knew that this was how she could prove it to him and with clarity, determination and a strong voice, she pronounced each vow.

Pastor Michael said with gusto, “I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.”

Amidst the clapping, Jonathan lifted her veil but before he did the bidding of the minister, he looked into her eyes and as their eyes locked, they were both comforted in what they saw.

Hannah, saw the love Jonathan had for her and Jonathan saw the commitment in Hannah’s. A smile of gratitude lit his face and even though he kissed her briefly on the lips, Hannah felt his heart touch hers.

Soon they were signing the marriage register. They were Mr and Mrs Chandler. Then everyone was congratulating them and having a ball of time in the garden, celebrating their legal union.

With everyone mingling, Hannah managed to get Jonathan alone for a moment. “It’s really happened,” she said breathlessly. “We’re married! I should never have doubted you.” Her eyes begged for forgiveness.

“Nor I you,” Jonathan said with a smile kissing the top of her head. He looked happy.

“You had doubts that I would be here?” she asked surprised.

“Up until I saw you walk down the aisle.”

“I am so sorry, Jonathan. I never meant to cause any doubt. I have never felt so certain about anything in my life like I felt about marrying you.”

“I forgive you since you are looking so breathtakingly beautiful,” he stroked her cheek, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

Hannah was mesmerised by that look and she stared at him, longing for him to kiss her. They were married now and the promise had become void. Alas, it was not meant to happen then. Once again they were crowded by the family.

Since Jonathan’s siblings only arrived yesterday, Hannah had not met them yet. Therefore, they were impatient to introduce themselves and their families. Hannah was whirled away from Jonathan but she didn’t mind. They would have plenty of time together after the wedding! She was enjoying getting to know his family, while Jonathan was getting to know hers. She took to Paul’s children immediately as did they to her. The four year old was a boy and the two year old a girl. Both of them were beautiful as was Paul’s wife, Kayla.

Everyone in Jonathan’s family was good looking and Ruth was no exception. She was also delightfully friendly and so was her husband, Edward. They were both so companionable that it took the strain off Hannah.

There wasn’t enough time to chat though as the photographer wanted to get enough pictures before the light faded. Never before had Hannah posed for so many photographs but her sense of euphoria blocked any self consciousness. It was quite a while before they could leave for the reception.

On the ride to the restaurant, she put her head on Jonathan’s shoulder, content to be there. His arm came around her. “Are you tired?” he asked gently.

“No, I had a good sleep last night, thanks to my sister.”

He laughed. “You must be the only bride to have gotten a good night’s sleep.”

“Funny, that’s what my dad also said. You ministers!” she reprimanded lightly. He chuckled. As did Derrick and Emily.

The restaurant where the reception was being held had a private room. It was smartly decorated for the reception; all compliments of the owners. Hannah made a mental note to personally thank them.

Formalities were handled by Jonathan’s friend which didn’t take very long and soon the guests were enjoying their meal and fellowship. It was a time for Hannah to get to know the people who were strangers to her.

Chapter 24

Hannah had not had so much fun as she was having now. Everyone was comfortable with each other putting Hannah at total ease. She was particularly intrigued by Jonathan’s friends. Graham, the MC and the best man was also his best friend. Together with his wife, Whitney, they were charming and friendly.

“I can’t believe this man kept you a secret, even from me,” Graham laughed.

“Maybe because she is so gorgeous!” Whitney stated causing Hannah to blush. “We really should get together for a weekend,” Whitney continued. “In that way, we’ll get to know each other better.” The last statement was directed at Hannah

“Yes, we certainly must. Off course with your busy schedule, I wonder when that will be,” Jonathan laughed knowingly.

The two men began talking about their schedules while Whitney engaged Hannah in conversation. “I heard your dad is also a pastor,” Whitney began.

Hannah was grateful for the other woman’s intuitiveness. Younger than them by a good few years, Hannah was not sure she fitted in but Whitney was determined to draw her into the group. Hannah was glad to furnish information pertaining to those around her.

Suddenly the conversation switched to her and Jonathan. “I have never seen him look so happy,” Whitney commented pleased.

“Really?” Hannah doubted that.

“Yes, really. Since his divorce, he has not looked at another woman and we were certain that he was going to remain single. Therefore, it was a huge surprise when we got the invitation. A pleasant surprise, mind you. We had no clue he was even seeing anyone.” Whitney smiled happily.

“We didn’t want to make it public knowledge,” Hannah said lamely.

“Always the considerate one! Probably didn’t want to overwhelm you. For the years we have known him, I can tell you he is truly an anointed man of God.” Whitney’s voice held awe.

“I gathered that too,” Hannah agreed just as awed.

“You do realise you are going to be the envy of every single woman now, don’t you?” Whitney teased.

“Oh, no!” Hannah said in mock despair. “Is it too late to run? Or maybe I could lock myself in a tower away from the world.” Whitney burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny ladies?” Graham asked with a blank look.

“I was telling Hannah that she is going to receive some very stiff looks from all the single ladies at Gateway Eternal, and she is thinking of becoming Rapunzel.” Whitney’s voice was still laced with laughter.

Not expecting Whitney to divulge their joke, Hannah blushed. She was not used to getting laughs at her wit and wasn’t sure how to handle it. Jonathan caressed her hand.

“Oh, yeah! Did your husband tell about his fan club?” Graham teased.

“Guys! Please don’t scare my wife with untruths,” Jonathan moaned.

“We do not tell untruths,” Whitney said with mock hurt. “He has had women chasing him from school days,” she continued unashamedly.

“I believe you,” Hannah said, her eyes full of mirth at the recollection of the nurse at the hospital. “Any advise how to handle it?” She had a twinkle in her eye.

They bowled over with laughter as they all tried to talk at the same time. Jonathan trying to cut their teasing was getting nowhere until Deb came to his rescue.

“I think it is time to have the opening dance,” she announced.

“Dance?” Hannah asked fearfully. Pulling Deb aside, she whispered, “I don’t know how to dance and we have not practised any dancing.”

“I did give you fair warning on Tuesday,” Deb said mercilessly. “Besides, you just need to follow your husband’s lead.”

“She’s right you know,” Jonathan said encouragingly holding out his hand to her. “Just follow my lead.”

Unable to do anything else, she followed him. If she was surprised that he was willing to dance, she was bowled over by his prowess in dancing. He really did make her look good on the dance floor.

“You are a superb dancer,” she said admiringly.

“I’m not superman for nothing,” he teased. She laughed forgetting her discomfort. It was easy to follow him. She was actually sorry when it was over. She felt safe, comforted, in his arms so much so that she had become oblivious to her surroundings. When the music stopped, she was surprised that others were dancing too.

“Oh!” she said disappointed that it was over.

“Enjoying it?” Jonathan teased.

She nodded her head soberly. “I had no idea dancing was enjoyable.”

“It most certainly is. It is also what God enjoys doing with us,” Jonathan informed.

“He does?” Hannah was surprised. Being too self conscious, she had never wanted to dance. As well as always being averse to embracing people outside of her family.

“Yes, He certainly does!” Jonathan was amused. For someone who loved music, he was surprised she had not danced before. But then, physical touch was not her love language; it was his. Hers, he learnt was words of affirmation. That she let him touch her, was a miracle. “We could dance some more if you want,” he offered.

“No that’s okay. I am sure we will get plenty of chances to dance,” she dismissed.

“All the time. Marriage, itself, is like a dance.”

“How’s that?” Hannah asked struggling to comprehend.

Jonathan explained the analogy briefly, promising to expand later. Intrigued, she agreed, knowing that Jonathan would make good on his promise. This was not the time or place for such a fascinating subject which required lots of concentration.

Music continued to play but not many wanted to dance. They were more interested in catching up with each other. Jonathan went back to his friends. Hannah got to spend time with her family seeing that she only had them for a short while.

“I hope you won’t drive back tonight, dad,” Hannah said worriedly.

“Good news there. Your dad has decided we should go back tomorrow,” Elizabeth said joyfully.

Hannah hugged her father. “That is wonderful. I would worry so if you were driving back so late.”

“We thought we should see Deb off at the airport before we leave. We won’t be seeing her again for a while,” Aaron explained away his sudden change of heart.

“That would be great, dad because Jonathan and I will be going to the airport too. I get to see you longer.” She gave her father another long, loving hug.

Aaron patted his daughter on the shoulder. “No need for so much emotional display,” he teased but his eyes were moist.

“No more than your congregation,” Hannah said and they all laughed.

Jonathan glancing over at their table, smiled. “She really is beautiful,” Whitney stated sincerely.

“Don’t I know it! And so witty.” Jonathan smiled happily. “She is warm and caring, very selfless and very helpful too. And she doesn’t fight me on anything,” he said the last with mock boastfulness.

“Then how does she get her way?” Graham asked perplexed.

“With honey!” Jonathan grimaced. “She is so sweet when she wants something. How is a man supposed to not melt?”

His friends laughed. “You are blessed, man,” Graham said seriously.

“I don’t deny that. And it almost didn’t happen.”

“What do you mean?” Whitney asked curiously.

Jonathan proceeded to tell them how she came looking for the post and how she would run from him every time she saw him. “I tell you I have never prayed so much about anything as I did for her to stop running from me.” He grinned now as he recalled how they both tried to deny the attraction between them.

“Hey bro, I need to get my kids to bed,” Jonathan’s brother, Paul, interrupted. “I will give you a call tomorrow.”

Since both his brother and sister were not leaving until the end of the week, he was not too bothered that they were leaving the party early. They would catch up in the week when he could properly thank them for making the effort to attend his wedding. His brother gave him a hug before leaving. With young children it was not easy to stay out late. And it was already nine o’clock. Ruth was also leaving and hugged him goodbye.

They also said goodbye to Hannah, Paul kissing her on the cheek and Ruth hugging her tightly. His siblings had taken instantaneously to his wife for which he was grateful. Proudly, he watched her. She had been a delight to everyone. Even pastor Michael had been delighted with her. Shy though she was with those she didn’t know, she had proved very brave in mingling with them.

As much as he wanted to steal her away and be alone with her, she was having so much fun with her family that he didn’t have the heart to. She hadn’t seen them in quite a while and he didn’t want to be selfish. He waited long enough, he could wait another hour or two.

“I think it is time you took your wife home,” Graham said perceptively. “Here’s your car keys.”

“That obvious huh?” Jonathan grinned.

“Afraid so,” Graham chuckled. “I don’t think her family would mind at all. Besides we need to push off. Got the evening to ourselves. Want to make the most of it.” Graham winked. Whitney nudged him in the ribs, turning red.

“You’re right! I should get her home.” Jonathan ignored the insinuation and got up. The others rose to their feet also.

After saying goodbye to Hannah with a promise to meet up again, they left. “Honey, you ready to leave?” he asked gently.

“Sure,” she said absently.

“We could stay a bit longer if you want to spend more time with your family,” he offered.

“No, that’s okay. They’re only leaving tomorrow, so I will see them at the airport. Let me just say goodnight to them.”

Her family did not let her linger as they said speedy goodnights. “Almost as if they wanted to get rid of me,” she complained to Jonathan later. He just smiled. She had no idea why they were sending her off so quickly.

At the door, they met the owner who was coming to check if they needed anything else. “No, we’re actually done for the evening,” Jonathan said kindly.

“Oh, you don’t have to rush off,” the owner said convincingly.

“Most of the guests have left already,” Jonathan explained gently.

“Okay,” the owner smiled. “Hope everything was to your satisfaction,” he said nervously.

It was Hannah who answered. “It most certainly was, thank you. And very appreciated. You have done a stunning job.”

Jonathan raised his eyebrow. He had never seen a man turn that red at a compliment before. He knew that was due to Hannah’s sincerity. She had a way of speaking the truth that made a person’s inside turn to jelly.

“Thank you, Mrs Chandler,” the owner said shyly.

“You are welcome,” Hannah said oblivious of how the man was reacting to her statements. The owner bowed and left them. “Such a nice man,” she commented as they walked away.

Hannah removed her veil and tossed it onto the back seat where Jonathan’s discarded jacket and bowtie lay, before getting into the car. Her bouquet she had given to Abigail. The drive was short. “This has been a wonderful day,” she sighed. “Like a fairytale.”

“It certainly was wonderful,” Jonathan agreed. “Are you tired?”

“Not at all,” she replied. “You?”

“No. I feel more invigorated than this morning. Must be something to do with getting married,” he teased.

She laughed. “You got married?” she joked. “So did I.”

“You are so amusing,” Jonathan said laughing.

“It must be that you bring that out in me. No one ever tells me that I’m funny or amusing. They think I’m boring!” Hannah said truthfully.

“I certainly don’t, and neither do my friends. I also heard your family laughing at your witty remark which means that if others think you are boring, then they didn’t bother to get to know you,” he said as they reached their destination. He didn’t bother to park the car in the garage.

“Thank you,” she said appreciatively, before getting out of the car.

Unlocking the front door, he pushed it wide open, then carried Hannah over the threshold, with ease. “Oh, I didn’t think they did that any more,” she giggled as he set her down on the floor in the centre of the lounge.

“Not that I know,” Jonathan said amused as he locked up. “Welcome to your new home, Mrs Chandler,” he said breathlessly, putting his arms around her tiny waist. “I hope you will be very happy here.”

“I don’t doubt that I will, thank you.” Her arms went around his neck. “I still can’t believe we are married,” she whispered. “I feel like I am going to wake up and find it was a dream.”

“There is one thing that will make it real,” he said mysteriously.

“What’s that?” she asked puzzled.

“A kiss. I kept my promise and now that we are finally alone, I can do what I’ve been wanting to do all these months.”

Mesmerised, by the look in his eyes, and the tantalising sensations his thumb was causing against her mouth, she whispered, “Yes, you did keep your promise!”

As he lowered his head, she closed her eyes. Jonathan kissed her deeply and hungrily, knowing that he was with the woman created especially for him. Everything he dreamt the kiss would be, it was and more.

Hannah succumbed to the engulfing, wonderful, warm, secure sensations that his kiss evoked and knew without a doubt, that she was in the plan of God where marriage was concerned.

THE END

Thank you for reading my book. If you enjoyed it, won’t you please take a moment to leave my a review at your favourite retailer? Or simply visit my facebook page at www.facebook.com/majesticsouvenirs/ to leave a comment.

Thanks

Julie Sewcharan

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About the author:

Julie Sewcharan lives in a fast growing town in South Africa and loves to read. She has enjoyed writing stories for pleasure as a young girl. Her husband is a romantic and loves to spoil her. One of her sons is an adult and the other a teen. Being the only woman in the family is not easy but she loves all three of her men to bits.


No Engagement Ring

Pretty, timid Hannah Wilkens has 'run away' from her small town home, her father's church and caring family to 'hide' in the big city. Now she needs a job and hopes to get one at the school associated with the church pastored by a man far too young, good looking and overpowering, in her opinion. Would God bring her restoration and peach in this church? Or would she lose more than she had in the past? Young Jonathan Chandler's wife divorced him for going into full time ministry, which left him devastated. But God had been faithful with complete emotional healing and endowed Jonathan with strength, wisdom and knowledge to run a large church. When the young Hannah comes into his life, he has to wonder where God is taking him. Initially he fights God for in his opinion, she is far too young for the post at the school, but soon comes to realise that God's plans are best!

  • ISBN: 9781370196289
  • Author: Julie Sewcharan
  • Published: 2017-09-28 10:20:15
  • Words: 65461
No Engagement Ring No Engagement Ring