Chapter 6: Marry Me?
Three days later Jackson picks me up on Saturday morning. He tells me he has a surprise for me and advises me to wear outdoor apparel.
A forty-five-minute ride in Jackson’s Beamer puts us outside the city in the lovely countryside. We arrive at an idyllic farm with a sign out front that identifies it as a boarding stable. I’m so excited because Jackson has found a horse for me to ride!
“Have you ever been riding, Jackson?”
“No, I can’t say that I have,” he answers, as he parks the car. Ordinarily Jackson would get my door for me, but I’m too excited to wait. I sprint around the car and meet him on his side.
“It can’t be too hard, can it?” he asks. “The horse does most of the work, right?” He grins at me as he takes my hand and we head into the barn together.
When we arrive inside, we meet the barn manager, Milo, who sets us up with horses suited for our skill levels. He gives us a map which contains directions for three different trails.
Jackson’s horse is a mare, a bay draft cross. She is large and has the sweetest temperament. Mine is a dapple-gray gelding with questionable parentage. He looks to have some Arab refinement in his head and bone structure, but I’d venture to guess from the size of his hip and muscling, he’s got some foundation quarter horse stock in him. Both horses are absolutely beautiful. The sun is shining, the temperature is moderate and there’s a mild, sweet breeze blowing around us.
Soon, the two of us are mounted on the horses and are on our way. We ride and talk for thirty minutes until Jackson says, “See that tree over there?”
“Yeah, I see it,” I tell him.
“First one to it gets a kiss!” Jackson challenges.
“You’re on!” I answer him, cuing my horse into a gallop.
Jackson is so amazing. He sits his horse so naturally and looks as if he’s been riding his entire life. He’s just one of those genetically blessed people who can do anything and look spectacular in the process.
Looks aren’t everything, though. My experience with horses proves too much for Jackson and his horse. It doesn’t hurt that Jackson’s horse is carrying twice the weight of mine and is a much heavier, slower bred horse to begin with, but I’m not going to suck the joy from this. I’ll take my wins where I can find them, and I’ll milk my victory for all it’s worth.
I arrive at the tree several lengths ahead of him. I’m dismounted and waiting next to the tree by the time he gets to me.
“Hey,” I look up at him with a winner’s swagger and say, “What happened? Did you take a detour?”
He swings down off his horse, drops his reins and comes after me. “Come here, you. You’ve got a kiss coming!”
I dart away from him, out of the reach of his grip and remind him with bossy sincerity, “Hey, I thought the winner gets a kiss!”
“Hey,” Jackson retorts, “I’m trying here!” he says with mock exasperation.
I ask with teasing glee in my tone, “What if I don’t want a kiss from you?”
The puzzled look on Jackson’s face is utterly adorable as he looks around and asks, “Who else are you going to kiss?”
“I can kiss my horse!” I tell him with complete and utter sincerity. “For that matter,” I say, while keeping the tree between the two of us, “I can kiss your horse!”
“Really? You’d rather kiss some hairy beast than cute little old me? I’m so wounded, Ellie! I may never recover,” he feigns as he clutches his heart like he’s dying.
“Well, if you’re wounded, I guess I’d better come tend to you,” I tell him. As I start towards Jackson my ankle goes sideways in the tall unruly grass of the meadow. I feel myself falling, but before I hit the ground, I find myself wrapped in Jackson’s arms as he rolls me over and over in the grass, deflecting my fall. When we come to a stop, I find myself lying on top of him, blushing like a school girl.
“Boy, he says, “when you tend to the wounded, you go all out, don’t you, Ellie, girl?” He smiles at me, unleashing one of those million-watt gems of his.
“A girl has to do her best or what’s the point?” I ask as I push against his chest with my hands and pull my knees forward. I sit up, astride his abs, in preparation to stand. As I sit, though, Jackson follows me to a sitting position and stops my ascent with his hands on my waist.
We’re sitting under a huge tree in the middle of a sun splotched meadow. The intermittent dapples of light bring depth and life to our quiet moment. It is intensely romantic as I sit astride Jackson’s lap, my heart beating a thousand miles an hour.
Suddenly, Jackson pulls forth a tiny black box, takes my hand and looks me in the eye. “Eliza Morgan, I love you like I’d have never believed possible. You’ve opened my heart and forever changed my life. Will you marry me Ellie? Will you be my wife?”
I look into his incredibly handsome face, caress his cheek and tell him, “Yes, Jackson. I’d love to become Ellie Dawes.”
Jackson slips the ring onto the fourth finger of my left hand. He cups the back of my head as he winds his fingers through my hair, the hair with dead grass and leaves protruding from it. He kisses me so sweetly that my heart nearly shatters from the tenderness and joy of it all.
I can’t help myself. I begin to weep. Jackson wipes away the tears with his thumb at the outside corners of my eyes.
“Why the tears, sweetheart?” comes his question.
“I’m just so happy. This is the most romantic thing that’s ever been done for me. I will remember this for the rest of my life. Thank you, Jackson for making this so special for me.”
“You deserve special, Ellie, because you are special. You’re the only you in the entire world. And I’m the lucky guy fortunate enough to have found you.”
“I don’t know how lucky you are, but you did find me, all right,” I admit. I take a moment and admire the ring he’s placed on my hand. In my professional opinion as a non-jeweler, I’d label it a heart stopper. It’s huge and blindingly bright. It hurts my eyes to look at it as it captures and refracts the intermittent sunlight.
I capture Jackson’s handsome face between my hands and kiss him ardently, probably too ardently, but I’m caught up in the romance, beauty and tenderness of the moment.
Jackson feels the passion in my kiss and returns my ardor. In an instant he flips us over and I’m caught beneath the enormous weight of his body. He lays to my right side and scoots his left hand up underneath my head so that he cradles it. Jackson caresses my cheek with his opposing forefinger. He watches me. I watch him. We’re lost in our own little world.
His eyes are so large, brown, warm and kind. They’re breathtaking to behold and they give me a perfect window into what he’s thinking.
“When, Ellie?” he asks me.
“On our wedding day, Jackson, you know that,” I remind him sweetly.
“I mean, when can we get married, sweetheart?” he corrects my misunderstanding of his question.
I think for a moment. “How about one year from today. How perfect would it be to get married on the anniversary of the day that you proposed to me? It will take that long to plan the wedding I want, anyway. That should be sufficient time to get everything pulled together….”
A look of horror crosses Jackson’s handsome face. “No, Ellie! God no! Don’t make me wait like that for you.” He nuzzles my forehead with his. “Please, Ellie. I can’t!” he agonizes.
I touch his cheek, so he’ll look at me. When he does, I say, “I’m just messing with you, Jackson. How does one month sound? Is that better suited to your anxious soul?”
Relief floods his features. He lays his body firmly down on mine and says, “You little tease. That was just plain mean!”
I wiggle and try to get away from him, but I’m caught. There’s no getting away. Like getting away is what I really want.
“Sorry, little girl. You’re not going anywhere. You have to make it up to me for being so mean,” he tells me.
“Really? I won’t be mean anymore, I promise,” I say as I wink at him. That does it. He covers my mouth with his own. My arms wrap themselves around his neck and pull him into me. Our lips meld and blend like they are a single entity. I feel Jackson’s free hand on my belly as his lips move to my cheeks and neck.
I’m breathing hard now. As Jackson unbuttons one, two buttons on my blouse, my mind reels with possibilities and is saturated with anticipation. I can’t help but moan and writhe beneath his attention.
Jackson moves his kisses lower into the valley between my breasts. “Oh, my God, Ellie, when I watch and feel how you move to my touch I nearly burst through the front of my pants. You are so exquisite. I want you so badly, sweetheart. Please, Ellie, please, for the love of God, let me have you.” The recognition that he’s begging me to let him claim my body pulls me from my needy stupor and re-engages my brain.
He’s right. We’re engaged now. He will marry me. If I give in to him, having given him what he wants, he won’t run from me. It would be so easy to let him undress me and fill my aching femininity. My body convulses at the thought of his girth, length, warmth and friction meeting the ache deep within me. Imagining what he’ll feel like inside me sends me soaring into another convulsion. I can’t keep my pelvis from reacting to his nearness, to his touch.
“Ellie, you want me, sweetheart. Your body is hurting like mine. Let me take care of you. Let me stop the hurt. I’ll fill you all up, Ellie, nice and tight so the ache will go away. You’ll feel so much better.”
Then my faith hits me where I live. “My body will feel better for a little while, Jackson. My soul and my heart will hurt from my betrayal of God. What will you do to sate that ache?”
I feel so badly for allowing this to happen. The need to apologize overwhelms me. “Jackson, I know how you feel. I’m sorry my body responds to you like it does. But I have to be able to look myself in the mirror. I have to be able to like myself this afternoon and tomorrow and every day for the rest of my life. I can’t compromise this. I won’t. I won’t,” I say adamantly as I shake my head at him.
“Can you be okay with that?” I ask quietly as I refuse to make eye contact. In an effort to reassure him I add, “The next month will fly by.” My brain is cranking on all cylinders looking for a better solution. Then it comes to me. “Honestly, Jackson, I’ll do my best to get our wedding together in two weeks. Is that better?” I continue as I think out loud. “Surely, I can pull a venue, caterer, flowers, musicians and some invitations together in two weeks, right? Can you wait two weeks, Jackson? Two weeks, for me?”
He smiles down at me and chuckles. “You are a tough nut to crack, Ellie Dawes, but I’ll wait two weeks, or a month if necessary.”
“I’m not Ellie Dawes, yet,” I remind him. “If I were, this wouldn’t be a problem.”
“Well, you are in my eyes. Everything I have is yours, Ellie,” Jackson promises with absolute earnestness beaming from his gaze.
I touch his face and pull him in for a sweet gentle kiss. “Thank you, Jackson for being so good to me. Soon, I’ll show you how much I appreciate all you do for me, okay?”
“You bet,” I assure him. He stands and helps me to my feet. He cradles my face and says to me with intense sincerity, “Don’t you ever apologize for responding to my touch, Ellie. I love that you can barely help yourself. Soon you won’t have to, okay?”
“Okay,” I promise as I squeeze his hand. “Are you ready to ride back to the barn?”
“No way,” comes his instant, adamant refusal. “I can’t get on a horse right now.”
I glance at his crotch and catch sight of his hard, unyielding erection. “I’m so sorry, Jackson.”
“Well,” he grins at me, “you should be. You should know better than to get me all worked up like this and then tell me ‘no’. It’s not fair to a guy,” he says as he winks at me and squeezes my hand in return. We pick up our reins and turn the horses toward the barn.
“You don’t have to walk, sweetheart,” Jackson tells me. “Ride your horse and take it easy.”
I shake my head at him. “If you’re walking, then I’m walking,” I tell him.
Jackson smiles down at me because he appreciates my gesture. As we amble along, he quietly asks, “You really enjoy horses, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do, but I’m not really sure why,” I admit. “I mean when you think about it, they’re big, strong, hairy, dirty and dangerous. What’s to like, right? Somehow, though, they meet a need in my soul.”
Further introspection prompts me to continue. “Maybe it’s because I’m not very good with people. Maybe, it’s because I’m so unlike you, not being athletic or graceful or even coordinated for that matter. Horses don’t care about stuff like that. Horses don’t care if you’re awkward, smart, or stupid. They don’t care if you’re wearing makeup. They only care if you’re good to them. I’ve loved horses since I was a little girl. I think it would be hard to find a horse I didn’t like, but I’ve always wanted a Friesian.”
Jackson screws up his face in confusion as he asks, “You want a what?”
I smile up at him and offer an explanation. “Friesians are a breed of horse that originated in the Netherlands. They are enormous, solid black and extremely athletic. They have ridiculously thick wavy manes and tails and long silky hair on the backs of their hooves. They are beyond beautiful.
“They’re gifted sport horses and are known for their gentle dispositions. My favorite is the old Baroque breeding. I always wanted to do Grand Prix dressage. The elegance of that sport brings me to tears.” I pause, barely beating the urge to cry. “I hate to say it, but I missed my chance. There’s room for sadness there, but now I have many new wonderful things to look forward to.” I smile up at him again and squeeze his forearm. He kisses the top of my head and wraps his arm around my waist.
Jackson smiles at me and says, “Ellie, sweetheart, you can have anything, do anything, you want. There’s absolutely nothing standing in your way. You know that don’t you?”
I nod my head at him. “Yes, I know, but I want to put academic riding aside. Maybe I can still ride for fun on occasion, but nothing formerly structured with showing in mind. I want to focus on my ministry goals and helping other people. It’s more important to me at this time of my life.”
Jackson continues our conversation as we amble along, but he ventures into new territory. “Ellie, there’s something I’d like you to explain to me, if you don’t mind.”
I look up at him and quickly say, “I’ll explain anything I can. Just ask me.”
“Well, I’m trying to understand something you keep saying about yourself,” he admits.
“Really? What’s that?” I can’t imagine what his question might be.
“You keep saying how you’re not good with people. Frankly, I just don’t see it. I see your heart and know, for myself, you carry a burden inside you to make life better for others, so I don’t quite grasp how you perceive yourself as not being liked by other people. Many people like to be helped and most people see helping others as a great thing.”
I nod in concession. I understand what Jackson is saying. “You’ve not known me long enough, Jackson. Since we began seeing one another we’ve been living in our own little world. You’ve not seen how other people usually respond to me. When called upon I can produce a spine of steel. When my backbone shows itself or when I open my mouth to present my ideas or defend my position, I tend to really aggravate people. So, my experience in life has taught me that few people ever get past what they consider my trouble making exterior.
“Really, it’s only ever been my faith expressing itself. I’m black and white on most things. I mean, if some church leader gets up front and announces something, then I think the congregants should be able to take him at his word. I don’t think there should be some other back room deal to which only a few are privy.
“I’m old fashioned in that I believe in honesty and integrity. I don’t believe in manipulating others, at anyone’s expense. I believe a person should do what they agree to and be who they present themselves to be. It’s so straight forward and eliminates so many of life’s complications.”
Jackson shakes his head like he can’t believe what he’s hearing. “Ellie, there’s hardly anyone who lives like that.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s why people don’t like me as a rule.” I smile up at him, understanding our conversation has come full circle.
“Well,” Jackson counters, “if people really see you that way it’s going to make your ministry work even harder than it should be.”
“Yeah, I know,” I agree, “but I am who I am, and I’m not exempt from God’s call to show His love to others. Knowing me as I do, I’ll just have to do my best to work around this aspect of my personality. I’ll do my best for God and leave the results to Him.”
Jackson smiles at me but continues with his questions. “Ellie, you’re always so concerned about somehow not being enough, so, I guess I’m wondering how you feel that you’re enough to accomplish everything you want to do with your life? You’re always so very hard on yourself, but you’re still convinced about going forward with your plans. The two sides of you seem at odds to me.”
I smile back at Jackson because I’m happy he loves me enough that he wants to understand me more fully. “I understand why you asked me that, Jackson. It makes sense to me that you’d ask it. The truth is; I already know that I’m not enough. On my own I could never stand before a holy God and expect anything but condemnation. It’s all I could ever earn or deserve on my own. However, when I accepted Jesus into my life, He took all the condemnation I deserve upon Himself. Now, when God looks at me, He sees me as faultless, sinless as I stand before Him. Now, because of Jesus’ work on my behalf, I am enough. Jesus makes me enough. Jesus did for me what I could never do for myself, so my work for God becomes an expression of my faith in Him instead of an attempt to save myself. I no longer have to worry about God ever refusing me in any regard because I accepted Jesus and He makes anything possible.”
Jackson hugs me close to his side and bends to kiss the side of my face. “You, Ellie, girl, are one in a billion. You never cease to surprise me.”
“You do a pretty good job of surprising me, too, Jackson. Thanks for such a wonderfully romantic proposal. I’ll treasure it always.”
“My objective in life now, Ellie is to keep you happy. So, I want you to promise me if there’s anything you want, you’ll tell me.”
I smile up at him with delight shining in my eyes. “I promise, Jackson. Right now, though, I want for nothing. You make me happy by simply being you.”
Jackson squeezes my hand as we amble along, chatting with each other for several minutes, until we’re able to remount our horses and finish our ride back to the barn. I can’t stop looking at my beautiful new engagement ring. It fractures the sunlight into millions of pieces, shining as if it is its own little sun.
I can’t stop looking at Jackson either. We’re astride our horses, but he still holds my hand. We allow the horses to dictate the speed at which we walk along the trail. They’re incredibly content to putt along slowly, exerting as little energy as possible. Personally, I’m perfectly fine with that. If this moment never ends, I’ll be ok with that as well. Jackson repeatedly tells me how much he loves me. He convinces me he is truly, truly happy. We act like a couple of lovesick teenagers. Please God, don’t let this end.
Also, I can’t stop counting my blessings. Thank you, God. Thank you! Thank you! After Thomas died, I was convinced my life was over, the part of it where I was married, anyway. I knew I’d live out my days helping other people, but I’d accepted the fact that any fulfillment, any joy I’d ever know personally, would be found in what I could do for others. Now, I see I still have happiness and joy for myself as well. God has seen to it that there’s someone who wants to do for me what I want to do for him. What an unexpected surprise. What a joyous revelation.
Revelations and surprises aside, it seems I still have much to learn. On this day, this blissfully perfect day, it’s unknown to me that I’m on a collision course with a life lesson. The coming instruction will reveal the truly gifted nature of people when it comes to our ability for self-deception. I’ll gain first-hand knowledge about the steep price to be paid for such personal dishonesty.