Jacaranda Plains

Chapter 21

The soaring spirits that fain would fly,
On wings of hope to the starry sky …

From “Frogs in Chorus” ~ Banjo Patterson

Jemimah stepped out of the car in front of the Turnbull’s house, struck by the almost palpable stillness all around. She waited warily for the arrival of the cattle dogs, but everything was silent, save the innate bush sounds of night insects, and even they seemed shrouded by the thick darkness that hung over the night.

She inhaled deeply, and looked up. There was no moon, but thousands of tiny diamonds nestled against the black velvet of the sky - more stars than she’d ever seen at home. It was so peaceful that it was hard to believe her life could be in such a tangle. If only the rest of the world had really been swallowed up by the darkness.

Jemimah sighed, and walked to the boot US trunk (luggage compartment) of the car
to retrieve her overnight bag. When the sun rose again her problems and everything else would be right there waiting for her. If only she could have enjoyed the sheer beauty of the stillness without them weighing on her mind …

“See what I mean about being stuck out here?” Angie slammed the boot shut, the bang echoing away to the bush. “It’s so quiet it’s depressing.”

The house was in darkness apart from the light spilling from Pastor Turnbull’s study window and the kitchen lights at the other end of the house. The girls had just crossed the porch outside the kitchen when Nan met them at the door, barefooted and wearing a floral brunch coat over her nightgown.

“Did you have a nice night?”

“All right, I guess. Just the usual people, saying the usual things,” Angie answered, going in the front door ahead of Jemimah. “Dad’s still up isn’t he? Jemimah wanted to talk him before we go to bed.”

“Yes, I took him a cuppa to him in his study just before I heard your car in the drive. Oh, you’re welcome dear,” Nan dropped a gentle kiss onto Jemimah’s cheek, as Jemimah tried to slip in her thanks for the hospitality, “it’s a pleasure having you.”

Angie wandered over to the fridge, and began browsing its shelves. “Is Gabi already in bed?”

“Yes, she went to bed nearly an hour ago - and I’ll be going off myself as soon as you two girls are set for the night. I’ve made up the bed in Michael’s room for you, Jemimah --” She stopped when Jemimah blanched and shook her head vigorously.

“Oh, no - I don’t want to go in …. to go in--” Michael’s bed, she nearly blurted, horrified by the thought of invading his privacy to that extent. She took a breath and tried to explain, “I wouldn’t feel right being in …. someone’s room when they didn’t know about it. Please, I’m very happy to sleep on the couch - I don’t want to be any trouble.”

“What on earth’s the problem with using Michael’s room?” Angie asked, looking up from the plate she had taken from the fridge. Her frown of impatience made Jemimah uncomfortable, but Nan smiled and looked at her with sudden understanding in her eyes.

“That’s fine, sweetheart - I didn’t stop to think. Angie - how about you sleep in Mikey’s room, and Jemimah can have your bed?”

Angie shrugged. “Doesn’t bother me. Guess I’d better change my sheets for her though.”

Jemimah swallowed, wondering how she had managed again to make things so awkward, when Nan shook her head.

“No need, Angie - I took pity on you and did your bed today when I did Michael’s. It’s been a while since your sheets have been changed …”

“I was going to do my laundry tomorrow. It’s been busy since Jemimah came - we were out all day last Saturday, and you won’t let me wash on Sunday --”

“I thought I heard voices,” Pastor Turnbull’s voice came ahead of him from the hallway. “Hello, girls. Nice night?”

“Yes, thank you.” Jemimah replied politely, relieved at the interruption. She felt responsible for setting off the tension with Angie, and felt guilty that Nan hadn’t even been thanked for changing the sheets in readiness for her visit. Mentioning it would only make Angie’s omission the more obvious, though.

“Nice night? It didn’t look like you were enjoying yourself when you were talking to Marlene and Karen afterwards,” Angie challenged her. “Is that what you wanted to talk to Dad about?”

Jemimah felt herself blushing. She’d hoped that Angie would ask her Dad if he’d mind talking with her a little more graciously than that.

“Oh, have I been booked?” Pastor Turnbull raised his eyebrows at Jemimah, but his eyes twinkled below them. “I’d better fortify myself then.” He leant forward and stole a piece of the carrot cake that Angie had brought over to the table, then turned back to Jemimah with a more sober expression on his face.

“Were you wanting to have a chat with me tonight, Jemimah?”

Jemimah nodded, “But only if it’s convenient. If it’s not ….” she trailed off. She wanted to say that it didn’t matter, but the truth was she knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep unless she could do something about the terrible knot in her chest.

“I’m all yours,” he said with a smile. “Did you want to talk here, or would you rather speak in private in my study?”

“Oh, here, please.” The thought of another interview in his formal study made her even more uptight. “It’s not, it’s not private really. Angie sort of knows about it, already.”

He nodded and took a seat at the dining table, placing the cup he’d brought with him on the table in front of him.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll head off to bed then,” Nan said, patting Jemimah on the shoulder as she passed. “Angie - if you wouldn’t mind letting the dogs off the chain before you go to bed? I tied them up earlier so they wouldn’t run out when you and Jemimah came.”

Jemimah looked up at Nan, her gratitude in her eyes, and was rewarded with a warm smile before Nan slid the hallway door closed behind her.

“What’s on your mind?” Pastor Turnbull prompted as Jemimah pulled out a chair and sat down beside Angie.

“It’s just …. I’ve done something I don’t think is wrong …. but a few people seem to have gotten the wrong impression about it …. ” Now she had the chance to speak about it, she couldn’t think of any way to start.

“About your relationship with young Matthew Gordon from the Courthouse?” he asked.

Jemimah’s mouth dropped open. “If .... if you know about it - this is far worse than I thought!”

“The most interesting rumour I heard when I was in town today was that you would be spending your weekends in Moree to be with your young man --”

“But it isn’t true! None of it is!” Jemimah covered her face with her hands. “I can’t imagine what you all must be thinking of me.”

“Welcome to the reality of small town gossip. Don’t be so horrified, Jemimah - I didn’t take it seriously for a moment.” He paused to take a sip from his cup. “I have to admit I heard you and Jack talking outside the door before Bible Study on Tuesday night - so I knew a little about where you were coming from. How about you tell me exactly what’s going on?”

“Well, Matt’s a very old school friend. Our sisters were best friends - and Matt and I were involved in a lot of things together at school - but that’s all there is to it. I hadn’t seen him since the last day of school, but when we ran into each other in town it was nice catching up with someone I knew.” Jemimah ran her fingertip in small circles on the table as she spoke. “I thought maybe God was giving me another chance to witness to him, and even though Matt still doesn’t believe what I say is true he didn’t mind listening. I thought it was a good thing I was doing, but ….”

She shrugged and looked up at Pastor Turnbull. “It never occurred to me that anyone would read anything into it. Jack Hart was teasing me about it on Tuesday night, but I thought -”

“That it was just Jack being Jack,” Angie finished for her.

“Exactly. But today at school, the headmistress assumed that Matt and I were a couple - and then tonight Marlene and Karen took me aside because they were worried I was going out with a non-Christian.”

Pastor Turnbull raised his eyebrows at that. “Sounds like you’ve got a couple of good friends in those ladies, then.”

“What? For accusing her of doing something she wasn’t doing?” Angie fumed. “Welcome to life in the fish bowl, Jemimah! Where it doesn’t matter what you do, someone will think it’s wrong, and that it’s their duty to point it out.”

“But it wasn’t wrong was it? I know it wouldn’t be right if Matt was my boyfriend, but there isn’t any kind of relationship between us at all.”

“Jemimah, I have no doubt that your motives in seeing Matt are completely innocent, but I think you are beginning to realise that there’s quite a bit more involved in the whole situation than that. When a young lady and a man are spending time alone together it does lead to certain assumptions.”

Jemimah nodded, frowning. After everything that had happened that day, she’d known that it wouldn’t be a simple matter of just brushing off what had been said about her and Matt, but it weighed her down to have to face it so seriously.

“When what Jemimah is doing is innocent, what business is it of anybody else?” Angie interjected crossly. “Jemimah isn’t dating the guy - all she’s doing is spending a couple of hours with a friend twice a month, in a very public place - and trying her best to reach him with the gospel. Who cares what people think?”

“Angie, this isn’t just about the conclusions people will draw-” Pastor Turnbull began, but Angie cut him off.

“This is ridiculous! He’s just a friend. No-one would even mention it if Matt was a girl!”

“Ahh, you’ve hit the nail right on the head.” Pastor Turnbull smiled, “It’s encouraging to see such a bright flash of insight from you, Angie. Matthew Gordon is not a girl.”

Angie screwed up her face and made her crunching gears sound of frustration. “What? So it would be perfectly okay to spend time with a girl if she’s not a Christian, but Jemimah can’t spend time like that with Matthew because he happens to be a guy?”

“Exactly. It’s not appropriate for Jemimah to develop a one to one friendship with Matthew, because he’s not a Christian and he’s male.”

“But how can that be fair? There isn’t any kind of romantic relationship between them - they’re just friends.” Angie ground the last three words out. “You’re just being so frustrating, Dad. Their friendship is no different than what it would be if Matthew was a girl.”

“There is a very big difference, Angie - surely that’s apparent from the kind of reaction that Jemimah’s been experiencing from a number of people.”

Angie slumped back in her chair. “Well, it still doesn’t seem right that you can tell Jemimah who she can or can’t see just because of what people think.”

“You still don’t see it, do you?” Pastor Turnbull shook his head. “The problem is not merely that other people might get the wrong idea about their relationship - it’s because they’ve got very good reason to get that kind of idea. There are completely different dynamics involved in a relationship between people of the opposite gender. Anyway, I’m not planning to tell Jemimah what to do. I’m hoping she can see for herself what the issue is.”

He turned to Jemimah, who had been silently following the discussion between father and daughter. “Does it make sense to you why I don’t believe it’s appropriate for you to continue seeing Matthew Gordon the way you have been?”

Jemimah breathed out slowly. “I think it does. Until today I would have agreed with Angie, that if I wasn’t seeing him as a boyfriend that it was all okay. That it was really no different than having tea with a girlfriend I knew from school. But when Linda Armstrong made the assumption that I was going out with Matt, and I tried to explain why I wouldn’t go out with someone who didn’t share my faith. I made a huge mess of it and made her think I thought less of her because she isn’t a Christian. So I tried to explain to her why my friendship with her is different than if I had a non-Christian boyfriend.”

She looked down, nervously tucking a strand of hair behind her ear before continuing. “Only when I said how that kind of relationship would pull me away from following God I wasn’t even thinking about my friendship with Matt - because he’s not my boyfriend, and I honestly don’t think that way about him at all.” She glanced up at Pastor Turnbull. “But you think it is just the same?”

He nodded. “Angie will call me terribly old-fashioned, but I believe that thinking you can have a safe, platonic friendship between a guy and a girl is pretty naïve. Even if you’re sure of your feelings - what’s to say that the young man isn’t thinking of the relationship in a completely different way?”

“Oh, no - I’m sure Matt isn’t! He doesn’t think of me like that - he’s even told me a bit about a girl he sees on and off in Moree.”

“Oh, has he now?” Pastor Turnbull smiled a little grimly. “Well, even if you’re right and at the moment neither of you have any thoughts beyond friendship - what is to stop either one of you developing stronger feelings? Spending time one on one with someone like that, socially like you’re doing - or even in a work situation - is exactly the kind of thing which encourages emotional intimacy. And for a Christian, they’re very dangerous waters to be paddling in.”

He sighed. “Unfortunately it seems to be one of Satan’s favourite methods of tempting single people away from their commitment to God. And sometimes not only single ones, either.”

“So despite that fact Jemimah’s known Matt for years, you think she’s suddenly going to succumb to temptation and forget everything she believes just because she has tea with him once a fortnight?”

“I would hope not - but it’s a risk I wouldn’t recommend her exposing herself too. You know the biblical warning, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” ? 1 Corinthians 10:12. 
Read this passage in the Online ESV Unfortunately there are a lot of Christian young women, who once they get emotionally involved in a relationship with an unbelieving man, aren’t able - or willing - to break off from him. Our hearts are terribly deceitful, Jeremiah 17:9 and even though their consciences tell them they’re doing wrong, they can come up with all kinds of justifications for their particular situation.”

“It’s both issues that are the problem with seeing Matt like that, isn’t it?” Jemimah said, a cold misery growing inside her alongside the sense of conviction. “I suppose I am giving everyone the idea that I don’t take seriously God’s commands in the Bible, and, like you said, putting myself in an unwise situation.” She sighed heavily. “But I really don’t know what to do.”

“Have you talked to your parents about it?”

Jemimah blushed. She never really had these kind of open discussions with her parents, and now that she only spoke to them on the phone she found talking about things even more awkward. They only seemed to be interested in hearing positive news, and she hadn’t even felt she could tell them about how uncomfortable she felt in her flat in town, or how frightening she’d found driving on country roads. Much less sharing her worries about Matt.

“I did tell them how I ran into Matt up here, and how we’d had dinner together. But that’s about it,” she admitted. “I know they wouldn’t be happy if I was actually going out with him - but I don’t think they’d understand why I couldn’t be his friend anymore.”

“I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t remain friends with Matt, Jemimah - just that you don’t continue spending time alone with him like you have been. Have you considered that if you invited someone else along with you that you could still enjoy your friendship and perhaps have the opportunity to continue witnessing to him - but without the ambiguity of it being like a date?”

Jemimah’s heart lifted. “Then I wouldn’t have to hurt his feelings. But who else could come with us?”

“Why not Angie? You’d be comfortable enough with her there, wouldn’t you? And having another Christian with you could only be helpful - and keep you from being put under the wrong kind of pressure.”

She turned to her friend, almost dizzy with the relief of a possible solution. “Oh, Angie - would you do that for me? At least this next time, so I can have a chance to talk to him about all this?”

“Of course I will. Matt’s a nice guy and we get along fine, so I’d be very comfortable tagging along. And being on Tuesday nights, you and I can come back here for the Bible Study together afterwards,” Angie answered. “The only thing is, I’d really rather not have to eat at the pub. Since you won’t be alone with Matthew, there’s no reason we couldn’t eat at your place instead, is there?”

“No - that would be great. Oh, thank you so much, I think that would solve everything.” Jemimah breathed out deeply, but her relief was short-lived as another worry returned to her mind. She turned to Pastor Turnbull and asked what she should do about what everyone was already saying about her and Matt.

“Just wear it, my dear. It will all settle down quite quickly. Personally, I think Matthew won’t be so keen on seeing you if it’s not just the two of you - and the contact will drop off from his end.”

Jemimah shook her head. “No, I can’t see that it would make any difference. He just likes having company on the nights he’s in town. I think it would be even more fun with Angie there - especially since they’ve got a lot in common with their work and law studies.”

Pastor Turnbull just smiled, and stood up from the table. “Wait and see then - but you’d better get yourselves off to bed. It’s getting pretty late.”

Jemimah thanked him for all his help, and when she went through to Angie’s room her heart was lighter than it had been for days. She would be able to put all her worries about Matt out of her mind now.

She hadn’t really been concerned about the possibility of any kind of attraction developing between her and Matt, but she could see him without any hesitation now, and no-one would get the wrong idea about them. Having Angie along would be great too - she was so much better at answering questions about Christianity - and it would even be much easier to leave in time for Bible Study if they ate at home.

Pastor Turnbull’s suggestion really seemed the perfect solution to everything ... so long as it went down okay with Matt.

© R. L. Brown 2007

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