Thou shalt wake from sleep with a starled cry,
In fright unleaping
At a rival's step as it passes by
While thou art sleeping
From “Ambition and Art” ~ Banjo Patterson
Nearly ten-o-clock! Michael swung himself upright, but dropped just as quickly back onto his pillow. He felt like he’d been run over by a truck.
For a few moments he was at a loss to account for the aching that racked every part of his body and the tiredness that still fogged his brain. Then he remembered.
Michael gritted his teeth as he eased himself gingerly out of bed, every muscle billing him for the cost of taking down that dead tree. It was worth it though, he grinned ruefully, the sheer pleasure of the moment coming into mind. Woven amongst it all was the image of Jemimah sitting on the stump of the fallen tree like a wood sprite, smiling at him as though she’d shared the feeling of triumph.
Was that all really only yesterday?
Cautiously flexing his stiff limbs, Michael shuffled to his wardrobe. Yesterday had been a huge day, following a long and busy school term, and Mr Sainsbury had certainly put him to work at the social evening. Then how long had he and Jemimah sat talking last night? No wonder it felt as though he'd only had a few minute’s sleep.
He’d lain awake for a long while after he'd switched off his bedside light, too, replaying in his mind their whole discussion. Each part of God's work in salvation - the calling of the Holy Spirit and the response He brought forth from a sinner, the new life He created in him through His gift of repentance and faith - each one was a precious facet of truth, but part of the same glorious gem that had to be appreciated as a whole.
Michael frowned as he recalled how wrong he'd read the situation during their conversation in the ute. He’d felt sick with remorse when he’d seen Jemimah afterwards, her eyes huge and dark in a pale, taut face and testament to the unhappiness that he’d unintentionally caused her.
It had been an answer to prayer when she'd asked to discuss it with him again. The absolutely sovereignty of God was the most reassuring thing in all the Bible, but had he managed to explain it adequately to Jemimah this time?
The house shuddered as the door to Angie's room slammed shut. Knowing his sister was now out of the bathroom, Michael grabbed his gear and headed for the shower. He'd be lucky to have time for breakfast at this rate.
The sudden end to the hot water made Michael’s shower even shorter than he’d intended and everyone else was still in the kitchen and family area when he came through.
"Good morning, Sleeping Beauty," Angie carolled from the table. "Suddenly all the proverbs you've quoted me are coming back to mind. ‘The early bird catches the worm’ etcetera, etcetera.”
Michael picked up the milk carton from in front of her and shook it, only to find it empty. He shot her a scowl as she went on with unimpaired cheerfulness.
“A little sloth, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands in sleep, etcetera, etcetera. Now, how does it go? Um," she twisted her face into a grotesque expression that Michael could only imagine was meant to portray either him or his father, "You must consider the consequences of the future when you stay up late in the enjoyment of the moment.” The gruff voice became too much to maintain and she coughed, then added snidely, “Even Miss Up-With-The-Birds Parker had to be dragged out of bed this morning."
Michael looked over to where Jemimah stood in the kitchen, waiting for the toaster to pop. She met his eyes briefly then turned away as the toast popped up, but not before he saw the telltale blush start to colour her cheeks.
He knew his sister was only trying to annoy him, but poor Jemimah seemed to feel caught in the crossfire.
"Some discussions are worth missing a little sleep for, Angie," he replied tersely, his fuse shortened by his tiredness and all over ache.
"Go on, make your excuses – but don't expect me to poke either of you in the ribs if you start dropping off in the sermon this morning."
"Now, Angie," Michael's Dad looked up from his coffee and hand-written Order of Service. "Your brother has a point-"
"Oh, that's fair!" Angie cut him off. "If I stay up late talking to Jemimah, I’m a silly girl and deserve what I get for being tired the next day, but if Michael stays up late talking to her, it's a completely different thing."
Michael narrowed his eyes and was about to fire a stinging retort when Jemimah spoke quietly from the other side of the kitchen bench.
"No, you're quite right, Angie. Since I chose to say up late talking last night I have to take full responsibility for making today hard to handle - I'm just sorry for Michael having had so little sleep, especially after all his driving the night before." She looked down at her toast, and sliced it into four neat little triangles. "I was very selfish taking advantage of his patience to keep asking more questions. I know he would have gone to bed hours earlier if he wasn't being so polite, and I'm sorry I wasn't more thoughtful last night."
Angie stared open mouthed as Jemimah carried her plate to the table without looking up. Michael turned from one girl to the other, stunned into silence himself by Jemimah's humble apology.
He knew Angie had only been trying to score points off him, and it was an unexpected satisfaction to watch Jemimah quietly and effectively pour burning coals on Angie's head, purely by refusing to be defensive. Perhaps she wasn't as cowed by his sister as he’d thought – but rather had discovered the best way to handle her?
"Jemimah, you know you were more than welcome," he told her as she took her seat on the chair opposite him, "I honestly didn't even feel the time passing."
He watched her for a few moments, worried by the sombreness of her expression. "You're still not alright about it though, are you?"
Jemimah shrugged helplessly. "Everything you said last night was biblical, but the more I think about it, the more muddled I get . . . and I’m wondering whether I should go and see Jarrah this afternoon and try to explain things better to her . . . except I really don't know what to say."
"She's not expecting to see you until after the holidays, is she?" Pastor Turnbull asked, tearing off the sheet from the notepad and placing it inside the cover of his Bible. "Why don't you just give the matter some prayer and let the both of you have a little breathing space while you're away."
Jemimah looked up, her concern clearly visible in her huge eyes. "So you don’t think I’ve made too much mess of everything?"
"Even without knowing what you’ve said to Jarrah, I'm certain there's no irrepairable damage. It seems you already have a good relationship - just plan to build on that with her when you get back, as you have opportunity and as things become clearer in your own mind.”
The older man gave her an encouraging smile. “Don’t feel you have to throw away everything you’ve learned just because you’re seeing things from a new perspective – I think you’ll find not as much has changed as perhaps it seems at the moment. Trying to comprehend the immensity of God and his purposes can be overwhelming – but always remember that God can be truly known by faith by even the smallest child."
He stood up from the table and flicked his tie as though to check for crumbs. "But I'd better not get any more involved than that this morning, or I might just lose the whole thread of this morning's sermon. And Angie would never forgive me if I preached overtime, would you, lass?" He ruffled his daughter's hair and left them to it.
Nan had returned from the kitchen to start gathering up the plates, and Jemimah got to her feet to help. Although the morning was warm, she was wearing a long sleeved knit top with her denim skirt.
Feeling steamy after finishing the hot tea his Nan had made him, Michael rolled his own sleeves to the elbows and followed Jemimah into the kitchen.
"You're not going to be too hot in the long sleeves, are you?" he asked quietly, as he joined her at the sink. "I'm sure Nan or the girls would have something if you wanted to borrow a lighter shirt."
Jemimah's cheeks began to glow again, and she lowered her head. "Thank you, but what it is," she replied in a whisper, self-consciously running her hands across her covered forearms, "is that those tattoos we drew on wouldn't come off after all." She glanced up at him, a mischievous smile curving her rosebud lips. "I'm just lucky I only had mine on my arms."
Michael followed her gaze across the room to where Angie was getting up from the table. At first all Michael noticed was the extra thick layer of foundation she'd smeared over her face, but as she stood up the strong sunlight shining through the front door clearly showed the dark shadow dotted around her jaw.
"Ah, the bearded lady," he chuckled under his breath and met Jemimah's twinkling eyes with an appreciative smile. No wonder she had gone so easy on Angie this morning - he was sure none of the Hart boys would be so generous.
It was dark by the time Jemimah left church with the Turnbulls that night. Since their brief exchange of conversation after breakfast that morning, Jemimah hadn't had even a moment alone with Michael. Another family had joined them for lunch and stayed for the afternoon until everyone left for the evening service together. Being in Michael’s presence yet not really being with him amongst the company of so many others had left Jemimah feeling restless, longing for more.
At the same time, Jemimah was a little relieved, too. After their long discussion last night, part of her wanted to not have to think about all those new concepts for a while, to let things settle back down and slip into comfortable areas of thought that seemed safe and familiar. But, as so often seemed to happen when she wanted to shy away from something confronting – it was suddenly everywhere – in every passage of the Bible she’d read that day, in the words of the hymns and even in Pastor Turnbull’s sermons.
Though that part, had said Angie when Jemimah mentioned it to her on the back way to the car, was probably less coincidence and more her father’s tendency to weave into his sermons references to whatever he felt his kids needed to hear. Jemimah smiled at Angie’s categorising her in with Pastor Turnbull’s own children and leant back into her seat between Angie and Nan. Michael had driven the family into church in his car again that evening, his dad in the front passenger seat and the three “girls”, as Nan put it with a chuckle, in the back row.
Conversation ran along easy lines amongst the Turnbulls as they drove home, comments on the sermon interspersed with updates on various members of the church family, and Jemimah was content to simply listen. Her lack of input hadn’t gone unnoticed though, and after a while Pastor Turnbull made a comment that ‘the poor lass’ wasn’t getting a chance to squeeze a word in edgewise, and asked whether she’d found that evening’s study of any help.
As Jemimah mentally scrabbled to put her thoughts into a semblance of order, Angie, who had turned nearly all the way around in her seat to see out the back window, called out, "Don't look now, but I think we're being followed!"
“Ah, the cattle thief must be on your trail again,” Michael teased. “Word has got out that you’re prepared to go to any length to hunt him down, so he’s going to follow you home and find out where you live.”
“Ha. Ha. Instead of mocking me why don’t you solve the mystery while you’re home? We’re down another heifer this term and Dad can’t find any breaks in the fences. Besides,” Angie said, “it’s two smallish vehicles. I somehow doubt cattle thieves travel in that kind of convoy.”
"Ah, it's Gabi." Michael adjusted his rear view mirror, and tapped the brake twice in response to the flash from Gabrielle’s headlights. "The Anderson’s must be back home. Is that Ashley's vehicle behind her?"
Angie craned around again. "Yeah, it is. Why is he coming all the way out here?"
Pastor Turnbull chuckled. "He's being a gentleman, Angela, seeing his young lady safely home."
"Well, there's no need now she’s caught up with us. He might as well turn back home."
"Perhaps that's not quite the point, sweetheart." Nan's tone made everyone else in the car chuckle, but elicited from Angie only a derisory snort. "Just wait, dear, one day it will make perfect sense to you, too. You’ll be willing to trade more than an hour driving for a last kiss goodnight."
“That I don't believe,” said Angie, in way that made her family laugh even more, but Jemimah leant forward and rested her chin on her hands with a sigh. Seeing a relationship as tender as Gabrielle and Ashley's sharpened her own longing. She knew Michael was as capable of such concern and tenderness as Ashley - but could Michael ever feel those things for her? Gabi was gracious and godly and pure, as beautiful in nature as she was in person - the kind of young woman any Christian man must want for a wife. How could Jemimah hope that anyone – let alone someone as incredible as Michael Turnbull - would look at her in the way Ashley looked at Gabrielle, when she was nothing like that?
"You must be tired; you've been quiet all the way home." Nan rubbed Jemimah’s shoulder soothingly as they pulled up at the Turnbull’s home a short while later.
Jemimah returned her smile, grateful for her kindness. "I guess so. Mostly, though, there’s just so much to think about. I find Sundays usually do fill my mind up.”
After a brief exchange of greetings, they left Gabrielle outside to say goodbye to Ashley and headed inside. They’d nearly finished their first cuppa when they heard Ashley's car start up and move off along the drive way. Michael excused himself from the table and went outside to meet his sister.
Jemimah heard their muted voices through the open door for several minutes before she listened to their footsteps moving toward the rose garden. Pastor Turnbull had gone to take off his suit jacket, Nan had headed out the back door to shut the chickens up for the night and Angie had grabbed the chance to beat her sister to the shower, leaving Jemimah alone at the table when Michael and Gabrielle returned a few minutes later.
Gabrielle carried a bunch of freshly cut red and white roses, and greeted Jemimah warmly as she came through the door her brother held open for her.
“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just put these in a vase before I come and sit down,” Gabrielle explained. “I’ve been away so much I’ve been neglecting the roses – and these were just crying out to be brought inside and enjoyed.”
She filled a vase at the sink, stepping to one side as Michael joined her in the kitchen and brought the kettle over to the tap to fill it. He put it on to the stove, then remained beside his sister, chatting comfortably with her while he waited for it to boil. There was no mistaking the affection these two held for each other.
Jemimah was hardly aware that she was watching them as they continued exchanging news of the last few months. It was no wonder they had a lot to catch up on, she thought. It had only just occurred to her that Gabi wouldn’t have seen Michael since before the school year had started - at that breakfast at her old flat in town that now seemed an eternity ago. And if that long term without Michael had seemed like forever to Jemimah – how much more would his own sister have missed being with him and be treasuring her time with him now?
"Jemimah." Michael’s deep voice startled her from her thoughts, and she felt her cheeks burn as though she'd been caught thinking out loud. "May I make you another cuppa too?”
"Oh no." Jemimah sprang to her feet, feeling like a fool now she realised she’d been assuming a closeness to Michael she had no right to feel. "Angie's already in the shower, so I'd better get ready for bed, too. She's promised me an early start this time."
It was better this way, thought Jemimah as she slipped quietly down the hallway. Far more sensible to go to bed now rather than hang around until late in the hope of a few moments with Michael that would probably never happen anyway.
Not that there would be much chance of time alone with him in the morning either, she realised, wiping away an unexpected tear. And there wasn’t even any guarantee she’d see Michael for more than a few minutes at church after she returned from Newcastle in a fortnight.
Right then she felt less like leaving for home than she had all term. Had she made everything worse by letting herself care for Michael more than ever?
The shower stopped, and she could hear Michael and Gabi's laughter from the family room. Jemimah was in her pyjamas and in bed even before Angie returned from the shower.
She was suddenly very weary.
© R. L. Brown 2008