Santa Fe, New Mexico
“Meg! Number fourteen wants to talk to you.”
In the process of putting the finishing touches on the seven tier wedding cake for her oldest brother’s wedding, Meghna Taylor winced as the unexpected bellow made her hand tremble.
Meg considered it a blessing that the customers at Sweet Bites felt comfortable talking to the head chef. However, when she had so many orders to finish and Easter was flashing its pastel colored eggs too close for her comfort, it was harder to consider it a blessing. She sent a silent thank you and sorry heavenward. The thank you for the great customers and the sorry for her bad attitude.
“Coming.” Meg stepped back and gestured to her assistant to take over. She’d wanted to personally finish this one but maybe God had a different plan in mind.
Whipping off her hair net and stuffing it into her pocket, Meg paused before the doors to the seating area. She put on her public face – competent, confident chef.
Meg walked through the hundred year old restaurant she’d spent a year of her life renovating. As she conversed graciously with the customers who stopped her, she couldn’t help but feel pride for what she’d accomplished. She smiled at the people who caught her eye and, in general, did her best at being the perfect hostess. She kept her path aimed for table fourteen and the dark hair she could now see above the booth.
Nearing the table, Meg smoothed her apron as she turned to the patron who’d asked to see her. “You asked to speak to —”
Adrian Mainwaring? What is he doing here?
Her traitorous heart flipped, making the last two years fall away as she remembered her first view of him. He’d towered over her as she’d run into his classroom, his full lips compressed into a displeased line and eyes an icy blue that made her shiver.
That day Meg realized she was masochistic. Despite his foul mood, she’d found Adrian fascinating. She was just glad she hadn’t done anything to give away her feelings. Adrian had made his disapproval obvious which had begun his habit of saving his most insulting taunts and ferocious scowls just for her.
For six months, Meg had borne the conflicting emotions of unwanted attraction and absolute dislike for her instructor. She’d prayed daily to have them removed from her life, to have him removed from her life. And the apparent answer had been, “No”.
“Meg Taylor?” Adrian cocked his head in her direction. His eyes were covered by dark wrap-around glasses obscuring most of his lean face. A seeing-eye dog at his feet, his unexpected gaunt frame and white walking stick with the red tip gave silent testimony to the trials he’d dealt with in the last three months. She’d heard about his accident through the grapevine and even stopped by the Loretto Chapel to pray for him.
“I’m Meg. You asked to speak to me, Mr. Mainwaring?”
Adrian knew who she was the moment he detected a whiff of lilacs in the air. It steadied him, dialed the nervousness he’d refused to acknowledge down a notch. This was the Meg Taylor he knew, the one who, for six months, made his classroom an exciting, adventurous place.
“I’m not your instructor anymore, Meg. Call me Adrian.”
Her familiar scent and something wholly feminine had imprinted itself on his mind and heart the first day she’d run into his classroom.
Dark brown curls had escaped her untidy bun to frame her gorgeous face. Deep brown eyes invited him to linger in their depths and her bronze skin had enticed him to touch. The curve of her lips encouraged him to laugh with her.
She wasn’t the first girl of East Indian descent in his class, and she wouldn’t be the last, but she’d been the first to make him take a second look.
“Adrian. How may I help you?”
Adrian heard the polite uncertainty in her voice and inwardly winced. He deserved that. Due to their professional relationship, he hadn’t been able to act on his attraction as he would’ve any other woman he found appealing.
In his efforts to spend as much time with her as possible, he’d gone overboard and made it look as though she was a bad cook with the number of times he’d made her repeat culinary assignments.
“Food’s great.” Hoping to redeem himself, Adrian continued, “I’ve heard good things about you. I’m glad I came.”
“Thank you.” Meg fought the urge to snort at Adrian’s assessment of the food, remembering how most of her culinary masterpieces had been deemed merely acceptable by him.
“Meg, will you join me for coffee tonight?”
The nerve of the man! Showing up out of the blue, complimenting her on her food, and now asking her out. He knew she didn’t date. After he’d mistreated her for six months, he’d asked her for a date the day she’d received her grades.
Although she felt a strong connection to Adrian as a man, it was one of the hardest things she’d done— say no to the offer. For one, he was a non-believer and she took to heart the scripture to not be unequally yoked.
Secondly, she didn’t believe in the modern American concept of dating. He knew she preferred the biblical concept of courtship, of getting to know someone with the intent of marriage.
“I don’t think so.” Meg shook her head before she remembered that he couldn't see her.
“It’s not a date. I have to say something to you and it needs to be said in private.”
Private. She wasn’t going near anything that resembled private with this man. Adrian was dangerous to her self-control in a way that terrified her because he made her forget her beliefs and do what he wanted.
Standing up straighter and putting more steel into her voice, she said, “Anything you want to say, you can say here.”
Adrian realized she wasn’t going to budge on this just like she hadn’t budged on her no-dating rule. Her refusal had made him angry, at her and her God.
He hadn’t understood when she’d said she’d be happy to consider him a friend only. He hadn’t wanted friendship then. And he didn’t want it now, but if that is what God intended for their relationship, he would be content with it.
It had been hard to come to that peace. But losing the sight in his eyes, breaking his leg and nearly dying in the car accident three months ago had opened his spiritual eyes.
“I’ve just met with my pastor. I will be baptized next Sunday. I want you to be there. Please say that you will come.”
“Adrian…” Meg trailed off, suspicion heavy in the single word.
“I was in an accident three months ago.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” Sadness and caring infused the words. But then Meg had always cared for him, even when he’d been at his autocratic worst. During the week that he’d been afflicted with a particularly strong case of the cold virus, she’d made him chicken noodle soup every day. It had been the only time in his life he’d been happy to be sick.
She just hadn’t been willing to compromise her principles. At that time, he’d thought he hated her for her firm stance but it was only after the accident that he’d realized how special that was. How special she was.
Caring for someone who didn’t have the same principles, who didn’t even respect them, took a great deal of inner strength.
“Don’t be. It was exactly the kick in the pants I needed.” Adrian smiled at her. “It made me realize what I lacked in my life. Pride kept me from submitting to His will.” And the need to be his own man, to blaze his own trail.
He’d always thought that weak men submitted to God because they couldn’t deal with their lives. Men who couldn’t make hard decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions. He’d been wrong.
“The chaplain in the hospital helped me with The Believer’s Prayer. He also helped me find a church.”
Adrian retrieved a card from his breast pocket and slid it across the table to Meg.
“This is the address. I hope you come.”
When she didn’t respond, he slid out of the booth, grasped the dog’s harness in his right hand, flicked out his walking stick with the left and proceeded to make his way to the door. The hair on his nape stood up in awareness that Meg watched him the entire way.
After Adrian left the restaurant, Meg spent countless hours trying to talk herself out of going to his baptism. She’d prayed for his acceptance of God’s mercy for the last two years. She’d even stopped by the Loretto Chapel on the day she’d heard of his accident, and prayed for his salvation and continued good health. She finally decided she wasn’t about to miss this milestone in his spiritual journey.
Whether Adrian cared for her the way Meg hoped he did was moot. He’d taken the time to find her, to extend the invitation in person. After all that effort, being present at his baptism was the least she could do.
The fluttering in her stomach intensified when she approached Adrian on Sunday morning and said hello. He graciously introduced Meg to his friends and family, putting her at ease.
After they all trooped into the church, Meg found herself seated next to Adrian in the front pew reserved for his family.
The sanctuary was decorated in white and purple and gold. Ceiling to floor banners hung on the walls, proclaiming, “Christ has died” “Christ is risen” and “Christ will come again”. A huge bouquet of white lilies, purple lilacs and yellow forsythia stood at the bottom of the steps leading up to the main platform. Six red velvet armchairs sat on it, five of them occupied. The choir sat behind a short wooden partition that divided the platform into two. Right behind the choir was the baptismal pool.
Concentrating on the sermon had never been so hard. Adrian’s nearness had a magnetic pull on Meg’s attention today. Usually, she was a rapt audience, the sermon a culmination of her week’s Bible study. Her mind told her it wasn’t fruitful to be so focused on a mere man when her attention should be on God. Her heart just wanted to concentrate on Adrian and how he’d changed in the eighteen months since she’d last seen him.
Adrian’s baptism was the first one after the sermon. An usher came to him at the end of the sermon and took him to the back of the sanctuary while the music director led them in hymns.
Adrian was helped into the pool by the pastor, who’d left the podium about the same time as Adrian left his seat to get dressed in the white baptismal garment he wore now. The pastor invited Adrian’s friends and family to occupy the now empty choir seats. Meg joined the exodus up the steps to the choir seats and sat.
While she’d been witness to many baptisms, this one held a special place in her heart. Not only because of how she felt about Adrian himself, although that was a big part of it.
Rarely did she see the fruits of her prayers. She was sure it wasn’t only her prayers that had led to this day. Even being a miniscule part of any person’s spiritual life was rewarding. It gave her the push she needed to continue with her efforts, unseen by her though the results may be.
She was just thankful God had made it possible for Adrian to find her in time to issue his invitation.
At the conclusion of the service, Meg joined Adrian’s family for a special luncheon in the church’s reception room. It gave her the perfect excuse to be around him a while longer.
Adrian was more relaxed in this environment. She’d only seen him in his professor persona and never realized how tightly wound he was. Seeing him laughing and joking with his cousins showed her a completely different man.
“Meg?” Adrian’s voice in her ear had Meg turning toward him. “Will you walk with me outside?”
Adrian held out his left arm and she put her hand on it.
Once they were outside, Adrian said, “Meg, I would like to court you.” Before she could comment, he rushed on, as though to stop her from denying him. “A biblical courtship. Not dating. A biblical courtship with intent to marry.”
Suddenly the beautiful day had become much brighter. The sky much bluer, the sun shone warmer. The flowers seemed to glow brighter, their fragrance sweeter.
“I know I treated you badly —”
“Try horribly,” Meg teased.
“Very well, I know I treated you horribly when you were my student. But my only excuse is I could think of no other way to spend some time with you without making my preference apparent to everyone.”
“I thought you didn’t like me.” His words reminded her of the conflicting emotions, fascination and dislike, she’d had to deal with at the time. “But it all turned out for the best.”
“The best? How can you say that?”
“Well, it was a great experience in terms of learning how to deal with criticism.” After a while, she mused. At the time, she’d hated going into class, knowing Adrian would find fault with something, anything.
Only after she’d started working in the industry had she realized how invaluable his criticisms had been. He’d taught her to work through her emotional response to rejection to look for workable solutions. It was one of the reasons she was successful. Her clients knew, no matter the problem, she’d work with them to find a solution that pleased both parties.
“Maybe so. But it was still badly done on my part. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” Adrian looked so wretched Meg didn’t have the heart to tease him about this.
“I forgave you a long time ago, Adrian.” He was as surprised as she at that statement. She hadn’t realized it until now but she had forgiven him sometime in the last eighteen months.
“Thank you.” Adrian’s shoulders seemed to relax slightly for the first time during this conversation. “Will you allow me to court you, Meg?”
“I would like that.” Meg said, only a slight tremor in her voice giving away the fact that on the inside she was jumping for joy in a very un-ladylike fashion.
Adrian stopped and turned towards her, his hands turned palms up. “Give me your hands.”
After Meg placed her hands in his, Adrian bowed his head. “Thank you, God. For your mercy and your grace. Bless us as we begin our courtship, that we might bring glory to you throughout our lives. Amen.”
Meg echoed with “Amen” and grinned, unable to keep her joy contained any longer.
May God Bless you and keep you.