She dozed off and on until daybreak, in a troubled sleep. She awoke to the sound of footsteps entering into the house and Tom's gentle voice calling for her. "Maggie? Ma'am?" He called. "The front door is open, Maggie!" His footsteps approached her bedroom door and he paused outside. He knocked and she gasped. He gingerly opened the door, his eyes taking a moment to take in what he saw. The bed was tousled, and what he could only assume were Maggie's intimate underwears, lay torn and soiled on the floor. He finally saw Maggie curled in the corner, a kitchen knife on the floor next to her. He gingerly steppped toward her. "Ma'am?" Her bleary eyes focused on him. She looked half-crazed. She saw him begin to come close to her, and she shrieked. "Don't come any closer!" Her outburst abruptly stopped him in his tracks. She put a hand up, palm out. "Maggie, it's me, Tom! What happened?!?" She had come completely unhinged, and it unnerved him. "Tom?" She almost sounded confused for a moment. "Don't come any closer, Tom, you hear me? Don't you take another step!" She fumbled for the knife and realized it was laying on the floor at her feet. She grabbed at it clumsily and he became acutely afraid at that moment that she was going to inexplicably stab herself.
He backed away, hands out as if she were a crazed, rabid dog. "Okay, it's okay, Maggie." He ran out of the house as fast as he could go to find his wife.
He burst into the barn shouting for his wife. "Naomi! Naomi!" He found her in the small washroom at the back of the barn. She was washing her face in a basin. She looked up, puzzled, when he rushed in. "Tom? Tom, what's wrong?" She picked up a towel and wiped her face with it as she walked to him. He grabbed her by the shoulders. "Naomi, something's wrong with Maggie." She let her husband lead her quickly out of the barn and into the house. Naomi gasped in shock when she saw Maggie and the horrible state she was in. "Maggie, what happened, sweetie?!?" Naomi exclaimed and rushed to hold her. Maggie still looked hesitant of Tom standing so near, so Naomi gently asked her husband to wait outside until she had a clearer idea of what was wrong. He agreed quickly, anxious to be free of the "women problems" he figured was afflicting Maggie. He paced outside as the sun rose fully and the animals began wailing for their breakfast.
Naomi closed the door firmly behind her husband and slowly approached Maggie, who still sat crumpled on the floor. "Maggie, honey, I'm going to take the knife now." Naomi said softly, reaching for it. Maggie glanced at it, unsure for a moment if she could part with it, but then nodded. "Okay," Naomi said as she picked it up and carried it to the nightstand and left it there. She knelt beside Maggie and cupped her face with her hands. "Maggie; honey, what's wrong? What happened?" The only clue Naomi had as to what might have transpired last night was the smell of bodily fluids that faintly hung in the air, and the small white stain on the rumpled bed sheet. She hoped she was wrong, even as Maggie's eyes welled with tears. "Oh Naomi! I was raped! A man snuck in here after dark, reeking of booze, and he held me down and took my virtue!" She collapsed, sobbing, into Naomi's arms. "I couldn't do anything!" Maggie exclaimed. "I couldn't move, and I tried to scream, but he was so strong! He just took my virtue like it belonged to him." Naomi rocked the young woman back and forth, trying to calm her. "Shhhh, it's okay child. It'll be okay. It's over now." Naomi said softly. She held Maggie as she sobbed for a little while, and then when she calmed down a little bit she looked her in the eye. "Maggie, dear, did you see his face? Could you describe him to the Sheriff?" Maggie shook her head. "It was so dark; I couldn't see his face. I tried, Naomi, I tried to remember things about him; details, so I could report it to the Sheriff. But it was so dark. So dark." She said, sobs escaping from her again. "Okay," Naomi said, soothing her by stroking her hair. "It's okay. An evil man like that will eventually do something to get himself caught. Don't you worry about him; he's not likely to come back." Naomi handed her a large white handkerchief, and she wiped her eyes. She seemed to be getting a hold on her emotions. "Oh, Naomi, how could a man do something so heinous? How could he just come in here and take my virtue like it was his? How could he think that it was his to do with as he liked? How could a man do that?" She sputtered through her tears a bit as she spoke. Naomi shook her head sadly. "I don't know, my dear. Sometimes something really painful happens to a good man, and it sorta breaks them in their hearts and minds, and they start believing things they never would have before. They get misguided and start thinking the worst about people and about themselves, and start believing there is no hope for them because they are bad to the core, so they might as well live their lives like they want to." Maggie wiped her nose, somewhat understanding. "So you think that's what happened last night." Naomi nodded. "Yes, sweetheart. You probably didn't have anything to do with it, he just took out his pain on you. It was not personal."
At those words, Maggie's mind shot back to how the mystery man smelled like he had taken a bath in a barrel of beer. Despite Naomi's assurance that the man had not raped her out of a personal vendetta, Maggie felt this nagging feeling that she knew him. She highly suspected Gus, for he was the only one who routinely carried those smells on his clothing.
“Naomi, the only things I do remember were that he was so completely drunk that he could barely stand, and I remember his horrid smell. He reeked of alcohol, and smelled like town.” Naomi looked at her. “What do you mean, ‘smelled like town?’” She asked.
Maggie dabbed at her eyes again with the handkerchief and clarified. “You know, when you come back from being in town, your clothes smell like the saloon and the general store. That’s what this man smelled like: beer, hay, and horses.” Naomi nodded, beginning to understand. “So, it could have been someone from town? Or someone who had just been to town?” Naomi asked, and Maggie nodded. From the look on her face, Naomi knew Maggie had more on her mind. “What are you thinking, dearie?” Naomi looked into her eyes. Maggie’s mind spun. “I don’t want to implicate an innocent man, Naomi, but he seemed incredibly familiar. He spoke very casually to me and said personal things. He even said that he loved me!” Naomi’s eyes widened in shock. “He said he loved you?” She put a hand to her mouth. “Maggie, that does not sound like a random stranger, but rather, someone who knows you.” She took her shoulders and squeezed gently. “You must focus now, dear, and remember the best you can. Do you think you know this man? Tell me, Maggie, who do you think it was?” Maggie sighed. “I can’t know for sure. At first, I thought it was Joel, because of all the lovely things he said. But then, when I smelled him, I thought for sure that it must be Gus. So that is what I think, that it was either Joel or Gus.” Then a thought occured to her. Gus had always looked at her with a strange look in his eyes, a look of longing and possesion, like he felt that she belonged to him somehow. She cursed her own stupidity. Gus was in love with her, or at least he thought he was. The way he looked at her sometimes, with that veiled passion in his eyes, made her think that she need only say the word and he would fly into her arms. She knew now that Gus had loved her for awhile, but she had never returned the sentiment. In fact, she had hardly ever glanced at him longer than a few seconds. In Maggie’s eyes, Gus was her employee; a decent man to be sure, but only a semi-close friend. She did not see him as much else, and maybe he had finally had enough, and out of desperation to be noticed by her for once, had decided to take from her what he wanted.
Maybe she had caused this; brought this upon herself. She had repeatedly ignored and denied a good man’s attentions by being self-absorbed and oblivious, caught up in her own life and the extensive mental and physical energy that the farm required. She could not believe that she could have been so oblivious to Gus’s affections for so long. How could she have missed it? Then she thought back to Edward and how he had decided that he must have her, and she was not left with much say in the matter. After his death, she had closed herself off to men so completely, in an effort to save herself from any similar situations in the future. All men looked the same to her now. She did not get too close with any person belonging to the male gender and tried to be fastidious about never returning affection, even ensuring that she never did anything that could possibly be construed as affection or attraction for a man. She had desperately tried to discourage any man to enter her life because she believed that all men were similar versions of either her tryannical, abusive father, or conniving, weaselly Edward.
That is, until Joel came into her life. From the first moment she saw him, she was enamored and captivated by those big hazel eyes. He was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. She had tried not to look at him. She had tried to ignore his presence at her side in the fields or sitting next to her at the kitchen table, but it was so dificult. It was like he would not be ignored! Her heart beat elevated and her breathing became shallow whenever he came near. And God forbid they ever accidentally touch! If their hands were to graze one another when reaching for a tool or passing the soap to each other, sparks would shoot up her arm and her cheeks became hot. She had certainly noticed Joel. She had more than noticed him, she had fallen in lust with him and desired his body against hers like she had never wanted from any man before. But she should not be thinking such depraved thoughts and having such sinful longings for him! She had most certainly been saving herself sexually until her wedding night, as any upstanding maiden did in that day. So she never dreamed that her longings would ever be fulfilled with Joel, at least not until they got married. If they ever got married. But that idea was so preposterous at this moment, as she sat jaded and ruined, the morning after one of the supposedly ‘trustworthy’ men in her employment had taken advantage of her in the worst way possible. And thus her dilemma continued. Could a woman ever truly trust a man completely? And what about her? Was she doomed to a life filled with wicked, selfish men, or will she ever find a man who truly loves, honors, and respects her as his better half? And what does she do in the meantime about all this? She had certainly never thought that her preoccupation with running the farm would cause a man to react violently against her. And now that it happened, she could not really say she was surprised, because this encounter aligned perfectly with her past experience with men, but she still had a difficult time believing it. And she desperately wanted Joel to be innocent of the crime.
She gripped Naomi’s hands. “But Naomi, how could either of them do such a terrible thing? Gus has worked on this farm for two years! You and Tom recommended Gus to me! You said he was a good man with a spotless character!” Naomi nodded somberly. “I know we did, honey, I know. It seems that there may be some evil lurking behind Gus’s brown eyes that we never considered. But what about Joel? You said you also thought that it could have been Joel, because of the things he said to you. I’ve seen the way you two look at each other. He has had his eye on you since the first day he showed up here looking for work. It is only because he has such strong feelings for you that he has stuck around here for so long.”
Maggie tried brushing Naomi’s words away. “Yes, I like him and I am very attracted to him, or at least I was. But how could he love me and rape me? What kind of a love is that?” Naomi nodded, eyes looking somewhere far away. “That is a messed up, disordered kind of love, to be sure, my dear. That is love from a man who thinks that he loves you and thinks that it is his right to force you to love him in return, by any means necessary. But what he does not realize is that, by forcing you to love him, he is forsaking your free will and stealing your freedom. He has actually proven himself to be a scoundrel and untrustworthy, as he was trying to win your heart. Poor fool. Poor selfish, disordered fool.”
Naomi shook her head sadly, and Maggie felt a bit shamed. Naomi was trying to relate to this man, to understand where he was coming from in order to provide him with justice and forgiveness, while Maggie was just starting to get angry about what he had done to her. Justice? Phooey. A part of her would like nothing more than to exact her revenge upon this man, to have done to him what he had done to her, but she knew that was not very Christian of her. So instead, she decided to seek out justice, not revenge, but watch with glee when it was exacted upon the guilty man.
Naomi was watching her as her mind worked. “So, Maggie dear, what you do want to do? Shall we go to the Sheriff and tell him what happened so he can arrest Joel and Gus? Should we let him gather the truth from them?” That certainly sounded like the easier approach to Maggie, and perhaps it was also the quickest and most logical, but she could not bear the thought of an innocent man being brought in for questioning, even if it was only to discern the truth. She thought of Joel being escorted into town by the Sheriff and being held in a cell until they could get to the bottom of this. Think of what the towns people would say! Think about what the church folk would say; the rumors that would fly! She would not put him through such an indignity if she wasn’t absolutely sure of his guilt. Maggie spoke to her older, wiser friend, her decision made. She would not say a word to anyone about what had happened, and the truth would work itself out of the cracks sooner or later. She would remember something more, or the man would try again. Or perhaps he would even confess his sin to her or someone else.
Somehow, some way, she knew the truth would come to light, and all she had to do was wait. She would be ready to trap the fiend, whether in lie or act. That’s right, she thought proudly, I will not tell anyone about this. I will let him get comfortable again, and let life go back to normal. And after awhile, he will do something to give himself away. And she would keep an extra-cautious eye on Gus, her once-trusted employee. She was extremely satisfied with her plan, but only until an unpleasant thought crossed her mind. What if it was Joel? What if it really had been he who brutalized her and took her most precious gift? Would she turn him in to the authorities to face certain jail time? How could she ever hope to forget what he had done and forgive him? What if he still wanted to be in a relationship with her? How could she possibly allow herself to love him? She did not know the answers to these questions.
One thing she did know: she would keep her rifle near her bed from now on, so she would never again be helpless. And if someone ever tried to take her body from her again, they would be in for a most unpleasant surprise.
Joel awoke to the sounds of Tom and Naomi talking excitedly about Maggie, then Naomi hurried off to the house. Tom left the barn for a few minutes as well but then came back and stood in the barn awkwardly, like he was waiting for something and unsure what to do with himself in the meantime. Joel watched as Tom plucked loose hairs from the horse brushes, letting the wispy fibers fall from his fingers and float to the ground. Joel had a killer headache. This hangover was by far the worst in recent memory, and he wondered vaguely if Naomi had fresh coffee brewing in the house. Hot, black coffee, and Naomi’s specialty: warm cinnamon breakfast bread. His mouth watered just thinking about it. He rolled onto his side and began to sit up, but stopped when he realized his biceps ached, like he had been doing heavy lifting in his sleep. The soreness in his arms reminded him, for an unknown reason, of Maggie, and when her face came to his mind, it was not serene and glowing like he commonly remembered. Not this time. When he thought of her now, her beautiful face was contorted in agony, and her usually sparkly, big green eyes were wide in terror. And he felt that somehow he was to blame, but his mind was incredibly foggy and he could not remember the previous night, or how he came to be asleep in his usual spot in the barn. He remembered Maggie firing him and how he went into town to the saloon, fuming about the unfairness of his life at the hands of bitter women, and he remembered drinking with new friends until he could not drink any more. He did not recall how he got back to the farm later that night, but he could not erase the horrifying image of Maggie’s twisted face from his mind, like it was etched in his subconscious forever. Then, through the haze of drunken memories, he remembered another sensation, not of anger, but of love. No, not love to be exact, but something else, slightly different. Passion. That’s what it was. He remembered being in the throes of passion last night with Maggie. But how could that be, for she was saving herself for marriage; she had already told him this. And Joel knew for certain that he had not married her last night!
But he definitely felt like he had been intimate with someone last night, and he briefly wondered if he had had a partner for the act, or if it had been a solo operation. But no, he knew for sure that he and Maggie had been intimate last night. He thought longer, willing the details to come into focus. He remembered sneaking into Maggie’s room and speaking to her. But what did he say? He groaned when he realized that he had lost his resolve from earlier in the evening to close his heart to her, and instead remembered himself declaring his undying love for her and kissing her! Oh no! He thought. Did I really kiss her? He desperately tried to remember how she responded when he had kissed her. She had not taken it well. She had tried to push him away, to get out of bed, to stop him. But he could not be stopped. A wrecking ball could not have stopped him. He remembered now that her rejection of him only made him angrier and more desperate to prove himself worthy. He remembered thinking: If only she would let him show her how great they could be together. And he did show her.
He covered his mouth to stifle his shriek of horror. He had shown her alright; he had raped her, hadn’t he? He had been so drunk, so angry, and his thinking so horribly distorted that he had actually thought he was doing her a favor by being intimate with her against her will.
“Oh, God!” He whispered to himself, over and over. “Oh, God! Oh, God, what have I done?”
He did not wish Tom to know that he was awake, so he lay there a moment longer, until Tom left the barn and meandered out of sight. Gus and Hector’s beds were already vacant, for today was Saturday, the day Gus always went to town for supplies. And Joel knew that Hector had most likely had his breakfast an hour ago and was already out in the fields. He could not believe that what had only last night sounded like brilliance in his inebriated brain, now in the morning light sounded like selfish, cocky madness. How could he do such a thing at all, but especially to the woman he professed to love? He could not fathom that he could have ever been angry or drunk enough to be convinced that it was an acceptable thing to do. But he now knew that not only had he thought it acceptable, it had in fact been his idea. He cooked the whole thing up. This “plan,” if you could call it that, to coerce Maggie to realize her attraction to him by forcing sex upon her.
Last night, he had viewed himself as a visionary; a manly man who was going to free the female gender from their own silliness, doubt, and self-restraint. He was going to be hailed as a hero by men; they would stop him in the streets and shake his hand and thank him for redefining female roles and responsibilities in a relationship; for “setting women straight” about who was the Alpha in the relationship, and who was the underdog. As the idea that he had misused Maggie in the worst possible way took hold in his brain, he finally knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it had indeed happened, and he was the perpetrator. He had done it, and there was no saving him now. He had committed a crime; there was no way around that cold, hard fact. He had committed a crime and was now, by definition, a criminal. He decided the best course of action would be to own up to his grievous crime, confess what he had done (though Maggie surely already knew), and turn himself in. He sat on the edge of the cot for a moment longer, head in hands, then shamefully stood to walk to the house. He had just thrown away any chance for Maggie and him to have a relationship. She had seen him for what he truly was: a monster. How easily he had turned against the woman he professed to love! How easily his pride had been wounded by her outrage, and how easily he had decided he was more intelligent than her; that he knew better than she did what she wanted. He saw now that he had lorded his desires over her and made her bend to his will, like a tyrant.
How could he face Maggie? How could he bare to see her vast green eyes, full of the knowledge of his actions, boring into his soul like a drill? He did not know if he could bring himself to look into her eyes again, but should he? Did she deserve the satisfaction of seeing him one last time, being led away to jail to pay for his heinous crime, or would it only inflict more pain upon her to see him again? He desperately wanted to see her, to fall on his knees before her and beg her forgiveness. He had never before spent time pondering if he was a good man or not. He had never needed to care about such philosophical things. He had always believed that "good" was a relative term and that you simply had to do the best you could do, and then hope for the best. His small, personal actions did not matter in the grand scheme of things. His life was his life, and his actions did not effect anyone else. At least, that is what he had always believed up until now.
When he met Maggie, he found that she was a woman of incredibly high moral character who believed in absolutes. She believed that clearly defined black and white and right and wrong existed in the world, and if you habitually lived your life in the "wrong" category, you were evil. She also believed that, if you were evil, you would know it because your life direction would prove it. If you were evil, Maggie believed, you would routinely make poor choices that would hurt innocent people, you would not be happy or content because of those choices, and that would cause you to be caught in a nasty cycle of self-doubt and self-hate. Nothing would ever make you happy or satisfied. You would hate yourself, hate God, and end up hating life itself. Life would not be worth living.
He had never thought that he was that type of person. But was he? Was he evil? Or perhaps just selfish and mean? He certainly felt like he was a monster; a despicable, vile, soul-less creature that children should run from as he walked down the street. He clearly could not be trusted. He clearly did not have much humanity inside him; just a lurking darkness that fed upon the innocent. Did he have a purpose in life? He had always seemed to just be floating along, from one town to the next, always looking for something MORE. But what? Why had he felt forced to travel so frequently and never remain in one place for too long? Why would he get antsy at any thought of commitment; whether to a job, to a place, or to a woman? What was he afraid of? That he may actually fall in love, want to remain in one place for the rest of his life, live a productive, purposeful life, and be happy? Why can't he just allow himself to be happy?
He thought of this opportunity with Maggie that he had been given, and that he had squandered last night with his impulsive, hurtful actions. He almost had it all and he had ruined it, right when he was realizing that he actually wanted it. He realized with a start that he had actually really wanted a future, a life, with Maggie. And that was a novel concept. He felt like breaking down into sobs as he thought about all he had just lost. He thought he was a broken man before now. Oh, if only he knew what was in store for him!
As he stepped out from under the shade of the barn overhang into the bright morning sun, he paused briefly, looked to the sky, and decided to pray. For the first time in his life. Today is a day of firsts, he thought ruefully. Last night I raped a woman for the first time in my life, and this morning I am praying to God for the first time. He cleared his throat, even though he did not intend to speak aloud. He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer in his mind. "God," he thought earnestly, "If you can hear me right now, please give me another chance with Maggie. Please help me love her the right way and stop being so selfish. And maybe you can help her find it in her heart to forgive me. I think I want to try and be a good man, God, so please help me. Please help me." He was pretty positive he had never asked for help from anyone in his entire life, and he did not really want to start now, but if Maggie was correct about God, then He supposedly loved Joel, cared deeply for him, and desperately wanted to help him live a good life. And here is another "first": Joel, at that moment, desperately wanted God to exist, and for everything Maggie and her church had been saying about Him to be absolutely true.
After he finished praying, he felt the vague notion that he should let Maggie or Naomi speak to him first, and if they accused him openly, then he would confess what he had done, and if they did not, then he should not say anything and let it rest. He thought the idea seemed absurd and slightly cowardly, but he felt a deep sense of peace after deciding upon this course of action, so he figured it might be God telling him what to do. He chuckled inwardly. I guess I have to believe in God if I'm going to let Him tell me what to do.
Joel strode to the front door of Maggie's farmhouse, paused on the stoop to take a calming breath, and knocked. He heard Naomi's voice call out "Just a minute!," and her light footsteps hurry toward him. She opened the door, saw that it was him, and half-smiled. "Good morning, Joel," she greeted him, "Can I do something for ya?" She kept the door opened only a crack. He cleared his throat, afraid that a shaky voice would betray his guilt. "Good morning, Ma'am." He said genteelly, "I was wondering if you still had breakfast on the table?" She seemed to drop her guard slightly, and some tension left her shoulders. When she smiled in reply, it was more genuine. "Why of course, Joel, you know there's always some leftovers, so come on in!" She said jovially and opened the door wide enough for him to enter. He glanced back at Maggie's bedroom door, which had been solidly closed. He did not hear her or see her, though he desperately wished to. He wondered briefly how she was. Did she dissolve into tears the moment he left last night? Was she still crying? Did she sleep at all? Would she ever be able to sleep soundly again? He foolishly hoped that he had not caused her too much emotional trauma.
Naomi was speaking to him at that moment, which brought him out of his reverie and into reality. "Would you like some hot coffee with your breakfast bread?" Naomi was asking. Joel nodded. "Yes that sounds fine."
As he ate, he ventured to ask about Maggie. "How is Maggie this fine morning?" He asked brightly, wondering if Naomi noticed how ineptly he tried to sound happy. Naomi did not look at him, but busied herself with cleaning the kitchen. "Miss Maggie did not sleep very well last night. She will spend the day resting." Naomi said with authority, and Joel could tell that the two women had been up together for quite some time already this morning. And like a selfish moron, I audaciously slept late instead of staying up all night, fretting over what I had done, Joel thought.
After breakfast, Joel ventured out into the fields to help the men finish up the planting. Today the last field was being planted, so what was generally thought of as the most difficult time of the year was officially over. Joel spent the better part of the day feeling like a complete and utter coward for not immediately marching himself off to the Sheriff to confess his crime, but he still felt the overwhelming feeling that he should remain at the farm and not remove himself from it, so he tried to drown out the guilty feeling by losing himself in his work.
At the day's end, he sighed in relief. The most difficult part, in the farm work and in his personal life, was hopefully over. It should be cake from here on out.
Almost an entire week had passed since that fateful night when Joel’s true colors were revealed, and he had hardly seen Maggie three times all week. She was keeping to herself even more than she usually did, and never once joined the men in the work, which was atypical. And no one, except Naomi and Joel, knew why.
Then finally one afternoon, Maggie emerged from the house for the first time in a week. She stood at the water pump, filling a bucket with cold water as Joel came over to speak with her. "Hello, Maggie." He said, reaching to grasp the handle and pump the water so she could rest. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye as he pumped. She looked completely spent, like she had given all of herself away, and then was asked to give some more. The sparkle in her eyes; that amazing, transcendent sparkle that could pull him in and let him swim in the vastness of her gaze; that sparkle was absent. Gone, like radiant birthday candles someone had roughly blown out with a foul breath. He knew that it was his foul breath that caused those lights in her eyes to be snuffed out, and he vowed in that moment to do whatever possible to make her twinkling orbs shine bright once more. He called out to God in his mind, the second time in a week: “Oh God, what can I do to restore that radiant glow to her eyes again? What can I do to make her smile? Please show me what I can do!” He heard a soft but firm voice in his head, like a premonition, reply, “I will show you what to do, Joel, but will you be man enough to act, even if you do not understand, no matter the consequences?” The voice paused for effect, and Joel could not help but think to himself that this voice sure has a flair for the dramatic. But then he realized that if God really was speaking into his mind, then He could probably hear what he just thought. Focus, Joel, focus! He chastized himself, and then the voice, like an ever-patient father, continued, “I have been trying to speak to you for some time, so are you finally willing to listen?” He nodded his head out of habit, but then checked himself. He glanced over again at Maggie to see if she had noticed, but she seemed to be absorbed in her chore of washing clothes. The voice ceased in his brain and left in its place an obscure sense of contentment and purpose, though he found that strange because the brilliant, divine plan was still a mystery to him. Oh well, Joel thought, I guess I’m just supposed to wait and see where God leads, then I follow. Sounds easy enough, really. How can I possibly screw up such a simple plan?
Maggie turned her head just enough so she could watch Joel. He is acting so strange today, she thought. Then she saw him nod his head. Odd. What on earth is wrong with him? He always did have a flair for drama, as some cocky, self-absorbed, over-confident men with chips on their shoulders sometimes do, but this was different. It was like he was conversing with someone, but she was the only one near, and he certainly was speaking to her. Oh no, she thought, has he gone mad? Stupendous! That is just want I need, another man in my life who goes to live on the nut farm and tries to take me along with him. He would probably do something stupid or weird and get himself fired, then I would have to commit him to the loony bin or maybe have to have him arrested, depending on what he ended up doing. She sighed. Is there no end to her troubles? Just when she realizes she really likes Joel, he gets clouded in suspicion that he might be the one who raped her. And just when she makes up her mind that she cares for him and that he could never do something so terrible, he goes and loses his marbles. She cannot; will not have a kook on her farm or in her heart. Oh, God! She cried out mentally to Heaven, why does love have to be so dang complicated? And why, for goodness sake, are all the men in my life selfish troublemakers who do not know how to really love a woman? Am I a jerk magnet or something? Do I have a sign on my forehead saying, “I’m a sucker for creeps, so go ahead and ruin my life?” She hoped that her forehead was free of such declarations, because she really wanted Joel to be a normal, decent guy who loved her, and she desperately wanted all the crazies to stay far far away from now on.
So what on earth was Joel doing, nodding his head and moving his lips like that? She glanced at him again and saw that he had apparently finished whatever conversation he was having and now calmly continued to pump water. Whatever. She was done trying to make sense of things; of Joel, of love, of life.
Then Joel reached over and snapped her out of her daydream. “Here, let me take those.” He took the wet bundle of clothes out of her hands, stood, and walked to the clothesline. He placed a couple of chunky wooden clothespins in his mouth, like he had once observed Naomi doing, then draped the wet shirt over the clothesline, plucking the pins from his mouth as needed and securing the shirt on the line.
She had a pile of clean, wet clothes in a bucket next to her, so she began playfully tossing them through the air at Joel, who deftly caught them and proceeded to hang them on the line. The last article of clothing she purposefully saved for when he still had his back turned, hanging something. She threw it with all her might before he could fully turn back around, and it plastered itself to the side of his face. He yelled in surprise and Maggie found herself laughing uncontrollably, louder than she had in many months. She had been so sullen and quiet lately that she had almost forgotten the sound of her own voice, but there it was, ringing out over the grass like a bell. Joel tore the wet cloth away from his face to stare at Maggie as she cackled in glee. She stopped cold when she saw him staring at her, emotion blazing across his face. What did that expression on his face mean? She wondered. Partially, his expression was full of passion for her. That face she knew. Men had looked upon her with passionatly lustful eyes before, but she had never accepted the invitation. But what was the other part of his expression? Then it hit her, and should could not believe it. Wonder. He was watching her, a look of pure wonderment in his eyes. Like he was Prince Charming seeing his Beauty for the first time, or a groom watching his beautiful bride coming down the aisle toward him: like all his dreams were coming true. That was it. His face told her that, in that moment, all his dreams were coming true, and all she had to do was laugh.
Her heart swelled and felt as though it would burst open, spilling red roses and small chocolates all over the bare ground. She could not, at first, fathom what was happening to her. She was falling in love with Joel. Right then and right there, it had just happened. Her heart had fully opened to him, and she had decided to grant him access. There it was. She was in love, and her heart sang. Tears of joy filled her eyes, and she smiled at him.
She must have had a look of total acceptance and reciprocation on her face when she reached out for him, because he bounded over in two steps, and was suddenly wrapping his strong arms around her. She inhaled deeply, basking in the sweet smell of a man in love with her. He smelled wonderful to her, like sweat, hops, and evergreens trees all mixed together in one handsome Joel package. Her entire world. How could she have ever doubted his honor? How could she have ever thought that he was her sexual assailant? The idea was laughable, now that their two hearts were one. He turned his face toward hers. “Maggie, I.....” He began, then began again, “Maggie, I...I’m sorry. I love you. I know I have some rough edges about me, but I have loved you since the first moment I walked onto this farm, and saw you standing there.” She could not understand why he had started his proclamation of love with an apology, but she assumed he was simply apologizing for not admitting his love sooner. She rested her head safely against his strong chest and replied through tears, “Oh Joel, I love you too.”
He gently took her chin and raised her mouth towards his. As her head tilted up, Maggie suddenly felt incredibly light-headed, and before she knew what hit her, she lost consciousness and fainted dead away in Joel’s arms. He already had his arms wound tightly around her, so he caught her easily as her body became limp. “Maggie?!?” He exclaimed worriedly as he knelt with one knee on the ground, cradling her body. He shook her gently. “Maggie? Maggie!” She did not wake. He grunted with exertion as he stood and carried her to the house, calling for Naomi.