© 2013 Sandra Pavloff Conner
Neil grabbed up the pizza box. Letting out a long groan, he wadded it up with his bare hands and slammed it into the waste can. That action wasn’t enough to release his feelings, so he slammed his hand on the counter so hard the pain caused him to groan again. There … maybe that would at least be some self-punishment for having been so stupid – and so unkind to the one person he’d come to care more about than any other human being in his life.
“Stupid idiot! You stupid idiot!” He ranted at himself as he ran his hands furiously through his hair, and finally, feeling spent from the pain of his estrangement from Mariah – and from his own remorse – he collapsed into his desk chair and buried his face in his hands.
He was still sitting in the chair, staring with unseeing eyes at his computer, when the office door opened, and his dad walked in. “Hi, son. I saw the light, and I thought maybe I’d catch you and Mariah here and invite you both to dinner at the house tomorrow night.” He stopped talking and looked around. He didn’t see Mariah, and something told him that the place was totally empty except for Neil, who, now that he looked at him more closely, was looking a little worse for wear.
Neil didn’t answer for a moment. He just sat there and stared at his computer screen. Finally he heaved a sigh and said in a monotone voice. “You could say that.”
Adam leaned on the counter, praying for the Lord to give him the right words. He didn’t want to interfere in his grown son’s life, but he knew enough from his own experience to realize that sometimes being grown up in age didn’t mean a man didn’t feel hurt as painfully as a little boy. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Neil ran his hands through his hair again.
Adam watched and waited. He realized for the first time that there was quite a bit of gray showing in Neil’s dark brown hair. And for the first time, he actually noticed that his waistline was bulging more than it used to. Adam didn’t feel old enough to have two sons about to reach middle age themselves. But the clock didn’t quit ticking, and sure enough, they were just about there.
Nathan, his elder son, had a great wife, though, and a baby to love. Neil had nothing but this business. He should have Mariah. Adam and Elizabeth both knew Mariah was the right one for Neil. And they were pretty sure he knew it too. But Neil had always been super cautious about decisions – considering them from every single angle – over and over again – until he worked them over so many times he was worn out before he came to the point. Elizabeth had said something the other night about Mariah not waiting forever.
Adam cleared his throat. He wasn’t much of a counselor in the area of romance, but he could at least share his heart if Neil wanted him to. “Is it Mariah – or am I out of line?”
At those words, Neil looked up at Adam. “How did you know?”
Adam chuckled. “Well,” he said, as he walked around the counter and pulled a second chair up close to Neil’s desk. “I guess you could say I’ve been through some situations in the romance department that caused me to look about like you do right now.”
“I’m losing her, Dad.”
“Losing her how?”
Neil shrugged his shoulders. “I thought we were becoming the best of friends. I could open up to her in a way I’ve never done with anyone else. And she did the same with me. We feel the same about our spiritual lives and about the purpose and meaning of life. We want the same kinds of things. And we can sit and talk for five and six hours at a time and never run out of anything to say to each other.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound like you’re losing her to me.”
Neil waved his hand in a dismissive manner. “No … that’s not what makes me think that. It’s … It’s because she’s started dating Carter Sanford, and now she doesn’t seem to want to sit and talk with me and share things like she used to.” Neil looked at his father now. “And I worry about her with him. Oh, I don’t mean he’d hurt her physically. But I know enough about him to know he’s just playing around with Jake because she’s a mechanic.”
“Oh … you know … he’s a playboy, and because she’s so different from most of the women he associates with, he finds it fun to date her for a while. But he won’t stick with her. If she’s feeling something serious for him, he’ll break her heart, and I just couldn’t bear that.”
“And why do you think that is?”
“Well … she’s become such a great friend, and friends look out for each other. And … tonight … I tried to warn her about him —”
“Oh, I see,” Adam interrupted him.
“What do you mean, you see?”
Adam sighed. “I’m guessing you told her how he didn’t really care for her and how she was being foolish to let herself get taken in by him.”
Adam let out another sigh. So did Neil.
“Well, I realized about halfway into the conversation that I was making a mistake, but for some reason I just couldn’t seem to stop myself. And … well … the conversation deteriorated so much that she threatened to quit.”
“Yeah.” Neil leaned back in his chair and just shook his head sadly.
“Well … have you thought that maybe Mariah can tell that Carter really does care about her?”
“But he doesn’t!”
“How can you be so sure?”
“What? Are you on his side now?”
“Whoa, Son.” Adam held up his hands to ward off any more accusation. “I’m just trying to help you think this thing through here.”
“Oh, I know, Dad. I’m sorry.” He got up from his chair and started pacing the floor. “But I know I’m right. I feel it in every part of me. Carter Sanford will never – could never – love Mariah the way I —” He stopped mid-sentence, shocked by the words that he heard coming from his mouth. Suddenly he turned and looked at Adam, the surprise all over his face.
Adam nodded his head. “I heard. I think you have part of your answer right there, Son. You are in love with Mariah, but if you didn’t even recognize it, then you’ve obviously never told her. Maybe that’s what she needs to hear from you rather than how she’s making a fool of herself with Carter.”
“Well, I can’t tell her that now! Not while she’s dating another man!”
“What? You’d let her go out of your life just because she’s going out to dinner once in a while with some other man? She might drop him like a hot branding iron if she knew how much you cared, Neil.”
Heaving another sigh, Neil looked Adam in the eye. “Let’s face it dad, in spite of having my name on this business, in reality I’m still just a struggling mechanic. I can’t drive her around in expensive cars or send her bouquets of roses every week the way he does – or even the way a lot of other men can.”
Adam chuckled. “You know, Neil, before your mom and I were married I gave her flowers only one time. I just didn’t have a lot of money back then, and I tried to save what I did have so that we could go out every week. But one time, shortly before the wedding, I asked her if she ever felt cheated because I hadn’t given her more flowers and valuable gifts, and I’ll never – as long as I live – I’ll never forget her answer.
She said, ‘My darling Adam, if I were to receive a thousand roses at a time, they could never give me the joy and the thrill that I get from the look in your eyes every time you take me into your arms and tell me how much you love me.’” Adam leaned forward to emphasize his next words. “Neil, it’s communication that rules the day – before the wedding – and it’s still communication that makes the difference afterward – for the rest of your life.”
“But if she’s serious about Carter, I could also end up looking like a fool myself.”
“And does that really matter? Didn’t you feel a little foolish tonight after your argument?
“Neil, you’ve always tried to live your life based on what God’s Word says. But, up to now, you’ve never had to deal with loving a woman and functioning in that capacity according to God’s Word. But think about it. Love comes from God. He is love, and He’s the creator of the love that develops between a man and a woman. Furthermore, He tells us that love always leads us to prefer the other person as more important than ourselves. Love is patient, kind; love serves; it isn’t jealous or easily provoked … am I right?”
“Sure, you know you are.”
“So … if you love this woman, then you have to begin to deal with her according to the demands of love the way God defines it – not according to the world’s definition. The world will tell you to consider how foolish you might end up looking, or how someone could take advantage of you if you let your guard down by letting them know you love them. But those philosophies are not from the Lord.”
He leaned forward and laid his hand on Neil’s shoulder. “No, I think it’s time you were honest with yourself and with Mariah and started speaking and acting toward her the way the Word of God tells you to. Stop talking to her about Carter Sanford, and start talking to her about her – and how valuable and precious she is to you.”
He gave Neil’s shoulder an encouraging pat and stood to his feet. “And just remember: roses always die, and a fancy car made out of cold steel can’t keep a woman warm at night.”
Neil snorted – although it was almost a chuckle. “If it were Mariah’s car, she’d tear it down and work on the heating system until it did keep her warm.”
Adam laughed out loud and gently slapped his son on the back. “Good! You’ve got your sense of humor back. I think you’ll survive this.” With those words he headed for the door. As he opened it, he turned back. “And unless I miss my guess, that little girl already feels the same way about you.”
A flicker of hope flashed through Neil’s eyes, and Adam smiled. “Go ahead, Son. Stick your neck out. You know she’s worth it.”
Adam closed the door and headed for his car with a jaunty step. He tossed his keys into the air and caught them, grinning. “Adam, old boy, you’re not too bad at counseling the lovelorn after all. Elizabeth will be downright proud of you.”
Final chapter tomorrow.