Walking into the sanctuary for the first service the next morning was the hardest thing Jeannette ever did. Packing up her life and leaving Glenwood and never looking back was easy as chewing gum, compared to this. She ran a gauntlet that started in the parking lot and ran all the way into the church and halfway up the aisle. It would have been ten times worse without the Randolph family surrounding her, supporting her. Curious faces. Smiles of welcome. Frowns of confusion. Hugs from old ladies in moth ball-scented fur stoles and bad perfume.
Gushes of false sympathy from busybodies. Sniffs of disdain and cold shoulders from people who had never given her the time of day, but who were insulted they hadn't been invited to Jeannette's wedding. And worst yet, smirks from three young men in the church who ignored her, but got upset when she started dating Brody, an 'outsider.' She had ignored them, but they had only grown nastier when she married Brody. She supposed the news about her being a widow had spread through half the church already. Did those men who snubbed her think she had been punished for defying their judgment of her worthiness? Who gave them the right to judge her and limit her life?
Heat spread through her and Jeannette pushed it away, along with the trembling that didn't come from weariness or morning sickness or the cold. No, she had come home to Tabor for peace, for shelter, for a quiet place to heal and raise her baby. She had come home perhaps because she had been so happy here with Brody.
Jeannette had a flash of insight. She wasn't the bone of contention with those young men who considered themselves the movers and shakers in the Singles group -- and who were still single, which indicated that the girls in the church had good taste and better sense. Maybe the problem rested with Brody. He was a romantic figure, a stranger who had come to town and to study at BWU because of his military connection to Nathan. He picked the quiet little girl to fall in love with. Maybe those young men disliked Jeannette so much because every other girl in the church wanted Brody -- the same girls who wouldn't even look at them?
"Jeannette?" Nathan's voice broke into her musing.
She blushed and realized she had slowed down, not really watching where she was going. The Randolphs were several steps ahead of her, moving into an empty pew near the front. Her heart skipped a few beats and she silently whispered a thank-you prayer when he hooked his arm through hers and kept her moving down the aisle.
"Hi, Nathan." She forced a smile and bit her tongue to keep from spilling all the questions that had tormented her in the silence of her new apartment last night, keeping her awake long after Max went home. Why had he never asked her out before he went on his first tour of duty? After all the times they had been engaged in elementary school, why had he ignored her once adolescence hit? And why, when he finally noticed her again, had he gone back to being big brother and nothing more? Why hadn't he competed with Brody for her heart?
If she hadn't married Brody, she never would have left Tabor. Brody would be alive. She could be happy with Nathan. He needed a wife to look after him. She knew already he would be so good with children...
Stop that! Jeannette scolded herself. It was just hormones. Dr. Halliday had warned her this would happen.
"You all settled? Need anything put together? I can come back after my duty shift -- gotta head out right after the service." Nathan gestured down at himself, and Jeannette realized he was wearing his park service uniform. Then he squeezed her hand, just for a moment. His hand was big and calloused and rough from outdoor work; warm enough to drive away the chill that kept trying to crawl inside her to stay.
"Nope, everything's all put together. I just need to spend the afternoon tweaking things. Thanks for asking, though." She squeezed his hand and almost held on when he released her.
"You need anything, just ask."
"Ice skates?" Jeannette was very conscious of the Randolphs already seated in their pew, and members of the congregation watching them.
Any moment now, the prelude music would stop and the service would start, and she and Nathan would be left standing there like two idiots. Funny, but she didn't care.
"Well, the old mill pond isn't frozen anymore, but I think we can manage. We always had a good time, the whole gang skating down there, didn't we? Even when we weren't supposed to." Nathan glanced down the aisle. A few people had lined up behind them. "Talk to you after I get off duty?"
Jeannette nodded and let the flow of traffic move her to the Randolphs' pew. She sat and let herself relax into the old familiar surroundings. The half-circle sanctuary; faded blue carpet; the pale oak pews.
She really was home.