Nicole and work had been only one of the things that had struck him Saturday afternoon. The thing that had really stopped him was that he realized he was making major long term, life-changing plans with this woman, and he'd yet to formally tie her to him.
Sunday morning he saw Paul and Elizabeth with their family. Nat went to them. "David, it's good to have you back."
David took his hand briefly and nodded. He'd never had much weight on him, and now his skin stretched over the bones of his face, giving him a skeletal look under his thick black waves of hair. No wonder Paul worried. David had become comfortable with him and the church over the past five years that he'd been with Elizabeth, but today he seemed almost as nervous and skittish as that first year. And Paul's last confession to him had indicated David had given up his only joy -- music.
Nat was called away, but he gripped Paul's hand before he did to let him know he understood his concerns.
Afterward he accepted an invitation by Vince Frederick for Nicole, Rachel, and him for lunch. All the while, though, it nagged at Nat that he had to get that major detail taken care of.
After he took Nicole home he went back to his apartment. He tried to relax, but had a hard time doing so. It was almost ten when Jordan called. "Hey, how's it going? Are you engaged yet?"
Nat laughed. "Soon, Jordan. Soon." He sobered a little. "I need to buy two things. A ring and a house."
"You're not proposing until you have a house?"
Nat hesitated. "I can't wait that long." And then he decided to let a little of his frustration out on his big brother. "I can't find anything decent and when I do it's twenty thousand more than I can handle. I can't go over budget when I don't know how much it's going to cost for a wife and child, right? But it's so tempting."
"This a nice place? Land?"
"Five acres. I'm not a farmer," he teased. "Just trees and hills. Lots of bedrooms. That's the main thing."
"And out of the city?"
"Yeah, that, too."
Jordan laughed. "You tried to fool everyone into thinking you loved the city."
"I love my church, and when I'm in Kansas I miss the trees."
Jordan laughed again. "So when are you getting that ring?"
"I hope tomorrow. I'll call you when I... we set the date."
"Yeah, it's we from now on. Mom was afraid you were going to dump her."
"Good. So if we come up after the conference, where do we sleep?"
"Me and Mike are good friends, Nat, but not that cozy. Do you have a sleeping bag?"
"We'll work something out."
After Jordan's call, Nat went to sleep.
The phone jarred him awake at quarter to seven. "Hey, Nat."
"Dad? What's wrong? Is everything okay?"
"You're still sleeping?" His tone was upbeat, and Nat relaxed.
"I had planned another fifteen minutes."
"You city folk. I gotta get you back out into the country. You'll have the twenty thousand by Friday."
"What? Wait, Dad. I never told Jordan that expecting anything. I wouldn't ask you for money. I can do it."
"You never change, do you? You haven't asked for anything since the day you graduated from college. It's a wedding present."
"But Dad, that's Jordan and Aaron's. They work...."
"I work here, too," he said sharply. Then his voice mellowed. "Besides I heard this place has lots of room. You'll need that with Brad coming. Libby may even come before that. She's not doing good here. If either of them are leaving home, I want them to be with you."
Nat hesitated. It was an arguement he couldn't counter. He'd invited both of them and to accommodate them he'd need his father's help. "I... thanks."
"Nathan, we're working together. Just wish we were closer."
His throat felt tight. For the first time he agreed. "Wish it was possible."
His father was silent for a few moments. Then in a rough voice, he said, "We'll come up for the wedding. The boys volunteered to keep working since you'll see them both this summer."
"I'll let you know when."
After praying for his family he dressed and went into work. Paul came in a half hour later, and Nat told him about the house. They went out to look at it and fill out a purchase agreement. Then Paul went back to work, and Nat went shopping for a diamond. He made it back to the office in time to see Rachel and give her the rose and a small note asking for a Tuesday night dinner.
"You're not coming over today?"
Nat hesitated. He wanted to, but then shook his head. "Can't Rachel. I took off this morning, and I plan to take a little time during the week, so I need to get started on my sermon." He grinned. "It won't be long, now, Rachel."
Nat waited until his secretary left for the day and the doors were locked, before he began pulling the books from his shelves. He stacked them on his desk and on the floor until he could pull out the shelf and reach the boxes and jewelry behind them. He examined them for damage and was relieved to find none. By the time he put all the books away, he was more than ready for dinner, a shower, and bed.
Tuesday evening Nat picked up Nicole and drove her to a small Italian restauarant near the church. "Before we go in I'd like to give you something to help set the mood."
"Oh, I thought that's what your kisses were for."
Nat smiled and pulled the small bag from under his seat. First he took out the box with the necklace. "You said you'd take them back when I was serious." He kissed her lips again. "I'm serious." He placed the necklace around her neck. Then he took the earrings and replaced the ones in her ears.
"Thank you, Nat. I've been longing to wear these again."
"I'm not finished." He pulled out a third box and opened it. He took her hand and kissed her finger before placing the diamond on it. Then he grasped her hand and looked up into her face. "You will keep this, won't you?"
Nat pulled her close and kissed her until he heard a tapping on his window. Slightly dazed he pulled away from Nicole and looked up to see Jay Mittleson, his wife, Valerie, and their two daughters. Nat got out of the car.
"Wouldn't have interrupted, Pastor, but shouldn't you be setting an example for these young ladies."
Nat felt the heat overtake his face. Of course he should. "Sorry," he mumbled.
Nicole put a hand on his elbow. "I was just thanking him for this beautiful diamond. Girls, don't let a guy kiss you like that unless he does give you a diamond."
Jay laughed. "She's right." He took Nat's hand. "Congratulations, when's the wedding."
Nat glanced at Nicole and grinned, knowing all was forgiven. "We haven't gotten that far. That's to be our dinner discussion, so no hard feelings if we don't join you tonight."
"Hey, Pastor, it really looks like you two need a chaparone."
Valerie poked her husband's ribs, grinning. "Let them be. You go ahead, Nat. We'll go to your choice, Jay, so they don't have to worry about you listening in and teasing."
"Mexican? You heard the boss, girls. It's back to the car. I'll see you tomorrow, Nat, and see if you have any details."
Nat laughed and shook his head, steering Nicole toward the door. "Sorry about that."
"You like public parking lots. I'll have to remember that and keep you in line."
Inside they were seated and ordered their dinner. Nat told her about the house and the conversation with his father. Then they looked at the calendar. "I'd like it as soon as possible."
Nicole smiled. "So would I."
"I'd like my pastor from my old church when I was young. John Fries. He's retired, but I know he'd come."
"Paul's got a different job. He's my best man." He took Nicole's hands.
"Yes," she agreed. "Tell me the truth, now. Who is paying for Rachel's schooling?"
"The same person who'll keep paying it. I couldn't find a sponsor on such short notice. Of course, I think I read there's a clause that specifies that the pastor's kids get to go free."
"Aah. So that's why you're marrying me."
Nat came out of his side of the booth and slid in beside her. "Don't you ever think it." He put his arm around her and kissed her. The clatter of dishes set too hard on the table beside them brought Nat to himself.
"Should I make these to go?"
Nat went back to his side of the table. "No. That's fine. Thanks."
The waitress left.
"We better make that wedding soon, or we won't be allowed in anywhere."
Nat smiled. "I'll make my calls tonight. As soon as Pastor John can make it, that's the day. And there are a few other minor weddings we have to work around."
Nicole laughed. "I love you, Nathan John Morris."
"I love you, Nicole," he echoed, kissing her fingers again.