Were his fears about to come to full realization?
Jamin braced himself for what may come when he looked up and saw a burly red-headed man behind Nina storming across the street toward them. He’d never heard a description of Nina’s father–not even his name–but one look into that man’s eyes told him this was her father. That look was unmistakable, not to mention the haunting resemblance to Nina’s own eyes.
A prayer filled Jamin’s heart, as a groaning sigh escaped his lips. Nina’s face filled with confusion when he gently stepped away from her. She noticed the direction of his eyes, and her’s followed. A gasp escaped her soft, pink lips, when she caught the intimidating sight of her father’s approach.
“Daddy?” she started.
“Nina,” his voice was tight with concern, “I, uh, certainly didn’t expect to see you out here. I thought you were at Anna’s?”
“I was on my way home when…Daddy, I want you to meet Jamin.” She looked between them with unmasked hesitancy, but the honesty in her eyes and voice seemed to diffuse her father’s tension a little.
“Young man, it doesn’t seem we’ve had a proper introduction yet. I’m Captain Oliver Swarth.” It was obvious that he hadn’t said all he’d wanted to, but Jamin was deeply grateful that Captain Swarth was giving him a small chance to prove himself. He wasn’t about to let it pass.
“Sir, I’m pleased to meet you,” Jamin dipped his head respectfully. “My name is Jamin…Opalinksi. My uncle is a farmer several miles outside of town, and we have a produce stand at the city market. I had the privilege of meeting your daughter while working the stand several weeks ago, and came to town tonight in hopes of finding her. I was about to give up, not knowing her last name or where she lived, when I saw her walking here. I was also hoping to meet her family, and, well, it looks like my prayers have been answered. I hope you will take my word concerning my very honorable intentions toward your daughter. It would be my deepest regret to think that my interest might cause turmoil for your daughter or for you, and if that is the case I will seek to be as compliant as possible to your wishes as her father.”
Captain Swarth looked surprised at Jamin’s monologue, but any violent or negative reaction seemed to have been avoided. He hoped.
“Well, Mr. Opalinski,” Captain Swarth looked intently into Jamin’s eyes, “I appreciate your willingness to be upfront with me, and I’m sure you’re intentions are honorable enough for someone…of your age, but I’m afraid, honorable or not, my daughter is not available for your attentions at this time. Nina is not yet of an age that I consider appropriate for any relationship with any young man, honorable or not. So, you would excuse us, my daughter and I have a home to return to, as I imagine is the case for you as well.” He nodded, looked at Nina, and finished, “Have a good evening.” Captain Swarth turned to leave, arching his arm for Nina to take in her hand, “Nina?”
She seemed as stunned as Jamin, but followed silently with a soft nod. Her eyes met Jamin’s briefly as she turned. Through the bewilderment, he saw a regretful apology, and the swelling of silent tears. He attempted a reassuring smile, wishing there was something he could say, something he could do to change the events taking place before him.
Truth be told, though, the captain’s calm-spoken rejection of him had stung more painfully than any violent reaction might have. He was at a complete loss, and felt the verification of every fear of inadequacy he’d ever known. What was he going to do?
Trying not to lose his composure, he turned back toward Cowboy and climbed atop the saddle. He felt like a complete idiot now, with his stupid suit and worthless hat. It was no wonder the whole town had stared at him as he’d searched for Nina. He was just a naive, ignorant country boy, smitten by a girl he couldn’t have, and too ignorant to know it.
It was going to be a long ride home, and a very, very long winter. Jamin’s fears had become reality tonight, but they weren’t the fears he’d expected. This was much more devastating than he was ready to handle.
Nina was the one person who’d been a real beacon of hope to him in the past couple of months. The thought of seeing her, of being around her, had been his fuel for waking up each day, for pushing through the fears and insecurities. It was her silent acceptance that had shown him who he could be. Did her father have any idea of what he’d just done to Jamin? Did Captain Swarth even care about Nina wanted? Jamin knew that Nina felt as strongly about him as he did her. She’d said it herself!
Why had Jamin chosen to remain quiet back there? Why hadn’t Nina tried to defend him, to defend herself? What was he going to do without her?