…stories and poetry to touch, teach, & turn the heart toward truth.

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Story of Hope, Chapter 11

A soft sniffle broke through Olly's weighty thoughts as he walked with Nina away from Jamin. He looked down at his daughter's lowered head. In the corner of his eye, he noticed a gloved hand reach quickly and silently up to wipe something from her eyes. Nina was crying. His heart sank as he realized what he'd just done.

Why hadn't he even considered Nina's thoughts and desires during his exchange with her young friend back there? Did she think she was in love with this young man? Why hadn't Nina or Monica told him about Jamin? Why was Nina meeting with him in the streets after dark? Was their rendezvous really as innocent as they'd both claimed? He was not prepared for a teenage daughter! He was still very numb to the idea of Nina being sixteen years old. She was only a little girl in his mind, in his heart.

What would Monica be saying right now if she'd been privy to his calloused response toward the polite young man? He could see the disgust in her eyes now, and hear the criticism she would be hurling at him for not caring any more about his daughter's feelings. She was one to talk.

He could hear Monica's incriminating words from not even an hour ago proclaiming the severity of his absence. With fresh conviction, they came ringing back to his ears, and his heart sank deeper. Should he be keeping these two young hearts apart? Was he replacing his absence in Nina's life with anarchy? Did protecting Nina have to look this way?

Olly had already severed fellowship with his wife this night. He didn't want to lose his daughter as well!

Coming to an abrupt stop, Olly turned toward Nina and looked gently into her eyes. “Were his words truth?” he asked her before he lost his nerve.

Trying to look strong, she nodded, “Yes, Daddy.” There was no deceit in her face.

“And you feel the same way about him that he does about you?”

She nodded, hope growing.

For good measure, and to lighten the mood, he asked with a twinkle in his eye, “And you really are sixteen? That's not just in my imagination?”

She managed a small laugh, and rolled her eyes. “Yes, Daddy, I really am a big girl now–believe it or not–and yes, I like him very much. Will you just give him a second chance before he rides away and I may never see him again?”

Now he felt like crying, but he gave a slight nod, and looked behind them to where Jamin and his ride were clodding away. “Young man!” he called.

The clip-clop of the horse's hooves paused on the hard surface of the street, and Jamin's head spun in their direction. “Sir?” came the uncertain reply.

“I…may have spoken a bit in haste. If the two of you would like a few more minutes together, perhaps you could walk my daughter home. I will meet you there.”

Still looking at Jamin, Olly squeezed Nina's hand, which was still in his, then turned–head whirling–and started home. Before he rounded the corner of the street, he turned to look back at them once more, and smiled–just a little bit–when he saw Nina running toward Jamin's glowing face.

There wasn't much to compare in this world to the joys of young love.



Story of Hope, Chapter 10

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?

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Story of Hope, Chapter 9

In the time succeeding a serious conflict, the emotions left mangled in its stay are more complex and abundant than most humans are able to manage in a healthy fashion. This was certainly the case for Olly. How could his volatile¬†interaction with Monica–which had just come to an extremely abrupt end–have gone so poorly as to have all but ended their entire twenty year relationship?

What had Monica done to him? What kind of monstrous things had she convinced herself to believe about him? How would he ever reconcile this betrayal–this lie?

There was little that proved to be more disabling to Olly than when someone simply didn’t listen to his words–or believe him if they did. He sought to be an honest man. Monica should have known that. Instead, Monica seemed to have rebuilt a very mangled version of herself in his absence, and had justified the complete removal of him from her new construction plans. He felt crippled by her rejection.

While she had been spending her years creating a world for herself without him, he’d been building one with her as his corner stone. He knew their marriage hadn’t been what either of them had dreamed about in the beginning. Over the past several years, since he’d become a sailor, there had been little about their marriage that had even seemed like a marriage. He knew this.

Aside from the rare letter and his times of leave, they never saw each other. He knew he’d been a lousy¬†husband, but that had only spurred him on in his dreams of creating a better life for them. He’d held so long to the dream that things would get better, that he simply took it for granted. He’d never considered that Monica might not be there to live out those dreams with him.

They were dreams he’d dreamed for her as much as he’d ever dreamed them for himself. He’d saved his money year after year, every penny he could, to one day deliver his family together to a new place–a new quality of living. Monica wouldn’t have to worry about surviving anymore. She wouldn’t have to be alone without him again, like he knew she had silently desired for so many years.

That was something about Monica that he’d always admired. She rarely complained. He knew she had been unhappy all these years apart. For him, that had gone without saying. He apparently had been assuming blindly all along that she was holding on to his dreams as much as he had been. Though, looking back, he couldn’t remember ever sharing those dreams with her. She’d never known. She still didn’t.

He’d planned to come home in a grand fashion, swing her swiftly off her feet, and carry her off into the sunset. Instead, he’d come home and thrown her fragile world deeper into the darkness and bitterness she’d chosen for herself.

The reality of what she’d done came back to him with renewed freshness, now, and he began to feel the true gravity of what had taken place in his absence. He understood that she’d assumed it was a similar lifestyle of unfaithfulness that had carried him along all these years, but any man on his ship could attest to Captain Olly’s abstinence. It was a matter of regular discussion and scoffing among them. What sailor didn’t have whatever pleasure he desired? This had been the way his shipmates had seen things, and their lifestyles made that very evident–as did their general dissatisfaction with those lifestyles.

He’d been as honorable as he could have ever dreamed to be, and this was how she repaid him?

No. He wouldn’t allow himself to go down that path. Bitterness on Monica’s part had brought them much of the way to this place. His own bitterness would be of no benefit.

He needed to figure out how to fix this. He had to get his wife back! It was not over.

Oliver took to the streets, determined to prove to Monica the depth of his love and faithfulness. His reaction toward her had been strong and full of hurt, but his love and devotion remained unchanged, and she needed to know this. His mind was racing to think of where she might have gone. His heart was aching in its desire to know her love once again. How would he tell her? How would he show her the truth? What if she still didn’t believe him?

He was becoming a fool for her, and he felt like a young man again–trying to woo the woman he loved.

But why? Why did he love this woman who had betrayed him? What did Monica possess that was worth his love and devotion? What was his reason?

Was it the length of time she’d waited for him? Was it the fact that she’d cared for their daughter in his absence? Was it her beauty that smote him or was it the fact that she didn’t want him? Was she just some conquest to him, like the seas he’d sought to master?

With ease, Olly reasoned away each of these thoughts, and found his way to the true reason he sought her. It was because he loved her. That was it! That was the reason. She hadn’t earned it. She may never deserve his love. She may never even accept or reciprocate his love, but he still loved her. He truly was becoming a fool for her, and it was perhaps the most liberating state of being he’d known.

Olly smiled amid the gloom of his heart at losing his love. He hadn’t just lost her tonight. He’d lost her many years ago, and it had taken him this long to discover it. He realized again that he’d become a fool in more ways than one.

Olly smiled, though, because he now saw the truth as it was for the first time. He knew also that, by seeing the truth, he might actually find a way to embrace it and allow it to change him–to change them. Now that he had the truth, he could show it to Monica. She could see it as well!

Fully consumed in his hopes, he picked up his pace and began toward Mrs. Townsend’s house. That was where she would be. That was where he must go.

He never made it, though, because what he saw next stopped him still, and once again changed his life forever. He stumbled upon the sight as he nearly ran around a corner onto a new street. There, across this new street, just below a glowing streetlight, stood his daughter–his precious Nina–wrapped in the arms of smiling young man.

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Story of Hope, Chapter 8

Monica stormed out of the house, so mad she couldn't even cry. She nearly broadsided a young man in a tie riding a sturdy farm horse. In a less severe circumstance, she might have been tempted to laugh at his appearance.

In a lesser circumstance, she might have recognized him from the stand at the market. Right now, though, all she could think about was how mad she was, how bad she had it, and how much she wanted something terrible to happen to that man in the house behind her.

She stormed down three streets before she even began to think about where she was traveling. Her subconscious was navigating for her, though, because she was already half way to Mrs. Townsend's house, and that was exactly where she intended to go–and stay.

Monica could return for her belongings tomorrow, but right now she just needed to get as far away from Oliver Swarth as possible. She had little way of knowing what the future would hold, but regardless, she was fairly certain things were over between she and the man she once vowed to love forever. God help her.

Nina had enjoyed herself this day more than she had in weeks, maybe even months, but she knew nonetheless that it was time to go home and return to reality. The quilt would still be waiting for her next week, and Anna had already promised to work on some stitching each night to help quicken the project along. From the looks of things so far, it would be a real treasure for Anna's sister and her baby. Nina smiled as she considered it.

Her eyes drifted as she walked through the rising shadows of the city streets, able to catch just the tips of the cotton candy clouds glowing in the brilliant hues of the setting sun. A longing came over her then for a world much different from her own. This had been occurring more and more recently, and she couldn't quite place what was causing it to originate, or what it meant. She longed for freedom. She longed for security, the kind that she only was able to glimpse when wrapped tightly in her father's arms. She longed to feel loved–not to just know that she was loved somewhere deep inside, but to truly feel it throughout her entire being. She wanted peace in this world, and quite frankly, that troubled her. She truthfully didn't know how or where she would ever find it.

Jamin looked at the darkening sky and decided, with much downheartedness, that it was time to give up and go home. No one knew a girl by the name of Nina, and he couldn't believe that he'd never inquired about her last name or her parents' names. He'd been stupid to try to find her, he decided. What made him think she would want to see him, if she hadn't even told him her name?

Chiding himself for what was unlikely to be the last time, he gave Cowboy a nudge and started back for the farm. At least he would be done suffering the stares of these snooty city folk snickering at the country boy in suit and tie riding a farm horse around town. Folks could certainly be cruel.

A lone figure walked leisurely down the sidewalk to his right, and his heart skipped a beat. He recognized that cloak! Could it really be her right here in front of him?

He gingerly called out her name, and she paused, turned, and looked up at him with her sky blues eyes shining in the twilight.

She looked stunned to see him, but smiled shyly and breathed a soft, “Hello.”

“Hello, Nina.” Jamin replied almost just as softly. He was more than a little stunned that after coming all this way, he had no idea what to say to her. This was not how he'd expected to find her.

“What brings you to town?” Nina asked. She looked at him with a broad, genuine smile now, and he knew she was glad to see him. His heart seemed to jump a little.

“Actually,” he felt himself blushing, “I came to see you.” He sounded foolish when he came out and said it, but it was the truth.

Somehow, her smile grew even more. “Really?” she asked.

He laughed now, grateful for the slight break in tension. “Yeah, it sounds crazy doesn't it?”

“A little,” Nina replied, “but I'm glad you did. I was just thinking my day couldn't get much better, and then there you were!”

Now Jamin was smiling. “Where are you going?”

“Oh, I'm on my way home from my friend, Anna's, house. We are making a quilt for her sister's new baby, well it's not born yet, but…well, anyway…yeah. I'm just going home. Were you really looking for me? How did you plan to find me?”

“Well, I was just about to give up when I saw you.” Jamin explained. “It was a crazy thought riding around town asking people if they knew a girl named Nina, but I just really missed you. I had a free evening, so I thought I'd give it a try. Now that the harvest is over, I won't be at the market anymore, and I couldn't stand the thought of not seeing you again until next spring. You're a hard girl to find, though, you know! I was starting to think you didn't want me to find you–I mean, that maybe you didn't feel the same way about me, that I feel about you.”

His confidence was waning again, as his old insecurities came rushing back, but Nina's voice broke into his thoughts. “Would you think I was wierd if I told you that I think about you all the time? I didn't think I would see you again either, and I really didn't like the thought of that.”

Jamin was off Cowboy and holding Nina's hands in his before either of them realized it. “Well, I sure am glad I finally found you.”


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Story of Hope, Chapter 6

It was time for the truth.

Oliver could see the deep pain in Monica’s eyes, no matter how hard she tried to hide it. It was the pain of shame and guilt. Monica was hiding something from him that was destroying her.

If he wasn’t certian about this before holding his broken daughter as she cried until her legs were weak, he was without a doubt now. Nina was such a strong child. He kept having to remind himself that she really wasn’t a child anymore, no matter how much she still felt like one in his heart. He didn’t know what Monica had done to her, or why, but he was without doubt that Nina didn’t deserve any of the pain that had been inflicted upon her.

Olly’s heart was breaking, and he didn’t yet even know why. Had he caused all of this? According to Monica he had, but he wasn’t sure he could trust her judgment on anything right now–not with all she was keeping from him. He knew he’d isulated himself from them over the years to keep himself from missing them any more than he already did, but he must have been simultaneously blinding himself to their hurt as well.

Maybe he should have written more. Maybe he should have returned earlier. Maybe he should have shared more with Monica about their financial state. He should have asked more questions. He should have been more sensitive. After spending six years on a ship, his soft side had been more and more concealed beneath the rugged exterior of a master sailor.

He was Olly Swarth, second only to the owner of a fine trading ship, working for a successful merchant company, in the greatest nation in the world! He rarely met a stranger. He cherished his wife and daughter, waiting reverently for any letter he received from home, and always writing back his location, sentiments, and well-being. He never found much to write about from his daily life, knowing it was rather monotonous to most, but he loved his work and the freedom of the ocean swelling beneath his watercraft. Looking back he realized that Monica’s letters had grown fewer and more cold with each year, but at the time, he’d just chosen not to dwell on it with so many other things more immediately at hand.

Perhaps her pain was his fault.

Olly had waited in the sitting parlor for nearly two hours before Monica returned home from wherever she had been. He was shocked how little she had been home in the brief two weeks since he’d returned. It had taken him considerable time to feel out the circumstances of his household enough to decide how to address his impending confrontation with Monica. She had remained quiet and compliant toward him, seemingly out of guilt, but at the same time had managed to come off cold and bitter.

Nina, conversely, had spent as much time around him as possible since his return, and he’d been thankful to see her countenance begin to lift a little each day. Nonetheless, she silently avoided any discussion about her mother, choosing instead to ask him endlessly about his travels and experiences abroad, as dry and uninteresting as they seemed to him. She’d also blushingly confided to his inquisitive chiding that there was a young man at the city market of whom she was rather fond. Though it was shocking to think of his little girl showing affection toward any man but himself, their attraction seemed to be as innocent and appropriate as he could hope for her.

Olly’s thoughts were interrupted by the opening of the front door. It looked like the moment had arrived. He’d sent Nina out for the day to help a friend with a quilting project they’d been planning for months, and doubted that she would have returned already, knowing Nina’s love for needlework. Monica’s footsteps sounded on the wooden floor of the hallway, and moved toward the kitchen. As she passed the entrance to the parlor on her way to the kitchen, their eyes met, and she halted.

“Hi, Monica,” he spoke tenderly.

“Hello,” she replied, averting her gaze.

He asked her where she’d been, and she informed him that she’d been delivering some things to an elderly friend on the other side of town.

“How is Mrs. Townsend doing these days?” he inquired, “I haven’t seen her in years.”

She had been their neighbor many years ago, and had served as a mother figure to Monica when they moved in next door shortly after being married. Olly was the youngest of nine children, and had married in his mid twenties. Both of his parents had passed away by the time he was twenty seven. Monica had been an orphan since she was twelve years old, and was lovingly raised with her two cousins by her aunt and uncle in New York city. She met Olly through a friend and moved away with him when they were married. Monica was only nineteen when she’d become a wife, and the wisdom and affection she’d received at the kindness of dear Mrs. Townsend had been a cherished comfort to her in a time of great uncertainty. In recent years, Monica had been able to return that kindness, as the elderly lady grew more and more in need of assistance.

Monica replied, “She is growing weaker every year, but her heart is still as studded with gold as ever.”

Olly was encouraged to see the slight twinkle in Monica’s eye when she spoke of her dear, old friend. It did little to diminish the reservation she retained toward him, though, and he remembered his reslove to speak with her and face the unspeakeble.

He asked if she would be willing to come and join him in the parlor after she’d settled in a bit, and growing rigid she asked why.

“Monica, I think it’s past time that we talk.”