As a rule, services at the First Baptist Church of Prospect, Kansas, don't draw a large crowd. None of the weathered old farmers that have slid under the sod, nor many of the fresh faced youth that go away to college, ever come back to town to fill a pew.
The pastor ran over the words in his head.
Do you, Kristen, take this man, Zachary, as your lawfully wedded husband? To have and to hold?
In sickness and in health?
For richer or poorer?
Through good times and bad times?
For as long as you both shall live?
Do you, Zachary, take this woman, Kristen...
However, today was a special day. There were more pickup trucks than cars glittering under the prairie sun in the full church parking lot. Well-off farmers that could afford a Cadillac still drove pickups and talked poor, speaking gravely about the weather and the price of corn like everybody else.
"July's too hot," Zach had said the year before.
"You may have picked your bride; but the women plan the wedding," his mom informed to groom-to-be.
"She's right, honey," said Kristen. "You'll see, when we're exchanging our vows, everything will be..."
Zach grinned. "Perfect," they said together, grinning.
"Just like married life always is," his mom said with a smile and a laugh.
"I can't wait for the ceremony," said Kristen.
"I'll bet Zach can't wait to drive to the cabin afterwards," his mom teased.
Late arrival's cars lined the sides of the dirt road that rose up from the highway. You could tell who had arrived late by the layer of dust on their shoes and the perspiration on their faces after trudging up the hill under the summer sun.
"Kristen," Zach said two years before.
"You don't have to say it. I know."
"Not this time." He got down on one knee. "I've loved you for as long as I can remember. Ever since you hit me with that water balloon at your tenth birthday party, I've known you were the only girl for me. I want you with me forever. When we're old and grey, I want to sit in our rocking chairs, side by side. I love you -will you marry me?"
Reverend Logan glanced around at the wheat fields surrounding the church. He stood at the threshold to the old building, his Bible in his left hand held against his breast while his right hand stayed busy grasping and releasing the hands of the parishioners, sharing their perspiration with his as they passed by like the blacktop surface in the gaps of a highway centerline's paint.
"Zach!" Kristen had exclaimed three years before.
"Hey," he replied with a cautious smile.
"Well look at you! Come on in! I wasn't expecting to see you."
He shrugged without moving, his toe making a pattern in the dirt outside her parents' front door.
"So how's if feel to be a college graduate?"
He took deep breath, looking across the field at his parents' farm, two miles distant. "The same, I guess."
She came out, closing the screen door quietly, and walked to the bench swing beneath the ancient oak in the yard, knowing he would follow. They sat in silence that grew ever more comfortable. She took his hand in hers.
"Your mom said you weren't coming home before you started your new job."
"Well ... I'm glad you stopped by."
"I'm not just stopping by, Kristen."
Finally, all but a few men standing outside to smoke one last cigarette had made their way inside. He looked in their direction and raised an eyebrow at them, causing a flurry of burning tobacco to rain down onto the cement entryway, there to be crushed and twisted, extinguished by shoe leather with well-practiced efficiency.
"Don't worry, boys," he said. "They can't start without me."
"You're unhappy," Kristen said, six years before. It was his first college spring break.
His eyebrows flexed.
"Don't pretend you're not; I know you," she added.
"I miss you."
"You're lonely being away at school, just like I'm lonely back here without you."
She took a deep breath. "You said I should go to prom."
"Donny Martin asked me."
"So ... should I go?"
"What do you want me to do, Zach?"
"Just ... be happy."
"We're going to begin with some music," the pastor said, smiling out over the crowd. "See if you can tell if it's the bride or the groom singing the words to their betrothed." It only took a few lines before chuckles rumbled through the crowd. It was Kristen, speaking to her man of few words.
It's amazing how you can speak right to my heart