Welcome back to our Wednesday and Saturday serial installments! We are happy to continue to share The Glass Bottom Boat by Laura Thomas.
Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9
“WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU wanted to stay single?” Madison took a bite of seafood salad as they sat at a dinner table for two beneath the strand of twinkle lights on the outdoor patio.
Luke stabbed a potato with his fork and prayed for wisdom. They had already discussed her life in great depth, so she had every right to dig into his. But this was going to be tricky. Particularly if he wanted to protect his heart…and her feelings.
He glanced down at the vase of tropical flowers between them. “There wasn’t a lightning bolt with a note attached or anything. I must have been twenty-four or twenty-five, when I was in India. I’d been praying on and off for a couple of years about whether I should get married—you know, settle down and even head back to the States.”
Madison nodded for him to go on.
“I had a couple of good friends on the mission field when I was in Africa, and they were both in serious relationships. One was even engaged to a girl back in New York. He deliberated for weeks whether he should return to the States or not. The poor guy was a mess while he tried to figure out what God’s will was for his life.”
“What did he decide?” She set down her fork, her eyes wide.
“He said goodbye to Africa and set an official wedding date with his girl. The following year, we heard they broke the engagement when she found someone more stable.”
“After he left the mission field for her?” Madison’s jaw dropped.
“Yeah. He never got over it. I stayed in contact with him for a few years while he figured out what to do with his life. As far as I know, he’s still hopping from one dead-end job to another. And then my best buddy, Steve, fell head over heels with one of our colleagues serving alongside us in Africa.”
“That’s so romantic. Falling in love on the mission field of Africa. Please tell me they lived happily ever after?”
“I would love to, but they didn’t.”
“No.” She covered her mouth with her hand.
“They were engaged for about six months or so, but malaria put a stop to them serving in Africa anymore. Steve got sick, and they decided to both return to the UK with the dream of coming back one day.”
“But they didn’t?”
“No. He never fully recovered from malaria and his faith took a real beating. Last I heard, the girl married someone else and went into nursing.”
“So, you were jaded?”
Luke thought for a moment. “Not jaded so much as concerned. I knew I was supposed to be a missionary wherever God led me and I didn’t want anything to sway me from that purpose. I watched what happened to my friends and I think it freaked me out.” He set his fork on the plate. “I was starting to get close to one of our other coworkers at the time, but she knew I had reservations, and in the end, our mutual decision to stay platonic prevailed. So, when my stint in Africa was up, I prayed about what I should do with my future, and the desire I once had to be part of a couple kind of evaporated. I can’t explain it, but it’s as if God filled that need and gave me a different perspective.”
“There’s been nobody since? No señoritas quickened your heart?”
“Honestly, no. I guess my life goes at an insane pace most of the time. I can’t believe I’m turning thirty. You know the whole thing about Mexico being slow living and relaxed with siestas?”
“Uh-huh.” She pursed her lips.
“Siestas don’t often happen in an orphanage. But I’m not complaining—I love every minute of the busy chaos.”
“But it leaves no time for romance.” She nodded. “I can see that.”
“No desire either. Do I sound weird?”
Madison tilted her head. Amber highlights shone through her hair in the soft glow of candlelight. Beautiful. And it dawned on him that she hadn’t scanned the resort for stalkers all evening. This was a good sign. He tried to focus as she spoke.
“No, you don’t sound weird at all. But do you think it will ever change? That God might say it’s time to marry?” She shrugged and then gave him a coy smile. “You mustn’t think your life has to stay the same for the sake of it. Pray about it. Maybe God has something exciting planned for you which you know nothing about yet.”
Luke laughed out loud. The exact words he used on her this afternoon when they were floating in the ocean. “Touché.” He’d enjoyed their conversation. Her faith was vibrant and fresh, and he had no doubt she would be a wonderful woman to journey through life with…
Is God using my own advice to Madison to speak back to me? The topic was dangerous. Luke needed time alone to ponder and pray and think it all through. But he didn’t want the evening to end. Not yet. For now, a change of subject was in order.
“You did well in the ocean this afternoon.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I went out as far as my waist—that’s not particularly impressive.” She looked toward the water. “I’ve got a long way to go in facing my fears, haven’t I?”
“One step at a time. I think you’re doing great. Imagine what you can achieve by the end of the week.” I wonder if I’ll find answers to my questions about the future by then. He took the napkin from his lap and wiped his mouth. “If you’re finished eating, do you want to take a walk down the promenade? The resort has some of the local crafts and jewelry and things on display. Plus, I should walk off this steak.”
Madison placed her napkin on the table and picked up her clutch bag. “This resort is huge. I wondered what they were setting up earlier. Sure, let’s do it. Sounds like fun.”
She looked a vision tonight, wearing a bright yellow dress with a matching flower in her hair. Did this woman ever look anything but stunning? It made it difficult to remain neutral. The jovial lilt of steel-drum music played on the beach, and the air was perfumed with something intoxicatingly floral. The night was perfect.
They wandered for several minutes and then stopped in front of a silver jewelry display, where a woman sat on a stool, polishing her jewelry with a soft cloth. Madison picked up a silver bracelet and held it up. “This is so pretty. Did you make it?”
As the women chatted, Luke noticed the price tag. He cringed when he calculated how many meals that equated to back at the orphanage. Madison inspected the tag and didn’t flinch. Their financial situations were worlds apart—could that be an issue? He was deep in thought when Madison screamed.
Luke’s heart stopped as he spun and clutched her arm. Behind her were Chloe and Nathan. “Couldn’t you guys just come and say a simple ‘Hi’ like normal people?”
Chloe giggled while Nathan wrapped his arms around her waist.
Madison growled. “You frightened the life out of me, Chloe.” Then she managed a smile and gave her sister a big hug.
“What has you so jumpy?” Chloe asked. “I only touched your shoulder.”
“Nothing much. I wasn’t expecting to see you. That’s all.”
When Madison glanced at Luke, he caught the pleading look in her eyes. As if he would let on about her stalker—her secret was safe with him. He gave a slight nod, and she turned back to her sister.
“You look beautiful, by the way. Marriage agrees with you. But I thought you guys were heading out to some romantic restaurant tonight?”
“We’re on our way. I spotted your yellow dress from where we were waiting and I had to come see you. Is Luke keeping you company?” Chloe’s attempt at wide-eyed innocence fell short. Madison was right—the woman had matchmaking on the brain.
“Yes, he’s putting up with me.” Madison blushed.
“It’s my pleasure.” Luke received a nudge in the ribs from his grinning brother. Great. Chloe had a partner in crime.
“It’s so weird being in the same resort but not hanging out together, don’t you think?” Chloe flicked her long blonde hair behind her. “Anyway, now that we know you’re both surviving without us, we should go. We have reservations, husband dearest.”
“Bye, Mr. and Mrs. Alexander. Enjoy your dinner.” Luke waved.
“You two behave yourselves.” Nathan looked over his shoulder and winked while being dragged off toward the lobby.
Luke turned to Madison. “Sorry about that brother of mine. He doesn’t give up. Let’s carry on, shall we? Then maybe we can relax in the piano bar if you like?”
Madison scrutinized him for a moment. “Be honest. Do you really want to go to that swanky place, or would you rather hunker down by a bonfire on the beach and listen to the crash of waves?”
How could she have figured him out already? Beautiful and perceptive. He shrugged. “I want to do whichever you are most comfortable with.”
“You’ve done a wonderful job catering to my every whim, but I promise you, I’m totally at ease now. No stalkers or creepers today. So, as long as you swear you won’t take me out on a boat, I’m happy for you to make the decision.”
As she went to tuck her hair behind one ear, her hand brushed his, sending a shot of electricity through him. Dangerous. Was it sensible to take her to the bonfire? He glanced over and saw there were others sitting around on blankets and loungers. At least they wouldn’t be alone.
“Okay.” He realized the woman selling jewelry was eavesdropping on their conversation. “After we finish looking at the jewelry, which I know you want to do for sure, let’s grab some dessert and take it down to the beach bonfire.”
“It sounds like the perfect end to a perfect day.”
It did his heart good to see her this happy. Makes we wonder what it would be like to spend every day with her…
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