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"Dad's baby shower gift," smiled Jake, for this was the first time he had seen it in person. "Let me try that remote, Abby."

With a sigh, Abby tossed him the remote and returned to the kitchen. If Jake was anything like her father and uncle, she knew what was coming next. At least the house could stand the added heat, anyway.

From his couch in the living room, Jake marveled at the ingenuity of the gas fireplace, and wondered how it managed to control the height of the flames with just a press of the remote button. The curious man would have gotten down on his hands and knees to get a closer look, but his broken ribs forbad it.

While Abby poured the broth into a large mug, she found it difficult to keep her robe on, for the house was beginning to heat up.

"Could you turn that thing down a little?" she shouted from the kitchen. "It's getting hot in here, Jake!"

"Sorry," came a low, muffled voice from the next room.

"Here's your soup," said Abby, silently resenting the romantic atmosphere of the living room as she brought him his mug. "Do you need anything else?"

"You're not going back to bed yet, are you?" he asked.

"Jake, it's after midnight," sighed Abby, in a tired voice. "Oh, I forgot to give you a straw with that broth."

"I don't need one," replied Jake. "Won't you stay with me for awhile, Abby?"

"What for?" she asked. "So you can spot your nightshirt again?" As soon as these words fell from her lips, Abby knew she had just delivered Jake a humiliating blow.

He dropped his head in shame, unable to speak or look up at her.

"Jake," she stammered, "I-- I can't believe I just said that! I'm sorry-- I really am. I didn't mean it."

"Yes, you did," he groaned heavily, resting the trembling mug on his knee. Jake waited for the pain in his chest to back off; the pain in his heart, however, was taking longer to go away.

"I'm sorry," repeated Abby, as tears started to wet her cheeks. "It's so hard for me to wait for you, Jake. I know it's no excuse for the hurtful thing I said, though. I must learn to exercise more patience."

Suddenly realizing what he was putting her through, Jake looked up at his beautiful wife. Even though his current state of health was holding him back from her, Jake knew it was a limited time only excuse. Months from now, he could easily imagine little else changing between them. Abby's confession that she was waiting for him, broke Jake's heart.

From the beginning, love was the one trap that Jake had hoped to avoid in this marriage. But prison had changed that, and her love had pulled him through unspeakable hell. It had been comparatively easy to say, "I love you," into a telephone, or through the stupor of sedatives, but to say it face to face to the woman he loved without the ability to even give her a simple hug-- Jake realized the unfair position he was placing Abby in.

"I had no right to come back," he apologized, hot tears stinging his brown eyes. "I thought we could go back to the way we were, but we can't. I'm so sorry, Abby. I never should have come back."

"Don't say that!" she wept, quickly going to his side and taking hold of his sleeve. "Don't ever say that, Jake! We're happy together, aren't we? Even if this is all we'll ever have, it'll be enough-- I promise, it will!"

Jake closed his eyes in torment, and pulled his arm free from her grasp.

"Please, leave me alone," he begged in a hushed voice.

"Do you forgive me?" she asked.

"Of course I do," breathed Jake. "Please, just go to bed, Abby."

Soberly, Abby got up from the couch and headed toward the hallway. After a few steps, she paused and looked back at Jake. The young man remained motionless on the couch, his eyes shut, deep in his own thoughts. With a heavy heart, Abby went to her room and closed the door. Dropping onto the bed, she wept into the pillow, trying unsuccessfully to smother the sounds of her anguish from Jake. She knew her husband had forgiven her, but this pain went much deeper than one cruel, careless remark. Jake already had so much to overcome in his life. Oh! why did she have to add to his troubles?

An hour and a half after Abby had cried herself to sleep, the front door of the little yellow house opened and then closed. As a solitary figure slowly climbed into an awaiting car, the snow began to fall from heaven, once more blanketing the ground with an icy mantle of white.

"I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me."
~ Song of Solomon 7:10 ~

end of chapter
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