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"What do you want, Jake?" she wondered.

"When I talked to your uncle this evening, the thought flashed through my mind that I might not always be like this," he explained. "And if you had no reason to help me anymore, then I would lose a good friend-- one I'm very fond of."

"Are you fond of me, Jake?" asked Abby. "I didn't know that."

"You see," said Jake, "I can't have the same kind of relationship your parents have. I can't offer you physical intimacy. The only thing I'm capable of is friendship, and I can't think of anyone who I want to share that with, more than you. I realize it sounds selfish of me, but when I thought I had something to offer you, I hoped it would make it a fair exchange. By the look on your face just now, you must think I'm crazy. One minute, I think it's possible, and the next... just forget I ever said anything."

"I have a problem, Jake," sighed Abby. "I can't forget it."

Jake looked at her disbelievingly.

"You don't mean to tell me, that you're actually contemplating it?" he asked, in a shocked voice.

"This goes deeper than a bunch of stilted paintings, or even a helping hand when your past overwhelms you," remarked Abby. "Your sketches told me that, tonight. But, I don't want you to take what I'm saying the wrong way. Jake, I'm not a sentimental or romantic person," she warned him. "You might as well know that right now. It's one of my biggest flaws, and I think that's one reason why my paintings lack the heart you say I don't have. I've been thinking, and if I say 'yes,' then I want to be sure that we have a clear understanding between us."

Jake was stunned silent.

"First of all," said Abby, "I don't love you-- at least, not the way my mother loves my father; I have parents that cuddle and coo at each other, and I'm here to tell you, that that's not going to happen with me-- which in your case, is probably a good thing. I do, however, feel a strong attachment to you. The fact that someone needs another, is a very alluring quality to any woman, so on that point I'm not very different than anyone else."

"But, do you need me?" wondered Jake.

"As someone who I could learn a lot from? Definitely. As a dear friend? I would have to say 'yes,'" confessed Abby. "Yes, I need a friend who understands me the way you seem to. We share a closeness that I've never had with anyone else, save my parents and Uncle Terry. Does that qualify us to get married? I don't know. Maybe this is the nearest that either one of us is ever going to get to love."

"Then, your answer is 'yes'?" asked Jake, his hand trembling as he inhaled another draft of tobacco.

"There's something else," continued Abby. "I don't think it's a good idea to plan on this arrangement being temporary. If I come over to your house every night, who's to say that something more isn't going on, but us? No, this marriage must be permanent."

"But," argued Jake, "I don't want to rob you of the chance to have a normal relationship with someone else."

"I wish you'd stop with this 'normal' business," sighed Abby. "I've already had a chance to marry someone who you would probably call 'normal,' and I turned him down."

"What about children?" he asked. "You realize that you could never have any."

"I know," smiled Abby. "I'm willing to die a childless virgin."

"Do you know what you're saying?" Jake asked, frankly.

"I understand," she answered, "that we'd be getting married out of mutual respect and friendship based on the love of God. We do share that, you know. If you weren't a Christian, I would never accept your proposal."

"Are you sure you want to take me on, Abby?" hesitated Jake. "Tyler hasn't gone off to college yet. You could still marry him. I'm sure he'd be a lot easier to get along with."

"I don't love, Tyler," replied Abby.
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