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Summer Smith laced up her running shoes and headed outside. This was her last Tuesday as a single woman. Soon she would join the Davis family as Ben’s wife. She could still scarcely believe that the tiny Texas town of Sweet Grove had become the setting of her real-life happily ever after.
She’d only meant to stay for the summer, both to help her aunt Iris run the small flower shop in town and to figure out what she wanted most from life. As a little girl, she’d pictured herself jet-setting all over the world in search of her next great adventure. Funny how the greatest adventure of all had been falling in love—not just with Ben, but with the town, its people, and with the God she now understood worked miracles.
She jogged past Ernie’s on her way to the old orchard that lay to the north of town. The little German restaurant had been the scene of her first date with Ben—a date that had been so uncomfortably formal she never could have guessed they’d one day end up here, on their way to the altar, their way to forever.
Turning into the park, Summer felt as if she could run for days without stopping. When her fiancé had first invited her to hit the trails with him, she’d laughed off his suggestion. But when he asked a second time and then a third, she decided she might as well give it a shot. Summer had always kept a healthy diet, but she’d never been the type to exercise for fun. Not until she found a new kind of exhilaration in racing Ben through town in the mornings and watching as all of Sweet Grove woke up to begin a new day.
Soon she and Ben would wake up for each day together, a thought that both thrilled and terrified her. She was going to be somebody’s wife! And not just anybody, but the somebody she loved most in the entire world. Ben often liked to claim that she had saved his life, but he failed to see that he had saved hers right back. After all, a life without purpose wasn’t much of a life at all.
Now she had her dream job as the editor for the Sweet Grove Sentinel, a close-knit group of friends who still met every Thursday night for karaoke, and a home that suited her perfectly. And her groom-to-be had also discovered how much he already had to be thankful for. He said it was because her mixed-up flower delivery had stopped him from taking his own life, but now they both knew that it was God who had saved Ben that day.
“Ben!” she called, spotting him standing on the bridge farther down the path.
“There’s my bride!”
“A bride in running shoes and spandex? Sure.” Summer giggled and returned Ben’s kisses.
“Why not? Maybe I don’t want to wait. Maybe I want to marry you right here, right now.” He nipped at her lip playfully before pulling back and smiling down at her.
“Just a few more days to go.” She laced her fingers through Ben’s and stood with him at the edge of the bridge looking out over the creek. Two of her favorite memories had happened right here where they stood now. First they’d made their promises to themselves that they would no longer be afraid of life, and then a few months later, they’d made a promise to each other when Ben had asked her to marry him in front of the entire town.
As she watched the soft ripples move below, she couldn’t picture being any happier than she was now in this moment, in all the moments with Ben.
Ben traced kisses across her neck and mumbled, “What am I going to do without you?”
“It’s only for a few days.”
“I can barely get through an afternoon without seeing you, and now you’re asking me to spend four whole days without you?” A wicked grin crossed his face, and he said, “What if I refuse?”
She turned away when he tried to kiss her. “C’mon, Ben. It’s hard for me, too. But you know it will make our big day even more special.”
“I’m marrying my dream girl,” he said. “Nothing could be more special than that.”
She was about to argue, but he raised a finger to her lips and said, “But I’ll do whatever I have to do to make my bride happy.”
“You’ve been talking with Pastor Bernie,” she said with a laugh.
“Happy wife, happy life,” he mimicked in a spot-on impression of the First Street Church minister.
The thing was, Summer already felt happier than she ever thought she could be. If this was the way the rest of her life would play out, too . . . well, that would just be heaven on earth.
* * *
Ben scooped Summer into his arms and carried her away from the bridge.
“What are you doing?” She wrapped her arms around his neck and stared at him lovingly as he brought her over to the picnic breakfast he had set up deeper into the orchard.
“Practicing carrying you over the threshold,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Well, good job.” She laughed and gave him a quick peck before hopping from his arms and back to a standing position of her own.
“It’s not quite breakfast in bed, but, hey, what can you do?” Ben said as they both settled onto the sheet he’d spread out under a nearby tree that was full of beautiful pink blooms.
“Does this mean breakfast in bed is something I can look forward to in the future?” she asked, opening the drawstring bag Ben had packed and pulling out a pair of apple turnovers he’d purchased from Jack Bryant’s mill on the way in.
“Yup, you’ll be living the high life once you’re Mrs. Davis,” he answered with a wink.
“Mmm, I like the sound of that.” She took a big bite of the pastry and let out a moan. “And the taste of this. Mmm.”
“Stop making me crazy, please. It’s been hard enough waiting nearly a year to make you mine. You making all those cute noises does not help.”
“Mmm, mmm,” Summer said with a laugh. “So yummy!”
“Okay, that’s it!” He took her turnover away and placed it on a napkin, then pushed her down onto the sheet and covered her face and neck with kisses.
“Mr. Davis, I’m scandalized!” she cried, bringing a hand to her chest and making a ridiculous face. That was Summer, though. Any excuse to show off her “actressing” skills.
He held his weight on each of his arms as he stared down at Summer, whose brown hair lay fanned out in soft waves The blonde highlights mixed throughout caught the sun and shone like gold. “I’d wait an eternity for you, but that doesn’t mean I’d like it.”
Summer held up her hands and wiggled her fingers playfully. “Four more days, but if you’re going to misbehave I suppose we could put off the wedding until next year.”
Ben scrambled back, putting a good foot of distance between himself and his fiancée. “I’m the perfect gentleman, see!” he insisted.
She laughed and shook her head. “Yes, you are. Now give me my apple thingy back, please.”
“Fine, you win.”
“Happy wife, happy life,” they both said at the same time and then broke apart in laughter again. Summer scooted over on the sheet until their hips were touching and then gave Ben a kiss on his cheek.
“I love you,” she said.
“I loved you first.”
“Oh, so now it’s a competition?”
“If you really want a competition, then race me to the well.”
He eyed her with a half-cocked grin. “What do I get if I win?”
“To marry me,” she answered pertly, shoving the rest of the pastry into her mouth and then licking her fingers.
“And if I lose?”
“To marry me,” she said again. That was his Summer, the eternal optimist. She showed him that life didn’t have to be all black or white. It could be rose-colored, too.
He grinned at her, knowing he’d easily win the race but that he’d probably let her win, anyway. “Okay, then you’re on.”
Ben stood and began to pack up their picnic, but before he could finish, Summer took off like a shot.
“No fair!” he cried, running after her.
“Fair is for losers,” she called as he picked up speed and passed her.
“What was that?” he yelled over his shoulder. “I couldn’t hear you from so far away.”
He kept his pace steady so that he finished just narrowly ahead of Summer. He loved how much she was getting into jogging these past few months, but he still had years of conditioning on her.
“I win,” he pointed out as he dropped his bag on the hill and stood with Summer in front of the old wishing well.
“Okay, fine, so you get to marry me.”
“Awesome,” he said.
“Awesome,” she said, reaching into her sock and pulling out a shiny pair of pennies.
“What’s this for?” he asked.
She looked from him to the well and back again. “Umm, do I really have to explain what to do at a wishing”—she forced an exaggerated series of coughs—“well?”
“Ha ha, very funny. But did it ever occur to you that maybe I already have everything I ever wished for?”
If her face wasn’t already red from the run, Ben was sure his words would have brought fresh color to her cheeks. “Just make a wish, Ben,” she said, hitting him playfully.
“How about you make two?” he suggested.
She raised both pennies and studied them in the sunlight. “Hmm, I had one, but I don’t think I can think of a second.”
“See?” He gloated. “When life gives you lemonade, it’s hard to think of the lemons.”
“I don’t think that’s how the saying goes.”
“Will you feel better if I make a wish?” he asked with a laugh.
“Okay, then.” He took one of the pennies from her, still unable to think of a wish he’d like to make for himself. So, instead, he wished that his mother might find happiness like this again one day for herself.
“Ready?” Summer asked.
He nodded, and together they both tossed their wishes down into the old well. He prayed his would come true sooner rather than later, feeling a moment of sadness when he thought of his mother’s suffering over the years.
But then Summer was running back toward the orchard, laughing and teasing him—and it was hard to remember that there had ever been any sadness in his life. Or to imagine that there’d ever be any again.
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