Out of the Woods

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Since the fire was dying down and the room was becoming chilly, Evan knew he would have to leave her momentarily. Over the past few hours he had lain with the girl, his body heat warming her to ward off hypothermia. After finding her unconscious in the snow, in the time since, he had thought of little more than who she was and how she might have gotten onto his property.

His cabin was miles from any highway, so he had to figure she had gotten stranded and saw the smoke from his chimney. She had done just as he taught his students in survival classes to do. Surprisingly, she had nearly made it, only missing him by about a mile. Fortunate for her he had been out checking traps after the worst of the blizzard was over. If not, she would have never lived, a thought that caused him to shiver after his earlier fight to bring her back to life. By the time he had gotten her back to his cabin, she had stopped breathing. The fact that she survived at all was purely by God’s hand. Evan shook his head still in amazement over that moment when she began to breathe.

When he had removed her wet outerwear, he noticed that she wore a delicate silver cross around her neck, a believer he presumed. Clearly, God still had a plan for this pretty little blond who was just beginning to stir beside him.

“It’s okay. You’re out of the woods now.” He spoke softly as he smiled at his own play on words.

Understanding that she must be confused and wondering where she was, Evan moved from the mattress. Once he was in between her and the fire where he could see her face, he smiled at her. She opened her eyes and looked at him, then quickly closed them again.

“You have nothing to fear. I found you out in the snow and brought you here to warm you.”

She peeked one eye open. “My car broke down, and I saw your smoke.”

“You did the right thing. It saved your life.”

In the northern woods of Minnesota, a stalled car in a snowstorm could easily turn deadly. Because of the remote location, had she stayed in the car, she would have frozen to death long before another car happened along.

“What are you doing way out here?”

“Looking for someone.”

“Who?”

“Jerald Dwyer.”

“Jerry lives over twenty miles from here.”

“I was using GPS and followed every turn correctly. I don’t know what happened.”

He just shook his head. “You’re lucky – or blessed rather.”

Realizing he hadn’t told her before, he said, “I’m Evan.”

“I’m Macy.”

She tried to sit up but fell back again in her weakened state.

“Don’t.” Evan reached out to keep her from moving. “Just rest for now.”

When he drew nearer, he saw for the first time how pretty her eyes were, bluish green framed by thick dark lashes. The way she looked up at him caused his breath to catch in his chest momentarily. Her eyes were kind and her expression tender.

“Are you in any pain?”

“Yes.” She reached for her chest. “I must have fallen.”

That wasn’t it at all. Evan blinked hard, still able to see her lifeless body as he had desperately performed CPR.

“Macy.” He sat on the edge of the mattress and pulled the blanket back up over her shoulder. “I had to resuscitate you. You likely have a few broken ribs.”

His words lingered in the air for a moment until finally she whispered, “I was dead?”

“By the time I got you here, you had no pulse.”

“It’s all so foggy. I barely remember those moments before I collapsed.” She blinked long and hard. “How long have I been here?”

“Nearly six hours.”

He could only grin as he watched her lift the blanket and peek at herself. She let out a little gasp at the fact that she wasn’t wearing her own clothes.

“I had to get you out of your wet clothes. I promise, I looked only as much as I needed to help you. I’m not a perv. I’m a paramedic, or at least I was, and a firefighter.”

“You saved my life.”

“Almost. I’ll send you a bill.

“Can I get you anything? I have some soup I can warm for you.”

“Do you mind?”

“Of course not. I haven’t had company for dinner in years.”

***

Macy was trying to piece together what had happened. Slowly, it was coming to mind, all she had endured out in the cold. The entire time she had been certain she would die alone out in the bitter cold. She had never experienced anything like it. Rather than feeling terrified as she would have expected, she instead found herself talking to God in a new way. Every moment she felt only closer to Him and just assumed that was what it must feel like to be dying. Instead, she was only coming to understand, He was guiding her, sustaining her every step of the way. The more she considered it, she had to wonder if God hadn’t actually carried her part of the way, not in the spiritual sense as people often speak of God carrying them. Evan’s cabin was still miles away the last time she had gotten her bearings, at least three miles. There was no way she could have walked that far in the shape she was in. Maybe she was just confused.

Ignoring his continued protests, Macy sat up, wincing in pain all the while, and looked around. The place was small, even for just one person. In a not-so-far-off corner was a recliner and small side table. She noticed a stack of books on the floor and several on the table, one open and lying face down. It explained what Evan did with his time, locked away in the frozen tundra. There was a Bible there resting on the arm of the chair, surprising to her for some reason.

Diagonally across from the sitting area was the small kitchen with old appliances and a two-seater table. When a coffee pot caught her eye, she asked, “Do you have coffee?”

“I always have coffee, but you need clear liquids first. I will make us a pot while you drink plenty of water.”

After he brought her a glass of water and went back to warm her soup, Macy sipped slowly and continued to look around. Across from her, she could see just inside the single bedroom where a bed frame sat empty since the mattress she sat on was placed near the fire. Everything everywhere was spotless, certainly not what you would expect from a single man tucked so far away into the woods.

“You were once a firefighter. What are you now, the Unabomber?”

Smiling at that, Evan turned to her. “Nothing quite so sinister. I’m an outfitter.”

“Hmm. That’s interesting. So you help people get dressed?” She knew better.

Evan chuckled. “That’s it exactly.”

***

After they had eaten, the two sat together on the mattress and talked. Evan asked many questions and found Macy to be a relatively open book. She had worked for a bank for the past six years and was on a mission to find the relative of one of her deceased customers. That was what had landed her in his neck of the woods.

“Why did you come in person? Do banks do that? I thought they just sent letters.”

“It was personal for me. Ellen, Mr. Dwyer’s sister, was the sweetest little lady.” Macy paused. “I don’t know, for her sake, I guess I thought her brother should know there was an account there with his name on it.

“She said he lived near the Canadian border. I know it was foolish of me to come, but my greatest fear was that he had no way of knowing that his little sister was gone.” Macy looked down. “I wanted to make sure someone knew and cared.”

“You have a good heart.”

Evan had watched her face as she spoke and found such tenderness in her eyes. Now, with her hair all dry and pulled back into a messy bun, he found himself often staring at her, at how delicate the curve of her cheek was and how her eyes widened when she told of her death-defying trip through the woods in search of his cabin.

Even still, he could hardly believe Macy was doing as well as she was. There was no real explanation for it, considering what had transpired just hours before. He had never prayed as hard for anyone in his life as he had for this stranger. During the compressions, when it seemed most hopeless, he found himself literally crying out to God to save her. More than anything, he needed to save her, as if somehow that might redeem him from his past failure.

Lost in thought, Evan missed what she had just said. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“Tell me more about you. I suppose you take people hunting and fishing?”

“I do. And hiking. I also lead survival classes.”

“Sounds like just one step away from Unabomber status.”

“You aren’t the first person to say that.”

Everyone thought he was crazy. Since he had left the city three years before, not one of his friends had supported his decision. No one understood. Since he had no family left, this was an easy transition, just to leave and never look back.

“Whose land is this? Do you work for someone as an outfitter?”

“Mine. It was my granddad’s. He left it to me when he died ten years ago.”

“So you left your firefighter job for this?”

Evan had had enough of talking about himself. “Something like that.”

He stood. “You probably need to get some sleep. You keep the mattress out here near the fire. I will come back out in a few hours and add some wood. Just call me if you need anything.”

“Where will you sleep?”

“I can roll out a sleeping bag in the bedroom.”

Without saying much else, Evan grabbed a book from the table by the recliner and his Bible and went into the bedroom.

 

When Macy began to stir the next morning, Evan watched her from his seat at the kitchen table. He hadn’t been up long and was trying to remain quiet so that he didn’t disturb her. After what she had gone through, rest was what she needed most. He figured they had at least another day – before it would be wise to take her into town on his snowmobile – maybe two. The wind chill was so extremely low that he didn’t dare expose her body to it. She would be better off indoors for a while more.

“I’m sorry,” Macy said.

He stood and moved toward the coffee pot. “For what?”

“I must have asked the wrong question last night. I didn’t mean to pry. I was just being friendly.”

“I know. I’m the one who should be sorry. I shouldn’t have walked out on you that way.”

Macy watched as Evan poured them each a cup of coffee. “I see you’ve shaved. Now you’re much less Unabomber and more Bear Grylls.”

He grinned at that. “I don’t have company much. I figured a good shave couldn’t hurt.”

Truth was, she was much prettier than his usual fishing and hiking clients, so cleaning up a bit seemed warranted. Rarely was he in the presence of a girl, especially one so near his own age. He would guess her to be in her late twenties, a few years younger than him.

“You will need to stay a while longer. I don’t think it would be good for you to face the cold today. There’s no cell reception here, so we can’t call for help.”

“I understand. I don’t know that I feel much like traveling now anyway.”

“Do you play cards?”

“Some. What do you have in mind?”

***

Over the next few hours, they sat and played cards and talked. Macy couldn’t think of a time when she had enjoyed herself as much. Evan was bright and funny and surprisingly gentle for an outdoorsman. He spoke softly and was constantly concerned if she was feeling okay and if she needed anything to be more comfortable.

They discovered they had read many of the same books since they both liked spy thrillers. Conversation came easily, and rarely was there a lull. Hopping from one topic to the next, they laughed nearly as much as they talked. Macy found that she could easily be herself with Evan. As was normal for her, she teased him often and laughed each time at his reaction. He would become quiet, as if looking for a way to tease her back. Then he would just shrug and say, “I’ve got nothing.” There was something about him that reminded her of her dad, how lighthearted he was.

Considering she had been dead just yesterday, she was having a wonderful time. That thought made her smile to herself, and she couldn’t wait to drop that line when given the chance.

It wasn’t lost on her how intentionally little Evan spoke about his past, so she was careful not to ask again. His recent past didn’t seem to be off limits since he told story after story of some of his most exceptional moments as an outfitter. Not only were his stories entertaining, but with the way he told them, she often found herself wishing she could join him for an adventure. That wasn’t like her. She was a city girl through and through.

“Do you think you could teach a city girl like me survival skills?”

“I could easily teach you. The fact that you’re here proves you have good instincts.”

“Where did you learn?”

“My granddad. He raised me here – not here in this cabin. The old place burned down after he died. He and I used to stay out in the woods all the time when I was growing up. Then I served four years in the army. I learned much there, too.”

As tempted as she was to ask more, she didn’t dare. Instead, she settled for, “It seems you’ve found your calling.”

“I suppose you could say that.” He paused. “How about you? Is working at a bank your calling?”

“Hardly.” She rolled her eyes. “I got on there after college and just never left. Nothing else ever seemed any better, so I just stuck around. It’s solid.”

“And safe?”

She nodded. “Yes, it’s about as safe as you can get.”

“Nothing else? You’ve never wanted to do anything in particular?”

She thought a minute or at least pretended to. “Nothing.”

In her mind she knew that wasn’t at all true. She had always wanted to be a mom. Not that she was too old for that now, but it seemed less likely with every passing year. She was only twenty-eighty, but somehow motherhood felt like something that might never happen. There was that little husband glitch that was holding her up. No matter how hard she had tried to settle, no man ever seemed like the forever type.

Evan grimaced. “I have a feeling you’re holding back on me, but I understand keeping a few things next to the vest.”

***

The day went on just as the morning. While they tired of cards eventually, they still just sat and talked. Evan couldn’t remember the last time he had talked so much – maybe never. There was no one he had ever hit it off with this way, especially a woman. He had dated, a few serious relationships before leaving the city, but this was different. Macy was just exceptional, and something about her brought out the real him, the guy he used to be.

“You wear a cross. Are you a believer?” As intimate as the gesture seemed, Evan reached for her necklace and lifted it into his hand as she looked down.

“I am a believer.” She looked back up at him. “Are you?”

He lowered her cross. “I am. My granddad was preacher and talked of little but Jesus my entire life.”

“My dad is still a preacher and talks of Jesus nearly as much as fishing.”

Evan smiled at that. “I could see that.”

She narrowed her brows. “See what?”

“I can see you being a preacher’s kid, something about your temperament.” He smiled. “Not a preacher’s kid.”

Macy laughed. “No, I’ve never been wild.”

“It’s obvious you were raised by a man who loves God.”

“It’s obvious you were, too.”

He felt it then, some little spark. There had been flickers before, but now, he felt a spark of attraction, not just on his part but hers, too. When she quickly looked away after her last statement, he caught a trace of embarrassment. Up until this moment their interactions had been as strangers. That wasn’t the case anymore.

“Are you seeing anyone?” More than anything he hoped to hear the word no.

“No.”

He grinned. “Me either.”

“Call me psychic, but I could have guessed that.” She giggled.

“What? There’s a town close by. There are women there.”

“If you say so.”

Evan liked the way she laughed so easily. “Two women and both are over sixty.”

“Cougars are a thing now.”

“I’m considering the short one with two teeth. She’s been sending signals.”

That made Macy fall over laughing and crying out in pain. Just as she had all day, she still sat on the mattress in front of the fire, and Evan sat, not on the mattress but close by. For a minute she just lay there looking over at him.

Macy sighed softly. “I was engaged once.”

By the look on her face, he could see it wasn’t a good ending. “He was an idiot to let you go.”

“Of course he was.” She grinned and sat up again. “It’s better that it ended when it did. Honestly, I didn’t love him enough to marry him.”

“Then why were you engaged?”

“I don’t know. I guess I felt the pressure of getting older. I wanted kids. He was comfortable.”

“And safe?”

“Yes, safe.”

“Why did you break up?”

“He wanted to set a date, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was never fair to him.” She paused before adding, “I think I liked the idea of being engaged more than married.”

“I’m not safe, Macy.”

“I have no doubt in my mind about that.”

The room was suddenly charged with more than a flicker, there was a current flowing between the two.

Evan moved closer to where she sat. “If I lived in the city, I would chase after you.”

“If you lived in the city, I would probably allow myself to be caught.”

Wondering if she actually meant that, he asked, “What if I showed up at your door someday?”

“That would mean you would have to come out of the woods.”

“Good point. I don’t see that happening.”

As much fun as their banter had been, it all stopped there. They were at an impasse, and he knew it.

“This is my granddad’s legacy I’m living out. I never should have left in the first place. Or at least after the army I should have come home.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I think I had a hero complex.” Evan looked into the fire. “My parent’s died in a fire when I was just a kid – too young to remember. That’s why I was raised here.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“All my life I thought of nothing else but being a firefighter. My granddad supported me.” Evan smiled sadly, missing the old guy as much as ever. “He would have supported anything I wanted to do. Deep down, though, I knew he wanted me to stay here.”

He stood and moved to toss in another log. Staring into the fire, he admitted, “I wish I would have stayed. Instead, I cost a man his life.”

“That’s when you came back here?”

“Yes.”

Hesitant, she said, “If you want to share more, I will listen.”

“Maybe another time. Thank you for offering, though.”

“Evan?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you realize if you had never been trained as a firefighter, you wouldn’t have been able to save me?”

He could only think back to that last second before she started breathing on her own. He had given up on her.

“Honestly, Macy, I don’t know that I had much to do with saving you.”

***

When it was near midnight, Evan went off to his room, leaving Macy there before the fire. Her mind was much too full of all the things he had said to drift off to sleep. Carrying the burden of a man’s death wasn’t something she could even fathom. The fact that it had caused him to escape the city for such a lonesome way of life spoke volumes of the weight he bore. She could only pray for him.

As much as she wanted her prayers to be selfless and for his best, instead she couldn’t help but ask God to heal Evan enough so that he would come out of the woods. More than anything, she wanted him to come to the city and chase after her. Without question, she would allow herself to be caught.

***

After a pleasant and talkative morning over a warm bowl of oatmeal and coffee, Macy found herself at such ease with Evan that she often lost sight of the fact that she had nearly died just the day before. That should have her shaken up much more than she was.

“The temperature will be high enough to get you into town.” Evan handed her a refill on her coffee.

“It’ll be slow going considering your condition. This is rough terrain, so with cracked ribs, it will be painful for you.

“It would be best if you stayed longer, but I imagine you’re family is worried. Especially since no one knew you were heading this way, they won’t begin to know where to look for you.

“Plus, you should be checked out by a doctor.”

Macy nodded and then sat there for a moment. Oddly enough, she didn’t want to go. This was one of the most… She pondered, wondering what words might best capture her feelings about her time with Evan: intriguing, adventurous – she smiled to herself – heart stopping and heart pounding. That was what Evan did to her now, made her heart pound painfully hard against her cracked ribs. What irony in every aspect of that.

Evan slid his chair next to hers. “When those ribs of yours heal up and the spring thaw comes, want to come back out for an adventure?”

Glowing inside, heart thumping hard and causing her to wince in literal pain, she leaned in. “What kind of adventure?”

“Hiking, fishing, whatever you want. Bring your dad and we can talk about Jesus and fishing.”

 

For lunch they shared a frozen pizza and then Macy watched Evan as he began to get ready for the trip into town. Considering the extreme cold, he made her wear coveralls over her clothes and still another jacket and his parka. She was so well insulated she would never even feel the cold.

Once she was loaded onto his snowmobile, they set off through the dense woods as a shortcut instead of following his long and winding driveway.

All along the way, Macy held tightly to Evan, every bump jarring her enough to make her nearly cry.

Every so often he would stop and turn to her, making sure she was surviving the ride. His concern for her was so sweet that she actually once did cry. Of course not when he was stopped and looking at her but once they had resumed. The thought of never seeing this man again, the stranger who had become an instant friend, was terribly sad. She wanted anything except for this time with him to be over.

What an insane thought! She knew it. If she were on the outside looking in, she would tell herself that it was merely her way of dodging commitment, her normal way of steering clear of a real relationship. To develop feelings for a man who lived three hours away was certainly playing it safe.

But since she was on the inside looking in, she knew better. There was something about Evan that was different. He had captivated her so completely that she felt nearly woozy in his presence. There was something about those two days together that caused her to feel a sense of peace like she had never known. Tucked so far away in the woods with no distractions gave her time to focus on nothing but him.

His way of life was quiet and serene, two words that described him as well. His manner made her feel calm in a way she didn’t normally. With her harried lifestyle, this had been the most relaxing days – considering she had died, of course.

As they rode along, Macy could only watch in awe as they wound their way through the woods and to the highway. Pines laden heavy with snow created such a picturesque scene around her that she could more easily understand why Evan loved the place as much as he did. They had passed a large lake nearby the cabin, and with the layer of ice on top with snow mounding around the edges, she was certain it was one of the most beautiful places in Minnesota.

Finally, when they drew nearer to the small town she had driven through on the way out, Macy found she was disappointed. No matter the pain of the journey, she could have held to Evan’s waist and traveled through the countryside all afternoon. Dressed as warmly as she was, not feeling the effects of the cold, she had been content to snuggle next to this man and simply sigh over God’s magnificent landscape.

 

The moment was oddly sad. Macy had known the man not time at all, yet here they were in the midst of a painful goodbye. She sensed he felt the same.

From the moment he had led her into the small gas station and introduced her to the short, heavyset woman behind the counter, Evan had seemed as full of regret as she at the fact that she was leaving. Of course he winked during the introduction, making sure Macy understood that this was his “cougar.” She had chuckled at that, but even his attempt at humor couldn’t change this ridiculous sadness she was feeling at leaving him.

“Here’s my number.” She slipped the paper into his hands.

The sheriff was there and would be taking her back to the city. Her parents had been called already. Now this was it, the end of her time with Evan.

“I will call to see how you’re doing, what the doctors say.”

“Evan…” She trailed off. Saying thank you hardly seemed like enough. “You saved me.”

“God saved you. He just happened to use me to crack a few ribs.”

Before she stepped into the car, Evan reached for her hand and pulled her gently to him. When he wrapped his arms around her and she nestled into his chest, she felt him sigh softly.

“I will be praying for you, Evan.” Macy looked up at him and smiled. “You can count on that.”

Evan rested his forehead on hers. “I will be praying for you, Macy. You can count on that.”

***

After watching Macy pull away, Evan stood wishing he had said more, something to let her know he was changed by their encounter, but words had failed him. Since he hardly understood what had taken place within him, how could he have possibly expressed it? All he knew was that this encounter with her was also a direct encounter with God Himself. He felt it all the way down in his spirit. Truly, it all defied explanation.

 

Part Two

Over the course of the next few weeks, Macy heard from Evan at least twice a week. After the first call, where he called to see how she was feeling and let her know he had gotten in touch with Mr. Dwyer, the tone of his calls changed. What was developing between them went beyond any friendship and quickly became a long distance relationship.

Since she had never found the forever type of guy, she hadn’t experienced with anyone what she was experiencing in Evan’s absence. All day every day she wondered what he was doing. Lost in daydreams more than living in her reality, Macy found she could hardly keep her mind on work. She made mistake after mistake but could hardly even feel bad about it. Instead, her mind would just slip off again, trying to envision the scene as she sat with Evan laughing and talking and playing cards.

Never before meeting him had she had a sense that she belonged with someone. Now, it was beyond a sense – she knew. Every waking moment she knew. The more they talked, the more she knew he knew.

Each time he called, even from that very first time, Macy’s heart would race from the moment she answered until long after they hung up. He did something to her, caused a reaction within that no other man ever had.

What hindered them, though, was his reluctance to come out to the woods. Whatever had happened when his partner was killed in the line of duty continued to weigh on him and hold him captive to his current off-the-grid life. Daily, her prayer was that he would find a way to forgive himself and live in freedom.

***

It was time, Thursday evening after work, and Macy was waiting. This night was usually Evan’s second call of the week. She sat with her phone in hand willing it to ring. When it did and she jumped at the sound, she answered the phone laughing.

“Hello.”

“You’re in a good mood.”

“Of course I’m in a good mood.”

He hesitated only briefly. “I hope that has something to do with me.”

Softly she said, “It has everything to do with you.”

“I was hoping you would say that.”

Over the next few minutes, they talked about the little things, how each other’s days had been. As usual, Evan had little to report, but Macy was able to give him a play by play of her past few work days, mostly ones of cranky customers and difficult co-workers.

“I remember now why I live in the woods. I have only God as my boss and the heavens as my ceiling. No way would I ever want to go back to a normal work life.

“Why do you stick with that job?”

“I’m not sure what else I would do. Besides, I’m anticipating a promotion within the next year. I stand a good chance of getting a manager’s position at a branch of my own.”

“Or you could quit all that and become a girl outfitter. The pay is terrible and the cold brutal, but everything else is pure joy.”

Laughing out loud at that, Macy countered back. “Even better, you could give up being an outfitter and move back to the city.”

“And leave the glamor of this life? No way.”

Macy’s heart sank at his words, and she wondered what in the world she was thinking. Why would she allow herself to continue on in what was obviously a going-nowhere relationship. Wasn’t that just like her, though?

“I guess we remain at an impasse.”

Evan paused for an unusually long period of time before saying, “I guess we do.”

As much as both had stayed light-hearted about the conversation, Macy knew he was fishing just as much as she was. Each hoped that the other may be willing to make a change.

For her part that simply wasn’t possible. She had a job and responsibilities. Evan had only a little cabin, not much to walk away from.

A few moments more they talked about less troubling topics, wisely, both steering clear of who should give up their life and move. They really were at an impasse.

After a long pause in the conversation, Evan began, hesitated, and then began again. “Macy, I’ve been feeling something lately.”

“What?”

“Lonely. I was never lonely before you.”

She was quiet for a few seconds. “And I’ve never had the sense of belonging like I feel with you.”

“I’m not sure how we move forward with this.”

“I’m not sure either.”

“Maybe we don’t.” He sighed. “I don’t like the thought of that, though.”

Tears filled Macy’s eyes at the thought of a too-soon ending of a beautiful beginning. “I don’t either.”

He cleared his throat but still croaked out his next words. “I suppose we should take some time and pray about it.”

“Okay.” It was all she could do to keep from crying.

“I will call you in a few days.”

“Okay.”

Once she hung up the phone, Macy sat staring into space, wondering how the call had left off in such a terrible place. The fact that he admitted that he had never been lonely before her was a surprising revelation, one that assured her his feelings were deep and real. Then everything fell apart. Next thing she knew they were agreeing to pray to see if they even had a future. The shock of the call finally wore off, leaving her feeling terribly down. For once she had found the right guy, but he just happened to be in the wrong place.

How could she fix that? What could she do to convince him to move back to the city? All of her life she had been a truly resourceful girl. With enough thought and planning and the right way to convince him, surely she could talk him into at least giving it a try. Wasn’t that better than going their separate ways already?

By the tone of his voice, he didn’t like the idea of walking away any more than she did. She would pray alright. Just as she had been, she would keep pestering God until He changed Evan’s heart.

***

Evan sat with his phone in hand, still a little surprised by the direction the call had taken. It hadn’t been his plan at all and certainly wasn’t what he wanted. More than anything, though, he knew it was unwise to continue on. Deep down, he knew he couldn’t simply walk away from his land. It was more than land; it was his granddad’s place. It was every good memory he ever had scattered across those acres. How could he possibly walk away from that?

During the drive home, all Evan could think of was how crazy this was, feeling this way about a woman he had spent only two days with. Still, crazy or not, it was happening, a sense of sliding down a slippery slope. Craziest of all, no matter what he said about praying about their relationship, he didn’t think he wanted to stop his descent and wasn’t even trying to put on the brakes.

Nearing the gate to his drive, Evan slowed down as if to turn but then kept driving. When the road widened enough to allow for it, he turned around and made the thirty minute drive back into town. The moment he reached a place where his phone had reception, he pulled off the road and dialed Macy’s number.

“Hello.” She answered quickly.
“I prayed all the way home.”

“And?”

“And I didn’t get a direction really, but I sure did get a wait and see where things take us.”

Sighing softly, she whispered, “That’s what I want too. I don’t want to give up on us yet.”

He hesitated, wondering if he should say what he was thinking. Finally, he admitted, “I don’t want to give up on us ever.”

“I like your version better.”

Evan smiled, knowing that she was smiling too. “Let’s not call it an impasse. Instead, we can see what new paths may open up to us.”

“I agree.”

“So I can still call you then?”

“Of course you can. I want you to.”

“We will figure this thing out. We have to.”

***

A week later, Evan made the trip into the city with only one thing in mind – seeing Macy. Phone calls weren’t enough these days. He wanted to see her expression when she laughed and feel the touch of her hand in his. Daily, he only missed her more. The silence that used to keep him company now only seemed to mock him in his misery. He was unimaginably lonely without her. Upon waking that morning, his only thought had been to see her. While he had no campers due for a few days, Evan intended to spend some needed time with Macy.

That phone call the night they both admitted they weren’t sure how to carve out a future together had unsettled him so much – maybe woken him up was the better way of looking at it. Driving home that night after they spoke that first time was one of the worst feelings he had ever known. The closer he got to home, the more he dreaded being there alone. Maybe that was telling him something.

On the way to Macy’s place, though he had no intention of it, when he approached the exit where the fire hall was, Evan found himself veering off the highway. The trip through town took him directly beside the business complex where the fire had happened, his last job as a firefighter. To look at the place now, you would never know there had been a fire the size of the one that had killed Pete and injured three others. Seeing the place that day didn’t make Evan feel as he would have expected. He felt less responsible than usual, a feeling that wouldn’t likely last long. He knew where the blame rested for what had happened that night.

On his first approach, Evan continued on, passing the entrance to the fire hall. Trying to convince himself there was no purpose to the visit, he drove another few blocks before turning around. This time he reluctantly turned in, regretting it the moment he came to a stop and shifted into park. If not for being spotted by an old co-worker, he would have turned around and left. Before he knew it, though, several others had joined them in the parking lot.

Soon enough, his captain came out and then asked Evan to come inside to talk. This wasn’t at all what he had intended. The last thing he wanted was to talk, but so he wouldn’t seem rude, Evan complied and followed Stan into the building and to his office. Once alone with the door closed, Stan took a seat.

“I’ve tried to call you.”

Evan hesitated a moment, merely looking at his old friend. Stan’s dark brown skin showed off his dazzling white teeth, a familiar sight, one that took him back. The man was always smiling, always pleased to see him. That’s what Evan remembered most about him.

“I know, sir.” Having no good excuse to give, he could only look away as he shifted from one foot to the other.

“Sit down, son. We’ve needed to talk this out. I don’t like how we left things.”

As Evan took a seat, he thought back to the day he had told Stan about being on painkillers. Because of it, if he had stayed, Stan would have had no choice but to have proceeded with disciplinary action. Since he stepped down, however, Stan never even documented the conversation. That was in his first of many messages.

“I’ve left messages, hoping you might at least acknowledge what I shared with you.”

“I got your messages, sir.” Evan paused. “I’m sorry. It’s just been easier making a clean break.”

“I gave you the facts, son. It wasn’t your fault. The builder was found negligent in the roof collapse. And it wasn’t only you in there chasing after Pete. The other crew was nearly killed because of Pete’s reckless behavior. If anyone’s to blame, it was me for not getting a handle on Pete. I knew how he was.”

“It wasn’t your fault, sir, ” Evan insisted.

“And it wasn’t yours. If you would have been even a foot closer that night, you would have died along with your partner.”

Unable to speak, Evan only nodded.

Something happened in Evan that never had before. Every other time that was mentioned, how close he had come to dying along with Pete, Evan had always believed he should have. Today, though, for the first time, a rush of wind escaped him. Relief was all he could feel. Had he not survived, he would have never been there to save Macy. She would have died that night, all alone out in the woods. There would have been no chimney smoke to follow, no outfitter there checking his traps.

That thought so stunned him, that Evan barely remembered the remainder of the conversation or visit. All he could think of was that one fact. If he had died, so would have Macy. If there ever was a tragic thought, the idea of the world going on without her in it was one. Sure, he hadn’t made her breathe again, but he had carried her in out of the woods. No one moment in his life had ever been more worth it. Never had he made such impact. He could only bow his head and thank God for saving him the night of the fire. For Macy’s sake he was glad for the first time.

***

This was Friday, her day off, so at any moment Macy expected Evan to call. Actually, he was later than usual, by more than an hour so far. She had run errands that morning since he usually called at lunchtime or after. Though she always had her phone with her while she was out, she would rather be at home when he called where she could sit and focus on the conversation. So, there she sat, waiting for a phone that wasn’t ringing.

While they talked, she would try to picture him. He would drive into town, get a cola at the gas station, and then sit in their parking lot, sometimes for hours, and talk to her. With her eyes closed, she could easily see him. He had told her that these days he was sporting the beard again since it kept him warmer outdoors. That was what she was trying to picture, his scraggly beard. Macy smiled to herself as she waited for the phone to ring. Though she was never one for beards, on Evan it seemed so fitting that she didn’t mind it at all. It only made him more of who he already was.

Caught up in her daydreams of Evan, it took a moment for a knock at the door to register on her. When she went to the door and looked out the peep hole, she found a freshly shaven Evan standing there smiling at her.

Before the door was fully open, Evan pulled her into his arms. “I’m here to chase after you.”

Stunned and stammering in her surprise, Macy could only say, “I’m not running.”

When the shock finally wore off, she grabbed his hand and dragged him inside. “What in the world are you doing here?”

She was hopeful that he was planning on moving back. That would be such tremendous news and the answer to her daily prayers.

“I stopped by to see a guy, to take care of some old business.”

Disappointed, she tried not to show it. “Oh. Well, I’m glad you’re in town.”

“Mostly, though, I’m here to literally chase after you.”

“I was serious. I’m not running.”

“I wanted to spend some time with you.” He chuckled softly. “Where I wasn’t drinking a soda and sitting in my truck. Take me out and show me the town.”

Macy could hardly recall ever being so excited. Evan was dressed in a nice shirt and jeans, paired of course with hiking boots. But that was the real him, and she liked that about him, how rugged he was. He was no run-of-the-mill guy like she encountered on a day-to-day basis. Maybe that’s why he was her forever type.

Evan had taken a room nearby and planned to stay for the entire weekend. She was supposed to work on Saturday but called and arranged for someone to take her shift. That would allow them three days together. As tempted as she was to introduce him to her family while he was there, Macy decided against it. She had been waiting much too long for this time with him to share him with her family. There would be time for that in the future.

Future, that word lingered in her mind as he spoke of where they might go for the day. Soon, they set off to explore her area of town. Even as they walked along and chatted, Macy could think of little else but that she had finally found the first man that she could see herself loving. Maybe she did already. Was it possible to fall in love with a man so quickly and mostly over the phone?

The day passed by in a blur of sightseeing and food and laughter. By the end of the evening, standing at her door with Evan prepared to leave for his hotel, the matter was settled easily. She had most definitely fallen in love with this rugged outfitter. Every moment he was kind and gentle with her, but still in the midst of what seemed to be tenderness, there was obvious strength. He was watchful over her, something that was surprisingly reassuring. Because she had lived on her own for so many years, she had come to feel comfortable in being alone. With Evan that day, she had felt a sense of companionship that made her want to hold onto that feeling and never let go.

***

Alone in his hotel later that night, Evan thought back to what she had said – that she wasn’t running. He smiled still at the thought, knowing what she had meant. Many times they had discussed how ridiculous it was that they were moving so fast. It made no sense to either of them. Whatever had transpired between them those two days was such a life altering encounter for each of them that there didn’t seem to be any other recourse but to continue tumbling deeper into this unexpected relationship. They couldn’t predict where the future would take them, but it was becoming glaringly obvious that they would somehow end up together.

Just before her arrival, he would have bet anyone any amount that he wouldn’t likely get married for at least a decade more. It wasn’t even on his radar. But then there was that heap he encountered in the snow that day, and his life had never been the same since. He honestly didn’t care that they were moving too fast.

***

“Tell me what you like about the city.” Evan snuck a french fry from her pack when he asked.

Macy had intentionally brought Evan to the park to have a late lunch. It was cold out, way too cold to be outdoors having burgers together, but she knew Evan was up for it. Her hidden agenda was to show him that there were natural places there in the city where he could go.

“What don’t I love? I love that I can get fast food anytime, day or night. I have the best pizza just around the corner. There’s shopping and cultural attractions.”

He grimaced. “Cultural attractions?”

She grinned at him. He already knew her better than that. “I’m not saying I like them, but people do.”

“But that wasn’t the question. What do you like?”

She hesitated and thought. “I can walk to get to where I need to go. I can shop.”

“You said that one.”

“Hmm, I can see a movie at midnight if I want.”

“You’re in bed well before midnight.”

“If I can’t sleep, I can go to a movie.”

Evan chuckled. “You mean you would get out of bed and walk to the movie, stopping of course for a slice of pizza and to purchase a new handbag? Wouldn’t it be better to maybe just crack open a book like us cultured people do?”

He had her there. She would never go to a movie so late or even after dark alone for that matter.

“Maybe you like the hike up four stories to your apartment. Or the neighbors you’re constantly complaining about, one side with loud music and the other screaming at each other all the time.” He chuckled at how he had her cornered. “You’re not making a very good argument for city living.”

“At least I have fast food.”

“Yeah, that’s much better than a burger cooked on charcoal under the open sky.” His tone was intentionally sarcastic.

“Why do you hate the city so much?”

“I don’t hate the city.” He paused. “Okay, I dislike it immensely. It’s more that I love my land than hate the city. I can ride the open fields or through trails in the woods. I can fish and hunt and hike. I can sleep under a blanket of a million stars. I have no one yelling at me over a parking spot.”

As they had left the burger place, two men had nearly come to blows over a parking spot. Macy had cringed when it all began and even more when Evan had to step in and try to diffuse the situation.

There wasn’t much she could say to successfully argue her point. Evan had all that he wanted at his place. Why would he ever consider giving up a blanket of a million stars for her?

***

As she suspected it would, the weekend flew by so quickly that it left her feeling disappointed and let down. Clearly, Evan felt the same. When he was there at her door for the last time Sunday evening, he reached for her and pulled her into his arms. She grinned as he held her. His tug, pulling her toward him was anything but gentle. Strapping was what he was. This man of hers was burly and strong and made her feel held when in his arms.

“I was afraid to come.”

She leaned back to look at him. “Why were you afraid to come?”

“I feared this, feeling this way.”

“You mean when you had to leave?”

“No.” He lowered his head and moved his lips to her ear. “I feared falling, and now here I am, and I can’t stop myself.”

“Please don’t try to stop.”

Macy stood on tiptoes and kissed him, their first kiss. Several times he had kissed her cheek and once had given her a peck on the lips as he was leaving the night before, but those times he seemed nearly hesitant. Now, he was anything but hesitant as he held her face firmly and kissed her deeply. From the second he began to kiss her in return, she felt weak in the knees, and that old stirring began to numb her mind to what she knew was wise. She wanted to invite him to stay, to spend the night with her.

There was part of her that hoped that maybe taking things to the next level of intimacy would only heighten his already growing feelings for her. The moment that crossed her mind, she knew what a stupid thought it was. Not only would that not make a difference in the long run, it would only serve to hurt her in the process. That was the last thing she wanted, to allow herself to make such a terrible mistake and end up guilt ridden and filled with regret. The fact that she had even allowed it to cross her mind caused her to feel guilty enough.

It had been over a year since she was with Brian, and in all that time, she was certain that she would never find herself in this position again, not this tempted. After the months of regret and deep conviction over her actions with Brian, she had only recently settled into to a place of forgiving herself. Now, here she was again, considering the same mistake.

Breathless, Evan pulled away. “I knew better.”

She had hold of his jacket, not wanting to let him go. The look in his eyes, how much he clearly wanted her, only weakened her diminishing resolve.

“Knew better than what?”

“Than to kiss you.” He grinned. “It’s even harder to leave you now.”

Heart pounding still, she opened her mouth to invite him to stay, but sighed instead. “It’s hard to let you go,” was the safer thing to say.

She couldn’t go through that again, not after the freedom from shame she had finally come to know.

“Evan…” Unable to go on, she instead rested her head on his chest.

“What, babe?”

“I’m falling, too.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll catch you.”

Believing that without question, she grinned. “I have no doubt about that.”

***

Along the drive home, Evan felt an unusual sense of anxiety. Being with Macy far exceeded what he had anticipated on the drive there. Every moment with her only made him long for more time. Each night as they had said goodbye, there was a sense of heaviness that he felt, as if he knew he was fighting against the inevitable. Every mile he drove in the opposite direction from her only served to increase his unease.

The window had closed, and he knew it, the one he could have slipped through to escape this relationship. Now, it was way too late for that since all he could think of was what an amazing life they would share together someday.

Everything about her was a right fit for him except for the fact that she lived three hours away. Her kindness and gentle nature made something stir within him, a need to watch over her and protect her. How could he do that from so far away? That was what was bothering him as he drove toward home. Alone in the city, Macy could easily be prey to any number of unexpected dangers. Because of the line of work he had once been in, he had seen firsthand the dangers lurking out there for people in general, a vulnerable woman especially.

In some ways the city wasn’t so different from the woods. There were predators out there who would gladly dine on the prey. With no way to contact him for help or to call him if she were ever sick or hurt, Macy was truly alone in a place much more dangerous than the woods that had once killed her.

This moment, this realization of how defenseless Macy was without him, was the first of many times when Evan understood what would someday be required of him.

Part Three

After Evan’s visit Macy could hardly get her mind right again. She thought she was a daydreaming mess before, now she could hardly focus on anything but Evan – day or night. They talked even more on the phone as the last of the winter weeks passed and spring arrived. Recently, he had a landline installed in the cabin. From the moment Macy got off of work, they would talk. All the way home, even during her trips by the market or to the dry cleaners, they talked. The conversation would last through cooking and eating dinner, during clean-up, and up until bedtime. Neither could get enough of the other, and neither had any doubt that this was anything but a love that would carry them into a future together.

As usual, after work Macy got into her car, and her phone began to ring. She and Evan talked while she drove home. Once she arrived, they talked as she made her way into her building and up the several flights of steps. It was when she reached the landing to her floor that Macy caught sight of Brian down the hall, waiting for her outside her door. Even when he saw her, she didn’t move in his direction.

“Can I call you back?”

“Sure. I’ll be here.”

“Okay. Just give me a few minutes.”

“Is anything wrong?”

Macy paused.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just that…” She wasn’t going to lie to him. “Uh, Brian’s here waiting outside my door.”

“What’s he doing there?”

“I have no idea.”

Evan sighed, clearly concerned. “Call me right back. The minute he leaves. Okay?”

“I will.”

“Macy, you’re mine, right?”

She smiled. That was the first time he had ever been jealous.

“I am yours.”

When she hung up and moved down the hallway, even before she reached him, she could see that Brain was upset.

“Why didn’t you call me? Why did I have to hear it from friends weeks later?”

“What?”

“About you nearly dying out in the woods. What if something had happened to you?” He stood there for a second, then added, “We’ve left so much unsaid.”

“Technically, I did die.”

“What?” Brain reached for her face and moved in, as if to kiss her.

Taking a step back from him, she put her hand up where he couldn’t touch her. “Don’t do that.”

“I’m sorry.” He lowered his hands and sighed heavily. “I didn’t mean what I said that last day. You know that, right?”

He had accused her of leading him on and of being immature and an entire list of things that she knew he said mostly because he was hurt and angry. When she had continually refused to set a date for the wedding, he finally gave her an ultimatum. That was when she knew she had to end their engagement. Since then, he had tried to talk to her several times, but she refused.

“Honestly Brian, much of what you said that day was true. I wasn’t ready to get married. I should have been upfront with you rather than keep putting you off. I regret that.”

“And I regret trying to bully you into something you weren’t ready for. I miss you, Macy. I want a chance to try this again. No rushing you, I promise.”

For a few seconds she was speechless. This was the last thing she expected.

“That’s not going to happen. It was best that it ended when it did.”

“That’s not true. We had a good thing.” He moved in again and bent to kiss her.

Macy stood there stunned by the entire conversation. One minute she’s talking on the phone with Evan, the next Brian is trying to get back together. Not prepared this time for his advance, Macy didn’t know what had happened until after he moved in and kissed her.

Nothing – even less than she used to feel – was what she felt. Standing right in this exact spot when kissing Evan that last night before he left, she had experienced fireworks and her heart raced at his nearness. This comparison helped her to realize that Brain had always been a mistake.

Macy pulled away from him. “You should go, Brian.”

“Is it true that you’re seeing the guy who found you?”

“It is.”

“Some guy you don’t even know who lives hours away?”

“Yes.”

“Is it serious?”

“It’s getting there.”

“You’re telling me you ended a two-year relationship with a guy you’ve known nearly a decade, and now you’re dating some backwoods guy?”

She didn’t even answer. Able to see how angry he was already, she decided it best not to.

He sputtered, “You, the same Macy who was so commitment phobic that it took me nearly a year just to talk you into our first date?”

Still she remained quiet. He was understandably upset, so she didn’t want to say anything that would hurt him ever more. From the time they had split he had assured their friends that they would end up back together. He seemed convinced of it – until now.

“None of this makes sense to me. Are you going to marry this guy and move off to live in the wilderness?” He laughed at how ridiculous that was. “You, in the woods? That’s hysterical.”

“I’m not moving there.”

“So he’s coming here?”

“Someday, yes.”

He was more angry than hurt by this point. “Do whatever, Macy. You always do what you want anyway and dang sure get your way.”

Macy could only watch him as he walked away. His words stung as much that day as the day they broke off their engagement. He said nearly the same thing about how she always got her way. For some reason it rang even truer today than then.

 

Nearly half an hour after Brian left, Macy’s phone began to ring. She knew it would be Evan. She had planned to call him back after Brian had left but needed a little time to get herself together. His visit had affected her, not in the way his presence used to affect her, with some level of desire for him. Today, it made her consider herself and her behavior in their relationship. Looking back, she realized she was more selfish than she had ever even understood.

“Hello.”

“Is he still there?”

“No. He never even came in. We just talked for a few minutes outside my door.”

“You said you would call right back. I’ve been pacing the floor and mumbling to myself like a lunatic, wondering what the he wanted.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I just needed a few minutes.”

“His visit upset you?”

“A little.”

“Just tell me this, do you still love him?”

She was certain of her answer. “Not even an ounce.”

“Macy…” He stopped abruptly.

When he hesitated, she asked, “What?”

“I want you to love me.”

She smiled. “Done!”

“So I have nothing to worry about?”

“Nothing at all.”

“Good to know. Done here, too.” He paused for a second. “I suppose I will be the first to actually say it aloud. I love you, Macy, like, I’m in love with you.”

“And I’m in love with you, Evan. I promise you have nothing to worry about. Not from Brian, not from anyone.”

They spoke for a while longer and all the while, Macy could think of little else except that he loved her. Their call ended with his reminding her of it.

 

****

This was the exact spot where she had lain, lips blue, not breathing. Evan sighed heavily. Macy had been dead. Right where he now sat was where he had placed her when he brought her in from the woods. She was limp the entire way in, but he knew, just before reaching the steps to the porch that she had died. For some reason he had sensed it the moment it had happened. Even with layers of thick clothing between them, he had felt her slip away.

As if reliving the moment, Evan closed his eyes and pictured her, dead on his floor. Since she was far from the first lifeless body he had seen, he wasn’t so sure why it had the severe impact it did on him then.

 

****

With teeth latched down on the fingertips of his gloves, he tugged until both were off. He then turned immediately to the girl, unbuttoning her coat and pulling back the fabric to gain access to her chest. As if no time had passed since his last rescue, Evan was methodical in his approach. Compressions then breaths, it was all routine, something he had done countless times over the years. The longer he worked on the girl, however, the more agitated he became. After so long, if she was going to respond, she would have already. Still, driven in a way he had never been before, Evan worked on her, hoping to revive her. There at the end, before finally giving up, something came over him, a wave of emotion that caused him to begin to sob.

Crying and pleading with God, he repeated the same four words over and over in between breaths. “Give me her life!” he cried out to God. “Give me her life!”

Exhausted, knowing deep down that it was too late to save her, Evan fell back and just sat looking at her, at her beautiful lifeless face. She was much too young to die.

One last time, so soft that he could barely hear his own words, he repeated, “Give me her life.”

The word life was still on his tongue when the girl gasped loudly, her chest rising from the floor nearly as if someone had lifted her. From that moment on she breathed on her own – no thanks to Evan’s efforts. Clearly, he had witnessed a true miracle, a sight he was certain no one would ever believe. God had heard him and had indeed given him the girl’s life.

 

***

Without question God had saved Macy that day. There was never a moment that Evan doubted it. At first he had convinced himself that God had a plan for the girl yet unfulfilled; that was the reason for the miracle. Now, Evan realized he was a part of God’s plan in Macy’s life. With all that had happened between them, how quickly they had fallen for one another, how could he ever doubt it?

Obviously, God had a new plan for him. Evan would have been satisfied to spend the rest of his life there, secluded in the woods. Over the past year, he had believed God had ordained it, but that may not be the Lord’s plan after all. Never would he have believed that he would give up his way of life, but now he knew he might have to. Just as Evan had pleaded, God had given him Macy’s life, something Evan could not have comprehended the significance of at the time. Only now did he understand. For Macy’s life, a sacrifice would be required. To continue on the way they were going, he knew he would have no other choice than to leave his land for a normal life.

After talking with her, after Brian had showed up to try to get her back, Evan knew he would have to make a real commitment to her or end up losing her altogether. No question about it, he loved her enough to commit, even knowing where that would lead him.

 

***

Evan waited at the end of his driveway, listening for any sound of an engine.  Since his visit with Macy a few weeks before, he had been plagued by conflicting thoughts. It was most all he had thought of, the idea of what he would have to do in order to be with her. Every conversation with her only deepened his feelings. Truth was, this was love, something he had never experienced to this degree. Just as he had been suspecting, his sacrifice would take him far from home.

If he thought it was what he was supposed to do, he would have already done it. But nothing about leaving that place felt right. From the moment he had returned, he had a sense of belonging that went well beyond what he had felt as a child growing up there. The word legacy came to mind again. His granddad had left a legacy behind. Without question it was a harsh and rugged way of life, but there was no place on earth he could ever possibly feel the closeness to God that he felt while out in His creation. No matter the season, there was a vast magnificence about every aspect of this land that screamed the word home.

His intention had always been to someday rebuild on the old home site and start a family. That wasn’t at all likely with Macy. She made no bones about the fact that she was a city girl all the way, so the next move was his to make. To him, that’s what the upcoming weekend was about, to make sure his mind wasn’t playing tricks on his heart. Once he saw her again, he would know if these unexpected and unexplainable feelings that he felt for her were safe to trust. In order to follow his heart, he would have to walk away from everything that mattered to him. Only the truest of loves would be worth that.

The sound of the approaching car caused his heart to hesitate a second. As the car drew nearer and rolled to a stop, Evan watched as an excited Macy jumped from the car and ran to him. Without hesitation in her dad’s presence, she jumped into his waiting arms as he lifted her from the ground.

With Macy’s arms still wrapped around him, Evan held his hand out to shake Rick’s hand. They had spoken on the phone when confirming details of the trip and hit it off immediately. Since the man, indeed, talked of only Jesus and fishing, Evan’s two favorite subjects, they found common ground immediately.

With his arm wrapped around Macy still since he wasn’t planning on letting go of her anytime soon, Evan suggested that Rick follow them up to the cabin and that Macy could ride with him. As he and Rick had made plans, they agreed to have a real outdoor experience. While Macy would stay in the cabin at night, Rick and Evan would camp near the lake not too far away. During the daytime, Evan would take the two hiking and fishing, and as promised, he would teach Macy survival skills.

He grinned to himself at the thought of it. Not only was she a self-professed city girl, she was a girly one, at that. She wasn’t high maintenance in a negative sense, but she was no outdoors woman, either. Her only experience had been a few forced fishing trips with her dad and brothers. While she didn’t hate fishing, neither did she find that she loved it. His hope was that he could find a way of helping her enjoy God’s creation, at least a little. If they had a future together, which he believed they did, maybe she would at least come out to the cabin with him on occasion.

 

***

The trio spent the morning fishing, something that ended up being a tremendous success for the pastor. He caught more fish than he ever had. Of course they only kept enough to eat that night, but the thrill of the catch was what mattered most to him anyway. Later, when it came time for a hike, Rick suggested he would stay behind and clean the fish so that Evan and Macy could take that time to be alone together.

Evan took her to a few of his favorite locations, and to his surprise, Macy had no problem keeping up with him. Never once did she complain. Based on her attitude throughout the afternoon, she seemed to genuinely enjoy herself. Once they arrived at a ravine overlooking a vast area of woodlands, they sat together and ate the snacks that Macy had brought.

“So, you really do cook?” Usually, he had discovered during their many phone conversations, what she considered cooking dinner was popping a frozen meal into the microwave.

“I do.” She looked at him suspiciously. “Does that surprise you?”

“Maybe a little, with you being a career woman and all.”

She chuckled at that. “I would hardly call myself a career woman.”

“Assistant Manager at a bank sounds like a career to me.”

“I suppose it is.”

He looked at her intently. “I don’t know what I would do now, back in the city, I mean.”

Face beaming, Macy asked, “What would you like to do?”

That was easy. He looked around them at the ravine, the dense forest, and the site of the lake where her dad waited for them.

“This. I can hardly see myself doing anything but this.”

“Do you think you would ever try to go back to the fire department?”

“No. That’s not an option at all.” As he answered he could see her disappointment.

“You can talk to me, tell me what happened. I will listen.”

Her expression caused him to sigh. “I know that.”

As many times as he had considered opening up to her about what had happened, he feared she would think less of him because of it. So far, he hadn’t been willing to risk it. Now, though, with the way their relationship was taking a turn toward a future together, he knew he would have to eventually.

“Then talk. Whatever you are carrying around seems awfully heavy.”

“It is heavy.”

“I’m willing to share it with you.”

He looked over at her. “I’ve wanted to tell you, but I don’t want you to be disappointed in me.”

“I understand that, and who knows, I might be. You’re not perfect, Evan. I’m not perfect. But I love you.” She hesitated. “I need to know the real you, and I want you to know the real me – best and worst. Love accepts even the worst of us.”

He sat for a moment studying her and then reached for her hand, asking, “You sure you want to know me?”

“I do, anything you’re willing to share.”

“I wasn’t the me you know back then, back when I was on the job. I was more of a ‘preacher’s kid,’ the notorious kind.” He shook his head. “I knew all the right things, but from the time I left home until I came back here after Pete died, I wasn’t the man my granddad had raised me to be.

“I mostly hung out with the guys I worked with. One night after work, we were shooting hoops, and I injured my knee. For weeks I was in pain, but I never told my captain since I knew he would pull me off the crew. I just kept popping painkillers so I could push through it.

“One night, we all were called in to work a fire in an office complex. I had had a few beers on top of the pills, and honestly,” he looked directly at Macy. “I had a buzz and knew I shouldn’t go in. The only reason I did was so that I didn’t let my team down. Pete was like a brother to me. We were partners – always had each other’s backs.

“Long before the fire was under control, we were called to pull out since it was obvious the top stories were about to collapse. I bailed, and Pete was supposed to be right behind me. When I hit the ground and found he wasn’t there, I went back in. Another team was already in looking for him, said he had charged back in thinking he could clear another room before getting out.”

Evan shook his head. “That’s not how it worked. We were supposed to bail when called out, so I bailed. I don’t know how I didn’t notice he wasn’t behind me. He was like that, hardheaded and dangerous at times, but I knew that about him. I watched out for him. That night, I didn’t make it back in in time to save him. I was slower than usual, my reaction time off because of the meds. I should have never gone that night, but I didn’t want to admit I wasn’t up for the job. I was proud. I was arrogant. I was reckless, and I got my best friend killed because of it.”

Macy allowed his story to sink in before commenting. “I know you feel responsible. I think it’s human nature to second guess what we could have done differently. But Pete disregarded his own safety when he went back in rather than getting out as he was told.” She held up her hand before he could speak. “You shouldn’t have had to watch out for him when he was reckless. You should have been watching out for each other. That’s what partners do. They don’t babysit.

“I agree: you should have stepped away while you were recovering. Most men don’t. You’re all ten-foot-tall and bulletproof.” She laced her fingers through his. “You are not responsible for his death. You are going to have to forgive yourself for poor judgment but not for your friend’s death.”

Not much of what she said was new to him, the same things his captain had said on nearly every disregarded message. Still, he knew he could have saved Pete if not dulled from the painkillers.

“When I came to see you before, that was the other stop I made, to see my captain. I hadn’t talked to him since I left.”

“How did it go?”

“As I expected. He said all the same things.”

“What same things?”

“The builder was found negligent in the fire. Corners were cut to save money. Pete didn’t stand a chance.”

“Is that all true?” When he didn’t answer, she moved in closer. “No one but you seems to hold you responsible.”

“I know, but I feel what I feel, and the heaviness of it never goes away.”

“If you refuse to believe what I’m saying and still want to carry the weight of Pete’s death, the solution is still the same. You have to forgive yourself.”

“Believe me, I’ve tried, but I keep going back to the funeral, Pete’s mom wailing. I wake up some nights hearing that sound. I did that to his family.”

In resignation, she said, “Carry it if you will, but you have to carry it to the Lord if you’re ever to know peace.”

“I have.” He looked out across the expanse of land before him. “I’ve walked it out with God right here. I know I’m forgiven.”

“So basically you’re saying that you are forgiven by God, but you are so holy and righteous that your standards are higher than His? He can forgive but you can’t. Is that it?”

He sputtered in his reply. “No! I’m not saying that.”

“That’s exactly what you’re saying. He can forgive but you can’t. I’ve done the exact same thing.

“I heard a pastor say something like this: ‘How arrogant, self-righteous, and holier-than-thou is the man who refuses to forgive that which our holy God has forgotten.’

“You can’t imagine how that convicted me.” Unable to look at him as she said it, she whispered, “I didn’t wait until marriage before sleeping with a man. We were engaged, so I didn’t see the harm. Then when it was over between us, I understood what I had stolen away from the man I do marry someday.”

Evan slid his arm around Macy and lowered his head. “I told you the life I lived before. I stole the same thing from you.”

She smiled softly, understanding his meaning and then her face fell suddenly. “Only now do I know that I took that from you. I’m sorry, Evan.”

“I’m sorry, too.”

For a moment more they sat until Evan told her. “I will take that pastor’s wise words and walk them out here with God.”

“What do you mean walk them out?”

“Just that. I get out and walk and talk to God. He has transformed me here on this piece of land. He’s reshaped me into a man my granddad would be proud of. This is just another in a long line of issues to walk out. I promise I will.”

“I’m sure your granddad would be proud of you.”

It pained him to look again out toward the lake, knowing what he was about to offer her. “I know I have to come back to the city. Will you give me a little more time to figure out how to let go?”

“Of course I will.” The look of relief on her face was obvious.

“Are you seriously willing to walk away?”

Evan leaned in close. “I love you enough to walk away from anything.”

“I love you, too. I promise you will never regret it.”

He leaned in and kissed her. It was soft and sweet – and then it wasn’t. Pulling back from her after a moment, he admitted, “Good thing your dad came.”

She swallowed hard. “Yeah, he’s smarter than your average bear.”

 

***

Back at his cabin alone, Macy had only reluctantly let go of Evan for the evening. All of her adult life, she had run from one relationship after another. Now she knew why. Evan was the only one supposed to catch her. This was a man prepared to give up his entire way of life to be with her when others would hardly miss a ballgame to spend an afternoon with her. What kind of love would do that?

As they had spoken earlier, for a time she was excited by the prospect of him moving to the city. Then there was that moment when he scanned the sight around him before asking if she would give him some time. Her heart had sunk. How could it not? There was something about his expression that tore at her heart. Maybe it was the resignation she saw, a moment of clarity that he would have to give it all up. Most likely, he had always known that time would come. It only made sense. In order to begin a family someday, something he had admitted to wanting, he would have to move back to civilization. That’s just what grown-ups do.

Once snuggled into bed she could still think of little else but the time when Evan would come. The idea of them beginning a new life together gave her a sense of satisfaction like she had never known. Before long she would have the man she loved close enough to truly enjoy their relationship. What better thought was there to drift off to?

 

***

It was late. They had eaten the fish they caught earlier, and Evan had already walked Macy back to his cabin. Now, he sat with Rick by the campfire, glad to have this time alone.

“I suppose it’s no secret how I feel about Macy.”

Rick smiled softly. “No secret at all. From the moment I saw you two together, I knew.”

Unable to say what was on his mind just yet, Evan sat quietly, poking a stick into the fire.

“Besides the fact that you saved my daughter’s life – which is a pretty big deal if you ask me – the way you treat her with such patience and tenderness tells me most everything I need to know.”

When Evan didn’t respond, Rick changed the subject. “I suppose all this solitude gives you an opportunity to commune with God more so than most ever have time for. The life we all live back in the city robs the individual of the ability to truly be still and know that He is God.”

Evan barely nodded, not even sure of what Rick had just said. All the while as Rick spoke, he had been trying to form the words and now with them so heavy on his mind, he blurted out, “I want to marry her, and I hope to have your blessing.” When Rick didn’t seem so surprised, he added, “I know you and I haven’t gotten to know each other well yet, but I’m an open book. Ask me anything you want.”

“Do you love Jesus as much as you love this land, Evan?”

“More, sir.”

“More than my daughter?”

“Yes, sir. I will prove that to you if you give me the chance.”

“It’s pretty easy to see already.” Rick stood to go to his tent and slapped Evan on the back. “That’s about all the questions I have for you, son.”

Part Four

Macy had been home from Evan’s for just over three weeks. Without fail, they spoke each day. Every conversation only further confirmed what her heart was telling her: he was God’s man for her. He felt the same and had said he knew she was the only one for him. Many times she had discussed it with her father, and he felt the same leading. As crazy as it seemed after knowing him such a short time, she had no doubt she would marry Evan someday.

Once he moved to the city, they would date and take more time to get to know one another. They had discussed just that during their recent conversations. Since Evan had groups scheduled over the next several weeks, for now, this was how it would be – long distance. Every day Macy missed him more and more, and she could hardly imagine how she would wait for those weeks to pass to begin to date him normally.

Because this sense of belonging to someone was so new for her, Macy found she wasn’t handling it well. Being so far away, only able to talk with him on the phone, Macy was left feeling more anxious than at peace in the relationship. Evan had stayed busy recently with one group after another filing in and out. Though they did talk every day, until these past few days, often it was a quick hello and then he had to get back to the campers. More than anything, she just wanted him with her.

When he moved nearby, they would be able to go out for dinner or cook at her place. He would be able to attend church with her, so for the first time since her relationship with Brian ended, people would stop looking at her as a spinster in the making. That’s exactly what one elderly lady in the church had warned, that if she didn’t settle down with someone, she would end up one.

Trying to calm herself from this rising sense of anxiety, Macy forced one deep breath and then another. She felt certain of their relationship even though his calls had been so brief lately and he had skipped the past few days. He loved her, she kept reminding herself. She had to in order to keep her mind from playing tricks on her.

What concerned her more today was the fact that something could have happened to him. What if he was injured and unable to get to the cabin to call? She couldn’t help but picture him out in the woods, hurt and needing help. That was the thought that had kept her up the night before.

Besides that, the other image that stole sleep from her was a scene that continually played in her head from the night she had become stranded in the snow. It was her last lucid moment before waking up in Evan’s arms. She could see the distance from where she was to the smoke pouring from the chimney. At the closest it was three miles away. This was the thought that she had tried to work through the day she woke up at Evan’s and ever since. She used to be a runner. She could gauge distance well. It was at least three miles.

Evan had taken her to the place where he had found her collapsed that night, no more than a mile from his cabin. How did she get that far in the condition she was in? Did she travel two miles in her delirium? She could hardly believe that since how she knew she was shutting down there in those last moments of awareness. Over and over she pictured the scene. Every time she tried to make sense of it all, what she came back to each and every time was Jesus. Only He could have carried her.

She sat at her desk, mulling it all over again. Did God really carry her and place her right in the path of the man she was supposed to marry?

Thinking of Evan again only made her start feeling agitated. The fact that he hadn’t called was only part of it. It was more his willingness to walk away from what he called his granddad’s legacy to be with her. He was shutting down his operation, his office under the sky where he walked out life with God, to find an office job or whatever came up. He was thinking of calling a friend about a job in his retail store selling hunting gear. Nothing about that sat well with Macy. Evan led expeditions, not prepare people to go on them.

 

***

After work Macy landed at the church in her dad’s office. She hadn’t necessarily planned to go there, but her heart was so heavy she knew of no other person to discuss this with. Her heart was twisting and turning at the thought of Evan giving up so much. No one but her dad knew Evan or had caught a glimpse of what they shared together. Everyone else thought she was nuts for rushing into this relationship with a man she barely knew – including her mom. Only her dad was on her side.

“Have you heard anything yet?”

“Not a word.”

“He’s fine, Mace. He knows what he’s doing out there.”

“I know.”

“But you’re worried?”

“Of course I’m worried. Aren’t you concerned with him alone out in that godforsaken place?”

“For starters, you can hardly call the place godforsaken. I’m not sure I have ever seen more proof of God’s existence than at that place and in that man.”

“You know what I mean, Daddy. Aren’t you worried?”

“No. Honestly and truthfully, I believe he is fine.”

“What if it’s not that at all?”

Rick leaned in closer to Macy. “What do you mean?”

“What if he isn’t calling simply because he doesn’t want to?”

“I don’t believe that either.”

“Daddy…” She looked down. “How can I allow him to give up everything for me?”

Rick watched his daughter thoughtfully. “That’s a good question, sweetheart, one I’ve asked myself as well. The fact that he is willing is enough to make me admire him all the more. Truth is, though, that man belongs out there in the wilderness. I can no more picture Evan selling camping gear than I can picture myself wrestling a bear – something I can easily picture Evan doing well.”

He stopped and looked at her sympathetically. “I’ve watched you grapple with what you know is right. So I’ve been praying that God will change the right heart.”

Macy understood his meaning. “That would mean…” She couldn’t even finish the thought.

“Yes.”

“Mom would die if I moved three hours away.”

“Mom will live. I’ll make sure of it.” He grinned. “I’ve already got it planned to buy a few acres off that man of yours and build myself a cabin. I’ll bring your mom so much you’ll be tired of her.”

For a moment she sat there, speechless at the fact that her dad, the man who cherished her more than most anything in the world, was so nonchalantly saying she should move hours away. Why wasn’t he putting up a fight, giving her every reason why Evan should move to the city?

“I would have to give up my job.”

He couldn’t help but chuckle. “You mean the job you complain about all the time?”

Moving three hours away, out into the middle of nowhere, wasn’t an option. How could she possibly live like that? Where would she eat? Where would she shop? No one in their right mind would do that, just up and leave a perfectly good city to rough it through Minnesota winters. She had almost died out there already.

“I can’t believe you think moving there is even an option for me.”

“Honestly, I can’t believe you would ask him to give up his entire way of life, a life he loves, so yours won’t be disrupted. Has it ever even crossed your mind to sacrifice for him?”

Without answering that, she stood. “I’m driving out to check on him.”

“On your way you might want to spend a little time in prayer.”

“I will.” She meant that. His last question, if she had considered sacrificing for him had stung her heart so deeply, she knew she would cry soon.

Macy paused at the door. “So you think I’m supposed to move there?”

“The moment he asked for my permission to marry you, God prepared me to let go of my little girl.”

“He asked you that night?”

“He did.”

Macy barely waited for his reply she went flying out the door so fast.

***

When Evan drew nearer to the cabin and found Macy’s car in front, he broke out into a full run. He feared she was upset since he hadn’t called. Because he had been out with a group, he imagined she was wondering where he was the past two days. This was day three and he was just heading up to call her.

Bursting through the door, catching her up into his arms, Evan simply held her to him for a moment. This was a moment he needed, a reminder of how worth it she was. All morning he had been tremendously sad at the thought of leaving his home to live in an apartment. As much as he had tried, he couldn’t imagine returning to that life. He was willing, though. Every day that carried him nearer to that new life, he reminded himself that God had given him her life for a reason. She was more important than his selfish desire to stay.

Finally, he whispered, “I didn’t mean to worry you. I was out with a group on the eastern border.”

“I wasn’t worried.” She smiled. “Okay, a little worried.”

“So, you drove all this way to check on me?”

“Yes.” She paused and smiled sheepishly. “Not exactly.”

“What? Is something wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I just needed to ask you something.”

“Ask away.”

“Are you sure you found me at the place you showed me that day?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

Evan looked at her, trying to figure out why she would have driven three hours to ask that question.

“I’ve been thinking of this since that day. Evan, I couldn’t have walked those last two miles. There’s no way.”

“I’m telling you I found you there.”

She shook her head. “I’m not saying you’re wrong.”

“What then?”

“I know how far out I was.” She paused and looked up at him. “All I can figure is that Jesus Himself brought me to the place where He knew you would find me. I think He literally carried me to you.”

He stood looking at her. “And that surprises you?”

“Maybe.”

“Why wouldn’t He?” After the miracle he had witnessed, this hardly surprised him. “You came all the way to ask me that?”

“I came all this way because you’re worth it.”

“Babe.” Evan drew her into his arms. “I’m sorry I worried you. I never meant to.”

Over the past days he had been struggling, not with his decision to leave but to keep his commitments for the groups he had scheduled. Ultimately, the decision to leave had become an easy one. The one source of comfort he had was that they could come out occasionally on the weekends. As long as he had her by his side, he could live anywhere. This place had served its purpose and allowed God to transform him into the man he should have been all along.

One change in plan he had decided on just that morning, however, had to do with finding an apartment and them dating. That would never work out. They would never last long simply dating. If he was going to change his life entirely, he was going to buy a house and marry her right away. He didn’t need to date her or get to know her any better. Any woman worth moving for was worth marrying.

This girl standing in his arms, the one who loved him enough to drive three hours just to check on him, was the girl he would marry and love no matter where they lived. The more he considered it, the less of a sacrifice it seemed. If anything, he felt so completely grateful to have her in his life that he was already detaching himself from his home and way of life. While he never expected that he would love the city, he sure did love the city girl.

***

They had a light dinner together and spent the rest of the evening talking. Macy had yet to bring up her thoughts from earlier in the day that maybe she was supposed to move there with him. Every time she had tried to bring it up, her throat felt constricted and she couldn’t talk. No matter how long she debated the idea, it never seemed any better to her. To walk away from everything seemed unthinkable. That must be exactly what he had been experiencing, and yet she had expected exactly that.

It was getting late and since he had insisted she take the cabin while he pitched a tent nearby, they were now making arrangements for that. He was gathering a few things to take. As he did, Macy was ready for him to go. She needed time to think, and being with him gave her little rational ability to do that. While with him all evening, she could imagine nothing better than what they were doing. Being stolen away together so far from civilization or distractions was nearly blissful. What in the world was happening to her?

“Evan?”

“Yeah, babe.”

He stopped what he was doing and moved to where she sat on the recliner.

“I can’t quit thinking about the fact that He brought me to you and that if you had never been a firefighter, you wouldn’t have likely known how to save me.”

Evan knelt in front of her and rested his elbows on her knees. “There’s something I’ve never told you.”

“What?”

“By the time I got back here with you, your heart had already stopped beating, so I began CPR.” He stopped and blinked hard. “It’s like I can feel the weight of the moment even now. I didn’t even know you, but while I was doing compressions, something came over me, a feeling I’ve never experienced before.

“You weren’t responding. You were dead, and I was desperately fighting to save you. I kept on way after I would have been justified in stopping. I finally began to cry and begged God to save you.”

Evan choked up as he continued. “I never cry. I can’t tell you the last time I did. But that night, I cried not only over you, but I cried out for you.”

He moved in closer and placed his hand tenderly on her cheek. “I finally gave up.”

The way he was looking at her, nearly crying in the moment, she tried to understand what he was saying.

“What do you mean you finally gave up?”

“I had already done compressions so long that I feared you had been deprived of oxygen for too long. At that point, if you had lived, I may have done more harm than good.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I stopped the compressions. You were dead, and there was nothing more I could do.” He pointed as he looked over. “Macy, you were right there in my floor dead.”

“What did you do?”

“One final time I said the same four words I had been repeating over and over.”

“What words?”

“Give me her life.” Evan leaned in and rested his forehead on hers. “He did just that. Immediately, you gasped for breath, and nothing in my life has been the same since. Macy, of course I would walk away from this place for you. God gave you to me, and I will do anything it takes to live out that life with you, wherever you are.”

She began to cry at his words. His willingness only served to remind her of her selfishness.

“Macy, I love you in a way I never believed myself capable of loving. I have no doubt; you are a gift from the hands of God Himself. Not one day of my life will I ever question that or take you for granted.”

“I love you, too. I believe that’s why He brought me here, to love you. I can’t imagine any other future than with you.”

***

Once she was alone, Macy sat and stared into the fire. The things he had said about what happened the day he found her left her even more dumbfounded. As often as she had laughed it off, making jokes about the fact that she had died, deep down it was a little frightening. Now, knowing what happened that day, she had to look at it with an entirely new perspective.

She was actually dead, not just a few seconds like on a TV show. She was dead – completely dead, so dead that Evan had been concerned about possible brain damage.

The more she thought of it, the more a verse kept rattling around in her mind, so she went over to the recliner and picked up Evan’s Bible. She knew it was in one of the Gospels but not which one. Flipping page after page, she finally ran across the story in Matthew.

A synagogue leader’s daughter was ill, so Jesus was summoned. This was the same story where a woman had touched Jesus’s garment and was healed from a bleeding disease. While Jesus was delayed with the woman, the girl had died. When the people informed Him that the girl was dead and that He shouldn’t waste his time, He told them she was not dead but sleeping. When Jesus arrived on the scene, all he had to do was to take her hand and she lived.

Macy read the story once again, wondering what the girl must have thought over the remainder of her life after being healed miraculously by Jesus. This was Macy’s future now, always knowing Jesus had chosen to save her long after she was dead.

In the moment she wasn’t exactly sure what to think other than to marvel at it all. It wasn’t exactly sinking in. Even when she slid into Evan’s bed and pulled the quilt up to her chin, she kept thinking of all he had said and the fact that Jesus had taken her hand so that she would live.

Snuggled into his bed, smelling the pillow that had Evan’s scent on it, Macy wondered why. Why would God save her? There was nothing special about her. She lived an ordinary life, so why would God have worked out such an elaborate plan just to ensure that she lived? As she drifted off, these were the last thoughts to occupy her mind.

 

Waking early, surprisingly before Evan come to get her moving, Macy got out of bed, put on Evan’s warm robe and went into the kitchen to begin cooking breakfast. The kitchen was small, but that only made it more efficient to work in. Everything had its place and was easily accessible.

The table was small as well, too small. When she had been there before, for both of them to eat there was challenging. She noticed as she looked around, a larger table would easily fit there without the space seeming too cramped.

She sat drinking her coffee while she waited for Evan. It could work. The night before she had looked around where the single recliner sat. A loveseat might fit next to it. It would be a simple way of life for sure. At that thought she began to cry. For Evan’s sake, she should at least be willing to offer.

Then it came to her, and while it wasn’t the first time it had come to mind, it was the one time it made the most impact. Brian’s words about how she always expected to get her own way rang true. She had been perfectly prepared for Evan to give up everything, expected it of him even, and here she was willing to give up nothing.

Not that her apartment was grand by any means, but it was larger than the cabin. She had space to spread out and a spare bedroom to overflow her junk into. Here, they would live squeezed into nothing more than two rooms. That thought only made her cry harder.

The moment Evan opened the door and found Macy crying, he rushed over to her.

“What’s wrong?”

Unable to tell him what was actually on her mind yet, she decided to share the second most prevalent thought. “I keep wondering, why do you think God would choose to save me?”

“I always thought it was because He has a plan for you, but now I know it’s much more than that.”

“How so?”

“I had given up on living, Macy. I thought I didn’t deserve to have a good life after what I felt was my responsibility in Pete’s death. It hit me not so long ago. God was showing me something. He isn’t finished with me. He hasn’t given up on my life. To prove that, he carried you all the way to where He knew I would be at the exact moment I needed to be there. In a sense, He redeemed my failure.

“But there was more to it than that. He didn’t allow me to actually save you so that I could see the obvious. I couldn’t have saved Pete either. Any closer and all I would have done was given my life and died along with him. If that had happened, you would have died, too. He gave me your life so that I could have my life back.”

He shook his head and grinned. “It all makes more sense in my head.”

“I know what you’re trying to say.”

Macy sat looking at Evan for a moment. There was no doubt that God had planned not only their meeting, but their future together. What was most obvious to her was the fact that God didn’t bring Evan those extra two miles to her. He brought her to Evan. Deep inside she understood what that meant.

“I have something I need to walk out with the Lord this morning.”

Grinning at her, he nodded. “I know the perfect place to do that. After we eat these cold eggs, I’ll take you there.”

***

Later in the morning, Evan walked with Macy around the lake and to the place where he had lifted her into his arms for the first time.

He let go of her hand. “I suppose this is as good a place as any to start.”

“I suppose it is.” At his hesitance she told him, “I think I need to be alone for a while.”

“I will head back toward the cabin, but I won’t get too far ahead of you.”

Once she was alone, she went over and sat on an overturned log. For the longest time she stared at the place where he had found her unconscious. That was the place where Jesus had left her to be found. The same thought ran through her mind. God didn’t bring Evan to her. He brought her to Evan. It seemed the more that thought rambled around in her mind the easier it was to comprehend it. She just knew.

Never had it been about Evan coming out of the woods. Instead, it had always been about her going in. All because of Ellen’s kindness and Macy’s desire to make sure her brother knew of her passing, she had landed right in the path of the man she wanted to marry and spend the rest of her life with. None of this was an accident.

Her job and apartment, her city and conveniences meant nothing in comparison to the fact that the God who created such a magnificent place as the one where she now sat had literally carried her deeper into the woods to find the man He had always planned for her to marry.

These were the thoughts she had to walk out. She needed to be in the place that Evan loved so that God could fill her heart with a similar love. If it was His place for her, she had every reason to believe He would create in her a desire to be there. She was willing to be willing, willing to say yes even as everything within her screamed out a resounding no.

Walking things out with God is rarely an overnight journey. Macy knew that. It would take time to love Evan’s land. Even he had once left and come back. Maybe it just needed to grow on her. She had no way of knowing how long that might take, but after that hour walking through the woods alone with God, she did know one thing: she was to say yes now, not once she felt yes.

 

Macy caught sight of Evan long before reaching the cabin. He hadn’t been far away, a fact that didn’t surprise her. Evan was a protector by nature. If she knew one thing about her new life, it was that she would be safe with this rugged man of hers.

“How was your walk? Work some things out?”

“It was one of the most clear and obvious conversations I have ever had with the Lord.”

He forced a smile. “That’s what I’ll miss most about this place, walking out life with Jesus. But there’s a park I know of in the city that’s mighty pretty.”

She couldn’t say a word. His willingness to walk away from such a place, the love that demonstrated, gave her an even greater desire to ensure that he not give up his home.

When Macy remained quiet, he softly said, “I’m glad you had a good walk.”

They walked hand in hand back to the cabin and on their approach, Macy looked up at the small place and sighed in resignation. With a few flowers out and a bit of a cleaning, the place would be warm and inviting. As long as she was with Evan, it would be home.

She stopped. “Want to know what I had to walk out with God?”

“Dying to know.”

“I needed to come to terms with something.”

“What?”

“Why he carried me those extra two miles to you rather than bringing you to me.”

“You said it was clear and obvious. What did He say?”

“That His intention was never to bring you out of the woods.”

Evan didn’t even dare to hope in case he was misunderstanding her. “Uh, huh?”

“I was always supposed to come in.”

He said nothing for a few seconds until finally he assured her, “I would never ask that of you.”

“You didn’t. God did.” She leaned in to kiss his cheek. “I’m saying yes.”

Too stunned to even make sense of what she was saying, he did the only thing he knew to do and dropped to one knee.

“While you’re in the mood to say yes, I’m asking…”

“Yes!” She shouted at the top of her lungs. “Absolutely yes!”

Evan stood and gathered Macy into his arms. He chuckled softly. “I’ve heard a rumor that you’re not an easy one to pin down on setting a date. I’m not taking any chances with that, so as soon as your dad is free, I’m marrying you.”

“I’m saying yes to that, too.”

Macy’s yes was the easiest word she had ever spoken. She didn’t love the woods yet, but she had to believe she would. And she didn’t exactly love the cabin, but she figured she would learn to love the place where she had once died.

“With a woman’s touch, I think this will be a nice home for us.”

Noticing she was looking at the cabin, Evan grinned. “With a woman’s touch, it will be fine for a while. But for you, the future Mrs. Evan Scott, I will build you your dream house just east of the lake. There’s no better view on all this thousand acres than that.”

“We can afford that?”

He took her hand again and led her toward the cabin. “You’ll be pleasantly surprised to know you haven’t been caught by a poor man. My granddaddy sold off acreage for development, so he passed on more than his love of Jesus and this land.”

 
Epilogue

In her wildest imagination, Macy couldn’t have dreamed up the beautiful home Evan had built for her. They had only been living there for the past three months, and still, it felt as if she was on vacation at some resort. It was a log home, like one you would see in a lodge area of Colorado constructed with warm, honeyed tones. With soaring ceilings and windows three stories high, Macy could see clear across the lake and out past the timberlands. Each morning they would have their coffee together there on the deck, overlooking the most spectacular view she had ever seen. This was her view, her favorite place in the world.

While she wouldn’t say it was immediate since her first months in the smaller cabin were a transition, she would certainly say God had been faithful. Just as she had known He would, He gave her a heart transplant and a love for Evan’s land and way of life. The former city girl was barely a distant memory these days. This new Macy, the one who lived off the grid with her very own Unabomber, was now a woodlands girl through and through. Never once did it cross her mind ever to go out of the woods since God gave her all that she needed there.

***

Evan stood in the doorway watching Macy as she looked out over the expanse of woodlands with a dreamy, faraway expression on her face. Without questions she loved her home. From the very moment they married, his greatest hope was that she would come to love his land. Easily she had. Nothing gave him a greater sense of peace than knowing his wife was content in their home and with their way of life. This remote existence took a special kind of crazy to adjust to. He smiled at the thought. Macy was just crazy enough to give it a chance. No one was more surprised than he when she ended up loving the seclusion and easily learned to live without fast food and midnight movies.
He felt the same, a level of contentment that he had never expected to know. These past months he had walked out with God the last of his feelings of responsibility over what had happened with Pete. While she hadn’t nagged exactly, it was Macy who often urged him to continue in the pursuit of forgiving himself. Now, after all this time, he was thankful for her not-nagging. A grin formed at that thought. His wife, he had learned early on, could be one persuasive little lady, yet another of the many things he loved about her.
“In the mood for a little company?” He moved to sit next to his wife.

“Always.” Macy scooted over enough where Evan could snuggle in next to her.

“What do you have planned for today?” He knew before asking.

“This for the most part.”

“Yeah, me too.”

He didn’t have clients scheduled for a few days more, so he could spend his free time with Macy. Weekends apart were difficult for them both. On occasion, depending on the weather, she went with him, but since her mother was visiting the upcoming weekend, Macy would stay at home.

With a flicker of excitement at the thought of it, he asked, “Are we still praying over what we’re praying over?”

“Officially, yes.” Macy sighed softly.

“Officially?”

“You said we should pray, so I am. I’m just not sure that I need to. I’ve been ready for this for a long time.”

Evan turned to look at her, just as nervous about the thought of being a dad as he was happy. “So you want to start trying now?”

The tender expression on her face told him all he needed to know. She eventually admitted that was what she had been keeping from him the night they talked about what her calling was.

“I do. I don’t want to wait anymore. I’m ready to be a mom.” Concerned, she added, “But you have to want to too.”
“Of course I want to.”

They sat quietly for a moment, the bigness of the concept of being a father felt just as heavy to him then maybe even more so. Still, he knew it was what she wanted.

Ready or not, for her sake he was willing.

Eventually, he chuckled and said, “Well now, I suppose that changes what we have planned for today.”

Macy giggled in excitement. “I suppose you’re right.”

Just before kissing her, Evan whispered, “I’m sure glad I brought you in out of the woods.”

The End

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