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Prologue - The Present and the Past

        I looked out the living room window, the same window I'd looked through exactly one year earlier, when I had watched Jennalee Morgan say goodbye to her boyfriend (whose family was moving away that day), and then come across the street to talk to me, her longtime best friend. Of course, it had turned out that she was actually saying goodbye to her EX-boyfriend, who she had broken up with the night before so she could become my girlfriend instead. Thinking about that day still gave me such a warm and pleasant feeling that sometimes tears came to my eyes. It's pretty special, after all, when by far your greatest dream, which you thought had become completely impossible, suddenly comes true before your eyes.
        At that time Jennalee and I had known each other for seven years, ever since she and her mother moved into the house across the street from my family when we were both ten years old. The day we met was a major turning point in both of our lives.
        In some ways we were about as different as two kids could be: I, Michael Kevin Davis, was far above average in intelligence, average in looks, a bookworm who had little social interaction with his peers, and whose idea of fun was learning as much as possible and doing science experiments; and Jennalee Joy Morgan was pretty and very charismatic with an outgoing personality and engaging manner, all of which combined to make her almost irresistibly likeable, and who was a free spirit who loved to have traditional fun and didn't like anything that kept her from having it.
        In spite of our differences, however, we had immediately liked each other. We became friends on that very first day, and were soon making each other's lives better. Jennalee taught me the value of just relaxing and having fun sometimes, that a balanced life was a happier life. Through that I also learned how to relate to my peers much better, so that soon I was no longer just the 'freaky smart kid' I had always been. I helped Jennalee to discover that learning could be turned into another source of fun when it was approached properly (resulting in a significant improvement in her grades), and also that it was good to stop and think things through sometimes instead of just acting impulsively, as she usually tended to do.
        Most important, though, was the fact that we each became the closest and most devoted friend the other had ever had. We came to know and understand each other extremely well, and were always there for each other. We became best friends in the fullest sense.
        The most significant difference that developed between us as time went on was that I slowly fell totally in love with Jennalee, while she continued to consider me to be only a friend. Even during most of the two years when Jennalee was Kyle Milford's girlfriend, I had continued hoping that somehow, someday she would be able to feel that way about me instead. It was just at the point when I had become convinced that this wasn't ever going to happen that Jennalee had come over for the talk that changed both of our lives once more.
        Since then another year had passed, and today I was again looking out my living room window, waiting for Jennalee Morgan to emerge from her house and come across the street for an important conversation. This time, however, there would be no pleasant surprises for me. I knew exactly what needed to happen, what I needed to do, and doing it would be difficult and challenging. Specifically, it would involve one of the most unpleasant things possible for me: telling the love of my life something that she very much did not want to hear.
        As I waited for Jennalee, my mind again started flashing back to the events that had occurred a year ago today, and all that had happened after that. I yielded my thoughts to those memories to fill the time...

Chapter 1

        On a beautiful morning in the middle of the summer between our junior and senior years of high school, Jennalee Morgan had surprised me by telling me she had finally figured out that I was in love with her, and then stunned me by revealing she had also come to realize that she loved me too. Her beautiful voice saying, 'I love you, Mikey!' was by far the sweetest sound I had ever heard. ('Mikey' was Jennalee's special nickname for me, and 'JJ' was mine for her; we only used these names in private, when no one else was around.)
        After we had hugged and cried, and then kissed for a while and talked for a while, we'd had lunch together and then spent a very pleasant afternoon at the beach (we lived in a city that was located on one of the Great Lakes). There we had swum, played, frolicked, talked and kissed. By the end of it all we had begun to forge a new bond between us that was even stronger than the one we had built through seven years of close friendship. We both knew beyond any doubt that we were going to be together forever.
        On our way home from the beach I got the idea that Jennalee and her mother should come over to my family's house for dinner, at which time we would formally announce to her mom and my parents that their children were now boyfriend-girlfriend. (Jennalee's father had died in a traffic accident when she was still a baby, and her mother hadn't remarried.) Jennalee thought this was a great idea, so while I drove she left messages for both of our mothers with her cell phone to let them know about our plans, and asking them to inform us if there was a problem.
        We arrived back on our block with sufficient time to do what we needed to: shower and change, and then prepare dinner for our parents before they got home. We did the cooking at my house, but Jennalee brought over some raw materials from her own kitchen. She often cooked for herself and her mother on weekdays, as one of her regular chores. So even though cooking wasn't one of her favorite activities, because it was one of her official responsibilities she had taken it seriously enough to eventually get good at it. Since I, in contrast, had minimal kitchen experience, Jennalee took charge of our dinner project, and I acted as her assistant. We had as much fun working on the meal together as we'd had with anything we had done at the beach (except maybe for the kissing), and I learned quite a bit of basic cooking information by watching Jennalee in action and asking her questions.
        By the time my parents got home (they had carpooled that day) we had dinner almost ready, and Mrs. Morgan arrived a short time later. Jennalee and I carefully made sure we were seated next to each other on one of the long sides of our kitchen table, as close together as possible without compromising our eating logistics.
        After dessert it was time for the big announcement. Jennalee had insisted that I would be the bearer of the tidings, so I politely asked for everyone's attention, then began.
        "Jennalee and I have some great news for you," I said with a big smile. "We're delighted to inform you that as of today, she and I are officially a couple!"
        My parents glanced at each other briefly, then looked back at me with uncertain expressions on their faces. Jennalee's mother just looked stunned. No one spoke for a few seconds. Then Mrs. Morgan broke the silence.
        "I don't believe it," she declared.
        Jennalee and I immediately looked at each other with mischievous smiles, and I could see we had both gotten the same idea at the same moment. We leaned toward each other, I wrapped my arm around her shoulder, and we engaged in a passionate kiss.
        We let the kiss go on until Jennalee's mother exclaimed, "All right, already! I believe it!"
        My parents both started chuckling, and so did Jennalee and I as we separated and I withdrew my arm. A moment later Mrs. Morgan's serious expression cracked, and she joined in too.
        "I'm sorry for the reaction," she said after the chuckling had subsided. "It's just that...well, I know you two have been close for a long time as friends, but I never imagined...and isn't this rather sudden, Jen? You just broke up with Kyle last night!"
        Jennalee responded by smiling more broadly at her mother and raising her eyebrows. Suddenly Mrs. Morgan's expression changed from confusion to surprise.
        "Oh!" she exclaimed!
        Jennalee nodded. "That's right, Mom," she said. "I broke up with Kyle because I finally figured out that it was really Michael I was in love with, not him. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you that part of the story last night, but I wanted Michael to hear it first, and I didn't want to tell HIM until Kyle was gone. I've finally started to understand what being in love really means, and I know now that I could never share the rest of my life with anyone but Michael."
        She looked at me and gave me a very affectionate smile, and I smiled back the same way. I wanted to kiss her again, but it didn't seem to be the right moment for that; so I settled for putting my arm back around her and giving her an affectionate squeeze, this time leaving my arm there when I was done. As I did this I glanced at my parents, and saw that they were both wearing little smiles of amazement. They were surprised at what they were hearing, but also clearly happy about it.
        Something clicked in my mind.
        "You guys knew, didn't you?" I demanded. "You knew I've been in love with Jennalee for as long as I've been capable of being in love with anyone, even though I never talked about it and tried my best to hide it, especially for the past two years!"
        "Of course we did, Michael," my father replied. "You're our only child, the human center of both of our lives since we first found out you were on the way. When our families have been together we could see how you looked at Jenna, how you responded to her. For years now it's been apparent to us that for you there was more than just friendship going on. It was also pretty obvious over time that she thought of you ONLY as a friend, so we were hoping that as you both got older you would outgrow those feelings for her." He looked at Jennalee and continued, "But assuming that what you've discovered about your own feelings is true, Jenna-"
        "Oh, it is, sir!" Jennalee interrupted emphatically. "I've spent the last two weeks hardly thinking about anything else besides trying to understand my feelings, really thinking deeply about all of it for the first time, about Michael and about love in general; and the more I thought, the more sure I became that Michael is the one I belong with."
        "She explained all of it to me in great detail this morning," I added. "She reasoned it all out just the way I've always tried to teach her to, and as well as even I could have." I looked at her and gave her a second little squeeze. "I've never been so proud of her." We spontaneously engaged in another kiss, this time a quick one. Then I looked back at my parents. "There's no question about it. We're totally in love, now and forever."
        I suddenly realized that this was a great moment for the 'I love you' game. As I quickly turned my head to look at her and say it, I saw that she had simultaneously turned her head toward me, and for the first time all day we said "I love you!" in perfect unison. We both burst out laughing, and a moment later we leaned our heads together as our laughing continued.
        "I think I missed something there," my mother said after a few seconds.
        I looked at my parents and Mrs. Morgan, who all had expressions of confused amusement on their faces. I forced my laughter under control so I could explain.
        "It's a game we invented at the beach today," I explained, withdrawing my arm from Jennalee's shoulder again as we both straightened back up. "We each try to say 'I love you' before the other. We hadn't said it perfectly together like that before, though, so naturally it was funny to us."
        "Fair enough," Mrs. Morgan responded with a little chuckle. Then she became more serious. "Anyway, I just want to say that even though this is a bit of a shock, I have no problem at all with the idea of you two being together. Michael, you're obviously a very nice, very intelligent young man with a very bright future, and just as obviously you've always cared about Jen very much. It probably should have occurred to me somewhere along the line that there might be more than friendship to your feelings, but right now that doesn't matter. The point is that I know you love Jenna deeply, and that you'll always see that she's well taken care of. It would be very hard for me to have a problem with that!"
        "Thanks, Mrs. Morgan," I replied. "That means a lot to me; and I can assure you right now," I continued, turning my head to look at Jennalee with a loving smile, "that I intend to devote the rest of my life to making your daughter the happiest person on the face of the earth."
        Mother and daughter both gave little sighs at the same time, then looked at each other and chuckled. A moment later Jennalee looked back at me and gave me a loving smile of her own.
        "You'll have to settle for a tie at most," she stated, "because I'm going to be doing the same thing for you."
        "A tie works for me!" I replied. Once again we got the same idea at the same time and indulged in a brief but affectionate kiss.
        "All right," my father said when the kiss had ended. He looked at Jennalee and her mother. "I think I can speak for both of us when I say that the two of you have been more like family than friends to us for a long time. Even though you can be a bit eccentric at times, Jen - which I'm sure you would admit to! - you're a sweet girl who has been a wonderful friend to Michael since the day you two met. So for whatever it's worth, I completely approve of this development too."
        "Agreed!" added my mother.
        "Thanks, Mr. Davis, Mrs. Davis," said Jennalee.
        "Agreed!" I added, drawing a big smile from Jennalee.
        "Now then," my father continued, "all that having been said, I feel compelled to raise a couple of points here. Perhaps you have comments too, Claire?"
        "You go ahead," replied Mrs. Morgan. "I'll put in anything you didn't cover afterwards."
        "OK, well I'll try to do this as painlessly as possible."
        Suddenly I heard Jennalee softly mutter, "Uh-oh." I had still been focused more on her than the adults, and only when she said that did it dawn on me where my father was going. I took a quick breath and braced myself.
        "I just want to remind both of you," my father went on, "of the promises you each made before the Lord at Church-"
        I knew this discussion would be very embarrassing to Jennalee (and not exactly pleasant for me either), so I needed to extinguish the fire as quickly as possible.
        "Look, Dad, Mom, Mrs. Morgan," I interrupted, "Jennalee and I talked about a lot of things this afternoon at the beach, and this was one of them. Knowing that we're going to be together forever doesn't change anything. We agree that we're still going to wait until we're married." I wanted to add, And then we're going to do it a LOT! to get back at my dad a little for bringing up the subject at this time; but I knew that even though the comment would make Jennalee giggle, it would also increase her embarrassment even more. Plus, it would be rather disrespectful. So I held that in and just said, "Can we PLEASE move on?"
        "Yes, I think so," replied my father, looking at my mother as he spoke (obviously wanting to make sure they were on the same page). "We've always been able to trust you, and I see no reason not to about this matter, since you're so adamant about it. Does that satisfy you ladies?"
        My mom and Mrs. Morgan both nodded briefly. It seemed that they, too, were glad to dispose of that particular subject quickly. Jennalee gave a little sigh of relief.
        "Now the other thing," my father continued, "will hopefully be less difficult to address. I'm just a bit concerned about how quickly you've both decided that you're going to spend the rest of your lives together." He suddenly held up his hand as I opened my mouth to interrupt again. "Just hear me out on this one, OK?"
        I glanced at Jennalee, and she didn't seem more than mildly annoyed, so I didn't feel a need to intervene on her behalf this time. I looked back at my dad and nodded, and he continued.
        "Now, I know you both feel sure about your future together right now, and I really hope you're right about it; but you're only seventeen now, and I don't think either of you fully understands how relatively young that really is. I certainly didn't at that age. You're both still changing and will continue to change as you enter adulthood, and I think it would be unwise of you to rush ahead with this relationship too quickly. Take your time, keep being kids for a while longer. You can still enjoy being together just as much, but on the off chance that you start to grow apart before you're fully into adulthood, I hope you won't get too locked into a commitment to each other right now. That's my advice, anyway, and I hope you'll both take it."
        "I agree completely with that," my mother affirmed. "Let your relationship grow naturally, and if you really are supposed to be together forever, that will happen."
        "I agree too," added Mrs. Morgan, "but I want to take it a step further. Maybe it's just because I know very well how impulsive you can be, Jen. You've definitely gotten better about that than you used to be, but I'm betting that right now you're already looking forward to being officially engaged."
        That subject hadn't come up in our long conversation at the beach, so I was expecting Jennalee to deny that her mother's statement was true. However, she hesitated and looked embarrassed again, and I knew then that Mrs. Morgan had been right.
        "Well," Jennalee began in obvious reluctance, "I haven't said anything to Michael about that. But I guess that thought has crossed my mind today. Once or twice."
        "You always say how well Michael knows you," her mother replied gently, "but I think I understand how your mind works pretty well too. Trust me, you shouldn't be thinking about getting engaged yet, not for a long time. As Mr. Davis said, just keep being kids for now, and enjoy it while you can. In fact, both of you could make me very happy right now if you'd promise not to get engaged at least until after you graduate next year. Give it that much time at a minimum, OK?"
        "I think that's an excellent idea," agreed my mom, and my dad nodded to indicate he also concurred.
        Jennalee and I looked at each other. The proposition seemed reasonable to me, but I could see immediately that she wasn't so amenable to it. I gave two quick little nods, signaling that I didn't mind making the promise. She let out a deep breath, nodded back, then turned to her mother.
        "All right," she sighed. "I don't think it's really necessary, but I promise; and so does Michael."
        "What she said," I affirmed.
        My father chuckled. "You two sound a bit like a married couple already," he said with a big smile. My mother immediately poked him in the upper arm.
        "Thank you," Mrs. Morgan said to Jennalee and me, ignoring my parents. "I assure you, Jen, you'll see someday that I was right about this."
        "Anything else you guys wanted to tell us?" asked Jennalee, suddenly smiling sweetly as she shifted her eyes between all three of the adults. Clearly she wanted to end this whole double family discussion session as quickly as possible and vacate the premises. I couldn't have agreed more.
        The adults looked at each other for a couple of seconds, each of them shaking their heads.
        "No, I guess that's it for now," said my father. "Except to congratulate you two again. I really am happy for you."
        "Me too," said my mother and Mrs. Morgan at the same time.
        "Then I guess Jennalee and I can start cleaning up," I said, rising from my chair.
        "No, no," Mrs. Morgan countered. "You kids worked hard to cook and serve this meal. The grown-ups can handle the cleanup chores. Right?" she concluded, looking at my parents.
        "Absolutely," agreed my mother. "I'm sure the two of you would like to have some more one-on-one time together, so go right ahead. We've got this."
        "Thanks!" said Jennalee gratefully, standing up and grabbing my hand as she spoke. She pulled me toward the back hallway, snatching her little purse from the counter as she went. "See you later, Mom!"
        "Yeah, thanks from me too," I added as I disappeared into the hall. Within seconds we were out the back door, and finally free from any further embarrassment.

Chapter 2

        As soon as we were outside Jennalee released my hand. Then she turned, took my face in both of her hands, and kissed me very passionately for several long seconds.
        "Not that I'm complaining," I said with a big smile when she had ended the kiss and taken a step back, "but what was that for?"
        "That was for being my hero in there!" she stated emphatically. "Thank you SO much for jumping in so fast and ending that sex discussion, Mikey! I thought I was gonna DIE when your dad started talking about that!"
        "Yeah, I knew you wouldn't like that," I replied. "Don't be too hard on him, though, or our moms. They're only trying to look out for us." Then I chuckled. "Besides, we were basically all over each other after we broke the news. I can't really blame them for panicking a bit."
        Jennalee gave a little sigh. "I guess you're right; and you know I love your dad. He's often been like a substitute father to me ever since we moved here. I just wish that subject could have been brought up some other time. Not that it wouldn't have been embarrassing whenever it happened."
        "Yeah, it was probably best to get it out of the way now, when you think about it," I responded.
        Suddenly Jennalee's eyes widened, and she grabbed my hand again.
        "C'mon, let's get out of here!" she hissed as she pulled me toward the driveway.
        "What's the rush?" I asked as we hurried down the drive toward the street.
        "Just in case they think of something else to talk to us about!" she answered. "This is the best day of my life so far, and I don't want anything else messing it up!" Suddenly she stopped, dropped my hand and went to open her purse. "We should turn our phones off!" she stated.
        "Come on, JJ" I chuckled. "That's an overreaction, don't you think?" She paused to look at me. "OK, here's what we do," I continued. "You go ahead and turn yours off. I'll leave mine on, so if they do call they'll have to call me; and if they do, I'll think of a way out of it."
        Jennalee kissed me on the cheek, then quickly pulled her phone out and turned it off. As she replaced it in her purse, she smiled at me and said, "I was right this morning, Mikey. You WILL always have my back!"
        "Every day forever!" I agreed as she grabbed my hand again. "By the way, where are we going?"
        "I was headed for my house, if that's all right with you."
        "Sounds good!"
        A couple of minutes later we had settled ourselves in on the love seat in her living room, with Jennalee's head nestled into my shoulder and my arm affectionately around her.
        "I think I'm over the sex discussion thing now," she said, sounding relaxed and contented, "but I wish we hadn't had to make that promise."
        "About waiting until we're married?"
        She giggled loudly. "No, silly! About not getting engaged until we graduate!" Then she became serious again. "We should be able to decide that completely for ourselves! Don't you think so?"
        "Well," I replied, "as much as I'm looking forward to seeing my ring on your finger someday, I don't see a need to take that step while we're still in high school. We're on the verge of adulthood, but we're still kids too. We know we're going to get married someday. We can take our time getting there, can't we?"
        "It doesn't matter," she responded in a resigned tone. "We promised, so we're stuck with waiting."
        "Then let's follow their advice, and concentrate on enjoying being young."
        "Now that I think about it, there's a lot to be said for that, isn't there?" she said, sounding happier.
        "That's the attitude!" I agreed. She snuggled into me, and we were silent for a minute or so.
        "Mikey," Jennalee suddenly said in an uncertain tone, turning her body so she could look at me. "You know what your dad said about us possibly growing apart? You don't think that could really happen, do you?"
        "It's not going to happen to me, I can tell you that!" I assured her. "I've spent seven years slowly building my life more and more around you, and the idea of being with you forever. I couldn't MAKE myself grow apart from you. You know that's true, too, because when I thought you had made a serious commitment to Kyle, I tried starting that process. You saw this morning how completely I failed. Whatever changing and growing is still left for me is only going to make me grow even closer to you. I'm as sure of that as I am that Jesus died for my sins."
        Jennalee smiled broadly. "Thank you!" she said with some obvious relief. "I'm that sure too. It took a lot of thought for me to figure it all out, but once I did...well, it was like finally seeing the answer to a tricky riddle, you know? It suddenly seems so obvious that you can't believe you didn't get it a lot sooner. As soon as I started consciously thinking of you as a boy I could be in love with, and then right after that began understanding that I actually HAD been falling in love with you for a long time without realizing it, everything that had been so confusing to me immediately started making perfect sense. I finally saw that you were the answer to all my questions, the fulfillment of all my relationship dreams, and I know now that what I have with you could never possibly happen with anyone else. I wouldn't even want it to. It's you or nobody, and always will be. I love you forever, Mikey!"
        Suddenly tears filled my eyes.
        "I'm never going to get tired of hearing you say that, you know," I said emotionally. "I waited so long and wanted so much for you to love me as more than a friend, and now you do. You actually love me! I..." At that point, words failed me.
        "Oh, Mikey!" Jennalee said lovingly as tears appeared in her own eyes. She gently touched my cheek. "I've always wanted you to be happy, just as much as I wanted it for me. I'm so glad it turned out that your greatest possible happiness was something I could give you myself! Nothing else could make ME happier than that."
        She kissed me tenderly, then snuggled herself back into my arms. I held her gratefully for a while as random thoughts about the two of us bounced around in my mind.
        "Hmm," I eventually muttered.
        "What?" Jennalee asked.
        "I was just thinking about how unusual we are as a couple."
        "How do you mean?"
        "Just by the way our relationship developed. Most couples meet, they go on a date, if that goes well they go on more dates, if those go well at some point they become exclusive, and if the relationship continues to grow, eventually the guy proposes. There's a BUILD to it, you know? But with us, we developed our relationship as friends for a long time first. In fact, as a practical matter, our afternoon at the beach today was really our first date, and before we even did that we were not only already exclusive, we already knew we were going to get married! When I do propose, there's not going to be much drama to it, is there?"
        "Wow," Jennalee replied sarcastically as she turned again to look at me, "you certainly know how to suck the romance out of a moment, don't you?"
        "That wasn't my intent," I chuckled. "But it does underscore why we don't need to rush anything. Don't worry, though, I'll find plenty of ways to be romantic. I promise!"
        "Another promise!" groaned Jennalee, still in sarcastic mode. Then she smiled. "Actually, though, I think I can live with that one. Shall we seal it with a kiss?"
        We sealed it with many kisses, followed by some more cuddling and small talk (which didn't really seem small at all because of who I was having it with), and then one last kiss to say goodbye for the day after her mother returned home.
        As I walked back across the street, I thought again about the whole proposal concept as it applied to my relationship with Jennalee. I resolved right then that when it eventually did happen, my proposal would not be anticlimactic. I would find a way to make the moment special.
        By the time I went to bed, I had the beginnings of an idea.

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