Two brothers work a rich and bountiful land — and one extraordinary woman shares their lives. To Jonathan Gray, Mary is a devoted and giving mate. To Aaron, she is a beloved friend. But seven childless years of marriage haveforced Jonathan to ask the unthinkable of his brother and his wife — binding the two people he cares for most with an act of desire born of compassion...awakening Mary to the pain of infidelity, and to all the bittersweet joy and heartache that passionate love can bring.
The truth had long been settling on Jonathan Gray, sneaking into his resisting comers, but it had finally resounded in the deepest part of him. He'd prayed it wasn't so, hoped that if he willed it untrue it would be. But it was true. He knew it. At last it had to be faced...and dealt with. After denying it all these years, it had come to Jonathan Gray that he was infertile.
Jonathan and Aaron had suffered together in that winter when it had happened, as they'd suffered most of their childhood illnesses together. As only brothers they'd shared everything from the tin cup on top of the water Pump to the bed they'd slept in all their growing years, so it was only natural that what one got, the other one got, from the croup of babyhood to the head colds of childhood and, finally, the mumps of adolescence. It was the mumps that had done it.
Who's to say why they'd stayed up on Aaron and moved down on Jonathan. Their ma had tried everything from packs of icy, burning-cold snow to poultices of boiled beans, but Jonathan's swelling genitals had stubbornly refused to subside.
It was one of the few times he ever remembered Doc Haymes coming out to their house, and maybe that had something to do with his mistrust of the man now.
"There's nothing I can do that you haven't already done, Mrs. Gray," the doc had said, and those words rang now in Jonathan's memory. He blamed the doc because Haymes had found no way to take away the pain.
When it was over and done with, they'd all said not to worry because it wasn't a sure thing he'd been damaged. Probably he'd end up with more babies than he needed, they'd ventured.
But he'd been married seven years and there were no babies yet. He and Mary had been trying all that time, and now it seemed almost certain there wouldn't ever be any babies.
And that old fool Haymes hadn't helped matters recently, either. For the life of him, Jonathan couldn't figure out why Mary listened to Haymes's farfetched notions. Now he had her counting the days on the calendar with some nonsense about some days it can happen and some days it can't. That riled Jonathan. Somebody ought to shake some sense into that old fool's head, but Jonathan was a peaceful man and it wouldn't be him that did it. Besides, the old fool seemed to keep Mary hopeful. So Jonathan stifled his tongue and went along with it when she announced it was the right day to try again. But he cursed Haymes half of the time for giving her false hopes.
But the pretending got harder and harder and the bed seemed smaller and smaller as their lovemaking brought no babies. The strain was rife between Jonathan and Mary, and nothing would ease it except the baby they both wanted and couldn't have.
It wasn't clear in Jonathan's head just when the notion had come to him, but it was somewhere back during the past winter. He'd had time to mull it over in his mind, holding it, weighing it, measuring it, rolling it back and forth as he might work a lump of spring soil, wondering just when it'd be ready for its mating with the seeds.
When it first came to him he was sitting where he was now, right here in the family pew after Sunday services, soaking up the good closeness of himself and the Lord after all the others had left the two of them alone for a while. It was a time he enjoyed best. Let the others yammer away, exchanging gossip in the churchyard like they always did on a Sunday. He'd rather spend his last few minutes here.
He'd been reading his Bible, easing his eyes over some words there, when he came to a verse that held his mind from wandering on: "Take unto thee Aaron thy brother and his sons with him." At first it was Aaron's name that held him, made him, go over it one more time.