He wiped his watery eyes, the sawdust and wood shavings burning at his throat. With a heavy cough he dropped his saw and took a seat on the uneven little stool he always kept by his work bench, the first piece of furniture that he ever made. It was late afternoon, and the warm sun was slipping behind the hills; he'd have to stop soon anyway. He looked around the little shed where he and his father had made their humble works and saw the progression from when he was a young boy shaving stools to today, a young man with the great masterpiece before him. It was a kitchen cupboard with a pair of shelves and two small doors. He had done and redone it, tearing it apart after so carefully putting it together. It had to be perfect. It was the wedding gift to go in his first home.
"Joseph?" He looked up from his work to see his father walking across the lawn. The young man stood and pulled the sheet over his cupboard, not letting anyone see it until it was done. "Joseph, your mother wants you to eat something."
"Coming." He brushed off his thick, worn hands and stopped at his father's side. Jacob put a hand on his son's broad shoulder, Joseph no longer short enough to go under his arm.
"How's the cupboard?" he asked with a warm smile, almost constantly grinning from ear to ear at seeing his boy grown. Joseph shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck. "Will it be ready in time?"
"Yeah." Joseph kicked off his sandals before stepping into the warm kitchen. His mother, Rebecca, handed him a roll. "Thanks."
"I talked to Dinah," Rebecca muttered while filling a bowl with fruit. Every meal had been a three course one lately. Joseph dropped into his chair, exhausted. "She said Mary's been sick every morning for the past three days. I think that girl's caught the death of something. Joseph, did you hear me?"
"Sounds serious, dear," Jacob answered with little enthusiasm, pouring himself and his son some wine.
"She doesn't clean enough, that Dinah. Mary does it all. That's why she's sick, poor thing." Joseph sighed, running a hand through his dark chestnut curls. It was a month ago that he had been betrothed to quiet, cautious Mary. He had nothing against her—she was skilled, obedient, beautiful, everything a husband could want at fourteen—but his family was going insane over it. His mother, in some weird denial of her eldest son growing up, had been feeding him like a horse and make comment of any other mother's faults. His father had been spoiling rotten, calling him his "pride and joy" and what not. Joseph rolled his eyes and took another piece of bread. "Joseph?"
"What?" he snapped a little too brightly. He was too frustrated with that stupid cupboard and everyone else's expectations for it and his marriage to listen to her. Rebecca blinked, walking over with a slight scowl.
"Something the matter?"
"Sorry," he breathed, rubbing his side. "I'm…tired."
"You need to eat," Rebecca ordered. "Seventeen years old—growing boy needs his food."
"The meat's good, dear." Jacob was already halfway through his plate. "Joseph, have you spoken with that merchant about the fence?"
"I…I've been spending all my time on the cupboard, I…"
"Don't worry the boy about that now!" Rebecca fussed, dumping more meat onto Joseph's plate before he had even touched his first serving. "He's got enough of your work to do!"
"The boy's about to leave home, Rebecca, he needs to have his own clients."
"Not necessarily! You need him around here!"
"Whoever heard of a grown father and son working together!"
"GUYS!" Joseph interrupted, standing. "Ever since this whole thing happened, you talk about me like I'm not here or I can't decide things for myself!"
"Joseph! What are you talking about?" Jacob demanded.
"Darling, we love you!"
"Yeah, I know," he sighed, heading into the main chamber of their small but comfortable home. His younger sister, Hannah, was playing with a toy in front of the fire.
"Joey, play with me!" she begged.
"No," he answered sharply. She blinked and wrinkled her nose.
"You're so mean!" He moaned and climbed the ladder leading to the roof where evening was beginning to set. He could see the whole village of Nazareth, their old home settled on a rounded hill, the place where he had been raised and would start his own family. It had all passed so quickly, he thought as he paced along the ridge of the roof. He wasn't a boy anymore. A small smile passed over him; finally, he'd be the head of a house. He remembered what his mother had said and blinked. If Mary was sick, he should go see her tomorrow. Lowering to one knee, he bowed his head.
Heavenly Lord, I ask that you watch over my future bride. If she's going through half the stuff I am, being sick won't help at all. Lord, she's a faithful servant, we both know. I am a blessed man to have the chance to learn from her.
He paused, drawing his eyes tighter.
Lord, I think I love her. I hope she may grow to love me, too.