Carson jumped two more of his brother's checkers and added them to his pile, while Connor stacked and re-stacked the few that he had managed to capture earlier. Connor was normally a fierce competitor, but tonight he was distracted and Carson was fairly certain he knew the reason. "She looked beautiful tonight," he stated, not even bothering to clarify to whom he was referring.
"Yeah, she did." Connor smiled, his mind obviously still on that same lady. He turned all the checkers to face the same direction.
Carson laughed as his brother's preoccupation. "You know, dear brother, when it comes to courting a woman, there is a fine line between caution and stupidity."
"What?" Connor looked up suddenly, and then as his brother's words sunk in, added dismissively, "What would you know about courting?"
Carson just smiled, completely unperturbed by his brother's skepticism. "Plenty. Got me a girl. Her name's Alice and she is just about one of the most beautiful creatures I've ever seen. She's a singer and a dancer and wears these cute little dresses." The rapturous smile he had plastered on his face widened at his older brother's look of horror at the description, and he continued. "I completely adore her, and she says she wants to marry me."
Connor pulled himself together and prepared to deliver the lecture that he felt was his duty as an older brother to give. "Now, Carson."
He got no further before his younger brother started laughing and punched him in the shoulder. "I'm teasing, I'm teasing. Alice is a little girl at church. Her dad is a good pal of mine. She really does say she that wants to marry me, but I'm sure she will get over me by the time she grows up."
Connor smiled. "So, like I thought. You don't know anything."
"Oh come on, I'm sure she will forgive me for marrying her kindergarten teacher."
"You're really planning to get married?" Connor's tone was doubtful.
"Yeah, maybe, someday," Carson answered flippantly before continuing his interrogation of his brother. "Seriously though, how long are you going to wait before you let Gemma know how you feel?"
Connor shoved his hands in his carefully combed hair, before raking his fingers through it and then flinging his arms upward.
"I don't know. I want to, I'm just being..."
"Stupid?' Carson supplied for him.
"Well, I was going to say cautious."
Carson smirked. "Like I said earlier, 'Fine line'."
Connor didn't respond, but instead meticulously boxed up the game as he considered the validity of his brother's point.
Carson reigned in his joviality and asked with a gentleness more suited to their sister, "Have you talked to her?"
Connor dumped out the same checkers that he had just so carefully packed away. "We've talked about everything! Weather, food, family, farming, architecture, geology, law, politics, work, the kids, Fletcher, God, church, money, music, our childhoods, you name it." He rattled off the topics like a shopping list, but then paused seriously. "But I'm not sure when or how to talk to her about a future together. I don't want to pressure her. I've never loved someone like this."
"Not even Floozy Ann?"
"Don't call her that." Connor's agitation from the moment before settled into seriousness. He took a deep breath before continuing. "And no, not even Florrie Ann."
Carson rolled his eyes at Connor's disdain for the nickname that he felt so aptly described his brother's former fiancee. "Tell me honestly that you weren't crushed when you got back from Europe and found out that she had gotten pregnant and married David."
"Yes, I was. But I learned something important. Feelings alone should never determine our actions."
"But you do have feelings for Gemma, right?"
"You know I do! You're the one that brought up the fact that I need to share them with her, remember?"
"Of course I know! I just wanted to make that you knew and that you didn't think this is some mathematical, logic equation that you've solved."
"Well, there is some mathematics and logic involved." He held up his hands to keep his younger brother from interrupting. "But I know it's not just that, or feelings for that matter. It is a choice."
"A choice that you've already made?"
"Yeah, months ago."
"What if she doesn't make that same choice?"
"Then I'll keep trying to convince her otherwise." He flashed a smile that disappeared with his next statement. "Unless she asks me to stop then I will respect her decision, but I'll still keep hoping and praying."
"And what if she does make the same choice?"
"It will be forever. Never undone. She will always be a part of me."
Whether it was a genuine desire to ensure that his brother had considered every possibility of the monumental action he was considering, or if it was his tendency as a lawyer and right as a little brother to be antagonistic that prompted Carson's continuance of questions, even he wasn't sure, but he asked, "What if after you get married she gets sick or fat or lazy or ugly or mean? Would you still love her?"
Connor nodded thoughtfully in the affirmative, but froze motionless at Carson's next question.
"What if she is unfaithful?"
"Okay, that's enough." Connor's eyes darkened. "Why are you asking these things? You seriously don't think that Gemma is the kind of woman who..."
Carson was quick to cut in. "No, no, no. Of course not." He paused. "But then no one ever imagines those things or they wouldn't marry them in the first place."
Connor was quiet for a moment then sighed. "I admit it would be hard, really hard, but I pray I would love her like Christ loves. We love him because He first loved us. He loved us when we were unlovely. I don't know. I pray that I would. It would be a difficult choice."
Carson knew his brother's tendency toward solemnity, and abruptly changed the course of the conversation to a different tone.
"So, do you think she will pass Father's test?" he asked, the corner of his lip quirking mischievously.
Conner laughed and eagerly followed Carson's new topic.
"You really think he was serious?"
"Oh, brother dear, we both know he was."
"I know before Robert married Ella, Father gave him the test, but I thought that was just to protect his little girl."
"And you don't think he would want to protect us?"
"I'm sure he thinks we can take care of ourselves."
"That might be true, but do you really think Father will pass up the opportunity to tease her?"
"You have have point."
"So, do you think she would pass?"