A/N: So this story first came to me when I was mowing--something I hate and one of the top five reasons I want to get married--and at first, it was supposed to be this sweet and fluffy love story. But as I thought of the story, it spoke to me not as fluff, but as something deeper. And now, well . . . here it is . . . I spent all morning revising and editing it. It is above all a love story. I hope that Noah and Samantha's story touches you in some way.

Salt and Sweat and Freshly Mowed Grass

Written By: Cassandra Rose Ernst

The stems of grass are long and twisted. They are beginning to turn brown from the summer's heat. Weeds engulf my front yard and I watch as the bees and wasps play upon the dandelions; their stingers ready to attack any unsuspecting victim. From the outside, it may seem as if this house is as abandoned as my heart. But I am here. He is not. The grass is growing long. Soon I will have to mow it. I will have to force myself to stand; to go to the garage; to pull out the heavy, red machine. The grass will pelt at my legs, leaving marks that are nowhere near as permanent as the marks he left in my life. I need to mow my lawn. I will do it tomorrow.

Just one more day.

I have always hated mowing. My mother was a true feminist. She believed that women should be out there working and mowing the lawn just like the men and that they should never have to cook or clean the house. It was just her and I growing up. My father left us when I was four. I acted like her. I pretended to be a feminist. But I was a true homebody at heart. I loved to cook and I adored cleaning bathrooms (it had something to do with the smell of the cleaners). I read romance novels under the covers in my room and dreamed of the day that my true love would sweep me off my feet. I longed to have dozens of children and to stay home and raise them all. But I would never admit any of this to my mother.

I left home for college, away from the influences of my mother. I was able to express myself more, but I was still afraid to show my romantic side. My friends called me independent and radical. After college, I rented my first house. I studied interior design in college, so it was no wonder that the most exciting part about moving was decorating each room. I took my time, making my space special. I scrubbed my bathroom every day, making it sparkle and gleam, breathing in that fresh, newly-cleaned bathroom smell. I loved my new home, but there was one thing that I despised about that little house. And that was the big front yard that came with it. I had never told my mother, of course, that I hated mowing the lawn. It was liberating to have my own place, but stifling to think that I would have to get out there in that heat and cut down all that grass. And so I waited. I waited until it grew long and the neighbors started to give me funny looks. I knew it was only a matter of time before they filed a complaint; so one Tuesday after work, I finally pulled out the ancient push mower and revved it up. Much to my dismay, it actually started.

The noise was probably the worst part of mowing. Or the way the grass flew all over your feet and stuck to your skin. Maybe it was struggling to turn the mower as it plowed along. Or perhaps the stifling heat at your back. I could not tell you the worst part of mowing. Only that I hated it to the very core of my being. I was silently making a song in my head about how evil mowing the lawn was when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I jumped, releasing the mower. It came to an instant stop. All was quiet in the town.

I swung around and saw him. He looked like any ordinary man. There was nothing creepy about him, but he wasn't drop-dead gorgeous either. He just had curly brown hair and a nice smile. "Do you need something?" I asked with a raise of my brow. I didn't appreciate being interrupted while I was making songs about my hatred of mowing.

"A lady shouldn't be out here mowing," he said simply. "Especially one as beautiful as you." His voice came out in a slow drawl; the unfamiliarity of such an accent made my heart skip slightly.

"I am perfectly capable of mowing, thank you!" I said, putting one of my hands to my hip. I silently cursed my mother for instilling such feminist answers in my mind. They often came out against my will. I turned to start up the mower. I only went about three feet before I noticed he was still there. I turned off the mower and gave him a pointed stare.

"If you would like, ma'am," he said. "I would be more than willing to mow your lawn for you."

"How much do you want?"

"No charge," he replied. "Just call it a random act of kindness." I sighed, as if the idea of somebody else mowing my lawn was torture. However, I was secretly jumping for joy. I didn't have to mow the stupid grass.

"Fine," I said, shoving my mower towards him. Without another word, the man was mowing my lawn. And I was left with nothing to do. I stared at him for a few minutes—he seemed to be able to turn all of the corners with such ease—before finally walking back inside my cool, air-conditioned house. If he was going to mow my lawn, the least I could do was make him some lemonade. I took a couple of fresh lemons out of the refrigerator and grabbed the sugar off the shelf and began to make it. He was half-way through the lawn by the time I went back outside.

"Would you like some lemonade?!" I hollered.

"What?!" He yelled over the mower before common sense sneaked up and he turned the mower off. "Sorry, I didn't hear you ma'am."

"Would you like some lemonade?" I said again, quieter.

He smiled. "Thank you very much." He came to sit beside me on the swing-set once I handed him the drink. I was drawn to how strong his hands looked. Taking a slow drink, he gave me an even slower grin. "This tastes even better than my mama's lemonade. Although don't tell her I said that." He winked. "Is this freshly-squeezed?" I nodded. I didn't know what to say as he sat there, drinking the lemonade I had made him. However, he didn't seem to mind the silence.

"I guess I better get back to the yard," he said with an incline of his head. I watched from the porch swing as he started the mower back up and finished my yard. I noticed the sweat beadlets on his forehead. He took a red handkerchief from his pocket and wiped it across his face, yet not for a moment did he stop. And then the yard was done. And once again there was complete silence.

He walked over to where I stood. "Here's your mower back," he said.

"Thank you for that," I replied, waving my hand around the yard, not quite sure what to say. He gave me a slow grin.

"It was my pleasure," he said. "I always like to help a lady in need."

There was silence again. I didn't know if I should tell him goodbye, or if he was waiting for me to say something else, or what. "Say," he said after a moment. "Would you like to go out sometime for coffee?"

"No," I said automatically, my mother's feminist instincts kicking again. I knew there had to be an ulterior motive for a complete stranger to mow my lawn. He was hoping to score a date with me. I turned to walk back into my house.

"I never did catch you name, ma'am." I didn't reply. "Well, mine is Noah. Noah Brendan." I went inside without another word. I didn't think that I would ever see that Noah man again. After all, I had shot him down quite harshly. Little did I know, he was quite persuasive at what he did. In our first moments that day, I never suspected how much he would grow to mean to me.

That next Tuesday, I was sitting in my house, reading a book to help me unwind after work, when I heard the rev of somebody's lawn mower. At first I assumed it was just the neighbors. Then I looked out my front window to see him out there, mowing my lawn. Again. I jumped out of my chair and rushed out the front door. The moment Noah saw me, he cut the engine.

"Good evening, ma'am," he said.

"What are you doing here?"

"I told you, I don't think any lady should be forced to mow her lawn. And the grass was getting a little long."

"Oh." I stared at him for a moment, perplexed by what he was still doing there.

"I should get back to my mowing," he said once he realized that I had nothing more to say. I didn't know what to say.

I nodded before turning around and walking back into the house. I tried to get back into the book I was reading. But all I could concentrate on was the sound of the mower. Finally, I stood with a sigh, and went into the kitchen to make some lemonade. After all, if he was going to mow my lawn, the least I could do was make him some lemonade.

The lawn was finished by the time I walked outside and he murmured a soft thank you as I handed him the glass. We were silent as he gulped the drink down in two easy swallows. "I guess I'll be seeing you," he said with a smile. I watched him as he walked down the steps to my porch and down the sidewalk.

"Noah!" I called. He stopped and turned; a friendly smile on his face. "My name's Samantha. Samantha Woodcraft."

"Samantha Woodcraft," he said, as if testing the name on his lips. I had to admit that I loved the sound of my name from his mouth. He stretched it out in his slow drawl that had the tips of my toes curling. "It has been a pleasure meeting you, Ms. Woodcraft. See you next week?" He didn't wait for my response as he turned to walk away.

I was anxiously awaiting his return that next Tuesday. As soon as I got out of work, I sat in the front room—the one with the large window—and peeked up from my book every few minutes to see if he had arrived. When he finally did get there, I couldn't help but to stare at the way his arms bulged from the short-sleeved shirt he was wearing or the way his strong hands gripped the handle with such confidence. He suddenly looked up and caught my eye through the window. He winked. I blushed.

I didn't go outside until he was finished mowing. I handed him the lemonade that I had made while I had waited. He drank it slowly this time, as if savoring each swallow. "Well, I should get going," he said after he had emptied his glass.

"Wait," I said. He stopped. "I was just wondering if . . ." My face turned red and I could hear my mother's voice scolding me. You're a woman, she was saying. Don't let men ask you out. If you want a man, GO FOR HIM. Act with confidence! "Would you like to come inside and watch a movie? Or something."

He looked me over slowly. And although there was nothing licentious about his appraisal, it still made me self-conscious. Our eyes met and I noticed flakes of green in his light brown eyes; my breath caught and I anxiously awaited his answer. "That sounds great." He finally said. "What movie did you have in mind?" I picked a comedy. He laughed in all the right places. He smelled of salt and sweat and freshly mowed grass. And although we sat together on the same couch, he didn't make a move on me. His arm didn't even brush up against mine.

"So I'll be seeing you next week?" I said, hoping the answer would be yes. He gave a slow but sure nod as I was rewarded with his easy smile. And so this pattern continued on. He would come over and mow my lawn. I would fix him some lemonade and then after he finished, we would watch a movie.

Yet through all of that time, I barely said more than a dozen words to him. But when one spends so much time with another person—words or not—she grows to know him and I grew to know Noah Brendan very well. I knew his laughter. I knew how he grabbed a handful of his curly hair when he felt anxious or frustrated. I adored his odd sense of manners and the way he never called me by my first name, making me feel like some heroine in a Jane Austen novel. I knew he preferred comedies over dramas and loved action movies the best. And although he had never said it, I could tell by the way he looked at me—his gaze never wavering—that he found me extremely attractive.

He found me attractive, yes, but he had never asked me out since that first time I turned him down for coffee. I didn't understand why, unless he just didn't want to be rejected again. But that didn't bode well with the Noah Brendan I had come to know. He was nothing if not confident. Sometimes, on the days I didn't see him, I thought that maybe I was wrong about him finding me attractive. Maybe I had just imagined it. But it took only a single look from him to banish all the insecurities I had felt on the other days of the week. Yet, he did not ask me out.

I could hear my mother's voice speaking to me, telling me to stop living my life with hopeless, helpless daydreams and take action. It's the 21st century, she screamed in my ear. Ask him out yourself. Or better yet, just have your way with him on your kitchen floor. Just don't let him control you.

But my mother's voice could not quench my romantic side. The side that wanted the man to ask out the woman. And so I waited. And waited.

It was another five weeks before Noah asked me the question I had been hoping to hear for so long. "Ms. Woodcraft," he said as the credits were rolling across the action flick we had just watched. "When are you going to let me take you out on a real date?"

Despite my longing, it was so unexpected that my face turned red from the pounding of my heart and my throat closed up from the sudden dryness of my mouth. I looked up to see him staring at me intently. I licked my lips slowly, a bit nervously, before finally replying, "You can pick me up this Saturday night."

I had never been more nervous for a date than I was that Saturday night. Although I saw Noah on a weekly basis, I had never been in the intimate setting that dates called for. What was more than that, I had never even had an actual conversation with him. He told me to dress up because he was going to treat me to a special night that all ladies deserved. After hours of searching through my closet, I finally settled on a mint green sheath dress with white heels. I didn't know if that was what he had in mind when he said 'dress-up' but it was about the best I could do.

He took me to a seaside restaurant and we sat out on the patio. There was candlelight and the perfect view of the ocean. The place was absolutely amazing. But the company was what made the night perfect. "It's funny," I said softly. "You have been coming over to my house for two months now, but I really don't know anything about you."

"What would you like to know, Ms. Woodcraft?"

"Why do you always call me that?"

"My mother taught me the importance of manners." He winked slowly before taking a bite of his fish. "And my father taught me to never let a lady mow their own lawn if you had anything to say about it."

"So that's why you stopped that day?"

"That," he said. "And the fact that you were the most beautiful woman I had ever seen." I saw the intensity that was reflected in his eyes and I felt my heart warm as I concentrated on my food.

"So you get along with your parents?" I asked, still intent on my food. He nodded before asking me the same question. "It's always been my mom and me," I confessed. "My father left us when I was about four. We get along pretty well, but I tend to become a different person around her."

"I apologize about your father," Noah said. "No girl should have to grow up without a daddy." I just shrugged, a little embarrassed. It wasn't as if I was some special case. I had read the statistics. Over 23 percent of children grew up without fathers nowadays.

As we talked about our lives, I found myself falling even more for Noah Brendan. I had thought that I knew him from the hours of silent communication that we had had over the weeks. However, although I may have known his quirks, I knew little about his soul. His family was originally from Texas. As a child, he spent his summers on his grandfather's cattle ranch that had been passed down through five generations. However, when his grandfather died, the ranch had been so deeply in debt that his family had to sell it in order to offset the costs. Noah was eighteen when that happened and a large part of him was torn away with that ranch. Although he had originally gone to college to pursue law, he found that he had a love for advertising; so he now worked on creating appealing advertisements. I was overjoyed to find out that he was responsible for my current favorite commercial. His favorite sport was baseball and he had played on his church's league for five years. Like me, he was an only child—a miracle from God—he said, because his parents had been told that it wasn't possible for them to have children.

"Would you like to dance?" He asked me suddenly in mid-conversation. I could hear my mother's voice screaming at me to say no. Strong, independent women never dance with men. It only brings trouble. However, I blocked out her warnings as I went to take his hand.

And suddenly, we were spinning around the patio. He turned me around as confidently as he steered the lawn mower. And those long, strong hands were even more perfect when they were gripping mine. When I was in his arms, I felt safe and secure—more so than I had ever felt in my life—and I knew then that I was falling in love with this man.

I was expecting a kiss when he took me back to my house. However, his lips only brushed against my cheek lightly. I wanted that kiss. I could hear my mother's voice telling me to take it from him and then leave him wanting more. Satisfy your physical needs, but don't get involved emotionally. But the secret, feminine side of me hesitated. I wanted him to be the man. I wanted him to make the first move. "I will see you Tuesday, Ms. Woodcraft," he said softly before giving my hand one last squeeze and walking back to his car. I went into the house, my heartbeat pounding so fast it was almost as if he HAD kissed me.

Tuesday could not come soon enough.

From the moment he came into my yard that next Tuesday, I knew that things had changed between us. Our Tuesdays would never be the same. My smile was shy as he walked up. He winked quickly before turning to rev up the engine. I watched him from the porch as he mowed my lawn. I watched his hands as they gripped the handle and I studied his curly hair that he had pulled back with his red bandana. I was so content with watching him that I had almost forgotten to get his lemonade. I rushed inside to grab him a glass just before he had finished with my yard.

"Hi," I said slowly, holding out his glass of lemonade. He took it from me. His actions deliberate as his fingers brushed against mine. My hands tingled from the contact. He studied me from above the glass as he drank. Suddenly, he lowered the glass and placed one hand on my cheek.

"I couldn't get you out of my mind this week," he said.

"Neither could I," I admitted.

"To be honest, I haven't been able to get you out of my head since the first time we met." I blushed at his admission, not wanting to tell him that I felt the same way. My mother screamed at me to take a step back before it was too late. Before I fell completely. Be involved physically with a man, she was reminding me, but never emotionally.

And suddenly, his fingers brushed my lips. My entire body froze. "I'm going to kiss you now." There was a playful smile on his face and I could make out each green fleck in his eyes. I could smell salt and sweat and freshly mowed grass. I nodded dumbly before his lips came down to meet mine. His lips were soft, like I expected. But also strong and assured. I leaned into the kiss, opening my mouth to try to take some of his strength. I had never felt safer than I did in that moment; my hands came up to brush against his chest, I clutched his shirt in an act of surrender. I could still taste the lemons in his breath. Too soon, he pulled away, looking at me with so much intensity that I would have fallen to the ground if he hadn't been gripping me by the arm.

I half-expected us to neck like a pair of lust-starved teenagers throughout the entire movie. However, I should have known Noah better than that. I leaned against his shoulder for the entire movie. And his beautiful fingers weaved themselves through my hair. We were both more intent on each other than on the comedy that was playing. However, that kiss out on my front porch, the one that tasted of lemons, was the only one we shared that day.

Not to say there weren't plenty of kisses—steamier kisses—in the future. After that afternoon, we were a couple. And much to my mother's disappointment, we did all those things that couples did. I met his parents and they loved me. He met my mother and she thought that he was far too chauvinistic (not to mention, he apparently looked like my father). We went out every weekend and met for meals during our lunch breaks. We told each other our darkest secrets and biggest fears. And every Tuesday, he would come and mow my lawn, I would make him his lemonade, and together we go inside and watch a movie.

"Ms. Woodcraft," he said one Tuesday as we were sitting on my front porch. "I love you." Inside I was screaming for joy, but I could hear my mother's words as well. Never let him know how he affects you. So I just smiled softly and told him thank you, even though on this inside, I wanted to tell him that I loved him too. That I had loved him now for weeks. He did not seem deterred by my response. Perhaps he could see the truth in my eyes. I did not know. "And I want you to know, that as long as I am here, you will never have to mow another lawn again. I promise you this."

I laughed at his comment, even though he had said it in perfect seriousness. "That's good," I said. "Because I hate mowing!" It was another two months before I could work up the trust and the courage to tell him that I loved him too. He only smiled at me, as if he had known it along, before giving me a soft kiss. His lips tasted like lemons.

Those Tuesdays seemed to flow into each other, each one precious, yet together, they weaved a beautiful tapestry of our love. This may seem trite, but one of the things that I loved most about Noah was that when we watched a movie, we actually watched it. We saved our make-out sessions for a different time. Noah was perfect. Almost too perfect, it seemed sometimes. This was probably why about six months into our relationship, I felt the need to destroy all we had together.

I remember the night well. We had just come back from dinner at my mother's. She still hadn't gotten use to Noah, although I didn't think that was going to change anytime soon. And she was quick to point out all of the similarities that he had with my father. We had both tried to ignore her, but suddenly I felt a nagging in the back of my mind—a fear that I hadn't felt in so long—the fear that one day Noah would leave me and I would end up more alone than ever before.

And so, I started a fight. It was a stupid fight really. I cannot even remember what I said to start it. Something about him not washing the one cup that was in the sink. But the fight escalated. He tried to calm me down. He tried to tell me that everything would be okay. That he was nothing like my father. But all I could remember was when I was five years old and I would crawl into my mother's bed every night as she cried herself to sleep. All I could think about was this hardened, man-hating woman she had become because my father broke her heart. How she made me promise at only seven that I would never let a man steal my heart. I didn't want to turn out like that. I didn't want Noah to break me like that. So, I said the terrible words. "Noah, I'm through with this! I am through with us!" I said them before he could say them to me.

"Samantha!" he said, hurt clearly evident on his face. Even after six months together, he rarely called me by my first name. "You can't be serious."

"I've never been more serious in my life," I said, though my heart was breaking. I had to hurt him before he could hurt me. "My mother was right. You're nothing more than a chauvinistic pig. You think I was made to serve you. I am tired of putting up with it. I am tired of putting up with you!"

"If that is how you feel . . ."

"It is!" And without another word, he walked out of my kitchen. I cried myself to sleep that night. My mother would have been ashamed.

The next Tuesday I did not want to get out of my bed. I knew that he would not be there. Soon, maybe not today, but soon, I was going to be forced to mow the lawn myself. I was going to be forced to mow it alone. I felt myself begin to tear up again as I thought about what I had lost. I wanted to call him. I wanted to beg for forgiveness. But my mother's voice was telling me to stop. That I could never lose my sense of womanhood by doing such a demeaning thing. The only thing a woman has is her pride and her respect. All men leave you. Don't get too close. They only leave broken hearts behind.

I huddled in my bed until about noon. That was when I heard the faint sounds of an engine running. I rushed to the window, not daring to believe my ears. But he was there, mowing my lawn. My heart leaped into my throat and I rushed to get dressed so that I could meet him outside. Yet when I got there I did not know what to say. He cut the engine and looked at me intently. I could see that there was a great sadness in his eyes. "What are you doing here?" I finally whispered when he did not speak.

"I told you that you would never have to mow a lawn yourself as long as I am here." It was that instant that I finally realized Noah was nothing like my father.

However, it was not that day that we made up. "I'll make you some lemonade," I said shortly before turning around and entering my house. I could have ran into his arms and showered his face with kisses, like I so wanted to. However, I could still hear my mother telling me to hold tightly to my pride. So instead, I retreated to the safe confines of my kitchen. I had not made the lemonade beforehand because I didn't expect that he was going to be there.

By the time I walked outside, he had already finished mowing the lawn. "Here," I said, shoving the glass in his hands, refusing to meet his eyes. He murmured a quiet thank you. There was silence between us. I didn't know what to say or even if things were okay between us.

"I don't think I will be able to stay for a movie this afternoon," Noah said and I felt a little piece of my heart break off and fall to the ground. I didn't respond. "What you said to me, Samantha, it really hurt. I am prepared to forgive you, but I have to know that you're sorry." He placed a hand on my cheek, grazing my jaw slightly, before giving me the now empty glass and turning to walk away.

I continued to let my pride get the best of me. I knew that if I called his name, he would have stopped. If I told him that I was sorry, he would have forgiven me and we would have gone inside and watched a movie. But instead, I let him walk away.

We didn't speak once that week. But he was back on Tuesday. It was another week before I was finally able to get over my pride and beg for his forgiveness. He looked at me, straight in the eye before saying, "I have already forgiven you. I was just waiting for you to forgive yourself." Then he kissed me softly and we walked hand-in-hand into my living room. To this day, I can't remember the movie we watched. But I remember the way he made me feel—as if I was precious and fragile and someone he never wanted to lose again—as he wrapped his arms around me. I didn't let go of him the entire night. And I knew then that he was the man I was going to marry.

He proposed to me on a hot Tuesday afternoon. Although I had been waiting for it, I was certainly not expecting it that day. I instantly knew that he was up to something when I went out on the porch to meet him. He usually mowed in sure squares, turning the mower with an ease that made me jealous. But now he seemed to be doing some kind of weird design in the lawn that didn't make sense.

"What are you doing?" I asked loudly.

He cut the engine, a mysterious and playful smile spread across his face. "I am mowing, Ms. Woodcraft, what does it look like I'm doing?"

"But you're not doing it right!"

"Would you like to show me how it's done properly?" He raised his eyebrows as his drawl grew more pronounced.

"No!" I quickly shot back, holding my hands up in surrender.

"Then why don't you head back inside and make me some lemonade, lady," he teased lightly. I quickly agreed to his terms. However, I couldn't help peeking out the window as he mowed. I could tell now that he was writing something in the grass, but for the life of me, I could not guess what the words could have been.

Finally, I heard the motor stop and I rushed out to meet him. He was standing beside the mower, as if waiting for me to run outside. I think he knew that I had been watching him all along. He nodded his head to the left side of the lawn. "Go see what it says," he said lightly, although I could sense a serious undertone in his words. I tried to read the words from my porch, but he kept my grass too well-kept. It was too short to read unless I was up close.

I walked slowly over to the left side of the lawn, even though I felt like running. I could feel Noah's eyes staring intensely at my back. I started at the first letter, walking slowly through the grass that was slightly shorter than the rest. It spelled out the letter M. I looked up at him with a slightly amused expression. I had not caught on.

The A was next and I quickly moved on to the next letter. It was an R and for some inexplicable meaning, my heart started to race a bit faster. When I had gotten to the next R, I suddenly knew what the word was. I looked up at him, my eyes suddenly filling with tears. He tried to smile, but failed. The next letter was a Y.

I walked deliberately across the sidewalk, afraid that my knees would give way. "Marry," I whispered softly, too softly for him to hear. On the other side of the lawn was another M and then an E. I had not looked at Noah since that second "R". It was easier to stare down at the grass as I tried to still my beating heart.

I walked down the question mark, and stared at his shoes. Slowly, my eyes traveled up his body until they finally met his. In the back of my head, I dimly realized that this was the first time I had ever seen him look nervous. "Samantha Woodcraft," he said grabbing both of my hands in his. "You are beautiful and you are strong and you are so precious. God told me the very first day that I met you that you would be somebody special in my life and it wasn't much longer before I fell completely in love with you. I want to be there for you. Always. I want to love you and protect you and comfort you. I want to kiss you and make love to you and only you. I want to be the only man who ever mows your lawn." He looked down at me with such earnestness that I just wanted to kiss him right then. To scream yes and tell him that there was nothing I would love more than to be with him for the rest of my life. "Do me the honor of becoming Mrs. Brendan," he said suddenly dropping to his knees and pulling a ring from his pocket. "Marry me. Be my wife."

My mother's voice was screaming no, but I had become quite apt at ignoring it. I didn't want to follow in her footsteps. I wanted to follow Noah's. And so I nodded, shakily because I was still too choked up to even speak. "Yes?" He asked and I nodded again, firmer.

"Yes . . ." I repeated my voice was breathy. And suddenly a large grin broke out on his face. "Yes!" I said louder. "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! YES!" He slid the ring on my finger, a small square cut diamond with emeralds across the silver band. It was beautiful. It was perfect. It fit me just right.

He jumped to his feet and swung me around the lawn three times before placing me on the ground and bending me backwards to place a long, smacking kiss on my lips. I responded eagerly, pulling him down closer as I grabbed two great handfuls of his curls.

After a long time, we fell backwards together in the grass, looking up at the clouds, lemonade and movie forgotten. I sighed softly, my left hand on his chest as I admired the new addition to my ring finger and the new level of love that I saw in Noah's eyes.

"Ms. Woodcraft," he said softly after some time. "You do me a great honor."

"I would never want to be with anybody else," I respond simply before moving to kiss him on his jaw and then resting against the crook of his neck. I breathed in his scent of salt and sweat and freshly mowed grass. I loved how familiar—how comforting—it was to me.

We didn't speak for a long time and when we did, Noah's voice was wry. "I suppose I better finish mowing your lawn," he says.

"Are you crazy?!" I answer, pushing up from his chest to look into his eyes. "You are never mowing my lawn again!"

"I am not going to let your yard look like a disheveled mess."

"You just proposed to me in my yard," I answered. "If you think I'm just going to let you mow that proposal away—" And so he let me keep it. At least for a week. And in that week, I walked across those letters more times than I could count. I took pictures from all angles—including a few from my roof—I stared out my picture window in awe of how incredible Noah truly was.

But the next week, Noah declared that the grass was getting disgracefully long and he simply had to cut it. So I reluctantly allowed him too. "It's just grass," he told me softly. "It comes and it goes. But know now, Ms. Woodcraft, I will always be here."

Our engagement was short—my mother thought it was disgracefully short—only three months. But when you've found the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with, why wait? I feared that things would change between us once we said our vows, but if anything, we were closer than ever. Noah didn't call me Ms. Woodcraft anymore. He had taken to calling me Mrs. Brendan. I loved every second of it. And although we were now living together, Noah and I still had a mowing, lemonade, and movie date every Tuesday. He made sure to be home from work before five o'clock every Tuesday so that we could spend the evening together.

Of course, we moved in to a bigger house . . . with a bigger lawn. And one time I asked him if it was harder to mow then the little lawn I once had. He only rolled his eyes and replied, "Mrs. Brendan, I once had to mow two lawns. Now I only mow one. I don't know why I didn't get it over with and ask you to marry me the first time I mowed your lawn."

"I turned you down for coffee," I said. "Who knows what I would have did if you got down on one knee and proposed then."

Those days together were some of the best in my life. We were like every married couple, of course, we had disagreements and we had our fights. But I could always count on Tuesdays. I could always count on him to take care of me. I could always count on our love.

We were overjoyed when I first got pregnant. We had a little baby boy and I named him after his daddy. Four years later, we had a girl. Danya Grace was her name because she was a gracious gift from God. Noah was wonderful father, but I didn't expect anything less from him. Unlike the father I had, I knew that Noah would always be there for his children.

But sometimes the choice is not ours.

Since that very first meeting, and our twelve years of marriage, Noah never missed a Tuesday. He was always out there, mowing. Even when he sprained his wrist while playing softball just before our ten year anniversary, he still insisted on mowing the lawn. I hadn't expected him to do it. I was inside, cleaning the bathroom, and trying to come up with new excuses to put off what Noah had been doing for me for almost twelve years.

That's when I heard it. The rumble of the mower's engine. I groaned to myself, although silently pleased. Noah must have came home from work early and now thought that he was going to mow the lawn, sprained wrist or not. I quickly checked on our daughter to make sure she was still safe and asleep before walking outside. "And just what do you think you are doing, Mr. Brendan?" I said.

He grinned at me. "I am mowing our lawn, Mrs. Brendan."

"What did the doctor say about keeping pressure off of that wrist?" He held his wrist in the air.

"Luckily for you, I am so talented that I can actually mow this lawn with one hand." He waved before giving me a large wink and turning back on the lawn mower. "I told you, Samantha," he said above the motor. "As long as I am here, you will never have to mow again."

Men and their chauvinistic ways. My mother's words came to my head unbidden. She had come to accept Noah, but just barely. At least she didn't compare him to my father anymore. "I'll make you some lemonade!" I screamed to be heard above the mower before walking back inside.

"That husband of yours. He's a good man," my mother admitted to me one afternoon. "He will never leave you." She was silent for a moment before realizing that her words may have been too generous. "Of course, he is entirely too chauvinistic. Forcing you to do all the cooking and cleaning." I still hadn't confessed to my mom that I actually liked to cook and clean. "And never allowing you to mow your own lawn. Just like a man."

Nobody thought Noah would ever leave me, not me, not my mother, and certainly not Noah himself. But we cannot always choose when tragedy will strike. It was a hit and run. Noah was not even in his car. He was just walking down the side of the road one night. Not the safest thing, of course, but he had run out of gas.

I saw his cell phone on the dresser that morning. He had forgotten it, but I was in a hurry and I figured that one day without a cell phone would not hurt him. I often wondered if things would have been different if I'd have taken the time to drop it off at his workplace. I wondered if the person who hit him even knew that he had killed a man. Did he even know he hit a man, or did he think it was just a deer or a road-bump that needed to be fixed?

I was angry that night when he didn't come home. It was a Tuesday and I expected to hear him out there, mowing our lawn. I had had a bad day, but I thought that once I heard him out there, everything would be okay. Everything was always okay on Tuesday evenings. My bad mood transformed into anger when he was not there to mow my lawn. The most shameful part was that I thought all of the worst things of him. That he had been cheating. That he had left me like my father had left me. It should have crossed my mind that he was hurt . . . that he was in trouble. But there was more of my mother's bitterness inside of me then I was willing to admit. Perhaps if I had realized he was in trouble there would have been some way to save him. Maybe then he would not have to take his last breaths on the concrete pavement alone, in the cold.

I often wondered what his last thoughts were before he died. Did he worry about who was going to mow the lawn for me?

They found the car first. And then his body, lying there, already bloated from the heat. He had ID, but I still had to go to the morgue to identify him. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. I looked at his body and knew that no part of my husband was still there.

"Mr. Brendan," I whispered to myself as I walked out of the police station. What I wouldn't do to have him call me Mrs. Brendan one last time. The funeral was a somber affair. People were crowding around us, telling us how sorry they were, asking us if there was anything they could do for us.

I wanted to scream at them that they could bring my husband back. They could make my family whole again. But they were only trying to help. It was not fair to lash out at the concerned friends and acquaintances. I couldn't bear to watch as they placed him in the ground. When they started to shovel the dirt over his casket I had to leave. I left my children there with Noah's parents and went to throw up away from the crowd. I was surprised when I felt a cold hand on my neck. I looked up to see my mother's grim face. "They all leave," she said softly. Her words were not meant to be cruel.

"What am I supposed to do without him?!" And for the first time, I truly understood why my mother's heart was so hardened. Why she would rather be independent than to let herself be dependent on any other man. When that man was gone, the woman was left with nothing. Noah had taken so huge a part of me that I didn't know if I could function without him there beside me.

When we got home that night, Danya curled up in my lap, her little head resting against my chest. I sobbed in her curls, the brown curls that were so much like her father's. I thought back to our first date when he had told me that no little girl should grow up without her father. Well now, Danya had become yet another statistic. Why did he have to leave us?!

I knew that I would have to go job-hunting soon. Now that I was a single mother, I certainly couldn't afford to stay at home with my kids. However, I put it off. Instead choosing to spend all my time in bed, save for making half-hearted meals for my kids. If it weren't for my two beautiful children—all I had left of Noah—I was sure that I would have probably drowned myself in my sorrow. But, I knew that I had to stay here for them. I had to stay strong—or at least as strong as a dependent woman who had lost the one she depended on could be—I had to do it for them.

It has been over a month since my husband last mowed our lawn. It has been over a month since I had to come to terms with the fact that when Noah said he would mow my lawn as long as he was here, it left open the possibility that he would not be here.

The stems of grass are long and twisted. They are beginning to turn brown from the summer's heat. Weeds engulf my front yard and I watch as the bees and wasps play upon the dandelions; their stingers ready to attack any unsuspecting victim. From the outside, it may seem as if this house is as abandoned as my heart. But I am here. He is not. The grass is growing long. Soon I will have to mow it. I will have to force myself to stand; to go to the garage; to pull out the heavy, red machine. The grass will pelt at my legs, leaving marks that are nowhere near as permanent as the marks he left in my life. I need to mow my lawn. I will do it tomorrow.

Just one more day.

One more day and I will do it. I cannot accept that he is gone. I cannot mow that lawn. I blink back the tears that are forming. Soon I will have to start making supper. Although I do not mind starving, I have to make sure that my children are feed.

And that is when I hear it.

The faint sound of a mower's rev. I listen closely, not daring to believe my ears. Then the mower starts. I rush to the window to see my ten-year-old son, pushing the mower with all his might. I collapse to the floor and begin sobbing. I can hardly take a breath without hyperventilating. "What's wrong, Mommy?" My baby girl asks me, but I only shake my head. She holds on tightly to my hand. After I am finally able to catch my breath, I stand and walk into the kitchen, Danya's hand still grips mine. I pull out some lemons in order to make a pitcher of freshly-squeezed lemonade.

I help her squeeze the lemons and let her pour the sugar into the pitcher. She tastes it when we are finished and declares that it is yummy. I place the lemonade in the fridge and I put a movie in for her to watch, kissing her softly on the lips. She tastes like lemons.

It is over an hour before my little boy comes back into the house. He is dirty. He has sweat all over his body. His hair is full of grass and he has tracked in mud on his shoes. I don't care. I have a glass of lemonade waiting for him. "Thank you for mowing the lawn," I say my voice cracking as I bend down to hand him the glass.

My ten-year old son looks up at me with a solemn look on his face. "Mommy," he says. "As long as I am here, you will never have to mow again." And as I embrace him tightly, I smell the familiar scent of salt and sweat and freshly mowed grass.


©Cassandra Rose Ernst –July 2009

A/N: Feedback is very much appreciated on this story. I really do want to know if I set out accomplishing what I hoped to have accomplished. It has been a while since I have tried to write something to evoke true emotion and I am wondering if Samantha's story accomplished that. Thanks you, as always, for taking the time to read my writing.