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25 Time to leave

While Zim dug a hole, Elijah sat in the shade of the vines with Nathan, Neetz, and Zim’s mother.

Satisfied with the cup shape he created, Zim headed over to collect a young plant.

Elijah held his breath. How would the teacher correct the student’s classic error?

Simple. Nathan cleared his throat.

Zim flashed the teacher a grin, hoisted a water skin, filled the hole, and watched the water soak in. Classic error solved.

The teacher pointed to the student’s empty water skin. “Why did you pour good water down that hole?”

Now it’s not thirsty and won’t steal water from my baby.” Zim bowed, and his mother, Elijah, Neetz, and Nathan all nodded.

Zim swaggered. “Behold the Transplant King.” He padded over and slid his shovel under a young plant. But as he lifted, an uncut root clung and dragged the tiny vine off the shovel. When it landed, most of the dirt fell off the roots.

No worries, King. That happens. But see those little hairs on the roots?” Nathan, the teacher, pointed. “Move fast now, before they dry out.”

Zim sliced the offending root with his shovel, and when he lifted, the whole plant came free. Without spilling dirt from his shovel, he walked his transplant over and plopped it into the hole. One hand scooped loose dirt in while the other tamped it onto the roots. He glanced over at Elijah and Nathan’s transplants and then dug out a little hollow around his to match the cups around theirs. Finally he filled the hollow with water.

Hurrah!” Elijah cheered. “He’s got it, Nate.”

The Transplant King bowed to applause, and Elijah stepped out of the shade. He stood in the row with his head up, shoulders back. “Yes? Now?” He took a deep breath and turned to Zim’s mother.

She shaded her eyes and looked up at Elijah. “What is it?”

He took her hand and pulled her to her feet. “The Lord’s going to let the rain fall again.”1

The widow sucked in a quick breath. “Rain.”

Zim tapped on Nathan’s arm. “What’s he talking about?”

Nathan hunched his shoulders. “Last time I saw that look, he was telling your mother she would have lots of flour.” He scratched his temple. “What did the Lord say, Lijah?”

In the Kerith Ravine, Elijah had invented his own meaning for the Lord’s message and downplayed the actual words, but he had learned his lesson. “The Lord said, ‘Show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’”

Ahab!” The widow clamped her hand over his arm. “That can’t be right. The king will kill you.”

Neetz jumped to her feet. “What are you talking about? The Lord would never say that. It’s too dangerous.”

Elijah’s lips shaped a steady smile. “It’s back to Israel, Neetz. But first I should tell your father.”

###

Nathan and Neetz led the way into Professor Hashabiah’s study. Zim and his mother followed. On their first visit to the professor, Elijah led the way, but today he entered last, a role he had grown to enjoy. Nathan dropped back, took Elijah by the arm, and propelled him to the front.

Elijah looked the professor in the eye. “This morning the Lord told me, ‘Show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’”

For a long moment, the professor frowned. “Are you sure it was the Lord?”

I’m sure.”

Neetz’s face seemed pale, and sweat beaded her forehead.

The professor cocked his head and smiled. “I don’t want to sound like Balak trying to persuade Balaam, but is it possible you misunderstood the words? The Lord needs strong young Levite men in Sidon.”

Thank you, Professor.” Elijah draped a hand over Nathan’s shoulder. “My brother could tell you what happened at the Brook Kerith when I tried to expand the meaning of the Lord’s words.”

The professor edged a scroll on his desk into line with the others. “Twisting the Lord’s words is a dangerous game. Everyone’s glad you told that foolish king what’s what, and we would be pleased if the Lord were to allow you to continue among us.”

Neetz wiped her brow and shot a quick smile toward Nathan.

Thank you, Professor. After I show myself to Ahab, we’ll see what the Lord says.”

Professor Hashabiah strode out from behind the desk and took Elijah by the shoulders. “As the Lord advised Joshua, ‘Be strong. Be of good courage. And be careful to obey everything Moses taught.’2 You and Nathan have rescued my vines, so when the rains come, I hope to market Hashabiah Wines.”

Elijah nodded. “You have an excellent crew of vine dressers, including Zim. When Nathan was his age, he managed our father’s vineyard.”

Neetz stared up at Nathan with a troubled look. “Well?”

Nathan blushed. “My brother paints my early responsibilities much too large.”

But Zim grabbed his arm. “That’s not what Neetz is asking, Mr. Nathan.”

Huh?” Nathan looked away from the anguish on Neetz’s face.

She means, will you go with Mr. Lijah or stay and show our vines how to grow?”

Oh?” Nathan frowned briefly at Neetz and then glanced around the circle of silent stares, his face pale and blank. “I go with my brother, of course. He needs me.”

Elijah let out a deep breath. After Elijah told the king “neither dew nor rain,” Nathan steered him into hiding. He huddled within rescue-reach when Elijah tried to twist the Lord’s marching orders. Nathan taunted black tunics to draw them away and then watched from behind a gate post as Elijah told the widow about forever flour. Passing a hand over his face, Elijah wiped away a knowing grin.

But Neetz could no longer contain her sorrow. She sobbed and ran from the room.

Nathan stared at the empty doorway. “Why…?”

Zim released Nathan’s arm. “Neetz needs you, Mr. Nathan, and so do I.”

Professor Hashabiah gazed at the door. “Zim says it well. We need you.”

The widow threaded her arm through Nathan’s. “You’re troubled, son, but the Lord will work this out.” She patted his hand. “Yes, He will.”

###

On the way back to the vineyard, Zim gave his own advice. “As soon as you’re done seeing that old king, you can come stay here with us, Mr. Lijah. Mom’s got plenty of flour and oil, see, and now that your beard’s growing, it’s still a little ugly, but it’ll get better like Mr. Nathan’s did. We hope. And tomorrow we’re gonna see a hummingbird. I’m almost twelve, so I’m not supposed to talk about hummingbirds, but I don’t know what to say, ’cause I think it’s rotten you taking Mr. Nathan away and not letting Neetz marry him, see, and who’s gonna teach me how to make sick vines well or how to cure a new wine barrel or when the wine’s ready to go into skins?”

Zim took Nathan by the arm. “And who’s gonna look at my treehouse? We haven’t climbed up there much ’cause Mr. Nathan’s busy showing vines how to grow, but he still looks up there with me, see, and we talk about the mezuzah and I pronounce it right and I can even still say the blessing I think and just because the Lord told you to go home doesn’t mean Mr. Nathan has to go…”

Zim jerked on Nathan’s arm until he looked down. “Does it, Mr. Nathan? Does it mean you have to go with Mr. Lijah?”

Elijah turned in the path and studied his brother’s face. Zim’s foolish questions had already made Neetz cry. Why didn’t his brother put a stop to it?

But Nathan only shook his head. “What are you talking about, Zim?”

I’m talking about did the Lord speak to you? Or do you get your messages from Mr. Lijah?”

Nathan brought a shaky hand to his forehead. “I don’t like this kind of talk, Zim. I don’t like it at all.” He pulled his arm free and strode on down the path.

But Zim stood with his hands on his hips and called, “Why would you leave Neetz, who loves you like you’re the only man alive?”

Elijah pounded his foot on the dirt. Bite your tongue, Zim. What does a child know about love?

The widow turned and stared past Elijah into Nathan’s face. “It’s true, you know. That girl adores you.”

Nathan’s face took on a bewildered look as color rose in his cheeks. He shook his head. “Neetz is far too beautiful to look at someone like me, ma’am. He scraped his foot along the ground. She’s intelligent and refined. She taught me how to lace my sandals and how to talk to strangers. But she was only being kind to a village boy.”

The widow tilted her chin at Elijah. “Is that how you see it?” She gave him a sly smile. “The professor’s daughter, kind to the country bumpkin?”

First Zim and now the widow. Elijah brushed imaginary dust from his shoulder and bit the inside of his cheek. He glanced from the widow to Zim to Nathan. This conversation was not going well.

Zim was in Nathan’s face. “Neetz laughs and you sigh. The sun hits her hair and you sneak a look. You talk to her in a soft little voice like she was a new kitten.”

And the widow was not about to let go. “Nathan, you have to stop lying to yourself about Neetz. We all see how she adores you—and that’s the right word, so don’t deny it. Any man who says Neetz is too good looking or smart or classy for him would be right. She’s all of that, yet she carries a big sign. ‘My heart belongs to Nathan of Tishbe.’”

She slipped a hand through Nathan’s arm. “So, what are you going to do about Neetz?” She threaded her other hand through Elijah’s arm and eyed him sharply. “This is Nathan’s decision.”

Nathan locked eyes with Elijah. “Yes it is, ma’am. And I need to talk with my brother.” He lifted the widow’s hand from his arm, took Elijah by the elbow, and guided him up the path. “Do you see me sighing and gawping and mewing like Zim says?”

Elijah put his head down and walked along in silence. Brothers were supposed to talk straight with each other, and that’s how it had always gone with him and Nathan. But they never discussed going googly eyes in love. Everybody—even Neetz’s father—could see Neetz adored Nathan, but so did half the girls in Jabesh.

Yet, if Nathan was sighing and gawping like Zim said.… No. He wouldn’t go there. What made sense was Nathan and Elijah, Elijah and Nathan. Nothing else mattered.

You’re being nice, Nate. Neetz teaches you how to tie laces and how to talk politely with strangers. One kind deed deserves another. She’s nice to you, you’re nice to her, and we all get along.” As he lied to his brother, a sharp twinge of guilt pinged his chest.

Nathan took several silent strides and tightened his grip on Elijah’s elbow. “But you’ve heard her laugh. Like a bell. And the morning sun on her hair? I want to pick her up and hold her close and whirl her around and…” He glanced back at Zim. “But I didn’t know anyone could see how I feel… And her beauty is real, Lijah. Girls in Jabesh can look pretty if they get all cleaned up, but Neetz is beautiful even when she’s been lugging water and digging holes.”

He gazed out at the hills full of sunshine and birdsong and took several longing breaths. Then he shook himself and grabbed Elijah’s elbow. “But I can’t see how the widow thinks Neetz…”

Elijah jerked his elbow away. “Then you haven’t got a working brain in your head, Nate. Neetz adores you.”

Wait.

But the door of Elijah’s heart stood wide open, and he blabbered on. “I bet she writes poems about you. Goes to sleep with your name on her lips and dreams about your nine children and how she helps you teach them viticulture.” He slapped his hand over his mouth. What happened to Nathan and Elijah, Elijah and Nathan?

He swung his brother around by the shoulders, held his face between his hands, and let out the truth. “Nathan, you need to go talk with Neetz’s father.”

Nathan held Elijah by the wrists, and his eyes grew big like goose eggs. “The day is still young. Water the vines without me.” He pushed past Zim and the widow. “Gotta see Professor Hashabiah.”

Zim shaded his eyes with his hand and watched Nathan jog down the path. “His smile could knock you over, Mr. Lijah.”

###

After breakfast the next morning, Zim prodded. “I don’t get it, Mr. Nathan. Are you and Neetz married or aren’t you?”

Nathan slung his pack over his shoulder. “We’re pledged, Zim, but we’re waiting until I get back to consummate our marriage.”

Honey, consummate means—remember when your father first talked about a treehouse? You hadn’t built it yet, but it was in your head?”

Right, Mommy. But Nathan’s been in Neetz’s head since I introduced them. It just means they won’t have sex yet.”

It means, Zim, when my big brother walks down the street in Jabesh, all those girls will have to quit smiling and giggling. And it means he’ll be back to see you a lot earlier than anybody dreamed.”

At the widow’s front door, Elijah’s smile failed. “Ma’am, I, um…” Tears welled up in his eyes.

Nathan pushed Elijah aside, wrapped the widow in a quick hug, and then backed off.

She laughed and took them both into a hug. “Goodbye, boys. The Lord be with you.” Zim joined the hug. The widow cried. Zim cried. Elijah and Nathan cried.

Elijah headed down the widow’s tree-lined street and out the city gate. On the Grand Trunk Highway, he and Nathan joined a spice caravan headed for Cairo.

1 1 Kings 18:1 & Luke 4:25 & James 5:17

2 Joshua 1:7

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