20 years earlier
He could say he was young, only fifteen, a vulnerable age, but that really was no excuse.
He could say he was in the middle of giving slumber to his eyelids, but that really was no excuse.
He could say he was not yet instructed in the phenomena of prophecy, and therefore did not understand these things, but that really was no excuse.
All Krystian Jasicki could say, with any real certainty, was one minute he was entrenched deep in the land of forty winks, and the next......
"Wake up, sleepy head."
Krystian groaned, first hearing the curtains being pulled back and then sensing sunlight flood into the previously darkened bedroom. "What time is it?" he moaned, his eyelids squinting open and a wide yawn splitting his mouth apart. It felt like he'd only just gone to bed. How could it be morning already?
"It's time for my best man to get his butt out of bed. We have a wedding to go to, remember?" his older brother, Kasper, cheerfully informed him as he padded around the queen size bed in bare feet and a satin bathrobe belted at his waist.
How could Krystian possibly forget? What with tuxedo fittings and church practices and playing host to relatives as numerous as the sand on the shores of Lake Ontario, some coming as far away as Poland, and a zillion other urgent tasks requiring running from one end of Toronto to the other, not to mention trying to keep the usually calm and composed Kasper Jasicki, musical agent extraordinaire, from going off the deep end from the stress of his impending nuptials, how could he forget today was the day his brother, the oldest of his five siblings, would be marrying the woman who "stole his heart," as Kasper would say.
"Come on." Kasper's forehead wrinkled with a fresh wave of concern. Krystian could well imagine his brother's brain flipping all over the place in that head of his, trying to come up with an effective way to persuade him out of bed. Pronto. "We don't want to be late."
Yawning, Krystian rolled over onto his side and leaning on his elbow, he strained to look at the clock on the bedside table. His eyelids popped wide open. "It's not even six o'clock!" With another groan, he fell back among the pillows and drew the sheets up to his neck.
"Like I said, little brother, we don't want to be late." Grinning, Kasper leaned down and grabbing a fistful of the bed sheets, he yanked them off. "Up."
Krystian let out an exasperated sigh, then levered himself up on his elbow and stared up at his brother. "Tell me something, big bro. How could we possibly be late when the ceremony is scheduled for one o'clock?"
"We don't want to take any chances." Kasper coiled his fingers around Krystian's upper arm. "Now, get up, little bro," he commanded with brotherly gruffness, tugging him out of the warm, comfortable bed. "I've got coffee on. Strong and black," he added, his grin broadening as Krystian groaned again and struggled to his feet.
"How long have you been up? And why are you so annoyingly cheerful so early in the morning?" Krystian grumbled, reaching down to pick up the t-shirt he'd dropped on the floor last night. Or was it this morning? he wondered, yawning and pulling the white t-shirt with Beam me up, Jesus emblazoned in navy over his head. Sticking his hands through the arms of the t-shirt, he grouched under his breath, "There should be a law against such cruelty."
"Only since four." Kasper began to whistle an off-key rendition of Happy Days Are Hear Again.
"Four?" Krystian didn't mean for his voice to come out sounding like a high-pitched squeak, but, gosh, he thought, plowing his hands through his hair, what'd you expect when you're sleep-deprived? "What on earth have you been doing?"
Kasper shrugged and gave him a sheepish smile. "I ironed my shirt. Polished my shoes." He lifted his satin-covered shoulders in another shrug.
"Both of which you did yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that," Krystian muttered, rolling his eyes. Then he studied his brother with a considering expression. "You had a senior's moment. Is that it? Is this what happens when you get old? You forget you've already done something and you redo it ten thousand times?" And you also forget to let me sleep and get me up at this crazy hour.
"I'm only twenty-eight." Kasper narrowed his eyes in mock irritation and lunging for him, he maneuvered Krystian in a head-lock hold. "I'm not over the hill yet," he growled, rubbing his knuckles over Krystian's head before releasing him. Then his sappy puppy dog smile was in place again. "It's what happens when you're in love." A knowing look came into his eyes. "One day, little brother, you'll meet the woman and you'll be falling all over your feet, too." He turned, and leaving the bedroom, he whistled tunelessly.
"God forbid." Krystian shuddered and trailed after his brother as he walked slowly down the hall. Unlike Kasper, he had both his feet cemented to the ground. No woman was going to make him bounce around like a fool. No way. He couldn't afford his reputation tarnished in even the mildest of ways. His calling, his God-appointed calling, required, no, demanded a level head, a quiet heart, a serene self-control.
Unlike his brother, he couldn't act like an idiot.
In Kasper's business, wacky was good. In fact, the wackier the behavior, Krystian thought as he followed Kasper into the living room and sat on the couch, the better. Wacky equaled attention. Attention drew crowds. And crowds translated into mega sales. And money.
In Krystian's world, now as he trained for his vocation, and later when he'd step out to lead when the training was complete, wacky would be counterproductive. Detrimental. Embarrassing. And definitely, not trust-inspiring.
"So..." Kasper handed a white porcelain mug to Krystian and sitting down on the small sofa across from him, he crossed his legs. "I thought we'd talk," he said equably. Holding the mug in his hand, he struck a relaxed pose as he studied the steam rising from his coffee.
"About?" Krystian managed to ask around a loud yawn and raised the dark steaming brew to his lips. "Mmm." He closed his eyes in appreciation, letting the aroma of freshly percolated coffee tease his nostrils, and because he couldn't deny himself, he took another swallow. "This almost makes up for your brutality this morning."
Kasper looked up from his coffee and gave him an indulgent you'll-live smile.
I just might, he thought, after I've had a second cup. After another slow, satisfying sip, he lowered the mug to the coffee table. "So." Leaning his head against the back of the couch, he clasped his hands across his stomach, and watched his brother through half-closed eyelids. "What's on your mind, bro?" If he didn't know better, he'd think Kasper was actually...nervous!
Kasper? Nervous? He almost snickered. That would be a first. For as long as Krystian could remember, his brother exuded confidence in high doses. In fact, he fairly oozed with a strong self-confidence that he almost----almost!----bordered on acting with maddening overconfidence. Krystian had wanted to divest him of this irritating style once or twice over the years, except he knew his brother had a heart of gold.
So, this lack of calmness must be compliments of the woman who "stole his heart," the very pretty, very petite, Becky Armstrong. And that just goes to show, he mused, picking up his coffee and settling back on the couch, beware of small packages!
Krystian stretched out his legs, and hiding his grin behind the mug, he observed his brother over the rim. Yep. Our little Miss Becky has him slightly out of sorts. Poor guy. One could almost feel sorry for him. Almost. But not quite.
I'll probably have to repent of this later, Lord, but right now......
Straight-faced, Krystian carefully set his mug down.
Right now, he was going to have some fun. At his brother's expense. Even the score a bit, he thought, yawning.
Do not take revenge, my friend......for it is written: ''It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord.
Krystian squashed the still small voice with little effort. Sometimes, one just had to be a little rebellious, especially when dealing with an older brother who jerked you out of bed at a crazy hour.
"Oh, I know." Krystian snapped his fingers and sliced his gaze to his brother. "This little talk......" He waved a hand through the air, pretty sure a wicked gleam in his eyes replaced his deadpan expression. "You want me, a soon-to-be minister, to counsel you."
It was an unfortunate moment of bad timing. For Kasper, anyway. Sipping and spluttering clashed and the swallow of scalding coffee went down the wrong way.
Ignoring his brother's coughing and stammering and watering eyes, Krystian scratched his chin, pretending to think. "Yes," he considered, nodding sagely. "Now would be a good time for me to talk to you about the......ahem......wedding night. Not that I have tangible experience in this area, but---- Are you all right over there?"
"No." Kasper's voice was barely a croak and he tried to clear his throat.
"You're not all right?" Krystian infused concern into his tone even as his lips twitched. "Should I call nine-one-one?" He started to rise. "Becky is not going to like this."
"No." Kasper's voice was terse now that his coughing fit had subsided, his neck was like an iron sinew, and his eyes were like a flame of fire.
"No, I shouldn't call nine-one-one, or no, Becky isn't going to like this?" Okay. Okay. He knew his brother barely hung back from the edge of the precipice, emotionally speaking, and it wouldn't really take much to......kinda goad him over......but, hey! What were brothers for? Especially when they've been short-changed in the sleep department.
"No, you're not going to instruct me on----" A tide of heat, an uncomfortable one, no doubt, rose in his face. "Never mind," he muttered, glaring at him. "My sex life is off limits to you."
"Oh." Krystian assumed a downcast expression. Maybe he got his calling mixed up. Maybe he should be an actor. "But, how can I help you if you don't confide in me?" He raised expectant eyebrows and sank back into the couch.
"I don't need help." Kasper's eyes blazed as blue as a flame in a roaring fire.
His brother so seldom overreacted that Krystian was entertained with the ease with which he now rose to the bait. However, with a tingle of remorse beginning to beat in his heart at seeing his brother so agitated, not to mention Krystian would not want to face an irate Becky should she discover----and she would----that he was responsible for a flustered husband-to-be arriving at the altar, he decided to call a truce. After all, today was Kasper's big day and it really was Krystian's responsibility, as the best man, to deliver him to church, on time, and in one piece, preferably with his mental state in tact.
"Okay." Krystian shrugged. "Now that we've established you have every thing under control in the bedroom department......" He flashed a wicked grin. Okay, so he was having a little bit of trouble relinquishing his desire for fun at Kasper's expense. Clearing his throat, he continued in a quiet voice, "What do you want to talk about?"
"Me?" Surprise arched his brows.
Answering amusement warmed Kasper's eyes but the firm line of his mouth remained. "Yes. You."
Krystian's nerves snapped awake at his tone. He had a sneaky suspicion his brother was about to return the favor and make him feel uncomfortable. "O-o-o-kay," he said after a few moments of tensed silence, recalling the still small voice that earlier had reminded him vengeance was the Lord's. Now he wished he'd listened. "I'm all ears. What exactly did you want to discuss?"
"Your love life."
"My----" Heat washed through him. He knew he was turning red. "I don't have a love life. I'm fifteen, remember?" He could also have added having pre-marital sex would not look good on the resume of a future minister. Besides, Krystian Jasicki was a big proponent to abstinence until married. And he was not in the market for a marital partner. Not yet. He had other more pressing priorities, like higher education and ecclesiastical training, demanding his time and energy. A relationship with a girl would complicate his life.
And Krystian Jasicki hated complications.
"But, you will," Kasper said softly.
"Well." Krystian exhaled, staring at the carpeted floor as he wondered what made his brother bring up this topic, and then deciding Kasper must be suffering from an I'm-about-to-scribble-my-name-on-the-dotted-line-and-sign-away-my-bachelorhood-forever anxiety attack, he looked up at his brother. "I suppose one day. Yes. But that's not part of my game plan right now."
"Not right now, I know," Kasper spoke, slowly and quietly, his blue eyes shadowed to purple. "But one day, you will." He sat on the sofa, leaning forward slightly, legs apart, elbows resting on his thighs, fingers linked between his spread knees. "Have you given any thought to what kind of a woman you want to marry?"
Reaching for his mug of now tepid coffee, Krystian willed his strewn thoughts into some semblance of order. "Well..." He stared into the depths of the mocha liquid as if it was a crystal ball holding a vision of his future bride. But the contents in the mug reflected back no prophetic picture of a prospective mate. A slight shake of his head, he looked up and found Kasper staring at him with a steady gaze, waiting.
"We-e-ell," Krystian began again, lining up the list of prerequisites in his mind as he stared down into his coffee. "I guess, first off, she'd have to be a believer, a practicing Christian. Not necessarily a student of theology or able to quote scriptures off by heart, but she'd have to be a Bible-reading, God-fearing, Jesus-believing, Holy Ghost-filled woman of principles, morals, and convictions."
When he glanced up, Kasper was nodding his head. Lowering his eyes to the coffee, he ran a finger around and around the rim of the mug. "She'd have to be family-oriented. And willing to be a preacher's wife." His voice fairly flew now as he warmed up to the theme. "And as a preacher's wife, she'd have to dress modestly, simply. She'd have to be meek and humble and unpretentious. She'd have to have a servant's heart. And, she'd have to be above reproach. No skeletons in her closet. No scandals. No stirring up gossip," he finished with a smug curve of his lips.
"She sounds...perfect." Kasper leaned back, crossing his legs.
"Yeah, she does, doesn't she?" Krystian sat back, clasping his hands behind his head. What else could a minister's wife be but a perfect help mate? He would need a conservative, down-to-earth, unassuming wife. His reputation as a pastor, a trust-worthy, respected pastor, would be on the line.
Kasper went on with a look of determination. "What about some human qualities?"
"Excuse me?" Krystian's brows pleated as his hands fell to his lap and he sat up straight.
"Krystian, I think I should tell you, Miss Perfect doesn't exist."
"Well, I'm not loo----"
"Miss Right does, however."
Krystian drove impatient fingers through his hair. "Well, I know----"
"You're too stiff. A tree that doesn't bend in the wind snaps." A shrug was added for extra emphasis.
Tree? Wind? Snaps? What was Kasper going on about?
"God is a creative God," his brother continued, a reluctant smile tugging at the edge of his mouth as if he was aware of Krystian's increasing discomfiture, of the battle within him----his ideals of a suitable mate versus God's unexpected but very possible surprise.
Krystian hated surprises.
"Don't box Him in." Kasper wagged a finger at him.
Krystian snatched in a hunted breath and folded defensive arms. "I'm not box----"
"Yes, you are." Kasper climbed out of the sofa and rifled the bookshelf along the wall. He pulled out a black leather-bound Bible, flipped through the pages, then stopped. "''But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things----and the things that are not----to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.'" Snapping the Book closed, he replaced it on the shelf, and sat down.
Color unfurled like flags in Krystian's cheeks and his heart banged like a drum inside his rib cage. He wasn't enjoying his brother's idea of a little talk, yet he didn't say a word. Oh, he had plenty of them lining up in his head, though, but his brother wasn't giving him a chance to voice them.
Kasper's white teeth flashed in the now-relaxed planes of his face. He stood up and stretched in the warm sunshine streaming through the living room window. "Man looks on the outside. God looks on the inside. Don't set up road blocks or be a prude or you might miss out on God's blessings," he said, his voice controlled and even----a complete contrast to his own raging inner turbulence.
Krystian sealed his lips on a fiery flood of disagreement. He had no choice. There was a brick in his throat preventing him from drawing breath and keeping him from articulating a retort. Besides, he groaned silently, his brother hadn't finished with him yet.
"God has your wife all picked out," Kasper said, pacing to the front door. "And she's going to blow you right out of the calm, shallow water you feel safe treading in." He threw Krystian a cool smile over his shoulder as he stepped into his black loafers at the front door. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Think about what I've said. Better yet, pray about it."
The front door closed behind Kasper, leaving Krystian staring wide-eyed after him, his breathing irregular. Think? Pray? How could he when his reasoning processes were either not functioning anymore or they were operating but on a different frequency?
Then he heard a voice coming from the spot on the sofa where Kasper had sat. Not Kasper's voice. Not an audible voice. But......an impression. Strong. Loud. Very real. A thundering voice. A voice sounding like rushing waters. It reached way down deep into his heart and spirit.
And he sat frozen on the couch.
I have chosen a help mate for you. Prayerful is her name. At the appointed time, she will come. Wait on the Lord, for slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for she will surely come to pass. Just be patient. Be vigilant. Keep your eyes and your heart open so that you will recognize her. She will bless you and you will bless her.