15

An Anniversary Celebration

Malchus had completed more than half of the second year of his indentured service to Caiaphas. Each week seemed busier than the last. Every three months, Malchus, Hans, Clement, and Elmo had made a trip to Caesarea to restock Caiaphasí stores. The requirement to have animals and birds to sell in the temple added to Malchusís busy schedule. Sometimes it seemed to Malchus that life went around in circles, like an ox grinding grain with no end in sight.

Soon, the daylight hours were nearly as long as the hours of darkness. The yellow crocuses were showing off their bright color for all the world to see. With spring on the way, Malchus was anxious to find his way back to his secret hideaway, hoping that Rachel would again come. So on this first warm day of the year, as the sun was about to set, he returned to the rock. He had barely seated himself when a voice from behind him whispered, "Shalom."

Malchus, a little startled, turned to see Rachel peaking around an olive tree. "Shalom," answered Malchus a little anxiously, "How did you know I was here?"

"Well, letís just say that a little bird told me," she said, as she moved toward him with a basket in her hand and a smile on her face.

"Whatís the basket for?" he asked, hoping to hear that it held food.

"Well, I had to have something to carry the wine and cakes in."

"Wine and cakes for what?"

"Our anniversary, silly."

"Anniversary? What anniversary?"

"Donít you remember that it was a year ago today that we met here in this secret hideaway for our first rendezvous?"

"Has it been a year already?"

"Yes, Malchus, it has."

"Well, letís celebrate then. Bring out the wine and the cakes!"

Rachel, pleased to hear how enthusiastic Malchus was about her surprise, spread out a small woolen cloth that her mother had woven to cover a portion of the flat rock. As she poured the wine into small clay goblets, she spoke more seriously, "Malchus, our times together make up some of my most precious memories. If only I could meet your parents, then I would feel like my understanding of who you are would be even more complete. You have described them so thoroughly that if they should appear, I believe I would recognize them immediately."

Malchus, surprised at her mention of his parents, responded saying, "I wish that were possible, but it certainly doesnít seem probable at this point in time. Speaking of mothers, what a joy it is to be around your mother. She is always so positive and uplifting. You are fortunate to have a mother such as she."

"Yes, I tell Jehovah often how grateful I am."

"Do you think He would listen if I told Him how much I enjoy spending my time with you?"

"I would imagine that Jehovah is big enough to hear you, too."

"Good, then I will do so. By the way, the cakes are delicious and the wine too. Where did you get such a superb wine?"

"It was a special bottle that my mother had put aside to share with my father on their anniversary, but, as you know, he never returned."

"This wine then is quite special and requires that a toast be made. Iíll go first." Raising his goblet, he said, "I propose a toast to the most beautiful daughter of all the shepherds in the world. May her life be as sparkling and lively as her smile."

The dull sound of the earthen clay sounded as they brought their goblets together. "And I also propose a toast," said Rachel as she raised her goblet, "to the wisest and most courageous man I know. May he live long upon the face of the earth, and may his good name always follow him wherever he goes."

With that, they united their goblets one more time. But this time, they threw back their heads so that they could drink the last drop from the gobletís edge. As they came forward, Rachel laughed because they had both done the same thing at the same time.

Often before, as now, Malchus and Rachel had sat quietly together watching the sunset. Malchus reminisced about the times they had spent together and tried not to think about the future when they would both turn sixteen in a few months. Hopefully, Caiaphas wouldnít insist that Rachel marry right away. She was too close to him now for Malchus to let her go so easily.

Malchusí thoughts were interrupted by the cool hand of Rachel pressing against his cheek, "Where are you, Malchus? You seem to have drifted so far away."

"Oh, itís nothing. Itís just something Iíve been thinking about lately."

"Is it something you can share with me?"

"Maybe when you turn sixteen I can tell you," he said, hoping that she would have forgotten about it by then.

"Oh, donít make me wait so long. I want to know what it is right now."

"Patience, my dear Rachel, is a virtue," he said as if he had a big secret to share.

"Well, if you wonít tell me, then I shall be going. Besides, it looks like itís going to rain, so I had better make my way back to the compound before the clouds get any darker. As a matter of fact, maybe you had better think of leaving as well."

"I had hoped that we could stay out a little longer this evening, but I understand that you must get back. Go quickly. The clouds are moving more swiftly now."

As if to express her desire to linger, she again placed her hand against his cheek, then picked up the basket and disappeared into the grove of olive trees.

Not long after she left, it began to drizzle. The air was cool as it swept across the valley, but Malchus was warm with his thoughts about Rachel as he, too, made his way back to the compound. He would retire that night and hope for dreams of Rachel. On this night, however, there would be no dreams.

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