Elder Andrew Ballantyne’s excitement bounced in his throat. The cloud cover at Inverness Airport blocked all views of Scotland’s Highlands, but it didn’t matter. He was nearly home—home, family, and Gemma. For the first time in two years, he allowed Gemma fully into his thoughts. They’d agreed not to write after he’d been away 12 months. It became easier then to give his whole attention to the work.
“Are we there, young man?” His thinking was interrupted by an elderly lady in a tweed skirt occupying the next seat. She had awakened with a start as the flight attendant announced, “Fasten your seat belts.”
“We certainly are,” he smiled. “Inverness at last.” He gave a long sigh of satisfaction, settling back once more to dreams of Gemma, brown hair waving across her face; eyes, large and laughing.
“My, oh my! Have I slept all the way from Heathrow?” the lady peered at Andrew as if seeing him for the first time. Her face looked weatherworn and inquisitive.
“You a visitor then, young man? I’m Mrs. McKivett by the way. I cannot quite place your accent.” She pushed her glasses firmly on her nose, squinting more closely.
Andrew, with his cropped black hair and square-faced good looks, had a certain air of authority about him, a sense of purpose, reassuring and calm. “Not exactly a visitor,” he chuckled. “I’ve been in Switzerland for two years doing missionary work for my church. I expect my accent’s a mixture of German, French, American, and Scottish by now.”
She smiled back, nodding slowly. “Ahh … that explains everything.”
Before he could ask what everything meant, they were taxiing to a halt, and the confusion of disembarking began.
He saw them as soon as the baggage cleared. His parents; 16-year-old Adam, now taller than himself at six feet; and 11-year-old Beth, grinning widely, skipping around the three of them. With a lump in his throat he reached out to meet their embrace. Looking from face to familiar face and swiftly absorbing the changes that had taken place, he felt complete—like his mission had crowned them all with a circle of love. But part of the circle was missing.
“Is Gemma working or something?” he asked his mother as soon as the barrage of questions and answers quieted.
Andrew thought he saw an expression of dismay before she glanced away. He caught his breath. “Let’s get home first, dear,” she whispered gently, “then we can talk properly.”
The drive to Relkennan seemed to take forever. Andrew scarcely noticed as they sped over bridges and down winding roads. The view of the firth, reappearing now and again between frosted hills, then slithering down to the sea, was shrouded in a mist, as cheerless and chilling as his thoughts. His replies to the family became more automatic than interesting.
“Don’t worry, son,” his father leaned across, patting his arm. “You must be exhausted. We’ll get you in the house; then you can get some sleep before tonight’s social.”
But Andrew’s mind was racing too fast for sleep. As soon as he unpacked, he went looking for his mother, following his nose and smells of fresh baking. Her face shouted bad news before she spoke.
“I’m sorry, dear,” her placid features broke into small lines of worry as she struggled to find the words.
Andrew felt suddenly weak. “Is she … she’s not ill, is she?”
“No. It’s not that. Gemma’s … that is … we would have written but didn’t want to spoil things for you before your return.”
“She’s found someone else, hasn’t she?” Andrew stared out of the window, desolation sweeping all else aside. Then clearing his throat, “Is she happy? What’s he like? Is he a member? How long … ?”
“It’s best you see for yourself tonight,” Sister Ballantyne said, putting an arm around her son. “Go and rest, Andrew. You’ll feel better after a nap.”
But sleep was now further away than ever. His future looked bleak. It had always held Gemma. Even though she had stayed in a distant corner of his thoughts for two years, he could not imagine the future with anyone else.
It was as though his thoughts turned into prayer and a hymn began playing through his mind. They’d sung it at the last zone conference, and it was the first time Andrew had even noticed it in the hymnbook. Now here was number 336 in clear replay. He could even see his companion up there conducting with resolute conviction. “School thy feelings, O my brother; Train thy warm, impulsive soul. Do not its emotions smother, But let wisdom’s voice control …”
Jumping off the bed, Andrew rummaged through his backpack until his fingers touched the familiar worn covers. As the pages flipped open to exactly the right place, a sheet of paper dropped out. The mission president had given everyone the same quote that day: “What man thinks in his heart, he advertises on his face.”
With a rueful grin, Andrew decided, there and then, he would not spoil this homecoming for anyone. Somehow he would smile at them all. He sighed, then fell into a fitful sleep.
The meetinghouse was full. Members, family, and old school friends, everyone. “Well, young man,” a familiar voice piped up, as he worked his way around the congregation after the formal welcome. “I thought I’d find you here. Remember me?”
“Of course,” Andrew blinked in amazement at the elderly lady from the plane, still in the same tweed skirt. “I had no idea you were LDS.”
“LDS? Never heard of it. I think they called me an investigator last week. Prefer to be called Eva McKivett actually, but not to worry.” Hooking her hand through his elbow, she steered him towards a seat at the back of the hall. Andrew’s stomach knotted as he saw where they were heading. There was no way out. Next to the empty chairs sat Gemma and her boyfriend.
“I have great respect for you young elders,” Eva continued. “Taught me a few things this past month. Must say I like what I hear and feel.” She gazed unwaveringly at Andrew.
“Now then,” she eyed his missionary badge, “now then, Elder Ballantyne, please point out your family to me. Done a good job bringing you up, they have. And then tell me which of these pretty lasses has been waiting for you to come home.” Her blue eyes twinkled knowingly behind the glasses as she tapped his arm.
By now Andrew was squirming in discomfort. He had caught Gemma’s eye before sitting down, but on hearing her gasp, didn’t dare turn in her direction.
“My parents are over there … by the bishop,” he stammered. “Would you like to come over and meet them?” He half stood, hoping she would follow.
“No, no, my dear, not yet. Only just sat down.” She pulled him back into the chair. “So which one … ?” Eva began a survey of the handful of young women scattered around the hall.
Andrew let out his breath with a relief at the interruption. Then he realized it was coming from the young man next to Gemma.
“Gemma made me come tonight. We might as well get this over with. Glen’s the name, Glen Munroe,” he said, extending one hand to Andrew and slapping him on the back with the other.
While Andrew introduced Mrs. McKivett, he took stock of Glen out of the corner of his eye. The light red hair and fair complexion, so typical of Highlanders, gave Glen a distinctive air.
He turned at last to Gemma. As their eyes met, he was puzzled by what he saw, but the look was gone in a second. Her smile was warm as she held out her hands. “Welcome home, Andy. It’s good to see you again. I’ve missed you. But it’s gone quicker than I expected.”
Andrew swallowed hard. This didn’t feel right. He wanted to give her a hug, sit down, and talk and talk. “Yes … quicker than you’d ever imagine,” he said, deciding the cool approach was his only option.
“Okay, Gemma,” Glen grabbed her hand, pulling her to her feet. “That’s about as much missionary talk as I can take for one night. No offense, Andrew, but you’d never catch me taking off for two years.” He pulled Gemma to his other side, away from Andrew. “Wouldn’t go and leave a beautiful girl like this floating about waiting to be snapped up by someone else.” He laughed as they moved away.
Andrew caught a glimpse of Gemma’s blush as she bit her lip with embarrassment. His stomach churned, but he gave her a quick wink, shrugging his shoulders, and raising his eyebrows in defeat. He felt someone poking him in the back. He’d forgotten Mrs. McKivett.
“Ah ha!” she said, head nodding vigorously. “So that’s the one.” She pulled the back of Andrew’s jacket until he sat down again.
“I think it’s time to turn the tables. Let me be a teacher for a moment, and you can be … what’s the word, an investigator?” Her voice sounded bossy, but her kindly smile said otherwise.
Andrew winced. “Whatever you say.”
“Do you love this young lady?”
“Then what are you going to do about it?”
He looked grave for a moment. “For the sake of her happiness, I guess I could go away, far away. Back to Switzerland maybe.”
“Is that what you really want?”
“Of course not.”
“Is that what she really wants?”
“Er … I don’t know.”
“Are they engaged?”
“Don’t think so. I couldn’t see a ring.”
“Then what are you waiting for? My father always said, ‘If what you want is right, then don’t give up until it’s yours.’”
“Sounds like he should have been a missionary,” said Andrew with a fleeting grin.
“And that’s another thing, young Andrew. When I came to this church, the first thing I asked the elders for was a hymnbook. Music’s been the joy of my life. In there I found this hymn, number 336 I think it is. You go and read verse four. Then find that lass before it’s too late.”
She shooed him away before easing herself to her feet and making her way over to his parents.
It was an hour later before Andrew could escape the crowd and find a peaceful moment on his own in the chapel. Sinking quietly into a seat in the corner he shut his eyes and leaned back. It was good to be home, but he missed having a companion when it came to talking things through.
What if Mrs. McKivett is wrong? he thought. Suppose Gemma really loves Glen? I can hardly go all out to break up a relationship that could bring her happiness.
He reached for a hymnbook, but his thoughts continued. It’s odd, Eva McKivett finding that song, he thought. As he was carefully reading verse four, he became aware of someone entering the chapel.
When Gemma whispered, “May I join you?” he raised his head. For a second he didn’t know if he wanted this conversation or not. Then Mrs. McKivett’s parting remarks echoed in his mind. His smile of welcome advertised a wealth of feeling far deeper than he intended.
“I … I’m sorry about Glen, Andrew.”
“You don’t need to apologize. You’re a free woman. Always were.”
“When you and I stopped writing, he was constantly around. He is very persuasive you know.”
“We got engaged last week.” She looked down at her fingers. “No ring yet. Glen couldn’t afford one.”
Andrew turned away. With his heart sinking, he made quick mental reminders to keep cool, keep smiling, let her think he didn’t mind.
“But,” she went on with a rush, “I only agreed because he said I owed it to him after all this time. I guess he convinced me that I did owe him.”
“Do you mean you don’t really love him?” Andrew’s voice rose a pitch as he stared at Gemma.
“I don’t know. I thought I did,” she looked pleadingly at him. “I don’t expect you to understand. And I don’t expect us to be back where we were before. I simply want you to know that Glen and I are no longer a couple, as of 10 minutes ago. He’s so angry he scares me right now.”
“Gemma, listen to me.” Andrew spoke softly. “We’ll deal with Glen. I’ll be right there for you. Right now I want you to know something.”
She watched his face anxiously.
“The things I felt for you before I left have increased a hundred times.” Andrew paused, watching Gemma’s frown turn into a smile of relief. “It’s as if,” he concluded, “as if someone’s fine-tuned the strings and an amazing song is about to begin.”
For Andrew, his homecoming circle could not have been more complete.