As soon as Jasper had regained both his composure and his feet, the caretaker turned towards Zoe, and it felt like time stood still.
She met his mesmerizing gaze and instinctively knew he was much more significant than a gardener.
“You’re beginning to see,” the caretaker said with a wink. “That apron looks good on you. Your grandmother is very proud.”
Her eyes filled with tears, but before Zoe could reply, the man turned and walked down the path, gesturing for them to follow. They’d taken a half dozen steps before the dizziness hit. The scenery shifted.
A freshly hewn, intricately carved wooden bench appeared in front of them. Somehow their feet remained on the cobblestone path. As she turned to survey the gardens, Zoe realized they were on the far side of the lagoon close to the waterfall. The roar of the water was loud but not deafening, and she could just make out the shape of her nana’s bench in the distance.
She turned to say something just as Jasper took a step forward, knelt down in front of the new bench, and reached out a shaky hand. Zoe realized this bench had a carved plaque identical to the other two benches, except for the wording. She knelt down beside the man as his shoulders began to shake. Pretending not to notice, Zoe rested her hands on the seat of the bench and leaned forward until the words came into focus.
In Loving Memory of
He is a highly favoured son.
“I don’t understand,” Jasper whispered.
“You are the third generation of McEwans, Jasper, and your grandfather’s legacy now passes to you,” the caretaker said quietly behind them.
“I read the letter my grandfather left. I haven’t set foot in this garden before today. Why didn’t he tell me sooner or bring me in as a boy? I feel utterly lost and completely at home. That’s a paradox fit to undo a man mentally,” Jasper replied as he shifted from his knees to a cross-legged position, still facing the bench.
“The legacy is passed on at the moment of transition from mortal life to immortality. You will be granted access to this garden at specific times, for appointed assignments. The hidden things will be revealed, not only to you but to Miss Meir, who finds herself in a similar paradox.”
Zoe’s temper flared. The blood rushed to her face as she stood to her feet and faced the caretaker. “A paradox of your creating, I believe! Tell me, do you get some sick pleasure turning people’s lives upside down and inside out? Do you even know what that feels like? I think you are being deliberately cruel and insensitive. We’re both grieving, and you stand here talking in riddles.”
Jasper jumped to his feet and took a few steps sideways as her words flew like a series of verbal whip lashes towards the caretaker. Zoe could see him in her peripheral vision, and he looked like he was expecting lightning to strike the ground at any moment.
No bolt of lightning arrived, but a flash of white light did, so pure and intense it caused Zoe to cover her eyes. She felt the air crackle around her, and the same feeling of dizziness hit much stronger than she’d ever experienced. Zoe dropped to her knees and covered her face, until she felt a hand on her shoulder. As she opened her eyes and the spots in front of them faded, Jasper’s concerned face came into focus.
“What just happened?”
“I’m not sure… we’re back at the gate.”
“I think that’s all for today.”
Zoe closed her eyes and breathed deeply for a couple of minutes. “Would you come back to the house with me? I need to talk some of this through.”
“You’re not the only one. I think we may be able to fill in some blanks for each other.”
After making sure the gate had locked, they walked quickly and entered the main house through the back door into the kitchen. Zoe busied herself making a bit of lunch while she waited for her frayed nerves to calm down. Jasper was sitting near the big windows in the living room when she returned, balancing the tray of egg and tuna sandwiches and the two glasses of fresh-squeezed lemonade.
“That looks delicious,” Jasper said as he filled his plate with sandwiches and took the glass of lemonade from the tray.
Once she was seated with her own lunch, the room fell quiet except for the soft sound of chewing. Zoe wiped her mouth with her napkin, swallowed the last of the slightly tart lemonade, and set the empty plate and glass back on the tray. Jasper was lost in thought, staring out the window.
“Your grandfather looked out of that window not long ago. I am so sorry for your loss. I barely knew him and had so many questions, but…”
“Thank you, Zoe. I know he cared for you deeply. He told me you reminded him of Evelyn. That was your nana’s first name, I think?”
“Yes, it was. From the few things he told me, I believe they were close friends. Nana mentioned that they grew up together.”
“Grandpa spoke so highly of her. He loved her, and I think he may have had a secret crush on her, but they were from different worlds. I know your great-grandfather made it clear to my grandfather that his intentions toward Evelyn were a fantasy and nothing more.”
“Agreed. I suspected the same thing. I remember Nana mentioning her father not approving of your grandfather. How sad for them both, though I have to give them an A+ for preserving their friendship.”
“It’s so rare to find friends like that these days.”
“Very true,” Zoe replied before taking a deep breath. “Jasper, I need to ask you some questions. I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but they are important.”
“Is it true that today was the first time you set foot in that garden?”
“Then how do you know the caretaker?”
Jasper sucked in a breath and hastily looked out the window. Zoe watched and could almost see his thoughts spinning.
“I’ve known him since before I was born, and I will know him throughout this life and eternity.”
“Now that sounds like something the caretaker would say,” Zoe said as she crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. “I was watching when you first saw him. The awe and wonder that crossed your face was a riddle wrapped in an enigma to me. Then you dropped to your knees sobbing as if you were undone, and I can’t figure out who could have such an effect on a person, let alone a McEwen.”
“How old were you when you last saw your grandmother and helped her in the garden?” Jasper asked as he turned from the window and made direct eye contact.
“Don’t change the subject.”
“I’m not. It all ties in, I promise.”
“I was a twelve-year-old girl during my last summer here.”
“Did your nana and papa take you to church on Sundays?”
“They dragged me to church. I hated it. So much talking and hymn singing. It was boring.”
Jasper laughed out loud. “Yeah, I felt the same way at that age. Let me change the subject back to the caretaker for a bit. Did you notice anything different about him today?”
Zoe sat back and contemplated the question. “As I watched the love you clearly have for one another, I felt like the caretaker was much more than he appears to be.”
“Exactly! That’s bang on. What if I said that he is the caretaker, but he’s also been a carpenter, a teacher, and a gardener? His final role is the best of all. Any ideas what that might be?”
“You’re talking in riddles again.”
“Not really. Think about it. Do you know anyone in history who has done all those things?”
She blinked and sat back to ponder. A carpenter, a teacher, a gardener and a caretaker. A picture flashed through her mind. She was eleven, sitting in Sunday school class, and her teacher was saying something about…
“Are you telling me the caretaker is Jesus?”
“If I am, then what is his final role?”
“I don’t know… I never read more than a few verses of the Bible. He was a carpenter because Joseph was a carpenter and trained him. He taught his disciples and tried to teach others, but many didn’t listen. His mother, Mary, and another woman saw him at the tomb. They thought he was a gardener. I don’t understand the caretaker part, though, or the rest.” Zoe shrugged and swallowed the lump in her throat.
“Zoe, when you were a girl, did you pray?” Jasper asked quietly.
“No. I don’t know anything about prayer. Nana prayed, but she never taught me, and then she was gone. I was angry at God for a very long time.”
“That’s understandable. Prayer is simply talking with God, nothing more and nothing less. He’s always listening.”
It felt like all the blood drained from her head to her feet as she remembered hurling her anger at the caretaker. “Jasper, I think I may be burning in hell for all eternity after my outburst today.”
“Do you think Jesus can understand and handle your anger?” Jasper gently asked as he approached and knelt down beside her.
“I hope so, but I don’t know… I don’t know Him!”
“Would you like to?”
A nod of her head was all it took, and Jasper had her repeat the words of a prayer, so full of anger and confession, sorrow and joy, faith and hope. The instant she asked Jesus to be her Saviour and Lord, she was surrounded and filled with the most indescribably perfect love she had ever felt. The room seemed to turn golden for a second.
Jasper let go of her hands at that moment and wrapped her in a warm hug. A hug that went right through her. She simply let herself be fully present in each precious second. Zoe felt so different. Something had happened inside her, something new.
“It’s amazing isn’t it?” Jasper whispered.
“Yes. What time is it?”
“It’s three o’clock… where are you going?”
She heard his words as she dashed out the front door and ran for the garden gate. Jasper’s footfalls were right behind her. Within minutes, Zoe stood on the path at the crossroads, waiting. Jasper caught up with her and stood with her.
“Welcome back, Zoe.”
The caretaker’s voice rang with authority and love. She turned and knelt before Him—just as Jasper had done earlier.
A carpenter, a teacher, a gardener, a caretaker… the garden! It was a place for planting, watering, and harvesting. The dimensions to those words would become clear in time, for this was a sacred space, a thin place to abide with Him! Zoe let that knowledge settle like a blanket around her shoulders. The same mantle her nana and great-grandmother had carried.
They were alive on the other side. That’s why the plaques were carved in the present tense. She understood it now—those benches were a memorial and a reminder. Zoe chuckled as the final puzzle piece fell into place.
“Your final role will be when you return, as King.” Her words hung in the air, pregnant with expectation.
“You are correct. The time is short. Follow me,” the caretaker said as he moved deeper into the garden. “We have work to do!”