Authors: Leslie Gould
Tags: #FIC042000, #FIC042040, #FIC053000
Â© 2013 by Leslie Gould
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Ebook edition created 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâfor example, electronic, photocopy, recordingâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Jennifer Parker
Cover photography by Mike Habermann Photography, LLC
Author represented by MacGregor Literary, Inc.
oldest son of mine,
full of intelligence and creativity,
truth and design
Behold, I make all things new.
He that hath the steerage of my course, direct my sail!
Romeo and Juliet
, Act I, iv, 112â113
My parents were positive I'd met my future husband. They expected me to marry Phillip Eicher, the bishop's son. And soon.
“He's coming over tomorrow, for the barbecue,” my mother said, perched on one of our mismatched chairs at the end of the table, her plump hand gripping a pen that hovered over her notebook. She spent most of her days there, writing lists, giving orders, and babying her bad knee. “He wants to talk to your
âat least that's what his mother told me.”
“Oh.” I wiped my sweaty palms down my just-starched apron.
A smile spread across her round face. “We'll have a wedding to plan soon.”
, please.” I'd always called her
and my father
, the more formal terms, rather than the familiar
called them. She seemed to prefer it. I don't think my father cared.
Mutter continued speaking as if she hadn't heard my plea. “That's why you shouldn't go today. We want the barbecue tomorrow to beâ”
I strode out of the kitchen, my basket of hand-quilted
potholders in my arms, hoping she'd think I hadn't heard her. I'd already compromised by waiting to go to the farmers' market until after I'd cleaned the breakfast dishes. It would be nearly eight o'clock, long after the market opened, by the time my cousin Hannah and I arrived.
As I turned the corner into our large living room, a space big enough to host our entire church, my brother Billy came sliding in his stocking feet across the polished floor. His eyes narrowed under his dark bangs, partially pushed up on his sweaty forehead. He carried a gallon jar of pond water and plants in one hand, while his other flew around in an attempt to keep his balance. Still, greenish water sloshed over the rim.
A grin spread across his face as he veered toward me.
I swung the basket around to my hip and stepped sideways.
It didn't matter.
He plowed into me anyway.
I managed to stay on my feet, but the basket landed on the floor, the jar on top and tipped sideways. The murky water soaked my potholders that
been bound for the market.
“Billy,” I cried.
“My tadpoles!” he yelled, falling to the floor, stomach down, his ten-year-old body flailing toward my basket.
I righted the jar, which had a few inches of water remaining, and began picking through the potholders, rescuing the slimy creatures.
“What's going on in there?” Mutter called out.
The tadpoles flopped this way and that. I rushed from one to the next, pinching each one tightly enough to hold on to it but not enough to damage, dropping them back into the green slime.
Billy crowded in too and began shaking out the potholders and tossing them onto the floor, his brown eyes wide.
“Addie?” Mutter yelled.
“Just a minute.”
“Nell!” Mutter called to her younger
, who'd been holed up in the sewing room off the kitchen since breakfast. “Would you see what's going on?”
“I think we got them all.” Billy grinned.
“One more.” I plucked the tiniest tadpole from the black border of a potholder still in the basket and dropped it into the jar. “Take them back and let them go.” I spoke firmly. “They've been traumatized enough.”
, Addie,” he groaned.
“Take courage and do as I say. Quickly.” I thought of him as Billy the Brave. At ten, although
âclumsyâhe was still eager to help and please, but he also stuck up for others, including me. “And take Joe-Joe down to the creek with you so he's out of Mutter's way.” I scooped up the potholders.
Billy slid to the staircase, called for our littlest brother, the youngest of us seven children, and then headed to the front door to put on his boots. He tended to keep them there to avoid Mutter in the kitchen.
I lifted one of the wet potholders to my face and sniffed. I couldn't help but frown at the swampy smell.
I lifted my head to
Nell's round face and alarmed expression. She was short, a little squat, and had still-dark hair, the same color as Mutter's was a few years ago before it turned gray, but a kerchief partly covered Aenti's head instead of a
I held up the wet square. “Billy.” That was all I needed to say.
“I figured.” Her brow wrinkled. She continually brought
me comfort in a
full of chaos. “I have some potholders you can take.”
I shook my head. “I think I have ten that didn't get wet. I can try to wash the others.” Maybe they would dry in Hannah's buggy on the way to the market.
“You won't have time to iron them. You're leaving soon,
?” She picked up the basket.
“Go talk to your Mamm,” Aenti said. She led the way, with me right behind her. Mutter was all eyes as Aenti Nell traipsed through. Obviously my mother had guessed the situation.
“Looks like you aren't meant to go,” she said.
I shook my head. “I still have enough to sell.” Barely.
“No, fate has spoken.”
I shook my head. I didn't believe in fateâespecially if Billy was involved. Unfortunately, my mother did. Many Plain people looked for signs from God to help them make a decisionâmy mother did that too. But she took it a step further, believing in a fate that, when it came to our family, seemed to dictate a path of endless woes.
Mutter pushed her chair back from the table. “Besides, the list of chores is longer than I thought. You won't have time to finish all of them if you go to the market today.”
I didn't respond. I'd been looking forward to going to the farmers' market with my cousin for the last two weeks.
She crossed her arms, her pen still in her hand. “And what about dinner?” Mutter was so used to my taking charge of our household it seemed she felt lost without me.
“I'm cooking tonight,” Aenti Nell called out from the sewing room. “Remember, Laurel?”
Mutter shook her head. “I guess I forgot.”
My Aenti's voice grew louder as she stepped back into the kitchen, the basket in her hands. “And maybe she'll see Phillip.”
That stopped my Mutter for a moment.
“You should be on your way.” Aenti Nell transferred the basket to me. It was fuller than it had originally been. Plus, all the potholders were now tucked inside sealed gallon-sized bags. “I'll clean up the floor.”
,” I whispered. “For everything.”
“Just make sure and tell me who all you see.” Her eyes twinkled in anticipation. “And all you hear.” She patted my arm, turned on her heel, and headed back to the sewing room. Just because she spent most of her days at home didn't mean she didn't want to know every last bit of Lancaster County gossip possible. As a
âa woman who'd never marriedâshe seemed to find her joy in other people's lives.
“What about your chores?” Mutter said to me as she stood and shifted her weight to her good leg.
“I've been working all week.” I'd cleaned, polished, weeded, cooked, and baked. All that needed to be done were the finishing touches for the gathering we hosted each year just after mid-July. I'd already told Mutter, three times, everything was under control, regardless of what her latest list contained.
“Laurel, let her go.” Aenti Nell stood in the doorway to the sewing room, her arms crossed. “She does so much around here. She deserves to have a little fun.”
Mutter placed both her hands on her wide hips. “But I need her here.”
“I'll help today.”
I mouthed “Denki”âagainâto Aenti Nell, and then wrapped one arm around Mutter in a display of affection rare for our family, giving her a quick half hug. She'd been
more anxious than usual lately, fretting over this and that, but especially the barbecue. And Phillip Eicher.
“Everything will work out,” I said. “You'll see.”
She squeezed my arm. “Go on, then.” A faint smile, mixed with a hint of resignation, lingered on her face.
I turned and stepped toward the living room, wanting to be on my way before another disaster struck. Hannah hadn't arrived yet, but I wasn't going to stay in the house and take any chances Mutter would change her mind.
“Timothy will pick you up,” Mutter added.
“Jah, I know.” I grabbed my lunch pail from the corner of the table as I passed by. She'd told me four times already, at least. Timothy was on his
, his running around time. He was twenty and had a 1993 bright yellow Bronco. I told him it looked like a yellow jacket strapped to a set of wheels and that he drove it like he was out to sting everyone else on the road, but he didn't think that was funny.
“Come straight home,” Mutter called out.
“Of course,” I answered. Where else would I go?
Joe-Joe sat by the front door, struggling to pull on the second of his rubber boots, his towhead bent toward the floor. He was fair, like me, although his hair was much lighter than mine. He'd turned seven a month before but seemed younger. He was short and slight for his age and still easy to carry. And during the summer, when he was tuckered out from trying to keep up with Billy, he took a nap in the afternoon. He was sweet as pie, cute as a June bug, and cuddly as a puppy. I thought of him as Joe-Joe the Jewel because I valued him so much, and from the time he was born I'd longed to have a half dozen just like him.
“Where's Billy?” Joe-Joe asked as I set the basket beside him and yanked the boot on for him.
“He's outside, waiting for you,” I said. “Come on.” I stood, balanced the basket on my hip, and tousled his blond hair. He smiled up at me, his dimples flashing across his face.
“Grab your hat,” I said as I opened the door.
He obeyed, resting it on his head at an angle as we stepped onto the porch. Even though it was morning, I could feel the coming heat of the day. The initial thrill of summer had grown old as July grew hotter and more humid. We were due for a stormâand soon.
Joe-Joe skipped across the worn planks, dragging me down the steps. I'd asked Timothy to paint the porch several times, but he hadn't. I'd ask Danny, who at sixteen was far more reliable than Timothy.
In the distance, I heard the clippity-clop of a horseâmost likely Hannah'sâpulling a buggy down our lane.
Billy stood at the edge of the trees, the jar in his hands, bouncing from foot to foot as he waited.
“Keep Joe-Joe with you,” I called out to him.
“Jah,” he answered.
My youngest brother zigzagged across the green lawn, his arms twirling in circles, but then he turned and waved at me, a smile as bright as the summer sun on his face. He laughed and then took off after Billy. They would spend the day in the willow trees along the creek, and in and out of the sycamore grove that bordered
Bob's property. My Bruders' boots would be off in no time, and barefoot they'd catch more tadpoles, salamanders, and marsh periwinkles.
They lived a childhood I'd only dreamed aboutâone I'd watched my other Bruders experience too. I was sure I loved the outdoors as much or more than any of them, but what I experienced when it came to nature was mostly in our garden, from spreading the heaps of chicken manureâ
to fertilize it to weeding the mammoth plot. At least that work allowed me to be outside.
Now that I was older, though, instead of wishing for a childhood of romping through the trees, I longed for a husband, a marriage, and a child of my own as sweet as Joe-Joe. I longed to be out from under Mutter and her lists and worries and talk of fate. Everyone knew I was anxious to marry and leave my parents' home. And most days I thought if Phillip Eicher was my ticket then so be it. But on other days a nagging sensation plagued me. It was on those days I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about Phillip.
And this happened to be one of them.
“Come on!” Hannah yelled from her buggy. “We're running late.”
I hurried across the lawn toward my cousin. As much as I loved them, I was desperate for a break from my familyâif only for a few hours.
As Hannah drove away from our farm, I shifted on the bench and peered through the rear window of her buggy at our old white Haus, growing smaller in the distance.
I'd been raised to honor my parents. I'd never done anything but please them. The closest I'd ever come to not obeying was ignoring Mutter's request for me to stay home today.
If Aenti Nell hadn't intervened, I likely would have given up on going.
Aenti Nell and my cousin Cate both said I had a gift for managing a house. My parents never acknowledged it though.