Authors: Bonnie Dee
By Bonnie Dee
Formerly published in Seasons of Love anthology as “Amish Paradise”
Copyright © 2015 by Bonnie Dee
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Rachael stood on the baking sidewalk, the hot cement burning through the soles of her heavy, black shoes, and gazed at the theater marquee.
Rebel Without a Cause
. The poster in the window showed a young man with his hair combed back from his forehead in a pompadour. His eyes squinted and his mouth was a grim line of anguish, or at least discontent. She understood that feeling.
What exactly was the movie was about? What would it be like to walk up to the window, put down her money and buy a ticket? What would the theater be like inside? She would probably never know.
Her ghostly reflection frowned back at her from the display window of the dress shop beside the theater. Wide eyes and snub nose with freckles scattered across her tan face. Brown hair parted in the middle, drawn into a coil at the back of her head, and covered by a white cap. Nearly every part of her was covered and sweating under her long-sleeved blue dress and thick stockings. It would be a joy to tear off every layer, to shake her hair free of pins and let the cool breeze blow against her bare skin. Even to dress like the English girls in their sleeveless blouses and knee length skirts would be better.
Rachael stared at the mannequins in the window and dreamed of forbidden mint green organdy, flower embroidered cardigans, crisp white blouses and frothy layers of crinolines in a rainbow of colors until the theater doors opened. A crowd of laughing and chattering young people streamed out of the afternoon matinee.
“James Dean is dreamy! Couldn’t you just die?” A girl with coppery hair pulled into a high ponytail chewed on a straw poking out of her soda. Her powder blue skirt puffed around her like a cloud and the ribbon in her hair exactly matched the color.
“He’s the most. Jeez Louise, you don’t see any guys around here with eyes like that. Such a tragedy he’s gone.” Her friend in the shocking calf length pants sighed dramatically, then she loudly popped her gum while running her hands through her straight brown hair. “My flip’s wilted! Darn the humidity.”
Rachael stepped closer to the dress shop window and tried to become invisible. She stared at the beautifully dressed mannequins and told herself she had every right to occupy this sidewalk as much as anyone. Although she had little contact with anyone outside her community, Rachael thought she knew the names of the two girls talking; Darlene Lavoy and Linda Prentiss.
A hulking boy in a striped, short-sleeved shirt bounded up behind the girls and threw an arm over their shoulders. His shirt stretched around bulging biceps. “The guy’s a wimp. All he does the whole movie is loaf around whining and cryin’ like a girl. The car race part was cool though, and damn that chick with the scarf was stacked!”
“Gross. You’re such a cretin, Harley.” The girl, who might have been Darlene, shrugged the crewcut blond’s arm off her shoulders. “James Dean is
—something you wouldn’t know anything about. You have no more feelings than a big, dumb dog.”
“Baby, I’m full of feelings. Whyn’t you go out with me some time and I’ll show you.” Harley abandoned Linda to follow Darlene, grabbing her arm to stop her from walking away.
“Not interested.” She pulled away and ran right into Rachael. The redhead frowned and wrinkled her nose as if she smelled manure. “What are
Rachael’s gaze slid away and she moved even closer to the building, wishing she could disappear through the glass.
Linda looked from Rachael to the dress display in the window. “Don’t you people make your own clothes? You poor thing. You must get sick of wearing boring colors all the time.”
“They get to wear these cute hats though.” The boy called Harley snatched off Rachael’s white cap, the hairpins that held it on snagging painfully on strands of hair.
Rachael grabbed for it, but the boy held it above her reach. Her heart thundered and her cheeks burned. She’d never had contact with an outsider. Her world mostly consisted of her chores on the farm and sitting in prayer on meeting day. The first time she’d ever spoken to an English and it had to be this horrible teasing boy. She gave him a hard stare and tried to control the nervous tremor in her voice. “Give it back, please.”
“What? You want this?” Harley laughed and swung the cap round his head by its long ties.
Darlene stopped to watch and laugh. “Harley, don’t! Leave the oddball alone.”
“Come on. It’s mean,” the girl in the short pants added.
Rachael turned to walk away. There was no point in talking. Her cap was gone.
“Aw, come on. I was just kiddin’.” He held it out to her. “Here. Take it.”
She didn’t believe his fake-friendly tone, but reached for the small bonnet dangling from his beefy hand just in case. He immediately snatched it back and brayed like a donkey.
Tears stung her eyes. She blinked and bit her lip, refusing to show her humiliation in front of these people.
“Hey.” A deep voice came from behind her and a tall figure brushed past to stand between her and the teasing boy. “What gives, jerk? Hand me the hat.”
Harley’s piggish eyes went wide and he stopped sniggering. The taller boy seized the cap from his slack grip and tossed it back to Rachael without looking over his shoulder. His white T-shirt stretched tight across back which filled Rachael’s vision. His shoulders moved up and down with his breathing and his fists clenched loosely at his sides. “Grow up, Harley.”
Rachael clutched her cap and stared at the back of the boy’s head. His brown hair was longer than Harley’s crew cut and stuck out wildly—too short to lie flat and too wavy to hang straight. She knew this boy, had seen him riding on his father’s tractor in the field down the road from her home. He was her neighbor, Joe Langdon.
Harley scowled and stepped up to Joe. “It’s none of your business anyway. I was just horsing around.”
“Well, don’t,” Joe growled.
Harley leaned toward him and grinned. “Why? You got a thing for the Aim-ish? Maybe want to slip it to her under her quilt?”
Joe turned so Rachael could see his profile. His jaw clenched so tight it seemed the bone would cut through his skin. He glared at Harley and crowded a little closer. “You wanna start something?”
The brown-haired girl named Linda stepped in between them. “Hey, guys. Not here. Officer Dewey’s right across the street and he’s looking this way.”
Harley glanced at the policeman strolling past the pharmacy. “Tonight then. Harrow’s Bend. Drag race.” He raised a finger and stabbed it at Joe. “Be there. 10 o’clock.” He turned and strode dramatically away.
Joe shook his head. “Idiot.”
The pretty redhead moved close to him and tipped her head to look up at him. “Are you gonna do it? ’Cause I could drop the scarf, just like Natalie Wood in the movie.”
He snorted. “No. I don’t have to race the guy to know who’s the better man.” He turned toward Rachael, facing her full on. Brilliant green eyes stared down into hers. They sparkled in the sunlight. “You okay?”
She’d seen him from a distance but never this close. His presence was overwhelming. “Y-yes,” she stuttered, still twisting her cap in her hands.
He nodded then tilted his head a little as he studied her. “You’re Daniel Yoder’s sister, Rachael, right?”
“Need a ride home? I can drop you off.”
She would’ve loved a ride home. She could count on one finger the number of times she’d ridden in an automobile. “No, thank you. I’m in town with my father.”
She gestured down the street toward the hardware store. “I have to meet him. I just stopped to buy some buttons and sewing thread for my mother.”
As if he cared.
Darlene touched Joe’s arm, positioning herself between him and Rachael. Her glossy red ponytail swung against her neck. Rachael longed to grab hold of it and pull, hard. “Are you going to the grange hall dance at Atchison on Saturday?”
Joe glanced at her. “I doubt it.”
“Think about it.” She fluttered her lashes and smiled coyly as she made the shape of a telephone receiver with her thumb and pinkie finger. “Call me. I’ll save you a dance.”
Linda grabbed her friend’s arm and tugged impatiently. “Come on, Darlene. I have to get home or my mom’s gonna kill me.”
“Bye, Joe.” Darlene gave him a last smile and sauntered up the sidewalk.
When he turned his attention back to Rachael, grasshoppers skipped in her stomach. “It’s kind of strange we’ve been neighbors all these years and I’ve never really met you.”
Actually, she thought it would have been strange if they
met, even as young children at play. Amish children didn’t mingle with outsiders and particularly girls didn’t have any cause to talk with them. She held up her cap. “Thank you, for helping me.”
“I’m sorry Harley messed with you. With idiots like him around it’s no wonder your people want to stay apart.”
Rachael set her cap on the back of her head, pinned it in place, and arranged the ribbons to hang loose on the front of her dress. She felt him watching. It made her as self-conscious as if she were dressing in front of him. Those grasshoppers kept battering away inside her rib cage.
Joe ran a hand through his unkempt hair and exhaled. “Sure is hot today. If I can’t give you a ride, can I at least buy you a pop or ice cream or something while you’re waiting for your dad.”
Sweat beaded along her hairline and trickled down her back. She could almost taste the sweet, cold ice cream melting on her tongue. “No, thank you. I mustn’t. Good afternoon.”
She began to walk toward the hardware store.
He strode alongside her. “Because I’m not Amish.”
“Yes.” The rule she’d always been taught suddenly felt very wrong. Joe had been kind and helpful, neighborly, and she was supposed to reject his offer of friendship simply because he lived a different sort of life? His people weren’t her people so that made him unacceptable?
“It wouldn’t be like a date or anything, just ice cream.” The smile in his voice was teasing, but he wasn’t mocking her like Harley. “I’m your neighbor. We should at least be friends.” He spoke almost her exact thought.
It startled her but also made her walk faster, as if to outrace temptation. “I oughtn’t. My father wouldn’t approve. Nor would the church elders.”
Joe gave an exaggerated look around the nearly empty street. “I don’t see a black suit in sight. I think we’re safe.”
She bit her lip. “I shouldn’t even be walking with you. I certainly can’t sit to eat with you.”
“Then we won’t sit and we won’t walk down Main Street where somebody might see.” He nodded to the drugstore where the soda fountain was. “I’ll buy ice cream and we can walk to the vacant lot in back to eat it. No spies. No trouble.”
Rachael took a deep breath of the humid air then nodded once.
Joe started toward the store before turning to freeze her in place with his emerald eyes. “You’ll still be here when I get back?”
Rachael thought of her father, who would be finished with his errands soon and would come to find her if she didn’t show up. He might walk to the general store and learn she’d bought her threads and needles and left over twenty minutes ago.