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Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray

The Caregiver

BOOK: The Caregiver
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THE CAREGIVER

Families of Honor, Book One

SHELLEY
SHEPARD
GRAY

Dedication

To Gary and Kelley. Just because.

Epigraph

Happiness is the inner joy that can be sought or caught, but never taught or bought.

—Amish proverb

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.

—Psalm 23:4

Prologue

L
ucy shielded her face when the antique platter crashed to the floor. Though whether she was shielding it from shards of pottery or bracing herself for another sting from Paul’s hand, she didn’t really know.

Most likely both.

But all her husband did was pull open the screen door. “You are such a disappointment, Lucy,” he bit out, each word seething with venom. “Such a disappointment. In every possible way.”

Her lip bled as she fought to remain still under his glaring eyes. Prepared herself for another diatribe. Then Paul simply shook his head in disgust and stormed out the kitchen door. It slammed behind him as he bolted down the stairs and strode along the worn path to their barn.

When his footsteps faded, Lucy leaned against the gleaming counters of her kitchen and willed herself to stop shaking.

Trembling and crying won’t help,
she sternly urged herself. When Paul came back, he would expect every trace of the bright blue dish cleaned up and the rest of the kitchen to be spotless. With a scant glance at the clock over the screen door, she saw it was a quarter after six.

She had fifteen minutes. Maybe eighteen.

After wiping the blood from her mouth with a dishcloth, she carefully picked up the pieces of pottery. Tried not to remember her grandmother’s expression when she’d presented the serving piece to her and Paul. Her lip quivered. Oh, but her grandmother had been so proud to give her something that had been in their family for four generations.

And Lucy had been proud to receive it. After all, she was the eldest of six children and was marrying well. Paul Troyer was a pillar of their community and had promised that he would be able to help out her brothers and sisters financially.

And now the dish was shattered. Irreparable. Much like her marriage.

She glanced at the clock again. 6:22.
Oh, but time is wasting!
Quickly, Lucy picked up her pace. Putting both knees on the ground, she scanned the floor and snatched up every shard that she could find, only wincing slightly when one of the pieces tore at her thumb.

After hurriedly bandaging her finger so blood wouldn’t stain anything, Lucy wiped the floor with a damp cloth. Then she attacked the dishes—the source of Paul’s latest discontent. Dinner had been late. She’d been helping her mother with her littlest sister. Lizzie had the flu and was feverish, so Lucy had offered to watch her while her mother went to school to attend Jeremy and Karl’s spelling bee program.

But then her mother had run late. Making Lucy return late. And the chicken had gone into the oven at 5:30 instead of 5:15. Paul had been very angry.

She darted a look out the window. Surmising that he was still in the barn, Lucy breathed a sigh of relief. All she had to do was wash the dishes, scrub two pans, and put them all neatly away before he returned. If she did that, everything might still be all right.

She stole another glance at the clock. 6:26.

With the experience of almost two years of marriage, Lucy hurriedly wrapped up the remains of the dinner, then washed and dried each piece of pottery. Sweat ran down the middle of her back as she raced to put each dish away, then ran a cloth over the counters.

Finally, she straightened out the red-and-white tin canisters to the right of the oven. Made sure they were in perfect alignment, not a one out of place.

Only then did she allow herself to breathe a sigh of relief. The kitchen was clean. She darted yet another glance at the clock. 6:34. She had made it.

As she always did, Lucy braced herself to hear Paul’s footsteps. Prepared to meet him with a smile . . . as if he hadn’t thrown the dinner platter to the floor. As if he hadn’t raised his hand to her.

But still the clock ticked . . . and he didn’t arrive. Warily, Lucy peeked out the window. Glanced at the clock. 6:50.

A new set of worries settled in her stomach. To spend so long in the barn wasn’t like him. Paul was nothing if not prompt; and she had learned the hard way about the folly of not adhering to his schedule.

Not knowing what else to do, she pulled out a chair. And waited. Another hour passed.

When the sun started to set, Lucy stood and paced. Common sense told her to walk to the barn to check on her husband. But self-preservation warned her. Paul didn’t like her to disturb him. He didn’t like her to spy on him.

And surely he would not be happy if she went to the barn without him telling her she could. Almost without thought, she rubbed the knot that now was a permanent fixture on her arm. She’d learned that lesson the hard way.

Thirty minutes later, Lucy felt sick to her stomach. It was now almost 8:30, the time Paul liked to read the Bible and discuss his plans for the next day. Surely something was wrong.

Worrying her bottom lip, she slowly opened the screen door and stepped outside. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw Star, their shepherd mix, whining outside the barn door.

“Star?”

The dog barked, then whined some more. Pulled on the rope that hitched him to a post by the barn’s entrance.

Lucy started forward. For Star to be still tied up, that was strange indeed. Usually Paul let him loose once he went into the barn to inspect the horses. “Star? Are you okay?” she asked as she freed the dog.

The dog answered by barking again and pawing at the barn’s entrance.

Lucy gathered her courage. Prepared herself to meet Paul’s barrage of abuse for disturbing him. Or for him to yank at her shoulder for spying.

But the daylight was waning. Lucy didn’t know what Paul wanted her to do, but when Star pawed the door again, she opened it and stepped in. Her heart beat wildly. With a cautious, dry swallow, she whispered, “Paul?”

Only the nervous neigh of their horses replied.

She walked in farther, then stopped in shock.

Paul lay at the base of the ladder that led to the barn’s loft. She rushed to his side and knelt, Star at her heels. “Paul!” she cried out. “Paul! Paul?”

That’s when she noticed his neck was at an odd angle and his eyes were open. Lifeless.

Gingerly, she pressed two fingers to his neck, searching for a pulse. But there wasn’t one. Her husband was dead.

Chapter 1

~One year later~

“L
ucy? Lucy, you come here this instant.”

Paul’s voice echoed through their home, practically shaking the rafters. Definitely shaking her nerves. In a panic, she slipped her pencil into the middle of her diary, shut it, then hastily stuffed it in between the wooden slats and into the box springs of their bed.

She got to her feet and went to find her husband.

He stood at the bottom of the steps, his hands on his hips, rage in his eyes.

“Yes, Paul?” she asked, taking care to keep her tone even and calm.

“Where is the bread you made today?”

She rushed past him, careful not to make contact. In the kitchen, she opened the bread box. “Here,” she said, slipping out the fresh loaf. “Would you like a slice?”

Slowly, he shook his head.
“Nee.”

He turned from her and stomped off, just as she caught her breath. Oh, that had been a close call. She knew what would have happened if she hadn’t found the bread . . .

Abruptly, he turned around. “Lucy? Did you make bread for your family, too?”

Her palms began to sweat. What was the right answer? If she chose wrong, Paul would be upset.

She bit her lip.

“Lucy, can you answer me?”

Oh, that tone. So sarcastic and harsh at the same time! Quickly, she rubbed her damp hands on the sides of her dress. Swallowed hard. “I did make bread for them.”

Body tense, she waited for him to respond.

A light shone in his eyes as he stepped forward. His hand was raised. Her breath caught.

“H
ello? Hel-lo!”

Lucy opened her eyes and stifled a scream. A little girl was staring at her over the top of the seat in front of her. Little by little, the dream faded and her reality set in.

She was on a train.

Not in her kitchen.

And Paul . . . Paul was gone.

The little girl squinted her eyes as she examined Lucy some more. Pretty little eyebrows framed expressive blue eyes. And a petite white
kapp
covered her head.

Lucy finally spoke. “Hello to you.”

A broad smile greeted her. “We’re Amish, too!”

When Lucy blinked, the girl laughed and pulled on the shirt of the man next to her.

“She’s awake, Calvin,” the girl chirped. “She’s awake and she’s starin’ right at me.”

Slowly, the man turned and faced Lucy, looking at her over the upholstered seats. “I apologize,” he murmured, his expression pained. “My sister Katie doesn’t always know when to leave others alone. We’ll try to not bother you again.”

As the haze of sleep floated away, Lucy suddenly realized that they’d both been speaking Pennsylvania Dutch. Right there in the middle of the train.

That was a curious thing. From the time she’d left the train station in Kalamazoo, she’d hardly come across more than a handful of Amish, and they’d been at the station in Chicago.

“I’m Amish,” she said. Unnecessarily, to be sure. After all, the little girl had just made that pronouncement.

But instead of pointing that out, the man—who really was too handsome for his own good—had the nerve to wink. “It’s enough to make ya smile, ain’t it?” he asked, bright blue eyes shining underneath the brim of his black felt hat. “The coach attendant took Katie, my uncle, and me through practically this whole train here, and I didn’t spy a single other Plain traveler. Until you. And now . . . here we all are.”

Yes, here we all are,
she silently repeated to herself—and against her will felt herself slowly falling into a dark void of panic. It seemed no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t seem to have a real conversation with a man.

Paul hadn’t only damaged her physically. He’d damaged her self-confidence as well.

When the silence between them turned awkward, the man pointed to the window. Rain splattered angrily against the pane. “You’re lucky you’ve been able to sleep. The storm is a terrible one, for sure.”

Lightning flashed in the distance, glowing bright against the dark sky. Lucy nodded. “I fell asleep more than an hour ago. I didn’t even realize it was raining.”

“Well, I’m not tired at all,” the little girl said.

Lucy couldn’t help but be charmed by Katie’s blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and chatty nature. Oh, she so did enjoy children. Time and again, she’d prayed for God to bless her with a baby. But none had ever come.

“Katie, you might get tired sooner than you think,” she warned with a smile. “That’s what happened to me. One minute I was looking out the window, and the next I was sound asleep.”

“Until we woke you up,” the man said, sounding terribly aggrieved.

“I don’t mind.”

“You should.” Looking at his sister, he shook his head in obvious exasperation. “You must learn to mind your manners, Katie.”

“But I don’t want to sleep. Traveling is too much fun.” She squirmed in another direction, then pointed to a man two rows down. “Uncle John says traveling is an adventure not to be missed.”

“But if you’ll notice, he’s also sitting far from you.”

“Calvin, you know Uncle John said he was sorry that we couldn’t sit three to a seat. He said he was real sad about that.”

His tone wry, Calvin said, “Somehow, I doubt that.”

As Lucy continued to watch the pair with interest, the man rolled his eyes. “As you can see, my tiny sister here is like a whirling top. Nothing seems to slow her down. It’s no wonder my mother asked me to take her with me to Indianapolis. She probably needed a vacation of her own.”

He smiled again, but in spite of her best intentions, Lucy wasn’t able to relax enough to return his grin. No matter what, it seemed as if Paul was still always with her, judging her reactions to him. To other men. Watching her . . . Little by little, both her family and other members of her community had come to accept that Lucy was far different from the bright, smiling girl she had once been. Of course, most in the community kept their distance—they’d known how Paul had treated her . . . and had chosen to look the other way.

But instead of looking at her strangely, the man seemed amused by Lucy’s lack of conversation. “So, I’m guessing you didn’t board here in South Bend,” he said. “When did you get on?”

“Back in Michigan.”

“So you’ve been traveling for some time—”

“A really long time,” Katie interjected.

“I have,” she told the child. “Hours and hours. I boarded a different train back in Kalamazoo, then got on this one in Chicago.”

“You’ve had quite an exciting day, then.”

She tensed, sure he was teasing her. Finding fault. But then she noticed that his whole demeanor was patient. Kind. Not searching for blunders.

His little sister didn’t look timid around him at all.

“Jah,”
she finally said. With effort, Lucy pushed back the unease she felt rushing forward, heating her cheeks.
Just because a man is handsome like Paul, it doesn’t mean he’s like him inside,
she cautioned herself.

“We haven’t traveled by train too often, neither. I must have checked my reservation ten times, I was so worried about boarding the wrong train. You and me, Katie, and my Uncle John will have to stick together then,
jah
?”

For a moment, she was tempted to smile right back and take him up on his offer. But that would be a silly thing to do. Within a few hours the train would stop in Cleveland and she’d never see them again.

So she settled for self-preservation.
“Jah,”
she said simply, then turned her head away so she wouldn’t see the expression in their eyes.

Obviously misjudging her uneasiness, he cleared his throat. “By the way, I’m Calvin and this, here, is my sister Katie.”

“Katie Weaver,” his sister corrected.

“And I am Lucy Troyer.”

Calvin inclined his head. “Lucy, we are pleased to meet you.”

“I as well,” she said. Then feeling like a fool again, she turned toward the window and closed her eyes. Though she tried her best to relax, she was finding it next to impossible. She was too aware of his presence. His smile. His easy way of moving.

And the horrible knowledge that once again she was noticing a much too handsome man whom she really knew nothing about. And was accepting his words at face value.

Just as she’d once done with Paul.

A
s Lucy turned away and closed her eyes, Calvin bit back regret. When he’d first spied her sitting in the row behind them, he’d been thanking his lucky stars. She was a pretty thing. Her hair was the color of dark honey, and her light golden eyes reminded him of the fields outside his kitchen window on an August morning.

But her attitude was curious. With Katie, she seemed relaxed and easy to talk to. With him, however, her manner was different. She’d been skittish. Bordering on rude.

No, that’s not quite right,
he reflected. Her manner had been more circumspect. Restrained. Actually, it was almost as if she’d been afraid of
him
.

He frowned. Never before in his twenty-six years had a woman looked at him with such apprehension. On the contrary, most seemed to go out of their way to be good company.

He’d always taken that for granted, he supposed. It was what came of being Calvin Weaver, the oldest son of the Weaver family—the biggest landowners in Jacob’s Crossing.

As Katie squirmed next to him, he prayed she’d fall asleep soon. “Settle,
shveshtah,
” he murmured.

“I’m tryin’. But it’s hard to get comfortable.”

“Try harder. You’re making too much noise.”

“You take up too much room.” After a pause, she said, “Maybe I could go sit beside Lucy? She hardly takes up half a seat.”

“Of course you can’t.”

Katie’s expression turned mutinous. “Why not?”

“Because you can’t just go sit next to someone you don’t know.”

“People do on the train.”

Her logic was giving him a headache. “Hush now.”

“But—”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Fine.” She turned her back to him, and squirmed and fidgeted.

While she did that, Calvin turned his mind back to Lucy.

What, he wondered, had set her off? Had he said something that could be misconstrued? Replaying their brief conversation in his mind, he could think of nothing untoward. Perhaps she just hadn’t felt like talking.

After another bout of restlessness, Katie curled up in a ball under a thick blanket and finally stilled.

Peace at last!

Though it was a bad idea, Calvin took the opportunity to pull a worn letter from his jacket’s inside pocket. In the relative privacy of his seat, he smoothed out the creases, rubbing his thumb against the folds . . . and over the words he had memorized six weeks ago. But couldn’t seem to let go of.

His last letter from Gwen.

There was no reason for him to still have the note. He knew why Gwen had broken up with him. Everyone in Jacob’s Crossing knew. She’d fallen in love with one of his friends and had been too full of herself to even tell him in person.

No, she’d written him a letter.

Which he still kept, much to his embarrassment.

Dear Calvin
, the letter began.
I fear I must finally be honest with you . . .

She’d
feared. “Finally
.

Each word and phrase hurt him anew. Calvin blinked, then, like an addict, focused on the words again, farther down the page.

Will and I, we can’t help our feelings, you see . . .

As the words swam in front of him, he remembered the conversation with his brothers.

“Why don’t you go to Indiana for a spell,” his youngest brother, Graham, had said. “There’s no need for you to witness their courting.”

But running away had seemed weak, and he’d told them that.

His brother Loyal had simply laughed. “What does it matter if people think you’re weak or strong? All that matters is how you feel. And for the record, I think you have every right to feel betrayed.”

“Jah,”
Graham added. “They went and fell in love right under your nose, Calvin. Get away from here for a week or so. Clear your head.”

“Or better yet, take Katie,” Loyal added.

“Katie?”
he’d asked in surprise and, admittedly, with trepidation.

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