Late-afternoon sun blinded me as I threw open the back door and stepped onto the porch, duffel bag in hand. The screen door caught my foot and dug deep into my ankle, and I dropped my bag with a thud.
Despite my anger, I took a deep breath and wondered if I should just suppress my urge to run off, and stay put in Hickory Hollow. But Daed’sstinging words were fresh in my mind. “You’ve got one foot in the world and the other in the church, Michael. Go on with ya—and don’t come back till you decide!”
At the height of this latest spat, Mamm winced and fled the kitchen for the next room, her prayer Kapp strings flying. I’d like to have fallen in step right behind her, to reassure and comfort her somehow. Yet what could I tell her that wouldn’t break her heart?
No, I wouldn’t turn back. I hurried down the road to my Mennonite uncle’s place, where I kept my car, and sped away toward his cabin, not far from here. Far enough, though, to find some solace from this latest wrangle.
Soon, though, once I calm down, I’ll be a fugitive on my knees praying, not only for wisdom in dealing with my ill-tempered father, but for my future. And it wouldn’t hurt if I put Marissa Witmer out of my mind, too.
Awhile there, I’d actually thought she might become Amish for me, which is the worst reason to join any church. But it’s mighty hard competing with a girl’s “first love,” which is just how she put it to me months ago on our final date. There, near the old covered bridge in Gordonville.
Shortly after that, Daed started pressuring me to settle down . . . and marry. “What’s a-matter with ourgirls?” he’d asked.
But getting hitched in the Amish church would mean giving up my computer and other fancy gadgets, as well as my car—especially my car!—in order to commit to the People. “A lifer,” some of my former Amish friends describe it.
Sure, I’m expected to honor my parents and obey the fifth commandment; I know that. But when you’ve had a taste of higher education and the Internet, how do you go back to reading the Farm Journal and relying on the Amish grapevine?
I considered all this as I sped away, my foot heavy on the gas, gravel spraying up after each stop sign. Cranking up the car radio, I relished the feel of the booming bass in my gut. Bishop John Beiler had taken me aside more than once to warn about my interest in worldly music, shaking his finger in my face. Not because I’m a baptized church member, but because I’m approaching twenty-five and still balking about bending my knee to make the church vow. “A mighty poor example for the young folk,” the bishop said recently, his face clouded with disapproval. “Especially your niece!”
Bishop John’s words hit close to home, considering that Elizabeth—my parents’ only granddaughter among many grandsons—was charging down the path of disobedience. Since she’s always looked up to me as her favorite uncle, I couldn’t help but wonder if I really am to blame. Doubtless Daed thinks so.
Things might seem less futile now if I hadn’t lost my fiancée prior to all of this. The memory of Marissa’s infectious smile and, ach, those adorable blue eyes is still before me. There’s no denying she stole my heart away.
“I’m so sorry, Michael,” she said with tears rolling down her pretty face. It was all I could do to keep from holding her till she came to her senses. Surely she would.
Surely . . .
But last I heard from her cousin Joanna Kurtz—our bishop’s niece—Marissa had not changed her mind. “She’s followin’ her heart,” Joanna told me, eyes shimmering.
Sure isn’t following me . . .
Now I was holed up in this small cabin hidden away in the woods, miles from home so Daed couldn’t come looking for me by horse and buggy. I had plenty to keep me busy, including work for my online course of study, wrapping things up for an associate in arts degree. Not that I needed a degree in anything, really, what with all the work I’d already been doing for several years now, drafting blueprints for custom houses and even a stately colonial-style church.
What a way to spend a summer vacation, I thought as I worked offline on my laptop. There was no access to the Internet in this remote cabin.
After a time, I wandered to the small washroom on the other side of the room and studied my reflection in the mirror over the sink. Clean-shaven . . . blond hair cropped just below my ears, with the usual old-fashioned bangs. I glanced down and took stock of my bare feet, my black “barn door” trousers, beige suspenders, and long-sleeved blue shirt. I looked like all the other young Amishmen I knew. And it made me feel even more lost.
Deserting the mirror, I went to kneel beside one of the bunks in the main room. “Hear my prayer for guidance, O God,” I whispered, feeling guilty as I was reminded of my disobedience to the wishes of my parents. Could I expect my prayers to reach past the ceiling?
A single gas lantern brightened the gloom. There was really no need for the lantern when the cabin had electricity, but seeing it there gave me a semblance of comfort. It reminded me of the very thing that had brought me to this momentous day. Because I knew full well if I continued to walk the fence, I might end up on the other side—the outside, looking in.
I inhaled deeply, knowing my father would want me to pray for forgiveness, too. But I didn’t honestly believe that driving a car and listening to music from someplace other than the Ausbund was a bad thing, even in God’s eyes. Yet the Old Ways ran deep in me, so I pressed on, spending more time on my knees before rising.
Then, eyeing the small table where I’d put my duffel bag full of clothes, CD wallets, and fresh batteries, I attempted to shrug away my melancholy. Music was my consolation . . . but I wouldn’t give in to the craving just yet. I’d wait till sundown.
After a long sprint through the woods, I returned to the old log cabin and stood in the doorway, staring out. The truth began to sink in—what I should’ve realized all this time. Marissa was never going to have second thoughts no matter how much I’d cared for her. Her new path was firmly set.
I watched the sun slowly fall over the secluded woodlands. And in the stillness, the psalm my father read aloud that morning came to mind. Even the night shall be light about me.
It wasn’t easy to push away the painful past; I knew that. But it was high time. I breathed in the spicy scent of pine, aware of distant thunder.
We know the truth, not only by the reason,
but also by the heart.
Amelia Devries stood waiting in the wings, her well-polished fiddle tucked beneath her right arm, bow in hand. The rhythmic vibration of guitars and a banjo buzzed in the floorboards of the outdoor theater, beneath her stylish boots. No matter the venue for her performances—classical or country, indoors or out—she often experienced a slight twinge of nerves before a concert. Normal stage fright, nothing more.
The preshow jitters had begun on the day Amelia played her first violin recital as a precocious five-year-old. But as time passed, she learned to trust the moment—the instant she raised her bow and drew it across the strings. Just get me there became her mantra.
Tonight she was the guest fiddler for a small country band—one of the warm-up gigs to Tim McGraw’s featured concert this sultry mid-July evening at the Mann Center in Philadelphia’s West Fairmount Park. And she had an impressive performance planned.
The tall blond master of ceremonies, Rickie Gene, brushed past her to make his way to center stage, wearing a black tux and blue shirt. He’s fired up, she thought, remembering the first time she’d met him a year ago at a fiddle fest in Connecticut . . . unknown to Byron,her longtime boyfriend back home in Columbus, Ohio. Or to her father, a former violinist himself, stricken with early onset Parkinson’s disease.
Rickie Gene cast his winning smile like a fishing line to the crowd. “It’s Thursday night at the Mann!”
Loud cheers rose from the crowd.
“Are ya ready to welcome the best little country band this side of the Alleghenies?”
The roar of delight filled the park, where thousands of people sat in either the covered seating area or farther back on the lawn, picnicking on blankets. The smell of popcorn and honeysuckle hung in the humid air.
“Help me give it up for . . . the Bittersweet Band!”
Fans seated all over the grounds applauded and cheered.
Rickie’s appealing chuckle reverberated through the sound system. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a fabulous surprise tonight.” He paused dramatically. “Right here at the Mann . . . I give you none other than the winner of this year’s New England Fiddle Fest—Miss Amy Lee!”
Wouldn’t my parents just cringe? Amelia thought at the sound of her stage name. She breathed in slowly, willing away the jitters, and took to the stage.
“And . . . it’s . . . showtime!” Rickie announced, promptly making his exit.
Amelia planted her russet boots center stage and curtsied in her flowing vintage dress. More deafening applause.
Though still anxious, she was eager to play her heart out in this well-known open-air setting. Quickly, she brought up her fiddle and cradled it under her chin . . . bow ready.
Almost there . . .
And then it began to happen. Always, always, an indescribable something transpired the instant her bow touched the strings. Oh, the glory, the sheer magic of connecting this way with a receptive audience. She felt at one with the band, the stage, and her adoring fans. All the years of performing for a crowd converged in that moment.
Despite the venue, deep inside she was the same petite virtuoso darling her father had groomed for solo work on the concert stage. Beginning her instruction at age four, he had meticulously taught her using the Galamian method, following in his own footsteps. Within four years, Amelia had auditioned at the Oberlin Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio, where she began preparatory study with master teacher Dorothea Malloy. From then on, Amelia and her doting parents made weekly commutes on weekends.
In an attempt to give their little girl a normal life—apart from her recognition and celebrity—Amelia’s mother planned for her to live at home while attending the best private schools. So Amelia kept busy with homework and exams and all the typical school-related activities while her father filled her leisure hours with practicing scales, arpeggios, thirds, and octaves. Only rarely had she missed a day of practice.
Between lessons in Oberlin, young Amelia played in professional recitals and soloed with regional orchestras, first in her hometown of Columbus, and then, when she was twelve, with the big orchestras.
Once she finished high school at seventeen, Amelia made her debut recording, as well as enrolled in college courses at Oberlin, all while traveling on the weekends. But after the years of the insane touring schedule, Amelia began to voice her frustration to her father, whose “serious music only” mentality had begun to annoy her.
“It’s normal to feel the pressure—comes with the territory.” Her father always downplayed Amelia’s frustrations. “When you’re at the top, you’ll appreciate the effort required to get there.”
By the time Amelia had celebrated her twenty-first birthday, she was weary of his hovering. She loved the music but disliked the expectation that she travel and perform in her leisure time, after college classes . . . and then, following her graduation. For a period of time, she rarely slept in the same bed two nights in a row, and she yearned for a more normal life—and the possibility of marriage and her own family someday.
One night while spending time at her parents’ vacation home in Madison, Connecticut, Amelia read about a fiddling contest. Intrigued, she slipped out of the house and attended her first-ever fiddling festival in Manchester. Immediately, she was enthralled by the country style and the happy-go-lucky sound and, self-taught, eventually began playing in the East Coast’s lineup of up-and-coming fiddlers.
And so, a country fiddler was born . . . her secret life.
Amelia drew her bow across two strings simultaneously, creating a harmony in one masterful sweep: double-stops. Leaning into the fiddle, she began to play “Pretty Polly Ann,” Ozark-style fiddling and her first in a set of three crowd-pleasers. She loved this one, and the crowd had an uncanny way of drawing the first rousing song out of her, egging her on. So liberating . . . just what I need! They adored her, and she felt the love.
After two curtsies the crowd quieted, and she began to play “Bumblebee in the Gourdvine,” made popular by the legendary Texas fiddler Benny Thomasson. My hero, thought Amelia.
She had learned how to work an audience during her solo concerts, saving the best and showiest for last, just as she did with classical encores. So when it came time for “Orange Blossom Special,” she played her licks with reckless abandon. The raucous tune brought smiles to the entire front row of concertgoers, she noticed; because of the brilliant spotlights, she was unable to see much farther back. Oh, she was in fiddle heaven with all of the string plucking and harmonic slides that mimicked a train whistle. The piece was a fiddle player’s national anthem. Focusing only on the exhilarating number, she played as fine as she ever had.
But now she was coming to the middle section she adored. Sonny Jones, the banjo player next to her—a soft-spoken older gentleman—picked the strings like the seasoned musician he was, their resonating sound irresistibly warm and down-home.
Stepping back on the stage, Amelia let the guys do their picking and strumming, embracing every fabulous moment. Bobby, James, and Lennie—the best mandolin player and two guitarists she’d ever encountered, bar none.
She kept up her fiddling at a furious pace, her mind flitting to her father, whom she assumed was relaxing in his plush office, feet resting on his leather hassock, dissecting DVDs of big-city stops on her recent concert circuit. Like a football coach, analyzing plays. He would be dismayed if he knew she was goofing off instead of practicing her classical solo repertoire.
So would Byron . . .
Still, plenty of talented concert violinists also excelled in fiddling. I’m not alone in this. Amelia justified herself with the knowledge that the best violin concertos ever written incorporated advanced fiddling techniques—the third movement of the Bruch violin concerto, for one.
And as she played, she visualized Byron’s text message just before she’d made her entrance tonight. You’re ignoring me, Amelia. . . .
Her eyes roamed the first row again, these devotees of country music. Their faces were alight with pure joy, the same beaming response as classical music lovers in a very different kind of venue. The same meshing of minds and hearts, though no one here was dressed to the nines.
Why, Amelia wondered, did she feel this way when she mixed it up with the Bittersweet Band, removed from the serious music embedded in her soul? What was so terrible that she had to conceal this side of herself from the ones who loved and knew her best?
Two more measures and the lead was all hers again—and the fastest, showiest part of the piece. She’d come to know it like her own breath, and she moved back into the spotlight, standing now only a few feet from the edge of the stage. Her heart was on her sleeve as she took the piece to its rousing finale—bringing down the house.
Amelia gratefully acknowledged the responsive audience, all caught up in the excitement of her performance. Then, after curtsying again, she hurried confidently offstage, where she waited in the wings, still taking in the thunderous applause.
After an appropriate length of time, she gave her first curtain call amidst shouts of “A-my Lee . . . A-my Lee!”
Again and again she curtsied for the wired-up crowd. Their reaction was phenomenal—surely word would travel about her appearance tonight.
A prick of concern touched Amelia. How long before I’m found out?
Four more messages had arrived since Amelia stepped onstage tonight. Even when he’s texting, Byron sounds like an English professor, Amelia thought while standing backstage after her best fiddling performance to date. She was weary of the quotations Byron kept sending. Give all to love; Obey thy heart. . . . Penned by Emerson.
And then another: We are most alive when we’re in love—John Updike.
“Hmm . . . no kidding,” she muttered.
Nevertheless, she owed Byron some explanation for her silence. After all, they were practically engaged, and she had essentially stood him up.
Of course, she didn’t dare reveal where she’d gone; instead she left a casual text: Needed some time off. Quickly, she tacked on an apology and pressed the button to darken the screen.
“Aren’t you staying for the rest of the concert?” asked Jayson, one of the stagehands.
“Not this time.”
“Really? I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
She laughed at his joke—he had to stay, he was being paid to.
“I’d better get going. It’s a seven-hour drive back to Columbus,” Amelia told him. But the truth was, she wanted space after having given it her all. The nerves came prior to the concert, then the sweet spot—the performance itself—followed by the need to recuperate from the spotlight.
Turning, she literally ran into Rickie Gene. “Oh, sorry . . . didn’t see you there.”
“Trying to walk and text at the same time?” he teased. But his smile faded quickly. “Uh, someone’s at the back entrance, demanding to see you.”
Rickie handed her a business card. “Know this guy?”
She cringed as she immediately recognized the card. “Sure I know him. It’s my agent, Stoney Warren.” She sighed, touching Rickie’s arm. “Thanks for the tip.”
“Do you wanna slip out another way?” he asked.
She considered it briefly. “I think I’d better face the music . . . literally.”
Nearly twelve years ago her father had handpicked Stoney Warren. In a matter of months, Stoney was grafted into the family tree, a top-drawer agent who oversaw her career like a caring uncle. Between Stoney and her father, Amelia had been escorted to every classical musical event since.
She shifted the case where she kept her fiddle and bow, nothing like the fancy case she used for her expensive and much better violin back home. Walking over to Stoney, she forced a smile, despite the wince in her stomach. “Imagine meeting you here.”
He eyed her boots and vintage dress. “Amelia, honey . . . what’s with your—”
“You don’t like my Alison Krauss look?”
“Your hair—it’s down.”
Her mother, who wore pearls with almost everything, preferred Amelia to wear her long hair up whenever she performed. “More professional,” she said.
Stoney’s eyes were earnest. “What are you doing here?” The lines around his mouth were more pronounced than she remembered and his brown hair windblown. She guessed he’d driven quite a distance to find her. But the question remained: How did he know where to find her?
“I’m taking a little time off.” She pushed her hair away from her face. “I just warmed up for Tim McGraw. Pretty impressive, eh?” She scrutinized Stoney’s body language. His shoulders were stiff . . . he was definitely not impressed. And not in the least amused.
He shook his head. “What do you suggest I tell your dad?”
She shuddered. “Don’t tell him anything.” Amelia stared at the ground. “He wouldn’t understand.”
“Neither do I.”
“Let it be our little secret.” She pled with her eyes.
“You’re impossible, you know that?” Stoney offered her the crook of his arm. “Have you forgotten what theChicago Tribune published two weeks ago? ‘Amelia Devries plays with disarming buoyancy and an angelic sensitivity. Her rendition of the Brahms violin concerto exudes romantic passion.’ End quote.”
She drew a long breath. “Fiddling’s just a hobby, okay?” She looked away, willing herself not to tear up. “It’s relaxing.”
Lightning zigzagged across the sky as they walked toward her car. “Well, don’t fiddle in public. You have a class-act reputation, remember?” Stoney shook his head. “Do you really think Itzhak Perlman made a name for himself playing in fiddling contests?”
She shook her head slowly. “No.”
“You have to mimic the greats to become like them, Amelia.”
“I only fiddle in my spare time.”
“Amelia, there’s no such time for musicians like you. You’re a star in the heavens. Why throw away everything you’ve worked for?”
“Is that what you think I’m doing?”
He pushed his hands into his pockets, silent for a moment. Then he searched her face. “How long have you been known as Amy Lee?”
She opted not to answer that question and paused, weighing her next words carefully. “If you want the truth, some days I can hardly wait to return to country music and these really wonderful people.”
“And what does Byron think about all this? Or doesn’t he know, either?”
She shook her head. Her boyfriend would share her agent’s shock.
But Byron wasn’t here. Maybe there was still something to salvage, if only Stoney agreed to keep this secret.
When they reached her car, Amelia opened the back door and placed her fiddle inside, next to her overnight bag. “How’d you find me here?” She closed the car door and leaned against it.
“That’s beside the point,” he said. “We have bigger things to talk about.”
“What do you mean?”
“My dear, you have an important decision to make.” Stoney began to present what he called an amazing opportunity. “Nicola Hannevold—only a few years older than you and touring with the top orchestras in the world—anyway, she’s taken ill. She’s undergoing surgery and must cancel her seventy-day European tour.”
Amelia had been preparing for a big tour, as well, but it was more than a year out and not finalized as of yet.
Stoney’s eyes pierced hers. “This is a gold mine, Amelia. A real boon. But you have to sign on the dotted line by the end of next week or we lose it.”
She groaned. “Stoney . . .”
“I need at least a verbal commitment from you. Right now.”
“How can I possibly be ready in time?”
“You’re ready now,” he assured her.
She looked away, struggling.
“Another violinist will happily preempt you, I might add. She’ll step into this readymade tour in a heartbeat.”
“Well, if someone else wants it so badly—”
“That’s entirely out of the question!” Stoney shot back. “Have you forgotten your picture on the cover of theStrad? I mean, really, Amelia . . . you’re the next big thing.”
“Stoney . . . I—”
“This is a windfall, Amelia. And I won’t let you trample it under those ridiculous boots.” He grimaced as the next act’s lilting music drifted through the evening air. “If you were thinking clearly, you’d weigh the consequences of your actions and see my logic.”
“I understand.” He treats me like a child!
But Stoney was still making his case. “This can put you over the top—take you to the next level and beyond. But you can’t afford any distractions, Amelia. You have to grab this now.”
Was this truly about her, or was he really saying that he couldn’t afford for her to snooze this opportunity? The financial reward had to be an enormous draw for him.
“Amelia, I need your answer.”
She swallowed. “Does Dad know about the tour possibility?”
“Yes, and he assumes you’ll do it. He expects you to.”
“Well, I need time to think.”
“Think?” Stoney looked away, shaking his head. “What’s to think about?”
“It’s just so . . . sudden.”
“Listen, if you let this go, your father will be crushed. Especially if he were to find out you’re playing fiddling gigs in your so-called free time, kiddo.”
“Why does Dad have to know?” She did not want to displease her poor father, afflicted as he was.
“This tour is a gift dropped in your lap. It’s everything your father’s dreamed of for you. You, Amelia . . . the singular shining light in his life.”
She nodded and suddenly felt drained. “Well, nothing has changed. Everything is going to be fine.”
Like always . . .
He folded his arms over his slender frame, quickly regaining his composure. “Good. You had me worried.”
“I wouldn’t disappoint you . . . or Dad.” She gritted her teeth.
Stoney smiled, removed his wallet, and took out a twenty. “Get yourself a nice venti cappuccino for the drive,” he said.
She accepted the money, even though she had plenty of her own.
“And think hard about your future . . . Amy Lee.” He shook his head. “Pretty cheesy, hon. Don’t tell me you prefer it over Amelia.”
“Of course not.”
Stoney squeezed her shoulder. “And maybe there’s no need to trouble your father over any of this after all.”
“Thanks,” she whispered.
“Why don’t you get a hotel room somewhere and get some rest, instead of driving home tonight? Playing fiddle in a twangy band isn’t exactly relaxing.”
“Keep your phone charged up, in case I need to get ahold of you. And answer my texts, okay?”
Amelia forced a smile, but it felt weak and dishonest.
“We’ll talk more when you get home.” Stoney waved non-chalantly. “Tomorrow is soon enough.” He glanced over his shoulder just once as he walked to his silver coupe.
Amelia started her car and backed out, aware of Rickie Gene near the building’s exit, standing and watching her. She opened her window and pulled forward, stopping the car to talk to him.
“You okay?” he asked.
“You know how it is . . . agents.”
He grinned. “It was great having you here, Miss Amy. See ya next time!”
“Thanks.” She waved. With that, she headed out of the parking lot toward I-76, resisting the urge to cry.
Less than ten minutes into the trip, Amelia’s ringtone signaled another text. She assumed it was from Byron and decided she would reply later, when she stopped for gas.
Glancing in the rearview mirror, she was suddenly struck with the significance of today’s date: July seventeenth. “Oh great,” she groaned aloud. “How could I forget?”
No wonder Byron had been so insistent about reaching her tonight! She glanced at her phone lying on the console. Having dated him exclusively for three years, she should have remembered the anniversary of their first date. He’ll be seriously disappointed. They had planned to meet in Columbus for dinner at the Worthington Inn—classy, romantic, and very intimate.
A few minutes passed, and now her phone was ringing. Who but Byron actually uses his cell to call? She much preferred texting and email to talking by phone.
Amelia clenched the steering wheel, knowing she had to come clean with him now that her agent knew her secret, yet dreading Byron’s potential response.
Her phone rang again, the first ten notes of Purcell’s “Trumpet Tune.”
Slowly she breathed and reached for the phone. “Hey,” she answered. “Happy anniversary.”
“Where are you, Amelia?”
“Well, I happen to be sitting at a candlelit table for two. . . .”
“Oh, Byron, I’m so sorry.”
“You . . . forgot?”
“I’ll make it up to you somehow.”
He was silent for a few seconds, and when he spoke his words were strained. “Is it too late to drop by later?”
“I’m really pretty tired.” She didn’t say she was still in the vicinity of Philadelphia, many hours away from her townhouse in the northern outskirts of Columbus.
“Pretty is right,” he said, flirting. “I’m missing you right now.” Byron had a way of sweet-talking her back to reality after her furtive trips to fiddle fests or stints with the Bittersweet Band. Hearing his mellow voice almost made her want to apologize. Almost.
Amelia had to change the subject or come out with the truth. “I feel just terrible,” she said. Then something about the balmy twilight encouraged her to reveal all. Didn’t he deserve as much?
“I’m driving west through Pennsylvania,” she ventured.
“Good night, what are you doing there?”
“Don’t laugh.” She sighed. “You will . . . I know you will.”
“Are you all right? You sound, well, rather strange.”
She breathed in some courage. “I had the opportunity to play in a warm-up band for Tim McGraw tonight. So I ran with it.”
Byron laughed, harder than necessary. “Seriously, what were you doing, Amelia?”
“I am serious. I played at the Mann tonight—it was wonderful.”
He was stunned—she knew it by his prolonged silence. When he found his voice, his words were soft. “You opened for . . . whom did you say?”
“The amazing Tim McGraw.”
“Amelia, I don’t understand. Why would you do something like that?”
“For fun,” she said, wondering if he could relate to the idea of doing anything for fun. Byron was one of the hardest-working musicians Amelia knew—a first-chair trumpeter. They’d met four years ago, when she played as a guest soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra, and months later he’d started pursuing her, at first mostly from afar. In time they had hatched a plan for their future—well, he had. The plan involved spending days and weeks apart as they reached their goals, yet staying connected as best they could. At some point in time, when it worked into their professional schedules, they would marry, but having a family was out of the question until they were much older—if at all.
“I didn’t even know you liked country music,” he admitted.
“Yes . . . I actually do.”
He didn’t skip a beat. “Aren’t you preparing for South America—next year’s grand tour?”
“But how is that possible?” He sounded confused. “This is such a . . . a . . . departure from your goal.”
He’d meant to say our goal; she was almost sure of it.
“Am I the only one in the dark about this?” Byron asked. “Surely your parents don’t know.”
She made herself answer. “No.”
“Oh, Amelia . . . Does your agent know?”
She inhaled slowly. “Everything’s cool, Byron. You don’t need to worry.” She paused, waiting for him to jump in and fill the silence. Surprisingly, he did not. “I just needed . . . a little distraction.”
“All right,” he replied, sounding reassured. “No more fiddling around with your future, okay?”
Amelia sighed. Byron, although immensely talented, had pulled himself up through the ranks of musicians by sheer deter-mination and sacrifice. She had always admired him for his grit. He once told her that if she worked as hard as he did, she could be the greatest female violinist of her day. But instead of feeling elation, she’d cried herself to sleep. What if I don’t want to be the best?
“Remember, we have a plan.”
“Yes, of course, and I’m trying to follow it.” Immediately Amelia realized she’d said the wrong thing.
“Trying? Listen, I want what’s best for you, and for us,” he said. “Do you doubt that?” She could hear the hurt in his voice.
The all-too-familiar lump filled her throat. Not from sadness but exasperation.
He breathed into the phone. “Look, we’re both tired.”
“And you’re understandably upset that I skipped out on our anniversary dinner.”
“Well, it’s hard to imagine you’d forget.”
“I know . . . and I’m so sorry.” She sighed. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“I’ll look forward to that.” His tone was softer now, but she still detected a note of tension. With a brief good-bye, Byron hung up.
He’s right; I have no choice, Amelia thought as both Byron’s and Stoney’s words pounded in her head—and worries of her dad getting wind of this.I have to go ahead with the European tour.
At the Morgantown turnoff, Amelia stopped for gas at the Turkey Hill Mini Mart on Main Street. When she finished pumping in the self-serve lane, the wind suddenly became gusty, followed by heavy rain. In a few seconds, visibility became nearly non-existent, and Amelia was completely disoriented as she turned left out of the gas station and headed toward Twin County Road.
Later, when she realized what she had done, she tried to retrace her path at the interchange but couldn’t in the torrential rain. One small blessing, though—she’d changed out her old windshield wipers just yesterday and had a full tank of gas for the drive. If only she could circle around and find her way back to I-76 again. But she simply could not see well enough to navigate it.
She squinted and leaned forward, gripping the steering wheel and whispering a prayer. But she had no idea where she was until a glimpse of a road sign gave her a clue: Welsh Mountain Preserve Ahead.
“There’s a mountain . . . here?” She could not believe how dense the woods had become, closing in on her and the thin ribbon of road. Was this a long-lost piece of Penn’s Woods?
Amelia groaned. How did I get so lost?
Given the present deluge, Michael Hostetler was glad there was far less lightning than was typical for a summertime storm. He marveled at the drumming sounds overhead and might have suspected the cabin’s roof of being tin if he hadn’t known better.
Going to the table, he turned up the volume on his CD player, hoping to drown out the jackhammering rain. He sat at the table and booted up his laptop, anxious to put his father’s words behind him. Was that even possible? Daed’s expectations and directives were etched on Michael’s eyelids. “That’s what fathers are meant for,” his youngest uncle once told him, after overhearing a heated exchange between Michael and his father. That night Michael’s cheeks had burned with mortification . . . and guilt. Now, though, he refused to let any of this latest debate derail him from the task at hand.
He read the instructions for his business coursework, ready to move forward with a test in statistical analysis.
After a time his focus for his studies began to fade. Michael pictured his family sitting around the front room on comfortable chairs and the upholstered sofa Daed had purchased for Mamm a few years ago. Without a doubt, Daed was reading in German from the Luther Bible. Mamm sat to Daed’s right, her eyes fixed on the heavy Biewel. Sometimes his father read two full chapters, sometimes more, “for good measure,” as he liked to say, his eyes alight.
Michael’s married sisters, Sallie and Betsie, and their husbands might’ve stopped by, caught in the sheeting rain after coming for an impromptu visit, as they often did. In Michael’s imagination, his mother poured meadow tea for everyone, and dishes clattered as the family gathered in the dining area of the large kitchen for homemade ice cream. The babble of voices undoubtedly filled the air . . . and Sallie and Betsie prattled on like they hadn’t seen each other in weeks. As always.
Shaking himself, Michael forced his attention back to the test, determined to finish tonight. How timely that his vacation from work had coincided with this most recent dustup with Daed. Did I unconsciously set it up?
Meanwhile, rain poured relentlessly, and the hoot owl Michael knew resided in a lofty tree behind the cabin had no chance of being heard, there in the deep woods of lonely Welsh Mountain.