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 Daed—at 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.”
“Mutter, please.” I’d always called her Mutter and my father Daed, the more formal terms, rather than the familiar Mamm and Dat that my Bruders 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 be—”
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 had 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 Schwester, 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.”
“Ach, Addie,” he groaned.
“Take courage and do as I say. Quickly.” I thought of him as Billy the Brave. At ten, although dabbich—clumsy—he 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 Aenti 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 Kapp.
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 Haus 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, jah?” 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 fate—especially if Billy was involved. Unfortunately, my mother did. Many Plain people looked for signs from God to help them make a decision—my 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.”
“Denki,” 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 Maidel—a woman who’d never married—she 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”—again—to 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 Rumschpringe, 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 storm—and 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 horse—most likely Hannah’s—pulling 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 Onkel 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 about—one 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 manure—Misht—used 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 family—if 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.
That was another reason I longed to start my own family. I wanted to share my hopes and dreams with someone who cared. I wanted to partner with a man who would listen to me. With someone who valued me for who I was.
The buggy rounded the first curve, and the Haus fell from view.
I faced my cousin. “Jah?”
Hannah’s dark eyebrows waggled at me. “Whatcha thinking about?”
I shook my head.
She giggled, her pure white Kapp bobbing up and down, a stark contrast to her dark, dark hair and olive skin. She took after my Mutter’s side of the family, while I, with my blond hair and fairer skin, took after my Daed’s. Hannah also took after my Mutter in that she tended to be either very happy or very sad—rarely in between—and also solid in her shape, although she was an accomplished horse rider, and that kept her in good condition.
Today Hannah was happy. She grinned. “Who ya thinking about?”
“No one,” I said, a little too forcefully, confused by my doubts.
“That’s not what you were saying last week.” Hannah held the reins lightly.
“Ach,” I sighed. “How do I know . . . for sure? Day after day. Week after week.”
“Well, if you’re worried about him, don’t be. Molly says Phillip is as serious as can be about you.”
Molly Zook was Hannah’s best friend and rivaled Aenti Nell when it came to knowing the juiciest gossip in Lancaster County.
Hannah leaned toward me. “And why would you have any doubts? He’s the perfect catch.”
That was just it. Phillip was the perfect catch. It actually made it harder for me to be sure how I felt about him.
“I know your parents like him a whole lot better than they did Mervin Mosier.” Hannah giggled as soon as she said his name.
The thing was, Mervin was a wonderful-gut young man, although my parents certainly didn’t seem to think so. Last year they had, out of character, allowed me to go kayaking with a group of Youngie, including him, his twin brother, and my cousins, Cate and Betsy, on my father’s side, whose family farm bordered ours. But when Mervin showed an interest in me, Daed cited a decades-long rift between the Cramers and the Mosiers and forbade me to see him again.
As we passed my Onkel’s farm, I waved at Cate as she hung wash on the line, her dresses flapping in the breeze alongside her husband’s shirts. Her Dat, my Onkel Bob, had been married to my Daed’s younger sister. But she had died when Betsy was a newborn. Onkel Bob stayed on good terms with my Daed, and we remained close.
As much as I appreciated my cousins, our families didn’t have a lot in common. Their family was small. Ours was large. They had a business that catered to the Englisch, which meant they were much more comfortable with ideas outside our community. That was reflected in Cate’s speech and what she read, plus she used modern office equipment every day and managed the crew of workers when Onkel Bob had meetings.
But that wasn’t why I admired my cousin more than any other woman I knew. I admired her because she was a loving daughter, Schwester, and wife, but still she was very much her own person, and somehow she’d managed to find a husband who appreciated that.
I wanted what Cate had found.
Hannah interrupted my thoughts again. “Phillip plans to buy the farm near his parents’ place, jah?”
“Oh really?” I hadn’t heard.
“And he’s hoping to get a loan from his district to finance the purchase.” Hannah leaned toward me again. “There are advantages to being a bishop’s son.”
Phillip’s Daed was the bishop of the next district over from us, the one Onkel Bob and his family belonged to, but Bishop Eicher had a good reputation all around the area, and many, many people highly respected him, including my parents.
“Who told you about the farm?” I wedged my hands under my legs, flat against the bench.
Hannah’s voice rose in volume over the clickity-clack of the horse’s hooves. “Molly. She says he plans to marry soon.” Her dark eyes danced. “He says it’s official, you’re his Aldi.”
We had been courting, so it was no surprise he considered me his girlfriend. Still, today, the term made me shiver.
“Ach, Addie. He’s so tall and handsome.”
“And capable,” Hannah added.
“Jah.” He longed to farm a place of his own—that I knew.
“So what’s the problem, then?” She glanced my way, her dark eyes concerned.
I sighed. I’d already told her, but she hadn’t been listening. I asked it again, slowly, “How do I know, for sure, that he’s the right one?”
She chuckled. “If you figure it out, let the rest of us know. Okay?”
I shook my head. She met more men—from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and even Indiana—over one weekend of Youngie parties than I’d met in my entire life. “But I haven’t gone out with anyone else,” I said, “except just that once with Mervin. What if there’s someone else out there who’s the right one?”
She sighed. “Ach, Addie. Don’t think about it so much. It’s not as if you have a say in the long run anyway.”
I sank back against the seat. “What do you mean?”
“You have to marry someone who is Amish, whom your parents approve of, who lives somewhere close. The man can’t be a Mosier. And your Dat would prefer a farmer, jah?”
I nodded. What she said was true.
“In that case, consider Phillip the catch of a lifetime.” She scooted up on the bench, urged her horse to go faster, and changed the subject. As she prattled on about the party she’d attended last Saturday night, I thought about what she’d said. Did I really have so little control over my own life?
To the right an Englisch farmer was baling his hay, and as Hannah turned the buggy onto the highway, the warm breeze, boosted by the force of his tractor, sent a cloud of dust our way. We both turned our heads. To the left a young Amish boy herded a group of cows across a pasture, and ahead, alongside the road, an older girl propelled a scooter with her foot.
“There’s a party tonight. Want to come?” Hannah pulled farther to the right to let a car pass.
“I have too much to do,” I answered. “I barely got to come along today.”
Before we reached Paradise, the market came into view.
Hannah turned the buggy onto the side road. “How long until the wedding, then?”
“Hannah!” It wasn’t our way to speak so openly.
“Oh, come on, Addie.” She slowed the horse. “Everyone knows it’s what your Mamm and Dat want—and we all know you’ll do as they say. Besides, you want to marry and leave home, jah? And soon?”
I didn’t answer.
“You’ll come to love Phillip. By the time you marry, you’ll know for sure.” She didn’t wait for my response. “Just wait and see.”
I craned my neck to see who was at the market—not wanting to think about, let alone discuss, my future.
The booths sat on the corner of the Zooks’ farm, all manned by Youngie—and more girls than guys, who were more likely to be working in the fields or holding down regular jobs on a Saturday morning.
With its inventory of vegetables, fresh-cut flowers, plants, breads and baked goods, jams and preserves, handwork, wooden planters, and homemade food, it attracted mostly weekend tourist traffic.
As the buggy bumped over the rutted road, Molly waved from the center of the market, a bouquet of herbs in her hand. Tall and fair, with hair lighter than mine, her face lit up like a lantern in the night. Molly Zook was hard to miss.
She had begun overseeing the market on her parents’ property in the middle of May, two months earlier. The Zooks ran a nursery stock business. They had transformed their family farm through the years, field by field, into rows of trees and shrubs. It was no secret the bust in the building boom had affected their profits. In hopes of supplementing their income, Molly’s father had planted flowers in a couple of fields the last few years, but her parents were older than most and obviously struggling to keep up with all the work on the farm. The boys in the family had moved away from Lancaster County and the older daughters were all married and had families of their own. Only Molly and her little sister, Bea, still lived at home.
It seemed Molly aimed to bring in more income to the family through the market. She was the sort of girl who always had a new idea. Her enthusiasm alone could carry a project.
Hannah and I would be sharing Molly’s booth, and I, no doubt, would be picking up all sorts of bits of gossip Aenti Nell would love to hear.
Molly pointed at something beside her, blocked by a pole and canopy. I craned my neck as Hannah pulled the buggy into the pasture behind the booths, bringing the subject of Molly’s smile into clear view.
Phillip Eicher, at six foot four, towered above everyone else in the market. He lifted his straw hat from his head, showing his dark bowl-cut hair, and waved at me with vigor.
The mouth-watering smoke from sausage grilling, mixed with the smell of freshly baked pretzels and pungent herbs, greeted us along with the first sunflowers of the season, buckets of snapdragons, and containers of dusty pink lilies as we reached Molly’s table.
Her blue eyes sparkled. “Look who’s here.” She swept her arm wide, gesturing toward Phillip, as if I might be surprised.
He’d placed his hat back on his head and now had his thumbs hooked around his suspenders. His white shirt was neatly tucked into black pants.
“Hello,” I said to him as I placed my basket on the tabletop. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m on my break.” He tipped his head toward where the smoke was billowing out of a barbecue, a row beyond us. “I already got something to eat.” Then he smiled, slightly. “And I was hoping to see you.”
My face grew warm as I arranged the potholders on the table. He stepped toward me, and for a moment I thought he might comment on my work—or Aenti Nell’s, to be exact—but he didn’t.
“I have something to tell you.” He leaned toward me, placing his palms down on the table. I was always surprised at how clean he kept his hands considering his work.
I raised my head, my heart rate increasing. “Oh?”
“There’s a farm close to my folks’ place,” he said. “I’ve been talking to the owners.” He stopped, as if waiting for my reaction.
I wasn’t about to tell him Hannah had told me. I smiled and then said, “Go on.”
“The soil has to be the best in the county. Even better than your Dat’s. And the barn is in good shape, although it does need a new roof.”
Hannah and Molly leaned against each other, their Kapps touching, watching us. They were quite the contrast in height, coloring, and personality too—and yet they complemented each other perfectly. Every time I saw them together, I couldn’t help but wish I had a best friend. That’s why I wanted a husband who would listen to me, who would be that friend.
Phillip’s voice grew louder. “And the chicken coop is larger than your Mamm’s, almost as big as my parents’. The Haus is old but adequate.” I’d never seen him so animated.
I stepped to the back of the table.
He took a deep breath and then said, “What do you think?” His biceps bulged against the sleeves of his shirt as he crossed his arms.
I met his gaze. “It sounds fine, just fine.”
“Well sure,” he said. “You’ll want to take a look-see.” He grinned. “No need to worry about that.”
The nagging sensation began to spread.
Before I could speak, he continued, “The garden plot there used to be huge, as big as at your place, but now it’s just for two people. But I was thinking we could enlarge it and raise enough extra to sell.” He looked around. “Maybe here. You could be in charge of that.”
I choked out, “Sure.”
He chuckled. “You aren’t afraid of extra work, are you?”
No words came—I simply shook my head.
“Well,” Phillip said, a happy look on his face, “I should get back to work.” The place he hired out to was a half mile up the road. “I just wanted to tell you about the farm.” He grinned a second time. “Because the owner said I could give you a tour—next week.”
Hannah and Molly shifted again, this time toward a commotion down the row of booths.
“I’ll have to see if that will work with Mutter’s schedule,” I said to Phillip. But who was I fooling? We both knew it would.
My attention drifted to the loud voices, certain they were familiar. I shaded my eyes against the morning sun. Sure enough it was Mervin Mosier and his twin brother, Martin, at the end of the row, eight or nine booths away from us. They were wearing matching mauve shirts, suspenders, black pants, and straw hats over their sandy hair. Plus aviator sunglasses.
“Genuine Amish hope chests,” Martin called out to an Englisch couple passing by.
“Custom-made and personalized,” Mervin interjected. “And we’re not joking.”
“Or pulling your leg!” Martin boomed.
They grinned at each other, and then Mervin’s voice rang out loud and clear. “You’ll also find mantels, bookends, and trivets too.”
I stepped to the side of Molly’s table to get a better look. I could see a fireplace mantel, although I couldn’t make out the details, and beyond it were several chests. Phillip joined me, stepping close enough so that I could smell the scent of his Mamm’s strong lye soap on his skin.
“Made by our cousin—who is new to Lancaster County, straight from Big Valley,” bellowed Martin.
“What’s their cousin’s name?” I asked, impressed by the woodwork I could see and also by Martin and Mervin’s tribute.
Phillip crossed his arms.
“Ask Hannah.” Molly elbowed my cousin. “He wouldn’t leave her alone at the party last weekend.”
“His name is Jonathan. His family’s moving back from Big Valley to take care of his grandfather.” Hannah wrinkled her nose. “He’s cute and nice and all, but when I told my Mamm and Dat about him they said he’s like all the Mosiers, that his family is trouble and to steer clear.” She pointed toward a figure wearing a black hat. “That’s him.”
All I could see was his back, his suspenders crossed over his back in an X. His blue shirt was untucked and bunching up around his waist.
“Too bad about the rift between our families.” I crossed my arms.
“Jah, but it’s okay.” Hannah shrugged. “If I was going to court a Mosier it would be Mervin, not Jonathan.” She grinned.
She shrugged again. “Jonathan’s too much of a dreamer. Kind of a sap. Besides, he didn’t have much of a plan for his life.” She grinned again. “Not like Phillip does, anyway.”
Instead of responding to Hannah, Phillip smiled at me and nodded. “Jah, I do have a plan. A good one.” Phillip stepped even closer to me, bumping my arm with his. “What time should I arrive tomorrow?”
“Well,” I said, “around two. Any sooner and we’ll put you to work.”
“I’d like that,” he said.
“I was just kidding.” I didn’t want him to come early. “See you then.” I knew my voice lacked enthusiasm, but Phillip didn’t seem to notice.
He strode off down the aisle between the booths, saying hello to Martin and Mervin as he passed. The two turned their heads toward me.
Hannah and Molly watched Phillip go.
Molly sighed and turned toward me, her index finger intertwined in the tie of her Kapp. “I hope you’re grateful,” she said.
“For . . . ?”
She tilted her head, gave me a scathing look, and pointed to Phillip just before he turned at the end of the row, by one of the vegetable booths. “You—any of us—could do a whole lot worse.”
I must have grimaced, because she said, “Goodness, Addie. Get off your high horse and give him a chance. He might not be the brightest . . .”
My face reddened. “It’s not that.” It wasn’t as if I thought I was too good for him. It wasn’t that at all.
Molly grabbed a sprig of rosemary and held it to her nose. “What’s bothering you, then?”
“How do I know?”
She shook her head. “Know what?”
“If he’s the right one.”
She twirled the rosemary. “You don’t ever know. You decide. And then you train him.”
Hannah laughed, and I couldn’t help but smile, but I couldn’t take what Molly said seriously. First of all, she wasn’t married. Second of all, I’d been trying to train members of the opposite gender my entire life—I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that in a marriage too.
Before I could think of what to say to Molly, an older Englisch woman stopped at my table. Grateful for the interruption, I turned my attention toward her. She quilted too, and we chatted as she chose five potholders to buy.
After the Englisch woman left, Molly sat down beside me, crushing the sprig of rosemary in her fingers, sending a pungent pine scent into the air. “Sorry if I said more than I should have.”
“No, it’s fine,” I answered. I wasn’t opposed to hearing her opinions.
“So if you’re not set on Phillip, why don’t you come to the singings? You might meet someone new.”
“Jah,” Hannah said. “And to the parties too. Kids from all over have been coming. There are all sorts of good-looking guys.”
I wouldn’t mind going to the singings, but I wasn’t interested in the parties, and besides, I wasn’t sure I wasn’t set on Phillip. No more than I was sure that I was. “We’ll see” was all I said.
The next couple of hours sped by as the day grew warmer. Molly peddled her herbs, selling out of her gigantic dill, her silver-edge lavender, and all of her flowers in the next couple of hours. Hannah sold her half-pint jars of strawberry jam, which seemed to be the perfect size for the tourists. I didn’t need to do much to pitch the potholders; Aenti Nell’s work sold itself, and by noon over half of them were gone. All three of us fanned ourselves with folded newspapers Molly had brought to wrap herbs in.
The dust from the field grew thicker as more and more feet pounded over it, and the line at the lemonade stand a row away from us grew longer and longer.
Several times, I glanced toward the booth Martin and Mervin had been at, but I didn’t see them or their cousin again. Molly walked around the market several times and came back with bits of gossip. She said Mervin and Martin hadn’t left. Instead they’d parked themselves by the food booths.
The sausage had been tempting me all morning, but I pulled out my ham salad sandwich from my lunch pail, the same one I used to pack for school, and shared half of it with Hannah.
After that the day grew lazy as the heat hung over the pasture and settled under the tarp where we sat. Thankfully, the traffic of tourists stayed steady and kept me awake.
After a while Mervin stopped by our booth to chat, but soon Martin yelled at him to help him out at their cousin’s booth.
“Jonathan took his buggy to get more hope chests,” Mervin said, twirling his hat in his hands. “They’ve been selling like hot cakes.” He turned and ambled up the row. A crowd of customers awaited him. Martin motioned for him to hurry and Mervin quickened his pace, but just a little.
Sometime after three, the rumble of an engine caught my attention. It sounded like Timothy’s, but he was an hour early.
I stood, ducking out from under the tarp. Sure enough, his Bronco was cruising down the side road along the market.
I sat back down.
“Timothy?” Hannah asked.
I nodded, wiping away the trickle of sweat at my temple.
“Maybe he’s going to look around for a while,” she said, a tinge of sarcasm to her voice.
“Unlikely,” I said. “He’s come early for some reason.”
“What?” I asked.
“Maybe he’s looking to take care of some unfinished business.”
That didn’t sound good. “Such as?”
“Mervin and Martin. He had a falling out with them at that party last weekend. He’d been talking to their cousin Tabitha.”
“Who is she?” I’d never heard of her.
“She lives on the other side of the county—her mother is Mervin and Martin’s Daed’s sister. She came over to help out with their grandfather, until Jonathan’s parents move here for good.”
“Timothy had been drinking, and Mervin and Martin told him to back off.”
My face grew warm.
Hannah continued. “When Timothy left, he shouted he’d get even.”
“Oh dear.” I snatched up my lunch pail and dropped it into my basket. Timothy didn’t take kindly to being bossed around, and even less so when he’d had too much to drink. He was sure to be vindictive. I gathered the potholders that hadn’t sold, slipped them into a plastic bag, and put it in the basket too. Then I grabbed my money box, took out the wad of cash I’d earned, slipped it into the pocket of my apron, and dropped the box in the bottom of the basket, where Timothy wouldn’t see it. If he did, he’d realize I’d earned money and ask to borrow it.
When we were young, Timothy and I had been close. He’d even had a pet name for me—Toad. But by the time he turned sixteen he’d turned against me. He’d always teased me, sure, and that I didn’t mind. It was the mean streak he developed once he started partying that I couldn’t stand. He criticized and bullied. Made fun of me and others. Always put himself first, even though we’d been taught the exact opposite. He’d always been a little moody, but the last few years he’d changed into a troublemaker.
As a child I thought of him as Timothy the Terrific. Now he was Timothy the Terrible.
“I’m going to go tell him I need to go home—now.” I gave Hannah a quick hug and stepped out from under the tarp.
Timothy, who was wearing jeans, a torn gray T-shirt, and a baseball cap over his dark-brown hair, stopped behind the crowd gathered around Mervin and Martin’s cousin’s booth.
“Hey!” Timothy called out as he jumped up and down.
At the sound of his voice, Mervin froze with a trivet in his hand.
As Timothy yelled, “Hey!” a second time, Martin spun around.
I started to walk toward them, but Hannah grabbed my arm. “Don’t,” she said. “Let them figure it out.”
A couple with two little girls, each wearing braids, stopped at our booth. The husband picked up a jar of Hannah’s jam, and the mother asked to see my potholders. I took a sampling out for her, and she said she’d take ten, which left me with only two unsold.
As I made change from my pocket, I could make out Timothy’s voice but not his words.
“What’s going on over there?” the woman asked, turning toward the commotion, a daughter hanging on either side of her.
“I’m not sure,” I answered.
She directed her attention back at me as I handed her the bag of potholders. “Have you seen that young man’s hope chests?”
I shook my head.
“They’re masterpieces. I ordered one for each of my girls. Wish I’d had something like that growing up.”
I nodded. So did I. Not having been given a chest—Kashta—of my own was one of the biggest disappointments of my childhood.
“We’re hoping to order one of his mantels sometime,” the husband added. “His work is incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The group that had gathered around the booth started to disperse—thanks to Timothy, I was sure. I grabbed my basket and started toward my brother, who now stood with his feet spread apart, pointing his index finger at Martin. Timothy towered over both of the twins, looking exactly like the bully he was.
Mervin stepped in front of his brother as Martin shifted his foot forward. I couldn’t see what happened next, but Mervin stumbled backward, probably shoved by Timothy, and then fell with the trivet still in his hand over one of the chests on display, crashing into the mantel behind it. The upper piece shifted.
Martin darted forward, lunging for the top piece, just as Timothy shoved him too, sending him flying into the booth, straight at the mantel. The whole thing toppled over, followed by the sound of splintering wood.
I froze in the middle of the pathway. I’d seen Timothy stir up trouble plenty of times but never destroy something of value. How dare he? He’d been intentional about shoving both Mervin and Martin into the mantel. Now it lay in ruins.
“Come on,” Timothy called out, running toward me, his baseball cap flapping in his hand, a wild smirk on his face.
He flew past me as Martin struggled to his feet and took off after Timothy, his head now bare. I put my basket down and shoved my hand into my apron pocket and took out my rubber-banded wad of money.
As Martin reached me, I grabbed his arm. “Take this,” I said, shoving the bills into his hand. “And tell your cousin I’m sorry. Timothy—”
“—is a creep.” Martin tried to pull away from me.
I held on tight. “He can be, jah,” I said. “But going after him is only going to make things worse.”
“You shouldn’t have to pay for what he’s destroyed.” Martin took the money anyway.
“He’ll pay me back.” Somehow. Someway. I’d see to it.
Martin nodded at me. “See that he does.” He held the money up. “This should help Jonathan—at least he wasn’t here to see it happen.” Martin told me good-bye and headed back to the booth.
I followed him. Mervin was trying to lift the mantel, but Martin told him to leave it as he showed Mervin the money.
“Denki, Addie,” Mervin called out. “That will help. With our grandfather ill and Jonathan’s family not farming here yet, he’s supporting the family.”
In the background Timothy revved his Bronco and then honked the horn.
“You’d best go.” Mervin stepped out of the booth, his eyes sympathetic.
“Jah.” I picked up my basket. “Please don’t try to retaliate,” I said. “It isn’t our way.” I couldn’t help pointing it out, even though Mervin knew it as well as I did. We’d been taught that since we were babies.
“Maybe you should talk to Timothy about that,” Mervin said.
I nodded. “I will. And to my Daed.”
Martin snorted. “A lot of good that will do.”
My face grew even warmer.
The horn blared again.
Feeling defeated, I gave a half-hearted wave to the twins, called out a good-bye to Hannah and Molly, who’d retreated back to their tables, and cut across the flattened pasture to Timothy.
“They’re jerks,” he said as I opened the back door and put my basket on the seat.
“They’re not.” I climbed into the front of the yellow jacket on wheels, feeling as if I were part of a hive gone wild. “Even if they did tell you to keep away from their cousin. Tabitha, right?”
He scowled at me. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
“Hannah told me.”
Timothy stared straight ahead, but venom filled his voice. “Then she’s full of it.”
I shook my head.
Timothy gripped the steering wheel tighter. “And so are all the Mosiers. Always have been.”
“Don’t say that.”
“And the one that does the carvings? He’s the biggest loser of all.”
My anger with my brother neared the boiling point. “How would you know?” I fastened my seat belt, glared at Timothy until he fastened his too, and then stared straight ahead. “Besides, you’re the one who instigated it.”
He gunned the car, spinning out as he sped toward the highway. “No—the Mosiers started it years ago.”
I knew my parents didn’t think highly of the Mosiers, but I had no idea what was behind the hard feelings. “What happened between our two families?”
“You don’t know?” He had a smirk on his face.
“No, I don’t.” And I was pretty sure he didn’t either.
“Well, I’m not going to be the one to gossip about it. And don’t ask Mamm or Dat. It will just make them mad.”
I’d ask Aenti Nell. “Regardless of all that,” I said, “I heard you’d had too much to drink last weekend. And you were definitely the instigator today. You should apologize . . . and stop this nonsense.” I stared straight ahead. “I gave the twins money to cover the damages. You’ll have to pay me back.”
He let out a snort. “I wasn’t the one who knocked over that stupid mantel. And you didn’t ask me if I wanted you to pay for it.”
“I’ll talk to Daed about it, then.”
He snorted again. “Good luck with that. He doesn’t care.” He turned left instead of right at the stop sign.
“Where are we going?”
“By Sam and George’s.”
I sighed. Our older Bruders were renting a trailer from an Englisch family down the road. I hadn’t seen it yet . . . and had no desire to. “Is that why you came early?”
“Nah, Mutter wants you home.”
“She’s worried about the barbecue tomorrow.”
Her anxiety was definitely getting worse.
Timothy accelerated on the straight stretch.
I grabbed the door handle as my heart pounded. He hadn’t had an accident—yet. I couldn’t fathom why not.
His phone rang, and he fumbled it out of his pocket.
“Let me get it,” I said.
He ignored me again, answering the call and holding it against his ear.
I could hear George’s voice, asking where we were.
“Five minutes away,” Timothy answered.
“We’re not staying long,” I shouted so George could hear.
Timothy ignored me, said good-bye, and plopped his phone in the console between us.
I wiped my forehead with the hem of my apron and pointed the car’s vents toward my face, trying to maximize the little bit of air coming out.
I’d have to tell Aenti Nell about the broken mantel to explain why I didn’t have her money. I’d tell Daed about what Timothy had done, because someone needed to put my brother in his place, and as much as I wanted to, I knew whateverI said wouldn’t make a difference.
Daed was the only one who could make Timothy stop, but my brother was right. Daed didn’t seem to care about my Bruders’ wild ways. Although my family was more isolated than my cousin Cate’s, when it came to the Rumschpringe time, my parents were far more lenient than some—when it came to the boys. My Daed ignored my Bruders’ vehicles, late nights, and grumpy mornings. My parents were too tolerant, mostly denying my Bruders’ shenanigans. I guessed Daed had been on the wild side as a Youngie too, and that’s why he put up with it.
When it came to anything concerning the Mosiers, Daed bristled—like when he thought I was interested in Mervin and forbade me from seeing him. He definitely had a part in the mysterious rift between the two families.
Hopefully though, learning Timothy had destroyed someone else’s property would get Daed’s attention.
The Bronco bounced as Timothy turned onto a dirt road. Over a knoll, a trailer house came into view beside a scraggly oak tree. My two other older Bruders were rebellious, but not like Timothy. Samuel, the oldest, was almost twenty-five, unmarried, and still not a member of the church, which I was sure bothered my parents, but they kept quiet about it. He’d always been easygoing—too much so. He wasn’t a leader, and Timothy had him wrapped around his little finger. There were times when I thought of my oldest sibling as Samuel the Simple.
George was next. At twenty-two, he had an Amish girlfriend, Sadie, and I hoped he would join the church soon and settle down. He was quick to laugh, plus kind and giving. I thought of him as George the Generous.
Timothy turned into the driveway of the trailer and parked next to George’s old blue truck. He opened his door. “Coming in?”
“No.” I stared straight ahead, my seat belt still in place.
“Get off your high horse, Addie,” he said, climbing out of the car.
I didn’t answer, but when George bounded down the wooden steps and flung my door open, I couldn’t help but reconsider. He grabbed my hand, his deep brown eyes twinkling.
“Addie! Come see our place.” He wore his dark hair so cropped no one would guess he’d grown up Amish. At just under six feet, he was the shortest of my Bruders but the most muscular. They were all as strong as teams of oxen, broad like my Daed, although none of them were quite as big as he was. All were built for farming and barn raisings, although currently, Samuel and George were picking up shifts at a shed manufacturing business.
George was my favorite of my older Bruders, and I missed him—even though I didn’t care to see the dump he now called home. For him, though, I unfastened my seat belt and headed up the steps. Timothy was already inside, taking three cases of beer from Samuel. I was tempted to say something—Timothy wouldn’t be of legal drinking age until his next birthday—but held my tongue.
“Ach, you two,” George said. “Do you have to do this in front of Addie?”
Samuel nodded at me, flicking his long brown bangs from his eyes as he did, but didn’t answer. Timothy ignored George, flexing his biceps as he hoisted the cases against his chest.
“I’ll give you a tour,” George said, leading the way into the living room. I had to squint coming in from the bright sunshine into the small cavelike room. Brown carpet that looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned since the trailer came off the assembly line covered the floor. There was a large TV on the far wall, an old couch, and a straight-back chair—that was all.
I followed George into the kitchen, where a lone card table sat pushed against a wall. Dirty dishes filled the sink, and the garbage, in a plastic bucket, overflowed with fast-food bags and containers.
“Want to see the rest?” George asked.
I shook my head, imagining the two messy bedrooms down the hall. “We best be going.”
George’s voice had a hint of teasing to it. “Don’t you want to stick around and help tidy up?”
“I have enough to do at home,” I answered, straight-faced.
“Jah.” His tone was serious now. “I know.”
I smiled at him and patted him on the shoulder. “Denki,” I said, “for showing me around.”
Timothy and Samuel had gone outside. The back of the Bronco slammed shut as I started for the door.
“See you tomorrow,” George said, right behind me, giving me a pat on the shoulder when we reached the tiny porch.
“Jah,” Samuel answered. “We wouldn’t skip the barbecue, not for anything.” They hadn’t been coming around the house much lately, but I knew they wouldn’t want to miss the annual gathering of relatives and neighbors.
Samuel turned to Timothy. “Have fun with those Mosiers tonight.”
Timothy tossed his keys in the air. “Want to join me?”
“Maybe . . .” Sam glanced at George, who shrugged. Sam turned back to Timothy. “We’ll see.”
I descended the steps and climbed into the passenger seat, slamming the door, hoping Timothy would get the message. He chatted a few minutes longer and then climbed into the car. “Want to go tonight?” he asked.
“No.” I wasn’t that desperate to get out of the house.
“I might need you to stop me from hurting a Mosier,” he teased.
“I really am going to tell Daed about what happened today.”
He glowered at me. “Haven’t you ever heard of sibling confidentiality?”
“You went too far this time. Daed needs to know.”
“I told you he won’t care.”
“I think he will.” True, Daed wasn’t fond of the Mosiers, but he was as nonresistant as any Amishman. He wouldn’t want Timothy destroying property—and certainly not hurting anyone.
“He’d never admit it, but he dislikes the Mosiers even more than I do.”
I looked out my window as Timothy turned onto the highway. My one outing with the Mosier twins, Mervin in particular, is what motivated Daed to push Phillip Eicher my way. At that point, he—or maybe it was Mutter needling him—decided not to leave my destiny in my own hands.
My parents would never meddle in matters of courtship with my Bruders the way they were with me. Maybe if I had Schwesters, they wouldn’t be so focused on whom they wanted meto marry. Then again, maybe they would.
Back when I was little I’d wished I’d been born a boy, because their work seemed like play. As I grew older, I tolerated my work a little more. Some of it I even enjoyed—the quilting, the baking and cooking, and the gardening. The bigger I grew, the easier the cleaning and laundry and sewing became too. But the boys still had more fun, always together, horsing around in the pasture, racing the buggies, and throwing each other into the pond. I worked mostly alone unless I was quilting with Aenti Nell. I enjoyed her company, but most of our conversation centered on relatives and neighbors, while I longed to talk about ideas and feelings.
It wasn’t as if I saw the boys and Daed discussing anything important though. Sure, they talked about their work, but their conversations tended to be about which boy did which stupid thing out in the field.
I wanted a Mann, a husband who would listen to me and talk with me about things that mattered. Who would include me in his plans. I wasn’t sure if Phillip Eicher was that man, but perhaps I hadn’t given him enough of a chance.
Timothy pulled out to pass a pickup and then stepped on the accelerator as an SUV sped toward us. It was big and black and barreled down the road. I braced my feet against the floor and took a deep breath, terrified it might be my last.
Timothy yanked the car back into his lane at the last second. An overwhelming sense of helplessness spread through me. I’d just been dependent on Timothy, someone I didn’t trust, for my very existence.
As my fear subsided, the helpless feeling transformed into a sense of hollowness.
Whom could I trust?
Ten minutes later and nearly home, in a shaky voice I managed to say, “I’m not going to ride with you anymore. I’m going to tell Mutter no from now on.”
“What are you talking about?” He stared straight ahead.
“That near accident.”
“Ach, that was nothing.” He scowled toward me. “You need to get over yourself. Life is more than just about what you want. It helps the family for me to give you rides.”
I didn’t respond. Life had never been about what I wanted. I wasn’t pitying myself—it was simply the truth. And the Amish way. We were taught from the time we were little children that we’re not the center of the world. But somehow Timothy hadn’t gotten the message.
He turned down our lane, speeding along too fast but slowed as he neared our Haus and pulled along the far side of the cow barn, where Daed allowed him to park his car. Billy and Joe-Joe came running toward me, shouting my name as I climbed from the seat, pulling my dress from the back of my sweaty legs.
Both boys had mud streaked across their faces like war paint. Joe-Joe held a tabby kitten with both his hands, while Billy held a calico in each of his. Billy stumbled over a rock but caught himself before he fell. The cats squirmed in his hands, and he held on tighter.
I grabbed my basket from the back and started toward the boys.
“Go put the kittens back,” I said. “They need their Mamms.”
“And then come in the house for some lemonade. It’s so hot—you probably need a drink, jah?” I added.
He smiled at that and followed Billy toward the barn.
As I rounded the corner, Mutter called out for me from the back steps.
Then Daed stepped out of the cow corral. At six and a half feet he was a near giant of a man, solid through and through. A fringe of gray hair showed under his hat and his matching beard flowed down his chest to his belly. “You’re late,” he said to Timothy. “Come finish the milking.” Then he called out to Billy. “Get back in there and help Danny.”
In no time, the little boys hustled back from returning the kittens, and Joe-Joe took my hand, pulling me toward the Haus as Billy obeyed Daed and skipped off to the barn.
“Sure you don’t want to go with me later?” Timothy called out to me.
I ignored him.
“Where you going?” Daed asked Timothy as he reached the barn door.
“Out,” Timothy answered. “Later.”
I pulled away from Joe-Joe and told him to go ahead. “He’s looking to pick a fight with the Mosiers,” I said to Daed as I held the basket in front of me.
Daed looked from Timothy to me and then back to Timothy. He shook his head. “No fighting, son—you hear? Sure, some things can’t be fixed, but you let those be. You understand?”
I glared at Timothy. “Like a mantel?”
He shot me an angry look.
“What’s this all about?” Daed took a step toward Timothy.
“He broke a mantel Jonathan Mosier made. I gave all the money I made today to Martin and Mervin to help pay for it.”
His bushy eyebrows shot up. “Jonathan Mosier . . . Would that be Dirk’s son?” It was as if Daed hadn’t heard the last part of what I’d said.
I shrugged. “He’s Martin and Mervin’s cousin.”
Daed took a deep breath. “Did you pay for it, son?”
Timothy’s eyes narrowed.
“I just told you, I did,” I answered. “Although I’m sure I didn’t pay enough.”
“Pay her back,” Daed ordered.
Timothy nodded, with no trace of his earlier bravado.
“Addie, come here,” Mutter called out. Joe-Joe was beside her now, trying to hold her hand.
As I approached, she whispered, “What were you telling your father?”
Her voice grew louder as she spoke. “You were talking about the Mosiers. Did those twins do something?”
“I knew I shouldn’t have let you go.”
“It’s nothing to do with me. Honest.” I passed her, shifting the basket to the side and taking Joe-Joe’s outstretched hand, pulling him alongside me into the Haus.
I sniffed, but all I could smell was the lemon scent of the polish I’d put on the wood floors the day before. Aenti Nell hadn’t started dinner. I stopped in the middle of the kitchen, sliding the basket onto the tabletop. There was leftover chicken from the night before, unless they’d eaten it for lunch.
“Addie.” Mutter limped through the back door. “What’s going on?”
“Dinner,” I answered. “That’s what’s going on—or not.” I’d so looked forward to a break from cooking that I couldn’t stop the disappointment in my voice. I opened the refrigerator. The chicken was gone.
Mutter sat down in her chair.
Aenti Nell cleared her throat from where she stood in the doorway to the quilting room. “I lost track of time.”
“I see.” I placed my hand atop my Kapp, as if the gesture might keep my emotions in check. Clearly it was time for me to take charge.
Mutter picked up a pair of pants, stabbing her needle into the fabric. “The Mansleit will need to eat soon.”
The menfolkwould eat when the food was ready.
I’d put two pounds of cooked hamburger into the freezer the day before, so I could make a quick spaghetti sauce. I poured Joe-Joe a glass of lemonade and then told him, as he downed it, “Go get me four jars of tomatoes—one at a time—and an onion from the cellar.”
He drained his glass, handed it to me, and started toward the basement door. “After you do that I’ll tell you what to pick from the garden.”
We had lettuce, spinach, and radishes ready to use, and I’d baked bread the day before.
Aenti Nell picked up the basket. “How many potholders did you sell?” she asked as I pulled the sealed bag of hamburger from the freezer.
“Nearly all,” I said. I motioned for her to come closer to me, and as I turned toward the sink, lowered my voice so Mutter wouldn’t hear. I explained briefly what happened as I plopped the plastic bag of hamburger in the sink and ran warm water over it to defrost it.
“Ach, Addie, that’s a shame,” she said. “For you.” She shook her head. “That Timothy. I hate to see this grudge get passed down to the next generation.”
She seemed genuinely sad.
“Jah,” I said. “It’s a sorry predicament.”
She nodded, a wary expression I hadn’t seen before settling on her face.
I lowered my voice even more. “So what is this grudge all about anyway?”
Aenti glanced toward Mutter, a worried look on her face, and whispered, “I’ll tell you later.”
I nodded and said, in a regular voice, hoping to cheer her, “I saw Molly.”
“Oh.” Aenti Nell brightened. “Any news?”
“Nothing you don’t already know.”
My Aenti smiled.
“You should see Molly’s rosemary though. It’s the best I’ve ever seen. She sold out of nearly everything except for her parsley and sage. I meant to bring some home.” We grew herbs but they weren’t nearly as robust as Molly’s. “Hannah had sold almost all of her jars of jam when I left.”
I gathered the pots and pans I needed for the sauce and pasta as I talked. Daed wasn’t fond of spaghetti and salad—he said it barely filled him up—but it was the best I could do on such short notice.
Joe-Joe came up the basement stairs with the tomatoes, one jar at a time, and then the onion, making a special trip just for it. I asked Aenti Nell to chop it. She took the remaining potholders into the sewing room and then returned to help me.
I handed Joe-Joe the garden basket, and he headed outside. I started the sauce and told Aenti Nell about the food at the market and then put the water on to boil for the spaghetti. Next I set the table around Mutter as I told Aenti Nell about the jam Hannah had made.
I stopped at the sound of heavy footsteps on the back steps. The men, I presumed, were early.
The door swung open, and Billy stepped through first, a grin on his face. Behind him was Phillip Eicher.
Mutter perked up at the sight of him. She started to stand, but he quickly told her there was no need.
“Won’t you stay for supper?” she gushed.
I stood statue still, watching Phillip. He’d changed into a clean white shirt and pants. And shoes instead of boots. He held his straw hat in his hands, and his bangs fell in a perfect line across his forehead.
“Denki,” Phillip answered, looking at me. “I’m happy to stay, but I’ll go out and help finish up the milking.” Molly and Hannah were right—he was a good catch. I could do much worse.
“Oh, stay here,” Mutter replied. “Cap has plenty of hands out there.” Then she paused and added, “Unless you want to speak with him about something.”
Phillip smiled. “When he has the time.”
My face grew warm. Usually, in our community, the young man didn’t speak with the girl’s father before he’d spoken with her. Perhaps he planned to speak to me tonight.
I spun back toward the sink. The odd sensation lodged below my heart and pushed upward.
I turned my attention back to dinner. Now that we had company, I would need to come up with a dessert, but I didn’t have time to make anything before we ate. I decided to pilfer a plate of cookies from the dozens I’d made for tomorrow.
Phillip sat down on the other side of the table, where he could watch me. “I drove by the farm on the way here.” He hooked his thumbs around his suspenders. “The sunflowers along the fence are already as big as dinner plates. And the corn is up to my shoulders, I’m sure. . . .” He hadn’t been much of a talker before, but that seemed to have changed.
Now it seemed as if he couldn’t stop.
It was the first time Phillip had ever stayed for dinner. He was the youngest of ten, so although meals with his family used to be a big event, for the last few years it had just been him and his parents. I couldn’t imagine his mother, even when her table was full, putting up with any nonsense from her children.
Meals at our house were far from orderly. It wasn’t that my Mutter purposefully put up with the nonsense—she just didn’t know how to stop it. And although I did my best, I couldn’t seem to rein the boys in either, at least not entirely.
Before Daed had a chance to lead us in our silent prayer, Billy dumped his pocket of rocks onto the table. Daed sent him outside with his collection until the prayer was finished.
Billy ate silently when he came back, and for a moment all was calm, but then Timothy started in about the Mosier boys. Phillip gave me a questioning look. I shrugged in return.
“Addie is too friendly with them,” Timothy said, looking at Mutter. “You shouldn’t allow her around them anymore.”
“You’re the one who invited me to the party tonight,” I shot back. “Don’t you think they’ll be there?” I’d never been so contentious before, not in front of my parents anyway—and certainly not in front of company.
“Addie!” Mutter said.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going. I’m just pointing out that Timothy isn’t making any sense.”
“Of course you’re not going.” Mutter had her gaze on Phillip now. “She never goes to those things.”
Under my breath, I whispered, “Obviously what’s good for the gander isn’t for the goose.”
“You don’t go to those parties either, do you, Phillip?” Mutter asked.
He squared his shoulders. “Not anymore.”
“How about you?” Timothy said to Danny. “Are you going with me?”
Danny placed his fork on his empty plate—he’d inhaled his dinner in record time—and looked up but didn’t speak. He pushed his straw-colored hair back from his forehead, showing the streak of white where the brim of his hat kept the sun from his face. Having recently turned sixteen, he was just entering his Rumschpringe. He was the quietest of my Bruders and the most reliable. I thought of him as Danny the Dependable.
Finally, as he glanced from our father to our mother, he said, “Jah.”
“That’s fine,” Mutter answered. “As long as you’re up first thing in the morning.”
“Don’t go,” I said to Danny. “Stay home and help me get ready for tomorrow.”
He wrinkled his freckled nose and said, softly, “I’ll get up early, I promise, and do whatever you need.”
Joe-Joe nudged me, a grin on his face. “I’ll help,” he said, and then began twirling his spaghetti on his fork, sending sauce splattering in all directions.
“Stop,” I said.
I’m certain he meant to obey, but instead he lost his grip on his fork, sending it clattering to the floor. He scooted down and, dropping to his knees, reached under his chair.
A moment later, he chirped, “Oops!”
That got my attention.
“Got it!” he said.
Thinking he meant the fork, I expected him back on his chair, but one glance his way and I saw he was still rooting around on the floor, grabbing at a plastic container.
“Oops!” he exclaimed again.
A frog jumped onto his chair. Joe-Joe’s head popped up as Billy scrambled to the floor, nearly knocking over his chair.
I lunged for the frog, but it slipped between my hands onto the table.
“What’s going on?” Mutter squealed.
I didn’t bother answering her. It was obvious to all.
The frog leapt again, this time into the quarter-full bowl of spaghetti sauce. Timothy began to laugh as Joe-Joe lunged forward, his hands landing in the bowl. Somehow he managed to grab the frog. He pulled out a tomato-red blob, a triumphant expression on his face, until a half second later the frog managed to wiggle away again.
Billy scurried around the table, most likely to rescue the frog, but I grabbed at it again and somehow managed to hold on this time. Billy bobbled the plastic container from the floor, I plunked the frog into it, and Billy secured the lid, full of good-sized holes.
“Go set it free,” I said.
Billy nodded, his face solemn.
“No,” Joe-Joe wailed.
“Don’t you want it to live?” I asked.
“Jah. With me,” he answered, tears filling his eyes.
I shook my head. “God didn’t make frogs to live in our Haus.”
Billy headed toward the back door, and seemingly resigned, Joe-Joe wiped his hands across his face, painting his skin with sauce, and started to sit back on his chair.
“Oh, no you don’t,” I ordered. “Straight to the bathtub.”
As he left the table, I looked around at the others. Timothy was still laughing, although quietly now. Aenti Nell nodded in approval. Phillip frowned, his forehead wrinkled under his dark hair.
“It’s usually not like this at mealtime. Is it, Addie.” Mutter glanced from Phillip to me.
I shrugged. It usually was.
Daed continued shoveling spaghetti into his mouth as if nothing had happened.
Mother turned back toward Phillip. “Tell us about the farm you’re hoping to buy.”
Timothy groaned and Danny asked to be excused as Phillip directed his attention to my Mutter, beginning his description with the barn.
I pushed back my chair.
“I’ll do the dishes. You take care of Joe-Joe,” Aenti Nell said.
As I headed down the hall, Phillip kept talking.
A half hour later, when I returned with a pajama-clad Joe-Joe at my side, all my Bruders—and Phillip—were gone.
Certain he was out talking to Daed, a wave of panic overtook me. Light-headed, I leaned against the table.
“What is the matter?” Mutter asked from her place at the table.
I stammered. “Where . . . where’s Phillip?”
Aenti Nell turned from the sink.
“He said he’d see you tomorrow,” Mutter said. “He’s off to help his Daed move some hay before dark, so he didn’t have a chance to talk with your Daed either.”
Relief washed over me as I exhaled slowly. “I need to talk with Daed tonight.”
“I think maybe Phillip thinks I’ve agreed to something that I haven’t—not yet anyway. . . .” My words trailed off as the look of horror on Mutter’s face grew.
“Adelaide Cramer,” Mutter barked, “don’t you even think of rejecting that nice young man. You will never, ever find a more suitable husband.”
Aenti Nell stepped from the sink toward us, holding her wet hands in the air, and said, “Schwester . . .”
“Stay out of this,” Mutter snapped at her. “We don’t let you live here to meddle in our business.”
Horrified, I called out, “Mutter!” Aenti Nell didn’t deserve such treatment.
“Don’t you get sassy!”
“Addie,” my Aenti whispered, “your mother’s right. It isn’t my business. I shouldn’t have—” She turned back toward the sink.
Mutter shifted in her chair and asked me, “What’s gotten into you all of a sudden?”
“I need more time is all . . .” The odd feeling beneath my heart expanded.
“I know what you want. A husband. A home. Children. What every woman wants.”
“Jah,” I said. She was absolutely right. “I’m just not sure how to know for sure who that husband should be.”
“I haven’t seen any other suitors coming around.” She spread her arms wide. “Have you?”
I was only eighteen—well, nineteen in less than two weeks. And sure, I’d been anxious to marry and have a place of my own, but . . . what was the rush?
My mother’s voice softened. “Addie, it’s normal to question these things. But that’s what making a commitment is all about. It’s a decision.” She motioned for me to come sit beside her, and I obeyed. Now she was whispering. “Believe me, you don’t want to end up like Nell. Life would have been much easier for her—and all of us—if she’d married years ago. Instead—”
“Laurel.” Aenti Nell spun around from the sink. “Don’t.”
My mother stared at her sister for a long moment, and then, with Aenti Nell still watching us, widened her eyes and nodded at me, as if my aunt’s reaction proved Mutter’s point.
But I had no idea what, exactly, she meant. I stood and began putting the food away, telling Joe-Joe to go brush his teeth.
“Billy needs to get to bed too,” Mutter said.
“Jah,” I answered. And then I needed to clean the bathroom so it would be usable tomorrow and clean the kitchen and sweep after Aenti Nell finished the dishes. In the morning I’d need to fix breakfast, make the coleslaw, bake the rolls, and marinate the chicken Daed would barbecue later in the day. Then slice the watermelon and make the date pudding. Maybe Mutter had been right—maybe I shouldn’t have gone to the market. Maybe I should have stayed home and worked.
Joe-Joe took my hand, turning his face up toward mine, showing the sprinkling of freckles across his nose. “Will you read me a story?”
I was tempted to say no because of all I had to do, but honestly, putting Joe-Joe to bed was one of my favorite parts of the day.
“Jah,” I answered. “Go pick one out.” He scurried into the living room straight to the basket from the bookmobile while I stepped outside to call Billy into the house.
Mutter was wrong. Phillip hadn’t left. He and Daed, with Billy running circles around them, were standing in the driveway next to Phillip’s buggy, deep in conversation. My heart raced until Daed pointed to the field of corn and I realized they were talking about the crops.
Beyond them, in the distance on the lane by the patch of sweet peas, stood a man I didn’t recognize. His head was held high, his hat back, and he appeared to be looking at the fading sky. Maybe he hoped to see the first star. Or perhaps he was whistling at the birds bedding down in their nests in the poplars that lined the lane. His profile was toward me, nearly silhouetted against the setting sun. In the dim light, his hair, what I could see, appeared to be the color of the summer moon.
As if he sensed me watching him, he glanced my way and smiled. Then he turned and strolled up the lane.
I stared after him until Phillip caught my eye. He waved. I responded, quickly, and backed into the house, pulling the door shut behind me.
Like all communities, Plain people have our fair share of dysfunctional families, a term I’d learned from my cousin Cate. Just a week ago she mentioned she’d been reading about middle children, who typically long for more attention, and how some are pleasers and others are terrors. I was pretty sure she had me and Timothy in mind.
“The terrors take too many risks,” she’d said, “and the pleasers not enough.”
I thought she was on to something though, at least as far as I was concerned. I was a pleaser. I’d been trying to please my parents my entire life, feeling as if I needed to win their approval. But no matter what I did, it was never enough. I couldn’t measure up to what they wanted or, for that matter, what God wanted.
Still, all I knew to do was keep trying.
But it was funny how Cate’s passing comment got me thinking and, looking back on it, had even inspired me to go to the market against Mutter’s wishes. It was also the reason I began evaluating how I felt about Phillip. Was he truly what I wanted? Or was my motivation in courting him to please my parents?
As I dressed at five o’clock the next morning, I found myself wondering about taking risks. It wasn’t the norm for an Amish girl to take any at all. We lived protected lives—going from our Dat’s home to a husband’s. We might go on a few outings, but it wasn’t as if we went rock climbing or parasailing or bungee jumping or anything. I couldn’t imagine, exactly, what a true risk would look like in my life. More so, I couldn’t imagine my parents ever letting me take one.
Our family came across to others as pretty normal. But I knew better—although I was far too loyal to discuss it with anyone. Mutter was depressed. And Daed had possessed an awful temper when we were all younger. He seemed to have mellowed with age, but I remained leery of his anger and still tiptoed around it. I found myself constantly monitoring Mutter’s moods as well.
I stepped out of my room determined to prepare a good breakfast to get everyone off to an extra-positive start. As I hurried down the stairs, through the living room, and into the kitchen, I hoped for as little chaos as possible on the one day, aside from when we hosted church, we were on display to our community. At least half of the families in our church district would join us, along with Mutter’s relatives—minus my grandmother, who was visiting a widow friend a county over.
Only Onkel Bob’s family on my Daed’s side would be in attendance, but still that was a big crowd of people.
For some reason Mutter and Daed kept hosting the barbecue even though it seemed they enjoyed it less and less each year. They thought others were judging them because none of their sons had joined the church—and most likely they were right.
Mutter sat at the table, scribbling down one of her lists. She wasn’t much of a morning person and only nodded at me in acknowledgment.
“Guder Mariye,” I said in return as I put the water on to boil for coffee and then took the bacon from the refrigerator.
I didn’t mind she was quiet until she had her coffee. I relished the stillness of the kitchen while Daed and the boys did the milking.
The breeze blew through the open windows above the sink, along with the concert of the mooing cows. The morning light cast a peachy glow through the first floor of the Haus, brightening the wood floors, which felt cool against my bare feet. The rooster crowed in the distance, followed by the chirping of blue jays in the elm in the courtyard.
As I lined the largest cast-iron skillet with the bacon and mixed up the batter for pancakes, I thought about our Haus, which had been passed down from generation to generation in my Daed’s family for nearly two hundred years. The L shape formed a courtyard in the back that had been paved with bricks and filled with plants and flowers. An elm tree grew just off of the courtyard on the lawn, shading the side yard and providing a climbing structure for my brothers.
One of the six upstairs bedrooms, which just happened to be mine, had a small balcony—awfully fancy for a Plain house. Years ago, my three oldest brothers had slept in the room, but after they began sneaking out of the house by transferring themselves from the balcony to a trellis and then dropping down to the courtyard, my parents moved them to a different room. I was the one they trusted with the balcony. And I validated their trust, over and over. Never had I even stepped out onto that balcony. Just as I had never crossed them or disobeyed—until questioning my feelings for Phillip last night.
The scent of the coffee mingled with the sizzling bacon, creating one of the most comforting smells in the world. I poured Mutter a cup, added cream, and put it on the table in front of her.
Next I turned the flame on under the griddle and added blueberries from our garden to the batter as an extra treat.
“Oh, Addie.” Mutter craned her neck from the table. “You shouldn’t waste the berries on us. We should serve those this afternoon, to our guests.”
“The little boys can pick more,” I said, stirring the batter lightly. The bushes hung heavy this year. She knew that.
I worked quietly, spooning batter onto the griddle, turning the bacon, then flipping the pancakes. After I took the first batch off the griddle, Mutter pushed the list she’d been writing toward me.
“These are the chores that have to be done this morning,” she said.
I skimmed the items. She hadn’t included anything we hadn’t discussed the day before.
“Make sure and wear your purple dress,” Mutter said. “It goes so well with your eyes.”
I’d slipped on a work dress for the morning. I’d change later, before our guests arrived.
Joe-Joe tiptoed into the kitchen, bleary-eyed and still in his pajamas. I gave him a hug and directed him to the table.
As I spooned more batter onto the griddle, Danny traipsed in through the back door.
Before I realized Daed was behind him, I asked, “Where’s Timothy?”
Danny shrugged as our father marched through the kitchen into the living room. A moment later, he yelled up the stairs, “Timothy! Get down here. Now!”
“What time did you get home last night?” I asked Danny.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he answered, stifling a yawn.
“Feeding the chickens.”
I dished up the bacon and then flipped the second round of pancakes. “Watch the pancakes,” I said to Danny. “I’ll go get Billy.” I headed out the back door, happy to be outside. Daed would be ready to pray in just a minute.
Billy wasn’t in the chicken coop.
I called out his name as I headed toward the barn.
I rounded the corner. There he stood, inspecting a can of beer. “What’s this?” He held it up to his nose and made a face.
“Is it empty?” I asked.
He nodded, shaking the can as he did. “Oops,” he said, as liquid splashed onto his hand. “Not quite.”
The ground was littered with cans—the same brand that Samuel had given Timothy the day before. I thought they were for the party, and perhaps some of them had been, but it looked as if Timothy had a fair share on his own. No wonder he couldn’t get out of bed for chores.
“Those,” I said, “aren’t for you. That’s for sure.”
Billy dropped the can and it bounced off a rock, clattering against the concrete foundation of the barn. “Are they Timothy’s?”
“Probably,” I said. “But they shouldn’t be. He’s too young.”
“But Samuel and George are old enough, right?” Both were old enough, and it was clear Samuel had taken to drinking, but I liked to think George didn’t drink, though I didn’t know for sure.
“Right. Kind of.” I sighed. “Regardless of how old they are, they’re stupid to drink this stuff, especially so much at once.” One or two might have been fine, but by the looks of it, Timothy had gone overboard. “Let’s go in for breakfast. Timothy needs to clean these up.”
“I can do it,” Billy said, grabbing a second can.
“No. Leave it. It’s Timothy’s mess—he needs to take care of it.”
He still had the can in his hand as Daed came around the corner with a feed sack. “Bag these up,” he said, thrusting it at me.
Billy the Brave stepped in front of me. “Addie said Timothy should do it.”
“He’s not feeling well.”
He pushed the sack toward me again. I took it as I said, “Timothy’s going to hurt himself or someone else if he doesn’t stop.”
“At least he was drinking here.” Daed crossed his arms. “And not driving.”
I shook my head. Sure, it looked as if he’d been drinking here, but there was no way to know he hadn’t been drinking and driving too.
“Look.” Daed’s eyebrows came together as he wrinkled his brow. “Boys will be boys.”
I grimaced, clutching the sack tightly.
Daed turned to Billy. “Go back to the house.”
Billy tossed the can he’d been holding against the side of the barn, stumbled backward, and took off at a run.
“Our boys aren’t that different than others. What they’re going through is as common as dirt.” My father, like most men his age, had a collection of odd sayings. “Not all Youngie are so foolish. That’s why your Mamm and I are thankful for Phillip Eicher,” Daed said, motioning toward the dozen cans. “He’s hard working and doesn’t run around.”
“About that,” I said. “I really need to talk with you—”
“Later.” Daed turned away from me. “After the barbecue. We have too much to do until then.” He strode off, stretching his stride with each step.
I flung the sack open and began picking up the cans, turning my head away from the smell, painfully aware of my ambivalence about Phillip. What if he was my only chance at marriage? It wasn’t that I wanted to push him away—I just wanted to slow things down. There was nothing wrong with that.
When I finished picking up the cans, I stashed the sack in the back seat of Timothy’s car. By the time I reached the kitchen, everyone was finishing up with breakfast. All that was left was one pancake and a half piece of bacon.
I washed my hands at the kitchen sink, using the lavender soap I’d made last fall, the sweet smell washing away the stink of the beer. I hoped Daed wouldn’t have time to talk with Phillip today either, not before he had time to listen to me at least.
One blessing of the day would be not having to worry about the Mosier boys and Timothy. There was no way Mervin and Martin would be foolish enough to show up at our barbecue—or so I thought.
The hickory smoke from Daed’s barbecue filled the courtyard and blew in through the open kitchen window. I picked up one of the coolers of lemonade and started toward the back door, telling Danny to grab the second one.
“Bring the bowl of blueberries,” I told Billy, nodding toward the table.
He did, tilting it precariously.
“Careful now,” I said.
He righted it and followed Danny through the door as I held the screen wide open. Joe-Joe traipsed along, a stack of napkins in his hand.
Mutter sat on a lawn chair in the courtyard, under the canopy Daed had bought the year before. Nan Beiler, whom my Onkel Bob seemed to be courting, sat beside her. Nan was Mennonite and wore a printed dress, noticeably different from our Plain colored fabric, and a rounded Kapp instead of a heart-shaped one. She drove the local bookmobile, and because most Amish were big readers, nearly everyone in our area knew her.
Danny and Daed, with Billy and Joe-Joe’s help, had set up the tables and benches from the church wagon. Since it was an off Sunday, and services had been at a neighbors’ farm the week before, it worked out well.
My cousin Cate and her husband, Pete, were walking toward us from the creek, where they’d cut across from Onkel Bob’s property. She carried a bowl in her hands, and Pete carried two folding lawn chairs. Joe-Joe took off toward them, swinging his arms around and around and twirling the napkins as he did. I was relieved when Cate snatched them from him before he let go.
Beyond them, by the horseshoe pit, stood a young man I didn’t recognize. Unless . . . I squinted into the afternoon sun. Was he the man I’d seen the night before? I couldn’t be certain from so far away.
I forced myself to stop staring and put the cooler of lemonade on the table and then took the bowl of blueberries from Billy. Cate smiled as she neared me, waving the napkins in one hand and lifting her bowl higher in the other.
“I brought potato salad,” she said. “Pete’s Mamm’s recipe.” She took off the lid and put it on the table and then met my gaze with her deep blue eyes. “You look tired.”
I yawned, on cue, and then laughed. “Just a little.”
“I imagine you’ve been working hard.”
“I’ll rest tomorrow.”
She smiled. “Right . . .” She nodded toward my dress. “Purple is such a good color on you,” she said. “And the black apron—now, that’s a good idea.”
I soaked in her compliments but focused on the practical one. “Jah, I figured a white one would be dirty in no time.”
I scooted Cate’s bowl to the right to make room for the trays of sliced watermelon that were still in the kitchen and then changed the subject. “Is Betsy coming?”
“I think so.”
Betsy was expecting a Bobli soon. Cate had laughed when she told me, saying it was a wedding trip pregnancy for sure, although Betsy and her husband, Levi, had only traveled as far as his parents’ farm, where they’d been ever since.
“How’s she doing?”
“Gut,” Cate answered. “Tired—and a little nervous, I think. But overall, fine.”
I wondered if it was hard on Cate, who was six years older than Betsy, to have her little Schwester having Onkel Bob’s first grandchild. Of course I’d never ask her. I did step back and try to evaluate, slyly, if there was any chance Cate might be expecting, but she appeared as thin as ever.
I hoped she and Pete would be blessed with a Bobliof their own soon.
Cate stepped over to Mutter and Nan, and Pete wandered over to Daed and Onkel Bob, who hovered over the barbecue. They hadn’t started the chicken, yet all three were intent about something, probably the state of the burning coals.
My Aenti Pauline, one of my Mutter’s Schwesters, and her family arrived next, minus her husband and Hannah. “Owen’s taking care of one of the horses.” Aenti Pauline’s family raised both standard-bred and quarter horses on their farm. “And Hannah spent the night at Molly’s, although she may come later.”
I couldn’t help but envy how free my Aenti Pauline was in letting Hannah have a life of her own. I’d never spent the night at a friend’s house, not even at the homes of my cousins.
A few minutes later both of my Aentis met me in the kitchen and, under Pauline’s lead, helped me carry out the rest of the food. As Daed put the meat on the grill, Betsy arrived with Levi, who directed her to a lawn chair right away. Plain dresses did a good job hiding a pregnancy, but it was obvious Betsy was due soon, both by her size and by the way she walked.
A minute later Mutter rose to greet Phillip and his parents, who were walking toward the gathering from where they’d parked their buggy in the field. The breeze caught Bishop Eicher’s long white beard, sending it off to the side. He grabbed it with one hand and his hat with the other. Patty Eicher, the bishop’s wife, was nearly as tall as her husband, thin as a rail, and all business. Phillip’s face brightened when he saw my mother limping toward him. I decided to let Mutter welcome them. I would greet them later.
Timothy and Danny were flirting with a group of girls from our district. I searched the crowd for the young man I’d seen earlier—and probably last night—but when I couldn’t find him, I turned my attention back to my Bruders, calling out to them to put out the rest of the benches. Timothy ignored me, but Danny got busy right away. As I glared at Timothy, I saw a movement in the bushes by the creek.
Two heads popped up, both wearing sunglasses. I didn’t react, not wanting to alert Timothy.
“It’s almost time to eat,” I called out, waving my hand at Timothy and the girls, who wore flip-flops, white Kapps, and pastel dresses—mint green and baby blue, light pink and lavender, as if they’d been freshly dipped in Easter-egg dye.
Keeping an eye on Mervin and Martin as they darted in and out of the brush, I gathered Joe-Joe and Billy around me, readying them for the prayer, but before Daed started it, Samuel, George, and Sadie arrived. She wore a dark blue dress and was as petite as George was brawny. She was a shy one and stuck to his side.
It took a few minutes for everyone to settle down again and for Daed to start the prayer. A minute into it, when we should have all had our eyes closed, Joe-Joe stirred. I peeked as he pointed toward the creek.
Not lowering his voice, despite the fact that we were in the middle of the silent prayer, he asked, “Who’s that?”
Mervin and Martin both froze for just a moment and then disappeared behind the willow tree. That’s all it took for Timothy, followed by Samuel, to bolt after them.
Daed took his time with the prayer. Perhaps he sensed something going on and figured the longer everyone had their eyes closed the better, although I kept my eyes wide open. Timothy and Samuel disappeared behind the brush, swishing foliage and tree branches as they bounded down the trail. I could only imagine what Timothy, with Samuel’s help, would do once they caught the twins.
Finally Daed ended the prayer with an amen and headed toward the barbecue. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Phillip and his parents talking with Mutter. I waved to him as I walked by and hurried on toward my father. “Did you see Timothy and Samuel take off after the Mosier twins?”
Daed, tongs in his hand, shrugged his shoulders, but an expression of concern covered my Onkel Bob’s face.
“You have to do something,” I said to Daed.
“Ach, Addie, such as the tree is, such is the fruit.” Daed’s sayings were downright annoying at times. “Besides, I’m too old for that sort of thing.” He tugged on his beard with his free hand.
“You have to stop them! Not join in.”
“Oh, well now . . .” Daed squinted into the distance.
“Come on, Cap.” Onkel Bob grabbed Daed’s arm. “Let’s go.”
Daed could put me off, but he couldn’t ignore his brother-in-law. He put the tongs down on the edge of the barbecue and ambled off after Onkel Bob, looking like the giant of a man he was, seemingly unaware of what his sons were capable of as he continued to tug on his beard.
I matched his stride. “They headed toward the creek.”
Phillip stepped toward me, his hat in his hands. I waved. “I’ll be right back.”
“Addie!” Mutter stood by her lawn chair, leaning on the arm of it.
“In a minute,” I called out. Joe-Joe and Billy rushed toward me, each taking one of my hands and slowing me down some. Ahead Danny fell into step behind Daed and Onkel Bob. George stayed back with Sadie—at her urging, I was sure.
“Go over to Cate.” I let go of Billy’s hand. “And take Joe-Joe with you.”
“Ach, Addie,” he said. “Why can’t we watch?”
“Because there won’t be anything to see.” I passed Joe-Joe’s hand to Billy and gave him a push toward Cate, who stepped out to meet them, and then I began to jog. I ducked beyond the poplar tree, and by the time I was a few steps down the path along the willows, I could hear Timothy’s voice.
“You know they have this coming!”
I pushed through the branches. Daed and Onkel Bob, with Danny behind them, stood on our side of the creek, while Timothy and Samuel stood on either side of Mervin and Martin on the other bank. The twins each had their hands up around their faces but not as if they might throw a punch—more like they were hoping to protect themselves.
“No one has anything coming,” Onkel Bob said. “Come on, Mervin and Martin. It’s time to eat. We want you to be our guests.”
I couldn’t help but smile at the appalled expression on Timothy’s face.
Onkel Bob looked toward my Daed, who cleared his throat and said, “Jah, come on. We don’t want any trouble.”
“Samuel and Timothy, step aside and let our guests pass first.” Onkel Bob took a step toward the creek. Mervin and Martin had worked for him for a couple of years but had quit to help run their family farm a few months ago. Still, I knew they respected Bob Miller as much as anyone in the county.
Timothy, red to the tips of his ears, stepped backward, and Samuel, who looked a little bored, stepped to the side. Mervin, followed by Martin, crossed over the rocks that made a makeshift bridge. Onkel Bob stuck out his hand as they neared the bank and pulled them, one after the other, to the shore.
“Denki, Bob,” they said in unison once they were both safe. Then they followed him up the pathway. When they reached me, they both nodded their heads. Daed passed next but didn’t look at me. Then came Danny, who gave me a smile. I fell in step behind him, but in no time Timothy was at my heels.
“Way to go,” he hissed.
“Knock it off.” I began marching, passing Danny on the straight stretch.
When we reached the pasture, the eyes of all of our guests were on us until, as if they just realized they’d all been staring, everyone directed their attention elsewhere. Everyone except for Mutter and her two Schwesters. They stood frozen.
“Our guests who just arrived will start the food line,” Onkel Bob called out, gesturing toward Martin and Mervin. “Fall in behind them. Let’s eat!”
It was then I noticed the stranger again, standing on the edge of the crowd closest to the volleyball net, behind a group of boys around Billie’s age. At a closer distance, I was certain he was the young man I’d seen the night before.
His hat sat back on his head, showing thick, sunny hair that needed to be cut. He stood tall with his arms crossed, an amused look on his face and a relaxed air about him that impressed me. His dark blue shirt bunched at his waist around his suspenders.
His shoulders were broad, but he wasn’t solid like Phillip. Instead he had a lanky strength to him, a fluidity that made him appear at ease. As I passed by, he winked—or perhaps he had something in his dark blue eyes.
Had he been standing there earlier when I flew by? Perhaps he found the whole episode amusing. I suppressed a smile. It would be funny, if it didn’t involve my family.
I hurried on by, stopping next to Cate and the little boys.
“Who’s the stranger?” I whispered to her.
“I have no idea.” She held Joe-Joe’s hand as she spoke. “He must have come with someone,” she added.
I scanned the crowd for Timothy. He stood at the edge of the trees, arms crossed and face red, staring at the mystery man.