Would you like another piece of bacon?” Meredith Stoltzfus asked her husband, barely able to look at his grim expression as he sat across from her at the breakfast table.
“No thanks,” Luke mumbled. The sparkle was gone from his beautiful turquoise eyes, and there was no joy on his bearded face. They’d only been married a little over a year, and already the thrill seemed to have worn off. At least for Luke it must have. Meredith had been so sure about his love for her during their courting days and throughout the first eight months of marriage. But now Luke’s attentiveness had been replaced with worry and defeat. When Luke lost his job at the nearby furniture store, everything had changed. Oh, not at first. Luke had been optimistic, saying he was sure the economy would turn around and that he’d either get hired back or would find another job where he could use his woodworking skills. But that had been six months ago, and he was still out of work, as were some of the other Amish men the store had let go. Luke hardly talked about it anymore, but Meredith knew it was eating at him.
“Would you like some more juice?” Meredith asked, reaching for the pitcher of apple juice.
He shook his head. “I’m fine. Haven’t finished what’s in my glass.”
“No, you’re not fine, and I wish you would talk about it instead of sitting there, staring at your plate.”
He shrugged. “There’s nothin’ to talk about.”
Meredith sighed. Lately, all she had to do was look at her husband to know he was depressed. Luke’s stance was no longer confident. He walked slightly hunched over, with a look of uncertainty and doubt. Gone was his open-minded manner, replaced by edginess and impatience. Luke’s folks had offered to help out financially, but Luke had turned them down. Since Luke’s dad had sold his bulk food store and worked part-time for the man who’d bought it, Luke’s folks were getting by okay, but they weren’t well off. Meredith’s parents wanted to help as well, but they had seven other children to raise—all still living at home. And Grandma Smucker had moved in with them two years ago, after Grandpa died of a heart attack, so she, too, needed their financial support. On more than one occasion, Meredith had suggested that she look for a job, but Luke wouldn’t hear of that. He insisted that it was his job to provide for them.
Meredith, trying to be optimistic, was thankful that while Luke had been working at the furniture store, he’d put some money into a savings account he had started even before he’d met her. They’d been given some money from several people who’d attended their wedding, and that had gone into the bank as well. Since losing his job, Luke had sold some of his handcrafted projects at the local farmers’ market, as well as at a few gift shops. That had
helped some; but for the most part, they’d been living off their savings. That money wouldn’t last forever, and Meredith feared they might be unable to meet all their financial obligations if Luke didn’t find a job soon.
She sighed. Being forced to pinch pennies had put a strain on their marriage. When Meredith and Luke had first gotten married she’d been convinced that the love between them could withstand any hurdle. Now, she wasn’t so sure. To make things more complicated, Meredith felt pretty sure she was pregnant. She’d sometimes been irregular but had never missed two consecutive months. After her appointment with a local midwife next week, she’d know for sure. She hadn’t told Luke, though, and felt apprehensive about doing that before she was certain. He was already uptight about their finances, without worrying about the possibility of having another mouth to feed in about six months.
But if the midwife confirmed Meredith’s suspicions, she’d have to tell Luke soon because it wouldn’t be long before she’d start to show. If Luke could just find another job, all their worries would be put to rest.
She cleared her throat. “Uh, Luke, I need to do some shopping today, and I was wondering—would it be okay if I buy some paint for the spare bedroom next to ours?”
Luke’s eyebrows furrowed as he pulled his fingers through the ends of his thick blond hair—so blond it was nearly white. “Using our money for groceries is one thing, but paint will have to wait till I’m working full-time again.”
Meredith clenched and unclenched her fingers. What would he say if he knew that spare room I want to paint is for the baby I believe I’m carrying? Should I go ahead and tell him right now, or would it be better to wait? “I know we have to be careful with our money,” she said, “but paint shouldn’t cost that much.”
“It costs more than I want to spend right now.” Luke drank the rest of his apple juice and pushed away from the table. “Now, if we’re done with this discussion, I need to go out to the barn.”
“But Luke, I really would like to paint that room because—”
“I said no, Meredith,” Luke said firmly. “We can’t afford to do any painting right now. The spare room can stay like it is for the time being. There’s no need to paint anyways, since we’re only using it for storage. Until we get on our feet again, we should leave well enough alone.”
“But Luke, if you knew—”
“Mir sin immer am disch bediere iwwer eppes.” He frowned. “And I’m gettin’ tired of it.”
“It does seem like we’re always arguing about something,” she agreed, “and I don’t like it, either.”
“Then let’s stop arguing and talk about something else.” Irritation edged Luke’s voice.
“You can be so eegesinnisch sometimes,” she muttered, looking away.
“I’m not being stubborn; I’m being practical. And as far as I’m concerned, this discussion is over!”
Luke grabbed a dog biscuit and went out the back door, letting it slam behind him. Meredith flinched. It wasn’t right for them to be quarreling like this. It wasn’t good for their marriage, and if she was pregnant, it certainly wasn’t good for the baby. She would never have imagined that their lives could change so drastically in such a short time.
Meredith jumped up, moving quickly to the kitchen window, watching through a film of tears as Luke tromped through the snow to fuss with his dog, Fritz, before going into the barn.
She ran her fingers over the cold glass. I wish Luke would communicate with me as easily as he does with his dog.
Sometimes Meredith wondered if it would be better for her to not even talk to Luke unless it was absolutely necessary. It was ridiculous to be thinking this way, especially since up until recently they’d always discussed things and made important decisions together. But wouldn’t it be less stressful to keep quiet than to quarrel with him all the time?
A year ago, those thoughts would have never entered her mind. How was it that they were either behaving like total strangers or snapping at each other these days? When they were newly married, with their future spread out before them, Meredith had been full of hopes and dreams, and every day had been blissful. Now the discouraging job outlook was swallowing Luke up and affecting every aspect of their marriage.
Despite it being a nice idea to spruce up the terribly drab spare bedroom, Luke was probably right about not spending the money
on paint with their finances so tight. Paint wasn’t that expensive, but in Luke’s eyes, it may as well cost a million dollars. Even a few cans of paint were a luxury they really couldn’t afford. If the midwife confirmed Meredith’s suspicions, then maybe she could start moving some boxes up to the attic. That would need to be done anyway, before it became a baby’s room.
She reached for the teapot simmering on the stove and poured some hot water over a tea bag in a cup. While it steeped, she cleared the breakfast dishes and ran water into the sink. Then, blowing on the tea, she took a cautious sip. The warm liquid felt good on her parched throat. For now, she would forget about painting the room and stop adding to the anxiety her husband already felt.
Lord, she silently prayed, please help Luke find another job soon, and while we’re waiting, help us learn how to cope.