My Dat had been a small man. And thin. No one would have guessed he’d have a heart attack. But he did.
I buried my face in his forest-green shirt, pressing the soft fabric against my eyes. It had been my favorite of all his shirts. My morning task was to go through his clothes and decide what to give away, but I couldn’t bear to part with his shirts—not a single one.
I’d use all of them to make a quilt for my sister Beatrice.
Not now—but during the winter months, when the work on our flower farm slowed.
I placed the shirt on top of the others and closed the box.
My parents’ room looked the same as it had before Dat died—a double bed, one bureau, a straight-back chair—but now it felt so empty. My gaze moved to the small table against the window. Dat’s Bible was on it, just like always, but there was a small sky-blue notebook there too, one I hadn’t seen before. I stepped closer, reaching for it, but a knock on the door startled me.
“Molly? Do you need some help?” It was my half sister, Edna.
“No,” I answered, stepping away from the table. “I’ll be down in a minute.”
She and Ivan, the oldest in my Dat’s first family, had come to help us today. I was plenty able to handle what needed to be done, but it was a comfort to have them with us.
I should have boxed things up right after Dat’s passing, but we’d been in such a state of shock I couldn’t bear to tackle it then. None of us could—especially not my sweet Mamm. But now enough time had passed since that fateful day.
It was the first week of June. The sun shone again. The days had turned warm, for good.
Dat would want us to move on. He’d want us to keep living.
Besides, tomorrow was the first day of the Youngie farmers’ market I’d started a few years back. At the time it was all young people, but last summer I’d opened it to older vendors too. It had brought in extra income for our family, and we needed it now more than ever. It was time for me to buckle down and put business first again.
I glanced around the room one more time. I didn’t know how Mamm stood sleeping in it alone. Beatrice had moved into my room the night Dat died, and the truth was, if she hadn’t come into mine, I would have moved into hers. We were grown, me more so at twenty-two than she was at nineteen, but we’d both adored our Dat. Even though he was seventy-two, we’d expected him to live at least another decade. Hopefully two.
My eyes fell on the notebook again. It was none of my business.
I picked up the box of shirts from the bed and headed to the door.
As I started down the hallway, the light from the window fell across the worn wood floors. Our home was old and shabby, but it was ours. I was very thankful for it.
I stopped at the end of the landing and pressed my forehead against the cool glass of the window. Our fields were far from shabby. They brimmed with shrubs and trees, annuals and perennials, ground covers and decorative grasses. Nearly every shade of green leaves imaginable, with hints of gold from the late-morning sun, shimmered in the breeze. Splashes of color—including purple irises, pink peonies, and yellow roses—complemented the green.
We lived a few miles from the village of Paradise, but our land was truly paradise to me. There was nowhere on earth I’d rather be.
I hurried down the stairs and into the living room, where Mamm and Ivan sat side by side at the desk with a pile of bills. Ivan hid Mamm from my view as I hurried through. Dat had been thin and short, but Ivan was big and tall. My half siblings took after their mother, not the father we shared.
Even though Ivan had never married, he wore a beard and had for as long as I could remember. He’d been in his midtwenties by the time I was born and seemed much more like an uncle than a brother to me.
He had his own accounting business. The fact that Mamm had asked him to take a look at our finances meant things were worse than I’d feared. She’d always been involved in the day-to-day operation of the farm, but Dat had always seen to the books.
Dat hadn’t shared our financial situation with me either, but I didn’t remember him spending hours at his desk, looking worried, until a few years ago, after the economy had soured.
Seven years ago we’d had a thriving business, providing trees, shrubs, and plants to landscapers throughout the area, including those affiliated with commercial builders. As the business grew, so did our overhead, and Dat took out a mortgage to pay for the new greenhouse, office, and irrigation system. It had been a wise business decision—at the time. But then the financial downturn meant less development, which meant less landscaping, which meant fewer sales, which meant we had to scrape to meet each payment.
It had been my idea to add crops of Blumms and Rauda-shtokk. But the flowers and herbs didn’t bring in the income that the nursery stock did.
I needed to figure out more ways, besides the farmers’ market, to ease Mamm’s worries.
I’d reached the hallway when she called out my name.
“Come here,” she said.
“Just a minute.” I continued to the sewing room and put the box—not wanting Mamm to see it—on the floor and returned to the living room.
She sat with her reading glasses on top of a closed manila file, her small hands folded in her lap. A few stray hairs had escaped her gray bun and trailed down her neck alongside the ties of her Kapp. “I forgot to tell Mervin to water the dogwood trees,” she said.
“I’ll tell him,” I answered.
Ivan pushed his chair away from the desk. “Anna,” he said, addressing my mother by her first name, the way he always had, “I don’t see how you can keep the Mosier boy on. Not with the way your finances are.”
I didn’t see how we could afford not to, but I didn’t say it out loud.
It seemed Mamm didn’t hear, or didn’t register, what Ivan had said. She continued talking to me, “And tell Mervin to repot the geraniums. It’s getting late in the season for those, but it would be good to sell as many as we can.”
I nodded my head. “Jah.” We’d talked about it the day before. I planned to try to sell some tomorrow at the market. It had been a cool spring—I imagined not everyone had all their potted plants out yet. “Anything else?” I asked.
She shook her head and smiled, slightly. More wrinkles lined her face than had a few months before.
Ivan cleared his throat, as if he was readying himself to say something, but Mamm put her hand on his, and my half brother remained silent.
“I’ll go give Mervin the instructions,” I said.
“Denki.” Mamm picked up her glasses and opened the file.
She’d clearly communicated that I should leave, but I stayed for a long moment, staring at her as she bowed her head over the papers.
She’d worked as a teacher in Ohio before marrying Dat. Although she didn’t know much about business, she was organized and efficient, two skills that she’d passed down to me. And she had liked working alongside Dat. They’d complemented each other well in both their personal relationship and their work together. Plus after teaching for so many years, she was used to doing more than just housework and said she found the family business a satisfying endeavor.
Thankfully Beatrice enjoyed running the house, at least more than doing outside chores, and once she was out of school she’d taken on more and more of those responsibilities.
Although I could handle managing the house just fine, I too enjoyed working outside. Where I most differed from both my parents was in personality. They were quiet and didn’t socialize much, except with people in our district, but I was outgoing and had friends from across Pennsylvania, and in neighboring states too.
Beatrice, however, took after my parents when it came to social needs—except she didn’t seem to have any at all.
Edna already had a chicken roasting in the oven, potatoes boiling on the stove, and sticky buns cooling on the counter, but she wasn’t in the kitchen. I headed out the back door to find her. My half sister was eighteen years older than I and left home to marry soon after I was born, but she’d always doted on Beatrice and me. She hadn’t been blessed with children, and then four years ago her husband, Frank, had been gravely injured in a buggy accident and died months later.
She’d taken Dat’s death hard too—more so, I guessed, than if Frank had been alive.
Our house sat on a hill. An arbor Dat had built, covered with clematis leaves, stood at the top of the path. I couldn’t remember the baby pink clematis flowers blooming last month, although I’m sure they had. Nor could I remember the flowers of the dogwood trees or the lilac bushes. I’d lost all of that to my grief.
I exhaled. I wasn’t going to lose any more.
The weatherman had predicted a high of eighty-five. The hottest day of the year so far.
I took another step toward the path that led to the pasture below.
The highway bordered the pasture where we held the farmers’ market, and our driveway curved up the hill and along our property line. To the west our flower fields would soon bloom with lilies, lisianthus, and dahlias. To the south, behind the house, our huge white barn towered above everything else, including our greenhouse next to it. To the east was our garden, surrounded by a fence.
Edna stood at the garden gate, her back to me, while Beatrice stooped over in the first row, her bare feet half covered by the dark soil.
I couldn’t tell what my older sister said, but Beatrice answered, “Denki,” as she straightened up. Beatrice was beautiful—far more than I—with an untamed look and dark, intense eyes. She seemed oblivious to her good looks though. She tucked a strand of her chestnut hair under her Kapp. “I could use a break,” she added. When she caught sight of me, she waved. “Come into the house,” she called out. “Edna has a snack ready.”
“I’ll be in shortly,” I answered.
I hurried on toward the greenhouse, along the stone pathway Dat had put in a couple of years before. Our land had served him the same way a canvas did an artist. I had often expected one of the bishops to accuse Dat of being too fancy. He’d added whimsical touches all over our farm. Besides the arbor covered with clematis, he’d built trellises and archways and placed slate pathways and rock gardens all over the property.
I stepped into the greenhouse, expecting to find Mervin. He wasn’t there, but the geraniums were—all repotted. Perhaps he’d read Mamm’s mind.
Mervin’s parents had the farm next to ours, although their house was on the far side of their property, as far away from ours as possible. But still we’d grown up together—gone to the same school, the same singings, the same parties. He was like a brother to me.
My best friend, Hannah Lapp, and Mervin had been courting. But around the time my Dat passed, they stopped spending time together. Usually I would know what was going on, but for the first time since I was six and she was five, I hadn’t kept up with Hannah. I hoped she understood.
Standing beside the greenhouse, I searched the field of nursery stock. Hydrangea, forsythia, and azalea spread out in front of me. I walked along, peering down each row. Next came cherry, myrtle, and plum trees.
A flash of yellow made me smile.
“Here, Love!” I called out to our lab.
She darted out from between the trees and rushed toward me. She’d been Dat’s dog, and he had named her Love, he said, because God had blessed him with a life of love.
I thought it a ridiculous name at first, especially when Dat called, “Here, Love!” but it grew on us in time. And it turned out to be the perfect name for her. All dogs loved unconditionally—but Love would have won the first-place prize if one existed.
She’d refused to leave Dat’s side when he’d fallen, and now she’d wait beside the back door at night, as if still believing he would come home.
With Dat gone, she tended to follow Mervin around when he was working. Otherwise she held Mamm and me in equal esteem, but Beatrice had never bonded with the dog much.
As Love reached me, I spotted Mervin by the dogwood trees, a black hose in his hand, his straw hat riding back on his head, his aviator sunglasses perched on his long nose. Wondering how he’d known what Mamm wanted him to do, I made my way down the row of trees, my flip-flop-clad feet sinking into the soft soil, Love at my side.
“Have you learned to read minds?” I called out to Mervin.
He pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose to where the tops were level with his sandy-colored bangs, met my gaze, and pursed his lips.
“How did you know what you were supposed to do?” I asked.
Mervin shook his head. “Your Mamm told me—yesterday at quitting time.”
Mamm had been forgetful lately, but I’d chalked it up to Dat’s death. All her energy had gone into coping—how could we expect her to keep track of mundane details?
But her giving Mervin instructions and then entirely forgetting she’d done so was something new. And she was only sixty-three. It had to be stress related—not age.
“Did she tell you to repot the geraniums too?” I stepped closer to Mervin, reaching down to pet Love as I did.
“Jah. In fact she told me more than once.”
I shoved my hands into the pocket of my apron. “How many times?”
“Four. Maybe five.”
“Oh dear,” I whispered. Then in a normal voice, I said, “Denki for all your hard work. I don’t know what we would have done without you these last months.”
I turned to go but had only made it a step when Mervin said, “I wanted to ask you something.”
“Jah.” I stumbled on a rock, stubbing my toe, as I turned back around.
Love pressed her body against my leg as Mervin steadied me.
“Denki,” I said, pulling away, aware of his hand on my arm.
“I was wondering,” he said, his voice deep and strained, “if you’d go to the singing with me.”
I tilted my head. So things had come to an end between him and Hannah. Most likely months ago. I hadn’t been to a singing since Dat died. “Could I let you know tomorrow?”
“Sure,” he said, but his voice sounded down.
“I’ll see you after dinner.”
He nodded in response. Even though workers often ate the noon meal with their Amish employers, we’d worked out the routine of him going to his house for dinner. His Mamm always fixed a big meal, and that way if Mamm, Beatrice, and I just wanted to eat leftovers we didn’t feel pressured to do a lot of cooking. All three of us had lost our appetites—except for when Edna visited.
Love stepped back to Mervin’s side.
“Is she bothering you?” I asked.
“Of course not.”
I patted the dog’s head and made my way back to the end of the row. When I reached it, I kicked my flip-flops off, shook the dirt off of them, and dragged my bare feet along the grass. As I came around the side of the greenhouse, movement across the highway caught my attention.
A man driving a team of mules was cutting alfalfa. Certain it was Phillip Eicher and not wanting him to see me, I hurried toward the house. We’d dated—briefly—but he’d broken it off, much to my chagrin. I told people it didn’t work out; he told people I wasn’t the right girl for him—which was obviously true. Still, it had hurt my feelings and, to be honest, also my pride, even though I knew that was wrong.
Hannah had laughed when she found out Phillip had broken up with me. That hurt too. “Oh, Molly,” she’d said, “it’s only funny because this is the first time in your life you didn’t get what you wanted.”
I guess Dat dying was the second.
Now Phillip was courting a seventeen-year-old girl from across the county. I’d heard she was a beauty.
When I reached the house, the screen door slipped from my hands and banged. No one was in the kitchen.
“Molly? Is that you?” It was Mamm again.
“Jah,” I answered.
“Could you come here?”
I sped through the kitchen, stopping at the living room doorway. She sat at the desk alone.
“Where is everyone?” I asked.
“Beatrice convinced Ivan and Edna to go see the new kittens in the barn.”
That sounded like Beatrice. And like my older siblings to give in to her kindish ways.
“What do you need?” I asked Mamm, pointing to her cup. “More coffee?”
“No.” She pulled her glasses from her face. “I’ve been thinking about ways to try to get our profits up.” She put her glasses down on the desk again.
I smiled, pleased she was thinking about our profits too.
“And that got me thinking. I’ve noticed Mervin looking at you, following you around. I think he’s sweet on you.”
I couldn’t imagine what Mervin’s feelings toward me had to do with our profits.
“I didn’t tell Ivan this,” she said, placing her hand on the side of her head. “There’s no point yet, but a wholesaler left a message, asking if there was any way we could increase our production. He said if we could, he’d be willing to buy
I hadn’t noticed it before, but as I stared at her—in disbelief—I noted that her hair had grown whiter in the last couple of months.
“It would make me so happy to have you marry and settle down,” she said. “What could be better than to join our two families? We’ve been good friends all these years.”
My mouth fell open, but I couldn’t manage to form a sound.
“Our farms are side by side,” she continued. “You and Mervin would be able to provide for yourselves and for me in my old age. And for your sister.”
“Mamm . . .” I finally managed to say. She and Dat had never meddled in my life before.
“Think about it,” Mamm said, putting her glasses back on her face. “And in the meantime, I forgot to tell Mervin to water the dogwood trees. Could you tell him?”
“And to repot the geraniums.”
“No, you already did.” My voice wavered. “It’s all done.”
She looked up at me. “Are you sure?”
I nodded, a sick feeling settling in the pit of my stomach.
She lowered her voice. “Molly . . .” She took a deep breath. “I’m worried.”
Jah, I thought. Me too.
“It’s your father.” She stopped again and stared at the closed folder.
“Ach, Mamm. I know it’s hard . . .”
“He’s been gone so long,” she said, turning her head to me, tears filling her eyes.
I nodded. It had only been a couple of months, but it seemed much longer.
“When is he coming back?” she asked.
“I thought it would only be for a short time.” Her eyes held a longing in them I hadn’t seen before. Was it grief that had her confused? Or was something horribly wrong?
“He’s gone,” I said. “Remember he . . .” I didn’t want to think of Dat lying on the front lawn, let alone speak of it. “He passed, Mamm. We had the funeral. In April. Now it’s June.”
She shook her head.
Maybe it was just grief. But what if Mamm was having a stroke? I had no way of knowing. What I did know was I couldn’t lose another parent.
“Stay right here,” I said to her.
Before Dat died, I’d always left my cell phone in the greenhouse office, but since he’d passed, I kept it in my apron pocket—just in case. I pulled it out as I sped through the back door, heading toward the barn. I keyed in our doctor’s number as I ran and yelled, “Beatrice! Ivan! Edna! Come quick!” I shouted again as a voice on the other end of my cell said hello.
Beatrice appeared at the barn door first, leaving it wide open. I motioned toward the house. “It’s Mamm,” I called out. “Something’s wrong.”
She took off running, her hands holding her dress above her knees, the ties of her Kapp trailing over her shoulder. Ivan and Edna followed.
Somehow, all the way in the field, Love sensed something was wrong and came bounding to my side. I put my hand on top of her head to calm her as I explained the situation to the nurse.
“Can you bring your mother in?” she asked.
“I’m thinking I should call an ambulance,” I said. That’s what we should have done with Dat.
Edna kept going toward the house, but Ivan stopped beside me, saying, “That would cost quite a sum of money.”
The nurse asked, “Is her speech slurred?”
Ignoring Ivan, I answered, “No.”
I would have noticed that. “No,” I answered.
“I don’t think so.” I started for the back door, with Love still beside me and Ivan right behind.
“Are her words making sense?” the nurse asked.
“Jah,” I said, “except she was asking about my father as if he is alive, but he passed two months ago. It seemed she didn’t remember that.”
“How about her vision?”
“I think it’s fine. . . .”
“Some, just lately, but she said they’re from stress . . .”
“How old is she?”
“Any other signs of dementia?”
“You know—forgetfulness, confusion.”
“She has been forgetful. . . .” I told Love to stay and stepped into the kitchen with Ivan right behind me. “Should I call for an ambulance?” I asked the nurse.
“Can you bring her in?”
“I’ll call our driver and see.” If she wasn’t available I’d call 9-1-1.
“Oh, you’re Amish,” the nurse said. “I remember now, about your father . . .”
“Jah,” I answered.
Her voice overflowed with compassion. “I’ll tell the doctor to expect you.”
“Thank you.” After I said good-bye, I ended the call.
Edna stood to the side of Mamm. Beatrice had planted herself behind them, a confused look on her face. She mouthed, “She says she’s fine.”
“Mamm, do either of your arms feel weak?” I asked.
She shook her head.
“Can you see all right? Does your head ache?”
“Molly, I’m fine.”
Ivan was right, calling an ambulance would cost a fortune, and it would worry Mamm. I stepped back into the kitchen and called our driver, Doris. She said she’d be at our place in half an hour.
Edna served up dinner in a hurry, and I waited until the driver arrived to tell Mamm I was taking her to the doctor.
“Oh, that’s not necessary,” she said. “I’ll just go take a nap.”
Before I could say anything, Ivan jumped in and said, “Anna, we’re concerned about you is all. Humor us.”
She glanced from Ivan to me and then touched the side of her head. At last she said, “Oh, all right.”
Edna said she would stay with Beatrice. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Ivan followed me and Mamm out to the car, but I was.
Mamm sat on the examination table while I stood beside her and Ivan sat in the chair. We’d been at the clinic for a couple of hours. The doctor had done an exam, the lab tech had drawn blood, and the preliminary tests had already been completed. The doctor had ruled out both a vitamin deficiency and a stroke, but he was concerned about Mamm’s headaches, which were worse than she’d been letting on. She managed to be honest with the doctor, although she claimed they were grief related. The doctor conceded that grief—and stress—could cause physical symptoms, but he didn’t think that was the case with her.
The doctor sat on the spinning stool. “I want you to get a CT scan. At the hospital.” He took out a pad of paper from his coat pocket and wrote down a number. He started to hand it to Ivan, but I intercepted it.
Ivan didn’t seem to mind. “What are you looking for?” he asked.
“Any abnormalities,” the doctor answered.
When I asked about dementia, the doctor answered that it could be a concern too.
Ivan asked if there was any reason not to have the CT scan.
“If Mrs. Zook wants to know what she’s up against, she should have it. Hopefully it’s nothing, and that would be good to know too.”
“What will be will be,” Mamm said.
“Granted,” the doctor said kindly. “There are some people who, once their children are all raised and perhaps after a spouse has passed, decide not to go ahead with tests and such.” It seemed he was choosing his words carefully. “But, Mrs. Zook, you have two daughters in your care.” He’d been our doctor for years, since Beatrice and I were babies. “And you’re still relatively young.”
Relatively? She could live for another thirty years, easily.
“Jah, Mamm,” I said. “You’re very young.” All my life, I had thought my parents old—until today.
The doctor said to call him if we had any questions but to make the appointment for the CT scan as soon as possible. I said I’d make it immediately, unfolding the piece of paper with the number on it and taking my cell from my pocket as he told us good-bye and left the room.
As I keyed in the numbers, Ivan said, “Goodness, Molly. Couldn’t you wait until we got outside?”
I shook my head as I patted Mamm’s arm.
My call went through, and I took the first available appointment—on a Tuesday, a week and a half away.
When I told Mamm when the appointment was, she said, “See, I’m fine. If they really thought there was a problem, they would have gotten me in sooner.” She scooted off the table. “In fact, call back and cancel.”
I slipped my phone into my apron pocket. I wasn’t raised to disobey. So I pretended I hadn’t heard.
As we left the doctor’s office, Mamm sighed and said, “Now I have another bill to figure out how to pay.” She padded down the carpet of the hallway in her soft-soled shoes, me on one side of her and Ivan on the other. “And then another for that test you didn’t cancel.”
“You’ve paid into the church fund all these years,” I responded. “There will be plenty to cover your costs.” Members from every district put aside money each month in a health-care fund that we pooled to pay medical expenses. We’d used some when Dat died, but not that much.
“When it’s my time, it’s my time,” Mamm said. I decided to ignore that too.
“The Lord knows the number of my days,” she added as we reached the door.
“Mamm . . .” I pushed it open, stepping out into the afternoon heat. “You’re life isn’t all that’s at stake here. Beatrice and I need you. We’re not ready to be orphans.”
The driver had parked her car on the edge of the lot, in the shade, and Mamm stepped off the curb, leading the way, as I grabbed her elbow.
Ivan stepped quickly to Mamm’s side. “Anna, I was serious about buying the—”
She put her hand up, swinging her purse around. He stopped.
I stopped cold, even as the heat swirled up from the pavement. “What?” I blurted out as I glared at my half brother.
“It’s not right for three women to be living alone.”
I shook my head. “What are you talking about?” I asked. “We’re doing fine.”
Mamm continued on toward the car.
Ivan’s face reddened. “After paying off the mortgage, there’d still be enough money from the sale for you to buy a house in town, maybe on a double lot.”
“But you don’t even like to farm,” I said.
Ivan’s face grew redder.
The farm was my home. For as long as I could remember, I’d hoped the man I’d someday marry would want to farm it with me. I took off marching, biting my tongue from saying more, gaining on Mamm. But then she stopped abruptly, and I bumped into her.
“Sorry,” I said.
Ivan stopped behind me.
Mamm turned toward us. “I just want both of you to know,” she said, her voice firm and clear, “I know your Dat passed. Maybe I had a moment of wishful thinking, but I don’t have dementia. I’m sure of it.”
“Of course you don’t.” I took her hand and squeezed it. “It’s far more likely there’s a physical explanation for all of this. That’s why you should have the scan done.”
She started walking again, and when we reached the car, Mamm and I climbed in the back seat, leaving the front for Ivan. Doris asked how things were.
“I’m fine,” Mamm said. “I’d know if there was something wrong.”
“She needs more tests,” I clarified.
“Oh, well, I’m sure everything is fine,” Doris said. “But, Mrs. Zook, for the sake of your girls, you’re doing the right thing.”
Mamm crossed her arms, an uncharacteristic gesture for her, and I gave Doris an apologetic nod. She smiled at me and mouthed, “No worries.”
Ivan stared straight ahead.
I’d been my Dat’s girl. The one who worked alongside him outside. The one he told his plans to. The one to whom he’d rattle off the Latin names—that I could never remember—of plants and flowers.
But he and Mamm had been best friends, holding hands in the privacy of our home. Stealing kisses in the hallway. Sharing their love of nature. I could only hope I’d have a marriage as dear as theirs someday.
As much as I missed and mourned Dat, I couldn’t imagine how much Mamm missed him—I couldn’t fathom how her inner world had shifted. Perhaps today’s incident had been caused by stress.
Doris pointed out the wild flowers alongside the road and then a colt romping in a field. Then she commented on the beautiful weather, saying she and her husband planned to barbecue for dinner. Usually, I would have kept the conversation going, but I couldn’t seem to hold up my end, and the car fell silent.
When we reached our farm, Mamm started to pay the driver, but Ivan said he would, which was generous for him. He paid quickly and then climbed from the car and headed toward the house. After telling Doris good-bye, Mamm took off for the house too, followed by Love, who had been patiently waiting.
“She needs to have a CT scan done week after next—that Tuesday morning,” I said to Doris. “But she doesn’t want to do it.”
“Give her a day or two,” she said. “I’ll put it on my calendar.”
“Denki.” I gave her the time and said a quick good-bye.
As I neared the house, I heard men’s voices on the porch. One was Mervin’s. I couldn’t place the second one, but it wasn’t Ivan’s.
Instead of going through the back door, I headed around front with Love following me. Too late, just as my head popped above the railing, I realized the second voice was Phillip’s.
I quickly retreated while Love headed for Mervin. If either Phillip or Mervin saw me, they didn’t call out my name. Ivan stepped onto the porch from the front door, saying hello to both, and Mamm followed, asking everyone if they’d like lemonade. It should have been me being hospitable, instead of my poor mother, but I simply didn’t feel up to it.
I headed to the back door and into the house, finding Beatrice in the sewing room, kneeling on the floor next to the box I’d left. My little sister looked up, her face streaked with tears. “How’s Mamm?” She clung to Dat’s green shirt.
“She’s okay. It’s probably nothing.” I knelt beside my sister. “It wasn’t a stroke, but she needs to have another test—to rule other things out.”
Beatrice put her head in her hands and said, “What will happen to us if she dies?”
I could barely hear her and leaned closer. “What do you mean?”
“Where will we go to live?”
I took a deep breath. “We’ll stay here.”
Beatrice shook her head. “Ivan will want to sell the place. He won’t want us to keep it.”
“No, that’s not true,” I said, even though I wasn’t at all sure what Ivan would do. He didn’t think it was right for the three of us to be living alone. He’d think it even worse for just the two of us. “Our home has been in the family for over a hundred years. We wouldn’t sell it to strangers.”
“That’s not what Mervin was just telling Phillip.” She swiped at a tear. I was certain the farm meant far more to me than my sister, but still this was home to her too. “He said we’re bound to lose the farm no matter what.”
“Bea,” I said, “you shouldn’t be eavesdropping.” The last thing I wanted was for Bea to know how dire our situation was.
“That’s not all they said.” She held Dat’s shirt to her face. I could barely hear her words. “Mervin said if you marry soon, maybe your husband could save the farm.”
“He said that in front of Phillip?”
“Oh goodness,” I said. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Mervin didn’t seem to think so.” Beatrice dropped the shirt to her lap.
I lowered my voice. “Did he say anything else?” I feared there was more.
“No, that’s all I heard. I came in here after that . . . and then found this.” She placed her hand on the box of shirts.
I’d intended the quilt as a surprise, but sometimes there was comfort in anticipating a gift. “I’m going to make a quilt for you out of Dat’s shirts.”
Tears filled her eyes again. “Denki,” she said.
I heard someone in the kitchen. “Where’s Edna?” I asked, hoping maybe she was going to serve the front porch gang her famous sticky buns.
“Resting, but she’s going to stay here tonight and tomorrow night too. She said we need some extra love.”
I was relieved to hear that. It would be a blessing to have her cook while I worked the market the next day, and for her to help keep an eye on Mamm too. Our district had cared for us well during the weeks after Dat’s death—helping with the chores, bringing meals, chopping wood, and cleaning. But that had come to an end, as it should have.
Bea swiped at her tears.
“Enough of that now,” I said. “Pull yourself together and go help Mamm.”
Beatrice leaned back, away from me. “Don’t be so bossy,” she said.
“We have a porch full of men to serve a snack to.” And I didn’t want to be the one to offer Phillip a glass of lemonade.
“You were bossy enough before Dat died, but now you’re nearly intolerable.”
I stood. “Bea, I—”
“You always have to be in charge,” she said without looking at me as she refolded the shirt and put it back in the box.
“Well, jah,” I said. “Someone has to be.”
She rose to her knees and looked out the window, toward the barn and greenhouse, and then sniffled again. She was sensitive, even more than usual since Dat died. And with good reason. She’d lost her father, and now she was afraid of losing her childhood home.
I stood and followed her to the window. “Nothing’s going to happen to the farm. This is our place. This is where we’re going to stay.” I could only hope my words were true.
I placed a large bucket of snapdragons in front of my table at the market, and then arranged smaller buckets of lavender, rosemary, and lemon thyme around it.
At the beginning Dat had opposed the Youngie farmers’ market, saying he didn’t think it would bring in much money, but he allowed me to give it a try. It wasn’t long until he supported my efforts completely, although he never did get used to the traffic and crowds on market day. Neither did Mamm and Beatrice.
But I loved it.
I was in my element, meaning combining the two things I enjoyed most—flowers and people.
Nell Yoder, who was my friend Hannah’s aunt and sharing my booth, stepped to my side. “Oh, look at those snapdragons,” she said. She pointed to one of her potholders, made from a red-and-yellow print, and then pointed at my blooms, saying, “They match.”
That made me smile. She had to be in her early forties or so but she seemed younger, maybe because she’d never had the stress of having her own family. “Those blooms won’t last once the weather turns hot though,” she added.
“Jah,” I said. “That’s why I need to sell as many as possible this morning.”
She lowered her voice. “It’s nice to have Jonathan and Addie back with us.” The two stood at his booth, talking with an Englisch couple.
I nodded. Addie was Nell’s niece, along with being Hannah’s cousin. She and Jonathan had been selling at markets far more upscale than mine, as far away as Maryland. I was thankful they’d booked with me for our opening day, but next week they’d be off somewhere else.
I headed toward Jonathan’s booth. Several Englisch people were examining his woodwork—mantels, hope chests, and bookcases, along with smaller items, including trivets and bookends.
Addie waved to me, and I said hello and picked up a trivet with a daisy carved on the top. If I had any extra money, I’d buy it for Mamm. I put it back down. “Where will you two be next Saturday?” I asked Addie.
“New Jersey,” she answered. “It’s an especially busy market.”
I’d heard that.
Addie stepped closer to me and said, quietly, “I heard Phillip is courting Jessie Berg.”
I nodded as a lump lodged in my throat. I didn’t want to talk about Phillip Eicher, not even with Addie.
“Are you okay with that?”
“Of course,” I managed to squeak. Addie and Phillip had courted before she fell for Jonathan. Phillip had been hurt and still talked about being jilted by Addie when he and I briefly courted. He more than talked, actually. He obsessed.
Addie shielded her eyes from the sun. “You and Phillip came to an understanding, then?”
She smiled at me, her eyes crinkling around the corners. “Oh good. Because I truly think that’s what’s best for you,” Addie said.
I tilted my head, wondering what she meant.
When she didn’t elaborate I asked, “How’s that?”
She stepped even closer. She really wasn’t one to gossip, not like her Aenti Nell, so I knew to listen to what she said. “Phillip, at least when he courted me, mostly cared about himself. I was worried about you.”
Nell’s shrill voice interrupted us. “Molly!”
She stood in front of our booth, waving at me and pointing to an Englisch woman who was holding a large bunch of snapdragons in her hands.
I turned back to Addie. “Customer. Gotta go,” I said as I stepped backward, away from her. “Denki for your concern.” I waved as I spun around and hurried back down to my booth, thankful to have escaped any further discussion of Phillip Eicher. He had been self-absorbed when we’d been seeing each other, but I’d thought it was due to the fact that Addie had hurt him so badly, that he was still licking his wounds—and his pride.
After I took the Englisch woman’s money and she’d headed toward Jonathan’s hope chests, a movement on the knoll caught my attention. Beatrice, with Love by her side, was unpinning the wash from the clothesline, her image framed by our white house directly behind her.
I’d asked her just that morning to leave it up until at least noon.
“I’ll be right back,” I said to Nell.
I grabbed the hem of my dress, lifted it to my knees, and began jogging through the back of the pasture and then up the slope toward the yard. “Bea,” I called out.
She turned toward me, squinting. Love did too, although her brown eyes lit up and her tongue fell out of her mouth.
“What are you doing?”
“I told you to leave it. Remember?”
She turned her back to me, reaching back up to the line, plucking another wooden pin. “I’m not waiting to do my chores to please the Englisch.”
“But they like looking at our wash.”
She’d made a face and said, “Which is exactly why I want to get it down.” She could be awfully black and white in her thinking.
I used my kindest tone and said, “Just leave it for a few more hours. Please.”
She spoke around the pin in her mouth. “It’s already nine. The morning is half gone.” She held another pin in one hand and Mamm’s dress in the other.
“Just another hour.” I stepped closer to her. “It might help save the farm.”
That was a stretch on my part, but it seemed to give Beatrice pause.
“Instead, could you help Mervin cut more flowers before it gets too hot?”
She held up the dress, as if asking what to do with it.
I nodded toward the line.
Instead of obeying, she tossed it at me, followed by one pin. Then the other. Both of which I managed to catch. And then off she marched toward the flower field. Love turned and gave me a sorrowful look. She hated it when any of us had a spat. “Go with her,” I said. Love wasn’t allowed down at the market.
The dog took off at a run and in a minute was far ahead of Beatrice, dashing toward Mervin.
I repinned the dress. Beatrice had been all over the map as far as her emotions since Dat had died. Yesterday she’d been tearful. Today she seemed angry. I couldn’t blame her. My emotions had been off-kilter too.
I took a step backward, taking in the clothesline. Our laundry was a sure sign that the farmers’ market below was authentically Amish, but I couldn’t help but mourn that Dat’s shirts weren’t flying alongside our dresses.
I sighed, encouraging myself to look on the bright side. Dat had lived a long life, and we still had our memories of him and our time together.
Dat had always complimented me on my optimism. He used to call me Sunny, both for my disposition and blond hair when I was young. I wasn’t going to let him down now.
I headed back down the path, taking in the sight below me. Thirty booths filled the front part of the pasture. Cars filled the makeshift parking lot, along with the buggies. Below, a mix of Englisch and Plain people ambled down the aisles between the booths. Besides Jonathan’s woodwork and my flowers and herbs, the vendors sold quilts, potholders, yard art, soaps, candles, preserves, produce, and ready-to-eat food.
The savory scent of sausage grilling wafted up the slope toward me as I navigated the path.
Startled, I stopped, my white tennis shoes stirring up a mini cloud of dirt, and turned toward the voice.
Mervin bobbled toward me, across our lawn, a bucket of sweet peas in each hand. Water sloshed over the edge of one onto his boot. He jerked his foot away and kept on coming. Even though it was still morning he had his aviator sunglasses on while his straw hat rode back on his head.
“Wait,” he called out.
“I need to get back,” I answered, turning to go.
“Take these,” he said. “And I’ll go back for the herbs.”
Reluctantly I agreed, hurrying back up the trail and then balancing the buckets as best I could, but still water sloshed over the side onto my right shoe, turning the dust to mud. I poured half the water out of each and then hurried on down the path.
When I reached my booth, Nell said I’d missed a customer. “She said she’d come back,” Nell said, settling back down into her chair and taking up a potholder she’d been quilting.
I had a spurt of sales, mostly snapdragons and herbs, but a few peonies too. They were my favorite. I turned toward the slope to the field, searching for Mervin. He was descending slowly, holding two more buckets out at arms’ length. Behind him walked my mother.
A movement on the lawn pulled my attention upward. Beatrice was back at the clothesline taking off the wash after all, folding it into the basket she had left behind. It was useless for me to plead a second time.
“Molly,” Nell said, pulling me away from spying on my sister, “I’m going to take a walk. Would you keep an eye on my things?”
I assured her I would. She stretched her plump arms and then wandered over to Joseph Koller’s booth, picking up a wooden buggy as if she might be interested in buying it. She must have complimented his work, because above his long gray beard his cheeks grew pink.
Joseph had been a widower for several years and had seemed interested in courting younger women. Nell was, at least, within a decade of him in age. I didn’t want to start any rumors, but I thought the two were sweet on each other. Nell deserved some happiness after devoting her life to Addie’s family, the Cramers, for years.
Focusing back on my herbs, I combined them into one container by the time Mervin and Mamm reached me. After Mervin lowered the new buckets, I gave him the empty ones.
But then Mamm said, “Mervin, watch the booth for a few minutes.” Then to me she said, “Come walk with me.”
“Now? Are you feeling all right?”
“There’s nothing wrong,” Mamm said. “I just want to have a chat with you.”
I followed Mamm to the end of the field, to where the creek ran between our property and the Mosiers’. The way she clipped along, I began to believe there was nothing wrong with her. Across the fence Mervin’s twin, Martin, who also wore aviator sunglasses, was dragging their pasture. He waved. I returned the gesture. Mamm smiled. She’d always been fond of the Mosier twins.
When we reached the fence, Mamm turned right and started walking the property line up the hill. “This was your Dat’s land, and his father’s, and his grandfather’s,” she said. “More than anything I want to keep it for you and Beatrice. If it’s not God’s will, I’ll accept that, but I plan to do everything I possibly can first.”
I nodded. I felt the same way.
“I don’t want what happened to Edna to happen to us,” Mamm said.
I couldn’t agree more. After the accident, Frank had been in the hospital for three months. Edna finally sold their farm—to Ivan. He kept it for a few months and then ended up selling it at a profit. Thankfully Edna had enough money, after paying the bills the church couldn’t cover, to rent a little house in Paradise. She didn’t keep a horse and buggy—she got rides to church from others in her district and hired a driver when needed. She seemed resigned to her lot. I couldn’t comprehend Ivan buying her place and so quickly selling it for his own profit, but Edna never seemed to hold it against him. And Dat made it clear it wasn’t any of my business.
Still I understood what Mamm meant. I didn’t want us to have to live on someone else’s property. Or even on our own place but someplace new, say in a house in town. I wanted to live on our farm. True, Mamm hadn’t lived here much longer than I, but it was the only home she had left. Her parents had passed away years ago, as had most of her siblings. She had no desire to return to Ohio. She loved our land nearly as much as I did.
We continued on in silence. She must have wanted someone to walk the property line with her, as if to gain courage for the challenge ahead. But by the time we neared the top of the hill, she was struggling.
Finally she slowed and, putting her hand to her chest, said, “I don’t know when I got so out of shape.”
“It’s a steep climb,” I said. “Plus it’s getting hot.”
Ahead was the flower field, where Beatrice was now working. Mamm stopped and leaned against a fence post.
“Maybe we should go over to the shade,” I said.
“This is a fine place,” she said. “No one can hear.”
“You need a glass of water,” I said. “We should go to the house.”
She shook her head. “We need to talk about our farm.” She squinted at me. “The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of you marrying Mervin.”
I stepped backward, bumping against the top rail of the fence. “Mamm.” I’d thought she was done with that nonsense.
“Now hear me out. There’s no reason for you to wait to get married as long as I did.” She’d been forty. And I agreed with her. I planned to marry within the next couple of years, God willing.
The truth was, I’d expected to be married by now. I’d always had lots of boys for friends, from my school days on. And I knew Amish young men from all over—as far away as Indiana. I’d had a few interested in me from other places, but I didn’t want to leave Lancaster County.
“You’ve known Mervin your whole life,” Mamm said. “He’s good and kind, to Beatrice and me too. He’d make a good husband. And he likes this business—I’m sure he’d expand it over to his farm too.”
I knew his parents hoped to retire soon.
Mamm smiled, her eyes lighting up. “And he’s smitten with you.”
My face grew warm. “But I don’t love him.”
“That will come.” Mamm took a deep breath and then exhaled slowly. “I’ve never told anyone this. Not even your father. But I didn’t love him when I married him.”
She put her finger to her lips. “Don’t tell a soul, but it’s true. I liked him, jah, and I knew he was a good man, so it wasn’t as if I took a risk. But I didn’t know him well enough to love him.”
I shook my head. “How could you marry someone you didn’t love?”
“I wanted children,” she said. “I knew I wouldn’t likely have another chance.”
I crossed my arms. “I don’t believe you didn’t love Dat.”
“That’s because I came to love him.” Tears filled her eyes. “More deeply than I ever dreamed.”
“And you think that would happen with Mervin and me?”
“But I’m not sure Hannah doesn’t still care for him. I’d never do that to her.”
“Ask her,” Mamm said. “Mervin said he hasn’t seen her in weeks. Perhaps she’s courting someone else already.”
I pursed my lips together. I doubted that. Maybe she wouldn’t mention she’d stopped seeing Mervin, but I certainly hoped she’d let me know if she’d started courting someone new. My stomach sank. I’d neglected her these last couple of months—and all my other friends, except for Mervin.
A concerned expression settled on Mamm’s face. “I’m afraid maybe you’ve gotten false ideas from all your running around—expecting lightning to strike with the appearance of some sort of Mr. Right. The truth is you could probably make a future with any of the men you already know, as long as he loves the Lord.”
I wasn’t sure if that was true. “Well, I’m not a Maidel . . . yet,” I said, trying to make light of the moment.
There was no doubt I’d make a good wife and mother. There wasn’t a Youngie woman in all of Lancaster County who worked harder than I did or who was more organized. Plus I had a head for business. And I could manage a home just fine too, if I put my mind to it.
Mamm turned toward the Mosier farm. It wasn’t like her to meddle. Usually she was as mild as a barn mouse. “More than anything, I want to know that you and Beatrice are cared for. I hope Ivan would help out someday, if needed . . .”
“I’m sure he would,” I said. “And I know Edna would help.”
“Her resources are limited. . . .” She turned back toward me, her expression weary. “Think about it,” she said. “And pray.”
I nodded, swallowing hard as I did.
“I’m going to go get that drink of water.”
Mamm started toward the house but then turned back around, slowly, her eyes as serious as I’d ever seen them. “I’ve been debating whether to tell you this or not. . . . Don’t tell Beatrice . . . but Ivan did a preliminary run-through of our books and said they’re as red as”—she glanced down to the market below—“those geraniums we’re trying to sell.”
Now I struggled for breath. “Ivan knows books, right? Not business. We should get some help to turn things around. Right away—and not just from Mervin,” I said. “How about Bob Miller?” He was my friend Cate’s father and one of the most successful businessmen in the area.
“Good idea,” Mamm said. “And in the meantime, think about Mervin.” She turned back toward the house again, calling over her shoulder, “Tell Mervin to spend the rest of the day helping you with the market. Try to sell all you can. . . .” Her voice trailed off as she shuffled along. Love waited for her on the edge of the lawn.
I watched my Mamm, my breathing ragged. I never would have imagined her pressuring me to marry.
Nor that we might lose our farm.
I half listened as Nell told me about the quilt she was making, watching as Mervin stood along the highway, waving a bunch of flowers to attract business. It really wasn’t our way, but Mervin could pull it off with his sunglasses and goofy grin. He was a people person, like me.
And unlike Bea. She wasn’t shy one-on-one, but she definitely didn’t like crowds. Nor did she like the market. “All those strangers,” she’d say, “tramping around our property.”
I saw the activity as money to pay the bills. She saw it as an intrusion.
If we couldn’t save the farm, what would happen to Bea? And where would I host my farmers’ market? And where would Mamm live out the rest of her life?
Sweat trickled down the back of my knees. Mervin enjoyed the work of raising flowers, trees, and shrubs, plus he really was good at selling.
I pulled the white cloth of my apron up to my face, blocking the sun for a moment, dabbing at my forehead, as Nell prattled on about the shadow design she’d modified for the quilt she’d just started. When I put my apron down, an Englisch couple with three young children, all boys, approached our booth. The youngest one, around three, began to cry, and the father scooped him up, jostling him around. The boy smiled for a moment but then began to fuss again.
“Have you seen the handmade toys?” I asked the father as his wife looked at Nell’s potholders. “Right over there?” I pointed to Joseph Koller’s booth. The two older boys tore across the aisle at the wordtoys.
The father turned.
The youngest son pointed at the booth and squealed. The father headed that way, and the mother let out a sigh of relief and then bought a pot of geraniums.
As she turned to leave, Mervin headed back toward me, his hands empty, except for the money in his fist.
“Denki,” I said, as he came near, his hand extended. I took the money. “You should go eat.”
Mervin smiled broadly. “After you. I’ll stay here with Nell.”
Her eyes lit up.
“You can tell me the latest,” he said to her.
“Well, well, well,” she said, standing. “You won’t be sorry. I’ll leave you in anticipation for a bit though. Be back in a minute.”
A mock expression of surprise passed over Mervin’s face, but then he smiled as Nell headed over to Joseph’s booth.
In that moment, marrying Mervin didn’t seem like such a sacrifice to me. After all, he was probably on my list of the top five men I could marry—now way above Phillip Eicher, but still below the man I hoped was still out there, that I had yet to meet. The one who, as Mamm would say, would arrive like a bolt of lightning. How’d she know that’s what I’d set my sights on once things had fallen through with Phillip?
Jah, Mervin was right up there. I knew I could do a whole lot worse.
Mervin tilted his head. “What are you thinking?”
Actually, Mervin might be at the top of the list. If Mervin was interested in me, who was I to say I couldn’t be interested in him?
“Molly?” Mervin stepped closer to me, taking his sunglasses off. His hazel eyes shone bright and clear.
I grabbed for his glasses, thinking I’d wear them for a while.
He laughed and ducked away, but I still got a hold of them—probably because he let me. Mervin grinned and his eyes danced, but then, in a split second, they fell flat, as if he’d been reprimanded.
I slipped the glasses onto my face anyway, hoping to make him laugh again. “What do you think?”
From behind me a voice—Hannah’s to be exact—said, “Not your style.”
I spun around. Hannah stood with her hands on her hips. I removed the glasses and handed them back to Mervin. He positioned them on his face and stepped away, over to Joseph’s booth.
“Hi,” I said to Hannah, hoping my voice conveyed how happy I was to see her.
“I thought you were in mourning,” she said, a note of sympathy—and concern—in her voice, but also a hint of disapproval.
I nodded. I definitely still was.
“It didn’t look like it.”
“We were joking around,” I said, taking a deep breath. It seemed Hannah still liked Mervin. How foolish I’d been to think otherwise.
“I was going to call . . . but decided to come by instead.”
“I’m glad you did,” I said. “I’ve been missing you.”
She smiled then, clearly pleased. We were opposites in several ways. I was fair with blue eyes. She had dark hair and brown eyes. I had a pale, heart-shaped face. She had an amazing olive complexion and dimples. I was thin. She had curves. I was the optimist. She could be a little pessimistic, at times. I wasresponsible. She was lackadaisical.
“We have so much to talk about,” she said.
“Jah . . .” I agreed, expecting her to say something about Mervin.
But she said, “Like the camping trip.”
We had talked about a trip—it wasn’t unusual for a group of Youngie to go camping for a few days. In fact I’d suggested it after church a few weeks ago, thinking it might take my mind off my Dat, but I hadn’t given it much thought since then, except to mention it to Mamm, in passing. In her usual supportive way, she’d agreed it was a good idea, as long as I took Beatrice along.
But Hannah and I hadn’t talked about who else would go.
“Jah,” I said again. “Let’s talk about it soon.”
“Like this evening? Can you spend the night?”
“Maybe.” I couldn’t ignore my feeling of apprehension though. I shouldn’t be going anywhere—not even to Hannah’s—if Mamm was ill.
A hurt expression—one I knew too well—passed over Hannah’s face.
I whispered, “Mamm hasn’t been well.”
Hannah pointed behind me. “She looks fine.”
I spun around again. Mamm was standing with a small bucket of rosemary in her hand. “Go,” she said. “I’m fine. And Edna will be here tonight.”
I took the bucket from her.
She glanced toward Mervin. He must have said something funny because Nell and Joseph were laughing.
“Go to Hannah’s,” Mamm said. “It will give you two a chance to talk.”
“I should stay,” I said.
“No. It’s good timing,” she answered.
There was no church service the next day. We used to visit friends and relatives in other districts on our off Sundays, but we hadn’t since Dat died. Mamm turned to Hannah. “She’ll be over before supper.”
“I’ll see you then,” I said.
I expected her to seek out Mervin next, but she didn’t. Instead she started toward Addie and Jonathan’s booth.
Mamm headed back to the house, and Mervin joined me again, taking the rest of the snapdragons to try to sell along the road. And then, a few minutes later, Hannah headed toward her buggy without talking to Mervin at all.
We closed the market at four. Mervin stayed and helped me—picking up trash, putting away our tarp and tables, carrying our buckets back up to the barn, and helping vendors carry their unsold wares to their buggies. I appreciated how I hardly had to boss Mervin around at all. He seemed to know what needed to be done and took the initiative to do it.
As I interacted with each individual, I asked how he or she’d done that day. Jonathan and Addie did the best—but his hope chests and fireplace mantels were high-end, and each one sold for more than all of my herbs, flowers, and plants put together.
Nell did well too, and so did Joseph. Everyone, except Jonathan and Addie, said they’d see me next Saturday as they paid their rental fee for the market. By the time Mervin and I hauled everything up to the greenhouse, I was sticky from the heat. Mamm soon joined us.
“Go ahead and get cleaned up,” she said to me. “And be on your way to Hannah’s. She’ll be expecting you. Mervin and I can finish up.”
After I handed Mamm the money I’d taken in, and then turned to leave the greenhouse, Mervin followed me. “There’s a party tonight,” he said. “At Timothy’s. Are you two going?”
“Probably not,” I answered. “Hannah didn’t mention it.” The last thing I wanted to do was go to a party with Hannah—if she was still interested in Mervin. She could be fickle—and moody. She was definitely better than she’d been a couple of years ago when she ended up spending a few nights in a clinic and then got some much-needed counseling. Still, she had her moments. Perhaps she’d been unsure about her interest in Mervin, but she seemed focused on him today at the market.
I cleaned up quickly and hitched our gentle horse, Daisy, to the buggy. Mervin waved, with Love at his side, as I started down our lane toward the highway. I waved back, hoping I appeared enthusiastic. I really did need to speak to Hannah, even though I dreaded it.
As Daisy trotted along the pavement at a reasonable speed, my staccato thoughts matched the pounding of her hooves. Hannah didn’t have to worry about saving her family farm. Many years ago the Lapps had turned an old dairy into a successful equestrian business. The family boarded, raised, and trained horses. Their seventy acres included a system of corrals, a huge barn, pastures, and a wooded area.
They’d stayed humble, but it was obvious they had more income than most, especially my family. Their house was fairly new. Hannah had her own buggy and horse, plus a Thoroughbred of her own. She’d been riding since she was five and was good at it. It wasn’t the norm for an Amish girl to ride horses, but it wasn’t totally unheard of either.
At their sign for Paradise Stables, I turned down the poplar-lined lane. Through the trees, in the first pasture, three knobby-kneed colts frolicked close to their mothers. One, with a star on his forehead, stopped and watched me pass by. It was cute, I had to admit, but I’d never been horse crazy like some girls.
Next was the first corral. A man had a palomino on a long lead, running it in a circle around him. The figure was too lanky to be Hannah’s Dat.
An early evening breeze danced through the tops of the poplars. I leaned toward the side of the buggy, hoping to get a better view through the trees. The man didn’t have a beard, and he wore a funny hat and jeans, but his suspenders and shirt were definitely Amish.
I slowed the buggy.
He called out to the horse, which trotted to the middle of the ring. Then the man looked up, straight at me.
Embarrassed, I urged Daisy on again, stealing one more glance at the stranger. He stared at me but didn’t wave. I hurried on.
Hannah met me at the barn to help me unhitch Daisy.
“Who is that?” I asked, nodding my head in the direction of the stranger.
Hannah gave me a puzzled look.
“Training the horse. In the first corral.”
“Oh, him.” Hannah patted Daisy’s neck. “Some new guy Dat hired.”
“Is he as handsome up close as from a distance?”
Hannah shrugged. “I haven’t met him yet. He just arrived today.”
“Where’s he from?”
“Montana?” I knew there were Amish settlements out that way, but I’d never met anyone from there. “What’s his name?”
“Leon,” Hannah answered, tilting her head. “I don’t think Dat told me his last name.”
“How did he end up out here?”
“Dat put an advertisement for an experienced trainer in The Connection. Leon responded, so Dat’s giving him a try.”
“Don’t they train horses differently in Montana than here?” After all, it was the Wild West. I imagined Indian ponies, not Thoroughbreds or quarter horses.
Hannah laughed. “I’m sure it’s pretty much the same. His father grew up in Lancaster County and used to train horses. He probably taught Leon.”
She led Daisy to their red barn and into one of the many stalls. Our barn was big, but the Lapps’ was humongous. We used to play in it as girls, setting up whole settlements with our dolls, and then playing house with Hannah’s little sisters when we were older.
“I’ll get the brush,” I said, heading toward the tack room. It had been one of our favorite places to play when we were young.
I opened the door, breathing in the scent of leather and soap and oil. Dozens of saddles rested on wall trees, and a few more were slung over the half wall that separated the room from a storage area. Bridles, harnesses, collars, and ropes hung from pegs. I grabbed a brush from the lower shelf and then turned toward the storage room, where we used to set up our pretend house.
“Don’t go in there,” Hannah said from the doorway.
“That’s where Leon is staying.”
“In the storage room?”
She nodded. “It was his idea. I think he thought it improper to stay in the house with all of us girls.” She giggled. “At least that’s what I guessed from what my Dat said. Doesn’t that seem a little backward? Like something a country hick would think.”
I wasn’t sure. I stood on my tiptoes, looking over the half wall. In the dim light I made out a cot with a sleeping bag and a table with a Bible, some sort of other leather book with a pencil box beside it, and a lantern.
“Come on,” Hannah said, nodding to the brush in my hand. I followed her back to Daisy’s stall and sat on the railing while Hannah took care of the horse.
“There’s a party tonight,” she said.
“So I heard.”
Hannah slipped to the other side of Daisy. The horse was in hog heaven. “Timothy left a message saying he’d give us a ride.”
Timothy was Hannah’s cousin, and also Addie’s brother. He was a bit on the wild side.
“Mervin said he was going.” I stepped to where I could see Hannah’s reaction.
Her face brightened as she brushed Daisy’s flank. “I was hoping he would be.”
“So, you are still interested in him.”
“Jah, of course.” Her voice faltered. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You didn’t talk to him today.”
“He’s been distant. So I’ve been playing hard to get.”
“Oh,” I said, my heart twisting inside my chest. “We hadn’t talked about it for a while. I wasn’t sure . . .”
“Well, you haven’t been very available,” she said, bending down as she massaged Daisy’s leg, and then added, “for good reason.”
Then she gasped and her head popped back up, the brush in midair, a look of horror on her face. “Why do you ask? Is Mervin courting someone else?”
“No,” I answered. “At least I don’t think so.” My face grew warm. I could only hope I wasn’t blushing and giving myself away. “We should go help with supper,” I said quickly.
“Jah, Mammi Gladys has been a handful lately.” That was Hannah’s grandmother. “Mamm’s been overwhelmed with her since Tinker was born.” Tinker was the nickname the girls called their little brother—the first boy after seven girls—claiming he wanted to tinker with everything. At a year and a half, he was into everything. He was named Owen after his Dat, but Tinker seemed to work well for him.
I took the brush from Hannah and returned it to the tack room, glancing again toward Leon’s sleeping quarters. I’d read about bunkhouses in the West. Perhaps that was what he’d had in mind. Thinking of him made me think of Pete, my friend Cate’s husband. Because of my contacts with Youngie in Ohio, he’d stayed with us and slept in our barn when he first came to Lancaster County. But then he’d married Cate, and after a short time in New York, where he was from, he and Cate moved into her Dat’s house.
I doubted Leon would marry anyone from Lancaster. If he did, the woman would have to give up her family and move to Montana. I shuddered. Who would want to do that? Surely, he was just here for a short time, probably to learn what he could from Owen. It was a pity he was so handsome yet so unavailable.
“Come on,” Hannah called out from the barn door.
I grabbed my overnight bag from the buggy, and we headed toward the house. “You seem quiet,” Hannah said. “Is something wrong? You know, besides . . .”
“Not really,” I said. “Except . . .” I took a deep breath. “Mamm had some kind of spell yesterday. Ivan and I took her to the doctor. She needs to have another test.” Before Hannah could respond, I said, “Plus she’s worried about the farm—about the finances.” I couldn’t say any more than that.
“Oh,” Hannah answered. “Well, you’re certainly doing what you can. With the market and all.”
“Jah,” I answered, suddenly feeling weepy. I’d never cried in front of Hannah, not even when I’d broken my arm when we were girls. I swallowed hard.
“It will all work out. You’ll see,” Hannah said. “Your Mamm’s smart.”
I nodded. “Jah, I know,” I answered, biting my tongue from revealing her only plan so far was for me to marry Mervin. And that I could actually see her point—if it weren’t for Hannah.
“We don’t have to go out tonight,” Hannah said. “I can see Mervin some other time.”
“Denki,” I said, relieved.
No matter how compatible Mamm thought Mervin and I might be, I couldn’t do that to Hannah, not even to save our farm. I’d tell Mamm as soon as I got home.
I’d been friends with Hannah since she started school, when I was in my second year. I wasn’t going to throw that away for Mervin or for my Mamm and . . . I stopped.
But what if it meant we would lose the farm?
We walked in silence for a few minutes, me fretting about my dilemma, Hannah most likely fretting about Mervin. Finally she said, “Let’s talk about the camping trip.”
“We should go help with dinner,” I said.
“We can clean up—since we’re not going out.” She stopped at the edge of the grove. “Whom shall we invite?”
I didn’t want to invite anyone. I didn’t want to go.
“We’ll need chaperones,” she said. “What about Bob Miller and Nan?”
“They’re getting married in a few weeks.”
“What about Cate and Pete?”
“They’ll be helping get ready for the wedding.”
Her voice grew tense. “Addie and Jonathan?”
“It’s his busiest time of the year.”
She stopped. “Then let’s talk about whom to invite. Mervin, of course,” she said.
“I don’t know if he can get the time off work.”
Her eyes grew wide. “Honestly, Molly. It doesn’t sound as if you want us to go.”
“I’m just trying to be realistic.”
“But it’s not like you to be pessimistic.”
A dog barked in the distance. “I’m not,” I said. “Just practical.” The dog barked again, this time louder.
Hannah narrowed her eyes and shook her head, but then her gaze moved past me, to something in the distance. I registered the beat of hooves behind me. Then the frightened snort of a horse.
Hannah stepped backward. I froze.
A deep voice yelled, “Watch out!”
I stepped toward Hannah and turned at the same time, just as the palomino horse and Leon, I was sure, whizzed by.
He pulled up on the reins and then jerked them to the side.
I gasped and, trying to cover my fear, said to Hannah, “I’m okay.”
She put her arm around me, probably trying to swallow her laughter.
Leon turned the horse around and came back toward us at a pace too fast for my liking. “Sorry,” he called out.
“It’s all right,” I said, trying my best to smile. “It’s a horse farm, after all.”
His hat, which mostly covered his dark hair, looked like something a country western singer would wear. Underneath the brim, his big eyes—the color of forget-me-nots—shone as he dismounted quickly, holding on to the reins. He towered over me—he was well over six feet, probably by a couple of inches. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “Are you Hannah?”
My friend laughed behind me. “No, I am.”
He extended his hand. “Nice to meet you.” He sounded hesitant. I couldn’t imagine anyone so handsome being shy, but perhaps he was. “You’re the horsewoman?” he asked as he let go of her hand.
“Jah,” Hannah said, “I like to ride.”
Next he turned to me and extended his hand again. “I’m Leon Fisher.” He smiled quickly, his white teeth a contrast to his tanned face.
“I’m Molly Zook. Hannah’s friend.”
He shook my hand. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Molly.”
I couldn’t help but smile. No one had ever called me that before.
“I am awfully sorry I scared you.” He let go of my hand. “Lightning’s a great horse, just not around dogs, it seems.” He pulled the mare closer. She snorted and sidestepped. “Want to pet her?”
I shook my head.
“If you don’t, she might associate you with her fear,” he said. I was pretty sure he’d made that up, on the spot.
“Molly had a bad experience with a horse when we were girls,” Hannah chimed in.
I took a deep breath, wondering why Hannah felt the need to be so forthright about my failing. It was something I tried to keep quiet.
“All the more reason to make up to one now,” he said. This time he grinned, his eyes dancing. Perhaps he was shy, but he also had a bit of spark to him. I liked that.
I stepped toward him and the horse, putting my hand on Lightning’s neck. The horse started to shy away, but Leon pulled on the bridle firmly, pulling her head down.
I stroked the palomino, feeling her muscles tighten under the weight of my hand, wanting to say, Nice horsey, but stopping myself from going that far. I didn’t think she liked me any more than I liked her.
“See, she’s not so bad,” Leon said.
I looked up into his blue eyes. He grinned again. My knees weakened. Why did he have to be from Montana?
But then he nodded toward Hannah and grinned at her. “I was introduced to your horse earlier. He’s a beauty.”
Hannah smiled back, and I’d braced myself for a conversation about horses when the screen door to the porch banged.
“Hannah!” her Mamm, Pauline, yelled. “Do you want to finish up supper or get Mammi?”
“Supper!” Hannah responded.
Pauline started down the back steps. “Oh, Molly! You’re here. Gut! The potatoes need to be mashed, the table set, and the roast carved. The girls are in the kitchen. Just tell them what to do.”
Tinker let out a cry and Pauline hurried back up the steps.
I grabbed Hannah’s arm and called out to Leon, “See you soon.” I guessed he was eating with us—it’s not like there was a kitchen out in the tack room.
“Sounds like I’d better get Lightning in the barn,” Leon said, “or I’ll be late.” He tipped his hat at Hannah and then to me, pulled Lightning around, and then somehow managed—did he leap?—to land himself on the horse’s back in one graceful motion. I watched until he reached the barn, my heart galloping along with him, until Hannah nudged me.
“Oh.” I giggled. “Was I staring?”
“I don’t know what at,” she said.
“You’re kidding, right?” I looked my friend in the eyes.
She nodded, a slight smile on her face.
“What do you mean? He’s tall, dark, and handsome. And those eyes—I’ve never seen anything like them.” I wasn’t going to admit he’d actually made me weak-kneed. A little breathless, I inhaled deeply.
“Ach,” Hannah said. “He’s all right, but nothing like the boys around here.