Titus Fisher liked horses, dogs, and shoofly pie. What he didn't like was a cat that scratched, and a woman he couldn't trust. Today he'd dealt with both.
Gritting his teeth, he grabbed his horse's bridle and led him into the barn, wishing he hadn't gotten out of bed that morning. The day had started on a sour note when Titus had come to the barn to feed the horses and accidentally stepped on one of Mom's cats. Five of the irksome critters lived in the barn, and every one of them liked to bite and scratch. Whiskers, the smallest of the five, was the most aggressive. The crazy cat had been so miffed when Titus stepped on her tail that she'd clawed her way right up his leg, hissing and yowling as she went. When Titus had tried to push Whiskers off, she'd let him have it --- leaving a nasty scratch on his leg.
Titus pulled up his pant leg and stared at the wound, still red and swollen. It reminded him of the time when he and his twin brother, Timothy, were six years old and had found a wild cat in the woodpile behind their barn. The mangy critter had bitten Titus's hand, and when the bite became infected, he'd started running a fever. Mom had taken him to the doctor's, where he'd been given a tetanus shot and an antibiotic. Ever since then, he'd had an aversion to cats.
"In my opinion, except for catching mice, cats are pretty much worthless," Titus mumbled as he guided his horse into one of the stalls. When he patted the horse's ebony-colored flanks, the gelding whinnied and flipped his head around to nuzzle Titus's hand. "Not like you, Lightning. You're worth every dollar I paid for you. You're dependable and trustworthy." He grimaced. "Wish I could say the same for Phoebe Stoltzfus." Titus poured some oats into a bucket, and as his horse ate, he replayed the conversation he'd had with Phoebe on his way home from work that afternoon. . . .
"I'm not ready to join the church yet, and I'm too young to get married." Phoebe flipped the strings of her head covering over her shoulders and blinked her blue eyes. "Why do you have to put so much pressure on me, Titus?"
"I–I'm not," he stammered, "but I've been waiting a long time for you, and I'd thought that when I joined the church two years ago, you'd join, too."
"I wasn't ready then. I was only sixteen and had other things on my mind."
"How well I know that. You were too busy runnin' around with your friends and tryin' out all sorts of worldly things." Titus groaned. "Figured you'd have all that out of your system by now and would be ready to settle down."
She shook her head. "Maybe in a few years I'll be ready."
"You said that two years ago."
"Things have changed." She placed her hand gently on his arm. "My friend Darlene Mast is planning a trip to Los Angeles, and she's leaving in a few days, so ---" He held up his hand. "Please don't tell me you want to go with her."
"I think it would be fun, and I've always wanted to see the Pacific Ocean." She looked up at him and smiled.
"You're full of adventure and like to try new things. Wouldn't you like to see California?"
He shrugged. "Maybe someday, but not right now.
What I want is for you to join the church this fall so we can get married." She shook her head. "I just told you --- I'm not ready for that."
"Will you ever be ready?"
"I don't know." She pushed a wisp of soft, auburn hair under her white organdy head covering and turned her gaze away from him. "I --- I might not join the church. I might decide to go English."
"Are you kidding?"
"No, I'm not. I don't know if I want to be Amish."
Titus's jaw tightened as the reality of the situation set in. If Phoebe went to California, she might never come back. If she didn't join the church, they couldn't get married. Titus had been in love with Phoebe since he was seventeen years old, but she'd been four years younger than him, and their parents had disapproved. He'd waited patiently until Phoebe turned sixteen. Even then, his folks had been opposed to him courting her because she seemed so unsettled and ran with a wild bunch of kids.
Now Titus, at the age of twenty-two, still wasn't sure he and Phoebe would ever get married. If she did go English, the only way they could marry would be if he broke his vow to the Amish church, which he did not want to do.
"Can we talk about this later?" he asked. "After you've had a chance to think about this some more?"
"There's nothing to think about. I'm going to California." She tipped her head and stared up at him. "If you don't want to come, then I guess it's over between us."
"You can't do this, Phoebe. Are you just going to give up on us like this?"
"Don't you love me anymore?"
"I --- I'm not sure. Maybe we're not meant to be together." Titus flinched. He felt like he'd been kicked in the stomach by one of his dad's stubborn mules. He had a sinking feeling that once Phoebe left home she'd never come back. All his years of waiting for her had been for nothing.
Titus's horse whinnied and nudged his hand, pulling his thoughts back to the present.
"Stop it, Lightning. I'm not in the mood." Titus kicked at a bale of straw and winced when Lightning whipped his head
around and bumped his sore leg. Lightning whinnied again and stomped his hoof. Then he moved to the other end of his stall and turned his backside toward Titus.
"It's all right, boy. I'm not mad at you." Titus stepped up to the horse and reached out his hand. "I'm upset with Phoebe, that's all."
As though accepting his apology, Lightning nuzzled Titus's neck.
Horses and dogs --- that's about all that ever held my interest until Phoebe came along, Titus thought. If there was only some way to get her out of my system. If I could just tell myself that I don't care anymore.
Excerpted from THE JOURNEY: Kentucky Brothers, Book 1 © Copyright 2011 by Wanda E. Brunstetter. Reprinted with permission by Barbour Books. All rights reserved.