I leaned back and stared at the evolving lightshow before me, letting my mind wander as I watched beachcombers and shell collectors. Certainly I hadn’t meant to be rude, ignoring Malinda’s request.
Yet, dare I accept?
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a tall Amish fellow walking barefoot in the foamy surf, snapping pictures of the sunset every few seconds. A curious sight, to be sure! His black pant legs were rolled up, and he was minus his straw hat. His light brown hair fell below his ears, longer than that of the young men in the Hickory Hollow church district back home. I could scarcely pry my gaze from him.
“What’s he doin’ here?” I whispered, observing his amble through the gentle breakers, his handsome face aglow with a rosy cast.
Then, surprisingly, he glanced over at me.
“Hullo there.” He smiled in the fading golden light.
I almost looked around to make sure his greeting was meant for me. “Hullo,” I managed to reply, quickly closing my notebook.
As the sun dipped into the ocean, forming a half sphere, he moved away from the water and walked right toward me. “Mind if I join ya?”
“Nee, not at all.”
He sat down beside me, pointing to the blazing sun on the water. “Just seconds to go now,” he said.
“Jah, awful perty.” I felt too shy to say more.
We sat, not speaking, amidst the smell of popcorn and sea air while beams of red, pink, and gold sprayed the sky. And then, just that quick, the sun dropped completely out of sight. My heart pounded in my ears.
“No wonder people thought the earth was flat, back before Columbus,” he said quietly.
I nodded. “Sure looks that way from here.”
“Ever see anything like this?”
“My first ocean sunset,” I admitted.
He turned slowly, unexpectedly. “I’m Eben Troyer, from Indiana.” His smile was disarming.
When the young men made their way to the opposite side of the table, Rose would have been blind not to notice blond Hank Zook and dark-haired Ezra Lapp looking her way. Good friends since childhood, Hank and Ezra both sat across the table from Rose and her cousins. Younger though they were, Rose suspected both boys might be feeling a little sorry for her. She’d noticed in the past that Ezra especially was quick to befriend any girl who appeared not to have a ride.
Then and there, she decided that no matter what Ezra said or how pleasantly he smiled at her, she would not go riding with him tonight. Appealing as it might be to accept an invitation from a potential beau rather than walk home through the brittle snow and ice, Rose wouldn’t allow herself to be the object of pity.
Sure enough, when the hour had grown quite late, Ezra did seek her out, and Rose politely declined. She was more surprised when Hank asked her, as well, so much so that she agreed to go with him as the other fellows and girls paired up and left the barn. Silently, she fell into step with Hank, wondering if, lonely though she was, she was doing the right thing as they walked to his waiting carriage.
“Mighty cold tonight, ain’t?” Hank offered to help her into his open buggy.
She nodded, hoping he’d brought along plenty of woolen lap robes. Like Silas always did. . . .
Once they were settled inside, she realized it was snowing again. A blessing, she thought. Like all farmers, her father had taught her to accept the weather with gratitude no matter what the Good Lord sent their way. She was glad, however, for the extra layers of clothes she’d worn beneath her coat and dress, and thankful for her outer bonnet, which shielded her face from the heavy flakes that were coming fast now.
“Hope ya didn’t think I was too vorwitzich—bold—comin’ over and talking to you, Rose Ann.”
“Thought nothin’ of it.”
Hank exhaled, clearly relieved. “I won’t keep you out too long, since it’s so chilly.”
She thanked him. Of course, had it been Nick, he would’ve simply bundled her up. But she caught herself. She’d never gone courting with Nick. Why was she thinking of him?
But as Hank continued to talk, Rose’s mind kept wandering back to the days when she and Nick were best friends. Even though he’d been a troublemaker from day one—or so the People said—he had been her truest companion. Just then she wondered what Hank might think if he knew what she’d written in her secret letter to Nick. Consorting with such a fellow. Some even suspected him of murder.
Tomorrow holds nary a promise, my dear Mamm often says. But thankfully some things are quite certain—we plow, we plant and harvest. We attend canning bees and quilting frolics. Our wedding season always begins on the first Tuesday in November. And this year there are many couples marrying and looking ahead to starting their own families.
My own first cousin Esther Kauffman will wed John Glick, her longtime beau, tomorrow morning. My pretty plum-colored dress and white full apron are hemmed and pressed, ready to slip on right after breakfast.
I should be smiling-happy since I’m one of Esther’s wedding attendants. But I must confess to getting a bit tetchy with Esther last evening when she dropped by. She reminded me that her older brother Melvin and I are expected to spend most of the day together, since he’s the fellow opposite me in the wedding party. This includes sitting with him at the Eck, the corner of the feast table reserved for the bride and groom and the four attendants. So, even though I’ll be within flirting distance of Silas Good, I won’t get to enjoy the day-long celebration with my betrothed, including the evening meal.
My first thoughts each day are of Silas. His sensible ways and his family’s standing amongst the People make me feel so fortunate. Oh, that wonderful-gut smile when he looks my way! But no matter how happy I am to be engaged to the most eligible young man in Lancaster County, I must admit there are times when I still think of my friend Nick Franco, the bishop’s former foster son. Gone more than a month now.
I must’ve known a real different Nick than anyone else did. Almost everyone assumes he’s a bad seed—most even believe he caused the death of the bishop’s only son. But when Nick and I were together, I saw his softer side. That’s the part that gnaws at me in the most curious way these days.
Truth is, I ponder where Nick might’ve run off to…and I wonder if he ever misses Amish life. Or me, his best friend.
After all these weeks since his disappearance, I haven’t told a soul this—not even my older sister, Hannah, known by most as Hen. But the unusual bond Nick and I shared as youngsters somehow managed to get far deeper into my heart than I realized. I continue to beseech the Lord for poor Nick, praying that God might see fit to forgive him for his years of rebellion.
I pray for my only sister, too. Sadly, Hen’s coffee meetings with her estranged, worldly husband have turned out to be all but fruitless. And when she’s not working at the Amish fabric store, or here at home cooking and whatnot, she has a faraway look in her light hazel eyes, as if caught betwixt and between. I daresay she misses her husband more as the days pass. Misses him…even though there are many things that keep them apart. I am hard-pressed to imagine a solution to their dilemma.
At times I wonder what might’ve happened if I’d gone with Mamm that damp, hazy morning eleven years ago. She was so tired—she’d said it herself—preparing for market day. Such a bleak expression dulled her sweet face as she trudged out to the waiting horse and the enclosed gray carriage filled with gourds and squash and other garden vegetables. A shudder rippled through me as I watched her step into the buggy, carrying the rectangular money tin for making change at market. Was I somehow sensing what was just ahead? She set the tin box on the front seat next to her and picked up the reins as I stood on the back steps. Then she gave a faint wave and our eyes locked momentarily. In that burning second, I felt the urge to run out to the buggy and stop her, or at least offer to join her, as though my presence alone might keep Providence from having its way. But before I could do so, Mamm clicked her tongue for Upsy-Daisy to move ahead, and the young mare trotted off by way of Salem Road, where our farm adjoins the bishop’s own. Then over one road and down . . . down the precarious Bridle Path Lane that rims the rocky ravine, our shortcut to the main roads leading to Quarryville. Even now, as a young woman of twenty, I think back to that miserable, dark hour and tremble, wishing I’d heeded the alarm clanging in my brain. Yet there I stood, watching silently in the mist and the fog. How could I have known Mamm would be found moments later, lying along the road and unable to walk, the family buggy turned upside-down in the rugged ravine below?
If the tables were turned, and I was the fancy young woman walking into a truck stop with my Amish friend this morning, I’d be choosing the table set back against the wall. Away from curious eyes. But Heather Nelson was the one deciding where we would sit. Wearing a loud pink short-sleeved blouse and pencil-thin blue jeans, she never once blinked an eye as she pulled out a chair and sat down . . . smack-dab in the midst of so many Englischers. Nearly all men, too.
Maybe she was oblivious to themÑI can’t really say. After all, this was a familiar world to her. As for me, my neck was mighty warm as I lowered myself into my chair, painfully conscious of the stares. I could just imagine what they were thinking about the two of usÑdifferent as rosemary and sage.
I reached for the menu right quick and hid behind a long list of sandwiches, soups, and milk shakes. But my appetite was diminishing all the while my uneasiness was increasing. I lowered the menu and peered over the top at Heather. She leaned her ivory cheek into her fisted hand, her bare elbows on the table as she looked over the options. “See anything good?” she asked, her pretty blue eyes twinkling.
My mind was hardly on food. The upcoming reunion with my mother weighed heavily on me. We had driven for more than four hours and had just crossed into Ohio. Only about an hour and a half till I see Mamma again. My heart pounded at the thought. “I’ll have something light to eat, if anything.”
“A sweet roll?”
“Uh, prob’ly not.” In a place like this, the sticky buns most likely came out of a box.
Heather glanced at her wristwatch. “Do you still want to arrive in Baltic by early afternoon?”
I nodded and turned to look out the window at the parking lot. I dreaded the thought of getting back in the car, fine as it was. With a sigh, I faced Heather again and was aware of two men looking our way. “Truck drivers,” Heather had told me when first we stopped to fill up the car.
“Grace?” She was frowning now, and the waitress was hurrying toward us. “What if we just ordered something for the road?”
I agreed as the waitress looked sideways at me before jotting down my order, her blond hair all schtruwwlich around her round face. “You two . . . um, together?”
Heather nodded, eyeing my prayer cap. She ordered some coffee and a cinnamon roll, then stopped, shook her head, and quickly asked if there was any fresh fruit. “Strawberries . . . an apple or two?”
After the waitress scurried off, I noticed the same two men still staring at us, their sleeves rolled up to their muscular shoulders. There were markings up and down their armsÑa set of tiny baby footprints and a red rose with a black, thorny vine trailing clear down to the man’s elbow. I’d never seen anything like it, and now, I, too, was staringÑat them. Had Mamma encountered similar worldly sights during her recent travels?
THE MISSING Prologue I stumbled upon my mother's handkerchief in the cornfield early this morning. Halfway down the row I spotted it-white but soiled, cast in the mire of recent rains. Only one side of the stitched hem was visible, the letter L poking out from the furrow as if to get my attention. I stared at it . . . all the emotions of the past three weeks threatening to rise up and choke me right then and there. Leaning over, I clutched the mud-caked hankie in my hand. Then, tilting my head up, I looked toward the eastern sky, to the freshness of this new day. Twice now, I'd walked the field where Mamma had sometimes wandered late at night-weeks before she ever left home. Like our sheep, she'd followed the same trails till ruts developed. I couldn't help wondering where the well-trod path had led her by the light of the lonely moon. Honestly, though, 'tis only in the daylight that I've been compelled to go there, drawn by thoughts of her and the hope of some further word, whenever that might come. I shook the dirt off the hankie and traced the outline of the embroidered initial-white on white. So simple yet ever so pretty. My hand lingered there as tears slipped down my cheeks. "Mamma . . . where are you?" I whispered to the breeze. "What things don't we know?"
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