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A Path Made Plain
By Lynette Sowell
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Lynette Sowell
All rights reserved.
Betsy Yoder's cheeks ached from smiling as sweat trickled down her back. She dished up yet another serving of chicken pot pie to yet another wedding guest, while her splintered heart ached far more keenly than her outer discomfort.
Amish Jacob Miller had married Englisch Natalie Bennett not quite a week ago, and although the current wedding celebration of a cousin here in Ohio helped buoy Betsy's spirits, she felt a throb of pain as if today she'd witnessed Jacob and Natalie's wedding all over again.
With the new union, Betsy's dream died forever. It was not fair the mercury had shot up to more than eighty degrees today, and the promised rain never fell from the clouds scudding across the sky to occasionally provide some shade. The pretty autumn weather was probably welcome to everyone in Ohio, except her.
Betsy couldn't get back to Pinecraft and Sarasota, Florida, quickly enough, and her snug room at Aenti Chelle's house.
"You're doing fine, Betsy, just fine," she muttered to herself.
"See? This means you are meant to stay here in Ohio," her mamm said. "With us." Mamm served up a dollop of mashed potatoes to a guest in line.
Betsy's cheeks flamed, hot as the pans holding food to feed a succession of three hundred guests—a rather small number for an Amish wedding.
A man marrying an Englisch wife who'd joined the Beachy Amish Mennonite church was certainly not an everyday occurrence, nor something expected nor something one necessarily wanted to see, not if you were Amish.
Which was why Jacob and his children had packed up the remainder of their belongings and moved to Florida for good. Their bishop had given his blessing for them to join the Beachy Amish Mennonite Church in Sarasota, which had become Natalie's place to fellowship. She'd passed her proving time and been baptized into the Mennonite church before driving from Florida to Ohio for the wedding. Driving. As in a vehicle, not a buggy. Somehow, the fact Natalie's mammi and daadi had been Amish made everything all right.
Even now, the new bride glowed in her cape dress and white head covering, but Betsy couldn't forget the first time she'd seen Natalie Bennett, clad in pink capris and a T-shirt. Betsy kept piling pot pie on brimming plates and wiping sweat from her brow. At least there was some shade with the wedding meal laid out on long tables under the trees on the Millers' property.
Her mother nudged her arm. "What, no protests? Since you aren't marrying Jacob, it's time for you to come home and stay home." Did the humid breeze whooshing through the branches above conceal her mother's words from other ears? Betsy hoped so.
Her cheeks burned. "This isn't quite home anymore, Mamm."
"Nonsense. Ohio will always be your home." Her mother smiled at a guest passing by the table. "Your daed agreed to let you stay in Florida for a time, but now—"
"I have my housecleaning clients, and Aenti Chelle says I'm welcome to stay in her home."
"Your cousin Anna Mae could use some help in her quilt shop."
Betsy fell silent. Of course, Mamm wouldn't budge. Daed would have the final say, so she just needed to bide her time until she returned to Sarasota by bus. The house she'd lived in for her twenty-one years should seem familiar, and it did, along with the room she used to share with sisters Grace, Phoebe, and Emma. But during the last week or so, it seemed she saw her surroundings with fresh, grown-up eyes.
Her practical side whispered in her ear as she lifted a now-empty pan off the table.
Back here, there are more prospects, more of your friends, more of everything you've always known. Mamm is right. On a day like today, given other circumstances, it would be easy to agree to move back to Ohio, returning to Florida long enough to gather her belongings from Aenti Chelle's and empty her Florida bank account.
The idea made the neckline of her dress tighten. Betsy tugged at it. Constricting, limiting. She had begged Gotte to tell her what to do next when she learned of Jacob and Natalie's engagement. She'd taken her father's approval to stay in Florida as a sign she and Jacob would one day be together, she just needed to be patient and bide her time.
"But living in Florida is for old people. You know what they say about Pinecraft. 'It's for newlyweds, half dead, and hard to get,'" her dearest friend Lottie had told her last winter when she'd shocked everyone by asking to remain in Pinecraft and work.
Yet life in Pinecraft, while quiet and almost desolate in the summer, still held a fascination for her. The ocean, minutes away by bus ride or bicycle, if she felt especially energetic and adventurous, always pulled her in its direction. She didn't mind the occasional stares while she walked the beach barefoot, wearing her cape dress and kapp.
In time, she knew her heart would heal. She had to believe it. Another woman's husband shouldn't occupy her thoughts, anyway.
However, since living in Florida, she'd watched some television, ridden countless buses, shopped at Englisch stores like Walmart, and even had a cell phone she didn't dare tell her mamm about. It made it easier for her housecleaning clients to reach her.
Somehow, if she confessed the entire list to her parents and bishop, those things would pale when compared to her former thoughts about Jacob. As it was, she'd given her father an important business proposal when she arrived home one week ago, a proposal involving an outlay of money, far more money than she had saved. She'd bided her time and, a few moments ago, daed told her the family had come to a decision about the funding for her venture, and would let her know tonight.
"I need some volunteers for dishes," called out Esther Graber.
"I'll help," said Betsy. Scrubbing countless pots and pans would give her a way to burn off energy and perhaps by the end of the chore, she'd set her mind where it should be. She crossed the yard and headed for the Millers' house. What would become of it now that its simple rooms were swept clean and empty. Likely a cousin, or someone else in the family, would move in after marrying, and then fill it with children.
An engine's rumble at the end of the driveway made her stare in that direction. A lone figure on a motorcycle, engine idling, paused about ten yards from the edge of the road. A distant family member? Or perhaps a curious onlooker wanting to buy something? But the Millers' produce stand was closed for the season. The simple sign at the end of the driveway advertised "fresh produce, wooden furniture, homemade soap, and fried pies."
Betsy squinted at the figure on the motorcycle. She'd seen plenty of cycles around Sarasota and the idea of riding astride one of the mechanical growling beasts made her insides shake. Never, ever, would she do such a thing.
A gasoline-powered vehicle was a poor copy of the horse, although like the rider at the end of the drive, she'd enjoyed the wind on her face while sneaking a ride on Meringue across the pasture. Poor Meringue, reliable and trustworthy to ride and to drive. The mare probably wondered why Betsy had disappeared last winter and didn't return until now. Leaving her favorite horse behind again would pain her enough.
The figure—a man, judging by the broad shoulders and scruff of beard—raised a leather-clad hand and waved at her. Then with a rev of engine—too loud to be legal—the man pushed off with one foot and disappeared onto the main road.
Betsy's cheeks flamed. Of course he'd wave, her standing there staring at him like she was daft, musing about the noise and inadequacies of motorcycles. She hurried across the farmyard, pounded up the back porch steps, then entered the kitchen.
Hot air smacked her as soon as she stepped into the room, thick with humidity from the cooking going on for the last day or so. Bursts of conversation peppered the bustling atmosphere.
"Betsy, good! We need someone to dry." Her Aenti Chelle gestured with her head, the strings of her head covering swishing past her shoulders. "Emily's youngest just woke up, so she's off to feed him."
Betsy grabbed a dry towel from the stack on top of the pie safe. "It's been a beautiful day." She might as well start now, before anyone else tried to offer comforting, yet discreet, words of encouragement. Her friend Miriam had been right. Staying in Sarasota to be closer to Jacob hadn't worked. The bitter taste of the realization would stay with her a good long while.
What would people think, if they guessed her motivation for living in Florida? She'd long since kept going round and round with the idea of what people thought of her and refused to let this fresh thought bloom inside. Then her stomach turned over on itself as she thought of her father's ominous remark earlier. Had the family decided against her proposal?
Aenti Chelle gave her a sideways glance as she placed a clean roasting pan on the drainer. "Yes, a beautiful day. I'd almost forgotten how lovely Ohio is in the fall. The maple out front is spectacular, in all its orange glory."
Betsy nodded, grabbing a pot from the stack. She wasn't sure who this belonged to, but all pots once dried would go in the center of the family's kitchen table, and all the women would round up their cooking instruments before rounding up children to go home.
She had no children to round up, but did have four pie plates to find among the stacks of dishes. The irony almost made her laugh. At twenty-one, she wasn't quite the old maid. Not just yet.
The other ladies in the kitchen, Vera Byler and her old-maid daughter Patience, plus two of the younger girls who debated about who would be next to wed, kept the conversation going.
"Not long, and you'll be just like me," said Patience.
It took a few seconds for Betsy to realize Patience had spoken to her. The other women in the kitchen set their focus on Betsy.
"Just like you?" she asked.
"I'm an old maid and I don't mind it one bit." Patience wrapped a loaf of leftover bread for someone to take home. "It's not so bad. I keep busy at the quilt shop and I'm happy I can be there for my parents as they grow older."
"So when does this old maidhood begin? Is there a certain age? I must be sure to mark a calendar." The whole idea was silly. Why, Esther Troyer had gotten married at thirty-two, much older than most brides, but not completely unheard of.
Aenti Chelle spoke up. "I don't think Betsy is bound for old maid-hood, not just yet. And my home is always open to her in Florida, as long as she wants to live there. Business is good and I need the help."
"Humph." Vera Byler nudged her daughter's elbow. "I know my daughter is following God's path for her. It's a comfort for me to know, too, her judgment isn't being swayed by worldliness."
Betsy turned to face the stack of freshly washed pans. She'd forgotten how Vera's tongue could be, how apt the woman was at pronouncing her own judgment on how things must—and must not—be run.
"Aenti Chelle, thank you for your offer." She wiped a damp casserole dish with a flourish. "I'm looking forward to getting home, home to Florida."
* * *
Thaddeus Zook had wasted three precious minutes by stopping at the end of his cousin Jacob's driveway. Today, his third cousin, Levi Miller, had remarried. Part of Thaddeus wanted to see the eyebrows raise, tongues wag, and spines stiffen as he came riding his Harley into the farmyard—just so he could have a slice of wedding cake.
A few might have embraced him.
"Thaddeus Zook, you're back."
Only he wasn't back. Not hardly.
He couldn't go back here, even if he wanted to. Now with no job, no apartment—he'd left in a frenzy of packing one duffel bag, along with a wad of cash he'd saved—the sooner he left the Midwest, the better.
He shouldn't have mentioned to a friend in Columbus he was ex-Amish. Someone could find him here, all because of his foolhardy openness.
He wasn't about to bring trouble to his family, even family who no longer acknowledged him or made room for him. The wheels of the Harley began doing their job of putting distance between him and Ohio.
The best thing would be for him to lie low, and the best place to catch his breath for a while would be with his grandmother. Pinecraft was more accepting, more open to the outside than places in Ohio. It wasn't one of the typical places most people expected to find an Amish community. He'd stay there until he figured out what to do next.
He set the GPS to travel interstates. He had no summer clothes, and his leathers and denim would look out of place in the balmy weather. As far as his meager household goods, he'd left those in his apartment with a note of apology to his landlord.
Thad didn't listen to the news anymore after the first report came through of a Columbus restaurateur gunned down in the kitchen of the upscale Dish and Spoon. He prayed for the family of Mitch Gabryszeski, if Mitch had one.
"I'm married to my restaurant," he'd told Thad his first day on the job. And that was it.
Something had been rotten for months at Dish and Spoon, but Thad kept looking the other way and ignored the nagging feeling in his gut that all the suits coming into the restaurant at odd hours wasn't one-hundred-percent legit. He needed a job, and pastries were all he knew.
Now with what happened to Mitch, it wasn't like Thad had a good job reference to head to New York. Also, what would prevent trouble from following him there? He'd told the police everything he knew for sure, which was little. He didn't know anything about the night of Mitch's death. He didn't see anything out of the ordinary.
Florida was the answer for now and he didn't need to pray about it.
He recalled the last civil conversation he'd had with his father.
"Why must you be a—a chef—and not something more—more—"
"More Amish, you mean?"
"This is simply not done, and I forbid it. I know the bishop will see it the same way I do."
Thad couldn't explain it to his father then, or now, but he knew in his heart he wasn't meant to build cabinets, or fix machinery, or plow the ground. Instead, from the time he'd been able to stand on a chair to see his mother cook, he'd been fascinated with the treats her hands created out of things like sugar, butter, flour, salt, fruit, yeast, eggs. He loved the chemistry of it all.
He squeezed the handlebars of the motorcycle and recalled the first time he'd rolled out his own pie dough, a little uneven and lumpy. But it was his creation, and the feeling he got inside while watching his family taste his first apple pie told him he'd found his calling.
Thad almost slowed the Harley down and turned around right there on the country road to head back to the farm. Perhaps his father had been right. The world had swayed him for a long time with its promise of fun—without consequences. Almost ten years since he'd left. Sometimes it felt like a lifetime.
It was warm enough today he'd likely take off his jacket once he arrived at the farm, then all could see the tattoo covering one forearm, all the way up to his shoulder. The design was a creeping vine swirling 'round his arm as if it had sprung from his skin, with both prickles and a few flowers. If he rotated his arm, you could see a pair of eyes inside the vines under his elbow.
He slowed the bike as he passed a square black box of a buggy. Now, that was something he didn't miss. Thad inhaled a fresh breath of air. Once you'd ridden a bike like this, you didn't want to cover the ground in anything else. The sensation of pure, open freedom was sinful.
Sin, sin, sin. It was all a sin—pride in his pie and pastries, enjoying his wonderful Harley machine, going against the family and his district's ruling concerning his chosen profession, not to mention the education he'd gained.
If he forsook it all, came home, and was baptized, all would be right again.
According to them, maybe.
But he couldn't sleep at night, forced into a cookie cutter lifestyle making him like everyone else. The same hair, the same clothes, the same—Plainness.
If it was anything Thad couldn't abide, it was being like everyone else.
"You weren't made to blend in, Thad Zook," an old girlfriend had told him. "You were made to stand out."
He grinned at the memory, not of the old girlfriend, but at her words, and hit the accelerator. He needed some sun, sand, and a place to start again. Or at least some breathing space to figure out what to do next.
Excerpted from A Path Made Plain by Lynette Sowell. Copyright © 2014 Lynette Sowell. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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