Read an Excerpt
A Season of Change
Seasons in Pinecraft Series, Book 1
By Lynette Sowell
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Lynette Sowell
All rights reserved.
We're having ice cream at Christmas time, Daed?" Zeke Miller trotted alongside his father on the pavement, trying to keep up with Jacob's pace. The boy would definitely sleep well tonight; he'd barely stopped since he'd gotten off the Pioneer Trails bus and tumbled into the Florida sunshine.
"Yes, we are. It's hard to imagine, isn't it? We're definitely a long way from home." Jacob rubbed the top of his son's head. At only five, Zeke didn't comprehend the idea of ice cream in winter. His sister, Rebecca, a dozen paces ahead of them, pranced alongside her cousins. The sound of the children's giggles drifted on the air.
Jacob slowed his steps to match Zeke's five-year-old stride. Their figures made long shadows as they strode toward Big Olaf's Ice Cream Parlor. The December twilight came early, even in Sarasota.
To Jacob, the words "Christmas" and "ice cream" didn't belong in the same sentence. And he certainly never thought he would be entertaining the children's eager pleas to ride the bus to the beach on Christmas day. But, here they were, nestled in Sarasota's winter haven called Pinecraft.
"We're here, we're here!" Rebecca giggled, and stumbled. "Ach." She stopped long enough to stick her foot back into the pink plastic flip-flops, a gift from her cousin Maybelle.
Jacob shook his head over his daughter wearing the sandals, but a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth anyway. As soon as they'd all climbed off the immense travel bus and stepped onto the parking lot of Pinecraft's Mennonite Tourist Church, the surroundings seemed to draw them in. The children burst with energy after being stuck on a bus for two days, save for a stop here and there to stretch their legs or pick up more passengers. The more distance between Ohio, the more passengers on the bus.
At first the novelty of riding on a mechanized vehicle had the children enthralled with the speed they traveled and the levers that brought the seats forward and backward, but eventually even Rebecca fidgeted and squirmed in her seat. Bored, as all the children soon became.
Jacob sympathized, but instead of running like a child would, he stared at his surroundings, the rows of homes both large and small, the orange and grapefruit trees in front yards. And the palm trees, of course.
He'd never had the opportunity to visit Florida, even after his grandparents bought a home here in Pinecraft. He hadn't seen the practicality of cramming himself on a bus and traveling hundreds of miles only to do the same two weeks later. Finally, however, desperation had won out over practicality.
He'd only seen photos of palm trees, only heard about members of his Order using tricycles for transportation instead of horse and buggy. No room for horses in a city. His own grandfather rode an adult-size tricycle with a large basket, peddling fruit for sale to tourists.
Zeke's grin lit his face and he pulled his hand from Jacob's grasp, trotted ahead to catch up with his sister and cousins.
Here, hundreds of miles from Ohio's fields and the cabinet factory where Jacob worked, his children laughed like they hadn't in six months. This made him smile, too, though his heart still hurt.
Hannah, gone so soon. When they were younger, they'd exchanged glances across the room on Sundays until he found the nerve to talk to her at a singing. Then they married when he was but twenty-three and she eighteen. They'd both vowed to embrace their Order and planned to be married as long as the Lord allowed. Which had turned out to be a mere eight years.
Hannah's third pregnancy had been much harder than the first two, and even modern technology hadn't saved her when the midwife urged him to allow the Englisch physicians to stabilize her at an Englisch hospital. The boppli, another son they'd named Samuel, had come too early. No one could have warned Jacob how difficult it was to carry a double load of grief. Their days together were finished on this earth, but Jacob found himself asking, Why?
He caught sight of his brother waiting for him at the sidewalk's edge. "The Yoders are arriving on the last bus before Christmas," Ephraim said.
The loaded statement snapped Jacob out of his pondering. A good thing. He was moving on, as he should. But he could still feel the emptiness in his bed every night Hannah wasn't there. Even though Mammi had given him the twin air mattress to sleep on while visiting in Florida, Jacob's memories and the children's chatter in the living room kept him awake at night. In his grandparents' snug home, filled with Millers in every nook and cranny, Jacob's lone state set him apart.
"That's what Daadi said after supper tonight." Jacob knew where Ephraim's small talk was headed, straight to Betsy.
"Betsy Yoder is coming with her parents, too." Ephraim glanced his way. "She told Katie at our last Sunday meeting they'll be here just in time for Christmas."
"It will be nice to see her and her family." Jacob tugged on his suspenders. Not too much farther, and they'd be at the Bahia Vista stoplight. A hint of a chill drifted on the breeze, waving the fronds of a nearby palm tree.
"Nice? Is that all you can say, it'll be 'nice' to see Betsy?"
"She's a nice girl. Smart, pretty, and she bakes really gut pie. She'll make someone a gut wife someday. A little on the tall side, though." Jacob paused, and Ephraim did as well. "Happy now?"
"You need to talk to her, not just hang back in the corner like you're a mute."
"I'm not ready to talk to her. Not yet."
"Don't wait too long. She likes you, and she told Katie so. She's wondering why you keep staring at her and never saying anything."
"Like I said, I'm not ready. I don't know if I ever will be. I'm grateful to you and Katie for everything you've done for me, especially Katie helping with the children. I can do my own mending. Rebecca has become a good little housekeeper." Jacob felt his neck growing hotter with every footstep closer to the ice cream shop.
"I know that. And Katie and I are glad to help you. But it's time. Your children need a mother, and you a helpmate."
"Stop pushing me, Ephraim. I know what you're trying to say." Jacob continued the few steps to the street corner and the Bahia Vista stoplight. He didn't want the children to try to cross the busy street alone. They weren't used to watching out for traffic, not like this, anyway. They would make a few trips into town back in Ohio, but the town was far smaller than Sarasota and its infinite worldliness. The traffic, the constant reach of everything not-Plain into his Plain world. He didn't always understand how Plain people could live in the middle of it all. Life in Ohio felt much more in control.
Right. He almost laughed. Nothing had been in control since Hannah had left him. Left them all.
Ephraim kept silent, and Jacob knew he'd probably aggravated his brother.
God knew he'd accepted Hannah's death, and little Samuel's as well. The wounds inside him had scabbed over. Every so often, though, the pain would resurface and catch him when he wasn't paying attention, like the one time he'd cut his hand with a band saw when he was distracted at the cabinet shop. He couldn't help but pick at the scab as it healed.
He expelled a sigh before continuing. "Ephraim, I promise, after we leave Pinecraft, once we're home again, I'll go on. I don't know if it'll be with Betsy Yoder, but I'll think about it." Jacob figured he'd give his brother a shred of a promise. But he couldn't explain to Ephraim the restlessness he felt. His world was the same after losing Hannah and Samuel. His job at the cabinet factory, his home with the rooms Hannah had kept so spotless and filled with joy. Yet, his whole world had changed with the hole Hannah had left. If only an ice cream cone could help him forget his grief for a few minutes.
In sharp contrast to the tropical colors around them, their group stuck out like proverbial sore thumbs as they stood at the traffic lights and waited. Cars crisscrossed at the intersection. Big Olaf's ice cream parlor lay just across the street from them at the light.
Jacob sucked in a breath. He still hadn't grown accustomed to the traffic that zoomed through the heart of the Pinecraft neighborhood, and almost wished he had stayed back at the house with Mammi Rachel.
He wasn't scared of honking traffic, and ignored the pointing and stares as they crossed the street—tourists, Mammi assured him. The locals didn't mind the novelty of seeing the Amish and accepted the village as part of the city.
Jacob didn't want the children to see his reluctance to venture to the edge of the block. Everything in Florida was so ... different from Ohio. Yes, different. That was the best word. But he could understand loving the scent of the ocean, the warmth during winter time when all far away to the north was quickly freezing over.
The children scurried into Big Olaf's and Jacob followed as they gathered at the ice cream shop counter, Zeke and Rebecca with their cousins, clutching their money as they decided what ice cream they wanted. True to form, Rebecca changed her mind at least three times before choosing her flavor. That would have earned her a gentle scolding from Hannah. The thought made Jacob smile.
"I thought you wanted a cone," Jacob said as Rebecca turned to face him with a dish of vanilla ice cream, covered with chocolate sauce and nuts.
"I did. But then I decided I wanted to take my time while I eat. You can't take your time eating ice cream cones, you know," she replied and grinned at him, the blue of her eyes matching the fading blue of the evening sky. Hannah's eyes.
Jacob tugged on one of her braids. "Truthful girl, you are."
They all turned to leave. Even Ephraim and Katie had ordered ice cream. But not for him. Jacob shared his son's disbelief at the idea of eating ice cream at Christmas. And walking in shirtsleeves to the corner ice cream shop.
They carefully crossed the road and began to meander back into the neighborhood and safety.
"I forgot a spoon!" Rebecca exclaimed and whirled back toward Big Olaf's. "I'll be right back."
"Mind the road," Jacob called out. "Wait, I'll walk with you." He strode back toward Rebecca and the corner.
"Oh, Daed, I'm not a baby. I can watch for the light and look for cars." Rebecca's long skirt swished a few inches above her ankles. Not too many years from now, she'd be putting her hair up under her prayer covering. Jacob wasn't ready for that.
Just six paces behind her, Jacob saw the light turn. Rebecca kept her focus on the ice cream in the dish and then glanced up at Big Olaf's across the street.
She stepped into the crosswalk. A dark sedan took the corner. Cars moved so, so quickly.
Jacob's throat clenched. He darted forward. "Rebecca!"
She froze and looked back at him, then at the car.
The thud wrenched a shout from Jacob.
Rebecca's scream stung his ears.
He reached the corner as Rebecca's dish of ice cream landed on the warm asphalt.
* * *
A compound femur fracture, a hematoma on the brain, a concussion. But no internal injuries. Jacob found one thing to be thankful for, besides the fact that Rebecca now breathed peacefully, sedated because of her injuries, in the intensive care unit.
How close they'd come to losing her two days ago.
The driver of the car, a young Mennonite woman returning home after visiting her grandparents, had dissolved into a heap on the pavement, sobbing upon leaving the driver's seat.
On Christmas break from college in Virginia, she'd borrowed her parents' vehicle and had been hurrying home to get ready for a date. She looked more Englisch than anything in her shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops, but knew enough Dutch to speak to him and the family after the accident.
She hadn't seen Rebecca, who'd been walking with the light while the young woman turned. Children moved so quickly. The police weren't going to press charges. Jacob didn't think pressing charges would serve any purpose. This young woman deserved grace, and was suffering enough for one mistake.
Jacob sat up a little straighter in the cushioned chair in the intensive care unit. It had been his fault, really. He should have watched Rebecca more closely, should have kept her nearer to him, insisted she stop and wait for him to cross the street with her. He should have been firmer.
"She's always been the more willful one of your children," Ephraim observed.
"Ach, it's true. Hannah always knew ..." Yes, Hannah had always known how to handle Rebecca. Gotte, what am I going to do now?
"You'll have to stay in Pinecraft, far longer than Christmas."
"A long time." But he had a job in Ohio, and had to support his family. Yet, he wouldn't leave his daughter. Not here. Not alone, her body broken and her brain swollen, although she'd be with family.
No, he would stay here in Sarasota, for as long as it took for Rebecca to get well again.
But Sarasota had turned out to be a far, far more dangerous place than he'd ever imagined. He had a nagging feeling Sarasota held more dangers for them still.
* * *
"Natalie, dear, I wish you'd change your mind and join us for Christmas dinner," said Grace Montgomery. "You shouldn't have eaten alone. Come for pie, or something."
Natalie Bennett held her cell phone close to her ear, but not too close. She stood in the lobby of Sarasota General Hospital.
"Too late, I'm already at the hospital. But thanks for inviting me." She tried not to smudge her clown makeup. She hadn't brought her emergency makeup kit to fix any damage to the face she'd taken great care to paint not quite an hour ago.
"At least come for dessert later, please?" Even over the phone, Grace's sound of longing and gentle insistence couldn't be missed.
"All right, I will." A few passersby glanced Natalie's way and smiled at her getup. "I forgot to give you and Todd your gift the other night at the office party."
"Sweetie, you didn't have to get us anything."
"I know. But I wanted to." She glanced around. "Hey, I'll call you later. People are probably wondering who Bubbles the Clown is talking to on the phone."
"Just come on over once you're through."
"You've got it. Merry Christmas." Natalie ended the call and slipped the phone into her tote bag, full of tricks and novelties for the children she'd soon visit. She also toted a mesh bag stuffed with oranges from the tree in her apartment complex's yard. The kids would love them. Right. Who was she kidding? She should have brought chocolate bars. Being in the hospital at Christmas was as much fun as getting socks for a present. An orange probably wouldn't help soothe things like chocolate.
Part of her wished she'd told Grace, her boss, mentor, and friend, about her lack of Christmas plans, but then she didn't want the sympathy. Maybe Grace wouldn't have felt too sorry for her. Grace, like most people attached to the circus world, knew the traveling life quite well. Holidays and roots weren't the same for them. Natalie knew full well. She couldn't miss what she'd never had, could she?
A Christmas tree had sprouted in the main lobby of the hospital, and its twenty-foot artificial glory twinkled like a beacon against anyone who dared say that Christmas had forgotten the sick and injured children of Sarasota. A Chanukah menorah glowed on the fireplace mantel in the seating area.
Natalie headed for the elevator and braced herself for the atmosphere awaiting her in the ward. If they lived in a perfect world, no one would be in the hospital at Christmas. No one would be sick. They'd all have their Norman Rockwell scenes around dining room tables, and moms and dads would yawn over their ham or turkey after staying up late putting together toys. Kids would giggle around Christmas trees and then pass out like the little boy in A Christmas Story, clutching his zeppelin. But not these kids in the pediatrics wing.
Natalie was used to nontraditional Christmases, and some of the children she was about to visit were, too. Chronic illness and severe injuries didn't take holidays.
Excerpted from A Season of Change by Lynette Sowell. Copyright © 2014 Lynette Sowell. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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