The Choice (Lancaster County Secrets Series #1)by Suzanne Woods Fisher
Lancaster County has always been her home--but where does her heart belong? Debut contemporary fiction from the author of Amish Peace.See more details below
Lancaster County has always been her home--but where does her heart belong? Debut contemporary fiction from the author of Amish Peace.
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The ChoiceA Novel
By Suzanne Woods Fisher
RevellCopyright © 2010 Suzanne Woods Fisher
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCarrie Weaver tucked a loose curl into her cap as she glanced up at the bell tower in Lancaster's Central Market. The clock had struck 2:00 p.m. more than ten minutes ago, and an English couple was haggling with her stepsister Emma over the price of a crate of strawberries. After all, the man was saying, the market was closing for the weekend. "Certainly, you Plain folks wouldn't want this fruit to go to waste now, would you? Tomorrow being Sunday and all?" He rested his hands on his round belly and fixed his gaze on Emma, a satisfied look on his red face-as red and ripe as a late summer tomato-as he waited for her to buckle.
But this red-faced English man didn't know Emma.
Carrie saw Emma purse her lips and hook her hands on her hips in that determined way and knew where this standoff was headed. Emma wouldn't drop the price of her strawberries to anyone, much less an Englisher whom, she was convinced, had a lost and corrupted soul. Her sister would plant her big feet and squabble over the price of strawberries until the sun set.
Carrie picked up the crate and handed it to the man. "Abgschlagge!" Sold!
The man and his wife, surprised and delighted, hurried off with the strawberries as Emma spun to face Carrie. She lifted herhands, palms out. "Have you lost your mind? My strawberries are worth twice that price! What were you thinking?"
"I'm thinking that it's past two and the market has closed and the van is waiting." Carrie pushed the leftover crates of red ripe strawberries into the back of the van of the hired driver and slammed the door shut, pinching her thumbnail. Wincing from the pain, she knew she didn't dare stop to get ice. There wasn't a moment to waste.
"Dummel dich net!" Emma muttered as Carrie opened the passenger seat door for her. Don't be in such a hurry! "You've been as jumpy as a jackrabbit all morning."
Carrie reached out an arm to clasp her younger brother on the shoulder, pulling him back as he started to climb in the van behind Emma. "I need to run an errand and take the bus home later today. Andy's coming with me."
Andy's eyes went round as shoe buttons, but he followed Carrie's lead and hopped back out of the van.
Emma twisted around on the seat. "What errand?" she asked, eyes narrowed with suspicion. "You know your dad wants you home to visit with Daniel Miller."
Carrie blew out a big sigh. Silent, solemn Daniel Miller. He and his father, Eli, were staying with the Jacob Weavers this summer. Eli Miller and Jacob Weaver made no secret of the fact that they had a hope for her and Daniel. Well, they could hope all they liked but Carrie's heart was already spoken for. Spoken for and claimed, and the thought warmed her.
"Daniel's mighty fine looking, Carrie," Emma said. "Your dad is hoping you'll think so too."
"If you think Daniel is such a looker, why don't you visit with him?" Carrie stepped back from the van to close the door. That had been mean, what she said to Emma, and she reached out to give her sister's arm a gentle squeeze in apology before she swung the door closed and the driver pulled away. Dear Emma, nearly twenty-seven and terrified that she would end up an old maid. Carrie felt a smile pull at her mouth and fought it back, as an unbidden image of a large celery patch popped into her mind-Emma and her mother, Esther, grew celery in the family garden in hopes that this would be Emma's year.
Carrie shook off her musing and grabbed Andy's hand and hurried to the bus stop. She wanted to reach the Lancaster Barnstormers' stadium before Solomon Riehl would start pitching. Last night, Sol told her he might be a closing pitcher in today's scrimmage, so she should be in the stands by the last few innings.
"What kind of errand?" Andy asked Carrie.
She shaded her eyes from the sun to watch for the bus. "It's a surprise for your birthday."
"I won't turn nine 'til October."
Carrie looked at him and tousled his hair. "Consider it an early birthday present." She knew she wouldn't be here on his birthday.
As Carrie and Andy climbed on the bus and sat among the English, she felt the happiness of her secret spill over her. She didn't even mind the pain radiating from her throbbing thumb. She was entirely preoccupied with the conversations she had been having with Sol lately. Last week, he called her at midnight, as planned, from the phone shanty across the road from his father's farm. During that call, he had talked to her about leaving the community and trying to make a living as a baseball player. And he told her he wanted her by his side, as his wife.
* * *
Sol had been crazy about baseball ever since he first held a ball in his hand. Although competition was discouraged on the schoolyard, Sol stood out. He could throw a ball faster, farther, and with more accuracy than anyone.
Just a few months ago, a baseball scout happened to be driving past their youth gathering and had pulled his car over to watch Sol pitch, mesmerized. The scout had quietly slipped a business card into Sol's hand and whispered something to him.
On the buggy ride home from the youth gathering, Sol had pulled out the card and showed it to Carrie. "They're having open tryouts next week. He wants to clock my pitch. He said he hasn't seen a fastball like mine in years."
Stunned, Carrie turned the card over. "You aren't serious. Sol, you can't try out for professional baseball. You shouldn't even go to a game! You know that. The elders will be at your folks' door by day's end."
"Not if they don't find out," Sol said, grinning mischievously. Then his face tightened and the smile disappeared. "I'm tired of all the 'shouldn'ts' and 'can'ts' in my life. Can't go to the movies. Shouldn't listen to the radio. Can't ride a bicycle. Can't own a car."
Carrie gave him a sideways glance. All Sol talked about lately was how smothered he felt, being born and raised Amish. At first she felt alarmed by such talk. But she'd grown used to it and didn't take his complaints too seriously. She was sure he couldn't really leave his family and church behind. Or her. He would never leave her behind. Of that she was confident. "Not being allowed to own a car sure hasn't stopped you. I still don't know how you've kept that heap-of-rust you call a car hidden from your folks for so long."
Sol's face relaxed into a grin. "Six months now." He turned the buggy off to the shoulder and faced Carrie, taking her hand in his. "It's just a tryout. There will be plenty of other guys pitching, guys who have been training their whole life for a tryout. Most likely, I won't even make callbacks." He lifted her chin so she would look at him. "But I've decided. I'm going to go to the tryouts next week. Now's the time in my life to have a taste of what the world has to offer. That's what the running-around years are for, aren't they?" He leaned over to kiss her, featherlight, on the lips, then gently rubbed his nose against hers before slapping the reins to urge the horse forward.
As the horse lunged ahead, Carrie mulled over Sol's reasoning. Was Rumspringa a time for trying worldly things? To be tried and found lacking? Or, just by trying, did it make a person long for another kind of life than the Plain one? Her father had a saying, "Was mer net hawwe soll, hett mer's liebscht." What we are not meant to have, we covet most.
Sol laughed when she quoted her father's saying to him and told her that even Jacob Weaver was young once. Sol made it sound so easy. He made everything sound so easy. Besides, she thought, dismissing concern about Sol's restless nature, he probably wouldn't be picked by that team. He's just feeling his oats.
One week later, Sol had tried out for the Lancaster Barnstormers and was offered a one-season contract with promises of more. The pitching coach had been impressed with this Amish kid who could throw bullets. And when Sol stood on that pitcher's mound in the Clipper Magazine Stadium, he was hooked, ready to sign. There was no turning back.
Carrie was the only one who knew about Sol's baseball contract. He had hidden the fact from his father, telling him he was working a construction job for an English company. It wasn't entirely a lie; he did work on a construction site in the morning, but come noon, he clocked out, with the foreman's permission, and rushed to the stadium for spring training. Sol and Carrie knew this ruse wouldn't last. Next week, the Barnstormers would start a three-game series on Long Island. It was time to come clean with his folks. Sol would be leaving and he told Carrie he wanted her with him.
"But what about your folks, Sol? And my dad and Andy?" Carrie had asked him, still unsure if she could live with herself after leaving home. Like Sol, she had mixed feelings about joining the community. They both struggled to believe the way their parents believed, and oh, the world with its infinite choices, it was calling to them.
"We haven't bent at the knee, Carrie," Sol reminded her. "It's all the difference. We won't be shunned. We can still visit and write letters and eat with them. Be glad we haven't been baptized yet. Trust me, they'll understand. They were young once."
After a few more late-night conversations with Sol, Carrie came to see things his way. But the next morning, she watched her father and Andy talking and laughing together, and she felt all churned up again. How could she do this to them? How could she leave them?
As soon as she had a chance to see Sol face-to-face, she told him that she had changed her mind.
He patiently listened to her and answered her concerns, even those she had about God turning his back on them. "If it doesn't work out, we can always go back to the church," he assured her.
And then he kissed her, first on each cheek, then her forehead, before grazing her lips with his finger. By the time his lips found hers, Carrie's objections had evaporated.
Still, Carrie wasn't so sure their parents would understand. She was even less sure that God would understand. But one thing Carrie didn't doubt was that she wanted to be wherever Sol would be. She loved Sol that much.
* * *
Warming up his arm in the bull pen, Sol Riehl felt a deep satisfaction he hadn't dreamed possible. He certainly never felt it when he was mucking out stalls or plowing a field. Here he was, an Amish kid plucked right off the farm, pitching for a professional baseball team. Who had ever heard of such a thing? It felt like a dream that he didn't dare to wake from.
The catcher gave Sol a signal to throw some pitches. "You sure do pack some heat, Sunday Sol," he told Sol, slapping him on the back as the pitching coach called for the two to come up to the field. Sol tossed the ball to the catcher and followed him out of the bull pen. He scanned the seats above the dugout for any sign of Carrie. He had told her exactly where to sit, right behind the catcher, so she would have the best view of the pitcher's mound. He frowned, disappointed that she wasn't there yet.
Then Sol heard his name announced over the loudspeaker as the closer. He hoped Carrie was somewhere in the stadium so she would hear that announcement. He tried, without success, to keep the grin off his face as he took his first jog out to the mound.
* * *
As Carrie and Andy plopped down in the stadium's hard plastic seats, she breathed a sigh of relief, hearing Sol's name announced over the loudspeaker. Sol had told her where to sit so he could see her from the pitcher's mound. It was one of the things she loved about him; he had everything planned out.
She saw him jog out to the mound and look up, right to where she was seated. He gave her a quick wave, did a double take when he noticed Andy, then turned his attention to the catcher to practice a few more warm-up pitches.
When Andy realized it was Solomon Riehl on that pitcher's mound, he blurted out, "Ein Balleschpieler?" A baseball player?
"Best not to tell Dad and Esther about this birthday surprise, Andy," Carrie said, flashing him a warning. "Nor Emma."
Andy nodded, sealing the pact, eyes glued on the field. "Dad wouldn't mind." A slow grin spread over his face. "Esther would, though."
Carrie laughed. "Yes, Esther would mind something fierce."
As she watched Sol pitch, her heart felt so full she didn't even notice that tears were running down her cheeks. She knew that feeling so proud was wicked, but she couldn't help herself. Down on the field was Sol Riehl, in a sparkling white-with-red-pinstripe uniform, pitching in front of thousands of people in a baseball stadium. Her Sol.
* * *
At dinner that evening in the Weaver house, all that was spoken of was Eli Miller's purchase of an apple orchard. Carrie was grateful that no one asked her where she and Andy had been all afternoon.
Carrie's father, Jacob Weaver, knew of an orchard owned by an English neighbor who wanted to retire to Florida. It wasn't even for sale yet, but Jacob and Eli spent the day talking with that neighbor. When they returned, hours later, Eli was the new owner of a twenty-acre apple orchard. Jacob was so pleased to help his friend that he couldn't keep the smile off of his kind face.
"I'm mighty fortunate to have a friend like you, Jacob," Eli told him, matching Jacob grin for grin.
"Fortunate for you, Eli, that you had money to buy land," said Esther, Jacob's wife, in a thin, tight voice.
Carrie braced herself, keeping her eyes fixed on her plate. She knew that Esther couldn't tolerate letting Jacob be the center of attention.
"This farm belonged to my first husband. Jacob was penniless when I met him. Penniless with two small children." Carefully, Esther buttered a roll and began to delicately eat it as an awkward silence covered the dinner table like a blanket.
"And a blessed day it was when I met you, Esther," Jacob answered back softly, dark brown eyes twinkling, causing everyone to laugh. Even Esther softened. He was long accustomed to Esther's sharp tongue and had a way of defusing her.
Carrie looked fondly at her father. Once she had asked him why he married Esther in the first place. "Carrie girl," her father said, "folks marry for all kinds of reasons." He hadn't really answered her question, but she thought she knew what he meant.
Eli rose to his feet and clapped his hands together. "Daniel, it's time we set off to the bus depot." Like his son, Eli was a man of few words and only gave a nod of thanks to Esther.
Daniel crammed one last roll into his mouth and hurried to join his father outside, helping him hitch the horse to the buggy. Before the sun set today, Eli planned to be back on the bus to Ohio. He wanted to finalize the sale of his farm, auction off his equipment, and fetch his widowed mother, Yonnie. Daniel was to remain at the Weavers' to finish up details of the sale of the orchards.
Why Eli was in such a hurry was a mystery to Carrie, but she didn't really concern herself with the Millers. Her mind was on Sol. Leaving with Sol.
"And," Emma told Carrie as they cleaned up the kitchen after dinner that evening, "I heard Eli tell Daniel to try and woo you while he was gone."
"Woo me?" Carrie asked, drying a bowl before tucking it in the cupboard. "Maybe he should woo you."
"I'm too old for him. Besides, I think Daniel likes you. He kept stealing looks at you during dinner tonight."
"Emma, please." Carrie rolled her eyes. "He's such a brooder. Haven't you noticed he never smiles or laughs?"
Emma handed Carrie another wet bowl and gave her a suspicious look. "You'd better not be holding out for that Solomon Riehl. You know how your dad feels about Sol. He thinks he's a fence jumper."
Carrie stiffened, irritated. "One time, Emma. One time, Dad saw Sol working in the fields with his shirt off. That doesn't make him a fence jumper."
"Well, my mother says it does." Emma put her hands on her hips. "I heard her tell your father that Sol Riehl was a fellow walking with one foot in the world and one foot in the church. She said that he was always spoiled, being the only boy after all those girls. She said that his parents never expected enough from-"
"Emma!" Carrie held up a hand in warning. "Wer lauert an der Wand sei eegni Schand." If you listen through the wall, you'll hear others reciting your faults.
Excerpted from The Choice by Suzanne Woods Fisher Copyright © 2010 by Suzanne Woods Fisher. Excerpted by permission.
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