Read an Excerpt
Free Christmas Fiction Sampler
By Jennifer AlLee, Barbara Cameron, Vannetta Chapman, Ace Collins, Myra Johnson
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Barbara Cameron
All rights reserved.
Annie lay on the quilt-covered bed tucked up in her cozy, tiny attic bedroom. She held up the snow globe and shook it, watching the little snowflakes inside swirl and swirl and then float gently down to cover the skyscrapers of New York City.
It was her favorite Christmas present ever, brought back from the big city by her mamm when she went to see her editor years ago. After she'd received the globe with its tiny glimpse of the city, Annie had borrowed books from the library and studied the photos and read everything she could. New York City seemed like such an exciting place, filled with such towering, fancy buildings, its streets lined with so many types of people from so many places. Stories were everywhere, stories of hope and joy and death and loss and—well, her imagination was soaring just thinking about them.
She might be twenty-one now, a woman and not a child, but she was no less interested—some might say obsessed—than she'd been with the city than when she first received the globe. Her one big wish had become to visit New York City, and now it was finally coming true.
Life here in her Plain community of Paradise, Pennsylvania, wasn't boring. Not exactly. She loved everything about it. But she'd always been a seeker, endlessly curious about even the tiniest detail of life. She'd been like that even before her mamm had moved here and married her daed. Before she became Jenny Bontrager, her mother had been Jenny King, a television news reporter who specialized in traveling around the world and showing people what war did to innocent children.
Annie thought the work sounded amazing. All the travel—it sounded so exciting. Meeting all kinds of people. Telling the stories of people who needed attention to their story to help them. Annie had never lacked for a meal. She'd always had a comfortable bed.
And even though she had lost her mother at a young age, she'd always had so many people around her to love her and make her feel safe and happy. The children her mother had seen overseas in war-torn countries had often lost parents, their homes—even been injured or killed themselves. And sometimes there was little food.
She looked up when there was a knock on the door frame.
"Hi. May I come in?"
"Of course." Annie moved so her mother could sit on the bed with her.
When she saw her mother's gaze go to the snow globe she held, she handed it to her. Jenny shook it and watched the snowflakes settle on the skyscrapers inside just as Annie had done.
"I remember when I gave this to you."
"You came back from a trip there and told us you were going to have a baby."
"Seems like just yesterday."
"Seems like he's been around forever to drive me crazy." She grinned. "Don't worry, I don't mean it. He's a good little brother."
"You mean when he's not being a little terror?"
Annie laughed and nodded. "Right. He's not afraid of anything. Must have some of the adventurer spirit you have inside him."
Her mother glanced down at her traditional Amish dress and laughed self-deprecatingly. "I'm not much of an adventurer now."
"You have a spirit of adventure in your heart," Annie told her.
She studied her mother, who looked so slim and pretty in a dress of deep green; her dark brown hair tucked neatly under her snowy white kapp still showed no gray. Jenny never missed the fancy clothes of the Englisch—never missed anything from that world from what she said. Annie wondered how she would feel visiting the city she'd made her home base for so many years.
"It's going to be so amazing!" She looked at her mother. "I'm still surprised Daed said he wanted to go."
She sat up and hugged her mother. "But I'm glad he did. He's so, so proud of you. We all are."
"I appreciate it," Jenny told her. "But we're not going to the event for them to make a fuss over me. You know that's not our way."
"I know." Annie pretended to roll her eyes. "It's because the organization is helping children. And because your friend, David, is being honored too."
"Exactly." Jenny paused and grinned. "Of course, it doesn't mean we can't have some fun while we're there."
Annie reached under her pillow and pulled out a handful of brochures. "I sent off for these. Look, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Times Square ..."
"And the New York Times?" Jenny looked over the information packet for the newspaper. "Hardly a tourist attraction."
"Please?" Annie bounced on the bed like a kid. "I want to go so bad. Badly," she corrected herself.
Jenny chuckled. "I guess it would be attractive to someone who wants to be a writer."
She glanced over at Annie's small desk. "I remember when you started keeping a word journal. How you loved finding new words to tell us about."
"So this is where you went." Annie's father appeared in the doorway.
He filled the doorway, this tall and handsome father of hers. She and her brothers and sister had gotten their blond hair and blue eyes from him.
"Matthew, look! Annie's gotten all sorts of brochures of places to visit for us to look at before we go to New York City."
"The New York Times?" he asked, sounding doubtful. "I'm not sure your brothers and sister are going to be thrilled with going on a tour of a newspaper."
Annie looked imploringly toward her mother.
"Maybe we can think of someplace you and the rest of the family would like to go while Annie and I go on the newspaper tour, maybe the television studio where I used to work," Jenny suggested.
"It's no surprise the two of you would want to go there." He picked up the brochure of the Niagara Falls. "This looks amazing. Amos and Esther went there last year and said the boat ride was exciting. Bet Joshua would love this."
They heard a crash downstairs.
"The Bontrager children are never quiet," Jenny said, sighing. But she wore a smile. "I'd better go see what they're up to."
She patted Matthew's cheek as she passed him. "Supper in ten."
Laughing, she shook her head. "I'm making baked pork chops."
"One of my favorites."
She glanced back. "And something easy I can't mess up. Well, at least when I set the timer."
Matthew waited until she left the room and then he looked at Annie. They laughed.
"I heard you!" Jenny called back.
He struggled to suppress his grin. "It's still fun to tease her about her cooking."
"You have to stop," she told him sternly.
"You do it too. It's just so easy to tease her when she makes comments first. But she's become a good cook. Not that I'd have been any less happy to be married to her if she hadn't."
Tilting his head, he studied her. "So I guess you're going to miss Aaron while you're gone."
She frowned at him. "Don't tease."
"He's a nice young man."
With a shrug, Annie gathered up the brochures and tucked them under her pillow.
"Annie? Is there a problem?"
"No, of course not."
"We used to be able to talk about everything."
She looked up and felt a stab of guilt. He looked genuinely disappointed.
"He's afraid I'm going to stay there," she blurted out.
Matthew pulled over the chair from the desk and sat down. "You're not, are you?"
She frowned. "Of course not."
But oh, to stay longer than the four or five days they planned to visit. There was so much to see, so much to write about ...
"Gut," he said, looking relieved.
She stood. "I should go down and help Mamm with supper."
He nodded. "I'm right behind you. She might need me to get the apple pie I smell baking out of the oven."
"Men!" she said, laughing as she walked from the room. "All you think of is your stomachs."
"Hey, a man works hard, he needs to eat."
When she got downstairs she saw her mother didn't need her help—Mary was visiting and staying for supper. She stood at the counter slicing bread while Johnny set the table. Joshua was no doubt out in the barn finishing his chores. There was nothing he liked better than to feed and water the horses.
She'd known her siblings would be doing their evening chores. But it had been a good excuse for getting out of a discussion of Aaron with her father. She hadn't liked what Aaron said about her going to New York City. And there was no need to be getting into it with her father in any case. Such things weren't discussed with parents until you actually knew you were getting engaged, and right now, she and Aaron were just friends.
It was fun going to singings and church activities and things with him, but she wasn't ready to get married yet. Fortunately, her parents wouldn't dream of pressuring her to do so. Many of her friends were waiting a little longer than their parents had before they married. After all, marriage was forever in her community.
At least, until death did you part.
Annie had been so young when her mother died that Jenny had been the only mother she'd ever known. Although Jenny moved with only a trace of a limp from the car bombing she'd suffered overseas, she'd experienced problems recovering from it that had affected her speech. Annie had bonded with her when her father had offered to drive Jenny to speech therapy on the days Annie went for help with her own childhood speech problem.
But maybe Annie was closer to Jenny, too, because Jenny had lost her mother when she was young and knew how it felt.
Their shared interest in writing came as her mother helped her with schoolwork and found Annie loved to put her active imagination on paper. Now her tiny room was full of boxes of journals and bound collections of poems and short stories.
Annie watched the way her family worked together in the kitchen getting the family meal on the table—especially loving the way her parents got along. Her father had come down the stairs and insisted on checking on the pie. Her mother shooed him away from the oven, insisting it needed five more minutes. She smiled at the way they pretended to argue, all the while teasing each other and loved seeing them occasionally sharing a kiss when they thought their kinner weren't watching.
They were different than the parents of most of her friends. Jenny's father had been born Amish but had decided not to join the church, so she was familiar with the Amish ways and had visited her grandmother here for years. Although Jenny and Annie's father had fallen in love as teenagers, Jenny had left one summer to go to college and her father had married Annie's mother some time later.
But then the terrible bombing overseas years later had an amazing result: Jenny's grandmother had invited her to recuperate at her house and Jenny had been reunited with Annie's father. After she joined the church, the two of them had gotten married. So they were different from the parents of her friends in that respect. Annie always wondered if they seemed more in love than other married couples because of all they'd been through. Then again, Amish couples didn't usually indulge in public displays of affection.
"Go tell Phoebe supper's ready," Jenny told her.
It was a simple thing to do—just a few steps across the room and a knock on the door of the dawdi haus.
Phoebe opened the door with a smile. "No need to knock, child. Mmm, something smells so good."
"Matthew thinks the pie should come out," Jenny said as Phoebe stepped into the kitchen. "I think it needs five more minutes. You decide."
Phoebe opened the oven door and nodded. "Jenny's right, Matthew. You know you're just impatient to be eating it."
He sighed and pulled out her chair. "You're right."
She patted his cheek before she sat. "Be patient. Even after it's done you'll need to let it cool a little."
Joshua came in from the barn, letting in a cold blast of wind. He took off his jacket, hung it on a peg, and went to wash his hands.
The wind picked up and rattled the kitchen window. "Hope it doesn't snow early this year," Phoebe said. "It'd make travel to the big city hard."
"It wouldn't dare snow and interrupt Annie's trip," Jenny said as the family took their seats at the big wooden kitchen table.
"Annie's trip? I thought it was Jenny's trip," Matthew remarked.
"I think she's even more excited than I am."
She grinned. "You're right."
They were just about to thank God for the meal when they heard a knock on the door.
"We know who it is," Joshua said, rolling his eyes.
"Be nice," Jenny told him with a stern look. But Annie saw the smile playing around her mother's lips.
"I'll get it," Annie said, but there was no need. No one else was getting to their feet.
She opened the door and found Aaron standing there, wearing a big smile and holding his hat in his hands.
"Good evening," he said smiling as he stepped inside and took off his hat. "Sorry I'm late."
* * *
Aaron bent his head in prayer with the family and when it was over, he looked up and glanced around the table at Annie's family.
His family, he corrected himself. Each person here—Jenny, Matthew, Joshua, Mary, Johnny—had become so dear to him in these past months he felt they truly were already his family.
He didn't dare say so to Annie just yet. He wasn't a stupid man. He knew she didn't return his feelings yet.
Yet, he told himself. He was a determined man and she was the perfect woman for him, so he'd bide his time and see what happened. When you considered marriage was forever, having to wait months to date and become engaged wasn't so long.
"Aaron? Pork chop?" she asked as she handed him the platter.
He took the platter from her and as he did their eyes met. She smiled at him and he bobbled the fork. It clattered to the floor.
"I'll get a clean one for you," she said and started to rise.
"I can use this one," he told her, bending to lift it.
"Don't you dare!" Jenny cried.
"Your floors are clean," he insisted, but Annie snatched the fork from him and handed him a clean one.
"Mamm has better things to do than keep the floors clean enough to eat off of," she told him, frowning.
"I'm sorry," he said quickly. "I didn't mean to offend."
Jenny shook her head and smiled at him. "You didn't. I'm afraid I've been busy with a deadline and just don't have as much time to clean these days."
Aaron found himself glancing at Matthew to see his reaction, but the man was calmly eating his dinner. If he had any feeling his home wasn't up to par he certainly wasn't showing it—or appearing to hide it. Wives in the community often had jobs they performed inside or outside the home, but Aaron didn't know anyone who wrote other than Jenny.
And Annie seemed to want to follow in her mother's footsteps. She wasn't aware of it, but he had watched her daydream when she was supposed to be doing her lessons and had seen her delight in writing exercises. Just how she was going to be doing the writing she spoke of here in their Plain community of Paradise he wasn't sure. He knew Jenny wrote books, but he didn't know if it was something you had to go to college for like Jenny had. And Annie had never said she wanted to go to college, something that wasn't done by the Amish.
He knew Jenny's father had left the Amish community and Jenny had been raised Englisch and gone to college. She'd even traveled overseas in countries he hadn't heard of to cover stories for the television. She'd been hurt there, and then she'd come back to heal here. She and Matthew had been attracted to each other as teenagers, but she'd gone off to college and then to her work. When she came to Phoebe's house after her injury in the car bombing, Jenny had been a broken shell of a woman. But she'd recovered, learned to walk again, and ended up walking down the aisle at her wedding.
Aaron glanced over at Annie. He knew not to look at Annie the same way her parents did with each other.
"Mamm has an appointment with her editor while we're in New York City," Annie informed him as she passed him a bowl of mashed potatoes. "After, I've been invited to take a tour of the publishing offices."
The mashed potatoes he'd been spooning onto his plate landed with a wet plop on his plate.
"I can't wait," she said, her voice animated. "I'm hoping to talk Mamm into going to the New York Times building."
He'd never heard of anyone he knew going to visit the New York Times or a publishing company. Niagara Falls, some national parks—those were the kinds of places Plain people visited when they took a vacation away from home. He wondered how a building where books or newspapers were published could be interesting.
His own mother had asked him if it was wise to be seeing someone so different from the "usual girl" as she put it. When Aaron had asked her if she didn't like Annie, she'd blustered a bit and then said, of course she liked Annie.
Excerpted from Free Christmas Fiction Sampler by Jennifer AlLee, Barbara Cameron, Vannetta Chapman, Ace Collins, Myra Johnson. Copyright © 2013 Barbara Cameron. 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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