Read an Excerpt
The Storekeeper's Daughter
By Wanda E. Brunstetter
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Wanda E. Brunstetter
All rights reserved.
Naomi Fisher tiptoed out of the back room and headed to the front of her father's general store. She'd finally gotten Zach down for a nap and felt ready for a break.
"Since there aren't any customers at the moment, would it be all right if I ate my lunch now?" Naomi asked Papa, who was going over his ledger behind the counter near the front of the store.
"Jah, okay. Just don't be too long." He raked his fingers through the long, full beard covering his chin. "That new order of candles still needs to be put on the shelves."
Naomi's hand brushed against her father's arm as she reached under the counter for her lunch pail. "I know."
"Your mamm would've had those candles out already," he mumbled. "She'd never allow the shelves to get dusty, either."
Naomi flinched as though she'd been slapped. She enjoyed working at the store, but it was getting harder to help run the place. There was no way she could keep up with the chores she was responsible for at home and do everything Mama used to do, too. It wasn't fair for Papa to compare her with Mama, and she wished he would consider hiring a maid to help out. She squeezed the handle on her lunchbox. If only Mama hadn't stepped into the road and been hit by a car. The bishop said it was God's will—"Sarah Fisher's time to die," he'd announced at her funeral.
Naomi wasn't so sure about that. How could Mama's death be God's will?
"I—I think I'll take my lunch outside if you've got no objections," she said, forcing her troubling thoughts aside.
Papa shook his head. "Schnell —quickly then, and eat your lunch before the baby wakes."
"I'm goin'." Naomi's sneakers padded across the hardwood floor. When she reached the front door, she turned around. "Papa, I'm not Mama, but I'm doin' the best I can."
His only response was a brief nod.
"I'll tend to the dusting and those candles as soon as I'm done eating."
She hurried outside. Some fresh air and time alone would be ever so nice.
Naomi leaned against the porch railing and drew in a deep breath. Spring was her favorite time of the year, especially after it rained the way it had this morning. The air was invigorating and clean—like newly laundered clothes hung on the line to dry. Today the temperature was warm but mild, the grass was as green as fresh broccoli, and a chorus of birds sang a blissful tune from the maple tree nearby.
"It looks like you're takin' a little break. Is your daed inside?"
Naomi hadn't even noticed Rhoda Lapp heading her way. "I'm eating my lunch, and Papa's inside going over his books," she replied.
"I guess keepin' good records is part of running a store." Rhoda chuckled, and her pudgy cheeks turned slightly pink. "Them that works hard eats hearty, don't ya know?"
Naomi nodded and stepped aside so the middle-aged Amish woman could pass.
"You have a gut lunch now, ya hear?" Rhoda said before entering the store.
Naomi lowered herself to the top step and snapped open the lid of her metal lunch pail. Even a few minutes of solitude would be a welcome relief after her busy morning. She'd gotten up before dawn to start breakfast, milk the goats, feed the chickens, and then, with her ten-year-old sister Nancy's assistance, made lunches for everyone in the family.
This morning, when breakfast was over, the three older boys headed for the fields. Naomi saw the younger children off to school, and then she'd washed a load of clothes, bathed little Zach, and baked a couple loaves of bread. By the time Papa had the horse hitched to their buggy, Naomi and the baby were ready to accompany him to their store near the small town of Paradise. She'd spent the next several hours waiting on customers, stocking shelves, and trying to keep one-year-old Zach occupied and out of mischief.
Tears clogged Naomi's throat, and she nearly choked on the piece of bread she had put in her mouth. Mama would have done many of those duties if she hadn't died on the way to the hospital. Mama would be holding Zach in her arms every night, humming softly and rocking him to sleep.
Naomi and her mother had always been close, and Naomi missed those times when they'd worked side by side, laughing, visiting, and enjoying the pleasure of just being together. Some days she still pined for Mama so much it hurt clear down to her toes.
A vision of her dear mamm popped into Naomi's mind, and she found comfort in memories of days gone by—a time when life seemed less complicated and happy....
* * *
"Sit yourself down and rest awhile. You've been workin' hard all morning and need to take a break."
"In a minute, Mama. I want to put away these last few dishes." Naomi grabbed another plate from the stack on the cupboard.
"Let's have a cup of tea together," Mama said. "I'll pour while you finish up."
A few minutes later, Naomi took a seat at the kitchen table beside her mother. Mama looked more tired than Naomi felt, and the dark circles under her eyes were proof of that.
"Here you go." Mama handed Naomi a cup of tea. "It's mint ... the kind I mostly drink these days. Hope you're okay with it."
"Sure, Mama. Mint's fine by me."
Naomi knew her mother had been plagued with morning sickness ever since she'd become pregnant. She was in her fifth month but still fought waves of nausea. Mint tea helped some, although there were still times when Mama was forced to give up the meal she'd eaten.
Mama leaned over and brushed a strand of hair away from Naomi's face, where it had come loose from her bun. "I'm awful sorry you have to work hard and have so many extra chores now. If I were feelin' better, I'd do more myself, but this awful tiredness and stomach rollin' has really got me down."
Naomi touched her mother's hand. "It's okay."
She nodded in reply.
"But a girl your age should be goin' to singings and other young people's functions, not doing double chores and waitin' on her old mamm."
Naomi fought to keep her emotions under control. She did wish there was time to do more fun things, but this was only temporary. Once Mama had the baby and regained her strength, everything would be as it once was. She'd be able to attend social functions with others her age, someday she would be courted, and then marriage would follow. Naomi could wait awhile. It wouldn't be so long.
* * *
The unmistakable clip-clop, clip-clop of a horse and buggy pulling into the store's parking lot brought Naomi back to the present. Caleb Hoffmeir, the young buggy maker, stepped down from his open carriage and waved. She lifted her hand in response.
As Caleb sauntered up the porch steps, his blue eyes twinkled; and when he smiled, the deep dimple in his right cheek was more pronounced. He flopped onto the step beside her. "It's a wunderbaar fine day, wouldn't you say?"
His face was inches from hers, and she could feel his warm breath against her cheek. Naomi shivered, despite the warmth of the sun's rays. "Jah, it is a wonderful day."
"Did ya hear there's gonna be a singin' out at Daniel Troyer's place this Sunday evening?"
Her heart clenched, but she merely shrugged in response. She was eighteen years old the last time she attended a singing.
Caleb lifted his straw hat, raked his fingers through his thick blond hair, and cleared his throat a couple times. "You—uh—think ya might be goin' to the singing, Naomi?"
She shook her head, feeling as though a heavy weight rested on her chest.
"Was is letz do?" he questioned.
Naomi sniffed deeply. "Nothin's wrong here, except I won't be goin' to no singing. Not this Sunday—and probably never."
Caleb raised his eyebrows. "Why not? You haven't been to one since long before your mamm died. Don't ya think it's about time?"
"Somebody's gotta feed the kinner and see that they're put to bed."
He grunted. "Can't your daed do that?"
"Papa's got other chores to do." Naomi squeezed her eyes shut and thought about the way her father used to be. He wasn't always cranky and out of sorts. He didn't shout orders or come across as overly critical. He used to be more easygoing and congenial. Everything had changed since Mama died—including Papa.
"Abraham could surely let you go to one little singing," Caleb persisted.
Naomi looked up at him, and Caleb leveled her with a look that went straight to her heart. Did he feel her pain? Did Caleb Hoffmeir have any idea how tired she was? She placed the lunch pail on the step and wrapped her hands around her knees, clutching the folds of the long green dress that touched her ankles.
Caleb gently touched her arm, and the tiny lines around his eyes deepened. "I was hopin' if you went to the singing, I could take you home afterwards."
Naomi's eyes filled with unwanted tears. She longed to go to singings and young people's gatherings. She yearned to have fun with others her age or take leisurely rides in someone's courting buggy. "Papa would never allow me to go."
Caleb stood. "I'll ask him."
"Nee—no! That's not a good idea."
"Because it might make him mad. Papa's awful protective, and he believes my place is at home with him and the children."
"We'll see about that. If Abraham gives his permission for you to go to the singing, you'd better plan on a ride home in my courtin' buggy."
Courtin' buggy? Did Caleb actually believe they could start courting? It wasn't likely to happen because Naomi had so many responsibilities. Truth be told, Naomi felt confused whenever she was around Caleb. His good looks and caring attitude appealed to her. But if she couldn't go to singings and other young people's functions, it wasn't likely she'd ever be able to court.
"Maybe I should talk to Papa about this myself," she murmured.
Caleb shook his head. "I'd like to try if ya don't mind."
Naomi's heartbeat quickened. Did she dare hope her daed might give his consent? "Jah, okay. I'll be prayin'."
* * *
Caleb glanced over his shoulder. Naomi sat with her head bowed and her hands folded in her lap. She looked so beautiful there with the sun beating down on the white kapp perched on her head. The image of her oval face, golden brown hair, ebony eyes, and that cute upturned nose brought a smile to his face. He'd taken a liking to Naomi when they were kinner, but during their teen years, he'd been too shy to let her know. Now that he'd finally worked up the nerve, Caleb didn't know if they'd ever have the chance to court, what with Naomi being so busy with her family and all. He wasn't sure if Naomi returned his feelings, either, but he'd never know if they couldn't find a way to spend time alone.
He pulled the door open with a renewed sense of determination.
When Caleb stepped into the room, he spotted the tall, brawny storekeeper stocking shelves with bottles of kerosene. "Gude mariye."
Abraham nodded. "I'd say 'good morning' back, but it's nearly noontime."
Caleb felt a penetrating heat creep up the back of his neck and spread quickly to his face. "Guess you're right about that."
"How's your daed?" Abraham asked.
"And your mamm?"
"Doin' well." Caleb rubbed his sweaty palms along the sides of his trousers.
"What can I do for you?" the storekeeper asked, moving toward the wooden counter near the front of his store.
Caleb prayed he would have the courage to ask the question uppermost on his mind. "I was wonderin'—"
"I just got in a shipment of straw hats," Abraham blurted out. "Looks like the one you're wearin' has seen better days."
Caleb touched the brim of the item in question. It was getting kind of ragged around the edges, but there were no large holes. He could probably get another year's wear out of the old hat if he had a mind to. "I—uh—am not lookin' to buy a new hat today." Caleb hoped his voice sounded more confident than he felt, because his initial presentation had dissolved like a block of ice on a hot summer day.
Abraham raised his bushy dark eyebrows and gave his brown beard a couple of tugs. "What are ya needin' then?"
"There's to be a singin' this Sunday night in Daniel Troyer's barn."
"What's that got to do with me?" Abraham yawned and leaned his elbows on the counter.
"It doesn't. I mean, it does in one way." Caleb shuffled his boots against the hardwood planks. He was botching things up and felt powerless to stop himself from acting like a self-conscious schoolboy. After all, he was a twenty-two-year-old man who built and repaired buggies for a living. Abraham Fisher probably thought he was letz in der belskapp; and truth be told, at this moment, Caleb felt like he was a little off in the head.
"Which is it, son?" the older man asked. "Does your bein' here have something to do with me or doesn't it?"
Caleb steadied himself against the front of the counter and leveled Abraham with a look he hoped would let the man know he meant business. "I'm wonderin' if Naomi can go to that singing."
Abraham's frown carved deep lines in his forehead. "Naomi's mamm died nearly a year ago, ya know."
"Ever since the accident, it's been Naomi's job to look after the kinner."
"I understand that, but—"
Abraham brushed his hand across the wooden counter, sending several pieces of paper sailing to the floor. "It ain't polite to interrupt a man when he's speakin'."
"I—I'm sorry," Caleb stammered. Things weren't going nearly as well as he'd hoped.
"As I was saying ... Naomi's job is to take care of her brothers and sisters, and she also helps here at the store."
Caleb nodded once more.
"There's only so many hours in a day, and there ain't time enough for Naomi to be socializin'." Abraham's stern look set Caleb's teeth on edge. "You might have plans to court my daughter, but the truth is, she ain't right for you, even if she did have time for courtin'."
"Don't ya think that ought to be Naomi's decision?" Caleb clenched his fists, hoping the action would give him added courage.
"Anything that concerns one of my kinner is my business." Abraham leaned across the counter until his face was a few inches from Caleb's.
If Caleb hadn't known Amish were not supposed to engage in fighting, he would have feared Naomi's father was getting ready to punch him in the nose. But that was about as unlikely as a sow giving birth to a calf. If Abraham was capable of anything, it would probably involve talking with Caleb's father, which, in turn, could end up being a thorough tongue-lashing. Pop had plenty of rules for Caleb and his brothers to follow. He often said as long as his children lived under his roof, he expected them to obey him and be well mannered.
Caleb figured he would have to watch his tongue with Abraham Fisher, but maybe it was time to take a stand. How could he expect Naomi to respect him if he wasn't willing to try for the right to court her?
"If Naomi started attending singings again, first thing ya know, she'd be wantin' to court," Abraham continued. "Then gettin' married would be her next goal. I'd be left with a passel of youngsters to raise by myself if I let that happen." Abraham made a sweeping gesture with his hand. "Who would mind the store if I was at home cookin', cleanin', and all?"
"Have you thought about getting married again or even hiring a maad?"
"Don't need no maid when I've got Naomi. And as far as me marryin' again, there ain't no one available in our community right now, except for a couple of women young enough to be my daughter." The man grunted. "Some men my age think nothin' of takin' a child bride, but not Abraham Fisher. I've got more dignity than that!"
Caleb opened his mouth to comment, but Naomi's father cut him off. "Enough's been said. Naomi's not goin' to that singing on Sunday." Abraham pointed to the door. "Now if you didn't come here to buy anything, you'd best be on your way."
All sorts of comebacks flitted through Caleb's mind, but he remained silent. No use getting the man more riled. He would bide his time, and when the opportunity afforded itself, Caleb hoped to have the last word where the storekeeper's daughter was concerned.CHAPTER 2
Naomi had just taken a bite from her apple when the screen door creaked open. She looked over her shoulder and saw Caleb exit the store. The scowl on his face told Naomi things probably hadn't gone well with Papa, and a sense of disappointment crept into her soul.
"He said no, didn't he?" Naomi whispered when Caleb slumped to the step beside her.
"Your daed is the most stubborn man I've ever met." He shrugged. "Of course, my pop's runnin' him a close second."
Excerpted from The Storekeeper's Daughter by Wanda E. Brunstetter. Copyright © 2005 Wanda E. Brunstetter. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.