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"Booker, if you're gonna die, at least have the decency to go home and do it there."
Slumped over his desk, Gideon "Booker" Troyer kept his aching head pillowed on his forearms, but managed to cast a one-eyed glare at Craig Murphy, his friend and partner at Troyer Air Charter. "I'm fine."
"And pigs can fly." Craig advanced into Gideon's office.
"If they pay cash I'll fly them anywhere they want to go." Gideon sat up. His less-than-witty comeback was followed by a ragged, painful cough. A bone-deep shiver shook his body.
Craig took a step back. "You're spreading germs, man."
"So leave." Was a half hour of peace and quiet too much to ask? The drone of the television in the waiting area supplied just the right amount of white noise to let him drift off.
"You're the one leavingfor home."
"I can't go anywhere until this next load of freight gets here. Then I'm taking it to Caribou." Gideon barely recognized his raspy voice. He sounded almost as bad as he felt. Almost.
"If I was sick as a dog, you wouldn't let me fly a kite, let alone your prize Cessna."
It wasn't like Gideon had a choice. Their business was finally showing a profit. A small one, but it was something to build on. He'd make today's flight. If his austere Amish upbringing had taught him anything, it was the value of hard work. "I've got a contract to fulfill."
Shaking his head, Craig said, "We've got a contract. I know you think you're indispensable, Booker, but you're not."
The two men had known each other for six years, since their flight school days. It had been Craig who'd given Gideon his nickname on the first day of class. GideonBiblethe Book. Hence, Booker. Gideon had returned the favor a few weeks later when their trainer plane experienced mechanical trouble the first two times Craig took the controls. Craig was saddled with "Law" as in Murphy's Law. If anything can go wrong, it will.
"Are you offering to take this run?" Gideon took a swig of lukewarm coffee from the black mug on the corner of his desk. It turned into razor blades sliding down his throat.
"Yes. Go home and get some rest."
Gideon looked at him in surprise. "You mean that? I thought you had plans with Melody?"
"We're sort of on the outs. Caribou in October will be warmer than the reception waiting for me the next time I see her."
A woman's voice from the other room said, "That's because you're a knucklehead."
Craig rolled his eyes and raised his voice. "Stop giving people a piece of your mind, Roseanne. It's almost gone."
Gideon rose to his feet. The room spun wildly for a second before settling back into his cluttered office.
Craig put out a hand to steady him. "You're grounded, buddy. Not another word."
Gideon hated to admit it, but he was in no shape to be in a cockpit. "Thanks, Law. I owe you one."
Craig leaned closer. "Roseanne is making me do it."
Gideon cracked a grin. Their secretary's powers of persuasion were legendary. She might look like someone's cookie-baking grandmother with her gray hair pulled back in a bun, but she didn't have a maternal bone in her body.
"I'll be back tomorrow," Gideon promised.
Roseanne came around Craig with Gideon's coat in her hands. "You will not come back for a week."
Gideon scowled at her. "Tell me again who's the boss here?"
Roseanne plopped her hands on her ample hips. "You two might own this business, but I run it. If I come down sick, we're really in trouble. Who can handle the computer, the phone, the fax machine, invoices, accounts payable and the coffeepot all without leaving her chair?"
"You," he and Craig said together.
Gideon smiled. "You're indispensable, Roseanne."
"And you're sick. Get out of here and take this with you." She held out a foam cup with a lid on it.
"Your favorite brand of blackcurrant tea. I'd send some chicken soup home with you, but I don't have any here."
Blackcurrant tea had been his mother's surefire remedy for sore throats when he was growing up. He'd thought about sending her a box of this gourmet blend, but he knew she wouldn't accept it. Not from the black sheep of the family. Gideon was the only one of her five children who'd left the Amish faith.
As if his thoughts of home brought up a connection, he heard the words Amish country on the television. Glancing toward the small screen, he saw a female reporter, bundled against the brisk October chill, gesturing to a row of Amish buggies lined up behind her.
"Roseanne, turn that up, please." His voice was failing him. The words barely squeaked out.
She sighed, but picked up the remote and raised the sound level so he could hear the reporter.
"Preparations are under way in Hope Springs, Ohio, for this quiet Amish community's largest event of the year. The Quilts of Hope charity auction is being held here this weekend."
Craig moved to stand beside Gideon. "Is that where you're from?"
"Nearby." Hope Springs was forty miles from his father's farm, but Gideon had never been there. Until he left the Amish he hadn't traveled more than twenty miles from the farm where he was born. Now he lived in Rochester, New York, and he'd been to every state and all but one Canadian province.
The camera panned away from the buggies to a group of Amish men raising an enormous red-and-white-striped tent. After a second, the camera swung back to the reporter and followed her until she stopped in front of an intricately pieced quilt hanging on a display frame. "In the past, this event has raised thousands of dollars for the special needs of Amish families throughout Ohio. This year they are helping one of their own."
Roseanne said, "Now, that's pretty. I wouldn't mind owning a quilt like that."
The reporter ran her hand down the cloth and the camera zoomed in to capture the details. "Rebecca Beachy is the Amish woman who made this incredible quilt."
"It can't be." In an instant, Gideon was transported back to his youth when he had courted the prettiest girl in Berlin, Ohio. The girl who broke his heart and turned him down flat when he'd finally found the courage to propose.
"Someone you know?" Craig asked.
"No. There are a lot of Beachys in Ohio. The girl I knew would be married to some Amish farmer or carpenter." It was the life Rebecca wantedas long as he wasn't the farmer or the carpenter. Chances were slim that it was the same woman, but his gaze stayed glued to the screen.
The camera switched to a group of Amish women who were talking. The women didn't realize they were being filmed. They were dressed alike in dark coats and bonnets. One held a baby on her hip, but it was the woman in the center that he strained to see.
The reporter's voice cut into Gideon's thoughts. "The money from this year's auction is going to help pay for some very specialized surgery for Miss Beachy."
The camera zoomed in on the group of women and Rebecca's face filled the television screen. The sight knocked the breath from his body. After almost ten years, his heart still ached at the sight of her. She was more beautiful than ever. Her heart-shaped face with those stunning high cheekbones had matured from the soft roundness of youth into a quiet elegance.
"Why do they wear those odd white hats?" Roseanne asked.
"It's called a prayer kapp. Amish women believe the Bible commands them to cover their hair when they pray."
"But they don't just wear them in church?" Roseanne turned to stare at him, waiting for an explanation.
He wanted to hear what the reporter was saying. "A woman might want to pray anytime, so she keeps her head covered all day. They never cut their hair, either."
Rebecca's blond hair must be past her hips by now. He'd seen it down only once. It was the night he talked Rebecca into going to a hoedown with him and his rowdy friends.
Hoedown was a benign name for a weekend-long party with loud music, alcohol and drugs attended by some of the wilder Amish youth during their rumspringa, or running-around time. He had made the most of his rumspringa and partied hard. For Rebecca, that one party had been her only venture on the wild side.
Gideon took the remote from his secretary and turned up the volume. The TV reporter droned on. "Miss Beachy stitched this beautiful quilt entirely by hand. What's even more amazing is that she is totally blind."
"How on earth can a blind woman make a quilt?" Rose-anne's skeptical comment barely registered in Gideon's brain.
Rebecca was blind?
Suddenly, he was gasping for air and coughing so hard his head pounded. It took a minute to catch his breath. Roseanne pulled the lid off the tea and offered him some. He took a grateful sip.
Concern filled her eyes. "Do you know her?"
"I once asked her to marry me. I think if she had said yes, I would be a bearded Amish farmer now." With a blind wife.
Rebecca was blind. He couldn't wrap his brain around the fact. Why? When had it happened? The thought of the vibrant woman he'd known living her life in darkness left an ache in his chest that had nothing to do with the flu. Before he could gather more details, the news program moved on to the weather forecast and warnings about an artic front plowing southward delivering early ice and snow in its wake.
Craig said, "I read the Amish don't believe in health insurance. Is that true?"
"Most don't. The community would rally round a family that had big medical expenses, but they could only do so much."
Gideon had to help. He pulled his phone from his pocket and prayed the news station could give him more information. It wasn't until he tried to speak that he realized his voice was gone. He handed the phone to Roseanne and wrote a quick note on a piece of paper from her desk.
Get me all the information you can about the auction.
After a brief conversation, Roseanne hung up and handed the notepad to him. "It's at noon the day after tomorrow."
That gave him one day to rest up. If he headed out early the following morning he could make the six-hour trip there and back. It would be a long day, but doable.
Craig said, "Tell me you're not going to drive to Ohio."
Roseanne studied Gideon's face. "Yes, he is."
"I know we're going to have a wonderful time today."
Rebecca Beachy didn't share her aunt Vera's optimism. She folded her white cane and tucked it under her arm. Grasping her aunt's elbow, she let Vera lead her toward the tent where the quilt auction was about to get under way. Besides Rebecca's quilt, there were thirty others being auctioned off. Rebecca kept a smile on her face as she followed her aunt even though she was anything but comfortable.
Disoriented by the noise and smells of the fairlike atmosphere, she wished she were back in her aunt's small home where everything was in its rightful place and nothing was ready to trip her up.
The thought had barely crossed her mind before something hit her legs and made her stumble.
"Sorry," a pair of childish voices called out. She heard their footsteps as the children ran away.
"Hooligans," Vera muttered.
"Excited Kinder at play." Rebecca listened to the sound of the children's voices as they shouted to each other. A pang of longing escaped from the place in her heart where she kept her fading dreams.
Dreams she once had of being a wife and a mother, of holding a child of her own. She'd had the chance to make those dreams come true years before, but she had been too afraid to take the risk. Had she made the right choice? Only God knew.
"Englisch children without manners," Vera grumbled. "Come, we're almost there."
Rebecca drew a deep breath. Her life was what it was. This was God's plan for her. Impossible dreams had no place in her dark world.
But if the darkness could be lifted?
She didn't dare hope for such a miracle. This benefit auction was her aunt's doing. Rebecca had tried to convince her the surgery was too expensive. They would need more money than would be raised here today. Even if they did manage to cover the cost, there was no guarantee her sight would be restored.
She had argued long and hard to no avail. The auction was under way. It was all in God's hands, but Rebecca didn't believe He would produce a miracle for her. She was not worthy. She knew exactly why her sight had been taken from her.
She pulled the collar of her coat closed against a cold gust of wind and ugly memories. An early storm was on its way, but God had seen fit to hold it off until the auction was over. For that she was thankful. At least she and her aunt didn't need to worry about traveling home in foul weather. They had already made plans to stay in town for several days.
Suddenly, the wind was blocked, and Rebecca knew they were inside the tent. It was warmer than she expected. The smells of hot dogs, popcorn, hot chocolate and coffee told her they were near the concession stand. The sound of hundreds of voices raised to be heard over the general din assaulted her ears. When they finally reached their seats, Rebecca unbuttoned her coat and removed her heavy bonnet. Many of the people around her greeted her in her native Pennsylvania Dutch. Leaning closer to her aunt, she asked, "Is my kapp on straight? Do I look okay?"
"And why wouldn't you look okay?" Vera asked.
"Because I may have egg yolk from breakfast on my dress, or my backside may be covered with dust from the buggy seat. I don't know. Just tell me I look presentable." She knew everyone would be staring at her when her quilt was brought up for auction. She didn't like being the center of attention.
"You look lovely." The harsh whisper startled her.
She turned her face toward the sound coming from behind her and caught the scent of a man's spicy aftershave. The voice must belong to an Englisch fellow. "Danki."
"You're most welcome." He coughed and she realized he was sick.