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A Time to Heal - Quilts of Lancaster County Series #2
By Barbara Cameron
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2011 The United Methodist Publishing House
All right reserved.
They couldn't keep him caged up any more. He took a deep breath of the summer air, warm and fragrant with the scents of earth and the crops growing in the fields on each side of the road.
A man could get to feeling dead inside living in the place he'd been, trapped in a prison of despair and pain, shut away from the rest of the world. He'd gotten out and he would never go back.
He had enough scars to last a lifetime.
His surroundings were so different from the small rural town in Kansas where he'd grown up. But there was a similar feel to this landscape with the crops ripening in the fields and, most of all, the huge barns that cast shadows over neat farmhouses, as if asserting their importance. Work came first.
The old-time farm equipment looked weird. Modern-day efficiency ruled the fields back home. And the buggies—well, they were the biggest surprise. He knew the Amish drove buggies. He'd seen photos. But the reality made him feel as if he'd stepped back in time, not just stepped out of the prison he'd been in for so long.
Dusk began falling as his military boots marched toward their goal. He set his backpack down and pulled a wrinkled map from his pocket, studying it for the hundredth time. Excitement quickened his step even though he felt exhausted and hungry. She wouldn't be expecting him. Might not even appreciate the surprise. But he'd felt compelled to come here. It might mean trouble, but he'd never backed down from a problem before.
He heard the sound of horse hooves clip-clopping behind him, interrupting his thoughts.
"Need a ride there, sohn?"
He turned and looked up into the friendly face of an Amish man whose grizzled beard blew in the cooling late summer breeze.
"No, thanks," he said. "I don't have much farther to go."
He watched as the Amish man nodded and called to his horse, and the buggy moved on down the road.
Forced to rest a short while later, he ate the jerky strips and apple he'd bought at a convenience store earlier. A meager meal but he'd had worse—sometimes none at all. The ability to enjoy God's country outside made it a banquet.
He pitched the apple core into the nearby cornfield. It'd make a meal for some mouse or other tiny animal. He tucked the jerky package into his backpack and stood. Pain shot through his knee. He winced and then worked out the kinks before he tried walking.
Not far now. The farmhouse perched on a small hill ahead. He recognized it without even looking at the number on the mailbox. She'd described it so well.
He didn't know if he'd get a welcome. After all, they hadn't met under the best of conditions. Perhaps he should have written and asked if he could come visit. But he hadn't wanted to know she didn't want him to. If she refused to see him, he'd find a place and see for himself what she'd talked about.
But as he looked around him, as he breathed the air of freedom and walked alone and unfettered, he knew that he'd found what he'd been searching for all these years.
* * *
Hannah stepped out of the buggy, reached back inside to lift the covered tray, and smiled. She couldn't believe they'd be celebrating Joshua's birthday again. Time seemed to fly by. Parents often said that. She hadn't believed them before now. But Joshua was eight already.
Balancing the tray on her hip, she opened the door to the schoolhouse and stepped inside. Joshua turned and waved before he resumed working with another scholar. Several other children smiled and waved shyly but they, like Joshua, returned to their work without needing a reminder from Leah, the teacher.
"I thought I'd come a little early to see if you could use some help," Hannah said as Leah walked over to greet her.
"I knew you would. I can't tell you how grateful I am for all the time you volunteer here."
Hannah glanced around the room. Nothing had changed since she'd attended this very schul. She'd sat at that desk over there by the west window, done her sums and written sentences on the blackboard, and heated her sandwich on the radiator as they all did in the winter. She'd celebrated birthdays here, performed in little plays with the other scholars, and fallen in love with Samuel Lapp. She had been in seventh grade; he, in eighth.
Unfortunately, Samuel hadn't known she existed even though he sat just two rows away.
Leah held out her hands. "Let me set this down for you. What kind did you make?"
"Half yellow, half chocolate. I put in two chocolate cupcakes just for you."
Leah's eyes lit up. "You know me so well."
Hannah laughed. "I should. You always bargained with me for anything chocolate if I brought it in my lunch." She glanced around. "What can I do?"
"Daniel and Jacob could use some help with their addition and subtraction lesson."
Hannah walked over to the table where Daniel and Jacob were hunched over their tablets. "Can I help you with your addition and subtraction?"
"Could we have a cupcake first?" Daniel responded, his grin full of charm.
She shook her head and tried to look stern. "Not until it's time. And besides, Joshua's mamm and daedi aren't here yet."
Jacob looked up at her and frowned. "Jenny isn't his real mamm. She died."
Daniel smacked his arm. "Hannah knows that. Don't be a schtummer! Jenny's his new mamm."
"I'm not a dummy!" Jacob said. He hit Daniel on the arm, and the two glared at each other.
"That's enough," Hannah said. "Time to get to work or the two of you will sit here while the rest of us eat cupcakes."
Groaning, they hunched over their lesson again. Hannah hid her smile while she watched Daniel, tongue caught between his teeth, worry over a problem. When he held up the paper and showed her his answer, she nodded with approval.
The door opened and Jenny walked in. Hannah watched as her schwei made her way across the room. Sometimes she still couldn't believe that this glowing, healthy woman was the same one who'd come home a pale, shattered version of herself just two years ago. Now, only those who knew what Jenny had been through could detect the slight limp in her walk and the small scar that lingered on her face, evidence of the injuries she'd suffered.
But everyone could see how she radiated happiness and could feel the aura of peace that surrounded her. Some of it came, Hannah knew, from Jenny working so hard to overcome her injuries. Some of it came from her deepening faith and her love of the Plain community into which she'd been accepted. And some of it came from the man she'd married—Hannah's widowed bruder, Matthew.
Praise God for that. Matthew had changed for the better after he and Jenny had married.
Hannah remembered how Jenny had once asked her what she looked for in a man. Had she made up a wish list? Jenny had wanted to know. Hannah, having never heard of such a thing, shook her head and laughed a little at the thought.
But Hannah had no interest in any of the men here in Paradise, and she'd started to wonder whether she would ever marry and start a family of her own. She feared that she'd become en alt maedel—an old maid.
Hannah joked with this sister of her heart that the man who would become her husband would just have to show up if she were ever to become a wife and mother.
Now, as Hannah glanced around at all the sweet faces of the children who surrounded her, she felt a small pang. If she wanted kinner of her own—and she realized more and more these days that she did—maybe she would have to settle for one of the men who'd tried to court her.
* * *
No one was home.
Chris couldn't believe it. He'd come all this way and no one was home. Why hadn't he thought this could happen?
But he'd figured that life on a farm kept you mostly on the farm. That had been his experience growing up on one. He hadn't gotten away from it except to go to school—time he'd begrudged. What did he need algebra for anyway? Would it help him to run a farm? Simple math, geometry—okay, he might need those. But algebra? And English? He spoke it just fine, thank you very much. Agricultural and 4-H classes after school—now that was different. He could use those for his future, he'd told the guidance counselor.
After a brief stint in the military, a tradition in his family, he'd come home to help run the family farm. Marry a hometown girl, have kids with her, enjoy the American Dream.
But things hadn't quite worked out that way.
Now, as he stood knocking on the front door of an empty house, Chris felt like it was just one more example of how his life hadn't worked out the way he'd planned.
Letting his hand fall to his side, Chris glanced around. Now what? He had money, but it was too far to walk to a motel, and besides, they had to come home soon, didn't they? He would wait. He'd prayed about coming here for so long, he refused to walk away.
He strolled around the house, spotted the barn, and felt a smile creep over his face. The barn had always been one of his favorite places, aside from working in the fields with the sun warm on his back.
Pushing open the doors, he nodded in satisfaction at the sight that greeted him. The interior was spotless, with horse tack hung neatly on a nearby wall and the stalls cleaned and lined with straw.
The loft beckoned. It had been his favorite place on their Kansas farm. He climbed the ladder. Once up top, he took off his backpack and slung it down on the hay.
Sitting on the edge of the loft, he remembered all the times he'd felt bigger than himself, high above the ground. Sometimes he'd just wanted some time alone; sometimes he'd dreamed about all the places he longed to see.
Now he'd seen them, but there was only one place he wanted to go after visiting the woman he'd come so far to talk to. He wanted to go home, see if he could live there again, make peace with his family.
His whole body ached. He closed his eyes and rotated his head. He'd pushed too hard today. Opening his eyes, he glanced at the hay heaped invitingly behind him. Many a fine nap had been taken in his hayloft.
Glancing down, he saw that he'd left the barn door open. He would hear if someone came in with the horses. Lying back, he groaned with pleasure as he relaxed. No bed had ever felt softer.
Pulling his backpack closer with one hand, he reached inside and pulled out his Bible. He opened it to his favorite passage—actually, Vince's favorite passage in Ephesians, for he'd marked it by folding the page down—and read, "I pray that He would give you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by His spirit in the inner man."
He had riches. Sort of. He hadn't had anything to spend his money on with his enforced time off. Of course, the passage didn't mean just money. He understood that.
Strength? He supposed he had some of that although most everyone could use more. He'd survived things he'd never thought he could. Only now did he understand that it was because of the grace of God.
His eyelids drooped, and he forced them open. He couldn't fall asleep. Blinking, he continued reading. This wasn't his Bible, but when his buddy Vince got shot right in front of him, he'd taken it, tucked it into his pocket, and protected it ever since.
Lying in the loft reminded him of times as a kid when he'd sneak away to get some space—some time to read and think. The minute he got home, the rest of the day he spent on chores. Not that he didn't like living and working on the farm. But sometimes a guy needed to get away for a little while.
Dust motes danced in the sunlight streaming through the opening to the left of the loft. The aches and pains he'd noticed from his long, unaccustomed walk eased, and lethargy stole over him.
Peace. This was the peace he hadn't felt in two years. The Bible slipped from his fingers and he slept.
* * *
Hannah frowned when she saw the open barn door. She distinctly remembered shutting it before she left earlier. Matthew was a real stickler for keeping it shut, and the kinner knew that.
Daisy's nostrils flared, and she jerked at the harness when Hannah stepped inside the structure. The horse seldom behaved in a skittish way. Hannah murmured to calm her and glanced around. Did some animal hide inside?
When Daisy reached her stall, she shied away, but Hannah held on to the harness and pulled her toward it. Finally, the horse settled and went willingly.
After Hannah fed and watered the horse, she turned to leave the barn and heard a faint sound. Stopping, she listened, wondering if an animal had indeed gotten into the barn. One of the farm cats might need to chase down a mouse. There, she heard it again, from up above her head. Looking up, she watched as a piece of hay drifted down like a feather from a crack in the wood.
"Is someone there?"
Perhaps one of her nieces or nephew had climbed up into the loft. They weren't supposed to, but then again, kinner were kinner. Well, if they were being mischievous, she'd just surprise them.
She tiptoed over to the ladder and began climbing it. She'd just reached the top rung when suddenly a man's face appeared above her.
With a shriek, she stepped back and into air. Her hands slipped on the wood and she felt herself falling. His hand shot out and grasped hers, held, while her legs banged against the wood.
"I've got you. Hold on!" he commanded, holding out his other hand. "Here, grab hold! I won't let you fall."
Grasping his hand, she stared into eyes that were a deep, dark brown, intense and mesmerizing. He pulled her up into the loft almost effortlessly. She lay there, her heart thumping and her breath shallow.
"I'm sorry I scared you," he said. His face loomed over her. "I must have fallen asleep up here. Are you all right?"
An Englischer. Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, he wore his sandy brown hair quite short. She'd never seen him in these parts. Her heart rate, already fast from the near fall to the barn floor, beat faster.
"Who are you?" she stammered. "What are you doing here?"
Before he could answer, he heard someone enter the barn. "Hannah!"
She dragged her gaze away from the man's eyes. Matthew!
* * *
Chris felt his heart jump into his throat when he heard the male voice. He muttered a curse. All he needed was some angry husband or boyfriend.
The woman sat up. "I'm up here!"
She brushed the hay from her clothes and began climbing down the ladder, moving slowly and carefully.
"What were you doing in the loft?" he called up.
She glanced up at Chris and bit her lip, then resumed descending the rungs.
With a deep sigh, Chris pulled on his backpack and moved to the edge of the loft.
He heard an exclamation he couldn't understand and the man thundered, "Who are you?" He picked up a rake and strode toward the loft ladder.
Chris looked down. "Chris. Chris Matlock. I'm coming down."
He'd had a gun shoved in his face more than once, had been trained to take on any enemy, and had held his own. He could face one stern-looking Amish man with murder on his mind.
Well, maybe not murder, Chris acknowledged as he glanced now and then over his shoulder as he descended the rungs of the ladder. The Amish were known for their peaceful manner and forgiving natures, weren't they?
He hoped what he'd heard was correct.
"Matthew! What are you doing?" the woman named Hannah cried out. Chris hesitated on the steps.
Turning, Chris jumped down the last two rungs and held his arms in the air. But instead of reassuring Matthew, he still advanced on him with the rake in hand.
"Let me explain," Chris said, striving for calm. "It's not what it looks like."
Excerpted from A Time to Heal - Quilts of Lancaster County Series #2 by Barbara Cameron Copyright © 2011 by The United Methodist Publishing House. 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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