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Samantha Klaassen gazed in wonder at the tiny bundle in her arms. Jenny Millicent O'Brien was absolutely beautiful. The baby's fine dark hair stood out like a halo around her perfectly shaped head, her dark eyes wide lined by nearly invisible lashes and a tiny button nose tilted impishly. When the newborn's mouth stretched into an adorable yawn, Samantha laughed softly.
She lifted the infant higher to press the soft cheek against her own and breathe in the sweet milky smell that said baby. "Oh, Pris ..." Samantha spoke to her sister-in-law but lilted her voice for the baby's ears, "you must be so proud."
Priscilla shifted herself higher against the pillows in her tall bed. Her tangled hair, black as midnight, spread across her shoulders, and she pushed it aside. "Proud but tired. Whatever doctor attached the label 'labor' to describe giving birth wasn't just joking! It's the hardest work I've ever done. You'll find out one day—mark my words!"
Samantha felt her heart lift. "Oh, I hope so." Samantha gently placed her new niece into Priscilla's waiting arms. She watched as little Jenny immediately nestled against her mother, as if sensing she was back where she belonged. Samantha's chest filled with longing for her own sweet baby to cuddle.
Priscilla smoothed the blanket away from Jenny's face. "Where's Joey? It's too quiet out there."
Samantha smiled, picturing her brother David and Priscilla's firstborn, a son named Joey. At two and a half, the toddler was a never-ending cyclone of activity. Under the best of circumstances, he was a challenge. Now that Priscilla had a new baby to care for, how would she keep up with the little boy? Samantha answered, "David took him to the mercantile for a while so you could get some rest."
"Oh, bless his heart," Priscilla sighed and shook her head. "I know he took Joey with him to help me out, but my poor husband always comes home grumpy after he's had to battle with Joey at the store."
"Well, he'll only have Joey there a short time." Samantha leaned over to stroke Jenny's soft cheek with one finger. "He said Josie would pick him up to spend the afternoon playing with Simon, so maybe it won't be so bad." Only two months separated cousins Simon and Joey, and the two little boys got along famously.
"That's a relief." Priscilla sighed again. "If I could just regain my strength, I could be more helpful around here, but it seems—" The tears that were always just below the surface these days spilled over again. Priscilla hid her face in the crook of her arm. Samantha sat back, feeling so helpless at the depression that had taken hold of Priscilla days after Jenny's birth.
Wanting to provide some sort of assistance, Samantha offered, "Why don't I plan to pick up Joey from the mercantile and take him home with me for a few days? Auntie Sam can spoil him a bit, then bring him home. You could use the rest, and I could use the company. With harvest in full swing, I hardly see Adam during the day. I'd enjoy having someone to keep me occupied." Samantha's husband, Adam, would be gone from dawn to dusk for several more weeks, working with the community members to harvest wheat and corn. Even with the help of gas-powered machinery, it was a long process and required the participation of every area farmer.
Priscilla blinked at Samantha with eyes red rimmed and raw from all the tears that had been shed in the past two weeks. "Oh, Sammy, I appreciate that, really I do. But I don't know what David would say. He seems to think if I'd just get up and get moving, everything would go back to normal, but—" She sniffled.
Samantha sat on the edge of the bed and patted Priscilla's hand. "I'm sure it's just that David is worried about you. This birth was harder on you, and it will take a while to get back to your old perky self. I tell you what: I'll talk with Davey and make sure he knows it was all my idea to take Joey. I'm sure I can make him see the sense of it. Would that be all right?"
Priscilla sent her sister-in-law a grateful look. "Oh, would you, Sam? I'm sure I can get my strength back if I don't have to chase after Joey for a day or so."
"I'll go talk to him right now." Samantha leaned forward to place a kiss on Priscilla's wan cheek. "You rest while Jenny's still sleeping. I'll check in on you tomorrow."
"Thank you." Priscilla's eyes were already closed.
Samantha paused in the doorway for a moment, capturing the scene of mother and child snuggled together beneath a bright patchwork quilt. The sunlight slanting through the lace curtain at the window created a weblike pattern across the foot of the bed. Priscilla and little Jenny were a picture of contentment. Samantha couldn't help the envy that rose inside, and she turned away.
As she drove her wagon to the mercantile, she reflected on all the changes in the family over the past three years. Priscilla and David had Joseph and now Jenny; Priscilla's brother Stephen and his wife, who was Adam's sister, had Simon; Adam's brother Frank and his wife, Anna, had Laura Beth and were expecting another child before Thanksgiving; Adam's sister Liz and her husband, Jake, already had three little ones running around the house—the twins, Andy and A.J., and now little Amanda; and Adam's oldest brother Daniel and his wife, Rose, had added a third daughter, Camelia, to their family the same year Amanda had been born. Everyone's families were growing ... except Samantha's and Adam's.
It wasn't fair, Samantha mourned. She and Adam had been married longer than David and Pris, Josie and Stephen, too! When would it be her turn for the congratulations and gifts of tiny gowns and teasing comments about her expanding waistline? Everyone told her to be patient, that her time would come, but Samantha's patience was spent. She wanted her time to be now.
When she entered the town's mercantile, which David managed, she was still feeling resentful and swung the door harder than necessary. The cowbell above the door clanged angrily, and she grabbed it to still the sound. Another noise reached her ears from the storeroom at the back—Joey's plaintive cry and David's scolding voice.
"Joey, I don't know how many times I've told you: you can't climb on the shelves! Look at the mess you've made for Papa now." It seemed David's patience was spent as well, but for a far different reason, she thought.
Samantha pulled back the curtain over the storeroom door and peeked in. Startled, her hand clapped her cheek as she gaped at the fiasco. The wooden shelves that had been secured to the wall hung crazily. David stood knee-deep in overshoes and work boots. He held Joey, who was hollering and doing his best to free himself from his father's grasp. Samantha immediately knew what had taken place—and what else would soon take place if someone didn't intervene.
Although Samantha tried not to butt in to her relatives' child rearing, she hated to see Joey punished for what she considered to be normal curiosity. What little boy didn't like to climb? Besides, it seemed like a perfect time to borrow Joey for a few days. "David?"
David turned to the doorway, exasperation creasing his narrow face. "Oh, Sam."
When the wailing Joey spotted his Auntie Sam, he reached his chubby arms for Samantha. She waded through the mess to take him. "Looks like Joey's been busy," Samantha offered with a wry smirk as she lifted him into her arms.
David threw his hands upward. "When isn't he?" David surveyed the disorder. "I declare, Sammy, I can't keep up with that child! He goes from one thing to another, and another, and another.... And he leaves messes behind wherever he's been." Her brother blew out his lips in disgust.
Samantha found herself unable to generate even a wee bit of indignation at Joey's mischief making. "At least you'll never lose track of him," she quipped.
David shook his head. "You never lose patience, do you, Sam? It's too bad—" He broke off, but the unspoken words, it's too bad you don't have any children of your own, hung in the air between them.
Samantha steered the conversation elsewhere. "I thought Josie was going to pick him up."
"She was—she is—but not till noon. If I last that long." David gave his sister a look that told her he'd had enough.
"Well," Samantha said with forced brightness, "given my penchant for patience, I have a request."
"What's that?" He had started sorting through the jumbled pile of shoes, trying to pair them up again.
"I'd like to take Joey home with me for a few days. Would you like that, Joey?" Samantha noticed David's sharp gaze settle on her, but she ignored his stern expression. "I'm so lonely with Adam gone all day, I would very much enjoy the company. Plus Priscilla seems to need some extra time to rest, to get back on her feet."
"Did Priscilla put you up to this?"
"No, it was all my idea. But she didn't oppose it, if that's your next question."
"It was." David high stepped through the chaos to his sister and placed a hand on Joey's dark head.
Joey had laid his head on Samantha's shoulder and was sucking his fingers contentedly. Samantha rocked him back and forth. She loved the feel of Joey's hair against her cheek. Samantha looked up at David. "It was my idea, and I think it's a good one. Pris is really washed out from the difficult delivery. Joey is just too much for her right now. And I don't see how you can expect to keep him here and still pay attention to the store. I'm serious about wanting the company." She paused, tipped her head and asked in her best pleading voice, "Please, Davey?"
David lost his stern expression, the lines around his eyes turning into a smile. But to Samantha it looked like a sad smile. "I can't say no to you when you look at me that way, Sammy."
"Good!" Samantha whispered in Joey's ear, "You get to come home with Auntie Sam for a few days, Joey!" Joey continued sucking his fingers, but his dark, fine eyebrows shot up in happy speculation. She looked up at David. "I'll stop by the house and collect a few of his things on my way home. I'll check on Pris too once more."
"Thanks, Samantha." David perched on the edge of a crate and ran a hand through his wavy hair. "It's been rough since Jenny was born. Priscilla just sits and cries and practically ignores Joey. I guess it's small wonder he's been into more mischief than usual. I can't figure out what's wrong with her."
Samantha didn't have much advice to give. She couldn't begin to understand all of the emotions that might accompany childbirth. But she could offer sympathy. "I'm sure Pris is just tired, David." She placed a hand on David's wide shoulder. "Wait and see—a few days of relaxation, and she'll be back to her same sassy self."
"I hope so." David shook his head. "These constant tears and melodramatic sighs are wearing me down."
Samantha left David to his mess. As she held Joey's small hand and walked to the waiting wagon, she told the little boy, "What fun we're going to have, Joey! For a while we'll pretend you're my little boy and forget all about everybody else! Yes?"
Joey blinked up at her innocently and echoed, "Yes."
For the moment, her joy would be in pretending.CHAPTER 2
Adam Klaassen lowered the crossbar on the barn door and ambled toward the house, the warm glow from the windows a beacon of welcome. The aroma of supper—vegetable soup, if his nose was correct—drifted across the yard, and he hurried his steps. Although he'd eaten a hearty noon meal and an afternoon snack as well, he'd never turn down Samantha's well-seasoned soup made from vegetables from their own garden. His heart gave a bit of a leap, as it always did, when coming home to his wife. How he loved her ...
"I'm home!" he called as he entered the kitchen. Surprised, he saw Samantha in her favorite, scarred rocking chair with their nephew Joey squirming in her arms. When Joey spotted Adam, he wriggled all the harder, and Samantha released him with a sigh.
"Unc'oo Adam!" The little boy galloped barefoot across the floor, his nightshirt flapping. He threw pudgy arms around Adam's legs.
"Hey there, big guy." Adam scooped up the giggling toddler and hoisted him high onto his shoulder. "What brings you here?"
"Joey tum home wif Auntie Sam." Joey grabbed two fistfuls of Adam's hair for support. "We betendin' I Auntie Sam's widd'oo boy."
Adam wasn't sure that was a healthy pastime for Samantha, but he chose not to broach the subject. He carefully dislodged Joey's hands from his hair and set him back down on the floor. Joey kept a two-handed grip on Adam's wrist, suspending himself happily, while Adam leaned over to receive a kiss from his wife.
"I hope you don't mind if we have Joey for a couple days." Samantha lifted Joey into her lap and set the rocker in motion. "When I visited Priscilla this morning, she looked so worn out, and David was at wit's end, trying to keep track of Joey at the mercantile. I felt sorry for them both and on the spur of the moment offered to help out. I didn't think about checking with you before it was all settled."
Adam pulled over a pressed-back chair from the table and seated himself backward, stacking his arms on the top to prop up his chin. He grinned at Joey, who continued to wiggle in Samantha's embrace. "There was no need to check with me, honey. Besides," he chuckled, "watching him will be your responsibility, since I'll be gone all day." He grinned as he observed Joey's constant wriggling. "Looks like you'll have your hands full."
Samantha leaned forward to give Adam another kiss, and Joey said, "Ooooh! Tisses!"
Adam joined Samantha in a laugh. He reached out to poke Joey's tummy. The boy giggled and pulled up his knees to protect his ticklish belly. Samantha wrapped her arms around him and held him tight. "Shhh now, Joey. It's time for sleep." She began humming a lullaby.
Adam got up, poured himself a cup of coffee, and leaned against the kitchen counter to watch Samantha play mommy. She rocked and sang softly, stroking Joey's dark curls back from his forehead in a rhythmic gesture that appeared to relax him. Joey's fingers went to his mouth as his eyelids dropped. Samantha rocked, her face wearing an expression of bliss.
Adam swallowed hard. "It feels good holding him, doesn't it?" Adam asked quietly.
Samantha nodded. She pressed her lips to Joey's temple, her eyes sliding closed. The beauty of his Samantha cradling a child made Adam's chest ache. Tears pricked his eyes. Yet he couldn't look away. He remained across the room for several minutes with only the squeak of the rocking chair runners against the wood floor and the measured tick-tick, tick-tick of the mantel clock providing homey intrusion.
When Joey's fingers slipped from his mouth, Adam put down his cup and crossed to the chair. He held out his arms. "Let me put him to bed now."
Samantha's grip tightened for a moment, but then she transferred Joey to Adam.
Adam whispered, "Which room do you want him in?"
Samantha's forehead creased. "The nursery."
Adam cringed. He wished she'd stop referring to the small bedroom at the right of their own as the nursery. The room, away from the head of the stairs and with a door connecting it to theirs, would make a perfect nursery. But it contained no cradle and no baby, so using the term only served to hurt her. And him.
She added in a raspy whisper, "I made a pallet on the floor for him."
Adam carried the slumbering little boy upstairs. The child's weight in his arms felt good. Right. He knelt and carefully placed Joey on the folded quilts. Joey snuffled, wrinkling his nose, then rolled onto his tummy and hiked his bottom in the air. A chuckle rose in Adam's throat, but he held it inside as he eased a blanket over the little boy and tucked it in around him. He remained crouched beside the pallet for a few moments, gazing down at Joey's peaceful face, before leaning over to deposit a kiss on the child's round cheek.
He closed the door silently behind him and tiptoed downstairs. As he reached the bottom, Samantha rose from the rocker to meet him. Adam beamed at her. "He rolled over, stuck his little behind in the air, and started snoring."
Wordlessly Samantha stepped into him, wrapping her arms around his middle and burying her face in the hollow of his throat. He closed his arms around her and rested his chin on the top of her head. "When, Adam?" she asked, her voice muffled by his collar.
Excerpted from When a Heart Cries by Kim Vogel Sawyer. Copyright © 2005 Kim Vogel Sawyer. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
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Posted April 26, 2013
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