Olivia Mae Miller had her hands covered in flour and was breading chicken breasts to slip into the oven when Mammi called out, “Someone’s at the door.”
It was late Wednesday afternoon, the first day of May. She’d opened the doors and windows to allow the spring breeze into the house. She could just make out the silhouette of a tall man through the screen door. Olivia Mae added dashes of salt, pepper and garlic to the chicken, then popped the baking dish into the oven. Finally she snagged a dish towel off the counter and hurried through the living room, hoping the sight of a stranger wouldn’t upset her grandfather. Some days he could become quite agitated. Other days he was sure the person was a long-lost relative.
“Can I help you?” She peered through the screen, looking up to take the measure of the man on their porch.
“Are you Olivia Mae?”
“Ya.” Still she didn’t step outside. Maybe he would go away if she wasn’t overly friendly. She had dinner to finish preparing—potatoes and corn and salad. The doctors said small amounts of salad were very important for people her grandparents’ age. She really couldn’t afford to run behind on their schedule. Evenings were difficult when they didn’t manage to tuck Daddi into bed early. She almost said, “We’re not interested,” to shoo away the man.
But then the stranger held up a wooden box that had been tucked under his arm. “I believe this is yours.”
“Oh, my.” Still wiping flour off her hands, she pushed through the door, forcing him to take a few steps back. “Where did you find that?”
He placed the box in her hands. “I’m an auctioneer over in Shipshewana, and it was in a lot—”
“From my grandparents’ old house. I must have left it there, and then they moved. But I still don’t understand how you ended up with it.”
“I thought it was something that my mamm would like.”
She must have looked alarmed, because he quickly added, “I didn’t actually buy it. I couldn’t. Since I’m the auctioneer, that wouldn’t be proper. I asked my bruder to bid on it, which he did.”
The man was rambling and refused to make eye contact. He seemed nervous for some reason. Olivia Mae pulled her gaze from him to study the box she was holding—cherry wood, sanded smooth, with a trio of butterflies carved in the bottom right-hand corner.
“After the auction, when I opened it, I saw the papers that had your name on them.”
Her head jerked up at the mention of her letters. “They’re still in here?”
“I didn’t—didn’t read them. Just saw your name, and my youngest bruder was standing there, and he knew you—knew of you. We both agreed it should be returned to the rightful owner. Didn’t seem likely that you would intentionally auction it with the letters inside.”
She moved over to one of the porch rockers, and Tall-Dark-and-Handsome followed her. Olivia Mae sank into the chair, opened the box and unfolded the top sheet. It was her handwriting all right, from so many years ago. Pain as sharp as any paring knife sliced through her heart. She shook her head, refolded the letter, gently closed the lid and turned her attention to her visitor.
“It would seem I owe you then.”
“Of course not. We have a process for things like that—when something is auctioned but shouldn’t be.”
“So your bruder was refunded his money?”
“What’s your name?”
“Noah. Noah Graber.” Instead of looking at her as he spoke, he stared out over the porch railing at her pitiful herd of sheep in the adjacent pasture—if you could call six a herd.
“And you live here in Goshen?”
“I do now. Just moved back.” He didn’t offer any further explanation about that, but he did add, “My youngest bruder, the one who was helping me, is Samuel.”
“I know Samuel, as well as Justin.”
“Seems everyone knows everyone around here.”
“Justin Graber and Sarah Kauffmann. They were married last fall.”
Dawning washed across Noah’s face.
It was almost comical.
“You’re the matchmaker?” He was still standing, and now he glanced at her before looking at his hands, the porch floor, even his horse and buggy. “I recognized your name, but I didn’t remember…that you, well, put Justin and Sarah together.”
Olivia Mae waved away that thought. “It was obvious that those two were a perfect match for each other.”
“Wasn’t obvious to Justin or Sarah. They’d known each other all their lives and never even thought of courting, to hear him tell it.”
She’d dropped her gaze to the box and was again focused on it. To see it after all these years, it made her feel young again, made her feel seventeen. But it also reminded her of the painful times that came during and after that year. The deaths of her parents, moving to live with her brothers and then the problems with her grandparents. She could have never imagined then how her mammi and daddi would come to depend on her, and how inadequately prepared she was for the changes in their health. If she didn’t find a way to stem their drastic decline, she knew it would mean a move, and she was convinced that would be the worst possible thing for them.
“I missed the wedding,” Noah continued. “I was living in Pennsylvania at the time. Seems I’ve missed a lot of things around here, but to meet an Amish matchmaker… Well, I wouldn’t have ever guessed that, and I wouldn’t have thought she’d look like you.”
There was something in Noah Graber’s voice that pulled her attention away from the wooden box and to his eyes, which were a warm dark brown, like the best kind of chocolate.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What’s what supposed to mean?”
“What am I supposed to look like?”
“Old, maybe. Using a cane. Peering at you over my glasses and shaking my knitting needle at you.” She’d come across the stereotype before. She should be used to it by now. “Yes, I’m a matchmaker. Is that something you’re interested in?”