National Bestselling AuthorEmma Lapp tries to be the perfect daughter. Yet she can t quite win her mother s smile or her forgiveness for a transgression Emma can t quite place.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Laura Bradford is also the author of several bestselling mystery series, including the Amish Mysteries. She lives in Mohegan Lake, New York, with her husband and their blended brood. Visit her website at laurabradford.com.
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Not for the first time, Emma Lapp glanced over her shoulder, the utter silence of the sparsely graveled road at her heels deafening. On any other day, the mere thought of leaving her sisters to do her chores would fill her with such shame she'd no doubt add their tasks to her own as a way to seek atonement inside her own heart. Then again, on any other day, she would be gathering the eggs and feeding the orphan calf just like always.
But today wasn't just any day. Today was her birthday. Her twenty- second, to be exact. And while she knew better than anyone else what the rest of her day would and wouldn't entail, this part — the part she'd been anticipating since her last birthday — had become her happy little secret.
Lifting her coat-clad shoulders in line with her cheeks, Emma bent her head against the biting winds and hurried her steps, the anticipation for what she'd find waiting atop the sheep-tended grass eliciting a quiet squeal from between her clattering teeth. Unlike her five siblings, Emma's birthday wasn't a day with silly games and laughter. It was, instead, a day of sadness — a day when the air hung heavy across every square inch of the farm from the moment she opened her eyes until her head hit the pillow at night. And while she wanted to believe it would get better one day, twenty-one examples to the contrary told her otherwise.
But this —
She rounded the final bend in the road and stopped, her gaze falling on the weathered gravestones now visible just beyond the fence that ran along the edge of the Fishers' property. There, on the other side of the large oak tree, was the reason for both Mamm's on-going heartache and the unmistakable smile currently making its way across Emma's face.
When she was four ... five ... six, it had been this same sight on this same day that had swirled her stomach with the kind of dread that came from knowing.
Knowing Dat would stop the buggy ...
Knowing she and her brother Jakob would follow behind Mamm and Dat to the second row, third gravestone from the right ...
Knowing Mamm would look down, fist her hand against her trembling lips, and squeeze her eyes closed around one lone tear ...
Knowing Dat would soon mutter in anger as their collective gaze fell on the year's latest offering — an offering that would be tossed into an Englisher's trash can on the way to school ...
It was why, at the age of seven, when she'd asked to walk to school with her friends, Emma told them to go ahead without her, buying her time to stop at the cemetery alone, before Mamm and Dat.
That day, she'd fully intended to throw the trinket away in the hopes of removing the anger, if not the sadness, from her birthday. But the moment she'd seen the miniature picnic basket nestled inside her palm, she'd known she couldn't. Instead, she'd wrapped it inside a cloth napkin and hid it inside her lunch pail.
Later on, after school, she'd relocated the napkin-wrapped secret to the hollow of a pin oak near Miller's Pond. In time, she'd replaced the napkin with a dark blue drawstring bag capable of holding the now fifteen objects inside — objects her mind's eye began inventorying as she approached the cemetery.
* The miniature picnic basket
* The pewter rose
* The snow globe with the tiny skaters inside
* The stuffed horse
* The picture of a dandelion
* The bubble wand
* The narrow slip of torn paper housed in a plastic covering
* The sparkly rock with the heart drawn on it
* The red and black checked napkin
* The plastic covered bridge
* The small, red rubber ball
* The yellow spinny thing on a stick
* The signed baseball she couldn't quite read
* The dried flower with the pale blue and pink ribbons tied around the stem
* The whittled bird
Emma savored the lightness the images afforded against the backdrop of an otherwise dark, lifeless day and quickened her pace. All her life, her birthday had been a day to hurry through in the hope Mamm's pain would somehow be lessened. There was always a cake with a handful of candles, but it was set in front of Emma with little more than a whispered happy birthday. There were presents, but they were always handed to her quietly, without the belly laughs and silly antics that were part of her siblings' birthdays. And when the sun sank low at the end of her day, she, too, was glad it was over.
But this? This stop at the cemetery had become the one part of her birthday she actually looked forward to with anticipation each year. Because even while she knew it was wrong to be drawn to a material object, the very act of guessing what it might be felt more birthday-like than anything she'd ever known.
Sliding her focus to the left, she surveyed the long, winding country road that led farther into Amish country, the lack of buggy traffic in keeping with the hour. Morning was a busy time in the Amish community. It was time to tend to the animals and get about the day's tasks. In the spring, summer, and fall, those tasks entailed work in the fields for those, like Dat, who farmed. In the winter months, as it was now, there were still things that needed tending — fences that needed reworking, manure to be spread in the fields, repairs made to aging structures, and assisting neighbors with the same.
A glance to her right netted the one-room schoolhouse where she'd learned to read and write as a young child, and where three of her younger siblings still went. At the moment, there was no smoke billowing from the school's chimney, but she knew that would change in about an hour when the teacher arrived ahead of her students.
Seeing nothing in either direction to impede her adventure, Emma stepped around the simple wooden fence separating the cemetery from the Grabers' farm to the south and the Fishers' farm to the north, eyed the gravestones in front of her, and, after a single deep breath, made her way over to the second row. She didn't need to read the names on the markers she passed. She'd memorized them during her visits there with her parents, when, as a new reader, she read everything she could.
* Isaac Yoder ...
* Ruth Schrock ...
* Ruth's twin brother, Samuel ...
* Abram King ...
* And, finally, Ruby Stoltzfus, Mamm's younger sister and the aunt Emma had never met
Instinctively, she took in the date of death in relation to the date of birth even though she already knew the answer.
When she was little, and she'd come here with her family, the numbers on the markers she passed hadn't really registered. But as she'd developed math skills and a perspective on life over the next few years, she'd begun to truly understand the reason behind Mamm's grief. Eighteen-year-olds weren't supposed to die. They just weren't. And when she, herself, had inched closer to — and eventually surpassed — the age her aunt had been at death, the whole occurrence took on an even more tragic undertone.
Shaking off the sadness she felt lapping at the edges of her day's one joy, Emma dropped her gaze from the simple lettering to the stark winter earth peeking out from the dormant grass below. An initial skim of the usual places where the various objects had been left in the past turned up nothing and, for a brief moment, her heart sank. But a second, more thorough look netted a brief flash of light off to the left.
Sure enough, as she moved in closer, she saw it, her answering intake of air bringing an end to a neighboring bird's desperate hunt for food in between and around the next row's grave markers. There, wrapped around a medium-sized rock, was a —
"Levi said he saw you out here!"
Whirling around, Emma turned in time to see her best friend waving at her from the other side of the fence. "Mary Fisher! It is not polite to sneak up on a person like that!"
"Sneak?" Mary echoed, shivering. "I-I d-did not s-sneak!"
"I didn't hear you. ..."
"You did not hear Levi, either."
At the mention of Mary's brother, Emma looked past her friend to the Fishers' fields, a familiar flutter rising inside her chest. "Levi? He saw me?"
"Yah. That is how I knew you were here." Mary climbed onto the bottom slat of the fence and leaned across the top, her brown eyes almost golden in the early morning rays. "Happy birthday, Emma!"
"You remembered. ..."
Mary's brows dipped. "Of course I remember. We've been best friends since we were babies, silly."
Slowly, Emma wandered between the graves and joined her friend at the fence. "Sorry. I guess I just thought maybe you'd forgotten."
"I didn't." Mary ducked her chin inside the top edge of her coat, muffling her voice as she did. "So ... it is not any different?"
"Your birthday. You know, with your mamm. ..."
Emma didn't mean to laugh, she really didn't. But somehow it took more effort to refrain. "Thinking my birthday this year will be any different than it's been for the first twenty-one is like thinking your brother would ever notice me in the way he notices Liddy Mast."
"Please ... Liddy Mast ..." Mary grumbled on an exhale. "Do not remind me."
"What? Liddy is ... nice."
"I suppose. Maybe. But she blinks too much."
"Blinks too much?"
Emma closed her eyes against the image of the dark-haired Amish girl who'd shown up at one of their hymn sings three weeks earlier and set her sights on Mary's brother almost immediately. "Levi does not seem to mind this blinking," she whispered.
"Levi is ... well, Levi. The only things I know for sure about my brother is that he eats as if he has not seen food for days, he likes to put frogs in places I do not expect to see frogs, his constant hammering gives me a headache, and I would really rather speak of your birthday at this moment."
"There is nothing to speak of. It is just another day."
Mary's brown eyes disappeared briefly behind long lashes. "She lost her sister, Emma. That has to be hard."
It was the same argument she had with herself all the time. But ...
"When Grossdawdy died last year, Mamm and Dat said it was God's will. And when Grossmudder passed in the fall that, too, was God's will. Shouldn't —" Emma stopped, shook away the rest of her thought, and forced herself to focus on something, anything else.
Mary, being Mary, didn't give up that easily. "Her sister was younger than you are now, Emma. And it was so sudden."
"But that's just it, Mary. I don't know if it was sudden or not. Mamm won't talk about it. Ever. She is just sad on this day."
"Maybe you should ask to celebrate your birthday on a different day," Mary suggested. "Maybe then there could be smiles and laughter on your special day, too."
She opened her mouth to point out the oft-shared fact that Mamm rarely smiled around Emma at all, but even Emma was growing tired of the subject. Some things were just a certainty. Like her brother Jonathan's rooster announcing the arrival of morning as the moon bowed to the sun. Like the answering gurgle of her stomach every time she pulled a freshly baked loaf of bread from the oven. Like the cute dimple her sister Esther shared with Mamm. Like the way Jakob's footfalls sounded identical to Dat's on the stairs each night. And like the surprise she knew she'd find beside her aunt Ruby's grave that morning ...
Stepping off her own perch atop the bottom slat, Emma motioned to Mary's farm. "You should probably go. You do not want to upset your mamm by not doing your chores."
"I have a few minutes before I must be back."
Anxious to get back to the rock and the flash of silver she'd spied just as Mary called her name, Emma patted her friend's cold hand. "I am fine here. Alone."
"But it is your birthday, Emma! You should be doing happy things like talking to me instead of standing at ..." Mary's words quieted only to drift off completely as she, too, stepped onto the ground. "I will leave you to pray alone. I should not have interrupted the way I did."
She met her friend's sad eyes with a smile. "I am very glad you did, Mary. Truly. I-I just ..."
"You want to pray alone," Mary finished. "I understand."
Unable to lie to her friend aloud, Emma let her answering silence do the work.
"Well, happy birthday, Emma."
She remained by the fence, watching, as Mary made her way back across her dat's field and, finally, through her parents' back door. For a moment she let her thoughts wander into the Fisher home, too, Levi's warm smile greeting her in the way it had Liddy Mast at the last hymn sing ...
"Oh stop it, Emma," she whispered. "Levi does not see you any more than anyone else sees you."
Shaking her head, she picked her way back to Ruby's grave, her gaze quickly seeking and finding the shiny silver chain peeking out from around a nearby rock. Mesmerized, Emma dropped to her knees and slowly fingered the chain from the clasp at the top to the thick, flower-etched —
The air whooshed from her lungs as she lifted the chain from its resting spot and set the heart-shaped pendant inside her palm. She'd seen jewelry before many times — on English shopkeepers in town; on the driver Dat hired when they needed to travel outside normal buggy range; on Miss Lottie, the elderly English woman who lived out near the Beilers; and even on her own wrist for a very short time during her Rumspringa when she was sixteen — but nothing so delicately beautiful as the necklace in her hand at that moment.
"Who would leave something so pretty on the ground?" she whispered. "It does not make any ..." The words fell away as her eyes lit on a thin line around the outer edge of the heart. A line just wide enough to wedge her nail inside and —
With a quiet snap, the heart split in two and she slowly lifted the top half up and back, her answering gasp echoing around her in the cold morning air.
There, nestled against a pale pink background, was a heart-shaped photograph of an Amish girl not much younger than Emma. ... An Amish girl with brown hair and eyes so like Mamm's. ... Yet, with the exception of those two things, everything else about the girl was a mirror image of ... Emma?
Confused, Emma pulled the open locket still closer as, once again, she studied the face inside. The same high cheekbones ... The same slender nose ... The same wide, full lips ... The same tiny freckles ... In fact, with the exception of the hair and eye color, she'd actually think she was looking at a picture of herself.
Closing her fingers around the locket, Emma rose to her feet and began to run, the steady smack of her boots against the cold, dry earth no match for the thud of her heart inside her ears.
* * *
She was nearly out of breath when she reached Mary's driveway but she didn't slow down. Instead, she ran faster, her attention ricocheting between the house and the barn while simultaneously trying to work out where she'd be most likely to find her one and only true friend.
Her first stop was the barn, but other than a quick glimpse of Levi mucking a stall in the back corner, and Mary's dat gathering together tools atop a workbench, there was no one else. Spinning around, she ran farther up the driveway to the simple white farmhouse with the wide front porch. When she reached the front door, she made herself stop ... breathe ... and knock in a way that wouldn't startle everyone inside.
Still, she knew she had to look out of sorts when, a few moments later, Mary's mamm opened the door and almost immediately furrowed her brow. "Good morning, Emma. Is-is everything okay at home?"
She followed the woman's gaze down to her hands — one clenched tightly around the unseen necklace, the other nervously fiddling with the edge of her favorite pale blue dress. Realizing the sight she must be, standing there on the Fishers' porch, still panting slightly from her run, Emma made herself smile. "I ... I was hoping maybe I could speak with Mary for a few minutes?"
"I thought you spoke. Outside."
"We ... did. But ..." She stopped, swallowed, and willed her voice to remain calm even as her fingernails threatened to draw blood from her palm. "I will not take too much time. I ... I just forgot to tell her something."
"Very well." Mary's mamm stepped back, motioned Emma inside, and then closed the door against the winter morning. "Mary is making some dough for bread in the kitchen."
She followed the woman down the narrow hallway to the back of the house and the large, yet simple kitchen that was nearly identical to Emma's. Only here, at the Fishers', the table was positioned in the center of the room whereas at home the table was off to the left where Mrs. Fisher kept her sewing table.
"Mary, Emma has something she forgot to tell you." The woman smiled again at Emma and then swept her hand toward the basket of laundry at the base of the steps leading to the second floor. "I'll start putting away the laundry while you girls talk."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Daughter's Truth"
Copyright © 2019 Laura Bradford.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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