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Twelve months ago, David Stoltzfus left the Amish community in Paradise, Pennsylvania—and encouraged his siblings to follow—after their father became overly stern and even abusive with them. Escaping to a new life in the Englisch world was the only way to keep one another safe. But it was not without sacrifice. When David left his father’s house and community, he also left behind Lavina Zook, the woman he planned to wed.
Lavina hasn’t forgiven David for abandoning her, but when David’s father is diagnosed with cancer, she believes she might be the only one to lure him back to make peace . . . before it’s too late. Still, forgiveness isn’t easy. Even if she can get David to return, she’s not sure he will forgive his father. And she’s not sure she can forgive David, either.
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Return to Paradise
The Coming Home Series
By Barbara Cameron
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2016 Barbara Cameron
All rights reserved.
You're sighing again."
Lavina looked up from the baby quilt she was sewing and stared at Mary Elizabeth, her schweschder. "What?"
"I am not."
"You are," Rose Anna, her youngest schweschder, said quietly. "Ever since we sat down to sew." Her blue eyes were kind. "What are you thinking about?"
"Who," said Mary Elizabeth. "A better question is who is she thinking about?"
"I'm not thinking about anyone."
Both her schweschders frowned at her. Lavina was twenty-three, the oldest of the three, but the way they looked at her she felt as if she were a kind. The three of them were barely a year apart and looked so alike with their blonde hair, blue eyes, and petite figures they could have passed for triplets.
"Maybe I'm just tired." Lavina set the quilt aside, got up and walked over to look out the window. Leaves the color of gold, red, and orange danced in the wind, heralding autumn. It used to be her favorite season. The long, hot summer and all the work of harvest, canning, and preserving was over.
But weddings were taking place now. This time last year she'd thought she and David were getting married ...
"She's doing it again," she heard Rose Anna whisper behind her.
"Tea," Lavina said, and she turned and gave them a bright smile. "Anyone want a cup of tea?"
She walked into the kitchen, filled the teakettle, and put it on the stove. Her glance went to the calendar on the wall. She looked away at how many weddings were noted for the month.
This time last year she'd been planning on marrying David Stoltzfus and making a home for them.
Sinking into a chair at the table, she cupped her chin in her hands and waited for the water to come to a boil.
She looked up. "Hmm?"
"I've always found that if you want the water to boil you have to turn the gas on under the kettle." Mary Elizabeth demonstrated by turning the dial. Her mouth quirked in a smile.
"Oh, ya. Silly me."
Mary Elizabeth pulled out the chair next to Lavina and sat. "I'm worried about you."
"I'm fine. I was just thinking about something and forgot to turn it on."
Lavina did her best not to sigh. "Ya. I'm sad. I'll get over it."
She racked her brain for something to talk about, a way to change the subject. Mary Elizabeth wasn't shy about pressing an issue when she wanted to.
"I think I'll have a cookie. Want one? Mamm made some chocolate chip."
"Schur. But —"
"Are you going into town with me to Leah's tomorrow?"
"Maybe next time. Mamm and I are going over to Waneta's house. Listen —"
"Leah's going to be happy I'm bringing her orders in a little early."
"I think she's going to be really happy with that Sunshine and Shadow quilt you made."
Mary Elizabeth shrugged. "I like that pattern. And the tourists like the old traditional Amish patterns."
"Well, you did a great job on it."
"If I have time I want to do a Broken Star pattern before Christmas."
Lavina brought the cookie jar to the table and tried to hide her smile. Finally she'd distracted her schweschder from worrying about her.
They talked about quilt patterns for a few minutes and then the teakettle shrieked.
Mary Elizabeth got up to turn the gas off. She filled two cups and sat again.
"I should get tea for Rose Anna."
"She can come get it if she wants." Mary Elizabeth handed her a tea bag and then chose one for herself from the bowl on the table.
Lavina listlessly dunked the tea bag over and over in the cup until Mary Elizabeth took it from her and set it the saucer. "Go ahead," Lavina said. "Tell me I have to get over him."
"I'm not going to tell you that."
Lavina looked up. "You're not?"
"Nee. You love David and time apart isn't making you forget about him."
"He made his decision. And he didn't ask me to leave Paradise with him."
"Did you ask him?"
Shocked, Lavina stared at her schwesder. "You know I didn't! I couldn't!"
"You could have. You chose not to."
A windstorm of emotions swirled up inside her. Lavina rose, paced the kitchen. "I couldn't make that choice. You know I'd have been shunned. I joined the church. But David hadn't."
"I wonder —" Mary Elizabeth stopped, then took a deep breath. "Lavina, would you have been as miserable as you've been since David left? You'd have been with him."
"Well, that's blunt."
"Ya, you know I say what I think."
"There's just one thing you're forgetting. David didn't ask me to marry him. He didn't ask me to go with him."
"I know." Mary Elizabeth fell silent for a long moment. "I do understand what you're feeling. Only a few months after David left his bruder Samuel went with him and took part of my heart."
Lavina reached out her and touched Mary Elizabeth's. "I know."
Rose Anna wandered into the room. "I thought you were going to fix tea. You're having it without me." She put her hands on her hips and pouted.
Mary Elizabeth stood and poured another cup of hot water. "It's my fault. I was talking to her. We weren't trying to make you feel left out."
Rose Anna sniffed but took a seat to the right of Lavina. "What were you talking about?"
Lavina started to say it was nothing, but knowing how Rose Anna, the youngest, was acting, she figured it would just make her feel even more left out.
"Mary Elizabeth feels I should have gone with David when he left the community."
Rose Anna's face took on a dreamy expression. "That would have been so romantic."
"He didn't ask her to go with him," Mary Elizabeth said. "Remember?"
Lavina's heart sank. She felt sandwiched in by Blunt Schweschder on one side and Hopeless Romantic Schweschder on the other.
Could the three of them be any more different?
"It was bad enough he left," Rose Anna complained. "But he didn't have to take his bruders with him. I really cared about John ..." Tears filled her eyes.
"We have to stop talking about this," Mary Elizabeth said. "We're just going to depress ourselves."
"I agree," Lavina said. And heard herself sigh. "I kept hoping he'd change his mind." She shook her head and stood. "I'm going for a walk."
"Take your jacket," Mary Elizabeth said. "It's getting a little chilly."
"Yes, Mamm," she said, making a face at her. But she took the jacket. And then, after only a moment's hesitation, she put some of the oatmeal raisin cookies they'd baked earlier into a plastic baggie and took them with her. Mary Elizabeth gave her a knowing look. She knew where Lavina was headed.
David's home — his former home — was just a half-mile from hers so it was no wonder they'd been close as kinner. They'd walked to schul together, played together, gone to youth activities at church together. As the years had passed they'd become such good friends. More than friends. She had thought they were going to get married and then, after repeated arguments with their bishop, he'd suddenly moved away.
She frowned as she neared the Stoltzfus home and saw Waneta, David's mamm, sitting on the front porch looking miserable.
"Waneta? Are you allrecht?"
"Lavina, gut-n-owed." She tried to smile. "I'm fine. Just getting some air."
"Chilly air." Lavina climbed the steps and took a seat in the rocking chair next to her. "I thought I'd take a walk and bring you some cookies we baked earlier."
"Such a sweet maedel. Danki."
Lavina took one of the woman's hands in hers and found it was cold. She chafed it. "Why don't we go inside and have some with a cup of tea?"
Suddenly there was the sound of breaking glass inside the house. Waneta jumped and glanced back fearfully.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
"Just my mann being careless," Waneta said. "You know men, so clumsy."
The front door opened, and he stuck his head out. "Where's my supper?" he demanded. Then he saw Lavina. "You come around to ask about David? Well don't! I don't have a sohn!" The door slammed.
Waneta jumped. "He doesn't mean it." But tears welled up in her eyes. "He's not well."
"Not well?" David had told her once that his dat sometimes drank ...
Tears rolled down Waneta's cheeks. "The doctor told us today that he has the cancer." She pulled a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at her eyes. Then she looked at Lavina, seemed to struggle with herself. "Lavina, do you ever hear from David?"
She shook her head. "You know I would come tell you. We've talked about this. If either of us heard from him, we'd tell the other. It wouldn't matter if we're supposed to shun him. We'd tell each other."
"He needs to come home," Waneta said, sobbing now. "He and Samuel and John. They need to come home or they may never see their dat again."
* * *
David sat in his new-to-him pickup truck in the driveway of his Englisch friend Bill's house.
It had taken him a year to save up enough for the five-year-old pickup truck, but he'd firmly resisted the temptation to get a flashy new truck because it meant buying on credit. He wasn't dead set against credit. Sometimes a person had to use it. Land was expensive in Lancaster County. Unless you inherited it you often had to arrange for a bank loan.
The memory of the farm he'd grown up on flashed into his mind. He firmly pushed it away. He didn't miss all the arguments with his dat and with the bishop.
David missed Lavina, but there was no point in thinking about her. He couldn't have her so he had to keep pushing her out of his mind. After being away from her for a whole year now, he was down to only having to do that a couple of times a day.
He wondered what she would think of the truck. One of their favorite things had always been to go for a buggy ride.
"Ready for your first ride?" Bill asked as he got into passenger seat.
"Where are we headed?"
David shrugged. "I don't know. Where shall we go?"
"Let's just do some country roads, get you used to the truck."
"And not scare you in Paradise traffic?"
"You didn't scare me when I was teaching you to drive."
Bill chuckled. "Well, not much, anyway. Now, teaching my younger brother, that was scary. Kid has such a lead foot."
David went through the steps Bill had taught him to do prior to turning on the ignition. Fasten seat belt. Check. Position rearview mirrors. Check. Check gas gauge. Check. Release parking brake. Check. Turn on ignition. Check. Put car in gear. Check. Look for traffic.
"You forgot a step."
David stopped the truck before he left the driveway and turned to his friend. "What?"
"You forgot to check out your appearance, dude." Bill pulled the visor down and checked his hair, smoothing it with one hand, then checked out his smile before he turned the visor back. "C'mon, don't be shy. You want to look good for the ladies when you cruise."
With a laugh, David pulled down his visor and checked out his appearance. After months, he was still not used to seeing himself with an Englisch haircut. He hadn't recognized himself in the glass store window he'd passed the day after the haircut. He'd had to take a second look, see that it was him, see the dark blue eyes and square jaw, the brown, almost black hair.
"And don't forget the shades," Bill said, passing him the pair he'd urged David to buy. "They're not just to look cool. You have to be careful about glare when you're driving."
"So much to remember. It was easier to just hitch up a horse."
"But wait 'til you get this baby out on the road and feel the horsepower under the hood," Bill said, stretching out his long legs. He tilted his own sunglasses down and looked at David over the top of them. "Not that I'm urging you to speed."
"Not going to do that," David said firmly. "Speeding tickets are a waste of good money."
"Wise man. Too bad I didn't think that way when I first started driving. 'Course, it's part of growing up, I guess. In my culture, I mean."
"Guys in their rumschpringe race their buggies," David said as he checked for traffic and eased out of the driveway. "You'd be surprised the speed some of them can get out of them. Sometimes the Amish buy horses that have been retired from racing."
They rode for a while in silence.
"How's the truck feel?"
"Gut — good," he corrected himself. "It will help me with work. Sometimes the boss needs something delivered and he doesn't have enough trucks."
"When you have a pickup people will be asking you to help them with all sorts of things," Bill told him. "I can't tell you how many people have asked me to help them move."
"I like to help people."
"I know. You're a good guy."
David didn't feel like a good guy. What would Bill think if he knew why he'd left his Amish community? If he knew he'd walked away from a woman he'd promised to marry? He wouldn't think he was so good then.
But Bill, thankfully, had offered friendship without prying. It was Bill who was good, helping him find a job, a place to rent and now a vehicle when he needed one. He'd invited David to his church but David wasn't ready for that yet. Maybe someday.
"You doin' okay?" Bill asked him.
David gave him a quick glance. "Yeah. Why?"
"You just seemed a little down when I got in the truck and you don't act like you're enjoying it. Are you sorry you didn't buy a new one?"
"No. I don't want something I can't afford. And this'll do fine for work."
"You're being smart. Let me tell you, I wish I hadn't gotten into so much debt buying my first truck." Bill tapped his fingers on his knee.
David found himself driving down roads he'd only driven in a buggy. Now he was in an Englisch vehicle and needed to slow down and be careful of the Amish buggies. He passed the buggies of two former friends, but they didn't recognize him in his truck and he didn't wave. No point in getting his feelings hurt if they didn't return his wave.
"Hey, you okay?"
He glanced at Bill. "Yeah, why?"
"How's it feel to be near the old neighborhood?"
But it wasn't. He hadn't been anywhere near his former Amish community since he'd left. Not having transportation had kept him in town and kept him from the temptation of trying to see Lavina ...
"Hungry?" Bill broke into his thoughts. "There's a great place for burgers about a mile ahead."
It was a little early for lunch but that was fine. He nodded. "Sure."
Lunch might be a great way to thank Bill for helping him buy the truck. The restaurant was closer to where he used to live than he liked, but there probably wouldn't be anyone he knew having lunch in the middle of a workday. He parked and started to get out of the truck when a beep sounded. Startled, he looked back and found Bill grinning.
"Gotta take the keys if you want to find the truck here when you come back." Bill shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans as he watched David retrieve the keys from the ignition and lock the truck. "What happens when someone tries to steal your horse and buggy?"
"No one does."
They went inside and found a booth. David realized that Bill was watching him over the top of his menu. "What?"
"You sure you're okay here?"
What a friend. "I'm fine. You don't have to worry that someone's going to come yell at me for leaving the community."
"We haven't talked much about why you left," Bill said as he set his menu down. "Any time you want to I'm here for you."
"Thanks." He turned, ready to give his order to the server and saw a woman in Amish dress entering the restaurant.
For months after he'd left the Amish community he'd thought he'd seen her so many times. But it always turned out to be another woman.
Just like all those other times, the woman turned and he saw it wasn't Lavina but another Amish woman.
"David? You gonna order?"
He blinked. "Oh, sorry. I'll have the double cheeseburger and fries. Well done on the burger."
They ate their lunch, and David didn't look toward the door again.
* * *
"Beautiful work," Leah said as she stroked the quilt. "Just like always."
Excerpted from Return to Paradise by Barbara Cameron. Copyright © 2016 Barbara Cameron. 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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