A letter brings him back to his Amish family. But it will take someone truly extraordinary to make him stay.
Roman is on the verge of leaving the Amish ways. Feeling confined by the strict rules, he longs to do something more with his life. But when things don’t go as planned, Roman’s prospects outside of the community dwindle. Upon learning that his beloved grandmother has died and left a letter urging him to reconcile with his brother in Birch Creek, Roman decides to return home. But he doesn’t plan to stay for long.
Leanna Chupp has always made her own way in her small community of Birch Creek. Though some may call her unconventional—strange, even—Leanna is happy. Her unique outlook on life has meant she’s never had many suitors pursuing courtship, which Leanna doesn’t mind. She is content being single.
But when Roman and Leanna find themselves working together again, everything changes. Though neither fits squarely within the strictures of the Amish faith, their differences could be the very thing to help them form a deeper connection to their community and to each other. The question remains: will this strengthening bond be enough to make Roman stay for good?
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Jean Chupp clasped her hands behind her back as her Roller-blades glided against asphalt. She smoothly avoided ruts and small rocks as she skated along her street, perspiration running down her back and beading across her forehead. Nothing wrong with a little sweat, especially on a hot August day.
She'd left work well after five tonight, the second day in a row she stayed late. Although she was tired, the skating invigorated her. After spending over twelve hours inside the small engine repair shop, being out in the open and inhaling the sweet scents of hay and flowers and freshly mown grass brought a smile to her face. A slightly weary smile, but still a smile.
She dodged another rock and glanced over her shoulder. Her street was fairly isolated, and there usually wasn't much traffic, buggy or otherwise. But that was changing. Her brother, Jalon, married last year, and the Bontragers — his wife Phoebe's parents and her eleven younger brothers — all moved to Birch Creek after the wedding.
Leanna skated to the middle of the street and waved at the Yoders' house, home to her best friend, Ivy, and Ivy's parents and siblings. A couple of the Yoder boys were outside playing tag in the front yard, too busy with their game to notice her. If she wasn't late for supper, not to mention being tired, she might stop and join their game. It wouldn't be the first time.
She skated past the brand-new house that belonged to Phoebe's family. It was a large house that easily fit thirteen people, with a neatly mown yard and pretty flower baskets hanging from the front porch eave. A lovely home, but still plain and in keeping with the Ordnung.
After a few more blade strokes she braked to a stop in front of her own house. Well, not exactly her house, but her brother Jalon's. Leanna had moved to the finished dawdi haus behind the main house just before Jalon and Phoebe got married.
She stopped and looked at the main house. A little over a year ago she and Jalon had lived there after their parents moved to Mesopotamia to be near extended family. While they were growing up, the house had been big enough for a family of four, and the structure itself hadn't changed over the years. But everything else had. In addition to the dawdi haus, there was a large farm, twice the size of the one her father had struggled to make successful.
An expanded barn and a huge fenced-in pasture were recent additions. Colorful flowers bloomed in the flower beds and pots on the front porch, and a large garden thrived behind the house. Phoebe was not only a fantastic cook, but she also had ten green thumbs. In a short period of time, Leanna's family and living arrangements had blossomed stronger than the overflowing tomato plants in the garden.
Leanna stopped in front of the mailbox and opened it. If there was any mail for her, Phoebe or Jalon always left it in the box for her to retrieve after she got off work. She pulled out a postcard, smiled at the picture on the front, and then turned it over.
I saw this card in a bookstore near my cousin's house and thought of you. See you when I get back.
Leanna turned the card back over and examined the stunning photo of tall, majestic sunflowers wide open to the sun. Sunflowers were her favorite flower, especially the giant ones. Leave it to Ivy to send her a thoughtful card.
Ivy had left only a week ago to stay with her cousin in Michigan who was on bed rest. Leanna took off her backpack, put the card in it, and made a mental note to write to Ivy as soon as she could. "Mutt and Jeff," their mothers used to call them. Until she finally asked, Leanna had no idea who Mutt or Jeff were, but she assumed one was tall and one was short, just like her and Ivy. At six feet, Leanna was the tallest woman in Birch Creek, while Ivy was the shortest.
Leanna tromped through the neatly shorn grass toward the front porch. Although she lived separately from her brother and his family, she joined them for meals as often as she could, and not only because she enjoyed their company. Her cooking skills were limited to making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, along with the occasional boiled egg, so she was happy to take her meals at Jalon's.
As she sat down on the porch steps and removed one of her skates, Blue, her Maine Coon cat, strolled up to her. "Hey bu," she said, leaning forward to scratch him under the chin. "Miss me?" Blue sat down just out of Leanna's reach and looked at her. He sniffed the air and then walked off.
"Humph. Be that way." She chuckled. Blue used to be her closest companion until Malachi, Phoebe's young son, had won his heart. Now Blue rarely left Malachi's side, and Leanna loved seeing them together. She didn't have enough time to spend with the cat anyway, considering how busy she was at work, and she was glad the two of them had bonded.
She stripped off her other skate and put both her skates and the backpack near the front door, then slipped off her socks. Her shoes were inside the pack, but she didn't bother to put them on. It was summer, after all. The perfect time of the year to go barefoot.
The moment she walked into the house, she breathed in the aroma of food cooking. That surprised her since she figured she'd missed supper. Usually Phoebe set aside a plate for her when Leanna worked late. She headed for the kitchen and saw Phoebe standing at the stove, scooping mashed potatoes into a bowl.
"Aenti Leanna!" Malachi got up from the table and hugged her. He was an affectionate kid, another quality Leanna loved. She returned his hug and he dashed back to his seat. She walked over to Phoebe. "Anything I can do to help?"
Phoebe shook her head. "Supper's almost ready." She looked a little sheepish as she put her hand on her lower back. "I took a nap today and that set me behind schedule. But Jalon and Adam are working late on the barn addition, so it turned out okay."
Leanna nodded. Phoebe was eight months pregnant, and although she never complained, Leanna had noticed she was favoring her back a lot more lately. She also looked tired. Knowing how Jalon hovered over her, Leanna believed it wouldn't have mattered to him if Phoebe had slept completely through suppertime ... as long as his wife had been able to rest.
"I'm hungry," Malachi griped.
Phoebe looked over her shoulder. "You'll have to wait on everyone else."
Malachi slumped in his chair and then reached out and started pushing his plate forward, a tiny bit at a time, with his index finger. The plate clanked against his cup of milk, making the liquid slosh.
"Don't play at the table," Phoebe reprimanded.
Malachi nodded, but Leanna kept her eye on him, and sure enough, he started pushing the plate again. She went to him. "That's not going to get you yer supper any earlier," she said, then leaned forward and added, "Trust me. I know. I used to do the same thing when I was little."
"I'm not little. I turned five two months ago."
"Excuse me, then. You're practically a grown-up." She gave him a sly grin and ruffled his pale blond hair before sitting down across from him.
Jalon came into the kitchen, followed by their cousin Adam, who wheeled his chair over to his place next to Malachi at the table. Adam put the brakes on his wheelchair, then slipped off his fingerless leather gloves and placed them in his lap. He and Jalon had obviously already washed up, since this pair of gloves was his household pair. He used another beat-up, dirty pair when he was working outside.
Phoebe put the bowl of potatoes on the table and sat down. After silent prayer, she passed a plate heaped with perfectly browned steaks.
Leanna's stomach grumbled in anticipation as she filled her plate with two pieces of meat, a huge spoonful of mashed potatoes, an extra helping of cream gravy, buttered corn off the cob, and a slice of bread slathered with homemade blueberry jelly. "Hollow Legs," her father had called her growing up. Leanna didn't complain about the nickname. She didn't have to worry about food or her figure, something Ivy had admitted envying. "You never have to watch what you eat," Ivy had said over the years. "I have to watch all the time. Any extra calories geh right to mei hips."
Unlike Ivy, Leanna didn't have hips — or any curves to speak of. When she was younger, she had sometimes envied Ivy's petite, curvy figure, although she never admitted it out loud. Having a boyish frame had bothered her a little bit growing up. But now she was past such superficial concerns. People had to accept her the way she was — tall, boyish, and a good mechanic. If they didn't, that wasn't her problem.
As she wiped her mouth with her napkin, she smiled. Delicious food, her happy family, a steady job she loved ... Life was good. Her heart swelled with gratitude. Thank you, Lord.
"You worked late again," Jalon said to her, then took a drink of ice tea.
Leanna swallowed a bite of mashed potatoes. "Ya. We've been busy this week."
"When's Daniel coming back?" he asked.
"Tomorrow. Maybe the next day." Her boss, Daniel Raber, owned Raber's Small Engine Repair. He and his wife had returned to his hometown of Draperville, Kentucky, a few days ago to attend his grandmother's funeral. Draperville was such a small and insular Amish settlement that Leanna had never heard of it until Daniel and his wife moved to Birch Creek. Even then, he rarely talked about his former community. But she had seen how hard the news of his grandmother's death hit him. Obviously, they had been close, despite his never mentioning her.
Leanna had told him not to worry about the shop and to go to Draperville immediately.
"I'll hold down the fort," she'd said.
"I know you will."
She didn't take his confidence in her for granted. Daniel had been the first — actually, the only — person who had given her a chance as a mechanic. She thought the world of him and Barbara.
Before he left for Kentucky, Daniel glanced around the small shop, filled with engines and appliances that needed repairing and maintenance, and blew out a breath. "I'll have to hire someone when I get back," he said and then turned to her. "We're starting to get more business than we can handle. Not that I'm complaining." His tone turned stern. "Promise me you won't work too late in the evenings while I'm gone."
"I promise. But only if you promise me you won't rush back here because you're worried about work. Take time to be with yer familye."
"You wouldn't say that if you knew mei familye," he muttered. He'd left after that, but the words had stuck with Leanna. She did know part of his family — Barbara especially, who had become a friend. She also knew his brother, Roman. That man had definitely not become a friend.
"Why are you frowning, Aenti?"
"What?" She looked at Malachi, who had a froth of milk above his lip. "I'm not frowning."
"You were," Adam said.
"Humph." Leanna scraped the last bit of potatoes off her plate. "You're both mistaken. I wasn't frowning. I was just thinking."
"About something bad?" Malachi said.
Roman's image popped into her mind — serious blue-gray eyes, wide nose, a constant cold and distant expression — and she shook her head. "Nee. Just something annoying." Someone annoying, she mentally corrected. "Anyway, Daniel will be back soon, and I won't have to work as late." She looked at Malachi. "How was school today?"
Now it was Malachi's turn to frown. "I don't like it."
"What's not to like? You get to color, play with yer friends ..." Leanna tapped her fork against the table and tried to remember her kindergarten days. "Uh, color ..."
"We have to write the alphabet."
"You already know how to write the alphabet," Phoebe said. "That should be easy for you."
"It is." Malachi lifted his chin with confidence. "It's boring."
"School just started," Adam said. He reached for a slice of bread. "It will get more challenging as the year goes on."
"I don't want more challin ... challinga ..."
"Challenging," Phoebe supplied.
"Ya, that." Malachi started to pout. "I want to be here with you and Jalon and work on the farm."
"There will be time for that, sohn," Jalon said. "Right now you have to focus on learning as much as you can in school. That includes behaving yerself. Understood?"
"Ya." But the pout didn't leave his face.
Leanna sympathized. She hadn't liked school either. Sitting still, doing worksheets, keeping quiet — she had struggled to behave in class. Now that she was an adult she realized the importance of an education, especially math, which she excelled in and used every single day. But she never cared for reading or writing or learning High German, although she did enjoy the little bit of geography and history her teacher had insisted they learn. Still, she'd spent her school days counting the minutes between recess and going home, which was sometimes delayed because of her misbehavior. "You have to mind the teacher," she said to Malachi. "You don't want to stay after class." She leaned forward. "They make you write sentences on the board, and then you have to wash the boards and clean the classroom."
"Ugh," Malachi said.
"And you definitely don't want to scrape old gum from underneath the desks. That was gross."
"Gross," he repeated. "I don't wanna do that."
"Then mind yer teacher." Jalon put his fork on the table and looked at Phoebe. "Delicious supper, as always."
Phoebe, who had glowed throughout her pregnancy, now beamed as she took in Jalon's compliment. Her blue eyes, clear and bright, sparkled as she acknowledged Jalon's words with a small nod. Jalon always made sure to praise her cooking, which was easy since Phoebe's meals were always mouthwateringly good. Leanna had to admit that her brother, who had struggled with problems in the past, was a good husband and father.
"Mei night to do the dishes." Adam pushed back from the table, then chucked Malachi under the chin. "I could use an assistant."
"Okay." Malachi scrambled down from his chair and got out the small stool, placing it under the sink.
Adam began to clear the table, starting with his plate and utensils. He piled a few more dishes into his lap, then rolled his chair to the sink. His being a paraplegic hadn't stopped him and Jalon from becoming partners last year. Not only had the farm become successful in a short time, but they were making plans to expand, starting with the barn so they could raise cattle to sell.
Phoebe stood and arched her back. "I need to work on some sewing tonight."
"Not if you're too tired," Jalon said, his brow furrowing.
"I'm fine. The nap helped."
He nodded but didn't look too convinced.
Leanna took her plate and silverware to the sink. Phoebe didn't bother asking her to help with the sewing, and Leanna didn't volunteer. Everyone knew her gift was working with machinery, not sewing. Or cooking. Or cleaning. Which reminded her that she probably should go clean her house. Or at least pick it up a little.
After telling everyone good night and retrieving her skates and backpack, she headed for her house. She stopped when she saw a firefly dance in front of her. She reached to catch it, missed, and then chased it a few steps. When she caught it, she peeked at it through her fingers and then let it fly free. When she looked up, she realized she was standing in front of the yard's large tree stump and stared at it. Jalon had cut down the tree last year. The magnificent oak had stood there long before her family moved from Mesopotamia to Birch Creek, when she and Jalon were barely teenagers. Leanna had always loved that tree. Jalon had too ... until that day.
Jalon had been fourteen, Adam twelve. They were playing a game, just as they always had whenever he and Adam visited each other. Jalon had shimmied up the tree, Adam close on his heels. Then Adam fell.
Leanna closed her eyes at the memory. Jalon and Adam had been more like friends than cousins. Now they were more like brothers, but it hadn't always been that way. For years Jalon blamed himself for the accident. And when Jalon found Malachi up in the tree one day, he'd been terrified that the little boy would fall, just like Adam had. After getting Malachi out of it, Jalon cut down the giant oak.
Leanna turned around to see Jalon standing behind her. She could see the tension lining his face in the fading sunlight. She was surprised he brought up the subject. He hadn't mentioned the tree since it had been chopped up for firewood. Before that, he ignored the tree for years, until Malachi climbed it. "Nee. I don't. It represented too much pain."
Excerpted from "The Promise of a Letter"
Copyright © 2017 Kathleen Fuller.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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