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Treasuring EmmaA MIDDLEFIELD FAMILY Novel
By Kathleen Fuller
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Kathleen Fuller
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Emma, I'm so sorry."
Emma Shetler lifted her gaze to meet Moriah Miller's eyes. Moriah had been a good friend to her over the past year, and Emma had never noticed until now how blue her eyes were. Blue like the summer sky, and at this moment, full of compassion.
Emma tried to swallow down the thorn of grief that blocked her throat. "I appreciate you and your familye coming by this afternoon."
"Your mammi was a very special fraa." Moriah laid a hand on Emma's shoulder. The warmth of the gentle touch seeped through the thin fabric of Emma's black dress.
The color of mourning. Of death.
Despite Moriah's comfort, that's what Emma felt inside. Dead.
She glanced around the living room. As expected, most members of the church district were here to pay their respects and show their support. Dark dresses and white kapps for the women, black pants and hats for the men—all of them in mourning clothes. They milled around the living room. Conversation and movement blurred into a meaningless cacophony of sound and motion.
Emma tapped her toe against the polished wood floor of the old farmhouse, her nerves strung tight as a barbed wire fence. She should have been in the kitchen, preparing and serving the traditional meal. But her sister, Clara, had taken over the cooking and banished her to the living room. This was supposed to make her feel better—stuck here, doing nothing?
She spied her grandmother Leona across the room. Clara must have chased her out of the kitchen too. Several women between the ages of fifty and seventy created a circle of support around Grossmammi. Emma smiled to herself as she noticed the women's ample hips drooping over the seats of creaking wooden folding chairs. They spoke in low tones, nodding and shaking their heads. The thin ribbons of their white prayer kapps swayed against the stiff white aprons covering their dresses. Emma had no doubt they were offering comforting passages of Scripture and words of encouragement to their old friend.
During the seventy-five years God had granted her, Leona Shetler had loved her family deeply. But that love came with a cost. Three years ago her son—Emma's father, James—had passed away. Now she had to deal with the death of a daughter-in-law she loved as her own.
Emma felt the grief stab at her. First her father, then her mother. It didn't seem fair. She wished she could muster even a small measure of the grace and peace her grandmother demonstrated. But instead she simply felt bereft, abandoned, and confused.
She turned her attention back to Moriah. "Sorry. Did you say something?"
"I asked if you needed anything else."
"Oh, ya. I did hear you say that." The words clanged around in her head, empty noise. "Nee, I'm fine."
"All right." Moriah lifted an eyebrow. Her concern echoed that of her sisters, Elisabeth and Ruth, along with everyone else who had passed by Emma's chair. The same question over and over: How are you holding up?
How did they think she was holding up? She had nursed her mother through a painful, deadly cancer. She buried her today.
Emma fought to contain her emotions: Anger. Resentment. Guilt. The community's heartfelt concern didn't deserve such rudeness. But nothing anyone said could penetrate the emotional wall that was growing around her, inch by excruciating inch.
Throughout the rest of the afternoon, people paused to talk. Relived special moments they'd shared with Emma's mother and father. Assured Emma of God's will, His plan. Phrase after empty phrase about God's comfort and mercy.
She nodded and smiled and tried to look peaceful, while her foot went on tapping incessantly against the floor she'd scrubbed on her hands and knees. Why wouldn't they just leave her alone? That's what she wanted.
No, that wasn't the truth. There was one person she longed to have by her side. Only one. His words, spoken in a soft, deep voice that never failed to affect her, had the best chance of soothing her broken heart.
But he wouldn't come. He had walked out of her life two years ago, and she had no hope he would walk back into it now.
Emma stood and stretched and walked around, but kept herself apart from the rest of the visitors. Moriah and Gabriel Miller were the first to leave, followed by a steady stream of other guests. Clara stood by the front door and thanked each person for coming. The perfect hostess.
When the last guest disappeared, Clara turned to Emma. "Where 's Grossmammi?"
Emma looked at her grandmother's empty chair and shrugged. "She probably went upstairs to her room."
"I'm sure she's exhausted. It's been a long day. For all of us."
Peter King, Clara's husband, came inside wearing his hat and a navy blue jacket. A burst of cool October air wafted in behind him. The screen door shut, and he looked at Clara. "Buggy's ready. We should get back to the kinner."
Clara's lips pressed into a quick frown. "There are a few more things I need to do in the kitchen."
"I can finish up here, Clara," Emma said. "I haven't done anything all day."
"It won't take me long. Just five, maybe ten minutes."
That one word commanded the attention of both Clara and Emma.
"We need to geh home. Now."
Clara didn't protest; the pinch above the bridge of her nose was response enough. "I'll get my shawl." She disappeared from the living room.
Peter turned to Emma. "Are you okay?"
Would she have to hear that question for the rest of her life? "I'm fine."
"You'd tell me and Clara if you weren't, ya?"
Emma nodded, but she didn't mean it, and neither did he. His questions arose more out of duty than familial concern. She never had confided in her sister or brother-in-law, and the death of their father and their mother's ensuing illness had made the sisters' relationship tenuous at best. Now that Mammi was gone, Emma doubted she'd see much of Clara and her family, except for church service every other Sunday.
Peter stepped forward. "I wanted to ask you something."
The low tone of his voice surprised her. "What?"
"I'd like you and Leona to consider moving in with us." His voice was nearly a whisper now. "As soon as possible."
His question shocked her. She started to shake her head. "There's not enough room—"
"I can add on. It wouldn't take me more than a couple of days."
She thought about their tiny house. Her nephews, Junior and Melvin, shared a room, and as far as she knew baby Magdalena's crib was still in Clara and Peter's bedroom. "You and Clara have your own familye to take care of."
"You and Leona are part of that familye, Emma. I've figured everything out. You and Grossmammi can share Junior and Melvin's room. They can sleep on the couch until the addition is finished. It's not a problem."
"What's not a problem?" Clara appeared, her black bonnet tied in place, the bow perfectly formed under her pointy chin. A large safety pin fastened the corner of her black shawl to her shoulder.
He let out a deep breath. "I've asked Emma and Leona to move in with us."
"Without telling me?" She spoke the question softly. Politely. But the edge was there.
"I don't need your permission."
"We could have at least talked about it." She turned to Emma. "Do you and Grossmammi want to leave this haus?"
Emma wasn't fooled. Her sister knew how much the place meant to her and their grandmother—the old farmhouse, with its five acres of farmland, sturdy barn, and wood shop. Grossmammi would never leave, nor would Emma. Besides, Clara didn't really want them to move in with her.
"We'll be fine here."
"But what about the work it takes to run this place?" Peter asked. "I know Norman Otto has been a big help, but you can't always count on him to be there for you."
"God will provide." The words came out of Emma's mouth automatically, without any feeling or conviction behind them.
"Like He provided a cure for Mammi's cancer?" Clara said. She scowled and crossed her thin arms over her chest, then glanced away. "Sorry."
Emma knew she should reach out to Clara. Hug her, or at least give an encouraging touch on the shoulder, as so many of their family and friends had done for her throughout the past few days since Mammi's death. Yet her body wouldn't move. "You should get back home. I'm sure the kinner miss you."
"Maybe you shouldn't be alone." Peter looked at Clara. "Mei fraa can stay the night, at least. It wouldn't be a gut idea for you and Leona to be all by yourself tonight."
Clara looked at her husband, her dark eyes narrowing. "Ya," she said, with about as much enthusiasm as a cat volunteering for a soapy bath. "I can stay."
"It's the least she could do," Peter added.
Emma glanced at Clara. The least she could have done was to help with her own mother's care during the long and painful process of dying. The least she could have done was to be a sister when Emma most needed one. But none of that happened. Emma had been taking care of things by herself for a long time, and she didn't much need or want Clara's help now.
"That's not necessary. Grossmammi is probably asleep already." For added effect, Emma yawned. "I'm tired too."
"It looks like you don't need me, then." Clara straightened her shoulders and uncrossed her arms.
"But she'll be by in the morning," Peter said.
"Ya. I'll be by in the morning."
Emma shrugged. She could disagree, but what was the point? Peter would make sure Clara would be here. It was the Amish way, and Peter was nothing if not thoroughly Amish. He opened the door, and the three of them stepped onto the front porch. Layers of grayish-blue hues stretched endlessly across the dusky sky. Peter hurried down the steps to the buggy, pausing to motion for Clara to follow.
Clara turned to Emma. She could barely make out her sister's sharp features; only her stiff white kapp contrasted against the shadowy evening.
"I know Peter offered to let you stay with us," Clara said, "but let me talk to him about it first. It's not that you and Grossmammi aren't welcome, of course."
Emma knew perfectly well that her sister didn't want them living under the same roof, but she kept silent.
"There are other things to consider," Clara continued in a rush, "and we haven't had a chance to discuss them. You know Peter. He can be impulsive. But he means well." She paused. "He always means well."
Peter hesitated before climbing into the buggy. "Clara."
Clara hurried toward the buggy. Emma waited until they disappeared down Bundysburg Road before she sat down in her father's old hickory rocker in the corner of the warped front porch.
The back of the rocker touched the peeling white siding on the house. Flakes of old paint dotted the backrest of the chair.
Emma ran her fingers over the worn wood of the smooth, curved armrest. She glanced at her mother's matching chair beside her. So many evenings her parents would sit in these chairs, talking as they rocked back and forth. Or sometimes they said nothing at all, simply gazing at one another now and then, or touching fingertips as the rockers moved back and forth. It was the closest they ever came to expressing outward affection.
Bright headlights appeared. She looked up. A car moved slowly down Bundysburg Road. The hum of the engine faded in the distance, replaced with the shrill chirping of crickets and deep throaty moans of bullfrogs.
Shelby the cat jumped into her lap and added her purring to the night music. Emma rubbed the cat behind her ears. Yet even the presence of one of her beloved pets couldn't keep the emptiness at bay.
For the past eighteen months her sole focus had been to care for her mother. The animals—two cats and three dogs, plus the chestnut mare, Dill—had received less attention than normal. Now Mammi was gone, and what kind of future did Emma have? Living with her sister for the rest of her life?
Exhaustion rolled over her in a wave, and her stomach churned. Marriage was an option. Maybe. But she was twenty-four years old, an old maid by some Amish standards. Besides that, she wasn't even sure if she wanted to marry. Not after what happened with Adam.
She closed her eyes and tried to push him out of her thoughts. Still, the split second of attention she gave to him made her heart twist. Two years since he left Middlefield. How long would she continue to love him?
The timbre of the deep male voice sent a shiver through her. Shelby leapt from her lap.
As soon as she said his name, her cheeks heated with embarrassment. How foolish could she be? The man who stood at the foot of the porch, holding a rusted, old-fashioned gas lantern, was not Adam Otto.
"I'm sorry," Norman Otto said. "I didn't mean to startle you. I thought you heard me coming."
Emma stood from the chair and went to the edge of the porch. "I guess I was deep in my own thoughts."
To her relief, he offered no comment about what those thoughts might be. "I see Clara and Peter left."
Norman glanced at the ground, then looked up at her. "Just watered your horse and put down some straw in her stall. The dog bowls still had food in them, so I didn't add any more. The three of them were curled up on a pile of hay in the corner when I left. Also filled the cat bowls. One of them put a dead mouse at my feet."
For the first time in what seemed like weeks, Emma mustered a half smile. "That would be Tommy. He likes to give presents."
Norman nodded but didn't say anything more. A man of few words, that was Adam's father. He'd been their neighbor for years, and she 'd never heard him string together more than a sentence or two.
Norman's help with the animals and chores, however, wasn't merely a neighborly gesture. As a deacon of the church, the responsibility fell on him to take care of the poor and widows in their district. He'd been helping the Shetlers since her father died.
"Emma." Norman's voice cracked. He let out a sharp cough. "No matter what you need, let me know. I'll take care of it for you."
"Danki," she said. But there was only one thing she needed. One person. And both of them knew Norman couldn't do anything about that.
"I best be getting home now. Carol said to let you know that she'll be over in the morning with breakfast."
"She doesn't have to do that."
"You know she wants to." He paused. "Your mammi ..." He cleared his throat again and straightened his yellow straw hat. "We'll all miss her." He turned and headed for his house, the light from his lantern flickering with each step.
Emma's eyes burned. Memories broke through her fragile defenses again—this time not only of her parents but of times she and Adam spent together as kids. She remembered how they played on the front porch, games like Dutch Blitz or checkers. The times they chased fireflies in the front yard and put them in a glass jar, its lid filled with holes he 'd poked using an awl. The night she 'd noticed him as more than a friend. The dreams she 'd had of marrying him.
She could still remember details, like how his honey-colored eyes were a shade lighter than his straight, dark blond hair. The way the dimples in his cheeks deepened when he flashed his lopsided smile. The natural huskiness of his voice, so like his father's.
The emptiness gnawed at her. She sat down in the rocker and pressed her palm against her forehead. She should be grieving her mother, not thinking about the man who broke her heart. Her eyes grew hot, yet she couldn't bring herself to cry.
Hadn't she wept rivers of tears when her father died? When Adam left? As she watched life slowly drain from her mother over the past few months?
Now she couldn't generate so much as a single tear. She didn't have anything left. Nothing at all. Her life, at one time full of excitement and hope, had shattered into a broken, empty shell.
And she didn't know if she 'd ever feel whole again.
Excerpted from Treasuring Emma by Kathleen Fuller Copyright © 2011 by 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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