Sunday, December 1, 2013
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Are you sure there’s no message waiting for Laney Carrigan?”
Laney leaned over the information desk at the Kailua-Kona Airport. “I was supposed to be met here . . .” She gestured around the rapidly emptying lobby. “By my Auntie Teah. Maybe she’s been delayed and she left a note for me with instructions?”
The airport employee, a willowy blond, craned her head around Laney at the line of people queuing behind her. She pointed down the corridor. “You can rent a car over that way.” She raised her gaze above Laney’s five-foot-three-inch height. “Who’s next?”
Laney tightened her lips. Dismissed. Again.
“Maybe an intercom page directing me to meet someone in Baggage Claim or Ground Transportation . . . ?” Laney sighed at the bored face of the woman and stepped aside as a middle- aged man wearing a flamingo pink aloha shirt shouldered past her to the front of the line. Grabbing the handle of her wheeled carry-on bag, she skirted past a group of Asian tourists who’d been greeted by hula girls bearing fragrant yellow leis.
No point in trying to rent a car when she had no idea where she was going. She paused in an out-of-the-way corner and fumbled in a side pocket of her luggage for her cell phone. Pressing the phone to ON, she waited for it to come to life.
Auntie Teah, whom she’d yet to meet, had assured her over the course of several phone calls that she would be here to welcome her long-lost niece to her ancestral home. An ances- tral home to which she’d not been given directions or an address.
Hitting the Rodrigues phone number she’d stored in her cell, she tapped her navy blue stiletto-clad foot on the shiny, white airport floor and waited for someone to pick up. And waited. After ringing four times, voice mail—a deep, rum- bling man’s voice—informed her that no one was currently at home—duh—and instructed callers to leave a callback num- ber at the tone. Laney snorted, not trusting herself to speak, thumbed the phone to OFF and stuffed it into her bag. She stalked down the passageway toward Baggage Claim.
Laney pushed her shoulders back, trying to ease the ten- sion of her muscles. As her brigadier father never failed to point out, when stressed, she hunched down like Quasimodo. And at her diminutive stature, there was no one Laney wanted to resemble less than that hunchback of literary legend. She scanned the dwindling crowd encircling the baggage carousel.
Where was her Auntie Teah? Her cousin, Elyse, or Elyse’s sweet little boy, Daniel? They’d promised to be here. Laney glanced at her black leather sports watch, noted the time in addition to the barometric pressure and altimeter reading. Her own barometric pressure rising, Laney shoved her bag to the ground, threw herself on top and faced the doorway. Nobody had ever dared ignore Brigadier General Thomas Carrigan.
Apparently, his daughter not so much.
She’d told her dad this was a bad idea, but he’d insisted she answer the inquiry in response to the information he’d posted regarding the scant facts they knew of her birth twenty-eight years ago. The website, which specialized in reuniting adop- tive children with their biological families, had been silent for months. And Laney was fine with that.
Abso-flipping, positutely fine with that.
She’d never been curious as to her biological family. She’d always known her real parents, Gisela and Tom Carrigan, adopted her when she was a few months old. They’d chosen her—as her mother had often reminded her. Loved, cherished, protected her. But Gisela succumbed to a lingering, painful death to cancer three years ago.
Then her dad—administrative guru to the five stars at the Pentagon, able to cut through bureaucratic red tape and leap over snafus in a single bound—had the bright idea to post a picture of the quilt in which she’d come wrapped on their apartment doorstep.
And voilá, a hit less than twenty-four hours later.
He did some checking—to make sure none of them were serial killers—and declared it would be good for Laney to plan a visit to their home on the Big Island. Good to connect with people who knew something about her family background. Good to fulfill her adopted mother’s last wish that she one day reunite with her biological family.
Laney swallowed a sob. She’d believed she’d already found her forever family. She glanced around the claim area. Her lower lip trembled at the sight of a suitcase going round and round the carousel.
Unclaimed. Alone. Like her.
She squared her shoulders. Who needed these people? The ones who’d abandoned her, deserted her. Left her behind.
Laney closed her eyes on the hateful, treacherous tears that threatened to spill out from beneath her lashes and wondered how soon she could book a return flight to D.C.
This had been a very bad idea.
Posted by Bonnie S. Calhoun at 11:25 PM
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Sunday, November 10, 2013
I’m usually willing to help out at Manna House, the shelter for homeless women where my wife works as a cook, but their idea of a Valentine’s party is seldom as kick-back comfortable as watching the Super Bowl had been with my Yada Yada Brothers. So when my iPhone sounded its Law and Order ring, I welcomed the opportunity to leave my plate of tasteless white cake—definitely not something Estelle had baked—and slip out into the lobby.
I didn’t recognize the number on the screen, but it was a Chicago area code, so I answered with a roll of my eyes. “Yeah, Bentley.” Estelle bugs me about my gruff greeting, but soundin’ like the cop I once was has knocked more than one telemarketer off his game.
“Hey, bro. How’s it goin’?” The nasal twang was definitely not that of a brotha, but it sounded familiar.
“Uh . . . Okay, I guess.”
“Great! Roger Gilson here. Might have somethin’ for ya.”
Gilson . . . Roger Gilson. Of course. “Ah, yes, Captain Gilson.” “But not with the CPD. Moved over to Amtrak.”
“Amtrak . . . as in trains?”
“Oh yeah. I cover from here all the way to the West Coast . . . along with one other captain, that is. Can you believe it?”
“What happened to the CPD?”
“Ah, you know. Budget mess. The police pension fund doesn’t look so secure anymore. But then you already know that, and that’s why I called.”
Gilson’s Internal Affairs had helped me nail my corrupt boss about a year ago. But it’s hard for any cop to like Internal Affairs, and I still wasn’t sure I trusted Gilson. So I cautiously asked, “What’s up?”
“Like I said, I’m at Amtrak now, and we’re in a bit of a tussle with the TSA. They’re all over us to tighten up security or they’ll take over. But with the mess they’ve made of the airlines, nobody wants them running the nation’s trains. Know what I mean?”
Sounded like Gilson had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. If the Transportation Security Administration took over security for Amtrak, Gilson might lose his job. “So . . . why’d you call me?”
“You had some trouble with your eyes, right? Went blind for a while?”
“Yeah, I had a problem.” A problem that’d scared me spitless because it might’ve been permanent. Had surgeries, wore eye patches for a while, even had to remain face down 24/7 for two whole weeks. It was a horror movie from which God alone had rescued me—but I didn’t want to get into all that with Gilson.
“Anyway, I’m lookin’ for a few men I can trust to work under- cover. Know what I mean?”
He waited while I coughed off to the side to keep from laughing at him continually saying, Know what I mean? “Yes, Gilson. I know what undercover is.”
“Well, we place undercover officers just about anyplace—in a station restaurant having coffee, sitting next to other passengers on trains, or in bathrooms mopping up.”
“Ha! So you’re lookin’ for a black man to work undercover as a janitor. I don’t think so—”
“No, no, no. You don’t understand. I was thinkin’, with you having been blind . . . you can see now, though, can’t ya?”
“Good enough.” I could see just fine, but the man wasn’t listen- ing, so why explain?
“Great! Then here’s the deal: you could work undercover as a blind man, wander anywhere . . . even up and down the aisles of a train. I can see it now.” I could imagine Gilson waving his hand through the air like he was painting a panorama. “You staring blankly here and there from behind a pair of wraparound shades, but actually seein’ everything. Nobody would even notice you. Know what I mean?” He stopped.
The idea galled me. What was the civil rights movement about if it didn’t include helping black people be noticed as valuable, con- tributing members of society? Finally, I said, “Yeah, I know what you mean, but like Jesse Jackson used to say, ‘I Am Somebody!’ But you want me to pose as a nobody.”
“Ah, come on, Bentley. Don’t play the race card on me now. We’re talkin’ undercover, and I’m tryin’ to offer you something.”
I snorted. “Gilson, you oughta be selling used cars, but this isn’t for me.” The doors from the shelter’s multipurpose room swung open, and I was glad to see Estelle out of the corner of my eye. “Oops, here’s the wife. Gotta go, Gilson. But thanks for thinkin’ of me. You take care now!”
I didn’t wait for his response. Just touched the red End bar on my phone. “Whew!” I turned to see Estelle’s eyebrows arched high in question.
“Ah, just a guy from back in the day with the police department. Wanted me to come work for Amtrak.”
“Hmph. Been askin’ all over for you. But it’s like the ladies don’t even recognize you since you shaved your gray horseshoe beard.”
“Whaddaya mean? Handsome black man, bald head, just about this tall, seen hangin’ around here all too often, and they don’t rec- ognize me?”
“Well.” She folded her arms and studied me dubiously. “With that little beard you got goin’ on around your mouth there, they say you look more like Louis Gossett Jr.”
“And that’s bad? Come on, now . . . Della Reese!”
Now she laughed. “Hey, you know I can’t sing like her.”
“But you sure can touch me like an angel.” I winked, big.
She grabbed my arm and gave me one of those light-up-my-life grins. “Oh, come on, you. We’re outta here.” She glanced back over her shoulder. “Let someone else clean up the kitchen for once—we still got groceries to get, remember?”
I sighed. But with snow still piled high after one of Chicago’s heaviest snowstorms, I didn’t want to chance her getting stuck.
“Yeah, I remember, babe. Let me get our coats.”
Twenty minutes later we were in the Jewel, and I was driving the grocery cart behind Estelle. We were paused in the produce section while she carefully examined each item before putting it into the basket when my phone rang. Gilson again. I was tempted to send him straight to voice mail, but I’d learned not to burn my bridges. Couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of my voice though.
“What now, Gilson?”
“Ah, good. Now don’t hang up on me again, Harry! I’m just tryin’ to get you on the team here. And I’ve come up with a better idea. You worked K-9 for a while, didn’t you?”
I hesitated. “Yeah . . . I’m still certified, but that was before I
joined Fagan’s unit.”
“Great, then you know how to handle dogs. We’re trying to expand our K-9 unit. Had a young officer complete her training with the smartest dog I’ve ever seen, but now she’s on maternity leave and not likely to return since her baby has severe birth defects. So we have a dog—cost us thousands—without a handler. How
I frowned. “How ’bout what? You wanna team me with someone else’s dog?”
“Corky’s young and like I said, smart, very smart. She could make the transition.”
“Wait a minute. Handlers are what? Officers? Sergeants? You’d bust me down from a detective?”
“Oh, c’mon. We can work somethin’ out. Meet me halfway here, Harry. I’m tryin’ to reel you in. I’m sure we could—”
“Gilson! Would you shut up a minute?” The man sounded like he was on too much Vicodin, and it felt good to tell him to shut up. I was a private citizen now who didn’t have to kowtow to anyone.
There was silence . . . for five seconds. “Sorry, Harry. Just gettin’ into my creative mode. I’m a creative guy, ya know? That’s what I love about this job. But seriously, we’d like you to come on board . . .
like all aboard.” He laughed at his stupid joke. “It doesn’t have to be K-9, but I’m puttin’ together a team, and they have to have integrity. That’s why I thought of you. You proved yourself when you stepped up to nail Fagan.”
Matty Fagan had been my boss, corrupt as they come, shakin’ down drug dealers and stealing their guns and dope to resell . . . until I blew the whistle on him.
“Hey,” Gilson continued, “how much were you makin’ before we asked you to take early retirement?”
“Doesn’t matter. I’m not interested.” Of course I could use the money, but . . . “Sorry, Gilson. Don’t think I’m up to travelin’ all over the country. I like trains and all, but I’m a family man now.”
“Ah, but that’s the thing! Sure, you go out on runs, but then you’re home for several days where you can focus on—hey, I didn’t know you were married! And kids too? Man, you work fast. But you’ll actually get more time with the family. Plus the benefits are great, free rail privileges for you and the family. Think about that.”
“Harry!” It was Estelle, twenty feet ahead of me with a gallon of milk in her hand. “What good’s the cart if I gotta hold this?”
“Sorry, Gilson. But I really can’t talk now. I’m in the store helpin’ my wife with shopping. Like I said, family man!” I shut the phone off and hurried to catch up.
Posted by Bonnie S. Calhoun at 11:12 PM
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
My mom likes to say that good things come in threes. “Remember that time we went to see the Phantom of the Opera, Paige?” she always says to me. “Not only did our seats get upgraded for free, but we won those tickets to go see Wicked and we met Mariah Carey!”
By met, Mom meant, “saw from a distance” and to this day, I still swear it was not Mariah Carey.
And if it was her, then I really feel the need to tell her that cornrows are not a flattering hairstyle for her.
I’m curious what Mom would say about my current situation. I really don’t think I am looking at three good things.
Maybe three confusing things.
But not good things.
“Well?” My boss, Mark Lawman, is sitting in front of my desk, looking at me expectedly.
I don’t know what to say. I stare at the paper he gave me that laid out a new job description of what I did, the biggest difference being the huge raise he is offering.
On the one hand, I am excited about the prospect of more money. Saving is kind of a high priority for me at the moment after a few lean months, thanks to saying yes to too many things.
On the other hand, it will solidify my role in this adoption agency as a secretary for life.
I don’t necessarily like the mental image I have of myself at ninety-four, sitting at this same desk, answering this same phone in a warbling version of my voice. “Lawman Adoption Agency, this is Paige.”
Mark must see something in my expression because he clears his throat and stands. “Just think about it, Paige.” Then he hurries down the hall to his office, leaving me with the paper and my cluttered desk.
I reread the new job description. Basically, all he did is include transcription work, but that is something I already do thanks to a much extended maternity leave our regular transcriptionist has been taking since about two years ago.
I figure we can pretty much consider her retired.
I set the paper down with a sigh and go back to my lunch of bagged salad and the text message I was reading when Mark had interrupted my lunch break.
IT’S JUST DINNER BETWEEN OLD FRIENDS, PAIGE.
Luke Prestwick, my best friend Layla’s older brother, has a very skewed view of the past apparently. “Old friends” implies that there is an ongoing friendship.
Something he ended nearly five years ago.
Right then my phone buzzes again and I look at the message, worrying that it is Luke again.
HI PAIGE! JUST THINKING ABOUT YOU. HOPE YOU ARE HAVING A GOOD DAY!
It is from Tyler Jennings.
“Well, that’s a pretty smile.”
I look up to see Peggy, one of the two counselors who work at the agency. She is standing in front of my desk holding a microwavable cup of chicken and rice soup and a spoon, grinning at me.
I shrug and try to wipe my face clean of emotion. “Soup day?” I ask her, trying to change the subject.
“I’m not that easily distracted, Paige, and yes. It’s cold out.”
Cold is a relative term in Dallas. Particularly in March. Really, what she means is that it’s raining outside.
I peer out the front window and sigh. Nothing like a drizzly day to make you wish you were home watching HGTV shows in fuzzy sweatpants instead of sitting in an office chair in a skirt.
My phone buzzes yet again. Peggy smirks at me. “Look who is Miss Popular.”
It’s Luke again.
REALLY, PAIGE, I JUST WANT TO CATCH UP AND FIGURED THIS WEEK WOULD BE A GREAT TIME SINCE IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY ON FRIDAY. :)
I can’t decide if I am flattered or confused by Luke Prestwick remembering my birthday. Four years ago, I would have been overjoyed.
“So?” Peggy taps my desk with the end of her spoon.
“What are we so-ing about?” Candace walks in from the hallway leading back to her office. She is absently crunching a celery stick, which means there is yet another wedding or baby shower or some milestone coming up in her ridiculously huge extended family. Candace crash diets before every event.
“Nothing.” I shake my head. These two are way too curious about my personal life, and having been shrinked by them before, I am in no hurry to have it happen again.
Last time they were critiquing my innate need to say yes to every single thing anyone asked of me. It got to the point where I didn’t even have time to do my devotions I was so busy.
So, yes, they were right about that, but there isn’t anything to tell right now. Tyler and I have been on one date. Apparently, this is the prime season for software developers so he is slammed at work.
I shrug Peggy and Candace off and they finally exchange a look. “Okay, fine,” Peggy says. “We’ll do this your way.” Then they look at each other again and go back down the hall to their offices.
I glance at the clock. I have five more minutes in my lunch break, so I text Tyler first.
THANKS! HAVING A PRETTY GOOD DAY. I HOPE YOU ARE HAVING A GOOD DAY TOO!
It sounds horrible. I stare at it for three of my five remaining minutes before finally just sending it because I can’t come up with a different way to word it without sounding even more like a chirpy little girl.
Then I click over to reply to Luke and just stare at the touch-screen keyboard for the next ninety seconds.
I WILL THINK ABOUT IT.
I push send. No smiley face, no exclamation point. Maybe he’d get the message and recant his constant pleading over the last two weeks.
That is another thing. He can’t bother to visit for two years and now that he’s come back for his parents’ anniversary party two weeks ago, he can suddenly stay in town? He tried to talk to me the whole night of his parents’ party, but things just got crazy.
And I’ve been doing a great job of avoiding him since then.
I’ve been doing a great job of avoiding a lot of people.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
The assault came in the dusky-pink dawn on a Sunday. The lone soldier, who slept forty yards from the rest of the bedraggled Confederate company, bolted from his bedroll and was on his chestnut-colored horse in a matter of seconds—urging the bay toward a hill to the east.
Looking over his shoulder, he could see his boys in gray awaken and stagger into a defensive position against the surprise attack from the Yankees. His brothers in arms referred to him as the sharpshooter, the crack shot, the skirmisher. But the soldier, bending low over the neck of his horse, thought of himself by one name only: sniper. He’d heard the term from a British colonel who had told tales of one man’s supreme marksmanship. He’d tried the name on for size then—wore it in his mind and came to love it. It defined him. It was what he did.
The first blare of a Confederate bugle filled the air, and the sniper had the fleeting thought that the bugler should be picking up a rifle instead of his horn when he saw the enemy—the dreaded tide of blue—spilling out of a haze that hung over this piece of Tennessee land nestled between two hills and a meandering river.
The sniper knew from the enormous sound of the war that his boys were vastly outnumbered and the battle would be over almost before it began. He heard the otherworldly rebel yell split the dawn. The cry had always reminded him of an angry, wounded animal baying its intent to fight to the death. If the sound of his own men could send chills up his spine, he could only imagine what it did to the nerves of the Yankees.
He kept riding up the rise and away from the crash of musketry and the storm of leaden hail. His trained ear picked out the distinc- tive sound of the howitzer pummeling the troops as he reached the summit of the hill. He jumped from the saddle with his rifle and dropped to his knees behind a heavy patch of wild, knotted vines, practically becoming part of the landscape in his dark-brown shirt and green trousers.
From his vantage point, the scene below him was shrouded in clouds of gray smoke that rose from the ground. He nestled the long barrel of his rifle on top of the thick vines and looked into the high-powered scope made especially for the nine-pound Whitworth. At the sound of another thundering boom from the howitzer, he swiveled the rifle around until he located the artillery soldier who was manning the cannon six hundred yards in the distance. The sniper caught the buttons of the blue Union jacket in the crosshairs of his scope and fired. The force of the shot blew the Yankee off his feet and knocked him into the soldier behind him. One hundred twelve. As the sniper dropped a new bullet into the muzzle of his rifle, another Federal stepped into the space to fire the howitzer. The sniper squeezed the trigger and watched through the scope as the Yankee dropped. One hundred thirteen.
The sniper turned once again to the panorama of activity below him, where sulfur smoke moved around the soldiers like a living force to be reckoned with. After reloading his weapon, he used the scope to pan across the swarm of blue and gray colliding amid thrusting bayonets. A Union officer with a crust of gold braid on his shoulders charged through the thick of the battle, a rebel cap arrogantly dangling from the tip of his raised bayonet. The sniper adjusted the position of his rifle, momentarily taking the sight off the officer by raising the barrel a hair’s breadth. He cocked back the hammer, braced for the recoil, and squeezed the trigger just as the officer moved back into his view. The bullet hit the man dead center in his forehead. He didn’t even have time to blink before he died. One hundred fourteen.
The sniper figured he had one shot left before he’d foul the bar- rel of his rifle. With alacrity that was second nature, he reloaded. Through his sight, the sniper saw a Union cavalry officer, a captain, he thought, galloping wildly through the fray. The officer reined in his horse and jumped from the saddle. Seemingly oblivious to the barrage of lead flying around him, the man bent toward a wounded infantryman on the ground just as a rebel soldier wielding a bayonet came at him. The soldier managed to ram the tip of the bayonet into the captain’s shoulder, but the Yank swiftly proved himself the better combatant by turning and running his sword into the rebel’s chest. As the captain shoved his sword back into its scabbard, the sniper fixed his sight on the ribbons that decorated the man’s chest. One hundred fifteen …
He felt the pressure of the trigger under his finger and squeezed off the shot just as an artillery shell exploded. Blue-tinged smoke filled the air and obliterated his view of the captain. As the smoke and debris from the shelling cleared, he searched the ground for his target, cursing when he realized that the captain wasn’t dead— he was riding off with the wounded infantryman lying across his saddle. Heedless of the peril, the sniper stood and looked out over the field of battle to watch the Union officer galloping along the river.
The sniper jumped on his horse. Seconds later, as his own company bugler sounded retreat, he was flying down the hill with but one objective: to kill his intended target.
As he neared the bottom of the hill, the sniper dismounted and tied his horse to a low tree branch before creeping the last few yards toward the river. He heard the Union officer’s deep, commanding voice before he saw him. “You’re going to be fine. That’s an order.”
The sniper moved even closer and heard a weak reply. “Your rank doesn’t have authority over me right now, Captain.”
The sniper used the barrel of his rifle to part the tall reeds in front of him, revealing the two men. The infantryman was lying prone near the water’s edge, and the captain was kneeling beside him. From his vantage point, the sniper could see that the officer was powerfully built, with chiseled features and a square jaw. As the sniper watched, the captain pulled at the buttons on the soldier’s blue coat, then turned his face away from the sight that met him. The sniper used the opportunity to continue forward.
“You can’t do this to me, Jed,” the captain said. The sniper could hear the quaking emotion in the Yank’s voice as he spoke. “I promised her I’d bring you back, and I won’t let you render my word worthless.”
The sniper took another step, thinking that for the first time, he would see the terror in a Yank’s eyes before he fired the shot that would end his life. He was so intent on the position of his rifle, he failed to notice the dry branch under his foot. When it snapped, the captain glanced up, and their eyes locked for just a moment before the sniper braced and squeezed the trigger. But there was no recoil. No report of a bullet whizzing through the air. His rifle had jammed, and the captain hadn’t flinched. The officer seemed to summarily dismiss the sniper as he pulled a kerchief from his pocket and dipped it into the river.
The sniper would not be denied. He put his rifle down and, with a trembling hand, pulled his bowie knife from a back pocket. With feet that felt as if they were encased in lead, he took a step forward while the captain washed the grime from the infantryman’s face. The wounded man struggled to lift his hand, and the captain caught it between both of his own. The sniper could hear the effort it took for the young man to utter his next words.
“They were right, Eli. This dying. It doesn’t hurt.”
As close as he was now, the sniper could actually see the captain tighten his grip on the young man’s hand. “Good.”
“Pray me home, Eli.” The voice was nothing more than a whisper.
Posted by Bonnie S. Calhoun at 11:46 PM
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Mifflin County, PA
Annie tried to quiet the nervousness in her stomach. She
pressed her hand against the fabric of her new dress—her
wedding dress. The fabric’s bright blue color reminded her of the clear morning sky outside. From the upstairs window, she could see much of her parents’ farm—the recently harvested fields, the barn, the yard, and the rows of benches where her family and freinden were waiting. The lane stretched past it all and led to the road that would take her to Samuel’s, to her new life.
Soon she would be Annie Yoder.
A light tap at the door caused her to turn. Leah peeked inside. “Can I come in?”
“Ya. I was watching out the window, trying to freeze this moment in my mind.”
Leah joined her there, linking their arms together. One year younger, slightly thinner, her hair a shade lighter, they could have been sisters. Annie’s brother, Adam, had been courting her for over a year and already she felt like one of the family. Afraid her knees might give out, Annie sat on the bed.
“You and I will be sisters soon, before the noon meal.”
Leah reached forward and tucked a wayward curl into Annie’s kapp. No matter how she pinned her hair, it insisted on escaping. Last night Samuel had confessed he’d loved her the moment she’d stepped into her father’s room, when she’d come home to nurse Jacob, and he’d first seen her hair loose and cascading beneath her nurse’s cap.
“You’ve known this for months,” Leah reminded her.
“Ya, my mind knew, but today my stomach finally under- stands.” She ran her hand over the hand-stitched quilt cover- ing her bed, the bed she would no longer sleep in once she was Samuel’s fraa.
“I’m nervous, too. The crackers I had for breakfast helped.”
“I couldn’t swallow a thing.” Annie studied the blue and yellow pinwheel pattern of the quilt. “Do you think these feelings are normal?”
“It’s the excitement. Think of all Gotte has in store for us. It seems Adam and I have waited for so long, and I know Samuel would have been content to marry you months ago—”
“I was so surprised when he asked me on Christmas.”
“Today we begin our new lives.”
Annie smiled as a calm assurance settled her nerves. “By this time next year we could have a family of our own.”
“We’re marrying on the same day.” Leah stood and straightened her blue dress. “Perhaps we’ll also share the day our babies are born.”
Two years later
Annie and Leah strolled along the sidewalk, peeking in the windows of the shops, enjoying the afternoon sunshine.
“When was the last time we had a day that didn’t include freezing temperatures and snow dusting the doorstep?” Leah stopped suddenly as two young boys playing a game of tag ran around her.
“Maybe Saturday was the wrong day to come to town though. A weekday might have been better.” Annie stepped closer and scowled after the boys. “Less traffic. Less kinner.”
“It’s not their fault I’m as big as Adam’s workhorse.”
“You are not.”
“I am! Look at me . . .” Leah rested her hands on her stomach, which was quite large. She’d recently begun her seventh month of pregnancy, but a stranger might think she was in her final week.
“Belinda told you—”
“Twins take up more room. Ya, I know. But, Annie, I can’t even put on my own shoes. Adam has to do it for me.” Leah stuck out her bottom lip and lines formed across her forehead.
Annie knew that look—pure misery.
“I should have stayed home.”
“You should have done no such thing. Let’s go on to the general store, then stop by mamm’s shop for some tea. Being out is gut for you and the babies.”
“Says Nurse Annie—”
“Yes, she does.”
“Who is four months pregnant and still not showing?”
The smile spread across Annie’s face until she was giggling. Then they were both laughing, behaving like schoolgirls. Two pregnant women, standing in the middle of the sidewalk and causing traffic to stream around them.
“Four and a half months,” Annie corrected Leah. “And she moved last night. Samuel and I both felt her.”
“She? Of all people, you should know better than to predict whether your baby is a girl or boy.”
“You’re right, but Samuel seems so certain. After listening to him for four months, I’ve fallen into the habit of saying she.” Annie hooked her arm through Leah’s and pulled her along the sidewalk. “I need to purchase the lavender fabric for the nine- patch crib quilt I’m making you, and I happen to know Rachel received a shipment earlier this week.”
“Oh, do we have to? I’m not sure what I need today is an encounter with Samuel’s sister-in-law.”
“I think she’s mellowing.” Annie whispered as they pushed their way into the general store, causing the small bell above the door to announce their arrival.
Instead of answering, Leah gave her the look. It was enough. After nearly three years back at home, back in Mifflin County, Annie had learned to read most of the unspoken cues from her sister-in-law. Packed with all of their previous conversations about Rachel, it said you know she hasn’t changed at all and we’ll do our best to love her anyway at the same time.
Annie didn’t talk to many people about Rachel—her mother, Leah, and, of course, Samuel. No one had the answer, but they all knew prayer was the one thing capable of healing the wounded places in Rachel’s heart. Until those places mended, chances were she would remain difficult and even occasionally somewhat nasty.
When they entered the store, a thousand memories surrounded Annie. Her family had shopped at the general store for as long as she could remember, but her recollection and what her eyes saw told two different stories.
The store she had visited as a child was crowded with delightful items in every available spot. Like most Plain folk, Annie had learned not to covet and to appreciate what she had rather than focus on what she didn’t. Growing up, the general store had been owned by Efram Bontrager. She remembered it clearly—it didn’t prick her desires as much as it sparked her imagination. When she walked over the doorstep, she’d always imagined herself stepping into an Englisch fairy tale. He carried supplies for Amish and Englisch alike, so all manner of things were on his shelves. Annie’s favorite spot for years had been Efram’s book nook in the front corner near the window. Her brother Adam had loved the old-fashioned candy counter with its jars of delicious penny candy.
Most of those items had vanished.
Two years ago Rachel Zook, Samuel’s sister-in-law, had moved from Ohio—after her husband died. Annie knew from comments Samuel made it had not been a happy marriage. Rachel never talked about her life before moving—so Annie had no way of knowing if she was still mourning her husband or regretting that her two boys were being raised without the help of a father. There was a third possibility. Perhaps Rachel had fallen into a habit of discontent. She had simply shown up in Mifflin County one day. Efram had decided to put the general store up for sale so he could move closer to his family. Families in the community were hardly aware of Efram’s plans, when Rachel bought the store and settled into the upstairs apartment with her boys.
The store had changed.
Rachel’s store was clean and orderly, and was stocked with items she was certain would appeal to the maximum number of customers. In other words, there were no surprises. The charm was gone.
Annie had to admit the place was cleaner.
“Leah, I’m surprised to see you out today.” Rachel sniffed from her place behind the counter. Tall, thin, with a beautiful complexion only the scowl on her face could ruin, Rachel was dressed in her usual gray dress and black apron.
Why the sniff? Did she have a perpetual cold? Or was she suggesting they smelled bad? Annie knew they didn’t, but she was tempted to check. Her mind went back to a psychology class she’d taken while pursuing her nursing certification, during the time she’d lived with her aenti, among the Englisch. The psychology instructor would have had a good time with some of Rachel’s mannerisms.
“And Annie. I thought you were helping Belinda deliver the infant to the family on the south end of our district, though why Samuel would allow you to go scurrying around the county in your condition—”
“Gudemariye, Rachel.” Annie aimed to keep her voice low and calm, as if she were speaking to a child. An image of Kiptyn immediately jumped to her mind, but she pushed it away. Although she’d had letters from her former patient for three years, she hadn’t seen him since she’d left Philadelphia. She still missed the children she once worked with, and today wasn’t a good time to focus on that loss. Today she needed to concentrate on making Leah’s outing a pleasant one.
Posted by Bonnie S. Calhoun at 11:22 PM