Katie Brennenman noticed that Jonathan Lundy was crushing the brim of his hat. Round and round he turned it, fingering the black felt as he spoke. Every few moments, without warning, his fingers would clench and the rim would succumb to his grip.
If he continued the process much longer, Jonathan was going to be in dire need of a new hat.
"Katie, are you listening, Daughter?"
She started, daring to glance at her mother, who was sitting across from her on the love seat, her current sewing project forgotten in the basket next to her. "Yes, Mamm. I'm listening."
You have hardly looked at our guest once since he's arrived. You haven't spoken more than a few words." Her mother treated Katie to a look she knew well. It said she had better shape up and soon. "Is everything all right?"
Irene Brenneman was a lot of things, but a fool certainly wasn't one of them. Katie swallowed. "Od course."
"Then you are interested in what Jonathan has to say?"
Katie has been fond of Jonathan Lundy for years. She'd always been mighty interested in what he had to say. Not that he seemed to notice. "Yes."
The hat took another beating as Jonathan spoke. "I have something to ask of Katie. Something that I am hoping she would think was a mighty gut idea."
Now Katie was all ears. Had Jonathan finally seen her as she wished? As a woman available for courting? Stilling herself, she inhaled.
Her mother's cheeks pinkened. "What was your idea, Jonathan?"
He swallowed uncomfortably. "I'm…I'm hopin' Katie─that Katie…"
Her mother leaned forward. "Yes?"
"Well, I'm in need of Katie here to help with my daughters."
Her daed coughed. "With your daughters?"
Crunch! Went the brim again. "Jah. Just while my sister Winnie goes to Indiana for a bit."
Katie exhaled swiftly. Well, she'd certainly been mistaken! Jonathan had been thinking of her, but not as a future bride. Oh no. As a nursemaid for his five- and seven-year-old daughters.
"For how long?" her father asked. Usually, he joked around, or whittled on one of the many canes he was famous for creating. Now, though, he only sat solemnly, his expression grave.
Two months of living at Jonathan Lundy's home? Of caring for his daughters like their mother. Of seeing to his household, making his meals, cleaning his home. As a wife would do.
After a long moment of thoughtful silence, her father said, "Two months is a long time, I'm thinkin'."
"I know it."
Oh! Jonathan Lundy still hadn't looked her way! Katie bristled. She hated being talked over like she had nothing to say for herself.
Though she surely didn't like the sound of this conversation, either. She was about to speak her mind when her mother spoke.
"Mary and Hannah are nice girls, to be sure. And they are a pleasure to be around."
Jonathan nodded. His expression relaxed. For the first time since he's arrived, the hat hung limply in his hand. "Thank you. Ever since my Sarah died, I've has a time of it."
My Sarah. Those words told Katie everything she needed to know. Jonathan might never think of anyone other than Sarah. Ever.
Her mother winced. "Sarah's accident was a tragedy, we all know that. But you and your sister, Winnie, are raisin' the girls just fine. I know Mary has missed her mother something awful, and it wasn't easy when young Hannah was still little more than a babe."
Jonathan's face became expressionless. "Neither Mary nor Hannah understood death at first. Hannah woke up crying for her mother more often than not, and Mary…" His voice lowered. "Well, Mary refused to ride in a buggy for months after the accident. But they're better now."
"Yes, indeed. I know they are better." Her mother paused, as if measuring her words. "But, you see, I don't think it would be right for our Katie to take on such a job."
Her father slapped his hands on his thighs. "Not at all. This job you speak of is not the one for Katie."
"If you're worried I would take advantage of her, I promise I will do no such thing. I'll move to the daadi haus and always be respectful."
"We are sure you will."
"And I will pay her, too. Please don't think I wanted Katie to work for nothing."
This conversation was getting worse and worse. It was so uncomfortable that Katie no longer minded that they were speaking about her as if she wasn't there. She didn't want to be there.
"Money is not the problem, Jonathan," her mother said sternly.
The decision had clearly been made. Katie didn't know whether to be thankful or disappointed. Here was her opportunity to show Jonathan just what kind of mother and wife she could be. Here was her chance! But it was also a risk that Jonathan would only see her as a caregiver for his girls.
As thought she'd always wanted to be a wonderful gut mother and housewife, she wanted to be valued as Katie. As someone special. Perhaps that would never happen in Jonathan's home.
Jonathan looked surprised. "Oh, I see. I was thinking that you might have an extra hand, now that Anna Metzger is living here."
Katis smiled at the mention of her best friend's name. Anna had been living at their inn for seven months now, and quite an adjustment it had been! Her dear friend was determined to learn the ways of the Amish, join the church, and eventually exchange vows with Henry, Katie's brother.
Katie's father spoke. "Anna is a great help, to be sure. But that isn't the problem."