Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Autumn's Promise - Chapter 1

Autumn's Promise
Avon Inspire (August 3, 2010)


Shelley Shepard Gray

Chapter 1

“I’m pregnant,” Lilly Allen’s mother announced at breakfast. Calm as could be—just as if she was asking for someone to pass the bacon.

Lilly almost choked on her juice as she stared at her mother in shock. “What?

“You heard me. I’m pregnant,” she said again, her voice overly bright. “The doctor said I’m four months along. By Valentine’s Day, we’re going to have a wonderful new addition to the family.”

Ty, all of ten, grinned. “Now I won’t be the youngest anymore!”

Their mother laughed. “You sure won’t. Now you’ll be a big brother. I’m really going to be depending on your help, too.” She looked at all of them. “I’m going to need all of your help.”

“We already have a crib, don’t we?” Ty chirped. “The one we bought for Lilly?”

Her mother’s smile faltered. “Yes.”

As Ty continued to chatter, Lilly felt her world flip on its side. Her mother was four months along? It was the beginning of September, which meant she got pregnant in May.

Right after Lilly had miscarried.

Waves of nausea coursed through her. Warily, Lilly looked her dad’s way. He was eating his bowl of cornflakes like he didn’t have a care in the world. As Ty kept chattering, she glared at him. “You knew about this, didn’t you?”

Slowly, her father set his spoon down. “Of course,” he said.

Her older brother Charlie scowled. “How come you two waited so long to tell us?”

With a helpless—almost sheepish look—their mom shrugged. “At first I just thought I had the flu. Then, well, I put two and two together.”

For the first time in what felt like forever, Lilly stared at her mom. And as she did, she started seeing all the changes that should have been obvious. Her mother’s cheeks were fuller, and her usually neatly tucked-in Tshirt was gone. Instead she wore an oversized buttondown loosely over a pair of knit slacks.

She should have noticed the signs. After all, she’d been in that same condition just a few months earlier. Beside her, Charlie was frowning. “I’m glad I won’t be here to deal with it.” Tossing his napkin on the table, he turned to Lilly. “You should have applied to college. Now you’re going to have to take care of it.”

“The baby,” their father corrected.

“Whatever,” Charlie retorted.

As their dad chastised Charlie, Lilly zoned them out. Her brother was right. She was going to be expected to help. It was inevitable.

She couldn’t imagine a worse chore. The last thing she wanted was to be around a baby. It still hurt to see a baby in the grocery store. And even on TV.

Now she was expected to be excited about living with one?

Abruptly, she stood up. “I’ve got to go to work.”

“Right now?” Her dad looked at his watch. “You’ve got over an hour before you have to be at the Sugarcreek Inn.”

“I told Mrs. Kent I’d come in early,” she lied. “I’m, um, already late.”

“I think you’re being awfully rude, Lilly,” her father chided. “This is a wonderful event. It’s something to celebrate.”

Struggling to hold herself together, Lilly bit the inside of her cheek. Anything to keep all the feelings from bursting out. “It’s not my fault I have to work.”

Face pale, her mother stood up, too. “Please don’t leave. I think we should talk about this. Lilly—”

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“Of course there is. I know you’re still upset about—”

“Don’t,” Lilly interrupted, the pain inside making her voice hard, clipped. “Don’t mention that. Ever.”


“Let her go, Barb,” her dad said quietly.

Before her mother decided to have some kind of creepy heart-to-heart, Lilly set her plate in the sink, picked up her purse and keys from the kitchen counter, and raced out of the house.

Two minutes later, she was pulling onto the quiet state road that led to Sugarcreek. She hardly looked around her. The surrounding leaves, just beginning to change to gold and bronze, meant nothing. The cooler, crisp air with the hint of pine and apples failed to penetrate her awareness. Only pain surged through her as her eyes welled with tears and began to fall.

When her vision blurred, she pulled into an empty storefront’s parking area and collected her thoughts. How could her parents be expecting a baby . . . just months after she’d miscarried?

And they’d looked so happy, too. How could they be happy? Her mother was forty-five years old! Charlie was twenty-one. Nobody had a baby when they had a twentyone- year-old.

Except her parents.

Putting the car in park, she covered her face with her hands and breathed in and out slowly. She had to get a hold of herself. There was no way she could function if she didn’t.

A knock on her window startled her.

“You okay?” the Amish man said, looking curiously through the glass at her.

Lilly nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw who it was. Robert Miller.

Robert, who came to the Sugarcreek Inn on a regular basis and always sat at the same table. Who hadn’t said more than a handful of words to her the first five times he came to the restaurant.

Who knew she’d had a miscarriage and had asked if she was all right.

Who had volunteered to help look for her brother during a horrible storm this past April.

And there he was, standing outside her door, as if he wandered around Sugarcreek and looked in car windows all the time.

As his blue eyes continued to examine her, she nodded. Perhaps then he would go away.

She wasn’t that lucky.

He stood there, strong and still—waiting for her to roll the window down.

She did one better and got out of the car. Though she knew her tears had blurred her mascara—most likely making her eyes look like a raccoon’s—she looked at him directly and smiled. “Hi, Robert.”

“Are you all right? You’ve been sitting in here cryin’ for a good ten minutes.”

“Has it been that long?” she murmured, not actually expecting an answer. There was no way she was going to tell him about the latest development in her crazy, mixed-up life. She hardly knew him.

Lilly decided to ask a question of her own instead. “Why are you here?”

His face didn’t even crack a smile. “You answer my question first. Pulling over and crying is not good.”

“I know. I’m just upset about something.”

“Well, I can see that.” He stepped closer. For a moment, she thought he was going to reach out and touch her arm. But he didn’t. Instead, he folded his arms across his chest, mimicking her, and murmured, “Sometimes talking helps.”

“Talking won’t help this problem.”

“You sure?”

“Positive. It’s something to do with my family.”

Alarm entered his eyes. “Is someone sick?”

Lilly remembered hearing that Robert Miller had lost his wife to cancer a few years back. “No, everyone’s healthy.” She tried to smile. “It’s just something to do with me, really. And I’ll get over it. Now, why are you here in the parking lot?”

“This is my shop.”

He was looking at her curiously, thought Lilly. With a hint of disappointment?

“I thought you knew that.”

The plain wooden building was decorated by only a beautifully carved sign. Miller Carpentry, read Lilly, and then she shook her head. “Honestly, I’ve never noticed it before,” she said. And besides, Miller was a common name in Sugarcreek; it was common anywhere, actually. She wouldn’t have had any reason to guess it belonged to him. “It looks nice.”

Danke. My cousin Abe helped me start this business three years ago, in honor of my twenty-first birthday.”

So he was twenty-four. She’d just turned nineteen— only five years separated them.

She’d thought he was older.

For a split second their eyes met. Again.

But this time it wasn’t concern and alarm that filled his gaze. No, it was interest. Awareness.

Unbidden, a flash of hope hugged her tight. Knowing this was the road to disappointment, Lilly squashed the feeling down. “I, um, need to get to work. I’m sorry I bothered you.”

“You didn’t.”

She just pulled open her car door and got back inside, not daring to reply. If he thought she was being rude, then that was just fine.

Anything would be better than Robert guessing the truth—that, for a brief moment, she’d been tempted to reach out to him for a hug, with the hope that he’d never let her go.

“Caleb Graber, you must stop being so lazy and fulfill your duties,” his father said. “Now that Timothy is married and you are sixteen, you need to do your part.” Looking around the barn, his father glowered. “Why haven’t you mucked out the stalls and watered the horses yet? It’s already eight in the morning.”

“I don’t know.”

“That’s no answer.”

Caleb knew it wasn’t. But he also knew he couldn’t tell the truth. The truth was that the six pack of beer he’d drunk the night before with Jeremy was making his stomach sour, and the last thing in the world he wanted to do was rake up horse manure. Reaching for the rake, he muttered, “I’ll do it.”

Under the straw brim of his hat, his father’s eyes looked him over. “Gut,” he said, then turned away.

As soon as he was alone, Caleb let go of the rake and leaned against the barn; closed his eyes against his pounding head. Wished he was anywhere else.

He hated his life.

“Still sitting around, doing nothing?” his sister Judith chirped.

He opened one eye. “Yeah.”

“It won’t help, you know,” she murmured.

“What do you mean?”

Moving the basket of eggs to her left hand, she scowled at him. “I mean, that no matter how much you wish you didn’t have to do things, it doesn’t make responsibilities go away.”

Judith Graber, the font of wisdom. “Can I wish you’d leave?”

Instead of turning away in a huff, she eyed him with disdain. “What’s wrong, Caleb? Too much partying with your crazy English friends last night?”

“Shut up.”

“You better get over that soon and grow up. We need you around here, you know. With Joshua busy at the store and Tim now farming Clara’s land and ours, Daed has to depend on you.”

“It’s not fair that I have to do everyone else’s chores just because they found something better to do.”

Pure amusement lit her face. “Found something better? Well, that’s one way of puttin’ things, I guess. Caleb, Joshua, and Tim got married.”

He hated it when she made him feel like the dumbest person in the room. With a sigh, he turned away from her, filled a bucket with fresh water, and poured it into Jim’s stall.

The horse perked up its ears and came to him for a pet. Caleb complied, rubbing the horse around his ears in the way Jim had always loved.

“You don’t have a choice about your future, you know,” Judith murmured. “Daed expects you to take over the farm since Joshua is in charge of the store. You might as well accept it.”

Turning from the horse, Caleb angrily eyed his sister. “What if I don’t want to?”

“Don’t want to what? What are you talking about?”

“I’m just saying that maybe I don’t want to work in fields and barns for the rest of my life. Maybe I don’t even want to work in the store.”

“What else is there?” Pure confusion emanated from her. Judith really had no idea how he felt.

“A lot.”

“Not that I can see.”

That was the problem with his family. They loved being Amish. They loved their way of life. They never contemplated anything else. Never longed for decent work, or meeting other people, or living other places.

Slowly, he said, “There’s a lot other things outside of Sugarcreek. One day, I aim to see it all.”

Just a bit of her superiority slipped. “Caleb, what are you saying?” she whispered.

For a moment, he was tempted to tell his sister everything. To share his dreams of escaping Sugarcreek and the endless rules that caged him in.

But he didn’t dare. Judith would tell his parents. “Nothing. Leave me alone so I can get this done. And tell Anson to come out here and give me a hand.”

“All right,” she said quietly. “But I hope you know what you’re doing.”

He didn’t. But that was okay. Anything was better than doing what was expected of him . . . than staying.

All he had to do was wait just a little longer.

Then he could leave. Yes, just as soon as he was able . . . he was going to get out of Sugarcreek for good.

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