The dinner bell rang just as one of the milk cows slapped Annie’s kapp with its tail. Now she was late for the evening meal. She pulled the black kapp off her head.
When Maggie swatted Annie, the pins were knocked loose. She wiped off the dirt and cow manure then hastily twisted up her hair into a bun and pulled the kapp over her mess of hair.
“Need some help?” John Yoder’s dark eyes smiled at her.
She jumped at the sight of him looking down at her with a grin. “Nee, I can finish up.”
Her mamm would scold her for her tardiness and her unruly hair, so she quickly grabbed two containers of milk, clutching them to her chest. When she turned around, John was removing the cups from the Guernsey’s udders.
“Danke. The boys must have missed a couple.” The cover of one of the containers lifted, causing milk to spill out onto her black dress. Annie wiped her hand on her white apron. Frustration bubbled up and burst out in an irritated groan.
“Now what?” John opened the barn door and shut it behind them.
Annie pointed to the milk stain and slowed her walk so he could catch up. Her mamm wouldn’t be as upset with her if she saw Annie with John.
“I spilled on myself, my hair’s a mess, and I’m late.” She juggled the containers to keep them in place as she walked.
John’s smile never left, just tipped to the side while she listed her worries. “You’re never late.”
“You will be too if you keep talking to me.” The milk sloshed around in the containers as she adjusted them again.
“Taking the long way home?”
“Jah, thought I’d come by to say hallo.” He took one from her then reached for the other.
She turned slightly so he couldn’t reach the second bottle. “I’ve got this one.”
“Suit yourself.” He shrugged as his grin widened.
They walked together toward their houses, which were down the path from one another, divided by a dozen trees. John was three the day Annie was born and had been a part of her life more than her own brothers were at times. His brown hair brushed his collar as he walked with her, holding back to keep in step with Annie.
“Aren’t you late to help with cooking?” He nodded toward her white clapboard house. A birdfeeder was hung at the far end of the porch, which had a peaked black roof, and daisies filled her mamm’s flower garden in front of the house. Mamm created a colorful greeting of flora for every season.
She shook her head. “Nee, Eli’s helping the Lapps, so I’m helping the boys with milking. What were you doing, cutting tobacco?”
He nodded. “Nice day for it too. The sun was bright, but there was a breeze that kept us cool.” He lifted his strong, handsome face toward the sunshine and took in a deep breath.
He was just trying to irritate her, so she ignored his jab. John knew she preferred being outdoors and that she would trade places with him in an instant. When the time was right she would help with the tobacco harvesting and, along with many others, would then prepare the meal after the task was done.
“It looked warm outside to me.” She took the milk from him and kept walking. The last of the warm summer days were coming to an end, and soon it would be time for fall harvesting.
They reached the trail that led to John’s home on the far side of a stand of tall oak trees. “Not as hot as in the kitchen.” He snapped his suspenders and turned onto the trail leading away from her.
“John Yoder . . . ” was all she could say this close to her daed’s ears. She watched him continue on down the roughed-out dirt lane thinking of what she would have said if she could. Her gaze took in the many acres of barley, corn, and oat crops and then moved to the Virginia mountainside beyond, where the promise of fall peeked out between the sea of green.
Annie walked up the wooden stairs and into the kitchen. The room was simple and white, uncluttered. A long table and chairs took over the middle of the large room, and rag rugs of blue and emerald added color and softness. For a unique moment it was silent.
“Annie?” Her mamm’s voice made her worry again about being late, with a soiled dress and unkempt hair.
Her tall, slender mamm stopped picking up the biscuits from a baking pan and placed both hands on the counter. She let out a breath when Annie came into the kitchen. “Ach, good, you brought the milk.” Mamm’s tired gaze fell on Annie.
“I was talking with John.” She opened the cooler door and placed the milk on the shelf.
Her mamm’s smile told Annie she wasn’t late after all, so she continued. “He said it was a good day for baling.”
Hanna and her brother strolled in, and he grabbed a biscuit, creating a distraction that allowed Annie time to twist her hair up and curl it into a tight bun. A tap from their mamm’s hand made her son drop the biscuit back into the basket with the rest.
“I’m so hungry.” Thomas’s dark freckles on his pudgy face contrasted to his light hair and skin, so unlike Annie’s olive-colored complexion, which was more like their daed’s.
She tousled his hair. “You are always the first one to dinner and the last one to leave.”
“I’m a growing child. Right, Mamm?” Thomas took the basket of biscuits to the table and set them next to his plate.
“That you are. Now go sit down and wait for the others.”