“I’d love to say drugs are never a problem in Crittenden County. I’d love to say it, but it wouldn’t be true.”
Perry Borntrager had been taking drugs again.
Frannie Eicher had suspected it when she first spied his glazed expression, then had known it for sure when she heard his slurred words. Now, here she was, alone with him on the outskirts of the Millers’ property. Not a soul knew where she was, or that once again she was meeting him in secret in a place where they weren’t supposed to be at all.
Oh, she was sure he wouldn’t hurt her. Perry wasn’t dangerous. But knowing that they were completely alone, that no one would hear if she cried out for help, was unsettling.
Especially since at the moment Perry wasn’t acting like himself.
The Perry she’d known all her life had been patient. Methodical. Years ago, he’d been slow to smile and even slower to frown. Everyone far and near had agreed that he was a good man. A man who was easy to get along with, a steady kind of man.
That was not the case anymore.
“Glad you finally made it.” His voice was snide, clipped.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said. “I had a terrible time getting out of the inn—everyone wanted ‘just one more thing.’ ” Frannie smiled sheepishly. Then waited, half hoping he’d take her bait and ask about her cherished bed-and-breakfast.
“It didn’t matter if you came on time or not. Nothing would change my feelings. I hate it here. I always have.” A low laugh erupted from his chest. “But you knew that, right?” He was walking somewhat unsteadily. In a zigzag way. As if he was having trouble placing his feet just so on the uneven ground
“You hate being here at the Millers’ farm?” she joked as she struggled to keep up with his awkward pace.
He didn’t realize she was kidding. “Jah,” he said over his shoulder as they approached the abandoned well on the edge of the property. “The Millers’ farm, Marion, Crittenden County. Kentucky . . .” His voice grew louder. More hostile. “What’s the difference, anyway? I hate it all.”
She stopped a few feet away from him. Where it was safe. She did remind herself, though, that he would never hurt her. “If you don’t like it here, what are you going to do?”
“Get away when I can.”
She shouldn’t have been shocked, but she was. “And go where?”
“I don’t know. Anywhere. Someplace else.” Slumping against the stacked rocks that surrounded the top of the well, he looked at her contemptuously. “What about you, Frannie? Don’t you want to get away?” The cold air made his breath appear like little puffs in the sky. It also made her aware of how cold she was.
And how much colder their relationship had become.
She felt his gaze skim her whole body, as if he was looking at her from the top of her black bonnet covering her kapp to the toe of her black tennis shoes, and had found her wanting. “I’ve never thought about leaving here,” she said hesitantly, trying to negotiate the conversation that made no sense at
all. “Crittenden County is home. Besides, I just took over the Yellow Bird Inn.” Unable to stop herself, she added, “I refinished the wood floors, you know, and it looks so pretty . . .”
Perry merely stared.
She swallowed. “Um. I . . . I could never leave it.”
“You could never leave it.” His blank stare turned deriding. “That inn ain’t nothing special.”
She’d spent the last month helping two men paint the outside a wonderful, buttery yellow. The yellow color went so much better with the name of the inn than the black-and-white paint ever did. The Yellow Bird Inn needed yellow paint, surely.
Because it was a special place. And very special to her. “One day it might be.”
He spit on the ground. “It’s not going to make any money. No one comes here unless they have to.”
She fought to keep her expression neutral. To pretend he hadn’t hurt her feelings. “My great aunt seemed to do all right with it. And some people have come to visit and stay.” Lifting her chin, she said, “Why, just the other day an English couple all the way from Indianapolis said they’d tell their church friends about my B&B.”
His voice turned darker. “The only reason the English come here is look at the Amish.”
“They come for the scenery and the greenhouses, too.” She bit her lip. “We are blessed to live in such a pretty place, you know. Why, we are surrounded by trees and hills and valleys.”
He laughed softly. “Frannie, you need to get your head out of the clouds. The English come here to gawk. To take our pictures with their camera phones.” His voice deepened. “You’re not going to make any money. You ought to leave that place.”
“And do what?”
His mouth opened, then shut again quickly. Like he was having difficulty forming his thoughts.
She waited. As she stood there, her toes began to burn from the cold ground. Her eyes watered from the brisk wind.
Oh, how she wished Perry would act like himself again. When they’d begun to court, she’d been well aware of his problems. But since they’d known each other all their lives, she’d been sure that she could change him back to how he used to be.
If he’d only try just a little bit.
“The guys I’ve been working with, they’ve promised me big things,” Perry finally said, his voice strained tight with emotion. “You . . . you could come with me. If you changed.”
If she changed? Frannie knew that the men he’d been working with were Englischers. Englischers of the worst sort. They weren’t local. They only came to their area with the intent of causing trouble, of encouraging more people to take the drugs Perry was now so fond of.
“I don’t want to be different, Perry.” Feeling her way through the conversation, she looked beyond him, looked into the dense, lush woods on the outskirts of the Millers’ property. “I like it here. And I like how I am.”
And though she didn’t want to be prideful, she felt disappointed that he didn’t see her attributes. Most boys had found her pale blue-gray eyes and auburn hair pleasing. Most people found her effort to take over the bed-and-breakfast once her aunt got sick to be commendable.
It was obvious he did not.
“Let’s be honest, Frannie. You are stuck in an old boardinghouse in the middle of a county down on its luck.”
She gritted her teeth. “Perhaps.” And smiled slightly, determined not to let him see how nervous she was becoming. “But I don’t think it’s so bad. I mean, I like to look on the bright side of things, for sure. I’m still the same Frannie I’ve always been.”
For a moment, his gaze softened. Just like he, too, remembered how they’d once played tag in each other’s yards after church. How they’d been friends before he’d ever courted Lydia. Before he’d finally looked her way with a new appreciation, as if she hadn’t been there all along just waiting for
him to notice.
But then he blinked. “You aren’t the same. Just like me, you’ve changed over the years. Don’t deny it. Change always happens. It can’t be helped.”
“People do change, that is true.” She bit her lip. How much did she want to say when he was in this condition? But she was tired of tiptoeing around him. Didn’t her heart mean anything? Didn’t her soul and desires count just as much as his feelings did?
“Perry, I don’t want you to move away. And I don’t like the men you’ve been keeping company with. I wish you’d move on—” She ached to tell him more, to beg him to seek help.
But his thunderous response stopped all that.
“What are you? My mother?”
“Of course not,” she said quickly.
His gaze darkened. “I don’t need another mother, Frannie. One nagging woman in my life is more than enough.”
“I know. I mean, I know that, Perry. I’m only offering my opinion. That’s all.”
There was a new anger in his voice, and she knew she’d put it there. It was time to go. Perry had chosen his path and he certainly wasn’t going to change it for her.
He wasn’t going to tell those Englischers goodbye. Maybe the drugs weren’t ever going to loosen their grip on him.
She stepped backward. “I’m going to go home now.”
“Jah. I . . . I think it’s best. I mean, I don’t think we have
much more to say to each other.”
He stared at her for a long moment, then held up his hand. “Hold on. I . . . I brought something for you.” He fumbled in a pocket in his coat, then pulled out a pair of sunglasses. “These are for you.”
Walking to his side, she took his gift. “You brought me sunglasses?” She couldn’t imagine a more peculiar thing for him to give her. Especially on such a cloudy, wintery day.
“Yeah. They’re nice, ain’t so? Expensive, too. Cameron, one of my friends from Louisville, picked them up for me. He got two pairs.” He threw off the comment, just as if she were no more important to him than an afterthought.
She was confused. He’d brought her men’s sunglasses, given to him from one of his drug-dealing friends? Holding them up in front of her face, she turned them this way and that. “Whatever would I do with them?”
“Wear them, of course.” His voice grew impatient. “Try them on, Frannie.”
They were only sunglasses. Though it wasn’t the norm for Amish to wear sunglasses, it wasn’t unheard of, either.
But these sunglasses looked expensive. And worldly. These screamed English and were built for a man’s face, not her own.
They seemed to stand for everything she was not.
And right then and there, she knew she couldn’t accept them.
Every time she looked at them, they’d symbolize everything that was wrong with them. With her. With Perry.
“I don’t want them.”
“You’re not even going to try them on? What’s wrong, Frannie? Afraid you’re going to get tainted?” His voice was loud now—loud enough to reverberate around them.
But there was no one to overhear.
She stepped farther back. “I just don’t want them.” Holding out her hands, she attempted to give them back. “You should keep them.”
His eyes narrowed. Then, to her great surprise, he stepped back. “Nee.”
Oh, she hated when he acted like this! “Perry, please—”
“If you don’t want them, get rid of them yourself.”
She was so frustrated, so hurt, so mad at herself for continually thinking she could make a difference to him, she did what he suggested. In one swift motion, she tossed the glasses into the woods. Frannie followed their path with a lump in her throat. And immediately felt guilty.
“I’m sorry. I’ll go fetch them. I shouldn’t have done that.”
He stopped her with a firm grip on her arm. “No, let them be. If you don’t want them, I don’t, either. We’ll leave them for the Millers. Maybe their cows can use them.” He grinned at his joke.
She shivered at his dark tone. Who had Perry become? With a jerk, she pulled her arm from his grasp. “I’m going to leave now.”
“Jah. I think you should. Go, Frannie. Go on, now.”
She stepped backward, relieved to be leaving him, but so disappointed about his troubles. “Maybe we can get you some help—”
“I don’t need help, Frannie. And I don’t need you. Just go. And let’s hope we never see each other ever again.”
She turned. And headed home.
And realized as she heard his laugh behind her that finally. . . finally they had something in common.
She, too, hoped she’d never see him again.
But of course, she doubted she would ever be that lucky.