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.