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Chapter One


 

The wind blew bitter cold against my face, and the black cape pinned at my neck offered little comfort. Lately, it felt more like a burden than protection from the weather. I'd tied a black bonnett over my Kapp, but still the cold bit at my cheeks. I trotted down the side of the road toward the Millers, swinging the basket that held two pumpkin praline pies.

A buggy approached. It looked to be Bishop Hershberger's horse. I hoped the driver was his dark-eyed son, Sam, whose horse had just been killed in a buggy accident. The horse trotted ever so slowly, and I thought for sure and for certain that it would be the Bishop.

I pretended to drop something, knelt down and turned away a little, and tried to tie my Kapp strings before he was close enough to see I had left them untied. No need to add fuel to the fire, as Dat would say. Just last week Deacon Miller had questioned my committment to the kneeling vows I'd taken. I don't know what he'd heard, but I'd tried to show my sorrow and promised to do better.

All I had to do was mention my sister, and people pitied me. I? I was angry at her. Everyone else cried, but I could not let go of my anger at her betrayal.

The buggy slowed as it approached, and I smoothed my face into one of friendly politeness. My stomach fluttered. Bishop Hershberger always made me a little nervous, and his son, Sam, did the same-except in a good way.

When it stopped, I peered in. "Is that Abe's Sam?" I called.

As Sam lifted a hand in greeting, his chin-length hair swung against his cheeks. He didn't smile, but his dark eyes glistened from the shadows of the buggy. I couldn't see his thick bangs under the wide brim of his hat, but I knew they were there. I'd heard his family had it hard after the drought last summer, and his horse sure looked a little scrawny at the ribs.

"How's your little brother Caleb feeling?" I asked. "The accident broke his arm, ain't so?"
"A few bruises, a sprain." He paused, and his eyes flickered with something hard and disapproving. I wondered if he'd not yet found it in his heart to forgive the English teenagers who'd swerved into his horse. They'd been drunk and had shamelessly driven off without even making sure no one had been hurt.

I couldn't think of anything to say.

I started walking and Sam followed, keeping his horse at pace with me. It made me want to giggle. He was a boy of almost thirty, still unmarried, but I thought he had the presence of a married man with ten children.

"Are you going to the Singing on Sunday?" My stomach did not agree with my brazen question, and I was relieved when the corner of his mouth twitched.

Before he could answer, I added, "We'll have a date of it?"

"Becky," he said, soft and scolding.

I wasn't sure whether he was admonishing me for my audacity or if he was teasing me. His almost-grin fell and I feared I'd gone too far. My face felt as if it swelled up, as if a pressure were building under my skin. When he shook his head, I was ashamed of my audacity.

I peered down at the toes of my boots.

He gave a soft laugh under his breath. "Sunday, then," he said. Still shaking his head, he gave a snap of the reins and took off.

I walked on, breathing deeply to calm myself. I pressed a hand to my stomach, heard a small giggle escape, and then continued to the Millers.

***

But come Sunday, he was late. My brother John hung around, saying nothing but cocking his head at me now and then. I knew he was waiting, knew he was willing to take me if Sam didn't show up. He had no Aldi-girlfriend-at the moment, and I was grateful.

My hands were unsteady as I knit a shawl.

Mama tsked, shook her head, but said nothing. I supposed she could guess I was waiting for a boy since I had not left with John.

I stuffed my knitting back in my basket. John raised an eyebrow, and I stood.

"Goodnight, Mama," I said.

Her fingers were steady as they went through the mending quickly. She frowned a little, but when she looked up, her eyes filled with worry. I resented it for a moment, then felt ashamed of myself. Of course she worried. But it was times like this that I wished I had not kneeled for my vows to obey the Ordnung and the strict Schwartzentruber Amish ways.

John followed me outside, and we wordlessly walked to the barn. I cast another glance down the lane before I climbed into his buggy, but there was still no sign of Sam.

As we jostled along the darkening road, I mostly felt embarrassed. And ashamed of my forwardness. I'd likely scared him off. Had he thought my forwardness too fancy? I didn't know why I was drawn to Sam, but I felt for sure and for certain I'd spoiled things. Since my sister had left, I'd been too reckless.

It took us nearly an hour to get to the Singing. We were late, so already there were thirty buggies at Jeremiah Yoder's house. No one lingered outside, and we could hear the singing had already begun. They were singing fast tonight. John and I exchanged grins: the Young People were feeling the restlessness of Spring. There was a barn hop up North a ways. John didn't want me to go, but I was going after the singing, and I was going to have fun, I could tell.

When we entered, Rachel Yoder stood and hustled us down to the end of the table. As my closest friend, I'd told her I was coming with Sam. She noted John and raised an eyebrow at me. I was both grateful and a little embarrassed that my brother sat across the table from me, where Sam should have sat.

I loved to sing, but I lowered my voice modestly. Even John seemed to relax. I was starting to enjoy myself when Sam walked in.

His dark eyes settled on me, and he looked displeased. He stood in the doorway as if he disapproved of our fast singing. He didn't hang out with the Young People much anymore, and many had speculated at his disinterest in finding a proper girl.

We struck up another tune and I smiled wide, determined to show Sam that I did not care that he'd forgotten me. Rachel beamed at me; she sat across from Sam's younger brother, Noah.
Sam followed my gaze and frowned again.

If he was going to be that way, I was happy he'd not picked me up. Why was it that I'd taken a fancy to a man who was growing sterner and stricter than his father?

He used to smile. He used to smile at me. It had made me feel special because he rarely smiled at anyone.

He sat down at the far end of the table and started singing. John raised his eyebrow at me, as if to ask whether or not he should make room for Sam. I shook my head ever so slightly.

When the Singing was done, I met Rachel in the back.

"Who is driving you to the hop?"

She sighed, casting a disappointed look to Noah. "My brother. He will take you, too, if you like."

"Good. Mine doesn't want to hear of me going. I think he is afraid I will follow my sister if I step out of his sight."

She cocked her head towards Sam.

I answered her unasked question. "He did not pick me up." I shrugged.

Rachel hooked her arm in mine and we made our way toward her brother's buggy. "I don't know why you've always had your sights set on him. He is growing up to be just like his father."

I didn't know why, either.

***

Rachel and I changed in a gas station, giggling as we slid on our jeans and t-shirts. I always felt a little giddy when I shed my Ordnung-dictated clothing, and I could tell Rachel felt the same way.
Lately, it was only in Englisch clothes that I felt I could breathe.

We danced. We drank. I forgot about everything: about my sister, about Sam, about my vows, about Mama's and Dat's sorrow.

I drank until everything disappeared into a happy fuzz.

And then I went to the table to get more.

A hand stopped me.

"Ach, sweet, fancy Becky, you need a bletsching, ain't so?" Sam's voice was low and soft, but my face still went hot at the thought someone had overheard him ask if I needed a spanking. My bottom tingled. Something else tingled too, but I didn't want to think of that.

"We had a date," he said. "And here you are at the Yoder's barn hop."

As he took the can of beer from my hand, he looked as judgmental as his father, the Bishop. His father didn't like me either, and I'm not sure why I'd taunted Sam into a date. Reckless, again.
"You were late," I said, surprised at how belligerent my voice sounded. I grinned to make up for it, grabbing the table to keep from swaying. With him standing there looking at me the way he was, I felt naked without my Kapp and plain clothes.

He looked out of place in the barn. Although plenty of the Young People were still in plain clothes, Sam and I were Swartzentruber Amish. We were different, and at thirty, he was older than most of the boys, too.

He didn't offer apologies. He looked around and frowned. "These aren't our People, Becky. Are you getting fancy on me?" He eyed my jeans.

"Please don't tell your father."

"Mmm," he said. "I'm taking you home."

I snatched the can of beer back from him. "Everyone talks because you haven't married yet. So get off your little horse."

Even in the dark, his eyes twinkled at some amusement he did not deign to share with me. I felt like he was laughing at me; I turned away, but the barn seemed to dip and shake. He hooked a finger in the back pocket of my jeans, and I was stuck. My face flamed.

"Maybe I'm waiting for some wild young thing to sow her oats."

I tried to take a step to the side, but his hand dipped deep into my back pocket. When I turned back to him, he had me by the jeans, so we were face to face. He unhooked his hand but palmed my bottom. I liked to play at being wild, but I'd never been touched so familiarly before. He pulled me even closer and patted my bottom.

"Maybe it's time to tame you."

I was so annoyed I made to slap him. He was so shocked his mouth popped open. He grabbed my hand, but we stood there staring at each other, both equally stunned.

"Becky," he said, his voice full of surprise and admonishment. "You're drunk. How many beers did you have? This is not like you, ain't so?"

"It is not like you to touch me!"

He bowed his head, looking abashed.

I wobbled a little on my feet, relenting. "You don't understand."

"I understand you're following the fancy ways of your sister. You've already knelt; you could be banned for dressing fancy."

The wound was too new for me to bear his words stoically. "She was supposed to take me with her." I was horrified when a sob shook my chest.

"Oh Becky," Sam said, his face sad and horrified. "No, Becky. You've knelt. Do your vows mean nothing to you?"

"I was sixteen. I didn't know any better," I whispered.

He didn't respond. I couldn't look at him. For sure and for certain, he would tell his father and I would have to beg the forgiveness of the church. The thought increased the nauseous feeling in my stomach, and I felt dizzy. The hop continued around us, loud and noisy, but we were in our own small bubble of silence. I could feel the beat of the music through my sneakers; feel the shaking of the barn from a hundred people dancing at once. For a moment, I feared the entire barn would collapse. Things went blurry, and I realized it was me collapsing, not the barn.

My hand clutched at the straw scattered on the floor of the barn. I struggled to get up again, but all I really wanted to do was lie right there on the ground and just disappear. Nausea bubbled in my stomach and I threw up, just managing to avoid Sam's shoes.

I expected him to leave me right then, to go to his father or the Deacon and have me shunned or worse. I thought of my mother, the way she'd sunk to the kitchen table and buried her face in her hands when she learned of my sister's running away. She hadn't spoken a single word for a week. We weren't sure if she blamed us for letting my sister get away or if she was upset with Dat. He hadn't spoken much either, but his eyes had been red for nearly a week, too.

Sam pulled me up to standing. "No, please." Everything was too dizzy. "Please, let me just disappear."

I threw up again, then fell against him so hard we both stumbled. I remember only snatches after that: the ice cold rain, the endless clip-clopping of the horse back to our community, the sound of my snores every time I woke up. As I faded in and out of consciousness, I knew this was going to have just awful consequences.

"Becky, can you sit up?"

I shook my head.

"How am I supposed to get you to your bed? Your family will be awake by the time we get you home. This will devastate your Dat."

I groaned and leaned my head against the side of the buggy. I don't remember falling asleep.

***

I woke to the smell of lake, of fresh water and dead fish. I tried to sit up and realized I was on bare ground. I shivered. A fire crackled, and I heard Sam say, "Good morning."

We were in a campsite, sheltered by a ring of trees. His horse idly crunched at a small patch of grass. He handed me a bottle of water wordlessly.

"You didn't take me home," I said. "Dat will be frantic."

"He would have been worse had he seen you last night." Sam's voice was as solemn as I'd ever heard it.

"What will they think when you bring me home?"

He didn't say anything. He must have stopped at a little store last night, because he pulled a potato wrapped in aluminum foil out of the campfire. After unwrapping it, He cut it in half with a plastic knife and put a generous cut of butter on top. He handed it to me, then pulled another potato from the fire.

"Danki," I said.

He didn't reply. We both bowed our head before we ate. After some time, we finished our prayer and dug into our potatoes.

"I don't know what to do," I said.

My gaze noticed the buggy whip by his hand. My breath caught, and then I looked up to see Sam following my gaze. I blushed, remembering his threat of a bletsching the night before.

"Maybe we could break a wheel," I suggested.

Sam frowned.

I felt tears well up in my eyes. "Please, Sam. The deacon has already been to visit with me. Isn't our family going through enough?"

He stopped eating, his face gentling. "Becky, you have gone wild since your sister left. You were always having fun before, but now you've gotten reckless. Look at yourself." He shook his head. "Where are your clothes?"

My lips began wobbling uncontrollably. I did not want to cry. My clothes were in Rachel's brother's buggy. There would be no way to get them.

"I am all alone now," I said. "She has left us. She was supposed to take me with her." My gaze dropped to the buggy whip. "Are you going to give me a bletsching, Sam?"

He finished his potato in silence, balled up the aluminum foil, and threw it into the fire. We both watched as it burned. I'd eaten a few bites of my potato, but my stomach could handle no more.

I held it out to him, and he finished it, too. Then he held out his arms, and I went to him. It was a strange feeling, because I thought he was going to spank me, and all I felt was relief.

He didn't, though.

He held me on his lap as he we were going to rock in a rocking chair, and then began fixing my hair the way it should be. While it felt good to feel his fingers running through my hair, I felt so ashamed that it was down and free and wild. It could have been a spanking: as he pulled my hair into the bun and pinned everything in place, I started to cry.

I thought then that he would spank me, but he didn't. He turned me to his chest and let me cry, rocking me back and forth.

It was not the relief I'd felt when I'd thought he was going to spank me, but it was a release.
When we were done, he helped me stand.

I bit my lip as he picked up the buggy whip.

"I deserve to be whipped," I said.

He tossed the buggy whip onto the buggy seat and threw dirt onto the campfire. He straightened the rocks in the campfire circle and hitched the horse up to the buggy.

I stood next to the buggy, waiting for him to say something.

He helped me into the buggy. After he climbed in, he just sat there, holding the reins, looking over the horse. Finally, he turned to me. "Everyone deserves forgiveness, Becky."

I shivered, and he arranged the buggy blanket on top of my lap. As we took off down the road, I leaned against him just a little bit.

He turned and smiled at me, and I felt relief course through me. I tried a smile back, and his dark eyes twinkled.

I only hoped Dat would be as forgiving when I arrived home in jeans.

 

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