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Authors: Wanda E. Brunstetter

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction/Love & Romance

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BOOK: A Cousin's Prayer
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CHAPTER 18

Breathing the damp aroma of the moist soil where she’d been pulling weeds, Katie let her fingers trail along the stem of a flower. She lifted her head and watched as the puffy clouds shifted across the sky. Simple pleasures, she knew, were the most satisfying, and working in the garden was a simple pleasure.

An oppressive hot wind whipped against Katie’s face, but she kept pulling weeds. She wanted to get this done before it was time to fix supper, and she hoped, if there was enough time before it got dark, she could take a walk out back to the pond.

The
clip-clop
of horse’s hooves drew Katie’s attention to the road. When a horse and buggy started up their driveway, Katie slapped her hands together to remove the dirt and stood. She figured it was someone coming to the stamp shop, and she’d need to tell them that the shop was closed for the day.

Katie was surprised when the buggy pulled up to the barn and Loraine and Ella got out.

“We heard your folks had gone to Ohio and that you’d stayed here by yourself,” Ella said when Katie stepped up to Loraine’s buggy.

Katie nodded. “They left this morning after breakfast.”

“Ella and I decided to come by and see if there was anything you needed,” Loraine said.

“That’s nice of you,” Katie replied, “but I’m getting along fine on my own.”

Ella handed Katie a small paper sack. “I brought you some of my friendship bread. Should we go inside and have a piece?”

Katie hesitated but finally nodded. “Jah, sure. It’ll be good to get out of this heat for a while.”

They hurried into the house, and while Loraine and Ella took seats at the table, Katie washed her hands and then poured them each a glass of iced tea and cut Ella’s bread.

They sat across from each other, talking about ordinary things like the hot, humid weather and Ella’s job doing the books at her dad’s wind chime business.

“There’s another reason we came by,” Ella said.

“What’s that?” Katie asked.

Ella looked over at Loraine. “You’d better tell her. After all, it’s your surprise.”

Loraine’s cheeks turned pink as she placed both hands against her stomach. “Wayne and I are expecting a boppli.”

“A baby? When?”

“It’s not due until the end of February, but we can hardly wait.”

“I’m looking forward to being a second cousin.” Ella reached for another piece of bread. “I think it’ll be fun to have a sweet little boppli we can all fuss over.”

Loraine chuckled. “Between Wayne’s mamm and my mamm, we might have to stand in line to hold the boppli.”

Katie sipped her iced tea as she listened to her cousins talk about the baby. She was happy for Loraine but couldn’t help feeling a bit envious. She longed to be a wife and a mother, but that dream had been snatched away the day Timothy died. She’d have to spend the rest of her life enjoying other people’s babies.

Loraine pushed her chair away from the table and stood. “I think we’d better go. It’ll be time to start supper soon, and I should be there to help Ada.”

Ella nodded. “My mamm will be expecting my help, too.”

Katie followed them to the door. “Danki for coming by. It was nice to take a break from what I was doing.”

As they started down the porch steps, Loraine turned to Katie and said, “I forgot to mention that I attached one of my poems to the loaf of friendship bread Ella made. Did you see it on the wrapping paper when you opened the bread?”

Katie nodded. “I didn’t take time to read it, but I left it on the counter, so I’ll read it later when I’m done with my weeding.”

“Say, with your folks gone, maybe one evening this week we can do some stamping like we’d talked about,” Ella said.

“I’ll have to see how it goes,” Katie replied. “If I’m real busy in the stamp shop, I may be too tired to do any stamping at the end of the day.”

“Well, let us know,” Loraine said.

“I will.”

As Loraine and Ella headed for their buggy, Katie returned to her job in the garden. By the time she’d finished weeding, she was more than ready for a walk to the pond. She gathered up her gardening tools, put them in the shed, and headed across the field behind their house.

Soon she saw the water from the pond glistening in the sunlight, offering her a welcome relief.

Katie flopped onto the ground, leaned her head against the trunk of a tree, and closed her eyes. A cool breeze caressed her face, and she was soon asleep.

***

Katie sat up with a start and looked around. It was almost dark. The sun had spread its palette of warm hues across the darkening sky, and one by one, the fireflies were beginning to appear.

Katie’s stomach growled, and she realized that it was past time to fix supper. She scrambled to her feet and hurried across the field.

By the time she reached the house, the sky had darkened. She paused on the porch and peered up at the twinkling stars, enjoying a sense of calm. She hadn’t felt this peaceful since she’d come home from Florida. Maybe all she’d needed was a little time alone, away from Mom’s constant hovering.

When Katie’s stomach rumbled again, she scurried into the kitchen and lit the gas lantern hanging above the table. She’d just put some leftover soup in a kettle and was about to set it on the stove when she spotted the poem Loraine had written. She picked it up and read it out loud:

“Pleasant thoughts are being sent your way;

I know that God is with you every day.

Remember to thank Him for being by your side;

No matter the circumstance, in Him you can abide.”

The words blurred as Katie blinked against a film of tears. Oh, how she wanted to believe that God was by her side. She felt alone and frightened much of the time.

Thump! Thump!

Katie jerked her head.

Thump! Thump!
There it was again. It sounded like footsteps on the front porch.

Dad’s dog howled from his dog run outside. Katie’s heart pounded, and her palms grew sweaty. She hadn’t heard a car or a horse and buggy come into the yard. Maybe someone had ridden in on a bike or come on foot.

She left the kitchen and headed for the living room.
Maybe it’s someone wanting something from the stamp shop.

“Who’s there?” Katie called through the closed door.

No response. Nothing but the whisper of the wind.

She grasped the doorknob and slowly opened the door.

Waaa! Waaa!

Katie sucked in a startled breath and gasped. On the porch sat a wicker basket with a baby inside!

When Katie bent down, she spotted a note attached to the baby’s blanket. She plucked it off and silently read it:
I can’t take care of my baby, so I’m giving her to you. Her name is Susan. Please take good care of her.

“It’s a miracle,” Katie murmured as she carried the baby into the house. “God’s given me the thing I long for the most.”

She soon discovered that whoever had put the baby in the basket had included a few diapers, a baby bottle, and a can of formula.

Katie picked up the baby and took a seat in the rocking chair. She stroked the baby’s pale, dewy skin as she rocked and hummed. Katie knew she should notify someone, but holding the precious baby girl felt so right, she couldn’t even think about notifying anyone right now.

She kissed the top of the baby’s downy, dark head and whispered, “I’ll take care of you, baby Susan.”

CHAPTER 19

As Katie lay in her bed that night, she heard the downstairs clock chime twelve times and realized it was midnight. She was tired and needed to sleep but kept getting up to check on the baby, who was asleep in her basket at the foot of Katie’s bed. Little Susan had only been there a few hours, but already Katie had grown attached and didn’t know if she could bring herself to part with her.

The diapers and formula that had been left with the baby wouldn’t last long. If Katie kept the baby awhile, she would need to get more formula, as well as some diapers and a clean set of clothes for Susan to wear.

But how am I going to go shopping?
Katie wondered.
I’m scared to drive the buggy alone. Even if I were brave enough to take it out, I’d have to take the baby along, which would bring all sorts of questions from anyone I might know.
She grimaced.
I sure can’t leave the baby alone by herself.

Katie heard the crickets singing through her open window. She drew in a deep breath and tried to relax.
I’ll deal with all this in the morning. Maybe by then I’ll be able to think more clearly.

***

Freeman flexed his shoulders and reached around to rub a kink in his back. He’d been working all morning on the broken gears of a bike and still didn’t have it fixed. He didn’t know if it was because the gears were harder to fix than some he’d worked on or if it was simply because he couldn’t stay focused. He’d been thinking about Eunice and the way she’d looked at him last night when they’d sat on her porch before supper.

She was attracted to him; he was sure of it. He was attracted to her, too. But was attraction enough to build a relationship on? Was he even ready for a relationship with Eunice?

Freeman thought about the chicken and dumplings Eunice had made, and his mouth watered just thinking about how good they had tasted. The chocolate cream pie she’d served for dessert had been equally good.

Eunice not only looks good in the face, but she’s a fine cook,
he told himself.
But is that reason enough to start courting her?

Woof! Woof! Woof!

Freeman groaned. “There goes that mutt again.” Ever since he’d put Penny in her dog run, all she’d done was whine and bark.

The shop door opened just then, and Wayne stepped in. “How’s it going?” he asked. “Are you keeping busy enough?”

Freeman nodded. “I’m keepin’ plenty busy, but things aren’t goin’ so well.”

“What’s the problem?”

Woof! Woof!

“That pup’s the problem.” Freeman pointed to the window. “Guess she doesn’t like her dog run so well.”

“You had her in here when Fern first got her, so why not bring her back in?”

“Because she’s nothing but a pescht.” Freeman grimaced. “She wouldn’t leave me alone—kept following me around, lickin’ my hand and whimpering when I didn’t stop to pet her often enough.”

“She’s probably just lonely and needs some attention. It’s hard for a pup to be taken from its mamm.”

“I realize that.” Freeman pulled his fingers through the ends of his hair. “Maybe I’ll bring her in after you leave. No point in her making a nuisance of herself while you’re here. What brings you into the shop this morning, anyway? Do you need a new bike, or are you needing an old one fixed?”

Wayne shook his head. “Neither. I’m heading to the hardware store and figured I’d stop by and share some good news with you.”

“What’s the good news?”

“Loraine’s expecting a boppli at the end of February.” A wide smile stretched across Wayne’s face. “Six months ago I didn’t think I’d even be marrying Loraine, much less that we’d become parents so soon.”

Freeman smiled. “God is good, jah?”

“He sure is. God opened my eyes so I’d realize that I could marry Loraine in spite of my handicap, and He provided a way for me to support my family by giving me a job in my daed’s taxidermy shop.”

“Do you like working there?”

Wayne nodded and moved closer to where Freeman knelt beside the bike. “Seems to me that you like your work, too.”

“You’re right. I do. Wouldn’t want to do anything else for a living.”

Wayne smiled. “Guess most of us who have a business to run like what we’re doing or we wouldn’t be doing it.”

“That’s true enough.” Freeman reached for a pair of pliers. “My grossmudder mentioned the other day that your folks are planning to move into a small rented house soon. What made them decide to do that?”

“Guess they want to give Loraine and me some space, and since their new house isn’t done yet, they’re renting a place and moving out on their own.” Wayne glanced at the door. “Guess I’d better get going. If I have time, I might stop by the Millers’ place and check on Katie after I’m done with my errands.”

“How come you need to check on Katie? Is she feeling sick again?”

“I don’t think so, but she’s alone at the house this week. Her folks went to Ohio for JoAnn’s cousin’s funeral and left Katie behind.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Guess Katie didn’t want to go.” Wayne turned and headed for the door. “I’d better head out or I’ll never get to the hardware store. See you later, Freeman.”

As the door clicked shut behind Wayne, Freeman made a decision. He’d close his shop at noon and go check on Katie.

***

Eunice opened the door to Freeman’s shop and stepped inside. It was dark, and she detected no sign of Freeman.

That’s strange,
she thought.
It’s past one, and if he’d gone to lunch, I would think he would have put the CLOSED sign in his window.

She glanced up at the house, thinking Freeman might have gone there to eat lunch. That made sense since the door to his shop wasn’t locked.

She debated about waiting for him in the shop but decided to go up to the house instead.

When Eunice knocked on the door a few minutes later, she was greeted by Fern.

“This is a pleasant surprise.” Fern motioned Eunice into the house. “Would you like a glass of lemonade or some iced tea?”

“That’d be nice.” Eunice wiped the perspiration from her forehead. “It’s such a warm day. A cool drink would sure hit the spot.”

“What would you like—iced tea or lemonade?” Fern asked, leading the way to the kitchen.

“Whatever you’re having is fine for me.” Eunice glanced around the kitchen and was disappointed when she saw Fern’s grandmother sitting at the table. There was no sign of Freeman.

“How are you, Sara?” Eunice asked, taking a seat beside the elderly woman.

“Doing okay. Just trying to stay cool in this hot weather we’ve been having.” Sara fanned her face with her hand. “It’s too warm for this early in the summer.” She yawned. “When it’s hot and sticky like this, I have a hard time sleeping at night.”

“I set one of our reclining lawn chairs under the maple tree awhile ago,” Fern said, placing a pitcher of iced tea on the table. “Why don’t you go out there and try to take a nap, Grandma?”

“Jah, I think I will.” Sara poured herself a glass of iced tea and stood. “Don’t let me sleep too long, though. I need to be awake in time to help you with supper.”

“If you sleep that long, I’ll be sure to wake you,” Fern said with a grin.

Sara shuffled out the door, and Fern took a seat at the table.

“I heard the supper you fixed for Freeman last night was real tasty.” Fern bumped Eunice’s arm. “I think my bruder likes you.”

“Maybe it’s my chocolate cream pie Freeman likes. He ate two pieces.”

Fern snickered. “Well, you know what they say about the way to a man’s heart.”

“Guess I’ll have to keep inviting Freeman over for supper. I was hoping to see if he’d be free to eat with us again one night next week.” Eunice frowned. “But when I stopped at his shop to ask, he wasn’t there. I figured he must have come here to have lunch.”

Fern shook her head. “He told me he had an errand to run and would grab a bite to eat along the way.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

“No. Just said he’d be back around one.”

Eunice motioned to the clock on the far wall. “It’s almost one thirty now.”

“Guess his errand must have taken longer than he expected. I’m sure he’ll be back soon if you want to wait.”

“I’d like to, but I need to pick up some material for my mamm at the fabric shop in Shipshe. Then I may stop by the Millers’ stamp shop on my way home to buy some cardstock.” Eunice pushed away from the table and stood. “Would you tell Freeman that I dropped by?”

“Of course, and if you like, I’ll put in a good word for you, too.”

Eunice smiled. “I’d appreciate that.”

***

When Freeman pulled his horse and buggy up to the Millers’ hitching rail, he noticed that there was a Closed sign on the door of the stamp shop. He figured Katie might be at the house having lunch, so after he tied his horse up, he headed that way.

He was surprised to discover that all the doors and windows on the house were shut. It was a hot, humid day—must be even hotter inside.

Freeman rapped on the door. When no one answered, he knocked again. “Katie, are you here? It’s Freeman Bontrager.”

Several seconds went by, and then the door opened slowly. Katie, looking rumpled and flushed, stepped onto the porch and closed the door partway. “If you need something from the stamp shop, it’s closed today.” Wearing an anxious expression, she glanced over her shoulder.

“Didn’t come to get anything from the stamp shop,” Freeman said. “I heard you were alone, so I came by to see if you needed anything.”

“I’m fine. Danki for stopping.” Katie turned, and was about to enter the house, when what sounded like a baby’s cry floated out the door.

Katie’s face flamed, and she quickly shut the door.

Freeman took a step forward. “Are you watching someone’s boppli today?”

“Uh ... jah.” Katie dropped her gaze to the porch floor.

“Who’s baby are you watching?”

Katie cleared her throat a couple of times. “It’s ... uh ... no one you know.”

“How do you know that? Does the boppli belong to someone who lives close by?”

“Uh, maybe.”

“I don’t get it, Katie. What’s the big secret? Why won’t you tell me whose boppli you’re watching?”

Tears pooled in Katie’s eyes, and her chin quivered slightly. “Can you keep a secret?”

He shrugged. “Depends on what it is.”

“I’ve gotta go.” Katie whirled around and stepped into the house. Freeman quickly followed.

“Listen, Katie,” he said, “if you’ve got a secret—” Freeman halted when Katie bent down and picked up a baby from the basket. Most people he knew didn’t keep their babies in baskets.

Katie turned to face him. “Please don’t tell anyone about the boppli.”

He squinted at her. “Tell ’em what? Whose baby is that, anyway?”

“She was left on our front porch last night. A note was attached to her blanket, and—” The words poured out of Katie like a leaky bucket. Her lips trembled, and she stopped talking long enough to draw in a quick breath. “Are you going to tell my folks?”

Freeman scratched the side of his head. “What are you talking about? Your folks will be home in a few days, and then you’ll have to tell ’em yourself.” He pointed to the baby, who was now fussing and squirming in Katie’s arms. “A squalling boppli isn’t something you can hide for very long.”

“I ... I know that.” Katie took a seat in the rocking chair, cradling the baby in her arms.

“Have you let the sheriff know about this yet?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“The phone in our shed’s not working right now.”

“Then why didn’t you drive over to one of your neighbors and phone him from there?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you know?”

“I feel anxious, and I—” A shadow of fear covered Katie’s words, and she looked at him with a painful openness, as though she wanted to say more but couldn’t.

“Why do you feel anxious?”

Katie tensed but gave no response.

Freeman moved closer and took a seat on the sofa. “You don’t have to be afraid to talk to me. I’d like to be your friend.”

Katie looked at him like a frightened child. “I get so jittery whenever I ride in any vehicle, and the thought of driving the buggy myself scares me real bad.”

“I’d be happy to drive you and the boppli to the sheriff’s office, or even over to your neighbor’s house so you can use their phone.”

Katie shook her head. “I’m not ready to notify the sheriff yet. Besides, whoever left the boppli on our porch must have wanted us to have her, because they left a note asking us to take care of her.”

“You can’t keep what isn’t yours. You’ve got to let the sheriff know about the boppli.”

Tears welled in Katie’s eyes. “I just want to keep her awhile—until right before my folks come home.” She stroked the top of the baby’s head. “Please don’t tell anyone about the boppli.”

Freeman drummed his fingers along the arm of the sofa as he mulled things over. Finally, he gave a nod. “I’ll keep your secret, but only if you promise to let me take you to the sheriff before your folks get home.”

“I promise.”

“Now that we’ve got that settled, is there anything I can do for you while I’m here?”

“I don’t think so. Well, maybe there is.”

“What?”

“I need formula, diapers, and at least one outfit for the boppli. Would you mind going to the store to get them for me?”

Freeman’s eyebrows shot up. “What kind of reaction do you think I’ll get if I walk into the Kuntry Store and ask for baby things?”

Katie shook her head. “I thought you could go to one of the stores where the English mostly shop. Maybe pick one that’s out of our district. That way you’ll be less apt to run into anyone you know.”

Freeman glanced at the clock across the room. If he took time to go the store for Katie, he’d be late getting back to his shop. If he didn’t go, she’d be here alone trying to care for a baby without the things she needed.

“Okay,” he said, rising to his feet. “Make me a list, and I’ll get whatever you need.”

“Danki. You don’t know how much this means to me.”

The look of gratitude Freeman saw on Katie’s face was all the thanks he needed.

BOOK: A Cousin's Prayer
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