Authors: Hannah Schrock
Emma Bontrager Williams had a secret. She felt it pulsing like a glowing candle in her belly till she was sure everyone could see the light illuminated on her face. Christmas was only a week away now and by that time Emma would know for sure.
She pressed the heel of her palm into the dough on her worktable, sprinkling a frugal amount of flour so it wouldn’t stick to the surface. The smell of freshly baked buns filled the room and she felt her stomach rumble. Emma had been on her feet since dawn, baking bread and sweet buns for the Christmas feast.
It had been three years since she had married Jarron Williams, an
, who had baptized into the Amish faith. It was like something out of a story, her first meeting with Jarron at Emile Smith’s house, her marriage to Eli, her childhood beau and Jarron’s best friend, Eli’s eventual demise after a long illness, and Jarron’s divorce.
Even though it felt that they had spent most of their lives apart the truth was that they had been courting each other in their heart’s deepest desires. It was
will that they had come together in body and spirit after their individual paths of hardship.
Emma and Jarron had spent the last three years celebrating their union by filling Eli’s barn with pigs and goats and filling his home with their laughter. Emma no longer felt the guilt that was such a vital part of her when Eli had died. She knew that her Eli, her kind, generous, compassionate Eli, would be glad to look down at her and see her happy with a wonderful, good man like Jarron.
“You’re smiling like the cat that ate all the cream and a nest full of canaries to boot,” Jarron said. He slipped a currant bun off the large pile on the table and bit into it before Emma could protest. He closed his eyes in appreciation and Emma felt elated for this simple joy. If
willed it she would have a much greater joy to share with Jarron soon.
,” she said going back to kneading the dough, trying hard not to smile. “It’s nearly Christmas and all my family is happy and in good health, what more could I ask for?”
“A good birth,” Jarron said, wiping his hands on his trousers. “One of the goats is about ready but this is the first kid she’s taken to term. She lost the rest, poor thing.”
Emma felt her stomach tighten with fright. Jarron must have heard the sudden hitch in her breath because he put an arm around her, squeezing her shoulder to provide her comfort.
“If it is in our destiny to have
we will have them Em,” he said, using his special endearment for her. “Don’t fret over something you have no control over. Let
sort it out for us.”
He kissed her temple where powdered sugar had settled and licked his lips, his long beard trickled Emma’s nose and she giggled.
“Stay sweet,” he whispered in her ear and left through the back door. He had long replaced the baseball cap with his straw hat. Jammed over his auburn curls it looked fitting and not at all out of place.
Emma spent the morning baking some more buns and loaves of bread. Around midmorning she felt the low rumbling pinches in her abdomen turn into urgent stabbings. Disheartened, her brow stained with sugary sweat, she left the kitchen to give her attention to the inevitable disappointment.
The stain of bright red was the murder of her dream and the death of her secret. Three years and she had not given a single
to Jarron. Emma had hoped as the ten days had progressed that this time she might have the seed of joy growing in her but it was not to be.
Emma had hoped to give Jarron the good news for Christmas but it looked like she would have to be content with the new material she had bought him for a sturdy new jacket. His old one had worn out at the elbows and was unsalvageable. Emma intended to use the old one for a pair of vests for Isaac.
Just the thought of her nephew brought a smile back to her face and she was saved from despair. She decided that the sight of her niece and nephew was all she needed to dispel this cloud of misery so she packed a few currant buns in a handkerchief and headed towards her eldest sister Sarah’s house.
Emma had seen her fair share of sorrow but where before, she would let the tide of her misery take her away and drown herself in work, now she did things that made her happy and helped her overcome her sadness.
It was at the time when Eli had fallen gravely sick that she had felt her faith falter and then crash to the ground when Eli had succumbed to his illness. She had felt personally afflicted by
and felt little use in seeking comfort from Him. His will had made little to no sense to her and for a long time she had travelled in the land of twilight where the shadow of her faith had shrunk to nothing.
But it hadn’t left her completely and she was grateful for that. With Jarron by her side she might not have everything she had wanted from this life but she was happy and had a strong man to lean on.
will was easier to bear when you had a rock to keep you steady.
Sarah’s house was a little ways away from Emma’s, but Emma found the walk refreshing and a way to dispel her creeping depression.
“Gelobt Sei Gott im höchsten Thron,”
Emma sang under her breath as she walked briskly through the snow, her sweet voice carrying in the empty snow studded world around her.
“Der uns hat auserkoren.”
Before she saw Sarah’s house she saw the cheerful plume of smoke drifting through her chimney to the slate colored sky above. The days were so short that it would be near dark by the time Emma decided to head back home. She decided to ask Jeremiah, Sarah’s husband, for a ride back in his buggy.
Emma!” Isaac and Ruth cried running towards her on their short legs. Isaac was a head taller than Ruth and his small even teeth sparkled when he smiled. Ruth’s dark curls threatened to flounce out of her lace
. Both children scrambled around Emma’s skirts, jumping on tiny feet for the treats they knew she carried in the handkerchief but Emma held her hands above her head, teasing the children.
It felt good to be among their innocent happiness.
“Isaac,” Sarah called sharply, “Ruth! Behave yourself!”
is right,” Emma said, bringing her hands down once the children had stopped jumping. “If you are
for the remainder of my stay you will have the treats I have brought you.”
, it’s not fair,” Ruth pouted. “We can smell all the wonderful smells.”
“And see all the delicious food,” Isaac piped in.
“And we can’t have any,” Ruth finished with a stamp of her dainty foot.
it’s not,” Sarah said coming in from the kitchen, wisps of her dark Bontrager hair escaping her
“But it’s also unfair to be so misbehaved. You can have all the goodies at the Christmas feast with the rest of the
and the community, as is proper.”
The children didn’t look appeased but they put on bright smiles and asked Emma to tell them a story. They loved Emma’s stories. They were stories she had heard with her sisters when she was younger but even Sarah had admitted on many occasions that Emma had a way of telling them that was truly captivating.
Sarah brought them all hot chocolate to dunk their currant buns in and sat with them to enjoy the tale of Rueben and his friends, a favorite in the community. After they had drunk their hot chocolates and brushed the crumbs from their tiny mouths the children were restless for more fun before the sun set completely so they stepped outside to make snowballs and to practice throwing them at the crabapple tree nearby.
“You look tired,” Emma said, watching the dark circles under Sarah’s eyes. “Is everything alright?”
, everything is fine,” Sarah smiled, “the
keep me on my feet and Jeremiah has been working late for three months straight. He’s exhausted by the time he comes home and I’m feeling a little strain with only the
to talk to all day.”
“He will be getting off for Christmas,” Emma said, squeezing Sarah’s hand. “You two can catchup then.”
, I do miss him, though,” Sarah said smiling wistfully. “Sometimes it scares me how much I love that man,” Sarah blushed a little but they were both married women and Emma squeezed her arm again, encouraging her to continue. “I feel like my life would end if anything were to happen to him.”
“I know,” Emma said, tears prickling her eyes as she thought of Eli and the man she had lost.
“I’m sorry Emma,” Sarah said horrorstruck, “I never meant to remind you of Eli.”
“I’m not sad,” Emma shook her head. “I can only think of Eli with great joy now. I sometimes feel he is watching down on me and smiling that lopsided smile of his; do you remember?”
“Of course I remember,” Sarah grinned. “It brightened his whole face. He was a
husband,” Emma agreed. “I only wish I had given him the joy of a
, but it seems that gift is out of my reach to give to anyone.”
will Emma,” Sarah said, squeezing Emma’s hand. “He has given you so much happiness after such a bleak time. He must surely have a plan for you and Jarron.”
“I have more faith than I did before,” Emma nodded, “but this will be another Christmas without any hope of an addition to the family. I am just glad that Martha was brought back into the fold.”
are pleased that she has begun to wear Amish clothes again after her baptism,” Sarah confided. “I’m glad she has taken over the store for me. Running it was a handful and she does provide a greater eye to detail. Did you know?” Sarah said amused, “she changed the display to attract more customers. And it actually worked!”
Emma could believe it. Martha, the only Bontrager sister to have lived an English life and returned to the Amish way, had a more worldly view towards such things and knew how the
“Trust her to use her knowledge to our advantage,” Emma smiled. “I best head back before the sun starts to set. There seems to be no time to spare in winter. No sooner do you put your feet out of bed to start the day that the sun has set again.”
“I would have driven you,” Sarah apologized, “but Jeramiah needed the buggy.”
“I understand,” Emma hugged her older sister. Up close, Emma could see the fine lines that had fissured around Sarah’s mouth, the freckles that scattered across her face and the bags under her eyes. She looked older than her thirty two years and Emma wished she could wipe the tired lines from her face and decided solemnly to help more with the children.
“Oh my Goodness!” the blonde squealed. “How quaint is this?”
Martha gritted her teeth, the high pitched squealing grated on her ears. A group of high school children had walked into the Amish Goods store fifteen minutes before closing time. Martha kept glancing pointedly at the wall clock. She needed to be at the buggy stop in another ten minutes, otherwise she would miss the buggy going back to the community. The store hadn’t done much business today so she was tolerating the presence of these teenagers in the hopes that they might buy something.
“I’m so going to Instagram this,” another girl gushed and took pictures of the small baked goods counter, her mouth smacking on a tired piece of gum, then glanced up at Martha, her eyes sparkling with malicious mischief. “Hey, gimme your head thingy, I wanna take a selfie,” she said pointing to Martha, her jaw working like a grazing cow.
Martha shoved the uncharitable thoughts out of her head but the anger still remained. It always resurfaced when she met young
. Pompous, entitled and so sure of themselves. Martha wasn’t sure of anything anymore.
“We’re closing in three minutes,” Martha said in as civil a tone as she could manage. “If you want to purchase anything please do so now.”
“Ew,” the blonde said, “we’re not here to buy anything.”