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Authors: Wanda E. Brunstetter

Tags: #Fiction/Christian Romance

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BOOK: Cousin's Challenge
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CHAPTER 12

“What's this?” Lonnie asked when his mother handed him an envelope shortly after he'd returned home from the hospital several days after his accident.

Mom's lips moved, but he had no idea what she'd said.

Lonnie gripped the edge of the sofa where he lay with his head propped on two pillows. “What? You know I can't hear you!” Irritation welled in his soul. Oh, how he wished he could change what had happened to him. If he could just turn back the hands of time, he'd never have gone anywhere near that propane tank. But then, if he hadn't checked on it and discovered the leak, someone else, maybe Mom, might have been hit by something from the explosion.

Mom pointed to the return address on the envelope, and Lonnie's heart gave a lurch. It was from Carolyn. The last few days had been a blur—more like a terrible nightmare, really. In the confusion and frustration of learning that he'd lost his hearing, he'd forgotten that Carolyn was supposed to be here in a few days. As anxious as he was to be with her again, he wasn't sure he wanted her to see him like this.

With an unsteady hand, Lonnie tore open the envelope and read Carolyn's note.

Dear Lonnie,
I would have called and spoken to you on the phone, but I knew you wouldn't be able to hear me. When your mamm
called to let us know that you'd been in an accident and had lost your hearing, I was shocked. I can't imagine what it must be like not to be able to hear. I hope you're not in a lot of pain.
Speaking of pain ... Mama came down with a bad case of shingles, and she's really miserable. She has so much itching and nerve pain that she can hardly function. Under the circumstances, I think it's best if I don't come to see you right now. It'll give you a chance to rest up and heal without feeling that you have to entertain me. As soon as my mamm's feeling better, I'll come there. In the meantime, get plenty of rest and write me back when you feel up to it.
As always,
Carolyn

Lonnie let the letter fall to the floor. A mixture of relief and disappointment flooded his soul. He wasn't ready to face Carolyn right now, so in some ways he was glad she wasn't coming. He didn't know how she'd react to him being deaf, and he wasn't prepared to ask her to marry someone who couldn't hear a word she said. Even so, he wondered if her decision not to come meant she didn't want to see him. Maybe she couldn't deal with the idea of having a boyfriend who was deaf.

Mom wrote something on the tablet and handed it to Lonnie.
What did Carolyn have to say?

Lonnie handed the letter to Mom and waited until she'd had a chance to read it. When she finished, he said, “I can't help but wonder if Carolyn's not using her mamm's shingles as an excuse not to come.”

Mom's eyebrows furrowed as she scrawled a reply.
Why would she do that?

“Because I can no longer hear.”

I'm sure that's not the reason. Carolyn's a good daughter and obviously feels that her mamm needs her right now. I'm sure she'll be out to see you as soon as she can.

Lonnie tossed the tablet aside and closed his eyes. “I'm tired. Wake me when it's time for supper.”

The last thing Lonnie remembered before drifting off to sleep was Mom gently stroking his cheek, the way she'd done when he was a boy and didn't feel well.

***

As Jolene and her family gathered on the front porch to sing and visit after their signing lesson, Jolene felt suddenly out of place. Everyone but her could hear the words to the songs. Everyone on the porch knew exactly what the others were saying without having to read their lips.

Now don't start with the self-pity,
she berated herself. At least her family had taken an interest in learning to sign, and they hadn't acted disinterested or belligerent about it like Kyle and some of the other scholars at school. Andrew had surprised her by saying that if he learned to sign well enough he might be able to use sign language at church when the sermons were preached. Jolene was pleased about that. Not only would the signing benefit her, but it would help her two deaf students as well.

Andrew bumped Jolene's arm, interrupting her thoughts. To her surprise, he signed some of the words to “Amazing Grace.”

Jolene smiled and signed along with him, showing him and the others the way to sign for each of the words. Soon everyone joined in, and they were all signing and singing “Amazing Grace.”

Jolene found herself beginning to relax, and for the first time since she'd come home, she felt like part of the family again.

Just as they were finishing up the song, a horse and buggy entered the yard. It pulled up to the hitching rail, and Ezra Hershberger climbed out of the buggy.

When he joined them on the porch, he said a few words to Dad then moved over to where Jolene sat and stopped in front of her.

“As you may have heard, our son Lonnie has lost his hearing. My
fraa
and I were wondering if you'd be willing to teach him how to sign and read lips.”

Jolene gave a nod. “If Lonnie's willing, I'd be happy to teach him.”

Ezra grimaced. “I'm not sure my son's willing to do much of anything right now, but he's gotta be able to communicate, so like it or not, he'll learn.”

***

After supper that evening, Lonnie felt the need to be alone. It had been awkward watching his folks carry on a conversation with his sister, Sharon, and having no idea what any of them had said. Well, at least none of his married sisters had come to supper this evening. They'd have probably hovered over Lonnie and tried to baby him, the way Mom had done since he'd come home from the hospital.

No one seemed to notice when Lonnie grabbed the walking stick he'd been using to help with his temporary loss of balance and headed out the back door. Mom and Sharon were in the kitchen doing dishes, and Pop had gone to the living room to read the newspaper.

Lonnie took a seat in one of the wicker chairs on the porch. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back. A vision of Carolyn popped into his head, and he swallowed around the familiar lump in his throat. Would it be fair to ask Carolyn to marry a man who couldn't hear? What kind of husband would he be? Could he provide for a wife and family?

Sure won't be able to tune wind chimes anymore,
he thought with regret.
Fact is I need my hearing for most any kind of work I might want to do.

Someone tapped Lonnie's shoulder, and his eyes popped open. Wayne Lambright stared down at him. Of course, Lonnie hadn't heard Wayne's horse and buggy come into the yard, and that only fueled his irritation.

Wayne's mouth moved, but Lonnie had no idea what he was saying.

“Can't hear you. Can't hear a thing anymore!” Lonnie reached for the tablet and pen sitting on the small table on the porch and handed it to Wayne.

Wayne wrote something and handed it back to Lonnie.
I heard you were home from the hospital and I wanted to see how you were doing.

“I've been better.”

Wayne took the tablet and wrote something else:
I was sorry to hear about your accident. After losing my leg, I think I know a little of how you must be feeling right now.

Lonnie grunted. At least he thought it was a grunt.

Wayne seated himself in the chair beside Lonnie.
Is there anything I can do to help?
he wrote.

Lonnie shook his head. “Not unless you can give me back my hearing.”

I can't do that, but I can help by offering my support and listening when you need to talk about your feelings.

“My feelings?” Lonnie popped a couple of knuckles. “I'll tell you how I feel. I feel like my life's over. All the plans I'd made are shot to ribbons.”

What plans have you made?

“I'd planned to propose to Carolyn, but I don't see how I can expect her to marry me now that I can't hear.”

You shouldn't let your disability stand in the way of your happiness,
Wayne wrote.

“That's easy enough for you to say. You've still got two good ears.”

That's true, but I've only got one good leg, and when I first lost it I was angry, bitter, and full of self-pity. Because of my foolish pride, I almost lost Loraine to her old boyfriend, Jake Beechy.

“I'm not worried about anything like that,” Lonnie said. “There is no one like Jake in Carolyn's life. I just don't see how I can expect her to marry a man who can't hear or provide a decent living to support a wife and family.”

You may not be able to tune wind chimes anymore, but I'm sure there's something you can do without being able to hear. You can still help your daed raise hogs, you know.

“Puh!” White-hot anger boiled in Lonnie's chest. If the only job he could do was raise smelly pigs, then he didn't care if he ever worked again!

CHAPTER 13

Jolene's heart pounded as she directed her horse and buggy down the road after school the following afternoon. She had two stops to make before going home, and she dreaded them both. When she'd tried to give Fern's class another signing lesson today, she'd had problems with Kyle again. Not only had he been unwilling to learn, but he'd convinced two of the other boys to ignore her as well. If that hadn't been enough, during recess Jolene had caught Kyle poking at Irvin with a stick, and he'd written Irvin a note saying he was a dummkopp who had no ears.

Jolene's first response had been to want to tell Kyle to stop tormenting Irvin, but after taking a few minutes to think things through, she'd decided it was best if she said nothing to Kyle. If he'd been one of her students, she would have punished him on the spot. Instead she'd spoken to Fern about the problem and had left it up to her to discipline the boy. But after thinking about it the rest of the day and seeing how Irvin had pulled further into his shell, she'd made a decision. Before going over to see Lonnie, she would stop at the Beechys' place and talk to Kyle's folks. Jolene hoped they would do something about their son's antagonistic attitude. If not, she didn't know what she would do.

Jolene's thoughts shifted to Lonnie. She hoped he'd be open to the idea of her teaching him total communication, but after the comment Lonnie's dad had made the other evening about Lonnie not being willing to do much of anything, she figured he might offer some resistance.

Guess I'd better wait and see how it goes and just deal with things as they come,
she told herself as she turned up the Beechys' driveway. She'd just pulled her horse up to the hitching rail when Jake stepped out of the barn. He seemed surprised to see her, and the crimson color that spread across his cheeks let her know that he was either embarrassed or a bit uncomfortable in her presence. Maybe he'd never been around a deaf person before. Or maybe he was uncomfortable about the fact that he'd obviously chosen not to join the Amish church and had become part of the English world.

Hoping to put Jake's mind at ease, Jolene smiled and said, “How's your daed doing, Jake? I understand you came home to help out while his legs are healing.”

Jake nodded and shifted from one foot to the other, as though he was nervous.

“I'm sure your help is appreciated.”

“I have nothing to write on. Can you read my lips?” he asked.

“As long as you look directly at me when you're talking, I'm able to read your lips.”

Jake seemed to relax a little as he leaned on the hitching rail.

Jolene glanced toward the house then back at Jake. “Is your mamm at home? I'd like to speak to her about something.”

He shook his head. “Dad's sleeping and Mom went over to see the bishop's wife today. I think her and some of the women are having a
Gluckin,
because Mom took some of her sewing along to join the others as they spend the day visiting and doing whatever handwork they brought along. Is there something I can help you with, Jolene?”

She quickly related how Kyle had been acting toward Irvin and ended it by saying that Kyle didn't want to learn how to sign and had convinced some of the other children not to participate, either.

Jake's lips compressed as he squinted. “No point in bothering my folks about this; I'll take care of the situation.”

“I know we can't force Kyle to learn how to sign, but I do want him to stop picking on Irvin.”

“Maybe if I were to learn how to sign, Kyle would take an interest.”

“I'd be glad to teach you.”

“Would you have time for that?”

“I'll make the time. You can come by the schoolhouse some afternoon, whenever you're ready to begin.”

***

Lonnie had just taken a seat on the sofa when his mother entered the living room with Jolene Yoder.

Mom wrote a message on the notebook she carried then handed it to Lonnie.

Lonnie grimaced as he read:
Jolene's here to talk with you about learning to read lips and talk with your hands.

“Not interested,” he said, handing the notebook back to Mom.

With a look of frustration, Mom handed Jolene the notebook and left the room.

Jolene took a seat on the other end of the sofa, wrote something on the notebook, and handed it to Lonnie.
As I'm sure you know, I've been hired to teach Irvin and Sylvia Troyer. Besides their regular studies, one of the things they'll be learning from me is total communication, which includes signing and lip reading. I was wondering if you'd like to learn as well.

He shrugged. “What for?”

Jolene wrote something else:
So you can communicate with others. Lip reading's especially important when you're with people who can hear, and signing's important when you communicate with those who are deaf. On the job, out shopping, and doing business ... those are all things we do, and we need to be able to interact with people.

Lonnie shook his head. “I have no job, so I won't be interacting that much. I can't tune wind chimes now that I can't hear!”

Our deafness doesn't have to be a disability,
she wrote.

He slouched against the sofa and folded his arms. “It's a disability when I can't do the kind of work I enjoy.” Lonnie thought about Job 2:10, which Pop had showed him after breakfast that morning:
“Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”
He knew there were others, like Job, who'd suffered and faced trials worse than him, but his deafness was still a bitter pill to swallow.

There are other jobs that don't require you to hear,
Jolene wrote.

He shook his head stubbornly. “I don't want any other job!”

Jolene scrawled something else on the notebook, handed it to Lonnie, and left the room.

Lonnie stared at what she'd written and the words blurred on the page:
Believe it or not, I understand how you feel. If you change your mind, please let me know.

BOOK: Cousin's Challenge
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