Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray
“I guess we'll never know if Perry regretted his choices or not. I choose to think that he did.”
rom the moment his father had walked into Jacob's room, it was obvious his father had something important on his mind.
had fussed with the brush and spare change on the dresser; then he'd thumbed through the pair of
magazines on his bedside tableâand hadn't made a single comment about how Jacob shouldn't be indulging in such foolish fantasies.
Sitting in the recliner by the window, Jacob had watched and waited as patiently as he could. After all, he'd learned the hard way that it did no good to rush his father. All rushing did was bring on a lecture about being respectful.
But he had to get to the store soon, and he wanted to finish getting ready in private, not with his father looking on. When another minute passed, Jacob couldn't take it anymore. “Daed, was there a reason you came in here? Besides, you know, reading about the latest statistics on the football teams?”
His father turned sharply and glared. “Jacobâ”
Knowing where he was headed, Jacob cut off the lecture before it started. “I'm sorry, Daed. I don't mean to be disrespectful, but it is obvious that you have something on your mind. We might as well get it over with.”
With a sigh, his father sat down on the desk chair. The old wood creaked slightly under his weight. At last he spoke. “Jacob, there's no beating around the bush with this. The fact is, you are not being a good and decent person to Deborah Borntrager.”
Jacob looked at his dad and immediately regretted the conversational push he'd just given. Deborah was the last person in the world he wanted to talk about.
Especially with his father.
Picking up a pencil, his father tapped the end of it on the desk. “You know how we raised you. To value forgiveness. To not hold grievances. We may not always be the best examples”âhis father shifted uncomfortablyâ“but, Jacob? Talk to me about this. You must have something to say about how you've been treating Deborah.”
“I really don't.” Studying the line between his father's eyebrows, Jacob wished he had the nerve to talk back to him. There was a whole set of excuses for his behavior spinning around in his mind, all of which he felt to be true.
But because he took honoring his father and mother to heart, he kept his silence. Telling his parents the truth would only lead to more uncomfortable conversations.
Slowly his father shook his head. “Jacob. I know what you are doing, and holding your tongue ain't an option. I came in here to talk, and talk we will do.”
Practically feeling his father's glare burning his skin, Jacob looked away. “I hear you, Father,” he said finally. “I know I've been rude to her.” He ached to add that he couldn't help himself. That every time he saw her, he was reminded of just how messed up his life had become.
But how could he tell his dad that without revealing his own insecurities?
“And nothing, Father.”
With a sigh, his father got up from the uncomfortable desk chair, walked to the side of the bed that faced Jacob, and sat down. To Jacob's surprise, his feet were only clad in thick wool socks. Glancing at his father's feet, how wide and solid they were, Jacob decided they were a perfect symbol for his father. If nothing else, his father was a robust, sturdy man. Usually his feet were planted solidly on the ground, and his will was just as unshakable.
“Jacob, I know it is hard, but you need to give your anger to the Lord. Vengeance is His, don't you remember? There is nothing that happened that can't be fixed.”
He didn't want to be flip, but he couldn't even begin to imagine how anything could be fixed. Too much had happened. Their once idyllic life had been shattered the moment Perry decided to welcome drugs into their world. “Daed, Perry died,” he said baldly.
“Ach. I know that. I mourn the loss, as well. But I'm sorry to say that there's nothing we can do about that. We can't bring him back to life.” He sighed, flexing his feet a bit, then added, “I don't think Deborah could have done anything about her brother's actions either. Perry was a strong-willed man. Don't hold her responsible.”
Jacob bit the inside of his cheek in order to keep his silence.
Because seeing Deborah reminded him of Perry. Because Perry was dead, and therefore unable to pay for the consequences of his actions. Because, even though he'd never wanted to admit it, he'd always felt that she was meant for him.
But now there was no way he could ever fall in love with a woman who's brother had hurt him so much.
“I don't know, Daed,” he said instead of speaking the truth.
His father narrowed his eyes, looked like he wanted to say a great many things, but then got to his feet and padded to the door. “Things will get better, Jacob. I promise you that. Why, sometimes I think they already have! But please take a care with Deborah. Perry's actions are not her doing and she truly needs some friends right now. You mustn't forget, she's lost a brother. And that is a mighty sad thing.”
“I'll try and do better,” he promised. And he would. Just as soon as looking at her didn't remind him of all that had happened.
Besides, his father was wrong.
No matter how much a person might want to deny it, the fact was you couldn't change the past. What had been done was done.
A person needed to accept that. And then, of course, learn to live with the consequences.
ydia loved being in Walker Anderson's arms. But as the windows in his truck fogged up and their kisses became too passionate, she knew that once again, they needed to say good night.
Pulling out of his embrace, she scooted to her side of the bench seat. “Oh, Walker. That's enough for now, I think.”
He immediately let her go, but his hand still reached for her own. “You sure?” His voice was a little husky, and a little out of breath.
She almost smiled. He sounded the way she felt inside. But someone had to keep a clear head. “I am sure, Walker.”
He sat up straighter and ran a hand through his blond hair, kicking up the golden strands this way and that, like he did when he was agitated. “Sorry. I know you're right.”
She was right .Â .Â . but she still missed being in his arms. “We have to be careful, you know.”
“I know. But .Â .Â . Lydia, we've also got to decide what we're going to do about our future.”
She didn't even try to pretend that she didn't understand what he was talking about. Ever since they'd fallen in love, they'd put the practical sides of their lives on hold. It had been so much easier to stay in the sweet haze of a new romance.
After all, who wanted to dwell on all they were going through? First, they'd been suspects in Perry's murder investigation. And then she'd found out that she'd been adopted. There was also the matter of grieving for Perry. For most of the last few years, she'd been sure she'd marry Perry. So even though they'd broken up long before he died, a portion of her heart had been his.
And she'd grieved for the boy he used to be.
But now she and Walker were in a quandary. She was Amish and he was not. She wanted to remain faithful to her church and her upbringing, while Walker didn't seem to have any desire to become Amish. These were mighty big problems that should have kept them apart from each other.
But they were in love, armed with feelings that were far from passing fancies.
When she looked at Walker, she felt like she'd finally come home. She was comfortable with Walker, more comfortable and happier than with any other person in her life. He understood her, and she understood him. She was proud of him, and proud of all the things he believed in.
But being proud of someone and loving them didn't necessarily mean that all their problems went away. Or that they had a hope of an easy, trouble-free future.
Taking a chance, she said, “Walker, what do you think we should do?”
“I don't know. It seems like there're only two choices. Either you leave your faith or I become Amish.” He chuckled then, letting Lydia know that the last “choice” he mentioned wasn't really an option as far as he was concerned.
Perhaps it was the woman's place in a relationship to do all the changing? And granted, she'd been so torn about whether her birth mom had been Amish or English, she would've thought that she'd have easily given up living Plain.
But something had happened when everything in her life had turned upside down. In the middle of figuring out who her birth parents were, she'd figured out who she was.
And her heart was telling her that she was Amish.
“There is one other choice, I suppose,” she said quietly.
“Yeah? What's that?”
She cleared her throat. “We could break up.”
He pulled his hands away and clenched them on his lap. “Really? You're actually thinking like that?” His voice was hoarse and thick. Almost as if he was fighting back tears.
she said in a rush. “But, well, it's true, don'tcha think? Some relationships aren't meant to be.”
“Not meant to be? Huh.” Silence descended on them as a raccoon skittered across the dead-end street, his striped tail illuminated in the glow of the midnight moon.
Lydia's hands began to tremble in the ominous quiet between them. She began to regret her words, especially when he turned on the ignition and without another word pulled out into the dark, windy street.
She gazed at him, watching the muscle in his cheek pulse every time the shadows switched and the moon's glow hit his face just right. He was mad, and hurt.
Lydia didn't blame Walker. If the conversation had been reversed, and if he had been the one to bring it up, she would have been upset, too.
But she didn't attempt to take back her words. Someone had to be practical. When they were almost at her house, he turned her way and finally spoke. “Do you want to break up, Lydia?”
“Not at all,” she replied, so quickly that her words were practically stumbling over each other. “Walker, I wouldn't have kissed you like I did if I didn't love you. You know that, yes?”
After he pulled into her driveway and parked, he spoke again. “I know you love me. And I love you, too, Lydia.” When he gazed at her, his brown eyes piercing in the night, he said, “Don't give up on us. Not yet. I know things are hard, and that we're still trying to get used to each other's lifestyles. But we'll figure something out. I promise, we will.”
“I won't give up, Walker.” Lifting her chin, she said, “I'm going to start praying really hard. The Lord has to have a solution for us, don'tcha think? I just need to pray more often and ask for His guidance.”
His gaze softened. For a moment, she worried that he was going to tease herâafter all,
didn't always embrace the total faith in the Lord that the Amish did.
“That was a good reminder, Lydia,” he finally said. “You are exactly right. I'll pray harder, too.” Looking beyond her, he smiled. “You'd best go on inside. I think your mom is waiting up for you. She's probably ready to go to sleep.”
Reaching out, she squeezed his hand quickly, then opened her door and stepped out. “Good night, Walker. Sleep well.”
“ 'Night, Lydia. I'll see you tomorrow.”
She stayed on the front porch until he drove out of sight. Then quietly, she opened the front door and slipped inside.
From inside her parents' bedroom doorway, she saw her mother's shadow.
“Thank you for watching for me, but I am home safe.”
“I'm glad of that.”
Lydia ached to rush to her mother's arms and confide everything. To share how wonderful-
it felt to be in Walker's arms. To share all the sweet things he said to her, and how she was sure they were meant to be together.
But she was anxious to begin her prayers, and now wasn't the right time, anyway. Her mother was tired, and would be shocked to learn all that Lydia was contemplating.
Mamm,” she said simply as she went to her room. The moment she closed her door, she fell to her knees and began to pray.
Only after her knees had gone numb and she climbed in bed did she even think about what she would do if God didn't give her prayers some answers.
Being alone all over again was going to be a very terrible place to be.
“I never understood why Perry got second and third and fourth chances, but I never did.”
o good to see ya today, Deborah!” Mr. Schrock said when he walked toward the front of the store. “The missus says you've settled right in like a duck to water.”
When Deborah arrived for her second day on the job, Mrs. Schrock had given her the task of cleaning out the dairy cases. That meant everything needed to be taken out, the cases carefully cleaned with watered-down bleach, all products carefully examined for expiration dates, then put back.
It was not an easy job.
And despite Mr. Schrock's encouraging words, Deborah was afraid she had not taken to it that easily. First she'd forgotten to put on gloves, making the paper cut on her hand sting when it had come in contact with the bleach.
Then, of course, she'd splashed some of the solution all over her dress. Now there was a great white stain smack in the middle of her black apron.
Added to that, she had six more hours to go. It was anyone's guess what trouble she'd get into next.
But of course that didn't mean she should share any of that with Mr. Schrock. “
I'm happy to be here.”
He stepped closer, peering over her shoulder. “How's the cleaning going?”
“It is fine. I should finish by two or three.” With God's help.
Mind the bleach now, it can be a tricky thing to clean with.”
Yes, she had certainly found that out. “I will,
Clasping his hands together, he smiled. “All righty. Mrs. Schrock and I are going to pay a visit to the Millers for bit, but Jacob will be here to keep you company.”
And .Â .Â . that meant her “great” day was now complete. “I'll look for him, then,” she said. “I'm sure I'll be just fine.” His lips pursed, making Deborah stand up straight. It looked like he had something he wanted to say. When he paused, she thought she'd nudge him along, “Yes, Mr. Schrock?”
“I .Â .Â . I, uh, I wanted to tell ya .Â .Â .”
“Mind the kittens, wouldja? Take them out and cuddle them once an hour or so. All God's creatures need some love and affection every now and then.”
Glancing to the corner of the store, to where a pair of kittens lay contentedly curled up next to each other in a pen, she smiled. “I will enjoy that job.”
He laughed. “See? Some folks don't think I should sell animals here, but it's a
thing. Everyone needs something to love, and pets love you back. Even when you don't always deserve it, you know?”
Forcing herself to ignore the sharp pang of sadness that his words brought herâbecause she absolutely did not have anyone to loveâDeborah chuckled about the kittens as she got back to work.
Behind her, she heard Mr. Schrock's booming voice chatting with his wife. Then she heard the door open and shut.
Then, almost stealthily, new footsteps approached.
Vigilantly, she kept her back to the noise. It had to be Jacob, and the longer she delayed seeing him, the better. She picked up a dry rag and began wiping down the excess water from the glass shelf. The footsteps came closer.
Her shoulders bunched up. Almost as if she expected a blow.
But then the footsteps stopped. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up as total awareness fell over her.
She had no choice but to turn around .Â .Â . and see that her hunch was correct. Jacob Schrock was behind her, his gaze solemn and piercing. “Jacob. Good day.”
He nodded silently.
For a moment, she boldly stared right back at him. Bracing herself for another tirade to spew from his lips. Especially now that they were alone, there would be nothing stopping him from lashing out at her.
But instead of his usual anger, he looked uncomfortable. Finally, he said, “So it looks like you got dairy duty today.”
It sounded almost like an olive branch. Anxious for things to be smoothed out, she nodded. “Indeed, I do.”
He pointed to her apron. “You got some bleach on your apron.”
“I know.” To cover her embarrassment, she shrugged like the spot didn't matter. “It's ruined, for sure.”
“That's too bad.”
“Yes, but it's nothing to worry over. I can make a new apron easily, and I'll make a quilt with the scraps from this one.”
The topic of her apron now discussed to death, he stepped back. “I'll be over at the counter. It usually gets pretty busy around noon or so.” He cleared his throat. “If it does .Â .Â . I might need your help.”
“All right.” Well, at least he wasn't yelling at her. There was that, at least.
Deborah turned back to her chore, feeling strangely at a loss for words. She didn't want to work with him like this, with all this tension. But what else could she do?
“Hey. Uh, Deborah?”
“Yes?” she said to the dairy case. No way was she going to face him again.
says I should apologize. He said that I've been rude to you.”
The words were stilted and choppy. And in Deborah's opinion, it was a pretty sorry apology. Surely even a child could speak from his heart!
She knew she should accept it gracefully and move on. But she was tired of his rudeness. And so tired of pretending her feelings didn't matter. “And what do you think? Do you want to apologize?”
“I think that he might be right.”
She couldn't help it, she slowly turned to face him again. “You do?”
He bit his bottom lip, then spoke. “I do.” Exhaling, he said, “I am sorry for taking out my anger toward Perry on you. He and I had some rough times, as I'm sure you know. And, well, every time I think about how you're his sister, how the two of you are related, it makes me want to take my frustrations out on you.”
“I was his sister, not his master, Jacob. I had no control over what he did, or if he hurt your feelings.”
“I realize that. Now. It wasn't right. I know that.”
She ached to remind Jacob that she'd felt betrayed, too; and she was grieving. That she, too, was feeling confused and hurt and scared. After all, she had lost a brother. And more than that, he hadn't died of natural causes. Someone had murdered him.
And that even though Perry had made mistakes, and had hurt a great many people, he'd had no chance to repent or ask forgiveness. Someone had taken that opportunity from him.
But even telling Jacob what was on her mind wouldn't make anything better. It wouldn't make the hurt go away, or ease her loss.
“Thank you for the apology,” she said woodenly. “I appreciate it.”
“Do you think you'll be able to forgive me?”
His eyes were wide and honest. And against everything warring inside her, she felt herself melt. No good would come from holding on to her anger.
“Of course I forgive you,” she said.
His shoulders relaxed and his lips curved slightly. “I'm grateful. Thank you, Deborah.” He bit his lip. “Maybe we could start over, the two of us?”
How could they do that? She'd known him all her life, but she'd never honestly considered them close. Their relationship had been more of an extension of his friendship with Perry. Could years of stilted conversations ever change into something else?
Surely she could try.
“I'd like for us to be friends,” she said at last. “I could, ah, use all the friends I can get right now.”
“I know the feeling.”
As if their honest words had startled them, they once again shared a sweet smile. The way they used to, back when the three of them used to walk to school together.
“Well, I better get back to the bleach,” she quipped, trying to make her words seem light and almost impersonal. It would never do if Jacob discovered how much she used to like him. Before he could spy a hint of that in her face, she quickly turned back to the dairy shelf.
She heard him turn and walk away, greet a pair of ladies who entered the store.
But standing there in front of the dairy case, Deborah felt her face flush. Once again her silly, betraying heart had begun to imagine life with Jacob Schrock. Life as friendsâand so much more than that.
The idea made her almost tremble with frustration. Oh, when would she ever get a clue? Getting close to Jacob would only bring her more heartache.
Because she'd never be able to forget Jacob's note to Perry. The one he'd sent just before Perry went missing.
The note Perry had hidden in his bedside drawer.
The note she'd found and had done her best to hide ever since.
ell, that had been easyâabout as easy as getting a tooth pulled! Jacob thought as he walked back to the front counter after greeting the women who'd just entered the store.
Deborah had accepted his apology. But she'd been noticeably cooler than usual. And instead of just hurt and pain flooding her gaze, he had spied something else, tooâa deep, simmering anger.
He felt bad that he'd been the cause of it.
Thankfully, the bells at the front door chimed, signaling a new customer. “May I help ya?” he asked, wheeling around to see who entered.
“Yeah! You can get me fifty pounds of flour and bird seed,” Walker Anderson joked as he walked through the doors. Coming closer, he chuckled. “What's with you, Jacob? Since when do you ask if I need any help with anything?”
“Sorry, I was trying to take my mind off something, I guess.”
Walker's smile dimmed. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, sure. What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you swore off this place on your days off.”
“I did. But then my sister talked to my grandma, who asked if I could bring her a couple of things from the store.”
“Francis and James?”
“Yeah.” Walker shrugged. “I guess my grandpa is feeling under the weather.” His frown deepened. “My dad is driving him to the doctor today.”
“I hope it's nothing too serious. Walker, you want to grab the flour or the seed?”
“You don't need to get either. I'll do it.”
“I can help. I'm not busy. I'm just standing here, watching Deborah work.”
Walker's head swung to the right. “Deborah? Oh, hey, Deb!”
To Jacob's surprise, Deborah waved one slim hand. “Hiya, Walker. How goes it?”
“Well enough.” His smile grew. “Hey, you look great over there, scrubbing.”
One of her eyebrows rose. “And why is that?”
“Because that means I'm not doing it,” he teased with an even broader grin.
“Whatever I can do to make your job easier pleases me greatly, Walker Anderson.”
Feeling like the odd man out, Jacob glanced from Walker to Deborah and back again. Had they always been so comfortable around each other? And he called her âDeb'? When had that come about?
“Walker, I'll go get the seed from the back. You get the flour,” Jacob said.
“All right, sure,” he said. “As soon as I go say hi to Deborah.”
Feeling cranky all over again, Jacob walked to the back of the store. Why did he care if Walker and Deborah got along so well?
Was it because he'd been rude to her for days and she hadn't melted at his awkward apology? Or, was it something else?
Looking her way, for the first time Jacob noticed that her eyes were prettyânot just the same shade as her mother's and her brother's. And that she really was a petite woman. Why, the top of her head barely reached his shoulder.
And her brown hair was dark, the color of darkly brewed coffee. Or perhaps it was mahogany? Whatever the color, it made her pink cheeks look pretty. And her hazel eyes shine bright.
With a bit of surprise, he realized that none of these things took him completely by surprise. He'd noticed her beauty before. He shook his head. If Deborah ever found out what he'd done to her brother, she would certainly hate him all her life.
And there was a very good chance that she'd make sure everyone else in Crittenden County hated him, too.