Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray
Deborah felt strangely exposed, standing in the empty schoolyard. Making a sudden decision, she walked to the side of the building, then leaned against it. At the moment, she didn't care if Jacob was going to tease her for hiding.
But instead of teasing, he joined her. Pressing his back against the hard planks, too.
As the car approached, they slid closer toward the back, deeper in the shadows. Their bodies touched. Jacob's breathing quickened.
Deborah, on the other hand, practically held her breath. Suddenly, she felt like they had been courting trouble, walking out in the dark together.
But surely this was simply her imagination taking control?
Jacob reached for her hand. Squeezed it once. Obviously in an attempt to reassure her as they waited for the vehicle to pass them.
But then it slowed, turned slightly.
And just like a spotlight had shone down from heaven, the car's spotlights flashed their way.
Illuminating them as clearly as if they were standing inside a metal cageâ
Waiting to be caught and inspected.
“Perry always said I didn't understand a lot of things because I wasn't Amish. Now I wish I had asked what was so different about his life. Or at least what was so wrong.”
acob recognized the newcomer. It was Walker Anderson; he would have recognized his dark green Explorer anywhere. Someone was in the passenger seat, too. Maybe it was his sister Abby?
When he saw both passengers looking directly at them, Jacob suddenly became aware that he was still holding Deborah's hand. Hastily, he dropped it.
She must've felt self-conscious, too. The moment he released her, she stepped farther away. “Who is it, Jacob? Can you see?” she whispered.
“Walker? Out here? What do you think he wants?”
“Ain't no telling,” he answered flatly, feeling less than thrilled about Walker joining them. He and Deborah were finally talking about things that had lurked between them for years. If they didn't clear the air, there was a good chance nothing between them would ever get resolved. And now that she was working at the store, well, that would mean a lot of awkward conversations.
And he definitely didn't want that. Sometime over the last few days, he realized that there was another connection besides past bringing them together. There was a spark between them, and it had far less to do with past regrets than the way he liked feeling her hand in his.
But if they had to be interrupted, he was really glad it was only Walker. At least he could keep a secret.
“Don't worry, Deborah. I bet they only want to say hi.”
As they walked toward the truck, she looked curiously over her shoulder at him. “What else would he want?” she asked before raising her voice. “Hello, Walker.”
“Hey,” Walker called from the open truck window before sliding down from the truck. Gesturing toward his sister who got out as well, he said, “Abby and I were driving by when we saw the two of you standing out here. So .Â .Â . what are y'all doing?”
“Just walking,” Deborah said.
Walker looked from one to the other and smirked slightly. “Just walking in the dark, huh?”
“What are you up to?” Jacob said instead of answering. “I never thought I'd see you driving around Amish schoolhouses at night.”
“We were visiting our grandparents,” Abby said as she strode toward Deborah. With more than a bit of amusement in her voice, she added, “Then, of course, we had to go visit Lydia.”
Jacob relaxed. That, he could deal with. Walker couldn't seem to stay away from his girlfriend for more than a few hours at a time. “And how is Lydia tonight?”
As Abby whispered something to Deborah, Walker replied. “Lydia is great. Plus her parents don't even look at me like I'm the devil-boyfriend anymore.”
Jacob laughed. “Devil-boyfriend, huh? I knew they were suspicious of you, but that's taking things to a whole new level.”
“They're kind folks, they just haven't been all that welcoming. I mean, it used to feel like they'd just about give their souls for Lydia not to fall in love with me. But some things just can't be helped.”
Folding her arms over her chest, Abby said, “Walker and Lydia have become almost annoying to be around.”
“We are not annoying,” Walker countered.
“Oh, yes you are. When you two are in the same room, you stand right next to each other and hardly talk to anyone else.” Looking at Jacob and Deborah, she tilted her head to one side. “Almost as close as the two of you were standing against the building.”
Jacob was thankful for the dark so no one could see his face burn red. He had been standing awfully close to Deborah, and it wasn't only because he'd been afraid they were about to get caught.
“So now that I've told you my whole story, why don't you tell me what you two are really doing,” Walker said. “I mean, no one goes walking in the dark to an Amish schoolhouse without a reason.”
“There's no story here. Deborah and I had been talking about how I used to pick up her and Perry for school. We wanted to see if the trail was still there.”
Walker folded his arms over his chest and nodded. “Ah. Yeah, I can see how you'd want to check out that trail in the dark. Makes perfect sense to me.”
“We have to do something for amusement. Some of us work more than twenty hours a week, Walker,” Jacob said. “Not everyone here gets to go to college and sit around talking about history or stars.”
Walker narrowed his eyes, looking for a moment like he was going to tell Jacob that he knew nothing about college, which would have been true, but then he seemed to decide to let Jacob's comment go. “That's true. Not everyone does get to go to school.”
Now Jacob felt ashamed. What was wrong with him? Why was he always letting his mouth get the best of him? His life would be a whole lot better if he'd ever learn to think before speaking. “Sorry. I didn't mean that how it sounded.”
“I didn't think you sounded any special way.” But despite what Walker said, Jacob thought he might've hit a sour chord because Walker readily turned to Deborah. “Deb, how are you doing?”
“Me? I'm fine.”
Jacob noticed that she looked like she would rather be anywhere else but answering Walker's questions. “Deborah started working at the store.”
“I know. I was there the other day. Remember?” Walker looked at Jacob strangely before focusing back on Deborah again. “I've been thinking about you and your parents, how hard it must be on you all, living without Perry. Abby drives me crazy, but I'd have a pretty hard time of it, if she wasn't in my life anymore.”
Jacob couldn't believe that Walker was bringing up Perry's death. “Walkerâ”
But Deborah seemed relieved instead of annoyed. “It has been hard,” she said softly. “It's my parents who are having a tough time. Actually, I don't know if they'll ever recover from losing their son.”
Walker nodded, just like discussing death was something he did all the time. “I read somewhere that losing a child is the hardest experience a man or woman can have.”
“I am sure that is right. We don't quite know what to talk about anymore.”
“At least he is with God instead,” Walker said. “That, at least, has to offer some comfort to your parents.”
“I think so. Maybe one day it will .Â .Â .” Her voice drifted off, but not before Jacob noticed that there was a catch in her throat.
Seeing her becoming distressed, especially over Perry, made him talk without thinking. “Perry wasn't innocent, you know. It's not like he was a saint or something.” The moment he said the words, he ached to take them back.
But Deborah looked at him straight in the eye. “All of us are sinners. There's no need to start throwing stones.”
Her accusation made him feel defensive all over again. “There's a big difference between making mistakes every once in a while and doing the things Perry did, Deborah .Â .Â .” he said honestly. Probably too honestly.
She flinched, but held her ground. “That is true. But I also know that none of us knows what other people do in their own homes.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that I know for a fact that Perry was not the only person in the county to do things he didn't want other people to know about.”
Walker lifted his hands. “Boy, I didn't mean to start a fight. I'm sorry I even brought him up.”
“We've just been thinking about you,” Abby added, acting the peacemaker. “We've been concerned. A lot of people have. That's all.”
Abby saved the moment by linking her arm through Deborah's. “You know, I've been thinking that it's a real shame that none of us have gotten together much since .Â .Â . well, since so much has happened. We should.” Brightening, she added, “Anytime you want to talk, you ought to call one of us.”
“I'll do that. I'll call you right up the next time I happen to be near our phone shanty.”
There was more than a touch of sarcasm in Deborah's voice, which Jacob found surprising. Deborah was usually forthright, saying what she meant. He was the one who seemed to always have a snide comment these days.
But he didn't want to dwell on that. Instead, he hoped to keep the tone light and was grateful to Abby for leading them away from their dark memories.
“Abby, I heard that you've been thinking about being Plain. Have you already forgotten what it's like to be Amish? We don't have a lot of phones.”
Abby bit her lip. “I know. I'm sorry, I was just trying to helpâ”
“You did,” Deborah said quickly. “It is I who needs to apologize. I'm sorry. It really has been a hard couple of months. And since I'm an only child now, it's even harder. I do appreciate your caring thoughts.”
“Maybe we could come up with some time to get together?” Walker suggested.
“Or we could get Deborah a cell phone,” Jacob said quickly.
Deborah breathed in sharply. “Do you know how to get one?”
Well, here was his moment of truth. “I, uh, actually do have one. And I could get you one, too.”
She blinked quickly. “My parents would be so upset. I could never get a cell phone.”
“Why not?” Abby asked. “Lydia said her parents have let her get away with quite a few things right now. She went to the movies with us the other day.”
“The Planks are different .Â .Â .”
Feeling his heart go out to her, imagining what life might be like in the Borntrager house, Jacob said, “What would it harm, Deb? You haven't joined the church yet. I mean, I bet half of our friends are doing something their parents wouldn't be thrilled about.”
Obviously torn, she bit her lip.
“Don't tell them. Get a phone for yourself. If you had a cell, then you could call anyone you wanted.”
Even in the dim light, Jacob could see that Deborah was intrigued by the idea.
He knew why: Freedom was a wonderful feeling. Just getting out from under his father's thumb for an hour had made him feel like he could breathe again.
“Jacob, I couldn't let you get me a cell phone.”
“I'll pick you up one,” Walker said. “There are some disposable cell phones at the Walmart in Paducah. Next time I'm there for school, I'll pick up one. If you really want one, that is.”
To Jacob's pleasure, she looked his way for advice. He shrugged. “I don't see what it could hurt, Deb. It's just a phone. And if you are sitting alone in that house and I don't happen to be standing in your yard .Â .Â .”
She grinned. “Then I could call you all? Even if I only wanted to talk?”
Walker chuckled. “That's what they're for, Deborah. Call us, or text us, and we'll listen. Or shoot, we'll come out and meet you somewhere.”
“I'd meet you in a heartbeat,” Abby said. “I'm sure Lydia would come, too.”
“I don't think Lydia will be getting a cell phone. At least not from me,” Walker said, iron in his voice. “Her parents are letting me drive her around in my truck and go to the movies and such .Â .Â . but I'm afraid a cell phone would be crossing the line. I can't risk her parents becoming upset with me. But I could make sure she knows if you call. I bet Frannie and Beth would come, too.”
“And I'll come up with a place for us to meet.” Jacob waggled his eyebrows. “Someplace out of the way.”
“I would like that,” Deborah said. “I would like to know that I had a way to call you all. If I needed you, that is.”
Jacob had to swallow back his burst of surprise. Since when was Deborah eager to start reaching out to them?
“Deborah, I'll bring you a cell phone next time I see you at work,” Walker said.
“And you'll show me how to use it, too?”
“I'll do that. I'll program in everyone's numbers. Then all you'll have to do is call,” Jacob said.
“I can't believe I'm saying this, but, okay.”
“You're going to be glad you have it, Deborah,” Abby proclaimed. “You never know when you're going to need it for an emergency. That's one part of being Plain I can't seem to wrap my head around.”
Next to him, Deborah was stumbling over her response. “I know I would be glad to have it if something bad happened. Not that, you know, I want anything toâ” Her next words were cut off by the sound of another vehicle approaching.
Since they were standing next to Walker's truck, there wasn't anywhere to hide. Jacob cursed their luck. Of course it wasn't against the
for them to be out at night, or even to be hanging out with
. But their actions would be noticed and commented on, and he could do without that.
Luckily, the car turned into a driveway about a third of a mile ahead of them.
The close call scared him. “We should go,” he said. “Sooner or later someone is going to see us all standing here. I'd rather not answer any more questions.”
Walker crossed his arms over his chest. “I bet you're right. We should probably call it a night. So, Jacob, Deborah? What do y'all want to do?” he asked. “Do either of you want a ride home?”
Jacob looked at Deborah's face and saw her fear. It wouldn't do for either of them to be seen getting dropped off by a truck. “I think it would be better for me to walk her home,” he said.
“All right,” Walker answered as he opened his driver's side door. “Hey, be careful in the woods, though. There's no telling what will pounce out at you.”
Walker was kidding of course, but beside him, Deborah shivered. Reaching out, he rested his palm on the small of her back. “We'll be careful, won't we, Deborah?”
Walker started up his truck, which sounded far too loud and telling in the quiet of the night. Jacob felt some relief when the truck pulled away and he and Deborah were alone again. “Ready to head back?”