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Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray

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Chapter 10

“I think a lot of us have regrets about Perry. We should have stepped in and tried to pray with him, to help him see the error of his ways. It's a shame, that. But looking back at mistakes don't help much. It only leads to a stiff neck, you know.”

A
ARON
S
CHROCK

S
itting next to Luke, Deborah looked frightened and awkward. As he made a real show of putting his notes together and getting organized, Luke berated himself. He realized now he shouldn't have approached her at work. He should have known that she'd put her guard up in front of her friends.

Even having Frannie there hadn't helped. Of course, Frannie was so proud of his occupation, Luke noticed she sometimes went out of her way to remind everyone that he wasn't just the man in her life, he was a police detective, too.

Which was exactly what Deborah hadn't needed to be reminded of. Now he was going to have to find a way to gain Deborah's trust, or at the very least, encourage her to relax so he could get the answers he needed.

“I hope I didn't make things too awkward for you, Deborah,” he began. “If you're really uncomfortable, we could visit later, at your house.”

“I promise, this conversation wouldn't be any easier at home. Besides, you are looking to find my brother's murderer, Detective. I want to help in any way I can. Feel free to ask me anything you want, at any time.”

Her direct, honest way of speaking caught him off guard. She was the only person he'd questioned who didn't seem to have anything to hide about Perry.

“I appreciate that.” Needing a moment to determine the best way to start, he pulled out a pencil, then set his cell phone on mute, then carefully placed it on the bench by his side.

“Deborah, tell me about the last time you saw your brother.”

And just like that, her layers of composure fell away. Her smooth expression crumbled, and her wide, hazel eyes filled with tears. She wiped at her cheek impatiently. “The last time I saw Perry was on New Year's Eve.”

Lydia had seen Perry that afternoon. Frannie far later.

“What time?”

“I don't rightly know, Detective. I never thought to look for the exact time.”

“Was it dark? Close to midnight? Were you at home? Do the Amish even celebrate New Year's?”

“We do. Not with wine and all that. But we do stay up late and welcome in the New Year, same as everyone else.” Smiling slightly, she said, “When Perry and I were little, my
mamm
used to make us donuts. We'd eat too many while they were hot, watching the hands on the clock slowly inch toward twelve.”

“Sounds like fun.”

“It was. When we were small, Perry was great fun. He was always game for anything.” Shaking her head, her voice turned wistful. “He used to make my
daed
laugh and laugh. Goodness, I haven't thought about that in years.”

Circling back to the point of their conversation, Luke said, “What about this New Year's Eve? Where was Perry?”

She closed her eyes. When she opened them, her expression was pained. “The last time I saw him was”—she paused, thinking—“some time about noon, I'd say. I'd been making lunch.”

“And?”

“And, we talked about how next year was going to be better.” Biting her lip, she added, “He kept saying he'd had a bad year, but he was hopeful that come January, things would improve. I told him I had faith that things would.” Looking at him directly, she said, “That's all a person can do.”

Luke sensed that Deborah was still hiding information from him. “So you never saw him that evening? You're sure?”

“Oh, I'm very sure. I looked for him the whole evening, you see. Even until we counted down to midnight. My parents were upset.”

“They'd expected him home?”

“Yes.” She looked apologetic. “Things aren't all that different with the Amish than the English, Detective Reynolds. Perry was twenty-two. Men his age don't usually choose to spend New Year's Eve with their parents and sister.” She sighed. “But he had promised us that he would be there. He had started acting more like himself, you see.”

Worried she was going to stumble over her brother's drug use, he attempted to get that off the plate. “It's common knowledge that he'd been taking drugs . . .”

She shook her head. “It wasn't that. It was that all of a sudden he was acting like he cared again. Like a veil had been lifted from his face and he was seeing more clearly. We waited for him to come home.” Her voice cracked. “But he never did.”

“Mose told me that you didn't report him missing. No one in your family did. Where did y'all think he was?”

Something new flashed in her eyes. “I didn't know . . .”

“Come on, Deborah. You lived with Perry, you knew him better than just about anyone. Where did you think your brother was?”

“I thought he'd finally left,” she said sharply, pain etched deep in her eyes. “I knew he'd tried to change, but it was also obvious that he'd burned too many bridges and that no one cared he was ready to make a new start. That upset him very much, you see. He had really thought we'd all forgive him easily.”

“Forgiving is the Amish way.” Though Luke was still learning much about the Amish culture, he did know that much.

“Yes . . . but repenting is expected. Perry never did.” Looking even more disturbed, Deborah clenched her hands together.

Luke watched her knuckles turn white. Taking care to keep his voice even, he said, “Who was waiting for him to repent? You?”


Nee.
I . . . I had given up waiting.” She swallowed.

He could tell she wasn't going to offer anything else. So he decided to go back to the night that so many had mentioned.

“So whose idea was it to go to the store the night before?”

“Mine, I suppose.” She bit her lip. “But we hadn't gone to meet people. I had been sent to get some butter, and Perry decided to walk with me.” A new hitch appeared in her tone. “I was so happy, he hadn't showed any interest in our friends in months.”

“So, y'all saw everyone?”

She nodded. “When we approached, though, nothing went like it was supposed to. Or, like it used to.” Looking beyond Luke, a wrinkle formed between her brows. “It was like our roles had switched.” Looking directly at Luke again, she explained. “The girls asked me to join them. But no one wanted anything to do with Perry. Used to be, I was always the one tagging along.”

Luke already knew that both Walker and Jacob had talked to him. “So did you stay with your friends or go back home with Perry?”

“I should've gone back with him, but I didn't.”

“Why not?”

Tears formed in her eyes. “I was so tired of not belonging. Of having to live in his shadow. Then, finally, I was being asked back into the fold. I couldn't refuse.”

“So what did Perry do? Did he go home right away?”

She stared at him in surprise. “I truly have no idea. I never asked him when we talked the next day. And then I never saw him again.”

“Deborah, do you remember anything else? Anything someone might have said that could prove helpful now?”

“No.”

“You don't remember any conversations? Or see anything unusual in his room?”

Her cheeks paled as she looked at him directly. “I didn't see a single thing of interest in Perry's room.”

“Are you sure?” Even a rookie would have realized she was lying.

“I am positive, Detective. Like I have told you before, I don't know who killed my brother, but I would sure like to.”

I
n the waiting room of the Crittenden County Hospital, a flurry of activity circled around them. Children cried, men and women filled out forms and looked at watches impatiently, cell phones buzzed, and two television screens played the news on muted screens.

But all Lydia cared about was the man sitting next to her. Squeezing his hand, she tried to sound as positive as she could. “I know it's hard, but try to relax. Your parents say your grandfather is in good hands, Walker. And we both know that God is watching out for him, too.”

“I hear what you're saying . . . but I'm still scared, Lydia,” Walker said.

“I know. But you heard the nurse's report. He will get better.”

“I hope so.” Squeezing her hand, he said, “I'm really glad you're here.”

“Me too.”

Looking over at Walker's parents, they met her gaze and smiled slightly. Abby was just outside the emergency room doors on her cell phone. Lydia was so glad that Abby had found her. She'd just gotten home from a walk when Abby had pulled up in her mother's sedan.

Once she'd heard the news, Lydia had barely taken time to tell her mother where she was going before hopping into Abby's car. Boy, was she glad Abby now had her driver's license!

After a time, Walker turned to her. “Lydia, sitting here, I realize that I've been letting too much get in the way of what's really important. It's taken my grandfather having a heart attack to realize I've been concentrating on all the wrong things.”

Attempting to lighten his worries, she smiled. “And what should you have been worrying about?”

“You and me. Trying to find a way for the two of us to be together.”

“We're working things out.” It had been rocky, but Lydia had expected that. It was bound to be difficult, trying to mesh two very different lives into a successful couple.

“Things are going to be different from now on. I know what I should do. What
we
should do.”

“And what is that?”

“I'm going to go help out at my grandparents' farm.”

“You already do.”

He shook his head. “Lydia, I'm talking about living there. Really helping. They're going to need me.”

“What about your classes? You just signed up for the new semester.”

“I know, but they're not important right now.” Leaning close, he whispered into her neck. “Nothing is as important as family, Lydia. And being with you. I've been stupid, but not anymore. I'm going to become Amish, Lydia.”

She was so surprised, she could only hold on to his hand and pray.

Chapter 11

“Along the creek is a wide bridge with hardly any sides. If you fell off the bridge in the spring, when the water is high and the current is strong, why it would be quite some time before anyone found you. You could be lost forever.”

D
EBORAH
B
ORNTRAGER

J
acob couldn't help it. Every couple of minutes he found himself looking out the window, watching the conversation between Deborah and Luke Reynolds. The detective was sitting with his elbows balanced on his knees. Deborah sat beside him, straight and prim.

Looking pained.

They'd been out there for a while. Long after Frannie and Beth had gone, and after Mrs. Miller had come in for a dozen eggs, peeked at the hissing kittens, then scurried off.

Long after another delivery truck had come to the back door and he'd helped unload a dozen boxes.

Glancing out the window again, Jacob noticed Deborah was talking and talking. Luke was writing down notes.

What was she telling him? he wondered. And why was she so upset?

“Jacob, if you wipe the counter any harder, you're going to make a hole in the wood,” his father said.

Abruptly, he straightened. “I don't think we're in danger of that, Daed. All I'm doing is polishing it.”

“I polished it this morning.” Carefully taking the rag from his hands, his father said, “Care to tell me why you're so concerned about what Deborah and the detective have to say to each other?”

“I'm not concerned.”

“Sure you are. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, you know. And I think you are mighty concerned about what Deborah and that policeman are saying to each other.”

“I'm not concerned. Only curious.” And relieved that the detective wasn't speaking with him.

His father lumbered over to the window and peered out, his face so close to the pane that his nose was surely making a mark on the glass. “Well, for what it's worth, they seem to be done talking now, son.”

Not even trying to hide his relief, Jacob straightened. “Really?”

“Uh-huh.” Still with his nose next to the window, his father continued the report. “Let's see. Luke just went to his truck and our Deborah is right . . . here.” He turned to Jacob and grinned.

“She's not ‘our Deborah',” he snapped. “She's not anything to us.”

“No. I'm just an employee, right?” Deborah asked from the doorway.

“I told you she was here, son,” his father chided.

Turning her way, seeing the look of disappointment in her eyes, Jacob winced. For some reason, he always managed to sound rude and abrasive around her. “I didn't mean that how it sounded, Deb,” he said quickly, his insides falling to mush when he saw that she'd been crying. “My father was teasing me about you and I was getting tired of it. It was nothing personal.”

“I'm afraid that's a fact,” his father added, sounding contrite. “I joke around far too much. It gets me heaps of trouble all the time,” his father added, sounding inordinately contrite. “Why sometimes, I hardly know when to stop. Just like Jacob here hardly knows when to stop polishing wood.”

As a look of puzzlement stole over her features, Jacob mentally rolled his eyes. He loved his father dearly.

But sometimes? . . . Sometimes, he seemed intent on driving him crazy.

Seeing that something had happened with the detective to shake her up, he pointed to the store's clock. “It's one, Father. Actually, it's almost ten after.”

“And?”

“Deborah's shift ended ten minutes ago. You should let her get on her way.”

“Oh, I don't have to leave yet,” Deborah protested. “I haven't worked my whole shift yet. I spent the last thirty minutes talking to Detective Reynolds.”

It had been forty-five minutes. But who was counting besides him?

“Being asked questions isn't easy,” his father said. “Jacob is right. You should get on your way. Besides, the store's fairly quiet now.”

“Oh. Well, all right, then. I'll go get my purse and cloak from the back.”

“Hold on, child. Deborah, did you walk here today?”

“Yes, Mr. Schrock.” Pointing toward the back door, she said, “I went the back way.”

“You've been through quite a time of it. I don't like to think of you walking through the woods by your lonesome.” As if he'd suddenly had a very bright idea, his father snapped his fingers. “Jacob, why don't you accompany Deborah?”

There was no easy way to refuse the request. “All right.”

Deborah held up a hand. “I'm fine. Really . . .”

“Let him walk by your side now. Go get your cloak and enjoy the rest of your day.” Making a shooing motion with his hands, his father said, “You two, get along now.”

Jacob smiled wryly. “If we refuse, he'll only get worse. Come on.”

“I suppose I canna argue with that.” Without another word, she walked to the back, and returned with her cloak. After he watched her fasten it, he followed her out of the store.

They walked side-by-side down the steps and along the sidewalk.

When they approached the narrow trail leading toward the back of the store and to his house, he motioned her forward. Walking single file, they marched on until the grass rose and brushed their calves, the trees grew thicker, and they were completely out of sight of the back windows of his home.

Just as the path grew wider and he stepped to her side, Deborah turned to him. “You don't need to walk with me any farther, Jacob. I am perfectly fine.”

He didn't want to leave. “Are you? You seem kind of shaken up. Did . . . did talking to the detective make you upset? Have you been crying?”

She swiped her cheeks. “Maybe. Being questioned scares me. Detective Reynolds waits so long in between his questions that I'm never sure if I'm supposed to keep talking or that I've said too much.”

“I've had that feeling, too. I think he does it on purpose.” Clasping her elbow, he murmured, “But just because he has questions for you, it doesn't mean he should make you upset.”

“It's not all his fault, Jacob. The whole situation makes me cry. Losing my brother makes me cry.” Valiantly, she tried for a watery smile, but failed miserably. “I'm sorry. I don't mean to upset you with my waterworks.”

“You're not upsetting me.” Instead of going directly toward her house, he took a different fork in the trail. The one that led to the bridge that spanned one of the widest parts of Crooked Creek. “I'm just not used to girls crying.”

His quip got what he wanted: a giggle. “I'm not much of a crier. But talking about Perry . . . and his last days on earth, it makes me terribly sad. Sometimes I still can't believe that I truly had thought Perry had gone off and left us, Jacob. Back in January, I missed him, but I didn't mourn him. I really did imagine that he was in St. Louis.”

Jacob was torn between the need to comfort her and the desire to know what Luke had asked her. After weighing the two, his need for the information won out. If Luke was talking to her about Perry's last day, Jacob was sure he would be interviewed next. Why else had the detective and sheriff showed up at his house last night?

And he needed to be ready. “What did Luke ask you? What sort of things did he want to know about Perry?”

She swung her head his way as they walked deeper into the dense foliage. In the distance, they could hear the faint sounds of water rushing. “Why?”

“No reason. I just was curious.” Glancing at her, he noticed most of the light from the late afternoon sun was getting blocked as it shone through the leafy trees. Shadows formed around her face.

“I mainly talked about New Year's Eve.”

“Not when you two came to the store?”

“I talked about that some. But he wanted to know what Perry's last day had been like.” Her boots crunched on the broken branches, old leaves, and pinecones underfoot. She ducked once, dodging a leafy tree branch.

“Really?” Worry gnawed at his insides as he attempted to sound aloof. “He doesn't think you're a suspect, does he?”

“I certainly hope not! Perry was my brother.”

“Yeah. Sorry. Of course he'd never think that. Did he ask about me?”

She looked at him curiously, then blinked. Her voice growing deeper, she said, “Not so much. Are you worried that he would?”

“It's no secret that I was mad at him.”

“I know you were.”

They were next to the creek now. With the recent rains, it was fuller than usual. The current ran fast, and the water level was so high that it covered all the rocks that were usually visible. “Look how deep the water is,” he said, trying to calm them both down.

“It is. If someone didn't know rocks were under the surface, they might be tempted to jump in. It would be so easy to get hurt.”

The water did look deep and luminous. Deceiving.

“I bet one day something like that will happen,” she mused. “It seems we're all susceptible to accidents. To things we never counted on.”

He knew that was true from his own experiences. “We have to be vigilant.”

“Yes . . . or grateful.” Softly, she added, “We mustn't forget that every day could be our last.”

He was a little taken aback by her train of thoughts. “That's mighty morbid, Deb.”

“But true. Most of the time I don't even appreciate my days. Sometimes I don't even appreciate the people I see, or even the people I know and love.”

“I'm sure you do—”

“Not always. On December thirty-first? I was too busy thinking about my own selfish wants. And focused on wishing Perry would finally do something he promised to do. I was too busy holding on to hurts to really enjoy his company.” Looking up at him, she whispered, “I'll always regret that.”

“You shouldn't. You don't owe Perry anything, Deb.” Before he knew it, he was gripping both her shoulders, holding her tightly. Not letting her go. “Deborah, what happened to Perry wasn't your fault. If you can't make yourself believe anything else, believe that.”

Ignoring his words, oblivious to his grip, she shook her head. “That's almost impossible to do. He was my brother.”

“You were his younger sister. Of all people, I know how he treated you. At best, you were his sweet pet, the girl he tried to protect and shield. At worst? At worst, he only saw you as one more person who could betray him. Perry wasn't a saint, Deborah.”

She shrugged. “So what if he wasn't?”

Remembering . . . remembering more than he wanted to, more than he ever wanted her to know, he grasped at what to say. Trying to figure out how to get her to trust him. To listen to him forever. To know that, he, too, wished he had done things differently. “You're right. It doesn't really matter,” he finally replied.

Stepping closer, still holding her shoulders, dipping his head so that they were standing eye to eye, so close that their lips were mere inches apart, he murmured, “You have to learn to forget about the things you can't change and move forward.”

“Where is forward?”

Her voice was raspy. He heard a note of tension in her voice, the same one that had been drumming inside of him.

There was something new between them . . . Something dark and strong and slightly dangerous.

Whatever it was, he was tired of denying it. “It's here,” he said before he closed the gap between their lips and finally kissed her.

As their lips brushed again, learning each other, she stiffened in his arms. Immediately, he let go of her shoulders, freeing her. Allowing her to break away, to berate him for taking the liberty.

But instead of doing either, Deb tilted her head and slipped her hands around his neck. Her warm hands glided along his bare skin, making his flesh burn.

And then she kissed him again. Right there, deep in the darkened thicket next to the too-full river that covered up a multitude of sins. She tasted sweet. The moment was perfect, like everything he'd ever imagined.

But then he remembered what he had done. With a jerk, he lifted his head and pulled away. “We shouldn't have done that. I mean,
I
shouldn't have done that. I . . . I'm sorry.”

Deborah looked anything but apologetic. “I'm not. I've wanted to kiss you for most of my life.”

Then to his shock, she turned and walked back to the path, toward her home.

He lengthened his stride to keep up, but inside himself, Jacob knew he had far longer to go than just a few steps. His world had just turned on its side. And in this new place, Deborah seemed to have all the answers, while he had only one.

After what he'd done, he would never deserve her, and one day soon, she would think that, too.

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