Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray
“Perry used to tell me that just because he was the son of a farmer, it didn't mean he had to become one.”
uke? Is there anything I can do to help?” Frannie asked as she brought him a plate of fried chicken, scalloped potatoes, and stewed vegetables.
Looking at the plate filled to the brim, he raised his eyebrows. “Frannie, you bring me the tastiest meals I've ever had in my life. You don't need to do another thing.”
She waved off his compliment. “It's just food, Luke.”
It was more than that, he realized as he took his first bite of potatoes. Frannie continually made an effort to make his day better, whether it was by fixing him a delicious meal or sitting next to him and just listening.
Now he couldn't believe that he'd been so stubborn when he'd first met her. Had he really thought her efforts to look after his needs were simply to pry into his business?
“It's more than food. I'm grateful for everything you do.”
She smiled, her obvious happiness echoing the way he felt about her. Then, as if sensing his stress, she narrowed her eyes. “Luke, what has made you so upset? Is it the investigation? Or is it something else?”
“It's just the investigation.” He picked up his fork, then put it back down. “You know I can't talk about it.”
“I don't need to know the details, though I promise if you told me something in confidence, I would never betray it.”
She meant that, too, Luke realized. Somehow, she'd transferred her loyalties to him, and was now willing to go against her father's wishes and out of her comfort zone. Her belief in him and their relationship was humbling.
“I know you'd keep every secret that I asked you to, Frannie. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that. But I'm not going to put that burden on your shoulders. Besides, it wouldn't be right, professionally. I need to keep this case close to my chest.”
She took the chair next to him, perching on the edge like she didn't want to get too comfortable. “May I tell you something? Something you might not know about Perry, or about the rest of us?”
“You can tell me anything you want.”
“Luke, I've traveled to Holmes County in Ohio. I went once up to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, too. To an outsider, the Amish might all look the same.” She leaned back while he took another bite. “Oh, an
might notice that our
are different, or our buggies vary a bit from community to community, but he might not realize that our norms can be far different from each other.”
“What do you mean?” He wasn't sure he was seeing her point.
“Up in Lancaster? The Amish there are a wealthy lot. The land is expensive, and some Amish have even invested in stores and hotels built for the tourists. That money gives people security, I think. And with that security, they might be inclined to take more risks.”
Luke didn't disagree. Money, or lack of it, had played a role in almost every group of people he'd investigated. He'd seen a wide variety of crimes committed for a few hundred dollars. Or far less. “The Amish here in Crittenden County aren't wealthy, are they?”
She shook her head. “No. I don't know anyone here, Amish or English, who would consider themselves rich. Because of that, we keep to ourselves. Maybe it's because we can't afford to move away? We couldn't afford to get out if we were desperate.” Laying her palms flat on the table, she said, “What I'm trying to say is that our community here in Crittenden County is a close-knit group, maybe closer than most. We keep our problems close to our hearts, and we try to make do in spite of our difficulties. Because there ain't nowhere else to go. We know each other real well, both the good and the bad things.”
She took another breath. “What I'm trying to say is that a great many people might know more than they're letting on, Luke. They might decide that they'd rather live with what they know than take a chance on what might happen if they betray each other.”
He was catching on now. “Because they have nowhere else to go.”
“Exactly. And they may never trust you enough to tell you the whole truth.”
While he understood what she was saying, he didn't agree with the reasoning. “Sooner or later, the people who are responsible are going to have to come forward. They have to, Frannie. Laws are greater than one person or one community or one state. I swore to uphold the law and I will. And I know Mose and I are very close to getting to the bottom of this case.”
Her expression softened. “Oh, I know you're going to solve things, Luke. You are a wonderful-
detective, of that I have no doubt. I just don't want you to be too upset when a whole lot of people aren't happy when you solve the case and make an arrest.”
“What about you?”
“Are you going to turn your back on me if I arrest someone you're close to, Frannie?”
She shook her head slowly. “I will never turn away from you. I love you.”
He picked up his fork again. “Then that's all that matters to me. Because I love you too, Frannie.”
When Frannie's smile grew, he smiled right back.
And thought again that no matter what the consequences, coming to Crittenden County had been the right decision.
fter debating whether to speak her mind for the last mile, Lydia turned to Walker. “I'm glad you asked me to come with you to visit your grandmother, but I'm worried she might not want me here.”
“Of course she wants you to visit. She knows how much you mean to me.”
“But with your grandfather still in the hospital, she might not want an extra visitor. She seemed real upset at the hospital.”
“We were all upset, but you made a world of difference for me, Lydia. Besides, I heard Grandma Francis say you were welcome to visit her anytime.”
“I have a feeling she was talking about a time in the future .Â .Â . not me coming over the next day!”
Walker turned to her in surprise. “I can't believe you are worrying about this.” Taking her hand he said, “Lydia, I told them that I intend to ask you to marry me.”
“You did what?”
“It's true,” he said with a smile. “I know we're going to have to work everything out, but it can be done. I feel sure of it.”
Lydia felt her cheeks heat. Walker was so outwardly affectionate, it sometimes took her off guard. He hadn't been shy at all about telling his grandmother about his intentions. And he hadn't been shy about holding her hand in the hospital, either. His easy, affectionate way with her was so different from the usual circumspect way of the Amish.
It had taken some getting used to, the way he liked to give her a hug when he saw her. Last night, he'd even kissed her cheek in front of his parents.
Luckily, they hadn't looked shocked. No, they'd only laughed.
Yes, it was hard to get used to, but it was nice, too. Lydia was discovering that she couldn't help but enjoy the way he was so open and honest with his emotions. Instead of feeling awkward, it felt wonderful to have the man she loved be so loving to her.
But all that aside, visiting his grandmother while she was worried about her husband resting in the hospital? That seemed to be pushing things a bit. “If you want me beside you, then that's where I want to be,” she said as he parked the truck and turned off his headlights. “It's just that sometimes a family likes to only be around family during difficult times.”
Still holding her hand, he squeezed gently. “You are family, Lydia. Plus, I think having you visit is going to help Grandma. I know your presence will help me.”
She kept his words close to heart as they walked toward his grandparents' front doorâand when he seemed to stumble when he grasped the door handle. “You okay?” she said gently.
“Yeah. It's just that I've been over here dozens of times and it's never looked so quiet here.” Pain was etched in his eyes when he turned to her. “What if my grandfather never comes home?”
Lydia knew better than to offer false promises. All she knew to do was to rely on her beliefs, that the Lord was in charge. “If he doesn't survive, then the Lord has plans for him up in heaven. And plans for us here on earth.”
“You truly believe that, don't you?”
“I can't help but believe it. I feel it with all my heart.”
She noticed that the hard lines etched around his mouth eased a bit as he turned the handle and led the way inside. Glad of heart, she felt a renewed sense of peace.
It was moments like this when she knew that she'd made the right decision to accept her relationship with Walker. Yes, it was difficult to fall in love with someone who was so different than herself. But he gave her things she needed, like openness and freedom.
On the other hand, she seemed to give him a security he longed for. It was becoming apparent that they needed each other to thrive.
“Grandma? It's Walker. Lydia and I are here to visit,” he called out.
Slowly, his grandmother appeared at the end of the darkened hall. “I was just lying down. I'll be right there.” Her voice sounded thready and weak.
“I think she was sleeping, Walker,” Lydia whispered.
Raising his voice a bit, he added, “
I'm sorry. We'll come back another time.”
“No, no. I need to be getting up. Why don't you wait for me in the kitchen?”
“All right,” he said.
Seeing how upset and worried he was, Lydia slipped her hand into his and led him into the cozy kitchen. “Sit down, Walker. I'll heat up a kettle and make us tea.”
He paused behind one of the old oak chairs surrounding the table. “It's not a normal oven, Lydia. It runs on gas. And you have to light it with a match.”
She couldn't help but chuckle. “It's not ânormal' for you, but it is for me, Walker. Have a seat and stop worrying.”
Looking chagrined, he did as she asked.
Happy that he was letting her take the lead, Lydia opened cabinets, discovered tea and a kettle, then slowly began the process of making a pot of tea.
She'd just set the tea leaves to steep when Walker's Grandma Francis joined them. “Lydia, you are a dear. A cup of hot
“I'm glad about that.” Holding up the plate of orange marmalade scones, she added, “I made you some scones, too.”
With a smile, Walker's grandmother lifted the napkin and took one out. “These look delicious.”
Walker pulled out a chair for her. “Sit down, Grandma. Did you not sleep much last night?”
“Not too much. It felt strange, being here all alone.”
“How is Grandpa James? Have you heard?”
She shrugged. “I walked down to the phone shanty early this morning for an update. He's not doing too well, Walker. The
at the hospital told us that he had a narrow escape from a heart attack.” Tears forming in her eyes, she said, “He is going to have to have surgery. They need to open a blockage in one of his arteries.”
“When is that going to happen?”
“In the next week or so.” She bit her lip. “Your father has been such a blessing. He said he visited with the doctor this morning, and has been helping your stubborn grandfather understand that the doctor wasn't just making a suggestion. It's an order.”
“Did Grandpa James actually consider not getting the surgery?”
“You know your grandfather,” she said as Lydia placed a steaming cup of tea in front of her. “He doesn't want to think about his weaknesses.”
“I'll talk to him.”
His grandmother smiled. “Be prepared, Walker. Just because you are full of advice, it doesn't mean he wants to listen to it. All he really cares about at the moment is spring planting. I'll talk to him more when your father takes me back to the hospital in a few hours.”
“Lydia and I can take you as soon as you're ready.”
“You're a dear, Walker.”
Lydia sat down across from Walker and saw a look of puzzlement play across his features.
“Tell me about spring planting.”
“Oh, yes. Grandpa James was hoping to get some wheat, corn, and alfalfa planted. It's all he seems able to talk about.”
“Now that he's in the hospital, how will it get done?”
When Lydia saw Walker's worry carry over to his grandmother, she stepped in. “Don't dwell on that, Walker. It's our way to help each other. I'm sure other Amish families in the church district are already making plans to come here and help plow.”
The older lady smiled. “Of course you are right, dear. They'll help us. We are blessed for many hands at a time like this.”
“I don't know how I feel about all your friends and neighbors helping with the plowing, Grandma. It should be your family.”
“You mustn't look at things like that. Your father is helping us with the doctor and the driving. And you are here, paying me a visit. That is a true blessing right now.”
“But I could do something .Â .Â .”
“Walker, please don't fret. If I need you to help me with errands, I'll ask.”
“Look, I've been trying to find a way to say this without feeling like I'm stepping on your toes, but maybe there's no way to do that.” Taking a breath, he said, “I decided to stop going to classes, Grandma. I want to help you here on the farm.”
Grandma Francis looked taken aback, and more than a little surprised. “I appreciate your offer to help on the farm, but I'm afraid you don't know much about planting a crop. It might be more work than you were prepared to do.” She looked Lydia's way and Lydia felt like she could practically read her mind.
“Most of the Amish men who would be helping have farmed from practically the time they walk. It would be hard to learn how to do everything quickly,” Lydia said diplomatically.