Read Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery) Online

Authors: Laura Bradford

Tags: #FBS, #Amish, #Mystery, #read2015

Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery) (5 page)

BOOK: Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery)
13.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

She handed the paper to Esther and watched as the young woman studied it closely, every detail, every line scrutinized as the novel concept it was. “I would have liked a bracelet like this when I was on Rumspringa, too.” Squaring her shoulders beneath her burgundy-colored dress, Esther scooted off the stool, stood, and handed the drawing back to Claire. “Thank you for helping me to understand what Jakob found. Maybe, one day, I will have a girl and she can have a bracelet like this on her Rumspringa.”

The sadness in Esther’s voice was as impossible to miss as its very source. Esther was a sensitive soul living in a stoic community. What her family and friends saw as God’s will still tugged at the young Amish woman’s heart.

It was one of many ways in which Esther favored her now-English uncle.

“Everything will be okay, Esther,” Jakob said, stepping forward. “If this is Sadie, as I believe it is, I
find out who did this to her and why.”

Without thinking, Esther reached out for her uncle’s hand only to jerk it back as she became aware of Benjamin’s presence and the Amish infraction she was mere inches from committing in front of her brand-new brother-in-law. “I am sorry,” she whispered. “I should not have done that.”

Claire glanced at Jakob, the hurt in his eyes raw. There was so much about the Amish she admired—their simple way of life, the way they helped one another through tragedy and strife, and their big beautiful families. But the one thing she would never understand was the way they could forgive a stranger for such atrocious things as murder and rape, yet they couldn’t forgive one of their own for a far more noble infraction.

It made no sense.

“Jakob. Could you please see Esther out to the buggy? I must check to see if Claire needs another chest for the shop.”

She opened her mouth to weigh in on the notion of another homemade blanket chest for the shop, but closed it as reality dawned. Blinking against the sudden moisture in her eyes, she turned a shaky smile in Benjamin’s direction as Jakob and Esther disappeared into the alleyway. “Thank you for that, Ben. I’m not sure who needed the time together more . . . Esther or Jakob.”

Benjamin pointed. “May I?”

Confused, she followed his finger to her hand and the picture still clutched inside. “I’m sorry, I guess I was so intent on helping Esther visualize what Jakob was saying, I forgot to show you, too.”

He took the picture from her hand and stared down at it, his brow furrowed. “This is what Jakob found?”

Claire rocked forward on the tips of her toes for a closer look, then flipped the paper over in Benjamin’s hands. “No, that was my first attempt. You know, before Jakob told me it was heart shaped and I had to draw it all over again, like this. See?”

It was quick, fleeting, but something about Benjamin’s breath made her glance upward in time to see his complexion blanch.

“Benjamin? Are you okay?”

Crushing the drawing inside his hand, he stepped backward, his expression unreadable. “I must go. It is time to get Esther home to Eli.”

Chapter 4

omehow, despite the many times Claire had viewed it from the rock atop the hill, Benjamin’s small, simple farmhouse looked very different while she stood at the base of the porch steps, trying to decide whether or not to knock.

Suddenly, the tangible tug it had held on all those star-filled nights felt a lot more like a push now, and she knew why.

Yes, she and Ben were friends.

Yes, friends checked on each other when they were worried.

Yes, she’d been worried about Ben since he’d abruptly left her shop earlier that day.

But there was also that other yes—the one that reminded her he was Amish and that he’d been willing to walk away from his family and his community to be with her.

“Oh. Claire. I did not know you were here.” Ruth stepped onto her brother’s front porch and quietly pulled the door closed. “I am glad. My brother will not talk to me about whatever is troubling him. Perhaps he will tell you, his friend.”

She fiddled with the zipper pull on her jacket then released it along with a heavy sigh. “I don’t want to intrude if he just wants to be alone.”

Ruth looked left and then right, her gaze sweeping across the patch of gravel roadway that separated her brother’s home from the one she still lived in with her parents. “Benjamin may be smart and strong, but he does not always know what is best for himself. So please, go inside. See if he will talk to you.”

Reaching behind her statuesque frame, Ruth pushed Benjamin’s door open and stepped aside. “Go. Please.”

“I can’t just walk in without knocking, Ruth,” she whispered in protest. “He’s not expecting me.”

Ruth’s blue eyes left Claire’s face long enough to roll ever so slightly. Then, with the faintest hint of a smile, she poked her head into the open doorway. “Benjamin? Claire has come for a visit. She would like me to tell you that she is coming inside to see you.”

Then, with a gentle shove, Ruth pushed Claire through the door and into the utter silence that was Benjamin’s home. Before Claire could argue, before she could resist, the door was closed and there was no turning back.

“I am in the kitchen, Claire.”

She closed her eyes and began a mental count, willing her mind not to read anything into Benjamin’s monotone voice except the same end-of-the-day exhaustion she felt throbbing behind her own temples. This was Benjamin. Benjamin Miller. The same man who’d stepped forward with his wood-crafting ability in order to help keep her in Heavenly—something that transpired
she’d turned down his attempt at a marriage proposal. They were friends, and he was Amish. He didn’t hold ill feelings.

When she reached ten, she opened her eyes and noted her surroundings. The large front room that served as the entryway into the home was sparsely furnished and reminded Claire of a similar room in Esther’s parents’ home. Although not an expert on the Amish by any means, Claire had learned enough from Esther to know the room’s primary function was to accommodate roughly a hundred people for church service two or three times a year. The empty space allowed for the necessary benches to be brought in and utilized during the service and then converted into tables for the lunch and dinner that always followed.

Step-by-step, she crossed the room, picking out a few things as she went—a simple lamp atop a wheeled cabinet, a German songbook, a Bible, and a single pair of boots placed neatly beside the door.

It was hard not to wonder about Elizabeth and her three-week-long stint as Benjamin’s wife. But she also knew such details wouldn’t be visible inside the home. Even if the woman had still been alive, there would be no photographs framed on walls, no knickknacks dotting the mantel. The Amish didn’t take or pose for pictures and they didn’t put their stamp on a room with a certain wall-color choice or a particular prized treasure. If it had function, it was used; if it didn’t, it wasn’t.

She peeked around the open doorway into the kitchen, the sight of Benjamin sitting alone at the large wooden table as dusk slowly claimed any natural light from the room, bringing an unexpected hitch to her breath. So many times Ruth had made reference to her brother’s solitary existence—his lonely nights, his quiet meals, his empty home—but somehow the widower’s reality hadn’t truly sunk in.

Not until that exact moment, anyway.

Suddenly, the sight of the man with the shy smile who’d listened to her babble on about stars and wishes, helped save her shop from financial ruin, and had been willing to leave the only world he’d ever known in order to be with her, was almost more than she could comprehend without bursting into tears.

She took a deep breath, held it a beat, and then let it release slowly through pursed lips. No. Tonight was not about her. It was about Ben . . .

“What are you doing in here all by yourself?” she finally said before crossing to the table and taking a seat on the opposing bench. “It’s starting to get dark and your propane lamp is in the other room.”

“I prefer candlelight. It is enough to read by.”

“Psst . . . you’d need a book in order to read.”

The smile she’d hoped to entice didn’t come; instead Ben simply laid his left hand over his right fist and propped the pair against his mouth.

She cast about for something to say, something to bring the Benjamin she knew out of this uncharacteristic shell. “I would imagine you’re getting close to planting some of your crops. I bet that’ll make your days long again.”

“It will.”

Her gaze fell on a basket on the counter beside the stove and she switched topics once again. “Looks like Ruth brought you some dessert, yes?”

“She brought dinner.”

“Wow. I can only imagine how good her cooking must be if her baking makes my mouth water from across the alley at work.”

Shrugging, Benjamin let his hands fall to the table. “She said it is chicken. You are welcome to have it if you would like.”

“No, I wasn’t hinting for dinner, Ben.”

“I did not think that you were. But it is a shame to see good food go to waste.”

“Then eat it,” she said, not unkindly.

“Tonight, I am not hungry.”

She looked around the room, at the simple propane-powered appliances, the spotless surfaces, and the overall empty feel of the space, any hunger pangs she may have felt upon news of the basket’s contents faded. It was as if the loneliness that emanated from Ben and his surroundings made the prospect of a meal almost painful. The thought that he lived that way night after night made it even worse.

No, tonight would be different. She would see to that . . .

Rising to her feet, she stepped around the bench and walked over to the counter that housed the picnic basket, a quick peek inside confirming Benjamin’s guess and adding homemade rolls, potatoes, and green beans to the mix. “Ruth made this for you and, judging by what I see, there’s plenty for me, too.”

“She does not seem to remember I am one person.”

“Well, tonight, you’re not.” She opened the first cabinet she came to but found only glasses and pitchers. The second cabinet held the plates she needed but in a quantity that was downright agonizing. Benjamin had obviously imagined he’d have a life like his own father’s, with a wife and a half-dozen kids. Instead, thanks to a poorly timed walk, seven of the eight plates went unused.

Night after night after night.

Shaking the mood-altering thought from her head, she set the plates on the counter and filled them with food from Ruth’s basket. Then, armed with a pair of napkins and two glasses of cold milk at the ready, she brought everything to the table.

For a moment, she wasn’t sure if Benjamin was going to stay and eat or get up and leave, the hollowness of his eyes making it difficult to know what, if anything, he was thinking. But when he reached across the table for her hands and bowed his head in prayer, she knew she’d won at least part of the battle.

She, of course, did most of the talking as they ate, his answers to her questions coming in mostly nods and shakes, but that was okay. It was progress, even if only a little.

“Ruth is a great cook. This chicken is delicious.”

He forked a helping of beans into his mouth and nodded.

“I used to like to cook a lot back when I was living in New York City. But, after a while, when I was the only one eating it ninety percent of the time, I lost interest. Diane is trying to help me reclaim that.”

“Is it working?” he asked quietly.

She tried not to show too much surprise at the sound of his voice and his sudden desire to engage in conversation, but it was hard. “I—uh . . . yes, it is. The people who stay at the inn are always so appreciative of the food we make. Knowing someone is not only eating it but also enjoying it, too, helps a lot.”

He nodded slowly and with understanding.

“I imagine you know exactly what I’m talking about after going from your childhood home with your parents and siblings to sharing meals with Elizabeth and . . .” The rest of her sentence disappeared as a spasm of pain ripped across Benjamin’s face.

“Ben, I’m sorry. I didn’t mention your wife to cause you pain.”

He wiped his mouth on the napkin Claire had placed beside his plate and then pushed back from the table, stopping short of actually standing.

“Ben . . . please. Talk to me. I saw the way you reacted to that drawing I did this morning. I saw the way your skin paled. What’s going on? Maybe I can help somehow.”

Seconds turned to minutes as the last of the day’s light disappeared from the room’s only window, bathing them in total darkness save for the lone candle Ben lit without a word. But just as she gave up any hope of him talking, he stood and motioned for Claire to follow him into a tiny sitting room off the back of the house. There, he lit another candle, palmed something small and silver from atop a plain end table into his fist, and then turned, flipping his hand over and slowly opening it in front of Claire.

She leaned forward and waited for her eyes to adjust to the dim light. When they did, she inhaled sharply.

“Ben?” she half whispered, half gasped. “Where did you get that?”

BOOK: Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery)
13.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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