Read The Storekeeper's Daughter Online

Authors: Wanda E. Brunstetter

Tags: #Fiction/General

The Storekeeper's Daughter

BOOK: The Storekeeper's Daughter
ads
The Storekeeper’s Daughter

By
Wanda E. Brunstetter

To Leeann and Birdie, my dear friends and critique partners.
To Audrey, Marijane, Monk, and Melissa, who willingly
shared their knowledge with me. Thank you all!
Trust ye in the LORD for ever:
for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.
ISAIAH 26:4
PROLOGUE

“Naomi, come!
Schnell
—quickly!”

Naomi hurriedly finished the job of diapering her two-month-old brother, pulled the crib rail up, and turned to face her younger sister. “What is it, Nancy? You look upset.”

Nancy stood just inside the bedroom door, her green eyes wide and her lower lip trembling. “It’s our
mamm,
Naomi. She’s been hit by a car.”

Naomi stood there a few seconds, staring at an odd-shaped crack in the wall and trying to let Nancy’s words sink into her brain. Mama hit by a car? How could it be? Their mother couldn’t have been in the road. Only moments ago, she had announced that she was going out to get the mail, and Naomi said she would change Zach’s diaper. When they were done, they planned to meet in the garden to pick peas. The mailbox was at the end of the driveway, several feet off the main road. There was no way a car could hit Mama. Unless...

“Don’t just stand there, Naomi!” Nancy shouted. “Mama needs you. We have to get her some help.”

A chill crept up Naomi’s spine, and she trembled. Mama had to be all right. She just had to be.

“Stay with the
boppli
!” Naomi ordered.

“No, Mary Ann’s in the house, and he’ll be okay. I’m comin’ with you.”

With her heart pounding so hard she feared it might burst, Naomi dashed down the stairs and bolted out the front door.

As soon as she started down the graveled driveway, Naomi could see a red car parked along the shoulder of the road. An English man knelt on the ground next to a woman’s body.

“Mama!” The single word tore from Naomi’s throat as she dropped to her knees beside her dear mamm. Mama’s eyes were shut, and her skin was as pale as goat’s milk. There was a deep gash on the side of her head, and blood oozed from the open wound.

“I used my cell phone to call 9-1-1,” the man announced. “An ambulance should be here soon.”

Naomi looked up at the middle-aged man. Sympathy filled his dark eyes, and deep wrinkles etched his forehead. “What happened?” she rasped.

“I—was driving down the road, minding my own business, when I noticed an Amish woman at her mailbox. Never thought much of it until she dropped a letter to the ground. Then the wind picked up and blew the envelope into the road.” He shook his head slowly as his eyes clouded with tears. “Sure didn’t expect her to jump out after it. Not with my car coming.”

Just then, Naomi noticed the letters strewn every which way along the roadside. Mama must have dropped the mail she had been holding when she was struck by the man’s car.

“I’m so sorry.” The man’s voice shook with emotion. “I slammed on my brakes, but I couldn’t get stopped in time.”

Naomi squeezed her eyes shut and tried to think. How bad was Mama hurt? Should they try to move her up to the house? No, that wouldn’t be a good idea. What if she had something broken? What if there were internal injuries?

“Is Mama gonna be all right?”

Naomi had forgotten her younger sister had followed her out the door. She glanced up at Nancy and swallowed hard. “I hope so.
Jah,
I surely do.”

Sirens could be heard in the distance, and Naomi breathed a prayer of thanks. Once a doctor saw her, Mama would be okay. She had to be. Baby Zach needed her. They all needed Mama.

“Naomi?” Mama’s eyes opened, and Naomi could see the depth of her mother’s pain. “I need you to—” Her words faltered.

“Be still, Mama,” Naomi instructed. “An ambulance is comin’. You’re gonna be okay. Just rest for now.”

Tears slipped out of Mama’s eyes and trickled down her cheeks. “I—I need—to ask you a favor—just in case,” she murmured.

“What is it, Mama? I’ll do anything to help.” Naomi took hold of her mother’s hand, so cold and limp.

“If I don’t make it—”

“Please, don’t even say the words.” Naomi’s voice came out in a squeak. She couldn’t bear to hear her mother acknowledge that she might not survive.

“That’s right, Mama. You shouldn’t try to talk right now,” Nancy added tearfully.

“I must.” Mama’s imploring look made Naomi’s heart beat even faster.

“If I should die, promise you’ll take care of the
kinner
—especially the boppli.”

“You’re gonna be fine, Mama. See here, the ambulance has arrived now, and soon you’ll be at the hospital.” Panic edged Naomi’s voice, and when she swallowed, the metallic taste of fear sprang into her mouth.

More tears splashed onto Mama’s pale cheeks. “This is important, Daughter. Do I have your word?”

Naomi hardly knew what to say. She could continue to insist her mother was going to be all right, or she could tell Mama what she wanted to hear. Naomi decided the latter would be better. No use upsetting poor Mamm more than she already was. She would agree to her mother’s request, only to make her feel better. However, Naomi felt certain she would never have to keep the promise. Her dear mama was going to be all right.

Naomi gently squeezed her mother’s hand. “Jah
,
Mama, I promise.”

CHAPTER 1

Naomi Fisher tiptoed out of the back room and headed to the front of her father’s general store. She’d finally gotten Zach down for a nap and felt ready for a break.

“Since there aren’t any customers at the moment, would it be all right if I ate my lunch now?” Naomi asked Papa, who was going over his ledger behind the counter near the front of the store.

“Jah
,
okay. Just don’t be too long.” He raked his fingers through the long, full beard covering his chin. “That new order of candles still needs to be put on the shelves.”

Naomi’s hand brushed against her father’s arm as she reached under the counter for her lunch pail. “I know.”

“Your mamm would’ve had those candles out already,” he mumbled. “She’d never allow the shelves to get dusty, either.”

Naomi flinched as though she’d been slapped. She enjoyed working at the store, but it was getting harder to help run the place. There was no way she could keep up with the chores she was responsible for at home and do everything Mama used to do, too. It wasn’t fair for Papa to compare her with Mama, and she wished he would consider hiring a maid to help out. She squeezed the handle on her lunchbox. If only Mama hadn’t stepped into the road and been hit by a car. The bishop said it was God’s will—“Sarah Fisher’s time to die,” he’d announced at her funeral.

Naomi wasn’t so sure about that. How could Mama’s death be God’s will?

“I—I think I’ll take my lunch outside if you’ve got no objections,” she said, forcing her troubling thoughts aside.

Papa shook his head. “Schnell

quickly then, and eat your lunch before the baby wakes.”

“I’m goin’.” Naomi’s sneakers padded across the hardwood floor. When she reached the front door, she turned around. “Papa, I’m not Mama, but I’m doin’ the best I can.”

His only response was a brief nod.

“I’ll tend to the dusting and those candles as soon as I’m done eating.”

“Jah
,
okay.”

She hurried outside. Some fresh air and time alone would be ever so nice.

Naomi leaned against the porch railing and drew in a deep breath. Spring was her favorite time of the year, especially after it rained the way it had this morning. The air was invigorating and clean—like newly laundered clothes hung on the line to dry. Today the temperature was warm but mild, the grass was as green as fresh broccoli, and a chorus of birds sang a blissful tune from the maple tree nearby.

“It looks like you’re takin’ a little break. Is your
daed
inside?”

Naomi hadn’t even noticed Rhoda Lapp heading her way. “I’m eating my lunch, and Papa’s inside going over his books,” she replied.

“I guess keepin’ good records is part of running a store.” Rhoda chuckled, and her pudgy cheeks turned slightly pink. “Them that works hard eats hearty, don’t ya know?”

Naomi nodded and stepped aside so the middle-aged Amish woman could pass.

“You have a
gut
lunch now, ya hear?” Rhoda said before entering the store.

Naomi lowered herself to the top step and snapped open the lid of her metal lunch pail. Even a few minutes of solitude would be a welcome relief after her busy morning. She’d gotten up before dawn to start breakfast, milk the goats, feed the chickens, and then, with her ten-year-old sister Nancy’s assistance, made lunches for everyone in the family.

This morning, when breakfast was over, the three older boys headed for the fields. Naomi saw the younger children off to school, and then she’d washed a load of clothes, bathed little Zach, and baked a couple loaves of bread. By the time Papa had the horse hitched to their buggy, Naomi and the baby were ready to accompany him to their store near the small town of Paradise. She’d spent the next several hours waiting on customers, stocking shelves, and trying to keep one-year-old Zach occupied and out of mischief.

Tears clogged Naomi’s throat, and she nearly choked on the piece of bread she had put in her mouth. Mama would have done many of those duties if she hadn’t died on the way to the hospital. Mama would be holding Zach in her arms every night, humming softly and rocking him to sleep.

Naomi and her mother had always been close, and Naomi missed those times when they’d worked side by side, laughing, visiting, and enjoying the pleasure of just being together. Some days she still pined for Mama so much it hurt clear down to her toes.

A vision of her dear mamm popped into Naomi’s mind, and she found comfort in memories of days gone by—a time when life seemed less complicated and happy....

***

“Sit yourself down and rest awhile. You’ve been workin’ hard all morning and need to take a break.”

“In a minute, Mama. I want to put away these last few dishes.” Naomi grabbed another plate from the stack on the cupboard.

“Let’s have a cup of tea together,” Mama said. “I’ll pour while you finish up.”

A few minutes later, Naomi took a seat at the kitchen table beside her mother. Mama looked more tired than Naomi felt, and the dark circles under her eyes were proof of that.

“Here you go.” Mama handed Naomi a cup of tea. “It’s mint ... the kind I mostly drink these days. Hope you’re okay with it.”

“Sure, Mama. Mint’s fine by me.”

Naomi knew her mother had been plagued with morning sickness ever since she’d become pregnant. She was in her fifth month but still fought waves of nausea. Mint tea helped some, although there were still times when Mama was forced to give up the meal she’d eaten.

Mama leaned over and brushed a strand of hair away from Naomi’s face, where it had come loose from her bun. “I’m awful sorry you have to work hard and have so many extra chores now. If I were feelin’ better, I’d do more myself, but this awful tiredness and stomach rollin’ has really got me down.”

Naomi touched her mother’s hand. “It’s okay.”

“You sure?”

She nodded in reply.

“But a girl your age should be goin’ to singings and other young people’s functions, not doing double chores and waitin’ on her old mamm.”

Naomi fought to keep her emotions under control. She did wish there was time to do more fun things, but this was only temporary. Once Mama had the baby and regained her strength, everything would be as it once was. She’d be able to attend social functions with others her age, someday she would be courted, and then marriage would follow. Naomi could wait awhile. It wouldn’t be so long.

***

The unmistakable
clip-clop, clip-clop
of a horse and buggy pulling into the store’s parking lot brought Naomi back to the present. Caleb Hoffmeir, the young buggy maker, stepped down from his open carriage and waved. She lifted her hand in response.

As Caleb sauntered up the porch steps, his blue eyes twinkled; and when he smiled, the deep dimple in his right cheek was more pronounced. He flopped onto the step beside her. “It’s a
wunderbaar
fine day, wouldn’t you say?”

His face was inches from hers, and she could feel his warm breath against her cheek. Naomi shivered, despite the warmth of the sun’s rays. “Jah, it is a wonderful day.”

“Did ya hear there’s gonna be a singin’ out at Daniel Troyer’s place this Sunday evening?”

Her heart clenched, but she merely shrugged in response. She was eighteen years old the last time she attended a singing.

Caleb lifted his straw hat, raked his fingers through his thick blond hair, and cleared his throat a couple times. “You—uh—think ya might be goin’ to the singing, Naomi?”

She shook her head, feeling as though a heavy weight rested on her chest.

“Was is letz do?”
he questioned.

Naomi sniffed deeply. “Nothin’s wrong here, except I won’t be goin’ to no singing. Not this Sunday—and probably never.”

Caleb raised his eyebrows. “Why not? You haven’t been to one since long before your mamm died. Don’t ya think it’s about time?”

“Somebody’s gotta feed the kinner and see that they’re put to bed.”

He grunted. “Can’t your daed do that?”

“Papa’s got other chores to do.” Naomi squeezed her eyes shut and thought about the way her father used to be. He wasn’t always cranky and out of sorts. He didn’t shout orders or come across as overly critical. He used to be more easygoing and congenial. Everything had changed since Mama died—including Papa.

“Abraham could surely let you go to one little singing,” Caleb persisted.

Naomi looked up at him, and Caleb leveled her with a look that went straight to her heart. Did he feel her pain? Did Caleb Hoffmeir have any idea how tired she was? She placed the lunch pail on the step and wrapped her hands around her knees, clutching the folds of the long green dress that touched her ankles.

Caleb gently touched her arm, and the tiny lines around his eyes deepened. “I was hopin’ if you went to the singing, I could take you home afterwards.”

Naomi’s eyes filled with unwanted tears. She longed to go to singings and young people’s gatherings. She yearned to have fun with others her age or take leisurely rides in someone’s courting buggy. “Papa would never allow me to go.”

Caleb stood. “I’ll ask him.”

“Nee
—no! That’s not a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“Because it might make him mad. Papa’s awful protective, and he believes my place is at home with him and the children.”

“We’ll see about that. If Abraham gives his permission for you to go to the singing, you’d better plan on a ride home in my courtin’ buggy.”

Courtin’ buggy? Did Caleb actually believe they could start courting? It wasn’t likely to happen because Naomi had so many responsibilities. Truth be told, Naomi felt confused whenever she was around Caleb. His good looks and caring attitude appealed to her. But if she couldn’t go to singings and other young people’s functions, it wasn’t likely she’d ever be able to court.

“Maybe I should talk to Papa about this myself,” she murmured.

Caleb shook his head. “I’d like to try if ya don’t mind.”

Naomi’s heartbeat quickened. Did she dare hope her daed might give his consent? “Jah
,
okay. I’ll be prayin’.”

***

Caleb glanced over his shoulder. Naomi sat with her head bowed and her hands folded in her lap. She looked so beautiful there with the sun beating down on the white
kapp
perched on her head. The image of her oval face, golden brown hair, ebony eyes, and that cute upturned nose brought a smile to his face. He’d taken a liking to Naomi when they were kinner, but during their teen years, he’d been too shy to let her know. Now that he’d finally worked up the nerve, Caleb didn’t know if they’d ever have the chance to court, what with Naomi being so busy with her family and all. He wasn’t sure if Naomi returned his feelings, either, but he’d never know if they couldn’t find a way to spend time alone.

He pulled the door open with a renewed sense of determination.

When Caleb stepped into the room, he spotted the tall, brawny storekeeper stocking shelves with bottles of kerosene.
“Gude mariye.”

Abraham nodded. “I’d say ‘good morning’ back, but it’s nearly noontime.”

Caleb felt a penetrating heat creep up the back of his neck and spread quickly to his face. “Guess you’re right about that.”

“How’s your daed?” Abraham asked.

“He’s gut.”

“And your mamm?”

“Doin’ well.” Caleb rubbed his sweaty palms along the sides of his trousers.

“What can I do for you?” the storekeeper asked, moving toward the wooden counter near the front of his store.

Caleb prayed he would have the courage to ask the question uppermost on his mind. “I was wonderin’—”

“I just got in a shipment of straw hats,” Abraham blurted out. “Looks like the one you’re wearin’ has seen better days.”

Caleb touched the brim of the item in question. It was getting kind of ragged around the edges, but there were no large holes. He could probably get another year’s wear out of the old hat if he had a mind to. “I—uh—am not lookin’ to buy a new hat today.” Caleb hoped his voice sounded more confident than he felt, because his initial presentation had dissolved like a block of ice on a hot summer day.

Abraham raised his bushy dark eyebrows and gave his brown beard a couple of tugs. “What are ya needin’ then?”

“There’s to be a singin’ this Sunday night in Daniel Troyer’s barn.”

“What’s that got to do with me?” Abraham yawned and leaned his elbows on the counter.

“It doesn’t. I mean, it does in one way.” Caleb shuffled his boots against the hardwood planks. He was botching things up and felt powerless to stop himself from acting like a self-conscious schoolboy. After all, he was a twenty-two-year-old man who built and repaired buggies for a living. Abraham Fisher probably thought he was
letz in der belskapp
; and truth be told, at this moment, Caleb felt like he was a little off in the head.

“Which is it, son?” the older man asked. “Does your bein’ here have something to do with me or doesn’t it?”

Caleb steadied himself against the front of the counter and leveled Abraham with a look he hoped would let the man know he meant business. “I’m wonderin’ if Naomi can go to that singing.”

Abraham’s frown carved deep lines in his forehead. “Naomi’s mamm died nearly a year ago, ya know.”

Caleb nodded.

“Ever since the accident, it’s been Naomi’s job to look after the kinner.”

“I understand that, but—”

Abraham brushed his hand across the wooden counter, sending several pieces of paper sailing to the floor. “It ain’t polite to interrupt a man when he’s speakin’.”

“I—I’m sorry,” Caleb stammered. Things weren’t going nearly as well as he’d hoped.

“As I was saying ... Naomi’s job is to take care of her brothers and sisters, and she also helps here at the store.”

Caleb nodded once more.

“There’s only so many hours in a day, and there ain’t time enough for Naomi to be socializin’.” Abraham’s stern look set Caleb’s teeth on edge. “You might have plans to court my daughter, but the truth is, she ain’t right for you, even if she did have time for courtin’.”

“Don’t ya think that ought to be Naomi’s decision?” Caleb clenched his fists, hoping the action would give him added courage.

ADS
15.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
READ BOOK DOWNLOAD BOOK

Other books

Reconsidering Riley by Lisa Plumley
Femme Fatale by Doranna Durgin, Virginia Kantra, Meredith Fletcher
Happenstance by Abraham, M. J.
The Tears of Elios by Crista McHugh
Mystery of the Mummy's Curse by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Summoning Sebastian by Katriena Knights
Serious Men by Manu Joseph
The Selfish Gene by Dawkins, Richard