Leila Lantz is in danger of loosing her heart to a Plain man until she discovers he’s not so Plain after all.
Leila has been drawn to Jesse Glick, the bishop’s son, since the first day she met him at his father’s store, and she knows he feels the same way about her. But she can’t understand why he seems to make overtures one day, then withdraw the next.
Jesse has a secret. He’s considering making a choice that will forever affect his family and his future. He knows it’s not fair to draw Leila into his life until he makes his decision, but his heart refuses to let her go. Will, Jesse’s cousin, has his own feelings for Leila, but he has remained on the sidelines in deference to his cousin for many months. He knows Jesse’s secret, but he promised not to tell. He can’t stand the thought of Leila being hurt so he urges her to ask Jesse one question: Where does he go every Wednesday night?
The answer to that question will force each of them to make painful choices. Leila can choose Will and know she will never have to leave her home or family. Or she can choose Jesse and the love her heart desires, knowing she’ll have to say goodbye to her entire community.The day comes when Jesse, Will, and Leila all have to make their choices, choices that will forever change their lives and those of their small ,close-knit community of Plain families.
Goosebumps prickled up Leila Lantz’s arms. Her mother, wearing a blue cotton dress she’d finished sewing earlier in the week and black tights, march with a determined air past their entire community of family and friends. The pink blush on her cheeks told the story of a woman who didn’t welcome being the center of attention from so many folks, some who’d traveled from as far away as Missouri and Tennessee to share in this wedding. The rubber soles of her black shoes squeaked on the linoleum of her future son-in-law’s front room, loud in a silence replete with anticipation. Her witnesses scampered after her, their cheeks equally pink, smiles irrepressible.
It seemed like a dream, watching Mudder marry another man. This man, Mordecai King, who stood tall, a broad smile on his craggy face, his witnesses at his side.
A man not Leila’s father, now dead for more than three years.
Leila inhaled the scent of fresh baked bread, rolls, cakes, and cookies that wafted from the kitchen. The aroma of shared happiness and celebration floated around them, reminding them that today two hearts would join as one in a sacred ritual that could not, should not, be torn asunder.
Mudder should marry again. Leila, her sisters, and her brother needed a father. Back aching, Leila wiggled on the hard pine bench. Still, how strange to think of Mordecai sitting at the head of the supper table each evening, from now on, in that place that had once been reserved for Daed.
A new daed. Nee. Mordecai could never fill those work boots.
Nor would he try. Mordecai had proven himself to be a wise man in the year and a half since Leila’s mother had moved her family from Tennessee to south Texas. Kind and funny, he’d tried to be helpful in the year since he began to court Mudder in that strange way older folks did who were too grown up to shine flashlights in windows late at night and go for rides, laughing and whispering secrets, in the pitch black countryside.
At least that’s what Leila supposed happened on those buggy rides. She’d not experienced one—yet. Her glance slid across the room to the men’s side. Jesse sat between his brother Adam and his cousin Will. They seemed as entranced as everyone else by the spectacle of this widow and widower, each on the north side of forty, becoming mann and fraa.
Jesse coughed, a harsh, grating sound in the still, quiet of this time honored tradition, and slapped a hand to his mouth. His gaze shifted for a second and landed on her. The tanned skin on his smooth face reddened. He ducked his head covered with dark brown, thick curls usually hidden by his straw hat.
Her own face burning, Leila whipped her head toward the front. He should look embarrassed. The man talked a good talk, but not once had he followed through with a flashlight shining in her window. No buggy rides, much as his gaze seemed to promise something. Nothing had materialized.
What did she lack that made him hesitate? Leila asked herself that question over and over.
She rubbed her sweaty hands together, then forced them to lay still in her lap. The bench creaked and skirts rustled. She hazarded a glance at her sisters. Deborah, Rebekah, Hazel, and her soon-to-be stepsister Esther sat in a row in their gray dresses, their expressions serene for this most solemn, yet joyous occasion. If they felt any of this welter of warring emotions, it didn’t show.
Leila forced her gaze back to the front of the room. Leroy Glick posed each of the questions in that no-nonsense tone he employed during the nearly three-hour sermon that had preceded the vows. Would they remain together until death? Would they be loyal and care for each other during adversity, affliction, sickness, and weakness? Each time Mudder’s soft jah followed Mordecai’s gruff, firm response. Each jah brought them closer to that moment in which the act of marriage would become irrevocable. Every muscle in Leila’s body tensed. Her bones ached. Her jaw pulsed with the pressure of her gritted teeth.
Gott, Thy will be done. Thy will be done.
A sharp elbow jabbed her ribs.
She covered her mouth with her hand and glared at Deborah.
Her sister leaned so close her warm breath brushed Leila’s ear. “Sit still. You’re rocking.”
Deborah, hands now resting on a swollen belly no apron could hide, shook her head so hard the strings of her white kapp flopped. Her frown turned her into a replica of their mother when the cornmeal mush burned or the clothes line fell down under the weight of the men’s wet pants. “Not now.”
Not now indeed. Mudder’s moment should not be marred. Leila swallowed back hot tears of joy for her mudder’s happiness. For Mudder’s happiness, but also for Daed. He would’ve wanted this. He would’ve said that his days on earth had numbered less. They were complete. Mudder’s were not. Nor were Mordecai’s. Gott’s plan, however unfathomable to Leila, was His plan.
Leroy took Mudder’s hand and placed it in Mordecai’s. His own callused hands, big as catcher’s mitts, covered theirs.
“So then I may say with Raguel the Gott of Abraham, the Gott of Isaac, and the Gott of Jacob be with you and help you together and fulfill his blessing abundantly upon you, through Jesus Christ. Go forward as man and fraa.”
The now married couple turned and faced their friends and family. Mudder’s wide, tremulous smile made her cheeks dimple. She glowed. No other word could describe the transformation. She looked no less radiant than any first-time bride Leila had ever seen. Years fell away. Time and heartache disappeared in that rare moment of happiness that stood between what had been and what would come in her new life as Mordecai King’s fraa. Whatever new obstacles, whatever new tragedy or pain, whatever came, she would share it with her new husband.
Praise God. Leila rose on trembling legs and heaved a breath. God willing, one day soon she too would look like that. Please, Gott.
Deborah dabbed at her face with a handkerchief. Hazel whooped. Rebekah grinned and hoisted the younger girl to her hip. “Hallelujah.”
“What is wrong with you?” Deborah whispered in her ear as she pinched Leila’s arm. “You look like you just ate a slice of armadillo. This is Mudder’s day. Don’t be spoiling it for her.”
Leila rubbed her arm. “I’m not. I just . . . I’m . . . I’ll go help with the serving.”
Deborah’s expression softened. “We’re all thinking of him too. He’d be happy for Mudder.”
“Jah.” Leila swallowed against the tears yet again. “He would be happy for her.”
“Because that is the kind of man he was.”
Deborah patted a comforting, circular pattern on Leila’s back, her hand warm and soft. “Get a breath of fresh air. You’re white as a sheet. Go for a little walk.”
“I don’t need air.”
“The others will understand. Phineas understands. He’s thinking of his mudder today too. It’s not like Mordecai isn’t thinking of his first fraa. Or mudder of daed. It’s only natural.”
The knot in Leila’s throat threatened to explode. Why couldn’t she be more like her older sister? Somehow marriage to Phineas had changed Deborah. Impending motherhood had changed her. Each day, she sprouted new wisdom like a baby bird growing its first feathers. Leila managed a quick jerk of a nod. “Just a few minutes. I’ll be back to help.”
Deborah gave her shoulder a last, quick squeeze and moved away, enveloped in the flow of folks surging forward to congratulate the newlyweds. Leila pressed herself along the wall, edging her way toward the door, out on to the porch and into the muggy air of late September in south Texas. Butch, Mordecai’s dog—or maybe he was Deborah’s, Leila couldn’t tell anymore—raised his head, stood, and stretched. The black patches on the hund’s white face made him look like a pirate, an old, mangy pirate.
“Stay, hund.” Leila didn’t need a companion, not even the four-legged kind. She longed for solitude. Fat chance in this place. “I’ll be back soon.”
Butch yawned and flopped back on the cement porch. He surely looked as if he were smiling at her with that grizzled snout of his.
Shaking her head at her own flight of fancy, Leila skirted the dozens of buggies and vans parked across Phineas’s yard and made a beeline for the barn. Beyond it stood a thicket of mesquite, live oak, and hackberry trees interspersed with clusters of nopales, pale green against the faded blue sky. She could walk a few minutes out of sight of the house and all the visitors crammed into Phineas’s home, spilling out into the backyard where picnic tables had been set up to serve the overflow.
Her head down against a dank southeasterly wind, she rounded the corner of the barn, intent on finding peace in the stark landscape she’d grown to love in the last year. No one would call it pretty, but she found it easy to turn to Gott for direction in such a barren place.
“You said you wouldn’t tell.”
A barely contained river of anger coursed through the low, hoarse statement.
“Tell what?” Leila stepped into the shadows of an old live oak just in time to realize the words hadn’t been directed at her. The acrid schtinkich of burning tobacco filled her nostrils. As she rubbed her hand across the rough bark of the broad trunk and peeked beyond it, she realized her words had been lost in the wind and the rustling of the leaves.
Will Glick stood in the shadows cast by the barn in the late afternoon sun, a glowing cigarette raised to his lips, the smoke curling and wafting over the wide brim of his Sunday service black hat. Jesse Glick had his back to her. Will took a puff on the cigarette and let his hand drop, his fingers cupping it. “I didn’t tell.” He coughed and sneezed. “Do you think Onkel Leroy needs this on top of everything else? The drought. The Planks leaving? Even my daed is talking about whether we should stay or go. The district is fading away and you’re thinking of making it worse.”
Leila slapped a hand to her mouth to muffle her soft cry of denial. Mudder had uprooted her family and moved them here from Tennessee less than two years earlier. She hadn’t said a word. Did she know if this? If she did, she’d done well at keeping such a big secret.
“Onkel Andrew moved here when he was a boy.” Jesse’s scoffing tone grated on Leila’s ears. “Your daed grew up here. He’ll never leave.”
“Daed says we have to go where Gott leads us.”
“If he goes, will you go?” Jesse’s tone softened. He sounded like a kid missing his friend already. “You’re old enough to stay here on your own.”
“Without my family?” Will’s tone matched his cousin’s. “I don’t know. Would you miss me?”
They were so different in everyway—Will, tall and wiry and blond, Jesse, shorter, sturdy, built like a barrel, with dark, almost black hair—yet, they sounded like brothers when they talked, brothers knit together by time and circumstance.
“Jah, I would miss all of you—”
“All I know is worry is a sin. Gott has a plan.” Will took another pull on the cigarette, the fiery red end throbbing in the shadows. “Do you think carrying on the way you are is part of His plan?”
Jesse whirled and stomped toward the tree without answering. Pain etched his chiseled features. Why? What was he thinking of doing? Whatever the topic, it wasn’t intended for Leila’s ears. She shouldn’t be acting like a small child playing a game of hide-and-seek. She stepped from behind the tree.
Jesse slammed to a halt. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m stretching my legs.” To her chagrin, her voice quivered. She couldn’t tell them how bittersweet the day had been, seeing Mudder marry Mordecai. “I needed a breath of fresh air before the celebration begins.”
Stop rambling. She picked her way through the weeds, intent on resuming her walk before she embarrassed herself more.
“It’s not what you think.” Jesse stepped into her path, forcing her to stop again. “We were just talking.”
“You can argue all you want. You can smoke if you want. It doesn’t make me no never-mind.” Leila pretended to misunderstand. They needn’t worry. She wouldn’t repeat their conversation about the district’s future. It would only sow seeds of worry and division with the others. “You can smoke if you want. It’s your rumspringa.”
“Like Will said, we were just talking . . . about stuff.”
Will flicked the lit cigarette to the ground with his thumb and forefinger, then dug the heel of his boot into it until it disappeared into the muddy soil underfoot. “Yeah, we’re just talking.”
“About what?” Leila couldn’t help herself. They looked as guilty as the coyote caught eating cantaloupe in the garden over the summer. That they shouldn’t have been talking about the future of the district was a given. Or smoking. “How to burn up hard-earned cash with a match?”
“Nee. We were talking about getting jobs in town.”
Jobs in town. To earn money. To help their families make it through another winter in Bee County so they could stay, so they could keep their community together. Leroy hadn’t allowed but a few of the young men to take jobs with Englischers. The men had met to talk about it after the drought had decimated crops this year and orders for buggies had dropped off at the same time. “Have you asked Leroy—your father?”
Jesse shrugged. “Not yet. I’m thinking I’ll ride into town and see what I can find first. If I have something to offer it will be harder to say no. Bird in the hand, and all.”
A man like Leroy would not make his decision based on anything other than the dictates of his conscience and the Ordnung. “How can you spend money on cigarettes when we can hardly put food on the table?”
“We didn’t.” Will spoke as he handed the package to Jesse, the cellophane crackling between his fingers. “One of the guys in town asked me to hold them when we were playing pool last week. He left before I could give them back, that’s all. Here, you keep them or do whatever you want with them.”
Jesse accepted his offering. “I’m throwing them away.”
“They cost like seven dollars a package.”
“What’s going on here?”
Leila closed her eyes, hoping the gruff voice that rumbled behind her didn’t belong to the last person who should see her standing behind the barn in broad daylight with two men and a package of cigarettes.
“Well, someone answer me.”
She opened her eyes.
Leroy cupped one mammoth hand to his forehead to shelter his eyes from the sun. “Are you deaf? I said what’s going on here.”
Kelly Irvin is the author of The Bishop’s Son, the second novel in the Amish of Bee County series from Zondervan/HarperCollins. It follows The Beekeeper’s Son, which received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, calling it “an intricately woven masterpiece.” She is also the author of the Bliss Creek Amish series and the New Hope Amish series, both from Harvest Housing Publishing. She has also penned two inspirational romantic suspense novels, A Deadly Wilderness and No Child of Mine.
The Kansas native is a graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism. She has been writing nonfiction professionally for thirty years, including ten years as a newspaper reporter. She has worked in public relations for the City of San Antonio for twenty-one years. Kelly is married to photographer Tim Irvin. They have two young adult children, two grandchildren, two cats, and a tank full of fish. In her spare time, she likes to write short stories and read books by her favorite authors.
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