The knock at the door was expected, but a bit early.
“I’ll get it,” Hope Beiler tried to quietly shout down the stairs from her doorway. Her sister was always saying she was too loud, but she was trying. She needn’t have bothered this time. The front door squealed a protest at the use. Over the indistinguishable murmur of voices, Hope mentally added the task of oiling the hinges to her unending “To Do” list.
She would just have to hurry to finish getting ready. Hopping around her room, she put on her shoes as quickly as she could. Voices drifted up to her, but she couldn’t make out the words. Hopefully Mammi wasn’t in one of her moods and was keeping her comments to the weather, or something equally neutral . . . or normal.
Her grandmother had moved in this year. While Hope loved Mammi with all her heart and was grateful for her cheerful if somewhat scattered presence every day, she was also never entirely sure what might come out of Mammi’s mouth, particularly when guests arrived.
Snatching her hard-saved money off the dresser, Hope hurried down the stairs to find Mammi standing there with her hands on her hips, talking to Sarah and Rachel Price. Tucking back an errant strand of her wayward strawberry-colored curls, which never wanted to stay pinned under her white kapp, Hope made her way to Mammi’s side in time to catch the words “Find my Hope a husband.”
She had to hide her snort of laughter.
A husband wasn’t exactly high on Hope’s list of worries, not these days at least. That topic was better than last week when Mammi had asked Elam Hershberger if he thought he saw a turkey every time he looked in the mirror. To be fair, the poor man had a hunk of skin that sort of hung under his neck, but still . . .
“We’ll try,” Sarah said, glancing at Hope over Mammi’s shoulder, eyes twinkling with amusement. “But she is wonderful picky. She seems almost . . .” She paused and wrinkled her nose in thought.
“Hopeless,” Mammi filled in. Then nodded solemnly as though her granddaughter weren’t standing right there listening. “There must be some young man.”
As if men grew on trees like apples, and you simply had to pluck one from its branch, rotten or not.
Hope lifted her gaze heavenward, sending up a quick prayer for patience. She was always praying for patience but found that to be more and more the case lately.
“Dat needs me at home too much,” she said firmly. “A husband can wait.”
Her mamm’s sudden passing last year had been hard on them all, but hardest on her dat. Levi Beiler had shrunken in on himself without his fraa at his side, turning into a ghost of the strong, dependable provider and father he’d always been. With only the two girls—she and her sister, Hannah—he had to work the family farm alone. Hannah was getting married, focused on preparing for the wedding. Mammi was a dear but getting older and less able. Which left Hope, who tried to help in her own way.
Speaking of which . . . “Where is Dat?” she asked Mammi.
“He’s already in the north field,” she was informed.
She exchanged a quick glance with her grossmammi that said everything. Every day her father went to “work the fields,” but as far as she could tell, not much was getting done.
She hadn’t voiced her concerns out loud, though. No need to burden others with worry when little could be done. The signs hadn’t become obvious until recently because, after Mamm’s passing, the community had gathered around them in so many ways. The blessing of a close-knit community. Their Amish neighbors and friends had helped get the farm through summer and fall harvest, after which winter had been relatively slow with no need for extra hands. But now that spring had come . . .
Unfortunately, Hope was fairly certain Mammi had noticed as well.
Mammi might be prone to saying odd things and having an outlook that bordered on overly optimistic, but beneath that, she was surprisingly sharp. Not much got by Rebecca Beiler. While neither Hope nor her grandmother had voiced any of their concerns outright, they’d both done their best to fill the gap left by both of Hope’s parents.
The general air of neglect in the fields was equally true around the house. Not the cleanliness or tidiness, which the women were on top of. But the place was quickly falling into a state of disrepair—the roof needed patching, a gutter was hanging on by a thread, and various other fixes that they were waiting on Dat to get to.
Hope tried her best. In addition to her usual chores, she’d been trying her hand at repairs, but she could only do so much in a day. Also, several larger repairs needed a man’s muscles, like digging up the massive dead rosebush in the front yard. She’d reminded Dat about it until he’d asked her not to repeat herself, but still the rosebush sat outside, untended.
Nothing she could do about that either.
In addition, the wedding preparations were a lot. Getting ready to host and feed over three hundred people took planning, coordinating with their close community of friends and neighbors, and money they didn’t have, which meant getting creative.
Things would get better, though. Dat was in mourning and would find his way home again eventually, with Gotte’s help, the wedding would pass, and everything would get back to normal.
As her mamm used to say, “Difficulty is only a miracle in its first stage.”
“Can I get anything from town for you, Mammi?”
“Nae, denki.” Her grandmother patted her shoulder. “Enjoy your outing with your friends.”
“I will,” Hope promised.
Other than Gmay every other Sunday, and the daily walks to her spot in the woods where she went to think, this was the first she’d been away from the house in some time. She’d stopped attending singeon with the other youngies Sunday evenings. Enjoying the social time felt selfish when so much needed doing at home.
She leaned in and placed a kiss on her grandmother’s cheek, the skin soft and paper thin under her lips, a reminder her Mammi wasn’t as young as she liked to act. “Keep an eye on Dat?”
“I always keep an eye on that boy. It’s what gute maters do, even when their sons are grown.” Mammi winked.
Hope chuckled at the image of her strong, silent father as a boy.
With a deep breath, trying to rid herself of the anxious feeling that the house might collapse without her there to hold it together, Hope followed Sarah and Rachel down the stairs. As she hit the third step, she wobbled slightly. Peering closer, she discovered the wooden tread was starting to split right along the overhang. Yet another thing to add to her list of concerns and fixes.
Maybe while she was in town, she could ask about how to fix a breaking stair step and even get the supplies she’d need.
Except there was no money for it. So, perhaps not.
“Your grossmammi is precious, Hope,” Sarah said, pulling her from her thoughts.
Giving herself a mental shake, she smiled. “Yes, she is.”
Sarah and Rachel lived just down the lane and had been her closest friends, along with Hannah, since childhood. They knew about many of the troubles in the Beiler house. Dawdi had passed away a few years ago, leaving her grandmother alone, and after Mamm . . . Regardless of the sad circumstances leading to it, having Mammi here now was a blessing in the midst of sorrow.
“Denki for the ride,” she said to Sarah and Rachel’s father as she climbed into the waiting buggy.
“My pleasure, Hope.” He pulled the wide brim of his hat lower over his eyes to shield against the bright sun and snapped the reins to set the horses to an easy pace.
Intending to enjoy the day shopping for wedding gifts for Hannah, the girls planned to walk the three-mile trip home afterward.
Hope turned her face to the warmth of the sun and let the pleasant chirping of the birds sing her worries away. While the air remained brisk in mid-spring, which meant she’d brought a sweater with her, the sun would keep them warm well enough. This was always Hope’s favorite time of the year, when small green shoots sprouted in the fields and the last of winter snow, clinging to the shadowy bases of trees, melted away. Soon enough, flowers would bring color to their community of Charity Creek.
Many blessings to thank Gotte for today. Hope lay her worries aside, determined to enjoy her outing.
“How did you keep Hannah from coming with us?” Sarah asked. “It wonders me she could not join us today?”
Wedding shopping meant keeping her schwester away. “She and Noah are looking at a house he wishes to buy for them.”
“How wunderbaar!” Rachel clapped her hands. “Hannah is lucky to have caught Noah Fisher.”
“I think he’s lucky to have caught Hannah,” Hope said, though in her sweet way. Hannah was perfect. Exactly what Hope tried to be, though she often fell short. Especially in the kitchen.
“True,” Rachel agreed easily. “Too bad he is an only child.”
All three of them nodded. Poor Noah’s mamm had died in childbirth when he was born. Hope had wondered if Noah and Hannah had bonded over that small sadness they had in common. The loss of a parent.
“I wish I was picking a house with my handsome husband,” Sarah sighed.
She earned a sharp glance from her dat for the trouble. “I hope I’ve raised dochders who wish for helpmates, men who can walk beside them in life and faith, rather than picking of houses or material things.”
Sarah lowered her eyes. “Yes, Dat.”
Rachel wasn’t as meek as her younger sister, and merely chuckled. “Handsome wouldn’t be so bad.”
“Ach.” Zachariah Price shook his head, though Hope caught a small twitch of his beard that she thought might be hidden amusement.
“What do you think you’ll get for Hannah?” Rachel asked Hope.
“Something she could use in the new house maybe. Or in her garden.”
Thankfully, talk turned to the wedding and gift ideas and plans for the future. Hope let Sarah and Rachel’s cheerful chatter pour over her as she debated her own purchase in town today. The Amish lived a plain and simple life with not a lot of fluff, but a new house would require many useful things. They planned to visit A Thankful Heart—the only Amish-owned and -run gift store for several towns around, popular with the Amish and Englischer locals and tourists alike. Granted, the Kanagys owned it, and Dat wouldn’t care for her giving them any business. She could hear his gruff voice now saying, “No dochder of mine should have anything to do with the Kanagys, even if I have forgiven them.”
He said he had, but anyone in their family could tell he still harbored bitterness. Not that her parents had ever explained why. As far as Hope could tell, the Kanagys, whom she knew as they were part of the same church, were honest people of faith. Well . . . all except Aaron Kanagy maybe. Granted, she didn’t know the Kanagys well, mostly because of the tension between the two families making them acquaintances more than friends. Still, their shop had to have some small item appropriate for Hannah on her wedding day.
The way Hope saw it, she had no other choice. Given the pittance in her purse, saved over time for rainy days, finding anything would be difficult. She’d thought she might paint something, but Hope’s paints had dried up these last months, thanks to lack of use, and she hadn’t wanted to waste money on new ones.
She straightened in her seat, determined to find at least a little something.
Despite being a Wednesday in the middle of spring, Charity Creek was as busy as she’d ever seen, bustling with cars and people on foot as well as several buggies. The town itself was small enough to recognize most anyone—both Amish and, to a certain extent, Englischers—who lived in the area. Everyone in everybody else’s business, especially within her Amish community. However, they were in the heart of Indiana Amish country of the Elkhart-LaGrange counties and drew tourists and outsiders for various reasons. Especially their lovely little downtown with its shops and places to eat. But this was more than usual. Perhaps the weather had drawn people out—a hint of coming warmth and skies as blue as the memory of her mother’s eyes.
Zachariah pulled his buggy up right outside A Thankful Heart, and Hope jumped out, giving a quick wave to Luke Raber, who stood across the street, and thankfully nodded in return but didn’t come over. As she waited for Sarah and Rachel, Hope peered in the shop window, already mentally discarding items as appropriate wedding gifts.
Then a small, simply carved chair, obviously intended for a child, caught her eye and sparked an idea. Perhaps the new couple could use a simple piece of furniture for the new home. Noah’s family were selling their farmland as most of his sisters had married and moved away and his dat had started working in the nearby factory, as many Amish men in this area had out of necessity. A farmer born and raised, Noah intended to move to the Beiler farm and help her dat, who’d only had two girls. Luckily, a small home on three acres that backed up to their southern border had been put on the market. If that didn’t work out, Noah intended to build eventually.
“Did you hear me, Hope?” Sarah’s voice pulled her from her thoughts.
She turned away from the window with what she hoped was an interested smile plastered to her lips. “I’m sorry. I was caught up with this little chair.”
“Which one?” Sarah and Rachel pressed closer to peer through the glass and Hope pointed it out to them.
“Oh,” Rachel said. “That is sweet. Aaron must’ve made it, for sure and certain. He does all the woodworking for the store.”
Hope tried not to let her smile slip at the sound of Aaron’s name, and a picture immediately formed in her mind. Dark hair, laughing dark eyes, a too easily given grin, and strong hands made for hard work. Why couldn’t it have been one of Aaron’s brothers, Joshua or Daniel, who’d carved the chair? She could’ve dealt with one of them much better.
“Why do you need a child’s chair, though?” Rachel turned to her with a frown.
Hope quickly shook her head. “I don’t, but I was thinking I could have whoever made that build a small table or a rocking chair perhaps. For Hannah.”
“She would love that,” Sarah enthused. “I’m sure Aaron could build you something right quick.”
Hope shook her head.
She had no intention of asking Aaron Kanagy any such thing. Just the thought of him still made her wince, the sting of her pride not dimmed by time. No doubt he hadn’t meant for her to overhear him telling his friends that he had no interest in her after singeon one night about a year ago. He hadn’t known that Hope had been standing outside to escape Barnabas Miller’s attentions. She’d been taking a needed break around the corner from where the group of boys he was with had gathered, mid-conversation, talking about girls they were interested in. One of the boys brought up her name.
“Hope Beiler is okay, I guess,” Aaron had said, his voice unenthusiastic.
Hope’s heart had shriveled in the same way she’d shrunk herself into the shadows, the burn of mortification heating her skin.
True, her curls were a tad unruly and brightly colored, and she was on the short side and skinny with it. Next to Hannah, with her golden hair and flawless ways, Hope had often felt inadequate. Regardless, Aaron shouldn’t have said such a thing to all those other boys. No one would want to show interest in her after that.
The memory still had the power to turn her ears hot and no doubt bright red, and she was suddenly grateful for her kapp, which covered them.
“I’ll ask at the Troyers’ store where they make larger furniture,” she said firmly, glad for the excuse. “They might have something already finished.”
“I guess so.” Sarah puckered her brows, but then a sly glint came out to play. “But wouldn’t you want to spend time with Aaron? I would.”
Hope was well aware how all the Kanagy boys—men in their early twenties now, actually—were considered quite the catches. They never wanted for girls to talk to at the various community events and frolics. Even Daniel, who tended to keep to himself.
Rachel widened her eyes dramatically. “Hmmm . . . But think if it led to more, and he fell hopelessly in love with you, and you married him.”
When they turned to Hope with such expectant expressions, words of denial popped out of her mouth. “Aaron Kanagy is the last man I could ever think to marry.”
The instant she’d said it, Hope clapped a hand over her mouth and wished she could pull the words back in and swallow them whole.
Unfortunately, Sarah and Rachel, instead of appearing shocked, exchanged glances filled with a knowing that set Hope’s teeth on edge. “What’s wrong with Aaron?” Rachel asked.
Hope lowered her hand. “Nothing. That was an unkind thing to say. Please don’t repeat it. I would feel terrible.”
The words spoken in haste made her no better than Aaron telling those boys she was just okay. Worse even. Hope glanced around, relieved to find no one else close enough to overhear.
“But you don’t like him?” Sarah prodded, confusion evident in her tone.
“Nae. He’s . . . fine . . .” Hope stumbled over herself to get words out. “He’s not who I would . . . choose, is all.”
She barely kept from closing her eyes in despair. What could she say to fix this?
“You’re so picky, you don’t choose anyone,” Sarah pointed out. “I, for one, wouldn’t mind his interest.”
“Me neither.” Rachel waggled her eyebrows.
Hope managed a laugh that sounded just the right type of light and airy. “Then you commission him. Let’s save the gift shop for last and see if anything in Troyers’ will do?”
At least her friends allowed her to lead them away. Hope couldn’t possibly go in there right now. Not with them watching her extra closely, especially if Aaron was working today. Given her behavior, they no doubt assumed she either disliked him or harbored a secret crush.
Too bad, since she’d so wanted a closer look at the little chair. Affording anything in Troyers’ was not an option. She’d have to be extra persnickety and reject everything in there, which no doubt would earn her more teasing.
Or maybe she’d manage to find a small item. Probably tiny. Because asking Aaron Kanagy for anything was not an option.