Sarah Yoder turned in a semi-circle, surveying the crowd around her. So far the back-to-school day was playing out better than she could have dreamed. Families sat on blankets and quilts underneath the warm Oklahoma sun, eating sandwiches, chips, and baked beans.
There were nine families in her school which was bigger than most, but since a great many of the Amish children were now attending public school in Wells Landing, hers was one of two schools that were left.
“Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!”
She turned as Prudy Miller came running across the playground toward her.
“Will you come have dessert with us? Mamm brought plenty enough. Shoo-fly pie,” the young girl sing-songed.
Sarah searched her brain for the nicest possible way to refuse. It wasn’t that Gertie Miller’s pie wasn’t worthy. Her recipe might even be the best in the district. But Prudy Miller was Jonah Miller’s sister and Sarah had vowed to stay as far away from Jonah as possible.
There had been a time when Sarah would have done just about anything to get such an invitation. Eating dessert with Jonah, sitting underneath the blue sky. Their knees almost touching. It was the stuff dreams were made of. But she had held that dream too long. Jonah didn’t want her. And even though Lorie Kauffman had married her Englisher boyfriend almost two months ago, nothing had changed. Jonah still loved Lorie and had no interest in anyone else.
That was when Sarah had decided to give up. What use was there in loving a man who didn’t love her back?
“Sarah!” Prudy tugged her hand, peering up at her with tawny eyes so much like her brother. But whereas Jonah’s hair was the golden color of newly harvested wheat, Prudy’s was as dark as the finest chocolate.
“How about I go over and say hello again?”
“And eat pie?”
Sarah placed a hand over her stomach. “Not this time. I couldn’t hold another bite.” Lord forgive me the lie. But self-preservation had to take forefront. She couldn’t go sit so close to Jonah. Not yet. Not when her resolve to move on was still so new.
Prudy looked mildly disappointed, but tugged her to the blanket where her family was seated. “Look! I have Teacher.”
Eli Miller frowned a bit as Prudy dragged her into view. Sarah wasn’t sure what Jonah’s father thought about her. Since Prudy was just starting school this year, Eli had been off the school board for several years. But she was certain the other members had filled him in on all the troubles she’d had.
But this year was going to be different. She was different. She had made up her mind. She might not ever get married and have a family, but she was going to be the best teacher the district had ever seen.
“Hi, Sarah.” Buddy Miller was on his feet in a second.
“Sit down, Buddy,” Jonah coached.
He obeyed in an instant.
Buddy was a little different than most folks. Down Syndrome she thought they called it. Though he was the only person she knew who had it. Not that she truly knew what it was. Just that Buddy was a little slower than most folks. His face was a little broader and his speech not as clear. But the Lord had given him a good heart and a loving family. He couldn’t ask for more than that.
“Hi, Buddy. Jonah.” Sarah was proud of herself. Her voice didn’t sound the least bit breathless as she uttered his name. She turned to Jonah’s mother. “How are you today, Gertie, Eli?”
“Gut, danki,” they said together each nodding.
“Do you want some pie?” Buddy asked.
“She’s too full,” Prudy said.
“Prudy.” The warning came from her mother.
Sarah was careful not to let her gaze stray to Jonah. “Thank you, Buddy, but Prudy’s right. I have already eaten way too much.”
The young girl gave a self-satisfied smile, then plopped down in between her oldest brothers. There were two more Miller boys: Aaron who was about to marry Mary Ebersol and Jonathan who was still running around. The Millers also had a daughter, Hannah, who was Sarah’s age. The two were close friends, though Sarah hadn’t expected Hannah to come today. She was too busy building her home.
A home like Sarah would never have.
“Well, I hope you enjoy the rest of the picnic.”
She turned to walk away and her gaze wandered toward Jonah. She couldn’t help it. Despite her vow to forget him she was just so aware of his every move, his every breath.
He looked…heartbroken, sad, and her heart went out to him. He had taken his breakup with Lorie badly.
He smiled at Prudy. It was the only time his face relaxed and his eyes lit up. It shouldn’t be that way. She couldn’t believe it was God’s will for him to be so unhappy, and she said a small prayer that one day he would heal and find that happiness he deserved.
Jonah tore his gaze from Sarah’s departing back and settled it on his brother. Until Buddy had spoken, Jonah hadn’t realized he’d been staring, watching Sarah walk away. “You think so?” He’d never given the matter much thought. He supposed that Sarah Yoder was attractive enough, dark brown hair, crystal blue eyes.
“Jah.” Buddy smiled in a dreamy sort of way.
Jonah lightly pinched him on the arm. “I think somebody has a crush on somebody.”
Deep rose flushed Buddy’s cheeks. “No.” But Jonah could tell. Not that anything could ever come of it. He had heard his parents talk too many times when they thought no one was listening. Mamm and Dat weren’t even sure if Buddy would ever leave the farm, much less find a love of his own. It was sad really given the size of his heart and his kind nature. If they stayed with tradition, Jonathan would inherit the farm and most likely the care of Buddy to go along with it.
“I think she’s pretty,” Prudy chimed in. “Does that mean that I have a crush too?”
Jonah smiled at his baby sister. At six, Prudy was definitely a late blessing in their lives. Mamm and Dat had thought they wouldn’t have any more children after Jonathan was born. Now he was nearing seventeen while Prudy was just starting to school.
“Maybe,” Jonah said.
Buddy shook his head. “She’s a girl and a girl can’t have a crush on her teacher.”
“I can too.” Prudy stood, her anger shining in her red cheeks.
“Shhh…” Jonah pulled her into his lap. “Of course you can.”
Meanwhile Mamm soothed Buddy. She caught Jonah’s gaze over his brother’s shoulder. A helpless light flickered in his eyes and then it was gone.
He knew his parents weren’t sure what to do about his brother, but they had to believe that God would show them the way. The good-natured Buddy had grown increasingly irritable over the last couple of months. Jonah had believed at first that the sensitive boy had just been picking up on his own agitation, but now he was beginning to think otherwise. Maybe Buddy was starting to realize the differences between them all. If that was the case, Jonah wasn’t sure what to do either. Except to be there for him and pray daily.
Calmer now, Prudy pushed up from his lap and flounced over to get another piece of pie. Jonah’s gaze wandered around the area, taking in who had come to the back-to-school picnic.
But his stare settled on Sarah once more. He couldn’t pin it down, but there was something different about her. Something he couldn’t name.
“She is pretty.” His mother’s words were low and close by as if she had moved near when he wasn’t looking. “Fancy, but pretty.”
“I suppose.” What could he say really? Was Sarah fancy Amish? He supposed that according to his mother’s standards she was.
“She’ll make someone a good fraa.”
“Jah,” he murmured. He’d been hearing comments like this from his mother ever since the wedding. Lorie Kauffman and Zach the Englisher’s wedding. He had started off gently explaining to Mamm that he had no interest in getting married. Not now, maybe not ever. But it seemed his mother had wedding fever. His brother Aaron was promised to marry Mary Ebersol, the bishop’s daughter, in a couple of months. The whole house was in an uproar as she sewed shirts and prepared for the big day. It was only natural that she wanted Jonah to get married too. After all, he was the oldest aside from his sister Hannah and she had married Will Lapp last year. If Buddy never married…well, that left Jonathan until Prudy came of age.
“Of course if she likes teaching…”
It was a lead in and he knew it. What Amish woman would rather teach the scholars than raise a family of her own? Amish women were raised to want a husband and a family. Big families filled with laughing kids and more cousins than they could count. Once upon a time Jonah had thought he’d have that with Lorie, but that dream was long gone.
He ignored his mother’s less-than-subtle attempts at dragging him into a conversation he didn’t want to have, one in which she would bestow the merits of marriage and the love of a good woman. “There’s a volleyball game at Obie Brenneman’s next weekend.”
“Are you going?” His mother’s eyes lit up like the amber lights the town put up around October. He knew she wanted him to stay closer to home and since Lorie…well, he’d been spending a lot of time in Tulsa with Luke Lambright and some of his English friends.
“Maybe.” He shrugged as if it were no big deal, but at least he’d gotten the conversation away from Sarah Yoder. He didn’t want to talk about her.
His gaze followed her around the playground. She walked from one family’s blanket to the next, talking and laughing and seemingly oblivious to his stare. He just couldn’t figure out what was so different about her, and heaven help him he was intrigued.
“I wanna go,” Buddy said. “Can I go? Can I?”
“Buddy, no,” his mother said. “That’s for the older kids.”
“But I’m older than Aaron and Jonathan and they get to go.”
Buddy ducked his head. “I know what you’re going to say. That’s different.”
Jonah turned back to his family, his mouth open to offer to see after Buddy at the game, but he knew his mother wouldn’t want him to interfere. He didn’t understand why his parents were so against Buddy socializing, but he knew they had their reasons. Still he couldn’t help feeling for his brother, so different than anyone else in Wells Landing. “I’ve got an idea,” he finally said. “Why don’t you and I go over to the Hein ranch.
Ezra Hein had married Lorie’s sister, Sadie. Even though Ezra was a Mennonite, the families had remained close. And Jonah knew that Ezra would welcome Buddy’s visit. Buddy loved watching the bison roam around the pasture. Up until earlier in the year, Ezra had also kept a few camels, but Jonah had heard that he’d sold those off to Titus Lambert. It was a good ways out to Ezra’s but it would be worth it to keep the smile on Buddy’s face.
“You mean that?” his brother asked.
“Of course I do.” Never mind that it would give him the opportunity to talk to Sadie and see if Lorie was truly happy. That was all he had ever wanted, her happiness. He just always thought he’d be the one to give it to her. Not some smooth talking Englisher. And once he knew she was happy… well, maybe then he could learn to move on.
At the thought, his gaze drifted back to Sarah. That was what was different. Not so long ago she would have done anything to sit next to him, talk to him, make sure that he knew she was around. And today? She had barely looked at him. Hadn’t spoken to him at all, and refused his sister’s invitation. An invite that could have landed them side by side eating pie.
Everyone knew that Sarah had a crush on him, but it seemed as if that time was over. Maybe, like Lorie, she had found someone else. Or maybe she had just given up on him ever noticing her. Whatever it was, he had noticed the change immediately. And it set well upon her shoulders.
“Look! Look!” Buddy hopped out of the car and raced toward the fence pointing at the bison as he ran.
Jonah chuckled and got out of the car, their driver following suit. Bruce Brown was one of the favorite drivers in these parts. A retired Air Force medic he had fabulous stories to tell and Jonah knew that Buddy loved to hear all about flying in an airplane.
Neither man spoke as Ezra Hein came out of the barn. He was dressed in blue jeans and a plaid shirt, black suspenders across his shoulders.
“Jonah,” he greeted, striding toward them. “How are you?”
How to answer that… “I’m gut, thanks.” So it wasn’t the exact truth. At least it wasn’t a lie either. He was making it. Just one day at a time, never looking beyond the next horizon. “And danki for letting me bring Buddy out today.”
Ezra cast a quick look over one shoulder. Buddy was up on the fence calling to the bison who munched grass and otherwise ignored him. “You’re welcome anytime. I love having Buddy visit.”
“How’s Sadie?” Bruce asked. He had driven for so many in the community it was as if he was one of them.
Ezra’s face lit up at the mention of his wife. “She’s good. At the doctor’s right now.”
“Did she take your mother in?”
Ezra’s grin depended. “We’re having a baby.”
Jonah’s heart turned over in his chest. He recognized it for what it was. He was jealous. He wanted the same happiness that he saw on Ezra’s face. But the chances of that happening now were slim to none. “Congratulations,” he managed to choke out as Bruce shook Ezra’s hand and clapped him on the back.
“Best news I’ve heard all week.” Bruce puffed out his chest almost as proud as the father to be himself.
“Absolutely.” Jonah forced a smile. He was happy for his friend, but he felt as if a little piece of him had died.
He had waited for Lorie for so long. She had been unsure about joining the church, then when her father died, she had pulled even further away. She hadn’t told Jonah the big secret, that she had discovered Henry Kauffman had had another life outside Wells Landing. One no one knew about. She had found a car, a grandmother, and herself an English beau. She had found herself and in turn Jonah had lost her.
He pushed those thoughts aside and centered his attention on Ezra. “That’s really great news.”
Ezra shot him a sympathetic smile. “How are you?” He had already asked that, but this time his meaning was clear. How are you really?
“I’m good.” And it was almost the truth. Lorie was gone, and he was doing everything he could to heal his broken heart. One day soon, he truly would be good and until then he was confessing that every chance he got.
“Have you been over to Abbie King’s?”
Jonah knew what he meant. Had he taken Buddy over there. “Not yet.”
“I hear they have a really smooth operation going.”
“With the camels?” Bruce asked.
“That’s pretty amazing. Camels in Wells Landing,” Jonah said. So many changes in the last couple of years. Nothing should surprise him now. “Maybe I’ll take Buddy over there next.” He would do whatever he could to keep his brother happy, especially since their parents weren’t going to let Buddy attend any normal youth functions. Maybe one day. But until then…
“Come on in the house,” Ezra said. “Sadie left a pitcher of limeade in the fridge.”
“I don’t know, Sarah. Do you think he’s sick?”
Sarah gave a cursory glance in the general direction of Jonah Miller. She didn’t want her gaze to linger too long. There was already enough talk in Wells Landing about the two of them. Or rather about her and how she loved him to distraction. She had given up and everyone was talking about the changes in her attitude toward Jonah. It wouldn’t do to go back on that now.
She shifted on the bench where she sat next to her cousin. The evening had started off simple enough. A volleyball game just after church at the Brenneman farm. The younger kids were singing in the barn, but the recently married couples came to enjoy a little more fellowship and exercise. Almost everyone in their group had gotten married recently. Except for her. And Jonah Miller.
But she was happy. Her classroom was under control. She had worked extra hard this summer getting better learning materials and decorating the large, one-room schoolhouse. Unlike many of the other districts in Pennsylvania and Ohio, Wells Landing only boasted two schools with the rest of the scholars attending public school with the English kids until grade eight. Sarah worried about their minds and what they were learning in such a modern place. But the elders knew best. She had to trust them and God to take care of the youth.
Her thoughts tumbling one over the other, her quick look had turned into so much more.
“He looks…he looks…” She couldn’t say the words. He looked terrible, gaunt. Sick just like her cousin Libby had said. Heartbroken. He hadn’t looked that bad at the back-to-school picnic a couple of weeks ago. Or had he? She had monitored her perusal of him then as well. He could have looked just as sad then, but she hadn’t noticed because she was too busy trying not to notice anything at all.
“You don’t think he really expected Lorie to come back, do you?” Libby asked.
Sarah didn’t know for certain, but if his current state of decline was any indication she would have to say yes. “I don’t know,” she murmured.
It was early September. Two full months since Lorie Kauffman married the Englisher Zach Calhoun. Two full months of Jonah dealing with the fact that she was never coming back.
“You know she’s been gone almost a year now,” Libby said.
“I know.” Somehow Sarah managed to keep herself in place as she watched him. She wanted nothing more than to go to him, offer him comfort. Tell him all the things that had been bubbling up inside her for so long. But he had rejected her so many times she wasn’t sure she could handle any more. And she had given up. Nothing could be between them. She had settled herself to her life’s calling: teaching. She had prayed and prayed about it and she knew in her heart that this is what God wanted from her.
“Maybe you should go talk to him.” Libby nudged her in the side.
Sarah shook her head. She had come here to watch volleyball and nothing more. She hadn’t come here to make a fool of herself over Jonah Miller. Not anymore. Never again.
“If you’re not going to talk to Jonah, then you should go see what Ben is doing.”
Libby nodded. “I heard that he really likes you.”
“Libby,” Sarah protested.
Her cousin shrugged. “If you won’t go after a boy who likes you, then go get the one you want.”
“I don’t want Jonah Miller.” And she surely didn’t want Ben Schrock. He was…well, not Jonah. “Besides you know I would never ‘go after a boy.’”
“You know what I mean. You can make yourself known to them. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
No, she didn’t suppose there was if she was Ivy Weaver. But she wasn’t. She was plain ol’ Sarah Yoder.
“Hey, Sarah.” Sam Troyer suddenly appeared as if out of nowhere.
Sarah jumped, then quickly recovered. “Hi, Sam.”
He grinned at her, then swung around until he was sitting on the ground at her feet.
“I think I hear Joseph calling,” Libby said, referring to her long-standing boyfriend, Joseph Byler. She waved and disappeared.
“Good.” Sam continued smiling as if he knew the best secret in the world. “I wanted to talk to you alone anyway.”
Sarah frowned. “You did?” Sam had a terrible reputation when it came to girls. He was an incurable flirt and flitted from one girlfriend to the next. Every unattached female in the district knew better than to take him seriously.
“Jah. I wanted to ask if I can take you home.”
“Today?” She studied his face looking for signs that he was joking with her. He seemed serious enough. But why had he set his sights on her tonight?
“Of course today. When else?”
“I just…I mean…” What had happened? Sam had never paid her two seconds of attention. Now, all the sudden, he wanted to take her home? “I came with Libby and Joseph.”
He waved away her words. “It’s okay. I’ve already talked to Joseph.” He had? “I wish you hadn’t done that.”
“That’s me. A take charge kind of guy. Are you ready?”
Sarah looked around. The crowd was beginning to thin. How had it gotten so late? She tried to spot Libby and Joseph in the few milling people left, but she didn’t see them anywhere. Knowing Joseph, he had taken Sam at his word. Joseph was nice enough, but not as smart as some. He’d probably never given a second thought to the fact that Sarah might not want to ride home with Sam.
Only a few of the un-promised guys were left, Jonah Miller being among them. But she could never be as forward as to go right up to him and ask to ride home with him.
Besides she had quit Jonah Miller.
No, she was better off taking her chances with Sam Troyer.