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Authors: Linda Castillo

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural

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BOOK: After the Storm
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“Ohmigod! Ohmigod!” Choking back sobs, she ran from the barn. She knew if the men looked they would see her, but she didn’t care. She didn’t slow down. Didn’t look back. She reached the fence, squeezed between the wires, tearing her shirt on a barb, cutting her arm. But she felt no pain. Then she was on the path, sneakers pounding dirt. Arms pumping. Legs burning. Terror in hot pursuit.

Her own screams chased her all the way home.

August 30, 1985

She arrived at the covered bridge twenty minutes early. She hadn’t told a soul where she was going, and she was so nervous she felt as if she might crawl right out of her skin. But she was excited, too, and glad they’d chosen this place to meet. The Tuscarawas Bridge was special. They’d met here dozens of times over the summer. It was a place of first kisses, whispered promises, the laughter of young lovers, and dreams for the future. Or, if you were alone, it was the kind of place you could just sit and think.

This afternoon was so quiet she could hear the red-winged blackbirds swooping from tree to tree down by the deep pool, and the bees buzzing around the yellow tops of the goldenrod that grew along the muddy bank of Painters Creek. Hefting her satchel, she entered the shade of the covered bridge where it was marginally cooler. She’d worn her best dress today and the black
kapp
normally reserved for preaching services every other Sunday. Gathering the skirt of her dress, she sat down beneath the window that looked out over the meandering creek. It was so peaceful. She wished for that same peace in her own heart, but it was not to be.

She’d never experienced so many conflicting emotions as she had this past week. The thought of starting a new life with him made her so happy she could barely contain it. Yet the thought of leaving her family behind filled her with sadness. Oh, how she would miss Mamm and Datt and the little ones! How would she get through the day without the love and wisdom of her parents? How could she go to sleep at night without the hugs and kisses of her brother and sisters? Did they know how much she loved them? Would they always remember her?

The alternative, of course, was living the rest of her life without the man she loved—the man she was going to marry—and that wasn’t an option. It didn’t matter that he was
Mennischt
—Mennonite—and New Order, to boot. He was a good man, kind and hardworking. Most important, he loved her. He wanted to marry her. What did it matter that he loved God in a slightly different way or that his belief system included modern conveniences and driving a car?

It mattered to her parents. She’d tried to explain to them that he would be a good husband. That he would work hard and provide for her and their children. But they were Swartzentruber, the most conservative of all the Amish groups. Her parents were
demutig,
meaning “low” or “humble,” and they adhered to the strict traditionalism of their forefathers. They drove windowless buggies with steel-clad wooden wheels. Not only did they spurn electricity, but their home was devoid of indoor plumbing and even linoleum flooring. Her
mamm
wore a bonnet and a dress that reached nearly to her ankles. Her
datt
never trimmed his beard.

Her parents believed those values promised them a place in heaven. But she knew those staunch values also meant they would never listen to her. They would never understand. And they would never, ever approve. In the end, they’d left her no choice but to choose. Her family—her very
Amishness
—or a future with the man she loved more than her own existence.

They’d met most recently two days ago at this very spot. She’d laughed when he’d gotten down on one knee and proposed. Rings aren’t exchanged when an Amish couple becomes engaged, but she’d felt like a princess when he told her he’d put one on layaway—a real diamond set into a simple gold band—and he’d be picking it up when he got paid. Her joy was dampened only when she reminded him that her parents would never give their blessing. She was only seventeen years old, but she’d already been baptized. She would be put under the
bann.
Excommunicated. No one would speak to her. No one would take meals with her. Worst of all, they would forbid her to see her brother and sisters. How the thought hurt her heart!

Last night, after everyone went to bed, she’d pulled out her satchel and packed. Underwear. Socks. A change of clothes. A bar of her
mamm
’s lye soap. A copy of
Martyrs Mirror.
She didn’t have room for the nearly twelve-hundred-page book, but it was the one item she couldn’t live without. No matter how troubled her soul, the old tome, with its accounts of the Anabaptists who’d died for their faith, both horrified and inspired her to love God even more. In the coming days, she was going to need every ounce of strength and faith she could muster.

This morning, after Datt left, she sneaked into the bedrooms of her brother and sisters for final kisses, her tears leaving their soft cheeks nearly as wet as hers. “I love you little ones,” she’d whispered. “Be good.” She’d hoped that in a few weeks or months, her parents would realize how much they missed her and welcome her back. But she didn’t think so, and that made her cry even harder because deep inside she knew she’d never see them again.

It took her two hours to walk to the covered bridge. She’d broken a sweat every time a car or buggy passed. She was terrified someone she knew would see her and tell her parents. Of course, it didn’t matter really. They would find out soon enough. Even if they tried to stop her, she wouldn’t change her mind. Nothing could stop her now. Nothing.

Slipping off her shoes, she strolled over to the place where he’d carved their initials into the wood. It was a silly thing, but the sight of it made her cry again. Finally, after months of sneaking around and fearing exposure, they’d be together, only now as husband and wife. There would be a wedding. A home. Children. Her chest swelled with love, and not for the first time she asked God how something so right and pure and good could be bad.

Finally, emotionally spent, she went back to her satchel and sat down. He was late, as usual, and she couldn’t wait to see him. She could picture his face. So handsome. Such kind eyes. The secret smile he had only for her. He’d be here any moment in that old car of his, elbow out the window, radio blaring, hair blowing in the wind. All she had to do was sit and wait. She figured she could wait forever if that’s what it took.

“Hurry, my love,” she whispered. “Hurry.”

 

CHAPTER 1

Present day

I was eight years old when I learned there were consequences for associating with the English. Consequences that were invariably negative and imposed by well-meaning Amish parents bent on upholding the rules set forth by our Anabaptist forefathers nearly three hundred years ago. In my case, this particular life lesson transpired at the horse auction near Millersburg and involved a twelve-year-old English boy and the Appaloosa gelding he was trying to sell. Add me to the mix, and it was a dangerous concoction that ended with me taking a fall and my father’s realization that I saw the concept of rules in a completely different light—and I possessed an inherent inability to follow them.

I never forgot the lesson I learned that day or how much it hurt my eight-year-old heart, which, even at that tender age, was already raging against the unfairness of the
Ordnung
and all of those who would judge me for my transgressions. But the lessons of my formative years didn’t keep me from breaking the same rules time and time again, defying even the most fundamental of Amish tenets. By the time I entered my teens, just about everyone had realized I couldn’t conform and, worse, that I didn’t fit in, both of which are required of a member of the Amish community.

Now, at the age of thirty-three, I can’t quite reconcile myself to the fact that I’m still trying to please those who will never approve and failing as miserably as I did when I was an inept and insecure fifteen-year-old girl.

“Stop worrying.”

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of John Tomasetti’s Tahoe, not sure if I’m impressed by his perceptivity or annoyed because my state of mind is so apparent. We’ve been living together at his farm for seven months now, and while we’ve had some tumultuous moments, I have to admit it’s been the happiest and most satisfying time of my life.

Tomasetti, a former detective with the Cleveland Division of Police, is an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Like me, he has a troubled past and more than his share of secrets, some I suspect I’m not yet privy to. But we have an unspoken agreement that we won’t let our pasts dictate our happiness or how we live our lives. Honestly, he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I like to think the sentiment runs both ways.

“What makes you think I’m worried?” I tell him, putting forth a little attitude.

“You’re fidgeting.”

“I’m fidgeting because I’m nervous,” I say. “There’s a difference.”

He glances at me, scowling, but his eyes are appreciative as he runs them over me. “You look nice.”

I hide my smile by looking out the window. “If you’re trying to make me feel better, it’s working.”

Good humor plays at the corner of his mouth. “It’s not like you to change clothes four times.”

“Hard to dress for an Amish dinner.”

“Especially when you used to be Amish, apparently.”

“Maybe I should have made an excuse.” I glance out the window at the horizon. “Weatherman said it’s going to rain.”

“It’s not like you to chicken out.”

“Unless it’s my brother.”

“Kate, he invited you. He wants you there.” He reaches over, sets his hand on my thigh just above my knee, and squeezes. I wonder if he has any idea how reassuring the gesture is. “Be yourself and let the chips fall.”

I don’t point out that being myself is exactly the thing that got me excommunicated from my Amish brethren in the first place.

He makes the turn into the long gravel lane of my brother Jacob’s farm. The place originally belonged to my parents but was handed down to him, the eldest male child, when they passed away. I mentally brace as the small apple orchard on my right comes into view. The memories aren’t far behind, and I find myself looking down the rows of trees, almost expecting to see the three Amish kids sent to pick apples for pies. Jacob, Sarah, and I had been inseparable back then, and instead of picking apples, we ended up playing hide-and-seek until it was too dark to see. As was usually the case, I was the instigator. Kate, the
druvvel-machah.
The “troublemaker.” Or so my
datt
said. The one and only time I confessed to influencing my siblings, he punished me by taking away my favorite chore: bottle-feeding the three-week-old orphan goat I’d named Sammy. I’d cajoled and argued and begged. I was rewarded by being sent to bed with no supper and a stomachache from eating too many green apples.

The house is plain and white with a big front porch and tall windows that seem to glare at me as we veer right. The maple tree I helped my
datt
plant when I was twelve is mature and shades the hostas that grow alongside the house. In the side yard, I catch sight of two picnic tables with mismatched tablecloths flapping in the breeze.

I take in the old chicken house ahead and the big barn to my left, and it strikes me how much of my past is rooted in this place. And how much of it is gone forever. When you’re Amish, there are no photos. There are no corny albums or school pictures or embarrassing videos. My parents have long since passed, which means everything that happened here, both good and bad, exists only in my memory and the memories of my siblings. Maybe that’s why I can’t stay away. No matter how many times my brother hurts me, I always come back, like a puppy that’s been kicked but knows no other place to be, no other comfort.

I want to share this part of my past with Tomasetti. I want him to stand in the shade of the maple tree while I tell him about the day Datt and I planted it. How proud I’d been when the buds came that first spring. I want to walk the fields with him and show him where the fallen log was that I took our old plow horse over when I was thirteen years old. I want to show him the pond where I caught my first bass. The same pond that saw Jacob and I duke it out over a hockey game. He might have been older and bigger, but he didn’t fight dirty; not when it came to me, anyway. I, on the other hand, was born with the killer instinct he lacked, and he was usually the one who walked away with a black eye or busted lip. He never ratted on me, but I’ll never forget the way he looked at me all those times when he lied to our parents to protect me and was then punished for it. And I never said a word.

Tomasetti parks in the gravel area behind the house and shuts down the engine. The buggy that belongs to my sister, Sarah, and my brother-in-law, William, is parked outside the barn. As I get out of the Tahoe, I see my sister-in-law, Irene, come through the back door with a bread basket in one hand, a plastic pitcher in the other.

She spots me and smiles. “
Nau is awwer bsil zert,
Katie Burkholder!” Now it’s about time!

I greet her in Pennsylvania Dutch.
“Guder nammidaag.”
Good afternoon.

“Mir hen Englischer bsuch ghadde!”
she calls out. We have non-Amish visitors!

The screen door slams. I glance toward the house to see my sister, Sarah, coming down the porch steps juggling a platter of fried chicken and a heaping bowl of green beans. She wears a blue dress with an apron, a
kapp
with the ties hanging down her back, and nondescript black sneakers. “Hi, Katie!” she says with a little too much enthusiasm. “The men are inside.
Sie scheie sich vun haddi arewat
.” They shrink from hard work.

Irene sets the pitcher and basket on the picnic table, then spreads her hands at the small of her back and stretches. She’s wearing clothes much like my sister’s. A blue dress that’s slightly darker. Apron and
kapp.
A pair of battered sneakers.
“Alle daag rumhersitze mach tem faul,”
she says, referring to the men. Sitting all day makes one lazy.

BOOK: After the Storm
7.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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