Authors: Marta Perry
“Ach, Libby, I am ser glad you are here. Esther—” She stopped, seeming to choke on her daughter’s name.
“It will be all right,” Libby said, with no assurance that her words were true. Still, Rebecca had to have hope, didn’t she?
She took a step back, trying not to let tears flow. “I’d expected to see you on this trip, but not here.”
“Ja.” Rebecca closed her eyes for a moment, probably in prayer.
She had aged in the past few years. Her hair was almost entirely gray now, the center part widening as it so often did with Amish women after years of pulling their hair back tightly under their kapp, the small white covering over their hair. Rebecca’s faded hazel eyes were red-rimmed from crying.
The younger woman put her arm around Rebecca’s waist. “We must have hope, Mamm Rebecca.” She reached out to clasp Libby’s hand. “It’s wonderful gut that you are here. I know that Esther was counting the days.”
“Ach, what am I thinking?” Rebecca straightened, as if calling on some reserve of strength. “Libby, you remember Mary Ann, Isaac’s wife.”
“Of course I do.” Libby managed a smile. Mary Ann was the wife of Esther’s older brother, Isaac, who ran the farm now. Esther and her mother shared the grandparents’ house, the daadi haus, next to the farmhouse. “How are the children?”
“All well.” Mary Ann, plump and rosy with a face made for smiling, looked distracted for a moment, as if her mind scampered off after her seven children. “Isaac stayed with them until a neighbor could komm. He and Bishop Amos are on their way here.”
“I’m glad you’ll have them with you.” Adam spoke for the first time, his voice gentle. “I’m afraid I have to ask you a few questions.”
The two women exchanged glances. “Isaac could answer better than we can,” Mary Ann said.
“I’m sure you can help. It’s nothing very hard. Why don’t you sit down?” He led Rebecca to a chair. Once she was seated, he knelt beside her. “Mrs. Zook, do you have any idea where Esther was going tonight?”
She shook her head. “She left right after supper. She said she had an errand to run, but that she wouldn’t be late. I thought it was something to do with school—maybe working on the Christmas program, or a parent she had to speak to.”
“Did she tell you which parent?” Adam asked, obviously hoping for someone who could tell him more about what Esther had been doing on that road at night.
Rebecca shook her head. “She would never talk about it if a child was having trouble in school. Chust to the parents.” Rebecca’s voice seemed to gain a bit of strength as she talked. “I waited and waited, there in the daadi haus, and she didn’t komm. Finally I went over to speak to Mary Ann, but she didn’t know where Esther had gone, either.” She clasped her hands together so tightly that the knuckles were white. “We didn’t know what to do.” Her voice seemed to run down.
Mary Ann sat down next to her, clasping her mother-in-law’s hands. “I didn’t know where Esther had gone, either.”
Adam surveyed her as if weighing her words. “Even if she didn’t say, you might have had an idea.”
“But I didn’t. I didn’t even know she was going out on such a cold night, or I’d have tried to get her to stay home, or have Isaac go with her.”
Libby could imagine what Esther would have said to that. She’d always resisted her brother’s efforts to take care of her, saying she could take care of herself. But this time, she couldn’t.
“Has anything been bothering Esther lately?” Adam’s tone was patient.
Both women shook their heads, but Libby thought she saw some faint reservation in the younger woman’s eyes.
Adam seemed to notice it, as well. He looked at Mary Ann for a long moment, but she didn’t speak.
Rebecca turned away from him, her hands twisting in Mary Ann’s grasp. “Why have we not heard anything?”
“What did the doctor say?” Libby brushed past Adam to sit down on Rebecca’s other side, the silky folds of her green dress touching his shoulder.
“Chust that she had to go into surgery right away if…if they were going to save her.” Tears filled Mary Ann’s eyes at the words.
Libby reached out to her, and the three women sat, hands linked.
Please. Please, don’t take Esther away from us.
The door burst open. Isaac, Esther’s brother, surged through, followed at a more moderate pace by the bishop of the local Amish church district.
Isaac went straight to his mother, breaking off the question in Pennsylvania Dutch when he saw there were others in the room. “What is happening with Esther?” His face was white above the straw-colored beard.
Libby’s throat tightened. She and Esther had joked, sometimes, about their brothers, pretending total exasperation with them, but knowing all the while that the bond ran deep. Isaac might have disagreed with Esther on almost every subject, but there was no doubt about his love for his sister.
Adam rose, stepping away to give the others space, and she slipped from her chair, letting Isaac sit next to his mother. He barely glanced at Libby, all his focus on Rebecca, and they spoke to each other in broken murmurs of Pennsylvania Dutch.
She took a step back and found Bishop Amos at her elbow. The elderly man shook his head gravely, his face lined with a thousand wrinkles that bore testimony to his years of service to his people.
“This is a bad business,” he said softly, almost to himself.
“Esther is still in surgery,” she said, answering the question he didn’t ask. “We won’t know anything until she comes out.” If she comes out. Libby tried to dismiss the thought, but it clung, tenacious.
Bishop Amos nodded, his wise eyes curious when they rested on her. “This has been a strange homecoming for you, Libby Morgan. Happiness and sorrow all mixed together.”
He spoke to her with the same easy familiarity he’d have used years ago, when she’d hung over his shoulder while he put new shoes on her pony. In addition to being a spiritual leader, Bishop Amos was also a farrier, something the Amish didn’t find remotely strange. Even a minister worked to earn his daily bread.
She nodded, tears coming to her eyes when she tried to speak. “I wish I had gotten here sooner.”
“It is as God wills,” he said softly.
As if to punctuate his words, the door swung open again. The doctor who stood there still wore surgical scrubs, and his gray hair stood up as if he’d just run his hands through it. His face was lined with fatigue. “Mrs. Zook?”
Rebecca rose, Mary Ann and Isaac supporting her on either side. “Ja,” she murmured, eyes dark with dread.
“Your daughter has come through the surgery.”
“Thank God,” Rebecca murmured. “Denke, Doctor.”
“The head injury was severe.” The doctor seemed to be picking his words carefully, watching her face to be sure she understood. “She is unconscious now.”
“But she will wake up,” Isaac said. “She will, won’t she?”
The doctor looked from him to his mother, and Libby’s heart turned to lead. She knew what he was going to say before the words were out of his mouth.
“I can’t tell you that. Right now, the best thing I can say is that she is alive.” He hesitated, face filled with sympathy. “The chances are not very good, I’m afraid. She may not last the night.”
There was a muffled cry from Mary Ann. Rebecca’s face seemed to freeze, as if refusing the words.
Libby didn’t realize she’d sagged until she felt Adam’s strong hand on her arm, supporting her. He held her, his face like a mask, while he addressed the doctor.
“There’s no chance that she could answer a question?”
The doctor seemed to take in the uniform as if he registered for the first time that this might be a police matter. “I’m afraid not now.” His voice had lowered, and he took a few steps toward them, away from Rebecca and her family. “She is in a coma, and we have to keep her that way for her brain to have any chance to heal.”
Libby sucked in a breath, absorbing the blow. Adam’s fingers tightened on her arm.
“So.” His voice was soft in her ear, maybe not even intended for her. “We may never know the truth.”
* * *
LIBBY HUNG THE green bridesmaid’s dress at the back of the closet. Not that she’d expected to have an occasion to wear the dress again anyway. That never seemed to happen, no matter how well a bridesmaid’s dress was chosen.
But this one—she ought to put it right in the trash. She’d never be able to look at it without reliving the fear she’d felt during those long hours at the hospital.
She hadn’t reached home until nearly dawn, after spending several hours sitting next to Esther’s bed. Isaac had hinted more than once that she ought to leave, but Rebecca clung to her, so she’d stayed. Besides, she couldn’t bear to go, thinking her last sight of Esther would be that still, waxworklike figure lying connected to so many tubes and machines.
Not having the patience to style her hair, Libby pulled it back into a ponytail. Mom had wanted her to go back to bed once she’d had some breakfast, but she couldn’t. She’d come upstairs to dress instead.
She itched with a restlessness so intense it was surprising she didn’t burst out of her skin. She had to do something for Esther, even if it was just sitting in the quiet room listening to the sound of the machines.
Crossing the bedroom, Libby pulled open a dresser drawer for a sweater. When she’d left for her first real job, she’d cleared her personal stuff from this room, insisting Mom use it for guests. Looking back on it, maybe that hadn’t been very tactful…like announcing she was never coming home again.
But if she hadn’t, Mom would have kept it as it was then, the walls covered with photos of people she barely remembered and events she’d be just as glad to forget. Like Link’s room. That had practically become a shrine when he’d joined the military.
But even though her high school mementos were gone, the bedroom still felt, in some way, hers. The quilt her grandmother had made still covered the sleigh bed in which Libby had slept from the time she’d graduated from her crib, and the bow-front dresser had a nick from the time she’d knocked out a baby tooth on it.
And it still bore a childhood photo. She picked up the silver frame. She clowned in front of a campfire with Trey and Link, while Dad looked on indulgently. She and Link must have been about ten, with Trey already turning into a gangling adolescent.
She traced Dad’s face with her finger, sorrow building in her. The photo had been taken at the cabin, the site of so many family outings. The place where her father had died.
She set the picture back in place. Mom would have taken it. She’d been the family photographer until Libby reached her teens and realized she could take pictures in which most of the subjects didn’t have their heads cut off by the camera, unlike Mom’s efforts.
That was the problem with coming home—you spent too much time thinking of what had been. She needed to concentrate on the here and now.
And thinking of photographs, where was her camera? She’d had it at the inn. It had been in her hands when she’d seen Adam walking toward her and known something was wrong. She certainly hadn’t taken it into the hospital with her.
A quick search of the room didn’t turn it up. She trotted down the stairs. “Mom? Are you here?”
Her mother appeared from the direction of the kitchen, a dish towel in one hand. Today she looked herself again, wearing jeans and an oversize Penn State sweatshirt, her gray curls tousled. “Libby, I thought you had gone back to bed.” Her voice was gently chiding.
“I couldn’t.” She took the last few steps in a hurry. “Have you seen my camera? Did you bring it home from the inn last night?”
Please say yes
, she pleaded silently, thinking of all the irreplaceable photos she’d taken yesterday.
But her mother was already shaking her head. “I didn’t see it, darling, or I would have. Are you sure it’s not in your coat or your bag?”
“It wouldn’t fit.” She went quickly to the bentwood coatrack where she’d hung her coat when she’d come in, searching the pockets even though she knew it was futile.