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Authors: Amy Lillard

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BOOK: Just Plain Sadie
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Sadie loved her work at the restaurant, she really did. But not like Cora Ann. At thirteen, her youngest sister was constantly poring over food magazines and recipes. Sadie even caught her on the Internet checking out different recipes on the restaurant's computer.
Jah
, Sadie was certain that one day Kauffman's Family Restaurant would be in Cora Ann's capable hands.
Mark took a couple of more steps in the direction that Chris had indicated. “I think I see it.” Then he grabbed Ruthie's hand and together they started in the opposite direction.
Sadie whirled around. “Where are you going?”
Mark turned and walked backward, not bothering to let go of Ruthie's hand as they continued. “Just because you want to buy buffalo meat doesn't mean we do.” He gave them a grin. “We'll meet you at the van.”
“Bison meat,” she corrected once again, then turned around just in time to see Will and Hannah head off down another aisle. She didn't even bother to ask them where they were going. It was like that these days. Since she and Chris were the only couple in their bunch who hadn't gotten married, she felt like a third wheel, even when they were together.
That wasn't exactly true. Lorie and Jonah had been a part of their group once upon a time, and they hadn't gotten married. And she and Chris weren't a couple. Just best friends, sidekicks. Even with all his promises to marry her once he returned from his trip to Europe.
“I guess it's just me and you.” Sadie sighed. The six of them had hired a driver to come to the market so they could shop and spend time together. So much for that.
Chris smiled. “Just the way I like it.”
Last week, those words would have made her heart pound in her chest, but today they only made her sad. Her time with Chris was growing smaller each day.
Together they made their way through the milling shoppers. The market was a great place to find fresh produce and other ingredients for the restaurant. Normally, Sadie loved coming and wandering through the stalls and stands, learning of new foods and tools. A little of anything and everything could be found at the market.
“Are you serious about Europe?” She hadn't meant to ask the question, but it had been building inside her for days. Ever since Chris had told her about his plans.

Jah.
Of course.”
She nodded.
“You haven't told anyone, have you?”
“No.” And she wouldn't. Not until he broke the news to his parents.
Chris pointed up ahead. “There it is.”
Sadie recognized the sign. “Hein Ranch,” it read. “Exotic Meats and Animals.” But the man standing at the booth was not the one who had been there earlier.
This man was . . .
She stumbled as he turned to face her.
The most handsome man she had ever seen.
A Mennonite.
“Can I help you?” he asked. His voice was smooth, not too deep. Just right. In fact, everything about him was just right, from his sun-streaked blond hair to his dark brown eyes.
He wore faded blue jeans like she had seen Zach Calhoun wear, an orange and white checkered shirt, and black suspenders. Suddenly she felt more than plain in her mourning black. Not that it mattered.

Jah
, I was here earlier talking to a guy about some bison meat.”
“That was my cousin. He was watching the booth for me. Ezra Hein,” he said with a nod.
“Sadie Kauffman. Nice to meet you,” she returned. “He gave me some quotes when we stopped by earlier. I have them here.” She reached into her bag and pulled out the piece of paper with the price per pound that the cousin had written down for her. Her hands were trembling as she handed it to Ezra.
“That's a lot of meat,” he said.
“My family owns a restaurant in Wells Landing.”
He nodded.
Was it her or was this conversation awkward? Probably because instead of talking about meat and restaurants, she'd rather be talking about anything else with him.
He had to be the most intriguing man she had ever seen. Attractive, polite . . .
She pushed those thoughts away. He was a Mennonite, and she was Amish. He was handsome, and she was plain. What would a guy like him want with a girl like her?
“Do you get the meat locally?” she asked, trying to remember all the things
Mamm
had wanted her to ask.
“You could say that. We raise them ourselves, then send them to a butcher in Tulsa. He packages everything there and we pick it up when it's ready.”
“Really?”
He smiled. “Yes. We also have ostriches and deer, if you're interested. All of our stock is organically fed. Even the camels.”
“Camels? You don't eat them, do you?” She tried to not make a face. But camel meat?
Ezra laughed. “No, we keep them for brush control.”
“Camels, ostriches, bison, and deer? That sounds like quite a farm.”
“It's a ranch, really. You should come out and see it sometime.”
She would like nothing more. And suddenly Chris going to Europe didn't seem like the end of her world. “I would like that.” She smiled. “So can you supply us with that much bison?”
He nodded. “Of course. When would you like delivery?”
She waited as he worked out the details of the order. Then she signed the papers, handed him a business card for the restaurant, and shook his hand, loving the feel of his strong grip and his warm, calloused fingers.
What was wrong with her? She must have been out in the heat too long, though it was the prettiest day in January that she could ever remember. Seventy degrees couldn't really be described as hot.
“Well, Sadie Kauffman. I'll be seeing you.”
She smiled at his words. Was that promise she heard in his voice, or merely wishful thinking on her part?
“He's flirty,” Chris commented as they turned to go. He wore a frown on his face, his brow wrinkled with disapproval.
Sadie had almost forgotten he was with her. “He's just nice,” she said.
“If you say so.”
“I do.” As they walked back down the aisle to find their friends, Sadie looked back at the stand.
Ezra was looking after them, her business card in one hand and a smile on his face. He caught her gaze and gave her a little wave.
Sadie returned it, then faced front, trying not to count down the days until she would see Ezra again.
Chapter Two
Ezra packed up the last of his stand and closed the tailgate of his ranch truck. The card that Sadie Kauffman gave him burned in his pocket somewhere over his chest. How a tiny piece of paper could feel so heavy and warm was a mystery he was sure to never uncover. But he was intrigued. It was that simple.
He went around to the driver side and slid onto the bench seat. His cousin, Logan, slipped into the passenger side as Ezra started the engine.
“It was a pretty good day, don't you think?” Logan asked as they pulled the truck from the parking lot.
“Yeah,” Ezra said as he eased onto the street that would take them to the highway and back to the Mennonite community of Taylor Creek.
“Did that girl come back?”
“Which girl?” Ezra asked, though he knew. Logan was talking about the Amish girl, Sadie. The one Ezra couldn't get out of his head.
“The Amish girl looking for bison meat. Kinda plain. A little on the quiet side.”
Quiet Ezra could agree with, but plain? Not a word he would use to describe her. He supposed if a person took all of her features and examined them, she might be considered on the ordinary side. Her smile maybe. Or it could be her eyes. Though they were merely hazel and not anything traditionally unusual. Still, there was something about Sadie Kauffman. An energy that hummed around her like electricity during a thunderstorm.
“Yeah,” Ezra finally managed. “She came back.” He turned on his blinker and changed lanes. “She said her family owns a restaurant in Wells Landing.”
“That one on Main Street?” Logan asked.
Ezra shrugged. “I guess so.” Unlike his friends and cousins, Ezra rarely made it out of Taylor Creek. He had work to do. And a lot of it. His mother depended on him. He couldn't be running all over the county. That was why he hired others to deliver his exotic meats. That was one thing he could trust others with. But his animals . . . they were like family members. He didn't trust them with anyone. He couldn't walk down the street and randomly pick out people who could take care of his exotics. That responsibility was his and his alone.
“You, cousin, need to get out more.” Logan smiled at him in that rascally way that he had. Ezra knew the look well. A few years back he would have returned the grin with one of his own, equally mischievous. But that was before . . .
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, hoping his cousin would drop the matter. He was tired of defending himself. Tired of having to explain why he worked so hard. None of them seemed to understand. Of course, none of them had come home to find their father gone and their mother weeping on the floor.
He shook his head, releasing those thoughts. They led nowhere good. No sense looking back. Only to remember and know what
not
to do.
“So are you in?” Logan tapped his hand against the seat between them, shaking Ezra from his thoughts.
“In?”
Logan sighed. “The volleyball game tonight. Michael got the rec center and everything.”
“I don't—”
“Before you finish that, remember, you promised to play tonight.”
He had, but somehow his heart wasn't in it. He sighed. “Right. Volleyball.”
Logan nodded. “You'll be there?”
“I'll be there,” he replied. In body. But he had a feeling his mind would be someplace else.
* * *
“Ezra, is that you?”
“Yeah, Mom.” He tossed his truck keys onto the table by the front door and ran a hand over the back of his neck. He felt antsy and strange, like he was waiting for something to happen but he didn't know what.
“Did you have a good day at the market?” she called again, most likely from the kitchen. It seemed she spent a lot of time these days looking out the back window over the small table just off from the breakfast nook. She said she liked to watch the animals play and walk about in the bright winter sun, but he had a feeling it was more than that. From her favorite perch she could see half the ranch and the road that ran in front of it. Was she expecting someone to come?
He shook his head as she rolled her wheelchair into the living room. She caught sight of him and he stopped. “What?” she asked.
“Nothing.” He bent to kiss her cheek. He never went a day without showing his affection. She was everything to him. All he had left in this world.
Sort of.
“Michael called,” she said. “He wanted to remind you about the volleyball game tonight.”
He was going to get no peace in the matter. Like it or not, he had to go. Well, that wasn't exactly right. It wasn't that he didn't like it. There was so much that needed to be done at the ranch that he hated taking time out for games.
“Are you going?” Mom asked. It was as if she knew his thoughts.
Ever since his dad had left, his mother had been a little more wrapped up in herself. It was understandable, really, but that didn't mean Ezra had to like it. But when it came to him, she seemed to have a sixth sense, some sort of direct line to his thoughts and emotions. She didn't always use it, but he knew it was there.
“Of course.” What else could he say?
Mom smiled. “Good. You don't get out enough.”
He might not get out enough, but she didn't get out at all. Where was the justice in that?
* * *
Saturday morning dawned much like Friday had, bright and sunny and chilly. Such was to be expected of January in Oklahoma.
Ezra started out to the barn for his morning chores, not at all surprised when he saw his cousin pull into the drive.
“Good morning.” He waved to Logan, who pulled his older-model Ford F-150 onto the side yard and cut the engine.
“Hey,” he called in return. “What brings you out on this fine Saturday morning?” He asked the question, but he knew. It was sort of a game they played. Every three or four days, Logan would come out to the ranch and offer his help. Ezra would insist that he didn't need it and would send Logan on his way.
“I thought I might come by this morning and give you a hand.” Logan shut his truck door and pulled a pair of work gloves from his back pocket.
That was a new part of their dance. Ezra had never known him to bring gloves.
“No need. I've got it all under control.”
“Huh-uh. That's what I thought you'd say.” But instead of getting back into his truck, Logan continued toward the barn.
Ezra hustled to catch up. “You aren't staying. There's no need.”
“That's exactly what I thought you would say.”
“Then I'll see you later.” Help was the last thing he wanted. He had everything under control. He didn't need outside assistance. He didn't want it.
Like a calf trailing behind its mother, Ezra followed his cousin into the barn.
“See?” he said once their eyes had adjusted to the dim interior. The barn was immaculate. Exactly the way he always kept it. He worked hard and diligently to keep up his ranch. He was proud of the work he did. And he did it alone. Always.
“It's perfect. Which only means one thing.”
“That it's time for you to go home?”
“That you need a girlfriend.”
Ezra propped his hands on his hips. “Says who?”
Logan hooked a thumb toward his chest. “Says me.”
“And why is that?” Unable to take much more of the banter, Ezra snagged a shovel off the wall and started toward one of the stalls.
“Just being a good cousin,” Logan said.
Ezra wasn't buying it. “Why are you really here?”
“I want to help you so you can have more free time.”
“I've got plenty of free time.”
Last night, volleyball had been fun if not frivolous. But he had taken a spill and had a goose egg on his knee that ached like the dickens. He was going to have to be more careful if he was going to be able to complete his work and please his friends and his mother.
He had to put up with a lot of good-natured teasing from his friends, but he was determined to make something of his ranch, provide for his mother, and live the best life possible for God. Couldn't find a lot of fault with that, he supposed. But he knew that everyone thought he didn't take enough time to have fun.
“Sure you do,” Logan countered.
“I do,” Ezra shot back. Maybe he should have ignored his cousin and set about his work, but Ezra felt as if he constantly had to defend his choices.
“Seriously, though,” Logan said. “You work way too hard.”
It was the same old argument, time and time again. But no one understood. How could they? They didn't walk in his shoes. He did what needed to be done, in the time that he had to do it, in the life that he was given. There was no more to it than that. He had responsibilities, a ranch to run, a mother to take care of. And quite frankly, he'd grown tired of defending his very existence.
“Uh-huh,” Ezra murmured, totally shutting out anything else Logan said. It wasn't like he really needed to hear it again. It was the same argument from yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.
Instead, he made a mental note to call his butcher in Tulsa and talk to him about the bison meat. Normally his customers tended to be families looking for low-fat organic alternatives to grocery store beef. He hadn't sold anything to a restaurant before, and he was excited at the opportunity. Maybe this was what he needed to get Hein's Exotic Meats on the map.
He finished up the stalls while Logan fed all the animals. Ezra hated to admit it, but the work did go much quicker with another set of strong, capable hands there to help. But he knew that assistance wouldn't come without a price.
“So,” Logan started. He pulled off his gloves, slapped them against one thigh, then tucked them into the back pocket of his jeans. “About tonight.”
And so it begins.
Ezra narrowed his gaze at his cousin. “What about tonight?”
“Well, there's a singing . . .”
Of course there was. It was Saturday night. What else were Mennonite boys and girls supposed to do but get together and sing?
“And I thought maybe you might want to go with me.”
“You and me?” Ezra asked. “Like in a date?”
“No, no, no, no, no, that's not what I mean.”
Ezra loved watching his cousin squirm. “Then what do you mean?”
“Mindy and I are going, of course.”
“And?”
“Well, Mom and Dad said that Jennifer could go with us. And I thought it might be fun if you joined too.”
“Jennifer, as in your sister Jennifer? Are you trying to set me up with my own cousin?”
Logan said something under his breath, then he ran his hands through his dark brown hair. “That's not it either. Jennifer likes Dustin.”
No big secret there. Ezra nodded. “Go on.”
“Well, word about town is that Dustin is going to the singing tonight with Annie K. So we thought that if you came with Jennifer . . .”
“You thought that if I went to the singing with Jennifer, then Dustin would get jealous, drop Annie K for Jennifer, and then I could escort Annie K home. Is that right?”
Logan ran a hand over the back of his neck as a sheepish grin spread across his face. “When you say it like that, it sounds a little—”
“Crazy?” Ezra raised one brow to show this to be his thoughts on the matter as well. “It's beyond crazy.” Which could only mean one thing. Only half of it was true. It seemed to him that Logan was doing everything in his power to set him up with somebody, most likely Annie K.
It wasn't that he didn't like Annie K. He just had lots and lots to do. Too much to go running about, courting and finding a wife, and all the other little details that went along with having a girlfriend.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” Ezra said.
“Don't be like that,” Logan argued.
Be like what?
was on the tip of Ezra's tongue, but he bit back the words. Arguing with Logan was somewhat like beating his head against a brick wall. It wasn't fun and it served no purpose. He wasn't going to win.
“Thanks for helping out today, man.” Ezra nodded in his direction, then spun on his heel and headed out of the barn.
“Wait!” He heard Logan move behind him, hustling to catch up. “It's only one night. Surely you can spare that.”
They didn't get it, and Ezra had grown weary of explaining. One night tonight, another night tomorrow, two more days later and he was so behind he couldn't see the light of day.
“Do this for me. This one time,” Logan begged. “And I won't ask anything from you again.”
“Why is it so important to you for me to go to this singing?”
“Mindy and I are setting a date.” Logan's words were quiet in the cool January air.
Ezra swallowed back the lump that rose into his throat and reached his hand out to his cousin. “Congratulations, man.”
Logan shook it with a sappy grin. “We're so happy.”
“And I'm happy for you,” Ezra said.
Truly he was.
But he didn't see what that had to do with him.
Logan caught his gaze. His blue eyes filled with sincerity and love as they met his. “I don't want you to be alone.”
Ezra smiled. “I'm not alone. I have Mom.”
To Logan's credit, he didn't point out the obvious. With his mother's illness, she was not likely to live for another ten years. But in ten years a lot of things could happen, medical advances could be made; people changed, health issues could improve. Who knew? Maybe she could learn to let go of the past, and with it, some of the bitterness that turned her mouth down at the corners. And if she could do that . . . Well, maybe she could get a little better. Live a little longer. Stay with him a little while more.
BOOK: Just Plain Sadie
13.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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