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Authors: Amy Lillard

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BOOK: Just Plain Sadie
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The thought disappointed him for two reasons. One, he wouldn't get to see Sadie again. And two, Cora Ann had been so excited to come see the animals that he hated to break her heart. The whole family was in black, and he knew that their father had passed away recently. It didn't feel right to offer another blow like that to a thirteen-year-old girl. Perhaps there was another way. Perhaps he could get Cora Ann and Sadie's mom to come out to the ranch. But that didn't allow him to see Sadie, now did it?
“Are you saying you don't want me to come out to the ranch?”
He was making a mess of this. “That's not what I said at all. I got the feeling that your friends don't like us hanging out with each other. I was trying to save you the trouble of telling me yourself.”
“So you do want me to come?”
A loaded question if he'd ever heard one. “I want you to do what you want to do. I'm going to be at the ranch either way come Saturday night.” Mainly because he wasn't dating anybody. Never really had. Traditionally, the Mennonite guys got with their honeys on Saturday night. The boy would be invited to the girl's home, and the two young people would sit in the parlor and talk. It was as good a way to get to know each other as any, he supposed. But he would much rather walk around the ranch and show Cora Ann all the animals and Sadie the new emu he'd brought on the property this week. She was a pretty thing, a lot smaller than the ostriches. Now if he could find a male to go with her, he'd be all set. For now, anyway, until he finally got the alpacas he was always talking about.
He shook his head, trying to bring his thoughts back in line. He was tired, or not thinking right because of all the emotional baggage that came along for the ride tonight. They'd gone bowling. That sounded easy enough. But he should have known that nothing would be that simple when a Mennonite and an Amish were involved.
He pulled his truck onto the side of the road and left his lights on in case any oncoming traffic needed to see him.
“Listen, Sadie, I like you. You're fun to be around. But I understand. You have a life. So does Chris, right?”
Sadie nodded.
“I've got the ranch. It's not like we have tons of time on our hands to explore any of this.”
“Can you tell me exactly what you mean? I'm confused now.”
He reached down and flipped on the interior lights so he could see her expression. She was cute when she was muddled. And he had to stifle back a small laugh.
“I enjoy spending time with you.”
“Me too.” She appeared nervous in saying those words and rubbed her fingers down the black skirt in her lap.
“But I have a lot to do these days. And I don't have time for a girlfriend.”
“I'm busy too,” Sadie said. “I'm not looking for a boyfriend.” He heard the words, but somehow felt she didn't mean them. Maybe it was the way she looked at her fingers instead of at him when she said that she didn't want a boyfriend. Or maybe there was something still going on with Chris.
Oh, the drama, he thought. He could do without that. “I think we would make good friends, don't you?”
She looked up at him and smiled. “
Jah
. I do.”
Was that relief on her face? Was she thankful that he didn't want her as a girlfriend and that she would have another friend to lean on? He might not ever know.
“So it's official. We're friends, right?”
Sadie nodded.
“Just friends.”
“Yeah,” Sadie agreed. “Just friends.”
* * *
She was fairly certain that the conversation she had with Ezra at the side of the road on the way home from bowling was the most bizarre conversation she'd ever had with a man. But something he said made her feel warm inside like someone had let loose a small ray of sunshine. She did want to be his friend. The thought was kind of strange, considering she'd been friends with Chris for so long and when she finally wanted more from him, he was leaving. But it was good to know that she had Ezra. She would have a friend after Chris had gone to Europe. She didn't want to say that Ezra would take Chris's place, because that couldn't happen. But she was sure she could find room for Ezra in her life.
He pulled his truck to a stop and put it in park, though he didn't turn off the engine. “Do you need me to walk you in?”
Sadie shook her head. Her
mamm
was still at the restaurant, another of the reasons that it was okay that Ezra came to get her for this outing. Maybe with a little time,
Mamm
would to get used to the idea that her daughter had a Mennonite friend. Sadie was sure they would go through the whole boyfriend-just-friend conversation four or five more times before it finally took hold. But she was okay with that. Ezra was worth it.
“I'll be fine. Thanks for going with me tonight. And I'm sorry if my friends—”
“Say no more.” Ezra shook his head and held up a hand to reinforce his words. “I had a really great time, and as strange as it may seem, I'm kind of glad that you have friends who look out for you like that. There's a lot of girls out there who need someone to watch out for them, and you've got three.”
Sadie smiled. Noah, Will, and Mark were like the three older brothers she never wanted. But she was still glad to have them on her side.
“About Saturday,” Ezra started. “You get off at three again?”

Jah
.”
“Pick you up at three fifteen?”
“That'd be good. I'll see you then.”
Ezra nodded, and acted as if he want to say something else. Then he gave her a small wave and headed back down the driveway.
Sadie started toward the house, not really understanding why her footfalls seemed so heavy. She had such a good time with Ezra, if she took out the interrogation she got from her friends over the matter. Being with Ezra was a lot of fun. She was glad to have him as a friend. She was to the door of the house before she realized she had left her bowling ball in the back of his truck.
She'd have to get that later, she thought as she let herself in.
“There you are!” Her
mamm
jumped up from the rocking chair and rushed toward her. “I cannot believe what I am hearing.”
A thousand questions popped into Sadie's mind all at once. Topping the list were “Why are you here?” and “What can't you believe?” But she refrained from asking either.
Instead she looked at her mother's hand wrapped in a pristine white bandage. One finger had been splinted with some sort of metal. The bandage ran from the end of her pointer finger on her left hand all the way to the wrist. “
Mamm!
What have you done?”
“I cut myself at work. It's no big deal.”
It looked like a big deal to Sadie. It was obvious her mother had gone to some kind of medical facility to seek help. Which meant she had to leave the restaurant. Which meant somebody had to take her. “How did you get to the doctor?”
“Esther took me.” She shook her head as if not wanting to think about such matters at this time. Esther Fitch ran the bakery at the end of the same building that housed the restaurant. Esther was a good friend to them all. They looked out for each other, being in the same building and all. And it didn't hurt that Esther and her new husband Abe Fitch shared an apartment in the back of her shop, the same apartment she had once shared with Caroline Hostetler before Caroline married Abe's nephew, Andrew Fitch.
“Who took care of things at the restaurant?”
“Sadie! Hush up. I want to know about this Mennonite boy.”
Sadie's concerns burst inside her chest, invading every part of her, or maybe it was anxiety. How many times was she going to have to defend her relationship with Ezra Hein? Or her lack of relationship. They'd decided tonight to just be friends. It was a decision they both made, they both agreed upon, and she couldn't help what anybody else thought.
“You've met him. His name is Ezra. He's a rancher. He raises the bison that we bought to serve in the restaurant. Among other things.”

Jah
, I know all this,”
Mamm
snapped. “I want to know why you saw fit to go bowling with him tonight.”
How had her mother found out about that? “
Mamm
, we're just friends.”
“You know what your father always said.”

Jah,
I do. But that doesn't apply. He's a nice guy, and he wants nothing more from me other than friendship.” Her heart gave a funny flip-flop when she said the words. It felt like a fish out of water, gasping for air, tossing around to find what it needed to live. Why she felt that way was anyone's guess.
Chapter Eight
Sadie wasn't the only one counting down the days till Saturday. Cora Ann was about as excited as any one girl could be. Sadie couldn't help but smile as she bustled around Saturday, humming under her breath as she waited tables, filled water glasses, and otherwise floated through the restaurant.
She half expected
Mamm
to tell them they couldn't go, but when three fifteen came and the blue pickup truck pulled up out front, she only said for them to be careful and not come home too late.
Sadie grabbed her coat while Cora Ann slipped her arms into hers, and together the two of them walked arm in arm out of the restaurant.
Ezra smiled when he caught sight of them, giving them a tiny wave as they approached.
“Hi,” he said as he came around and opened the passenger side door.
“Hi,” she said. It wasn't a date. They had decided that. They were friends. Nothing more. So why was she standing there acting all nervous?
Her gaze snagged Ezra's and they stood there for a moment just looking at each other while Cora Ann chatted on about all the dishes she had made with the bison meat.
Sadie rustled herself around and turned to her sister. “Cora Ann, I'm sure Ezra isn't interested in your bison-stuffed bell peppers,” she admonished as gently as she could.
“He might be.”
Ezra laughed. “Only if you make some for me.” He waited for them to get in the truck, then shut the door behind them and went around to the driver's side again.
“Of course I will!” Cora Ann clapped her hands together in excitement. “When do you want them?”
Sadie opened her mouth to protest, to tell Cora Ann that after today she'd probably never see Ezra Hein again unless they ordered more bison meat. And who said even then they had to see him? But Ezra spoke first.
“I'm supposed to deliver some emu oil to the compounding pharmacy on Tuesday. How about then?”
“Deal.” Cora Ann stuck out one hand to shake Ezra's. “Unless you'd rather have the bison steak I made. I put horseradish sauce on it. Yum.”
“Either one is fine with me. They both sound delicious. You decide.” He leaned forward a little as he pulled the truck back onto the road.
Sadie wanted to believe that he did that so he could see her and not necessarily to watch the traffic. But it was a dream of her own making. Hadn't they decided they could just be friends?
Ezra and Sadie rode in silence while Cora Ann chatted nonstop all the way to Taylor Creek. She didn't mind, though her thoughts went around in a circle the entire time. And she was more than glad when they pulled in front of the turnoff with its wrought iron sign declaring it “Hein's Exotic Animal Ranch” for all the world to see.
Ezra pulled his truck to a stop, and they all scrambled out, Cora Ann nearly climbing over Sadie in her haste to get out of the cab and see everything all at once.
A rusty-colored dog with long, pretty hair came sauntering up, nudging Sadie's hand as she watched Cora Ann run to the fence much like Daniel had when he first saw the exotics.
Sadie didn't fuss at her sister. Instead she patted the dog on the head and he sat down obediently. He wagged his tail and waited for her to touch him again.
“Silly dog. That's Rustyanna,” Ezra said.
Sadie looked down at the dog, who merely blinked at her and continued to wag his tail. Her tail, she supposed. “That's a very interesting name.”
“Yeah.” Ezra laughed. “I thought we were getting a boy puppy when we got her.”
Sadie raised one brow in his direction, but said nothing. “You couldn't tell?”
“Well, I was only ten. And I had my heart set on a boy dog. But she was the one that picked us, and I had already decided to name my new dog Rusty, so she became Rustyanna.”
Sadie patted the dog on the head again, for the first time noticing the little gray hairs on her face. The pooch had to be at least fourteen. Sadie wasn't sure, but she thought that was very old for a dog. “I'm sorry he gave you such a silly name, sweetie.”
“I've more than made up for it.” Ezra reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a dog treat. The dog's tail wagged fiercely as she waited for him to toss it toward her. He did, and quick as a wink, she snatched the treat from the air. Then she trotted off, back into the barn.
Sadie turned to look at her host. It was easier to think about him that way instead of a great-looking guy who had taken the time out of his day to go and get them from another town, then bring them here just so her sister could see his ranch animals. Yes, “host” was a much better word. Ezra had moved closer to Cora Ann, pointing out the different birds he had in the field. He truly was a remarkable kind of guy. This might be all they ever had, this friendship, but she was still thrilled to call him that.
* * *
After their walking tour of the ranch, Ezra returned to his guests. “Are you ready for some hot chocolate?” he asked. “Or some coffee? Logan's mom brought over some sugar cookies. We can eat some of those if you'd like.”
“That sounds terrific,” Cora Ann said. “Are they good cookies?”
“The best.” Ezra smiled at the young girl. She really was adorable. Not so much like Sadie. Her hair was lighter and her eyes blue. But Cora Ann held the same kind of humming energy that Sadie trailed behind her like a cloud of dust.
“Will she give me the recipe?”
“Cora Ann!” Sadie cried.
“What? It's a compliment.”
Sadie shook her head. “Not everyone feels that way. And not everyone wants to share the recipes.”
“You never know until you ask.”
Ezra watched the exchange between sisters, a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. He kept quiet, though. He didn't want to interrupt and he surely didn't want to laugh and have them think he was making fun of them. They were so cute together. “I don't think Logan's mom will mind. But let's go in the house and taste them first before you decide.”
The three of them walked to the house. Ezra's stomach sank. He hoped his mother was more understanding of him bringing Sadie out today. His mom had seemed so . . . bitter lately. It had started when his father left. And for that he couldn't blame his mother, but that had been seven years ago. Now it was time to move on, time to live, even if she couldn't start over. But he couldn't tell his mother that. He just couldn't. And he didn't think she would listen to him if he did.
He let them into the kitchen. “Hot chocolate or coffee?” he asked.
“Coffee,” both girls said.
In no time at all, he had coffee brewed and the plate of cookies in the center of the table.
“Is that you, Ezra?”
“Yes, Mom.” He could hear the swoosh of her wheelchair as she came closer to the kitchen. The small warning gave him just enough time to compose his expression before she came into the room.
“Oh,” she said, coming to a swift halt. “You have guests.”
She knew full well that he was going over to Wells Landing to get Sadie and Cora Ann. Why had she picked now to pretend like she didn't know?
“Mom, you remember Sadie. And this is her sister Cora Ann.”
Cora Ann nodded politely. “It's nice to meet you.”
His mother didn't respond. Well, at least not with words. Her mouth turned down a little more at the corners, and her cheeks took on that pinched expression that he knew all too well.
It was hard to overlook her sour attitude every day, yet somehow he managed. The grace of God had no boundaries.
Unable to get a rise out of anyone, his mother tried again. “You'll ruin your supper eating cookies at this hour.”
Cora Ann and Sadie seemed not to know what to say. Sadie ran a fingernail over a mar in the kitchen table and Cora Ann studied her sugar cookie as if the recipe for the lemon icing was right there on the top.
“It'll be fine.” He managed to keep the exasperation and frustration out of his voice, but just barely. If only he could take her back a few years, maybe he could stop all this from happening. Maybe he could do something different so his father wouldn't leave. Not that he wanted him back on the ranch. He was fine without him, but his mother wasn't. And that broke his heart most of all.
Mom didn't speak, just gave a hard stare to the room in general, then whirled her chair around and left in a flash. She could turn that chair on a dime when she had a mind to.
“Why don't you have dinner with us?” Cora Ann asked. Her voice held that zing of excitement he had heard all day from her. He couldn't help but wonder if she was this excited about everything or if today was special. Whatever the case, her enthusiasm made him smile.
“Cora Ann,” Sadie cried. She turned to Ezra, the smile of apology pulling at her lips. “I'm sorry. She gets so excited sometimes and . . .” She trailed off.
“It's okay,” Ezra said. “In fact, I'd love to.”
* * *
He was coming to supper with them. Tonight. At the restaurant.
Mamm
was not going to like this. But Sadie wasn't willing to do anything about it. Ezra had been nothing but nice to them—sweet, caring, a perfect gentleman, as the
Englisch
would say. And there was no reason not to have him over for supper. He had done so much for them in the past few days, they practically owed him. Maybe if she put it to her
mamm
that way....
Sadie shook her head.
“Everything okay over there?” Ezra asked, nodding in her direction as she sat opposite him at the oval table.

Jah
, sure,” Sadie said.
“So why are you frowning?”
“You don't have to eat with us.”
“Yes, he does!” Cora Ann exclaimed. “I invited him, and I want him. What's wrong with that?”
Nothing, really. How could she tell Cora Ann that it wasn't a good idea to sit down with Ezra and eat? Tonight. Where
Mamm
could see.
That was truly the problem. It wasn't eating with Ezra, or what they would talk about over supper or the hundred other things that had popped into her head since Cora Ann had issued her invitation.
Mamm
would have a fit. She was mad enough at them for coming here today, but to bring him back and blatantly sit and eat with him in front of her might possibly be her undoing.
“It's okay,” he said.
But it wasn't. Sadie shook her head. “No, I'm wrong, come to dinner tonight with me. Uh, with us. At the restaurant. It'll be fun.”
“If you're sure?” Ezra said.
“Yes, of course.”
“Perfect.” Cora Ann clapped her hands together with joy.
She wouldn't say that, Sadie thought as they all piled back into Ezra's dusty pickup truck and headed back toward Wells Landing. It might end up being suspenseful at best. But how could she expect everyone around her to understand her growing friendship with Ezra if she allowed them to separate the two of them without good reason? To say he couldn't come eat with them because he was Mennonite was about the dumbest thing she had ever heard. Why couldn't they be friends? Not too long from now, Chris was going to head off on his trip, and she might never see him again. Over the years all of her girlfriends had gotten married, and she was continually the odd person out. Now she had this great friendship with Ezra, and she wasn't willing to let it go like it was nothing. So she would sit down with Ezra, eat a meal with him, and
Mamm
could just get used to it.
As she had on the trip to Taylor Creek, Cora Ann chatted all the way back to Wells Landing. Not that Sadie minded. She was more than willing to sit and listen to Cora Ann talk away while she herself could remain quiet, not knowing what to say.
Ezra pulled his truck to a stop in front of the restaurant, and they all piled out. Cora Ann skipped to the door, apparently more excited than she had been when she left.
Ezra took hold of Sadie's arm. “Are you sure about this?”
Sadie tossed back her head like she had seen
Englisch
girls do, hoping that she appeared as confident and collected as they always seemed. “Of course. We're only going to eat.”
“Then why do I have a feeling this is some kind of challenge?”
She pressed her lips together and tried to think of a proper answer. Was she that transparent? Could he see her thoughts? “I just don't like how people—my friends—have acted since we met. They go around like we are doing something wrong.”
Ezra nodded. “Regardless, I don't want to cause problems between you and your family. Or your friends.”
Cora Ann stopped at the door, realizing that the two of them weren't right behind her. “Will you two come on?” She danced in place a moment or two, her impatience growing.
“Go on in,” Sadie said. “We'll be right there.”
Cora Ann seemed to think it over, then nodded, pulled open the door, and skipped her way inside.
“That only gives us a few minutes,” Sadie said.
“Before what?”
“Before
Mamm
comes to find me.”
“Is that what this is all about? Are you trying to get back at your mother or something?”
Sadie shook her head. “It has nothing to do with that. She's overprotective. My sister, Lorie, left the Amish late last year. She turned
Englisch
.”
“No joke?”
Sadie closed her eyes a moment, trying to find the words to explain in the shortest way possible. “It's sort of complicated, but she never was Amish to begin with.”
“That's a story I want to hear some day.”
BOOK: Just Plain Sadie
3.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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