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Authors: Amy Lillard

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BOOK: Just Plain Sadie
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“You've got it. But for now . . .”
“Right. So what do I do? What do I say to her?”
“Just be yourself. And she'll have to love you.”
“And if she doesn't?”
Sadie smiled. “She will. I'm sure of it.”
Without another word, she turned on her heel and started toward the restaurant. She could hear his boots against the pavement as he walked behind her, so she knew he followed. They were just friends. And the sooner everybody got used to that idea, the better off they would all be. Hiding would not help the situation at all.
There were a few late diners in the restaurant, but most of the dinner crowd had long since cleared out. Melanie was wiping down tables while Andre, the young high school student
Mamm
had hired to help out on Saturday nights, was busing tables with a speed that made Sadie's head spin.
“Come on,” she said, looping her arm through Ezra's.
He jumped, and she knew that touching him was unusual. She had no idea what got into her, touching him like that, but it felt so natural, so much a part of the two of them, that she had caved to the impulse. She was glad that she had, regardless of the look that Melanie shot her.
Sadie led Ezra to one of the newly cleaned booths on the other side of where Melanie worked.
“Are you wanting to eat dinner?” Melanie's tone held a “please say no” note that almost made Sadie smile. Maybe it would have if it hadn't been so ridiculous. Honestly, what did they expect the two of them to do in the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by her family?
“That's right. Is there any of the special left?”
“I think I can rustle up a plate or two.” Melanie finished wiping down the vinyl booths and grabbed her spray bottle and extra bag before heading for the kitchen.
“You don't think she'll spit on my dinner or anything, do you?”
Sadie laughed. “Of course not. She might not understand our relationship, but she's got a great heart. Give her some time. She'll come to realize that we're just friends.”
“That's what we are, right? Friends?”
Sadie's heart gave a weird thump, and she was glad that Cora Ann had skipped on ahead. Now the thirteen-year-old was nowhere in sight, most likely in the back overseeing whatever food was left at the restaurant.
Sadie dropped her tone so only the two of them could hear. “If that's what you want.”
“That's not what I asked you.”
Sadie sighed. How could she explain? She really didn't know what she wanted, other than she wanted to spend time with Ezra. She'd never said anything so bold to a guy before, but somehow she knew that she needed to say it now. “I don't know how to say this.”
“Just say it.”
“Chris, the guy I was at the market with, we're just friends. Everybody thinks that we're going to get married, but we're not. In fact, he's going away in the summer, and I'll probably never see him again. But you can't say anything. No one here knows anything about that.”
“Okay, I won't.”
“All my friends are married. My sister left to be
Englisch
. My sister Melanie just got married too. And it feels like . . .”
“That you're all alone?”

Jah
, but more than that.” She bit her lip, trying to find better words to explain her feelings. She had never been much good at this. “You're the first person I've met in a long time that I wanted to spend time with. I'm not sure why.”
“Thanks a lot.” Ezra chuckled.
“That's not what I meant,” Sadie said, lightly smacking the top of his hand. “I don't know what it is about you, but there's something, and I guess I want to find out what it is. I enjoy your company.” Wow, had she just said that?
Her words must not have been too forward, for Ezra didn't blink an eye. “I enjoy your company too.”
“Is that all there is to this relationship stuff?”
“Have you never dated anyone before? Or been more than friends with a boy?”
“Just Chris.”
“I'm not sure that counts.”
“It's kind of hard to explain,” Sadie said, “but . . . well, Chris and I have been friends for a long time. For a while I thought we would get married, and I think everyone else did as well. None of the boys considered me for anything more than a friend, even less than since everyone thought Chris had already tagged me. But then he decided to take this trip and I realized that I want to get married like everybody else. I suppose that's not going to happen now, but I really want to spend time with somebody I enjoy spending time with.”
“It is hard to spend time with your newly married friends because they're always more interested in—”
“Each other more than me,” they finished together.
They laughed for a moment, then the sound faded into a weird sort of silence Sadie didn't know what to think of. Ezra reached across the table where her hand lay and held it in his own.
“What if . . .” He sighed, shook his head. Then started again. “What if we were dating? What then?”
She wanted to snatch her hand away, yet at the same time she wanted to curl her fingers around his. Was he asking what she thought he was asking? “I don't know.”
“You don't know what you think or you don't know how your family would feel?”
“Either one.” A small laugh escaped her, followed by a hiccup. This whole ordeal was more than she had bargained for. What would she do if they were dating? Simply thinking about it sent a tingle through her.
“I know how your friends feel about us.”
Us? There's an us?
“My family . . . my mother . . .” He shook his head. “Your family doesn't seem to approve. But do you think they ever will?”
This had to be the strangest conversation she'd ever had with a boy. Even stranger than the one in the truck after they went bowling. “I don't know.”
“I'm willing to try if you are.”
Sadie jerked her gaze to his. She searched his face for any signs that he was joking. But as sweet as Ezra was, he wasn't one to play around with people's emotions, or say things he didn't mean, or make too many jokes. No, he was serious.
“You want to date me?” The words were barely a whisper from her lips.
“I'd like to get to know you better. And I suppose that means dating. What do you think?”
It would go against friends and family. Yet before her stretched a life of spinsterhood. She could see it. Chris was the one who could keep her from that, not that he would marry her even if he stayed. Oh, he'd said he would. But she had a feeling they would remain friends until the day they died. And that would be all. He would be the eccentric bachelor, and she would be the spinster. Wrinkled as a raisin, the one no one wanted, no children. Alone.
She shook her head to release those thoughts. No, thinking about Ezra, going out on dates with him, getting to know him better, somehow the future didn't look so bleak. And she was willing to go against what her friends wanted from her, what her family thought she should do, what Ezra's mother wanted from him, if it meant the two of them being together. Was that too much to ask? To have a companion? Did it matter that he was a Mennonite? Should it matter if he was a Mennonite? No. No, it shouldn't. The Bible said they were all God's creatures. And just because their ancestors had split up over shunning and tore apart the Anabaptist church didn't mean that they had to spend their lives apart.
What was she even saying? Just because they started to see each other and maybe went on a few dates did not mean they were going to get married. But even if they did, it was nobody's business but theirs.
“Yes,” she finally said. “I want to get to know you better too.”
He released her hand in a hurry as her sister came up bearing a tray with two iced teas and two plates of roast beef with gravy. It wasn't Sadie's favorite item from the menu, but it was good comfort food on the January day when you might've just decided to go against the wishes of everybody in your life and date a boy from a different church.

Danki
,” she said. Her sister only nodded in return. How much of the conversation had Melanie heard? And what of it was she willing to tell their
Mamm
?
She didn't care. She and Ezra had made the decision, and she was sticking to it. It was easy for everyone else to tell her to stay within the Amish faith and not to worry, to marry Chris, and all the other things that they continually said to try to make her feel better when they themselves had no idea what she was going through. They weren't twenty-two, all alone, with no boyfriend and no prospects. Until they walked in her shoes, they would never know how she truly felt.
But Ezra grabbed the pepper and liberally sprinkled it on his food.
Sadie watched with a smile on her face. One more thing she could chalk up that she knew about Ezra Hein. He liked black pepper. Not a bad trait in a guy.
Ezra picked up his fork and started to dig in, then stopped and looked back up at her before actually scooping up a bite. “Is this the bison?”
“No, that's beef. We'll have the bison another time.”
“How about Monday?”
Sadie shook her head. “Monday's no good; bison's on the menu for Tuesday. That's when Cora Ann gets to experiment. New Food Tuesday, she calls it.”
Ezra chuckled. “She's something else.”
Sadie smiled in agreement. “That she is.”
“So Tuesday?”
Sadie swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry. “Tuesday,” she agreed. “It's a date.”
Chapter Nine
He almost felt guilty being this excited over having dinner with someone. Almost.
Tuesday afternoon he made sure his mother had something to eat at the ready, then went to clean up.
He was standing in the bathroom, towel around his neck as he shaved, thoughts of Sadie Kauffman pinging around inside his brain. Maybe that was why he didn't hear his mother before she spoke.
“Shaving, Ezra? At this time of day?” She moved her small electric wheelchair around so she could face him as he scraped the whiskers from his chin.
“I am, uh, going out.” Okay, so he should have told her long before now that he had dinner plans, but he didn't know how she would take it.
“On a workday?”
Ezra bit back a sigh. “Mom, every day is a workday.” That was part of a rancher's life. “I'm not planning on staying out long.” Just long enough to have dinner and see Sadie once again.
He really couldn't say why, but she pulled him in like a magnet, like a moth, like a hundred other things that couldn't resist something more powerful than them. And there was no fighting it. Not that he wanted to.
He had worked hard in the years since his father left. He had done everything he could for his mother and her advancing illness. He had been both provider and friend to her, when everyone else had turned away.
True, the Mennonites did not traditionally shun. But after his father decided he could take no more, he had walked out without looking back. It didn't take long before the good people of Taylor Creek started to wonder what his mother had done to make him leave. No one said anything outright, but he'd heard whispers when no one thought he was around, when no one thought he would hear. That was the problem with small towns and even smaller Mennonite communities. Word spread like wildfire through dry timber. Of course, it didn't help that his mother's disposition had turned sour and she stopped going out herself. These days she didn't even make it to church.
“So where are you heading off to tonight?” Her voice held an edge that he knew all too well. When he told her what he was doing, she was going to explode.
“I'm going over to Wells Landing.”
His mother crossed her arms, a sure sign that a storm was brewing. “And what are you going to do there?”
Ezra wiped the last remains of the shaving cream from his face, inspected the job in the mirror, then smacked on some aftershave for good measure. “I'm going to have supper with Sadie Kauffman and her family. At the restaurant.”
“The Amish girl?”
Ezra turned, for the first time facing his mother. “Mom, she invited me to come eat at the restaurant and try out the bison meat recipes that her sister has been experimenting with. That's all.” Okay, so that was a flat-out lie, but what was he supposed to do?
“And you didn't think to take me?”
“Would you have come along if I had asked?”
His mother frowned. “Well now, we'll never know, will we? Since you didn't ask.”
Another sigh swallowed back and Ezra replied, “Would you like to go with me tonight and have dinner at the Kauffman Family Restaurant?”
“No.” Before he could respond, she turned her chair around and headed back down the hallway.
Ezra tried not to be frustrated with his mother's attitude and bitterness. As far as he could tell, she needed to turn to God and trust Him more, but she didn't seem to be able. And frankly that broke his heart.
Simply by chance, he had found someone he wanted to spend time with. And he was going to spend time with Sadie Kauffman whether his mother understood that or not.
* * *
His mother's consternation followed Ezra out the door as he left half an hour later. She was sitting at the table eating—if pushing her food around on her plate could be called eating—when he palmed the truck keys and said his good-bye.
She didn't even utter a grunt in response, and he hated himself all the more for continuing on his way. He opened the truck door, got inside, then leaned his forehead against the steering wheel. Why did everything have to be so hard where she was concerned? He hated the fact that he hated how she treated him. Where had all the forgiveness gone that she had been taught her entire life?
He sat back and started the engine, knowing there were no answers to those questions. He backed out of the drive and headed down the road, each mile bringing more relief from his mother's attitude.
He was not going to feel guilty tonight. A friend had invited him to dinner. A friend who could potentially be more than a friend. But he was meeting more than just Sadie. He was going to eat dinner with Cora Ann and Daniel and maybe even Melanie and her husband Noah, if he understood Sadie right during the invitation. She'd said they were eating together as a family. And he was looking forward to it. Trying the food that Cora Ann had made, eating the bison meat that he had produced.
He really didn't eat a lot of his own product, simply because his mother didn't like the taste of the bison meat. She thought he was wasting his time by raising the big creatures and thought he should focus more on being a dairy farmer. But he had wanted more when he had taken over the farm. He wanted to do something different, something that stood out among the crowd. Something that no one else in Taylor Creek or in Wells Landing had done. That was how Hein's Exotic Animal Ranch came into being. And he was expanding all the time. It was challenging and fun and he loved it, whether his mother understood it or not. Still, it would be nice to enjoy the fruits of his labor for once. And the fact that he didn't have to cook the meal? Even better.
By the time he pulled his truck to a stop in front of the restaurant, the tension had left his shoulders. Mostly, anyway.
He looked in the rearview mirror to make sure his hair was in place, grimaced at his reflection, made sure his teeth were clean, then got out of the truck. He was being ridiculous, he knew. But he wanted everything tonight to be great. Maybe because he knew that the people around them didn't understand their relationship. Didn't understand what drew them together, an Amish woman and a Mennonite man. But how could anybody explain the laws of love? Well, he backtracked, this wasn't love. But this was where things like that started. Strangely enough, he liked the idea. Never before had he thought about having a family of his own. But as the thought settled around him, he realized that having a wife would bring so much joy into his life as well as ease the chores that he had both around the house and on the ranch. The only problem was his mother.
He pushed himself into the restaurant, the bell on the door jingling as he came through.
Cora Ann came bustling up. “Can I help you—” She stopped. “Ezra! Come on, let's eat.” She grabbed his arm and dragged him into the restaurant, back to a table that was a little larger than the others. Daniel was already seated there coloring a picture. Ezra had seen him do that many times before, and he figured that coloring was Daniel's go-to activity when nothing else was going on around him.
“Hey there, Daniel.”
“Hey.” Daniel did not look up from his artwork. In fact, he dipped his head even farther, his nose almost touching the paper on the table.
Ezra smiled to himself. When Daniel colored he went to his own world. There were times when Ezra wished he could do the same.
“You're here.” Sadie's words were nothing more than a gush of air in the wind.
He turned to face her, a smile on his lips. “I'm here.”
She stood for a moment just looking at him, and he took a minute to look back. There really was something about Sadie Kauffman. She wasn't a beauty like he had seen, those girls that drew people to them like flies. That didn't mean her face was hard to look at. It was small with a petite nose and big hazel eyes. A few freckles danced across her nose, and her mouth was bracketed with small dimples. But there was something more about her, something that shone from within her that no one else around had. He didn't know what it was, but he wanted to. He wanted to know what made her so special, what drew him to her.
“You look really nice tonight.”
She frowned and looked down at her dress. She was still wearing black, all black from shoulders to toe. Only her prayer
kapp
was white. And he couldn't wait to see her in something other than that dark color. Maybe a green that would bring out the blue in her eyes. Or maybe it would bring up the little flecks of brown. “I do?”
“Yeah.” Ezra nodded. “You do.”
The blush that rose into her cheeks put a smile on his lips. Had no one ever told her that she looked nice? Or that she was pretty? What was wrong with the men of Wells Landing?
“Are you ready to eat?” Sadie seemed to have intentionally changed the topic of conversation, and he let her.
“Yeah, I am.”
“Ezra!” Cora Ann rushed up and grabbed his hand, jumping up and down a little as she squeezed his fingers. “I'm so glad you're here! I'm so glad you're here!”
Ezra gently extracted his fingers from her grasp, then nodded toward her. “I was promised a meal, you know. Something special.”
Cora Ann smiled. “You are going to love this.”
“I hope so. I'm hungry.”
“Did you have problems on the ranch today?” Cora Ann led him to the table and pointed to the seat next to Daniel. “Sit right here, and I'll go get your food.”
“What about—” He broke off as Cora Ann hustled from view. He turned back to Sadie. “Is everyone else eating too?”
“Of course.” She turned to walk away, then stopped and turned back. “I should help get the food. Would you wait here with Daniel, please?”
“Of course.”
A few minutes later Cora Ann and Sadie bustled out of the kitchen carrying platters of food.
“These are stuffed bell peppers,” Cora Ann explained. “But instead of using green peppers you use red ones, and instead of using ground beef you use—”
“Bison meat,” he supplied.
Cora Ann set his plate in front of him. “Then there's au gratin potatoes with scallops and scallions. Those are both different things.”
He was glad she told him that because he had no idea what either one of them were.
“And here's a squash casserole and a small salad. That's today's special for New Food Tuesday.”
He looked at the plate of gourmet food, and his stomach growled. He might not be familiar with all of the ingredients, but it smelled delicious. He unwrapped his silverware and placed his napkin in his lap. “It looks great.” He glanced around at the girls, who stood above him, staring, watching as he went to take his first bite. “Aren't you going to eat with me?”
Cora Ann jumped. “Oh!” She pulled out a chair and slid into it, then propped her elbow onto the table and her chin in her hand.
That wasn't exactly eating.
Sadie took a seat across from him, but at least she grabbed the plate as if she were truly about to eat as well.
“I've never eaten a stuffed pepper before. And I'm not really sure how,” Ezra confessed.
“Well,” Cora Ann said, “some people do it differently than others. But I like to eat all the filling out, then eat the bell pepper at the end, using my bread.”
He wasn't sure about eating nothing but pepper and bread.
“Don't listen to her,” Sadie said. “This is how you do it.” She took a knife and cut the pepper down the middle, then proceeded to chop it into pieces, each one with part of the filling stacked on top. “Then you fork up a bite like this and eat it.”
He watched as she put the bite in her mouth, then looked back down at her plate. It was better by far than watching her chew and staring like an idiot. “You want to trade plates now?”
She laughed. “Don't trust your knife skills?”
“Exactly.” She'd cut the pepper like she had been doing it for years. He had the feeling that instead of little bite-size morsels of pepper and bison meat filling he would end up with something resembling a mutilated casserole.
“My pleasure.” Sadie handed him the plate as he handed his over to her.
Cora Ann looked from each of them to the other. “Is it good?”
“You haven't tried it yet?” Ezra asked.
“Oh yeah.” Cora Ann nodded so fiercely her prayer
kapp
strings danced and bobbed. “But I like everything. I want to know what you guys think.”
“Well,” Sadie started, swallowing the bite as she surveyed the food on her plate. “It's good, but it needs something.”
Cora Ann sat back in her chair. “I knew it. I knew I should've added some basil.”
Ezra wasn't sure exactly what basil would do for the meal, but he was enjoying himself nonetheless. He was sitting across from what had to be the prettiest girl in Wells Landing with her sister, who loved to cook, and their little brother, who still hadn't stopped coloring long enough to eat.
“Is he going to eat anything tonight?”
“He only eats things like peanut butter with apple jelly.”
“It's a color/texture thing,” Sadie explained. “He only eats tan foods.”
“Tan foods?”
Sadie nodded. “You know, graham crackers, peanut butter, wheat bread, tan-colored things.”
“I see.” He had never heard such a thing.
“Oh,” Cora Ann said, jumping up from her chair so quickly she almost knocked it backward. “I forgot to get the iced tea.” She hustled off before Ezra had a chance to say even one word.
“That girl.” Sadie shook her head. “I wish I knew what I wanted as clearly as she does.”
BOOK: Just Plain Sadie
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