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Authors: Beverly Lewis

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The Telling

BOOK: The Telling
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the Telling

BEVERLY

LEWIS

With love to Barbara,

my amazing sister.

One of the best storytellers I know.

A pity beyond all telling

Is hid in the heart of love...

– from
The Pity of Love,
Yeats

All we like sheep have gone astray...

– Isaiah 53:6a, kjv

Prologue

If the tables were turned, and
I
was the fancy young woman walking into a truck stop with my Amish friend this morning, I’d be choosing the table set back against the wall.
Away from curious eyes.
But Heather Nelson was the one deciding where we would sit. Wearing a loud pink short-sleeved blouse and pencil-thin blue jeans, she never once blinked an eye as she pulled out a chair and sat down... smack-dab in the midst of so many
Englischers.
Nearly all men, too.

Maybe she was oblivious to them – I can’t really say. After all, this was a familiar world to her. As for me, my neck was mighty warm as I lowered myself into my chair, painfully conscious of the stares. I could just imagine what they were thinking about the two of us –
different as rosemary and sage
.

I reached for the menu right quick and hid behind a long list of sandwiches, soups, and milk shakes. But my appetite was diminishing all the while my uneasiness was increasing. I lowered the menu and peered over the top at Heather. She leaned her ivory cheek into her fisted hand, her bare elbows on the table as she looked over the options. “See anything good?” she asked, her pretty blue eyes twinkling.

My mind was hardly on food. The upcoming reunion with my mother weighed heavily on me. We had driven for more than four hours and had just crossed into Ohio.
Only about an hour and a half till I see Mamma again.
My heart pounded at the thought. “I’ll have something light to eat, if anything.”

“A sweet roll?”

“Uh, prob’ly not.” In a place like this, the sticky buns most likely came out of a box.

Heather glanced at her wristwatch. “Do you still want to arrive in Baltic by early afternoon?”

I nodded and turned to look out the window at the parking lot. I dreaded the thought of getting back in the car, nice as it was. With a sigh, I faced Heather again and was aware of two men looking our way.
“Truck drivers,”
Heather had told me when first we stopped to fill up the car.

“Grace?” She was frowning now, and the waitress was hurrying toward us. “What if we just ordered something for the road?”

I agreed as the waitress looked sideways at me before jotting down my order, her blond hair all
schtruwwlich
about her round face. “You two... um, together?”

Heather nodded, eyeing my prayer cap. She ordered some coffee and a cinnamon roll, then stopped, shook her head, and quickly asked if there was any fresh fruit. “Strawberries... an apple or two?”

After the waitress scurried off, I noticed the same two men still staring at us, their sleeves rolled up to their muscular shoulders. There were markings up and down their arms – a set of tiny baby footprints and a red rose with a black, thorny vine trailing clear down to one man’s elbow. I’d never seen anything like it, and now I, too, was staring – at them. Had Mamma encountered similar worldly sights during her recent travels?

Heather squeezed my arm, tilting her head. “You all right, Grace?”

One of the men looked away, while the other seemed to be sneering.

“Frankly, I’m feelin’ all in.” I excused myself to the washroom to splash cold water on my face.
I reached for the paper towels, which were not secured to the dispenser but stood on the ledge of the grimy sink.
Quickly I tore off a piece and dried my face and hands, my fears rising.
How will Mamma react to seeing me?

I raised my face to peer into the streaky mirror. At home our mirrors were mostly handheld ones... almost too small to allow me to see the whole of my head, let alone the upper bodice of my dress. Even my bureau had only a modest-sized mirror, not at all like the dressers at the home of our English neighbors, the Spanglers.

I felt momentarily ashamed. Mamma had always taught my sister, Mandy, and me not to be swayed by the temptation toward vanity. And we’d always heeded the warning. Well, nearly always.

Glancing again at my reflection, I didn’t focus on my honey-blond hair peeking out from beneath my
Kapp
, nor the shape of my features. What I noticed caught me off guard as I studied my tired, even terrified, expression. I saw clearly now the uncertainty in my own blue eyes. Placing my hands on my cheeks, I breathed in ever so slowly.
Is this trip such a good idea, really?

Sighing, I knew in my heart I was willing to put up with any awkwardness – even fear – if it meant bringing Mamma home. No matter the gawking eyes or the inconvenience, I ought to cherish the trip for what it meant: a chance for Mamma to start over with a clean slate.

I turned on the water once again, washing my hands a second time – as if peering too long in the mirror had somehow tainted me. Surely by now Mamma understood that leaving without an explanation was a blight on us all. Besides, didn’t she feel estranged, even cut off? Wouldn’t she like to begin anew... if she could?

A chill ran down my back and I longed for my shawl as a comfort, if for no other reason. Then, reaching for the washroom doorknob, I left the small, dingy room. Shyly I moved back toward Heather’s and my very public table, where Heather sat fiddling with her fancy little phone to check her email, as she’d done earlier while waiting to get gas for the car. I was grateful the two men now seemed more interested in their food than me.

I spotted our order already sitting on the table. “Did we get the bill?” I asked, reaching for the sack.

“Beat you to it.” Heather smiled and clicked off her phone. She slung her purse over her shoulder.

I offered to treat next time. Then I squared my shoulders and said, “Let’s be goin’,” and led the way to the door.

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Gave thee life, and bid thee feed

By the stream and o’er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight,

Softest clothing, woolly, bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice,

Making all the vales rejoice?

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee:

He is called by thy name,

For He calls Himself a Lamb,

He is meek and He is mild;

He became a little child.

I a child, and thou a lamb,

We are called by His name.

Little Lamb, God bless thee!

Little Lamb, God bless thee!


The Lamb,
William Blake

one

There were days when Heather Nelson awakened in the silence, in that obscure first awareness of early morning, and believed she was back in Virginia.
Before Mom died of cancer.

This had been one of those mornings. Yet in less than a minute, she’d remembered precisely where she was: upstairs in her cozy room in Andy and Marian Riehl’s farmhouse, a real-life Amish tourist home. She was still too distracted by her own cancer diagnosis – and the recent visit from her father – to work more on her master’s thesis, as she’d hoped. Her father was completely caught up in his plan to build a house in the middle of this Amish community. His revelation yesterday that she had Plain roots had jolted her, but she certainly understood a little better his reasons for relocating. And now here she was on this spontaneous trip she’d volunteered for, driving Grace Byler, the young Amishwoman in the seat next to her, to visit her runaway mother in the small Ohio town of Baltic.
Like the sea,
Heather thought, glancing at Grace, who looked so hopeful. And very healthy.

Will I die like Mom? I’m only twenty-four!

It was impossible to forget how deliberately her oncologist, Dr. O’Connor, had turned his solemn gaze away for a moment, giving Heather a chance to absorb the bad news – she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There in his office, she’d stared at the back of his dark head as he looked toward the window, a frame for the parklike setting across the street. The sun, half covered by wispy cirrus clouds, had filtered its rays through the fragrantly blossoming crab apple trees below – some profusely pink, others delicately white.

That was five weeks ago. Today there were no such flowering trees near I-76, beyond the frontage road where Heather presently steered her car. The midmorning sun beat hard against a cluster of buildings, transforming the gleaming reflection of rows of windows into individual blinding darts of light.

Heather looked in the rearview mirror to check for traffic, then over her shoulder at the crowded truck stop where they’d stopped for gas and what had passed for healthy snacks. Cautiously now, she eased onto the ramp leading to the highway, feeling surprisingly invigorated in spite of the long drive.

They traveled without speaking as the car moved over the newly paved highway. Once they were situated in the right lane, Heather fumbled with opening the banana she’d purchased at the truck stop. There’d been no apples or strawberries –
“only bananas,”
according to the waitress.

Grace reached over and peeled Heather’s banana halfway, then handed it back. She also opened Heather’s bottled water and placed it in the holder on the console. “There,” Grace said, offering a smile that almost concealed her obvious anxiety.

“Thanks.” Heather glanced at the GPS on her iPhone, checking the directions ahead. As far as she could tell, they were making good time... right on schedule to pull up to Susan Kempf’s house in less than two hours. And yet she wondered if Grace might be getting cold feet about seeing her mother. If so, who could blame her?

Heather ventured small talk. “Is the woman your mom’s staying with a family friend?” They had been dancing around several issues during the trip, not delving into anything too personal. Heather actually preferred it that way, but Grace was typically much more talkative, although she seemed nervous today, if not on edge.

Grace shook her head. “I’ve never heard of Susan Kempf. I even asked
Dat,
and he said the name didn’t ring a bell for him, either.”

“What about Yonnie... you were talking with him yesterday. Wouldn’t he know?” Heather had already admitted to having overheard Grace’s conversation with the handsome young Amishman – even his suggestion that the two court.

Grace blushed. “No... I’m quite sure he doesn’t know her.”

“Did you ask him?”

“Wasn’t time, really.” Grace unfolded her hands and rested them against her black apron. “Yonnie’s not originally from Ohio, anyways... he grew up in Indiana.” She paused as if she was going to say more, then closed her mouth.

Heather took a small bite of the banana, waiting.

At last, Grace said, “I wondered what you thought, back at that truck stop. Truly unsettling, all those gawkers.”

“We did draw some looks, didn’t we?” Heather laughed. “No doubt people are surprised to see us together. I mean, take a good look at us....”

“We do appear to have little in common,
jah
. But there’s
one
thing we share, though no one would know from just watchin’ us.” She turned to look at Heather, eyes solemn. “Both our mothers are gone.”

Heather nodded slowly. “Mine passed away, and yours disappeared.”
We have a Plain heritage in common, too,
she thought and contemplated telling Grace.
Would she even believe such an improbable thing?

Grace touched her throat and her hand lingered there. “I know Mamma’s leaving is not nearly the same as losin’ someone to death.”

“The loss has been tougher than I ever imagined,” Heather conceded. She checked her rearview mirror again. “And... you know, I actually feel – oh, I don’t know – ticked off when I think of your mom abandoning you and your family when she had a choice.” She caught herself. Rarely was she so open about her emotions.

“Doesn’t surprise me.” Grace’s face was suddenly drawn. “You must’ve had a close bond with your mother.”

“Incredibly close,” she whispered. She hadn’t wanted to upset Grace, who continually exuded the gracious quality her name represented. The young woman was easily one of the most thoughtful people Heather had ever encountered. “I didn’t mean to criticize your mother,” she quickly apologized.

“I know you didn’t,” Grace replied. “I hope ya know how thankful I am, Heather... you drivin’ me and all.”

“Hey, I’m always up for a road trip.”

Grace was still for a time. Then she said softly, “I don’t blame ya for being aggravated ’bout my mother’s behavior. I’m embarrassed by it, too.”

Heather could see why. This sort of thing typically didn’t happen without cause, even among non-Amish couples. Could it be possible there was something more to Lettie’s escape into the night than even Grace had considered? “I wonder what your mom will say when she sees you,” she said.

Grace sighed. “Honestly, I’m worried ’bout that.”

“She’ll be happy, right?”

“I really don’t know.” Grace grimaced. “Mamma’s been close-lipped ever since she left last month.
Ach,
before that, really...” She began to talk about her mother’s aloof behavior. Pausing, she stared out the window. “It all started when she ran into the twin sister of a long-ago friend at a barn raising we were attending near Strasburg. We’d gone there to help out with food.”

Now,
this
was interesting. “A friend... or someone closer?” Heather asked, not sure she should probe further.

“That’s all I best say,” Grace replied.

“Sorry, don’t mean to be nosy.”


Denki
... for understanding.” Grace turned again toward the window.

So there
was
something more to Lettie Byler’s running off than met the eye. Heather had a strange feeling she might have gotten herself into something more complicated than a daughter’s wanting to see her estranged mom.

Heather dropped the banana peel into the small hanging trash bag on the console. Then she pulled down the visor and reached for her sunglasses.
Just back off,
she told herself
,
feeling suddenly washed out – almost limp. All this talk about Grace’s mother disappearing... she didn’t understand why it bothered her so much. She didn’t even know the woman.

Breathing deeply now, she tried to conserve her emotional energy, recalling Dr. LaVyrle Marshall’s advice in the brochure for the Wellness Lodge:
Make every effort to avoid stress, which can cause serious disease.
But she hoped a permanent separation wasn’t in the cards for the Bylers. She’d seen what that could do to families, had heard the horror stories from classmates who’d shared their pain, even the rage stemming from their parents’ midlife crises. What made people go crazy like that – so selfish they couldn’t see past their proverbial noses?

Like Devon Powers.
Her ex-fiancé came to mind. In light of everything, Heather felt relieved, even happy, they’d split up.
I won’t have to suffer his leaving me years from now... with kids in tow.
No matter how old, the innocent children always got the worst of it: a ripping apart at the heart seams.

Heather realized that whatever had gone wrong with Grace’s mom had the potential to harm the Byler family. Yet, despite her concern for Grace, it was best she stay out of it no matter how much she might want to help.
I’ll take Grace to see her mother and that’ll be it.

She needed to stay focused. Her stint at the Wellness Lodge began in four days – this coming Monday – and she couldn’t allow herself to be deterred. No longer could she mark time where her health was concerned. Especially now, with her father supporting her decision to pursue alternative treatment.

Regardless of what happened in Ohio – good or bad – Heather was committed to returning to Pennsylvania by Saturday night at the latest. With or without Grace and her mom.

BOOK: The Telling
8.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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