Authors: Kate Lloyd
Tags: #Amish, #Christian Fiction, #Love, #Forgiveness, #Family Ties, #Family Secrets, #Lancaster County, #Pennsylvania
To my dearest sister, Margaret Coppock
Note to Readers
Thank you for joining my fictional characters in magnificent Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Any resemblance to real members of the Amish or Mennonite communities is unintended. I ask your forgiveness for any inaccuracies.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Lizzie Zook was on a mission of a most urgent nature. Ignoring Bishop Troyer's stern voice nagging inside her ear, warning her that her shenanigans would land her in a wagonload of misery, she logged onto the Internet.
Lizzie's heart fluttered with excitement as she typed her email, thenâwhilst she wondered what other enticements she could useâher gaze drifted around the shop with its multitude of vintage fancy and plain items for sale. Nothing was new or quite old enough to be an antique, she thought, much like she herself at age twenty. She'd soon be an
âold maidâstuck at home helping Mamm with the chores all day and listening to her younger brothers arguing and teasingânever having any fun. Never getting married.
The brass bell above the shop's door jingled, and she felt brisk March air waft into the room, followed by the sound of a woman clearing her throat. Ach! Out of her peripheral vision she saw the bishop's wife. Lizzie ignored the portly woman and pushed the Send button before she lost her nerve. If Lizzie didn't take drastic action, who else would mend her fractured family?
“Hold on, Sally. Where ya headed?” I heard my father say as he shuffled across his lot, Honest Ed's Used Cars. Yup, my dad was Honest Ed. I didn't care what quips people made about car salesmen; Pops was the most trustworthy man on earthâexcept in one area.
I shoved the nagging thought aside. “I'm taking a weekend getaway,” I said. “I need to clear my head.”
He had the hiccups again. “You'd leave without saying good-bye or asking permission to borrow a car?”
“I was about to.” I opened the trunk of a '67 Mustang, an automobile my father coveted but my fiancÃ©, Donald, wouldn't be caught dead driving. “I didn't think you'd mind.”
“I suppose not.” Pops indulged in an extensive yawn. The early spring sunshine radiated from the asphalt beneath my feet, but he wore a wool jacket buttoned to his chin. “Where you going?”
“Lancaster County, land of the Amish. To a place called Bird-in-Hand.”
His features contorted. “Why there, of all ridiculous places?”
“When I was young, I begged you to take me, but you never would. And Donald flat out laughed in my face when I suggested it for our honeymoon.” I stowed my overnight bag and shut the trunk. “For a couple of months, someone named Lizzie has been emailing me through the Contact Page on my website, asking me to visit her.”
Pops scratched the side of his nose. “Lizzie who? What does she want?”
“She's hinted she wants to buy a dog.” And she'd also implied she was in a jam and needed my help. Why me? Maybe she was trying to start a kennel of her own.
“Did you tell her you don't have any for sale?” He blinked several times.
“Yes, but â¦” I wouldn't divulge how persistent she'd been or how artfully she'd dodged my queries. She hadn't even given me her address. “Maybe I can find a corgi kennel in her area for her.”
His voice turned gruff. “Can't you locate one on the Internet and then write her an email?”
“She claims she isn't allowed to use the Internet anymore.” A pewter-gray cloud moved in, hogging the sunlight, leaving us in the shade, the temperature dipping. I should have brought a warmer jacket but didn't want to delay my departure by racing back to the houseâa three-minute walk.
“Huh?” He frowned. “Or speak on the phone?”
“She didn't give me a number.” I eyeballed the Mustang's tires, trying to determine if they had sufficient pressure. “She said she works in a secondhand storeâa consignment shop in a town called Intercourse, near Bird-in-Hand.”
“It's got to be a prank.”
“Yeah, I can't find the Sunflower Secondhand Store's website. But there actually is an Intercourse, Pennsylvania, and I want to see it. What a hoot.” I needed a distractionâsomething to make me forget my whole world was on the verge of collapse.
“Sally, I don't want you going there.” The corners of his mouth stabbed down. “It isn't safe for women to meet people through the Internet. I wish you'd never built that website.”
“In retrospect I agree. Now that Mr. Big's gone, I'm ready to give up the dog-show world.”
“Then stick around, kiddo.” He covered his mouth to yawn again, his fingers puffyâa fact he blamed on consuming too much salt. “I'll keep you busy. On a Friday afternoon I can't spare you or the car.”
“Sure you can. Ralph wheels and deals ten times better than I do. He'll fill in if you get swamped. And you know this Mustang's priced too high.” I figured he kept the fire-engineâred coupe on the lot to attract customers.
He massaged his back, below his rib cage.
“Are you okay, Pops? If you're too sick, I'll stay home.”
“I'm fine.” But at five foot nine, he seemed to be shrinking. “Shouldn't you be planning your wedding?”
“My future mother-in-law's marriage extravaganza?”
“Hey, if she wants to pay for it.”
“Attempting to influence Darlene Montgomery is like trying to stop the rising tide.” I edged toward the driver's door. “Now, about this weekend â¦,” I said, not wanting to burden Pop with Donald's and my stalemate. After our snarly clashâour worst skirmish in the year we'd datedâI wondered if I still wanted to marry him, even with the invitations printed. I wasn't sure I loved himâor ever had.
“I'm against your going, and that's that.” Pops crossed his arms, tucked his hands out of sight.
“Please? I need a getaway. Unless you don't feel good enough, in which case I'll take you to the doctor's.” I'd offered to for weeks.
“I'm fine and dandy. Never felt better. Case closed.”
“Okay. So will you lend me this car?” I usually got my pick from his inventory of about three dozen. Some were clunkers, but others were sleek beautiesâtheir chrome polished and their tires replaced. “I'm twenty-seven, if you've forgotten.” I stood tall, not easy for a woman of five feet four inches. “When you were my age, you were already married.”
“But no good came of it.”
“What do you mean? You had me, didn't you?”
“Yeah, but your motherâ”
“What about her? Come on; spill the beans.” I felt the weight of sadness and resentment I'd carried all my life.
“Nah, I don't want you wasting your time and money trying to track her down.” His breathing seemed labored. “She knows where to find us.”
“Probably not, but she could. If she wanted to.”
No use pursuing this figure-eight conversation. I couldn't wrangle the information out of him. Pleading, cajoling, and bribery had never worked.
“I'm going away for the weekend, even if it means riding the bus.” I was behaving like a brat. And running away from my problems. “Or I could hitchhikeâ”
“That's downright stupid talk. What's gotten into you?”
“Guess I'm having a midlife crisis.”
“Give me a break. Have you prayed about it?”
He had me there. I believed in Godâa nebulous entity who'd created the universe then seemed to step back to let us screwed-up humans inadequately run the show.
A battered Subaru Forester coasted off congested Highway 7 and into Pops's lot; I knew Pops was already evaluating the vehicle as a trade-in. A couple emerged to inspect a two-year-old silver Toyota Highlander SUV.
“I won't hitchhike if you lend me this car.” I removed the price from the windshield, opened the coupe's wide door, and tossed the placard on the floor behind the passenger seat. Then I settled into the cushy driver's seat to check the gas gauge. Almost fullâsurprise! I clamped my GPS to the windshield, then hopped out again. “I already entered the B&B's address.”
“I don't have the time or energy to argue.” His face turned pale, like the blood was draining out; perspiration moistened his cheeks. “You'll drive carefully?”
“Yes. What's the problem? Pretend I'm going to a dog show. It's not as if I've never driven anywhere by myself.” I hugged him and felt his ribs, little muscle. “You'll look after Ginger, won't you?” My remaining corgi; I'd recently sold my other female to a Canadian couple who planned to breed her.
“I won't let her starve.” He watched the couple circling the Highlander. “They don't call me Honest Ed for nothing.”
Yeah, well, if he were so honest, why wouldn't he fess up about my mother?
“I've got an idea,” he said, his hiccups increasing. “Instead of Pennsylvania, why not head to Cape Cod? I have a buddy and his wife you could stay with. I'll give him a call.”
“You took me to visit them yourself last fall. I want to go somewhere new.”
“But the weather could turn cold. The groundhog saw his shadow last month, meaning a late spring.”
“No, he didn't. It was foggy that day.”
“As I recall, it was slightly overcast. There was some dispute.” Gnawing his lower lip, he looked perplexed. “Do you realize this car is older than you are?”
“But in mint condition. Isn't that what I heard you tell a customer? Didn't you nickname me Mustang Sally when I was little?” He used to belt out the song, but his lungs didn't have the oomph for singing anymore. When I was a girl, I'd heard his baritone voice next to me at church as he'd held the hymnal. But he'd stopped attending a couple years ago. He said sitting in one position so long gave him what he called the heebie-jeebies because his skin itched. I had no excuse; my faith lay as shallow as a streambed at the end of summer. And my fiancÃ© wouldn't come with meânot even once. He'd plan outings on Sundays and take off without me if I weren't ready.
As I watched Pops amble across the lot to approach the man and woman, I second-guessed the wisdom in leaving him. Why exactly was I taking this excursion? I doubted I'd meet up with this Lizzie person.
I admired a stand of maples on the other side of the lot. Nothing outshone Connecticut's glorious chartreuse new-growth foliage first sprouting through bare branches in the springtime. I'd only been to Pennsylvania to attend dog shows in Philadelphia. But the idea of meeting people conveyed by horse and buggies intrigued me, something else Donald would abhor. And he despised farmland smells like manure. Once we got married, my chance to play tourist among the Amish would vanish.
On the other hand, had Lizzie's incessant emails turned me bonkers? Was I so lonely I'd drive hours in search of a fictitious friend? Women engaged to men like Donald Montgomery shouldn't be without close acquaintances. But I was. Two girlfriends had moved from the area and one homeschooled her children and spent weekends with her husband and kids. And most of the competitors I'd met at dog shows weren't really friends. They'd probably breathed a sigh of relief when Mr. Big died.
Minutes later, the looky-loo couple took off. My father sauntered back my way. I got in the Mustang and started the engine; it rumbled to life the way new cars don't anymore. The opposite of the 2001 Prius sedan we sold last week.
I lowered the Mustang's window, and my father said, “That car's speeding-ticket red.”
I loved that he felt protective, but his hovering bordered on suffocation. “When I get home, I'll wash and polish this baby,” I said. “I won't scratch the mag wheels or scuff the white-walls.” I scrounged in my purse for my cell phone and held it up. “Call me if you need me. I'll dash right home.”
He ran his palm across his mouth. I took his silence as my cue to skedaddle before he changed his mind and made me drive the red Dodge minivan in the next parking space, the type of vehicle I'd used for dog shows. And someday for children, I hoped.
I waved. “Bye-bye, Pops. I'll be fine.” I was acting impulsively but felt a tug from deep inside, like a trout that had swallowed a lure and was being reeled in. I nosed the Mustang onto busy Highway 7. Following a stream of traffic toward Danbury, I felt so giddy I started singing “Mustang Sally”âthe few lyrics I could remember.
Adhering to the GPS's directions, I merged onto I-84 W, then zigged and zagged, crossing New Jersey until finally entering Pennsylvania. As I drove, the sun seemed to grow in size, a giant salmon-colored orb beckoning me to continue. I covered twenty-some more miles and exited. The sun was sinking, lowering itself into a cushion of cumulous clouds and casting a bronze sheen across the valley below, where I was going according to my GPS.
On a two-lane road, I cracked the window and breathed in the heady aroma of fertile soil and a trace of smoke, different from any fabric of scent my nostrils had ever embraced. I felt a shift inside, a stirring deep in my chest, like descending into Pops's cellar and inhaling the musty odor that transported me to a long-forgotten but beloved time and place.
I considered checking in at the B&B, but my empty stomach demanded immediate attention. I decided to find a restaurant on my way to Bird-in-Hand. When I'd spoken to the woman at the B&B, she'd mentioned she was just down the road from Intercourse; she didn't even chortle when saying the name. Tomorrow, I might catch a glimpse of the Sunflower Secondhand Store. If it existed.
Steering the car south, my gaze swept the panorama of the bounteous valley: softly rolling recently seeded fieldsâunlike the wooded hills north and east of New Milford, Connecticutârock fences meandering through them. I loved New Milford and Litchfield County's red barns and dense deciduous woodlands, but now I stared in awe at Lancaster County's majestic white farms and silos, and the windmills, their blades revolving in the breeze, glinting in the early evening light.
I hugged the side of the road as a horse and gray covered buggy driven by a bearded man approached from the other direction. My heart leaped for joyâthe only way to describe my elated reactionâsurprising me. Sally Bingham, who rarely got wowed, was fascinated. I'd always wanted to learn to ride a horse, but Pops hadn't been able to afford the lessons. “Half the intelligence of a dog,” he'd said, then wouldn't tell me how or why he knew.
My cell phone rang. The screen lit up: a photo of Mr. Big. I'd change the image when I got home. No use reminding myself of what I'd lost due to my own carelessness. I checked the caller ID and recognized a Pennsylvania prefix: 717.