Inspirational

Valentine’s Day Reads

Give Books & Chocolate, Not Flowers

Read excerpts of our latest love stories, LOVE GENTLY FALLING by Melody Carlson and KEYS OF HEAVEN by Adina Seft.


Love Gently Falling

Chapter 1

by Melody Carlson

Rita woke with the lovely dream still fresh in her mind. Gracefully gliding across a shimmering ice rink illuminated by a rainbow of light, she’d felt unencumbered and free and weightless . . . as if she were flying. Getting out of bed, she pulled on a pair of fuzzy socks and, extending her arms, slid across the hardwood floor as if she were really on ice, as if she could spin and leap and execute moves she hadn’t attempted in years. She skidded to a fast stop by the window, pausing to open the blinds, allowing the Southern California sunshine to flood into her pale blue bedroom. Not exactly a winter wonderland.

As she gazed down to the pool area, where tall, graceful palms barely moved in the morning breeze, she vaguely wondered if a public ice rink was even located in Beverly Hills. And even if a rink was nearby, would she be bold enough to pay it a visit? Twenty-nine seemed a bit old to reinvent oneself as a figure skater.

Not that she’d ever been much of a skater. Rita chuckled as she threw the comforter back onto her bed. Truth be told, she’d probably spent as much time on her hind end as she’d spent on her skates, but it had been fun. And not a bad way to grow up . . . back in Chicago. Continuing to slide her feet, she faux-skated out into the great room of the condo. Swaying side to side, she moved smoothly across the hardwood, attempting a couple of awkward moves as she worked her way toward the kitchen. She knew this was silly and wouldn’t want her roommates to witness her antics, but Margot would be at work by now, and Aubrey was probably still asleep.

“What on earth are you doing?” Aubrey asked with what sounded like way too much amusement.

Spying her roommate in the shadows of the hallway with a foaming mouth and toothbrush in hand, Rita just shrugged. “Ice skating.”

“Good to know.” Aubrey laughed. “I heard the clunking and got worried that we were having an earthquake.”

“And here I thought I was being so graceful,” Rita said sarcastically. She was well aware that, with her nearly six-foot frame, grace was not her strong suit. And with petite and delicate roommates who lovingly called her Moose sometimes, it was a fact she was mindful of.

As Rita went into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee, she tried to remember how long she’d been sharing accommodations with Margot and Aubrey. It was shortly after she’d landed her job as a stylist at Roberto’s . . . which was almost seven years ago. She’d felt on top of the world back then — being in her early twenties and working for one of the chicest salons, living in an upscale neighborhood with a couple of pretty cool roommates. How much better could it get for the daughter of a Chicago car salesman and a hair- dresser?

Margot, the oldest of the roommates, owned this condo unit and hadn’t raised the rent once. A corporate attorney, she was as dependable as they came. Aubrey was a year younger than Rita and could be a little unpredictable at times, but she was generous and fun. And since she worked for a fabulous restaurant in the neighborhood, she could always be counted on to bring home something divine at the end of her shift. Rita’s contribution was free beauty advice and sample prod- ucts. All in all, it was a pretty good setup for all three single girls.

And yet, as Rita poured water into the coffeemaker, she felt restless. Maybe it was just the remnants of her ice-skating dream, slowly melting away in the warmth of the California sun. Or maybe it was something else. She sighed as she turned on the small flat-screen in the kitchen, tuning it to the local news, where, according to Vince the weather guy, it was going to be “another unseasonably warm day.” Not a record breaker, but in the high eighties. And to think this was late January!

“So what’s up with ice skating?” Aubrey asked as she came into the kitchen and opened the fridge.

Rita sheepishly explained her dream. “It felt so real. And it was so awesome to be gliding along like that. Made me want to go ice skating again.” She paused to sneak a cup of coffee from the machine as it brewed.

“Were you a pretty good skater?”

Rita laughed. “Not really. But I enjoyed it. That dream was probably just a subconscious reminder that I’ve been missing winter.”

“You probably should’ve gone home for Christmas.” Aubrey filled a glass with orange juice. “I hear it’s been seriously cold in the Midwest.”

“Yeah. My mom said they had a really pretty white Christ- mas.” Rita sighed to think of snowflakes tumbling down, ice sculptures, a rink filled with skaters wearing woolly hats and mittens and scarves . . . “I don’t suppose there’s an ice rink in Beverly Hills . . . is there?”

“I don’t know about that, but Culver City used to have a good rink. We kids went there sometimes when I was growing up. My sister still lives in Culver. Want me to ask if it’s still there?”

“That’s okay. I don’t really have time for ice skating this week anyway.” Rita glanced at the kitchen clock. “In fact, I should be getting dressed. I have a nine o’clock appointment this morning.” She held her coffee cup toward Aubrey. “What’re you doing up this early?”

Aubrey pointed at her teeth. “I lost a crown last weekend. I have a dentist appointment at ten.”

As Rita reached for a banana, the landline phone jangled. Assuming it was a telemarketer, since few of their acquaintances used that particular number, Rita ignored the ringing as she peeled her banana. But after the message beep, it was her father’s urgent voice that made her dash to the phone, grabbing up the receiver. “Dad?” she asked frantically. “What’s going on?”

“Oh, Rita,” Richard said with a smidgen of relief. “I’m so glad I reached you. I tried your other phone number and no answer. And now this one, and I was about to give up and call your work number.” He paused to catch his breath. “Anyway it’s about your mother. I don’t where, how, to begin, but — ”

“What’s wrong?” she interrupted. She knew how her dad could go on and on sometimes. “Please, Dad, just cut to the chase and tell me what’s happened!”

“Your mother has suffered a stroke.”

“A stroke?” Rita tried to absorb this. “When did this happen?”

“Last night. The doctor said it happened while she was asleep. She must’ve slept right through it. I didn’t know any- thing was wrong until early this morning.”

“Is Mom okay?”

“No, not really. I mean, she’s alive, Rita. But she’s not okay. She’s not herself at all.”

“Where is she?”

“Jackson Park Hospital. That’s where I am right now. She’s in ICU, and they’re doing all they can for her — lots of tests and God only knows what else. But she’s in a bad way, Rita.”

“A bad way?” Rita reached for a barstool, easing herself onto it. “What do you mean, Dad? Is she going to make it?”

“I don’t know — ” Her dad’s voice broke, and she could tell he was crying. Rita could only remember him crying once before — when his mother, Grandma Jansen, had passed away. “I really don’t know what’s going on with her, honey. The doc- tor said the worst is probably over, but your poor mother can’t talk or walk or eat or anything.” He made a choking sob. “It feels like she’s already gone.”

“Oh, no!” Tears filled her eyes. “I’ve got to come see her, Dad.”

“I know, honey. I thought you’d want to come. Do you need me to send money for airfare or — ”

“No, Dad,” she said firmly. “You don’t need to do that.” She knew that, thanks to the economy, her parents had been more financially strapped than ever. For that reason she’d been extra frugal with her own earnings. “I have money . . . my savings,” she reassured him. “I’m fine.”

“All right, then.” He let out a weary sigh. “Call and let us know when you’ll get here. I still don’t have a cell phone. Can’t stand those things. So you can either call your mom’s phone, which I’m on right now, although I barely know how to use it. Or, better yet, call your brother.”

“How’s Ricky doing?” She knew that her younger brother had been struggling a lot recently, still adjusting to the after-effects of some serious football injuries he’d sustained while playing college ball last year. Poor guy.

“Oh, Rita, Rick’s taking it pretty hard. Your mom’s been such a help to him this past year . . . and now this.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” she promised. “And I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

“Thanks, honey. I hate interrupting your life like this, but we really do need you.”

“Don’t worry, Dad. I’m on my way.”

As Rita hung up, she turned to see Aubrey still in the kitchen. “Oh, Rita,” Aubrey said with worried eyes. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but is it your mom?”

Rita nodded as she grabbed a paper napkin to wipe her tears. “It’s a — a stroke. It sounds like she’s not even con- scious. My dad was really upset. He thinks she might not make it.”

Aubrey hurried over, wrapping her arms around Rita. “I’m so sorry. What can I do to help? Want me to go online and book a flight for you?”

“Can you?” Rita asked between sobs. “My credit card is in my wallet, over there on the table.”

“Absolutely. Do you fly into O’Hare?”

Rita nodded then blew her nose. “I need to go pack.”

“And I’ll let Margot know,” Aubrey called out. “Want me to contact your work, too?”

“No, that’s okay, I’ll call the salon,” Rita hurried to her room to get dressed, make plans, and let her tears flow freely.

Thanks to Aubrey’s unexpectedly efficient help, Rita was on her way to LAX by noon.

“That was really nice of you to give me a ride,” she told Aubrey’s current boyfriend, Maxwell. “I told Aubrey I could get the shuttle, but she wouldn’t hear of it.”

“Hey, it’s no problem,” he assured her. “I was heading out to Westchester for a job anyway.” Maxwell was a plumber, something Margot had mercilessly teased Aubrey about. But as he carefully navigated his way down Santa Monica Boulevard, Rita began to see him in a different light. Maxwell seemed like a genuinely nice guy. She suspected there was more to him than his faded jeans, sleeveless T-shirt, multiple tattoos, and well-worn work boots. And she knew he was trying to get her to relax and think positively.

“I know it seems dark to you right now,” he said as he drove down the San Diego Freeway. “But medical technology is really amazing these days. I had an aunt who had a stroke a few years ago and she completely recovered. It just takes time and work.”

“I’m sure you’re right.” She nervously fingered her electronically generated boarding pass.

“Your mom will probably need a physical therapist and a speech therapist. Does she have good insurance?”

“I think she does.” They continued discussing all the ins and outs of stroke recovery, and by the time Maxwell took the LAX terminal exit, Rita felt unexpectedly encouraged. She also felt that Aubrey had surprisingly good taste in boyfriends — something Rita couldn’t necessarily claim for herself. The last guy she’d dated had turned out to be a complete jerk.

She thanked Maxwell once again as he pulled up to the Jet Blue entrance. “Not just for the ride,” she said as he helped her with her bags. “But the encouragement, too. It means a lot to me. You’ve been great. Really great.”

“I’ll keep your mom and you and your family in my prayers,” he told her as he closed the back of his van.

She tried not to look surprised by this. Why wouldn’t a nice guy like Maxwell be inclined to pray? “And I’ll keep Aubrey posted about how it goes,” she promised as she wheeled her bag onto the sidewalk and waved. “Thanks again!”

Once inside the bustling terminal, she began to feel overwhelmed again. But with no time to waste, she hurried through the various stages of getting to her gate. With every step Rita felt more and more like she was in a hazy dream. Not the sweet, happy dream she’d experienced this morning. This was more of a chilly, unsettling dream, where everything was fuzzy and blurry. By the time she reached her gate, her flight was already boarding, but she took a minute to call her brother’s phone, leaving him a message regarding her flight schedule. “It’ll probably be close to nine by the time I get my bags, and I’ll just take the train from O’Hare to the hospital,” she explained. “I know it’ll be late at night by the time I get to Jackson Park. But I don’t mind. I just want to be with Mom. And I do not want you or Dad coming to pick me up. Understand?

Rita had no idea how Aubrey had managed to secure her a seat on a nonstop flight at such short notice, but she appreciated it. And the seat wasn’t half bad either. Still, it was hard to sit patiently for four hours. And one could only pray for so long without feeling redundant and pathetic, not to mention not very faithful. Naturally, she’d been too worried and hurried to pick up anything to read. Plus the battery in her Kindle was dead. Left to the in-flight magazines and her own thoughts, she tried to remember the last time she’d been home. When had she last seen her mother . . . and her family? She felt dismayed to realize it had been a full three years. No wonder she missed snow and winter so much!

She tried not to send herself on a guilt trip for not having been home for so long — or for missing this past Christmas. Besides, she reminded herself, she’d been encouraging her family to come out and visit her this winter, promising them some warm California sunshine. In fact, the last time she’d talked to her mom, on New Year’s Day, she’d sounded quite positive about making the trip, declaring that she wanted to see Disneyland. “Before I’m so old that you have to push me around in a wheelchair and spoon the applesauce into my mouth.” They had both laughed over that then. It didn’t seem funny now.

Rita didn’t often admit it, but her mom had probably been her greatest mentor. Other than a couple of rough adolescent years, they’d remained really good friends. Rita had grown up watching Donna efficiently running her own business. Not only did she own and manage her own hair salon — Hair and Now — she was also an excellent and respected hairdresser, with a faithful following of clients. As a child, Rita had loved helping out at Hair and Now on no-school days. And when she’d announced her decision to go become a hairdresser, dur- ing her senior year, her mom had supported her. Even when Rita had to break the news that she’d chosen a beauty school in Southern California, her mom had still supported her. And she’d paid Rita’s tuition. “Your grandmother gave me my start with Hair and Now,” she’d told Rita. “This is the least I can do for you.”

Rita had fond memories of Hair and Now. It was located on the lower level of Millersburg Mall, a mall that had once been host to one of the best ice rinks in the area — the same rink where Rita had learned to skate. But due to bad management and expensive repair costs, the rink had been shut down when Rita was in high school. The ice had been replaced with bistro-style tables and chairs and potted trees circling a big fountain. Many considered this an improvement, but Rita had always felt it was a mistake.

Hair and Now remained in the same place, where it had been nearly as long as the mall itself, and although Donna sometimes joked about retirement and had been preparing to celebrate her big six-oh next month, Rita had never gotten the impression that she was serious about hanging up her scissors. In fact, Rita had been convinced that her mother, with her sparkly blue eyes, youthful complexion, and shiny platinum-blond hair, was young for her age. When Rita was a teenager, she and her mother had sometimes been mistaken for sisters. “Oh, that’s just because our coloring is so similar,” her pragmatic mother would say in a dismissive sort of way. But Rita knew that her mom had loved the gaffe. And why not?

As announcements were made about preparing for landing, Rita felt a surge of conflicting emotions rush through her. She peered nervously out the window, looking through the dark night, down to where the blue-hued lights illumi- nated the landing strips of O’Hare. As much as she hated to admit it, she felt fearful that her mother might not have made it. What if she’d taken a turn for the worse and hadn’t survived the day? But at the same time, Rita felt hopeful, remembering Maxwell’s encouraging words about stroke recovery. Surely her mother, who’d always been a strong woman and a fighter, would still be holding on. Perhaps she’d be sitting up in bed by now, talking and joking with Ricky and her dad. Rita also felt a giddy sort of excitement to think of this — she was about to see her family again. But even that was laced with dark thread of concern. What if she was too late? What if her dad and Ricky were brokenhearted with grief right now?

LOVE GENTLY FALLING by Melody Carlson

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Keys of Heaven

Chapter 1

by Adina Senft

The young Amish mother in the mint-green dress, black bib apron, and crisp organdy Kapp looked at Sarah Yoder a little doubtfully. “Chickweed?”

The June sun shone through the sparkling windows of the guest room on the first floor of the farmhouse, which Sarah had begun to use as her dispensary. Gripping his mother’s hand and trying manfully not to cry was her little patient — a boy of four so sunburned that his skin had already begun to peel.

Briskly, Sarah took the big bunch of chickweed that she’d pulled from the bank near her garden, and demonstrated as she talked. “It’s a humble little plant, but it’s wunderbaar, truly. You scrunch it up and rub it between your hands, like this, ja? ” The plants began to break down, their juicy stems and leaves forming a wet mass (mucilaginous, her herb book said, when goopy would have done as well). When it was good and ready, Sarah gently applied it to the little boy’s arms and shoulders. “Were you working in the field with your Dat, Aaron?”

He gulped and shook his head, flinching in spite of himself. “We went swimming in the pond. Mei Bruder and the boys from the next farm.”

“Ah, I see. And when you’re swimming, you don’t feel the sun working on you, do you? Does this feel better?” She dabbed the juicy mass on his cheeks and forehead, and he nodded.

“It feels cool.”

She stepped back and smiled at him. “You look like a duck who just came up out of the pond, all covered in weed. What does a duck say?”

Instead of saying “quack-quack,” the boy gave a perfect imitation of a mallard’s call.

“I see a hunter in the making.” She brushed his fine blond hair from his eyes and tried to ignore the pang in her heart.

Simon. Caleb. No longer little boys who she could cuddle and sing to. And now, Simon was gone.

He and his best friend Joe Byler had done a bait-and- switch a few weeks ago, making them all think they were going to an Amish community in Colorado for a working vacation, and all the time they’d secured jobs at a dude ranch, wrangling horses. They were working among worldly people and all the temptations to a young man that living outside the circle of their people would bring.

Oh Lord, be with him and keep him safe.

“How long should I leave the chickweed on him?” Aaron’s mother asked.

“Not long,” Sarah assured her, coming back to herself. This was work she could do, a difference she could make right here with another woman’s child. Worrying about Simon profited her nothing. The Lord had him cupped in His hand, didn’t He? There was no reason to worry. “Rinse it off when you get home, and if you can, squish up some more and put it on when he goes to bed. He might need to sleep on a towel, to save the sheets.”

Denki, Sarah. I’m so glad you knew what to do. Sunscreen is no good after the damage is done, and vinegar didn’t seem to help him.”

Sarah accepted a payment that still seemed to her to be too much for such a simple solution, but the young mother seemed happy with both the treatment and the new knowledge she’d gained. When they clopped away down the drive in the gray-sided buggy the churches used here in Lancaster County, Sarah could already hear Aaron begging to take the reins, just the way Caleb, her youngest, always had when he was that age.

Boys and ponds. Boys and horses. Boys and dirt. You could count on the magnetic attraction between them the way you counted on the turn of the seasons.

She turned and walked across the lawn to her garden — or as her sister-in-law Amanda was fond of saying, “that crazy quilt patch you planted.” The patterns she had seen in her mind’s eye back in the muddy days of spring had come to full fruition, the way a complicated star-and-flying-geese pat- tern materialized out of fabric when Sarah’s mother-in-law, Corinne, made Yoder a quilt.

First there was nothing, and then there was something, patterns emerging to create beauty where there had been none before. Was this how women reflected God as they went about the act of creation in small ways and large?

Sarah knelt to inspect the progress of the peas climbing up their teepees of string. Was she being prideful even to think such things? Because baking, gardening, and sewing were all small acts of creation, when you got right down to it. Leaving out the miracle of conception itself, what about bringing up children? There was no creation as beautiful as a child who worshipped God and learned to love Him at an early age.

“Hallo, Sarah!”

And speaking of . . .

She stood and shaded her eyes against the sun. “Hallo, Priscilla. Wie geht’s?

“I’m well, denki.” She waved an envelope and Sarah felt a leap in her heart. “I have a letter from Joe. I thought you might like to read it.”

From Joe. Not Simon.

As the pretty blond sixteen-year-old crossed the grass, Sarah took a deep breath to settle herself and made her way between the squares of culinary and medicinal herbs to join her under the maple trees. “You’re lucky. Joe is a much better letter-writer than Simon, as it turns out. My boy has never been away from home this long — never had to write me let- ters. The things we find out, even when we think we know someone so well.”

“That’s why I thought you might want to share it with me.”

“Come back to the house. Do you have time for a root beer? I made some on Saturday.”

“I do. It’s my day off from the Inn — Ginny doesn’t have anyone come in on Sundays, and her other helper is working today. I can’t stay long, though. Mamm is doing the washing.” Nearly all the women in their district did on Mondays. Sarah had just finished taking in hers before the sunburn patient had arrived.

When they were settled with cold root beer fizzing in tall glasses, Sarah opened Priscilla’s letter from Joe.

Dear Pris,

I hope you are well. I’m writing this from the porch of the bunkhouse, where all us hands sleep. Yesterday was officially the longest I’ve ever been gone from home, including that time we went to Holmes County when my two cousins married twin sisters and there was a tor- nado during the wedding. Hard to believe.

Simon sends his regards.

We been real busy. Like I told you in my last letter, this ain’t no fly-by-night outfit. The ranch house alone must have cost a couple million to build, even if it is just a real big, fancy log cabin, and don’t even get me started on the barns and bunkhouses. Everything is first class. Guess that’s why they hired us, ha ha.

We just got back from a week-long trail ride. Me and Simon went along to tend to the horses, because a herd of Japanese businessmen don’t know much about ’em except which end to put the bridle on.

They treated us real good, and I have to say, I never seen such pretty country as I have here. You really see what God was about when He made the earth. We saw two bears and a mountain lion and a bald eagle. I took a picture of the she-bear with my phone because I didn’t think any of the boys would believe I really saw one.

We worked with the guests to teach them about their horses, and by the time we got back, all but one of the Japanese men could saddle and curry his own horse. The one who I guess is the boss of them was real happy with what he called the “team building exercise” — he gave us a nice tip. A hundred dollars is pretty nice, I’d say! I sent it home to Dat.

I’ve had a letter from Mamm. I think Dat is still pretty mad at me, but he’ll come around.

Okay, it’s time for supper.

Yours,

Joe

Sarah folded up the letter and handed it back. “Do you think it’s true about Paul?”

Priscilla shrugged one shoulder under her deep rose dress and matching cape, and pushed up her glasses with one finger. “I don’t know. I think he’d have been less mad if the boys had been more honest. It wasn’t the ranch he objected to, so much as the lie.”

Sarah could well imagine Paul’s feelings of betrayal. She’d struggled with the same. On top of it, she didn’t have a big farm to run with one less pair of hands.

After a moment, Priscilla said, “Do you think they’re coming back?”

“It’s only for the summer.” Sarah wanted to encourage her, but it was hard when she wondered the same thing. “Whin- burg Township is home. I’m sure they’ll be back when the snow flies and they’re laid off, even if they’re not in time to help with harvest.”

Priscilla nodded, and as though this had reminded her of something, she changed the subject. “Is Caleb over at Henry’s?”

Ja. Henry needed help no matter how he fought against it — did you hear that he got an order from some big kitchen store in New York to make jugs and batter bowls?”

“I did, and I know why, too. One of the men who works for the company in New York spent the weekend at the Inn with his girlfriend. He got Henry’s name from Ginny and spent the whole Saturday in the barn with him. His girlfriend didn’t mind, though. You should see the quilts she bought — one of them was Evie Troyer’s ‘Rondelay’ — her most expensive one. Mamm worked on it last winter. She said Evie was delighted — and so was her husband the bishop.”

Good for Henry, to find such a good commission so soon after moving here. Sarah wished him well — and as for any other feelings . . .

After Henry had tried to help her stop Simon from leaving, things had been… different between them. Oh, they were cordial and neighborly and Sarah still sent over a plate of baking with Caleb when she could, but under it all was the faint sound of an alarm bell ringing.

An Amish woman could be neighborly with an Englisch man. The Amish were friendly to everyone. But Henry was more than Englisch. He had grown up Amish and chosen to leave rather than join the church. He and Sarah might share a fence line, but between them there was a great gulf fixed . . . and any feelings that might have gone beyond friendship could never cross that gulf.

After Priscilla went home, Sarah spent the afternoon weeding the herb beds next to the house, where she grew the plants closest to her heart. The fragrance of lemon balm, rosemary, thyme, and lavender rose up around her the way prayer must rise to God. The Bible called it a “sweet-smelling savor.” Maybe it smelled something like this to the Lord, too.

Her chickens, interested in the disturbed soil, came to in- vestigate, yanking out worms and chasing butterflies. The way they threw themselves wholeheartedly into whatever they did made her smile. People thought chickens were stupid, but she was beginning to learn that wasn’t so. She and Carrie Miller over in Whinburg had got to talking when they’d run into each other at the discount barn, both of them looking for shoes for their Kinner. When Carrie explained that the birds could learn their own names and understand phrases, Sarah hadn’t believed her — until she’d tried it herself.

One of the Red Stars was nipping at the leaves of the sage. “Here, you,” she said. “Not for chickens. You go eat the grass.” The hen ignored her, so she said it again, and gently moved the bird toward the lawn. The hen made one final attempt, and when Sarah repeated, “Not for chickens,” at last she turned away and pulled up a few blades of grass instead.

Sometimes it took a few reminders to do the right thing. Content with her garden and her flock, Sarah found herself giving thanks for her blessings.

She didn’t need to look over that fence where forbidden things grew.

A

On Friday evenings, Sarah and Caleb usually crossed the creek and walked up the hill to the home of Jacob and Corinne Yoder, her late husband’s parents. But since they were expecting a visit by their extended family and the van was to arrive on Friday, the immediate family supper had been moved up to Wednesday.

Amanda met them at the door. At nearly twenty-one, she was the baby of the family, unmarried and still living at home, and she and Sarah had become such good friends that Sarah had dispensed with “sister-in-law” and simply called her “sister.”

Her own three sisters were far away in Mifflin County, busy with husbands and children, and while they exchanged letters every week, and saw each other at least once a year, it wasn’t the same as the everyday companionship she’d been used to, growing up. Amanda and her other sister-in-law Miriam, who owned the local fabric store, had stepped into the gap, and Sarah thanked God for them daily.

While Caleb galloped out to the barn to find Jacob, his Daadi, Sarah followed Amanda into the kitchen to be hugged and absorbed into the busyness of getting a family meal on the table.

She found a moment to pull Amanda aside, and took a small package out of the pocket of her dress. “I made you some things for your skin,” she said. “Chickweed and cleaver tea — I wrote out a recipe that tastes gut — like breathing a meadow. It will clear your glands if you drink a cup every morning. And here is a jar of rose cream. Use it everywhere, not just your face.”

Amanda touched her jaw, where a couple of blemishes had appeared, her gaze falling self-consciously. “Is it that bad?”

Sarah gave her a squeeze. “Of course not. But there is nothing wrong with using the plants God gave us to make things better.”

“But to care about how I look is vanity,” Amanda objected in her gentle way.

“Our bodies are God’s temple,” Sarah reminded her. “And there is nothing vain about providing a healthy place for God’s spirit to dwell.”

Amanda laughed and accepted the packet. “All right. There is no arguing with a Dokterfraa.

“I don’t like people calling me that,” Sarah said, following her upstairs to her bedroom, where Amanda put the packet on the dresser. “Mostly I’m just muddling through the books Ruth lent me, experimenting on poor Caleb, and hoping I don’t hurt anyone.”

“That’s not what I hear.” Amanda’s loyalty touched Sarah’s heart, but before she could respond, Corinne called them down to help put the food on the table.

Later, after a dessert of lemon meringue pie and homemade ice cream, while the four women were doing the dishes and the menfolk were relaxing with full bellies in the living room and girding their loins to take on Caleb at Scrabble, Amanda brought it up again.

“I hope you don’t mind that I mentioned you to Linda Peachey on Sunday. I know you have your regular patients, but it can’t hurt to expand, can it?”

“Linda Peachey?” Corinne’s hands stilled in the hot dish- water. “Isn’t she well? Not that I wouldn’t believe it, living on that tumbledown farm with all those wild children. I don’t understand why Crist doesn’t move out of his brother’s place and give her a home of her own.”

“I doubt he can afford it, Mamm,” Miriam said, wiping plates dry with speed and precision. “They live off the land as it is — both theirs and their neighbors’.”

Sarah remembered the first time she’d gone for church at the Peachey farm, back when the old folks had it. It had sparkled with fresh paint and you could swear the lawn had been trimmed with nail scissors, so beautifully was it kept. But Crist Peachey and his brother Arlon didn’t seem to have the gift either for farming or for keeping the yard and barn in good condition. The old place seemed shabbier and more run-down every year they hosted church. Their wives did their best to grow food, but it seemed that the only things that grew without effort were Arlon and Ella’s children.

Crist and Linda, married five years, had not yet begun a family.

“What is Linda’s trouble?” Sarah asked.

Amanda looked a little embarrassed. “You know.”

There were only a few subjects on which Amanda didn’t have the confidence to speak — subjects where you had to have experience before you could have an opinion.

“Oh,” Sarah said. “I don’t think anything I can do will help her conceive. That’s in the Lord’s hands.”

“At least talk to her,” Amanda pleaded. “She’s such a nice little thing and she hardly gets a chance to open her mouth with that tribe rampaging all over the place.”

“They shouldn’t be rampaging.” Corinne dropped a pot into the sink with a clang. “If those boys spent half the energy on helping Arlon in the fields that they waste on climbing trees and running wild in the woods, that farm would be a different place.”

“They’re still in school, aren’t they?” Sarah said.

“The two younger are, if you can pin them down long enough to go,” Amanda said. “One of the elder two just got back from a month with Arlon’s relatives in Lebanon County and the other is putting the i in Rumspringe.

“But why don’t they help?” she wanted to know. “It’s their place to honor God and their father by helping him now that they’re old enough. With four boys, that farm should be fixed up and producing enough to keep them by now.”

“I don’t know what the problem is,” Corinne said. “They’re a cheerful lot, and all smiles in their dirty faces, but a firm hand should have been applied years ago, if you ask me. I don’t know what Arlon and Ella are thinking.”

Arlon and Ella were not Sarah’s business. But Amanda seemed to think that Linda was. “If you see Linda, let her know I’m happy to talk with her,” she said at last. “I don’t know how I can help, but at least I can give her a nice big slice of pie and some fresh milk. Everything else is up to the Lord.” Amanda’s smile broke out, making her quiet face with its broad forehead and small chin beautiful. “I’ll tell her.” “Speaking of things being up to the Lord, I hope you’re coming Friday,” Corinne said. “Did you have anything else planned?”

Sarah shook her head. “Only writing letters. My sister is expecting again, so we’re all excited as can be. She had a mis- carriage this past winter, you know.”

Corinne nodded. “I’ve been praying for her — I’m so glad! Well, that’s gut, then. Our company will be here in time for dinner — you remember my cousins Zeke and Fannie King? One of Fannie’s relatives who is farming east of there is com- ing, too. We hardly ever get to see Zeke and Fannie except in the winter. This is a treat.”

“I’d love to. What can I bring?”

“One of those funny salads with the flowers in it,” Amanda said promptly. “I love those.”

Sarah laughed and said, “A salad it will be. Maybe I’ll put nasturtiums in it, just for you.”

She reached up to put the dry drinking glasses in the cup- board, and missed the conspiratorial look and raised eyebrows that Amanda exchanged with her mother. When she turned back again, they had wiped it from their faces and the con- versational river flowed on as if that silent exchange of secrets had never been.

KEYS OF HEAVEN from THE HEALING GRACE series by Adina Seft

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