At the crunch of footsteps, he looked up. A young Amish girl, one he'd noticed sitting in the back on the ride over was looking nervously at him. He saw her whenever he glanced in his rear-view mirror. Well, maybe, he looked more than that. She was a pretty young thing, but she should be too young to capture his attention. Now the girl was shuffling her feet, using her toe to draw circles in the plowed dirt of the field where they parked.
"Can I help you?" Jed was perplexed. "You're Adelle, aren't you?"
She nodded then looked over her shoulder before turning to him and whispered, "They told me you left the Amish. I want to ask you some questions 'cause I'm thinking about leaving too."
He glared at her wanting nothing to do with this discussion. The last thing he needed were angry Amish parents chewing on his tail for talking their precious little daughter into leaving the fold.
Adelle did not look away, one second, two seconds, three seconds, four seconds. He finally broke eye contact with a big sigh, saying, "Don't make me do this."
"You aren't. It's something I've already decided. If you help me, fine. If not, I'll find a way. It's not like I'm going to do it tonight, but I am trying to come up with a plan. This is not some whim, or because of some wild Rumspringa thing. You could say I've long been discontented with the mold I'm being forced into. However, now that I'm eighteen, I've decided to do this sooner than later. I just need more information."
This time when he looked back, Adel found compassion and pain in his eyes. "It will change everything for the rest of your life," he told her. "Even if you decide to go back, it will never be the same. The Amish may forgive, but they have long memories. Are you ready to break your parents hearts?"
"Yes, but you might say they've already broken mine. Since my mamm remarried, it's been difficult, very difficult. She can't or won't say anything though. You know how some Amish men rule with a fist over his house while the woman stays in submission. She will never stand up for me. It's just the way it is. But in my case with a hard stepdat, I can't bend as much as I'm expected to do. So, I'm always causing a problem at home. My stepdat has a temper that is only seen inside our walls though he is quite respected everywhere else. I'm afraid I keep him angry a good bit of the time."
"Is that what you are trying to get away from? If so, I'm sure there are plenty of young men who would be willing to court you. Marriage would not be far behind, and then you would be out from his and under your own roof. Perhaps that would be the better choice if you find the right Amish man."
"Are you kidding!" she gasped. This is about my convictions, about the Amish teachings! Even when my dat was alive, we went round and round on our faith. I will never, ever join the church. I see too much hypocrisy. Like you."
"What do you mean like me? Don't drag me into this." He crossed his arms over his chest and scowled as he stood up straight from where he leaned against the hood of his Jeep.
"No, what I mean is that we aren't supposed to drive or own a car, but we can hire drivers. That makes no sense to me. What's the big difference in hiring a driver to a use a car or owning a vehicle? That's what I mean about hypocrisy."
"I struggled with that too, but that wasn't why I left." Then he realized he'd left himself wide open.
"So, why did you leave the Amish to become a Mennonite?"
"It was personal."
Jed gritted his teeth. "It was about a girl and challenging the Ordnung."
He was glad she just let it go. "So what do you want to know? If it's about their rules, you should probably talk to my pastor, not me."
"No, it's just that the other girls told me that you'd left. I don't know who else to ask. I want to know about the Mennonite beliefs, to know first of all, if that's what I want to choose. If it's too much like the Amish, then I want no part of it."
Jed looked at her with new eyes. Respect. But he also couldn't deny she was attractive, even as plain dressed as she was.
Before he could begin, Adelle sucked in her breath and said, "Oh, no."
"The bishop's wife just saw us. I didn't know she was going to be here this far from our own district. She gave me the look. She'll tell her husband, and he'll tell my stepdat."
"Did they tell you not to talk with me?" That made him uncomfortable as if they thought he had the plague. He'd never been shunned because he'd never joined the Amish church.
"No, it's just that my stepdat is very controlling about who I can talk to. By the woman's look, she knows good and well that you're not a proper Amish boy, I mean, man. I'd better leave. Uh oh, now she's looking back and telling Belinda, and Belinda is the biggest gossip in the district."
"I hope you find the answers you're looking for, Adelle."
"Can we meet again sometime?"
He rubbed his neck. "I don't know if that is wise." He hated seeing the dejection in her eyes.
"I'm at the Farmer's Market every Saturday morning. Maybe you could come by my stand, and we could work something out," she persisted.
The elder's wife and the Belinda woman were still looking at them. Sure, but you'd better go find your friends quickly though."
"Thanks. See you Saturday. I won't try to talk to you on the way home tonight, just so you know." She gave him a quick smile then took off at a pace that the older women would not be able to match.
He opened his book back up but couldn't concentrate, especially as the sound of songs sung in German drifted over him. It was a reminder of his growing up years. Instead Jed put his ear buds in and listened to some different worship music on his IPhone while waiting for the young people to give them a ride home.
Jed couldn't help glancing often at the girl in the backseat. Occasionally she saw him, but looked away demurely. It reminded him of when his sister followed him out of the Amish pestering him with questions, though not as deeply as this girl's, except she wasn't anything like a sister.
Had he really agreed to meet her again? He was crazy. But that was one determined young woman. The girl had his thoughts spinning. Jed certainly did not want to get her in trouble, but she seemed sincere about leaving the Amish. It was a big decision. Jed figured he would talk with his pastor between now and Saturday, maybe even bring him along as well. He took a deep breath. Yes, that's what he'd do.
Only his pastor was out of town.
When he got to her booth the following Saturday, of course a couple of young men were hanging around. It was as if she was the flower, and they were the bees. He sure didn't want to get stung or even get too close to her nectar. It would get too sticky. He had to admit she was alluring, in a fresh young Amish girl way, too young for him though. Her hair was the same dark chocolate as her eyes in a fine featured face that was tan with a sprinkling of freckles. Adelle was slender, but filled out her plain dress in a way that even her apron could not cover. It was bad enough that he'd not been able to get her out of his mind all week. She must have triggered his protective tendencies because he found that he wanted to help her. Yes, that was all.
He recognized Luke. He'd been the one who called to arrange a ride last weekend. Luke's brother Amos had been Jed's best friend until Jed left the Amish, that is. Jed and Luke's brother Amos had drifted apart since then. Now Amos was married with four children. Jed couldn't imagine that.
It wasn't like Jed wanted to be a driver for the Amish, it was just that he had a soft spot for the young people and couldn't turn Luke down when he'd asked for a ride to the singing in another district earlier. How well he remembered those times, and how old it made him feel now since he was a just a few years under thirty. However, it did made him think of her, his old girlfriend Mary, the one he left behind when he suddenly decided to leave the Amish. She'd pressured him to join the church, but he just couldn't, not even for her. They said he'd broken her heart, or maybe not. She seemed to be happily married with three kids now. Last time he ran into her in town, he honestly didn't know if she'd put on fifty pounds or if she was pregnant again. Jed almost didn't recognize her. Now, he had no idea what he'd seen in her to begin with. It was a long time ago.
After he left the Amish, he'd hung out with the Mennonite young people at first, until he felt too old. There just wasn't a connection with any of the young women in his church. It wasn't because they didn't try. More than a couple had let it be know they were interested. But not one of them had eyes like...He wiped the sweat on his brow with this arm as he looked at her, Adelle. He was surprised that not all the young men in the whole market weren't there buzzing around her.
"Hello, Luke." He shook the young man's hand, and then turned to the other one who introduced himself as David. Finally, he looked back at her and said, "It's nice to see you again, Adelle." His throat was so dry, he found it hard to swallow.
Realizing he wouldn't be able to speak with her in front of the guys, he decided to leave.
"Jed, I heard they serve really good lemonade at Smitty's down the street." She stopped him in his tracks. "They have outside tables around the back under the shade of the trees. You sound like you could use something to drink."
She had a tight smile on her face, but her eyes were pleading. He wondered how she knew his throat was so dry? Then he realized she was trying to tell him that she'd meet him there.
He got two glasses of lemonade and waited. He'd pulled a couple of chairs out of sight behind the café. The shade felt good there under the huge walnut trees. He pulled off his baseball cap and closed his eyes enjoying the slight breeze that blew. But when she walked around the building in that quick way she had, he felt more than heard her coming. Jed had a sudden heat burning him up. What was with him? It was like he didn't even know himself.
"Thanks for coming, Jed. I can't take much time since Luke agreed to watch my booth for a minute, but I was hoping you could let me know in a nutshell what the Mennonites believe. None of my friends seem to know, and they don't appreciate me asking."
He sat up and took a long drink of his lemonade until he drained it. . Then he met her eyes, those intense, dark as chocolate eyes framed by thick black lashes. Her eyebrows were quirked waiting.
"Actually, there's a lot of variation in Mennonite churches, even more than how the Amish districts differ from each other. Sadly, the most liberal don't hold to the Bible's teachings any more, however most do. I found myself in harmony with this conservative church since they hold to Scripture and teach that you can have assurance of salvation."
She heaved a sigh of relief. "That's what I'd been hoping. It seems clear in my reading of Scripture that we can know we are God's sons and daughters and not just have to hope or wonder. But go on, please." She looked uneasily over her shoulder before taking a drink. "Thank you for the drink, by the way. I didn't know how thirsty I was."
He rubbed his finger over the rim of his empty glass. "They believe in God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They believe in the truth of Scripture as the Word of God. They believe in believer's baptism, not infant baptism. They believe in a personal acceptance of salvation through faith, and the assurance of it, like I said before. Let's see, what else? Oh yeah, pacifism, of course."
"Do they teach that one is saved by the keeping of the rules of the church, the Ordnung?"
"No, not at all. They believe in grace, not works. However, they do agree to keep to a simple unworldly lifestyle. There's a certain amount of conformity that goes with it, just not as much emphasis as with the Amish. Yet, there's quite a variety of conscience when it comes to some choices. Some have cars like me, or tractors, phones. A few have televisions, though they are still frowned upon."
"Do they have Rumspringa?"
"Not exactly, no. Sinful choices are still verboten. It's not as if God can't see sin just because they are youngies. They encourage their youth to weigh their decision to join the church very seriously. Adult baptism is the outward symbol of being committed to live a sin-free life pleasing to the Lord."
"Good, I mean I think it is ridiculous to tell teenagers to go taste the world and then come back to the church. Even if most do, they bring a lot of secret regrets back with them, a lot of guilt. The way they get drunk and all that goes with it, is so ungodly. Some are blatantly sinning thinking that it's okay since they haven't joined the church yet. It's like their parents have told them to go do it, join the world, then are surprised when they do."
Jed couldn't keep from grinning. This young woman was certainly passionate. The way she kept looking over her shoulder though, made him realize their time was about up. In fact, she jumped up from her chair and was about to leave when he captured her hand. His head buzzed, probably from the heat. She only stared down at their hands. He jerked his away.
"I just wanted to know if you got in trouble, you know, for talking with me?"
"Yes," She grinned, "but it was worth it. What's a few extra cow stalls to muck? Maybe, we can do this again next Saturday," then she blushed, "but you're probably too busy."
"No," he said quickly. "But I'll try to bring my pastor next time. He can answer your question better than I can."
"Please, no! I mean, it's bad enough that I'm talking to you again, but if I'm seen talking to a pastor, sparks would really fly."
"Okay. I understand. I'll come by your booth next Saturday."
"Thanks. And do you mind waiting a few minutes until after I've left before you walk out. That way someone might not suspect..."
"No problem. See you next Saturday, Adelle." He smiled.
She had her head cocked and was staring at him before she shook her head and said softly, "This means a lot to me. Danke."
Jed rubbed his hand on his chest where it felt tight around his heart. He didn't know what was wrong with him, but after a few deep breaths, he felt better, that is until he thought again about the way she'd looked at him before she left. Then the thumping hard against his rib cage began again. Oh boy. He'd better knock it off and quick. She was way too young.
Sure enough, the next Saturday, the Farmer's Market had so many youngies hanging around her booth that he wasn't sure she even saw him. He picked up a pint of blackberry jam and wove his way up to her to pay. As soon as she saw him, she flashed a bright smile before she dropped her eyes saying, that will be $3.00. "Ach, it's so hot. A glass of lemonade sure sounds gut," with a quick glance meeting his eyes.
He found the chairs still where he'd left them last week and waited once again in the shade behind the diner with two glasses of lemonade. But this time he had his eyes open. He wanted to watch as she walked up to him. He was rewarded with even more of a beaming smile.
She tried to hand him a five dollar bill. "I can't take your money for the jam and have you buy me lemonades too. So here."
He refused. She had to grab the money before the breeze snatched it away.
"What would you like to know today?" He leaned forward. He could smell a whiff of honeysuckle.
Suddenly she looked troubled and glanced around. "Do you know if there is a way, you know, provision for Amish young people who want to leave? Like a place to stay? Or at least, do you know of any jobs I could apply for so I could support myself?"
He sat back tilting on two legs of his chair leaning up against a tree while looking straight at her. Her eyes, dark like melting pools of chocolate in the heat, finally forced him to look away. She was dead set on leaving, no doubt. He rubbed his chin, "Not really, just good people who might be willing to step in and help. I could ask my sister. She followed me when I left the Amish and married a good Mennonite man. I'm sure she'd understand and would be willing to help you. Anne lives here in town. They have a lot of kids, well just three who are busy enough to be a dozen, but also have a large house. As far as a job goes, I'd have to ask around."
"I'm embarrassed to ask, but can I have your phone number, you know, if I need to leave? My step-dat is putting a lot of pressure on me. He has someone he wants me to marry and is hurrying me to join the church. He even told the man he could court me, but I can't stand the thought of him."
"Sure, but I don't have a pen or paper."
"Here." She pulled out a pen and an old receipt from her apron pocket.
As he wrote his number down, she rubbed the ice cold lemonade glass against her forehead saying, "It's so hot."
"Call me anytime," he said.
"Danke. It seems I'm always saying that to you, Jed. You're my first friend who's not Amish. This means more than I can express." Her eyes caught his with an unwavering sincerity. "I am embarrassed to say this, but do you think you can ask your sister right away, or find somewhere I could stay soon?"
He clasped her hand promising, "I will do my best, Adelle." They sat there for a moment before she pulled away.
"If I don't see you sooner, than next Saturday?"
His breath caught again thudding in his chest as her fingers slipped away from his, but he managed to say, "I'm sure I can find something soon, so don't worry. You can call me to ask, or if something happens before then and you need to get away..."
Her eyes looked like those of a doe about to bolt. He didn't know how bad her home situation was, but his protective feelings could run ahead of him if he wasn't careful. Jed knew he shouldn't be the one to sway her. The decision needed to be all her own. At least she was eighteen, he told himself, old enough to make the choice herself.
Then she left. He waited five minutes before also leaving to return the empty glasses back to the diner's window. As he came around the corner, he noticed a buggy pulled over by the diner. An Amish man fiercely glared his way. It was enough to make him worry. Jed thought he recognized who it was, afraid he knew why the man was grimacing at him.
Jed meandered casually over towards the market where the man had moved and hitched his buggy. He was marching toward her booth. Her friends stepped back as he plowed through. Even from his distance, Jed could see Adelle pale as the man grabbed her arm and shook her. She quickly boxed up her unsold items then and followed him meekly carrying her box of things to the buggy. He had not been able to hear what was said, but he'd seen enough to make him want to step in. It was all he could do to hold back. For a fleeting second, she looked around while seated in the buggy, and their eyes met. He could see the pleading in them from where he stood. But it wasn't time. Instead, Jed called his sister quickly explaining the situation. He had a grim satisfaction knowing he would soon help her out from under her stepdat.
Jed hung around until late waiting for her call. It didn't come. He finally went home. It wasn't until he sat in church the next day that his phone vibrated. He slipped out the back door to answer even though it was the middle of the pastor's sermon.
"Can you come now? I'll be behind the shed at the back of the schoolhouse."
"I'll be right there."
She had just one black garbage bag limp with all her worldly possession. But what captured his eyes was her uncovered chestnut hair penned into a loose bun. Her eyes were a bit wild looking around.
He grabbed her sack as she scooted in and bent completely over in the seat so as not to be seen.
"My sister wants you to come to her house. They're ready for you. I saw your dat Saturday, and knew you'd call me right away. How bad was it for you?" He found himself rubbing her back as she began crying softly in answer.
"Once in town and driving down his sister's street, Jed told her, "I think its safe to sit up now. We're almost there."
Adele wiped her eyes with her sleeve and looked away.
He found her hand and entwined their fingers and gave them a squeeze.
Once he parked he waited until she looked over at him. "Did he hurt you?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "Not really. He mostly yelled, but did shake me." I've been confined to my room listening to him yell at my mamm mostly. I hurt for her. My dat wasn't like this at all. I am so sorry for her and my little brother and sisters. They all walk around on eggshells. I won't be there to protect them anymore," She choked back a sob.
"Gott is there. Maybe He will use your example of standing up against that behavior as something useful in their future instead of having to keep quiet like your mamm."
"Yah. I hope so. This is a nice house. Are you sure your sister is okay with me coming?"
"She jumped at the chance to help you after I called Saturday at the market. She's ready for you, although they're still in church right now."
"It was an off Sunday for our district, and my family left to visit with his cousins. That's when I slipped out and called you." She chuckled. "He locked me in, so I had to climb down a trellis."
At least it held until the last few feet before it keeled over and I could jump. My stepdat will have no doubt how I escaped."
Jed had a hard time not looking at the wisps of hair blowing loose from her bun, tendrils he wanted to reach out and touch.
She caught him looking and patted her hair self-consciously. "I didn't bring my kapp because I know the Mennonite ones are different. I hope your sister can help me make one like hers before next Sunday.
Jed forced himself to look away. "I'm sure my sister has one she can loan you. We might as well go in, unless you'd rather wait in the car, that is."
"I just don't want someone seeing me here. Is it okay if we go in?" She jumped every time a car went down the street.
He hoped the time would come soon when the poor girl would not have to be looking over her shoulder constantly. He grabbed her sack of things and led her to the door with his hand on her back. Once inside she perched on the edge of the sofa half bent over hugging herself. He wanted to put his arm around her, but knew that wouldn't help.
"You'll like my sister and brother-in-law." Their kids are five years old and on down, my niece and two nephews. By the way, before church when I spoke with our pastor about you, he said that they might be hiring over at the bookstore hoping to find someone who speaks German. You can, right?"
Her face lit up. "Yah! I love that store. The Englischers have always been so nice to me, Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins."
"Well, the pastor said for you to tell them that he sent you if you want to go there tomorrow morning."
Tears were in her eyes, so he asked, "Are you okay?"
"Yes, it is just that you and the others who I don't even know are being so kind to me."
Against his better judgments, he went over and sat down beside her, wiped a tear off her cheek and tucked her hair behind her ear before taking up her hand in his. Again. It just felt right as her fingers entwined with his resting in his grasp. Hers were as calloused from hard work as his. He smiled at the berry stains on her fingers.
"Been picking blackberries I see."
She grinned. "That's where your jam came from, smarty pants."
They relaxed against the back of the sofa. "What changes are you looking forward to the most? Are you wanting a phone, or will you be saving for a car?"
Adelle giggled. "Of course not. Why would I need those things? I can walk where I need to go here in town. I think I'll save so I can get my own apartment. I can't live on your sister's good graces forever. But I think I better not count my chickens before they're hatched."
When they heard a car door shut and children's laughter, and Jed let her hand go like a hot potato. Adele jumped up off the couch and waited facing the door. He stood putting his hand on her back. "Don't worry. They won't bite, except the baby. He's teething."
She looked up at him. He found he'd succeeded in putting a smile back on her face as he grinned down.
The door flew open and a little boy and a girl burst in yelling, "Uncle Jed's here!" Suddenly they scooted to a stop and stood stock still when they caught site of her.
"Hi, I'm Adelle. What are your names?"
"Is this your girlfriend, Uncle Jed?" the boy asked.
"Where's her kapp?" the older girl pestered.
His sister Beth came in just then with a baby on her hip and rescued them. "Children. Where are your manners? Hi, you must be Adele. We are so glad you are here! I'm Beth, and this is my husband William."
Beth's eyes were much like her brother's hazel ones and they crinkled at the corners just the same. She wore a simple dress with buttons and an all-over small flower print. Adelle thought it was beautiful. It did not take long at all before she found herself already at ease among this family.
Even though Jed had backed away, she felt his watchful gaze upon her. That confused her a little as he was the kindest man she'd ever met, nothing like the youngies she'd known. Holding her hand, patting her back had been a comfort. It was no more than that, just a kind gesture. She could not make it more than it was. No matter though, he had proved to be a true friend, and now so was his sister.
Adelle knew exactly what his Jeep sounded like when he pulled in Monday afternoon. He would give it a little gas up the incline of the drive before shutting off the engine. He evidently liked his radio. She could hear contemporary worship songs as well as country sometimes, music some of their drivers had played from time to time.
In fact, when he bounded onto the porch, she had to hold herself back from answering the door, letting her host family do it. He caught her smile and said, "Did you get the job at the bookstore?"
Adelle rose up on her toes and said happily, "Yes!"
"Ready for what?"
"Your first driving lesson."
"Don't worry, I'll take you to a back country road out of the way of traffic and just give you some pointers. You'll need to learn sometime."
Adelle put her hands on her hips and teasingly said, "And what if I don't want to?"
Jed strode forward and in a blink had thrown her over his shoulder as if he was a he-man.
She beat his back while all the children came running to watch the spectacle. "Put me down! Okay, okay, I'll go with you," She tried to act mad, but couldn't hide her laughter. He swung her down gently and stood with his arm around her waist ready to capture her if she tried to get away.
"Jedidiah Joel, you watch your manners! Mamm would be so ashamed if she saw you do that!" But Beth was laughing too. "I have to admit, he treated me almost as badly when I balked at his driving lesson. But he only twisted my arm, and didn't throw me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. I can't believe him!"
The country road was out of the way, no where near her family's farm. Adelle did not want to admit to him, but she was thrilled to be driving while at the same time scared to death. Glancing over at him from time to time, he looked a little scared himself, tight lipped with his hand white knuckled on the dash.
"Maybe you'd better slow down, Adelle. You're going a little fast for a beginner."
Then she put the brakes on a little too hard making the car fish-tail.
"Okay, that's good enough for today. Go ahead and pull over now."
She did so leaving the car running and forgetting to put it in park. It started to roll as she stepped out so he reached over and shifted into park.
"It's okay. At least we didn't end up in the ditch like my sister's first time out."
"Yeah, but don't mention it. She still gets a little cranky if I bring it up."
When he came around the car to get in the driver's seat, she had the urge to hug him in gratitude, but held back at the last minute. Still he hesitated looking down at her. Their eyes held. Then with a sigh he broke away and went on around to get in behind the wheel. Adelle buckled in the passenger seat not sure of what had just happened, but it made her stomach clench like a tight fist. It was quiet all the way back into town.
"Thanks for the lesson," she managed to say before hurrying in to the house.
He came in more leisurely and answered his sister's questions on their lesson went with a grin. He enjoyed embellishing her oops moment with a little drama. She giggled with a blush creeping across her face.
Of course he stayed for dinner. His sister teased him about having to feed him so often now. It made Adelle wonder if he came more often because of her. If so, why?
After dinner, she went to her room for a minute after helping with dishes and stopped before going back in the kitchen when she heard Anne talking seriously with Jed. The kids were outside with their dad. They were catching lightning bugs while he was working on something called a carburetor. She didn't want to interrupt and was about to leave when she heard her name spoken.
"I can tell you like her, Jed, but she's still a youngie. I wish you would try to get to know my friend Grace. She's very interested, you know, and is closer to your age. Grace is beautiful, inside and out. I think you'd make the perfect couple. Why not ask to take her to the..."
Adelle didn't want to hear any more and went back as quietly as she could to the room she was sharing with their young daughter. Sharing a room with a five year old did make her feel like a youngie, but that wasn't what made her heart hurt. To be honest with herself, she knew she had become too attached to Jed. It was a good thing that she would start her new job at the bookstore tomorrow. A portion of her salary was to be the studio apartment provided above the store.
As long as she could make just a little more to support herself, she would be happy. It was almost too good to be true, so any thoughts of Jed needed to be put in their place.
Forcing herself to think of something other than the conversation she'd overheard, she got out her sewing, sat on the bed and began working on the pretty flowered dress Anne had given her. She just needed to take it in here and there. It was such a freeing feeling to be able to wear something that was indeed lovely. Anne had also given her a kapp to wear as a covering. Tonight Adelle promised herself, she'd look up those Scriptures again on a woman's head covering. She certainly had a lot on her mind, and even with the prospect of a new job, a new apartment, new clothes, she felt weighed down with a heavy heart. Did Jed think of her as just a youngie?
Adelle forced her thoughts away to her new job. The couple was waiting for her on a bench out front. The Jenkins were a nice couple, but it was obvious that Mrs. Jenkins had changed. She had a worried countenance all the time they spoke and seemed to cling to her husband. Adelle had to remind her two or three times what her name was. The poor woman kept asking her husband why Adelle was there. Mr. Jenkins impressed Adelle with his patience and loving care towards his wife. She was afraid it was Alzehiemers or some form of dementia. No wonder Mr. Jenkins needed help.
Jed knocked on her open door. "Are you excited about tomorrow?"
She smiled up at him. "Yah, very. I have always loved being in that store. What a blessing it is to not only have a job there, but an apartment provided as well. Gott is gutt."
"I'm taking off, but wanting to wish you well. Bye, Adelle." He made the mistake like doing that thing again where he looked far too deeply into her eyes. Jed had to tear himself away with a deep breath.
"Bye." Adelle wiped a tear after he had gone, after hearing the front door close wishing she could have said, "I'll tell you all about it tomorrow." He might come back tomorrow or the next day. But even if he did, she would be already settled in her new apartment. She'd only see him across the aisle at church.
Adelle settled into her new apartment early then went downstairs to the shop. Mr. Jenkins was there with his wife as a shadow behind him. He explained again her duties as his wife kept tugging on his shirt asking who she was.
"Danke for the lovely apartment. I can't believe how everything is provided from sheets and towels to dishes and pots and pans. I feel so blessed!"
Mr. Jenkins looked relieved. "Good. Sorry I didn't get up there to clean before you came." He glanced at his wife. "It isn't easy to get away to do such chores anymore. I hope it wasn't left in too bad a condition."
"No, it's perfectly fine. I'll just give it a good dusting tonight."
"The store could probably use that as well. I'd appreciate it if you could also vacuum before you leave tonight. I'll come help lock up, but I need to get my wife settled back in the house now. It's getting harder and harder to leave her for very long at a time. That's why I needed the help. Feel free to call for me if you have any questions. We just live in the built-on apartment next door."
At night Mr. Jenkins would come in to count the till and close up. His wife clung nearby watching Adelle with suspicious eyes. Later in the week she pointed accusingly and said, "That girl is stealing from us!" I saw her put something in her pocket."
Adelle pulled her handkerchief out of her pocket to show her.
Mr. Jenkins only shrugged and shook his head saying, "No dear. I trust Miss Adelle. Don't worry about her."
Pretty soon it became a repetitive theme and his poor wife would accuse Adelle daily of stealing. It always made her blush. No one had ever thought that about her before. It was becoming a real embarrassment. Mr. Jenkins just tried to ignore his wife even as she became more strident. A couple of times late customers heard her, much to Adelle's shame.
Finally, the disturbed woman began getting in Adelle's face and poking her with her bony finger. "Thief!" she would cry.
Mr. Jenkins sighed and told Adelle. Maybe it's better if I cut back your hours since my wife has such misgivings. I won't be able to pay you much over the provision of the apartment, but if you're not here when I close up, maybe she'll calm down. Sorry about that. The doctor says it's just a sign that her symptoms are getting worse, but pretty soon she'll forget about it."
He looked so sad, that Adelle could hardly think about what it meant for her only working part-time. As long as she could afford food and had a roof over her head, that was enough. Her needs were very basic. She was even more thankful for Jed's sister Anne giving her the couple of dresses and a kapp. She could even wear her Amish dress if need be. Her apron had come in handy to wear while she worked saving her dress from dust and dirt.
It was only getting worse, however. One time Adelle walked to the little grocery store and turned the corner and almost ran into her boss' cart. His wife began yelling, "Thief, thief!" Adelle looked around before she realized that Mrs. Jenkins was talking about her. She left her cart and went out blinking back tears.
He caught up with her and walked her back to her apartment anyway. Adelle didn't know why she felt like crying. She'd felt so friendless even when surrounded by the good people in church, even walking beside him. A wall of Grace stood between them, especially now since Anne introduced them at church. Grace was indeed a beautiful lady with golden hair and blue eyes that had carefully appraised her. She didn't feel like she could tell him about Mrs. Jenkins either, not wanting to speak badly of her boss' wife with her accusations. So she just said, "It's going well," when he asked, and "Yah, she liked church very much."
He watched her as she climbed the stairs and went into her empty apartment. Jed was a little upset that his sister had not offered to invite her to dinner, asking Grace instead, and wondered if Adelle was sorry she'd left the Amish since no smile lit her countenance today. She wore sadness like a heavy cloak. When he'd asked, she only shrugged and told him goodbye.
Her gloom was contagious and stayed with him through dinner no matter how much his sister or Grace tried to draw him out. Fortunately, the children's chatter filled in the empty spaces while his brother in law involved him in a discussion of car repair. He left before Grace did insisting he had things he had to do at home. The only thing he truly needed to do was to open his Bible and try to settle his heart and mind. However, his concentration was pretty useless always wandering to picture Adelle's sad face. Instead, he found himself driving to the parsonage and knocking. He was more than surprised to find Adelle there with a smile back on her face as she bounced their baby on her knees. Then she looked up and blanched when she saw him.
"Hey, Jed, come on in. We were just talking to Adelle about joining the church and getting baptized. You are welcome to join us," the pastor said waving him inside.
"Would you like some lemonade or tea?" Susanne asked.
"Lemonade sounds good," but drinking in the sight of the young woman was quenching a parched area of his heart even though she looked down and avoided his eyes. "Thank you," he said taking the cold glass.
The pastor's wife Susanne took the baby back from Adelle as the discussion continued.
"Adelle has asked some good questions, but I believe you had prepared her well. Do you have anything else you want to know, Adelle?"
She shook her head with a shy smile at the pastor. It was hard to get used to seeing a leader of the church without a beard. Some men in church chose to wear a beard, but like Jed, he did not. An Amish man always grew a beard and never cut it after getting married. But those were surface things that had nothing to do with salvation, so it mattered not to her. It just was different. Speaking about things that were different, she decided to brave asking a question that had been bothering her.
Adelle felt Jed's eyes upon her, but she only looked at the pastor and his wife as she asked about head coverings. "I noticed in church that not all the women wore kapps today. I understand why the Amish and even most of the Mennonite women wear them in church, but I'm trying to reconcile it biblically. I know what I Corinthians 11 says about a man is not to pray with his head covered, but a woman must keep her head covered while praying or prophesying. But then it goes on to say in verses 14-15," and she opened her Bible and read, "Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering." It is almost contradictory which makes me wonder if there is one practice of wearing a covering in church and that of outside the church with a woman's hair as her covering. So would that mean it's okay to go without a kapp outside of church? I know I was taught that it must be worn at all times so that a woman would be covered just in case she wanted to pray, but I lean towards thinking that it refers more to public prayers."
She glanced up to see Jed grinning at her. "What?" she asked him almost irritated.
"I for one certainly agree that a woman's long hair is her glory."
It made Adelle blush a deep rose, but was aghast when the pastor asked Jed what he thought of her question.
"Well, I can say that it seems proper for women to wear their hair covered in church, though there seems to be at times a prideful competition as to which kapp is the best. I doubt God really cares. However, I think it is a shame somehow not to honor those last verses allowing that a woman's hair is her covering and that it is a glory to her. When I have a wife, I would encourage her to wear her head uncovered at least at home since it says earlier that the woman is the glory of man. However, it says there that in the Lord neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman which makes a man and a woman in equal partnership with God."
Now the pastor was grinning and looked at his wife a little smugly. "Yes, my wife had to hurry and put her kapp on when you knocked on the door, Adelle, for I don't ask her to cover her head here at home either. She covers it when we are in company or go out so as not to be a stumbling block to others. Don't let Jed fool you. We have talked about this before, and he knows how we feel."
With that, the pastor's wife, Susanne took her kapp off with a smile. "You don't mind, do you Susanne?"
Susanne took off her kapp as well. "That feels so much better, especially when it is hot!" But she still wouldn't look at Jed even though she felt his eyes heavily upon her again.
The pastor continued. "I'm afraid most of the women in church wouldn't agree and would be offended seeing you two like this, even some of the younger women."
"Like Grace," Jed added. "I about had my sister talked out of wearing her's all the time until her friends, like Grace, made her feel it was shameful. I was sorry to see that happen as her husband was happy with it either way."
That brought Adelle's eyes up to meet his. "Really?"
"Yah, some people are a little more inflexible than others going with tradition instead of searching the Scriptures out as you have." He locked eyes with her again until she looked away.
"Perhaps they haven't had to examine things like someone leaving the Amish has had to do trying to sort what things are of God and what is of man."
The pastor spoke up, "Most who leave the Amish do so out of convenience, shall I say, rather than conviction as you have done, Adelle. You are to be commended."
The conversation continued to astound her. She was not used to being complemented at all and was uncomfortable with the attention upon herself. "I do have a little bit of a problem I'd like to ask your advice about though." She took a deep breath, glanced at Jed before speaking to the pastor and his wife. She told them of the accusations that were getting worse by poor Mr. Jenkins' wife, and how her hours had been cut back already only after one week.
"I don't want to cause him a problem. I know that he needs to care for his wife and has a hard time doing that while at the bookstore with her so insecurely clinging to him. It's just that it has happened publically several times now. I don't know if any of that talk has come back around to you yet."
The pastor looked at his wife and rubbed his chin. "It is a small town, and I must confess, a busy-body did come running to tell us what she'd heard at the market. It's no fault of yours, Adelle. You can hold your head up even if some would rather believe wrongly of you. It won't hinder your baptism or joining the church. I will explain to the elders on your behalf. However, I appreciate you sharing your side of it. Most people have not been around the Jenkins enough to realize the burden the man carries. I think it is good of you to think so kindly of him in spite of his wife's accusations. You do understand that it is part of the symptoms of Alzheimer's, don't you?"
"Yes, it still is hard to not take it personally, especially when others think ill of me as well."
Jed found his fists clinched and his jaw tight. It wasn't as if he wanted to fight the old lady, but he wished he could protect Adelle from such pain. No wonder she seemed so sad. Perhaps she had gotten some sideways glares at church today, but he hoped not.
"Was there something that you came over for in particular, Jed?"
It caught him by surprise. "Not really." He rubbed his neck, but then looked up at Adelle and grinned saying, "But I'm glad I felt prompted to come here this afternoon."
Adelle saw the pastor and wife share a smile and found herself blushing again. So she jumped up and excused herself. But of course, Jed insisted on driving her home instead of allowing her to walk the mile or so in the heat. She put her kapp back on and accepted Susanne's hug.
Once in the car he said, "I dare you to take that off," he elbowed her with a grin.
"My reputation is already shot. I don't need to give them more fodder," she frowned.
"I guess you're right, but your hair is beautiful, Adelle. I enjoy seeing you without your kapp." There she went turning a deep pink again.
"Now that my kapp's back on, maybe I should say a prayer for you Jed, for your forwardness?" but she grinned back at him.
He took a deep breath. That was the Adelle he had become so fond of. "I'm sorry it's so rough at the bookstore for you. It was obvious today that you were upset." She couldn't even begin to know his thoughts on how he wished he could rescue her. He took his hat off and ran his hand through his hair then froze.
She was running her fingers through his hair on the back of his collar. "Isn't it a shame for a man to have long hair? Don't you think it's time for a haircut?" She was teasing him without a clue on what her touch did to him.
"You're probably right. I do need my hair cut."
"I could do that for you, outside on my porch, of course."
He glanced over, "Would you?"
"I cut my brother's hair, though I try to make my mamm cut my stepdat's."
Her fingers sent chills down his back, of a nice kind. It made him want to bury his fingers in the back of her chestnut tresses bound in that bun. It was her glory alright.
Instead he just said, "That would be nice. Do you have scissors?"
"Yes, I found a good pair of sewing scissors in a drawer. The apartment has everything I need already in it." Everything but groceries, she thought to herself as her stomach growled.
"How about I take you to get something to eat first. I'm kinda hungry." He'd hurried through Sunday dinner at his sister's without taking his usual seconds. He hadn't even waited for dessert. No wonder his sister had looked askance at him.
He pulled into a new small café, not the large Amish restaurant that was always closed on Sundays. "Have you ever eaten here?" he asked.
No, I've only eaten at Smitty's a few times with friends, and at the big restaurant once. We didn't go out much as a family."
It made Jed once again thankful for his sister and her family. It had been a lot of lonely months before she and William were married and had made a home that always made him feel welcome. He'd found that same welcome at the pastor's home. The man had become his best friend. He did miss his parents and grandparents, and visited about once every month or so on off Sundays. It was through them that he'd heard of Adelle's mother coming to marry Mr. Schwartz. That man had made Jed's life miserable growing up, always chasing him away from the best fishing holes and accusing him of allowing their bull to get in with his cows when the man was negligent in keeping his fences in good repair and things like that. He'd felt sorry for any woman who would marry such a man. He'd only seen Adelle at a distance and then only as a youngie, not the beautiful young woman she was now.
She was looking at him.
"I said this looks good. I am hungry. What would you recommend?" She was clutching her pocket for what was left of her first paycheck afraid of what a meal here would cost.
He saw her fretting and guessed why. "We have to have an understanding before we go in, that this is on me, alright?"
She hung her head and nodded. No young man had ever paid for a meal for her before, and it wasn't even a date.
He opened the café door though he wasn't fast enough to open the car door for her. As soon as they were seated and were waiting to order he said, "Do you realize we were almost neighbors? I moved away about the time you moved there with your mother. In fact, I don't remember actually seeing you before I was your driver to the singing."
"I saw you before."
"You were fishing. I hid back in the trees just watching to see if you caught anything. I wanted to learn to fish."
"You never went fishing?"
"No, my stepdat said it was only for boys, not girls."
"I'll take you sometime." That earned him a smile.
"I'd like that."
Just then the bell rang on the door and Grace and a large group of her friends walked in. When she saw them together she came over and forced a smile when she obviously would rather scowl. "Hi, Jed. Did you get done what you hurried away from Sunday dinner for?"
"As a matter of fact I did. I paid a visit to our pastor's house."
"Did you want to tell him how Mrs. Jenkins is going around town accusing Adelle of being a thief?" She almost looked triumphant.
"No, actually, Adelle told him. It's very sad that Mrs. Jenkins' Alzheimer's has progressed so quickly, poor lady. Did you know that suspicion and delusions are often symptoms of the disease? However, sometimes people are suspicious even without the disease, wouldn't you say?"
Grace fought to keep her composure but seared Adelle with a look.
"I think I just made an enemy," Adelle whispered as the young women with her friends trailing decided to leave the café without eating.
"I think she was on a collision course with you already. It's called jealousy. I know my sister's been pushing her on me a lot, especially lately. I guess I didn't appreciate it before, but even less now, with her insinuations." He blew out a big breath. "I probably was a little over the top just now, but it made me mad. Sorry about that."
"Thanks for standing up for me though. That was nice." Adelle was still flushed from the confrontation. She wondered how much Grace had to be jealous about, but tucked those thoughts away with all her other thoughts today.
"Just imagine if you had decided to not wear your kapp!" He teased.
"I think she would have accused me of being a hussy," Adelle grinned.
Jed took her hand. "Never. You're one of the most modest and godly young women I've ever met."
Would she ever be done blushing, she wondered? Fortunately, the waitress who had taken their orders brought them what looked like an appetizing meal of barbequed ribs, corn on the cob and coleslaw. "I've always wanted to try barbequed ribs. My mamm never made them."
After Jed dropped her off, Adelle let herself into her apartment and sank onto her daybed with her head full of all that had transpired today. They'd decided she should wait and cut his hair another day. A knock on her door drew her attention tearing her away from her thoughts. It was Mr. Jenkins.
"I hate to say this Adelle, but as I've gone over my ledgers for the week, it appears money is missing. I'm not saying for sure that you are guilty, but still I can't continue to keep you here or in my store. Maybe my wife was right. I'll give you a week to move out."
Adelle was stunned. "I assure you, Mr. Jenkins, I never took money from your till. You can search my things..."
"No, I'm not going to law enforcement, but neither am I going to extend my trust any longer. You're done here, Adelle. I want you out as soon as possible." He gripped the railing as he clumped back down the steps as if his knees were stiff.
Adelle covered her mouth, but was unable to hold back her sobs as soon as she shut the door. She cried out to God for help, but could not get beyond calling His name. Where would she go? Who would hire her now? She had not made enough to go out on her own. Tomorrow she would go back to the pastor begging for his help. She had never even stolen a cookie in her own mother's kitchen without asking first. Her reputation was ruined. What would Jed say?
The next day, she walked in the cool of the morning before the day heated up making her way across town to the pastor's house. Susanne opened the door with a spatula in a hand and the smell of bacon frying beckoning from the kitchen.
"Come in, Adelle. You look terrible! Should I call my husband?"
"Please." She could not say more with the lump in her throat threatening to break into more ugly sobs.
While Susanne went back to cooking her family's breakfast, Adelle told the pastor what had happened. "So, I need to move out as soon as possible, but I don't know where to go or who would hire me after he has accused me of stealing." She took deep, shaking breaths with her head hung in shame.
"I'm so sorry, Adelle. I'm sure truth will eventually come out, but in the meanwhile, we will find a safe place for you to stay. In fact, I'm sure my wife wouldn't mind a mother's helper for awhile. I don't know if she told you, but she is expecting again and not feeling well right now..."
Just then Susanne ran by them to the bathroom. Adelle could hear her retching.
"Morning sickness? Tell her that I'll finish breakfast, and she can rest."
"See? Already God is working good out of this situation. As you can tell, she needs help at least until she gets past getting sick. Unfortunately, if it's like her other pregnancies, the morning sickness will probably last for most of her nine months. I can't promise to be able to pay you much, but if you are willing to stay in our daughters' room with her, we would be happy to have you here. I'm sure Susanne will agree. But I'll ask her just the same, as soon as she's done hugging the toilet, that is."
"Thank you so much. I'll go into the kitchen now."
Life seemed to be normal with children needing to be fed and the older ones getting ready to be off to school much like her own home. But it was still shocking to Adelle that she was in the midst of this family and accepted so readily. She scrambled the eggs and thanked her Father all at the same time while answering the children's curious questions. Susanne came in for just a few minutes to grab Saltine crackers and to thank her before going back to bed.
Things settled down as the youngest one sat on the floor playing while Adelle cleaned up the kitchen and looked in the freezer to decide what to fix for supper. Midmorning, the pastor stuck his head in for just a moment to assure her that she was welcome to stay with them and to tell her that he was leaving for the church.
"I'll also try to go speak with Mr. Jenkins sometime this week, Adelle. Something's not right here, and I hope we can figure it out. I won't stand by and have your reputation smeared. It's like slander against all us Mennonites as we are members of one another in our church. For now though, we won't say anything to others."
"I'm so very grateful for everything. Danke." Adelle wiped a tear off her face with the back of her hand as she kneaded bread. A cobbler sat cooling on the counter. She was working off her nervous energy by baking. The little children still were happy, Adelle only had to step in to stop the baby from crawling off. Meat was thawing out to make a meatloaf later. For lunch she planned to make macaroni and cheese. She kept her eyes on the clock to make sure it would be done by noon.
Finally, Susanne came out and picked up her youngest, who was only one year old. She still did not look very good, very pale. Her hair had not been brushed and re-braided yet this morning. "I don't know what I would have done without you, Adelle. My husband has had to work from home the last few weeks. I can tell you that he is especially happy to have you here."
When the pastor came in for the midday meal, he suggested that she could go with him when he picked up the children from school. He would drop her off so she could clean out her little apartment and collect her things. Then he would swing by the store to do a small grocery shopping before picking her up on the way back to their home. He even was thoughtful enough to offer to give her key back to Mr. Jenkins for her.
Adelle took a deep breath and let it out "Thank you. That would be great. I don't have much, but I will have to clean a few things out of the refrigerator. I would hate to leave the place dirty, but I don't know what to do about the dirty sheets and towels though. If I bring them here, I might be accused of stealing them, but I would hate to leave the poor man with extra work."
"I'll be sure to tell him that I told you to bring the dirty laundry here and will return it in a couple of days myself."
Adelle agreed. "That would solve that problem. Thanks. It's nice to see you have a real washer and dryer. I've only used a wringer and am used to hanging clothes out on a line. I've been hand-washing my clothes at my apartment. I'll have to ask Susanne how to use the big machines," she grinned.
"Ahh, yes, the washer-dryer issue. It caused a few ruffled feathers from some of the most conservative members when I purchased them, but it settled down as more and more of the congregation went out and did likewise. I have quite a band of happy housewives now who think I'm wonderful for leading by example," the pastor joked.
That night after the meatloaf was gobbled up, a pounding on the door interrupted the family as they were enjoying the cobbler she'd made.
Jed burst in when the pastor opened the door. He was saying, "I can't find Adelle anywhere. No one knows where she is."
The pastor only turned with a smirk and held his hand out to where she was sitting. "Would you care to join us, Jed? Adelle makes a mighty fine cobbler, almost as good as my Susanne's," he said with a wink at his wife.
"Oh." Jed took off his baseball cap and ran his hand through his hair. "Sorry to burst in like this. I just got an ear-full by Mr. Jenkins. It was all I could do not to get back in his face."
Adelle clutched her stomach. "I didn't do it."
"Of course you didn't, Adelle. Anyone who knows you, knows that's impossible." Jed walked over to her as if no one else was in the room.
"But I'm so embarrassed. I don't know what happened," she whispered. He thumbed a tear that was trickling down her cheek. "Hey, did someone say there's cobbler?"
After Jed had a plate set before him, the pastor and wife told him about the new living arrangements they'd made for Adelle.
As Adelle washed supper dishes, Jed and the pastor were talking quietly in the living room. She could only overhear a few things over the children's happy chatter while doing their homework. She heard things like "people are talking," and "some people in the church might not appreciate what you are doing for her..." She'd not even thought of that. If her being here caused dissention, she'd need to find somewhere else soon. She closed her eyes and prayed that God would allow truth to come out so that she could clear her name. She saw Jed glance over at her a couple of times as the men had their heads together and spoke more quietly.
When the older daughter asked for her help with her homework, Adelle pasted on a forced smile and sat beside her to show her how to figure out the word problem. Jed came in and put his hand on her shoulder. A warmth went through her clear down to the pit of her stomach.
"Walk with me out to my car, okay?"
She wordlessly got up, took off her apron and hung it on a hook before she followed him out through the door he held open for her.
His hand went around her shoulders. She'd never been this close to a man before making her heart beat frantically. "Listen, Adelle, I don't know why God is allowing all this trouble to fall upon you, but I want to assure you that I will stand by you. We'll get to the bottom of this eventually. Are you okay?" He turned her to face him lifting her chin to look at him.
Adelle could only nod. As he looked into her eyes then down at her lips, she wondered if he was going to kiss her. Instead he released her, only to grab and squeeze her hand quickly just saying, "I'm praying for you. Try not to worry, okay?" Then she blinked and he was gone.
"I won't," she managed to say though he couldn't hear her as he got in his jeep and left. Then she berated herself for thinking his actions could be taken more personally. He was just a good friend looking out for her, just like her pastor and wife were doing. Which reminded her, she needed to find somewhere else to stay if it meant saving them grief from those who, like Grace, would think ill of her."
Adelle had someone in the back of her mind that she was now seriously considering. Her mother had mentioned at one time a great-aunt who was Mennonite. Adelle didn't even know if the woman was still alive. She tried to remember where her mother had said that the lady lived. She took a deep breath and went back into the house. She still needed to put clean sheets on the single fold out bed in the girl's room where she would sleep. The two little girls were giggling about having her staying with them. At least they had a double bed to share. After the lights were out, Adelle lay staring at the ceiling which reflected the moonlight and wondered where in the world she belonged.
As she stirred the oatmeal the next morning, the kids were noisy with their simple chores. Becky the oldest told her younger sister to hurry up, that she was as slow as maple syrup.
Adelle dropped the wooden spoon into the pot. "That's it!" Mapleton. That's where her great-aunt lived. She was pretty sure her name was Eleanor Pitkins. She decided to go walk to the public phone booth by the gas station in the middle of town. Someone said that there weren't many of those left, but here where the Amish lived, they were still often used.
"Susanne, do you feel good enough for me to leave for a few minutes? I wanted to walk and pick up a couple of things at the market, if you don't mind." Which she would do as soon as she made the call for information. "Do you need me to get you anything?"
"How about some more Saltines, and fishsticks. And cherry Jello. Oo, Jello sounds so good! For some reason, the fish sticks even sound good to me right now. By the time they smell up the house cooking though, I'll probably find them nauseating, but it's worth a try. Anyway, it would take care of lunch." Susanne spoke from her room where she was making her bed. "Ugh, just bending over to pull up the sheets makes me want to lose my breakfast."
"Here, let me do it then." It only took Adelle a minute to have the bed made. Just leave that to me from now on. I can do it until you feel better." It niggled Adelle's conscience wondering if she would be here much longer, making promises she couldn't keep.
"I feel silly that I can't even do something so simple without getting sick," Susanne sighed. "I think having so many children this close together has taken the stuffings out of me." The dark circles under her eyes attested to that.
Adelle soon was off at a brisk walk. It would be hot by the time she walked back, but for now a cool morning breeze kept the sun from doing its harshest to breathe down her neck. Once at the pay phone booth, she put in the right coins. "I'd like Mapleton, Ohio, please, for an Eleanor Pitkins." She inserted more coins that were required to be automatically connected.
She counted the rings, two, three, four, five, six, seven...Adelle was about to hang up when she heard a quavering voice say, "Hello?"
It was obvious that the poor lady was hard of hearing and she had to practically shout to be heard asking if she could come for a visit explaining two or three times who she was. A couple of people walked by, but at least she didn't recognize either of them. She was grateful that they weren't Mennonite or Amish, at least not that she could tell by their dress. When her great-aunt finally understood who she was, she graciously offered for Adelle to come visit her. "It's just a small house, but I have a spare room. Of course, I've packed in a few things over the years so you might have to clean it out first. If you can find the bed, you can sleep on it." Then the lady surprised Adelle by cackling.
"I'll go by the bus station and see if I can get a ticket to leave tomorrow. Thank you so much Aunt Eleanor."
Adelle almost felt sick to her stomach thinking about hurting Susanne's feelings with her being so sick. Yet, it would be better in the long run rather than having people in the church upset with them for taking in someone many considered a thief.
The bus station was just over from the gas station. She soon found a bus that would leave at 2:00 in the afternoon and had just enough left from her one and only paycheck to purchase a ticket. Good. That would leave her time to cook up a few meals ahead for her pastor's family. Adelle quickly walked to the market putting the groceries on their tab, then back to the house where she found Susanne holding the baby in one arm and a throw up pail in the other.
"Oh, dear. Let me take the baby for you, Susanne." Then with the baby on her hip, Adelle set out the rest of the meat to be thawing in the sink. She also stirred the Jello until it was dissolved, leaving it to set before running the crackers into where Susanne now lay with an arm over her eyes.
"Thank you, Adelle, I don't know what I'd do without you."
Guilt played across her mind, but she knew it would save them grief in the long run to have her gone.
"I've decided to cook some meals ahead, so don't think I'm making a feast just for tonight. I hope the smells won't bother you."
"Maybe I'll go lay on the hammock outside while the baby takes her nap. Thank you ever so much, sweetheart."
Adelle put the baby down in her crib for a nap, and began cooking up a storm, meatballs, shepherds pie, tuna casserole, stuffed peppers, and then fried chicken for their supper tonight. The rest would keep in the freezer. She also made an apple dump cake, brownies, and snickerdoodle cookies.
The pastor walked in. "What's all this? It smells so good in here."
Adelle took a deep breath, then confessed to the pastor her plans for leaving. "I can't stay where people suspect me of such a terrible thing. I just remembered that I have a great aunt in Mapleton, Ohio. I called and she invited me to come stay with her. It isn't that I don't enjoy staying with you. I really, really do and feel terrible about leaving Susanne while she's so sick, but I can't bear the thought of some of your members upset over you having me here."
"Oh, Adelle." He shook his head. "You overheard us talking, didn't you?" She nodded looking down at her shoes. The poor man looked distraught. "I thought you were such a Godsend, but I understand. I can ask Susanne's mother to come stay until she feels better. But please don't feel like we want you gone, because we don't."
"Have you told Susanne?"
"Told me what?" The woman looked better with a little color back in her cheeks. "What's going on?"
"Adelle feels like she should go live with her great aunt in Mapleton. She thinks people will talk and stir up trouble if she stays here."
Susanne stood with her fists on her hips and feet wide apart as if to do battle. "That's ridiculous!"
"Susanne, dear, if this is what Adelle wants, we have to support her. I'm sure it's not easy to live in a town where her name is maligned."
Susanne blinked away some tears. "Well, it's all just ridiculous if you ask me."
"I think we should ask your mother if she could come stay for a few weeks until you feel better, dear. I'd hate for you to have to go back to the hospital like you did last time getting too dehydrated."
Susanne sighed. "I suppose, but my father will complain like a hound dog with ball and chain during coon season."
Adelle giggled. "I didn't know they had doggie ball and chains."
That lightened up the discussion, especially when Susanne noticed all the food Adelle had been busy making. "Oh, my goodness! I take a little nap and then you do all this?" The baby woke up in the other room and Susanne went to go get her.
The pastor said softly, "You know who will really be upset, don't you?"
"No." Adelle looked at him quizzically.
Adelle's eyes got big, then she turned to take the cookies out of the oven. "He's been a good friend, but I've been a lot of trouble for all of you. This will be best."
"We'll see," he said with a knowing grin.
She frowned as she put the fish sticks in to bake. It was so hot in the kitchen now that she suggested a picnic outside in the shade under the elm tree. The little ones were happy, and Susanne was able to eat a few fish sticks without the overpowering smell that had filled the kitchen. The mint tea that Adelle brought her helped too. That night Adelle cried a few silent tears about leaving. She would miss the good pastor and wife, and she had to be honest, she'd miss Jed. A lot. She'd never had a friend like him. In the morning, she was like a whirlwind cleaning and catching up on the laundry. She put her winter cape in with the couple of dresses in her sack, one spare Mennonite one and then her old Amish one. She did not have much else to pack but her nightgown. When Adelle had left home, she'd left her trunk there of handwork she'd been sewing for years to save for when she got married. So with so few things, she would travel lightly.
When she came out tugging the black garbage sack, Susanne asked, "If you are taking out the garbage, would you mind getting the bathroom trash too?"
Adelle paused, then laughed. "These are my things I'm taking on the bus."
Susanne's mouth dropped open. "Oh, no you are not going to your great aunt's like that! What would she think of your friends? Let me get you a small travel bag. It doesn't look like you have much in there anyway, so a small one should do you."
"That's not necessary," Adelle tried to say, but her friend was already on her hands and knees pulling out a bag from under her bed.
She needed help getting up. "Umph. I'm getting soft. But here, this will be better than showing up with what looks like a bag of garbage."
Adelle laughed. "You're right. It will look better. I can't afford for my only other Mennonite dress to be thrown out."
"Wait, you only have two dresses?"
"That's all I need, one for work and one for church."
"That's ridiculous! I have dresses in my closet that I'll never fit back into. You can remake those to fit you when you get to your great-aunt's." She came out with five dresses over her arm. "But now you'll need a bigger suitcase. This time I'm going to have you get down and pull it out." She wouldn't listen to Adelle's protests and so when it was time, the pastor drove her to the bus stop and pulled out her bigger suitcase from the back of his van.
"God will go with you, Adelle. Thank you for the encouragement you've been to me and my wife."
Adelle's mouth fell open. "I thought I was trouble. You've been so kind. Danke." She shook his hand before boarding the bus. Then she looked back not sure what she had hoped to see, before turning to find a seat. With a belch of smelly diesel, the bus left her hometown behind and all that was dear. Adelle hardened her heart from shedding any more tears. She would write her mother after she arrived at Great-Aunt Eleanor's house.
What she hadn't thought of was that it was dark when they arrived. Adelle didn't know where her aunt lived and it looked like the bus depot had closed its doors before they got there. She looked around realizing that not all the passengers on the bus, especially some who had gotten off with her looked very reputable.
"Hey, missy, do you need me to help you?" A greasy-haired gap-toothed middle-aged man in overalls stepped in front of her.
"No thanks. I'm meeting someone." That was true in that she'd never met her great aunt before."I'm just going over there to the gas station to wait." At least it still had its light on and a pay phone booth out front. When he still tried to grab her suitcase for her, she tugged it back. "No thank you, sir. I've got it."
He winked at her then stumbled over to the bar across the street, the only other business still open. Adelle hurriedly put coins in the phone thankful she had the right change. Only no one answered. The coins dropped down in the slot at the bottom. She tried again. Still no answer, but this time the machine did not give her the money back. Adelle decided to walk into the gas station and ask at the counter. "Excuse me..." A young man about her age turned and grinned a little too big. "Do you know where Miss Eleanor Pitkins lives? She's an elderly woman..."
"Sure, darling, everybody knows where Aunt Ellie lives." He wasn't bad looking, tall, lanky, appearing to be just a little on the wild side with frayed jeans, an oil-stained white tee shirt with a pack of cigarettes in his pocket, and sporting a pair of aviator sunglasses still up on his head even though it was dark.
"Is it very far from here?"
"Oh, only about a mile and a half out of town. How come you are asking?" He pointed to her suitcase. "Surely you aren't planning to go stay there, are you?"
Adelle swallowed and felt like a deer in the headlights.
"Gosh Golly, Almighty! Who'd thought the old lady had a looker like you in her family?" Adelle felt like she was redder than the neon sign out front that advertised Camel cigarettes for cheap. "Listen, sugar, I close up in about thirty minutes and can run you out there. You sure you want to stay with that ol' coot? Cause I got a bed at my place and..." he winked.
Adelle gasped. He backed up laughing, "Just kidding. I was just trying to get a little fun out of you. I can see you're a good Mennonite girl. Is the old lady expecting you?"
"Yes, I just didn't expect to get in so late. The bus broke down halfway here, and it took a lot longer than I thought."
He put up his right hand, "You can swear by me to get you there without me stepping over the line, little lady, not that I wouldn't like too."
Her eyes got big, but then narrowed in anger. "I think I'd better call a driver instead. I don't appreciate your manners."
"Hoo, howdy. Okay then, I'll promise to be a gentleman. Here you can ask Sid. "Sid, can this little lady trust me to get her to her Aunt Eleanor Pitkins?"
"He's as trustworthy as a wet dog in a swollen river."
"He means I'm real trustworthy, sweet pea."
She glared at him.
"Okay, but you ain't going to get any drivers out this time of night. So you can choose Sid here or I could mosey over to the bar and see who's the most sober, if you like..."
She looked at Sid, but he put his hands up and said, "I lost my license. You'd best go with Jimmy here."
"Just remember, my aunt is expecting me, and she'll call the police if I don't show up at her house soon."
Jimmy opened a drawer and pulled out a badge. "I'm not on duty till after midnight, but I promise to get you to your aunt's house in two shakes of a 'possum's tail."
"Lamb," she said half under her breath.
"Excuse me? Did I hear you say something, pumpkin?" He looked her over but good with his grin never leaving his face.
"I said lamb's tail, two shakes of a lamb's tail."
He grinned. "Of course I knew that. I was just giving you a little of the hillbilly talk we use around here."
"Thank you, then. I'd appreciate the ride." She threw up a prayer and hoped it reached heaven in time while she had a white knuckle grip on her suitcase. It turned out that he was indeed a gentleman in spite of his banter and had her at her aunt's door in no time.
He even insisted on carrying in her suitcase. He knocked. It seemed to take forever for the dog inside to quit barking and the door to slowly open. "Evening, Miss Pitkins. I found your niece here wandering around my Uncle Sid's gas station. Thought you might want her special delivery."
Much to her surprise, the little lady got up on her tiptoes to pat the young man's cheek. "You always were a good boy, Jimmy. Tell you mother hello for me, dear."
"Sure will, Miss Pitkins. It sure as shooting was a surprise to find your niece here almost as purty as you are." He winked at Adelle, tipped his straw cowboy hat, then left.
Her aunt was chuckling. "He's always has been a charmer, ever since he could walk and pick dandelions in his chubby fist to bring to all the old ladies in town. Come in, come in so I can get a good look at you in the light. Well, goodness sakes, don't you look like your pretty mama! I'll have to try hard to call you Adelle instead of Esther. If I slip up sometimes, please forgive this old woman her memory lapses. She plunked and fell back into a chair as if her knees were of no use whatsoever. "That was probably you calling, but I couldn't get out of the chair fast enough to answer." Then with her bony finger, she pointed at Adelle and said, "You've got a story to tell, but I won't try to weedle it out of you tonight. You look exhausted. But you best sleep on the couch here with the dog tonight and unbury the bed tomorrow when there's light. I've got cookies and milk waiting for you, then we'll go to bed."
"Yes, aunte, that sounds gutt." Adelle was surprised to find an unopened package of Oreo's. She'd thought her great aunt would have baked something like most women she knew would have. Adelle had never tasted that kind of packaged cookie, but was happy to try one, rather three or four.
"I don't do much baking any more. I hope you like to cook because I've just about given up on that too and have been eating the dinners for seniors that they send out from town for us old folks so we won't burn our houses down. After the last fire, they had a meeting and decided that I should be added to their list of Meals on Wheels."
Adelle would have been more taken aback, but she saw the twinkle in her great-aunt's eyes. But she wasn't kidding about sharing the couch with the dog. The old mutt let out a groan. Apparently, he wasn't happy about sharing the hard piece of furniture either. It was too hot for the afgan her aunt offered but she took the sheet instead to put half under her and half over her doing her best to keep the dog from snuggling down inside it at her feet.
Her dreams were of a bus slithering along as a diesel belching snake with Mr. Jenkins chasing her with his fist raised yelling, "Thief, thief," then being rescued on a mule by Jimmy after giving it a drink out of the gas nozzle, then outrunning a whole bar full of greasy men in overalls chasing them, and her great-aunt's dog laughing with a twinkle in his eyes, then with Jed staring at her with an expression she couldn't understand. She jerked up saying, "Jed!" Her heart was beating fast. She got her feet tangled up in the sheet and almost fell on the dog who yelped. It was morning.
Her aunt just looked at her with her head cocked like a bird's and said, "Jed? Hmm. I think I can hear a story coming on after you get a little coffee in you and one of these Twinkies."
The Twinkie was good, another thing Adelle had never eaten before, but she determined that she would start cooking for her great-aunt as soon as their morning talk was over. Because it was obvious that the lady wanted all the details, and so she might as well be forthcoming.
After it all was told, it was almost noon. She must have overslept this morning. She jumped up to find something to fix for lunch, but her Aunt Eleanor grabbed her by the wrist with surprising strength. "Dear girl, you have been through more change this past month than I pert near had my whole life. No wonder you don't know if you are coming or going. But mark my words, that Jed is one to hold onto. I let one go like that years and years ago. The biggest mistake of my life. But if not, then Jimmy will do..."
Adelle looked shocked which caused the old lady to cackle. "Just kidding, you sweetheart. I'm sure you looked like the best thing since sliced bread to him, can't blame him none for trying to butter you up. But oil and water never mix, nor oily gas station attendants and the fresh drink of water you're proving to be. To tell the truth, I didn't know what kind of trouble your mamm might be sending my way after marrying that scoundrel you call your stepdad."
"My mamm doesn't know I'm here. I was going to write her after I arrived."
Her aunt patted her hand. "I pray for that sweet woman and the trouble she got in her marriage. His sister keeps me informed. She doesn't live far from here, you know. That's how your mamm met your stepdad. She was here for a week when I fell and broke my hip. He was here visiting his sister. That man was a real charmer, that one. He kept coming over fixing everything he could while she was here. His sister felt real bad about it too. She hated seeing your mamm falling for it, but the woman, your mamm, was determined not to live alone to raise you children. It would have been a site better than what's she's had to put up with."
Adelle was stunned with her great-aunt's candor. She wasn't raised around adults speaking so freely. "I'd forgotten that my mother had come here to be with you. We were living with my grandparents and running free on their farm at that time. They didn't expect much of us after our dat had just died, so we weren't prepared at all for the change when mamm up and married our stepdat." She sighed, "I wish I could be there to protect my mamm and brother and sister, but I just can't any more. He was determined to marry me off to an older Amish man. I had to leave. I'd already decided to leave the Amish, so..."
"I know your mamm must miss you, sweetheart, but she knows it's for the best. She wrote your step-dad's sister. They became good friends in the short time she was here. Unfortunately, your mamm assumed he would be as nice as his sister, but..."
"No, 'nice' isn't a term I could ever use about him." Adelle shook her head. "My dat wasn't perfect, but I remember him as a good dat."
Now, let's have a bite of lunch, then we'll tackle that spare room. Aunt Ellie, as she insisted on being called, had some left-overs from earlier Meals on Wheels that they ate, then Adelle took the black garbage bag the frail woman held out to her, but was shocked when she yelled, "Tally-ho!" and marched-shuffled her crooked self along. It was time to clean out the spare room.
There were boxes of yellowed newspapers, cardboard boxes of old canning jars, stacks of fabric which Adelle carried out to the living room to wash, sort through and refold later. She found old aprons, kapps, and a moth-eaten cape. More blankets than one person could ever use even if they were an Eskimo in the Artic. There were shoeboxes of seed packets, tomato, cucumber and Moring Glories.
Aunt Ellie shook her head. "I've been looking for those for years thinking they were out in the shed or in the cellar, and here they are."
There was even a tackle box and a fishing pole with a hook fastened into the pillow case. "Oops," her Aunt Ellie smiled. "I guess that doesn't belong in here either." Finally they were down to the mouse droppings. Adelle kept the burn barrel going all afternoon and carried several more boxes out to the garbage. Some things went in the old barn, some in the shed, and some would have gone in the cellar, but the door was swollen shut and wouldn't budge.
"It's probably best," Aunt Ellie said. "Last time I went down there, it had too many spiders and even a garden snake. Any of the canned goods left there would probably explode if you touched them."
That was okay by Adelle. She wasn't in a hurry to meet any spiders. She was covered in dust, her hair was coming loose from its pins, her kapp long gone buried somewhere when someone knocked on the door.
"Can you get it Adelle? These old bones don't want to get up out of this chair right now."
When Adelle looked through the living room curtain, she could just see a pair of jeans, and her face flushed with joy, that is until she opened the door and found Jimmy grinning there leaning on the porch railing with a bunch of wild clover in his hand.
"Aren't you a sight for sore eyes," he drawled.
Adelle coughed out a laugh, "And you need glasses. I'm covered in dust, cobwebs, and have mouse droppings all over my hands..."
But he walked right in up close to her and smiled. "There ain't a prettier sight in the whole county than you darlin'." He thrust the flowers under her nose.
"Oh good! Aunt Ellie told me how you've brought her flowers since you were just a little tyke. That is so nice of you, Jimmy," she said tongue in cheek as she handed her aunt the bouquet.
"Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. You always were my favorite, my favorite little neighbor boy, my favorite gas station attendant, my favorite deputy..."
"Why Miss Ellie, you've never so much as set foot in Uncle Sid's gas station since the day the first car was driven here in these hills." He sighed looking at his flowers wasted on a teasing old woman.
"That's mighty nice of you to think of me, but you don't have to bring me flowers to catch a glimpse of my niece. All you need to do is come to church Sunday. She'll be there pretty as a picture. Maybe if you come to church, I might even invite you over for Sunday dinner afterwards."
Jimmy looked like the cat that ate the canary, and it was making Adelle feel rather yellow. She tried to stare down her aunt from behind Jimmy's back from where she still stood holding the door handle.
"How about a drink of lemonade, Jimmy, and you can tell this ol'woman all the latest goin's on in town."
He made himself at home on the couch next to the dog and propped his feet up on the coffee table.
"He likes to drink out of one of those blue Mason jars to the right of the sink. He always uses one of those," Aunt Ellie said as if it was an every day occurrence to entertain Jimmy.
Adelle stared as Jimmy winked as bold as you please right there in front of her aunt. Adelle brought him the lemonade in the correct glass. He drank it down as if he had a terrible thirst.
Then as if to read her mind he said, "Don't worry, Miss Adelle. I didn't tell nobody you came to town. Sid's kept his mouth shut too and nobody listened to that ol'drunk in overalls at the bar who swore he'd seen an angel get off the Greyhound the other night. Did you think I'd want every buck in the county beating at your aunt's door to see you?"
There was nothing Adelle could say that would change her mind. No one had called her baby girl since her daddy had died and that brought on another whole barrage of emotions, tears which she barely blinked back.
She heard Aunt Ellie say, "Uhhuh, " then she patted Jimmy on the arm. With her other hand she'd grabbed him so hard that he couldn't escape unless he drug Aunt Ellie down the aisle and out with him, so he stayed put.
Jed vaguely nodded never taking his eyes off Adelle.
Then Aunt Ellie snickered and said again, "Uhhuh. I see how it is."
After she'd been baptized and joined the Mennonite church, they promised themselves to each other after a Sunday morning service. Her mother and siblings managed to come. Even Aunt Ellie had come having been brought by Adelle's stepdat's sister who had recently moved in with their elderly aunt to be her companion. The church had planned a potluck for them afterwards. Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins had come. The man visited their church recently, though not a Mennonite, and confessed that he'd wrongly accused Adelle of theft. His wife, in her condition, he had said as he looked tenderly down at her, had been squirreling away wads of cash all over the house. He'd been finding it in places like the pots and pans and in her shoes. He asked for Adelle's forgiveness publically. Life couldn't be sweeter. It was sweeter than a bouquet of wildflowers buzzing with bees..