A flicker of movement from the lane beyond the
kitchen window of the old farmhouse caught Rachel Brandâ€™s
eye as she leaned against the sink, washing up the bowl
sheâ€™d used to make a batch of snickerdoodles. A buggyâ€”ja,
it must be Leah Glick, bringing Rachelâ€™s two older kinder
home from the birthday party for their teacher already.
Quickly she set the bowl down and splashed cold water
on her eyes. It wouldnâ€™t do to let her young ones suspect
that their mamm had been crying while she baked. Smoothing
her hair back under her kapp and arranging a smile on her
lips, she went to the back door.
But the visitor was not Leah. It was a man, alone,
driving the buggy.
Shock shattered her curiosity when she recognized the
strong face under the brim of the black Amish hat. Gideon
Zook. Her fingers clenched, wrinkling the fabric of her
dark apron. What did he want from her?
She stood motionless for a moment, her left hand
tight on the door frame. Then she grabbed the black wool
shawl that hung by the door, threw it around her shoulders,
and stepped outside.
The cold air sent a shiver through her. It was mid-
March already, but winter had not released its grip on
Pleasant Valley, Pennsylvania. The snowdrops she had
planted last fall quivered against the back step, their
white cups a mute testimony that spring would come
eventually. Everything else was as brown and barren as her
heart felt these days.
A fierce longing for spring swept through her as she
crossed the still-hard ground. If she could be in the midst
of growing things, planting and nurturing her beloved
gardenâ€”ach, there she might find the peace she longed for.
Everything was too quiet on the farm now. Even the
barn was empty, the dairy cows moved to the far field
already, taken care of by her young brother-in-law William
in the early morning hours.
The Belgian draft horses Ezra had been so pleased to
be able to buy were spending the winter at the farm of his
oldest brother, Isaac. Only Dolly, six-year-old Josephâ€™s
pet goat, bleated forlornly from her pen, protesting his
Gideon had tethered his horse to the hitching post.
Removing something from his buggy, he began pacing across
the lawn, as if he measured something.
Then he saw her. He stopped, waiting. His hat was
pushed back, and he lifted his face slightly, as if in
appreciation of the watery sunshine. But Gideonâ€™s broad
shoulders were stiff under his black jacket, his eyes wary
and his mouth set above his beard.
Reluctance slowed her steps. Perhaps Gideon felt that
same reluctance. Aside from the formal words of condolence
heâ€™d spoken to her once he was well enough to be out again
after the accident, she and Gideon had managed to avoid
talking to each other for months. That was no easy thing in
a tight-knit Amish community.
She forced a smile. â€śGideon, wilkom. I didnâ€™t expect
to be seeing you today.â€ť
What are you doing here? That was what she really
wanted to say.
â€śRachel.â€ť He inclined his head slightly, studying her
as if trying to read her feelings in her face.
His own face gave little awayâ€”all strong planes and
straight lines, like the wood he worked with in his
carpentry business. Lines of tension radiated from his
brown eyes, making him look older than the thirty-two she
knew him to be. His work-hardened hands tightened on the
objects he graspedâ€”small wooden stakes, sharpened to points.
He cleared his throat, as if not sure what to say to
her now that they were face to face. â€śHow are you? And the
â€śIâ€™m well.â€ť Except that her heart twisted with pain
at the sight of him, at the reminder he brought of all she
had lost. â€śThe kinder also. Mary is napping, and Leah Glick
took Joseph and Becky to a birthday luncheon the scholars
are having for Mary Yoder.â€ť
He moved a step closer to her, and she realized that
his left leg was still stiffâ€”a daily reminder for him,
probably, of the accident.
For an instant the scene sheâ€™d imagined so many times
flashed yet again through her mind, stealing her breath
away. She seemed to see Ezra, high in the rafters of a
barn; Gideon below him; the old timbers creaking, then
breaking, Ezra falling as the barn collapsed like a house
She gasped a strangled breath, like a fish struggling
on the bank of the pond. Revulsion wrung her stomach, and
she slammed the door shut on her imagination.
She could not let herself think about that, not now.
It was not Gideonâ€™s fault that she couldnâ€™t see him without
imagining the accident that had taken Ezra away from them.
She had to talk to him sensibly, had to find out what had
brought him here. And how she could get him to go away
She clutched the shawl tighter around her. â€śIs there
something I can do for you, Gideon?â€ť
â€śI am here to measure for the greenhouse.â€ť
She could only stare at him, her mind fumbling to
process his words. The greenhouseâ€”the greenhouse Ezra had
promised her as a birthday present. That had to be what
â€śHow do you know about the greenhouse?â€ť
The words came out unexpectedly harsh. Ezra was gone,
and plans for the greenhouse had slipped away, too, swamped
in the struggle just to get through the days.
He blinked, apparently surprised. â€śYou didnâ€™t know?
Ezra and I went together to buy the materials for your
greenhouse. He asked me to build it for you. Now Iâ€™m here
to start on the work.â€ť
The revulsion that swept through her was so strong
she could barely prevent it from showing on her face.
Perhaps he knew anyway. The fine lines around his
eyes deepened. â€śIs there a problem with that?â€ť
â€śNoâ€”I mean, I didnâ€™t realize that he had asked you.
Ezra never said so.â€ť
â€śPerhaps he thought there was no need. I always
helped him with carpentry projects.â€ť
True enough. It wasnâ€™t that Ezra couldnâ€™t build
things with his own hands, but he was far more interested
in the crops and the animals. Since his childhood friend
Gideon was a carpenter, specializing in building the
windmills that had begun to dot the valley, Ezra had
depended on him.
But that was before. Nowâ€”
Now the thought of having Gideon around for days
while he built the greenhouse that was to have been a gift
of love from her husbandâ€”
No, she couldnâ€™t handle that. She couldnâ€™t. It was,
no doubt about it, a failure on her part, one that she
should be taking to the Lord in prayer.
â€śRachel?â€ť She had been silent too long, and Gideon
studied her face with concern. â€śWas ist letz? Whatâ€™s the
â€śNothing,â€ť she said quickly. â€śNothing at all. Itâ€™s
just that I hadnâ€™t thought about the greenhouse in months.â€ť
Her voice thickenedâ€”she couldnâ€™t help that.
Gideon heard it, of course. A spasm of something that
might have been pain crossed his face.
â€śIt gave Ezra great pleasure to think about giving it
to you.â€ť His deep voice seemed choked.
She blinked, focusing her gaze on the barn beyond
him, willing herself to be calm. Think. What could she say
that would not hurt Gideon, but would get him to go away?
â€śI havenâ€™tâ€”I havenâ€™t decided what to do about the
greenhouse.â€ť As she hadnâ€™t decided so many things in the
past few months, lost as sheâ€™d been in grief. â€śWill you
give me a little time to think?â€ť
But his voice had cooled, as if he knew something of
what she was feeling. His gaze was intent on her face,
probing for the truth, and all she could think was that she
wanted him to leave so that she didnâ€™t have to talk about
the bittersweet nature of Ezraâ€™s last gift to her.
The creak of an approaching buggy broke the awkward
silence between them. She glanced toward the lane.
â€śHere is Leah, back with the children.â€ť She probably
sounded too relieved as she turned back to him. â€śPerhaps we
could talk about this some other day.â€ť
His expression still grave, Gideon nodded. â€śJa,
another time, then.â€ť He turned away, but then glanced back
over his shoulder. â€śI promised Ezra, ainâ€™t so? I have to
keep that promise.â€ť
He walked toward his waiting buggy, back stiff.