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The buggy drew to a stop near the farmhouse porch, and Sarah Yoder climbed down slowly, her eyes on the scene before her. Here it was—the fulfillment of the dream she'd had for the past ten years. Home.
Her cousin, Eli Miller, paused in lifting her cases down from the buggy. "Everything all right?"
Sarah sucked in a breath and felt the tension that had ridden her for weeks ease. It hadn't been easy to break away from the life her father had mapped out for her, but she'd done it. The old frame farmhouse spread itself in the spot where it had stood since the first Amish settlers came over the mountains from Lancaster County and saw the place they considered their promised land. Promise Valley, that was what folks called it, this green valley tucked between sheltering ridges in central Pennsylvania. And that's what she hoped it would be for her.
The porch door thudded, and Grossmammi rushed out. Her hair was a little whiter than the last time Sarah had seen her, but her blue eyes were still bright and her skin as soft as a girl's. For an instant the thought of her mother pierced Sarah's heart. Mammi had looked like her own mother. If she'd lived…but she'd been gone ten years now.
Before she could lose herself in regret, Grossmammi had reached her, and her grandmother's strong arms encircled her. The warmth of her hug chased every other thought away, and Sarah clung to her the way she had as a child, when Grossmammi had presented everything that was firm and secure in her life.
Her grandmother drew back finally, her blue eyes bright with tears. She took refuge in scolding, as she did when emotions threatened to overcome her.
"Ach, we've been waiting and waiting. I told Eli he should leave earlier. Did he keep you waiting there at the bus stop?"
Eli grinned, winking at Sarah. "Ask Cousin Sarah. I was there when she stepped off the bus."
And she'd seen him pull up just in time, but she wouldn't give him away. "That's right. I was wonderful surprised to see my little cousin—he grew, ain't so?"
"Taller than you now, Sarah, though that's not saying much." He indicated her five feet and a bit with a line in the air, his expression as impudent as it had been when he was a child.
"And you've not changed much, except in inches," she retorted, long since used to holding her own with younger siblings and cousins. "Same freckles, same smile, same sassiness."
"Ach, help!" He threw up his hands as if to protect himself. "Here's my sweet Ruthie coming. She'll save me from my cousin."
Ruthie, his wife of three years, looked from him to Sarah, as if to make sure Sarah wasn't offended. "You are talking nonsense." She swatted at him playfully. "Komm, carry those things to the daadi-haus for Sarah. Supper is almost ready."
"Sarah, this is Ruth, you'll have figured out," Grossmammi said. "And here is their little Mary." The child who slipped out onto the porch looked about two, with huge blue eyes and soft wispy brown hair that curled, unruly, around her face.
And Ruth couldn't have more than a month to go before the arrival of the new baby, Sarah could see, assessing her with a shrewd eye. When even the shapeless Amish dress didn't conceal the bump, a woman knew it wasn't far off.
Eli loaded himself up with Sarah's boxes, obviously intent on getting everything in one trip. "Surrounded by women, that's what I am," he said cheerfully. "And now there's another one."
He stopped long enough to give Sarah a one-armed hug, poking her in the side with one of her boxes as he did. "We're wonderful glad you're here at last, Cousin Sarah."
Sarah blinked back an errant tear. Eli hadn't lost his tender heart, that was certain sure. And Grossmammi looked as if she'd jut been given the gift of a lifetime. As for Ruthie…well, she had a sense that Ruthie was withholding judgment for the moment. That was hardly surprising. She'd want to know what changes this strange cousin was going to make in their lives.
As little as possible, Sarah mentally assured her. All she wanted was a place to call home while she figured out what her new life was going to be.
Eli, finally laden with all her belongings, headed toward the daadi-haus, a wing built onto the main house and connected by a short hallway. Grossmammi had lived there since Grossdaadi's death, and when Sarah walked into the living room and saw the familiar rocking chairs and the framed family tree on the wall, she felt instantly at home.
"You're up here, Sarah." Eli bumped his way up the stairs until Sarah retrieved one of the boxes and carried it herself.
He flashed her that familiar grin. "What do you have in there? Rocks?"
"Books. I couldn't leave those behind. I just hope there's a bookcase I can use."
"If there isn't, we can pick one up at a sale. The auction house is still busy, even this late in the year. Almost December already."
"Grossdaadi used to say that any farmer worth the name had all his work done by the first of December."
"Ach, don't go comparing me to Grossdaadi," he said with mock fear. "Here we are. I hope you like it." He stacked everything at the foot of the old-fashioned sleigh bad. "Ruthie says supper is about ready, so komm eat. You can unpack later."
She'd rather have a few minutes to catch her breath and explore her new home, but Ruthie was her hostess. It wouldn't do to be late for their first supper together. With a pause in the bathroom to wash her hands, she hurried downstairs and joined Grossmammi to step across the hallway—the line that marked off their home from Eli and Ruth's.
Ruthie hurried them to their places at the table and began to dish up the food. Sarah glanced at her, opened her mouth to offer help, and caught Grossmammi's eye. Her grandmother shook her head, ever so slightly.
So something else lay behind the welcome she'd received. Best if she were quiet until she knew what it was.
This was a little disconcerting. She'd dreamed for so long of being here, but those dreams hadn't included the possibility that someone might not want her.
Nonsense. Ruthie seemed shy, and probably she was anxious about this first meal she'd cooked for Sarah. The best course for Sarah was to keep quiet and blend in.
But once the silent prayer was over and everyone had been served pot roast with all the trimmings, it wasn't so easy to stay silent, since Eli seemed determined to hear everything about everything.
"So what was it like out in Idaho? I didn't even know there were any Amish there." Eli helped himself to a mound of mashed potatoes.
"Not many," she admitted. "It was a new settlement." She didn't bother to add that anything new was appealing to Daad—either they understood her father already, or they didn't need to know.
"And your brothers and sister?" Ruthie asked. "How are they?"
"All married and settled now." They'd given up finding a home with Daad and created homes of their own. "Nancy's husband is a farrier in Indiana, and the two boys are farming—Thomas in Ohio and David in Iowa."
"Far apart," Grossmammi murmured, and Sarah wondered what she was thinking. To say it was unusual to have an Amish family so wide spread was putting it mildly.
"They all invited me to come to them," she said quickly, lest anyone think that the siblings she raised had not been grateful. "But I thought it was best for me to make a life of my own. I'm going to get a job."
Eli dropped his fork in surprise. "A job? You don't want to be working for strangers."
She had to smile at his offended expression. "Yah, a job. Some work I can do in order to pay my own way."
That wasn't all of it, of course. Her desire went deeper than that. She'd spent the past ten years raising her brothers and sister, and it had been a labor of love. What would have happened to all of them after Mammi died if she hadn't?
But that time had convinced her of what she didn't want. She didn't want to become the old maid that most large families had—the unmarried sister who hadn't anything of her own and spent her life helping to raise other people's children, tending to the elderly, and doing any other tasks that came along. She wanted a life of her own. That wasn't selfish, was it?
Even as she thought it, Eli was arguing. "You're family. You'll do lots of things to pay your own way. You can help Ruthie with looking after the kinder, and there's the garden, and the canning…"
He went on talking, but Sarah had stopped listening because she'd caught an unwary expression on Ruthie's face. This, then, was what Ruthie was afraid of. She thought Sarah had come to take over—to run her house, to raise her babies…
Ruthie actually did have cause to be concerned, she supposed. She'd been in complete charge of the home for the past ten years, through almost as many moves and fresh starts. It wouldn't be easy to keep herself from jumping in—with the best will in the world, she might not be able to restrain herself unless she had something else to occupy her.
"I'll be happy to help Ruthie any time she wants me," she said, using the firm voice that always made her younger siblings take notice. "But I need something else to keep me busy."
"And I know what," Grossmammi said, in a tone that suggested the discussion was over. "Noah Raber needs someone to keep the books and take care of the billing for his furniture business. I've already spoken to him about it." She turned to Sarah. "You can go over there tomorrow and set it up."
Sarah managed to keep her jaw from dropping, but barely. She'd intended to look for a job, but she hadn't expected to find herself being pushed into one as soon as she arrived.
"But…bookkeeping? I don't know if I can…"
"Nonsense," Grossmammi said briskly. "You took those bookkeeping classes a couple of years ago, didn't you?"
She nodded. She had done that, with the hope of finding something outside the home to do. But then Daad got the idea of packing up and moving on again, and she had given it up. Did she really remember enough to take this on?
"Mostly Noah needs someone to handle the business side," Grossmammi went on. "The man loves to work with wood, but he has no idea how to send a bill. That's where you come in."
"But Noah Raber." Eli looked troubled. "Are you sure that's a gut idea? Noah's situation…"
"Noah's situation is that he needs to hire someone. Why shouldn't it be Sarah?" She got up quickly. "Now, I think we should do the supper clean-up so Sarah can go and unpack."
Grossmammi, as usual, had the last word. None of her children or grandchildren would dare to argue when she had that tone.
Carrying her dishes to the sink, Sarah tried to figure out how she felt about this turn of events. She certain sure didn't want to continue being in a place where she was only valued because she could take care of children.
But this job…what if she tried it and failed? What if she'd forgotten everything she'd once known? Noah Raber might feel she'd been foisted on him.
And what was it about his situation that so troubled Eli? She tried to remember Noah, but her school years memories had slipped away with all the changes in her life since there. He was a couple of years older than she was, and she had a vague picture of someone reserved, someone who had pursued his own interests instead of joining with the usual rumspringa foolishness. Was he interested in offering her the job, or had Grossmammi pushed him into it?
But she'd already made her decision in coming here—coming home. She shivered a little as a cold breeze snaked its way around the window over the sink and touched her face. There was no turning back now.
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