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Barbie Lapp came to a sudden halt as her Englisch friend Ashlee reached out to open the door to the bar. Ashlee turned with a flip of her shoulder-length auburn hair and sent a mocking glance in Barbie’s direction. “Not going to chicken out now, are you?”
It was all very well for Ashlee to casually drop into a bar on a Friday night, but she couldn’t possibly understand how huge such a thing was for Barbie. An eighteen-year-old Amish boy with a touch of rumspringa wildness might be understood, if not condoned, but attitudes were different toward a twenty-four-year-old unmarried Amish woman.
Still, she was the one who’d wanted to see what a night out would be like if she were English, this was her chance. “Of course not. Just nudge me if I say anything stupid, okay?”
“It’ll be so loud nobody will hear you anyway.” Ashlee grabbed the door and yanked it open. Loud talk, loud laughter, and even louder music seemed to hit them in the face. “Let’s go.”
Right. Her fingers brushing the unfamiliar denim jeans on her legs, Barbie followed Ashlee inside.
The noise was even worse when the door closed behind them. Barbie tried not to gawk while Ashlee threaded her way between tables as easily as if she were in the café where they both worked.
Following her, Barbie realized the truth of what Ashlee had said. How could any of these people possibly hear what anyone else was saying? This was certain sure no place for good Amish girl.
Maybe that was the point. Maybe she wasn’t a good Amish girl any longer. Maybe she was a rebel, a fence-jumper, like her brother James. She felt the familiar constriction in her heart at the thought of James. He’d vanished from her life completely when she was eight, but she still missed him. Still wondered why—why he’d left, why he’d cut all ties to the Amish world so completely, why he’d deserted her.
James must have had the restlessness, too—that sense she had too often that life was passing her by. That there was something waiting for her out there, somewhere, beyond everything she’d experienced.
“Hey, here you are!” Ashlee motioned Barbie to slide into an already-crowded booth and squeezed in next to her, shoving her against the guy on the other side. “Everybody, this is Barbie.”
People nodded and went on with their conversations, apparently not feeling the need to do more. But they were friendly enough, easily including her in their talk.
They didn’t seem to care who she was. If she’d been introduced to a group of Amish she didn’t know, the first thing they’d have done would have been to play what some Amish called “the name game” of trying to place her in the complicated genealogy of the Lapp family tree.
The man next to her gave her a friendly grin. “Loud, isn’t it? How do you know Ashlee?”
She thawed under his casual friendliness. “We work together.”
“Yeah? I can see I’ll have to start going to the café for lunch. I’m Terry Gilliam. No point waiting for Ashlee to introduce anyone.”
“Nice to meet you, Terry.”
If he did come by the café, he’d have a shock when he saw her in her usual Amish garb instead of the jeans and cotton sweater she’d borrowed from Ashlee. Still, he was likely just being polite. The only reason she’d agreed to come to this place was because it was well away from Brook Hill, with its large Amish population.
You won’t see anyone you know, Ashlee had said. What are you worrying about? You’re a grown woman, aren’t you?
True enough. Everyone around her was having a good time. So could she.
Someone plopped a glass of beer in front of her. She picked it up gingerly and sipped it, trying not to make a face.
Terry chuckled, his blue eyes crinkling with amusement. “Not a beer drinker, are you? Listen, you don’t have to drink it. How about a glass of wine? Or a soft drink?”
She wavered, not wanting to look different from anyone else. But then, that was why she was here—because she was tired of looking just like everyone else. “A cola would be great, thanks.”
He waved to a server and ordered it. “No problem. So what do you do when you’re not serving coffee at the café?”
She shrugged. “Nothing very exciting. My cousin takes guests on her farm during the summer, and I help run it.”
“Two jobs. I’m impressed. One is enough for me.” He was bending toward her, his laughing, open face attentive. “I work for the power company, keeping the lines clear. You owe your electric light to me.”
She could hardly say she didn’t rely on the power company for electricity. But he didn’t expect a real answer, anyway. This was just flirting, and she’d always been able to flirt.
“Think of that—climbing all those poles just for me.” She gave him the wide-eyed glance that usually had the boys stumbling over themselves.
He grinned. “Mostly I go up in the bucket. It’s more fun.”
Someone interrupted to tell a joke, followed by an incomprehensible, to her, discussion of the baseball season. Meanwhile, the women started talking about spring clothes. She was reminded of the early years of her rumspringa, when her gang of girls had clustered together, swapping secrets and talking about anything and everything, including which of their exactly-alike dresses looked best on them.
All those girls were long since married and mothers. When they got together, they seemed separated from her by an unimaginable gap. They’d compare remedies for teething pain and colic, while she sat feeling left out.
What would they think if they saw her now? She could just imagine the sidelong glances and disapproving murmurs. Fortunately, as Ashlee kept assuring her, she wouldn’t see anyone she knew here.
Except that Ashlee had been wrong. Barbie’s heart thumped when she spotted the group coming through the door. Several young Englisch men, and one girl, trying to look Englisch, just like Barbie.
She wasn’t succeeding. Surely anyone who looked at her would know she was Amish, and underage as well.
Mary Kauffmann wore what were undoubtedly borrowed Englisch clothes, too—tight jeans and a shirt snug enough to show off her curvy young figure. The three boys were older, but surely not old enough to drink.
And they undoubtedly had been drinking. They’d reached the stage of being boisterous, swaggering their way to a table as if they owned the place. As for Mary…
Barbie’s heart sank. Mary was glassy-eyed, stumbling a little as one of the boys shoved her into a chair. How on earth had she managed to get into such a state? And what was Barbie going to do about it?
Nothing—that was the quick and easy answer. Mary was, after all, just doing what she was, sampling the Englisch life. But Mary was sixteen, not twenty-four. And she didn’t have a buddy with her. She was alone with a group of guys too old for her, and too drunk for any girl to be safe.
She tried not to stare, looking down at her drink while her mind whirled. It wasn’t her business. Mary wouldn’t thank her for intervening. But at least she could keep an eye on the girl as long as she was here.
One of the boys swaggered to the bar. Barbie held her breath. The bartender wouldn’t serve them, would he?
He didn’t. Barbie watched as he shook his head and the kid flushed angrily. The boy shouted something, thankfully drowned out by the music but turning a few heads. Then he returned to his table and grabbed Mary’s hand. In a moment they were all headed out the door.
It was no use. She couldn’t sit here while Mary Kauffmann headed straight for disaster. She doubted anyone heard her murmured excuse, but when she nudged her, Ashlee moved to let her out.
The group had already reached the door, and Barbie wiggled her way through the mass of humanity that blocked her way. Urgency pushed her forward, and she went the last few yards at a run and burst through the door, praying Mary wouldn’t be in a car before she could reach her.
At first Barbie thought she’d missed them. Then she saw movement by the rank of parked cars. One of the boys had Mary pressed up against the vehicle, kissing her, his hands tugging at her jeans. Mary struggled feebly, swatting at him without any effect. The kid was too drunk to notice or care.
Barbie flew across the parking lot. Grabbing the boy by the shoulders, she yanked him away. Taken by surprise, he let go of Mary.
“Leave her alone.” She tightened her grip, murmuring a silent prayer for help.
The boy jerked free of Barbie, glaring at her. Boy? Man? Whatever he was, he exuded an air of danger that chilled her.
“What’s it to you?” He added a few words she’d never heard applied to herself before. “Get out.”
One of the others—tall, skinny, with a tattoo that ran clear down his arm--nudged him. “Maybe she wants to party with us, too.”
“That’s right.” The third pressed in, too close. “Come on, sweetie. We’ll show you a good time.”
Barbie put her arm around Mary, and the girl sagged against her. Did she even realize what was happening? One thing was certain—Barbie couldn’t expect any help from her, and the three boys were drunk enough to have shed any inhibitions they might normally have.
“She’s underage.” She kept her voice firm despite the quaking inside her. “You’ve already broken the law by getting her drunk. You want to be in worse trouble?”
“We can handle a little trouble,” one said, and the others snickered.
“Really?” She tried to sound as cool as Ashlee might in this situation. “All I have to do is let out one loud scream, and my friends will come running. The bartender is already calling the police.”
That was probably wishful thinking, but if that bartender had a conscience at all, he wouldn’t ignore what was right in front of his face.
The guys exchanged glances, a little less certain of themselves.
Instinctively she pressed her advantage. “If you’re still here when they arrive, you’ll be arrested. I’m a witness. You tried to molest an underage girl. Do you want to end this night in jail?”
A car pulled into the parking lot, its headlights sweeping over them, radio blaring. That seemed to be the deciding factor. Uttering a few more profanities, the three jumped into the car.
Barbie pulled Mary away as they backed up and then spun out of the parking lot, spraying gravel behind them.
Relief swept over her, but she couldn’t relax yet. “Mary, are you all right?”
The girl roused enough to glare at her. “Leave me alone.”
Barbie gritted her teeth, trying to hold onto her temper. “If I leave you alone, what will you do? Walk home? It’s a good twenty miles.”
Mary looked away, elaborately ignoring her. Barbie suppressed an urge to shake her. That wouldn’t help, no matter how satisfying it might be. Clearly she had to find a way to get Mary home, where she belonged. They were on foot and alone in the dark. She’d have to ask Ashlee to drive them.
Tugging the sulky teenager along, Barbie headed back inside. It was louder and smokier than before, and just getting Ashlee’s attention was a challenge.
“Leave? What do you mean, leave? The party’s just starting. Terry wondered where you went. He wants to get to know you.”
Barbie clutched Ashlee’s arm. She wouldn’t mind shaking her, as well. “Look at this kid. She’s drunk, she’s only sixteen, and she doesn’t have a way home. Come on, Ashlee. We can’t just ignore her.”
Ashlee sighed, but she was too good-hearted not to respond to a need that was right in front of her.
“Okay, you’re right, you’re right. Let’s go. I just hope we’re not going to end up in more trouble when we get her home.”
That was exactly what Barbie was thinking, except that she knew there was no hope at all. Mary lived with her father and her brother, Benuel, both widowers, and Benuel’s children. And Benuel Kauffmann just happened to be one of the ministers of Barbie’s congregation.
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