A mix of excitement and anxiety warred in Celeste Lantz as she brought the rig to a halt under a shade tree in her driveway. The midmorning sun filled the lush green valley, dissolving last night’s remaining fog that still clung to the rolling mountains. Their rental home with its white clapboard siding and black shutters was always a welcome sight, with a peek of Vin’s woodshop from around the back. She loved this place, but none of it belonged to them. Maybe one day.
She grabbed the bags of groceries and the yard sale items and headed for the steps that led to the porch. After she got the little ones out from under their dat’s feet so he could begin his workday, she’d tend to the horse and rig.
Time had an inconvenient way of slipping by.
She couldn’t wait to show Vin the things she’d found . . . but guilt for holding him up from his workday also clung to her. At twenty-four years old, she should be better at balancing her time.
Laughter of little ones filled the air, sounding as if it was coming from the small, fenced backyard. She set the groceries on the porch, keeping the yard sale items with her.
A grin tugged at her lips and refused to let go. Late or not, Vin would be pleased. That man and books went together like a frosty glass of lemonade and a summer day.
“Dat, geh dabber.” Four-year-old Steven giggled while telling his dad to go quickly.
What was Vin doing? She strode around the corner of the house. Vin wore a blue- and white-striped ball cap and sat inside a cardboard box that he’d apparently painted to look like a train while she was gone. Were the suspenders to his pants on his head instead of his shoulders?
“Choo-choo,” Vin said over and over, making the appropriate noises. One-year-old Drew was in his lap, patting his dat’s face and babbling excitedly beyond recognition in any language. Steven was behind his dat, his little arms clutched around his neck.
“Dear Gott, I love this man,” Celeste whispered.
Drew wiggled out of his dat’s arms, getting out of the box. Yep, suspenders on Vin’s head and pants pulled up to his chest. He turned his head, grinning at her.
She burst into laughter. “Vin Lantz, what are you doing?”
Without missing a beat, he tugged on an imaginary cord. “Woooo. Wooo. You’re home.”
“I am. None too soon, I see.”
“Too soon. I meant to return to looking all cool and suave before you saw me.”
“You missed that particular train. What are you wearing?”
He shrugged, chuckling. “I’m a conductor of old and these are my bib overalls.”
“I thought maybe you’d taken it on yourself to redesign the way Amish men wear their pants.”
When he stood and she saw that the hem of his pants hit just below his knees while the waist was on his chest, she burst into laughter that wouldn’t stop. Were those his father’s pants? They were extra baggy, giving him enough room to pull them up high like that. He eased Steven’s feet to the ground and both boys got in the box, making train noises.
“Are you laughing at me?” His grin warmed her heart, but she started backing away.
“You bet I am.”
He picked up his pace, striding toward her. She turned and took off running. He caught her from behind and lifted her feet off the ground.
She squealed. “Put me down.”
“Never.” He mocked an evil laugh.
“If you put me down, I’ll give you a gift.” Her words were jumbled through her laughter.
“A gift, you say?” He set her down. “I’m being good now.” He moved to stand in front of her. “Is it a kiss, despite how I look?” He lifted his brows in quick succession, teasing.
She studied him, looking deep into his dark-brown eyes. How had she thought he’d be displeased with her for running late?
He grew serious. “What thoughts are behind those beautiful blue eyes, Celeste?”
She shrugged. “I . . . I thought you might be frustrated with me for leaving you responsible for the children too long. I know that if I were better organized, I wouldn’t need to run to the store like this anyway, and now you’re getting to today’s work later than you should.”
“Nah.” He removed the suspenders from his head and released them on his shoulders. Then he cupped her cheek. “That’s not how I feel at all. Ever. We juggle a lot every week, and I think we do a good job of it.” He took off the baseball cap. White strips of tape lined the dark-blue hat that Vin had found in a ditch near their home weeks ago—Vin’s creativity turning it into a conductor’s hat. “If I didn’t need your help in the woodshop a few days each week, you’d have time to keep up with everything else. Plus, I figured you had a good reason for needing extra time, and it gave me a chance to do something with our boys that I’d been promising to do for nearly a month.”
She looked at the boys sitting inside the cardboard box, playing happily, before she pulled one of the three books from the plastic bag, showing him the best one first. “The history of Ohio, and it begins a hundred years before a white man stepped foot onto its soil.”
With a tenderness she knew well, he lifted the book from her hands. “Seriously?” His face looked like she’d just handed him a stack of money.
Always an avid reader, his interest over the past couple of months had been the early days of Ohio. His curiosity sparked after the bishop and his wife visited Ohio and toured a newly built information center about the Plain folk—mostly Amish, Quakers, Dunkards, and Mennonites. The bishop began weaving some of the religious history he’d learned into his sermons, but he didn’t know much about the everyday life of the early settlers in that region. Vin had been on a quest to know more ever since. He ran his fingers across the tattered binding and the brown cloth hardback cover. There wasn’t a single word or letter on the front or back, only gold lettering on the spine.
She tapped the book. “You may need to sit before you look at the copyright.”
But he didn’t budge as he opened the book. His eyes grew large. “Seriously?” he repeated his earlier question. “The bookdealer I work with out of Philly couldn’t find anything printed before 1880.”
“Printed in 1860. It has chapters covering the history from the late 1500s until the French fur traders arrived. But here’s your really good news. Starting with 1790, each decade has its own chapter.”
He carefully flipped pages, landing on a dog-eared one that said 1820s. He began reading, and she waited. He turned the page. “Celeste,” he whispered. “This is incredible.”
“Jah, I know. I found two other books that are excellent too, but this one is the best find. The author was a great-grandson of early settlers, and he used the ledgers, diaries, and maps his ancestors had passed down from one generation to the next.”
Without looking up from reading, Vin whispered, “Denki.”
“You are most welcome, Husband.”
He closed the book. “It already has my full interest, but the workday must come first.”
She tapped the book. “Per usual for these old books, it only has two or three rough sketches in it. All of these 1800s authors needed your talent for drawing and sketching, and their books would be so much better, jah?”
He studied her. “Celeste . . .”
His eyes seemed glued to hers for a moment. Then he looked at the book in his hand and smiled. “This will be my most treasured book, but it doesn’t compare to the best find ever.” He grinned. “I’d been surly with my dat for sending me to Indiana to volunteer to work an entire summer for a great-uncle I’d met once. Then, only days after arriving, I stepped into a sandwich shop and saw you behind the counter.” He chuckled. “We bantered, and I was smitten, never before talking to anyone like you. You agreed to go on your lunch break and sit in a booth with me. We talked and laughed, and too soon we both had to get back to work. I knew then one summer would never be enough.”
She’d been seventeen, a year younger than him, and that summer they went out together every chance they had. When fall arrived, and he had to return to Pennsylvania, he’d called her nearly every night and they wrote to each other endlessly. His long-distance phone bills had to have cost him a small fortune. Added to that expense, every chance he got, he traveled by train and bus to visit her. He kept that up until they married fifteen months after they met.
She leaned in. “If you’re asking me,” she whispered, “a lifetime won’t be enough either.” She brushed his lips with a kiss. “Now get to work. After lunch, I’ll join you to help for a few hours.”
“Sounds like a lot to your day.”
“We’re busy people.” She took a step back and removed the book from his hands. “Now go. Do I need to draw a map for you of how to get there?”
He glanced at the woodshop a few hundred feet away. “I think I can remember.” He winked at her. “Oh, and late this afternoon, after our teamwork project is done, I’ll need to make some deliveries. It could be close to dark before I’m home.”
“We’ll be here when you get back.”
Daylight waned through the open window of their bedroom, and Celeste’s body ached from the long day of constant movement. Still, the pleasure of finding those antique books at the yard sale earlier today gave her a bit of energy. The scent of lilacs filled the air as she ran a dustcloth behind the headboard of the bed. She and Vin had worked side by side in the cabinet shop for a good portion of the afternoon, and once the boys were up from their naps, they’d played in their secure spot in the woodshop or in the fenced area, under the shade trees. Her summertime workdays in the shop while taking care of the children and the garden and meals were especially tiring, but Vin didn’t need her help more than a couple of days a week, and she enjoyed being a part of the cabinetry business. Still, on those days, finishing up housework after she got her two little ones down for the night wasn’t unusual.
Sweat dripped down her neck as she leaned in farther, trying to reach every strand of a cobweb behind Vin’s and her bed. Something hard fell to the floor. Probably one of Vin’s history books he often fell asleep reading or a book belonging to one of the children. She knelt and grabbed it from under the bed, touching pages—it was a book. She smiled, realizing it was one of Vin’s sketch pads. Getting to her feet, she flipped open the cover.
Her own eyes stared back.
Celeste’s breath caught. The dustcloth fell from her hands. She plunked onto the side of her bed. Thoughts raced, but a rational one wouldn’t come to mind as her heart thudded like mad. She tried to take in a full breath but had to settle for a few tiny ones.
She looked again. In the drawing on the first page of the sketch pad, she was standing on a hill, the wind blowing strands of her hair forward from under her prayer Kapp.
She remembered that day. She and Vin had found a bounty of wild blueberries while taking a walk. She’d been pregnant with Steven but hadn’t known it yet.
Perhaps this sketch was a leftover—an item from before that Vin had forgotten about. She longed to believe that, but it didn’t add up. Studying the artwork with its intricate detail and umpteen thousand pencil strokes, she knew no artist could forget about something that took so many meticulous hours of work.
Maybe this wasn’t a sign of open rebellion. Of betrayal. Maybe . . . Her thoughts circled, hoping to find solid ground for denying what this meant. The clock on the wall ticked, crickets outside chirped, and the truth seeped into her mind.
Her husband had been hiding this from her.
She flipped the page. Another drawing of her, but this time up close. She was laughing, hair loosened as she wore it when they were in bed together. He’d captured the fine details of her face, like her long nose, one asymmetrical dimple, and light eyes, though on the page they were shades of pencil instead of clear blue.
Shunned. The word thundered inside her, as if the bishop were standing next to her speaking it. He’d warned them.
Englischers thought they understood shunning. But no one outside the Plain folk knew the reality. It brought unbearable shame on the person, on their family, a shame that didn’t dissipate for decades after it was over. To join the church, Vin and Celeste had stood before God and the church and taken a vow to uphold the Amish ways.
Not too long after that, Vin broke that vow.
She turned the page again and saw their Steven as a tiny newborn, eyes shut in the deep slumber of a brand-new person, swaddled in layers of blankets. A man’s hand, Vin’s, lay as a protective shield over Steven’s chest, illustrating the full extent of their baby’s smallness. It made her breath catch. She’d forgotten how tiny their two children were as newborns, even with Steven only four years old now and little Drew just one. Goodness, she longed to keep this picture. She kept flipping through the book, and memory after memory jumped out at her, as fresh as the times they’d made them. Mementos from their six years of marriage.
Faces. Why did Vin have to include their faces? For a decade now, most Amish had been allowed to draw animals. Their bishop was more open-minded than most, and he allowed Vin to draw his family to remember those precious times—their backs, their hands, their feet. Bishop Mark considered none of those things idolatry. But all Amish drew the line at drawing faces.
Was it idolatry, though? Something done in Vin’s loving hand didn’t seem the same as the Englischers and their photographs. But maybe it was. What did she know? At twenty-four years old, she’d barely figured anything out. Vin was only a year older than her. Didn’t the people who made the rules know more of the answers than they did?
Not long after they married, the bishop had dropped by for a visit. While talking with them, he had picked up Vin’s newspaper from the coffee table, saying something about a local horse show. The next thing Celeste knew, Bishop Mark lifted a sketch pad that had been under the newspaper. Vin drew in the pad almost every evening as they talked about their day, and she mended items. When the bishop opened the book, both he and Celeste saw that Vin had been drawing idolatrous things, the kind of stuff he’d drawn before they took their vows and joined the church. It should’ve been a pleasant evening of visiting, but the incident marred the early years of their marriage with dire warnings and invasive visits by the bishop. Vin could’ve faced shunning. Maybe Celeste too. But Vin had voiced sincere repentance, and the bishop didn’t mention it to anyone, although he’d kept a sharp eye on Vin for a couple of years. Had Vin only become better at hiding the evidence?
“Celeste, the wheel on the rig isn’t right, so don’t—” Vin entered the bedroom carrying the history book she’d purchased at the yard sale earlier today. He stopped in his tracks, his dark-brown eyes wide.
She stood, holding out the sketchbook filled with forbidden images.
Vin drew a deep breath and eased it from her hand. “I’m sorry.”
She shook her head. It was her duty to tell him she forgave him, but she couldn’t get those words past her lips. “I don’t know what to say. You said you were sorry to Bishop Mark, too. And yet you were still drawing faces, just hiding it.”
“Portraits, Celeste.” He set the book on top of a stack of history books next to the bed. “And when I say I’m sorry, I mean that I’m sorry for hiding it from you.”
“Sorry for hiding it. But not for doing it?”
His eyes held sorrow when he turned back to her, but he gave a slight shrug. “Jah, I guess so.”
“Vin! You made a promise. We made a promise! Our way says this is idolatry!” She needed to keep her voice down or else she’d wake the children. Then nothing would get resolved. But measuring her tone was outside of her ability right now.
“Oh, horse neck!” Vin shouted.
“Don’t yell at me with your version of non–swear words!”
“I’m not yelling at you. It’s all just so frustrating! The Old Ways call it idolatry, and I tried accepting that, but I can’t! I just don’t agree. Not anymore.”
“How can you stand there and admit that you don’t agree with the Old Ways, and yet you’ve not once talked to me about it?”
“I don’t know. I started to tell you numerous times, but I didn’t want to upset you.”
“Well, you failed on that, didn’t you?” Why was she screaming at him? She didn’t recognize herself . . . or him.
“I’m not exalting these drawings to a place of worship. I have no faith in them as if they were a golden calf or had any power. I worship the one true God.” He grabbed the sketchbook, opened it, and pointed to the second drawing she’d seen, the one of her with loose hair. “His creation—you, our children, people, are beautiful. He’s the ultimate artist. Capturing a tiny piece of that beauty on paper makes me feel alive.”
“But our vows! The promise we made to the church was to honor the Old Ways. It doesn’t matter if we agree or not.”
“The Old Ways change. Look at our propane-powered refrigerator. You think our ancestors had that? You think they’d have approved?”
“Refrigeration was never a matter of idolatry, so that’s off topic!”
“It’s not. The ministers, the Ordnung, they’re all trying to translate God’s Word, but they mess it up. I’m telling you, in my heart, I know that art isn’t evil.”
“And you’re allowed to make art. You can draw any animal, any plant, any place with as much detail as your heart desires.”
“The Ordnung didn’t allow those things fifteen years ago. Doesn’t that fact help you see my point?”
“But faces are forbidden now. Why must you draw faces, Vin?”
“Eyes and faces are the windows to people’s souls, and faces change over time. One day, our faces will gain wrinkles and marks of time. How is it evil to want to remember our years together? Our children’s little faces while they’re babies? Look at Steven and how big he already is. Without drawings, would I be able to remember all the details?”
Some of her rolling anger seemed to disappear, like moving a boiling pot off a hot burner. She’d felt that magic when looking at the pictures. All the little things she wouldn’t have thought of if not for the reminder: baby Steven’s downy fluff of hair that was thicker at the sides of his head, his cute lips in the shape of a bow that folded inward at the center. But there were other ways to deal with the no-images rule of the Old Ways. “We hold those things in our hearts. We don’t need something physical to remember them.”
“Our minds are imperfect, though. It was only four years ago, but can you honestly tell me you remember every tiny detail of Steven’s face as a newborn?”
He was right, but it didn’t matter. “We took a vow that said we would always abide by the Old Ways. Convincing me your artwork is not idolatry will do you no good. You lied to me. You’ve been sitting in the room with me while drawing forbidden things, Vin.”
He moved in closer to her. “I . . . I didn’t think about it like that.”
Celeste put her forehead on his muscular chest. He’d been well-built at eighteen when they’d first gone on a date, but the subsequent seven years of hard work crafting heavy tables and cabinets had put even more muscle on his frame.
He wrapped his arms around her. “I’m sorry I hurt you. I should’ve talked with you, but I’m not sure I care what the ministers think.”
She pulled back. “That’s not true. You do care or you wouldn’t be hiding it. Your family—me, Steven, Drew, and any future children we have—are counting on you. If you’re shunned, we’re all punished. How can we guide our children to accept the Old Ways as young adults and remain Amish, keeping our precious family together, if you rebel against those ways?”
“Maybe this isn’t the healthiest place to raise our family, then.”
What? Was he considering leaving their way of life, their family, their friends, over art? “You mean Lancaster County or the Old Ways?”
“I don’t know yet.”
She stepped backward until she ran into the bed, sitting down hard. How long had he been harboring these thoughts? “You’ve been considering this for a while, haven’t you?”
“Celeste, I was nineteen and you were eighteen when we married. We made all these vows to the church when we were still children ourselves. How were we supposed to know what we wanted?”
An unfamiliar pain clutched her, an all-consuming one. “What other vows are you now doubting, Vin?”
“What?” He tilted his head, confused.
“You heard me! Answer me!”
“I have never doubted the vows I made to you. You’re my wife, now and forever. I only meant the promises we made to live like this, when it seemed the only way of living. Everyone wanted this life for us—our parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, former schoolteachers, the ministers—and we followed this path, but now I’m not so sure.”
“Vin, we’d lose everything if we left. Our families, our livelihood, everything.” And what would that mean for their souls? The Old Ways were the path to heaven, weren’t they? Did he doubt that too? If they left, would they be setting their children on a path toward hell?
“Look . . .” Vin rubbed his thick beard. “I know it’d be a new and hard start. But we could do it as a team.”
He couldn’t be serious! Her insides trembled. “Vin, I can’t. I just can’t!”
His face turned red, and he moved to look out the window. “So I’m in the same place I’ve been for years—desperate to extinguish a piece of myself in order to uphold my vow. I . . . I was hoping you, of all people, would understand.” He took a step toward the door.
“Vin? Where are you going?” This was their time together after the little ones went to sleep. He wanted to be away from her?
“I’ve got to clear my head. It’s stifling here. And I don’t mean the July heat.”
That was reasonable, wasn’t it? To want to get some space? But something in her was screaming. Her inner voice wanted to be unreasonable. Stop! Don’t go, please! She wanted to yell it at the top of her lungs, not caring if the neighbors heard.
He touched the wooden doorframe, turning his head over his shoulder to look at her. “I’ll be back before you fall asleep. Promise.”
Was that true or something he was saying to keep the peace, to appease her? She’d believed in who they were since their earliest days of dating, but now . . . who was he? Who were they? Did she know him or just the version of himself he was willing to let her see? All she thought she knew of who they were seemed to have crumbled under her feet in less than ten minutes. A hundred questions haunted her. But this time, she knew she couldn’t trust Vin to help her figure out the truth.
Vin’s mind spun as he made his way to the barn. The disappointment in Celeste’s eyes twisted him into knots. She was right. He’d made a vow, and God’s Word was clear about accepting the pain and suffering of making a promise, of swearing to your own hurt in order to keep your word. But when it came to his art, to expressing who he was, it felt as if he were being forced to live inside a half-used-up pickle jar . . . and he hated pickles. He’d failed to help her understand. He had two hobbies he loved: sketching portraits and reading history. The Ordnung, the rules the Amish lived by, allowed one. The other? Forbidden. But both were essential parts of who he was.
He sighed. He hadn’t explained much of anything well. Even worse, the words he had said haunted him. He shouldn’t have mentioned leaving the Amish, especially at the start of the conversation. Of course Celeste would find the very idea upsetting. He did too, and yet he’d rushed headlong into venting rather than discussing. How had this much time passed with this issue weighing on him, and yet he’d been unprepared to explain himself in a way that caused his wife to see him, to hear his heart beyond her hurt? What should he have said?
He picked up the shafts to the buggy and rolled the carriage out of its corner in the barn. Once it was in the aisle, he noticed for the second time this evening that the hub of the wheel wasn’t sitting right. It was always something.
He grabbed a rubber mallet from the corner of the barn. The wheel needed a blacksmith to fix it, but Vin’s efforts would have to do for tonight. He needed to go up on Kissin’ Mountain and talk to God. Vin smacked the hub, trying to get the flange, bearings, and rivets to line up enough to keep the wheel on. The mallet flew from his hands, going in the opposite direction from the rig.
He looked at the wheel. It appeared quite secured to the hub now. “That’ll do.” He hitched Sugar Bear to the rig, got into the buggy, and drove toward the path to his beloved Kissin’ Mountain. Why was it called that, anyway? No one drove up that narrow, overgrown path to make out. Too many more easily accessible places to steal a kiss or two. The start of the dead-end path was pretty well hidden by long grass and underbrush. But once at the top, he could sit on a granite boulder that jutted out and look over the Hanook Valley. Lancaster County had a lot prettier overlooks, many that included a beautiful view of the Susquehanna River. Still, he and Sugar Bear had been going to this spot since Vin was a kid, a place to think and pray and center himself. Celeste didn’t know where this spot was, not really. She knew he went somewhere off the beaten path a few miles from their house when wanting time alone. Since she hadn’t been raised in the area, she didn’t think much about the various mountains or overlooks. Plus, it was a part of who she was to give freedom and privacy. Was it his way to take advantage of that?
Oddly enough, he’d brought Steven up here a handful of times, thinking he, too, might want a private spot to think and pray on his own in another five or so years.
As Sugar Bear plodded up the rutty path, Vin drew a deep breath. “Gott, bin Ich aa draus in da Welt?”
He’d asked God a hundred thousand times if he was too out in the world. But clarity never came. Was that because he was so very wrong or because he felt the weight of everyone’s opinions about it? His parents and preachers had taught him about idolatry from the time he was a baby, and everyone he’d grown up with believed images of the face were idol worship. Many frowned on Vin drawing hands or backs, feeling that too crossed a line.
“Gott, helfe me, please. I need Your help. You know I do. I’ve cried out to you until I’m sick of hearing my own wailing. The need to draw faces, to look in someone’s eyes and re-create the light I see, burns inside me like a hunger I can’t ease. Why? It’s too much.” He tugged on the reins, reminding his old girl to watch out for the rock ahead, the one sometimes hidden by tall grass. She nodded. She understood him well and was a responsive horse.
A verse came to mind, one he’d quoted to God a few times. “Gott, Your Word says You are faithful and will not let a person be tempted beyond what he can bear. I need You to rescue me from this miserable temptation or let me know it’s fine to do as I wish, even if Celeste and I need to leave the Amish.” He finished his prayer, unsure what else to say. Hadn’t he said it all before?
The sky was a deep purple as light drained from this side of the world. Cicadas buzzed. Crickets chirped. The mountain chorus of frogs sang. Creatures, from insects to workhorses, seemed to know what they were born for. No one expected a bird not to sing, a cricket not to chirp, a horse not to graze the fields.
When Sugar Bear slowed because of the steepness, Vin brought her to a full stop, got out, and led her the rest of the way up the incline until the path ended. Dusk was deepening. He realized he should’ve brought a lantern with him, but the quarter moon was rising and would be high soon. This open space for the path ran between a tall hill on one side and a cliff on the other. Per his usual, he eased the horse and rig into a semicircle until both were facing downhill. While he was in the middle of unhitching Sugar Bear from the rig, she took several steps back.
“Whoa, girl. None of that.” He grabbed her rein, but she still took a few steps back, pushing the rig toward the cliff. “Sugar Bear,” he scolded. She stopped, and then he saw what caused her to do that unusual move. Patches of sweetgrass were behind her, and she wanted to get to them. “Fine. We’ll do it your way.” He finished unhitching her. He’d be here awhile, suffering in miserable ways that he had no answers for. His faithful old girl might as well enjoy herself, especially since he had a halter in the rig. He took off her bridle and put the harness and lead rope on her. She went to the closest patch of grass, and he placed a small rock on top of the lead rope. “Better?” He rubbed her neck, withers, and back. She nickered, sounding satisfied. Vin had gotten her as a six-month-old filly for his twelfth birthday. He’d worked with her from the start, but he let her grow for four years before he started riding her or asking her to pull a rig. She was a bit spoiled, and like every horse, she had her own personality, with desires that didn’t always match his goals. He had to both listen to her and hold his ground. Was that what God was doing with Vin?
He moved to his spot on the granite boulder and sat. Even though this spot was all brambles and underbrush except for a narrow path and a series of dirty boulders jutting out over nothing important, Vin saw it as gorgeous, created by the original artist. He breathed in the cool air as the sky continued to deepen into shades of dark orange and deep purple.
All of life held beauty, and Vin knew he had so much to be grateful for. He loved Celeste far more than she could see. Their sons filled their lives with new meaning. Words couldn’t describe what all three of them meant to him. Love abounded in their home. He had a cabinetry and furniture business that, from time to time, allowed him to express his artistry through scrollwork and ornate patterns on panels for Englischers. Their community wasn’t contentious or backbiting. The ministers had reacted with kindness and forgiveness when the bishop discovered Vin’s idolatrous drawings.
Yet . . . he chafed on the inside, like a man stuffed inside clothes three times too small for him or inside a baby’s bassinet or . . . a half-used-up pickle jar.
He sighed. “What’s wrong with me that I can’t just be satisfied?”
Then again, what was wrong with everyone else that they had to make a sinful case out of something that should be as freeing as drawing a whole person, face included?
An awful feeling bubbled up from somewhere deep inside him. Maybe he’d been born during the wrong time. Not long ago, Amish hadn’t allowed any artistry of nature, not trees or birds or faceless people. If he’d been born twenty or thirty years from right now, would the Amish allow images of faces?
But then he’d only know Celeste as an elderly woman. Would she be better off without him?
Anger stirred as he realized he was lying to himself. His real question, the one lurking behind his self-serving one, was, would he be better off if he was free of her? Free to go where he wanted? Be who he wanted?
Was that why he was a restless soul . . . because he wanted to be free?
The rig creaked and gravel fell into the ravine. He stood, trying to see under the now-silvery night sky. What would’ve caused that? He got off the boulder, just in case the noise he’d heard was rocks falling from under the jutting. He studied his surroundings.
A glint caught his attention. Moonlight bounced against something on the flat ground six or so feet to the side of where he stood. He squinted. Was that two rappel rings bolted into the ground? A double rope ran across the ground, from the rings to over the side of the cliff.
Someone had been up here? He scanned the area again.
Sugar Bear was still grazing, content. But the rig was sitting oddly, wasn’t it? He went to it and saw that the wheel he’d pounded onto the hub before leaving his house was sitting lopsided, not fully off, but not upright either, and now it was pushing over the edge. He grabbed the shafts on the rig and pulled. It wasn’t hard to move the rig forward and away from the edge. Or it shouldn’t be, but the broken, wonky wheel had snagged on the edge of the boulder and it wasn’t budging.
He yanked hard, and the wheel came off. No!
The rig tilted toward the ravine. He pushed down hard on the far shaft. He could still save it! But its weight angled toward the now-missing wheel. No choice. He had to let go or be dragged with it. The rig went over the side. The sound of its crash reverberated through the canyon.
His heart going wild, he eased to the edge, seeing very little in the moonlight as the sound faded. Disbelief kept echoing inside him. How had he not realized the rig was too close to the edge?
The sight of it sort of matched what his insides felt like—something splintered across an overgrown, barren land no one cared about. Would anyone ever see the broken rig? Not likely.
He sighed. How embarrassing would this be to explain to Celeste? Rigs were expensive. He’d known it needed repair, so why hadn’t he thought about what coming up this rutty, rocky path would do to that already-damaged wheel? At least he could ride Sugar Bear home rather than having to walk, so he wouldn’t add being home late to the other items on the list—forbidden artwork, a desire to break free of the Amish, and a destroyed buggy. As it was, she had a lot of disappointments to contend with. She deserved better, and sometimes he seemed determined to remind her of that.
He peered over the ledge again, trying to see if any useful parts of the buggy might be retrievable. Something else caught his eye, near where the broken rig was now sprawled. Was that . . . clothing? Was someone lying on the ground down there?
He blinked and inched forward to see better. Loose gravel under his feet shifted. Horse neck! He tried to scramble back, but his foot slipped. He fell to the ground, but the edge of the rock seemed to disintegrate, and as gravel slid out from under him, gravity pulled him toward the ravine.
No! His heart pounded and catching a breath seemed impossible. He didn’t want to die. He couldn’t! Not after leaving Celeste like that! Scrambling with all he had, he flipped over to his belly, trying to crawl from the edge, but within seconds he was going over the side. He reached out in front of him and his fingers clawed onto some jutted-out rock he’d never seen when sitting above it. His breathing came in short spurts as his legs dangled, searching for footing. But he had too little of a hold on the rock, and he couldn’t pull himself up. He closed his eyes, regret engulfing him like flames from a barn on fire. Dizziness spun him as he tried to hold on, and his awareness of this place seemed to fade, as if he was going to sleep.
Suddenly . . . he was nowhere and everywhere. Was he falling?
Everything faded and the one truth that mattered rose from deep within. He screamed their names as loud as he could with struggling lungs. “Celeste! Steven! Drew! I love you!”
Celeste startled awake. Was that a noise coming from the road? With Drew asleep in her arms, she got out of the rocking chair and moved to the open window, listening for hoofs on the pavement. Her long white gown clung to her sweaty body. The cicadas chirped loudly and not a breeze stirred the sultry air. She neither saw nor heard anything that sounded like a horse and buggy coming her way. A car topped the hill, its headlights piercing the dark. She looked at the clock on the wall. Three.
“Vin, where are you?”
Just in case he’d slipped in while she was dozing in the rocker, she padded down the hall and peered into their bedroom. Still empty. She went back to the nursery and put Drew in his bed, asking God to give him some relief for his sore gums from teething, letting him rest easy tonight.
She lit a kerosene lamp and carried it with her. Maybe Vin had returned and was asleep in the barn. The screen door creaked as she left the house, and then it flopped against the frame. The gravel driveway pinched the bottoms of her feet a bit. “Vin?” She went into the barn and lifted the lantern, looking for signs of him. The dim, wavery light bounced off emptiness. No family buggy. No Sugar Bear. No husband.
The dirt floor of the barn felt cool and smooth against her bare feet. The aroma of old wood and fresh hay filled the humid air. “Vin?” Her voice cracked. Why was she calling for him when there were no signs he was there?
She left the barn and walked the short distance to the cabinetry shop. Since the rig wasn’t in sight, it was silly to check the shop, but she opened the door and went inside anyway. The aroma of sawdust, paint, and the sweat of her husband’s brow filled her senses. Echoes of yesterday surrounded her. She’d been so sure of who he was . . . who they were together . . .
The wall clock’s ticks sounded loud in the quiet of the night. How often over the years had they relied on that old thing to keep track of time for them? All that time together that she treasured . . . how long had he wanted another life?
A wave of grief flooded her. She stood there, lost and overwhelmed in the most familiar of places—home. Biting back tears, she returned to the house. Should she call someone? Was it worth the upset it would cause others if Vin simply hadn’t returned yet? On the other hand . . . No. He’d be home soon. She was sure of it.
Once inside, she got a bowl down from the cabinet. Baking always made her feel better. Busyness was a balm to a troubled mind. Her hand rested on the cabinet and she stroked the wood. Vin had made these. The house was old, but the cabinets were new, an anniversary gift to her. Emotions crashed against her. Anger. Hurt. Panic. Since he asked her to marry him at seventeen years old, she hadn’t known how to get through a day without hearing his calm voice and quick laughter. But if he came home right now, she wouldn’t know what to do—hug him with all her heart or scream at him until she lost her voice. Maybe both.
Celeste turned to see little Steven half-dressed, his suspenders over his nightshirt with his pants underneath.
At four years old, Steven knew very little English. He often talked in a mix of Pennsylvania Dutch, their everyday language, and High German, the language from parts of the church meetings and from when they read the Bible out loud. She forced a smile and knelt in front of her son, hoping to avoid answering his question. “Du sollen sein in Bett.” How was her response of you should be in bed any sort of helpful answer to this precious boy who wanted to know where his dad was?
“Ich traum. Ich mussen mei dat.”
“Ah.” She brushed sweaty hair from his face. He’d had a dream and needed his dat. She needed Vin too, but it was even worse for Steven, as a daddy’s boy. Whenever Steven had a bad dream, she could scarcely comfort him, but Vin knew just what to say. Then Vin would wrap Steven in his arms while in his and Celeste’s big bed, and they’d both go back to sleep. She choked back tears as she told her son that his dat wasn’t there.
“Awwer Dat versprochen mich.”
Celeste didn’t know what Vin had promised Steven, but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t here to keep that promise. She kissed his cheek. “Kumm.” She told him she’d tuck him in bed and read him his favorite story.
The pout remained on Steven’s face, like he might burst into tears at any moment, but he turned and headed for his bed. Steven was sure his dat had hung the sun and the moon. She was too old to believe that, but sometimes it felt as if Vin could do those things if he wanted to.
She took Steven’s hand in hers as they walked down the hallway. The house echoed with silence in a way she’d never experienced before, and the home that always felt warm and inviting seemed to be filled with fear.
Dear God, please bring Vin home safe and sound. Please.