A Man of His Word
by Kathleen Fuller
A Man of His Word
By Kathleen Fuller
Moriah Byler ran her fingers across the soft fabric of the dress hanging on her closet door. Its powder-blue hue, her favorite color, resembled a clear summer sky. Giddiness coursed through her. In three hours she would don this new dress, and before God and her church, she would become Mrs. Levi Miller.
Closing her eyes, she pictured her handsome husband-to-be, his sandy-brown hair falling across his forehead, his chest-nut-colored eyes filled with mischief when he was up to something -which was often. She smiled broadly. Was he experiencing the same excitement she felt? Since he had proposed to her a few months ago, she had dreamed about this day, the day she would marry the man she loved, the man God had set apart especially for her. Memories of his proposal flashed through her mind. He had taken her by surprise that day in the barn, first by asking her to marry him, then by boldly kissing her.
Opening her eyes, she touched her cheeks, flushing at the memory. She had always thought she would experience her first kiss after she married. Then again, Levi had always been unpredictable. Although he had tried to kiss her again, she had stopped him. Kissing led to other things-things that should occur after marriage, as their faith taught. She had seen the disappointment in his eyes, but he had agreed to her wishes. Since then he had also been on his best behavior.
She took one last look at the dress she and her mother had finished a week ago, then frowned. Was that a hole in the sleeve? She removed the dress from the hanger. Sure enough, a part of the shoulder seam had separated. She retrieved a needle and thread and quickly stitched it up. After knotting the thread, she snipped it close to the stitches with a small pair of scissors. There. Now it's perfect. The dress and her wedding day would be fehlerfrei.
Moriah hung up the dress and walked to her second-story window, peering into her family's backyard. She gave thanks for their two-acre spread, which included a large clapboard barn and storage shed, both painted in the same shade of white as the house. She spied her father and two of her younger brothers, Lukas and Stephen, bringing inside a long wooden table the family had borrowed several days ago. Behind them followed Gabriel, Levi's identical twin brother, carrying a couple of wooden chairs.
As she watched Gabriel, she recalled the close friendship the three of them had shared as children. Some of her favorite memories revolved around watching Levi and Gabriel try to outdo each other in everything. Gabriel always had the better grades and was physically stronger, as he had proved in third grade when he and Levi had taken turns to see who could lift her up. Gabriel had carried her across the yard as if she weighed no more than a kitten while Levi had carried her only a few feet. But Levi soon proved he could best Gabriel in games of speed and agility, and she smiled as she remembered his determination to climb trees faster and higher than anyone in their school.
She and Levi had begun courting at age sixteen, just after Frau Miller had passed away. Gabriel quickly distanced himself, as if they had never been friends at all. At first, she thought Gabriel was grieving the loss of his mother, but he continued to treat her coolly, more so with each passing year. She hoped that would change once she was a part of his family. She missed his friendship.
Moriah started to turn away when she heard a plinking sound against the windowpane. Then another. She gazed at the ground to see Levi standing below. Sans hat and coat, he had on a long-sleeved, white shirt with black suspenders attached to his dark trousers. Oh, how handsome he looked! He was bending down to pick up another pebble when she shoved open the window. The chilly November air rushed into the warm bedroom.
"Levi! What are you doing?"
Levi's boyishly wicked smile spread across his face. "Looking at mei braut. "
She couldn't help but smile when he called her his bride. "You'll see enough of me at the wedding."
"I can't wait that long." The sunlight glinted off his hair.
Giggling, she said, "You'll have to. I shouldn't even be talking to you."
His shoulders slumped slightly. "Don't you wish we could just run away and get married? Forget all this"-he spread his arms out and gestured to the house and backyard-"and do something different?"
His words shocked the smile from her face. Run away? She knew Yankees sometimes eloped, but she would never consider getting married anywhere but among her family and friends, receiving the full blessing of the church and the Lord. "Levi, why would you even say something like that?"
"I was only kidding," he said, the tone of his voice dropping. Then he straightened his shoulders and grinned again, calming the twinge that had suddenly pinched her heart. He reached for a ladder that had been propped against the house. Her father and several other men from the church had finished reroofing the house last week, and the ladder had been in heavy use. Levi moved the ladder until it clattered against the house, right next to her window.
When he placed his foot on the bottom rung, her jaw dropped. "Levi, you can't come up here."
"Why not?" His hands gripped the side of the ladder and he took a step up. "I have every right to see my bride."
"But not this way." She put her hand to her head. She didn't even have her kapp on, nor was her hair brushed and pinned up. He couldn't see her like this, and he definitely couldn't be alone in her bedroom. He knew that. "Levi, if Daed sees you-"
He glanced up but kept climbing. "Everyone is inside, Moriah. Don't worry, he won't catch me."
Alarm rose within her. She couldn't be alone with Levi, especially not in her room while both their families were downstairs. Other than a few buggy rides together, they hadn't been by themselves since he had proposed to her, and she had been fine with that. They would spend plenty of time together once they were married. "Levi, nee!"
He climbed one more step, then stopped. He was halfway up the ladder now, and it would only take him a few more seconds to reach her bedroom. She froze, wondering what he would do. Meeting his gaze, she saw something in his eyes she had never seen before. Frustration? "You don't want to see me?" he asked, sounding hurt.
She shook her head. "Not right now."
After a fleeting hesitation, he gave her his trademark cocky smirk, and she thought he would respect her wishes. Instead, he continued to climb.
"Levi!" Gabriel's voiced startled her. She stepped back from the window, far enough so she wouldn't be seen from the outside, but still within hearing distance of the two brothers.
"What are you doing?" Gabriel asked, his tone hard.
She listened as Levi shimmied back down the ladder, straining to hear his words. "Just having some fun, bruder."
"By sneaking into Moriah's bedroom?"
Although she couldn't see Gabriel, she could imagine him standing in front of Levi, his arms crossed, his facial expression set in stone as it often was when he and Levi argued.
"She's mei braut, Gabe. Lighten up."
"I'd think you'd have better things to do than goof around on your wedding day."
"That's right," Levi retorted. "My wedding day."
Moriah's brow furrowed. What did he mean by that? She leaned forward as much as she dared, but the men's voices grew faint. Peeking outside, she saw them heading toward the barn, still arguing with each other.
Moriah closed the window, wrapping her arms around her body. The cold air had pierced through her cotton nightgown, icing her fingers and toes. What had gotten into Levi? They would be married in such a short time, why would he risk getting both of them into trouble by doing something so reckless? Certainly he wouldn't entertain something that would put not only him, but also her, in the bann? While she often found his spontaneity attractive, he had unnerved her this time. Fortunately only Gabriel had spotted him. It would have been much worse if their parents had.
Taking a deep breath, she relaxed and started to dress, putting Levi's antics out of her mind. He'd done no harm, and she somehow knew Gabriel wouldn't say anything to anyone. A tiny smile played on her lips. One thing she did know, life with Levi would never be boring.
She brushed out her waist-length, blonde hair and wrapped it tightly in a bun before fastening her white prayer kapp with two bobby pins. She would later cover the kapp with her black bonnet, which would conceal her hair completely. In three hours, the ceremony would begin, and after slipping on her shoes, she went downstairs to the kitchen to help with the preparations.
The thick scent of stuffed roast chicken baking in the oven mingled with the tangy aroma of coleslaw and potato salad. As she entered the kitchen, she also caught a whiff of spicy cinnamon from the apple pies that had been set on the countertop to cool.
Argumentative voices reached her ears-the deep bass of one of her younger brothers, Tobias, mingled with the melodic yet irritated soprano of Rachel Detweiler, one of his former classmates from school and the daughter of one of her mother's dearest friends.
"You don't know what you're talking about," Rachel snapped. The two had turned the kitchen into a battle zone. The petite nineteen-year-old cast a glance toward Moriah, irritation splashed across her delicate features. "Tell your dummkopf brother to stay out of the kitchen. He keeps adding more spices to my cauliflower r casserole. Unnecessary spices." "That's because it tastes like wet cardboard smeared with moldy cheese." Tobias, who at five feet ten was a good six inches taller than Rachel, reached around her slim body and shook some salt on the steaming casserole.
"You're going to ruin it!" She swirled around until she faced him, then grappled at the salt shaker he held over her head.
"Too late for that." He put the shaker behind his back and taunted her with a mocking look.
Moriah watched the two of them with amusement. Tobias and Rachel had grown up together, just as Moriah had grown up with Levi and Gabriel. But unlike the easy friendship she'd had with the Miller brothers, Tobias and Rachel could barely abide each other's company. Though Moriah thought that lately it seemed her brother enjoyed teasing Rachel a little too much and that Rachel didn't seem as put out by him as she had in the past.
"Are you two at it again?" Emma Byler, Tobias and Moriah's mother, entered the kitchen. She readjusted her apron around her trim waist and scowled at Rachel and her son. "We still have much to do, and I can't have you two bickering the whole time. Behave yourselves."
Tobias set the salt shaker back on the table, a lock of dark blond hair slipping across his forehead. He looked appropriately contrite. "Sorry, Mami."
Rachel apologized as well, but Moriah didn't miss the quick, triumphant look the girl shot at Tobias, as if she'd won their little spat.
"Tobias, you shouldn't be in here anyway," Emma added.
"That's what I said," Rachel muttered.
Emma walked over to her son. "I need you to see if we have enough chairs and tables for everyone. Also, help your daed and brothers in the barn. He's making sure there's enough hay and feed for the extra horses."
Tobias nodded and headed out the back door of the kitchen and toward the barn, without giving Rachel a second glance. Moriah thought she detected a slight frown on the young woman's face in response to being ignored, but she could have been imagining it.
Turning, Emma gave Moriah a look of surprise, as if she'd just noticed her standing nearby. "What are you doing down here?"
"Offering to help."
"Nee," clucked Emma. "Not on your wedding day. You've done enough this week already. We have everything under control, and there are plenty of people giving a hand. Rachel is finishing up her casserole, and her mudder will be here shortly. Now, you go upstairs and relax. You have a big day ahead."
For the first time since Levi had proposed, she felt anxiety seeping into her. Not about marrying Levi, but about the wedding itself. The focus would be on her and Levi, and she wasn't comfortable with that realization. She preferred to be involved, helping with preparations in the background. Somehow she had to keep busy, as she couldn't imagine pacing the floor of her room upstairs for the next couple of hours.
As if sensing her daughter's apprehension, Emma put an arm around Moriah's shoulders and spoke in a soft voice, "Go upstairs and read your Biewel. Pray for Levi, for your marriage, and for God to bless you and give you a family. I can think of nothing more worthwhile than spending time with the Lord before your wedding."
Moriah nodded, comforted by her mother's wise suggestion. "Ya, Mami. I will do that."
"Gut." Emma kissed her daughter on the temple. "I want this day to be fehlerfrei for you."
"It will be, Mami. I'm sure of it."
Emma playfully shooed Moriah from the room. "Now, geh!"
Just then Joseph, Moriah's father, walked into the door. He took off his hat and ran his hand through his dark-brown hair liberally streaked with silver. He placed his black hat back on his head and eyed Moriah with a slight smile. "What are you doing in here?"
"I already told her she wasn't needed," Emma said, moving to stand by her husband. She glanced up at him. "Have you enough chairs?"
"Ya," Joseph said, looking down at his wife. He leaned down and whispered in her ear. Emma smiled and gave him a lighthearted pat on the arm. "Geh! I've enough work to do without you messing about in here."
Joseph chuckled and walked out the kitchen door.
Moriah grinned. For as long as she could remember, her parents had been like that-playful, in perfect partnership, and totally in love. If her marriage was half as wonderful as theirs, she would be a blessed woman indeed. Her thoughts filled with Levi and the love they shared, she turned to go back upstairs, but not before she caught Rachel discreetly adding a dash more salt to her casserole.
Gabriel Miller tugged on the neck of his collarless shirt; the growing warmth of the crowded house grated on him. He could bear the heat if he weren't watching his twin brother, Levi, standing only a few feet away, speak his wedding vows to Moriah Byler. Gabe tried to keep his focus on his brother, but he had never seen Moriah look as lovely as she did today. Her simple sky-blue dress accentuated her round, blue eyes that, as she looked at Levi, shone with evident happiness. She was a beautiful bride. But she wasn't his.
Guilt stabbed at him. Once again, he was coveting his brother's woman, and he didn't know how to stop. When Levi and Moriah had started courting, he fought against his attraction to Moriah, begging God to take it away, to make his heart pure. He'd hoped when he joined the church last fall, months before Levi, he could relinquish his sin forever. Yet since then, his feelings hadn't ebbed. Instead, they had only grown stronger.
It was torture, witnessing Levi marry Moriah. He should be happy for his brother. He wanted to be happy for his brother. But his intense jealousy clouded any other emotions. Why Levi and not him? Did Levi know what a precious woman she truly was? Gabriel wondered if he did, especially after catching him trying to sneak into her bedroom right before the wedding, an act that showed a lack of respect not only for her but for her family. What had his brother been thinking? But Gabriel knew the answer to that. As usual, Levi hadn't been thinking at all. Just doing whatever he wanted, never mind the consequences to anyone else. Gabe was only two minutes younger than his twin, but many days he felt years older.
His gaze strayed to Moriah again, and another surge of emotions swelled within him. It wasn't just her outer beauty that drew him. Moriah Byler possessed a humble, gentle spirit and an unmatched generosity that plucked at the strings of Gabe's heart. How many times over the years had he witnessed her offer to help an overwhelmed mother with her children, or go out of her way to care for an elderly member of their church? He couldn't bear to see her hurt in any way. All he wanted was her happiness, and if she found that with his brother, than he would have to learn to accept it.
Levi uttered more words, promising to care for her, to be a loving spouse. The same thing all Amish husbands pledge to do. Gabriel shifted in his chair and tugged at the neck of his shirt again. When would the ceremony end?