An Honest Love
by Kathleen Fuller
By Kathleen Fuller
Elisabeth Byler cradled her nine-month-old niece in the crook of her arm while she fumbled with a baby bottle. Powdered formula was normally easy to prepare, but with Ester squalling and Velda-
"Velda?" Elisabeth glanced around the kitchen, then ran into the living room in search of her other niece. "Velda Anne! Where are you?" She looked behind the couch and one of the armchairs, gripping the baby to her side.
Elisabeth ran up the stairs to Velda's bedroom, shouting her name several times. She panicked, unable to find her little eighteen-month-old niece in any of the bedrooms. "This is the last time I'm babysitting for Moriah and Gabe!" Ester's cries grew louder.
A check of the bathroom proved fruitless, so she ran down the stairs to the back door, hoping, praying with all her might that Velda was outside and hadn't strayed too far from the house. She flung the door wide and took a step outside-
"Oof!" She'd run into a solid wall. Of muscle, she realized as she stared at the front of a light blue shirt and black suspenders. She looked up and saw the face of Aaron Detweiler. "Oh, thank God you're here. Velda Anne's missing! You've got to help me find her!" Aaron's expression was inscrutable. She shoved the baby into his arms. "Watch her while I geh find Velda."
"You don't have to do that-"
"Are you crazy? Of course I do!" Elisabeth moved past him, wringing her hands together. "Velda! Velda Anne Miller, you come here right now!"
She spun and faced Aaron. "What!"
"She's right here." He shifted the baby to one arm, then pointed at the little girl clinging to one leg of his gray, broadfall trousers.
Elisabeth looked down at Velda, who stared back at her, sucking her thumb. Her black kapp was askew on her head, and strands of light brown hair rested against her plump cheeks.
Elisabeth rushed over and squatted down on the ground, clutching the child to her chest. "Where have you been?" She looked up at Aaron. "What are you doing with her?" "She came out to the blacksmith shop."
"Da." Velda wiggled out of Elisabeth's grasp. She pointed at the shop behind Elisabeth. "Da."
"Guess she was looking for her daed." Aaron shifted Ester in his arms. Elisabeth's panic subsided, replaced by anger. She met Velda's wide, innocent gaze. "Don't you ever, ever run off like that again!"
Ester, who had quieted down while Aaron held her, started howling again. At the same time Velda's bottom lip began to tremble. "Da!" She burst into tears.
Aaron turned and walked into the house. Elisabeth picked up Velda and followed, watching him as he calmly walked over to the sink, as if he dealt with screaming babies on a daily basis. Within a minute Aaron had not only made the bottle, he had gently nudged the nipple into Ester's mouth, silencing her cries. He held the baby in the crook of one arm as if she weighed no more than a football.
Elisabeth put her niece down and leaned against the kitchen table, letting her heart rate slow. She tried not to stare at Aaron, but he seemed completely unaffected by the commotion. And there was something mesmerizing about seeing such a large man feeding a little baby. The bottle looked like a toy in his hand. She tried to remember back two years ago when Aaron Detweiler had been a scrawny kid of seventeen who had just gotten out of jail after serving time for dealing drugs. So much had changed since then. Not only had he grown a couple inches taller, he'd also filled out, probably due to the physical exertion of being a blacksmith.
Pulling her gaze from Aaron and Ester, she glanced around the kitchen for Velda, who had disappeared again. Her sister's firstborn had been a complete angel until she'd turned fifteen months. Since then the child had become a complete terror, and Elisabeth could barely keep up with her. Elisabeth started for the living room again, her patience as thin as parchment paper. "Velda Anne, I'm warning you-"
"Down the hall." Aaron took a step forward, his boot thudding on the floor.
"What?" Elisabeth asked from the living room.
"Velda went down the hall."
She leaned back and poked her head back into the kitchen. "How do you know?" "Watched her go." He looked down at Ester just as her little chubby arm slipped from the bottle and hung over his muscled forearm.
Elisabeth groaned and walked to the short hallway adjacent to the kitchen, just in time to see Velda duck into the bathroom a few feet away. By the time she reached her niece, Velda had already started pulling the toilet paper off the roll, letting it fall in airy, folded layers at her feet.
"Velda, nee!" Elisabeth rushed to her and snatched the paper out of her tiny hands. She quickly rolled it up. "That's naughty, Velda!"
"Da," Velda said, then dashed out of the bathroom.
Elisabeth raced after her, scooping her up in her arms as soon as they reached the kitchen. Aaron and Ester had disappeared, but she couldn't worry about them right now. She sat the child down in a chair and bent down in front of her.
"Now you listen here, Velda Anne Miller. No more disappearing. You march into the living room and play with your toys, and do not leave until I tell you to. Understand?" Velda stared, and Elisabeth knew her niece didn't understand at all. She took her into the living room and put her inside a playpen next to the couch. She surrounded her with a stuffed bear and two board books. "Play with your toys."
Elisabeth turned around and took a step toward the stairs but stopped when she heard a book hitting the wood floor. She looked back at Velda who held the other book poised for flight.
"Da!" Velda said.
"Your daed's not here, remember? He and Mami went to visit your Aenti Rachel. She's in the hospital, and she just had a boppli." Elisabeth put the heel of her hand to her forehead. "Why am I explaining this to you? It's not like you understand what I'm saying."
Velda dropped the book and pointed to a wooden toy chest next to the playpen. "Na!"
With a sigh Elisabeth opened the lid of the chest and searched for a toy that might resemble a na, whatever that was. After three failed attempts, she held up a raggedy, faceless doll, the one she had given Velda shortly after she was born.
"Na! Na!" Velda waved her arms and jumped up and down in the pen. When Elisabeth handed her the doll, Velda held it close, plopped down in the pen, and put her thumb in her mouth.
"Finally." Elisabeth moved the playpen toward the center of the room, made sure Velda couldn't climb out of it, then went to search for Aaron and Ester. She hadn't heard a sound from the baby since Aaron had fed her. As she made her way to the bottom of the staircase, she heard the heavy tread of Aaron's boots as he came down.
"She's asleep." He walked past her toward the kitchen, holding an empty bottle. Elisabeth followed closely behind.
Aaron went to the sink and added the bottle to the dirty stack of cups and plates. She hadn't had a chance to wash the breakfast dishes and it was nearly noon.
"Want some help?"
She looked at Aaron, stunned by his offer, and more than a little embarrassed. First she couldn't handle the children, and now it looked like she couldn't even take care of a simple kitchen chore. He probably thought her completely incompetent. "Nee," she snapped, sounding harsher than she intended.
Something flickered in his blue eyes. Before she could figure out what it was, he stepped away from her, then turned and left without saying another word. Elisabeth turned on the water and stared at it pouring out of the tap, regretting her sternness with Aaron. Squeezing a couple drops of dishwashing detergent into the hot water, she started washing the breakfast dishes. But as she wiped the first glass, she gazed out of the window for a long moment, letting the slight summer breeze cool her embarrassment. When she finished the dishes, she would go out to the shop and apologize to Aaron. He'd helped her out, and that certainly didn't deserve her rudeness, even if she was a bit jealous of how easily he handled the children. With the tips of her damp fingers, she rubbed her forehead. This was the third time she had babysat Moriah's daughters, and each time she felt more inept. If she couldn't handle her nieces for a few hours at a time, what kind of mother would she be? A terrible one. And her failure to keep Velda under control and Ester fed and content today made that clear. It wasn't the first time she worried about having children ... or wondered if she even wanted any. Not that she would ever tell anybody that. That would be akin to heresy, an Amish woman announcing that she wasn't sure she wanted children. She thought about Aaron and how he had made it look so easy. How'd he get to be so good with children? She would have never expected it of him. Of course, Aaron had been around Velda and Ester before. Aaron's older sister was married to Elisabeth's older brother, so Aaron had been to at least one of the Byler family gatherings. But he hadn't interacted with the children much-or with many of the adults for that matter. She didn't know what to expect when it came to Aaron Detweiler. But she had to admit she was grateful he'd been there to lend a hand.
As she finished the last plate, her sister Moriah came in the door, followed by Gabriel. Gabe set a few plastic bags filled with groceries on the table, then kissed Moriah on the cheek. "I have to geh back to work," he said, staring into her eyes.
"I know. Danki for coming with me to see Tobias' boppli."
"I wouldn't have missed it." Gabe smiled. He leaned down and kissed her lips.
Elisabeth reddened and averted her gaze. She cleared her throat. "I'm standing right here," she said, lifting her voice an octave.
Gabe moved away from his wife, his face turning the same shade as the tomatoes in their garden. "Sorry. I didn't realize you were here."
"You asked me to babysit."
"I meant in this room." He looked at Moriah and gave her a tight smile. "See you later."
Moriah nodded. "Ya. I'll have supper ready when you come in."
Gabe gave another slightly embarrassed look at Elisabeth, then disappeared out the door. Moriah looked at her sister, clearly not as self-conscious as Gabe had been. Which wasn't surprising, considering Moriah had grown up with five brothers and sisters, while Gabe had grown up with only one brother, an identical twin who had died in a car accident only three years ago.
"Where are the maed?" Moriah asked, removing her black bonnet and revealing her starched white prayer kapp.
"Ester is upstairs taking a nap, and Velda is in the living room, playing in her playpen." "I'll geh check on them."
"Okay. I just have a couple more dishes to dry."
Moriah went into the living room as Elisabeth finished wiping the damp dishes with a clean kitchen towel. A few moments later her sister reappeared. "Velda's asleep too." Moriah smiled. "You must have worn them both out."
"I think it was the other way around."
"Kinner can be exhausting, can't they? But they are such blessings." Moriah walked over to Elisabeth, beaming.
Elisabeth tilted her head. "Okay, I know that look. Spill it."
Moriah giggled. "I haven't told Gabe yet, but I can't keep the news a secret any longer." Her mouth dropped open. She could tell by the bright glow on Moriah's face and the excited tone of her voice what the news was. Good grief, her sister was a baby-making machine.
"I'm pregnant!" Moriah clasped her hands together. "Isn't that wonderful? Gabe will be thrilled. He wanted a large family, and we're well on our way."
"Congratulations," Elisabeth said, mustering a smile. "That's ... wunderbaar news."
"Danki, Lis." She hugged her sister. "Danki for being happy for me. But don't tell anyone about it yet. I want to let Gabriel know first."
"My lips are sealed." She smiled, trying to elevate her mood to mirror some of Moriah's excitement. But the thought of babysitting three of their kinner made it near impossible.
Moriah picked up a couple of freshly dried plates and put them in the cabinet. "You should see Rachel and Tobias' boppli. He looks just like his mami."
Elisabeth smiled. "Uh oh." she said, rolling her eyes, "I'm sure Tobias had something to say about that."
"Ya, he promised their next boppli would look like him." Both Moriah and Elisabeth laughed, both knowing that the spark in Tobias and Rachel's marriage came from their competitive natures.
Elisabeth handed Moriah a glass. "Have they decided on a name?"
"Finally. It took them the whole day. It's not like they didn't have months to think of one."
"I'm guessing they probably spent all that time arguing over who got to choose the name."
"I'm sure you're right. But whoever did, they picked a gut one." She looked at Elisabeth. "Josiah Andrew."
"That is a nice name. I'll have to go over and see them once Rachel comes home." Just as long as they don't ask me to babysit. She gave Moriah the last of the dishes. Once they were put away, Elisabeth asked, "Do you need help with anything else?"
"Nee. I appreciate you watching the maed. Hope they weren't too much trouble."
"They were ... lively." She wasn't about to admit she'd nearly been bested by an infant and a toddler. Her family thought her flighty enough as it was. Sure, she was often late getting ready for church, and sometimes she forgot things, like leaving the cap off the ketchup or not adding baking powder to a cake. Still, she was getting better about that-or at least she was trying to.
Taking one last look at Moriah, who had started putting the groceries away, Elisabeth thought about her sister's news. First Moriah had her two children, with a third on the way, and now her brother Tobias just had his first child with his wife Rachel, Aaron Detweiler's sister. It wouldn't be long before the next Byler, Lukas, would start thinking about marriage and a family. Unlike her, Lukas was great with his nieces. Fortunately, her youngest two siblings, Stephen and Ruth, were too young to think about all that. At least she wasn't the only one in her family who didn't have babies on the brain.
As she left the house, she saw Aaron exiting the Miller's blacksmith shop with a large wooden crate, a few horseshoes visible on top. He moved slowly, forearms and biceps straining, as he walked behind the shop. At the same time she heard the creak of the shop door open. She turned to see Gabe walk outside.
"Glad I caught you before you left," he said, walking toward her. Any embarrassment at getting caught kissing his wife earlier had disappeared. Instead, he had a serious look on his face. "I want to talk to you about something."
"Ya?" The summer sunlight beat down on them. She shaded her eyes with her hand as she regarded her brother-in-law. "What about?"
"I wondered if you'd be interested in a job. God has seen fit to bless our small business, and with daed officially retired, I need someone to help out part-time." As Aaron approached the front of the shop, Gabe motioned for him to join them.
Elisabeth watched Aaron remove his straw hat and wipe the perspiration from his forehead, revealing a mop of dark blond hair. She looked back at her brother-in-law as Aaron neared. "Gabe, I have no idea how to make horseshoes."
Gabe laughed. "Nee, Elisabeth. Not with the blacksmithing. I need someone to do the books and help with ordering. Also taking orders from customers, keeping the paperwork straight-office details. Moriah said you're gut with numbers."
Elisabeth lifted a brow, surprised that Moriah had mentioned that to Gabe. She'd been bored out of her mind in school, and no one had ever been happier to graduate after her eighth grade year than she was. But math had been her best subject and the only one that hadn't put her to sleep.
"It's part-time, only three days a week," Gabe continued. "But you can pick your days and set your own hours. Are you interested?"
"I'm definitely interested!" She had spent a good part of the last two years since graduation working with her mother at home, helping with the gardening and canning, and keeping the household running smoothly. Unfortunately, those tasks didn't give her much satisfaction. During the past year she had decided to go out and find a job, a quest that had been more difficult than she'd thought, as opportunities were scarce. "Did Moriah tell you I was looking for work?"