An Amish Christmas, Expanded Edition
by Beth Wiseman
Five years later
Seth lived with pain every day. At one time he'd tried to blame God for what had happened, but he knew that wasn't honest. He had no one to blame but himself.
He winced as he pulled on his trousers, his movements awkward. Still, just as he did each day, he silently gave thanks to Father God. If people had said to him even six months ago that he would be grateful to feel pain, that he would praise the Lord for each twinge and ache, he would have laughed in their faces. But today, the ever-present soreness reminded him that he was lucky to be alive.
He reached for his walking stick-plain, unadorned, but stained and lacquered to a smooth, shiny finish. His older brother, Noah, had made it for him shortly after the accident. The top of the stick was straight, so he couldn't call it a cane. Neither was it overly long, like a traditional walking stick. The knob at the top reached him at hip level, giving him the perfect amount of support without being unwieldy.
When he first saw the stick, he'd wanted to throw it at his brother. Now the gift had become indispensable.
Seth turned at a loud knock at his door. "What?"
"Caleb Esh is here." His father's gruff voice penetrated the wooden door. "You ready?"
Hearing his dad's voice gave Seth pause. Considering their strained relationship, he was surprised his father had come upstairs to fetch him.
"Ya," Seth replied, reaching for his black felt hat, the one he usually wore in cold weather. He'd pick up his coat on the way out. "Tell Caleb I'll be right down." He heard the thudding of his father's work boots against the wood floorboards as Melvin Fisher left to deliver Seth's message.
Seth placed his hand on the knob of the door and started to turn it, then stopped. Before the accident he'd never been nervous about going out. But tonight was different. The Christmas sing at the Lapps' home was his first social outing in six months, a time span unheard-of for him. For the last three years, since he'd turned sixteen, going out had been a big part of his life. Not that he had wasted his time on the Amish social circuit. Frolics and singings and other gatherings had been too tame and too lame. Seth was too cool for that, choosing instead to hang with English friends. When he was with them he drank. He smoked.
He learned to drive a car.
He ran his fingers over the thin ridge of scar tissue that started from his left temple and cut a straight line to the top of his jaw. The facial cut had healed faster than his leg, and far more quickly than his pride.
Shaking off the raw memories, he twisted the brass knob and opened the door. He'd learned some hard lessons that night six months ago, and they had shaped him into a new man. But he couldn't hide here forever, surrounded by his family. Not only had they accepted what had happened; they'd forgiven him too.
Perhaps not everyone would show him such mercy.
He ignored the sudden stab of low confidence and headed down the stairs, determined to renew the old acquaintances he had abandoned in favor of the outside world.
* * * "I don't understand why you're helping me with this boring task when you could be at the Lapps', having a good time."
Miriam finished putting the plastic binding on a cookbook and looked into her older sister's weary face. The exhaustion she saw there explained why she chose to spend Sunday night helping her sister Lydia. But she would never say so aloud. Since the death of Lydia's husband two years ago, she'd had enough to fret over without worrying about how tired she looked.
"I like helping you," Miriam said, a little too brightly. "I can't think of a better way to spend my evening than with my sister and my niece and nephews."
"I'd believe you, except the kinder aren't even here right now." Lydia smirked. "The boys are spending the night with the Yoders, and Anna Marie is at the Christmas sing, where you should be."
She had heard her niece use the term on occasion, and Miriam thought it fit her current situation. Pushing up her glasses, she glanced down at the cookbook, pretending to be engrossed in the artwork on the shiny cover.
"You can ignore me all you want, Miriam, but I know the real reason you're here." Lydia picked up her mug of lukewarm coffee, took a sip, then frowned. Rising from the table in the middle of her kitchen, she walked over to the stove, opened up the percolator, and started a fresh pot.
Lydia's bait was too tempting to ignore. Miriam's gaze shot up, and she watched her sister remove the lid from the metal coffeepot.
"I already told you why I'm here," she said.
"You told me what you wanted me to hear, not the real reason." Lydia added fragrant coffee grounds to the basket, then poured water over them and put the pot on the stove. Within minutes the kitchen filled with the coffee's comforting aroma.
"There's no other reason, Lydia." Miriam reached for an unbound cookbook. "Besides, if I weren't here, how would you get all this done?"
"I'd manage, God willing." She sat back down at the table. "Not that I don't appreciate all the help you've given me. But you're spending too much time either here or at the quilt shop. You're nineteen years old, Miriam. You should be enjoying life."
"I enjoy life. I like my job, and I have my quilting." She started inserting the binder into the square holes on the left margin of the loose pages.
"But what about your friends?"
"I have plenty of friends. A lot of them are just as busy as I am."
"What about a boyfriend?" Lydia leaned forward, her gaze steady and serious.
"What about Daniel?" Miriam said, eager to switch their conversation to something else. She suspected that Daniel Smucker was the main reason for Lydia's singular focus tonight. Since her late husband's brother had returned to Paradise, her normally steadfast sister had been out of sorts.
Lydia averted her gaze, but only for a moment. "I'm not talking about me and Daniel."
"You and Daniel?" Miriam lifted a brow. "What about you and Daniel?"
"There is no 'me and Daniel'."
"But you just said-"
"Stop changing the subject." Lydia sat up straight in her chair and folded her hands on the table. "Miriam, it's time you started thinking about your future. There are several available young men in the community. Isn't there at least one you're interested in?"
At her sister's last question, Miriam's thumb slipped and slid against the sharp edge of the binder, hard enough to draw blood. She put her thumb to her mouth.
Concern suddenly etched Lydia's features. "Do you need a bandage?"
Miriam looked at her hand. The cut was tiny, negligible actually. She shook her head and rose from her chair. "I'm fine. I'll just give it a quick wash."
As she stood over the sink and lathered her hands with Lydia's homemade lavender soap, Miriam stared out of the window into the darkness of the night. A chill suddenly flowed through her, as if the cold outside air had somehow seeped through the clear glass pane and entered her body. Lydia didn't want to talk about Daniel, and Miriam certainly didn't want to talk about men, so she wished her sister would drop the topic altogether.
At nineteen Miriam was old enough to marry. Several of her schoolmates had already married or had steady beaus. But she remained single. She'd learned her lesson a long time ago. She wasn't about to open herself to ridicule again. Although she was expected to get married and raise a family, she wasn't in any hurry to do so. At least she tried to tell herself that.
Trouble was, her heart refused to cooperate. At times she had to admit she was lonely, especially when she saw other young couples together, enjoying each other's company. So she made sure not to put herself in situations where she would be reminded of what she didn't have.
"Miriam? Are you all right?"
Lydia's voice broke into her thoughts. Quickly Miriam rinsed and dried her hands, then went back to the table and delved into her work.
A few moments later Lydia placed her hand on Miriam's forearm. "That's enough. I can get the rest. You go on and have a good time."
"Lydia, I already said I'm not going."
"And I said you are. This is the last singing before Christmas, and you don't want to miss that. Go home and put on a fresh dress. I'm sure Pop won't mind dropping you off at the Lapps', and Anna Marie can bring you back home." As if to make sure Miriam would follow orders, Lydia gathered the cookbooks and binders and carried them into the next room.
Miriam frowned. The last thing she wanted to see were boys and girls flirting with each other as they played the awkward and thrilling game of courtship. Or worse, she'd be subjected to all the young people who had already found someone to love, or at least to like well enough to date.
She planted herself in the chair. She was nineteen years old, not a little girl. Her sister couldn't force her. Could she?
Lydia came back into the room, glanced at Miriam, and grimaced. "I can see this is going to be harder than I thought." She left abruptly, and returned a moment later with her black winter cloak slung over one arm. She adjusted the black bonnet on her head with the opposite hand.
"Where are you going?" Miriam asked.
"Drastic times call for drastic measures." She stood in front of Miriam, hands firmly planted on her hips. "I'll take you to the singing tonight."
"You can't. Your kind has your buggy, remember?"
"Ya, but that doesn't mean I can't drive yours. I'll drop you off, then pick you up in a couple of hours. Then you can go home to Dad and Mamm, or you can spend the night here. You know we always love having you."
A scowl tugged at Miriam's mouth. She was being coerced. "You say you love having me, but you want me to leave."
Lydia nodded, her expression resolute. "Ya, I do. Just know that I'm doing this for your own good. Now, are you coming, or do I have to physically force you?"
Miriam didn't doubt her for a minute. Although Lydia was a couple inches shorter than Miriam, when she set her mind on a goal, nothing would keep her from achieving it. Even if it meant making her younger sister do something she didn't want to do.
Trapped, Miriam slowly stood. "You said I needed a fresh dress."
"You look fine."
Miriam doubted that. "Let me at least freshen up in the bathroom before we go."
"Ya, but don't dally. The singing has already started. You're missing all the fun!"
Miriam headed for the bathroom, more than a little irritated. Why couldn't Lydia mind her own business? Entering the small room, she closed the door and turned on the battery-operated lamp on the vanity. As with all the rooms in Lydia's house, this one had also been adorned with Christmas decorations. An evergreen-scented candle burned next to the lamp, filling the small space with its fresh fragrance. A pine bough sporting a bright red bow perched above the small mirror over the sink. Nothing fancy, but a festive touch.
The light was a bit on the dim side, but she could see her reflection clearly enough. Plain, plain, plain. A stab of insecurity hit her. While she lived among a people who valued simplicity and plainness, there was such a thing as being too nondescript. She knew that firsthand.
There was nothing pretty, nothing extraordinary, nothing striking about her appearance. Her hair and eyes were the shade of brown mud while her complexion was fair, even stark. Small, wire-framed glasses with round lenses did little to enhance her features, while her chin angled to a point. Unlike her sisters, Miriam had no curves, and her dress hung loosely on her boyish frame. A sharp chin, lean hips, and a tiny bosom. No wonder men weren't falling at her feet.
She knew that inner beauty was more important than a pretty face or appealing figure. She also knew that the Lord valued the heart, not the shell that protected it. Still, that didn't keep her from secretly longing for at least one attractive physical quality. Seth Fisher's words were still true: she was a four-eyed beanpole.
Closing her eyes against the insult ricocheting in her brain, she fought the humiliation and resentment pooling in her stomach, unabated by time. Her path hadn't crossed Seth's since they left school, and that had helped-at least she hadn't been constantly reminded of how ugly he thought she was. He had turned into a wild boy and run around with a bunch of English people, constantly getting into trouble. A few months ago he fell into more trouble than anyone would have thought, and that was the last she'd heard of him. While she had never wished him any harm, it would suit her just fine if she never saw him again.
Opening her eyes, she leaned over the sink and splashed some cold water on her cheeks. She mentally pushed the past away as she stood up, adjusting the hairpins affixed to her kapp. Staring into the mirror, she forced a smile. She could do this. She could do anything for a couple of hours.
Opening the door, she thought of the one good thing about attending the singing, and that put a genuine smile on her face. At least he wouldn't be there. She wouldn't have to worry about Seth Fisher ruining her night.