An Amish Kitchen
by Beth Wiseman
The light of the waning summer day filtered through the unadorned glass and played amid the profusion of plants in coffee cans that lined the windowsills. Twenty-year-old Fern Zook liked the way her silhouette blended and appeared to lengthen with the multitude of shadowy leaves and stems as she stretched to make sure each container took a few drops from the watering pot.
She reached a tender fingertip to the face of a pansy and murmured to the plants, as was her custom. “If only a man could be grown among you all. It would be much easier than trying to find one in Paradise. But then, God made man in a garden, so maybe . . .” She closed her eyes and indulged in her favorite fantasy . . . that of a tall, dark, handsome man, someone with a frame large enough to find her generous curves . . . interesting, instead of unappealing. Someone who—
“Hiya! Anyone in there?”
Fern spun from the plants to see the materialization of her reverie standing outside the kitchen screen door. She blinked when he hollered again.
“Can’t you hear? I’ve got a sick little girl here!”
Fern sighed. It was Abram Fisher, the twenty-three-year-old eldest son of her grandmother’s next-door neighbors. Tall and handsome, ya. He was broad-shouldered and lean-hipped, and his tousled chestnut-brown hair brushed overly long at the collar of his dark-blue shirt, which matched the color of his eyes. Darkly brooding and big, for certain. She’d passed Abram solemn and sure at church and seen him working in the fields, his strong forearms straining at some task or another, his large hands easily managing a team of four horses behind the plow. And apparently those same hands could cradle a little girl with abject tenderness as he was doing now with his sister, Mary. But Fern doubted he even knew she was alive; he certainly had never paid attention to her growing up. And now he was a dyed-in-the-wool bachelor, married to the land, who’d never given her a passing word until this moment.
Forcing her mind to the matter at hand, Fern assessed the red face of the fretful child. Sunburn . . . but not sunstroke, not by the way the child was moving about and fussing. Fern breathed a sound of relief when she laid her hand against the little red forehead and felt for a moment, sliding her hand gently to the sides and back of the child’s neck. She could tell there was no fever, just the external heat from the sun exposure.
“Let’s take off her kapp. A lot of heat escapes through the head, and she needs to cool down.” And so do you, Abram Fisher . . .
The man was positively radiating tension from his big body. She was used to dealing with anxious parents, but not upset older brothers who looked like they could be models in an Englisch magazine.
She searched out the pins holding the prayer kapp on the tightly braided mass of brown hair and then threaded her fingers through the braids.
“That feels gut.” Mary half-smiled.
“I’m glad.” Fern peered down into the child’s face, then looked back up to catch Abram’s eyes. “Didn’t she have her sunbonnet on?”
His blue eyes, which she fancied could make a girl forget herself if she wasn’t careful, were as cold as the sea and met hers with a suppressed fury. “Nee,” he snapped. “I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to let her play in the creek with the boys a bit. She had her dress off and just her underclothes on. I was wrong, all right?”
“Ya, you were,” Fern murmured. The man certainly had an easily aroused temper. She turned from the table. “Well, it’s not sunstroke. She’s moving around fine, and I can feel no fever. I’ll brew some tea.”
He blew out a breath of what could only be disgust. “Nee, thanks. I have no time for tea.”
Fern flushed. “Not to drink,” she said patiently. “The tannin is a soother to the skin; it will help the burn cool and heal it faster.”
“Ach,” he grunted. “All right then.”
She turned away and went to gather tea leaves to brew; it would take a few minutes and then have to cool. She had no idea what they’d talk about while they waited. She fussed at the stove awhile, then went back to lean over Mary, deciding that ignoring Abram might be the best course of action. She wasn’t adept at talking to men unless it concerned her work and their immediate ailments.
“Would you like a peppermint stick?” she asked the little girl.
Mary’s smile brightened her red face. “Ya.”
“Me too!” An excited boy’s face appeared at the screen door, and Fern had to laugh.
“I think you have company,” she remarked, going to open the door. A mass of boys tumbled in, and she didn’t miss Abram’s faint groan.
“Matthew, I told you to keep the kinner at the house.”
Fern waved an airy hand in Abram’s direction. “Ach, it’s fine. They were probably interested in their baby sister, right?” Her grin took in the group with ease. Children, she could deal with.
“We was worried about Mary,” the smallest boy announced.
“Of course you were,” she said, handing candy from a glass jar to eager hands. “Let’s see, we’ve got John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew, right?”
The boys nodded tousled and damp heads, and Fern turned with a diffident stance to Abram. “Would you like a sweet?” She held the jar out to him and was surprised when he accepted with a brief nod, reaching long, tanned fingers into the glass to take out the candy. She couldn’t help but notice when his white teeth took a decisive snap of the stick, and the sugar that was meant to be leisurely enjoyed was gone in two bites.
“Some things are better when they’re savored,” she said, watching him.
He grinned at her in what she considered to be a sarcastic fashion. “So they are—but not candy . . . or anything else that flits across a woman’s mind.”
Fern frowned. She didn’t like his dismissive attitude about a woman’s thoughts. Her lips framed a retort when Matthew spoke up, a solemn expression in the brown eyes behind his glasses.
“A woman’s mind is just as gut as a man’s, Abram. I believe that Fern wanted to tell you to slow down and taste things in life, right?”
Abram wanted to roll his eyes at Matthew, but the boy was thirteen, sensitive, and overly gut at studying; he needed a gentle hand. And, of course, he was absolutely right about what Fern had wanted. Fern . . . what a ridiculous nickname . . .
He recalled that her true name was Deborah, not that he’d ever thought about it, though they’d grown up beside each other. He eyed her covertly now as she put a gentle hand on Matthew’s shoulder and bent to praise him for his insight. The gentle curves of her body were appealing to the eye, he decided, but she was probably as pushy as a mule about what she wanted and when she wanted it. He felt a simmer of emotions cross his mind and had to haul himself back to attention.
“Abram!” Mark shrilled his name.
“What?” he snapped, looking everywhere but at Fern Zook.
“We’re going out on the porch like Fern said . . . three times now!” His younger brother poked him in the bauch to emphasize his words, and Abram slid his hands to his hips.
“Well, go on with the lot of you, then. I’m coming.”
“Neeeee . . . you are staying here to help put the tea towels on Mary.” Mark got one last poke in, then scurried behind Luke and hit the door. The boys piled out, and Abram had to look at Fern then.
She was laughing, a bright smile on her rosy lips. “You must have your hands full with your parents gone for the month.”
He frowned. “Ya, they’re a bunch.” He found himself wondering if the soft curves of her shoulders would fill the palms of his hands. What was wrong with him? He must be addled in the head from the heat himself. He kept his voice level, then turned to the couch to bend over Mary, who held up her arms then kissed her hot cheek.
He straightened and avoided Fern’s observant green eyes.“All right, what do we do?”
Mary spoke up. “Why do they call you Fern?”
Fern smiled. “It was what my mother called me, because as a baby I loved the outdoors so much. I guess I tried to chew on a fern one day, and somehow it became my name.”
Mary giggled, and Abram had to admit that Fern was a good healer, capable as she was of distracting a patient in pain . . . in spite of her silly name.