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Birdie knows this is a lie.
Soured to the faith by an unhappy childhood, she made the difficult decision to leave her home and not make final vows to the church. But when a terrible accident injures her mother, Birdie is forced to return home, where her father's act of deceit results in her vowing to follow a path she'd planned to reject.
Caleb Troyer is as certain in his commitment to the Amish path as any young man can be. He's mapped out his future, and those plans include marriage, a home and possibly church leadership.
When the woman he loves derails those plans by choosing another, he decides to start fresh in a new community, so he takes a position left vacant by the young farrier killed in the same accident that injures Birdie's mother.
For Birdie, the arrival of a handsome single man of marriageable age does not interest her. For how can a man of such deep and certain faith find common ground with a young woman who feels every inch a prodigal fraud?
As Caleb grows to understand Birdie, he longs to help her. But can a man of faith reach the heart of a spiritually wounded young woman with a reputation for rebellion? Is the spiritual path home lost to Birdie forever, or can love's light guide the way?
Special note from Lazy Day Publishing & Blushing Books about "The Journey Home":
While the pen name Hope Kesler may be new to Blushing readers, the writer is not. In fact, "Hope" is the pseudonym of a longtime Blushing author now branching out into another romance genre - inspirational fiction.
Although "The Journey Home" is not an erotic work, its traditional themes will no doubt still appeal to readers who appreciate an old-fashioned romance set against the backdrop of a simpler culture, and the author is pleased to write something that you can show to your mother when she asks, "What are you reading, dear?"
Lift.� Release.�� Lift.� Release.�� Birdie's legs pumped rhythmically against the footpads of the weight machine, straining and pushing with the efforts of her workout.� When she first moved in to Fair Oaks Apartments, she had paid no attention to the fact that the complex had a workout-room:� the idea of exercising for fun hadn't made much sense to someone who had lived the first twenty years of her life on a working Amish farm.� Buckets to carry, hay bales to throw, the wringer washer crank to turn again and again and again�.
No more.� And Birdie had quickly come to love the small bright room and had learned how to use each one of the pieces of equipment.�
She checked the clock on the wall and gave a proud sigh as she released the weight pad for a final time.�� Another forty-five minute workout behind her.� She loved ending her workouts sweaty and satisfied, her face glowing with a sheen of moisture.� Gathering her things, she walked back across the complex's courtyard and drew up short.� It was a nice surprise to see Rusty waiting for her on the stairs.� She smiled at the man who she guessed was now officially her boyfriend.� Usually he’d stopped by at lunch, but he’d been early that day.
“Hello, beautiful,” he’d said, and she’d blushed prettily as his eyes had swept over her body. She’d felt proud, knowing that the snug t-shirt and yoga pants she’d snagged at the thrift store emphasized what she realized was an attractive figure.
Rusty had leaned down to kiss her. His mouth tasted of tobacco and the spearmint gum he always chewed before he knew he was going to see her. ��“I had an install at nine but they must have forgotten because they weren’t home. My next appointment isn’t until eleven so I thought I’d come by and see you.”
“Great!” Birdie had unlocked her door and ushered him inside the small apartment. Her roommate, Laney, wasn’t home.
Rusty walked over to the kitchen area and dropped the keys to his cable company van onto the counter.� “Got any beer?”
Birdie started to remind him that she didn’t drink but stopped herself. She also bit down the temptation to point out that it was barely 9:30 in the morning. �She might be new to this world, but even she knew that you weren't supposed to be drinking in the morning on work days when your job involved driving a company van.� Ignoring her frisson of misgiving, she said casually, “Check the fridge.” Laney did drink and she hoped there was at least one beer so she’d not look like a dork.
She was relieved when Rusty fished through the fridge and emerged with a tall can. “Thanks, baby.” He flopped down on the secondhand couch, put his feet up on the coffee table and openly stared at Birdie until she felt uncomfortable.
“What?” she asked finally when his eyes swept her body for the third time.
“I was just wondering if you’re going to change,” he said smoothly.
“I don’t go to work until three,” she said. “I was going to change later, when I showered.”
“You can change now. And shower.” He looked at his watch and back at her. “With me. I’ve got time.”
“Rusty.” He mimicked her, his voice mocking. “Come on, Birdie. You're not living in Quilt-And-Buggy-Land anymore. You’re in the real world, and in the real world you do more than just kiss your boyfriend hello and goodbye.” He sighed and put his feet on the floor, leaning forward to put his elbows on his knees. His muscles strained through his tight shirt.
Her eyes darted back to his face and she flushed.� Rusty was such a handsome man, the best looking man she’d ever seen. And he liked her even though she had a low-paying job and needed to be brought up to speed on pop culture. He claimed it was charming, and her roommate Laney had told her more than once that she was crazy to wait. And maybe she was. Was this the last barrier she needed to topple before she could feel completely free of the rigid ties that had bound her to the Amish community? �She’d already sent the letter to her parents letting them know, with finality and in writing, that she would not be joining the church. She knew what it meant, but also knew it was either a split from her family or a lifetime of unhappiness in a rigid culture that never felt right.
“C’mon,” he said, starting to unbutton his work shirt. Rusty’s smile had been easy, disarming. Birdy had felt her heart race and the warmth of a strange heat began to grow deep in her body.
Yes, she thought. It’s time.
And then the phone had rang and a moment later she was sitting slumped at the table, listening to a stranger’s voice telling her to come quickly, that her mother may not have long to live.
Six months later
In the barn, it was easy for Birdie to forget everything else existed.
As she leaned her forehead into the warm flank of the Jersey cow, she concentrated on the rhythmic squeezing of her strong hands, the softness of the udder, the hiss of the steamy milk as it hit the bottom of the pail, the smell of hay and animals.
Clover wasn’t giving as much today, but that was to be expected since Birdie had started drying her off. The old girl was ready for a break, anyway. In another week, the heifer’s sister, Mabel, would give birth, and Birdie’s little brothers would bottle-raise the calf on milk Mabel would share with her family.
Birdie moved her head away from the tawny hide of the cow and patted her flank. “Good girl,” she said, standing to move the milking stool and pick up the pail. She put the bucket on a bale of hay, shooing away a waiting cat, and tossed some grain into the cow’s feeder before taking up the pail and walking to the door.
She stood there, half hidden behind it, squinting her eyes against the soft glare of the new day as she stared into the distance towards the phone shanty. Relief washed over her when she realized there was no one there. The driver must have come while she was milking to take the men to their painting and building jobs. Once again, she’d timed her chores perfectly.
The light morning frost � the first of the season - was already melting. But the snap of early fall was still evident in the air and soon the frosts would be hard and the air brutal with relentless chill. It would make the warmth of the barn all the more welcome. But then again, the barn had always seemed the most welcoming place on the farm for Birdie, who now walked towards the sprawling farmhouse.
The aroma of cinnamon and yeast greeted her when she entered the kitchen. She frowned as she put the bucket of milk on the sideboard and shrugged off her coat.
“Mama,” she admonished gently. “I told you I’d start the bread.” She put her hands on the older woman’s shoulders, wincing to feel how thin they felt under the rough fabric of her dress.
“It can’t wait.” Ruth Miller’s voice was strong, even if her body was frail. “If it doesn’t get started, it won’t have time to rise. If you were going to make the bread, Birdie, you should have started it earlier. Your brothers can do the milking.”
“Ma, please,” she tried again. “Go rest and let me finish.”
Her mother stood her ground, focusing on the mound of dough she was folding and kneading without looking at her daughter. “You can’t hide from him forever, Birdie.”
Birdie turned away, her face burning with hurt and shame. “I’m not hiding.”
As she picked up the pail of milk, she heard her mother’s resigned sigh and turned to see the pale face soften. “You are hiding, my dear maedel. We both know it. He knows it. It is not good for either of you.”
“Mama, please.” Birdie moved her hand up to reflexively run it through her hair - a habit she’d developed in the short time she’d worn her hair as she’d wanted it - and stopped when she reminded herself that doing so now would dislodge her kapp and bun. Instead she dropped her hand and twisted it in the folds of her white apron. “Talking about Pa won’t fix things. And I know you want things to be different between us, and I would like them to be�.”
“He has forgiven you, Birdie,” her mother interrupted. “He’s told me himself.”
As if I had done something to warrant his forgiveness, Birdie thought. But she dared not such these things out loud. Nor did she dare say what else sat on the tip of her tongue � that everything she did was for her beloved mama, and that included avoiding Pa since the things she knew he really wanted to say - the things roiling beneath the quiet surface - must not be said aloud. No. If he voiced them, if mama heard them said in the open, Birdie was sure it would do to her mama what the accident had not. It would kill her, or at least steal her will to continue her slow recovery.
“Twinkle had her busslin,” Birdie offered instead, forcing her face into the smile as she switched to a more light-hearted topic. Birdie held her breath, waiting to see if her mother would take the hint.
“Very well. Change the subject to the katze.” Mary smiled back at her daughter before turning back to her kneading. “How many?”
“Four,” Birdie answered, putting the filter in the strainer as she talked. “Two tabbies, a grey and one fuzzy black one.”
“Good,” her mother said. “May they grow strong and healthy enough to catch mice. It is supposed to be a bad winter. Bad winter, worse mice.”
“So we can keep them?”
“If your father says so.”
Birdie’s heart fell, and a request came to her lips but she bit it back. The kitchen was quiet for a moment except for the sound of the slapping of dough and the trickle of milk through the filter as Birdie began to strain it.
“I’ll tell Eli and Jacob. They’ll make such a fuss that your father won’t even think of sending the busslin away.”
Tears of gratitude sprung to Birdie’s eyes. Even if Mama rarely showed her love directly, she found small ways of making it evident. Ruth Miller may not ever admit it, but she knew if her husband thought Birdie loved the kittens, he would send them away as part of the ongoing penance he was imposing on their daughter. Having the boys intercede was her way of protecting her daughter.
This is why she’d come home, Birdie told herself, to be the kind of daughter a woman like Ruth Miller deserved.
“Are you all right, Birdie?” Her mother wiped her hands on her apron and walked over, and Birdie blinked back tears.
“Jah, I’m fine.”
The eyes in her mother’s tired face were warm. �“I am a little tired, actually. If you want to put that dough in the bowl so it can rise, I think I’ll go finish the edges of that quilt.”
“Sure, mama,” Birdie said, watching as her mother limped from the room. The doctors had said the leg would never completely heal, and that under the circumstances she was fortunate that she’d not lost it on that terrible day last spring.
Miss Miller, this is Grace Dawson with Eastover General Hospital. Your family asked me to contact you. There’s been an accident.
Birdie shook her head, as if doing so could jar away the recollections before they replayed as they’d done almost daily since her homecoming. She was grateful when a knock on the kitchen door diverted her attention, and smiled when she recognized the face peeking the window. Hurriedly covering the dough, she waved the visitor in.
“Morning, Birdie!” �Esther’s blue eyes twinkled with their ever-present good humor.
“And good morning to you!” Birdie felt her own face soften with a genuine smile. Her lifelong friend could always be counted on to brighten her mood, no matter how dour.
“Ma sent these.” Esther held up two dried burdock leaves. “She said your mother asked for some. Are they giving her much relief?”
Not like the real pain medicine she could get from the English, Birdie wanted to say, but she knew her Esther’s mother wanted to help, so she nodded.
“How is your mama?” Esther asked. “Ma will fuss if I don’t bring back a report.”
“The same. She had a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday. They say it’s a miracle that she’s walking as well as she is.”
“Well, your father is a deacon,” Esther said. “Perhaps the angels give extra protection to the wives of deacons.”
Birdie shot Esther a look, not sure if her friend was joking. It was sometimes hard to tell. Before she could ponder it much longer, however, the subject had been changed.
“The new blacksmith is coming. Did you hear?”
“Pa mentioned it last night.” Birdie recalled her mother’s pained expression when her father had told them that Adam Graber had finally decided he was ready to take on a partner to replace Levi. As usual, he’d not referenced the accident that had ended Levi’s young life and almost killed Birdie’s mother. Birdie had watched as her mother rose from the table, her physical pain now so obviously accompanied by the emotional pain of a husband who never acknowledged what she’d been through. The use of the word ‘replace’ by her father had bothered Birdie, who filed it away as yet another thing she could not tell him, not that it would matter. Even then, as he’d talked, Abe Miller’s eyes had moved from his sons to his wife without ever falling on the daughter who sat just feet away.
Birdie forced herself to return to the present. “Some man from Ontario, right?”
“Yes. And he’s older, so that’s good,” Esther said. “I’ve been worried that someone young, someone too much like Levi would remind Adam and Miriam of all they’d lost. And there’s your mom to consider�”
I’m glad someone is considering her.
“I don’t think Ma would be upset if Adam took on a partner close to Levi’s age,” Birdie said quietly. “What happened wasn’t Levi’s fault.”
“No, it was the English’s fault,” Esther said. “They’re so careless and selfish.”
Birdie bit her lip to keep from voicing her disagreement, that it was no one’s fault, but just the terrible consequence of one young driver looking away from the wheel at the wrong moment. He was only seventeen and had probably been fiddling with his radio or his phone, nothing but a stupid kid who saw the buggy too late.
“It was an accident,” Birdie said. “A horrible accident. Don’t judge.”
“I wish I had your gentle spirit,” Esther said. “I struggle to forgive him, and it wasn’t even my mother who was hurt.”
Forgiveness? Is that what she thinks? How would Esther feel if she knew it’s not the driver I’m defending, but the English.� They’re not careless and selfish. They’re wonderful. And not a day goes by that my heart does not ache to return to their world.
“You’re right,” Esther replied solemnly. “But it is hard for so many of us to overcome. There’s not one of us who doesn’t think of Levi each day. Even if he did not suffer, we suffer now without him.” Tears formed in her brown eyes as she continued. “He was so funny. Do you remember the time he dressed up as a scarecrow and stood in the field to scare the English kids passing on the bus?”
Both young women giggled now.
“And how he cut holes in the minister’s hat and put it on his horse?” Birdie added.
The two laughed aloud until the mirth died away as the loss was felt anew.
“I’ll miss him always,” Esther said.
“Me, too.” Birdie brushed a tear away and then forced a smile. “But the new blacksmith will come, and no doubt with a family. New children in the community are always such fun.”
“Oh.” Esther’s eyes widened. “That’s the odd thing. Did your father not tell you?”
“Tell us what?”
�“Even though he’s nearly twenty-five, the newcomer is not married.”
Birdie scanned her memory, trying to think of any adult she’d ever met in her community who’d gone past twenty-five without marrying. With the exception of the midwife and an elderly aunt, she could think of no one.
“That is odd,” she mused. “I wonder why?”
“Perhaps he’s disagreeable�,” Birdie said, “�or horribly ugly.”
“Well ugly or not, Mary Schwartz will likely stamp him with the word ‘MINE’ as soon as he sets foot in the community,” Esther said.
“She’ll have to fight off the Herschberger sisters!” Birdie replied, and the two women were suddenly giggling again.
“Am I missing a joke?” Ruth Miller cocked an eyebrow as she entered the room.
“No, Mama,” Birdie said, and she shot Esther a look that told her talk of the new blacksmith could wait. “Esther just stopped by to bring you some more burdock.”
“Oh, wonderful,” Ruth said. “Please do tell your ma how much I appreciate it. In fact�” She limped over to the cupboard and took down a jar of peach preserves. “Take this to her.”
“Thank you. I will.” Esther went to the door. “I’d better go. Do you want to go for a walk later?”
“That would be nice,” Birdie said. “Around five?” She hoped she didn’t sound too eager. Her father usually got home around five, and she was sure her mother realized she was planning her absence to coincide with his arrival.
“I’ll stop by and get you just before then,” Esther replied.
Birdie turned back to the counter and lifted the towel on the bread dough. It was rising nicely.
“You don’t have to stop talking about the new blacksmith just because I come into the room, Birdie.” Ruth Miller’s voice was tinged with hurt.
“I know, Ma. But we were laughing about him and I realized it wasn’t appropriate, given the situation.”
Her mother didn't comment on that.� “Perhaps having a nice, single man here in the community will be good.” She paused. “Now that you’ve joined the church you surely must realize that marriage is the next step.”
“Aunt Ellie never married,” Birdie brought her eyes up to meet her mother’s.
“It isn’t because she did not want to. It just didn’t happen. Her health was never good; you know that. But you, Birdie. You’re young and strong and you need the guidance of a good man. A strong husband would help you grow spiritually, and then there’s motherhood. It will complete you.”
Stop it! Just stop it! Haven’t I given up enough for you? Can’t you see that I’m already living a lie? Do you really want to make it worse? The voice in Birdie’s head screamed so loudly for a moment she held her breath, afraid her mother could read the rebellious, angry thoughts in her eyes. But Ruth just turned to pull a cook pot from the cabinet and Birdie felt a renewed surge of guilt. The situation in which she found herself was not her mother’s fault. Her mother had made an honest assumption when she’d come to the hospital.
“You’re back! My Baby Birdie is back! I prayed so hard. I knew you’d come back. Your father told me, dear. He told me you’re back to stay and join the church. It’s given me strength, Birdie. It’s given me the strength to hold on. I had to hold on to tell you how much it means�”
She could still remember everything about that moment �the haze of disbelief, as she looked at her father -his expression arrogant in the wake of his lie - the sensation that the walls were closing in on her. She’d seen a coyote in a trap once. As her father had raised his rifle, the animal had thrown itself down, pissing in fear as its wild eyes fixed on its captor. She’d wondered then if her father recognized the same look in the face of his daughter. If he had, he’d offered no indication that it mattered.
“I suppose if God wills for me to have children, then I will find a husband and it will happen.” Birdie hoped passing a show of faith could excuse her obvious lack of motivation, but Ruth Miller wasn’t buying it.
“God cannot put apples on a tree you never plant, Birdie. And no, I’m not asking you to act verricht like the Herschberger girls. But you will not find anyone if you isolate yourself as you’ve done. Martha Yoder told me last week that you spoke to not a soul aside from Esther at the work frolic, even though her sons tried several times to engage you in conversation.”
“Ma�” Birdie suddenly felt very tired, so very tired. “Please�”
Ruth Miller picked up the burdock leaves. “Very well. I’ll not mention it. But I will pray that you find love, Birdie.” She offered her daughter a hopeful smile. “Prayer works. When you sent that letter saying you would not be returning, that you would be joining the English, it was like a knife in my soul. Your father doesn’t show his emotions, but I know he was distraught. I’ve never known him to withhold information from the church, but he could not bring himself to tell them. I know you think it was from shame because he is a deacon, but I know it was because he wanted better for you. So I prayed. I prayed every day. And look what happened. I prayed to God and he brought you back to your father and me, and back to the church.”
Birdie felt a lump rise in her throat. No. An accident brought me back � and accident and a cruel lie I wasn’t strong enough to contradict.� But Birdie could not, would not say aloud what came to her mind.� “Yes, Mama,” she said.
“Is the dough risen?” Ruth Miller limped past her to the counter.
“Nearly so,” Birdie answered quietly. “I’m going to go wash some clothes. Now that it’s warmer they’ll dry quickly on the line.”
“Thank you, Birdie. You are such a good daughter.”
No I’m not.
Birdie was glad to retreat to the solitude of the porch where the wringer washer sat. As she loaded the wet clothes through the wringer and turned the crank, she remembered for the thousandth time that last morning in her apartment building.�� She'd been carefree and happy in her T-shirt and yoga pants.� She remembered comparing the workout she was getting on the weight machine to the exertion it took to use the manual washer and laughing about it to herself, so thrilled that she would never have to use one again.��
How wrong she'd been.