Lancaster County Secrets, Book One
Suzanne Woods Fisher
About the Book
Reading Group Guide
Carrie Weaver tucked a loose curl into her cap as she glanced up at the bell tower in Lancaster’s Central Market. The clock had struck 2:00 p.m. more than ten minutes ago, and an English couple was haggling with her stepsister Emma over the price of a crate of strawberries. After all, the man was saying, the market was closing for the weekend.
“Certainly, you Plain folks wouldn’t want this fruit to go to waste now, would you? Tomorrow being Sunday and all?” He rested his hands on his round belly and fixed his gaze on Emma, a satisfied look on his red face --- as red and ripe as a late summer tomato --- as he waited for her to buckle.
But this red-faced English man didn’t know Emma. Carrie saw Emma purse her lips and hook her hands on her hips in that determined way and knew where this standoff was headed. Emma wouldn’t drop the price of her strawberries to anyone, much less an Englisher whom, she was convinced, had a lost and corrupted soul. Her sister would plant her big feet and squabble over the price of strawberries until the sun set.
Carrie picked up the crate and handed it to the man. “Abgschlagge!” Sold!
The man and his wife, surprised and delighted, hurried off with the strawberries as Emma spun to face Carrie. She lifted her hands, palms out.
“Have you lost your mind? My strawberries are worth twice that price! What were you thinking?”
“I’m thinking that it’s past two and the market has closed and the van is waiting.” Carrie pushed the leftover crates of red ripe strawberries into the back of the van of the hired driver and slammed the door shut, pinching her thumbnail. Wincing from the pain, she knew she didn’t dare stop to get ice. There wasn’t a moment to waste.
“Dummel dich net!” Emma muttered as Carrie opened the passenger seat door for her. Don’t be in such a hurry! “You’ve been as jumpy as a jackrabbit all morning.”
Carrie reached out an arm to clasp her younger brother on the shoulder, pulling him back as he started to climb in the van behind Emma.
“I need to run an errand and take the bus home later today. Andy’s coming with me.”
Andy’s eyes went round as shoe buttons, but he followed Carrie’s lead and hopped back out of the van.
Emma twisted around on the seat. “What errand?” she asked, eyes narrowed with suspicion. “You know your dad wants you home to visit with Daniel Miller.”
Carrie blew out a big sigh. Silent, solemn Daniel Miller. He and his father, Eli, were staying with the Jacob Weavers this summer. Eli Miller and Jacob Weaver made no secret of the fact that they had a hope for her and Daniel. Well, they could hope all they liked but Carrie’s heart was already spoken for. Spoken for and claimed, and the thought warmed her.
“Daniel’s mighty fine looking, Carrie,” Emma said. “Your dad is hoping you’ll think so too.”
“If you think Daniel is such a looker, why don’t you visit with him?” Carrie stepped back from the van to close the door. That had been mean, what she said to Emma, and she reached out to give her sister’s arm a gentle squeeze in apology before she swung the door closed and the driver pulled away. Dear Emma, nearly twenty-seven and terrified that she would end up an old maid. Carrie felt a smile pull at her mouth and fought it back, as an unbidden image of a large celery patch popped into her mind --- Emma and her mother, Esther, grew celery in the family garden in hopes that this would be Emma’s year.
Carrie shook off her musing and grabbed Andy’s hand and hurried to the bus stop. She wanted to reach the Lancaster Barnstormers’ stadium before Solomon Riehl would start pitching. Last night, Sol told her he might be a closing pitcher in today’s scrimmage, so she should be in the stands by the last few innings.
“What kind of errand?” Andy asked Carrie.
She shaded her eyes from the sun to watch for the bus. “It’s a surprise for your birthday.”
“I won’t turn nine ’til October.”
Carrie looked at him and tousled his hair. “Consider it an early birthday present.” She knew she wouldn’t be here on his birthday.
As Carrie and Andy climbed on the bus and sat among the English, she felt the happiness of her secret spill over her. She didn’t even mind the pain radiating from her throbbing thumb. She was entirely preoccupied with the conversations she had been having with Sol lately. Last week, he called her at midnight, as planned, from the phone shanty across the road from his father’s farm. During that call, he had talked to her about leaving the community and trying to make a living as a baseball player. And he told her he wanted her by his side, as his wife.
Sol had been crazy about baseball ever since he first held a ball in his hand. Although competition was discouraged on the schoolyard, Sol stood out. He could throw a ball faster, farther, and with more accuracy than anyone.
Just a few months ago, a baseball scout happened to be driving past their youth gathering and had pulled his car over to watch Sol pitch, mesmerized. The scout had quietly slipped a business card into Sol’s hand and whispered something to him.
On the buggy ride home from the youth gathering, Sol had pulled out the card and showed it to Carrie. “They’re having open tryouts next week. He wants to clock my pitch. He said he hasn’t seen a fastball like mine in years.”
Stunned, Carrie turned the card over. “You aren’t serious. Sol, you can’t try out for professional baseball. You shouldn’t even go to a game! You know that. The elders will be at your folks’ door by day’s end.”
“Not if they don’t find out,” Sol said, grinning mischievously. Then his face tightened and the smile disappeared. “I’m tired of all the ‘shouldn’ts’ and ‘can’ts’ in my life. Can’t go to the movies. Shouldn’t listen to the radio. Can’t ride a bicycle. Can’t own a car.”
Carrie gave him a sideways glance. All Sol talked about lately was how smothered he felt, being born and raised Amish. At first she felt alarmed by such talk. But she’d grown used to it and didn’t take his complaints too seriously. She was sure he couldn’t really leave his family and church behind. Or her. He would never leave her behind. Of that she was confident.
“Not being allowed to own a car sure hasn’t stopped you. I still don’t know how you’ve kept that heap-of-rust you call a car hidden from your folks for so long.”
Sol’s face relaxed into a grin. “Six months now.”
He turned the buggy off to the shoulder and faced Carrie, taking her hand in his. “It’s just a tryout. There will be plenty of other guys pitching, guys who have been training their whole life for a tryout. Most likely, I won’t even make callbacks.”
He lifted her chin so she would look at him. “But I’ve decided. I’m going to go to the tryouts next week. Now’s the time in my life to have a taste of what the world has to offer. That’s what the running-around years are for, aren’t they?” He leaned over to kiss her, featherlight, on the lips, then gently rubbed his nose against hers before slapping the reins to urge the horse forward.
As the horse lunged ahead, Carrie mulled over Sol’s reasoning. Was Rumspringa a time for trying worldly things? To be tried and found lacking? Or, just by trying, did it make a person long for another kind of life than the Plain one? Her father had a saying, “Was mer net hawwe soll, hett mer’s liebscht.” What we are not meant to have, we covet most.
Sol laughed when she quoted her father’s saying to him and told her that even Jacob Weaver was young once. Sol made it sound so easy. He made everything sound so easy. Besides, she thought, dismissing concern about Sol’s restless nature, he probably wouldn’t be picked by that team. He’s just feeling his oats.
One week later, Sol had tried out for the Lancaster Barnstormers and was offered a one-season contract with promises of more. The pitching coach had been impressed with this Amish kid who could throw bullets. And when Sol stood on that pitcher’s mound in the Clipper Magazine Stadium, he was hooked, ready to sign. There was no turning back.
Carrie was the only one who knew about Sol’s baseball contract. He had hidden the fact from his father, telling him he was working a construction job for an English company. It wasn’t entirely a lie; he did work on a construction site in the morning, but come noon, he clocked out, with the foreman’s permission, and rushed to the stadium for spring training. Sol and Carrie knew this ruse wouldn’t last. Next week, the Barnstormers would start a three-game series on Long Island. It was time to come clean with his folks. Sol would be leaving and he told Carrie he wanted her with him.
“But what about your folks, Sol? And my dad and Andy?” Carrie had asked him, still unsure if she could live with herself after leaving home. Like Sol, she had mixed feelings about joining the community. They both struggled to believe the way their parents believed, and oh, the world with its infinite choices, it was calling to them.
“We haven’t bent at the knee, Carrie,” Sol reminded her. “It’s all the difference. We won’t be shunned. We can still visit and write letters and eat with them. Be glad we haven’t been baptized yet. Trust me, they’ll understand. They were young once.”
After a few more late-night conversations with Sol, Carrie came to see things his way. But the next morning, she watched her father and Andy talking and laughing together, and she felt all churned up again. How could she do this to them? How could she leave them?
As soon as she had a chance to see Sol face-to-face, she told him that she had changed her mind.
He patiently listened to her and answered her concerns, even those she had about God turning his back on them. “If it doesn’t work out, we can always go back to the church,” he assured her.
And then he kissed her, first on each cheek, then her forehead, before grazing her lips with his finger. By the time his lips found hers, Carrie’s objections had evaporated.
Still, Carrie wasn’t so sure their parents would understand. She was even less sure that God would understand. But one thing Carrie didn’t doubt was that she wanted to be wherever Sol would be. She loved Sol that much.
Warming up his arm in the bull pen, Sol Riehl felt a deep satisfaction he hadn’t dreamed possible. He certainly never felt it when he was mucking out stalls or plowing a field. Here he was, an Amish kid plucked right off the farm, pitching for a professional baseball team. Who had ever heard of such a thing? It felt like a dream that he didn’t dare to wake from.
The catcher gave Sol a signal to throw some pitches. “You sure do pack some heat, Sunday Sol,” he told Sol, slapping him on the back as the pitching coach called for the two to come up to the field. Sol tossed the ball to the catcher and followed him out of the bull pen. He scanned the seats above the dugout for any sign of Carrie. He had told her exactly where to sit, right behind the catcher, so she would have the best view of the pitcher’s mound. He frowned, disappointed that she wasn’t there yet.
Then Sol heard his name announced over the loudspeaker as the closer. He hoped Carrie was somewhere in the stadium so she would hear that announcement. He tried, without success, to keep the grin off his face as he took his first jog out to the mound.
As Carrie and Andy plopped down in the stadium’s hard plastic seats, she breathed a sigh of relief, hearing Sol’s name announced over the loudspeaker. Sol had told her where to sit so he could see her from the pitcher’s mound. It was one of the things she loved about him; he had everything planned out.
She saw him jog out to the mound and look up, right to where she was seated. He gave her a quick wave, did a double take when he noticed Andy, then turned his attention to the catcher to practice a few more warm-up pitches.
When Andy realized it was Solomon Riehl on that pitcher’s mound, he blurted out, “Ein Balleschpieler?” A baseball player?
“Best not to tell Dad and Esther about this birthday surprise, Andy,” Carrie said, flashing him a warning. “Nor Emma.”
Andy nodded, sealing the pact, eyes glued on the field. “Dad wouldn’t mind.” A slow grin spread over his face. “Esther would, though.”
Carrie laughed. “Yes, Esther would mind something fierce.”
As she watched Sol pitch, her heart felt so full she didn’t even notice that tears were running down her cheeks. She knew that feeling so proud was wicked, but she couldn’t help herself. Down on the field was Sol Riehl, in a sparkling white-with-red-pinstripe uniform, pitching in front of thousands of people in a baseball stadium. Her Sol.
At dinner that evening in the Weaver house, all that was spoken of was Eli Miller’s purchase of an apple orchard. Carrie was grateful that no one asked her where she and Andy had been all afternoon.
Carrie’s father, Jacob Weaver, knew of an orchard owned by an English neighbor who wanted to retire to Florida. It wasn’t even for sale yet, but Jacob and Eli spent the day talking with that neighbor. When they returned, hours later, Eli was the new owner of a twenty-acre apple orchard. Jacob was so pleased to help his friend that he couldn’t keep the smile off of his kind face.
“I’m mighty fortunate to have a friend like you, Jacob,” Eli told him, matching Jacob grin for grin.
“Fortunate for you, Eli, that you had money to buy land,” said Esther, Jacob’s wife, in a thin, tight voice.
Carrie braced herself, keeping her eyes fixed on her plate. She knew that Esther couldn’t tolerate letting Jacob be the center of attention.
“This farm belonged to my first husband. Jacob was penniless when I met him. Penniless with two small children.” Carefully, Esther buttered a roll and began to delicately eat it as an awkward silence covered the dinner table like a blanket.
“And a blessed day it was when I met you, Esther,” Jacob answered back softly, dark brown eyes twinkling, causing everyone to laugh. Even Esther softened. He was long accustomed to Esther’s sharp tongue and had a way of defusing her.
Carrie looked fondly at her father. Once she had asked him why he married Esther in the first place. “Carrie girl,” her father said, “folks marry for all kinds of reasons.” He hadn’t really answered her question, but she thought she knew what he meant.
Eli rose to his feet and clapped his hands together. “Daniel, it’s time we set off to the bus depot.” Like his son, Eli was a man of few words and only gave a nod of thanks to Esther.
Daniel crammed one last roll into his mouth and hurried to join his father outside, helping him hitch the horse to the buggy. Before the sun set today, Eli planned to be back on the bus to Ohio. He wanted to finalize the sale of his farm, auction off his equipment, and fetch his widowed mother, Yonnie. Daniel was to remain at the Weavers’ to finish up details of the sale of the orchards.
Why Eli was in such a hurry was a mystery to Carrie, but she didn’t really concern herself with the Millers. Her mind was on Sol. Leaving with Sol.
“And,” Emma told Carrie as they cleaned up the kitchen after dinner that evening, “I heard Eli tell Daniel to try and woo you while he was gone.”
“Woo me?” Carrie asked, drying a bowl before tucking it in the cupboard. “Maybe he should woo you.”
“I’m too old for him. Besides, I think Daniel likes you. He kept stealing looks at you during dinner tonight.”
“Emma, please.” Carrie rolled her eyes. “He’s such a brooder. Haven’t you noticed he never smiles or laughs?”
Emma handed Carrie another wet bowl and gave her a suspicious look. “You’d better not be holding out for that Solomon Riehl. You know how your dad feels about Sol. He thinks he’s a fence jumper.”
Carrie stiffened, irritated. “One time, Emma. One time, Dad saw Sol working in the fields with his shirt off. That doesn’t make him a fence jumper.”
“Well, my mother says it does.” Emma put her hands on her hips. “I heard her tell your father that Sol Riehl was a fellow walking with one foot in the world and one foot in the church. She said that he was always spoiled, being the only boy after all those girls. She said that his parents never expected enough from --- ”
“Emma!” Carrie held up a hand in warning. “Wer lauert an der Wand sei eegni Schand.” If you listen through the wall, you’ll hear others reciting your faults.
The kitchen door burst open, interrupting them. “Carrie, it’s set up!” Andy shouted.
Carrie threw the dish towel at Emma and hurried outside to join Andy in a game of horseshoes before the sun set.
Watering the vegetable garden, Mattie Zook heard Andy and Carrie’s voices in their yard. She dropped the watering can and ran down the hill to see her friend. Now that Carrie was working at the Central Market, Mattie hardly saw her anymore. What little free time Carrie did have lately was taken up by Sol Riehl.
All of the boys were crazy about Carrie, but she acted as if she didn’t notice or didn’t care. Sol was the only one who had ever caught her interest. Mattie could see why Carrie was so sought after. Sometimes Mattie thought she looked like an angel. Big blue eyes fringed with thick black lashes, skin the color of cream in summer, a dimple in each cheek that framed a bow-shaped mouth. And her hair! Good thing the boys couldn’t see her hair too, Mattie thought. Thick, honey blond curls that cascaded down her back. But Carrie was more than just pretty, she was smart and kind, and had a little bit of mystery to her, as if she always had something else on her mind. The boys had to work hard to get her attention. Whenever Mattie told her that, Carrie would laugh and say she was just imagining things. Mattie loved Carrie’s laugh. It reminded Mattie of the church bells she heard ringing whenever she was in town.
As Mattie reached Esther’s rosebushes that bordered the property, she slowed to avoid thorns. She and Carrie had beaten a path through those bushes the very first summer Carrie’s dad had married Esther and moved to her farm. The path had made Esther furious, which secretly delighted the girls.
Carrie waved to Mattie to join them. “I bet I know why you’re here, Mattie!” she called out, laughing. “But Daniel isn’t here. He and Dad took Eli to the bus stop.”
As Mattie broke into a run to join Carrie and Andy, she wondered why Carrie would assume she was interested in the Weavers’ houseguest. Like most of the girls, she had noticed Daniel Miller at the Sunday Singing. And he was handsome, she couldn’t deny.
But Mattie’s heart belonged to one man: Solomon Riehl. She had loved Sol for as long as she remembered. Long before Carrie had even met him.
Mattie would never reveal those feelings, though. She loved Carrie too much. She wasn’t sure what the future held, but she trusted that God had given her this love for Sol. And she knew
God was trustworthy.
Near midnight, Carrie quietly tiptoed downstairs, jumping carefully over the squeaky third step because Esther had ears like a hawk. She slipped out the kitchen door and glided into a run as soon as she turned onto the road. When she reached the phone shanty, she jerked the door open and stared at the phone impatiently, willing it to ring.
While she waited, drumming her fingers, her thoughts drifted to the talk she’d had with Mattie tonight. She nearly confided to Mattie about the plans to leave with Sol, but she held her tongue. It wouldn’t have been right to have Mattie keep such a secret. The truth, she realized, was that she didn’t think Mattie would understand. There was something about Mattie that seemed . . . pure. Holy, almost. Like those orchids sold at Central Market. Once the Orchid Lady had told Carrie that she kept the orchids in the greenhouse because they were so delicate. That’s what Mattie seemed like. Too delicate for Carrie to share her tangled thoughts.
The phone rang, startling her out of her muse. She lunged for the receiver and smiled as she heard Sol’s deep voice.
“Did anyone ask where you were this afternoon?” Sol asked.
“No,” Carrie said, still smiling. “Dad and Eli were so excited about purchasing the orchards that it was all anyone was talking about.”
“Surprised me to see Andy with you. Think that was wise?”
“Aw, it was a birthday present for him. He won’t tell.” Carrie was quiet for a moment. “I won’t be here for his actual birthday.” Her heart caught for a moment.
Sol didn’t seem to notice the quiver in her voice. “So we’ll tell our folks Sunday afternoon, just like we talked about. On Monday, I’ll be on the team bus to Long Island, but you can follow on a Greyhound as soon as you can. I thought we could get married in New York, the day you arrive. How does that sound?”
Carrie didn’t answer right away. She glanced back at the big white farmhouse. The moonlight shone behind it, casting a bluish hue over it. The night was so quiet and peaceful; the house and the barn filled with sleeping people and animals. An owl hooted once, then twice.
Her eyes caught on a shadowy figure and she gasped. Daniel Miller was sitting on the fence across from the phone shanty, watching her.
“Carrie?” Sol asked, his voice tight.
She pulled her attention back to the phone. “Daniel’s here.”
“That fellow who’s staying at your house? What does he want?”
“I have no idea.”
Sol snorted. “I have a pretty good idea. He stuck to you like flypaper at last Sunday’s singing.”
Carrie rolled her eyes. “Sol, he didn’t know anybody else.”
“He knew Emma and he didn’t get anywhere near her.”
Carrie smiled. Sol had a jealous streak. She shouldn’t be pleased, but she couldn’t help it. “Maybe I should find out what he wants.”
“Carrie, you haven’t answered my question. Have you changed your mind?”
She turned away from Daniel’s gaze. “I haven’t changed my mind.”
“Ich liebe dich,” he said. I love you.
A blush warmed her face. She’d never said the words before, because it was not the Plain way. But Sol said the words often. He admired how the English expressed themselves openly. “Ich auch,” she whispered. Me too.
“So tell Daniel Miller to find another girl.”
Carrie waited until she heard the click of Sol hanging up before she put the receiver back in the cradle. She turned slowly and opened the door to the phone shanty.
“Evening.” Daniel’s low voice came as a shock in the whispering stillness of the night.
“I guess I didn’t see you on the way here.” She pulled the collar of her nightgown close around her neck. “Why are you up so late?”
He shrugged. “Too hot to sleep.” He crossed his arms. “You?”
She glanced back at the phone shanty. “Business call. For Central Market. They get up early.”
“My, my. That is early,” Daniel said, sounding amused.
She stared at him and he stared back. Then her cheeks started to burn as if she’d been standing too close to a stove. She dropped her eyes and spun around to leave. “Well, goodnight.”
“Wonder what Esther might say about you having a midnight phone call.”
Carrie froze. She did not want Esther to know she was out in the night, on the phone. Once Esther locked on to something, she wouldn’t let go until it thundered. For the first time, she thought that Daniel Miller might just have a thought or two in his quiet head. She pivoted around to face him. “Do you plan to tell her?”
He gave a short laugh. “She reminds me of a bear that treed me once. Not sure I want to be on the wrong side of that woman.” Daniel took a few strides and passed by Carrie. “You got more business calls to make?”
In the moonlight, Daniel looked less stern and tense, a little gentler. She decided that Emma was right, he was a looker. He used more words tonight than he had all week.
“Wait up. I’m coming,” she said, matching his stride.
When the van dropped Carrie and Emma off from work the next day, Daniel and Andy were waiting for them at the gate. Andy’s face was red and puffy from crying.
“Nau, was is letz, Andy?” Carrie asked. What’s wrong? Something terrible must have happened; Andy never cried.
“Dad,” he sobbed, gulping for air. “It’s Dad.” He threw himself into Carrie’s arms and buried his face against her.
“Was fehlt ihm?” Carrie’s heart started to pound. What’s wrong with him?
Daniel explained that Jacob had been shoeing a horse when it kicked him.
“Someone’s taken him to the hospital, yes?” Carrie asked. Her pulse quickened as her breath came up short.
Daniel shook his head. “He’s on the couch in the kitchen.” He took a step closer to Carrie.
“We must get him to the hospital. He has hemophilia. He’s a bleeder. He needs an infusion of Factor IX.” She stroked Andy’s hair. “Alles ist ganz gut, Andy.” All will be well. She looked up at Daniel. “Did you call for an ambulance?”
Daniel glanced up at the house. “Carrie…”
Emma gasped as she seemed to understand what Daniel couldn’t say. “Ach, nee! Ach, nee! Er is dot, zwahr? Ach, liebe Mamm!” Oh, no! Oh, no! He’s dead, isn’t he? Oh, dear Mom! She ran toward the house.
Carrie heard Emma’s cries, but the words dipped and swirled like barn swallows in her mind. She watched Emma disappear into the house, heard her shout for Esther. Andy had tightened his grip around her waist, his small body wracked with huge, wrenching sobs. She took in the concerned look on Daniel’s face and then the full sense of what Emma said struck her, a panic gripped her chest so tightly that she thought her heart had stopped beating. No. There must be a mistake.
“He was kicked in the head. It was too late --- ”
“Du bischt letz,” she told Daniel in a voice that was too calm. You are wrong.
Daniel rubbed his forehead. After a moment, he lifted his head. “It was too late by the time Esther found him --- ”
“Esther found him?” Carrie’s hands flew to cup her face. “She didn’t call the ambulance, did she?” She started trembling. “Esther didn’t think he ever needed infusions. She said they cost too much and didn’t believe they were necessary.” She started to gulp for air. “She has the money, you see. This farm, it belongs to her. She never lets him forget that.”
Daniel took a step closer to her.
“And then the last time Dad was hurt,” Carrie continued without stopping to breathe, “she talked him out of having an infusion. It took him months to recover. The blood pooled in his joints and caused him terrible pain. But if his head was ever injured, he would be in serious trouble because the blood would pool in the brain. The doctor said so. I heard him say so. Esther knew that.” She was visibly shaking now. “She knew that.”
Carrie looked to Daniel, hoping he would admit that it was a prank, a bad joke. That Jacob was waiting for her and for Andy in the kitchen. But Daniel wore such pain in his eyes that she knew it was real.
My father is dead. He’s dead! A small startled cry escaped from her throat.
Daniel stepped closer and wrapped his arms around both of them --- a grief-stricken woman and a sobbing little boy --- and held them tight.
Excerpted from THE CHOICE: Lancaster County Secrets, Book One © Copyright 2017 by Suzanne Woods Fisher. Reprinted with permission by Revell. All rights reserved.
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