Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray
To my editor, Chelsey Emmelhainz:
If I didn't have you in my corner, I know I couldn't write books like this.
Thank you for everything.
And thank you again.
The author is grateful for being allowed to reprint the Monster Cookies recipe from
Country Blessings Cookbook
by Clara Coblentz.
The Shrock's Homestead
9943 Copperhead Rd. N.W.
Sugarcreek, OH 44681
In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
Life stops when you stop dreaming.
Hope ends when you stop believing.
Love ends when you stop caring.
Friendship ends when you stop sharing.
Thirteen years ago
e had almost made it.
All he had to do was make it another two miles, then he'd be able to catch the bus to New Philly and eventually Mansfield. After that? Simon Hochstetler reckoned it didn't really matter. He would be free and that was good enough.
But for now, all he had to do was ignore the pain in his side, make it over the next bend, then finally hike through the northern edge of the Kinsingers' property. Once he did all that, the road would be flat. A whole lot easier to walk on.
He winced as he shifted his stuffed army-green backpack on his left shoulder, wishing that his right one wasn't as bruised as it was. 'Course, if he was making wishes, he should probably start with wishing that he didn't have a black eye or cut lip. From there he could wish his ribs weren't hurting, either.
His father had been in fine form tonight.
He walked on, patting his pocket, feeling for the wad of
money he'd been saving for the last year and kept hidden in an old coffee can near the woods. How long was it going to last? He had no idea how far eighty-eight dollars lasted in the city, but he was fairly sure it wouldn't be far enough. He was going to need to figure out a way to make some cash, quick.
Feeling panicked, he stopped to readjust his backpack.
“Simon? Hey! I thought that was you,” Amelia Kinsinger called out, her voice ringing through the empty field like a bright, merry cowbell. “Whatcha doing?”
He froze. Then, attempting to gather himself, he turned to watch her trot closer. A bright smile was on her face. She looked really pleased to have spied him.
Though he knew better than to stay, he remained where he was. Even at only nine years old, little Amelia was the prettiest thing he'd ever seen. White-blond hair, crystal-blue eyes, and pale skin that never seemed to tan, she was everything delicate and perfect. She was also sheltered and his best friend's baby sisterâand the only person who seemed to think he was worth something. Both of her brothers had confided that Amelia had a terrible crush on him. They'd thought it was embarrassing. Levi had even apologized for her.
He hadn't needed an apology, though. Simon had always thought Amelia's infatuation made him something special. He'd never let on that he noticed the way she always looked at him. He never acted annoyed when she rushed over to tell him about her day. Instead of making fun of her, he'd been patient and often sat with her when her older siblings were too busy.
But that said, he'd always taken care for her not to see him like this. He wanted to look worthy in her eyes. Not beaten and bruised.
“Can't talk right now, Amy,” he bit out as he started forward.
He took care to keep his gaze fixated on the ground in front of him. Maybe then she wouldn't catch sight of his eye.
But, as usual, she didn't listen to his warning. Instead, she picked up her pace. “Did you know that the sun is almost set? Where you going? It's going to be dark soon.”
“Ain't none of your business.”
She stumbled, then caught herself before he reached out to steady her.
“Slow down, wouldja?” she said.
She sighed. “Why are ya being like this?” she asked, hurt in her tone. “All I asked isâ”
“Simon! What happened to you?”
Unable to help himself, he drew to a stop. Then, because he probably was never going to see her again anyway, he allowed himself to lift his chin and let her look her fill. As he'd expected, she was staring at him in concern, her pale pink lips parted in wonder. And, he suspected, pity.
“Go on home, Amelia.”
“Did you . . . did your
do that?” she whispered, letting him know that his secret had never actually been one. “Do you need something? Do ya need some help? 'Cause my
's home. If we went to him, I bet he'd help ya.”
That was why she meant so much to him. Here he was, bruised and battered, running away from home, and she thought he could still be saved. “Your
Tentatively, she held out a hand. Then, to his shock, she swiped at a patch of skin just to the side of his lip. When he flinched at her touch, she looked at him with sad eyes. “Sorry, but your lip is bleeding.” She held up her finger to show the stain.
Seeing his blood on her hand was one of the worst things he'd ever experienced. It symbolized everything that was his life . . . and everything he didn't want it to be. Unable to help himself, he grabbed her hand and roughly swiped it on his shirt. “Wash your hands when you get home, hear me?”
“Oh. All right. But . . . but, Simon, won't you come with me? You could wash up, too.”
. I've gotta go.”
“You're leaving, aren't you?” she asked softly. “Just like your brother and sister did.”
He couldn't lie to her. “
. I'm leaving. Just like Jeremy and Tess did.”
As much as he would have liked to do anything she asked, he couldn't do that. “Listen, do me a favor, wouldja? Don't tell nobody you saw me.”
Her bottom lip trembled. “Butâ”
“They'll find out soon enough. Just . . . just let me go, okay?” Then he did what he'd sworn he'd never do. He looked at her directly in the eyes and let her see his pain. “I have to do this, Amy.”
Around a ragged sigh, looking so very sad, she nodded. “Okay.”
“Bye, Amelia. You take care of yourself.”
He started walking before she could reply. Before he did something stupid and followed her to her house. Before he thought about staying just a little longer so he could see her again.
He started walking because no matter how difficult and scary it was to leave, he knew for certain it was always going to be a whole lot worse at home.