Authors: Suzanne Woods Fisher
Tags: #FIC042000, #FIC053000
Â© 2014 by Suzanne Woods Fisher
Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Ebook edition created 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâfor example, electronic, photocopy, recordingâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Most Scripture used in this book, whether quoted or paraphrased by the characters, is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
Some Scripture used in this book, whether quoted or paraphrased by the characters, is taken from the Holy Bible, New International VersionÂ®. NIVÂ®. Copyright Â©Â 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.â¢ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Published in association with Joyce Hart of the Hartline Literary Agency, LLC.
To my very special mother-in-law,
who first taught me to love roses.
pale thread of gray seeped over the windowsill, wakening Bess Riehl with its strange light. Outside, a limb tapped the eaves. Disoriented, still fuzzy from sleep, she lifted her head to peer out the window and gasped in delight. Overnight, Stoney Ridge had been blanketed with deep snow, transformed into a world of pristine white. Just in time to make the day, this Sunday, all the more special. Not just any Sunday, but the day her engagement would be announced at the end of church. Published, as they called it. And in less than two weeks, she would be married.
Married. She was going to be a married woman. This Christmas, she would be married. For the
of her life. Absentmindedly, she put her hand against the frosty windowpane to feel the chill. Her insides felt as quivery as her cold fingertips.
Was it normal to feel all trembly inside, scared and excited and filled with strange feelings? She hoped so, because whenever she thought about the bishop announcing her name today in church, she felt light-headed, slightly dizzy, a little nauseous, and terribly worried about fainting. Bess was what her grandmother used to call a nervous little thing, as jumpy as a dog with fleas. Twenty now, she couldn't deny the truth of that, but she was definitely bolder than she was at fifteen when she lived for
a summer with Mammi at Rose Hill Farm. Bolder, certainly, and yet Bess still preferred to be invisible in any group setting. Such as .Â .Â . church.
If she couldn't handle having her name announced in public, how would she be able to survive her wedding day? She dropped her head. She had no idea. None at all.
But she wouldn't be alone. Amos would be there too.
Amos Lapp. Her thoughts drifted off to him and a smile eased her anxiety. He was so kind, was Amos. They had met, years ago, through his cousin Billy Lapp, whom Bess refused to allow herself to think about for more than a moment or two, once or twice a week. Mostly, she wondered where Billy was and if he ever thought about her. And what he thought about her. And why he left.
Stop. Stop it, Bess
She expunged Billy Lapp from her mind and went back to thinking about Amos, whom she adored. Not Billy, whom she didn't.
In a way, she envied Amos. He loved her so completely, so thoroughly. There was no doubt in his mind that Bess was the only girl for him. She didn't think she could ever feel so sure, so free of doubts about her feelings. Amos's devotion reminded her of the way she had once felt about Billy Lapp, but she was much younger then. Young and foolish. Die erscht Lieb roscht net, awwer schimmelich maag sie waerre, her grandmother used to say.
love does not rust, but it might get moldy.
That's what had happened to her feelings about Billy. Molded.
Amos was a fine choice for a partner in life, in work. He was older than Bess by a few years, was already managing his late father's farm at Windmill Farm, was solid and generous and accepting of Bess's timorous nature. He was trustworthy and devoted and calm natured and he wasn't wishy-washy about being Plain or loving Bessâunlike that someone else whom she
tried not to think about. And then she realized what she was doing. Comparing.
Stop it, Bess. Stop it!
She covered her face with her hands. Why was she struggling to tamp down thoughts about Billy lately?
Billy Lapp had been Bess's first love. Only twelve when she had first met him after her grandfather's funeral, she remembered feeling struck dumb by his good looks. But it was on her second visit to Rose Hill Farm, when she was fifteen and had come to Stoney Ridge for a short visit only to end up staying, that she lost her heart to him.
It was the summer when her widowed father had met and married Lainey. Bess had fallen head over heels in love with Billy but was caught in something her friend Maggie Zook called a classic love triangle. Maggie knew all about these kinds of things from reading romance novels on the sly. Bess loved Billy, Billy loved Betsy Mast, Betsy loved someone else who didn't love her. Bess's love for Billy was dampened, watered down, but not extinguished. Not entirely. Then, the following year, she and Billy were slowly but surely finding their way to each other. Suddenly, Betsy Mast reappeared, out of the blue, on the same day that Billy had a terrible row with his family, and he left Stoney Ridge without a glance back.
Once again, Bess felt her heart shrink like a sponge being wrung out. It was always in the back of her mind that, given the chance, Billy might choose Betsy over her as he had once done. It had been a sore point between them, and yet she understood it tooâmaybe there was just something about that first love. A tiny part of her couldn't let go of Billy.
And Amos, dear Amos, had always known a part of her longed for Billy. He courted her patiently and persistently, all the while his dark brown eyes would search her face, trying to see into her heart.
Last month, when Amos asked her to marry him for the third time, he told her that he wanted an answer and he wanted it to be yes. She knew it was time to face reality. Billy was gone, Amos was here. Billy did not love her in a wholehearted way. Amos did.
A conversation she'd once had with her grandmother floated up from the recesses of her mind. “Bess,” Mammi would say, “you can't go back, not in this life. You have to go forward.”
So she had said yes.
Still, a nagging thought kept poking at her, like a sliver in her finger. Why wasn't she more excited about getting married? She should be. Amos Lapp was a wonderful man. But she could never bring herself to tell him that she loved him in return. She thought she did love him, but the words clogged in her throat whenever she tried. Was it because she had imagined saying those words to Billy?
Stop it, Bess
She turned from the window and dressed quickly, then hurried outside to be the first to make footprints in the snow, before her father woke and started choring. Childish, she knew, for someone her age, but she couldn't help herself. It was a game she and her dad had played for as long as she could remember. Lainey, her dad's wife, only smiled and rolled her eyes at their silly traditions.
Bess delighted in the seasons, each one, and took special pleasure in winter's first appearance. As she walked out the kitchen door, a cold blast of air hit her in the face, making her eyes sting. Wrapped in coat and mittens with a scarf on her head, she went out to the yard and for nearly a minute she stood utterly still, basking in the simple familiarity of such a sight, such a home. A place she loved. The world was so quiet, so muffled, under a blanket of snowfall.
She wandered through the snow to the rose fields, breathing in the crisp, clean, freezing air, cheeks numb. She stood and gazed
at the roses that her grandmother loved so much, roses that were pruned down to canes for winter's rest. She turned around slowly in a circle, committing to memory every square inch of this farm she loved so dearly. The December sun was rising beyond the silhouette of the barn, pushing away the remaining clouds from last night's snowstorm. A sunbeam reflected off the glass roof of the greenhouse. On an impulse, Bess walked over to the greenhouse, trudging through the snow so she left tracks, and twisted the door handle. A blast of warm, moist, humus-scented air hit her in the face. Out of nowhere, her cat Blackie appeared and curled around her legs.
Bess bent down to scratch the cat behind its ears, then made her way down the brick walk in the dim morning light, between rows of clay pots holding shoulder-high rose canes being propagated for next spring's fields. She checked the wall thermometer and smiled, satisfied: sixty-five degrees. Only as warm as necessary.
Farther back, closer to the heat source, were bushes of roses in bloom. When she reached them, she stopped to breathe in their scent and admire their blossoms. There was the Dainty Bess, a hybrid tea, light pink, single petals, a gift from her dad for her eighteenth birthday. Frowning, she noticed something on Lady Emily Peel and leaned over to examine it. It was beautiful, but prone to powdery mildew. The rose, of courseânot Lady Emily.
The last two winters, Bess and her father had forced blooms using artificial lighting to trick the roses' internal clocks into thinking spring had come. These roses were not for sale but to keep up a steady supply of rose petals. Bess's grandmother had taught her to make soaps, teas, and jams from the petals. Among old garden roses, those with red and deep pink flowers tended to have the strongest perfume, so those varieties were the ones Bess used for rose products. Recently, she'd been studying up on another use for roses: remedies.
It had started when Eli Yoder, an older fellow from church, asked if she knew of a cure for baldness. She hunted through her grandmother's books and found a rose remedy for male baldness from a time when nature's wonder drug was a rose. Rose honey to soothe inflamed tonsils. Rose vinegar to alleviate headaches. Rose poultices to stanch wounds. Bess found a recipe for rosewater compress to allay female hysteria, though she wasn't sure there was much of a market to hysterical women. She certainly didn't know any.
Unfortunately, the remedy she found for Eli Yoder's baldness didn't have the desired effect, though he did tell her his athlete's foot had cleared up.
Warm now, Bess took off her coat and mittens and tossed them on the wooden stool. She heard the greenhouse door open and turned around to see her father cross the threshold. “You beat me to the snow!”
She grinned. “If you snooze, you lose.”
Jonah Riehl walked up the path, his eyes automatically checking on rose propagations along the way. Halfway up, he stopped and put his hands on his hips, frowning at a row of slips that hadn't propagated. “This greenhouse needs a good cleaning out.”
Bess nodded. Each long shelf was crowded with pots, nearly groaning with weight.
Jonah took a few more steps along the brick path, then pivoted on his heels. “Might be time to think about a new greenhouse. A bigger one.”
Bess spun around and busied herself with touching the soil of a few pots with her fingertips, to see how moist they were. In most every situation, Bess was the one who pushed her father to try new things, to think more broadly, to consider new rose products for the market. But not when it came to this greenhouse. She didn't want to hear any such talk about a new greenhouse.
So many cherished memories were captured under this old glass roofâof Mammi, of Bess's education about roses. Of Billy Lapp.
Even now, years later, she couldn't go into the greenhouse without being aware of Billy's influence on Rose Hill Farm. Very stirring stuff. He had been instrumental in setting Rose Hill Farm's business into action. He had taught himself to graft roses onto Mammi's strong rootstocks, ones that had been in the Riehl family for generations. The varieties were varied and unusual; grafting sped up the growing process. No longer did Mammi have to wait two years for slips to root and grow large enough to sell, or for rosehips that took even longer. Rose Hill Farm became the source for Pennsylvanians looking for heritage roses. They shipped bare root roses all winter and sold flowering rosebushes during spring and summer.
Bess loved this greenhouse more than any other place on earth. As she worked, she could almost sense her grandmother's pleasure as she peered down from heaven's curtain.
She wondered what Caleb Zook, the bishop, would say if she were to ask him such a question: Can those who have passed to Glory peer down on those who have not? She could imagine him bending over slightly, to listen carefully to what she was saying. He always did that. It was one of his nicest ways. Maybe she would ask him today after church. But maybe not.
“Tomorrow,” her dad was saying, “I'll get started thinning out those dead slips to give more breathing room to the propagated ones. For now, we'd better get back to the house. Lainey will be wondering what happened to us for breakfast. Church starts in less than an hour.”
“I'll be there in a moment. I'm just going to water a few dry plants.”
Jonah turned and walked down the brick path, limping as he went. Years ago, when Bess was a newborn, he had been injured
in a buggy accident that took the life of his first wife and left him with a bad back. She watched her father as he crossed the snowy yard to reach the house, feeling a swell of love rise in her heart. This morning, his spine seemed slightly more curved, the lines on his face etched a little deeper.
What was the matter with her today? She felt so maudlin and sentimental. But she couldn't imagine leaving Rose Hill Farm and that's exactly what was going to happen.
She watered a few plants that seemed a little dry, checked on a few others, and bent down to pick up her coat that the cat had pulled down to the ground and curled up on to nap. As she shooed Blackie away, something caught her eye. In the far corner of the greenhouse, tucked deep under the workbench, was a potted rose, fully leafed out with one lone bud, still enclosed in its green capsule. She got down on her knees and dragged the pot out into the open but it was too heavy for her to lift.
Strange. It was a rose she didn't recognize, and after so many years at Rose Hill Farm, she knew each and every rose. And why would it be about to bloom now? Yet with only one bud? She looked at it again, smelled the bud, studied the veining on the leaves. A wispy memory, fuzzy and out of focus, something she hadn't thought about in years and years, floated through her mind.
No. Not a chance. It couldn't be