Authors: Lisa Harris
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance
She wouldn’t mention the real reason he was in the cabin. Whether or not it had been the right thing, their parents had tried to shelter Koby from Jarek’s actions. Koby knew his brother had run away, but he had no idea about the details surrounding his disappearance. He had enough to deal with in life without knowing his brother was wanted for murder.
“I need to get him back for yesterday.” Koby leaned against the side of the wagon, a mischievous grin on his face. “The weather’s warming. I thought we could have one more snowball fight before we leave and it all melts away.”
“Not today.” She shook her head. “I was just coming to get you. We need to be leaving now.”
“Come on.” Her brother’s lips curled into a pout. “We have time. It’s not like Mrs. Moore will let us come back anyway. Why can’t we just stay until the harvest is over and then figure out what we’re going to do?”
“I said it’s time to go.” She winced at the sharpness in her voice. “I’m sorry, but it wouldn’t look right. Now that Adam is out of bed, we’re not needed here anymore.”
“He does need us.” Koby folded his arms across his chest. “You’re worried about going back to the mill, aren’t you?”
She jutted her chin upward at the question. “I’m responsible for you, and with the strong possibility that helping with the harvest has cost us our jobs—”
“He likes you.”
Lidia picked up two buckets that were full of sap and headed toward the wagon. “I really don’t want to talk about him.”
“Why not? Did you have a fight?”
“Yes—no.” She closed her eyes, wishing her brother wasn’t quite so curious … and right.
“So which is it?”
She spun around to face him. “It’s complicated, Koby.”
“What’s so complicated about two people liking each other? You could marry him, and we could stay here and forget the past and that awful Mrs. Moore.”
Lidia frowned. He was right about one thing. It was time for her to forget the past. And that meant leaving her feelings for Adam behind, as well. While she didn’t regret helping him, the reality was she had probably lost her job. Still, staying here was not an option. There was always the possibility of answering an ad from the local paper for a mail-order bride. Those ads filled the pages these days, but the very thought of marrying for anything but love made her blood run cold. A better option would be if someone in town agreed to hire her, but that still left them needing a place to stay.
Adam wasn’t the answer to her prayers as she’d briefly dared to hope, but perhaps their situation would turn out better for them after all. If she could get a position in town it would give her brother an opportunity to go to school, something she desperately wanted for him.
Koby stepped beside her and draped his arm around her shoulder. “Leaving the mill would mean no more of the cook’s dinners. I love your cooking, and it’s obvious that Mr. Johnson agrees—”
“Koby.” Despite his persistence, she had to laugh. Leave it to her brother to say the right thing to make her smile. The food at the mills did leave much to be desired. She and her brother had come up with their own names for the bland, often unidentifiable dishes—mysterious macaroni pie, seafood surprise, peculiar pastries …
“Do we really have to go?”
Lidia glanced up at the cabin and swallowed the feelings of regret that threatened to surface. “Yes, Koby, it’s time to go.”
Adam stared at the thin pile of newspaper articles he’d kept after his brother’s death. He shouldn’t have walked away from Lidia, but he’d been so afraid of losing control of his emotions. His reaction was far from godly, but at the moment he didn’t care. He knew he should bury the incident and leave it in the past. He should even be relieved to find out who was responsible for Samuel’s death. But nothing would bring Samuel back, and nothing would erase the pain or the guilt he felt over what happened.
Trying to hold back thoughts of revenge, he pulled his leather-bound Bible out of a drawer. The pages fell open to the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew. He’d underlined the verses on forgiveness in chapter six, but as many times as he’d read them, forgiveness still seemed impossible to find.
Forgiveness toward Samuel’s murderer? Or forgiveness toward myself?
Adam slammed the book shut at the question. He hated the feelings of guilt that plagued him. Wasn’t it easier to lay the blame at the feet of the boy who killed Samuel?
And his entire family, as well?
Again the unwanted stab of conscience haunted him. At Lidia’s confession he’d run like a frightened animal. It had been her brother who’d killed Samuel. He couldn’t deny that truth.
The uninvited image of Lidia filled the recesses of his mind. Her wide, brown eyes and soft smile had touched something inside of him that had never been awakened before. He could hear the entertaining lilt of her voice and the tinkling sound of her laughter. But most of all he could feel the feather touch of her lips against his. He’d wanted that moment to last forever and had even wondered if she might be the one person he needed to make his life complete.
A fire blazed in the hearth, taking off the chill of the morning. He threw the papers into the fire and watched the orange flames lick hungrily at the added fuel. As the articles disintegrated before him, crackling into black ashes, he wondered if it were possible for his emotions to do the same. To not only forgive and forget, but to put the past and its horrible mistakes behind him. Wasn’t Lidia worth taking a chance on? Wasn’t she worth taking the time to get to know better despite what her brother had done to his family?
I just don’t think I can do it, Lord
The squeak of a wagon wheel broke into his thoughts and drew his attention to the window. His father stepped out of the flatbed wagon in front of the cabin.
Adam took a deep breath, wondering what he should tell his father. Knowing the identity of Samuel’s murderer should make it easier for the sheriff and his men to find him. But in the process it would break Lidia’s heart. That was something he didn’t want to happen no matter what his conflicting feelings toward her were at the moment.
Adam opened the door, then paused in the entrance as his father took the porch steps two at a time to greet him. He’d been told a dozen times how closely he resembled his father with his coal-black hair and dark eyes with their hints of gold. He’d always longed to emulate his godly character, as well, something that at the moment was proving difficult to do.
“I know you’ve been busy harvesting the sap, but we’ve missed seeing you.” His father enveloped him in a hug. “Michaela insisted I come out and check on you.”
Adam took a step back and forced a smile. “You can tell her I’m fine, though I’ve been sick for the past week. That’s why I haven’t stopped by.”
His father’s brow narrowed in concern. “If we’d known you were sick we’d have come to help earlier. You’ve just been so insistent on handling things alone—”
“I know, and you were right.”
“Never thought I’d hear you admit that.” His father smiled and squeezed Adam’s shoulder. “What about the sap?”
He glanced toward the maple grove, but there was no sign of Lidia or Koby. They must have taken the wagon, full of the morning’s harvest, down to the sugarhouse.
Adam cleared his throat. “I’ve had some help.”
His father leaned against the porch railing, a smile playing on his lips. “So you finally took my advice and hired workers?”
“Not officially.” Adam’s gaze dropped to study the rough boards of the porch. As much as he knew he needed to tell his father the truth, the very idea sent a wave of nausea coursing through him. “There is a problem, though. We need to talk.”
“What is it, son?”
“Why don’t you come inside and sit down. I’ll get you some coffee.”
He was avoiding the issue, and he knew it. He studied his father’s puzzled expression as they entered the house. Adam wasn’t sure how he did it, but the past year and a half had produced a deeper strength in his father. He’d seen the tragedy draw him and his stepmother, Michaela, even closer together as they rallied around the family for support. Their spiritual lives had taken on deeper meaning, but none of it made sense to Adam. It seemed to him that God had played favorites between Samuel and Jarek—and Samuel had lost.
“Something smells good.” His father made himself at home on one of the two chairs Adam had to offer. “Don’t tell me you’ve taken up cooking?”
“Hardly.” He handed his father a mug of the hot coffee, then took a seat across from him. “I told you I’ve had some help. About a week ago I passed out in the snow and hit my head rather hard. Lidia Kowalski and her brother Koby were looking for shelter from the weather and stumbled, literally, upon me. They both work at one of the mills, but with the weather so unpredictable Lidia was afraid she wouldn’t find her way back. I was in and out of consciousness, so she decided to stay and begin harvesting the sap.”
“I wish we would have known. Thank God you’re all right.”
“I’m feeling fine now, and in fact I planned to take them back to the mill this morning so I could explain to the overseer what happened. I don’t want them to lose their jobs over this. But …” Adam paused to take a sip of his coffee. “I found something out this morning about Lidia and Koby.”
His father leaned forward, resting his elbows against his thighs. “What is it?”
Adam worked to formulate his words. There was simply no easy way around it. “Lidia’s brother Jarek is the one who killed Samuel.”
The color drained from his father’s face. “How do you know this?”
“She was cleaning the room and found some newspaper articles I’d kept. She knew her brother was wanted for murder, but never knew who he’d killed until she saw Samuel’s name. She put two and two together. …”
His father set his coffee on the small table beside him and rubbed his chin with his hand. “I’d given up ever knowing who had pulled the trigger, so much time has passed.”
“Lidia has no idea where he is, but we have a name now, which will help. Knowing who it is means we might be able to narrow the scope of the search. They moved here from Boston, so it would make sense for him to go back to the place that is familiar to him.”
“I suppose you’re right, but what about Lidia? She must be quite upset.”
“Of course she’s upset, but so am I.” Adam marched across the room to the window before spinning around to face his father. “The last thing I want is for her to get hurt, but didn’t you hear me? We know who killed Samuel, which means we can go after him and find him.”
“It’s been a year and a half. Sometimes I think it might be best if we simply let things go.”
Adam raked his fingers though his hair, fighting the emotions that battled within him. “Answer this question. Why would God allow Samuel’s life to be taken and let a murderer go free?”
“I know it doesn’t make sense, and don’t think I haven’t asked myself the very same question a thousand times.” His father pressed his palm against the smooth wooden arms of the chair. “All I know is that our God is not unjust. He might not work the way we want Him to, but that doesn’t change who He is. Read through Romans chapter nine when you get a chance. It talks about God’s sovereign choices toward man.”
Stopping at the window, Adam’s hands gripped the sill. He didn’t want to hear about God having the right to be compassionate toward a murderer. He wanted answers. He wanted revenge.
The last days of winter were fading in front of him. Already the changing weather had left dry patches on the ground, warmed by the morning sun. Before another week passed, his run of sap would be over. He wouldn’t even have a harvest if it hadn’t been for Lidia and her brother. He owed them everything, and yet all he could think about was the fact that their brother had destroyed Samuel’s life. His father was right. He needed to put the past behind him and forgive, but putting one’s words into action had proved to be nearly impossible.
His father stood and walked toward him. “I can’t work through this for you, but you’re going to have to come to terms with what happened if you ever plan to go on with your life. It wasn’t Lidia’s fault her brother took Samuel’s life. And it’s not your fault you couldn’t stop it from happening.”
Adam’s stomach clenched. “It
my fault. Samuel shouldn’t have died.”
His father wrapped his arm around Adam’s shoulder. “You have to stop blaming yourself. You’re not responsible.”
Adam stared out the window. Lidia walked beside her brother toward the maple grove. Her normal smile was missing. Instead her brow was furrowed with worry. Did she hurt as much as he did? He was a coward, but he couldn’t face her again. At least not today.
He turned to his father. “Would you mind taking Lidia and her brother back to the mill? If there’s any problem with them keeping their jobs, I’ll make a trip out to talk to their overseer.”
Lidia swung her leg over the thick branch of the elm tree and worked to untangle the rope that had caught on one of the limbs. More than likely, it was one of the Miller boys who managed to rig the seat of the swing so it hung lopsided, though none of the young neighbors would own up to the offense.