Authors: Amy Clipston
In loving memory of James G. “Jimmy” O’Brien,
February 11, 1967–March 7, 1977.
Forever in our hearts
While this novel is set against the real backdrop of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the characters are fictional. There is no intended resemblance between the characters in this book and any real members of the Amish and Mennonite communities. As with any work of fiction, I’ve taken license in some areas of research to create the necessary circumstances for my characters. My research was thorough; however, it would be impossible to be completely accurate in details and description since each community differs. Therefore, any inaccuracies in the Amish and Mennonite lifestyles portrayed in this book are completely due to fictional license.
(boldface are parents)
ydia Bontrager gripped the banister on the porch steps and heaved a deep breath. Closing her eyes, she willed the darkened farmland surrounding her to stop spinning. She groaned while touching her prayer covering, which had somehow come undone from her hairpins and hung crooked from atop her hair. The disheveled prayer covering seemed a fitting symbol for how she felt.
So this is what it means to be drunk
Sunday evening had started out so innocently. She’d gone to a youth gathering at her mother’s insistence, but her cousin, Amanda Beiler, hadn’t attended. According to her other cousin, Nancy Kauffman, Amanda was still a bit under the weather after a bad case of the stomach flu. The group sang hymns in a barn on the farm owned by another member of their church district. But without Amanda there, Lydia found the gathering wasn’t as much fun. It didn’t help that Nancy spent most of the night flirting with her new boyfriend. Lydia had considered leaving, especially since Joshua Glick hadn’t shown up either.
But it all changed when Mahlon Ebersol approached her.
Amanda had once said that fast-talking Mahlon was bad news. With his penetrating ice-blue eyes and sandy blond hair, he only had to smile to get all the girls in the church district to swoon. When he asked Lydia to join him and his friends out by the far barn, Lydia agreed before her brain engaged.
With a nervous giggle, she followed him and his usual entourage of boys and a few girls to the other side of the pasture. After a few prompts and dares, she took a swig of her first beer. Although it tasted worse than old milk, she didn’t stop drinking it until the bottle, and the one that followed, was empty. Mahlon and his group seemed so cool and she wanted to fit in.
Opening her eyes, Lydia studied the front door of her white house. She knew in her heart the truth about her behavior this evening. She didn’t really yearn to fit in with Mahlon and his wild friends. She even knew she could have resisted his smile if she’d wanted to.
What she’d really craved was to drink away the pain caused by what lay beyond that front door—her baby sister’s mysterious illness, which had gripped her family for the past month. Four-year-old Ruthie had been fighting to shake a cold for weeks. Their mother tried all of the herbal remedies that had helped Lydia and her middle siblings, Titus and Irma, in the past. But little Ruthie’s body refused to heal. Her fever had persisted, along with mysterious bruising, aches, and pains.
The doctor’s visits increased, and her mother’s stress level had heightened late last week. Usually sweet and patient, she had become almost militant, barking orders and snapping whenever the smallest mistake was made. Though she knew it was wrong, Lydia was relieved and secretly happy when her mother was in another room.
Taking another deep breath to steady herself, Lydia slowly started up the front steps and wrenched open the door. The large kitchen was dark since her parents always snuffed out the gas lamps when they went to bed. She’d returned home in the dark after attending youth gatherings in the past, but for some reason the kitchen seemed darker and larger than it ever had before.
If I were
I could flip a switch and banish this darkness
. But she knew it was an idle thought—propane- and battery-operated lamps were all her Amish tradition would allow. Lydia’s only beacon of light would have to be the dim glow from the woodstove.
Lydia trudged across the kitchen, bumping into the table and stumbling twice as she moved through the family room and reached the bottom of the staircase. She leaned against the banister for balance and absently wondered why anyone would want to get tipsy. What was the purpose aside from feeling sick and nearly falling down?
At the top of the stairs, the glow of a propane lamp cast a faint light in the upstairs hallway. One of her parents was up with Ruthie! How could she possibly sneak to her room without being discovered?
Guilt rained down on her. Her mother and father thought Lydia had been singing hymns and talking with friends, and now she was sneaking into the house drunk. How could she betray her parents this way? They’d always believed the best of her. She’d never once given them a reason to doubt her. And now she’d managed to risk ruining that trust in just a few hours.
She gazed up the stairs, and for a moment she was convinced the house was swaying. She had to get up those stairs and to her room before she was discovered. Her legs buckled, and she wished she’d never met Mahlon Ebersol.
She shook her head and silently berated herself.
Tipsy or not, you can climb these stairs, just like you have every night
With her eyes focused on the light glowing from Ruthie’s room at the top of the steps, Lydia did her best to tiptoe up, tripping over her black sneakers only twice. When she reached the landing, she bit her bottom lip and silently debated if she should tell her mother that she was home. Of course
would worry, but she also trusted her daughter to get home safely.
Lydia gritted her teeth at that word again.
She knew the right thing to do was to alert her mother that she was home. But if her mother saw her crooked prayer covering or if she caught a whiff of her breath … No, her mother didn’t need this stress on top of Ruthie’s unending illness.
What have I done?
She cupped her hands to her face and sucked in yet another deep breath. She then leaned over and peeked through the crack in the doorway, finding her mother, Beth Anne, rocking Ruthie in her arms. The only sounds in the room were the hiss of the lantern, the rhythmic creak of the chair, and her mother’s soft, sweet voice singing a hymn to her baby in High German.
Tears filled Lydia’s eyes as she took in the scene. How could she have been out drinking while her mother was up late consoling Ruthie?
Pushing those thoughts aside, Lydia knew she had to get to her room and climb into bed. Work would come early in the morning, as her parents always said. Lydia would have to help handle nearly two dozen spirited scholars at the one-room schoolhouse where she served as a teacher’s assistant on Mondays and Wednesdays.
How I hope they behave tomorrow
She did her best to straighten her prayer covering and then walked past the room, pretending not to see her mother in the rocking chair.
voice called in a stage whisper through the hallway.
?” Lydia’s heart pounded as she stood outside her bedroom, which was right next door to Ruthie’s.
“Come to the door,”
Lydia bit her lower lip and moved to the door, standing just outside the flood of light. “How is she?” she asked.
Her mother’s pretty face was tired. Lydia had recently noticed the lines and dark circles under
eyes; it seemed as though she had aged ten years in only a few weeks.
“She was fussy earlier,”
began, “so I decided to rock her. Now that she’s so comfortable, I hate to move her.”
“She looks peaceful.” Lydia’s strangled whisper felt riddled with guilt. She cleared her throat. “Gut
. Call me if you need help.” She turned to go, losing her footing and then regaining her composure before tripping on her own feet. She almost snorted with sarcasm at her offer of help. How could she possibly rock Ruthie if she couldn’t even stand up straight? Lydia would injure both her sister and herself.
called. “Did you have fun?”
,” Lydia said from the other side of the door.
said. “Get to bed now. It’s late, and work comes early in the morning.”
,” Lydia repeated, trying not to walk into the doorway as she stepped through the darkness into her room.
She flipped on the battery-operated lantern sitting on her nightstand and its dim light flooded her small room, casting shadows on the plain white walls. Lowering herself onto her bed, she wished the room would stop spinning.
If I feel this
bad, how is Mahlon feeling? He drank at least as much as I did
. Though, when she thought about it, he didn’t seem to have any problems steering the horse when he drove her and a few other friends home in his buggy. Perhaps he was experienced at this sort of thing and alcohol didn’t bother him as much anymore. But Lydia didn’t want to ever get comfortable with this feeling.
She struggled when she got up to change into her nightclothes and stumbled while hanging her simple blue dress and apron on the peg on her wall. Crossing back to her bed, she stopped at the window and moved the green shade, revealing the dark, shadowy pasture. Her eyes settled on Joshua’s house, focusing on his room, which was located at the center of the bank of upstairs windows. She wondered what had kept him away from the youth gathering tonight, and a melancholy feeling settled in her stomach.
Lydia had known Joshua her whole life. When they were younger they’d played during recess at the one-room schoolhouse where Lydia now taught part-time. Not only was he handsome, with dark brown hair and warm blue-green eyes, he was always nice to her. When the other boys teased her for tripping on the playground, Joshua defended her. When her father needed assistance repairing the pasture fence after a bad storm, Joshua and his father lent a hand. And when Lydia needed someone to talk to after arguing with her middle sister, Irma, Joshua would listen, helping her to clear her head so she could go back into the house and apologize.
Joshua was there for her, ready to give her a smile or a good word of advice when she needed it most. She’d always hoped that, when she turned sixteen, she and Joshua would date and possibly even get married after a few years. He was her idea of the perfect husband—honest, hardworking, and
handsome. Now that she was sixteen-and-a-half and he was seventeen, maybe her dream would become a reality.
She involuntarily swayed and clutched the windowsill for balance. Joshua would be appalled if he heard about her behavior tonight. Although he and Mahlon had been good friends when they were younger, Joshua stopped socializing with him soon after Mahlon and his entourage of boys became rowdy.
What if Josh finds out I drank with Mahlon tonight? Would his opinion of me change?
Lydia grimaced and pushed the shade back in place as the question swirled through her already-swimming mind.
Climbing into bed, Lydia silently prayed, trying her best to ignore the sickening feeling that the bed was spinning. She begged God to forgive her for her sinful behavior tonight and she also asked to keep her actions a secret. Although she knew she should be punished for her indiscretions, she also dreaded the pain the news of her behavior would cause her family.
She closed her eyes and, while still deep in prayer, fell asleep.