Read Simple Deceit (The Harmony Series 2) Online

Authors: Nancy Mehl

Tags: #Romance, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Christian, #Kansas, #Fiction, #Christian Fiction, #Suspense, #General, #Religious, #Mennonites

Simple Deceit (The Harmony Series 2) (10 page)

BOOK: Simple Deceit (The Harmony Series 2)
10.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Sam finally raised his head. The look on his face chilled me. I reached over to take his hand.

“Sam. Please don’t make me deny this charge. Surely you know me better than this. If you don’t…”

He pulled his hand away, folded the note, and jammed it back into the envelope. “If I don’t know you better than what?” he said, his tone sharp. “Is that some kind of threat?”

“A threat?” I said incredulously. “What are you talking about?”

“Look, Grace, I’ve got some work to do in the orchards. I’ll drive you home first.”

“Why are you acting like this? Of course that baby’s not mine. I think you’d have noticed if I was pregnant, even if I’ve been gone for a while. Besides, you know me. If I’d been pregnant, I would have told you. And I would never, ever abandon my baby. Never.”

His face flushed a deep red. “I really don’t want to argue about this right now. Please. We’ll talk later. I—I just can’t do it now. I mean it.”

I grabbed my purse from the table and my jacket from the nearby chair. “Fine. Take me home, please.”

Rage and hurt coursed through me. I could feel angry tears forming in my eyes. How could Sam believe this? It was ludicrous. Suddenly I felt as if I didn’t really know him. Maybe I never had. If this was all it took to cause a division between us, how could we ever hope to sustain a real relationship?

I hurried out the door to the truck, unable to hold back my emotions. As I fled down the stairs, I ran right smack into Sweetie.

“For cryin’ out loud, girlie,” she screeched. “Watch where you’re goin’. You almost knocked me into the middle of next week. Why are you…” I pushed past her, mumbling an apology. She turned around and watched me get in the truck. As I slid into the passenger seat, I saw her grab Sam before he could get past her. He tried to wrestle away, but she hung on like her life depended on it. Aunt and nephew exchanged a few words; then she let go of him and he got into the truck. As we pulled out of the driveway, I looked back at Sweetie. She hadn’t moved, just stared at us as we drove away.

Sam was silent until he pulled up into my driveway. “Look,” he said quietly after turning off his engine, “I’m sorry.” He reached over and wiped away the tears on my cheeks. “I’m not upset at you, and of course I believe the baby isn’t yours. I know we have to talk this out, and we will. I just need you to be patient with me for a little while.”

“But I don’t understand. What’s wrong? Why did this upset you so much?”

He shook his head and gazed out the window. “I’ll explain it to you, Grace, I promise. I just need a little time to get my thoughts together. I’m as shocked as you are at my reaction.” He turned to look at me, his eyes full of concern. “Give me some space, okay? Just a couple of days. When I’m ready to talk, I’ll tell you everything. Hopefully I’ll be able to explain myself. Can you do that for me?”

I sniffed, wiped my face with my coat sleeve, and nodded. I really didn’t trust myself to say anything at this point. Selfishly, I felt slighted because this attack was on
, not Sam. I’d expected his support, and now here I was trying to console him.

I quickly kissed him and got out of the truck, not even looking
back as I ran into the house. A few seconds after I closed the door behind me, I heard his truck start up and rumble out of the driveway. It occurred to me that we were supposed to check out the woods once more to see if we could find signs of my late-night intruder. It would have to wait. At that moment, I didn’t care much. Last night seemed like it had happened weeks ago.

I went to the kitchen, dropped my purse on the table, and looked out the window. Everything was quiet. No signs of life except for a couple of squirrels chasing each other up and down the trees. I marveled at their agility. How could they run and jump so high and so fast and not fall?

I heard a long, drawn-out meow from behind me. Snickle stood in the middle of the kitchen stretching his body. Must have just awakened from a nap.

“Hard life there, bud,” I said. “Wanna trade?”

He answered me by flicking his tail and running out of the room.

“Good answer.”

I checked the clock. The town meeting was scheduled for six. It was a little past three. Plenty of time for a nap, although I was probably way too upset to sleep. First I washed some dishes that had been sitting in my sink, soaking. When I had enough power in the house, my next purchase would be a dishwasher. Washing dishes by hand was for the birds.

I’d finished the dishes and was on my way upstairs, trying once again to sort out Sam’s strange reaction to that awful note, when I heard loud knocking. I gazed down at the door like I could see who was on the other side. I didn’t get many visitors. In fact, I never had visitors. The only person who ever came over was Sam. Maybe he’d come back to talk. I rushed down the stairs, hoping it was him. When I swung it open, I found Sweetie standing there. She looked flustered.

“Hi there, Gracie girl.” She wiped her hands nervously on the front of her coat even though they looked perfectly clean. “I need to talk to you. Can I come in?”

“Oh, sure. Sorry. I thought you were someone else.” I opened the door wider so she could get past me. She made a beeline toward the couch. I sat across from her in the rocking chair.

“The place looks great,” she said, giving the room the onceover. “Still looks the way Benny had it, but I can see your touches, too. I like that you kept some of Benny here.”

“Me, too. Maybe someday I’ll do more decorating, but it didn’t seem right to change everything right away.”

Sweetie nodded and nervously cleared her throat. “Listen, Gracie, I want to talk to you about Sam. About why he acted like he did today.”

“He told you what happened?” I could hear the sharp edge in my voice, but the idea he’d talked to his aunt before we’d really had a chance to talk upset me.

She shook her head slowly. “Now don’t go gettin’ your knickers in a knot. I could tell he was upset when he came home. I forced it outta him.” She slid off her winter coat and put it on the couch next to her. “Glad to see you got some heat in here. Feelin’ a mite warm. Hope you don’t mind if I shed this thing for a few minutes.”

“Of course not.”

Sweetie kept looking at me and then glancing away. I’d never seen the woman so uncomfortable.

“Sweetie, why are you here?” I asked finally. “What is it you want to say?”

She cleared her throat a couple more times. “I want you to know somethin’, Gracie. I—I need to tell you…” She stopped and stared at the floor. Suddenly her head shot up. “This is stupid. For cryin’ out loud, I can’t figger out what’s wrong with me.” She
cleared her throat a fourth time, making me wonder if she was coming down with something. “Gracie Temple, I love you. I love you like you was my own daughter. I ain’t used to tellin’ anyone that ‘cept Sam, so it’s a little hard for me. I know it shouldn’t be, but it is.”

My irritation for the woman melted away. “I love you, too, Sweetie. You know that, right?”

“Yeah, I guess I do. That’s one of the reasons you mean so much to me. Most folks don’t cotton to me at all. They think I’m some kinda hillbilly, redneck numbskull. But you have a way of lookin’ past the way I act on the outside and seein’ the real me on the inside. That’s one of the reasons I care about you so much. And it’s one of the reasons I’m so grateful you love Sam.” She grunted. “When he was runnin’ around with Mary, I was plumb worried. Now understand, Mary and me is friends. I like her. But she weren’t right for Sam. I knowed that as well as I knowed my own name.”

“Thankfully Sam and Mary figured that out themselves.”

“Yep. Better it were them than if someone else had tried to tell them. I figger it would have been me eventually, but it never came to that, thank the Lord.”

“You didn’t come here to talk about Mary and Sam, did you?”

“Nope.” She rubbed her hands together like she was cold. “I know you can tell this is hard for me to say. I know lyin’ is a sin, but I been makin’ Sam lie ‘bout somethin’ ever since he was a boy. Now he’s payin’ the price for it. Actually, you both are. I gotta make this right.”

“I don’t understand. What are you talking about?” A cold thread of fear wound around my insides. I’d always valued Sam’s honesty, and I hated deception.

Sweetie took a deep breath and locked her eyes with mine. “It’s Sam’s mama. She didn’t die in no car wreck. She’s alive. When he
was a little boy, she just went off and left him, Gracie. Dumped him off in front of a church—just like that poor little baby you found last night.”

Chapter Five

t first, I couldn’t seem to find a response to Sweetie’s shocking statement. Finally I managed to say, “Why did you lie? Why did Sam lie—to me?”

She cleared her throat again. I knew she did it out of nervousness, but it was beginning to get on my nerves. “One day Bernie told Sam they was goin’ out to eat and then to the movies. She never had much money, so Sam was pretty excited. Kept him outta school even. Sure enough she took him to a burger joint for lunch and then to a movie. After that she drove over to the church where Sam had been goin’ with a neighbor boy. She told him to wait there for her while she ran a quick errand.” Sweetie wiped away a tear. “That’s the last time he saw his mama. A couple hours later she called the church and told them to call me. That’s how he came to stay in Harmony.”

My mind went back to the conversation we’d had about the abandoned baby the night before. Sam had been strangely silent and changed the subject without much discussion. Suddenly his reaction made sense.

“I know tellin’ a fib is a sin, Gracie, but how could I let that littl
boy tell folks the truth?” She shook her head. “I told him to tell everyone his mama died in a car crash to save him from embarrassment. Maybe it was right, maybe it was wrong. But now it’s caused this problem between you, and it just ain’t right. Sam reacted so bad to that note because it reminded him of what happened to him so long ago. I think he sees some of his mama in you—the good parts. But this thing with the baby… Well, it just hit too close to home. Stirred up some kinda feelin’s he ain’t dealt with yet.” She wrung her hands together. “You just gotta wait it out, Gracie. I know he’ll come around. If you wanna be mad at someone, be mad at me. I’m the one who caused this unholy mess.”

Frankly, at that moment I was somewhat angry with both of them. But the picture in my mind of Sam waiting for his mother, wondering where she was, overcame my bruised feelings and evoked deep compassion. “Sam did tell me once that I reminded him of his mother.”

She nodded. “I thought so. You see, there was lots of good things about my sister, Bernie. She was so pretty, and when she laughed, it sounded like sunshine. She loved animals, and she had a good heart. Saw things really deep, you know? Had a way of findin’ the good in folks—same way you do.”

“Her name was Bernie?”

She nodded. “Bernice. We called her Bernie ever since she was small. She just weren’t no Bernice. Just like I weren’t no Myrtle.”

I frowned at her. “You make her sound like a good person. But she left her son. That’s certainly not a good thing to do.”

“I know that. This may sound silly to you, but I believe she left Sam at that church because she loved him. She was hooked on drugs back then, and she didn’t think she could take good care of the boy. She thought I’d make a better mama than her.” Sweetie covered her face with her hands for a moment. When she brought them down, I could see her anguish. “I hope she was right. I been
tryin’ my best all these years. I sure love that boy like he was my own.”

“So what you’re saying is that when I showed him that note, he thought maybe I actually
left my baby—just like his mother left him?”

Sweetie held up her hands in surrender. “I know it sounds nuts, Gracie, but yeah. I think that’s exactly what happened. That boy loves you so much it almost hurts. But this situation made him think of his mama. I think he’s afraid you’re gonna hurt him like she did.” She eyed me carefully. “I know Sam seems all growed up and well-balanced, but he ain’t never healed from the pain his mama caused by leavin.’ All these years, I been hopin’ he’d get over it. But I can see now that he’s still hidin’ his hurt inside.” She ran her weathered hand over her face. “This is all my fault. Not lettin’ him deal with the truth. Now I mighta cost him the best thing that’s ever happened to him in his whole life. You, Gracie girl.”

“It’s not your fault,” I said, shaking my head. “But I wish Sam would have told me the truth. It makes me feel like he doesn’t trust me. Surely he doesn’t think something like that would change the way I feel about him.”

Sweetie stood up and walked to the window, where she looked out toward the dark clouds that hung over Harmony. “Gonna start snowin’ soon.” Her voice sounded far away, even though she only stood a few feet from me. As if on cue, big fat snowflakes began drifting past the windows. After a few seconds, she whirled around to face me. “No matter who did wrong, you have to decide if you can work through it. Is Sam worth enough to you to put out the effort it will take to ride out this storm?” She crossed her arms and studied me. “I ain’t tellin’ you it will be over tomorrow. Sometimes storms blow through with big winds and lots of fury—then suddenly they’re gone.” She waved her hand toward the thickening snow. “And sometimes they park themselves righ
over you and take their sweet time movin’ along. You gotta have your feet planted firm, Gracie, so the storm don’t knock you over.” She walked back to the couch and picked up her old coat. “It’s like that story about the man who built his house on the rock and the man who built his house on the sand.” She shook her head and laughed. “I realized a long time ago that both those men had the same storms. Life ain’t always gonna be as smooth as a baby’s clean behind. Sometimes there’s gonna be somethin’ nasty that’s gotta be dealt with. I used to blame God for what happened to my mama and daddy. And what happened to my sister. But down through the years I figgered somethin’ out. I was lookin’ in the wrong place. It ain’t God sendin’ the storm. It’s God who gives us the rock.”

BOOK: Simple Deceit (The Harmony Series 2)
10.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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