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Authors: Beverly Lewis

Tags: #FIC026000, #Christian fiction, #Foundlings—Fiction, #Lancaster County (Pa.)—Fiction, #FIC042000, #Amish—Fiction

The Guardian (4 page)

BOOK: The Guardian
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Chapter 6

M
aryanna felt outright humiliated later, when she realized she’d fainted into her neighbor’s arms. Goodness, she hoped Josh didn’t think anything of it.
Wasn’t like I planned it,
she thought, busying herself now with serving the oatmeal she’d made for breakfast. Mamm had always said cooking and baking were good for the soul, as well as the stomach. And in doing so, Maryanna attempted to keep her mind off her worst fear—that somehow Sarah had disappeared for good.

Why on earth had Josh felt it necessary to bring her Sarah’s dress? Maryanna brushed a tear off her cheek, and despite her heavy heart, the thought of the man’s pet rabbit came to her. While she’d never actually seen it, she’d heard plenty about the little caged critter from Tobias.

I wonder what the bishop thinks of that
ferhoodled
parrot Josh keeps in his kitchen, too.
Not long before Suzanne died, the large, talkative bird had arrived from parts unknown. Word had it that Josh purchased the pet from someplace outside Hickory Hollow.

Maryanna sometimes wondered how many other pets inhabited the house, though she had no desire to investigate.
She did know, however, that her Benuel had found Josh to be a good and fun-loving friend.
With the emphasis on fun.

Alone now with Benny, Leda, and Tobias, she managed to push away the memory of coming to after her faint and seeing Josh’s concerned face so near her own. She had awakened with her head cradled in the crook of his elbow, of all things! She could not recall what he had been whispering. Surely nothing of consequence, not with his father right there witnessing her predicament. Was Josh Peachey praying, perhaps? Still, the recollection of what must have looked quite intimate set her mind reeling. Maryanna was disgusted with herself for having fainted in the first place.

Her mother peeked her head in the back door, asking with her eyes if Sarah had been found as she made a quiet assessment of the three children at the table, poking at their oatmeal. Who could blame them? Maryanna herself had no appetite. How could she eat with little Sarah still missing? How could she function at all?

Dear Lord in heaven, help us!

She invited her mother to come in—
“Kumme esse!”
But Mamm waved and said she’d already eaten, and hurried on, a worried expression on her face. Both Mamm and
Daed
had thoroughly searched their own Dawdi Haus last evening, after Maryanna let them know about lost Sarah. In fact, Daed had gone with a flashlight all around the front, side, and backyards, looking to no avail.

Benny asked for more milk, his upper lip white from the first glassful. “I’ll go an’ feed the pigs right after breakfast,” he said, obviously trying to sound all put together, poor thing.

Just as strong as Benuel would expect him to be,
she thought, glad she hadn’t shown the children Sarah’s dress or hairpins. No, the dress was safely tucked away in her bureau drawer for
now.
She’ll wear it again,
Maryanna told herself, insisting this be true as she rose to get more milk from the gas-powered refrigerator.

“I’ll help Benny feed the pigs, too,” Leda offered, her voice shallow, like she had a sore throat.

“No need,
Schweschder
,” Benny said, his face sympathetic.

His twin sister shook her head. “Ain’t fair otherwise.”

Maryanna appreciated how caring they were to each other. She said not a word, knowing that, when all was said and done, Benny would give in and let Leda join him in the dirty chore of feeding their half-dozen pigs.

“Let’s say the Lord’s Prayer, children.” She bowed her head and began in German. When they were finished praying, she led out in the song
“Gott Ist die Liebe”—
“God Is Love”—one of her and Benuel’s favorites.

Once the boys and Leda had gone to the barn, Maryanna carried the dishes to the sink, thinking ahead to the long day. She felt rather lifeless knowing she must redd up the kitchen, mow the backyard, and finish up her orders in the greenhouse for a list of customers.
They’ll understand if I’m not ready … if I’m unable.

Sighing, she recognized again how a person’s sudden absence could completely drain a day of its significance. It was all she could do to plod out to the little wooden shed and get the push mower. But soon, several Amish neighbors dropped by and mowed for her, as well as did other chores, not wanting her to be alone, for which she was so thankful. And as they worked, Maryanna fretted about her responsibility as a mother. She blamed herself—there was no getting around it. She should’ve insisted on Sarah coming up front and sitting with her last evening.
Am I really that lenient with my youngest?

Maryanna glanced over at the Peachey farmhouse, a cornfield
away, remembering sharing favorite dessert recipes, such as blueberry crunch cake, with Josh’s petite wife. Oh, the glow of love in Suzanne’s eyes when she’d confided in Maryanna that she was expecting their first baby. Maryanna also recalled the school board deciding to flunk Josh and make him take his eighth and final year over again, all because he’d slipped away to hunt or fish rather than attend the one-room school down the way. Being the oldest in the school and two years older than Maryanna, Josh was expected to be an example. But when he got caught playing hooky, he’d always tell the teacher he loved God’s creation more than book learning
“any ol’ day.”

Of course eventually he settled down and joined church, becoming downright responsible before he married lovely Suzanne.

Maryanna went indoors and washed her perspiring face, then headed out to the greenhouse, where she gathered up the necessary potting tools with help from her Amish friends, who’d congregated at the farmhouse, as was their way. Reaching for the trowel, she noticed for the first time the marks in her left palm, where she’d clutched Sarah’s hairpins much too hard.

Trembling anew, Maryanna stopped to pray as sunshine splintered through the east-facing windows of the greenhouse.
Lord in heaven, hear the cry of my broken heart. Will you bring little Sarah back to me?

Chapter 7

W
ell into the fifth mile of her morning run, just past the sign for Old Leacock Road, Jodi’s cell phone vibrated on her waistband. She groaned but kept jogging as she reached to unclamp the phone. She checked to see who the caller might be.

I have to get this.
She moved to the shoulder, running more slowly now. “Hey, Mom!”

“Hi, Jodi—you sound out of breath.”

“I’m jogging.” She laughed.

“I won’t keep you, honey. Just thought you should know that Trent’s father ran into us yesterday. Such a wonderful Christian man.” Her mother proceeded to tell Jodi that her fiance was going to Japan to teach English for a year, as if Jodi didn’t know.

Jodi felt a stab of guilt. “I’d planned to tell you and Dad. Things just got away from me.”

“We know you’re busy.”

“Mostly with training for the half marathon. But I am enjoying the scenic farmland here.” Jodi described the great swath of earth to the south that rose up in the near distance to what the
locals called Grasshopper Level. “You should come to Lancaster County sometime, Mom. I think you and Dad would like it.”

A short pause. Then her mother said, “I’m sure we would, but we’re just swamped right now.
Too
busy, I think.”

Jodi knew that was true. Her parents had thrown themselves into outreach ministry after Karen’s death, their days of pew warming over.

“Well, maybe just keep it in mind.”

Mom sighed into the phone. “I’m not putting you off, it’s just that—”

“Don’t worry, Mom.”

“There’s so little time during the summer,” her mother said. “We have a lot of catching up to do at the rehab center before school starts again. Our free time belongs to God now.”

Mom’s new motto:
Saving the world, one addict at a time.

Jodi suddenly realized she’d stopped running. “It’s all good, Mom … what you and Dad are doing.”

“You’ll be back in Vermont when?”

“Actually, I just arrived here the day before yesterday. I have two days less than two weeks to hang out in the garden spot of the world. Not a bad place to house-sit. Oh, and did I tell you they have a cat?”

“It’d be so wonderful if you could come to New Jersey and help us at the center during your off days this fall.”

Jodi cringed.
Teachers rarely have downtime,
she thought, and her parents knew this firsthand. “Weekends, you mean?”

“Sure, honey. Whatever you can do.” There was a pause before her mom said, “Well, I know you want to get back to your morning run.”

“Okay, nice to hear from you. Tell Dad I said hi.”

“Keep in touch, dear.”

“I’ll text you, okay?”

Mom laughed. “If you insist.”

“It’s faster, you know.”

“That’s fine. We love hearing from you, whatever form it takes. We’re praying for you, honey.”

There had been a time when Jodi would’ve said,
“I’m praying for you, too
.

“Be safe,” she replied instead. “I love you.”

They said good-bye and hung up.

“Okay, now I’ve totally lost my momentum.” Jodi began to walk briskly. Truthfully, she’d lost her momentum in more ways than one. It wasn’t hard to decipher the real reason for Mom’s call. Since Karen’s death, Mom called more frequently, which was fine. But today it was also obvious she’d wanted to let Jodi know they were on top of things, that she and Dad were in the know about Trent’s plans. Of course, this news should have come directly from Jodi. And why not? Shouldn’t it be a joy to share the details of life with the people you loved?

Sighing now, Jodi considered the uncomfortable new spiritual gulf between them. While her parents had raised her in a Christian home, their heightened focus these days on living as believers sometimes alarmed her, maybe more so because she’d gone in the opposite direction. In the end, Karen’s untimely passing had affected their lives in very different ways.

Why wasn’t just attending church enough?
She considered the friendly community place of worship they’d attended as a family in New Jersey.

Jodi headed back toward the north, in the direction of her cousin’s house. Feeling slightly exasperated, Jodi knew her mom meant well; she always had. It was the undercurrent in the conversation, what hadn’t been said today, that troubled Jodi. Both of her parents had spoken to her on multiple occasions about her need
“to get things squared away with God,”
as her father had most recently put it.

Dad had taught high school English prior to becoming a department head, then a principal. And Mom was a middle school strings instructor. In fact, every adult in Jodi’s family was involved in some aspect of education, for two solid generations on her father’s side.
“Teachers aren’t made, they’re born,”
Dad often said with a winning smile. Jodi had always been proud to share in the family profession and delighted in the connection it gave her to her parents. But now … well, Dad’s and Mom’s fervent interest in their faith had put a serious wrench in things.

The sun felt warm on her right shoulder as Jodi steadily found her stride again. She enjoyed various new vistas in all directions—she could see why Paige had referred to the region as
“God’s green earth”
when she’d been tempting Jodi to stay.

Jodi ran all the harder, eager to put an end to the numbness she still awakened with every single day. Running not only beat a counseling session, but it was the only time when things seemed almost manageable, as if Jodi had
some
control over her life. At one time, she might also have said that running was a good time to talk to God, but the last time she did that was the day Karen died, and she no longer remembered exactly what she’d said. She
did
remember, however, what she’d thought—that if the world were to stop spinning right then, it would be quite all right with her.

And if you don’t mind, I’d like to get off.

Her plea now wasn’t exactly a prayer, but very close.

––

Following a gentle turn in the length of road, Jodi zeroed in on a string of oak trees coming up on the left. From this far away, it looked to her like a small child was playing beneath them. Not thinking much of it, Jodi maintained her speed, enjoying her run now, relishing the breeze as she went. But as she
approached the grove of trees, she noticed the youngster wasn’t playing at all but rather curled up like a kitten, fast asleep.

To Jodi’s surprise, the sleeping girl was wearing only a white undershirt and panties. The sight startled her, and while she hadn’t wanted to stop or slow her pace again, she was helpless not to. Going directly to the side of the road, where tall grass grew and the sunlight sifted through wide green leaves overhead, Jodi stooped near the child, who looked about four years old, if that.

Certainly a shady spot for a nap, but why here, so near the road?

Glancing about her in all directions, Jodi scanned for a nearby neighborhood or a playground … anything. “So small to be alone,” she whispered.

Moving closer, Jodi lifted a long strand of matted wheat-colored hair from the tiny tear-streaked face.
She’s been crying!
There was also a large bruised bump on the girl’s forehead. Jodi felt her heart pounding, and not from exertion.

A further inspection revealed brush burns on the child’s right elbow and bare foot. Had she fallen? Was she a victim of abuse?

Jodi crouched low and fumbled for her cell phone. Quickly, she searched the web for a child alert in the Lancaster County area. Turning up nothing, she checked for the entire state, then for the surrounding states, but there had been no such report today or even in the past few days.

She touched the girl’s wounded arm, her dimpled hand.
Her parents must be frantic with worry… .

Jodi quickly dialed the local police station and the phone rang five long rings before she was transferred directly to the voice mail of her cousin, Lieutenant Scott Winfield.
Strange,
she thought and hung up.

She decided to call 9-1-1 to report her discovery, knowing
she should act quickly. Just as she started to dial, though, the little girl’s eyes fluttered open.
Blue as the waves of the sea.

“Mamma,” the adorable child whispered, big eyes searching hers.

“Oh, sweetie,” Jodi said, her heart in her voice. “Are you lost?” Jodi inched back slightly, afraid she might startle the child, who was sitting up now. “Where do you live?”

The little girl started to cry. Sobbing, she whispered, “Mamma … Mamma.” With each repeat, she sounded increasingly more forlorn.

“Please don’t be frightened. I won’t hurt you.”

The tot began to shake all over, her eyes sorrowful beneath thick, long lashes. She lifted her arms to Jodi, as if pleading to be picked up and returned to her family.

“Come here, honey. Let me take care of you.” Jodi reached for her and gathered her near, carrying her tenderly in both arms, like one might cradle an infant. All the while her heart raced—was she doing the right thing? She must get ahold of her cousin. Scott would know what to do.

The little one burst into heartbreaking sobs, burying her face in Jodi’s neck.

“You precious girl.” She formulated a plan, deciding to take the lost child to Scott and Paige’s house, then drive her to the police station. But the house and car were at least a mile away.

Gently, Jodi carried the terrified child, refusing to tell her not to cry when she obviously had every reason to do so.

“Mamma,” the little girl whimpered between cries.

The tender way the name was spoken tore at Jodi’s heart. “I’ll find your Mamma, I promise.”

BOOK: The Guardian
2.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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