You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
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Julia Beechy’s dream of opening a café is shattered when her mother says she must marry or move to live with distant family upon her mother’s imminent death. Caleb Zook thought he would never marry, but can he help this beautiful, sad woman? Is this God’s plan for his future?
List Price: $8.79
Publisher Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 2013)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Pebble Creek, Wisconsin
Julia Beechy stood next to the open grave and prayed the wind would stop howling for one moment. Next to her, she could feel her mother trembling. Ada Beechy had turned seventy-eight the previous week, two days before Julia’s father had passed. It would have been perfectly acceptable for her mother to sit, especially in light of the mist, the cold, and the wind.
Ada Beechy had no intention of sitting.
But Julia did shuffle one step closer to her mother, so that their sleeves were touching, as the bishop began to read the words to the hymn Ada had requested—“Where the Roses Never Fade.” Ada had stared out the window of their kitchen, her attention completely focused on the rosebushes, which had yet to bud, while members from their church sat beside Jonathan’s body in the next room. She’d gazed at the bushes and made her request.
Bishop Atlee had nodded, ran his fingers through his beard, and said, “Of course.”
Julia tried to focus on the bishop’s words as the men—the pallbearers—covered the plain coffin with dirt. How many shovelfuls would it take? Would Bishop Atlee have to read the hymn twice? Why was she worrying about such things?
David King stepped back, and Julia realized they were finished. Bishop Atlee bowed his head, signaling it was time for them to silently pray the words from the passage in Matthew, chapter six, verses nine through thirteen—their Lord’s prayer. Julia’s mind formed the words, but her heart remained numb.
“Amen,” Bishop Atlee said, in a voice as gentle as her mother’s hand on her arm.
The large crowd began to move. Words of comfort flowed over and around her. There had been a steady coming and going of people through the house to view her father’s body for the entire three days. Julia had become used to her privacy as she cared for her parents alone. The large amounts of food and the people had surprised her. Some of them she saw at church, but others came from neighboring districts. Those she barely knew.
She and Ada turned to go, for their buggy was marked with a number one on the side. The white chalk against the black buggy caused Julia’s heart to twist. They had led the procession to the cemetery. They would lead the gathering of friends away from the graveside.
But Julia realized she wasn’t ready to leave.
She pulled back, needing to look one more time. Needing to swipe at her tears so she could read the words clearly.
83 years, 4 months, 3 days
Now she and her mother were alone.
Tuesday morning, six months later
Julia glanced around the kitchen as she waited for her mother’s egg to boil. Everything was clean and orderly. Why wouldn’t it be? It was only the two of them. Except for the days when she baked, there was little to do. Julia was hoping that would change soon, and she meant to talk to Ada about it. Today would be a good day. She’d put it off long enough.
The water started to boil, and she began counting in her mind. Three minutes made for the perfect egg, at least for Ada it did. There were few things her mother could stomach on the days she wasn’t well, but a soft-boiled egg was one.
Julia walked around the kitchen as she counted, and that was when she noticed the calendar. She’d failed to flip the page to September. Where had the last six months gone?
Six months since her father had died.
Six months of Ada’s health continuing to fail.
Six months that Julia had continued to postpone her dream.
She flipped the page, smiled at the photograph of harvested hay, and vowed that today she would speak with her mother. Returning to the stove, she scooped out the egg with a spoon and placed it in a bowl of water to cool. Slicing a piece of bread from the fresh loaf she’d made yesterday, she laid it on a plate and added a dab of butter and apple preserves on the side. She set the plate on a tray, which already held a tall glass of fresh milk. Picking it all up, she turned to walk to her mother’s room and nearly dropped the tray when she saw Ada standing in the doorway.
“I’m not an invalid, and I don’t need to eat in my bedroom.”
She weighed a mere eighty-nine pounds. Julia had brought in the scale from the barn last week and confirmed her fears. Her mother was losing weight. She was also shrinking. Ada now stood a mere five foot four inches.
Why was it that the body shrank as it grew older? It was almost as if it needed to conserve its energy for more important things. Her mother had attempted to braid her hair and tuck it under her kapp, but the arthritis that crippled her hands made the task difficult. The result was snow-white hair sprouting in various directions and a kapp tipped slightly to the back of her head. She also hadn’t been able to correctly pin her dark green dress.
In spite of her appearance, the blue eyes behind her small glasses twinkled with good humor and complete clarity. Her mother’s health might be failing, but today her mind was sharp. Julia was grateful. Some days sporadic bouts of dementia robbed her even of that.
“Mamm, I don’t mind bringing it to you.”
Ada waved her hand, dismissing the notion. “When I’m too feeble to get out of bed, I’ll be praying the Lord sees fit to take me home.”
Julia didn’t think it was a good time to remind her she’d stayed in bed three days last week. Ada remembered well enough. She simply chose to ignore the bad days.
“Let me help you.”
Setting the tray on the kitchen table, Julia was relieved to see that at least her mother was using the cane Dr. Hanson had provided. He’d suggested a walker, but Ada had insisted “the Lord was her strength.” The cane was a compromise.
Julia inwardly winced as she looked at her mother’s hands. Some mornings the crippling arthritis was better than others. This morning her hands—wrinkled, and spotted with age—resembled claws. She wondered how her mother would be able to pick up the utensils to eat. She was tempted to offer to feed her, but the last time she’d suggested that had earned her a twenty-minute lecture on self-sufficiency.
Ada must have noticed her staring. Patting her daughter’s arm, she murmured, “I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me.”
She bowed her head as her mother prayed over her breakfast. While Ada thanked God for her food, Julia prayed for strength and wisdom.
Was today the right day? And how best to broach the topic? Why were her palms sweating?
She waited until Ada had finished the egg and eaten half the bread. Some part of her wanted to believe that if her dream came true, Ada would improve. Another part knew it was only a matter of time until she’d be left alone in the big two-story house beside Pebble Creek.
“My baked goods have been selling well at Lydia and Aaron’s shop.”
“Ya. That’s wunderbaar.”
Julia nodded but vowed in her heart to push forward with her plan. She’d thought perhaps she should wait until her mother’s health improved, but after the visit with Doc Hanson last week, she knew that wasn’t going to happen. It was imperative she not wait until winter. The tourist crowds came during the summer and stayed through the fall foliage. If she was going to do this, she needed to do it now.
“Mamm, I’d like to expand my cooking business.”
“You don’t have a business.” Ada fumbled with the glass of milk, and they both reached to settle it. “You have a hobby.”
Rising and walking across the room, Julia fetched the herbal ointment the doctor had recommended. When she opened the jar, the smell of mint balm filled the kitchen. Pulling her mother’s left hand across the table, she worked the cream into the skin, rubbing gently with her fingers to massage the muscles until they were straightened.
“I’d like to make it a business, though.” She looked up, peering directly into her mother’s eyes.
Why was this so hard? Why was she so afraid Ada would say no?
She was thirty-seven years old, and she was still worried whether her mother would approve of her plans. “I’d like to open a café here in the house.”
Ada didn’t speak as Julia reached for her right hand and began rubbing the ointment into it. When she’d finished, her mother touched her cheek, leaving the faint scent of mint and summer.
“Dear Julia, how can you open a café in these rooms if you won’t be living here?” Behind the glasses were blue eyes filled with calmness, sadness, and determination.
“I don’t understand—”
“Do you think your dat and I would leave you here after we’ve gone on? Leave you alone?”
“Nein, Julia. It wouldn’t be proper. It wouldn’t be right.”
“What…” Julia’s heart was racing so fast she felt as if she’d run from the creek. She didn’t know which question to ask first. “How…”
“We always hoped you might marry. Your father spoke to you about this on several occasions.”
“I know your reasons, and I even understand them. The fact remains that you can’t live here alone once I’m gone, which according to Doc Hanson will be relatively soon.”
Julia jumped up from her chair, walked to the kitchen counter, and glanced outside. Her gaze fell on the rose bushes. They still held some of summer’s blooms—a deep, vibrant red.
“So you’re deciding I have to leave? Just like that? I have no say in it at all?” Her voice rose with each question.
“You’ll go to Pennsylvania. Back to live with my family.”
“I don’t even know those people.”
“They’re family, nonetheless. You’ve exchanged letters with them for years.”
“This is my home, mamm. You would kick me out of my home?”
Ada bowed her head. She didn’t speak for the space of nearly three minutes—long enough to boil another egg. When she looked up, her words were gentle, but they still made Julia want to scream. “God is our refuge and strength, dochder.”
“The Psalms are not the answer to this!”
“Always you can find the answers in Gotte’s Word.”
Julia closed her eyes and forced her emotions to calm down. When she looked at her mother again, she saw the same quiet, loving woman who had been beside her every day of her life. What she recognized, in her mother’s eyes, was kindness—and it confused her as much as the decree she had just issued.
“There’s no changing your mind?”
“Nein. The papers were drawn up before your dat passed. It’s why we agreed to sell the pastureland to Mr. and Mrs. Elliott. This home will be sold when I pass, and the money will be put in a trust for you, to help support you the rest of your life—”
“On the condition you live in Pennsylvania with my family.”
“Why are you telling me this now?” Julia’s voice was a whisper. How could her life have taken such a catastrophic turn? When she’d slipped out of bed this morning, she never would have imagined that her days in this home, her days living beside Pebble Creek, were numbered.
It was true she hadn’t been overly social. She couldn’t remember the last singing she’d been to, but then she was not a girl. She was a woman.
Instead she’d waited. She’d done what a good daughter should do, followed all the rules, and waited. For what? So she could be turned out of her home. So she could be told once more what to do.
It wasn’t fair.
And she hadn’t seen it coming. She had never expected such an answer. She had never dreamed her mother and her father—she mustn’t forget he had agreed to this plan—would betray her this way.
No, she’d been busy designing a café in the bottom floor of their home. Where should she put the tables she would purchase from David King? What type of sign would best attract customers? What would be the best location for it? Should she advertise in the Budget? What design should she use for the menus?
None of those things mattered if she would be living in Pennsylvania.
“Why now?” she repeated.
“Why? Because you asked.” Her mother stood, gripped her cane, and shuffled out of the room.
Leaving Julia alone, staring out at the last of the crimson roses.
*Review to come!!!! Stay tuned! ;) ~ASC