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The Road Home (Apple Creek Dreams Series)

By Patrick E. Craig

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Chapter One
Jenny
"Du Schlecht'r!"
"Jenny Springer! You should not say such bad words! You should be ashamed."
Jenny's face burned as she reached behind the quilting frame with her left hand and pushed the errant needle through the quilt to complete her stitch. The finger of her other hand, showing a tiny red drop where she had pricked herself, went into her mouth. She stared angrily at the quilt she was working on. The design was awkward and the edges of the pattern pieces were puckered where she had attempted to sew them together.
"Oh, Mama, I will never, ever, be a quilter like you. I just can't do it. I'm a failure." Jenny felt a familiar annoyance grow in her as she stared at the poor piece stretched on the frame in front of them.
Her mother's shocked expression softened somewhat and she put her arm around the girl's shoulder to calm her.
"Quilting is definitely a gift from God, and it is true that you do not yet seem to have the eye for it. But you are gifted in so many other ways and your daed and I are so proud of you. Don't be disheartened. Sometimes you are a little eigensinnig und ungeduldig and these are qualities that do not fit well with quilting. You must learn to still your heart and calm the stream of thoughts rushing through your head."
Jenny reached behind her head and rubbed her neck. Her foot tapped on the floor and she bit her lip. A single tear ran down her cheek and her chin quivered. She took a deep breath and stuck the needle back into the pincushion.
"I need to stop for a bit, Mama. This quilt is making me vereitelt!"
Even in her present state, Jenny was a lovely girl. Her reddish gold hair framed a strong brow and deep violet eyes that could flash with annoyance in an instant or radiate the most loving kindness a moment later.
Jerusha Springer reached down and enfolded Jenny in her arms.
"Sie sind meine geliebte dochter," her mother whispered softly into the untamable curls that refused to be controlled by the heavy hairpins and happily tumbled out from under the slightly askew black kappe on Jenny's head. Jenny turned on her stool and her arms crept around her mother's waist. She held on as though she would never let go.
"Are you ever sorry that you got me instead of Jenna, Mama?" Jenny whispered.
Jerusha paused, thinking of the geshecnk vom Gott that had been her first child.
"I was given Jenna and then I was given you, my dearest. Jenna was a wonderful little girl, and your papa and I were blessed beyond measure by having her. When she died, Reuben and I didn't know how we would ever go on with our lives. But God, in his infinite mercy and kindness, sent us a wonderful child to fill the emptiness in our hearts. I am in awe at how unser barmherziger Gott knows exactly what we need. Sorry? No, my darling, I will never be sorry that you came to us. There will always be a place in my heart for Jenna, but I have you to love and hold and this feeling I have for you is beyond anything I could have ever asked for in a dochter."
Jenny clung even tighter to her mother. Her mother's arms had always been a safe haven for her, since the day Jerusha rescued her from the great snowstorm so many years ago. Jerusha had kept Jenny alive by holding the child next to her heart all through the long nights until Papa and Uncle Bobby had rescued them, and that was the earliest memory Jenny had of her mother. The calm, steady beat of her mother's heart comforted her and it was always in this place of refuge and life that she felt the most secure. But today, even in her mother's arms, she could not still the turmoil in her heart. She pulled away from Jerusha and began to talk in a rush.
"Mama, don't you ever wonder where I came from, and who my birth mother was? Maybe I'm the daughter of criminals, or murderers. Maybe there's a bad seed in me that will come out some day. It makes me afraid sometimes."
Jenny saw the look of surprise on her mother's face as she answered.
"These are things that we can never know, and you must not worry or fret about them. 'Be anxious for nothing …'"
"I know, I know, Mama, but sometimes I do worry. I would never want to do anything that would bring shame on you or Papa. But sometimes I think that I will never find real peace until I know… and yet that is impossible."
Jenny grabbed up a scrap of material and wiped another drop of blood from her finger, then crumpled the cloth and threw it down. She felt like there was a tight band around her head and she rubbed her forehead without thinking.
Jerusha took a breath and then continued to try to calm her daughter.
"You are so standhaft in all your ways. Many times it has been your downfall, and your papa and I often have to pick you up and dust you off when sell geht su weit, when you go too far. But that same quality has helped you to overcome difficulties and the accomplishments in your life are proof of that."
Jerusha reached over and softly stroked Jenny's cheek.
"You are a wonderful student and your scholastic achievements are many. No one in our community has such a grasp of the history of our people as you do. You will be a teacher that can pass down to your children the things that keep the Amish separate and distinct from the world."
Jenny looked away and shrugged her shoulders.
"I don't think I will ever have children, Mama."
Jerusha stiffened and a fleeting frown passed over her face.
"Why not, my darling?" she asked, quietly.
"I don't think any man could put up with me, for one thing, and for another, I think I'm just too independent. I'm not sure I could ever submit to a husband ruling over me."
Jerusha's mouth tightened slightly, and Jenny could see that her statement concerned her mother.
"If I were true to our ordnung I would tell you what my grandmother told me when I was a girl, and insist that you follow it," Jerusha said. "She used to say that marriage is not built on love but on the needs of our community and our faith first."
"But, Mama …" Jenny said.
"Let me finish, Dochter," Jerusha said quietly. "Because I loved your father so much before we were married, I will tell you that there may come a time in your life when you meet a man whom you will love so deeply that you will gladly surrender everything of yourself into his care and protection. I used to be so bound up in my quilting that I thought there was no room in my life for love or marriage. But the first time I looked into your father's eyes, I was lost."
Jerusha's face softened and she smiled at a secret memory. She took Jenny's hands in hers.
"Why, Mama! You're blushing," Jenny laughed. "I can understand why you lost your heart to Papa. He is definitely a handsome man."
"Did I hear someone talking about me?" a voice asked from the hallway.
Reuben Springer came into the room. His face was stern, but there was a smile behind his eyes.
"Papa!"
Jenny broke free from her mother and ran to her daed.
Reuben took the girl into his strong arms.
"It is always the best part of my day, when I come home to my girls," he said as he kissed his daughter on the forehead.
"I used to have to bend down so far to reach you," he whispered. "Now you are all grown up."
His wife smiled at him. There was still a tinge of pink in her cheeks.
"I can still make you blush, eh, Mrs. Springer?" he asked.
Jenny looked at the two of them and realized that they were lost in each other's eyes. I feel so safe when I am with Mama and Papa. They love each other so, and I know they love me. I wish I could be done with the questions in my heart and just be here with them. My thoughts are like caged animals pacing back and forth. Will I ever find peace?
A frown passed over Jenny's face like a small dark cloud and her father noticed it.
"What is it, Dochter?"
"Jenny was asking me about her birth parents," Jerusha said. "The not-knowing about her past troubles her."
A small frown creased Reuben's face.
"Why, Jenny, you must not concern yourself with things that you cannot know," he said. "When your mother found you, there was no identification or any means to discover who you were. The police found a man's body in Jepson's pond the next spring, but he had been in the water far too long to make a clear identification. The wrecked car was stolen in New York, so there was no way to trace the man. You must be content with the wisdom of God. He sent you to us because he knew you needed us and we needed you and that is all we need to know."
"But, Papa, sometimes I feel I'm a stranger, that I don't really belong here."
Jenny saw the pain in her father's eyes and stopped.
"I'm sorry, Papa. I didn't mean it exactly that way. I don't know why it is so important to me to find out these things, but it is. Sometimes I think I will never be who I am supposed to be until I find out who I really am."
She looked down at her hands.
"It doesn't help that I am so stubborn."
"Your Mama was as eigensinnig as you when I first met her," Reuben said. "Even twenty-four years later, I feel the sting on my face where she slapped me the first time I kissed her."
"Husband!" Jerusha exclaimed, as rosy pink once again invaded her cheeks.
Reuben smiled at his wife and then looked at Jenny. His voice took a sterner tone.
"She has changed over the years and you must change too. For the good of our family you must put these things out of your mind and go on with your life."
Jenny felt a small flash of anger at her father's words. She wanted to speak but wisely stayed silent. She was nineteen years old and she wondered when she would get to be in charge of her own life. Then she remembered that no one really knew how old she was. Everyone just assumed she was nineteen.
She took a different approach.
"Papa, maybe if I did know, I would be more peaceful inside and not be so much trouble for you and Mama. Maybe if you helped me to find my birth parents I could be a better dochter to you and …"
Jenny saw her Papa stiffen at her words. She suddenly realized that she was on dangerous ground. There was an uncomfortable silence and then at last Reuben spoke.
"Jenny, I love you very much but I am still the head of our home and until you are married and under the care of your husband, I will decide what is best for you. There is much in the world that you do not understand. God has entrusted me with your care and safety for a good reason. The man who you were with may have been your father, or not, but judging by what the police found in the car he was not a good man. There were drugs and alcohol in his possession …"
"But what if he wasn't my father and he just stole me or …"
Jenny saw a look come into her father's eyes that she had not seen very often and she knew she had gone too far.
"Dochter! I do not wish to pursue this conversation. I know what is best for you and going down this path will only cause you heartache and sorrow. Now I want you to put these wild ideas behind you! We will not discuss this further!"
Jenny stared at her father and he stared back at her. She felt the tension thick between them but she did not know how to turn back. The whole discussion was spiraling out of control but she could not help herself. She started to speak but her mother intervened by placing her hand on Jenny's arm and squeezing a warning.
"Your father is right, Jenny. You must listen to him and respect his desires. Now, is anyone hungry, or should we go on working on this quilt?"
Jenny took a deep breath, looked at her masterpiece and smiled ruefully. The star design she had labored over for so many hours was crooked and wrinkled and the colors she had chosen clashed.
"I think we had better have dinner, Mama. I don't think there is anything that we can do to fix this mess."
This discussion is not over, Papa!
"Well, let's go wash up then," Reuben said. "I'll split some kindling for the stove and Jenny can go out and close in the chickens."
"All right, Papa," Jenny said, still stinging inside from Reuben's rebuke. "Do I need to bring in any milch, Mama?"
"Yes, dear," Jerusha said, "there's some fresh in the cooling house."
Jenny banged out the back door while her parents shook their heads.
"She is so impetuous," Jerusha said. "I worry that there will come a time when she crashes into a predicament that we can't get her out of. But you must not be so hard on her. After all she is nineteen and already becoming a woman."
"I know that, but she is headstrong and it worries me greatly," Reuben said. "She also has courage and resolve, and I have a feeling that she will need them soon. I want to keep her from that as long as I can, until she is better prepared to deal with hard choices."
"I'm concerned about her desire to find her real parents, husband," Jerusha said.
She hesitated and then spoke out her greatest fear, the one that she had kept in her heart since the day they had signed the adoption papers.
"I want her to be happy, but in my heart I'm afraid that if she does find them, she will want to be with them more than with us. And they would be so different. We have raised her in the Amish way and it is all she knows. The world out there is filled with danger and I don't know if she would be able to understand it. I'm afraid for her, Reuben."
Reuben took Jerusha in his strong arms.
"I'm afraid for her, too, Jerusha," he said quietly, "and that is why I want her to forget about her past. There is nothing she can do about it, and I want to protect her from it. I'm trying hard not to crush her spirit, but the girl is rash and doesn’t think things through. She thinks she's all grown up, but she still has many kindisch ways about her. There may soon come a day that she goes her own way, and the thought of what she might choose … "
Jerusha felt a momentary chill grip her heart and she pulled herself deeper into the circle of Reuben's arms.

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