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The Christmas Admirer

By Laura V. Hilton

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Chapter 1

Susanna King paused midway through the door to the kitchen and stared at the single, long-stemmed red rose, artfully arranged with baby’s breath and a green fern-type plant, sitting in the middle of the table.
She’d been the last one to bed the previous nacht. She’d stayed up late reading A White Christmas in Webster County and had trailed Daed upstairs over an hour after he’d gone.
There’d been no rose, red or otherwise, on the table then, for sure and certain.
With trembling fingers, she set the lit lantern on the table and touched a soft red petal. She pulled the white envelope free from the long plastic card holder. Susanna was written on it in a neat, block print.
Her breath quickened and she looked around, hoping for some clue to who had been in the unlocked haus.
Nothing. Not even a footprint left on the recently swept and scrubbed floor.
She carefully lifted the flap and pulled the card free. White, with a red rose on the left side. “With love” was printed in gold script on the upper right corner.
And in the same block print as on the envelope, the words, “I have loved you with an everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31:3) Always, Your Secret Admirer.”
If only she could take this card, march out to Daed’s glass-blowing shop, and confront Benaiah with what she wanted to be true. Proof he was her secret admirer.
But it wasn’t possible. He hadn’t even arrived at work yet. And she knew his handwriting. He’d written her several notes during the too-short time they’d courted last year, and it didn’t in any way resemble this.
Didn’t he know how much it hurt to see him every day when he came to work for Daed? He’d shattered her heart with his breakup, and she guessed, from the sheen of tears in his eyes, it hadn’t been any easier for him.
But his resolve stood. Ten months ago, his parents died, and with them the planned wedding. He couldn’t—wouldn’t—ask her to step in and raise his younger sisters or take care of his Großeltern. He hadn’t asked. Didn’t he know she would’ve gladly—gladly—volunteered?
She’d stopped short of trying to convince him though. He wouldn’t have listened and she wouldn’t resort to begging. It was better to let it end with a semblance of dignity.
Dreams should make noise when they died a violent death. A loud scream, a cry of pain, and a shattering similar to the breaking of glass would’ve been appropriate. They shouldn’t be taken from you silently, without warning.
She blinked, hoping to clear her blurry vision, and slid the card back into the envelope. This would be placed with her collection of cherished treasures from her unknown lover. Even if it they weren’t from Benaiah. Someone loved her, but she worried she might be cheating on Benaiah by accepting the gifts. Not that she could return them even if she wanted to because his identity was still a secret. She slid the card into her pocket for now. She needed to start breakfast.
She mixed up dough for cinnamon rolls, covered the bowl with a towel, and set it near the stove to rise. They’d be a nice treat for Daed and Benaiah when the rolls came out of the oven, all warm and gooey. Then she sliced a banana, arranged the pieces on the pan of oatmeal she’d prepared the nacht before, and slid it into the warm oven to bake.
“Gut morgen, Susie.” Daed shuffled into the room in his slippers—the wood floors were cold—and stopped beside the door. He reached for his old work coat, slid shoes on his feet, and slapped his hat on his head.
“Gut morgen, Daed.” She set a kettle of water on a burner to heat for koffee.
Daed opened the door and stepped out into the darkness. “I’ll feed the chickens. You stay in where it’s warm.”
“Danki.” It would be nice to stay inside today. She had some preparations to do for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.
“I got something to talk to you about when I come in.” The door closed behind him.
“Wonder what it could be? And why didn’t he tell me last nacht?” Susanna opened the gas-powered refrigerator and reached for a few store-bought eggs since it was too cold for the hens to lay. Her hand stalled mid-reach. There, front and center on the shelf, was a glass bottle of Starbuck’s French Vanilla Frappuccino.
Her favorite treat, when she had a few extra dollars to spend on herself at the grocery store. She glanced behind her at the door then around the empty room. Benaiah knew her likes, but then probably half of the community had seen her in the grocery store, gazing longingly at the bottles when she didn’t have the money. She patted the note in her pocket. She’d enjoy her treat later while she reviewed her collection of notes. There had to be some clue. She shifted the bottle to the side.
She removed the carton of eggs and a glass jar of homemade butter and set them on the counter, then reached for a cast-iron skillet. Benaiah liked his eggs fried in bacon grease. If only she could fix him breakfast every morning after waking up… Her face heated and she hurried to distract herself from the scandalous thought by slamming the skillet down on the stove a little harder than necessary. She returned the butter to the refrigerator and got out a slab of bacon Daed had brought in the nacht before.
Their neighbors to the north, the Zooks, had their whole hog ground into sausage, but Daed preferred a variety of meat, so their cold storage was filled with bacon, sausage, roasts, chops, steaks, and more. It gave her more options to work with for meals. And more opportunities to impress Benaiah with her cooking skills. To show him she was more than capable of planning a variety of menu options for his family.
She grimaced at the prideful thought. Forgive me, Lord.
It’d be nice to cook for more than just her and Daed.
She walked to the hutch to retrieve plates. A gift bag decorated in fall colors sat on the top plate. Orange and yellow tissue paper stuck out of the top. On the attached tag, the same block print spelled out, “I thank mei Gott at every remembrance of you (Philippians 1:3). Happy Thanksgiving, Susanna.”
Her breath lodged in her throat. With a shaky hand she reached for the bag. Her fingers closed around a set of new potholders, kitchen towels, and washcloths, all decorated with colorful leaves. For her hope chest? Or for now?
Her hope chest. Definitely, her hope chest.
She smiled, grabbed the bag to her heart, and ran upstairs. She put the bag and the flower card on top of her dresser with the other hodge-podge of items. A stuffed snowman clutching a pine tree in January, with a box of hot chocolate packets. A couple tiny plush hearts with “I love you” and “Be mine” written on them along with a heart-shaped box of chocolates for February. A maple-leaf shaped candy dish filled with maple syrup candy for March—the sweets were long gone.
April had arrived with an “I’m blue without you” theme. A navy blue umbrella. A violet that had bloomed most of the summer on her windowsill. Material for a new blue dress. She hadn’t made it. It sat, waiting for her never-happening wedding. A sad reminder that it was over. The included bag of jellybeans in varying flavors and shades of blue had comforted her when she’d cried herself to sleep mourning the loss of her much-hoped-for marriage.
Susanna turned her back on the other months of memories and returned to the kitchen. She set out three plates, mugs, and bowls and laid eating utensils on the table—just in case Benaiah decided to eat breakfast with them. He did almost every day—both breakfast and lunch. Fueling her hopes and dreams. Yet his mumbled excuse was something about his grossmammi having enough to do without fixing meals for him.
A headlamp attached to a buggy lit the windows for a moment, and Susanna’s heart jumped. Benaiah.
She glanced at the flower, still in the center of the table.
Maybe he’d come in. Perhaps he’d have some reaction to them. And if he did, she’d know, for sure and for certain.
Lord, let it be so.

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