Bad enough that Zanna abandoned James Graber and disgraced her family on her wedding day: older sister Abby Lambright is the one Zanna returns to, to reveal she’s pregnant. As speculation whirls around Cedar Creek, Zanna confesses and is shunned, yet refuses to reveal the identity of her child’s father. She spends her time at Abby’s little house making rag rugs, until finally—when Adah Ropp insists on knowing who disgraced Zanna, the Lambright family, as well as James and the Graber family–Zanna reveals that Adah’s own son, rebellious Jonny Ropp, is to blame. She can’t possibly marry Jonny because he’s left his family rather than be baptized into the Amish faith—not that he’ll ever settle down and marry anyone.
Home at Cedar Creek
Abby Finds Her Calling
James Graber inhaled the crisp October air and grinned up at the rising sun: his wedding day! All his life he’d lived in anticipation of something grand, something beyond the immense satisfaction of his carriage making, and finally, in about an hour, Suzanna Lambright would become his wife. As he gazed across the road, where the carriages were entering in a steady stream, the clip-clop! clip-clop! of the horses’ hooves made his heart sing to their ageless rhythm.
ZAN-na! ZAN-na! he heard in that beat. Silly, the things he thought of when he envisioned her pretty face gazing up at him in that playful way she had. Lord, please help me make her happy, every single day of our lives! he prayed as he continued watching their guests drive down the Lambrights’ lane. His mother and Zanna’s mamm, Treva, had been heading up the cooking and table setting all week, for the nearly four hundred friends and family members who would gather with them for this occasion–some from as far away as Holmes County, Ohio and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was glad to be marrying on a perfect autumn day, because it meant these folks from back East had a chance to celebrate with them: here in Missouri, Old Order Amish married any time during the year, not just in November. And what a backdrop for their day, all the sweet gum and maple trees ablaze in their red and orange glory, with a hint of frost to make them sparkle in the sunrise!
“That’s a mighty fine smile you’re wearin’, brother. I hope to see it gracin’ your ugly face every day now!”
James cocked an eyebrow. His younger sister Emma smoothed the front of her new blue dress as her snapping brown eyes challenged him to respond. “And what would ya have to make fun of if I were a handsome man, Emma?” he countered with a laugh. “Zanna thinks I’m downright perfect, ya know.”
“Gut thing, too. Old as you’re gettin’, none of the other girls’d have ya.”
“We’ll see what ya say about that when you’re spittin’ distance from thirty!” James shot back. Then, with a welling-up of love for this sister who kept their household running–as well as anyone could–he slipped his arm around her. “Denki for keepin’ Mamm’s head from spinnin’ off these last couple weeks, gettin’ ready for this wedding,” he murmured as he hugged her. “A lot of the weight falls on your shoulders, takin’ care of ‘em–”
“They’re our parents, James. They’ve been takin’ care of us all our lives.”
“Of course they are, Emmie, but–” James sobered, focusing on the window of Zanna’s upstairs room, in the tidy white farmhouse across the road. He couldn’t see inside, of course, but he liked to imagine her there . . . probably putting on her new dress and apron about now, with Treva and Abby, her mother and sister, helping her get ready. “Not my place to ask Mamm and Dat to move into the dawdi haus but I can’t help wonderin’ . . . do ya think it’ll go all right, when Zanna moves in with us? Mamm’s tongue cuts kinda sharp, and we all know how Dat’s hearin’ gets worse when he doesn’t want to listen to all her carryin’ on.”
“Zanna’s known them all her life, same as everybody hereabouts. Not like she’s walkin’ in blind.” Emma rested her head on his shoulder, a rare moment of affection from the girl who was usually busy at the stove or the sink or the washer, or looking after their parents while he built custom carriages. “Truth be told, brother, Zanna’s nothin’ but smiles when she talks about ya. Her eyes light up and she’s been a different girl these last few months since ya asked for her hand. I’m real happy for the both of ya.”
James smiled. His sister hadn’t been as generous with her praise when she’d talked about other young women he’d courted over the years. Maybe he was making up things to worry about–which wasn’t normally his way–because all in all, his times with Zanna had been the happiest he’d known. He looked forward to a long life with many children to bless them. Even Sam, Zanna’s older brother and the owner of the Cedar Creek Mercantile, had remarked about what a fine couple they made–how he thought James would be the steadying influence his impetuous youngest sister needed.
Imagine that! Sam Lambright, a stickler for the proper order of things, thought he could fashion Suzanna into a fine wife and mother. James suspected that would take some doing: Zanna wasn’t one who took to being molded into anyone else’s ideal. But what a happy challenge this presented! And what a fine-looking woman she’d grown to be. Truth be told, he secretly admired her tendency to think and speak for herself rather than to say jah and submit to the men in her life.
“I’m thinkin’ that with the next several weekends you’ll spend visitin’ the kin and collectin’ your presents,” his sister continued, “we’ll all have time to adjust to Zanna’s bein’ in the house. Same kind of change every family goes through after a wedding.”
“Jah, but change has never been Dat’s favorite thing. And ever since his stroke–”
“Mamm’s gotten crankier, keepin’ after him. Jah, there’s that,” Emma agreed with a sigh. “But Lord love ‘em, they’re gettin’ by as best they can. I’ll work on ‘em while you and Zanna’re out makin’ your family calls these comin’ weeks. They may as well get used to the fact that their last two kids have lives of their own.”
And what will we do when ya marry, Emma? James breathed deeply and then exhaled the tightness this thought caused in his belly. The day would come when his sweet, capable sister would leave them to cleave to her own husband, just as all their older sisters had done . . . which would leave him, as the only son, and Zanna to care for his parents. As well they should.
But it was no time for such downhearted thinking: his bride awaited him! Quickly kissing Emma’s temple, James released her. “I’m thinkin’ what with all the hens cacklin’ across the way, I’d best go over and help Sam with the last-minute details.”
“I’m sure they’re all missin’ Leroy about now,” Emma agreed wistfully. “Too bad he couldn’t’ve lived to see his little girl marryin’ the boy from across the road.”
“Just have to do the best we can with who we’ve got, ain’t so?” James smiled, determined that none of these fretting points would dampen his day. “Seeya in a few. Or would ya rather I helped ya get Dat over to–”
“Get outta here! Why do ya think I invited our big, burly carpenter cousins to stay with us last night?” Emma shook her white apron at him to send him on his way.
“Jah, you’re right about that. But don’t let it swell your head!”
“If ya dare to poke your face in that kitchen fulla women, ya might see how Mamm’s doin’. Tell her and Abby I’ll be there directly.”
James strode down the gravel lane, smiling at the pie pumpkins in the garden . . . waving at Zeke and Eva Detweiler and the two buggies of younger Detweilers following them–including the carriage he’d designed to accommodate young Joel’s wheelchair.
It struck him, how many of the parked, tipped-up buggies behind the Lambright barn had come from Graber Custom Carriages . . . how every family in Cedar Creek depended upon his vehicles and repair work. It was a gift, indeed, to live among the friends he served and to be entrusted with getting their families where they needed to go–and today, it seemed every man, woman, and child for miles around was showing up to wish him and Zanna well. Men in their black hats and suits chatted in clusters near the barn while their women entered the house to help with the wedding feast.
His gaze fluttered up to that bedroom window again as he trotted across the county road. Had Zanna come downstairs yet? Did she feel as frisky and excited as a new foal, like he did? In his black vest, trousers, and high-topped shoes, with a shirt so white it radiated its own light, James trotted eagerly past the Cedar Creek Mercantile building and down the long lane that led toward the Lambright house. In less than an hour, Zanna would be seated at his side, trying not to wiggle during Bishop Gingerich’s long sermon before they got called to stand before this gathering of family and friends–
James paused when a familiar figure stepped out the front door. Ordinarily folks came and went through the kitchen entry, but something about Abby Lambright’s expression announced she was on no ordinary mission. And she was headed straight for him.
“Gut mornin’ to ya!” he called out, hoping to dispel her gloomy frown as she pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders. Abby was a maidel, a few years older than he, and in his entire life he’d never known her to raise her voice or lose her temper–even when her willful little sister Zanna had gotten her in trouble while they were all growing up.
“James,” she replied with a stiff nod. Her eyes looked puffy yet her gaze didn’t waver as she stopped a few feet in front of him. “There’s something I’ve gotta tell ya, James, and–well, there’s no easy way to say it.”
Frowning, he stepped closer. “Somebody fall sick? Or get hurt carryin’ all those tables and pews and–”
“I wish it were as simple as that.” Abby nipped her lip, sniffling. “Zanna’s nowhere to be found. Didn’t sleep in her bed last night, and–and we have no idea where she might’ve gone or . . . why.”
Oh, but she felt horrible, being the bearer of tidings that had kicked James in the chest like a startled horse. As he crushed the brim of his hat in his sturdy hands, Abby ached for this man–in ways he would never imagine. How many years had she dreamed of being his bride? How many beaux had she discouraged because none of them measured up to James Graber, the handsome, soft-spoken carriage maker who lived within sight of her lonely room?
But James had no idea. Had eyes only for other girls. Saw her as a friend but never as a woman he could want.
Just as well, considering what I have to tell him right now, she mused. Never had she felt more embarrassed or sickened or worried, but she was the Lambright who’d been elected to break their news because she could do it without wailing like a fire siren. She hoped.
“What do ya mean, Zanna’s nowhere to be found?” James echoed. They could’ve been talking in a cavernous empty room, the way their voices had hollowed with shock.
Abby cleared her throat. “I spent the night in my new house–makin’ more room for outta town kin here at Sam’s–so I’m not sure what-all was said and done,” she hastened to explain. “But when Phoebe and Ruth heard Zanna slippin’ downstairs in the wee hours, they thought she was meetin’ up with you!”
He swallowed so hard his Adam’s apple bobbed above his black bow tie. “But I was home last night, keepin’ Dat and Mamm settled so they’d be rested for today’s–”
“I know that James, and–and I’m so sorry this has happened.” She gazed at him with as much compassion . . . as much empathy as she dared. This was no time to pour out her personal feelings: her little sister had done something outrageously foolish, and now two families–and their four hundred dearest friends–were about to suffer for it. “Matt and Sam drove out lookin’ for her earlier, soon as they realized she was missin’–”
James crammed his hat on his head and then yanked it off again. “Missin’?” he demanded hoarsely. “How does a girl in a house full of kin–and a brother who lets no one get away with any shenanigans–”
“If we knew the answer to that, maybe we’d know where to look. Or what she was thinkin’, to disappear this way.”
Abby wrapped her arms around herself, glancing back at the house. She simply couldn’t burden this poor man with the fact that they’d found Zanna’s pretty blue wedding dress snipped to ribbons on the floor of her closet. If that sight had torn her heart in two, what might the implications do to their lifelong friend, who looked more devastated by the second? “Mama’s fit to be tied–same as your Mamm,” she remarked sadly, “while Barbara and the girls’re frettin’ over all the food that’s been fixed. And now people are gettin’ here, expectin’ a wedding–”
“But ya can’t have a wedding without a bride. Is that what you’re tellin’ me, Abby?” he demanded curtly.
Tears spilled from her eyes. Of course James was more upset than she’d ever seen him, asking her questions no one could answer! What man wouldn’t be? But that didn’t help either one of them deal with this sticky situation, did it? “Jah, that’s the way of it, James. I’m sorry,” she murmured as she turned toward the house. “Truly I am.”
The aroma of roasted chicken and creamed celery mocked her as she headed for the kitchen entry, hugging herself to hold body and soul together. She’d said what had to be said, not that either of them felt the better for it. There was nothing to do but let the pieces fall where they may, and wonder if her runaway sister had any inkling of the feelings she’d hurt . . . the lives she’d changed before this day had even gotten started. And now that she’d informed James of the situation, there was still a kitchen full of women in tears, worried sick about what had happened to Zanna–not to mention about what they’d tell their many guests.
Behind her, men spoke in urgent tones, too. Her brother sounded even more irate than he had when they first discovered the bride was missing.
“ . . . knew it was just wrong for Suzanna to go by that ridiculous nickname–and wrong for us to allow it, but–”
“Seems a common part of rumspringa–tame enough–to see how we feel with a different name. I myself went by–”
“But Vernon, you surely never ran the roads in a car–we caught her at that once! With a cell phone and English friends who–”
“Tested my parents at every turn, Sam,” came the bishop’s spritely reply. “But none of this second-guessin’ solves our present problem, does it? Four hundred folks here, and a feast prepared. And a bride in hiding.”
The men’s conversation came to a halt a few yards behind her. Abby didn’t have to look to know Sam was raking his steel-gray hair with his hand, exhaling like an angered stallion. Then he cleared his throat pointedly. “Abby? The bishop wants a word.”
Sighing . . . aware that her older brother’s clipped, authoritarian tone had often inspired Zanna’s resentment, she glanced back: Sam stood stiffly alongside Vernon Gingerich, who appeared more stooped than usual. The bishop’s beard, salt sprinkled with pepper, brushed the top of his black vest as he fixed his gaze on her: his eyesight might not be so sharp anymore, but this man saw through to the heart of a matter better than most.
“Mornin’ to ya, Vernon,” Abby said with a sad nod. “But not one of our better mornin’s, ain’t so?”
“It’s another day our Lord’s given us to celebrate, no matter how we choose to glory in it–or to make a mess of things.” Vernon’s expression remained unruffled. “Heard of this happenin’ once, long ago, over in the Willow Ridge district. Case of cold feet on the groom’s part,” he added wryly. “But we’ve gathered here to worship God, and worship Him we shall. Tell your mamm and the other women to join us for the service, after which we’ll proceed with the meal, as planned.”
Abby’s jaw dropped. “But if the bride doesn’t come home–”
“Suzanna has made a choice, and she must eventually deal with its consequences,” the bishop pointed out.
“And we can’t just send folks home, after they’ve traveled days to get here, some of ‘em,” her brother Sam insisted. The lines around his eyes were etched more deeply now: his youngest daughter would indeed deal with the humiliation and worry she’d caused these past few hours . . . along with the ongoing speculation of every person in Cedar Creek, because they all did business in his store. “So we’ll be startin’ in ten minutes. Better you tell ‘em that than me, ain’t so?”
Abby closed her eyes against a retort. Surely Sam wasn’t afraid to enter that kitchen filled with clucking hens–was he? Raising four daughters and a son had taught him a talent for quelling arguments and protests with a single, purposeful look . . . but then, he’d never dealt with the mother of a runaway bride, nor the sympathetic friends who’d banded together to help his wife Barbara–and James’s mother, Eunice Graber–get through this horrendous event.
“Jah, there’s that,” she replied. “We’ll all be over directly, then.”
She gripped the doorknob, studying the familiar faces through the glass: some stood near the stove to comfort Barbara while others clustered around Eunice, near the long table laden with serving bowls, platters, and pitchers needed for the noon meal. Their eyes were wide, their kapps bobbing as they discussed today’s dilemma in strident voices that came through the sturdy Dutch door. It wouldn’t be proper to get their attention with a shrill whistle between her fingers, but it just might take that.
The rapid-fire clatter of horses’ hooves made her look up, just in time to see James racing down the road in his open buggy. Even from this distance, his urgent posture and focus on the road told Abby he wouldn’t be attending the church service.
And why would he? What groom would sit humiliated on the pew, the object of everyone’s curiosity, after his bride-to-be hadn’t shown up? He’s probably looking for Zanna, and dear Lord, please help him find her . . . help us all find answers to questions we never dreamed we’d be asking on their wedding day.
Abby opened the kitchen door and stepped inside the noisy room. Best to inform her mother and Barbara first, and proceed from there: thank goodness the two of them stood together at the stove, pulling large covered casseroles from the oven to hand over to their friends. “Mama! Barbara!” she spoke above the chatter. “The bishop’s made a decision!”
As the two of them looked up at her, the kitchen suddenly got quiet. All eyes were on Abby, all conversations suspended.
She clasped her hands, hoping all these women wouldn’t challenge what she was about to say. “We’re all to go over for the service–”
“Zanna’s come home then?” Barbara asked stiffly. She straightened to her full height, her face registering disapproval and then hope. “So the ceremony’ll go on as though nothin’–?”
“And she’s not come in here to explain to me first?”
Abby sighed. Her mother looked worse for the wear, eager for news of her runaway daughter yet prepared to give Zanna a piece of her mind for the way things had played out this morning. And wouldn’t it be just like her little sister to slip in and smooth things over with benign Bishop Gingerich rather than face their mamm and Sam’s wife, who’d worked just as hard at preparing for their four hundred guests? “No, it’s not like that. Vernon’s decided worship should go on, followed by the meal, rather than wastin’ everybody’s time and all this gut food we’ve cooked. We’d better get ourselves seated now, so he can start.”
“And does James know about this?” someone across the crowded kitchen demanded.
“Jah! Poor fella’s gonna be none too happy to find out–”
“And what of our poor Eunice here? She’s never been that keen on her boy marryin’–”
“Please–we shouldn’t make the others wait!” Abby spoke above the chatter. She looked sharply at Beulah Mae Nissley, their neighbor from down the road. Nobody needed the clatter of her gossip’s tongue when Mama’s feelings were unraveling and Eunice looked ready to explode. It wasn’t good that the bride’s mother and the groom’s stood in the same kitchen yet seemed miles apart, each with her own little band of supporters. “Be sure the stove’s off, and we’ll finish our cookin’ after we think on whatever wisdom the bishop might offer us.”
Thank goodness Phoebe, Barbara’s eldest daughter, took her mother by the elbow and the rest of the women fell into step behind them as they started for the barn. Abby remained behind, checking the stove burners and looking to be sure any perishable food was in the fridge. Her other nieces, Ruthie and Gail–her namesake–finished draping clean dish towels over the hot casseroles and then filed outside ahead of her with their heads bowed. It felt more like they were going to a funeral, even though their new dresses were the rich colors of fall foliage rather than black.
Abby gazed past Matt’s sheep sheds, scanning the pastures for a lone female figure, but only the ewes and their lambs grazed there, peacefully unaware of the turmoil inside the largest barn. The trees along Cedar Creek sparkled gold and yellow and orange in the sunrise, the most striking panorama of color they’d displayed in years–as though they’d known only a beautiful day would do for this wedding. Autumn always stirred something deep inside her, but Abby felt oddly bereft . . . ferhoodled about the day’s details and the way she couldn’t make them right and mend hurt feelings.
Why had Zanna run off, when she’d appeared so happy to be marrying James? And what would the poor man say to her if he found her?
“Abby! Abby, wait–what’s goin’ on now?”
James’s sister broke into a trot as she came down the long lane. Emma was to be one of Zanna’s newehockers, so she wore a new dress the same shade of royal blue the bride had chosen. When she sprinted to a breathless halt, Emma reached for Abby’s hand. “What’s this we hear about Zanna not bein’–”
“Jah, she slipped out durin’ the night, far as we can tell.”
“But how can that be, Abby?” Her best friend’s face looked splotchy beneath her fresh pleated kapp. “She and James had planned out all their visits to the aunts and uncles and–”
Abby had asked the same questions and gone over the same details a dozen times, and still she searched for answers. “When I got here this mornin’, Mama was carryin’ on about how the two of ‘em must’ve slipped off to elope–knowin’ how Zanna gets twitchy during the long services.”
“Jah, there’s that–even though both mamms know better.” Emma’s expression sobered as she glanced at the women filing into the barn. “Ya don’t think somethin’ . . . dangerous or nasty happened to her, do ya?”
Abby sighed as they walked toward the end of the line. “Thought of that, jah. But findin’ her perty new dress cut up on her closet floor–”
“Oh, Abby! And ya made all our dresses so perfect, too!”
“–and then hearin’ Matt say Zanna’s mare was gone sorta told the tale.” Abby gripped her friend’s slender hand, callused from doing all the cleaning and yard work her mamm could no longer manage. “And what of James? I felt so horrible, havin’ to tell him–”
“Ach, he was ready to throw things and have a hollerin’ fit. As upset as I’ve ever seen him, but worried, too,” Emma replied in a tight voice. “Truth be told, after James stormed outta the house Dat got so rattled my two cousins said they’d stay with him, so’s he wouldn’t fall and hurt himself–or pitch a fit during church, if Zanna showed up after all.”
“She’s gotten a lotta threads in a tangle, for sure and for certain. I’m sorry your dat’s not takin’ it so well.”
Emma smiled ruefully. “Better be checkin’ on Mamm before we get settled. No doubt she’s been stirrin’ the pot over here amongst all the women, and she might just walk right out of the service when she sees that Dat’s stayed home. You let me know if there’s anything I can do to help, Abby.”
As though you’ve not got enough to do, keepin’ track of your parents and brother, Abby mused as Emma slipped between the women in the doorway. Lord, be with us all as we figure out what to do next . . . and especially be with Zanna, wherever she’s gotten herself off to.