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By:Shelley Shepard Gray

“No,” Katie said quickly, cutting Winnie off before she could say a thing about Katie’s running-around years. Of her rumspringa.

Katie hated to be reminded of that time. Of the things she’d done. Primly, she put a stop to Winnie’s sly insinuations. “Everyone experiments a bit during their running-around years. I did nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing.”

Winnie looked at her in surprise. “I didn’t say you did.”

“I was baptized and joined the church in June, you know.”

“I know.” With a half smile, Winnie said, “I was there, remember?”

Just as Katie began to think that perhaps all talk of her past was behind her, Winnie pressed again. “But what about your time among the English?” she pressed, her voice light and full of mirth. “Tell us the truth. Didn’t you ever find an English boy attractive?”

Katie felt all three pairs of eyes turn her way, capturing her with direct stares. Her mother’s regard felt hot, like Winnie’s forgotten iron, searing the layers of lies she’d cloaked over herself. Anna merely looked curious.

She shifted uncomfortably and stayed focused on the poor pie shell, which had done nothing to deserve her harsh treatment with the fork.

“Do you intend to answer, Katie?” Winnie asked.

“There was no one special.”

Winnie raised a brow. “Indeed? I could have sworn I heard you keeping company with a certain Englischer with raven black hair. A terribly handsome English boy.”

“That is just gossip, of course,” Katie said quickly. Afraid to lie and bring her past sins into the present, she added, “I’m happy to be among the Amish. This is where I belong.”

“We all realize that, Katie.” With a snap of a freshly starched napkin, Winnie closed her trap. “Since there’s no one keeping you, and you’re so happy and all, won’t you please consider helping Jonathan and me, then? I’ve never had my chance for love, what with Sarah passing on at such a young age.”

“The decision was never mine, it was my parents’.”

Unperturbed, Winnie turned to her mother. “Okay, then. Mrs. Brenneman, will you and John please reconsider? The girls would be truly happy to have Katie’s company, and her presence would solve a fair amount of problems for both Jonathan and me.” She paused. “He has been working very hard at the lumber factory. It is a good job. He can’t afford to miss any time off work.”

“I am glad he is doing so well at the lumberyard. And I do understand that he can not take days off to tend to the girls.”

Anna bit her lip and looked down when Katie tried to catch her eye.

Winnie seemed to take the moment as a good sign. “Please?”

“I’ll talk to John,” her mother finally said, breaking the silence. “Perhaps we can come to some agreement, after all.”

Cheeks as rosy as a spring day, Winnie beamed. “Danke.” She turned to Katie. “And, thank you, too, Katie. There’s no one else I would trust to care for the girls.” Setting down the iron again, she said, “I’ll write to Malcolm today and tell them that there is still hope.”

“Nothing is decided, Winnie.”

“But nothing is not decided, either.” Moments later, Winnie Lundy left them, twenty napkins neatly pressed, but at least half that many more left to do.

Irritation sliced through Katie as she glared at the chore. Surely the least she could have done was finish what she started! Oh, that was so like Winnie—determined and scatterbrained. More than one teacher had said it was a regrettable combination. “Well, now I must finish Winnie’s chore.”

“That girl doesn’t give up, does she?” Anna said with a laugh. “I thought she was going to start digging her heels right through the wood floor.”

Her mother chuckled. “She never was one to give up. Not even in a blue moon.” Crossing the kitchen, her mother sneaked up behind Katie and gave her a squeeze. “I’ll make everything all right, dear Daughter. Don’t fret.”

As always, her mother’s touch made her feel better. “I won’t.”

“Gut. Now you two finish dinner preparations. I’m going to go check on things in the front parlor. This latest batch of visitors is a handful, I’ll tell you that.” She bustled out of the kitchen.

When they were alone, Anna looked at Katie with concern in her eyes. “Katie, are you okay?”

She did not feel okay at all. Instead she felt dizzy and flushed, like she’d been bent over too long picking beans from the garden. “Jah. Sure. Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It just seems that you’re not as happy as I thought you’d be.” Softly, she said, “I thought you liked Jonathan.”