The next time the rumor started, Katie had been to town to do some shopping for her mam, who had come down with the flu. “Get everything on this list, especially the flu medication. The doctor prescribed it, and I really need to start taking it today. I wish I could go with you, but…” A coughing fit took Mary over, as she bent over trying to get control over the paroxysms.
“I’ll get everything. You go upstairs, and I’ll get you some water and aspirin.” Katie followed her up with the promised items. Tucking her mother in, handed her the two pills and a glass of water. “I’ll hurry. I promise.”
“Denki. The doctor is including medications for you and your dat. If you take them before you get sick, you may not get as sick as I am. Go!”
In town, Katie found all of the items on the list and purchased them. Seeing one of her quilting friends, she waved at her. “Sorry, Clare, but I need to get home. Mam has the flu and needs the medications I just picked up.” She indicated the bag of prescription flu medication in her cart.
“Before you go, have you heard anything about that rumor that said we had to leave here?” Clare was worried, especially since she’d heard nothing for so long.
“Nee, not really. I mean, nothing, I’ve heard nothing. Have you?”
“Nee. Nothing. I was wondering if that English person…”
Katie waited impatiently for Clare to finish her sentence. When she realized Clare wouldn’t finish her question, she nodded once. “Well, I have to go. I really haven’t heard anything. I hope it’s gone for gut!” She wheeled around, hurrying out of the store with her cart.
Clare looked around, hoping nobody had heard them. She didn’t want to be the reason that scary rumor started making the rounds.
Katie drove the horses faster, hoping to beat the threatening snow. Libby didn’t want to hear her “what if” stories anymore, and the other teens were beginning to get tired of her stories as well. As happy as she was imagining her future with Amos, her responsibilities, her pretending to be a good Amish girl in spite of her own failings, were all pressing in on her again.
As she drove, she thought about the rumor. Could it come back to life? Ja, I think it could. It should, but with a twist.
But if I did…
A razor over the skin blossoming red.
Pulling into her parents’ yard, she hurried into the barn, aware that the snow was beginning to fall. Inside the house, she tiptoed to her parents’ bedroom. Seeing her mam tossing and turning, she knocked softly on the door. “Mam? I have the medicine here.” She pulled it out of the bag and read the dosing instructions on her mother’s vial of medication. “Okay, you have to take two pills.” Making sure her mam still had water, she shook the pills on her hand and gave them to Mary. “I’ll make sure Dat takes his medication as well. Get some sleep, and I’ll make supper.”
“I’ll bring some chicken broth and crackers for you when I make supper.”
Mary definitely didn’t have any appetite but knew she would only get stronger if she ate something. “Okay.”
Downstairs, Katie put everything away and started supper. Filling a mug with chicken broth, pieces of chicken and potatoes, she took them with fresh water up to her mam. “Are you awake?”
“Ja. That smells gut! What did you make for supper?”
“Baked chicken, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. Here.” Katie sat on a chair, watching her mother struggle with the soup and her absent appetite.
“Okay, I’ve eaten everything I can. Denki. I’m going to go to the bathroom, then go to sleep.”
“Goodnight.” Katie hurried down, wanting supper to be over so she could think of how to bring her rumor back to life while at the same time hoping someone, anyone would stop her. She didn’t want to do this. She didn’t want to lie and start trouble, but it was as her mam had said. There was something wrong with her character. It brought her trouble, and the trouble spilled out of her in the most harmful, painful ways.
She didn’t deserve Amos. She didn’t deserve a simple life or happiness. She was broken and wrong, and while she could hold herself together for short spurts, eventually, it all fell apart.
“Dat, Mam had me get medication for the both of us. We need to take it before we start eating.” She read the instructions on the little box.
“How is she? Did she eat?”
“Some broth and water. She just took her first dose.”
After the two of them ate, Katie washed and cleaned up the kitchen. Looking into the living room, she saw her dat reading. “Dat, did you want to study with me?”
“Ja, for a time.”
Her dat put the well-worn, leather-bound Bible on his lap and Katie sat down beside him. Together, they read the passages out loud until Dat began to yawn.
“I should go to bed,” he said.
“Wait!” Katie wasn’t tired enough yet. If she had a chance, she’d do something horrible.
“Is everything okay?”
“Do you remember when Uncle Levi would bring us candied apples?”
Her dat smiled, and his featured softened. “Ja. My brother was always doing kindnesses for us. He’s the reason I learned enough of carpentry to start a business here. And he never said a harsh word, even when you told that foolish story about him having a body in his cornfield. I miss him.”
Looking at her dat’s face, the happiness in her eyes, Katie couldn’t speak. The truth caught painfully in her throat like a chicken bone. She coughed.
“Katie, you’d best go upstairs and get some sleep. I’d hate for you to succumb to the same terrible flu your mam has. Rest is good for the soul, heart, and body.”
Her dat kissed her on the cheek. “Go,” he said, giving her a light push from the sofa. “Into your night clothes, and make sure to put on the extra quilt.”
But even as Katie went to her bedroom, lit the lamp, and shut the door, she couldn’t lay down. “Get out!” “We don’t want you here!” “You are sick and horrible, go away!” the faces of the two English women from so long ago swirled in her mind. She embraced them. Lies were safe. Comforting.
She would restart the rumor, but for it to work, she had to make it seem like it came from someone else entirely. It should happen while Mam is sick.
Having decided that, Katie blew out the lamp and went to sleep.
Not tomorrow. She was seeing Amos tomorrow night. But soon.
As Katie was coming home from her client, she searched ahead of her, looking for friends who had little experience with the English. Seeing Barbara, she waved, looking solemn. “Barbara. How are you?”
“I’m fine, but you look like something bad has happened.”
Katie sighed and looked around. “Nee, I can’t say anything.”
I shouldn’t say anything. This is wrong. But lies were so much easier than the truth.
Barbara asked, “What? Is it bad news? It has to be!”
“I’d better not say anything.” Katie signaled for the horses to begin walking again.
Just let it go. Please.
But Barbara had taken the bait. “Wait! I won’t say anything. Please.”
Katie sighed and pulled closer to Barbara as the lies began to flow, “I just heard tell that that English person has started again.”
“Nee! Did you hear the person, or…”
“Oh, no, no! Thank Gott! I would have run away, screaming!” Katie hesitated, just long enough for Barbara to lean closer. Katie whispered, “Nee, someone else told me they heard. Only now, the person is making threats against us.”
“Who? What kind of threats?”
“I promised I wouldn’t say. I don’t know what kind of threats. The person I spoke to was really scared and just wanted to leave. I’m sorry. I really need to go. My mam is still getting over the flu, and I think Dat is sick now.”
“Okay. Just be careful from now on! Especially when you make deliveries outside the community!”
“Ja, I will. Mam is going to want to go with me all over again.”
Even as the feeling of excitement and relief flowed over Katie, it was tinged with guilt. She really was broken inside. Maybe it would be better for all of them if she left the buggy, wandered off into the snow and was never seen again.
Was that how Esther had felt?
Katie blinked as her vision blurred. Thankfully, the horses knew the route home well because Katie could hardly see through her tears.
Over the next few days, the rumor roared back to life, seeming to grow day by day. Katie didn’t hear the new iterations it took on—she was now busy taking care of her recuperating mam and ailing dat. She didn’t want to hear the rumors. The relief she’d found in telling them couldn’t compare to her guilt. When she could, she escaped to her quilting room and worked on her current orders.
The next Sunday was a Meeting Sunday. David and Mary, still weak but recovering, decided to go to services with Katie. After the meeting had ended, the supposed threat was the topic of the entire community. Katie had to listen, and it was worse than she could have imagined.
“What? What are you saying?” Katie covered her mouth, not wanting to draw too much attention to herself. “Sorry…” She was so sorry.
“Nee, you’re shocked. We all are! You’ve been stuck at home, nursing your parents. Anyway, everyone has heard that the English person is saying they want us gone…but now, they are making threats!”
Katie swallowed her hot coffee as fast as she could without burning her throat. “What kind of threats?”
“Nothing specific. But we are all worried. Parents aren’t letting their teenagers go out for their running around. Families walk with their kinder to school. Everyone is home before dark, and everything is locked up tight.”
Libby set her plate down across from Katie and her friend, Clare. “Katie, Clare, are you talking about the new things being said?”
“Ja, I just heard!” Katie placed her sandwich back on her plate. It tasted like ashes. “I’ve lost my appetite. After hearing that, I just can’t eat.”
Libby looked closely at her friend. She’s upset, but something still doesn’t feel right.
One of the younger girls, a chubby blonde named Anna, said, “I heard they’re calling us a cult. Just because of our Plain dress, modesty, and refusal to rely on things of the world.”
Katie paled. “A cult? Who told you that?”
Libby cut in. “That sounds like gossip, Anna.”
“It’s not gossip. I heard it from Sarah, but please, do not ask her anything! Her parents overheard her saying what she was told and they got angry with her. So now, she’s grounded and can’t even go to the quilting frolic next weekend.”
“Oh…I’d better stay away from that topic with her, then. Is she allowed to spend time with us here?”
“Ja, but only under the supervision of her mam.”
Katie grimaced. She knew what that was like. Except, of course, Katie deserved her parents’ censure. Even now, a part of her wanted to fan the flames of the rumor she had started.
Amos approached the girl’s table. “Katie?”
“You look like you’re on another planet. What’s wrong?”
“Oh, nothing, unless you count this horrible rumor coming back.” Why had she brought it up again? “Forget it. I’m sorry.” Katie put her chin on her hand. It was all getting away from her.
“Ach, ja. I didn’t want to say anything, because you were so busy taking care of your parents. How are they feeling?”
Reminded of her mother’s continuing fragility, Katie twisted around on the bench and caught sight of Mary. “She’s tired, but not too bad. Let me go see what she wants to do.”
Her mam agreed to allow Katie to stay with the youth until the sing started. “I’m staying here. Dat is still feeling okay, but Mam is starting to feel tired again. She says he’s going to take her home and she’ll nap. It’s a gut thing I saved some leftovers from last night for them. All they’ll have to do is reheat them in the oven when it’s time to eat supper.”
Katie stayed carefully away from the topic of English threats to the Amish. After her parents went home, she wandered among her friends, joining groups of teen girls and listening to all the gossip about what was happening. First on the list for everyone seemed to be the demand that the Amish leave Big Valley and settle elsewhere. As she mingled, Katie was able to get caught up on all the theories. “Mei Gott, Barbara, this is scary! Saying we’re a cult? I understand from Libby that Sarah’s parents have grounded her for taking part in the rumor.”
Barbara grimaced, her pretty face wrinkling in fear. “Ja, so we are all careful not to talk about this around our parents. You’d best take the same precautions.”
While Katie was involved in talking with the other girls, Libby took the opportunity to get Amos’s attention. “Amos, I’m getting a very funny feeling about Katie. I know she’s been preoccupied, taking care of her parents. But I heard from Barbara that Katie – she’s the one who mentioned hearing of this rumor even while her parents were ill. And she’s the one who told me in town about someone overhearing something.”
“That doesn’t mean anything.”
“Maybe it doesn’t, but I can’t help feeling that Katie is more involved with this rumor than she’s letting on.”
“Are you saying Katie started the rumor?” Amos was disoriented and more than a little upset. He felt his heart pounding as though he’d just run a marathon. Why would Katie lie like that? “She knows better!”
“Shhh! I don’t want her to hear me! I just get a funny feeling about this. She looks innocent…who knows, maybe she is. But I can’t get rid of that feeling.”
Amos waved her concerns off. “I wouldn’t worry about it. She’s getting ready to begin baptism instruction. Why would she endanger her position here in Big Valley?” He turned to return to his friends.
“Amos, wait! I have more. I went to her house last week. You know she likes to create all these ‘what if’ stories, right? I noticed that her stories all have some English person who causes problems, like a car accident that hurts one of us.”
Amos turned, caught by Libby’s words. “What? Ja, I know about her ‘what if’ stories. She has a vivid imagination. . .”
“Ja, but what if it’s more than just being vivid in her stories? Amos, I realized that, in every one of her stories, our community winds up being harmed by the actions of someone outside. I’m going to go now, but please, think about this.”
Amos nodded shortly. He didn’t want to admit it, but Libby’s words had disturbed him. He, too, had noticed that quality in Katie’s stories. Could she? Is Katie the one who started this rumor? But that’s more than just a story. It’s hurting our whole community. Everyone is scared.
He didn’t get the chance to return to his friends. Instead, his older brother, Eli, waylaid him this time. “Ach, what is it, Eli? I want to talk to my friends!”
In answer, Eli clasped his strong fingers around Amos’s upper arm, practically dragging him toward the back porch. “We have to talk.” Outside, he pushed Amos into the swing on the porch. “Ever since you started seeing Katie, I’ve gotten a distinct feeling there’s something going on with her. Oh, ja, she obeys her parents and she earns money with her quilting. But she says things that don’t make sense, and she’s always watching everyone.”
“Eli!” Amos, completely out of sorts by now, threw his hands in the air. “What is it with you? I’ve been dating Katie for two years now. And you’re just now beginning to tell me you don’t like her because you think she’s…what…trouble?”
“I didn’t say anything before because you were just getting to know her. And I wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure about her, but I had to let you know how I felt since I see you’re getting a lot more serious about her.”
“There you are, Eli. Are you talking to him?” Annie Yoder, Eli’s girlfriend, dropped down next to Amos.
“What? You, too? What is this, ‘gang up on Katie’ day?” Amos was getting angry now—his normally mellow voice was low and rough now with anger.
“Amos, I’ve also gotten the same sense that Eli has. She’s trouble. She has problems with being truthful.”
“Well, I can tell that you just love her, Annie. Excuse me if I don’t buy what you’re selling. I’m going to go talk to Michael.” Before his brother could grab him again, Amos had bounded off the swing and jumped over the fence surrounding the porch. He landed in a snowdrift, slipped a little before righting himself, and jogged off.
But even though Amos didn’t want to doubt Katie, he knew something was wrong. She was sweet, but she also told disturbing stories. And she got tense when he sat too close to her. Also, he had watched her eyes light up, and her lips twitch, almost smiling, when the rumor had first started. Now, she seemed genuinely afraid, but was it of the Englisher or for herself?
What if he was wrong about her? Feeling distinctly moody, he was silent as he joined his friends.
“Hey, Amos! What’s wrong? You look like you ate a bad pickle or something.” Andy chuckled at his bad joke. But as he saw Amos’s face grow even moodier, his laughter died away.
“Nothing. It’s nothing. What’s going on with your carpentry work?” Amos wanted to talk about anything but Katie.
“Uh…gut. I guess. Why talk about work on a Sunday? How are things going with Katie? I’ve seen you taking her here and there.”
To give himself time, Amos took a long sip from his can of soda. Only, his impulsive jump from the porch had jostled the beverage in the can, and he took in more carbonation than liquid. Eyes watering, he choked and coughed, trying to push the liquid down. “Can we please not talk about her?”
Andy’s round, slightly dull face bore an expression of surprise. “Oh, guys, I think he had an argument with her!”
“Never mind. I’m leaving.” Amos wheeled around, angry that he couldn’t get relief from his doubts about his fiancée. Heading toward the barn, he ran to the ladder and upstairs. Hopefully here, he could get some peace and quiet so he could think. Sitting on the loose hay, he processed everything that Libby, Annie, and Eli had told him. Nee. There’s just no way. She has no reason to lie. She’s said she loves me, and I have to believe that. For nearly an hour, Amos sat in the hayloft, trying to convince himself. After all, I can’t tell Katie that people are starting to connect her to the rumor!
Amos had to get out of the barn. He needed some distance, just to get himself back under control. With the rumor, and now all of these accusations, he didn’t know what to believe. Amos hurried down the ladder. Coming around the side of the barn, he saw Katie. She looked worried.
Amos’s heart went out to her. “Katie! What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, now. I just couldn’t find you. I saw your buggy still parked over there, but when I couldn’t find you, I got scared. Is everything okay?”
Amos sighed. Seeing Katie at this moment wasn’t what he needed or wanted. Still, he didn’t want her knowing what he was feeling and thinking. Forcing his face into a weak smile, he shrugged. “Sorry. I got into a heated discussion with one of the guys.”
“Nee! I hope it’ll all be okay!”
“I don’t know. I just need to be on my own for a little, okay? I’ll come to find you soon.”
What if he knows?
But how could he know?
Katie asked, “Amos? Who did you argue with?”
“Never mind, Katie. It’s between me and…that person. I’ll join you soon. I just need to get back into a gut state of mind.”
“Well…okay.” Katie was hurt and queasy. If only she’d been able to stop herself from bringing back this stupid rumor! Head hanging, she walked away. Who was Amos arguing with? She’d seen him talking with his brother. Was Annie was with them? Annie had been acting strangely towards Katie lately.
What if Annie suspected?
Katie had to do something to deflect that suspicion away from herself. Desperate, she let her imagination run free. She had to find a solution to save her future with Amos.