esuoH eeffoC yellA avaJ. Those six inch black letters arched in a horseshoe shape on the cafe’s large, plate glass window. Underneath them thick, wavy, painted fingers of steam rose out of a delicate, white, china coffee cup. The steam swirled its way up toward the letters. Hallie Lindstrom’s eyes lit on the words as she slid into the red cushioned booth. She wondered how the owner came up with the name Java Alley Coffee House. Not that she found anything wrong with the name, but the cafe sat in the middle of a row of buildings just off Main Street. No alley near it except the back one that the delivery trucks used. Hal had never known that one or any other alley in Wickenburg, Iowa to have a name. She ducked her head to peer under the advertising so she could look up and down the street. She glanced at her watch. Her boss, Barb Sloan, should have shown up by now. She said she would close the Home Health Office at noon and meet here for lunch. It was already 12:20. Doesn’t take very long to drive across this small town. Not much traffic any time of day and especially not at noon when everyone stops to eat. Hal had other things to do after lunch. She hated wasting time waiting for Barb. Impatiently, she leaned back and stared at the ceiling while she drummed the table with her fingers. A dark brown splotch on the ceiling tile at the fan’s base indicated a roof leak. The fan blades turned hypnotically slow. The air flow was just enough to keep a fly from lighting anywhere close to the blades. The insect was persistent, leaving and coming right back to try to light in the brown spot again. Hal looked around the room. Coffee always smelled better to her than it tasted. The different scents coming from the dozen coffee pots lined up behind the counter co-mingled together – hazelnut, french vanilla, southern pecan, and a variety of other flavors. She was thinking she should get the waitress’s attention and at least order a cup of coffee when she saw Barb hustling across the room. “I just about gave up on you,” Hal said. Breathless from rushing, Barb pushed her straight, brown, shoulder length hair away from her face and wheezed, “Had a last minute prospective client come in the office. Slowed me down, but I’m here now. Let’s order. The minute I get a whiff of this place I’ve got to have a cup of flavored coffee.” Barb waved at a waitress. Shirley Graham, age 60, hustled toward them. Her silvery blonde hairdo was plastered around her face by a red baseball cap adorned with a big white C on it. Dressed in a black turtle neck sweater covered by a pink cardigan with black slacks, she wore black, tied, sensible shoes. Her small cross earrings matched a cross dangling from a fragile, gold chain necklace. No customer could accuse Shirley of having a favorite sports team. She had a variety of sports caps in colors to match many of her outfits. Older than most of the waitresses, she held her own at the job. Shirley had been working long enough to be appreciated by her customers. Order book out in front of her and pen poised, she asked briskly, “How’s the day going for you two ladies?” Hal smiled. “We’re fine.” “But starved and thirsty,” added Barb. “What can I get you, Sweetie?” “I want a toasted cheese and ham sandwich and vanilla coffee,” Barb ordered. Shirley shifted her weight and peered down her nose at Hal. “I’ll take the same except I want hazelnut coffee.” “Be back in a jiffy, ladies.” Shirley wheeled and headed for the kitchen. The sway of her cross earrings caught the light and flashed as she walked, warning everyone to get out of her way. She had an order to fill. Barb leaned her elbows on the table and concentrated on Hal. “Now while we’re waiting for our food, fill me in on your love life. I’ve been dying to find out.” “Boy, you get right to the point. Nothing much to tell. This morning, John and some neighbors started building a clinic room on the side of the house. Soon Amish people can come to our home to let me treat them. I doubt I get much business, but it may be the best way I have of proving I can be a productive member of their society so I get accepted by the Amish community,” Hal said honestly. “I have to be accepted. It would make it hard on John and his children if I’m not.” Barb had a perplexed look in her hazel eyes. “The pay won’t be very good from Amish patients. You realize that?” “I know that,” Hal admitted. “In fact, there isn’t any pay. I will just be doing my share to help others.” “In that case, don’t you think you better keep working a full schedule for the Home Health Department? You’re one of the best nurses I have. I hate the fact that you’re cutting back.” Hal shook her head. “No, I can’t be two places at once. The Amish community needs to know they can count on me being home in the afternoons.” “Here you go, Sweeties,” Shirley said when she set the coffee cups in front of them. Waiting until the waitress departed, Barb pushed her cup over and leaned on the table to ask, “When’s the wedding?” As Hal fingered the rim of her steaming coffee, the scent of hazelnut rose from the cup. She didn’t look up when she answered, “Don’t know.” “I suppose you have been too busy to set a date?” Barb suggested, eying her. “Not exactly.” Puzzlement crossed Barb’s face. “Then what exactly?” Hal sighed. “John hasn’t brought the wedding up since he asked me to marry him,” she admitted reluctantly. “Don’t you think you should bring it up to him? It takes lots of planning for a wedding. You need to know what your deadline is,” Barb insisted. “Perhaps I should.” Barb looked concerned. “Mr. Lapp hasn’t changed his mind, has he? He isn’t expecting you to just be a live in nurse among other things?” “No!” Hal expelled adamantly. “I’m sure he wants to marry me.” “Good. Am I going to be invited to the wedding?” Hal giggled. “I’ll make sure you are.” “Keep in mind, maybe you don’t need much notice, but I do. I have to get a new dress,” Barb teased. Laughing, Hal said, “Noted.” After lunch, Hal was on the outskirts of town and coming up to Earnie Long’s repair garage and gas station. She decided to pull in and get a can of Cherry Coke. Earnie’s feet were sticking out from under a car in the garage. Hal walked to the overhead door and said, “Hey, Earnie, it’s Hal Lindstrom. I just want a can of pop. I can leave my money on the counter if you don’t want to stop what you’re doing.” Earnie, his receding strawberry red hairline smeared with grease, wheeled out from under the car on a trolley. He gave her an oil smudged smile. “Knock yourself out, my girl.” Hal grinned back at him. “Thanks.” The last business, she past was the Kent feed store. That place always seemed to do a good business. If you went by the amount of pickups in the parking lot. Outside of town was the tree nursery. From the look of the front lot, the nursery had just gotten in a new shipment to add to the choices that grew in the fields behind the building. In large black pots, a variety of skinny fruit trees, red buds, flowering cherries and maples had sparse, bare limbs reaching skyward. Colorado Blue Spruce, Douglas fir, and arborvitae, in various sizes mingled, with rose of sharon, honeysuckle and privet hedge shrubs. Once Hal was on the highway, she took in the rolling hills of southern Iowa. Oaks, cottonwoods, dogwoods and plum limbs swelled with buds. Weeping willows had turned yellow green. The season’s birth was everywhere. Newborn calves and lambs frolicked across the pastures along side their mothers. With the changing of the seasons, she felt an excitement and joy. It was so good to be able to enjoy the scenery not covered in a coating of white. She traveled these country roads almost every day. As she watched the now familiar scenery she sped past, she had a comforting sense she was headed for home. A feeling she hadn’t experienced since she left her parents farm near Titonka, Iowa. She turned off the pavement onto the gravel and headed west. Her mind raced over the last few months. How quickly she became involved with the Lapp family. Suddenly, her conversation with Barb played over in her head. The questions Barb put to her worried her. Though she would never tell her friend that. Why hadn’t John brought up a wedding date? When she was at the Lapp farm she certainly felt like part of the family. She was sure that John loved her enough to marry her. Almost sure anyway. Emma, Noah and Daniel had accepted her. She loved them as if they were her own children. She was sure the Lapp children felt the same way about her. Never the less, this was not going to be an easy union with all the hurtles faced by an English woman marrying an Amish man. Hal knew nothing about Amish ways. She certainly hadn’t made it easy on John to get used to her. From the moment they met, she’d made one mistake after another. Things that would have made any sane English man have enough doubts about her to cause him to back off. Heaven knows why John Lapp fell in love with her. However, she was certainly glad that he did, because she loved him with her whole heart. Hal slowed down to turn into the Lapp driveway. Attached to the post below the mailbox was a sign she hadn’t noticed before. Emma must have put it up that morning. It read, All things Are Open Before God. A bare square of dirt in the lawn along side the ditch was noticeable now that the snow had melted. A row of gallon milk jugs had been stuck in the dirt. Hal made a mental note to ask Emma what that was all about. In front of the barn were two buggies with horses attached. Hal noted that all Amish horses were as alike as Amish clothes, always red with dark red manes and tails. The sound of hammers drew her attention to the house. She marveled at how the new room was going up so fast. Two men, John and a boy, up on ladders, nailed the framework to the rafters. A heavy set farmer, short legged with a ruddy, round face, turned to look as she slowed down. The other man, about John’s age, was tall and lanky. The boy was around Emma’s age. Out of the corner of her eyes, Hal saw a low flying, black and white blur spring out of the ditch and rush toward her car. Her heart pounded as she skid to a stop. Patches, the Lapp dog, reared up and put his front paws on the door. He peered in at her, whining a greeting. Giving the window a lick with his long, juicy tongue, he showed her he was glad to see her. Hal pressed hard on the button and lowered her spit smeared window. She snapped, “Patches, get down.” The dog did as he was told. He loped ahead of her up the driveway and sat down to wait for her. Hal hated that he had started coming out on the road to greet her. She wanted the Lapp children to continue to like her. Running over their dog would definitely put a damper on their feelings for her. Besides, she was fond of Patches. No way did she want something to happen to the feisty pet. Hal started her car and slowly halted in front of the house. Her face flushed when she noticed the Amish men twisted on the ladders to watch her. It crossed her mind that it sure would be easier for her if she could morph herself into an Amish woman whenever she needed to and slip quietly by those men. First impressions were important right now. What the men saw was a curly, copper-red mop of hair on a bright blue eyed English woman clothed in a bright green blouse and blue jeans. Her buggy happened to be a gaudy, copper sedan. Nothing about her spelled demur or plain. Some time soon, she would have to tone down in order to get the Amish community’s approval before John announced he was going to marry her. Maybe the way she looked was the reason for John’s slowness to discuss their wedding. If it was, she wished he would say so instead of her having to drag it out of him. Wagging his tail, Patches jumped on her and licked her chin the minute she stepped out of the car. “I know you’re glad to see me, but you really shouldn’t be out on the road,” Hal scolded. The dog took her tone of voice to heart. He put his skinny, long tail between his legs and slinked off to hide behind the maple tree. From his safe place, he peeked around the trunk and watched her. “Gute afternoon,” John called, waving from his ladder. “Good afternoon.” Hal waved back. “Stay there. I am coming down,” John told her. He climbed down the ladder and walked across the yard. Hal’s heart beat faster as she watched the bushy bearded Amish farmer, wearing a straw hat over his dark brown hair, come to meet her. He had a ready boyish smile on his face. John stopped right in front of her, stuck his hands in his pockets and asked softly, “How did your day go?” “It was good. I just had lunch with Barb Sloan.” She brought her hand up to pat his shoulder then dropped it by her side. No touching allowed as long as the neighbors were watching. “Gute,” John replied, watching her lower her hand. His dark chocolate eyes sparked mischievously. Somehow, he always managed to read her mind. “You certainly have been working hard today. I couldn’t imagine how much you’d have done already,” Hal marveled, listening to the hammers pound nails. “We start early when we have a building to put up. It’s time to stop for a break. Will you ask Emma to bring us something cold to drink?” With a warm twinkle in his dark eyes, he caressed her chin with a finger. “I can do that,” Hal responded, returning his gaze as she pushed his finger away. “But you probably shouldn’t do that.” She whispered and nodded toward the men. The short man looked over his shoulder. In a breezy, crackling voice, he said, “John Lapp, as long as you are down, bring us some more nails. We are about outen.” Without taking his eyes off Hal, John responded, “Be right there, Elton.” In a lowered voice, he asked, “Do you think we could go for a walk alone after supper tonight?” “I’d like that,” Hal whispered. “Now don’t hold up progress. Get the men their nails. I’ll see to the drinks.” Whatever Emma fixed for lunch sure left a delectable smell throughout the house. Hal wondered with regret what good foods she missed. Stopping in the kitchen doorway, she watched John’s fifteen year old daughter sweep crumbs from under the table. As she moved the broom back and forth in swift motions, the girl’s white prayer cap strings, dangling down her back, brushed back and forth along her shoulders. She was changing from a teenager to a young woman. She had grown an inch taller just in the short time Hal had known her. Anyone would be blind not to notice that she had filled out. The girl seemed to have over come the depressed moods that worried Hal when they first met. Now she was cheerful and sure of herself. John’s daughter was turning into a beauty. Her soft, brown hair was neatly tucked under her head covering. With a long, slender nose and freckles splashed across her tanned cheeks, she was the picture perfect country girl. Emma’s feature that Hal loved most was her lovely, gray green eyes. Not that she would ever ask John or Emma, but Hal often wondered if Emma’s eye coloring was inherited from her mother. Not only the eyes, Hal imagined were like Diane Lapp’s, but the rest of the girl’s pretty looks as well. As curious as she was about what John’s wife had looked like, Hal knew Diane was a subject left well enough alone in the Lapp household. “Hello. About got the kitchen work done?” Hal looked around the spotless kitchen. A line of cast iron skillets hung on nails over the work counter topped with white Formica speckled with blue. She walked across the shiny, black and white checked linoleum to the mud room and unhooked the dust pan from the wall. Bending in front of Emma, she waited for the girl to sweep the pile of dirt into the pan. After she emptied the dust pan out the back door, Hal sat down at the long wooden table in the middle of the kitchen. “Just about,” Emma replied, putting a stack of plates in the dish cupboard. Hal put her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her hands. “Your father wants to know if you can bring the men something to drink.” “I fixed some lemonade. Want a glass?” Emma said, setting glasses on the counter. “Homemade lemonade sounds good. My mother used to make it that way. Will you join me? You must need a break by now,” Hal suggested. “We can take ours out in the yard and sit with the men,” Emma said. Suddenly, Hal felt jittery about facing the Amish strangers. She asked, “Do you think that will be all right?” “Jah, it is about time Plain people get to know you, Hallie.” Emma said briskly as she poured the lemonade. “Help me carry the glasses.” As Hal and Emma headed for the shade of the maple tree, the girl called, “Come get a glass while it is still cold.” The men climbed down the ladders. After he tossed his straw hat on the ground, the short man sat down in the grass. He joked, “You do not have to tell me twice. I am thirsty.” Emma handed him a glass. She gave one of the two she had to the boy and sat next to him. Hal gave the other man and John a glass then got down beside John. “Nurse Hal, I want you to meet Elton Bontrager, Luke Yoder and his son Levi,” John introduced, pointing at each of them. Elton, close to sixty, wore a dark blue shirt and faded, thin pants. A patch had been put in the straddle to make the pants last longer. Hal wondered how an industrious Amish farmer wore out the straddle of his pants before he did the knees. The short man gave her a wide grin as he shook her hand. “Gute to meet you.” “Gute to meet you,” said Luke, holding out his hand. He was a good looking man with yellow hair and a beard the color of corn. Levi was a younger version of his father. He nodded bashfully at her and lowered his bright blue eyes to the ground. Eldon took a sip from his glass. He glanced over at Hal and cleared his throat before he spoke. “It is nice of you to make this clinic available for Plain people.” “I appreciate you building the clinic for me. This room will be a useful addition to the house to help with medical aide in the Amish community,” Hal assured him. It passed through her mind that she had heard his name somewhere before, but she was fairly certain she’d never met him. Levi said softly to Emma, “I hear the best laying flock in the county you have. What is your secret?” Emma blushed. “No secret.” Levi persisted with interest. “What kind of hens are they?” “Don’t know,” Emma said. “Want to come look at my chickens? I will introduce you to my pet rooster.” “Jah, I would like to see them. You have a pet rooster?” Levi scoffed as if he didn’t believe her. Emma opened her mouth to speak but realized the grownups weren’t talking. She glanced at the men and Hal. They were watching her. She lost her voice. Motioning with her hand for Levi to follow, she stood up. As they disappeared behind the house, the men broke into a discussion about construction details on the room. In a few minutes, Levi and Emma came back. The two of them chatted comfortably as old friends tend to do. John said, “Levi Yoder, what do you think of Emma’s flock?” “She has gute hens,Daed. Emma was not joking. She has a pet rooster. He will eat corn out of her hand, but his favorite food is flies. Emma has a quick hand. She is a gute fly catcher.” Levi sounded impressed. Luke teased, “When air is cool, flies are slow. Makes them easy to catch.” Emma's face turned beet red. Hal suspected that flush went clear to her toes. “My daughter is gute at mothering birds and animals as well as all of us,” John said proudly, handing Emma his empty glass. Hal helped collect the other glasses so the men could get back to work. After she placed the glasses on the kitchen counter, she sat down at the table with Emma. For awhile she folded her arms on the table and listened to the hammers while she wondered how to find out the answers to her wedding worries. Emma broke the silence between them. “How about going outside with me to pick some dandelion greens for supper?” “Isn’t that a weed?” Emma giggled. “Jah, but a very tasty one this time of year if you know how to fix it into a salad.” She headed for the door. “You’ll have to show me what to pick,” Hal told Emma. They stepped outside into the bright light. Hal lifted her face toward the cloudless, pale blue sky and soaked in the combination of sun and a light, cool breeze. Emma handed Hal a small knife. “Walk around the yard. You are looking for dandelion plants. They are slender, long, jagged edged leaves. Later on, the plants will reach full growth and bloom a yellow flower. By then, the leaves are so bitter they not pretty gute.” Emma bent over to slide her paring knife blade under a circle of flat leaves. She sliced a cut through the root at the ground’s surface. Dropping the plant in her bucket, she said, “See. Just like that.” Hal was pretty sure she knew what to look for. She’d watched her dad put weed kill on dandelions in the yard often enough. Warm weather brought up other wild flowers, as well, in the Lapp yard. Here and there, wild violets peeked above the short sprigs of grass. Some were dark purple, some white and some white and lavender variegated. With her back to Hal, Emma searched around her feet as she said, “You seem very quiet this afternoon. Is something wrong, Hallie?” “I don’t think so. It’s just I had lunch today at the Java Alley Coffee House with my boss and friend, Barb Sloan. She asked me for information about the wedding. You know. A date and place. I couldn’t tell her anything. Why hasn’t your father brought the wedding up? You don’t think he is changing his mind about marrying me, do you?” “Stop!” Emma snapped. Hal froze, wondering what she said that was so wrong.
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