Read An Excerpt
A PLAIN DISAPPEARANCE
Steam rose from Sparky’s nose and mouth into the frigid late December air as he shook his bridle and pulled the sleigh over a small hill. The sleigh owner’s grandson, Timothy Troyer, sat in the driver seat, wearing a thick wool coat, black knit cap, and navy scarf wrapped about his neck. He held the reins with a light but firm touch, and he looked every bit the part of a young Amish man out for a sleigh ride—even though he’d left the Amish way years before.
Did that mean I was the Amish girl to complete the picturesque scene? I pulled the wool blanket up closer to my face and chuckled to myself. Beneath it I wore a purple and gray ski jacket and flannel-lined jeans. A pink and purple Fair Isle stocking cap, complete with pompom, covered my shoulder-length, straight red hair, and tortoise shell-patterned framed sunglasses protected my hazel eyes from the sun’s glare off of the snow. Not exactly Amish attire.
Timothy cut his bright blue eyes to me, and a smile played on the corners of his mouth. “What’s so funny?”
I burrowed deeper under the heavy wool blankets wrapped around me cocoon-style. “I was just thinking that this was unlike any first date that I’ve ever been on.”
Amusement lit his eyes. “Have you had many first dates?”
“A few,” I teased.
“Really. And what did you do on these dates?”
I thought for a minute. “Went to the movies or out for coffee. Once a date took me putt-putt golfing.”
“Putt-putt golfing?” He laughed. “And how am I doing in comparison to that?”
“Not bad. The putt-putt guy didn’t ask me out on a second date when I beat him twice in a row.”
He winked at me. “I’m glad to hear it.”
Ahead of us a weathered barn came into view through a stand of pine trees. The trees stood well over twenty feet high in a straight line perhaps to protect the barn from the wind and rain flying across the fields. If their purpose was to shelter the barn from Ohio’s dramatic change in seasons, nature won that battle. What remained of the old building consisted of grayish-white weathered boards, the structure’s edges and shape barely discernible in the falling snow until Sparky and the sleigh cleared the stand of trees.
Timothy pulled back on the reins. “Whoa!”
The horse came to a stop.
I released my hold on the blanket. “Why are we stopping?”
“I thought it might be nice to stretch our legs. The hardest part of the winter for me is being stuck indoors.”
I tilted my chin. “You don’t exactly have a desk job.” Timothy was a sought-after carpenter in Knox County and he’d parlayed his business into being a general contractor. Unlike me, he never sat still. As the Director of Computer Services at Harshberger College, I spent most of my time sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen. I inhaled the cold air, and it stung the inside of my nose. “A walk sounds nice.”
Timothy hopped out of the sleigh and whistled. His black-and-brown, mixed-breed dog, Mabel, snuffled from her spot under the bench seat but made no move to leave the warmth of the sleigh. Her body curved around the warm brick that Grandfather Zook—the sleigh’s owner—had placed inside before we left the Troyer farm. “Come on, girl,” Timothy said.
The reluctant dog whimpered.
Timothy placed his hands on his hips—a pose his mother made on a daily basis when she dealt with her seven-year-old son, Thomas. I stifled another chuckle.
Mabel woofed softly, but finally she wriggled out of her place. The dog jumped into the snow, and a cloud of white flew into the air and covered her entire body with a fine dust.
I stood, about to jump from the sleigh myself.
“Wait!” Timothy ran toward me.
I glanced around in search of any danger that may have caused Timothy’s outburst. All I saw was the old forgotten barn, the pine trees, and the white fields. “What? What’s wrong?”
He beamed at me and extended his hand. “Let me help you.”
My face grew hot, but I placed my gloved hand into Timothy’s and jumped lightly to the ground. To my pleasure, when I found my footing, he didn’t release my hand. Despite the leather gloves that kept our skin from touching, a charge passed between us—something I first had noticed when I met Timothy five months ago after moving to Appleseed Creek, Ohio, from Cleveland.
Despite Mabel’s grumbling about leaving the warmth of her blankets in the sleigh, she leaped over a snow-covered stump and rolled onto her back, lavishing herself in the feeling of white powder against her fluffy body.
Timothy blew out a mock sigh. “It’s going to take me an hour to brush all of the knots out of her coat.”
I smiled. Snow fell all around us, as if Timothy, Mabel, and I moved forward inside a snow globe shaken by a giant’s hand. I could almost hear the tinkling notes of the music box.
I pointed to the barn. “Whose farm is this?”
Timothy squinted against the snow’s glare. “This is the old Gundy place.”
“Gundy? I don’t think I’ve heard that name before.”
Timothy brushed away the snow gathering on his coat sleeve. “They moved to Colorado six or seven years ago.”
“They didn’t sell their property before they moved?”
“Not as far as I know.”
I took in the crooked window shutters and gaping hole in the roof of the barn. “It is pretty in a sad, abandoned sort of way,” I said. “Becky should come here sometime with her paints and try to capture its loveliness before it falls to the ground.”
Becky was Timothy’s nineteen-year-old sister, my housemate, and an aspiring artist. Her brother had left the Amish in search of a different kind of Christian faith, but she left the Amish way to pursue her art—a pursuit put on hold by a terrible auto-buggy accident. The collision left an Amish bishop dead and Becky with a criminal record.
Timothy grabbed my other hand and turned me toward him. “I’m glad you like it, but I didn’t bring you here just to see the old barn. I brought you here to give you your Christmas gift.”
I frowned. “I thought we agreed to exchange them with your family tomorrow on Christmas Eve. I didn’t bring mine for you.”
He smiled. “I wanted to give you something without the entire family watching.” He removed a small black box with a bright red bow on top from his coat pocket.
My breath caught. It was too soon. I wasn’t ready for what he was about to ask me. He placed the box into my hand, and by its long rectangular shape I realized it wasn’t a ring box at all. Disappointment replaced the sudden rush of fear that had coursed through my body.
“Open it,” Timothy whispered. His voice sounded so much like Mr. Green’s did when he watched his children, Tanisha, my best friend, and her young brother open one of their presents Christmas morning, I felt a rush of homesickness for the family that took me in when my father walked away from me. For Mr. Green the joy of Christmas was truly in the giving. I wasn’t the least bit surprised that Timothy was the same way.
I opened the box. Inside on a bed of baby blue velvet laid a delicate silver necklace with two small charms on it. One of the charms was a computer mouse, the other a hammer. I glanced up at Timothy.
He removed the necklace from the box. “Don’t you see? These things can be side by side.”
He didn’t need to explain. Timothy was the hammer, and I the computer mouse. It was such a thoughtful and creative gift, that it brought tears to my eyes. Embarrassment surfaced, too. Timothy bought me this lovely gift and I had a new ratchet set wrapped for him under my Christmas tree. How romantic was that? I suppressed a groan.
“Let me put it on you.” Timothy stepped behind me and hung the necklace around my throat. He tucked the clasp under the collar of my ski coat, his calloused fingers brushing the nape of my neck, raising goose bumps on my skin. He moved back around to face me.
I kept the charms out on top of my scarf and rolled them back and forth between my fingers. “How did you find these?”
“Google.” He laughed. “Actually, I found them with Becky’s help.”
Although Becky left her Amish family much more recently than Timothy had, she was already a whiz at searching and shopping online. Before long she would become better at it than me—and I worked with computers for a living.
“Thank you. I love it. It’s the most thoughtful gift I’ve ever received.”
Timothy leaned forward, and I closed my eyes. Nothing happened. I opened them again and I blushed. Timothy was staring at Mabel. She was hunched low to the ground as if prepared to spring into action. A growl escaped from deep within her throat.
I tucked my silver necklace from sight under my coat. “I’ve never heard her make that sound before.”
Timothy placed his hand on the dog’s fluffy head. “Neither have I.”
Mabel’s growls became louder and more ferocious.
I scanned the white landscape. “Do you think a wild animal is out here? Like a bear or a coyote?”
Timothy shook his head. “I’ve never seen a bear in Knox County and a coyote is too skittish to hang around us with Mabel’s scent in the air.”
My next question was cut off as Mabel launched from her frozen position, running full tilt for the barn. Without a word, Timothy and I ran after her.
We drew closer, the barn much larger than I had first thought. In its prime, it could have housed horses, cows, and other large livestock. We reached the barn and icicles the size of baseball bats hung from eaves twenty feet above us. Mabel had already rounded the far corner of the weathered structure.
We followed her, and I hoped that she wouldn’t run too far, or worse, come across the bear I worried about. As we jogged around the corner, we stopped short to avoid tripping over Mabel who, in a hunched position, stared at an object half-buried in the snow.
We peered over her at the mound of black and navy cloth. On closer inspection, it was much more than cloth that had caught Mabel’s attention—a bluish, fine-boned hand stuck out of the snow, reaching for us.