"Wake up, Lil, we're here."
Feeling Rick's hand on her forearm, Lily pried open her eyes, yawned and
stretched, and smiled at him. This, the first Saturday of May, was a
perfect late spring day, gloriously sunny and just warm enough. She'd been
looking forward to it ever since Rick asked her, "Can you farm out Grace and
Zoe the Saturday after next? I'm thinking of going downstate for the day,
and I'd like you to come along."
"Let me surprise you," Rick replied. "But the dress is jeans and walking
shoes--boots if you have any comfortable ones. Are you game?"
"Absolutely. Jake and the girls are going to South Bend that weekend," Lily
said eagerly. One of Jake's cousins was getting married, and while he and
the bride weren't especially close, Lily had rarely seen Jake so excited.
She assumed that it was because, at long last, he would be attending a
Manning family function in the certainty that he wouldn't encounter his
father. The old man's two-pack-a-day addiction had finally caught up with
him, and emphysema had made him a prisoner in his own home, tethered around
the clock to his oxygen tank - a miserable fate for a miserable old bastard,
she thought, and no less than he deserved.
The moment Rick declared, "Good, I'll bring coffee and muffins," Lily began
counting the days. Rick sounded like his old self, not at all as distant as
he'd been lately. He'd apologized several times, blaming his irascible new
client, Miles Drentell, for pushing him to exhaustion. To spare his
feelings, she had blamed her own preoccupation with her new job and the
aftermath of her father's death. Whatever the reason, she and Rick hadn't
spent an entire day alone in weeks, and even when Eli and Jessie were with
Karen, he seldom invited her to spend the night. Not that she was missing
much, she thought glumly. More often than not recently, Rick made love as
if his body was in bed with her, but his mind was a million miles away. An
all-day outing with no distractions could only do them good.
She felt a qualm when Rick said he'd pick her up at seven on Saturday. She
told him that Jake and the girls were leaving immediately after school on
Friday and invited him to stay over so that they could get an earlier start.
He replied that it wouldn't be "practical" and changed the subject.
Though disappointed, she convinced herself that he must have a valid reason,
and that she was only imagining that he'd sounded curt. She was determined
to let nothing spoil her anticipation.
Almost as soon as they left Deerfield, she'd fallen asleep again. Now, as
she rubbed her eyes and glanced at the the dashboard clock, she noted that
they had been traveling almost three hours. Through the rear window, she
saw a long line of cars, pickup trucks and, surprisingly, horse vans and a
couple of horse-drawn buggies. As she started to ask Rick where they were,
she spotted a banner draped over a billboard. Squinting, she made out the
words "FLEA MARKET" on the billboard, and "PULLING CONTEST" on the banner.
Lily's qualm returned in double strength. A flea market didn't sound
romantic at all, and as for the other--"What's a pulling contest?" she asked
"Draft horses competing against each other by pulling heavy weights," he
replied, inching the truck forward as a young woman wearing a bright orange
vest pointed him toward an empty space in the open field that served as the
parking lot. "Today is the first pulling contest of the season."
Lily sank back in her seat, wondering if this was Rick's idea of a joke.
Had he told her that he led a double life as a NASCAR driver, she couldn't
have been more stunned. A pulling contest sounded like the sideshow at a
county fair, or like a redneck sport such as bass fishing or monster truck
driving, something that played at three o'clock in the morning on ESPN2.
Why in the world had Rick brought her to this?
As if reading her thoughts, Rick explained, "Horse pulling is one of my
guilty pleasures. A friend took me to a pulling contest years ago and got
me hooked." Her surprise must have shown, because he squeezed her hand and
smiled. "You couldn't have known. There are still nooks and crannies of my
life that I haven't shared with you."
"So it seems," she replied uncertainly.
"Give it a chance before you make up your mind, Lil. You like horses, don't
you? I remember you said you used to ride."
But I was Grace's age then, she thought. She'd never seen a pulling
contest, never even heard of the sport, if sport it could be called. But as
Rick turned off the engine, she smiled bravely. For his sake, she'd give it
a chance. At least they were spending the day together.
Rick led her to a large fenced corral surrounded by bleachers that were
filling up fast, but he managed to find them seats. Like thoroughbreds
parading to the post, pairs of horses in harness were circling the corral,
guided by men who walked behind them, holding the reins. An announcer read
the names of the horses and men forming each team. Rick explained the rules
of pulling: A team consisted of two horses and two men, who were called the
teamster and the hitcher. The men would back the horses up to a sled
(called a "stone boat") on which concrete weights were piled. At the end of
each harness was a metal ring, and at each end of the stone boat was a hook.
Once the ring was fitted over the nearer hook, the horses had five minutes
to pull the stone boat a distance of 27 ½ feet. The teamster and hitcher
could work together to fit the ring over the hook, or the hitcher could do
it alone, but the teamster had to be aboard the stone boat, seated, before
the horses moved forward.
Teaching the horses how to pull was only half of it, Rick said; the other
was teaching them when. They had all learned to associate the sound of
metal clanking against metal with the command to start pulling. But the
clanking didn't always mean that the hitcher had placed the ring over the
hook--often it meant that the ring had only bumped against the hook.
Ideally, the horses stood quietly while the ring and hook were connected,
then waited for a voice command before pulling, but when very large, very
strong animals were nervous and inexperienced, they could be difficult to
handle. A team was given three opportunities to connect ring and hook. If
all three resulted in false starts, or the team failed to pull its weight,
it did not advance to the next round. The contest would continue, with more
weight being added, until only one team remained.
Rick warned her to not shout or cheer, because the horses had to hear their
handlers' commands, and they could be confused by "Go!", which might sound
to them like "Whoa!" Crowds at pulling contests were asked to pretend that
they were spectators at a golf tournament and stay just as quiet, he said.
"You can trust me," Lily muttered. Rick gave her a quizzical glance, but
said nothing and turned toward the arena.
For almost two hours they watched teams pull the stone boat across the
field, one moving from left to right, the next from right to left. None of
them had any trouble in the first round, which was normal, Rick explained.
First-round loads were always light, just enough to loosen up the horses.
On and on they pulled, teams named Andy and Jack, Bob and Flash, Ned and
Cob, Huck and Cooter - and those were the horses, Lily thought. Were the
homely names meant to suggest that these giant animals were just pets?
She risked remarking that she never would have expected city-boy Rick to be
a fan of horse pulling. "It's great motivation, watching these horses
work," he responded. "Every time I have a problem that seems insurmountable
and that I've put off dealing with, I envision the horses. They have a
problem - they have to move a load of concrete from point A to point B - and
what do they do? They move it. What looks like a huge problem turns out to
be just a matter of putting the shoulder to the harness."
Lily opened her mouth to ask Rick if he were, at that moment, wrestling with
an insurmountable problem. Sudden discretion warned her not to. Try as she
might to convince herself that he was alluding to the Drentell project, a
fear was mounting in her that she was his problem. It had been weeks now,
but the memory of their disastrous dinner at Canetti's seafood restaurant
was still painfully fresh. What a fool she had been, nagging Rick - in
public, no less--to talk about what she still called her "moment of
weakness," until he'd lashed out at her, hissing from behind his menu that
he was always thinking about where she and Jake "did it." The venom in his
voice had roiled her stomach so violently that she'd insisted on leaving
after the appetizer; then, as Rick was paying the tab, she bolted for the
ladies' room and threw up. When she rejoined Rick, she mumbled that
evidently she and conch fritters didn't get along, an excuse that must have
sounded as lame to him as it did to her.
Her reverie was shattered by Rick's hearty roar, "You so-and-so, where have
you been keeping yourself?" She looked to her right. Rick was already off
the bleachers and motioning to her to climb down as well. "Lily, meet Thad
Yoder, one of my oldest friends and the hardest-working person I've ever
known. Thad, this is Lily Manning."
Thad Yoder tipped his Stetson and extended his hand to Lily with a friendly,
beaming smile. He was well-muscled but not fat, almost as tall as Rick and
about the same age, although his short blond hair and neatly trimmed beard
were lightly threaded with gray. He wore the denim jacket, jeans, and boots
that she'd just about decided was one of the two official uniforms of
horse-pulling spectators, the other being bib overalls. As Lily shook his
hand, she felt an odd sense of déjà vu and heard an inner voice saying,
"Harrison Ford." I'm worse than Aaron, she thought impatiently: this Yoder
person doesn't look at all like Ford.
"Do you like horse pulling contests, too?" Lily asked. To her surprise,
Rick laughed, and Thad replied, "I've been to a few," in an accent that Lily
couldn't identify. Before he could say more, he was suddenly engulfed by a
mob of rollicking, noisy children - five, Lily counted quickly - who, in their
exuberance, reminded her of a litter of puppies. A stout woman, wearing a
hooded green windbreaker and a long brown corduroy jumper, waddled behind
them. As she came closer, Lily realized that the woman looked stout because
she was pregnant. The woman's hood slipped off her head, revealing brown
hair gathered in a bun and covered with a sheer white bonnet - the kind of
bonnet, Lily realized, that she had seen in photographs of Amish women.
"Lily, this is Thad's wife, Ella, and these are their children," Rick said,
but Lily, her mind reeling, barely heard him. One of Rick's oldest friends
"I--I'm sorry?" she stammered, vainly trying to appear composed.
"I was saying, these are our boys, Paul and Joshua," Ella Yoder said
pleasantly, resting a hand on each child's head in turn, "and these are our
girls, Miriam, Ashley and Chelsea. Shake hands with Miss Lily, children."
The children appeared to be between the ages of three and eight. They
stared unabashedly at Lily and solemnly extended their hands. As she shook
hands all around, she wondered at their names. She had the impression (from
Witness, she supposed; no wonder she'd thought of Harrison Ford) that the
Amish gave their children Biblical names, but "Ashley" and "Chelsea" were
certainly not Biblical. Ashley was clutching a battered gray toy rabbit
with a wide pink ribbon bow around its neck, and she shifted it from her
right hand to her left before shaking hands with Lily.
"Rick, Lily, if you'll excuse us, Ella needs me to set out the lunch
spread," Thad spoke up. The adults exchanged nice-meeting-yous, and the
Yoder family moved - the parents at a sedate walk, the children
gamboling - toward the front row of the parking lot, and a Volkswagen van
whose bright blue paint had long ago faded to a dull aqua.
Once they were out of earshot, Lily whirled to face Rick. "How in the world
do you know an Amish family?"
"Not Amish, Mennonite," he replied.
"Whatever!" Lily exclaimed. "How do you know them?" Rick pulled her toward
him as a man stopped inches from them and spat a stream of tobacco juice on
the grass. She grimaced.
"When I started my own firm," Rick answered, "most nights I worked so late
that I was still there when the janitor arrived. One day the old janitor
wasn't there any more, and Thad was the new one. We started talking to each
other, and in time I learned his life story. He told me he was brought up
Amish, but left the farm when he was twenty-two."
"Why?" Lily asked. "I thought farming was all the Amish did."
"Not Thad. He wasn't satisfied with only eight years of school and a
lifetime of farming. He has a brilliant mind and wanted more education, so
he struck out on his own. When I met him, he was working construction jobs
by day and cleaning offices by night, saving every penny he could for
college, and somehow finding time to study for his GED."
"What does he do for a living now?" Lily asked.
"He's a physician assistant in Bloomington." Rick shrugged. "I think he
could have gone on and become a doctor, but he decided that he wanted a
family before he got too old."
Lily looked toward the van and watched Thad remove a couple of cardboard
boxes and set them on the ground, then lift a cooler and a picnic hamper
from behind the back seat. "I wonder what's in the boxes," she remarked.
"By now they're probably empty, but I'm sure they held craft items," Rick
replied. "Thad and Ella make extra money that way. He carves wooden toys
and animal statues that are so beautiful, Sam Blue himself would be jealous.
Ella sews--she made the quilt on Jessie's bed - and does knitting and
crocheting. They sell their crafts through a friend who works flea
Over the loudspeaker, the announcer declared an intermission for lunch.
Smoke wafted toward them from the barbecue grill behind the concession
stand, and Rick asked Lily if she was as hungry as he was. For answer, she
took a step toward the grill, only to be stopped when Rick roughly grabbed
her upper arms. Seeing her shocked expression, he immediately apologized,
saying that he hadn't meant to hurt her, only to ask that she save their
seats while he bought sandwiches for both of them.
Dutifully, she climbed back into the bleachers because Rick's request
sounded reasonable, but this whole day was so strange, she wondered how
reasonable it actually was. She rubbed her arms, wondering why he'd
manhandled her so forcefully. She tried not to speculate that maybe he
didn't want to be seen with her.
Tears stung Lily's eyes. Why had Rick ever brought her to this
testosterone-fest? Whatever enjoyment, or inspiration, he found in watching
horses pull a load of concrete blocks back and forth - a more useless exercise
she could hardly imagine - she found it impossible to share his enthusiasm.
Rick returned shortly with two sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper and two
cans of diet cola. The sandwiches were barbecued pork on buns, with so much
sauce that Lily didn't dare completely remove the wrapper on hers. After
the first bite she turned to Rick, intending to say that it was delicious,
but saw that he was talking to the man seated to his right, his back to her.
She took another bite of the sandwich and had to force it down, the meat
seeming to stick in her throat. When she finally swallowed the last bite
and washed it down with the last of the soda, she crawled past the
spectators seated to her left to reach a trash bin, where she deposited the
wrapper and the can. Returning to her seat, she noticed that Rick was still
talking to his right-hand neighbor, as if unaware that she'd ever moved.
As the contest was about to resume, the Yoder family returned to the arena
and approached Rick and Lily. The row of seats below them was now almost
empty, and Rick motioned to Ella to climb up. "Sorry, Rick, we just came to
say good-bye," Thad said regretfully. "Ella's had a long day already."
"Can I help?" Lily asked quickly. "Ella, are you feeling all right?"
Ella nodded, explaining that she wasn't tired or nauseous, but that if she
were to sit, she needed something more comfortable than bleachers. She
glanced at her husband, and her face lit up as if an idea had struck her.
Since Thad wanted to watch more of the pulling contest, he should stay at
the arena, she said. She would take the children to a playground beyond the
flea market, where there were benches with backs.
Rick looked from Ella to Lily and back again. "Ella, before you do that,
why don't you take Lily to Gretchen's booth and show her your crafts?" he
suggested. "I'll bet she's never seen quilts like yours before."
Ella looked questioningly at Lily, who assured her that yes, she'd love to
see the quilts and go to the playground too. In truth, she didn't care, but
she understood that she was being dismissed. Either Rick wanted to be alone
with Thad while they watched their damned manly sport of horse pulling, or
he had picked up on her lack of interest and was sorry he'd brought her.
She hoped the booth was nearby, because she had no idea what she and Ella
would talk about if they had to walk a long way. But the Mennonite woman
was as friendly and guileless as her husband, and soon they were chatting
like neighbors across a backyard fence, trying to top each other's pregnancy
horror stories and sharing anecdotes about their children. Whatever their
backgrounds, mothers were much alike, even if, Lily told herself wryly, my
daughters fight over sharing a computer and Ella's children fight over
sharing their two Shetland ponies.
When they reached their destination, Ella pointed out the various items,
from baby clothes and rag dolls to quilts, which she had made, and
introduced Lily to the vendor, her friend Gretchen. Over the summer, she
added, she would also put up preserves and pickles for Gretchen to sell.
After Rick's glowing description of Thad's woodcarvings, Lily was
disappointed to find that Gretchen had already sold them all. Ella took a
cheap spiral notebook from her voluminous purse, wrote down Lily's address
and telephone number, and promised to let her know when Thad had more to
sell. Lily purchased an embroidered throw pillow for Judy and an
Amish-style faceless rag doll for Grace. Since Zoe had mentioned days
before that Tiffany was teaching her to knit, she bought Zoe a tote bag for
knitting supplies, on which Ella had sewed an appliqué in the shape of a
pink cabbage rose.
Lily fingered the quilts, admiring their beauty and workmanship, but sighed
when she looked at the price stickers. Ella was Mennonite but not
cloistered, and certainly knew the market value of her handiwork - or if she
didn't, Gretchen did. To Lily, Gretchen complained that she was always
begging Ella to forget the bootees and tablecloths and turn out more quilts,
her most profitable items, but that Ella was "a stubborn Holy Roller" who
wouldn't listen to her. Such disrespect horrified Lily until she decided
that this must be a running gag between the two friends, since Ella didn't
seem at all offended. She merely laughed and replied that making different
items broke the monotony of sewing only quilts.
Lily thought that Ella seemed almost apologetic for not having more items
for sale. She was astounded: she thought her own life had been full when
she kept house for Jake and the girls and worked at the bookstore as much or
as little as she chose. She couldn't imagine how Ella kept house for a
husband and five small children, tended a garden, canned produce, and worked
on crafts too.
As they left Gretchen's booth, Lily embarrassed Ella with her frank
admiration. Correctly guessing that everything Lily "knew" about Mennonites
and Amish had been learned from movies, Ella pooh-poohed any notion that she
was a pioneer woman. She explained that the Old Order Amish, among whom
Thad had been born, were the strictest Mennonite sect, but that she and Thad
belonged to a far more liberal branch, one which condoned higher education
and made Plain dress optional, and whose members did not all work as
farmers. Since she had been brought up in this denomination, not only had
she never lived on a farm or in a house without electricity and indoor
plumbing--"not since I was a toddler, anyway, but that's another story"--but
she violated no church ordinance by owning all the appliances she wanted,
even a Cuisinart. The children lightened her workload by faithfully doing
their assigned chores. "Besides, they have no television to distract them.
We think it's much better that they read for entertainment," Ella said.
When Lily concurred, and mentioned that she and her sister owned a
bookstore, it was Ella's turn to be impressed. While the children used a
public restroom, the two women sat together on a bench and talked at length
about various children's books, Ella jotting down titles and authors in her
She solved the mystery of Ashley's and Chelsea's names when she explained
that the girls were foster children, sisters whom she and Thad were
adopting. Lily found that she'd guessed fairly accurately the children's
ages: fraternal twins Paul and Josh were eight, Miriam six, and Ashley
five, but Chelsea, whom she had thought was three, was actually four. She
had always been undersized, Ella whispered to Lily, due to neglect by her
birth mother, but she was finally growing at a satisfactory rate.
Miriam tugged on her mother's skirt, and all five children, even Ashley and
Chelsea, began chattering in what Lily assumed was Pennsylvania Dutch. Ella
reminded the children to speak English in front of Miss Lily, and translated
that they were clamoring to go to the playground. Lily volunteered to take
them, suggesting that Ella might like to go back to the van and lie down.
Ella thanked her, but said she'd come along, although if Lily could push the
swings by herself, she'd appreciate it.
On their way to the playground, she tactfully informed Lily that to
linguists, the language of Plain people was Pennsylvania German, not
Pennsylvania Dutch. When Lily commented that Thad's accent was thicker than
his wife's, Ella explained that German had been his first language and he
had never used English on a daily basis until he left home, whereas she had
grown up speaking a hybrid of English and German, "like Jews who sprinkle
their English with Yiddish." Lily felt a pang over Ella's innocent remark.
What would Daddy say about this day, she wondered: "You took my daughter to
what kind of contest, Rick Sammler?"
Thad and Rick continued to watch the pulling contest. An hour later, Thad
asked, "Rick, how about a cold one?" Rick heaved himself off the bleachers
and followed Thad to the Volkswagen van, happily reflecting that while the
Yoders were frugal almost to a fault - their van, though new since he'd last
seen Thad, was almost as old as its predecessor--Thad didn't economize on
beer, always buying the best. From the cooler he removed two icy cold cans
and handed one to Rick. He reached into the hamper and took out a small
package of peanuts, which he stuffed into his shirt pocket.
"Friend Rick, something troubles you," Thad declared, looking him up and
down. "If Grossdawdy Enoch saw that long face, he'd measure it for a feed
Rick smiled wanly. When they first met, he had known so little about Amish
life that Thad had delighted in sharing with him bits of Amish folk wisdom
and epigrams from his Grossdawdy Enoch. Only much later did he admit to
Rick that most of the "folk wisdom" came from his own imagination, and that
his grandfather wasn't especially witty and wasn't named Enoch. Rick had
long ago forgiven Thad's pulling his leg because of their shared bond as
self-made professionals who had worked late hours together and overcome
difficult relationships with the male authority figures in their lives.
When Thad called his grandfather a humorless taskmaster whom he had never
been able to talk to, Rick remarked that the description fit his own father.
"We can talk," Thad continued, jerking his thumb toward the picnic tables.
"Who's complicating your life these days - Karen, the kids, clients, David,
Mikey?" By the time they found a table, Rick still hadn't responded. "Not
your lady friend!" Thad exclaimed.
Everyone who had ever told Rick that he bottled up his emotions and didn't
talk - his mother, Karen, Lily, even David - would not have recognized the man
who sat beside Thad on the picnic table. Whether he saw Thad as a cheap
therapist, or simply as an old friend for whom confidentiality was second
nature, it was as if a dam had burst. Rick poured out the story: his ardent
pursuit of Lily after spotting her in the car pool lane, their awkward first
dates, Lily's initial nervousness and bold change of heart at the school
carnival, the swift progression of their relationship until Lily, under the
"pressure" she accused him of exerting, started pulling away and finally
made her devastating confession, "I slept with Jake." In a shaky voice he
described the coffee-shop meeting at which he'd tried his hardest to tell
Lily good-bye, only to break down at the last minute and cry out that he
couldn't let her go.
He told Thad how, after that night, he and Lily had tried to resume their
relationship, but that there was now a barrier between them because he
couldn't bring himself to sleep with her, or to tell her why he was holding
back. Then one night, he discovered that a friend was contemplating an
extramarital affair. When Rick tried to dissuade him, the friend responded
that he was not going to pass up something that might never come his way
again. After their conversation, Rick, moved by an impulse he could hardly
understand, had rushed over to Lily's house and blurted, "I love you very
much, and I can't live without you." But since then, he'd wondered if he
had spoken and acted too hastily because, after that night's passion had
been spent, once again he couldn't look at Lily without seeing her in the
arms of her ex. Lily and the ex, always Lily and the ex.
Throughout Rick's recitation, Thad sipped his beer and munched an occasional
peanut. He offered peanuts to Rick, who shook his head. Occasionally Thad
asked a question but for the most part he merely listened - taking the
patient's history, Rick thought. When it seemed that Rick had finally
talked himself out, Thad picked up his beer can and studied it as though it
contained tea leaves. "Do you know why I go to pulling contests?" he asked.
Rick looked at him in surprise. "You like them. Do you need another
Thad snorted. "I have nine brothers and sisters, all but two of whom are
married. I have parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and
cousins. Once I couldn't spit in any direction without hitting family, but
I haven't seen any of them in years. They shun me.
"Rick, you think I was courageous for striking out on my own. The truth is,
I was a coward, afraid to tell my parents and grossdawdy that I couldn't
find fulfillment in the Ordnung - the Amish way. If I had said so and 'gone
English' without being baptized, they wouldn't have been happy but we'd
still be on speaking terms. Or if we weren't, at least the onus would be on
them to be magnanimous."
"I remember," Rick interrupted. "You told me the Amish don't baptize
children because they believe baptism is a lifetime commitment that only an
adult can make."
"And not every adult at that," Thad said, nodding. "But I asked to be
baptized not out of conviction but in the hope that it would turn me into a
model Amishman like my grossdawdy. I was like a gay man who tries to become
straight by marrying a woman. Of course I didn't change, so I went English,
and in Amish eyes, I broke a solemn promise to God and committed a betrayal
as serious as adultery. As Plain folk, my relatives are pacifist, so if I
showed up at one of their homes today, they wouldn't throw me out--but
they'd freeze me out, seating me at a different table for dinner, for
instance. If I were single, I'd accept that - I brought it on myself. But I
won't leave my wife and children behind as though I'm ashamed of them, and I
won't take them along to see me shunned.
"So now I learn news about my family only if I run into someone who knows
them - English who do business with them, or Plain folk who feel sorry for me.
In other words, people who tend to like draft horses and just might turn
up at a pulling contest." He pointed to his Stetson and the jaunty red
feather stuck in the band. "I wear this because it makes me easier to spot
in a crowd. If my go-betweens had to look under every John Deere and Red
Man cap at these events, they'd never find me."
A squirrel in the grass timidly approached their table, and Thad tossed him
a peanut. "You always say that I could have gone to medical school. I'm
not so sure, but we'll never know, will we? The reason I never considered
it was Ella. We connected because, as a Mennonite, she understands what
it's like for a Plain person to be shunned, and she was just as eager to
give me a new family as I was to have one. Even if I settled for less
professionally by choosing marriage over med school, I regret nothing - except
that my relationship with my Amish family is destroyed, perhaps forever,
because of a bad choice I made.
"Rick, sometimes we're lonely for reasons we can't control, but for God's
sake, don't choose loneliness."
Rick studied his boots and wondered why Thad, of all people, was lecturing
him about loneliness, as if he'd forgotten to what lengths Rick would go to
avoid it. Once his divorce was final, the Yoders, sensing that holidays
might be difficult for him, had extended him an invitation - good for life,
they said--to visit them any Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. On his
first post-divorce Thanksgiving, he woke up to a deathly quiet apartment
with no aromas of sage and onions coming from the kitchen, no
thump-thump-thump of Karen chopping cranberries and orange peel for her
relish, no affectionate squabbling between Jessie and Eli about who would
break off the bigger piece of wishbone. He felt so bereft that he
immediately dressed and drove straight to Bloomington without even calling
ahead. While Thad and Ella welcomed him as cordially as he expected, his
sudden arrival put them in a bind, since the foster children they were
keeping at the time had dibs on the sofa and the only spare bed. Rick
insisted that if they let him stay, he'd sleep anywhere, and they took him
at his word: he wound up bedding down with two of Ella's quilts and a
hot-water bottle in the hayloft of the pony barn.
"Thad, I don't like loneliness either," Rick replied testily. "After Karen
and I split up, I hated being alone. When Lily came along, I thought I'd
never be lonely again, but she hurt me more than I ever thought possible.
Now I don't have too few people in my life, I have too many, Lily and her
ex. When I'm with her, it's as if he's right beside her, leering at me."
Thad drank the last of his beer and ate some peanuts, chewing thoughtfully.
"I suppose you've noticed that Lily is underwhelmed by pulling horses," he
said at last.
"You think so?"
"C'mon, those dainty boots of hers have never gone near horse shit before
today. She's a city girl. How did you charm her into coming with you?"
Rick hesitated, brushing his hair back from his forehead in his familiar
nervous habit. "I just told her what to wear. I didn't say where we were
going," he admitted.
"Do tell! Well, Grossdawdy Enoch has a word for what you did," Thad said.
Rick waited for the punch line, but Thad was watching the squirrel. Finally
Rick prompted him, "OK, what would Grossdawdy Enoch say?"
"He'd say you sandbagged her," Thad answered bluntly. Rick's laugh stopped
midway in his throat when he realized that this time Thad wasn't joking.
"Rick, I think you knew Lily wouldn't enjoy herself today. You were
expecting her to sulk and mope, so you could find fault with her. I wonder
if on some level you even hoped that she'd decide your tastes are so
different, you're not meant to be together. You'd still break up, but at
least you couldn't be blamed if she initiated the split."
Rick wanted to deny it. The words wouldn't come.
"But you don't really want to break up with her, do you? You tried once
before and couldn't. Fact is, you knew that even after the hurt she caused
you, breaking up was too drastic a cure. It's like the time you had that
stress fracture with two games left in the season--you had a pain in your
shin, but you didn't give up basketball, did you? You just found a way to
live with the pain so your coach wouldn't find out."
"Such a bedside manner, Dr. Yoder," Rick muttered. "Stress fracture. Live
with the pain. How?"
"Rick, look at how successful you are today," Thad replied, "and look where
you started from - no money, no father, no family connections. Everything you
have, everything you became, you acquired by sheer determination--which you
found within yourself. That's where you'll find the way." He slid off the
table, stretched, and gazed in the direction of the pulling field. "Do you
remember the first time I took you to a pulling contest?"
"Of course," Rick replied, again confused by one of Thad's non sequiturs.
"Just getting you there was a pulling contest. You expected something like
a cockfight or a Roman circus, didn't you?" Thad reminded him. "You
thought the teamsters would be brutes with bullwhips, and you didn't want
any part of that."
Rick smiled faintly at the memory.
"Instead, you found the horses well fed, beautifully groomed, eager to pull,
and not a whip or cattle prod in sight. I explained that whips are
forbidden by the rules of pulling, and that there are two ways of looking at
a pulling contest. Obviously it's a test of the horses' physical strength,
but it's also a test of the men who work them. Since the prize money is
this," he said, shaking the last of his peanuts into his cupped hand,
"pulling-horse people are in this sport for love. The way I see it, they're
even better horsemen than thoroughbred trainers, because in actual
competition, thoroughbred trainers entrust their horses to jockeys who carry
whips. Pulling-horse trainers can't beat their horses into working, so the
best trainer is the man who can inspire in his horses the same loyalty and
determination - call it love, if you believe horses can feel love - that he
"Thad, I'm too dense for Grossdawdy Enoch's parables today. What are you
saying--that when I dwell on what Lily did, I'm beating up on her?"
"Maybe," Thad answered cryptically. "Or maybe I'm saying that you're not
beating up on Lily nearly as much as you're beating up on yourself." He
ignored Rick's startled glance. "Or maybe I'm saying all that and more.
But what do you say when Eli or Jess ask you for help with their homework?
You say, 'I could tell you the answer, but you'll remember it longer if you
figure it out for yourself.'"
Thad dropped his peanuts on the ground for the squirrel, tossed both beer
cans in a "Cans Only" receptacle, and consulted his watch. "Let's go find
Ella and Lily," he said. Together they strolled past the pulling arena,
toward the playground. When they passed Gretchen's booth, Gretchen waved
Thad over and told him that she was closing early and going home because her
ten-year-old daughter had fallen from her bike and broken her wrist. She
handed him a plastic bag containing two rag dolls, an apron, and a quilt,
explaining that they were the only items of Ella's that she hadn't sold.
At the playground, Thad and Rick found Ella leaning against a tree, dozing.
Four of the children were sprawled around her, snoring softly. Lily was
sitting under the tree, holding Ashley on her lap. Ashley, gripping her
gray bunny in her left hand and sucking her right thumb, was listening
enthralled as Lily, veteran of dozens of children's story hours at the
bookstore, recited from memory The Velveteen Rabbit.
Lily saw Rick and Thad approaching, and smiled tentatively. When Rick
didn't return her smile, she swallowed, lowered her eyes and turned back to
Ashley. As Rick took a step closer, he felt Thad's arm on his shoulder.
Thad pulled him back, out of earshot of Ashley and Lily.
"Rick, have you heard about a program that provides police and social
workers with stuffed animals to give abused children at the moment they're
taken from their parents?" Thad asked. Rick frowned, trying to remember,
but Thad continued, "That's how Ash came by that rabbit, and that must be
why it means so much to her. About the only time she lets go is during her
bath, and even then we have to put it where she can see it from the tub."
Rick clucked in sympathy, wishing that Eli could hear Thad's story. That
boy needed an occasional reminder that he wasn't an abused child merely
because his parents were forcing him to finish high school.
"Last autumn," Thad continued, "while we were on a picnic, Ash fell asleep
and relaxed her grip on the rabbit. Paul and Josh took it and started
tossing it like a football. Josh threw an interception - to a dog, who picked
it up and wouldn't let go. The boys panicked - they knew they were in trouble
for 'borrowing' the rabbit - so instead of calling for help, they tried to
wrestle it away from the dog. But the dog held on, and by the time his
owner finally showed up and made him drop it, the rabbit was badly damaged,
"When Ash woke up, she went into such hysterics, we were afraid we'd have to
sedate her. Ella took one look at the rabbit, decided even she couldn't
mend it, and gave it to a lady at church who makes stuffed toys and dolls.
In the meantime we bought Ash another bunny, and the dog's owner sent her a
teddy bear, but she wouldn't look at either one. Our toymaker friend put
the rabbit back together as best she could and added the ribbon to hide
some of the worst damage, but it's still not the same. Funny, though - when
we handed it back to Ashley, she latched onto it for dear life. Since then,
she's never said a word about it looking different."
Rick studied Thad's bland expression. "There's a moral to this story too,
right?" he asked drily.
Thad gave Rick another of his enigmatic smiles, and to Lily he said loudly,
"I can't speak for Ashley, but I think there are five other votes for going
home." Lily lifted Ashley off her lap and stood as, awakened by their
father's voice, Paul, Josh, Miriam and Chelsea struggled to their feet,
yawning and brushing grass off their clothes. Ella blinked open her eyes,
and Thad, after pressing the plastic bag into Rick's hand, gently helped her
Lily and Rick walked the Yoders to their van. After Thad and Ella arranged
the children inside, they turned to say good-bye to Rick and Lily. Ella
hugged Lily and told her, "You helped me so much with the children today, I
hardly know how to thank you."
"Oh, don't even try - they were no trouble, really. I enjoyed being with
them," she answered truthfully. But Ella reached into the plastic bag and
took out the unsold quilt. She held it toward Lily, saying, "You must let
me thank you in some way, Lily. Please take this."
"Ella, you can't - this is much too much!" Lily gasped, fluttering her hands.
She took a step back, but as a mother of five, Ella had learned how and when
to be stubborn and continued to hold out the quilt. Lily finally took it
from her, murmuring, "Oh, thank you, it's exquisite." Ella removed the
apron and rag dolls from the plastic bag and handed the bag to Lily, saying
she mustn't let the quilt get dirty.
For his good-bye, Thad clasped Lily's hand and told her with a straight
face, "I'm so happy to have met you, Lily. My Grossdawdy Enoch would say
you're prettier than a champion Holstein on auction day." As Lily's jaw
dropped and Rick bent double with laughter, Thad winked, then turned and
climbed into the van where Ella and their children were waiting.
When Rick suggested that he and Lily leave also, Lily tried not to show her
relief. As Rick maneuvered his truck out of the parking lot, he asked Lily
what she and Ella had talked about. She took that as an invitation to share
with him her newfound knowledge of the Mennonite religion in general, and
the Yoders in particular. She recounted Ella's remarkable autobiography:
her first name was actually Gabriella, and she had been born in a hippie
commune because her mother had rejected her "irrelevant, antiquated"
Mennonite upbringing in favor of Sixties radicalism until, during an antiwar
rally, it occurred to her that it made no sense to make a career of chanting
"Peace now!" while sneering at a religion that advocated pacifism. She
returned to her home and church, persuaded Ella's father to convert, married
him, and settled down happily to raise a family that eventually numbered six
She told him how Ella and Thad had met when, feeling homesick one Sunday, he
had visited a Mennonite church which happened to be the one attended by
Ella's family. She repeated Ella's frank admission that while she respected
the religious fervor of Thad's relatives, she was happy that she and Thad
had not been born in the same Old Order Amish community because, ironically,
in those circumstances he might never have married her. He had left his
home, "and not that more women don't consider it, but with only eight years
of schooling, very few can support themselves in the English world, while a
man who leaves, like Thad, can find something like construction work that
pays fairly well," Lily said. "But the men who leave marry outside the
faith and the women who can't find Amish husbands don't get to marry at all.
There are always more unmarried Amish women than men."
When Rick didn't answer, Lily glanced in his direction. She saw him staring
straight ahead, and she guessed that her words were only background noise to
him. Biting her lip, she mumbled that she was tired, turned her face away,
and pretended to doze.
Rick glanced at her, saw the tightness in her eyelids and, realizing that
she wasn't really asleep, sighed in frustration. He hadn't meant to tune
her out, but she hadn't told him anything about the Yoders, or about
Mennonites, that he didn't already know. His thoughts had been elsewhere,
on giant horses and little gray bunnies.
Lily fell asleep for real a few minutes later. When she woke up, the truck
was in the parking lot of a convenience store and Rick was pumping gas.
"Where are we?" she asked, leaning out the window.
"Outside of Concord. Would you like to get a cup of tea here?" he replied.
"Tea? Here?" she repeated in confusion.
"I mean in Concord itself," Rick explained. "Karen goes there sometimes
with her sister, who shops for antiques in every old town between here and
Chicago. They told me once that there's a nice little tearoom in the
"Oh, please, it sounds lovely," Lily answered. The tea itself didn't matter
as much the opportunity to be alone with Rick, face to face, for the first
time all day. She wasn't about to turn that down.
As they neared the historic district, they passed a large two-story frame
house on an expansive lot. The house was painted robin's-egg blue and had a
distinctive turret, a wraparound porch, and a widow's walk, all trimmed in
gingerbread woodwork. "Someone has money!" Rick exclaimed, whistling. "That
place must have half a dozen bedrooms."
"Pemberley Manor," Lily said, reading the name on the mailbox. "Jane Austen
comes to the prairie?"
Rick mentioned that Karen had said the tearoom was across from the old train
depot. He found the depot without difficulty, but as he parked, Lily felt a
stab of apprehension. There were only two other cars in the "Restaurant
Parking Only" lot, she couldn't see anyone inside through the plate-glass
windows, and only one person, an acne-scarred youth wearing a food-stained
white apron, was seated among the tables on the patio. And instead of
eating, he was smoking a cigarette and feeding something that looked like
salmon to four cats mewing and jostling at his feet. Lily noticed three
other cats lurking in the shrubbery, taking the measure of her and Rick,
seemingly wondering if it was safe to dash past them for a share of the
The boy looked up but didn't bother to stand as they approached. He
listened to Rick ask about the tearoom's hours and replied in a bored
monotone that the tearoom had closed the year before, the building now
housed a restaurant called The Glen and Loch, lunch serving hours were over,
and the place wouldn't open for dinner until six.
Lily burst into tears.
She saw Rick and the boy staring at her in amazement, but she couldn't stop.
Much as she had enjoyed meeting the Yoder family, the fact was that in
terms of spending quality time with Rick, her day had been a total disaster.
Now this pimply-faced boy was telling her that even a cup of tea was too
much to ask for. She stumbled backward and collapsed on a bus bench.
She felt Rick's arms encircle her from behind, felt his lips against her
hair. "Lil," he murmured, "what's wrong?" But she couldn't speak.
She heard the boy open the restaurant's door and frantically shout "Mrs. B!"
Moments later, a fiftyish woman with graying auburn hair rushed up to
them, elbowed Rick aside, and dabbed Lily's wet cheeks with a napkin. "Why
did you na' tell young Jamie you wanted tea this much, luv?" she asked in a
thick, motherly Scottish burr, bringing a faint smile to Lily's face. "I'm
Mrs. Buchanan. Please come inside, the pair o' you."
Inside the restaurant, Mrs. Buchanan pointed to the "Restrooms" sign and
looked inquiringly at Lily, who smiled but shook her head. Shrugging, she
led Lily and Rick to a table by a window overlooking a small garden patch
where a few spring flowers still bloomed among rosebushes struggling to bud.
It was impossible for Phil Brooks' daughter to not view a restaurant with
a professional's eye, and as Lily noticed the fresh flowers in bud vases on
each table, the floral-print valances over the windows, the framed oil
paintings on the walls, the pewter serving dishes on the fireplace mantel,
and the crockery in the corner etageres, her spirits rose. Mrs. Buchanan
pushed open a door marked "Employees Only" and they heard her shout "Peter!"
A middle-aged man emerged holding napkins and flatware, and set the table.
He spoke with a burr as thick as Mrs. Buchanan's, and Lily guessed that he
was Mr. Buchanan.
The woman returned, carrying a heavily laden tray which she rested on a tray
stand. In front of Rick and Lily, she placed cups and saucers, a teapot
covered in a paisley tea cozy, two soup crocks topped with bubbly melted
cheese, and two plates piled high with a fruit and chicken salad.
"A few leftovers from lunch," she announced, lifting the cozy and pouring
the tea. "Do be our guests, luvs. Our onion soup is famous, and we get a
fair lot o' requests for the salad too."
The tea was strong and aromatic, and warmed Lily down to her toes. She
began to relax, especially after Rick smiled at her across the table. They
tasted the soup and salad and discovered that Mrs. Buchanan's boasts about
her food were not unfounded. She brought them a fresh pot of tea and
accepted their compliments with a gracious smile. When their dishes were
all but licked clean, Peter returned to clear them. Seeing Rick reach for
his wallet, Peter waved his hand.
"'Tis on the house," he insisted. "For sure you needed a spot o' something,
and as Morag said, they're naught but leftovers. Had you na' come along,
they'd only ha' gone to the wee kitties."
Lily remembered the cats on the patio. Even if the Buchanans had taken it
on themselves to feed every stray cat in Concord with their leftovers, she
couldn't believe that the cats actually feasted on onion soup, or fruit and
chicken slathered in mayonnaise dressing. Still, she and Rick effusively
thanked Peter for the lunch. Rick pointed to the restroom alcove and
Rick was gone so long that for Lily, even the garden view began to pall.
Morag emerged from the kitchen and approached her. "Better now, luv?" she
asked, but before Lily could answer, a ringing telephone at the hostess
stand drew the older woman away. No sooner did she hang up than Rick
returned. Lily was tempted to make a risqué joke about the length of time
he'd spent in the restroom, but chose not to since he seemed eager to leave.
Peter and Morag walked them to the door and waved good-bye as they climbed
back into Rick's truck.
Behind the wheel, Rick pulled a brochure out of his jacket pocket and handed
it to Lily. Unfolding it, she was surprised to see Pemberley Manor on the
cover. "Why, it's a bed and breakfast!" she exclaimed. "Where did you find
"In an anteroom to the restrooms," he replied, pointing to the restaurant.
"There's a whole rack of brochures about the attractions of Concord."
Lily examined both sides of the brochure. "I'd love to see what the place
looks like inside."
"You would?" Rick asked.
"Absolutely," she said dreamily. "Fireplaces, bay windows, canopied beds--"
"Good," Rick said, smiling and tapping the cell phone in his shirt pocket,
"because I made us a reservation."
"I called from the bathroom and made a reservation," Rick repeated. "That's
why I took so long."
"Tonight. Right now," Rick replied. "They had one vacant room, and I
Lily opened her mouth but in her astonishment, no words came out. Rick put
his arm around her and kissed her forehead. "Lil, I'm sorry you didn't have
any fun today, and I want to make it up to you. We needed to stop here, and
we need to stop at Pemberley too," he said softly.
"But Rick, we have no luggage, no clean clothes!"
"Well, I did see a superstore near the gas station, so we can buy what we
need for one night. But if you can stand to smell my socks and underwear
two days in a row, I'm sure I can do the same for you," he quipped.
"Anyway, I think it was sometime in the twentieth century that innkeepers
stopped requiring their guests to carry luggage." Lily giggled like a
As Rick parked the truck in Pemberley Manor's lot and they climbed out, Lily
lifted out the plastic-wrapped quilt and the knitting bag, into which she
had stuffed the rag doll and pillow. Seeing Rick's arched eyebrows, she
stammered that she didn't want to leave her purchases in the truck overnight
since they were too pretty to risk being stolen. Rick was about to reply
that in thirteen years no one had ever broken into his truck when it
occurred to him that Lily, not at all inhibited about sharing a room with
him in a metropolitan hotel, might feel far more self-conscious about
meeting the owner of a country B & B empty-handed, and might be trying to
pass off her flea-market souvenirs as luggage. He turned his head so that
she wouldn't see his smile.
The proprietors of Pemberley Manor were two women who introduced themselves
as Ramona and Jill. To Lily, they not only looked nothing like Jane Austen
heroines, they appeared to be mother and daughter. Nor did they seem at all
interested in her "luggage." Ramona beckoned them to follow her, and Lily
stifled a sigh when she realized that they were headed toward the rear of
the inn, away from the turret room. She consoled herself that even if it
had been vacant, it was probably the most expensive room in the place, more
than Rick could afford. But their second-floor room was cozy and cheerful,
dominated by a queen-size canopied bed swathed in all-white bedclothes. A
bowl of fruit was on the nightstand, and a spray of lilacs stood in a vase
on the bureau. Lily dropped the quilt bag, the knitting bag, her cardigan
and her purse on the love seat. Rick added his jacket to the pile.
Ramona pointed to the fireplace and asked if they wanted a fire. Rick and
Lily exchanged glances, and Rick nodded. Briskly, Ramona laid logs in the
hearth and ignited them. As she worked, she announced that if the fire went
out, they were not to relight it themselves, but to call her or Jill for
help. No exceptions, she barked. She glared at Rick as if to warn him that
just because he dressed like a lumberjack in his plaid flannel shirt, that
didn't mean she considered him competent to handle wood and matches safely.
Meekly, Rick nodded again. Lily ran to the bathroom, afraid she'd explode
When Rick closed the door behind Ramona, Lily returned to the bedroom. She
moved to the bay window, delighted to see two dogwood trees, one pink and
one white, on the back lawn. "I love bay windows," she declared. "Look, a
She felt Rick standing close behind her. "Oh, Rick, thank you for all
this!" she exclaimed, flinging her arms wide. She turned around and
Rick's body was rigid, his voice strained. Taking a step back, she looked
into his anguished face and read his thoughts. Oh, God, she asked herself
in dismay, why here, why now....She dropped onto the window seat and buried
her face in her hands.
"Lily," Rick repeated, seating himself across from her on the window seat,
"look at me." Wretchedly, she raised her eyes to him. "Maybe you won't
believe this, but I swear that when I asked you to come with me today, I
never planned to dredge up the past. But what you told me at Christmas--I
keep thinking about it and I can't put it behind me," he told her
desperately. "Not without your help."
Why here, why now, she thought again, and the answer came to her: because
this, not his new client, her new job, or her father's funeral, was the
reason Rick had been cool toward her for weeks. When he said, "I love you
very much, and I can't live without you," she thought he had somehow worked
through his feelings about her "moment of weakness" on his own. Clearly he
hadn't, and clearly they had to move past it if they were ever to be truly
together again. She had brought this crisis on the two of them, and if the
moment to deal with it had to be here and now, she had no choice but to
shoulder the burden--my stone boat, she thought ironically. "How? Tell me
and I'll do it," she begged him.
"I don't care anymore where you and Jake - " He paused, unable to finish the
thought. "I just need to know why. I never allowed you to explain, and
that was wrong of me," he continued. "Tell me now. I promise I won't
"Or walk away?" Lily asked.
"Where would I go?" he reminded her. "I paid for the room."
We need to stop at Pemberly, Rick had said. He's right, Lily thought, where
else could we talk. Too many people had keys to Rick's apartment and barged
in at all hours, and the Deerfield house evoked too many memories of Jake.
Her eyes searched Rick's, seeking assurance that this was a promise he could
keep. He held her gaze, because on the road to Concord, he'd at last made
sense out of Thad's bits and pieces of advice. Little Ashley, starved for
love, adored her torn and mended toy because even a scarred and flawed
rabbit was better than none at all; just as he, so lonely before he'd met
Lily, needed her, scars and flaws and all. By saying that pulling contests
tested the horsemen as well as the horses, Thad had been urging him to test
what kind of man he was; and by reminding Rick of his inner strength, he had
appealed to the fundamentally decent man that Rick liked to think he was.
His friend's religion encouraged forgiveness and rising above old
grievances. In his mind, Rick could hear Thad imploring him to be gentle
with Lily, saying that while he might feel hurt over her betrayal, obsess
over it and want her to suffer for it, only if he treated her with kindness
would she open up and explain how it had happened. Just as pulling horses
wouldn't respond to beatings, she wouldn't respond to berating; and if he
tried it, he wouldn't, in the end, be able to live with himself.
Knowing nothing of how he'd come by his resolve, but heartened by seeing it
in his eyes, Lily bowed her head and began to lay out the facts: How, for
days, Jake had been acting mysteriously - never answering a question directly,
ducking phone calls, even coming to blows with a stranger on the front lawn
in full view of her and the girls. How he finally broke down and told her
that he was nearly bankrupt. How, overcome with fear for the future and
compassion for Jake, she'd fallen into his arms.
She risked a peek at Rick and saw him gazing out the window. Jake had
always needed her, she continued, had depended on her like a diabetic
depended on insulin, because for so long he had felt that she was the only
person in the world who believed in him. Likable as Jake was, the
fraternities at Northwestern had looked down on his modest clothes and
desperate eagerness to be accepted, and only one gave him a bid - which he was
forced to turn down when his father refused to pay the pledge fee. Later,
when Mr. Manning decided that Jake wasn't worth the expense of a
Northwestern education, he'd had to drop out altogether. Lily, appalled and
barely able to comprehend that not every father was a Phil Brooks, had
overcome her initial wariness of Jake and fallen for him headlong, resolving
to love him as immeasurably and unconditionally as her father loved his
But as long as Mr. Manning was around to undermine her efforts by telling
Jake he'd never amount to anything, nothing she said or did was ever enough.
Although she soon talked Jake into reducing contact with his father to the
bare minimum, then avoiding him altogether, Jake was already so worn down by
his father's low expectations that he continued to call himself a "stereo
salesman" long after he'd achieved a respectable middle-management position
in the audiovisual equipment company where he started working after college.
The owner treated him like a son - so Jake thought - until he realized that
the old man was stringing him along with promises of promotions and raises
while simultaneously advancing the careers of his own less-talented son and
son-in-law. That was the point at which Jake had apprenticed himself to
Phil Brooks, ultimately becoming not only his partner but the son that Aaron
couldn't be. The failure of the restaurant, Lily reminded Rick, wasn't just
a business crisis for Jake - he feared losing the love of yet another father.
Lily paused when tears began trickling down her cheeks. Rick walked over to
the love seat, picked up her purse, and handed it to her. She pulled out
her handkerchief and blotted her face. Rick again seated himself across
"Lil, I understand what it's like to have a difficult father and I'm sorry
for Jake, but this is more than I ever wanted to know about him. I know why
he did what he did. But why did you? Why did you do it, and what do you
think now about that night?" he asked. His voice, drained of emotion,
surprised Lily. She had braced herself for anger and reproach, but whatever
Rick felt, he was keeping it inside.
Lily folded the handkerchief and squared her shoulders. "I think that out
of long habit, I reacted as I always had when Jake was down and needed me to
comfort him. He was communicating with me in a way that he hadn't since he
started playing around, so when he told me I was the best thing that had
ever happened to him, it caught me off guard. I didn't think about whether
I should or I shouldn't, I just did it. But the next day I understood,
probably for the first time in my marriage, that neediness is not love, and
feeling sorry for someone is not the same as helping him.
"Jake needed help, but it had to come from a lawyer, an accountant, a
banker, and a restaurant consultant - an outside consultant if he was too
proud to ask Daddy for advice. He didn't need an estranged wife who was
just as terrified of the future as he was and just as incapable of thinking
objectively. What I did was no help to him or the girls or myself. It
solved none of his problems and only made matters worse."
She smiled sadly. "I also think - rather, I know - that I'm no longer the
college girl who could get blasted on homecoming weekend and have sex with a
man I'd never be attracted to while sober. I'm older now, I'm supposed to
be more mature, and sex is supposed to mean something. With Jake it meant
nothing. Even before he moved out, it meant nothing. He saw to that.
"I don't mean to minimize his pain that night, it was real. And when he
called me the best thing that ever happened to him, maybe he truly believed
it at that moment. But I believe he was simply operating on autopilot, just
as I was on autopilot when I forgot, or overlooked, what was so obvious:
that I'm not the only woman he's ever turned to for comfort. Years ago he
discovered that there was always a Tiffany or Tawny or Nicole or whoever
who'd gladly be his comforter if he called her the best thing that ever
happened to him. That night I wasn't the only one, I was just the closest
As much as her confession that she'd slept with Jake at all, what had
tortured Rick was her assertion that maybe it hadn't been completely wrong.
He suddenly felt deflated: after all the times he had barely restrained
himself from seizing her, shaking her and demanding that she explain
herself, he now realized that with her bitter "He saw to that," he had his
answer, and it was embarrassingly simple. Sleeping with Jake - rather, her
shame at being suckered into sleeping with Jake--had destroyed her last
illusions about him, had broken her final ties to him, caused her to let go
of the past and open herself to new love. The answer had been staring him
in the face since Christmas night, when she'd said, "I told Jake I want a
divorce." He admitted to himself that Lily wasn't the only one who could
overlook the obvious.
Rick leaned back in the window seat, forcing himself to breathe evenly.
When he trusted his voice, he asked, "Did you think about me at all that
"No, I didn't. Not once," Lily answered. "I know that must sound
"But it means that you were totally focused on Jake, and not trying to get
back at me for something I had done to you," Rick finished.
"Yes, I was thoughtless, I was impulsive, I was motivated by fear and
misplaced compassion, but I never consciously tried to hurt you. And right
afterward I was so....I was...oh, God!"
Rick gathered Lily in his arms as she wept, her face pressed against his
chest. Although they were safe from prying eyes in their second-floor room,
he absentmindedly drew the drapes over the bay window. Between sobs, Lily
gasped something he couldn't quite understand. He almost asked her to
repeat herself but changed his mind. He could certainly live with what it
sounded like: "He wasn't even any good!"
He stroked her hair and let her continue to cry. When it seemed that she
could cry no more, he sighed, "Oh, Lil, to think of what could have been."
Lily raised her head. "What do you mean?" she asked apprehensively.
Avoiding her eyes, he waved his arm. "Well, look around us. The name
'Pemberley Manor' is straight out of a classic romance novel, we have the
flowers, the fireplace, the canopied bed, the window looking out on those
beautiful dogwood trees - this could have been such a perfect setting for
romance, but you went and messed it up."
Could have been. Messed it up. Lily's heart sank. She turned away,
knowing that if she looked at him, she'd break down again. Nothing I said
made a difference, she told herself bleakly. He's going to resent me for
"Yeah, here we are in this lovely boudoir," Rick continued, "and in a
Harlequin romance, this is where the handsome hero would be ripping the
bodice off the beautiful heroine." He placed both hands on her waist. "But
how the hell am I supposed to rip your bodice? You're wearing a goddam
Reflexively, Lily looked down at his fingers curling around the hem of her
red jersey pullover. "What do you mean, rip my..." she began in
bewilderment, then raised her head and looked at Rick. She saw the smile
tugging at his eyes and his mouth.
Relief flooded her. "You set me up--that was so mean!" she yelped,
playfully shoving him from the window seat to the floor and pouncing on him.
They rolled over and ended up lying side by side, laughing until their
"It was mean," Rick finally admitted, his smile fading. "I don't know what
came over me. I'm sor--"
Quickly, Lily kissed him. "Don't say another word, Rick," she pleaded. "I
have much more to apologize for than you do. This all happened because of
"Lil, why don't we agree to not assign blame," he replied. "In fact, why
don't we agree to drop this whole subject and never bring it up again. It's
time we moved on."
With her eyes brimming, Lily smiled and kissed him again. "Thank God!" was
on the tip of her tongue, but as she felt him tug at her pullover, she said
in alarm, "Don't you dare rip it!"
"Oh, Lil, I'm only going to--" Rick pulled the top over her head. They
scrambled to their feet and moved to the bed, kissing hungrily, as they
hadn't in weeks. Expertly he unhooked her bra and slid her jeans below her
hips, while she pawed at his belt. When finally they lay naked across the
bed, Lily arched her back as Rick's mouth nuzzled her neck, her breast, her
Lily sat straight up. "Rick, what in the world...?"
"Stubbed my toe," Rick said ruefully, curling into a fetal position and
pointing toward the foot of the bed. "I've never had sex in a four-poster
bed before. I didn't realize the rail was waiting to ambush me." When his
toe stopped throbbing, he gingerly stretched, but his feet again brushed the
rail. "I guess there are other positions," he sighed.
"Or other places," Lily smiled mischievously, nodding toward the fireplace.
"I recall a time when the floor worked for us rather well."
Rick laughed. "Yeah, but if Ramona's afraid of one little spark falling on
the carpet, think of the fit she'll have if we leave DNA evidence on it."
Lily held out her hand in a "Wait!" gesture, climbed off the bed, and moved
to the love seat. She unwapped the quilt and shook it out in front of the
fireplace. "May Ella forgive us for doing this on top of her quilt instead
of under it," she said, laughing.
"She'll understand," Rick replied, climbing off the bed to help her smooth
out the quilt.
"You sure?" Lily asked. "She told me not to let it get dirty. I'll bet
every stain on one of her quilts is like a knife in her heart."
"She'll understand," Rick repeated. "Trust me." He enfolded Lily in his
arms and lowered her to the floor. They lay on the quilt, facing each
other, for only a few minutes before he rolled on top of her. She gasped as
she felt him between her legs.
Rick heard her and propped himself up on his elbows. "Are you OK?" he asked
anxiously. "Is this too soon?"
She shook her head emphatically, wanting to shout that no, it wasn't too
soon, it was what they should have done weeks ago, but she didn't dare.
After all, how many times had Rick complained that she talked too much while
they were making love? Silently she reached up, laced her fingers behind
his neck and pulled him toward her.
. . .
Lily snuggled in the crook of Rick's left arm and turned her back to the
flames, savoring the warmth on her bare skin. "Justin Morgan had a horse,"
she murmured sleepily.
"Justin Morgan had a horse," Lily repeated.
"That's original. Usually you just say, 'Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God...'"
Lily smiled. "Justin Morgan Had a Horse is a children's book about Morgan
horses. Daddy read it to me when I was younger than Zoe. Justin Morgan
owned the first Morgan horse, which was also named Justin Morgan."
"Oka-a-ay," Rick commented, still confused.
"I hadn't thought about that book in decades, but somehow, just now, it came
back to me. Justin Morgan - the horse--had many talents, and one was pulling.
He never lost a pulling contest, even when he competed against much bigger
horses," Lily explained. "And he was born shortly after the American
Revolution. So horse pulling really is a sport with a long history."
Lily's train of thought made no sense to Rick, and he didn't know how to
respond. To his relief, she continued, "I need a shower."
"You need a nap," Rick answered. "Later on, we can shower."
"Of course. First a nap, then dinner at The Glen and Loch, then we'll pick
up what we need for the night--underwear, toothpaste, deodorant,
Lily remembered the ringing telephone that had distracted Morag Buchanan.
"I suppose you phoned in a dinner reservation from the men's room too," she
"I did," he admitted cheerfully. "Then back here for that shower."
Lily smiled without opening her eyes and murmured, "You're full of surprises
today." Too drowsy to resist, she allowed Rick to pull her to her feet,
lead her to the queen bed, and tuck her in.
"I love you, Rick," she whispered.
"I love you, Lily." He brushed her hair away from her face, kissed her and
straightened the spread, then walked back to pick up the quilt.
Rick crouched in front of the fireplace and, as Lily had done at the flea
market, rubbed his hand across the quilt. He was less awed by the gift than
Lily had been, but only because he was so familiar with Ella's handiwork
that he took for granted that every one of her quilts would be a work of
art. During his long friendship with the Yoders, he had learned a few
things about quilt patterns. Now, as he folded the quilt, he thought about
the way Thad had used tales about pulling contests and toy rabbits to send a
message to him - and about how there seemed to be a message to both him and
Lily in the quilt.
How odd, he thought, that of all the quilts Ella had brought to the flea
market, this was the only one that hadn't sold. There was really no reason
for Ella to give it away - as Lily had said, it was exquisite, and Gretchen
surely would sell it eventually--but she had chosen to give it to Lily
nonetheless. Ella was selfless and generous by nature, and needed no
lightning bolt from heaven to make her follow her instincts, but he wondered
if some cosmic force stronger than all of them had chosen her as the
instrument to put that particular quilt in Lily's hands.
He glanced again at Lily, already sleeping peacefully. Tonight was too
early, and tomorrow would be too; but someday, he promised himself, he'd
tell her that Ella had stitched her quilt in a pattern that had been used by
quilters for centuries, a web of interlocking and overlapping circles. The
design was called a double wedding ring.
July, 16, 2001
Copyright 2001 Angela Stockton
E-Mail the author
Based on characters created by Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz