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Pullingby Angela Stockton
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"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."

"What for?"

"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 Rick.

"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 was Amish?

"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 markets."

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 notebook.

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 bag."

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 reason?"

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 gives them."

"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, almost decapitated.

"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 up.

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 children.

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 historic district."

"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 salmon.

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 excused himself.

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 the brochure?"

"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 grabbed it."

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 schoolgirl.

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 with laughter.

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 bird feeder!"

She felt Rick standing close behind her. "Oh, Rick, thank you for all this!" she exclaimed, flinging her arms wide. She turned around and embraced him.

"Lily, I--"

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 interrupt."

"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 family.

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 from her.

"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 one."

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 night?"

"No, I didn't. Not once," Lily answered. "I know that must sound heartless, but--


"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 this forever.

"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 knit!"

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 sides ached.

"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 me."

"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 abdomen--


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, champagne--"

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 said, yawning.

"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
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Based on characters created by Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz


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