New York Times Bestselling Author Wanda E. Brunstetter and Daughter-in-Law, Jean, Weave a Lighthearted Romance from Indiana’s Amish Country
Living alone for the first time in her life is lonely for Elma Hochstetler, whose twin sister Thelma recently married. Though they share the running of a general store, more and more of Thelma’s time is taken up by her growing family. Elma has dated some, but she wonders if she is just too picky to find love.
Through a mishap at the farmers’ market, Elma meets Ben Wagler and instantly likes him. But there is a problem. He lives in Grabill—50 miles away! But Elma has tried long-distance dating before, and it won’t work for her. Besides the store needs her. Her sister needs her. Elma feels love will forever remain beyond her grasp.
Elma has a habit of putting others before her own needs. Can she learn to take a risk at following the desires of her heart?
How did Thelma meet her husband? Find out in The Lopsided Christmas Cake.
A bone-chilling wind lashed at the trees, scattering bits of debris across the yard. Elma Hochstetler drew her shawl tighter, shivering against the cold. All day long the weather had been like this. One would never know it was the first week of May. She quickened her footsteps, pausing to step around a puddle left from last night's rain. If this unpredictable, windy and gray-skied weather kept up, she'd never get the rest of her garden planted. Hurriedly, she made her way to the chicken coop, not wanting to spend any more time out here than necessary. With nightfall approaching, Elma felt the temperature dropping.
As she passed the barn, Elma heard her trusty horse, Pearl, whinny and kick the door from inside her stall. Cupping her hands around her mouth, Elma hollered, "You're okay, girl; it's just the wind." She grabbed at the scarf covering her head, hoping it wouldn't be blown away, and blinked several times when her eyes began to run because of the stinging air.
When the kicking stopped, Elma breathed a sigh of relief and hurried on. The last thing she needed was one more repair to take care of. The wind followed as she opened the door to the chicken coop, barely making it inside before it slammed shut. Loose feathers stirred up and floated slowly down as the air calmed inside. Sounds of watery clucking, claws scratching the floor, and the fluttery ruffle as a chicken preened itself greeted her. She sneezed when the odor of straw and dusty feed reached her nostrils. Elma blew a feather away from her face that until now, had been stuck in her head scarf.
Collecting eggs wasn't Elma's favorite pastime, nor did she enjoy feeding and watering the unpredictable chickens. She glanced around quickly, hoping Hector wasn't lying in wait for her this evening. The feisty multicolored rooster could be so erratic — sometimes creeping up on her in a sneak attack, other times boldly pursuing her as soon as she stepped into the coop.
Elma looked down at her leg, now sporting an itchy bandage. For no apparent reason, other than just plain orneriness, Hector had pecked her ankle and broken the skin earlier this morning when she'd entered the coop. This evening she'd brought an old broom in with her and made sure it was within reach in case she needed to defend herself. "You won't get me twice today," Elma muttered. "I'm ready for you this time, Hector."
Elma lifted her wicker basket and started down the line. "All right, ladies, what do you have for me?" She'd fed and watered the chickens this morning but hadn't taken time to collect the eggs, as she'd been in a hurry to open the store. The fabric sale going on this week was bringing more customers than they'd expected.
When Elma's twin sister lived here, taking care of the chickens had been her job. But since Thelma married Joseph and they'd moved into the house across the street, she had faced other responsibilities, not to mention the task of caring for her own chickens. And now Thelma was expecting a baby and tired easily. Even though she still helped in the store, for the last month she'd only been working part-time. This put more stress on Elma, as she couldn't manage everything on her own. Two weeks ago, she'd hired Anna Herschberger to help out during the times Thelma couldn't be there. So far, the arrangement had been working well.
"Okay, Gert, you'd better move aside." Elma gave the hen a gentle push, reached into the nesting box, and plucked out a nicely rounded tan-colored egg. "Danki, Gert."
Smiling, Elma moved on to the next nesting box, always wary of Hector. No sign of him yet, so she figured he hadn't come inside with the rest of the chickens when the sun began to set.
When Elma finishing gathering eggs, she hurried out the door and headed for the warmth of the house. She'd no more than stepped onto the porch when Tiger showed up. Purring in a deep, throaty rumble, the orange-and-white cat rubbed against her leg. As Elma switched the basket into her other hand, Tiger walked a figure-eight motion in and around her feet.
"Okay, okay, don't be in such a rush. At least allow me to open the door." She turned the knob, and as the door swung open, Tiger released several rapid-fire meows and darted in with a swish of his tail, causing Elma to trip. She regained her balance just in time to avoid dropping the eggs. "Tiger, why can't you be more patient? I could have spilled all the eggs and had a big mess to clean up."
Tiger offered a piercing meow and paraded off.
Elma rolled her eyes. She'd never cared much for cats, but with the mouse problem she'd had since living in her grandparents' old house, it was either allow the cat in or set traps in most of the rooms. Since Elma began letting Tiger in every evening, the mouse population had decreased, so at least something good had come from it. Elma's twin was the one who loved cats. If Thelma had her way, she'd adopt every stray cat from Topeka to Shipshewana.
Elma entered the kitchen and set the basket of eggs on the counter. She grimaced, noticing the wet tea bag she'd left on a spoon this morning before leaving to open the store. It wasn't like her to be so careless. "Guess I have too much on my mind these days," she murmured, removing her shawl and folding it neatly over the back of a chair.
Tiger, who'd joined her in the kitchen, swished his tail across the hem of Elma's long dress. Meow. Meow. It was a definite "I want to be fed now" meow.
"Hang on. I'll get you something to eat shortly." Elma picked up the wilted tea bag and threw it in the garbage. Then she opened a cupboard door to get the cat food. Before she could get the bowl filled, Tiger began gobbling it up.
"You greedy katz." Elma chuckled. "You ate breakfast this morning, so you can't be that hungry." She gave him some fresh water then took care of the eggs. Once they were put in the refrigerator, Elma took out a container of leftover vegetable-beef soup, poured it into a kettle, and placed it on her new propane-operated stove. Even unheated, the meaty scent made her stomach growl. Thank goodness the old woodstove was gone, although the kitchen wasn't as warm and toasty now. That sooty old beast had given her and Thelma so much trouble when they'd first moved here after their grandparents died. A good many desserts had flopped or ended up overly brown when they'd baked in the antiquated oven.
Elma snickered, thinking about the lopsided cake her twin sister had made and they'd taken to Shipshewana to be auctioned off. Patting her cheek, it was hard not to get flustered again. Even so, with all the time that had passed, her face grew increasingly warmer with the thought of what had transpired onstage. She could have died of embarrassment when the bidding began. Then, she stood, too stunned to speak, when someone bid one hundred dollars for their pathetic-looking cake. Turned out that Joseph Beechy had convinced his friend Delbert Gingerich to bid on the cake so he could meet Thelma. The plan worked, too, because it didn't take long for Joseph and Thelma to begin courting.
As Elma stirred the soup, her thoughts drifted yet again. Slowly but surely, this old house was being transformed into a more comfortable place to live. At least Elma saw it that way. Grandma and Grandpa had been content to live here a good many years, getting by with what they had and making only a few updates. Even with the new stove, some updated kitchen cabinets, and a new water heater, Elma had a list of things she still wanted to have done. One in particular was getting someone to fix the leaky toilet in the bathroom upstairs. She also hoped to buy a new kitchen table and replace the faded kitchen linoleum, which had worn nearly through in several places — especially in front of the stove. Another project involved carpentry, so she'd need to call on Joseph's friend Delbert for that.
At one time, Delbert and Elma had been a courting couple, but things didn't work out between them. He was too set in his ways, and most likely, he thought she was, too. Then Delbert's cousin Myron Bontrager came on the scene and courted Elma for a few months. Myron lived in southern Indiana, and it didn't take Elma long to realize a long-distance relationship wasn't going to work out. Besides, she and Myron didn't have much in common, so she wasn't too upset when they went their separate ways.
While waiting for the soup to heat, Elma set the table and poured a glass of water. When the soup was ready, she poured the steaming medley into a bowl, inhaling its beefy aroma. There was only enough for one helping, but it was plenty for her and certainly hearty. After adding a box of crackers and a leftover cheese ball to the setting, she took a seat and bowed her head for silent prayer. Heavenly Father, I thank You for this food and ask You to bless it to the nourishment of my body. Be with my sister and her husband, and with our family in Sullivan, Illinois. Continue to give me the strength to keep Grandma and Grandpa's store going, and if it be Your will, bring the right man into my life. Amen.
When Elma opened her eyes, her gaze came to rest on the vacant chair where Thelma used to sit. The chair wasn't the only thing deserted, however. The entire house seemed empty without her presence.
When Elma gave her blessing for Thelma to marry Joseph, she had no idea how lonely it would be to live in this rambling old house all alone. There was no one to converse with except the cat, and cooking for one was certainly no fun. Sometimes during a long, solitary night, Elma would cry herself to sleep. She never let on, though. No point upsetting her sister or throwing cold water on Thelma's happiness.
I need to quit feeling sorry for myself. Elma grabbed the saltshaker and sprinkled a bit on her soup. My twin deserves to be happy with Joseph. I only wish I could find a man with whom I'd be content — someone who shares my interests and looks at life the way I do.
Thirty-four and still unmarried, Elma had accepted her plight. Unless God brought the special man to her, she'd be an old maid for the rest of her life.
* * *
Thelma sat in the rocking chair, knitting a pair of green booties. The baby wouldn't be here for five more months, but she wanted to be prepared. She glanced at her husband, sitting across from her reading the recent edition of The Connection magazine, and smiled.
Returning her smile, Joseph set his magazine aside. "Is the gas lamp giving you enough light?"
"Jah, it's plenty."
"I was looking at you a bit ago and noticed you were squinting." He gestured to the coffee table. "You oughta be using those readers right there on the table, don't you think?"
Thelma nodded. "You're right. I'm trying to use what little sight I have without them." She wrinkled her nose. "Anyway, those glasses make me feel like I'm getting old." She began rocking in rhythm to the clicking of her knitting needles.
"You're schee. In fact, I think you've gotten even cuter since I married you." Joseph winked at her. "And you're even more beautiful now that you are carrying our baby. You have a glow about you."
She placed the needles in her lap and flapped her hand at him. "Go on now — you're such a tease."
Joseph left his chair and came over to give her a kiss. "I'm not teasing. I'm a lucky man to have found a woman as pretty as you.
You're schmaert, too."
Thelma bobbed her head. "Now that's one thing I'll have to agree on. I was smart enough to marry you."
He gave her another wink. "Think I'll pour myself a glass of grape juice. Can I get you anything?" "Juice sounds good. Danki, Joe."
"No problem." Joseph gave Thelma another quick kiss and headed for the kitchen.
While Thelma waited for his return, she thought about some of the things she needed to get done before the week was out. Tomorrow was Thursday, and she'd be helping Elma in the store, so not much at home would get done. Friday would have to be laundry day, and Saturday she hoped to do some baking and cleaning.
Thelma felt thankful her utility room was on the main floor. She didn't miss those days of going down to the basement to wash a load of clothes. Poor Elma. She never has liked going to the basement to do the laundry. It's too bad there isn't a place for her washing machine upstairs. Maybe Joe or Delbert could figure something out.
Thelma glanced around the living room. She couldn't help comparing her and Joe's home to Grandpa and Grandma's old house. The fireplace mantel in this home was nicely stained, and the flooring was in tip-top shape. The prior owners had obviously kept the place up.
When Thelma and Joseph first moved in, Elma donated a few pieces of furniture, such as the rocker Thelma sat in now. Of course, Joseph brought the furniture he had in his previous home, so they didn't really need much.
She glanced at the empty cradle sitting across the room. Even though carpentry was not his specialty, Joseph had made the cradle, finishing it last week. Of course, his good friend Delbert, being a carpenter by trade, had given Joe several tips. What a shame things didn't work out for Dell and Elma. Thelma got the chair moving faster. I'd always hoped when I fell in love, my twin sister would find her soul mate and fall in love, too. It would be nice if Elma was also married and expecting a boppli. Well, at least she'll have the privilege of being an auntie soon.
Despite Thelma's love for Joseph, it had been difficult for her to get married and move out of Grandpa and Grandma's old house, leaving Elma alone to fend for herself. Although Thelma and Joseph only lived across the street, it sometimes felt like miles between them. I wonder what Elma is doing tonight? Thelma paused from rocking to glance out the front window. During the day, from where she sat now, she could see across the street to the house she'd become so familiar with. Now she could only see a faint light glowing in one of the windows. It must be lonely for her over there by herself. Well, at least she lives close and we get to see each other nearly every day.
Thelma and Elma had always been close, and when they'd moved to Topeka two years ago, to take over Grandma and Grandpa's store and live in their house, it had drawn them even closer. She was ever so happy being married to Joseph, but oh, how Thelma wished her twin could find such a wonderful man.
"Oh, my." Thelma's eyes flew open when her neck snapped back before almost nodding off to sleep.
"You look tired, my love." Joseph set a glass of juice on the coffee table near Thelma. "Should we drink our juice and then get ready for bed?" Thelma yawned, rubbing her neck. "I suppose it would be a good idea. The sale will continue at the store tomorrow so I need to be there early to help Elma."
Joseph's thick eyebrows rose high on his forehead. "I thought Elma hired Anna Herschberger to help out."
"She did, but one of Anna's friends is getting married tomorrow, so Anna asked for the day off." Thelma drank the juice; then, grasping the armrests, she rose from her chair.
Joseph pulled Thelma into his arms and kissed her tenderly. "I love you so much, and now that you're expecting a boppli, I want to be sure you take good care of yourself."
She tipped her head back, reaching up to stroke his soft beard. "Now don't look so worried. I'll be fine, Joe, and so will our baby."CHAPTER 2
You look mied this morning. Are you sure you feel up to working today?" Elma placed both hands on her sister's shoulders.
"I am a bit tired, but with the sale going on still, and Anna not working, you need my help." Thelma smiled, although it didn't quite reach her usual sparkling blue eyes. "Besides, I enjoy being here in the store with you and having the opportunity to visit with customers."
Elma knew all about her twin's eagerness to visit. Even when they were children, Thelma had been the outgoing one. While Elma was talkative with people she knew, her sister easily carried on conversations with complete strangers. She remembered how once, when they were ten years old, their mother had taken them shopping. As they were getting ready to leave the store, Thelma walked right up to a young English girl and asked where she'd gotten her red balloon. The next thing Elma knew, her sister and the English girl were exchanging addresses so they could write to each other. Elma had never understood why she and Thelma were different on many levels. Yet they were as close as any identical twins could possibly be.
"I have a suggestion." Elma moved to one side of the stool where her sister sat. "Why don't you sit on this stool here by the counter and wait on people? I'll take care of cutting material and restocking shelves as needed."
"Are you sure? I can help stock shelves if you need me to."
Elma shook her head determinedly. "Absolutely not! In your delicate condition, you should not be doing anything strenuous. At least here by the counter, you can stay off your feet."
"You and Joseph worry about me too much." Thelma folded her arms across her stomach. "I'm not an invalid, you know."
Excerpted from The Farmers' Market Mishap by Wanda Brunstetter, Jean Brunstetter. Copyright © 2017 Wanda E. Brunstetter and Jean Brunstetter. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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New York Times bestselling and award-winning author, Wanda E. Brunstetter is one of the founders of the Amish fiction genre. She has written close to 90 books translated in four languages. With over 10 million copies sold, Wanda's stories consistently earn spots on the nations most prestigious bestseller lists and have received numerous awards.
Wanda’s ancestors were part of the Anabaptist faith, and her novels are based on personal research intended to accurately portray the Amish way of life. Her books are well-read and trusted by many Amish, who credit her for giving readers a deeper understanding of the people and their customs.
When Wanda visits her Amish friends, she finds herself drawn to their peaceful lifestyle, sincerity, and close family ties. Wanda enjoys photography, ventriloquism, gardening, bird-watching, beachcombing, and spending time with her family. She and her husband, Richard, have been blessed with two grown children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
To learn more about Wanda, visit her website at www.wandabrunstetter.com.
Jean Brunstetter became fascinated with the Amish when she first went to Pennsylvania to visit her father-in-law’s family. Since that time, Jean has become friends with several Amish families and enjoys writing about their way of life. She also likes to put some of the simple practices followed by the Amish into her daily routine. Jean lives in Washington State with her husband, Richard Jr. and their three children, but takes every opportunity to visit Amish communities in several states. In addition to writing, Jean enjoys boating, gardening, and spending time on the beach.
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