Chapter Six

The colder months on his farm were much slower, and sometimes Noah found himself at loose ends. Thank goodness, the animals still needed tending to, and he’d been working on a new dining table. He wasn’t a skilled wood worker, but he did well enough, he supposed. He’d set up a shop of sorts in his barn, and he spent a good deal of time out there. When he finished the table, he thought to make a new headboard for his bed. Keeping busy was important, for he found if he had too much time to spare, his mind would go places he wasn’t keen on going.

Like Leora Fisher. And Bill Jeffreys.

Those two were taking entirely too much space in his brain.

“Noah?” came a shrill voice. “Noah King? You in there?”

His barn door inched opened, and Eliza Troyer stuck her head in. “There you are.”

He straightened up from sanding the top of the table.

Ach, what are you building?” she asked, wandering inside. “Why, this looks right fine. I didn’t know you worked with wood, Noah.”

“I’m not very gut at it, to be certain,” he said.

She ran her mittened hand over the surface of the table. “Looks nice to me.” She raised a brow. “I’m sure my niece Doris would be mighty interested in what you’re doing out here. I came by to tell you that she’s arrived.”

Noah held back a groan and half-expected Eliza’s niece to pop through the door behind her at any moment. But she wasn’t there.

“You must be glad to have her here,” he commented.

“Now, I promised to have you over for supper, so I’m here to invite you. Six o’clock this evening and don’t be late.”

This evening? He wanted to groan out loud, but he held it back.

“Doris is baking up a storm right now. You do like shoofly pie, ain’t so? I seem to recall that it’s one of your favorites. She is really looking forward to meeting you, Noah. And she might be staying a while. Longer than I expected, which suits me just fine. And you’ll be happy about it, too, I assure you.”

Noah stood there, helpless, in the torrent of her words. Did the woman ever breathe? She answered that question for him by taking a gulping breath.

“You be there, all right? Your place is already set at the table.”

He had no choice but to agree. Eliza patted his arm in a matronly way, smiled hugely, and left. He leaned on the table, feeling as if he’d just survived a storm.

So. He was going to supper at the Troyers’ that very evening.

With a sigh, he returned to his sanding.

* * *

Noah pulled up on the reins in front of the Troyers’ house. He supposed he should unhitch Flicker, although he didn’t want to. Unhitching the pony meant he would be staying awhile, and he really wanted to escape as quickly as he could. But he knew Eliza Troyer. There would be no early escape from this supper. He got out of his buggy and walked up to Flicker.

“All right, girl. I’ll get you unhitched. No reason you should suffer, too.” He chuckled.

The front door opened, and Eli Troyer came out. “Eliza said you’d be comin’.” He looped his thumbs under his suspenders.

“Hello, Eli,” Noah greeted him. “I thought to let Flicker graze a bit.”

“You can take her around to the side of the house if you like. There’s more grass there. Or you can take her to the barn. It’s awful cold out.”

“I’ll let her graze a bit. Is there a place to tie her up?”

Jah. You’ll see the post.”

Noah took Flicker around to the corner of the house and secured her to a thin hitching post. He slapped her on the rump. “Enjoy yourself,” he muttered, circling back around to the porch.

“Gonna be a cold one tonight,” Eli observed. “Ain’t a cloud in the sky.”

“You’re right about that.” Noah followed him inside. The blast of warmth from the warming stove nearly knocked him over. It had to be ninety degrees in there.

“Eliza, he’s here,” Eli called out.

Eliza came bustling from the kitchen. “Ach, Eli. So gut to see you.” She turned back to the kitchen. “Doris, our guest is here. Come on out and greet him.”

Doris emerged from the doorway, her dark eyes lit up with some inner fire. “Noah King,” she said in a strong voice. “So nice to meet you.”

Noah blinked. Doris was beautiful, with wide brown eyes and light brown hair, and a few errant wisps escaping her kapp. She was tall and shapely, and her expression was enthusiastic. She wasn’t at all what he’d expected. He thought for sure that Doris would be some mousy shy thing who didn’t say a word. He wanted to laugh out loud. He should have known better, considering the out-going nature of her aunt.

“Nice to meet you, too,” he said, smiling.

“I hope you’re gut and hungry,” she said. “Eliza and I have made enough for half the district, for sure and for certain.”

Eliza laughed and gave her niece a playful slap on the shoulder. “Not as much as all that.”

Doris winked at Noah. “Don’t let her fool you. I suggested we go out and invite all the neighbors up and down the road, but she wouldn’t hear of it.” She giggled then, a pleasant sound that filled the room.

“You men might as well get seated at the table,” Eliza told them. “We’re ready.”

Eli shrugged and moved to his spot at the head of the table. Noah noted that they’d set a place at the end of the table, likely for him. He sat down there.

“Sure does smell gut,” he commented.

“Hold your judgement until you taste it,” Doris said, disappearing into the kitchen.

Well, this evening might not be so bad after all. Not that Noah was interested in Doris beyond that of being a friend, but still, he’d dreaded this meal all afternoon, and the way it looked now, his dread had been for nothing.

The women brought out the steaming dishes of roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, creamed carrots, a basket of fresh biscuits, and a bowl of pickles. Noah’s mouth was watering before the silent prayer was led by Eli.

After praying, Eliza started passing the dishes around. Noah took generous helpings of everything.

“Smells gut and tastes even better,” he remarked between mouthfuls.

Doris flushed with pleasure. “Glad you like it. Shoofly pie for dessert.”

“I told him,” Eliza said, slathering butter on her biscuit. “It’s his favorite.”

Talk turned to the weather and the upcoming holidays.

“Where are you spending Thanksgiving?” Eliza asked him.

He hesitated. He was hoping he would be spending it in the company of Leora, but her offhand comment about Martha having plenty of food didn’t seem like an official invite. Yet, if he didn’t have plans, he knew he was about to. He could see the wheels turning in Eliza’s head.

“I’ve been invited to the meal,” he said vaguely.

He should have known he wasn’t going to get by with that—not with Eliza.

“Oh? Who invited you?”

“Um, I’ll be eating with Martha Yutzi’s family,” he said, cringing inwardly and hoping he wasn’t stretching the truth.

Eliza deflated right before his eyes. “I see.” She chewed the edge of her lip. “Why, I think they often have quite a crowd. Perhaps, you’d prefer a smaller setting.”

He swallowed. “I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

Aenti,” Doris said, giving Eliza a look. “You don’t want to be interfering with Noah’s plans.”

He expected Eliza to belt out, “Oh, but I do!” But she didn’t say a word. Doris smiled at him.

“I haven’t decided how long to extend my visit.” She took a drink of milk. “I don’t really know Hollybrook all that well. Oh, I’ve visited here from time to time, but I know there’s a lot more here that I haven’t seen.”

All three of them were staring at him, and he got the message.

“I … well, I could take you around if you like. Show you the area.” He maintained a pleasant expression, but he was annoyed. He was being manipulated, and he didn’t like it.

“What a wonderful idea,” Eliza gushed. “Noah, you could stop by tomorrow afternoon if you like.” She turned to Doris. “You should see the lovely table Noah is making. Perhaps he’ll take you by his place and show it to you.”

Noah kept his smile fixed. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Doris. She seemed nice enough, but that Eliza Troyer. Sometimes, she meddled just a bit too much.

“Leave the boy alone,” Eli muttered, but his comment was ignored by his wife.

“Doris, I think we’re ready for your wonderful dessert,” Eliza announced.

With that, the women got up and cleared the table of everything but their glasses of milk and their forks. Within minutes, they were back with two pies and dessert plates.

Doris gave Noah an enormous piece of pie. When they’d all been served, Noah took a bite. It was amazing—the best shoofly pie he’d ever tasted.

“Well?” Eliza asked him.

“It’s wonderful gut,” he said around his mouthful. “Delicious.”

Eliza preened as if she’d made the pies. Doris smiled at him and began eating her own piece.

After supper, they adjourned to the front room. Noah kept glancing out the window into the darkness. With how cold it was, he’d expected it to snow, but he supposed the clear skies weren’t going to accommodate that. Still, he didn’t want to stay too long.

After an hour or so of general chatting, he stood. “I need to be getting on home,” he announced. “Thank you for a wonderful meal.”

“So soon?” Eliza asked.

“Let the boy be,” Eli said, standing also. “I’ll see you out.”

Nee, I need you in the kitchen, Eli,” Eliza said, jumping up.

“What for?”

“There’s something funny with the faucet.” She smiled at Noah. “Nice to have you over. Doris, can you get the door for him?”

Eliza practically grabbed Eli and dragged him from the room. As soon as they were gone, Doris burst out laughing.

“My subtle aenti,” she said. “She means well.”

Noah smiled. “I s’pose she does.”

Doris moved toward the front door and he followed her.

“Now, Noah, I know you’re coming for me tomorrow to show me the sights.” She paused and laughed again. “Of which I’m sure there are many. Goodness knows how many astounding sights there are in an Amish community…”

He looked at her, not sure if she was making fun of him or her aunt or Hollybrook.

“And of course, it’s highly likely that we’ll be published immediately after our ride together…” She batted her eyes at him and then really laughed. “You should see your face, Noah King.”

He stood there, not having a clue what to say. This girl was unlike anyone he’d ever met. He had no idea what to think of her.

She leaned close. “Don’t fret. I know we’re being set up. Truth is, I already have my eye on someone else…”

His brow rose.

“No one you know,” she continued. “But someone my dat won’t approve of. So, we’ll just play this game, if it’s all right with you. Satisfy my aenti.”

He smiled then, drawn to her humor.

“And then, poof!” She gestured with her hands like a firework. “It won’t have worked out, and I’ll go back home.”

“All right,” he said, grinning. “I’ll pick you up about two-thirty tomorrow afternoon. That way, we’ll have a gut few hours before it turns dark.”