When Jacob walked into the Yoder house after four silent years and carrying two small children, whispers grew, then, “Shh, Shh, Shh.” Suddenly, not a sound could be heard save the chafing of his new black broadfall pants rubbing one leg against the other. Rough they were and itchy, not smooth and comfortable like the buckskins he’d worn when he pretended to be English.
He stood in the middle of the group, the sight familiar yet foreign. Row upon row of men sat ramrod straight on simple backless benches. In the opposite room, facing the men, sat rows of women, on like benches, the folding doors between two rooms open for this purpose. The women were white-kapped, the men bearded, marking them Amish. Jacob’s own beard had been shaved daily during his sojourn into the English world, with only three weeks growth now to show for his decision to return. This marked him a rebel. And a liar. Only married men let their beards grow.
He saw old friends, nodded at a few. Some smiled back, but not many. This should not anger or surprise him, but it did. Emma sighed in her sleep, reminding him of his plan to raise his babies here. Knowing that a bad attitude could make for a bad beginning, Jacob swallowed his urge to declare that he was not sorry he left.
Where should he sit? He belonged in the men’s section. The babies belonged in the women’s. Unheard of, this, a man raising his babies alone. He would be expected to court a mother for his children soon. But how could he, when the woman he loved.... He saw her watching him and was jolted. Rachel was more beautiful than he remembered, but she looked....
She buried her anger--he saw the effort it took--and came to him. “They’re yours?”
Drinking in the sight of her, he could only nod.
“Their mother?” she asked.
Gave them life with her last breath, he thought, but shook his head, his remorse too great for words.
“What are their names?”
Jacob swallowed his yearning and regret and found his voice. “Emma and Aaron.”
Rachel opened her arms. “I’ll take them.”
“I can’t ask you--”
“Oh, please,” she said, her golden eyes wide, pleading, revealing a different kind of anguish. And Jacob knew deep inside that Rachel longed to hold his babies with an ache as acute as his own in past years to hold her.
He had almost forgotten this ability they shared--to feel each other’s emotions, as if each lived inside the other. It had happened often to them as children, less as they grew older. But this, just now, had been powerful. Except that she should be holding her own babies. “Thank you,” he said. “Sit first. It’s tricky standing.”
They held everyone’s attention ... the prodigal and the woman who’d tossed him away, passing babies back and forth, her marriage to his brother a loud shout between them.
With an ordination, service would be longer than the usual three hours. Simon, by the grace of God--according to Amish belief, not Jacob’s--had been the candidate to choose the bible with the paper naming him Deacon, and now he was in his element, high in his humility for all to see.
During the ordination, Jacob could not keep from watching Rachel, his babies asleep in her arms, her slim fingers gentling them. He closed his eyes and imagined the lips that touched Emma’s tiny forehead, touching his.
He remembered how Rachel’s hair, now hidden by her white heart-shaped kapp, would look and feel set free as it grazed his cheek. She had hair the color of blackberry wine with unruly curls all over her head. And if he were to wrap sections of the silk along one of his fingers, he could make the ringlets into long curls that hung down her back like a veil of evening mist after a new moon. And it smelled like honey straight from the hive, with that extra scent of musk it had on a summer afternoon, the sun high in the sky and you had to fight the swarm to win your prize.
He had removed her kapp on just such a day, let down her beautiful hair and kissed her for the first time. Back then, he thought she would always be his. But she belonged to Simon now. Still, Jacob could not keep from imagining ... until the Deacon’s sermon stung him. “A cankerous apple left in the barrel will rot those around it! It must be plucked, discarded so as not to spoil the rest.” Simon looked straight at him, the bad apple, and all but pointed an accusing finger as he urged all to thrust him from their midst.
Jacob almost laughed. It would take more than a vengeful sermon to scare him away. He had lived English; nothing could frighten him now. But already he knew that it was going to be much harder to watch Rachel and Simon together than he had imagined. Nevertheless, he was staying, unless he got tossed out.
Simon must have read his resolve, for the new Deacon rocked on his heels, clasped his hands behind his back and turned from such a rotten-apple brother to gaze at the men about him. “Who do you think has the most important role in the Amish Church? Is it the Preacher? The Deacon? Is it the Bishop?” He paused to build expectation, searched the men’s faces, then he raised an arm to signal the power in his words. “I will tell you who,” he shouted. “It is the women with babies on their laps who have the most important role in our church.”
Jacob sat straighter. Swift and bright, understanding came. Rachel had no babies of her own on her lap, because she was barren. And Simon was up to his old tricks. His sanctimonious judgment, dispensed now through sermon, would emerge as God’s words. Coated in pretty sentiment, the new Deacon had just shamed his wife before the entire church district.
‘Lift not the sword,’ they had been taught from birth. Not that the English lived it and neither had he. But he was Amish again, for good or ill ... and he wanted more than ever to plant his fist in his brother’s face.