#StartingOver

snowy farm house

Without saying a word, he picked up his bag and climbed the stairs. She couldn’t concentrate. Her heart was pounding in her ears. What had just happened? It seemed a lifetime since he’d driven out of the parking lot and out of her life. A thought came into sharp focus. He left once. He would leave again.

So why come back?

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He had been riveted to the spot the moment she bounded around the corner. She sounded happy and was more beautiful than he remembered. Her hair was longer, and something was different about her eyes. Deeper, more intense.

It all seemed to change when she saw him, and he wondered what she was thinking, what she was feeling. He was afraid it wasn’t anything good, judging by the way she pulled her hand away from him. He reverted to his default behavior when he didn’t know how to respond. He closed up, hating that about himself. Silently, he walked up the stairs.

Seeing the signs attached to the bathroom door, he smiled. He took his things to his room surveying the familiar space. Placing his suitcases on the bed he noted the small changes, the soaps, the small vases filled with colorful local flowers. Soft muslin curtains hung midway on the windows. He washed up and on his way downstairs, peeped into each room, noting the same subtle additions. She had been putting her creative self into the Inn. She had found another outlet for her talents.

He entered the sitting area and looked around, but she was nowhere in sight. Walking through to the dining room and kitchen he noticed a movement toward the pantry. There she stood, a smudge of flour on her cheek, rolling out biscuits and heating stew.

Leaning on the door frame he watched her. “So have you taken over the Inn completely?”

She jumped. “No. Joseph and Ivy wanted to visit some friends tonight since they’ve been working so hard, and with the uptick in guests for the next few weeks, I told them everything was under control so there was no reason for them not to go. She made the stew earlier, and I planned to pop a few biscuits in the oven. I’ll be glad to share.” She smiled.

“I could have taken you to dinner, you know. I really want to sit and talk about the last several months, anyway.”

She didn’t look up. “Well, we can talk over supper here. I have a few things to discuss with you as well.” She turned and put the biscuits in the oven.

He pulled open a drawer in the side table and took out two placemats and a couple of napkins. Setting them on the table, he turned to get silverware and two mugs for coffee. It was dark outside, so he lit the oil lamp on the table and watched as she dished up two bowls of stew and brought the coffee. He took the hot biscuits and jam and placed them in the center then pulled out her chair. “You’ve done an excellent job. I could get used to this.” He smiled.

He reached one hand out on the table, signaling he would offer thanks. She trembled as their fingers met, and when he said, “Amen,” they each started eating in silence, not looking up from their plates.

“Joy, I need to explain some things.”

“No, it’s okay, really…”

He took her hand. “The day we found you trapped in that snowstorm, I sat and watched you from the chair, keeping the fireplace going and trying to get fluids down you, keep warmth in your body.” He looked at the back of her hand, touched it tenderly. “And something happened. I saw how easy it would be for you to slip away and I could lose you forever. I thought about my own life and what kind of future I wanted.” He looked up. She was watching him silently, listening. “Being alone and in complete control over my life was fine as long as I didn’t know any other way. Love had never opened me up and laid me bare before. There was so much life I’d never lived. The morning I left there was so much on my mind, things I had to do, things I had to set straight before I could have a future. Even if it wasn’t the one I thought I wanted — before you.”

“Robert, no. You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to explain anything to me.” She got up and started clearing the table, resetting it for the morning meal. He joined her, fixing the coffee to start early, then washing up their dishes. She toweled them dry, setting them in the glass covered cupboards. They worked quietly side by side getting out food for Ivy to prepare for supper the next evening. When they finished, he went into the sitting room and sat across from the fire.

She walked in and stood near the stairs. “Robert, I — I think I need to turn in. Tomorrow’s going to be busy.”

“Will you please hear me out?” He paused, watching her. “Please.” He took a deep breath. “Then maybe tomorrow we can walk around the farm and I’ll answer your questions. But I want you to do some thinking and praying tonight.”

She walked over and sat on the edge of the chair opposite him, her hands in her lap, listening. He told her what had taken place while he had been gone. She watched him, tears rimming her eyes.

Ivy and Joseph came in and they talked a few minutes before everyone turned in for the night. He followed Joy up the stairs toward their rooms. Just outside her door, he leaned down and kissed her lightly on the cheek. He felt her shiver and his heart skipped a beat. He opened her door and waited until he heard her whisper, “Good night,” through the closed door.

Friday morning came early, the sun shining through the sparkling window in his bedroom. His first thought was of Joy. Listening, he could hear her quietly moving around, opening and closing doors along the hallway. One final check, he supposed, making sure everything was set and ready. Fresh oil in the lamps, even though Joseph had put in simple wiring for lights, and being sure the flowers were still fresh. Quilts folded at the foot of each bed. Soon all was quiet, and he was alone on the second floor.

The aroma wafting up the stairs pulled him toward the kitchen. He took the stairs two at a time, taking in the pristine house. It was obvious that Ivy and Joseph had put a heart full of love and care into the place, and he assumed Joy had a lot to do with that. Had she found a new passion?

He walked into the kitchen, rubbing his hands together. “Good Morning. Looks like my nose led me to the right place.”

They all looked up. Joy gave him a shy smile. Joseph was grinning from ear to ear, and Ivy looked pale and tired. As they sat and joined hands for prayer, Joy’s hand seemed to tremble in his. Joseph said, “Amen,” and they all started passing dishes and making small talk. All but Ivy, who ate very little and excused herself soon after the meal began. No one lingered over the meal, there was no time. Joseph went to find Ivy while Robert and Joy cleaned and prepped the kitchen.

Walking into the sitting room, he tended the fireplace and she went to the desk. He glanced up at her. “When is the first check-in scheduled?”

She looked closer at the screen. “Between two and three.”

“Is everything ready? We aren’t fixing lunch, right? Only supper?” She nodded. He walked over to the desk, holding out his hand. “Will you go for a walk with me? Maybe into the village?”

“Hmm.” She hesitated. “Sure, I suppose. Everything is ready. We have time. Let me get my jacket.”

It was a long walk and he would rent a buggy and driver to return in time, but it would be well worth it. He gently reached down and took her hand in his. She didn’t pull away.

He took a deep breath. “Joy, like I said last night, I’m free of all responsibility to everything except my writing, and even that’s negotiable.” He looked over at her as they walked. She met his gaze. “It was rude for me to leave the way I did, and I know it seemed like I didn’t care. Can you forgive me?” She started to answer but he continued. “I knew fairly soon after you came to the Inn that you were someone I wanted to get to know. You challenged me in ways no one else ever dared. And you captivated my heart. I’m telling you this because being without you over the last couple of months has made me realize how much I love you.” They walked along in silence. Maybe he shouldn’t have said so much so soon after coming back. She still held his hand, that was a good sign. He wished he could read her mind.

He changed the subject. “You seem to have blossomed during the months I’ve been gone. Have you enjoyed living here?”

She took her hand from his and wiped a tear from her eye. She reached for his hand again and looked up at him. “To be honest, I can’t see myself living anywhere else. I’d love to be able to run the Inn, make it mine.” He started to say something but then smiled.

He guided them into a restaurant and up to the front. She scanned the food counter. Stepping up behind her, he put his hand on her back. “We need to order supper and dessert for tonight and have it delivered to…”

The man looked at Joy. “Good morning, Ms. Joy.” He smiled brightly.

“Good Morning, Ivan. You remember Robert Binning? Robert, this is Ivan Blatt.”

“Of course. It’s been a while. What brings you back?” The two men shook hands.

“What Robert’s trying to say is Ivy is feeling a little under the weather and we have a full house tonight. Can you arrange to have several large meat pies and dessert pies delivered to the Inn by four? Oh, and will you throw in several loaves of fresh bread, please?”

Robert pulled out his wallet, but she touched his hand. “Please put it on our bill, Ivan, and I’ll see that the check is sent. Thank you.”

As they reached the door, Robert pushed it open. “Is there anything else that might make these next couple of days easier for you?”

She shrugged and smiled. “We’ll see.”

After stopping at several more stores, he hailed a driver and helped her into the buggy. It was his first ride, but she seemed to be at home, bantering with the driver. He was glad they had had this time together. He had been intrigued by Joy before, but he saw a different person now. A woman with a softened heart and a simple love for living he hadn’t seen in her before.

Their buggy pulled into the driveway behind another buggy. Ivan’s wife, his mother, and three sisters were unloading food and other items. He helped Joy down and she walked over to the group, taking charge. Robert paid the driver, then began helping carry things into the Inn. For the next couple of hours, the ladies were busy storing food and preparing for supper that evening.

Robert helped where he could. Joy was busy with guests as they began to arrive. He quietly slipped away to his room, coming down dressed in jeans and boots and a long sleeved shirt. He needed to see Joseph. Joy was in charge and seemed comfortable in the company of the friends helping her prepare. He would talk to her after things settled down later that evening.

Joseph was at the barn nailing boards back in place. When he offered him a hand, Joseph handed over the hammer and started pushing against the board with his shoulder. After they finished, Robert asked if he had a few minutes to talk. “I have something I’d like to run by you.”

Joseph removed his hat and they sat on a bench in the late afternoon sun. He was good at reading people, but Joseph was different. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I’ve watched you and Ivy trying to run both the farm and the Inn, and it seems to be taking its toll.” He turned on the bench and looked at Joseph. “Have you ever thought about selling the Inn? Keep the farm and all the land except what would be needed for the house.” Joseph slowly turned his head to look at him, his expression never changing. Robert kept talking. “Joy loves the Inn. If we could come to an arrangement that would give you enough money to invest in the farm and build you and Ivy a house, would you be interested?” He waited, but Joseph sat silent, watching him. Quietly, Robert said, “I want to ask Joy to marry me and I’m afraid she’ll turn me down if she has to leave the Inn.” Joseph smiled slightly. Robert leaned back on the bench. “If she and I could own the Inn, you and Ivy could own your land and farm, raise your family here. Maybe we could all be happy.”

They sat, neither saying anything. After a few minutes, Joseph rubbed his forehead and put his hat back on. “I have thought about it. I’m not a good businessman. I am a good farmer. The Inn just sort of happened and we didn’t know what to do with it. Ivy loves the contact with people but is overwhelmed with the work and I have so much to do on the farm I don’t have time to do much else. Now that we are starting our family, neither of us has much interest in keeping it going. You know Robert, both our roots are in the soil. Ivy’s fathers and mine have been farmers for many generations. It’s in our blood, you might say.” His eyes were looking far off toward the horizon, where the sun was getting low. “Let me talk to her and see how she feels about this and we will talk again.”

Later that evening, after the guests were settled in and supper had been successfully served and cleaned up by Ivan’s mother and sisters, Robert suggested Joy ask them if a couple of them would be interested in coming for the rest of the week to help her. She went outside to find them.

He took his coffee to the sitting room. Waiting for Joy to join him, he tried to work out the words he wanted to say. She came in so quietly he didn’t hear her. She cleared her throat. He looked up and patted the sofa beside him.

She moved over to join him. “Wow, what a day!”

Turning toward her, he took in the tired droop of her shoulders. He put his hand on hers, pulling them to him. “Joy, there’s something I want to tell you. I…” His voice broke. “Well, what I’ve seen today has opened my eyes about so many things. I see so many changes in you. You’ve really made this place work, put so much of you into it.” He searched her eyes. “I truly believe the quiet, gentle life of the farm and Inn suits you. It’s brought out talents I haven’t seen before. Am I right in believing you could be happy here?”

She sat back, tears forming in her eyes. “Yes, I’m content here with these precious people.” She pursed her lips and sighed. “The only thing that would add to that is if Joseph would consider giving me complete control.” She shook her head, looking around the room. “But this house has been in Joseph’s family for three generations. I can’t ask him to give that up.”

He turned to face her, putting his hand over hers. “Joy, I’m in love you, and…” He slipped off the couch in front of her. “I want to ask if you would consider becoming my wife.”

Tears formed in her eyes. He watched her, trying to read her face, her eyes. He waited. He wanted to hear her say, “Yes,” but the answer was so long in coming. At least, it wasn’t a “No.” Yet. His heart and his breath seemed to stop. He looked down. “Joy, I…”

She put a finger on his lips. “Shh.”

Sliding off the couch, she knelt on the floor with him. Almost whispering, she said, “Yes, Robert Binning, Author, I would be thrilled to be your wife, even if it means leaving this lovely place.” He lowered his head and tilted hers and they sealed it with a kiss.

They drew apart when they heard voices in the kitchen. Joseph and Ivy walked in. Joy stood and hugged her friend, chatting about how Ivy was feeling. After a few minutes, Robert asked if they would join them. They took a seat and he looked at Joseph. “Do you have news for us, my friend?”

He reached over and took Ivy’s hand, smiling. “Well, we’ve discussed your offer and, yes. We will sell Friendship House to you. What with starting a family and keeping up the farm we both feel it would be too much for us, especially Ivy.”

Joy’s mouth fell open, as she looked from one to the other, trying to take in what Joseph had just said. She fumbled over her words. “Wait, what did you say?!” She looked at Robert and back to Joseph. “Did I just hear you say sell us the Inn? Is this for real?” She looked at Ivy, taking in her smile as she nodded her head. She jumped up and ran across the room, wrapping her arms around Joseph’s neck in a tight hug. Ivy giggled and Joseph blushed. Joy turned to Robert and smiled, putting her arms around his neck. “Thank you! Do you know how much this means to me?” He hugged her close, kissing her soft lips. “Anything for you, my love.”

The next morning the planning started. Joseph made a few calls on neighbors and before the day was done, the word spread around the community that the Berger’s were building a house. A truckload of supplies arrived Friday, and Saturday morning the work was in full swing. The men arrived before daylight and visited over mugs of hot coffee while their wives and daughters started preparing meals. It moved Robert deeply to be part of such community-wide kindness and love.

Joseph and Ivy’s new home was up and completed over just two weeks. They seemed to love moving their things and settling in.

Robert was surprised when someone knocked on his door early one morning. He peeked out to see Joy standing in the hallway with a large basket of food and decorations. He opened the door, smiling at the sparkle in her eyes. “Wow, Is that for me? How thoughtful.”

She met his smile with laughter and reached up to kiss him. “Not you. I put this together for Ivy and Joseph. I thought you might want to go with me to deliver it.” He looked through the contents of the basket, listening to her. “It’s some of the things I know they enjoy and a few new touches for their home.”

“Let’s go.” Reaching for his jacket, he closed the door and they walked out into the sunny morning. Robert carried the basket in one hand and held Joy’s hand in the other. “Have you thought about a wedding date? Now that the Inn will be our home, I’d really like for us to move ahead soon. I want our life to be all I know it can be.”

“Yes, actually I have. I wanted to talk to you and get your ideas, but what about June? Just something simple here in the village with our friends. I’d rather it not be something…with, you know, celebrities and publishers, and all that. Just these plain people who have taken us in and accepted us so graciously.”

“Perfect. I wonder if Joseph would consider standing as my best man?”

As they sat with their friends drinking coffee and enjoying fresh scones Ivy made, they planned their wedding. As the two ladies discussed colors and flowers, the two men walked outside to look over the finishing touches Joseph was making to the house and yard. When Robert asked him to stand as his best man, a huge grin broke across Joseph’s face. He slapped him on the back, giving him a hug to match the smile. He would be honored.

Robert didn’t know weddings could be planned and completed in so short a time. His previous “marriage” had left him with an empty feeling. It was all for show, hollow and cold, not like a wedding should be. He watched Joy as each phase was completed, the glow that seemed to surround her and the smile lighting up her eyes.

Ivy made her own long, graceful dress and would have made Joy’s given a little more time. Joy chose a lady in the community to make hers. It’s simplicity accentuated her radiant beauty.

Finally, the day arrived. The morning sun was warm in the small park. Flowers were in full bloom, seemingly overnight. Robert, Joseph, and the minister stood on one side of the short bridge that crossed a brook. His breath caught in his chest as he watched her walking to him, a smile on her face, her eyes glistening. She was beautiful.

They shared their vows, exchanged rings and the minister pronounced them husband and wife. They kissed with a love coming from deep within them, then turned and walked across the bridge to embrace their new life together. Friends cheered, and a flurry of fresh flower petals fell over them.

Among the laughter and sharing of good wishes, Joy realized this was indeed a new life for her. One she never expected. But one she embraced with all that was in her.

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Thank you for reading this story. As a gift, all of us at the Friendship Inn would like to share this small gift with you.

Amish Cinnamon Bread

To make amish cinnamon bread, you will need:
Dough:
1 cup of butter, softened
2 cups of sugar
2 eggs
2 cups of buttermilk (or 2 cups of milk plus 2 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice)
4 cups of flour
2 teaspoons of baking soda
Cinnamon sugar mixture:
2/3 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
Directions:
Step 1: Cream together the butter, two cups of sugar, and eggs. Add in the milk, flour, and baking soda.
Step 2: Pour half of the batter into greased loaf pans (1/4 of the total mixture in each pan).
Step 3: In a separate bowl, mix together the 2/3 cup of sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle 3/4 of the cinnamon mixture on top of the batter in each pan.
Step 4: Add the remaining batter to the pans. Sprinkle the tops with the last of the cinnamon mixture. Swirl with a knife.
Step 5: Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick tester comes out clean. Cool for 20 minutes before removing from the pan.

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