The Loyal One
“I should start by saying that I always thought that everything would have gone a whole lot better if John had just let Andy or Marie drive us in one of their cars. Or, say, John and Logan hadn’t suggested that we all go swimming in the lake on Mr. Schlabach’s farm.”
Katie hadn’t believed it was possible to both love and hate something at the same time. But that was how she felt about her house. Standing outside the front of it, attempting to look at the front door as a newcomer would, she supposed it didn’t look much different from any of the other houses dotting Plum Lane.
A tourist leisurely driving down the narrow, winding roads of Walnut Creek might have even called the fifty-year-old house charming, with its shiny black door, wraparound porch, and carefully kept-up whitewashed siding. Many had told her that it looked like the perfect Amish farmhouse.
Unfortunately, every time Katie looked at the siding, all she
saw was the long hours she’d spent scraping and sanding the old siding in the hot sun.
Boy, she’d hated scraping off old paint. For some reason, her older sister and brother had always gotten to be the painters.
Her sister, June, had said that Katie always had to sand and scrape because their parents didn’t think she was a careful painter. Though the criticism had stung, Katie couldn’t really disagree. She hated working on the outside of the house. It was hot, sticky, and bugs got in her face.
She’d always secretly suspected that the reason she never got to paint was because she was younger than her siblings and therefore always got the jobs neither June nor Caleb had wanted to do.
As she slowly walked along the porch, glancing in one of the many windows facing the road, Katie knew there was a third reason.
It was because her parents had carefully worked on the outside of the old house but never on the inside. It perpetuated the illusion that everything was lovely and well cared for on the other side of the walls, too.
But that had never really been the case.
Hating the memories that were forming in her mind, matching the dark and cluttered interior she could spy from the windows, Katie turned away.
Just in time to see Harley Lambright park his bike against the black iron hitching post her great-grandparents had placed on the front walkway the week they’d moved into their new home.
Obviously seeing her watching him, he raised a hand. “Hiya, Katie. Gut matin.”
“Hello, Harley,” she called out. “Good morning to you.” She
kept the smile on her face even though she was starting to wonder if they were ever going to become completely at ease around each other again. “Thanks for coming over.”
“Thanks for talking to me about the job.” After grabbing a pencil and notepad out of the backpack he’d just pulled off his shoulders, he paused. “So, how do you want to do this?”
Though she knew he was referring to the remodeling job, Katie couldn’t help but think of the other thing that they needed to work on—their awkward, stilted relationship.
While it might not be evident to the rest of the Eight, whenever she was around Harley for any length of time, the terrible tension between them buzzed loud and clear. Their relationship did encompass many wonderful-gut memories of the Eight. But it also included their argument about his old sweetheart Melody. Katie had never liked the girl, and once had even made the mistake of sharing her opinion to E.A.
Which had been in the hearing of Harley.
Who had not been pleased. Not at all.
If they were going to work together on this house then they were going to have to clear the air. No, if she was going to be able to trust him with the secrets behind the walls, they were going to need to get in a better place. Ignoring their past problems wasn’t an option.
“Harley, I think we should sit down on the front porch and talk about everything before we go inside.”
His hands, which had been flipping pages in his notebook, froze. “Say again?”
She was kind of irritated that he was going to play opossum. Hardening her voice, she said, “I’ve thought a lot about it and I think the only way we are going to be able to work well together is for us to talk about things once and for all.”
His expression darkened. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
She felt like rolling her eyes. “Of course you do. I’m talking about what happened three years ago.”
“Jah.” Who else would she have been talking about? Three years ago, he and Melody had been together constantly. Harley had even looked smitten, which she’d always thought was entertaining, given the fact that Harley was never one to show much emotion about anything.
But then, just when they’d all been expecting Harley and Melody to announce a wedding date, he’d instead shared that they’d broken up. Harley had never given a reason, but she’d always thought it had something to do with her big mouth.
He sighed. “Are you playing a game with me? I thought you needed your house remodeled. I thought that was why you asked me over here. I know that was the reason I came.”
In other words, he wouldn’t have come for any other reason. “Harley, of course I really need your help. This haus is . . .” It was a mess. It was an albatross around her neck. It was her only inheritance and everything she’d yearned to walk away from. Finding her voice again, she said, “I mean, it needs to be remodeled in order for me to make it into a bed-and-breakfast.”
His gaze softened. “You are finally going to make that dream real?”
He’d remembered. He’d remembered the time the eight of them had been lying on their backs on the grass in the Warners’ yard and they’d each shared their dreams for the future. Marie had wanted to be a movie star, Will had something about being bigger than his brothers, and Harley had admitted he’d wanted
to raise goats. She’d gathered her courage and whispered that one day she wanted to own a bed-and-breakfast. “I really am. Mei mamm gave the house to me.”
“Truly? That’s wonderful.”
She nodded. “Mamm said she’d only been biding her time until my brother Caleb built his haus down in Kentucky. Caleb didn’t want to live here.”
“What about June?”
“You know she jumped the fence as soon as she could.” Even now, almost eleven years later, Katie felt her sister’s absence. “We see her at Christmas.” Sometimes. If June didn’t have anything else going on and felt she could handle coming back.
“So you got the house.”
“Jah. I got the house.” The gift had truly been a double-edged sword. She’d gotten to keep her dreams, but in order to have that dream, she was going to have to deal with everything that her mother and siblings were running away from.
Harley’s posture relaxed. “I’m happy for ya.”
“Danke.” She tried to smile, hoping to cover up her unease. “So, may we talk for a moment? I really do think we need to finally discuss what happened with you and me and Melody.”
The warmth that had momentarily filled his dark green eyes vanished as his expression became hard again. “I don’t agree. As far as I’m concerned, what happened between me and Melody ain’t none of your concern. Ever.”
Maybe Katie should have backed off or even apologized for bringing up his old sweetheart in the first place. It was obvious Melody was still a sore subject. But . . . so much had happened between them all lately. Logan and Tricia had recently gotten
engaged. John B. and Marie had finally admitted their love for each other and were now a real couple.
And just as important, they’d all been learning to live with the loss of Andy Warner.
That, at the very least, had shown her that holding on to old hurts and imagined slights did no one any good. Surely he felt the same way? “Harley, I don’t want to argue, but—”
“I don’t want to argue, either. But just because I don’t want to argue, it doesn’t mean I want to rehash all of our problems.” Sounding like his father, he said, “I do not.”
All of their problems? They had more than one? “All right, Harley. I hear you loud and clear.”
“Now, do you want me to work on this house or not?”
Did she want to finally make this place into something she was proud of? Have it help her become someone she could be proud of?
Katie turned and looked at it. So almost good on the outside. So completely wrecked on the inside. Much of how she felt about herself these days.
“Jah, Harley, I want your help. I want to hire you to remodel this house.”
“Gut. Then let’s go inside. I want to see what it looks like.”
“All right.” After taking three steps, she paused with her hand on the door. “Um, I feel that I should warn you that it’s not pretty inside.”
Instead of replying in a patient way that she knew he would’ve done with Marie, Harley clenched his jaw. “It doesn’t need to be pretty, Katie. All I care about is that it’s a job. You do have money to pay me, don’t you?”
“Yes. I do have that.”
“Then stop stalling.”
“Fine.” Opening the front door, she led him inside.
Harley might only need time and money to get this job done. She, on the other hand, was going to need every bit of patience and forbearance she possessed. It was going to be a long couple of weeks.