|Publisher:||Baker Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)|
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By Beverly M. Lewis
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2015 Beverly M. Lewis, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Eva Esch stood behind the wooden counter greeting each of her candy customers on the warmest morning so far of this budding month of May. Sunlight filled the neat and tidy shop that Friday, and between sale transactions, she happily scurried about, arranging the taffy and the well-formed peanut butter balls in an attractive array. Her father, Vernon Esch, had purposely designed the counter to face the windows, so young Eva could see her customers arrive. "Not too high and not too low," he'd said of it, having her stand just so as he pulled out his measuring tape with a flourish. At her tender age, it was important to take into consideration any growth spurt she might experience; Dat had insisted Eva just might be as tall as Mamma one day.
She realized anew how considerate their father had always been, gone now four long years. With the recollection lingering, she looked up and caught sight of tall, very blond Alfred Dienner. Heavens, he must have been staring at her.
Politely, she smiled back, and Alfred didn't look away as a more timid young man might. His warm hazel eyes held her gaze, and his face brightened, his lips parting.
Has he come to ask me out? Eva wondered.
Alfred stood waiting, turning a slip of paper over and over in his hands. His strapping frame evidenced long hours of hard work at his father's farm on Stony Hill Road. His face was already tan, his manner confident. Whoever ended up married to Alfred would surely be well cared for, raising a brood of future farmers and little dishwashers.
Directly in front of Alfred, two of Eva's kindly neighbors, sixty-year-old Sylvia Lantz and her thirty-year-old daughter-in-law, Josie, talked in Deitsch as they made their way up the steps beneath the plain green awning. Above the shop door was the hand-painted sign, The Sweet Tooth.
Josie and her husband, Sam, and their school-age children resided in Sylvia's farmhouse, where the senior Lantzes had worked the land and nurtured nine children, eight of whom had survived to adulthood. The youngest Lantz girl had drowned one summer years ago, and two others — Tilly and Ruth — had left the Plain community for the world, living somewhere in Massachusetts near the coast, according to the grapevine. Eva really didn't know all of the details.
What she did know was that whenever she tried her best not to look Alfred's way just now, she could still see him out of the corner of her eye. If he offered an invitation, should she accept?
As it turned out, both Sylvia and Josie wanted the small white chocolate fingers, as Eva liked to call them. The petite bars melted in your mouth, more than making up for their lack of size with rich flavor.
"Can't resist 'em," Sylvia said with a glance at Josie. "I'll have three dozen, please."
"I sure hope there'll be enough left," Josie said, covering her mouth to smother the laughter.
"You know me better'n that." Sylvia's plump face turned pink. "I'll be happy to share with ya if Eva runs out."
Eva smiled at the banter between them, a bit envious as she watched Josie gently touch her mother-in-law's arm.
"Mei Mann will be ever so grateful," Josie replied, a mischievous glint in her pale blue eyes. "Your sweets are truly the best, Eva."
"Jah, 'tis a gift, makin' these candies like ya do." Sylvia nodded her head, grinning at Eva. "The most delicious, wunnerbaar-gut treats ever, hope ya know."
Josie smiled, too. "Ach, I'd give almost anything to be able to make these delicious goodies. My husband would be over the moon."
Eva blushed; it was impossible to ignore Alfred next in line. Even so, she took care to bag up first Sylvia's order, then Josie's, the two women talking about their "perty springtime flowers," and Sylvia marveling aloud about her fifty-year-old rhubarb patch that had once again sprung to life.
Eva wondered if she, too, might someday enjoy a close relationship with a mother-in-law. She certainly yearned for such a connection. Fearing she might betray her private thoughts to Alfred, she purposely looked down at the counter when he stepped up, tall and straight. His voice was confident and clear as he gave his order, then waited politely.
"Will that be all, then?" she asked, noticing his white shirt and black broadfall trousers, like he was going to Preaching and not off to work.
"Oh, and I'd like some hard peppermint candies, too," he said, leaning on the counter as if he might have more to say.
Here it comes, she thought, daring to raise her eyes. She spoke just as he opened his mouth. "Anything else?" She pointed at the glass display case and mentioned the freshly made peanut butter balls. But he shrugged and said maybe another time.
When she went to gather up his order, he followed her over, of all things, and stood watching. Goodness, but Eva was thankful for the steady stream of customers. Anything to keep her busy. Then again, she was afraid someone might suspect her and Alfred of being a courting couple. If not that, then certainly of being sweet on each other. Sure, they'd gone riding together a half-dozen times during the past few years, and they'd played volleyball on the same team, too. She also recalled a picnic in Central Park near downtown Lancaster, where she provided the meal, but none of that meant they were serious. Alfred was quite aware that a handful of other fellows had taken her out, as well. All of them married now, Eva thought grimly.
"Denki, Alfred, for comin' by —"
"Eva, slow down a minute," he said. "Your customers will wait."
She felt her face warm as Alfred proceeded, in front of everyone, to invite her to play Ping-Pong with him at his cousin's house.
Leaning over the work counter, she lowered her voice and replied, "You're askin' me here...." She glanced behind him.
"Jah, 'tis all right." His eyes were smiling as he held her gaze. "So, will ya?"
She noticed their neighbor to the north pretending to study the homemade ribbon candy in the glass display case behind them. Eva felt positively mortified — what was Alfred thinking? The grapevine would have them engaged by day's end.
If I hesitate, will he stay and try to persuade me?
Pleasant and well-mannered as Alfred Dienner was, she wouldn't put that past him. But, goodness — like a dog on a bone!
"Um, that'll be fine," she whispered to him.
"Des gut, then," Alfred said with a nod.
She placed his order in a large sack and recited the total. "Enjoy the candy. Some very gut choices."
Alfred counted out the payment and dropped two quarters in the tip jar. "I hope I can make it last awhile." He gripped the bag of candy and, before turning to go, winked at her. In front of everyone!
Excerpted from The Photograph by Beverly M. Lewis. Copyright © 2015 Beverly M. Lewis, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Bethany House Publishers.
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