Anna Mae McDonough closed her eyes and folded her hands across her protruding belly. A tiny bump responded to the touch and she smiled.
“Thank you, Lord, for this bountiful meal on this beautiful Thanksgiving Day,” her husband’s smooth voice said. “And thank you for all of the blessings we have — our home and our wonderful life together.” Kellan paused and Anna Mae glanced up, just as he squeezed her hand.
“Thank you, Lord,” Kellan continued, “most of all for our baby who will be here in January. Amen.”
“Amen,” Anna Mae whispered, squeezing his hand. “Happy Thanksgiving, Kellan.”
“Happy Thanksgiving, Annie,” he said, his brown eyes filling with warmth.
Butterflies fluttered in her stomach in response to his loving gaze. “It’s hard to believe this is our third Thanksgiving in Baltimore.”
He filled his plate with slices of turkey and passed her the platter. “Time has flown since I found you in that bakery.”
Her smile faded, and she rested her hands on her belly.
Memories of Lancaster County crashed down on her. Holidays spent with her four siblings and their families were chaotic, with children running around the room screaming. Anna Mae would find herself in the kitchen laughing and gossiping with her mother, three sisters, her sister-in-law, and nieces.
Tears filled her eyes as she glanced around her small, empty, quiet house. Kellan’s only sister lived clear across the country in Los Angeles. Anna Mae had only met her sister-in-law once, and that was at their wedding three years ago. Kellan’s father had died eight years ago, and his mother had abandoned him and his sister when he was ten years old. The only family they had was each other.
And sometimes the silence on holidays was deafening to Anna Mae.
“I’m sorry.” Kellan leaned over, taking her hands in his. “I didn’t mean to upset you by bringing up Lancaster.”
“It’s okay,” she whispered. She swiped her hand across her wet cheek and forced a smile. “I cherish these times with you and wouldn’t give them up for anything.” And it was the truth. She’d never for one second regretted leaving her community to build a life with Kellan.
The baby kicked, and she looked down at her belly. Tears clouded her vision as she contemplated her newborn growing up without a host of relatives to love him or her.
“What is it, Annie?” Kellan asked. “I can tell by your expression that you’re stewing on something. This delicious dinner is going to get cold if you don’t fill your plate soon.”
“It’s just — ” Her voice broke when she met his loving gaze. She cleared her throat and took a deep, ragged breath, hoping to stop the threatening tears. “I have so many memories of holidays and birthdays with my siblings and cousins.” She rubbed her belly. “Our baby won’t know any of them, and my family won’t know our baby.”
Kellan frowned and shook his head. “You’re upset because it’s been so long since you’ve been together as a family. Maybe after the baby is born, you can see them again.”
“Leaning forward, she took his warm hands in hers. “You’re probably right, but I wish I could have it all — you and my family.”
“You can have it all.” He shrugged and lifted his glass of Coke. “I’ve told you I have no objections to seeing your family. You name the time, and we’ll go up there and visit them. I can take vacation anytime I want. That’s the beauty of being the owner of McDonough Chevrolet. I can take time off and leave it in the hands of my capable staff.”
“You know it’s not that simple with my father.” Despite her sudden loss of appetite, Anna Mae filled her plate with turkey, gravy, stuffing, a homemade roll, and homemade cranberry sauce. Thoughts of her father rolled through her mind. She knew she was at fault for not reaching out more. However, she’d wanted to build a new life without the emotional complications of dealing with the shunning.
“I don’t get that whole shunning thing.” He shook his head. “They say it’s because they love you, but how is cutting off your child showing her you love her?”
“They shun in order to prevent members from leaving the community. When a member leaves, it’s emotionally painful for the member’s family.” With her eyes trained on her plate, she cut some turkey and moved the piece through the gravy. “Daed’s the bishop for the district, the religious leader. It’s his job to keep us on the right path and enforce the rules of the Ordnung.”
“But we go to our own church. Why isn’t that good enough for him and the rest of the community? Why do they have to punish you for leaving?”
Sighing, Anna Mae looked up at him. “Kellan, my family is only following the traditions of the Amish that have come before them. The Amish beliefs and traditions go back a few hundred years. Shunning isn’t punishment. They want their children to keep the traditions they’ve learned from their parents. They respect other Christians and don’t believe that other ways of living are wrong. The Amish don’t judge others or think their way is the only way. However, they want to keep their children within the community. They love me and want me to come back.”
He glowered. “Without me.”
She touched his hands. “I’m not going to go back. I just miss my family. I miss seeing them and spending time with them.” Kellan chewed more turkey, his eyes concentrating on his meal. He then looked at her. “How about we go visit them for Christmas? We can just show up and surprise them.” Anna Mae shook her head. “That wouldn’t be wise. Daed wouldn’t take kindly to a surprise visit. I’m certain he loves me, but he’s very hurt that I left. I’m sure he thinks I rejected him and my mother.”
Kellan’s expression brightened. “What if one of your sisters helped you plan it?”
Anna Mae considered his suggestion and then shook her head. “I can’t see one of them deliberately going behind my father’s back. They’d be sure to tell him before I arrived, and that would make for a very uncomfortable and short visit.”
He grinned. “I bet I know someone who would be happy to help you.”
“Your brother David’s wife.”
“Kathryn.” Anna Mae nodded, a knot developing in her throat at the thought of her sister-in-law. “She was the most supportive of my relationship with you. She seemed to be the only one in the family who understood why I left. She might consider planning a surprise visit. Kathryn was always known for speaking her mind, despite the consequences.”
“Why don’t you write her a letter and tell her how you’re feeling?”
“Maybe I will.” Anna Mae bit her lip, hoping to stop the threatening tears. “I miss her.”
“Let’s enjoy this delicious meal. After we’re done eating, I’ll clean up while you write a letter to Kathryn.”
“Okay.” Anna Mae tried to keep the conversation light while they ate.
After finishing off the meal with pumpkin pie and coffee, Kellan stood and gathered up the dishes. “I’ll take care of this. You go write that letter.”
“No. Let me help you.” Anna Mae rose and reached for his mug.
“Anna Mae,” he began with mock annoyance, “I’ll take care of the dishes. Go write to Kathryn so you can rest easy tonight. The baby doesn’t need the stress you’re feeling about your family. Writing to Kathryn will ease your mind.”
Stepping around the table, Anna Mae brushed her lips against Kellan’s warm cheek. “I don’t deserve you.”
He set the dishes on the table and swept Anna Mae into his muscular arms. “Actually, I’m the one who doesn’t deserve you.” He kissed her lips, slow and easy, and then smiled down while brushing back a wisp of light brown hair that had escaped her bun. Even though she now lived an English lifestyle, she always wore her hair up. Some parts of her upbringing were still comfortable to her. “You’re so sweet and loyal. I’ll never understand how your family could shun you.”
“Kellan, I already explained — ”
“I know, I know.” He held her close and whispered into her ear. “No matter what happens with our family, I love you. Don’t forget that.”
“I love you too.” She closed her eyes, silently thanking God for her wonderful husband.
He let go of the embrace. “Go write your letter. I’ll get the dishes under control.”
“Thank you.” After retrieving her favorite stationery from the roll-top desk, Anna Mae settled into Kellan’s easy chair. At a loss for how to begin the letter, she stared across the room at her favorite wedding portrait of her and Kellan, standing together at the altar of his church. Clad in a simple white dress, Anna Mae stood holding a small bouquet of flowers while clutching Kellan’s arm. Her dress and the ceremony were both very different from an Amish wedding, but Anna Mae had wanted to fit into Kellan’s English world. After all, she’d broken every Amish rule by leaving her community and marrying him. It was both the happiest and saddest day in her life. Only Kellan’s sister and a handful of his friends and employees attended. She’d wished her family would’ve come, but they had objected to her leaving and did not condone their union. Anna Mae was cut off from the family when she left, even though leaving was her choice.
Closing her eyes, Anna Mae thought back to that fateful day when she’d met Kellan McDonough. It had been four years ago when Kellan had stepped into the Kauffman Amish Bakery in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, where Anna Mae worked with her sister-in-law Kathryn and Kathryn’s relatives.
Anna Mae was twenty-three and had joined the Amish church the previous spring. After a few months of instruction covering the Ordnung, the unwritten rules of the Amish, she’d been baptized and had taken a public vow to live by the Amish beliefs. All three of her sisters were married, but Anna Mae had all but given up on finding a mate. She’d been certain she’d become an old maid, working in the bakery and making quilts for auction until she was too old and frail to work.
However, her life had changed irrevocably when a handsome English customer approached her and asked her to sit on the porch with him and share a slice of chocolate cake. Anna Mae hesitated, but Kathryn nudged her forward, telling Anna Mae to relish a much-needed break.
The customer introduced himself as Kellan McDonough, a car dealership owner from Baltimore in town visiting old friends. Kellan’s soft-spoken demeanor and easy sense of humor intrigued Anna Mae. She was more comfortable chatting with her new friend than she’d ever felt with the young Amish men in her community.
Their conversation on the porch lasted an hour, ending only when Beth Anne, Kathryn’s sister, came looking for Anna Mae. When Kellan said goodbye and shook Anna Mae’s hand, a spark ignited between them.
Kellan visited Anna Mae at the bakery every day for the next week and then wrote her letters after he returned to Baltimore. Six months later, he visited her again, and six months after that he proposed to her.
“Annie?” Kellan’s concerned voice brought her back to the present. “You all right?”
She opened her eyes and found him standing in the doorway to the kitchen with a pot in one hand and a dishtowel in the other. “Yes, I’m fine,” she said. “I was just losing myself in memories.”
He dried the pot with the towel. “Good ones, I hope.”
She smiled. “The best.”
“Do you need anything, like a drink or a snack?”
She groaned. “If I eat anything else, I’ll explode. Thank you, though.”
“You call me if you need anything.”
“I will. Love you.” She lifted her pen.
“Love you too.” He retreated into the kitchen.
Taking a deep breath, Anna Mae began to write. Once she completed the letter, she signed and sealed it. After addressing the envelope, she closed her eyes and whispered a prayer, asking God to somehow reunite her with her family for Christmas.