The Saddle Maker's Son Part 36

"Did you agree-about the hombre bueno part?"

He slaughtered the p.r.o.nunciation of the Spanish words, but she nodded, her dimples appearing and disappearing.

He swallowed and cleared his throat again. She leaned back in the chair and crossed her arms, her gaze on the yard.

He had not lost his nerve. He would not flinch in the face of a future that included this woman and those children. He stood and lifted the bushel basket to the other side of his chair. Then he shoved his chair over so the arm touched hers.

"What are you doing?"

"What's it look like?"

"Like you've lost your mind."

He settled into the chair and tugged her hand from her lap. "I reckon I have." Her skin was warm and soft. He ran his fingers along hers. She sighed. He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed each finger. "I know I have."

"Tobias."

"We haven't known each other that long." He settled her hand back on her side of the chair's arm. "We haven't courted the way most folks do. Not really."

"It's been a strange summer." She sounded as if she'd been running. "The kinner from another country. Leila and Jesse. David and Bobbie. You."

All combined for getting to know each other in a way that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. Gott's plan? "Before Karen left, I talked to her. While you were with Lupe."

"About what?"

"About representing those kinner. Finding a way to make them legal and keep them here."

"Can she do that?"

"She said she'd try. I told her we wanted them. You and me. She said she understood. She said a married couple would have better chances. Like Jesse and Leila. Or Mordecai and your mother. I told her not to worry about that."

Rebekah's eyebrows popped up. "You told her not to worry. What did you mean by that?"

He was playing ring-around-the-rosy with the words. Instead of coming right out and asking her. There was a right way and a wrong way to do this. He stood again and tugged on her hand. "Stand up."

She stood. The top of her head barely reached his shoulder. He took her hand again. "Will you be my fraa?"

"Finally."

"Finally? That's what you want to say right now?" It wasn't a yes, but it wasn't a no, either. "We've only known each other since April."

"I mean tonight. You hemmed and hawed around long enough." She smiled, the dimples appearing and staying this time. "I was beginning to think you would lose your courage."

"At least you recognize it takes courage for a man to say those words."

She leaned into him, her weight slight against him. She closed her eyes and bowed her forehead against his chest. "You haven't even said you love me. Do you love me?"

"Do you think I'd ask-?"

"Tobias Byler! Answer the question."

"I do love you."

She raised her head, her eyes bright in the starlight. "I love you too. I will marry you, if you'll have me."

"Finally!" He lifted her off her feet and kissed her long and hard.

Everything about the day and the week and the summer fell away. Nothing else mattered. Whatever the future brought, it would be worth it. If they had two years or ten, it would be better than the alternative. They would make a home, they would make babies, and they would have a life together. And live the days Gott gave them on this earth to their fullest. When those days ended, he would go a happy, content man.

He set her on her feet. She swayed and slapped her hand on his arm to steady herself. He chuckled.

"Don't laugh."

"I reckon I swept you off your feet."

"I reckon you did." She stood on her tiptoes and put her hands on his cheeks. "My turn."

Tobias leaned down and embraced her, letting his lips cover hers. What she lacked in experience she made up for with wonder and a curiosity born of having waited for this moment with the man with whom she would spend the rest of her life. Every kiss was sweeter than the last. Tobias prayed that would never change.

EPILOGUE.

Spring smelled so clean. Rebekah gripped the kitchen counter and breathed in the scent of fresh-cut gra.s.s that wafted through the open window on a breeze that rustled the curtain. Their curtain in their kitchen in their house built by Tobias and the other men. From her vantage point she could see the corral across the road and the saddle shop beyond it. Close enough that Tobias, David, and Levi could walk over for the noon meal most days.

Tobias had Diego on Cracker Jack again. He'd grown so much in the last year, his long, skinny legs hung down the horse's flanks. Cracker Jack had turned into a perfect ride for a boy who knew no fear and loved all animals. He'd spend every day in the saddle if Tobias let him.

A pain that radiated from her lower back into her stomach made her lean forward and close her eyes. She rubbed her belly, breathing in and out, in and out. The baby was almost two weeks late. Maybe today would be the day.

"What's the matter?" Susan waddled across the room, a bowl of bread dough in one hand. Her belly was only slightly smaller than Rebekah's. She wasn't due until May, but Vesta Hostetler had taken over the cla.s.sroom not long after Susan had realized a baby was on the way. "Did the enchilada ca.s.serole disagree with you?"

"Nee, I reckon this baby is finally set on making an entrance."

Susan dropped the bowl on the counter. "And you're just getting around to mentioning it?"

"I reckon there's no hurry. You're here. Tobias is here. Mudder is just down the road." Another pain rocketed across her belly. This one might rip her in two. She leaned on the counter and panted through it. "Maybe you could walk out there and tell Tobias to come on in. He can send David to get Mudder."

Susan headed toward the back door. "Lupe, Lupe, get in here," she shouted as she let the screen door slam. "We're having a baby."

Lupe shot through the door seconds later, her face lit up with a smile that Rebekah had been delighted to see more and more often in the year since the kinner had settled in with them. Her face and hands were dirty from working in the garden, the knees of the pants she insisted on wearing muddy. "Baby is coming."

"I sure hope so. Otherwise this is an awful case of indigestion."

Lupe scrunched up her face the way she always did when an English word befuddled her. "What is indigestion?"

"Never mind. Help me into the bedroom."

Tobias wasted no time in appearing by her bedside. He sent Lupe to bring a gla.s.s of water and a wet washcloth. "This is it, then?" He slid his straw hat from his head and began to knead it between his big hands. "Soon?"

"Soon you will hold your son or daughter in your arms. Today for sure." She rolled on her side to face him and tugged the hat from his hands. "You'll ruin it, you keep that up."

He knelt at her side. "Promise me you'll stay. You won't go anywhere."

"It's in Gott's hands. If your daed can face his fears and have a new bopli with Susan, we can get through it too."

"I know. I know." His Adam's apple bobbed. "It's bound to bring back memories, though, for them and for me."

"I was thinking, if it's a boy, we should name him Carl."

After a minute, understanding flashed in his eyes. "For Carlos, for Lupe and Diego's daed."

"Jah."

"That would be nice. They'll like that. You are such a gut person to think of that. More than I deserve." He caught her fingers in his and bowed his head. "I'm so thankful."

The silence that followed was replete with a prayer Rebekah had inscribed on her own heart. A prayer for her own unborn child, for her family, for her mann, for the blessings she'd received and didn't deserve.

"Amen," he whispered without raising his head. "Amen."

"We take each day on faith." She slid her hand through his thick hair. "Thankful for the time we've had together. What comes tomorrow, comes."

He lifted his head, grabbed her hand, and pressed her palm to his lips in a warm, sweet kiss. "I'm thankful that Lupe and Diego are allowed to stay with us. I'm thankful for Karen and the other legal-aid folks working so hard to help us keep them. I'm thankful Daed and Susan are as happy as we are. I'm thankful we'll soon have a bopli to love and protect and so will they. I'm thankful you make the best apple pie this side of the Mississippi. I'm thankful David stayed. I'm thankful Bobbie went. I'm thankful David seems to be spending a lot of time with Vesta these days. I'm thankful Martha and Jacob will marry. I'm so thankful . . ."

The litany of blessings went on and on for so long Rebekah barely noticed the labor pains anymore. She closed her eyes and leaned into her husband's hug. She couldn't wait for this baby to arrive so they could watch Gott's plan unfold before their eyes. So many things remained to be seen and to be done. They would take each step with Lupe and Diego in faith. And with this new bopli. Gott hadn't let them down yet and He never would.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS.

The Amish believe in meidnung, or "shunning," as a form of tough love designed to help their wayward members recognize the error of their ways and follow the rules of their district. It also is intended to shield the other members and keep them from falling into the same temptations. Jesse and Leila weren't baptized so they aren't shunned. Still, Rebekah isn't supposed to spend time with them because she may be swayed to follow in their footsteps. How would you feel about not being able to see or talk to a family member because they choose a different lifestyle or way of worshipping? Could you do it? Would you think it was the right thing to do?

Rebekah sees Diego and Lupe as two small children in need of food and shelter. She doesn't care where they came from or how they arrived at the shed next to the school. Would you feel the same way? Would you take in two children who showed up on your doorstep from another country illegally? Why or why not?

Has there ever been a time in your life when you thought you had to break a law in order to do the right thing? How did you reconcile your actions?

Levi lost his first wife in childbirth and is raising nine children on his own, including Liam, the child born when his mother died. Levi can't figure out how to celebrate his child while mourning the loss of his wife. How can he be happy and sad at the same time? How can he not look at Liam and see his wife's death? What would you say to a husband in this situation? What words of wisdom or comfort would you be able to impart? Does G.o.d cause these things to happen? Is the return of his wife to her Maker cause for celebration? Would you celebrate the death of a loved one as G.o.d's plan for that husband, father, or brother? Why or why not?

Susan has spent most of her life caring for other people's children. She loves children. She has come to the realization that she wants her own. Do we always get what we want when we pray? Could there be a reason that G.o.d has a different plan for Susan? What value does her work with other people's children have in G.o.d's eyes? In yours? Could it be more important than giving her the answer to her prayers?

Levi doesn't want to risk having another child for fear of suffering the same terrible loss again. Susan is in love with him, but she wants to have children of her own. Is Levi's fear a lack of faith? Should Susan be willing to risk not having children of her own for her love of Levi? If not, what does that say about her love for Levi?

Does G.o.d intend for every woman to marry and have children, or are there people in this world for whom He has other, equally important and fulfilling plans? Have you ever been told by family members to "hurry up" and get married or it will be "too late"? How did you respond? Have you been made to feel "lesser than" because you haven't married or are married and have chosen not to have children? How do you deal with that?

How do we reconcile our hopes and dreams and wants with the unknown timeline set by G.o.d for our lives? What do we pray for when time seems to stand still and our hopes seem to be going unfulfilled?

Lupe and Diego entered the country illegally, sent to the United States by a family member who loved them and wanted a better life for them. Are Rebekah and Susan and the other members of the community right to help them, or should they turn them over to the authorities? What would you do? What do you think Jesus would say about it?

What does Scripture say about following the laws of the land and our rulers? What does it say about helping those who are less fortunate than us? What does it say about Jesus and the children who came to see Him? Are these scriptures in conflict? How do we know what is right and best?.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.

First, thanks to saddle maker Tom Kline, owner of Kline Saddlery in Fredericksberg, Texas, who kindly allowed me to poke around in his shop and explained the craft to me. Any mistakes are all mine.

The writing of The Saddle Maker's Son presented many challenges, both on the page and off. I am forever grateful to my editor, Becky Monds, for her ability to see the story in the mess and show me how to fix it. In this case, she had her work cut out for her. Her patience is epic. I'm also thankful to Zondervan and HarperCollins Christian Publishing for not shying away from the story. It is not my intent to stir the political pot. This is a story about who we are as Christians and how we are called to respond to those around us who are in need. The Saddle Maker's Son encourages readers to ask themselves what they would do in this situation. What does Christ call them to do? What are we all called to do? Ultimately, it's a love story, both romantic love and agape love. I'm blessed to work with a publishing team who makes room for me to tell the stories that are laid on my heart.

As always, I must thank my agent, Mary Sue Seymour, for her support and friendship. Her guidance, encouragement, and unfailing kindness keep me on course.

None of this would be possible without the support of my husband, Tim, and my children-now amazingly all grown up-Erin and Nicholas. I love you guys.

Last, but by no means least, I send my deepest appreciation and respect to the readers who buy books and read stories. Your support makes it possible for writers to do what we do. Your feedback and encouragement bless me beyond measure. You give me the encouragement I need to continue writing. Thank you and G.o.d bless.

LUPE'S FAVORITE SALVADORAN RECIPES.

PUPUSAS.

Ingredients:.

2 cups masa harina.

1 cup warm water.

1 cup filling (suggestions below).

In a large bowl, mix together the masa harina and water and knead well. Work in more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed to make a moist yet firm dough. A ball of the masa should not crack at the edges when you press down on it. Cover the masa and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes.

On a clean, smooth surface, roll the dough into a log and cut into 8 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball.

Press an indentation in each ball with your thumb. Put about 1 tablespoon of desired filling into each indentation and fold the dough over to completely enclose it. Press the ball with your palms to form a disc, taking care that the filling doesn't spill out.

Line a tortilla press with plastic and press out each ball to about 5 or 6 inches wide and about inch thick. If you don't have a tortilla press, place the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper and roll it out with a rolling pin.

Heat a well-greased skillet over medium-high heat. Cook each pupusa for about 1 to 2 minutes on each side until slightly browned and blistered. Remove to a plate and keep warm until all pupusas are done. Serve with curtido and salsa roja.

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