Katie Beiler was always the follower to her twin sister Hannah's lead. That is until Hannah left their Amish upbringing for an English life — leaving Katie to find her own footing in a world that no longer looks as it once did....
Katie has always imagined her life being just like Mamm's. It's why she chose baptism and why she'll soon marry Abram Zook. But ever since Hannah left, the only thing that truly makes Katie smile is the sketchpad in which she indulges her talent for drawing faces — a sin that, if discovered, could get her shunned by her family, her friends, and even Abram.P<>Yet Katie sees her secret pastime as the only way to quiet a growing restlessness she'd just as soon ignore. That is, until their Mamm's untimely death brings Hannah back home to Pennsylvania, with a new outlook on life, a man she adores, and soon, an invitation for Katie to visit her in New York City.
Suddenly, Katie is experiencing a freedom she's never had, in a world she never imagined. She's also spending time in the company of a fellow dreamer, someone who sees her as strong and brave and makes her laugh. But it's when Hannah shows Katie's drawings to a gallery owner that she truly finds herself at a crossroads between the only life she's ever known and the powerful lure of an unfamiliar future.
Release date: June 26, 2018
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 320
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Portrait of a Sister
“It is time, Katie.”
Gathering the sides of her pale blue dress in her hands, she made herself part company with the wooden chair that had been both her post and her refuge over the past twenty-four hours and rise onto shaky legs. “I will get the children.”
“No,” he said, firmly.
Her answering gasp echoed against the walls of the hallway as she reached toward him, her fingers brushing against the suspenders she’d mended during the night. “She-she’s gone? Already?”
“No, Katie. But God will welcome her soon. It is His will.”
“His will is wrong!” she hissed through clenched teeth only to bow her head in shame just as quickly. “I-I’m sorry, Dat. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Bracing herself, she lifted her watery gaze from the toes of her black lace-up boots to the amber-flecked brown eyes that matched her own. For a moment, Dat said nothing, the shock on his face the only real indication he’d heard her at all. Eventually though, he spoke, grief winning out over anger. “She has asked to speak to you alone. Go now, child, before it is too late.”
Before it is too late . . .
Her thoughts followed her father’s heavy footfalls down the stairs and then skipped ahead to the five young faces she’d tried desperately to shield from reality the past few months. Two years her junior, Samuel would be devastated, of course, but he would cover his hurt working in the fields with Dat. Jakob, at fourteen, would take his cue from Samuel. Mary and Sadie would—
The weakened rasp propelled her forward and through the partially open doorway, her heart both dreading and craving what was on the other side. More than anything, she wanted a miracle to happen, but short of that, she’d be a fool to waste away whatever time they had left.
“I’m here, Mamm.” She stopped just inside the door and willed her eyes to adjust to the darkened room. “Can I get you something? Another blanket, perhaps? A glass of water?”
“You can open the shade and let the sunlight in.”
“Of course.” Crossing the room, Katie gave the dark green shade a quick tug and then watched as it rose upward to provide an uninhibited view of the fields her dat and brothers worked each and every day. She allowed herself a moment to breathe in the answering sunlight before turning back to the nearly unrecognizable shell that was her mother. “Is that better?”
“Yah.” Her mother patted the edge of the quilt-topped bed, her pale blue eyes studying Katie closely. “Come. Sit. There are things I want to say. Before it is too late.”
“Shhh,” Katie scolded. “Do not talk like that. Please.”
“The dress I am to be buried in is in my chest. It is what I wore when I married your dat.”
She stopped a few inches shy of the bed and cast her eyes down at the wood plank floor. “Mamm, please. I—”
“It is God’s will, Katie.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to lash out at those words the way she had in the hallway with Dat, but she refrained. To see the same shock on Mamm’s face would be unimaginable.
“Katie, I need you to be strong for your brothers and sisters. They will need you more than ever in the days and weeks ahead.”
Sinking onto the bed, Katie covered her mother’s cold hand with her own and gave it a gentle squeeze. She tried to speak, to offer the reassurance her mother needed, but the expanding lump in her throat made it impossible to speak.
“In another year or so, Annie will be three and Mary will be old enough to look after both her and Sadie on her own. When she is, you are to live your life, Katie. With Abram. He is a good man. Like your dat. It is my hope that your life together will make you smile again.”
“I smile,” Katie protested.
“Not as you once did.”
She felt her mother’s thumb encircling her hand and choked back a sob. “I have tried my best to keep this from the little ones. If I have failed, I am sorry . . .”
“You have done beautifully these past few months, Katie. Dat has told me so. But your smile dulled long before I got sick.”
Slipping her arm back, Katie pushed off the bed and wandered over to the window. “I painted a new milk can last night while you slept. It is of the pond in summer, the way it was before the climbing tree fell down in that storm a few years ago.” She rested her forehead against the glass pane and watched as her dat entered the fields to summon Samuel and Jakob for one final goodbye. “I will always remember the way you’d help boost me onto that first branch when I was no bigger than Sadie is now. I was so frightened that first time.”
“That is because I boosted you first. When Hannah went first and reached down for your hand, you were not afraid.”
Just like that, the tears she’d managed to keep to herself in her mother’s presence began their descent down her cheeks. “I do not want you to go, Mamm. I-I need you . . .”
“You need only the Lord, Katie, you know that.”
She bowed her head in shame. “You are right, Mamm. I know I should not be afraid.”
But I am, she wanted to add. Horribly, desperately afraid . . .
“Do not forget what the apostle Paul said, Katie. To fulfill the law of Christ, brethren must bear one another’s burdens. There will be many hands ready to help you, Dat, and the children.”
The children . . .
She lifted her gaze to the window again in time to see Dat heading back toward the house flanked by Samuel on one side and Jakob on the other. Their brimmed hats made it so she couldn’t see her brothers’ faces, but her mind could fill in the blanks.
Samuel would be stoic like their father—any emotion offset by his steadfast belief that Mamm’s passing was God’s will. He would mourn her, of course, but there would be work to be done.
Jakob would surely mimic Samuel, but she knew that in moments alone, while feeding the calves or milking the cows, the younger boy would grieve the woman he still looked to for hugs when he thought no one else was looking.
“I will hug Jakob for you,” Katie whispered. “Until he does not need it anymore.”
“Thank you, Katie.”
She heard the faint sound of the screen door downstairs as it banged closed behind her father and brothers. If Dat had told Mary first, the thirteen-year-old would no doubt have Sadie and the baby ready and waiting for the family’s final moments together. If he hadn’t, Katie could imagine her sister looking up from the chair in which she was giving Annie her morning bottle, wondering if she was late in preparing a meal. The absence of footsteps on the stairs told her it was the latter.
A noticeable change in her mother’s breath made her turn and scurry back to the bed. “Mamm?”
“It is almost time, Katie.”
She looked down at her mother, at the gaunt face and the dark shadows that encircled hesitant eyes. “Do not worry, Mamm. Please. I will take care of them all—Samuel, Jakob, Mary, Sadie, Annie, and Dat. I promise.”
“That is not all that I worry about.”
Swooping down to her knees, she gathered her mother’s cold hands inside her own and tried to warm them with her breath. “There is nothing for you to worry about, Mamm.”
“There is you, Katie.”
She drew back. “Me?”
“I want you to be . . . happy . . . again. The way you were when—”
A succession of footsteps on the staircase cut her mother’s sentence short and brought Katie back to her feet. She’d had her time with Mamm. To take more would be selfish. “The others are coming to say goodbye.” Bending over, she held her lips to her mother’s forehead while she worked to steady her own voice. “I love you, Mamm.”
“I love you, Katie.”
The footsteps on the other side of the door grew louder as they crested the top of the stairs and headed in their direction. Suddenly, it was as if she were being hoisted into that old climbing tree all over again. And just as she’d been when she was four, she was terrified—terrified at the notion of leaving her mother’s arms behind.
“They’re here, Mamm,” she whispered. “I’ll let them in.”
Her mother’s answering nod was slow and labored, but the sudden grip on Katie’s arm was anything but. “Tell her, Katie. Tell . . . Hannah . . . I . . . love . . . her.”
She didn’t need the sound of Sadie’s bare feet running across the wooden floor, or Mary’s audible inhale from somewhere over her left shoulder, to know Hannah had arrived. No, she could feel it just as surely as she could the fizz of the soapsuds on her hands.
Dropping the dish back into the sink, Katie backed away from the counter and slowly turned. Before she could blink, Hannah was across the room, pulling her in for a hug so tight she wasn’t sure she’d ever breathe again.
“Oh, Katie, I-I can’t believe this—I can’t believe Mamm is . . . gone. I thought she was going to beat this. I really, really did.”
Keenly aware of the two extra sets of ears in the room, Katie merely shook her head, her cheek brushing briefly against Hannah’s tear-soaked counterpart.
“Was it . . .” Hannah’s words traded places with a hard swallow before returning cloaked in a tortured whisper. “Was it awful, Katie?”
“When it was time, Mamm just closed her eyes.” It wasn’t necessarily an all-inclusive portrayal, but it was close enough. Still, Katie sent up a silent prayer for forgiveness and then slowly stepped back, deliberately disengaging herself from the grief she was desperate to hold at bay. “Let me take a look at—”
The sentence fell away as she stared into the face that was both identical to and nothing like the one she glimpsed in the reflection of her bedroom window each morning. Yes, the shape of the eyes was still the same, as were the amber flecks that lightened their brown hue, but the lashes that bordered them were suddenly longer, thicker, and infinitely darker.
“Hannah,” she said, dropping her voice to a near whisper so as not to be overheard by the younger girls. “You-you’re wearing makeup.”
“Just a little mascara is all. And some blush.” Hannah touched her fingertips to her cheeks as a small, shaky smile momentarily chased the sadness from her pale pink lips. “It took a little getting used to, but I like it. It makes me feel . . . improper.”
“What? It does.”
Unsure of what to say or even what to think, Katie followed her younger siblings’ uncertain glances right back to Hannah and the dress she hadn’t really noticed until that moment—a dress that followed the curves of her twin sister’s body like a second pair of skin. She wanted to look away, to put the image into the same invisible box where she put all the English ways she didn’t understand, but she couldn’t. Not this time, anyway.
Hannah looked . . . pretty. In a grown-up, sophisticated sort of way. Like those faces that smiled out at Katie from the checkout aisle of the English grocery store. Only this time, instead of trying to imagine what she, herself, might look like if she wore those kinds of clothes or let her own soft brown hair flow across her shoulders in pretty waves, she knew.
The sound of her name on her little sister’s tongue pulled her from her fog and forced her back to the only world that mattered at that moment. “Yes, Mary?”
“I have gathered two buckets of potatoes. Do you think that will be enough?”
“I think that will be fine, Mary.” Katie did a quick mental count of the people she knew would come to Mamm’s funeral while simultaneously trying to figure out the food they’d need to feed them. It was a daunting task on one hand, yet, at the same time, she welcomed the opportunity to focus on something other than the pain in her heart. “Would you and Sadie run next door to the Hochstetler’s farm and check on the number of bread loaves Martha is making?”
Hannah crossed the kitchen, reaching for Sadie’s small hand as she did. “Would you like me to go with you?”
Sadie’s eyes, round and uncertain, moved between Mary and Hannah, with Mary finally breaking the silence via a slight shake of her kapp-covered head. “No. Thank you. We are fine.”
Katie could feel Hannah’s disappointment but, at the same time, she was glad for Mary’s response. It would give her time alone with Hannah. “Now run along. It won’t be long before Mamm’s body is here and the buggies start arriving.”
Mary’s and Sadie’s chins both dipped downward at Katie’s words, but they remained stoic as they headed down the hallway. When the door banged closed in their wake, Hannah turned back to Katie and released an audible sigh. “It’s like I’m a stranger to them,” Hannah mumbled as she wiped a fresh set of tears from her cheeks. “Like they’ve forgotten I’m their sister.”
Katie returned her focus to the sink and the dish that still needed to be rinsed and dried. “I don’t think they’ve forgotten. It’s just that you’re so different now.”
“I’m different?” Hannah echoed. “Look at you.”
“Me? I have not changed. I am still the same Katie I have always been.” She gestured at her aproned dress. “I wear the same dresses, I do the same chores.”
“Plus now you will do Mamm’s, too.”
Katie scrubbed at an invisible spot on the dish, the pity in her sister’s voice heavy. “Only for a while.”
“Yah,” she said over the answering squeak of the dish. “It won’t be long before Annie is no longer a baby. When she isn’t, Mary will take over.”
“Then what?” Hannah prodded.
“Then I will be free to live my own life.”
“Live your own life?” Hannah reached around Katie’s shoulder and plucked the dish from her hand. “Would you please stop that? You’re going to scrub a hole right through that plate if you don’t.”
She stared at her soapy hands and then shoved them into the water. “Yes. Live my own life. With Abram.”
“Yah.” Katie waited for Hannah to finish with the dishcloth and then stole it back to dry her hands. “We are to be married. When things have settled down for Dat and the children.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this in your last letter?” Hannah asked, her voice a veritable potpourri of accusation and hurt.
“I was ... busy. Worried about Mamm.”
Hannah grew silent, her eyes searching Katie with an unsettling intensity. Katie, in turn, focused on the part of the balled-up dishcloth she could see between her whitened knuckles.
“Are you really sure this is what you want?” Hannah hooked her index finger beneath Katie’s chin and guided it back to start. “To marry Abram Zook?”
Inhaling deeply, Katie met and held her sister’s gaze, the taste of the lie bitter on her tongue. “Yah.”
Katie took one last look at the line of buggies stretched down the left side of the driveway and then slowly lowered the dark green shade to the windowsill. She’d been so busy greeting mourners all afternoon and evening, she’d been able to ignore away the heaviness pressing down on her chest. But now, in her room, with Dat’s orders for rest, it was crushing.
“Dat doesn’t know what to make of me anymore, does he?”
“Dat has much to think about today.” Katie filled her lungs with the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding and then dropped onto her neatly made bed as it whooshed its way past her lips. “It has been a difficult day.”
Wandering over to the waist-high dresser in the corner of the room, Hannah ran her fingertips around the edge of the porcelain bowl and pitcher it housed. “Do you think she thought about me?”
Katie looked up from the boot she’d just unlaced and studied her sister. All her life she’d seen English girls—their clothes, their shoes, their hair so different than her own. It was the way it was for them just as aproned dresses, white kapps, and lace-up boots were for her and her sisters. Did she wonder about their life on occasion? Sure. But it was as fleeting as the glimpse itself.
Hannah’s choice had changed that.
“Did who think of you?” she finally asked, forcing her gaze off Hannah’s strappy heeled shoes and back to her own scuffed boots.
Katie snapped her head up at her sister’s sudden and strangled sob. “Mamm?”
Tipping her own head back, Hannah stared up at the ceiling until her breath was steady enough to speak. “Before she passed . . .”
“Yah.” Katie slid her feet out of her boots, tucked them under the bed, and then crossed to Hannah’s side in her stocking-clad feet. “Mamm spoke of you.”
A flash of hope skittered across Hannah’s brown eyes before it disappeared behind thick lashes. “Don’t tell me that if it’s not true.”
Katie drew back. “I do not lie. You know that.”
“But you protect.” Slowly, Hannah opened her eyes to meet Katie’s. “You always have. Look at the way you care for Mary and Sadie and baby Annie. It is as if they are your own.”
“That is what family does.”
“Yes, but you have to protect yourself, too, Katie.”
“Dat will look after us like he always has,” she protested. “And when the time is right, Abram will look after me and the children that we will have.”
It was Hannah’s turn to give the once over, only this time, as Katie watched her sister’s gaze travel from her kapp to her stockings, she was aware of a wariness building inside her chest. All their life, they’d been able to communicate with one another without words; for the first time, she wished it wasn’t so.
Words she could shush.
The look in Hannah’s eyes, she couldn’t.
“I’m talking about your heart and the things that matter to you,” Hannah finally said. “Keeping them hidden under your mattress for fear of being shunned isn’t right.”
She stumbled backward into the table, rattling the wash basin in the process. “You-you looked under my mattress?” Katie stammered.
“You say that like this is something I’ve just discovered.” Hannah coaxed Katie’s hands from her cheeks and gently guided her back toward the bed. “Katie, I’ve known about your drawings for a long time. I just kept waiting for you to tell me about them on your own. Only you never did.”
She let Hannah pat her onto the bed but the roar in her ears made it difficult to be sure of much else.
“You were always good at painting scenes on milk cans for Dat’s stand in the fall, but the pencil sketches in your sketch pad are . . . wow. You’re really good, Katie. I mean, really, really good. You should do something with that.”
“Do something?” she repeated.
“Yes. With your talent. It’s too good to hide away under a mattress.”
She tried to clear the shame from her throat, but it refused to budge. “It is wrong, what I draw. You know that.”
“Wrong?” The click of Hannah’s heels looped around the bottom edge of the bed only to stop in line with Katie’s pillow. With a knowing look in Katie’s direction, she lifted the corner of the mattress, slid her hand into the space underneath it, and pulled out the sketch pad Katie had secretly purchased at an art store while on Rumspringa. Flipping the cover back, she turned the pad into Katie’s sightline and gave it a gentle shake. “How is drawing a picture of Mary with her favorite barn cats wrong?”
Katie pitched her upper body to the side and tried to grab the pad from Hannah’s hand, but Hannah pulled it just out of her reach. “Hannah, please. You know why it is wrong. ‘Thou shalt not make unto thyself a graven image.’ ”
“It is a memory, Katie,” Hannah protested. “There is nothing wrong with a memory.”
“A memory is for here”—she tapped her temple with the tip of her index finger and then moved it to her chest—“and here.”
Hannah lowered herself to the bed, pulling the pad onto her lap as she did. “Trust me, Katie, when you’re missing someone as much as I miss you, a picture is a godsend.”
“You miss me?” Katie echoed.
“You could come back! It is not too late to be baptized!”
“I miss you, Katie. I miss the family. But this isn’t the right world for me. Not anymore anyway.” Page by page, Hannah made her way through Katie’s drawings, some stirring a smile, others a laugh. “I don’t know how you did it, but you captured Luke Hochstetler perfectly . . . right down to the frog he was always trying to sneak into the schoolhouse.”
“I see it in my head.” Katie watched Hannah flip to the next page, the emotion in her sister’s ensuing gasp necessitating a fresh round of blinking. “Is-is something wrong?”
“This one of Mamm in her bed, is-is this how she looked at the end?” Hannah whispered.
“Her cheeks are drawn, and-and her eyes are dull, but . . .” Hannah’s words fell away, her gaze riveted on the sketch pad and the picture of their mother. When she finally spoke again, it was with a mixture of surprise and awe. “She looks almost happy.”
“She was speaking of you.”
Hannah’s eyes flew to Katie’s. “Me?”
Slowly, Hannah lowered the pad to her lap, the tremble of her hands a perfect match to the one infusing its way through her voice. “What did she say?”
“She said she loved you.” Just like that, the tears Katie had managed to keep at bay made their way down Hannah’s cheeks, streaking it in—
“Hannah? What is wrong with your face?”
“My face?” Hannah repeated.
“Yah. It is turning black with your tears.”
Tears turned to laughter as Hannah wiped at her cheeks. “It’s just my mascara, Katie. Next time, I will remember to buy the waterproof kind.” Sliding the sketch pad off her lap, Hannah stood, made her way over to the wall hooks on the opposite side. . .
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