He hadn’t heard the person enter, but in the midst of his meltdown, Nick became aware of a pair of eyes on his back. Someone was watching him. He stiffened, wiping his eyes on the pillowcase and sucking in a few deep breaths. Then he rolled over.
Through the pain that radiated from his tender ribs, he saw her – a teenage girl, standing just inside the doorway. She was oddly dressed, in a long-sleeved, blue dress and a white apron, and she wore a white sort of bonnet over her straw-colored hair, which was pulled back into a bun. She carried a pitcher in one hand. When she saw Nick looking at her, her cheeks flushed pink, and she said, “I’m sorry to disturb you. I didn’t know you’d woken. I was just bringing you some water, in case you wanted to wash when you woke up.”
“I… thank you,” Nick said, staring at her. He had so many questions, he didn’t know which one to ask first.
“You’re welcome.” The girl set the pitcher down on the dresser top, next to a matching basin. “My name is Analiese. And what is yours?”
He blinked, surprised that a girl her age would not have recognized him. It wasn’t ego that gave him this perception, only experience. These days, he couldn’t go anywhere without teenage girls following him around. He found that he was grateful to be anonymous for once. “Nick,” he told her.
“I’m glad to find you awake and speaking, Nick,” said Analiese. “I worried when I couldn’t rouse you last night.”
He was about to ask her how he’d gotten to her house, or wherever he was, but as he watched her pour water from the pitcher into the basin, a crazy, startling thought struck him. “I… I haven’t gone back in time or something, have I?” It didn’t seem as foolish a question as it sounded; as he looked wildly around the room again, he realized that everything in it, including her, was old-fashioned.
“What??” At first, she seemed taken aback, but then she started to laugh.
“I’m serious! What year is it?” he demanded, sitting up again, despite the protests of his ribs.
“It is 1999.”
“Oh.” Nick slumped back against the pillow, relieved and oddly disappointed at the same time. “Well, you mind telling me where the heck I am, then?”
“I apologize. Of course, this must all seem old-fashioned to you. You’re English.” Analiese smiled. “I am Amish. You’re on my family’s farm, outside of Paradise.”
“Paradise?” Nick repeated, glancing skeptically around again. “Paradise, what?”
“Pennsylvania,” she said, as if this should have been obvious. “Do you not live in these parts?”
He shook his head. “I live in Florida. I was… traveling, staying in Philadelphia.”
Her eyebrows lifted. “We’re nearly a hundred miles west of Philadelphia.”
“Wow…” He raked a hand through his hair. It felt matted and greasy.
“May I ask what happened to you?” she asked timidly. “How you came to be so far from where you were staying?”
“If I can ask you how I got here,” he replied.
“Of course.” She swallowed. “I came across you late last night, lying on the ground near Leaman’s Bridge. You were unconscious. I… I was hesitant to bring you here, but then I remembered the parable of the Good Samaritan, and I knew I could not pass you by.”
“Why didn’t you just call an ambulance or something?” Nick asked without thinking.
She flushed pink. “I am sorry. We have no telephone here. There is one in the town we can use, if there’s a number you’d like me to call. You’re right that I should have gone to town and called last night. But I was afraid to. I was already out well after dark, close to midnight, riding home in Lukas’s buggy. Lukas is my…” She trailed off, seemingly lost for words.
“Boyfriend?” Nick supplied.
Her cheeks reddened even more, but she gave a curt nod. “I suppose so, yes. My mother and father do not approve of my being with him so late. I was in a hurry to get home. Lukas helped me lift you into his buggy and carry you here.”
“Do your parents know I’m here?”
Analiese shook her head quickly. “No. They would not approve of my bringing a strange boy home, either, even for a charitable reason.”
“But…” His eyes swept the room once more. “Aren’t I in your house? Won’t they find me here?”
“No,” she said again. “This is the grossdaadi haus – grandfather house. It’s on the back of our property, behind the house where my family lives. My opa and oma lived here when they were alive, but it’s stood empty for long enough now that no one will come here.”
“Oh.” Nick’s mind was spinning. He was in the middle of nowhere, tucked away in a small room, in a little house where no one came, with no phone… “no lights, no motorcar, not a single luxury… like Robinson Crusoe, it’s as primitive as can be…” He cracked a smile, singing in his head. “We been spendin’ most our lives livin’ in an Amish paradise…”
He didn’t know much about the Amish, besides what he’d seen in movies – and Weird Al’s music video. He did know they were deeply religious, so he had to assume he was in a safe place, surrounded by good people. Still, he couldn’t help but think of a movie he’d seen once, Misery, about a famous writer who was held hostage and tortured by a crazy nurse who had saved him from a car wreck. He could hear Kathy Bates saying, “I’m your number one fan…” What if this girl wasn’t Amish at all, but a crazy fan who was feeding him an elaborate cover story to explain why he was lying in her house instead of a hospital?
He eyed Analiese warily. “Well… I won’t be here long,” he said pointedly, watching for her reaction. But she didn’t show any signs of wanting to prevent him from leaving.
“Of course,” she said, with an understanding smile. “You’ll want to be examined by a doctor. You must have taken quite a hard blow to the head. Do you know what happened to you?”
Nick hesitated. “I was… attacked. The guys who did it left me for dead.”
Her eyes widened. “But why??”
He shook his head. “It’s a long story. I didn’t do anything wrong; I just saw something I shouldn’t have, and they wanted me dead for it. But they killed my friend instead.” His voice choked on the last few words, and his eyes refilled with tears. Ashamed, he turned his head away from her.
He heard Analiese’s faint gasp. “I’m terribly sorry about the death of your friend,” she whispered. “I will pray for his soul, and for you.”
“Thanks,” Nick muttered, though he knew prayers would do nothing for Kevin now. It was the sort of gesture Brian would appreciate, though.
Brian… His heart ached as he thought of his best friend and what he must be going through, dealing with the loss of his cousin. Would he blame Nick if he knew why Kevin had been shot?
“I’ll leave you now,” Analiese said after a moment. “I need to return to my chores, and I’m sure you’d like some privacy. There’s soap and clean towels on the dresser, if you want to wash. Some of my opa’s old clothes are still in the dresser drawers, if you’d prefer clean clothing. I’ll come back to check on you later.”
She was gone before Nick looked back. His eyes rested on the pile of neatly-folded towels sitting next to the washbasin. He raised a hand to his face. It felt sticky with grime and tears. His split chin had scabbed over and was crusty with dried blood. It would feel good to wash.
He struggled to get up from the bed, moving slowly for the sake of his tender ribs and throbbing head. He staggered dizzily to the dresser and picked up a plain, white cloth from the stack of towels. Dipping it into the basin of warm water, he ran it slowly over his face, savoring the soothing sensation as the layer of grime ran off with the water. Spotting a bar of homemade soap, he lathered the washcloth up with that, too, and scrubbed. Soon the white cloth was the color of rust, and the water was murky, swirling with blood and mud. His face felt clean and smooth again, except for the cut on his chin.
He still felt dirty in the clothes he’d worn all night, which were stiff and stale-smelling from dried creek water, so he pulled off his shirt and used a fresh, soapy cloth to wipe under his arms. Looking down at himself, he saw large bruises across his ribcage, where he’d fallen against the stairs. He prodded them tenderly, wincing at the pain they caused.
Not wanting to put his smelly t-shirt back on, he remembered what Analiese had told him about her grandfather’s clothes. He opened a dresser drawer and found several shirts, folded into a neat pile. He pulled out the one on top and held it up. It was plain white, made of a coarse material, and had long sleeves. It looked big enough, so he put it on, rolling the sleeves up to his elbows. He traded his baggy jeans for a pair of black, high-waisted pants he found in another drawer. He felt uncomfortable in the old-fashioned clothing, but at least they were clean. They felt and smelled better than his own.
As he wadded up his old clothes, something slipped from the pocket of his jeans and fell to the wooden floor with a heavy clunk. He looked down to see his cell phone, the faceplate broken off. He bent down and scooped the phone up, feeling sick with the realization that his captors really had had no intention of letting him live if they hadn’t bothered to take his phone. The cell phone was turned off, its screen black and empty. When he held down the power button to turn it on, nothing happened. Frowning, he pried off the back to check the battery. A trickle of water ran out, dripping onto the floor. The phone was dead. With a sigh, Nick crammed it into the pile of dirty clothes, which he set on the floor in the corner by the dresser.
In his borrowed clothing, Nick crossed the tiny room to the single window and peered out. Outside, there was a garden, with neat rows of leafy, green plants. A dirt path led to a large barn at the edge of the yard, and beyond the barn were rolling fields of farm crops for as far as his eyes could see. Analiese hadn’t been lying about his whereabouts.
Suddenly eager to explore, he crept to the door of the bedroom and poked his head out. He heard nothing and saw no one, so he stepped cautiously over the threshold. He emerged into a sitting room with hard-backed, wooden chairs and end tables that held kerosene lamps, all arranged around a stone fireplace. Off of the sitting room was a small kitchen, with a table and chairs, an old-fashioned ice box, and a wood-burning stove. He was relieved to find a tiny bathroom, as well, with a clawfoot bathtub and running water in the sink. He suddenly felt the urge to relieve himself, so he used the facilities before returning to the bedroom.
By then, Nick’s head was pounding again, so he stretched out across the quilt that covered the bed and closed his eyes. He listened to the light rain fall outside the window, trying to focus on that and nothing else, and within minutes, he had fallen back to sleep.
He woke up when Analiese came back to check on him, bringing with her a tray of food. Nick didn’t realize he was hungry until he smelled the homemade soup and fresh bread. All of a sudden, his stomach panged hollowly, and he felt ravenous.
“Thank you,” he said, sitting up to take the tray.
“Do you feel well enough to eat at the table?” she asked.
“Oh – yeah, sure,” said Nick, easing himself off of the bed. His ribs twinged painfully as he stood up. “What time is it, anyway?” he asked, as he followed her into the kitchen he’d explored earlier and sat down at the table.
“Half past noon. My dat and brothers just finished lunch and went back to the fields. I managed to sneak some food for you as I was cleaning the kitchen.”
She set the tray down on the table in front of him, then perched on the edge of the chair across from him, watching him nervously. Feeling rather like a zoo animal at feeding time, Nick sampled the soup. “Oh my God… this tastes awesome,” he groaned, as the warm soup slid down the back of his dry throat. He eagerly dipped his spoon into the bowl for more, slurping up another mouthful. “Did you make this?”
“My mam,” Analiese replied.
“It’s really good.” He tore a piece off a piece of bread and stuffed it into his mouth. “So’s the bread,” he added thickly, swallowing.
Analiese offered a tentative smile. “That I did make.”
“Wow, you’re good. Cooking… that’s a real talent. I’m no good at it, that’s for sure,” he said, managing a smile back. “You should be proud.”
She blushed, lowering her eyes, and shook her head. “No. Pride is a sin. Cooking is a skill every woman should know.”
Nick snorted. “You’ve never met my mom. Her idea of cooking is frozen pizza and Hamburger Helper.”
Analiese looked up again, her eyes filled with confusion. “What?”
Finishing another bite of bread, he shook his head. “Never mind. Let’s just say, this is a lot better.” He washed the food down with a swig of milk. The milk tasted funny, and at first, he wondered if it had gone bad; then he realized it had probably come straight from the cow.
He asked, and Analiese nodded. “We raise dairy cows,” she said. “Our milk is always fresh. We grow our own food or buy it from neighboring farms.”
“Wow,” said Nick, looking down at the vegetables swimming in his soup. He thought they looked different than the kind one found in a can of Campbell’s, and they certainly tasted better. His family had never even had a garden. The only fresh vegetables he ate came from the veggie trays set up backstage at shows. He was in a very different world. “I don’t know much about the Amish,” he admitted after a minute, chasing a carrot with his spoon. “What exactly do you guys believe? I know you don’t, like, believe in electricity or driving cars or anything.”
“We believe in living simply and separately,” answered Analiese. “The Bible teaches us not to ‘love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world – the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches – comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.’ We do not value material possessions or luxuries. We are plain people. We live off the land and make our own goods. We own only the bare essentials, for to live in excess would be sinful.”
Nick felt his face heat up, as he pictured his lavish hotel suite, his pimped-out tour bus, the sprawling California ranch he’d bought for his parents, and the oceanfront mansion he’d lived in with Mandy. His life was filled with luxury and excess, and he’d never before felt ashamed of it. Analiese’s tone was matter-of-fact, rather than judgmental, but he was sure she would be appalled to see where he lived. “That must be hard,” he offered, unsure of what else to say.
“It is not so difficult. We separate ourselves from the English, to avoid the temptations of your world. When we do encounter such temptations, we’re reminded of the sacrifices we make for the Lord.”
Nick nodded, without really understanding. He couldn’t fathom living the way she did, not just without luxuries, but without basic, modern conveniences and comforts. His family had been poor when he was a child; he knew what it was like to go without, but not by choice. Choosing such a lifestyle was a concept he couldn’t comprehend.
He finished his lunch and said again, “Thank you. That was really good.”
Analiese smiled. “You’re welcome.” She promptly stood up and picked up the tray. “I should get back to the house. I didn’t intend to stay so long.”
“It’s okay,” Nick replied quickly. “I liked talking to you.”
She blushed. “I haven’t had many conversations with English boys. I hope I didn’t bore you, going on so about our beliefs.”
“Not at all. I asked, didn’t I?” He grinned.
She smiled shyly back, tucking a stray lock of blonde hair into her white cap. “Stay here until night falls,” she told him. “Lukas will come after dark, once my parents are in bed, and we will take you to town in his buggy. There is a telephone you can use there.”
Nick nodded. “Good, ‘cause my cell phone died.”
“I’ll be back tonight,” she promised, and then she was gone. Through the front window, he watched her walk swiftly across the yard to a large, white house, her long, blue skirt bustling around her legs. She didn’t look back.
Sighing, he looked around the sparse sitting room. “What am I supposed to do ‘til then?”
True to her word, Analiese returned after dark, accompanied by a wiry, black-haired boy a few years younger than Nick. “This is Lukas,” she introduced him. “And Lukas, this is Nick.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Lukas, extending his hand. His manner was polite, yet somewhat stiff.
Nick shook hands with him and replied, “Nice to meet you, too. Thanks for taking care of me last night.”
Lukas gave a single, solemn nod. “We did only what the Lord would want us to do.”
“We should go now,” Analiese spoke up between them. “It is late, and I’m sure Nick wants to get back to Philadelphia as soon as possible.”
Nick nodded in agreement, but as he followed them outside, his stomach began to churn with apprehension. Lukas’s dark gray buggy was parked outside the main house. The large chestnut pulling it pawed at the ground, while Lukas and Analiese clambered onto the front seat. Nick climbed up after Analiese and squeezed onto the seat beside her, wedging her in between Lukas and him.
“Ya!” Lukas gave the reins a flick, and the horse plodded up the dirt path that led to a country road. Though the road was empty at this time of night, it seemed strange to Nick to be traveling along a paved road in a horse-drawn carriage. He thought such things were reserved for trips around Central Park.
When they approached the same covered bridge the two men had stopped at the night before, Nick’s stomach churned faster. He felt nauseous, remembering the pain and the fear of knowing he was about to die. “This is where we found you,” said Lukas, and Nick nodded, his throat very dry.
“They left me for dead in the creek,” he managed to whisper. “I pulled myself out.”
“You must have been blessed with the strength and courage to survive,” Analiese said, her arm brushing his.
Nick just shrugged in reply. As the buggy rumbled across the bridge, he didn’t feel very courageous. He was afraid. He half-expected Joey and D to be waiting at the other end of the bridge, to jump out of the darkness and ambush the buggy. Nothing like that happened, of course, but that didn’t stop Nick from looking around nervously, squinting through the shadows, for the rest of the trip.
He felt some relief when he saw the first lights of the town on the horizon, but even when Lukas had eased the horse and buggy to a stop near a pay phone at a gas station on the outside of town, Nick’s stomach felt twisted and tight. He jumped down from the buggy and walked over to the phone, but as he picked up the receiver, he realized he still didn’t have his wallet.
“Um… I don’t have any quarters,” he said apologetically, turning to face the buggy again. Analiese looked at Lukas, who conjured a handful of spare change from his pocket. “Thanks,” Nick said gratefully and deposited the coins into the pay phone. When he heard the dial tone, he punched in a number from memory and waited nervously for the call to go through.
At first, he could only hear the sound of his own shallow breathing in the receiver.
Then, a heart-wrenchingly familiar voice answered, “Hello?”