Soon-to-be high school junior David Harper hates his family’s move to the country. There’s nothing to do, and he misses his friends in the city. But he doesn’t have a choice. His mother’s job is in Mason County now, so David and his mom are too, and he has to make the best of it.
At first, the only redeeming feature of David’s new home is the swimming hole across the field from his house. Then David meets Benjamin Killinger, and suddenly life stops being so dull.
Benjamin is Amish, and cooling off in the swimming hole is one of the few liberties he and his brothers enjoy. A friendship with an English boy is not—but that doesn’t stop him and David from getting to know each other, as long as it’s on the neutral ground by the creek. After David risks his life to save Benjamin’s father, the boys’ friendship is tolerated, then accepted. But before long, Benjamin’s feelings for David grow beyond the platonic. Benjamin’s family and the rest of the community will never allow a love like that, and a secret this big can’t stay secret forever….
Young Adult Age Range: 14 to 18 years old
DAVID HARPER rode the bus home from the last day of tenth grade. He should have been happy—school was out and he had the whole summer ahead of him. Three months ago, he’d even managed to get a job at the grocery store just down the street from the small house where he lived with his mother. But yesterday had been his last day at work, and as the bus rolled down the street, his classmates chattering at the top of their lungs, David sat in his seat silently, swaying slightly with each bump as he got closer to home. The bus stopped at the corner, and David got off. A few friends called to him, and he waved before descending the steps. The door closed behind him, and then the bus rolled away, leaving him alone to walk the last half block to his house, or, more accurately, to what had been his house.
A rental truck sat in the driveway, and men moved between the house and the truck, carrying boxes. “They’re almost done, and then we can leave,” his mother told him as she checked things off on the clipboard she was carrying. His mother was really big on lists. She made them for everything: the groceries, work, and now the contents of his bedroom. David reminded himself to take a look at that list to make sure it didn’t have an entry for the stuff he’d packed days ago and hidden in another box that he didn’t want her to see.
“Mrs. Harper, we’ll be done here in just a few minutes,” a large, overweight man told David’s mother. David slipped inside, past the guy. His belly hung over his belt, and he was carrying his own clipboard.
The rooms were empty, and David wandered to what had been his bedroom, to find it empty as well. He stood in the center of it and wondered what this new place was going to be like. “It’s going to be fine, Davey,” his mother told him as she walked into the room. Standing next to him, she put her arms around him and pulled him into a hug. That was another of his mother’s things. She was a hugger. There were times when it was fine, like now, when they were alone. But there were times—like after his last concert at school, when she’d hugged him in front of the entire class—that it definitely wasn’t. “You’re going to meet new friends, and there will be a brand new school and a whole new town to explore.” She made it sound like some great adventure, rather than moving to a small town where everyone smelled like cows, or so he imagined.
“Why do we have to move?” David asked, moving away from her. “I like my school and I finally made friends here after the last move.”
“I know, but we need to move where my job takes me,” his mother explained for the millionth time.
“But why do we have to go all the way to BFE? I don’t want to live next door to cows,” David grumbled, knowing it wouldn’t do any good, but he had to get it out there.
“That’s enough,” she said firmly. “The last of our things are packed and we need to get going so we can be at our new house before it gets dark.” She walked toward the door and then stopped. “You know I didn’t have a choice in this, so we both need to make the best of it. Who knows? You might actually like it if you give it a chance.” And there was the guilt. He’d been waiting for it, and she’d just slipped it in there so easily. David knew he couldn’t really stay mad at her. She was getting a raise, and since they’d be living in the country, she had promised that he could learn to ride a horse if he wanted. “I’ll see you in the car in a few minutes.”
David heard her walk down the hall, and he shuffled after her, turning out the light for the last time. As he left the house and got into the car, he kept telling himself they were only moving an hour away and he could still see his friends. David fastened his seat belt, and his mother started the engine and backed down the driveway. David watched out the window as his latest home faded into the distance, and he tried not to look forward with trepidation on what was to come.
For almost as long as he could remember, David and his mother had moved every two or three years. His mother had started out as a sales representative for a cosmetics company after his father had died, and over the years, she’d moved up the ladder, but each change had come with a relocation to a new office. Up till now, that had meant changing cities, but now his mother was receiving a promotion to the corporate offices, and that meant moving close to their headquarters outside Ludington, Michigan. David had been there many times on vacation with his mom and he’d always wondered why anyone would locate their business headquarters there, but the founders obviously had, and now they were moving there. But to add insult to injury, his mother hadn’t found a house in town. Instead, they were going to live in the country, with cows, chickens, and God knew what else for neighbors.
“It’s going to be great, Davey,” his mother told him, reaching over to squeeze his knee excitedly. He looked back at her and smiled with as much excitement as he could muster. He’d tried to be happy for her, but he really had no interest in moving. He’d been happy and he’d had a job that would have allowed him to actually get a car soon. Now everything was a mess.
“I know, Mom,” he lied, turning back to look out the window as they got onto the freeway and headed north.
They’d made this drive a number of times, the last one the time David’s mother had taken him to see the house she’d found. David had been appalled. The house was new and quite nice. He’d have his own room, of course, and there was a nice backyard that opened up to a large field, but the house was way out of town, and by his estimation, there was nowhere he could go unless he had a car. His hope of getting one anytime soon had been cut off when he’d had to quit his job. David sat quietly, stewing over what he was leaving behind. It simply wasn’t fair.
“You can talk to me,” his mother said after a while, but David didn’t feel like it. She didn’t really want to hear what he had to say, so he continued riding in silence, lamenting what he was giving up.
His mother exited the freeway south of Ludington and traveled the country roads with the moving truck right behind them. David tried to follow where they were going for a while, but then gave up and stared out the window, looking at nothing.
“What’s that?” David asked as they turned onto what he recognized as the road their house was on. He was looking in the distance at a grouping of simple buildings. “They look sort of old-fashioned, like something from Little House on the Prairie.” As soon as the words crossed his lips, he wished he’d kept his mouth shut. Yes, he’d seen the show in reruns, but he didn’t want anyone to know it.
“There’s an Amish community out here,” his mother explained, like he actually knew what that meant. But rather than ask, he figured he’d find out, so he rode and watched. Eventually the car slowed, and they turned into the driveway of what was to become their new home. As soon as the car stopped, David had his seat belt off and was out of the car. He waited until his mom unlocked the house, and as soon as the moving truck had been opened up, David began hauling things inside.
He worked for a while, mostly carrying the stuff he could find for his room. The sun was close to setting when he stopped and leaned against the side of the truck, looking over the field. As he watched, David saw a kid who looked about his age walking a horse along the far edge of the field. He wondered why he was dressed in black on a warm day like this, but lifted his hand to wave nonetheless. If he was going to live here, David figured he might as well make a good impression on the neighbors, and if this was someone his own age, maybe he had a chance to actually meet someone so he didn’t have to spend the entire summer sitting around with only his mother for company. The kid stopped, and David could tell he saw him, but after a few seconds, he continued on. “Jerk,” David mumbled before bouncing off the side of the truck to find something else to carry into his room.
“Who’s a jerk?” David’s mother asked, and he stopped at the top of the ramp, looking across the field to where the kid was leading his horse toward the road. “What did he do?”
“Nothing,” David said, turning away to pick up one of this boxes.
“He’s Amish,” his mother explained as she picked up a box as well. David shrugged and began walking down the ramp with his box.
“So? That’s no reason to be a jerk,” David countered.
“Amish people keep to themselves. They don’t interact with the ‘English’, as they call us. They also don’t use electricity, cars, phones, and most modern conveniences.”
“Then how do they get around?” David asked as he stopped walking and watched the kid and his horse cross the street.
“Horse and buggy,” she told him. “They live simple lives, largely away from the rest of the world. They farm, and I’m told they are great carpenters. There’s a bakery at the far edge of the community, just a mile or so from here, that makes great bread and rolls. I had some the last time I was here.”
“Why would they do that?” David asked, still tracking the kid and his horse. David had no idea why he was drawn to them, but he couldn’t seem to stop watching them.
“It’s part of their religion,” she said before continuing on into the house while David watched the kid until he disappeared from view on the other side of the road. This was just perfect. They’d moved out to the country with very few neighbors, and the ones they did have would stay away from him because of their religious views. Wonderful—he’d get to spend the summer alone, for sure. David turned away and continued into the house. The sun was starting to go down, and if they didn’t get the truck unloaded, he’d have to do it tomorrow.
David worked for the next hour alongside the movers, getting the truck emptied. By the time they were done, it was completely dark and the last items had been hauled inside by the glow of the light over the garage. As soon as they were done, his mother thanked the movers, and gave them what looked like a tip, and they took off, leaving David and his mother amidst a sea of boxes and half-placed furniture. “Let’s get something to eat,” his mother pronounced, and David’s stomach rumbled.
David stepped outside to wait for his mother and stared across the street at the group of buildings, their windows lit with a faint glow that David figured probably came from oil lamps. David wondered what they were doing tonight and imagined them sitting on benches around a rough table, the women sewing while the men whittled or cleaned their rifles. As his mother said, he probably watched too much television. He heard his mother come outside and close the door behind her, and David opened the car door and got inside, watching the glowing windows until they disappeared from sight.