A Change of Heart - By Beth Wiseman

Chapter One

LEAH FOLDED HER ARMS ACROSS THE SPIRAL NOTEBOOK and held it close to her thumping chest. She was late for supper. Again.

She eased her way up the front porch steps of the farmhouse and peered through the screen door. Her family was already seated at the long wooden table in the kitchen. She sucked in a breath and prepared for her father’s wrath. Supper was always at five o’clock, and preparations usually began an hour before that. Leah was expected to help.

Her eldest sister, Edna, cut her eyes in Leah’s direction as Leah closed the screen door behind her. Mary Carol scowled at Leah, too, and blew out an exasperated sigh.

“Sorry I’m late.” Leah tucked her chin but raised her eyes enough to catch a sympathetic gaze from her youngest sister, Kathleen. Leah forced a smile in Kathleen’s direction.

“Wash for supper, Leah.” Marian Petersheim didn’t look at her daughter but instead glanced at her husband, a silent plea for mercy on her face.

“Yes, ma’am.” Leah rushed upstairs, stored her notebook in the top drawer of her nightstand, and quickly washed her face and hands. She tucked loose strands of brown hair beneath her prayer covering, smoothed the wrinkles from her black apron, and walked briskly down the stairs.

She slid in beside Edna on the backless wooden bench and bowed her head in silent prayer as forks clanked against plates. When she was done, she reached for the chow-chow and spooned a small amount of the pickled vegetables onto her plate. She helped herself to a piece of her mother’s baked chicken and then eyed her favorite casserole. Leah loved the way Kathleen prepared the green bean mixture with buttered Ritz cracker crumbs on top, but the casserole was on the other side of her father, and she wasn’t about to ask him to pass it.

Daed didn’t look up as he swallowed his last bite of chicken and reached for another piece on the platter to his right. The father of four teenaged girls—Edna, nineteen; Leah, eighteen; Mary Carol, seventeen; and Kathleen, sixteen—James Petersheim ran the household with steadfast rules and imparted strict punishment when those rules were disobeyed. Every one of the girls had been disciplined with a switch behind the woodshed at some point in her life. Leah wished she were still young enough for the switch. It would surely be better than what her father was about to unleash on her.

She pulled a piece of butter bread from the plate nearby and glanced toward him. Leah knew he would finish his meal before he scolded her for being late. She dabbed her forehead with her napkin, unsure if the sweat gathering on her brow was due to nervousness or the sweltering August heat.

“Abner’s mamm is giving us her fine china as a wedding present,” Edna said after an awkward moment of silence. Edna and Abner’s wedding was scheduled for November, after the fall harvest, and Edna often updated the family about the upcoming nuptials during supper. “It belonged to his grandparents.” Edna sat up a little straighter, and her emerald eyes shone.

“Wonderful news,” their mother said. “I’ve seen Sarah’s china, and it’s lovely.”

Leah waited for Mary Carol to chime in. Her wedding was scheduled to take place in December.

Leah recalled her father pointing his finger at her and Kathleen. “I reckon the two of you best not be thinkin’ of marrying until at least next year,” he’d teased after hearing Mary Carol’s news two months ago—news that came on the heels of Edna’s announcement only one week earlier.

Mary Carol smiled. “I have something to share too,” she said, glancing back and forth between their mother and Edna. “Saul’s parents are giving us twenty acres to build a new home. Until that time, we’ll be living with his folks.”

Here we go, Leah thought. Jealousy is a sin, but Mary Carol was translucent when it came to her feelings about Edna. And if Leah were honest with herself, she’d admit that she, too, had often been jealous of their oldest sister. Edna was the prettiest of all of them, with silky dark hair and stunning green eyes. She’d gotten her figure early, too, and all the boys took notice of Edna by the time she was fourteen. The other three Petersheim sisters were much plainer, with mousy brown hair and nondistinctive dark eyes, and without the curves Edna was blessed with. And Mary Carol battled a seemingly incurable case of acne, always trying some new potion the natural doctor suggested.