When Gabe, who’d been a year ahead of Melinda in school, graduated from eighth grade and began learning the trade of woodworking under his dad’s tutelage, she missed seeing him every day and looked forward to their every-other-Sunday church services, where Gabe and his family would also be in attendance. Now Gabe, who had recently turned twenty, worked full-time at his father’s woodworking shop.

When Melinda had finished school, she’d begun her vocational training at home with her mother, where she learned various household chores that would prepare her for marriage. Then a year ago, she’d begun working part-time for Dr. Franklin, the local veterinarian. At first it was just cleanup work, as well as feeding, watering, and exercising some of the animal patients. But later, when the doctor realized how much Melinda cared for the animals and noticed her special way with them, he had allowed her to assist him with minor things. Melinda had done everything from holding a dog while it received a shot or had its nails clipped, to giving flea baths and bringing animals from their cages into the operating room.

“You’ve been blessed with a unique gift,” Dr. Franklin had told Melinda the other day while she held a nervous kitten about to receive its first shot. “Have you ever considered becoming a veterinarian’s technical assistant or even a vet?”

Melinda had to admit that the thought of becoming a vet had crossed her mind, but she figured it was an impossible dream. Not only was she lacking in education, but going to college and then on to a school of veterinary medicine would mean leaving the Amish faith. Since she’d been baptized and joined the Amish church a year ago, it would affect her whole family if she left the faith and became part of the English world.

Melinda remembered several years ago, before their old bishop died and John Frey had taken his place, a young man named Abner had left home during his running-around years, and he’d ended up coming back a few months later, saying it was too hard being away from his family. As a young woman, her own mother had left the Amish faith for ten years, trying to make a name for herself in the entertainment business.

It would probably break Mama’s heart if I left home the way she did when she was my age, Melinda thought. And what would it do to my relationship with Gabe? She shook her head. No, becoming a vet is most likely just an impossible dream. I’ll probably never leave my home here in Webster County.

“I can’t believe Melinda’s not back yet.” Faith placed a sack of flour on the counter and turned to face her mother and youngest sister, who sat at the kitchen table. “She said she was going for a short walk and would be here in plenty of time to help with the baking, but she must have lost track of time.”

Susie, Faith’s sister who had recently turned twenty, sighed. “Knowing Melinda, she’s most likely off taking care of one of her critters or out in the woods sketching pictures of the deer.”

Faith nodded. “You’re probably right. My daughter has been taking in injured and orphaned animals ever since she was a little girl. It’s not gotten any better since she became a young woman, either. Sometimes I wonder if Melinda will ever grow up.”

“Just because she likes helping animals doesn’t mean she’s not mature,” Faith’s mother put in. “She wouldn’t be able to work for Dr. Franklin if she wasn’t grown up enough to make good decisions.”

Faith wrinkled her forehead. She didn’t know why her mother was sticking up for Melinda. She sure hadn’t taken Faith’s side of things when Faith was Melinda’s age. Of course, Faith reasoned, back then I was headstrong and disobedient, running off to do my own thing in the modern world. Mama only saw me as a rebellious teenager, not as a mature woman who made good decisions.