“Be that as it may,” Faith said as she pulled out a rolling pin, “Melinda’s showing her immaturity this morning by not keeping her word and being here to help us with the baking.”

“Would you like me to go look for her?” Susie offered.

Faith pursed her lips and finally nodded. “That’s a good idea, since she’s obviously not planning to come back anytime soon of her own accord.”

Susie stood. “I’ll check the barn first. If she’s not there, I’ll head for the woods.”

As Susie scurried out the door, Faith moved over to the table and took a seat across from her mother. “Since we don’t have the help of either of our daughters at the moment, why don’t the two of us sit and visit over another cup of tea?”

Mama smiled and pushed back her metal-framed glasses, which had slipped to the end of her nose. “Sounds good to me.”

“You know, it’s not just Melinda’s preoccupation with her animal friends that bothers me,” Faith said while pouring her mother a cup of tea.

“What else is bothering you?”

“I’m concerned because Melinda’s been acting kind of strange.”

Mama’s eyebrows lifted as a deep wrinkle formed above her nose. “Strange in what way?”

“Besides the fact that I have to stay after Melinda to get her chores done because she’s too busy tending her animal friends, she seems to be off in her own little world. It’s like her thoughts are somewhere else most of the time.”

“I think you need to be more patient with Melinda. From what I can tell, she and Gabe Swartz are getting serious. I think it’s just a matter of time until they become betrothed.” Mama smiled. “Once that happens, I’m sure Melinda will settle down and act more like the mature woman you want her to be.”

Faith poured herself a cup of tea and took a sip. “I hope you’re right about that, Mama. Jah, I surely do.”

Susie had gone a short ways into the woods when she spotted Melinda sitting on a log with her drawing tablet. Susie was tempted to scold her niece for wasting time and trying to get out of work she should be doing, but she figured if she said too much, she and Melinda would probably end up arguing. Ever since Melinda had been a young girl, she had enjoyed spending time with animals. Susie used to think that once Melinda grew up, she would focus on the important things in life. But no, Melinda kept drawing and daydreaming, shirking her duties at the house, and causing her mother to send Susie after her on many occasions.

A twig snapped as Susie took a step toward the log. She halted and held her breath. Should she sneak up on Melinda and take her by surprise or make a loud noise so Melinda would know she was coming? Deciding on the latter, Susie moved closer and cleared her throat.

Melinda, engrossed in her artwork, didn’t budge.

Susie held her hands above Melinda’s head and clapped. “Hey!”

Melinda jumped, and the deer she’d been drawing bolted into the protection of the thick pine forest.

“Thanks a lot!” Melinda spun around and glared at Susie. “You’ve scared away my subjects, and they probably won’t be back. Leastways not anytime soon.”

“Sorry about that,” Susie mumbled. She glanced at Melinda’s drawing tablet and couldn’t help but be impressed with what she saw. Despite the fact that Melinda drew well, was it really necessary to spend every free moment—and some time that was stolen—sketching her woodland friends?

Melinda stood and shook her finger at Susie. “I don’t think you’re one bit sorry. You look rather pleased with yourself, Susie Stutzman. I’ll bet you clapped and hollered like that on purpose, just to scare away my subjects. Didn’t you?”