News spread like wildfire within the Amish community. It would be a day, if not a few hours, before knowledge of my leaving the order would circulate.
I had been correct in my assumptions that my discussion with the bishop and the elders would be difficult. It wasn't emotional, but it was intense. The scrutiny that they placed me under was something that I'd wish on no one. Just like my family, they wouldn't stop me, nor could they, but they could preach and question me endlessly. Was I willing to risk my soul by turning my back on God? It was a ridiculous question, as I had no intentions of doing such a thing.
I wasn't sure exactly when I had begun to think differently about the Church. I didn't know if it was directly after Maggie's passing or if it had come on slowly while I had nothing to do other than think and dissect all the areas of my life. All I knew was that I felt stifled here. When I read my Bible at night, it had become glaringly obvious to me that I was longing for a different way to worship. I no longer felt content in the Amish faith. I wanted to go out into the world and explore it.
What was the point of opening your eyes every day if it was only to work yourself to the bone and experience nothing life offered? If Maggie taught me anything, it was that our mortality was very real, and that there were no guarantees we'd wake up the next day.
I stood in the bathroom, looking into the only mirror in the house. I ran my fingers through the short length of my beard. Being—or I suppose having been—a new order Amish meant that they allowed married men to have shorter, more tamed beards than the old order Amish. I took a deep breath, pulling out the straight razor that my father had given me when I'd reached the age that a young man began to grow facial hair, along with a pair of shears. I worked for a few minutes, clipping most of the length away before lathering up and shaving the rest with the razor.
I stared at my reflection once again. This time, though, I was unsure of who the man was who stared back at me. My beard had represented my commitment to Maggie, and ridding myself of it was just another symbol to moving forward. I was sure of my decision to leave and had no desire to change my mind, but that didn't mean that I was fully content yet either. I was beyond happy and in love with Bella, but that didn't mean there wasn't a slight ache in my chest when I thought of everything I was leaving behind.
My family was still my family. They were all I had ever known, and to think I wouldn't miss my mamm and daed would be naïve. I was sure there would come a time that I would even miss my brother, but for now, the venom that he was spewing was enough to keep those feelings at bay.
I had no work lined up for the day and knew that to stay in business I'd have to advertise to the English community now more than ever. I'd never had trouble making a living before, but with my leaving, my Amish customer base would surely drop off.
I closed my eyes, suddenly feeling as though I couldn't breathe. Overwhelming thoughts of all the repercussions my decision would have on my life seemed bigger than it had before. I placed my hands against the countertop, taking deep breaths and letting them out.
Everything felt like a task; I'd have to connect electricity to my house, I'd have to get an ID, or even learn how to drive a car. I needed all new clothes, I needed—I needed Bella.
I paced back and forth on Bella's porch, hesitant to knock on her door. It had been days since I'd seen her, and I knew it was because she'd given me my space while I spoke with my family and the bishop. But I didn't want space any longer.
I inhaled deeply, holding my breath as I knocked. I waited a few moments and was pleased to see that when the door swung open it was Bella on the other side. I hadn't really thought about the fact that it could have been her mother or step-father who answered instead. And I was in no frame of mind to be meeting them just yet.
"Edward?" Her eyes were wide as she took in my clean-shaven face.
"Jah—I mean, yes. Yeah." I didn't even know how to speak any longer. Did I continue with Pennsylvania Dutch slipping in, or did I try to forget it? Did I need to change everything about myself?
She tilted her head to the side, taking me in. "Wow. You look...different, I mean, good different, but different. Are you okay?"
"I'm okay. May I come in?"
"Oh!" she said with a gasp, her cheeks turning pink as she stepped aside. "Yeah, come in."
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you I was coming—"
"You never have to tell me you're coming over. Come on, let's go sit down." She pulled me by the hand into the living room where a large, overstuffed couch was waiting for us. As we sat side by side, it was probably the most awkward that we had ever been with one another, even more so than that first conversation in my barn. The tension was thick in the air.
"Could I get you coffee or tea? Are you hungry, maybe—"
"Danke, but I'm not hungry for food. I've got a different kind of hunger." I needed her. I needed to feel her, to know that she was truly mine. I wanted to know that it was all worth it.
Her eyes snapped up to mine. "What are you hungry for then?" she whispered.
I grabbed her hands, pulling her up and onto my lap. I knew that it was a bold move, one that she wouldn't expect from me. But I felt different, maybe a little unhinged even. I cupped her face between my hands. "You," I murmured. "I'm hungry for you."
She drew in a sharp breath as I brought her face close to mine. Her eyes darkened and her breaths quickened as I pressed my lips to hers, kissing her roughly. Until now, our kisses had been passionate but were still relatively tame. I groaned as she threaded her fingers through my hair, and slipped her tongue past my lips, tangling it with mine.
Her soft moans spurred me on, causing me to grow harder. I lifted my hips, being guided by instinct, when normally I would have fought the as my fingertips slipped past the hem of Bella's shirt, caressing the undersides of breasts, she pulled back, gently removing my hands from her body.
"We need to stop before we go too far. You seem off today, and I don't want either of us to regret something."
"I'd never regret being with you."
She sighed heavily, slipping off my lap. "I don't know everything about you yet, Edward, but I know that Amish or not, sex means something to you, just like it does to me. I love kissing you and touching you, but you're not ready for more."
"Why is it that everyone seems to think they know what's best for me?" I snapped at her. "That's all I hear lately, that I don't know what I'm doing! How do you know I'm not ready? Have you asked me?" The volume of my voice increased with each word.
"Edward, I'm sorry—" I could hear the tears in her voice and I immediately felt like the biggest idiot. I'd come here because I needed her and she was doing exactly what I'd hoped for; taking care of me and I thanked her by yelling at her.
I held my head in my hands, tugging on my hair as I listened to her soft cries, my own tears burning at the corners of my eyes. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Bella, I do. I'm so very sorry, I don't know what came over me."
I glanced over at her as she wiped the tears from her cheeks. "You're hurt, frustrated, and probably a little scared. I've never had someone I truly loved die, nor have I given up everything that I've ever known, but I've been there. I've felt—still feel—those feelings. My heart is somewhere out there, walking around outside of my body, and she may very well never know me."
I stared at her for a moment. I seemed to forget with everything that was going on around me, just how strong and selfless she was. She was constantly listening to me go on about my troubles and supporting me in every way possible as I changed my life completely. I was severely lacking in remembering that even though she was capable of taking care of herself, she still needed my support as well. We would never survive if this relationship was one-sided.
I couldn't find the words to express to her how I was feeling, but I hoped the ones I had would be enough. I pulled her against me, kissing the top of her head. "I'm sorry, I love you."
My family could use some prayers/good vibes. Our little one has been sick for well over a week, so we're headed back to the doctor today.