One Summer Grove, Pennsylvania Ariana's head roared with voices, those in the kitchen around her and others from far away, even from hundreds of years in the past.Voices of real people she'd talked to or had heard preach or teach, as well as the voices from the many books Nicholas had asked her to read. The voices grouped in clans, their murmurings growing fervent, insisting precisely what she needed to believe, whoshe needed to be, and why she needed to march to the beat of their drum. Ariana needed to know herself well enough to pick a tribe she agreed with and shut down the rest with her own reasoning. But she couldn't parse what she believed, and they hounded without mercy. Marred flatware jangled endlessly as her nine siblings, five of her fourteen nieces and nephews, her Mamm and Daed, and Skylar sat around the table in rickety chairs. The mid-January wind pushed against the houseand seemed to come right through the walls. An old galvanized bucket sat in the sink because the water pipe to the kitchen was broken again. If the pipes to the sink in the mudroom hadn't been working, getting breakfast on the table would've been a lot morework. Rickety furniture, cold winds seeping in, and broken pipes didn't bother her. Money and work could easily fix those things. What nagged at her was much deeper. She was finally in the very home she'd pined for whileaway, and yet only a fragment of herself seemed to be here. Her Daed worked really hard, but his income was too small for a family this size. Ariana couldn't remember a time when she didn't long to make life better for them. That was why she and Abram had spent years workingto buy the café. She had been convinced it would bring in enough money to make life easier for Mamm and Daed. The voices in her head grew louder. One group said money was evil and poverty was God's will, that it made people rely on Him more. Another group shouted louder than the first, saying that lack was from the Enemy.Still more voices said that being poor was due to a lack of education. A dozen more camps vied to be heard, and Ariana was powerless to sort them out. "Ariana." Mamm pointed at her plate, sounding baffled, maybe even alarmed. "Is this not your favorite breakfast anymore?" A stack of pancakes stared back at Ariana. Her stomach churned. "It is. Denki, Mamm." She used the edge of her fork to cut into the pancakes. "You're not yourself." Susie passed her a plate of bacon. "That's more plain to see than your poorly pinned-up hair under your lopsided prayer Kapp." Her bun was messy and her head covering was pinned askew? She should at least adjust the Kapp, but she simply nodded. "I'm a little out of sorts. That's all." She didn't feel just a little out of sorts. She longed to scream at the voices in her head to shut up. Salome smiled. "Anyone who'd been through what you have would be feeling strange. I imagine you feel as if you've been through the blades of a hay baler." That depiction had a decent amount of accuracy, but to be more precise, her brain felt as if it had been rubbed with poison oak, and it screamed in discomfort, begging to be soothed with a poultice of clay, applecider vinegar, and peppermint. "A hay baler?" Daed smiled at her. "You'll be right as rain soon enough. A little time here at home with us and your Rudy, and you'll feel like yourself again. I guarantee it." He took a bite of food. "Forget what'sbehind you. Only look ahead." "He's right." Mamm drew her mug toward her lips. "There's much to look forward to." She peered over her mug, smiling. "Your wedding for one." Rudy must've told them they'd decided to marry. What else had he told them? When she'd arrived home last night, Rudy had seemed unusually connected to her parents, even asking Ariana to wait in another room whilehe spoke privately to her Mamm. Ariana had been so involved in her own thoughts that the incident hadn't meant anything to her, but today it seemed a little curious. Right now she didn't want to talk about a wedding, and she was pretty sure her parents knew it. She wanted to discuss her immediate future. Ariana forked a bite of pancakes, hoping she looked calm and natural. "Ratherthan my wedding, I'd like to discuss moving in with Berta." When she'd mentioned the idea the night before, the reaction had been swift and negative. She'd defended Berta, leading to a respectful, soft-spoken disagreement with her parents as they tried to stuff her into thesame thinking, the same role, the same box she'd been in before she left. It no longer fit. This morning as Ariana looked from her Daed to her Mamm, their facial expressions hadn't altered one bit. It was as if they hadn't heard her. "A wedding and then"--Daed swept his arms open as if gesturing to a large crowd--"you'll be expecting your first little one by winter for sure. That's what you need to focus on, Ariana. It's what all our attentionneeds to be on." "Okay," Skylar said, sounding offended, "the marrying-young part I get. They're in love, and they want to get busy." "Skylar," Mamm chided, "we don't talk that way." Mark chuckled. "What was the rest of your thought, Sky Blue?" "Planning to have a baby that quickly after getting married is crazy. Completely crazy, especially in this day and age. If I understand right, they'll marry this fall. She'll barely be twenty-one. What about a littletime for just her and Rudy?" "That's not God's way, Skylar." Daed took a bite of bacon. "If people are mature enough to marry, they are ready to have children. Waiting is the Englisch way. Birth control and wanting the babies to come at a convenienttime are worldly. God said that children are a blessing, and He commanded us to be fruitful and multiply." Heat skittered across Ariana's skin. "He didn't command it," she mumbled. "What?" Daed's voice deepened, and his brows furrowed. She should've kept her mouth shut. "I just meant that we don't know it was a command." "Of course we do." Daed's hands fisted as they rested on the table. "What are you saying, Ariana?" Memories of living in the Englisch world and crying out to God to help her return home circled in her mind. She'd wanted to get back to her Amish roots as quickly as possible. She hadn't wanted to leave here in thefirst place, but she'd had no choice, and while she was on the outside, a different kind of life, a different way of thinking had been poured into her, purposefully and with diligence, for three months. Now it felt strange to sit at this table with her hairpinned up again and her Amish clothes on while science and philosophy books and Bible passages translated from the Hebrew text danced in her head. She knew her Daed was waiting on an apology and a confession of belief that lined up with the church's teachings. But when she tried to say what was expected, the words disappeared. All eyes were on her, and everyadult seemed unable to move. She had to respond. "Daed, with respect, it seems we've been taught that God commanded things that aren't actually commands." She'd said enough, so she bit her tongue, but the rest of what came to mind shocked even her. Evenif God commanded people to multiply, that was thousands of years ago, long before the planet had seven billion people. Is that what she believed, or were Nicholas's thoughts simply filling her head? Daed seemed dumbfounded, but then anger grew hard in his eyes. He set his napkin on the table and pushed back. "If we're to be at church on time, we better get moving." He stood. "It seems one of us needs every momentof it she can get." Ariana watched as he went into the living room. Her brothers walked toward the back door, and she knew they would put on their coats and go to the barn to hitch horses to enough carriages to get the throng to church. Her sisters started clearing the table. "Ari." Her youngest sister put her hands on her hips. "It's Daed's house, and you are his child. What are you thinking?" "She's not property, Martha," Skylar corrected. "She has a right to think her own thoughts, speak them, and act on them." Ariana had no idea what to say, so she stood and began stacking plates, wishing she didn't have to go to the Sunday meeting. It would mean listening to yet another voice telling her what she needed to think and whoshe needed to be. "The Word says children are to obey," Mamm said. "And God didn't put an expiration date on that, although once she's married, her Daed will keep his opinions to himself." "Well." Susie unloaded an armful of dirty glasses onto the counter near the sink. "Maybe God didn't give a cutoff date because He expected people to use common sense." The voices of Mamm, her sisters, and Skylar moved inside Ariana's head to their respective tribes--the very conservative, the rational conservative, and the feminist--and joined the other chorus of voices. Ariana longed for a moment of silence, where all voices let her think in peace. Maybe then she'd know who she was and what she thought. Salome put her arm around Ariana's shoulders. "I'm glad you're home." "Denki," Ariana mumbled. Salome squeezed her. "We need time to talk, just sisters catching up, ya ?" "We do." But right now Ariana was busy thinking about a different woman in this room, the one she was watching. Skylar had on jeans and a tunic sweater. Since the three-hour service of songs, messages, and prayerwould be in a language she didn't know, she wasn't required to go. Because she hadn't been born into this home, she wasn't required to wear the cape dress, apron, or prayer Kapp. What about Ariana's rights? "Salome"--Ariana held out the stack of dishes--"I need to talk to Daed. It might be a good idea to pray for me...or him." Salome took the dishes, and Ariana went into the living room. Daed had a poker in his hand, banking the fire before they left the house for the next seven hours of travel, the service, a small meal, and expectedfellowship. "Daed, I...I know you won't understand this or agree with it, and I'm sorry about that, but I need a few days away to think. Out of town, at a hotel probably." He stood. "Have you lost your mind, child?" "Not yet, no." He crouched again, shaking burning logs until hunks of embers fell into the heap. "We're so glad you're back. We've missed you, Ari." He remained crouched as he turned to look at her. "You really don't want to behere?" He sounded so hurt. "I do, Daed. Please trust me on that. I just need a few days away to think." He focused on the fireplace again. "What you need is to be here, with us. To renew your mind to Christ's ways." Christ renewing her mind would be lovely, but Christians wouldn't agree on exactly what that would mean or what she should think as proof that her mind had indeed been renewed by Christ and not by the world or heresy. Sparks flew upward as Daed prodded the fiery embers. "Trust me to guide you, Ariana, and you'll be fine. You're feeling the pangs of transition, nothing more." He stood. "Transitions are always hard, but you justneed to trust God." "I do trust Him. But--" "That's gut. We don't need to discuss anything else right now." He set the poker in its stand and picked up the shovel. " Nee, Daed. I'm telling you that I need this." He pushed ashes in a circle, making a crater of embers. "You're fine." His voice was calm, as if she were a five-year-old saying she wanted another ice cream. She couldn't stand it. Of course he didn't understand. She didn't either, but it was every bit as unbearable as her first days adjusting to Englisch life, only then she believed it was her place to submit and obey.She needed to understand who she was so that no matter what happened in life, whether she was fully Amish or was stripped of it, poor or wealthy, single or married, she would know this is who I am --whatever this was. Her thoughts meandered to her Englisch family. Her mom, Gabe, and Cameron were probably returning to their fancy home after a morning run. They would be dressed totally inappropriately, and without her there it mightbe a coin toss as to whether they went to church or not. Yet Ariana had come to love them and their unconventional ways of looking at faith. But learning to respect her Englisch mom, stepdad, and stepsister hadn't helped her know who she was and what she thought. Her dad was probably in his recliner, reading some hard-to-understand book by a learned philosopher, cognitive scientist, or historian. She'd started out hating it when he'd shoved his beloved facts at her. A fewweeks in, she began to find the knowledge fascinating. Part of her wished she could sit down with her Englisch dad and discuss the deep matters that were taboo in this home. "Daed." Her voice sounded firm, but her insides were trembling. Was she really going to go against him? He turned to face her. "Out of respect for you and Mamm and a desire not to cause trouble with the preachers, I'll go to the Sunday meeting and stay with the family until we return midafternoon. But then I'll hire a driver to pick me up,and I'm going away for a few days." His face mirrored disbelief, then fear, which quickly turned to anger. He walked over to her, his shoulders filling her view. "You came home only yesterday, and today you doubt whether you want to join the Amishor not?" "What? No. That's not it at all, Daed. I suddenly have two million opinions zipping and zooming inside my head, and I need time to silence them. Time to sort them out. But most of all I need to understand who I am.I don't think I've ever really been clear on that." "You're a child of God." "I am." "And you're Amish, today and always." "Daed, kumm on, of course." He relaxed a bit. "Then what else is there to figure out?" "I don't know." Did she sound as torn and scattered as she felt? "Everything. Nothing. But at least something." "That makes no sense." "If you think that makes no sense, you should spend one minute inside my head. I need this, Daed. Please." "Nee. A young Amish woman alone at a hotel? I can't allow that." She had no desire to disrespect his needs while trying to address her own. "Then let Salome go with me." The ministers and community were likely to discover she'd left for a few days. There wasn't really a way to hide something like that, but if Salome went with her, it would ease everyone's minds and keep it from soundingcompletely unbefitting. The community wouldn't have any trouble believing that after being in the world, she needed a few days with a good Amish woman, someone older and wiser, to help talk her through all she saw and experienced while drausin da Welt. Since no one outside the family, other than Quill, knew that Salome had planned to leave the Amish, her reputation was fully intact. Excerpted from Gathering the Threads: A Novel by Cindy Woodsmall All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.