The bad thing about Ruthie Stoltzfus’s job was that it barely paid minimum wage and she had no job security. She was only employed when someone from the Schrock family, who owned the Inn of Eagle Hill, was busy or unavailable, like now.
The good thing about her job was that it was across the road from her home. She liked to think of the now-and-then job as a hotel concierge-in-training, minus the hotel. The Schrocks referred to the position as a filler.
But as for what happened last evening . . . nothing ever— ever!—could have trained her for that. She was still shaky from the shock. The guests who had checked out of the inn yesterday had trashed the little cottage. Completely trashed it! Just as she was locking up after she had worked all day long to clean it up, she saw a man stagger over to her.
“Is this a motel?”
“Not really,” Ruthie said. “It’s a bed-and-breakfast.” And then she noticed the man had a cut on his forehead. “You’re bleeding.”
He lifted a hand to his head as if startled by the thought.
“It’s nothing. Look, I need a room for the night.”
She looked back at the main house. The lights were out. It was late and they’d gone to bed. But the guest cottage was empty, and she knew Rose would appreciate the income. Still, this man seemed odd. Not in a dangerous way, but he seemed dazed, a little confused. Drunk, maybe? She should send him on his way. But then again, what would he do if she turned him away? He was miles from town. “You’ll have to pay cash, up front.”
He reached behind him, then patted his pants, his shirt front, alarmed. “I don’t seem to have my wallet.” He reached into his pockets. “I’m good for the money. If you could just trust me. Just for tonight. In the morning, I’ll take care of everything. I promise.” His eyes pleaded with her.
In the end, Ruthie ignored her usual overriding caution and let him stay. She walked him over to the guest cottage, showed him how to use the kerosene lights, and left him there. As she closed the cottage door behind her, she felt a hitch in her heart. Had she done the right thing? Or the wrong thing. Birdy, her father’s wife, often said that the Bible warned they might entertain angels as strangers in need. Nothing about this man seemed particularly angelic, but he definitely was a stranger in need.
Ruthie crossed the road and turned around, walking backward, as she climbed the steep driveway to her family’s home. The light in the little cottage was already snuffed out. The man was probably in bed. She’d made her decision. She had to trust it was the right one, even if the stranger-in-need didn’t end up paying for the stay.
She slept fitfully, tossing and turning. In the morning, she woke and dressed in a flash. She left a note for Birdy and her dad on the kitchen table, that she had to get to work early and would miss breakfast. She grabbed her shawl from the wall peg and rushed down the driveway. The cottage still looked as quiet as it did last night, though she wasn’t sure what she had expected to find. Burned down? Exploded? Don’t be ridiculous, Ruthie, she told herself. You’re letting your imagination run away with you.
Rose was already in the kitchen at the main house of Eagle Hill as Ruthie walked right in. She looked up at Ruthie in surprise. “You’re here early.”
“There’s a guest in the cottage,” she said. “Late last night, as I was heading home—a man came and asked for a place to stay.”
Rose straightened up. She looked out in the driveway. “Where’s his car?”
“He didn’t have one.”
Rose got that look on her face, the one that seemed as if she knew this story wasn’t going to end well.
“I might have made a mistake, Rose. He seemed to be in some kind of trouble.”
“Did he threaten you?” “No. Nothing like that. He was very polite.” She explained the whole story.
Rose went to the window to peer at the cottage. “It’s early. Let’s wait another hour or so, then I’ll take him some coffee.” “Are you mad at me?” Rose swiveled around. “No. Not at all. Please don’t worry, even if the man doesn’t pay for the night. You were put in a tough spot and made a decision that felt right to you.” She turned back to peer out the window, looking at the cottage, crossing her arms against her chest. “But maybe I’ll have Galen take him the coffee.”
An hour later, that’s just what she did. Galen King, Rose’s husband, a no-nonsense kind of man, took a pot of coffee over to the man in the cottage. Not two minutes later, he returned with the untouched coffee tray.
“Is he all right?” Ruthie asked. “Should I call for a doctor?”
Galen set the tray down and slumped into a chair at the kitchen table. “Not a doctor. He definitely doesn’t need a doctor.” He swallowed. “He needs . . . the county coroner.”
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Suzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling author of Amish fiction and non-fiction, and a columnist for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazine. The Search won a 2012 Carol Award. The Waiting was a finalist for a 2011 Christy Award. The Choice was a finalist for a 2011 Carol Award. The Letters is a finalist for a Christian Retailing 2014 Best Award. Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World and Amish Proverbs: Words of Wisdom from the Simple Life were both finalists for the ECPA Book of the Year (2010, 2011). Her interest in the Amish began with her grandfather, who was raised Plain in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. She travels back east a couple of times each year for research.
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