I had a few half-written novels tucked inside my desk drawer when one night the idea for my Amish Series struck me. I literally jumped out of bed and began writing a synopsis. Sixteen pages evolved into more than two-hundred, and six months later I had my first completed manuscript, Between Two Worlds. The sequel, Between Two Promises, followed five months later.
I cannot explain what compelled me to finish the Amish Series while I had four unfinished novels still begging for my attention. I suppose I felt a deeper connection with the characters in my Amish Series. I have always been fascinated with the subsistent lifestyle of the Amish and how, in most cases, they eschew government aid. They are virtually a stateless people.
For several years I had been searching for books about the subject of the Amish and homosexuality. Other than the typical banal nonsense, I found nothing. That’s when I decided if I want to read something about homosexuality inside the Amish community I’d have to write the book myself.
Between Two Promises continues with the story of Aiden and Daniel, two lovers lost between two worlds. Neither belong anywhere. Aiden is agnostic and gay, yet fails to follow the typical gay tenets. He feels a stronger bridge with the Amish community than with his progressive Chicago neighborhood. Daniel, Amish and gay, similarly struggles with his identity inside his austere community. I draw a parallel between the Amish and the gay communities. While they may seem as opposite as two cultures can be, both have their own strict set of “ordnungs” one must obey to fit in. I enjoyed exploring the theme of “man versus society.” Post-modern society has, in many ways, gobbled up the individual. I struggled alongside my characters to find a place where they can be individuals while fighting off the thorns of conformity.
Daniel Schrock and Aiden Cermak have forged a life in the rural Montana foothills, but a shadow still lingers, made stronger when a letter arrives from Daniel's brother Mark inviting him to his Christmas wedding. Daniel fears returning home might force what he wants to avoid: telling his family about Aiden and facing the dreaded Amish shunning.
Despite the uncertainties, Daniel and Aiden head to Illinois, where frustration will not only endanger Daniel's relationship with his family and the church community, but his bond with his boyfriend, who leaves Daniel with a choice: him or the Amish. Before Daniel can stop Aiden, he's gone... and threats from the past resurface, crystallizing Daniel's fears about a murderer still at large.
As he desperately searches for Aiden and the identity of the suspected killer, Daniel will have to decide if love is important enough to risk losing everything he knows. Will Daniel choose to keep his commitment to the Amish church or will he stand by the promise he made to Aiden that first night they made love?
The Harvest Sunrise Inn Bed and Breakfast was a converted Victorian farmhouse on the southern outskirts of Henry. A sense of repression settled over Aiden as he and Daniel stepped inside the lobby. Decorated with rich, ornate furnishings, the inn contrasted sharply with the surrounding simple farmland.
But the unease pestering him came more from Daniel than the old house itself. While Daniel checked in at the front desk, Aiden worried Daniel was embarrassed about their sharing a room together. The innkeeper seemed unconcerned. With a kindly smile on his chubby face, he handed them a key and showed them the way to their room on the first floor.
The first things Aiden noticed were the two separate twin beds.
“Was this the only room they had when you made reservations?” Aiden asked once the innkeeper had left.
Daniel ignored his question. He tossed his suitcase onto one of the beds and began stuffing his clothes into the drawers of a cherry dresser.
Sachets of clover- and vanilla-scented potpourri lay on the pillows. Bowtie quilts were tri-folded at the bottom of each of the beds. Aiden thought it was all very quaint; perhaps too quaint for him and Daniel. Aiden understood how awkward staying at the Schrocks’ would’ve been, but he wondered if Daniel had purposely reserved a room with two beds instead of one.
“Maybe we can push the beds together,” Aiden said, letting his laptop case slide off his arm onto the other bed. He set his black duffel bag with the wide turquoise stripe that seemed to always annoy Daniel on the twill carpet.
“We should leave the beds as they are,” Daniel said after a pause.
“I’m sure the innkeepers won’t mind,” Aiden said. “We can move them apart before we check out next week.”
Daniel completed unpacking. “That won’t be a good idea.”
Aiden watched Daniel yank off his boots and nudge them against the canary yellow wall by the door. When he failed to say anything further, Aiden said, “Daniel, I want you to promise me you won’t brush me aside during our stay here.”
Without looking at him, Daniel said, “What do you mean, brush you aside? If you’re expecting me, in front of everyone, to take you in my arms and—”
“No, I don’t expect that, Daniel. But, please, don’t ignore me. Don’t treat me like I don’t exist.”
“Of course I wouldn’t do that.”
Aiden felt achy and tired. The long three-day journey from Montana had sapped his energy. They had driven near straight through, without stopping for sightseeing. Each morning by six, they were on the road. Snow through much of Minnesota and Iowa had made traveling slow and stressful. Supper with the Schrocks had gone smoothly enough. There was so much commotion in the house with preparations for Mark’s wedding, the baby, and visiting relatives that little focus seemed to be on him. He had been both relieved and disillusioned. Had he expected more?
When Daniel had presented the family with the furniture Daniel had crafted without saying they were from the both of them, including the stuffed animals Aiden had filled Gretchen’s toy chest with, Aiden had flinched. Already he felt pushed into the background, like the bare-limbed elms and hickories of the harsh winter landscape.
One concession was Samuel. He’d seemed sincerely repentant for having tossed Aiden out of Henry last year. Aiden was glad they’d put past unpleasantness aside, at least tacitly. Maybe the Amish do have a sense of forgiveness others lacked, Aiden considered. He tried to gather contentment from that thought while he unpacked in silence.
He wanted to mention his musings to Daniel but decided not to. Daniel’s brusque expression suggested he carried his own worrisome notions on his shoulders. Instead, Aiden edged behind Daniel while he hung his Sunday Amish suit in a closet.
Daniel’s muscles twitched under Aiden’s kneading fingers. Daniel relaxed and roved around his neck. Aiden hoped massaging him would assuage any hurt between them. “How’s that?”
“Feels good,” Daniel said.
Aiden walked his fingers down the side of Daniel’s neck and reached his hand over Daniel’s shirt, the one Aiden had bought for his birthday in August, and began unfastening the buttons. Daniel’s firm pectoral muscles twitched. He caressed his rippling abdominal muscles, naturally built from years of manual labor. He stood up on his toes and swiped his tongue across Daniel’s ear.
“Best be careful, people might hear,” Daniel said. “I got relatives staying here.”
“No one will hear behind these old sturdy walls.”
“Sill not proper, not here.”
Aiden sighed. “You know, Daniel, I don’t like hiding things.”
“Hiding?” Daniel nudged Aiden’s hand from his chest, sat on the edge of the twin bed he had claimed, and rebuttoned his shirt. “What are we hiding?”
“We’re hiding who we are.”
“Aiden, not that again.”
“I know how hard coming out to your family would be. But how fair is it to pretend, to either of us, to go on hiding like this? How long will we have to do it?”
“You act like you’re the only one who never hides things.” Daniel lay back on his bed and eyed Aiden. “You’re not always so open.”
Aiden plopped down on the quilt beside him. “What do you mean? When have I ever hidden anything?”
“What about those threatening messages you got last year when you still lived in Henry?” Daniel said. “You never told me anything about those until after we ran into each other in Glacier. You kept that from me for how long?”
Aiden rolled to his back and stared at the ceiling. He’d been leery when he’d first told Daniel about those threats. Shortly after Aiden had saved the Schrocks from the drunk driver, he had accepted a position with The Henry Blade, the town’s only newspaper. While there, he uncovered the suicide of a seventeen-year-old Amish youth from eight years before, Daniel’s second cousin, Kyle Yoder. His subsequent investigation into the unusual death led Aiden to believe he had been murdered. Pressure from his boss about the investigation forced Aiden to resign from the newspaper. But not before he received three mysterious threats. He guessed the threats most likely stemmed from his investigation into Kyle’s death. Either that or someone in the community suspected Aiden of being gay and resented him.
After their unexpected encounter at Glacier National Park in June, Aiden had shown Daniel the stored pictures of the threats he’d taken with his digital camera. The pumpkin someone had smashed against his bungalow and the message someone had spray painted in red block lettering on his front door: GET OUT OF TOWN. And there was the note someone had left in his mailbox with the same threatening message as the one on his door, punctuated with the homophobic, although archaic, name-calling “to the Sodomite.”
In typical Amish fashion, Daniel had remained impassive while he examined the photos. When he finished, he handed Aiden the camera without a word. But the mechanisms in Daniel’s mind were churning. His temples crinkled with thick, twine-like veins, his eyebrows fused together. And the incessant beard-tugging. Ultimately, he seemed to want to forget Aiden had ever mentioned it; bury another ugly reality under a mound of dirt.
And in that case, Aiden agreed.
“Totally different situation,” Aiden said, leaning on his elbow to stare at Daniel’s terse face. “We weren’t even together then. Besides, you already had enough burdens with me digging up Kyle’s death. I decided to show you those stupid threats so many months later because… well, I didn’t want any secrets between us. There wasn’t anything you could’ve done about it anyway.”
Daniel glared at Aiden. “There was a lot I coulda done.” He pushed himself off the bed and, grabbing a handful of bedclothes from the dresser, marched into the bathroom.
Shelter Somerset enjoys writing about the lives of people who live off the land, whether they be the Amish, nineteenth-century pioneers, or modern-day idealists seeking to live apart from the crowd. Shelter’s fascination with the rustic, aesthetic lifestyle began as a child with family camping trips into the Blue Ridge Mountains. When not back home in Illinois writing, Shelter continues to explore America’s expansive backcountry and rural communities. Shelter’s philosophy is best summed up by the actor John Wayne: "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway."