Home » , , , , , , , » West For Love (A Mail Order Romance Novel) (1) (Anna & Thomas) by Claire Charlins

West For Love (A Mail Order Romance Novel) (1) (Anna & Thomas) by Claire Charlins

As the sun shined on the early morning dew, Anna touched her stomach and leaned against the doorway to her parents’ house. She felt an uncomfortable cramping pain that was all too common for Anna, only it wasn’t the kind of pain she wanted to be having. It felt strange wishing for pain, but according to Anna’s mental and internal clock, she should have been holding a two month old baby, not her lower abdomen thanks to her monthly reminder that perhaps her biggest commitment as a wife hadn’t been fulfilled yet.
West For Love (A Mail Order Romance Novel) (1) (Anna & Thomas)
West For Love (A Mail Order Romance Novel) (1) (Anna & Thomas) by Claire Charlins
Yet. It had been a year since Anna wed William Stewbren and ever since their wedding day, everything had been yet. Her parents were beyond thrilled when the successful businessman sat at the dinner table, reached for Anna’s slender, eighteen-year old hand, and said he planned on marrying her. It wasn’t a request. It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t even an offer. It was a command and one that Anna had to go along with. William had ties to the bank and with his help, her parents’ house and land were saved from being taken away. Not to mention a sudden influx of cash that allowed her father to grow more crops, turn a bigger profit, and provide the family with many upgrades. The money was just the beginning for the life William promised Anna and her family. But to truly become Mrs. Stewbren, William wanted one thing. A child. That demand came with plenty of laughter around a dinner table so long that Anna felt she was at a church gathering rather than in the dining room of her new husband’s house. Then again, it was her house too, in a way, but only if a child were born. Nobody thought having a child would prove difficult, not even Anna. Going to bed with William had, at first, been uncomfortable. He wasted no time in wanting to enjoy the fruits of marriage and Anna really wanted to give William what he wanted. After the first month passed, Anna told herself it hadn’t happened yet because of nerves. The sudden change in her life. A wife at eighteen with the implications of motherhood were a huge burden to carry. After the third month and heading into an extra harsh winter for the small Massachusetts town of Lowemills, everything became a blur for Anna. The endless touching from William became a feeling of use. William didn’t look at her and when she looked at him it almost disgusted her. There never existed a real attraction to William. A desperate feeling constantly raced through her body leaving Anna wanting to regret every decision in her life. But she reminded herself it wasn’t her decision to get married, nor to try and birth a child. The attraction came from what could be which was a family. Her family blamed the winter and how the extreme cold and above average snowfall had an effect on everyone in town. How word came that over twenty locals were killed in the winter; the most tragic being Margie Miller, whose roof literally caved in, collapsing on her and freezing her to death. When spring finally came and the ground thawed and the first flower buds climbed from the ground, all hopes - and eyes - were back on Anna. Each time her parents saw her, they didn’t look at her face. They didn’t look in her eyes. They looked at her stomach. It became too uncomfortable that she always kept a hand on her stomach, feeling self conscious, and quite honestly, worthless. The front door opened and Anna hurried to stand tall and smile, not wanting to show any discomfort. This happened once before - two months ago - and her family quickly began to rejoice, thinking she was pregnant. Even William smiled that day, wanting to hold her hand, touch her hair, showing affection that Anna certainly wasn’t used to from her husband. When it was revealed she wasn’t pregnant, the smiles and peaceful feeling faded in a hurry, like a late spring frost rolling across their fields, wanting to steal the life of plants and crops alike. Anna expected to see her mother, but it was just her older sister, Abigail. “Anna, are you trying to listen?” Abigail asked, her big blue eyes shining. Abigail was twenty years old and had a sense of beauty that made Anna jealous. Abigail’s husband was killed in a tragic accident while trying to cut down a tree, so for now she lived home, still grieving. There were days when she seemed like she was going to be fine and then others she looked like an empty shell of the beautiful woman she really was. Thanks to Anna and her marriage to William, the pressure of remarrying remained away from Abigail, for now. “What are they talking about?” Anna asked. “Well, what do you think they’re talking about?” Abigail offered as she took Anna’s hand and guided her towards the end of the small porch. The air smelled clean, crisp, and had a rewarding freshness to it that anyone should have enjoyed. But for Anna, the burning pain in her stomach only seemed to fuel the doubt in her mind. Time was up. That’s what it was all about. In passing Anna had heard William suggest to a few friends that he would give the marriage a year. If there was no child or even the intention of a child, the marriage would have to end. “He’s going to leave me,” Anna whispered. “Anna... they’re talking...” “About me. Why I can’t carry his child.” She touched her stomach again. “I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Abigail said. “Our father is a great negotiator.” “When he’s selling crops or buying supplies, sure,” Anna said. “But not with William. William is so... intimidating. He’s got this look...” “He’s just a businessman,” Abigail said. Anna wasn’t sure whether to cry, or scream, or maybe even smile. Sure, she wanted to do well by her family, make her parents proud, and give them a life they wanted and rightfully deserved, but at what expense? If someone dared to ask Anna about happiness it would take all her might to force a smile and say she was truly happy. Abigail touched her back in a soothing sisterly way. “I’m sorry you’re going through this,” she said. “Do you think maybe it’s not happening because...” Anna looked over her shoulder. The front door was closed. Nobody could hear them, but she leaned to Abigail to whisper, just in case. “Do you think maybe it’s not happening because I’m not meant to be with William?” Abigail stiffened and puckered her lips. The question teetered on being blasphemous, but Anna needed to ask it. She had to get it off her chest and Abigail was the only person in the world she could trust. “I can’t speak to that, Anna,” Abigail said. “A man who will marry you and care for you is a decent man. There aren’t enough men around this area as it is, so to question the one who wed you...” “I know it sounds terrible,” Anna said. “I know. It’s just, the way he looks at me...” “I think that’s enough,” Abigail said. “Let me go check and see if they’re done talking.” Anna didn’t watch her sister go back into the house. When she heard the door shut, tears filled her eyes. It was the oddest feeling inside her. She felt horrible for letting her family down and letting her husband down. But at the same time she felt as though she were about to be set free. Chapter Two Anna stood at the table. She wore her best dress after sneaking inside to get changed. It was a powder blue dress and gave Anna the look of true innocence. William sat at the head of the table, drinking a cup of tea, his clothes pressed and expensive. His eyes were distant and the look on his face was that of a stern businessman. Nothing suggested romance, marriage, or family. This was strictly all business. Anna’s parents - Dorothy and John - were seated close to one another at the opposite end of the table. Abigail lingered in the room too and Anna wasn’t sure if she was there for support or to face the harsh truth waiting. “Anna,” her mother said, “will you sit with us?” Anna swallowed and pulled out a chair. She sat and folded her hands on her lap. She felt like she was in trouble. It almost reminded her of how Abigail used to sit at the table, right after her husband died. She had felt dead herself and that feeling started to sink its teeth into Anna. “Mr. Strewbren has been speaking with us,” her father said. Mr. Stewbren? That was definitely not a good sign. He wasn’t referred to as William or as Anna’s husband. It had the sentiment of when William would come over for dinner to talk business and banking, just before his demand to marry Anna. “Okay,” Anna whispered. “You are not with child, correct?” her father asked. His eyes were hurt. Anna looked at her mother, but it wasn’t any easier to look at her. Anna nodded. “Not this month.” Her mother bit her lip and looked away. “Okay,” her father said. “As you can imagine, Anna, it’s troubling right now.” “I need a family,” William cut in, his voice strong and commanding. “I cannot wait for the rest of my life. We aren’t given unlimited time...” William looked at Abigail, on purpose of course, for effect. “...something I’m sure we all can understand here.” Abigail turned and left the room. Anna felt her heart tear a little more. Abigail would surely go to her room and weep for hours now. Part of Anna wanted to slap William in the face for being so such a brute. “We’ve been married for a year, Anna,” William said. “A very fast year at that. Correct?” “Yes,” Anna’s father said. “The winter did drag though.” “But the snow melted, the sun warmed up, the frost went away,” William said. “The flowers began to bloom. The dirt has that lively smell to it. The air is clean. The town it back to life, back to normal... and I’m still without a family.” William stopped talking and stood from the table. That’s when Anna’s mother finally decided to join the conversation. “Just a little more time,” she pleaded. “I didn’t carry until summertime with both my girls. Ask John. Right John?” Anna’s father nodded. “Yes. The colder months were unforgiving in our attempts to have a family.” “So be it,” William said. “We had last summer. And look where we are now.” The contempt burned in William’s eyes, so much so that Anna had to look away from her husband. A moment later William reached into his pocket and produced folded up papers. Anna’s mother let out a cry and stood, rushing out of the room too. “Now, John,” William said, “We’ve had a great relationship and I hope that can continue.” “Of course... William...” “I prefer to permanently be called Mr. Stewbren going forward,” William said. Anna saw the pain come over her father’s face. She felt completely worthless. “I can’t undo the favors I’ve done for your family and property,” William said. “But I must say, and I truly hope it’s heard loud and clear, that the favors done will not be repeated. We are strictly back to a business relationship.” William dropped the papers on the table. Anna looked at them, her body shaking. “What’s happening?” she asked. “So glad of you to join the conversation,” William said. “It’s been a year, Anna...” He stood before her, looking down on her. Something of a metaphoric sight considering how the year of marriage went. “You’re a pretty young woman. I can only hope you find a man with a family to care for. That, to me, is your only chance of providing and fulfilling your duties as a woman and as a wife.” Anna opened her mouth but had no breath, no words. The pain in her stomach increased ten times over. William Strewbren was a terrible man. A year ago Anna had been married to this man in front of her parents. They held hands, Abigail smiled, and everything looked promising. Now... “We’re getting divorced, Anna,” William said. Anna whimpered. “I’ll cover all costs,” William said. “I’ll ensure that none of this becomes some kind of burden to you or your family.” “Except losing my husband?” Anna asked, sounding bitter. “I believe I’ve been honest and fair here.” William looked at Anna’s father. “If you had land, John, that couldn’t produce crops, what would you do?” Anna’s father nodded as he replied, his voice distant and cold. “I’d sell. Take my losses and move on.” “Why’s that?” William asked. “Because there’s plenty of land to find...” William snapped his fingers and laughed. “Perfect! There are more women than men right now. Women are actually moving west, going anywhere from Kansas to California, responding to ads for men. Of all things to happen. Can you imagine? I cannot waste more time.” Anna swallowed the massive lump in her throat. She knew breaking down and crying would only make matters worse. Not only would she have to agree to the divorce, she would the have to face her family after he left. That’s when she knew the real pain would come. Her parents had raised two girls into women who lost their husbands. How tragic. Only Abigail lost her husband because of an unfortunate death. Anna lost her husband because of... “I hope nobody feels blame,” William said, breaking up Anna’s thoughts. “But Anna, my pretty Anna, please look at me.” Anna did as told. Technically, they were still married. Maybe for another minute or so. “I’m being honest when I tell you to find a man with a family in need. If not, you will be alone and that would be a sad waste.” What a mean thing to say to a woman about to be divorced. And by her husband at that. Yet Anna’s father just sat there, his big hands in fists, holding back anything he truly wanted to say or do. Anna wanted to hate her father in that moment, but she knew if John did stand and give William a punch to mouth - which he most certainly deserved - that William would refuse business with John and his family ever again. Whether it be buying a piece of lumber, an egg, or going to the post office or the bank. That’s the kind of power and wealth William had. And that’s why when he chose Anna to be his bride everything looked so bright. “So, let’s get this over with,” William said. “I have an important meeting I must travel for. I promise you all, I will keep this quiet and it will fade. If anyone asks, you explain things didn’t work and change the subject.” Anna nodded. There was nothing else she could do. Her life had been dictated for so long now, what did it matter? She could see the look in her father’s eyes, telling her how disappointed he was. But Anna couldn’t control her body. If she couldn’t carry and birth a child, was that her fault? Was it her job to carry the guilt? Or maybe William was right... maybe she should just find a man with a family and become a wife and mother that way. Chapter Three It didn’t take long after the divorce for Anna to notice just how bad things had gotten and that they were probably going to get worse. Her father spent more hours in the fields, avoiding his home and his family. When he did come home, his eyes were often blank. He sat at the table, leaving his hands filthy black as proof of how much he just didn’t care anymore. Her mother’s passion for cooking and housekeeping became minimal at best. The meals were smaller, with less love and care in them. She cooked the bare essentials to keep everyone fed. Not necessarily full, but at least fed. Anna didn’t dare ask if it was because a lack of money for she feared if the answer was a yes all the blame would shift to her even more. Even Abigail seemed different. Anna never realized it, but part of the healing process Abigail had gone through was from watching Anna and William together. While she never came out and admitted that, she did hint that it was amazing to see two strangers able to be together. It gave her hope that maybe her own pain would once and for all go away. But that was no longer the case. Losing William was like bearing a visible scar. Anyone that looked at Anna saw it, knew it, and treated her differently. Word spread around Lowemills like wildfire, and it was able to happen so fast because William wasn’t in town. He couldn’t control it and neither could Anna. Some people looked at her with shame. Some hung their heads. Some shook their heads as though they knew everything... and maybe they did. Some nodded at her, offering consoling eyes or a pat on the back. Those were the worst. Being touched by strangers. No matter what she did or where she went, she felt watched and judged. If she cooked a meal for her family, to try and help out at home, she worried it wouldn’t be good enough. And if it wasn’t good enough would her family then compare that to the failed marriage? And those thoughts plagued Anna all the time. Worrying if there was more to the divorce than just not being able to conceive a child. Was she not a good enough homemaker? Was her cooking bad? Sure, William could afford someone to take care of all that, but it was Anna’s job to do it. Most of all, was she an unsatisfactory lover? It made her cry sometimes, out of nowhere, when she thought about it. She had tried her best to understand what William wanted and tried even harder to please him. Never once did she deny his touches or demands for her body. Never once did she do anything but smile and appreciate when he enjoyed her. After crying, Anna quite often found herself angry. With the anger came her own distance. She would stand on the porch and stare out to the open world before her. It seemed so large yet so small. All she had to do was walk, right? Just walk a straight line and leave. She could be anywhere she wanted... maybe even west, just like William had mentioned. Anna had heard the chatter about women in and around Lowemills going west to answer the call to be a bride. Many men had moved that way for farmland and opportunity. Maybe that’s what Anna needed for herself too. Opportunity. Anna was setting the dinner table when her father came in with a large hole in pants. His exposed knee was cut, red, and looked swollen. “Are you okay?” she asked her father. He looked down and shrugged his shoulders. “What do you mean?” “Your pants are ripped,” Anna said. “And your knee...” “They’ve been ripped for days,” her father said. He walked away with a slight limp, breaking Anna’s heart again. Anna looked up and saw Abigail standing at the other side of the table. “I don’t understand,” Anna said. “They haven’t been patched yet,” Abigail said. “Why?” Abigail raised her eyebrows. Her beauty was so radiant it drove Anna wild. No matter how many times Anna looked in a mirror and tried to pull her blonde hair back tighter or tried to imagine her blue eyes becoming bluer, it never happened. Abigail was certainly the prettiest daughter. “That’s not fair,” Anna continued. “Our father shouldn’t be out there with holes in his clothing.” “Mother hasn’t fixed them,” Abigail said. “I don’t know what else to say.” Anna understood. What else was there to say? This was a terrible mess and Anna bore the guilt of it all for the last month since the divorce. After a quiet meal that tasted bland, Anna crept away. Later that night, she found her father’s pants and fixed them. After patching the pants, she left them where her father would find them the next morning. The very next day her father went to work outside, wearing the newly fixed pants, but he didn’t say a word about it. He didn’t thank Anna nor acknowledge it had been done. And the same went for her mother. No matter how much Anna cooked or cleaned, nothing was ever said to her. She felt used. Then came the night, a week after fixing her father’s pants, when Anna found Abigail in her room, silently weeping while hugging a pillow, staring out a window. Her parents had gone to bed and something bothered Anna, something telling her that Abigail needed her. She walked into the room with care, not wanting to scare or embarrass Abigail. Abigail did her best to put on a straight face each day. There were times when memories bothered her - the last time she really cried was when William made his comment about time, referring to the death of Abigail’s husband - but mostly Abigail held herself together. Not tonight. Anna sat next to her and thanks to their sisterly bond, Anna didn’t need to say a word to begin to comfort Abigail. She touched her back and rested her head on her big sister’s shoulder. After a few minutes, Abigail took a deep breath and that ended the weeping. Just like that. She somehow trained herself to just turn it all off. “Do you want to talk about it?” Anna asked. Abigail stood and Anna remained on the bed. “Sometimes I dream about him,” Abigail said staring out the window. The darkness outside somehow made everything look spooky, as though Abigail were speaking to the darkness that perhaps resided inside her. “That’s okay,” Anna said. “It’s not,” Abigail said. “How can I love again? It would... it would have to be arranged, wouldn’t it?” “What do you mean?” “I couldn’t find someone to love,” Abigail said, “I’d have to be arranged to be married. Then the commitment would take over and matter more.” Anna swallowed. These were feelings much deeper than the ones she held inside at the moment. “When I saw you and William together,” Abigail said, “it gave me hope. It gave me purpose, Anna.” “I gave you purpose?” Anna asked. She was shocked. She never considered having any sort of impact on her big sister’s life. “Of course you did,” Abigail said. “I knew you didn’t love him. Your eyes told me that. But it worked. You had an arrangement and a commitment. It made me really feel that someday I could have the same. I waited for you to love William though. But you never did...” Abigail’s voice trailed off as the pain began to rustle up in Anna’s chest. She had an inkling of where the conversation was heading. The smart decision would have been to stand and hug her sister. Then leave the room. But Anna didn’t move. She waited. And listened. “You never conceived a child with him and he left you,” Abigail. “Just like that. So quick. Without an ounce of remorse. My hope is lost now, Anna. If someone could change their mind and heart like that... what’s the use?” “Abigail,” Anna said, “you can’t look at my life like that.” “But I can!” Abigail cried. “You didn’t love him. And because of that you couldn’t have his child. You couldn’t give him what he wanted. And... now...” Abigail held her breath and Anna wanted to plead for the rest of the sentence, but it came a moment later, after Abigail closed her eyes. “...everything is ruined.” “I’ve ruined everything?” Anna asked in a whisper. “You never loved him. You never fell in love.” “It wasn’t my choice,” Anna said. “And I’ll never have the choice then either,” Abigail said. “I’ll be like this... forever.” Anna stood from the bed but didn’t go near her sister. Maybe that was the final piece of harsh truth she needed to hear. Hurting her parents was one thing. They were really interested in the financial and social benefits of the marriage between Anna and William. With Abigail, it was something more. It was emotional and it certainly impacted Abigail’s life in a way that kept Anna up for the rest of the night. Into the wee hours of the morning all Anna could think about was how much trouble she had caused. Did her inability to give William a child really come down to love? Was there something greater than the coming together of man and woman to create a child? And to Anna’s own defense, she begged herself to understand that she couldn’t love William. Not right away. Not that fast. Where was the relationship? Where was the enjoyment of company? Everything was done and implied. Morning came with a brilliant show of deep pink colors that became a hopeful yellow, leading to yet another blue sky day in Lowemills. Anna rubbed her weary eyes and set out into town. She had a mental note of things she needed to get for the house, including more eggs and more cloth. Her father had another pair of pants with two tears in them and her mother hadn’t taken the time nor had the care to fix them yet. The thirty minute travel into town left Anna plagued by her own thoughts and worries some more. Once in town, Anna decided to walk more than she had to. She needed to experience life and people. To experience something outside of her house, outside of the guilt, the regret, the pain. She walked by eggs, knowing she needed to buy eggs. She walked by the store where she could get more material for her father’s pants, also doing so on purpose. At the post office, she paused and admired some of the people walking in and out. Some smiled at Anna. Others acknowledged who she was by offering snide remarks and scoffing at her. But one thing caught her attention. A man stood just inside the post office. He was dressed in the most beautiful suit Anna had ever seen. A golden chain hung from his pocket and he held a small hat in his hand. When he turned his head and whistled, Anna saw a thin black mustache on the man’s face. He had his right hand on the counter and tapped his fingers, without a care in the world. Anna took a step, ready to leave the post office when she heard the man clear his throat. “Don’t think I didn’t see you looking at me.” Anna froze. Her eyes went wide. She slowly turned and saw the man stepping towards her. “I apologize,” Anna said. “I heard you whistling...” “Terrible, isn’t it?” “Whistling?” “Yes.” “The habit?” “No,” the man said. “My whistling. Terrible.” “No... not so much...” “Your cheeks are red,” the man said. “That means you’re lying.” He took another step towards Anna. And another. And another. He now stood close enough to touch. He offered his hand and Anna shook it. “Do you know who I am?” the man asked. “I apologize, but no, I don’t,” Anna said. “Well, I know who you are.” A woman appeared in the doorway and called, “Henry! Here’s what you needed!” “Excuse me,” the man - Henry - said. He retrieved a small bag of what Anna assumed to be letters. He then came back to Anna and put his hat on. With his free hand, the very tips of his fingers touched her back. “Would you like to meet my sister? We’re just up the street. We have a small office. We run and distribute newspapers.” “Your sister?” Anna asked. “Why?” “If I may be honest, Miss Anna, we can help you.” Anna wasn’t sure whether to question how this man knew her name or what he meant by help. Either way Anna found herself slowly walking with him. Something about the man seemed trusting. Was it the twinkle in his eyes, or the way his mustache moved with his lips? “Can you whistle?” Henry asked. “Yes,” Anna said. “Serenade me, while we walk,” Henry said. “If it’s no trouble, of course.” Anna licked her lips and whistled a few notes. “Ah!” Henry cried out. “That’s how music is supposed to sound. Keep going.” Anna began to whistle, struggling against a smile that demanded to be seen. By the time she and Henry reached the small shop on the corner, Anna was giggling like a schoolgirl, covering her mouth and wishing the redness in her cheeks would go away. Henry opened the door and held it for Anna. “Please, come in,” he said and smiled. Anna stepped into the office and for the first time since William announced their divorce, she felt somewhat at peace. Chapter Four The woman sitting at the table had big hair and even bigger glasses. She was beautiful, middle aged, and when she saw Anna, she hurried to stand, tearing the glasses off her face. She smiled big and rushed to meet Anna and embraced her as though they were old friends that hadn’t seen one another in decades. “I’m sorry,” Anna said as the hug ended. “But I don’t...” “Of course you don’t know me,” the woman said. “I’m sure my brother didn’t tell you my name.” “I leave introductions to be done in person,” Henry said. He took his hat off and smiled. “Anna, this is my sister, Mary Roberts.” “Mary, a pleasure,” Anna said. “Same here. And I’m hoping my brother introduced himself. Henry Belles.” “Yes,” Anna said. The first thing that came to mind was Roberts and Belles. They were brother and sister with different last names. That left the assumption that Mary was married. “I’m going to assume Henry tracked you down and dragged you here,” Mary said. “Actually, it was Anna who spotted me,” Henry said. “I was whistling...” “Oh, you didn’t,” Mary said. “My Aunt Martha could whistle better than Henry and she’s been deceased for ten years now.” Anna gasped and then laughed. “Now, come with me,” Mary said. “Let’s get settled. Have a cup of tea together and chat.” “Tea?” “Or anything else you’d like to drink. We have everything you’d like.” “Even something strong,” Henry said. He dropped the bag from the post office on the table and walked away. “You two ladies can chat in private.” “Thank you,” Mary said. She retrieved a chair for Anna and patted it. Anna sat. She looked at the bag and then at Mary. “You want to see what’s in the bag?” Mary asked. “It’s none of my business,” Anna said. “I do apologize, but my family is expecting me...” “Everyone is expecting someone,” Mary said. She leaned and grabbed the bag. She held it by the bottom and shook it. Out poured what had to be two dozen letters - no, three dozen or more. “This is the proof.” “Letters?” Anna asked. “Not just letters,” Mary said. “These are letters from men looking for wives.” Instantly, Anna’s cheeks began to flush. “I’m not here to pressure you,” Mary said. “Into anything. Henry and myself are well aware of what happened to you.” Mary looked around and leaned towards Anna. She placed her hands on her knees and whispered, “If it means a thing, I fault William, not you. He’s always been more of a bully... a bully with a good smile.” Anna was in disbelief until she thought about how nice of a suit Henry wore. Of course he’d be associated with William somehow. Anna should have known better than to stop and stare. “I heard it was because you couldn’t carry a child,” Mary said. “Well, yes,” Anna said. She felt cornered and started to feel embarrassed. “That’s okay,” Mary said. “You know, these letters have all kinds of stories to them. All kinds of men. You can read one if you want.” Anna looked at the letters. She wasn’t sure what to do. Images of Abigail popped into her head. How let down she had been over everything. One little look at a letter wouldn’t hurt a thing, would it? Anna nodded. Mary opened a letter. She read it first and then handed it to Anna. “Look at this one.” Man of 6’ height, 200lbs, seeking young, energetic woman, early twenties, please. Needs to care for home, myself, and willing to start a family right away. I have land, stand to inherit $20,000. It was a short letter. Very short. Anna turned page over and back again. “That’s it?” “Sometimes that’s it,” Mary said. “These are usually the ones we print. Others are longer letters and we take more care to find someone to match with. Not all are like that. I did have a longer letter come a month ago. A heartbreaking letter at that. Would you like to read that one?” “I guess,” Anna said. Mary shifted through organized piles of papers and then handed Anna the letter. “I’ll leave you to read this. I’ll go check on our drinks. If I know Henry like I think I do, he’s off on another project and has completely forgotten about us.” Anna nodded and Mary left the room. Anna opened the letter and first admired the neat penmanship. Then she read it. My name is Josephine (you can call me Jo if you make me laugh once) and I’m writing not for the benefit of myself but for the benefit of a broken hearted, lonely man who deserves a clearer path in life. A path to share hand in hand with the right woman, who I firmly believe in all my faith exists. His name is Thomas Calhor and my affiliation is that I am the wet nurse to his two month old son, Thomas Jr. I call him that too - Thomas Jr. Just like that. Thomas Jr. is a healthy baby, a beautiful boy with the brightest blue eyes, the happiest of smiles, and is perhaps a mirror image of his father. They share the same eyes and I know they would share the same smile if only Thomas would smile. As you can assume by now, my job as a wet nurse implies something with Thomas Jr.’s mother. The tragic end to her life came in the first moment of Thomas Jr.’s life. Anna stopped reading and folded the letter. She put it on the table and put a hand to her mouth. Mary hadn’t been kidding when she said that the letters came from all kinds of men. Anna had just assumed all kinds of men meant tall, short, lean, robust, rich, poor, blue eyes, brown eyes, and features of that nature. She hadn’t considered men who had suffered in a way it appeared Thomas Calhor had. Anna looked over her shoulder, wishing Mary would come back into the room so she could politely exit and go get the eggs and cloth she needed. However, she couldn’t help but think of the letter. I should finish it, Anna told herself. She mentally counted to ten and Mary still hadn’t returned. With her hands shaking, Anna finished the letter. Shortly after the birth of Thomas Jr. I was called to nurse the baby for the obvious reasons. The moment I looked into his eyes and then into the tear filled eyes of the baby’s father, I knew I couldn’t leave them. I also couldn’t love Thomas like he was meant to be loved. I’m too old for him and in my mind I picture the woman he deserves. A fair skinned woman with blonde hair and almost matching blue eyes. Perhaps a shade of a darker blue, hinting at the understanding of pain. A woman who can handle the circumstances. One able to step into not just the role of wife but mother. I, of course, will be here as long as Thomas Jr. needs me. But I cannot help Thomas anymore than I have. I’ve slowly taken on the role of housekeeper, at no cost to Thomas, but I feel it’s not my proper duty. At night, after Thomas Jr. is asleep, I often find Thomas standing on the porch, looking into the distant night, lost. I know he thinks of his wife and so the woman who will take Thomas’s strong hand in marriage will understand she will not replace Thomas’s wife but instead be a new wife. Someone to care for Thomas. Someone to care for Thomas Jr. Someone who wants the opportunity to have a beautiful life. Anna closed the letter and placed it on the table. An overwhelming urge to cry hit her. She tried to imagine what it must have been like. To carry a child all that time, only to never see the baby after birth. To never hold it. To never smell its fresh, warm skin. To never feed the baby. And poor Thomas. To go through something like that. To lose a wife was troubling enough but then to have someone hand him a baby... “It’s pretty hard, right?” Anna sniffled and turned to see Mary standing with a tissue. Anna took it and nodded. “Losing love is hard,” Mary said. “Losing in general is hard,” Anna said. “Which is where we’ve all been before. But seeing your reaction to that letter gives me faith in this one...” Mary had another letter for Anna to read. Anna shook her head. “No. No more sad stories. I can’t. You don’t understand what it’s like for me...” “No, this isn’t a new one,” Mary said. “A week after receiving the first letter, I received a second. This one from Thomas himself.” Anna almost jumped out of her chair to get the letter. She couldn’t believe she was eager to read something from a stranger. But Josephine’s letter had been so poignant and heartfelt that Anna wanted to read it and feel it from Thomas’s broken heart. Maybe it would help her. Nothing more. Just to read... just to know someone else felt pain and loneliness too. “I’m going to be honest with you, Anna,” Mary said. “Besides myself, I believe your eyes will be the only other eyes to see this. I haven’t shown it to Henry. And I have not shown it to anyone looking for a groom. Something about this touches me and I have been looking for the right woman.” With that said, Mary handed Anna the letter. She took two steps back but didn’t leave the room. This time, Anna didn’t care one bit. She wanted to read what Thomas had to say. I am Thomas, as previously indicated in the first letter. I will first say that the previous letter was sent without my permission. While I tried to insist Josephine leave my house right away for her careless actions, it was my son, Thomas Jr., who saved her employment. She is the only one Thomas will bond with. The sight is truly miraculous but also heartbreaking. Each time his small lips latch to Josephine, I feel more of my heart shedding its own tears. You see, when my son receives the milk God has given Josephine, he receives the nourishment to grow. To become strong. To be healthy. And perhaps with that will come one day an understanding of what happened to his mother. That gives me hope. At the same time, in the same breath of my own air (mind you, the air my deceased wife cannot breathe), I feel a wretched feeling. Because when Thomas Jr. latches to Josephine, pain and anger hits me like none I’ve ever felt. I’m inclined to sometimes tear the baby from Josephine’s giving breast and tell her that she’s not his mother. While she does not try to be his mother, there’s something that leaves me compelled to do so. It’s something Josephine has sensed in me and something she’s spoken out loud to me about before. Which is why she wrote the letter she did. I’m in understanding that Thomas Jr. deserves a woman to care for him completely. To nurture, to love, to raise. Josephine won’t be that woman but it’s Josephine who believes that I should have the same as Thomas Jr. That is, a woman to nurture me and to love me. While I don’t fear love, I fear that a woman may not understand my heart, my eyes, and the way pain comes and goes, like a breeze on a cool April eve. Josephine explained all she wrote in her letter and I do hope that if a response should come, if ever, it would be from a woman who understands pain. A woman who is perhaps widowed, jilted, even divorced. A woman who can be a good mother. Thinking this, writing this, and reading it leaves me smiling in a heartbroken, foolish way because I know the task is daunting and odds are next to impossible. But with this letter comes my hope and if that at all means anything - to know my heart is still beating - then I beg of the woman who reads this... the woman who could nurture, love, and grow... please respond. I am a man of capable means with a successful farm and moderate wealth. There is no need to come worried of shelter nor food. There is only need to come with an open heart, an open mind, and open eyes. Anna finished the letter and this time let a tear fall from her eye. How beautiful. How poetically beautiful and powerful. “Do you understand why I haven’t shown that letter to just anyone?” Mary asked. “No,” Anna said, “but I’m happy you showed me.” “Anna, if I gave that letter to anyone, they’d write back in a hurry. In fact, I could almost promise you that dozens of women would right back. They’d beg. They’d lie if they had to. Thomas is a strong man. But he’s in pain. He’s vulnerable. And he needs the right woman.” “I agree,” Anna said. She opened the letter to read it again. It was a letter that deserved to be memorized in her heart forever. “No, Anna, you aren’t understanding me,” Mary said. She plucked the letter from Anna’s hand. “Thomas needs the right woman. And I firmly believe, with everything in me, that you, Anna, are the right woman for him.” Anna stood, shaking her head. “No. I couldn’t.” “You could, my dear,” Mary said. “You long for what Thomas does. You two can share pain. You two can heal each other. He’s got the means and he’s got something you want but couldn’t have...” “A baby.” Anna closed her eyes. “I’m truly sorry about your marriage to William,” Mary said. “But this a chance to understand why it happened. Just write back to him. That’s all I’m asking. Write back.” “Then what?” Anna asked. “Then we wait.” “What if he writes back?” Anna asked. Mary opened her mouth as Anna asked another question. “What if he doesn’t?” “Relax,” Mary said. “There is no cost to you, I’ll pay the postage. I believe in this that much. Just sit here with a pen and your thoughts.” “I’ll need a cup of tea,” Anna said with a flicker of a smile. “Of course.” Mary shuffled away and returned a moment later with tea. It was the perfect temperature, suggesting to Anna that Mary had made the tea and let it cool, as though she were plotting to keep Anna happy and there. It wasn’t the tea that kept Anna there as much as it was the sincerity in Mary’s eyes. Anna believed what Mary believed. And so Anna went to work, telling herself she would just write a quick paragraph or two, introducing herself and explaining her divorce. What happened was that Anna lost track of time. When she finally stopped writing, she had more than she intended. “That’s good,” Mary said. “You don’t know what I’ve written,” Anna said. “I don’t need to. I watched you write it. You weren’t proper in your seat and you weren’t proper in how you approached it. Which is good. That means it’s honest.” “Would you like to read it?” “No,” Mary said. “But I would like you to read it to me.” Anna hesitated. “I assure you,” Mary said, “it’s just us.” “Okay,” Anna said. She looked at her letter and took a deep breath. She looked at Mary and smiled. “Dear Thomas, I’ve come across your letter and the one from Josephine. I would much prefer to write ‘Jo’, but since I haven’t met her nor made her laugh, I cannot properly call her that! I write to you with a heavy heart not just based on my story - which you will soon read - but yours too. I cannot express my sorrow for your loss. But, I must say, you gained from your loss, too. The birth of a child is nothing short of a miracle. I hope you can believe in that, and remember it. I speak so highly of your son, Thomas Jr., an infant I’ve never met, because I have been unable to birth a child of my own. You see, I am divorced. Not by my wanting, then again, the marriage wasn’t by my wanting either. A successful businessman with the cleanest suit and smile you’d ever see made my parents an offer they accepted. My hand in marriage gave them financial freedom in exchange for my ability to birth a child. I was given one year to become with child. Imagine that, one year! The pressure from day one was overwhleming. Both letters I’ve read made me weep in their own way. I write with hesitation in my heart and hand because I fear I will either over promise you, Thomas, or perhaps not promise enough. I cannot promise to nurture your child. But I can promise to love Thomas Jr. and help him grow. I cannot promise to love you because I know the heartache of implied love. But I can promise to nurture you. I am a very good cook. I am a great housekeeper too. I am excellent at fixing pants, which is a sorrowful story in itself, but I would be happy to take care of you in any way that I can. I understand hurt and loss. I’m sure you read this and aren’t sure how truthful it is, but I suffered through a forced marriage and was left a year later after I couldn’t conceive a child. Also, my dear sister lost her husband in a tragic accident. I’ve had to look into her eyes and see the loss and suffering. It won’t bother me to see it in your eyes, Thomas, and I would never ask you to hide. I would never ask you to change, and I would never put a time limit on your grief. I’ve lived under a time constraint and it’s like someone is stealing your life. As far as my appearance is concerned, I will admit my sister is much prettier than I. However, I have been told I am pretty too. I’m not quite 5’6, I have blonde hair and it’s normally straight, but sometimes it curls at the very of end. My eyes are a rich blue; not the bright, piercing blue of my sister, but a shade or two darker. My skin is fair and I have a hopeful smile. Most of all, Thomas, I have slender but strong hands, a good mind, a heart that still beats, and the want to be a wife, a mother, a family. I honestly admit I will not be bringing money nor will I ever inherit any. I hope, if anything, you read this letter and know someone is out there, Thomas. Someone like you. I would love to meet you, to meet Thomas Jr., and to meet Josephine. I can board a train at anytime without needed arrangement other than your word.” Anna took a breath and held the letter to her chest. She looked at Mary, who had beamed. Anna couldn’t remember the last time someone looked at her with a proud look on their face. “Should I keep going?” Anna asked. “I mean, I don’t want to get too personal...” “It’s perfect,” Mary said. “It’s honest and perfect. If that’s what you wanted to say, you’ve said it. Now it’s time to send it.” Anna felt her hand open and press the letter hard against her chest. She wasn’t sure she should let the letter go. She tried to imagine Thomas reading it. Would he laugh? Would he care? Would Josephine read the letter first or even give it to him? Or would Thomas read it and just throw it out? “You look scared,” Mary said. “I am,” Anna admitted. “What happens next?” “We send the letter and we wait. You understand how long this could take, right?” Anna nodded. She wanted to believe in weeks but knew she should be prepared for months. If an answer ever came. “I just,” Anna started to say but stopped. Marry stepped to her and took the letter out of her hand. She didn’t look at the letter, but instead folded it up. “You just what?” Mary asked. “What if he reads it and feels I’m too much?” Mary touched Anna’s face and smiled. “You know, maybe someday you and I can exchange letters. I used to be a lot like you, Anna. And when my brother came to me with an idea for arranging marriages I wanted to slap him. But when I started reading the notices and the letters and saw women going off to become brides, mothers, and create families out west, it started to touch my heart. With each letter I send, I could be sending lies. I could be receiving lies in return. I could receive nothing in return. I could send a hopeful woman back home in tears. There’s one thing that holds it all together for me... that one thing that made my brother whistle in his horrible whistling tone... the one thing that made you stop to look at him and listen... the one thing that gave him his personality to see you, know you, and bring you here... and the one thing that gave Thomas the courage to write the letter he did...” “And that is?” Anna asked. Mary smiled. It made Anna feel warm and safe. “Faith, Anna, faith. I have faith in everything I do. My brother, Henry, is the businessman. He enjoys the money. But I enjoy seeing families come together.” “Thank you,” Anna said. She blurted it out so sudden she really didn’t understand what exactly she thanked Mary for. Even after Mary hugged her and Anna left, hurrying back through to town to get the items she originally came for, she couldn’t figure out why she had that impulse to thank Mary. After getting eggs and the cloth needed to fix her father’s pants, Anna began her travel home. The ride gave her plenty more time to think. By the time her house grew out of the horizon, it finally hit Anna. She knew why she had thanked Mary. For the first time in longer than she cared to admit to anyone - including herself - Anna had hope. Even if it was based on nothing more than a few words in a letter and faith that Thomas would write back to her, it was still something. And something was better than nothing. Chapter Five The first week was the hardest. Each time Anna looked into her parents eyes, she felt some sort of guilt. It wasn’t the same kind of guilt she felt when it came to her divorce from William. This was a different kind. The guilt of knowing she had plans and didn’t share them with anyone. The guilt that if things went the right way, she’d be gone soon. Then who would cook? Fix her father’s pants? Clean the house? She wanted to believe that when the time came for her to leave, her parents would snap back to normal, but Anna couldn’t be sure of it. The hardest part though was not sharing anything with Abigail. Abigail must have read it in Anna’s eyes and dared to ask a few times if something was bothering Anna, but Anna held back. Once two weeks came and went, Anna made a casual trip into town to get some supplies for her father. The second he mentioned going into town, Anna almost tripped over a chair to offer to go to town for him. He obliged and gave Anna a list, with money. Anna’s first stop was to see Mary and Henry. When she stepped back into the building, she saw Henry standing over a fresh pile of mail. His arms were folded, his lips puckered, and the gleam of dollar signs in his eyes. He didn’t seem to be a greedy man, just a good businessman. “Morning,” Anna said. Henry saw Anna and his eyes lit up. “Anna! Come here. Right away.” Anna went to Henry who welcomed her with a big hug. Anna felt wrong for hugging Henry because she didn’t want to ruin his expensive clothing. “How are you?” he asked. “Waiting,” Anna said. “Everyone is. Any chance you want to look at some of these letters? There’s so many men...” “No she doesn’t!” a voice called from the back of the building. A second later, Mary appeared, her big glasses around her neck. She moved as fast as Henry, taking him by the arm and pulling him away. “No she doesn’t,” Mary said again. “Anna and I have an arrangement of our own, isn’t that right?” “Yes,” Anna said. “Which is why I’m here...” “I haven’t received anything yet,” Mary said. Anna smiled but her heart ached in pain. She blinked, swearing to herself she wouldn’t cry. “It could be months,” Mary said, so soft and comforting. “I know you’re hopeful and so am I. Just remember, Anna, when he gets the letter, he’s going to be shocked. I’m sure in his mind he feels nobody would step into his life. He’s going to have to make a big decision and part of that is going to be coming to terms with what happened to his wife...” “I understand,” Anna said. “There’s so many young, good looking men though,” Henry said. “Not that Anna doesn’t deserve what her hearts wants...” “Henry,” Mary snapped. “He’s right,” Anna said. “I could just take one of these letters.” Mary’s face dropped. Anna reached for Mary’s hand. “But I won’t,” Anna said. “I’ll wait.” “Something good is coming, I know it,” Mary said. Anna hugged Mary and then Henry. She spent the rest of the afternoon buying the supplies her father needed. After that, more weeks went by. The pain and regret didn’t subside one bit for Anna because her life was based around it. Each morning she woke, she stood at the window and thought of Thomas. It seemed strange thinking about a man she never met and a man who hadn’t even written to her yet. But he was always on her mind. It started to get warmer out and her father worked with the sunlight. It seemed each day added another minute or two. Anna also worked around the sunlight, ensuring everyone was fed the best she could provide. Her mother helped, which Anna enjoyed, only her mother didn’t really speak to her. The conversations were about food and nothing more. Nothing about life. Nothing about love. The pain of the divorce still hung in the house. Abigail started to distance herself too. Anna wanted to tell Abigail everything but just couldn’t. Not without a definite answer. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt her again. Then came what felt like Anna’s fiftieth visit into town. She had no purpose other than to visit Mary and Henry. It was the only place where Anna could go to smile and feel the stress of the world leave for a few minutes. But this time, the second Mary saw her, she jumped from her chair so hard it flew back and fell over with a thundering thud. “Anna!” she cried out. A second later she waved an envelope in the air. Anna saw it and her knees grew weak and started to give out. She leaned against the wall and felt her entire body shaking. “Are you okay?” Mary called to her. “Yes,” Anna said. “I’m shocked...” “I’m not,” Mary said. “I told you he’d write back.” Anna found strength in her legs again and took a step towards Mary. “What does it say?” “It’s not my mail to open,” Mary said. She smiled big and placed the letter on the table. “You can open it,” Anna said. “Read it. Tell me.” “No. I refuse. It’s your mail.” “What if he doesn’t want me?” Anna asked. “I’m not sure I...” “What if he does?” Mary posed. Anna touched the envelope and looked at the handwriting on it. It wasn’t Josephine’s perfect handwriting. It was Thomas’s choppy, scribbling writing. This was directly from him. Part of Anna always thought that it would be Josephine to write back on Thomas’s behalf. But this was from Thomas. Anna slid her finger along the envelope, opening it. She unfolded the piece of paper and began to read. Dearest Anna - I am still unsure of the words I have read from you. Not that I doubt what you’ve said, but I doubt someone as gracious and beautiful as yourself could experience something as terrible as a man abandoning you. I told Josephine the letter must have been a joke or written by a ghost... how could someone exist that understands me? I’m not sure I expected a response to my letter but one came. Now I must face what comes next. My dear Anna, if it were up to me, there would be money with this letter for you to come to Kansas to be with me. Josephine even urged me to do so. She even tried to slip her own money into the letter when I wasn’t looking! But I couldn’t send money this time. That would imply your travel to me and your marriage to me. It would imply you packing up your life and leaving. Which I cannot do... at least like this. I hope you don’t take my words the wrong way, but I wanted to give you a chance to read this letter, dear Anna, and make a decision. You wrote to me. I wrote back. If you write to me again the next letter will contain money. This gives you a chance to truly consider everything. My life. My infant son. My broken heart. If you decide not to write back, I will never be upset with you, dear Anna. Your letter alone has given me a sense of hope only staring in Thomas Jr.’s eyes has ever done. I thank you for that. Sincerely, Thomas Anna handed the letter to Mary. “Read it,” Anna said. Mary looked at the letter, putting her glasses on. As she read, Anna began to pace. She saw a piece of paper on the table, right next to a pen. She smiled like she hadn’t smiled in years. When Mary finished the letter, she looked up and closed her eyes. Anna saw her lips moving, knowing she was praying. “I knew it,” Mary said. Her eyes were glazed over. “I just knew it...” “I guess I have a decision to make,” Anna said. “Anna, I don’t want to be pushy,” Mary said. “But if you wait...” Anna handed Mary a piece of paper. “What’s this?” Mary asked. “My response. I wrote it while you were reading.” “May I?” Mary asked. “Of course.” Mary opened the letter and Anna thought about her response to Thomas. Dear Thomas, Your letter has changed my life already. If I’ve given you hope, you’ve done the same for me. I’ve stood at the window every morning for weeks, waiting for your response. I won’t waste any of your time, Thomas. We will have the rest of our lives now to exchange words and conversation, in person, as husband and wife. I can assure you I won’t sleep a wink until I’m with you. And I mean that in a way that my heart will be racing with excitement to meet you, to meet Josephine, and of course, Thomas Jr. I will accept your hand in marriage, Thomas. -Anna Mary hurried to place Anna’s letter into an envelope. She then took Anna’s hand and walked Anna to the post office. Again, Mary paid for the postage. Anna insisted on paying, but Mary refused. That’s when Anna realized that maybe for every bad person in the world, a good one existed... and that maybe for every tragedy that occurred, a miracle followed right with it. To give hope. To give love. To continue life. Chapter Six Anna played with her fingertips. A sewing kit sat next to her on the bed. She needed to fix another pair of pants for her father. The man had become so obsessed with working in the fields that it seemed he refused to come home unless he was injured or had torn a piece of his clothing. Anna could only contribute this to his anger over the fate of his daughters. She hoped that when her family realized she was gone, they’d have hope. And then when Anna would send a letter from Kansas, explaining what she had done, they would smile again. They would become normal again. When Abigail entered the room, Anna stood from the bed and pointed. “Sit,” she said. “It’s your turn.” “My turn? For what?” “To sew.” “I’m not very good...” “Practice,” Anna said. Abigail stopped and stared at Anna. “Why? Why can’t you just do it? Are you leaving?” Anna turned and let out a small laugh. It had been next to impossible to contain her feelings and excitement. She had managed to keep herself busy for weeks, waiting for Thomas to send a reply with the money needed for a train ticket. She worked extra hard in the house, hoping to get it into a condition that would last for a while after she left. She took the time to look at her family and think of good memories rather than bad times and the hurtful atmosphere she had been forced to live in for a long time now. But now she had it all. Thomas had replied, and fast. As said, he included money with the letter. More than enough to take the train. He encouraged her to buy herself a new dress to wear to be extra comfortable and to enjoy food on her travels. He made it that Anna’s only focus should be on the situation waiting for her. All Anna had to do was be at the train depot the next morning to catch the second train of the day, the one that would ultimately take her to Kansas. “Abigail, are you happy?” Anna asked. “Happy? Well, there’s all kinds of happiness.” “Like how?” “Well, I’m happy I’m alive. I’m happy I’m fed. I’m happy we have a roof that doesn’t leak when it rains. I’m happy we have a warm place for the winter. I’m happy the crops have grown again this year.” “What about at night?” Anna asked. “When you’re alone... does everything hurt then?” “Why are you asking me this?” “I want to make things right,” Anna said. “I’ve let everyone down, Abigail, including you.” “I’m sorry for what I said before,” Abigail said. “I spoke rash and it came out wrong. What I meant was that if you were able to fall in love with a man like William, without your entire heart, then maybe I could find the same. I want a family, Anna. I want a husband. I just don’t know how...” Anna looked at her sister. She thought for a second about telling her about Mary and Henry and what they did. Abigail deserved that, right? But Anna worried that if both she and her sister ran off, it would maybe be too much for their parents to handle. And the look in Abigail’s eyes told Anna she wasn’t ready yet. In time, she would be, just not yet. “That’s how I feel too,” Anna said. With that off her chest, she knew it would be the closest to telling her sister what was about to happen in her life. “Can you try to sew that?” Abigail touched the pants and then looked at Anna. She didn’t say a word but instead began to thread a needle. It took Abigail much longer then it would have taken Anna, but Anna’s patience were made of steel. There were times when her fingers twitched, wanting to take the needle and thread from Abigail, but she knew she couldn’t do that. She needed to hold off. By tomorrow evening, Anna wouldn’t be there. There would be no extra help. Once the needle was threaded, Abigail began to sew. Anna sat next to her sister and spent the next hour giving her tips on how to make the stitching tight. How to tie off the end and tuck it. What kind of material she liked to use. Anna tried to keep it casual as though nothing was really happening, but she knew Abigail could read right through the feeble attempt. Abigail stood from the bed and held the pants up. “They look good now,” she said. “He’ll be happy.” “He doesn’t notice,” Anna said. “Neither of them do. Whether you cook, clean, fix things...” Abigail folded the pants and placed them on the bed. “I’m sorry it hurts.” “Me too.” “I hope you find your happiness, Anna.” “I’m sure I will,” Anna smiled. Abigail reached for Anna’s hand. “I hope you know I love you,” Abigail said. “I’ll be sure to make sure your love remains and that my smiles do too.” “Abigail...” “I always thought by now I’d have children of my own,” Abigail said. “I would be traveling home to visit here, to visit you, Anna, or perhaps exchanging letters. That works too, right? Writing letters? You’d do that for me, wouldn’t you?” Anna saw the look in her sister’s eyes. It was no longer a big secret. “Of course I’ll write,” Anna said. “Or... I would write.” Abigail giggled. “Sleep tight.” Anna turned and watched her sister walk towards the door. She stopped at the door and turned. “Just so you know, Anna, you might want to hide your suitcase better...” Abigail pointed and Anna saw her suitcase right there, standing against the wall, out in the open. Abigail left the room for good and Anna hurried to hide the suitcase. She felt almost foolish but couldn’t contain the smile on her face. That smile stayed with Anna through a quick night of sleep and into the morning. From there, each step she took and each activity she did, she told herself it was the last time she’d be doing it. From making breakfast to kissing her father’s cheek as he went off the work in the fields to standing on the porch and smelling the air of Lowemills, Massachusetts. Right on time, Anna went to Abigail and asked if she wanted to go to town for a few items. Abigail agreed. The entire ride was silent until they were close to the center of town. “Where am I stopping?” Abigail asked. “You can stop right here actually,” Anna said. “Are you sure? You’re going to walk...” “I’m fine,” Anna said. Abigail looked at Anna and the two hugged. “I think I’m going to check the horse,” Abigail said. “He seemed to be trotting funny.” “Sure,” Anna said. It was the last time Anna would see her sister’s perfect face. That angelic face - perfect skin, bright blue eyes, warm smile. Abigail climbed from the carriage as did Anna. Anna uncovered her suitcase and took it from the carriage, moving so Abigail didn’t see. Of course Abigail knew what was happening, but there was something sad about her sister seeing it and actually knowing. Anna snuck away from the carriage and hurried with her suitcase in front of her. She knew she must have looked like she was waddling, but she didn’t stop until she heard the sound of the horse trotting and the wood of the carriage creaking as it moved. The sound pained Anna for a few moments because it meant her sister was leaving. It also reminded her of her parents financial situation. If Anna had been with William, and had given him a child, they wouldn’t have such an old carriage. But none of that could matter anymore. Anna rushed down to the train depot. She passed the small newspaper office and thought about running in to say goodbye to Mary and Henry one more time, but decided against it. She didn’t have the time to spare and she knew Mary expected their next correspondence to be in a handwritten letter and signed by Mrs. Thomas Calhor. Anna Calhor. It made Anna gush. It sounded so much better than Anna Strewbren. At the train depot, everything went as planned. She boarded the train with a smile on her face and a new dream in her eye. When the train was full, the whistle blew, and less than a minute later, the train began to move. Anna clutched her new dress (the one neither of her parents noticed...) and she closed her eyes for a few seconds and replayed everything that had brought her to that very moment. From the night William took her hand and demanded her hand in marriage. To the feeling in her stomach each month, letting her family down. To William’s forced divorce. To Henry’s gentle touch and Mary’s even gentler care. And now to this... the train going full speed ahead. On to Kansas. Taking Anna to become wife to Thomas and mother to Thomas Jr. Chapter Seven When the train came to its final stop, there was one last long whistle, the squeak of brakes, and a quick jerk. Anna’s mouth instantly ran dry as she reached for her suitcase. She had nobody with her, nobody to help her, guide her, or tell her how to find Thomas. Not once did he really describe himself in great detail. It was left that he would find her at the train depot. As Anna stepped from the train, among the mass of the crowd of people getting off the train and those waiting to see their friends or family, she began to panic. What if Thomas didn’t show? How sad to think that. But a man lost in grief could justify anything. Not that Anna wouldn’t be hurt but it was more of how to get back home then and explain herself. She made sure not to spend all the money Thomas had sent, wanting to give some back to him to show that her love didn’t need to purchased through the exchange of money or material goods. But she really hoped she didn’t need that leftover money to make her way back home. It would be perhaps worse than the divorce from William if she went back home and explained herself. How she wrote to a man and he wrote back. How she accepted his hand in marriage without meeting him. How she left without really saying goodbye. Then it occurred to Anna that her parents probably wouldn’t take her back then. The thoughts poured into Anna’s frail mind, and just as she felt ready to cry, a hand touched her shoulder. “Beautiful Anna,” a voice said. Anna frowned. It wasn’t a man’s voice. It was a woman’s voice. Anna turned and met eyes with a robust dark eyed woman. She had a big smile and a large gap between her front teeth. At first, Anna wasn’t sure why she picked out such random features on the woman, but then she realized that she had been dying not only to place a face to Thomas but a face to Josephine. And here she was... “Yes, I’m Anna,” Anna whispered. “Of course you are,” the woman said. “Nobody else around here comes close to being as beautiful. Or as nervous!” Anna smiled. “I’m sorry. I was just scared for a second. I thought for a moment nobody would be here... silly, I know.” “Not so much,” the woman said. “I came though.” “Not Thomas?” The woman didn’t respond to the question. “Do you know who I am?” “I’m assuming you’re Josephine,” Anna said. “Call me Jo,” Josephine said. “But you said someone could only call you that if they made you laugh.” “You did make me laugh,” Josephine said, wrapping her arm around Anna’s shoulder. Anna felt Jo’s warm body and had almost the same feeling she had when near Mary. It was no wonder Thomas’s infant son took to Josephine. “When did I make you laugh?” Anna asked. “In your letter. How you said it would be easier to write Jo instead of Josephine. I laughed. Now you can call me Jo.” “Fair enough,” Anna said. “Plus, you’re the only one to write back to Thomas.” “Well, that wasn’t on accident,” Anna said. “The woman who handles this...” “I understand,” Jo said. “I expected tons of letters from women looking to take advantage of Thomas. I read your letter before he got it. Hope that doesn’t upset you.” “Not at all.” “Good.” Anna walked alongside Jo as they made their way from the train depot. When she boarded the carriage and they began their travel to Thomas’s home - what would be Anna’s new home! - something continued to bother Anna. She knew she could have swallowed it down and held it in, but did she want that? Did she really want to be the same old person? “Jo, may I ask a question?” Anna asked. “Sure. And you don’t have to be so proper around me. I work for you now, too. Keep that in mind.” Anna nodded and digested that statement. “It’s a personal question,” Anna said. “If it oversteps a boundary.” “Never.” “Why didn’t Thomas come to get me? His letter left me thinking he’d be there, waiting.” Jo didn’t reply right away. “He didn’t want to see me?” Anna asked. “It’s not that...” “I would appreciate your honesty in return of mine,” Anna said. Jo looked at Anna and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. That I can do.” It took a few more minutes for Jo to speak. “You see, Anna, when I met Thomas, he was... he was broken. I firmly believed in my heart for more than a minute that Thomas was going to leave without Thomas Jr. I explained it was his only way of staying with his wife. And it’s part of the reason why I’m with that infant now. I wake each morning and sometimes fear I’ll find Thomas’s bed empty with a note. Maybe I’m thinking too much into it, but the pain behind his eyes is something... something fierce. He feared, Anna, that once you looked at him, you’d rush back to the train.” “I would never!” Anna cried out. “Even if he wasn’t the most attractive man... or if he had a scar on his face... or...” “I understand,” Jo said. “But that’s the truth. He’s torn right now, Anna. He never believed he’d have the chance to love again and now you’re on your way to his home. To become everything he thought he once had. That’s hard.” “Same for me too,” Anna whispered. The mood had shifted from excitement to somber. Then Jo nudged Anna and smiled. “What?” Anna asked. “If I may say so, Anna, Thomas is a very handsome man. Trust me, don’t let him slip away. For anything.” Jo winked and Anna blushed. It helped to lighten the mood for the rest of the hour ride to Thomas’s property. Jo announced the beginning of the property well before the house came into view. The house was picturesque, a house that wasn’t a house at all. It was a home. A beautiful porch that looked wide enough for rocking chairs... which came into view a minute or so later. The front yard was large and open. The tree line around the land looked immaculate, like the place belonged in a photograph. Next to the house was all the farmland. And there was plenty of it. “Does Thomas have help?” Anna asked. “His two hands and one heart,” Jo said. “Well, part of a heart I guess...” The comment touched Anna. A man that tended to the massive fields next to the chores, the amount of crops able to be grown shouldn’t have surprised Anna at the position and home Thomas found himself in. She almost started to hate herself for even being there. Self doubt took two seconds to step. Anna wondered if she would be good enough to live in the house, tend to the house, take care of Thomas Jr., and find a way to connect with Thomas. The horse came to a sudden halt, and tears filled Anna’s eyes. “This is why Thomas didn’t want to come either,” Jo said. “And I agreed with him. Which is why I came to get you. Look at me, dear Anna.” Anna looked at Jo. She didn’t hold anything back then. “You’re afraid, aren’t you?” “What if I am? This house is beautiful. Nothing looks broken.” “But it is,” Jo said. “And you can fix it.” Jo touched Anna’s shoulder and gave her a minute to collect herself. “I’m sorry,” Anna said. “It has been a long journey. I left my house without saying goodbye to anyone. I’m just caught up in it all.” “That’s fine. Now, let’s go meet your husband to be.” The words brought a smile to Anna’s face. Jo hurried from the carriage to tend to Anna. Anna tried to refuse help, but Jo insisted. “I don’t mean to blunt,” Anna said, “but aren’t you supposed to be a wet nurse?” “That’s what I’m paid for,” Jo said. “The rest of this is out of the goodness of my heart. I can’t raise that infant into a child. Into a boy. Into a man. My job will come to an end soon enough and I’m hoping by then Thomas Jr. has the family he was meant to have.” Anna stepped towards Jo and wrapped her arms around the woman. She couldn’t believe she did such a sudden move but she had to. Jo deserved it and then some. What a big hearted woman. After the hug ended, Anna lifted her suitcase and turned. She let out a gasp and then a cry. She felt Jo’s hand at her back, keeping her from stumbling back. There, on the porch, stood the most handsome man Anna had ever seen in her life. He stood in a short sleeved shirt and Anna first noticed how well built he was. A man of earned muscle. Next came his face, the line of his jaw defined and complete with stubble. His lips were thin - and looked soft! - and his eyes were dark. His black hair was short and sort of messy, but it looked good on him. It fit him. He looked like a Thomas. Anna walked another two steps before Thomas moved from the porch. He put out a large hand and said, “Let me get that for you.” His voice fit both his look and the personality of his letters. Anna blinked frantically. What was the first thing she should say to her soon to be husband? Thomas stopped walking right before Anna and left his hand out for her to take. “I’m Thomas,” he said. “An... na...,” Anna managed to say as if she had a speech impediment. Thomas raised an eyebrow and then looked at Jo. “She’s tired,” Jo said. “All that traveling and all my talking. Let me get the suitcase, you can get your bride.” At the word bride Anna felt her cheeks reddened. The same woozy feeling she felt the day Thomas first wrote to her hit her knees again. She had no wall to lean on and when she started to go down, all she could picture was messing her new dress, the one Thomas had sent money for her to buy. “Whoa,” Thomas said as his big, strong arms scooped Anna up at the last second. One hand touched between Anna’s shoulders, the other at her lower back. “Are you okay?” Anna nodded. “I like your dress,” Thomas said. “Is that new?” Anna nodded again. Thomas helped Anna stand. He then slid his hands off her and started to walk. Anna walked alongside him and kept looking down at his hand. Just hanging there. Anna wanted to grab. But she didn’t. She respected the situation and knew it was up to Thomas to make those kinds of moves. “Your house is beautiful,” Anna said, the real first thing she said to Thomas. “Thank you,” Thomas said. “A lot of work went into the house. The land has been fertile from the day I planted the first seed. A real blessing.” Anna smiled. It seemed odd to hear Thomas use the word blessing considering all that he had gone through. At the porch Thomas paused and allowed Anna to walk up to the house first. Anna looked back and down at Thomas and noticed how long his face suddenly appeared. “I have something for you,” Anna said. “In my suitcase. I’d like to give it to you.” “Sure,” Thomas said. “We’ll get there. Why don’t you go meet my son. I have to get back to work.” Thomas didn’t look ready to work, but Anna knew that when it came to tending land there weren’t options. You either took care of the land or didn’t. Thomas stared at Anna for a few more seconds and Anna waited to see if there was anything else to say. There wasn’t. Thomas turned and slowly walked towards the large fields. Anna took a deep breath and crossed the threshold of her new home by herself. It was exactly how she envisioned to pass through into such a beautiful home, but she carefully reminded herself of why she was there. Of what events that had taken place to bring her there and to allow Thomas the chance to marry again. A small cry echoed and Anna smiled. found the infant in Jo’s arms as she stood in the kitchen. The second Anna saw him, her heart melted and began to reshape itself. The baby blinked and stared at Anna, almost a perfect copy of Thomas. The shape of the baby’s head, the dark hair, the eyes, the face. “This is Thomas Jr.,” Jo said. “He’s beautiful,” Anna said. “Oh my...” “Yes he is,” Jo said. Thomas Jr. let out another wail and Jo started to bounce him. “He’s also very hungry right now,” Jo said. “Would you like to assist me for a second?” “Of course,” Anna said. “Do you have a room...?” “Doesn’t matter to me,” Jo said. She then turned her head and looked out the window to the fields. “But for this time, let’s go to my room. I put your suitcase there for right now. I’ll let Thomas properly show you to your room.” Jo had a little smile on her face and Anna wasn’t sure if that smile came with implications. Just thinking about being in a bedroom with Thomas gave Anna an odd feeling in her body. She was obviously instantly attracted to Thomas, his look and physique much greater than William. In the bedroom, Jo sat on a small bed, holding Thomas. She looked at the baby then at Anna. “Here, hold him for a second,” Jo said. Not a question but a request. Anna stiffened and hesitated. “He doesn’t bite,” Jo teased. “Trust me, I’d know if there were teeth!” Anna giggled and her cheeks flushed again. She reached for the infant, holding him by his sides and pulling him towards her. She gently held Thomas Jr., feeling her heart race in a way it hadn’t in a long, long time. It was holding life. It was holding something that meant so much more than just a baby. Anna closed her eyes and smelled the baby. That warm, fresh smell. Anna hadn’t had much experience with babies and it still made her mind scramble to think she was supposed to be a mother to this one. Thomas Jr. started to move, making noises as he did so. His arms moved in opposite directions to his legs. Anna hugged the baby and began to rock left to right. It did nothing to comfort Thomas Jr. An idea came to Anna. She’d whistle to the baby. She thought about how Henry had complimented her whistling back in Lowemills. That almost felt like a lifetime ago. Anna licked her lips and blew one note before Thomas Jr. jumped and let out a wailing cry. She had scared the baby. There was no helping Thomas Jr. now. “Oh, that’s fine,” Jo said. “He’s just very hungry.” Anna tried to bounce the baby but Jo reached for him. Part of Anna already felt like she had failed. Not even ten minutes in the house and poor Thomas Jr. cried his beautiful eyes out. Jo saw the concern in Anna’s face. “You can’t do that to yourself every time something little goes wrong. This is going to be a process.” Jo slid the left strap of her dress off her shoulder. She moved casually, even as she pulled her breast out in the open. Anna found herself silently gasping and feeling uncomfortable looking at another woman’s breast. Jo then brought the still crying Thomas Jr. to her chest and in a matter of seconds, Thomas Jr. found Jo’s giving nipple and he was latched on, suckling and silent. “See?” Jo said. “Nothing to be worried about. He’s just hungry.” Anna nodded and touched her stomach. She thought about things she swore she wouldn’t think about. About being pregnant. About having a baby. About feeding the baby. But none of that happened. And now she stood in the bedroom of a wet nurse that lived with Thomas. To feed Thomas’s son. Thomas Jr. looked content and relaxed as he fed. His lips had been moving at a fast pace, but now continually slowed until his eyes started to grow heavy and began to close. Finally, Jo took Thomas Jr. away from her breast and put him on her shoulder. She clothed herself and nodded to Anna and then Thomas Jr. “Burp him,” Jo said. “No, I can’t.” “Yes you can. Do it.” Anna took the baby for a second time. She placed him on her shoulder and began to tap his back. Thomas Jr. was very quiet and still relaxed. “Hit him a little harder,” Jo said. Anna couldn’t do it. She feared hurting him. Jo stood from the bed and came to Anna. She took her hand and began to really pat the baby on the back. “You won’t hurt him,” Jo said. “Trust me. He’s tough, like his father.” Anna continued to use the same force and then Thomas Jr. finally let out a long belch. Both Anna and Jo laughed out loud and Thomas Jr. began to cry again. Anna held Thomas Jr. and rocked him again, but just as before, the gentle consoling wasn’t going to work from Anna. She reluctantly handed the infant to Jo again. Jo hurried to swaddle Thomas Jr. and in seconds, his eyes were shut. “You have a gift,” Anna said. “A gift, given by God.” “Are you talking about my chest or my heart?” Jo asked. She had such a smile and conviction about her that Anna laughed and touched her own face in amazement. Jo’s eyes were so big and full of life. They matched the unbridled innocence of Thomas Jr. “I just don’t understand,” Anna said. “Understand what?” Jo asked. Anna wasn’t sure if she should say what she had to say. Sure, in the sense of reality, Anna was to marry Thomas. Jo worked for Thomas, thus working for Anna. Jo understood her position in the house and even with Anna. It should have all been clear and organized. But it wasn’t. “Why aren’t you and Thomas together?” Anna asked. “It would just make such perfect sense...” “Oh, now now,” Jo said and started to wave a finger at her. “I have a job here.” “But look at you, Jo,” Anna said. “You’re so bright, so happy, so beautiful. Thomas Jr. takes to you so well.” “I’m all he’s known,” Jo said. “I’ve had my share of tragedy too, dear Anna. This is my job right now, nothing more. I’ve stared deep into Thomas’s eyes and seen the way he looks back at me. I assure you, you’re meant to marry that man. The way he came off the porch to greet you, take that as something romantic, all things considered.” Anna opened her mouth but Jo looked down at Thomas Jr. and continued talking. “Now, if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’m going to put Thomas Jr. down. Then we’ll enjoy a cup of tea, okay?” “Okay,” Anna nodded. Jo turned but stopped. She looked back and smiled. “Not to put you on the spot, dear Anna, but you are making dinner tonight, correct?” “Dinner...?” “It is your house now,” Jo said. “It would be certainly a pleasure if I could have my job and nothing more.” “Dinner,” Anna whispered, nodding. “The way to Thomas’s heart besides your beautiful looks, dear Anna, is through a warm meal. I’m sure you’ll do just fine.” Jo left from the room and Anna stood by herself for a few minutes. She slowly crept out of the room and walked the house, skipping the room she would begin to share with Thomas, working her way to the kitchen. There she stood, comparing it to the kitchen at home. Well, her old home. Not that kitchens were very different, but the setup had an unique look and feel. Anna walked to the window and stood there, looking out to the large fields. Far, far away she could see Thomas. Working. Suffering. That alone was commendable and it made Anna want to be the best woman in the world for him. A man that went through what Thomas did but yet gets up for work, that’s a real man. A man who could survive the pain and the loss, a man who could love again. Anna just wanted to be that woman standing there when it all came together for Thomas. And she swore to herself she would. She had something in her bag for Thomas. She would share his bed. She would allow him to do anything he needed. If he needed to touch her, slowly and gently at first, ease his way. If he wanted to wait a day, two, even a week before actually getting married. Of course, there would be no playful touching before that time, but even still, as far as Anna was concerned, the moment she allowed Jo to bring her to Thomas’s home and property, that’s when her commitment began. With that buried in her mind, Anna let out a long breath and smiled. She looked around the kitchen, gathering ingredients for a good home cooked supper. The more she cooked, the more settled she felt. But one thought started to bother her. One that wouldn’t go away. When would Thomas commit to her? Chapter Eight Thomas came inside just as Anna had finished cooking. It was really a simple meal - chicken, potatoes, vegetables - but it had the house smelling wonderful. Even Anna found herself hungry as she cooked, something that rarely happened. She loved being in Thomas’s kitchen and she loved that Thomas worked hard enough to provide such enjoyable ingredients. When Thomas entered the kitchen, Anna heard the thud of his boots and turned to see him again. Sweaty and dirty, he looked amazing. His eyes were a little weary, but his muscles were still strong, like pieces of iron tucked into his skin. “Hello,” Anna said, hoping she wouldn’t fall over this time. Thomas was going to be her husband, she’d have to learn to speak to him, right? “Everything smells good,” Thomas said. “I was going to talk to you about supper...” “It’s okay,” Anna said. “Jo fed Thomas Jr. and put him down for a nap.” Thomas nodded. “Thank you.” “I held Thomas Jr. for a minute,” Anna said. “But he cried.” Thomas’s face dropped. His eyes diverted elsewhere, and Anna felt uncomfortable. “It’s ready to be enjoyed,” Anna said. With her hands on her hips, she forced a smile and then nodded to the meal. “Good,” Thomas said. “I’m hungry.” Anna then stared at Thomas, wondering where the man in the letters was. This version of Thomas stood quiet and reserved. Maybe Anna’s presence brought a new world of reality to him. But one thing Anna knew for sure; the Thomas that wrote those letters admitted his pain and was also willing to be open. “If you want to sit, I’ll serve everyone,” Anna said. “It’s no trouble.” “Thank you, Anna,” Thomas said. He stepped back and then hesitated. “I, uh, I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad everything worked out, traveling and all. In a little while, I’ll show you the room. Our room.” Our room. Anna swallowed and prayed to the heavens her cheeks didn’t blush right then. The last thing she wanted to do now was appear as some bashful woman who would burn red at the thought or spoken word of a bedroom, sleeping in a bed with Thomas, or more. She nodded and said, “That sounds lovely. Oh, I also have money for you.” “Money for me?” “Yes. From what you sent. There was extra.” “Extra? I told you to spend it.” “Well, I spent what I needed, and wanted. I won’t just spend money because it’s there.” Thomas seemed surprised yet satisfied. The sides of his lips started to curl a little as though he was going to smile. He rubbed his face and nodded. “Well, thank you, my Anna,” Thomas said. “For being honest.” Anna couldn’t find words to say as Thomas slipped away. My Anna, she thought to herself. He called me ‘my Anna’... Anna served supper with a smile so large on her face that it actually started to hurt. She ate but couldn’t keep her eyes off Thomas, watching how fast he ate. How he helped himself to seconds. How satisfied he looked with the meal and the cooking. The same could be said about Jo, who offered to take a small helping and leave the room. Both Anna and Thomas insisted that she stay. “Well, that was the best meal I’ve had in this house,” Jo said. “Oh?” Anna asked. “I’m not quite the cook you are,” Jo said. “Isn’t that right, Thomas?” “The meal is almost too much,” Thomas said. “Did I waste food?” Anna asked. “No, not at all,” Thomas said. “I meant too much... in the sense that I’m not wealthy enough for this. This should be served to the richest men and women in the state, not a farmer.” Anna smiled and felt the urge to weep almost overtake her. That’s all she ever wanted to hear, something so small but so meaningful. To some, it was a comment, maybe a compliment. For Anna, it was romantic. “I’m going to go check on Thomas Jr.,” Jo said, leaving Anna alone with Thomas. “Thank you for making this,” Thomas said. “Expect the same every night,” Anna said. “And morning. And afternoon.” Thomas smiled and nodded. “I could get spoiled on this kind of food.” “No need to get spoiled,” Anna said, “I won’t be going anywhere.” The second the words fell from her mouth. She felt her mouth turn dry as Thomas looked down at the empty plate. It was probably the worst thing she could have said right then. I won’t be going anywhere... Anna felt her heart twist in pain wondering how many times Thomas’s wife said the same thing to him. Of course nobody thought about going anywhere, about dying. It’s inevitable for all... from man to bird to plant. The first flower of spring will die during or right after summer. The corn seed that becomes a magnificent stalk of corn will die. The same for people. All who are born will die. The conversation fell silent. Anna stood and gathered her plate, then Jo’s, and worked her way towards Thomas. “Are you finished?” she asked. “Yes,” Thomas said. Anna reached for the plate and just as her fingers were about to retrieve it, Thomas placed his hand on her wrist. His grip was fierce, yet warm. The fainting feeling came again but subsided when Thomas looked up at Anna. “Just you being here makes me feel more alive,” Thomas said. “I’m truly sorry if I can’t usher you in like the beautiful bride you deserve to be.” Anna put the plates she held on the table and touched Thomas’s large hand gripping her wrist. Her hand shook with nerves, but she didn’t care. She had been waiting for an honest moment like this for how long now? “This is the most I’ve felt needed and appreciated,” Anna said. “Maybe ever in my life.” “I’m sorry for that,” Thomas said. “I’m not so much,” Anna said. “It brought me where I wanted to be.” Thomas smiled. “Your heart is quite amazing, my Anna.” “Yours is too, Thomas,” Anna said. A moment passed in silence between them before Thomas looked straight ahead and spoke again. “Maybe someday I could tell you about her,” he said. Anna knew who her was. It felt a little strange not knowing Thomas’s wife’s name, but she understood it. It was something so deep and dark within Thomas that the secrecy of her name was a way of holding onto her. “I would like that,” Anna said. Thomas opened his hand and the moment ended. Anna cleaned up, appreciating the time alone to not just take care of the house but to tend to her own thoughts. She realized she hadn’t had a moment to herself to really think since being on the train from Massachusetts to Kansas. When the night came and Jo fed Thomas Jr. what everyone assumed and hoped would be his last feeding until the early morning hours (Jo had told Anna that in the past two weeks, the infant started sleeping through the entire night, which left Anna feeling proud for some reason) Jo announced she would retire to her room. This once again left Anna and Thomas alone. Thomas had since cleaned himself up and changed. He smelled fresh and looked like a man from a dream. Anna could understand why Mary did what she did with Jo and Thomas’s letters. Any woman would be the luckiest woman in the world to be near him. “I’ll show you our room,” Thomas said. Jo had put Anna’s suitcase outside her door. Thomas lifted it and carried it to the room. When Anna stepped into the room and looked around, she wondered if any of the storage contained Thomas’s wife’s old clothing. The thought broke her heart and made her shiver at the same time. “You can have as much room as you need,” Thomas said. “I know you came with a single suitcase so if there’s anything you feel you need, we can travel together into town.” “I’m fine,” Anna said. “I have all I need right here.” Thomas put the suitcase down and stepped towards Anna. His hands were at his sides and remained there as he stared at her. “You can have more,” Thomas said. “There are means for it here. I’ve been very lucky in my life when it came to choosing land and making financial decisions.” “I understand that,” Anna said. “But I’m not here for financial reasons.” Thomas excused himself and gave Anna time to unpack her clothing she had brought from back home. She found nothing in the room that suggested another woman’s presence which made Anna wonder what had happened to all the clothes that once belonged to Thomas’s wife. When it was time to share a bed, the moments that followed were uncomfortable. Anna didn’t want to be the one to just climb into the bed. It wasn’t her bed really and within her heart, she wanted Thomas to welcome her to bed. Not with his hands but with his words. They weren’t married yet, which left Anna wondering when that would happen. She thought the moment she left the train depot she would be rushed to become a bride. Thomas took to the bed first and pointed to the empty space for Anna. “We should sleep,” he said. “We have a busy time ahead of us.” Anna wasn’t sure what that meant. Busy getting married? Busy tending the fields? Busy trying to bond with Thomas Jr.? Whatever it was, Anna still moved into the bed. The moment her body started to rest, she wanted to fall fast asleep. It had been one of the longest days of her life, if not the longest. Sleep would certainly cure most of the problems Anna felt right then. Thomas killed the lighting in the room, leaving it pitch black. The silence that followed, interrupted only by the sporadic sounds of an animal outside, suddenly made Anna feel lonely. She knew things would ease in time. This was the exact reason why Thomas hadn’t sent money in his first letter to her. He gave Anna the chance to truly consider what she wanted. And this was what she wanted. She could feel it in her heart. She really hadn’t felt alive in a long time. It could have just been the excitement of the change, but Anna had faith in more. And that faith was then proven a few seconds later when she felt Thomas’s hand touch her hand. His pinky finger gently moved, wrapping around Anna’s pinky finger. He squeezed and that was all the conversation they needed for the night. Anna closed her eyes and fell asleep. When she woke, she felt confused. It was still dark, but something felt very wrong. The first thing she noticed was that Thomas no longer touched her hand. That was normal, right? He moved in his sleep... nothing more. Anna couldn’t shake the feeling so she lit a candle and the soft glow of light grew to illuminate the entire bed. She saw Thomas’s side of the bed empty and her heart sank. She thought about what Jo had said – how Jo feared Thomas would leave a note and disappear someday. Anna moved the bed covers and looked for a note but there was none. She got out of the bed, telling herself she needed to find Thomas. If he needed proof of anything in life, Anna wanted to be that. If that meant tracking him down in the middle of the night, she’d do it. If that meant doing it every night, she’d do it. As Anna tip-toed, she tried to ensure she didn’t make a sound. The last thing the house needed was for Thomas Jr. or Jo to be woken up. Once in the main part of the house, Anna held the candle out as she walked slowly. The dining room came into view along with the figure of Thomas standing at the front window of the house. His hands were in his pockets as he stared. The first sight of him scared Anna a little, making her think of times when she and Abigail would trade scary stories about spooks and specters living in their house or in the fields. “Thomas?” Anna whispered. “Are you okay?” Thomas turned his head. “Did I wake you?” “No. But I woke and you weren’t there.” “First night...” That’s all he had to say. Anna got it. It wasn’t Anna’s first night as much as it was Thomas’s first night. Not that Anna had failed to think about that but she suddenly felt foolish for worrying about herself so much. Just what was it like for Thomas right then? To have another woman in a bed he once shared with his wife? Was his wife in that same bed when she began to birth Thomas Jr.? Or worse yet... was that the bed where she... “I’m sorry, my Anna,” Thomas said. “I’ve ruined this for you.” “You haven’t,” Anna said. She walked to Thomas and placed her candle on the table. She touched Thomas’s shoulder, casually, just to let him know she was there. “That extra money you have still,” Thomas said. “If you wanted a ticket home...” “I am home,” Anna said. Thomas turned his head again and looked at Anna. “How can I feel such guilt yet be so lucky?” “You have every right to feel anything you want to,” Anna said. “I just hope you know you can speak to me about anything. I won’t judge you. I won’t take harm in it either.” “Thank you, my Anna,” Thomas said. “Do you do this often?” “Come out here at night?” Anna nodded. “I guess there’s no point in lying to my bride-to-be,” Thomas said. It warmed Anna over, bringing a little peace to the strange night. “Yes, I sometimes do,” Thomas said. “When I have thoughts or dreams.” “I mentioned my sister,” Anna said. “And what happened to her.” “I remember,” Thomas said. “I helped her. I had to watch her go through it. There’s nothing I’m afraid of right here.” “How long would you stay without being married?” Thomas asked. His question came from a place Anna never expected it. The tone of his voice, the look in his eyes. It wasn’t quite heartbreaking like things had been with William and her parents, but it felt pretty close. So close, Anna couldn’t control her emotions as she began to tear up. A tear fell down her left cheek as she stared back at Thomas. “That’s what I thought,” Thomas whispered. He reached up and touched the tear on Anna’s cheek, transfrering it to his finger. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “No, my Anna, no. You have to show your pain too. To me.” “I can’t wait forever then,” Anna said. “Although my body and mind say yes, I’ll wait, my heart doesn’t.” “Since there is no forever, you won’t have to wait that long,” Thomas said. His words were sharp and purposeful. Beautiful at that. Thomas used Anna’s candle to light his own. He handed one of the candles to Anna, signaling the return to the bedroom to finish their last hour or two of sleep before morning would bring a fresh day of life. As they walked side by side through the house, Anna felt a little more at home. She didn’t like to see Thomas hurting or confused, but she liked to see the honesty of how he acted. It gave her hope. Then Thomas slipped his hand over Anna’s hand, taking it and holding tight. They walked in the darkness, two candles as their only light. Trying to find their way together. Somehow, everything was falling into place and Anna felt herself falling for Thomas. Chapter Nine In the early morning the house came to life. The sounds of Thomas Jr.’s crying demands for nourishment brought everyone out of their sleep. Anna woke and watched as Thomas climbed from the bed and dressed himself for another day of work. It must have been the routine that saved him, which was a blessing. But it made sense too. The routine of life and nature kept everything moving. The harshest winter could come, but spring would undoubtedly follow. The hottest months could dry the dirt into flakes of Earth, but nature would eventually bring rain. Hurt could still exist inside Thomas but routine allowed him to live each day and work towards happiness. When she got out of bed and dressed herself she went into the kitchen to prepare breakfast and found Thomas holding his son. It was the first time she saw father holding son and it was a moment that deserved to be captured forever. The way Thomas looked at Thomas Jr. and the way the baby looked right back at its father was pure love. No matter what Thomas did or said to the infant, Thomas Jr. smiled. Even when Thomas looked at Anna and wished her a good morning, Thomas Jr. smiled. A big, toothless smile with a small dribble of drool at the corner of his mouth. “Would you, for a second?” Thomas asked as he started to hold Thomas Jr. out to Anna. Anna thought about yesterday and hesitated. But she couldn’t deny the preciousness of the baby and her motherly instinct and need to hold and care for Thomas Jr. She took him into her hands and pulled him to her chest. He turned his head, wanting to see his father, still smiling. Anna bounced him a little and she felt his hands close around her shirt. He was holding onto her! He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t kicking. Thomas Jr. turned his head and looked up at Anna. He had the biggest eyes she ever saw on a baby, the eyes that were absorbing the world around him at an amazing rate. Anna just knew Thomas Jr. would grow to be a smart boy and a strong man, just like his father. “Hello Thomas Jr.,” Anna whispered. “I’m so happy to be here with you.” Thomas Jr.’s head bounced side to side for a second and his mouth started moving. His head fell forward to Anna’s chest and she looked down and saw the movement of his lips. His hand pulled at her as his mouth started to close over her shirt. He was near her chest and it made Anna giggle. “I think he’s still hungry,” Anna said. She looked at Thomas, who smiled too. The smile then started to fade. “I’ll get Josephine.” Anna wished she could nurture Thomas Jr. in the way Jo did. She wished she could provide the breast milk Thomas Jr. needed so she could hold him, bond with him, feel his lips attached to her. As Thomas started to move by her, he stopped. His right hand touched Anna’s left shoulder. The rest of his body touched Anna and Anna tried to control her breathing. Everything about Thomas made her feel so different, so alive. Thomas looked at his son and touched the baby’s head. Anna looked up at Thomas. There was a look of content on his face. He looked at Anna. “Feels right,” he whispered. “It does,” Anna said. Thomas Jr. continued to chew at Anna’s shirt. “I just wish there wasn’t someone else involved,” Thomas said. “Not that I don’t appreciate Josephine...” “I wish too,” Anna said. “I wish I could...” “Maybe someday,” Thomas said. Anna opened her mouth to remind Thomas that she hadn’t been able to have a child but she decided against it. Why ruin such a tender moment? Thomas squeezed Anna’s shoulder and then left to get Jo. When Anna handed Thomas Jr. off to Jo, she went to work, cooking a breakfast that Thomas enjoyed as much as the dinner the night before. He then set off to work, and Anna had her first full day in the house. To explore it, to clean it, and to keep her mind and head straight. She replayed everything, from the second Thomas touched her wrist after dinner to his big hand sliding into hers as they walked through the house with candles in the middle of the night. Those were moments that nobody would know about. That made Anna happy, knowing she had something she could share with Thomas for the rest of their lives. Lunchtime quickly came and Anna cooked and watched Thomas walk through the fields back towards the house. She marveled at how he moved, constantly scanning the field, ensuring the perfection of his land. He was a man who took pride in what he had, never taking it for granted. When he was close enough to the house to see Anna, he looked at her through the window and stopped walking. Anna wasn’t sure what to do next, but something came at her like a rolling boulder straight to her heart. Staring at Thomas right then proved something to her. She wanted to be married to him. Right away. Not in a week. Not in a month. She wanted to be his wife. She wanted to be Anna Calhor. And not just because of the arrangement made through their exchange of letters either. She felt it in her heart right then, staring at him. She wanted to be his wife. Once lunch had been served and Jo took Thomas Jr. for another feeding (“Oh, this baby is like his father,” Jo said with her large smile, “he enjoys his meals!”) Thomas approached Anna in the kitchen and said, “I’m going to go into town today. I need to get some supplies.” “I wouldn’t mind getting some cloth,” Anna said. “If that’s okay.” “Of course it is,” Thomas said. “Are you going to make something for yourself?” “No. I was thinking of making something for Thomas Jr.” Thomas looked touched. “All the money and you want to spend it on my son?” “Yes,” Anna said. “You too. You have a small tear at the back of your pants.” “My Anna,” Thomas whispered. “I just wish...” Anna could see where the look in Thomas’s eyes appeared to be going. To that distant place where the memories played over and over, like some kind of haunted showing. She would be lying to herself if she didn’t admit that she feared Thomas would go to that place inside his mind one day and never return. But she vowed to fight it. To win him over. To become part of his routine, his life. “May I show you something?” Anna asked. “As in?” “I have something in my suitcase for you... well, actually it’s now in a drawer.” “Sure,” Thomas said. Jo walked into the kitchen, holding Thomas Jr. and Thomas quickly took the baby, coddling him and rocking him. Anna had to appreciate watching this big strong father holding his son in such a way, but it was the only choice Thomas had at that moment. Thomas Jr. was technically motherless... something Anna hoped to fix. “I’m going to go into town with Anna today,” Thomas said to Josephine. “Would you like to join us?” “Yes,” Jo said. “I could stand some social time. And I do have a small list of items I need.” “I’ll pay the costs,” Thomas said. “No you won’t,” Jo said. “I’m more than capable.” Anna finished washing up after lunch and turned towards Thomas. She let her eyes do the talking, begging him to go into the bedroom so she could show him something. “Come,” Thomas said. They walked the same path they did the night before. Only today it was light in the house. And Thomas carried Thomas Jr.. Everything seemed so opposite of the night before. Anna secretly hoped what she had for Thomas would finally make him understand everything. But even if he didn’t, she’d continue to take care of everything. Her heart told her so. Thomas was worth it. In the room, Thomas waited as Anna moved some of her clothing aside in a drawer. She touched the envelope and hoped she was doing right by everyone. It had actually been Mary’s suggestion and the second Anna heard Mary say it, it made sense to do. Anna turned and handed Thomas the envelope. “What’s this?” Thomas asked. “This is the letter Jo sent,” Anna said. “I’m sure you didn’t get a chance to read it.” Thomas looked flabbergasted. “I was actually more mad Josephine sent the letter without letting me read it than actually sending the letter.” “Now you have your chance.” “And you brought this all this way...” “Of course,” Anna said. “I knew it had to mean something to you.” “It’s more than just something... will you take Thomas Jr., please?” Anna took the baby and held him out, staring at his perfect face. She smiled and wiggled her eyebrows. Thomas Jr. didn’t smile. He just stared. That didn’t matter though, Anna was starting to love the infant as much as she felt herself loving Thomas. She hugged Thomas Jr. and rocked him as Thomas read the letter. Anna tried to read his face but Thomas only seemed to have one face to offer... that of stone. When he finished and looked up, he nodded. “It doesn’t make me any happier that she took the first step in all this,” Thomas said as he stood and stepped towards Anna. “But it did bring you here... so how mad could I be?” Anna stared back at Thomas and felt her emotions running wild. She told herself if it wasn’t for Thomas Jr. being in her arms, she would have jumped at Thomas, wanting to feel his embrace. “Anna, he’s fallen asleep,” Thomas whispered. Anna looked and saw that Thomas Jr. had indeed fallen asleep. Right on Anna’s shoulder. Anna smiled and felt her heart growing again. Just yesterday the infant cried when Anna held him. Now he had fallen asleep in her arms. What could make the day more perfect? Thomas took Anna’s hand and placed the letter back into it. “Keep it,” Anna said. “No,” Thomas said. “I don’t need it. But I do have something to say to you, my Anna.” “I’m listening.” Thomas began to rub his thumb against Anna’s palm. Thanks to the roughness of his thumb and the thick callus on the tip of his thumb, it tickled. However, what felt as a ticklish feeling only lasted a few seconds before it turned into something else. Something flowed through her body that made her feel things she wasn’t sure were right, or pure, considering she wasn’t married and she was holding a baby. There was certainly a connection present between she and Thomas. “My Anna,” Thomas said, “you’ve done so much already. You’ve written to me. Written back to me. You’ve traveled to me. You’ve saved money I sent you. And I see the way you want to care for Thomas Jr. and how much you’re willing to work at everything. Last night I woke and touched your shoulder, my Anna, while you slept. The first time a person was in bed with me since... my wife died. The emotion overcame me and I had to leave the room. I feared waking you as I wept because I feared you would think I didn’t love you. But that’s not the case, my Anna. I wept because I knew the next step had come to me. So, my Anna, I want to go to town today not just for supplies, but to make you my bride. I want you to ride back with me as Mrs. Thomas Calhor. So we can be husband and wife.” Thomas then looked to Thomas Jr. and smiled. “And we can be father and mother.” “Oh, Thomas,” Anna said. “That sounds wonderful. If anything moves too fast... or you’re...” Thomas set his eyes to Anna’s again with a look she would carry for the rest of her living days and beyond. The color, the way they enamored her, controlled her, gave her the feeling that something greater than she, Thomas, and even Thomas Jr. was suddenly became present in the room. That God was there with them, helping them, guiding them. “Anna, the only thing that ever seems to be moving too fast is time,” Thomas said. “And that we cannot control. Which is why...” Anna waited to hear the rest of Thomas’s words, picturing them on paper, feeling her heart swaying towards him with each passing second of time. Thomas leaned forward and down, shocking Anna as he pressed his lips to hers. If Anna had breath she would have let out a cry, but Thomas had stolen it away. Their lips remained together and Anna allowed herself to slip away to a place of romance that she knew never existed. She closed her eyes and felt Thomas kiss her again. As he began to part his lips, Anna hesitated, kissed Thomas, and pulled her head back, ending the kiss. Thomas lingered for a few seconds, smiling, then nodding. They had a silent conversation then and Anna had the feeling that if Thomas Jr. hadn’t been in the bedroom something would have happened. Something out of wedlock and something that would have carried guilt. Thomas touched Anna’s face. “Let’s go get married, my Anna.” “Yes.” Thomas left the bedroom, Anna looked at the sleeping baby and wanted to weep. For the sorrow. For the hope. For the love. For everything leading to the moment that just occurred. Thomas’s kiss had other implications. Thomas’s kiss had the feeling of moving to the bed. To become together through a deeper connection, one that would be allowed and wanted in marriage. It left Anna feeling conflicted as she exited the bedroom. Part of her wanted it. She genuinely wanted Thomas. To feel his unclothed body, to appreciate it, to share something with him. But the other part of her knew the purpose of coming together like that was to create life. That was something Anna wasn’t sure she could do. Outside, once everyone boarded the carriage, Thomas set off to town, Anna by his side and Jo with Thomas Jr. in the back. “May I ask how you ended up here?” Anna asked. “You may ask all you want,” Thomas said. “My brother and I set off here together. We wanted to go more west, because dare I say it, he had visions of California to find gold and become rich. I personally wanted land. The land will always give to us, Anna, but gold... I heard many more bad stories than good ones. But he insisted. My journey ended here. His continued.” “Did he do well?” Anna asked. “Sadly, no. He died in an accident his first month there. I received a letter from a man he had taken a friendship to. A quick note that my brother had been working hard and an accident killed him. That he was properly buried with basic directions on how to find my brother’s grave if I ever cared to.” “I’m sorry for your loss,” Anna said. “He died pursuing life. Can’t fault that.” Thomas paused for a second and continued. “So I settled here and made it my own. Tended the fields, gave the ground the attention it needed to give right back to me. From the first crop it has been nothing short of a miracle. Sure, we’ve faced cold winters and rainy summers, but it’s nothing that ever makes the land stop giving.” “A blessed piece of God’s world,” Jo added from the back of the carriage. “The whole world is blessed,” Thomas said. “From the corners we’ve found to the corners we haven’t yet.” The rest of the ride was mostly silent. This time Anna took the chance to enjoy the scenery of Kansas, silently comparing it to that of Massachusetts. The ride from the train depot to Thomas’s home had been too nerve racking to focus on anything but the thoughts that had run through Anna’s head. Now, there was a sense of relaxation, even though she was on her way to get married. To get married! When Anna started to really think about it, that’s when the nerves hit her. She looked at her clothing, her dark color dress and she wondered if they should have waited for a better day. To plan. To properly dress. “Thomas,” Anna said. “Are we... dressed for this?” “It’s all set,” Thomas said. “Days before you came I made arrangements. I explained to the minister, an old friend for obvious reasons, of my intentions. He’s there, waiting. Trust me. He’ll be pleased to see us arriving together.” And that’s exactly how it happened. For a moment, Anna worried that she was going to be judged. A woman divorced now marrying a widower. Or she’d be compared to Thomas’s first wife and how she looked different, talked different, acted different. But none of that happened. In front of the minster, in front of Jo holding Thomas Jr., and most important, in the eyes of God, Thomas and Anna were married. It all seemed to happen so fast, right down to Thomas kissing Anna for a brief second. He slipped his hand into Anna’s and squeezed, turning to face the world with Anna as his wife. Anna turned too, as Mrs. Calhor. Her first step as wife was a wobbly one. Her second step was easier and by the time she reached Jo, she was tall and proud. Wife to Thomas Calhor. Jo hugged both Anna and Thomas, then gave Thomas his son. Thomas held the baby out and smiled at him. Thomas Jr. had a big smile and made noises as he stared at his father. Thomas then embraced the infant and turned to Anna. “Our family now,” Thomas said. “I’m happy,” Anna said. “Me too,” Thomas said. “I want to feel more, my Anna, to do more, but...” Anna saw a small glimmer of pain come through Thomas’s eyes. She didn’t want the day to wear any kind of scar of the past, no matter the memories. Anna simply nodded and took Thomas’s hand. They walked, the three as a family, for the first time, to the carriage. After gathering all the supplies they needed, the trip back home ensued. It seemed to go extremely fast, perhaps faster than Anna cared for at the moment, because she only thought about that night. With Thomas. What would happen, if anything. She wanted to love her husband, more than any woman could love a husband. And that included all aspects, even in the bedroom. The thoughts left her feeling excited and worried at the same time for the rest of the day into the evening. Chapter Ten Anna washed the last dish from dinner and went to find Thomas (her husband!) and Thomas Jr. (her son!). Along with Jo, Thomas Jr. enjoyed his last meal for the evening. Anna had grown accustomed to the sight of Thomas Jr. suckling against Jo’s gracious bosom. She watched as Thomas stood with his back to a wall, his arms crossed, his eyes distant. Anna could only imagine the thoughts going through his mind as he had to endure the knowledge and sight of a wet nurse caring for his son in a way he couldn’t. And even worse, in a way that Thomas Jr.’s birth mother should have been able to do. But even still, Anna told herself she would be thankful that Thomas had someone like Jo willing to go beyond the job of wet nurse when needed. Once Thomas Jr. finished, Thomas took the infant and turned, cradling his son as Jo properly dressed herself. “Can we?” Anna asked Thomas. “Together? Put him down?” Thomas looked at Anna. His lip was slightly curled. “Not tonight. I’ll join you in the bedroom in a little while.” Thomas was short and rushed from the room. Anna gasped, but Jo quickly reached for her. “Don’t worry,” Jo said. “It’s just part of this...” “It’s okay,” Anna said. “It was just such a good day. He seemed so happy and so alive. I feel as though it’s been stolen from him.” Jo stood from the bed and put a hand to Anna’s shoulder. “Sweet Anna, just think about what he had to watch. I’ve told him so many times not to be here when I feed Thomas Jr. but it’s something that he forces himself to endure. I know it shouldn’t be my breast the baby nourishes from. It should be his mother’s. Up until today, that was impossible because his mother was gone. But now, Thomas Jr. does have a mother.” “But that’s still impossible,” Anna whispered. “Right?” “I’ve never conceived a child in my life,” Jo said. “So how did...” Anna’s eyes looked down to Jo’s ample chest and back to Jo’s eyes. “It just did,” Jo said. “I thank God for it. He blessed me with a big heart and a big chest!” Anna giggled and blushed. “But he also blessed me with the milk I can provide to those who need it,” Jo continued. “Some families are wealthy enough that they just pay a wet nurse to nurture their child. Even families with mother and father in good health, and mother with capability. Other families have suffered. Some mothers can’t nourish their babies and in the worst of them of all...” Jo opened her hands as if to say, right here, with Thomas and Thomas Jr.. “When did it first happen?” Anna asked. “I’m sorry if I’m being intrusive.” “Not at all,” Jo said. “I see what you’re thinking.” Before Anna could ask Jo what she meant, Jo started to speak again. “It was just after becoming a woman, you know? I was bathing myself one evening and I just noticed something. That’s really how it happened. When I touched it, my nipple, I mean, I noticed liquid coming out. Just small droplets at first, but enough to scare me. After bathing, I dried myself but couldn’t help but try it again. It happened again. I slept that night and when I was able to do it again the next morning, I told my mother about it. She ran to my father and I was instantly accused of being with child. I had never been touched by a man, sweet Anna, ever. But they said it was the only way possible. I assured them otherwise, but the relationship started to crack that fast.” Anna felt the strings of her heart pull. How sad. To be accused and treated poorly for something that came as no fault to Jo. As Anna thought it, she touched her own stomach, understanding the feeling. “I was not with child,” Jo said, “and as months passed, it was proven. The doctors couldn’t find a baby and I knew there wasn’t one inside me. But that didn’t stop my breasts from providing milk. Each month it happened more and more. My parents couldn’t accept what was happening and I soon had to leave home. To make my long story shorter, I found work as a wet nurse thanks to a kind woman who gave me a chance to open up and explain what was happening to my body. I thank God every night for that woman and all she did.” “Sounds like the woman who helped me get here,” Anna said. “She was so kind and honest, willing to accept me - and my divorce - and she waited for someone like me before showing your letter, Jo.” “I’d like to hug that woman,” Jo said. “You know, Thomas wanted to get rid of me after I admitted what I had done. But Thomas Jr. did have anyone else to bond with. I knew Thomas didn’t mean harm by his words or command, and there was no way I could leave Thomas Jr. without nourishment.” “Were you mad? Hurt?” “Not at all,” Jo said. “I had done wrong. It was his letter to write. His feelings to share. But sometimes you just have to give someone a nudge. I grew tired of seeing Thomas hurt. I grew tired of seeing him kill himself in the fields. I grew tired of him coming to me and looking at me as though he had an interest in me. Sometimes he would drink a little, using a little left over money from a good crop to purchase whiskey. He tried to compare me to his wife, wanting life to be how he planned it.” “And you stayed?” “Of course I did. For him. For Thomas Jr.. And for you, Anna. Because each night I prayed to God, knowing that someone had to be out there. I knew something would happen, it would just take time.” Anna hugged Jo, tighter than she ever had before. “Thank you,” she whispered. “No, Anna, thank you,” Jo said. “Now go see your husband.” Anna nodded. She looked into Jo’s dark eyes and wondered more about the wet nurse. To be banished from her home because she had a gift. That’s what it was too, a gift. Without Jo’s breast milk, Thomas Jr. couldn’t survive. Yet somehow Anna knew there was more of a reason why Jo wanted Anna and Thomas together so bad. Anna didn’t have the time to explore it. Jo smiled and had a mischievous look in her eyes. “Your first night as husband and wife,” Jo said. “Go enjoy...” Jo turned and Anna walked down the hall towards Thomas’s bedroom - our bedroom, Anna’s mind reminded her - and when she stepped inside, she saw Thomas standing, slowly taking his boots off. “Hello,” Anna announced. “My Anna,” Thomas said. He looked happy, right? Anna wasn’t sure what to believe. Anna shut the bedroom door and waited for Thomas to finish before she could find a way to slip into a nightgown without doing so in front of Thomas. Unless he wanted her to, but even then, Anna wasn’t sure how it all worked. Thomas stood from the bed and walked to Anna. He took her hand and smiled. “Sometimes, there are moments...” “Of course there are,” Anna said. “You need not explain.” “But I feel I do.” “Then, I’m here to listen.” “I know you are,” Thomas said. “I’m a lucky man right now, my Anna, a very lucky man. I’ll return in a minute so you can dress.” Thomas left the room and Anna changed into her nightgown. When Thomas came back, he and Anna got into bed. Tonight the window was left open, allowing cool air to filter in. After Thomas extinguished the flame, the only light came from the moon. Anna’s eyes adjsuted and when she turned her head, she could see Thomas. Her husband. Next to her. Anna smiled and felt content. She rolled to her right and waited for sleep to come. But it didn’t come. Her eyes blinked. Her body waited, with some kind of desire and excitement. She reminded herself that with Thomas everything would take time. She felt lucky enough just to be near him, to have him talking to her, and to have him marry her. It occurred to Anna just how much she wanted Thomas. The thoughts weren’t very pure, but at least they came now after they wed. The attraction was obvious before, but because Anna held Thomas Jr., nothing happened. But right now... they were in bed... alone... When Thomas’s hand touched Anna’s shoulder, she shuddered and let out a small gasp. “Anna...” “Don’t stop,” she whispered. Thomas’s rough fingertips moved down Anna’s smooth skin. He pulled the nightgown down, exposing Anna’s shoulder. The bed then creaked as Thomas moved closer to Anna. She felt his warm breath on her shoulder a moment before his lips touched her. Anna shuddered again as Thomas began to kiss her. He moved up with his lips as his hand moved down. He kissed at her neck, gently, but with passion. His hand followed the path of Anna’s arm. Her hand rested on her own hip, but that’s not where Thomas stopped. His hand left Anna’s arm and hand, not stopping until he rested it between her legs. As his fingers curled, Anna felt the pressure of his touch. Her body tightened, ready for her husband. Thomas rubbed his nose against Anna’s ear and whispered, “My Anna...” Anna turned her head and rolled to her back, opening her legs for her husband. Thomas’s lips came to Anna’s lips as his hand started to claw at her nightgown, forcing it up, up, up. Anna felt the cloth sliding against her body. Her legs became exposed and once the nightgown was up far enough, Thomas touched her bare legs. Anna softly moaned, wanting the touch from Thomas. It was such an amazing feeling to have... with William it had always been assumed and somewhat forced. William touched her only for the purpose of wanting to conceive a child. After a while it became a struggle and William would stare angrily at Anna, act angry towards her during their time together, thrusting at her too hard, forcing himself upon her too much. But not Thomas. When his fingers touched between her legs, again Anna jumped. Her own body’s urges felt like they were getting out of control. “Anna, will you take this off for me?” Thomas asked. Anna sat up on the edge and tore the nightgown off herself. She felt the heat racing to her face, knowing how intense the moment was becoming. That same heat appeared elsewhere, in places so delicate and tender, it left Anna’s heart racing and her body shaking. She moved back to the bed, completely nude for her husband. She heard the sound of Thomas doing the same for himself and when she looked as Thomas climbed back into bed, the soft light in the room bounced off his body, showing Anna the muscles her husband had from working so hard. Back in bed, Thomas wasted no time continuing where he had been. One hand slipped behind Anna’s neck and the other traced the line of her body. Slipping between her legs again, Thomas rubbed her with a gentle care. Anna’s toes curled. No man ever touched her there, with fingers, like this. She could feel every movement Thomas made and she enjoyed it. Her breathing became shaky and even after Thomas took his hand away from her body, touching her hand again, Anna couldn’t contain herself. Thomas kissed her shoulder, but this time he carefully kissed down towards her chest. Anna was actually holding her breath, waiting to feel Thomas’s soft lips touch her tender nipple. When he did, she let out a small cry, trying her best to suppress all noise for the sake of Jo and Thomas Jr., but it was certainly hard to do so with Thomas. As Thomas’s mouth came over Anna’s breast, she finally found some more air to breathe. Her hand squeezed Thomas’s hand tight, telling him just how she felt. His tongue sampled, her soft skin, his lips coming together in a sensual kiss that he repeated over and over. When Anna expected him to offer his body he remained at her chest. His lips closed for what had to be the fifth time. Only this time he pulled a little, using his lips first then adding his teeth for a quick second. The feeling left Anna shivering everywhere. Thomas moved to her other breast, offering the same attention to her nipple with his lips and teeth. When he finally stopped and looked at Anna, there was a slight pause and odd moment between them. Right then Anna knew what Thomas had been wanting to do, what he had been looking for. It was something Anna couldn’t do or provide right then. Anna knew her role now was wife and mother. One of the two she offered right then, being Thomas’s wife, giving him her body for pleasure. But to be Thomas Jr.’s mother, it would never be complete. There was still the need for Jo in the house, no matter what. With a slight flicker of pain in Thomas’s eyes, he climbed Anna’s body, positioning himself between her legs. Anna swallowed and tried to usher away the regretful feelings that seemed to always chase her. She wanted that intense feeling from just a few minutes ago, that desperate urge. But it never came back all the way. Thomas pressed himself forward, gently gliding his way into Anna’s soft, warm entrance. Anna felt a mild pain, but only for the first few seconds. After that it became something Anna never experienced before. Thomas lowered his full body to hers and Anna sought comfort at the curve of his neck, allowing herself to breathe hard, moan when needed, and enjoy it. She never wanted the feeling of it to end because she feared she’d never experience it again. And that part suddenly became more than a thought or worry. Once Thomas finished, he moved from Anna’s body in a hurry. He remained next to her in bed for a few minutes in silence. Anna could feel something in the room changing - no, something had already changed - and when Thomas sat up and got out of bed, Anna was overcome by emotion. “I need to be alone for a moment,” Thomas said. “Please don’t worry. Please don’t follow.” Thomas said no more as he dressed himself and walked out of the room. Anna pulled the covers towards her nude body and hugged them. She couldn’t stop the tears from coming. A few minutes later as she forced herself to get dressed back into the nightgown Thomas had asked her to take off, she felt almost as bad as when she and William were together. When William finished he would always remain on top of Anna for a few minutes and then leave her, rolling to his side to sleep, never speaking of anything. And now Thomas... a man Anna found truly attractive, a man she cared for, had left the room. Anna could only imagine why. The way he had touched her breasts, Anna knew he wanted her to be able to give nourishment to Thomas Jr.. But she couldn’t do that. She wasn’t Jo! And she wasn’t the birth mother, given milk by God! As Anna lay in bed, she felt useless. She thought about the extra money, tucked away in a drawer. She could just up and leave, find a different place to go. But that wasn’t the promise she made to Thomas, or to herself. Being the wife she wanted to be, she forced herself to stay awake until Thomas came to bed. Which he did, and even though it felt like hours later, Anna was able to fall asleep peacefully. Even if Thomas didn’t acknowledge her or even touch her, he came back, and that was enough for Anna to hold onto. Chapter Eleven The following morning brought a whole new set of feelings. She had expected to wake with a smile and she had expected to look at Jo and blush, figuring Jo knew everything that had happened in the bedroom the night before. Instead, she felt like she was following Thomas around the house, waiting for him to look at her and talk to her. Other than the average morning talk of Hello and I need to get to work, nothing extra came from Thomas. He ate his breakfast, thanked Anna for making it, and then set out to work. Anna washed the dishes from breakfast as tears fell down her cheeks. She hadn’t realized Jo had crept into the kitchen until Jo touched her shoulder, causing Anna to scream. “I’m sorry,” Jo said. “I didn’t know you... are you crying? Sweet Anna, what’s wrong?” “Nothing,” Anna quickly lied as she turned her attention back to the dishes. Jo took Anna’s hands and moved them out of the sudsy water. She moved Anna to the side and took over. “That’s not your job,” Anna said. “I’ll help.” “No!” Anna cried out. “You’re taking all the work from me then! He... he can’t love me then!” Anna turned and lowered her head, feeling foolish for blurting out such a mean thing to a nice woman like Jo. Thankfully, Jo didn’t take it that way at all. She left the dishes and tended to Anna, walking her to the dining room and sitting her down. “I’m so sorry for that,” Anna said. “I shouldn’t have said that to you.” “No, I understand,” Jo said. “Was last night... not okay?” “It was amazing,” Anna said. “For me. But Thomas...” “Don’t think a thing about it,” Jo said. “I can’t give him what he wants. Or Thomas Jr. what he needs.” Jo closed her mouth and nodded. Anna could see in Jo’s eyes that she knew exactly what Anna meant. “And what if Thomas wants a bigger family? What am I do to then?” “Who says you can’t have a bigger family?” Jo asked. “I was married for a year without a baby,” Anna said. “That may not have been your doing,” Jo said. “Do you have faith?” “Yes, I do.” “That’s all you need, sweet Anna. You and Thomas are meant to be. Let it be.” That’s what Anna needed to hear. She collected herself and her tears and spent the rest of the day as the wife she wanted to be. She took care of the house, the cooking, and even took care of Thomas Jr. in every way God allowed her. Jo only took the baby when he needed nourishment. The days and nights soon began to move faster than Anna thought they would. The days were long and hard sometimes, but Anna forged through them. She took care of everything Thomas needed and wanted, usually doing so without him saying a word about a thing. She noticed he didn’t like to ask for things, but he appreciated everything she did. He took to touching her hands at any opportunity they were free and they shared moments in bed together, but each time it ended, Thomas always left the room. Through the kitchen window, Anna spent many hours watching Thomas work hard. The crops grew like she had never seen crops grow before, a testament to the good land and the hard work. When it came time to sell crops, Anna joined Thomas and brought Thomas Jr. along. She then got to watch her husband work as a businessman, making the living he deserved and rightfully earned. Each second she spent staring at Thomas, watching him work, watching him deal in business, watching him hold Thomas Jr. and make the baby laugh, Anna fell more in love with him. And it was genuine love. She wanted to openly celebrate, but she held back for fear of learning how Thomas actually felt about her. The last thing she would ever want to do was push Thomas away. He meant too much to Anna and she had reached the point that she couldn’t imagine her life without him in it. As promised to herself, she sat down one evening to write two letters. She had the paper in front of her and traced her thoughts, trying to find the perfect words to say. Jo was nursing Thomas Jr. and Thomas stepped up behind Anna, standing as she sat. His strong hands touched her shoulders, sending that intense warm feeling through her body. If Thomas had been able to see her cheeks right then, he would have seen her blushing. “Writing?” he asked. “I promised to pen two letters,” Anna said. “Friends or family?” “Both,” Anna said. “One is for my sister. One is for the woman who helped me get here.” “Do you miss your sister?” Thomas asked. It was probably the most personal question he’d asked Anna in over a month. “I do,” Anna said. “But I worry more than miss her. I want her to read this letter and understand that life can exist after pain.” What Anna wanted to really say was that love could exist after pain, but she wasn’t sure how Thomas would handle hearing that. “Well,” Thomas said, “you tell her that I’m happy. That our marriage is strong and healthy.” Anna smiled. “I’ll leave you be,” Thomas said. “Thank you,” Anna said. She thought again about what to write. She tried to picture Abigail, but it was becoming harder to do. Time had gone by so fast and with so much involved. Thinking about time bothered Anna. Anna touched her stomach, feeling let down again. She wasn’t sure why she expected to carry a child, but she wondered if Jo had been right. That God’s will didn’t let it happen with William to allow it to happen with Thomas. That obviously wasn’t the case at all as Anna’s bodily cycle had just come to an end. She focused on the letter and decided to write to Mary first. Dear Mary - How the weeks go fast! I’m not sure where the time actually goes, but it does go. My travels were safe and everything was as planned. Thomas is a handsome man, Mary. More than I feel I deserve. The wet nurse, Jo, is the kindest woman I ever met - other than yourself, Mary! She is warm, welcoming, understanding, and what she provides Thomas Jr. is something that leaves me amazed every time I see it. I won’t try and paint a perfect picture, Mary, because perfection is not quite here yet. Thomas and I married and we have found a way to survive together. I’ve fallen for that man, Mary. I love him so. But his eyes aren’t the same to me. I understand and cope but how I wish he could feel the same. When we touch each other, he enjoys but then leaves the room. I fear he is still lost in grieving and perhaps rightfully so. He is reminded of his loss each time he sees his son. Each time Jo provides milk to his son. And each time he looks at me. I’m not her, Mary, and I can’t be! I know nothing of her, and if I did, I wouldn’t be anyone but myself. I’m sorry if this letter sounds sad. I’m truly not sad. I swear on that. By God’s will I have the strength to carry through this time right now. To make the house a home, to cook wonderful meals, to hold Thomas Jr. and watch him grow. And to watch Thomas as he works so hard on his land. He’s a wonderful man, Mary. A man who I want to give my all to. I promise you, Mary, I will never stop loving Thomas and will never step away from him. In the beginning Thomas Jr. didn’t take to me. He cried when I held him. But then came a day where he fell asleep on my shoulder. Oh, Mary, what a feeling! Holding that warm baby, able to trust me enough to sleep. That was the same day Thomas insisted we get married. We even shared a kiss- okay, a few! - but please promise never to share that with anyone. I don’t want to be judged as a woman who kisses men out of wedlock. It’s beautiful here, Mary. The land so vast. The town is far away, but the people are generous. They understand Thomas, they understand me, and most of all, they accept us. They accept us together and that does help when things feel... I don’t know, so lost sometimes. I cannot thank you enough, Mary, for all you’ve done for me. By saving those letters. By sharing them with me. By giving me the chance to finally find my place and my own happiness. And I do have it! Right here! When Thomas touches me, it’s a feeling that I know is real in my body and heart. When he looks at me, I feel... oh, I don’t know how to describe it, Mary... but my face burns when he looks at me. I hope all goes well with yourself and Henry. I miss both you, I really do. That’s the hardest part for me. I often think of Henry’s nice suits and terrible whistling! But each time I look at the wet nurse, Josephine, I think of you Mary. If you find time, I would appreciate to read your words. Sincerely, Anna Anna gave the letter a once over and while she wasn’t sure of the way it sounded, it was how she felt and with Mary, she knew she could be honest. Mary would understand. Mary had sent many women off to be married. While Anna wasn’t sure if any of the women wrote back to Mary, she wanted to believe that some did. And Anna was certain that not all women find love and happiness. Anna then went to the next letter, the one to her sister. Dear Abigail - I miss my big sister! I think of you, Abigail, that face of an angel. Bright blue eyes. Beautiful, long hair. I miss it. I miss our talks, our laughs, and how we always had each other. I’m almost pained to write this letter because I fear how it will make you feel. But Abigail, my sister, I am truly happy! I have fallen in love with a man named Thomas and his infant son. I am happily married right now as I write this. I take care of the home and the baby, aside from nursing which is cared by another woman who works as a wet nurse. She’s a wonderful woman, Abigail, you’d love her. Each day I’m greeted with a beautiful sun rise. My husband goes to work in the field - perhaps the greatest crops I’ve ever seen grown. He works hard. I cook, I clean, I care. It’s a life I never thought I’d have. To be happy and in love. I share this with you, Abigail, to perhaps help cure your worries. Your worries of what happened to me before and what happened to you. I can write to tell you that happiness can come after a heartache. When I look at my husband, Thomas, I feel it rush through my body. I’m sure it was how you felt at one point in your life. And, Abigail, you can feel it again! How did this all happen? I met with a woman named Mary and her brother, Henry. They run the Lowemills Daily newspaper. They also place ads from men looking for brides. They helped me connect with Thomas through writing letters to him. And Thomas sent me money and I traveled on a train to be with him. I hope mother and father are well. I hope my absence hasn’t hurt them more than my divorce had. I feel guilty each day about it, Abigail, wishing there was something I could have done. But my body - and God - made those decisions! Not me! It’s wasn’t fair for me to feel the way I did. I understand our parents position and I hope you can share this letter with them. Let them see that I’ve gone off, on my own, I’ve found a husband, a family, love, and I’m happy. I say this honestly, Abigail, I am truly happy. I hope they are happy. Most of all, I hope you’re happy. I want to know you’re okay. I want to know you’re going to find love too. You deserve a husband. A family too. I will eagerly await a letter from you Abigail. I miss you, big sister! Love, Anna Anna slid the letters away from her and took a deep breath. She had to collect her emotions. Everything came at her at once by penning the letters. Thinking about William and the divorce. The way her parents acted. The travel to Kansas. Meeting Thomas. Meeting Thomas Jr.. Everything else... “Are you done?” Anna gasped and jumped. She looked over her shoulder and saw Thomas standing. “Yes,” Anna said. “I’m done. Can I mail these tomorrow?” “Of course,” Thomas said. “We’ll go into town. We’ll make a list of anything we may need too. I’ll ask Josephine if there is anything she needs.” “Thank you.” Thomas stepped towards the table, his eyes gazing upon the letters. He looked down at Anna. Anna could see the intrigue in his eyes. “You could read them if you’d like,” Anna said. “No, I couldn’t.” Anna smiled. “You could. I want you too, Thomas. Please.” “Why?” “Maybe the written word has more meaning. Since the ink is on the paper. Stuck there. It can be read again and again...” Thomas leaned forward and took Abigail’s letter first. Anna just stared straight ahead, with her hands folded, waiting for Thomas to finish reading. She grew nervous wondering how Thomas would take the words she had to write. Thomas placed the first letter back on the table then took the other letter Anna wrote. The one to Mary. The one with a little more honesty in it. That was the one Anna truly worried about. She half expected Thomas to storm away. But Thomas didn’t. Instead, just like before, he placed the letter on the table. He touched Anna’s shoulder. “Those are nice letters,” he said. “I’m sure they will be able to receive them.” “Do they upset you?” Anna asked. “No,” Thomas said. It was a quick no and nothing more. He then turned and left the room. Anna watched her troubled husband walk away, but she didn’t chase right after him. One thing Anna had learned so far about Thomas was that he liked to be alone when his mind was overwhelmed. Smothering him only made things worse, often ending with him making a rash decision or saying something he certainly would regret. Anna gently folded the letters and then opened them again to read them one more time. Had she said something that should have been kept silent? If so, Anna could burn the letters. That was one way of making sure the words disappeared. Jo came into the room and saw the table and pointed. “Finally writing those?” she asked. “Finally?” “Well of course,” Jo said. “I never thought you the type to just run. Plus, you mentioned that woman, Mary, numerous times. I knew she had to be on your mind. And the other letter...” “My sister, Abigail,” Anna said. “Lost her husband.” “Sorry to hear that,” Jo said with a look in her eyes that bothered Anna. “Really sorry to hear that.” “Me too. I wouldn’t tell anyone what I was doing, not even my parents. I promised myself though that once I was happy here I would write to Abigail. To give her hope. She deserves a husband and a family.” “Every woman does,” Jo said. “And you?” Anna asked. Jo swallowed and ignored the question. “What about your parents?” “They’re included in the letter to Abigail. I’m sure she’ll show them. I’m hoping it brings hope to their house and life.” “I’m sure it will,” Jo said. The conversation ended at that, and Anna headed to bed feeling uneasy about both Thomas and Jo. When she climbed into bed, Thomas already had his eyes shut. She blew out the light and remained awake for a few more minutes, thinking. The touch from Thomas’s hand surprised her. “I can’t sleep well without you next to me,” Thomas said. “That makes me happy,” Anna said. “I have something for you,” Thomas said. “Tomorrow.” “Okay,” Anna said. She remained awake and silent for another minute or so, gently biting her lip, wishing that Thomas would roll towards her and take her. It had been six days since the last time they were together, all caused by Anna’s sometimes painful reminder that she wasn’t pregnant. But she was okay now and she wanted Thomas. The urge and thought made her blush, even to herself, even in the dark. She wanted to feel Thomas’s large hands touch her breasts, her body. She wanted to feel Thomas’s body against hers, giving, taking, giving some more. And that’s how Anna fell asleep, only to be awakened a short time later by the sound of crying baby. Anna’s eyes popped open and she sat up, touching her chest, catching her breath. Admitting the dream she had just been having felt so wrong, but since it was Thomas, it really was right. Thomas Jr. cried some more and Anna tiptoed across to the small nursery room where Thomas Jr. slept his naps and evenings. He whined again and through the darkness Anna could see his small hands and feet kicking. After lighting a candle, Anna took the infant into her arms and hugged him. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “I’m here, Thomas Jr., right here. It’s... Anna...” Anna’s mouth ran dry. How close had she been to saying It’s Mother? She felt like she was there, emotionally, but she wasn’t sure if Thomas was. Of course, physically she could handle the job as Thomas Jr.’s mother with only one exception. “Is everything okay?” another voice whispered. Anna saw Jo in the doorway. “I think he’s hungry,” Anna said. “Yeah, it’s the time I guess. He normally doesn’t get up like this anymore.” Anna looked down at Thomas Jr. as she held him. He was a little fussy but not crying. His big eyes were wide open, staring up at Anna. “May I have him for a few minutes alone?” Anna asked. “I’ll bring him into your room when he cries again.” “Take your time, sweet Anna,” Jo said. Jo stepped back then stopped. “Oh, Anna?” “Yes?” “I’m sorry if I just walked away before,” Jo said. “Talking about family...” “It’s okay,” Anna said. “Get some more sleep.” Anna set her attention back to Thomas Jr. once Jo left. “Thomas Jr.,” she whispered. She held him in her left hand and stroked his hair with her right hand. It was so thin and soft, coming in darker than when she first arrived, telling Anna the infant would resemble of his father. “I’ll always be here,” she said to the baby. “I will always raise you, and love you dearly. But I won’t take away any memories you have of who birthed you. You’re far too small right now to understand my words, but I believe you remember her. She carried you for all that time. She nourished you. She talked to you. She loved you, Thomas Jr., and I know that by the way your father looks at you, and at me.” Anna blinked and felt tears rushing to her eyes. Thomas Jr.’s eyes started to close. The baby tried to fight it, but as Anna gently rocked him and began to hum, he fell back asleep. He didn’t need to eat after all. He just needed to be held and spoken to... by Anna. By the woman who wanted to be his mother. Anna continued to hold Thomas Jr. long after he fell back asleep, cherishing each second. The playful feelings inside her soon turned very serious, almost overwhelming. She knew then that God had blessed her with that moment to create that special bond between parent and child. Anna may not have carried Thomas Jr. in her womb but she would make up for it, even if that meant holding him in the middle of the night to feel his warm body and listen to his soft breathing. Anna put Thomas Jr. back down and went back to bed with Thomas, facing him as he slept on his back. She reached and touched his cheek, drawing a line down his face and along his jaw. She loved Thomas with all her heart. She loved Thomas Jr. with all her heart too. To Anna that may have been the very instance when she truly became wife and mother. Chapter Twelve The next morning when Jo came into the kitchen holding Thomas Jr. she smiled at Anna and asked her, “Did you feed Thomas Jr. last night?” Anna smiled back and shook her head. “You know I can’t...” “Wasn’t sure. You never woke me. Hey, if it could happen to me, it could happen to you.” Jo took Thomas Jr. into the dining room. As Anna went back to preparing breakfast for her family - her family! - she touched her stomach. What made it happen to Jo? What gave her the ability to breastfeed without carrying a child? Could it happen to Anna? It was too exciting of a thought because Anna knew she’d be let down. It’d be like the men going west to California with their eyes set on gold, thinking they’d be rich in days after setting foot there. Anna knew the only way she’d ever have a chance to breastfeed a baby would be her own if she were able to get pregnant. And that thought sucked the air out of her. Her spirits were actually crushed by the time she served breakfast. The only things that brought life back to her soul were watching Thomas Jr.’s big smile and seeing Thomas seated at the head of the table, his eyes following Anna’s every move. It made her feel that perhaps Thomas felt the same way for Anna that she felt for him. “We have to go into town today,” Thomas said. “To mail Anna’s letters, and I need supplies. Josephine, would you be willing to help with Thomas Jr. during this time? Anna and I have something to speak of.” Anna looked at Thomas, feeling confused. She didn’t remember needing to speak to Thomas about anything. Unless... unless he knew about her getting up with Thomas Jr. in the middle of the night. Did it bother him? Hurt him? Anna doubted herself, wondering if holding the baby as long as she did would have an adverse effect on his sleeping or feeding patterns. Anna’s appetite disappeared as she started to come to the realization that she knew nothing of being a mother. It wasn’t just about holding, kissing, loving. It was so much more. It was understanding the baby’s habits. Teaching and training. Making tough decisions. Jo had easily agreed to care for Thomas Jr. while Thomas and Anna rode into town. But Anna wasn’t so sure she wanted to have the alone time with her husband then. She feared him growing angry. Somewhere in the back of her mind she felt that if one man could divorce her, what would stop another from doing the same? All Anna could picture was her sister receiving the letter telling her how happy she was only then to return home a short time later, divorced and let down again. Oh, how much would that crush Abigail? By the time Anna climbed the carriage and waited for Thomas to sit next to her, she had a burning feeling in her stomach that she may never see the house, Jo, or Thomas Jr. again. It was a silly thought to harbor, but it wouldn’t leave her alone. Even after their journey began and Thomas sat silent for the first few minutes, the thoughts plagued Anna. “Thomas, I’m sorry if I messed anything up last night.” “What do you mean?” Thomas asked. “With Thomas Jr..” “I don’t understand.” “He woke. I heard him. So I held him and rocked him back to sleep and spoke to him. I hope that didn’t change his sleeping pattern. Or feeding pattern. Or...” “I didn’t even realize,” Thomas said. His face looked drawn and defeated. “Does he get up a lot?” “No,” Anna said. “That was the first I heard.” “And I didn’t hear,” Thomas whispered. “I’m his father...” “You were tired,” Anna said. “I was there. And Jo.” “But you took care of it,” Thomas said. He looked at Anna. “Like a mother would. And should.” “Yes,” Anna said. “What did you say to him? To Thomas Jr.?” Anna swallowed. She didn’t want to lie to her husband. No matter what. “I told him how I love him. How I... how I love you, Thomas. How I want to be his mother but I’ll never let him forget who birthed him.” “You mean that?” Thomas asked. “Of course I do! I would never push someone else away. Just because she’s not here doesn’t mean she’s not here... does that make sense?” Thomas didn’t respond. He tugged on the reigns and the horse pulling the carriage came to a slow stop. When Thomas looked at Anna, she saw his eyes were glazed over. Ready to spill tears. “How did I get so lucky in my life? Twice at that?” “You deserve it,” Anna said. “Oh, my Anna,” Thomas said. He touched Anna’s cheek. “You’re such a beautiful woman. A perfect woman. And I said I had something for you today, and I do.” “You don’t have to give me anything,” Anna said. “I have all I need.” “No, you need the truth,” Thomas said. “Anna, I’m going to tell you about my wife.” The words struck Anna like a blistering cold Massachusetts wind in the dead of January. It crippled her for a few seconds. “You don’t have to,” Anna said. Thomas ordered the horse to move again. “I want to. I read your letters, Anna. You’re worried that you’ll have to be her. That’s terribly wrong. I would never want someone to be Rachel. She was her own woman, she was here, and now she resides with God. That’s my reality I face.” “You’re not alone in that reality,” Anna said. “I know I’m not.” “May I ask questions?” “Please do.” “What did she look like?” “She was tall and beautiful, Anna. She had dark hair that ran past her shoulders in a brilliant way. Dark eyes, long fingers, a gentle touch and heart to match. I met her right after settling here. I purposely would go to town for supplies I didn’t need just to have a chance to see her. She was here for a short stay and left. It crushed me. I spent an entire year working outside trying to bury the lonely feeling only to go into town one day to get mail and find her there, looking for me.” “That’s such a beautiful story,” Anna said. Much more beautiful than meeting a woman in a letter... “The rest I’m sure you can understand.” “May I ask where everything happened?” Anna asked. “If you’re wondering about the bed, it didn’t happen there. You see, Rachel woke one morning with terrible pains in her stomach. I feared for her and the baby. We rushed to town and she went to the local doctor’s house to be checked. I was told I’d be a father very shortly. It was all too exciting until I heard the sound of Thomas Jr. crying and didn’t hear the sound of Rachel crying or celebrating. She... she just didn’t make it. Too much bleeding is what the doctor told me.” “Thomas, you don’t have to...” “I do,” Thomas said. “I do.” He paused for a few seconds. The only sound was the wheels of carriage crushing small stones into dirt beneath them. “I held her long before I held my son. The doctor thankfully rushed to find Josephine, who quite honestly saved my son’s life. And mine too in so many ways. I held Rachel for hours and then I had to make all the necessary arrangements for her burial. With that, I was left with a child to raise.” “I’m so happy Jo was there for you,” Anna said. “If you weren’t here, Thomas, I’d... I’d be lost.” “Anna, I’ve never felt the way I do right now,” Thomas said. The town came into view. Anna knew there wasn’t much time left for their conversation. “There’s a feeling I’ve been fighting,” Thomas said. “I look at you and everything keeps changing, for the better. I don’t know how to let her go and not lose her forever.” “You have Thomas Jr.,” Anna said. “That’s God’s way of making sure she’s present everyday in your life.” “I want you to mother Thomas Jr.,” Thomas said. “Without worry or remorse.” “If you want that, I’ll do it.” They came to a stop a few minutes later at which point Thomas took Anna by her hand. Anna could sense something happening, she just didn’t know what. “Anna, I have something to say,” Thomas said. “Please,” Anna replied. “You’re not just my wife. I love you, Anna.” Such an important thing for Thomas to say as he stepped down from the carriage. Anna could barely think straight. Walking through town, as husband and wife, Thomas slipped his hand into Anna’s. Anna couldn’t help but notice how Thomas nodded to everyone, said his hellos and goodbyes to everyone he spoke with. At the post office, Anna took out the leftover money from Thomas to pay for the postage but Thomas refused. He insisted on paying. Perhaps it was his way of entering her family too. Anna knew she’d never see her family again - and that included Mary, which sadly did hurt her - but the gesture from Thomas meant the world to her. Anna gathered plenty of food for the house, as Thomas insisted she do. He never failed to mention how good Anna’s cooking was. Anna secretly enjoyed the attention because she hoped it compensated for what she couldn’t provide. The day went along in a giant blur, but a good one at that. It was the first time Anna came to town and felt part of it. It was the first time she really felt people looked at her and appreciated her. People looked at she and Thomas and they all smiled, knowing Thomas’s tragedy and nothing more. And that was okay with Anna. She didn’t need to share her story and take away from Thomas. He was the most important person in that town as far as she was concerned. Once they boarded the carriage again and Thomas commanded the horse to travel, Anna found herself actually yawning. She was tired! It had been that kind of day, a long but satisfying day, physically, mentally, and even spiritually. “To speak of your letters again,” Thomas said, interrupting a peaceful Kansas silence and scenery. “Yes,” Anna said. “I would never compare you to Rachel,” Thomas said. “I would never expect you to be Rachel. I would never ask you for that.” “Thank you,” Anna said. “I’d say the same about William, but it would be unfair to you. William was cruel and you, Thomas, are a great man.” “So that was forced?” Now Anna suddenly had the tables turned on her. “Yes,” she said. “He wanted something from me and my parents sought to better themselves financially and socially. I can’t hate them for it because without the marriage - even though it ended - my parents would have lost their farm and house.” “That’s a terrible story to hear,” Thomas said. “A year of that.” “A whole year. By the end of it, I was mostly numb. I hated myself for not having a child. I felt my purpose in the world hadn’t been given to me. And nobody helped me until I met Mary.” “Well, my Anna, you have purpose,” Thomas said. “You have a lot of purpose.” The rest of the ride was casual conversation, mostly Anna asking random questions about farming, loving how excited Thomas got when he spoke about it. How his eyes lit up, how his hands moved, sometimes even confusing the horse. By the time they were back to the house, Anna knew three things. One, Thomas loved Thomas Jr. with all his heart. Two, Thomas loved to farm and provide for his family. Three, Anna felt like she had a home and a family. Finally. That evening Anna cooked a large meal, enough to feed a family twice the size she belonged to. It pained her to cook so much for so few people but Thomas insisted. Everyone ate until they were full and beyond, flirting with the cardinal sin of gluttony, but it certainly felt good. It felt good to have work and love come together and allow something good to happen. Thomas Jr. smiled at his father and Anna even played a game with the infant, holding a piece of cloth up to her face and dropping it fast, making sounds, sending Thomas Jr. into fits of laughter that were just too addicting for anyone else to pass up. By the time the game came to an end, Jo had to wipe her eyes of tears, Thomas had to catch his breath, and poor Thomas Jr. had a bought of hiccups. Anna then stood to clear the table, loving the atmosphere of the house. That night after Jo fed Thomas Jr. before retiring for the evening, she found Anna and handed her the baby. “He’s all yours,” Jo said. “Mine? Have you fed him?” Anna’s sudden motherly instincts wanted to make sure Thomas Jr. was properly cared for. “Of course I did,” Jo said, so calmly. “I normally rock him to sleep. But that’s no longer my job. His mother should do that.” His mother. Two words that felt as powerful as when Thomas spoke I love you. Anna took Thomas Jr. into her arms and watched as Jo left. Anna began rocking the baby and stared down at him. She wasn’t sure she should say anything as his eyes looked heavy and ready to close any second. She went back to humming the same set of notes from the night before and in the matter of a second, Thomas Jr. was asleep. Anna took the baby - her son - to the nursery and properly set him down for a night’s rest. She did take a minute or two to stare at the sleeping infant. She felt something powerful. The kind of love she’d been wanting to feel for such a long time. A short while later, Anna was in bed next to Thomas. His hand interlocked with hers. They were both silent but awake. Anna knew Thomas was awake by the movement of his hand. He kept moving his fingers, sometimes rubbing Anna’s hand, sometimes tickling her. Either way, he touched her and Anna wanted it. When the bed shook and Anna felt Thomas’s breath on her neck, all her nerves began to tingle. From her toes to her hair, she felt something happening. The attraction was like electricity in her body. A moment later, Thomas’s lips kissed her neck and slowly moved down to her shoulder. “Oh, my Anna,” Thomas said, “how I love you right now.” “I love you too, Thomas,” Anna said. She turned her head and saw the faintest outline of her husband. It was him and that’s all that mattered. They kissed and casually began to embrace. When Thomas’s lips parted, forcing Anna’s to do the same, Anna knew things were going to move beyond a kiss or a casual whisper. The feeling buried inside her had been almost aching for Thomas. His hands began to touch Anna everywhere, helping her tonight to take her nightgown off. Once it fell from her body, Thomas’s strong hands touched her breasts. He cupped her breasts and his callused thumbs teased at her nipples, sending a wild sensation running through her body. His lips didn’t leave her lips, only breaking for a short minute as Thomas stripped off his own clothing. But even then his lips were right back to hers, easing Anna’s head down to the bed as he climbed on top of her. Anna opened her legs, almost with too much eagerness. She almost felt wrong for wanting Thomas so bad. But then Thomas placed his body to hers and all those thoughts were torn away. They didn’t matter at all as Thomas entered Anna. It felt like it had been years, instead of days, and Anna let Thomas know that by the loud moan she offered. It echoed in the room and Thomas placed his mouth to Anna’s ear. “My Anna,” he whispered, “you’ll wake our son...” Our son. Anna held Thomas at his tough shoulders, his warm skin hard with muscle as he loved her body. Anna placed her lips next to her hand at his shoulder and used his body to muffle her sounds of enjoyment. And that’s what it was... enjoyment. Each second that went by she felt closer to Thomas. Their passion wasn’t afraid to show now that everything had been set free. In those heated moments together, feeling Thomas move at her with a speed and thrust that took her breath and made her feel more alive, she knew why Thomas spoke to her when he did. They had spoken while they traveled, leaving it all out there, on the road. In the house, in the room, in the bed, that’s where they created something new. Thomas came and kissed Anna long after their passion ended. When he finally did roll off her body and fall asleep, Anna felt a wild spark surge through her body. Her eyes shut as she prayed, simply thanking God for all she had. Chapter Thirteen Between cooking, cleaning, caring for Thomas Jr. now in every way possible except feeding him, loving Thomas in any way she could imagine, Anna lost track of time. They had gone into town and even though Anna knew it was long shot, she still checked with the post office. But no mail had come for her. She knew it would be a while still before her sister or Mary would have a chance to write back to her. If they even did. That thought though didn’t bother her as much as it would have a few weeks ago. And that’s when Anna’s mind kicked in. A few weeks ago. She tried to exactly pinpoint when she had mailed the letters to Abigail and Mary. The more she thought, the more she scrambled until the days and weeks started to line up. Then a realization came to Anna. It had been over a month. Actually, it had been five weeks total. Five weeks then became six, seven, and finally at eight weeks, Anna woke one morning to make breakfast and the urge to be sick hit her out of nowhere with no chance of stopping it. As she became sick, both Jo and Thomas were at her sides, checking on her. “Are you ill?” Thomas asked, his voice touching on desperation. “No,” Anna said. “I just had to... vomit...” The urge passed and Anna stood back up, feeling okay. She looked at Jo and Jo tried to hide a smile that couldn’t be stopped. “Why are you smiling?” Thomas snapped at her. “Nothing,” Jo said. “Let me check on Thomas Jr..” Jo left the kitchen and Thomas touched Anna’s arm. “Are you sure you’re okay?” “Fine,” Anna said. She finished breakfast and even ate. She had a second helping which didn’t seem smart, but her body begged for the food. After that, each morning, almost on a schedule she vomited one time. By the fourth day, she worried she had come down with something serious. Thomas felt the same and when she did vomit, he was there, touching her back, his face looking horribly worried. But Jo never looked worried, not one bit. She always smiled. Of all things to do while a person was so sick! It wasn’t until the seventh morning of becoming sick did Anna finally grow tired of it. She wept after being sick, running from the kitchen, scared to death of what it could mean. She cried on the bed and it was Jo who opened the door. Jo smiled again and sat next to Anna, right there on the bed. “I know it’s scary, sweet Anna,” Jo whispered. “Scary? How would you know? I’m sick, Jo, and I don’t know what it means. Did I eat something? Did I catch something in town? Jo... will I die?” “Oh my heavens,” Jo said, “you really haven’t figured it out, have you?” Anna’s stomach rumbled. Now came the hunger. She touched her stomach and felt that it was slightly harder than before. Almost like it was trying to push itself out. Like... like she... “Anna,” Jo said, “you’re pregnant.” She looked at Jo and just like that the room began to spin. Just like that first day she met Thomas and felt her knees buckle, this time Anna’s entire body buckled. She fell towards Jo and then everything went black. Within that blackness Anna heard a voice whispering, over and over, taunting her, teasing her, breaking her heart each time she heard it. You’re pregnant... you’re pregnant... you’re pregnant... When Anna opened her eyes, she found herself whispering, “I’m pregnant...” “Anna, look at me,” Jo’s voice said. “Look at me right now.” Anna’s eyes fluttered as Jo came into view. Jo held her and gently sat her back up on the bed. “Jo... what did you say that for?” Anna asked. “You are,” Jo whispered. “Can’t you see it?” “How? Why?” “Sweet Anna, you and Thomas have been together... quite a bit... and you’re sick each morning, you eat like a horse would eat...” “I’m pregnant?” Anna asked, trying to allow herself to actually hear the words and understand what they meant. “I’m not a doctor, sweet Anna, but I’ve seen it enough times to know,” Jo said. Anna held her stomach again, pressing harder for a few seconds, wishing she could feel more proof. Of course, if she were pregnant it wasn’t that far along at all, meaning there was no chance a baby could move and give her a sign of life. But... a baby? In her womb? Anna shook her head. She took her hands off her stomach and put them to the bed. “There’s no way,” Anna said. “Just... no way...” Anna stood and felt woozy. Dizzy. Her stomach rolled and contracted a few times. She put her hands out, trying to feel the difference between extreme hunger and the need to vomit. After a few seconds went by, Anna took a deep breath and moved towards the door. She looked over her shoulder at Jo, who still sat, so patiently, on the bed. “Jo, I can’t,” Anna said. “You don’t understand. I can’t.” Jo nodded but didn’t say a word. That bothered Anna more than anything Jo could have said, because sometimes silence spoke louder than words. Silence left Anna’s mind to fill in the blanks and that was something she didn’t like to do. At all. She walked back into the kitchen and a second later, Thomas was there, checking on her. “Are you okay?” he asked. “I’m fine,” Anna said. She looked at her husband and her mind screamed I’m pregnant! and Anna shuddered. “You look worried.” “A little,” Anna admitted. “I don’t like getting sick. But I’m okay right now and very hungry.” “I think I should take you into town, to see Dr. Hibert. He’s a very nice man. A gentle man.” Anna avoided the topic for the rest of the morning and day. Once breakfast was done, Thomas went to work. Of course Anna felt much better, her morning routine of illness and then eating had come and gone. The rest of the day Jo failed to bring the subject up and during a hearty lunch, Anna whistled and hummed, moving so fast and happily that her dress danced around her almost like a wide halo at her hips. Thomas was so enamored by the sight he made it a point to hug his wife hard, even lifting her off her feet at one point. “I see you feel better,” he said to Anna. Anna touched Thomas’s face and smiled. “I told you I did. Something little, nothing to worry about. I bet I could get out in that field with you even.” Thomas bellowed a laugh. “I’d rather you stay right here. Anna, I’ve never eaten so well in my life. And I’ve never felt so loved before.” When Thomas made comments as such it left Anna fighting the urge to think about his former wife. Were they really happy? Were they in love like he and Anna were now? Did she truly care for him? But Anna knew better than to bring that kind of stuff up. These were the present moments for she and Thomas. After Thomas left the kitchen, Anna looked down at her stomach and wondered if their future had already been claimed. Thomas Jr. had been really fussy that day too. Nothing could ease the poor baby and without the ability to speak his feeling or ailments like a child or adult could, it was difficult to soothe him. When it came time to feed, he would silently suckle Jo’s breast but then let out a wail every minute or so. It attracted the attention of both Anna and Thomas who stood with Jo and Thomas Jr. in Jo’s small room, wondering what could be causing Thomas Jr. such discomfort. Anna feared the worst, knowing just how easy it was to lose a life. The world was a beautiful place, with all of God’s creation but it could sometimes be just as cruel. Thomas knew that and Anna didn’t need to really think about it at that moment. Thomas put his arm around Anna and pulled her close. They stared at Thomas Jr. like mother and father, both caring and concerned. “I wonder if I should take him to town,” Thomas said. “Dr. Hibert will see him right now, no matter the hour I arrive.” “I’m sure he would,” Jo said. Thomas Jr. let out another wail and Anna stepped forward, almost instinctively. “May I hold him?” Anna asked. “Of course,” Jo said. Anna took the baby and Jo dressed herself while Thomas watched Anna as she begin to rock the baby gently in her arms. It was such a beautiful moment for Anna, not just becoming a mother to Thomas Jr. or feeling like a mother to Thomas Jr., but she felt the love and need to protect the infant in her arms. “Is he teething?” Anna asked. She looked at Thomas and he had a blank stare on his face. Anna knew the worry Thomas must have felt each time something happened. It had to be a reminder of... Ann closed her eyes and thought about what Jo had said earlier. Pregnant. She opened her eyes and looked at Jo, needing more than just an answer to the question she posed. “That would make sense,” Jo said. “He’s about the age.” “Wouldn’t you feel it?” Thomas asked, his eyes dark and accusing. “When the teeth break through the gums, yes,” Jo said. “But right now, he could just be in pain from the teeth pushing, trying to break through.” Thomas nodded and Anna turned towards him, wanting to be as close as possible to Thomas while she held Thomas Jr.. Thomas touched Thomas Jr.’s head and looked down at his only son. “Feel better soon,” Thomas whispered. The sound of Thomas’s voice had an amazing effect on Thomas Jr. He quickly smiled and his arms moved, wanting his father. “He just needs his father,” Anna whispered. “No,” Thomas said. “He needs his parents.” Anna smiled and Thomas hugged her gently as the three of them cuddled Thomas Jr., soothing him from his pain until he eventually fell asleep. Jo then retired to bed, saying she wanted extra sleep just in case Thomas Jr. got up a lot during the night if he was in pain. Anna quickly thanks Jo but explained it wasn’t her duty to do such a thing. “I’ll wake you if he’s hungry,” Anna said. “You enjoy a long night of sleep. Tonight is actually nice and cool, perfect weather to sleep.” “Fair enough,” Jo said with a smile. That night after the house settled into its routine slumber, Thomas rolled towards Anna in bed, his hand becoming so accustomed to touching her breasts, Anna waited for it and let out a soft moan when he did so. It was like completing the day for her body and mind. But as Thomas began to kiss her mouth, always offering a sense of passion that made Anna feel like she was the most beautiful woman in the world, a slight achy feeling came across her chest. As Anna groaned, Thomas quickly stopped, knowing it wasn’t the same sound of pleasure that Anna normally offered. “What’s wrong?” he whispered. “Oh, nothing,” Anna said. “I love you, Thomas.” Thomas loved her back, kissing her, touching her. When Thomas took his hand from her breast, Anna felt a sense of relief but a mild tenderness was still present. It had nothing to do with Thomas’s touch. He wasn’t a rough man and even if he had been, this wasn’t the kind of tender pain that came from bruising or such. This was from... inside. That was the only way Anna could describe it. Frankly, her breasts were tender. And when Thomas moved between her legs, positioning his body and coming forward with that first gentle thrust as he always did, Anna’s body tightened and she had to place her lips to Thomas’s shoulder to keep from crying out. Her toes even curled because the pressure felt so intense. It was like everything inside her body was suddenly tender and achy. Anna wanted to believe it was just coincidence that it was her female areas feeling this way, but she couldn’t deny it... it started to make a little more sense. Those were the areas given by God to reproduce and nourish. She and Thomas enjoyed each other’s company and Thomas gave Anna one last goodnight kiss and fell asleep. But Anna remained awake. She touched her right breast and even just placing her hand on her breast gave her that tender feeling. Her hand moved down to her stomach and she felt the slight hardness again. She hadn’t eaten in hours so it wasn’t a full stomach kind of feeling. It was definitely something else. Maybe Jo was right... Anna turned her head and saw the outline of her sleeping husband. Tears rushed to her eyes as she imagined how to say it. Thomas, I’m pregnant... Chapter Fourteen For the next week, something different happened in the morning. Instead of vomiting, Anna got an extremely ill feeling in her stomach and her limbs became loose and she felt as though she would pass out. When it hit her, she would just lean against something in the kitchen and breathe her way through it. There wasn’t as much pain as there was discomfort. Her stomach bile bubbled and tried to work its way up to her throat, but it was never the same vomiting as before. This put Thomas’s mind at ease. When he didn’t see his wife sick anymore, his worries subsided. He ate his breakfast and went to work as normally planned. But Jo noticed and she tried her best to secretly help Anna through it. The routine was uncanny, the feeling, the way Anna’s mind raced, and then it would just go away. Anna would then eat a large breakfast and she’d have energy for the rest of the day. Each time Jo touched Anna and consoled her, Anna prayed Jo wouldn’t bring the subject of pregnancy up. Anna couldn’t handle it when she felt normal, let alone ready to vomit or pass out. Another week went by, followed by another. Time was racing by for Anna. She continued to care for the house, for her family, and finally, Thomas Jr. had one of his teeth break through. The night it happened was a horrible night of the poor baby screaming for hours on end. Anna and Jo stayed up the entire night with him, taking turns walking and rocking him. It wasn’t until the early morning light of dawn did they see the tooth. Jo had laughed and joked, “I guess my job is going to get a little more painful now!” And Anna had to laugh at it too. She needed a good laugh. Never in her life did she feel so conflicted, not even when she was married to William. Watching Thomas work long hours and make good money, watching Jo now struggle sometimes to feed Thomas Jr., and now the changes in her own body. The changes she had to face. The sickness in the morning slowly ended, but one morning as Anna cooked breakfast she felt her belly touch the basin in the kitchen. When it happened, Anna gasped and froze. She looked down, knowing she was in the same position she always stood. It wasn’t that Anna had gotten closer to the basin, it was that Anna’s stomach had done so. When nobody was looking, Anna rushed to the bedroom and lifted her dress to expose her stomach. It was smooth but not flat. Not flat. “Not flat,” she whispered as tears rushed to her eyes. She wasn’t bulging like a pregnant woman ready to give birth in minutes, but her stomach had certainly changed. It was time to talk to Jo. Then it would be time to talk to Thomas. The rest of the morning Anna touched her stomach, unable to stop. She felt her stomach bump things it never would have a week ago and as far as her mind was concerned, she was massive now. She worried Thomas would notice and something bad would happen. During breakfast, she looked at Jo and thought of something to say. “Town,” she said “I... I’d like to go town today.” “Do you need supplies?” Thomas asked. “No,” Anna said. “I bet your friend and sister wrote back by now,” Jo offered, saving Anna. “Yes,” Anna said. “Yes.” “I hope they did,” Thomas said. “I hope they write back.” “I’ll go too,” Jo said. “We’ll take Thomas Jr. with us. He could use the trip. All those teeth coming through now, poor baby.” “Just part of life,” Thomas said. “He’ll be eating his mother’s great cooking soon!” Jo insisted on helping Anna clean up from breakfast and Anna welcomed it today, so they could get traveling as soon as possible. As much as Anna didn’t want to admit it, she needed to be away from Thomas for the moment to talk to Jo. To sort things out. To come to terms with whatever waited for her. Anna held Thomas Jr. and Jo steered the carriage. They made it no more than a minute before Anna felt herself let go. She cried almost with the same passion as when William divorced her and her family started to abandon her. “Oh, sweet Anna, you don’t need to weep over this,” Jo said. “I’m pregnant, Jo!” Anna cried out. “I get it now.” “How are you feeling?” “I’m no longer very sick in the morning, but my stomach. I can feel it, Jo.” “That’s a blessing,” Jo said. “The miracle of life.” “That means I have to tell Thomas,” Anna said. “You get to tell Thomas something beautiful. Something that maybe you two thought couldn’t happen. How is that not a blessing?” Anna looked at Jo. “I was with William for a year. Nothing ever happened. Ever.” It’s God’s way,” Jo said. “He does miraculous things every day.” “But this?” Anna asked. “What’s troubling you about it?” “Thomas!” Anna cried out. “Don’t you see it, Jo?” “See what?” “I wrote to Thomas and explained my inability to conceive. I feel as though I’ve cheated him. I’ve lied, without meaning to do so.” “And you believe Thomas doesn’t want a bigger family?” “At what cost?” That question seemed to hit home. Jo suddenly became silent. Thomas Jr. had his eyes open, looking beautiful and happy with the world. Anna stared down at the baby and took a deep breath. Thomas Jr. smiled. “What did Thomas have to give up to get this beautiful baby?” Anna asked, knowing Jo knew the answer. “Anna...” “What if it happens again?” “Anna!” Jo said. “You can’t do that.” “I can, Jo, I can. It’s happened. Did you see how worried Thomas got when I was sick in the mornings? And how he worried when Thomas was teething? He’s afraid of it. Of losing more. Of... death...” And there it was, the truth. And that truth lingered for a long time on the long ride. Anna knew Jo couldn’t say a word to fix it. All her faith and God’s will was well known, and not for a second did Anna lose faith or even think about challenging God. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t feel fear and worry. Not for herself, but for Thomas. When it came down to it, Anna would give her life for her family. She would trade her life for the life inside her. To know a baby would grow into a handsome man or beautiful woman. The same for Thomas Jr.. She’d trade her life for his, if need be. That was the motherly instinct Anna had began feeling the moment she saw Thomas Jr.. It occurred to Anna then that maybe her body was allowed to conceive because of Thomas Jr. and the miracle he was. What he meant. How he helped without knowing it. “Jo, what will Thomas think or do?” Anna asked. “He’ll be fine,” Jo said. “We’ll all be together through this. You. Me. Thomas. Thomas Jr. too.” “He lost his first wife,” Anna said. “Everyday men and woman die,” Jo said. “Every single day. They die in accidents, they die by sicknesses, they die naturally. Some die giving birth. Some mother’s live and their babies don’t make it. Does that mean we should give up living? Give up trying? Worry about death every waking second, Anna?” “Of course not,” Anna said. “But when you’re looking at it...” “You’re not facing death,” Jo said. “You have life... everywhere. You’re holding life in your arms right now. And you’re carrying life in your womb. My goodness, Anna, you are truly blessed right now.” Anna paused for a minute to think about it. As she did, she looked around her, admiring the vast land of Kansas. She thought about being on the train to Kansas. How she knew her life would never be the same and how she didn’t know exactly what that meant. Of all the things that could have gone wrong, none of them did. Thomas accepted her with strong, loving arms. Thomas Jr. accepted her with small arms and big eyes. Everything was perfect. “I’m sorry,” Anna whispered. “Sorry for what?” “For acting like this,” Anna said. “Well, you know they say pregnancy toys with a woman’s emotions,” Jo said and laughed. “You’ll probably cry a lot. You’ll get mad, and then cry some more. You’ll need bigger clothes. We’ll need more supplies.” “I’m going to be a mother,” Anna said. “Sweet Anna, you already are.” Anna looked down at Thomas Jr. and nodded. “Yes. I am. But I’ll get to carry a baby and deliver a baby...” Once in town, Anna hurried to the post office and found two letters waiting for her. What a glorious day! She held the letters tight and took deep breaths. One from Mary. One from Abigail. She knew Mary’s handwriting compared to that of her sister and the handwriting fit Mary’s personality, if that made any sense at all. “Are you going to read them now?” Jo asked. “I want to,” Anna said. “Why don’t you read them right now and then write back. Share your good news.” “I shouldn’t. Not before telling my husband.” “Thomas will know long before they receive any letters.” It was a good point and one Anna couldn’t resist as Jo offered to take Thomas Jr. and walk around town for a little while, giving Anna a chance to read and write her letters. The kind woman at the post office even allowed Anna to sit in a chair and take her time. The woman at the post office was kind enough to give Anna pen and paper to write. Anna paid for the postage up front and then some, appreciating the opportunity to stay there and write. Anna appreciated how everyone accepted her, smiled at her, and cared for her. But before she could open one of the letters she wondered what everyone would think once they found out she was pregnant. Would they pity Thomas all over again? Would they be in fear for Thomas? For Anna? Anna knew she needed to rid herself of those thoughts. She started with Mary’s letter, needing to read her words. She’d know just what to say to make Anna smile and feel at home even more. Anna - I’ve waited for what feels like my entire life! I wasn’t sure if you’d write but I’m so happy you did. And to just imagine your voice brings a smile to my face. You sounded troubled in your letter, Anna, and I hope Thomas has become the man you need. I feel he will do so. A man who lives through tragedy and has to do so alone becomes a scarred man. That’s why it could only be you to marry Thomas, Anna. Only you. I’ll be honest for a moment - the day Henry (my dear brother who is still a terrible whistler!) came and told me William had left you, I felt pain. I felt anger! How dare a man put a time limit on a woman’s body! And life! But then I thought about those letters. From Josephine first, followed by Thomas himself. I knew then it was meant to be. That very same night, Anna, I prayed! I prayed to God to bring you to me. To bring your pain to me. And it happened! God is good right now, Anna, and I hope you feel that deep inside yourself. Anna paused reading and looked down at her stomach. She touched her stomach and pressed, feeling the small belly that was going to grow each day now. She did feel something deep inside herself. Something from God. From Thomas. From the power of love. She continued reading. I also have to admit something else, Anna. I’ve been thinking of your sister quite a bit too. Right after reading your letter, I knew you’d found happiness. It may not have shown in the beginning of the letter, but at the end I knew you loved Thomas and I’m sure Thomas loves you right back. But that leaves your sister. What of her, Anna? Will she forever be in a house, grieving and alone? A woman that young, that beautiful, I couldn’t stand myself if I didn’t think of her. I hope you have written to her too. I miss you dearly, Anna, I really do. Just so you know I’ll be waiting for your response! I hope one comes soon! With love, Mary (and Henry - who is standing behind me as I write this, still whistling those God awful notes!) Anna folded the letter back up and held it to her heart and smiled. She hoped that maybe Abigail and Mary could meet. If there was one person in the world who could understand Abigail, it was Mary. Now it was time for Abigail’s letter. Anna found her hands shaking as she opened the letter, worried what her sister would think of her. What her parents would think of her. Worse yet, what kind of condition was everyone in? My sister Anna, I went to town and a letter waited for me. From you! I let out a cry, so loud, that the woman rushed to me, fearing I had injured myself. I did not expect to hear from you. I was happy to read your letter. You’ve made me happy and proud with your letter, sister Anna. You took a risk and found love. I now wait for another letter, to learn more of your new life. To learn more of your new love. And of course, how that baby is growing! I did show our parents the letter. They are at peace now. When I came back home, alone, they weren’t as surprised as they were concerned for you. Mother took too much guilt upon herself but has since snapped out of it thanks to your letter. Father works countless hours, struggling, but he has a happiness about him now. I won’t paint the perfect picture here because I am the one now, Anna, who feels like the burden. I feel in the way. I feel as though my life has stopped. I read your letter once a day. I think about the woman and her brother you mentioned, but how can I do that? How I can find another man to marry? To touch me? What will become of John? His memory makes my heart ache, Anna. I’m sorry, I don’t want this letter to worry you. I must insist you shed no tears over me! Promise me that right now! No tears for poor Abigail! I have nothing more to write, Anna. I will wait for your next letter, which I hope will come. Love, Abigail Anna folded that letter up but didn’t have the same feeling as she had with Mary’s letter. That came as no surprise. She knew her big sister still lived in pain over the death of her husband and it was no man or woman’s job to judge Abigail. Only Abigail and God could settle that. But Anna could help with words at least. Anna started with a letter to Abigail. She knew the letter was going to be short and she knew her words had to be carefully chosen. Celebrating the pregnancy could perhaps only push Abigail deeper, not to mention Anna’s own embedded fear of what had happened to Thomas’s first wife after giving birth to Thomas Jr.. Abigail - I still miss my big sister! And yes, I’ve found happiness where I am. True happiness. With love. With hope. With passion. And I know you could have the same, Abigail. But that’s your path you must travel. I can only offer my words and my support. I have written to Mary and she has responded, mentioning you, Abigail. She wants to meet you. Mary does NOT push a woman into a marriage. Her service is not that for monetary benefit. It aids Mary’s soul (which I believe has its own tragic past, but I’ve never asked). I wish for you to someday speak with Mary. On your own time and want. I write now with not many words to offer, big sister, for I fear you will grow less in love with your own life. But I have to share news that will come as a shock. I’m with child, Abigail! With child. Yes. I’m well aware of how it happened but not sure why it did. That entire year with William and nothing. But being married to Thomas... maybe it’s the truth of happiness that does it, I can’t be sure. But I am carrying a child in my womb. I’ve been sick but better now. My stomach is already changing and I can feel it. I hope this excites you, Abigail. You’ll be an aunt! But more than that, you can see what happens. How it can happen. The right opportunity. The right man. Even with pain in our hearts, it can happen. I love you and miss you dearly, Abigail. The same for our parents. I, too, will now wait for your response! Love, Anna Anna folded the letter and filled out the information needed and handed it to the woman at the post office. After a few minutes of thinking about Abigail, wishing her sister could come to Kansas and find love, Anna knew her only choice was to write the letter to Mary. To share the good news of her pregnancy and then speak of Abigail. Which she did. She explained to Mary all that happened, from getting sick and feeling the panic of an actual illness and how Jo had talked her down and explained it was pregnancy. Anna wrote how even after that, she refused to believe she carried a child and it wasn’t until that day, as she and Jo rode to town did she come to terms with the truth of the changes happening in her body, her heart – her mind. Anna even felt comfortable enough casually mentioning the physical changes and how it felt when she and Thomas were together. Anna’s cheeks burned as she wrote it. Then came the chance to speak of Abigail again. Anna left it short, but mentioned how Abigail admitted her own pain over the loss of her husband and how she feared a new husband would be a replacement. Anna could speak to those feelings, but Mary could handle it much better. The letter came out much longer than Abigail’s but that was expected. Once Anna was done in the post office, she walked through town slowly, keeping both hands on her stomach. With each step, she felt the small bump of her belly. After walking just a few minutes, she felt her body becoming sore. In the most sensitive of areas too. When she saw Jo, talking to a man who held Thomas Jr., Anna went to investigate. “Oh, there she is,” Jo said and waved to Anna. “Anna, come meet someone.” Anna walked to the Jo and the man, casually moving her hands off her stomach. She didn’t want to give anything away just yet, but she knew if a breeze pushed hard enough at her dress, the small bump of her belly might be seen. “Well, isn’t it just a great pleasure to meet you, Anna,” the man said. “I’m sorry,” Anna said, “but I...” “This is Dr. Hibert,” Jo said. Anna’s eyes widened and she accepted the man’s handshake. “Doctor,” she whispered. “Yes, that’s me. Don’t mind my age, I do have a steady hand!” Jo laughed and Anna felt her heart racing. “Jo’s been telling me quite a bit about you,” Dr. Hibert said. Anna looked at Jo. She wouldn’t have told Dr. Hibert anything, right? Not about the pregnancy. That was private knowledge and Thomas deserved to know before anyone else. “Oh,” Anna managed to say. “I must say, it is really heartwarming to know Thomas Jr. here has taken to you,” Dr. Hibert said. “I was there, obviously, when everything happened. A terrible situation, Anna, I’m sure you can agree.” “Yes,” Anna said. “But look what we have now,” Jo said. “A family,” Dr. Hibert said. “Yes, a family.” Thomas Jr. let out a little cry in protest and Jo said, “I think we need to start traveling home now.” “Yes, we should,” Anna said. “I want to make Thomas something to eat soon.” “Well don’t let me hold you up,” Dr. Hibert said. “And Anna, if you need anything, you be sure to come see me.” The look in the man’s eyes suggested he wanted to give Thomas a healthy baby and bring him to his healthy wife. Of course, that’s what Anna wanted to, but certain things in life weren’t in her control. Or Dr. Hibert’s. Some things were left in the hands of God. The ride home was quiet, leaving Anna to come to terms with one thing. Tonight, she would tell Thomas of her pregnancy. And she hoped, by God, that he would be as happy as she wanted him to be. Chapter Fifteen When the moment came, Jo sensed it and moved from the table, wanting to take Thomas Jr. with her. Anna looked at Jo and casually shook her head. Anna decided she wanted Thomas Jr. to be there for the news. Not that the infant could actually understand what was happening (not to mention he had to endure the conversation Anna had with Jo on the way to town), but Anna wanted to make a family announcement. And that’s what they were. A family. Anna touched her stomach with her right hand and thought to herself, We’re now going to be a bigger family... She looked at Thomas, her husband, her love, and smiled. “Something is different,” he said. “How so?” “I can see it in your eyes, my Anna,” he said. “Oh?” “I can look into your eyes for the rest of my life,” Thomas said, “and live in there. I’d know the weather, the seasons, the happiness surrounding you, the pain, I’d know it all. Because I can read your eyes, my Anna. That’s something I’ve never been able to do before.” “Is it because my eyes are blue?” Anna asked. “They can’t hide.” “Perhaps. Or maybe my love is that great.” “I’m glad,” Anna said. “There is something different. Something is changing, Thomas...” “Okay,” Thomas said with inquisition in his voice. Anna pushed back on her chair and put both hands to her stomach. She held the sides of her stomach, thinking about how it was going to feel in a little while when her belly was so much bigger, with a baby kicking and moving. She looked at Thomas and his eyebrows raised. “Not sure if you’ve noticed yet,” she whispered. Anna pulled at her dress, allowing her small stomach to show against the dress. “What are you saying?” Thomas asked. “I’m... I’m pregnant, Thomas.” Thomas hurried and stood up, his chair falling back and crashing to the floor. He stared at Anna, stuck between fear and anger. The mood changed so suddenly, Anna gasped for air. “Thomas...” “You said you couldn’t,” Thomas said. “I said that I didn’t in that year I was with William,” Anna said. “And when you and I were together for a while nothing happened. But now... that’s why I was sick each morning. I can feel my stomach growing already.” “No,” Thomas bellowed. He pointed a finger at Anna, shaking like a frightened child. “No. You can’t do this to me.” “We did this together,” Anna said. “Thomas, I’m healthy. We can go to Dr. Hibert and make sure...” “Healthy?” Thomas cut in. “It’s not about being healthy, Anna. She was healthy too. Right up until she gave birth. And then...” Thomas’s face turned red. “No. I can’t do this again. I can’t, Anna.” Thomas turned and to Anna’s complete shock he kicked the chair out of the way, sending it into the air and crashing against the wall. Anna thought the chair was going to break but it didn’t. When Thomas was gone, Anna slowly stood and reminded herself to breathe. The worst thing she could do now was get upset. For her sake. For Thomas’s sake. For the baby’s sake. She slowly cleaned up from dinner, starting with the chair Thomas kicked. As she stood in the kitchen washing dishes Jo came in to join her. “I heard,” Jo said. “I...” Anna looked at Jo and saw the pain in Jo’s eyes. Anna couldn’t be sure if she saw tears in Jo’s eyes because a second later, the tears flowed from her own eyes. She couldn’t control it. Jo hugged Anna and held her tight. Anna silently thanked God for having Jo there more than ever before. Anna couldn’t imagine being alone at such a delicate time. She felt lost and confused, just like she had back at home only now she carried life in her womb. It wasn’t that easy to just leave and certainly not easy to survive. Not that the thoughts entered her mind at all; the commitment to Thomas, as horribly ironic as it felt was until death came between them. She would never leave Thomas unless it was by God’s own design. “It will be okay,” Jo said, comforting Anna. “He’s scared, sweet Anna, that’s all.” “Of course he is,” Anna said. “I’m afraid I’ve let him down. That’s why I’m crying. I never thought I could carry a child. An entire year...” “Well, you are with child,” Jo said, cutting Anna off. “No use in talking about the past. Right now you have a husband in the bedroom scared half to death.” “What can I say to him?” Anna asked. “Is this how it’s going to be for the rest of my pregnancy?” “It’s not,” Jo said. “Follow your heart, Anna. That’s what brought you here in the first place. I’m always here to comfort you, but we both know there’s only person in the world who can truly comfort you.” “Thomas,” Anna whispered. “Thomas,” Jo repeated. Anna stepped back from Jo and touched her stomach. She wiped her eyes and went back to cleaning from dinner. She still had a house to take care of. Chores to complete. To ensure the house would be settled by the time everyone retired for the night. Once that was completed, Anna found Thomas standing in the bedroom, hands in his pockets, looking like a statue. “Thomas,” Anna said, “I... if I knew...” “I asked God for this,” Thomas said. The words caught Anna off guard, causing her to touch her stomach with one hand and reach for Thomas with the other. “You asked God?” “I did,” Thomas admitted. “I did.” “If so, why are you... like this?” “I said it in a moment of passion,” Thomas said. “To myself. When we were together, my Anna. Our bodies, our eyes, just everything. I thought to myself how great would it make our family if we had a baby of our own. Not that Thomas Jr. isn’t your son, but for a moment, I saw myself with you, with you carrying a child. If God heard me and did this, it’s a cruel punishment to my mending soul.” “You shouldn’t talk like that,” Anna snapped. “You can’t question God or His actions.” Thomas looked at Anna like he wanted to explode. “Anna... you’ve never...” “I am now,” Anna cut in. She rubbed her stomach. “This should be a joyous time for us! Instead, I’m worried, scared for myself and for you. For Thomas Jr. and even Jo. If anything...” Anna felt her lips quivering. She was going to lose it again. She didn’t want to do this in front of Thomas but her emotions were so intense at the moment. Between the thoughts in her mind and the changes in her body she was quite literally at the mercy of herself. She began to cry and turned, not wanting Thomas to see her. She lowered her head and wept, praying silently to God and speaking to her unborn child. She loved the life in her womb, as much as she loved the life in the next room. After a few seconds ticked by, Anna felt Thomas’s strong hands touch her shoulders. “Oh, Anna,” Thomas whispered. “This isn’t right. For you. I’m sorry.” “No,” Anna shook her head. “No. I should have known. My body...” “No,” Thomas said. “This is a miracle. This is a gift, my Anna, from God to us. We are a family already but this... this just brings it all together.” “Thomas, are you afraid?” Anna asked. “Yes,” Thomas said. “I’ll go see Dr. Hibert,” Anna said. “Every single day if I have to.” “I know you would,” Thomas said. “Anything can happen though...” Anna took a breath and got her emotions finally under control. “I’m sorry to cry like that,” Anna said. “I think that’s going to happen a lot.” “It’s fine,” Thomas said. “Now... I need you to relax.” Thomas’s right hand left Anna’s right shoulder. A second later it appeared at her stomach. His big hand held Anna’s stomach with a warmth and protection that made her cry again. “You’re carrying our child, my Anna,” Thomas said. “Our family.” Anna nodded. Our family. Sleep that night was restless as Anna kept having terrible nightmares, playing out scenes that only Thomas had lived through. Each time she woke, she touched next to her to make sure that Thomas was there. After the third nightmare, she found the bed empty. It made Anna panic because in the nightmare she had a baby but couldn’t find Thomas. It was her holding a newborn baby as it cried. She ran down a long hall, it was black as night hall, and she searched for Thomas. And that’s how she felt walking through the house only to find Thomas in the same spot she had found him the first time the bed was empty all that time ago. Sometimes it felt like a lifetime had gone by and that both she and Thomas had changed so much. But there he stood, a candle burning behind him. His eyes fixated on the window in front of him. “I had a terrible dream,” Anna said. Thomas put his arm out and Anna felt better instantly. It was a real touch from a real man. “Why are you awake?” Anna asked. “Thinking,” Thomas said. “Can I think with you?” “Yes.” Anna stood, battling her weary eyes. They felt like boulders as her muscles were sore, her private areas tender. But Anna just looked at Thomas, wishing she could protect him forever. “Is there enough room?” Thomas asked, his voice soothing but so out of the blue. “I’m sorry?” “The house. You, me, Thomas Jr., and the new baby...” “What about Jo?” Anna blurted out. She couldn’t imagine a day without Jo in the house. “Well, you know Josephine has a job here,” Thomas said. “Thomas Jr. won’t be needing her soon.” “Then she’ll leave?” Anna asked. “Yeah,” Thomas said, turning his head, looking down at Anna. “She’ll need to go work elsewhere. You understand that, right?” “I guess,” Anna said. “She’s just been here since I’ve been here...” Anna closed her eyes, forcing the emotions and hormones to calm down. “Oh, Anna,” Thomas said. “I didn’t even think of it that way. But, yes, Josephine will leave. She will find other families to help. Some in my position and some who are wealthy and prefer to have a wet nurse.” “I just can’t imagine a day without her,” Anna whispered. Thomas nodded. “Without her, I hope the house will provide for us, my Anna.” “It will,” Anna said. “There’s never a place too small to house our family. I’d sleep on the table if I had to!” Thomas laughed. It was good to hear him laugh. “Come, let’s sleep,” Thomas said. He walked Anna back to the bedroom and once there, he touched her shoulder, his hand spreading open. His fingers grazed down and when he touched Anna’s chest, she shuddered and moaned. “Does anything hurt?” Thomas asked. “A little,” Anna whispered. “But it’s okay... if you want...” “Let’s wait for a bit,” Thomas said. “I want to know. For sure. Not that I doubt you.” “Okay,” Anna said. Thomas then touched Anna’s stomach and his hand remained there until Anna fell asleep. The next passing weeks brought more changes to Anna’s body. Her small stomach started to grow. Thomas Jr. got more teeth and poor Jo looked wounded and worn out. Anna joined her in Jo’s room for a feeding and watched her reaction as Thomas Jr. fed. What once had been a tender moment between woman and baby, the gift of nourishment, was now a time of discomfort for Jo. “This is the tough part sometimes,” Jo said. “When they get their teeth early.” For a week now Thomas had been offering Thomas Jr. food, mashing up vegetables and other foods. The baby took to some. Others he completely rejected. The only thing he would actually take was Jo’s breast milk. And Jo, fulfilling all her duties, stuck it out with Thomas Jr., making sure the baby was fed and happy. After one of the feedings, Anna caught a glimpse of Jo’s poor breast and nipple. It looked so sore and tender, red, showing the obvious effects of Thomas Jr.’s new teeth. “Will I have to go through that?” Anna asked, worrying about her own body and breasts. “Maybe,” Jo said. “But it’s worth it. And it’s not forever.” That same day when Thomas came in from the fields he announced they would be traveling into town to see Dr. Hibert. To ensure Anna’s health, to celebrate the creation of life, and to purchase new clothes for Anna. Anna hated the idea of buying new clothes when she could make her own, but Thomas demanded he buy new clothing for her. She agreed to purchase only a few pieces and nothing more. When it came time to leave, Anna didn’t feel comfortable leaving Jo behind. After her conversation with Thomas about Jo’s eventual departure, it felt like time ticked away faster than ever with a growing sadness that matched the growing anticipation of the coming baby. Jo argued and stayed behind, something that Anna wept for as they left the house. Thomas had grown accustomed to Anna’s emotions, always offering a hand or a few kind words. This ride was no different. “Anna, I’ve been thinking,” Thomas said. “About?” Anna asked, drying her eyes with her free hand. She held Thomas Jr. in the other arm, the baby sitting on her lap. He loved rides in the carriage and always looked around, snapping his head side to side, not wanting to miss a thing. “Josephine,” Thomas said. “I can’t handle the thought of her leaving,” Anna said. “My heart aches, Thomas.” “She won’t leave then,” Thomas said. “How so?” “I can’t chase her away,” Thomas said. “I can’t see you upset. And you were right when you said that Josephine has been with you since you came to meet me. She even picked you up at the train depot!” “I know.” “Well, I’m going to have her stay. Even if Thomas Jr. no longer needs her, she’ll stay with us. To see you through the birth. To see you through nursing our child. Just in case...” “If I can’t feed our baby?” Anna asked. “That won’t happen,” Thomas said. “But I’d like to have Josephine with us during that time. Until she’s ready to leave.” Anna swallowed and wanted to hug Thomas. She wanted to kiss him, hold him – thank him for everything. “That means so much to me,” Anna said. “More than money. Dresses. Thoughts of a bigger house. I hope you know that.” “I do,” Thomas said. “I see it in your eyes, my Anna. I see how much Josephine means to you.” “To everyone in our house,” Anna said. “Yes,” Thomas agreed. Jo would stay and Anna knew the kind woman would argue with a smile. She felt it in her heart that Jo didn’t want to leave. But she also felt Jo would know when it was time to leave. Jo couldn’t be there forever. She wasn’t much older than Anna... in her mid-twenties, suffering in a way Anna wish she knew how to help, and working as a wet nurse to provide happiness for other families. Jo deserved the happiness, as much as Abigail did. Once they were in town, Thomas took Thomas Jr. from Anna and helped her down. There was no way to hide her belly now and Anna took pride in it. She wasn’t large but she wasn’t her normal small figure. And the moment Dr. Hibert saw Anna and Thomas, holding hands, Thomas holding Thomas Jr., Anna with a hand on her stomach, the doctor came rushing to greet them. His arms were open, his eyes wide, and he looked like he was debating on who to hug first. “Dr. Hibert,” Thomas said. “Oh, look at this,” Dr. Hibert said. “Just look at this. “I can’t... you know, I must say, Anna, you play it off very well...” “I’m sorry?” Anna asked. “Don’t think I didn’t sense something when you were in town and I saw you before. You weren’t showing like this, if at all. Your eyes...” “I always tell her that her eyes speak volumes,” Thomas said. “Can you imagine how beautiful that baby is going to be with her eyes?” Dr. Hilbert asked. “Not that our little Thomas Jr. here isn’t a catch himself.” Dr. Hibert lowered himself and allowed Thomas Jr. to grip his finger. The baby smiled and Dr. Hibert laughed. “Getting more teeth,” Dr. Hibert said. “Wonderful.” “No for Josephine,” Thomas said. Dr. Hilbert looked up. “That won’t last forever. Now, Anna, come with me, tell me how you’re feeling.” Anna found herself a minute later, sitting in a chair, staring at the doctor. “Shouldn’t I have a midwife?” Anna asked, looking between Dr. Hibert and Thomas. “I mean no harm to you, Dr. Hibert.” “None taken!” the doctor said. “We have an amazing midwife, Elinore, if you care to meet her. I, uh, would like to help you, Anna, and Thomas...” Anna watched the doctor’s mouth dry up. She looked to Thomas, who swallowed once and nodded. “Go ahead, Dr. Hibert, it’s perfectly fine.” “Are you sure?” “Yes. Please.” Dr. Hibert touched Anna’s knees. He was gentle but his eyes were stern. “You see, Anna, when Rachel went into labor, it was just wrong from the moment it began. And Elinore did all she could. An amazing woman. Honestly. I hope you do meet her, and if it would make you more comfortable, you can call on both of us. But any pain has to come to me, Anna. I can’t turn back time, but I know that if I wasn’t there during the birth of Thomas Jr., two lives would have been lost. Do you understand?” Anna nodded. She touched her stomach. The thought of losing her baby was something she never wanted to think or believe in. Of course, the risk of her baby not seeing its first year was very high, but the way Dr. Hibert looked at her, showed her she would be in great hands. “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” Anna said, “I was curious.” “Nobody is hurt,” Dr. Hibert said. “I just want to make sure that when the time comes, we have a healthy baby, a healthy mother, and a healthy family. You both deserve it.” Dr. Hibert stood and walked to Thomas, gripping his shoulder. “Thank you, Dr. Hibert,” Thomas said. “Now, Thomas, I’m going to speak with Anna privately. Exam her briefly. I want to get a plan together for this baby.” “Of course.” Thomas leaned down and kissed Anna. The kiss was perfect, turning Anna’s cheeks red and her spirits high. Dr. Hibert asked Anna, enough questions to make her mind spin. She explained her sickness in the morning. She explained how tender certain areas of her body felt, how sometimes she felt extremely tired, and how poor Thomas had to deal with her constant need to cry. And Dr. Hibert explained that nothing she had described was out of the ordinary. All normal during pregnancy. He touched her stomach, his hands rubbing the sides and the top. They made a plan to keep in touch at all times - day or night - if there was any discomfort, pain, or even a question. Then Dr. Hibert brought Thomas back into the room and made both he and Anna promise on their faith in God and the miracle he had given them that it didn’t matter if it was the middle of the night, if they needed the doctor, they would come seek him out. Anna smiled and couldn’t stop smiling when she left Dr. Hibert’s. Thomas took her hand and as they walked, a few people stopped to congratulate them on their expected baby. Everyone seemed happy, maybe even satisfying their own grief for Thomas. On the ride back to the house, Thomas Jr. fell asleep after whining a little. It had been a while since he was fed last. Thankfully the nap lasted most of the way home. Once there, Anna saw Jo standing on the porch, smiling. That’s when Anna realized she, Thomas, and Thomas Jr. just had their first real family time alone. And it hit her again that someday - maybe not soon but someday - Jo would have to leave. Anna hugged Thomas Jr. as she began to feel the emotions overtake her. She gave a crying Thomas Jr. to Jo to feed and stood in the doorway to watch. When Jo looked at Anna, there was no need for words. Everything was going to keep changing. In Anna’s body. In the house. And that was something far out of anyone’s control. Chapter Sixteen The pregnancy continued normal, Anna never had another problem in the morning and she managed to control her emotions by closing her eyes, touching her stomach, and trying to picture what the baby would look like. Would it have Thomas’s dark hair? Dark eyes? Would it have Anna’s light hair? Blue eyes? Boy? Girl? It always seemed to calm Anna down. The only real problem she had was the size of her stomach. It got in the way of everything! From cooking to cleaning to even intimate time with Thomas. Both Thomas and Jo told Anna that the baby was going to be a boy. Anna didn’t care what the sex of the baby was as long as he or she was healthy. As the months moved on, the summer came to an end, autumn came and went, and a cold winter came down. It wasn’t quite as harsh as some of the unforgiving winters in Massachusetts, and Anna didn’t mind the cold weather sometimes, helping to ease her aching body, but there were times when she felt she would never warm up. She had to sleep on her side or else the baby would kick and become irritated. Of course, Anna sometimes moved to her back on purpose just to feel the baby kick. Anna would place her hands on her belly and watch. What an amazing feeling! Those quick thuds from the inside made her heart jump and race. A life lived inside her. A life created by she and Thomas. A life that would be brother or sister to Thomas Jr.. Thomas Jr. only had a little while longer until he would no longer need the milk from Jo’s giving breast. Thomas kept his word, speaking to Jo, offering to keep her in the house for as long as she wanted to be there. At first, Jo denied the request but Thomas explained to her that if something happened... again... he wanted her there. Or if Anna couldn’t breastfeed for some reason. The excuses were poor and Jo even called Thomas out with a loud laugh, saying, “Did you see the size of Anna’s chest? She could feed two babies!” Anna laughed when she heard this and after Thomas was done talking to her, Anna went into Jo’s room to speak with her. “I hope you stay,” Anna said. “I don’t want to intrude.” “But you’re not, Jo.” Anna touched her large stomach. “Look how far along I am. It’s only weeks now, Jo, weeks. You’ve been here for everything. And not for Thomas, but for me. You were the one that wrote the first letter. You were the one who came to the train depot. Jo, if it wasn’t for you Thomas may be alone right now. And I... I...” Anna shook her head. She thought about her life back home. She thought about her big sister, Abigail. Abigail had written back to Anna, offering her happiness for the pregnancy. But the letter was short and didn’t have the confidence Anna hoped Abigail would convey to her in her letters. It had also been months since she heard from Abigail. It left Anna to wonder if Abigail had gone to see Mary and Henry. Then, just two weeks ago Mary wrote a letter, wishing Anna a safe and healthy birth. Mary wrote that she had tried to speak to Abigail, but she wasn’t interested in talking right then. It filled Anna with more emotions and worry than she really needed for that time, but Abigail was her big sister and she would always worry. “Anna, I will stay,” Jo said, breaking up Anna’s thoughts. “I would be angry with myself if I didn’t get to hold that baby at least once.” “More than once,” Anna said. “Promise me that. More than once.” “Yes. More than once, Anna.” They hugged and Anna went into the kitchen to cook dinner. Thomas did a wonderful job keeping the house warm and comfortable. They shared hearty meals, good laughs, and lots of hugs. Anna truly understood why Thomas worked so hard when he could. Without the long hours they wouldn’t have enough money for food, for heat, for shelter even. But thanks to Thomas and his strong hands and intelligence, they were able to enjoy the winter. Never before had Anna experienced this. In s they prepared for winter with prayer and understanding that some people wouldn’t make it through. After eating and after placing Thomas Jr. to bed, Anna felt soreness in her right leg. It had been a long day, an extra cold day too. She had spent a good part of the day thinking of Abigail and Mary, and had spoken with Jo about staying. It had been draining emotionally, so Anna went to bed a little earlier than normal. She wanted the night’s rest and wanted to clear her mind. In the next couple weeks, Thomas would build a crib for their new son or daughter, and Anna would continue to make the clothing for the baby. Anna’s mind started to race again with everything they wanted to get done as her eyes slowly shut. She slept sound, without a dream, right up until a pain surged through her leg, waking her with a small cry. She opened her eyes and wanted to sit up, forgetting the size of her belly. As she tried to sit up the pain transferred from her leg to her stomach. It was a horrible pain, a terrible squeezing feeling that moved deeper and deeper. There was a terrible throb from her insides down to between her legs. Anna balanced herself with one hand and turned a little, seeking any kind of relief. She placed her feet on the floor. In her mind, this was nothing a small walk couldn’t fix. The baby might have been uncomfortable or annoyed with something. Anna wanted to stand and walk. Rub her belly. Hum a song. Maybe even whisper a story like she so often did, telling how she met Thomas, loving to repeat the story and enjoy the romantic feeling it gave her. The second Anna put pressure on her feet and stood, she cried out and lost her balance. The wave of pain that shot through her body made everything appear white. The split second was perhaps the scariest of her life. She knew she was falling and she could only put her hands out and pray she wouldn’t fall on her stomach and harm the baby. When her hands hit the floor, she screamed, keeping her head down, trying to breathe. A second later, Thomas came to her aid, falling next to her, shaking as he touched her. “Anna, what is it?” he asked. “Oh, my Anna...” “The pain,” Anna whispered. “Oh, Thomas...” “No, no...” Jo came into the room a minute later. The first flicker of dawn began to show far off on the horizon. It was going to be a chilly morning and Anna turned her head and looked up at Jo, trying to read the woman’s face. “We need to get to Dr. Hibert,” Thomas said. “Yes,” Jo said. “I’ll bundle up Thomas Jr. and we can leave.” “Anna, can you stand?” Thomas asked. “No,” Anna said sharply. Her fingers clawed at the floor as the pain continued. It was a surge, a swell, then some mild relief, then all gone. Over and over. The idea of it being contractions didn’t seem to be possible. She still had weeks to go. There was so much left to do. She began to cry hysterically, losing her breath, gasping for air, trying to reach for Thomas who was busy gathering clothing and blankets and hats and gloves. “Anna, I’m right here with you,” Thomas said. “We’re going to see Dr. Hibert. Everything will be...” Thomas’s voice cracked too. He coughed and cleared his throat and tried to speak again, but it came out as a single grunting sound. Anna looked at her husband and saw the look of terror embedded in his face. Then it came to Anna... was this what happened with Rachel? Anna began to rock herself, finding some comfort and relief in the movement. One thing was for sure though, the baby did not like this position. She needed to stand, to find a way to relax the baby before anything bad happened. “Thomas, I need to stand,” Anna said. “Anna, maybe you shouldn’t...” “No, the baby is upset right now. Please.” Thomas dropped everything in his hands to the floor. He slowly lifted Anna, the ability of his muscles still amazing Anna. She swore the man could lift a horse if needed. Thomas helped Anna to sit back on the bed. Anna leaned back and put her hands to the bed. Her head fell back and she closed her eyes, trying to take deep breaths. “Anna?” Thomas asked. “Pain,” Anna whispered. “Wait...” The intense rush came and went, just like before. The pain subsided this time but didn’t completely go away. Anna took a few deep breaths and then looked at Thomas. She opened her mouth to say something when she felt a warm gush between her legs. Her eyes widened and she whimpered a series of cries. “Anna...” “Blood,” she whispered. “Is it blood? Am I...” Anna was so close to asking if she were dying. She caught herself at the last second. That was the last thing Thomas needed to hear right then. The thought of losing a second wife to the same cause as the first wife would kill him. “Josephine!” Thomas bellowed. Jo rushed into the room, carrying Thomas Jr. Jo let out a gasp and then a smiling cry. Anna looked at Jo. Smiling? “Anna, that’s your water breaking,” Jo said. “My... water...,” Anna whispered. “Anna, Thomas, the baby is coming,” Jo said. “The baby is coming!” Anna found the strength to smile and then the overall strength to stand. If the baby was coming they needed to get to Dr. Hibert right then. No questions. No hesitations. Both Jo and Thomas helped Anna into the carriage as the sun made its appearance to usher in the new day. Bright yellow rays ran along the ground, the melting frost glistening. As they started to travel, Anna looked around, trying to keep herself calm. She hoped that she would get a chance to see the house again. Such a morbid thought during labor but it’s what happened to Rachel. She got into the carriage in labor and never came home. For the ride, Jo rubbed Anna’s back, humming, whistling, hushing her, whispering to her. Telling her how strong she was. How beautiful she was. How perfect their family was going to be. Thomas Jr. was an amazing baby during the entire ride. He was wrapped up so warm and tight, Jo holding him close to her body, he was safe and sound. Anna looked at Thomas and said, “You forgot gloves.” “It’s okay,” Thomas said. Anna saw the raw redness of his hands, his knuckles looking like marbles as they shook and gripped the reigns tight. Anna knew he had to be in pain from the cold air but not an ounce of care showed on Thomas’s face. “Thank you for caring for me,” Anna said. “Thank you for caring for me,” Thomas said back. “I love you, my Anna. Please be strong right now.” “I’m strong,” Anna said and held her stomach. “Good,” Thomas said. When the town came into view, Anna smiled but the smile was stolen by another terrible pain. They were intense contractions and Anna held her legs together tight. She feared if she opened them the baby would be there. That’s how much pressure was between her legs. The pain didn’t help at all, forcing the pressure down, down, down... Once the carriage was parked, Thomas ran from it, going to seek out Dr. Hibert. Anna watched her husband run like the wind, all for the safety of herself and their baby. She thought about the first time meeting him. How she had fainted and he caught her. How they shared that look... that instant feeling of love attacking her. When Thomas came running back to the carriage, Anna met eyes with him and knew that if she never saw the house again, she could at least die with the memory of Thomas running for her. To help her. To protect her. All because he loved her. They were finally inside and warm minutes later. Anna held Jo’s hand and wept. Jo cried too. The only calm person in the room was Dr. Hibert. Thomas waited in another room, with Thomas Jr.. Dr. Hibert had sent one of his sons to get Elinore, the midwife, but there would be no time. The baby was coming. Right now. Anna faded in and out of the room, hearing the commands from the doctor sometimes clear as day and other times as a harrowing echo, as though they were a mile apart. At one point, Anna swore she felt someone touch her left shoulder but nobody stood at her left side. Dr. Hibert commanded Anna to push. To push as hard as she could. She felt the baby, she really felt it moving out of her. She heard Jo let out a loud cry of what sounded like relief. Jo said one word... “Head!” and Anna screamed as her body demanded she keep pushing. She felt she had no strength, no energy, no more life to give to this. Dr. Hibert cried out to Anna as Jo cheered her on. Anna tried to say something along the lines of Jo and Thomas being together. That was Anna’s wish as everything started to go black. The feeling in her body ended starting with her toes and rushed up fast. Everything became numb and too weak to do a thing. As the feeling overtook everywhere else, Anna heard Dr. Hibert announce one last thing. “It’s a boy!” Chapter Seventeen Anna opened her eyes and the first thing she noticed was heaven looked pretty dark. Too dark. It wasn’t like anything she thought it would be. The next thing she noticed was her mouth was dry. Too dry. And her body... her body felt... worn out. She moved her legs and a mild pain pulsed everywhere. Wasn’t heaven supposed to be comfortable? “Oh, sweet Anna, look at you...” Anna saw Jo sitting next to her, wringing out a cloth and placing it back to Anna’s head. “Jo? Did you die too?” Anna asked. Jo laughed. “Sweet Anna, nobody’s dead.” “What?” “Nobody died. You’re fine. And your baby, your son, is healthy.” Anna pulled the wet cloth from her head. She forced herself to sit up. She looked around the room. “Where? Where is he?” Her lips shook and tears filled her eyes. “With Thomas,” Jo said. “I’ll go get them.” The minute it took Jo to come back with Anna’s family was the longest minute of Anna’s life. But when Thomas walked into the room, he stood holding Thomas Jr. and a newborn baby, wrapped in a warm blanket. Anna let out a cry and felt her entire body shake. She had done it. She had given birth to a baby. A son. She and Thomas’s son. “Anna,” Thomas said as he stepped towards Anna. Jo took Thomas Jr. from Thomas and Thomas then fell to one knee, showing Anna their son. Anna touched the baby’s soft, warm face. He moved his head and his eyes slowly began to open. The second Anna saw his eyes, she knew they were the eyes of life, the eyes of love, the eyes of hope. “Oh, he’s so beautiful. Is he healthy?” “Perfectly,” another voice said. Dr. Hibert walked into the room with a woman beside him. She looked as aged as Dr. Hibert, a skinny and tall woman, looking at the picturesque scene of family. “Why did it happen so early?” Anna asked. “That’s your body,” the woman said. “This is Elinore,” Dr. Hibert said. “I came just after the baby was born,” Elinore said. “I took the baby and Dr. Hibert helped you.” “I’m okay?” “Anna,” Dr. Hilbert said. “Everything is perfect. It was just time. That baby wanted out!” “I know that,” Anna said and laughed. “You did it,” Thomas said. “No, Thomas, we did it. Together.” “So, do we have a name for this beautiful boy?” Elinore asked. Anna looked at Thomas and Thomas smiled. Both Anna and Thomas looked at Elinore. Together they said the same name. “Joseph.” There was no doubt about it. The baby deserved to be named after Jo, the woman who did so much for their family. “It’s only right and fair,” Anna said looking at Jo now. “We’ll call him Joe for short and each time we say it, we’ll think of you and smile. For all you’ve done.” “That’s too much,” Jo said. “You should name him after a male in your life, Anna.” “Jo, the baby has a name now,” Anna said. “That’s right,” Thomas said. “Joseph. Joe for short. It’s perfect.” “He looks like Joe to me,” Dr. Hibert said. “Okay, why don’t I talk to Anna in private,” Elinore said. “I want to talk about feeding the baby.” “Jo can stay,” Anna said. “She’s been a wet nurse to Thomas Jr. since he was born.” “Of course,” Elinore said. Thomas handed Anna baby Joe, giving her the chance to hold the baby outside the womb for the first time. She sat up and held her son, feeling a complete feeling that she never felt in her life. Thomas kissed her, confessed his love again and again, then left the room with Thomas Jr. and Dr. Hibert. Everything was perfect. And everything continued to be perfect, or as perfect as it could be. Once home, Anna now became mother to two boys. Thomas Jr. moved beyond the stage of crawling, trying to stand and step. He made Anna nervous all the time and Thomas with a sense of pride in his eyes. He joked with Anna that by the time the summer crops came in, Thomas Jr. could help him work in the fields. Baby Joe seemed to change everyday but his hair came in dark and stayed dark. His eyes started as a crystal blue color, reminding Anna of Abigail’s eyes. They darkened a little, settling to match the color of Anna’s eyes. It took a little while for Anna to get used to breastfeeding, even offering the baby to Jo more than once. But Jo refused, helping Anna until baby Joe finally took and continued to take to his mother’s breast. Some of the nights were long, but Anna never complained. She knew Thomas’s first wife, Rachel, would have given anything to experience a long night of a crying, fussy baby. She thought about Rachel more than she ever would confess to Thomas, wanting to keep her promise to Thomas Jr. that he would someday understand what happened to his birth mother. And that no matter what, Anna loved him with all her heart. She was Thomas Jr.’s mother for all she felt in her heart and soul. One morning after breakfast, Thomas had set out to work. Anna went into the bedroom and noticed something on the floor. It was a piece of paper and when Anna touched it, she almost instantly knew. The paper was old and dirty. It was the letter from Josephine to Mary. The letter that started it all. The letter that Mary held as a secret, waiting for Anna. The letter that quite honestly changed the lives of so many people. To imagine a few words could do so much was almost overwhelming. Without that letter, there would be no marriage. No baby Joe. Anna would have never experienced true love, true passion, carrying a baby, birthing a baby, and having the chance to meet someone so special as Jo. As Anna unfolded the letter to read it again, she felt her hands shaking. She was almost as nervous as the day she read it for the first time. It seemed so long ago. And Anna, picturing herself in her mind, seemed so innocent and lost. But now she felt like a woman. A strong, capable woman. Anna looked at the letter and scanned pieces of it, holding a hand to her mouth as she did so. My name is Josephine (you can call me Jo if you make me laugh once) and I’m writing not for the benefit of myself but for the benefit of a broken hearted, lonely man who deserves a clearer path in life... Thomas Jr. is a healthy baby, a beautiful boy with the brightest blue eyes, the happiest of smiles, and is perhaps a mirror image of his father... the moment I looked into his eyes and then into the tear filled eyes of the baby’s father, I knew I couldn’t leave them... I often find Thomas standing on the porch, looking into the distant night, lost... Anna folded the letter shut and took a deep breath. “Anna, can we talk?” It was Jo’s voice and Anna knew what it was about. That’s why she didn’t turn around right away. She didn’t want to face reality. Jo walked into the room and touched Anna’s shoulder. “I wrote how I saw Thomas with tears in his eyes,” Jo said, “and how I knew I’d stay to care for Thomas Jr. and him.” Anna finally turned around, tears in her own eyes. “And now I see the tears in your eyes, Anna, and I know my job here is done.” Anna shook her head. “No. Jo...” “You’re a beautiful woman. A perfect bride. A caring wife. A nurturing mother. And a kind friend. But you, Thomas, Thomas Jr., and Joseph... you are a family. And that family can’t include me.” “Yes it...” “Would that be fair? Me to always be here? In the way? Would I be fair to myself to live that way? Would it be fair to all the other babies who are born without mothers to feed them?” Anna closed her eyes and shook her head. “No. It wouldn’t, Jo.” “That’s why it’s time. And Anna, I maybe want to find love now too.” “Can you tell me more about yourself? Right now?” Jo smiled. “Telling anything would do no good. I’ve seen a lot in my life. I’ve lived a lot too. I, for a long time, had given up on love. That’s why when Thomas would first look at me, I hated it. I didn’t want to become a replacement wife because of my gift from God. I didn’t want to become a wife at all! But watching and you Thomas together, well, it’s done something to me. You, Anna, have a gift from God.” “What gift?” “The gift of hope. You came all the way to Kansas to a broken man. You fixed him. You allowed yourself to heal. You allowed yourself to love. You stayed patient with Thomas Jr. and you always cared for me. You were rewarded with Joseph. Your family. It’s all here.” “And you’re going to leave?” Anna asked. Jo nodded. “But I’ll always write.” “Write? Won’t you stay in town? Find work?” “I can’t be sure of what I’m going to do. Maybe I’ll write to your friend back in Massachusetts, Mary. See if she can help me.” Anna smiled. “You want to become a bride?” Jo laughed. “I’m not sure. I just know my time has come here... I have to leave.” “We can take you to town,” Anna said. “Have one last...” Jo shook her head. “I’m sorry, Anna, but I’ve made arrangements. My ride is outside waiting.” “Right now?” “Yes.” Anna felt tears fall from her eyes. Jo embraced her and rocked her. “This is the easiest way,” Jo whispered. “No need to make every moment our last and draw it out. I’ll always care for you, sweet Anna. And I swear I will write.” “I will too,” Anna said. “And Jo... here...” Anna pushed the letter to Jo’s hand. “No.” “Yes,” Anna said. “Because if you ever lose faith, I want you to read the letter you wrote to Mary. To know and remember just how much you changed our lives.” “Okay, I’ll keep it.” Jo stared at Anna and somehow the two women still found the ability to laugh. They laughed at nothing, literally nothing. But they still laughed, wanting to make sure the last few minutes together were spent laughing. When Jo boarded the carriage and looked back at Anna and Thomas - and Thomas Jr. and baby Joe - she waved and smiled. Anna held her tears back and smiled, waving. She took one of baby Joe’s little hands and waved to Jo. She secretly hoped Jo would have a change of heart and jump off the carriage, but that didn’t happen. The carriage started to move and a few minutes later, it was gone. Swallowed up by the horizon, taking Jo to another path. Her own path, the one she deserved. Long after the carriage was gone, Anna still stood with Thomas, Thomas Jr., and baby Joe outside. Thomas’s strong arm held Anna close and tight. Thomas Jr. made noises and baby Joe started to get fussy. He was hungry. Anna looked up at her husband as Thomas looked down at her. They smiled at the same time. “I love you, Thomas,” Anna said. “And I’m going to miss Jo so much.” “Me too,” Thomas said. Anna took a deep breath. This was it. This was her life. Everything she wanted, she had. She turned and switched baby Joe to the other arm. Thomas did the same and now the family of four stared at the house. Their house. The house where Thomas and Anna fell in love. The house where Thomas Jr. learned to walk. The house where they created the life that became baby Joe. The house where true love healed them all and created a family, now and forever. Don’t miss the next novel in the Mail Order Romance series: Finding Love West Eliza knows her time at home has come to an end, but now what? After deciding to take a chance as a mail order bride, she finds herself in Kansas, and torn between two brothers. She’s married to Clyde, who is not the man his brother, Henry, is. There’s secrets about Clyde… secrets that can become deadly. There’s secrets about Henry too… those that can change Eliza’s life for the better. But ultimately, it’s Eliza who has the biggest secret of all.

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