The following weeks raced by as Jeremy became busier on the farm. In between calf births, he built a second barn. When he wasn’t tending to the cattle, he took to managing the corn crop. Mama sent over one of her house maids every morning to help Sally with her household duties so that she would not be overworked. After noon, Sally kept busy by taking up her painting.
She painted the clouds. Her entire world shifted on the day that the amber sky gave birth to a tornado. The skies always did fascinate her; painting them gave her life some meaning again. Most of all, it took her mind off the haunting memories during the day. At night, Michael’s kind gaze returned to her minds’ eye and she was unable to escape.
One particularly warm evening, she finished painting the pink sky, set her fresh picture on her nightstand to dry, and took a walk to the creek. When she reached it, she removed her shoes and dipped her feet into the cool water.
At the sound of Sarah’s voice, she spun around.
“Hello! This is a surprise.”
Panting from her run, Sarah appeared a little stressed, but even prettier than before now that she wore her hair up.
“Are you all right?” asked Sally.
“I am well enough, but I have some news. I didn’t want you to find out at the last minute while at church on Sunday so I hunted you down.”
“So I see.”
“Gabriel is back in town.”
Sally’s heart did a flip flop.
“Have you seen him?”
“Briefly, yes,” said Sarah. “But he’s married now.”
Taking a deep breath, Sally crossed her arms to process the startling information.
“I am sorry to be the one to tell you.”
“Thank you for telling me. He should be happy. Besides, I’m not free anymore. It’s just as well he’s settled down now.”
“Perhaps this can give you a little push in Jeremiah’s direction.”
“I’m not sure if there will ever be any affection between us. We don’t even….”
Sally stared at her shoes and toyed with her chignon, flustered.
“You don’t have to tell me.”
That was the problem. She had no one to tell things to anymore. She kept every feeling and experience bottled up inside of her until she screamed them out while alone in the field.
“I have missed you. Our school girl days seem like ages ago,” said Sarah.
“Why don’t you and Lisa speak with me much anymore?”
Sarah crossed her arms.
“Lisa’s been entertaining a new beau. They will be engaged any day now. I have been preparing for teacher’s college.”
“Oh, of course. Your parents let you finish school.”
Sarah’s eyes widened.
“Perhaps one day you could finish your studies. Education doesn’t need to end just because you’re married.”
Sally frowned at the preposterous statement. Her parents would probably disown her if she ever made her own education a priority over her marriage.
“How about months ago when neither of you were busy?” quizzed Sally. “Why didn’t you speak with me then?”
Sarah bit her lip before responding.
“There has been talk about you and Jeremiah being alone in close quarters before you were married. My parents didn’t want my reputation to be tainted along with yours.”
Sally couldn’t help but laugh bitterly. If they only knew about the reality. The only time Jeremy ever touched her was to take her by the hand when he wanted to get going somewhere.
“Well, seeing that you are so busy now, I should leave you to it,” said Sally.
She brushed past Sarah and quickly grabbed her stockings and shoes.
“Sally, wait!” called Sarah.
Sally didn’t look back as she broke into a run. She was mourning so many things at once. Her two best friends abandoned her at a time when she needed them the most. She was happy to see Sarah and Lisa go. In a year’s time, neither of them would be living in town anyway. They had places to go while she was stuck in a town she hated. It was time to move on and make the most of her new path.
She put her shoes back on once she reached the stony path and wandered over to her parents’ house. It was nearly dark, but Mama was in the garden pruning some of the bushes; she smiled wide when she saw Sally’s approach. The death of her girlhood friendships gave rise to a stronger bond with her mother. They embraced and exchanged pleasantries before going inside to have some tea and biscuits. They sat opposite to one another at the white whicker table in Mama’s tea room.
“We haven’t gone on our picnic yet,” sighed Sally. “Jeremy has been busy, but he enjoys hard work. He goes stir crazy every Sunday and finds something else better to do than spend time with me.”
Mama set her steaming teacup down and folded her hands.
“Sally, oftentimes a baby brings couples together.”
“I know, but I still don’t feel ready.”
“You’ve made that boy wait for over a year now.”
Sally had to look out the window and escape from reality for a moment. Even though they were being vague, the topic made her squirm.
“I hoped we would become closer before that happened.”
“Well, you haven’t been acting very much like a wife to him. Some of that is my fault. I spoiled you rotten.”
Mama smiled whimsically as her mind travelled to the past. Sally longed to go there with her.
“I was forced to grow up before I was ready,” blurted Sally.
“As true as that may be, you are married now and I want you to be happy. Jeremiah is going to want sons. In twenty years he won’t have the same stamina. He’s going to need help on the farm.”
“So I’ll be like his human cow?”
Mama’s jaw dropped.
“You’ve become rather feisty since reading those novels.”
Sally tried in vain to hide her smirk.
“It’s why I like painting and reading novels. In those moments when I am alone, I feel the most like myself. I’m not just a wife anymore.”
Mama leaned forward and stared intently at Sally.
“Embrace your uniqueness. That will make you a good mother and wife as long as you don’t get too lost in your own world. Sally, you need to become intimate with Jeremiah soon. The longer you wait, the harder it will be.”
Sally cringed, but nodded.
“I know how you miss our sweet Pastor Michael Davis, but forming a bond with your husband will fill some of that emptiness.”
Sally nodded begrudgingly.
“Who was Jacob, Mama? Did you know him?”
Mama blinked. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“He was Papa’s slave, wasn’t he? Did they have unfinished business?”
“Before you were born, he was our slave, yes. I don’t see why you need to know about him.”
Sally inhaled, feeling guilty. Her mother was an innocent in all of it. It didn’t seem fair to involve her.
“Sorry, Mama. I was just curious.”
“Why would you be curious about Michael’s murderer? Please stop talking about him.”
“All right, Mama.”
Mama stared forlornly out into the distance. They quietly finished their tea, said their farewells, and Sally made her way home.
It was almost dark by the time she reached her front door, but Jeremy usually worked until after dark. It would be good to curl up in bed and finish her book. She let her hair down and stepped inside and was surprised to see him already sitting at the table with a cup of steaming coffee.
“I see that you really do know your way around the kitchen,” said Sally.
He looked at her in the strangest way.
“You’re back late,” he said.
“I was painting and then lost track of time when I visited Mama.”
He smiled warmly. He rarely did that.
“That sounds like a nice day for you.”
“I also ran into Sarah.”
He leaned forward.
“How did that go?”
“Not so well,” she said with shrug.
“I’m sorry I haven’t taken you on that picnic yet. Gabriel is back in town and he’ll want to go fishing with me soon, but I promise I will take you. He’s going to be studying to be a preacher.”
A knot formed in Sally’s middle.
“Under Pastor Scottson? This is not good.”
“A very unfortunate turn of events. We can’t tell him about what happened.”
“Of course we can’t.”
Sally hoped that she wouldn’t be forced to see Gabriel too often. She couldn’t afford to feel any more pain. Every time she faced reality, every inch of her ached.
“You look beautiful with your hair let down.”
She couldn’t help feeling like a decadent dessert by the way Jeremy stared at her. It gave her a strange feeling, but she didn’t hate it.
“Jeremy, we need to get to the bottom of why they were after Jacob and why they killed Michael for it. It’s been weeks since Michael left us. We can’t let his death be in vain.”
Jeremy threw his head back and groaned.
“You think I don’t know that? Have you not seen how busy I am? If my farm doesn’t produce, we starve. I don’t have time to think.”
She rolled her eyes. “I know.”
She moved closer to him, playing with her hair. He fixed his gaze on her again. She had always thought that he was handsome, but there was something different about him that time. Something between them sparked as they stared at one another. She smiled, thinking back to some of the advice Mama had given her.
She gently touched his shoulder. As he looked up at her, lost, he appeared so boyish.
“If I kiss you now, will you promise me that you will look into it tomorrow?”
She stood over him holding his gaze.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said with a half smile.
“I’ll take that as a promise.”
She bent down and brought her lips to his.
Jeremy sat up in bed and watched Sally sleeping next to him. The rising sun’s rays streamed in through the window, falling on her hair and kissing the side of her porcelain face. He had been so obsessed with building the farm that it had taken him too long to see how beautiful she was. He leaned his head on the wall, remembering his promise to her. To find out more about Jacob.
She stirred in her sleep with a soft sigh. The sheet covered most of her body. He longed to trace his finger down her slender arm and feel her soft skin, but held back. They had been up for most of the night. He smiled at the remembrance.
He washed up, dressed for church, and brewed a fresh pot of coffee. At the sound of her light footsteps entering the kitchen, he turned to face her. She wore only her chemise. His eyes travelled down her girlish frame and then to her hair, which fell down to her waist in beautiful dark waves.
“Good morning,” she said softly.
“Good morning. I’ll make us breakfast. I was hoping that you would sleep a little longer after last night.”
She bit her lip.
Together they started frying up the bacon, sausage, and eggs. His stomach growled from hunger, but he wanted her far more than the hearty breakfast. As she poured herself a cup of coffee, he squeezed her little waist. She laughed, almost spilling the hot liquid all over the floor.
He took it from her, set it down on the table, and kissed her soft lips. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he felt a sudden, strong urge to protect her. He had been entrusted to care for this beautiful little person and he was going to make sure that she would always be safe and happy.
She gently pushed him away and they locked eyes again. She only came up to his shoulders, but she carried more power than she knew. In that moment, he would have done anything she asked.
“We need to eat and get ready for church or we’ll be late,” she whispered. “We don’t want to be murdered by Pastor Scottson.”
“I will make sure we’re not late. You’re just so beautiful. I wish we didn’t have to go anywhere.”
She laughed lightly and started preparing the plates. As they rushed through the rest of the morning and started on their trek to church, Jeremy’s mood clouded. He was going to have to find some crafty way to glean information about Jacob without appearing suspicious. He had no doubt that the elders were keeping a close watch on him and Sally. One false move could cost him everything, but he owed it to Michael. Barely twenty-five, he had given his life for a man he barely knew.
Gabriel chose a volatile time to return to the old town to take up his studies with a new wife no less. Telling him what happened would only jeopardize everyone’s safety, but not telling him would be nearly as bad. Gabriel was an idealist, but he could be led into bad doctrines without questioning them because he loved to please people more than anything else. Jeremy would need to keep a very close eye on his young friend.
It was a warm, sunny morning, but Jeremy had a feeling that another violent storm loomed on the horizon. He peered over at Sally sitting next to him in the wagon as they neared the church. He had never been so afraid of losing someone in his entire life.