|This falls toward the end of the series finale, |
'Til Death Do Us Part, as a young couple
faces the crossroads between hope for the
future and another heart-wrenching loss.
Breathe in. Breathe out. She tried to reduce all life to that one, simple, basic action.
The soft silkiness of the water lapped rhythmically at the edges of her consciousness as she slipped lower into its welcoming warmth. It had lost the biting heat of earlier but still provided a comforting retreat from the crisp autumn air the fireplace couldn’t quite hold back, despite the roaring fire she’d built in the primitive stone hearth.
She imagined it was the same sort of soft warmth that kept a babe sleepy in its mother’s womb, and left that infant screaming in defiance months later when pushed out into the cold, often cruel world.
Her breath sounded harsh to her ears as she sucked the air in through her mouth and blew it back out through her nose.
Despite her best efforts to completely blank her mind, it insisted on rambling frantically from one possible disastrous loss to another. Things had been going too well in her life lately. Something bad was coming soon. She could feel it in her bones. It left her cold in a way no fire or hot bath could completely thaw.
The rise and fall of her chest as she deliberately slowed each breath to half the pace her body wanted kept the water moving in gentle waves around her. It was the only movement as she lay there, thinking.
There’d been so much loss in her life. It had started with her mother… her father… then, as she’d built a new family, she’d lost those members, too, one by one, to violence and tragedy. Ike’s loss had hit her particularly hard. Though her new husband had already agreed they’d name this babe after him. Her hand moved crept across her belly to gently cup the slightly rounded mound that had been a flat plane just a few scant weeks ago. The curvature held the promise of a brighter future to blot out the dark past.
The thought of her husband brought a smile to her face. He was off at his new job. She wasn’t fond of the hours it kept him away from her, but they were still better than his old job. She didn’t fear for his life every second he was out of her sight anymore. She still missed him. She didn’t know if she could take anymore losses. But life just seemed to keep handing them out.
She’d spent the day mucking around in the dirt outside their new home. He’d suggested planting flowers, even offered to buy her a rose bush from some travelers heading west on a nearby wagon train. But her mind had turned to things more practical. With a new job in a new town and a new home, they needed food. She’d been planting onions, turnips, collard greens in her new winter garden to feed them through the hard, cold months quickly closing in on them.
The thought had her reaching over the edge of the tub to check the temperature in the bucket of what had been boiling water that she’d left near to hand. It was that perfect level of warm, not too much, not too little.
Deep breath in. Slow release. She steeled herself to move.
Sitting up she grabbed the bucket and dumped its contents over her head, rinsing away the soap she’d used to scrub her hair. The split second of heat that drenched her body was welcome. The bone deep shiver that followed in its wake, as cooling air hit overheated skin, was not.
She heard familiar steps come crunching up the porch and the door begin to creak open. Her husband was home. It was still strange to think of him as that, despite how long they’d been close before and how they’d both twisted and turned through their difficult courtship.
Husband. Such a simple word to hold so many feelings. It was strength. It was support. It was love. It was also freedom in a way she’d never really expected. She felt the edges of her lips turn up in a half smile as she reached for the toweling cloth she’d left sitting over a chair by the fire. It, at least, was still warm.
Perhaps her fears were unfounded. Maybe this time things would be good. With the Express ending the boys were no longer risking their lives to get the mail through. They were beginning to find other, often safer, jobs. Teaspoon was doing his best to keep them out of the war, despite the youthful stubbornness of Jimmy and Billy. Cassie was sure to convince Noah to stay home, she thought, maybe even move on further West. Despite the looming war she felt sure her family would sit the fighting out.
Stepping the rest of the way out of the tub, she wrapped the toweling cloth around herself bringing the sunshine saturated cloth to her nose, inhaling the comforting scent deeply. Maybe, just maybe, she could relax now and enjoy the good things in her life, assured her loved ones were safe.
He stopped dead at the sight of her. No matter how long they were together he didn’t think she would ever stop taking his breath away. She was so beautiful. He thought of the poem she’d read him the other night as they’d lain in bed, entwined beneath the warm quilts, talking about everything and nothing.
She walks in beauty… yeah. That was her, alright. His wife. She was so slight, you’d think a slight breeze would send her flying across the plains like a tumbleweed. But she was sturdy and strong, as deeply rooted in the western soil as the prairie grass outside their window. She was his Prairie Rose.
He couldn’t imagine his life without her. Best friend. Wife. Soon to be mother. Home.
He hated to break the news to her. Breathing in all that she was to him, he could hear the harshness of his lungs filling to capacity as loudly as a scream in the silent room. He stepped closer, pushing his hat back off his head and wrapping his arms around her waist, pulling her tight against his chest, offering the only comfort the could.
“Emma,” he said quietly, his rough voice scratchier than ever as he whispered into her ear, “Teaspoon just wired. It’s not good.”