Life as It Was
Lily lifted the large package from the counter, enjoying the way the paper crinkled in her hands. Carefully shifting the package to one arm, she opened the door to the post office and was momentarily surprised by the feel of a warm breeze against her face. It was a sign that perhaps there would be some rain to break up the warm dry spell the town had been experiencing for the last few weeks. She really hoped they would get a few more cold rain spells before summer began because the crops needed it. Stepping outside, the teacher smiled at the buzz of the small town in the early morning. They may have been close to the frontier, but Silverton was thriving. Her family had been instrumental in its founding several decades earlier, prioritizing learning and knowledge as the town grew. Unlike many western towns where saloons tended to be the main place to congregate, Silverton had managed to establish a post office, library, and general shop early in its history. None of these buildings were as fancy or modern as could be found back east, but they were far better than what most other small towns near the frontier had. There was a good reason why the new railroads had passed close to Silverton; it was one of the last locations that felt like it had all the modern necessities before entering the wilds of the western front.
While her family had been influential in building the town, most of them had long since left. Perhaps the most surprising person who had left was her grandfather, who had been nearly the sole financial backer for the town in its early days. He had made most of his money in the silver mines and had been generous in spending his fortune. Despite all his effort to help build a town where his family could be comfortable and happy, though, he had not wanted to stay. He left the town nearly two decades ago to live a more raucous life that was incongruent with the life her parents wanted for her.
By the time she was born, Lily and her parents were the last ones to stay within the boundaries of Silverton. Apart from a few trips with her parents to visit some distant relatives, she had been in Silverton her entire life. At that time, her grandfather had still spent time there, but it was no longer his primary residence. Now in her late 20s, Lily had very little memory of her grandfather, which occasionally rankled at the back of her mind. The decision to cut ties with him had been her parents’ because after the last time he had been at her parents’ home when she was still a child, something had happened that led to her parents forbidding him from revisiting them. Not long after that, he had left Silverton and never returned. Since her parents’ deaths, Lily had received only a couple of letters from him, always from somewhere new. It showed that he had never really settled down, making the estrangement permanent even after the rest of her family had died.
“Good morning, Ms. Lily!” A husky voice greeted her, pulling the young woman out of her reverie.
Tilting her face up to greet the man on the horse, a wide smile spread across her delicate features, causing her hazel eyes to crinkle at the edges. The man gave a quick tip of his hat as she replied, “Good morning, Mr. Smith. How is Henriette doing?”
The tall man beamed at her, the dirt on his face highlighting his soft brown eyes. It was clear he had set to work early that morning around his farm and had not bothered to clean up before coming into town, likely to run an errand for his wife. “She’s doing well. Doing well. The baby won’t quite let her be otherwise.”
Lily laughed, the package making the soft crinkling sound as if to accompany her in her mirth. “I can imagine. I look forward to teaching your son once he’s ready for school.”
“You may want to rethink that. He’s got a set of lungs on him that you would not believe.”
“Ah, he takes after his father then?” she chided him, causing the man to shake his head and laugh.
Wiping a large hand over his face and stroking his beard a little, the man replied, “You will never let it go, will you?”
“Never,” she responded without pause.
This got another hearty laugh from the man. “I’ll let her know that you asked after her. And don’t forget, you are always welcome to stop by and say hello. When you have some free time.”
“Thank you, Mr. Smith. I may try to make it over sometime this month. But don’t worry. I will send along a warning so that poor Henriette doesn’t have to feel that she needs to take care of you, the children, and an unexpected guest.”
“You wound me.” He made a mocking gesture with his hand over his heart. Giving her a big smile and a tilt of his hat, Mr. Smith said, “Have a lovely day. And do take good care of yourself. The town counts on you nearly as much as our children do.”
A sense of warmth spread through her as Lily smiled at him, “Thank you for saying so. I will make sure to stay well. For the sake of the children. After all, I wouldn’t want little Tommy to lose all his progress. He nearly knows the full alphabet.”
This got an appreciative nod from the man. “Maybe I’ll have him teach me someday.”
“I’m sure he would love that.” Lily shifted the package under her hands as it started to feel a bit heavier. “Have a lovely day. And give my regards to Henriette.”
The man took off down the main road and turned toward his farm, which was not too far from the town’s center. Lily continued walking home, her mind once again on her package. People greeted her most of the way home, but no one else tried to engage her in conversation since most were busy getting on with their daily tasks.
Once she reached home, Lily headed to her room to clean up and try on the new dress. There was still a little over an hour before she would need to be at the school – just enough time to see how one particular dress fit her. She rarely purchased new clothing from a catalog, so this felt like a real treat. Her best friend, Sarah Walker, had sent Lilly the catalog, highlighting the dresses she thought Lily needed. Usually, Lily would just glance through the book, but Sarah had been absolutely right this time. The green cotton dress with white trim and small periwinkle flowers was exactly the kind that Lily loved. And once she had broken down and decided to buy one dress, Lily knew it made sense to buy several more because she could save a little on the delivery costs. Ultimately, it meant spending most of her clothing budget that year, but Lily knew she wouldn’t regret it. There were five dresses and some undergarments that she could use for years.
Lily went to the bathroom to clean up after her walk home. She did not want to get dirt from the road on her dresses, so she dipped her hands in a small basin with fresh water. She then poured a little water over a rag and washed her face. Looking up, she saw that her carefully styled auburn hair was starting to come undone. A few ringlets had come out as she walked home and were now slightly damp from cleaning her face.
It’s going to get more mussed up after I try on the dress, she thought as her hazel eyes looked back at her.
Feeling a little giddy, she hurried into the bedroom where she had placed the package on the bed. Unwrapping the first part of the package, she sorted out each separately wrapped article. Carefully, she unwrapped each of them, hanging up the dresses and folding up the undergarments until all the packages were open. After putting away the undergarments in her drawers, Lily looked at the green dress with a smile. She held out the arms and thought that it looked much better than it had on the catalog pages. Feeling too excited to wait, Lily removed the dress she was wearing and put it aside to be washed. Even though it was risky to wear a new dress to school on a Monday, she couldn’t wait to wear it around town. Slipping it on and carefully arranging it over her undergarments, Lily headed to the standing mirror in the corner of the room. The mirror had been a gift from her grandfather to her mother when Lily was still young. Even now, Lily still thought about how stunning her mother looked, fussing around in front of it before going out for a night with Lily’s father. It had been several years since then, but when Lily looked at herself in the mirror, she couldn’t miss her resemblance to her mother. The auburn hair was now halfway undone, and many locks cascaded over her shoulders and halfway down her back. But that wasn’t what Lily was seeing at that moment as she looked at how the dress flattered her slender frame. She was a bit tall for a woman, standing at 5 foot 6 inches, but the dress looked as if it was tailor-made for her. Running her hands down her stomach to smooth out the wrinkles, Lily couldn’t have been more pleased with the purchase.
“I will need to wear this the next time I see Sarah,” she muttered to herself in the mirror.
She and her best friend had not seen each other in years, not since Sarah had married a man several towns over. Sarah now lived a life of entertaining prominent people in the surrounding communities. Lily was always entertained by her friend’s accounts of the latest gathering, event, or grand opening, all thanks to her husband’s business connections. It made Lily happy to know that her friend had found a man who could treat her well and give her the kinds of things that Sarah had always wanted. Now that they had a couple of children, though, Lily knew that the only way to see her friend was to go and visit her. As the only schoolteacher in Silverton, that was not easy. She had meant to make it out to visit Sarah for several years now but had not found the time because there was always something she needed to do for the school. As a result, the friends relied on regular letters to each other to ensure they didn’t miss the important parts of each other’s lives.
Fully dressed, Lily began to restyle her hair, pulling the thick mass of auburn into a tight bun that could withstand a lot more movement. Schooling a couple of dozen children aged 6 to 16 required that she be active most of the day.
With a final look at herself in the mirror, Lily picked up a few books and placed them in a bag before heading out the door. As soon as she walked outside, Lily looked out at the clear blue sky with puffy white clouds. It provided a gentle contrast to the mountain range far on the horizon and the swaying fields stretching along the land toward the mountains. It was easy to take it as a good omen for how the day would go. In most regions around them, the school term was only about 130 days long, largely so that students could help at their family farms. Lily structured the school in a way that allowed it to be open for roughly ten months out of the year. There was little point in holding classes during the dead of winter because it was difficult for the families living several miles away to send their children to school through several feet of snow.
For the rest of the year, though, she kept different hours based on what the families needed so that their children could get a better education. It also meant those families could save a little because Lily was more than happy to prepare meals for her students. Having well-fed students not only made the school work easier for the children to follow, but it was also a great way to bond with the students. The more she learned about each one personally, the better she could tailor the teachings to their strengths and help them where they had problems. Since she had taken over the role of teacher nearly a decade earlier, several students who had graduated from the school had gone on to higher education in some cities miles away from home. She had tried to promote the idea that her students go on to get an education because she knew how beneficial it was. Even if the students returned to farm, the school would teach them things that would make them better at working with the crops and animals. New, more effective farming methods and tools to be successful were constantly being invented. Learning about them would give the students a much easier way of improving their own lives down the road.
There was something incredibly gratifying about watching children learn and grow that made Lily feel her life had a purpose. Her parents had always been supportive of her getting an education herself, and it had been very easy to decide that she wanted to be a teacher. A nearby teaching college had accepted her, and her parents had been more than happy to let her go instead of pressuring her to marry and settle down. She loved the experience, and when she returned to the town, Lily quickly took over the school. That did not stop some of Silverton’s more traditionally-minded people from talking about her still being single. As someone from a family of means and money, many people had expected her to settle down at 18 with some wealthy businessman, banker, or another major figure. Now, at 28 years old, she was considered an old maid. With most of the town believing that she was sacrificing herself to teach the children, she constantly dealt with people trying to set her up with young men. Usually, the man was a distant relative, a farmer who needed help in a nearby town, or someone twice her age. Everyone seemed to want to set her up with a man who needed a woman to support him, not a man who had much to offer her. Now that she was older, it was as if people saw her as someone desperate to marry. They really couldn’t have been more wrong. Lily was perfectly happy with her life, and she knew if she were to marry, it would have to be because she and the man were well-suited for each other, not because a man needed a woman – any woman – to take care of him. What really irked her was that the people trying to set her up with men who she didn’t feel were a good fit were usually those who were pleased with her work with their children. It was ironic how the people failed to realize that if she were to marry the men they suggested, they would lose her as a teacher. Lily always gave these well-intentioned acquaintances a pleasant smile and held her tongue when they started discussing how she needed to settle down, though she would occasionally point out that if she were to settle down, they would need a new teacher. When they proved unable to stop, she would carefully extricate herself from the conversation, usually saying she needed to prepare for school the next day. She never followed up on any of the recommendations, and Lily had learned how to avoid talking about it again, typically by discussing a child’s progress. It was difficult for parents to focus on setting her up when someone wanted to talk about their children.
As much as she seemed to resist the recommendations by others, Lily was not against the idea of getting married and settling down, but she needed to have the right person before making that kind of commitment. Despite it having been about a decade since her parents had died, she still remembered how well they complemented each other. They clearly loved each other, but there was more to it than that. Her parents had worked together in a way she hadn’t seen in the other families around the town. Her father had not shied away from doing “woman’s work” when her mother was feeling unwell because he wanted her to get better. There were times when her mother could see her father was struggling with something, and she would simply act, helping him with whatever he was doing. Sometimes, it didn’t even seem that they needed to talk. They just knew how to work with each other in an inspiring way. It was a level of connectivity that Lily wanted and one that she was increasingly losing faith she would find. The last thing she wanted was to be a woman who was largely trapped in a home raising the children, cooking meals, and working on the farm for someone who took her for granted. She wanted more for her life.
And that was exactly what she got as Silverton’s teacher.
As she neared the school, Lily happily greeted the students as they hurried toward the building, their metal pails swinging in their hands. The younger students tended to move with more exuberance, and it wasn’t entirely uncommon for there to be a couple of bruised thighs over the course of the week because of this. There was a bit more caution in their hellos because it had only been a few weeks since a body had been found a few miles outside town. No one seemed to know who the man was, but he had clearly been shot. This suggested some outlaw activity nearby, but several weeks had passed with no further incidents. The discovery still caused the townspeople to be a little more on edge than normal. Even the children seemed aware of the slight change in the town’s mood and their more guarded greetings. Lily knew how to put them at ease, helping them to forget about the rumors and getting their minds on their work.
The school day passed all too quickly, with the two older children nearing graduation helping some of the youngest. Lily had already finished teaching them everything they needed to know before graduation, giving her more time to help teach the other younger teenagers. Both of the two older teenagers were also whip-smart, and many of the younger children were in awe of them. When it came to teaching, she couldn’t have asked for better help to ensure that every student had dedicated attention to better understand what they were learning. Every day was down to a predictable cycle where she worked with the different age levels after assigning work to each grade level. As they moved into the later part of spring, the focus was on preparing students to round out the school session before moving to the next grade. With so much of her attention on trying to make sure the students would pass their current grade levels, the day felt like it had just started when she looked up and saw the time on the clock. Shaking her head, she wrapped up the lesson and dismissed her students. She waved to the happy faces as they hurried out of the school building, eager to have fun on the way home. Once the room was cleared, Lily turned to clean up the small messes before heading home.
“Um, Miss Spenser?”
Lily looked up from the books she had been organizing on the bookshelf. “Oh, Brandon. How can I help you?”
The 16-year-old shuffled a little further into the room, his eyes cast down on the floor. “I was just wondering if I could get a recommendation.”
Wiping her hands on the skirt of her dress, Lily happily replied. “Of course! What kind of recommendation do you need?”
His eyes darted toward the door as if he was afraid someone would hear him. “I’m hoping to get a job working at the railroad. And I … I don’t know where to start.”
Lily felt her heart melt a little at how shy the young man could be. He was easily one of the smartest children she had ever taught but lacked confidence. “I’ll tell you what, Brandon.” He looked up at her, concern clearly etched on his face. She smiled, trying to set him at ease before continuing, “First, let’s go to the library to look up a few things you need. I think Mrs. Branson compiled some information when they were constructing the station a few years back, and she’ll likely have that stored somewhere safe among the back books. Then, once we know what tasks you must complete, I’ll write you a glowing recommendation. But I do expect something in return.”
He swallowed hard, his hands gripping the sides of his pants in his nervous tell. “I’ll do what I can, but my family doesn’t–”
Lily gave a little laugh. “All I want is for you to practice speaking in a mirror. Here.” She went over to the bookshelf and pulled out a small set of speeches. “Practice these in the mirror.”
“But miss, I don’t want to be a good speaker.”
“You don’t need to be a good public speaker, Brandon. But you must work on your confidence when you do speak. Even privately. Watch yourself when you start going through some of these passages. You’ll see that you have some nervous habits that make it obvious you are nervous about speaking up.” Gently, she reached out and touched his arm. “You are a brilliant young man. Let other people see that when you talk. After all, if you go work for the railroad, you will have a lot of reasons to be confident. Practice now, and you will go much farther faster.”
Hesitantly, he took the book. “I will bring this back.”
She smiled at him. “I know you will. If you want, you can also use some of your own writings. You have a good command of English, so if you get bored with these speeches, your own writings are just as good for practicing.”
His cheeks turned pinkish at her praise. “Thank you, Miss Spenser.”
“It’s my pleasure. You start practicing tonight, and we’ll plan to go to the library tomorrow. Don’t forget to talk to your parents about it first.”
Nodding so vigorously that his sandy blond hair bounced on his head, Brandon thanked her. As he hurried out the door, a shadow fell over it. Thinking that another student had returned to talk to her, Lily moved toward the door. To her surprise, the visitor was an adult.
“Oh,” a tall man stopped just as he reached the doorway at the same time that Lily reached it. The smart navy-blue outfit made it obvious that he was a courier. Clearly not expecting her to be at the door, he stared at her for a moment; then he gave his hat a quick tilt.
Lily had no idea who the stranger was, but she figured he was there about one of the students. After all, this was when some businesses sought to hire apprentices and helpers. With a gentle smile, she addressed the man, “How may I help you?”
“Are you,” he looked down at something in his hands, “Miss Spenser?” His light brown eyes met hers.
“Yes, I am.”
“I have a letter for you from Howell and Parsons.”
The smile slid from her face. Lily had never heard of any families in the area called Howell or Parsons, so she couldn’t imagine who was sending her something through such a high price courier. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know anyone by those names. Are you sure the letter is for me?”
He held out the letter, saying, “They are legal partners in New York City. I’m quite certain they intended this letter for you since it is addressed to Miss Spenser, and you have already agreed that is you.”
His cold smile was strangely comforting, so she reached out and took the letter. She flipped it over as if the purpose would be written somewhere on the large envelope. She couldn’t imagine why anyone from a law firm in a large city would have anything to do with her.
“Could you please sign for it? Right here.” He held out a small book with a strange-looking implement.
She took the small device and looked at it. “Oh. I have something like this at home. This looks considerably newer, though.”
The man smiled at her. “Yes. Mr. Howell, one of the partners, loves to have the newest technology on hand. This is a very new type of fountain pen.” He looked into the classroom, his eyes finally resting on the clock. “And apparently, he’s not the only one. That is a very nice clock for a school.”
Lily turned back and looked at it, a fond smile spreading across her face. “It was a gift to my parents. I figured it made more sense to bring it to school so the children can learn from it instead of keeping it around my home where only I can enjoy it.”
The courier nodded but didn’t have anything to say as he waited for her to sign.
Bringing her attention back to the task at hand, Lily looked at the pen, then down to the small book to write on the line next to the law firm’s name. “I’m not sure why anyone from a law firm would contact me.”
Taking the book and pen from her, the man replied, “I really couldn’t say, ma’am. Good day.” With a careful tip of his dark blue hat, the man turned and left the school building, his brisk steps quickly fading as Lily turned back into the school. Neither of them had any idea just how much this simple interaction would shift the town’s future and upend Lily’s life.
None of those changes would be immediate, but they would change the lives of nearly everyone she knew. And it would be the first time that Lily would realize since her parents’ death that there are times when even she needed help.
Another Town, Another Departure
Pausing to wipe some sweat from his brow, Jack allowed himself a momentary sense of satisfaction. When he had arrived in the area about ten months ago, he had found a large group of would-be settlers floundering as they tried to establish their town. While it was too early to say that the town was thriving, there were more than enough signs that it was rapidly going in the right direction. Several travelers had arrived in the last couple of months, saying they had heard about the burgeoning town. And they were not people Jack had specifically asked to come and help build the town.
“You’ve been a real help here, Jack,” one of the men working with him offered.
“Help?” Another of the workers said with sarcasm clear in his tone. “If he hadn’t come along, I think you fools wouldn’t have made it through the first winter.”
“Oh, hush, Joseph. You’ll give him a big head.” The middle-aged man stopped working on the field and leaned on the tool. His black hair was mixed with a good bit of white, and the stubble on his face was only a few days old. The smile lines around his mouth hinted at the optimism that was a part of who he was. Removing his hat and fanning himself, the speaker added, “Besides, we did have a backup plan.”
Joseph laughed, causing his clear blue eyes to shine. “Sure. A backup. William, you can’t even put together an initial plan. If you could, you wouldn’t need to haul me off into the wilds with you.”
Jack watched the exchange with a hint of a grin on his face. This was a conversation the pair had regularly, but it was always done in good humor. Joseph McDowell was William’s nephew, but the pair were incredibly different in appearance and personality. The elder McDowell had raised Joseph after his parents had died, but it was as if the roles were reversed. Joseph tended to be more level-headed and realistic, where his uncle was idealistic and optimistic, nearly to a fault. Their family was one of two prominent families behind the push to start the new town. Joseph was the one who had invited Jack to stay once he began to understand just how ill-prepared the settlers were.
The younger McDowell turned to him now. “What do you say Jack? Are you the town’s guardian angel?”
“Not at all. I think I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.”
With a hearty laugh, William said, “Always so modest. Even I will give you more credit than that.”
Joseph finally stopped working and looked at the small town. “We were the ones who were lucky.” Turning to look at Jack, he asked, “Are you sure you have to go?”
“I’m sure that it’s time for me to get moving. Your town should be just fine, and there’s a wide world out there for me to explore.” That wasn’t strictly true, as he planned to spend time with one of his friends, but there was no need to go into those details. Once he was gone, Jack hoped to have a few months where he didn’t have so much on his shoulders.
“Ah, restless youth,” William mused, a glint in his eye.
The smile on Jack’s face spread, “Says the man who helped lead an entire group of settlers out west to start a new town.”
“Ah, there is the difference. You roam. I looked for a new place to put down roots.”
Joseph cut in and said, “I think you are just looking for the right place to put down roots. It’s just a shame that it isn’t here.”
William looked at his nephew, the gears in his head clearly working. With a pensive expression, he asked Jack, “Are you sure you don’t want to stay? A few young ladies would be more than happy to help you settle down.”
With a hearty laugh, Jack dismissed the idea. “I might settle down someday. I’m not one to know what the future holds. But I know that the time is not yet come.”
There was a knowing look on Joseph’s face as he offered, “Are you certain you’ll know when you find it?”
Even after all the months with the young man, Jack was surprised by how perceptive he was. Joseph reminded him of his friend Daniel, who had settled down around the same age. It was a question that Daniel had regularly asked Jack. It was a question that even Jack had periodically asked himself without answer ever since leaving his father’s ranch. After reflecting on it once again following Joseph’s inquiry, he said with his usual honesty, “I can’t say that I am. But hopefully, I’ll be smart enough to recognize it.”
Always one to insert a bit of optimism, William provided his own perspective. “You were able to help us with our settlement. No doubt you are smart enough, as long as you make sure to give yourself adequate attention.”
“Thank you for your vote of confidence, William. I really hope you are right.”
The three men soon resumed their work as the sun rose on the horizon. Originally, Jack had planned to leave that morning, and his bags were all packed back at his cabin on the edge of the settlement. However, the 32-year-old always had a difficult time turning down a request for assistance. This time, the request had come from Joseph, which meant it was almost certainly something that needed Jack’s attention. After all, Joseph had been the one that had helped convince many of the others they would be alright, so if he felt that Jack was the man to help them with one last job, Jack wasn’t going to turn the 25-year-old down. Just as Joseph had promised, the task did take only a few hours, and once it was finished, a small group approached the three men, bringing presents with them.
Jack would soon learn that the task had been little more than a ruse. Several women in the town had been working hard to complete an outfit for him. One of the families who had arrived within the last few months were acquaintances of his, and when he had notified them of the new town, the five-member family had left their remote settlement to join the town. The wife was a seamstress and had been teaching other women her art. Not wanting Jack to leave without something to show their deep appreciation, many of the women in the town had gotten together to plan and make a gift to show their appreciation for him. Of course, it had taken them longer than they had thought. To ensure they had a little more time to perfect their gifts, they had gotten Joseph to convince Jack to stay a little longer. Not to be outdone, several men had brought together some instruments and set up a small area. As Jack looked around, he realized that whether or not they had meant to do it, the town had managed to give him the going-away party he had turned down several times.
With a smile and a shake of his head, he finally turned to thank them for their graciousness despite his being so stubborn. Touched by their gifts and effusive gratitude, Jack postponed his departure by a day. Not that he would tell them. Though they meant well, Jack already knew where he was heading next, and leaving too late in the day was far too risky. Since his cabin was more removed, he felt certain he could stay without attracting too much attention. Then he would be able to slip away in the morning. For now, the people were keen on making sure he knew just how grateful they were that he had stumbled upon them when they were starting to despair of success in their endeavor.
One of the women approached Jack, smiling as she looked at a few men who brought out their instruments to start playing. “Well, Jack. It looks like the simple gift-giving ceremony is going to become a day’s long celebration.”
Jack watched the men start to play, and moments later, a few people began to dance to the music. “I can’t say that I mind too much.”
“I would have thought you would be in a rush to get out of here.” Her face turned to him, her long chestnut hair gently blowing in the breeze. “Aren’t you heading out to see Daniel?”
Nodding his head, Jack folded his arms over his broad chest. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen him.” Then, turning, he smiled at his friend. “Did you know his wife’s pregnant with their fifth child?”
Giving her head a little shake, the woman sighed, “I’m glad I turned him down then. I think that two is my limit.”
Laughing, Jack replied, “I can see that about you, Rebecca. You are a bit more like me. A little too restless for your own good.”
Her face turned, and her soft brown eyes watched Joseph, among the men playing music. “I don’t know. I think I’ve finally found a place where I belong.” She pursed her lips a little as she looked at Jack from the corner of her eye. “I’m not certain that you will ever be of a settling mind.”
“I like to think that I could find that someday.” He leaned over and said, “I think Joseph would be a lucky man if you are willing to stay.”
Her expression was whimsical as her eyes followed his movement. “I don’t know why he would consider me, with our different backgrounds.”
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your background. Besides, out here, your past is not what’s important – it’s what you do with the opportunity you are given.”
She sighed. “I don’t know if that’s how everyone feels, though.”
Jack shifted his body so he was looking at her. “Rebecca, you are a good woman who has had a difficult life. You survived so much because you are strong. If Joseph is half as intelligent as I suspect, he will marry you by the end of the year.”
“You are only saying that because you are my friend.”
“I say it because it is true. Look, I invited you here not just because I thought they would benefit from having you here but because I thought you could find the fresh beginning you wanted.”
Rebecca turned her gaze back to the impromptu party. “You have brought nearly as many people to the town as they brought on their own.”
“It wasn’t possible for me to fill all the roles they needed.”
“Did you know what you were getting into when you stopped to help them build that well?”
“I did not. If I had known, I would have come better prepared.”
They both laughed, then their conversation turned to a few other topics until Rebecca decided she needed a bit more to drink.
Once she had excused herself, Jack walked over to Joseph, who was taking a break from playing guitar. Jack gave him a stern look, “Since you fooled me into sticking around a bit longer, I think you owe me some time with your guitar.”
Joseph looked down at it, then back up at Jack. “Are you asking if you can play?”
Finally, Jack smiled. “If you don’t mind.”
“I think they are going to strike up again soon.”
“I’ll fill in for you for a bit. It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to play.”
“I didn’t know you could.” Joseph handed the guitar over to Jack. “You really are a man of many skills.”
Moving his fingers along the neck, Jack replied, “I’m not nearly as talented as you, but I think I can hold my own.” Joseph tilted his head and was about to walk away when Jack added, “Rebecca needs a dance partner. Think you could help her out?”
Joseph stopped and looked at him. “Are you trying to play matchmaker, Jack?”
After strumming a couple of times, Jack looked up at him with a half-smile. Joseph stared at him for a moment, then looked around the people. When his eyes landed on Rebecca, he said, “I don’t think she would be interested in someone so ignorant of how things work.”
“I think you give yourself too little credit. Perhaps you were ignorant when you arrived, but now you are nearly as knowledgeable as anyone here.”
Joseph watched Rebecca moving around and talking to other people. “Do you think she’s ready? It’s been, what, less than two years since her husband died?”
“I think that is something you two can figure out. If you pluck up the courage to talk to her.”
Wiping his hand on his pants, Joseph considered Jack’s words. Taking a deep breath, he headed over to the group where Rebecca was chatting animatedly about some of her experiences on the road. His body was a little too stiff as he started chatting with them, but soon Rebecca helped put him at ease. Jack smiled and turned his attention back to the other members who were getting ready to play again.
Several hours later, the celebration wrapped up so that people could get enough sleep before the sun rose. Jack was preparing to head to his cabin when a voice called out to him.
“Hello Jack.” The voice was too flirty and cheerful for his liking, but he knew he would have to talk to the woman approaching him. It was not how he wanted the day to end.
After closing his cool blue eyes for a second and taking a deep breath, he turned with a forced smile. “Good evening, Miss Bennett. “He gave a small tip of his hat, letting a curl of his locks out in the breeze.
“It is now,” she said, her approach much too forward for the situation. Sandra Bennett pouted a little at him. “I was starting to think you have been avoiding me.”
“Not at all, miss.” He strove to keep his responses short so she would take the hint. However, she was a determined young woman.
“It looks like you have decided to stay a little longer. Perhaps you are reconsidering leaving us?”
“I could not refuse the kindness and gratitude being shown. There was no reason to take off today since I can make up the time on the road.”
Her angelic smile dropped a little as Sandra was displeased with his response. Quickly hitching the smile back in place, she reached up and tried to touch his arm. The young woman was really going against decorum to talk to him like this, and Jack was not about to fuel any speculation about their relationship. He was well aware of the number of people still around after the celebration ended, and he had no doubt that was what she was counting on with her latest brazen attempt for his attention. He looked around, trying to make sure her father wasn’t around to see her latest play to get him to give in to her desire to start courting. Knowing just how much she could damage her reputation if she kept it up, Jack sent up a silent prayer of thanks that she would not be able to follow him to his cabin that night. This would be his last encounter with her, ensuring she would not have any further opportunities to cause tongues to wag. He took a large step away from Sandra as she tried to move closer.
“We have grown so close, Jack.” Her voice was a bit higher than usual, and he couldn’t help tensing when she called him by his given name. “Surely you feel it too.”
With a firm shake of his head, Jack took another step away from her and folded his arms over his pecks. “We haven’t grown any closer than I’ve grown to anyone else in the town. I’m not the person who can bring out the best in you.”
“You don’t know that.”
He gave her a half smile as he uttered, “I can say that with absolute certainty. You will go back to the city soon enough to live with your mother. I will never be happy in the city, and you couldn’t possibly be happy living so far away from what you’ve known most of your life. You’ve even said so yourself.”
She pouted up at him. “But love always triumphs, Jack.”
“Spoken like someone who has too few years to understand the reality of life.”
Her pout deepened. “I’m 17 years old, nearly old enough to be considered an old woman.” At her words, Jack couldn’t help raising his eyebrows at her. “I should be married in the next year, and I want my husband to be you.”
“Ms. Bennett, I am more than twice your age. If you are nearly an old woman, that makes me ancient. That is hardly a good fit for such a beautiful, refined young woman.”
Her breath hitched at his words. When Sandra spoke, it was barely above a whisper, “You think I’m beautiful?” Then a smile broke out over her face. “I knew you weren’t trying to give me the mitten.”
Silently cursing his poor choice of words in trying to soften what he was saying, Jack tried a different tactic. “I am only one of many who would freely admit what is clear. But that doesn’t make me a good fit for you. I’m not trying to give you the mitten, Ms. Bennett; I’m trying to get you to open your eyes, so you realize how wrong you are about us being well-suited for each other.” Stepping away again, he said, “It really has been a pleasure getting to know you and everyone in the town. Someday, I look forward to seeing you and the lovely family you’ve built. I wish you the best.”
He did not give her time to respond because he knew the young woman would be unable to keep from arguing with him. Ms. Bennett always got what she wanted and wasn’t very good at taking no for an answer. Standing around talking to her would just give her hope that she could change his mind. Apparently, she had come out west under the very strange idea that she would find the man of her dreams by leaving the city. He got the distinct impression that her real goal in coming out west was to find a man she could tame and take back to the cities. The very thought of feeling trapped in a city made him shudder as he strode away from her. When Jack showed up and helped build the town, she quickly became certain he was her destiny, and nothing he said could change her mind. Even though she was going back home to attend a school where she would learn how to be a respectable young woman and become a good wife to a man with means. Still so young, Sandra had ideas in her head about the west despite what the experience should have taught her. And it seemed certain that what she thought was most important was taming a man – and she had set her eyes on him. Jack knew women like her, and eventually she would learn that those ideas rarely worked in reality. Hopefully, she would realize that before having an experience that taught her the hard way. Jack had met plenty of men over the years who would have taken advantage of her naivete, especially since her parents had money. He also had enough experience to know that nothing he said would mean anything to her if it wasn’t to accept her advances.
Jack hurried to his horse, Star, his strides far too quick for her to keep up with him. He expertly undid the reins and mounted his horse long before she could reach him. Turning to the small group of people cleaning up from the celebration, he gave a tip of his hat, and then the traveler took off for his cabin.
It was a slightly bitter note to end his time in the town, but then, there was always something bittersweet about leaving every place he had been. With little left to do to prepare to leave, he washed up and headed to bed a bit earlier than usual.
As soon as the sun rose the next day, he would hit the road. For the first time in a few years, he knew exactly where he was going and why he was going there. As he and Rebecca had discussed, their mutual friend Daniel Brown was preparing for another child. From the sound of it, the pregnancy had been a particularly difficult one. Even though Daniel had not asked for help, Jack knew there was much he could do to help around the ranch, giving Daniel and his wife more time to focus on ensuring the baby was born healthy.
That night, Jack went to sleep thinking about his friend and his family. It was the first time since he had arrived in the burgeoning town that it was no longer his primary concern. When the morning came, he wasted no time getting all his belongings in the saddlebags.
Once he had everything, he looked at the open road as he patted his horse’s neck. Then Jack smiled at his horse. “You’re a good girl, Star.” She snorted approvingly at him and nodded her head. He moved over to get in the saddle. “Are you ready to leave here and look for greener pastures?”
From the way Star whinnied, he felt like she was laughing at the idea. “Hey, there’s always hope, girl. You don’t have to be such a cynic.”
Without looking back, Jack headed off on his next adventure.
“Silver Threads of Destiny” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
The beloved school teacher of a quiet western town, Lily Spenser was content until she received a message. Following the death of her estranged grandfather, she become the owner of an abandoned silver mine. Unfortunately, she had no idea how to run a business, let alone something in such a cutthroat industry. Her problems are further compounded by saloon owner Thomas Blackwood decides to increase his attempts to woo her into marriage, despite years of her refusing his advances. When he starts to undermine her attempts to get the mines working again, she is faced with a fight she can’t win on her own.
Can Lily keep her reputation and the respect of the town, or is the silver mine simply too much?
Jack Turner has wondered the west for over a decade. As much as he’s loved the experience, he’s starting to feel the desire for a stable life. When he arrived in Silverton to meet with his cousin, Thomas Blackwood, Jack found himself drawn to the determined woman in the library. After finding out what his cousin’s role in her problems, Jack’s strong sense of justice causes him to join her cause.
What neither of them know is that there is something much bigger going on behind the scenes.
Working together, Lily and Jack start to see progress as the mine reopens. However, this is only the beginning of a much bigger battle against someone with substantial power. The more success the pair find, the more perilous their situation becomes. As their situation becomes more dire, the pair begin to realize just how important they’ve become to each other. Is that just another complication, or can they make it work? Or is everything doomed to fail?
“Silver Threads of Destiny” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 70,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.