Authors: Catherine Harper
Learning To Love
Learning To Love
By Catherine Harper
Copyright © 2015 by Catherine Harper
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
"I'm sorry Mary, but I've got to let you go."
Mary looked at Albert and waited for smile to break out on his face. Being a victim of his pranks in the past she expected this to be the same. Seeing him look to the ground in embarrassment, she knew he wasn't joking.
"Well, no—not fired," Albert said, holding his hands up. "It's just that Kitty got to thinking and all—you know with the kids getting on a bit that maybe you'd been here long enough…"
Still reeling from the news, Mary tried her best to argue her case. "But you know I've nothing else around here and…"
Albert nodded. "I know. I'll make sure you get a little extra in your wage-"
"But what was it then? Did I do something wrong? Maybe I-"
"I'm sorry, it's all my fault," Albert said.
Mary shook her head and tried to make sense of the little information she had. "I'm being fired because of you?"
"It's complicated," Albert said, once more unable to look her in the eye.
"I think if I'm being let go I should at least know why," Mary asked. "After all the time I've spent here teaching your children-"
"She thinks we're having an affair."
Mary listened to the words and tried to digest what he'd said. Although an attractive man, Mary knew she'd never had any feelings for him. After all he was her employer and more importantly married. She also loved her teaching job too much to put it into jeopardy. Wondering how his wife could have jumped to this conclusion, Mary asked, "She what? How could she?—You and I never. You know I wouldn't-"
"It's my fault," Albert replied. "She's known for a while that I've been seeing someone behind her back-"
"And she thought it was me?"
"I said it was," Albert said, holding his hand's up as if expecting to be physically assaulted. "Now wait---hear me out, I had to-"
Feeling like she was punch drunk, Mary tried to keep up with the conversation and found herself falling further behind. Going from one shocking revelation to another she found her mind try to keep up and couldn't. Feeling like she was in horrible dream, she couldn't get out of, she found Albert offer her a chair.
"Please sit down, you look a little pale."
Mary pushed the chair away. "Don't you dare-"
"Now Mary, I thought it best to tell you—I couldn't tell her who I was seeing, she's married as well. People would-"
Never given a chance to finish off his sentence, Mary silenced him with a stinging slap across the face.
"And what about me? You know in one fail swoop you've ruined my reputation."
"I hadn't thought, it was first thing that I…"
Mary didn't listen to anything more. Making her way to the door, she knew any grovelling and explaining he made wouldn't undo the mess he'd made of her life. She knew what the people of Oak Grove were like. Like any small town where nothing much happened, she knew the gossip-mongers would relish the news when it eventually came out. Once done, her life would never be the same. Going to her horse and buggy she fought the tears that threatened to break free. Looking to Albert as he stood in the doorway, she knew she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry. Cracking the reins and leaving as fast as her horse could take her, she drove home in a blurred daze.
Six weeks later…
Standing on the station platform, Mary watched as the train rounded the last bend and came into view. Watching the black plume of smoke grow larger and the sound of the engine, she felt her heart beat faster. Fighting against the panic that grew as the train drew closer, she thought of the last time she'd been on a train and the wreck that her parents had perished in. Remembering the men who pulled her free she thought of the long scar that she'd had since that day. Although her scar had faded, she found her memory of the day was still as clear as when it had happened. Remembering the screams as the train had derailed and then the noise of metal bending and being torn apart, she thought it strange that she found the silence after the crash the worst part. Left alone with both her parents silent beside her she remembered the relief she'd felt as she heard the rescuers clambering over the wreckage looking for survivors. Now fighting the urge to run off the platform, she clenched the handle of her suitcase as the train rumbled in and came to a stop.
"You want a hand with that, Miss?"
Jumping as the train piped it whistle, Mary turned to find an attendant offer her a hand.
"What? Oh yes, yes please."
Giving him the bag and following him to a carriage she was glad that he taken it off her. Now giving her no excuse to turn back, she knew she'd need to fight her fear if she was to get to Woodvale. Comparing a few days traveling by horse to a few hours by train, she'd decided to go by train. Standing at the stairs of her carriage she now wondered if that was a wise choice. Seeing the man put on her bag and return to help her aboard, she found her legs refuse to move.
"Are you OK, Ma'am?"
Mary forced a smile on her face. "I'm just a little nervous."
"Don't like trains?"
"It's not that," Mary started. "Let's just say the last time I was on a train it didn't end well."
Climbing down from the carriage, he held out his hand. "I see—you want a little help?"
"Would you? I know if I could get on I'd be OK. Do you mind?"
Scooping her up in his arms, he asked, "How does on the count of three sound?"
"OK, on the count of three."
Expecting him to go on three, Mary found him count no further. Climbing the steps two at a time, he put her down and stepped back.
"Something I learned off my mother. Better to do it when you're not expecting it," he smiled. "Will you be OK now?"
"Thank you," Mary said, reaching for her purse. Opening it up and on the verge of giving him a tip, she found him refuse it.
"Think nothing of it," he beamed, climbing down to the platform. "It's not every day I have a beautiful woman as yourself in my arms."
Mary blushed as he tipped his hat.
"And you have a good trip-"
Drowned out by the steam whistle she smiled back and promised that she would. Feeling the train lurch forward, she thought it best if she found her seat. Smiling to him one more time, Mary knew there was no going back now.
Taking a seat at the window, Mary was relieved to see the outskirts of Oak Grove disappear out of sight. Seven weeks ago, she thought she's always live there and now, now she knew she'd never go back. Glad that the lie hadn't broken about her and Albert, she knew it would only be a matter of time. But that didn't matter now, opening her purse and retrieving the letter she'd received the week before, she read through it once more.
My dearest Mary,
I hope I find you well. When I heard the news that you'd agreed to become my wife I knew that that day was one of the greatest of my life. But now that it's coming closer I have to pinch myself that I'm not dreaming. Robert, my brother, finds me talking of you all the time. Sometimes he tells me that a woman as you can't be as good as the picture I painted of you. But I know you're more than that. I find myself looking at the clock and wondering if it's even moving, the days are going by so slowly. I hope you feel the same. I've made all the necessary preparations for our wedding and picked a spot where we can build our new home. I won't spoil the surprise by telling you here, but I know you'll love it. I can't wait to finally meet you.
Mary read through the letter one more time and felt her heart lift. Never one to have ever considered becoming a mail order bride, the last six weeks of correspondence had been the one thing that had kept her going. Opening her purse, she placed the letter with the others and closed it. Holding her purse on her lap and looking out the window, Mary found the train had lost its grip of her. Worried that she'd never be able to overcome her fear, she found a new appreciation for its speed and noise. Going from something that had taken two of the most important people from her, it was now doing the opposite for her. Every mile speeding through the landscape was bringing her to a new life and new love. Looking out the window she smiled as she lost herself in a daydream thinking about what lay ahead for her.
Pulling into the station, Mary cast an eye over the people on the platform and looked for James. Confused by his absence, she thought nothing of it and excitedly grabbed her luggage. Going to the steps and leaving it at the doorway, she climbed down the steps backwards and flattened down her dress. Now happier with her appearance she found an arm reach past her and take her bag from the train. Turning around to thank the stranger for his help, she found a man with a solemn look on his face.
"Are you Mary?"
"Yes. Who's asking?"
"Yes, what is this?"
Holding out a hand to shake, he replied. "I'm Robert, James brother."
Mary took the hand. "Pleased to meet you." Looking past him and finding him alone, she asked. "Where is he? Is he delayed?"
"I don't know how to say this-"
Hearing the words Mary knew whatever came next wouldn't be something she'd want to hear. "Oh God, what is it?"
"Maybe it's best if we find a seat," Robert said and gestured to a nearby bench.
Led to it, Mary sat down and tried to read his face for an answer. Taking a moment as if searching for the right words, Mary found her impatience got the better of her. "What is it? Where is he?"
Clearing his throat before beginning, Robert said, "I'm afraid James died two days ago. He was buried this morning.—I'd hoped you would have gotten the letter I'd sent-"
"This is a mistake," Mary said, shaking her head. "He can't be. I-"
"He hurt himself a few days ago. He'd been felling trees, clearing the spot he'd planned on building your home. One tree didn't fall the way he wanted it to. Although it missed him, he was left with a nasty gash on his leg. We thought we got him to the doctor in time, but with the blood loss and everything.—I'm so sorry, Mary. He was so excited about you and him…"
Mary didn't listen to anything more he said, watching his lips move she was lost to what words came out. Looking to the train she watched it pull from the station and leave her behind. Thinking of how happy she was when it pulled in, she watched her life with James travel on without her.
"Mary, are you OK?"
Feeling numb, she found herself reply. "I'd like to see his grave, please."
Nodding his head, Mary watched him pick up her bag in silence and led the way.
Standing at the freshly dug grave, Mary bent down and put her hand on the soft dirt. Wiping away a tear, she knew this would be the closest she'd ever get to touching James. Feeling the dirt in her hands now brought the wave of emotion she'd been holding back. Losing herself in a sorrow she hadn't felt since she'd lost her parents, Mary cried for all she was worth. Shaking with emotion, she cried not only for the loss of James but for everything that had left with him. She'd left Oak Grove with the meager savings she'd put away from her teaching job, but it wouldn't be enough to keep her on her own for much longer. Putting that to the back of her mind Mary felt embarrassed that she'd been thinking of herself when James had lost his life doing something for her. Reaching to a bunch of freshly cut flowers she took one and held it in her hand. Looking over it like she'd never paid attention to a flower before, she felt Robert's hand on her shoulder. Looking to him, she found him holding out a hand. Helping her back on her feet, Mary apologized. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-."
Robert shook his head. "It should be me apologizing to you. I wish I'd gone to help him that day. If I had, maybe we both wouldn't be meeting under these circumstances."
Looking to her hands and the dirt on them, Mary felt embarrassed about her appearance. "I must look a state-"
"You look fine," Robert said and took a handkerchief from his pocket. Taking her hands he wiped the palms as best he could. Looking up, he added. "I don't know what your plans are now, you'll probably want to go back to Oak Grove-"
Mary snatched her hands away. "I can't."
"There's a train in the morning-"
"I can't go back there," Mary said. "I thought that I-"
Robert shook his head. "I'm sorry, I never thought to ask, and you're probably tired. Maybe after a good night's sleep, things might seem a little better…"
Mary nodded. She knew she wasn't thinking straight right now. But the last place she wanted to go back to, was Oak Grove. Maybe after a night's rest she could make a better decision on what she'd do next.
"That's settled then. My aunt house isn't far from here. I know she'll only be too happy to put you up for the night. If that's OK?"
"That would be great, Robert. Thank you," Mary said and looked back to the grave once more. Turning back, she asked, "Do you mind if I stay a little while longer?"
"Take your time, I understand. I'll be in the buggy," Robert nodded, putting his handkerchief away.
Waiting until she was on her own, Mary once more bent down to the graveside. Putting the flower back with the others, she joined her hands and prayed for the man she'd loved and lost.