Read NoRegretsColeNC Online

Authors: Christina Cole

NoRegretsColeNC (9 page)

BOOK: NoRegretsColeNC
13.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Hattie
knew her eyes went wide. “No, I haven’t heard anything, but it’s all right. I
don’t want to know.” She clapped her hands over her ears, fearful of any more
unhappy news entering. She’d already learned that both Abner and Charlotte had
once been drunken sots, and that Charlotte had made her way in life by selling
herself. Hattie couldn’t bear to hear more. She quickly picked up her napkin
and rose. “Thank you for taking time to talk to me.”

“I
suppose I should have spoken to you about Willie sooner. I’m not one who likes
telling tales, Hattie. I just hope you’ve got the good sense to see that he’s
not the sort of man you want to get involved with. You’re seeing him not as he
is, but as you want him to be.”

“I’m
trying to help him, Mrs. Kellerman. I think it’s important that he see his
strengths.”

“What
I’m trying to say is that he’s not who you think he is, and if you get
involved, you’ll be sorry. Mark my
words,
you’ll come
to regret it.”

She
shook her head. “I have to do what I believe is right.”

Charlotte’s
gaze softened. Her blue eyes looked sad. “Help him. Be his friend. But save
your heart until the right man comes along. It’s not Willie Morse. Not by a
long shot.”

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

 

As the
buggy rolled over the muddy roads the next morning on the way to church, Hattie
peered up at the still-clouded skies with despair. Her heart felt as heavy and
gray as the heavens. The rains had finally come during the night, accompanied
by violent claps of thunder and brilliant bolts of lightning that made sleep
all but impossible.

Throughout
those long, dark hours between dusk and dawn, she’d thought of little else but
Willie, wondering again why he hadn’t returned as promised. Reliability, in her
estimation, counted as one of the most important—and most necessary—aspects of
a man’s character.

Had she
misjudged Willie, after all? Could Mrs. Kellerman actually be right about him?

The
thought that her own growing interest in the man might make her blind to his
faults disturbed her. From here out, she would keep her eyes wide open and face
up to whatever truths she saw, even the most painful ones.

The
buggy jostled onward, splashing through puddles as the smartly-matched pair of
bays kept their slow but steady pace.

“We’ll
be late, Abner. I told you we should have gotten an earlier start.” Charlotte’s
eyelids were heavy, too. She must not have slept much better than Hattie.

“Being
late to church isn’t a capital offense, my dear.” The doctor patted his wife’s
hand. “I remember a time when you couldn’t be forced to even set foot in a
house of worship, and now here you are complaining if we aren’t in our seats
before the first hymn is sung.” He laughed.

“Things
change,” she reminded him. “People change.”

“That’s
right. Love does work wonders, doesn’t it?”

Hattie
noticed the way Abner squeezed Charlotte’s hand, the love between the couple
quite obvious. She wondered if she would ever find such true devotion in her
own life.

Love
had never been high on her list of priorities. Instead of setting her sights on
marriage, Hattie had planned a much different life for herself. She would serve
others. She would help, in some small way, to make the world a better place.

Meeting
Willie had caused her to rethink her future. Maybe she would like to someday
have a home and family.
A
real
family.

Hattie
quickly pushed aside thoughts of her own childhood as hoof beats sounded from
behind her. She whirled around, breaking into a huge smile as she saw Willie
chasing after the buggy. Mud splattered as the big chestnut he rode closed the
distance.

“Wait
up, Dr. Kellerman!” Her heart raced. “Please, it’s Willie.” In that moment, she
didn’t care about Charlotte’s judgmental look. She deliberately forgot the
woman’s stern counsel about getting involved with a
brute
. People did change. Charlotte and Abner themselves were
testimony to the power of love.

Not
that Hattie was falling in love. At least, not in that silly, romantic way that
left school girls giggling and fair maidens blushing. To Hattie, love was more
like the sunshine that was just beginning to break through the gloom. It was
warmth and light. It touched the earth, made the larks sing, the eagles soar,
and the rivers run to the sea. Love kissed the grasses and the gardens, and
Hattie’s own heart burst into bloom. She loved the world itself in all its
beauty.

Thank
goodness the doctor pulled the buggy to a halt, allowing Willie to catch up.
Charlotte, of course, scolded him, squawking like the noisy jays hopping
through the still-wet leaves of a nearby boxelder tree.

“We’ll
get there, dear,” he reminded her. “Stop fretting.”

Willie
doffed his cap, bid a good morning to the older couple,
then
riveted his attention on Hattie.

“I’m
sorry I couldn’t make it back yesterday.” When he spoke, his eyes held a
peculiar sadness. “My mother asked me to stay with her. I couldn’t refuse her.”

“No,
of course not.”
Her heart suddenly felt too big for her body. After all the crazy thoughts
she’d entertained—worries that perhaps he’d been involved in another mishap,
concerns that he’d lied about coming back, irrational beliefs that he might
have purposefully tried to hurt her—the truth, so plain and simple, nearly
brought tears of joy. “It was good of you to stay,” she assured him.

“I do
want to take you fishing, Hattie Mae.” With slow, awkward motions, he swung
down from the saddle. Riding had no doubt tired him. His leg, of course, was
still weak. He limped as he approached the buggy. “Will you go with me?” He
held out a hand.

“Now?”
She looked at him, looked at
Abner, looked at Charlotte. Hattie wasn’t sure if she was asking permission,
asserting her rights to answer on her own, or if she was just confused by the
young man’s unexpected arrival.

“No
better time.” He grinned. “The morning’s rain will make the fish bite.”

“Then I
suppose we should go right away.” Hattie stirred.
“If you’ll
let me out, please, Dr. Kellerman?”
Her voice faded slightly at the end
as she caught Charlotte’s disapproving glance.

“We’re
on our way to church, Hattie Mae. That’s where you need to be this morning.”

Hattie
didn’t back down. “I’m not going this morning. I think I’d much rather go
fishing with Willie. It is my day off. I should be free to spend it as I
choose.”

She
climbed down from the buggy, amused to see the somewhat shocked expression on
Willie’s face. He’d apparently expected her to meekly accede to Charlotte
Kellerman’s insistent demands.

“You’ll
regret this,” the woman warned. “It’s not wise to anger the Lord.”

Hattie
sucked in a breath. “I don’t think the Lord will consign me to hell for missing
one sermon. Goodness knows
,
Reverend Gilman tends to
repeat himself a lot, so I’ve probably already heard most of what he’ll be
speaking about.”

“Hattie
Mae Richards, you should be ashamed of yourself for talking that way.”

“Yes, I
probably should be, but I’m not. I’m being honest, and I’ve been told that it’s
never wrong to speak the truth.” She lifted her chin,
then
nodded toward Dr. Kellerman and his wife. “Enjoy the services this morning.
Give Reverend Gilman my regards. You can assure him I’ll be in the pews next
week.” Hattie waved and watched as the buggy rolled away.

Willie
grinned at her. Obviously, her little outburst had caught him by surprise, as
well. Still, nobody could be more surprised by it than Hattie herself. Most
shocking of all, she’d found it refreshing to speak her mind and not concern
herself with what others thought.

Perhaps
she should do that more often, she resolved.

 

* * *
*

 

Hattie
sat close behind Willie, loving how it felt to put her arms around him and hold
on as they rode the short distance back to the livery. He’d been there earlier,
he told her. He’d returned the wagon he’d rented for his trip to Denver, and
planned to hire a smaller one from Josiah for their fishing expedition.

“When I
saw Dr. Kellerman’s buggy go by, I knew I had to hurry. I, uh, borrowed this
horse,” he said with a grin.

“That
explains why we’re riding bareback.” She laughed to picture Willie stealing the
horse. “Oh, dear, you’ve committed a very serious crime. I hope Josiah hasn’t
already called the sheriff on you. I’d hate to see you swinging from the
gallows.”

“Would
you mourn me, Miss Hattie Mae? Would you visit my grave? Would you shed a tear
for me?”

She
puckered her lips and pretended to be deep in thought. Finally, she nodded.
“Probably so.
At least for a day or two.”

How
delightful to laugh, to be so cheerful, and to feel so much at ease. Growing
up, she’d always been painfully shy. More than once she’d been scolded for it,
reminded that nobody wanted a sourpuss who never smiled, nobody wanted a timid
little mouse too afraid to speak up.

As she
slid down from the horse’s back, then watched while Willie explained the
situation to Josiah, she held on to the wondrous, exciting new feeling that
somebody enjoyed her company, someone liked being around her. Enough to even
steal a horse!

She
remained quiet during their wagon ride out to the old creek. Willie kept up a
constant conversation, talking enough for both of them. Hattie hung onto every
word, hoping to glean as much information as possible about him and the
difficulties he’d been through. Now that Charlotte had told her about the
troubles, Hattie understood Willie even more. But hearing it from the doctor’s
wife wasn’t the same as hearing it from Willie himself.

His
conversation, however, although interesting and witty, touched on nothing
personal.

When
they reached the creek, he graciously helped her down from the wagon,
then
gathered up the fishing supplies he’d brought. He’d
parked beneath a shady tree, about twenty yards from the water’s edge.

Hattie
stayed close, determined not to offer support unless he asked—or unless the
short walk proved more than he could handle.
When he straightened
his shoulders and began putting one foot in front of the other, a slight sigh
escaped from her lips. But why should she feel disappointed that he didn’t need
her assistance?

You
don’t need a man’s touch. Only wanton women yearn for such things.

Forcing a smile to her face, Hattie
turned to gaze out toward the creek. “I do hope the fishing is good today. I’m
quite eager to see how it’s done.”

“I
can’t believe you’ve never been fishing before.” He grinned. “I thought
everyone learned to fish as a kid. It’s like a ritual, a part of growing up.”

“I
didn’t have a very conventional upbringing,” she said, immediately regretting
it and hoping he’d pry no further. She never liked to talk about her childhood,
not that being raised in a foundling home was cause for embarrassment, but
sometimes it made for awkward conversations. People with real families to look
after them simply couldn’t understand all the thoughts and feelings orphans
had. They couldn’t understand that nagging sense of loss that never went away.
In hopes of turning Willie’s attention away from her, she quickly changed the
subject. “Now that the rain’s gone, it’s quite a lovely day, don’t you think?”

“Yes,
beautiful, indeed.”

He
looked right at her as he spoke the words.

Someday
she’d have to figure out a way to keep from blushing so profusely. Hattie knew
her cheeks must be as red as the bandana she’d tied around her hair. Her tongue
suddenly felt thick and swollen.

“Well,
yes. So, how do we go about this fishing? What do we do first?”

 

* * *
*

 

Willie
considered the next two hours
to be
among the finest
of his life. In the past, whenever he’d been with a pretty girl, his mind had
fixated on only one thing: getting what every young man wanted. With Hattie, it
was different.

He
liked her wide-eyed wonderment and her eagerness to learn as he taught her to
fish. Although he’d always taken pleasure from the sport, sharing it with
Hattie made the simple act of throwing a baited hook into the water and waiting
for a bite more enjoyable than ever.

But
after a time, as the sun moved higher and the day grew warmer, they put down
the fishing rod and moved to sit beneath the shady willow. By now, his leg
ached from the day’s exertions. He carefully extended it,
then
leaned back against the tree’s broad trunk. The willow’s long, drooping
branches drew close around them like a curtain, enfolding them in a quiet
shelter.

Hattie’s
demeanor changed, the playfulness replaced now with her usual reserve. She grew
very still, with a pensive look that sparked Willie’s curiosity.

“What
are you thinking?”

She
shrugged.
“This and that.
Nothing all that important,
I suppose. You know, of course, that’s not the proper way to ask.”

“How am
I supposed to do it?”

Clearing
her throat, she squared her shoulders, folded her hands in her lap and smiled.
“If
you’re wanting
to know what’s on a person’s mind,
you’re supposed to offer a penny for their thoughts.”

“What
if a man hasn’t got a penny?”

“Oh,
dear.”
Furrows lined her brow,
then
she brightened. “If you
haven’t got a penny, a
ha’penny
will do.” She quoted
the lines of a nursery rhyme. She must have heard a lot of them growing up,
Willie surmised.

“If you
haven’t got a
ha’penny
, God bless you.”

Fortunately,
he knew the rhyme, as well. One of his governesses had taught it to him. He
wondered more about Hattie’s childhood and the education she’d received. She
never spoke of her family.

BOOK: NoRegretsColeNC
13.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

And Yet... by Christopher Hitchens
Assignment Madeleine by Edward S. Aarons
Mercy by Rhiannon Paille
Body on Fire by Sara Agnès L
Dying for Revenge by Eric Jerome Dickey
A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley
Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo