Day One Hundred Thirty Two
What, except that I want a life of my own choosing, not one someone else has planned and shaped for me. That’s why I left home in the first place. I would be worse than a fool to throw myself into the same kind of trap after having traveled so far and been through so much.
Of course, resolutions made alone on a lake at sunrise look quite different over the breakfast table a couple hours later.
“But we got Eddy,” Charles said.
“That’s not the point.”
“And once we clear all the overgrowth, the place will be visible from the road again, and you’ll have no more worries about safety.”
“That’s not it, either.”
“We’ll hold a community barn-raising for you. Your farm will be up and running in no time.”
I pushed my plate of half-eaten eggs away. “Are you even listening? Those are your dreams, not mine.”
“You don’t dream of having your own horse farm someday?”
“Well, yes. But not like this. I want it to be something I’ve earned, not something I’m given.”
“Consider it a loan, then. We’ll figure out what it costs, we’ll draw up an accounting book and you’ll pay me back when you can.”
I laughed. “Right. Like you would ever in a million years take goods or money from me. Please. Do whatever you like with the land, but don’t give it to me. I can’t stay.”
We talked around each other some more, not reaching any sort of understanding. Finally Charles sulked off to check his traps and I began gathering my gear, getting everything ready for travel.
In the afternoon, I took Flecha out again, and when I returned I worked oil into her saddle and bridle, and mended a fraying spot on her saddle blanket. When I went to the house, I found Charles trying to skin and quarter a rabbit, and not getting very far with it, due to his injured arm. He let me take over, and I tried to make cheerful conversation, but I wasn’t fooling him, and he didn’t say much.
We ate supper in strained silence, but as had happened so often in the past, a little wine relaxed him afterwards, and he joined me on the sofa where I was reinforcing the stitches on a shirt sleeve that I had torn and had already mended once. I wished I had time to get a new shirt, but there would be no more delays. I would take Flecha to see Rachel tomorrow, and if all was well I would pack my bags and leave the next morning. If I had to take to the road in rags, so be it.
“You think you’re about done with that?”
I looked up from my work. “I suppose. Why?”
“I thought it would be nice to walk down to the lake.”
“In the dark?”
“It’s pretty at night.”
It felt like forever since the night we rowed on the water by moonlight. I stood up and let him take my hand.
We went down to the dock and sat on the edge. The water sparkled, more full of stars than the sky.
“I’m sorry we can’t take the boat out,” he said. “But my arm will be better soon.”
I didn’t answer. His arm wouldn’t be healed before I left. It was tempting to stay long enough for one more ride out on the water, but I pushed that thought aside.
“You know,” he said, drawing me to him, “When I said before that you didn’t have to accept Peggy’s land, I meant it. And when I said you could stay here, I meant that, too.”
I nodded. Of course I knew.
“But I didn’t mean that you had to live here as my mistress. I know we haven’t known each other long, but would you marry me?”
I had been leaning against him, but now I sat straight up.
“I don’t mean right away, of course, unless that’s what you want. But I don’t want you thinking I don’t respect you. I’d like you to be my wife.”
Damn it, why hadn’t I told him about Will from the very beginning? It was too late now to tell him I was already married. He would think I had been hiding it from him on purpose, to make him look like a fool. Not that my sham of a marriage mattered much—I could probably marry again here in the United States and no one would ever be the wiser. But I didn’t want to get married and live my life in Missouri. It wasn’t the plan. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s got nothing to do with how I feel about you, but I just can’t.”
Charles stood up and stared at me for what felt like several minutes, but couldn’t possibly have been that long. “Fine,” he said. Then he turned and went back toward the house. I let him go, and after I lost sight of him in the dark, I turned back to the water, but didn’t really see it. I tried to think, but as usual in times of crisis, useful thoughts wouldn’t come. All I knew was that I had failed this man who had done so much for me, and it was a deep, physical pain that seemed to fill every organ and made my heart beat in strange little jerks. And the worst of it was that I couldn’t even cry to let it all out.
I lay back against the boards of the dock and stared up at the sky. I remembered once talking with Will about the stars, wondering if there were other worlds up there. I thought they must be cold and I wouldn’t like them. Now I wished I were on the coldest, most frozen of them all, so I could freeze all the pain I was feeling and know only numbness.
But of course the cool spring breeze continued, and the rough boards felt warm under my back. In a bush somewhere, a night bird sang, its song like liquid notes of water. I got up, brushed myself off, and went back to the house. I went to Charles’ room, thinking I would talk with him, try to make him understand. But his door was closed and I lacked the courage to try to open it. If it opened, what then? And if he had locked me out, I don’t think I could’ve lived with it.
I guess I’ll try to sleep now. I don’t know what else to do. But I am still leaving. He’s not going to guilt me into staying here.
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