I am continuing my Monday chapter postings from my novel “The One That Got Away”. Previous chapters and the amazon link to my novel follow the excerpt.
I actually did make an appointment to see a doctor after the dumpster incident. I did not share my parking lot adventure with anyone. I described the headaches and the first fainting spell to the random doctor. He prescribed some super strong headache medicine and gave me all of the necessary paperwork to do lab work and x-rays. I filled the prescription, which cost way too much without medical insurance, and tucked the lab and x-ray referrals into the staggering pile of important papers to think about later. I was feeling rather detached. I was beginning to question my sanity because I was beginning to believe that the dreams and the woman were real in some way. I knew I would have more dreams. I wondered when. I was certain that they would not be about Roese anymore. I wondered who. I wondered how it was all connected. I wondered what the woman meant about limited time. I felt apprehensive about how I would tell this someone about all of this. I couldn’t see myself sharing this even if I did end up believing it. I am not one to share my regular thoughts, let alone thoughts as bizarre as all of this. I found a mental box for these crazy thoughts and stuffed them all inside. However, the lid would not quite close. Pieces were dangling over the edge into my daily life. It disturbed me that I seemed unable to tuck this successfully away like so many other disturbing thoughts that I had banished into my mental box gallery. I was desperate to focus on the mundane. And to focus on my Anna. My darling Anna. The sparkle of my life. She blossomed under the additional attention that I was giving her. She was no longer pouting and demanding. I pulled from the joy she so willingly exuded to bolster my sagging countenance. And kept going. Working and waiting.
The first dream about Alice began in the kaleidoscope fashion while I was sleeping. I was grabbing a much needed nap with Anna on an unusually lazy Sunday afternoon. A young woman with a thin face, sea green eyes and a mouth that was slightly quirked on one side. Her body was slender, but strong. She was attractive, but not in a classic sort of way. Hers was a simple, wholesome pretty. Her sandy hair was long and straight and almost always tied back. As a child she carefully braided it, as an adult it was always in a proper bun. The only exception was when she was in the meadow outside of town with her younger sister Polly. Polly’s name was officially Elizabeth, but she was never really called that. At these times it seemed necessary to have one’s hair flowing freely to fully experience the breeze, the sun, and nature’s simple pleasures. The girls would spend any snatches of free time under their favorite tree weaving, drawing, reading, talking and dreaming. This was their private spot away from their parents’ busy inn and Alice’s newly acquired position as the town’s school teacher. Alice was particularly fond of catching grasshoppers and toads. This pastime came to a halt when she became a teacher because Alice felt that it did not become her position. Instead, she was quite apt to provide excellent instruction to enable her students to do so and was quite bursting with scientific information concerning the small beasts. Alice also felt drawn to the families of mourning doves that would nest in the girls’ tree. Their song pulled at her heart. It sounded both sad and hopeful simultaneously. Perhaps it was like an endured sadness that knows that hope is still eternal.
The stray thoughts and images began to slow and solidify. I found myself once again studying the reflection in the silver framed mirror and firmly tucking errant strands of hair back into their proper place. I tried to make my mouth a completely straight line. It didn’t work. One corner was always slightly quirked upwards as if ready to blossom into a full smile at any moment, or as if it was waiting for a small kiss to be planted there. I pushed my mouth into a dramatic frown and the quirk disappeared.
Polly suddenly clasped my waist from behind in an excited embrace. I dropped the mirror.
Polly was undeterred. “Mama said I could bring in the lemonade,” she quipped cheerily.
“Maybe he doesn’t like lemonade.” I feigned annoyance and stooped to retrieve our grandmother’s mirror. It was hard to be cross with Polly. Her exuberance was so catchy and heartfelt. I felt a small quiver of excitement. I smoothed my hair one last time.
“Of course he’ll like Mama’s lemonade. Everyone does, Alice!” Polly exclaimed. She flitted over to the window and craned her neck to peer down the cobblestone street. “I don’t see him yet.” She turned to face me and braced her arms to lean against the window frame. “Alice,” she began in her most serious voice that was quite ruined by her twinkling eyes, “do you love Joshua?”
I honestly didn’t know how to answer this question. He was a good, upstanding man. He was hard working and kind. He wasn’t exactly handsome, but he was easy on the eyes and well groomed. But I think most importantly, he was intelligent and I sensed that he had vision. I believed that as a total package, he was a satisfactory prospect.
“Love takes time, Polly,” I answered sagely.
“Oh pshaw! Alice! You can be such a biddy!” She flopped herself dramatically on our bed and stared up at the beamed ceiling twisting her strawberry blond hair absently. “I won’t marry anyone unless I am madly in love.” She sighed dreamily.
“And you are such a silly school girl!” I grabbed my shawl and threw it squarely in her face. “Who said I was getting married anyway?” I continued coyly.
“Alice!” Polly extracted herself from my shawl and sat bolt upright on the bed. “You know he’s going to ask you. I have it on good authority from his sisters and Penny Morris.”
“Penny Morris always has her pretty little nose far too much in other people’s business,” I teased as I turned to set the mirror in its’ proper place.
“Alice, don’t tell me that you don’t notice Mama acting all funny and nervous and Papa being so serious and all,” Polly wheedled.
“I guess we’ll see,” I answered. “Look. I think I see him down the street.”
Polly jumped up and bolted to the window.“Yes!” she squealed. “It’s him! I’ll go help Mama with the lemonade and cookies.” She rushed out of the room in a burst of bustling calico.
Did I really want to marry Joshua Davenport? I think it made sense. I did believe that he was going to ask me to marry him today. I twisted my hands twice and smoothed my gray charcoal print dress. I smoothed my mind and took a deep breath before following Polly out of our bedroom. I paused in the doorway trying to decide what I should pretend to be doing when he arrived. I stepped into the parlor and scanned the book shelf for appropriate reading material. I slid my fingers around a book by Benjamin Franklin and extracted it from its neighbors. I positioned myself on the window seat and arranged my skirts in a neat, yet casual fashion. I opened the book and browsed to find a passage that might spark an interesting discussion with Joshua if I needed such a distraction. It was always prudent to have an extra conversation handy to fill an awkward pause. I felt the sun shining on my back through the window. It felt warm and encouraging. I closed my eyes and let it seep inside of me. I heard Joshua’s measured voice intermingled with the inn guests and the town’s people that were gathered in the tavern section of the house. I could hear Polly’s breathless chatter and my mother’s infrequent interjections. I listened to the familiar and comforting sounds of dishes and silverware being dragged across them and to the constant song of moving feet and creaking chairs. I accidentally left my eyes closed too long and when I opened them, Mama, Polly and Joshua were standing in the parlor doorway looking at me. I had dozed off.
I cleared my throat lightly and tried to push the cobwebs and embarrassment out of my mind. Joshua gazed at me with deference, Mama with impatience and Polly looked as if she was about to burst out laughing. Mama sensed Polly’s imminent outburst and motioned sternly for her to exit. Polly clamped her hand over her mouth and hurried in the direction of the kitchen.
“Uh,…ah, Mr. Davenport.” I grasped at my composure and stood steadily to greet him. The forgotten book slid out of my nonexistent lap to the floor with a resounding thud. I could feel a blush creep into my cheeks. I bent to retrieve it, but Joshua rushed forward to assist.
“Please allow me, Miss Chester.” We found ourselves caught in an awkward position of both having a hand on the book, and our faces almost touching. I hastily straightened and allowed him to retrieve the book. I knew my face was scarlet.
“Thank you ever so much,” I murmured and scanned my hair with my hand for any escaping strands. Joshua’s face was flushed too as he handed me the book. I found my mind devoid of any helpful passage that Mr. Franklin might offer. And then I giggled. I couldn’t help it. Joshua chuckled softly in return and the moment was broken. Mama excused herself and we were left alone. We then found ourselves enveloped in that awkward pause that I had anticipated. “ I am truly sorry for you to find me sleeping…” I started.
“No, please don’t apologize.” Joshua interjected. “I am certain that had I your position as school mistress it would cause me to sleep every moment that I was not in the schoolhouse.”
“I know you to work hard on your father’s lands, Mr. Davenport,” I answered with a smile.
“Alice,…uh, Miss Chester, may I call you Alice? I must insist that you call me merely Joshua.”
“Well, if you insist, I will.” It was obvious that Joshua was becoming flustered. I smiled inwardly and vowed to make it easy on him. “And, yes of course you may call me Alice.”
“Alice, I am a straightforward man and do not like to trifle with walking around the point of a conversation. May I be frank with you?” Joshua’s face continued to be rosy and a thin veil of perspiration appeared on his brow.
“Yes, of course, Mr….Joshua,” I soothed. “Would you like to be seated on the sofa to continue this conversation in comfort?”
“No. I would prefer to stand.” Suddenly, he clasped my hands within his own. “Alice, would you do me the honor of being my wife?”
I was taken aback at the suddenness of his proposal. I struggled to remove the surprise from my features and to form an intelligent response. His hands were warm and insistent upon my own. I resisted the urge to pull them away. He seemed to read my thoughts and quickly released them.
“Forgive me for my forwardness, Miss Chester…Alice. I can be rather inspired by my ideas. I have approached this incorrectly and with haste. I have no experience in such matters.” He smiled wryly. “Perhaps we should seat ourselves on the sofa and begin again.” He positioned himself into a far corner of the pale blue sofa. I noticed absently that his eyes were the same shade of blue. I nodded slightly and perched primly in the opposite corner. I experienced a pressing urge to find something for my hands to do. Instead, I folded them properly in my lap.
“I should have begun this conversation in a different manner.” Joshua cleared his throat and continued earnestly. “I have the utmost respect for you. You are well educated, gracious and skilled in the domestic arts. I find your manner and face quite pleasing to me.” He paused to take a short breath. “I have recently been offered the opportunity to join a wagon train to settle in Sioux Falls, North Dakota. I would be honored if you would join me as my wife.”
My mouth went dry. Leave everything? I wasn’t expecting this part. Time seemed to stretch in front of me. I held my face blank while my mind raced. My stomach lurched with both excitement and dismay. My inner spirit yearned for the adventure and opportunity of venturing out on a pioneer train to North Dakota. But leave my family and my life in Virginia with a man that I hardly knew? I studied the man in front of me. The hope and fervor in his eyes nearly broke my heart. His commitment to this cause was magnetizing. I broke his gaze and looked down at my tightly clasped hands. They would become quite rough and calloused. But this thought was merely vanity. I longed to prove that I was made of tougher material. But Polly. My dear Polly. A lump formed in my throat thinking of her reaction. She would encourage me to pursue this adventure, but the ever present sparkle in her eyes would not be there. She would remind me that opportunities like this come only once and when we are presented with them it is our duty and destiny to accept them. At fourteen, Polly was an incongruent combination of silliness and wisdom. I knew in my heart that despite my natural reservations that this was my intended path. I lifted my head and observed that Joshua’s expression was somewhat crestfallen in anticipation of a refusal from me. I straightened my back slightly.
“I accept your proposal.” The words slid simply out of my mouth.
Joshua’s face rushed red with relief and excitement. “I assure you that I will care for you with my life and my soul, Alice. You have truly blessed me.”