What the Heart Wants Chapter 9

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Eliza was up bright and early the next morning, back to routine, to get her day started. She thought it was high time she got back to normal, as best she could, and not let all the new things happening around her change that. Because of her determination she had breakfast made and Joanna out the door to the schoolhouse in record time.

When she’d made it back to the house, Thomas was already hard at work, and she quickly joined him. Back in their old rhythm they made quick work of most of the morning chores. They’d paused their work to discuss possible future repairs to the tool shed when they both heard hooves coming up the dirt drive to the house. They both turned toward the sound. Eliza squinted toward the mysterious visitor, shielding her eyes from the sun. “I better go see who it is.” She told Thomas. “Hopefully it won’t keep me too long.” She said to herself.

She didn’t recognize the horse they road, and despite the decreasing distance she still couldn’t tell who road it. She walked quickly to the house to hopefully beat them to the front door. When she stepped into the kitchen, she grabbed a towel from the counter and wiped her face and hands of what dust and grime she imagined coated her skin.

She made it to the door just as the visitor knocked and she opened it and went to greet Randall Perry with a surprised smile. “Mr. Perry.” She said, a little shock on her face.

“Surprised to see me?” He asked, his typical sly smile peeking out.

“I didn’t expect visitors,” She replied. “Especially not you, no offense intended.” She gestured him inside. “At least it’s not Aunt Clara,” she told herself.

“None taken.” She smiled and stepped into the living room where she’d led him. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“I was just working on the daily chores.” She told him. “We have quite a lot to do when you’re in charge of a home and farm. Was there something I could help you with?” She asked as they sat.

“Oh, no. I was just hoping to visit with you.” He said. “Just the two of us.” That smile, the one she wasn’t sure she could trust, widened.

“Well, Thomas is outside working still.” She told him, unsure. “But I suppose I can spare a few moments.” She realized they were sitting in the same places where they’d sat when she’d received him and her aunt last time. “Can I get you anything? Tea perhaps?” She asked.

“No thank you.” He replied kindly. “I was wondering, though, if you’ve decided whether or not to join us in the city?” He asked. “We will be planning on leaving in the next few weeks or so.”

“I have not.” She paused to come up with an excuse. “I’m just not sure I’d be a good idea to miss a day of work here.” She said. “What with having to get used to doing it all on my own now. Without my parents.” She lied. Mostly. “I’m sure you don’t have to worry yourself much about getting work done on your property.”

“I’ll have you know,” he began, “I have done my fair share of farm labor.” He said, half serious.

“Oh, I’m sure you have. You just don’t seem the type for every day farm tasks.” She glances slyly at his perfect hands and neat nails. Not a callus in sight. She made a point to tuck hers away.

“While I have been helping my father with more of the business side of late, I still get my hands dirty once in a while,” he smiled. “I assure you, I’m just as capable as anyone else.”

“I’m sure you are, Mr. Perry,” She said. “But for now I have my own work to take care of. I’m sure Thomas is wondering where I’ve gotten off too.”

As if on cue, they both heard the door open and close in the kitchen, and Thomas calling. “Eliza, the hay has been delivered,” he began, pausing when he walked into the room and saw Mr. Perry. He cleared his throat as Eliza and her guest stood.

“Good morning, Mr. Fox.”

“Good morning,” Thomas practically grunted. He turned to Eliza. “I just wanted to let you know. I go start unloading now.”

“I’ll be right out to help you, Thomas,” Eliza said, about to make excuses to Randall.

“I would be glad to offer my assistance, Miss Alcott.” He said. “I’d be happy to help Thomas myself.

“That’s completely unnecessary,” Eliza started.

“I can take care of if myself,” Thomas looked at Eliza, waiting for her to agree.

“I insist. With both of us, Thomas, I’m sure we’ll make quick work.” He turned to Eliza. “And since you rejected my previous offer of hired help, I think you could at least allow me this.” He smiled that of his, the one that she couldn’t help but wonder if many young women have resisted.

After a moment of deliberation she relented. “Fine,” She said despite Thomas’ poorly hidden look of shock. “It’ll get the job done quickly, and we can get back to regular chores.” She told them both. She really just wanted to see if Mr. Randall Perry could handle a little hard labor. And maybe see if he and Thomas could actually stare each other to death.

In a few short minutes the three of them were out back, Eliza purposely standing out of their way, as the wagonload of hay bales was backed closer to the barn. Randall had removed his jacket and left it in the kitchen as they’d walked through the house, and he rolled the sleeves of his expensive white shirt up to his elbows.

As the two men began work, they expertly avoided each other, not speaking but not clashing or getting in each other’s way either. Eliza watched them work, climbing in and out of the wagon, tossing bales of hay. Had she done the same work, as she’d planned, it would have taken her twice as long, and she’d have been out of breath after a few bales. They unloaded the bales, and the delivery driver rode off with his empty wagon, as Thomas and Randall took turns loading the bales into barn and up to the loft.

The morning sun was turning into a heated afternoon as the men finished up. Eliza drew two buckets of water from the well, and set them out for Thomas and Randall to cool off when they finished. As she watched them splash cool water on their faces and necks, she had to admit she was surprised my Randal’s hard work. She knew Thomas could do it, that came as no surprise. But seeing Mr. Perry, of all people, able to keep up with someone she considered a strong, hard worker, it was safe to say he’d proven himself. She was loath to admit it out loud, just as she was loath to admit she noticed that the water dampening his shirt may or may not have made it sheer.

After they’d finished cooling off, she watched as Thomas turned to Randall. She couldn’t make out what he said, but she could tell he wasn’t happy about offering his hand to Randall. They shook, barely nodded at each other, but didn’t smile. Eliza wondered what they had against each other as Randall walked over to her.

“Have I proven myself a hard worker yet?” He asked smiling, and still a little damp.

“You can throw a bale of hay or two. But I thought you were just offering assistance.” She said, “Where you just trying to prove yourself?”

He laughed, throwing his head back, dark hair sticking to his forehead. “You are a hard woman to please, Miss. Alcott.” He took her hand from her side and bent down kissed her knuckles, as had become habit. When he did so, Eliza saw Thomas looked in their direction, clearly unhappy.

When Randall looked back up at her, he was still smiling. “Although I hate to see this evening end, I must me going. Maybe next time you’ll have made your decision about the trip?”

“Maybe,” She said.

Some time later, Eliza was preparing to head out to get Joanna from school, when she returned to the barn where Thomas was. He was prepping the horse and wagon for her, and she rubbed the mare’s nose when she neared. “Are you upset that I took him up on his offer to help?” She asked.

After a moment of silence he responded. “This is your home and farm, it’s not up to me who you bring in to help.”

“I didn’t bring him in, Thomas. He offered.” She clarified. “And I just wanted to see if he could actually work.” She admitted with a shrug.

“He can.” He said. “I knew he could.”

“Well, I didn’t. How do you know?” She asked, curious now.

“I’ve worked for his family before.” He revealed. Still not looking at her. “Against my better judgement.”

She was surprised, considering all his protestations that the Perrys were not to be trusted. Why would he work for

someone he didn’t trust? “When? You spend so much time here, when have you been able to work elsewhere?”

“Are you angry that I take my skills elsewhere?” He asked, rather shortly for his typical behavior.

“No, Thomas, of course not.” She said, taken aback. “If you needed more work, more money you could have told me. I’m trying to make things work financially, but—.”

“Not you, not in some time.” He blurted, afraid he’d upset her. “Before,” he paused. “Before you’re parents passed.”

Eliza looked at him, confused. When had they not paid him? Has there been money problems much longer than she’d thought.

“Don’t worry about it. I have what I need now. I’ll help here as long as I’m needed, regardless.” He said. “Put the place and the finances to rights, I’ll be here. As long as you’ll have me, Eliza.” He placed a hand on her upper arm and squeezed, trying to comfort the worry that was plain on her face.

They stood there for a moment, as his hand lingered and they held each other’s gaze. Then, as if she knew the moment was growing long, and it was time to go, the mare snorted and nudge Eliza. Startled, Eliza stumbled into Thomas, and they both laughed at the horse. When they stopped, his arms were around her, and her hands were on his chest.

They smiled up at each other, then they realized how very close they were. They cleared their throats. “I should go, Joanna will be waiting.”

“Yes, I’ll finish up here.” Thomas said.

They parted and Eliza climbed into the wagon seat. She settled herself in and urged the horse forward with a gentle snap if the reigns. When she glanced back after pulling out of the barn, Thomas was watching her go. She smiled at their moment, blushing. She couldn’t decide if she was glad the horse interrupted or not.

*if you’re just arriving here, you may go back to the start by clicking the image at the very top of the post

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Weird Things I Found in Wish (app)

1. “Soft Washable Bathroom Toilet Seat Filling Warmer Pad Cushion”

There’s gonna be a cold night when you stumble half asleep from your bed, sit down to number one or two, and it’s GONNA BE DAMP.

2. “Want To Be A Queen? For Your Charm! For The People You Love!Come On Make Your Dreams Come True

The boob “graphics” remind me of photosynthesis.

3. “1pc PU simulation of bread, fake toast model, photography props, toys, decoration, exhibition hall has a fragrance.”

“Has a fragrance”.

“What the Heart Wants” 8

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The next morning Eliza woke with smile on her face and a blush still lingering in her cheeks. She had vague memories of dreaming of Thomas’ kiss. It surely wouldn’t be much to anyone else, but in her young life, it was something special.

She smiled from the moment she climbed out of bed through breakfast with Joanna. After they’d eaten and cleared the table, they climbed in the wagon and rode into town to the schoolhouse. Once she’d waved goodbye to her sister, she headed back home to do more chores. She had plenty to keep her busy until she had to go back into town, get Joanna and meet their aunt Clara at the dress shop. When she arrived home, she saw that Thomas was already working.

“I wonder what today will be like?” She asked herself. After a moment that between them that ended awkwardly two nights ago, then the rollercoaster that was yesterday, she could only hope for no tension this time.

“Good morning, Thomas,” she greeted him as he approached. A blush bloomed on her cheeks as she unwillingly remembered the night before. She hoped he couldn’t tell in the bright morning sunshine.

“Good morning, Miss Eliza,” he said quietly, a smile on his face. “How was Miss Joanna this morning?” He asked as he filled one of the water buckets at the well.

The morning was already looking better than the one before. “Fine,” she said, “She loves to learn so she was glad to be back to it.” She smiled and grabbed a bucket to help him water the horses. “How are you this morning?”

Thomas waited to set the bucket down before he answered. “I’m well,” he smiled down at her. “Thank you for having me at dinner last night.”

“Oh,” she began, “Joanna did invite you without telling me!” She laughed. “But you are welcome, always.” She told him honestly. They smiled at each other for a moment, not realizing how long they’d lingered, until a horse snorted in their direction.

Both laughed awkwardly, the proceeded to fill the trough with water.

The rest of the morning went smoothly—almost like before her parents had died—except for the not-so-unpleasant awkwardness between them. That was new.

By afternoon they were nearly done, and Eliza had to go into town. She told him goodbye, then went to change out of her farm worn clothes and into something fresh.

Once into town her first stop before the schoolhouse was Spring Haven’s only general store, where she needed to pick up some items for farm and home.

A tiny bell tinkled as she stepped inside Harold’s General Store, alerting Harold himself in the back room. He stepped out as Eliza was browsing his wares. “Good afternoon, Miss Alcott!” He greeted cheerfully.

Harold was always friendly and had been quite close to Arthur Alcott. Eliza could remember many afternoons spent in this very store, listening as her father and Harold chatted and bargained. “Hello Harold!” She smiled, “How are you today?”

“Why, quite well, indeed! I hope all is well with you and young Joanna?”

“Very well, thank you Harold.” She answered. “I’m just needing a few items today,” she told him pulling out a slip of paper with her list penciled on it. She handed it to him and he pushed his glasses up on his nose and looked it over.

“Why I can take care of all this. Matter of fact,” he said, “We just got a load of chicken feed in yesterday. We can have it all loaded in a few minutes.”

“Lovely,” she said. “I have the wagon parked right out front. I just have to walk over to the schoolhouse if that’s alright?”

“Perfect, Miss Alcott,” Harold replied. He paused a moment, his smile fading just slightly. “And will you be paying today, or placing it on the family account?” He asked quietly.

“Today, if that’s alright.” She answered. “I know my father’s account needs paid, Harold. I don’t want to add more to it.” She said solemnly.

“Oh, now,” Harold sighed. “I know he was good for it. He just didn’t get the chance to settle it.” Harold seemed sad, suddenly.

“I’m not sure how he planned to, unless he’s stashed something away,” Eliza tried to sound cheerful as she handed over payment. “But I will take care of it,” she promised him.

“Whenever you can, there’s no rush. He was a friend.” He said. “As was your mother, and as you and Miss Joanna remain.” He was smiling once more.

Eliza was just a bit on edge when she stepped out of the general store a few minutes later. Thinking of the finances left behind after her parents’ passing always made her tense. But she would have to get used to it, it was her responsibility now. She made herself put a smile on her face, as she walked down the street to the schoolhouse.

She only had to wait a few minutes for Joanna to come bouncing out of the schoolhouse door. She immediately spotted her big sister and bounded over and hugged her. This would always put a smile on Eliza’s face.

“Did you have a good day?” Eliza asked sarcastically.

Joanna giggled. “Yes! We’re learning to read more words, and I couldn’t help thinking about our new dresses!” Eliza

had to force herself not to tense up, remembering her Aunt Clara.

“That’s our first stop!” She told her.

The dress shop was just a short walk away, Spring Haven was a small town. And like the general store there was only one dress shop in town as well. “Mrs. Hattie’s Dresses” it was called, and while they’d shopped there before, most of the dresses had been mended and repaired by their mother. Mrs. Hattie herself had offered Rose a job a time or two.

Stepping into the store Eliza and Joanna were immediately greeted with the colors and textures of all manner of fabric and lace. There wasn’t anything quite like a dress shop to make a girl feel more feminine. And living on a farm with chores in the dirt often took that feeling away.

Joanna was touching a lovely pink sample of fabric when they heard Aunt Clara’s all to familiar voice. “My dear nieces! You finally made it!” She said, making it sound as if she’d waited for hours.

“Hello Aunt Clara.” Eliza was already dreading the experience.

Mrs. Hattie stepped into the room and greeted the girls. Her cheerful bubbly demeanor was a welcome interruption. “Eliza and oh, little Joanna, you both have grown so much!” She squeezed the girls in a friendly hug, a hug that Eliza would imagine an aunt would give. Just not the one they had.

“Mrs. Hattie,” Eliza began with a smile. “Its not been a week since you saw us last, how could we have grown that much?” She asked, laughing.

“Oh, pish tosh, Eliza.” She chuckled. “Black isn’t very becoming on anyone, dear!” They both glanced at Aunt Clara, who, it seemed, had yet to come out of her mourning clothes. “Oh, I cannot wait to work on dresses for the both of you!”

“Well, that is what we’re here for, after all.” Clara finally spoke up. She’d been looking down her nose at a swatch of fabric. “Do you have any sample dresses?” She asked, letting a fabric swatch fall as if it disgusted her. “We’d love to get some ideas.”

“Of course, Mrs. Wilkes!” Hattie said cheerfully. “They’re right this way.” She led the girls to a separate room where dresses were stored on hangers, packed in an open wardrobe. “I have all the latest styles and patterns! Ordered straight from Newfield!” Hattie was proud of her selection.

Eliza figured Clara would brighten at the sound of her favorite place. “Well, that should do nicely.” Clara templed her fingers together. “Let’s try on dresses shall we, dear?!”

Eliza groaned inwardly and looked down at Joanna, who was positively shaking with joy. “This is going to be a long afternoon,” she thought.

After what felt like hours and hundreds of dresses, Eliza finally found one that she didn’t hate, and her aunt approved of. There were more ruffles than she cared for, but much less than the last several. Joanna, of course loved all the trimmings, and had picked a lovely pattern with ruffles and lace and had chosen a lovely blush pink.

Eliza was still standing in her selection, as Hattie and Aunt Clara discussed colors. She was tired and wanted nothing more than to go home, put on her farm dress, and get her hands dirty. She was just contemplating getting to roll up her sleeves and pluck a chicken for dinner when she heard the door to the shop open. “Hello.”

All the ladies turned to see where the voice came from. It was none other than Randal Perry. What was he doing in Mrs. Hattie’s Dress Shoppe? “Oh, hello ladies.” He smiled broadly at each of them, focusing last on Eliza. “Am I interrupting?”

“Oh, Mr. Perry!” Aunt Clara exclaimed. She was quite excited to see him.

“Mrs. Wilkes, a pleasure as always.” He kissed her offered hand. “I was just here to pick up my mother’s dress.” He looked at Mrs. Hattie. “You said it would be ready.” He smiled his smile at her, the one that confused Eliza. It apparently did different things to other people.

Mrs. Hattie giggled and grinned at him, fluttering her eyes, apparently flattered that he’d even looked her way. “Oh, yes, Mr. Perry!” She smiled broadly. “It’s right in the back, I’ll just go fetch it!” She hurried off in a flutter to fetch the dress and he returned his attention to the rest of them.

“Miss Joanna.” He spoke, smiling down at the girl. “How are you?” Joanna, her usual shy self, hid herself as best she could in a bundle of skirts handing on a rack. Mr. Perry chuckled pleasantly. “My sister is looking forward to seeing you again.” Joanna peaked out of the dresses at him and smiled sheepishly. “Perhaps you could come to the house one evening?” He asked.

Joanna simply looked at Eliza, leading Randal Perry’s eyes to her as well. “Only if your big sister approves?” He asked.

Eliza cleared her suddenly dry throat. “We shall see.” She told him.

“We shall,” he said. He paused, and Eliza could see and feel him looking at her, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “You look lovely,” he said.

After a long silence that seemed to last hours, she managed, “Thank you,” just as Mrs. Hattie entered the room, a garment bag held gently in her arms.

“Here we are, Mr. Perry!” She said cheerfully, as usual. The thick air was lightened and Eliza was pulled out of her trance and turned away.

“Thank you, Mrs. Hattie. I’m sure mother will be glad to have it back.” She smiled at him. “Please put it on our bill.” He said. “Ladies, its been a pleasure,” he smiled at each of them. Eliza could see the reflection of his eyes lingering on her from the mirror.

Once he was out the door, Aunt Clara spoke up. “Have the Perry’s been customers of yours for a while?” She asked.

“Why yes, as long as I’ve been in business!” She said. “Lovely people, really.”

“Well,” Clara began. “I knew I had good taste.” She said, as if she hadn’t been critical of Mrs. Hattie’s wares the moment she’d walked in. “Now, lets get started on these lovely dresses!”

Sometime later, everyone was tired, especially Joanna, who’d begun to doze in the corner near a pile of scrap fabric, and Hattie and Clara were just finishing the order for the dresses. “Thank you, again, Hattie, for staying so late with us,” Eliza said. “I know you must be exhausted.”

She laughed, “Not quite as tired as that one.” She tipped her head in Joanna’s direction and smiled sweetly at the girl. “It was lovely to see you both.” She walked over to Eliza and hugged her tightly. “If you ever need anything, you be sure to let me know.” She insisted as she let her go.

“I shall, Hattie. Thank you.”

As they were walking to the wagon, Eliza practically carrying the sleepy Joanna, she could help but wish her Aunt Cara was a little more like Mrs. Hattie.

When they’d reached home, Thomas was still there, despite the sun having nearly set, and he helped by unloading the wagon in the barn while Eliza tucked Joanna into bed. She waved goodbye to him as he rode away for the night.

When she finally crawled into bed herself, she couldn’t help but wish her mother and father were there to tell her goodnight and wish her sweet dreams. Would her life be less complicated if they were still alive? As she drifted off to sleep, she was sure it would.

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When my husband and I first started dating, I was a broke college student. In our many conversations and in our many dates, I told him, “when I graduate and start working, I’m going to get myself an iPod Nano.” This statement really dates me, but at the time he’s just purchased himself one and I loved it. And I couldn’t wait to be able to get myself things.

You see, growing up we weren’t always able to get the unnecessary things we wanted. It was more or less “do you need it”. Sure, there was Christmas, and nothing made my mom more proud than being able to get us the things we would want. But I was never upset or angry because I didn’t get what I wanted. I understood.

Okay I might have had my moments. But I never resented it and always got over it. Eventually.

So, being college educated meant that when I was employed I’d be making good money, and could provide for myself. So coming up with things I wanted that I’d be able to have was like a game for me.

Well, Mr Man beat me too it.

Our first Christmas he surprised me. And if I remember correctly it was in a box, in a box. He bought me the iPod Nano. I was shocked, surprised, excited, and told him over and over that he didn’t have too. It’s a lot of money for someone you’d been dating for less than six months.

We eventually got married (he proposed with the second thing I told myself I’d get once I got my first post-college job: a Nintendo DS). And I eventually got a job, just not in the field I went to school for. This time I did but the thing I wanted. An iPod touch.

I gave the Nano to my mom thinking that since she liked music she could learn to use it and have a slew of songs to listen too while cleaning. I’m honestly not sure if she ever used it.

She died nine months ago, and I miss her terribly. I miss her nagging and griping and laughter and “I love you” and her cooking and her smile and her hugs and, well, everything. But my sister was recently helping my dad by going through some of Mom’s things and guess what she found.

That tiny iPod Nano.

I brought that bad boy home and, not only does it have songs I forgot about but also solitaire and sims bowling and best of all, pictures. Of her.

*normally I will not share photos of myself or my family here, but this is special.

I love and miss you silly woman, thank you for being such a good mom and hoarder and never throwing anything out.

Thanks for reading

-c

What the Heart Wants 7

Before Eliza could open the journal she had in her hand, she heard a knock at the front door. She replaced the journal and stood, but as she was walking out of the bedroom, she heard Joanna shout, “I’ll get it!”

She hadn’t quite made it down the stairs when she heard Aunt Clara’s voice echoing in the front hall. “Hello, dear,” Aunt Clara spoke to Joanna. “Still playing shy are we?” When she made it downstairs she could see Joanna hiding behind the banister. They both saw her when she stepped off the stairs, and Joanna ran to hide behind her legs.

“Hello Eliza, dear,” Clara greeted her, knowing she hated being called ‘dear’. She smiled again, “I trust we’re doing well on this lovely afternoon?”

“Fine, thank you.” Eliza said curtly. It would take a great deal for her to begin to trust her aunt. “I would have thought you’d have gone back to the city by now.” Eliza asked. “To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit today?”

“Oh, not unite yet, dear. Spring Haven might be growing on me.” she replied. “I was just wondering what your decision was regarding the Perrys’ offer to include you on their trip into the city.” She said, still smiling in that unnerving way of hers. “I wanted to extend an offer to purchase you both new dresses for the trip.” She said, eyeballing what both of them were currently wearing.

Eliza felt Joanna’s excitement upon hearing the part about new dresses. But she had to force herself not to reply in anger at the look her aunt had given them. Instead she said, “I hadn’t yet decided, Aunt Clara.” She paused, then continued. “And as soon as I do, the Perrys will be the first to know.” She could tell that affected her aunt.

“Hmmm.” Clara paused, but the smile returned to her face. “Well, dear. Please allow me the pleasure of treating you both to a new dress, regardless of your decision.” She said. “It’s the least I could do for my dear nieces.” She paused. “Make up for lost time?”

Despite her wholehearted desire to never take anything from her aunt, she couldn’t deny she’d noticed Joanna’s obvious response to the thought of a new dress. She did so love her dresses. So, against her better judgement she replied, “I’m sure that would be fine, Aunt Clara.”

“Oh how lovely, dear!” Clara seemed genuinely excited. “I do love buying dresses.” Joanna was practically shaking with excitement at her sister’s side. “We shall meet in town tomorrow afternoon!” Clara turned to the door. “Now I must be going, I shall see you both tomorrow!”

Eliza watched and waited as Aunt Clara climbed into the waiting carriage and pulled away, horses’ hooves and carriage wheels kicking up dust behind. Eliza’s tense nerves began to relax the further away the carriage became.

“Why did you tell her you hadn’t decided, when to told Thomas you had?” Joanna asked.

“You heard that, this morning, did you?” Joanna smiled sheepishly. Eliza smiled back, “Sometimes people say and do things without taking the time to think about them, and they only realize afterward they may have made a mistake,” she explained. “I hadn’t given myself enough time to really think about it, and its important to do that, especially since we don’t know the Perrys all that well yet.” She paused. “Do you understand?”

Joanna thought about it a moment, then nodded. “Yes.” Then she smiled widely and said, “At least we’re getting new dresses!” They both giggled and Eliza said, smiling, “And who doesn’t love a new dress? Now, what shall we have for dinner?”

Dinner was almost finished cooking and Eliza had sent Joanna to set the table, Eliza walked into the dinning room to see three place settings instead of their usual two. “Joanna, have you invited someone to dinner without telling me?” She asked her sister, smiling.

“Uh, maybe?” She heard Joanna say from behind her. She turned to see Thomas standing behind her sister in the doorway. “I thought maybe he could eat with us. Is that okay?” Despite whatever happened between him and Eliza, Thomas had always seemed to be the the only adult, besides herself and their parents, that Joanna had ever been comfortable around. It might have been because she grew up with him in her life, but it was true.

“Its perfectly fine,” Eliza smiled, hoping there would be no tension. She’d had enough of that.

“Thank you,” he nodded in her direction. He then smiled down at Joanna, and said to her, “Thank you for inviting me.” As always Joanna smiled widely at her friend and pulled him to his seat, next to Eliza’s.

Thomas, when he was younger, had often eaten dinner with the Alcott’s. Rose had insisted, as she knew that his family didn’t have much themselves, and she’d always sent him home with an abundance of leftovers. But when he was in his late teens, the last of his family, his father, had died, leaving Thomas all they’d had left. He’d stopped staying for dinner, claiming his own chores to take care of.

This night’s dinner was as if he’d never stopped staying. They all laughed and talked, and enjoyed their meal. The only hitch for Eliza was remembering what they were missing, who they were missing. But she tried not to let the somber thoughts show through, she was just glad to see Joanna happy.

Once the meal was finished, Joanna helped Eliza clear the table, both refusing to let Thomas help. “You’re the guest!” Joanna said. He laughed and raised his hands up as if to surrender. “You’re the boss!” He smiled at her. When the work was done they stood at the doorway and said their good nights. Joanna hugged Thomas and he gave her a gentle squeeze in return.

“Now,” Eliza said, “Time for bed, you!” She told her sister, kissing her forehead. “You’ve got school in the morning. I’ll be right up to tuck you in.”

Eliza watched Joanna go, glad to see her sister finally starting to cheer, but quickly realized that she was alone with Thomas once again. She sighed and turned her attention back to him. But he spoke before she could.

“I’m sorry,” he said. He was quiet a moment, rubbing his work roughened hands together nervously. She realized she’d never really looked at his hands before. “For today. And last night. I was rude today and it was poor manners. I might not have be blessed with a fine education,” he paused, “like some. But I was taught manners, and I’ve let them slip.” He stopped, took a breath. “Will you forgive me?” He asked.

“Oh Thomas,” she said, putting a hand on his. “It’s alright. I was a little irrational myself.” She said, smiling. “I forgive you.”

He smiled in return and squeezed her hand, “Thank you.” For a flicker of a moment his expression changed, so quick that if she hadn’t been looking, for something, she might have missed it. There was a little of what she’d seen last night. But it was gone as quickly as it has come. Then he did something she did not at all expect. He leaned in and kissed her cheek, but his lips lingered against her skin just slightly longer than any old kiss on the cheek should.

Then with a barely audible, “Goodnight Eliza,” he was outside, closing the door behind him.

Eliza stood a moment before really registering what had just happened. When she finally had, she smiled widely, blushing in spite of herself.

Patchwork of Memories

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I just had a panic attack when I realized one day I might not have this quilt.

I’ve covered up with the same quilt for the better part of 20 years. I can’t remember exactly when I got it, it was in a bunch that my grandmother sent us, and I chose it. She made it, by hand, and it’s been my comfort and my go-to for most of my life.

I recently happened to notice that the seams holding two patches together had come undone. I don’t have the skill myself to repair it the right way. Thats when I realized that I will likely one day have to put it away.

“What in the world am I going to cover up with then?!” I thought. For a moment, I couldn’t comprehend that there were other blankets in the world. Ones I own already, ones I could buy.

This quilt isn’t perfect. It’s not fancy or expensive or costly. But it’s mine. It’s dried my tears, kept me warm, comforted me after bad dreams. It’s currently keeping both myself and my child warm. When I asked her, as I do every night, “What blanket do you want?” She didn’t want the monkey, a new addition from her grandmother, the Paw Patrol, Unicorn, or the white one. No. “Share yours, mommy.”

True love is sharing a blanket when all you want is to burrito yourself with it.

And this blanket has been through a lot on its own. Back and forth to college, moved with me when I got married, and then to our new house. I wanted to bring it to the hospital when I had my kiddo. But, I figured it would be cumbersome to bring home with an infant.

Once, when I’d left it home during college, I came home to find burn holes in the corner. You see, my cigarette smoking brother preferred to sleep in my bed, as opposed to walking the 5-10 extra feet to his own room. And one night he fell asleep with a cancer-stick and burned a hole in my beloved quilt.

To say I was upset would be an understatement.

But, I was glad that the patches were basically polyester (I think) and mostly just melted silver dollar sized places, instead of cotton, which might have done more damage. Also my brother lived, I guess.

So I was willing to let it go, and keep the holes as a reminder. But, sadly, the fabric backing had been wearing pretty thin for quite some time, and I already had trouble keeping my foot from going into a hole. It was so bad that the batting inside the quilt was falling apart. I often woke with my foot tangled.

So I begrudgingly took the quilt to my grandmother to repair. I had it in my head that she could just patch it. But as a grown adult with minimal experience with fabrics, I now know better. She ended up removing everything from the topper and replacing it. And not only was the backer a different fabric that the original but she’s trimmed out the burns!

But I was grateful not only that my quilt was back to useable condition and that my foot could no longer hibernate inside it, but that my almost 90 year old grandmother was not only willing but able to repair my treasured quilt.

While my quilt has held up pretty well (old-fashioned handmade craftsmanship) over the years, my grandmother, however, has not. For several years now, she has been in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s. I will not go into details, but I’m sure the perils and heartache of this terrible disease are wildly known. And to be honest, it’s been years since I’ve seen her. She’s gotten worse over those years, and I know that, if she were in a place for it to matter to her, she wouldn’t want our memories of her to be tainted by anything.

I dreamed of her last night, in her old house, just the way it was when we were little, the smells the food the stories. She was happy and doing what she did best (besides, sewing, gardening, spoiling her fat chihuahua) making sure we were fed and taken care of. Great, now I want cat head biscuits and gravy!

My quilt will always be important to me. Falling part or perfect condition. It’ll keep me warm, comfort me, and it’ll do the same for my girl. We will use it until it falls apart.

Who knows when that’ll be. But nothing will replace it.

Thanks for reading.

-c

Welcome to Spring Haven

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“Established with the first settlers, Spring Haven is a small town nestled in rolling hills. The town was named for the gentle spring that runs off the highest peak in the area, which contributes to the fertility of the of the land, making it the perfect area for farmers wanting to settle and start a new life. Every spring, daisies blossom in the fields, brightening the dusty roads between farmhouses, contributing to the quaintness the long term residents appreciate.

Some of the families that founded Spring Haven still reside in the small town, the proud legacy of the first families encourages pride in the other residents. Determined to ensure the growth and stability of the town, they do their part in bringing more to the beloved and beautiful town of Spring Haven.”

I chose Spring Haven as the town name in “What the Heart Wants” because, between it and “Daisy Hollow” the other finalist, something about it just called to me. While I knew weighing a few days of the last poll which two would come out on top, I had no idea how the winning name would be chosen. And since I hadn’t voted in any of the polls I decided I had to make the finally decision.

Thank you to everyone who voted, or participated in any way. It is appreciated and I’m grateful that you were able to bear with me for so long!

My promise to you all now is to have the next chapter up by Monday night. EVERY Monday night! From here in out, unless there’s an issue, my goal is to have a new chapter every week!

As always, thanks for reading!

-c

“What the Heart Wants” 6

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When the sun rose the next morning, Eliza didn’t get right out of bed to start her day. She laid under the covers and wished the sun away. Having gone to bed let, she hadn’t slept well. Her mind had raced back and forth between the events of the dinner at The Perry’s and then later with Thomas. And after what had, or hadn’t, happened with Thomas, she wasn’t sure she could to face him.

She’d thrown the covers over her head and was contemplating never coming out when Joanna skipped into the room and climbed onto her bed. “Good morning, Eliza,” she whispered to the blankets. She giggled happily when Eliza grabbed her and tickled her. Soon after, with a smile on her face, Eliza climbed out of bed to get dressed, and went downstairs.

After breakfast, Joanna went outside to feed the chickens, her favorite activity, and Eliza took her time cleaning up after the meal. As she washed dishes, she looked outside and saw Thomas working on the daily chores. She felt a mix of emotions about what happened between them. Confusion and frustration were among them.

But she also wasn’t sure what she felt about dinner with Randall Perry, either. She was unsure how to take his interest in her, much less what his mother, Lilith, had said to her. What had she meant that she’d be “just like the others”? What others, how many others? She’d heard rumors about Randall Perry, mostly while in school and mostly in passing. He’d made a reputation for himself, but she didn’t know too many details.

Eliza had known Thomas for many years, he’d spent most of his time on her family’s farm, helping with anything her father had asked of him. They’d basically grown up together. He was a hard worker, kind, and she considered him a friend. His family hadn’t had a great deal as he was growing, which was part of the reason he’d worked for Arthur Alcott. And yet he still worked for Eliza, even as she was unsure she would be able to pay him.

She stood gazing out the window, contemplating the differences between Thomas and Randall Perry, staring at nothing really, when she noticed that Thomas saw her at the window. He’d stopped what he was doing to look back at her. But when their eyes locked, she quickly looked away. In the second it’d taken her to glance back he’d looked away with his head down, eyes on his work. Eliza sighed and went about putting the clean dishes away.

After she had finished, she took a deep breath and stepped outside, knowing she’d have to face Thomas sooner or later. She walked with purposeful steps toward the barn, wondering what tasks needed her attention. When she entered the barn, Thomas was there, tossing hay into the stalls. He looked up at her and quickly looked away without a word.

“Good morning, Thomas.” She greeted.

“Good morning, Miss Eliza.” He responded without looking away from his work.

“Fine,” she thought. She didn’t know whether to be disappointed or offended.
She left the barn, to check on Joanna and the chickens. When she arrived, Joanna was collecting eggs from the nesting boxes.

“Look how many eggs they’ve laid this morning, Eliza!” She exclaimed.

“Wow, they’ve really outdone themselves!” Eliza began helping her sister collect the many eggs, placing them in the pockets of their aprons. Once they were done, she asked,

“Have you fed and watered them already? They deserve a good meal after all this!”

“Yes! I did it first thing, they were very glad to see me!”
Eliza chuckled. “I’m sure they were!”

After collecting the eggs, they closed and latched the gate behind them and began walking back to the house. They were walking gingerly and giggling at the egg predicament, when they crossed paths with Thomas once more. “Good morning, Thomas!” Joanna greeted cheerily.

“Good morning, Miss Joanna.” He responded with a smile. He looked up at Eliza and nodded wordlessly.

“Joanna, go on ahead and take the eggs inside, I’ll be right behind you!” Eliza told her sister, who smiled and walked on. Once she was out of earshot Eliza turned her attention to Thomas. “Is there something wrong, Thomas?” She asked.

“No, ma’am,” he said. He was holding an empty bucket and turned to walk away.

“Is there a reason you’re not speaking to me, today?” She asked, following him.

He bent down to fill the bucket with water. “Just trying to do the job I’ve be hired to do.”

“Right,” She said. “Well, I suppose we didn’t hire you to talk, did we?” She said and turned away. She felt a little harsh for what she’d said but turned back to the house instead of admitting it, continued on toward the door. She wasn’t sure anything she’d don’t warranted his rather cool behavior, so she decided she wouldn’t apologize. She turned back, and he was walking away without a word. “I suppose,” she began “I should tell you that I’ve decided to take Mr. Perry up on his offer and accompany him to the city.” She watched as he stopped walking. He didn’t turn around, but his shoulders slumped, slightly.

Eliza turned around and rushed into the house before she said anything else she might regret.

 

It quickly became obvious to Eliza that she hadn’t given her decision much thought beyond wanting a reaction from Thomas. A wall seemed to have gone up between them overnight, seemingly because of what had almost happened. Just thinking about his eyes staring into hers, his hand brushing her cheek, ever so gently. She got a dizzy feeling in her stomach and pushed the thought away.

She hadn’t quite figured anything out, in fact. Life had seemed so perfectly content and slow until recently, then everything seemed to be happening so fast. And now she’d made a rash decision without thinking about it first. She was sure her parents would be disappointed.

Instead of continuing to linger on the thought, Eliza went about the house looking for things to do. Joanna was in her room playing, keeping herself company, so Eliza decided to once again venture to her parents’ room to her mother’s chest. This time she wasn’t looking for anything, just something to remind her of her mother, and to clear her mind.

The chest was filled with more dresses and mementos from Rose Alcott’s youth, and a few things from when her daughters were small. Sentimental was one thing Eliza’s mother was that her father was not. Arthur had many enduring qualities, but keepsakes hadn’t been his cup of tea. Rose was the keeper of the two.

Toward the bottom of the chest were some worn leather-bound books Eliza hadn’t seen before. She opened the cover of the most worn edition, and inside was her mother’s name: Rose Fitz. Fitz had been Eliza’s mother’s surname before she’d married Arthur Alcott. Eliza had stumbled upon her mother’s childhood journals.

“What the Heart Wants” 5

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Click the image to go back to links page

Once inside Eliza and Joanna both marveled at the interior, quite a bit different than their own home. Ornately decorated, the Perry’s home was indeed much fancier. Joanna openly admired the home, and stared wide eyed at the chandelier, “Oh!” She said. “That’s beautiful.”

“It is quite nice, isn’t it?” Mr. Perry asked. He smiled down at Joanna, who nodded in agreement.

“You do have a lovely home,” Eliza agreed.

“Thank you,” he responded, smiling at her.

She smiled back at him, and allowed herself to be led into the parlor.

In the parlor she saw a man and woman, and a girl about Joanna’s age. “Joanna,” Mr. Perry addressed her sister.

“This is my sister, Penelope.” He gestured to the dark haired girl.

Joanna looked at Eliza for direction. “Go on, say hello,” she suggested. She walked shyly over and sat down next to her.

“Eliza, these are my parents, Robert and Lilith.”

Robert Perry stood and offered his hand to shake. “It’s nice to finally meet you, though I feel like I know you already.

Your father spoke of you both a great deal.”

Eliza couldn’t recall a time when he’d spoke of Mr. Perry at all, so she wondered about the opportunity for him to speak to Mr. Perry. She was still shocked the two men ever had a relationship. The younger Perry cleared his throat next to her.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Perry.” She turned to Mrs. Perry, “and lovely to meet you as well.”

“The same,” Mrs. Perry replied with a small nod. She seemed disinterested in Eliza.

“Yes, well, we’re just waiting on one last guest.” Randall said.

Almost on cue, there was a knock at the door, and moments later Aunt Clara and her husband Harris were being

announced at the doorway. Eliza watched as her aunt’s face fell at the sight of her and Joanna.

Eliza started to speak to her aunt, but was interrupted. It was as if Lilith Perry had been risen from the dead. “Oh my dear, Clara!” She exclaimed. “How lovely to see you!” She seemed to leap up from her seat to great Aunt Clara with open arms. Clara smiled smugly in Eliza’s direction, as if she were teasing her, trying to make her jealous.

Once the women were done embracing, Aunt Clara openly acknowledged her niece. “Eliza, dear,” she said, “I didn’t know you were invited.”

“Oh, did Mr. Perry not inform you when yesterday afternoon?” Eliza asked. “He invited me right after I spoke to you.” She smiled kindly at Mr. Perry for effect.

“He did not,” Clara replied. She glanced at him herself. “But this will make for a lovely dinner, wont it, dear?”

Just then, the butler entered and announced that dinner was ready.

They all filed into the lovely bright dinning room. Eliza noticed that the dinner table wouldn’t even fit through her front door, much less the dinning room in the house. The table itself was beautifully set with expensive china, crystal glasses, and lovely flowers. They were each seated at specific locations, of course Eliza was placed across from her Aunt, but, she felt rather awkward to be seated elbow to elbow with Mr. Perry, the elder. Her uncle, Harris, who rarely spoke, was on her other side.

When everyone was seated, dinner was served, brought out on silver serving dishes by kitchen staff. It smelled lovely and was the best looking meal Eliza had seen in a while. She kept a eye on her sister, to watch her manners. Joanna was the perfect lady, waiting patiently and thanking servers. Aunt Clara said not a word to servers, if you were basing it off her, the didn’t exist.

Once everyone was served, she spoke up. “This looks lovely, Mr and Mrs Perry.” She looked from one end of the table, where Mr. Perry sat, to the opposite end where Lilith sat, and neither had paid her compliment any mind.

After a moment of silence, other than the sound of silverware on china, Randall spoke up. “It does look, lovely, Eliza.

Our cook makes a wonderful roast.”

“My cook in the city makes an amazing roast as well,” Aunt Clara said, smiling at Randall.

“Oh the city,” Lilith cooed longingly. I do miss it so.”

“Are you quite fond of it, Mrs. Perry?” Clara asked.

“Quite. I was born there,” she said. “I only left when I was married.” She stared pointedly at her husband.

“And you’ve never forgiven me for it.” He took a bite without looking from the plate.

Next to Eliza, her usually quite uncle Harris cleared his throat. From Eliza’s point of view, he was stifling a laugh.

“Excuse you, dear.” Aunt Clara said, angrily.

“We’ve never been to the city, Joanna and I.” Eliza smiled at her sister. “I quite like it here.”

“It’s a shame your father never brought you to visit,” Clara said. “You’d quite like it, if you’d had the opportunity.”

“It’s a shame you never came to visit us.” Eliza replied. “Until he passed. I wonder if there’s a connection.”

Everyone was looking at the two of them, and Eliza didn’t mind. After an eternal moment of silence, Randall volunteered to ease tension.

“Father and I have business in the city soon,” He said. “You’d be welcome to join us, I’m sure.”

“I’m sure she’d not enjoy our boring business.” Robert said, seemingly annoyed at his son’s offer.

“Perhaps you can take care of our business and I could introduce her to the city.” Randall suggested. He turned back to Eliza, “I could be your personal tour guide.” He smiled that smile at her.

“Oh, well,” she stuttered. “I don’t know.” She looked around the room at everyone waiting for her answer. Robert’s eyes were squeezed into slits, waiting. Clara’s eyebrow was raised in annoyance. Lilith poked at her food, trying to pretend she didn’t care. Harris just at his food in silence. Joanna, though, looked excited, eyes darting between her sister and Randall.

“It’s a lovely offer, Mr. Perry.”

“Randall, please.”

“Randall. But I would have to think about it. There would be things I’d have to make sure were taken care of, of course.”

“Do think about it, please.” He said. The look in his eyes said he’d really enjoy her company. But she wasn’t sure what that meant for her.

After another awkward silence, Penelope said her first words of dinner. “Is it time for dessert?”

Once dinner and dessert was concluded, Penelope took Joanna to her room to show her around, and the adults retired to the sitting room. The men stood in the corner in discussion, the women sat on cushioned chairs in the opposite of the room enjoying tea. Eliza sat in silence as her aunt and Lilith chatted about the city. She watched the men, their heads to father about some mysterious thing, and wondered what it could be.

Did her father often stand this way, with the Perry men, quietly discussing some secret business? He had never been the quiet whispering type. He was more suited to laughing boisterously, making others laugh with him. And again she wondered what he had to do with the Perrys.

When it was time to go, a sleepy Joanna joined her in the foyer. Penelope hugged her goodbye and invited her back to play. Eliza already liked her better than her mother. Next Lilith stepped up to bid her adieu, taking her hand. “It was lovely to meet you both.” Eliza wasn’t surprised that her goodbye was warmer than her greeting. But when she leaned in to kiss her cheek she whispered in Eliza’s ear. “You’re just another woman to him. He will get bored with you like he does the others.”

The look of shock must have been evident on her face when a few moments later, Randall himself stepped up to escort her to the carriage. “Are you alright?”

She smiled at hm. “Yes thank you.” She said.

“Good,” he smiled at her then gestured to the door, offering his arm once more. He waited until they were down the steps and at the carriage standing in front of Thomas. “Please consider my offer.” He said. “It would be a pleasure.”

She could feel Thomas tense beside her. “I will think about it.”

As seemed to be his way, he took her hand from his arm, and kissed it. He helped Joanna, and then Eliza into the carriage, but did not step away. Eliza watched out the window as he and Thomas stared silently at each other. Finally she cleared her throat. “Good evening, Mr. Perry.” She said. He bowed his head slightly and turned toward the door.

“Thank you, Thomas.” She smiled at him. He returned the smile and climbed in the seat.

By the time they arrived home, Joanna was fast asleep with her head resting on Eliza, who’d barely noticed the ride had ended. Thomas opened the carriage door and saw the sleeping girl, and offered to carry her to her room. “Oh that’s not necessary, Thomas.”

“I know, but she looks so content.” He chuckled and climbed in to retrieve her. Eliza followed close behind, smiling at Joanna’s sleeping face, mouth open wide. A damp spot was forming on Thomas’ shirt. Upstairs Thomas gently laid Joanna on the bed, once Eliza turned down the covers. He tucked her in then stood.

“Sleeping Beauty,” he said. He pushed a blonde curl from Joanna’s eyes.

Eliza walked him back to the door. “I’m sure you have a carriage to return.” She smiled at him.

“Can I ask about Randall Perry’s offer?” He asked bluntly.

“Oh,” she was surprised by his bluntness. “Nothing important,” she said, trying to make it sound light. “He wants to show me the city. I don’t know whether I’ll accept.”

He sighed, seeming relieved. “Right. Good.”

“Good?”

“I just thought,” he paused. “You know how I feel about the Perrys.”

“I do. I don’t know why you feel that way.”

“I have my reasons,” a shadow seemed to pass over his face. Eliza glimpsed it for a moment, then it faded. “I wont presume a right to tell you what decisions to make, but I do hope you trust my opinions.”

“I do, very much Thomas.” She told him, sincerely. “My father trusted you, and I know he never misplaced his trust.”

Thomas looked as if he were about to say something, then thought better of it. “Your father was a good man and I will admire him until my last day.” He told her. You have some of his traits, but it wouldn’t be a terrible thing if you had more than just your mother’s beauty.”

They both quickly realized what he had said, and grew equal amounts embarrassed. She looked down at her hands to distract herself, twisting her gloves into wrinkles. When she looked up he was still looking at her.

She blushed once more. Without a word, he reached up, and brushed away a lock of hair that had fallen in her face.

He let his hand linger on her cheek for a moment. “Eliza,” he whispered, stepping closer.

She looked in his eyes, waiting for what seemed forever, for what she wasn’t sure she wanted to ponder.

“I should go.” He said, removing his hand and stepping away.

“Oh,” she whispered.

“Goodnight, Miss Alcott.” He said. Without looking back up at her, he turned away. He was out the door and to the carriage before she realized.

“Goodnight, Thomas.” She whispered.

She walked upstairs in a daze. Unsure what had just happened, or what had almost happened. Unsure how she felt about any of it. A mix of emotions, shock, excitement, disappointment rushed through her.

So much was happening since her parent’s had died. It felt as if the world had suddenly started spinning faster. So many more questions had suddenly made her once simple life difficult.

Perhaps a trip to the city would do her well. Get away for a time, if only for a day. But with Randall Perry? Someone she was told not to trust?

Exhausted, she crawled into bed and curled up under the covers. He’d be expecting an answer soon, and fell asleep wondering what it would be.

 

“What the Heart Wants” 4

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As badly as she hated to admit, Eliza was getting excited to be attending dinner at the Perrys’. She only decided they would be going when Joanna looked to her excitedly on the way home from town and asked, “Can we go to dinner?”“Well, do you want to go?” She asked her sister.

“Kind of.” She responded shyly, smiling. “It’d be fun!”

Eliza considered the fact that they’d not done anything fun or enjoyable really since before her parents died. “It’ll be good for Joanna.” She told herself.

But as the evening continued, and night came, she grew more excited for the both of them. While their mother and father had taken them to their neighbors’ homes on many occasions, it had been quite some time since they’d gone out. And she couldn’t deny it would be nice to get away from the farm for an evening.

The next day was a Saturday and Joanna had no school. So they both got up early and got started on chores so they’d be done in time to get ready for dinner.

Thomas arrived right on time and was surprised to see them out and about so early. “You two are up and at it quite early! Am I no working hard enough for you two?” He asked kindly.

“Hello, Thomas!” Joanna hugged the farmhand. We wanted to get done early so we could get ready for dinner!”

“Dinner?” He asked, “Going somewhere special?”

“We were invited yesterday evening,” she paused, wondering what he’d think about who invited them. “To dinner by Randall Perry.”

“Oh.” He said. “The Perrys? What prompted such an invitation?”

“Mr Perry invited me while I was in town to fetch Joanna.” She said, he didn’t seem pleased. “I thought it’d be nice to get out for a bit, after all that’s happened.”

“I’m sure it would.” He said. “Like I said, though. Be wary of the Perrys.”

“Oh, I am.” She told him, confidently. “And of my Aunt Clara as well.”

“I presume she’ll be at dinner as well?”

“She will. She was invited first, it was as if she were bragging when she mentioned it.” She told him. She already discussed with him her distrust of her father’s sister.

“Well, I suppose if the three of us work together we’ll get done quicker!”

“Yay!” Joanna shouted, running off into the barn. Thomas and Eliza laughed and followed her inside.

Just a few hours later they’d gotten everything done. Eliza and Joanna said their goodbyes to Thomas, and rushed inside. They had to clean off the day’s work and pick out what they’d wear. While Joanna was freshening up, Eliza went to her room to look at her dresses. While all of her clothes were well cared for and in good condition, nothing, it seemed, was up to par with something one would wear to dinner with a family the likes of the Perry’s.

She went into her parents’ bedroom and looked in her mother’s closet. While she’d been a farmer’s housewife for many years before her death, she’d entered into society like a proper lady at about Eliza’s age. Her mother’s family hadn’t had much, one of the reasons why her father’s family hadn’t been happy with his choice in a wife. But her mother’s family had been sure to provide the best possible for their only child to debut. She’d kept the dresses, though they’d been hidden away long before Eliza was born.

Far in the back of the closet, Eliza found the old wood trunk that her mother had kept pushed away. She dragged the monstrosity out into the center of the room, just as Joanna entered. “What’s that, Eliza?”

“It’s momma’s chest.” She told her sister. “I’m hoping there might be a dress I can where in it.”

“Oh, momma’s dresses! I want to see!”

Eliza undid the buckle keeping it closed, and lifted the lid. The smell of lavender wafted up at her as if it were fresh picked. The muslin satchel that held it sat daintily on top. She lifted it out and breathed it in, thinking of her mother. She handed it to her sister who smelled it then held it close, as Eliza lifted the cover off the trunk’s contents.

The first thing she came to was her mother’s wedding dress. She’d seen it in their wedding picture, which still hung in the hall, many times before. It was simple lace, elegant just like she’d always thought her mother. As a child, she’d hoped that he day she’d get to wear it to her own wedding. Now she wasn’t sure she’d ever have a wedding.

She carefully lifted it out of the trunk and laid it on the bed. The next bundle was her mother’s wedding shoes wrapped in cloth, which she set aside as well. Beyond that, Eliza saw ruffles and pleats of fabric in colors that she’d never seen her mother wear during her lifetime. While she’d shown her daughter the dresses before, she’d explained that the life of a farmer’s wife called for more practical, comfortable clothes. “Oh, I loved my dresses,” she’d told Eliza, “but my mother and father worked hard to make sure I had them. It’d be a shame to wear holes and tears in them!”

“You think I could wear them someday?” Eliza had asked shyly.

“Perhaps, my love.” She’d told her, smiling.

Eliza lifted the first one out, a pale lavender color, she’d loved dearly as a girl. Unfolding it gently, she held it up to her body and showed Joanna. “What do you think?”

“You’ll look just like momma,” she replied softly and a little sadly.

Eliza hugged her sister. “Let’s go find you something lovely too, shall we?”

A few minutes later they’d picked a pretty pink frock for Joanna, her favorite color, and helped each other dress. Eliza pulled up Joanna’s hair just as their mother always had, and Joanna helped tie the bow in Eliza’s dress. They were ready in no time, just in time for a knock to come at the door. “Who could that be?” Eliza said, looking at her sister.

“Maybe Mr. Perry sent a coach!” She said excitedly.

“Oh I don’t that!” Eliza responded, though the gesture seemed exciting to her. She went downstairs trying not to expect anything fancy.

She opened the door to Thomas cleaned up and wearing the nicest clothes she’d ever seen him in, considering all she’d ever seen him wear was work clothes. He stood staring at her, moth agape.

“Oh Thomas!” She said, surprised to see him. “What are you doing here?” She glanced behind him. “Is that a coach?” When he didn’t respond, she asked, “Are you alright?”

“Oh, um, yes,” he said. “Yes, it’s a coach.” He swallowed. “You look lovely.”

“Thank you.” She blushed. He seemed flabbergasted. “Why is there a coach?”

After a moment he seemed to regain his composure. “I thought you should arrive in style. “Wouldn’t want road dust to ruin your beautiful dress.”

“Thomas!” Joanna shouted. “You’ve brought us a coach!” She hugged his waist. “Now I feel even more fancy! You look fancy too!” She said excitedly. “Are you coming to dinner, too?”

“Sadly no, but I’ll make sure you get there!” He smiled at her. “You look absolutely stunning, Miss Joanna.”

“Thank you!” She said, curtsying.

He escorted the ladies to the coach, and helped them in, Joanna first. When he took Eliza’s hand, and helped her climb into the carriage, he held onto it a little longer that necessary, she looked back at him, and saw a look in his eyes she hadn’t seen there before, a look that made her blush.

He released her hand and closed the carriage door, without a word climbed in the driver’s seat, and off they went.

The Perry’s home was on the other side of town, but it only took a few minutes to get there, on the way, Joanna jabbered on about how excited she was and how fancy their house must be. All Eliza could do was wonder what to expect. Before she’d realized it, they were pulling up to the front of the largest home in town. Thomas pulled right up to the front steps and jumped down quickly, opening the door for the sisters. Joanna jumped out first, eager to step foot inside, though she waited for her sister. Eliza took Thomas’ offered hand once again, and she stepped down.

Again he held it, but this time spoke. “I will be waiting, right outside, if you need me.”

“Thank you, though I’m sure I’ll be fine.” She smiled at him.

“I hope so,” he told her, seriousness in his eyes this time. “But I’ll be here, just in case.”

His words brought out her nerves, and she was working to calm them, when she heard a voice. She turned toward the front door or the house, to see standing at the top of the steps, Randall Perry. “Good evening, Miss Alcott.” He descended the steps to greet Eliza and her sister. “I wonder if you’d come.” He said when he’d reached them. He looked at Thomas, and the air suddenly grew thick.

“Thomas Fox,” Mr. Perry offered his hand. Thomas stared at it, making little effort to hide his distaste. After a moment he took Mr. perry’s hand and shook it.

“Randall Perry.”

Eliza broke the silence, and spoke. “Do you two know each other?”

“We’ve been aquatinted.” They both spoke at once.

“Miss Alcott,” Mr. Perry said, then addressed Joanna, “and Miss Alcott, shall we go inside? We’re just waiting on one more guest besides yourselves.”

“Of course,” Eliza responded curtly, suddenly uncomfortable with the tension.

“Remember,” Thomas said, “I’ll be here when you need me.” He looked from Eliza to Mr. Perry, and glared.

“Thank you, Thomas.” With that, Randall Perry escorted them inside.