Doomed. That was the feeling sitting in the pit of Roselyns stomach as she walked down the aisle, her hand trailing along pews eyes taking in the wood accents and stark white plaster. Tomorrow afternoon, this was where she would be getting married, to a man she didn’t love or know. That wasn’t entirely true, she’d known Thomas McCaster since she was seven years old and time had not changed him in the slightest. Thomas, the second generation son of a former farmer was a man of affluence and money. The young man was a member of high society in the East after his Harvard Law education and well placed connections. He was wealthy enough to support her, but dull enough a man to put an end to her ‘indulgent lifestyle.’
Sitting in one of the pews near the front of the church Roselyn sighed, smoothing a hand over her dress out of habit. She could remember telling Vanessa once that she would rather die than come back to this town and in that warehouse she almost did. Now she was in trouble and home is exactly where she’d run too. Showing up on Marigolds doorstep in tears, her oldest sister took her under her wing once again, whispering comforting words and stroking her hair. Roselyns only problem was the tears, the moment she stepped into her sisters happy life they wouldn’t stop coming. Mary had wed for love, her husband owned the granary and a modest farm just outside of Johannesburg. She had two wonderful children and a husband who kissed her the moment he’d returned from work.
That first night she’d cried herself to sleep only to dream of a life, of happier times and of a future with Cleatus. The life they could have together, it was beautiful filled with children, laughter and music. The nightmare she’d lived through in the warehouse was a common occurrence but it went away with the nausea and other morning sickness symptoms. What haunted her now was the smiles she saw from Cleatus in her dreams, smiles she’d never see again.
A few days later she’d cried herself out, and her young three year old niece and nephew tugged on the edge of her day dress asking to be carried and smiled gap toothed grins at her. It was the first time she’d met the children since they were babies and holding the children close it took all her courage to not break down in tears. How on earth was she going to handle a baby of her own? Alone? Could she even do it on her own?
Thankfully she didn’t have much time to dwell on it, her other sisters Daisy and Poppy had come in no time at all. Pops was as bubbly as she had always been, her auburn hair bouncing in tight curls while Daisy tried her best to listen and not become overly frustrated with Poppy’s antics. The morning of their arrival, Mary’s husband John remarked that there was always trouble when all for Harper sisters were together. Her sisters giggled and Mary kissed her husband good bye for work
“So tell us about the city,” Poppy exclaimed not ten seconds into being served tea. “I’m sure you’re living a glamorous lifestyle.”
The smile Roselyn gave was forced, “It’s not too glamorous, Pops.”
“Poppy, now don’t you be making Roselyn uncomfortable.” Daisy had scolded, the southern drawl she’d picked up from her husband Pete was taking over the plains accent she’d been born and raised with.
“I’m not,” she replied, pouting with a cross of her arms. “I just want it know what it’s like. None of us have ever been to the Big Orange.”
“It’s the Big Apple, Sissy,” Mary sighed bringing in a tray of finger sandwiches from the kitchen. “Besides she went to the Shores, not the Big Apple.”
“Oh, same difference,” she argued stomping her foot as if to prove her point. “The city is the city and I want to know!”
The back and forth banter between her sisters was comforting and Roselyn couldn’t help the bubble of laughter that started low in her belly. Trust it to Poppy and Daisy that they’d still fight like children after all these years.
“Ooh, what about the men,” Poppy exclaimed. A bucket of ice water crashed over Roselyn’s head immediately, forcing her to look down into her cup and bite her lip. “Tell me that there is a man in your life.” Roselyn’s face turned bright red and Poppy squealed in delight, wiggling to the edge of her seat. “Ooh I knew it! Is he handsome? What does he do? How old is he? What’s his name? I bet he’s rich, a rich older gentlemen. That’s the only thing that could ever capture your heart Roselyn.”
Through the barrage of questions her sister shot at her, Roselyn’s mind drifted back, mobidly, to the night in the warehouse. The smell of blood, the gun shots, the screams and the panic in his eyes. “Well, h-he’s…”
“Poppy,” Mary’s scolding voice brought her back to herself. Her sister set her tea cup down a little too forcefully, sloshing some of the liquid onto the white linen. “It’s none of our business. Why on Earth have you gotten so nosey.”
The four continued conversation casually, it wasn’t like they’d talked when Roselyn was younger. As if the sisters sensed that she was fragile and couldn’t handle a lot of questions. Over the few days she’d been home she’d helped her sister as much as possible, talking very little about her situation and visiting with Poppy and Daisy on and off for a few days, then came the shell shock. Thomas had appeared out of the blue, confessing undying love for her and asked for her hand. Roselyn was stunned, as it turned out Thomas was John’s third cousin by marriage and her sister had worked her meddlesome magic offering her a way out. Not twenty seconds after he asked, she took it.
At first glance Thomas looked to be a good husband, caring, sweet, gentlemanly and he had more than enough wealth to support her and the baby. It seemed that Thomas already knew of her pregnancy, gently touching her stomach at one point in their visits and smiling at her. Yet one afternoon when the pair were alone, the smile disappeared and was replaced with a hardened scowl.
“I will accept the baby as my own,” he began smoothly enough. “But make no mistake it will have no claim over any inheritance from this family. It will work until the day it dies because it will be a Kouros and Kouroses do not get the easy way out.” His words shook Roselyn to her core. “And,” he added. “You will have nothing to do with anyone from the Shores as long as you are my wife.”
Nodding her head in numb compliance Roselyn watched her sister and brother in law come into the room laughing to one another and Thomas was once again his cheery self. It was disturbing. Horrifying in fact. But she sat glued to her chair her lips pressed tight and eyes slightly too wide. That night she couldn’t stop the sobs wracking her body, she’d fled to the one place she ever felt comfort when she was younger her mothers grave. She sat and cried for what felt like hours in the late evening hours until well past dark. In the end she resolved herself to go through with it, a life under thumb and secure was better than destitute.
Sitting in the church now Roselyn looked at the spars decorations, Thomas wasn’t sinking too much money into this wedding. In fact they were lucky he was paying for the priest let alone a gown for Roselyn on such short notice. Her nails drummed the surface of the pew in front of her, thinking about her two jabber jawed sisters. The pair had fed the rumor mill well, saying she’d come back to marry Thomas because they’d been childhood sweet hearts. The town had bought it, giving blessing and praise all around. When in truth she’d find more pleasure in seeing him run down by Titus’s Hudson than being his wife.
With a sigh she leaned back thinking about her little town, Johannesburg hadn’t changed in the slightest. The church looked the same, the school house was the same, the shops owned by the same people everything was just as she’d left it. But she was different, she’d changed. It wasn’t just what Nessa had taught her, what Titus had told her or what Cleatus had given her; she’d changed herself. Now she was a square peg in a round hole, trying to fit and it wasn’t going to work. “But I’ll learn with time,” she told herself.
Glancing out the window the sun was bright, birds were flying past and singing in the trees. Her brown eyes darted to her wrist watch and with a pit in her stomach she realized that by this time tomorrow, she would be a married woman.
“God help me,” she whispered, to no one. Because Roselyn was convinced, God wasn’t listening.
“Can’t you Edgaring drive faster!”
“Who knew you had a mouth on you.”
“Shut your yap Noah,” Cleatus snapped through clenched teeth, leaning into the front cab of the car. “We’re not going to make it before the wedding at this rate.”
“Well that only means you have one other option,” Daku replied with a leer in his voice. “Object to the union.”
Noah started laughing slapping his knee in the front seat. The detective turned looking at Cleatus. “Dramatic. Now that sounds like you.”
Reaching forward with his cane he wrapped the detective atop the head. “I thought I told you to shut up.”
“Relax we’ll get you there on time.”
Throwing himself into the back seat of the Hudson he had half a mind to demand they turn around, but they were more than half way to the little rural town and it would be pointless. The sky was dark, it looked like rain, and if the ache in his knee was any indication it was going to pour. They weren’t that far away now, maybe another days drive from Johannesburg, Nebraska. He hadn’t seen the plains before this, but the vast empty field of gold grain and cattle did nothing to peak his interests.
Rain began dotting the windshield as Noah and Daku started arguing over who was better Satchmo or Davis. All Cleatus wanted to do was knock their heads together. Their rag tag band had gotten lost after they’d split from the main highway, now they’d been nearly six hours out of their way for nothing. The car was promptly pelted with rain, the torrential down pour enough to make Daku pull over and wait it out for a moment.
Glancing out the car window lightning split the sky. What in god’s name was he doing anyway? What business was it of his that he go hunting a woman who clearly wanted nothing more than to be away from him. ‘You love her. Shouldn’t that be enough.’ That’s right he did love Roselyn, with everything he had he loved that woman. ‘But do you love her more than Delia?’ Not so long ago the thought of loving someone more than her disgusted him. It filled him with shame. For so long he’d blamed himself for her death, that his actions and failure to save one woman had started a chain reaction of misfortune. Now thinking about it he realized that he did love Roselyn more than Delia. If Delia had abandoned him, left like Rosey did, he’d never have gone after her. He’d have accepted that she’d wanted someone else and it would have broke his heart. His hand tightened on the handle of his cane, there was no way he would ever let Roselyn Harper slip out of his grasp no matter how much she wanted to disappear. I’d follow her to the end of the Earth, he resolved. Shifting his gaze back into the car the conversation in the front had stopped and Noah was watching him with a critical eye.
“So, what are you going to say to her then,” Noah asked, glancing to Daku from the corner of his eye. “It’s going to have to be a hell of a line, you’re going to barge in on her wedding after all.”
The detective thought for a long moment, “You tell me. You are after all the one with a flair for the dramatic.”
“Ooh! Aren’t you excited,” Poppy exclaimed straightening the veil on her sisters head for what felt let the hundredth time. “It’s your wedding day! Marrying a man as handsome and sweet as Thomas.”
Poppy faked a swoon for the man, her hand against her forehead. It only served to make Roselyn frown heavier, green eyes tried to focus on her gloved hands. “If he’s so wonderful why didn’t you marry him,” she retorted, her voice flat and monotone.
“Oh don’t be silly Roselyn,” she laughed. “I have Gordon and he’s an absolute doll.” Poppy’s voice took on that dreamy quality that only happened when she spoke about her fiancé, and Roselyn’s stomach clenched. Her sister grasped her hand affectionately, giving a little squeeze to it and smiling sweetly. When Roselyn’s response was a weak twitch her sister sighed, grasping her chin and looking at her with the warm chocolate eyes of their mother. “Lynnie, is this what you really want,” she asked.
It was the question she’d been dreading to hear, nobody had bothered to ask her until now and trust her middle sister, the only one close to her age, to ask it. Tears began to prickle at the edge of her vision, in mock anger she yanked her hand away from her sister. “How can you ask that,” she snapped coldly. “I don’t have a choice in the matter.”
Her sister’s bright red lips disappeared into the family inherited thin line, “You always have a choice,” Poppy snapped. “Just because you’re going to have a baby doesn’t mean you have to marry someone you don’t love and that doesn’t love you!”
Dollops of tears began to fall down Roselyns cheeks, no doubt ruining her makeup. “Oh Lynnie. I-I’m sorry honey,” Poppy began back peddling as quickly as she could reaching for her handkerchief and dabbing at her sisters pouring eyes.
“No. No it’s not what I want,” she confessed her voice holding a slight wobble to it. “But it’s not just about me anymore.”
Silence weighed heavily between the sisters, Poppy looked absently out the window to the chilled spring day. “No it’s not,” she began gently. “But it is about what situation you want to raise a child into. Thomas has always been mean spirited, ever since we were in school. I don’t know what to tell you to do Lynnie I really don’t. But I know this,” her sisters hand drifted down to her stomach a firm but soft touch all the same. “Mom wouldn’t want you to do what made you unhappy, even if it was seen as the right thing to do.”
Roselyns breath hitched in her throat holding back a sob.
“There is a difference between what’s right and what is right for you, Lynnie.”
They pulled up to the small white church to see people pouring out of the doors, and a sinking feeling grew in the pit of Cleatus’s stomach. He was too late. Emerging from the car he looked around, some were scowling others, mostly women, were twittering behind hands. “Excuse me,” he said to a passing gentlemen. “I’m looking for the Harper wedding, more specifically the bride.”
The stranger nailed him with a sharp gaze, “So is everyone else.” He all but spit out.
“What do you mean,” Daku said coming up beside him.
“She’s gone,” he said glancing at the other people coming out of the church. “The Noah ran out on my brother and just left him here. Broad has been missing for the last 3 hours.”
Irritation boiled inside of Cleatus, but not as much as it did inside of Daku if the man’s menacing stance was any evidence. “Call her that one more time,” the Ginny threatened. “And you’ll be needing a hospital for lead poisoning.”
Before either Noah or Cleatus could pull him back or talk him down he launched into an argument with the man, snatching him by the lapel.
“I know where she is!” A voice snarled out, barely audible over the noise of those milling around for gossip. Cleatus’s attention was torn to the stairs of the church where an older man was jostling down them two at a time, his gray suit rumpled and a little tight in the mid section. Behind him trailed a younger dapper man who stood tall, hair slicked back and a scowl on his face. “She’s at the damn grave site and if you want her back you go and get her now.”
“Why would I want her…” his voice trailed off and the older man snatched the young man by the ear and began dragging him away towards a car.
Three young women watched from the steps of the church, all in nearly identical dresses their hair done identically and each looking distressed. One of them spotted the Hudson, her eyes growing wide and nudging another with her elbow and pointing. Cleatus couldn’t be sure if it was at him or at Noah, who was currently trying to reel Daku in. Making up his mind he walked towards the steps leaning heavily on his cane and ignoring the throbbing pain in his leg.
“Do you ladies know where I can find Roselyn?” He asked with the most polite smile he could muster. The three women studied him, brown and green eyes boring into him their mouths pressed into identical thin lines of disapproval. “You are her sisters if I am not mistaken.”
“We are,” the oldest responded. “But who are you.”
Before he could open his mouth to respond the red head spoke up, “Oh it’s him Mary can’t you tell?” She smiled down at him haughtily, “I just knew you’d show up.”
Mary snorted crossing her arms over her chest. “Yes but if Lynnie hadn’t run off she’d be married already and he’d be too late.”
“But he came Marigold!” Poppy scolded stamping her foot for good measure. “That should damn well be good enough!”
Cleatus could see where Roselyn had gotten her fiery personality and her strong morals. He glanced over at the one who had yet to speak, her hand grasping the railing tightly as she glowered down at him. “Do you love our sister?”
The question took him by surprise. Actually it took all of them by surprise, the two sisters ceased their bickering and a few people within ear shot had turned their attention to him. “Why else would I be here?”
“Then answer me straight yankee!” The woman snapped.
The Harper women were all fiery souls indeed. “Yes,” he whispered.
The three woman studied him, weighing his worth. Cleatus never had any siblings that looked out for his wellbeing, but as the three Harper sisters glared down at him from the steps of the local church he couldn’t help but wonder, if he was in fact good enough for a woman like Roselyn.
“She’s not at the cemetery.” Daisy said.
“She’s going back to the city.” Mary snorted.
“She’s going back to you.” Poppy said dreamily.
Cleatus stared dumbly at the three and was suddenly wondered if he’d landed in the middle of a Midwestern version of Hamlet. “Where is she?”
“The train station.”
It was all he needed to hear, hobbling as quickly as he could back to the car and wrapping Daku on the arm with his cane to break the argument he was in with the grooms brother. “Take me to the station.”
Daks nodded his head, before Cleatus knew it they were pulling up beside the train depo slash bus stop and he was rushing inside trying his best to ignore the burn in his leg and the pull at the healing wounds he looked up and down the hall way for Roselyn. There was a bus loading and almost simultaneously a train was boarding, the three of them split up Daku going to the train and Noah the bus to look for her while Cleatus searched the now nearly empty halls. There was a sinking feeling in his gut, one that told him he was far too late and he should just return to the city and wait for her; but his pride burned to find her and tell her. He needed to tell her before she thought about it too much. Roselyn always over thought everything she did, he couldn’t let her talk herself out of this decision, not now.
A door opened behind him and swung closed with a squeak, turning there she was her back turned towards him walking away from him towards the train platform.
She was insane. She’d left her sure thing for a fantasy. Roselyn dabbed at her eyes in the mirror of the Johannesburg Depot in vain. The dark smudges from her eyeliner and mascara were going to be permanent until she washed her face. She couldn’t help but want to blame it all on Poppy, even though it was all a mess of her own making. Her closest sister’s words of advice were enough to shatter any resolve she had to tough out a marriage that was doomed before it even started. Now here she was, crying, alone in the station depot with a one way ticket back to the Shores. She was a damned fool.
A hand clenched at her stomach. Everything in her, said to go back to the church. To put that dress on and walk down the aisle because it was the right thing to do. But her heart screamed for her to go back to Cleatus, to tell him the truth. That hit her hard; she hadn’t even told him anything before she left. It was only a hastily scribbled note she’d left in his hospital room. Tears began flowing all over again and she sniffled in attempt to stop them, dabbing once again at her eyes. She heard the train whistle from inside the rest room that was the 2 minute whistle; she had to get on this train. This was her chance to make it right.
The voice was soft, but she would know it anywhere. Spinning around her eyes wide with shock she stared, jaw slack. “C-Cleatus?”
“Hey Rosey,” he said with the smallest of smiles.