When Life is Unfair

When Life is Unfair

2 June 2017

Hello everyone,

The Bible gives us all sorts of good life lessons from real-life stories of people who have fought through the worst, and survived. My favorite apostle of all time is Peter, because in the beginning of his relationship with Jesus, he was very charismatic and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He loved Jesus, don’t get me wrong, but he was always questioning Jesus’ motives and reasons for doing things. I think he did so, not because he didn’t trust Jesus, but because he wanted to understand the right thing to do in these situations. He was a man who fought his faith, and who saw Jesus’ miracles hands on. He was also kind of a troublemaker, such as denying Jesus 3 times and cutting off a soldier’s ear to defend Jesus. I could almost picture Jesus looking at Peter when he did that, pretty much saying, “Peter, come on.” The story that really sticks with me, though, is the story of, when Jesus walked on water, Peter didn’t have enough faith to trust in Jesus to walk on water, too. As charismatic, courageous, and adventurous as Peter was, in that tiny moment, fear and distrust of faith got the best of him.

Such a story tells us that even when the apostles saw Jesus in actual physical form in front of them, they still had a lack of faith, such as not trusting when they were in a boat with a sleeping Jesus in a middle of a terrible storm. Nowadays, we trust Jesus completely. But the instant a trial hits us – a loved one dies; a dream disappears; we don’t get an expected answered prayer – we instantly turn into the “why God? Why me?” person. We are all human, but God expects us to trust Him. That is who He is. He is amazing.

A couple months ago, I saw the movie, “Is Genesis History?” It was really a tell-all story of God’s creation and how amazingly He created this earth, more than we can possibly imagine. We know that God created everything and made every human uniquely different, but did you know he made every single living thing unique too? From the biggest animal like the elephant to the tiniest ant – God knows every single one of them and made them all differently. And He cares for every single one of them, too! Isn’t that amazing? Then why is it that when a trial hits us, we forget about that and focus on the trial, as if we are all that matters, as if God doesn’t care about us, as if what we want matters more than what He wants for us.

Faith is a troublesome thing. When life is great, you may have a strong faith in God. But when life is sour, you forget about God and lose complete faith in Him. But we need to be faithful, because of the storm. We need to praise Him in that storm (yes, you read that correctly) and we need to trust that for whatever reason He’s letting the trial happen, no matter what, He has a unique plan for every one of us. He doesn’t have the same plan for somebody else. Just like there’s nobody else in the world with the same personality as you and I, there’s nobody who will ever have that same God-designed plan. Because we all handle life differently, act different, and are different! We are unique as God has blessed us to be, and to dive toward that beautiful plan instead of running from it will give us blessings instead of sorrows.

Recently, and still, I’m going through a personal trial. It is a trial of my faith, of trusting the Lord. My endless fear had been that God will not provide me with specific blessings in my life, or else He would make them different than how I’d like them to be. For months, I struggled with this, in denial that I had no faith problem. I read countless Bible reading plans and devotionals that gave me comfort. But finally, I realized that I needed to trust and accept that God would provide. I had to be courageous to accept that, and I needed to be wise to know how to accept it, and I’m still praying for these things. But because of this trial, I’ve actually drawn much closer to the Lord than I ever thought I could be, and not only that, but I’ve trusted the Lord much better, harder, and stronger than I ever have before, and I’ve been happier and more accepting of life because of it. God may not provide exactly what you want, but He will provide something that’s beautiful, wonderful, and much better than you could ever imagine. Even much better than what you wanted! You may have wanted something wonderful, but God provided something even better than that! All because you didn’t give up hope and kept your focus on the Lord. For example, when my late sister died, my parents blessed me with three more sisters. When a sheep epidemic hit our family’s farm one year, God not only healed the epidemic but blessed us with far more sheep than we ever thought of. God always comes through for us even when all seems hopeless.

You may think that your life is stuck in a rut and not going anywhere. But right now, God is using this time where time in general seems to be running agonizingly slow as you wait for His answers to your prayers. He’s using this time to train you in patience, gratitude, and overwhelming trust and love for Him. He’s using this time to help you grow in trust and love for Him and with your loved ones. He’s not just sitting there waiting. He’s growing the seed in your heart that relentlessly wants to stay put! He’s watering and watering and watering. And soon, you’ll be ready to receive these blessings. Will they be what you really wanted before? Probably not. Will it be exactly as you imagined it would be? No. But will it be worth the wait? Ohhhhhhhhh yes!!!!!!!!!!!

You may be stuck in a rut of growth, just like me. But hold your horses, partner. God has something beautiful planned for your life, something that will make the long wait worth waiting for, and something where you’ll be incredibly glad you trusted in Him all along. So trust in Him, friend, and trust as hard as you can. It will be a stunning sight of heaven when it is all over.

Oh, and don’t forget these three very important verses along the way, something to keep with you at all times, particularly every time a sliver of doubt assails your mind:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not onto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5,6

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 8-10

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

So is life really unfair? No, because God’s got it covered. All you need to is sit and wait and trust.God will provide, in accordance with His will, in His good time. And it will be beautiful.

JMK~ 🙂

TMS: Part 2: Chapters 13-End

13

Twenty years earlier

She hadn’t known that it would happen. There was hardly an explanation either—except that the magic suitcase had brought her here, of all places, to the busy town of London, England.

The magic suitcase had brought her back to life.

Marilyn Jackson peeked around the corner of a big brick building as she stood inside one of the London alleyways, in complete shock. She’d squeezed her eyes shut when the lit stick of dynamite had reached the end of the line, but instead of feelings of pain or even seeing the beautiful land of Paradise, she’d opened her eyes and had been laying on the ground beneath her. It was the strangest thing—perhaps the magic suitcase was much more than she’d ever imagined.

She didn’t know where her three children were, but she also was not worried. There was no doubt that they were safe. But now, she must continue to go on, for the mysteries of life were lying straight ahead. Now that she was presumed dead to the rest of the world, God still had a special plan for her.

Marilyn took a deep breath as she strode down the alleyway and toward the busy downtown area. All kinds of people roaming around her. Reporters, artists, drivers, and the average London citizen: adult or child, were hurrying around the streets of London. A boy was on the edge of one street giving away newspapers and, curious, Marilyn took one that he handed her and studied it.

She gasped—she was in the future! According to the newspaper’s year date, it had been exactly twenty-some years since she’d been in Morwick, witnessing her husband die, watching her daughters disappear inside the magic suitcase, leaving her baby to Cornwall Reaves for him to protect forever. She’d died inside the coal mining tunnel – but the magic suitcase had revived her. Her fate had been sealed that awful morning, and yet, she’d still awoken to find herself alive.

As Marilyn strode down the downtown London streets, not knowing where she was going but also not caring, she thought of her parents, particularly her father, who had so deeply loved her mother – who in such a short time had been the best mother Marilyn had ever known. If either one of them were alive today, what would be their thoughts of her life, of how the magic suitcase had saved her?

She walked faster, feeling determined and also a little anxious to discover what will occur next upon her. She’d probably never know where the suitcase had brought her children, and she’d also probably never find out. But by now, they were incredibly happy living their own lives, and that was all that truly mattered above anything else. For she trusted the magic suitcase.

Suddenly, though, as she gazed amongst the people and wagons hurrying down the streets at fast paces, she stopped—and froze. Her blood ran cold with shock, and then, tears welled up in her eyes – tears of utter, complete happiness.

There, across the street a little ways from her, stood a man holding his own newspaper, frowning at it in confusion. Marilyn could recognize those high cheekbones anywhere—those pale blue eyes, the dark, wavy hair, the beard that curved around his jaw, even his sun-browned skin. He was a man who had worked in the coal mines since age twenty-one, a man who had loved his career until his dying day in which he’d dissolved in that coal mining tunnel like mere dust from the ground. She’d gazed into those pale blue eyes every day. He was the father of her children, her best friend, and every reason that she’d ever chosen to live in her past – and every reason for needing to continue to live the rest of her life until the Lord called her home for good.

Tears sprang from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.

“Henry!” she screamed at the top of his lungs, waving her arms. “Henry!”

Henry looked up, since he recognized the voice as well as his own, and his pale blue eyes searched the crowds until they found her. They widened, and he dropped the newspaper.

“Henry!” she exclaimed, rushing through the crowd of people and wagons. “Henry, Henry!”

“Marilyn!” he shouted, his booming voice sounding like the most beautiful roll of thunder. He began to run toward her.

She ran straight toward him as soon as she reached the other side of the street. He stopped, tears in his own eyes, and extended his arms with a big smile on his handsome, weathered face.

Giant sobs overtook her as she jumped into his arms, feeling his arms collide around her, perfect as always, and Henry swept her feet off the ground, holding her and cherishing her. She buried his face in his shirt, smelled his wonderful scent of pine and home. Her love for him was powerful, as was his own love for her, the greatest and best treasure either of them had ever known.

Finally, Henry set her down, pulling back only to cradle her jaw in his large palms, tears damp on his face.

“Is it you?” he whispered, in tears as she fingered the waves of his hair with tenderness. “Is it really you?”

Nodding, Marilyn beamed, and then kissed him with a deep passion, and he kissed her back. Their arms stayed linked around each other’s bodies, their hearts once again united.

And from that day forward, through death and eternity, that link would forever remain.

 

 

 

Dear friends,

 

Thank you for choosing to read this book. It means the world to me that you would support me in my endeavors. One day this Part 2 might become published, but not now. May God continue to bless you always.

 

JMK~

TMS: Part 2: Chapters 11-12

11

Two Days Earlier

With his usual clipboard in hand, Henry strolled through the early morning breakers of Coal Mountain. His job as superintendent was important: he had to make sure the work was completed the way the law required. He stretched the rules a bit, too, but with only one thing: making it optional instead of mandatory for young boys to work in the coal mines. He did it for the sole purpose of taking care of Morwick’s family’s children.

Besides, in his generous opinion, boys were far too young to be scouting through the coal mines, destined to be follow in their fathers’ footsteps. Henry reported to the state on a regular basis via telegram, telling them about the status of the coal miners and the work being done.

Typically, by the time the coal miners first came to Coal Mountain, they were in their early thirties and usually either newlywed husbands or beginning fathers. While their wives awaited at home to make sure they came home without a scratch, Henry stayed alone in the mine, pondering how to tell one of the miners’ wives their husbands had been injured. Either that, or the worst—which he had to deal with two years ago for the first time—telling a miner’s wife her husband would never be coming home again.

Henry remembered that terrible day. It had been a day like any other. The runners, laborers, drivers of the coal carts, and regular miners were working about like normal. Christopher “Scout” Taylor had approached Henry, asking about his wife and daughters, and then joked about how his then-pregnant wife “grew bigger and bigger by the hour.” Scout had always joked with Henry how his wife should “stop eating so many pies.” Scout, like everyone else in the mines, had been a devout husband and father. His wife, Patsy had been expecting their second child. They’d already had a little boy, not quite three years old at the time of his father’s death, oblivious to it all. His name had been Christopher Junior.

Henry, with the help of the miners, had decided they needed to blow up a certain coal tunnel because there was bound to be much better coal to dig into on the other side. For some reason, however, the dynamite wires hadn’t been connected correctly. Without waiting for anyone else to volunteer, Scout had—to replace the wires—and then once he did, the rest of the men, including Henry, had witnessed Scout disappear into the dust of Coal Mountain.

The last image Henry had glued in his mind of Scout haunted him sometimes, remembering his victorious big smile once he’d successfully replaced the wires of the dynamite.

He and Cornwall Reaves decided they would have to leave the mountain to tell Patsy her husband hadn’t survived. He remembered the happy look of greeting on Patsy’s face—quickly changed to grave horror—and Henry and Cornwall had said nothing but only bowed their heads at her, hats in their hands with sympathetic eyes.

Henry remembered the blame, remembered how for weeks afterward, Marilyn coaxed Patsy to not be angry with Henry. It hadn’t been Henry’s fault for the incident—it had been Scout’s choice. But Patsy, disbelieving her friend and turning against the entire town, took off with her mother and father only a few weeks following the second child’s birth—a baby girl. She’d had enough of the Jacksons and of Morwick.

It’d taken a long time for Henry to forgive himself for the blame, and also to stop believing over and over that Patsy’s words were correctly stated. It’d taken all of his family’s love and much, much prayer with God for him to finally accept the truth: it hadn’t been his fault. It had simply been an accident.

After Scout’s death, however, Henry had changed things on Coal Mountain. He switched security of the outside of Coal Mountain by hiring Xander Prick—which nowadays had become closer to being a huge mistake. He also altered the hours of labor the men were to work. They would not be allowed to work past eleven p.m. They were commanded to go home every evening to get no less than six hours of sleep. As superintendent, Henry had gone above and beyond for his coal miners and the others workers, for he cared deeply for them. This was his dream career after all, and he did not want to see it diminished by his own actions.

Henry abided by the laws of the state with all of his might, and he took extra precaution to make sure every man understood the regulations. After all, he needed to make sure another man did not suffer the same consequences as Scout Taylor had. His children would never know their father, so alas, Henry needed to prevent reoccurrences of the past as much as possible.

Coal Mountain’s work started at strictly five-thirty a.m. every morning. Every worker had been assigned to be there no later than five-thirty a.m.—and no earlier than five a.m. Every morning, Henry kissed his beautiful sleeping wife on the cheek, threw on his work shirt and trousers, kissed his girls on their sleeping heads, and went off to work at Coal Mountain. First, he made sure the walls were secure to mine and second, that nobody had been left behind during the night to sleep in one of the mines. Although, the men were pretty good at abiding by his orders.

The runners, also known as the conductors who took care of the loaded coal cars and who directed the drivers of the cars, were the first ones there every morning, next to the drivers. The laborers’ jobs were to load the cars of coal once the miners had blasted through the tunnels, bringing about as much coal as before, usually. They blasted no more than ten times a day—according to Henry’s orders—but the explosions also varied due to the thickness and security of the mountain walls.

Henry wished he paid the workers more, too. The biggest pay he gave equaled to no more than a dollar and sixty-five cents per hour, according to state laws. The state commanded strict regulations, though, and as the superintendent he of course had to abide by them. But even though he was also the mayor of the town, no job as mayor came as important as taking care of the safety of his coal miners and the other workers of the mountain.

Having a family of his own, he understood how hard it felt for Marilyn and the girls—particularly Marilyn—to not see him for sometimes, days at a time. Those times were only when a big storm came, and Henry did not let his men work on rainy days because of the fact that they may become sick. During the rain, if they were permitted to work, it turned into harder labor and few meals, although the wives were all warned ahead of time to pack their men extra food in their lunch bags to keep their bodies’ nutrients up. Long days such as those were hardest on the boys who decided to work in the mines, and Henry kept an extra eye on them.

No matter how hard it became for Marilyn and the girls, he also trusted first and foremost that his family understood the importance of the work and the fact that his workers could not get through a single work shift without his help. He valued their lives, safety, and happiness. Most of them liked working in the mines, although the work still remained quite difficult. For the boys, they at least had much easier jobs compared to the men, such as bringing the workers supplies and being there in case they needed to hold something for one of them.

Henry stepped out of the coal mines and into the fresh air, marking off the attendance of the miners on his clipboard. He felt guilty when he went out into the fresh air, but his job didn’t include being in the mines as long as they did. Although he did help them on a regular basis, he did not always need to.

As he walked toward the small, wooden supply house where all the mines’ extra supplies—and his paperwork—were located, he passed the front which the Prick family’s men daily guarded. Xander Prick fell into step with him. His three sons, the other security guards of Coal Mountain, were at his heels.

“You know, Henry,” Xander complained as he followed him. “I’m getting tired of standing outside this stupid mountain, waiting for nothing to happen.”

“Is that so?” Henry lay his clipboard upon the ledge of the shed, and turned toward him. As he did, Cornwall Reaves came out of one of the holed mines of Coal Mountain, announcing that he planned to take his break, where Henry nodded at him.

“It is.” Xander crossed his arms, glaring at him. “And come to think of it, I’m getting tired of how you’re running things around here.”

Hearing this, Cornwall Reaves, drinking water from his canteen, frowned and strode over to where they were.

“Look, Prick.” Henry crossed his arms, copying him. He stood a couple inches taller than Prick, and stronger-looking, too. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking myself lately. Seems that in the past few months, you and your family have been causing nothing but trouble. It’s bothering a lot of Morwick’s residents, in fact.”

Xander crooked an eyebrow. “Oh yeah, Mayor?”

“Yes.” Henry shook his head. “Look, we really appreciate everything you and your family have done for this town. We are grateful for the work you’ve all contributed—you and your family—in making this place a home for all of us.” He sighed. “But I’m afraid you and your family have become too much of a nuisance. It’s time for you all to leave.”

That caught Xander off guard. His gaze filled with hatred and heavy bitterness even more as he stared into Henry’s face.

Cornwall, after washing his face with the water from the canteen, wiped the water over his forehead as he looked on.

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this.” Xander turned around and then began pacing the ground before them. “You’re telling me you’re going to give up the security this pathetic excuse for a coal mountain needs, all because my family’s a big ugly nuisance?”

“You know exactly what sort of havoc you’ve been causing for the good people of this community.” Henry’s voice etched out strong and stern. “Now I’m giving you and your sons two choices—leave town with the rest of your family, or become coal miners.”

“Become coal miners!” Xander screamed, his fists erupting at his sides. “Well, I have news for you, Jackson! This is war! You hear me? This is war!” He came right up to Henry and stared him straight in the face. “This time, you’re not going to get away with anything. This time, you and your family’s lives are going to be ruined forever!”

Without any warning, Xander lurched forward and punched Henry in the gut.

Henry, shocked, bent forward, just as Xander shoved him to the ground. He fell, and abruptly, all three of Xander’s sons sprang into action.

“Henry!” Cornwall called out, hurrying forward, but Sid Prick shoved the end of his gun into Cornwall’s stomach, where he also fell like a rag doll.

Xander kicked Henry in the face, and he collapsed to the side, where Prick kicked him again, several times. As he did, Xander screamed at him: “You are no longer mayor and commander of this town, Henry Jackson! You are no longer in charge of any of us! Do you hear me? Any of us!”

Spitting blood from his lips, Henry lay on the ground still, but conscious, his eyes squeezed shut to block out the pain slamming through his body.

Then, as Jude Prick hurried over to tie up Henry’s hands behind his back—in turn, Sid and Zayn pinned Cornwall against the ground as he struggled against them.

Turning toward Cornwall then, Xander pointed his shotgun toward the younger man, pressing it against his forehead firmly—so hard, in fact, that he cried out in pain.

Then, sneering with anger, Xander cocked his shotgun.

No!” Henry screamed out then, getting up so fast Jude had to lay ontop of him to keep him from moving. “Please, Xander, no! Please! Don’t do this!

“Why shouldn’t I?” Xander growled over at him. “He’s your friend, isn’t he? Plus he’s seen everything here.”

“He has a family!” Henry shouted out, his dark hair messy and his face coated with stark grief.

“And you don’t have a family?” Xander glared down at him. “Let me get something straight with you, Henry. You’re not in charge of any part of this village anymore. Is that clear?” He smiled. “That means every person who takes your side—every single person—will suffer the consequences—including your own family. Especially your family.” He chuckled.

Breathing hard with growing anger, Henry glared up at him, his shoulders tight and the veins on his neck bulging with anxiety and deep anger.

“In fact…” Finally, Xander removed his gun from Cornwall’s forehead, causing him to breathe out in relief. “I’ve made a new plan, boys.” He glanced over at Sid and Zayn. “You two, I want you to tie that man up and then—go out and get Cornwall Reaves’ family—his wife and his two young sons—bring them here so we can hold them hostage…and show them we really mean business!”

Staring at Xander in shock, Cornwall—enraged—fought against Sid and Zayn. “No!” he shouted. “No! Please, no!”

“Shut up!” Xander snapped at him, and then glanced over at Jude. “Now, Jude—I want you to go find your mother and sister.” He gazed straight into Henry’s face, as if he sensed his next words would destroy him. “Tell them we are ready.”

Henry glared at Xander. “Ready…for what?” he demanded in a growling tone.

Xander, pure evil, did nothing but smile. “Ready to kill off the entire village.”

Shock encompassed Henry’s face. “What?” he whispered.

“That’s right.” Sneering, Xander raised his eyebrows and told him the stark truth that would be the worst thing he would ever hear upon his life: “Henry Jackson, you are never going to see your wife and daughters—again!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12

          Six hours later

“Now, I will remind you, Jackson, that you’re treading a steep line.” Xander scowled over at Henry. “A very dangerous, steep line.”

They were standing outside one side of Coal Mountain, beside a long, narrow tunnel that appeared like it had no ending with the length of it. A mess of hard rock and clay were both inside and around the tunnel as well, because the tunnel had been created for Xander’s own reasons the day before. No doubt he was planning something that would shake all of them, not to mention destroy everything Henry and his family had worked so hard for.

Except for the Reaves family and Henry, all of the coal miners were sitting outside the coal mountain, farther away with Xander’s sons, Zayn and Jude. They in turn stood beside them with shotguns as a guard them to make sure they stayed where they were. All the coal miners were gazing with anger toward Xander Prick, and all were completely tied up in ropes, their filthy coal-mucked clothes and faces a drastic appearance from the rest of them.

Henry, his hands tied up behind him, stood beside Xander. He would be helpless to whatever came next. Nearby, the Reaves family stood. Cornwall Reaves leaned against a smaller part of the mountain with one arm around his wife Anna. Anna Reaves had both hands on the shoulders of her young sons, ages thirteen and nine, Nathaniel and Joshua, and she fought back tears. Jude Prick had his own shotgun pointed at them.

“You’ve decided you’re going to take over Coal Mountain,” Henry demanded, sweat at his brow. “Not me. So why am I running this so-called steep line?”

“You’ve never given anyone else the chance to be, as it could be said, team captain.” Xander grinned as he strode over to Henry, and then shoved a tight fist into Henry’s stomach.

Henry let out a loud cry, squeezing his eyes shut and causing Anna Reaves to wince, while her sons hid their own faces against her.

Henry breathed hard as he bent over, pain stark on his dirt-smothered face.

“You think I’m playing games here?” Xander clutched Henry’s hair and tugged his head up, forcing him to look at him straight in the eye. “I’m going to take over this village, this mountain, and this great and wonderful investment. I’m going to watch my wife and daughter return after drowning all of the women and children in the river…and if one of your daughters, or even your wife, returns here alive, I am going to make you watch me burn them…alive!”

Breathing hard in determined anger, Henry glared at him. “My wife is the smartest woman in the village, even smarter than your wife, Prick,” he snarled, and then spat in his face. “She wouldn’t let any bad things occur at that river.”

“Just you watch!” Xander slapped one hand across Henry’s face, and then started to turn away, when a familiar voice called out, as sweet as heaven: “Henry!”

They all turned, and a big smile swept across Mrs. Reaves’s face as all the women, led by Marilyn, appeared outside the mountain. Many were holding lanterns to light their way, and Nova and Ulsa were nowhere to be found.

~*~

Marilyn could not keep from staring at her husband’s face as she stopped walking, followed by the rest of the village women who had agreed to come with. There were a lot of them. Ronald, though, had taken his sweet wife home to grieve.

Henry’s face filled with warmth and hope, but also with some blood marks, as if Xander had been beating him.

“The girls?” he called out.

Marilyn smiled. “They and the other children are all safe with Mrs. Price and Mrs. Crest in town.”

Frowning, Xander trod over to the women, all exhausted from walking, and peered into Marilyn’s glaring gaze. “All right, woman. Where are Nova and Ulsa?” He gazed toward the other women, where most of them glanced away as if they were terrified of him. “Well?” He stepped closer to Marilyn’s face, causing her to flinch and tighten her grasp against the soft linen of her dress.

Not getting an abrupt answer, Mr. Prick wrapped his hand around her neck. “Tell me, woman!”

“They’re dead,” Marilyn replied.

Mr. Prick froze. He let go of her and then, cautious, he straightened to glare straight into Marilyn’s face, who looked at him, unafraid.

“I am sorry, but Mr. Jenkins shot Nova in self-defense, after Nova killed Lena, his wife.” Marilyn did not feel sorry at all. “They were going to drown all of us. Ulsa ran away, and we found her dead in a snake den on the way back here.”

Henry shook his head, his face a mixture of shock and true sadness.

Xander clenched his fists at his sides. “They were supposed to kill all of you! I commanded that!” he screamed into Marilyn’s unwavering face. “You fool! How could you have done that?”

Marilyn glanced behind her at the other women, desperate to protect them at all costs, and then glared back over at Xander.

“You’re all going to die now!” Xander yelled out, backing away. “I am going to destroy this village and all of its inhabitants! Mark my words!” He marched over to Zayn. “Zayn, bring all those men to their feet! The men need to see this!”

Zayn and Sid forced all of the coal miners to their feet, while Xander cut loose Henry’s tied hands. “Henry, you’re going to be a part of this, too,” he proclaimed, scaring the women. Walking past the women and the Reaves children, he burst out, “All of you will watch this!”

He strode straight over to Anna Reaves and grabbed her by the arm. As she shrieked, he pulled, half dragged her toward the huge hole of the deep coal mine tunnel.

No!” Cornwall shouted, but Jude held him back as he struggled against him while both Nathaniel and Joshua ran away to the women in safety. “Prick! You leave her alone!”

“Shut up!” Xander demanded. “Jude, make sure you secure him, or he’ll be next in this extravaganza.” At Jude’s curt nod, he glanced at Anna, who stared at him in shock. “Now listen here, woman! I want you to walk down the tunnel, as far as you can, without looking back!”

Shocked, Marilyn and Henry exchanged glances of pure fear.

“I’m not going down that tunnel!” Anna cried out, trying to jerk out of his grasp. “It’s too dangerous!”

Sid shoved a gun to the edge of her back, causing her to cry out. “You’ll do it!”

Cornwall rushed forward, but this time, both Jude and Sid grabbed him hard, pulling him back. “No! Please, Prick, don’t hurt my wife!” he yelled, his face contorted with pain.

Sid pointed his shotgun over at him. “You wanna die, too?”

Cornwall, fear stark on his face, breathed hard against the strong men.

Xander pushed her forward. “Start walking, woman! Come on! Now!

“Stay back, ladies!” Mother commanded in a loud, trembling voice, knowing with all of her heart what may happen next.

Anna’s forehead was sweaty and pale in the light of the lanterns, and she swiped her hands on her dress before, terrified, she grabbed onto the edge of the mountain with trembling hands. She walked into the dark tunnel. She tripped over one of the rocks inside, whimpering, her hands holding onto the walls narrowly leaning in on her.

Faster!” Xander commanded, and Sid cocked his shotgun.

Shrieking, Anna hurried down the tunnel faster, her hands clasped to tight fists against the walls.

Xander hurried over with Zayn and his gun at his heels, and then shoved Henry forward, causing Marilyn to gasp. “Now! You’re going to make a choice. You’re going to choose on whether or not you will save this lady by risking your own life!” He glared. “What will it be, Henry?”

Speechless, Henry glanced behind him toward Marilyn.

Marilyn stared after Anna’s retreating back in shock, unable to believe what was happening before her.

But then she glanced at her husband…and gasped. Tears welled up in her eyes as she stared at him.

Henry glanced back at the tunnel, the woman’s whimpers echoing against the walls as she went deeper and deeper into the tunnel at a careful run.

Finally, Henry gazed, and when he did, Marilyn swallowed hard at the rough emotion on his face, filled with such apology and love.

Then, he said brokenly: “I love you, Marilyn.” Every word was noted with such emotion, such power, that tears sprang to Marilyn’s eyes.

She gasped again. “No!” she screamed.

Henry spun around, clutched onto the mountain wall, and then heaved himself inside the coal mine tunnel.

“Hold on!” he yelled to Anna, who peered back to see him hurry toward her as fast as he could. “I’ll help you!”

“You can’t help her, Henry!” Xander shouted. “Give up! There’s no use in making things right! I’m the one who will take over Coal Mountain! I will! I am!”

“Henry, no!” Cornwall squeaked out, his hands clenching into the soft dirt beneath his fingernails, shock on his face.

“Hold on, Anna!” Henry exclaimed, several feet away from grabbing onto her hand. “I’ve got you!”

Marilyn backed away from the scene, sobbing, and shook her head back and forth.

“Henry!” Anna cried out. “I don’t understand what’s going on!”

“We’ll be all right!” Henry demanded, his voice echoing inside the narrow cave. “I promise! I won’t let anything happen to you! Take my hand!” He extended his big, strong hand, determination on his face—when suddenly, out of the corner of Marilyn’s eye, there became a spark of fire.

Holding the lit match in his hand, a smile large and tart on his cruel face, Xander Prick announced: “My town…my rules!”

He lit the stick of dynamite in his hand, and threw it—to everyone’s astounded belief—into the tunnel where Anna and Henry were.

No!” Cornwall screamed at the top of his lungs, before Sid punched him, bringing him to the ground and then holding him back. “No! Please, no!

The dynamite landed near Henry’s feet with a soft thud, the flame disintegrating the line.

Henry glanced down at the stick of dynamite, and then, eyes wide with shock and disbelief, glanced back. “No!” he shouted.

Anna’s screams were earsplitting as she fought against Henry to get back toward the tunnel opening, but it was too late—screams of the village echoed around the area as everyone ran from the scene as fast as they could, including the Pricks and Cornwall. Everyone ducked for cover, and Marilyn, after pushing Cornwall to the grass, collapsed to the ground with her body protecting him.

The explosion went off, detonating the entire area. As everyone hid their heads, bits of rock flew everywhere, piercing everyone’s ears. Dirt and rock hit people’s bodies, and smoke rose up from the shifting, large rocks.

The tunnel collapsed, drowning what was left in its midst, taking away all of the air from it, and sinking the entire village’s hearts.

The cloud of smoke was all that remained of the explosion, filling the entire area.

It felt like several minutes before finally, most of the smoke had left and the sounds of rocks collapsing around them completed.

As soon as Marilyn straightened, she looked up and discovered that the tunnel was no longer there. She gasped. “Henry!” she screamed, hurrying toward the collapsed wall, but she felt Cornwall’s hands hold her back. “Henry, no!

But Henry was gone, and so was Anna.

Xander smiled over at the mountain wall which was now a huge pile of rock debris, and then, he started laughing, like he’d achieved a mighty goal. He stood, but as he turned around, two men came over to him.

“You think you can eliminate people’s loved ones like they were nothing?” one demanded. “What gives you the right?”

Xander chuckled, holding up his hands. “There’s nothing you can do about it now, boys. I’m in charge now.” He took out his gun from his holster, as fast as lightning, and shot both of the men in the chest.

Screams echoed around the entire huge crowd of men, women, and the Reaves children.

The two men crumpled to the ground like rag dolls.

“I will take all of your wives and children!” Xander stormed from the top of his lungs, his voice bouncing around them, making him sound like a monster. “I will strip the food and water from your houses! All of you will die!” he pronounced, gazing up at the night sky like he was king of the universe.

Marilyn’s skin trembled, cold with stark grief.

Nearby, Cornwall lay stomach down on the ground, his shoulders shaking in quiet sobs. Close by him, Nathaniel and Joshua sat on the ground as well, their faces both filled with incredible sadness and deep loss.

“You’ll never get away with this,” Marilyn snapped at Xander, although her voice still shook, and she glared at him. “You will be sorry when you stand before the Lord one day—”

“Trust me, woman,” Xander snarled, pointing his pistol straight at Mother’s forehead. “If anything, you will be the one who’ll be sorry!” He put down his pistol. “I could kill you right now, woman, both you and your unborn child! Not to mention your pathetic children!”

Marilyn slapped him. “Don’t you dare touch my children!”

Xander studied Mother hard, the anger growing even more intense beneath his gaze. “I will do,” he growled, “whatever I so desire anytime I want! Nobody will stop me!” He began shooting recklessly at the mountain, scaring all of the men and women around them.

“Come, ladies,” Mother whispered, although without much of a voice. “Let’s go home.”

By her side, some of the women wept as they made their way away from them, along with some of the rest of the men, women, and the Reaves children, glancing behind them on their way out to make sure Xander wasn’t following them. But soon, other families left Coal Mountain too, leaving Xander and his sons behind them to run their lives.

 

The following day

Cornwall Reaves stared into space unseeingly as he sat on the sofa inside his home, one arm around his son Joshua as he cried quiet, gentle sobs against his side. Nathaniel, his older son, walked over to his other side from the window.

“Papa,” he whimpered, fear on his small face. “Papa, what happens now?”

Cornwall peered over at him, and then rustled his hair. “We’re going to be okay, boy.” He gave a sad smile. “We’re going to be fine.”

Suddenly, the front door burst open, and Marilyn appeared.

Cornwall bolted upright, and then stood. “Marilyn!” he exclaimed in a shocked voice.

Marilyn glanced behind her, her hands full. Then, she set down her belongings next to the sofa: a small brown suitcase and a basket with a blanket covering the top of it.

“Cornwall,” she said as he stood. “I need you to take this.” She grabbed his hand at his side, and then planted a piece of paper inside it. “It will get you and your boys exactly where you need to go. Listen to me!” She clasped his shoulder. “They’re coming for me, all right? I need you take this suitcase and basket, and get out of here. Quickly! The Prick sons are coming to take me away, and they’re going to burn you and your sons inside this house…alive!”

Nathaniel gasped as he stared up at Marilyn, shocked.

“Marilyn…” Confused, Cornwall shook his head. “Marilyn…where are the girls?”

But Marilyn only shook her head. “There’s no time.” She glanced behind her as the sound of footsteps became obvious on the Reaves’s front porch. “But you need to trust me, all right? Trust me and read the letter! It’s the only way to get you and your sons to safety!”

Cornwall snagged Marilyn’s arm. “Marilyn!” he demanded. “Where are the girls?”

Marilyn frowned at him, and then studied him straight in the eye. “You have to trust me!”

Just then, all three of the Prick sons hurried inside the house. Zayn and Jude grabbed onto each of Marilyn’s arms, pulling her away from Cornwall.

“Trust me, Cornwall!” Marilyn cried over her shoulder as the men carried her out of the house. “Trust me, please! Please, you have to trust me!”

After they disappeared from sight, Sid came straight over to Cornwall. In turn, he stood protectively in front of his two sons, studying the younger man hard.

“Well, well.” Sid grinned a decayed-tooth grin over at him, and then looked him up and down. “Cornwall Reaves.”

Cornwall glared at him, furious anger stark in his blue-green eyes.

“You’re all going to burn.” Sid came up to him and looked at him straight in the eye. “And don’t you even try escaping!”

Grinning, he tossed a lit match to the floor as he exited the home and slammed the door. Cornwall hurried over to the lit match, and stomped on it hard.

But it didn’t matter—there sounded the clinking sound of chains coming about the house door, and then, the sloshing of liquid as the Pricks threw buckets of petrol around the house.

“Father!” Joshua called out as Cornwall ripped open the note and read through it. Then, with a look of disbelief on his face, he glanced over at the suitcase, then the basket.

Nathaniel bent down next to the basket. He then lifted the top blanket—and gasped.

There, nestled beneath other blankets, squirmed a beautiful newborn baby. On the front of the basket, near the infant’s legs, lay a leather-bound book.

Shocked, Nathaniel glanced up at his father. Joshua looked over into the basket, too, and his mouth popped open.

However, smoke seeped through the bottom of the front door. There erupted the sound of laughter, and then, the engulfing of flames.

“Papa!” Nathaniel cried out, panicking.

Suddenly, Cornwall tossed aside the letter. Then, grabbing one of the kitchen chairs, he rushed over to the back window and threw the chair through the window, shattering the glass.

Both of his sons stared at him as he came over. Then, Cornwall knelt before his eldest. “Nathaniel.” He clasped the boy’s shoulders. “I need you to leave! Exit through the broken window there and escape!”

“But where will I go?” Nathaniel cried out, terrified.

“Walk until you reach the nearest town. There, you will find a train depot. I want you to wait there. Help will soon be provided for you after that. All right?”

“But Papa!” Nathaniel exclaimed. “I’m scared!”

“So am I.” Clamping his hands to his son’s face, Cornwall kissed his son hard on the forehead, emotional but with the strength of an ox. Then, after glancing around him at the fire beginning to sweep inside the house, he smiled over at him. “Son, we need to separate so they don’t find us.” He took the book inside the basket, and gave it to him. “And I need you to take this and keep it safe. Do you trust me?”

Hesitant, Nathaniel nodded.

“Do you love me?”

Nathaniel nodded again.

Cornwall smiled. “I love you, too.” He blinked hard. “I’m proud of you, son. I always have and always will be. You’re my eldest son, and I’m very, very proud of you.”

Nathaniel choked on a sob. “But Papa, what if I don’t survive?”

“You will, son. You will.” Cornwall swallowed hard. “Because you’re like me.” He clasped his shoulder. “Now go!” He shoved him forward, and Nathaniel hurried toward the broken window, glancing back only once to see Joshua staring at him, in whom he may never see again.

After he climbed out of the window, he stood near the house—and peered inside.

Cornwall lifted the Jackson’s baby from the basket. As if the baby sensed danger, it started crying, but Cornwall kept it secure to the close of his chest, and then, bending over the suitcase, unlatched it.

The suitcase’s top flew open—and revealed beautiful, magical colors of the rainbow, colors of the sky and birds, colors beyond Nathaniel’s wildest dreams. Shocked, he gasped as, without hesitation, his father said something to Joshua.

Joshua stared up at his father in fearful confusion. Then, taking a deep breath, he jumped inside the suitcase, and disappeared.

Nathaniel gasped in amazement.

Then, Cornwall peered around him at the fire creeping inside the house he’d shared with his wife for many years. Finally, he covered the baby’s head with one hand, and jumped inside the suitcase, too.

Cornwall and the baby disappeared—and then, so did the suitcase, right before a flash of fire took hold of the sofa and engulfed it into flames.

Nathaniel gazed around him, and then stared straight toward the big hill behind their house. Swallowing hard, he stepped forward, and ran up the hill as hard and as fast as he could. He ran and ran, terrified of the Pricks finding him, and terrified of what his life could possibly hold after this.

Once he reached the top of the hill, Nathaniel looked down at what remained of Morwick. The railroad cars in front of Coal Mountain were silent. People were running about, screaming and taking hold of their families as the Pricks set fire to another house, then another, causing pain and misery around the village.

Then, after one final look, Nathaniel turned and hurried down the opposite side of the hill, toward his future and the miles of green trees and land that lay before him. He couldn’t stop—and didn’t stop—for that he should only obey what his dear father had commanded him to do.

 

TMS: Part 2: Chapters 9-10

9

The next two days, Marilyn sat inside her bedroom, unable to eat, staring out her window into the gardens and longing for a better life. Zelda and her father had argued the night before, but she hadn’t made out what words were being said. This time, they hadn’t been fighting much, causing her to realize with a sinking feeling that Zelda was both wearing her father down and controlling his and all of their lives.

There would never be another way. They may never encounter an end to all of this torment that raged through the household, where she became Zelda’s next victim for revenge, for a constant brutal need to use “their daughter” whenever she had the chance.

However, as Marilyn stared outside, she noticed movement from inside the garden gazebo. Though he was farther away, she recognized the person there.

There, sitting on the long, curved bench reading with his feet up, was Henry, dressed in a suit like always, and her heart flipped over. She couldn’t help but smile. No matter her previous confusion for the man, she knew one thing: the comfort of his friendship that had somehow caused her to become in love with him. She must leave the estate forever, but there seemed no way to do so now, not with Zelda in command of everything.

Suddenly, a quiet knock came about on the doorway, and Maisie peeked inside.

Marilyn smiled in relief. “Hello, Maisie.”

“Hello, dear.” Maisie peered behind her to make sure nobody had seen her, and then slipped inside the room, closing the door behind her. In her hand she held a small envelope, in the shape of a telegram, along with a plate of food full of luscious fresh strawberries, blueberries, and fresh cut watermelon from the kitchen. She sat at the edge of her bed, and handed her the plate of food first. “Here. I know you haven’t come out of your bedroom since yesterday.”

Seeing the food caused Marilyn to realize how ravenous she really was, and she thanked Maisie, taking the food and beginning to eat it.

Between her third and fourth bites, she smiled at Maisie, who gave her a loving, kind smile back. “What has been happening out there?”

“Not much. It’s been rather quiet.” She sighed. “I’ll wait until you’re finished eating to explain further.”

It didn’t take Marilyn long to finish, because she’d been famished. After she finished, feeling better, she told herself she’d sneak into the kitchen for some more food later, and set aside the empty plate.

“What’s happening?” she asked in an uncertain voice.

Maisie studied her for a long moment, and then whispered, her face looking miserable: “Zelda is kicking me out of the house for good. I’m supposed to have my bag packed by dawn.”

What?” Marilyn couldn’t believe it. “You mean to tell me that she’s forcing you to leave because you and Father are married?” she demanded, feeling even angrier at Maisie’s slight but obvious nod. “But why?”

“I suppose she believes that word is going to somehow get out that she’s not your father’s actual wife.” Maisie frowned and shook her head, gazing out the window for a long moment. “It’s funny, it really is – ironic, more than anything – but I’m trying my hardest to not think ill of the woman, no matter how unbelievable she’s being.” She glanced at her. “You should, too, my dear.”

Marilyn nodded. “I’ll try my hardest to, Maisie. But…” She sighed. “Why isn’t Father doing anything to keep it from happening?”

Maisie smiled. “My dear girl, I love your father more than anything in this world, stronger and more purer than any other love could ever be.” She gazed down at her hands. “But…your father is much destroyed. His heart is broken after everything that has gone on in the household since we first decided we should hire Zelda. Some way or another, she ended up getting the final say in everything going on within the estate. He was the breadwinner…and yet, she’s acting as if she controls everything and everyone.”

“I know.” Marilyn swallowed hard, and then clasped Maisie’s hand. “I’m really sad that you have to leave…Mother.”

Maisie smiled, and proud blush reddened her cheeks. Then, once she raised her head again, there were tears in her eyes, and she cupped one side of Marilyn’s cheek.

“The day you were born, aside from our wedding day, was the happiest day of my life, you know.”

Marilyn bit her lip, her throat swollen with emotion and not knowing how to respond to that.

Maisie let her face go, but continued to hold her hand. “Once the midwife brought you into my arms, I had the most perfect realization of what to name you. You and I both carry the same middle name. I named you Marilyn Elizabeth James.” She chuckled, and then patted her hand and slipped the small sheet of paper into her palm instead. “This is for you. Ben brought this to me right away, and right away, I knew to whom it belonged.” She stood, and then studied her daughter’s face. “Will you be there to wish me goodbye tomorrow morning?”

Marilyn nodded and smiled, not knowing what to say. She wanted to tell her birth mother how she was sorry, that she longed for her a much better, happier life, that she wished all of these terrible events had never happened. From the bottom of her heart, she was sad that Zelda had desired to become fake Mrs. Wesley James, to control all of their lives.

Instead, however, she remained quiet.

Maisie, smiling, cupped her chin, and kissed her on the forehead. The kiss was one of the sweetest actions a mother could possibly show with her own child, and it brought Marilyn to tears as her birth mother left the room.

Fighting back her emotions, she ripped open what appeared to be a telegram from Henry. She smiled at what she read, which caused her to gaze out of her bedroom window toward the gazebo, where Henry awaited for her return.

She glanced back at the small note on the telegram, which simply read:

           

Dear Marilyn,

            I will be sitting right here at your gazebo, waiting for you so we can begin our life together. I want you to know that I’m really looking forward to that day, and until then I will be, forever and always, yours.

            I love you.

            Henry

 

 

Dawn came far too fast. Marilyn rose early, and worked between sewing and gazing outside, staring with longing at the gazebo where Henry relaxed again today, reading and every so often glancing back at the manor. It seemed as if he longed to see her, and Marilyn could not quiet the quick pounding of her heart whenever he did so.

Then, finally, her name was called downstairs.

Soon, Marilyn found herself in the large foyer, along with Father, Zelda, and Maisie. All the servants of the household were there, too, standing in line farther back and closer to the wall compared to the rest of them.

Maisie had her suitcase packed and sitting by the door where Ben also stood, awaiting the next command. Maisie, dressed in an old turquoise and black-colored dress, along with a gray bonnet and gloves, finished saying goodbye to all of the servants. Charlotte, in tears, dabbed at her damp cheeks with a handkerchief, and Marilyn sympathized with her. She’d obviously been Maisie’s closest friend of the household, and now she would never see her again.

Marilyn backed up so she stayed out of the way, and stood near the window which led onto the gravel driveway and a big buckboard that awaited outside, ready to take Maisie away. She noticed that her father, several feet away, stood straight as a statue but quiet. No emotion played on his face.

“Goodbye, everyone,” Maisie whispered to the servants, looking calm and collected, although smiling. “I will miss you all.”

Charlotte nodded, sniffling hard, and then finally hid her face in the handkerchief.

“All right, that is it.” Zelda shot forward, nudging Ben out of the way, and swung open the door. She indicated the door with a sharp twist of her hand, and then glared over at Maisie, who merely looked at her with quiet obedience. “You’ve said your goodbyes. Leave!”

Maisie studied her for a bit longer. Then, she stepped over to Ben, who handed her the suitcase without another word, and she stood in the doorway, glancing around the foyer as if painting a beautiful picture of the room in her mind. Her gaze fell upon Marilyn. She smiled over at her, love quite evident in her eyes.

Marilyn smiled back, afraid to say a word, but also not knowing what words to say. “Goodbye” didn’t seem good enough. She wanted to tell her that she’d miss her and that she would be missed by everyone, but no words came to her mind.

Suddenly, then, Maisie glanced over at Father. This time, however, she didn’t smile. As she gripped her suitcase, she and Father stared at each other for a long moment. Marilyn studied at her Father’s face, sullen and stark, but then, tears welled up in his eyes. Yet they didn’t fall.

“I’m commanding you to leave now!” Zelda commanded. “Maisie! Out! Now!”

Maisie, acting as if she could not hear, strode forward, her focus on Father, and then reached forward, her hand grasping for him. Her face was filled with desperation, apologetic…so many pleas of help written there.

Marilyn swallowed hard, her heart pounding from inside her, as Father extended his own hand, his face contorted, and he grasped Maisie’s hand. Her fingers went around his, and they were connected, together only for a moment, as emotion after emotion played across Father’s own face.

Tears rolled down Marilyn’s cheeks, and she squeezed her eyes shut, looking away. What hit her the worst was knowing her parents would never see each other again, and she couldn’t bear to see Maisie leave with so much left to say and to give as a mother.

With resignation, Maisie let go of Father’s hand. His own hand dropped to his side. Then, after one final look at him as she backed away, Maisie twisted away. She hurried outside and down the road.

Her knees feeling like wood with numbness, Marilyn walked to the window as Ben helped Maisie into the buckboard. He closed the door, and then walked back inside the house.

Then, with her face sad and blank as she stared outside, Maisie began her way to a brand new life. The crunching sound of the carriage wheels descended upon the gravel as they disappeared from the property.

Without another word, Zelda glanced at Father with bitterness before turning and disappearing down the hallway.

Father sauntered outside, first walking and then hurrying down the gravel road before stopping and, to Marilyn’s great surprise, falling to his knees. Once this happened, unable to see anymore, she turned and whispered to the servants with a cutting smile: “You may go now.”

They did as she asked, and Marilyn left, too, treading back upstairs toward her bedroom.

While she did so, her heart swollen with grief, she tried her hardest to ignore the desperate, bone-chilling screams from her father echoing off the stone walls of the estate like broken glass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10

That evening, fighting to know the truth, Marilyn opened the door of her father’s office. Soon, her father would start drinking again, so she decided she better do it now before she lost her nerve. If she didn’t, she might never receive the chance to again. After Maisie’s departure, he might change to a different human being.

His soul and heart were both becoming different.

As she stood in her father’s office doorway, the hallway light illuminated inside to reveal two un-opened tall bottles of whiskey on the top of the pianoforte. His desk sat next to it, and its owner resided in his office chair, facing the adjacent window, and puffed every now and then from his cigar he held within trembling fingers.

She swallowed hard. Then, taking a deep breath, she brought her lantern into the room, letting the door click closed behind her.

“Father? It’s me.” Marilyn brought the lantern over to the end table by the sofa, its location between the pianoforte and her father’s grand office desk.

The room should’ve been a little bigger for an office at a huge estate. But granted that her father rarely used it anymore except for sitting in it and mulling over his thoughts, not to mention drinking, it still seemed an understandable place for him to be.

Marilyn, hesitant, sat on the edge of the sofa, and studied her father’s face.

Her father wore his bathrobe over his pajamas and slippers, and he puffed again at the cigar, his head resting against the back of the chair.

“Is something wrong, Marilyn?” he asked, no emotion obvious in his voice. He sounded dead, as if all the joy and happiness found in life had been sucked out of his body.

Marilyn didn’t blame him, since Maisie’s absence from the household had taken a great, significant toll on him.

“I have one question for you, and one only.” Fear clung tightly from deep inside, but she forced it away. She’d now developed into a mature adult, and she trusted Father with the truth. Besides, she needed to know. “I’d like to know how you and Maisie met and came to…here…before you married.” She swallowed hard.

Father stopped puffing his cigar. Then, he glanced over at her. His gaze was blank, emotion-less. He set aside his cigar in the ashtray on the end table beside him, and then rested against the chair for a few moments longer.

Then, before Marilyn assumed he wasn’t going to say a word, he spoke, his throat slightly hoarse from fatigue: “Within that first moment of bliss, she’d been acting on the theater stage.” One side of his mouth crooked up, and a sudden sharp gleam sprang across his face, causing Marilyn to relax in her seat. “She was on the London, England stage. She bore a singing role, and she did it so well. Her voice was beautiful. She sung as if the song were her last, as if she wanted all the world to know how talented she was.”

Marilyn smiled as she imagined it.

“Of course…” Father chuckled, a sound foreign to Marilyn for most of her life. “She’d been a replacement for another actress, who’d abruptly become sick that morning and unable to perform. The audience loved her, though. She sparkled, transcendent before everyone’s eyes, startling and so beautiful. So beautiful…” He gazed off into the darkness of the room, in deep memory. “The first chance I got, I went to see her backstage, but they told me she’d already left. I ran outside the theater, wanting nothing more than to meet up with her.

“Then, at last, I found her standing on the street corner, looking lost, sad, and concerned. All the light which had been in her eyes on that theater stage had vanished from the world. She’d grown up an orphan on the streets, having lost her parents in a terrible train accident as a small girl. Nobody wanted poor, shy her, so she’d survived alone.

“The first thing I said was: ‘You were charming tonight,’ which had probably not been the most delightful sentence in the world to say. She peered up at me as if I were a crazy man drunk from the theater and wanting a girl to bring home. But as an honest, hard-working man, I wanted no such thing. I told her funny stories about how I worked as an administrative assistant at my father’s work, and the more nervously told stories I gave her, the more she relaxed with me. She agreed to meet up with me for tea later in the week. Well, as you can imagine, that week couldn’t go by slowly enough. After the tea meeting ended, she asked if we might meet up for dinner sometime, and of course I felt much obliged to want to do so.

“The more we got to know each other over the next four or five months, the more I fell in love with her. She was a girl from a poor background, much like my mother who, ironically, had also been an orphan on the streets. I continued to hold my ground. I couldn’t let go of the most priceless treasure I’d ever known. She stayed at a boardinghouse at the end of the block from the theater where she worked, so it became easy for me to go right over there at the end of my own work shifts, flirting with her and teasing her, making her laugh and blush, because she was so shy and cute. Then, one night, I couldn’t take it any longer. I was so nervous. I bought some flowers at one of London’s flower shops, with a note asking her to marry me, and tucked the note within the flowers, although still visible to the eye. I went to the boardinghouse front door and knocked. She stayed up late, the last person to go to bed every evening since she also worked the financial books for the boardinghouse. She swung open the front door, and seeing her so beautiful in the dim porch light, I couldn’t speak. I handed her the flowers with a smile. She took them, but then studied me for a long moment, wondering if there was anything else I wanted from her, still oblivious to my proposal note hidden with the roses.

“So then, I kissed her, wrapping my arms around her and pulling her close. She kissed me back, a long, deep kiss. By the time we finished, she’d accidentally dropped the flowers on the ground in the process, and we were both breathless… I smiled at her, put my hat back on my head, and left.”

Father’s smile on his face shifted into a deep frown, then the still, sad and dead-looking expression it’d been before. “She’d accepted it, of course. We married, bought this estate, and then had you. I’ve never regretted it since, Marilyn. Not once.”

“I know you haven’t, Father,” Marilyn whispered.

Father turned his head away from her, gazing back into the darkness. The conversation was over, any other words left unsaid.

Marilyn, with a heavy sigh, stood and turned to go. But before she passed him, Father snagged her wrist.

She glanced over.

His hand becoming more gentle, her father lifted her hand and nestled it against the side of his scruffy beard. Such a sweet gesture was something he’d done many a time when she’d been only a little girl, before everything terrible had happened. Remembering that, her heart went out to him even more.

Finally, he heaved a sigh, and once he did, Marilyn realized he was crying.

“I’m…so sorry you had to deal with all of this pain and struggle over the years, sweetheart,” he whispered in a raw and broken voice, and all Marilyn did was stand there shocked. She clasped her other hand to his head and brushed his hair.

“I’m so sorry…” he continued, squeezing his eyes shut. “I’m so sorry for hurting you…”

Her breath caught then, and Marilyn recognized it as the truth, the cold stark truth she’d awaited for all of these years. She smiled. Then, giving him a hug, she kissed the top of his forehead.

“I love you, Papa,” she whispered then, giving him the nickname she’d called him so often when she was a girl. “I always have and always will.”

Finally, she brought back her other hand, and made her way out of her father’s office, leaving him to cry in the darkness.

~*~

In the middle of the night, unable to sleep, Marilyn found herself once again at her bedroom window, in her nightgown and staring off toward the gazebo that now sat empty, since Henry had gone back home for the day.

Suddenly, however, there erupted a slamming of the door and all at once, the sound of Zelda’s harsh argument with Father about something.

In return, though, causing Marilyn to jump in her seat, her father returned with a furious tone that sent her still in her place: “You fired the only woman I love to prove your point, Zelda? That you are once and for all the ultimate authority of the household?”

By how he slurred his words, he’d been drinking.

“I am the command of the household, Wesley, and that is how you have to come and accept it!” Zelda shouted back. “But she’d always been a wretched woman, completely poor, barely no pennies to her family name, and yet you are to love a woman like that, who is hardly a woman in the first place?”

“How dare you say that about Maisie! How dare you!

Marilyn clasped a hand to her mouth.

“Wesley, what are you doing? Let go of me! No, Wesley, no! Please! No! NO!”

            Tears rolled down Marilyn’s cheeks at the sound of the first hit, then the the second. After that, the fight ended, and she sighed with relief, for her father did not show himself as an abusive man at all anymore. He’d only gone and slapped Zelda to prove a point, that no matter what authority she had in the household, she’d still gotten rid of his first and only love.

Marilyn’s body shook as she hugged herself, listening to Zelda’s crying that sounded so sharp and piercing to the ears that she couldn’t move, could hardly breathe. All she did was pray that the abuse had truly ended.

Moments later, after the stark slamming of the bedroom door, the darkness of the house became bone-quiet. Marilyn, trembling, slipped back into her bed. She covered the sheets over her head, in case it happened again, and she cried herself to sleep. She prayed for mercy, for justice, for happiness in her life.

Most of all, she prayed she would one day see Henry Jackson’s face once more.

~*~

The next morning, while sitting in the armchair beside her bed, catching up on her sewing, Marilyn glancing up when hearing a knock at the door.

She set aside her sewing, and got up to answer it.

When she opened the door, Charlotte stood on the other side, tears damp on her face.

“Your mother wishes to speak with you downstairs in the dining room,” she whispered.

Understanding how Charlotte felt upset about Maisie no longer living there, along with the entire household situation, Marilyn placed a comforting hand on the maid’s shoulder.

“Thank you, Charlotte,” she whispered, who bowed her head and bit her lip, shy for her upset manner being so obvious.

Marilyn turned and strode down the stairs, wondering what Zelda had planned for her now.

Once she reached the dining room, however, she found her father at the head of the table, looking like he hadn’t slept all night, drinking his morning coffee and reading the paper. His scrambled eggs on his breakfast plate had grown cold.

“Ah, there you are.” Zelda, bags of fatigue under her eyes, yet also looking as if she still reigned in control of things around the estate, clamped down her coffee teacup as Marilyn approached. “I have news for you, my dear. It so happens that you will not have to worry about Maisie Carter anymore.”

“How’s that?” Marilyn snapped, not caring at all how she spoke to the authority of the house. “How have you come to ruin our lives even more?” She glanced at her father, who threw aside the newspaper and flipped out a bottle of gin from the inside pocket of his coat. He dumped some into his coffee.

“Watch your mouth, young lady.” Zelda sat up straighter in her chair, and then stood. “Just because you think your life is over doesn’t mean you have to be so nasty to your own mother.”

“Oh, so now you’re my mother again.” Marilyn forced out a laugh, tasted it as bitter. “How in the world has this come to so you can take over my life?”

Eyes wide with disbelief, Zelda raised a hand to slap her, but Marilyn struck it aside instead.

“Let me get something straight with you, Zelda,” Marilyn bit out. “You are not my mother, never will be, and I will do whatever it takes—and I mean whatever it takes—to get my birth mother back.”

“You won’t need to!” Zelda exclaimed. “Because I have decided to create a divorce settlement for the two of them!”

“A divorce?” Marilyn screamed, so angry the roof of the mansion would explode with her ire. “You’re forcing Maisie and Father to get a divorce?

Zelda glared over at her, her face pale from under the dining room light. “Marilyn, calm down. This is no time to get fussy!”

“Get fussy? Get fussy? Is this what you call it now, Mother? Or should I even call you that?” Marilyn shouted, her voice getting hoarse with how high-pitched her voice became, her blood boiling with fierce anger. “After you blame me for letting myself be born, who tells me to love a woman who claims to be my biological mother, separating my real parents forever? This is no family! This is a nightmare! And I’m never going to be free!” She lifted her chin in defiance. “Until now!”

She glanced over at her father, who was, not quite to her surprise, smiling over at her. Pride shone on his face. He was proud of his daughter.

Which gave Marilyn all the encouragement she needed.

She spun away, and then hurried from the room and out of the house at a dead speed.

“Marilyn!” Zelda bellowed behind her. “Marilyn! You come right back here this moment!”

But Marilyn did not care. She did not care about running away forever, leaving her family behind. No doubt they no longer loved her. Maybe they never had.

But one person in particular did.

Rushing out into the pouring rain, Marilyn didn’t stop from running. She ran and ran, straight down to the garden gazebo a quarter of a mile away from the house, where Henry awaited.

He sat reading a book as she bolted toward the gazebo. But as she neared, running as fast as she could, Henry set aside his book, as if in shock, and stared at her with wide eyes as she strolled into the gazebo toward him, soaking wet.

“You are my husband,” Marilyn declared, breathless, “and you saved me.” Her shoulders heaving, she neared him until she lured hardly even an inch away from him, staring into his deep blue eyes. “I love you, Henry.” She smiled. “I love you very much.”

Surprised, Henry hardly needed much more time to respond. Beginning to smile, he cupped the back of her head, drew her close, and kissed her deeply. The intense kiss caused Marilyn to grab onto his shirt and pull him closer, an action that both took her breath away and made her dizzy, but in a good way.

When Marilyn drew back to gaze into Henry’s eyes, she didn’t need a reminder of his own love for her. Her past now no longer mattered. Her family would disappear from her memories. Being in his arms like this, Marilyn was finally home.

Hundreds of memories would surround Marilyn years afterward. Memories from when Henry took Marilyn to Morwick, New Zealand to live and raise their family in a different country, and also to promote their coal mining business. They sent off fliers and went into nearby towns giving out advertisements for several months. Soon, families traveled to Morwick, settled, and began to help with the coal mining business. Money began coming in, a specific chunk going to Henry and Marilyn and their newborn daughter Martha, who was born a year after they’d settled in Morwick.

Marilyn never received word from her old family again, except for a letter from Charlotte several months after she’d left home. Charlotte, who’d received Marilyn’s letter one month after they’d arrived in Morwick, telling everyone they were settled, had written back only to tell her the news. Maisie had died in a hospital following a terrible wagon wreck. Hearing the news, her father, sick from grief, had drunk himself to death several days later. Zelda, on the other hand, soon after left the estate, forgetting about creating the divorce settlement between Wesley and Maisie, and was never seen again. This left the servants to sell the estate and find employment elsewhere. However, Henry’s parents sent letters every few weeks, and they responded when they could.

Four years later, one month after Alice was born, Morwick bought a brand new train. This became the second train since they’d found Morwick.

Marilyn smiled. She’d had quite a lot of fun with Henry and the children. It had truly been a great life really worth living.

But now, as she strode down another deep coal mining tunnel, knowing the outcome of her fate, it still could not keep from frowning. Although the situation seemed pretty grim, she reminded herself that all three of her children were safe, and that gave her comfort. Martha and Alice were off to worlds unknown where, unseeingly, three days after they’d left, the magic suitcase had reappeared on her doorstep.

She had lied to Martha and Alice for the first time in their lives: the magic suitcase reappeared after three times of being used, not two. After that, whatever became of the suitcase, she didn’t know. But it was a great comfort to know, at long last, her children were safe.

And soon, so would she.

As she remembered this, Marilyn couldn’t hear Mr. Prick’s harsh laughter, couldn’t remember his threat after Martha and Alice had left that he would destroy Morwick forever. The single solid smile hiding her tears left all of her gentle, tranquil face as she stretched toward Henry, her children, and most importantly, her Father in heaven and meeting Him…as she disappeared into her new adventure of endless eternities…

TMS: Part 2: Chapters 7-8

7

The following morning was unlike any other morning, which would continue for three full months following. According to Charlotte, Maisie snuck into Marilyn’s bedroom, slipped a small piece of parchment on her nightstand, and did so for several days afterward. Every other day, it seemed, there arrived a brand new piece of parchment on her nightstand.

What were they?

Letters from Henry.

 

Dear Marilyn,

            I hope you are doing well and that everyone and everything in your life is treating you well. You deserve it. After you left my family’s estate, I did not want that to be the last time I was a part of your life. You enchant me, Marilyn, in ways I never even dreamed. You are the one who makes me smile more than anyone or anything else ever has. With dread I fear I may have said too much at this point. But now that I shown you how amazing you truly are, I hope you will not be taken aback by everything that I have said.

 

            In warmest affections,

            Henry Jackson

 

            After the second letter, Marilyn found herself responding in a way that both frightened and amazed her. Henry wrote with such purpose and emotion, but not only that, she had become able to see a different and better Henry, a man she was falling even more in love with as the days progressed.

With every letter, Marilyn gathered courage and wrote with even more happiness and passion about seeing him and being with him. As each month passed by, she wrote with the sudden urge and need to see him. She longed to know what it felt like to be needed, held, and caressed in every way in which she’d never known. She never told him these needs in writing except through some mild hints, since she was still timid, but she craved seeing him more and more with every passing day.

During this time, these sweet letters kept Marilyn feeling more alive than she’d ever been before:

 

Letters from Month One

Dear Henry,

            Thank you for your letter. I am sure the estate is manageable, and I hope your reading has been exciting. What are your favorite authors and books to read? I find reading one of the most exciting hobbies I do in any particular day. I love to write stories sometimes, too, but painting and drawing has always been my strongest suit. All of the servants of the household own at least one drawing or painting I have given to them at one time or another.

            Thank you also for your kind words in complimenting me as a person. It made me feel very much appreciated. I find your friendship delightful because, in all honesty, I’ve never known what it felt like to have a true friend. The closest friends I’ve ever had were the servants, except for my birth mother Maisie, who has been quiet all of these years up until now.

            I hope this letter will continue to make you smile.

            Sincerely,

            Marilyn James

 

            Dearest Marilyn,

            When I received your letter, I almost jumped for joy. In the past, nobody in their right mind would even bother to want to write to me. I’ve never had a female friend before, but I believe I quite like it a lot. It gives me a feeling of someone else caring about what I think and feel, in a way in which I have never experienced before.

            In my lifetime, if my friends (all male, of course) ever invited me to outings such as hunting, fishing, etc., I’d find myself getting bored with ease, even if we had a good conversation going. These are not naturally boring guys, of course, and I do enjoy such hobbies as hunting and fishing. But when I have had conversations with you in the past, including now over these last dozen or so letters we’ve communicated to each other, I find I’m enjoying myself more with these rather than other conversations, even those shared with my own parents. I’ve enjoyed learning about your life and who you are. You are quiet but intriguing, and that’s what keeps me writing the most…aside from my adoration for you.

            Hope you smile when you receive this letter as well.

            In warmest affections,

            Henry Jackson

 

Letters from Month Two

            Dear Henry,

            Today a beautiful blue bird sat on its nest on the branch above the estate gazebo. It gazed down at me and alas, as I remained very still, the bird acted like it wanted to perceive some sort of message to me. Perhaps the bird planned to warn me to not touch its babies in the nest, or maybe it had asked me to protect the babies while it went off on a food run. Whatever the case, I enjoyed its sight.

            To answer your question last time, I do enjoy nature. I enjoy painting nature canvases as well, especially about birds. Blue birds are probably my most favorite to paint. The servants have told me I have a talent for memorizing intricate details on any particular bird’s feathers, so complex and sharp-looking that the servants sometimes think the bird sat right on my lap while I painted a picture of it.

            I understand your feelings for me, Henry, and I deeply agree with you that if it is all right with you, I’d like to let our friendship discover stronger, closer elements of happiness that might lead us one day to marriage. I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, your words are not scaring me but giving me courage, if nothing else, to both write and speak from my heart a lot more and not be so afraid to do so. To answer your final question, Henry, I do think of you quite often as well, and a lot of times, I yearn to be near you more than anything. Lately, I have not been keen to sleeping, for it is you who fills my dreams the most.

 

            Yours Truly,

            Marilyn

 

            Dearest Marilyn,

            I’ve been thinking of you a lot lately, far more than the normal amount. I do apologize for that, but I cannot help it. Sometimes I wish God had granted me as much talent as you have, painting a picture of you, imagining you in your estate garden, in the gazebo, any thought that makes me happy to pluck.

            When I first met you, I never realized I’d have such strong emotions for someone. I plan to, and I very much look forward to, meeting up with you again sometime in the near future. It seems that lately, my family has been dead set in going to as many balls and other city extravaganzas as possible. I’m trying my best to avoid them, but I know also my dear mother doesn’t want me to sit around all day like a lovestruck bum. Since I still live in the house, I must do as they ask. There are plans, I can tell you, where I am truly hoping to take you far away soon, to lands beyond your imagination. It wouldn’t be until after a marriage of course, but I do not want you to fear, Marilyn. I say nothing about this to scare you or to even sound intimidating, but merely, and only most of all, to entrust to you a beautiful future where you will no longer have to be afraid or worry about what terrible thing your parents will bring to the estate next. I am sometimes sad, and also a little impatient, to get you out of that house and onto better and brighter things!

            I hope that if it is God’s will, I will truly be most successful in doing so.

            Yours Always,

            Henry

 

Letters from Month Three

            Dear Marilyn,

            I hope you are doing well. I am sorry to hear about the latest fighting going on in your estate. I was sad to hear about that, that there is always something terrible bringing the woman I care about so deeply such sadness and grief. I wish I could grab my horse and rush down there to stop this madness for good!

            But of course, it cannot be helped. Trials come and go in this life, and I know you are a strong, tough woman. I wish I could shield you from all of life’s terrible things and keep it away forever. But God lets bad things happen to us to teach us a lesson, and I believe with all my heart that He does this a lot, and that is why bad things don’t occur all the time.

            One of the things I want most in life, besides children like you said you one day wanted more than anything, too, is to run a coal-mining business. I’m not sure if I ever mentioned anything like this to you before. I know my family and I are wealthy enough where we most likely don’t even need careers. I cannot put my finger on it, but there’s something about the coal industry that makes me want to learn more about it. Maybe it has something to do with the suitcase I tried explaining to you in my last letter.

            I know that since you are such a kind-hearted, gentle person, you will not mind being a part of it, too. I want you to know, Marilyn, from the bottom of my heart, I admire you and adore you. I trust you also, and I know I can rely on you with anything, good or bad, that I am ever facing in my life.

            I hope to come and visit you really soon. Until then, you’ll continue to remain constant on my mind. I care about you more than you will ever know, and I long to see your face every minute of every day.

            Yours Always,

            Henry

 

            Dear Henry,

            Thank you so much for your letter, and also for your kind words in the trials my family has been facing lately. It takes a toll on all of us, servants included, and sometimes when I lay awake at night listening to their fights, I wonder why the servants haven’t left yet. They must be tired of all of it by now, as am I. Every day I wish for it to all stop, for my parents to appear married again. I long for my father’s happiness lately, more than I ever have before. He is a good man despite the disappointments he’s faced in his life, and as his daughter I would do anything to make him truly happy once more.

            You’re right with everything you’re saying, of course, as you always are. This madness, however, will not stop. But I know and trust, agreeing with you, that God brings us these trials for good reason, and I do rely on Him daily. No matter what may happen to my family, now or in the future, I will never stop believing in His promises or in Him and who He is as our God. He does so much for us, so no matter what I could ever lose, I vow to never lose my Christian faith. I know you agree with me on this, too. I am so glad we have both been baptized for the forgiveness of sins, we are both faithful church members, and that you agree with me with everything I say in regards to God and how to live for Him.

            You are so kind. I do very much appreciate your generous words in everything you always say to me. You are truly the most honorable person I know. I care for you deeply as well. As far as the coal mining industry goes, I agree with you that it is a fine industry to embark. My suspicions is if we are married, you will want to start it up somewhere besides England. I want you to know that even if I might worry for you while you are at work, understanding how dangerous this career will no doubt be, I would never keep you from any of your life passions. It’ll be a career that will be a lot of hard work, but one you will also love, so what sort of person would I be in keeping you from this blessing?

            You are a hard and trusted worker, a great leader to others, and the most gentle and caring person I’ve ever met. There will never be another person like you in my life. If I died tomorrow, Henry, at least I would be happy writing one successful letter to you about the feelings I share with you.

            I know it is supposed to be the man who is supposed to start this part, but I know who I am and what I feel, so I am going to say it. I love you, Henry.

           

            In True Love,

            Marilyn

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8

Three months passed. Then, one early afternoon, a quiet knock sounded on Marilyn’s bedroom door.

“Come in,” she called, focusing hard on her knitting project as she sat in her bedroom armchair.

Charlotte opened the door and peeked inside, grinning from ear to ear. “Marilyn!” she whispered, her tone thick with excitement. “There’s a handsome man downstairs asking to see you!”

Marilyn studied Charlotte for a long moment. Then, remembering Henry, she brightened. She stood, set aside her knitting, and went downstairs.

She almost couldn’t contain her excitement. Henry had come to see her! She’d never had a visitor who truly cared enough to see her. Even though she still was shy around him, not to mention careful since she wanted to make sure he deemed both a good man and the right one for her, she so wanted to make this time with Henry, long or short, a pleasant experience.

As soon as she arrived in the foyer, she noticed Zelda already there, speaking with Henry. Nearby, Ben stood by the front door. All three were waiting for her.

“Marilyn!” Zelda exclaimed, beaming with pride while walking toward her. “This young man would like to take you on an outing with him. Say you will, and put on your cloak and bonnet right away!”

Marilyn glanced past Zelda to Henry, who stood with his hat in his hands, grinning at her. He appeared handsome in his suit—he wore a brown suit today with a matching tan shirt and tie beneath it, far too good to be real. In fact, in her eyes, he had become the most wonderful man in the entire world.

But she was still trying to figure him out, so until she did, she’d be careful around him until she finalized with absolute certainty that she could rely him on him for life. After all, of all her entire life experiences, though most of them were bad ones, she needed someone she could count on for the rest of her days on Earth.

“I accept,” she whispered, and smiled over at him.

Ben brought her the gray bonnet she wore for outings such as these, along with her cloak which she tied around her, and together they exited out into the spring weather with Zelda smiling with glee behind them.

As the buckboard headed down the road toward the town of Brunnings, Marilyn glanced over at Henry across from her, who gave her a genuine, kind smile.

“Why are we going to Brunnings?” she asked, courteous when inside she screamed with joy.

“I figured it’d be nice to take a stroll around the town, get to know each other better.” He winked at her. “Besides, I like writing letters, but it’s not as important as seeing you up close.”

Marilyn raised her eyebrows, but then he tossed her another wink, showing his intention of only teasing her. She gave out a relieved sigh, and then twisted her face toward the stunning England landscape the open window gave.

Once they got to the edge of town, Henry requested the driver let them off at the start of town, and then pick them up at the same spot. They would be right by the gunsmith shop that sat as the first building into town.

Marilyn wondered what in the world they could possibly talk about within a two-hour span, but then, she reminded herself she’d never had a friend before. Henry was a friend, and she would not let this precious time with her brand new friend go to waste. Even if they never got married like both of their parents wanted them to, at least she had a friend to busy the rest of her days. For Marilyn, that seemed like a perfect way to live a good life.

As the buckboard let them out and rode away, Henry offered his arm, Marilyn took it, and together they strode down the granite pavements, down through town, making their way through the charming Brunnings.

Marilyn very much enjoyed Henry’s company. They began talking about the weather, their speech both awkward at first, about how the shifting seasons had changed so fast. Marilyn asked what Henry did for work, and he said he helped his father in his law office, organizing papers and making a good salary, aside from the money he already had growing around him. He had extensive wealth, and for this, mainly because of the needs Zelda and her father both had, she was grateful. For if they had a family one day, which seemed doubtful because of it being an arranged marriage, they would have an abundance of anything and everything they could ever need.

They finished strolling out of the main street of town, beginning down the end streets toward where the residential areas formed. Aside from some children playing in the front walks of their homes, it seemed an otherwise quiet place to be. Its tranquility comforted her, and it caused Marilyn to relax even more in Henry’s presence.

After Henry finished talking about the extent of the law office, he slowed his walk as they approached a stone bridge which would carry them over the river and into the rest of the residential cottages of Brunnings. The well-off people all lived in the surrounding parts of the countryside not far from town in their own estates, compared to the cottages the poorer people of the community owned.

The stone bridge, Marilyn noticed as they approached it, had a beautiful location. Lush green bushes grew at the edges of each side of the bridge and across from each railing. The bridge also wore brilliant decorations of beautiful, long ribbons of flowers, a combination of pink roses, white daisies, and orange geraniums that bloomed both over and around the railings on both sides. Its view was quite stunning.

“I sense,” Henry spoke as they approached the bridge, “how you are still timid around me, Marilyn.” His voice dropped to a thick and kind, calm manner, with great understanding and no judgment at all.

Marilyn, however, was shocked that he could read her so well. “Why would you say that?” she asked.

“How you are. You’re quiet. You weren’t like this in your letters.” He glanced down at her. “You know you need not be shy around me, Marilyn. I’m your friend. Right? Aren’t I your friend?”

Marilyn smiled, not looking at him as they walked. “Of course you are.”

“Well, good.” He smiled. “So you should be able to tell your troubles to a friend, shouldn’t you?”

They had stopped beside the blooming flowers, and they gazed over the stone railing to the quiet waters flowing below. He glanced back at her, and then held her lace gloved hand within his palm.

“You can trust me, Marilyn. You know that, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.” Marilyn shrugged. “It’s not that I don’t want to trust you…” She bit her lip, unsure how to put it into words.

Henry waited for her response, studying her.

Marilyn glanced back up at him. “My entire life I’ve been confined to the estate.” She closed her eyes, ashamed of herself for acting this way around him, in whom she’d been so excited to see again. “I’d been given a governess growing up to give me an education. Every day she lived there, I had a friend I could confide in. She didn’t know about my father’s alcoholism or my mother—Zelda’s—very strict manner.” She shook her head in sadness. “I’m not even allowed to have much contact with any of the servants, as it might mess up their work habits.” She sighed. “Ever since the governess left, my education finished at age seventeen, it became rather boring in the estate. I’d spend a good part of my days at the gazebo drawing, painting, or reading, like now, and I’m very thankful Zelda let me at least do those things. I’d probably die of boredom otherwise.”

She turned, looking over the river afar off to where the flowing, tranquil waters didn’t seem to have an ending. Cottages curved around the river both in intricate patterns and sheer perfection, and she was thankful for being in such a quiet place.

“Before you came along, the only time Mother allowed me to leave the estate would be for church on Sunday mornings, which I made very important to Zelda after I became a Christian.” She shook her head again. “I’m nineteen years old now, and unless I marry, nothing in my everyday life will change up until my parents’ deaths.” She peered at Henry, who continue to study her with kindness. “I know that sounds terrible, but in the past two years, I’ve felt like all I’ve been doing is leading a sad life, waiting for my parents to die so I can inherit everything they own and perhaps then be much happier.”

“It’s not terrible, Marilyn. It’s what you grew up with.” Henry smiled, and then stroked the top of her hand with his thumb. “I know you’re scared, that I’m a brand new experience for you that you’ve never imagined before. But I promise you it’ll be worth it. You can trust me.” He studied her harder. “All right?”

“All right.” She touched his arm. “Henry, I’m so sorry for being cautious.”

“No, Marilyn.” He shook his head. “Please, don’t be sorry. None of this is your fault.”

Marilyn liked the expression on his face, so gentle and so kind. She had never known a man like him before. In fact, she’d never met anyone aside from the servants who looked at her with sympathy and understanding, instead of critical predicaments and judgmental, strict attitudes to life, mainly with how she lived her own. She was tired of feeling lonely, like she had nothing meaningful to look forward to in her future.

But now that Henry stood here, everything in her life became much more meaningful, and Marilyn liked that a lot.

“Marilyn,” Henry continued, letting go of her hand for a moment, “I’ve been thinking a lot about what you’ve been telling me both in your letters and in person.” He swallowed hard, then, and she grew still, sensing something different about him. “I’ve decided that I’m sick of working in the law office, and it’d be a great pleasure of mine to have my own land, my own worries to take care of on a regular basis without the burdens of our present lives.”

Marilyn studied him, wondering what he meant.

Henry smiled, then, and it caused her to feel a wave of relief rush over her, but her heart still pounded with uncertainty.

“Marilyn…” He sighed, as if he was preparing himself for something. “The first time you smiled at me, I fell in love with you.” He grinned. “It became love at first sight.”

She gasped then, shocked at his words, and recognized with all her heart that they were true.

He took her hand again. “I want you to be in a place where you no longer have to be afraid of living in your own home. I don’t want you ever to be scared of me or anything anymore. I want you out of your family’s estate forever, to live at a cottage somewhere with me where you will be safe, not a victim of family quarrels, violent fights, or harsh judgment.” He shook his head. “I both know and understand you’re timid with me, so I would of course give you as much time as you would like to be one-hundred percent comfortable with me. We’d sleep in separate bedrooms, we’d have our own space, and I’ll let you decide when you would like to take things further.” He massaged her hand. “Marilyn, I would love to care of you for as long as you and I live.”

Marilyn stared at him, shocked by his words, anticipating every dream he put forth inside of her.

Then, Henry bent down on one knee, holding her hand within both of his own. “Marilyn James…will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”

Marilyn gazed down at his sweet, handsome face, and smiled. She nodded, though, without hesitation. “I accept,” she whispered, and giggled.

Henry grinned back, rising back to his feet. He studied her for a long moment, intense emotions rising within his blue eyes, pausing like he wanted to say or do something, something important that might change this moment even more forever. But then, as if deciding it wasn’t the right moment, he instead extended his elbow again.

Smiling, Marilyn took his arm, and together they continued down the stone bridge of Brunnings and back toward the residential area of town.

~*~

The month that followed went by in a blur. Between all the people coming in to measure her for her wedding dress, which she chose as a beautiful, satin white gown, and other plans, it had been enough to make Marilyn tired. Except for the wedding dress and the matching veil, she let Zelda plan out everything else, from the decorations in the Brunner Church of Christ, to the seating arrangements.

Meanwhile, Marilyn awaited in her room, avoiding all the planning, glancing at her wedding dress hanging up on the opposite wall every so often, reminding herself of this brand new reality. Finally, before Marilyn was even prepared, she wore the wedding dress on their wedding day as she stood in the large dressing room of the church. She paced the floor and glanced outside her windows to watch the people coming up to the church.

Suddenly, a knock erupted at the front door, and Marilyn spun from the windows, wondering who it could be.

“Come in,” she called, willing her voice to sound calm while inside, the opposite was exploding.

The door opened, and Henry appeared. He glanced behind him to make sure nobody would see him, and slipped inside, locking the door behind him.

“Henry!” Marilyn whispered. “What are you doing here? You’re not allowed to see the bride before the wedding.”

“I know.” Henry smiled, then, which caused instant relief to escape over Marilyn like a blanket. Coming toward her, he couldn’t seem to stop grinning. “Wow. You look beautiful.”

Marilyn blushed. “Thank you.” She noted how handsome he was dressed, with his lush white suit which matched her dress so well.

Henry closed the distance between them, and Marilyn let him, her heart pounding hard from within her. She swallowed hard.

He did, too, and they gazed at each other for a long moment before he spoke.

“I want to tell you, Marilyn,” he whispered, so as not to be eavesdropped by someone outside the dressing room door, “that I promise to take care of you. When we do our vows, I’m going to say something else to you that will give you a lot more peace of mind. After all, I know this is very difficult for you. I know you don’t want this arranged marriage.”

“Do you?” she asked. “I…I want an escape…from all I had to deal with at my home all my life.”

“I understand that.” He smiled, and there was another hint of emotion in his gaze that Marilyn couldn’t place. “And yes, I do want this marriage to a kind, sweet wife who will take care of me as long as I live.” He swallowed hard. “Even though it’s an arranged marriage, I promise you, Marilyn, that I will be everything to you that you want me to be. I will never hurt you, never abuse you, never give you anything or do anything to you against your will.” He smiled again, but then grew serious. “My objective in this commitment is to only take care of you, in a way you’ve never been taken care of before, making you happier with every passing day.”

Marilyn smiled, recognizing the sincerity and truth of those words, and adoring it.

Henry stepped closer, and then cradled her jaw within the roughness of his palm.

“I will never leave you, never be unfaithful to you, never disown you or be unkind to you.” He studied her gaze touching his own, and in the blink of that moment, realizing even more the honorable man he was, all of Marilyn’s nervousness melted from her body. Her body relaxed and stilled within extreme comfort.

He looked out for her, and he truly cared for her. It would be the most comfortable and happiest life she’d ever known, and Marilyn chided herself for being cautious before. She couldn’t wait to marry him.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “I…” She shook her head, one hand grazing his hand on her face. “Thank you so much, Henry.”

Henry gazed at her, him in his white suit and her in her beautiful, satin white gown. He shifted even closer, and opened his mouth to say something, but then there became another knock on the door, this one signaling the start of the ceremony in a few short moments.

He dropped his hand, and Marilyn let it fall to his side.

“I better go.” He cleared his throat, smiled at her once more, and then turned and left the room.

Marilyn smiled after him. For the first time in her life, she was truly happy.

This was a true blessing from God.

The wedding service began soon after that. As she and Henry stood at the front of the church exchanging vows, Marilyn meant it when she vowed in front of the evangelist and the entire congregation that she would marry the man beside her and be happy for as long as she lived.

When it came Henry’s turn to say “I will” during his vows, he held her hand, and then added: “I will love and care for you all my life,” he promised, causing her to still as she listened. “I will be there for you in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wellness, in happiness and sorrow. I will be your dearest and truest friend, the man of your house, the soul mate you’ve longed for.” He smiled at her. “I promise you, Marilyn Elizabeth James, that I will love and care for you all the days of your life.”

After finishing, he winked at her, and then moved to focus on the rest of the evangelist’s words.

Marilyn did, too, struggling on how to deal with this caring soul, who appeared to want nothing more than to fulfill her happiness and nothing more.

She may need to get used to that.

Soon after they exchanged rings, letting beautiful gold bands slide on each of their fingers, the evangelist proclaimed: “Henry, you may kiss your bride.”

Henry gazed down at her, and then smiled, comforting Marilyn once again. He lifted the veil from her dress. Then, propping up her chin with the crook of his index finger, he brushed his lips over hers, soft and brief.

“May I introduce Mr. and Mrs. Henry Jackson!”

The small crowd of people applauded, expressing their obvious happiness for them.

All the while Henry and Marilyn gazing with keen adoration at each other, gaining a brand new line of complete trust.

~*~

Once the ceremony had ended and after descending the church stairs, to Marilyn’s surprise, Henry grasped her hand and led her toward his carriage. He walked fast, as if he sensed they were in some sort of danger.

“Marilyn! Henry! Hold up, please!”

Marilyn glanced behind them toward her parents hurrying down the dirt road after them, but Henry didn’t stop. He kept right on going, until they came to the double doors of the black buckboard—

Adamant, Zelda ran over until she stood in the way.

Henry clutched Marilyn’s hand, half hiding her behind him in protection. “Mrs. James,” he greeted her, with a sigh, as if trying hard to hold onto his patience. “I appreciate the beautiful wedding ceremony. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like the privacy of assisting my wife to our cottage.” He began to edge past her, but she held her ground.

“Mr. Jackson,” Zelda demanded, her tone of voice brisk and assertive. “In turn, I appreciate something from you: your obvious stubborn loyalty in wanting to escort our daughter to a different place.”

Marilyn bristled at hearing the term “our.”

“However,” Zelda continued, “when I wanted our daughter to marry, it had never been planned out for your benefit. It had been for ours, so she might be able to carry on the family wealth so to speak, along with not being seen one day as an old maid.”

Henry frowned then. “Are you telling me,” he said in a rougher, impatient voice this time, “I was to only marry her and never take her home with me? That was your objective?”

“Indeed, yes.” Zelda sent him a humorless, bitter smile. “You do not need to understand our situation, Mr. Jackson. Your duty is now complete. Your selfishness in preventing her from receiving her inheritance one day is obscure. Now may I ask of you to get inside your carriage there and be on your way, so we can take our daughter back home with us where she belongs.”

“Absolutely not.” He shook his head. “Rules or not, Mrs. James, this is my wife now. You have no legal authority.”

“I propose I do have legal authority!” Mrs. James stepped forward, until she and Henry were eye to eye. “This is my daughter, our estate. Or would you prefer not to get a penny of her money she inherits when her father and I pass on?”

“I don’t care one bit about money nonetheless!” he declared, enraged.

“Oh, you will,” Zelda snapped back. “Or this will be on you. I insist you leave her with us. Or would you rather me go by any legal means necessary to make you and your family as low in wealth as the ground below us?” She glared at him.

Henry stared at her, shocked, as did Marilyn.

She did not remember this in their plans, of her being carried away from Henry to live at the estate forever. She did not want this.

“Mother, please,” she insisted. “Let me go home with my husband.”

“My dear, this is not your husband. He is a product of our little plans.” She glanced back at Henry. “Well, Henry? Will you give us all of your family’s hard-earned wealth? Or will you give us back our daughter?”

Henry stepped back, staring at Zelda for a long time, frustration rigid in his gaze and in his body. “Can I…” he whispered, and then cleared his throat to speak louder. “Can I at least say goodbye?”

“Very well. One minute.” She spun away. “Come along, dear!”

Henry glanced at Marilyn, whose body had begun to tremble with fear. “I promise you,” he whispered. “I will do everything I can to get you home with me. I promise.”

“Henry…” Marilyn swallowed hard. “I…”

He shook his head to keep her from speaking. “You know the vows I gave to you today? They were real. Even if I’m away from you, I will keep those vows. Forever.” He cupped the back of her neck, kissed her forehead, and then whispered something magical: “I love you, Marilyn.”

With that said, he turned, letting go of her hand, and climbed into his carriage.

Ben clasped her arm, sympathy written on his face, and he led her away from Henry and toward her family’s own carriage a few yards away.

But as they walked, Marilyn kept glancing behind her, searching for Henry while in complete shock.

And anger.

TMS: Part 2: Chapters 5-6

5

Rain poured hard outside, but Marilyn didn’t care. Riding a horse was the fastest way to get where she needed to go, and Ben the butler had been most pleasant in explaining on how to get to the address.

A lifetime passed before Marilyn finally arrived at the estate. She tied her horse to one of the horse’s posts nearby the building, and ran as fast as she could to the doorway.

The butler answered the door, shocked.

“Why, miss!” he proclaimed in surprise. “You’re soaked to the skin! Do come in.” Without her agreement, he took her hand and led her inside.

The front room was decorated with extravagance and fancy furniture – much more stunning than her own home. The tile floor was black and white, and so shiny Marilyn thought perhaps she could see her reflection inside of it.

The butler cleared his throat, taking her shawl from her. “Miss, I’m afraid the master and mistress are not here. They’ve gone to town. It’s their shopping day today, after all. Only their son is home.”

“Their son will do fine,” Marilyn answered, her voice breathless. “Please have him come see me right away.”

“Of course, miss.” The butler indicated one of the chairs by one of the front windows in the foyer. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”

“Thank you.” She cast him a grateful, but nervous smile.

Then he disappeared, leaving Marilyn to wonder, for the tenth time since she’d mounted her horse, why in the world she had come here.

She let her gaze travel over the room, and then noticed the stunning paintings on the walls. They were paintings of beautiful, breathtaking landscapes. They made her wish to be within those mountains, those hills, walking through the gardens the painter had designed without a care in the world.

She sighed, and sat down on the chair nearest the door. She should not have come here, but she did not know what else to do. She needed someone to talk to, to share her troubles with, and if later she left disappointed, then at least she had tried.

“Now, Luther, I’m afraid I don’t believe you.”

“See for yourself, sir!”

Marilyn turned, then, standing, and her breath caught in her throat at the sight of Henry Jackson following the butler into the foyer. She swallowed hard, watching him stride toward her. He looked good, far too handsome on this cloudy rainy day, book in one hand with one finger propped somewhere between the pages, as if he’d been in the midst of reading it when Luther had snagged his attention.

“Marilyn.” His surprise was quite evident, but pleasant overall. He smiled, and then glanced at the butler. “Luther, thank you. You may leave us now.”

“Aye, sir.” Luther marched out of the room, his footsteps fading away.

Henry closed the distance between them, and Marilyn struggled to speak, realizing that maybe she liked the man far more than she ever had before.

“I…I was wondering…”

“If you’d like my coat? You’re shivering.” Without another word, Henry had it off, draping it over her shoulders. “Come, let’s go sit in the parlor where it’d be more private.” He extended his left elbow, which Marilyn took, and together they walked off in the opposite direction Luther had gone, to a narrow hallway. He opened the first door, and let her slip inside first.

Flames sparkled inside a fireplace hearth of a large, but cozy and warm parlor with several comfortable-looking sofas and chairs. One sofa sat in front of the fireplace, and Marilyn sat there. Henry followed, sitting in the chair across from her.

Marilyn stared into the spitting heat of the fire for a long moment, fraught to find the right words to speak.

“May I offer you some tea, Marilyn?”

She shook her head. “No, that’s all right, Henry.” She glanced at him, shy. “I’ll be fine warming up by the fire.”

“Oh, all right.” Henry smiled, and then cleared his throat, marking his book and setting it aside. “May I ask what you’re doing here then? My parents went to town. It’s their shopping day.”

“I know, the butler told me.” Marilyn chuckled. “I…I didn’t come to see them.” She glanced over at him. “I came to see you.”

“Me?” He raised his eyebrows. “But you’re not interested in the arranged marriage.”

“It’s not that. It’s…” She sighed. “My parents don’t know I’m here.” Then, trembling with anxiety, she went into the story of her parents: her birth mother, and the fact that her birth mother was actually a maid of their household. Once she finished, Henry looked shocked.

“Wow.” He shook his head. “I can’t believe it.”

“Neither can I.” She shook her head too, dropping her gaze.

Henry leaned forward, making him look far more rugged and handsome in the light of the fire than deemed necessary. “If you don’t mind me saying so, Marilyn, I hardly know your folks at all. So maybe this isn’t much of a shock to me as it is for you. I understand it to be so. But why, Marilyn, would you still come and see me, of all people?”

“I’m not sure.” Marilyn swallowed hard. “Perhaps it is because you might be my husband one day.”

“I know.” Henry nodded with understanding. “But…it’s still an arranged marriage.”

“And yet I feel…” Marilyn glanced over at him, growing shy once again. “Comfortable with you. You are easygoing. I feel like I can be comfortable talking to you, almost like I was talking to myself, without being judged or looked down upon which so often happens in my home, except from most of the servants, of course.” She sighed. “But still, they’re too busy with their work to really care about me and my personal life. This does not include my birth mother. What I’m trying to say, Henry, is it’s nice.” She focused upon the warm hearth. “It’s nice to have a friend, someone who seems like they actually care.”

Henry cleared his throat, as if the conversation topic made him nervous, and he nodded. “Yes. Definitely. Is there anything I can do for you, Marilyn? I’d do anything.”

“No, nothing.” Marilyn smiled. “It’s nice to have somebody to share my feelings with. But…thank you.” She returned to the fire, feeling shy once again.

Henry didn’t say anything for a long moment. Perhaps he might have been giving her some space to recollect her thoughts and ponder everything that had happened today. But then, he surprised her: he stood and slipped right to the couch beside her. Marilyn didn’t turn, didn’t want to appear startled, which she hadn’t been. She’d wanted him to sit beside her anyway.

“You know…” Henry extended his hand. “It’s nice, too…for me, to have a companion to talk to.” He glanced over at her. “Being an only child, I didn’t always have people to talk to. My so-called friends were of course interested in much more different things. A lot of times as I grew up, I’d find myself talking more to myself.” He chuckled.

Marilyn smiled, and then nodded. “I know the feeling.” She glanced over at him, then, and that was when she recognized how close in proximity he sat. There had been a whole lot of space on this couch, and yet, he’d chosen to sit very close to her.

Henry lured so near, in fact, that she counted the tan-colored specks in the blues of his bright, handsome eyes. She listened to his breathing, noticed his pulse pound from beneath the skin of his neck.

And there he sat, frozen, incapable of looking away.

Then again, so was she, staring at him, knowing she didn’t feel the cold chills in her body anymore. Every cell of her being stayed focused on him and who he was as a man.

Henry’s body lurched forward, his gaze focusing on her, closer and closer. Her breath caught in her throat.

As if hearing it, Henry whispered: “I want to try something. Do you trust me…Marilyn? I…I want to try something.”

Marilyn nodded, struggling to breathe, forcing herself to remain still. She closed her eyes, waiting, as Henry shifted closer until she felt the warmth of his hand touching her hand on her lap, comforting. Then, she relaxed, felt herself trust him, and at the precise moment she did, too, Henry’s breath shifted on her cheek and his lips brushed over hers. He hesitated, their foreheads touching, and Marilyn, surprising even herself, leaned forward a half an inch and once more, Henry’s lips touched hers, but in a deeper, softer kiss.

Henry’s other hand cradled the curve of her cheek in his palm, He tugged her closer to lengthen the kiss.

No matter how comfortable the kiss was, no matter the feelings that erupted inside of her and caused her to feel, Marilyn believed this kiss to be a mistake. She gasped, pulling apart from him, and Henry let her go. He sat back in his old chair, burying his face in his hands.

They didn’t speak for a long moment. Marilyn gazed back at the fire, regaining her composure and pretending nothing had happened. Henry stared at the floor as he leaned forward in his chair, drumming his fingers together.

“I’ll…I’ll give you some tea, Marilyn. Would you like that?”

Marilyn glanced up at him. Henry smiled at her, something like love glistening in his gaze—yet how could he love her when they barely knew each other? Perhaps Marilyn had imagined it. Relieved, she nodded. “Tea sounds good,” she agreed, and felt grateful the tone of her voice sounded normal.

“Be right back then.” Henry winked at her. Then, after he stood, he soon vanished from the room.

Marilyn shook her head hard, telling herself she wasn’t thinking straight. But then, remembering the kiss, she pressed the tip of her right index finger against her lips, and then felt a smile curl the edges of her mouth. She had received her first real kiss.

And yet, had it been real?

And why had Henry kissed her? Did he feel that fond of her? Or had he done it to prove how an arranged marriage between them could work?

Marilyn highly doubted that, because between the weight of her feelings balancing between them, particularly when their lips had touched, she distinguished with every cell of her body that what she’d received had been a real kiss.

This was a real kiss with a man she’d fallen in love for head over heels, from the moment he strode into her parents’ parlor, after dinner, to comfort her.

Marilyn couldn’t put her finger on why he made her feel this way, or how in the world it had happened so fast. Whatever the case, she decided she better play hard with him. She didn’t want anyone to become too close. And yet, she did. A wonderful man was everything she’d ever wanted in her entire life, everything she’d never had.

Henry soon returned, bringing with him a nice cup of hot, herbal tea with a lemon floating on the top. The simple, sweet gesture caused Marilyn to smile, and she thanked him as she took it from him, letting his jacket drift down from her shoulders to reveal the dress she wore beneath it.

She stirred her tea for a long moment, and then sipped from it, careful since it was still hot, and didn’t realize Henry staring at her until she glanced up.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing.” He shook his head and looked away, blushing. “It’s that…you’re stunning and beautiful.”

Marilyn gasped, looking away in bashfulness.

“No. I mean…” He sighed, lifting a hand. “I don’t mean to sound as if I’m a desperate man searching for marriage or anything.”

“No.” Marilyn chuckled, shy. “You’re not at all like that. I’ve never thought otherwise.”

“Oh.” Henry smiled, as if he, too, had become shy. He cleared his throat. “Then…um…may I ask, then, what you were thinking?”

She glanced up at him, and caught his gaze. “If I ended up being forced to marry you one day, I know for the rest in my life, I would not mind. Because you’re so kind.” She smiled, then gazed down to some more tea.

Which left Henry staring at her for perhaps, longer than necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6

By the time Marilyn returned home to the estate, night had fallen and the rain had long stopped. After letting her back inside the house, Ben assured her that neither the master nor the mistress noticed that she’d been away for several hours.

She was thankful for that, and she smiled at him as she passed, reminding herself to get him a gift next time she went into town.

~*~

The following evening, Marilyn sat at the dining table with Zelda and her father in silence. As Marilyn ate the mashed potatoes and sirloin steak, however, Ben came into the quiet dining room and handed Zelda the mail as usual. After waving him away without thanking him, Zelda flipped through the thin pile of envelopes she received.

Then, stopping at one letter, she gasped.

“Oh!” she exclaimed with much delight. “Here is a letter from the Jackson estate.”

Marilyn froze in her seat, a mouthful of meat in her mouth, and glanced up at Zelda as she tossed the other mail aside to tear open the envelope. She glanced at Father, who didn’t seem like he noticed as he flipped his most current newspaper to the next page, pushing his reading glasses farther up his long nose.

Marilyn decided she better not seem enthusiastic or excited at all about whatever the letter from the Jackson estate said. After all, not only would Zelda be curious, she’d assume something wasn’t right, therefore causing her to rethink Marilyn’s relationship with Henry. She would no doubt come to the assumption of it not being an arranged marriage, but a romance which went against every one of Zelda’s orders.

Zelda removed the letter from within the envelope, flipped it open, and read it through. Marilyn finished chewing the steak in her mouth and swallowed, hoping Zelda didn’t assume something she shouldn’t about her and Henry’s relationship.

After all, she very much looked forward to seeing Henry again…no matter what that meant.

Zelda cleared her throat as she studied the letter. “It seems, my dear, you have been invited to a formal dinner at the Jackson estate tomorrow evening.” She beamed and glanced up at her. “Now isn’t that exciting!”

Marilyn swallowed hard, sent up a quick prayer, and then said, in her most natural pleading tone: “Please, Mother, please. Don’t make me go.”

“Now, Marilyn.” Zelda refolded the letter and set it on the table by her plate, giving her a stern look. “You know how important it is to—” She glanced at Father in annoyance. “—us that you give very polite and appropriate actions toward these people. They are not as wealthy as us. However, they are still very well-off.” She picked at the green beans on the edge of her plate. “That is well enough for me.”

Marilyn rolled her eyes, even though deep inside she whooped cheers of pure joy. “Mother, why do you have to drag me along into every aspect of your life in which I do not want?” she complained in a forced frustrated tone.

But Zelda, oblivious, cast her a dark look. “Marilyn, you are going to that dinner tomorrow and that is final!” She frowned. “It’s scheduled for six o’clock. You shall leave here by four-thirty. End of discussion.” She bowed her face back to the remains of her meal.

Marilyn exaggerated a long sigh, shifting around the food on her plate…while inwardly screaming with excitement.

~*~

In obedience to Zelda’s orders, Marilyn left home by four-thirty, and by the time they were at the Jackson estate, which took a good long hour to arrive there, she had to tone down the happiness escalating through her. Her heart was pounding. She’d never been on her own before where her parents approved. But being alone was both refreshing and heartwarming; refreshing, because it was rare that she left the estate due to Zelda’s strict orders; and heartwarming, because the Jackson family wanted to see her and her only!

The carriage came to a rest in front of the Jackson manor. The door swung open as the horses slowed the carriage to a halt, and Luther appeared, striding over to the side door to open it and take her hand.

“Here you go, miss,” he said, leading her out of the carriage and onto the gravel beneath their feet.

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Luther.” She smiled at him before he nodded back with a kind smile, and led the way inside the domain.

As they came into the emptiness of the foyer, Marilyn fought the urge to glance around, wondering where everyone was.

As if sensing her uneasiness, Luther closed the door and strode toward her. “The family will greet you in the dining room, miss. Let me take your shawl and bonnet here.”

“Oh, am I late?” Marilyn asked, worried.

Luther chuckled as he helped her with the shawl and brought it over to the nearest coat rack. “Certainly not, miss. The master and mistress are not strict when it comes to schedules. Besides, it’s not even six o’clock.”

As she handed Luther her bonnet to hang up, she noticed the grandfather clock in the foyer read five minutes to six. She breathed a sigh of relief, and then let Luther lead the way. After he hung up her bonnet, he asked her to come with him, and she instantly followed him down the hall to the left, passing a maid and beautiful paintings on friendly walls instead of the bleak ones she recognized far too well.

Finally, Luther stopped at one doorway and called out, blocking her path: “Master.”

“Yes, Luther,” came a booming, but welcoming voice.

“Miss Marilyn James is here for the dinner, sir.”

“Excellent. Send her in.”

Luther stepped back, gave her an encouraging wink, and extended his hand toward the room.

Marilyn swallowed hard. Then, taking a deep breath, she breezed past Luther and entered.

The first thing she perceived as she appeared was Henry’s handsome grin. He stood on one side of the beautiful dining table, his parents on either side of the table’s ends, all waiting for her.

“Hello, Marilyn.” Roger Jackson approached her. He stood as a big man who had many similar qualities of Henry’s facial features, except for his chocolate brown-colored beard and well combed hair. He wore glasses at the edge of his nose, and also wore a suit. “It is so good to see you again, my dear.” He took her hand and kissed the top of it.

Marilyn chuckled. “Thank you, sir.” She beamed. “It is very good to see you, too.”

Eliza Jackson laughed nearby. “Oh, Roger, you sure know how to compliment the ladies.” She giggled some more. She appeared as a fancy dressed woman with a beautiful tan dress and a beautifully beaded, brown necklace that curled down the front of her dress. She also had auburn brown curls ordaining the soft cheeks of her face.

She smiled from ear to ear as she strode forward, too, and surprised Marilyn by giving her a gentle hug. “Marilyn, dear, it is so nice to see you again.” She stepped back and smiled with excitement. “It seems like there’s been nothing else Henry has talked about but this dinner.” She laughed.

Marilyn smiled. “I am very glad to be here, ma’am.”

“Oh, please. Call me Eliza, everyone does. Except the servants, of course.” She grinned, then, as Henry stepped forward.

Marilyn spun toward Henry, her heart pounding within her, and she smiled over at him.

“Hello, Henry,” she greeted him.

Henry smiled in reply, and it was apparent he hid his emotions. “Hello, Marilyn. It’s a pleasure to see you again.” He took her hand, and kissed it.

But this kiss meant much, much more to Marilyn.

The dinner went very smooth. Roger and Eliza cleared any awkwardness in the air by saying the blessing—which surprised Marilyn since she wasn’t used to a family prayer at all—and joking around during the meal. The meal consisted of a salad and then beef stew, and it tasted delicious.

“Roger,” Eliza said with a chuckle as she buttered her biscuit. “You should tell Marilyn the jam story.”

Marilyn, enjoying herself a lot, smiled as she glanced across the table to Henry, who winked at her.

“The jam story?” she prodded.

Roger shook his head. “It’s Eliza’s favorite story.” He shook his head again, but his brown eyes twinkled with mischief, something else Marilyn really did not have at home.

“But you always tell it well, sweetheart.” Eliza gazed at her husband with true, devotional love, and Marilyn had to look away at the deep longing coursing through her heart. She wished so much that her parents were able to lead their estate together instead of apart. She longed for Zelda to leave and never return.

Roger took a bite of his stew. He glanced at her. “When Henry was, oh, about three years old—”

“Oh, no,” Henry remarked, shaking his head which caused Eliza and Marilyn to both laugh.

“Eliza and I were shopping for the day.” Roger sipped at his iced water. “Since Henry is the youngest, he had no choice but to stay at home while the servants looked after him. Well, when we came home, we found out that the maid watching him left him alone in the kitchen for only a few minutes to get a couple of his toys since he refused to leave the kitchen.”

Marilyn chuckled, glancing at Henry, interested in learning more about his childhood games.

“When she returned, he was—and I am not making this up—head to toe in blueberry jam!” Roger took a bite of his stew again, narrowing his twinkling eyes over at his son.

“Henry!” Eliza teased her son, causing Marilyn to giggle some more. “What in the world were you thinking?”

Henry shrugged. “I’m not sure.” He chuckled. “I must’ve loved blueberry jam back then.”

Marilyn laughed along with them, shaking her head.

“I enjoy spending time with your family,” she told Henry after dinner when they were alone. “I look forward to meeting all of your friends one day, maybe soon.”

Henry led her from the parlor out onto the beautiful, spacious, stone balcony overlooking the backyard gardens below. The view was stunning, one that caused Marilyn to not want to look away as she followed him to the thick, stone railing. Gazing off into the distance, they were on top of the world, since the estate also sat on top of a hill, and it caused Marilyn to feel safe, a feeling she hadn’t had in a long time.

“I wouldn’t be as excited to see my friends,” Henry teased, shifting toward her. “I’m afraid they’re a lot less playful and much more serious than both my parents and myself are.”

“I can handle it.” She winked over at him.

Henry chuckled. “I’m very glad you could come here and have dinner, Marilyn.”

Marilyn studied his face, where he finally showed his emotions of tenderness and interest. It caught her off guard—and yet, these feelings were all she needed and much, much more.

Henry stared at Marilyn for a long moment. Then, he stepped closer, in one swift movement that caused her to close her eyes with uncertainty. He rested his forehead against hers, and she swallowed hard, feeling how close he stood against her, and she longed for his arms to go around her.

She gazed up at him then, trying to ignore the tenderness in his sky blue eyes in which she wasn’t sure she was prepared for. “I want to live a good life like you want me to. I long to be happy, truly happy.”

Henry smiled then, gazing at her as if staring at an angel. “What are your dreams, Marilyn?”

She grinned. “I dream of being in a faraway land, wealthy or not, where I’m with people I love in a world with no hurt and no pain.” She looked off toward the lush trees. Her heart pounding beneath her skin, and yet, she was as comfortable with him as if she were speaking to a male version of herself.

“I dream of being married one day, and of having a household of children.” Marilyn didn’t meet his gaze when she said that, but she discerned still that he was her friend. He would never judge her. “Children of all personalities, shapes, sizes, and a good amount between both genders.” She smiled. “These children should always be happy with their lives and who they are. They shall be the children that will look up to my husband and I, children who desire to look off toward the future and dream their own dreams, plan their own futures as long as God’s will and plan for their lives is at the center.”

“I agree.” His voice rumbled over her like gentle thunder, causing her to look up.

Henry grinned. “I dream for the same.”

“You do?” Marilyn brightened.

“Yes.” Henry trod closer. “I dream of a wife to take care of the home while I’m gone working and being the breadwinner. I dream of a household of children, as long as they learn to both respect and admire their parents, first and foremost, as they should. I dream of raising them in a way that pleases God. I aim to protect them, defend them, and take care of them at all times, even if it costs me my own life.” His smile faded, serious now. “As I will do for my wife.”

Marilyn admired him even more at that moment, and she swallowed hard as his left hand cradled her cheek within his palm. “You can be a serious man when you want to be,” she teased.

Henry closed the distance between them until their foreheads were almost touching. “Well, Marilyn…I am very serious about you.” One side of his mouth quirked up, and Marilyn’s heart melted.

As she gazed into the blues of his eyes, Marilyn desired nothing more than to be his wife for the rest of their lives.

“You are?” she whispered. And at his slight nod, she closed her eyes, whispering, “I’m very serious about you, too.”

Henry swept his mouth over hers, and this time, he wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her closer. As Marilyn placed her hands to the front of his suit, she leaned into the amazing kiss. Within that moment, she was the happiest she’d ever been in her entire life.

TMS: Part 2: Chapter 3-4

3

An hour later, Marilyn sat in the sitting room, staring at the fireplace crackling in the hearth. Tears were on her face, and she made no move to wipe them away. Her life was over. One or both of her parents may storm in here at any given moment, screaming at her for the damage she had done. She didn’t care what they said, however. She had a family whose lives were ruined, and had been for some time. Remembering everything Harriet had told her three years before, Marilyn couldn’t bear her mind to focus on anywhere except how to escape this prison for good, without marrying Henry Jackson at all.

But even if she had no choice but to marry Henry, at least it would be the only escape she had.

The door opened, and Marilyn, prepared, jolted up and demanded: “I’d much rather be left alone, thank you!”

But when Henry appeared, Marilyn froze. Embarrassed and seeing he’d come alone, she spun away, swiped at her cheeks with a sniffle, and then muttered, “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting you.” She gazed back at the fire, expecting the man to leave after the door closed. Yet he appeared at her side, holding out a clean white handkerchief.

Marilyn took it from him, hating herself for crying in front of a guest. But she also didn’t care. Her dreams and everything she’d ever held dear in her entire life had ended tonight. She didn’t feel loved at all except by some of the servants, and only that. What also didn’t help was not even being allowed to go into town to make friends of her own, no matter how much she longed to. She sighed and clasped her hands onto her dress in front of her, wiping at her wet nose with Henry’s handkerchief every now and then.

Clearing his throat, Henry hesitated, and then slid into the armchair which matched hers right across from her. He didn’t look at her, as if shy, and pretended to find great interest in the flames as well. They stayed like that for many moments, and Marilyn had decided to find a different hiding spot in the mansion when Henry spoke.

“My parents didn’t believe your outburst, by the way.” He cleared his throat, and then sent her an amused smile. “Your mother says that sometimes you become possessed.”

Marilyn shook her head in disgust as she thought of her mother, but set her gaze upon the floor instead of meeting his. “She likes to tell stories about me, false truths.”

“That much is obvious.” To Marilyn’s surprise, Henry sounded like he was defending her, which caused Marilyn to glance at him and study him closely.

He sat straight and tall. He was well dressed for the dinner, and was handsome with combed dark brown hair and a well-kept beard around the curve of his jaw. He had large hands with muscular arms, and sharp blue eyes that were staring straight at her.

Marilyn blushed and tore her eyes away.

“I’m proud of you.”

She glanced at him again. “Pardon me?”

“I’m proud of you,” Henry repeated. “It must have taken a lot of courage, for many years of stomaching all of that emotion, to come forward and stand up to your mother like that.”

Nobody, not even a single servant of the estate, had ever said something in respect to Marilyn. She fought against gaping at him, but her mouth itched at falling open in shock. It brought tears to her eyes as she thought about everything she’d lost, all she couldn’t have and had wanted her entire life.

Instead of letting herself begin to trust him, though, she went back to studying the fire. “You know, you could go off and be with our parents if you’d like. They’re of society like you. You probably have lots of friends who are people like our parents.”

“What, who are selfish and pity-less like yours?” Henry surprised Marilyn by chuckling, and he shook his head. “No, it’s boring out there. Anyway, I have no friends. My friends all have gone.”

Marilyn became interested. He sounded so similar. “No friends at all?” She raised her eyebrows. “That’s certainly surprising. Aren’t you of society?”

“Well, of course I am.” Henry chuckled. “My parents are, too, and they have lots of friends. The only friends I share in common with them are of the church of Christ in Morgantown where we live.” He smiled. “My parents said you go to church too.”

“Yes. It is the Brunner Church of Christ.” Marilyn smiled, although she didn’t know why. They were learning they had more and more in common, but still, why did that make her smile? She didn’t want any part of this.

And yet, the way Henry looked at her, the way his pale blue gaze thirsted for something more, she might still have a difficult time preventing herself from falling in love with him.

“So,” she continued, acting non-interested, because she wasn’t, “what other friends were you talking about in which you don’t have anymore?”

“Societal friends.” He looked at her. “Worldly friends. Basically, people who don’t attend church.”

“Ah.” Understanding, Marilyn nodded.

“I had a few friends for many, many years.” Henry shook his head in pity. “They were always there for me, you know? But soon, it felt like all they wanted to do was to be at the pubs.” He shook his head again, gazing off into space.

Marilyn nodded in agreement. “I know what you mean. They don’t understand how that kind of lifestyle living is wrong.”

“I agree.” Henry grinned over at her. “See, it’s like we’re kindred spirits, Marilyn. You can read me so well and know exactly what I’m speaking of.”

“I do.” Marilyn blushed. She didn’t want to admit, but she felt like this man truly understood her unlike anyone else, and she liked it.

~*~

As Marilyn slipped out of her bedroom early the next morning around six a.m., dressed and ready to get a head start on painting, she commanded herself that Henry must stay out of her mind. After all, it didn’t help to worry about it when she wasn’t sure how she even felt about him. He’d been kind and sweet, gentle and humorous, even handsome, but still, an arranged marriage didn’t seem what Marilyn wanted. Did she want to spend the rest of her life with a man who remained what her mother desired for her?

However, as she twisted to head downstairs to sneak some toast from the kitchen, the door of her father’s bedroom swung open, and she stopped, shocked her father had gotten up so early. He usually stayed up drinking most of the night and slept a good part of the day afterward.

But instead of her father, Marilyn got the shock of her life—Maisie the house maid popped out of his room while fastening the lace buttons of her white uniform. Her hair, instead of being pulled back into its usual bun, draped long and dark around her shoulders. Marilyn stared at Maisie, and Maisie stared right back, looking at her in a mixture of shock, fear, and desperation. Then, she disappeared, hurrying down the hallway toward her own bedroom which she shared with the house maid Charlotte.

Marilyn stared at the ajar bedroom doorway for a long moment as a mixture of emotions slammed through her body. Shock, betrayal, hurt, and worst of all, anger, shimmered down her spine as she stood there on the top stair step, frozen in place. Of course, since her parents were no longer sharing a marriage bed, instead of only separate beds in a single room, they were in separate rooms. But never, in a thousand years, would she ever have imagined her father as terrible as this.

            Marilyn decided she make this better for all of them. In that instant, she spun around, and instead of going downstairs, went straight to where she came from, past her bedroom to the parlor room. Marilyn knew her mother was in there, sewing, knitting, or reading, since she always woke up early anyway.

She opened the door, and her mother glanced up from her chair by the window.

“Oh,” she said in a tone that showed her dreading her daughter’s presence. “Do you need something?”

“Mother,” Marilyn gasped, hurrying toward her and speaking fast. “Maisie has just come out of Father’s room, looking like she’d finished from…from…” She clasped a hand to her face, unable to say another word. “Mother, I’m so sorry!” She clenched her fist in dismay. “I…They were…they were…”

Mother stared at her for a long moment. Then, with a sigh and a look of pure understanding, she continued her sewing.

Marilyn frowned. “You…y-you knew?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” Marilyn demanded. “Why would you possibly let it happen?”

Mother gazed at her. “What’s the use? Would he actually listen to a word I say? He’s a man, Marilyn.” She shook her head. “Besides, we don’t love each other.”

“I know, Mother, but…” She shook her head. “This is nonsense! Why in the world would you let this carry on like so? He’s an absolute piece of rot and so is she, and you’re going to let it slide like…it-it’s nothing?” She’d raised her voice by now, but Marilyn did not care. Her mother needed to realize every word she said.

“I know what he’s doing is wrong.” Mother shook her head. “But I’ve tried far too long and hard for many years. Maisie has a special relationship with your father, so if he’s not going to listen to me, then perhaps Maisie will listen to you and move out.”

“But it won’t solely be Maisie, Mother!” Marilyn pressed on. “He’ll sleep with the other maids, including any outside women he can take!”

“No!” Mother exclaimed. “He will not.”

“And how do you know that?” Marilyn asked. “What makes you believe anything is going to change once Maisie is gone from the estate for good?”

Mother studied her daughter for a long moment, perhaps even longer than necessary. Then, with a resigned sigh that sounded sad, she returned to her sewing. “You may need to speak with Maisie about that.”

Confused, Marilyn shook her head. “You mean Father.”

“No. I mean Maisie.” Mother stood then. “I’ll go and get her. She’ll be dressed by now. I’ll tell her you wish to speak with her. I’ll summon her right away.”

Marilyn held up a hand. “Wait. You don’t have to, Mother.”

“No, Marilyn, dear.” Mother regarded her. “You need to learn the truth.”

Before Marilyn could ask what truth her mother referred to, her mother had disappeared from the parlor.

 

 

 

 

9

Marilyn waited in the parlor for what seemed like a lifetime. Then, the door opened and her mother appeared, morose and fatigued. All the same, she gave a curt nod toward the hallway, which Marilyn knew quite well meant she must follow her mother or there would be words later.

She followed her mother down the long hallway, but instead of going toward their bedrooms like usual, she took the sharp corner which led to a hallway that only the staff of the estate walked – Marilyn never, ever took this way. It was such a formality – the antique, older wallpaper wasn’t replaced and re-done as often as the rest of the estate, for the precise reason that only the staff were going to see these walls. Since they did not matter as much as the rest of the house, nothing much else needed to be changed.

Still, Marilyn stayed in awe as they strode past the large, floor-to-ceiling windows, giving a brand new look to the backyard gardens that inspired her. There were other floor-to-ceiling windows in the estate, but this one had the best view of them all. Of course, she had only known all the other views her entire life, so seeing something new was a blessing.

They stopped at the end of the hallway where they ascended the narrow stairs to the fifth and final floor of the house, the part of the house where the staff slept and ate. They had their own separate, small dining room to eat their meals in, and each servant shared a room with another servant of the same gender.

Marilyn’s mother led her to the third door down, and it gaped wide open. There inside it, in front of their bunk beds, stood Maisie, whose hair now sat in her usual tight bun, and also Charlotte, both waiting.

“Charlotte, you may go about your duties,” Mother commanded as they strode inside the room, and then glanced over at Maisie, with a look where there was no mistaking the stark bitterness toward the woman. “Five minutes.”

Maisie nodded. Then, before Marilyn knew what happened, Mother and Charlotte had disappeared, closing the door behind them.

Marilyn sighed. She didn’t want it to come to this. She glanced over at Maisie, who smiled then.

“What is it that I can help you with, my dear?” she asked, as if nothing strange had happened a half hour before.

Marilyn studied the woman – Maisie’s gaze looked bright and honest. She looked as if she wanted to say something too, but some kind of fierce willpower inside of her kept her from doing so.

Deciding that they better get on with this discussion, granted that they had only five minutes, she cleared her throat in preparation. “I would like to know, please, on why you were coming out of my father’s room, looking as if you had…” She drew in a slow breath. “…as if you had finished getting dressed in his room.” She held her head high, observing Maisie straight in the face.

Maisie took a deep breath, her smile fading. “You know the answer to that question, miss.”

Marilyn frowned. “But…why? Why would you…why…” She shook her head, searching the woman’s face for some kind of possible answer.

Maisie stiffened, and then she acted like she was forcing herself to loosen her body. She smiled again, although with sadness. “As you know, my dear, your father can be a violent man. He…” She blinked hard at the floor, and then back up at her face. “If he’d been drunk and if I’d resisted him when he was drunk, miss, he might have harmed me.”

“Was he drunk?” Marilyn asked.

Maisie dropped her gaze, sighing. “No….”

Marilyn shook her head. “Tell me, Maisie, please. Tell me the truth.”

Maisie glanced back at her – and when she did, her eyes had welled up with tears. “He came to me and brought me to his bedroom….with passion.” She did not appear embarrassed. “We meet up together whenever he wishes. When we do, he is never drunk. Lately, it’s not been no more than every few weeks or maybe once a month.” Then, tears falling onto the softness of her weathered cheeks, she smiled. “Marilyn, dear…I am your birth mother.”

Shock came over Marilyn. She stood there, a mixture of confusion and frustration, and then snapped at her: “You’ve got it wrong. My mother bore me – she didn’t want me, of course – but –”

“Harriet told you that, didn’t she?” Maisie nodded, answering her own question. She shook her head. “It’s a shame, it really is. I really do feel for our mistress, being so hated by the master and yet, needing to find a suitable heir for the estate.” She shook her head again.

Marilyn frowned, feeling stuck between two places – whether to run from the room or whether to yell at the woman some more. Instead, however, she decided she may be better off not obeying her mother’s insistence.

“Do you mean to tell me,” she pressed on, “that I am your daughter?”

“Yes,” Maisie whispered, more tears rolling down her cheeks, biting back a smile.

“And my father,” Marilyn continued, “never loved my…’adopted’ mother after all?”

Maisie sat down on the bottom bed of the bunks, clasping her hands on her lap. “They were never in love, ever. It is true your father’s mother had passed away, but it had not hit him that hard.”

“So…Harriet lied to me?” That seemed hard to believe. After all, Harriet had been one of the most trustworthy servants around.

“Harriet had always had a special place in her heart for Zelda.” Maisie glanced over at her then, looking like she might regret the words she said next. “She felt sorry for her, for sometimes being hit by your father, that is, and developed a love toward her which never really disappeared. Your father and I were…are…very much in love. And then…” She sighed, clutching her hands over her uniform. “Then your mother came along, and cast it all away.”

“What do you mean?” There seemed something strange about this story that didn’t make any sense.

“When your mother came to us, she seemed nice at first, wanting a good, hard-working career as a maid. But then—”

“Wait a minute!” Marilyn cut her off. “Are you meaning to tell me my parents were never married?”

Confused, Maisie frowned. “You mean…you never knew…?”

“Never knew what?” she demanded, perhaps more cruel than deemed necessary. But as soon as those words popped out of her mouth, she identified the truth. And the longer she stared into Maisie’s face, the more she realized it, even as Maisie said it.

“Your father and I are married…” Maisie pierced her with her gentle eyes. “Your father and your adopted mother, Zelda…never were. When your father was drunk out of anger and bitter hatred toward your mother, combined with the stark fact that there had to be a ‘normal’ heir, an heir where both parents came from a wealthy background, he soon changed into quite a different man. This was according to the strict commands of Wesley’s parents. Doing otherwise would damage the entire family from wealth, good fortune, not to mention a good name, forever.”

Maisie sighed, and began to speak in a sad voice. “I came from a poor family, so of course the marriage would’ve been highly looked down upon with your father’s parents. We were buried deep with debt from the time we’d married, because your father could barely afford this home.” She swallowed hard. “I’d suggested selling it many a time, but your father’s understanding fear was that his family would notice and be concerned, and also disown all of us. We were madly in love. Your father had done everything for me, taking me on romantic walks, wanting to be with me. The perfect life. I lived every day as if in a brilliant trance. Marrying a poor girl had been forbidden, however your father felt much too in love with me to care. In fear of mentioning my poor background to his parents, we decided he would have to hire a maid with a well-off background, and turn the tables.

“So we did. We hired Zelda as a maid. We hadn’t ever told her our plans, either. Things had only happened. Within a few short months, along with your father’s mother’s death to destroy him even more, Zelda had somehow learned the truth about it all. You were two years old at the time. I had no choice but to let you go, to let the wretched woman – I mean, Zelda, of course – raise you like her own and proclaim throughout the whole world that you were her biological daughter. I remained in the shadows, coming to your father at night only when he needed me. And every time we met together, he never let himself become drunk. But years and years of a mixture of guilt, shame, and resentment had eaten at your poor father’s heart.” Maisie swiped at her nose, and sniffled. “So the times when he drank the most, he found himself in despair, which explained why he hit Zelda sometimes in the beginning. But of course, not anymore. He still gets drunk, but is no longer violent.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “We did it for you, do you understand?” she whispered, speaking more toward herself than Marilyn. “We did it for you, your happiness, and your wealth. We did it so you could have a beautiful future. That is how much your father and I truly do love you.” She looked up. “He’s done plenty of terrible things in the past, including the few times of hitting you as a child when drunk. But I know from the bottom of my heart that he regretted every slap, every curse every time the alcohol wasted out of his poor body.” She shivered, as if she was cold.

Shock coursed through Marilyn in trembling waves. She stared at Maisie, unable to believe and impossible to not think about everything that had happened between them.

Maisie stood, swiping at the tears still on her cheeks. “That is why your father refuses the mistress to fire me. However, I am happy to be here and to be a part of this estate, to be a faithful maid every day in Zelda’s place.”

Footsteps sounded behind them in the hallway, and still Marilyn continued gazing into her birth mother’s face, recognizing herself in the older woman standing before her.

“Now you know the truth.” Maisie nodded, as if going back to her old, obedient maid platform.

The door squeaked open then, and Marilyn turned.

Charlotte stood in the doorway, taken aback, like she couldn’t believe they were still in the room talking.

“Miss,” she said to Marilyn in a voice that donned great respect, “your mother wishes to speak with you in the parlor.”

Marilyn stared at Charlotte, longer than probably necessary, for Charlotte then asked: “Miss? Are you all right?”

“Tell her I would not like to see her at the moment, Charlotte.” Marilyn turned. “And tell her I’ll be in the gardens for a long time.” In a quieter voice, she added: “Have Ben grab me a horse from the stables right away. No telling anyone.”

“Yes, miss,” Charlotte agreed, and then left, hurrying down the hallway.

Marilyn glanced back at her birth mother, Maisie, and she swallowed hard.

“I’m so sorry you had to deal with all of this,” she whispered in a choked voice, and then fled.