* * *
On a summer day in 1924, I arrived home to Emerson Pass, Colorado, with no idea of the ways in which my life would be irrevocably altered in the months to come. Had I known what waited for me, I’d have run off the train instead of walking like the gentlemanly scholar I fancied myself.
All I knew that day was that I was glad to be home. I’d been away at medical school for over four years. I was now about to step off the train to begin a new season of my life as a small-town doctor.
For the second time in my life, my family stood on the platform anticipating my arrival. The first had been when my twin brother, Flynn, and I had returned from the war. His was the face I spotted from the window. We were alike in appearance but opposites in personalities. He looked rakish in a tan summer suit and straw hat. Next to him, the oldest of my siblings, Josephine, stood with baby Poppy in her arms. Her husband, Phillip, was next to her, clinging to the hand of their little girl, Quinn, named after our stepmother. She was the second child of my stepmother’s first students to be named Quinn. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday they named the school after her.
My second sister, Cymbeline, never one to wait patiently, ran toward the passenger car, waving frantically as her hat came unpinned from her piles of dark brown hair and caught flight. Our younger sister Fiona followed closely behind. Her quick hands, made for playing the piano and catching her sister’s lost items, snatched the hat from midair.
Cymbeline looked much the same as when I’d first left for school when she was sixteen. Fiona, however, had grown up during my time away. At seventeen, she was now more of a woman than a girl. No longer in short skirts and pinafores, she wore a rose-colored drop-waisted dress that hung loosely over her small frame. Both Cymbeline and Fiona were delicate beauties with alabaster skin and almost black hair. They’d always looked similar but, like Flynn and me, were not of similar dispositions.
Papa stood with his arm around my stepmother. Stoic in public, Papa was as soft inside as any man I’d ever known. Mama held a handkerchief to her mouth. Her weekly letters to me while I was away had been as consistent as the university’s chapel bell ringing on a Sunday morning. Whether she’d given birth to us or not, Mama was our mother. She’d come to us when Flynn and I were nine years old. He claimed to remember little from before that time, but I wasn’t sure that was true. Regardless, we loved her with all our hearts. She looked as young and pretty as she’d been when she first came to us, stepping onto this very same platform on a snowy winter’s day.
My smallest sisters, Addie and Delphia, twelve and eight respectively, stood close to Papa. I had to take them in for a moment too, changed as they were from the image in my mind of two small girls. As fair-haired as Cymbeline and Fiona were dark, they competed with the summer sun with their yellow hair and light blue eyes. My chest ached at the sight of them. Time didn’t ebb and flow but constantly charged forward with no pause with which one could catch up. I’d missed much while at school. But I was home now, I reminded myself. Where I belonged.
As soon as the doors opened, I grabbed my suitcase and headed down the steps to the platform. The first-class car had been empty since Denver, so I exited with ease. Cymbeline threw herself at me with such power that she nearly knocked us both to the ground. She was as strong as many men. A natural athlete. One frustrated by her lack of opportunities to compete.
“Theo, I’ve missed you so,” Cymbeline said, almost angrily.
I chuckled at her stormy expression. “I’ve missed you. Now, don’t be angry with me. I’m here now.”
She hugged me again, then stepped away to peer at me with dark eyes fringed with thick lashes. “You seem larger.”
“Do I? You’re prettier than ever,” I said.
“Don’t be silly. I have more important things to do than be pretty.” Regardless of Cymbeline’s retort, I could see in her brilliant smile that my compliment pleased her.
Flynn held out his hand before pulling me into a half embrace. “Brother, have you learned everything there is to know and are ready to stay put?”
“Not everything,” I said, grinning back at the face that looked so much like mine. “Now that you’re married, have you been tamed?”
“A little,” Flynn said. “I’m going to be a father soon.”
“What? How come I didn’t know?”
“We just told the folks last night. Or I did. Shannon’s feeling too sick to come out.”
“Nothing serious?” I asked.
“Mama says it’s morning sickness and completely normal,” Flynn said. Shannon was a beauty with dark curls and skin the color of milk. My brother had fallen for her shortly after we’d returned from the war. Although Flynn had been saying all his life that he was to remain
a bachelor until the day he died, he’d been unable to resist Shannon. They’d married a few years back. I’d worried when Mama had written there were still no babies that there might be something wrong. Given this happy news, I needn’t have.
Fiona approached in her quiet manner, still holding Cymbeline’s hat. “Hello, Theo.” Her voice was as soft and sweet as it had always been. Listening to her speak, no one would guess at how powerful and crystal clear her singing voice was. She’d gotten enough musical talent for all seven of us.
I set my satchel down to take her hands. “Hello, Fi.” Her hair curled at the nape of her delicate neck. She made me think of a newly budded pink rose. “What’s happened to you? You’re all grown up.”
“Not so much,” Fiona said, smiling. “I’m still your baby sister in here.” She tapped her chest before taking my hand to lead me over to the rest of my family.
“Theo, welcome home,” Papa said with a voice thick with emotion. He held out his hand for me to shake.
“Thanks, Papa.” Tears threatened to break through my natural reserve. I turned to my mother.
“I’m so very happy to see you.” Mama embraced me.
“I’m sure Lizzie can fatten me up in a few weeks,” I said.
Josephine, cradling her infant, held out her cheek for me to kiss. I did so before pulling back the blanket to see my niece, Poppy. She was too young to see who she resembled or even to open her eyes to greet me. “She’s precious, Jo.”
“We think so,” Josephine said with a glance up at her husband, Phillip.
I shook Phillip’s hand and knelt to say hello to little Quinn, who promptly hid herself behind her father.
“Quinn looks like her namesake,” I said. Although that was impossible, as they shared no blood. Still, odder things had come about in our family.
“Isn’t it strange?” Josephine asked as she and Mama exchanged a smile. “As sweet as her, too.”
My little sisters approached next. Addie reminded me very much of Josephine. They were both blonde and slight, although Addie was quieter and frailer than Jo had been at that age. Jo had been a little mother to all of us after our mother died and before Mama Quinn came to us. She’d had to grow up too fast.
“Hi, Theo,” Addie said shyly. “I made you this.” She thrust a card with a pressed orange poppy into my hand.
“Thank you.” I knelt on the platform to get a better look at her.
“Are poppies still your favorite?” Addie’s blue eyes were the same color as the sky above us and had this way of unsettling me with their purity.