I thought I might pass out as I gripped the edge of the counter. “I had no idea.”
“She’s very persuasive, I guess. I’m sorry, Louisa. I wanted you to know in case there’s something to be done.”
“Thank you.” I picked up my loaf of bread and left the shop in a daze. Blindly, I walked the few blocks home. How was this happening? Where would we go? The house belonged to the church. Did Father and Mother have savings? Would we be able to find somewhere to live?
Yes, I told myself. Of course they had savings. They’d sent me away to finishing school, after all. That wasn’t the act of poor people.
Yet there was also the fact of my mother’s surgery the previous year. My mother hadn’t wanted anyone to know that she’d suffered through a serious health condition. It had started with a chronic wet cough and shortness of breath. I’d insisted, finally, that she go see Dr. Neal. He’d done a few tests and sent her to an expert in Denver. The team there had suspected lung cancer and had immediately taken her in for surgery where they removed part of her lung. The doctor said the masses were definitely cancerous but assured us that his expert skills had gotten all of the bad cells. I wasn’t so sure. Regardless, we’d told no one. Mother was proud that way. She considered her stout strength her greatest asset as a preacher’s wife.
There was another fact that had me worried. A small-town preacher relied upon donations from his congregation to pay his salary. For whatever reasons, we were never as successful filling the donation bowl as we hoped. Father always said the Lord would provide. I wasn’t so sure about that, either.
When I came in through the back door, Mother was at the small table near the kitchen window. Sunshine streamed through the spotless glass. In the bright light, the wrinkles that etched her face were more evident. For a second, I saw her as an old woman instead of Mother. She’d aged right before my eyes but without me truly seeing.
Even though I’d been with them since I was nine years old and I was now in my early twenties, I still felt as though I’d only just arrived. The three of us had needed one another with an urgency unlike other families. Mother had yearned for a child that never came. Father wanted nothing but to make her happy. I’d needed them for all things: shelter, food, and mostly love. No one could have been more patient or caring. I came to them broken open to the very core. They stitched me up day by day until much of my past, if not forgotten, faded enough for me to feel close to a normal girl.
I had only to let my mind drift back to the years with my real father to shudder. The games he played with me were too horrid to revisit. Yet when I’d first come here, Mother had encouraged me to talk about them if I needed to. Now that I was gown, I could imagine how awful it must have been for her to hear the atrocities of my childhood. At the time, I was grateful to let them out.
However, I’d kept one horrible thing to myself. As much as I’d shared with the Linds, I couldn’t tell them about the other thing. The thing my father did that made it impossible for me to love a man. I put all that aside for now. How could I tell Mother and Father what I’d heard?
Mother smiled at me as I set the loaf of bread on the table. Even if I’d been able to contemplate marriage, leaving my parents wasn’t an option. They needed me to cook and clean and take care of most everything. I couldn’t leave them. Not that I wanted to. They’d given me a chance for a good life. The least I could do was repay them with the same kindness.
I leaned down to kiss Mother’s soft cheek. “How are you feeling this morning?”
“Right as rain.”
“Good. Would you like me to make coffee?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Would you, dear?”
“Isak had just pulled the sourdough loaves out of his ovens this morning. I bought one to go with our eggs.” I’d walked out to the Cassidys’ farm the day before to buy a dozen eggs from Nora. The youngest of the Cassidy girls had taken over the farm after her father died. She’d added a few milk cows and invested in layer chickens to supplement their cattle. She now kept many of us in town with fresh milk and eggs.
“How was Nora?” Mother asked. “She wasn’t at church last Sunday.”
“She was well but said one of her cows had a baby in the middle of Saturday night and she w
as too tired to make it to church.”
“That girl works too hard.”
It was true. Their father had died right after the war, leaving his wife and three daughters with a barely profitable small cattle ranch. The oldest of the Cassidy sisters, Alma, had gone off to nursing school and had fallen in love with a gentleman from Chicago and not returned to Emerson Pass. Shannon had married rich Flynn Barnes. Nora, like me, hadn’t felt she could leave her mother, and did the work of a man to keep the place going. I hoped for her sake that she’d have the chance to have a husband and family of her own.
Father came in the back door. I knew the moment I saw the gray tinge to his complexion that something was wrong. He didn’t greet us but instead sat heavily on one of the chairs at the table.
“Louisa brought bread from the bakery,” Mother said.
“I’m fixing eggs, too. Would you like coffee?”
“No, thank you,” Father said. “I have to talk to you both.”
“What is it, Simon?” Mother asked. “Are you unwell?”
He looked pale and exhausted, with puffy bags under his eyes. “I’ve had a shock.”
I sat with them at the table and clasped my hands together.
“The board voted. They want us out,” Father said.
“How can this be?” Mother clutched the cross that hung from her neck. “Where will we go?”