Topic #19: Fear
First Steps by: Cindy
The Footsteps by: Nora
Black Roses by: Raye
Lou by: Donna Ree
Jimmy by: Donna Ree
Waiting by: Cindy
The Cold Finger of Fear by: Sameena
Unbroken by: Lori
This Can't Be Happening  by: Debbie

First Steps
by: Cindy

He sat on the hill, watching. He’d been watching the mission for two days now. Just watching as the people went about their business. The women in their stark black and white clothing that covered their heads too. The children working in the garden, the stables, or occasionally playing games.

It was the perfect place from which to watch. His horse was hidden from view on the other side of the hill. There were trees and brush to conceal his own presence and to provide shelter at night. A creek ran just to the south, providing clear, fresh water. Edible berries grew all around, and there was abundant small game in the area if he needed to hunt.

Yes, it was a good place - he could easily stay right here for a long time.

Except, of course, he hadn’t traveled all this way to hide up here on a hill.

He looked away, turning to sit with his back facing the mission. His horse grazed contentedly just below him. He knew what he should do, of course. He should get on his horse and ride up to the gates of the mission, ask for the shelter and schooling he had come in search of.

But the very thought made his stomach clench in reaction to a level of fear he had never experienced before.

Oh, he’d been afraid before. When the other boys had ganged up on him, taunting him, beating him because of his white blood. When his mother had died, leaving him without the loving protection she had provided. Or when he had discovered that Little Bird had been taken away. None of that compared with the fear that gripped him now as he faced a totally new and alien world.

He thought back over the last few weeks. For the first time in so long, he had actually been happy. He could escape the distrust of the others just by spending time with Little Bird. It was hard to believe that he had been jealous of her at first. How could the tribe accept a white child so readily, when his own half-white blood created only hatred and distrust? Still, he had wanted an answer to that question, and so he had made it a point to get to know her. Somewhat to his surprise, she hadn’t seen him as a half-anything - she had seen him as a friend.

To his joy, he found a friend too.

The day the tribe elders declared that he should be bound to Little Bird had filled his heart with a level of happiness he’d never known. It had then nearly broken his heart when she had begged him to stay instead of go with the men. But Red Bear had finally decreed that he was a warrior, fit to join the hunting party and help provide for the tribe. How could he have not gone?

Remembering the carnage that had greeted the hunting party on its return caused him to shudder. Bodies everywhere, women, children, elders - and no Little Bird. Somehow, it had become his fault. Even though he had acquitted himself well on his first hunt, the old distrust returned. Even Red Bear gave in to the sorrow and became distant.

He’d known then it was time - time to leave the only world he had ever known. For all of his life the white world had been there, sometimes seeming as if it was hiding just on the other side of the tipi wall. Surrounding him, but always just out of sight and touch. It was time to see that world, touch it, learn about it. After all, was not the white world as much his as the Kiowa world had been?

The decision had seemed so clearly correct. He left in the middle of the night, taking only his knife, his bow, his horse, and one buffalo skin robe. And he knew where this place was. Red Bear had pointed it out on a scouting trip, identifying it as a place of learning in the white world.

That was what he wanted - to learn.

But as he looked back over his shoulder at the buildings, his stomach churned in fear again. Now that he was here, he was afraid to go closer. Afraid of what the women in black and white would see when they looked at him, afraid of what he might learn.

Still, what choice did he have? He couldn’t return to the Kiowa. He wasn’t wanted there. He would miss his brother, but Red Bear was destined to be a war chief and couldn’t be expected to look after a brother with white blood - blood that everyone else hated.

He could easily live off the land for quite a while, at least until winter settled over the land again. Then the problem of shelter would become more desperate, and food would be harder to come by. And how long could he go on alone, never knowing who was friend or enemy?

He’d heard of the large settlements the white men built. But he knew so little of the white world. Little Bird had taught him some of the language, but he knew it wasn’t enough. He needed to learn more.

So, what he should do was what he came here to do in the first place. He should get up, get his horse, ride to the mission, and ask the women in black and white to teach him. The sun was starting to set, so he needed to decide. He didn’t know if the women would fear him, but he knew it would be best to approach them in the daylight. That meant he either accepted spending another night here under the trees - or he had to go soon.

He stood up, surprised to find his knees shaking. He took a deep breath to steady himself. A warrior could be afraid - but he must never allow that fear to rule him. The white world was his by blood, just as the Kiowa world was his. To know himself, he needed to know both worlds.

Another deep breath, and his knees finally felt less shaky. His stomach still churned uncomfortably, but he forced his mind away from the sensation. It was time to face his other world.

Running Buck moved swiftly down the hill to his horse. He mounted, and turned toward the path that would lead to the mission. He pressed his knees in gently, urging the horse forward. Together they took the first steps toward his new life.
The Footsteps
by: Nora

I heard the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs. They were hurried, determined and solitary. Usually when I heard a man's footsteps on the stairs they were accompanied by the clickety-clack of high-toned boot heels. But no such luck this time. I knew he had to be looking for me, as he always gave Thursday mornings off to the rest of the girls so they could do their shopping and rest up for the weekend. My heart pounded harder the closer he came. I had heard stories of what happened to the other girls. Briefly I thought about climbing out the window, but realized it would probably get me killed instead since my room was on the second story. Certainly, he'd find me in the closet or under the bed. I looked around the room for any other place to hide but I really had no options. There was no where to go.

The footsteps had stopped right outside my door. Frantically I searched for something to defend myself with, anything. I reached for the lamp as the doorknob rattled. My heart felt like it was in my throat and my hands trembled so badly that I dropped the lamp when the door opened.

He stood there in the doorway, sneering, laughing at my innocence and fright. His cold, steely eyes seemed to pin me down so I couldn't move.

"You're all grown up now, Louise," were the last words I remember hearing.
Black Roses
by: Raye

Louise lay on her side using the moonlight to illuminate the leather-bound pages she held in her hands.

"The Lady of the Roses" by: Abigail Littleton

There is little to tell in my tale, little at all, but the story of love forsaken and a life ended too soon. I was merely six-and-ten and still, I viewed the world around me with a fascination born of wonder and naivete. Sheltered by my family I wanted for nothing of a tangible nature. The best clothes, entertainments, even the food that touched my plate was the finest one could buy. Then why, why was I so eager to leave this paradise?

Ah, love, the most insidious of emotions. The way it can snake under your skin and take your breath away as it is about to snuff out your soul. For a girl as plain as I, it was ever a fear of mine that I would waste away, year after aging year, alone... unloved... should no man see beyond my plain exterior and my father's money to see the caged soul full of love.

His name was Warner Davis, a man I believed to be irreproachable in his honor. For so it was when he was presented to me by my dearest friend. Amelia had been my bosom companion for a decade and had the confidence of my deepest heart.

The soire at the Conservatory was the talk of the town for months before the date and Amelia and I had planned the evening down to the number of pearls and gems in our coifs. It seemed to fit our plans perfectly when Warner was introduced to us by Amelia's brother.

Warner bowed low over my hand and I felt a flutter of wings within my middle as his lips brushed the back of my hand. Touching my suddenly heated flesh for a moment longer than was commonly appropriate for a first meeting. But I, my fears ever simmering beneath the surface, could little summon up the power to set him back with a word of reproach. No, I found myself blushing at the look in his eyes as I forgot the world about us.

Straightening, Warner offered me his elbow and a few pretty words. I, like a wilting flower, turned to the sunny light of his smile and took to the dance floor with my feet dancing on air.

My father refused him permission to court me, but I would hear none of my father's warnings. I would not listen to the painful things that were said against Warner. No, I continued to see him.. hiding our frantic meetings behind one lie after another, for I was too eager to believe the words that touched the hope that lay slumbering in my breast.

We eloped, Warner and I. Ran off to marry before hastily sobered Justice with red roses clutched in my quaking hands or a ring circling my finger. There was only that little square of paper to prove we had been bound. I had ignored the whispers of warning in my head, for I feared that the voice of propriety would doom me to a solitary existance.

Shaking as I was, I barely remember a moment of my first night as a wife. I remember hands, stilted movements, dark sounds and a never ending longing for love. Nothing that I could even imagine as love remains in my memory.

My father's agent found us. Pounding on the door in the wee hours of the morning and drawing me to the door in my robe with no time to fix my hair. What I site I must have been, standing at the door with my hair wild about my shoulders, my shame written over my features. No man had seen me like this in my life and now, two.

He looked away, my father's agent, holding out a paper with a dismissive sniff. I took it and barely heard his retreating steps as my eyes read the words before me. I was dead to my father, cast from his world with a simple stroke of his pen.

I turned to Warner, clutched him in my arms as I told him my own pretty words. It will be fine. We were together. Love was all we needed.

A ring to the desk brought brandy to our room and I, prompted by my husband, drank more than my fill. I fell asleep in his heavy arms.


The sun that blinded me was harsh indeed, for truly I was waking from more than a night full of unfulfilled dreams. I was waking from my naive expectation of love... of men.

Warner was gone, as was any trace of his presence. He left me. He left me with the memory of a dark night with a darker soul, left me with the bill for our stay... as well as an ache in my heart. I had nothing, but hate... and black roses.

Louise closed the book and held it against her chest. She looked up at the ceiling and into the darkness of night. "Men!" she hissed between her teeth.

Below her, Kid looked up at the beams of wood and wondered within his mind. 'What have I done now?'
Lou
by: Donna Ree

Fear was holding her hostage. The indecision of not knowing what to do, eating away at her.

She mentally berated herself for being in this mess in the first place.

‘You’ve got no one to blame but yourself, Louise McCloud.’ She told herself.

That being said, the fear still kept hold of her.

She was afraid of making the wrong decision and ruining not only her life, but Kid’s life as well. And Jimmy…well possibly Jimmy’s life, too.

She again looked at the pocket watch she had bought Kid as a wedding present. She’d lost track of how many times she’d checked the time on it. The watch read 3 o’clock. She had stayed up all night trying to decide what to do. In exactly nine hours it wouldn’t matter. She’d be Mrs. Kid…what?

Here she was trying to decide if Kid was the man she wanted to spend the rest of her days with and she didn’t even know his real name.

She got up and paced the room. Oh, how she dreaded making this decision.

Emma and Rachel both had told her it was completely normal to get cold feet before your own wedding - although when she asked, neither of them admitted to being the least bit apprehensive when they had gotten married. Emma was completely happy with Sam and Rachel with Teaspoon.

“That’s it!” She said aloud, hoping she didn’t wake everyone in Rachel’s house.

She stomped into her shoes and headed out the door towards the bunkhouse.

She needed to talk to Jimmy and she needed to do it now.

***

Teaspoon awoke, groggy, asking his wife what the all the noise was about.

Rachel responded simply, “She’s finally faced her fear and made a decision.”

“I only hope that boy is able to face his own fear.” Teaspoon replied.

***

Lou grew alarmed when she found Jimmy’s bunk empty. She quickly ran to the barn. And that’s where she found him. He had already saddled Sundance and was attaching his gear when she walked in.

“Jimmy.” His name came out as a whisper from her lips. But always in tune with her, he had heard it and reluctantly turned around.

“Lou, I’m sorry. I just can’t stay and watch you get married.” He told her.

Her fear of indecision suddenly melted away.

“Jimmy, I can’t. That is, I’m not…oh hells bells! I can’t marry him.” She looked him in the eye and confessed, “Not when I’m in love with someone else.”

“Lou, you can’t love me. I’m not worth it. ‘Sides, it’s always been you and the Kid. I’m just a distraction for you.”

“Don’t say that, Jimmy. I know what I want now and who I need for the rest of my life and it’s not the Kid. It’s you, Jimmy Hickok. I love you.”

…To be continued with the quick fic “Jimmy”.
Jimmy
by: Donna Ree

“I love you.” He heard her say.

Her admission brought a rush of blood to his head, making him light-headed and brought a roar to his ears.

“You can’t.” He managed to croak out.

Lou walked toward him and he found himself opening his arms to her.

He held onto her for dear life. She had always been his lifeline. Just to be able to see her everyday had kept him around the station this long. Never did he think he’d actually hear those three little words directed at him from Lou.

It had always been Lou and Kid from the very beginning. He was always the extra wheel. Oh, sure, he and Lou had shared a few stolen moments, but she had always gone back to the Kid and Jimmy was left out in the cold.

Often, he would lie in his bunk at night and dream of Lou and what a life with her would be like. But that’s all it had been - a dream.

Now it was becoming a reality. And it scared him down to the tips of his toes.

Jimmy Hickok had never been scared of anything for as long as he could remember. But this slip of a girl…woman, made him cower in fear at the thought of spending the rest of his life with her.

It wasn’t the thought of getting married that daunted him. Far from it. It was the thought of being responsible for someone other than himself that had him shaking inside.

If he married Lou, he’d be sworn to protect her ‘til death do they part. And that’s where he was concerned.

He knew death could be waiting for him around the next bend in the road and where would that leave Lou?

“Jimmy, I know I sprang this on you awful sudden-like, but I had to let you know how I felt. I understand if you don’t feel the same, but I…”

Jimmy cut her off, “God, Lou, no. It’s not that I don’t feel the same as you.” He quietly added, “I love you, too. It’s just I never thought anything could come of it. But, Lou, my life…the way I live, I can’t always be there to protect you. I’m afraid of what’ll happen to you.”

“Dang it, Jimmy! Stop it right there!” Lou stomped from one end of the barn to the other, ranting all the way. “Protect me! Why do you men think a woman always needs protectin’? Especially me! Kid infuriates me when he tries to protect me. Don’t you start doing it, too, Hickok!”

Jimmy grabbed her and kissed away her protests.

“Lou, Lou, I love you. God, how I love you. I’m just afraid. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you because of me.

When she started to protest again, Jimmy placed a finger to her lips. “Shh, just wait and hear me out. There comes a time when a person has to face their fear, close their eyes and take a step off the cliff and hope you’re caught before you fall.”

“Sounds like you’ve been talkin’ to Teaspoon.” She observed.

He looked at her sheepishly, shrugged and then grinned. “Lou, what I’m tryin’ to say is I’m ready. I’m ready to face my fear. Not of losing you to a bullet, but of looking after someone other than myself for a change.”

Jimmy knelt down on his left knee and taking her hand in his, asked, “Louise McCloud, will you marry me?”

Lou grinned broadly and nodded. “Oh, yes, Jimmy, I’ll marry you.”

A new day was beginning to dawn. And as they embraced, she whispered in his ear, “I’ll always be there to catch you.”

Waiting

by: Cindy

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here!” Emma ran down the steps and threw her arms around the first visitor.

Teaspoon held her tight for a moment. “We’re here to help, Emma.”

Emma stepped back, wiping a tear from her cheek. Then she turned to the second visitor, wrapping him in a hug too. “Buck.”

“We came as soon as we could, Emma,” Buck said as he returned the embrace.

Emma just nodded, brushing away more tears. She’d cried a lot these last few days - and she’d never been so frightened. “Well, come inside,” she said, leading the way. She held the door open until they entered and then she carefully closed it. “Have a seat in the parlor,” she said, the words tumbling out quickly. “I can take your jackets. Oh, and you’re probably hungry after the trip. I’ll put some coffee on, and I can make some sandwiches.”

Teaspoon finally took her by the arm. “Emma, I think you’d best slow down,” he said gently. “Let’s go to the kitchen. Buck can make coffee while you tell us what happened.” He could see the stove in the room at the back of the house so he led her that way.

The kitchen had large windows all around, but the day was grey and cloudy so the room felt cold. Teaspoon pulled out a chair at the table for Emma and got her seated, and then he took his jacket off, wrapping it around her shoulders. Buck was already working on getting a fire started in the stove so he sat down opposite Emma. “Tell us what happened, Emma.”

She sat quietly for a moment, staring at her shaking hands. Then, still without looking up, she said softly, “He’s gone, Mr. Spoon. No one knows where he is.”

Buck set a pot of coffee on the stove to heat, then he sat down at the table. “Your telegram said Sam was on a posse.”

Emma finally looked up. “There was a bank robbery over in Bradenton. Sam formed a posse to go after them.” She paused, trying to smile. “How many posses has he been on? It was nothing new.”

“But something happened on this one,” Teaspoon prompted.

She nodded. “The posse caught up with the gang, and there was a big gunfight. Charlie said things got real confusing. When the shooting stopped, some of the outlaws were dead or wounded, and some of the posse members were dead or wounded. But there was no sign of Sam.” She choked back a sob as the final words came out.

Buck reached for her hand, waiting as she struggled for control. Then he asked gently, “Emma, who’s Charlie?”

“One of Sam’s deputies,” she answered. She took a deep breath. “He got the wounded posse members back to town, then he took a few men back to where the fighting was.” Her voice trailed off again. “But they still couldn’t find any sign of where Sam had been taken.”

“This Charlie, he around so we can talk to him?” Teaspoon asked.

“He should be in town, at . . . Sam’s office.” She stared down at her hands again. “Even knowing he was dead would be better than not knowing at all.”

“Now, Emma, no reason to think about Sam being dead,” Teaspoon said quickly. Except, of course, that was exactly what he had been thinking ever since the telegram had arrived in Rock Creek.

Buck poured a cup of coffee and set it in front of Emma. “We’re going to find him, Emma. One way or another, we’re going to find Sam.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was dark when he returned to the house. Everything was quiet, with just a gentle glow coming from the parlor to tell him that anyone was there at all.

Teaspoon stopped in the doorway. The fire had burned down until it was just a glow in the hearth. The wick in the single lamp was turned way down so that the light cast little more than a ruddy glimmer. He stepped just inside the room.

Buck sat on the divan. His left arm was wrapped around Emma’s shoulders. She was curled up, with her head against his shoulder. And in his other arm Buck carefully cradled a sleeping infant.

Teaspoon walked forward quietly. “Guess this is little Samuel, eh?”

Buck nodded. “Two months old today,” he whispered.

“How’s Emma doing?”

“We talked for a while, and she cried a lot,” Buck whispered He looked down at Emma for a moment, watching her sleep. “Did you find Charlie?”

“Yeah, I found him,” Teaspoon answered. “Couldn’t really tell me much more than what we’d already heard. But he’ll meet us at dawn and take us out to where it happened.”

They waited in silence for a few moments, then Buck finally whispered, “It’s been five days, Teaspoon.”

Teaspoon just nodded as he walked over to toss more wood on the fire. “I know,” he said sadly. “I know.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

She cleaned the house - several times. She cleaned it inside and out. When she had scrubbed everything once, she scrubbed it again.

When the scrubbing took the paint off of the picket fence, she whitewashed it again.

She made cookies - lots of cookies. She stockpiled dozens of Sam’s favorite.

She had to believe he’d come back to eat them.

She dealt with the well-wishers. They came in small groups, women from the church, the wives of Sam’s deputies, some of the town’s merchants. Always, she was polite, thanking them for the gifts of food and baby toys they brought - thanking them for caring.

She held little Samuel tight, singing to him, telling him stories about his brave father. Telling him to believe his daddy’s arms would soon be holding him again.

Telling herself to believe too.

During the day, when she could keep busy, she could almost believe. But when night came, and the darkness surrounded her, belief abandoned her. The fear and uncertainty were magnified by the blackness. She couldn’t stay in the bed - the bed that seemed so empty without him. And so she spent the nights sitting in a chair in the nursery, watching Samuel sleep.

The night was also a good time for thinking. She thought about all the good times of being with Sam. The times she told him she loved him - the times she should have told him. And she lingered on the times he had told her he loved her, and all the ways he had shown his love.

When the fear and sadness made her tremble the worst, she wrapped herself in Sam’s extra jacket.

And she waited.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was morning of the fourth day after Teaspoon and Buck had left. She was cleaning the kitchen, for the second time that day, when she saw him, and she ran for the door.

“Mr. Spoon?”

He caught her arm as she ran up. “We found him, Emma,” He said slowly. Somehow, against all the odds, Buck’s skill and sheer determination had led them to a faint trail. “Buck managed to find a track to follow.”

Emma gasped, her hand going to cover her mouth. “Is he . . .?”

“He’s alive.” He put his hands on both of her shoulders as he continued. “He was shot, Emma, and then left by the trail. Don’t know how long he’d been there bleeding, with no water.” He hated telling her news like that, especially since she looked like she’d barely slept at all since they’d left. But he also knew Emma deserved the truth. “It ain’t good.”

“Oh, my lord,” Emma whispered. “Sam!”

“Buck’s waitin’ for you over to the doc’s,” Teaspoon said as he gently turned her that way. “I’ll see to the baby, and meet you there in a bit.”

She looked down the street, almost afraid to move. But she was more afraid to not know, to not be there if . . .

Teaspoon watched as she ran down the street, finally disappearing around a corner. Then he took a deep breath to steady his own nerves before he went into the house. He’d get the baby, and then join the others at the doctor’s office.

Join them in a vigil to try and save a friend. And be there for Emma if that effort was in vain.

He shook his head as he wearily climbed the stairs. The waiting was always the hardest part
The Cold Finger of Fear
by: Sameena

Teaspoon walked up and down the aisle, beaming at all the students. This was probably the easiest job he had ever done in his life. He had walked into the classroom and his presence had immediately silenced the chattering children. He had told the students that he was here to teach them because Missus Dunne was sick.

He had begun the day asking the children to tell him a little about themselves. And each one had stood at the front of the room and told their tale. Then one of the older boys had asked Teaspoon to do the same. He was more than happy to comply with that request. By the time he was finished speaking, the children were looking at him with stars in their eyes.

Feeling very much in control, he commenced teaching. He had just begun the history lesson, when he first felt it, the cold finger of fear sliding down his back.

“Excuse me,” Teaspoon said, startled at having been interrupted by a small girl. What was her name? Then he remembered, Beatrice Childs. Beatrice was a small, brown-haired girl, with two thick braids hanging down her back. Her big brown eyes were magnified by spectacles thicker than the ones he kept carefully hidden in a drawer.

“I said,” Beatrice declared, fixing Teaspoon with a chilling look, her brown eyes blinking owlishly at him, “that John Adams was the second president, not Thomas Jefferson.”

“Ah, yes, of course,” Teaspoon said, recovering his misstep. “Now where was I.” He looked at Beatrice, half-expecting her to tell him. But she remained quiet.

“The French Revolution, that’s it,” Teaspoon said, walking back and forth at the front of the classroom. “The revolution led to a war between France and England. Like I said, Washington, the first president.” He gave Beatrice a pointed look and continued. “He didn’t accept the recommendations of his Secretary of State, Alexander Hamilton -”

“Thomas Jefferson,” Beatrice interrupted.

“Huh?” Teaspoon said, stopping in his tracks.

“Thomas Jefferson was his Secretary of State. Alexander Hamilton was the Secretary of the Treasury.” Beatrice smiled triumphantly as the class began to twitter.

Teaspoon once again felt it, the dreaded feeling of fear and this time fear had a name and its name was Beatrice.
Unbroken
by: Lori
If I lived and breathed before you loved me, I don’t recall
If I walked around at all it was in bits and pieces of a jagged heart
You kissed me and everything went back in place, every pain got erased
You held me up to the sunlight now it feels like…
I’m unbroken

-Unbroken, Tim McGraw

It was a night like many others, sitting in his den, a fire blazing in the hearth, warming the room as he tried to chase the chill from his soul. Tonight was different though. Tonight he was tired of the pattern he’d fallen into, the power he’d given to a moment in the past that was best left buried and forgotten. Tonight was the night he placed Louise in his past where she’d been for so many years…where she belonged.

Nicolette knew something had been bothering him, could sense his tension, feel his withdrawal, and it wasn’t fair to her. She was the woman he loved, the woman he had pledged his life to, the woman who had saved him.

When Louise and her family left, heading back to their lives, he had been lost once again. He threw himself into performing, determined to make a success of his dream, even if the victory seemed bittersweet without the woman he’d done it for beside him. He wasn’t going to let the fear of failure rule his life. Failure wasn’t a word he was going to allow in his vocabulary.

He lost himself in making the show a success, making his name known across the land, and across the ocean. When his show traveled to Europe and his nerves threatened him once again he once again immersed himself with ensuring everything went right. He was constantly busy, barely had time to breathe, and one day he’d realized it had been several weeks since he’d thought about Louise. It was the long, lonely nights in the hotels when his thoughts didn’t necessarily turn to her, her face no longer haunted his thoughts, but a new worry crept in, the fear that he would never find someone to share his life.

Would he be alone with just his employees and the nameless, faceless crowds until he was too old and too sick to climb on a horse?

Then he ran into Nicolette. She didn’t know who he was, didn’t care about the praise and accolades he was earning, and knew nothing of the heartbreak he was nursing. She laughed at his jokes, listened to the ramblings he wouldn’t share with anyone else, and for the first time in months made him feel like he was a true human being and not someone hiding from his life.

He found himself spending more and more time with her; less time in the hotel bar. He didn’t think about Louise or the way his life had shattered, he didn’t think about never finding someone to love and share his life with, he simply enjoyed being in her company. Then one day he was surprised to realize he was in love with her and it felt like his life had come back together in a way he never expected.

By the time he left Europe they were married.

His heart was healed.

His life was better than before.

His soul was unbroken.

This Can't Be Happening
by: Debbie

"Louise, are you sure Wicks hasn't said anything to you lately?"  Charlotte asked the young girl once they were in Louise's room.  She'd been having an uneasy feeling about their employer lately but she couldn't quite figure out why she felt that way.

Louise gave her a reassuring smile.  "Charlotte, he hasn't even been near me in over two weeks.  I hardly ever see him unless he has a comment about the job I'm doing."  She thought back to the last time Mr. Wicks had sought her out, it was to tell her she was the best laundress he had ever hired and that he could see a promotion in her immediate future.  She was so pleased with that news that she hadn't bothered to find out what the new job would entail, she just knew he had assured her it would come with a nice sized raise.

"Well, alright,"  Charlotte said, sighing.  "But if you see him watching you or doing anything out of the ordinary, you let me know."

"I will, I promise,"  Louise told her, touching her hand.  "There's nothing to worry about."

"I wish you would consider trying to find work elsewhere ... get out of here while you still can,"  Charlotte urged.  "This isn't the life for you, Louise."  She loved the pretty young thing in front of her.  In the beginning, she'd felt a sisterly affection toward her but lately it had turned maternal.  Maybe I'm just getting old, Charlotte thought to herself.  She'd seen too many young, innocent girls, like Louise, pulled into this line of work and didn't want that to happen to her new friend.

Louise started to speak but paused as she heard a loud laugh from down the hall then the sound of a bottle breaking.  Swallowing hard, she said,  "Charlotte, you know as well as I do that Mr. Wicks doesn't hire girls as young as me so there's nothing to be concerned about.  But if it'll make you happy, I will think about it."   She smiled at the woman who had looked out for her since the moment she'd arrived, just over a year ago.  "I just don't know where I could look - if no one hired me when I was fourteen, what makes you think they'll hire me now that I'm fifteen?"

Louise didn't like working there, in fact, she hated it.  She'd been mortified once she'd learned what the girls did in the large house but after talking to Charlotte, she'd slowly realized it wasn't always their fault they were there.  She had accepted their plight in life and overlooked as much as she could.  Still, it was hard to think about looking for another job;  she had a roof over her head and a warm bed to sleep in each night, three square meals a day, clean clothes, and even a little money to put away for the future.

"As long as you think about it, that's all I can ask.  And the next time I'm in town, I'll see if there's any jobs around.  Now, if I didn't have someone coming to see me tonight, I'd stay with you longer, sweetie."

"I'm fine, Charlotte.  Why should tonight be any different from all the other nights I've been here?"  Louise asked as she walked the older woman to the door.

"I don't know, it's just a feeling I have,"  Charlotte told her as she stood in the doorway.  "I'll come by to see you first thing in the morning.  Good night, Louise."  She stepped into the hallway then quickly turned around.  "And make sure you lock this door!"  she instructed, pointing to the lock.

"Believe me, I do it every night, it's not something I would forget."  Louise was glad her room was on the opposite end of the hall than the working girls.  She had been spooked once when a gentleman guest had gotten lost and knocked on her door instead.  Since that day, she'd always locked the door the moment she came into the room, even if it was for just a moment.  "Good night, Charlotte, I'll see you in the morning."  She watched the beautiful woman walk down the hallway then quickly closed and locked the door.

Louise went to the dresser and took out her nightgown.  She laid it on the bed then turned around, startled, as there was a knock on her door.  She instantly assumed it was Charlotte, checking that she had indeed locked the door.

"Charlotte, it's all taken care of, you can go now,"  she called out.  She started to get a little confused when no one answered from the hall.  "Charlotte?"  she asked cautiously from her position by the bed.

"It's not Charlotte, Louise,"  a deep voice addressed her from the other side of the door.

Louise eyes got huge as she recognized who was speaking to her.  She instantly grabbed hold of her long brown ponytail that was hanging over her shoulder and starting twisting it in a nervous fashion.  "Mmm ... Mr. Wicks?  Ww ... what are you doing here?  If you're looking for Charlotte, she just left."  She looked around helplessly, not knowing what to think.

"I'm not looking for Charlotte, Louise.  I came to see you,"  Wicks told her, his voice making it's way through the thick wood of the door.

She held more firmly to her hair, as if it was her lifeline.  "Can I see you in the morning, Mr. Wicks, Sir?  I'm really not feeling well right now and I'm sure all I need is a good nights sleep.  I'll find you first thing in the morning, I promise."  She tried not to sound alarmed but didn't think she'd succeeded.  Oh, why hadn't she listened to Charlotte's concerns?  She'd never had a reason to fear Mr. Wicks in the past but there was something in the sound of his voice that terrified her. 

"I only want one thing from you, Louise, and once I get it, I'll be on my way."

She starting shaking as she recalled the last conversation he'd had with her, it started with the words 'you're all grown up now, Louise'.  She thought he meant she was ready to handle more work but now she feared he had meant something else.

She glanced down at her petite body.  Her thin waist and hips weren't very womanly and neither were her small breasts but maybe that didn't matter to him. 

"Open the door, Louise,"  Wicks ordered firmly.

Louise's head shot up at his instructions.  This can't be happening, she thought, panicking.  She glanced around the tiny room, looking for any possible means of escape but knew it was futile.  There was one window but she was on the second floor and overlooked the alley behind the brothel, and there was only one door to the room and HE was on the other side of that.

"I can't, Mr. Wicks, I'm sorry.  I'll come see you first thing when I wake up, I promise."  She inhaled a sob as she tried to think of what to do.  The dresser was too heavy to move in front of the door and a chair wouldn't be much resistance against a man of his strength.  There wasn't any other furniture in the room.  She crept to the side of the dresser and slouched to the ground, trying to make herself as small as possible.  Maybe he wouldn't see her if he came in and would just leave.  Louise knew it was never to be but couldn't give up what little hope she had left.

"You should never disobey my orders, Louise,"  he told her forcefully.  "Now I'll have to take care of it myself."

She cringed when she heard keys jingling.  He's going to let himself in!  she cried out, but no sound came.  She listened to him placing the key in the lock, looked up and whispered,  "Please, God, help me ... Charlotte ... Mama ... someone ... anyone, help me."  Tears started down her cheeks as the door creaked open and footsteps vibrated the cold wooden floor.

She closed her eyes and prayed with all her might, in one more futile attempt to rid herself of the nightmare she found herself in, but knew it was in vain.  Feeling a presence towering over her small form, she found herself glancing up, even though her mind told her not to.

"You're all grown up now, Louise."

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