Chapter Seven: Fleeing

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Now that Emma had married, the house seemed just a wee bit larger, just a little bit emptier. Anne missed her twin keenly, but Emma had seemed so very happy the day before, dancing with her new husband, and twirling gaily in her cream- colored gown; so content in the arms of the gentleman she'd married. Anne hoped she would be happy, that there would still be a bit of her newlywed sister's heart saved for her.

Mary, on the other hand, was completely, one hundred percent, downright miserable. While Anne had smiled at the wedding and cried at home, Mary had just smiled through her pain and let it eat at her. It is a terrible thing, to swallow your pain, to let it eat at you, but sometimes we have no choice- or perhaps we do, and we just do not want to face it.

And she was regretting it, but not enough to stop. So she sat on the train as it pulled into the Denver station, a face of stone under the green bonnet that hid an absolute mess of untamed auburn hair. 

As the conductor's whistle blew and the great loop- running train came to a halt, Mary clenched her hand around her bag that her knuckles turned white. She wasn't going to get off here. She couldn't. 

She didn't.

*****

Keith stood on the docks, waiting for the ship to come in. The morning sun was clouded by the New England fog there in New York City, leaving little light to bounce on the grey harbor. He waited quietly amongst the great bustle around him, watching the colossal ship come into reach. He was not in a foul mood- rather, a content one. He'd secured a supplier of manufactured goods for his father's store, as he did everywhere he traveled. It was Theodore Little's wish that his store be the best in all of the new state of Colorado- and if that meant that Keith sailed, rode, and walked the whole planet to find items that would make him so, then that's what would happen. Keith was used to traveling, and normally, although society was tiresome and boring, he enjoyed it. 

Not this time.

This time, he was aching to go back to Denver, but he'd bring along an item that was not on his father's list this time. In fact, he wasn't sure his father would have approved of the thing he was going to buy... but why should it be any of his father's affair? After all, it was Keith's life.

As he boarded the ship, he was only going to London for business this time. He knew that if he got caught up in society, something bad would happen- some lady's mother would try to marry him to their daughter again and he'd finally snap, most likely. So this visit was strictly a business one: find the best textiles (why he couldn't do that in America Keith had no idea) and return home. Don't do anything stupid. Don't decide to stay.

Keith knew for sure that the last one wouldn't be a problem. He had things to ground him in Colorado. But not doing anything stupid... well, stupid was relative.

*****

The train passed beyond Denver, into the drizzly afternoon. Mary chewed on the bread and cheese she had brought with her. It wouldn't be long until Fort Collins, and then she'd go to Cheyenne, and from there straight on to San Francisco. She'd be there in just a few days.

She had twenty-eight dollars and fifty- two cents in her satchel, which was all of the money she had in the world, saved from whatever she had left after paying rent and board- and maybe a few splurges over the months... but it would hopefully be enough to get her to California. Find lodgings. Hopefully she got a job quickly, but she wasn't counting on running into a tall, fair stranger as she got off of the train. She didn't want to. She couldn't take the chance.

The train dragged onward north towards the old outpost, the windows streaked with rain. Mary stared out of them listlessly. Only smudges could be made out- and there was nothing but rolling fields anyways- so she was not seeing, just looking. It didn't pass the time very quickly.

She got off at the little train station and went to the ticket window. "Cheyenne," she said. "Just one." Her voice caught. The ticket seller didn't remark on it, just took her five dollars and handed her the slip of paper. 

Mary waited for the train to come in by looking at the ground and listening to the patter of the rain on the tin roof until the whistle sounded and she walked onto the train. Cheyenne would connect her to the trans-continental railroad that had been completed just a few years before- the rail that ran uninterrupted from Omaha to San Francisco. 

This train was smaller than the last, with only a few cars. Mary sat down on a seat smack in the middle and laid her head down on the window. A man sat in front of her when she wasn't looking, his blond hair the only thing she could see when she looked forward. Her heart skipped a beat- Keith?- and she became terribly nervous. She wanted to see Keith so badly!

"Keith?" she whispered. The man turned around, his mouth twitching under a waxed mustache and one eyebrow raised. 

"Who?"

"Apologies, sir, I believed you to be someone else." Mortified, she sank back into her seat. The man turned and faced forwards before muttering.

"The Irish- only the Irish are that thick, to confuse people."

Mary pretended not to hear. I need to learn to speak with an American accent.

*****

Two days later, Mary's letter was slapped onto the desk at the post office. Ava picked it up, along with the letter from her aunt, and took it home, shielding it from the rain that was still falling. "It's addressed to Keith," she murmured. 

"What's that, Ava?" A friend of Ava's, Margot, looked over and studied the address. "It looks like a girl's handwriting. There isn't a sender on here, though."

"That's Mary's writing. But why would she be writing to Keith?"

"Oh, it's so romantic, isn't it? He's not been gone a week and already she misses him!"

"You'll know all about missing boys, I imagine," Ava commented drily. "What with Jacob Gardener visiting his relatives out East, I suppose."

"We are almost courting."

"Almost." Ava was still heartsick over him. She'd been friends with Margot for too long to be mad, however. "Besides, Keith isn't courting Mary yet- officially. Mamma wants them to, and Keith wants to, but-"

"This isn't the time to wonder why. We have just got to read this letter."

"Margot, if it's not addressed to us, we don't read it."

Puppy eyes from Margot.

"It's not ours, we don't read it."

Margot sighed, pushing a sandy curl behind her ear. "Fine."

*****

San Francisco was a bustling city, sunny and warm, when the train pulled in two days after Mary left Cheyenne. She smoothed her russet skirts and picked up her bag, jostled by people. She hadn't spoken almost at all the whole time on the train, though she'd written a great deal in her journal. Most of it was torn out and crumpled into paper snowballs smeared with pencil marks. 

Careful not to run into anyone, Mary made her way into the streets. It was the late afternoon, with the sun sinking low over the bay. It had been so long since Mary had seen the ocean. The last time she had, it had been a completely different ocean, for completely different reasons. Yet here she was, staring at it, the waves still the same on the Pacific as they were on the Atlantic. She'd come so far since New York Harbor- three thousand miles and six years, not to mention all of the heartache that had ensued. But she was leaving it all behind, wasn't she? It was all in the past now, and here, there was no one to hold her back. 

Of course, the MacEilans had said that about America, too, and Mary had said it about Denver. She'd just have to keep on hoping until she got it right.

Picture at the top is Fort Collins around the time that Mary sees it- not really relevant to story but I thought it was cool :-)

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