Chapter Eight: Staying

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AUGUST 1878

Keith got off the Denver train, tired and very, very glad to be home. The visit had gone fine- and he rather enjoyed London as a city- but he'd counted the days 'till home since he had docked in London. He had his secret item in his pocket, where the flat little box couldn't be seen. Keith had used his own money to buy it, but he wasn't sure what his father would think. Best not to let him know until it was given.

He was ambushed by a curly blonde head with willowy arms that squeezed him harder than he thought any eighteen- year- old girl could ever be capable of. "Hello, Ava," he grunted, squeezing her back. "What's changed since I left?"

"We missed you so much," she breathed into him. "Mamma and Father made me do all of the chores since I was the only child for two months. I'm glad you're back."

Something wasn't right. "Is everything alright?" he cautiously asked as she finally released him and the siblings walked to the buggy.

"There's a letter for you at home," Ava replied, biting her lip. "From Mary."

"Is she alright?" He became worried- was she waiting at the store? If so, why on Earth had she sent him a letter?

"We don't know. She just... she just left, Keith, a few days after you did. We don't know where she went but she went to her sister's wedding and didn't come back." The concern showed in Ava's luminous blue eyes. "Everything's packed up. She left of her own will."

Keith jumped out of the buggy before it stopped and dashed inside the house. He found the letter sitting just atop the top shelf of the family desk. He ripped it open and read its words. Mary was fine, she was just going to California... she loved him- he thought. Was that what it said?

I wanted to stay with you forever, but I can't.

She couldn't? Didn't he say that he would always be right there, waiting for her?

I suppose it's my last chance to say it.

I love you.

She did love him. It felt like a ray of sunshine on a cold day- warm, tingling, soft, yet it made all the difference in the world.

I hope you'll forgive me.

He was going to do something better than that. He was going to find her.

*****

The hotel that Mary had been living in for the past two months was run down, busy, and far too close to the train station. The walls constantly rattled with the whistles and chugs of incoming and outgoing trains alike. At night it was hard to sleep, but Mary had gotten used to it. She was always so exhausted after a full day of working that she sometimes forgot to undress.

She had a tiny room to herself on the ground floor, with a paint- spotted window and paper-thin walls. Starting at five each morning, Mary served breakfast to the hotel guests, then at eight when that and its dishes were done, she would scrub the rough pine floors as best she could. She'd try to scrub the impurities from the dining room and entryway windows, but every day it seemed they would just get dirty again. All afternoon, Mary went to the police station to handle the records. At six- thirty in the evening, she would go back to the hotel and serve dinner, do the dishes, and collapse into her bed, to catch a few, precious hours of sleep before the cycle started again. Day in, day out, all days but Sundays, for two months. Mary had turned into a statue- never did she complain, yet never did she speak well of her life. In fact, she would hardly speak at all.

So one muggy, cloudy August day, Mary sat in her room. It was a Saturday, which meant that she wouldn't go in to the police until three, instead of at one. She sat just closing her eyes, a throbbing headache between her temples. There was a knock, a bold, yet quiet one.

Slowly she got up and opened it a crack.

Keith Little stood there, in the dingy corridor, his blonde hair flying every which way and his khaki travel coat dusty. "Mary," he breathed.

"Keith," she replied numbly, opening the door more widely and gesturing for him to come in.

He stood in the middle of the tiny room, staring. Suddenly both smiled so widely that it seemed that their faces would tear, but instead they collided and wrapped their arms around each other.

It was then that Mary allowed herself to cry, for the first time in months.

"I told you I'd be there," he said gently. "I'm always going to be right next to you."

"I'd love that," she sniffed, overcome. They broke apart and stood at arm's length.

"Will you stay with me, Mary MacEilan, and be my wife?" He pulled the little box from his pocket, a thin but beautifully engraved golden band inside. He'd brought it all the way from London for her- carried it on six trains, one ship, and now it was here, presented to its rightful recipient.

Her jaw dropped, her eyes widened, and her face split into a grin. "Oh, yes," she breathed. "Of course I'll marry you."

Before she knew what was happening he was kissing her- there, Keith was kissing the redheaded young woman that had brought him so much joy. He threw his arms around her, and Mary kissed him back, caught up in the moment and about to burst with joy. She'd never kissed anyone before, but somehow she knew how- she let her lips touch his, loving him completely. This would create terrible scandal in the hotel, not to mention that corner of the city.

But who were they to care for society's rules?

"Keith, I love you," she whispered, and it wasn't at all made up. She loved him, she loved him!

"I love you, Mary," he whispered back. "And unlike the girls out East, I believe you when you say that."

She leaned forward and pressed her lips on his again. He kissed her back tenderly in the candlelight. He was strong, he was handsome, and he was hers. Mary's heart raced, partly at the thought and partly because his arms were pulling her closer into their embrace, and she wanted to savor this moment, when she felt so blissfully happy, so wonderfully free. She knew within her heart of hearts that she loved him, that she wanted to be with him every day of her life.

Mary sighed blissfully at the thought. She felt how eager he was, she knew how long he'd been waiting for this. It'd been nearly a year since they'd met, and months since they began courting (though it was really never official), and she felt invincible and daring- ready to take on anything, ready to try everything. She didn't care at all what happened that cloudy afternoon.

"Let's go, Keith," she murmured. "Let's go to the courthouse, right now, and get married. Please." Mary didn't know what she was saying, but she knew that it was what she wanted. "Now. There should be someone there willing to marry us."

"You're the girl of my dreams," he replied joyously. "Come on, Mary MacEilan, let's go on and get married."

One great thing about being a writer is that if I ship something, I can make it canon :-)

Picture at the top is San Francisco in the 1870s sometime (I couldn't find the exact date)

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Picture at the top is San Francisco in the 1870s sometime (I couldn't find the exact date).

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