Chapter One

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It was dark out. Quiet. Still. I could stare up at the crystal, black sky and see the ocean of stars that went on forever, like tiny, sparkling diamonds. Around me, I could still make out the trees and the spread of lush grass. It's amazing that this feeling of profound freedom only comes to me when I'm in my safe place, the Shiloah Institution for Women.

You wouldn't know this place was any type of institution if you weren't told so. From the outside it just looks like a large accommodation, like a governor's mansion or something. If you ran into us while we were gardening or enjoying a cool glass of lemonade you would think we were just sweet ladies enjoying a day outdoors together; not women who, for some reason or another, couldn't be part of normal society and were sent away to get better.

Some of us really did need to get better, physically. Tuberculosis was still a problem here in the 20's even though rumor has it that France had found some sort of vaccine for it. That didn't matter much for the poor delicate souls who ended up here to take in the warmth and the rest. Five of the women here had the illness, and they mostly stayed off to themselves so as to not infect the rest of us. I could just imagine how much they wanted to get home to their families, but I did envy them. At least once the disease left their body, they would be whole again. For the rest of us, there was no guarantee that whatever was wrong in our minds would ever be fixed.

I was still looking up at those sparkling stars when I heard it. The "Psst" sound that drew my attention down from the sky to the ground, as it told me that he made the trip up the mountain from the mine just to see me again. My husband, Robert. I smiled and waved down at him, and he waved back, his hat in his hands. "How are you tonight, Gina?" He asked me.

"As well as ever, thanks to seeing you." I meant what I said. If ever there was a hope for me in the world, it's with Robert.

We talked in hushed whispers for as long as we dared. He can't get away from the mine to see me during the daytime hours, so every so often he makes it up here to see me at night. I've never been one for long stretches of sleep at night, and the night nurse allows me to stay up. I'd stay up and talk to him all night if we could, but I know he has to walk back down and get some sleep. Otherwise, he wouldn't be at his best for the long day of work he has ahead of him the next day.

When he turned to leave, I felt the pang inside of me. If he'd only give up his silly pride, then perhaps he would have accepted my family's money and not have to work so hard anymore. The same money that was keeping me in this expensive institution could keep him out of that dirty and dangerous mine. Robert was different than I was though. As much as I liked the feeling of being safe in the institution, he would hate the feeling of being restricted by the loss of freedom that would come with my parent's money.

I reluctantly got up and left my window post as the stars are less visible from the bright full moon. It illuminated Robert as he left, until I couldn't see him any more, and I turned to go over to the nurses' station. Nurse Cecilia never says anything about my activities at the window. I don't know if she knows that Robert visits me, or if she just thinks I really enjoy the view, but she never bothers me.

I know I'm lucky that they let me stay up at all. They could force me to take the sleeping pills that knock me out until well into the afternoon, or they could tell me I have to lay still in bed and stare at the ceiling all night. Instead, they let me lounge in the sitting room, and if Cecilia or the weekend night nurse aren't busy, they even play games of cards with me, or help me work on my puzzles. If they are busy, then I just read one of the many books that the institution is supplied with.

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