Edward glanced back over his shoulder to where Sarah was hovering like a nervous kitten. He smiled and placed one hand on her shoulder while using the other to gesture her to come forward.

Sarah stepped up to the blond woman and extended her hand. The woman took it, and smiling, gave it a firm shake.

"Mrs. Bell," Edward said. "This is my good friend, Sarah Stewart. I thought you might like to meet her for that new project. You see, she's an aspiring poet."

"Sarah, it's so nice to meet you. I'm Linda Bell. Do you read the Hester Gazette?"

"Ah ... y-yes, I do," Sarah said, stammering. "I pick it up from the Opus Newsstand for my uncle every Sunday."

"That's wonderful!" Linda said, a smile playing on her lips. "And what do you think of the paper?"

Sarah's mouth flinched to one side. "Well, I like reading the serials, love the stories, but I don't care much for the political cartoons, especially the ones with white people, their faces painted black, like they're colored folk."

"Sarah dear," Edward said, a flutter in his voice, "Mrs. Bell is the editor-in-chief at the Hester Gazette."

"Edward, it's okay," Mrs. Bell said. Then she grinned and reached out, clasping Sarah's hands in hers. She held Sarah's gaze with a smile as warm as springtime. "You are entitled to your opinion. Besides, it's always nice to hear from an actual reader."

Mrs. Bell released Sarah's hand. "Do you think that a regular poetry column is something that the readers of the Hester Gazette will be interested in?"

Sarah's forehead wrinkled in thought before she said, "Maybe, if the poems are about the war. Or something really important to your readers."

"Interesting," Mrs. Bell said, an idea entering into her expression. "And you're an up and coming poet too. Is that right?"

Edward interjected. "That's right! Miss Sarah here loves to write. When I met her she was scribbling away, writing a poem, right in the middle of a busy market."

"Is that so?" Linda asked. "Can you tell me a little about that poem?"

"Oh it was ...," Sarah started to say.

Heat filled her cheeks. The inside of her mouth felt like parchment paper. Her thoughts had gone completely blank. Sarah struggled to figure out how to explain it. How to explain a black poem to a white woman.

"Don't be shy," Linda said with a smile, a gentleness in her voice. "I know that it can be a bit intimidating to talk about your art, but I promise that I'm not going to judge you. I love hearing from all writers."

Sarah nodded and cleared her throat.

"I was writing a poem about a slave woman. She was being kept apart from her children, as so many slave women were. Her children worked on the same plantation as her, but she was working in a domestic role, canning fruits, and they were out working in the fields. At least they knew who she was, and they got to see each other sometimes, but she couldn't be close to them, or hold them in her arms anytime she would have liked. She would can preserves for them. It was the only way she had to show them her love. Then, one day, she decided that she would teach them to can preserves too. It would be a way of connecting the different generations. Slavery kept those family members apart. A mother's love brought them together."

Linda shook her head and smiled. "Wow, that is powerful."

Edward tapped his elbow into Sarah's side. "What did I tell you?" he said, giving her a wink. "See, I'm not the only one who can tell that you've got talent!"

"Well now," Linda said. "We don't need to go putting the cart before the horse. I like the idea behind this poem, but I haven't heard it yet."

Sarah felt a knot tightening in her stomach. She had been chewing her bottom lip. For how long, she wasn't sure.

Linda turned to Sarah, wearing a look of concern.

"Sarah, I'm sure that your poems are lovely no matter what your skill level is, but I just have to think about the integrity of the paper. You look awfully young, and it's just a fact of life that younger writers are less experienced. Have you ever had your work published before?"

Sarah shook her head, her shoulders sagging.

Linda's expression was overtaken with disappointment.

Sarah knew that Linda was probably writing her off. Sarah took a deep breath, knowing that she had to say something. She had to be her own advocate if she was ever going to get anything in this world.

"No, I haven't been published," Sarah said. "But every great writer had to start somewhere. I don't mean to sound brash, ma'am. It's just that I know my poems are good because they come from the heart. That's what great writing is all about, opening up your heart and letting other people take a peek inside. So, I've never had my work published, but I hope that you'll keep an open mind about me all the same."

Linda's eyes widened, but then she smiled softly and nodded.

"Of course I will," she said. "I admire a young lady who has such confidence. I'll listen to your poems and give them some real thought."

Sarah felt a relief wash down over her. She hadn't lost her chance.

Linda asked, "Will you be attending the next amateur night?"

Sarah hadn't expected that question from her. She felt like a big spotlight was shining down on her. A bead of sweat rolled down the back of her neck. She shivered.

"Sarah sweetheart?" Edward said, his voice nudging.

She felt the urge to cringe but clenched her teeth and willed her uneasiness away. Sarah dipped a confident chin. Felt the slender muscles in her jaw turn to steel.

"Yes, I will."


Author's Note

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Author's Note

Originally, I didn't plan for this chapter to end this way, but I kinda like it. Sarah demonstrates there's a fire inside her. It might not be big, but it will grow.

Do you like the ending? How could you write it differently?

You guys are awesome! Thanks for the reads, votes, comments. It truly means a lot to me!!

All the best!

Tom

P.S. The lady in the chapter image? Introducing, Mrs. Frank Bell.

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