10.17.14, Unedited, First Draft Excerpt from “Broken”
Copyright, SE 2014
When the message arrived, she could have strangle John dead all over again. Still, Lisbeth Thomas wasn’t a spring pansy, and she wasn’t about to let her best friend down, rest her soul, because her babies needed help. Packing her bags and booking passage on the first wagon heading West, she prayed for strength… and met Samuel.
“Are you suggesting what I believe you’re suggesting?”
“Do you see any gentlemen around here, Mrs. Thomas? You were raised far from here, in a very small corner of this big-wide world. Even the white men you encounter have been long-gone from their mama’s lectures about manners, if they ever had them in the first place. No one is going to give you respect just because you harbor a soft pink haven betwixt your thighs. More than likely, they’ll use it against you. ”
He stopped to spit on the ground between us, his eyes boring into mine. “So no, I’m not suggesting it, I’m telling you – high handed morals and assumptions will get you nothing but trouble out here. Your best bet is to start heading back East, and do whatever you must to make it there in one piece.”
He saw the argument coming, and his back stiffened in response to my raised chin – but he wasn’t fast enough to interrupt me.
“Mr. Cooper, you’re completely right.” I smiled even as his eyebrow rose in surprised confusion. “Man, woman, or even child – we must all do what we must to survive this world, morals aside. I’d be obliged if you’d let me winter here with you. I’ll give you ten dollars a month, cook meals every other day if you provide the game, and share in the other chores as well. In return, I’d like you to teach me what I need to survive – languages, skills, philosophies – whatever you use to get by.”
“Hold up now…” He shook his head, temper lighting his eyes. “Haven’t you heard a word I just said? This is no place -”
I stood up, catching at my skirts to raise them to my waist. It took every ounce of backbone in me to look Samuel Cooper in the eye and make the deal. “Ten dollars a month, shared meals and chores, and one visit to the soft, pink haven betwixt my thighs per week – in exchange for an education no one else can give me. I believe you can understand the price is such that I expect to learn every lay of the land and nasty trick in the book about surviving this place and the people I will encounter.”
He sat there, staring. At first it was my thighs I believed him to be studying, but following his gaze, I realized it was my hands. Clenched tight in my skirts, they were trembling. Trembling with all the mortification, fear, and desperation I held within me.
The make it or break it question. I could see it in his face; my answer would decide his mind.
“Three children are counting on me to find them, free them, and make a life for them. By them time I reach them, they’ll be most likely be broken inside, damaged beyond society’s standards. I need to be able to provide for them out here, where they’ll be most at peace.”
“My best friend died two years ago. When her husband wasn’t recovering from his grief fast enough and people started pushing him towards a life he’d lost interest in, and he decided that a new start was in order. He packed up his daughter and two sons to head out West. That was three months ago. His family received a telegram the beginning of last month stating that John and his wagon had been found several miles outside of Omaha. There was no sign of the children.”
“He just hopped in a wagon and headed West? Alone? Where the hell did he think he was going?”
I shook my head. His outrage was understandable. I’d felt the same way. “He hadn’t decided. He was going to follow the railroad to the end of the line, and then decide from there. He mentioned San Francisco and Montana in the same breath, saying fate would tell him where they needed to go. I tried to convince him to leave the babies with me, but he -”
He stood up and started pacing. “Of all the stupid, moronic things. How old are these babies of yours, Mrs. Taylor?”
“Well, I suppose they aren’t really babies, but I can’t help-”
“Violet is fourteen, Jacob twelve, Joe is only six.”
His expletives bounced off the walls. “And you think that in four and a half months, after you’ve wintered, they’ll still be alive? You must be out of your mind, just like their father.”
“You misunderstand me, sir. I’m going to go find the children now, as soon as possible. When I return, our deal will commence and you’ll teach me how to keep them safe.”
On a grunt of obvious disgust, he turned on his heel. The front door slammed behind him. A moment later several blocks of wood crashed against the side of the cabin. Apparently, Mr. Cooper had a fine temper.