After the shove or taunt, she imagined herself with the older man who came at night. He was the one who would cause envy in all those who sneered at her during the day. He was the one who spoke to her gently, read poetry and didn’t like to dance. She remembered events that made her happy but never happened.
There were days on end when she didn’t have to think of him at all. Long summer days when she hid away in the shade where stillness invited the white tail and the fiery red fox. The twilight evenings when she heard the greeting of her father as the hired hands drove off toward their supper. When the cool started to settle in she dreaded the call to be sociable outside the need for church.
The whispered jeers and snarling looks of disdain from her peers would not have been so painful if they had not, in turn, been so hypocritically kind to her father. Their kindness lightened his face with hope when invitations were sent but she refused to go.
“Mrs. Harper will think you rude; you didn’t accept her last invitation.” She would go and in the prettiest dress but feel awkward and uncomfortable none the less. She would sit as still as possible allowing her tea to cool or lemonade to grow warm. She wouldn’t eat a thing for fear of looking more uncouth and gangly then feel the tears burn into her eyes knowing her father was disappointed. So she thought of the older man who came at night. He would walk by Mrs. Harper’s window and she would think that he was so handsome and some day she would be the envy of all the lovely girls when she walked by his side.
After such times away from home and books, and bubbling brooks, away from tracks in the snow and blankets of fallen leaves she would think of him. She saw him in the fields right after harvest, standing alone among the stubbled stalks of corn. She saw him late at night while the new moon hid in angles; he stood between the broad, tall barn and her lofty old farm house. He stood and gazed up at her window and when she crept up to the glass to see if indeed he was there, he would not flinch or change expression but continue to stare.
When William only tipped his hat at her not seeing her, she would think of him, tall, angular and looking off into the distance. When Tom’s smile turned into a laugh as she walked by she thought of him, standing just below her window.
Then one day her father sent her away to Chicago. The move was sudden and unexpected. He one day fired all of his hired hands and sent her to Chicago to learn. Her grief was an agony and only once did she try to plead. In the city, there was no time to think of him. She had only time to learn how to set the table, order her meals in French and dance in shoes that pinched.
She had no time to remember and then one spring a gentle touch caused her amnesia regarding the white tail, the fiery red fox, the tracks in the snow and the blanket of multi-colored leaves at her feet. She may have remained if not for a night at home again. Smiling at her father, speaking to him in excited tones of what goes on in Chicago. Asleep in an instant so glad to be home and suddenly awake, the old sadness about her.
He sat on the edge of her bed, broad-shouldered, angular and silent. If she closed her eyes and willed herself asleep, she would return to the world of whirling seasons, high towers and smiling people. Or she could open her arms up to him.
He had stayed with her when she was alone, so opening her arms to him she felt the alarm of bitter cold for only a moment and the soft contentment of returning home again.