It was evening and the day’s light was fading as Eden walked through her front door, hung her hat and coat on a hook and looked through the mail the landlady had left on the parlor table. There was a letter from her sister, Minna, and a note that had been left in person. She carried the letters to her room, sat on the edge of the bed and opened Minna’s first. It was filled with stories of her children’s exploits, and other bits of family news from everyone on the ranch. Eden smiled to imagine her lovely sister and the children doing familiar, comforting things back home.
It had been so long since Eden had seen her family. In her childhood, she never could have imagined being away from her sister for more than a day but it had been over a year now, since the twins had been together. Since she’d last seen Minna, her sister had had twin babies of her own, a sister and brother for Eden’s two-year old nephew, Nate. Eden wondered how old they would be before they met their aunt.
In some ways, putting her family away in the drawer where she kept her letters was easier than she had expected it to be. Talking about them was more difficult than setting them aside. She still had not told Sophia much about them. She wanted to, but she hardly knew how or where to begin.
When Sophia had shared Frederick Douglass’s Life and Times with her, Eden had been on the point of telling her, for example, that Peter, Minna’s husband, was a Negro. But the moment when the subject been naturally at hand had passed. Now Eden didn’t know how to bring up the fact without seeming either defensive about it or mistrustful of Sophia’s opinion. Eden assured herself she was neither. It was simply that the thing both mattered very much and mattered not at all. And how could she explain that to anyone in Boston, even Sophia?
But worse than feeling unknown by her college friends was the fear that among them, she was becoming a person her family in Arizona would not know. How could she explain her excitement about her art history course, about the British Museum in London or the Louvre in Paris? How could she tell her father—who had taught her to rope a colt, tie him down and brand him—that she wanted to be a painter? How could she tell her mother—who had left a wealthy husband for her father’s hired man—that she loved the life Eleanor Stephens had shown her, with its champagne, its tailcoats, its first-class steamer suites?
She held Minna’s letter against her cheek. She envied her sister’s new babies as she remembered the simplicity of being a child, curled together with her twin for warmth on a winter night in the desert, wanting nothing more than sweet sleep within arms as familiar as her own. And in spite of all her excitement about what she was learning and seeing and becoming, she feared she would never know anyone—never be known so deeply by anyone—again.
The hand-delivered letter was from Sophia.
I have a marvelous surprise. But it is too difficult for me to bring to you. Please come around to my room at nine o’clock tonight if you want to find out what it is.
One hundred kisses,
Eden’s mood shifted quickly and she smiled in spite of herself. Arizona would have to be put away in the drawer. Here was Boston in her hand. And however she loved her sister, Eden could not deny the flush she felt at the mere thought of Sophia Abington. If she must grow away from Minna, growing toward Sophia was no hateful exchange.
But the letter teased her terribly. Sophia would be in the library until eight, when it closed. Eden had no doubt that marvelous surprise or not, Sophia would work hard all evening before letting herself go home.
But Eden didn’t want to wait. She skipped back downstairs, put on her hat and coat and went to find Sophia in the library.