I have completed my examinations today. I believe I have done well. I am sorry that I cannot see you this week, or any time that I can name today. I must immediately travel to Arizona to meet Eden, who waits for me there.
I fear you will not approve of this, mother, but I beg you to try and understand. I will write again when I arrive. You may write to me at the general collection for Tucson in the Arizona Territory.
Your loving daughter,
Peter drove up to the house and stopped.
“I hear papa’s wagon!” Minna called cheerfully as she came around the corner with a smile.
“Papa!” Nate came running, Oliver tagging behind him on much shorter legs.
Nate jumped into his father’s arms as Peter climbed down and kissed his wife.
“Who—?” Minna said now, noticing for the first time, a woman sitting quietly in the wagon, watching the family.
Peter put Nate down and reached up to help the woman. “Miss Sophia Abington,” he said. Then, “Miss Abington, my wife, Myrna Harris.”
Minna paused for a fraction of a moment, then put out her hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know we were expecting you. But you are very welcome.”
Sophia took Minna’s hand and gave a timid smile. “I ought to have written. I hope it—”
She looked past Minna and stopped.
Eden came around the corner of the house, Edith on her shoulders, her little fingers clutching fistfuls of shaggy hair, laughing, “take me to Papa, horsie!”
“Come and help me with these horses, Nate,” Peter said to the little boy. Then to the twins, “who wants a wagon ride?” The children jumped and giggled as Peter helped his family aboard the wagon. “I’ll take Sophia’s things to your mother’s house,” Peter told Eden and led the horses out of the yard.
Eden had not moved. She stood staring at the girl the wagon had brought.
Foreboding rushed through Sophia like a sick wave. Perhaps Eden did not want her. She could read nothing of her feelings. The girl—or boy—who stood before her was an inscrutable stranger. Thin, brown from the sun, wearing a blue striped cotton shirt with a brown scarf around her neck instead of a tie, Eden held a battered leather hat in her left hand. Her hair was overgrown and tousled where her little niece had pulled and twisted it in her fingers.
Eden ran a hand through that hair now and Sophia relaxed a little to see the familiar gesture. But neither of them spoke a word.
“I’m sorry,” Sophia said finally, her voice barely audible. “Perhaps I should not be here.”
It was as if Eden had been touched by a magician’s wand, some spell over her suddenly broken. “You should. You should be here…” she held out her hand and in three steps, Sophia was in her arms.
The visceral memory of mutual touch collapsed all the months between them. Sophia squeezed her eyes shut and buried her face in Eden’s neck, the strange smell of horses and leather and tobacco overwhelming her.
“Come ,” Eden said, and pulled away just enough to lead Sophia into the house.