Category Archives: 29 Chapter Twenty-Nine

Eden 29:5

Eden“Eden.”

Eden looked up. She and Sophia were standing atop a mesa, watching the sun rise. Eden had taken Sophia out to camp overnight and show her this very view. But Sophia’s face was suddenly grave.

“Who is your father?”

Eden knit her brow. “Papa?  He was—a stable worker back east…”

“I don’t mean Joe.” Sophia took Eden’s hand. “Please don’t be angry, but Joe isn’t…I mean to say, he is…” She took a deep breath and waited.

Eden took her hand away and walked to the remains of the last night’s campfire. She kicked at it for a minute, the embers going grey under the dust.

“Joe Smith is my father,” she said.

“I know, but…” Sophia didn’t move.

Eden put her hands in the pockets of her jacket, but walked back to Sophia’s side. She was quiet for a long time.

“There was someone—” Eden pulled a cigarette and a match from her pocket and fumbled with them for a moment. “My mother was married—before Joe.  But that man isn’t my father.”

Sophia held her breath.

“And you’re right about Joe.” Eden looked at her at last. “But no one knows except Mama and me. Not even Minna.” She reached for Sophia’s hand.

“I understand.”

Eden kicked a stone. It went skittering for several yards, scaring a bird into the air.

SophiaSophia’s mind reeled: Joe and Lillian were like Eden and herself. They had made a life for themselves. And the longer she had watched them, the more certain she became that it was as happy and perfect as a fairy tale.

Atop the hill by Eden’s side, her heart fluttered with hopefulness. Minna said Joe wanted to build them a house—a house to live in together forever. Eden could paint—the beauty of the place would never be exhausted. Sophia would learn everything she needed to know from Lillian. Even if they didn’t know Joe’s secret, the others on the ranch had known Eden from childhood. She and Eden would always be safe here.

“Your father wants to build us a house.” Sophia squeezed Eden’s hand.

“Yes.”

“You know I would live anywhere with you.”

“Even the desert?”

“Even the desert.”

“What about medical school?”

“I’ll do something else.”

Eden shook her head. “I couldn’t ask that of you.” She threw down her cigarette and stepped on it. “But if you would really live anywhere…”

Sophia waited. Eden met her eye.

“Come to Paris.”

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Eden 29:4

Faraway_Ranch_Main_HouseSophia stood in Minna’s kitchen, rolling out gingerbread dough. Through a small window that looked into the yard, she watched Nate bounce up and down on a pony as Eden led it around and around in a wide circle.

“Be careful!” Minna called through the kitchen door, then joined Sophia and handed her a coffee cup. “You can use this to cut them out,” she said.

The two women worked quietly for a few minutes, Sophia cutting dough, Minna laying it out on a sheet and putting it in the oven. When they were finished, Minna reached into a cupboard and brought out a small tin. “I just have a little tea,” she said. “Would you like some?”

Sophia nodded and when the tea was poured, Minna sat down with her at the table and asked, “Are you going to stay?”

“Stay?”

“In Arizona. Papa was talking about building a house by the river.”

Sophia bit her lips.

“You don’t want to?” Minna put down her cup, brushed a stray lock of hair from her eyes and looked at Sophia.

“I want what Eden wants.”

“Do you think Eden wants to stay?”

“I don’t know… She’s happy. She’s painting again. She’s so proud to show me everything.” Sophia glanced out the window. Eden was laughing. “It’s beautiful here.”

“What about your plans? I thought you were going to be a doctor.” Minna eyed Sophia across the rim of her cup.

Sophia dropped her gaze. “Sometimes plans have to change.”

They were quiet for a moment.

“Don’t worry. She doesn’t want to stay,” Minna said at last.

Sophia looked up.

“She wants to go back to Paris and she wants you to go with her.”

“Paris?”

“It’s where she has sent all her pictures.”

“Well…Eleanor is there.”

“Eden wants to go back. But she’s afraid.”

Sophia knit her brow. “Did she tell you so?”

“I just know,” Minna said. “And she wants you to go with her—to protect her.”

“To protect her from what?”

“From Paris. From whatever she ran away from when she came back here.”

“That was my—”

“No. It wasn’t your fault. She lost herself.She isn’t like those people out there—no matter how good her pictures are.  She needs someone to remind her of herself.”

“You think I can do that?”

“She said you’re like me. And now I know what she meant. She means you know who she really is.”

“That’s what she tells me—about you, I mean,” Sophia said.

“She’s right. But it isn’t me she needs. Not anymore.”

Sophia was quiet. Minna rose and opened the oven, took out the sheet of cookies and put them on the table.

“But it’s so much easier here,” Sophia finally said.

“Easier than Paris?”

“Easier than anywhere.”

“The ranch would be enough for you?”

“Maybe it would.” Sophia looked again out the window, but all she saw was the top of Nate’s head. A giggle drifted in.

“Well it isn’t for her,” Minna said. “When she asks you, say you’ll go with her.”

“If she asks…”

“She will.”

Minna walked to the door and called into the yard. Eden helped Nate to the ground, tied the pony in the shade and followed the little boy into the kitchen.

Eden 29:3

It was just after dawn when Lillian looked up and saw Eden and Sophia in the kitchen door, holding hands. Eden blushed when her mother caught her eye.  But she smiled too.

“There’s coffee here,” Lillian said, “I was just about to step out and get the eggs. Would you like some for breakfast? The baking’s been done for the week.”

“Yes, thank you, Mama.” Eden walked to the cupboard and took down two cups. “I’m sorry there’s no tea, Sophie.”

“Coffee is lovely,” Sophia said with a small smile of her own. She pulled back a chair and sat at the table. Eden poured the coffee, for them both and sat.

“Well, the eggs—” Lillian said with artificial levity. She wiped her hands nervously on her apron, grabbed a basket from the corner and went out.

Eden and Sophia sat quietly, Eden drinking her coffee, Sophia blowing on the steam rising from her cup.

“Sophie—”

“What is it?” Sophia asked.  She reached over and covered Eden’s hand with her own and gave it a squeeze.

Eden’s fear shrank a bit.

She looked down at the last finger of her left hand, where she had been wearing both her own ring and Sophia’s. She drew off the garnet now, swallowed hard and asked “Will you have your ring back?” But her heart raced with worry.

Sophia was quiet for what felt to Eden like an age before she finally answered “yes.” Eden let out her breath, only then realizing she’d been holding it. “But you have to promise me one thing,” Sophia added.

“Anything.”

“You have to start painting again.”

Eden’s face broke into a broad smile. “I promise.”

sophie's ring (sort of)And she slipped the ring onto Sophia’s finger, kissing her hand over and over, while the girl laughed.

Eden 29:2

Supper had been quiet. Lillian and Joe seemed almost afraid to speak, but communicated mostly in small smiles and little nods. Sophia ate silently, watching Eden surreptitiously, glancing now at her drawn, tired face, now at her hands, rough and tanned after weeks of working with her father. They were so different from the hands she had seen hold a paintbrush, the hands that held a book or a pencil. She wanted to take them in her own and smooth the palms, kiss the fingertips, make them familiar. But she was almost afraid to touch them.

Now she sat with Eden on the porch steps, Lillian and Joe having gone early to bed. Eden took out a cigarette and lit it, shaking out the match. Darkness came quickly and the stars began to appear, first in faint clusters, then gradually in brighter and brighter swaths until the sky was so heavy with them, it seemed a wonder they didn’t begin to fall like drops of rain.

Eden smoked in silence, while Sophia examined the side of her upturned face in the tiny glow of the cigarette. So many things had happened to them since the first time she had seen Eden watching stars, in her room in Cambridge, after the Chopin concert.

“You are so different here,” she finally said.

“Not so different on the inside,” Eden argued softly. “I still love you as much as always, Sophie. Every day. Every minute.” But she didn’t meet Sophia’s eye. “It’s like a bruise that won’t heal.”

“Is it only a pain?”

“It has been. When you didn’t write to me in Boston, I thought you must hate me. I thought—”

Sophia interrupted her. “I didn’t know you were in Boston.”

“But I came to your house. I left messages. I wrote you that I—”

“I don’t live there anymore.” Sophia gave Eden a pleading look. “I only got your letters last week.” She did not say that Eleanor had been intercepting them.

Eden knit her brow and looked at Sophia. “Where do you live?”

“Near the medical school,” Sophia said.  Then, quieter, “with Claire.”

“Claire.” Eden looked away now and tossed the end of her cigarette into the yard, its orange glow fading slowly and winking out. She ran her hand through her hair.

“Eden…” Sophia reached up to touch her shoulder. “If I had known how…unwell you were…”

“I was not unwell. Just a stupid fool.” Eden put her head in her hands. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

“No, I’m sorry. I was a coward.” Sophia swept a stray lock of hair behind Eden’s ear. “Please forgive me for running away.”

“It was nothing I didn’t deserve,” Eden told her, looking up now and meeting her eyes in the starlight.

Sophia took Eden’s face in both of her hands, pulled it down to her own and kissed her gently.

Eden fell slightly off balance and put a hand on the porch by Sophia. She reached for the girl’s waist with the other and pulled her hard against her, kissing her back with ferocity.

Sophia did not shrink, but met Eden’s passion with her own in equal measure, until Eden drew back, trembling.

“I’m sorry. It’s too soon,” Eden apologized.

No,” Sophia whispered. “I have been thinking of this for months.”

“I have wanted you so badly,” Eden admitted softly in Sophia’s ear.

“Have me,” Sophia said.

Eden 29:1

Sophia - Version 2Mrs. Abington recognized her daughter’s hand on the front of the letter. But she could not imagine why Sophia would write from across town, when she would be home for dinner in another day.

Dear Mother,

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,

Sophia

***

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!”

EdenEden’s eyes met Sophia’s. She stopped and reached up to take Edith down.“Go see papa,” she said quietly, and the little girl ran to Peter.

“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.