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Nevada Barr - Bittersweet.docx
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Imogene pressed her hand. “It is good to be out of doors. I think we both had a touch of cabin fever.”

            For a few moments they walked in silence. Overhead, geese honked, flying south. Golden aspen leaves gilded the mud along the creek.

            Sarah slowed to a stop, her face blank in thought.

            “What is it?” Imogene asked.

            “I was wondering what I would have done without you these past months. What I would do without you now. You were always there.”

            “I always will be.”

            Fear touched Sarah like a shadow and she shook herself to be rid of it. “I’m younger than you,” she said sadly, then brightened. “But I’m not terribly healthy. Maybe I will die first.”

            “Sarah!” Imogene laughed. “That’s a morbid fancy.” She started to stroll again along the stream.

            “Wait.” Sarah stopped her and took her face between her small hands. “I want to thank you. Lean down.” Softly she kissed Imogene’s mouth. Sarah’s knees gave way and the schoolteacher had to support her in the crook of her arm.

            “My dear! Are you all right?” Anxiously she laid a hand on Sarah’s forehead, but it was cool to the touch. “Your eyes are feverbright.”

            “I’m fine,” Sarah said breathlessly. “I’m singing inside.” Her face quickly sobered. “Maybe we’d better go back to Lutie.”

            “Let’s sit a minute,” Imogene suggested. “Let you rest—let me rest.” She smiled at Sarah. “Sometimes I don’t know if my old heart can take you. It’s pounding like a stampede of wild mustangs. Besides, I have some good news. I wanted to wait till we were alone to tell you.” Imogene sat on a fallen log and Sarah perched obediently beside her. “I have found us a house. It is quite small, but it is dear. And we can afford it with what I’m making at the school.”

            “Imogene, you don’t mean it? Just the two of us?”

            “Just the two of us.”

            Sarah hugged herself. “You can’t guess all the hours, when my eyes were still too weak from the fever to read, I passed the time pretending we had our own home. Little dreams—like me calling to you from another room and nobody else to hear, us puttering around the kitchen. Mam’d never believe this, but I’d think how I’d like doing the dishes and filling the icebox with food. How long have you known?” she demanded suddenly, and pounced on Imogene, tickling her for keeping such a secret.

            Imogene captured her hands and held them in her lap. “I found out this morning. Our landlady, Mrs. Addie Glass, sent over a note that I’d been found satisfactory.”

            “Tell me everything—how many windows, how many doors, how many nails in the walls—everything.”

            “Sarah,” Imogene asked earnestly, “are you happy?”

            Sarah looked long into her friend’s face before answering. “It means a lot to you?”

            “More than the world.”

            Sarah hesitated, choosing her words. “Knowing that you love me makes it so things can’t ever get as bad again as they could before I knew that,” she began. “Your love is a net under me. I still fall but now I can never hit bottom.”

            Imogene said nothing.

            “Yes, I’m happy.”

            “It would be good to hear you laugh again.”

            “I will.”

           

            On the second Saturday in October they moved their belongings from the Broken Promise. A breeze blew rich with the smell of a mountain autumn. Fred’s wagon was out front, already loaded with the boxes that had been so long at the warehouse down by the tracks.

            Sarah was on the porch, apart from the bump and bustle of moving. Sitting still and pale in the fall sunshine, her blond hair in close, neat braids, she looked like a porcelain doll. Her skin was smooth and translucent from the months indoors, her white hands folded small in billowing skirts. Around her, people spoke softly, were a little kinder, and when they looked at her they smiled.

            Mac carried a valise past her. It was his third trip to the wagon, and each time he tipped his hat to Sarah, tugging on the battered brim with the two remaining fingers of his right hand. The young man Imogene had seen with him the day he proposed to her was helping with the move. Mac had introduced him as Nate Weldrick. Nate was of medium height and build, with a wide face. Thick, wavy brown hair and a boyish grin made him look younger than his thirty-two years. He seemed even more ill at ease with Sarah than Mac did, afraid to come near or speak, and giving her a wide berth when he crossed the porch so his heavy footfalls wouldn’t jar her.

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