Much to everyone’s relief, Papa continued to get better. We lived each day to the fullest, knowing that he could go anytime. He delegated his work in town to his employees, only going in to his office once a week, choosing to spend more time on the farm with us. The fresh air and exercise being on the farm seemed to help him and we saw steady improvement.

 

I was able to graduate and go to university, studying to get my teachers certification. I dreamed of teaching somewhere west of Ohio and as my last year of schooling progressed, I started to send out letters, looking for openings.  When I was a small girl, we had traveled to the east coast and I saw the Atlantic Ocean. Now, I wanted to see the Pacific.

 

Papa and Mama were in the front row when I was handed my diploma, now ready to be a full fledged teacher. Afterwards we went to the fanciest place in town for dinner and celebrated.  While we ate, a young man approached the table and greeted Papa. He worked in the office as a courier. He was nice enough looking and he kept looking over at me and smiling. I could almost smell the conspiracy between papa and this young man. After they finished speaking in hushed tones, Papa introduced him as Charles Evanson. Mama invited him to join us for coffee and dessert but he declined, saying he didn’t want to intrude on our family time any more than he had.

 

Soon, he was a steady guest at the house, but I wasn’t sure if he was courting me or Papa. He brought me flowers and we went for walks on the farm, stopping to watch the horses or cows, feeding the goats and chickens. He was always a gentleman and spet the last few minutes of every visit talking to Papa in his den.

 

As the cooler weather approached again, I started to see a change in Papa. His robust color was fading. He spent more time in front of his fire, wrapped in a Hudson Bay blanket to keep warm. The day after my 22nd birthday, he called me and Mama to his den. Charles was there with him, a cold smile on his face. It gnawed at the back of my mind, but I pushed it aside and greeted him with a light kiss on the cheek, then went to sit by Mama.

 

“Charles has asked me for your hand in marriage, Esme Anne.”

 

The silence in the room hung for a few moments while I realized my whole life was about to change. In my room, I had three letters from schools out west, all asking me to interview for a teaching position. I hadn’t told Papa or Mama since he wasn’t well and I didn’t want to upset them. They had allowed me to pursue my diploma, and they were proud, but the thought of me moving away upset them greatly. They couldn’t understand why I couldn’t stay here and teach. Now, I knew I would have to stay here.

 

Charles walked over and knelt in front of me, pulling a small box from his pocket revealing an engagement ring. I sat still, holding my breath, only my eyes darting from Papa to Mama, pleading that it was not happening.

 

“Esme Anne Platt, will you be my wife?”

 

I swallowed hard, tears springing to my eyes and sighed. I hoped they would think my tears happy ones, because the hopeful look on Papa’s face told me how much he wanted this for me. I forced out a smile.

 

“Yes.”

 

Charles slid the ring on my finger and kissed my cheek, pulling me into a hug. I thought I felt him squeeze my upper arm and not in a gentle way, but almost hurtful. It passed in a second, but I couldn’t help but feel it was some kind of a warning to me.

 

Papa stood and clapped Charles on the back, steering him to the bar for a drink. Mama dabbed her eyes and hugged me, going on about wedding plans and how lovely a Holiday time wedding would be.

 

I went numb and smiled and nodded, not trusting my voice. If I opened my mouth, a scream might escape. When the time seemed right, I excused myself to my room and sat on my bed, letting the past 30 minutes replay in my head, thinking back to how I felt before that, and trying to figure out the feeling of dread that had started to form. Perhaps, for a honeymoon or vacation, Charles would take me out west. I could still teach here.

 

No matter how I tried to make myself feel good about this marriage, the little squeeze Charles gave me kept popping in my mind, and it frightened me.

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