Be Careful What You Wish For–Conclusion

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Sunday, October 4

 

I wonder if he’ll make it this week, Josie thought wistfully as she walked toward the high front steps of the church. The part of her that wasn’t distracted with her thoughts noted several determined‑looking young men heading her direction from across Chambersburg Street, and she drew closer to her father’s side.

“Is something wrong, a cailín?” he asked solicitously, waving the boys off with a fierce scowl. “You haven’t wanted to talk to any of them since we’ve returned.”

“No, Papa. Nothing’s wrong. I just . . . I just don’t feel like socializing much.” What she couldn’t explain was how much older she felt when compared to the young men she’d previously favored, and how . . . callow, immature she now found them.

It had been over three weeks since she’d seen Tim last, and while she didn’t really expect to see him here today, she still held on to the faint hope that she might. I miss him, she admitted. Far more than I’ve ever missed a man.

Her mother had lifted the quarantine on the household the week after she’d returned, and Tim had been removed to his own home to convalesce. But it was taking him a long time to recover. While his attack of diphtheria had thankfully not been as severe as Ellis’s, the toxin had struck his nerves and muscles in a way it had not with the children. According to Mama, who went over to examine him almost daily, his right arm still wasn’t working properly and he was overall far weaker than she would have liked.

“Still, I’m no longer worried about him not recovering. It’ll just take a long while,” Mama had declared. So her parents were talking about heading home next week. The thought of going back to Virginia, of being so far away from him, made her downright miserable. Now I know something of how Kat felt, missing her Jon. But I don’t even have a declaration of how he feels about me to sustain me while we’re apart.

Josie had asked repeatedly to join her mother in her visits, especially after hearing that Tim had asked for her, but Mama had merely shaken her head. “I know you two have grown close, and that you spent a great deal of time with him while he was here, but that was an unusual situation. Now it’s just not proper. You know that.”

“Since when has anyone in our family ever given a fig about proper?” Josie demanded, almost angrily.

Her mother’s expression was wry. “You make a good point, cariad, and I can understand your frustration. But I still have to say no. We can go back to Virginia and leave any talk behind. Timothy’s livelihood depends on his good reputation. Once he’s out of his bed and can receive visitors somewhere other than his private room, then you may pay him a call.”

There was no one in the Scott family pew when the Blacks entered en masse, and she had to fight the urge all through the service to twist about and stare at the rows behind them, just to see if he’d possibly come in later. In the middle of the last hymn, she managed to sneak a backward glance.

The pew was still empty.

But afterward, as her family wound their way out into the sunshine, Josie saw him coming toward them. He was moving quite slowly, his right arm hanging oddly limp at his side. Despite his pale features and hesitant walk, she felt her stomach flip-flop in anticipation of being with him again.

“He shouldn’t be up yet,” Mama muttered half under her breath. “Fool boy. What could possibly be so important that he’d risk a relapse?”

“Ladies,” he said in his quiet, serious way, lifting his hat respectfully. Before anyone could respond, he turned to face her father. “Might I speak with you a moment, sir?” he asked. “In private,” he added hurriedly.

“Of course,” her father answered immediately.

They walked off together, Papa matching his pace to Tim’s halting steps, his head bent slightly to catch what the young doctor was saying.

“What the heck would Timothy wish to discuss with Travis?” Mama said aloud, sounding rather peeved. Josie hid an involuntary smile behind her gloved hand: Mama hated not knowing what was going on.

Still, she’s right: what would he want to say to Papa? He spoke often enough with Mama on medical matters, but he had little in common with her father, so far as she knew anyway.

And why didn’t he say anything to me? That stung. Though she’d spent a whole week at his bedside, he’d been unable to speak much at all, let alone say anything of a personal nature. But when he’d left, he’d caressed her cheek with an unsteady hand and told her he’d see her soon.

Actually, what he had said was, “Goodbye for now, my dear. I look forward to continuing our last, so rudely interrupted, conversation at some time in the very near future.”

She’d blushed, and he’d smiled, and yet just now he’d barely even glanced at her.

Aunt Dani had watched the whole thing with narrowed blue eyes. Now she cocked her head to one side, looked up at her husband, and smiled as if she knew a secret. “I’m sure you’ll both find out what he wants soon enough.” Turning to Gran, she said, “Shall we round up this mob of ours and get them in the wagon for home?”

Gran nodded and began expertly herding the children around to the back of the church.

“We’ll leave the buggy for you and Travis,” Uncle Rob told them as he followed the rest of the family away. Mama nodded distractedly, her attention still on the two men talking.

They didn’t have to wait long. Papa had turned, just enough that Josie could see his face. His smile widened into a grin and he clapped Tim on the shoulder as if pleased with something.

“Whatever it is, Papa seems happy to hear it,” Josie murmured.

As soon as Papa started moving back toward them, Mama made a beeline for him and caught him partway there. Even as she watched, he put a finger over Mama’s mouth, took her arm, and led her across the street. Only then did he begin to speak. Josie stood there watching them for several minutes. Do I get to know what happened? But no. Her mother seemed determined to find out everything right then and there, and without her present.

Well, I suppose I should go wait at the buggy, Josie finally decided with a sigh.

Just then the harsh clearing of a throat made her turn about, startled. While her attention had been on her parents, Timothy had made his way back to where she stood, and now waited beneath one of the big lindens at the front of the church. His stance was unusually stiff, his hat held tight in his left hand.

“Good afternoon, Miss Black.”

“Good afternoon, Dr. Scott,” she answered in kind, for once struggling to keep a pleasant expression pasted on her face. So formal! What is wrong?

“I was wondering if,” he paused, cleared his throat again. “If I might have the pleasure of driving you home?” He sounded as if he expected her to say no.

“Of course you may,” she said with alacrity. Still confused, she added, “Why would you think otherwise?”

His face relaxed only slightly. “I wasn’t sure if you would consider being escorted by a cripple as good for your social standing or not,” he said flatly as he placed his hat on his head and offered her his good arm.

My social standing? She glanced about. Oh. There were indeed people watching them, little groups gathered at the church doors and up and down the sidewalk, heads together, whispering. And that explains your sudden formality.

Something of her father’s contrariness sprang to life inside her. So, all you gossips and busybodies wish to whisper and tell tales? Fine then. Let me give you something to talk about.

She looked Tim straight in the eye. “All heroes have wounds of some sort, and anyone who cannot see your current infirmity as anything but a battle scar must be blind, or stupid,” she declared, loud enough for anyone listening to hear. Then she flashed one of her sweetest smiles. “I myself am neither.”

With that she deliberately removed her glove and placed her hand, not on his proffered arm, but securely in his bare hand.

His brown eyes widened. “When I asked your father just now for permission to seek your hand, I didn’t expect you to bestow it upon me quite so readily and publicly,” he remarked, his voice calm, though the hand she held was shaking. “And I suppose this also answers my question of whether you would still look upon me favorably.”

“Do you mind my forwardness, or should I be more maidenly and modest?” she returned with a demure lowering of her eyes and lashes, even as a smile pulled at the corners of her mouth.

“You should be exactly who you are,” he told her, a grin forming.

“And who am I?” she wondered aloud as they began to walk slowly toward where he’d left his buggy.

He stopped to look at her. “Who are you? You are the amazing Josephine Black. Though truth be told, I’d dearly love for you to be the future Mrs. Timothy Scott.”

A sudden contented happiness flooded through her as his fingers interlaced with hers. “I think I might like that as well,” she said softly.