The Star Garden

The Star Garden by Nancy E. Turner

Book: The Star Garden by Nancy E. Turner Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nancy E. Turner
height. Had I lost my love for Jack? Panic swept through me. I pushed Udell back, saying, “We’d better get back to the carriage.”
    But as I tried to pull away, he held my arm and slid his hand down to my fingers. “Sarah,” he said. “There’s something I want to say to you.”
    “Tell me in the carriage.”
    He tugged on my hand. “Were you happy, being married? Did you love him?”
    I rolled my eyes and tried to pull my hand from his. He pulled again, insistent. “Of course,” I said.
    Udell squinted as if he were trying to read something written on my face.
    I said, “I was happy and miserable. I loved him so much because he loved me. He was my very life and, well, what did I know? I was young and he was handsome and brave. Just like a prince in a story.”
    “Did you feel like
you
died?”
    I stared at the ground before me and gulped, waiting for my heart to start beating again. Gravel, burned bronze by the desert sun, had been kicked aside where we stood as we kissed, and the gray-white underside showed. A tear dribbled to my chin but I didn’t brush it away. I said, “Lord, yes. For weeks. Months. Then, I had a family to raise. My boys. My ranch to run. I couldn’t lose another minute wishing for that man to come back.”
    “I thought I had, too. Crawled into a bottle of whiskey, hoping I’d never come out. All that did was make me sick. Aubrey dragged me home from an alley one night, left me in the cellar and called me a coward and a liar because I’d promised him I’d take care of him when I got home from the war. He was already a man then. When I got my feet under me, I realized he’d been right. So I quit then and there. Laid it all down, went to bed for a month, but when I got up, I got up sober. I don’t drink. Nor gamble or carry on with fancy women.”
    “Well, I never questioned your character, Udell.”
    “Nor I yours. Were you happy?”
    It took me a long time to finally say the words. “Painfully happy.”
    “I doubt I could ever live up to that. I don’t believe I kept Frances painfully happy, unless she found it in her heart in spite of me. I’m sure fond of you, Sarah.”
    I felt the selfsame words ready to roll off my tongue, as if all he’d said was “how d’e do,” and it was customary to return in kind. I dared not say those sacred words aloud until I was sure I meant them, for they would bind me in ways I’d already learned. That jackrabbit was watching us from atop a rock. I could hear Udell breathing. I drew in a long breath, too, my heart aching. The trouble was, I did love him. At least, I felt something. What exactly it was, I had yet to name. Long as I didn’t say it aloud, it could wait until the thoughts cleared on their own, I suspect.
    Then we started back down the hill toward the carriage. Udell whistled a tune as we stepped arm in arm through the brush. We found Aubrey and Mary Pearl sitting sedately next to each other. If it weren’t for the flush of their faces, I’d have believed they’d been discussing the weather.
    “Ready to head home?” Udell asked.
    “But please, drive slow, Pa,” his son answered.
    We turned the rig around and had just started down the hill, Udell pushing his foot on the brake to keep it from banging the horses’ legs, when I grabbed his arm. “Stop,” I hissed. “I heard something.”
    It took two more steps for the horses to come to a halt. Aubrey and Mary Pearl had little to say when we returned, but they both leaned forward now, asking what I had heard. There it was again. The sound of horses approaching. A dozen or more.
    With no thought to being ladylike and waiting for him to help me, I got down while Udell set the brake and gave the reins to Aubrey. I hurried toward the sound, stopping by a leafy ocotillo to peer around it before I stepped out from the shadows. Udell crouched next to me. Before us there played out a tableau that took away all the previous warm feelings and chilled me deep in my core.
    A band

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