Before anybody knew it, August had come! It was five in the morning, and the sun had yet to rise, but the Quinn household was abuzz with nervous laughter, sobs from the Quinn sisters, Elizabeth barking orders at Harrison and Martha, and Josef's tip-tapping as he paced around the foyer. Sully was helping Harrison load his and Michaela's things into the carriage outside. He paused long enough to look up at the clock on the mantle just as Elizabeth stormed out of the parlor.
"Where on Earth is that girl!" she asked. "If she doesn't hurry, you'll miss your train. Perhaps she has cold feet." Sully forced himself not to roll his eyes. "Perhaps she wants to stay in Boston where she belongs."
"Lizzie," Josef warned.
"Mrs. Quinn, she just took Midnight out for a quick run."
"You let her go in the dark?" Elizabeth asked.
"Your daughter's a better rider than I am," Sully chuckled. "Besides, she just went 'round the block. I thought the two of ya talked 'bout this." Elizabeth sighed heavily. The truth was, they had. She just didn't like the idea of watching her youngest daughter run off to another part of the country. She didn't know when she'd see or hear from her again. She didn't know how treacherous the journey was westward, and she couldn't help but feel like she was losing her. Their still-fragile relationship was slowly being sewn together, but they had a lot more healing to do.
"Everything is loaded, Sir," Harrison said, stepping up beside Josef.
"Thank you, Harrison." Elizabeth continued to pace the foyer along with Josef, and Sully turned away. They were making him dizzy! He checked the pocket of his buckskin coat. He had his money and the pre-approved boarding passes. They had managed to reserve a sleeper car on the train. It was sectioned off into two sleeping quarters, but there were sitting chairs for the daytime. Michaela and Sully would be sharing the car with Mr. and Mrs. Albert Johnson.
Lydia and Albert had been married in a simple ceremony two weeks ago, and Michaela and Sully had barely seen hide nor hair of them, except to make arrangements for the trip and for an examination. Lydia's pregnancy was progressing nicely, and her stomach grew rounder by the week, while her smile grew wider. Married life obviously agreed with the both of them, and both Michaela and Sully had come to the decision that they had never seen either one happier!
They knew the feeling, for wedded bliss was exactly what Michaela and Sully were living in. Sure, they had their little arguments, but the making up part was always wonderful. They enjoyed each other and shared parts of themselves that they'd never shared and never would share with anyone else. Each shared an unquenchable thirst for the other's affections, and it kept their nights busy and satisfied and their days full of dreams and smiles.
The door opened, and Michaela walked in with a smile upon her face. She was dressed in a simple but elegant maroon dress with white lace around the collar and down the bodice. Her hair was pulled up under her hat, but it was a little disarrayed after going riding.
"For Heaven's Sakes, Michaela. We thought you'd gotten lost," Elizabeth said with a sigh.
"Not lost, Mother," Michaela assured her. "Are we ready to go?" She was scared. Scared and nervous. She was hiding it well, but Sully knew her body and spirit. He knew when something wasn't right. He only wanted to be there for her and assure her that moving on was right. It was good. It was necessary.
"I don't think we'll ever be ready," Josef replied. "But, it's time." Michaela smiled, seeing the tears in her father's eyes. Josef Quinn rarely cried, and she wasn't so sure she wanted to see him do it.
Everyone began to file out of the Quinn home, and Michaela looked around the foyer, soaking in every drop of it, even the painting on the landing. She shivered when she saw it, but she swallowed hard and shook off the feeling it gave her. Harrison and Martha stood there, not quite knowing what to think or say.
"Thank you," Michaela whispered, walking over to them and giving them both hugs. "You've been wonderful to me all of these years. Please, try to keep Mother from losing her head." They both chuckled and hugged her tightly, each of them feeling as if they were losing their own child.
"You take care, Miss. Dr. Quinn…" Michaela smiled.
"I will, Martha. Thank you." She sighed softly and moved toward the door. Her future, Sully, was standing there holding his hand out with a patient smile on his face. She took his hand, and they started out to the carriages.
"You don't have to do this," Albert whispered as they walked a long corridor behind the prison warden. Lydia's hand squeezed his, and her other hand protectively rubbed her rounded stomach.
"Yes, Albert, I do," she replied. "I can't leave without saying goodbye. I owe him that."
"You owe him nothing!" Albert replied. "He's done nothing but cause you pain."
"I know, but he's given me…us this gift." Her hand brought his to her stomach. "I must do this before we go. I have to tell him that he'll never know the love of a wife and child. He's too far gone to ever have those things."
"You're just pouring salt on open wounds," Albert said grimly. Lydia looked at him as if to say 'I know.' The warden stopped just at the last gate, and Lydia felt a chill go up her spine. "I can come with you."
"No. I have to do this alone." She gave him a squeeze on the hand before she followed the warden. Albert watched them walk away as the steel door slammed in his face.
Lydia felt like she was walking to her own fate. She felt guilty for David being here, but she quickly swallowed that down. She knew it wasn't her fault. David was too far gone before she became involved with him. There had been no preventing him turning out like this, at least not on her part.
She gripped the sides of her skirt as the warden stopped in front of the cell. He banged this pistol hard against the bars. The form sitting in his cot looked over. Lydia barely recognized him, as the warden stepped away for a moment.
"Lydia," he said, his voice hollow and strained.
"That's you, David?" She hadn't meant to sound so surprised. He'd been in jail for over two months now, and he was so sickly looking. His good eye was overcast by darkness; his bad eye was clouded with white. His skin was translucent and sallow, and his hair was long and dirty. His facial hair covered a lot of the sickness, but he looked like he'd wasted away to nothing. The only sickness in him was his still beating heart and the memories of his tortured life.
He moved like a snake, his bare feet sliding across the cold concrete. His fingers, yellow and thin, curled around the steel bars.
"You've come for me?" he asked quietly.
"No, David. I'm leaving," she whispered. "I can't stay in Boston anymore."
"Take me with you." Was he begging?
"David, I came to say goodbye. I thought you deserved that much." David looked confused.
"Did Michaela send you? She…I want to see her."
"Michaela doesn't want to see you, David. You should respect her wishes."
"She's afraid to love me," he whispered. "I'll make her love me someday." Lydia closed her eyes. "Our baby." Her eyes snapped open, and Lydia backed away from the bars.
"David, no," she said quietly.
"You were never going to tell me, were you? You were going to let it grow inside of you, give birth to it and give it another man's name, weren't you? I read it in the paper. You're married to that…Johnson fellow. And Michaela's married."
"We're all very happy, David."
"I'd be a good father. A better one than mine ever was."
"David, you had a good father," Lydia said quietly. "You spoke of him before…"
"Not him. Not him. Not him." David turned from the bars and began to face. "Not him." Lydia was trembling now. "I wouldn't hurt him. Not the way they hurt me. They didn't love me. Not him. Not her. Not…" He was crying now, sobbing hysterically, and Lydia's heart began to break. She shook her head.
"I'm sorry, David. I'm truly am, for everything you've been through. It has to be this way. There's no other choice. I'll raise this child with all of the love in my heart. This baby will never know the pain you've suffered. I'm sorry, David. It's time to say goodbye." She placed her hands protectively on her stomach, gave him one final look and walked away.
"Got the supplies?" Charlotte asked as Matthew loaded the wagon in Boulder. They were getting ready to head to Denver, rest for a week or so, and then they were going on to Colorado Springs. With Charlotte due to give birth in a month, they were taking more frequent rests. Charlotte was feeling better, though her body seemed to be telling her that she needed more rest than she was getting.
"Yep," Matthew announced. "We should be in Colorado Springs in 'bout three weeks if we rest over in Denver." Colleen and Brian were sleeping in the back of the wagon and only stirred a little when he climbed into the front where Charlotte was sitting. "Ma, do ya wanna lay down in the back?"
"No, I'd prefer to sit up here an' enjoy the view." She winced as the baby kicked hard.
"You drive on. The baby's just kickin'."
"I can't believe I'm gonna have another brother or sister in a month." Worry lined his face. "I'm worried, 'bout ya, Ma. Maybe we ought to stay in Denver once we get there."
"No, Son. We're goin' on to Colorado Springs. Maybe Ethan'll be there." She couldn't fool her eldest son.
"Ma, ya know that ain't gonna happen."
"I know," she replied, "but we gotta keep hopin' for Colleen and Brian. Once hope goes, what do ya got?" Matthew put his arm around his mother.
"We got each other." Charlotte smiled and patted her son's shoulder. He looked forward, flicked the reins, and they started off toward Denver.
Goodbyes were never easy. Josef was clutching his daughter close, holding her and crying. She hated when her father cried, but she was crying too. She felt Sully's hand on her back, and she knew she was going to be all right. They'd all said their goodbyes, and now she was finishing with her father and mother. She didn't know how to say goodbye to either of them, though there was a time when she could have left without ever seeing her mother again. Things had changed, and she wasn't sure if she knew how to let go.
"You're free, Michaela," Josef whispered. "Nothing can stop you from spreading your wings. You're going to do wonderful things…more wonderful than you already have." Michaela took a shaky breath and pulled away. "I love you, Mike."
"I love you, Father," she replied. He kissed her cheek, and she turned toward her mother. Elizabeth was holding back her tears, and Sully was saying goodbye to Josef.
"I do love you, Michaela," Elizabeth whispered. "I trust that you'll do many great things. But, I still think you could do them here in Boston."
"Oh, Mother," Michaela breathed. "I'll be back. I promise."
"Once a year?" Michaela laughed.
"Once a week if I could, but you're going to have to make this work too. I expect a letter or two from time to time, and you must visit us." Elizabeth frowned at Michaela's words. "Mother, I love you too, and I only want to share my world with you and Father. Sully is my world, and Colorado Springs will be too." Elizabeth nodded.
"Be careful out there," she whispered.
"I will, but you must promise to come visit." Elizabeth hesitated. "Mother!"
"All right. I promise." Michaela smiled, feeling as if she were the parent, and her mother was her child. Michaela hugged her mother one last time before pulling away. Sully moved toward Mrs. Quinn. The woman smiled sadly. "You'll remember your vows?"
"'Til the day I die, Ma'am." To everyone's surprise, Elizabeth hugged him.
"You had better," she replied. "Or you'll have me to answer to." Sully chuckled.
"We wouldn't want that, would we?"
"And don't let her walk all over God's creation. She shouldn't have to ruin her feet to…"
"Mother," Michaela said impatiently. "We'll miss the train if we don't hurry."
"Alright. Go on. Don't expect me to say I won't miss you, Michaela," Elizabeth said softly.
"I don't," she replied. "No matter what's happened, Mother, I'll miss you too." Sully took Michaela's hand, and they looked to the conductor.
"The luggage is loaded into your car, Sir."
"What about Mr. and Mrs. Johnson?"
"They haven't arrived yet, Sir. They need to get here soon if they want to make the train." Sully and Michaela looked at one another with apprehension in their eyes. They turned back to Michaela's family…their family. A moment later, they were boarding the train, scanning their eyes over the quarters they would be sleeping in for the couple of weeks.
"The bed looks comfortable enough," Sully said with a yawn, as he pulled back the dividing door that separated the bedroom the rest of the car. The sun was just rising, but he already felt ready to sleep. Michaela moved to sit down in an oversized chair beside the window. From the inside, it didn't even look like a train car, but when she looked outside to see her family's somber faces, she knew she was leaving, and would most likely not see Boston again for a long time. This was the train that was carrying her away from everything she had ever known. It was depressing and exciting at the same time.
"Wait!" Albert and Lydia scrambled onto the train, and Lydia immediately sat down, cradling her pregnant stomach in her arms.
"What took ya so long?" Sully laughed.
"We had a stop or two to make," Albert replied. "We're all ready now." They all settled down, and a few moments later, the train began to shudder. Sully and Michaela joined hands, and as the train began to pull away, they stared out the windows, watching from a distance as the city of Boston began to grow smaller and smaller. Soon, they were racing across the state on their journey to Colorado Springs.
Nearly two weeks later, the train was chugging along, nearing Denver. They were so close. They were almost home. From there, they would rest and take the stagecoach the next morning, hopefully getting to Colorado Springs before the sun went down.
Albert, Lydia, Sully and Michaela had had a great time aboard the train together. They were enjoying their private car, and each couple had to make adjustments in their nighttime situations, considering the facts that their sleeping quarters were close together, and the rattling train noises didn't cover up everything. But, on this day, they were eagerly waiting, dressed in fresh clothing, for the train to pull into the station. They were about ten minutes away. All was well. The sun was out, the sky was clear and blue, and though it was hot, the windows were open, and cool air was rushing in, swirling all about.
"What's the first thing you're gonna do when we get to Colorado Springs?" Sully asked Albert. Albert laughed.
"The first thing I'm going to do is see about buying some property, preferably property with a nice house." Sully chuckled.
"There's some nice land out there, but finding one with the right house ain't gonna be easy." He looked at Lydia. "You?"
"The first thing she's going to do is have an appointment with me," Michaela said with a smile. Lydia nodded.
"Yes. Then, I think I'll see the sights."
"I'll show all of ya around, don't worry," Sully replied. He put his arm around Michaela. "But, the first thing I'm gonna do is take my beautiful wife out to show her the house I'm buildin' for us." Michaela loved the way he dreamed of the future. She did too. God, she loved him with everything she had, and she couldn't wait for him to show her his world. Sharing a life with Sully was all she wanted, and for the rest of her life, she was going to prove it.
The train shuddered for a moment, and everyone froze.
"What…" Albert said nervously.
"Railroad probably just had a bump in it. I'm sure it's fine," he said quietly. Sully gave his wife's hand a squeeze. Michaela moved to stand by the window.
"It's so beautiful out here, Sully," she said softly, holding onto the windowsill. "I'm so glad you brought me."
"I'm glad ya said ya wanted to go." Sully stood up and moved to stand beside her, while Lydia and Albert lost themselves in a quiet conversation. Michaela and Sully stood together, her back leaning against his chest and his hands resting on her stomach. He kissed her neck softly, and her face flushed. She giggled a little as the sun sparkled against her hair and warmed her face. "We're almost home. We got the rest of our lives, Michaela."
"I'm glad I'm spending it with you." She turned in his arms just as the train gave a violent shudder. They fell back against the chair, and looked at one another in surprise. Lydia and Albert froze again in shock.
The next thing Michaela knew, she was lying in the overturned train car, blood pouring down her face. The last thing she saw was Sully's unmoving, unconscious body lying across from her, and everything went black.
The End September 9, 2005
Author's Note: Thank you all so much for your kind feedback and your patience. I hope to start a sequel soon...I HOPE! Please, don't throw tomatoes or get out the tar and feathers. LOL..this ending just came to me, and I HAD to do it. ;) Thank you all so much, once again!