Chapter 24—"Painting a Girl"
Lina lifted her head from her pillow. Caroline was snoring harmoniously with the crickets. And Lizzie… well, she was sure Lizzie was being a tragic heroine somewhere. Lina reached for her treasured notebook on the side table and slipped out of the covers and onto the hard wood floor. She tip-toed over to the cushioned window seat and made her perch there in the moonlight. Finally, she opened her notebook and looked up to the glowing crest.
A love scene. She wanted to a love scene.
But, she had never written one before.
She let her pen fall to the paper and chewed her bottom lip as strange images and words began to emerge.
His hands were… big. And she…shuttered…no, trembled at his touch. They covered her as they lay…lied…laid? down on the soft blanket on the…no… in the rain underneath his long forgotten lean-to. But they had not forgotten. They had waited for so long to be together…to… to…
Lina slammed her notebook in frustration. She pressed her face against the glass. She couldn't do this. She had no idea what she was writing about. Even her grammar was failing at the thought of the foreign subject.
"Lina?" Caroline lifted her head and stared at her woe begotten sister.
"What are you doing?" She cocked her head and hid her teasing smile.
"I'm being depressed," Lina pouted, refusing to turn around.
Caroline sighed and patted the pillow next to her. "Well, come make a depression in this bed instead of against that window. You're going to freeze to death over there."
Lina ignored her and closed her notebook. She curled her toes up under her nightgown. "Lizzie's gone."
"I know. I heard her sneak out. I'm giving her another hour before I go after her."
Lina tilted her head and met her sister's eyes. "Don't worry. She'll be back before then."
"Whatever you say, my mystic sister. Whatever you say." Caroline chuckled nonchalantly. Her laughter soon faded, and they were left in the blue silence again. Caroline slipped out of the covers and hovered aimlessly towards her sister. As she came into the moonlight, she asked, "Why are you depressed?"
Lina scoffed. "Nothing you would care about."
Caroline sat down next to her. "Try me."
Lina met her sister's eyes, lighter than hers, but they were darker in the moonlight. "My story needs…"
Caroline reached out and grabbed her hand. "Oh come on! Tell me! I promise I won't laugh."
The notebook fell between them, and words tumbled forth, "It needs a love scene. I don't know how to write one."
Caroline sat back and grinned broadly. "Oh! Is that all?"
"You said you wouldn't laugh!"
Caroline shook her head and reached out for her unaffectionate sister. Begrudingly, Lina let her take her hands. "I'm not laughing at you, Lina. I swear I'm not. How hard can they be though? Aren't love scenes just about love?"
Lina nodded, knowing she was right. "Yeah…but…but I don't know anything about that."
Caroline felt stumped. She couldn't write to save her life. Suddenly, an idea sparked, and she lifted her arms like a fairy queen. "Then maybe it's a dream you're writing!"
Lina lifted her notebook and eyed Caroline suspiciously, a small smile revealing itself. "A dream. I like that, Caroline."
"See?" Caroline quickly stole a kiss from Lina's cheek. "I can be creative too."
"Who's out there!" Lizzie shrieked and pushed back from the clinic door as she heard the gravel and gun behind her.
"Jeez Hank! Put the gun down!" She exclaimed as the barkeep held a gun on her in the middle of the street.
Hank groaned and spun around in a circle as he collected himself. "What are you doin' in town this late, Little Quinn?"
Lizzie's jaw tightened. "I'm stayin' at the clinic tonight, not that it's any of your business."
"Do your folks know where you are?" He asked, frustration and lack of sleep clear in his whiskey-stained voice.
"What do you care?" Lizzie turned back towards the clinic door and continued to unlock it.
Hank stepped up on the porch and leaned on the wooden post. He grinned in satisfaction as she struggled with the lock. "You know, I liked ya a lot better when ya didn't have all that attitude."
"You mean when I was a baby and didn't know how to speak?" She shook the stubborn lock mercilessly.
"Yeah. Then, Quinn." She turned around and he raised his eyebrows, daring her. No, she wouldn't ask him for help, no matter how long it took to get inside the clinic.
"Stop calling me that! We're not even related."
"Maybe not. But you sure do got that fire of Michaela's." He sighed, his voice honeyed with unfulfilled fantasies. I've always… admired it."
Lizzie grimaced. "She's married to Sully."
Hank shrugged apathetically, "Don't mean a man can't look."
Lizzie dropped her hand on the lock and turned around, both of her hands on her hips in pious defense. "You are nothin' but a dirty old man, you know that? Why don't you go back over to the trough you call a saloon and play with the other pigs."
"Can't do that."
Hank planted himself on the bench and crossed his legs mockingly. "If you're gonna stay in this clinic all by yourself, I'm stayin' right here with ya."
"You are not!"
"Too bad, Quinn. I'm campin' out right here, and there's nothin' ya can do about it." Hank proceeded to stretch out on the bench.
"The clinic is perfectly safe!" Lizzie protested, her fair face turning red as he insulted her and infringed on her space.
Hank sat up suddenly, his mocking expression gone, replaced with something she didn't recognize. "Don't argue with a dirty old man, Lizzie. I've seen things that would give ya nightmares for years."
Lizzie stared at him, at the queer tremor in his eye. She looked up towards the darkened building and swallowed nervously. Somehow, staying here didn't seem like such a good idea anymore. "Maybe… Maybe you ought to take me home?"
Hank nodded once without question. "You wait here while I saddle my horse."
Night had come too soon. She couldn't go upstairs. She couldn't leave the examination room. Even now, she felt eyes on her.
And it terrified her.
But she was so tired, so painfully tired. She wanted to sleep. To forget it all.
But there were two eyes on her.
"Don't scream, girlie. You scream, and I'll slit your throat."
Gold buttons. So many gold buttons. The winter wind flew in threw the door. Hadn't she closed it? Hadn't she—?
"That's right, you little whore. They may dress you up all they want, but you'll still be one of 'em."
"Get away from me!" Catherine stumbled backwards, but she fell over a box of medical supplies and landed hard on the floor.
"Cat lost her claws?" He grabbed her wrists and pulled her against him. Her heels slid along the floor, shooting up splinters. "You gonna purr for me? Huh?"
Catherine spit in his face. He wiped the saliva off of his face and knotted his fist in her hair. "Oh, you'll regret that. Nobody disrespects Major Joel Elliot!"
His fist hit hard across her face, and she thought she was lost to time, but a gunshot rang out in the air, and his hands fell away from her and she fell to the ground.
She thought she was screaming, but she wasn't as rough, careful hands picked her up and removed her from the fallen body. "Shh…Shh! I got ya." He held her awkwardly but protectively. "I got ya. Nobody's gonna hurt ya now. It's over."
"You…you kill." Catherine pulled back and looked at her protector's face. It was Hank. "I thought… I thought it was you… I thought…"
"Yeah…well…" Hank quickly dropped her hands and searched for a lantern. "Let's get ya cleaned up."
Catherine nodded weakly and ran her fingers through her hair. "I thought it was over."
"What was over?" Hank avoided her fatigued figure as he stepped over the dead body towards the medical supplies.
"Death. Fighting. I say goodbye to it."
Hank smirked as he found some rubbing alcohol and gauzes. "People never stop fightin', darlin'."
Catherine frowned as he came towards her again. "Darling? What does that mean?"
Hank stopped and poured a little of the alcohol out on the gauze. "Uh… It's a word I use…when…when somebody is darlin'. I don't know. Shh… We gotta be quiet now."
She nodded and looked down. His eyes were unsettling. "It is pretty."
"That cut sure ain't. That bastard nailed ya good, didn't he?" He pressed the alcohol against her left cheek.
"Ow!" Catherine stepped back, war filling her eyes accusingly as it stung. Hank dropped the bottle, and it crashed on the floor.
"I'm sorry, jeez! I ain't no doctor!"
"Your hands are rough!"
"I'm a man, darlin'. They ain't supposed to be soft." He jostled as they circled around each other.
"His hands were." She turned her back on him.
"Whose hands? Certainly not this soldier…Your Indian lover?" Hank taunted.
"No one's." Catherine shook her head and closed her eyes. His eyes wouldn't go away.
"Uh uh." Hank froze and watched her shake. "Things have sure stirred up ever since you came here. Michaela gettin' hurt by that injun and marryin' Sully faster than—" Catherine's head dropped and Hank threw his head back and laughed as the realization hit him. "Wait a sec. You're talkin' about Sully, aren't ya?"
Catherine moved to the other side of the room, but Hank cut her off, his eyes right in her face. "And I thought that man was as predictable as rain! How the mighty do fall, I tell ya. How the mighty do fall!"
"He did nothing wrong," Catherine defended Sully automatically.
"I'm sure Michaela sees it that way as well." Hank snickered. "You don't even have to tell me what happened—I know Michaela better than she knows herself. She's a bundle full of nerves, that one. Somewhere along the way she forgot to cut the cords loose."
"Do not talk about her like that—" Catherine said, her fervor falling as Hank moved closer.
"Oh come on! You think it! Hell, you used it. Maybe you didn't know it. Or maybe I'm just givin' you too much credit." Catherine's back hit the wall and Hank's hands were on either side of her head.
"Only after—" She shook her head, unable to suppress her conflicting feelings.
"That's right. Only after you realized that you didn't have a chance with Sully did you even begin feelin' this way. It's ok. You're human. Lord knows if Michaela wasn't attached to Sully…"
"Stop it!" Catherine pushed back on his chest, but he was immobile.
"Darlin', men need women. That's all there is to it. We want them. We crave them. Even the good ones do. They just don't admit it like me." He lowered his head as she fought him.
"But… I felt something." She searched his eyes, trying to understand what had happened. How she could have been so wrong. "I thought… I thought he felt too."
Hank covered her hands. Rough hands. He shrugged. "People make connections everyday. Don't mean they're in love."
"Oh. Oh…" Catherine stopped fighting. "I think he lied to me."
"Maybe he did. Must be hard for a man like Sully to admit that he's wrong. He's got a lot of pride. They both do." Hank waited for her reaction, hoping she would fight him again.
But she didn't. She was only confused. "Am I wrong?"
"We're all wrong, darlin'." He pressed against her. He waited. For the push. The shove. The slap. But it didn't come. So he lowered his lips and kissed her.
He pulled away and looked into her eyes. They were so blue—innocent but knowing.
"Why did you do that?"
"Just seein' if I could do somethin' right." He backed up slowly. He lifted the soldier by his shoulders and smiled wickedly at her. "Come on. Grab his legs. We'll make sure no one knows."
They sat across from each other at the table, uncomfortable stares floating back and forth between Michaela, Sully, David and Suzanne. Michaela stared at David, unmoved as she took in his appearance, altered, distracted, and distant. But needy. So needy. David cleared his throat and extended his curled hand as best he could. "If it was only me, I would never have bothered you again, Michaela."
"David, I don't want ifs. We're talking about now, here, and I need some semblance of the truth before I give any credence to what you have to say." Sully put a gentle hand on her lower back as the sharp tones flew from her mouth. He didn't like to think of her as fragile, but in truth, she physically was. He felt her take a deep breath, and for her sake, he hoped this would be over soon.
"Let me speak, David. After all, this is my fault." Suzanne found Michaela's eyes. Michaela couldn't dismiss her as easily as David. There was something about her that was familiar, like her.
"Your fault?" Michaela asked, softening her tone.
Suzanne nodded nervously. "I knew the risks of getting pregnant with my disposition. It was a selfish choice, but we wanted a child. Can you understand that?"
Michaela searched and found Sully's hand under the table. "Yes, I can."
Suzanne took a deep breath. David put his arm around her and nodded reassuringly. "I have diabetes."
As if the world had turned on its axis, Michaela straightened her back. She was no longer a woman but a doctor. "Gestational?"
"Yes." Lina leaned her head against her desk. Her mother. The "what if" was so tragic. It made her so sympathetic in the story. How could anyone hate a dying woman? A fragile, dying woman no less. But…but… But how could she do it? How could she kill her mother? No. She wouldn't do it. She couldn't. Someone else… Someone else would have to be the sacrificial lamb. She closed her eyes, and let her pen fall to the paper as her mother's blonde hair and violet eyes transformed into dark eyes and dark hair. Could she do it? It wasn't fair, but she was writing… She was alive …She was writing… It had to be this way—didn't it?
"What does that mean?" Abagail asked, confused by the technical terms.
"It means that the diabetes was brought on by your pregnancy," Michaela said gently.
Sully quickly interjected, "You mean to tell me that this happened because she's going to have a baby?"
"Yes, but we can control it by regulating her diet and monitoring her pregnancy. And usually after the baby is born, the diabetes dissipates."
"So you'll stay with me?" Abagail tightened her grip on Michaela's hand.
"Of course. I promise you, Abagail. I'm going to do everything I can for you and your baby."
Abagail reached up and touched Michaela's cheek. "You're an angel."
"I've often been doubtful, but it's controllable, Suzanne," Michaela reassured her.
Suzanne lowered her hand, a lost mother's tears in her eyes. "They told me… They told me I wasn't supposed to have children—after…after—"
"My…stepfather did something bad to me." Lina watched the ink blot on the paper. She knew what she wanted to write, but maybe she shouldn't. Writing about Sully and Michaela was so easy, but her own parents? She wiped her eyes, and the black blot on the page grew darker and darker as 1852 came to her mind.
David watched Suzanne's hands go down to her stomach, and his eyes jerked up to meet in her eyes.
"Did he touch you with his hands?" He whispered, his heart sinking.
"Yes," she said, barely audible.
David swallowed, and he tried to control his shaking joints. "Did he… kiss you?"
Suzanne nodded and closed her eyes, crying.
"Ok… ok… Don't worry. I'll take care of you." He pulled her back into his arms, closing his eyes. "We'll go to the hospital and I'll get you a medical examination—"
"No David!" Suzanne exclaimed, pulling away from him. "I don't want anyone to know what happened to me! People will think I'm dirty…"
David shook his head. "No they won't… I'll be with you."
"Shh… I'm here. You don't have to say," David soothed, their eyes meeting in shared secrets.
Michaela shook her head, confusion racking her as she stared at the broken couple. "What can you want from us? If you're asking me to be your doctor, I don't think I can."
"No. It's more than that." David reached across the table and touched her hand.
Sully inhaled, trepidation filling him completely as he watched David grip his wife's hand. "More?"
"We want you to raise our child."
"I can't sleep." Michaela stared up at the ceiling, watching the shadows dance across the woodwork.
Sully turned on his side. Her face was lost in the moonlight. "You're thinkin' about Lizzie?"
She nodded, and the slight movement sent a ripple down their cream colored sheets, breaking the stillness in the room. "She wanted to know about the baby. About things…we don't even talk about."
It was quiet again as Sully searched for the right words. "It's ok."
She turned towards him and smiled sadly. She could feel his body heat. "No, it's not."
He found her hand and pulled her closer. Sometimes it was easier to touch than speak, but sometimes it was too easy. They hadn't let themselves talk in such a long time. "We're ok, Michaela. I know the things that hurt you. I wanted her just as much as you did, remember?"
Michaela nodded and gasped for air, taking a full, deep breath for the first time that night. He caught her breath in his and rolled her across his body, holding her fully. Michaela whispered against his skin, "I still miss her. Despite everything, I miss my daughter."
He held her, just as he did when he found in the camp. Sometimes, it was as if no time had passed. "I do too."
"Lizzie knows it too. I wish I could hide it from her, and just be…" Michaela gripped his arms but released them when she failed to find the right word.
They locked eyes and he caressed her hair knowingly. "Maybe I wouldn't be losing her if I was."
"We're not goin' to lose her."
Michaela sat up abruptly, the entire conversation crashing back on her even with Sully's reassurance. "A woman…someone claiming to be my sister told her that she was her real mother."
Sully followed her, the sheets falling off of both of them. "What? That's crazy."
"I couldn't follow her thoughts after that. I tried to tell her everything, but I suppose it was too much too soon," Michaela spoke rapidly, agitation and confusion bursting out of her.
Sully stood out of the bed and began to pace. Michaela watched him uneasily before he stopped. "I'll talk to her."
"You think she'll listen to you?"
Sully stopped, unsure. "I don't know. I can try. Fathers are different, ya know."
Michaela's brow softened as she took in her husband's wary disposition. "Oh really? All she would have to do is bat her lashes and she'd have you wrapped around her finger in a second."
Sully grinned and nodded, not denying it. "Yeah. I wish she would though. Then I'd know she was happy."
"Me too…" They smiled, hope surfacing for a moment before the neighing of horses broke their gaze. "What's that?"
"Are the animals loose?"
"I'll go check." And he was out the door.
"Thanks Hank." Lizzie smiled impishly as she unsaddled her horse Fin in the barn.
Hank shook his head and scoffed at the disheveled girl. "Don't waste that pretty smile on me. I ain't gonna tell on ya. Come on. Let me walk ya to the house."
"Alright then." Her face relaxed as they wandered back towards the house. Still, she wasn't ready to go back. Her mind was still in the cemetery. "But…can I ask you somethin'?"
Hank blew air out from his lips. How did he get suckered into this? "Women. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Even little runts like you. Ask me quick, Quinn."
Lizzie chewed her lip nervously. "Do you… do you remember when my ma lost her baby?"
Hank eyed her, but didn't slow down. "Yeah," he said flatly.
"Well… what do you know about the woman who was with her?"
"Quinn…" Hank sped up, thankful the stairs weren't much further.
"Her name is Catherine—"
"Lizzie!" Hank raged abruptly, and Lizzie jumped back, shocked at the sudden change in his demeanor. "What I meant to say was, I don't know much about her. Or what you're lookin' for, Quinn. I'm sorry."
Lizzie swallowed, stepping forward tentatively. "I've never heard you apologize before."
"Well, there's a first time for everythin'. Ya better get used to it." He turned to leave, but Lizzie could tell there was more, just as she knew there was more in Michaela's eyes… in Catherine's eyes.
"Her name was Katherine Elizabeth." She said clearly. She didn't hear the front door open.
"Who?" Hank turned back. He looked pass Lizzie. His face was white.
"Their baby. Did Catherine…did she do that on purpose? Name me Elizabeth on purpose?"
Hank backed away and held up his hands in retreat. "I think you better ask your pa that question."
Lizzie spun around. And more. Sully was standing in the doorway.