Chloe leaned against her broom and stretched for a moment, pressing one hand on her lower back to ease the ache. She’d been up since before sunrise, and the day was only half gone. She looked around the wide parlor. The Westons’ home was one of the bigger ones, even though they weren’t even the wealthiest family in New York. She was lucky to have gotten a chance to work with them.
Even though the hours were long and the work difficult with little pay, it was better than living on the streets.
“That’s mine!” An angry shriek rang through the hallway as Benny and Eliza came barreling into the parlor. They were constantly fighting, and even though most twins were known for their friendship, Benny and Eliza never seemed to get along.
“It is not yours!” Eliza stood on her tippy toes, holding a little wooden toy out of Benny’s reach. For six years old, they were quite rambunctious.
“It is too, mine! I saw it first. Besides, you don’t even like that toy.” Benny looked as if he was about to tackle his sister. Chloe stepped forward and placed herself between the two of them.
“Slow down!” Chloe put her hands out, one in front of each of the children. She’d had to step in on multiple occasions with these two. Mrs. Weston hated it when her twins fought. She hated it when any of the children fought, and she always left them under Chloe’s care and in her responsibility.
“Come on; it’s mine!” Benny stomped his foot. Chloe reached out and snatched the toy from Eliza before the little girl could react.
“I am going to keep this toy, and when the two of you work out a plan to share it, you can have it back.”
“But …” Benny started.
“No buts!” Chloe was determined to stop any more fighting before it began. She had plenty of practice with Benny and Eliza, and if that had taught her anything, it was how important it was for her to put a stop to fighting and backtalking before it had a chance to grow. Chloe turned to find little Timmy wandering into the room. He was a year and a half old and had just learned how to walk. Mrs. Weston was expecting her third child and was too tired to deal with Timmy most of the time.
Chloe scooped him up and settled him on her hip. At first, he protested, but she handed him a small toy, and he decided that her hip was a fine place to be.
“Come on, everyone. Let’s head to the kitchen and make something to eat before your older brothers and sisters come home from school.” Chloe was relieved that the older three children went to school. If she had to deal with all of them the entire day, she wasn’t sure how she’d manage. As it was, dealing with the younger three was enough of a challenge. She took the children to the kitchen and got them all settled at a task to help with their afternoon meal.
She smiled in the moment of peace, hoping that the rest of the afternoon would be more restful than normal. Her shoulders and back ached already, and she would be more than happy to end the day early if only that were an option.
Chloe sat down on the edge of her bed and pulled out the stub of a candle she’d collected from the kitchen. At long last, she was in her tiny room under the stairs, with a few moments of quiet before it was time to lay down and get a bit of sleep before continuing everything again the next morning.
Chloe pulled out three coins that she’d been paid for the week and put them into a coffee tin she kept under her bed. They made little clinking sounds as they fell and joined the other coins nestled there. The Westons provided her with a place to sleep, food to eat, and even some hand-me-down clothing that Mrs. Weston didn’t need anymore.
Chloe found that it was enough to get by on. Even when she was tempted to buy more things, she never did. She saved every single penny that she earned. She needed that money to buy herself a train ticket one day, to find her mother. She pulled one of the few matches she had from the kitchen and lit the candle stub, placing it carefully on the crate turned sideways, which she used as a table. She pulled out a worn piece of paper from a weathered envelope and unfolded it. Little tiny holes were starting at the corners where the folds had been made too many times.
She tried not to put too much strain on the old page as she opened it. There was a time when she would read it several times a day, but now she only read it once every once in a while because she didn’t want it to tear and become unreadable. This letter was one of the last things she had left from her mother.
The people at the orphanage said that the letter was tucked into her coat pocket when she had showed up on the orphanage steps. Chloe closed her eyes for a moment, bringing forth the scant memories she clung to from when she was a child. She’d been eight years old when her mother took her to the orphanage.
She let her mind wander back to that night.
Rain pelted down on the stone road. Chloe shivered and pulled her thin, threadbare coat around her slender shoulders.
“Mama, I want to go home.” Chloe looked up at her mother. Her blonde hair was plastered to her cheeks and neck, and her blue eyes were clouded with an emotion that Chloe couldn’t place.
“We can’t go home, little one. Don’t worry; it’s all going to be all right.” Her mother pulled on her hand a little more urgently. “We’re almost there.”
“Where are we going, Mama?” Chloe had been asking since they’d left the one room they rented from the grumpy old man with the bread shop, but her mother seemed to be avoiding the question.
“You’ll see.” Her mother turned down a long, dark alleyway, taking Chloe along with her. They stopped at the steps of a large, foreboding house. It was huge and cast dark, scary shadows across the street. Chloe shivered, and she wasn’t sure it was from the cold anymore. The flickering light from a lamp filtering through one of the windows did not make it better.
Her mother knelt in front of her and tucked a crumpled envelope into her pocket. Chloe could see tears in her eyes.
“Chloe, I know this is going to be very hard, and you won’t understand why this happened for the longest time, but one day, I’ll come back for you. There are going to be times when you feel alone, and you feel like you can’t go on, but when you feel like that, remember, one day, I’ll be back.”
“What do you mean? Where are you going?” Chloe’s voice trembled. Her mother leaned forward and kissed her forehead. Chloe wanted to hold on to her hand and never let go, but she knew she couldn’t stop her mother, no matter how much she wanted to.
“I love you, Chloe. Now go up to that door and knock.” Her mother gave her a gentle push forward. Chloe forced her feet to move. She needed to obey her mother. Maybe that would make her come back faster. She headed up the steps to the large house, wondering what it was she was supposed to do after knocking.
She raised her little fist and pounded as loud as she could on the door. When she turned back to search for her mother’s approval, there was no sign of her. She had disappeared into the storm, into the rain.
The huge door opened, and a young woman was standing there.
“Why hello there,” the woman said. She seemed kind enough, and to Chloe’s surprise, she did not look surprised in the least. Chloe wondered what this woman was going to do with her. But her mother was coming back; that was what she was looking forward to anyway.
Chloe opened her eyes. She wished she would have known her mother would not be coming back that night, or the next day, or in the next ten years. The letter she’d tucked into Chloe’s pocket provided some context, but her mother was wrong about one thing, she didn’t fully understand why she would leave.
Chloe liked to think that if her mother had given her a chance, she would have made sure not to be too much trouble. She could have helped with things, and they could have traveled to Colorado together.
She turned her eyes back to the letter in front of her and began to read. She barely needed to read the words on that page. She had read them enough times so that she’d practically memorized them.
My Dearest Chloe
I am hopeful that one day, the people at the orphanage will teach you how to read, and then you can read these words for yourself. I never wanted to leave you behind, but it was too dangerous to take you with me. I have worked hard all my life, but I have failed. I don’t have any more money, and I have no family.
I have no choice but to look for a better opportunity for the two of us. I have heard there are places in Colorado where people can start over and make a living for themselves. I am hopeful that I will have a chance there. Once I get set up and find a place where we can safely live together, I will be back for you. I haven’t forgotten you. I am going to the town of Trinside, Colorado. I have a sister who lives there, and she might be able to help me.
It’s been years since we spoke. I don’t even know if she’ll want to see me. I so want to take you. Knowing how betrayed and hurt you will be when you realize I have left you behind is breaking my heart. I have heard terrible stories of the dangers out west, though. I think you will be safer here and have a better opportunity for your future if I leave you in the city.
The orphanage will care for you until I can return. Whenever you read this, remember the good times we shared. Remember how much we loved to be together and how much I love you. Remember the smiles, laughter, and happiness when we were together, and think of how we will have that again one day.
I love you with all my heart and will never give up. I will be back soon, my love.
Chloe wiped away tears as she folded the letter and put it back into its smudged envelope. Was her mother lying when she wrote those words? When she said she would be back soon for her, had she ever really meant to return? Chloe had to believe that she did mean to. Otherwise, she would have nothing to hope for. Every single time she was paid, she saved it because that meant she might be a little closer to reuniting herself with her mother.
She would buy a ticket on the train and travel to Trinside, Colorado. She would find her mother and find out why she’d never returned. Chloe liked to imagine that she had a demanding job that wouldn’t give her time to come. Or perhaps she hadn’t done as well as she thought she would and didn’t have the money.
Many reasons made sense why her mother hadn’t come back. She hoped her mother was still alive. There was the possibility she hadn’t returned because something had happened to her, but Chloe refused to give that thought any freedom to exist. Chloe lived for the day that she would hear her mother’s explanation, and the last ten years of hardship would be worth it. Chloe blew out the candle before it burned into the crate and curled up on her cot with her many bits of blankets that were remnants of once fluffy and full blankets. Better days were coming. Soon, she would go to Colorado. Soon, she would find answers. She had worked so hard so that one day that could be a reality.
Otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to take the long days of cleaning, cooking, and caring for children. As she closed her eyes, she imagined a better place. She thought of the little home that she once shared with her mother in New York. Back then, her life had been so simple. She didn’t have to think about anything difficult or complicated. She’d been allowed to be a child. If only she could go back.
Theo Sanford tossed his book bag over his shoulder and sauntered out of the classroom. He did not enjoy stifling classrooms and long lectures. Classes were the low point of each day. He much preferred the open air and learning with his hands. His parents were insistent on him studying, so he could catch up to his brothers.
He lived in their shadow, and even though he loved them dearly, he hated that about his family.
“Theo! There you are. I thought I’d missed you.” George, his best friend, came running up, a similar book bag over his shoulder. “You headed home?”
“Unfortunately, yes. My mother arranged to have visitors for dinner, and I promised her I would be there. Would you like to come?” Theo was hopeful his friend would accept the invite. If George came along, there was less potential for the dinner to take its normal course.
“No, thank you. I don’t want to intrude.” George chuckled, and Theo shook his head. “So, how are your classes going?” They shared several classes, but there were some that they took apart. Theo enjoyed the classes they had together.
“They’re going fine. What I am not looking forward to is this family dinner. My family has been inviting a new family over every week, and more often than not, there is a young woman they want me to meet.” Theo frowned and shook his head. He had long tired of his family’s efforts to find him a wife. He didn’t have any interest in the young women they thought were right for him.
He didn’t enjoy the thought of spending the rest of his life with someone who only saw him for his money. His family was wealthy, and while that allowed him to have many things that others only dreamed of, it brought its fair share of challenges. It meant that every single young woman who knew a thing about him and his family also knew that he came from money and would likely have plenty of wealth once he married. They came at him from every direction, and they were always overly kind and sweet and agreed with every word he said. It was impossible to tell what was genuine interest, a girl’s personality, or if they were all over the top in their efforts to gain his attention.
Sometimes it was obvious, other times it was more subtle, but Theo was tired of all the advances.
“You’re not the only one. My family has been getting more and more insistent too. My mother seems to have an obsession with the idea of grandchildren. My older sister has already given her three, and yet that doesn’t seem to be enough.” George chuckled. Even though he said he didn’t enjoy the attention, Theo suspected otherwise. George came from a wealthy family too, but instead of hating all the unwanted advances, he took a different approach.
He would often give young women and their families hope, only to show at the last minute how uncommitted he was to the idea of a long-term relationship with anyone. Theo hoped that he would one day settle down and find himself a young woman who could handle his antics.
George was a good man. He was kind, well-mannered, and generally a good catch. The thing was, he wasn’t interested in being caught, and Theo didn’t blame him.
“I’d better go. My mother isn’t going to be happy if I’m late. Are you sure that you don’t want to change your mind about coming with me to help soften my family’s dinner plan?”
“I am positive!” George laughed and turned away at the corner, taking his own way home. Theo watched him go, wishing for a moment he could skip his family dinner and keep himself occupied with something else. He took his time walking home. He took the long way home, which was a winding path that detoured out of the city and went down through a slope with trees on both sides, then wound back around to the street he lived on with his family.
This street was one of the nicer ones in this area of New York. Richer families tended to live there, the ones with bigger homes and who had more money for help around the house or owned businesses. Theo’s family was one of those families. They owned several businesses, including the biggest mercantile in their section of New York. Theo let himself in through the huge, wooden front door, the smell of something delicious wafting through the house.
Annie was a wonderful cook, and it seemed tonight she was outdoing herself yet again because they were going to have guests. Theo took his time to take off his coat and then walked through the entrance, around the huge staircase that led to the second floor, and stepped into the parlor, which was off to his right. His mother was sitting in her favorite chair, her knitting needles working fast on some dark blue yarn to make her latest creation. His mother loved to knit, and everyone in the household owned a sweater, a scarf, or multiple items, which she’d made for them.
“Theo! There you are. I was worried that you wouldn’t get back in time. The Stevens are going to be here any minute. You should go to your room and freshen up before they arrive.” His mother’s bright red hair was already fixed neatly on her head, pulled up into a bun, without a single strand out of place.
He had inherited his father’s sandy brown hair, but he had gotten his mother’s green eyes, which everyone always complimented him over.
“The Stevens? They are our mysterious visitors tonight?”
Theo almost groaned out loud. He didn’t know the Stevens personally, but he’d heard his father talk about them often enough. They were originally from Chicago and had just moved to New York a month ago. They’d purchased a large plot of land from Theo’s father, and he’d been talking about how they would make great business owners in that space.
“Yes, it hasn’t been so mysterious. They have a daughter your age, you know. Your father has met her and thinks the two of you might get along splendidly.”
“I wouldn’t count on it,” Theo mumbled his words, but judging by his mother’s frown, she’d heard him much too clearly.
“I don’t know why you are so opposed to the idea of marriage. Surely you must know that everyone needs to get married eventually. Well, of course, there are exceptions to that rule, the people who can’t find a match, but you don’t have to be one of them. Look at your brother, how happy he’s been since he found a wife and settled down.”
Theo shook his head. “I am not Franklyn. He fell in love and got married, and Roland is the perfect son, I know, but that doesn’t mean I will be like either of them.”
His mother sighed. “Theo, you know that I don’t mean you need to be your brothers. I just want the best for you in life. Your father and I both do. We both want you to be successful and happy. The only way we know how to help you do that is to find you a good wife who will help you along in life. Isn’t that what you want?”
“I …” Theo wanted to tell her that it was the absolute opposite of what he wanted. He wanted to start his own thing, be happy, and maybe do something with nature or animals. He hated the mercantile; he hated being cooped up inside all day, looking at numbers and learning finances. He hated all of that. He knew that they meant well, that they had his best interests at heart, but he didn’t understand why his parents couldn’t accept that those interests were not aligned with his interests. “Would it be such a terrible thing if I didn’t get married to a wealthy young woman, or if I didn’t take over the mercantile, or if I have no interest in traditional business like Pa?”
“Of course, those things would be all right if you didn’t have any options, but you do. Your father and I worked so hard for our entire lives to give you three boys the best opportunities there were and are. The truth is, we just want you to be happy. We have already experienced the hardship of starting something for ourselves, fighting against everyone to give our family a chance. We never wanted you, Franklyn, or Roland to have to do any of that. We set things up so you wouldn’t have to.”
“Thanks, Ma. Maybe I should go and straighten up.” Theo knew that it was fairly pointless to fight with his mother. He hated making her sad, and at the end of these conversations, that was what happened. She tried to listen, and she acted as if she intended to understand and listen, but then she would get over emotional about it and take it as if he were trying to do something terrible to her personally by refusing the help his family wanted to give him. His father was even worse.
He was so sure that all his sons would follow in his footsteps, and they would take over the family businesses, and they would all go in the same direction he had. Theo knew it was true that his father had worked very hard to start the large mercantile that belonged to their family. He had then gone on to purchase a bank. He had also invested in several properties and businesses all over the city that brought in income periodically.
His father had decided both his and his brother’s fate from the day they were born. His mother told the story of how he had discovered each of his children was a boy. He had big plans for each of them and had put them in the right classes and taught them the right things so they could one day take over seamlessly. Franklyn loved working in the mercantile. He really enjoyed managing things, and he had recently started making plans to start his own store a decent distance away. He wasn’t the type to enjoy working outdoors in the sun all day.
Roland liked banking. He spent most of his days in the bank, learning from their father and preparing to take over one day. When Franklyn took over his own store, Theo’s father would want him to take over the family Mercantile. He was opposed to the idea. He wasn’t positive what it was he wanted to do yet, but he knew it wasn’t spending the next ten years working in the Mercantile, counting products and managing the books.
Theo changed his clothes and washed his face, running his hands through his hair. He knew his mother would be upset if he didn’t make an effort to look somewhat presentable. He wondered what was supposed to be so special about the Stevens’ daughter. He doubted she would be much different from any of the other young women his parents had invited to their home to try and match him with someone.
He’d tried to convince them to put a stop to their matchmaking efforts, but both his parents were fairly determined to continue trying to find him a wife. They thought it would make him more likely to be happy about settling down and taking his job at the mercantile more seriously. When he was satisfied with his efforts of tidying himself up, he hurried down the stairs and into the dining room to wait for his family’s visitors.
All Theo’s expectations of the Stevens family were met when they walked up the steps and into the parlor. They were exactly what he thought they would be like, and that made him groan inside. Mr. and Mrs. Stevens were dressed very properly. They were definitely high-end people of New York. Their daughter looked just like the type of woman he made a point to avoid.
He stood back while his parents said hello, then reluctantly offered his hand in greeting as his mother introduced them.
“Melisa, this is my son, Theo. I thought the two of you might have some things in common.” His mother motioned to the young woman, who Theo had already guessed was the one he was supposed to meet.
Theo noticed the interest in her gaze. He didn’t know how a woman could be interested from only meeting someone for a split second. He had to wonder and assume that her interest was not in him but in his family, status, and wealth. Those were all things that others seemed to be interested in instantly after meeting him.
He extended his hand and shook hers politely. “It is nice to meet you,” he said with a forced smile. He was feeling anything but interested in getting to know Melisa Stevens, but he had no real choice. He wasn’t about to be rude to her for no reason. She was just trying to do whatever she’d been taught to. Her parents had probably put it in her head that she needed to find a man who was more than capable of supporting her and giving her an easy life.
He wasn’t that man, and he wouldn’t be that man for her, but that wasn’t her fault, and there was no reason to be downright rude during this visit. He pulled back and watched as his parents led hers away to the parlor to sit. He knew they were expected to go off on their own and get to know each other, so he motioned to the front door.
“Would you like to take a walk and get some fresh air?” Theo asked. There was a small garden behind the house where they could walk. His mother kept it up because she loved plants, and it was also a nice thing to show off to visitors and start conversations.
“That sounds lovely.” Melisa carried herself with confidence as they headed out the door. She didn’t seem to be shy or uncertain at all about this interaction and visit. He felt like she was enjoying herself way too much. Theo led the way around the house and through the little entrance to the garden. He enjoyed the plants that his mother took the time to tend. Sometimes he would help her with them and had even planted a few of them himself. He really liked seeing things grow and flourish under his care. “This is your family’s garden?” Melisa asked, pulling his thoughts back to the present.
She had red hair; it was a dark color that bordered on brown. He found it an unusual shade of color for hair, pinned up in detailed braids that wound around themselves and made her look even more set apart and fancy. He knew he shouldn’t judge someone on their appearance, but it was hard not to.
“Yes, it is. My mother’s to be exact. She loves her plants. Does your family have a garden?” He figured it was a good place to start a conversation.
“We don’t, not yet. Since we just moved, Father still hasn’t purchased a house that we like. I’m not sure if we will have a garden, or if we do, we will have to pay someone to care for it. My mother doesn’t like caring for plants, and I certainly don’t care for it myself.”
“Oh? Why not?” Theo wasn’t about to tell her that he loved plants. He knew enough to know she would change her answer faster than he could follow, just because she wanted to impress him. Already, he spotted a bit of doubt in her eyes at his reaction.
“I don’t like the way it makes my hands feel, and the thorns on some plants … I don’t know, I would much prefer to be indoors. Besides, it’s a gardener’s job to take care of the gardens. What about you?”
“I actually love plants. They are so vibrant and such a nice way to pass a sunny day. It is a shame you do not like them.”
“I could get used to it. I mean, perhaps I have just never tended a garden in the right company.”
“Hmm.” Theo wasn’t sure what to say to that. He expected such a response from someone trying to impress him, but he never knew what to do with it. “What are some of your other hobbies?”
“I … I enjoy entertaining people, and occasionally, I like to make samplers.”
“I see.” Theo smiled. He could already tell that he and Melisa had very little in common, if anything. It was better for him to be honest with her about exactly who he was, to deter her from pursuing anything with him through his parents. They were always so accommodating as long as a young woman and her family expressed interest. “Do you like animals much? Or long walks in the woods? What about reading?”
“I am not sure. What sorts of animals?” More doubt was gathering in her expression. It was always around this point that the young ladies he visited with started to really consider how much they could compromise with. They started to think about whether they could spend time with animals and long afternoons reading books or taking walks in the woods.
“All sorts of animals, really, Cows, horses, the little animals. If I were to marry, my wife would have to work hard on the farm, maybe even help me muck out the stalls. I love being outdoors. There have been times when I’ve considered starting a ranch. I think that would be quite the adventure, don’t you?”
“Oh, I … I’m not sure …” Melisa grew rather quiet as Theo turned the corner and started back down the walkway toward the house. He did not want to cause Melisa to feel too uncomfortable; he just wanted to make it sufficiently clear that they would not be a good match together. When they went back into the house and sat in the parlor, he caught his mother’s disapproving look. She had probably hoped that he would stay outside with Melisa longer. And she probably had noticed Melissa’s uncertain countenance.
Theo shrugged and offered a playful smile. At least he could say he’d tried and done what he could, to be honest. It wasn’t his fault that Melisa didn’t want anything to do with his interests or passions. He kept hoping that one day, he would enjoy one of these visits, but that was not looking like it would be happening anytime soon.
He listened to the conversation between his father and Mr. Stevens and tried not to pay too much attention to how uncomfortable Melisa seemed sitting on the edge of her seat with her back as straight as a board. He would have to figure out a solution to make sure these visits stopped happening. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could entertain guests like Melisa, and he felt bad putting these girls through so much discomfort.
Some people actually had a hope of having a relationship that was fulfilling and overflowing with love, but he was starting to think he wasn’t one of them. He felt as if he would never be able to find a woman who he was certain had no interest in his wealth and position. His mother wasn’t ready to accept that, but he was ready to accept it and move on.
His mind traveled to Colorado and the stories he’d heard of the wild west. He’d been thinking about that more and more these days. He wondered if the many stories and rumors were true about this wild west and the supposed opportunities to be found there. He wondered if it really was the land of opportunity that he was starting to think existed.
Chloe wiped her forehead as she stirred the porridge over the stove. She was preparing breakfast for the children, who were being a bit more out of control than normal. A shrill scream made her stiffen. She recognized Eliza’s voice. Benny’s yelling soon followed his sister’s distressed sounds. Chloe turned off the fire under the porridge and rushed toward the sound.
When she arrived in the hallway where the tousle was taking place, she immediately saw she was too late. Mrs. Weston was standing there, a doll in her hand and an angry expression on her face as she scolded the children. Eliza was sobbing, and Benny’s lip trembled. As soon as Mrs. Weston realized that Chloe was there, her anger turned to Chloe.
“What on earth were you doing? You are supposed to be watching them! That is what we pay you for!” The woman was only a few years older than Chloe, and yet she always acted as if she were perfect and knew exactly what was going on. She had no problem scolding Chloe, and Chloe always felt as if she didn’t really know what it was like to take care of her children and household all alone for a few coins and a hard mattress under the stairs.
“I … I was making porridge …”
“Is that an excuse not to do your job well? You should be able to make food and watch them at the same time. You should keep them close to you or pay attention.”
Chloe shook her head and opened and closed her mouth, but then kept her words of defense to herself. She honestly didn’t know how Mrs. Weston thought it was possible for her to cook, clean, and watch all her children without there ever being an incident between them.
“I didn’t mean to neglect to watch them. They seemed like they were getting along, and it just happened.” Chloe wished that when these things happened, Mrs. Weston would try to understand or work with her to improve things, but she never did.
“You are so full of excuses! You know, as soon as I find someone who can do a proper job, that is the end for you. You don’t even realize what a favor I have done you by giving you a job here. You are always slacking and don’t take it seriously. I don’t know why I put up with it as much as I do. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Chloe knew that Mrs. Weston was overreacting and was probably upset by hearing the children cry, but even so, the words stung.
“It’s no wonder your own mother didn’t want you. You can’t do anything right. Take them and try to keep them quiet!” Mrs. Weston motioned to the children, then stalked down the hall, leaving Chloe there fighting tears. She hated that her emotions were so affected by Mrs. Weston. She didn’t mean to take the words to heart, but they stabbed into her soul, making her want to wither up right there and never look at the Weston children again.
She motioned for Eliza and Benny to follow her back to the kitchen.
“Let’s eat,” she said quietly. She could tell the children were repentant for their fight. They, too, had been hurt by their mother’s harsh words. Their little sniffles and hunched shoulders told her that they had received some unkind words themselves. She didn’t hold it against them. They were young and often neglected by their parents. While on the one hand, Chloe had always wished to have a family; on the other hand, she could see that families also had troubles, like the Westons.
For the rest of the day, Chloe went through her chores with little attention. She kept thinking about Mrs. Weston’s angry words. By the time evening came, she was exhausted but also determined. She was done with the long hours, the hard work, her aching arms and legs, and back. She wanted to move on toward something better. She’d been saving for years to go and find her mother. She needed to set out and actually do that. She was afraid. Of course, she was scared of stepping out and doing what she knew she wanted to.
Heading out to Colorado, all alone, with barely enough money for food besides a train ticket was terrifying. She had no idea what would happen, but she needed to do it. She couldn’t take much longer of being around the Westons. What Mrs. Weston had told her wasn’t true; she knew that deep down. She was good at things and did her best, but her best was not always good enough.
By the time the children were in bed and Chloe was done with her jobs after they were asleep, she went to her little room under the stairs. Her eyes landed on the old satchel that had carried all her belongings when she came into the Westons’ home. An old man had gifted it to her when he’d seen her carrying her belongings around in a sack. She still remembered the overwhelming feeling of gratitude when she’d held that satchel in her hands for the first time.
Sitting there on the edge of her small bed in that suffocating space, she made a decision and started gathering her things and folding them, tucking them lovingly into the satchel. This was the end of her time with the Westons. It didn’t take her long to gather everything up. She pulled out the little coffee tin from under her bed and dumped its contents on the bed.
She started counting the coins. She knew exactly how much a train ticket to Colorado cost. By the time she’d counted all the coins, she gave a sigh of relief. She had just enough for a ticket, plus a little extra for food and maybe a place to stay once she arrived. She would go to Colorado and find her mother. She knew what town she’d been headed to. Finally, she might find some answers.
Chloe squared her shoulders and took a deep breath before leaving the little room under the stairs and setting out to find Mrs. Weston. As much as Mrs. Weston enjoyed scolding her when she was apparently in the wrong, Chloe had a feeling that finding someone to do what she did for such little pay was not going to be easy for her.
Mrs. Weston was in the parlor, sitting on one of the parlor chairs and reading a book by candlelight. She would often spend several hours each evening doing this activity. Chloe cleared her throat.
“Mrs. Weston? Can I talk to you for a moment?” Chloe was nervous. She hated confrontation, especially with the Westons. Even though she had already decided that she was leaving, she was starting to feel uncertain about herself.
“Chloe? You’re still up?” Mrs. Weston looked surprised to see her, and even though Chloe never expected her to admit it, she was probably feeling just a tiny bit guilty for all of the mean things she’d said earlier.
“Yes, I really need to speak to you about something.” Chloe tried to imagine what Mrs. Weston would say in reaction to her news. With so many children and expecting another, she probably wouldn’t be happy with the change in her household that would come with Chloe leaving. Then again, maybe Chloe was wrong, and she wouldn’t care one way or another or would see it as a good thing because now she could search for someone more competent as she had said earlier.
“What is it then? I am about to go to bed.” Mrs. Weston’s air of concern was replaced with one of annoyance.
“I am leaving, I mean, not tonight, but in the morning. I’ve decided it is time to move on. I really appreciate everything that you and Mr. Weston have done for me, giving me a job and everything, but I can’t stay here. I am going to find my mother.” Chloe had planned many ways to state her intentions without sounding so bad, but all of them escaped her. Her words tumbled out one after another, not making much sense and sounding much less coherent than she wished to sound.
“What did you just say?” Mrs. Weston looked slightly shocked and as if she was trying to decide how to react and what she should say.
“I said that I can’t work for you anymore. I’m sorry that I couldn’t give you more warning, but I think it will be best for everyone if I move on. Tomorrow, I will be leaving.” The right thing for Mrs. Weston to do would be to pay her for the last few days, but even if she didn’t, Chloe had already been paid for the previous week, and she was determined. She had put up with a lot of scolding, a lot of blame, and a lot of rough work for little compensation.
She was ready to find something better, and start over in a new place, hopefully, reunited with her mother at last.
“Well, I … I mean, what am I supposed to do? Is this because of our slight disagreement earlier today? I didn’t mean half of those things I said. I was just upset. You know that Mr. Weston and I both appreciate you very much, and we need the work that you provide us with. Haven’t we given you what you need? Haven’t we supplied you with a place to stay, an income, and a steady job? This is how you choose to repay us?”
Chloe sighed. She’d hoped that Mrs. Weston wouldn’t take things badly. She’d hoped the Westons would let her go on good terms. Instead, Mrs. Weston was going to do everything she could to make her stay. Chloe understood why she would do that, but it didn’t make it any easier.
“I’m really sorry that it might be hard for you to find someone new, but I can’t work here forever. For a long time, I’ve planned to go and look for my mother. It’s taken me a lot longer than I thought it would to finally have enough to go.” Chloe didn’t know how to communicate to Mrs. Weston how much it meant to her to find her mother.
“You can’t come back. If you leave, there will be no job waiting here for you. Do you really want to give that up to go looking for your mother, a woman who abandoned you and never looked back? Surely you can see how ridiculous that is.” Mrs. Weston’s voice rose, and Chloe started to worry that she might wake the children. Chloe stayed silent for a long moment. She didn’t want to offend Mrs. Weston, but this job was anything but what she would consider a wonderful job.
Mrs. Weston got away with paying her much less than she would have to pay anyone else. Just because she was an orphan with no other options, Mrs. Weston got a good deal. It was time for her to move on, and while Chloe was certain that part of Mrs. Weston was upset that she would have to go through the work of finding someone else, another part of her was most likely upset because she would have to pay more and treat someone else better.
Chloe had no desire to stick around and deal with children who were often mean, fighting, or terribly misbehaved, and with a boss who did not appreciate her and often took advantage of her poor situation.
“I am sorry, Mrs. Weston, but I have already made up my mind. If there is nothing else, I should get to bed.” Chloe took a step back, and when Mrs. Weston said nothing more, she turned and hurried down the hall. She had done it. She’d faced Mrs. Weston, and she had made her decision. She was leaving, and she was going to find her mother. After ten years of wondering what had happened to her last family, to the woman who had left her on the orphanage steps in the rain.
She was hopeful that the reason her mother never came back would make up for the last ten years. Then they could both move on with their lives together. The next day, the train left in the afternoon. She would leave in the morning and see about a train ticket. Usually, the cheaper tickets were sold right before the train left. The idea of having a whole day where she wouldn’t have to hear whining and deal with cooking, cleaning, and fighting, was surreal. She hoped that this wouldn’t be a mistake. Once she left the Westons, it would be forever, no matter what she found in Colorado. On one side, it was scary, and on the other, it was terribly exciting. She was ready for something new. She was ready for something to change.
“Her One-Way Ticket to Joy” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Chloe Everett was once abandoned on the steps of an orphanage by her mother who failed to keep her promise to claim her back. With her last letter in hand, Chloe sets out to discover what happened to her family and why her mother never returned for her. On the train to Colorado, she meets Theo, a chivalrous man that speaks to her heart but represents everything she has learned to avoid; an aristocracy that has always been cruel to her…
Will Chloe dare to let go of her biases and take the leap to real love?
Theo Sanford grew up in a life of privilege, but the thing he has been always missing is the opportunity to do what his heart desires. Determined to get his chance to follow his passion, he sets out west where he comes across a striking young woman who is unlike any other he’s met before. Past experiences taught him to guard his feelings but something about her tells him otherwise…
Could she be what he’s been searching for all these years?
Both Chloe and Theo are at turning points in their lives when they discover new, strong emotions for one another. When a threat from the past comes after them, will they be able to work together to face it or will their enemies manage to drive them apart?
“Her One-Way Ticket to Joy” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.