As Suzanna’s time grows closer, Gerald finds excuses to stay in the cabin with her, springing to her side whenever she grimaces in discomfort, looking for reasons to keep her indoors and away from any icy patches on the ground outside.
At first, Suzanna finds all the attention endearing, but then it begins to be aggravating. When Gerald offers to screen off part of the porch so she can use the chamber pot there instead of going to the outhouse, she puts her foot down.
She’s just opened the front door of the cabin when he makes the suggestion. She closes it against the cold and turns back into the room, trying to keep the exasperation out of her voice. “I am perfectly capable of making the short trip out the door and around back to the outhouse.”
“Then tell me when you need to visit it and I’ll go with you.” He moves toward her and lifts his coat from the peg on the wall.
She puts her hands on her hips. “I don’t need an escort. I am not a child.”
“But you’re with child and I don’t want anything to happen.”
“Nothing’s going to happen.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Gerald—” She gives him a long look, then crosses the room and sinks into her chair, her coat billowing around her. “I know you love me, but this anxiety seems out of proportion to the event.”
He puts his hat on his head. “I think it’s exactly proportionate. You’re going to have a child any day now.”
“Women have children every day of the year,” she says. “It’s not an abnormal occurrence.”
“I would hope not. It’s a good deal of work. “ She shifts in her chair and grimaces. “Ouch.” She unbuttons the heavy wool coat and massages the top of her belly.
Gerald frowns anxiously, but Suzanna only chuckles. “Baby just wants to let you know that he’s almost as anxious to get this over with as you are.”
Gerald grins. “She is, is she?”
“I’m not getting into a discussion about whether it’s a boy or a girl.” Suzanna shifts slightly in her seat. “I’ll even put off going to the outhouse to find out why you’re so anxious.” She crosses her hands over her belly. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
He turns his head away.
“My mother had a rough time.”
“With my brother.”
“I didn’t know you have a—”
“I don’t.” He gives her a bleak look, then turns back to the fire. “They both died.”
She leans forward, her hand reaching for him, but he shakes his head as if the memory is still too fresh for comfort. “She also had no woman to help her,” he says.
“But you were in Missouri.”
“There was no one nearby.” He looks at the bed, then the window. “No one to help an Irish servant girl who’d made decisions of which they didn’t approve.”
She opens her mouth to ask for more details, but there’s something about the set of his shoulders that says he isn’t going to discuss it, no matter how hard she probes.
He turns back to her. “So I worry.” He shakes his head. “Part of me is sure that you and the child will be fine.” Mischief glints in his eyes. “Whatever its gender.” Then he grimaces. “But another part of me is gripped with fear. Especially—” He looks toward the window again. “Especially since the news about Encarnación. Her death reminds me just how fragile life is, how quickly we can lose those we love.” His shoulders tighten. The hat brim shades his eyes. “I couldn’t bear it the way Ramón does. So quietly. I think I’d go mad.”
Suzanna’s hand rubs her belly. “It does make you realize how tenuous life can be.” She takes a deep breath. “I wish Encarnación was here. It would be less daunting to face childbirth with her at my side.” Her voice trembles. “And I miss her so much.” There’s a long silence, then she takes a shaky breath and steadies her voice. “But I have you here. And Ramón is here to help you. And I’m young and strong.”
Gerald nods reluctantly. “My mother was in her late thirties,” he admits. “She was really too old to have a child. And she was worn down with work and—”
Suzanna waits for more, but he’s silent again, staring at the window.
“I am young,” she repeats. “And strong. I don’t anticipate any problems.” She reaches for him again, and this time he leans forward and takes her hand. “You shouldn’t either,” she says gently.
He shifts and nods reluctantly. “I’ll try. But I still think I should accompany you to the outhouse.” His gray eyes brighten. “And I could put ashes on the path to soften the ice.”
She makes a small face. “Well, I suppose you going with me is better than using the chamber pot on the porch,” she says drily. “Though you may be sorry you offered when you realize just how often I need to go outside these days!”
He laughs and squeezes her hand.
“Speaking of whether it’s a boy or a girl—” she says.
“If it’s a girl, I’d like to name her after my father’s mother, Alma.”
Suzanna glances toward the kitchen, where Ramón is rattling dishes, and tugs on Gerald’s hand, to move him closer. He kneels beside her and pushes his hat off his forehead to look into her face. “Yes?”
“And Encarnación,” she says.
“Alma Encarnación Locke.” He smiles as he nods. “It’s a good name.”
“You don’t mind that there will be no name from your family’s side?”
He shakes his head. “We’ll save my family names for the next child,” he says. “Or if it’s a boy. But if it’s a girl, then her name will honor a woman who’s part of our family in spirit, if not in blood.”
Tears well in Suzanna’s eyes. “It’s hard for me to think of her as gone. It seems as if she’s still there in Taos, training someone to run my father’s house. Preparing to join us.” She takes a deep, shuddering breath. “And yet, when I remember that she is gone, the pain seems unbearable.”
He squeezes her hand and stands up. “I know,” he says. “There are times when I think of my own mother, who I saw on her deathbed, and I still can’t believe that she’s not waiting for me somewhere in Missouri, ready to tell me to wash my hands and wipe the mud off my feet before I step through the door.”
“As Encarnación did me, although she was only a few years older than I.” Suzanna chuckles as she brushes the wetness from her cheeks. She pushes herself out of her seat. “And now I really need to use the outhouse.”
He grins, flattens his hat on his head, and crooks an elbow in her direction. “At your service, madam,” he says.
You’ve just read the twelfth chapter of the forthcoming novel Not My Father’s House by Loretta Miles Tollefson. You can order it now from your favorite bookstore or online retailer, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Books2Read.