by Allison Knight
Kate hated Christmas. Three long years ago, a week before Christmas, she’d wished her fiancé Godspeed and sent him off to war. Last year, a few days before the holiday, her father had taken ill and joined her mother who had died before Kate had reached her second birthday.
Nor had she heard from Philip. Almost two years had passed since she’d received a letter. She had no choice but to move into Aunt Sophia’s house. Now that the War Between the States was over, everyone seemed happier.
However, it mattered not how she felt or why. Today she had too much to do. Aunt Sophia made that clear only this morning when she announced the house had to be immaculate for her soiree. Kate wondered if Aunt Sophia even knew what a soiree was, because no one in Albany, New York, held soirees.
She gazed at the pile of split logs nestled in the snow. They had to be stacked beside the fireplaces or the women would freeze to death in their ball gowns. She grabbed the hem of her long skirt and huddled into her woolen cloak. The sooner she got the wood inside the faster she’d get warm.
As she toted wood into the house, she grimaced. Aunt Sophia had declared she could attend this evening’s entertainment, but Kate had nothing to wear.
Sophia’s youngest daughter had offered one of her own gowns, but the two women were too different in size for the gown to fit properly. No, Kate wouldn’t be attending this party.
After lunch, she grabbed her scrub brush and pail of water. The foyer floor needed a good cleaning then she could retreat to the kitchen to help cook.
Long before the guests arrived, she’d prepare some warm soup, escape to her room and read one of her penny novels.
With part of the floor cleaned, she leaned back to rest. She threw the brush into the pail and rubbed the perspiration from her forehead. Much to her disgust, some hair from her bun had loosened. She twisted the strand back into the knot at the back of her head.
It reminded her of the times Philip had run his hands through her long curls. Now there was no time to fix her hair into curls. Nor was there any need, for she had no place to go.
She sighed and her heart felt heavy. This war had robbed so many women of their men. Of course, she and Philip never had the chance to marry. Perhaps if they had, her life would be different now.
With no effort at all, she could still imagine his smiling face, hear his deep laugh, picture his twinkling eyes as he described the escapades of the young soldiers under his command. She wondered if he’d known of her father’s death or if, because she was alone, she’d had to move to Aunt Sophia’s house.
“Oh, Philip, I miss you so,” she whispered and whisked the moisture from her eyes with her apron.
This won’t do, she told herself and grabbed for the scrub brush. Mooning over what might have been accomplished nothing.
She had almost finished when the front door knocker sounded. With nothing but a dirt path to the porch, whoever sought entrance would track mud and slush across the floor she’d just cleaned. Some unladylike words came to mind.
She looked a sight, certainly in no condition to admit her aunt’s caller. With escape her only option, she wiped at her damp hands, grabbed her pail, and ran for the kitchen. Polly was close at hand and could answer the door.
“I’ve nearly finished, but there’s a visitor at the door,” she said, when Cook glanced up from a pot of cinnamon apples with a questioning look. “I’ll have to finish later. Now, what can I do to help you?” Kate asked, putting away the brush and pail she’d emptied off the back porch.
“You don’t have time to help anyone,” Polly announced from the door to the kitchen. “The visitor wants to see you.”
A swell of fear clogged Kate’s throat. She knew it had to be someone coming to tell her where and how Philip had died. She’d rather the message go to another in the family. Of course, she was being cowardly, but with her afternoon memories still so fresh in her mind, hearing about Philip now would hurt all the more.
“Can you ask the visitor to leave a message?” Kate asked.
“No I can’t. He is demanding to speak to you. I told him to wait in the parlor. But you’d best tidy up a bit.” Polly giggled. “You look like a scullery maid.” She trotted away before Kate could object.
“Go on, child.” Cook nodded toward the back stairs.
Kate took an inordinate amount of time to repair her appearance. She didn’t want to do this, but when her aunt’s voice echoed through the stairwell, Kate knew she could delay no longer.
When she reached the main floor her aunt was waiting.
“In the parlor.” Aunt Sophia looked unhappy.
With her heart in her mouth, her steps dragging, she made her way to the parlor, now adorned in all its Christmas finery.
A tall man stood at the window, his face hidden in the afternoon shadows.
“I couldn’t find you. Why are you here?” he asked.
“Oh, Philip, is it really you?” She hurried forward and reached up to touch his face. “I thought you had died. I didn’t hear from you forever and then Father passed on. I had no other place to go.”
“I thought you had married someone else.”
“Only you,” she whispered.
“Then how does a Christmas wedding sound?” he asked as he pulled her into his arms.
“Like a miracle,” Kate said and laid her head against his shoulder. “A Christmas miracle.”
About the Author: Allison read a book she didn’t like. Despite occasional digs from her children, she wrote a romance. A retired teacher, she and her husband moved to the Deep South and when she isn’t watching for hurricanes, she creates heroes and heroines, then finds ways to make their lives miserable. http://www.allisonknight.com/