Mary took a deep breath. Might as well finish her sad tale and be done with it. She wished there was an easier way to tell it, but Jared seemed to understand better than anyone else. Maybe that was why the words flowed out of her so easily. She’d only given Amy the bare bones years ago.
Clearing her throat, she continued. “The train pulled in late that night. Everyone stepped off and moved inside the small station to wait for their luggage. I grabbed my bag and plopped down in the waiting area. The conductor patted my arm, but no one thought to ask if I had a ride. They all assumed someone was coming for me. As did I. But then a porter told me I’d have to wait outside as he closed up for the night.” Mary steeled herself to tell the worst part of the story, the part she had never told anyone. She found herself wanting to hold Jared’s hand while she spoke, but squelched the desire.
Mary closed her eyes as images of that night washed over her. She could still smell the jasmine from bushes near the station, carried to her nostrils by a warm August breeze. The sound of a moth beating against the station’s outside lamppost hummed in her ears. The story tumbled out quicker now, the pain of that long-ago night lacing the words into pictures.
“By the time I realized Aunt Geraldine wasn’t coming to get me, it was nearly eleven. The night air was still fairly warm at that hour, so I wasn’t cold.” She gripped the kitchen chair but felt instead the cool, rough surface of the stone bench outside the depot under her fingertips. “I sat there and tried not to cry. Finally, I thought to read the letter to Aunt Geraldine, hoping it might have a clue as to where she lived. But the envelope was only addressed to Aunt Geraldine. I stood up and moved under the lamppost to read the note from my parents.” She paused, her hand shaking as she picked up her iced tea to wet her parched lips.
“Funny how we humans can remember the tiniest detail of some long ago events. At times I have trouble recalling what I ate for breakfast.” She attempted a smile but gave up as her lips twitched. She avoided Jared’s eyes by closing her own.
“‘Dear Aunt Geraldine,’ the note began. “‘Tonight, we fly to South America, where we will begin the work of bringing God’s Word to the heathen tribes along the Amazon River. Naturally, we cannot take Mary with us and have decided to send her to live with you. We will not be returning to the States for many years and have therefore signed over guardianship of Mary to you. Contact our attorney, Mr. Warren C. Bradford in Philadelphia, to receive the proper documentation. Yours, Ed and Louisa Divers.’”
Mary stopped abruptly. Even now, the power of those words sliced her soul into ribbons.
“They never mentioned their plans to this aunt before? That’s really weird.”
“I know. I didn’t even know my mom had an aunt, as she never talked about Aunt Geraldine at all.”
“She was your mother’s aunt?”
“That’s right. Technically, she was my great-aunt, but I always just called her aunt.”
“How did you find your aunt’s house?”
Jared’s quiet question brought Mary out of her pain-filled memory. She chewed on her bottom lip. “I didn’t, at least, not that night. I fell asleep on the hard bench and awoke with the rising sun, hungry and scared. When the stationmaster came to open up, I asked him if he knew Aunt Geraldine. He didn’t, and he took me to the police station. I waited there while they sorted things out. At least the dispatcher noticed me staring at her muffin and she took me across the street to a diner for a big breakfast.”
Mary smiled for the first time since starting her tale. “That woman talked a mile a minute and had the reddest hair I had ever seen. But I was always grateful to her because she made me forget my predicament for a while. I was sad when I had finished eating, and I had to go sit on yet another bench inside the station. It was nearly noon when a police officer finally took me to my aunt’s house. Which is the house we’re in now.”
Jared shifted in his seat, his blue eyes darkened with what Mary thought was a mixture of pity and concern. She hoped it was more of the latter, as she didn’t want his pity. She had more than enough of that herself.
“How’d you get along with your aunt?”
She blew out a breath. “I’m not sure we ever did get along. We ended up co-existing.” She stared over Jared’s shoulders, recalling the awful daisy wallpaper that had covered the kitchen. “She was in her sixties, never married, and none too pleased to be saddled with me, I can tell you that. She had no interest in raising a child grieving for her parents, but it was either that or send me to an orphanage. She didn’t want to do that.”
“That doesn’t sound like much fun at all.”
“No, not for her and certainly not for me.” Mary traced a bead of perspiration down the side of her iced tea glass. Drained and tired after telling her story to Jared, she would not be watching a dramatic film tonight. Something mindless would better suit her mood.
“She frequently reminded me she was only doing her duty.” She shrugged, trying to brush off the past with one movement of her shoulders. “Aunt Geraldine wrote to the lawyer straightaway, and he came down to explain the situation. Sometimes I wish I had heard what he told her, but she never mentioned it to me and she never brought it up again. She was my legal guardian and she was responsible for me, whether either of us liked it or not.”
Mary pushed back her chair. Enough with the trip down memory lane. “And now you know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say.”
“Can I help you with the dishes?”
“No, I’ve got this.” Mary stacked their plates and carried them to the sink, then loaded them into the dishwasher. “But if you want to stick around and watch a movie, you’re more than welcome.”
“That depends on the movie.” Jared carried the pasta bowl over to the counter.
“In the mood I’m in, it will be something with lots of action and explosions.”
Jared patted her shoulder. “Count me in.”
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.