“I have arranged for my friend and colleague, Mister….”
Piper let out a massive groan as her father, Albert Miles, began once again trying to set her up with another eligible suitor.
“No.” Piper shook her head firmly, her untamable red curls bouncing everywhere as she did so. “I will not sit through even one more dinner where you parade in front of your friends and beg them to marry me.”
“Now, now, who said anything about marriage?” Albert asked, his bold blue eyes widening innocently.
Piper’s delicate hands floated to her hairline as she thought suddenly of how her head had begun to ache. “We cannot keep having this same disagreement, Father.”
“Then you should conclude that not only do I know what is best for you, my daughter, but that I am also trying to secure your future happiness. If you could just see that when I bring my colleagues and friends to the house, I am only trying to ensure that you will make a blessed match, then we should both feel much better.” Albert lifted one of his heavy hands to his forehead and began massaging his temples as he spoke.
“You’re both upsetting each other,” Caroline, Piper’s mother, interjected. She was sitting in a finely-crafted wooden chair very near the fire. There was a piece of embroidery in her lap that she’d been working on all week. Piper knew her mother was fully engaged in this conversation, but she never took sides. Not once had she thrown her support behind Piper, but at least she hadn’t taken her father’s side either.
Piper stood and began to pace back and forth across the drawing room. “The way I see it, I don’t want to tie myself to a husband yet. I’m only twenty years old. I know many women get married at this age, or even earlier, but I’m not ready to be someone’s wife or even a mother, and I don’t want….”
“You don’t want to be married?” Albert asked incredulously, now standing as well.
Piper stopped walking and looked at her father darkly, narrowing her eyes. “I never said that. It’s just that….” She paused as she tried to think of a way to articulate her feelings. “I don’t want to be married yet. I’d like to have my own life first.” She strode back across the room toward her father and gripped his hands. “I’ve had a dream. I mean, I keep having a dream. It’s the same one over and over. I can’t always make out the details, but I’m sitting in a dress shop in the dream, sewing a fine gown for someone.”
Albert’s eyes widened once more, but this time they showed his fear. “You should not think too much about your dreams.” He pulled his hands out of Piper’s grasp. “You know that dreams do not always mean what you think they mean. They are taboo. You could be thinking you are in a dress shop, but the devil could really be tempting you to steal from your family.”
Kathleen, Piper’s aunt, who was currently visiting with the family for a brief period, had been strangely silent up until this point. Her face was hidden by the newspaper she was reading, but the sound was unmistakable when she chortled. Piper spun toward her. “What is it, Aunt Kathleen?”
Aunt Kathleen, who looked like her older brother, Piper’s father, lowered her newspaper and gave her brother a stern look. “Give the child a break, Albert. She doesn’t want to get married today. I hardly see that’s any cause to raise such a commotion.”
“But she’s having dreams,” Albert returned, saying the word “dreams” as though it were full of poison.
Kathleen laughed and snapped closed her paper altogether. “Oh, Albert, you astound me! Heaven forbid a woman should want more out of her life than to be forced to marry a man she doesn’t love or even find attractive.”
“But Mister…” Albert began, and Kathleen waved his comment off dismissively.
“I’m sure Mr. so and so is a perfectly nice gentleman, but look at your daughter. She is begging you to let her pursue a different avenue in life. Do you really mean to tell me you won’t even listen to what she has to say?” Kathleen arched her left eyebrow as though she were appraising her older brother. Piper glanced between the two of them. Even though they were born to the same parents, they were remarkably different people. Kathleen was much younger than Albert, as he was sixty-six, and she was only fifty.
Perhaps that’s the difference. Maybe Aunt Kathleen can see and understand what I’m going through because she is younger.
But that didn’t explain why her father was muttering to himself. As a powerful attorney in the city, Albert Miles was known for crafting his arguments carefully and speaking directly. Now, Piper knew as she watched his lips move, without any words coming out, that he was preparing to deliver something that would not only shock and amaze the whole room but likely put both Aunt Kathleen and Piper in their places.
Albert swung both hands behind his back. He lifted his head and began to slowly pace the length of the room. Piper moved aside to cede her position to her father. She leaned on the mantelpiece, careful to keep her skirts out of the hearth.
Here it comes.
“I have listened to you ladies time and again belittle my ideas on the state of matrimony.” He paused and motioned toward her. “As this concerns my youngest daughter, I believe it is my right and privilege to speak my mind on such matters.”
“No one ever said you couldn’t speak your mind, Father,” Piper interrupted, unable to stand still any longer. “But what about my mind? What about what I want?”
“You don’t know what you want,” Albert accused, turning on her. “You think you can just follow your dreams for the rest of your life? Do you think that someday, when you decide you feel like it, you can just snap your fingers, and a suitable man will come running? That’s not how these things work. We must make plans and preparations. You cannot trust that the rest of your life will play out as it might in some fairy story.” He huffed indignantly as he finished his short speech. Then, he sat pompously in a chair next to her mother.
But for Piper, her father’s word was not final. She motioned toward the stack of books on the shelf. “I never said I wanted my life to be like something from a novel.” She walked toward her father and sank onto her knees in front of him. “All I’m asking…all I’m begging of you, Father, is that you give me some time. Let me visit with the dressmaker in town tomorrow. I could perhaps secure a position as her apprentice. If she accepts me and I do well in the posting, we can resume this conversation about marriage.”
“No,” Albert said stiffly, puckering his lips together as if that were the last thing he meant to say on the matter.
“But, Father, please,” Piper implored him, her voice full of hope.
He will take pity on me…he will. He cannot condemn me to a life I do not want just because he is worried for my future.
Albert eyed her coolly, and for a moment, Piper was sure he would crumble. His gaze was steady as his blue eyes bored into her green ones, and he held the pose for much longer than seemed necessary. At length, her father shook his head and announced, “Perhaps, once you are wed, your husband will wish to entertain your ideas concerning a future as a dressmaker, but that is for him to decide.”
“Why should some man I don’t even know yet get to determine my future?” Piper inquired, allowing her rage to heat her words. She stood abruptly and cast a long look at her father. “This shall not be. I will not marry someone and let him make all my decisions.”
“Yes,” Albert replied stoutly, “you will.”
With that, Piper could take no more. She hurried from the room and raced up the stairs. Her bedchambers, which were at the end of the hall, furthest from the staircase, seemed impossibly far away, but she dashed toward them.
Piper hung her head in misery once she was safely ensconced in her own familiar bedroom. She might have cried if she hadn’t been so overcome with fury.
Why must I live my life based on my father’s wishes? Why can’t I have one thing for myself before I am forced to marry?
Two soft taps on the door behind Piper startled her slightly. She rubbed her palms together, as they had started to tingle. “Who is it?” Piper didn’t usually ask who was pecking on her door before granting them admittance, but as she was so irritated by her father, she did not wish to open the door and find him standing there, ready to press his point about marriage even further.
“It’s Aunt Kathleen,” a soft voice said clearly.
Piper stood back and opened the door to let her aunt into the room. Piper’s room was rather spacious, as aside from her bed, writing desk, bureau, and vanity, she also had a small love seat positioned in the corner near the window. It was on the blue couch that Piper normally sat when she stared dreamily out the window at the streets below, or lost herself in a good book. As Kathleen entered the room, Piper motioned for her to take a seat on the blue couch. Piper pulled the chair away from the writing desk and slumped down into it, her shoulders curving in as she did.
“My dear niece,” Aunt Kathleen murmured, leaning forward in her seat so she could pat Piper’s hand. “Take heart. Your father likes to pontificate on matters, but he will never force you to do something you do not wish to do.”
Piper snorted. “I think you may have misunderstood the situation. This is not the first time my father and I have had a disagreement about my future.”
“But it was the first time you mentioned your dream of becoming a dressmaker, wasn’t it?” Kathleen asked, but she said the question much more like a statement.
Piper nodded. “How did you know?”
Kathleen smiled warmly at her. “I could tell by how your face lit up when you spoke of your recurring dream.” She reclined a little onto the blue sofa and creased the newspaper with her fingertips. Piper was a little surprised her aunt had brought the paper with her, as usually all newspapers were kept in the drawing room so everyone might take a turn reading them.
Kathleen continued speaking. “The thing about dreams, Piper, is that they are hard to interpret. I know your father means well, but he is always inclined to see the worst in every situation. It is something his occupation has drilled into him. You - ” she motioned toward Piper. “You dream of becoming a dressmaker, so you think that means you should find a job in a dress shop. Your father…well…you heard what he thinks.” Aunt Kathleen rolled her eyes and sighed heavily.
“And what do you think, Auntie?” Piper asked, eager to know what Aunt Kathleen was trying to say about the matter.
“Do you know,” Aunt Kathleen said, sitting forward, placing her elbow on her knee and her chin on her hand, “I once found my destiny by reading a newspaper?” Piper was a little startled by the change of subject.
“Oh?” she asked, not sure what else to say.
Aunt Kathleen nodded enthusiastically. She kept one hand still propped under her chin, but the other hand holding the newspaper twitched. “Go on,” she said encouragingly. “Take it.”
Uncertainly, Piper reached forward and snatched the newspaper from her aunt’s fingertips. She held the paper up to see the news story her aunt had been reading. Then, a small moan fell from her lips. “The Matrimonial Monthly? Not you too, Aunt Kathleen. I thought you followed me up here to tell me to follow my dreams.” Piper frowned as she glanced down at the pages of advertisements written by men and women who were seeking spouses. Her father, and even her older brother, had such a wealth of friends that Piper never had to read the marriage proposal section of the newspaper before, but she did know what it was all about as two of her friends had left Baltimore after striking up correspondence courtships with men who lived out west.
“Don’t be so sure you know all there is to know about these situations,” Aunt Kathleen said, a pleased smile on her face.
Piper folded the paper and tried to hand it back to her aunt. “I appreciate your help, I think, but I don’t want to get married yet.”
Aunt Kathleen shook her head and held up her hand as if to refuse the return of the newspaper. “Did your father ever tell you that I met my husband, Frederick, through one of these advertisements?”
Piper’s mouth popped open in astonishment. “No.”
Aunt Kathleen smiled gently. “You never wondered why I lived all the way out in Arizona, and I only came to visit your family every year or so?”
“Well…” As she thought over the matter for a moment, Piper said, “I guess I never thought it was odd, as you’ve been married my whole life, and I’ve always just known you as my Aunt Kathleen, who lives in Arizona.”
Kathleen laughed. Her eyes were like her brother’s, big and blue, but where Piper’s father’s expression was usually hard or determined, Kathleen’s was much softer. “I suppose all that is true, and perhaps it makes no difference how I found my wonderful husband. But, as I was listening to the argument you were having with your father tonight, it struck me that you were fighting so hard against your father because he was taking away your freedom of choice.”
“What are you saying?” Piper questioned, looking down at the newspaper she still held loosely in her fingertips. “Do you think if I read these advertisements and found a man I liked, it would be like choosing my own husband?”
Aunt Kathleen chuckled now in earnest. “I don’t think it would be like choosing your own husband, I think you would be doing just that.”
With that, she stood up and ran a hand over her skirts. “But what if I make the wrong choice?” Piper asked, watching her aunt move toward the doorway.
Aunt Kathleen’s expression turned sympathetic as she tipped her head thoughtfully to the side. “I’m not sure you can. Just read over the paper and see if anything in it catches your eye.”
She left Piper all alone then, shutting the door softly behind her. Piper felt a little dazed. When she’d fled to her room just moments before, she had been flooded with feelings of anger and despair. But now, Piper suddenly felt powerful, holding the copy of the Ruggles Tribune in her hands.
Jonathan Lowe was in the place where he was happiest in the whole world. It was early on Sunday morning, and he was standing behind the pulpit made of a fine piece of juniper pine. Even though the wooden fixture had been handcrafted more than a year ago, every time Jonathan stood behind it, as he did now, he was sure he could smell the woodsy odor that accompanied the piece. While the pulpit and the pews in which the congregation sat now were all entirely constructed of wood, almost every other fixture inside St. Francis’s Church, where Jonathan served as the priest, was made of materials that were easier to procure here in Ruggles, Arizona.
His eyes roamed over the new stained-glass windows that had just been installed a week prior. The splashes of cool blue mingled lightly with the daring red, and the yellow tone disappeared as the sunlight brought the riot of colors to life on the first and second rows of pews. The congregants who were sitting in those spaces had no idea that the sun was blessing them by bathing their features in the glow of the stained glass, but as Jonathan looked at them, he smiled beatifically, appreciating all God’s miracles, including these people who had come to listen to his sermon.
The church was nearly full to capacity, which was a testament to God's work in this community, as Ruggles was not a very large city. Seeing so many fine people packed into the pews this morning made Jonathan feel almost buoyant as he rejoiced at their presence.
They are where they should be, listening to the word of God. Singing his praises. Joining in fine Christian fellowship with their neighbors.
Jonathan turned in his Bible to the book of Genesis. Even though he had his sermon and the verses he intended to share with the parishioners memorized, he always liked to leave the good book open.
He lifted his voice so that the people in the back might be able to hear him, and he said, “In the beginning, God created the sun and the moon. He finely crafted each twinkling star above. He gave each of us a place to call home. Then, he continued working.” Jonathan paused as he prepared to recite the verse from Genesis, chapter one: "So, God created man in his own image, male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'"
Jonathan paused once more and peered into the faces of several of his congregants. A young couple was sitting in the front pew. They were clutching hands, and Jonathan thought that fine, as he’d had the pleasure of performing their marriage ceremony just a few weeks before. Sitting three rows behind the newlyweds, he spotted his father, Steven, who had been the priest in a neighboring town for many years but had retired recently as he had become exhausted in his old age. Next to Steven Lowe sat one of the church elders, Mr. Smythe. He gave Jonathan an encouraging nod.
“And so, we must remember, my friends, that God created all this - ” he swept his hands broadly around the church - “so we might continue to live on this earth, making each day more pleasant than the last. We should work together with our neighbors, friends, and family members to exalt God and to praise the glory of his works.”
The choir, led by Mr. Jenkins, began to hum softly. As Jonathan was nearing the end of his sermon, it had been prearranged that they should begin making their music ever so slightly to give power to Jonathan’s final words. “Our God created the heavens and the earth,” Jonathan said, over the increasing volume of the choir’s humming, “He blessed us with our lives, and he expects us to use each day wisely, making the most of the time we have here to love one another!”
The choir began to sing now, raising their voices in a sweet melody, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God Almighty, early in the morning….”
As the choir performed their final song, Jonathan walked the length of the aisle, holding his head high, delighting in the joyous music that the choir was creating. He moved toward the narthex and walked right out of the building, using a heavy stone to prop open the doors that were made of cactus spines and clay. He stood there, allowing the heavenly Arizona sunshine to bake through his long white robe, and he waited for the choir to finish their anthem so that the congregants might spill forth from the church and bid him their farewells.
While he might have enjoyed being behind the pulpit and delivering his sermon more than any other activity on earth, greeting his congregants as they exited the house of worship came in as a close second. Jonathan bounced on the balls of his feet as he waited excitedly for the townsfolk to emerge.
Some of the smaller children snuck out of the sanctuary first. Instead of racing toward him, one little girl took off down the steps, her yellow pigtails flying in the breeze. She yelled over her shoulder, in the direction of a young boy who was already tugging at the collar of his Sunday shirt, “You’ll never catch me!”
Jonathan laughed as he watched the kids race around underneath the lemon tree that stood looming between the church and the rectory. It was an odd place for the tree to grow, but it had been standing there before the church or his fine little home were built, and Jonathan saw no need to cut down something that provided such splendid fruit and also served to shade the folks as they came out of the church.
“Father Jonathan,” Mr. Markward said brightly, extending his hand for a shake. Jonathan grasped Mr. Markward’s hand and pumped it up and down.
“So glad you could make it today,” Jonathan told his congregant. “I know it would be a good day to be out with the cattle, but I appreciate you making the time to come to church.”
Mr. Markward chuckled. “I wouldn’t miss one of your services for all the cattle in the world. My missus,” he nodded over his shoulder at his wife, speaking to another couple a few yards away, “spends all week talking about Father Jonathan. She can recite your sermons word-for-word, I tell you.”
Jonathan blushed and dropped the firm hold he had on Mr. Markward’s hand.
“That’s nothing,” Mr. Hada commented as he came to stand next to Mr. Markward. He leaned in as though he intended to share secrets with the two gentlemen. He whispered conspiratorially, “My eldest daughter’s got a bit of a crush on you, Father Jonathan. His wife - ” he wagged his thumb at Mr. Markward, “might be eager to talk about your sermons all week, but I caught my Elsa primping in front of the looking glass this morning. When I asked her what she was fussing over, she said she wanted to look her best for Father Jonathan.”
Now, Jonathan was sure his face had turned a violent scarlet shade. He embarrassed so easily, even in the best of circumstances, but now he felt almost shameful hearing how the ladies of the town were interested in him for more than his thoughtful speeches and sermons.
This, of course, was nothing new to Jonathan, so he shouldn’t have felt so embarrassed by the matter. He knew he was considered a good-looking young man. People had always told him as much, and he spent time grooming himself so that he would continue looking respectable.
Since he had become the full-time priest at St. Francis’s Church of Ruggles and moved into the rectory, it was every other day or so that a young lady would appear at his door, carrying a slice of pie, or a pot of stew, saying she just wanted to come inside and speak with him for a moment. This was a tricky situation, as Jonathan felt compelled to listen to all his congregants’ worries and spend a great deal of his day praying with them. But it was also awkward to welcome a young lady into his home. He prayed that he would become less attractive to the fairer sex as he aged, but listening to Mr. Markward and Mr. Hada go on and on about his looks, for now, still made him feel a bit ridiculous.
“If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen,” Jonathan said as he started to walk away from the men so he might greet a few of the others who were just exiting through the doorway.
“Wait,” Mr. Hada said, reaching out to touch the sleeve of Jonathan’s robe.
“Yes?” Jonathan asked politely, turning back toward Mr. Hada.
“Well, I was just wondering,” Mr. Hada mumbled, ducking his head a little as he spoke, “You preached today one of the first lessons we learned in Genesis. You told us that God wants there to be a union between a man and his wife.”
“I did,” Jonathan agreed, nodding his head in assent.
“Then, I guess I don’t understand. How can you speak so strongly on such a subject but never intend to take a wife of your own?” Mr. Hada finished, and as he did, Mr. Markward laughed broadly.
“You can’t ask a priest something like that,” Mr. Markward chuckled, holding his abdomen as he rocked back and forth.
“I don’t mean any offense, Father Jonathan. It’s just that watching my Elsa twirl in front of the mirror this morning got me thinking, and….” Mr. Hada began.
Mr. Markward cut off his thought with another barking laugh. “And you just thought you’d see if Father Jonathan had any interest in marrying your girl?”
Mr. Hada shrugged and looked apologetically at Jonathan as though he’d meant to ask the question, but he was sorry if it made things difficult. Jonathan put up his hand in a peaceful way and quiet Mr. Markward. “I understand your question, Mr. Hada, and I know it can be difficult for people outside of the clergy to understand.”
“Your father was married. He and your mother…well,” Mr. Hada started to explain himself once more, but Jonathan shook his head.
“I have been called to the serve the Lord, just as my father before me. He chose to embrace his life in one way, but I intend to live my life differently. I do not wish to take a wife, as I want to focus on my true destiny,” Jonathan explained easily, the words pouring from his lips as he shared the truth he knew in his heart.
“But then you’ll never be married? You’ll never know what it is to fall in love?” Mr. Markward asked, and the change in his tone struck a chord with Jonathan. He had been so full of mirth just a moment before, but now, he was stymied by Jonathan’s answers.
Jonathan nodded stoically. “I feel the love of Jesus Christ, my savior, in my heart. I shall not ever need any other.”
1891, The Town of Ruggles, In the Territory of Arizona
There it goes…
Piper watched as the landscape flew by the train window. The lush trees and greenery surrounding her in Baltimore quickly disappeared as one day stretched into the next. As the train chugged from Baltimore to Arizona, she felt impatient each time it stopped at one of the depots.
Just a bit farther…
As the environment became barren and she could only see sand and cacti for miles, Piper finally relaxed into her seat.
Her father had always been generous with her pin money, and while Piper did spend her allowance on frivolities every now and again, over the years, she had saved quite a bit of coin. Days ago, just after Aunt Kathleen left, Piper felt inspired. Suppose she had thought of it while Aunt Kathleen was still in the house. In that case, she might have hopped on the train to Arizona with her aunt, but as the idea didn’t occur to her until the next day, Piper was forced to make this journey alone. But inwardly, she thanked Aunt Kathleen for giving her the courage to embark on such an adventure.
After Aunt Kathleen had pressed the newspaper upon her, pointing out the advertisements in the Matrimonial Monthly, Piper spent the rest of the evening perusing the words. She hadn’t thought much of the ranchers in Colorado or the general store owner in Texas, so she flipped the pages to find the place where jobs were advertised. As this was the Ruggles Gazette, and the Matrimonial Monthly had just been a specially inserted section of the paper, all the advertisements for job openings were more localized. Piper didn’t know the first thing about the Arizona territory, except that her aunt and uncle and her six cousins lived there, some of them with their own families now, but she was intrigued by what she read just the same. Her eyes flew over the minuscule print, searching for a posting that might speak to her. And then it presented itself all at once.
A couple named Robert and Fay Narrow were the proprietors of a shop called Pins and Needles. Their advertisement did not say specifically what they wanted the applicant to be able to do once they arrived at the store, but Piper found the lack of information rather enticing. It spoke to her wild heart as she dared to dream what sort of chores or tasks she might be asked to do should she become the newest employee at the shop.
It had taken Piper less than an hour to pool together every coin she’d ever saved, pack two medium-sized suitcases with as many belongings as she could stuff inside, and head off to the train depot. As Aunt Kathleen was already long gone, her mother and father had returned to their normal activities, with her mother attending a luncheon at the home of one of their neighbors and her father going to work. Piper thought belatedly of how she ought to have at least left her parents a note before moving most of the way across the country. She determined that just as soon as she arrived in Ruggles, she would send them a letter, letting them know she was safe.
It’s been three days since you left. They are probably hysterical.
That much was true, and Piper felt sorry for any grief she might bring her parents by disappearing so suddenly, but her remorse was tempered by her excitement as she neared her destination.
The train slowed gradually, and Piper fidgeted with her lilac-colored hat, adjusting it to fit comfortably on her head. She wished that she had worn something else, as she hadn’t even exited the train, and already, she could feel the sun's warmth beating on her through the glass of the window. Her skin was so fair that she worried that the sun exposure would bring out even more of her freckles, but as there was nothing she could do about it, she decided to embrace matters instead.
As she descended the platform leading to the depot, Piper lifted her head to the sky, feeling the sun warm her cheeks. She sucked in a deep breath of air, surprised at how even that felt different here in Arizona.
It feels more inviting. It seems like even the air is welcoming me to Arizona, enticing me to go on and chase my dreams.
With that, Piper shifted her weight to easily carry both her suitcases, and wandered toward the station. She asked one of the railway workers for directions into town. Then she set off with a smile and a happy wish in her heart.
It didn’t take long for Piper to reach the town center, as the train depot had clearly been constructed first, and the rest of the stores and shops popped up around it. She wandered past the blacksmith’s outpost, as well as a saloon that was painted a garish yellow. Next to that was a mercantile store that featured tall rectangular windows. Piper couldn’t stop herself from peeking in through the glass, looking at the rows and rows of wares the shop owner had chosen to display just for people like Piper who might be inclined to buy such things.
As Piper hurried down the streets, she passed more people than she had imagined she would. Since she had never heard of Ruggles, she had naturally just assumed that it was one of those towns that had yet to become very crowded. She read her father’s newspapers regularly, and she knew the names of a few western towns, but Ruggles was not one of them. She nearly careened into a man who was tying his horse’s reins to a hitching post out front of the barber shop because she was dodging another on the boardwalk.
There are so many men here.
Piper marveled at the people around her, as very few were women. There were some, here and there, but all were on a man's arm, being escorted into one shop or another. Piper suddenly felt truly self-conscious as she realized she was the only single woman wandering down the street on her own. She took a deep breath to steady herself and continued marching forward.
She passed yet another saloon, labeling itself a beer hall, and then, after walking a few more paces, she caught sight of a small sign that read Pins and Needles.
The shop seemed tiny compared to the hulking beer hall next door, but Piper was grateful for the sign out front, white with black script lettering, which stood out prominently. The adobe bricks used to make the structure could easily be seen, and Piper lingered in the doorway, wondering at such construction. She’d never seen anything like it before back in Baltimore. She let one of her suitcases fall to her feet as she reached out a hand to touch the coarse material. It was smoother than she thought, and Piper took that as a good sign.
Things aren’t always what they seem.
Leaving one bag on the ground, Piper used her now free hand to push open the door to the shop. It was just as quaint as it appeared from the outside, as almost every available space was filled with something. Straight ahead of Piper there was a small counter with a cash register sitting on top. To her right, there was a series of long, rectangular-shaped mirrors, three in total. There was a small dais in front of the mirrors, and Piper imagined it was in this spot where the seamstress and tailor conducted their fittings.
Off to the left, there were rows and rows of bolts of fabric, stacked neatly side by side so a person might come into the shop and peruse the material, sliding their finger over the soft pieces of cloth. Next to the fabric, there were spools of ribbons in every color imaginable. Piper was drawn to the soft lavender color that would complement the travel dress and hat she was currently wearing. Carefully so as not to bump into any of the items in the shop with her belongings, Piper picked up her suitcases and walked further into the store. She heard the tinkle of a bell as the door swung shut behind her.
“Hello!” a bright feminine voice called.
“Hello,” Piper returned, spinning around to try and locate the person who might be speaking.
A lady, who seemed to be very near Aunt Kathleen’s age, with brown curly hair tucked neatly under a day cap, appeared from around a corner. Her skin was tan, and her small brown eyes were wide with curiosity. As she greeted Piper once more, a wide smile covered her face. “We did have a customer, didn’t we? I thought I heard that bell. Hello to you, ma’am. I’m Fay Narrow, the owner of this dress shop.”
“Owner?” a man’s voice interrupted. “I thought I owned this place.” A rather tall man with stooped shoulders and a nearly bald head, except for a few wisps of grey hair combed across the dome of his scalp, came from the same open doorway near the back of the shop where Fay stood.
“What’s mine is yours, dearest,” Fay replied, turning her funny little lop-sided smile on the man. “Isn’t that what you always say?”
“I suppose it is,” the man returned, the corners of his mouth tugging upward into a pleasant smile. “Oh,” he continued, glancing toward Piper, “I see we have a customer.” He strode forward, and Fay trailed behind him. “I’m Robert Narrow. This is my wife, Fay. We own this dress shop. She makes all the clothing for the ladies, and I see to the gentlemen.”
“It’s my pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Piper said respectfully, nodding her head at each of them. “My name is Piper Miles. I have traveled a very long way because….” She stopped. Promptly, she dropped both suitcases to her feet and began rummaging in the pocket of her travel coat for the newspaper advertisement she had thought to save. She pulled the creased paper from her pocket. It was worn from the number of times she’d read over it, speculating what position might need to be filled. She tried to smooth it out before thrusting it at them. “I read this advertisement in the paper, and I came to see about the open position.”
Fay and Robert exchanged a curious look. Piper had no idea what the couple was thinking, so she held her breath and waited for them to respond. Fay took the scrap of paper from Piper, read it over once, and shook her head. “Are you sure you meant to apply for a job?”
Piper was utterly confused. “I…I…” she stammered. “Yes, of course, that’s why I’m here.” A thought occurred to her then. She stooped so she could open one of her suitcases. She’d imagined she might need to prove her abilities, so she’d brought evidence of her commitment to her job. Quickly, she pulled out a dress and apron she’d made about a year ago. Then, she removed a few sketches she’d done from where she’d tucked them to keep them safe.
“What’s all this?” Robert asked, gesturing to the mess Piper was making on the floor as she flung other items in her suitcase aside to get at what she wanted.
“This is a day dress I made last year,” Piper explained. “And this is an apron I made for my mother. I meant to give it to her for her birthday this year, but….” Her voice trailed off as she recalled that she had left her mother back in Baltimore, so if she wished for her to ever receive the garment, she would have to find a way to send it back there. “Anyway, ” Piper said, leaving the garments spread wide in the suitcase at her feet, and standing up. “These are some sketches of designs I’d like to try making. Most designers work from patterns, but I figure the patterns must come from somewhere.” She felt like she was rambling as the man and his wife just stood there staring at her, their mouths hanging slightly agape.
“Here,” Piper said, thrusting the sheaf of papers at Mrs. Narrow. “I would appreciate it if you would look over my designs. If you like my work, I would be happy to start doing whatever you need me to do here at the shop.”
Fay took the pages from Piper and began leafing through them. Her eyebrows knitted together in consternation, and Piper couldn’t tell if that was because she was simply looking over the pages carefully or if she was displeased by the work. Hurriedly, still wanting to make the best first impression possible, Piper added, “I can also sew, knit, and embroider.” She lifted her shoulders in a gentle shrug. “I’d be happy to learn how to do everything else.”
Fay gave her a quizzical stare as she handed her husband the small bundle of papers. “Miss Miles, was it?” she asked quietly.
Piper nodded enthusiastically, praying that this was the moment she’d been waiting for throughout the entire journey.
“Miss Miles,” Fay continued, “I only asked if you truly wished to have a job because I was admiring your travel garb.” She gestured to the lilac ensemble Piper wore. She blushed furiously as she realized that she had been in the same garment for more than four days, and she understood now she probably looked a terrible mess.
Mrs. Narrow will turn me away because she doesn’t think I am dressed well enough to represent her business.
Fay must have noticed how Piper’s cheeks became a bright crimson shade because she put out a hand and placed it on Piper’s sleeve. “Don’t fret, dear. I said I was admiring this garment. Why! Just feel that fabric! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so luxurious in all my life.”
Piper’s head popped up at once, as she was astonished by Fay’s remarks. “You mean you like my clothing?” Piper asked meekly.
“Who wouldn’t love to wear something so becoming? The material is rich and supple. The seamstress clearly did an outstanding job designing this garment just for you, and the color compliments your lovely pale skin,” Mrs. Narrow replied. “I only wondered at you wanting a job because we don’t see many people around these parts that can afford such expensive clothing.”
“Oh,” Piper gasped, realization dawning on her. “My father is a prominent attorney in Baltimore. I just left home a few days ago, and I suppose I am lucky to have such fine clothing. But Mrs. Narrow…Mr. Narrow…” Piper lowered her voice and leaned in toward them. “I’m new in town. I came here because I wanted to work for you. I’m not sure if I’ve made a terrible mistake or if….”
“If you’ve wound up exactly where you’re supposed to be?” Fay finished Piper’s thought and gave her one of those crooked smiles.
“Exactly,” Piper responded, relieved that Fay seemed to understand.
“Well,” Robert said, scratching his fingernails along the side of his silver sideburns, “seems to me we’re still in need of someone to fill that opening. What do you think, dearest?”
Fay shook her head. “Not anymore.”
Piper felt her heart plummet. She was sure the Narrows were about to offer her the job. Once again, she dropped her gaze to the floor, staring at the mess still scattered there from her open suitcase.
“Not anymore,” Fay repeated, “because I think our new apprentice just walked into our shop and won us over completely.”
“How about it, Miss Miles?” Robert asked. “You still think you’d like to have a job here with us at Pins and Needles?”
Piper laughed. “I’d love to work here!”
“Well then, young lady, let’s get you all settled,” Fay replied as she crouched to the floor. Piper followed her lead, and in no time, the two women had all of Piper’s belongings shoved back inside her suitcase.
Piper stood then and glanced around the shop. “What should I do first?”
Fay tipped her head back and chuckled in a perky way. “You should take a minute to relax. Since you’re still in your travel garb and you have your suitcases in hand, I’m assuming that you haven’t made any arrangements for your stay here in Ruggles yet.”
Piper shook her head. “I wanted to secure my position here first.”
“I like her enthusiasm,” Robert interjected.
Fay smiled, but then her expression turned to one of concern. “I may be overstepping here, and forgive me if I am, but does that mean you don’t have any place to stay tonight?”
Piper blew out a deep breath. “I used almost every cent I had to buy that train ticket. When I got to town, I was hoping I might find a boarding house or maybe a cheap hotel..”
“Pish-posh,” Fay interrupted, “A young lady like you has no business living in a place like that.”
“That’s right,” Robert added. “You may come and stay with us.”
“I couldn’t possibly impose in such a fashion,” Piper demurred.
“Nonsense,” Robert responded, giving Piper a paternal smile. “What kind of Christian people would we be if we didn’t extend a helping hand to our neighbor in need?”
“Well,” Piper drawled, “when you put it like that.”
Fay clapped her hands twice enthusiastically. “Oh, I’m just delighted. We haven’t had visitors in a dog’s age. Thank you for agreeing to come to stay with us.”
Piper smiled as a wave of relief washed through her body. “It is I who should be thanking the pair of you. I’ve only been in town a short while, but already I’ve found a job and a safe place to stay. I fear I’m going to be in your debt forever. Thank you so very much.”
Robert stooped to pick up Piper’s suitcases. “Dear, why don’t you show Miss Miles around the store? After you give her a quick tour, we can take her back to the house.”
“Perhaps I could write a letter to my parents, letting them know I’ve made it here and secured this respectable position?” Piper asked, her voice rising hopefully.
“Of course,” Fay returned. She waved her hand in the air, motioning for Piper to follow her. As she set off to tour the shop with Fay, Robert disappeared out the front door, carrying both of her suitcases. Piper took a moment to breathe, inhaling the smells of leather, wool, and something that she thought might be fresh linens. “Everything alright?” Fay asked, turning back to see why Piper stopped following her.
“Everything is perfect,” Piper murmured.
Her first few days in Ruggles went so well that Piper felt enormously grateful on Sunday morning. She awoke early and dressed in her most cherished church attire. Her dress was made of a lightweight green fabric. Her father always said the pale green brought out the color of her eyes, and Piper quite agreed with him. Thinking of her father now brought a little cloud of sadness into Piper’s mind. She had written to both of her parents at once, but as only a few days had elapsed since she’d mailed the missive, she had not heard from either of them yet.
Piper slipped into the green dress and took her time carefully buttoning the tiny pearl buttons that ran up her neck, lightly pulling together a thin layer of delicate lace. The process of dressing so carefully and methodically made her feel marginally better.
I won’t let thoughts of my father and whether he will approve of my decisions weigh me down now.
She put on a pair of slippers that had been dyed a matching green hue. Then she went out to the sitting room to greet Fay and Robert. Their home was quaint, and Piper had no trouble adapting to the simple life they lived here almost immediately. She had grown up in such a grand home, made of fine sturdy brick, back in Baltimore, but now that she was in Arizona, living in Robert and Fay’s small wooden house, she saw how her family had always lived an extravagant lifestyle. She didn’t begrudge her parents their luxuries. Still, she did find it more comfortable to live here with people she admired and respected than live in a spacious manor with her father, who was always trying to force her into marriage.
“Good morning!” Piper trilled, coming down the hall toward the sitting room. Robert stood near the doorway, fussing with a small brown leather hat he was trying to perch at just the right angle on his head. Fay, for her part, was attempting to smooth down a few locks of his hair, which was what was making it so difficult for him to accomplish his task.
“Good morning,” Fay replied, giving up on Robert’s hair and turning to greet Piper.
“Will we be going to church this morning?” Piper asked, looking between the couple. “I wasn’t sure if that was something you did, but my family used to attend services every Sunday, and I would like to continue that tradition.”
Fay smiled at her fondly. “We were just about to come to your room and ask if you would care to join us.”
Robert jerked his hat down on his head, covering his ears, and Piper had to stifle a giggle. “We attend St. Francis’s,” Robert said, looking at Piper, his ears comically turned down by the hat.
“I would love to go to church with you,” Piper said. “Shall we head out then?” Robert fidgeted with his hat, allowing his ears to poke out properly. Then, he held out both his arms toward the ladies.
“I may be the luckiest man in town,” he said proudly. “I have my lovely wife on one arm and my fine new apprentice on the other.”
* * *
Piper settled into the pew next to Fay, and she took a moment to admire the fine church. It wasn’t much like the one she was used to back east, but it had its own charms. Her eyes were drawn to the iron cross that hung just above the altar, and she lowered her head, saying a quick prayer before the service started.
Just then, piano music drifted softly through the air, and Fay, on her right, stood. Robert, seated next to Fay, also rose, and Piper moved to quickly follow suit. As this was her first time attending a service at St. Francis’s Church of Ruggles, Piper fretted that she might stand out in the crowd. She worried that if she didn’t sit, stand, or kneel at the right time, she might make a fool of herself. Her cheeks reddened when she thought of how the other congregants might think poorly of her if she didn’t keep up with them throughout the service. But then the piano music subsided, and both Fay and Robert sat once more. Piper was utterly flustered, and she sunk back into her seat.
“Friends! Family members! Elders of the church!” a noble voice called, and Piper turned her gaze toward the pulpit. All the nerves tangling themselves together in the pit of Piper’s stomach dissipated as she stared at the priest who was speaking.
He was a little older than Piper, maybe by five years or more, but he was much younger than the priest who had led their church services back home. Piper was attracted to him at once, as his voice was tender and nurturing, and his good looks were obvious. He had dark brown hair, which he wore long in front to swoop over his forehead. He had a small, neatly trimmed chin strap beard, and his sideburns were long. But for Piper, even though she sat with the Narrows near the back of the church, the thing that stood out most about this man was his turquoise eyes.
Piper had seen the ocean many times. On cold winter days, the water looked grey and treacherous. But on beautiful summer afternoons, when the sun was high overhead, the ocean was the same color as Father Jonathan’s eyes, an aqua blue, so brilliant it sparkled with promise.
Piper sucked in a deep breath as Father Jonathan looked at her then. She felt his eyes lock onto her own. She knew he was probably just surveying the crowd, looking for newcomers, and observing who was present today and who was absent, but she felt as if he focused in on her and saw straight into her soul.
“The other day, I was wandering through town, and I came across two gentlemen in disagreement,” Father Jonathan began. Piper settled in to listen to the story. She liked that he incorporated tales in his sermon, as most priests did not. They relied on the stories from the Bible to deliver their message. That was fine, of course, but Piper preferred that Father Jonathan was drawing the congregation into the text by using accounts that happened in their day-to-day lives.
Father Jonathan explained that the two men were squabbling over a parcel of land, claiming that each owned it, as they had the deed to prove their ownership. Then, he flipped open his Bible and read aloud from Colossians, chapter three: "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since, as members of one body, you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
Piper stopped listening to the rest of the priest’s thoughtful words as her mind caught on to the idea of love. She knew that Father Jonathan was trying to help his congregants see that they should treat each other with love and respect, as that is what their Heavenly Father would want them to do, but in her mind, all she could think of was the way the priest said the word “love” and how his eyes sparkled.
I wonder if Father Jonathan has ever been in love.
Piper eyed the priest curiously as he stepped from behind the pulpit and sat in a throne-like chair while the choir began their song.
He is certainly handsome enough to attract the attention of many admirers. And he speaks of love regularly, I’m sure. But does he speak of that which he has never known?
Piper dropped her eyes toward her hands, confused and dismayed at her own thoughts. She had never experienced love. She had mild flirtations with men back in Baltimore, but her heart had never been touched by another. Like Father Jonathan, she too had lived a chaste life, and thinking these thoughts in church made her blush furiously.
If anyone knew or even suspected what I was thinking about the priest…
Piper gulped, her nerves binding tightly in her stomach, making the muscles there feel very tense. She looked up then to see if anyone might have somehow figured her out, and she saw that Father Jonathan was looking at her once more.
I must speak to him.
Piper reproached herself internally for having such thoughts, but she could not deny how she was attracted to Father Jonathan. It was as though she was being tugged toward him, and resistance was futile.
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