|Rose stood in the central aisle of the church,
staring up at the dazzling colors of the stained glass as the morning sunlight streamed
through, igniting the mural. The church had emptied around her, the congregation having
moved to the entrance courtyard to conduct their social graces, and the sounds of
conversation and the occasional too-loud child's yell filtered in through the open double
doors, piercing the quiet.Above her, the Virgin Mary sat holding the infant Jesus, her
glowing face beaming down, but Rose's eyes were drawn to the angels surrounding Mary,
hovering like shepherds over the mother and child.
"For he will command his
angels concerning you to guard you in all ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so
that you will not strike your foot against a stone."
Rose had listened to the sermon,
absorbing the passages as they were read, and she found her thoughts in conflict with her
heart. The angels of God had seemed powerless or, worse yet, absent on
It was hard to reconcile the reality with the words.
"You struggle with the
concept of angels?"
Rose turned with a start; the
pastor had quietly drawn near until he stood beside her, his eyes following the line of
her sight, and he had somehow read her thoughts.
"Yes. I have seen
terrible suffering. I don't understand why some are helped and some
"Angels aren't just sent to
help when death is near, my child. Some are aided then, but lives are long and only God
knows when each of us will need our lungs filled with our angel's breath."
Rose looked back to the mural,
considering his words. Her spirit rose up, lifted like a feather in the wind to be bathed
in the blazing colors, up into the firmament of glass, and her mind flicked through images
like pictures in an album. Her father, mother, Cal, Mr. Andrews, Cora, Gina, Thomas, Red,
Does God really help the
righteous and punish the evil? she asked the heavens.
Rose had come a long way, and she
so wanted to believe.
"Do you think we each have an
angel?" she asked, but her question echoed off the walls unanswered and, turning,
Rose saw the pastor had vanished as silently as he had arrived, leaving her alone in the
center of the swirling rainbow storm from above.
Rose pulled on her riding boots,
the ones she had purchased when she realized her wardrobe was ill-suited to being a
cowgirl, and descended the stairs from her flat, headed for the stables and a date with
Red. She wore a pair of durable dungarees that had been previously reserved for scrubbing
the floors of her flat, and a sensible shirt. As she stepped out into the afternoon, she
noticed Thomas leaning against a tree in front of the building, trying to keep cool in the
limited shade. He looked up and smiled at her, stepping forward in greeting.
"On your way to ride
Red?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied,
"Mind if I come along?"
Rose almost answered with a curt,
'Please, no', but remained silent. She had felt strange after they had returned from
dancing; guilty, though she knew she had no reason to feel that way, and she had rebuffed
his every offer to escort her out for another evening. She knew her refusals had hurt
Thomas some, but she still felt unsure of her feelings, of what she was ready for. She had
come to like Thomas a lot, and that realization felt like a double-edged sword, a dream
and a betrayal in one. In addition, Thomas would be leaving for Harvard shortly and she
.who knew where; facts that further muddled her thoughts.
"All right," she finally
answered. Despite all her misgivings, she liked his company.
They strolled southwest, towards
the stables in which the Carson brothers bedded down their horses. Rose was comfortable to
walk in silence but Thomas had other ideas.
"I noticed how closely you
were examining that painting at the saloon the night we met. Do you like art?"
Rose's shield immediately went up,
I wish I didn't always have to
be careful what I say.
"Yes, I do. I have seen
photos of some of the modern art from Europe and I find them strangely compelling. Those
horrible paintings at the saloon reminded me of them."
"Compelling, yes. The perfect
word for them. The perfection of the photograph has made realism in painting a bit moot,
so I suppose the artists are trying to find a different mode of expression."
Rose glanced at him as they
"Are you studying art as
"A little. Well-rounded
student and all that, don't you know. What good is a doctor saving your life if he isn't
versed in Renoir?"
Rose smiled at his words.
"And you, where does your
interest stem from?" he asked.
They turned a corner. Rose paused
"My father loved art, and he
passed that love on to me," she answered, simply.
Thomas seemed to sense her
hesitancy, so he changed topics.
"You seem a natural dancer.
Have you had any training?"
"A little," she said,
her answers becoming more and more terse.
They walked another half a block
without speaking. Thomas stopped and turned to face her.
"Rose, I can sense something
terrible has happened in your life, something that has left you reluctant to talk about
your past. I understand that, I do. I have pains of my own that I keep locked deep inside.
"I enjoy knowing you, and I
wouldn't want to jeopardize our friendship. Please, feel free to scold me anytime I seem
to pry to deeply."
Once more, as she had at the
Pavilion, Rose wanted to stop, to pull Thomas by the hand and sit him down and tell him
everything; to have release. 'Everything in its time', he had said to her. Well, for
completely explaining her past the proper time might be ages in coming. She didn't know.
For the foreseeable future, the love, the loss, the pain were hers and hers alone.
So, instead, she smiled weakly.
"Thank you, Thomas. I
Rose's voice wavered, and she was
afraid to speak further. They traveled on, turning onto a dirt road, and the air became
thick with the blended aromas of hay and manure, a smell so distinctive that one could
surely find the stables from anywhere in the district with one's eyes closed.
Midway down the road, Rose turned
through an entranceway into a small covered paddock, surrounded by a dozen wooden stalls.
A few horses stirred at their entrance, hoping for attention; others were deep in the
recesses of their stalls, munching contentedly.
"Good day, Miss Dawson."
"Good day, Sean."
Sean Carson, the iceman's son,
worked as groom for his family's wagon horses, his own horse Faith, and for a few other
head. He was a tall, gangly boy, easily mistaken for several years older than his age of
Rose introduced Thomas to Sean and
then, as Sean left to ready her tack, she and Thomas drifted over to Red's stall. The
colt's head bobbed brightly at their approach and Rose patted his neck gently. She opened
the stall door and led the horse, who followed quiet as a kitten, out into the paddock.
"He has really taken a shine
to you," Thomas observed.
"Oh, usually he's a soft
touch, though sometimes he can be quite stubborn."
Rose glanced quickly at Thomas,
searching for a reaction, but he just gazed back at her evenly, hiding a sheepish grin as
best he could.
Sean returned from the back room
with the tack for Red, and he and Rose set to positioning the saddle and tightening the
girth, one working on each side of the horse.
"Do you need Faith and me to
ride alongside today?" Sean asked when they were done. The boy had led Red around by
the bridle the first few times Rose had ridden him, allowing her to find her balance and
feel on the horse.
"What do you think? Am I
ready?" Rose asked.
"You're ready," he
replied, and gave Rose a leg-up onto Red's back. Thomas backed up against the stall door
to allow Rose room to ride. As he did, Givvy's head emerged from the next stall over,
looking for a treat. Thomas scratched the horse's snout as he watched Rose.
Rose adjusted the reins to a
comfortable length as Sean had taught her, and set Red off into a slow canter, with Sean
at the center of their circular path like a circus ringleader. She tested her
communication with the horse through a series of stops and turns, and Rose beamed a smile
at the feeling of being astride the big colt and having his power at her command.
When she had first gotten on Red's
back, Rose had been afraid of his speed and of the feeling of losing control. As she had
gradually learned to trust the horse, and he her, the fright gave way to a rush of freedom
"You are a regular cowhand,
Rose," Thomas called out.
"Can I take him out onto the
road?" Rose asked Sean.
"If you're game, sure, but
don't be lettin him go off on too quick a gallop. He's got a fast turn of foot, he
Thomas and Sean followed horse and
rider out onto the dirt road, and watched as Rose reined Red around, clucked to him and
gave him gentle urging with her boot-heels. They took off on a trot and smoothly transited
into a slow run.
The speed was exhilarating to
Rose, feeling the wind blow across her. It felt so natural, but there was still mixed in
with her joy an edge of fear, so she reined him down to a slower, more comfortable pace
and they turned to retrace their path. As they pulled up in front of the stable once
again, Sean commented on her riding form.
"You'll not be needin me
anymore, cept to cinch the girth. Pretty good for only a month of riding Sundays, Miss
Dawson. And darn good for a
The boy's mouth froze in an open
position and he looked down at his feet.
"That's all right, you can
say it. 'For a girl.'"
Sean's already ruddy complexion
turned a brighter scarlet, and Thomas chuckled at his embarrassment. Rose smiled kindly at
"I thank you, Sean. I think
I'll ride the neighborhood a bit. I hope you don't mind, Thomas."
Thomas dismissed her concern with
a quick wave of his hand.
"Not at all. Enjoy
Rose took her charge on a loop of
the surrounding streets, being careful to avoid the busier thoroughfares. Red seemed to be
happy to run on the near-empty dirt byways, to really stretch his legs after being
harnessed to a wagon all week. Pedestrians and drivers hardly noticed another horse and
rider, but several looked twice when they realized the rider was a woman, alone. As she
took an ever-widening loop through the area, Rose's confidence grew and she forgot about
everything save the feeling of the horse beneath her and the streets stretching out before
They walked the final blocks to
Red's home to allow the horse to cool down. When they reached the stables the paddock was
empty, but Sean soon appeared at the sound of Red's snorts.
"Thomas went off on an
errand, Miss Dawson, and said he'd be back shortly. I hope you had a good ride."
"We did, thank you. And I
wish you'd call me Rose."
"My dad wouldn't like that,
Miss Dawson," he replied, shaking his head vehemently. "No, he wouldn't like
that at all."
Rose laughed as Sean helped her
remove the tack, and she led Red to his stall. She retrieved a brush from a box hung on
the outside of the door and began to rhythmically brush his coat in long, clean strokes.
That finished, she walked him across the paddock, drew a bucket of water and washed the
accumulated layer of the city off him until his coat gleamed.
Rose smiled to herself. The first
time she had washed and brushed Red, Mr. Carson had been so startled at his horse's
shimmering appearance he had circled him twice in disbelief.
While giving him a final brush
out, Rose caught Red looking back at her as she worked. He seemed as soothed by the
attention as she herself was calmed by the work.
"You and I, we've been to the
edge and back, haven't we fella? I think we understand each other," Rose said to him.
Satisfied with her work, she returned him to his stall for his dinner just as Thomas
entered the paddock, carrying a small box.
Thomas peeked over the stall door
at the horse.
"He looks great, Rose. I
think you two make a fine team. I hope you don't mind, but I bought you a small present. I
had a hard time getting one on a Sunday afternoon.
"If you won't accept if from
me, consider it a thank you from Red for saving his life."
Rose set the brush back in its
place and took the box that Thomas offered.
"You really shouldn't have,
She pulled off the lid, revealing
a lavender riding cap, adorned with matching rose-shaped bows on each side. She removed
the cap from the box and tried it on.
"How does it look?" she
"It suits you
perfectly," he replied, leaning back against the stall boards to assess her
Rose's face clouded slightly, and
she suddenly felt uncomfortable with the gift. She didn't want to appear ungrateful, so
she said nothing and just replaced it in the box. She noticed Thomas busy rubbing a
section of Red's stall door; there appeared to be a small, tarnished plate nailed there.
Rose hadn't noticed the plate
before as it was covered with stable grime and its outline was barely visible. Making only
a little headway with his fingers, Thomas retrieved a dirty rag from the tack box and
rubbed hard, revealing a brass plate. After he had cleared the entire rectangle, Rose
could read its inscription. It read, simply:
Rose's eyes widened at the
discovery, and she smiled in understanding. Thomas moved to Givvy's adjoining stall and
cleaned the nameplate there as well.
Thomas glanced over the horses in
the closest three stalls.
"Faith, Forgiveness and
Redemption," he said. "Well, I'll be."
"And Mr. Carson lets on like
he's such a gruff man," Rose said, and they both laughed heartily.
'Red', Rose thought. Redemption
Rose sat in her room, her emotions
a confused jumble. She and Thomas had returned home from the stables in the late afternoon
in relative silence. She had declined his invitation for dinner, and they parted with Rose
thanking him again for her gift.
The box now lay open on the bed
next to her, the cap sitting beside it. She had removed and replaced the cap a dozen times
over the past hour, her uncertainty rising with each change.
Thomas is very nice, and it's
just a small gift, so why do I feel that even touching it is betraying what Jack and I
had? It's stupid to think this way, but I can't help it. I know Jack would understand, but
still I'm afraid to get too
Afraid I'll never love like that
again, never be ABLE to love anyone, ever.
Or maybe I'm afraid of losing
everything all over. Maybe I'm not supposed to be happy.
Rose stood and began pacing in the
small space between the bed and the wall.
I can't think this way! There
WILL never be another love in my life like Jack, I know that
.but that doesn't mean I
can't ever love again.
She walked to the bed and picked
up the gift, turning it over and over in her hands. Nodding to herself, she nestled it
gently back in its box and replaced the lid.
But not yet, she thought. Not
She descended the stairs and
knocked on the O'Reilly's door. Thomas answered, his face showing surprise and
anticipation at seeing her.
"You've changed your mind
" His voice cut off mid-sentence when he noticed the box in her hand.
"Thomas, I wish I could tell
you more. I don't expect you to understand, but I just can't accept your gift."
Thomas opened his mouth to insist
but closed it again without uttering a word. Rose turned and walked slowly up the stairs,
feeling guilty and ungrateful when the door closed behind her, the sound echoing in the
She sat in her apartment in the
dark, wondering if she really knew what she was doing. After an hour had passed, she heard
the sound of footsteps ascending the stairs, and then a gentle knock at her door.
Thomas, she thought. He will
insist now, and I'll have a difficult time refusing. I know he doesn't understand; I just
wish he would accept my decision.
She opened the door to face him
and her heart leapt into her throat, a loud gasp leaving her lips.
Gina stood before her, wearing a
long-sleeved coat much too warm for the season. She had the collar turned up and her large
hat pulled down such that the two almost met.
Just below Gina's left eye was a
large purple bruise, swollen so badly that it was forcing her eye shut. A trickle of blood
trailed down her cheek and led to a stain on her coat. Rose noted with horror that the
fingers on Gina's right hand were caked with blood.
"Gina!" was all Rose