The End of a Long Day
Belinda pushed wisps of gold-brown hair back from her flushed face and took a deep breath. It was one of those daysagain! The whole week seemed to have been filled with emergencies. One right after the other.
Why are people so careless? Belinda asked herself a mite crossly.
She tossed her soiled white apron aside and began to clean up the blood-stained operating table.
The last case of the day was a boy who had caught his hand in a piece of farm machinery. Luke had worked hard and long to try to save all his fingers, but neither he nor Belinda were too hopeful about the outcome. She felt tired, overworked and anxious about young Jamies fingers.
I should be getting used to such things by now, she admonished herself. After all, hadnt she been assisting Luke in surgery for over a year? But she hadnt gotten used to the suffering she felt when she looked at the pain in anothers eyesespecially when it was in the eyes of a child.
She sighed again deeply and breathed another prayer for Jamie.
Ill do that, said a voice from behind her.
She hadnt even heard Luke enter the room. She turned to protest that cleaning up was part of her job, but he continued. I know youre in a hurry. Its only an hour until the train will be in.
Belindas thoughts focused on the event that had been filling her with excitement this whole week. She had been counting the daysthe hours. How could it have slipped her mind? It must have been the injured boy. He had taken her complete attention while they worked to save his hand. But now with Lukes reminder, Belindas excitement flooded her mind again. Melissa is coming home! She now was finished with her teachers training in the East and would be spending a few weeks at the farm before continuing on to her home in the West.
Belinda glanced down at her soiled dress. She hated to leave Luke with the cleaning, but she did need a bath to freshen up, and she just had to do something with her wayward hair. Missing out on welcoming Melissa on the afternoon train was unthinkable. It had been a long timea long, long time since she had seen her.
She gave Luke a warm, appreciative smile and turned reluctantly from the untidy surgery.
Sorry, she apologized, but he assured her, No reason for you to be sorry. It isnt your carelessness that has been filling our office with accident cases.
Belinda reached up and pulled the pins from her hair and let it tumble down about her shoulders. She eased her slender fingers through the curls and shook them gently to shake out the tangles.
Have ya ever seen a week like this one? she asked her brother soberly.
Its been a bad one, all right, Luke admitted. Then he went on with deep thoughtfulness: I sure hope its about to come to an end.
Now youd best hurry, urged Luke. You dont want to be late for that train.
Belinda scurried from the room. She did want to be there when the train pulled in to the local station. Her whole family would be waiting for Melissa. Would she have changed much? Would the two of them still be able to share secrets and understandsometimes even without wordshow the other was feeling? Was Melissa still pining over Jackson Brown or had she found another young man? What was teachers training like? Did she like the city? Belinda had so many questions.
Yes, they had written frequently, but it just wasnt the same. There were some things that were not easy to say in letters. Belinda did hope that there wouldnt be any awkwardness between them. She was filled with anticipation and yet felt some apprehension.
She set the portable tub on the mat in her small upstairs room at Luke and Abbies house and carried pails of warm water to fill it. As she settled into it, her thoughts went back to the first time the family had gathered to wait for the arrival of Melissa. That time she had been coming from her home in the West. None of them had known what to expect as they waited for the stage to arrive. Belinda could still remember the butterflies and the questions. What would she be like? Would they like each other? Would they be able to get along? Maybe it would be like having a sister her own age.
And so it had turned outMelissa had been like a sister even though she was in fact a niece. Belinda had grown to love her dearly and had missed her greatly when she went away to Normal School. And now the days had slowly ticked by and Melissa was coming home againthis time by train.
The Davis family had never gathered to meet the train before. This was a new and welcome luxury to the people of their small town. They were getting used to hearing the whistle and the clickity-clack of the metal wheels on the iron tracks, but Belinda still had not quite gotten over the thrill of having their very own train. Often she dreamed of boarding the passenger car and being taken to some far-away place that she had only seen in picture books. But so far it only remained a dream for Belinda.
She did not allow herself the pleasure of a long soak in the tub. There just was not time. The train, though sometimes late, was far more dependable in its travel than the stagecoach had been, and Belinda knew that if she did not hurry she would miss the excitement of Melissas arrival.
She rushed around as she dressed and hurriedly pinned up her hair. With each glance toward the dresser clock, her heart beat faster. She was going to be late in spite of her scurrying about. She still had the tub to empty and
She called an answer to a gentle knock, and Abbie opened the door only wide enough to poke her head in the room.
My, dont you look nice, she smiled, then quickly added, Luke said to tell you to leave the tub. Well take care of it when we get back.
Belinda glanced sideways at the tub. She did hate to leave things undone, but Luke was rightthere just wasnt time before going to the station. She sighed resignedly and nodded to Abbie.
Everyone ready? she asked, and Abbie indicated that they were as she pulled on a glove.
Belinda grabbed her own gloves and a small handbag. She took one last look in the mirror to be sure that her hat was on straight, smoothed the hipline of her skirt and hurried downstairs after Abbie.
Thomas and Aaron had already left the house and were waiting at the end of the walk. Aaron, the younger of the two, was giving Thomas a ride on the front gate even though both boys had been told not to swing on it. As soon as their mother appeared, Thomas dropped quickly to the walk and turned his attention to the ants that were scurrying back and forth across the boards, as though he had been studying them the whole time.
Abbie was not fooled. Thomas, she said sternly, what have we told you about swinging on the gate?
Thomas just lowered his head and did not answer.
Theres a nice swing in the backyard, Abbie continued. Ive told you before that the gate will sag if you swing on it.
Still Thomas did not respond. Abbie hurried down the walk and when she reached the small boy, she laid a hand on his shoulder.
No dessert for dinner, she said quietly but firmly, and Belinda saw the small boys eyes quickly lift to his mothers face. Thomas loved desserts.
Now, lets hurry along, Abbie prompted both boys, dismissing the matter of the gate. We dont want to make Aunt Belinda late for the train.
But Papa began Aaron.
Papa says for us to go ahead. Hell join us at the station.
Belinda felt another pangshe should have been cleaning up the surgery room instead of leaving it for Luke. Abbie must have sensed her hesitation, for she quickly added, Papa says that its more important for Aunt Belinda to be there on time. She has missed Melissa more than any of us.
So saying, Abbie herded her charges toward the train station at a brisk pace; Belinda didnt protest further and fell into step.
Clark and Marty, already waiting on the wooden platform near the tracks, had come into town from the farm. Beside them stood Amy Jo, her brownish-red hair swept rather carelessly into a loose knot on the top of her head. Her green velvet hat looked none too secure to Belindas eyes, but Amy Jo wore her apparel in the same lighthearted fashion that she did everything else. She smiled and waved exuberantly at Belinda in greeting.
Isnt this jest too exciting? she enthused. Imagine traveling by trainall by yerself. Wouldnt you jestjest die?
Belinda doubted that she would diebut there was something inside that did yearn to have such an experience. She greeted Amy Jo and then turned to her mother and father.
I was afraid yad been held up, said Marty, an I knew how special this is fer ya.
We were held up, responded Belinda. In fact, I should be back scrubbing the surgerybut Luke let me go.
Isnt he gonna make it? This time Martys question was directed to Abbie.
He hopes to, Abbie answered, but he did need to do the surgery first. He never knows when he might need it again, and one cant stop and do the cleaning up then.
Marty nodded in understanding and Clark asked, Would it help iffen I were to?
He didnt have a chance to finish his question. Abbie knew what he was about to ask and answered quickly, No. No, he wouldnt want that. No use you missing the train too.
I should have stayed began Belinda, but Abbie reached out to give her shoulders a quick squeeze. He wouldnt have let you and you know it, she said firmly, closing the matter.
Amy Jo moved over and crowded in against Belinda. Isnt thisisnt it jestjest?
For a moment Belindas mind flew back many years, and she could imagine Amy Jo finishing her sentence with vibrant, a word Amy Jo had chosen to describe almost everything during her early teen years. But this time Amy Jo picked another word, one she had recently discovered. In Belindas view it too was a little overdone.
Jest wondrous! she finished excitedly.
Belinda smiled. Amy Jo had not changed. She still gushed and glowed over most of life. Things would never be dull as long as Amy Jo was around. Belinda reached out to clasp Amy Jos long slender fingers and gave them an affectionate squeeze. Amy Jo pressed closer, her excitement spilling over and making them both almost tremble.
What do ya think shes like? she prodded.
Belinda looked a bit blank. Amy Jo knew Melissa as well as she did.
Shell have changed, ya know, Amy Jo bubbled. Be more grown up, more sophisticated. Moremoreworldly.
Marty turned to the two girls, a slight frown on her face. She did not care for the word worldly in regard to her dear Melissa, and Amy Jo sensed it immediately.
II meanmoremore knowledgeable of the world. Moremore She faltered to a stop, grasping Belindas hand until her fingers hurt.
A distant train whistle drew all eyes to the track. Somewhere out there, around the curve hidden from view by poplar trees, the train was making its way, far too slowly, toward their town, their station, the platform where they all stood. And sitting sedately and educated all alone on one of the upholstered seats was their Melissa. A stir of excitement ran through the little cluster on the wooden planks of the platform.
Its comin! shrieked Aaron, and Thomas answered with a long hooted whistle of his own.
Just as the train rounded the bend, Belinda noticed Luke take his place beside Abbie. She sighed with relief that he would not miss out on the excitement, and then forgot everything and everyone except for Melissa.
Would she have changed? How much? Belinda fervently hoped that her niece hadnt become too sophisticatedtoo worldly-wise.
And then the huge engine was rattling along beside the platform, and smoke and soot were wafting out over the afternoon air, making people step back sharply and cast anxious glances at their Sunday-best clothing.
The metal wheels squeaked and squealed as the train ground to a halt, and the loud hiss of steam spilled out into the quietness of the springtime air. The train gave one last shudder and settled into quietness.
A conductor soon appeared, methodically setting into place a wooden step and opening doors. There was movement at the windows as passengers started to shift about inside, putting on coats, gathering belongings and preparing to exit. Others stayed seated. This was not their destination, so they had no reason to stir. They looked with little, if any, interest at the crowd on the little platform and the wine-red station behind them. There was nothing much noteworthy in this small town, much like most every other stop on the tedious western journey.
Belinda saw one elderly lady glance carelessly out the window and then raise a gloved hand to her mouth to cover a yawn. Belinda found herself looking quickly around her. Were they all really that boring? Was the little town truly that unexciting? Perhaps so. Belinda had never known anything else with which to compare her surroundings. Briefly she visualized herself stepping up onto the iron steps and entering the passenger car, bags in hand, traveling to wherever the train might take her.
The thought was fleeting, for, coming toward them, arms filled with small packages, was a more mature and even prettier Melissa.
At her glad little cry, the group surged toward her. Belinda too moved forward, then realized that Amy Jo still held tightly to her hand.
Melissa passed from one to another, tears unashamedly sliding down her cheeks as she greeted each family member with hugs and kisses.
Oh, Belinda! she exclaimed when it was Belindas turn. Look at you! Youre soso grown-up. And so pretty! Oh, I just But Melissa didnt finish her statement. Instead, she threw her arms about Belinda, and the two girls held each other tightly.
When the whole group had expressed their welcome, the family cluster moved from the platform with Melissas luggage to the wagon, all talking at once.
Belinda thought back again to the first time Melissa had been met by the family. In so many ways this was the same. And yet so very, very different. There was no reserve here nownot from anyone. Amy Jo, who had felt left out of the conversation the first time, made sure she was not left out now.
Questions and answers filled the air until it was difficult to sort out who was answering what. Even the two young boys fired rapid questions at their older cousin, most of them in regard to the train. How fast did it go? had she seen the coal being shoveled into the engine? had the train? Melissa laughed and hugged them both with a promise to tell them all about the train trip.
Are ya all ready to come home? Clark was asking Belinda.
My things are all packed and waiting. We jest need to stop off at Lukes and pick em up, Belinda answered, savoring the pleasure of a whole week off to enjoy Melissas company.
Ya sure you wont need me? Belinda asked Luke one more time as he tucked her things in beside Melissas luggage when the wagon stopped at the house.
Course Ill need you, Luke responded, but at the flicker of concern in her eyes, he was quick to add, But for a few days Ill managesomehow. And if I really get into difficulty, Ill send for you.
Promise? asked Belinda.
Promise, Luke assured her.
Belinda turned to give each of the boys a quick hug and climbed up into the wagon beside Melissa and Amy Jo.
The trip to the farm was filled with more chatterand this time it wasnt just Melissa who talked nonstop. Belinda soon began to feel that the conversation was almost as exhausting as the surgery. She hoped she soon would have Melissa to herself for a more quiet talk. Belinda was sure that she wouldnt really know if Melissa had changed until then, when the deeper thoughts and feelings of the two girls could be expressed.
Until that time, Belinda knew she must be patient. The rest of the family wanted to have time with Melissa, too. She belonged to all of them. When they got to the farm, there would be a family dinner to welcome back Missies little girl. After dinner there would be a large stack of dirty dishes to be dealt with. There would be no time for a girlish chat on this night.
Belinda allowed a small sigh to escape her. It was hardly audible with the grinding of the wagon wheels and the chattering of Melissa and Amy Jo, but it brought Martys head around as she studied the face of her youngest.
She didnt ask the question, but Belinda could sense it. She smiled at her mother to reassure her.
Im a bit tired, she admitted. Its been a very long day. Started even before sun-up with the Norrises rushing their baby in with croup.
Marty nodded in understanding. Clark overheard and turned his head.
A weeks rest will do ya good, he said, then turned back to guide the team. Youve been workin awful hard. Yer lookin a mite pale, he threw over his shoulder.
Im finereally, insisted Belinda and suddenly felt uncomfortable as the chattering stopped and all eyes rested on her.
One good nights sleep and Ill be right as rain, she insisted, hoping that folks would forget her and get on with the catching-up again.
Love Takes Wing (Love Comes Softly, Book 7) by Janette Oke
Copyright © 2004
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.