Good evening, all. I'm slacking (as usual). I did promise to post a story, and I've done a horrendous job at doing so. So...here you go. If you're lost, go back and read "Prologue" (it's labeled under ashley/andrew).
I had been especially rotten one day. I remember being about six years old and had done nothing but upset plant stands, dumped the maid's mop pail down the stairs, and ran through the clean hallway after I had been playing outside with Matty's son Ezekiel. There were twigs in my hair and my pretty blue dress and doll were covered in the black dirt that our area was famous for. Matty couldn't control me at all and was at her wits' end. I was running around the huge dining room table, singing at the top of my lungs, when my father came in and stomped one great foot.
"Ashley Elizabeth!" he thundered. "What are you doing?"
"Playing," I replied abashedly. With that one stomp, I'd lost all my energy. I could tell Daddy was mad.
"Young lady, did you not hear Matilda asking you to stop?" he asked, bending down to be at my level. I could see Matty behind him, looking very unhappy and wringing her hands in her apron. Suddenly, my dander was back up.
"I heard her, and I don't care!" I stomped my foot back at him. "She's not my mama and I don't have to listen to her! I want MY mama!" I stood there for a scant second, then burst into tears, fled upstairs to my room, slammed the door shut, and flung myself into my bed, sobbing. I heard my father come in my room and felt him sit down on the edge of the bed. After a few minutes, I rolled over to look at him, perched there, staring out the window that overlooked the pond. "I didn't mean to be bad, Daddy."
"I know, little one. It's just that...I just miss your mama that much more." I crawled into his lap, doll forgotten on the bed.
"Daddy, why isn't Mama here?" He took a deep breath.
"Ashley, about a year after you were born, both you and your mama got yellow fever. You were both so very sick. Doc Barnard didn't know how to make you better. I couldn't do anything but offer prayers up to the Good Lord. One afternoon, almost a week after you both got sick, Charity called for me and Matilda." I looked at him, puzzled.
"Who's Charity?" He smiled.
"That is your mama's name, Ashley."
"Oh." I snuggled deeper into his embrace.
"We both came in, and she had Matilda get you from your room. You were just a-screamin'. The fever was so bad that anyone's touch made you cry. Matty handed you to me, so I sat down on the bed and she reached out your small fist. I could see her mouth movin', but I couldn't hear her words. I leaned in and she was prayin'. 'Lord God, take this pain away.' At first, I wasn't sure what she was meanin', but then she said, 'A child this young shouldn't suffer so. Lord, let me have her pain. Heal her. Take me instead.' I couldn't bear the thought of losing you or your mama, but this was her prayer. You began to quiet down, and I could tell that Charity's pain was getting worse. The look on her face told me she was ready to go home. Her last words were, 'I love you, Ashley Elizabeth. Cole, I'll always be here with you two.' You settled into the first peaceful sleep you'd had in a week, and your mama drew her last breath."
I looked up into his face, and saw tears in the prairie green eyes he'd handed on to me. It scared me - Daddy was big and strong and boys weren't supposed to cry. I curled up tighter in his lap and he held me close. We mourned together; me for the mother I never knew and missed terribly, my father for his anchor and the love of his life....