Jesse peeked through to the sitting room. I had been stunned by the magnificent beauty of the entryway, so it was rather a surprise when I saw that this room was really no larger than the one at the orphanage. Soft brown shades belonged to it, from mushroom greys, to a smooth russet, to the deepest of tree bark. An old upright piano stood on one side, adorned with a lace shawl. Beside it squatted two bookshelves, one small, the other larger, each holding a wealth of old manuscripts and documents. In general, it was an old-fashioned room, with old-fashioned furniture and old-fashioned hues. It had a faint musty aroma that hung about, offering a comforting sense of security.
There, upon the old sofa, sat a large man with dusty brown hair and deep-set eyes, hazel eyes. In his enormous hands he held a book. The pages, no doubt, held some lost secret of time, or he would not have devoured the old leaves that were beginning to fall apart.
Jesse walked over and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Father, we’re here.”
He looked up.
“Ah, Jesse.” He seemed to awaken at the boy’s touch. Immediately, he set down the old copy and smiled. “Did you bring her back?”
“Aye, she’s here.” Jesse beckoned to where I stood in the doorway. Timidly, I padded over the carpet. Seeing, I would not speak for myself, Jesse took the initiative. “Father, this is Emily.”
He held out a big, rough hand, and I decided it would be in my best interests to take it.
“Hullo, Emily,” he said in a voice decidedly gruff, but kind. I nodded.
“Has this boy of mine been treating you well?” He released a grin unexpectedly. I nodded again, and, unsure of what to do, I smiled.
“Did he tell you why he dragged you off, or did the rascal keep his mouth shut?”
“I wanted you to tell her, father,” Jesse said, earnestly. Heedless of any diffidence, I ventured shyly,
“You were expecting me to come?”
“Aye, Emily. I see the boy’s kept mum about the whole thing, so I’ll have to tell you myself.”
Getting up, he set aside his book entirely and looked Jesse and me full in the eyes.
“What do you say to having a bite to eat? I’m quite famished!”
Winking, he stretched, cracking several bones.
“Ah, this old frame’s getting crankier than ever,” he chuckled impishly. I was even more bewildered than ever. Jesse’s father was not at all like anyone I had ever met before.
Jesse laughed, his eyes full of glee. He turned to me after his father had left the room.
“Come on, Emily. He won’t hurt you.” Then, seeing I was too paralyzed to act on my own, he grabbed my hand. “You weren’t half so frightened when you came down the roof. Come on; don’t you want to eat?”
“I want to know why I am here!” I retorted. He only laughed again.
“Come along, and Father’ll tell you in good time.”
“What do you mean in good time?” I asked, pulling back my hand. “I can’t stay here all night.”
His eyes softened in mock sympathy.
“I told you we’d get you back in time,” he said, rolling his eyes. “And father won’t talk all night. He does love to talk, but he knows business when he sees it. It won’t be long.”
I allowed myself to be dragged into the kitchen. Jesse’s father was already waiting at the table, lounging over a hardwood bench with an impolite elbow resting on the edge.
“Charlotte’s coming with the tray. She’ll be along shortly.” Settling himself down with a glass of water, he looked kindly at me. “Sit down, child. Over here, by the stove where it’s warmer.” Gladly, I followed his advice, seating myself across from him on another hard bench. Jesse did the same.
“Father?” he questioned, pointedly.
“Yes, Jesse. Emily, you’re probably wondering why Jesse brought you here, eh?”
“Aye, sir, I was.”
“Well,” he began again, then paused as if he could not think how to express himself. He rubbed the short beard that was growing along his chin. The hairs were as stiff as sticks, popping back into place after his fingers brushed them. “Emily, I once had a wife.” He paused, and did not go on. Jesse looked down at his feet; and I knew that it pained them to talk of her.
“I know—I mean, Jesse told me,” I stammered, hoping to help, yet feeling I had stumbled into unwelcome territory. Once again, the deep, hazel eyes were raised in relief to my downcast face.
“He did? Good boy.” He laid a hand on Jesse’s arm, smiling with kindly, fatherly eyes.
“But I did not tell her all; just—”
“Just her death.”
Silently, I nodded. I saw Jesse brush a sleeve over his eyes, and turned away. Then, his father spoke again. There was courage and a strength I had not seen before that seemed to fill his words.
“She was a good woman—strong and good. She worked well, and she sang. She loved music, her voice always singing everyday.”
“Father,” interjected Jesse. “Emily sings, too!”
“What?” I queried in confusion, not knowing where this was going.
“I heard you singing before we met—the song about the star.”
His father smiled sadly, and laid two rough hands on my shoulders. Why was he smiling?
“Ever since her death, we’ve missed her sorely.”
“I – I’m sorry,” I faltered in confusion. Bowing my head, I waited. A clock I had not seen when I entered proclaimed its presence by ticking loudly. The quiet was awful, I wanted to break it, but I did not have an inkling of what to say. I lifted the glass to my lips and felt the cool liquid sooth my throat. And still, I waited.
“That’s why you’re here.” Jesse’s soft voice broke the silence. I choked on my water.
“Father can’t cook, and I can’t keep things clean,” he said matter-of-factly, some of the old merriment stealing back into his voice.
“But what have I to do with it?”
His father spoke next. “We need someone to keep the house.” He gazed into my eyes with a look I couldn’t explain. Suddenly, it dawned on me. If there had been water in my mouth, I would most definitely have choked again. I took a deep breath.
“And you’re asking me to help you?”
My answer came blunt and hard. Astonishment revealed itself in all the little wrinkles of his face.
I glanced at Jesse. He knew. I had to tell.
“I can’t leave.”
“Of course, we—” began his father.
It was the second time I made the admission that day. Having made it once, I did not know what would happen. For a moment, his father leaned forward, peering closely at me. I made no move to back away. The truth must be made known.
“Come into the light, child.”
I moved obediently, tilting my head so he could see clearly, feeling the hurt and the sorrow with every motion. For a moment, the words Jesse had spoken to me drifted through my mind: “Father would like you ever so much, I think.” A seed of hope began to sprout in my heart. Just as the soil was beginning to give for the tiny shoot, I swallowed and forced myself to put a finger over it. I could not be disappointed. Thus subdued, I came back to earth. To my surprise, he did not look for my scars, his kind eyes staring deep down into mine, searching, searching for something—I could not tell what.
“Emily, child.” His voice held understanding, his gaze pity, even grief, and his whole manner was one of compassion. “Ever since my wife has gone, Jesse and I have felt our need for her daily. She had done everything for us, made us a comfortable home, and lived with a love that none could maim.”
Tears now flooded my eyes till I could not see, but I shook my head all the same. I knew I would never be able run away. More than that, I knew could never be able to be what she had been to them. When the reality of these things presented themselves to me again, I felt the weight of what had been asked of me, I tried to shake it off with a smile. Sorrowfully, I shook my head. “Sir, I cannot take her place.”
“I know that, Emily. No one can replace her as a mother, as a companion. She will remain dear to our hearts.” I had closed my eyes, but suddenly, I felt my fingers being lifted out of my lap and into the warm embrace of those enormous, rough hands of his.
In the blink of an eye, something new stole into my life. Call it pity, call it generosity, it entered that night into my lonely heart. In one second, I was overwhelmed with a love deeper, further, beyond anything I could ever have imagined. It was beautiful, compassionate, tender—fatherly. Love was new to me. Deprived of it when I had needed it the most, it revealed itself with gentle care and wonder, washing away the bitterness, hurt, the pain I had nursed through my lifetime of imprisonment.
Love cannot be defined; dictionaries, masters of vocabulary, geniuses—all have tried to capture the indescribable. I cannot put into words what I experienced that night; but I have never known anything so wonderful to me as that moment—the moment I first comprehended the meaning of love.
“Emily,” Jesse’s father said, squeezing my hands. “Jesse and I have decided that we need someone—of the female kind—to help us with the house, to sing again, and…” he looked at Jesse with questioning eyes.
Jesse nodded with a smile beginning to light up his countenance.
“And to be one of our family.”
I looked into his eyes, blue and sparkling. Tears glimmered like shining pools of hope, vanishing the second after. His father gently released my fingers.
“What do you mean, one – one of the family?” I stammered again, impatient, a bit frightened of the truth, yet killing myself with anxiety over the meaning of such words.
I finally got the third chapter done. I was wondering, is it a bit too abrupt? Can I add more to the dialogue or descriptions? How can I make it better? It doesn't quite feel complete to me.