Tea for Two – Amelia C. Adams

Regina Stoker alighted from the train and stood for a moment, looking at her new surroundings. She’d been told that Creede, Colorado, was as different as it could be from her home in London, England, and that had most certainly not been an exaggeration. Where she was used to smoggy, crowded streets and tall buildings, now she saw mountains that rose up higher than anything she’d ever imagined, and the sky was a brilliant blue. She pulled in a deep breath and then exhaled, ready to put her long journey behind her and start afresh. “I’ve never been so glad to set foot on solid ground in my entire life.” Ariadne Stoker, Regina’s sister, descended behind her and shook out the folds of her skirt. “Are we finally here?” “We are finally here.” Regina lifted her arms and motioned around in a circle. “Have you ever seen anything more alive and free?” “Or primitive or dusty?” Ariadne shook her head. “I don’t know how you get these ideas in your head, Regina, but I must say, this one is far and beyond any of your previous schemes. And why I came along with you, I may never know.” “Because you couldn’t bear to see me go off into the wilderness of America alone. You were being a kind and thoughtful sister.” “No, it’s because I was mentally imbalanced.” Ariadne shook her head again.

“It’s not too late, you know. They haven’t even taken our trunks off the train. We could go back.” “They’d have to take our trunks off the train if we went back—this train’s going to California, and it likely won’t be back this way for a few days.” “Why must you always point out the logic?” Regina smiled. “Because one of us must. Come on now—you don’t really want to go back, do you? There’s nothing for us in London anymore. When Father died, he took all our ties with him. Now we can create whole new futures for ourselves.” They’d had this conversation multiple times on the boat and multiple times on the train, and Regina was beginning to feel as though they’d be having it forever.

Even though Ariadne was the older sister by thirteen months, she seemed to need constant reassurance to do . well, almost anything. Regina had always been the leader. “I just can’t imagine it here. It’s so . rustic.” “Compared to what we’re used to, yes, but you can’t compare a city like London, which has been in existence since 50 A.D., with Creede, which was established practically the other day. They haven’t had time to build theaters and museums and whatnot.

They will, given time, and we’ll have a chance to be a part of it.” Ariadne groaned. “You and your motivating speeches. Very well—where are we going from here?” “First, we’ll ask the stationmaster to hold our trunks. Then we’ll find a boarding house or hotel. Once we’ve done that, we should track down this Reverend Bing and tell him we’ve come in answer to his summons.” When the sisters had landed in New York, all they’d known was that they were looking for something new. Then they’d caught sight of a newspaper advertisement pinned up on the wall of a small lunch counter asking for people to come take up residence in Colorado. Ariadne, of course, had been resistant, but something about the idea had spoken to Regina, and now, here they were. “And what if he’s changed his mind and doesn’t want us?” Ariadne said.

“He could have had several responses already and might not need more.” Regina turned and looked her sister full in the eye. “I know this is hard. I know this is frightening and wild and most likely not even ladylike, but here we are, and we’re going to make the most of it. Now tell me, so I know what to prepare for. Are you going to keep feeling sorry for yourself forever, or do you imagine you might stop it at some point?” Ariadne opened and closed her mouth a few times. “I . I suppose I have been rather difficult to get along with lately,” she replied at last. “I’ll try to have a better disposition about the whole thing.” “Thank you.

Now, they’ve just unloaded our trunks—let’s speak with the stationmaster and be on our way.” *** Jake Honeycutt lifted the saddle off the back of Butternut, his horse, and imagined that he could hear the animal sigh with relief. He chuckled. “I know, boy. It’s been a long day for all of us.” He’d been riding the perimeter of the Circle K doing needed repairs on the fencing, and the sun had been blistering hot. He wished he knew how much longer he’d be on that particular task. The Circle K was sixty-five thousand acres, with fifty thousand of that being grazing land and the rest covered in timber. He didn’t have to worry so much about the timber portion, but the grazing land was important, and there was a lot of it. It wasn’t that he disliked working with his hands—it’s just that he’d rather be working with the animals.

On a ranch, though, you did what you had to do, and you didn’t bellyache about it. He grabbed a brush and gave Butternut a good working over, figuring the animal deserved extra attention. Then he realized he could use some attention himself and took a bath, going a little hard on the soap. By the time he hoisted himself out of the tub, he felt a whole lot better. He pulled on some clean clothes and made his way to the dining room. When he sat down at the dinner table, Ginger, one of the other ranch hands, slapped him on the back. “Gettin’ all prettied up for something?” “No, just tired of smelling worse than my horse.” Jake took a bite of stew and washed it down with a gulp of water. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until he sat down, and now he felt like he could eat the whole pot of stew. “Mrs.

Clark came by a bit ago and asked if you’d ride into town for her tomorrow,” Finny said from across the table. “Needs some things from the mercantile and said she’d make a list. Something’s coming in on the train for her, too.” Jake nodded. He didn’t mind going into town on errands. Sure, sometimes he was asked to pick up ribbons or lace or some other feminine doodads, but the mercantile folks were real good about packaging it up for him so it wasn’t flapping in the breeze behind him as he rode. And he enjoyed the view along the way—the ranch was situated between Topaz and Creede, and he believed that God had never made such pretty country as He did out that stretch. The next morning, he saddled up and headed over to the main house to find Mrs. Clark. She handed him a list and thanked him, and he was on his way.

The sun was just as relentless as it had been the day before, but it didn’t seem so punishing this time because he wasn’t lifting poles or stringing wire. A stream ran along the edge of the road a few miles out from Creede, and he stopped and dismounted to let his horse have a drink. He noticed a girl of about twelve years old sitting on the bank with her feet in the water, a long fishing pole clutched tightly in one hand. She wore a pair of faded overalls with holes in the knees, and her blonde hair came down her back in two braids. She was a stranger to him, but with all the new families moving in, he supposed that was to be expected. “Mornin’,” he said. “Any luck?” “No, not yet,” she replied. She squinted up at him, shielding her eyes from the sun with her free hand. “That’s all right, though, because I was just keeping myself entertained until you came along.” That perplexed Jake.

“You’re waiting for me? Whatever for?” “How should I know what for? I only know what is.” She hopped to her bare feet and leaned the pole against a tree. “See, here’s the thing. I just take my assignments as they come. I don’t ask questions. Questions are a waste of time, usually.” “Assignments?” He glanced around. “Do you live in the area somewhere? I don’t recall ever meeting you before. Who’re your folks?” “Well now, that’s where things get a little complicated.” She folded her arms across her chest.

“I’m an angel, ya see, so I’m not what you would say from these parts.” Jake blinked at her. “I beg pardon?” “An angel. A heavenly being.” She pointed upward at the sky. “Sent from above. Gracious— have you ever read a Bible or been to church?” “Many a time, but I don’t recall reading or hearing anything about little girls with fishing poles.” She shook her head. “I hope you’re not going to be this impossible the whole time I’m here. That would just make things a whole heap harder than they need to be.

” “What do you mean, the whole time you’re here? What’s going on, anyway?” Jake was pretty sure he was dreaming. He never touched alcohol, so there was no other way to explain it. “Every so often, certain people need a nudge or a little help, and today, that just happens to be you, Jake Honeycutt.” He blinked. “How did you know my name?” “Because you’re the one I’m looking for.” She shook her head again. “I can see that we’re not going to get too far trying to have a real educated conversation, so I’m just gonna lay it all out there. Sometimes we get a little too stuck in our ruts, and then we don’t get all the good things life has in store for us. I’ve been sent here to tell ya to loosen up a little and be willing to try some new things out, stuff ya might never have thought of before. See what sorts of other things life has for ya.

” She picked up her pole and started walking up the creek bed. Jake stared at her retreating back for a minute before calling out, “Wait. You were sent by heaven to tell me not to be such a stick in the mud?” She turned around and flashed him a toothy grin. “Sometimes people need a pretty good kick in the pants.” And then she was gone. Jake didn’t even see her finish walking away—she was just plum gone. He wiped a hand down his face, then gathered up Butternut’s reins. “I’ve lost my mind,” he muttered as he climbed back into the saddle. “That’s all there is to it.” There was nothing to be done but to push it from his mind, so that’s what he did as he continued on to town.

No point in fretting over something he had no control over, and if he was for sure losing his mind, he couldn’t stop it now. He might as well just enjoy it.

.

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