Sarah bent over the bed, lowering her head and clasping her hands together in front of her. The sound of her grandmother’s gentle breathing soothed her in a way, even though she knew it wouldn’t be long before she wouldn’t hear it anymore.
The thought made her squeeze her eyes together in pain.
“Grandma,” she murmured. “Please don’t go yet.”
“Child, you know the time is coming.”
Sarah hadn’t expected her grandmother to speak. She’d thought the older woman was asleep. When she lifted her eyes, her grandma was looking at her with loving eyes. She couldn’t help smiling. That’s what she did every time she saw her.
“You’ve been so good to me, Grandma,” Sarah whispered, reaching out to rest her hand on the woman’s. “What will I do without you?”
“You’ll get by, my dear. You’ve got so much going on in that head of yours. You’re smart and beautiful and you have a good sense of humor. That’s important, you know. You must maintain a sense of humor.”
“I will always try to make people laugh if I can, I promise.” Why did she feel this was the last conversation she’d have with her grandmother? Sarah wrapped her fingers around the woman’s and lowered her head to the bed again.
“You are in despair.”
Sarah looked up again. “How can I not be? I love you so much. I don’t think I can stay here when you’re gone. I need to… I need to…”
“You need to sell this house and go live your own life,” her grandmother responded fondly. “You have a career ahead of you, my dear. A true career. You’ll be teaching those children everything they need to know to get by in this world.”
“But without you, everything will be so bland and bleak. Where will I find happiness?”
“In the eyes of those children, of course. In their laughter and play. You’ll be a wonderful schoolteacher. And I give you my permission to sell this house. I’ll be watching and I expect you to do it. You understand me?”
Sarah had to laugh softly. Even on her deathbed, Grandma was handing out the orders. She’d always been that way since Sarah’s first memory.
“I will, Grandma. I’ll do what you say. I promise.” She lifted the woman’s hand off the bed and kissed it gently. “But I’m going to miss you so much. So much.”
“I know. But I’ll always be in your heart and in your memories. And don’t worry about me. I’ll be just fine.”
Grandma looked up with eyes of reverence. Sarah knew her faith-bound grandmother would be spending her eternity in Heaven. That was the only place where beautiful souls went.
“I’m going to rest now, my dear.”
Sarah’s heart quickened and her hand tightened around Grandma’s instinctively.
Grandma laughed. “I’m not dying right now, Sarah. That is, I am, but I’m not going to right now. At least, I don’t think so. I’m just a little tired and would like a nap.”
Sarah shook her head, giggling. This woman was a treasure. Saying she was going to miss her was an understatement.
“All right, Grandma. I’m going to make some soup for dinner. Your favorite kind. I love you.”
“I love you, too, my dear.”
Grandma turned over on her side and settled in, looking comfortable with a peaceful expression on her face. Sarah pulled in a deep breath but didn’t let it out until she got closer to the door to leave the room. She didn’t like it that her grandma knew how upset she was. She didn’t want to cause the woman any grief.
But she couldn’t help it. Grandma was the one person Sarah had been able to rely on all her life. She was only nineteen and was just starting a career in teaching. She had been accepted in a school in Larkspur, which was about two hours away by buggy. They had a temporary teacher in place who would vacate the position when she took it.
It seemed morbid that they were waiting for her “availability” and that availability was dependent on her grandmother dying. Her credentials were excellent, which was the only reason they were waiting. But she didn’t want Grandma leaving her life for good. The job wasn’t important enough for that.
Sarah left the room, closing the door behind her as softly as she could.
With a heavy heart, she moved around the house, cleaning, starting the soup, going out on the porch to cry softly where no one would see or hear her. Not that there was anyone who would. No one was paying attention to her. The front porch was shielded by bushes and she was blocked from the road in front of the house. The neighborhood was quiet almost all the time, as people were rarely home during the day. The women had their functions, the men had their jobs, the children had school and playing to do.
But she would sit on this porch and cry every day until the last day, when the crying would begin in a different place.
Sarah looked out from the window of the schoolhouse at the children as they ran from the building. It made her happy to see their smiling faces, even though it meant they were happy to be leaving. She chuckled to herself, turning back to the classroom.
The last half hour of every day was spent cleaning and conversing. She had a system in place. The children had their own space to clean, just like they would at home. They took turns sweeping and cleaning the slate boards and thumping out erasers. She had only one unruly boy who didn’t like to do what he was told. But at the end of the day, knowing he was about to go home, he did as he was told as fast as he could.
Sarah tried to make the chores into a game, hoping they would use those same tactics when they got home. She hoped what she was teaching them about responsibility and communication during that last half hour was a help to their mothers.
Since the work was done, she could go home, too. That was just a little bonus she gave herself.
Gathering her books, she bound them in a leather belt just like the kids did and headed for the door. Before she left the building, which was steadily cooling since the fire had been put out, she reached up to take her coat from the hook. It was a lovely coat. She was almost glad for the cold weather just so she could wear it.
Sarah didn’t take it with her when she sold her grandmother’s house and bought a small cottage for herself in Larkspur. She loved her little cottage, picturing it in her mind as she walked out of the schoolhouse, bundling up in her big coat. She was blessed to have found the job as the schoolteacher as soon as she moved to the town. The last five years of her life had been pleasant and calm, just the way she liked it.
She could see her breath as soon as she stepped out, shivering as she looked up. It didn’t look like it was ready to snow yet. And it was a bit colder than it should have been for snow.
She could wait. Despite the fact she’d grown up in Nebraska and knew what the cold weather was like, she detested it. She didn’t want it to snow any sooner than absolutely necessary. Her bin was stocked full of firewood for when the inevitable happened.
“Afternoon, Miss Sarah!” she heard called out to her left as she walked toward her cottage down the main road in town. She glanced over to see Sheriff Nate Grimes waving and smiling wide. She smiled back.
“Afternoon, Sheriff. You catch any bad guys today?”
“Not today, thank the Lord,” the sheriff replied in an amused tone. “You ready for Christmas? You got a lot of kids to get presents for, don’tcha?”
“I suppose I do,” she responded, laughing. “I don’t mind, though. I work on my gifts for my students all year round. It’s a matter of observing them and finding out what interests them the most.”
The sheriff chuckled, shaking his head and running one hand through his black hair. “Better you than me, I say,” he retorted. “I wouldn’t want the care of all them kids myself. Not a patient man when it comes to the rugrats.”
Sarah knew this about the sheriff, so her answer to his remark was to laugh. “Oh, Sheriff Grimes, you are something else, you know that?”
“I don’t know what something else I am, but if you say so, Miss.” He tipped his hat to her.
She continued, humming a Christmas tune low in her throat. She’d told the children there would only be two weeks of school and they would get out to spend two weeks with their families through the holidays. She was looking forward to it as much as they were. She loved her teaching job and was highly respected in Larkspur because she was so good at it.
Sarah waved to a few more people, who were friendly as usual, greeting her back with smiles, waves, and kind words.
Larkspur was her home, whether she liked the cold season or not. There were just enough people to make it a large town, and she didn’t know a bad egg among them. A few of the men had attempted a relationship with her, but she’d been uninterested. The sheriff had been among those men, but he still treated her with respect, though she’d turned him down.
The right man would come along if that’s what God had in store for her. That’s what she needed to remember. It might take a while, since there were very few new arrivals in Larkspur. Maybe that would change. Maybe she’d find just the right man for her.
In her free time, when she wasn’t working on her lessons or teaching the children, Sarah gave dancing lessons. She used simple easy moves to show people–even the older folks–that it was possible to be smooth and graceful at any age and with any body type. She’d come up on a few challenges in the last four years she’d been giving the lessons. The sheriff came to her mind once again. He tried so hard.
His muscles, though, were too stiff and large for him to look graceful. She just appreciated he’d given the lessons a try. When he stopped them, she’d expressed remorse, but only to a small degree. He was angry when he realized he wasn’t a dancer, and that made Sarah uncomfortable. She almost felt responsible for his lack of talent and wondered if she’d done something wrong in his lessons.
But her lessons were in groups, so he should have learned just like the others, especially with her one-on-one help during the classes.
Sarah was glad to be home when she reached her cottage. Her feet hurt, and it was time to start planning for the holiday. She was going to put on a play with the children, followed by some choreographed dance moves by the adults in her class. Everything she wanted to do began to come together in her mind.
It was so exciting. Her grin stretched from ear to ear as she went in her house.
“You’ll have to talk to the council first, you know,” Emily said, cutting ribbon with a long pair of scissors. She didn’t look up when she spoke, because Emily could be a bit paranoid and had told Sarah right off that she would likely cut her fingers off using that enormous pair of scissors. But it was the only pair she could find, so she was using them.
“I know,” Sarah responded. “They’ll give me permission to use the community hall, though. There’s no reason for them not to. The children will be so excited. I think I’ll have them all come to the hall and I’ll hold auditions for the parts in the play. Do you think they would enjoy that?”
Emily rested the scissors and fabric on her lap to look up at Sarah, who was impressed with her friend’s careful behavior. “Would the children enjoy going up against each other for the parts they want? I don’t see how that could go wrong in any way.”
Sarah laughed. “You know, I’m supposed to be the schoolteacher here. Look at you, making wise statements when you don’t even have any children of your own.”
“I will eventually,” her friend said in a bemused voice. “And when I do, you better treat them right at that schoolhouse of yours.”
Sarah shook her head. “I’ll have my hands full if they’re anything like you or the man you marry.”
Emily giggled, dropping her eyes back to what she was doing. “Yeah, gotta find a husband first, don’t I?”
“There’s more than just what I’m putting on, though. We’ve still got decorations to put up here in town. It looks pretty, but it’s not where I want it to be. I know the mayor and the lady’s guild aren’t finished with what they want done out there.”
“You volunteered to help with decorating, right?” Emily asked, finishing the cutting and laying the scissors to the side. She separated the pieces she’d cut and folded them neatly. “I did. I always do. Every year.”
“You know I do, too,” Sarah replied, taking a seat next to her friend. She was at Emily Cartwright’s house. Emily was her best friend. They’d made fast friends when she moved to Larkspur and had nearly been inseparable since. She was a year older than Emily and they got along like sisters from the beginning. “It’s fun.”
A loud crash outside caught her attention. Both she and Emily were alerted by it, and both hopped up from their chairs to see what had happened. Sarah felt no fear as she went to the front door to step out and look. Larkspur was peaceful ninety percent of the time. Sheriff Grimes was tough but fair and let any outlaws or criminal types know he didn’t tolerate crime in his town. He had six deputies, and they were all as hard-nosed and stubborn as the sheriff. It was a no-nonsense law force in Larkspur.
So when Sarah opened the door and stepped out to see two men fighting across the street, she was surprised. Neither appeared to have a gun, but both seemed determined to beat the other one into the dust. Sarah crossed her arms over her chest and stayed where she was, watching. Emily came up to stand beside her.
“I wonder why they’re fighting. They both look pretty mad. You think it’s over a woman?”
Sarah grunted at Emily’s question. “Probably,” she replied. The chances of that being the answer were pretty good, as a matter of fact. “Either that or cards. Cheatin’, stuff like that.”
They both fell silent as they watched Sheriff Grimes and one of his deputies move in on the fight, grabbing each man by their arms and pulling backward to keep them away from each other.
Sarah looked to her left to see the men in front of the barber shop were also observing the fight and the subsequent break up. She took a few steps toward them.
“What happened there?” she asked curiously, gesturing toward the scene with her head.
“Aww, that Billy Smithson, he tryin’ to get Paul over there to sell part of his land to ‘im and ‘e won’t.” One of the men shrugged as he answered her question. “Paul liked to throw that boy in the water trough. That’s what got all this started.”
Sarah looked at the scene once more and noticed one of the men was soaking wet. She didn’t know either of them. They looked to be at least twenty years older than her.
As they were passing her with the sheriff and leading them to the jailhouse where they would sit in a cell for a few hours to cool off, the one called Billy Smithson caught her gaze. She dropped her eyes immediately, feeling uncomfortable.
Although her eyes were on the ground, Sarah sensed someone had stopped in front of her and the motionless boots in her view clarified that notion. She lifted her eyes to look into the sheriff’s.
“You all right?” the sheriff asked, eyeing her closely.
“Yes, I’m fine,” she replied, wondering why he would ask a question like that. She’d seen fights before and this one had nothing to do with her, so there was no impact. “I guess you can say today you caught some bad guys.”
She avoided Billy’s gaze when it settled on her. She’d just insulted him and was grateful the sheriff laughed, because her words probably didn’t sit well with Billy or his opponent.
Sheriff Grimes shook Billy forward and back with his fist wrapped tightly in the fabric of Billy’s shirt collar. “Nah, these boys will settle their differences. They ain’t outlaws.”
“I ain’t no outlaw!” Billy cried out.
Sarah noticed with amusement when the sheriff gave the man a bemused look. “That’s what I just said,” he mumbled before shaking his head and pushing the man he had in custody forward so he would start walking again.
He looked at Sarah as they moved away, nodding once. “Till next time, Miss Sarah.”
Sarah gave him a soft smile, nodding back. “Yes.”
She felt Emily beside her and looked over at her friend. Emily’s eyes were narrowed, and she stared at the sheriff as he led the prisoners away.
“What are you thinking, Em?” Sarah asked curiously.
Emily ran her tongue over the inside of her bottom lip, never taking her eyes from the lawman. “I don’t know, Sarah,” she replied and then went on with what she claimed to not remember. “Somethin’ weird about the sheriff. He doesn’t act the same around everyone.”
Sarah pulled her eyebrows together, staring at Emily. “What on earth do you mean?”
Emily clenched her jaw visibly and shook her head. “Never mind. Let’s get back inside. More decorations to make, you know!”
Sarah held the attention of the four town council members, Dan Boyle, Bruce Carsley, Bill Davenport and their token female member, the elderly Mary Vicar, a woman who held herself just as high in regard as she did everyone around her. She was a pleasant woman for the most part, but had firm ideas and suggestions that were not to be taken lightly unless one fancied a cane to the backside until they listen.
Sarah could tell they were enjoying the idea of the play and dance.
“You are in charge of all those little ruffians,” Mary said in a playful voice. “You should know who is right for what role. You don’t really need to have them come and audition for a part. How about you pick the parts and we’ll set up an initial rehearsal where you tell them all what part they will play? If there are any objections, simply switch up if possible.”
Sarah liked the take charge, intelligent way the older woman made suggestions.
“I’ll second that,” Dan added, lifting one finger upright. “And for the adult dancing, what exactly is that going to entail? I know you have dance lessons and teach groups of people in town how to dance, but what would this refer to?” He tapped the table, as if the idea was firmly attached to its surface.
Sarah was excited to give them the details. “I’ll be asking anyone who’s taken my classes if they want to do a routine. A person can do one on their own or have a partner. To a Christmas song, I think. It can be a slow paced or fast-paced song, depending on what kind of dancing they want to do.”
“Do you plan to participate?” All of them looked at her directly.
Sarah hadn’t thought about that until Bruce posed the question. She looked up at the ceiling, thinking before she answered. “Well, it’s not a competition, it’s only for entertainment, so I don’t see why I couldn’t put on a show for everyone.”
“Would you have a partner?”
Sarah shook her head. “I will be honest with you, Bruce. I haven’t really thought about it. I will give it some thought, though, and get back to you on it. Is that okay?” She wondered for a moment if the man was asking to be her partner. Bruce was in his early forties, a distinguished-looking fellow, especially now in wintertime when he could wear his fancy scarfs and thick coats. He invested highly in winter clothing. Sarah wondered if he was as uncomfortable as she was with the cold weather. He’d never been to any of her classes, so she’d never thought he had any interest.
Still, as much as she respected the man, she didn’t want to give him any ideas. She didn’t think he would be a good partner for her.
Bruce put her fears to the wind when he said, “I’d be impressed if you did. I myself can’t do any type of dance. I have weak ankles and would probably break them both if I tried.”
“Oh, you poor man,” Mary teased the much younger man. “Whatever will we do?”
Her grin gave away that she was playing with him and smiles appeared all around the table.
“All right, so when would you like to have this dance and play? The weekend before Christmas, perhaps?”
“That sounds good.”
“It’s too bad we don’t have Olivia here,” Bruce remarked.
Sarah had never heard of anyone named Olivia in Larkspur. “Who is Olivia?” she asked.
“Olivia Carrington. He’s talking about Olivia Carrington,” Mary supplied the answer. “She was a dear of a woman but died before you came to town. She was lovely, a dancer like yourself, but more…” Mary waved one wrinkled hand in the air, indicating all of Sarah’s body. “…more willowy, wispy, a light breeze might knock her off her feet. It’s no wonder she was never able to have children.”
“Miss Sarah doesn’t need to hear about Olivia Carrington,” Dan spoke up, a big, burly man with white blond hair curled all over his head and a smattering of freckles across his cheeks and nose that had never faded with time. Sarah doubted they ever would. “I think it’s a fine idea what you’re doing, Sarah. You have my full support. Just let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
Sarah was taken aback and very curious about the behavior of the council members when Olivia Carrington was mentioned. She wondered if she’d ever know the truth behind that remark and the following ones. It made her curious to the point she planned to ask Emily if she knew anyone named that when she saw her again.
Which would be in about ten minutes. She was done with her proposal to the council and they looked about ready to approve it. Only Bill Davenport hadn’t put in his two cents, but when Sarah looked over at him, she knew the reason why. He was sitting up in the chair, his arms crossed over his chest and his chin down with them. His eyes were closed and if they were all quiet long enough, they could hear his steady breathing.
He was asleep.
Sarah nearly jumped out of her skin when Mrs. Mary Vicar’s cane slammed down on the table surface.
“Mary! Good God!” Bruce looked at the elderly woman like he wanted to strangle her.
“Wake up, Bill!” Mary cried out, slapping the table with the cane one more time. “Wake up! We have important Christmas things to discuss. Wake up.”
Bill stirred, slower than Sarah could believe, considering the level of noise Mary was making. He lifted his head and looked at them, squinting through eyes still half asleep. “Wh… what? Oh.”
He looked disappointed to realize where he was, which made Sarah have to choke back laughter.
“I don’t do much with Christmas,” he said. “Sorry.”
“That’s ok, Bill,” Sarah cajoled him softly. “We will all take care of it. Maybe you can be Mr. Scrooge in our play?”
Bill lifted his thick brown eyebrows. “You are putting on the Christmas Carol play?”
“No,” Sarah instantly answered, a grin on her face. “But we can put him in any way, if you want to play the part.”
Bill must have realized she was teasing him because he narrowed his eyes and grinned thinly. “Yes, yes. I am not Mr. Scrooge. I am not fortunate enough to be so rich.”
This made them all laugh.
Sarah left the meeting a few minutes later with a song in her heart and a gleam in her eye. She was ready to gather her children together and start working on the play. First rehearsal would be Saturday, so everyone could be there to observe and have a good time. There was a party on Sunday at the church, just a festive Christmas do, and she planned to be there to talk to the adults about putting on a dance skit. She didn’t know how many people would want to participate, but if she could get at least six individuals or couples to put on a routine, that would be perfect.
She laughed softly to herself as she walked home, as excited as a child on the big day itself.
Tom stabbed the shovel into the ground, loosening the dirt. He twisted the shovel, gazing intently at the hole he was making. He was a precise man, if nothing else. The hole had to have just the right amount of depth, so the pole he was planting in it wouldn’t tilt or be easy for livestock to push over if they were so inclined.
Sometimes he was stunned by the situations his cattle got themselves into. He wasn’t impressed with their intelligence level.
Still, that made it easier for Tom to feel compassion for them. Stupid as they were, they were content with their lives. As far as he knew, anyway. He was no cow talker, couldn’t communicate with them.
Tom glanced up, looking out into the pasture where his cows roamed, swinging their thin tails back and forth to keep flies off their backsides. So dumb. Such dumb creatures.
He shook his head, looking down at the hole as he pushed the wood down into it. He propped the pole against one shoulder while he pushed dirt into the hole to keep it up long enough for him to properly fill it.
Tom’s skin lit up with goosebumps when he heard his name called.
It had been months since he’d had a visitor. When his beloved Olivia died, Tom made himself into a recluse. It wasn’t exactly intentional; he just lost all interest in going to Larkspur. He didn’t want to see anyone. He hired two boys to help him around his small farm, doing odd jobs like getting food and supplies from town. His best friend, George, was often there to help him out. Other than that, he didn’t see hide nor hair of anyone from Larkspur. Not in five long years.
So, having his name called caught him off guard. He had to prop the pole in his hands to peer out toward the house, squinting to focus on the horse and rider.
It was Bruce Carsley. What in heaven’s name was Bruce Carsley doing on his farm?
He lifted one hand and waved. “Howdy, Bruce. Long time no see.”
“Yes, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
Tom waited to reply until Bruce had stopped and slid out of his saddle. “Nigh on five year, I’d say,” Tom answered. He knew how long it was to the day, but didn’t bother letting it on. He’d almost given up on life when Olivia died, but for some reason, God had kept him around. He wanted to demand an explanation for why Bruce had come and interrupted his solitude, but it wasn’t in his nature to be surly and rude, even when he was in the grumpiest of moods.
That’s why he’d been able to woo and win a woman like Olivia. He was a gentle soul, just as she’d been fierce as a burning fire. Thinking of her made him feel warm inside, followed by a terrible ache that seemed to never go away.
He shoved the feelings aside and grinned at the man, stripping off one of his work gloves to extend a hand of friendship.
“I’ve been keepin’ to myself for a while now. How’s everyone in Larkspur? All happy and well?”
Bruce snorted gently. “Lots of comings and goings, death and drama since you been gone, Tom. But I thought I’d come out here, like I do every Christmas, and ask ya to come back and celebrate with us. You know George would love that and Lisa, too. We all want you to come back, Tom. Plus, there might be a new reason for ya to come back and maybe live again.”
Tom couldn’t remember the last time someone had said things like that to him. If he had to guess, it would be the last Christmas, when Bruce came to invite him to the town’s festivities. He had to give it to the man. He was persistent. The funniest thing about it was that he didn’t pass a message through George or his wife, Lisa. Bruce just came right out to the farm every December to see if he could convince Tom to rejoin society.
So far, the answer had been no.
“Finding Love’s True Tempo” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
In the heart of Larkspur, 1890, poised schoolteacher Sarah Foster lives for the magic of dance. As the yearly Snowflake Dance approaches, Sarah’s Christmas wish is upended by a surprising proposition. Her heart flutters with excitement, but can she trust her instincts?
Could this be more than a lesson?
Tom “Tumbleweed” Carrington is a man shrouded in rumors and whispers. His rugged exterior hides a tender soul, haunted by past heartaches. Desiring to dance, if only for one enchanting evening, Tom seeks out Sarah’s expertise. Yet, every step they take together draws them closer in ways neither anticipated.
Does he have the strength to overcome his trauma?
As the Snowflake Dance nears, danger and suspicion cast shadows on their blossoming connection. With evil accusations looming and the town’s loyalties divided, can their unexpected bond withstand the frost of doubt? And amidst the waltz and wonder, will love find a way?
“Finding Love’s True Tempo” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.