The setting is somewhere in the American West, mid 1800s.
We’re about to walk into my parents’ backyard where they are having a party with all the family invited. My grandmother is sitting in a rocking chair brought out for her, and my mother is walking out of the door and towards the table with something in her hand – it smells like fresh cornbread.
He’s nervous. Of course he is. I have a large family and a successful father who expects his girl to marry someone of standards. Alexander doesn’t have any “standards”. But I believe in him. He is smart, clever and ambitious and I have faith in him.
We are in love, so in love. I can’t let go of his hand as we walk into the lion’s den. I am nervous that Alexander will not be able to keep his cool and stand up to my father in declaring our love and intentions to get married.
Everyone looks at us as we walk in, and my father, as if on cue, turns red under his neatly trimmed black mustache and beard and walks over to us, trying to keep his composure. I can feel Alexander’s breath catch in his chest and go still. I put my arm around his waist as if to support him, and he grips me tightly around the shoulders.
“What’s the meaning of this?” my father asks in deadly quiet tones.
“Sir, I am here to announce in front of you, God and your family my love for your daughter and our intentions to be married,” Alexander says much more evenly than I anticipated. My heart is brimming with pride as I look up at him and smile. I look back at my father, “Father, I know this might not be what you had in mind, but I am asking you to give him a chance and get to know him a little better.”
He looks at me with quiet rage flaring in his eyes, and his voice is still dangerously soft as he responds, “I will speak to you in due time. You – ” he points towards Alexander’s chest, ” Who do you think you are? Who are you to walk into my private party and make such an announcement? What makes you think you are good enough for my daughter? How will the bastard son of a crazed merchant woman provide for my daughter? How dare you make such profane assumptions that I could ever give my blessing to such a match? Get out.”
Somewhere in the middle of this I had buried my face into Alexander’s side and breathed into him, hoping to give him the strength to remain calm. He is so tall that I only reach just under his shoulder. I can feel him begin to quake with rage, and I feel him clench his right fist to the side as he continues to hold me close to his left.
When my father tells him to leave, Alexander takes a deep breath and answers, “Sir, I hear you and would still like the chance for you to know me better. But you do not seem to understand, she is no longer your daughter, she is my wife, and where I go, she goes.” On that, we both turned and walked back the way we came in. The whole family watches on in stunned silence.
We walk up and down a dirt country rode to go talk to his mother. She won’t be pleased, for sure, but she will be more supportive. When we are finally away from my family’s house, Alexander sits down on a rocky jut of land and puts his head in his hands. I can only marvel at how beautiful he is and how bravely he just acted.
“Well, that was a disaster.” He lets out a sigh and sits himself up to look at me. I walk over to him and put myself so that I am standing between his knees, and I put my arms just under his to hug his chest. “Of course it was, but I’m so proud of you.” I see his neck peeping out from his striped, light blue shirt and I can’t resist – I lean in and begin to kiss it. My hands move to his dark brown suspenders.
I feel him tense up and then wrap his hands around my middle and bring me up onto his lap so that I’m straddling him. He rests one hand in the small of my back and one on my neck as he puts is head there and breathes deeply. “It is all going to be okay, I know it will. I trust us,” I say, as I move up from his neck and to his lips. He kisses me passionately and pulls me even closer, needing my breath for his. He brings me down to the soft grass and we begin to lose track of time and ourselves.
But before we get any farther so out in the open, there is a gun shot right above us that shocks us out of our reverie. We look up in surprise to see a brown, laced lady’s boot at our heads, which is attached to his mother, shotgun perched on her right hip and her left hand on the other. “Well, we better get that moved. Come on, let’s go home.”
We quickly stand up and brush off the grass and dirt. Alexander looks a bit sheepish and I can’t keep back a giggle. His mother just caught us making out in the middle of nowhere, but I couldn’t care less.
We follow her towards her little outpost store, and Alexander tries to play down how she caught us, but I don’t think she cares all that much. She leads us into the store and leans the gun down on the floor behind the counter and looks up at us. Her light brown hair is roughly pinned up and messily frames her face. She looks lovely for her age, I always thought so. This woman has an air of roughness and wildness about her that seemed to rub off only a smidgeon onto her only son, but I so admired her unkempt attire and honest attitude. She was so different from the orderly world I grew up in. Many people in town were scared of her. To me, she was a heroine come to life from one of my story books.
Alexander explains to his mother what happened, and a cloud passes over her face. She wasn’t overtly pleased, as we had predicted, but would let us stay there for a while to get our lives a bit sorted. She even said she would let me help out and whatever I earned could go to the new school I wanted to open and run. She seemed pleased that I didn’t want to be just a housewife.
Her assistant came in – a sweet Asian girl she had rescued from some traders. She looked a bit nervous and when Alexander’s mother asked her what was wrong, something on a shelf to the side of the counter lit up like it was going to explode. Before words could be exchanged, we grabbed each other and we all ran out of the store as fast as we could, with whatever was lit up erupting into an explosion big enough to blow most of the store to pieces.
I looked up from the grass where the explosion had thrown me, and looked back to see the remains of the store burning. I could see the other three also picking themselves up off the grass. Suddenly, there were books and pages of books flying in the wind. I got up and walked over and onto the bridge. It was over a deep ravine where a strong river flowed. A steamboat was passing underneath me, and books were being tossed from its cargo and they were flying up and past me. An idea popped into my head and I made to grab them -I had to save them! I could see words and pictures popping off the paper as if to give one last shout to the world that they were important and full of beauty and worthy of saving. Alexander was walking towards me, still in the grass, and calling to me, confused as to why I was where I was and trying to catch the books. I yelled out at him, “I have a brilliant idea! Help me save as many books as you can!” He paused and looked at me, clearly puzzled, but started to help me collect the flying pages.