A persistent loud knocking on the kitchen door roused Laura from a nap. As she descended the stairs she tried to shed the emotional residue from the night before. She hoped it wasn’t Danny wanting to discuss what they were or were not to each other and the thought put a knot in her stomach. I just won’t answer the door if it’s him. She slyly peeked around the corner of the kitchen, being careful not to be seen so she could identify the knocker. She let out a sigh of relief when she saw it was only Joanne Sproule. When she opened the door Joanne was standing with a wailing baby, her face droopy from exhaustion and her long gray hair falling out of its hair clip in five different directions.
“Help!” she said, pushing past Laura and plunking herself down on a chair by the stove. “This baby hasn’t slept since yesterday morning and I’m about to collapse so please be a peach and take him off my hands for a few hours while I sleep. I’ll do anything in return, just name it Laura!”
Laura reached down and took the baby in her arms. “I’d love to Joanne. This little guy is just what the doctor ordered for me today as it happens. No payment needed, you know I love babies and especially little Colin.”
“Laura, I love you eternally for this! Now I’ll mosey on home and fall into unconsciousness. His mum will be by this evening to pick him up after her shift at the home. I’ve left some diapers and wipes and a fresh change of clothes on the porch and some formula too. Here’s his bottle.” Joanne pulled a half full baby bottle for her apron pocket and passed it to Laura. “If he gets hungry, just keep feeding him and good luck getting him to sleep because he’s teething and everyone in Nebraska knows it!”
When Joanne closed the door behind her, Laura rocked little colin for half an hour, walking up and down the the dark and cool hallway singing every lullaby she knew. Finally his little head began to droop and when he closed his big brown eyes Laura sat cuddling the baby in a chair beside the front window overlooking her flower garden. They stayed that way until another knock came to the door. She was taken off guard when she saw Danny standing on the porch and for a moment entertained the idea of slamming the door in his face but relented when he noticed little colin sleeping in her arms.
“Who is this little guy?”
“This is Colin, Joanne’s grandson.” She said. “I”m babysitting so that she can get some sleep. His mother works at the nursing home, so I only have him for the afternoon. Come in before we both wake him up.”
Danny sat at the kitchen table, looking around him as if he were on another planet. “So this is what the inside of your prison looks like.” He said.
Laura ignored his sarcasasm, excusing herself to tend to Colin. After she and Michael lost the baby she kept basinette her aunt Ruby had given her. It did get some use when Laura was given the opportunity to babysit for the women in the community but it was never as often as she would have liked. After Colin was settled she delayed returning to the kitchen because she knew there would be a continuation of the drama from the day before and she just wasn’t sure she could stop the tears this time. She would rather have a root canal than cry in front of Danny.
“There you are!” He said, in a tone of voice that implied he knew she’d taken her time to avoid him.
“What do you want Danny?”
“I don’t know. I thought I did when I decided to drive over here, but now I’m confused again. You confuse me Laura Jane, you fill my head with fog.”
Laura sat across from him, and before she could speak he leaned forward, taking her hands in his. “Laura Jane, I’ve made some mistakes, big mistakes. The first was leaving you here instead of fighting for us. The Second was marrying someone else, thinking it would help me get over you. I’ve involved Maria in this now and I’ve hurt you both.”
“Does she know about us Danny?” She asked, her eyes avoiding his.
“No, she doesn’t have a clue, at least not from me. As for the gossips in Jasper, if I don’t tell her about us, they will.”
“You should have told her Danny but I can’t talk can I. Michael and I have never spoken about you and I and as far as I know he is still in the dark about and that’s how I want it to stay.”
“Why Laura? Why the hell won’t you tell him and leave him? I don’t believe for one second it’s because you care about him or his health. That’s bullshit!”
Laura took a deep breath before plunging into the deep water of the past, her past with Michael. “You’re right Danny, it has nothing to do with his health or my worrying about him. I made it up because I didn’t want to tell the real reason I’ve stayed with him all these years. It started a long time ago and it didn’t seem to matter anymore because it simply became a fact of life, like farm chores, cooking and paying the bills. In fact, it is a bill and I’ve been paying it since I was fifteen.” Laura felt the tears well up in her eyes, one for every minute of her life spent on this farm with a man who held her to a debt that she didn’t really owe.
“Fifteen? As in fifteen years of age?” Danny looked at her, incredulous that she had lived here with a man twice her age since she was a teenager. “Please tell me your joking Laura jane!”
“I wish I were Danny, dear god I wish I were, but it’s the gospel truth.”
Danny stood, looking down at the woman he realized he never really knew completely and for a moment a surge of rage coursed through his body. “Why Laura?” he asked, crouching down in front of her, softening his voice so she couldn’t detect the thick layer of anger beneath his words.
There was an unbearable silence in the room before Laura composed herself enough to look in Danny’s eyes. He deserved to know the truth and she was going to tell him everything. “It started with my dad. We had a farm bordering Michael’s place and their had been friends for years, since they were children but that all changed when my mother died. I was twelve then, when she lost her fight with breast cancer and Daddy fell apart. Within a year of her death he had a stroke and hew as never the same Danny, he couldn’t remember anything and he couldn’t walk very well. I took over the farm but I was a kid and the bills started piling up, with no money to pay them. This is when Michael stepped in. He came over one evening and told Daddy that if he didnt’ get himself together the authorities would have to be notified. He said they would take me into foster care and the bank would take the farm, leaving him homeless and sick. They struck a deal that night, Michael would pay our bills and maintain the farm where Daddy could live out the rest of his life as long as he gave his permission for me to marry him. When Daddy told me I vomited and cried but I had no choice. The thought of going into foster care terrified me Danny and I couldn’t bear my father living on the street in his condition. Daddy was frail and vulnerable and Michael easily bullied us both into it. I was just a kid Danny, I didn’t know anything. Daddy died the next spring and by that time Michael and I were married and I was pregnant. A few months later I lost the baby too.”