Paper Roses
out the window, her indecision clear. Her left hand covered her mouth, then dropped to touch her locket, and still she said nothing. Sarah clenched her fists. She’d never been good at waiting. At last Mrs. Bramble looked at Thea, then raised her eyes to meet Sarah’s gaze. “I reckon it would be like having a grandchild,” she said with a smile that made Sarah’s worries melt faster than spring snow. “Yes, I’ll do it.” Mrs. Bramble continued. “Thea and I will get along fine, won’t we?” She opened her arms and welcomed Thea into them. “But there won’t be no money involved. Is that clear?”
    Sarah felt tears of joy sting her eyes. This was so much more than she’d expected. If she didn’t have to pay Mrs. Bramble, she would be able to buy a house that much sooner. When that happened, not only would she and Thea be truly independent, but they’d no longer be a burden to Clay. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
    Mrs. Bramble’s eyes shone. “My pleasure. I figger it’s a neighborly thing to do.”
    A clock chimed, and Sarah’s hostess frowned. “I reckoned he’d be here by now.”
    As the words registered, Sarah realized her instincts had been accurate. Mrs. Bramble had been expecting someone, but it wasn’t her and Thea. She started to rise. “It’s time for us to go back to the Bar C.”
    “Nonsense. The doctor is sometimes late.”
    Doctor? Sarah tried not to be alarmed. Though Mrs. Bramble appeared healthy, if she had some ailment, she should not be caring for Thea. It would be too much of a strain. “I hope it’s nothing serious.”
    As if she understood Sarah’s concerns, Mrs. Bramble shook her head. “A touch of nerves. It ain’t nothing that would stop me from taking right good care of your sister.”
    Sarah let out the breath she hadn’t been aware she was holding. “I’m glad to hear that, and not just for selfish reasons. I could find someone else to care for Thea, but I’d hate to lose a friend, especially one I’ve just met.”
    Mrs. Bramble started to place the plates and glasses back on the tray. “I hope we will be friends. Out here, a woman cain’t have too many friends.” She looked up at Sarah. “This here’s a bit of advice from a friend. If’n you and Thea ever need a doctor, make sure and call Dr. Adler. You might be tempted to ask Clay, seeing as how he’s right there, but that would be a mistake.”
    “Clay?” Sarah didn’t understand.
    Mrs. Bramble pursed her lips. “The townspeople are mighty impressed by his degree from the Massachusetts Medical College. To my mind, that ain’t nothing but a piece of paper. What counts is experience. For all his fancy training, Clay ain’t a very good doctor. He cain’t help his father, and he didn’t save his wife when she was dying.”
    Clay had been married? His wife had died? Sarah felt the blood drain from her face. No wonder he seemed angry. He had lost almost everyone he loved. The poor, poor man!

    Sarah’s mind was still reeling as she tried to swallow the food Martina had put in front of her and Thea. Though her sister was eating with relish, Sarah barely tasted the dishes. Poor Clay! How had he borne the pain? Sarah’s happiness in finding someone to care for Thea during the day was tempered by the knowledge of what Clay had endured. When her parents had died, for the first few days Sarah had blamed herself, believing there must have been something she could have done to stop Papa. Gradually, though, she had realized that nothing she could have said or done would have changed his mind. That was when her sorrow had turned to anger.
    Sarah took a sip of water before she broke another piece of cornbread for Thea. The visit with Mrs. Bramble, although brief, had been filled with revelations she was still trying to understand. Clay was a doctor. No wonder he’d been so solicitous when he’d told Sarah of Austin’s death. No wonder he’d been so concerned about Thea’s being bitten by a snake.

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