The kitchen at six in the morning was akin to what I remembered of busy Chicago intersections—crowded, loud and slightly dangerous. With ten women in the house, there was never quiet, never any peace. It was the same, day in and day out. Dahlia bickered with Miss Esther about how the bacon should be cooked. Poppy stood behind Lily and styled her blond hair in another inventive creation. Marigold set the table with a loud clatter of dishes, eager for her meal. Hyacinth sat at the large table humming placidly to herself as she sewed on a button. Iris and Daisy were most likely still asleep or at least taking their time in dressing as to avoid morning chores. I paused and watched the hubbub, shaking my head at the claustrophobic feel in the room.
Nothing had changed. The room had not changed since the first day we’d all arrived from Chicago sixteen years before. Besides being older, no one had changed; our personalities were as varied as ever. Except me. I’d changed. Why did everyone irk me? Why did the house suddenly seem so small? Why did my sisters seem so grating? Why did I feel like I was being suffocated?
Wanting to escape, I dropped the armful of wood into the bin beside the stove and walked right back outside, and started across the grass to the stable. I took deep breaths of the cool morning air in an attempt to settle myself. It was too early to be riled, especially from just the normal morning routine.
“Rose!” Miss Trudy’s voice carried all the way to me. There was more than physical distance between us; there was an emotional separation as well. I stopped and turned back with a sigh, tucking my unruly hair behind my ear. The woman who’d raised eight orphan girls, myself included, held up a folded cloth. “If you won’t eat at the table, at least take something with you.”
Her hair was up in a simple bun at her nape of her neck, the gray in her red hair bright in the sun just breaking over the mountains. She was still beautiful, even with the fine lines that showed her age. As I mounted the steps to take the food, I saw concern in her green eyes, but refused to speak of it.
I smelled the biscuits and bacon and my stomach rumbled. “Thanks,” I replied, with a semblance of a smile on my lips.
“Where will you be?” she asked, her voice calm and placid. She never shouted, never raised her voice.
No one went off without sharing their whereabouts, for dangers abounded the ranch and all of Montana Territory beyond.
Not sure what else to say, I turned to head towards the stable. I couldn’t tell her I was unhappy, although I was sure she knew. Uttering the words would make me seem ungrateful. She and Miss Esther had provided a stable, loving home for all of us girls. I would have grown up in a large city, never knowing the open expanses and big sky of Montana if they hadn’t claimed us all and brought us west. The thought had me rubbing the space above my heart, guilt and a restlessness pressing heavily. No matter the depth of her caring or the closeness I had with the other girls, I needed more. I needed to escape.