The beginning of the summer heat was beating down and through the glass windows of the old church building, fanning out over the mass of people that attended without fail. Tilly Jean clenched her fists together as she sat and listened to the readings chosen for that particular Sunday.
Her skin felt slightly clammy, and she wished more than anything that the thickness of her skirt wasn’t trapping so much heat inside of her body—it felt as though she was cooking on a fire. Her brunette hair fell in tousled curls, though Tilly Jean was sure the heat inside the church would soon leave them looking frazzled and lifeless. The number of bodies all around them the fact that the church had been built when the town of Breckett hadn’t yet grown as large as it was at the current time didn’t help, either.
She was trying her hardest to focus on the words that were being spoken, words that were supposed to comfort her, but it was after the sermon that Tilly Jean couldn’t help but look forward to more. That was because she had something to say.
The majority of the town turned up for the church service every Sunday. It had become more than just a thing of religion; the church integrated a social aspect, too. It was also the perfect place for gossip to spread. So Tilly Jean thought she would give them all something positive to talk about, something that would perhaps help to spread change.
“And now, we have a special announcement that I believe our own Tilly Jean Stafford would like to make. Tilly Jean?”
She pursed her lips and slowly stood up in her pew, watching the sea of eyes turn to take her in with their full attention. Tilly Jean felt a flutter of nerves as she coughed and began to run through what she planned to say.
“Yes, thank you, Pastor. This is mainly an announcement for all the girls in church today,” she began, smiling sweetly as she made eye contact with a few people that she particularly wanted to join her. “I’m hosting weekly meetings to talk about the ‘Independent Woman’ and what that could mean for us. You’ll have the opportunity to learn a whole host of new skills that you probably wouldn’t otherwise be able to learn.”
“Like what?” a man from the crowd called out, earning some nods as others shared his curiosity.
“Well…” Tilly Jean glanced down at the people in the pew next to her. She could already see her father bracing himself. He liked to maintain his appearance, to create the illusion of class and an air of dignity that simply wasn’t natural to achieve.
“Things like money management, you know, to work out what it is that your husband is earning and how this is spent.”
Her father, Jefferson Stafford, closed his eyes, his head dipping slightly. Tilly Jean watched as he visibly shrunk in his seat, greying hair catching the sunlight as he shifted uncomfortably.
Her explanation had earned a few sniggers. People weren’t taking it seriously, although it was mainly the men that were scoffing.“Why’d you need to know that?” the same man pressed.
“Well, this is all coming into fashion now, you see… the, uh, the independent woman. That’s why I’ll be holding the weekly meetings in the town hall, so that the young girls of this town can keep up with society.” Tilly Jean straightened up as she explained this, hoping she would get her message across.
“Please, let me know sooner rather than later, just so that I know how many to cater for.”
She promptly sat down, not waiting for any more questions or comments to arise. Tilly Jean made eye contact with her sister, who sat at the end of the row, and the younger blonde smiled back at her, clearly amused by the situation.
A light chatter started up, although it was quickly doused by the sound of the pastor coughing to gather attention. He dismissed the congregation, allowing the crowds to filter out into the midday sun.
As Tilly Jean’s row was filtering out, she caught sight of Robert Baker lurking near the back of the church, half behind a tapestry so that he was out of sight unless you knew to look there—yet still close enough to the door that he could easily make a speedy exit. The wooden beams of the church were casting a shadow over his figure, making it even harder to spot him at the dark edges. However, Tilly Jean knew exactly who he was waiting to see.
Young Mary Beth—blonde, bright, and airy—was practically bursting to get out of the pew, but the stream of people moving past them was difficult to intercept. Tilly Jean watched as her younger sister moved briskly to cut through them, making her way over to the awaiting older man at the edge of the room. They were right behind the curtain and mostly out of sight, although Tilly Jean could see the hem of her sister’s skirt and rolled her eyes at her carelessness.
“What are your plans for the rest of this glorious day?” Tilly Jean turned to her parents to strike up a conversation, catching them both before they could rise from their seats. Her father still held a grimace as his primary expression, evidently displeased by the way that she had presented herself.
“I’m not sure yet, there’s a lot to be done around the house.” Her mother sighed, a weary smile on her face. Tilly Jean was nodding along, as though the response was one of the most interesting things she’d heard in a long time. In reality, she was just pleased that the two of them were facing her and not their youngest daughter, who was currently talking to a man they both knew their father wouldn’t approve of.
Robert himself was an amiable gentleman, that wasn’t the problem—the complication arose with his occupation. As an accountant in a low-paid job, he was hardly a suitable husband for someone of the Stafford family.
Tilly Jean noticed that her parents were losing focus and were going to turn around and see the scene in the shadows of the church. From where she stood, she could make out their shapes, and Tilly caught sight of gestures that appeared to be the regular notes being exchanged. She wanted to roll her eyes; however, she knew it would only trigger a lecture from her father about being proper and not letting her standards of etiquette slip.
She wished that he wouldn’t care that much, but Tilly Jean also knew how much he would dislike the fact that Mary Beth and Robert were swapping notes. He also wouldn’t like the fact that they had been doing so for around six months. Tilly Jean pursed her lips; she was the only one that could unlock that secret with her words. The only one that knew about it and, thus, the only one with the ability to ruin it all. Of course, she would never do anything of the sort, but it did seem to her as though people were going to find out sooner or later. It wasn’t that large of a town—it was her father’s biggest fear for a reason; people would always talk.
“Do you think I’ll get many new members?” Tilly Jean asked her mother, managing to keep both of their attention. Still, she caught the awkward shift as they looked at one another.
“Well, how many members are there at the moment?”
If there was one thing Tilly Jean had learned from being the daughter of Anna Stafford, it was that the woman knew exactly how to ease into a situation. The church had made her kind and, as one of its most frequent attendees, it was safe to say that she was rather good at being sweet. It was the look on her slightly weathered face that told Tilly Jean the kind of answer that she would get to her question—one that would let her down gently.
“I mean… it’s a pretty new thing, so I haven’t technically got any members yet…”
Her father let out another sigh, closing his eyes for a moment and shaking his head.
“But that’s why I’m spreading the word, hopefully, more people will come next time.”
“Hopefully.” Anna smiled lightly at her daughter before moving to rise from the pew. “Come on, now, we have work to be getting on with.”
“Will you be needing any help later, Father?” Tilly Jean asked him as they began shuffling out of the wooden row, breathing in the earthy scent that always seemed to fill the church. Of course, sometimes, in the thick of summer, the smell was extinguished by more raw scents, the kind when there were too many bodies in one space.
“I’d rather you help your mother in the house, I’m fine on the farm.” He waved it off, holding onto the small of his back as he walked ahead, taking his wife’s arm and walking out into the bright sunlight.
Tilly Jean stood dumbfounded for a moment; the spot where Mary Beth and Robert had been conversing was now vacant.
“Looking for someone?” Her sister’s voice rang out in a sing-song tone.
“You owe me.” Tilly Jean smirked at her, raising an eyebrow as she saw the rosy cheeks that the blonde was profusely trying to hide.
“Well, I had to see him, it’s getting harder and harder to not want to just be with him all the time.” She sighed hopelessly. There was a sadness in her tone, one that was as clear as day to Tilly Jean, who couldn’t help but grimace at the news.
“I know you want to be with him, and it’s obvious that he likes you, but you’re just going to have to wait for it to be a more secure option.”
“That’s the thing—what if it never is? He works for a new bank, after all; they might never make enough to pay him more.” For an eighteen-year-old, Mary Beth could be quite bleak when it came to her future.
Being four years older, Tilly Jean looked down at her sister with pity.
“I think you need to have a more positive attitude about this,” Tilly Jean offered as they walked behind their parents, making sure to keep their distance for this conversation.
“You haven’t told anyone, have you?” Mary Beth suddenly looked panic-stricken, eyes wide and pale skin only heightening this impression.
“Not a soul.”
“Good,” she sighed out in relief.
“You’re thinking about this too much. You’ve still got a few years to get married, and that gives Robert some time to secure his pay a little better, right?”
“I guess.” Mary Beth didn’t seem convinced. She was looking down as the two girls made their way across town behind their parents.
Tilly Jean always enjoyed the walk back to the farm. Whenever the wind was against them, it would bring an incoming scent of pine trees, a refreshing reprieve from the usual stink of animal muck that seemed to constantly encompass the farm.
“Just because he can’t support a wife right now doesn’t mean that he won’t ever be able to,” Tilly Jean tried again, reiterating her point, although she knew that it was hopeless. Once Mary Beth had sunken into one of those moods where everything seemed unendingly bleak, there was no removing her from it.
“I don’t get why you aren’t panicking, you’re the one that’s running out of time,” she fired back, but Tilly Jean could see that there was no malice meant in her words.
“I still have some good years, you know? I’m not that much older than you.” She chuckled and shook her head.
Up ahead, Jefferson gripped his wife’s arm tightly, pursing his lips as he thought about the things he’d heard people saying about his daughter.
“I’m sure you heard wrong, my dear.” Anna squeezed his arm lightly, smiling at him as they walked further out of the main town and into the farmland area.
“I didn’t. They were calling her an old maid, saying how strange it was that she wasn’t yet married.” He frowned as he spoke. Jefferson had always known that Tilly Jean was more outspoken than his other children. But that had always been his observation, and it worried him that there were people in the town who were clearly having similar thoughts. It didn’t bode well for her reputation, nor her ability to find a man.
“I think you’re being too hard on her.”
“What, you don’t think that she should be marrying soon?”
“I think that we should leave it up to her,” Anna responded, although he was used to that kind of response—a passive answer that wouldn’t be prone to starting an argument, but would allow him to continue simmering in anger as he mulled over his own internal conflict.
“I think that time is ticking, and it isn’t being kind to her.” He pressed his lips together and tried his hardest to get control of his emotions and anger.
“Don’t bring this up in front of her, though. It won’t help,” Anna muttered, glancing back to see their two daughters walking along and smiling. She couldn’t bear the thought of upsetting Tilly Jean by burdening her with the task of finding a man.
Over the next couple of days, Mary Beth’s talk of Robert seemed to grow in frequency within her conversations with her older sister. Tilly Jean began to realize that her sister was becoming obsessed. She was harboring feelings that were growing stronger by the day and didn’t seem to cease.
“Let me just remind you that he did say he can’t support a woman just yet,” she tried to reason, being careful to keep the tone of her voice from sounding too patronizing or as though she was telling her sister what to do.
“I know, but I’ve heard whisperings that the bank is doing better, and he’s going to be moved up the pay scale,” Mary Beth tried to reason, although Tilly Jean could hear the uncertainty in her voice, laced with a slight hopelessness that there was nothing she could do about.
“We’ll just have to see, I guess.”
The two girls were walking into the main town area with their father, going to get supplies from the market. The sun was already beating down on the morning atmosphere of the town, but a gentle wind rustled the trees, causing pine needles to chuckle in the breeze and birds to scatter across the sky. Their father walked ahead with his shoulders rolled back, nodding to everyone in sight and saying brief good-mornings. Tilly Jean smiled as she watched how he behaved. They were nearing the center of town and more people were coming out of their homes, which meant there were more people for Jefferson to nod and talk to. She admired how much he cared about his appearance; it had earned him a lot of respect within the town, even if it was a hard task to upkeep.
“Come on, girls, we don’t have all day.”
The conversation about Robert Baker was dropped as the sisters caught up with their father, making it into town and straight to the market. For that time in the morning, there were a lot of people out and about in the center, creating a bustling atmosphere that put a smile on Tilly Jean’s face.
They split up and began to look around at the various products and stalls that were scattered around the area. Tilly Jean knew from years of visiting the local market that she was to stay with Mary Beth and let their father go around and haggle a price for the things that they needed. Their job was simply to help carry it all home.
“Look!” Mary Beth practically squealed, stepping onto Tilly Jean’s skirt in the process as she gripped onto her sister’s arm. Tilly Jean jumped out of her skin as she looked at Mary Beth in complete confusion.
“What’s going on?” she hissed, aware that other people around the area were looking at them.
“Look!” Mary Beth pointed over to where they could both see the back of their father’s head. “He’s talking to Robert; do you think that’s a good sign?”
“Well, it can only be good if they’re smiling like they are, I can’t see what they could be talking about that would be bad.” Tilly Jean shrugged, a small smile playing on her lips as she thought that it might finally be happening—their father might finally be beginning discussions about marriage. This excited her, as she finally felt as though she would hear the end of Mary Beth’s constant stream of talk about being with Robert Baker, because it would soon be a reality.
“What do you think they’re talking about?”
“Probably about you and marriage,” Tilly Jean remarked with a chuckle, although she couldn’t wipe the smile off of her own face as they tried to act natural and as though they knew nothing was going on.
“I can’t wait. I might finally be able to marry, isn’t that exciting?”
Tilly Jean nodded to this, although deep down she couldn’t help but wish that her sister had some kind of higher ambition than simply finding a husband. However, Mary Beth seemed sure that there wasn’t any kind of higher goal—this was all she’d been able to think about for the longest time, and now, her dream was finally coming true.
“Come on, we don’t want to make it too obvious that we know what’s going on.” She pulled her younger sister in the direction of the next shop, which happened to be selling a wide variety of produce from the next town, crops which they hadn’t yet managed to cultivate on their own farm. Tilly Jean was taking a genuine interest in what she was looking at, but she could tell that Mary Beth was only pretending to as she was internally trying to control her excitement.
“Are you still looking?”
“Sorry, I can’t help it. What if they’re really talking about the marriage?” Her voice was practically shaking as she spoke, the nerves evident in her face as wide eyes stared back at Tilly Jean.
“They probably are.” She shrugged in response, immediately wishing she hadn’t said that as she realized it would only tip Mary Beth’s excitement over the edge.
“You really think so?”
Tilly Jean merely shrugged in response, turning her attention back to the fact that she still wanted to browse around and see what was on offer. She pulled at her skirts, wishing that the heat would ease off as she could already feel it getting trapped in between the fabrics, as well as in her boots. A light sheen on her face was never something that people found attractive in a woman. It was something that she was going to have to live with, though, as the sun was rather intense.
“Come on, then, girls. I think it’s time we got back.” Jefferson walked over to where his two daughters were waiting for him. Tilly Jean was the first to approach him, a smile on her face as she nodded politely.
“Hi, Daddy, come and have a look at what I found.”
Unbeknownst to Jefferson, Tilly Jean planned to distract him with various random items—she hadn’t found anything in particular that would be of interest to him. However, Tilly Jean was simply distracting him long enough that Robert Baker could talk to her younger sister. She saw the note in his hand, and the discreet way that he had managed to put it into Mary Beth’s hands. There was also something about the way he looked at her. It was different from the way he’d looked only a couple of moments previously, as though his entire demeanor could simply change in an instant. He looked like there was something on his mind, but Tilly Jean was having a difficult time deciding whether or not it was a positive or negative shift.
She led her father over to a random stall, picking up various items that had no real relevance to anything that she was doing, simply hoping that he wouldn’t notice the sheer randomness of her actions. Tilly Jean knew that it wasn’t her best cover-up, but she couldn’t think of anything else to do as she saw the confusion that came over Mary Beth’s face. It was clear that whatever was wrong in Robert’s stance, she could sense it, too.
“Everything all right?”
“Hm?” Tilly Jean turned back to look at her father. “Oh, yes, quite all right, thank you.” She nodded, flashing him a curt smile, despite the fact that she felt a building unease. Tilly Jean was racking her mind to work out what the issue could possibly be, but nothing came to mind.
“Shall we get going? I still need to get a few more things on the other side of town before we go home, and it’s already getting later in the day.” Jefferson glanced up at the sun in the sky. It was true that it was already rising higher, but to the average person, one would still classify it as early.
“Yes, I think that’s a good plan,” Tilly Jean agreed as Mary Beth wandered over to where they were stood, careful to hide the note behind her back. It was clear that she hadn’t yet read it, since she was desperate to move into a position where their father wouldn’t see the paper and she could read it in private.
Yet she was going to have to wait a while as they made their way around the town, bidding Robert Baker a brief farewell, both women noticing his rather curt goodbye. He definitely wasn’t himself; despite the fact that he was never that loud of a man, he was still more quiet than usual. It was clear that there was something deeper going on. Tilly Jean decided to let it go, figuring they were going to get nowhere if they continued to pick at it.
They wandered around for a little while longer, letting Jefferson lead the way as he marched around proudly, clearly showing off the fact that he was a successful farmer with two beautiful, and eligible, daughters. Soon enough, they were all heaving along with the various items their father had deemed essential for the farm, including a couple of tools that Tilly Jean was sure she’d seen around the barns already. She knew that men like her father seemed to have a strange obsession with owning tools, as though they were trophies of a sort, evidence of the fact that they put effort into their success.
“All right, shall we head back?”
The two daughters merely shrugged at their father’s proposition, it was nice to be out in the town, much more sociable than working on the farm all day. However, it seemed that there was something on Jefferson’s mind, too. Tilly Jean knew her father well enough to know when there was something blocking his ability to act normal. For someone so good at maintaining his appearance in public, he could be awfully bad at hiding from his family when there was something wrong.
“Everything all right?” Tilly questioned, narrowing her eyes at him, but her father was quick to brush it off.
“I have something to tell you both, but this is a matter that we will discuss back home.” This sentence seemed to be enough to steer them both in the direction out of town that would take them to the farm.
Tilly Jean didn’t realize that she was biting the inside of her cheek until she caught the skin and bit slightly too hard. Wincing, she was thankful that the others seemed slightly too preoccupied with their own thoughts as they made their way out of the main area of town.
Mary Beth was silent. The note was hiding somewhere within her clothing, and it was clear that whatever was going to be told to them, she had an indication it wouldn’t be great news.
“Do you think it’s about marriage?”
“I reckon so.” Tilly Jean nodded. Their voices were carried away on the wind, but they still whispered.
“Oh no, is it not going to happen?”
“I think it will, I think he’s just waiting for a more private place to tell us.” She offered the small pocket of hope to her sister hoping that, in the meantime, it would quench Mary Beth’s thirst for understanding.
However, Tilly Jean wasn’t sure if this would be the case. She was sure that if there was no issue with the idea of Mary Beth marrying Robert, then her father would look less firm in his expression.
They arrived back at the ranch expecting answers, both of girls unable to do anything else until they heard what Jefferson had to say. However, he simply went into his workshop with his new tools and closed the door behind him.
Tilly Jean and Mary Beth may have been on the brink of knowing, but they also understood that when he went in there, they would simply have to wait until he came back out. It was a space they weren’t allowed inside, a place that they had only caught glimpses of whenever the door would briefly open and close.
“This is hopeless. Surely, if it’s good news, he would have told us by now.”
“Don’t lose hope,” Tilly Jean muttered as their mother walked into the farmhouse. The hat on her head was slightly crooked and, judging by the rather unattractive patches of sweat, it was clear that she’d been trying to do as much of the work as she could that morning.
“Mother, I thought we told you that you should take it easy from now on?” She stepped forward and took the wood out of the older woman’s hands.
“I know, but you three were gone and I felt as though I had to make up for the lost time and manpower.” She shrugged it off, moving into the kitchen to clean up and start preparations for dinner. “Did you get the things I wrote down for you?”
“Right here.” Tilly Jean began busying herself with a list of chores that would surely pass the time. Mary Beth, however, seemed frozen to the spot as she stared at the doorway of their father’s workshop.
“Everything all right over there?”
“Mary Beth.” Tilly Jean reinforced her mother’s question in a slightly harder tone, gripping her attention as the young blonde turned to face them both, seemingly shocked out of her thoughts.
“Sorry, I was just thinking,” she muttered and moved over to the kitchen table.
Their mother quickly put a hand out to stop them. “Now, you both go and wash your hands before you go handling anything that’s edible. I don’t want any of that summer dust on this.”
“Sorry, Mother,” they both muttered, as though it was a given that one would apologize. They rushed over to the sink with the intention to scrub their hands clean, working quickly and trying to act as though nothing was wrong.
Although Tilly Jean was sure that their mother didn’t believe them, Anna was no stranger to the patterns of their behavior and was sure to notice that something was wrong. But she didn’t press it, by some kind of miracle—it seemed the last thing she would typically do in that situation.
Later that evening, the atmosphere had grown thick, and the tension was almost unbearable at dinner. The four of them sat in silence and ate the wonderful meal that Anna had prepared, although Jefferson finally looked ready to speak.
“I know it’s not the kind of conversation that the two of you want to have, but I feel as though we must speak about it: the topic of marriage.”
Silence. Tilly Jean could feel her heart hammering away, excited to watch the happiness spread across her sister’s face when she would be told that she was to marry Robert Baker.
“No, we need to talk about this, it’s an important matter to this family, and I won’t have you tell me differently. I do believe that the two of you aren’t getting any younger, and so I see that the role has fallen to me to tell you rather frankly that you must soon marry. Especially you, Tilly Jean—you are already of an eligible age, but as you know, this window will soon close if you’re not careful.”
“Thank you for your concern, Father, but I’m really not looking for a man at this time,” Tilly Jean muttered. “I have other things I want to focus on.”
A silence fell among them again, although not before Tilly Jean caught the grimace on Mary Beth’s face. It was the kind that told her she had said the wrong thing, something that Tilly Jean seemed to be very good at.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that I’m not looking, just that it’s not the only thing that I want to focus on in life.”
“But you must agree that, alongside having children, it’s the most important thing in your life?” Jefferson urged, nodding furiously as though it wasn’t a question but more of an order.
“You don’t need to look any further, I didn’t expect you to start looking for suitors, so I found you one myself. Someone I think will look after you and be able to support you very soon.”
Tilly Jean’s face morphed into a look of complete shock and horror. She didn’t want to marry for finance—if it ever happened, she wanted to marry for love.
“You’re my eldest daughter, Tilly Jean, it is more of a priority to get you settled with a husband than it is for Mary Beth right now. You’re the one who is running out of time, so I felt that I would intervene and help you fix this issue. It’s something that affects all of us, having another mouth to feed when there could be a man doing that job for us, it just makes more sense.”
“W-who is this suitor you’ve picked out?” Although Tilly Jean was fairly confident that she was coming to her own conclusions, the one outcome that she wished just simply wouldn’t be the truth.
“Well, I’ve done some deliberating and, after asking around, I have found a lovely gentleman that I think will support you and keep you in a stable position.” Jefferson cleared his throat. “However, for this to work, I’m going to need you to stop with the club that you’ve been trying to set up. It simply won’t be something that a husband would warm to, the idea that you want independence—that you don’t want to rely on a husband when that is, in fact, his job.”
What? I’m not going to stop my meetings, I want to show women that they can do things for themselves, even if they have a husband,” Tilly Jean insisted, and her voice was now sharpened like a blade, ready for the next blow to counter it with another bout of protesting. She could feel the heat in her cheeks as the anger rose through her body. She pushed her brown hair back and out of her face as she stared steadily at her father, not caring about the tense atmosphere at the table.
“Come on, Tilly Jean, you can’t just go around trying to undo one of the fundamental ideas in our town.” Jefferson narrowed his eyes, seeming uninterested in the meal in front of him. Tilly Jean was now the center of his focus.
“It’s only a small club, it’s not as though it would ever do anything more than show women how to understand how money actually works.”
“People in the town don’t like it, you must know that nobody wants to join the meetings.” He countered.
“So, these must stop—it is a requirement for your hand.”
“But who is it?”
“I am in the process of finalizing the arrangement, but you will be marrying Robert Baker if everything goes correctly. He’s a good man and moving up the ladder of success in the bank by the day, at the moment. I think that the two of you will be happy together.”
Tilly Jean sat in complete shock, trying her hardest not to think about the fact that she was going to have to marry the man that her sister had fallen hopelessly in love with. When the realization hit her, her mouth hung open, the heat of the room finally getting to her cheeks and turning them a bright red from a mixture of anger and frustration.
Her eyes then darted straight to look at Mary Beth, who was a similar shade of red, which contrasted with her blonde hair and made her look even angrier. Tilly Jean could only stare at her sister hopelessly, begging Mary Beth to understand that she had known nothing about this. Yet the conviction in Mary Beth’s eyes seemed to spread further than to simply be aimed at their father.
Her mouth was open, as though she was going to say something, yet no words managed to come out, only a low and long sigh.
There was something slightly unnerving about her reaction; it told Tilly Jean nothing as to who Mary Beth was angrier at. However, she managed to hold her feelings in, despite the glassy eyes, and Mary Beth managed another mouthful of food.
“I know that he may not have the kind of income that you’re used to right now,” their father continued, his gaze never leaving his eldest daughter. “However, I believe that in your… circumstance, you can’t afford to be picky, Tilly Jean. There were plenty of men in the town that would have been perfect for this kind of role, but I know for a fact that none of them would be willing to take you on—they simply think you’re too wild. I tell you, it’s all this talk about independent women. No man wants to hear it.”
Tilly Jean merely sat and listened to what her father had to say, although she couldn’t say that she was taking much of it in. She didn’t want to know about why he was saying such things, she’d thought that her idea had been a good one, one that would bring something new to the community. However, it seemed that it was too different for the small minds of these people, especially the men. Aside from this, she knew that she didn’t want her marriage to be arranged for her, she wanted to be the one to pick what was going to happen to her and to decide her own future.
“So, what do you think?”
It was the first time that her mother had spoken up, although it wasn’t the question that she wanted to hear. She didn’t want to have to voice her opinion; she wasn’t happy about the situation, but she also wasn’t sure of how to react without angering her parents and Mary Beth.
“A-are you sure it’s a good idea?”
“Aren’t you?” Jefferson narrowed his eyes.
“Well, I just know that there are other people in the town that would like to marry him.”
“And he’s chosen to agree to this engagement with you, what do you think that says? This isn’t the kind of offer that you can just refuse, Tilly Jean.”
In a sudden burst of movement, Mary Beth rose from the table and shook her head, looking at them with wide eyes.
“I apologize, I feel very unwell. I’m finished with my dinner. Thank you, Mother!” she called as she made her way up the stairs and stomped into her room. Tilly Jean sat with wide eyes. She had seen the hurt in her sister’s eyes, yet felt as though there wasn’t anything that she could do to remedy the situation.
Mary Beth threw herself down onto her bed and allowed the sobs to rack her body. It felt as though they might tear her apart if she let them. She tried to quiet down, to not make it obvious to her family downstairs that she was crying her eyes out because of this decision. But Mary Beth could feel her heartbreaking, shattering into an irreparable mess.
The tears were carving rivers into her cheeks and the pain in her chest was enough to cause her to wince, springing more tears to her eyes. Mary Beth was trying to get ahold of herself, at least enough to pull the crumpled note out from her shirt and unravel it.
Through blurred vision, she managed to pick out a few words that were already clawing at her feelings and dragging her further down into this pit of sadness. Her chest heaved as she tried to control herself; she wiped her eyes and pushed her now messy hair out of her face. She sat up and began to read through the note that Robert had written to her. All he’d said to her when they had met in town was that he was sorry.
At the time, Mary Beth hadn’t known what he’d been talking about, but now it all seemed slightly too clear, and she wished more than anything that she could go back to being ignorant to the situation.
The note was brief and to the point—it had been rushed, the handwriting suggested. Robert sounded apologetic in his wording as he explained that her father had approached him about the prospect of marrying Tilly Jean. He told her how her father had refused the idea of Robert marrying her, that if Robert was going to marry one of his daughters, then it would have to be Tilly Jean. Jefferson had completely dismissed the idea of him marrying Mary Beth, telling Robert it was something that just wouldn’t happen.
Mary Beth read through the note again, tears still running silently down her face as she tried to make sense of everything. It explained why he hadn’t yet got around to proposing to her; he had been burdened with this knowledge and simply didn’t know how to tell her. That was why he had always come armed with a handful of excuses as to why he couldn’t marry her at present, because her father had made sure that his only option would be Tilly Jean.
She knew it was wrong, but in that moment of raw emotion, all Mary Beth could muster was a great disdain for her sister. How she would do anything to be in Tilly Jean’s position—but that would be too easy, and she knew it.
Mary Beth’s stomach turned at the thought of having to celebrate the marriage in their family, the prospect of being happy for the new couple was something she couldn’t even begin to comprehend.
She felt completely betrayed. The idea of her sister marrying the man she loved hurt more than anything she had experienced before. Mary Beth huffed and screwed the note up. Robert didn’t seem that keen on the idea of marrying Tilly Jean, and neither did she when she had heard the news, but Mary Beth was certain that it would happen. Her father’s word was like the law in their family, and that meant that they would have to adhere to it no matter what. If he wanted Tilly Jean to marry Robert, that was what would happen.
Tilly Jean went to her own room to mull over the news that had been delivered at the table. She could hear Mary Beth’s quiet sobs as she had ascended the stairs, but she knew it would be futile to try and go in there, like poking a wild animal when it was already on edge. Tilly Jean let out a deep sigh and rubbed her hands over her face to try and relax a bit, her shoulders were tense and she could tell that she wasn’t going to be able to sleep easy for a while.
Time passed by and, slowly, the house grew quieter. Tilly Jean could tell that her parents had moved out of the kitchen and were lounging in the front room, because it was right under her bedroom. She decided to stand up for herself and make her plea that she could be independent. She didn’t need a man to marry, especially if it was going to be rushed and out of love like it was. The fact that it was the man that Marry Beth wanted to marry only made it all twice as bad.
“Have you come to a decision, dear?” her mother asked as Tilly Jean walked into the main room of the house and looked at her parents. She could tell that they were still in love; the way they held onto each other told her all she needed to know. Tilly Jean wasn’t going to be marrying for love like they had been able to, and this was something that angered her.
“I don’t want to marry Robert,” she began, pursing her lips as she waited for their reactions. “I can’t explain why… I just don’t want to marry him. It will cause more upset than it’s worth the trouble of.” Tilly Jean was trying her hardest to explain without actually explicitly telling them that her younger sister loved Robert.
“You want us to call off the engagement?” Her father looked at her in horror, as though what Tilly Jean had suggested was something completely unforgivable.
“I don’t love him, Daddy. How can I marry a man that I don’t love?”
“This is your duty to your family that we’re talking about, not just some simple decision that you can make half-heartedly. This is for the benefit of the entire family,” Jefferson argued back. It was clear that he wasn’t going to step down from his argument, no matter what Tilly Jean came back with.
“I know, but I want to make this decision for myself. I still have time and—”
“No, you don’t. There are people in this town that already think you’re getting old. Nobody is going to want to marry a girl that is beyond her best years—even if love were involved, it would still put men off.”
This stung; it was a harsh truth that Tilly Jean hadn’t been prepared to accept. She could feel the tears prickling in her eyes and knew the emotion was finally getting the best of her.
“Darling, you know that Mary Beth isn’t ready for marriage yet, she still has a few more years before she should be thinking of such things. She still has so much to learn about being a woman and running a household, I don’t want her jumping into things unprepared before her older sister,” her mother tried to reason, but in Tilly Jean’s mind, this made no sense.
Surely marriage wasn’t the choice of a father for his daughter—it should be the woman’s choice. At whatever age she wanted.
There was silence for a moment, and Jefferson was staring up at where Tilly Jean was stood with narrowed eyes. “It is already being finalized and that is the last we will say of it,” he announced, finally.
She closed her eyes momentarily and shook her head. Instead of arguing back, however, Tilly Jean let out a loud sigh and simply stormed out of the room. She kept going until she was out the front door and into the bright early summer evening. Her anger had gotten the best of her, and although she wasn’t sure exactly where she was going to go, the one thing Tilly Jean knew for certain was that she needed to clear her head and not worry about what was going on.
Her parents called to her from the porch but she kept walking, not caring for their worried shouts. After all, she knew how to take care of herself better than most women did, she knew what to do if trouble came around.
Mary Beth watched the small figure of her sister fade into the distance. She was shocked that Tilly Jean had reacted in such a way, but she had been glad to hear the way that her sister had fought for her. The weight of hopelessness had settled down onto her chest and refused to budge, leaving Mary Beth feeling weary in the wake of such dramatic news. It was a pain she felt as though she was simply going to have to live with.
“Taming her Wild Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Tilly Jean Stafford is forced into a loveless marriage, as her family’s finances keep getting worse and worse. At the same time, she will need to deal with a big secret that makes everything even more difficult. The moment she feels completely trapped, an unexpected event will give her hope again. Is there any chance for her to escape this arranged marriage and find her own happiness? If her plan fails, Tilly Jean and her sister will end up miserable and heavy-hearted…
Jackson West has spent his whole life traveling around the country, working different jobs to make his living. Love and an affectionate relationship have never been an option for him. His fate though will change dramatically when he meets Tilly Jean. He will be the savior she has been looking for. The future, however, still holds many surprises for them. How will he react when his true intentions will be revealed and his relationship with Tilly Jean will be at risk?
When Jackson and Tilly Jean think that the storm is over, life will have different plans for them. As the truth is revealed everything will fall apart and they will have to face the consequences. Could Jackson intervene and fix what seems to be irreversibly destroyed? Will love finally prevail and show them the path to happiness?
“Taming her Wild Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.