Hidden Springs, Kansas Territory
August 21, 1859
I knelt at Ma’s grave and placed a bouquet of daisies beside the marker, then slid to a sitting position and crossed my legs, getting comfortable for my talk. I closed my eyes and imagined Ma sitting beside me, her hand on my back, asking me what was wrong. So much was, and it had been a month since my last visit. My sister Lucy had come with me that day, so I hadn’t felt comfortable or had the time to have a conversation about what troubled me.
Before speaking, I glanced around the cemetery to make sure I was alone. The last thing I needed was someone telling Pa that I was talking to myself. We’d had too many ruckuses the last few weeks. I hated arguing. I’d rather do about anything but argue when I know I can’t win. No one ever wins with Pa. Well, no one ever did until Miss Carstairs came along.
I shook my head. “How does she do it, Ma? How does she get her way when you never could?”
I picked up a daisy and twirled the stem between my fingers, then put the flower down and stared off toward the cottonwood trees on the north side of the cemetery. “I guess I don’t have to tell you I’m fifteen today. You always remembered my birthday and made that joke about how you were there. Pa has never remembered my birthday. I’m almost grown now, but no one sees that. They all think of me as Hiram’s boy. I’m tired of being that. I want to be my own man, but I’m not sure what that means, either. And this year all Pa talks about is getting married.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Ambrose.”
Susan Hogan’s voice startled me. I felt my face get warm, embarrassed that she had caught me talking aloud and wondering how much she’d heard.
“Hey, Sue. I didn’t hear you come up behind me.”
She chuckled. “I could tell.”
I forced myself to look up and relaxed at the sight of her warm smile and twinkling brown eyes.
She took a step back. “I guess you were talking to your mother. I shouldn’t have interrupted.”
I tensed up and glanced away.
“It’s all right you know. I talk to my sister.” She nodded to a fresh grave three rows back.
“But she just passed three weeks ago,” I said. “Ma’s been gone four years.”
“They’re never gone from our hearts, Ambrose.” She glanced at the half dozen purple coneflowers clutched in her hand. “I saw these and had to bring them. I guess that’s what happened with you and the daisies.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, I’ll leave you to your visit.” She backed up a couple of steps before turning and gliding across the grass to her sister’s grave.
Susan was the prettiest girl in Hidden Springs and lived on the next farm down the road from ours. I wanted to go talk to her more, maybe walk her home, but Pa had notions about society and becoming a legislator if Kansas ever became a state and had declared Susan Hogan and her family not good enough to associate with.
I pushed to my feet and stood a moment, looking down at Ma’s grave. The feeling of communication was gone. I didn’t blame Susan for interrupting, but I would have to come another day.
Susan looked up as I headed toward the road and gave me a wave. I waved back. I had chores to do. I always had chores.
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