Read Michaela's Choice Online

Authors: Lisa Harris

Michaela's Choice

Copyright

ISBN 1-59310-429-4

Copyright © 2004 by Lisa Harris. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of Ttuly Yours, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., PO Box 719, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683.

Our mission is to publish and distribute inspirational products offering exceptional value and biblical encouragement to the masses.

All Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.

Prologue

Outskirts of Boston, winter 1881

Michaela Macintosh woke to her own screams. The terror of that night had returned, bathing her in a pool of sweat. It was the same dream she’d had since the night of the fire. The house appeared, and she found herself standing in Leah’s bedroom with flames licking at her flesh. In slow motion, Michaela tried desperately to reach out through the horror surrounding her to find her husband and daughter. The muddled screams had grown louder until she finally awoke, realizing the frantic cries were her own.

The door to her room opened, and by the pale light of the moon, she watched as Aunt Clara slipped in and sat on the bed beside her shivering form.

“It’s all right.” Aunt Clara put her arms around Michaela and held her tight. “It was only another nightmare.”

Michaela tried unsuccessfully to control the sobs that came and finally gave in, crying until there weren’t any tears left. There had been fewer nightmares in the last six months, but when the dream did come, it brought with it the stark reality of that night. Longing to push the lingering images away from her, she forced herself to take slow, deep breaths. But unanswered questions continued to haunt her.

After several minutes, the intense feelings of panic left, only to be replaced with a deep void. “Why did Ethen and Leah have to die? I miss them so much.”

Aunt Clara stroked her hair, gently pushing the damp strands away from Michaela’s face. “I wish I could take your pain away. All I know is that God has promised to go through the valleys with us, and He will carry us through times of trouble. ‘The
Lord
redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.’ ”

Listening to the words her aunt recited from Psalm 34, Michaela knew that God had compassion for her. Yet at the moment, He seemed so far away.

“Do you want me to stay until you fall asleep?” Aunt Clara asked.

Michaela nodded and closed her eyes, emotionally exhausted from the ordeal.
When will You take away the pain, Lord?

Aunt Clara’s strong alto voice broke through the quiet of the night. “ ‘What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear. What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer.’ ”

The words from the hymn worked as a salve on Michaela’s
spirit, and before long, she drifted off into a dreamless slum
ber.

One

Six months later

Michaela looked out her second-story bedroom window toward the ocean. A ship followed the breeze into the harbor, its majestic white sails billowing in the wind. What would it be like to sail on a vessel that could take her to another place? Another time? Another life?

That’s what she wanted now—to get away. Far away where she could forget. But she knew she would never be able to. How could she erase the moment her life changed forever? How could she get over losing a spouse and a child? It had taken only an instant for the fire to snatch their lives away—an instant to tear her entire life apart. All she could do now was try in vain to push back the memories that constantly invaded her thoughts.

Michaela opened the door of the mahogany wardrobe that sat in the corner of her room. Ethen’s skilled hands had created the masterpiece with its ornate front panels and twisted barley crown. When he and his brother, Philip, had taken over their father’s cabinetmaking business ten years ago, they’d found success in what they did.

Ethen had been the dreamer and early on had shown an incredible talent to see beyond a raw piece of wood to the finished product. Philip also was gifted in woodwork, but he
excelled on the business side and had the ability to take
Ethen’s artistic flair and turn it into a thriving business. Now Philip was the only one left to keep the family business going.

Michaela pulled a dress from the inside of the armoire inlaid with cedar and breathed in the fragrant scent of the wood. Of all the dresses she owned, this had been Ethen’s favorite. How many times had he told her that the tiny green-flowered print brought out the red in her hair and accented her fair skin?

Today she wore it because the collar, trimmed with antique lace, was high enough to hide the scars that still covered her neck and left shoulder. Pausing to look at her reflection in the beveled mirror beside the wardrobe, she ran her fingers across the scars to where they stopped at the base of her neck. The doctor told her that with time the disfigurement would fade, but the raised welts were still noticeable.

Why was it that everything seemed to point back to that night a year and a half ago, reminding her of what she had lost? Turning away from the mirror, she dressed quickly, then pinned the small watch that had been her mother’s onto the dress’s bodice. She had thirty minutes until her first student arrived. Aunt Clara had been right. Teaching piano lessons gave her a way to occupy her time and stay busy.

Normally she enjoyed the time interacting with her students, but at the moment, music was the last thing on her mind. Today the committee would decide Anna’s future and whether or not they would allow Michaela to raise her. Five-year-old Anna, with her bright smile and angelic face, had lost her parents in the same fire that had taken Ethen and Leah. She’d become the one constant source of joy in Michaela’s life.

Hurrying down the narrow staircase that led to the parlor below, she prayed fervently that God would answer her prayer that the board would grant her custody of Anna.

The curtains of the small parlor were open, letting the morning sun spill across the rose-colored walls. She loved this old house. It was the home she’d come to after her parents were killed in a buggy accident when she was only fourteen years old. And the home she’d come back to after Ethen and Leah died.

She ran her hand across a brightly flowered slipcover her best friend, Caroline, had made last winter for Aunt Clara’s sofa. As a child, Michaela had called this the happy room because it reminded her of family and love. Countless
Christmases had been spent here in front of the stone fire
place, singing carols and drinking hot chocolate or celebrat
ing a birthday with presents. She had never lacked for
anything—especially love.

Pushing memories of the past aside, Michaela stepped into the kitchen. The sunny yellow room heralded a nice-sized window overlooking her aunt’s garden, exquisite no matter what time of the year with its array of flowers and assorted shades of greenery.

Aunt Clara stood in front of the cast-iron stove, wearing the familiar white apron over her dress while frying a pan of eggs and potatoes. Her brother-in-law sat at the table.

“What brings you by so early, Philip?” Michaela greeted her aunt with a kiss on her cheek, then turned to her late husband’s younger brother.

“Your aunt’s dresser’s almost ready.” Philip raked his fingertips through his dark, curly hair and leaned back in his chair. “I had a question to ask her about the mirror we’re getting ready to mount.”

“Truth is, he just wanted a homemade meal.” Aunt Clara put her hands on her hips. “How can a man expect to work as hard as you do with no one to fix you a proper meal every day?” She took a step toward him and offered a smile. “Marietta told me that Molly Granger’s back in town. She’s a beautiful girl—”

“I manage just fine, Aunt Clara.” Philip laughed, then took a bite of his eggs. “I haven’t gone hungry yet.”

In spite of her somber mood, Michaela smiled at her aunt’s matchmaking attempts. Finding a wife for Philip had become one of Aunt Clara’s ambitions. Barely a Sunday went by that she didn’t invite at least one single woman over for dinner if Philip was able to join them. After last week’s disastrous meal with Julia Hurst, Michaela was certain it would be weeks before Philip returned for another Sunday meal. The woman had talked nonstop for two hours, sharing anecdotes about the pet Pekingese her father had given her for her birthday. Even Michaela had longed to slip out of the room during the tedious monologue.

“One of these days you’ll meet the woman you’ve been waiting for, and you’ll thank me.” Aunt Clara clicked her tongue and began dishing up another plate. “This is for you, Michaela. You need to eat, too.”

Michaela raised her hand in protest. “I don’t think I want anything this morning. Maybe just a glass of orange juice.”

“Nonsense. You have to eat.” Aunt Clara finished piling the food on the plate and set it on the table.

Michaela poured a glass of juice from the pitcher, trying to ignore the growing ache in her temple.

“You need to go down to the shop and see the dresser, Michaela,” Aunt Clara said. “The detail in the woodwork is exquisite. I don’t know how you do it, Philip.”

“I’m glad you like it. Truthfully, though, the dresser’s not the only reason I came by this morning.” Philip’s cheerful expression turned serious. “The committee’s making their decision about Anna today, aren’t they?”

“Yes.” Michaela sat down, and the pounding in her forehead intensified. “I’m spending the afternoon at the orphanage. Caroline’s in charge of today’s fund-raiser, and I told her I’d help out. I should have their decision by the time it’s over.”

“How are you feeling?” Worry lines creased Aunt Clara’s forehead.

“Scared. . .anxious. . .worried.” Michaela spread a spoonful of homemade cranberry and apple jam on a biscuit and took a tasteless bite. “I’m trying not to think about it, but I don’t ever remember being as nervous as I am right now.”

“I saw Agnes in town yesterday.” Aunt Clara pulled out one of the wooden chairs from the table and sat beside her. “She sounded optimistic that things would work out for you and Anna.”

Michaela fiddled with the white linen napkin in her lap and shook her head. “If it were up to Agnes, Anna would be mine, but unfortunately, the decision’s not hers to make.”

“The people in this town respect you,” Philip said as he added a spoonful of sugar to his coffee and slowly stirred it. “They know what a wonderful Christian woman you are and that all you want is what’s best for Anna.”

“But am I doing what’s best for her?” Michaela clenched her hands into fists in her lap. “I’ve prayed so hard, but sometimes I’m just not sure. Part of me understands their hesitation in letting a child be adopted into a home where there isn’t a father, but Anna’s like a daughter to me. She was Leah’s best friend ever since they could toddle around together, and she practically lived at our house.”

How many times had she sat in the parlor with Anna and Leah in their dress-up clothes, surrounded by dolls and tea-cups? They’d spent countless hours baking gingerbread cookies in the kitchen and swinging from the big oak tree in their backyard. The realization that she’d never have another sunny afternoon with Leah hurt so badly at times, she could hardly take another breath.

“Does the pain ever go away?” She rested her forehead against her fingertips for a moment, trying to hold back a flood of tears that threatened to overflow.

“No, not entirely.” Aunt Clara shook her head slowly. “It’s been almost ten years since I lost my Henry, and I still miss him. The pain eases, slowly at times, but it will ease.”

Michaela took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “I feel so lost. I don’t know what direction my life is headed. It used to be enough to be a mother and a wife, but now that’s gone. It’s almost as though in losing my family, I lost my identity, and now I don’t even know if they’ll let me be a mother again.”

Aunt Clara caught Michaela’s solemn gaze. “Keep praying and looking to the Lord for direction. He’ll show you the way. You’re young and have many options open before you.”

Philip reached out and squeezed Michaela’s hand. “I need to get back to the store, but promise me you’ll stop by on the way home if you find out anything.”

Michaela nodded and stood up. “I’ll walk you outside.”

“Thank you for breakfast.” Philip kissed Aunt Clara on the cheek and followed Michaela out the front door.

Resting her hand in the crook of Philip’s arm, Michaela accompanied him slowly down the brick walk toward the street. The sun filtered through the trees, warming her face but failing to reach the depths of her heart.

“Do you have any lessons this morning?” he asked.

“Four, including Sammy.”

Philip let out a deep chuckle. “Sammy Hauk?”

“The one and only.”

“Sammy’s name invokes visions of last summer’s disastrous church picnic when he let a snake loose in the middle of Mrs. Lindberg’s prized cakes.”

Michaela felt the corners of her mouth curl into a smile at the memory. “He’s a character.”

“You’re working too hard, Michaela.” Philip stopped at the front gate and turned to face her. “I worry about you.”

“Staying busy is good for me.”

“Not if you run yourself ragged. You need more rest. Time to do something just for yourself.”

“You’re beginning to sound like Aunt Clara.” Michaela squeezed his hand. “I enjoy what I do.”

“And you’re very good at it. But I do worry about you.”

“Don’t. I’m fine. And after today, if the committee will let me adopt Anna. . .” She let her voice trail off, afraid to envision the two of them together as a family. Afraid of the pain that would come if the board said no.

Leaning against the fence, Michaela tried to push aside the discouraging thoughts. “Caroline talked me into bringing two cakes to the bake sale today. We should raise enough money to be able to buy each of the children the coats, sweaters, and shoes they will need this winter, as well as supplies for school. And did you hear the news that Samuel Perkins is donating ten new beds for the children? Anna told me—”

He tilted her chin with his index finger and smiled. “You’re rambling.”

She chewed on the inside of her lip. “I ramble when I’m nervous.”

Grasping both her hands, he held them tight. “I know this is hard, but I’ll always be here for you. I never told you this, but when you and Ethen first got married, he made me promise that if anything ever happened to him, I’d take care of you.”

Michaela reached up and wiped away a stray tear from her cheek. “He loved you so much. You were more than just a brother. You were his best friend, and he trusted you completely.”

“I take my promises very seriously. If there’s anything you need, anything at all. . .”

He gathered her into his arms, and for a brief moment, everything in her world felt right again.


Her last lesson over, Michaela glanced at her watch, pleased to find that she still had plenty of time to eat lunch with her aunt before leaving for the orphanage. Not finding Aunt Clara in the kitchen, she wasn’t surprised to see her working in one of the flowerbeds behind the house.

“I don’t know how you do it.” Michaela walked past a grouping
of plants her aunt had arranged on a small, rustic table and stepped onto the velvety grass. “You truly are an artist.”

A slightly terraced lawn surrounded the fishpond Michaela’s uncle had put in shortly before he died. Solid oak trees stood valiantly around the yard, shading the ground from the harsh summer sun. But the most treasured place was where Aunt
Clara had planted her prize garden of roses, columbine,
rhododendron, and cardinal flowers.

“There are many different kinds of artists,” her aunt said with a smile. “You’re an artist with your music.”

Michaela stopped where Aunt Clara worked and sat down on the grass beside her. “You can smell the saltwater in the air today.” She breathed in deeply, attempting to allow the familiar scent to soothe her spirit.

Clara eased herself up to a standing position. “I plan to go by the store this afternoon. Do you need anything?”

“I don’t think so.” Michaela plucked a blade of grass and twirled it between her fingers. What she needed couldn’t be bought at a store or found at any seller’s stand. Anna was an intricate part of her life. One she couldn’t bear to lose.

Clara’s concern showed in her eyes as she spoke. “Still thinking about the committee’s decision?”

Michaela stood and followed her aunt into the house. “I’ll know soon enough, so there’s no use fretting about it.”

Clara turned around to face her niece. “Somehow, I have the feeling the board’s going to grant your request.”

“I hope you’re right,” Michaela whispered. “I hope you’re right.”

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