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Taking Her Golden Chances

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Louise.

That was her daughter’s name. From the moment she first laid eyes on her, jet black hair and all, Julie had made up her mind. It was sensible, elegant, a name carried by graceful, beautiful women.

Holding her little girl in her arms for the first time had left Julie breathless. How could such a miracle have been born after so much pain? How could this tiny human being exist this innocently in a world that could be so cruel and unfair?

Sweat covered her brow and tears streamed down Julie’s face as she counted each finger and toe, pressed a kiss to her daughter’s button nose. She felt Nettie’s reassuring squeeze on her shoulder and looked up to see a very pregnant Carrie in the corner, looking away with a protective hand over her belly, taking deep breaths and trying to mentally process the spectacle she’d just witnessed.

Enoch would be downstairs somewhere, waiting for permission to see the baby. All of the women of the house would be waiting close by as well.

Everyone Julie knew and loved was there. For her and with her.

Except one.

As she looked down at Louise again, taking in every feature, the pang of Billy’s absence hit strong. The pang of his anger and abuse. The pang of how she’d loved him anyway.

The pang of how he’d left her and their daughter here alone, despite being surrounded by so many people.

Hours passed with many visitors coming through, Julie eventually falling asleep with Louise swaddled and laid in a bassinet right next to her bedside.

The midwives had left with a promise to return in the morning, meanwhile Nettie had cleared the room and forced everyone to different parts of the house. Everything had grown dark and hush, and Julie had finally drifted into a deep sleep, when Louise released a cry followed by a series of wails.

Julie rubbed her eyes and yawned. Gingerly, she lifted herself out of bed, feeling confident enough to stretch her legs after being confined for a full day.

She cooed at Louise as she picked her up, whispering to her and rocking her gently.

“Shhhh come here, little girl,” she murmured. “No need to be so fussy.”

She felt the cloth diaper around her and found no wetness.

Hungry probably, she decided. It had been hours.

Thankful that Louise had mastered breastfeeding quickly, she sat down on the edge of the bed and loosened the tie on her nightgown, tugging the front of if aside. It took very little effort to encourage the infant to latch on and get her fill.

She held Louise close and waited.

Once she was finished, Julie picked up the soft wool blanket Nettie and Carrie had knit, wrapping it around Louise and carrying her to the bedroom’s large window seat.

She sat and pulled back the curtain. Snow poured outside, New England January making itself known. She vaguely wondered how she and Billy would have lived in winter. What did he do in the cold months that weren’t appropriate for carousels? What would his new job, when he found one, have allowed for?

Would he have been the type to take treks in the snow? When Louise grew old enough, would the three of them have been found outside after a blizzard, throwing snowballs and building snowmen? Would they have come back inside for hot cocoa and curled up by the fire?

Knowing Billy, she very much doubted it. Although a small part of her had to believe that, in time, he would have found work, purpose. He would have set his priorities in order and softened.

It was impossible not to, she realized, as she listened to Louise’s coos and watched as she yawned, her tiny eyes drifting shut again.

The house was chilly, and Julie wished she hadn’t left the comfort of bed. However, she’d decided that the sacrifice was worth it to sit and watch the snow with her daughter for the first time. To appreciate the fact that, while life wasn’t thriving outside, life had been born within the safety of these walls that sheltered and protected her.

As the infant slept, Julie held her closer and pressed a soft kiss to her forehead.

“I love you,” she whispered, feeling the weight of her own words. “I love you, and I promise to tell you that every day of your life.”

The declaration felt foreign coming from her mouth, but it was every bit necessary.

Fear be damned. She would never again let anyone she loved pass through her life without knowing it. And she would start with this beautiful little girl that she made.

Louise.

Chapter Text

Nettie had noticed the signs before Julie had.

It was a breezy afternoon in late May when Julie was helping her hang bed sheets out to dry. The pair had been gossiping about Carrie’s beau, how mysterious it was that they’d yet to meet him, and overall having a laugh of the day. To Julie’s relief, Nettie had gracefully avoided probing her about the commotion the night before, when Billy and Jigger had come stumbling in, head swimming with drink, in the middle of the night.

Nettie had been in a right mood, scolding the two men but helping Jigger to a spare bed just the same. Julie, waking and hearing the uproar, had grabbed a dressing gown and gone down to check on her hospitable cousin. Billy had refused to talk and shoved past her to their quarters, the two eventually sleeping with their backs to one another. Julie had apologized to Nettie in the morning for her husband’s behavior, and the older woman had let the ordeal slide.

Now they found themselves in the yard, moving forward with the day.

Julie flung her sheet over the line, but couldn’t quite locate a pin before she was covering her mouth and running to—lord help her—Nettie’s prized hydrangea bushes.

“Dear, are you okay?” Nettie called after her as she heaved, forcing herself to look away from the puddle of sick.

“Yes, I’m okay,” Julie assured her, still hunched over and slowly lifting herself. She reached in the pocket of her apron for the handkerchief she kept on her and wiped her mouth. “At least I think so.”

Nettie took her hand and led her over to the front porch of the house, guiding her gently to sit. “Here, I’ll fetch you some water.”

She rummaged around for a few minutes, running into the kitchen for a cup before taking it to the full bucket sitting atop the well, ladling the liquid in. Julie gratefully accepted the cup, gulping down water and taking deep breaths. Nettie sat next to her while she drank, gently running her fingers through her hair—like her mother did when she was young, Julie recalled.

“I don’t know what came over me,” she remarked, baffled at her sudden illness.

“Could be a brief stomach bug,” Nettie guessed. “I believe it’s been going around.”

“Could be,” Julie agreed.

Except it was no brief stomach bug.

Several more bouts of sickness, periods of fatigue, and sporadic headaches over several days—all which Julie had largely hidden from Billy due to his frequent absence—and Nettie began to encourage her to see Dr. Seldon. Julie, stubborn as ever, waited three more days before taking action.

It was one late night, when Nettie had woken to find Julie in the kitchen, two leftover donuts in hand, that she asked the question she had been dreading to hear.

“Julie, forgive me for being personal,” she began sensitively, “but when is the last time you recall having your monthly bleeding?”

Julie had no solid answer.

Early the next morning, while Billy slept off a hangover, Julie washed, dressed, and walked across town to see Dr. Seldon. He spoke with her, felt her pulse, checked her overall health, asked questions. Upon her reports of nausea, headaches, and cravings, he sent for one of his nurses.

“I should think you would feel more comfortable with her administering the examination you require,” he explained, stepping out of the room.

He had been correct.

The exam had been what Julie could only describe as humiliating. Laying with Billy in the dead of night, in private, was one thing; lying back and exposing herself to a stranger in broad daylight to be poked and prodded was quite another. Still, she grit her teeth and accepted that, if Nettie’s hunch was correct, this would be normal for the next several months.

Only the next several months leading to the rest of her life.

Julie felt she might be sick again as the nurse left the room and she listened to whispering outside the door. She sat stiff as a board, keeping her head down and back straight. Finally, Dr. Seldon returned to the room.

“Well, Mrs. Bigelow,” he sighed, removing his glasses, “I think you should know our dear Ms. Fowler was right.”

“I’m going to have a baby, aren’t I?” she asked softly, already knowing the answer.

“Well, it’s impossible to know for certain just yet,” the doctor nodded, “but yes. Everything seems to say so.”

A numbness took over for the remainder of the visit. She pretended to listen while Dr. Seldon advised her and provided a list of home remedies for the more uncomfortable side effects. Then when it was time to leave, she walked slowly out of the small office and back across town. Once back at Nettie’s, she shuffled her way to the shed out back, closing the door behind her and crumpling to the ground.

For a moment, she expected to cry, but tears didn’t sting or threaten to fall. She could, however, feel her heart pounding in her chest, a shortness of breath at the thought of what she knew she had to do next.

How would Billy feel? Would he get violent again, like he had last week, when she’d angered him by asking how his job search was coming along? She didn’t want to feel his hand on her face again. Not when her skin’s last memory was of it striking her.

It had only been once, though. And she’d seen how gentle and tender he could be, when he didn’t have to reveal himself to anyone except her. He was a prideful man, angry and unhappy with the cards life had given him. But a bad person? No.

Surely this news could change him. Give him a purpose he was missing. He could become a different man. A better man.

Right?

She swallowed the lump in her throat and closed her eyes. She brought her hand to her flat belly then, unable to feel anything but still well aware of the life growing inside her. For a while, she sat just like that, letting her circumstances sink in.

Motherhood.

“God, I don’t know if I can do this,” she whispered.

Suddenly, a pounding on the door made her jump, and she could hear a deep voice on the other side call, “Julie? You in there?”

Julie sucked in the breath, quickly dusting off her dress and picking herself up. “Billy!” she called back, clearing her throat when she noticed the crack in her own voice. “Yes, I’m here.”

She took half a second to collect herself, wiping all worries from her mind and trying to look normal. Finally, she swung the door open to find Billy, his face screwed up in confusion. He frowned at her and asked, “What the hell were you doing?”

“Well,” she searched for an excuse, glancing behind her in the shed and producing a small hand shovel, “I was hoping to maybe help Nettie plant some more flowers, seeing as I got sick in her hydrangeas last week.” He stared at her, either unconvinced or clueless, and she explained, “I figured it would be a nice gesture, and I was checking to see where her tools were.”

Billy frowned for a moment then, evidently deciding her story was plausible, hummed. “I suppose that’s a good idea.”

Julie nodded and faked an enthusiastic smile. “It’ll be a good surprise for her.”

“Sure,” her husband agreed. They were silent for a minute, and she suddenly began to notice the way her head was pounding. Without thinking, she rubbed her temples. Billy took notice and, in a rare gesture of compassion, place a hand on her shoulder and asked, “Say, are you okay?”

She nodded again. “Yes, of course,” she lied; he couldn’t know the truth yet. “Just a headache.”

“Are you sick?”

Julie shrugged. “Possibly.”

More lies, she mentally scolded herself, her hand instinctively falling to her belly again. Tomorrow, she promised herself. She would tell him tomorrow.

“Best be seeing the doctor then,” Billy told her, placing his hands in his pockets. He looked across the yard then and noted, “Ah. Jigger’s here.” Julie followed his gaze to find the wiley sailor stalking across the landscape toward them.

“Wait,” she said to Billy, her brow knitting together, “you’re going with him today?”

Billy shrugged. “Why the hell not?”

“You promised you would go into town and search for jobs,” she reminded him.

She watched him tense up, his adam’s apple bobbing, jaw tensing. Immediately she felt herself shrinking back, and she swallowed, waiting for the blow. He leaned in closer to her.

“I’ll find a job,” he insisted, his voice becoming low and sinister. “But today, I’m going with Jigger. Got it?”

The way his eyes grew dark made her clam up and stiffen, and she took a step back from him. She felt a bout of nausea coming on, resisted the urge to destroy more hydrangeas. Her gaze fell downward, almost ashamed to look Billy in the eye.

Steeling herself, she said, “Okay, Billy.” Then, with a nod, added, “Do what you need to do. I’ll be here.”

Doing absolutely nothing and dreading the state you’ll be in when you come home, she thought but held her tongue.

“It’s settled then,” Billy dismissed her, turning away. Straightening his sweater and tugging his trousers, he said, “I’ll be back before supper.”

“Nettie’s serving a dry run of the chowder she’s making for the clambake tomorrow,” Julie informed him with a fake but half-hopeful encouraging smile.

He shrugged. “Fine,” came his mutter. “I guess that’ll do.” He turned away, as though he was going to leave without another word. Before he could walk off, though, he turned back to Julie and told her sincerely, more softly, “I’ll see you later, alright?”

“Alright,” she murmured, taking a few steps closer to him.

She reached out to him. He stood frozen for a moment, staring at her. Julie, anticipating his rejection, was about to pull away when he took her hands in his. With a deep sigh and a frown, he released them and pulled her in for a hug. Fighting back tears and sickness, she wrapped her own arms around him.

She tried desperately to feel warmth. The same warmth she felt the first night she’d spent with him, before losing his job had turned him bitter. The night they’d let themselves believe they had nothing to lose

But it wasn’t there today.

They released one another and muttered goodbyes. Then Julie watched him walk away.

Once again, her hands found her belly, lazily caressing the still flat surface. She imagined how she would grow rounder, thought of the changes her body would go through that the women she knew who had children spoke about.

She tried to picture Billy holding their child. Tried to form in her mind the image of him running after a rambunctious curly-headed, dark-haired little boy or girl. However, just as she looked up to no longer see Billy walking ahead of her, even the blurry images she could muster in her head disappeared with him.

She couldn’t help but wonder if he was already gone.