Thursday, May 12th, 1870
The big day was fast approaching now, and with it… Michaela could not suppress the knot of anxiety that kept constricting her throat. She could barely bring herself to think about the words referring to physical intimacy, let alone say them out loud. Only eight days left before she was to marry Sully. Of course, a part of her was looking forward to sharing her life with such a wonderful man, who loved and respected her more than she had thought possible. The other part, however, felt paralyzed by the prospect of giving herself completely to him. Their fussing the past few days had not helped alleviate her disquiet.
She needed help, some advice… anything that could prevent her from disappointing Sully with her ignorance and awkwardness.
Sully had promised that they would take it ever so easy, and for a time she had found that thought comforting. Yet, the more she mulled over this little phrase, the more apprehensive she grew. Take it easy… *IT*. What did IT mean? That he would take his time teaching her how to endure – to submit to – intercourse without protest?
When she and David had gotten engaged, her mother had pulled her aside to explain briefly what would be expected of her as a wife, leaving Michaela with the distinct impression that the wifely duty was somewhat unpleasant, if not downright painful in the beginning or after the birth of children. She had not been able to find neither solace nor solutions in her many medical resources, which were centered on the biological process of procreation. Not a word in there that would tell her why she felt so many strange and wonderful sensations whenever Sully would hold and kiss her. Nothing about the peculiar pulsatile clenching of her insides she sometimes experienced, when their embraces would become more intense, that heralded an undefinable promise… what could it be?
Though it was not exactly the most appropriate moment to seek her best friend's counsel, she jumped at the opportunity when Dorothy hailed her on the way to the inauguration ceremony of the train station.
"Dorothy – I've been meaning to ask…" Might as well kill two birds with one stone, Rebecca won't be there anyway…"Would you be my matron of honor?"
Dorothy, already brimming over with excitement from the impending arrival of the train, squealed delightedly and hugged her best friend with heart-warming enthusiasm.
"Dorothy –" breathed Michaela, her perfunctory smile faltering as her nerves took over the last shreds of her composure.
"What is it?"
Michaela could not back away now. She stammered: "I-I could use some advice… from someone... who's had – experience." There. I said it.
Dorothy felt like bursting into laughter. Michaela's expression was so apprehensive that she had feared a catastrophe. But luckily the red-haired journalist caught herself in time, remembering who she was talking to. She knew better than anybody – except for Sully, naturally – how insecure Michaela could be in the matters of love, especially when it came to physical affection or simply expressing her concerns in the matters of sexuality. Trying to put the bride-to-be at ease, she sought to dedramatize the whole thing with the first comparison that came to her mind:
"Oh… well, don't you worry, it's as easy as fallin' off a log!"
Michaela blushed. "Remember? I've never… fallen off a log," she retorted, her smile returning but still tinged with awkwardness.
Dorothy knew she would have to tread lightly upon this rather touchy subject yet be totally honest in the process. She took her best friend's arm and, as they walked toward the depot, she promised: "I'll tell you everythin' I know – for whatever it's worth…"
As they arrived where the celebrations were already in full swing, Dorothy suggested: "What do you say you an' me meet up at the Clinic after the ceremony? We can have that talk without gettin' interrupted…."
"Sounds good to me," agreed Michaela, though she secretly wished that this inevitably embarrassing conversation could be already over.
Little did she know her mother and sisters were about to arrive and with them all Hell would break loose…
Wednesday, May 18th
Once Rebecca had posted her letter, she went back to her room in the Clinic, leaving Michaela on her own. There was no patients nor house calls scheduled for the rest of the afternoon, all her files had been updated in prevision of her absence – for she would be on her honeymoon, she thought, her heart speeding up with the thrill and fear of it. She didn't know where Marjorie and their mother had gone… Part of her knew she should verify how Marjorie was coping with the side effects of the silver nitrate injection she had received earlier, but at the same time…
With everything that had happened the past few days, Sully's disappearance, and her mother barging in and disrupting all their plans with her notions about how her youngest daughter's wedding should be run, her need for Dorothy's straightforward advice had been relegated to the back of her mind. But now she realized that she had only two days left to learn how to perform her wifely duties in a manner that would keep Sully happy.
She marched to the store with determination. Fortunately, things were rather slow, Dorothy was perusing an old Denver Post while Loren was kept busy by the only customer there.
"Dorothy?" she called.
Dorothy cast the paper aside without a care when she heard Michaela's voice. Her friend's demeanor and tone gave away her anxiety as well as the reason for her visit.
"Let's go to my room," murmured Dorothy with a quick glance toward her brother-in-law. It would not do to raise Loren's curiosity! Michaela nodded in relieved approval at Dorothy's foresight, and followed.
It wasn't the first time she found herself in her best friend's room, she had come often enough as a doctor… but the last occurrence of seeking Dorothy's counsel here, in the privacy of the small bedroom, dated back to that time when Catherine wreaked havoc in her still fragile relationship with Sully. Thank goodness, it was long ago…
"So… what is it that you wanna know?" Dorothy began without preamble.
"Oh… er… Well – you see…" Michaela was already blushing furiously. How could she phrase her concerns without feeling irremediably foolish, without sounding coarse or too prudish? How could she ask with aplomb does it hurt as much as my mother told me? How can a woman feel such a strong desire to share this kind of intimacy with the man she loves, while still cringing at the thought of being totally naked in front of him, and dreading the moment he would – deflower her… How could she express the visceral fear of pain, and more importantly, of that alien feeling of intrusion into a part of her she had ignored all her life, when her heart had wanted this union for so long, and when her rationality told her almost all brides went through this, she was no different, so why the fuss? And what about her trepidations about being able to fulfill Sully's needs? What if he found her hopelessly inadequate and sought satisfaction with a more accommodating woman?... Up to that point, Sully had been remarkably patient, even on the few occurrences they had nearly crossed the line. He had not acted put off then, yet she still remembered how frustrated he had been when they had begun courting and she was so reserved around him, shying away from his displays of affection, even stiffening whenever he got too close. It had taken her abduction, coming so close to being violated and killed by One Eye, and Sully's miraculous rescue, to allow her to let down her guard enough and realize she had no reason to fear this man's touch, and from that moment on, their relationship had only grown closer and stronger. This was her reason to be hopeful for what came next: their marriage…
As her friend failed to give a coherent and precise answer, Dorothy switched to a more direct approach:
"What are ya afraid of?"
"I don't want to disappoint him," answered Michaela spontaneously. "I'm afraid Sully might expect more from me – than what I could ever give him."
"Well, it's a start… though, to be honest, Michaela, I know Sully's aware you never been with a man before, so he ain't gonna expect you to act like one of Hank's girls!"
Michaela barely refrained a startled squeak as she pictured herself, scantily clothed, her face heavily painted, standing in front of Sully.
Dorothy went on: "He wants ya just the way you are, and the more I think 'bout it, he'd be a much better instructor for you than me. You gotta talk to him, he loves ya, wants the best for ya, he'll listen." As her friend still appeared uncertain, the redhead pushed further her investigation: "What makes ya think you're gonna disappoint him?"
"Do you remember when we opened the library, some books among my father's collection… how they provoked quite an outrage? You even called Whitman's poems obscene…"
Dorothy raised a confused eyebrow, unsure of the direction this conversation was taking: "Em… yeah, I remember… Are ya still mad at me for that?"
"No – certainly not… but you see, Sully – well Sully happens to enjoy Whitman's poetry. He read some of his favorites to me and…"
"Did he?" Dorothy exclaimed, her eyes wide. "Oh my, ya musta been so embarrassed!"
"I won't deny that I was terribly uncomfortable at first. But honestly, Whitman's words may be frank and… suggestive, but they are nowhere as indecent as they are made out to be. Thanks to Sully, I have discovered the beauty in those poems."
"Now, Michaela, I can hardly believe it – you, of all people!"
Michaela reddened as if she had been caught blurting out profanities.
"Let me get this straight," Dorothy went on. "If you, the proper Michaela Quinn of Beacon Hill, are not bothered by such prose, how come it got folks so riled up?"
"Its novelty, I suppose. It breaks all rules of traditional poetry. I understand how appealing it can be to Sully, and repellent to so many people…"
"All right – but how does this fit in the matter at hand? Here we was talkin' 'bout how you're scared of disappointin' Sully, but then you tell me you share his taste in… em – modern poetry."
"It's because… the women in some of Walt Whitman's poems are… well when Sully read those poems to me, it led to – we got to talk about our relationship – of intimacy, as well…"
"And it appeared to me that Sully fancies a partner… who would not just… lie there – who wouldn't be submissive." Michaela choked on the last word, as in her mind's eye she pictured herself lying in bed, stiff and immobile, waiting for Sully to finish, unable to think of anything else to do.
Dorothy rolled her eyes in unconcealed amusement as she finally understood what her friend meant.
"You? submissive? It just might be the last word I'd use to describe you! If that's what been worryin' ya, you can rest easy, it ain't gonna be a problem!"
Yet, Dorothy's confidence in Michaela's abilities did little to ease the bride-to-be's trepidation. She was close to tears, her nerves already frayed by exhaustion, both physical and emotional, from the past couple of weeks.
Dorothy knew she had to act quickly to stop her friend from surrendering to panic, which might cause exactly what she feared the most. The redhead took a firm hold on Michaela's shoulders, giving her the slightest shake to regain her attention.
"Michaela, listen to me. You've got no reason, and I mean NO REASON WHATSOEVER, to be worried about not pleasing Sully. You two belong together as surely as the sun rises every mornin'. It's obvious to anybody that sees the two of you together. 'Sides you no longer fret about Sully touchin' or kissin' you, do ya?"
"No – I don't…"
"And why's that?"
"Because I trust Sully and…"
Michaela hesitated but for a second before she admitted: "Because it feels nice." She flushed scarlet, feeling the uncomfortable prickling right to her ears.
"There you go!" Dorothy burst out triumphantly.
It was Michaela's turn to feel disconcerted: "What do you mean?"
"Remember, when you came back from Boston and began courtin', how awkward ya felt around Sully, when he wanted ta kiss ya? But now, from what I can see, it's changed for the better, it just looks so natural to ya. Even made me wonder at times… if maybe you two…"
Michaela turned ashen and her eyes widened in horror as she caught onto Dorothy's innuendo, regardless that she and Sully had come close to crossing the line of propriety – more than once!
Mistaking her best friend's sudden change of complexion, Dorothy hastened to add:
"But I know the two of ya wouldna let things go too far… What I meant is – anybody can see just by the way you two look at each other that you were made for each other. You were destined to meet and fall in love. And a love like that, it's only gonna get better and stronger when you two will get together for good."
"Do you… you truly think so?"
"No doubt 'bout it," Dorothy asserted confidently.
However, Dorothy's lack of doubts was still not enough to alleviate Michaela's own misgivings. As the future bride was biting on her lip anxiously, her eyes unfocused, the redhead was racking her mind for anything that could make Michaela realize once and for all that there was nothing to fear. Should she try a more matter-of-fact approach?... Yet, she did not get the chance, for Michaela suddenly confided:
"I must admit that – there had been a few occurrences when… Sully and I almost… let things go too far as you put it. It wasn't proper, but I can't fault him for that because I was just as responsible as he was… Something inside me wanted to be with him as much as he did – and I was so ashamed afterwards…"
"What would you be ashamed for? Michaela, it's perfectly natural to want to be with the man you love!"
"Not to me. You see, I've been taught men have different needs… and that for a woman to seek… I mean to feel…"
"Lust? Desire?" Dorothy provided.
Michaela nodded. Yes. Desire. The emotions and the sensations that came with it. The age-old language of one body to another.
"Until I left Boston to come here, I labored under the belief that no proper woman would allow herself to feel that way for a man. That to feel any physical attraction for a man meant debauchery, immorality… When David and I got engaged, my mother stressed the importance of behaving appropriately, and never allow my fiancé to get too close until we were married. I didn't understand why she was so adamant about this, as we were always strictly chaperoned, and we never found ourselves…"
"… In a compromising position?"
"Well yes – I mean, no. My feelings for David were… pure, simple…true…"
"I see. Ya loved 'im with all your heart but didn't let yourself feel that love in your body…" Dorothy sighed. "And with Sully, ya just can't help it - ya do love him, heart, body and soul… and as I said, it's natural, and healthy, to want to join with him."
"I suppose that, deep inside, I know that now. But it's why I'm afraid of that moment when we'll be alone, because I don't have a clue about how to… proceed. As much as I know the biological mechanisms – "
"For Heaven's sake, forget about what biology says!" Dorothy cut in. "Bein' with a man, makin' love with him… it's about love. Otherwise, it's nothin' but…somethin' mechanical." Both women smiled at the involuntary pun. "Michaela, two days from now, it just won't be you who's gonna give yourself to Sully, but the two of ya who's gonna give yourselves to each other. The good Lord made Nature and marriage that way for a good reason: mutual joy. It's what you gotta trust. When you and Sully are finally alone, don't think 'bout not knowin' what to do, cause your instinct and your body already know. If you keep worryin' that much about it, you'll simply never be able to really enjoy yourself! You'll never know that extraordinary, ecstatic feelin' you get when the man you love fills you up completely and you reach paradise together! You an' Sully know each other pretty well, you're very close. Think of this as only gettin' to know each other in a whole new way… in a closer way."
"You make it sound so easy."
"Probably 'cause it is. I'm willin' to bet that, when you're back from your honeymoon, I'll be sein' a whole new Michaela, confident and radiant."
"I hope you're right…"
Dorothy grinned as she noticed that Michaela finally seemed to be relaxing and considering her impending conjugal relations under a new light, less dutiful and more loving. Therefore, she jumped in surprise when Michaela asked point blank:
"Does it hurt as much as I've heard tell – the first time?"
Dorothy recovered quickly: "That depends on a lotta things. You know…every woman is different. So is every couple, and even within every couple's relationship, each time can feel different. I can only suppose that for some women it's only as painful as they believe it to be 'cause they only think 'bout the pain instead of just enjoyin' it… Of course, I'm only talkin' of women who ain't bein' forced…"
"Is that what happened to you?" Michaela could not stop herself from asking, despite how tactless the question sounded. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have…"
"Oh, Michaela, you're the best friend I ever had, best friend a body could ask for, too, and you're my doctor. I got nothin' to hide from you… Ya know, when I married Marcus, my Ma was long gone. Cancer got her when Maude and me were still in our teens. Had she been still alive, she woulda known Marcus wouldn't make me happy in the long run. Things woulda been different…" She sighed wistfully.
"What about your father?"
"Didn't last long without a wife to take care of 'im. With my sister, we did our best to keep the place runnin', but it just wasn't enough. He died within a year after Ma. And with both our parents gone, there wasn't much left to do but for Maude and me to find husbands, and quick. I was sixteen, foolish, ignorant, and in short, an easy prey for a handsome, smooth talker like Marcus. He turned my head; I could see nobody but him. Before I knew it, I was standin' in front of a preacher with a man I barely knew but found so excitin', and right after, we were rollin' in the first haystack we could find…"
Michaela felt herself redden again as she did her best not to picture that particular scene.
"I didn't know much bout the birds an' the bees," Dorothy went on, "so I just let myself get carried away by my feelin's. I don't remember feeling any pain, just that it was over quick, and that Marcus woulda gone to sleep right away if we hadn't had to skedaddle when we got spotted by that old Farnsworth and he chased after us with his pitchfork, cussin' at the top of his lungs… All things considered, my experience ain't the best example for ya. But at least, you an' Sully, you're both mature adults, and as I said, you two share a bond very few people get, even those who have been married forever. Keep on lovin' him the way you do now, tell 'im, show 'im, and the rest will follow… And if you're worried about the rupture… or any bleedin' – from what I hear tell, women who ride horses like you do, almost every day, they usually don't have to put up with that kinda pain."
"You were sayin' you're afraid of not meetin' Sully's expectations, but what 'bout yours?"
"M-mi… mine? Oh… er…"
Dorothy laughed openly this time. "Forgive me Michaela, I was teasin' ya. I suppose it's too soon for ya. Just so you know, you have a right to have your own needs satisfied, too. Though I gotta warn ya about somethin' that all men do and that might hurt your feelin's, just be sure not to take it personally."
"Well, I can't imagine…"
"It's silly, really. It's just that, once the man is – hum… done… he just goes to sleep, no matter how much he loves ya. So just don't think it's because he's no longer interested in ya if he rolls over and starts snorin'. If you get upset at him for that, it's only gonna bring on misunderstandin's."
"'Sides – from what I can tell at least – ya might as well get all the sleep you can get, too, 'specially if you're often…"
"Can't ya guess? Newlyweds usually spend lots of time makin' love, more so when they try to get pregnant."
Dorothy's statement gave Michaela pause. She and Sully had both voiced their hope for having a child together, happily surprised to find that the feeling was mutual and strong. She never mentioned to him, however, her misgivings. Although her wish to carry and nurture the child of the man she loved was as primeval as her desire to become one with him, it still carried its own share of fear and uncertainties. She was thirty-seven, and even if she managed to conceive within the first couple of months of their marriage, she still would be thirty-eight by the time she would give birth to the baby. Some women were already grandmothers at that age. And what about going through labor? Michaela was so rarely ill, and save for a few minor injuries, quickly healed and forgotten, she had seldom known physical pain. At least nothing as intense as some of her patients had suffered when giving birth.
Seeing Michaela lost in thought again, Dorothy feared she might have pushed her friend's boundaries a little too far. She took Michaela's hand and maternally patted it.
"Don't ya go frettin' again. Sully's a gentleman and a gentle man. He ain't gonna pounce on ya 'round the clock like a hungry coyote!"
The metaphor brought an easy smile to Michaela's face at last. But she didn't get the chance to banter back as Loren came pounding frantically at the door.
"Dorothy, what the heck are you doin' in there? Get out of here before them customers walk all over me! They standin' in line right down the street!"
Dorothy sighed with a mixture of exasperation and tenderness, sharing an understanding smirk with Michaela. There were still some issues left unaddressed, for sure, but with her journalistic flair, she had managed to find the words to ease the bride-to-be's fears of the unknown that was lovemaking without scandalizing her. Not only that, but she felt a certain gratification that Michaela had still sought her counsel rather than Rebecca's, her own sister, who certainly seemed wise, cheerful and optimistic, but who might have provided a more Boston-like kind of advice.
The ladies exited Dorothy's room arm in arm, to find that Loren had exaggerated once again. The store was indeed busy, but no worse than any other day, when customers always did some last-minute shopping before heading home.
Michaela realized how late it was, and she had so many last-minute details to check for the wedding, she wasn't sure two days would be enough… Two days!
"Thank you, Dorothy," Michaela said warmly, hugging her friend, "for everything."
"Oh, I was happy to help. That's what friends are for, right?... See ya tomorrow, at the shower!"
And with that, she turned around and hurried to help Loren, who was quickly losing his patience dealing with a particularly indecisive and cantankerous old lady.
Michaela returned to the clinic, feeling as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She might had not been able to voice the entire gamut of her concerns, but Dorothy had succeeded in addressing the most important of them, and had confirmed what she had known all along, but had been too browbeaten by her upbringing to believe: marriage wasn't meant only to satisfy a man's sexual needs and secure a woman's material situation. No. The joy spouses were meant to find together included the physical expression of their love and commitment through the joining of their bodies.
Two days! Michaela grinned with renewed confidence as she finally pictured herself being held securely and tenderly, skin to skin, in the arms of the love of her life. She would be fine. It would feel nice… No, it would feel wonderful. And it would last – forever.