She was summer incarnate in pink calico, with her sunshine-coloured hair down and blowing about her face in the breeze off the mountains. She'd been sixteen the first time he'd seen her on that fair day in 1859, and he'd been 17. It was as though there had been a bubble about his heart, keeping it safe and un-touched all his life, but that first sight of her, laughing into the wind in the midst of the town's festivities had seemed to pierce it, leaving him vulnerable and naked. He'd done something he hadn't expected and gone up to her to talk, to hear her laugh, to know her.
She was from a nearby farmstead, in town for the festival. She said her name was Rose, and he'd said it back to her- Rose.
The name had tasted like forever on his tongue.
Her mother had arrived then, telling Rose off for letting her hair fly loose, and asking him what he was gawping at. Rose had introduced her as Mrs. Tyler, and he had laughed, which hadn't made Mrs. Tyler very happy at all.
"My name is David," he'd said, grinning. "David Tyler."
Rose had laughed at that, and Mrs. Tyler had just shaken her head at the madness of youth. She'd seen the look in the young man's eyes, and knew what it meant, and she'd seen the way her daughter had smiled at him, and knew what that meant too.
"Who are your people?" she asked David, a shrewd look in her blue eyes.
"I… I haven't got people, not really. There's just me and my sister Donna, and her husband Lee. Noble, their surname is. Donna and Lee Noble."
"I'm so sorry," Rose said, reaching out to lay a hand on his arm. David couldn't help but feel a lift to his heart at her touch, light as a sparrow, but hopeful as the first robin in spring.
Mrs. Tyler was less impressed, but she could see the inevitable when it stood before her, and left the young people to their business, going off to find one Donna Noble, and see what it was her daughter was getting herself into.
Between David and Rose, affection bloomed and flowered, and between Donna and Jackie, an agreement was reached. The pair would wed in one year's time.
For a year, when she wasn't with David Tyler, Rose and her mother and the women of their settlement made her trousseau.
For a year, when he wasn't with Rose Tyler, David and his brother-in-law worked together to build a cabin, and start tilling a bit of land that David had from his parents, held in trust by Lee, and now for David to take on for himself and his wife.
When they were together, however, they talked. They talked about leaving- seeing the entire country. Rose had never been out of North Carolina, had hardly left her tiny settlement. David had been farther. He'd been born in New York, had traveled as far south as Florida, and hoped, someday, to go West.
Perhaps with his wife and children to seek his fortunes.
They made plans and wishes and watched the stars pass over their heads as the country of their birth began to creak under the strains that would tear it asunder.
They wed in a shower of white apple blossoms in the summer of 1860. Rose wore pink, just as she had the first time he'd ever seen her, and her golden eyes glowed in the summer sunset as though she were a goddess, placed on the Earth to give him all of time to command, so long as it was spent at her side.
They stood in the tiny church in the town and, hand-in-hand, pledged to one another their forevers. And then they sealed their troth with a kiss.
There were hours of feasting and celebration after, but finally their families and friends let them go with a great cheer and a rowdy whoop, to go to their own home, lovingly built by David and Lee.
It was a tiny cabin, and Rose wondered what would happen when it grew cold and they couldn't leave- would they be constantly in each other's pocket? When David opened the door, however, she was shocked to find it roomy, and far larger than it looked from the outside.
After Rose complimented him on his workmanship, they stood awkward, both avoiding looking at the bed that loomed up from the corner, their futures and the fates of their families represented in its solidity and its promise.
"Have… have you ever done it before?" Rose asked, timidly, her eyes flicking to the bed to make clear what she meant.
"I… well no. I haven't," David said, ruffling his dark brown hair with his hand, as he always did when he didn't know the answer to a question. "Have you?"
Rose looked at him in shock. "What kind of a girl do you think I am?"
David's dark eyes widened in horror, as he realized what he'd implied. "No, of course, I didn't think," he stammered. "But it wouldn't matter, would it?"
Rose blinked. "What?"
"Well it wouldn't," he said, striding across the cabin, pacing as he did when he was agitated. "Even if you had, even if you'd done it a hundred times, you'd still be you, wouldn't you? And I love you. So what difference would it make?"
Rose just stood, open-mouthed, staring.
David took a step toward her, reached out a hand to touch her cheek, then drew it back, as though afraid to touch her, running that hand through the longish, unmanageable hair at the top of his head instead.
"It's just… it doesn't matter to me. When I saw you, before I'd even said a word to you, I knew. I don't know how I knew but I did. You could have been the president's wife or a prostitute, betrothed or married, had a litter of children following you about, and it wouldn't have mattered to me, Rose Tyler. Because I knew that I was meant for you, and you were meant for me, and the universe would have us together somehow."
Rose's eyes filled with tears, even as she smiled at her new husband. "Oh David, I do love you," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck.
"And I love you, Rose," he said, softly, looking down into the golden glory of her eyes. "For all of time, no matter where we are, or where we go. Today, tomorrow, and forever. Even when you get old and grey, and we both need spectacles and can't hear a thing the other says, I'll still love you and hold your hand. Forever, Rose Tyler."
"David?" she said, cutting off his stream of words.
"Kiss me, please."
Through the rest of that first summer, people greeted Rose with their usual pleasure at seeing the charming young woman and a small, almost unnoticeable flicker of the eyes toward her slim waistline.
In the autumn the glances became just slightly less subtle, and the questions became just slightly more pointed. Her mother and Donna asked, every time they saw her, whether she was happy, and if the word "happy" had an odd intonation, they still believed her when she said yes.
In the winter, as the world lay quiet under a layer of snow, the looks became ever more searching. Rose began to be glad that the bitter weather kept her from her mother and sister-in-law's hearths more often than not. David never asked, he knew, and it did not seem to bother him at all.
In the spring the planting began, and alongside the blooming of wildflowers in the meadows, the speculation bloomed bright and wild. Rose could hardly go into the town without someone telling her the proper way of things- raspberry tea, whiskey, some vile root that a woman said she had to feed to her husband to be sure he was capable. Rose brought them to David who scoffed at the absurdity, saying that each of them was foolish. Rose laughed and asked him if he was a doctor, to know such things, and he'd laughed back and told her that of course he was. He'd dragged her to their bed after that, and proved that he was capable.
By the following summer, the looks were fewer, though more pitying than they'd ever been before. The news that North Carolina had broken ties with the Union had finally made it to their backwoods location. There was talk about President Lincoln wanting to free the slaves, and there was talk about rights and the Constitution, and there was talk about independency and freedom and all those words that her mother had known in the war of the revolution, but that meant nothing to the backwoods farmers that Rose knew. There were no slaves in the mountains. There was little enough government. The man who ruled the country was as distant as any king across the sea could possibly have been. It didn't seem to matter one iota, but people talked about it, and Rose could not be sorry when they turned their attention from hers and David's bed.
In the autumn of 1861, a man came through their settlement, rounding up men to fight for their country. The words "Confederate States of America," were bandied about, but the result was simple- every man between the ages of 16 and 60 would be expected to go, to fight, or to give good reason why he could not.
Lee was allowed to stay- his stutter made people believe he was feeble-minded, though he was not. He would take care of Donna and Rose because David would go. Rose had known from the moment the man had ridden into town that he was a harbinger of horrible news. As he gathered up men to follow him on his mission- his path of destruction through the country, fighting for a purpose to which no one present could really have given name- Rose trembled.
When David arrived back at their cabin that night, grey cloth in hand for her to make him a uniform, she did not cry.
When she first saw him in the uniform, alongside three other men dressed just the same, tall and straight, his wild brown hair covered by the cap, she did not cry.
When, a week later, he left her with a kiss and a promise to write as often as possible and to be home before she knew it, she did not cry.
When, a month later, she missed her courses for the third month running, Rose Tyler finally cried her heart out. She wished she'd told him, but knew it would have made no difference- he would have had to go, he would only have worried more, leaving her behind to bear every burden alone.
She received her first letter from him only three weeks after he had left, sent from Wilmington. He told her that he and three other men from various militias around the state had chosen a tree and, with their shiny new bayonets, had carved hearts into the bark in loving memory of the girls they had left behind.
Rose wrote him back, care of the North Carolina militia, and told him that all was well with her, that she missed him, and that she loved him. The small presence that she could feel under her apron when she concentrated hard she did not mention at all.
Snowflakes on a bird's wing
Rose couldn't keep it hidden forever, not from the sharp eyes of Donna and Jackie. Each had cried out their pleasure for Rose, and had dismissed her fears.
"It's just a skirmish."
"He'll be home soon, well before the baby is born."
"It's not as though it's a real war."
A real war, like the war against England that had won them the country. This would be militia against militia, ragtag men against their neighbors. Men with whom they had no true quarrel. Men who had won the last war against the greatest military power in the world.
Rose could not, somehow, believe that it would be over in a few weeks or months the way her mother and good-sister seemed to.
Through the winter Rose moved through the steps of her day-to-day life knowing that, even in her barren blankets, she was never alone. As the snow fell, blanketing the land, and her belly grew, she spoke to the little creature inside of her, telling it stories of its father, of the world they wanted to see, and of the stars that he had shown her. She sang to it constantly, stroked her hand over the roundness as she had once stroked her hands over its father's hair as he lay sleeping on her breast, and prayed that David would return home to her.
She got a letter from him, as the snow still lay heavy on the mountains, but when the coasts might be seeing the first hints of spring.
Oh my love, though our bodies may be parted, though our skin may not touch skin, look for me with the sun-bright swallow, I will come on the breath of the wind.
When the first robin of spring came, she finally found the courage to tell him of the deep, dark secret that she carried- the secret of his blood.
As the world warmed and life began anew, the streams moved and the winds blew, the animals began to frolic. Amid all this mad activity, Rose found herself growing ever more sluggish as her belly grew, the creature inside turning cartwheels at all hours, keeping her awake, battering her inner organs, and demanding her attention.
She was in love. She'd thought she'd never love another person the way she loved David, and she didn't- it wasn't the same, but it was just as deep and penetrating, this love for the odd, foreign creature she carried with her everywhere. She was too frightened of the future to speculate, even to the point of considering a name. She would not think of it as male or female, would not consider the thought of it being outside of her. While it was part of her body, she could protect it from all harm, once it was on its own, a separate being, her protection might not be enough. She might not be enough.
And still, she heard nothing from David. Since the letter that had confessed what she had hidden from him, she'd had not a word. It was another thing that she could not consider. He'd always seemed to want a family, children, that odd immortality that was all that humans could hope for, but what if he'd changed his mind as they hypothetical had become reality?
In the late days of her pregnancy, as the days lengthened and the grain grew, Donna moved into the little cabin with Rose to give her what help she might.
The pair of them were outside the front of the cabin one afternoon, darning socks in the warm spring air when the man in the grey of the confederate army appeared with bitter words.
"Buried with honors," he said
"Able soldier," he said.
"A credit to his country, and to his president," he said.
The only thing that Rose heard was "dead." The only thing she knew was that he would never come back. The only truth was her desperation. The only comfort were tears, and the gentle touch of Donna's arms around her shoulders.
That night, in her empty bed that would never be filled again with his mad presence, his laughter, his love, she wept again, whispering fairy tales of traveling the stars to the only reminder of him that she had left, lying still and heavy against her pelvis.
A carol of June
She was Persephone with a babe at her breast. No longer a goddess of summer, all innocence and joy, there was knowledge behind her eyes and sadness that hadn't been there when she was a girl of 16.
She still told Matthew stories of his father. She never spoke of the war, though she listened carefully, noting the numbers of men who died. She never mentioned David again, save to Matthew. When he would stop crying for nothing else, he would calm as his mother told him about his father.
Some of the young men who left came home to tell tales of the greater, wider world. Rose knew, however, that she would stay, that the mountains drew together as a seam to hem her into the life she led. Without David and his dreams, she would stay.
Matthew, however, was a different story, and so she told him dreams. Dreams of the West, and of the oceans. Dreams of other places and times where he might go and change the world.
And every night, as she lay alone in the bed that had been made for her from love, she listened for that breath of wind that would bring her beloved back to her, even for a moment.