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Winslow, Arizona, September 1929
Ma'am, my train leaves in less than ten minutes," an irritated passenger complained.
Ashley Reynolds pulled a slip of paper from her apron and handed it to the man. "Sir, there's plenty of time. Here's the check, and I'll have those sandwiches ready for you to take momentarily." She sighed. The life of a Harvey Girl was not all it was cracked up to be. Especially when working the lunchroom counter. Ashley much preferred her regular duties in the dining room. It always seemed the lunchroom counters of Fred Harvey's restaurants were frantic-paced battlegrounds where a girl's only weapons were her charm and quick wit.
In another hour it was all behind herat least the work was behind her. The worst was yet to come. With feelings of trepidation, Ashley finished straightening her station and headed to the back room.
"Are you going home?" one of her co-workers questioned.
Ashley didn't feel like chatting. "Yes," she answered in a rather curt manner. "See you tomorrow." But even as she said the words, Ashley realized that wasn't true. She wouldn't be back to work tomorrow or the day after. Maybe never.
Turning in her resignation was the hardest thing Ashley had ever done. After working nearly ten years for the Harvey Company, Ashley was quite comfortable in her routine. Now everything was changingand not for the better.
A hot desert wind whipped across Ashley's skirt as she made her way home from work. Worn and perspiring from her long hours waiting on customers, the dry breeze created the tiniest sensation of cooling, and Ashley cherished it. A weariness unlike any she'd ever known, however, sapped all remaining strength. How was she ever to find solace when she would soon become the bearer of such bad tidings?
Walking past the construction of the new Harvey hotel resort, Ashley couldn't help wondering if the throngs of tourists would come as they had predicted at the onset of this proposed high-dollar dream. Vast gardens, orchards, and lavish furnishings were to beckon the wealthy to come and take their restand spend their money.
Having worked for nine years at the established Harvey House to the west, Ashley thought the new resort a waste of money and time. She found it impossible to believe people would actually spend a small fortune to come and bask in the desert heat. Not that she didn't love Winslow and all it had to offer. This had been, after all, home for the last ten years, and she'd grown rather attached to its idiosyncrasies and lovable characters.
Ashley glanced up the street. The animated movements of the skipping girl brought a smile to Ashley's face. Despite the warmth of the day, her daughter fairly danced along the brick sidewalk.
"What are you doing this afternoon, my little miss?" Ashley questioned.
"I took over that mending you did for Mrs. Taylor at the boardinghouse. She said to tell you that you sure do fine work." Natalie beamed her mother a smile. "She also gave me a nickel for being such a good delivery girl."
Ashley couldn't help grinning and shaking her head. The child positively owned Winslow, Arizona. She was everybody's darling. Everyone from the train yards to the downtown businesses knew Natalie Reynolds. Knew her and loved her.
"Well, that was kind of Mrs. Taylor."
Natalie fished into the pocket of her cotton dress. "She said to give you this." She handed a dollar bill to her mother. "She said this was for last week's mending too."
Ashley tucked the bill into the skirt of her Harvey apron and pulled out a nickel. "Why don't you go get an ice-cream cone. I need to talk to Grandpa, and dinner won't be for hours yet. You might well feel done in before then."
"I already have the nickel Mrs. Taylor gave me."
"Yes, but you may need that later for some other treasure. This time the treat's on me."
"Thanks, Mama." Natalie took the money. She leaned up on tiptoe as Ashley bent down, then kissed her mother soundly on the cheek before making a beeline for her favorite ice-cream parlor.
Ashley sighed as she watched Natalie's gleeful exit. She was such an easy child to care for, but Ashley worried about her. Being loved by the town regulars, Natalie held a loving attitude toward most everyone she met. With the trains that came and went at a constant pace, there were always strangers in town, yet Natalie knew no stranger. She would just as soon strike up a conversation with someone she'd never met as to talk with a friend. Soon she'd come to an age where that could be misconstrued as flirtingor worse yet, it could become very dangerous.
She's growing up so fast, Ashley thought as she continued her journey home. Had it really been ten years since Natalie had come into the world? Ashley remembered the easy delivery with fondness and regret. She had been alone, except for Grandpa Whitman. Her own parents had exiled her, rejecting her for marrying without their permission. Worse still, she'd married a man of no real means or status, something absolutely vital to her social-climbing mother and father.
Ethan ... her beloved. The pain that had one time been a stabbing, white-hot torture was now a dull ache. Expecting Natalie had given her a will to go on after receiving notice that her war-hero husband had been killed. Ethan had never even known about the baby they'd created. They'd married in a whirlwind in March of 1918, and before either one knew what had happened, Ethan had gone to war and had given his life for his country. There was no time for letters to tell of the pregnancy. No time for letters telling him how much she loved him. No time for letters saying good-bye.
Ashley paused at the iron gate and stared at the brick house she'd called home. The two-story house was quite simple, but it suited her and Natalie and Grandpa Whitman just fine. They'd had a great life therejust the three of them. Together they never felt isolated. They had each other ... and loved each other and it was that love that helped them through each difficult event.
But with the doctor's visit at the Harvey House today, Ashley knew all of that was about to change. She'd been serving at the lunch counter when he'd come in and asked to talk to her privately. The news was not good, and now she would have to break it to Grandpa. But how? How could she tell him that he was going to dieand quickly?
Across the Years (DESERT ROSES, Book 2) by Tracie Peterson
Copyright © 2002, Tracie Peterson
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.