The New Girl In Town. Brenda Harlen

The New Girl In Town - Brenda Harlen

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as I liked. I just pray the invitation will still be open after I tell her about my condition.

      “‘September 22nd. Heaven help me, I’m too late. I arrived at Aunt Clara’s this afternoon and found her house full of people. They had just come from her funeral.

      “‘I got hysterical, and I must have fainted. A while ago I woke up and found myself lying on a bed in my aunt’s guest room. A lady was here with me. She introduced herself as Dr. Chloe Nesbitt and said she had been my aunt’s doctor and friend. Then she asked if I was pregnant.

      “‘When I finally bawled out my story, Dr. Nesbitt was very kind. She said she would talk to Aunt Clara’s pastor about my situation. In the meantime, she was sure that I could stay here, at least until the estate is settled. She told me to get some rest and not to worry.

      “‘How can I not worry? My darling Mike is dead, Daddy has tossed me out, I’m alone in a strange town where I know no one, I have no job, no money, no training other than ranch work and I’m expecting a child in five months! What am I going to do?

      “‘September 23rd. I can’t believe it! Just when things look hopeless, a miracle has happened. Dr. Nesbitt returned this morning with Reverend Clayton and my aunt’s attorney, Mr. Lloyd Thomas. Mr. Thomas said that as my aunt’s only kin, I will inherit her entire estate! It isn’t a great fortune—a modest savings and this small house, is all—but it’s a roof over my head, and if I’m careful, the money will see me through until the baby is born and I can get a job. Bless you, Aunt Clara.’”

      For the next hour Zach read from the diary. It told of Colleen’s struggle to make the money last, her fear of living alone for the first time in her life, of being in a strange place, her shock and joy when she found out she was expecting triplets, and her worries over how she could support herself and three babies. Underlying it all was a desperate loneliness that colored every word and wrung Zach’s heart.

      Reverend Clayton and Dr. Nesbitt figured prominently in the entries over the next few months. The doctor saw Colleen through her pregnancy, and the reverend and others in his congregation took a special interest in her, offering spiritual guidance and practical assistance and advice.

      “‘January 24th. Reverend Clayton is urging me to put my babies up for adoption as soon as they’re born. He thinks that would be best—for them, and for me. Perhaps he’s right. I don’t know. But, God help me, I can’t. I just can’t. I love them so much already. Every time I feel them move, my heart overflows. I cannot bear to give them up, to have them whisked away from me the second they are born and never get to see their sweet faces, never get to hold them. No. No, I can’t give them up. I love them. And they are all I have left of Mike.’”

      Zach’s throat grew so tight he had difficulty forming the words. He thrust the diary into Matt’s hands. “Here. It’s your turn,” he said in a gruff voice.

      Matt swung his legs up onto the bed and leaned back against a mound of pillows and continued.

      “‘February 7th. I’m the mother of three beautiful, healthy boys! They arrived yesterday, two weeks early, but Dr. Nesbitt says they are all doing fine. I have named them Matthew Ryan, Zachariah Aiden and Jedediah Tiernan.’”

      “Jedediah Tiernan!” Matt hooted. “No wonder you go by J.T.”

      “Stuff it, Dolan.”

      “Do you two mind? Could we just get on with this?”

      “Okay, okay.” Picking up where he left off, Matt continued.

      “‘February 9th. Reverend Clayton came by during visiting hours. He offered me a job working in the church’s day care center. The pay isn’t much, but Reverend Clayton says I can bring the babies to the center. That means I won’t have to be separated from them or have the expense of child care. The reverend is such a good man. I don’t know what I would do without his help and support.

      “‘February 10th. The first day home with the boys. I had no idea babies were so much work. I’ll write more later when I’m not so exhausted.’”

      The entry was typical of the ones during the following year. A picture began to emerge of a young girl struggling to support and nurture three babies alone. To make ends meet she took in ironing in the evenings and on weekends, often working late into the night.

      A few weeks before their first birthday Colleen began to mention that she wasn’t feeling well. By the end of February her boss at the day care center insisted that she see a doctor, in case she had something contagious. Then came the entry that stunned Zach and his brothers.

      “‘March 5th. I have advanced ovarian cancer.’”

      “Ah, hell,” Zach swore and raked a hand through his hair.

      “Yeah,” J.T. agreed in a subdued tone. “After all she’d already been through, she sure didn’t deserve that.”

      Swinging his legs over the side, Matt sat on the edge of the bed. “Funny. That possibility never occurred to me. I always assumed she gave me away because she didn’t want me.”

      “Deep down, I think we all did,” Zach said quietly. “We were too young to understand anything else.”

      Matt thought that over, then nodded and resumed reading.

      “‘Dear Lord, what am I going to do? I can’t afford to be sick. My babies need me. On top of that, I have no idea how I’ll pay for the treatment, but without it I’ll surely die. What will become of the boys if that happens? Daddy won’t have them. Even if he would, I don’t want my boys to grow up under his iron-fisted rule or to bear the brunt of his hatred for their father. God help me. And them.

      “‘March 6th. I started treatment today. Feel even worse. Nausea is awful.’”

      For the next eight months the entries were about the treatment and the ghastly side effects. And her growing financial worries. Within weeks she could no longer work. It was all she could manage to take care of her three toddlers. Left with no alternative, she was forced to go on welfare.

      Despite aggressive treatment, her condition continued to worsen, and in December, after nine months of struggle, Colleen accepted the inevitable and wrote of her decision to ask Reverend Clayton help her find homes for her sons.

      “‘November 23rd. Reverend Clayton and Mr. Thomas, Aunt Clara’s attorney, are handling the adoptions. I would like to interview the prospective couples myself, but the family court judge will not allow it. Even though these are private adoptions he demands complete anonymity on both sides, and afterward the adoption records will be sealed.

      “‘The reverend and Mr. Thomas have tried but they couldn’t find a family willing to take three two-year-olds so it appears the boys will have to go to different couples. Oh, how I hate to think of them being separated. They are not only losing me, but each other, as well. But what choice do I have?

      “‘January 10th. Reverend Clayton has selected three couples. I trust his judgment and I’m sure they will all be wonderful parents, but I can’t quite bring myself to commit to them. It shreds my heart just to think about handing my babies over to strangers and never seeing them again. For the boys’ sake, though, I have to stop being selfish. They are typical rambunctious toddlers, and I’m so weak now and in so much pain that I can barely get out of bed some days. I worry that I’m not giving them proper care.

      “‘January 15th. Well, I’ve done it. I’ve agreed to the adoptions and signed all the papers. Reverend Clayton had the medallion made and cut, like I asked him, and all the couples have agreed to give them to the boys when they are older. I just hope that someday it will help them find one another again.’”

      Matt turned the page, scanned it, then flipped over several more before turning back. “Looks like there’s just one more entry. After that there are just blank pages.”

      “Go ahead. Let’s hear it,” J.T. said.

      “‘February 24th. Today was the worst day of my life. I gave

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