The Final Goodbye By: J.L. Jacobs © 2015 (Full Length Book)

Out of sheer desperation, Sophia Lancaster flees her small town of Wellington, Ohio in order to become a mail-order-bride. Naive and full of hope, her world is shattered once again as she is quickly wed to Travis Ewing who seems to despise her from the moment they meet.

Over time, they fall madly in love with each other but Fate has other plans in store for them. This is a suspenseful and very emotional love story that is set in the 1890's where history comes alive. You will laugh and cry over Sophia's journey through hell and back as she fights for the only thing she truly believes in: Love.

*I love to hear your comments and feedback but please DO NOT POST ANY SPOILER ALERTS OR GIVE AWAY STORY INFO. This ruins the reading experience for others.* This is a rough draft version. This book is for mature readers over the age of 17 only. It does contain some profanity and a few graphic love scenes. The synopsis will be re-written, and I will be updating the book with edits.

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2. Chapter Two: Could it be Fate?

Chapter Two: Could it be Fate?

 

     "Father, may I have the newspaper when you are finished with it?" Sophia asked while the family was finishing up their breakfast. Louis gave her a loving smile as he folded the newspaper and passed it over to her.

 

     "I have to get to the bank early today so it’s all yours. Mr. Caruthers wants to have a meeting with me regarding the expansion project." Louis said as he got up from the dining table. He walked over to plant a quick kiss on her cheek, then promptly left the room. Lucinda flashed Sophia a brief smile of her own, then stood up from the table so that she could see Louis off to work.

 

     It had become customary that Lucinda walk Louis to the front door whenever he left for work most mornings. The same custom Lucinda had been doing since the day after they were married over twenty-three years ago.

 

     Sophia had always planned to do the same for Jeremy when they got married, just as Rachel did for Joseph. It was sort of a family tradition now.

 

     Sophia’s spirits sank even lower at that thought. She would never walk Jeremy to the door in the mornings before he left for the day. That part of her dream had been ruined, along with all the other dreams she had concocted in her head while planning their wedding. Instead, Angelique was the one married to Jeremy, and Sophia could only imagine that woman kissing him goodbye each morning as he left for the day.

 

     These thoughts were getting her nowhere fast. She had to get used to the idea that Jeremy wasn't hers any longer and they would never have a future together.

 

     It had been a very long week since that fateful day. She had been nothing short of depressed and mopey one moment, then angry and resentful another. Lucinda, Rachel and Maybelle had all tried their best to get her to go somewhere, anywhere, with them but Sophia refused each time. They assured her that her reputation was still intact. The townspeople had sided with Sophia and were giving quite the cold shoulder to both Jeremy and Angelique. Some townsfolk even refused to go to the medical clinic Jeremy worked at, instead, opting to use the only other clinic the town had to offer.

 

     Sophia just couldn't handle the pitying looks and comments from people right now. Wellington was a very small community where people mostly knew one another, and gossip spread fast. She felt humiliated, and was very afraid to see Jeremy or Angelique if she did venture into town. She knew that she could not handle running into either of them right now, at least, not yet. Maybe in time. Perhaps a long time from now.

 

     Being left at the altar by the love of her life, for another woman nonetheless, would not be an easy thing to get over.

 

     Sophia closed her eyes to prevent newly-formed tears from escaping. Then she sighed out loud and fervently made a silent wish that she could just somehow leave Wellington to start a fresh life somewhere else… far, far away from here!

 

     Sophia elected to stay in the comfort of her home where she knew that at least some people wouldn't be openly feel sorry for her. But she was growing bored and felt cooped up. There was only so much one could do all day, every day, in their home. However, even the pesky state of boredom wasn't enough to motivate Sophia into venturing out in public right now.

 

     The three women had been doing their best to keep her company this past week while their respective husbands were at work, but Jeremy was never far from her mind. In fact, Sophia couldn't get him off her mind, and most of the time she was just a plain down emotional wreck!

 

     Even Josephine, Jeremy's sister, came all the way from Grafton just to pay Sophia a visit a couple days ago. She didn't stay long but had wanted to express her disappointment over what her brother had done. Sophia had been tempted to press Josephine for information about Jeremy and his new marriage but ultimately kept quiet. Even though Sophia and Josephine had become somewhat close over the years since she and Jeremy begun their courtship, she got the sense it would be the last visit Josephine ever made to the house.

 

     Little did Sophia know that her intuition would prove correct.

 

     Sophia, now in another foul mood after recounting the past week in her head, unfolded the morning paper and continued to sip her lukewarm coffee as she perused the articles from The Wellington Enterprise. There were the typical articles the paper published which focused on events taking place in town. Some were about local businesses that were expanding, closing, and opening. One of them in particular was about her father's bank expansion. There was a full page advertisement about the upcoming Fourth of July parade and festival that the town traditionally held each year. Usually she volunteered her time to work at one of the booths, but this year she had backed out last minute, after begging Rachel to take her place. Her sister had reluctantly agreed but made it known that she wasn’t thrilled about it.  

 

     There was no way in hells fire that she would take the chance of running into Jeremy and Angelique there! She was fortunate that Mrs. Shaw (who was Maybelle's mother-in-law and was also in charge of planning the festival) understood why she didn't want to volunteer this year. Mrs. Shaw, like everyone else in town, was well aware of what had happened last week. Heck, Mrs. Shaw had been one of the invited guests at the wedding!

 

      In situations like her own in the past, women were typically branded as being ruined, and their reputations were torn to shreds. But this time the townspeople had sided with Sophia, and it was Jeremy and Angelique who took the brunt of all their negative feelings regarding what they had done. Jeremy for his betrayal and leaving Sophia at the alter the way he did. Then Angelique for bedding down with a man before she was married. Sophia mused that it was only fair. They were getting what they both deserved!

 

     She returned her attention towards reading the newspaper once again. After browsing through a few more pages, one item in particular caught her attention. It was the wedding announcement for Mr. Jeremy Thompson and Miss Angelique Milton who was married on June 1, 1890, in a small and intimate ceremony. At once, Sophia’s cheeks flamed and turned bright pink with bitter resentment.

 

     That should have been her wedding announcement dammit! Of course she would choose to read the newspaper on the same day that their wedding announcement would appear! Darn her luck!

 

     The last week had been rough enough as it was, but seeing the wedding announcement in the paper made all her emotions even more intensified. Obviously her father hadn't read that far into the paper before he had to leave for work, otherwise he would have not been so willing to hand it over.

 

     Sophia grumbled loudly. She felt so… deflated. Taking in a deep breath, then releasing it slowly, Sophia picked up the ivory-colored cloth napkin from her lap and used it to dab her moist eyes. It took her another minute before she was composed enough to finish reading the paper. When she reached the last two pages of the classified advertisements, she skimmed through them quickly; most were sales postings from various people in town for farm implements or animals. There were a few businesses advertising sales of their merchandise, and one post from The Cheese Factory who was looking to hire. The very last advertisement on the page immediately caught her full and undivided attention:

 

Texas rancher in search of a mail-order bride. Applicants must be willing and able to cook, clean, run a household and help raise two young children. Send inquiries to: Travis Ewing, c/o Turtle Creek, in Dallas County, Texas.

 

     Sophia perked up and blinked her eyes rapidly several times. Was this perhaps a sign? She did just make a wish only a short while ago that she could somehow leave this town to start over fresh. Could it be that Fate was giving her the opportunity to do so? Could she start over with a new life to be a wife and mother like she had always wanted to be? This advertisement almost seemed too good to be true! It just had to be a sign!

 

     If she actually possessed the courage to become a mail-order bride, it would prevent her from ever running into Jeremy and Angelique again, and right now, that was all she really wanted to do.

 

     She must be a lunatic to even be considering this idea right now. Would she have the courage to leave her family and closest friends behind? Could she move somewhere far away to marry a man she knew nothing about?

 

     She contemplated the matter for a short while, thinking really hard about all the possibilities this arrangement could afford her. She’d be able to move away, get married, and have two young step-children to help raise. The idea sounded wonderful, and for the first time in the past week, she smiled.

 

     Sophia came to the conclusion that the advertisement had to be a sign meant for her and her alone. She felt in her heart that it was truly the workings of  Fate. Her wish was being granted! This was the perfect opportunity for her to leave Wellington and the wretched memories of Jeremy Thompson behind! It could also be a perfect way for her to get back at Jeremy for his betrayal. She'd show him! She would marry someone else and get everything she had always wanted. The idea of it all seemed almost romantic to her.

 

     Sophia had been with Jeremy for well over three years ever since they had met at the town's Fourth of July festival back in 1897, when she and Maybelle had been volunteering for the lemonade stand that day. At the time, Jeremy was a new doctor in town who was working for the clinic, but was not yet a partner, and he had come to the booth looking for lemonade with his sister, Josephine. The day had been very hot and muggy so the lemonade stand had been busy. Sophia had seen Jeremy around town before but they had never been formally introduced until that day. Maybelle and Jeremy's parents had been close friends for a long time, so she and Jeremy had grown up together and were well acquainted. Sophia was actually surprised that she and Jeremy had not been introduced before that day.

 

     Maybelle made the introductions between Jeremy and Sophia, and from then on, Jeremy was quick to flirt (in a proper manner of course!) with Sophia whenever they happened to run into each other around town. Much to her delight, Jeremy had finally worked up the courage to ask her out on a chaperoned date about a month after they had met. It was love at first sight.

 

     After two years of courting her, Jeremy formally asked Louis for her hand in marriage, and Louis happily gave his blessing. As an engaged couple, Jeremy and her attended all of the town’s events together.

 

     They had been so blissfully in love.  

 

     Sophia gave a wistful smile thinking about those bittersweet memories. They could have been so happy and would have had a nice life together if he hadn't gone and messed it all up. At least he was trying to do the right thing by Angelique Milton, er, Thompson, but it still stung her heart that he had cheated on her… even if he was inebriated when it happened. He claimed that he had no recollection whatsoever about having intimate relations with Angelique. But it was more than obvious he had, otherwise she wouldn’t be carrying his baby, nor married to him right now. Was Jeremy happy with her?

 

     What hurt Sophia the most about his infidelity was the months of lying he had done by not telling her what happened that night at the clinic. Even if he hadn’t been sure of the events that had taken place, he still should have discussed it with her. Sophia then wondered whether the baby Angelique was carrying was even his. She didn't know Angelique at all, so maybe she had intimate relations with another man besides Jeremy before that fateful night.

 

     It no longer mattered what happened in the past. He made his decision to marry Angelique and that was that! No amount of drudging up the events that led to their marriage would change the fact that they were married until death they do part.

 

     It was time she moved on with her life. It was that simple. And right before her eyes in black print was a way for her to do so!

 

     She made the decision to put her life in the hands of Fate.

 

     After folding up the paper, Sophia stood up from the table and began to walk towards the door of the dining room when a severe pain in her lower abdomen made her stop dead in her tracks. The affliction was pretty intense and she could no nothing more than to hold her breath while it continued on for several minutes. She had one arm extended out with her hand on the wall acting as support while the pain ensued. Lucinda walked in the room, shocked to see her daughter hunched over in pain like that.

 

     "Sophia! Are you alright?" Lucinda asked. There was noticeable concern in her voice.

 

     Sophia replied through gritted teeth, "I just got hit with this pain all of a sudden. It's probably from something that I ate."

 

     Lucinda lightly rubbed her hand up and down Sophia’s back in order to help soothe her daughter as best as she could. The pain subsided after another minute or so, and only then was Sophia able to stand up straight again.

 

     Giving her mother a reassuring smile, Sophia said “It’s gone now. I’m okay.”

 

     Still looking worried, Lucinda replied "Why don't you freshen yourself up. I have that new dress I need to pick up from Dreama’s. Why don't you come with me?"

 

     Temporarily caught off guard from that awful pain, Sophia at once remembered the newspaper advertisement that she planned on responding to. Her mother's offer to go into town gave Sophia the perfect opportunity to post her response.

 

     "That actually sounds like a wonderful idea Mother. I have some correspondence that I would like to get posted, so I will be ready in less than a half of an hour if that suits you?"

 

     Lucinda smiled brightly, feeling grateful that her daughter was finally willing to leave the house. "Wonderful!" Lucinda replied, "I will meet you down here in thirty minutes."

 

     Sophia went upstairs to her bedroom and quickly changed into a teal dress trimmed in white lace. She put on her pearl earrings and necklace that her father and mother had given her as a gift when she turned eighteen. Rachel had also received a similar set on her own eighteenth birthday, and both sisters wore their much treasured jewelry with pride.

 

     Since it was quite warm outside even at this early hour, Sophia didn't feel the need to bring a wrap with her but she did find a matching hat, then carefully pinned it to her dark chestnut-colored hair while making sure it was perched at just the right angle. She applied some of the rose-colored lip stain that she wore on her almost wedding day, pinched her cheeks to bring some color into them, and checked out her appearance in the full length mirror. If she was going to head into town for the first time since that dreadful day, Sophia wanted to be sure that she looked her best, and she most certainly did!

 

     Her light blue-green eyes were enhanced from the color of her teal dress and she felt positively radiant. She then sat down at the small writing desk in her room and took out a single sheet of her elegant stationary paper. She picked up a quill, dipped it into the inkwell, and penned out a response to the mail-order bride advertisement she had found in the newspaper a short while ago.

 

June 8, 1890

Mr. Ewing,

My name is Sophia Lancaster and I am writing to you in regards to your advertisement that I found in the newspaper today. I believe that I fit all the requirements you are seeking.

My only stipulation is that I hope to have at least one child of my own through our marital union. I promise to work hard by taking care of your household in order to make your life easier. Please give my response your serious consideration. If you decide to choose me as your bride, I will be ready to leave at your convenience.

Cordially,

S. A. Lancaster of Wellington, Ohio

 

     Once the letter was finished and sealed in the addressed envelope, Sophia felt a moment of guilt because she hadn't been entirely truthful. Growing up with all the comforts afforded to her as the daughter of a wealthy bank owner, she never once in all her twenty-two years had to cook or clean, let alone run a household. And if truth be told, she also didn’t have any experience with children. But she had watched their housekeeper and cook, Nellie, do her job over the years.

 

     It really didn't seem like anything she couldn't handle. How hard could it be?

 

     Sophia had always dreamed of being a wife and mother one day, so realistically she’d never gain that sort of experience until she did get married. Surely Mr. Ewing would understand that.  

 

     But what if he didn’t? Heck, once they married there would be little choice but for him to allow her the chance to prove herself, but lying to him before she even met him seemed wrong.

 

     There was always the chance that he would choose another woman to fulfill the role of his wife. But she felt confident that if he did, indeed choose her, then she would figure it all out once she got there.

 

     Smiling, Sophia placed the correspondence inside her reticule, then made her way downstairs to meet up with her mother so that they could spend some time together in town.

 

#

 

June 23, 1890

Dear Miss Lancaster,

After careful consideration to your response regarding my advertisement looking for a mail-order-bride, I have decided to agree upon your terms. Enclosed with this letter, you will see that I have sent funds in order to cover your traveling expenses. I would like for you to come at your earliest possible convenience. Please send me a telegraph detailing the day you plan to arrive. Your destination, by train, will be the Forrest Park Station in Dallas, Texas. Upon your arrival we will be promptly wed.

Respectfully Yours,

Mr. Travis Ewing c/o Turtle Creek, Texas

 

 

     Sophia squealed out loud with excitement. He had chosen her! She had put this whole matter into the hands of Fate, and here was a letter that would forever change her life. That is, if she could actually make herself go through with it. Along with her excitement, she also felt a moderate degree of panic.

 

     She hadn't really expected him to respond so quickly, if at all.

 

    But now that he had, she found herself at a loss for words. A small frown furrowed her brow line. If she actually went through with this arrangement, how in the world would she even begin to tell her family the news? When she posted her response to Mr. Ewing in the mail a couple weeks ago, she hadn't quite thought that far ahead. 

 

     If she had the courage to travel down to Dallas and marry this Mr. Ewing, when it came time to tell everyone what she was doing, none of them would take this news well at all. That included her best friend Maybelle. Added to those issues, just last week Rachel had announced she is expecting a baby in January.

 

     Could she really leave now and miss out on seeing her new niece or nephew being born? Then there was her mother and father, both of whom had not so much as an inkling that she was even corresponding with this Travis Ewing man to be his mail-order bride! She hadn’t told anyone about that at all. It would come as a shocking surprise for sure.

 

     Oh good God, what had she gotten herself into?

 

      At the time she had posted her letter to Mr. Ewing it had seemed like a spectacular idea; but the response she held in her shaky hands from him had just made the situation all too real. Sophia had to sit down just to take it all in.

 

     Once again she had to remind herself that if this arrangement with Mr. Ewing was meant to be, she was going to follow through with it. Apparently it was. After all, she had left the situation in the hands of Fate.

 

     She had wanted to get out of this town to avoid seeing Jeremy ever again. After all, figuring that if she married up with another man, it would be the best revenge she could give Jeremy after what he did to her. For the hundredth time since her abruptly cancelled wedding, Sophia remembered all the feelings she had experienced, and it made her cringe at the memories of that horrible day.

 

     She had to go through with this. Hells fire, she would go through with this!

 

 

     The rational part of her brain reminded her that she didn't know anything about this Travis guy other than he lived in Texas, was a rancher, and had two younger children. She had no idea how old this man was, or even the ages of his children. The advertisement did say they were young but exactly how young?

 

     Holy hell. What if he turned out to be a homely-looking old man? There must be something wrong with him if he had to look for a mail-order bride in order to get himself married to a woman.

 

     "In all fairness," she mused in a quiet whisper, "he also knows next to nothing about me!"

 

      He never asked her for a photograph nor did she ask him for one. A bout of nausea hijacked her stomach with the thought of going to Texas and marrying Travis Ewing, without knowing how to cook, clean, or take care of children like she had said.

 

     She had downright lied to the man! Oh what a tangled web she had weaved! 

 

     Could she pull it off?

     Dare she even try?

 

     So many thoughts raced through her mind, one of them being that she was certifiably crazy to have even considered this situation to begin with.

 

     This was downright insanity!

 

     Then she recollected the humiliation of her almost wedding to Jeremy Thompson again. The shocking news she had received from Jeremy just moments before their wedding ceremony was to take place in a church full of their friends and family. How he chose Angelique to marry instead of her. How he had gotten Angelique with child. He only regarded Angelique’s reputation instead of hers.

 

     Everyone in town felt sorry for her. She despised their pity! She resented how some even avoided her because they didn't know how to act around her, or what to even say. Even though Sophia knew she wasn't, she almost felt like a town outcast.

 

     She learned that Jeremy had recently asked Maybelle Shaw about her, and wondered if she was faring well. Maybelle was a very outspoken person who rarely minced words. She flat out told him that he needed to worry less about Sophia's well-being and more about that of his new wife.

 

     Sophia smiled just a teeny bit at the additional thought that Maybelle had given Jeremy a strong poke in the shoulder when saying that to him. The gesture seemed to put Jeremy in his place, and to Sophia’s knowledge he hadn't inquired after her since. Maybelle also told Sophia that her husband, Hank, had seen Jeremy in the local tavern a week or so ago and took the opportunity to blacken Jeremy's eye. Maybe that wasn't the best course of action, but Hank was only looking out for her in his own way, and being a man, that was how he was able to do so.

 

     Ever since Hank had married Maybelle last year, he had become a big brother of sorts to Sophia; always careful to look out for her best interests. Upon reflection, Sophia could never remember one instance that Hank had ever punched a man for any reason at all. The thought that he did so on her behalf humbled her. Sophia took a deep, calming, breath.

 

     She could do this. She would marry this Travis guy and truly start a new life for herself. This had to be the work of Fate. It just had to be!

 

     Sophia placed the letter from Travis Ewing into her writing desk drawer. Before she chickened out, Sophia went straight to the train depot in town and purchased her train ticket. Then she ventured to the post office and sent the following telegraph to Travis Ewing:

 

Leaving Wellington, OH on July 1st. STOP. Will arrive via the Houston and Texas Central train arriving at the Forrest Park Station in Dallas on the tenth of July. STOP. S. A. Lancaster of Wellington, Ohio. STOP.

 

     Once those tasks were completed, she was left with a feeling of trepidation which Sophia chose to ignore. Someday in the future after she and Travis had been married for a while, she would certainly look back upon these seemingly-scary decisions and have a good laugh.

 

     There was no turning back now! In a few weeks’ time she would become Mrs. Travis Ewing with two step-children to love and care for, along with having a new home that would be hers for the remainder of her life. Yes, this just had to be Fate!

 

#

 

     Walking out of the postal office, Sophia drew in a deep breath, enjoying the delightful smells of the early summer day. Flowers were in bloom all over the town center of Wellington which was really such a beautiful town. She knew nearly every person who lived here. This was her hometown where she had been both born and raised. There were two main roads that intersected the middle of the town, and a railroad very close by which could be noisy several times a day. But the noisy trains brought in goods from other major cities that the local stores sold, it provided a faster postal delivery system, and offered a quicker alternative for travelers going to and from the town. That would be the exact train station she would be using in a week to make her escape from this town to start a new life.

 

     Sophia knew that her mother was currently at Dreama’s Dressmaker's shop, a place of business that Lucinda faithfully frequented a few times a month in order to get new clothing. Her mother absolutely adored buying new clothes, and since her husband happened to own one of the two banks in town, she had an exorbitant allowance to spend on clothing and other womanly frills. Thankfully for her father, Sophia detested dress shopping and all the required fittings she had to endure whenever she had to get a custom-made dress. Not that long ago she had to painstakingly go through hours’ worth of measurements and fittings, picking out fabrics, and other necessary things to make a trousseau for her wedding to Jeremy.

 

     What a sorrowful waste of her father’s hard-earned money that experience had been!

 

     Instead of meeting up with her mother at Dreama’s, Sophia decided to kill a little more time by heading over to Bowlby and Hall grocers to pick up an icee which sounded like such a refreshing treat on this hot and humid day. Icee's were a newer item that the grocers began to carry since last May and she really enjoyed those delicious icy treats. They were basically a flavored ball of shaved ice that was placed inside a sturdy, white, cone-shaped paper. Mr. Hall, one of the store owners, often said they reminded him of ice cream cones so he jokingly called them snow cones.

 

     Sophia carefully crossed the dusty dirt road while looking out for carriages, and passed by the town mayor, Mr. George Couch. Everyone knew Mayor Couch. He was a very likable fellow with a big white beard, and an ample stomach which he did his best to conceal in those fancy suits of his, which he was always seen wearing. He was also known for that deep jolly laugh of his.

 

     His eyes lit up with a sparkle when he spied Sophia. He took off his stylish hat as he greeted her with a warm smile saying, "Good Day Miss Lancaster." 

 

     Sophia pleasantly returned his greeting. "Well good day to you as well Mister Mayor!"

#

 

     Sophia stepped inside the cramped store. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust from the sunniness outside to the much dimmer lighting of the stores interior.

 

     Looking around the store, she saw that she wasn't the only person with the bright idea to get herself an icee which came in three flavors to choose from: lemon, cherry, or plain. There were four people in line at the counter already waiting for an icee of their own, so she decided to go up to Mrs. Colby to say a quick hello.

 

     As she approached the woman, Sophia saw that Mrs. Colby had a wicker basket full of grocery items. Mrs. Colby was a well-liked and respected resident of Wellington, and was always an active participant in town events. She was standing near the vegetable crates talking to Mr. Wah Sing (some people in town had nicknamed him Johnny Chinaman).

 

     Mr. Sing was no ordinary resident of Wellington. He arrived in town after a difficult two-month long journey with his parents, who all emigrated from China to make a better life themselves in America. From what Sophia had been told long ago, Wah Sing was only seven years old when they arrived here, and had faced the loss of his three-year-old sister who fell ill while on the boat ride over.

 

     No one knew Wah Sing's exact age; he seemed to have been in Wellington for as long as anyone could remember and was a very beloved man, who often told jokes with a wide smile on his face that revealed those large crooked teeth of his. He ran one of the town’s laundry shops which was located next to The American Hotel. He always wore the same distinguishable outfit, so he was very easy to recognize from his other relatives.

 

      Sophia giggled to herself. Yes, he always wore the same outfit complete with three shiny, long black braids that was his own signature hairstyle. One braid on his right, one on his left, and one down the middle of his back. His jet black hair always gleamed with such a healthiness that it made many women envious as they wished they had hair half as lovely. Covering his head was the same black derby hat which never seemed to show any wear or tear. Sophia surmised that he must have new ones made a couple times a year.

 

     Wah Sing wore loose-fitting black silk trousers and the only thing that ever changed in his wardrobe fashion was the colorful vests he wore over top of a simple cotton shirt with long sleeves. Today his vest was comprised of brightly colored, hand-embroidered, flowers that were native to China. Even though his outfit was highly unusual for the current fashion, he pulled it off with his own unique flair.

 

     Mrs. Colby derailed Sophia's train of thought by bursting out in her loud bubbly laugh, "Mister Sing, I dare you to eat one right this instant!"

 

     Curious, Sophia inched closer to see what Mrs. Colby was talking to him about. Mr. Sing grabbed an odd-looking little green pepper from Mrs. Colby's basket.

 

      "Me no refuse a lady Mizzas Coebee!” he declared.

 

     Sophia laughed. Wah Sing took notice of her and his smile lit up even more.

 

     "Mizz Lahncastah (he was pretty Americanized by this point, so his spoken English was still accented but decipherable) you try new peppah wih me! Mizzas Coebee say it very good. She dare me to eat one. I no back down from dare. I am man. No small peppah scare this man."

 

     He broke the small funny-looking pepper in half and gave one half of it to Sophia.

 

     "Why thank you. I'd love to try it Mister Sing!" Sophia remarked as Missus Colby laughed.

 

     Sophia silently observed the innocent-looking pepper which she had never seen before and noticed it had small green seeds in the inside which was hollowed out. It almost reminded her of a very miniature sized green pepper except it was a darker green color.

 

     Mrs. Colby smiled with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. "Okay, I will count to three. Once I reach the count of three, you will both eat it at the same time. Ready? One. Two. Three!"

 

     With that, both Wah Sing and Sophia popped the little half portions of the pepper in their mouths and began chewing. In a matter of seconds, their faces turned a bright and alarming shade of red.

 

     Sophia felt an agonizing heat in her mouth and throat that seeped into her stomach where she had swallowed most of the pepper already. The heat from that tiny portion of pepper was so intense; never before had Sophia tasted a vegetable that was this hot and it made her start coughing as she immediately spit out the remaining, and offensive, bits of chewed up pepper that was left in her mouth. Poor Wah Sing wasn't faring much better; he was gasping for air.

 

     The commotion drew the attention of the other store patrons, as well as Mr. Hall, and they all gathered to see what was the cause of such deep laughter that came from Mrs. Colby.

 

     Frantically, Sophia cried out "Water!" Tears streamed down her reddened face. She could barely breathe in between the pepper-induced coughing fits.

 

     Mr. Wah Sing was just as bad off. He, too, had twin trails of tears rolling down his face. Once he was able to catch his breath, he started yelling at the top of his lungs which came out more like a very hoarse whisper.

 

     "Get doctor! Get doctor quick! My belly burning like helly!"

 

     Mrs. Colby was roaring with laughter the entire time. Mr. Hall rushed behind the counter and poured two glasses of milk, then rushed back over, handing one each to Sophia and Wah Sing. They gulped the milk down in record time. Surprisingly, it helped take away some of the burn.

 

     "What in tarnations is going on in here?" Mr. Bowlby, the other store owner, said as he walked in the store to the scene of mass confusion. Little did he know that this moment would be remembered throughout history, but at the time he was concerned about his store patrons who seemed to be suffering some sort of apoplectic fit.

 

     Mrs. Colby had been laughing so hard with tears of her own streaming down her face that she couldn't stop to answer him. A few of the other store patrons who were there to witness the entire scene were mixed between laughing and being utterly speechless, not knowing what to do or say either way.

 

     Mr. Hall was the first to speak up, "Missus Colby here was kind enough to offer Wah Sing and Miss Lancaster one of our new habanero peppers that we got in yesterday."

 

    He chuckled saying, "I guess they really are as hot as I was told!"

 

     "Can I use someone's handkerchief please?" Sophia asked. Her voice was still raspy and felt raw.  

 

     Mr. Hall quickly handed her his own kerchief and she began to dab her watery eyes with it. She noticed that her lower abdomen was burning really badly and the milk she drank was doing very little to help with that particular pain.

 

     "Whah you try to do?" Wah Sing cried out to Mrs. Colby while pointedly shaking his long bony finger at her. "You try to kill Wah Sing!”

 

     This only made Mrs. Colby laugh even harder. Her laughter must have been contagious because some of the other store patrons joined in.

 

     “More milky please!" Wah Sing desperately cried out to Mr. Hall, who raced to quickly refill Wah Sing's tin cup with some more milk.

 

     “She try to kill me with evil peppah!" Wah Sing lamented to anyone who would listen. "Bah woman! Bah, bah woman!" he admonished Mrs. Colby.

 

     “I am not a bad woman Wah Sing. I dared you to eat the pepper and you did. That doesn’t make me bad. It makes you foolish.” She managed to sputter out.  

 

     Mrs. Colby tried really hard to squelch her laughing, and after some time passed by, she said to both Sophia and Wah Sing, "I didn't know it was that hot. Honestly."

 

     “You lie like dog!” Wah Sing retorted back. He was genuinely upset over the whole thing.

 

     Sophia remained unusually silent as she slowly recovered from the assault of that tiny little pepper. Wah Sing had been right about one thing—that thing was evil!

 

     Mr. Hall continued chuckling. This was honestly the funniest thing he had ever seen in his whole life. He couldn’t wait to get home to tell his missus about what happened in the store just now, wishing she had been here to see it for herself.

 

     By this point, everyone’s laughter got the best of Sophia. She began laughing despite the dreadful amount of heat that was still in her mouth, throat, lips and stomach.

 

      “Remind me to never take Missus Colby up on one of her dares ever again!” she remarked.

 

     “Mizzas Coebee try to kill me!” Wah Sing lamented. He continued to drink what was left of the milk in his tin cup. In his haste to drink the contents, some of the milk spilled down from his lips, ran down his chin, and landed on his beautifully embroidered vest.

 

     "Death by habanero pepper!" boomed Mr. McConnell who had been one of the patrons in the store.

 

     To add to the hilarity of the moment, Mr. Bowlby (never one to miss an opportunity to push a sale) jokingly asked Wah Sing, "Shall I put a dozen of those peppers on your account?"

 

     Mr. Wah Sing yelled back, "Hella no!"

 

     That made everyone else, including Sophia, laugh even more. The china man dropped his wicker shopping basket to the floor and proceeded to stomp his way outside, nearly losing his hat from the force of his departure.

 

     "You can put a half dozen on my account!" Mrs. Colby laughed, "The next time Mister Colby comes home drunk I will put one in his supper!"

 

     More laughter ensued because everyone in town knew that as Mr. Colby was a notorious, yet harmless, drunk.

 

     Sophia handed Mr. Hall her tin cup and left the tiny grocers store, making her way outside into the stifling heat while forgetting all about the icee that she intended to get in the first place. Her poor abdomen was still on fire. Soon after she crossed the dirt road to make her way towards the dress shop, the pain became less fire-like and more sharply pronounced. Just as she reached Dreama’s, her mother walked out the door with an armful of boxes. 

 

     "Sophia!" Lucinda said by way of a greeting, "You have to come in and see this new silk fabric that Dreama just got in from Italy! It's divine!"

 

      Sophia gritted her teeth then smiled through the pain in her abdomen replying, “Maybe some other time Mother. I’d really like to get home straight away. I am not feeling so good and need some rest."

 

     Lucinda peeked her head around the boxes at her daughter to find that Sophia's face was a pale shade of white."Lordy Soph! You look positively awful!"

 

     Lucinda Lancaster was known to be very direct. Sophia honestly loved that about her mother.

 

     "I just had an interesting experience over at Bowlby and Hall's." Sophia said.

 

     As the two of them walked side-by-side down the wooden planked walkway towards the waiting carriage, Sophia filled Lucinda in on what had happened in the grocers store. By the end of her story, Lucinda was roaring with laughter which was not typical for her normally straight-laced mother.

 

     Just hearing her mother’s laughter almost made the after-effects of eating that habanero pepper worth it. Almost.

 

#

 

(This chapter was updated on 4/18/2016. Please like and comment. Thank you!)

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