She left quietly although not quickly, pausing several times as she gathered up her personal belongings to look at things within the store that had been such an integral part of her life. Sam Potter might believe it a miracle that she had lasted as long as she did, however Olivia saw her time at Leaders to have been full of productivity and purpose. She certainly had been the most reliable of all the employees that had come and gone over the years, going in on scant notice when others had become ill or abruptly moved from the Hiawatha community. She also was still the only one who understood the inventory system in the back of the store, one that was carefully arranged not by product name but by demand and quality. Olivia had labored over this system for many weeks and almost offered to try to explain it to Sam again as she paused at the door of the store on her way out for this last time. She saw him peeking at her from his small office stall in the back, his thin, dusty brown hair scattered around his head in no particular order. She paused and raised one hand, an offer almost, an offer to at least try to make him understand the basics of the system before he had to go back there hunting for hardtack or rope. She decided against it however and left with a faint, “fair thee well.”
Walking home she headed east, which although it was the not the most direct route, did lead past the rose garden behind the public library. Olivia liked to sit there in the middle of the garden, not looking around at the bushes or stuffing her nose into them, which is what nearly everyone else did, but leaning back on a bench, closing her eyes and smelling the subtle fragrances that mixed in the air. The man who had planted the flowers was an experienced rosarian, a careful and meticulous man who tended the garden daily despite his own long work schedule at the bank. He had brought his bulbs with him, along with a collection of live bushes, all of which he carefully tended through their arduous trip from Maine. Olivia had watched him graft once, the man’s thick, dirty fingers tenderly trimming cuttings from his bushes before lopping off the flowers and most of the remaining stem, leaving just two or three leaves on a plain green stalk. The man had given her a short lecture on how plants waste energy producing flowers, which seemed ridiculous to Olivia as she figured that was about what they were good for and supposed to do anyway. The man did however have quite a talent for getting those cuttings to root and bloom. His creations now filled the air in the garden with a mixture of musk, fruit and tender spice smells, and Olivia swore she smelled pepper sometimes which just brought a faint smile to the man’s face but never a reply or affirmation. She sat longer than usual today and then headed home, arriving to find her mother sitting out on the porch in her usual rocking chair, a wool blanket wrapped around her legs to ward off the chill of the day.
“Home early today daughter?” The lack of surprise in her mother’s voice gave away the fact that she must have already heard about the incident and its eventual outcome. Olivia said nothing, passing by her mother with a soft pat to her shoulder and then going inside to put her things up and brew some tea. When she emerged again she was wrapped in a purple shawl and carefully balancing two cups of camomile. Placing one on the small table next to her mother, Olivia settled down into her own usual seat, a simple but comfortable straight-backed chair with a floral printed cushion. No words passed between them for several minutes until her mother sighed, placed her tea back down and pointed out toward the road.
“A horse broke a leg out there today. The carriage it was pulling lost an axle and overturned, that poor animal got twisted up in the harness. I heard it break, sickening sound really.” Her mother’s voice, deepened by age, cracked a little as she spoke, her general love of animals showing as always. “They put it down quickly enough, but still sad to see.”
Olivia nodded in reply, uncertain if this story carried any other meaning. After several minutes with no more details provided, she figured that was all that was going to be said about it.
“I won’t be going back to Leaders.”
“Hmm, interesting. What happened?”
Olivia looked over at her mother, an eyebrow raised in question.
“I mean, how did it start dear. Nobody told me that part yet.”
Olivia gave her mother the rest of the details, becoming slightly worked up again as she told the story. When she got to the part where she had pulled the cowboy outside, her mother raised her hand to indicate that she knew the rest.
“So Sam Potter finally had enough of you then?”
“Really mother, that’s harsh don’t you think?”
“Not really. You have always been too defensive about all of this town pride nonsense. This place could use a few changes.” A slight twinkle sparked in the woman’s grey eyes as she said this, looking over at her daughter to see her reaction.
Olivia huffed once before replying, her voice slightly raised and edgy. “Our journey out here was difficult mother, as you know, difficult and trying. It took everyone of us pulling together to reach this land and we have every right to be proud of it. And we made this into a fine frontier town, the best if you ask me and plenty of others agree.”
“Plenty of others who were on the trip with you.”
“Them sure, but other people too, ones that pass through here and remark on how much we have done in such a short time. It wouldn’t have been possible without all of us working together.”
“That and your bunch of fearless leaders.”
“They had the vision, the resources and the knowledge to make it all happen. We certainly needed them.”
Her mother stayed silent after that, finishing up her tea which had gone cold but was no matter to her, as she had consumed plenty of cold tea in her life. When she was done she carefully placed the blue and white china cup down on its saucer, which had several slight chips in the edges, memories of the travels her life had taken. She looked up at her daughter and smiled.
“You should get ready then.”
“Ready for what mother.”
“Tom Drummond of course. He’s coming over in one hour.”
… to be continued