“You look lovely,” Eliza said as she placed the last flower in Rose’s coiffure. Her dark, red hair was the most elaborate thing about her.
“Thank you,” Rose said. “You did a lovely job. Much better than I did on your hair.”
“Stop it!” Eliza exclaimed playfully. She flicked Rose’s earrings. They were simple pearls that her mother had lent her. She’d worn them at her own wedding, and apparently, they’d been given to her as a gift from her father. “You made me look and feel beautiful on my wedding day.”
Rose gave Eliza a big smile as she recalled her wedding day a month ago. Eliza had been one of the most beautiful brides Rose had ever seen. Rose couldn’t tell you what she wore, and she barely remembered how she’d done her hair. Eliza’s beauty came from the happiness and love that surrounded her.
“You’ve been such a wonderful friend,” Rose said. She turned and embraced Eliza. Through everything, Eliza had been by her side. She’d withstood the whispering of the townspeople as Rose and James announced their engagement. Rose couldn’t blame the town for their shock. After all, she’d been engaged to Richard just a week before they announced their engagement.
“I’m just glad you’ve finally found someone worthy of you,” Eliza said.
Rose smiled. “I’m glad that we’ve both found happiness,” she said.
Rose and James had decided to get married at the beginning of the fall to give Eliza and Samuel their moment. James would have gladly run away and eloped, but Rose knew that her mother would have had a heart attack if they had not allowed her to throw them a wedding.
“I think my mother and I would have come to blows without your intervention,” Rose said. Her mother meant well, but from the moment that Rose and James walked into the house and told her their news, she’d been obsessed with planning a large wedding.
Rose would have put up more of a fight if John Clark hadn’t been so excited.
“Your mother meant well,” Eliza said.
Rose hadn’t cared much about the wedding planning outside of her dress. It was cream satin with a cinched waist and tiny ribbons woven through the sleeves. It was a simple dress, probably the plainest that Rose owned, but that was what she liked best about it.
The skirt was the special part. Rose, Eliza, the dressmaker, and her mother had spent months sewing various flowers into the skirt. They were all types of flowers that Rose had painted from the Clark ranch.
A knock sounded on the door drawing Rose’s attention away from her hair and dress. “Come in,” Eliza hollered. Rose was expecting to see her mother. She was shocked that she’d allowed Rose to get ready with only Eliza, but she was grateful. Her mother was more nervous than she was, and Rose appreciated the respite from her anxiety.
But Rose was shocked to see her father sticking his head into the dressing room. “Are you ladies decent?” he asked. His tone was jovial and light in a way that Rose hadn’t heard in a long time.
“Come in, Mr. Miller,” Eliza said. She ushered Rose’s father into the room. Eliza had been a balm to the entire Miller family over the past few months. Her wedding planning offered Rose a respite when she needed it, and her congenial and happy nature, always blasted through any tension between Rose and her parents.
Rose turned to look at her father. She wasn’t sure what he was going to say, and she hated that the idea that he might not approve of her made her stomach flip.
“Doesn’t she look beautiful?” Eliza asked.
To Rose’s surprise, her father appeared to choke up as he nodded. “She looks lovely,” he said. There were tears in his eyes, and Rose noticed that he discretely tried to push them away.
“Thank you,” Rose said. She, too, was struggling to say anything over the lump that had formed in her throat.
“Your mother sent me in here to check on you. She wanted to know if you were ready. Sounds like everyone else is in place for whenever you are ready to begin.”
Rose hated how formal he became. It was how they spoke to each other these days—with polite detachment.
“I’m ready,” Rose said. She walked towards the vanity which held her flowers.
Eliza snatched her own bouquet up. “Why don’t you wait here for a moment,” she said. “I’ll go and let your ma know that you are ready.”
“I’ll go with you,” Rose said. She didn’t see the point in staying in the room, but apparently, Eliza had other plans.
“No, no,” she said. “I’ll go and make sure that everything is set. We wouldn’t want James to accidentally get a peek at you before its time.”
Rose knew that Eliza was trying to give her time to speak with her father, which Rose didn’t want, but she couldn’t argue with what Eliza was saying, so she nodded and smiled as her friend left her alone with her father. It was the first time that Rose had been alone with her father since that night he’d been drunk in his office.
“You really do look lovely,” her father said. “Like a beautiful woman. It seems like just yesterday, the midwife was placing you in my arms.” There was a nostalgia in his voice that Rose hadn’t heard in a long time.
Her father had been trying to make inroads with her, but she’d rebuffed him.
Rose wanted to stop herself from asking the next question, but she couldn’t. For months, she had held her tongue and been nothing more than polite to her father. He’d shown her the same level of politeness. He’d even been borderline kind to James and John. Rose supposed that he had absolutely no reason to be anything but kind to the Clarks. After all, James had spent a great deal of money to save her father.
“Why did you agree to marry me off to Richard?” she asked.
Her father sighed. “Do you think that this is the best time to talk about this?”
Rose placed her hands on her hips. “I’m about to get married. Luckily, I’m marrying a man that I love, but if you had your way, I would be becoming a Platt today.”
Rose didn’t want to be angry, but she couldn’t help it. It was one of the reasons that she was speaking up right now. She wanted to walk down the aisle happy and light. She didn’t want to think about Richard or the Platts, but every time she saw her father, his presence brought back all of those memories.
“I wish that I had something to say to you that would make my betrayal better,” he told her. There was pain and sadness in his eyes, but there was also sincerity in his voice.
“I just want to know why,” Rose said. She didn’t want to cry, but she felt herself blinking back tears.
Her father sighed and squeezed her hands. “I’m sorry,” he told her.
Rose was taken aback. It was the first time that her father had apologized without trying to justify his actions.
“I was selfish,” he told her, shocking her even more, “and if it wasn’t for James, I would have ruined all of our lives.”
The words felt like a balm on her soul. Rose hadn’t realized that all of this time she simply wanted her father to tell her that he was wrong and that he was sorry.
“Don’t cry, Rosie,” he said. He pressed a soft kiss to her forehead, and though Rose knew that things were never going to be as they were between them, for the first time, she had hope that they could form a new beginning.
Rose released a small sniffle. “I wish we had talked yesterday,” she told him. “Ma is going to be displeased if I look red from crying.”
He laughed, and Rose was beginning to realize that her father was experiencing a similar lightness to what she herself was feeling. James wasn’t just a new beginning for her, but he had also given her father a new beginning.
“Here,” her father said. He reached out and gingerly pulled the veil over her face. Though her father did nothing but cover her face, Rose would never forget the tender look that he gave her. “You look lovely.”
Rose smiled. She wasn’t sure if he could see her, but she hoped he could.
“Pa?” Rose asked as he turned.
“I forgive you.”
Rose watched as her father’s eyes filled with tears. He blinked them back as he extended his arm to her. “Let’s go get you married,” he said.
“You were such a beautiful bride,” James’s father told Rose. After the wedding, they had returned to the Clark ranch, where food, drinks, and dancing were awaiting them.
“Thank you,” Rose said. She’d been smiling all day, and James hoped that she was truly as happy as she appeared, especially because he certainly was.
They were sitting with his father, enjoying a glass of lemonade. James could tell that his father was exhausted by the events of the day, but he wouldn’t suggest that his father go inside and get some rest. James knew that he wouldn’t.
His father and Rose had grown exceptionally close, and James credited her with the fact that his father’s health was better than it had been in over a year. He wasn’t healed, by any means, but he was the best and most animated he’d been in a long time.
“Your mother would be so proud of you,” his father said. James noticed him wiping some tears away from his eyes.
Before James could react, Rose reached out and took his father by the hand. She was good at taking care of his father’s emotions, something that James was not always very good at. “I’m sure that she’s looking down and smiling on all of this. We might be able to thank her for this wonderful weather.”
They were all silent for a moment as they enjoyed the fall sun and light bluebell scented breeze.
“I think you might be right,” his father said. He pressed a hand to Rose’s cheek. “She would have adored you.”
James suspected that his father was correct. He didn’t know a single person who didn’t like Rose, except maybe Richard Platt. He stifled a smile as he thought about Richard.
“Well,” Rose said, “that is quite the compliment.” His father tickled her ear affectionately before returning to his lemonade and plate of cake. Annie had made their wedding cake, and from what James could tell, it was a huge hit. He’d been so busy greeting guests that he’d not had a chance to eat a single thing, and neither had Rose.
“You two should go and dance,” his father said.
“We don’t want to leave you by yourself,” he said. People were milling around, and he was sure that the moment that he left, someone would take their seat. As his father’s energy returned, he’d made more of an effort to have visitors to the house, and friends were taking advantage of it.
“He’s not alone!” Frank Miller said. He slapped a soft hand on his father’s back, being mindful not to cause injury.
The strangest pairing to come out of Rose and James’ union was their father’s reemerging friendship.
“We’ve got a lot of things to discuss,” Frank said congenially.
“Such as?” Rose asked, raising a brow.
“Many important things,” his father said.
Rose rolled her eyes, and James laughed.
“Go take your wife for a spin around that dance floor,” his father said. James didn’t need to be told twice. He grabbed Rose’s hand and twirled her towards the dance floor. She giggled at his actions before wrapping her arms around his neck.
“You seem very happy,” Rose said.
James moved back slightly so that he could see her face. She was lovely every day, but today, she was radiant. She wore minimal rouge on her cheeks and no coal around her eyes. She looked naturally beautiful.
“Of course I’m happy,” he told her. “I’m lucky enough to be married to the most beautiful and talented woman in all of Texas.”
“You are such a charmer,” she said, blushing. She was playing with a piece of hair at the nape of his neck, and James enjoyed the feeling of it.
“You can’t fault me for speaking the truth,” he said. He pressed his nose to her temple and breathed deeply. Rose smelled like the flowers in her hair, but James could still smell the underline scent of her lavender soap.
“I think my mother invited the entire town,” Rose said.
“The Platts aren’t here,” he said, reminded.
Rose laughed. He was glad that Rose could laugh about the Platts. Even after he’d proposed and settled her father’s debts, she’d struggled to relax. James knew it was because she was worried that Richard would find a way to worm his way back into her life.
Word around town had been that he wasn’t pleased with his father. Freddy had been worried that Richard would try and do something to either James or Rose. But James hadn’t worried. He suspected that Roy was effective at keeping a tight lease on his son, and James had been proven right.
“I heard that Richard is in California enjoying a trip with his new wife,” Rose said.
James raised a brow. “I’m surprised that he managed to find someone to marry him,” he said.
Rose released a snort. “I heard that he went to a mail order agency,” she said. “Poor girl.”
James hadn’t meant to bring up Richard, but he was glad to see that with his marriage, he was finally free from his wife’s mind. “I have a surprise for you,” he whispered in her ear. He’d planned to show her his surprise after all of their guests had left, but as the sun started to get lower and lower in the sky, he felt himself growing more excited.
“A surprise?” Rose asked. “What is it?”
James laughed loudly, drawing a few looks their way. “I can’t tell you since it’s a surprise.”
Rose stuck out her lip in a pout, and it took everything in James not to press a kiss to her lips.
“We can’t just leave,” Rose said. “It’s our party.”
“I don’t think anyone is going to notice,” he said.
Rose pursed her lips. “I suppose that most of them are drunk,” she said.
He leaned his head back and laughed. He could always count on Rose to say exactly what was on her mind. “Then let’s go,” he told her with an exaggerated whisper. Rose laughed, but she allowed him to pull her towards the house.
As they walked into the house, James led Rose upstairs. “Can you tell me now?” Rose said with a giggle.
“Be patient,” he said. “I’m going to cover your eyes.”
Rose made an exaggerated eye roll and before turning around. “Fine,” she said.
James placed his hands over Rose’s eyes. “It’ll be worth it,” he promised as he walked her into the room that held her surprise. James was just as excited as Rose was. He had been planning her surprise since she had agreed to marry him, and just this week, he received the final thing that he needed to bring everything together.
The second that she was fully inside, James took his hands away, revealing Rose’s surprise. “I created an art room for you,” he said excitedly. “I know that you have your own paints and brushes, but I had a few extra things brought into from out east.”
Rose was silent, and for a moment, James was nervous. He hadn’t considered that Rose might not want an art room.
“I know that you prefer to work outside, but I thought with the weather starting to turn and rainy season coming, you might like your own space.”
Rose continued to silently walk around the room. She would stop here and there and pressed her fingers against something in the room. James didn’t want to rush her, but he was starting to grow more and more nervous that he’d done something wrong.
“Rose?” he asked. “Is everything alright?” James came behind Rose and placed his hands on her shoulders. When he felt her shaking slightly, he started to grow more concerned. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
James turned Rose so that she was facing him, and when he realized that tears were streaming down her face, he felt as though he received a punch in the gut. “I’m sorry,” he said, taking Rose in his arms. “I thought you would want a space in the house that was all yours.”
Rose and James had agreed that they did not want to have separate rooms, so part of giving her this space was that she would have something in the house that was solely her own.
“I didn’t mean to upset you,” he said.
“I’m not upset,” she said. “This is the most beautiful thing that anyone has ever done for me.”
James immediately felt better. “You like it?” he asked.
“I love it,” Rose said. She released a loud sob.
“Then, why are you crying?” he asked.
Rose started laughing. “These are happy tears!”
James shook his head and gently pressed his fingers to her cheeks to wipe the tears off of her face. “I know that you were worried that when you married, you wouldn’t be able to paint,” he said. “But I want you to do whatever makes you happy. I want you to feel like this is your home.” Rose was truly talented, and James wanted to nurture that in whatever way he could. Annie was staying on to care for his father and the house, which would give Rose more time to work.
James knew it wasn’t conventional, but he didn’t care.
“You’re the most amazing man, and I’m not sure that I deserve you,” she said.
James shook his head. “We deserve one another. You’ve made my life better than I could ever imagine it to be. You’ve brought me more happiness than I’ve ever been, and I want to bring you the same.”
Rose started crying once more, and James groaned. “I wasn’t trying to make you cry harder!” he exclaimed.
Rose laughed. He was glad to hear it. He didn’t want her to ever cry in his presence, even if they were tears of happiness.
“I’m happy,” Rose said. “Happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life.”
Once more, James brushed her tears away. “I’m going to make you happy for the rest of your life. This is just the beginning,” he promised.
James and Rose had exchanged vows at the church, but in some ways, this made him feel as though they were once more making their promises, only this time they were deeper and more personal.
“I hope that I can do the same for you,” Rose said.
He opened his mouth to tell her that she already had, but she placed a fingertip across his lips. “I know what you are going to say, but I can’t express how much this room means to me. No one has ever believed in me the way you do, and I want you to know that I’ll always be by your side.”
James knew that she would. In the last few months, Rose had cared for his father, which had lightened his load more than he could ever tell her. He knew that when his father passed, he would be happy to know that James was no longer going to be alone, and that was the greatest gift that Rose could have ever given him.
“I love you,” James said. “I never planned to love you, but it’s something that I’ll never regret.” He knew that Rose still worried that he would resent their marriage, but James knew that he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. He would cherish every moment that they were able to spend together.
“I love you too,” Rose said. “I love this life that I know that we will have together.” She raised herself up on her toes and pressed her lips firmly on his. The warmth of her flooded through him, and as they embraced, James allowed himself to fully embrace whatever was next for them.
As long as Rose was by his side, James knew that he could weather any storm. Rose was his anchor, and he was hers, and they would be together always. James wasn’t sure of much, but he knew that with his whole heart.