San Francisco, California, February 1881
“One ticket to Eden, Colorado.”
The grizzled ticket agent scratched his oily hair with a trembling hand. “One-way or round-trip, young man?”
Rhett Laughlin heaved a deep sigh. He hardly felt young, but compared with the slow-moving old-timer, one might call him that. “One-way.”
A line had formed behind Rhett. When a baby shrieked in his ear, he glanced over his shoulder to see a red-faced boy in the arms of threadbare parents.
The woman gave an apologetic smile.
Rhett reached into his pocket and pulled out a small wooden ship. He placed the toy into the tiny hand of the child, who looked to be about one year old. “This might help,” he said, nodding to the baby’s mother. His gaze lingered on the old toy that had been his brother’s when they were boys. “We couldn’t,” she demurred.
“Sure you can. See, he’s already quieted.” With a small smile, he turned back as a welcome silence settled over his agitated shoulders.
The ticket agent was waiting. “Cantal Pacific Union will take ya into southern Wyoming Territory where you’ll have ta take a stage south, iffin you don’t want ta buy a horse.”
By the man’s tone, he’d said those words a million times. As if to punctuate his sentence, he rolled his lips over his teeth and then spit behind the counter—into a spittoon, Rhett hoped. Lifting his arm, the agent wiped a wrinkled sleeve across his mouth.
Uncertainty tried to muddle Rhett’s resolve. Tried to jumble his thoughts.No. I’ve finally made a decision. He shoved forward the fare, the folded newspaper clasped beneath his arm feeling heavy. Not in weight, but for the part the paper played in his decision to leave San Francisco and his father.
The old-timer slowly counted Rhett’s cash, arranging the money properly in his drawer, unmindful of everyone waiting. He pushed back a large ticket printed in red ink. “Don’t be late. Train runs on time. She’ll pull out not caring if you’re on or off.”
The deed done, Rhett left the cramped office and strode down the busy San Francisco street, the view of the bay easing his spirits. He’d miss the mist on his face and the sound of the foghorns. The large white gulls always looking for a handout. The city was in his blood. He’d been born and raised here.
Scents of fish, steam pots, and refuse assaulted his senses—the hustle and bustle a blessing that kept him from thinking, remembering. Rita and Lucy, two women he knew from his time spent at the bars, waved from the opposite side of the road. Lucy called his name and smiled suggestively. After his relationship with Margery, his sweetheart of three years, came to an abrupt end, he’d spent time with both saloon girls, easing his broken heart. But the days of whiling his time away in taverns and card rooms were in the past. He had something else, True Heart’s Desire 3 something important, to accomplish. All he had to do was to stay on track.
It’s time to make some changes.Not for me, but for Shawn.
He smiled and nodded at the women but didn’t cross the street to talk. Instead, he turned sharply and entered a two-story boardinghouse.
Dallas, sitting by the front window, bolted toward Rhett in welcome.
Rhett leaned down and rubbed the dusty-brown-haired mix on the neck, thankful the dog hadn’t been lost along with his brother.
“You’re going, then?” Elmer, another boarder, called from a small table where he played solitaire.
“I am. On tomorrow’s train. But first, I’m going to visit my father. Say goodbye.” He’d lost his father just as much as he’d lost Margery and Shawn. His father would never say so, but Rhett had seen the truth in his eyes: If not for me, Shawn would still be here.
Elmer smiled at Dallas waiting at Rhett’s heels. “He’s been hounding all day to get out. I’m glad you’re finally back.”
“Thanks for keeping him. He runs to the dock every chance he gets.” Rhett hunkered down and put an arm around Dallas’s neck, a wave of emotion rocking his resolve. “Shawn’s not coming back boy, I’m sorry.”
“The dog going with you?”
Rhett stood. “He is.”
Elmer nodded as he dealt out a new hand. “I’m glad ferya then. Ever since your brother read those stories about those sisters, things changed with him. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
Rhett only smiled and ascended the stairs, Dallas’s toenails clicking softly beside. He wouldn’t miss this old place. Having a direction, a purpose, would actually feel good. If I don’t buckle down, I’ll end up like Elmer downstairs. Wasting away my life.
Once he arrived in Eden, he’d make his brother proud, if the doing took every bit of hard work he had left inside him. The plan was already in motion.Rhett had sent an inquiring telegram to Colorado a few weeks ago but hadn’t made a final decision about whether he was actually going or not until this morning.
Slipping his room key into the lock, he twisted it, then shoved the unwilling door with his shoulder. He’d be more than glad to leave this place. Moving to Eden had been Shawn’s idea, but now that his brother was dead, he planned to fulfill Shawn’s dream. And after that?
His own future had yet to be determined.Return to True Heart’s Desire