Luke Bridges was a homesteader living on a small farm in western Wisconsin. He was the widowed father of three young children. I had no intention of falling in love when our correspondence had begun. I had recently died after a botched stagecoach robbery and wanted a safe place to hide out while I looked for my hidden gold.
Neither of us was looking for love. Luke was a widowed father of three, small children. He was only offering room and board in exchange for the care of his children. A part of me fell in love with him through his letters. Luke was kind and brave. He desperately wanted to put on a brave face for his young children but struggled to feel like he was doing enough. After a brief courtship of six months, I agreed to marry him.
The picture of Luke that I had painted in my mind was different from the man who met me at the train station. Luke was tall and muscular, with broad shoulders and a swath of dark hair. He was a literal Adonis in my eyes. We married at the courthouse before taking the long drive back to his farm.
I don’t know whom I fell in love with first, Luke or his children. Emily was his eldest. She had fiery red hair and a personality to match. She was trying to fill her mother’s shoes as caretaker to the household but those shoes were too large for a tender eight-year-old to fill. His second child was Mary. Mary had just turned four and wouldn’t let you forget it. Mary quickly became my three-foot shadow, and I adored her. The baby was Ethan. He was two years old and absolutely perfect.
We five did our best to be a little family on the range. The days were long; food was sometimes scarce; but we were happy. I enjoyed having children to look after again. They reminded me so much of the little ones I had lost. I was happy to be needed again. Luke stayed on the outside. He was a handsome shadow, watching as his new family adjusted to each other.
Two months into our marriage of convenience, we kissed. A woman on a nearby farm had gone into labor and I was called in to help. There was one doctor for a hundred miles, so my medical skill was greatly needed. Luke was driving me home in the wagon one evening when he suddenly stopped beneath an elm tree.
“Catherine,” he rasped. I was going by that name at the time. His voice was deep and rich, sending shivers down my spine. He looked down at me, lovingly. I will never forget the way the stars shimmered overhead. “Can I kiss you?”
I nodded rapidly. “Please…”
He leaned down, capturing my lips with his. The kiss was pure magic.
The decision to tell Luke about my gift did not come easily to me. I had originally planned to stay for a year or so, searching the prairie land for my money before disappearing up north to Canada. I knew what was going to happen if I stayed living amongst mortals. I wasn’t sure if I had the heart to watch my loved ones die again.
“Luke,” I whispered. The fire in the hearth crackled softly.
He grunted, still groggy from our lovemaking. “What is it?”
I paused, trying to figure out a way to cushion the blow I was about to give. I shook my head. It was not the right time. “I love you.”
Luke pulled me close. “Love you too.”
Within a year of our marriage, I became pregnant again. The family was thrilled at the prospect of a new arrival. Luke talked with Hans Frederickson in town to sell him enough lumber so we could expand our home to accommodate four growing children. Life was good.
During the summer of that year, a wave of malaria swept through the community. Everyone in our household fell ill. I worked tirelessly to care for the family, doing my best to ignore the symptoms that plagued my own body. I only had to manage for a few days until Doctor Palmer was able to visit us.
By the time the doctor arrived, the family was well, but I was at death’s door.
I listened as Luke pleaded with the doctor from the other side of our bedroom door to save me. He loved me so much. He couldn’t bear to lose either the baby or me. Dr. Palmer sighed and said that he’d try his best. Then I closed my eyes.
When I opened my eyes again, I was laying completely bare in the middle of a field. I knew what this meant. I had died again along with our unborn child. I steeled myself to leave again. The family deserved a chance to heal, to move on. No matter the argument that played in my head, I went back.
I found Luke first. He had retired to the fields like he normally did when he was stressed. He looked up at me in surprise when he saw me walking across the meadow. I was not sure what shocked him more: my being alive or the fact that I was completely naked.
He dropped the reins and raced toward me, enveloping me in his muscular arms. “How’s this even possible? You were dead.”
I blinked back my own tears and told him the truth about my unique ability. I had expected him to recoil in fear. Instead, he kissed me. No matter how it was that I was able to come back to him, Luke called it a miracle, his miracle.
The children accepted me back home with open arms, all swearing to keep my secret. I stayed with the Bridges Family for another twenty years before dying of breast cancer. Together we welcomed two more children into the family and three grandchildren.
“You mentioned that you were involved in a stagecoach robbery. Did you ever find the gold?”
“No. I never did find it.”