Mail Order Doctor, page 8
“There you go. Now will you hold Hope while I patch up Matthew?”
Ben smiled as wide as he could with a fat lip. “With pleasure.”
Ben’s demeanor changed. He took the baby and talked to her, his face beaming. He was ready to have children of his own. Maybe that’s why he thinks he’s in love with me and wants me to marry him.
She turned her attention to Matthew. He had a split lip and some bruises but that was about all.
Both men would look the worse for wear tomorrow. The bruises would be in full color and the swelling complete. She smiled at the thought of all the questions Matthew would have to answer from his patients about what happened.
“Well, you both will be fine, if a little worse for wear. I hope you learned your lesson. Fisticuffs don’t solve anything.”
“Yes, ma’am,” they said together.
They sounded like small boys. She laughed and took Hope from Ben. “Now shake hands. You two are friends, don’t let something so silly as this ruin that friendship.”
“You’re right,” said Matthew, holding his hand out to Ben.
“She is,” Ben took the extended hand. “I’m sorry. I never should have—”
“It’s over,” said Matthew, careful not to squeeze tight. “Let’s not bring it up again.”
“Agreed. I should get back. Never any rest for the wicked.”
“Goodbye, Ben.” Julia took Hope’s little arm and waved at Ben.
He bent down and kissed the baby. “Goodbye, sweetheart.” Then he looked over at Matthew. “I hope you’ll not mind if I come by to see the baby.”
“Not at all. She wouldn’t be here if not for you.”
Matthew and Julia walked Ben to the door.
“Come back anytime…to see Hope,” said Julia.
Ben nodded. “I will.”
After Matthew shut the door, he said, “Well that was exciting wasn’t it?”
Julia cocked her head and frowned at him. “Exciting isn’t what I’d call it. Stupid was more like it.”
“I couldn’t let him say that about you.”
“What?” She jutted out her chin and squared he shoulders. “That he wants to marry me? What’s so wrong with that? At least somebody wants to be married to me.”
“Don’t, Matthew. Don’t talk to me about it again until you’ve made up your mind.” Talking was difficult over the lump in her throat. “Will you make love to me and make this marriage real? If not, let me go, so I can marry someone else. I want to have children of my own. I love Hope and I want to keep her, but even if I do, I still want my own children.”
“I know you do. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t you want children?” She searched his face for a sign of his feelings. “You must. I see you with Hope and you’re a good father.”
“I do want children.”
“I see, just not with me.”
Matthew shook his head. “That’s not it at all. If I have children, I’d want them with you.”
“Then what is the problem? I don’t understand.”
“I…I don’t want to feel forced into a marriage. Not by you, or Walt, or even Hope.”
“But you would make this marriage real if you had to for Hope, wouldn’t you?”
A knot formed in her stomach when he didn’t answer. “If that’s the way you feel, maybe Hope and I should move to the hotel until you get the annulment. I’ll do my best to keep Hope, if her daddy doesn’t want her. He can’t care for her and work. You know it and I know it, just from the short time we’ve had her. It’s taken two of us to care for her because we also work.”
Matthew shook his head. “Julia, don’t do this, please.”
“Why not? You don’t want to make our marriage real, even for Hope’s sake, so let me go. I’ll marry someone who wants me.”
“Like Ben King.”
“Yes, like Ben King. At least he doesn’t beat around the bush about what he wants.” She tried hard not to shout, but restraining herself was difficult. “I’ll pack my things for a couple of days and then we’ll be…” She couldn’t finish and she burst into tears. “I shouldn’t be crying. It’s for the best. I need to be able to make a home for Hope. I…I thought that home would be here.”
“I don’t mind putting up with you.”
She gasped and paced a few steps away before she could answer. “You don’t mind putting up with me?”
“I don’t mean it like that. I want you to stay. You and Hope. Please don’t go.”
“Why, Matthew?” She glared at him. “If you don’t want to make the marriage a real one, why should I stay?”
“I care for you greatly. I’m just not ready to admit defeat.”
“You make it sound like a battle that you have to either win or lose.”
“It is a battle…with Walt.”
“Don’t you realize, Walt has nothing to do with this. Not anymore. It’s just you and me.” She shook her head slowly. She thought he’d gotten past this argument, but she realizes his pride is too stubborn. She has to leave. “No one else.”
“Please, don’t leave. Give me some more time. Let me see if I can find Walt. He’s got to be at the hotel.”
“What will finding him change? You still have to decide if you’ll make me your wife or not. I can’t take the in-between any longer. I want to be able to move forward with my life. And I can’t do that here.” She waved her arm to include the house. “Like this.”
“You’ll have your answer soon. I promise.” He reached out to touch her.
She backed away.
“Don’t touch me. Don’t make me want what I can’t have.” Chin held high, Julia turned and walked away.
This was Walt’s fault. All of it. Including the fact that Matthew wanted Julia, but resisted because he felt used and deceived. That’s what his reason was. He’d been deceived. He’d read both sets of letters and knew Julia better than ever. She was the beautiful, smart woman he worked with, lived with, and wanted to make love to. But he couldn’t, not if he wanted to keep his freedom. He wouldn’t be hornswoggled into a marriage he didn’t want.
What if Julia turned out to be like Amelia? He’d given Amelia everything and she’d left him to go to Denver. She didn’t want to be a country doctor’s wife. Of course, that was just when they found the silver. The boom had only begun, but that wasn’t enough. Matt hadn’t been enough. What if he wasn’t enough for Julia?
And Walt. The selfish coward. He went into hiding the minute he settled Julia in Matthew’s home and what was Matthew to do? What could he do? He could have set her up at the hotel, but not now, not with Hope. The baby needed both of them or a full-time mother. There was just too much work between feedings and diaper changes and baths for one person to do and still be a nurse or a doctor or a miner. He wondered if Hope’s daddy would think the same way.
He walked faster to the Hotel Tombstone. Walt had to be there and Ben would know if any man registered could be Walt. Matthew reached the hotel. Inside he nodded to the desk clerk on duty as he passed on his way to Ben’s office. He knocked on the door.
“Matthew? Come here to finish what we started the other night?” asked Ben, when he opened the door.
“No. That’s done. I came to find out if you have any customers that could be Walt in disguise? His height, without the beard and gray hair?” Matt moved his hands to show the height and lack of beard. “Someone clean shaven with brown hair or blond or black. I think he’s here, watching his handiwork. I don’t think he went to Denver.”
“Come in.” Ben moved out of the way so Matthew could enter. “That would make sense. He’d want to see how it turns out.” He paused, ran his hand around the back of his neck. “There is one man who could be him. About the right age, not the right height though. This man is stooped badly. He had to have help up the stairs with his valise.”
Elation filled him. He w
“Sure we have the extra keys to all the rooms. Let me check the register and find out what room he’s staying in. His name is Theodore Wentzel. Said he’s here to check out mining interests, but I’ve never seen him with any miners and he doesn’t leave the hotel for any length of time.”
They left the office and went to the front desk.
“Let me see the register, please,” Ben said to John Dooley, the desk clerk on duty.
“Sure thing, boss.” John handed Ben the book.
Ben scanned it page by page, finally he stopped beside a signature. “Here it is. Room 224.”
“Let’s go see just who this Theodore Wentzel is.” Matthew clenched and unclenched his hands. If this was Walt, he didn’t care how old the man was, he would hit him, at least one time.
The two men marched up the stairs and Ben, knocked on the door. “Mr. Wentzel, it’s Ben King, the owner of the hotel. I need to come in please.”
“Just a minute young man,” said a scratchy voice from the other side of the door.
“I don’t know why we don’t just go in,” whispered Matt.
“Just in case it’s not him,” Ben whispered back.
The door opened and the old man, stooped over as he was, walked over to the window. “Now what did you need, gentlemen?”
“Walt, you son-of-a-gun, what are you doing? You can’t hide from me by shaving your beard and dyeing your hair.”
“Sheesh, Matt, he looks like you.”
Clean shaven and brown hair with gray at the sides, he did indeed look very much like Matt.
“Now Matt,” Walt stood straight and held his hands up, palms out. “Let me explain.”
“What is there to explain, old man. You were so selfish in what you wanted you didn’t even think how you might affect people’s lives. Julia came here expecting a husband who wanted her, maybe even loved her. Instead she gets me.”
“Yes, I did all that because you weren’t capable of doing it yourself. You’re thirty-nine years old and not married and not even courting anyone. You don’t have time. I understand that, so I did it for you.”
Matthew advanced on the old man. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe I wanted it that way?” It was true. I have avoided entanglements. Since Amelia left me, I’m afraid to get into another relationship. What if it ends the same way?
“No. Never.” Walt held his ground. “I know you want children almost as much as I want you to have them.”
“And what about Julia?” Matthew lifted his arm and pointed at Walt. “Did you ever think about her? And now we have Hope, who both of us have become attached to.”
“I don’t know what you’re so upset about.” Walt tried to take Matthew by the shoulder, but he shook him off. “Look at all you’ve gained. A whole family and help with your practice, all with the addition of one person. Julia. She’s the right woman for you. I knew it as soon as she started writing back to me…er…you. Everything I did, I did for you.”
“Do you hear yourself?” Matthew shouted and then laughed. “You did it for me? You messed up my life to help me? What happens when Julia goes away? And you know she will. They always do.”
“Only because you chase them away. Every relationship you’ve had, you’ve destroyed by putting your doctoring first. Amelia left because you were a doctor first and she didn’t want to be second fiddle. Well, I found you someone who understands and will help you with being a doctor. Julia is not Amelia.”
Matt was so angry he was afraid he’d throttle his grandfather if he didn’t leave. How dare he bring up Amelia? Matt had forgotten about her…hadn’t he? He’d moved on. “This isn’t over, old man, but at least you can go home now. You don’t have to pretend to be someone else.” He turned and walked out of the room.
“Matt, please,” Walt called after him.
“That went well,” said Ben as he walked next to Matthew.
“If he wasn’t my grandfather, then I might have killed him.”
“Not in the hotel please, blood is so hard to clean from carpets.”
The sarcasm wasn’t lost on Matthew. He turned and looked at Ben who was contemplating his nails.
He stopped, shook his head and laughed. “What am I going to do with him?”
“Him, you leave alone. More important is what you’re doing with Julia? If you’re not staying married to her then let her go now.”
“So you can marry her?” sneered Matthew. He would just love to get me out of the way so he can have Julia.
“Yes, actually.” Ben put his hands down at his sides and fisted them. “I want to marry her. She’s a remarkable woman and it’s time I married. Julia would be a wonderful wife.”
“Yes, she is…I mean would be.”
“You’d better make up your mind, Matthew, before she makes it for you.”
He gave Ben a curt nod and walked out of the hotel.
What was he to do about Julia? He was falling for her, and no matter how much he didn’t want to admit it, she was perfect for him. If only he’d had a choice and if he wasn’t so afraid she’d leave like Amelia, things might be different.
Amelia. I haven’t thought about her in years and yet, her ghost holds me back. Walt is right. Julia is not Amelia. The exact opposite if truth be told. So why can’t I shake this fear. If I let myself go, let my feelings have free reign, I would love Julia, but I can’t risk it. Not again.
I can’t let Walt win, can I? Would I really be losing? Was there a winner to be had? If he didn’t admit Walt was right, then he would lose her and he didn’t want that. He wanted her and feared her at the same time.
Matthew walked home, cooling off, so he wouldn’t be angry with Julia. None of this was her fault and yet she was the one who he was taking it out on. He’d change that, make a new attempt at…at what? Accepting her or rejecting her. Those were his choices.
He opened the door to the house and spotted one of his valises sitting in the parlor.
“Julia,” he shouted, not knowing if she was still here or had already gone.
She came down the hall carrying Hope. “No need to shout, I’m right here.”
“What’s this valise doing here?” Panic soared through him. If she left, she might never return.
She jutted out her chin. “I’ve decided I can’t continue to live like this. As long as I’m here, you’ll never make your decision. Hope and I will be moving to the hotel. I’ve packed the valise with her things and will come back for my own.”
“Julia,” he clenched his fist, then let out a deep breath and rubbed the back of his neck. “I thought we were waiting a few more weeks.”
“You want to wait a few more weeks. I don’t need to.” She patted Hope’s back and swayed with the baby, keeping her calm. “I know what and who I want. Moving to the hotel will mean that I will need to be with Hope full-time. I won’t be able to help you with the patients. You’re back to being on your own.Use the sign in sheet it will help you.”
He shook his head slowly. “Julia, please.”
“Keep your voice down. Hope is sleeping and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“Julia,” he said at barely above a whisper. “Can’t you wait? Can’t—”
“No, I can’t wait.” She whispered back. “I came here thinking I was a new bride and ready to start my married life. Ready to start having a family of my own. Until Hope came I didn’t really realize just how much I want those things. So if you can’t provide them to me, then let me find someone who can.”
“I know Ben wants to marry you. He could give you everything you want.”
“As much as I like Ben, I don’t want to marry him. I think he deserves to have someone who loves him.”
“Yes. I do. And I think I deserve to have someone who loves me as well. So if you can’t find it in your heart to do that, then let me go.”
“Julia, I…if I was capable of love, you would
“Don’t give me that.” She shook her head and waved her arm between them. “You’re capable of love, you’re just scared. Well so am I but at least I’m willing to try, willing to overcome my fears. Just leave me be and file for the annulment. Get it done and over with. I tired of fighting. I won’t stop you. Not anymore.”
“If you want the annulment so badly, why don’t you file for it yourself?”
“I’m not the one who wants it. I want to be married…to you. Remember? That’s why I came here.”
His body went rigid. “That’s not my fault.”
“You’re right. It’s not. It’s Walt’s fault and when I see him, I’m giving him a piece of my mind. Now, would you please help me to the hotel, or should I have Ben send someone to get my things and Hope’s?”
“Of course, I’ll help you. What kind of person do you think I am?” He bent and picked up her valise.
Julia shook her head. “I don’t know what kind of person you are. The person I thought you were and the one I came to know, neither one are the real you. I thought you were a caring, kind man who wanted a family. I was wrong.” She blinked fast, hoping to avoid tears. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Hope needs to go down for a real nap and I need to make arrangements to have the milk stopped, and—” She turned her back on him.
Matthew came up behind her and rested his hands on her shoulders. He’d seen the tears she tried to hide.
“I don’t want you to go.” He kissed her softly on the neck behind her ear.
“But you don’t want me to stay, either. Not really. Not permanently. I have to go, and you have to decide what you want.” She pulled out of his grasp and reached for the door knob. “You know where to find us when you make up your mind.”
She bent picked up the valise with one hand and held Hope with the other. “Goodbye, Matthew.”
Julia walked out of the door.
And out of his life.
* * *
Julia walked in to the hotel and up to the registration desk.
“May I help you madam?” The young man behind the desk stood at attention.
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