Beth Swanson almost had to stand on her tiptoes to reach the clothesline. This was the job she hated the most. It was too aggravating to drag a stool from one end of the clothesline to the other. But she was more frustrated with her short stature right then and was seriously thinking about going to get it.
Her arms tired of stretching, she turned to the basket of clothes she had just pulled off the line. They had spent an hour in the hot sun, baking and blowing in the breeze, and even smelled fresh. She took a towel out and walked a few feet away from the clothesline where there was a long spread of green grass for thirty yards in front of the house she lived in with her parents.
Her twenty-fifth birthday was right around the corner. She couldn’t wait to celebrate another year of having achieved basically nothing. Her sarcastic thoughts didn’t help the foul mood she was putting herself in.
She spread the blanket out in a patch where the sun was shining and laid out on it, positioning her feet together below her and folding her arms over her head. She enjoyed the sun on her face but not in her eyes. It hurt when the sun hit her eyes directly, so she always tried to avoid that.
Beth was almost asleep when she heard voices drifting toward her from the kitchen area of the house behind her. She’d forgotten the window was there and didn’t realize it was cracked open until she heard her parents in there.
When Beth thought she heard her name, her ears perked up. Her mother laughed.
What were they talking about?
Beth got up and crept closer to the window, staying below it, not needing to peek over. She knew who was in there. Her father’s voice was unmistakable.
“She is going to suspect something,” her father was saying. He had a skeptical tone that gave Beth pause. She was sure they were talking about her and thought that since her mother laughed, they talked about a party or some special present she would get for her birthday. She had a hard time believing her father’s voice would sound like that if they were talking about something fun.
“It will be a double surprise,” her mother said in a reasoning voice. “Two surprises in one day. I can’t think of any other way to do it, Rob.”
“One surprise is enough,” her father said in a defensive tone. “Why tarnish it with another?”
Beth pulled her eyebrows together, her back against the wall just underneath the window. Did they know she was there? Why would they be talking in code like that?
“Oh, you’re just insufferable, Rob. No. She is getting both. You know it’s time. I even went in the attic and got some stuff out to show her as part of it.”
Now Beth was completely confused. What in the world were they talking about?
“It’s a mistake.” Her father’s voice faded as he left the kitchen. She heard her mother’s voice in the distance as she went with him.
“It’s not a mistake, darling. You just don’t want any changes in your baby girl.”
“Nothing wrong with that, is there?”
Those were the last words she heard before her parents were too far away for her to hear.
She clutched her hands in front of her chest and racked her brain for possibilities. She had a good feeling one of the surprises was a party in her honor. Probably on her birthday in two days. But what was the other one, and what did it involve in the attic?
Beth quickly decided they had a present up there, and she was to stay away until her birthday. She went back to lie down in the position she’d been in and ponder what she’d just heard. She and her sister, Sue, always got the best they could get from their parents. They were both well aware of the sacrifices Robert and Martha had made on their behalf, and the fact they were willing to put up with both girls well past the marrying age spoke to their characters and the depth of their love for their daughters.
Sue was younger by two years, and the best friend Beth could have in a sister. They were very close. So close that Beth was wondering where the dear girl was right then. She sat up, uncovering her eyes, and looked down past the front yard to the wooded area surrounding their house. It looked like it was miles away, but really, it was only about seventy yards of clearing before the trees began.
She swept her eyes over the land and listened closely to hear if any hoofbeats were in the distance. She heard nothing but a soft breeze blowing. The peacefulness of it all overcame her worries and doubts. She felt her body relax and lay back down. Just a few more minutes of rest, and she would get back to work.
The peace was broken when the screen door slammed at the front of their house. She jerked up to a sitting position and twisted her upper body to look behind her.
It was her mother coming out, probably to help her finish up.
“Having a difficult time, dear?” her mother asked. “I’ll help. I don’t know why we keep getting you to do this. You aren’t the tallest in the family, are you?”
Beth got to her feet, nodding. “I’m the shortest in the family. Both you and Papa are tall, and so is Sue. She’s two years younger than me and has always been taller. It’s just not fair, you know.” She didn’t say the last sentence in a whining voice. Her mother knew she was only teasing.
Whistling a happy tune, her mother helped Beth finish the laundry so they could go inside and enjoy a peaceful afternoon doing something recreational instead.
The party was in full swing, and Beth was having a good time. She had many friends there and enjoyed seeing them all. She hadn’t seen some of them for several years. Every time she saw an old familiar face, she wondered if that person’s arrival was the surprise her parents had in store for her. She hadn’t gone up into the attic, but for two days, her curiosity was at a peak. Maybe it wasn’t something tangible like that, she reasoned. Maybe her mother had been searching for information about the people she used to know and had invited that person as a special guest.
But her thoughts never panned out, and she kept waiting and waiting.
The party wound down, and she’d opened all her presents. The cake had been cut, and she was at that moment leaning over the tall counter in the kitchen, spooning cake and ice cream mixed together into her mouth.
Sue was seated on a tall stool on the other side of the island. She mimicked Beth’s movements, and the two girls laughed, trying not to spurt ice cream all over each other.
“You better watch it,” Beth said, her laughter making her voice shake. “Mama will skin us both alive if we make a mess in this kitchen.”
Sue laughed loudly at that one. The kitchen was already a mess from when her mother and their Aunt Ruth had made cookies and the cake and other snacks and delicacies for the party.
“We’ll clean it up later,” Sue finally said, her laughter abated. “And you aren’t going to lift a finger, Mama told me. She said it’s your birthday, and this mess was made in your honor. She wasn’t about to make you clean it up.”
“Aww, that’s real sweet of her.” Beth was touched. She usually did her fair share of the cleaning, whether or not she’d helped make the mess. The rest of her family did it for her, like when her mother came out to help her hang the laundry.
“I know.” Her sister grinned wide. “I’d be very jealous if I wasn’t given the same privilege on my birthday. I would think you might be the favorite daughter.”
Beth shook her head, delighted that her sister would think such a thing but also dismayed at the same time. “I don’t want a jealous sister, honey,” she said affectionately. “I am no more important than you to our parents, and you know it.”
Sue grinned. “You’re right. I do know it. They are the best, aren’t they?” She lifted her spoon with fresh ice cream and cake on it, and Beth knew exactly what she wanted to do. She put some on her own spoon and tapped the end of it to her sister’s. “Here’s to our parents,” Sue said, “the best who ever lived.”
“Cheers,” Beth agreed before putting the entire spoonful into her mouth.
She almost choked when Sue made a face right before eating her dessert. She had to hold in her laughter, cough a bit and swallow hard while her hand was over her mouth before she could exclaim, “Sue! You will make me choke to death doing that someday.”
“What, this?” Sue made the same face, and Beth had to turn away, laughing.
“You are the silliest girl,” she said. “I’m so glad to be your sister.”
Sue jumped up from her seat and came around the island counter to wrap her arms around Beth’s shoulders. It wasn’t hard since she was a good four inches taller than her sister. But Beth wasn’t envious. She had been when she was a girl, but that had all gone away as she matured. She and her sister looked nothing alike. She was short with red hair and green eyes. Her mother was blonde, and her father had the same dark hair her sister had. Still, she was sure she saw some red in her mother’s hair and believed her maternal grandmother was from Ireland.
“I’m gonna go out and see if anyone needs anything before they go. The party is coming to an end, sister dear, and you are officially now a quarter of a century old.”
“Oh Lord have mercy,” Beth said with a laugh. “Heading straight for spinsterhood.”
“Oh, no,” Sue said, shaking her head. “Not you. You’ll find a good man; I’m sure of that. I can tell. It’s like God just tells me these things.”
The girls laughed. Sue left the room, and Beth was alone. She finished off the ice cream and cake in her bowl, her eyes on the guests’ movements outside. They were still talking and laughing, some of them looking relaxed and comfortable where they were, others obviously ready to head home. Not that any of them looked anxious. But she could tell who was ready to call it a day and who still had plenty left to talk about.
She dipped her spoon down into the bottom of the bowl to scoop up the last bites into her mouth. The cake her mother and aunt had made was delicious. The ice cream was freshly churned, and she was assuming it was her father who did it because it tasted like his ice cream. He had a special recipe from his own father that made its taste unique. That one ingredient, though her father had never told her what it was, meant the ice cream was award-winning.
The one word came to her ears. It was her father’s voice.
Beth stiffened at the sound. He was extremely unhappy, his voice as tense as it could get. She froze and waited for him to continue.
“I’m not going to allow this, Martha. This isn’t the right time. I’m begging you to reconsider.”
“I think it is time, Rob. Now come on, we already agreed on this. Why are you backing out now?” Beth’s mother’s voice was also tense and bewildered at the same time.
“I just don’t want to see anything happen in this family that could … break us apart. And I think that’s what is going to happen here. You don’t know her like I do. It’s not the right time, Martha. I forbid you to say anything today. Have patience.”
Beth heard her mother scoff at him. She was stunned and still frozen in place. How could they be fighting like this on her birthday? They never argued. To hear them on her special day breaking the norm was as unpleasant as it could get.
Plus, they were talking about her. She knew they were. They didn’t have to say her name. This argument, along with what she’d heard two days before, was almost too much to bear.
She clenched her jaw and continued to listen, not moving a muscle.
“You forbid me?” Her mother sounded hurt now. “I can’t believe you’re doing this after we already agreed …”
“I changed my mind,” her father cut Martha off. “It isn’t the right time. Do not say anything. I will tell you when we are ready to do it.”
“Oh, will you now?” Martha asked in a cold voice.
“Yes, I will,” Robert replied, more lovingly than his wife was speaking. “Please, Martha. You know I love you and this family. I need to protect us all. Have patience and let’s do this my way, all right?”
Beth relaxed a tiny bit at the obvious love her father had for her mother.
“All right, Rob.” When her mother spoke, she could relax just a little more. The love was back in her voice, the anger gone.
Beth thought something was in the attic, and she was about to find out what it was.
She slid off the stool and went to the kitchen door, looking through the crack in the door before going out. Her parents were gone. She slipped through and went to the stairs to go up to the attic. She hadn’t been up there in ages. Now seemed the right time to explore while her parents and sister cleaned the house.
The attic was dark and dusty. Beth had to pull down a set of stairs that seemed rickety at first, but once she was on them, she realized they were much sturdier than she first thought.
She lifted the lantern up above her head when she got to the top of the ladder and looked over. There were cobwebs everywhere and a thick layer of dust on every surface, except a few places that had obviously been disturbed. She ran her eyes around her in a circle, looking specifically for rats. She wasn’t exactly afraid of them but did want to know if there was one lurking about so she would be on guard. They had a nasty bite when they were scared, and she had no trouble ending the life of a scared rodent.
She went up the rest of the stairs, crawling off the top rung and pushing to her feet. Her skirt was dusty already. Without thinking, she wiped her hand on the apron she was wearing over the light blue skirt. But that was what her apron was for, right? To protect her dress?
It wouldn’t matter up here. The bottom hem was bound to get pretty dirty as she explored. She didn’t care. She could do her own laundry. Her mother would never suspect a thing.
Beth moved around the dark room, holding the lantern out in front of her to see where she was going. There were many boxes, some wooden, some metal, all around the room. She saw some of her old toys and two matching rocking chairs she and Sue had once used.
Her first instinct was to go to those toys and go through the things she remembered from her childhood. There were notes she’d written to boys and never got the nerve to give, little plays she and Sue had written and performed for their parents with great pride, and even a small stage in the corner the two girls had built so very long ago.
Beth was touched that her father had brought it up here intact. He was always the one with the flair for the dramatic. He liked to be on stage himself, so having two daughters performing for him had been the best thing in the world.
At least that’s what he’d told Beth and Sue when they were little girls.
Knowing her father, Beth suspected he’d meant every word of it.
Troubled by the argument, Beth had to find out what her father didn’t want her mother to tell her. She went to the nearest box and removed the lid, looking into it at the contents closely. She really didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Some ledgers and files she didn’t have anything to do with. She assumed her father was keeping records for his business. That had nothing to do with her and surely couldn’t have been the thing Robert had been talking about.
For a moment, Beth wished she had asked Sue to come up and look with her. But then she would have had to tell the girl that she suspected her parents were holding something back. It was something she had a feeling was very important. Otherwise, what would have made them argue? That never happened. At least, it was so rare Beth and her sister noticed when it did.
She came to a box with many papers and folders in it. She saw her sister’s name at the top of several of them, and her own name on others.
She sat down and pulled out some of the folders, resting them on her lap. Turning the lantern, so the light was directly on her lap, she stared down at the top folder. Her name was in the upper right-hand corner. She lifted the top of the folder and looked at the paper inside.
It was a record from her school when she had been in the fourth grade. Her heart melted in her chest, and she began to read the notes from her teacher scrawled in ink pen on the side of some of the papers. It looked like there were only about ten pages in each folder. At least half of them were for Sue.
Beth went through more of them, remembering when she’d first seen those things written down about her. Her teachers were always complimentary. She’d developed past the stage of drawing letters and numbers on a small chalkboard and erasing them to do them again, over and over. Once she began writing with pen and ink, she felt mature. She felt like an adult. And that was when her love for writing began.
Her parents had sprung for the cost of paper so she and Sue could write down their plays. Beth found them in the box, under some of the folders. A tingle ran over her body when she pulled that particular folder out.
“Oh my,” she whispered. So much history of their family – of herself – was stored in the attic, and she didn’t even know it. She wished there was a way to go back and relive those days, feeling nostalgic.
She sniffed and put her fingers under her nose to keep from sneezing. Dust had gone up her nose when she sniffed like that, and the feeling was obnoxious. She rubbed her nose and shook her head to clear it.
If this was the box her mother had used to “find information to show”, there was no indication of it. The dust was clearly undisturbed all around the area. She’d inadvertently moved from where she’d been to that box because it was near the toy memories. She stood up and gently placed the folder back in the box. It seemed to be doing just fine where it was. She didn’t want to disturb the tranquility of it all any further.
Instead, she turned and held the lantern up, looking for the space that was semi-clear, where someone had obviously been more recently than a few years ago.
In the darkness, all the way on the other side of the beam of light from her lantern, a set of shelves held more boxes and containers. She stood for a moment, looking at them. Something told her that was where she was going to find the answer to her dilemma.
She was afraid for a moment that her mother had taken whatever was needed to give her an important insight into her past. At least, that’s what she was assuming by the other contents of the attic. It had to have something to do with the past.
She approached the shelf slowly, sighing in a soft tone. Her heart was beating harder now. She felt nervousness spread through her body.
When Beth reached the shelf, she held the lantern up higher. The shelf itself was at least six feet tall, and there were boxes on the shelves much higher above her head. If what she was looking for was so important they were arguing about it, chances were good they wouldn’t leave it on a shelf she could reach.
Beth hated that she was suspicious of her parents. She also wished she hadn’t overheard the two arguments and chided herself for eavesdropping. She could have let her presence be known. Maybe if she’d done that, she wouldn’t be up in this attic, breathing in dust and getting covered in the same.
She set her lantern down and took down the first box in front of her. She lifted the lid and slid it back, so it was at an angle behind the box. Lifting the lantern, she saw the contents were nothing but rags. Old cloth, fabric, and what looked like faded ribbons.
She replaced the box and took down another one, which proved to be a hat box with the oldest, moldiest hat Beth had ever seen. She looked at the date and realized it was from one of her grandmothers.
She put that box back as well and took down a third.
Surprisingly, this one held papers, ledgers, and books wrapped together in twine and ribbons. She blinked at it and lifted the lid back up to see that it was dust-free. Well, almost.
The things inside were also free of dust, clearly moved recently.
Beth bit her bottom lip and picked up a book from the top. She opened it to the first page, and a tingling feeling slid over her arms.
Martha’s Journal was written at the top in her mother’s swooping handwriting.
It took Beth a few minutes to work up the nerve to turn to the next page. This was her mother’s journal, and it felt wrong to be reading what she was saying. But from the first turn of the page, she could tell there was something different about it. The date at the top showed the same year that Beth was born, but what her mother was saying didn’t coincide with what a pregnant woman would be doing.
Beth ran her eyes along the words, listening to her mother’s voice in her head.
Three weeks after the date of her birth, Martha started her entry in the journal with the words “Baby is here! Our little Elizabeth Ann is here! We are so happy!”
Beth blinked. Three weeks after her birthday? Why in heaven’s name would they change her birthday? It wasn’t like it was any closer to her little sister’s, and they were doing it for convenience sake. Her sister was born in March. That was a seventh-month difference.
She frowned and continued reading for a few days’ worth of entries. All her mother talked about was her. How she was doing, what she was eating, how she was growing, how very much she was loved.
Beth’s confusion ran deeper when she read her mother repeating proclamations of gratitude that the baby was there in their home. That they were able to raise her. Martha went on and on about how she was a blessing from God, a true miracle.
Those words should have made Beth feel on top of the world. Instead, she felt confused. More confused than she’d ever been in her life. She went back to the beginning, which was dated four months before the “baby is here” entry. She scanned through the days, one after another, and saw nothing that indicated her mother was pregnant or that there was anything wrong that was making it so terrible; her birth was considered a miracle.
Surely a woman going through a complicated and painful pregnancy would mention it in her daily journal. At least once.
Beth set the journal aside and reached in the box again, pulling out a thicker folder than the others. Her name and her parents’ names were written on the top right-hand corner in the same handwriting as she’d seen on other folders in the box. This was unfamiliar handwriting to her, but in this particular box, she saw it a lot. She wondered who it could have been that was writing all this information down if not one of her parents.
She got down on her knees and set the folder on her legs, the lantern on the floor next to her, it’s beam facing her.
She turned the folder slightly to the side so she could see the words on the page better. It wasn’t dark outside, and there were three windows total in the attic of fairly large size, so the sun gave off enough light for her to see where she was going when she walked and an outline of the things in the room. But where she was, in front of the shelf, was away from those windows and in a darker spot in the attic.
She could clearly see the words on the page had somehow been smudged. She saw her name and the names of both her parents in various places, though. She picked up the top two papers meaning to pick up only one, and another slid out from between them. It was a much smaller piece of paper, and what was on it was written by hand instead of a printing press. It looked like a note. The handwriting was the same as she’d seen on the outside of the folder, the one she knew couldn’t be her parents’.
This was a smart decision on both your parts, Martha and Robert, it read. And we think it was a smart decision for us, too. And for the baby. You will be wonderful parents; we all know it. Enjoy your family. With all our love and prayers.
Beth’s eyes stuck on the last two words. The signature. It wasn’t a person. It was a place. An orphanage. The only reason her parents would have been at an orphanage was to …
Beth felt like she’d been dipped in an icy bath. She began to shiver and shake.
What did this mean? What could this possibly mean?
Chills ran over her arms and up her neck into her hair, making her scalp tingle.
“No,” she whispered. She felt like everything was crashing down around her. This house wasn’t really her home. Her sister wasn’t her sister. Her parents weren’t her parents.
She was alone in the world.
Beth forced herself to look at the papers she was holding in her hand. They were adoption papers, making it legal and binding so her parents could take her home and raise her as their own.
She could barely read the paper, as most of the writing had been smudged. She could make out the name written next to “mother”. It said J Pendergrass. There were letters after the J, but Beth couldn’t make out what they were. At the bottom of the page was a signature with the initial A.M. much larger than the rest of the name, which was unreadable. She only knew it was the doctor because of the M.D. after the scrawled name.
There was a spot on the second paper with lines so that someone could write a note if they wanted to and if it was important.
Beth’s breath caught in her throat as she read what was written there, in that same handwriting that she was becoming familiar with and starting to resent for whatever reason.
Elizabeth Ann was in fine health when she came to us. Her birth mother was very young and was believed to be impaired mentally. Although Elizabeth Ann is not an orphan, she has been given to the orphanage to adopt out as seen fit by the state of Oklahoma this year of our Lord.
It was the year of her birth. Beth closed her eyes and lowered the papers. How could this be? It couldn’t be true. It just couldn’t be.
She had a thought and her head snapped up, her eyes gazing at the boxes still remaining on the shelf. Was Sue adopted? Were her papers here, too?
Beth’s next thought was that it was highly unlikely Sue was also adopted. She looked too much like their father.
Like her father, Beth thought resentfully. Sadness overwhelmed her. How could they do this to her? Why hadn’t they told her long ago so she wouldn’t find out and be shocked by the revelation?
Maybe that was why she couldn’t seem to find a husband. Maybe it wasn’t in the cards because of the source of her birth. She was destined to be alone and unhappy. Was that it?
She shot to her feet, dropping the papers back in the box. She bent down and retrieved the journal, dropping that in as well and replacing the lid. She hefted the box up in her hands and strolled back to the stairs.
Her mother had been right, after all. It was time to tell Beth about her true origins. It was past time. Now it was up to her to bring it to their attention that she knew. She had a strong spine. She was brave and bold in everything she did. Her father had told her it was because of her red hair and Irish heritage.
Had he been lying?
As she made her way down the steps, trying to keep from stepping on the hem of her dress, she wondered which grandmother had been Irish and why she hadn’t realized before that her father had only told her those things and she’d never met an Irish grandmother. Then again, her mother’s mother had died when she was a teenager, and her father’s mother lived in Germany, where her ancestors were from.
She was about to find out the truth herself. No matter what it took.
“Seeking Her Heart’s Truth” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
As Beth Swanson impatiently awaits her 25th birthday her world is turned upside down, when she overhears a shocking secret. Εven though she feels lost after the dreadful revelation, she decides to discover her life’s most terrifying truth. Leaving everything behind she never expects to not only find the answer she craves for, but also unconditional love.
In a world full of strangers, she must unravel a web of heartbreaking lies…
Virgil Cash has become a local tycoon through gambling and lucky business deals. His love life, however, has been anything but blessed since he got trapped in a terrible scandal that left him with the sole option of a mail-order bride. When Beth responds to his ad, she seems to be everything he could ever hope for. Can he keep his embarrassing past at bay or will old mistakes bring a sorrowful end to his last chance at bliss?
He has to face a horrible challenge if he truly wants to find happiness…
Beth and Virgil seem like a match made in heaven but she gets devastated when malicious tongues reveal Virgil’s secret to her. As if things couldn’t get any worse, a shadow from his past reappears… Will all the adversities make their bond stronger and unbreakable, or will their love be forever shattered?
“Seeking Her Heart’s Truth” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.