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From Author Mary Connealy – THE ADVENT BRIDE
November 29, 1875
Being a teacher was turning out to be a little like having the flu.
Simon O’Keeffe. Her heart broke for him at the same time her stomach twisted with dread for herself. The churning innards this boy caused in her made a case of influenza fun and game.
The small form on the front steps of the Lone Tree schoolhouse huddled against the cold. Shivering herself, she wondered how long seven-year-old Simon had been sitting with his back pressed against the building to get out of the wind.
On these smooth, treeless highlands the wind blew nearly all the time. No matter where a person sought shelter outside, there was no escape from the Nebraska cold.
Just as there was no escape from Simon.
Picking up her pace and shoving her dread down deep, she hurried to the door, produced the key her position as school marm had granted her, and said, “Let’s get inside, Simon. You must be freezing.”
And what was his worthless father thinking to let him get to school so early?
Simon’s eyes, sullen and far too smart, lifted to hers.
“Did you walk to school?” Melanie tried to sound pleasant. But it didn’t matter. Simon would take it wrong. The cantankerous little guy had a gift for it. She swung the door open and waved her hand to shoo him in.
The spark of rebelling in his eyes clashed with his trembling. He wanted to defy her—Simon always wanted to defy her—but he was just too cold.
“My pa ain’t gonna leave me to walk to school in this cold, Miss Douglas.” Simon was offended on his father’s behalf.
“So he drove you in?” Melanie should just quit talking. Nothing she said would make Simon respond well, the poor little holy terror.
“We live in town now…leastways we’re living here for the winter.”
And that explained Simon’s presence. He’d started the school year, then he’d stayed home to help with harvest—or maybe his pa had just been too busy to get the boy out the door. And before harvest was over, the weather turned bitter cold. The five mile walk was too hard and apparently his pa wouldn’t drive him.
The day Simon had stopped coming to school her life as the teacher had improved dramatically. That didn’t mean the rest of her life wasn’t miserable, but at least school had been good. And now here came her little arch enemy back to school. It was all she could do to suppress a groan.
Closing the door, Melanie rushed to set her books on her desk in the frigid room. She headed straight for the pot-bellied stove to get a fire going.
She gathered an armful of logs, pulled open the creaking door and knelt to stuff kindling into the stove. She added shredded bits of bark and touched a match to it. A crash startled her and she knocked her head into the cast iron.
Whirling around, expecting the worst…she got it.
Glaring at her.