As Jessie sat on the train across from this stranger, it took all of her strength to hold back her tears. She had no idea where she was headed, how her life would be, or exactly why she was going in the first place. All she knew was what her Aunt had told her earlier this morning when she came to her room.
“Jessie you’ve got to get up now! I don’t have time to explain everything, but you see . . . you’re going away.”
“Away!” Jessie shouted. “What do you mean away?”
“Look, honey I know this is a shock to you but you must trust me. Now get up and get your things, the train will be here soon and you can’t be late.” Aunt Betsy was not one who you argued with. Everything was to be done her way. She scurried through Jessie’s small room for her necessary items clothes, shoes and a few personal belongings.
“Aunt Betsy, what is going on?”
“Listen to me child, I’ve arranged for you to have a better life than being in this hotel. You need a life your mother would be proud of . . . he will be good to you.”
“He, who?” Jessie’s heart pounded.
“His name is John, he’s a good man who lives in the country, on a farm. It’s what’s best for you dear . . . Now hurry!”
Jessie thought her Aunt must have gone mad. “Aunt Betsy please! I am happy here! Why would you send me away?” Tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Jessie I have chosen my life here with this Hotel, but it’s no longer a proper life for my sisters’ only child. When your mother died I promised I’d take care of you and raise you properly. I’ve done all I can. You are getting older now . . . and the men . . . well you know what the men can be like. I won’t have it happen again! I won’t have you brought up any longer in this manner!” Jessie knew exactly what Aunt Betsy meant by “what men can be like,” she found out all too well that horrible night a few months ago.
“Is that why your sending me off, because of that night . . . I won’t let it happen again!”
“Jessie you are not to blame, I’ve explained all I can. Now get dressed.”
Betsy left the room with her head hung low. “It’s what’s best,” she whispered as she closed the door.
Jessie realized she had no choice but to follow her Aunt’s arrangements . . . So here she sat across from this stranger, to start her knew unknown life.
Just then the train jerked so hard Jessie had nearly lost her balance and fell to the other side where the stranger sat.
“Are you OK?” he said.
“Fine.” She answered.
She settled herself back into her seat and gazed out the window. She thought of her mother, she missed her so much right now. She remembered how when she was a child her mother would tuck her into bed at night. She would always make her feel so safe. She’d say “Sweet dreams, I love you Jessie,” and she’d kiss her cheek. Well, none of Jessie’s dreams were coming true! In fact, her life was turned upside down right now and she did not feel safe at all.
She also realized she had never heard those words, “I love you” from anyone else, not from any man or even her aunt. Jessie became very angry. How could her aunt do this to her? She had put in long hard days at the Hotel, cooking, cleaning, sewing and taking care of the baby. Oh, how she would miss the baby. Jessie had become friends with Veronica after she had gotten pregnant on “mistake.” Veronica was busy after the birth with her so called “work” for Aunt Betsy that Jessie’s natural instincts took over almost all of the care for that precious baby the past year.
Now, her whole life was taken from her in an instant, and the Hotel, it had become the only home she could really remember. Jessie came to the conclusion that her aunt must be the most uncaring person in the world! Even though she did not quite fit in with the “girls” they were her only friends. She had taken care of Jessie for nearly ten years now, worked her hard and then threw her away to some stranger.
She looked at the man across from her, being careful not to make eye contact with him. He looked to be about 25 years old. He had thick light brown hair, blue eyes and a firm body with a ruggedness about him. He was dressed casually, pants and button down shirt. Jessie noticed his hands were rough and dry. He must work hard she thought, not a businessman. She couldn’t help but notice this stranger was very attractive.
She wondered just what he expected from her. Did he think she was his maid? Or worse, his whore! Jessie’s mind was racing so fast she could hardly breathe. She sat back closed her eyes and waited.
As John sat across from this girl he too was wondering about the future. Here in front of him sat someone who he was all of a sudden responsible for. John was used to being alone and had done very well for himself. He wondered if taking this job the past year was a mistake. He’d traveled back and forth from his home to the city many times this year. He thought of his farm and home and how they would need so much work when he got back. Well, he would have some help getting it together now. Now that Jessie was with him.
He glanced over at her. He had heard much about her from Betsy. Yet, he knew he was looking at a stranger. A stranger he would now be sharing his life and home with. He noticed that she had finally relaxed on their long trip. He had no idea what she thought of all this. Betsy had never mentioned that to him.
John watched her as she rested. She appeared to be about seventeen. She was certainly not a child, as Betsy always referred to her. She had long dark hair, she wore no make-up, and she looked naturally pretty to him. Her clothes were simple and plain. She was not thin but curved like a woman.
John had a lot of questions for her and for himself. The first one on his mind was how he would explain Jessie’s presence to the rest of the town and his parents. She was not his wife, why else would she living in his house? His maid? No, John decided he didn’t like that phrase, “maid,” it did not suit his lifestyle. He was old fashioned, raised with strong family values. His parents believed in marriage and family, as did he. He could hardly tell them she was from the Hotel. He could hardly believe he himself spent so much time there. It was recommended to him from a professor at the University where he had worked this past year. He never imagined whores! His hometown was nothing like the big city.
Yet, he did take a liking to Betsy right away. She always made conversation with him and her food was wonderful. John decided that he could stay there and just not visit the other side of the hotel where the “girls” were. He did not believe in paying for a woman. All though he never had a reason to, most girls took a liking to him right away.
He wondered why he had taken a liking to Betsy so fast. She was certainly not like any other woman he knew. She was about 50 years old, very heavy and very nosey. She knew everyone’s business in the city. She cursed and joked like one of the men. Yet she truly seemed honest and caring when she spoke of Jessie. He had gotten to know Betsy pretty well this past year.
John remembered the night before, when he visited the bar at the Hotel. He had had a few to drink and played cards with some of the other men from the University. Betsy did not seem herself that night and that’s when she hit him with her plans! She told John she was sick and didn’t know how much longer she’d be here. She swore him to secrecy. She was concerned for Jessie. She made it very clear that Jessie was naïve about almost everything. She still needed guidance, and she assured him that she had never taken part in any of the “activities” at the Hotel. Betsy went on to explain how she did not want Jessie to be at the Hotel, if she was not there to protect her.
John had mentioned to Betsy in the past how he had built his new home and he had his farm with lots of work to be done to it. He had also confided in her how he felt lonely at times at home with no one to share it with.
Betsy had it all figured out . . . That night she asked John, “Take Jessie with you! She can help out with the chores and keep you company as well.”
John knew he had plenty of room for her and he did need help with household chores and the farm. As for the company Betsy suggested, he was not sure exactly how she meant it to be.
Now, it all seems absurd but at the time and with more than a few beers to cloud his judgment, Betsy made it all sound wonderful for everyone involved. Why him, he wondered? Certainly Betsy knew other people . . . A woman friend maybe? Now it was too late for second guessing. After hours of talking last night and all his drinking, he somehow agreed to Betsy’s request. She gave him some money for Jessie to get settled in with and some extra for John’s good intentions, the rest would be sent after she was gone and the Hotel was sold. Yes, Betsy felt very good about the whole ordeal. John was not as sure, but would honor his word.