I managed to keep my opinions to myself for the remainder of our visit, and we returned home at the end of the week.
As life went back to normal, I realized that my worries about Ruby were actually a blessing. It was a distraction from my ongoing dread over Samuel's situation.
He had still been on my mind constantly, but it was a relief to worry about something else for a while. Something that, even if I couldn't provide it the way I would have liked to, actually had an attainable solution.
As Andrew pointed out, I still had children to raise, but they didn't supply quite the same level of distraction as Ruby had.
Thomas was grown now, and didn't really require any mothering. But of course, James and Victoria were still young enough to need me.
James got into plenty of trouble. In fact, he hardly seemed able to say out of it. But even that wasn't due to a lack of discipline. Mostly it was just things like his curiosity over what would happen if he tried some of the experiments he read about, forgetting the fact that he was attempting them in my kitchen or his bedroom. Or he would come home with ruined clothes from simply being a boy and playing too roughly.
Victoria had never required much attention. She was a people-pleaser and enjoyed being busy helping around the house or reading, or doing things that were equally as docile.
The two of them generally got along well. They fought from time to time, as all siblings did, but they were probably the closest of all my children, and true fights were rare.
But their behavior seemed even better now, and I knew it was because they didn't want to upset me after seeing the way Samuel's departure had left me.
It was ridiculous, of course, but in the back of my mind I almost wished they would act out a little, just to give me something to focus on besides my helplessness concerning their brother. Cleaning up James' messes and mending clothes occupied my hands but not my mind.
Rather, life went on agonizingly slow between the letters that we received from Samuel.
Each one sent me on a roller coaster of emotions. First there was the intense relief and gratitude that he was still safe and well enough to have written the letter. Then I was consumed by almost painful curiosity, wondering if he was still that way. And that would cycle right back to dread, realizing that it didn't sound as though he planned on coming home any time soon.
That fear was about more than just Samuel, though. The longer the war went on, the more likely it was that there would be another draft.
I hadn't worried terribly with the first, since it was only required for men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one. But I nearly went crazy when it was announced that there would be a second.
Thankfully though, my worry still proved unnecessary. The only ones required to register that second time, were men who had turned twenty-one since the first draft, so for the time being, Thomas was still safe.
But how long would it be until there was another? One where the required age was lowered to eighteen?
It was impossible not to listen to the roomers that a third draft was imminent. Supposedly the war was going well, but every day men were dying. It seemed obvious that, unless the war ended swiftly, they would need more men to carry on. And it didn't bode well that they'd already drafted men twice. People were convinced it would happen again any day now, and since the last draft was only a few months ago, they would most definitely be lowering the age if another came so soon.
Andrew begged me not to worry about it, but obviously, I couldn't help it. I was already an emotional wreck over Samuel. How would I stay sane if I had to worry about Thomas, as well?
The one bright spot in all of this was how Samuel seemed to have transformed. From his letters, he was in his element in the army.
Of course, I still didn't like that he was there at all, but I could tell that he had matured quite a bit over the last year. He wasn't my little boy trying so desperately to be a man anymore. Now he really was a man.
I think he always felt a little aimless in his life, never quite fitting anywhere. He'd done alright in school. I know he was smart enough to have done better, but it just hadn't held his interest and he wasn't that motivated. And he never talked about what he wanted to become like my other children did.
Since he'd been a small boy, Thomas had always wanted to own a ranch. I suspected that had alot to do with John's influence, but he was also a natural with horses.
James, it seemed wanted to be something different every other week. Lately, he'd been wanting to follow in Andrew's footsteps, working for the newspaper. And Victoria had wanted to be a teacher since the time she understood what that meant.
But Samuel had never expressed those types of aspirations. He would pretend to be any number of things, as a child, but he never truly seemed to want anything specific for his future.
Now, it seemed as though he really felt fulfilled. As if he finally found a purpose. Something to drive him to do his best. He'd actually been promoted twice. Which I thought was impressive, considering his age. But maybe I was biased.
Still, I prayed every day for the war to end and for him to come home. I wasn't sure how much longer I could withstand all this uncertainty and waiting.
"Are you surprised, Daddy?" Victoria giggled as she uncovered his eyes so that he could see the 'surprise' birthday cake on the table.
Andrew's favorite was strawberry shortcake and he had it every year for his birthday. The cake was as much a surprise as the fact that it was his birthday, but Victoria loved the game they played.
"I sure am," he exaggerated. "It looks delicious. Did you make it yourself?"
"Uh huh," she grinned proudly.
"Well, let's hurry up and try it then." Andrew picked up the knife and cut into the cake.
He handed plates around the table and briefly met my eyes. The smile was wiped from my face when I realized that something was wrong. I noticed the extra effort it had taken him to keep up his enthusiasm during dinner, but I just figured he was tired after working all day. Now I knew it was more than that.
Whatever it was, Andrew didn't want to announce it yet and spoil this for the children, so I held off asking anything.
Victoria had become an adept little baker, not requiring much help from me to make delicious desserts. Even so, I had to force down a little of the cake so I wouldn't hurt her feelings. Andrew wasn't easily upset, so whatever it was had to be big. And that scared me.
Thankfully, the remainder of the meal didn't take too long. Andrew continued to play along as the children monopolized the conversation and inhaled their cake. But despite the forced enthusiasm, he didn't seem to have much of an appetite. Judging by the way Thomas hardly touched his slice, he didn't either.
I focused on Thomas for a minute, noticing that something seemed off with him as well. I looked between him and Andrew curiously. Andrew told Thomas before he talked to me?
Before I could analyze it too deeply, Andrew pushed away from the table and stood.
"James, help your sister clean up, please," he said placing his napkin on the table.
James made a face. "But-" I was sure he was about to whine about how that was girl's work, but a stern look from Andrew silenced him. Apparently, Andrew had given up the pretense of nothing being wrong.
The children began clearing the table quietly, having caught on that everything wasn't as fine as it appeared to be a few minutes ago.
Another look from Andrew, told me it was time to talk. I stood and as we walked to our bedroom, in silence, I wondered what could be wrong. Could it be his job?
But, no, that didn't make sense. He'd been telling me how well the paper was doing, and he'd gotten a raise a few months ago.
I went to sit on the bed as Andrew locked the door and went to the dresser for something.
When he turned around, my eyes zeroed in on the letter he held. More specifically, the official, military looking seal on the letter.
I shook my head in disbelief. Not that. It couldn't be that.
I didn't know who the letter concerned, but news from the army was definitely not something I wanted to hear. Not unless they were writing to say that the war was over, and I seriously doubted that was it.
I guessed that the army, at least, wouldn't report a death in a letter. So maybe Samuel was still alright. But that didn't make that little white paper any less terrifying.
"Kat." Andrew sat beside me on the bed.
"No." It became harder to breathe and my eyes stung.
"Honey, there's been another draft."
"No." I gripped the covers beneath me, not wanting to hear anymore.
"They expanded the age range," he said.
I closed my eyes against the tears. Andrew wouldn't be telling me like this if it had just been announced. He wouldn't want to worry me for nothing. He'd only do this if someone had actually been drafted. No wonder Thomas had known before me. It was about him.
"Eighteen to forty-five," he finished.
My eyes flew open and I stared at him in shock and horror. Not just Thomas!
"No!" I cried. Now I realized that if it had been Thomas, he would want to tell me himself.
But he still knew. And he wouldn't know unless it involved him too. Andrew would have told me first if this was just about himself.
It couldn't possibly be both of them! That was far too cruel. Please, God, no!
"Thomas and I both got called," he said quietly, confirming my fear.
If not for his arms circling me just then, I would have collapsed to the floor.
The only word I was capable of forming was 'no'. I said it again and again as I held onto him tightly, sobbing and willing this not to be true.
How was I going to live through this? It was already maddening with just Samuel. Having to worry over both Thomas and Andrew, as well, was more than I could take. And more than that, I was totally blindsided by the fact that Andrew had been called. Like he told me before, he was too old for the military. I hadn't even thought it was an option. But apparently the army had a different idea of what was considered too old in war time.
Andrew allowed me to cry into his shirt for a long time, but after a while, he propped me up to look at my face.
"Take the children and go stay with Julia and Daniel," he said. "I don't want you here all alone."
My only response was a whimper.
He placed his hand against my cheek. "We'll be alright," he tried. "I bet the war will be over any day now."
I nodded sadly. We both knew there was no possible way to know either of those things. And why would the army be drafting more men if it was about to end?
"When...?" I couldn't speak more passed the lump in my throat.
"We leave Saturday."
Three days. That was all. It was much too soon.
Andrew stroked my cheek and I closed my eyes, trying to memorize his touch.
"When did this happen?" I hadn't heard of another draft actually taking place.
"It was announced last week," he said. "Thomas got his letter yesterday. I got mine today. I didn't say something sooner because I didn't want to worry you."
I gave a choked sob. At least I would have been prepared for this possibility. But that explained why I hadn't heard about it. Both Victoria and James had been sick last week and needed me for every little thing. At the time I thought it was a nice distraction from all my worry and helplessness. Now I realized it kept me from knowing what was going on.
I looked at him and brought my fingers to his face. I tried to memorize every detail. The exact shade of blue his eyes were, the curl of his lips, the way his nose was just a tiny bit crooked from having been broken when he was young, the small scar above his left eyebrow. Everything.
It was hard enough to have to let my boys go, but with Andrew, it felt as if he was taking a piece of me with him. I wouldn't be whole with him gone.
"Promise me you'll come home," I said. "That you'll bring my boys back to me."
"I..." Andrew hesitated, tears in his eyes now too.
"Promise me, Andrew," I demanded. I knew it was irrational. No one could guarantee something like that, but I didn't care.
"I'll do my best."
I nearly smiled. Even now Andrew wouldn't tell me something that might turn out to be a lie.
We stared into each others eyes for a minute before Andrew kissed me with an intensity that I matched with no hesitation. Not needing words, I knew he decided the same thing I had. We were going to make the most of these three days. Live as if that was all the time we had left together.
If it wasn't, who knew how long we would be apart?
I managed to keep my opinions to myself for the remainder of our visit, and we returned home at the end of the week.