Summerville, Kansas – 1872
Alan was gone, his body removed by the undertaker along with the last of the coins Alan and Desiree had saved for their new start.
This was not the start they’d dreamed of.
It was Alan’s idea to claim the inheritance left him by an uncle he’d only met twice – a store on the main street of a sleepy little town in Kansas, of all places. Alan filled Desiree’s head with dreams of a bright future and a shop of her own. She traced the letters on the sign he’d carved for her. Desiree’s Dresses. He never got a chance to paint it before the sickness overtook him.
Tomorrow she would bury Alan in this strange place, without the support of family and friends. The pain of loss nearly buckled her knees as she walked down the stairs to the dirty shop below. There hadn’t been time to clean with Alan ailing. Now she had nothing but time.
Dusk descended. Desiree lit the lamps as she washed the shelves and scrubbed the floor. She knew she should conserve the oil, but the exertion soothed the steady ache of her heart. What am I going to do without him? No answer came as she dumped yet another bucket of filthy water out on the street.
Stars winked as she cleaned the months of grime off the windows. Exhaustion pulled at her, beckoning her to the bed above. Instead she pressed on. If she was going to survive, she had to open this shop. She had to start making money to pay for food. Alan had been clear on his views of borrowing. She’d not dishonor his memory by going into debt, even if that meant working through her grief.
As dawn’s light played across the sky, Desiree surveyed the night’s work. Every surface glimmered in the early sun. The empty shelves held promise for the future. Some day she would fill them all with cloth, but today, she’d have to be content with the single bolt of blue taffeta she’d brought with her. It was only enough for one dress, but it would have to be enough. It was all she had left.
The knock on the door startled her. Mrs. Kent, the preacher’s wife, stood on the other side.
“You should have let me stay.” The portly woman embraced her. “Did you sleep at all?”
Desiree shook her head. She left the woman in the shop as she prepared to lay her love to rest. “Oh Alan,” she moaned. Downstairs, she found Mrs. Kent admiring the taffeta. “It would match your eyes,” Desiree said.
“Perhaps we could talk about a new gown after…” the woman seemed to remember the situation and blushed.
“I should like that very much.”
The weight of burying Alan pressed on Desiree as she returned to the shop with Mrs. Kent. Weary from her long night, she yearned to escape into sleep. Instead she pulled out her measuring tape.
“It’s too soon,” Mrs. Kent said. “We can talk about the dress another day.”
“I’ll need something to keep me busy. Won’t you let me create something beautiful in this time of darkness?” The plea worked and soon she had the measurements of the woman and an agreed upon price.
The next day, Desiree wanted to scream. There wasn’t enough cloth. She’d measured over and over, but there was no way to make the taffeta stretch to fit Mrs. Kent’s girth. Desiree pressed her thumbs against the bridge of her nose.
“I need two more inches, God,” she prayed. “Help me find a way to make this work.”
Her stomach grumbled as she leaned over the fabric. She didn’t have much left in the pantry, but she’d eat once she solved this puzzle. She moved the design pieces again, fitting them together in a different way. She checked everything twice more and finally smiled. There wouldn’t be any taffeta left, but the pieces fit. She rejoiced as she cut the fabric.
With each stitch Desiree prayed for the shop, for the future, but mostly for the dress. “Help everything meet, Lord.” Endless hours later, she helped Mrs. Kent into the finished gown. It was perfect and the women were thrilled.
Thank you! Desiree’s heart rejoiced as she took the payment for her labor. It wasn’t much but, by God’s grace, it would be enough.
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