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Sugarland by Ali Spooner

Sasha sat in front of the baby grand piano in the parlor of her Sugar Land home, her lavender eyes, framed by raven hair, sparkling with tears. Her fingers caressed the ivory keys as she played a piece by Bach while she focused on the portrait hanging on the wall. A beautiful blond-haired woman with deep-blue eyes gazed out of the painting, transfixing Sasha. She willed her mind to relax, and her thoughts traveled back to the day the photograph was taken, which eventually became the model for the portrait now hanging proudly in her parlor.
“I hope I didn’t just break your camera,” Milly teased.
“That will probably turn out to be one of the best photographs I have ever taken,” Sasha said as she joined her lover. “Are you ready to have our picnic now?”
“Yes, my darling,” Milly said.
Milly spread the small blanket beneath the majestic oak and they enjoyed the meal that Marie had packed for them.
“Have I told you yet today how much I love you?” Sasha asked.
“Several times, but I can never hear those words enough,” Milly said as she lay down and placed her head in Sasha’s lap.
“I love you with all my being and my love for you will last an eternity,” Sasha vowed as she bent down to kiss Milly.
They had spent the remainder of the afternoon making love beneath the towering oak. When they returned to the horses, Sasha looked at Milly and said, “I will always cherish today’s memories, and I thank you for creating them with me.”
Sasha sighed as her fingers stroked the piano. “Milly, my love, I miss you so.” 
Over twenty years had passed since Milly’s death in the 1980s, yet Sasha still felt the raw pain of her loss. She had witnessed so much death in her life, but nothing had devastated Sasha like the death of her beloved Milly. As she stared back at the deep-blue eyes, Sasha could still hear the melodic sound of Milly’s laughter as she had said “smile” when Sasha took the photograph so many years ago. Tears flowed down Sasha’s cheeks as she remembered the love they had shared and her mind drifted further back, to the very beginning.
Chapter 1 – In the Beginning
Sasha Thibodaux’s parents, Theo and Marie, met and fell in love at a New Orleans social where Marie was performing on a baby grand piano in the fall of 1888. A successful shipping entrepreneur, Theo, drawn by the music, was entranced from his first sight of Marie. A touring concert pianist and proper Cajun woman, Marie’s piano performances were a highlight of the bustling socials held by New Orleans’ most elite inhabitants. Their courtship began that humid evening and quickly blossomed into a passionate romance.
Their engagement lasted a year and the wedding set a new standard for the New Orleans’ community. Theo’s success afforded him the wealth to purchase a large mansion on the river’s east side, where he and Marie made their home.
Theo and Marie traveled to Europe for an extended honeymoon. Nearly a month later, on their last night in Paris, they strolled beneath a blanket of stars. As they sat on a nearby bench marveling at the heaven’s handiwork, Marie said to Theo, “My love, are you ready to be a father?” 
Theo looked at Marie with disbelief. “Are you sure?” he asked.
“Very much so,” Marie said with a smile. “We are going to have a child.”
Theo jumped from his seat and his shouts of joy echoed throughout the vast courtyard. He then took Marie in his arms for a passionate kiss.
“Marie, you are making all my dreams come true,” Theo said, nearly breathless.
The next day, they began their journey homeward. Marie was plagued by morning sickness on the trip, but Theo remained by his wife’s side and attended to her every need.
When they returned to New Orleans, he hired Caroline Dupont, a Cajun midwife, as a companion for Marie. They spent their mornings sipping tea in the gardens and in the parlor where Marie played the piano. After lunch, Marie would retire for a brief nap to refresh herself before Theo’s return.
Each night, Theo returned home and placed his hand on his wife’s swollen stomach to feel the strong heartbeat of his growing child. He would then gently embrace Marie for a soft kiss, barely able to restrain his excitement as the day of birthing grew closer.
The summer’s heat continued to build and on the first day of July, Caroline found Theo in the parlor.
“Marie’s time is growing near.” Caroline smiled at him. “Are you ready to be a father?”
“I have dreamed of this for nine months, Caroline, I couldn’t be more ready,” Theo said.
For two days, Caroline sat beside Marie’s bed and when her labor began on the third, Theo joined them. 
He sat with them through thirty hours of painful labor, refusing to leave her side. 
“Does it always take this long?” he asked Caroline.
“The child decides when it is ready and this one seems to be taking its time,” Caroline said.
“Is there anything I can get you, my love?” Theo asked as he held Marie’s hand during the painful labor.
“No, Theo. Having you here with me as we welcome our child is all I need,” Marie managed to say between painful contractions.
Tormented by the pain Marie was experiencing, Theo knew there was nothing he could do to relieve her agony. He sat beside her bed for hours, offering words of comfort. He wiped the perspiration from her face with a cool cloth and spoke to her in soothing tones. “It won’t be much longer,” he promised as he saw Caroline get into position to receive the child.
“Here we go,” Caroline said as the crown of the baby’s head became visible. “You have to push now, Marie,” she said.
Theo watched as his exhausted wife used the remainder of her strength to expel the baby from her body. When the child was born, Marie passed out from the exertion, causing Theo great worry. “Is this normal?” he asked as he looked at Marie with concern.
“Very much so, Theo, so there is no need to worry. Marie is just exhausted and relieved the process is over.”  
Theo had watched carefully as Marie gave birth to their daughter. Caroline cleaned and swaddled the baby, then placed her in his arms for the first time, while Theo’s tears flowed freely.
“You have a beautiful daughter,” Caroline said.
“Welcome to the world, Sasha Marie Thibodaux,” he said as he cradled the infant near his body.
Marie had opened her eyes again and watched as Theo sat on the edge of the bed, cradling their daughter.
“She is so beautiful, Marie,” Theo said as he turned the child so Marie could see her daughter.
The raven-haired infant stole Theo’s breath away and he stared in wonder at his daughter. 
“She is so beautiful, Marie,” Theo repeated.  
Marie smiled weakly at her husband. “You look so natural with our daughter,” she said.
“That sounds so good, please say it again.”
“I said, you look so natural with our daughter,” Marie repeated.
“I love you so,” Theo said as he leaned down to kiss Marie.
From the day of her birth, Theo vowed to do everything possible to give his daughter the best life had to offer.
During the first few years, Sasha spent her mornings playing in the gardens with Caroline and her mother and the afternoons sitting beside her mother at the piano in the parlor. Sasha was born with her mother’s love for music and quickly learned to play, much to her mother’s delight.
“Mother,” Sasha innocently asked one day, “why don’t I have a brother or sister?” 
The intense, prolonged labor had left Marie scarred and unable to bear another child. 
Marie smiled down at her small child and said. “Sometimes, Sasha, a child is born so perfect God decides she is all that is needed to complete a family.” She ran her hand through Sasha’s dark curls and continued. “When you were sent to us, your father and I were complete and no other children were needed.”
Sasha mirrored her mother’s smile, satisfied with her answer, and returned her fingers to the piano keys.
When Theo realized Sasha would be his sole heir, he became determined to teach her all he could about the world of business.
When she was five, Theo hired a private tutor for Sasha, who proved to be an apt pupil, learning several languages in written and spoken form. By age ten, Sasha was assisting her father with her newly acquired bookkeeping skills as her hunger for knowledge continued to burn.
At sixteen, when it had become evident that Sasha had reached her potential with her tutor, Marie and Theo sat in the parlor one night to discuss Sasha’s future. 
“Theo, there is a new school opening in New York City, that specializes in Musical Art,” Marie said. “I think we should allow Sasha to attend.”
“But, New York is so far away,” Theo said.  
“That is true, but don’t you want Sasha to have the very best?”
“You know I do, my love,” Theo answered.
“Then New York is the place for our daughter.”
Theo and Marie sat up late into the evening debating the issue, and eventually he relented, and agreed to allow Sasha to be educated so far from home.
“You are right, Marie, Sasha must have the best education we can provide her,” he finally admitted.
 “Sasha, your father and I have been discussing your continued education, and we want to discuss it with you,” Marie said the next day. “There is a new school opening in New York that we feel would be the best place for you.”
So much like her father, Sasha said, “But it is so far from home, Mother.” 
Theo could not help but smile as Sasha’s initial response echoed his own.
“We realize that it will be the farthest you have ever been away from home, Sasha, but we want you to have the best education possible,” Theo said.
“If you think that is best, Father, then I will go.”
 Sasha later admitted she was excited about traveling and studying in New York City. That night they made plans to travel to New York City to allow her to audition.
Sasha, Theo, and Marie traveled to New York City by train two weeks later. Sasha sat at the windows for hours watching the landscape change as they traveled further north and for the first time she saw mountains and large cities. 
“The country is so beautiful,” Sasha said to her father as she sat next to him.
“There is so much of the world yet for you to see, Sasha,” Theo said. “I hope that in your lifetime you will have the opportunity to see many more marvelous places.”
Sasha gasped when New York City came into view. “Is this it, Father?” she asked.
“Welcome to New York City, Sasha,” Theo said.
Sasha was overwhelmed with the enormity of New York City at first. However, when she took her first steps on campus, Sasha knew the Institute of Musical Art was where she belonged. 
“Are you ready?” Theo asked.
“Yes, Father,” Sasha said, then climbed the steps to the stage and sat before a beautiful piano.
Sasha took a deep breath and played two of the most difficult pieces her mother had taught her to perfection. Amazed by the sound of her music in such an acoustically perfect room, the music came to life for Sasha. She finished the last piece, turned on the piano bench, and smiled at her parents. The instructors were speechless as Sasha stood and walked over to her parents.
“Mother, you are right, this is where I need to study,” Sasha said while they waited for the instructors’ decision.
“We are very impressed with your daughter’s talent and would like for Sasha to begin this fall,” the Dean of Music told them. The Dean offered her a scholarship that she gratefully accepted.
They agreed Sasha would return to New York to begin her studies in the fall, and then went to explore the city she would soon call home.
“This city is so amazing,” Sasha said to her mother as they walked through one of the many parks admiring the monuments and statues.
“I’m confident that you will make the most of this opportunity and will have a marvelous time in such a wondrous city,” Marie said while they walked back to the hotel.
During her final month in New Orleans, Sasha worked with her father and spent her free time strolling along the streets of the city she loved. One afternoon, Theo found his daughter sitting atop the levee, staring out across the Big Muddy. He sat beside his daughter and in silence they watched the great river flowing by for a while. 
Sensing her trepidation, Theo said, “I understand your anxiety, but I know once you arrive in New York, you will blossom.”
“I know you’re right, Father,” Sasha said. “But I will miss home so much.”
Theo chuckled. “Nawlins is in your blood and will always be your home, my child, and no big, exciting city will ever change that.”
Sasha threw her arms around her father and he held her, so proud of the young woman she was becoming.
“I love you, Father,” Sasha whispered.
“I love you, Sasha,” Theo replied.
They stood together and walked back toward Theo’s office. “There is something I want to show you,” Theo said as he locked the door and led Sasha down the sidewalk.
They walked several blocks until they reached one of the oldest of New Orleans’ cemeteries. He led her to a raised single crypt with Thibodaux carved into the stone. Looking closer, Sasha could see a smaller name and date.
 Sasha Thibodaux
 1830 – 1880
“My mother and your grandmother,” Theo said to a wide-eyed Sasha. “You look so much like her that I find it eerie, Sasha,” her father said. “I never knew my father, who died at sea before I was born. Your grandmother raised me alone, in an era when that was extremely difficult.” Theo paused for a moment, thoughts of his mother surfacing again after many years. “I can remember her coming home late at night, her hands raw and blistered from the long days of labor necessary for her to raise me.”
Sasha could see the tears in his eyes as he continued.
“A stronger woman was never born. She would work long hours and then after a brief sleep, she would wake to check my schoolwork before sending me off to the private school she was struggling to afford.” Theo’s fingers touched the weatherworn granite. “She died when I was fifteen, but through her sacrifice she gave me the knowledge to make my way in the world. I went to work at the docks and saved every penny I could until I had enough to start a company of my own.” Theo looked at Sasha. “You have the inner strength of my mother, and I know you will go to New York and make us proud.”
Sasha, who had remained silent, swallowed hard and pushed back her tears. “I will not disappoint you or Grandmother,” she promised.
“I know,” Theo said, then bent down and kissed the stone above his mother’s name.
They walked home in silence, both relishing the time they had spent together.
In two more days, Sasha would leave for New York. She accompanied Theo to the train station to make her arrangements and helped her mother and Caroline pack her trunks for travel.
“Are you sure you don’t want us to travel to New York with you to see you settled in?” Theo asked that evening.
“Thank you for offering, Father, but it is time I go out on my own,” Sasha said, sounding so grown up to her father.
Theo watched Sasha prepare for her trip. He smiled at his daughter, so pleased at how mature she was for her age, and how blessed they were with a very special child.
The day before her departure, Sasha woke early and went into the garden to pick some flowers. She walked out of the garden gate and allowed her feet to lead her back to the cemetery. She located her grandmother’s crypt and laid her offering of flowers on it. Her fingers traced the carved letters of her namesake, and she felt the strength of the woman laid to rest here. “I will make you proud, Grandmother,” she said. She sat on a small bench next to the crypt and pondered why her father had waited so long to bring her here.
A shadow fell across the bench and Sasha looked up to see Theo standing next to her. She did not hear his approach and was startled to see him there.
“I wanted you to know the strength from which you were made, and I felt you were ready,” Theo said in response to her silent question. He sat beside Sasha. “I wish she had lived long enough to have met you,” he said.
“I would have loved that,” Sasha said with a smile.
Theo and Sasha sat in the cemetery for hours as he told her stories from his childhood, and made the grandmother she had never met come to life for her. When he finished, Theo kissed the stone. He smiled as Sasha bent down to kiss the stone and whispered, “Goodbye, Grandmother.”
Sasha spent the rest of the day at the office with her father. “Who will keep you organized when I am gone?” she asked, teasing her father.
“Well, I will expect you to work double time when you are home on holidays,” Theo answered.
Sasha smiled at him and then her expression changed. “What if I don’t like school, Father?” she asked.
“I doubt that will happen, but you can always come home and work here with me,” he answered.
Sasha took comfort in her father’s words as she sat across the desk from him.
Theo quietly opened the desk drawer, pulled out a small gift box, and slid it across the desk. Sasha took the box in her hands and opened it, gasping in shock when she opened the lid. Inside was a small golden locket and when she opened it, she found a picture of her parents on the right side and on the left a picture of a woman who had to be her grandmother. “Is this Grandmother?” she asked.
“It is the only photograph of her that was ever taken,” Theo answered. “I have carried it with me until now, and today I pass it on to you. If you find yourself homesick or in need of comfort, you can look at us to remind you of your strength.”
“Thank you, for such a beautiful gift, Father,” Sasha said.
“You are very welcome, and I want you to know how proud we are of you,” he said with a warm smile.
Sasha looked at the beautiful piece for several minutes and then slipped the chain over her head. The locket rested comfortably on her chest and felt warm against her skin.
That night she dreamed of the adventures ahead and woke the next morning to a hearty breakfast. Her parents and Caroline accompanied her to the train station. The tears fell freely, as their daughter began the first of many journeys to come in her life.
“Take good care, my child,” Theo said as he kissed Sasha’s cheek.
“I will, I promise, Father,” Sasha replied.
“Write as often as you can and let us know how school is going,” Marie said.
“I promise I will, Mother,” Sasha, said, swallowing hard against the threatening tears.
Caroline kissed Sasha and handed her a small package. “Open this later,” she said. “I still can’t believe how fast you have grown up,” she said with a sigh as she shook her head.
Sasha laughed softly. “I will see you all soon,” she said and climbed onto the train.
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