The day before Thanksgiving was a busy one at the ranch. Nick and Heath were still busily moving the various herds to the closer in grazing pastures for the upcoming winter season.
Myles, Silas and Ida assisted by Victoria and Audra were busily putting the final details of the Thanksgiving dinner in place. It was especially important to Victoria for it to be the best Thanksgiving ever celebrated in the Barkley household. The Barkleys had always had much to be thankful for, but this year they had been reunited with Eugene, which in the mind of Victoria and the rest of the Barkley family was the greatest blessing they had ever known.
Jarrod and Gene both stayed at the ranch rather than going into Stockton for the day. Jarrod busied himself working on ranch business and making sure the ranch accounts were in order.
After breakfast Emily had excused herself to her room, and by mid-morning had not returned downstairs. Gene had hoped to spend the morning with Emily, and was concerned when she had not returned downstairs after breakfast.
Gene knocked on the door of the guest room where Emily was staying. "Emily, may I come in?"
Emily hesitated but responded, "Yes, you may come in."
Gene opened the door and stepped into the spacious guest room. He pushed the door closed leaving it slightly ajar.
"Emily, how are you?" Gene asked as he took a seat on the tufted footstool located in front of the matching wingback chair that Emily sat in.
"Are you getting settled in San Francisco? Do you have everything you need?"
"I am doing fine; it has been good making a fresh start. Please don't worry about me anymore. I can take care of myself and I have Ida there to help me, as well as Jarrod nearby."
"What about you Gene? How is your new medical practice going? I am very happy to see you settled in with your family again. It is what I always wanted for you.”
Taking Emily's hand in his Gene said, "Emily thank you for all the love and encouragement you give me. You were right I have found nothing but love and acceptance from my family and my longtime friends. My work is rewarding. You know better than anyone that caring for others is my passion."
“I do, Gene and how is your friend, Melody?" Emily shyly asked.
Gene reached out and stroked her cheek, "Emily, Melody Shelton is my friend from childhood. Yes, there was a time before the fire at Berkeley that I had planned to propose to her. I am a different man now, Emily, and it is because of you and your love that I am who I am today. You, Emily Hayes, are the keeper of my heart."
Gene stood leaning down and placing a kiss on her cheek, "I will see you downstairs for lunch. I would like to show you the ranch, if you would go for a ride with me this afternoon?" Then releasing her hand he walked toward the guest room door.
Emily called out, "I would enjoy seeing the ranch. I would love to go riding with you this afternoon.”
Gene smiled back at her and stepping into the hallway closed the door behind him. As Gene leaned against the oak bedroom door thinking of Emily he wept.
Emily stood and walked to stand by the window and as she thought of Gene tears came to her eyes as well.
A half an hour later Silas knocked on the door to Gene's room, "Lunch is ready Mr. Gene."
"Thank you Silas. I will be right down."
As Gene passed the guest room he knocked on the door, "Emily, its Gene."
When Emily opened the door he smiled at her warmly, greeting her with a kiss on the cheek and said, offering his arm, "Would you join me for lunch Miss Hayes."
Emily gave him a warm smile and taking his arm replied, "It would be an honor Dr. Barkley."
Gene and Emily walked arm and arm down the grand staircase and into the dining room. Gene pulled out the chair and held it while Emily took her seat.
Victoria, Jarrod, Audra, Nick and Heath each came into the dining room from different directions taking their places at the table as Myles and Silas brought out the lunch of ham sandwiches and apple pie. The conversation was the usual banter for mealtime at the Barkley dining table. Nick and Heath, along with Jarrod were discussing not only what still needed to be done on the ranch before the winter, but other ranch business, while Audra shared with her mother a story of the happenings at the orphanage.
Gene and Emily sat quietly enjoying the lunch and the conversation. As coffee was being served, Gene looked at Emily and giving her a nod of his head indicated they should head out to the barn. He then placed his napkin on the table and stood, "If you will excuse Emily and I, we are going for a ride this afternoon so I can show her the ranch."
Gene took Emily's hand and the two left arm and arm to go to the barn to saddle horses for their ride.
"Those two have been awfully quite," said Nick.
"I hope everything is ok between them. The move from Philadelphia has to be quite a change for them," said Victoria
"Poor Emily, bless her, must still be dealing with the trauma of the kidnapping," said Audra.
Heath stood saying, “I need to get back out to the herd.” Looking at Nick he added “Coming Big Brother,” then excused himself to head back out to the stables. As he got to the verandah, he watched as Gene and Emily rode away together. He hoped that they would find the words that were hiding in their hearts, the ones that needed to be said to one another and they would find the way to say them to each other.
Gene took Emily to the Oak Grove and told her about the lost loved ones who rested there. Then they rode out to River Grove and Gene shared the stories of many happy family times there.
Finally they rode out to the bluff where Heath often rode to watch the sunrise and to be alone with his thoughts. About two hundred feet away from where they stopped, stood the old oak tree with the crumbling tree house that had once belonged to the Barkley children.
Nearby Heath had started work on the house that would soon be the home he would share with Charlotte.
Gene climbed down from Dexter and once down he went to help Emily dismount from Slippers. Grabbing the blanket and canteen from his saddle he took her hand and led her to the old oak tree. As they sat under the shade of the tree, he handed her the canteen. Emily took it and after taking a sip of water, handed it back.
"It is very beautiful here Gene, so peaceful. It will make a nice home for Heath and Charlotte.”
Gene raised his arm and pointed to the land just to the south of the oak tree "One day I will have a home for my wife and I over there."
"I guess Melody will like being near her sister.”
"It will never be Melody's home, Emily. It is important to me to be near my brother Heath. You know how important Heath is to me.”
Then placing his hand on her cheek he kissed her gently on the lips.
"Emily I need you so much. I miss you and our life together. It is you I hope to build a home and a life here with. You asked me earlier to not worry about you anymore; I will always be concerned about your well being because I will never be able to forget how much I love you.”
Pulling Emily in to a close embrace and kissing her cheek he whispered in her ear “There is something else I can’t forget…that you my love are ticklish,’” as he playfully tickled her waist.
Emily giggled and tried to escape Gene’s hold on her saying “Stop it Gene!”
“Stop what,” Gene asked as he kissed her neck. He continued to feather kisses down her neck as he reached up and gently stroked her hair taking the pins out of it thus allowing the long blond hair to cascade down her shoulders and back. “Maybe you like this better,” he suggested as he kissed her ear lobe.
With their breath quickening and their hearts pounding, Gene gently laid her back on the blanket. Gazing into one another’s eyes, their lips met and they shared many deep passionate kisses. As Gene caressed Emily’s shoulders and moved his hands along her body, Emily felt her resolve melting, she loved Gene as she had loved no other, and returned the loving caress as she gently ran her hands along his back and eagerly returned his kisses.
“Oh Emily I love you so much. I need and want you.”
After another long passionate kiss, Emily pulled away from Gene.
“Gene we need to stop. We can’t do this.”
Realizing that she was right, Gene pulled Emily further into his arms and gave her one last long deep kiss. He then gently released his strong hold on her and laid her back on the blanket. Emily snuggled closer to him lightly embracing him. The lovers once again held one another close, longing for more, each hoping that the proper time would come soon.
As they lay under the shade of the old oak tree content in one another’s embrace, each closed their eyes while daydreams of a life spent together filled their hearts.
Twenty minutes later, Gene brushed back a wisp of blonde hair and woke Emily with a gentle kiss on her forehead. Gene then stood gathering the blanket and canteen and took Emily by the hand and walked towards the waiting horses. Helping her onto Slippers and then climbing on to Dexter's saddle they rode back towards the ranch house.
Thanksgiving morning found everyone in the Barkley house preparing for the guests who would be arriving at 1pm. The Barkleys had invited to this special Thanksgiving, not only Emily, but Charlotte and Melody Shelton, Rachel Parker, Howard and Iva Mearer, Fred Madden and his wife Ruth.
As the appointed time arrived, the family assembled in the foyer and greeted their guests.
Melody had just greeted Gene when Emily descended the stairs. He was so captivated by her beauty that he failed to return Melody’s greeting.
Melody noticed that Gene had not responded to her greeting and was just about to say something when she looked at him and his face. She looked deeply into those blue eyes of his and saw a look she had never seen when he looked at her, it was a look of pure devotion and love and it was directed at Emily.
Heath having seen his little brother’s look of pure rapture as he looked at Emily quickly said, "Hello Melody. Happy Thanksgiving!" Turning to Charlotte, Heath kissed her lovingly on the lips, “Happy Thanksgiving, my love.” He then took Charlotte by the waist and escorted her into the parlor.
Melody, having seen Gene escorting Emily into the parlor, slowly walked into the room deep in thought. “I have never seen Gene look that way at me”
She was brought out of her contemplation, when she felt a hand on her arm. Looking up she noticed Nick was at her side saying, “Here Melody, give me your arm. I can’t let a lady go unescorted.” Smiling at Nick, she gave her arm to him and let him lead her into the room.
As the pre-dinner conversation and drinks progressed, Melody attention was on Gene and Emily. She observed how they seemed to be so at ease with each other and how each other’s eyes would light up when the other spoke or told a joke. For the second time within a short period, Melody thought to herself, “They are so much in love.” Her thoughts were once again interrupted when Silas walked into the room saying,
“Mrs. Barkley dinner is served.”
The family and their guests assembled around the dining room table and Victoria asked Jarrod to lead the blessing.
There was much talk of Heath and Charlotte’s upcoming wedding; as well as the family's joy over having been reunited with Gene.
Jarrod told of the upcoming trip he would be making to Sacramento to petition the legislators to improve the property inheritance rights for widowed mothers. This led Melody to express her strong viewpoints on women’s rights and her feelings that women should be of an independent spirit.
Most of the conversation was lost on Gene as he was captivated by the lovely Emily Hayes and Emily too could only think of the handsome Dr. Gene Barkley.
Twilight found different parts of the Barkley grounds covered by the various Barkley brothers and their lovely dates. Heath and Charlotte had taken a walk down by the far corral, while Gene and Emily were sitting on the swing on the veranda looking at the harvest moon. Jarrod and Rachel had secluded themselves in the gazebo in the rose garden. Melody, Audra and Nick were in the house enjoying a game of cards.
As the evening drew to a close, the Barkleys bid their guest farewell and retired for the night, each noting that it was truly a day of Thanksgiving.
The next afternoon Jarrod, Emily and Ida prepared to return to San Francisco. Gene and Heath drove them to the train depot in Stockton mid-morning so Jarrod could make the arrangements to have the Barkley car coupled to the noon train.
While Heath ran some errands for supplies needed at the ranch, Jarrod checked in at his Stockton office to handle a few matters before leaving for San Francisco. Ida stayed on board the rail car making certain all of Emily's things were securely on board.
Gene and Emily walked arm in arm along the main street of Stockton looking in the various shop windows. Several residents of Stockton offered cordial greetings of "Good Morning Dr. Barkley" as they passed.
"Looks like you are quickly gaining a reputation here Dr. Barkley”.
"Well I did grow up here, Emily, and well if your name is Barkley everyone knows your name.”
As the noon hour approached the couple returned to the depot where Jarrod and Heath were waiting for them.
Heath and Gene offered their goodbyes to Jarrod, who would be in San Francisco for the next three weeks, until he returned to celebrate Christmas with the family.
Rachel Parker had come to the depot to tell Jarrod goodbye. "See you soon my dear."
“There will not be many more goodbyes.” Jarrod thought as he gave her a passionate good-bye kiss. Jarrod had already decided that he would be proposing to the lovely Miss Parker while he was home in Stockton for Christmas.
Gene held Emily in a tight embrace as he gently kissed her lips. He told her, "I love you Emily Hayes,” and then held her close not wanting to let her go.
As they drew away Emily said, "I love you Gene. I always will."
As the train whistle blew Jarrod and Emily climbed the steps to the family rail car and waved one last time to those they loved.
After telling Rachel goodbye, Gene and Heath climbed aboard the carriage to return to the ranch. Heath took note of Gene's stoic countenance after having bid good bye to Emily and asked,
"Gene, do you want to talk about it? I know you well enough to know that you are trying to bury your broken heart."
Gene looked towards Heath and offered the half smile that so resembled Heath's saying, "I am fine really I am Heath. Emily's visit has given me many things to consider."
"I'm here for you if you need me Little Brother," offered Heath as the brothers rode towards the ranch.