They would often wake up before dawn together and step outside to catch the sunrise, but that had been happening less frequently since they now had a full house. But when Maria awakened early, she found that Heath had already left their bed and with no sounds coming from any of the children’s rooms, she buttoned up her robe and threw a shawl over her shoulders to go find her husband. Stepping outside, she felt the cold in the air and pulled her shawl tightly around her. The glow of his cigarette is what caught her eye first, before she made out his form, sitting atop the corral fence with his back to her. Heath heard her approaching and quickly ditched his cigarette, in the hopes that she hadn’t seen it.
“Don’t bother,” she said. “Yes I know you still sneak a smoke occasionally.”
“Sorry,” Heath replied. He turned himself around on the fence and got down. “Guess my nerves are getting ta me a bit.”
“Mine too Heath.” Maria slid her arms around his waist and laid her head against his chest. “I didn’t sleep much either.”
“It’s gonna be okay sweetheart. Everythin’ is gonna be fine.” Heath assured his wife, but the truth was that he couldn’t shake the bad feeling he had in his gut. A sense that something was about to go terribly wrong. He just hoped it was a case of the nervous jitters giving him that sensation and not anything else. Maria had told him, on more than one occasion, that he had some kind of a sixth sense, she would jokingly refer to it as Heath intuition. Right now, as he stood there in the dark and holding her in his arms, he prayed she was wrong about that.
Jarrod had driven the buggy into town early. Catherine was anxious and excited to get back to the classroom, though she wouldn’t have minded another week at Indian Springs. She just hoped she could stay awake throughout the course of the day, it had been a late night for the two newlyweds. He dropped her off at the schoolhouse, presenting her with an apple for the teacher, just as he had done on her very first day of teaching. But this time, a stolen kiss came with the juicy red apple. As he drove the buggy on, he slowed near the general store and post office, thinking on the mail that might be waiting but he drove on to his office instead.
His office felt stuffy to him and he opened the windows to let in the cool air as he took off his hat and then proceeded to light a small fire in the fireplace. Only a few smaller cases had remained on his desk for while he was away on his honeymoon, a land grant appeal, a property dispute and a few other minor details. He sat at his desk mindlessly looking them over but taking little interest in them. He knew he should head over to the post office, Catherine had even reminded him of that at breakfast earlier, but a part of him just dreaded the thought of what he could find in the mail. But he hadn’t heard from this Aunt in Hartford yet, it was quite possible that she had no interest in the children or perhaps she might have passed on. And then there was the matter of Mary’s divorce, surely by now the final decree would have arrived and Mary would be a free woman to wed Nick and begin their life together. Mary and Nick deserved to know when she was free as soon as possible and Jarrod knew that. So close to noontime, Jarrod left his office and walked over to the post office. Crossing his fingers in his pockets that there would only be good news to read about.
Heath stayed close to home, after he had taken Robbie and Suzie to school, he returned to the house and worked mostly outside. Bathing down the horses, cleaning stalls and chopping wood for the fireplace, anything to keep busy and keep his mind off of things. He did take time to enjoy lunch with his wife and Gabriela, that Edwina had prepared. Edwina could sense the tension in the house and not knowing what was going on, she had kept herself out of the way and stayed working in the kitchen with baking. After an unusually big lunch, Heath and Maria played with Gabriela on the floor and both were smiling at their little girl’s antics and expressiveness. She was already proving to be quite the talker, although most of the conversations she held were ones that her parents couldn’t understand except for the occasional Mama and Papa. Heath was beginning to feel that Nick’s calling his baby girl Gabby really suited her.
Mary and Agnes were staying in town at her fugitive husband’s home. Hopefully, he would soon be her ex-husband and no longer bound to him. Nick had made his feelings for her known to him and she was elated, after all these years, he loved her too. She had marveled at how he had been so careful not to pursue any physical connection with her until her divorce had been finalized. She often thought it was his previous experiences with married women that helped keep him at bay. Yet, they would still hold hands and he would sometimes wrap his arms around her but he was behaving like the perfect gentleman. Nick was with her that morning, helping her paint the main living area, it had been a dreary beige color and now they were painting it bright white so the room looked so much lighter and airier than before. She didn’t know how much longer she would be staying in that place, but she just couldn’t stand the colors any longer. She was sporting a large blotch of white paint on her nose, courtesy of Nick, when Jarrod knocked on her door.
Nick appeared behind her with a substantially larger streak of white paint across his forehead. “Jarrod!” Nick grinned widely.
“Jarrod come in please.” Mary opened the door for him. “Excuse us please, we’ve been painting the parlor.”
“Oh is that what you’ve been doing?” Jarrod tried to appear good-humored but he was deeply troubled by another matter. “Well Mary, I’ll cut right to the chase, you are a free woman.” He handed her the final divorce decree. “All signed and finalized, you are no longer married to that wretched VanderBeegs.”
Mary threw her arms around Jarrod’s neck and kissed his cheek. “Oh thank you. I can’t thank you enough.” She turned to her towering cowboy looking down at her, his face filled with joy and the love he carried for her. “Nick did you hear him?”
“I did.” Nick replied. “Thank you Jarrod.” He said without taking his eyes off of Mary.
Jarrod took Nick’s cue and quietly departed from the house, glad to see one joyous celebration. He turned just briefly to see Nick taking her in his arms.
Nick’s strong long arms enveloped Mary and she took in a breath just as his lips met hers in a kiss that had been many years overdue and Nick was making up for lost time. Later Mary would feel as though that one kiss had lasted well into the evening hours.
Jarrod’s happiness for the two of them, disappeared along with his smile, as soon as he closed Mary’s front door and stepped back outside. Jarrod walked down the sidewalk, not paying attention to any of the goings on around town. He pulled a letter from his pocket and reread the very formal letter with the perfect penmanship. School would be getting out soon, so he knew that Heath and perhaps Maria, would be arriving in town soon to pick up Robbie and Suzie. He walked slowly towards the schoolhouse, once again reading the letter and somehow hoping that the words would change. He bumped into more than one person on the sidewalk, not looking up from the letter.
Jarrod looked up and realized he was standing in front of the schoolhouse, though he hardly remembered walking there. His eyes closed and he leaned up against the schoolhouse as he tried to find words, good words, loving words, sorrowful words, but the eloquent attorney was finding none of those words only pure pain and heartache for his brother and sister-in-law. But mostly for those two young children that were flourishing in their loving care.
Hearing his wife ring the school bell from inside, the front door soon flew open with a flurry of children scurrying out to the play area and to waiting parents. Then standing right in front of him was Heath and Maria, coming to pick up Robbie and Suzie from school.
“Jarrod.” Heath didn’t smile or even grin. “Whatcha doin’ here?”
Maria grasped Heath’s hand tightly. “You have news, don’t you.”
“I do. Perhaps you could ask Catherine to keep an eye on the children for a little while longer.”
Catherine appeared in the doorway of the schoolhouse, “I’m right here Jarrod, of course I will. But Jarrod what’s going on?”
“I’ll talk to you later honey. Right now, Heath and Maria, I think you should come to my office.”
“Alright Jarrod.” Heath replied, still grasping Maria’s hand, they followed Jarrod back to his office.
Maria took a seat in a chair in front of Jarrod’s large desk but Heath remained standing, holding his hat in his hands.
“I have been searching for what to say.” Jarrod started glumly. “But the words are hard to find.”
“I’m figurin’ then it’s bad news. Am I right?”
“Yes, you’re right Heath. I’m afraid that I heard from the aunt, Regina Travis.”
“What did she say Jarrod?” Maria asked anxiously as Heath put his hand on her shoulder.
Jarrod pulled the letter from his jacket pocket. “Perhaps it’s best if you read the letter yourself.”
Heath slowly took the letter from Jarrod’s hands and read it. He and Maria had prayed so fervently that this wouldn’t happen but it appeared now that their prayers were not answered.
“Heath, please!” His wife pleaded, “what does it say?”
He knelt down in front of her, trying to keep his own emotions at bay and remain strong for her. “Their aunt, seems she wants the children to be with her as their only remaining relative, it’s her right. She’s on her way to come get them.”
“Oh no Heath, that can’t be! Jarrod you can stop this, can’t you?”
“Wait a minute….” Heath looked at the letter again and the date. “Jarrod is this right? This letter was sent eight days ago?”
“I believe so Heath.”
“Then she’ll be here tomorrow? She’s coming in on the noon train?” It wasn’t enough time, not enough time to prepare, not enough time to talk to Robbie and Suzie. “It’s not enough time Jarrod?!”
“Tomorrow?! Oh not tomorrow, it’s too soon. Please this can’t be happening.” Maria couldn’t hold back her tears anymore and Heath pulled her into his arms, letting her cry softly on his shoulder.
“Jarrod, there’s gotta be sumethin’ we can do?! Please.” Heath pleaded with his brother.
“I wish to
God there was, but all I can do is try to convince her that they belong with
"And that's it?! There's gotta be sumethin'. Don't let this woman take Robbie and Suzie away! You know that this is the best place for them, you know that it is!" Heath rarely lost his temper, but this was one time where he felt dangerously close to losing it.
Heath, my hands are tied, you know that. And you know that I care about the children and that I agree with you. But she's their blood relative, plain and simple. I’ll try and convince her the children are better off with the two of you Heath, I swear I will.”