Like Father ...
Assumptions for this story, include:
1) Heath arrived on the Barkley Ranch a little more than three years ago; in fact, he arrived just before the Spring Cattle Drives were to begin,
2) Jarrod (30 yrs), Nick (26 yrs), Heath (23 yrs) and Audra (21 yrs) live with Victoria,
3) As is the case in all of my stories, Eugene does not exist, and
4) This story is dedicated to Norma Jean Taylor (HS English).
XXXXX Chapter Nine XXXXX
Nick laid watching Hester
sleep as the night passed gently over the ranch outside their bedroom window.
She was beautiful lying there with the moonlight glistening across her skin. He
couldn’t get over how wrong he had been about their conversation regarding
David. It wasn’t easy, but it had gone much better than anything Nick imagined
the entire ride home from Roseville Junction.
Hester was his wife, his lover and someone Nick had allowed closer to his soul than nearly any other person on God's green earth. She was also the woman who had broken his heart, nearly ruined his relationship with Heath and lead him to face things about himself that he hadn't found terribly easy to admit. He didn't believe in the life of any human being predestined to fail or succeed, but Nick sensed Hester was always meant to be a part of his world. Perhaps, when they first met, it was too soon ... Neither of them had been ready to make their relationship about the other person in it and not themselves.
He wasn't certain, but Nick knew he had been Blessed to have Hester back in his life and realized he should have been more willing to trust what her reaction would have been to David's existence and Nick's life before they married. When they did talk, Hester had listened without comment while he explained everything that had happened, was going to happen and what the timetable might be. Finally, Nick had fallen silent and collapsed in a chair opposite his wife feeling more drained than he could ever remember in his life.
For a long while, Hester said nothing while sipping her drink and making certain that their eyes did not meet. Finally, when she was ready, Hester found his eyes and spoke.
“You have no doubt David is your son?”
“Jarrod doesn’t feel there will be any issues with your assuming full custody from the child’s mother?”
“No, he doesn’t.”
“It won’t be easy to assume care for a one and half year-old boy. Your son, or any young child that fell into your custody ... Being a parent is an enormous responsibility.”
“Are you ready, Nick ... Ready for David to be your responsibility?”
“Ready or not ... The child is my flesh and blood, he is a Barkley and I suppose that means I better grow up fast and learn to be his father.”
Hester nodded before falling silent. Nick waited while trying to keep control of his breathing. He was terribly nervous, but made himself concentrate on the fact his wife was willing to discuss the situation calmly with him. In truth, Hester had every reason to simply walk out ... This definitely wasn’t a crisis either of them were expecting to face less than six months since they rekindled their relationship.
“You obviously cared for this woman, Kate, at one time.”
“This was no one-time affair?”
“No, Hester. I’ve occasionally spent time with Kate since we met in San Francisco during the War.”
“Do you still care for her, Nick?”
“Only as the mother of our child ... I’m in love with you, Hester.”
She nodded, then quickly looked away while not hiding the tears escaping her eyes. After taking another break to gather her thoughts, Hester calmed herself with some deep breathing before speaking, again.
She found his eyes and he felt his heart nearly stand still.
“Do you ... Are we ... Nick, is our marriage strong enough ... Will we be able to do right by David when our relationship is so terribly new?”
Nick put his glass on a side table and then crossed the space between them. He knelt before his wife, moved her glass to the side, and folded her hands inside his own.
“It won’t be easy, Hester, and Lord only knows how our friends, extended family and community will treat us if we decide to walk this path together. But, I can’t imagine trying to create a family for David without you by my side.”
He leaned in and gave her trembling hands a sincere kiss.
“Hester, the truth is I need you. I love you and I need you by my side. With you in my corner, I honestly believe we can and will be fine. Oh, there will be rocky times but, in the end, with our love to guide us, I believe we will be fine.”
She leaned forward and offered her husband a brief kiss, then sat back to reflect on all he had shared.
“Is there still time to amend the various paperwork Jarrod is preparing?”
“I’m sure there is Hester. Why?”
She smiled at the perplexed look on his face; at times, Nick could look exactly as Hester imagined he appeared when he was ten-years-old.
“Then, if it is alright with Kate, I would like to adopt David. I want us to start off as a real, legal and officially recognized family. We can make a place for those papers right next to our Marriage License in the Barkley family safe.”
“Hester!” Nick thought his heart might pound out of his chest as he clung to her hands, whispering, “Are you certain?”
“Of course not, Nick.” She leaned forward and gave him another kiss, adding, “But, like you, there is no one else I’d rather build a family with and there is no denying the depth of my love for you.
“In fact, seeing your face when you told me about holding David for the first time, I think I fell even further in love with you. Feeling as I do, I can’t imagine not being with you today, tomorrow and forever.”
Nick stood while pulling his wife into his arms. They exchanged kisses while holding on to one another as if the rest of the world had disappeared.
At first, Hester laughed as Nick swung her into his arms. But, noting the way in which her husband clung to her, she lounged into his embrace as they headed out of the Den. They both ignored Audra when she jumped up from the Living Room chair where she had been waiting for them to finish talking.
Hester buried her head in Nick’s shoulder as he climbed the stairs to their room. Then, with the door securely shut, they proceeded to use their bodies to express the wash of emotions which had swept over them both. The ‘ifs’ of their moving forward in life together were forever erased that night as the bond between them grew even stronger.
“It seems to me the two of you should go in first. I’ll wait out here with Audra, Heath and Jarrod.”
“Thank you, Mother.”
Hester gently touched Victoria’s shoulder as she stood to exit the carriage. Their family had spent many long hours talking, alone and in groups, since checking in to their large suite of rooms in one of Sacramento’s hotels. Over the course of the past week, they had waited together while Jarrod finished the necessary paperwork for Nick to assume custody of his son.
There would be more paperwork for him to do but, for now, they were at a good place in the process for the entire family to meet David. They hoped the child would have a chance to get used to them while they waited for the final paperwork to be processed through the Placer County Courts.
In addition, Jarrod and their entire family had agreed to legally and financially assist Kate with her new ‘resort’ venture in Tahoe City. Normally, it would seem strange for the Barkley family to be on such a ‘friendly’ basis with the mother of Nick’s illegitimate son. But, there was nothing normal about the entire situation, and their family had a history of nonconformist decisions. So, after they took a vote, it was decided to move forward as their family thought best, despite what the rest of the world might think of their decisions.
In truth, not many people in Stockton, or the entire world, thought anything the Barkley family decided was how they would react in the same situations. Of course, those same people had never walked in their shoes, so the Barkleys drew closer together and moved on.
Once inside the house, and despite Nick’s raves about his son’s looks, Hester was still stunned by just how much the young boy resembled his father. Not only did David look like Nick, but he wasn’t a shy child and his voice could be heard resonating throughout the entire first floor. Without hesitation, she sat down on the floor and began to enjoy a game of blocks with her step-son. Seeing him, touching him and fully comprehending that the delightful boy before her would soon be her son, too, Hester made no effort to hide the joy bounding across her heart, mind, body and soul.
“Good afternoon, Nick.”
Kate had been finishing some packing in another room while Emma watched David. She approached swiftly and barely hesitated when seeing Hester on the floor with her son.
“You must be, Hester?”
Hester quickly stood and bypassed the hand Kate offered to fold the nervous woman into an embrace.
“I’m proud to know you, Kate. Thank you for allowing us into your home.”
Suddenly, something happened that Kate would have never dreamt possible. She not only accepted Nick’s wife’s embrace, but she hung on.
Molly had seen the carriage pull up from the second floor where she had been packing boxes. She rushed down the backstairs and ran around from the back of the house to greet Heath and his family. Approaching the carriage, she noted Heath sitting inside with two women. In addition, Molly was happy to see one of the Barkley brothers, the man she had given her letter to, was dismounted and standing beside the carriage.
The group was cordially speaking with Georgia and Renee, who were waiting under one of the nearby shade trees for their hired carriage to arrive. They were the last of Kate’s employees to leave the property for employment elsewhere. The morning after David’s father’s visit, Kate announced the house was permanently closed. After over seven years of booming business, her decision came as quite a shock to the workers, along with the dozens of disappointed customers who continued to show up in Kate’s Foyer every night.
Kate was more than fair to her employees and offered everyone an opportunity to leave ‘the business’ and move with her to the Tahoe City property. But, since that property was going to be a legitimate hotel-resort type business, the jobs available would be for maids, cooks and so forth. Thus, only the current Kitchen staff, the children’s caregiver Emma, Molly, Big George and three of the Security Guards had elected to stay in Kate’s employ.
“Good afternoon, everyone.”
The entire group turned and watched as Molly did her best to calmly approach the Barkley’s carriage. Jarrod barely recognized her; she appeared years younger without the ‘professional’ makeup and attire he’d last seen her wearing. In truth, Molly was quite stunning with her long light brown hair flowing freely across her shoulders, her eyes wet as she fought off her emotions and an enormous smile gracing her face. In addition, the cornflower colored dress she was wearing, right off the local General Store’s bargain rack, made her incredibly blue eyes even bluer.
Without hesitation, Heath stood and quickly exited the carriage under his own power which made Victoria smile. There was nothing like the sight of a beautiful woman to make a man recovering from serious injuries forget his aches and pains.
He pulled her into his arms but, remembering everyone was watching them, placed a simple kiss on her cheek.
“Heath ... Your eyes.”
While the group welcomed her to their midst, Molly couldn’t take her eyes off Heath. He seemed much better than when she’d seen him last, but the man was obviously still recovering from his injuries. Once she was welcomed by the gathered group, Heath slid her hand in his while introducing her to his family.
“Molly, this is my sister, Audra, and my mother, Victoria.”
“Nice to meet you, Ladies.”
“Oh, Molly, I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.”
“And, this is my oldest brother, Jarrod.”
Jarrod had his back to Georgia and Renee, so he felt comfortable offering Molly a wink while shaking her hand.
“Nice to meet you, Jarrod.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Molly.”
At that moment, the hired carriage started into the driveway. Molly walked over and exchanged another ‘good bye’ with the two women about to leave for the Train Station in Roseville Junction. While Jarrod assisted the Driver with their belongings, Molly and Heath excused themselves. Victoria couldn’t help but notice how they naturally fit together as the young couple walked away, hand in hand, to find a quiet place to talk.
When they reached the back of the house, outside of anyone’s view, they melted into a series of passion, joy and relief filled kisses. A few minutes later, Heath didn’t argue when Molly suggested the only place she knew they could talk privately. Still sore from his injuries, he followed her lead at the best pace he could manage. Soon, they entered Molly’s suite of rooms and he waited while she securely locked the door. Finally alone, they dissolved into each other’s arms, once more.
“Com’on,” she pulled him toward the easy chair by window, “you rest here.”
“Thank you, Molly.”
Heath eased into the seat and watched while Molly pulled the Ottoman close. She sat down facing him and their hands quickly clung together.
“How are you, Heath?”
“Better, Molly ... Thank you. In fact, the Doctor in Sacramento says I’m weeks ahead of where he thought I’d be. Of course, he didn’t think my traveling here so soon was a good idea, but I just had to see you.”
Molly stood and leaned in for a kiss, then let one of her hands caress the still sore and discolored marks on Heath’s face. Offering her best encouraging smile, she resettled across from him.
“I’m glad you are here. I was afraid we’d leave for Tahoe City and I’d never see you, again.”
“Then you are staying on to work for Kate at her new place?”
“Of course, I am. Like I’ve told you in the past, working for Kate is what I do. She offered me a job, along with a place to live, when I was down and nearly at the end of my rope. No matter what the rest of the world thinks of this house, or the business that was transacted here, this has been my home. And, Heath, this has been the only truly caring home I’ve ever known and I don’t intend to ever forget Kate’s kindness towards me.”
“I’m not certain how that statement makes me feel, Molly. Happy that Kate has been kind to you, and that you’ve found a home here, versus an overwhelming sense of sadness that this has been your only ‘truly caring’ home. Obviously, there is more to your story that I don’t know, but I’d like to listen whenever you feel able to tell me about it.”
She smiled an easy smile and gave Heath a wink. The look on her face let him know Molly thought their conversation was touching too close to things she wasn’t ready to share.
“I’m excited Kate wants me to keep working for her. We haven’t ironed out all of the details, but the plan is for me to return to working around the Kitchen or maybe in the Restaurant.
“You know, Heath, it has been years since I’ve done anything else, but ... Well, I’m glad Kate thinks I might remember how to boil water, let alone fix a meal for ‘regular’ paying customers.”
Molly laughed hard at her attempt to change the subject, but Heath didn’t join her. Instead, he leaned forward and lifted one of her hands to give it a gentle kiss. She quieted and enjoyed the fact neither of them needed to speak as their eyes stayed glued together. After a long moment, Heath eased back into his chair.
“When we’ve been together, we’ve managed to talk quite a bit about our backgrounds, Molly.”
“True ... We’ve managed to not talk ‘quite a bit,’ too.”
He smiled and was shocked to note that Molly was blushing. Heath automatically reached to touch her cheek as she dropped her eyes from his, then he lifted her face so their eyes, again, met.
“I won’t beat around the bush, Molly. My family is here to secure David’s future, and I’m all for that but, selfishly, I’m here to secure my future ... Our future.”
“Yes, our future. I know we’d have a lot to discuss, but I care deeply for you, Molly. If you’ll have me, I’d ...”
She held up her hand while, again, dropping her eyes from his.
“Don’t say anymore, Heath ... Please.”
“But, Molly, why?”
“I can’t marry you. Actually, I made my mind up a long time ago, that I wasn’t going to marry anyone.”
He eased to the front of the chair to be able to put his good arm around Molly. She was terribly distraught and Heath couldn’t understand what was happening.
“It isn’t you, Heath ... It’s me.”
With that, they fell into an embrace. Heath hung on while Molly cried tears so incredibly sad ... They seemed to be rising up from somewhere deep within her very soul.
XXXXX End Chapter Nine XXXXX
Thank you for reading this Chapter. Please forgive typos and/or Barkley errors.