Prue walked from her desk to the large chalkboard that was attached to the wall behind. She picked up a piece of chalk and wrote a word there.
“Now, your challenge for today is to write a story with this word in it. It can be a long story or a short story, whatever you want it to be, and you can be as creative as you like, but it has to have this word.”
One of the new girls put her hand up.
“Yes, Jessie,” said Prue.
“Miss Dawson, can it be a funny story?”
“Yes, it can,” she said. “If you do write a funny story, I look forward to readin’ it. In fact, I look forward to readin’ everyone’s story.” She looked out over her class to see the eager smiles from all of the children sitting there. “Go on, then. Those stories are not going to write themselves.”
There was an eager murmur, followed by the sound of pencils on paper. Prue made her way back to her desk, the short amount of activity tiring her. She lowered herself onto the chair and pushed her legs out in front of her. Her large belly meant that she almost could not see her feet.
She was eight months pregnant, but she did not want to stop teaching just yet, though she would have to soon. She did not want to fail any of the children by leaving them, and her class had almost doubled in size since she had opened the new school on the ranch. Children had come from all over, more and more people sending children to her—-the ones who could not attend the regular schools, though Prue hoped that would change.
With more children and her first child with Joseph on the way, she knew she needed help. Thankfully, Earle’s wife had turned out to be an amazing woman who fit in perfectly on the ranch. She and Prue had become best friends in a short time, and Millicent had taken a keen interest in helping at the school. Prue had also enlisted the help of another woman in town who had taught at the school for a while.
The school on the ranch was eating up a lot of money, but Joseph did not complain once. The ranch was thriving, and it meant that they could continue to run the school for a very long time.
Prue must have fallen asleep, for she jerked awake to see one of the boys shaking her arm. She yawned and stretched her arms—the nap had felt good.
“Miss, we’ve all finished our stories, and I think it’s time for us to go home, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” said Prue. “Please leave your stories on my desk, and I look forward to readin’ them.” Prue could see through the windows that some parents had come to pick up their children, and she hoped that she had not overslept by too much. She waited until all of the children had laid some paper on her desk and left before she got up. She was still a little tired and decided to walk back over to the house instead of sweeping the floors. Joseph always insisted on doing it anyway.
When she got outside, a stack of papers in her hand, there was a parent standing there with a child. Prue looked at the young child, but he was not one of her own. He was not the sort of child who would need to come to a school like hers.
“Can I help you?” asked Prue.
“I hope that you can,” said the woman. “I would like for my child to attend your school.”
“Oh, you must have made some mistake,” said Prue. She pointed in the direction of town. “The school is in town. They will be able to help you there.”
“Is this not the school that accepts everyone?” asked the woman.
“Yes, it is,” said Prue slowly.
“I have heard great things about your school, Mrs. Dawson, and I don’t like that the school in town does not accept every child. My son might not belong in your school in the traditional sense, but I believe that he would do a lot better here. This town has a history of lacking acceptance, and I hope that we can change that.”
“Your son will be most welcome in my school,” said Prue. “You can come by tomorrow mornin’ if that would work,”
“Thank you,” said the woman. “We all know that times have been tough for the Dawsons, but the town is much better off because of them. I would like to make a regular donation to your school, and I won’t take no for an answer.”
“Well… I guess that I can’t say no,” said Prue, laughing as she said the words. “And thank you. I feel as if we are a community now and not just a town.”
“I feel the very same,” said the woman. She took her son by the hand, and they walked off down the road leading from the ranch.
“New child?” asked Joseph, poking his head out of the door.
“We might need to build a bigger school,” said Prue. “I think there are a lot more children coming our way, and not only the ones who have nowhere else to go.”
“Does that make you happy?” asked Joseph.
“It does,” said Prue.
“Then it makes me happy too. Come on, get over here so I can kiss you and my child. And after that, you need to sit on the porch with your feet up while I make you some tea.”
“I could get used to being pregnant,” said Prue. She thought about the morning sickness, the sore legs, the lack of energy, and everything else that came with being pregnant. “Well, maybe only for a little longer.”
Joseph took her in his arms and hugged her tenderly as if he was afraid of breaking her now that she was only a month away from giving birth. “And how is little Carlton?” he asked, placing his hand on Prue’s belly. He was set on naming the child after his father.
“Little Lucinda has been kicking all day,” said Prue. Either way, the child would be named after one of Joseph’s parents. She held her own hand over Joseph’s as the baby kicked again. She did not care what they had, as long as the baby was healthy, though she was hoping for a girl. She wanted to teach her all the things that she had learned since coming to the ranch in the hope that her child would grow up to be a strong, independent woman.
They kept their hands on her stomach as the small child kicked inside.
“Come on,” said Joseph finally. “You need to get off your feet. Go sit on the porch, and I’ll tell you the news.”
“What news?” asked Prue, following him through into the kitchen.
“Go on, you need to be sittin’ down first,” he said.
Prue did as she was told, and walked out onto the porch, the heat caressing her cheek.
“What news!” shouted Prue again through to the kitchen.
“No need to shout,” said Joseph, suddenly standing beside her.
“Just tell me already,” said Prue, laughing. “Is it Clementine? Have Derek and she set a date for the weddin’? Are they going to use the barn like Earle and Millicent did?”
“No, it’s not that, but, yeah, that happened too. Maybe I should have said that I have two pieces of news. But, yes, Clem has set the date. In only a few months, we will have had three marriages in less than two years in the family. I never thought that I would live to see the day.”
“That is wonderful news,” said Prue. “I can’t wait to see her. I’m so happy that she found someone. So happy.”
“Me too,” said Joseph. “Our family is growing here. We have one on the way, and I’m sure Earle and Millicent will have one on the way before long, and Clem is dying to have kids. She might not be a Dawson in name soon, but she’ll always be a Dawson in her heart.”
“Little Lucinda is going to have so many cousins to play with when she is growin’ up, and you do want a big family, don’t you?”
“Of course,” said Joseph. “The bigger, the better. I want to fill this ranch with children, our own, and those that come to your school. I hear the kettle on the stove. I’ll be back in a moment with the tea.”
Prue sat by herself for a few moments, thinking about all of the good fortune that had befallen her after the hardships. Perhaps because of the hardships. Joseph soon rejoined her out on the porch with two cups of tea. He sat down beside her and took her hand. He had taken such good care of her since they had started their new life here, and especially since she had become pregnant.
“What was the news that you were going to tell me before I interrupted you?” asked Prue.
Joseph took a deep breath before he spoke, looking out over the vastness of the ranch. “Mark Cooper was sentenced today. They are planning on doing it next week.”
“Oh, my,” said Prue. “Do you want to be there? Would that help you to get some closure?”
“No,” said Joseph. “I got closure when the truth came out. I don’t need to see it happen. Besides, he’s taken me away from you enough, and he doesn’t get to do that anymore.”
“I’m glad,” said Prue. “I don’t want to go either. I’d rather spend the time with you.” She took a sip of the strong tea.
“Never in my wildest imagination did I expect it all to turn out like this,” said Joseph. “I’m married to the woman I love.” Prue squeezed his hand gently. “Earle’s wife manages to put up with him. Clem will soon be joining us as a married woman. The man who killed my parents is being punished. The townspeople accept us again. And we are all prospering.”
“It is fantastic,” said Prue. After Mark had been arrested and locked up, his assets had been given back to those from who they had been taken. The gold mine was different. Everyone had lost something, so it was decided that the gold mine was to be shared by the town and run by a committee. It meant a lot of development in the town, and a rail line was being built, after all, though not through Dawson land. That would open up even more opportunities.
“I still can’t believe that one man could hold so much power,” said Prue. “Enough to fund a whole town, and he kept it all for himself.”
“And now the money and power are back where they belong,” said Joseph.
“And I am exactly where I belong,” said Prue. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
“I’m glad that you are here by my side,” said Joseph.
“Always and forever,” said Prue. “Do you think that we will always be this happy?”
“I don’t know about that,” said Joseph. “We’ll have our ups and downs like there are in any marriage, but my promise to you is that I will never stop trying to make you happy.”
“And I will always try the same,” said Prue.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Prue looked out over the ranch, into the distance. A horse galloped on the horizon, and it stopped suddenly and looked her way, or perhaps it was just a trick of the light. It could have been Clyde or one of the horses he had reared. The animal raised its head into the air and galloped off. Prue watched it until it disappeared behind some trees. She took up the tea once more and took a sip.
The ranch was a beautiful place but, more than that, it was populated with beautiful people—people who loved her and people who she loved. It was the perfect place to raise children—lots of them. She placed her head on Joseph’s shoulder and closed her eyes, just for a minute or two.
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