Autumn breezed its way in with a welcoming snap to the air. Laura stood on the porch of the ranch and breathed it in, as she looked out over the property. The ranch had changed and evolved so much over the last few years. There was a new roof on the barn and two more fenced corrals for riding and roping training.
In her arms, cooing softly, was her sweet, soft-faced baby boy. She tucked his blanket tightly around him as the breeze drifted past them. He looked up at her with stormy grey eyes. His father’s eyes.
She looked back up to see Abe riding toward the homestead. Behind her, she heard the soft patter of small feet, and then felt a tug on the hem of her skirt. She glanced down to see her daughter, Emma, clinging onto her while looking out excitedly toward Abe.
“Daddy! He’s back!” Emma squealed.
“Yes dear, he hasn’t even been gone that long!” Laura laughed.
Emma looked up impertinently. “Felt like forever.”
Laura smiled and knelt down. “I know, baby girl. But do you want to know something?”
Emma nodded, expectantly.
Laura put her hand on Emma’s tiny shoulder and looked her in the eye.
“Your daddy will always come back. He came for me when no one else could, and he’ll always be around to protect us because he’s a good man.”
Emma smiled a big, bright smile. Laura stood back up as Abe rode up to the porch. Emma ran straight to him and, as soon as his boots hit the ground, he swept her up and lifted her into a big bear hug. He gave her a big kiss on the cheek as he carried her back up the porch.
“So good to see you, darling,” he said to Emma, as she giggled in his arms. “And you too my love,” he said to Laura, as he leaned in and gave her a soft kiss on the lips.
“All good in town?” Laura asked.
“Business is as good as ever. Between your father introducing me to the butcher in Tucson and all the roping lessons I’ve been giving, looks like it’ll be our best year yet,” Abe said with a smile on his face.
“Good to hear. These two are growing like weeds and it’s gonna take two ranches to feed them,” Laura laughed.
“I’m sure we’ll figure something out,” Abe said, as he kissed her on the cheek and carried Emma inside. Laura followed with the baby. The cabin had changed so much over the years, as well. Laura had decorated every window and chair with colorful fabrics and Abe had built a big, sturdy bed for both them and Emma, and a beautiful, polished crib that had first held Emma and now held little baby Oratius. She gently lowered him into the crib and looked at his angelic little face staring back at her.
“He’s beautiful, isn’t he?” Laura said, as Abe walked up behind her and kissed the back of her neck.
“Stunning, just like his mama,” Abe said, warmly.
“I think he looks like you,” Laura said.
“I hope that’s a compliment,” Abe said, playfully.
“It is,” she said, as she turned around to face him and kissed him. “Who do you think the next one will look like?” she asked, with a smile.
“What?” Abe asked, shocked. “You’re not…again? So soon?” Abe stammered.
Laura nodded and smiled, rubbing her stomach. Abe’s face lit up and he grabbed her and kissed her deeply. “I can’t believe it,” he said, breathlessly.
“Better keep up the good work, Mr. Mavor. We got another mouth to feed,” Laura said, with a false sternness.
“Absolutely, Mrs. Mavor. Whatever you say,” he said, with a smile, as he grabbed his hat and headed back out to the barn.
Laura smiled, as she watched him go. She sighed a deep, contented sigh.
I’m home. And what a wonderful home this is.
If it were up to her, she would do everything again. Because the life she and Abe had built was better than anything she could have imagined. The girl that got in that stagecoach years ago, could not have dreamed of the kind of life she would build. How she would grow and change. She looked at Emma, her beautiful little daughter, who was playing on the floor with her doll.
What will your life become, little one? I hope it’s more than you could ever dream it to be.
She walked over to the window where she could see Abe riding in one of the corrals. He swung his rope above his head, as deftly as ever, roping a series of barrels around the corral, as him and Bruce moved with fluid agility. They hadn’t lost a beat. She suspected he never would, that he’d be this strong, swift, amazing man forever.
She placed her hands on her tummy and smiled. The sun was beginning to set, spilling its warm, golden light against the browns, and reds, and greens of Utah. It was warm and bright, just like the future of the Mavors.
As she looked out into that gorgeous sunset, she began to picture the future. She saw Emma learning how to ride, roping right alongside her father. She saw little Oratius learning how to carve beautiful furniture. She saw herself and Abe, both getting older, watching as their children grew up and fell in love and started families of their own.
Santa Clara was already changing before their eyes. Mr. Mason’s son now stood behind the counter at the general store, his younger, slim frame a stark contrast to his father’s short and portly one. Mr. Mason still buzzed around the store from time to time, fussing over how the boxes were arranged or dust on the stoop, but mostly Abe and Laura would see him sitting on his porch, smoking a thick cigar and chatting with anyone who passed by.
Mayor’s changed in feverish elections. There were births, deaths and weddings to attend, as the town continued to grow. New storefronts began to open up and it seemed as if the edges of the town were ever-expanding, with more homesteads and new families.
Aunt Ethel, who still walked with a cane, hadn’t slowed down a beat and now sold her marmalades, jams, breads, and puddings in both Santa Clara and Tucson, thanks to an arrangement with Laura’s father. As it had always been though, Laura and Abe were over to visit as often as possible, helping out around the house and sharing a meal, little ones in tow.
When they would visit, Aunt Ethel never stopped smiling. One afternoon, as Laura rocked the baby, while Aunt Ethel knitted and fussed over the little one, Abe was outside showing Emma how to brush Bruce.
“He’s beautiful. I’m so happy for you dear,” Aunt Ethel cooed.
“Me too,” Laura smiled, as she stroked Oratius’s little hand.
Aunt Ethel looked at her. “I prayed every night you two would find your way to each other,” she said with a smile.
“What?” Laura laughed.
“It’s true. I’m not one to meddle in those sorts of things, but I figured there just might be someone bigger than me that could maybe nudge things along if they saw fit,” Aunt Ethel said, earnestly.
“Well, I’m glad that’s how it all worked out,” Laura said, beaming. “He’s a wonderful father and husband.”
“Oh, I can see that, dear,” Aunt Ethel said, contentedly.
As for Ottie, not much had changed around the jailhouse, which is exactly as he liked it. His children continued to grow and keep both him and his wife occupied. Their children came over to the Mavor’s often to play with Emma and they all were fast friends. Abe, Laura, Ottie and Helen would sit on the porch, and watch them tumble, and race, and play, as they laughed together about life and all its little challenges and victories.
Laura missed her parents back in Tucson, but her father’s store was doing so well now that they had plenty of money to visit often. And when they did visit, it was in the beautiful black carriage that Mr. Leary had built. Her father had decided to make good on what Jacob had owed Mr. Leary for his hard work and kept the carriage for himself.
“I’d hate for one more person to be put out by that scoundrel,” her father had said. “And besides, your mother should be able to visit her daughter often and in comfort.”
Her mother fussed around Laura, as she had always done, but she adored the grandchildren and spoiled them with presents every time she came to visit. Her father and Abe had a strong bond, as well. It was as if her life had fallen into place, just as it should.
She breathed in deep as her mind returned to the present. It had all started with a broken leg, a stagecoach ride, and a simple introduction. It’s funny how the world can be like that, she thought. Laura stood there and gave thanks for it all.
“Mama?” Emma said behind her.
“Yes, dear?” Laura responded.
“Can you read to me?” she asked.
Laura scooped Emma up in her arms and sat in the beautiful rocking chair Abe had carved. She reached for the old, worn copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and began to read aloud, as those golden rays of sunshine slowly melted across their world.
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