Lavinia smiled at her uncle, who was floating around the room tidying up when he didn’t have to. He was essentially just moving things from one spot to another just inches away.
He’d insisted on coming to stay for the final month of Lavinia’s pregnancy so he could take care of her. The funniest thing about it was that Ellie was also pregnant and it appeared she would be having her baby around the same time as her sister.
Lavinia couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have her family in her home. Ellie’s husband and their daughter came along and were, at that moment, playing outside together. Lavinia could hear the delighted screams of the little girl as her father chased her around in the grass. If he caught her, he would tickle her until she begged him to stop. Which he always did.
“Will you sit down, Uncle?” Ellie asked him, shifting her large body on the couch to get more comfortable. “You’re making me dizzy.”
“Oh dear, I’m sorry.” The man came over and sat next to Lavinia, perched on the edge of the couch across from Ellie so he didn’t take up too much room. Lavinia laughed softly, her eyes on Ellie.
“You’re so irritable. Were you like that with Dinah before you had her?”
Ellie scrunched her nose and stuck out the tip of her tongue. “Saying that isn’t going to make me less irritable, Lavi dear.”
Lavinia just laughed again, turning her gaze to her uncle. “She is, though, isn’t she?”
“You can’t ask Uncle Malcolm,” Ellie cut in before her uncle could say anything. “You’re his favorite. Of course he’s going to agree with you.”
“Now, now.” Uncle Malcolm shook his head, waving one hand at them both, “There is enough of this old fella to go around. I only dote on Lavinia here because this is her first child. You can’t say I didn’t do the same for you when you were going to have Dinah.”
Ellie pouted softly, rolling her eyes. She shifted on the couch again, her face pinching together in discomfort.
“All right, you are having some trouble there, aren’t you? Can I get you an extra pillow?”
Lavinia watched as their uncle tended to Ellie, fussing over her and making a big deal of the fluffiness of the feather pillow he put behind her. By the time he was done, Ellie was giggling like mad and telling him to stop before he made her baby pop out right then and there, a comment that made Uncle Malcolm react strongly.
“You better be keeping that child in there until a doctor is here, young lady,” Uncle Malcolm exclaimed, his smile wide. “I don’t like the sight of blood.”
“What?” Lavinia asked. “You deal with all those plays where there is blood everywhere. Shakespeare loved murder.” She added the last part after sliding her eyes to her sister and widening them into circles. Ellie laughed hard and then squeaked.
“Oh, the baby is kicking me.” She let her head fall back on the couch and closed her eyes, one hand on her belly.
“The little one already thinks you’re funny, Auntie,” Uncle Malcolm quipped, having returned to the couch to sit next to Lavinia.
She watched him joke with her sister about the baby kicking his or her way out, wondering where her husband was and what he was doing. She’d seen him last going out to the orchard to get a count of the bushels they’d gotten from the first part of the harvest that year. That was hours ago.
“I’m looking forward to dinner tonight. It was so nice of you to bring your cook along with you. We don’t normally get such a blessing.”
Uncle Malcolm’s words brought her back to the present. She, too, was grateful for the help of a cook, one of the few luxuries Oscar, Ellie’s husband, could afford to provide for her. He was a generous man, but he was cautious with money, which was why they were able to have the things they had. He wasn’t a frivolous spender and didn’t spent much time in the saloon. He was a hard-working man who loved his family, and Lavinia was grateful her sister had married a man with such qualities.
Adrenaline pumped through her body when she heard Melinda’s voice calling from the front door. Everyone was coming over today for the big luncheon Tom and Joyce were putting together. It was a farewell dinner, they said, because they were going traveling. They planned to fulfill a lifelong dream the two of them had shared during their marriage to see parts of Europe before they passed on. The boat had been chartered, and they were packed and ready to go. They would leave in the morning.
Lavinia pushed herself up, taking Uncle Malcolm’s hand when he offered it and using his strength to get her large body off the couch.
She went with her uncle and sister to the foyer to greet the Robinsons.
Melinda gave her a big hug and inquired about Gabe.
“He’s off with his pa, I think,” Lavinia said. “Down in the orchard doing some work. He’ll be in shortly, I’m sure. He wants to eat just as much as the rest of us.”
Melinda laughed, and the group went back to the sitting room the sisters had just left.
Lavinia went to the window to look out at Oscar and Dinah, Ellie’s husband and daughter. She’d thought Carl was in the orchard, but she was mistaken. He was clearly having the time of his life with the little girl outside.
Dinah had long blonde locks that bounced behind her when she ran. Carl was running behind her, much slower than any adult might run, pretending to try and grab her hair. Dinah shrieked and ran in large circles around the front lawn.
Lavinia admired the way Carl treated Dinah as if she was his own granddaughter. She struggled not to tear up at the thought that he would be the grandfather Dinah had lost when her father died. That was likely the way Carl would be with all his grandchildren, whether they were blood related or not.
“So when will you be joining this crowd?” she heard Uncle Malcolm asking. She turned back to them, resting her hands on her belly.
Melinda shook her head. “I reckon that’s not really up to us. God will determine that.”
“Indeed,” Uncle Malcolm said with a nod.
“I know what crowd I want to join,” Terry said, also putting his hand on his stomach but moving it in circles with a hungry look on his face. “I can smell that food a-cookin’ and I’m ready to be eatin’. How long till it’s ready?”
“You’re asking the wrong people, Terry,” Melinda scolded him with a grin. “Go ask the cook. What did you say her name was, Ellie?”
“Carol,” Ellie answered.
“I’m goin’ to ask her,” Terry mumbled good-naturedly, removing Melinda’s hand from his arm and hopping out of the room on light feet.
“Your husband is quite the character,” Uncle Malcolm remarked after Terry left the room.
Lavinia wasn’t the only one to give Uncle Malcolm a highly amused look.
“I think we’re listening to a pot calling a kettle black,” Ellie quipped. The ladies laughed, and Uncle Malcolm pretended to be offended.
“You ladies just sit down and get comfortable. I’ll keep Terry company while he inquires about the food.”
Once he was gone, Melinda leaned closer to the sisters, who were now seated beside each other on the larger of the two couches. “Do you think he’s just curious to know himself or he really thinks Terry needs company?”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s as hungry as a starved wolf,” Ellie answered. “He doesn’t eat properly, that man.”
Lavinia was restless. She pushed off the couch and began a walk around the room.
“Are you feeling all right?” Melinda asked in a concerned voice.
Lavinia nodded, crossing her arms over her chest, which was also larger. Everything about her was bigger. She couldn’t wait to get back to her small size. Her feet could barely handle the weight she was carrying around. They weren’t used to it.
Still, she didn’t want to be a lump on a log, sitting or lying down at every opportunity. She felt like walking and moving was good for both her and her baby. She didn’t know how. She just felt it.
She was passing one of the windows, the deep red drape held back by a gold tassel and stopped in place, seeing Gabe out in the distance. She assumed it was him. He was quite a distance away.
She could see a man in the family cemetery standing in front of the recently erected marker for Brian. The headstone had taken some time to make, and it was a true thing of beauty. The only person who’d be standing in front of it would be Gabe. All other men were accounted for.
Without a word, Lavinia slipped through the room and out into the foyer. She left through the front door and headed across the grassy lawn. It was something of a trek, and the land sloped upwards at a gentle degree the whole time, so it was a little harder than it might have been. But she didn’t want him to be alone. He’d told her that despite the way he used to be, dealing with everything on his own, he wanted her with him, to comfort him when he needed it.
She didn’t want to scare him by suddenly showing up behind him, so she made huffing and puffing noises as she approached. She would have to anyway because she could barely breathe by the time she got to the gate of the small cemetery. He turned around when he heard her coming, his face amused and scolding at the same time.
“Lavinia Kemp. What are you doing up here? This is too much for you.”
Lavinia was much relieved that her husband wasn’t caught in the throes of mourning. He seemed perfectly fine to her.
“I saw you up here and just wanted to make sure you’re all right. Besides, it was getting a bit stuffy in the house. I wanted some fresh air. And it’s so beautiful out here. It’s a nice day to be visiting Brian.”
“That’s what I thought, too,” Gabe said. She was surprised when he turned back to the headstone without reaching out for her or waiting for her to get to him. But once she stepped up beside him, he took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Look at this headstone. It’s real nice, ain’t it?”
“Yeah,” Lavinia replied, leaning her head to the side against his shoulder. “He’d like it, too, I’m sure. If you have to have a marker, this is a nice one to have.”
She heard Gabe chuckle. “I think I’ve done him proud, don’t you?”
“Yes.” She didn’t hesitate to answer. “He would be very proud of you, Gabe. You really stepped up and took control when he was taken.”
“I heard something that I don’t think I told you.” His voice was so low. The tone of his words made Lavinia feel uneasy in her heart. She was anxious to know, but at the same time, didn’t want to know.
“Is it about Brian?” she assumed since they were standing in front of his grave.
He nodded, confirming her suspicion.
“What is it? Are they going to start looking for him and his friends?”
Gabe hesitated a moment before turning his eyes to her. She was surprised to see tears had filled them. “We’re going to have to make this an actual grave marker,” he murmured, “instead of a symbol of his passing.”
Chills swam across Lavinia’s skin as she realized what he was saying. “They found him,” she whispered, putting her fingers over her lips, her eyes widening.
Gabe looked back at the grave, nodding, his smile gone, his face sober. “They found all three of them. They’d been pushed … down a chute, a natural chute in the earth, not one we made. They weren’t as deep as they could have been, but they found him.”
“Oh my,” Lavinia didn’t know whether to be happy or sad about it. “How … how do you feel about that?”
Gabe didn’t answer right away. When he did, she listened closely, holding him as close to her as she could with one arm around his waist.
“I’m relieved, in a way. There was no way we could have gotten to them. They were probably gone before they were really buried alive. The weight of the dirt, the lack of oxygen.” She felt him shiver.
“Don’t think about that,” she murmured. “Don’t picture what it was like. That will only make this worse for you.”
“I don’t like being unhappy,” Gabe said right before letting out a sarcastic laugh. “No one likes being unhappy, I know. But I spent a lot of time thinking about the bad side of life, and I don’t want to be like that anymore. I don’t think that’s what Brian would want for me either.”
“I agree with you,” Lavinia spoke softly. “And you’ve been doing such a good job not being that way. You started looking at the good side of life a long time ago.”
He snorted. “You mean that’s all you’ve ever seen and to you, that’s a long time ago. This, the way I am now, is only because you came to Red Peak. If you hadn’t come …” He shook his head. “My life wouldn’t be the same. None of our lives would be the same. Look at my pa.”
When Gabe moved his eyes to the two men and the little girl playing in front of the house, she did the same. Seeing Carl dancing with the child made her heart sing. In her mind’s eye, she could see him the way he’d been when she arrived. His head hanging low, his shoulders slumped, his smile nonexistent.
He was a completely changed man. That was, Lavinia expected he had changed back into who he once was before tragedy ripped his heart out.
“We have a wonderful family,” Gabe continued, “and it’s all sprung from tragedy. I don’t know how it works, but that’s how it worked. It’s all because of you.”
Lavinia felt her face grow hot, blushing to the roots of her dark hair. “Oh, Gabe, you give me too much credit. This isn’t because of me. Not directly. I brought change and offered comfort. I’m no miracle worker.”
“You don’t have to be,” Gabe replied. She knew he wasn’t going to let up. He placed the credit squarely on her shoulders, and it was a nice feeling. “You just keep being the wonderful woman you are.”
“Aren’t you hungry?” Lavinia was desperate to get the conversation off of her. “I’m eating for two people, you know, and you’re making me stand out here and talk to Brian. Isn’t that just like you.”
She grinned wide.
“Let’s go get this special food Ellie’s cook is making for us. You know how irritable I get if I’m not eating when I want to be. It’s only because this baby is always kicking me and telling me there is food I need to be getting. The ladies in town say it’s going to be a boy. Do you want a boy?”
“Of course I want a boy,” Gabe said, turning to direct her out of the cemetery and down the hill to the house. “And I want a girl. But not one of both.”
Lavinia let out a tiny squeak. “Oh no! I don’t have twins in my family. Do you?”
“No. Thank God.”
“I do thank Him,” Lavinia said, “because I don’t want twins. Just one for now, thank you.”
“And what would you do if it were twins?” Gabe teased, poking her large belly with one finger. “What if there’s two of ’em in there and that’s why you’ve been kicked more than usual.”
Lavinia was actually terrified of the thought but didn’t tell Gabe. It was too amusing.
“Doc didn’t say there’s two, so I’m gonna say there’s just one. Don’t you tease me, Gabe Kemp.” She slapped him playfully but almost lost her balance when she did so.
He caught her in his arms, righting her before she could fall. “You be careful, young lady,” he said. “You’ve got my child in there to protect.”
Lavinia stepped carefully down the rest of the hill, holding onto his hand. The closer they got to the house, the more she could smell the delicious scents coming from the kitchen, wafting through the house and out.
If the ladies in town were right, and they were to have a little boy, they would name him Brian. Lavinia planned to tell her child and all her children about their uncle, though most of the stories would come from their father, since she had never even met him. But she would tell them how Brian’s death had brought about tremendous change to the community in which he lived and how his decisions before passing had contributed to the prosperity and happiness of so many – even those who didn’t know him.
Lavinia walked into the house, breathing in the smells and listening to the sounds of her family, knowing that even through future trials, love would always get them through.