Amy stood at the side of the river, staring into the water as it rushed by. She had visited this river a lot in the past two weeks. She never thought that her father passing away would affect her so much.
Six months ago, he had been angry, standing in the kitchen, telling her and Mark how they weren’t welcome there. Those six months had passed quickly and, according to her mother, her father drank more than ever. He didn’t stop for anything, and he eventually passed away.
The doctor said that it was because of his consumption of whiskey. Amy remembered how she felt when she had heard the news.
She felt numb. She didn’t know whether she was supposed to feel devastated or sad, but she felt almost nothing. She felt like she was living in a dream.
When she had told Mae and Sophia the news, she knew that they were feeling similar things. Amy told them that they didn’t need to feel guilty for what happened. Of course, there was a part of all of them that loved their father or at least the good side of him.
He was a part of their lives, even though it was a bad one. There was something about him that was special to them. But they would always remember how he made their lives hard. They would remember him for the times that he made their mother cry and for the times he made them cry.
“Are you okay?” The deep voice behind her made her straighten just a bit, but then her shoulders relaxed. Mark was standing there, leaning up against a tree. She hadn’t even heard him walk up.
“Yes. I am. I was just thinking. It’s hard to let the past go. I know that it was what was best and that I had nothing to do with it. But sometimes I feel like I should have done more to change things for my father.”
“Remember what I said about choices and decisions?” Mark’s voice was gentle and kind, just like he was with her for the majority of the time. The closest Mark had ever come to being stern with her was telling her to hurry when he had to leave. Amy smiled as she thought of it. There were a lot of words that could be used to describe Mark, but stern or harsh were not one of them.
“I remember. But I can’t help the way I feel. I know that Mae and Sophia are felling it too. They want to be upset, but they feel like they can’t because the proper thing to do is to be sad and grieving.”
Mark nodded and walked over to her, putting his hands on her arms. “You are allowed to be mad, and you are also allowed to be sad. You are allowed to be whatever you need to be.”
Amy nodded. “Thank you. That means a lot.”
Mark nodded somberly. “Please, just take it easy on yourself and tell your sisters to do the same. All of you try to be too perfect all of the time. You can’t be perfect and you can’t please everyone. Sometimes, you just have to let everyone down, except yourself.”
Amy forced herself to nod. She knew what Mark was saying was true, but it was still hard to struggle through that guilt.
“Come on, let’s get back to the house.” Mark took her hand and led her through the woods. “Remember, you are managing the feelings for two.” Mark grinned, glancing down at her middle.
Amy felt herself blushing, putting her hand on her stomach. They were finally ready to start their family together. It was all happening so fast, she wasn’t sure what to think sometimes.
She was finally starting to show a small bump. It was pushing her dresses out and making it difficult for her to do even simple tasks.
“You know I always put the baby first. Do you think it will be a boy or a girl?” Amy asked. She could imagine the beautiful side of either one. Having a daughter and being able to raise a baby girl in a peaceful and loving environment sounded lovely.
But having a small version of Mark to follow him everywhere on the ranch, helping out and learning to speak his first words was an exciting thought too.
“I don’t know if it will be a boy or girl, but whichever it is, they will be perfect, I am sure. Have you told your mother yet?” Mark asked.
“About the baby?”
“Yes. I know things aren’t perfect between the two of you yet, but I do think she would like to know that you are expecting your first child, don’t you think?”
“Yes. She would. I am going to tell her, I just… I don’t know. Things have been strange ever since pa died. I suppose we all sort of blame her for letting things go as far as they did. I know it wasn’t all her fault, but sometimes I wanted her to stand up for me, or to at least know she cared about me.”
“I can tell she loves you.”
“I know.” Amy did know that her mother loved her. But there were so many moments in her childhood where she was waiting for her mother to stand up for her and make her father do the right thing.
She had always thought that she could look past everything that they’d been through. But when her father had died, it was as if that opportunity for her mother to stand up to him was gone, and that was painful.
“I do want to tell her. I just think that I have to wait for the right moment. We are working on some things in our relationship.”
Mark nodded, “I know. I just think you shouldn’t be too hard on her. If I could have a moment with my own mother, I would take it. No matter what issues I ever had with her. You know she was afraid of him. Maybe she thought that by obeying him she was protecting you.”
Amy bit her lower lip. She knew that it was hard for Mark to talk about his mother. He had a good relationship with his mother as far as she could tell. She wondered if he really did fight with her a single time. But she also knew that what he said was true. She was well aware that if her mother died, she would never forgive herself for not giving her more of a chance to be in her life.
“I’ll talk to her. I will go today.” Amy felt relief wash over her as soon as she said the words. “Speaking of talking with people, have you heard that Vivian finally got married?”
“I did not hear that. Who did she marry?” Mark looked both surprised and borderline uninterested. As much as it made Amy happy that Mark was uninterested in Vivian and what happened to her, she was still both interested and just happy that everything with Vivian was behind them.
“She married the mayor’s son in a town that is a bit further than Patton. Apparently, he has money or at least plans to when his father dies.”
“I see, I wonder if they’re happy.” Mark looked thoughtful. “It is a bit scary to think that I could have ended up with her as a wife.”
“I guess it is, isn’t it?” Amy shook her head with an amused smile. She wondered how much would have changed for Mark if he had married Vivian instead.
They had reached the edge of the clearing.
“I’m going to work a while on the add on. Richard should be here any moment to help me out.” Mark ran a hand over his hair. “You know, it’s been a bigger project than I thought it would be.”
Amy nodded with a grin. She had told Mark that an add on to the cabin wasn’t necessary, but he’d insisted, saying that he wasn’t about to remove Mae or Sophia from the cabin and the baby couldn’t exactly sleep in the extra cabin.
“I’m going to take a horse and ride down to town to visit my mother. I think we have a lot to talk about. Would you tell Mae and Sophia where I’ve gone and tell them to prepare dinner?”
“Of course. I love you, Amy. Hurry home.” Mark leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss to her forehead.
Amy couldn’t wipe the smile off her face all the way to her mother’s home. Her mother had moved to town nearly three weeks after her father’s funeral. Now she lived within walking distance of the schoolhouse. She didn’t want to live so far away from her daughters, since they were all she had left.
Amy was happy that her mother had finally moved closer. She liked the fact that she was there, close enough to visit when she wanted to, but that didn’t mean that it automatically fixed everything or that she visited all the time.
Mae and Sophia visited much more often than Amy. Sophia would go and see their mother directly after school each and every day. Mae would go sometimes when she had time after helping out at the schoolhouse or when they finished the chores on the ranch.
Now that Mae had let go of her anger and was allowing herself to learn and grow, she was starting to learn and mature into a beautiful young lady. Amy couldn’t have been prouder.
Amy shook her sisters from her mind and knocked on the door of the cabin. Her mother’s eyes lit up and she looked excited as soon as she realized it was Amy.
“Come in, come in. I’m so glad you came. I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever.” Her mother wrapped her into an embrace and for a moment, Amy let herself relax into her mother’s comforting grasp. She had come and visited her mother nearly four days ago, but still, it did feel like a long time.
“How have you been?”
“I’ve been all right.” Her mother smiled and Amy remembered Mark’s words. How would she feel if this was her last meeting with her mother? How would she feel if she couldn’t just come and visit her mother and tell her how she felt? She would be heart broken and loathe herself for every single time that she didn’t take advantage of that opportunity.
“Ma, I’m sorry that I haven’t been visiting very often. I actually have something to tell you.”
“Really? What is it?” Her mother sat down at one of the kitchen table chairs.
“Mark and I are expecting a baby.” Amy touched her middle as she said it. The truth was, she had wanted to tell her mother for a long time. She wanted her mother to be a part of this journey, no matter what was in the past.
“What? You are?” her mother leapt up, a look of sheer joy on her face.
“We are.” Amy grinned. She had done the right thing by telling her mother. She didn’t know how their relationship would improve over the next few months as they prepared for the new little one in their lives. But she had a feeling that it was going to be lovely and that it would grow into something stronger than it had ever been before.
Mark hammered in the last nail. “There, I think it is actually done.”
“I never thought that an add on would take so long. I thought it would take a few days at most, not three weeks.” Richard looked as exhausted as Mark felt.
“You’re right. I wouldn’t have thought that it would be so long. Thank you for helping me out.”
“You’re welcome, you know you can count on me. I’m just surprised you are going to be a father.”
Mark grinned. He wasn’t sure that he’d even gotten used to the idea of becoming a father. He didn’t know how it was going to be or how it was going to change everything in his life. The truth was, he was terrified, but he was trying to appear strong for Amy’s sake.
“You know, I am glad that you married Amy. Not only is she good for you and she balances out who you are, but you changed her life. And since she is my cousin, that makes me ecstatic.” Richard slapped Mark on the shoulder.
Mark knew it was hard for his friend to say things like this. But he had a few things he needed to say to Richard too.
“None of this would have been possible without you, I want you to know that. I always knew that I could trust you with anything, even finding myself a wife. What about you? Do you need help finding someone?”
“Actually no. Do you remember the young woman I told you about a couple of weeks ago? We’ve actually been seeing each other for a few months now. I think that it might be getting serious.”
“Really? I’m happy for you. I can’t believe that you’ve finally found someone.” Mark shook his head. He really was happy for Richard. If anyone deserved it, he did.
“So, have you heard about Carlyle?” Richard asked.
“Yes. Apparently, he was found out regarding a few crimes he committed in the past. He will be spending a lot longer than a couple of months in jail. I think that if he ever gets out of jail, he will think long and hard about doing anything against the law ever again.”
“Well, I am certainly happy about that.” Richard grinned.
“You aren’t the only one. I thought for a while there that he would be let loose sooner than later. The idea of him being loose again and having the opportunity to hurt my family again…” Mark trailed off.
The truth was, while Carlyle was out there he could never fully relax. He would always worry about what would happen if Carlyle or someone who was a friend of Carlyle’s came after him. He didn’t want to think about what he would do if Carlyle did want to get revenge on Amy. He just had to hope that he would be ready and well informed if and when it happened.
“Have you talked to Amy about Carlyle much?”
“No. I know that she doesn’t really worry about him too much. She is too focused on everything we have happening around us. It really is amazing. You know?”
“Yes. it is. Speaking of which, here they come now.” Richard pointed and Mark followed the gesture.
Amy was coming up the road. But she was no longer riding her horse. She was in the front of a wagon with a two-horse team, one of those horses he was fairly certain was her mother’s.
Beside her, was her mother. The two of them were talking and laughing as if there wasn’t a day that they hadn’t been best friends. Mark was relieved to see that they had resolved some of their differences. He hated to see how much Amy stressed about her relationship with her mother. He wanted her to be happy and more than that, he wanted her to have the relationship with her mother that she always wanted.
“I thought the two of them didn’t exactly get along?” Richard looked as confused as Mark felt.
“They don’t exactly but it looks like they are getting closer to repairing things.” Mark led the way. “Come on.”
When they got to the wagon, Amy’s face lit up.
“What’s the occasion?” Mark asked as he helped her down to the ground.
“I thought I would invite my mother over for a meal. After all, we do have a baby to celebrate.” Amy couldn’t stop grinning and Mark could see that the happiness reached her eyes. It still made him happy to see. He could still remember the time when she didn’t look happy. she always looked worried and stressed and concerned.
“That is a great idea. So, can I assume that everything is right again?” Mark hoped that she would say yes, but he still expected the slight shake of the head.
“No. I am not saying that. But I am saying that things are improving and that is progress.”
Mark smiled. He could take progress. He followed Amy and her mother into the house. A few minutes later, Mae and Sophia returned. Even though Amy’s earlier instructions were that they were to start supper when they returned, it was unnecessary to tell them now since she as there.
Between all of them, they began to prepare the evening meal.
“Hi, Richard. You finished the new part of the house?” Sophia asked Richard.
“I did. All by myself too, you should tell Mark to help out sometimes.” Richard made a big show of scolding Mark.
“What? He lies! I was the one who built it alone.” Mark did his best to appear wounded. He knew that Sophia was almost fifteen now and much too old for their games, but they were still fun.
“I am not!” Richard said with a whine in his voice.
“We both know that you helped each other.” Mae interrupted with a soft grace, just like Amy would have if she could have been bothered to do so.
Mark was in admiration of Mae. She had changed so much in the past few weeks. He was positive that she would be a lovely wife for someone in the future, when she was a bit older. Even though Mark knew that she was not his daughter, he felt equally as protective over her as if she were.
Then there was Sophia. Goodness, Mark didn’t want to think about the time when either one of Amy’s sisters were old enough to find a man to court. He wanted to keep them safe forever.
Mark met Amy’s gaze over the top of the craziness going on around them. She looked so beautiful, like an angel in a sea of distraction.
He knew that he had found the right woman. He also knew that there was no way he could ever live without her. He counted those blessings every single day.
He was looking forward to the adventure they were about to start, because that was what family was: an adventure. A beautiful, exciting chapter that he would share with the love of his life.