Jesse sat on his horse, looking out over the great expanse of land that was now the TFB Ranch. He’d partnered up with his in-laws, and together, they ran a thriving operation. It was beyond anything Jesse had ever dreamed of, and he was proud.
Proud of himself and proud of Tom and the Turners. But mostly, he was proud of Ariel. She still came out on the range with him and worked, but she still only did half days.
When Mikayla had her lessons, Ariel would allow herself to be away from the house. Or if the little four-year-old was with her grandparents, Ariel would stay and work for a few more hours alongside her husband.
But he knew she harbored a sadness.
It had been four years since they’d been blessed with Mikayla. Ariel had not conceived since. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Jesse had to smile to himself. He and Ariel were compatible in every way these days. They no longer would argue over silly things. They lived together in near perfect harmony.
Across the land, he saw a cloud coming from the direction of town. That would be the doctor.
Ariel had been feeling poorly of late. A couple of weeks. The signs were promising, but there had been other times when Ariel had thought she was with child when, in fact, she hadn’t been.
Mikayla’s birth had been hard on Ariel’s body. She and Jesse had come to realize that she might not have any more children. It was something that hurt her as much as she felt blessed with her daughter.
She’d told him all of her woes a month ago, when she’d come to the conclusion that she might be barren. Makayla’s birth had been so difficult. Maybe she’d been injured in some way. She had felt like she couldn’t talk to anyone about it.
But Jesse, having become acquainted with her moods, had coaxed it out of her. And he’d tried to comfort her by telling her how much he loved her and how happy he was with his two best girls. He didn’t need anyone or anything else in their life together. The three of them would always be happy. That was what was important, after all.
The horse made its way down the bluff to the road, and Jesse waited for the approaching carriage. It was the first time this doctor would be up to the house. He’d come to town and opened his practice a year ago when they lost their circuit doctor.
In short time, the carriage pulled up.
“Good afternoon, Jesse.”
“Good afternoon, Dr. McConnell.”
“How is the patient?”
“Hard to say, really. She feels poorly, similar to when she was pregnant with our little Mikayla.”
“And how old is Mikayla?”
“Hmm. And Ariel believes herself to be pregnant now?”
“I think so. She said there are similarities that she’s experiencing. But she also thinks… well, I suppose I should let her tell you.”
They moved slowly along the road, side by side.
“She might not tell me. Women are, reserved, shy, about certain, uh, bodily functions. They’re raised to be delicate, and then to discuss certain things with a man, especially things like we’re speaking of… well, it can be difficult for them.”
Jesse nodded his understanding. “My wife fears she may be barren, because the birth of our daughter was so difficult for her. It took her a couple of months to recover fully.”
“I see. Well, there is a possibility of injury, but I honestly feel it’s unlikely.”
“Yes. Women are made by God to be pregnant and have babies. It took Ariel a couple of months to get back to normal after the birth of your daughter, but she did heal. See what I mean? Women are so much stronger than they know, and so much stronger than men will allow them to be on so many occasions.”
“How interesting. Neither of us ever looked at it like that, Doctor.”
“We can all learn so much from one another.”
“You’re right. Thank you, Dr. McConnell. Here we are.”
A tall young man of about 17 came down off the front porch and took the reins from the doctor’s hand.
“Doctor, this is Mikey. He’s the son of one of my business partners, Tom Buchanan.”
“Hello, Mikey, it’s good to meet you.”
“And you, Doctor.” Mikey grinned and led the buggy to the stables.
“Come on in, Doctor.” Jesse led the man around to the kitchen door. They walked inside and Mary Elizabeth turned to them from the stove. Her full round belly and glowing eyes led the doctor to believe that she was Ariel.
“I’d say there’s no question that your wife is pregnant, Mr. Flynn.”
Jesse and Mary Elizabeth burst out laughing.
“Oh, I’m not Jesse’s wife, Doctor. I work for her. And I can assure you, I am about to have my baby any day.
I’m Mrs. Buchanan.” She extended her hand to him.
he doctor took her hand and smiled. “I see. Very good to make your acquaintance.
Two little girls ran into the room, giggling and chasing one another back and forth.
“Girls, say hello to the doctor. Mikayla, he’s here to see your mama.”
The two girls quieted and looked at the doctor and Jesse with wide eyes “Is Mam sick, Da?”
“No, Mikayla. The doctor is just going to give her a checkup. You and Lizzie run outside and find Mikey.
He’s going to take you two into town for some candy. Would you like that?”
“Can we bring Mary?”
“No, not today, love.” Mary Elizabeth took over the conversation. “Mary is too little to go with you and Mikayla. You both are big girls. Now, run along. You may bring a piece of candy, a maple sugar, for your sister.”
“Okay, Aunt M.”
The girls ran outside and Jesse, after he finished chuckling, led the doctor upstairs to Ariel’s room. As soon as they were out of the kitchen, though, he turned pensive. He didn’t want to let on, but he was worried about Ariel.
He was worried partly that she would be disappointed yet again. This wasn’t the first time she’d thought she was with child only to find out that she wasn’t. She’d been so happy, she’d told him, this time, because she’d waited. She was sure this time. She just knew she was right.
The other part of his worry involved the idea that Ariel was right. That she was pregnant. She’d had a rough time of it four years ago. What if she should have a hard labor again? What if something went wrong? It was not unheard of for women to lose their battle for life to the childbed.
He found that sweat had broken out on his forehead, despite the chill in the hall. He opened Ariel’s door just enough to allow the doctor to pass through and he followed.
Ariel was reading and looked up when they entered.
“Hello, dear. This is Dr. McConnell, from town. He is our new physician in Pinevale.”
“I’m glad to meet you, Doctor. Ariel Flynn.”
“Charmed, Mrs. Flynn. Now, if I may, I’d like to get right down to our interview and examination. Mr. Flynn may stay if you like, or you may have one of your lady friends.”
“My husband will suffice.” She smiled at Jesse and winked.
Without a word, Jesse sat in the chair next to the bed. He reached for his wife’s hand and held it all the while the doctor asked questions.
“It’s time for the examination.” McConnell stepped into the bathing room. He returned drying his hands on a small white towel he must have had on him.
“Go ahead, doctor. We’ve been hesitant to jump to any conclusions. Still, I remember how I felt with Mikayla,” Ariel offered.
Everyone was quiet. Jesse tried to read the doctor’s facial expressions as he performed his task. For her part, Ariel had her eyes closed. Jesse noticed she breathed very slowly and deliberately. He couldn’t bear the thought that the examination was difficult for her in any way. But such was life; it had to be done.
Doctor McConnell finished up with what he was doing.
“If you’ll excuse me a moment.” He stepped into the bathing room again.
Ariel and Jesse looked at each other, hope in each of their eyes. She squeezed his hand.
“Don’t worry, darling. Everything will be all right. Mary Elizabeth is going to have more babies than she knows what to do with, come the next few years.”
He knew she was attempting to set herself up for disappointment.
“I’m sure everything is fine, love.”
The doctor returned and sat on the sofa. Ariel pushed herself up against the pillows. Jesse held on to her hand.
“Yes, Doctor?” The couple spoke in unison.
“I’m happy to inform you, Mrs. Flynn, that you are going to have a baby.”
Jesse exhaled audibly and Ariel burst into tears.
“Truly, Doctor? Is it really true?”
“It’s really true. And I’ve been given no indication as to why it’s taken four years for you to get with child after your little Mikayla. From the looks of it, I’d say you have no physical impediment to prevent you from having many more children.”
“Oh, Doctor, thank you so much. Thank you!”
Dr. McConnell and Jesse stood.
“I’d be delighted if you’d join us for dinner tonight, Doctor. It’s gotten very cold outside. You can sleep in one of the guest rooms. It’s not worth it to get lost out on the prairie on a winter’s night.”
“Well, I thank you for the invitation, Jesse. I’d be happy to take you up on it. A hot meal and a warm bed are certainly preferable to a long, cold ride with only moonlight for company. And as a result of your good graces, my dinner and stay here tonight will suffice as my fee for the house visit.”
“Oh no, you don’t. I’m paying you. You’ve done us a great service this day.”
“Jesse, I had nothing to do with it. I will refuse your pay. Please. Let my dinner and bed tonight be the payment I receive. It would please me beyond measure.”
“Well, if you really feel that way…”
“You cannot deny me.” The doctor laughed.
“I say if that’s what the doctor wants, that’s what the doctor gets. I thank you, Dr. McConnell. From the bottom of my heart. Now, you two will forgive me if I don’t come to the table, won’t you?”
They both smiled and Jesse opened the door for the doctor.
“I can see myself downstairs. I’d like to talk with Mrs. Buchanan.”
Ariel and Jesse looked at each other and smiled.
“Very well, then. Thank you, Doctor.”
“I’m so happy, Jesse.”
“I am, too, love.” He sat back down in the chair he’d been in.
A knock sounded on the door.
“That must be Cassie with my dinner. Come in.”
The door burst open and a little red-haired girl tore into the room and hopped up on Jesse’s lap, momentarily winding him.
“How’s my Mam? Mam, are you sick? The doctor smiled at me. He wouldn’t do that if you were sick.”
“What a smart girl you are, Mikayla. That’s right. Mam is not sick.”
Jesse saw there were tears in Ariel’s eyes as she spoke to their daughter. He found himself fighting back the urge to weep, too.
“Do you want to know why the doctor was here, Mikayla?”
“Yes, Da. If Mam is not sick, then why?”
“The doctor came to tell us that soon you’re going to have a little sister or brother to love. Do you understand how Lizzie had little Mary?”
“Yes, Da. Am I to have my own little Mary?”
His eyes met Ariel’s over the little one’s head. They shared a look of true and pure love but then Jesse was caught between laughter and tears. While his daughter looked every bit like her mother, neither he nor Ariel could figure who she was alike in temperament. She had her very own way of looking at the world that amazed and awed him.
“Yes, my baby girl. You will have your own little Mary.”
The following day Jesse was up before the sun, set on the road to Earl’s small home on the other side of the old Bullock Ranch. He wanted to share the news of Ariel’s condition and invite his father to dinner that evening.
Three years earlier, Earl had done what he’d been planning on doing since before Mikayla had been born. The fact that he had a grandaughter had sweetened the deal.
He’d sold Flynn’s Bar to his nephew Sean for a dollar. Then, he’d sold his home to the young man for another dollar. And then, he’d packed up his clothing and books and shipped them to Pinevale. Finally, he’d boarded the train and arrived at his new adopted hometown.
Of course, Jesse and Ariel had been thrilled. Aunt Sue had also, although she’d seen him at the holidays that year. After that, Earl had visited Pinevale and had gone back to Boston for two months. Then, finally, he’d come back for good.
Jesse had sold him the old foreman’s cottage on the former Bullock Ranch. For a dollar. That way, a sale took place, and the ownership of the property could never be contested. A deed had been written up and Earl had signed it.
He spent a lot of time at Jesse and Ariel’s house. Jesse was moved to see his father with the young children. Earl had also forged a deep friendship with Mikey, Mary Elizabeth’s son.
Life was good. They’d all been very blessed.
The cottage was just up ahead in a little clearing. Jesse noticed smoke coming from the chimney and he looked forward to being in the warm home in a few minutes.
He was on horseback and rode up silently. He dismounted, tied the horse, and went to the front door of the place.
He knocked and in the next second was looking into his father’s face.
“Jesse, come in. Quick. It’s getting chilly out.”
“Thanks, Da.” Jesse closed the door behind him.
“How’s Ariel feeling?”
“Much better. In fact, I’m here to share some good news.
“Wonderful. Hold on, I’ll put the kettle on.”
“Do you have anything stronger than tea, Da?”
Earl’s eyebrows raised slightly. “Something stronger than tea. Hmm. All right, I believe I have a bottle of whiskey around here somewhere.”
Jesse chuckled. “Is that what you believe, Da? Try the cupboard by the window.”
Earl stopped in his tracks and looked at his son. The two men laughed big belly laughs.
With that, Jesse told Earl all of the events of the previous day.
“That’s wonderful news, Jesse. Let’s have our toast. I have something I want to share with you too, but I’m waiting for the right moment.”
“Come on, Da. You can tell me now.”
Earl laughed. “I know I can, but I’m not going to.”
“Well, we’re having a dinner party tomorrow. You have to come. The girls will never let me hear the end of it if they don’t get to see Grand Da.”
“I look forward to it.”
The following evening, all the guests gathered at Jesse’s house for the dinner party. He and Ariel were going to make their announcement to their family.
Glenn and Rowena Turner, Cassie and Mikey, who had begun courting and sat together, Mary Elizabeth and Tom Buchanan, and Sue sat around the table. It seemed that they were on pins and needles to hear what Jesse and Ariel had to say.
But, in all honesty, the fact that the couple were making an announcement together seemed to have given everyone the idea that they knew what the announcement was. They looked around the table at one another, nodding subtly, and using their eyes as if to say, ‘we know what you’re going to tell us.’
It was a happy evening and after finally sharing their joyous news, Jesse put Earl on the spot.
“And now I’d like to ask my father to stand. He has some special news to share, also. Da, the bottle stands before you.” Jesse embraced his father and took his seat once again.
“Oh, tell us, Earl.” The ladies, but for Sue, all called out. “Tell us.”
Earl stood and looked at Sue with soft eyes. She gazed at him with a look of love.
“Well, as you all know, Sue and I have been good friends for many, many years. We have grown particularly close since I’ve moved here to Wyoming. We enjoy each other’s company very much and we want to spend more time together.”
“Earl! Get on with it. We don’t have the whole day!” Rowena got everyone laughing again.
Earl grinned. “All right. In the last three years Sue and I have—well, we have fallen in love. Deeply in love, I must add. I find that I do not want to live without her in my life. I want to be around here all of the time. I want to share my life with her.
“Everyone, I have asked Sue to marry me.”
The table members were silent for about 10 seconds. Then, everyone burst into delighted laughter.
“What is it? Why do you all laugh?” He looked from face to face around the table. Sue stood up and went to his side. She looked like she might cry any minute.
“Earl Flynn, if you think this is a surprise to any of us, you have another thought coming,” Rowena stated, and everyone started laughing again.
Ariel leaned toward Jesse and spoke in his ear.
“I’m so happy you decided to be a rancher, dear. Not a businessman.” She grinned at him.
He faced his wife. “So am I, love.” And he kissed her.