Four Years Later
Whooping loudly with glee, Amelia clapped her hands together. Excitement and pride rippled through her. A few others nearby cheered as well as she watched the game attendant collect the third dart she had nearly thrown into the bullseye.
She had had years to perfect her aim now with knives, rocks, guns, and darts. It was handy, in her perspective, to always be prepared.
Not that the last four years warranted such readiness. Still, Amelia had learned from her mistakes and had invested her time in learning how to defend herself, her family, and her home as much as possible.
“Speaking of,” she muttered under her breath before raising her voice. “May I have the hat?”
“The hat?” The game attendant, a young army lad who could barely manage any peach fuzz on his cheeks, glanced at the row of prizes set on the nearby table. “Three darts will win you something bigger. I can only give you one. That hat won’t even fit you.”
She shook her head. “It’s not for me. I would like it all the same, thank you.”
When he hesitated, Amelia threw him a stern look.
That got him jumping into action. She tried not to smile too smugly, also glad she could still scare people into action. It made her wonder sometimes if it no longer worked. An army lad, definitely. A two-year-old, she was beginning to wonder.
Whirling around at the familiar voice, Amelia quickly spotted her son dodging his way through the crowd at the fair. Fort Bridger had been cleaned out when everything went down with Robert Henry and the gang, bringing in fresh soldiers ready to actually support the surrounding towns. One of the first things they’d done was begin hosting an annual harvest fair where people could come together, celebrate, win prizes, and have fun.
There came little Colin with his auburn hair and chunky legs. He dove right into Amelia’s arms with a loud squeal.
Laughing, she pulled him up onto her hip before squeezing him tightly. “You, young man, are supposed to be more careful about running through crowds. Where is your papa?”
“I was faster than Papa!” Colin shouted in her ear.
She didn’t have time to wince at the volume before the boy was scooped from her arms and put over Thomas’s shoulders. Colin didn’t mind one bit, squealing loudly again. “Papa! Papa! I found Papa!”
Amelia tugged on one of his shoes. “Well done, Colin. You are the fastest boy here.”
“Only because he escaped me.” Thomas’s brow furrowed for a second before he offered a sheepish grin. “He darted through the goat pen. That was a new trick of his. Otherwise, I’d have reached you first. Well, with him in hand, of course.”
“I would hope so,” she teased before throwing their son a stern look. “The goat pen? Really?”
Nudging her away from the crowd, Thomas kissed her forehead. “Don’t scold the boy now. It’s the harvest fair. He deserves a spot of fun.”
“We all do, but it doesn’t mean he should be running every which way, putting himself in danger,” she pointed out. “He’s still a child. Someone needs to tell him what to do until he’s smarter. Much smarter. And even then …”
“And even then, he’ll do as he likes. Just like someone else I know. And love,” Thomas added before stealing a quick kiss on her lips.
It might have been four years––nearly to the day––since Thomas first kissed her, but the gesture still made Amelia blush. Especially if they dared kiss out in public. Later at home, she might scold him and herself for doing such a thing. But at the moment, she could hardly think straight.
Noting how quickly the last four years had passed, Amelia shook her head. She didn’t know where the time had gone.
“Is something wrong?” Thomas asked, wrapping an arm around her. Colin laughed overhead.
“No, everything is just right. I’m just thinking. Can you believe we’ve been here for four years?” she asked him.
He whistled. “I didn’t realize it had been that long.”
“Neither had I,” she admitted. “It’s been a long time. But it’s flown by so quickly.”
Amelia still recalled the first day in great detail, hunting for the treasure in the morning only to end it with the treasure, her uncle who was alive, and a promised future with Thomas. Sometimes, it hardly felt real even though she lived it. They even had the scars––a small one on her stomach and one on Thomas’s forehead––to prove it all.
Life had continued to move swiftly the following day.
She had enjoyed a proper breakfast for the first time in ages at the restaurant next door to the boarding house. When Thomas had joined her, acting much shyer than the evening before, he’d insisted on asking for her hand properly, which had them kissing in public for the first time.
Shortly after finishing breakfast, they had started to take a walk, only for Colin and his party to arrive. The day had been spent sorting through the details of all that had happened to her and Thomas since being torn from their wagon party.
It turned out that Colin had indeed never received any correspondence from her family confirming they were coming out to him. Fortunately, he didn’t mind. The man was thrilled. He’d garnered a good bit of land and had no idea what to do with it. All he had was a cabin that wouldn’t be big enough for a proper family.
By that evening, Colin and Thomas were scouting out spots on the land for homesteads while Amelia connected with her new aunt.
Imelda was so cheerful that it nearly began to annoy Amelia. A few weeks ago, she feared she wouldn’t have liked Imelda. But life was looking up so well that she could see why someone could be that happy all the time. Imelda had lost two husbands and three children yet somehow maintained her cheer. She and Colin had charmed each other and married a week after meeting one another.
“Speaking of such a matter,” Colin noted that evening at dinner, “you two should think about doing it sooner rather than later.”
Amelia gaped at him while Thomas choked on his potatoes. “I’m sorry, I must have heard you incorrectly. What did you say?”
Her uncle gestured to Thomas. “He said you two are engaged.”
“Well, yes, but we … we’re not marrying tomorrow,” Amelia said carefully. She was still trying to figure out how to connect with her uncle as she studied him. “We don’t even know if there’s a pastor in town.”
Judging by his smirk, Colin did. “Pastor McTarmilly would be more than happy to marry the two of you. I’ve sent off Edgar’s partner, Ricardo, to find the wagon party and make sure they’re on the way here. But that could be weeks from now. Seeing the way you look at each other, I think you might want to be married before that.”
That had turned into an arguing point for all four of them over the next couple of days.
It was a ridiculous situation that Amelia looked back on frequently and laughed until she cried. Colin was trying to be responsible when he wasn’t even her father, Imelda couldn’t stop talking about how much she loved being married, Amelia couldn’t make up her mind about marrying without her family around, and Thomas was frustrated with everyone for every reason. There had been several loud and long arguments where each of them made their points, only to be ignored or refused.
By the end of the week, the matter was solved for them.
The wagon party had been traveling quicker than anyone had realized. Although Thomas had worked out that the party would most likely be there a few days after that, they were all relieved when Ricardo arrived at the small cabin where the four of them were staying.
A tearful reunion commenced that morning. That evening, Pastor McTarmilly was invited to supper, where he married Amelia and Thomas in front of their families.
While Colin and his friends continued to handle the trouble regarding Robert Henry, the Bramble Bush gang, and all associated concerns, Amelia and Thomas focused on their families. Thomas reconnected with his father, where all was forgiven. The pair had grown closer than ever and had started up a horse ranch shortly before baby Colin’s birth.
As for Amelia, she had spent the next week intermittently crying whenever she saw her family about. She had bottled so many emotions up for so long that they came pouring out. Never had she hugged her siblings so frequently. Her parents’ health had improved, though her mother tended to fall ill most winters, and all had been well except for their worry about losing her. Her hugs were welcomed and eagerly returned.
She blinked, looking up at Thomas. They were still at the fair. He still had baby Colin on his shoulders, and she had a growing, rounded belly with their next child to be born near Christmastime. She hoped it was a girl.
“Is everything all right? You look tired.”
Shaking her head, she patted his hand before pointing up ahead. “Bed can wait. Look! They’re going to announce the prize horse. Oh, I know it’s going to be yours again. Stormcloud is the best creature here; everyone knows it. Is that …?”
They joined others through the main gate and over to the corral where a platform had been established. A few people and Thomas’s horse, Stormcloud, stood up there. She recognized her father-in-law holding the bridle, as well as the announcer.
“Wainright.” Thomas grinned down at her. “Imagine that.”
“I don’t have to anymore. I was wondering when he would arrive. I think this post with the army will be much better for him,” Amelia added quietly.
After looking sternly at the crowd, Wainright straightened up. He had put on some comfortable weight since she had last seen him back at Jacques’ cabin. They had corresponded in letters a few times over the years, just to check in on each other. Wainright had mentioned he was moving his family to Fort Bridger recently for a new job but hadn’t shared a timeline.
“Gather around! The first of tonight’s competitions will have its winners announced at last!” Wainright called.
He looked through the crowd and finally spotted them. When his eyes met Amelia’s, they widened. She grinned and waved. The man half-heartedly copied before nodding to his right, where she spotted a small family that must have been his. She made a note to meet them before the evening was over.
Hopefully, Josephine was nearby as well. She’d gone back to her people for a year but left again to settle down with Jacques. There had been fewer letters, so it was only a few months ago when Jacques and Josephine made a stop in town where Amelia ran into them.
They were drastically different people, but they all shared a kinship after those horrible days as captives of the Bramble Brush Gang. She hoped all four of them had healed as much as they could, building happier lives since then.
At the very least, Thomas and herself had come out of it for the better. And more importantly, they had come out of it together.
Even though her feet were aching and her back pained her, Amelia didn’t want to be anywhere else but here. She listened to Wainright announce that Thomas and his father had won with the best horseflesh in the area. Everyone knew it would happen, but they all cheered, and somehow, Thomas was still surprised.
“You deserved it,” Amelia reminded him as she let him tug her through the crowd. “Wait, your father is over here. Don’t you want to check on Stormcloud?”
“I do, but I don’t need to drag you every which way. I saw your parents just over here. See? Your brothers are still wearing their kerchiefs from the racing.”
Her lips tilted up when she spotted Benjamin and Balthasar dressed up like they were about to jump onto horses again. Their littlest brother was trying to get their attention while Eleanor waved a piece of cornbread around in their parents’ faces.
Although she had never expected her family to thrive out west, fate had proven her wrong. Both of her parents had started farming Colin’s land, and that was going very well. Her brothers were helping out with the horse ranch, and Micah loved digging with their parents. Eleanor preferred keeping to the house and now cooked the big family suppers on Sunday since she loved doing it so much. The restaurant owners in town, Liz and Buck Gamely, were begging Eleanor to teach them some of her recipes; Amelia expected her sister would give in soon and do so cheerfully.
“Amelia!” Her mother, Susannah, caught sight of them first. “Oh, come sit down on the bench here. You look exhausted.”
“I am not tired,” she argued and threw Thomas a look. “I don’t need to do anything.”
He merely grinned before tugging Colin down. “You never have to do a thing you don’t want to, Amelia. But are you sure you don’t want to sit down?”
She couldn’t stop the sigh of relief from slipping off her lips when she did take to the bench. “Well, maybe for a minute.”
Coming over to kiss her forehead, Thomas squeezed her hand. “That sounds good to me. I think I’ll join you before I go find my father with the horse and goats.”
“Goats?” She narrowed her eyes at his innocent expression. It was much too innocent. “What are you doing with goats?”
“I told you, didn’t I? I’m creating our future just the way we saw it. We already have the berries. Cherries, too. We’ve got horses and a valley we can spend days walking through.” Thomas shifted to face her before gently nudging a strand of hair from her cheek. She hadn’t noticed it there, and her breath caught when he touched her.
Their eyes met. She thought of her husband’s words and felt the memory slip back into her mind. Four years ago, Thomas had talked about a future he had imagined just for her. Something that had come to him so easily that she had never really questioned it.
Nor did she now because she liked the life he had imagined for them. Even if it meant her chasing down goats now and again, Amelia would gladly take it.
Finding his hand, Amelia squeezed Thomas. She woke every morning with gratitude in her heart that he was her husband. Neither of them was perfect, but they accepted each other wholeheartedly in a way she had never known was possible.
“I can’t wait,” she whispered to Thomas, feeling the love seep through her. “But you will be chasing the goats until long after I’ve had this baby of ours.”
Chuckling, he nodded and pressed their foreheads together. She inhaled his familiar scent, feeling her entire soul relax. Whenever she was with Thomas, she believed all would be well. She simply knew it.
“I think that’s fair,” he reassured her. “So long as we are together.”
“Forever,” she added before wrapping her arms around him for a kiss. Amelia swore she could taste the future on his lips and melted into him, knowing all would be well.