Three Years Later
“You know, you don’t have to do all of this,” Tori said to Kitty. “He’s not even going to remember.”
Kitty frowned at her cousin. “He’s two now,” she said. “He’s going to remember.”
Tori laughed and shook her head, her blonde curls shaking around her face. “I don’t know who is more insane, you or my mother.”
Kitty rolled her eyes as she placed the finishing touches on her son’s cake. She took a step back, admiring her work. She felt her eyes filling with tears as she took sight of the cake. The confection itself wasn’t what was making her misty-eyed. It was what it represented.
Her little boy was growing up.
“Oh, come on now,” Tori scolded. “I can see you getting broody. Charlie is only two. You have many, many more years of birthday celebrations to over plan for. Plus, there’s Mae. She’s going to let you do this for maybe another ten or so years.”
Kitty laughed. “I’m glad that you are here.” She reached out and clasped Tori’s hand.
Her cousin had left Tucson after one year to join a theater in California. Though it had broken Kitty’s heart not to have her by her side, she understood that Tori needed to chase her dreams the same way that Kitty had chased her own.
The kitchen door slammed open, and Mae rushed forward, dragging Ira with her. “Mama!” she yelled, her face determined as she dragged the larger man into the room. “Ira is here!”
Kitty bit her lip as she tried to keep herself from laughing out loud at her daughter. Mae had started to come out of her shell, especially over the last few years, and she was now just as bubbly and bouncy as any little girl her age should have been.
“I know,” Kitty said. She gestured towards Tori. “And look who he has brought.”
Mae released a squeal and threw herself into Tori’s arms. Mae smiled as she watched the two of them.
After Peter proposed to Kitty, she’d feared that Mae would not want her. It was one thing for Kitty to be her teacher, but it was another for her to be her stepmother. But Kitty hadn’t needed to worry. Mae had embraced her in a way that Kitty hadn’t expected. When the two of them married, Mae started calling her mama, and, in that moment, Kitty was sure that she couldn’t be happier.
Of course, that changed when she became pregnant. When their son was born, it felt as though their family was complete. She pressed a hand to her stomach, which had grown exponentially in the last few months, and she smiled as she thought about how they would soon have another child.
“You should be sitting,” Ira said as he walked closer.
Tori and Mae had left the kitchen at some point, giggling as Tori told Mae all about California. It worried Kitty to see the stars in her daughter’s eyes. Though she knew it was selfish of her, she didn’t want Mae leaving Arizona. Even though such a thing was far away, Kitty understood her aunt’s tears when Tori left better than she ever thought possible.
“I’m fine,” Kitty said, brushing Ira off. “Have you spoken with Peter?”
Ira had followed Tori to California. It had been difficult for their family to let him go, but they’d been happy when he and Tori fell in love and got married.
“I know that he’s excited to see you.”
Ira smiled. “I did,” he said. “And I saw that boy of yours. He’s growing bigger every day.”
This made Kitty laugh. “He is,” she said. She went to grab the cake, but Ira took hold of it before she could. His actions made her smile. Ira was good for her cousin. He was quiet where Tori was loud, and Kitty had come to know him as a man who cared greatly for the people around him. In many ways, if it wasn’t for Ira, Kitty was sure that her and Peter would never have ended up married.
“Are you happy in California?” Kitty asked.
Ira smiled at her. “I’m happy anywhere Tori is.”
Kitty nodded. Her cousin might not have wanted to get married, but Kitty herself was a testament that sometimes there were other plans than the ones that you had for yourself.
As she walked outside into the spacious gardens where they’d set up Charlie’s second birthday party, she smiled. Charlie was racing around giggling as Peter chased after him. His stubby legs were still plump with baby fat, but he’d become more confident in his stride, and he was zipping across the gardens as fast as he could, stopping only when he spotted her.
“You might want to put that down on the table,” Kitty warned, as Charlie raced over to the two of them.
“Mama!” he yelled, throwing his arms out wide to envelop her in his embrace.
“Careful,” Peter warned as he came up behind their son. “You have to be gentle with Mama.”
Charlie was still too little to understand that they would soon have a new edition to the family, but he was learning that he couldn’t race into her arms as he was so used to doing. Leaning down, Kitty wrapped him in her embrace, lifting him so that she could snuggle him closer.
The frown on Peter’s face was the only indication that he wasn’t pleased with her actions.
“I’m fine,” she mouthed over their son’s head.
But that did nothing to alleviate the worry lines on Peter’s forehead. Kitty knew from experience that pregnancy was a difficult time for Peter. While he was excited at the prospect of another child, the past had made him aware of all the many things that could go wrong.
“Go play with Mae,” she told Charlie.
She expected him to argue, but his eyes lit up as he caught sight of Mae and Tori. He ran off with a shout, and Kitty released a sigh.
“He’s going to frustrate Mae,” she told Peter.
Peter laughed. “She loves it.”
Kitty knew that there was some truth to that. Mae had never mentioned wanting a sibling, but when they told her about Charlie, she’d been over the moon with excitement.
Peter came up behind her and placed his hands around her stomach. “She wants a sister this time around,” he told her.
This made Kitty laugh, and she placed her hands atop of his own. “I’ll just be happy as long as the child is happy and healthy.”
Peter nodded in agreement, and for a moment, Kitty appreciated the feeling of his hands around her. The two of them had a small moment of peace in the middle of the chaos of their son’s birthday party.
But that peace was short-lived, and Kitty tensed as she heard Charlie’s cries.
“I can go manage it,” Peter told her.
But Kitty shook her head. “I’m fine,” she told him. “And I can assure you that I’m more than capable of handling whatever scuffle Mae and Charlie have gotten themselves into. After all, I was the schoolmistress for two years.”
This made Peter laugh, and he let her go. “You are right,” he said. “You’re the expert.”
Kitty smiled as she walked toward her two children. Though her life could be exhausting, especially these days as she prepared to welcome their third child into the world, Kitty couldn’t remember a time that she’d ever been happier.
“You look happy,” Peter’s mother said as she slid next to him. Peter smiled at her. Shortly after his marriage to Kitty, she’d returned to Arizona, deciding that the warmer weather agreed with her in the winter.
Peter suspected that she just wanted to be around Kitty’s aunt. Martha and his mother had become good friends since that first Christmas, and Peter suspected that his mother’s return to their old home had been lonelier than she’d anticipated.
“I am,” he replied as he watched his wife settle a dispute between their two children. His smile widened as he watched Charlie growl at his sister, who looked on him serenely. He suspected that Mae might have been the culprit behind this particular dispute. He couldn’t blame her.
At two, Charlie was precocious, and he suspected that his inability to sit still often drove Mae to the brink of madness.
“He reminds me of you when you were his age,” his mother said. “Always running around like a wild animal and charming the pants off of anyone who would dare rein him in.”
Peter watched Kitty scold Charlie sternly. “I don’t think that charm works on his mother.”
His own laughed. “It never does.”
Peter remained silent as he watched his boy pout. The day Kitty told him that she was expecting had been one when he’d felt a great deal of fear. He’d never thought that he would have another child. Even after he and Kitty married, he’d simply not considered the possibility.
“Are you looking forward to the new baby?” his mother asked him. “I know Mae is hoping for a sister this time around, but what about you?”
It was no secret that pregnancy made Peter nervous. Though he’d worked hard to overcome his guilt over what happened with Abigail, Peter couldn’t ignore how watching Kitty’s stomach grow made him feel as though he were balancing on the edge of a knife.
Charlie’s birth had been relatively easy but seeing Kitty in pain as she struggled to bring his son into the world had left Peter feeling uneasy. He’d not been able to leave her side for days, and when the midwife placed Charlie in his arms, he’d wept tears of gratitude.
It felt as though he were tempting fate to hope that he might have another healthy child.
“I’ll be glad with whatever God blesses us with as long as Kitty and the child are safe.”
Peter loved Kitty in a way that consumed him completely. Marriage to her had been a new beginning that he’d desperately needed. With Kitty, he’d been able to leave his anger toward Marcus Brown in the past, not that it mattered. Marcus had been sentenced to jail since he couldn’t pay back his many debts.
Peter had been able to leave behind his guilt with Abigail. Though he would never not still have love for his first wife, his feelings had changed. But Peter didn’t know what he would do if he were ever to lose Kitty or any of his children.
The very thought sent a shiver down his spine.
“What is it?” his mother asked.
Peter sighed. It was Charlie’s birthday, and he did not want to ruin the festivities, but as his son grew older, Peter felt a stab of icy fear in his heart. “I worry about him,” he said, not taking his eyes off his boy.
Peter loved both of his children equally, but his own fears made him worried about what could happen once Charlie became a man.
“Why?” His mother asked. “He’s healthy and happy. You and Kitty have done a wonderful job with him. With both the children. Mae is thriving, and Charlie and this new baby will do the same.”
Peter wanted to agree. He also wanted to credit his wife for that. Kitty was a wonderful mother. She always knew the right thing to say and do, and it amazed Peter. But there were some things that even the best parents couldn’t avoid.
“I worry that he will perish young. Like Pa.”
His mother inhaled sharply. “What makes you think that? Has a physician said something?”
Peter shook his head. “No,” he told her. “But they didn’t know father was ill either.”
His mother’s face fell slightly. “Oh, Peter. Has this been why you’ve always been so concerned about your health? Did you think that what happened to your father might befall you?”
Peter said nothing. Years ago, he had felt that way. It was what pushed him into marriage with Abigail and what kept him from Kitty. Though he’d come to realize that his fears had been silly, he couldn’t stop the worry that something would happen to his boy.
He’d barely survived losing one child. Peter knew he would not be able to lose another.
His mother reached out and took his hand, giving it a squeeze. “I should have told you this a long time ago,” she said.
“Told me what.”
Her eyes misted over as they often did when she thought about his father. “Your father’s illness was no secret. I knew about it for years. We did what we could to keep him well, but in the end….”
Peter blinked rapidly. His entire life, he’d thought that his father had simply dropped dead, but now, his mother was telling him the opposite. “When your uncle fell from his horse, the entire family was shocked. They expected that your father might not live to be an old man, but his brother….”
“He fell from a horse?”
His mother nodded.
Peter felt stiff with shock. Though he’d long stopped worrying long ago that he was cursed by some mysterious illness that had befallen the men in his family, when Charlie was born, a part of him still worried.
“If I had known that you were worried, I would have told you years ago.”
Peter released a heavy breath that he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding inside of his chest. As he looked at Charlie, who was smiling and running around with Ira, he felt grateful to his mother.
“Better late than never,” he muttered to himself.
Before she could say anything Kitty returned to his side. “I don’t know if we should give him cake any time soon,” she told them as they looked at the sweets that she had created for Charlie’s birthday. “He won’t sleep tonight because of all the sugar he’s had.”
His mother laughed. “Oh,” she exclaimed. “Let him eat it. He’s just a spirited little boy.”
Kitty frowned, but she said nothing. Her eyes kept a hard watch on their son, and Peter found himself apt to agree with his wife, but he wasn’t going to say that.
“You should sit,” he told her, as his mother walked off to play with the children. Though she was advancing in years, his mother was still a spry woman. “You’ve been running around all afternoon.”
Kitty sighed. “I just want everything to be perfect.”
One of the ways in which Peter and Kitty differed was that Kitty always desired everyone’s happiness before her own. When they’d married, Peter made the vow that he would do whatever was necessary to ensure that his wife was the happiest she’d ever been. He hadn’t anticipated her fighting him on the subject at every turn.
“Come on,” he said, taking her hand and leading her out of the sun. “Let’s rest for a moment.”
Kitty looked back at the garden. “But the children—”
“Are fine,” Peter said. “They are surrounded by people who love and adore them, and I can assure you that they won’t even miss us if we are gone for a moment.”
Peter was certain of that. Mae was wildly attached to Tori, which sometimes worried him, and Charlie was still at the age where he appreciated the attention of his grandparents, which he got in spades.
As Peter walked Kitty back into the hotel, he was surprised by how she allowed him to guide her out of the sunshine. He suspected that she was tired.
“Wait,” she said, stopping him so that they were able to continue to look out the window.
“What is it?” he asked, coming to stand behind her. He pressed a small kiss to her neck, unable to help himself. Peter always took every instance he could to show his wife physical affection. He didn’t care if it was appropriate or not.
“They are getting so big,” she whispered.
Peter smiled. “Isn’t that a good thing?” Peter loved watching his children grow and change. Even in the last three years, he was starting to see Mae become a little lady. She was outgoing and intelligent, and she had patience that Peter didn’t think he’d possessed at her age.
“It is,” she said. “I just never thought that I would have children, and I wish they’d stay small for a little longer.”
Peter turned Kitty around so that he could look into her eyes. “I’m glad that you walked into my hotel that day.”
Kitty laughed, and though he’d heard the sound every day for the past three years, it still sent a shiver of pleasure down his spine.
“What brought that about?” she asked him.
Peter placed a hand on her stomach. He jumped slightly as he felt their new child kick. It was as though the baby knew that he needed reassurance that he or she was strong and healthy. “You’ve made me the happiest man alive,” he told her. “You and the children. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t said yes to me that day.”
Kitty reached up and cupped his cheek. He closed his eyes, enjoying the feeling of her warm, soft skin. “There was never any other choice for me but you,” she whispered.
Peter felt the same. Though he hadn’t known it, when she’d walked into his hotel, he’d been hers—fully and completely. He always would be.
“I love you,” Peter said, leaning down and pressing a kiss against her lips.
Kitty sighed softly as he pulled away. Her eyes had taken on a dreamy quality, and he loved the look of her. “I love you,” she told him. “You’ve made the happiest woman in the world.”
“That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
As they turned to watch their family in the garden of their home, Peter felt content with Kitty in his arms and a new baby on the way.
He’d never envisioned such a perfect life, but he knew that he was blessed that someone else had.