Chloe paused a moment at the base of her aunt’s porch. It had been nearly three weeks since she’d come to visit her aunt. She tried to come as often as possible, and when possible, like today, Theo came with her. Even though her aunt was elderly and sometimes had problems remembering things, Chloe enjoyed every one of their visits. Her aunt Anita was her only living relative that she knew of anyway. Somewhere out in the world, she had a father and probably family on that side as well, but she would most likely never learn who they were or have a relationship with them.
“Come on, we’re almost there.” Theo placed a gentle hand on her back.
Chloe nodded. “Whenever we come here, I wonder what it would have been like if my mother was still alive, waiting for me on the other side of that door. If only I’d been here, maybe things would have turned out different.”
“You can’t blame yourself, not like that.” Theo shook his head. “What you went through and did to find your mother, it was more than anyone should have or could have expected.”
“I just think about what it would have been like if I had found her before …” Chloe trailed off. She couldn’t talk about how many times she wondered what it would have been like to live with her mother again.
“I know it’s hard, but I believe your mother is looking down, and she is happy with everything that we’ve accomplished together, but most of all, she is most likely proud of how you managed to make something of yourself, despite the bad hand that you were dealt in life.”
Chloe nodded. Theo was always the one who knew what was going on and who knew the truth of things. He was the one who made sure she saw things the way they should be seen. Chloe continued up to her aunt’s porch and knocked on the door. Her hand had just left the door when it swung open. Her aunt Anita looked a lot like she remembered her mother looking. They were sisters after all.
“Chloe, it’s good to see you again! Come in.” Anita motioned for them to come into the house and toward the kitchen where she started pulling out chairs around the table. Anita was having a harder time moving around and being as agile as she once had been. Chloe could tell that having visitors was probably harder for her than she usually let on, but that didn’t matter. She still always made Chloe feel welcome. “Here, sit down. Let me get you some coffee or some tea.”
“Aunt Anita, don’t worry about it. Sit down a moment.” Chloe reached out and stopped her aunt from rushing around the kitchen. She hated to make her aunt’s day harder. Aunt Anita reluctantly sat down.
“I suppose I am not as nimble as I once was. It’s hard getting older. You’ll see when you get up in the years. Things aren’t as easy as they used to be. What brought the two of you by today?”
Chloe smiled. “Nothing specific. We just wanted to stop by and see how you were doing and say hello. How have you been these past weeks?”
Anita looked off in the distance, and for a moment, Chloe wondered if she had heard her at all.
“I’ve been all right. I was thinking of your mother the other day. She was such a dear.”
Chloe swallowed hard. She enjoyed every memory and story her aunt shared about her mother. Visiting her aunt and hearing those stories had become a big part of her life.
“She was, wasn’t she?”
“Yes, she always knew what to do. We would talk about how we would grow old together and our children would be friends. If only we would have known that things wouldn’t turn out that way, maybe we could have done something to stop it.”
Chloe reached over and patted her aunt’s hand. “Things turned out well, Aunt Anita. Maybe not like anyone expected, but still well.” Chloe really believed that. There had been a moment when she thought that it hadn’t been a good ending for her story, but she had changed her mind about that. She would always miss the life she might have had with her mother, but she would never trade her life with Theo for that.
She knew that what she had with Theo was something that only came once in a lifetime and the circumstances surrounding them falling in love would never have happened if she hadn’t been abandoned in front of the orphanage so long ago.
“Your aunt seemed happy to see us. Perhaps we should visit more often.” Theo had seemed thoughtful ever since they had left her Aunt Anita’s home.
Chloe nodded. “She did seem happy. I hate that she lives all alone. I’ve invited her to come live with us, just like you said, but she doesn’t want to give up doing things on her own for now.”
Theo shrugged. “I can understand that. I know that we think she would be better off living with us, but maybe she wouldn’t be as happy. I can’t believe that after all this time my family is finally going to visit.”
Chloe smiled, and her mood picked up a little bit. She had received a few letters from Theo’s parents, but she had never met them. Even though she’d been married to Theo for three years, she was still nervous about whether they would like her or not. It wasn’t as if anything would change, but she knew that meeting her in person would be different for everyone compared to written words exchanged between them.
“What if they hate me?’ The words slipped out of Chloe’s mouth. She had feared that for a long time but had kept those uncertainties to herself. Theo always told her that his parents and older brothers couldn’t wait to meet her, but she often felt worried he was just trying to make her feel better and didn’t know if they would like her or not. She had heard plenty of stories from the women in town about families who disliked their daughters-in-law. What she did know about Theo’s mother made her think they would get along, but she was fearful they wouldn’t. She didn’t know how she was supposed to react if Theo’s parents didn’t like her.
“They are not going to hate you. Listen, Chloe, I have told my parents all about you. My mother is relieved I’ve found someone to settle down with. She is going to be so happy to have another woman in the family where there have always just been men. I know my family and I know what sort of people they like. They might have been surprised that I got married while out here, but that doesn’t mean they will dislike you.”
Chloe nodded, biting her lower lip. “I just worry because … I’ve never had a family. I am scared about what happens if I am the reason you lose yours.”
“That is never going to happen, and even if my family decided for some ridiculous reason that they didn’t love you completely with all their heart as I do, I would take your side because you are the best thing that has ever happened to me. Don’t you ever doubt it.” They had stopped on the trail that led up to their home, and Theo took a step closer to Chloe.
She leaned into him and wrapped her arms around his waist while she rested her head on his shoulder.
“Besides, I am pretty sure that our news is going to make them so excited, they won’t be able to think about anything else. You have nothing to worry about.”
Chloe smiled at his words and felt just a little bit better. Leave it to Theo to make all her doubts and insecurities vanish. She remembered that first time she’d spotted him on the train from the luggage car. Back then, she’d been the first to think the worst of him. Things had changed so much since then. If someone had told her where she would be three years later, she would never have believed them.
Theo tapped his fingers on the envelope sitting in front of him. He’d been surprised when the letter got delivered to him. He rarely received mail besides the letters he exchanged with his family. They were going to be arriving that afternoon at their home, so he’d known right away that this letter wasn’t from them. He had been fairly shocked to see that it was from Robert Osborne
Theo was a bit nervous about reading it. Even though things had ended well enough with Robert, you couldn’t exactly say they were friends. Even so, Theo wanted to hear that Robert was doing well. Even though what Robert did was no way to solve things, Theo felt bad for all the bad turns his life had taken. He hoped that something had worked out for him in the end.
He picked up the letter and opened it slightly reluctantly. He unfolded a single piece of lined paper.
I know you are probably not expecting a letter from me, but I couldn’t keep myself from writing any longer. I wanted to tell you what happened to me after the second chance you gave me. I came to live near my daughter, and I’ve used my past experience to open my own mercantile. It has gone much better than I expected. Having my business has given me the ability to have a relationship with my daughter and be nearby whenever she needs me.
I have improved my relationship with my in-laws as well. They have come to accept that I am not giving up on being in my daughter’s life. Even though we still don’t see eye to eye on many things, things have been better between us and we are all trying to do what is best for my daughter. I want you to know that my life is looking up; it’s getting better instead of worse.
None of this could have happened if you chose to handle our last interaction differently. You could have chosen to ruin my life, and I might never have seen my daughter again. However, you helped me by forgiving me and believing I could turn things around. There is no way I can ever thank you or show you how much it means to me what you’ve given me.
I will never forget how your father treated me back in the day, but likewise, I will never forget how kind and forgiving you were. I hope that you and Chloe are well. The two of you deserve every happiness that comes your way. Once again, all I can do is apologize for what I put the two of you through and thank you for allowing me this second chance at life.
With my best wishes,
Theo grinned at the words in the letter. He’d imagined several different things that this letter might contain, but what it did was so much better. He was happy that Robert had finally found closure to the past and a way to move forward. He had found the way to leave all those things hindering him behind and go after what he really cared about. Theo was glad. In a way, his father’s past with Robert had been hanging over his head. It was nice to finally know what happened to him.
“Theo, we should get going,” Chloe poked her head into the room they shared. Theo pushed back from the table and turned to Chloe.
“Of course, you’re right. We don’t want to be late.” Theo folded up the paper and slipped it back into the envelope. He would keep this letter as a memento. It would serve as another reminder of everything that he and Chloe had gone through three years ago. So much had changed since then, including what their lives were expected to look like in the future. Theo stood and hurried with Chloe outside.
It didn’t take them long to prepare the wagon and head down to town. Theo was glad that he hadn’t had to go back home empty-handed at the end of the year he’d given himself to succeed. He’d never guessed that he would have both a wife and a farm at the end of that time.
“Are you sure your family is going to like what we’ve prepared for them? I know it isn’t what they are used to in the city …” Chloe wrung her hands. Theo could tell that she was worried about his family’s visit from the moment he’d announced their plans to see them. He didn’t blame her, but he did wish she would believe him when he told her it would all work out fine.
He’d been talking to his family about how wonderful she was for the past three years, and his mother and Chloe had even exchanged a few letters. He knew his family was going to love her. He was proud to have her as his wife.
“Chloe, they are coming here to see us, not to have exactly what they had back in the city. You will see. They are going to think our cabin is wonderful, and they are going to enjoy getting to see the farm. They are going to enjoy seeing everything about my life. You will see.” Theo was completely confident that his family would appreciate what he had built with Chloe. If they weren’t, then that was another matter, and he had no patience for such things.
The train was pulling up to the platform as they rode up to the station. Theo parked the wagon off to one side, then helped Chloe down and the two of them waited as the passengers started to come off the train. Theo spotted his family right away. Even though he hadn’t seen them for three years, they looked just the same as he remembered them.
His father was carrying his mother’s bag, and his brothers were both elbowing each other and laughing as they approached. He grabbed Chloe’s hand, and they wove through the other people on the platform to get to his family.
“Theo!” His mother rushed forward, wrapping him in a tight hug. She pulled back, and her warm smile landed on Chloe. Theo could tell that Chloe was shocked when his mother hugged her too. “Chloe, I am so glad to meet you! After everything I’ve heard about you and after the letters you’ve sent, it is nice to put a face to the name. I do hope that my son has been treating you right.”
Chloe’s cheeks turned a bright red, and Theo could tell she wasn’t sure how to respond. He didn’t wait to find out. Instead, he stepped aside to say hello to his father and brothers while his mother and Chloe got better acquainted. Despite Chloe’s doubt, he knew they would get along wonderfully. He didn’t want Chloe or his mother to feel strange because he was there listening in on their conversation.
“So, that is your wife?” Franklyn asked as he approached.
“She sure is. Where is your wife?”
Franklyn smiled sheepishly. “She couldn’t come. She wanted to, but she is a teacher now, and she couldn’t leave her students.”
Roland looked around. “This town doesn’t look too bad. Say, where’s your farm? I’ve been looking forward to seeing what was so much better than Pa’s mercantile and everything you left behind.”
Theo grinned. He knew that his brother was just bothering him with good intentions and good humor. He could also see just a tiny bit of envy in Roland’s gaze. He knew that deep down, his brothers probably wished they had known exactly what it was they wanted. After more introductions and getting his family’s luggage, they all piled in the wagon and headed back toward the farm.
They smiled as his family laughed and joked around him. He could see that Chloe was happy; she was smiling from ear to ear. When they arrived at the farm, Theo made a show of giving his family a tour. They were still saving the best for last. Theo pulled Chloe away from his family for a moment, wrapping his arm around her waist.
“So, how do you like my mother?” he asked.
“Very much. She is very kind and has treated me … well, I couldn’t have asked for better. I’m sorry for doubting them.” Chloe looked embarrassed.
“That is quite all right. I knew that you would love her, and she would love you. I am very happy the two of you are getting along. So, are you ready to tell them?”
“Do you think they’ll …”
“Be happy?” Theo cut her off before she could finish. “They are going to be so excited; they might even move here.”
Chloe giggled. “I wouldn’t mind that.”
“That’s just because you have gotten to know them a little.” Theo chuckled, then cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention.
“One reason we wanted you all to come down here was to show you where we lived and so you could officially meet Chloe,” Theo started. His family drew closer as they realized he was about to share something important. “The other reason was that we wanted to make the following announcement in person.” Theo grinned as he looked down at Chloe, the love of his life and the woman he was going to share the rest of his life with. “Chloe and I are expecting a baby.”
As everyone congratulated them and asked questions and made jokes, Theo’s attention was on his beaming wife. Even when he’d lived in a big house in the city, with everything he could have asked for and his future set up for him, he’d never felt so rich as he did at that moment.