Lottie hummed as she dressed for the day. Glancing out the window, she could see that it would be a beautiful summer morning.
She smiled. These were her favorite. Most days were her favorite, but today was a special one. She continued humming as she made her bed and headed down the hall. As she passed the next two doors, she rapped firmly on them.
“Good morning!” Lottie sang loudly. “It’s time to wake up. Hurry up, or you’ll be late for school!”
From one room, she could hear an instant clatter. She winced but decided against going inside. She couldn’t rescue Charlie every time he made a mess. It was time that nine-year-old learned not to leave everything out.
Sarah, on the other hand, appeared out of nowhere and cleared her throat from behind Lottie. “I’m not late, am I?”
Jumping, Lottie used all her strength not to scream. She put a hand over her heart as she whirled around to look at her seven-year-old daughter. “I – well – what did I say about creeping up on folks, Sarah?”
The little girl turned bright red. “All I did was walk up to you, Mama.”
Sighing, Lottie leaned over to wrap her arms around her beautiful little girl. With her dark hair and father’s blue eyes, Sarah was a lovely little thing. But she walked around like a ghost and had even scared the pastor the other week right after one of his sermons. Heath couldn’t stop laughing about it, but all it did was make Sarah cry.
“Maybe we should tie a bell around your neck after all,” Lottie mumbled under her breath with a sigh. She kissed her daughter’s forehead. “Just try stomping around some, why don’t you? Now, did you eat your porridge?” The girl nodded. “Good, good. Let’s fix these braids of yours, and you should be ready to go.”
The pair sat down at the table so Lottie could redo the braids that Sarah still struggled with. Lottie asked Sarah about what she looked forward to learning that day at school, trying to get her to talk some. Though her daughter had some good friends, she could be rather shy, and it worried Lottie sometimes.
“Charlie?” Lottie cried out when she was done with Sarah. “Charlie? Are you dressed yet?”
“I can’t find any shoes,” he wailed as he opened his door with only his pants and one sock on.
She hurried over to find that he had everything out in his room. Lottie didn’t think their family had much, for they tried to be a modest family. But she couldn’t see her son’s floor anymore. Her eyes widened. Sighing, she shook her head before quickly spotting what he was looking for.
“There and there,” Lottie said. “And wear that shirt. That one is clean, dear. Put it on, and we need to be going. Your books are out here already for you.”
It had taken them years to get into this pattern of making their mornings work. Lottie could hardly believe it. And yet, there were still mornings where there was more chaos or more trouble.
She didn’t look forward to those. But Lottie knew she could handle them so long as she had her family right there beside her to keep her moving forward. Heath knew just what to do to support her. He was always there for her. Lottie still didn’t know how she had become so lucky. All she knew was that she thanked the Lord every morning and every evening for all her many wonderful blessings.
As her daughter stepped outside to play in the garden while her son hurriedly ate his breakfast, Lottie took her turn to finish getting ready for the day. There was a strong breeze outside, so she returned to her bedroom to find a shawl.
Before she could reach into her wardrobe, she realized there was one waiting for her on her nearby window seat. Heath had built that for her when she fell in love with watching the world through that window.
It had a beautiful view right into their garden and into the mountains. This was especially helpful for the days when she grew pregnant and had a harder time moving around. Heath worked on building the window seat while she enjoyed sitting in a rocking chair. And then she used one while each of her children was born. Now, she used her window seat to watch the world thrive, and to occasionally read when she had a moment to spare.
There weren’t a lot of moments, but Lottie found them on occasion.
She hurried over to pick up the shawl. But she paused, finding a note tucked partially into it. Her heart skipped a beat. Grinning, Lottie picked it up and excitedly read it.
Happy Anniversary, Charlotte. Twelve years is a long time, but not long enough for me. Let’s celebrate tonight under the open sky with a picnic. Julia can tend to the children, and I’ll tend to the setup. See you tonight, my love. Heath.
Even after all these years. Lottie could hardly believe it. Heath could still make her heart flutter as he had on their wedding day. She giggled before carefully setting the note down. Then Lottie picked up her shawl and hurried out.
While she could be excited for the evening, there was still much for her to attend to in the meantime. Clapping her hands, Lottie made her way back through the house. “It’s time to go!” she called out. “We can’t be late! Time for school!”
Lottie scooped up her children with their belongings and headed down the road. It had grown into a larger school in the last couple of years. There were three classrooms now, and she still taught.
Though she had expected to take time off for her children, she had not ended up having the large brood of children she had anticipated. Lottie and Heath had tried for years to no success until Charlie suddenly came along. They counted their blessings and were just as surprised and thrilled when Sarah was born.
When it was time for them to start school, however, Lottie didn’t know what else to do with her time. She gave it two years before talking to the school board. They had wanted her to come back all along, and she needed something to do. So she taught again and helped run the school.
It was a lot for their little family, but she loved teaching the little children.
As for Heath, he was still the town marshall after twelve years with no end in sight. There were days where he joked about retiring, but they both knew he didn’t want to do anything else. He loved the town and cared about protecting everyone.
Especially since Sammy had picked up some initiative and was recruited to become his deputy. Everyone worried at first that it meant the two of them would play around. While it definitely included a few practical jokes, mostly on the Wright ranch and away from the public, Sammy had been able to do some good. In his free time, he continued to care for sickly animals, and everyone came to him for help.
Lottie couldn’t believe how fortunate she had been. Though there had been a few years of lingering nightmares, she had never scarred from the kidnapping attack. She came out of it mostly unscathed. If anything, she was closer to her family and ended up married.
As for Tom Goodwin, he and his rustler gang ratted each other out immediately. They all ended up serving time in a far off penitentiary. Lottie thought of him once in a while, mostly with disappointment that a good man had gone so terribly down the wrong path.
Heath wasn’t like that. After all, Heath had her. She would never allow something so horrible like that to happen again.
Their families prospered as well as they had before.
While Heath’s parents continued to struggle, Lottie dedicated much more time to working with them so that they would at least come to visit her in her home with Heath. That took nearly a year, but it was worth it. This meant that they were both around on occasion to visit their children.
As for her family, her grandfather passed away only two years after her wedding. They all took it hard, even though they knew it was coming. But the service was beautiful, and Lottie liked to think that he was much happier in heaven. It sounded like a lovely place.
Her father was still mayor, for he treated the town right and the people fair. His attitude toward Heath had softened. By the time Charlie was born, her father and Heath were taking Sunday rides off together, talking about topics she could only guess. They wouldn’t tell her no matter how much she pestered them.
Everyone was doing well. Their town was four times the size it had been when she first married. Lottie could hardly believe it. The classes were overflowing with students, and now they were trying to find another teacher. She had never thought that this day would come.
She wondered how this had happened. Leading her children down the street, she played with their hair absently as she recalled the place that she had grown up in. Everything was always changing.
Even now, she was growing older. Time was changing her. Lottie sometimes worried about wrinkles she found in the mirror. But she wouldn’t have a chance to before Heath would come over to cover her in kisses and tell her that she was the prettiest thing he had ever seen. He wouldn’t stop until she was laughing or begging him for mercy.
As always, just thinking of her husband made her smile. She thought of his note and could hardly wait. All she had to do was drop her children off, and then she could head home. Lottie wondered if she would have time to dress up before sitting down with Heath.
“Lottie!” Julia flung the door open before she had a chance to knock. “There you are. Welcome! Come in, everyone, come in!”
Her Uncle Mitchell and Julia King had taken their time in courting. Not wanting to rush, Mitchell had visited her once or twice a month. Then they sent each other frequent letters. Because Julia loved her business, and Mitchell was slower than everyone expected, they didn’t marry until Lottie was pregnant with Charlie.
It had taken them a while, but it had been worth the wait. They had opened a boarding house connected to their own home in town. Then Julia still owned a share of her saloon and visited every once in a while.
Lottie ushered her children in. ”I’m sorry to stop by so last minute,” she started hesitantly. “I don’t know if Heath mentioned, but you see, it’s our anniversary, and we wanted to do something together.”
Julia chuckled as she waved a hand in the air. “Don’t worry,” she said beaming before leaning against her table to relax. Lottie couldn’t blame her since the woman was due with child in just three months. “Heath stopped by and mentioned this might happen. Your kids are so well behaved. If they can rub off on Tyler, that’s all I ask.”
Chuckling, Lottie shook her head as she glanced at her children. “Did you hear your Aunt Julia? Show Tyler how to be patient and kind.”
“I always am,” Sarah defended herself.
But Charlie just pouted. “I want to see Uncle Mitch. Where is he?”
“Out back.” Julia pointed with one hand. “He’s working with some sharp tools. When he comes inside, you can see if he’ll take you back out. Or not,” she hesitated when Lottie’s eyes widened.
“Just be careful,” Lottie managed. She gave Charlie a stern look. “I mean it. And behave, please. I just want one lovely evening with your father. We’ll come back for you later, all right? Behave yourselves.” She hurried over to kiss their cheeks before she waved to Julia. “Thank you again!”
Lottie hurriedly made her way home. She tugged her shawl closer around her when the wind picked up. It was sharp against her cheeks. She wrinkled her nose before making it home. There was noise in the kitchen when she entered through the front door.
“Heath?” she called out.
“Lottie? Don’t come in here,” he ordered. “I’m not done.”
Her lips quirked together. Lottie just shook her head at him before she hurried to their bedroom. She moved quickly, not knowing how much time she had. If he was preparing food for her, the least she could do was look her best.
“In the bedroom,” she called with her voice muffled as she switched into her nicest dress. “Just a moment! Don’t come in here.”
The doorknob rattled, but he didn’t open the door. “Are you all right?” Heath called into her, his voice puzzled.
She huffed, fixing the buttons on her dress and tugging at the seams before she got it just right. Then she loosened her hair from her bun to hang it loose, just the way Heath liked. Most days, Lottie wasn’t too particular. But there were many mornings over the years where she would wake up with him having undone her hair and slowing weaving his fingers through it.
At last, she was satisfied. Lottie put her wedding ring back on and then ran to the door.
Lottie beamed at him as she showed off her outfit. She was glad to see that her husband was also well dressed. That was mostly because she decided what belonged in his closet, of course, but at least he picked the pieces well.
“Wow,” Heath murmured as he stepped forward. Slipping his arms around her waist, he leaned down to kiss her hungrily on the lips. “Did I mention how beautiful you are yet today?”
“Nope,” she mumbled between kisses. “I think you forgot. You left before I woke up.”
“That was my fault. I’m sorry. Never again,” he swore softly.
She giggled, finally pulling away as she felt her lips begin to swell with all that kissing. “As much as I love kissing you, right now, I’m more hungry. Where is this food you mentioned?”
After he planted one more kiss on her, Heath took her by the hand and led her through the house. Lottie followed him along happily. Her heart soared whenever she was with him. Their life together had not always been easy, but every moment had been worth it.
They were patient and caring around one another. Both were always trying to understand. Though one of them might grow angry and frustrated, the other would remain patient. Everything was resolved eventually. Lottie marveled at how everything was eventually resolved between them. It made her excited to wake up every day beside her husband.
He picked up a basket in the kitchen and then led her out the back door.
Somehow she hadn’t noticed the spot outside her window just moments ago. But just beyond the vegetable garden, Heath had laid out two large blankets on top of each other with lanterns sat at each end to hold them down.
The sun was beginning to set behind them. Lottie looked around at the soft colors in the sky and down at the impressive placement before her. Heath had already set up plates and glasses before her. It was so simple and yet so beautiful.
Her eyes misted as she squeezed his hand. “This is so lovely,” she whispered. “It’s perfect.”
“Yeah?” He gave her a hopeful grin. “I wanted us to do something to make up for last year.”
A choked laugh escaped her lips, knowing that would come up.
The other year, there was a terrible stomach sickness going around the school. Charlie wound up with it first. Sarah never ended up getting it, but then both Lottie and Heath woke up with it on the day of their anniversary. They had spent it fighting over the outhouse and lying crumpled in bed.
Lottie shook her head as she waved a hand to get that out of her mind. “Let’s forget that ever happened,” she proclaimed. “Now help a lady sit, would you?”
“Yes, dear.” Heath promptly set the basket down before helping her to her side of the picnic blanket, where she tucked away her skirts and carefully sat down on the ground. Before letting go of her hand, her husband stole a quick kiss on her knuckles and then joined her.
They both heard a soft creak, and he winced. “I’m not getting old, am I?”
She made a face. “I don’t want to think about that. Let’s talk about something else. How was work today? Sammy?”
The two of them got to talking as Heath pulled out the food. He had become quite the cook over the years. Because of his work, however, he typically only cooked for special occasions. Tonight he had cooked them quail and potatoes, to her surprise.
It made for a lovely evening. They watched the sunset with the stars glittering above them. She could hardly breathe with such beauty before them. Lottie’s heart felt full as the night progressed. Twelve years had passed since she had married Heath.
And she could hardly wait for more.
Thinking of his note that morning, she anticipated with glee her own note that she had to give to Heath. Fumbling with her skirts, Lottie listened as Heath mentioned Sammy trying to scare the pastor the way their daughter Sarah had the other week, as she searched for her scrap of paper.
“He’s going to get himself into trouble one of these days.” Lottie shook her head in disbelief at her brother’s antics. “Isn’t he too old for such jokes?”
Heath raised his eyebrow at her. “I thought you didn’t want to think about that.” She offered a sheepish grin as he chuckled. “Besides, I think we are better than ever. We’re happy, we’re thriving, and our families are well. What more could we want?”
Lottie hesitated. She swallowed as she slipped the note over onto her plate. “That’s a good question.” She gave him a sheepish smile. “Is there anything more you could want, Heath?”
He eyed the note curiously before glancing up at her. “No, I just said … Why? Did you get me something? We said no gifts until our twentieth anniversary, Lottie.” Then he opened the note and read it aloud. “‘Heath, do you like the names Robert or Rachel? Because Baby Number Three will need a name. Love you always, Lottie.’” His eyes flickered up over the piece of paper. “Wait, really?”
Chewing her lip anxiously, she nodded. “Yes, I think so. I mean, I am. I really am. I mean, I’m late. And I’ve thrown up several times a day for a month and cannot stand the smell of oranges or spoiled food right now. All the signs are there, Heath. I’m certain of it.”
As she spoke hurriedly, his grin grew and grew. Lottie looked at him hopefully just in time to see him lunge over their supper setup to wrap his arms around her. Suddenly she was flying in the air with him. For all his complaints about being old, Heath didn’t disrupt anything as they tumbled away from their picnic, laughing and giggling.
Eventually, they came to a stop. Lottie was breathless as she stared down at Heath. He held her tightly in his arms as a grin spread across his face.
“My little Lottie,” he murmured. “How did I ever get to be so lucky?”
She beamed. “I ask that myself every day.” Then Lottie leaned forward and kissed him. Their future only grew better and better, and she could hardly wait for it.