Cassie Marsh walked the length of her classroom.
“Who remembers what we read yesterday afternoon?” she asked her class. Ten hands shot up. She smiled fondly, remembering when her whole class consisted of five children. Things had changed. It had only been two years, and yet the relationship she had with the town compared to when she’d first arrived was very different.
The children loved her, all twenty-two of them who came to school.
“Amy and Trent, please come up here and read the next paragraph.”
She sat back at her desk while the two came up and took turns reading the next bit of the book. Classes were a joy, and she enjoyed every moment she had with the children.
She placed a hand on her growing stomach. Soon, she would have a child of her own. Any day, actually. The rest of the afternoon she spent handing out assignments, checking homework and listening to children read to her. It didn’t feel heavy or hard; it felt perfect, as if she was meant to be doing that. When Ethan showed up to take her home, she turned to Lana, who was cleaning the board at the front of the schoolhouse.
“Do you mind finishing everything up today so I can go home early?”
Lana beamed. The other woman might not have been the board’s first choice before, but she’d turned out to be a wonderful teacher. She’d come and worked with Cassie nearly every day. She’d also turned in her application to a few other schools and was going to be starting her very own class next year. Cassie was happy for her.
“Of course, I would love to finish here. Go, enjoy your day.” Lana waved her off as if it were no trouble. Cassie hurried outside; she didn’t need to be told twice. She was eager to get home and have some time to prepare. Her family was coming to visit. It had taken a full two years, plus her original time out west, but now they were finally coming. It would be good to see Liam and her parents in person after so long.
“There you are. Are you ready to go? Otherwise, I can wait, or help you.” Ethan hopped down from the wagon and rushed to her side. It was slightly less convenient now that they didn’t live by the schoolhouse. Lana had taken over the little cabin once Cassie had moved out.
“I’m ready to go.” Cassie accepted his helping hand, leaning into his strong shoulder as they went. “I’m glad you’re here. We have so much to do.”
“You mean my sisters, mother, and I have so much to do. You shouldn’t be lifting a finger in your condition. I’m still not convinced you should be teaching.”
“I am fine.” Cassie shook her head as Ethan helped her into the wagon as if she were as fragile as an egg and would shatter at the slightest shake.
“You keep saying that, but I will only be content a month after you’ve safely had our baby and have had time to recover. I know you don’t like accepting that you might need to slow down.”
Cassie frowned, then let out a little giggle. Ethan was right and knew her well. She hated slowing down for anything, especially for herself.
“My family is coming, I want everything to be perfect. They might even be here long enough to meet our daughter.”
“How do you know it is a girl?”
“I know.” Cassie took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. She couldn’t explain it, but she had a strong feeling that they would be having a baby girl.
“Well, as long as it is a healthy, strong baby, I don’t care if it’s a girl or a boy. After all, our future babies will make sure that we have plenty of each.” Ethan smirked mischievously, making Cassie burst into laughter. One of the things she loved most about Ethan was his humor. He hadn’t lost it, despite the occasional rough days in their life.
Moving to a new place, with land of their own, and starting a farm was not as easy as it might have sounded to her at one point.
“I hope they’ll like it here; what I’ve become here.”
“Of course they will,” Ethan’s expression was calm and sure, as always. “You have made a great life for yourself here. You’re doing a good job, you know that?”
“Thank you. It means a lot to hear you say that.”
Cassie’s heart warmed at his words. Sometimes she wondered if she’d done the right thing by walking away from her family. There were brief and passing moments of homesickness, which always faded in the light of the life she’d built.
She pressed her hand to her stomach. “I sort of hope they love it here so much that they’ll move here, and our baby will have more family in her life.”
“You’re already calling the baby her; you know it could be a boy.”
Cassie shook her head. “I know.”
Ethan’s amusement faded as he realized she was serious. “They may decide to come live here, but if they don’t, we can move to Chicago. If that is what you feel like you need, I am willing to uproot things and go there.”
“No.” Cassie missed her family and loved them, but she had something special here in Flatiron Texas. She loved the life she had with Ethan, and what they’d built together with their own hard work and determination. They had the little farm, his woodshop, the school, and her classes. Life was so busy and full and wonderful. It was everything she’d ever wanted, and the community, the women who made her feel wanted and a part of their circle, were genuine and lovely. “I want this life, my life with you. That comes first. Everything else…it’s not as important, no matter how much I miss it sometimes. We’ve built something special together.”
“You’re too good for me.” Ethan leaned in and kissed her, nearly allowing the horses to stop and graze on the side of the road before he pulled them back to the task. “Now, promise me you won’t do anything that isn’t necessary to prepare for their arrival. Let us do the heavy work.”
Cassie sighed. “I promise.” It would be hard, but for his peace of mind, she’d try to take a back seat.
Ethan sat back in the parlor chair. It was a bit surreal to be sharing the parlor he’d built for him and Cassie with Liam Marsh.
He liked all of Cassie’s family. They were everything she said they were. Most of all, they loved Cassie, which was so easy to see. They constantly doted on her and asked her how her life was and looked after her.
“So, you think visiting will make your family move out here?” Ethan asked Liam. The two of them seemed to have hit it off on the right foot. They’d been talking most of the evening, and Ethan had to ask.
“You know, I wouldn’t be surprised. The city hasn’t been the same without Cassie.”
Ethan nodded. “I can imagine that being the truth, strangely enough.”
Liam grinned, and then his expression turned thoughtful. “I’m glad she found you, you know? She’s changed a lot, I can see it. She’s so happy and excited about her life and her future. That’s all I wanted for her. At first, I was doubtful that she’d find it, and then she did, with you.”
“Thank you. It means a lot that you and your family approve.” Ethan knew he had Cassie forever, no matter what anyone thought, and yet it was still special to know that her family was happy with their union.
Liam didn’t have time to say anything else before Cassie walked into the room. Ethan was about to ask her if she needed his help with something when he noticed the look on her face. It was strained and a bit shocked.
“Ethan, I think it’s time.” She gasped as she clutched her stomach. Ethan shot to his feet, looking at Liam to find the same horrified expression. It was time. She was going to have the baby. They’d spoken so much about it, and yet it was still something frightening.
“Get the midwife, the doctor, everyone. The baby is coming.” Her urgent words broke him out of his trance as her mother came into the room to join her.
“Come dear, let’s get you to the bed. Liam, go with Ethan. Get the people who will help attend to her.” Ethan motioned to Liam and the two of them raced outside. He had to get a midwife and a doctor. He kept repeating that to himself. She would be all right until he got back. She’d explained that babies could take a couple of hours to a whole day or two to be born. He had time.
Even so, the tense feeling in his chest did not dissipate. It didn’t go down when they got the doctor and the midwife, or when they returned and took to pacing on the porch.
Mr. Marsh joined them, then Ethan’s father and even Samuel. The five of them paced back and forth, waiting to hear the good news.
At long last, a thin wail broke the silence. Ethan nearly jumped with joy. The baby was there. After so much waiting, so much anticipation.
“Congratulations! You’re a father.” Samuel gave him a half hug, and the other men slapped him on the back or shoulder, seconding their congratulations. Ethan grinned, accepting their words, but eager to find Cassie, to share this moment with her.
He rushed inside, the other men on his heels.
“One at a time,” the midwife chided as she came out of the bedroom. Ethan nodded eagerly, wanting to see both Cassie and his baby. He had to make sure that they were all right. He’d heard so many stories about women who passed with their first baby.
When he stepped into the bedroom, he knew Cassie was okay. Her skin was glowing, and her eyes sparkled with happiness.
“Ethan,” his name on her lips carried so much love, so many thoughts, and feelings. “Come in, you can all come in.” She looked down at the bundle in her arms. “I was right, it’s a girl.”
Ethan couldn’t have grinned any bigger if he tried. “I’m glad,” he whispered as he went over to her and kissed her on her forehead. Harriett wasn’t too far away, looking on with her own charmed look.
The others filtered into the room one by one, offering their congratulations and sharing the special moment with them. Cassie held her out to him.
“What should we name her?” Cassie asked.
“Rose.” Ethan didn’t have a good explanation for the name. It just felt right, and he wanted her to have that name.
“Marie,” Cassie said with a pleased look. “Rose Marie.”
“Perfect. Just like her, and you.” Ethan took one of Rose’s tiny little hands into his. Her fingers extended and wrapped around his, her little eyes searching for his face. He wasn’t sure if she really saw him, but he hoped she did. He liked to think she did.
Right then, he knew what it was like for a second time to love someone unconditionally. He loved this little child. He’d just met her, and yet she was the center of his world.
“You’re okay?” he asked Cassie.
“I love you.” He had to tell her that. He did all the time, and he knew they both knew, but he still had to say it.
“I love you too,” she whispered. They looked around at the beaming faces that shared their happiness and joy. They were so blessed, this moment was so perfect, and nothing could take it away. God had truly given them everything they could ever ask for and more.