“Well, Maw, how soon d’ you reckon you and the Doc will be tyin’ the knot your own selves?”
“Zach.” His mother blushed, flushed, blushed again. Had she been sitting closer to him at the supper table, she probably would have smacked him upside the head. “No such thing.”
“Aw, c’mon. You two been canoodlin’ for a year now, ever since Florrie and me got hitched. That poor feller just about trips over his tongue every time he comes out here to see you. Whyn’tcha show some pity for him?”
Florrie, who was in the process of bringing a pitcher of cool well water, took up Bettie’s cause. “Zach, behave yourself. What your mother does or does not do about Doctor Gordon’s intentions, she’ll do on her own, without your interference.”
“I dunno, Maw,” piped up Percy. During the past year, from last July to this, he had shot up some five inches, to the despair of anyone trying to keep him looking decent in long pants. Grabbing for a cinnamon roll off the plate, he licked his fingers of the buttery topping. “Looks t’ me like the Doc has got it bad. You’d oughta put him outta his misery and just say yes.”
“Besides,” added Paula, from the other end of the table, “it’d be awful nice to have another weddin’ at the house. I sure did like the last one.”
Grinning, Zach reached out to tug at one of her braids. “That’s only ’cause you like me and Florrie so much, Button.”
Reseating herself at the table, Florrie sedately handed a napkin to her young brother-in-law. “Manners, please, Perce. Does anyone want another helping of these potatoes?”
“Not right now, darlin’, I’m about full up. Oh, they’re mighty tasty,” Zach held up both hands, palms out, as she opened her mouth to protest. “One more of your successful dishes, I reckon.”
For a few minutes the silence of a quiet evening was interrupted only by clinking cutlery, the scooting of a chair in place, the burp and bubble from the coffeepot speaking its peace, and the usual occasional outside sounds. The peaceful, benevolent air of this house had drifted across the few miles to encompass the Victorian at Bluebonnet. Florrie had been happy to report after the tumultuous events had taken place there and she had made her first visit back, that the place had been entirely cleared of any sense of malice or malignancy. The only ghosts there now were friendly ones, offering solely a spirit of love and mercy.
“Still, Maw,” this was Zach again, chewing meditatively on a piece of fried chicken, “you gotta admit this’d be a good thing. There’s you and Doc Gordon, sparkin’ around and moonin’ over each other like a couplea googly-eyed tadpoles; and then there’s Chaney, who’s been doin’ a lotta courtin’ with the Widow Davis. My, my, love is certainly a-bloomin’.”
“Yeah, you’d oughta think about it, Maw,” said Percy. “Sure would be nice to have a doctor in the family, wouldn’t it?”
Settling her napkin more securely in her lap, Bettie, still blushing and bridling like a girl, lifted her chin against the importunities of her children. “That’s all you know about it.”
“Bettie!” Face alight, Florrie turned toward her. “Do you mean–”
“I mean,” she said primly, “that Lew has asked.”
“Ahuh.” Fork in hand, as if he intended to stab someone, Zach leaned forward. “And what’d you say?”
She sniffed. “I said yes, of course. Think I want to hang around this house forever with all you young sprouts?”
Her audience burst out laughing.
“I still dearly miss your father,” she added wistfully, after a minute. “I think I always will. He was my great love, and he can’t ever be replaced. But Lew is a good man, if he is a bit rough around the edges, and I think we can have a happy life together.”
Reaching out, Florrie gently covered the woman’s hand with her own. “I’m so pleased for you, Bettie. You’re right, he is a good man. And you ought to have all the happiness you can find.”
“Well, all I wanna know is,” Percy, ever practical, paused dramatically, “can we have the same kinda cake we had at Zach and Florrie’s weddin’? I been hankerin’ for more of that stuff.”
“Always your stomach,” scoffed Paula.
“Well, hey, it wasn’t you that grew so much Maw was complainin’ she couldn’t keep me in flood trousers. It’s no wonder I’m hungry.”
“Don’t blame you, Perce,” said Zach sympathetically, as he finished off his lukewarm coffee in a few swallows. “A hard-workin’ man always comes with an appetite.” He shot a look and a grin at his wife. “You make sure you find yourself a woman who can cook real fine. You’ll never regret it.”
After supper, each of the diners wandered off to their own affairs. The twins were, as usual, charged with clearing the table, putting away the few leftovers, and washing and drying the dishes. Since Florrie had prepared the bulk of the meal, with Bettie’s help, that seemed a fair arrangement. Especially tonight, when she had seemed a bit quieter and more subdued than usual.
Bettie went upstairs to primp and prepare for Lew Gordon’s visit in an hour or so.
Zach, with a motion of his head toward the front door, sauntered out to the veranda and plunked down in the porch swing. He pushed slowly back and forth, listening to the creak of the chains, and waited for Florrie to join him.
“S’pose we’ll have to give up our favorite evenin’ spot when Maw decides that she and the Doc wanna use it, huh?” he said gloomily, extending a hand to her approach.
She snuggled up beside him, into the curve of his welcoming arm. “It would be the gracious thing to do. As far as I know, this is still her house.”
“Huh. Well, there is one thing.” He brightened. “The two of them get hitched, she’ll move to town and get that office and house of his cleaned out and starched up. Might actually be able to see some light shinin’ in the windows, once she’s done with it.”
Leaning her head back, Florrie sighed with contentment. “Oh, Zach, isn’t it a heavenly night? Just look up at those stars. And that moon!”
He obeyed, tightening his hold around her shoulders. “Clear as a bell. Reckon the weather’ll be nice tomorrow, too. We been awful lucky so far. Just enough rain to keep the crops growin’ and the river full.”
“And is everything hunky-dory with the livestock?” She lay one hand across his thigh, in its work-stained trousers, as if to claim ownership.
“Hunky-dory and peachy-keen, darlin’. Brick and I went ridin’ out today and checked on the smaller bunch. Got three or four cows in the family way. Does a man’s heart good, seein’ growth and prosperity thataway.”
“Hmmm. Is that true only with cattle?”
“Well, not so much. I mean, with horses, too. And with them that keeps hogs, I reckon. Even with a flock of rabbits, I s’pose, did you decide to raise ’em.”
“A fluffle of rabbits?” Florrie hid a grin.
“That, too. Listen, why’re we talkin’ about this when I could be stealin’ a few kisses from my wife in the moonlight?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I just thought a discussion of new life might be appropriate.”
“Well, sure. It’s an important job, bringin’ calves safe into the world, or colts, or–”
“Yeah, you could add–Florrie. Florrie?”
Husbands can sometimes be remarkably dense as to hints on a subject, especially if their minds are concentrated on another completely unrelated topic. The direction of her casual questions and comments finally began to sink in.
With a startled exclamation, Zach sat up straight, pulled her forward, and held her fast by both upper arms in order to stare. “Florrie?”
“Well, I think I’m gettin’ the gist of what you wanna tell me, but I’d a heap rather you just spit it out plain. You sayin’ what I figure you’re sayin’?”
She smiled with all the serenity of a Madonna. “Very likely. Along about–oh, say, the early part of next year, you, my dear Zachariah, are going to be a father.”
“Yes. I’m going to have a baby. Just like all that livestock you’re touting. Except I dearly hope you don’t expect me to give birth out in a field somewhere, under the open sky.”
He lifted both hands to frame her face, to lean forward and touch his forehead to hers as if in silent communion. For a few moments, they simply sat together, sharing thoughts, sharing breath, sharing their deep abiding love.
“Florence Adams, I never figured I could be happier than I was the day we married. But this news–why, darlin’, it puts me right over the moon!”
“I feel the same way. We have so many blessings, Zach,” she whispered. “So much to be thankful for. And all the world before us. Such a small thing, you posting that ad for employment. Such a small thing, my responding to it. But if not–”
“If not, I reckon we’d’a met somehow, anyway. Some things are just meant to be. Like you and me.”
Several kisses, a prolonged embrace, and a number of husbandly cuddles later, and they could begin making plans for the future and the child on its way. Possibilities, names, hopes.
Soon they could return inside and share the joyous news with the rest of the family.
For now, however, this time was theirs.
As was the dream.