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 Life Goes On

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Keays

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Posts : 1431
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Life Goes On   Sat Sep 03, 2016 1:42 pm

Percy trotted down the well-packed snow covered road leading into the Jordan's main yard. He was tossing his head in his excitement of being out for a brisk, crisp ride on this wintery Christmas Eve day. The sky was overcast and the air held the tingle of snow, but that just added to the festive spirit, and Percy wasn't immune to it, by any means. The sleigh he pulled was laced with bells, and his humans were laughing and singing Christmas carols in time with the jingling of the harness.

The gray gelding snorted and then nickered, playfully, at the horses out in the pasture. They, in turn, kicked up their heels and trotted along beside the new arrivals and sent out their own greetings.

The dogs were next to get into the act, and the Jordan’s new dog, Kaylee, came galloping out of the barn, barking joyously, with tail wagging and tongue lolling. She danced and jumped around in front of Percy who tucked his head and tried to avoid trampling her, then gave it up and left it to her to stay out from under his hooves. The Double J dog was then distracted by Blu running up from behind the sleigh. Good friends by this time, they greeted one another, joyously, and combined their efforts to escort the sleigh down to the barn.
 
The two little dogs were too old for this kind of nonsense now, and simple stood by the barn door, and barked at the new arrivals. Having completed their duty, they both retreated into the barn and returned to their cozy dens in the hay.

Hannibal pulled the sleigh to a halt at the barn door and Ben appeared to take hold of Percy's head. The young man had been fortunate, in that he had recovered from his ordeal enough, to be able to come back to work. He had lost weight, and looked drawn and pale compared to the vibrant young man who had first begun working for the Double J, but at least he was on his feet, and getting after it. His face was relatively clear of any scaring from the burns he had received, and with the heavy jacket, long sleeves, and gloves, covering those areas that were affected, it would be easy to assume that he had not suffered any injuries at all.

“Merry Christmas, Ben!” Hannibal greeted the young man. “Joining us for dinner today?”

“Merry Christmas to you too, Mr. And Mrs. Heyes,” Ben responded. “No sir. As soon as I get your gelding settled here, I'll be heading home to spend the rest of the day with my folks.”

“Well that's nice,” Hannibal commented as he stepped around to help his bulky wife down from the conveyance.

Sally scrambled down from her seat in the back, and knowing that dogs weren’t allowed in her grandparents’ house, she gave Blu and hug, and sent off to play with Kaylee. Blu barked an excited farewell and galloped off to tackle Kaylee from behind, and sent both of them rolling through the loose snow, to come up laughing and excited with their play. Sally, content that Blu was having fun on his own, turned and made a run for the front door of the ranch house.

“I don't see a posse, Miss Heyes!” Hannibal called after her. “What's your hurry?”

“Let her be, Hannibal,” Miranda told him, as she tried to see the step that she knew was down there, somewhere. “You know how much she loves Belle's spiced apple cider.”

“Oh, yeah. And her apple pie!” Han smiled with anticipation, himself. “Still, nothing like that hot cider after a chilly ride out from town.” He glanced down at his wife's foot trying to feel its way. “Need some help?”

“I would appreciate it, yes,” Randa commented, dryly. “Just manoeuvre my foot onto the step. I can't see it.”

“Oh. Here, put your hands on my shoulders. Okay good. Now just...you alright?”

“Yes. Oh Percy, stand still!”

“Sorry ma'am!” Ben called from Percy's head. “I guess he's eager to get out with his buddies.”

Heyes leaned down and taking his wife's booted ankle in his hand, he gently guided it, until it rested firmly on the carriage step. Reaching up, he took hold on her waist and helped her to reach ground level.

“Oh, thank you,” she said as she straightened her clothing out. “It will be so nice to have my own figure back again.”

“Won't be long now,” Hannibal assured her.

“Easy for you to say!” she teased him.

He gave her a cheeky smile and offering his arm to her, they made their way towards the front porch.

“Jesse! Merry Christmas!” Hannibal called out, when he spied their host, still on crutches, waiting for them, by the door.

“Hello!” Jesse responded. “We thought it might be you when Kaylee barked, but Sally, running full speed towards the cider bowl, pretty much confirmed it.”

Heyes smiled and nodded enthusiastically. He wouldn't mind some hot spiced cider, himself.

“Do you need some help?” Jesse asked, hopefully, as the couple approached the steps.

“I think, I can manage,” Miranda assured him, as she grasped the hand railing with her free hand. “One step at a time.”

Hannibal helped his wife navigate the steps, and soon they found themselves in the warmth and welcoming atmosphere of the large ranch house that both he and Jed still thought of as their home.

“Here, let me take your coats,” Jesse offered, and despite his own handicaps, helped Miranda out of her bulky layers.

Laughter and conversation were ringing from the family room, and the couple made their way in, to find themselves places to sit and enjoy the company. Sally had put her cup of cider on the table, so that she and J.J. could play checkers. Rosie was sitting on the carpet beside them, wanting to join in, but not sure how to go about it. Bridget and Steven were sitting by the fire, taking turns bouncing Rachel off a knee, while Beth, with Thaddeus, had found a place next to the big, brightly decorated Christmas tree. Young as he was, little T.J. was fascinated by the sparkling bulbs that danced with the reflection of the fire playing upon their surfaces. He was giggling with delight and trying to reach out and grab them.

Belle showed up carrying two more cups of cider and handed them over to the two new arrivals, just as they were getting settled.

“Here you are,” she smiled with Christmas cheer. “This ought to warm you up. Glad you got here before it started snowing.”

Hannibal stood and gave Belle a kiss on the cheek.

“Merry Christmas,” he told her. “As usual, you've turned this into a perfect day.”

“It's hardly over yet, Joshua!” she teased him. “Let's not jinx it!”

He smiled and gave her another kiss. “Whatever you say.”

He took the offered cider and handing one to his wife, he sat back down to enjoy the warmth of the gathering.

“Thank you, Belle,” Miranda said. “You make the best spiced cider.”

Belle smiled with pleasure. “My grandmother brought the recipe with her from England. It is nice, isn't it?”

Everyone agreed and proceeded to tap cups with companions, who were within reach, in a toast to the hostess.

Belle laughed at their antics as she headed back to the kitchen. “Dinner will be awhile yet,” she stated over her shoulder. “So help yourselves to the goodies!”

Hannibal snatched himself a small piece of fruit cake then glanced around the gathering to take note of someone's absence.

“Where's Jed?” he asked Beth. “Don't tell me he's in the kitchen 'helping' Belle with the bird!”

“Oh no!” Beth laughed. “He still had some things to do at home, so he sent me and Thaddeus along ahead of him, in the sleigh, just in case it started snowing. He'll be along.”

“Oh,” Heyes thought about that. “Well, I wonder if I should go meet him.”

“We just got here!” Miranda complained. “You've barely had a chance to warm up.”

“I know,” Heyes agreed. “I'll finish my cider and have another piece of cake. You don't mind do you?”

“Oh, I suppose not,” Miranda gave in. “You and that cousin of yours. I swear, you're joined at the hip.”

Hannibal smiled and gave his wife a kiss. “I won't be gone long.”

Xxx

Jesse had suggested that Heyes take the paint gelding, Spike, on his little rendezvous, as that fellow hadn't had much exercise of late and could do with an outing. Jesse had been right, too. The gelding was eager to pick up a quick gait, even leaving the barn, and once warmed up, was happy to get into a lope and stay with it for the duration.

Heyes had timed the ride well. About half a mile away from the Curry residence, he spotted his cousin riding towards him. As soon as Jed saw him, he took off his hat and waved it in the air.

“Hello!!” came the distant greeting.

Heyes grinned and returning the wave, asked Spike for a longer stride. The two friends met up, just as the snow began to fall.

“Hey, Partner!” Heyes greeted him.

“Heyes, what are ya' doin'?” Jed asked him, playfully. “House full 'a kids got ya' feelin' antsy?”

“No, no,” Heyes denied. “Just wanted to make sure you didn't get lost.”

“Well, that's right neighbourly of ya'.”

“It's the least I can do on Christmas.”

“Uh huh. Haven't seen ya' in a few days. Everything okay?”

“Sure,” Heyes responded. “Why wouldn't it be?”

“Heyes, remember who you're talkin' to,” Kid griped. “You always get a little melancholy this time 'a year. So, I'm just askin'. Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” Heyes nodded.

The two men rode on in silence for a moment, the falling snow giving the ride a whimsical, almost fairy tale ambiance to it. Both horses were happily jogging along, tossing their heads and blowing steam from their nostrils. Life was good. Jed waited for more.

“I got to thinking,” Heyes finally continued.

“Uh huh.”

“Just what have we done over this past year, Kid?” he asked. “I mean, of any real importance.”

“What do ya’ mean?” Jed demanded, with some surprise. “It’s been a real good year. And on top ‘a that, you're out ‘a prison, for one thing. You're not on parole anymore, either. Remember what that was like? Geez Heyes, for a smart man, you got a real short memory.”

Heyes shrugged. “Yeah, but those were things that were out of my control. I mean, what have we done, intentionally, to make a difference?”

“We tracked down Karma's lineage for Jesse,” Jed carried on down the list. “and we gave Ames and Wheat and Kyle some real jobs to keep 'em out'a trouble.”

“That was last year,” Heyes continued to be a pessimist. “I'm talking about this year.”

Jed heaved a big sigh. “Well, we’re both doin’ okay financially now, because ‘a that job we did for Finney. Not ta’ mention, we're takin’ on two parolees to come work for us in the spring. That's gotta count for somethin'.”

“Well, yeah that’s true, about the money and all,” Heyes agreed. “But the parolees are next year. And money is fleeting. It doesn’t always last. What have we actually done, this past year, that's of any real significance at all?”

“Stayed alive and out of jail?” Jed was starting to get frustrated. “Well, at least I have. On the most part. C'mon Heyes. Can't ya' just enjoy the season for what it is, and stop tryin' ta' make it into a competition. Why does everything have to be a competition?”

Heyes smiled and nodded. “Yeah, you're right, Kid. Let's just enjoy the season. C'mon, this snow is really picking up. Belle's got her famous hot spiced cider waiting for us.”

“Oh!” Jed's eyes lit up. “Say no more, Heyes. Let's go!”

Giving the eager horses a nudge, both animals snatched the opportunity, and kicking up snow, they powered up into a hand gallop and made short work of the distance to the Double J ranch house.

Xxx

Once again, stepping through the front door, Heyes was met with the warmth and comfort that seemed to come hand in hand within this household. Jed smiled as he felt it too, and they quickly dispensed with coats and gloves and hats and boots.

“There you are!” Belle greeted them, as she arrived right on time with more cider. “Hello, Thaddeus. Here, have some cider. Go warm up by the fire.”

“Yes ma'am,” Jed gave his mother-in-law a kiss on the cheek. “Merry Christmas, Belle.”

“Merry Christmas to you too,” she smiled at them. “Now off you go. Your wives are waiting for you.”

The partners stood for a moment, warming their hands on the cups of cider. They sipped the spicy drink while looking into the family room and watching the antics of both the adults and the children.

Beth looked over at them and smiled to her husband. She had T.J. sitting on her knee and he was smiling and giggling at the antics of his uncle and cousins, as they played on the carpet. She turned him a little so he could see the front door, and as soon as his eyes lit upon his father, he yelled out a happy greeting and raised his hands, in an effort to reach him.

Jed laughed.

Hannibal was watching his wife. She had insisted on standing up and getting her own piece of fruit cake and was now doing her best to sit back down again. The descent onto the sofa was awkward, at best, and her expression was one of grudging acceptance of her situation. Once she was settled, she also looked over towards the front door, and caught her husband silently laughing at her. She rolled her eyes and patted the empty space next to her, inviting him to come and re-join the group.


Heyes laughed.

“Heyes...”

“Kid....”

“I know exactly....”

“.... what we did this year.”

They grinned at each other, eyes dancing with mischief, and tapped their mugs together in a toast to each other’s virility.

“Merry Christmas, Hannibal.”

“Merry Christmas, Jed.”
 
Xxx
 
As usual, dinner was a huge success at the Jordan home. It was decided that Christmas Eve would be for family only, and then, friends and neighbours had been invited to come by Christmas Day, to indulge in a buffet that was likely to begin with brunch and last through until the cold winter sun began it’s decline.
 
Hannibal was enjoying himself, sitting with the family, around the dinner table. Jed, living so much closer, and having a hand in running the ranch, saw the Jordan’s far more often than he did. Jesse was looking so much better than he had in the autumn. The sunken look to his features had filled in, and the paleness of his complexion had warmed up again, to healthy tones. He might not be able to ride anymore, but from what Heyes could tell, he still had a lot of years ahead of him as patriarch of the Double J.
 
Belle was Belle. Always happy, always kind. Even though Jed was her son-in-law, Hannibal knew that she loved both of them, despite Heyes’ tendency towards the dark side. She had done so much to help him keep going, during his years in prison; her letters, her gifts, her warm, unconditional love, had been an anchor when the rest of the world was going mad. And she always seemed to know, too, even now, when he was down or melancholy, and would sent kind thoughts his way, even when there was distance between them.
 
He looked at her, and smiled. She caught his wide, sparkling grin and her eyes asked the question. He shrugged and shook his head, indicating that it wasn’t important, but at the same time, raised his glass of wine and sent her a quiet toast.
 
Oh, Joshua,” she mouthed to him. “You’re being silly.”
 
Hannibal’s smile deepened, and that little boy mischievousness that made all the ladies fall in love with him, took over his countenance, and he chuckled out loud.
 
Miranda caught the mood, and drew herself away from the dinner conversation.
 
“What?” She asked him. “What’s so funny?”
 
“Nothing,” he said, and sent Belle a twinkle.
 
Miranda followed the twinkle, and realized that there had been a silent conversation going on between the two of them.
 
“What?” She asked again.
 
“Nothing,” her husband insisted, and leaned over to give her a kiss.
 
She snorkeled. “Oh, you two.  If I didn’t know better, I’d be jealous.”
 
“Never,” he said, and snuggled in to her neck, tickling her with his breath. “You’re my one and only.”
 
“Really, you two!” Beth teased them, laughingly. “Must you flirt at the dinner table?”
 
“I don’t see nothin’ wrong with it,” Jed commented, and moved in to give his own wife a neck tickled.
 
Beth shrieked and pushed him away, but still laughed. “Jed! You know I’m ticklish!”
 
Sally started to giggle and then that started the whole brood laughing. Except for J.J. He didn’t see what the joke was, and thought the adults were just being silly.
 
Belle and Jesse exchanged smiles along the table. There had been too many Christmases in the recent past, where this family had been splintered, and a weight of worry had blanketed them, despite efforts to make the season joyful. But tonight, no effort was needed at all. The family was all here, along with the promise of it’s newest member’s imminent arrival.
 
On this Christmas Eve, life was good. Indeed, it was far better than Hannibal or Jed could ever remember. All they had to do now, was help to keep it that way.
 
Xxx
 
The New Year of 1893 came with its own share of ups and downs. The engagement announcement of Joe and Pansy came as no surprise to anyone. Nor did the fact that Joe experienced a landslide victory in the shortest election campaign for sheriff, that Brookswood had ever had. The fact that Joe had already proven himself over and over again, in his role as deputy, probably had a lot to do with the fact that nobody else even came close to ousting him from the position.
 
On the down side, Pebbles and Peanut decided that it was time to follow Rufus and Ellie to that dog nebula in the sky. People claim that this journey was one that had to be taken alone, but those two little dogs, who had done everything together in life, decided to buck the odds and prove their humans wrong. They held paws, and passed away together, nestled up snuggly in their warm bed of hay.
 
J.J. found them in the morning, with Kaylee wrapped protectively around them. She wacked her tail on the floorboards, when her young human came in to relieve her of her duty. She was still young, and didn’t know quite what she was suppose to do under these circumstances. But when J.J. came over and patted her, and told her that she was a good girl, she gave him a sad smile, touched each of her elderly friends with her nose, and left the barn.
 
The two little bodies were kept safe in an ice box, until spring came to thaw the ground. Then they were laid to rest up on the hill, alongside the faithful Rufus and the loyal Ellie.
 
Xxx
 
Ranching was always hard work in the winter time, and the winter of ’93 was no exception. Even though their fledgling company was financially secure, neither of the partners wanted to dip into the company funds unless absolutely necessary.
 
Jed found himself helping out with the livestock, while Heyes took on security at the Brookswood Saloon. Heyes had the decency to feel guilty about the uneven work load, but Jed had laughed it off. He was of the opinion that once parolees began showing up at his doorstep, Heyes was the one who would be pulling the heavy duty.
 
That, in itself, posed another worry. Where were those parolees going to stay once they arrived? For that matter, where was Nathan Brenner going to stay? Was their company going to be responsible for putting everyone up at the hotel, or would they all be put up out at the Double J?  That hardly seemed fair to Belle and Jesse. Perhaps they could stay at the Second Chance until their situations could be sorted out. Although, that wouldn’t work for Mr. Brenner. Obviously, he needed to be where Heyes was. Suddenly, their little house in town was bursting at the seams, even before people began to arrive.
 
But nothing was going to happen any time soon, and Heyes was confident that they would work it all out. He was enjoying his job, his family and his new life-style. He could easily appreciate the difference between spending the winter freezing his butt off, in the leader’s cabin in Devil’s Hole, and cuddling with his wife in their cozy little home, in town.
 
Heyes sat back comfortably in the soft sofa with his wife snuggled in beside him.  His eyes were closed, and a quiet smile lay upon his lips, as the music played soothingly to them in the semi-darkness of the warm room.  The fire was still crackling, sending out more heat now than was necessary, and both Hannibal and Miranda had opened up their dressing gowns in order to be more comfortable.
 
Two glasses, half filled with red wine, sat on the small table before them, but neither of them felt inclined to sit up to retrieve them.  This was bliss.  It must be at least 1:00 in the morning, and the full moon outside sent beams of soft light through the slit in the curtains of their living room window.  It was early February and there was still snow on the ground.  The night was crisp and clear, and the white ground covering sparkled in the moonlight, making it feel like Christmas all over again.
 
Their daughter had long since gone to bed, with the dog in tow. Now, the cat had just recently stirred from her place in front of the fire, to go sleep cuddled up to the little girl.  The couple were alone with their wine and the soft music, scratchy as it was on the old music box. But they didn't care.  These were the kinds of evenings that Heyes had dreamed about, and he was going to enjoy them.
 
Hannibal sighed, contentedly, but nothing else moved or changed upon his countenance.  Miranda smiled and rubbed a hand along his arm.
 
“What are you thinking about?” She asked him quietly.
 
“Nothing.”
 
“You must be thinking about something.”
 
Heyes sighed again and pulled his wife in closer.  “Okay,” he agreed.  “I'm thinking about how happy I am.”
 
“Are you?”
 
“Am I what?”  Heyes asked her.  “Happy?  Or thinking about it?”
 
“Happy.”
 
Heyes opened his eyes and gazed down at her.  He reached over and cupped her face in his hand and gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead.
 
“Yes.”
 
He sat up straighter, and bracing himself with his shoulder against the back of the sofa, he gently slid his other hand through the opening in his wife's dressing gown.  He caressed her tummy through her night dress, and his smile expanded into a dimpled grin.  She settled back into him even more and looked up into his dark eyes. They kissed, long and passionately.
 
“Oh!”
 
“Oh!”
 
“Did you feel that?”  Randa asked him.
 
“Yes.”
 
“That's been happening a lot more lately.  Somebody's getting restless in there.”
 
Heyes grinned even more and sitting up, he opened her dressing gown and gently caressed her rather extended belly.
 
“Hello in there,” he said, somewhere in the vicinity of her naval.  “Are you ready to come out?”
 
His eyes lit up and his face exploded with childish delight.
 
“Did you see that?”  She asked him.
 
“Yes!  He kicked.”
 
“Or 'she'.”
 
“Yes.  Or she,” he accepted that.  “It doesn't matter.  I know, I said that I would like a son this time, but the closer we get to it, the less concerned I am about that.  Another daughter would be just fine.”
 
Miranda shifted suddenly, trying to get more comfortable.
 
“Oh, someone is restless tonight,” she commented.  “I hope I'll sleep.”
 
“Can I look?”  Heyes asked, in a tone of such childish hope that Miranda couldn't help but laugh.
 
“Again?”  She asked.  “You see me every night.”
 
“I know,” Heyes admitted sheepishly.  “But it's so amazing.  I've been a father before, but I've never been there, right from the start, before.  I've never been around for the pregnancy.  It's just so amazing.”
 
“Well, you kind of missed the first few months of this one too, didn't you,” Miranda pointed out.
 
“Yes, I did,” Heyes acknowledged.  “You sure know how to give a fella a welcome home present.”
 
“I thought you were going to fall over.”
 
“I almost did!”  Heyes admitted.  “But it was a wonderful surprise.”
 
“Good.”
 
“So, can I look?”
 
Miranda laughed.  “My, but you are persistent!”
 
Heyes grinned again, and getting to his feet, he held out his hands for his wife to take.  Miranda sighed, as she, once again, gave in to his wiles. Taking his hands, she allowed him to assist her to her feet.  Not such an easy endeavour at eight months along.
 
She stood and smiled at him and then allowed her dressing gown to slip off her shoulders and slide gently down, to settle on the sofa.  He leaned in and kissed her, and his hands came up to the ribbon at her throat.  He gently pulled the bow loose, and the night dress opened up around the neck line to settle wide along her shoulders.
 
He slid his hands under the material and pushed the gown off her shoulders, so that the soft material slid silently down to nestle around her ankles.  He smiled at her and kissed her again.  He stood back and gazed upon her nakedness, enjoying how the light from the moon and the flickering fire danced upon her form, creating shadows and warmth upon her body.
 
His hands caressed her belly, feeling the tautness of it, the roundness of it.  The eroticism of it.  He sighed appreciatively and moved in to wrap his arms around her and hold her in a close hug.  She felt so beautiful; hard and soft in all the right places.  He kissed her again, and she returned it whole-heartedly, her arms embracing him and holding him close.  Then they both jumped and giggled.
 
“Did you feel that?”
 
“It wasn't just your belly that got kicked that time.”
 
Bringing his hands around, he caressed her breasts and then slid down to his knees, allowing his hands to slide down with him and then close in upon the extended belly that was now at eye level.
 
“Hello in there,” he greeted his off-spring again, and grinned when he saw another kick come his way.
 
He felt Miranda running her hands through his hair, and he kissed her belly before standing up to face her again.  He stepped back, looking at her at arm’s length and marvelling at how lucky he was.  She was glowing in the moonlight and, indeed, he thought whimsically, that her pregnant belly looked like the full moon that was hanging in the sparkling sky.
 
“Like a Hunter's moon,” he mumbled quietly.
 
“What was that?”  Miranda asked him.
 
“Your belly,” he explained.  “It reminds me of the Hunter's moon.  That's a good omen.  I can't remember how many times a Hunter's moon had shown us the way, when we thought there was no way out.  It's a good sign.”
 
He knelt down and pulled her nightdress up again and gently re-tied the bow at her neck.
 
“It's late,” he whispered.  “Time we got to bed, Mrs. Heyes.”
 
She smiled.  “Lead the way, Mr. Heyes.  Me and the moon will gladly follow.”
 
Xxx
 
“Looks like you're in for an interestin’ birthday,” Jed teased his cousin.
 
Heyes sighed and nodded, taking the comment very seriously.
 
“Who would have thought?”  He asked, in some awe.  “Kind of gives opening your presents' a whole new meaning, doesn't it?”
 
“I don't know why I'm surprised,” Jed grumbled.  “You always gotta stand out in a crowd, don't ya', Heyes?  Ya' always gotta do everything one better.  I'm beginnin’ ta’ think, you intentionally timed it this way.”
 
“Oh now, that's just ridiculous, Kid,” Heyes protested.  “How in the world am I supposed to time something like this?  I didn't even know Randa was expecting until she was already a couple of months along.  You know that.”
 
“I know, Heyes,” Jed continued to rub it in.  “I'm just sayin'; it seems way too much of a coincidence, that your baby decides to show up, right on your birthday.”
 
“Well, he's not here yet,” Heyes snarked. “You know how long these things can take.  We could be well into the 25th before...”
 
“Uh huh,” Jed sounded sceptical.  “Considerin' it's only 7:00 in the a.m., I'd say chances are pretty good, Jr. is going to be just like his pa, and insist on makin' a grand entrance.”
 
“You two seem awfully convinced that it's going to be a boy,” Beth observed from the kitchen table, where she was busy placating her son.  “What happened to 'I'm fine with another girl, honestly.'  Really Hannibal, you can be so transparent sometimes.”
 
“What?”  Heyes was feeling ganged up on.  “I am fine with another girl!  It's just a figure of speech.”
 
“Oh you two, stop teasing him,” Belle reprimanded with a laugh.  “He's got a tough enough day ahead of him, without the added stress of trying to defend himself.”
 
Heyes grinned and headed over to his one defender.
 
“Thank you,” he said, graciously, and took Belle into a grateful hug.
 
She laughed at him and turning away from the cook stove, she accepted the hug from her friend.
 
“Oh, Joshua.” She couldn't help but tease him a little herself.  “You know your day wouldn't be complete without Thaddeus teasing you about something.  Besides that, he does have a point.”
 
“Hmm.”
 
“I think the eggs are done,” Sally announced from her position on the other side of the stove.  “Is anybody going to eat breakfast?”
 
“You bet!”  Jed didn't waste any time in grabbing a plate. 
 
“Yes, I'll have something too,” Beth seconded.  “It been such a long day, already. I’m glad Jed and I made the trip in yesterday. I’m so proud of him, riding back out to the ranch early this morning, to let you all know that the time was eminent.”
 
Jed grinned, as he sat back down at the table, with his plateful of eggs.
 
“It weren’t all that courageous,” he stated. “I’d brave the blackest night and the coldest temperatures over sittin’ here and listenin’ ta’ Heyes pace.”
 
Belle sent him a smile, knowing that the teasing was just beginning. Then she turned to the distracted father-to-be.
 
“Joshua, how about you?”  She asked, as she placed the platter of bacon onto the middle of the table.
 
“Oh no,” Heyes gave the food a queasy look.  “I couldn't eat right now.  Maybe some coffee though.”
 
“Here, Papa,” Sally brought the coffee pot over and poured another cup for her pa.
 
“Thank you, Sweetheart.”
 
Heyes picked up the cup and sipped at the hot liquid.  Then he started to pace—again.  The four other people in the room exchanged glances, as they sat down to their own breakfast.  They were all far too familiar with this pattern to be surprised by it.
 
“Joshua,” Belle queried, “why don’t you take your coffee and go sit with Miranda?”
 
Heyes looked up sharply and stopped his pacing.
 
“Oh,” he mumbled.  “Oh, I...”
 
“Perhaps David would like a cup,” Belle continued, ignoring Hannibal’s hesitation.  “Better yet, ask him if he wants something to eat.  I don't think he's had any breakfast yet, either.”
 
“Oh.  Well...”
 
A gentle knocking came to the front door, and then it opened, letting in a blast of chilly temperatures.  Jesse leaned against the wall and used his cane to knock the snow off his boots. It might take him a little longer to get the stock tended to, especially under current circumstances, but he’d be danged if he’d allow himself to be delegated to the back bleachers, when it came to pulling his own weight. He was just about to step into the kitchen, when the door opened again, and he stepped aside to let Tricia get in to the warmth.  She closed the door behind her, and both of them began to shed winter coats.
 
“Impeccable timing, Papa,” Beth teased her father.  “Breakfast is just now ready.”
 
Jesse smiled.  “You don't get to by my age without learning a thing or two about timing.”  He accepted a cup of steaming coffee from his wife while sending Heyes a raised eyebrow.  “What are you doing out here?  Don't you think you should be in there, with your wife?”
 
“Oh, I don't think she...”
 
“That's where I'm heading, first off,” Tricia declared.  “I'll eat later.”  And true to her word she headed straight for the bedroom and knocked on the door.  A quiet response from inside and she went in, closing the door behind her.
 
Everyone looked at Heyes.  Heyes looked back at everyone.
 
Finally, Jed pushed himself away from the table, and his breakfast. 
 
“C'mon Heyes,” he said, as he stood up.  “We gotta talk.”  And taking his cousin by the arm, he began to lead him down the hallway towards the living room in the back of the house.
 
Knowing looks made their way around the table, and Jesse sat down to scrambled eggs and bacon.
 
The bedroom door opened and David quietly nipped out, his nose twitching.
 
“Do I smell bacon and coffee?”  He asked, hopefully
 
Belle laughed.  “Of course.  Come and have something,”
 
She started to stand up and get David a plate, but he stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.
 
“You sit and have your own breakfast,” he told her.  “I can get it.  Miranda is fine for now with Tricia and Nancy in there with her. But I don't like to be away from first time mothers for long.”
 
Everyone at the table responded with a chorus of: “Yes, we know, David.”
 
David smiled sheepishly, as he poured a coffee and sat down at the table.
 
“Would Miranda like anything?”  Belle asked.  “I can make her some Chamomile tea.”
 
“Yes,” David agreed.  “That would be good for her.  But don't rush, Belle.  Finish your breakfast.”
 
“Oh, don't be silly,” Belle told him.  “The water's already hot, I just have to pour it.  This way it'll be ready when you go back in.”  She quickly set out the tea pot, placed the leaves in the bell and poured the steaming water from the stove into the pot.  “There.  Done.  Anything else she would like?”
 
“Yes,” David said, pointedly.  “Her husband.”
 
Xxx
 
“What's gotten into you?”
 
“Nothing'!”
 
“C'mon Heyes.” Jed wasn't buying it.  “What are ya' doin', hangin' around in the kitchen?  Why ain't you in there with your wife?”
 
“She's got David and Nancy and now Tricia in there with her,” Heyes reasoned.  “She doesn't need me in there, gettin' in the way.”
 
“Heyes.” Kid couldn't believe his ears.  “What do ya' mean; she don't need you?  You're the main person she does need.  C'mon, what's the matter?”
 
“I donno,” Heyes shrugged and wouldn't look at his cousin.  “It's just....”
 
“You were all excited about this.  Couldn't wait,” Jed continued to push.  “Now you're hangin' around out here, drinkin' coffee?”
 
Heyes swallowed nervously and his skin took on a decidedly clammy complexion.
 
“What if something goes wrong?”  He finally answered in barely more than a whisper.  “Going through those medical journals made me wonder how anybody could survive childbirth; so many things can go wrong, Jed.  Even David has lost some, and he's the best doctor I know of.  What if...jeez Kid, I don't know what I'd do, if I lost Randa.  I mean, even the little graveyard here is full of women and babies that died in....what if I lose her?”
 
“Aww Heyes,” Jed put a consolatory hand on his shoulder.  “You and your damn book-learnin'.  I gotta wonder if it's really worth it; seein' how all that information addles your innards.   Ya' can't be thinkin' about stuff like that.  I mean David doesn't think anything is gonna go wrong.  You trust David don't ya’?”
 
“Sure I do,” Heyes insisted.  “Like I said; he's the best I know, but even he doesn't always...”
 
“No, he don't,” Jed admitted.  “But he's still your best bet.  C'mon Heyes; ya' just gotta forget about all that bad stuff that 'might' happen, and enjoy the good stuff that will happen.”  Jed's face broke out into a huge grin, and he laughed, giving Heyes a bit of a shake.  “You just gotta jump in there with both feet and grab hold of it.  Heyes, there's nothin' like it.  There's nothin' like bein' right there and watchin' your own babe comin' into the world.  You've missed out on that too many times already.  Ya' can't miss out on it this time, Heyes—ya' just can't.”
 
Heyes took a deep breath and nodded.
 
“Yeah, I know you're right,” he conceded.  “I just can't stop thinking about...”
 
“Well, stop thinkin', for once in your life!”  Jed admonished him.  “Just get in there with your wife and be with her for this.  You'll never forgive yourself, if’n ya' don't, and you know it!”
 
Heyes took another deep breath, but this time, resolve came with it.
 
“You're right, Kid,” he smiled at his cousin.  “Thanks.  You better get back to your breakfast before there's none left.”
 
The two men returned to the front rooms, and while Jed sat down at the table again, Heyes moved to the coffee pot.  All eyes were on him, wondering what the next move was going to be.  He smiled as he replenished his coffee, feeling a little ashamed of himself.
 
“Um, I'm going to go sit with Miranda for a while,” he told the group.
 
“Good,” said David.  “She's been asking for you.”
 
“Oh.”  Now Heyes really felt bad.  “Sorry.”
 
“Here,” Belle said as she stood up, yet again.  “I’ve made her some tea, and it's about ready now, so why don't you take a cup in to her.”
 
“Oh yeah.”  Heyes accepted the steaming cup and headed over to their bedroom.  He hesitated for a moment, then used his foot to knock on the door.
 
Almost instantly, the door opened, and Nancy was giving him a scolding look. 
 
“Well, it's about time,” she said.  “I'm going to get some breakfast, myself, before things get busy.  Well, go on—get in there.”
 
“Yes, ma'am,” Heyes smiled and entered the room. 
 
He stood for a moment, his back against the door and simply gazed at his wife.  Randa smiled up at him and beckoned him over.  Pushing himself off the door, he walked over to the bed and settled the two cups onto the night table.
 
“I'll leave you two alone for now,” Tricia said, as she stood up.
 
“Oh, you don't need to leave,” Heyes told her.
 
“Don't be silly, Hannibal,” Tricia admonished him, with a laugh.  “Besides, I'm hungry, too.  Don't worry,” she put a reassuring hand on his arm.  “David will be back in here soon enough.  You know what a mother hen he is at times like this.”
 
Heyes smiled.  “Yeah, I guess I do.”
 
Tricia turned and gave her cousin a quick kiss on the cheek.
 
“I'll see you soon,” she said and squeezed her hand reassuringly.  “Don't be too long about this; my neighbour can only handle my two hellions for so long.”
 
Randa smiled.  “I'll try and accommodate you.”
 
“Okay.”  Tricia gave Heyes another pat on the arm and disappeared from the room, leaving Hannibal and his wife alone for the time being.
 
Heyes sat down in the chair that Tricia had just vacated, and took his wife's hand in his.
 
“You okay?”  He asked her.
 
“I'm fine,” she responded pointedly.  “How about you?”
 
“Sorry about that,” Heyes apologized.  “I guess that's one of the problems with having an over-active imagination.  I thought myself into a corner and couldn't get out of it.”
 
“Okay,” Randa smiled and put her other hand over-top of his.  “Just don't let it happen again.  I need you in here with me.”
 
“Yes ma'am.”
 
“Is that tea?”
 
“Yes ma'am.”
 
Xxx
 
Five hours later, Hannibal was standing up better than he thought he would.  Jed had been right.  All he'd had to do was get in there and be a part of it, and he'd do fine.  Miranda was who amazed him the most.  She was so calm and focused throughout the whole labour.  She handled the spasms and the cramps like a real trooper and seemed to barely break a sweat, even as the contractions grew stronger.
 
Hannibal sat with her the whole time; there was no way he was going to leave now.  He was as wrapped up in the whole process as his wife was, and his previous excitement of becoming a new dad again, reclaimed its hold.  He held Miranda's hand, kissing her fingers and keeping her in stitches by telling her silly jokes and old outlaw stories.  Embellished, of course, with antidotes of misadventures and finger pointing at who was to blame.  
 
Miranda would laugh at his antics, until a contraction would hit, and her focus, of course, would turn inwards.  At these times, Heyes would hold her hand in both of his and would whisper endearments to her, between doing his own breathing exercises.  When the contractions would ease, she would slap his arm and tell him to stop being so silly.
 
Even David was surprised at their tomfoolery.  Most new fathers were at their wits end by this time and more stressed out than their wives.  Especially after Hannibal's initial hesitation to join in, David had been preparing himself for the worst.  But Heyes seemed to be having the time of his life, as though he knew that nothing bad was going to happen. He gave himself permission to relax and be a part of the experience. 
 
With her husband calm, and even playful, Miranda felt at ease and secure.  It all seemed to be going so much easier than she had expected.  Perhaps, because she was older and had already been through so much in life, this new experience did not hold the terrors for her, as it might for a much younger bride.  She felt the pain, she acknowledged the pain, but it didn't frighten her, and she didn't fight it.
 
Even when David asked Tricia to please have Nancy come in now to assist, and to also bring lots of towels—more than usual, the two expectant parents did not feel much concern.
 
“You're obviously doing very well, Miranda,” David commented quietly.  “But would you like anything for the pain?”
 
Miranda and Hannibal exchanged looks, and Miranda smiled through her panting and shook her head.
 
“I think I'm actually going to be fine, David,” she assured him, with a hint of surprise in her voice.
 
David nodded and cocked a brow to Hannibal.  “How about you?”  He asked with a wry smile.  “You need a shot of something?”
 
Heyes chuckled through his tiredness.  “No David.  I'm fine.”
 
“You sure now?”  David teased.  “I wouldn't want you falling over from shock.”
 
Heyes sent him a look.  “I think I'll manage.”
 
“Okay.  Just making sure.”
 
“OHH!  Oh my!” 
 
“You're doing fine, Miranda.  Though, it seems you don't need me to tell you that.  I feel like I'm just along for the ride here, at least for now.”  He sent a quick glance towards the bedroom door.  “What's keeping Nancy?”
 
As soon as the question was asked, the door opened and Nancy walked in, carrying two large armfuls of towels and swaddling blankets.  Close behind her, Tricia arrived with a basin of hot water and even more towels.  With the arrival of these tokens, Heyes and Miranda gazed at each other with sparkling eyes, and they both giggled with excitement.  Everyone was tired, but Miranda's labour had been relatively short and mild when compared to others that David had presided over. It was only now, as they were coming close to the delivery, that she started exhibiting some strain.
 
The contractions started to come, one right after the other, and they were demanding her attention.  The perspiration did now bead up on her lip and brow, as she barely had time to recover from one onslaught of pain, before she was racked with another.  Her heavy panting was interlaced with moans, as her muscles convulsed and pushed, and she closed her eyes and gritted her teeth to get through this.
 
Hannibal was starting to get a little stressed now, not liking to see his wife in such pain.  But he held her hand tightly and continued to whisper endearments and encouragements to her.  Tricia sat on her other side and held that hand while bathing her brow with a cool cloth, despite the cold temperatures outside.
 
David and Nancy were all business and focused on the coming event.
 
“Almost there, Miranda,” David assured her.  “A couple more pushes ought to do it.”
 
“I know,” Miranda panted, and then she groaned again, as her whole body contracted and pushed down.
 
It was a long, strong contraction this time, and Randa thought she was going pass out from lack of oxygen by the time the spasm allowed her to breathe again.  She lay back on the pillows, panting and trying to regain her strength for the next onslaught. 

“Here it is!”  David announced, as Nancy moved in with a warm wet cloth and a towel.
 
“What!?”  Miranda was shocked.  “I didn't feel anything different.  Are you sure?”
 
“It looks like a baby to me,” David assured her, as he busied himself with his job.  “I suppose I could be mistaken.  We can always send her back...”
 
Tiny whimpering sounds came from the vicinity of Miranda's knees, while Nancy completed the hasty clean up.  Miranda and Hannibal gaped at each other and then both broke out in almost hysterical laughter.
 
“It's a girl?”  Randa asked, once she got her breath back.
 
“Yes,” David nodded.  “You have a beautiful, healthy girl.”
 
“Oh, thank goodness!”  Miranda exclaimed, then placed a consoling hand on her husband's arm.  “I'm sorry, Hannibal; I know you were hoping for a son.”
 
“Oh, no!”  Heyes eyes were alight with excitement.  “I don't mind.  I don't mind another girl.”
 
Nancy moved in and placed the newborn on Miranda's tummy, and both parents were instantly mesmerized.  Heyes was giggling again.  He couldn't believe it; there she was, all pinched and red and squishy looking, but, oh, so beautiful.  The infant whimpered as tiny clenched fists beat a gentle tattoo against her mother's breast, and Miranda felt an instant desire to try and nurse.
 
That is, of course, until another contraction grabbed hold of her.  She gasped, more in surprise than in pain and sent David an accusing look.
 
“I thought we were done with the contractions!”  She complained.
 
“Sometimes it takes a while for the body to realize that the job is done,” David informed her, then he smiled.  “On the other hand.  Hannibal, how would you like to hold your daughter for a few minutes?”
 
“Oh,” Heyes was taken aback.  “Well, alright.”
 
He exchanged questioning looks with his wife but did as instructed.  He stood up and gently lifted his new daughter up off her mother's tummy and cradled her in his arms. He sat back down again to immerse himself in her.  Until Miranda tensed again, and her whole body convulsed.  Tricia held her hand and tried to sooth her, but the new mother wasn't interested in any platitudes.
 
“David!”  She complained.  “What's going on?”
 
“It's alright, Miranda,” David assured her.  “We're just not done yet.”
 
Miranda lay back on the pillows, panting, but she still found the energy to send her cousin's husband an incredulous look.
 
“What!?”  She demanded.
 
“What!?”  Heyes was right behind her.
 
David smiled cheekily.  “Looks like baby number two is ready to join the family.”
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Keays

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Posts : 1431
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Re: Life Goes On   Sat Sep 03, 2016 1:43 pm

Miranda groaned loudly and closed her eyes in disbelief.  Heyes looked down at his brand new daughter in total amazement and then stared, wide-eyed, over to David.
 
“Baby number two?”
 
Miranda let out another yell, more in frustration than in pain, though the pain was real enough.  She hadn't been prepared for this.  She was supposed to be resting comfortably now, basking in the amazing glory of their new child. Yet here she was, her body being racked with even more contractions.  This was too much!
 
“Oh, my God!”  Miranda complained, as she pushed down hard.  “This is what I get for marrying an over-achiever!”
 
“What?”  Heyes was stupefied.  “But....”
 
“Here it comes,” David interrupted the banter.  “One more push should do it.”
 
“That's what you said the last time!”  Randa accused, as her muscles betrayed her, and she pushed down yet again.
 
Then, finally, blessed relief as the second squirming bundle came into the world.  Miranda collapsed back onto her pillow, as a loud yell of protest came from the new infant.  David and Nancy once again jumped to their duty, and the wailing newborn was cleaned up, wrapped loosely in a swaddling blanket and placed on the mother's chest.
 
“Looks like you got your wish, Hannibal,” David informed him.  “You have a son.”
 
Heyes gaped at him in shock.  David smiled.  Miranda shifted a little and brought her hands up to gently caress the protesting baby on her chest.
 
“Shhh,” she soothed him.  “Don't cry.  Everything's going to be alright.”
 
She put the boy to her breast, but he didn't seem interested just yet; he was too busy yelling his protests to the world, just on principle.
 
Heyes looked down at the girl settled quietly in his arms.  She squirmed a little and yawned and then seemed quite content just to be held safe.
 
Tricia shook her head in amusement, at what she knew her cousin was going to be facing, raising twins.  She gave Randa a pat on the arm and stood up for a stretch.
 
“Well, I think I better get out there and let everyone know the news.
 
Xxx
 
All eyes turned to the bedroom door as it opened, and Tricia stepped out. She smiled to put everyone at their ease.
 
“It's a girl,” she informed them, teasingly.
 
Everyone laughed and threw up their arms.
 
“Another girl!”  Belle seemed pleased.  “There you are Sally; you have a baby sister.”
 
Sally shrugged.  “Yes, but she's not going to be the problem,” she stated wisely.  “It's my baby brother who is going to be a handful.”
 
Everyone at the table looked at her and then sent the question to Tricia.  The doctor's wife smiled and nodded.
 
“They also had a boy,” she admitted.
 
“What!?”  Jed was flabbergasted.
 
Tricia nodded as she headed over to pour herself a cup of tea.
 
“Yes,” she concurred.  “Twins.  A boy and a girl.  And Sally is right.  Do you hear that wailing in there?  That's the boy.”
 
“Oh, my goodness,” Jesse couldn't help the smile.  “It's a good thing he's used to being in charge of a gang of unruly outlaws, because he is going to need all the skills he can muster to handle this little life changing event.”
 
Jed was up and pacing. 
 
“Can I go in?”  He asked.  “Heyes must be going nuts.”
 
“Not yet, Jed,” Tricia told him as she sat down with her tea.  “Give them a few minutes to settle.  The babies need some time to be with their parents.”
 
“Oh yeah,” Jed agreed, remembering back to those precious moments right after T.J. had been born.
 
Remembering that, though, didn't help him to settle down. He had wanted Heyes in there to meet his new son, wanted him to be a part of this great new experience, and now, he felt a little shunned. Didn’t Heyes want him in there? Had taking his cousin aside, and lecturing him, been too much? Was Heyes mad at him? All these questions and doubts raced through his mind, as he continued to pace and walk around the kitchen. The rest of the group talked and speculated on what changes were going to come to the Heyes family now, while Sally continued to draw quietly, at her place at the kitchen table.
 
Twenty minutes later, Nancy emerged from the bedroom with an armful of soiled linen and Belle instantly got up to assist her with the load of laundry. Nancy smiled at the anxious new uncle and held the door open for him.
 
“It seems that your presence is required,” she told him, then whispered sagely, “I think the new father is in a bit of shock.”
 
Jed smiled, relief washing over him. “Yeah, I bet.”
 
Xxx
 
“You knew, didn't you?”  Heyes accused the doctor, as Jed entered the room and closed the door.  “You're too good a doctor not to have known.  You must have known.”
 
David innocently looked over to the shell-shocked father.  Miranda had drifted off into an exhausted sleep, and David was willing to let her be for now.  The newborns would need to nurse soon to get the colostrum, but they'd let it be known, when they were ready.
 
“Well, maybe not 'known',” David admitted.  “But, I suspected.”
 
“Why didn't you say something?  A head's up or something—anything!”
 
David sat back down and ran his hands through his hair.  He was tired too, but his job wasn't done yet.
 
“I didn't want to ruin the surprise,” he admitted.
 
“Surprise!?”
 
“Or give you false hopes.”
 
“Hopes!?”  Heyes complained.  “More like a warning!”
 
Jed leaned back against the door, and folded his arms. A soft smiled played about his lips, as he watched his usually confident cousin have a meltdown.
 
“Well, I couldn't be sure,” David told him.  “Even if there is a second heartbeat, it's often just an echo of the one.  I didn't want to get you and Miranda all excited about twins, then just have one baby put in an appearance.  That would have been cruel.”
 
“Cruel!?”  Heyes expostulated.  “I don't know how to handle this.  I was worried about having one baby—but two!  I don't know if I can do this.”
 
David smiled.  Hannibal could be so insecure sometimes.
 
“You'll both do fine,” he assured his friend.  “You and Miranda are great parents.  Sally has adjusted very well here with you; she a happy child.  If I'd had any doubts about your ability to deal with twins, I would have made other arrangements.”
 
“Other arrangements?”  Heyes asked, suddenly cautious.
 
“Yes,” David continued innocently.  “There are always families looking to adopt an infant.  I'm sure your friend, Sister Julia, would have been quite willing to take one of them off your hands. We can still do that, if you want.  You could always flip a coin as to which one.”  He glanced over to the sleeping mother.  “I'm sure Miranda would be understanding.”
 
“What about Harry and Isabelle?”  Jed asked innocently.  “I'm sure they'd love to have a ready-made family.  And, come to think of it, Heyes; you and Harry are pretty close in colouring 'en all—they wouldn't even have to tell the young'un that he or she was adopted.  And ya’ know what? Come ta’ think ‘a it, I bet ya’ Harry would just love ta’ take the boy. That way, you could hold onto your streak of havin’ girls. This could work!”
 
Throughout this monologue, Heyes' expression moved from incredulous to absolute horror, as his embrace tightened instinctively around his two infants.
 
“Are you mad?  Harry and Isabelle raising one of my children? And the alternative is no better! You know what my childhood was like in that orphanage!  How could you even suggest that I....”?  Heyes stopped in mid complaint when he finally noticed the smile on David's face.  “Jeez.”  He breathed more with relief than anger.   “And you call me a conman.  You do that to me, over and over, and I fall for it, every time.” 
 
David and Jed exchanged a smile and then the doctor reached over and gave the flustered father a pat on the knee. “You just needed someone to bring you out of your shock.  I figured it would be a safe bet. Although, it would have been quite entertaining, seeing you try to get that one past your wife.”
 
Heyes laughed quietly, as he cuddled his two babies.  Even the boy had quieted down and was sleeping.  The father looked down at them, and a smile of pure delight crossed over his tired face.
 
“They are pretty special, aren't they?”
 
“Yes,” David agreed.
 
Xxx
 
Ten minutes later, David stepped out of the bedroom and smiled over at the group.
 
“Everyone is fine,” he assured them all.  “Tired, but fine.  Sally.  You can come in now, if you like.”
 
Sally nodded, and tried to remain casual, but once she crossed the threshold of the bedroom, she scooted around her Uncle Jed, ran passed her father and crawled up on the bed, to cuddle with her mother.
 
Randa instantly woke up when her oldest child wrapped her arms around her neck.  The exhausted mother smiled and held her daughter close.  No words were passed between them, but Sally kissed her mother on the cheek, and they both settled in for some quiet bonding.
 
Hannibal was still sitting in the arm chair, with both his newborns cradled in the crook of each arm.  Both of them had had the chance to nurse and now, content with full tummies, they peacefully slept. Hannibal was feeling anything but peaceful. The look he sent to his cousin was one of total bewilderment.
 
Jed grinned, but couldn’t help the impulse to needle his cousin some more. He didn’t very often have Hannibal at a disadvantage, and he wasn’t about to relinquish the position too quickly.
 
“Ya' just had to do it, didn't ya' Heyes?” He scolded his cousin, as he closed the bedroom door after Sally’s exuberant entrance. “Ya' always gotta be one up, on everyone else—always gotta be one better! Not only havin’ ‘em arrive on your birthday, but twins! I tell ya’, Heyes, one of these days, you’re gonna push it too far.”
 
“What?  But...no Kid!  This isn't my fault!”
 
“Well, if'n it ain't your fault, I sure don't know whose it is!”  Jed threw back at him.  “It sure ain't my fault!”
 
But then, seeing the look of shear panic coming back at him, Jed took pity on his cousin, and he couldn't help but grin.  He pulled up another chair and, just as Heyes had done with Jed's newborn, he sat down facing the new father and took a closer look at the next generation.  He moved away a little of the blankets on each bundle and ran a gentle hand along two different cheeks.  His blue eyes sparkled, as he looked back up at his cousin.
 
“look'it that,” he said quietly.  “Two picture perfect copies of you and Randa.  Who'd a' thought?”
 
Heyes breathed a nervous smile.  He glanced over to Randa to find that she had fallen asleep again, but his daughter's brown eyes were watching him intently.  He smiled at her, and Sally smiled back.
 
“You were right, Sweetheart,” he said quietly.  “You told us, you wouldn't have to choose, and you were right.”
 
Sally shrugged.  “I know.  You and Mama just don't listen to me, sometimes.”
 
Heyes chuckled and exchanged a smile with his cousin. 
 
“You're right,” he admitted again.  “It's just that, sometimes, the things you say, don't make sense to us lesser folks.  Not until later.”
 
“Do you want me to stop saying them?”  Sally asked, quite seriously.
 
“No,” Heyes assured her, adamantly.  “You keep on saying what you think.  It'll be up to me and your ma to try and keep up with you.”
 
Sally smiled and giggled as she moved closer in to snuggle with her mother.  Hannibal gave a mock imitation of the childish giggle and sent it right back to her. 
 
She sent him a mild frown.  “You're teasing me,” she accused him.
 
“Yes,” Hannibal conceded, “but I'm your father, so I have that right.  Besides, your Uncle Jed is getting too old for teasing, so it has to go somewhere.  As the eldest child in this family, it now falls on you.”
 
Sally rolled her eyes at her father's antics and nestling closer to her mother. She closed her eyes and settled in.
 
“Don't you want to come here and meet your brother and sister?”  Heyes asked her.
 
Sally opened her eyes to slits.  “No,” she said.  “I'll meet them tomorrow, when they're actual babies.  Right now, they don't know who they are.”
 
“Oh.”  Heyes smiled. 
 
Jed just rolled his eyes and chuckled.  It was gonna be real interestin' watchin' this brood grow up.
 
“So, have ya' got names for 'em yet?”  Jed asked.  “I’m thinkin’, ya' might be one handle short here.”
 
“Oh, yeah.  I mean we did chose names for either a boy or a girl, so I guess we're good for both, in that sense,” he then raised his brows with a heavy sigh.  “It's with everything else we might have a problem with.  We were only expecting one.”
 
“I wouldn't worry about that,” Jed assured him.  “Once word gets around the town that you folks had twins, you're gonna run outa room for all the stuff that'll be windin’ up on your front porch.”
 
“Yeah, you're probably right about that,” Heyes conceded.  “It's kinda' nice, ain't it, Kid?”
 
Jed sent him the question.
 
“You know,” Heyes continued.  “being part of a community.  Knowing that if you come onto hard times or something—ha!—unexpected, that people are going to be there to help you out.”
 
Jed smiled and cupped the little girl's face in his hand.
 
“Yeah, Heyes, it is nice.”
 
“Yeah.  Who would have thought?  Kenny's going to get a real kick out of this.”
 
Jed snorted.  “Yeah. Looks like ya’ caught up with him, real quick.”
 
“Yeah, but at least Kenny and Sarah did it one at a time!”  Heyes pointed out.  “Aww Kid, twins!  I wasn't prepared for this.”
 
“You never are!”  Jed pointed out.  “You always manage to take on more than you intend, yet you always seem to come out on top.  You'll do fine.”
 
“Yeah.  That's kind of what David said too.”
 
“Yep.”
 
“Oh!  Names.”
 
Jed smiled.  “Uh huh.”
 
“Well, since my mother's name is already taken we went with Miranda's mother; Lillian Jennifer.”
 
“Oh yeah,” Jed nodded.  “That's pretty.”
 
“Yeah,” Then Heyes became thoughtful and gave his son a little squeeze.  “I was kind of torn here for the boy.  I made a bit of a promise, a while back, that I want to keep. But when Miranda was so big, about three weeks ago, and that bright, full moon was hanging out there, on that cold, clear, night, I said her belly reminded me of the Hunter's moon.  I thought about all the times that a full bright moon had saved our hides, and shown us a way out, just when we thought there was no way out.”
 
Jed nodded solemnly, himself, now, remembering back to some of those close calls.
 
“So, I thought 'Hunter' would be a good name for him,” Heyes continued.  “But I also wanted to keep my promise, even if I'm the only one who knew about it.  So... Hunter will be his nick-name, if it sticks, but officially, his name is going to be Walter.  Walter Ellstrom Heyes.”
 
Jed chuckled.  “That's quite a handle,” he commented.  “Looks like both our son's will have more than their share of names to go around.  Kinda' fittin', ain't it?  Still, I think your friend would be pleased, Heyes.  That's a real nice honour.”
 
“I donno,” Heyes sounded dubious.  “I can almost hear him, telling me what a damn sentimental fool I've grown into.  But that's okay.  Underneath, I think he'd be pleased.”
 
Xxx
 
The following morning, Hannibal stepped out onto their front porch to tend to morning chores, when he almost tripped over a mountain of boxes and loose items that were piled upon the landing. He straightened himself, and stood gaping at the gifts, through the early morning light. He turned, to go back into the house, but then stopped as he remembered that Randa was still asleep and he really didn’t want to wake her up.
 
He was tickled pink and blue with the realization that their neighbours had all come to their rescue, so quickly. There was another small crib and a bassinette! A second dresser, filled with more baby clothes of various sizes. And there was a second baby carriage over beside the dresser. More blankets, and toys, and piles upon piles of nappies. His grin was beyond compare, and he started to laugh out loud, as he bounced his way down the steps. He’d get the horses fed and watered, quickly, and then figure out where he was going to put everything.
 
Xxx
 
The decision to leave the little house in town, and move into a larger abode, had come about a few months after the twins were born.  It was obvious that their current residence would soon be bursting at the seams.  While the twins were still infants, they slept in their bassinets at the foot of their parents’ bed, but soon, even this arrangement became insufficient.  One would start to cry, and so the other would join in, and then both would demand feeding.
 
Of course, Walter would insist on first dibs, and Lily would whimper and fuss until it was her turn.  Miranda tried feeding both at the same time, but even this proved to be awkward.  Walter would persist in pushing his sister away, and he would grumble and complain between mouthfuls, until he had his mother's full attention again.
 
They tried using formula for Lily, so that while Miranda fed the boy, Hannibal could take over feeding the girl.  This worked to some degree, but even sweet Lily began to protest that she preferred mother's milk.  Alternating them didn't work either, because Hunter definitely preferred mother's milk and the complaining would begin anew. David showed Miranda how to fill a bottle with her own milk, and this helped for the feedings when Hannibal was there to assist. But when Heyes was away, Miranda was left with the same problem. Sally tried to help, by bottle feeding one of the infants, but again, she was often away at school, and not there, to help out.
 
Next, they tried keeping Walter in the bassinet in the parent's room and moving Lily in with her sister, in the hopes that if one started to fuss, it wouldn't awaken the other.  Sally was quite willing to quietly let her mother know if Lily awoke her in the night, wanting a snack.  Unfortunately, the protests that abounded from all three children at this move became unbearable.  Even Sally's patience was pushed beyond the limit, as the twins were both inconsolable at the enforced separation, and no one in the household got any sleep.  
 
After that, they thought to move the twins in with Sally, but Miranda didn't like the idea of having both babies away from her.  And what difference would that make?  The infants would only wake Sally up as well, with their competitive wailing.  On top of that, Sally protested that her personal space would be violated with both twins in there with her.  Having to share with her sister was one thing, but having her brother in there was well, was just one step too far.  On top of that, she would have nowhere to go that was her's.  She wasn't a toddler anymore, for goodness sakes, she required her own room!
 
Hannibal would shake his head and remember having to share his sleeping space with ten other boys. Having your own room was what dreams were made of.  Still, he could not deny the wear and tear the cramped home was having on the growing family, and making the move into something bigger, might be the only solution.
 
The whole thing came to a head when Hannibal was walking home from turning Karma out in the pasture, to find his wife sitting on the steps of the porch, crying her eyes out.  Fear clutched his heart as he ran to her, and lifting her to her feet, he tried to take her in his arms.  She fought against him and pushed him away.
 
“Randa, what's wrong?”  Hannibal took her arms, as she turned away from him, her other hand trying to wipe away burning tears.  “Are the children alright?”
 
“Yes!”  Randa shouted at him.  “They're fine!”
 
“What's wrong?”  A thought struck him that shamed him later, with the fear that it brought.  “Are you... you know..?”
 
“WHAT!?”
 
Heyes cringed.  “Pregnant?”
 
“Oh, thank goodness—NO!”  Randa wailed.  “I can't even handle the three we have!”
 
Heyes frowned, but he attempted his seduction again, and this time, succeeded at bringing his wife into his arms.  He felt her tense muscles relax, as she succumbed to him, and her tears intensified as she cried into his shoulder.  They stood together like that for a few moments while Hannibal rubbed her back and whispered soft assurances into her ear.  Finally, the sobbing started to settle and Randa gulped and tried to wipe her eyes.
 
“Your going to hate me,” she mumbled through the tears.  “You're going to be so disappointed in me.  I'm disappointed in me!  Why can't I do this?  Other women can do this?  Why can't I?”
 
“Sweetheart, what are you talking about?”
 
“THIS!”  Randa pushed away from him and waved her arms about to indicate the whole house and yard.  “I can't believe I'm saying this, because I love our children so much, but sometimes I wish we had just stayed with one!  Sally was so much fun!  It got me thinking that I could do this—that I could be a mother!  Having a baby would be wonderful, especially one created between us.  I could do that; I could handle this!  BUT THEN TWO SHOWED UP and I'm at my wits end!  I should have known better!  I saw what David and Trish were going through, I saw other new parents with their children, and thought 'Oh, thank goodness, that isn't me!'.  But then—I love you so much, I was seduced into thinking that a child with you would be wonderful, and Sally was so much fun; a new baby would just be more fun!
“But I can't do this, Hannibal!  And I hate myself for it.  Tricia has two and is managing!  Bridget has two and still finds time to assist her husband AND entertain!  And the Johnston's—oh my goodness!  They have FIVE!  Oh you must be so disappointed in me.  I'm just not as strong as these ranching women—I'm city bred and I can't do this.  I'm so sorry.  I love you so much, and I've let you down!”
 
Here the sobbing came on full force again, and Hannibal brought her in close and gently rocked her, as he whispered assurances once more.
 
“I'm not disappointed,” he told her.  “and nor are you weak.  You forget that Bridget has a live-in maid and nanny.  Sylvie does so much to take the strain off Bridget, so it's no wonder that she has the time and energy to help Steven.  And don't sell yourself short.  I admit, that many of the women around here were born and bred on these ranches, and they grew up on hard work.  Some people thrive on that and do well, but goodness knows, I'm not one of them.
“There's no shame in that, we just deal with these things as we can.  And I assure you, I'm far from disappointed in you, and you have not let me down.  In fact, I'm relieved.”
 
“Relieved?”  came through the sniffles.
 
“Yes,” Heyes confirmed.  “This has been hard for me, too.  I agree, just Sally on her own was fun.  She was older when she came to us and it was almost like having a little adult living in the house.”
 
“Yes,” Miranda nodded and gulped again.
 
“Come on,” Heyes suggested.  “Let's sit up on the swing, on the porch.  That's what it's there for, after all.”
 
Miranda nodded and with their arms still around each other, they moved up to the comfort of the swing.
 
“Where are the children, by the way?”  Heyes asked, looking around and suddenly concerned at the quietness of the household.
 
“I sent them over to Nancy's.”
 
“Oh, good.”
 
They settled in, and Miranda finally stopped crying enough for her to pull out her hanky to dab at her eyes and blow her nose.
 
“Like I said,” Hannibal continued.  “this has been hard on me too.  I was anxious about having just one baby.  Then two show up, and the wind got knocked out of me.  Kid was always the one who wanted children, wanted to marry and settle down with something to call his own.  I donno.  I had the wanderlust and just assumed that I would never be able to lite anywhere for long.
“Jed said, that it was probably because I hadn't found anything worth settling down for, and I guess, in a lot of ways, he was right.  Or maybe it was just the timing.  But I knew, as soon as I met you, that you were someone I might be willing to settle down for.  I loved Abi too, and Allie.  But the timing with them wasn't right.  Allie and I were both too young, and didn't know what we really wanted.  Then that second attempt with Abi, well, I suppose, we had both grown up too much, and we realized that the games we played with each other wouldn’t hold up to long term happiness.
“You were the right person at the right time, Randa.  It just took me a while to figure it out.  I didn't settle down because of you; you just came along when I was finally ready to settle down.  But even at that, it has been a difficult adjustment.  Having to deal with Duncan and that sorry excuse for an outlaw band, really brought home to me just how much of an adjustment I needed to make.
“It wasn't just me and the Kid anymore.  All of a sudden, we both had other priorities, other responsibilities.  I don't begrudge them.  I don't see you and our children as anchors, dragging me down, but more as a reason for me to change and to start thinking beyond just what was good for me.
“It's been hard; I won't deny it.  I was scared to death of parenthood, as it was, now it turns out to be even more daunting than my wildest imaginings.  I'm scared all the time, that something is going to happen to them, then turn around and resent the fact that the twins are keeping me awake. I come home from a late night monitoring the games at the saloon, and I feel frustrated that the lights are on and the house is in turmoil, because one or the other, or both of the twins are colicky.
“Then I feel guilty, because I know you've been at home with them all day, and they've probably been fussing all day.  I know you're tired too, and you didn't sign on for twins, either.  Then on top of that, Sally's being kept awake too, so she's tired and whining, and instead of helping you, she's wearing you down even more.  So I don't say anything.  I try to help you get the children settled, but just feel like I'm getting in your way.  But if I leave you to it and go eat the supper you've set aside for me, I feel guilty that I've abandoned you to the forces of nature.”
 
Miranda sighed and cuddled in against her husband's shoulder.  She sniffled and dabbed the hanky against her nose.
 
“We're a fine pair,” she commented quietly.  “You'd come home late from the job, and I'd feel guilty that the place was a mess and the children not cooperating.  I knew you'd be tired and just want to eat your supper in peace and then come to bed.  So there we were; both of us feeling guilty, and neither saying anything, so as not to burden the other.”  She sighed deeply.  “What are we going to do with ourselves?”
 
“We could always take Jed's advice, and give Walter to Harry and Isabelle,” Heyes suggested.
 
He got the desired result when Randa chuckled through her puffy eyes and slapped him on the arm.  “Don't be an ass,” she told him bluntly.  “Lily would never forgive us.”
 
“Hmm, good point.”
 
“But seriously, Hannibal, I don't think, I can do this.  Today was a madhouse.  Both twins are colicky, and nothing David suggested worked—especially with Walter!  That boy has a set of lungs on him that would awaken his namesake from the grave, cursing at us for disturbing his rest.”
 
“Ha. I'm beginning to think that Walter inherited more than Doc's name,” Heyes conjectured.  “He seems to have been born with that cantankerous attitude as well.”
 
“And he sure was showing it today.  Then, of course Lily was just as uncomfortable and didn't mind letting me know it.  Then Sally came home from school, and all she could do was complain about one of the boys constantly teasing her and pulling her hair.  And Mouse insisted on being underfoot and making sure that she was always right where I needed to be!  I think she was just trying to help, but I'm sure I yelled at her more than once.  Finally, I couldn't take anymore, I felt like I was going to explode any minute.  I bundled everyone up and took them over to John and Nancy's place.  Thank goodness, she was at home and willing to take them for the afternoon.  I guess, she could see that I was at the end of my tether, because she assured me, I could leave them with her through the night, as well, if I needed to.
“I don't want to leave them there all night.  I miss them already!  I just needed to get away from them for a while.  I just needed some quiet.  I love our children, but I just couldn't...”
 
Miranda was a risk of breaking down again, and Hannibal quickly hugged her closer and kissed her cheek.
 
“Shh,” he whispered, as he set the swing to gently rocking.  “We'll work something out.”
 
“Is everything alright, Randa?”
 
The two parents looked out to the road to see the neighbour lady, Helen stopping and looking, with some concern, in their direction.
 
“Oh yes, I'm fine, Helen.  Thank you.” Miranda sent her a little wave.  “We're just talking.”
 
Helen sent an accusatory glance over to the husband.  “Really?”  She asked, skeptically.  “I was sure, I heard you crying.  You're welcome to come and stay at my place, anytime.  You know that, don't you, dear?”
 
“Yes, yes, Helen, I know,” Miranda assured her.  “But really, I'm fine. We're just talking.”
 
“Hmm.” An eyebrow went up.  “Where are your children?”
 
Hannibal sighed with growing impatience, and Miranda gently squeezed his hand.
 
“They're just over visiting with Nancy for the afternoon,” Randa informed the nosey neighbour.  “Hannibal will be going to bring them home, soon.”
 
“Well, any time you want to come over for a cup of tea and a chat, you know the door is always open.”
 
“Yes, Helen, I know.  Thank you.  You really are a dear.”
 
“Yes, well.  Good afternoon, then.”
 
“Good afternoon.”
 
Helen carried on her way, and the couple sighed with relief.
 
“I notice, she didn't invite me over for a cup of tea,” Hannibal complained.
 
Miranda chuckled.  “Why would she do that?”  she asked.  “You're the one she wants to gossip about.  But, I must admit, there have been times when she has been a very good friend, and very helpful, so let's not be nasty.”
 
Heyes smiled.  “True.”
 
“But, we still have this problem to sort out.”
 
“I don't see that we do,” Hannibal countered.  “I think the solution is right in front of us.”
 
“And what would that be?” The exhausted mother enquired.
 
“Do I have to keep reminding you that we are both fairly well off?”  Hannibal asked her.  “Bridget has a full time, live-in nanny, so why can't you have one, too?”
 
“Well, that's like admitting defeat!”  Miranda protested.  “Throwing good money away on something that isn't a necessity.”
 
“Sounds to me like it is a necessity,” Heyes pointed out.  “We're not all cut out to be perfect parents.  I know, I'm sure not.  This situation is getting hard on all of us, so if there's a solution to it, then why not go for it? Better yet, why don’t we look into adopting another girl?”
 
“What!?” Miranda exclaimed, thinking her husband had gone mad. “We don't have room for another person to live here. We don't even have enough room for us! And how would adopting another child help this situation?”
 
“I didn’t mean another child, child,” Heyes clarified. “I mean, an older girl. Perhaps one who is ready to leave the orphanage, but has no place to go. We could offer a home to her, and she would be old enough to help out with the younger children.”
 
Miranda considered this option. “Sally might like to have an older sister,” she mused. “But there’s still the problem of living quarters. This house is too small for so many people. And let’s not forget that we still have Mr. Brenner coming out to stay, this summer.  We’re going to wind up, putting him in the hotel.”
 
“Then maybe it's time we thought about moving up to something bigger,” Hannibal suggested.  “After all, when you bought this house, you were single and had no plans for a family to take it over.  I think it's time we moved into something bigger.  In the mean time, perhaps your friend, Helen. would be willing to come over in the afternoons, to help with the children.  We'll pay her for her time.  I have a feeling she would quite like that.”
 
Miranda was silent as she contemplated these suggestions.  Hannibal smiled, knowing that he had her.
 
Xxx
 
The next day, Hannibal made a point of riding out to Jed and Beth’s place, to discuss their changing situation, and to get his cousin’s input on the matter.
 
As he rode along the now very familiar route, he was still struck by the evidence left behind, of the fire. The not too distant hills, that were once green, and thick with timber, were now stark and littered with blackened match sticks. He marveled again, at how close the fire had come to Jed and Beth’s cabin, and how lucky they were, to have escaped nature’s wrath.
 
His mood settled, once he had passed the burned out areas, and he, again, found himself riding through the springtime green of a healthier landscape. Coming up onto the cabin, it looked just like it had before Heyes and Miranda had left on their vacation. He smiled when he saw the peach tree in the front, just starting to blossom. Maybe, just maybe, it might produce some fruit this summer.
 
There was only one variation to the place, but it was a good and positive one. The cabin had been designed to allow for expansion, even though Jed didn’t think they would be adding on to it, any time soon. A sudden influx of disposable income soon changed that. Already feeling that more room would be appreciated, Jed and Sam had begun to build the frame for a larger family room, and a third bedroom. Jed was even working out plans to add on a second floor, though he wasn’t sure if he would be doing that, right away.
 
It was, already, going to take a while to complete, as Sam could only help out when he could spare the time from his day job. Hannibal came out, when he could, to do his part, and his poor thumbs were suffering from the efforts. For a man who was normally so dexterous with his hands, once you gave him a hammer and some nails, he turned into a fumbling novice.
 
Daisy whinnied a greeting to her mother, as Heyes and Karma approached the yard. Heyes smiled over at her, but then frowned, when he noticed that Gov wasn’t in the paddock with her. Damn. Was Jed not at home? Looking to the house, he noted that the front door was open, allowing the spring breeze to come in and freshen the little house, after being closed up all winter. He relaxed with that, reasoning that someone, at least, was at home.
 
Sure enough, having heard Daisy welcoming company, Beth came out onto the front porch and waved a greeting.
 
“Hannibal!” she said. “Good morning. What brings you out here, today?”
 
“I was hoping to have a word with your husband,” he told her, as he pulled up in front of the steps. “Is he at home?”
 
“No,” Beth informed him. “But he just went to check up on the creek. The water’s not flowing the way it should be, this time of year, and he thinks it might have gotten blocked over the winter. He shouldn’t be long. Why don’t you put Karma in the paddock, and come in for some tea?”
 
Heyes smiled as he dismounted. “Okay.”
 
Xxx
 
By the time Hannibal came into the kitchen, Beth had tea and biscuits set out on the table. T.J. was contentedly playing on the floor, where he, hopefully, would not be able to squirm his way into any trouble. The whole atmosphere of this home was pleasant and welcoming, and Hannibal always felt welcome and comfortable here.
 
Beth poured tea, and they sat down to enjoy the mid-morning respite.
 
“Your father was pretty stubborn, during this winter,” Hannibal stated. “Refused to take any money. Did he really not need it?”
 
Beth smiled at her father’s tenacity.
 
“There were a few times, we could have used some extra cash,” she admitted. “But you know Papa. He wanted the ranch to carry its own weight.”
 
“It’s not like it would be charity,” Heyes pointed out. “That money is there for whatever is needed. We’re all partners in this endeavour. It would have made things easier, if he would have just used some of it.”
 
Beth shrugged. “I’m sure he would have, if things had become truly dire, but we managed. And now, we have some lovely yearlings that are ready for auction, and we have a fine crop of both calves and foals due this summer. Actually, the calving has already started. And, there are at least ten, three-year-old colts that are broke out, and ready to go. Not to mention a nice band of two-year-olds that Deke and Sam will be starting this spring. The main thing that suffered, was our timber. We’ll be very select at what we harvest this year. Thankfully, we weren’t completely wiped out, like some others were. We still have whole sections that are healthy, and doing well.”
 
“Good,” Heyes said. “Ah, does David think that your pa will ever be able to walk without a cane?”
 
“No,” Beth stated, and her smiled dropped. “David is helping him to get as much back as he can, but Papa’s lucky he can walk at all, after the injuries he suffered.” Her voice softened, and she looked down, into her teacup. “He’s lucky to be alive.”
 
Hannibal reached over and held her hand. “I know,” he comforted her. “After everything else that happened, that would have been the worst. Thank goodness, it didn’t.”
 
Beth smiled, and brightened up again. “Yes. Thank goodness.” Then her eyes twinkled as more good news came to mind. “And, on top of all that,” she said. “We’ve been getting a lot of interest from people wanting to breed their mares to Ned. That in itself, might just be enough to pull this ranch back onto its feet. Have you been thinking about breeding Karma any time soon? It would be good to insure her line.”
 
Heyes pursed his lips, and thought about that.  “I was thinking about breeding her to a Spanish stallion that Mac owns—or, more specifically, Mac’s wife. He’s a real beauty, and I think he and Karma would make an amazing foal, together.”
 
“But he’s a Spanish Horse?” Beth asked, skeptically. “Not an approved Quarter Horse?”
 
“Yes, that’s right,” Heyes confirmed. “One breeding would hardly cause an issue. Karma would still have a lot of years left in her, as a brook mare.”
 
“I don’t know,” Beth hummed. “For the sake of our program, I would think, that if you are going to breed Karma, then it should be to an approved Quarter Horse. That’s the line we’re trying to build.”
 
Heyes smiled. “Oddly enough, that was Carlotta’s main concern as well,” he recalled. “She only wants to breed her stallion to Spanish mares, to keep the line pure.”
 
“Yes. I can see her point. Has she given permission?”
 
“No, not yet,” Heyes admitted. “But I thought, once she saw Karma, she would be in favour of it.”
 
“Wellll…” Beth, again, showed skepticism. “I suppose, one breeding outside the line, wouldn’t hurt, but…”
 
“Good!”
 
More whinnying from the paddock area announced the arrival of another rider. Beth’s smile instantly returned as she stood up from the table.
 
“That’ll be Jed,” she announced, and hurried over to the front door.
 
Heyes stayed where he was, but he could hear the conversation clearly enough.
 
“Hello!” Beth called out from the porch. “How did it go?”
 
“Yeah, it’s blocked,” Jed informed her. “Kyle and I will get up there later, with some dynamite and blow it clear.  I take it, Heyes is here?”
 
“Yes,” Beth confirmed. “We’re in the kitchen, having tea. He wants to talk with you about something.”
 
“Uh huh,” was Jed’s commented. “I’ll put Gov up, and come in and join ya’.”
 
Xxx
 
“Hey, Heyes,” Jed greeted his cousin, as he pulled off his gloves, and settled at the table. Beth poured him a cup of tea. “I’m gonna be seein’ ya’ in town, in a couple ‘a days. What’s so all fired important, that ya’ rode all the way out here?”
 
Heyes grinned. “Beth’s home-made biscuits.”
 
“Uh huh,” Jed commented. “Not that her biscuits ain’t worth the ride out here, but I ain’t buyin’ it. What’s up?”
 
“Well,” Heyes began, getting serious. “Miranda is finding things difficult.”
 
“That’s not surprising,” Beth commented. “I have enough, just to keep up with Thaddeus. Those twins must be a handful.”
 
Hannibal nodded emphatically. “It’s more than either of us bargained on. One of the things that’s making it hard, is that little house is bursting at the seams. I think we need to expand.”
 
“Not really room on that property ta’ add on ta’ that house,” Jed stated. “I suppose ya’ could go up, though. Put on a second floor.”
 
“We were thinking more of purchasing another place,” Heyes told them. “If we sold the house in town, we could put that money towards a bigger place. You see, we’re thinking of adopting an older girl. Someone who could help out with the twins. It would sure make things a lot easier on Miranda. It would also give an older girl a better opportunity than what’s usually offered. On top of that, we’ve got young Mr. Brenner coming out this summer, and two or three parolees. It’s time to make some changes.”
 
“Ain’t the parolees gonna stay out at the Double J?” Jed asked. “Or at the Second Chance? Why do they need to stay in town?”
 
“I don’t feel right about saddling Jesse with that, right now,” Heyes admitted. “Besides, the idea was that they would work for us, in town, until we felt they were reliable, and serious enough, to move out and help at the ranch.”
 
“Yeah, that’s true enough,” Jed concurred. “But buyin’ another house in town…I donno. Havin’ parolees stayin’ right there in the same house as Miranda and the kids, especially if’n you’re gonna adopt an older girl. Ain’t that just askin’ fer trouble? Especially if you ain’t gonna be around, all the time.”
 
Heyes sighed. “Yeah. I thought of that.”
 
“There’s somethin’ else, I’ve been thinkin’ about,” Jed admitted.
 
“You’re suppose to leave the thinking to me, remember?” Heyes teased.
 
“Yeah, but lately, you’ve been droppin’ the ball,” Jed pointed out, with a smile. “I figure I should pick up some ‘a the slack.”
 
Heyes chuckled. “Yeah, I suppose you have a point there. So what have you been thinking about?”
 
“The Baird ranch,” Jed stated.
 
Heyes frowned as he pondered that suggestion.
 
“The Baird ranch?”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“What a good idea,” Beth agreed. “It really needs fixing up, but that could work.”
 
“Yeah,” Jed continued. “Maybe we could talk with Kenny about sendin’ them fellas out sooner, maybe even send a couple more. We could put ‘em ta’ work, fixing up that place. Get separate quarters built for the parolees, then get a good barn, and a real nice house put up fer you and your expandin’ family. That way, them fellas won’t be livin’ right in the same house, with ya’.” Jed was on a roll now. “There’s even livestock that comes with the place, at least whatever stock survived the winter. But the ranch could be part of the company. That’s where we can start them fellas out, until we’re sure about ‘em. That way we won’t be puttin’ anybody else’s property or livestock at risk.”
 
Heyes sat silently, as he digested all of what Jed had said. Jed smiled, seeing the wheels turning in his partner’s head. Beth looked back and forth, between the two them. It sounded like a great idea to her.
 
“Well,” Jed finally asked. “What do ya’ think?”
 
“I’m thinking that I should let you do the thinking, more often,” Heyes admitted. “This just might work.”
 
“On top ‘a that,” Jed continued. “If’n we buy the ranch with company funds, ya’ wouldn’t have ta’ sell your house. That could become the office for us, in town. You know, for administratin’ an’ all that. I gotta admit, it’s been real handy havin’ that house there. It’d be a shame ta’ see it go. “Hey! You could even adopt another older girl, to be the secretary!”
 
Heyes laughed. “You’re gonna eat me out of house and home, at this rate,” he commented. “How about we adopt a girl to help out with the household, and the children, and you and Beth can adopt the girl to be the secretary. How’s that?”
 
The three of them looked at one another, as the idea took hold and began to grow. Then they all broke out laughing at once. The Double Chance Ranch was beginning to take form. This could work.
 
Xxx
 
That evening, after the twins had been fed and put to bed, the rest of the Heyes family were seated around the kitchen table, enjoying a rare, peaceful meal. Hannibal glanced at Miranda, and she nodded agreement.
 
“Sally,” the father began, and Sally looked at him, expectantly. “Your mother and I have some good news for you.”
 
Sally perked up even more. She glanced at her mother, then turned her focus back to her father.
 
“What?” she asked, because, after all, even someone with her intuitiveness couldn’t know everything.
 
“Well,” Heyes continued. “You know, we’ve all been having a hard time, adjusting to this new family.”  Sally’s brows went up, and she nodded emphatically. “So, your mother and I have been discussing a solution that I think you’ll like. We thought that we would adopt an older girl from the orphanage, maybe someone you already know, and she could come live with us and help out with the twins. How would you like to have an older sister to play with?”
 
Sally’s expression went from open expectation to dark disappointment. Then her face crumpled, and the tears began, even before the protests could be articulated.
 
“NO!” she wailed, causing both of her parents to look at each other, in surprise. “No, you can’t do that! I’m the oldest! I don’t want an older sister! I’m the oldest!”
 
“But…Sweetheart,” Heyes tried to console her. “Your mother needs help with the twins.”
 
“I help Mama with the twins!” Sally insisted. “And I can do more! I’ll come home, right after school, every day and help out.”
 
“You shouldn’t have to do that,” Miranda told her. “You enjoy your time, after school, helping your teacher and playing with your friends. You already help me with supper, and with cleaning up afterward. You do so much around here, Sweetheart.”
 
“I don’t care!” Sally continued to protest through her tears. “I’ll help out more. I promise! I don’t want an older sister! I’m the oldest!”
 
Then she pushed herself away from the table and ran, sobbing, to her bedroom. The last thing the parents heard, was the slamming of the door.
 
Surprisingly enough, the commotion did not wake up the twins. Silence blanketed the supper table as the two parents tried to comprehend what just happened.
 
“Well,” Hannibal finally stated. “That’s not the reaction I was expecting.”
 
“Oh dear,” Miranda commented. “We certainly did judge that one wrong, didn’t we? I suppose we should have discussed it with her, before making a decision. But, I thought, she would be happy about it.”
 
“Me too,” Hannibal agreed. “I guess it is kind of important, being the oldest. I never really thought about it before.”
 
Again, the two parents sat silently for a moment, wondering what their next step should be. Finally, Miranda pushed herself away from the table and stood up.
 
“I’ll go and talk with her,” she said. “Maybe I can get her to calm down, and look at this differently.”
 
“I’ll come with you,” Hannibal offered. “I think, I have an idea that could work.”
 
Miranda smiled and nodded. Anything, at this point, would be welcome.
 
Standing outside the bedroom, Miranda tapped on the closed door.
 
“Sweetheart,” she called through it. “Can we come in? We want to talk with you.”
 
“No!” came the heart-broken protest. “Go away.”
 
“Sweetheart,” Miranda continued. “We’re sorry, we upset you. We thought, you’d be happy. We should have spoken with you about it first. Please let us come in. Your papa has an idea to put this right.”
 
There was a moment of silence from inside the room, then the door nob turned and a red, teary eyed face challenged them at the threshold.
 
“What?” she asked.
 
“Can we come in?” Miranda requested again.
 
Sally pouted and thought about it, then she stepped aside and opened the door wider.
 
The parents stepped into the room and went over to sit down on the bed. Sally stood, with arms crossed and a stubborn look on her face.
 
“Come,” Miranda told her. “Come, and sit down with us.”
 
Sally sighed, but did relent. She came over and sat down on the bed, between her parents.
 
“We’re sorry, we upset you,” her papa began. “We should have discussed it with you first.”
 
“Yes,” Sally agreed.
 
“But your mother and I thought, it would be a nice surprise for you,” Hannibal continued. “We thought, you’d be happy.”
 
“No.”
 
“Yes, we can see that, now,” he admitted. “So, you don’t want an older sister.”
 
“No!”
 
“Alright. But that doesn’t change the fact that your mother needs more help around here. More help than you can give her.” Heyes didn’t want to mention that Sally was one of the reasons why Miranda needed more help. “So,” he continued. “I was thinking. We won’t adopt an older girl. We’ll hire one.”
 
“Hire one?” Sally asked, hope starting to gleam.
 
“Yes,” he concurred. “All of us will go out to the orphanage…” Miranda rolled her eyes at that suggestion.  “…and we’ll interview some of the young ladies who are now ready to leave there and start their new lives. Then, once we get moved into our larger house, she can come and move in with us as a live-in nanny. But we won’t adopt her, so you will still be the oldest. How does that sound?”
 
Sally sniffed and looked from one parent to the other. “She won’t be my sister?”
 
“No,” her father assured her. “She’ll be your nanny, and hopefully, your friend. But not your sister.”
 
Sally’s tear streaked face broke out into a grin. “Okay!”
 
Xxx
 
“All of us go out to the orphanage?” Miranda asked, as they lie snuggled in bed, too wrung out from the day’s events to attempt anything more. “Do you know what mayhem that could cause?”
 
Hannibal chuckled, as he held his wife close. “I know. But I think it’s important that we all have a say in who we hire. After all, she’s going to be living with us, and helping to raise the children. Not only that, any prospective lady has the right to see what she’ll be heading in to. Not all ladies are naturally maternal, you know.”
 
Miranda snorted, and slapped him on the arm.
 
“Yes, alright,” she conceded. “You do have a point. But I’m sure not looking forward to it.”
 
“I’ll help out with the twins.”
 
“Yes,” Miranda agreed. “You will.”
 
Xxx
 
“Here we are, on board another train,” Miranda sighed, as they all found their seats.
 
“Actually, I think it’s the same train,” Hannibal commented, then smiled at the look his wife sent him.
 
Sally ignored her parents and excitedly sat in the window seat and stared out at the busy scene on the platform.
 
 “It’s been a long time, since I’ve been on a train,” she stated, with great enthusiasm. “That was when we went to Denver, for the trial. Remember, Papa?”
 
“Yep,” her pa concurred. “I guess that is a long time ago, for you, isn’t it?”
 
Sally sent him a confused frown. “It was the same amount of time for you.”
 
“Yes, I know, Sweetheart. But, as you get older, time goes by faster. To you it seems a long time ago, but to me, it’s like it was yesterday.”
 
Both parents hid their smiles as the look on Sally’s face became intense with her efforts to understand that logic. Finally, she gave up on it, shrugged, and went back to staring out the window.
 
“Oh dear.” The mother’s attention was drawn back to one of the twins. “Please Walter, for your mother’s sake, let’s make this an easy trip.”
 
“Do you think he’s hungry?” Hannibal asked.
 
Miranda rolled her eyes. “He couldn’t be; I just fed him.”
 
“Yeah…” Hannibal sounded dubious.
 
Opening up their carry-on bag, Miranda brought out one of the many pre-filled bottles and offered it to her son. A protesting wail arose, and the infant squirmed even more. Miranda sighed and returned the bottle to the bag.
 
“He’s not hungry,” she deduced. “He’s just Walter being Walter.”
 
“Here, let me take him,” Hannibal offered. “Lily’s quite content to nap.”
 
The parents switched babies, and Hannibal focused his attention to keeping his son happy for the duration of the train ride to Laramie.
 
“We’re moving, we’re moving!” Sally suddenly announced, and jumped up in her excitement. “Look!”
 
“Yes, so we are,” Miranda agreed. “But I think, you should sit down before you fall down. You can still see out the window.”
 
To illustrate her point, the train gave a sudden lurch, and Sally was flung forward, into her mother’s lap. Lily woke up and began to cry which, in turn, set off her brother. Sally scrambled back to her seat, and sat down, looking sheepish.
 
“Sorry,” she said.
 
“I know,” Miranda assured her, as she tried to sooth the startled infant. “But stay in your seat, alright, Sweetheart? Trains can be unpredictable.”
 
“Yes, Mama.”
 
Miranda glanced around and felt embarrassed by the looks of irritation that came their way from a few of the other passengers. She smiled an apology and went back to calming the baby. Hannibal chuckled, but his mirth was drowned out by the wailing of his son.
 
Xxx
 
Heyes had never been so relieved to arrive in the town of Laramie. Being the supreme leader of the rowdiest bunch of outlaws in the West, had done nothing to prepare him for the patience and ingenuity required of parenthood. What with trying to keep the volume down on his son’s complaining, numerous feedings and trips to the privy to change nappies, both parents were worn out, by the time the engine pulled into the platform of their destination.
 
There were sighs of relief, not only from the Heyes’, but also from the other passengers of their car, as those getting off, collected their belongings and made a hasty exit. Miranda did one final check to ensure that they had everything, including all three of their dependants, and followed her husband off the car. The passengers who remained on board to continue their journey, all smiled in gratitude with the blessed silence now raining down upon them.
 
Out on the platform, Heyes gathered his family around him.
 
“Everyone present and accounted for?” he asked.
 
“Yes,” Miranda informed him. “All I want now, is to get settled in our hotel room, and get something to eat.”
 
“Likewise,” Heyes concurred. “Come on. You can have a seat inside the depot, while I make arrangements for our ride.”
 
“Good idea,” Miranda stated. “It’s quite windy out, today.”
 
“It’s quite windy out, every day,” Heyes informed her. “Welcome to Wyoming.”
 
Miranda sighed, as she followed her husband. “Oh dear.”
 
Xxx
 
The following morning, Heyes rented a two seater buggy to take him and his family out to the orphanage. Sally offered to sit in the second seat, and play with her siblings, so her mother and father could sit together, up front. She was trying to help out, every way that she could. She knew her mother was under strain, and she missed the fun times they used to have together. Perhaps, if she helped out more, her mother wouldn’t be so tired all the time.
 
The drive out of town was pleasant enough, with a warm spring breeze adding a touch of freshness to the otherwise stark landscape. Much to Hannibal’s surprise, he felt comfortable driving along this familiar route. Even when they drove into the courtyard of the convent and orphanage, and he looked upon the structures that he had, as a convict, helped to renovate, he didn’t feel a darkness come over him.  He felt light and happy and, most importantly, he felt free.
 
“Whoa,” he said, as he pulled the team up, close to the steps of the main building. “Here we are. Sally, would you like to show your mother up to the front alcove?”
 
Sally’s expression was one of excitement and expectation, as she surveyed this place that used to be her home. She nodded, enthusiastically, at her father’s suggestion, and prepared to disembark.
 
Miranda nimbly stepped down from the buggy. She gathered up the two infants and allowed her oldest daughter to show the way.
 
Hannibal stepped down and went to the head of the team, just as the old holster appeared to take hold of the bridles.
 
“Hello,” Heyes greeted him. “We’re here to see Sister Julia.”
 
“Of course ya’ are,” the elderly man agreed. “She be waitin’ on you an’ yer missus.”
 
“Yes, fine. Ah, give these fellas some water and hay, but no need to unharness them. I don’t think we’ll be more than a couple of hours.”
 
“Right you are, sir. I’ll relieve ‘em ‘a their traces, if that be okay with you, and leave ‘em tied in the shade. Not that it’s all that hot today, but a nice bit ‘a shade under the tree, while they’s eatin’ their lunch might be appreciated.”
 
“Yes,” Heyes agreed with a smile. “I wouldn’t mind that myself.”
 
The old fellow cackled a laugh, showing off some dark spaces in his mouth, where teeth used to be. He untied the lead shank on the near horse’s harness and clucked to the pair of them.
 
“C’mon, my beauties. Let’s get ya’ settled in.”
 
 The horses already had this figured out, and were a step ahead of their handler as they set off in the direction of the stables.
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Keays

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Posts : 1431
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Re: Life Goes On   Sat Sep 03, 2016 1:47 pm

Heyes waited until the buggy had gone past him and then walked across the lane and up the steps of the main building. The front lobby hadn’t changed much, since the last time he stood upon that floor. The wood was still old and stained, and creaked when walked upon, but just like the worn carpet, it was clean and had just been freshly waxed. More cherished pieces of artwork, all rendered with a child’s hand, were hung upon the walls for visitors to admire, as they sat and waited in comfortable armchairs.
 
Hannibal stopped and surveyed his surroundings. He took in a deep breath of the familiar aromas in this room, and then smiled at Sally, as she proudly explained the interior to her mother.
 
“These are the drawings that we do in art class,” she pointed out. “That one of the creek is good. Oh, and here’s some of the pebbles from the creek. And here’s some of those dried flowers from the garden. I wonder if they’re the same ones that were here before…”
 
“Joshua, Miranda! And Sally. How wonderful to see you all.”
 
Everyone turned at the sound of the familiar greeting.
 
“Sister Julia,” Heyes smiled and went over to give her a kiss.
 
“Hello Sister,” Miranda said, as she shifted the weight of the twins on her hips. “How are you?”
 
“I’m fine,” she told them, with the usual spark in her eyes. “And Sally! My what a big girl you are. All that fresh air has been good for you.”
 
Sally beamed with pleasure.
 
“Yes ma’am,” she agreed. “And I’m an older sister, now. See? I have a brother and a sister.”
 
“Yes, I can see that. Come, Miranda. All of you, come into the parlour. Sister Marilyn is making us tea.”
 
“Sister Marilyn?” Heyes asked. “Is that the same young lady who helped you out at the prison?”
 
“Yes,” Sister Julia confirmed. “The same young lady who had quite the crush on you.”
 
“Oh, Hannibal,” Miranda teased him. “Don’t tell me you even flirted with the young Sisters.”
 
“But, she wasn’t a Sister then,” her husband protested. “It was just…”
 
“Never mind, Joshua,” Julia assured him, as she showed them over to some comfortable armchairs. “The experience was very good for her.”
 
Miranda didn’t say anything, but Hannibal could feel her laughing at him. He smiled back at her and gave up any pretense of protesting.
 
“Here, let me take Walter,” he offered again, so that his wife could settle.
 
“Thank you.”
 
“Sally, dear?”
 
“Yes, Sister?”
 
“Would you like to go down to the schoolroom and say hello to some of your friends?” she asked the child. “They are expecting you and would love to hear about your new life in Colorado.”
 
“Oh yes! Umm,” she glanced at her mother. “That is, if you don’t need me to help.”
 
“I think we can manage for a little while, without you,” Miranda said. “Go ahead.”
 
The child’s face broke into a wide grin, and she jumped from her chair, and ran down the familiar hallway, towards the back of the building.
 
“Oh dear,” Sister Julia observed. “She never did learn how to walk instead of run.”
 
“I’m afraid we’re to blame for that, Sister,” Heyes told her. “We expect manners, but we also encourage her to express herself. And she does.”
 
“I’m sure,” the Sister agreed and then smiled over at Miranda. “Twins. My goodness. Now that was a surprise.”
 
Both Hannibal and Miranda laughed out loud.
 
“You’re right about that,” Heyes told her. “I think, I was in shock for over a week.”
 
“It was unexpected,” Miranda concurred. “And now, I’m afraid it’s a bit overwhelming.”
 
“I’m sure it is,” Sister Julia stated, then held out her arms towards Lily. “May I?”
 
“Oh! Yes, of course,” Miranda agreed, and handed the infant over to her. “She is a darling. If we could have stopped at her, I could probably handle it. But, Walter. Oh, he’s another story.”
 
Sister Julia smiled at Hannibal, over the choice of his son’s name, then glanced at the snoozing infant, nestled in his father’s arms.
 
“He seems quite content now,” she observed.
 
“Hannibal has a way with him,” Miranda confessed. “He’s his father’s son, in more ways than one.
 
Sister Marilyn, along with another young novice arrived in the parlour and set the tea service, and some biscuits, down on the low, center table.
 
“Thank you,” Sister Julia said. “Sister Marilyn, you remember Mr. Heyes, your patient out at the prison?”
 
“Yes, of course,” Marilyn smiled shyly. “How are your shoulders?”
 
Heyes stood up to gently take her hand in greeting.
 
“Oh,” he said, somewhat surprised. “You remember that, do you?”
 
“Oh, yes sir,” Marilyn admitted. “I’ve never felt anything quite so…fascinating.”
 
“Really?” Miranda asked, a raised eyebrow teasing her husband. “Fascinating?”
 
“The knots in my shoulders,” Heyes explained. “David decided to give everyone in the infirmary a demonstration on easing muscle strain. I was the guinea pig.”
 
“Oh. I see.”
 
“Sister Marilyn, this is my wife, Miranda.”
 
“Pleased to meet you, ma’am,” Marilyn said, as she did a little courtesy. “I hope, I didn’t offend. But it was very…fascinating.”
 
“No, that’s alright,” Randa assured her. “I’m quite accustomed to my husband’s shenanigans.”
 
“Oh. Yes, ma’am.”
 
“This is Kathryn,” Sister Julia introduced the second young lady. “She came to us last year, and now, she thinks, she would like to stay.”
 
“Pleasure to meet you, Kathryn,” Heyes greeted her. “You couldn’t have landed in a better place than here.”
 
“Yes, sir. I know. Thank you.”
 
“Kathryn,” Miranda joined in. “Nice to meet you.”
 
“Ma’am.”
 
“Now,” Sister Julia announced, as she came to her feet with Lily still cradled comfortably in her arm. But then, she did something most unexpected, and handed the infant over to Sister Marilyn. “If you and Miss Kathryn would please take the children and entertain them in the other room, for a while.”
 
Miranda stood up, in some alarm.
 
“No…but…that won’t be necessary,” she insisted, and made a move to take her daughter back.
 
Sister Julia deftly stepped in between them, blocking the mother, and then held out her arms to also take Walter.
 
“Uhmm,” Heyes hesitated. “That’s really not necessary. I’m sure they will stay quiet, while we talk.”
 
“Oh, don’t be silly, Joshua,” Sister Julia scolded him, as she took Walter from him, and handed the child over to Kathryn. “They’ll just be in the next room. Now, off you young ladies go. I’ll call you when we’re ready.”
 
Hannibal and Miranda stood, dumbfounded, not sure what they should do, as they watched their two infants disappearing down the hallway.
 
“Umm,” Heyes repeated. “I’m not sure that…”
 
“Joshua,” Sister Julia confronted him. “Don’t you trust me?”
 
“Yes, Sister. Of course I do.”
 
“Then relax. Come. Sit back down and have some tea. Miranda, don’t worry. Your children are fine. Sit down now, so we can discuss things without interruption.”
 
“Oh, well…” Miranda looked to her husband for assurance.
 
Hannibal sighed and then nodded. “It’s alright. They’ll be fine.”
 
“Well…okay.”
 
The couple sat down again, and Sister Julia poured their tea. “Biscuit?”
 
“Oh,” Miranda accepted the offering. “Yes, thank you.”
 
“Joshua?”
 
“Thank you.”
 
“Good. I’m glad that’s settled,” the Sister announced with satisfaction. She sat down and took a sip from her own teacup. “I must admit, that your most recent telegram did not come as a surprise.”
 
“Didn’t it?” Heyes asked.
 
“No.” The Sister smiled, as she took note of Miranda’s crestfallen posture. She reached over and touched the troubled mother’s hand, and the dark, stressed eyes looked up to connect with the kindly, crinkled ones. “Don’t feel guilty, my dear. It is a lot to take on.”
 
“I know,” Miranda conceded, “but others seem to manage.”
 
“Yes,” Sister Julia agreed, “but usually it is out of stubbornness, and then it is the children who pay the price. I have a feeling that little Walter is more than just a handful.”
 
Both parents laughed.
 
“That’s for sure,” Heyes agreed. “This situation took us both by surprise.”
 
“Sally is easy to be with,” Miranda stated. “But the twins; my goodness! And now, I feel guilty just saying that. I really do love them, but I’m at my wits end.”
 
“Well,” Sister Julia stated. “I think that you have made the right decision. I already have a young lady in mind, who will fit your needs. She is fifteen, and finishing up her final year with us. This is often a hard time for the young ladies. Work is not available to them, as it is to the young men, so they end up marrying someone twice their age, just to have security, or they take their vows and join the church. Often, neither choice is the right one for them. This is a wonderful opportunity that you are offering. I hope, you will be pleased with her.”
 
“Oh good!” Miranda breathed a sigh of relief. “I was wondering how we would go about this. Shall we bring her in, so we can discuss it? I did make up a list of questions.”
 
Sister Julia smiled, wisely. “I think, I have a better idea. Come along.”
 
Hannibal and Miranda exchanged glances, but stood up and obediently followed the Sister. She led them down the familiar hallway that would take them to the classroom, but she stopped short of that door, and turned to open another. She did so quietly, and indicated for the couple to also enter the room in such a manner as to not disturb the occupants.
 
“This is where the children can come, when morning classes are finished,” Sister Julia whispered. “Come. Let us stand over here, out of the way, and watch them for a moment.”
 
There were a number of children in the room, ranging in ages from six or seven, up to mid-teens. Some were still sitting at the small table, eating their lunches, while others were occupying themselves with reading, or drawing, or playing with toys on the floor.
 
Sally was busy catching up on news with friends who were still living at the orphanage, and didn’t even notice her parents coming into the room. Sister Marilyn was sitting at the table, playing with Lily, while another girl was laid out on the floor, with Walter squirming all over her.  The room was filled with the girl’s excited laughter, while Walter’s mouth was gaping in a huge grin, as he gurgled and spit with delight. He had rolled himself over onto his stomach, and his little hands and feet were slapping and kicking at the floor, as he tried to keep up with his new playmate.
 
“I thought so,” Sister Julia commented, wisely. “River, could you come over here, please?”
 
The girl looked up from her play, and nodded. But then, she hesitated, not wanting to leave the infant unattended.
 
Sister Julia spotted Kathryn, and motioned to her. “Would you please attend to the boy, for a few moments. Please.”
 
The frown on Kathryn’s face was unmistakable, but she did as she was bidden, and went over to take charge. But as soon as River stood up and began to walk away, Walter’s little face went from laughing, to tight frustration, and the all too familiar wailing commenced. Kathryn picked up the infant and tried to sooth him, but it only caused his wails to increase in volume, and the look on Kathryn’s face, said it all.
 
“Oh dear,” Miranda stated, and couldn’t help but smile. “Poor Kathryn; that is exactly how I feel much of the time.”
 
River was about to return to Walter, to help sooth him, but Sister Julia stopped her.
 
“No, no, child. Come here,” the Sister insisted. “He’ll be fine. Come with us.”
 
River frowned, but followed the adults out of the room and back down to the parlour.
 
“Sit down, child,” Sister Julia invited her. “You remember Sally, don’t you?”
 
“Yes, ma’am.”
 
“Yes. I seem to recall that the two of you got along very well. Despite your difference in ages.”
 
“Yes, ma’am,” River confirmed. “She was very helpful, when I first came here. She seemed to know how scared I was. I thought we would be friends. But then she got adopted, and left. I was…disappointed to see her go.”
 
“It seems to me, you were more than disappointed,” the Sister recalled. “Heartbroken, would be more like it.”
 
River hung her head. “Yes, ma’am. But I was happy that she was adopted, and found parents of her own. I just wish…will she be staying long? I’d love to visit more with her. I got caught up with that adorable little boy, then she started talking with Melanie and some of the other girls, so…but she’s not leaving right away, is she?”
 
“I don’t believe that Sally will be staying very long, today,” the Sister informed her, and saw disappointment settle over River’s features. “But, in the long run, this might work out to everyone’s satisfaction.”
 
River perked up, her curiosity taking over from disappointment.
 
“Oh?” She asked, and looked towards the two other adults who were sitting quietly, watching her.
 
“River,” Sister Julia began. “This is Mr. and Mrs. Heyes. They are Sally’s parents.”
 
“Oh!” River stood up and did a quick courtesy. “A pleasure to meet you.” And then sat back down again, before Hannibal could respond to her formal greeting.
 
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, as well,” he stated from his chair, and gave her a friendly smile.
 
River’s smile increased, and she thought, what a lovely and kind man he was. Odd. Rumour was that Sally’s new father had been a convict at the prison, just outside of town. Surely, that couldn’t have been this man; he looked so nice.
 
“Lovely to meet you, River,” Miranda stated, getting the girl’s attention.
 
“Thank you, ma’am,” she answered, and then her eyes lit up with a revelation. “Oh! Are those twins yours?”
 
“Yes, they are,” Miranda admitted.
 
“Oh, you are so lucky to have such beautiful babies!” River exclaimed, all excited. “I envy you so much. You must love them to pieces.”
 
“Well…” Miranda nodded, then laughed, “…yes, I do.”
 
The parents smiled, and exchanged glances. They both liked this girl and were beginning to think that this might not be such a difficult task, after all. She and Sally already knew one another, and got along, and obviously Walter was quite taken with her. They weren’t too worried about Lily’s response, as Lily tended to get along with everybody.
 
Sister Julia noted the silent exchange, and felt confident to continue on with the discussion.
 
“Mr. and Mrs. Heyes came here today, in hopes of meeting a young lady who was coming of age, and would be leaving here soon,” Sister Julia explained. “They wish to hire that young lady, to come and live with them in Colorado, and help raise the children, along with other household duties. Payment would be room and board, plus a small wage. Do you think, you would be interested in such a position?”
 
River’s eyes widened, and her jaw dropped. “Oh yes!” she exclaimed, and nearly jumped out of her chair, in her excitement. Realizing that this was most unladylike behaviour, she quickly controlled herself, and sat back down, folding her hands in her lap and taking on a respectable manner. “Yes. I would be honoured by such a position. I would appreciate the opportunity.”
 
Hannibal and Miranda smiled at each other. River was trying so hard to be a mature lady, but she was still a child at heart.
 
“Alright, fine,” Heyes told her. “We aren’t set up for you to come, right away. Our current home is too small, but once our ranch house has been renovated, then we will send for you. How is that?”
 
River looked disappointed. “Oh…”
 
“That would be fine,” Sister Julia interrupted. “That will give River time to finish her schooling here, and for us to teach her some other skills, that will be helpful to her, in this new position.”
 
“Oh, yes,” River agreed. “Of course.”
 
“It was very nice to meet you,” Miranda told her. “And believe me, I’m looking forward to the day when you can come and join us.”
 
River beamed a smile. “Yes ma’am. Me too, ma’am.”
 
“Very good,” Sister Julia told her. “You may return to the children, now.”
 
“Yes, Sister.”
 
River stood up and did another quick courtesy, and this time, Hannibal was ready for it, and stood up with her. He took her hand and gave her a slight bow.
 
“We’ll see you later in the summer,” he told her. “How’s that?”
 
“Yes, sir,” she responded, and with a nod to the Sister and Miranda, she quickly left the room.
 
She was hardly out of sight, when her walking became a run, and her excited voice could be heard as she opened the door to the playroom.
 
“Sally! I’m going to be coming to live with you…” And then, the shutting of the door, cut off the rest of her sentence.
 
Hannibal chuckled.
 
Miranda and Sister Julia smiled at each other.
 
“This will work out nicely,” the Sister stated. “River has always shown a fondness for children. She has a way with them, and can get them to settle, when no one else can.”
 
“She sounds like she’s exactly what I need,” Miranda said. “Thank you, Sister.”
 
“You’re welcome. Now, Joshua…” Hannibal became suspicious. Sister Julia always had a way of backing him into a corner. “…how are Thaddeus, and his young wife? Enjoying parenthood, are they?”
 
“Ahh, yes.” Again, suspicion. “Why?”
 
“I seem to recall him saying, that they might be interested in adopting, once they settled in to parenthood,” the Sister remarked. “Any chance…?”
 
Heyes laughed, mostly in relief that is wasn’t him being put on the hot seat.
 
“Nothing serious yet, Sister,” he told her. “Although…”
 
“Yes?”
 
“Well, we were just talking, mind you. Nothing definite,” Heyes explained. “But, once our office, in town, is up and running, we might be in need of a secretary. We could hire someone who already lives in Brookswood, but, if you know of a young lady here, who would fit that role, perhaps…”
 
“Ah,” Sister Julia brightened up. “I will keep it in mind.”
 
“Thank you.”
 
“Well,” the Sister announced, as she stood up. “It’ll be time for afternoon class soon, so we better get your children collected up. It was wonderful to see you again, Joshua.”
 
Hannibal and Miranda had both stood up with the Sister, and now Hannibal moved in for a hug.
 
“It was good to see you too, Sister. You’re looking well.”
 
“And so are you,” she told him, as she gave him an extra squeeze. “Happy and well. My prayers were answered, at least where you are concerned.”
 
Hannibal nodded, as they separated, though he didn’t quite know how to respond to that.
 
Julia then turned to give Miranda a hug.
 
“It was lovely to see you too, Miranda,” she said. “Now don’t you feel guilty about needing help with those children. It’s the wise person, who knows when they are over-whelmed. Plus, you’re giving River a wonderful opportunity. So, don’t you worry about it.”
 
“Alright,” Miranda agreed. “I won’t. Thank you, Sister.”
 
Xxx
 
The ride back into town, was one of joyous excitement as far as Sally was concerned. She sat in the back seat, cuddling Lily, while talking non-stop about her friend coming to live with them.
 
The two parents sat up front, smiling indulgently, while their eldest daughter prattled on.
 
“It’ll be so nice, having River come to live with us,” she stated, yet again. “We can play together, and have fun, like we used to. That is, when she’s not working. I know she’s coming to help out with the twins and all that, but still, she’ll have some time off. And then we can play together. And then, when she’s looking after the babies, Mama, you and I can have fun together again. I really miss having fun with you.”
 
“I really miss it too, Sweetheart,” Miranda concurred. Walter, worn out by his play with River, was sound asleep in Miranda’s arms. Even the movement of the buggy, and the excited monologue from his sister, wasn’t going to wake him up. “We can go riding together.”
 
“Yes!” Sally agreed. “That will be so much fun.”
 
Hannibal smiled wickedly. “Are you still sure that you don’t want us to adopt her?” he asked, already knowing the answer. “Are you sure, you don’t want an older sister?”
 
Silence from the back seat. Hannibal grinned at his wife. Miranda rolled her eyes and sighed in resignation. Her husband always had to be such a tease.
 
“No,” Sally finally answered, in a tone that brooked no leeway. “I’m the oldest. But, River can still come, and be my friend.”
 
“Okay. If you’re sure.”
 
Heavy sigh from the back seat.
 
Xxx
 
The following day, while Miranda and the children visited with Sarah and Evelyn, Heyes rented a horse and rode out to the prison. He had an appointment for a discussion with the warden, and he didn’t want to be late for this one. Even at that, the closer he got to the prison compound, the slower his drive was to get there. Unlike at the convent, this re-visiting of a familiar structure did set heavy with him. It was doubtful that he would ever be able to approach this institution without a feeling of doom settling upon his heart.
 
Ignoring the weight of this place, he pushed himself forward and arrived at the front door with time to spare. Dismounting, he handed his horse over to a trustee, and saw himself up the steps and into the main hallway. He didn’t need an escort to get to where he was going. He knew where the warden’s office was, though he had approached it more often from the other direction, than from this one.
 
Approaching the secretary’s desk, Heyes felt those butterflies fluttering again. Why couldn’t he get over this feeling of apprehension? It wasn’t like he was going in to talk with Mitchell. Kenny was a friend. He had been to the Kid’s wedding. Dang! He was at Heyes and Miranda’s wedding! He’d risked life and limb to help save Brookswood from the fire. He was in all the way, to support him and Jed with their new venture. Why was he so nervous?
 
“Yes sir?” the young man asked, as he looked up from his paperwork.
 
“I’m here to see Warden Reece,” Heyes told him. “I have an appointment.”
 
“Your name, sir?”
 
Heyes felt a slight irritation. There was nobody else here for an appointment at this time. All the secretary had to do was check the ledger. Still, the young man was just doing his job, so Heyes succumbed to protocol.
 
“Hannibal Heyes.”
 
“Oh.” The secretary began to fidget and made the job of checking the ledger far more difficult than it needed to be. “Oh yes. Here you are. Umm, just a moment.”
 
Heyes nodded, as the secretary stood up and went to knock on the office door.
 
“Yes?” came Kenny’s voice from inside the room.
 
The secretary opened the door and stuck his head inside the room. “Ah, Mr. Heyes is here to see you, sir.”
 
“Yes, thank you, Mr. Shoulton,” Kenny said. “You can send him in.”
 
“Yessir.” The secretary turned back to the visitor and motioned him forward. “You may go in, sir.”
 
Heyes nodded again and followed through. Irritation had taken over from nervousness, and then he was irritated at himself for feeling irritated. Part of him was tired of people still recognizing his name, especially when it was a young fellow, who wouldn’t have been out of his knickers during the Devil’s Hole heyday. And yet, he recalled his feelings of betrayal, finding all those Heyes and Curry dime novels sitting in the 5¢ bin, and still not selling. And this kind of recognition was better than the alternative, like that rancher in Wyoming, who was attempting to beat the living crap out of him. And the railroad police, who assumed that he and Jed were responsible for the robbery, simply based on who they used to be. Thank goodness for Joe, on that occasion. Better to be idolized than despised, he presumed.
 
He was still struggling with this conflict of interest, when he abruptly found himself in the Warden’s Office, and staring into those keen gray eyes. He couldn’t even remember walking through the door.
 
“Heyes, good to see you,” Kenny greeted him, as the two men shook hands. “Have a seat. Would you like some coffee?”
 
“No, no thanks.”
 
The two men took their seats, and Kenny put aside the forms he had been filling out, then gave his friend his full attention.
 
“How is it going with the twins?” he asked. “Was the Sister of any help?”
 
“Yes!” Heyes answered, emphatically. “I think we have the perfect young lady. It will certainly help Miranda, a lot. Twins was more than we bargained for.”
 
“I can imagine,” Kenny agreed, and then smiled. “How are you liking civilian life?”
 
Heyes laughed. “Fine! I don’t care what gets thrown at me out there, it’s a hell of a lot better than being in here.”
 
Kenny sobered, and nodded agreement. “Yes, unfortunately. And things are only getting worse, I’m afraid.”
 
“Worse?” Heyes asked, with raised brows. “How could it be worse?”
 
“The board of directors have stopped listening to me,” Kenny explained. “The old school attitudes are  winning out. Fortunately, I still have a great deal of leeway, when it comes to how I run this prison, so our program for the parolees isn’t in jeopardy. At least, not yet. But once the new prison in Rawlins is up and running, who knows?”
 
“Oh.” Heyes felt discouraged. “How long will that be?”
 
“The way things are going, it’s not going to be any time soon,” Kenny assured him. “Every time they make a move to get it going, things get bogged down in red tape. It could be another ten years, before that prison is in full operation.”
 
Heyes grinned. “Oh yeah?”
 
Kenny chuckled. “Yes. I’m not throwing in the towel yet. So, you said that you had something you wanted to discuss with me. What’s on your mind?”
 
“Well,” Heyes began. “Ah, our little house in town is too small for everything we want to do, so me and the Kid, well, we decided that it would be a good idea to buy the Baird ranch. We made some good money on that last job we pulled…” Kenny smiled at Heyes’ choice of words. “…so we figured we could afford to buy it, and then fix it up, so that it’s livable. Goodness knows how anybody lived in that place up until now. It’s pretty run down. Anyway, we figured that if you could send out four fellas, instead of just two, they could help re-build the place. We’d get the parolee quarters built first, so they would have a place to stay real quick, then get the house re-built, that way Miranda and the children could get out of our little place. Not to mention, we have two other people coming to stay with us. Then finally, we would get the barn built.
“The property already comes with livestock, but once it’s up and running, we can always get more. And apparently, there is already a demand for Ned’s offspring. We have a number of foals due later this spring, and then next year, we’ll be crawling with them. We’re going to need a lot of hands to help out with their training and handling, not to mention getting them to prospective buyers. Words getting around that the Double J has some nice, up and coming Quarter Horses, so it could get really busy. If we have our own ranch, then Jesse doesn’t have to worry about having these fellas on his ranch, when he doesn’t really know what they might do. If we have our own ranch, specifically for the parolees, then it would probably make for a lot less tension, all around.
“Then we can use the house in town as our office and, you know, a place for visitors to stay where it’s maybe more convenient. Especially, if someone doesn’t feel comfortable being out at the ranch with the parolees. Plus, it would make for a good meeting place, or for a lay-over, if any of us need to catch the night train into Denver.
“So, if you could send us even a couple of more fellas, just to get things up and running, that would be great. As long as you think, they’re trustworthy, that is. We don’t want them running off as soon as our backs are turned. That wouldn’t be good. But I’m sure you know what you’re doing there, so I leave that up to you.”
 
Kenny sat forward in his chair, elbows on the table, with his steepled fingers resting against his lower lip. He silently listened to this familiar rambling on of ideas, each of them tumbling over the other, in a rush to come out as words. When Heyes finally stopped talking, Kenny remained in his attentive position and allowed the onslaught to settle. Heyes felt himself wanting to fidget, as those sharp gray eyes considered him, until they finally blinked, and the light of a smile flickered through.
 
Kenny leaned back then, resting his hands on the arms of his chair.
 
“How do you feel about having your wife and children living out on the ranch, with parolees as ranch hands? It sounds to me like you’re not always going to be there.”
 
“I thought about that,” Heyes concurred. “Wheat and Kyle will be there for six months out of the year. They’ll keep an eye on things.”
 
“And what about the other six months?”
 
“I don’t know,” Heyes admitted. “I’m still working on that. Ames might stay on through the winter months and help out.”
 
“Do you think that Mr. Ames is responsible enough for that?”
 
“He’s come a long way, Kenny,” Heyes insisted. “He really pulled his own, during the fire.”
 
“I know. I was there,” Kenny pointed out. “I was still seeing some of the fire bug in him. He held it together, and did his share, but he had Carlson and Murtry there to support him.  Do you really think, that when left on his own, he is ready to be in charge of other parolees, and have them respect him?”
 
Heyes thought about it for a moment, then had to concur.  “Probably not.”
 
“No, I don’t think so, either,” Kenny agreed. “Perhaps in time, but not yet. He still needs to feel accountable to someone, and since his release from prison, that someone has always been, and still is, Wheat Carlson.”
 
“Yeah,” Heyes finally had to admit to the truth of that. “Wheat can’t stay in Colorado through the winter months, and Kyle won’t stay without him. On the other hand, I probably won’t be away much during the winter months. And if I do get called away, a solution may have presented itself by then. Besides, I trust your judgement. I doubt you would send anyone to us, who is likely to do harm to a woman and children.”
 
“I’ll certainly do my best, not to,” Kenny stated, “but even I’m not infallible. Still, they will be screened thoroughly before admitted into this program, and, I expect, each of them will be the other’s keeper. Those who are serious about this opportunity, won’t want to see someone else mess it up for them.”
 
“True enough. So…can you do it? Can you send us a couple of more fellas?”
 
“I’ll look into it,” Kenny assured him. “I think it’s a good idea on the most part. A separate ranch, apart from the Double J and the Second Chance would be an ideal situation. I just can’t guarantee that there will be two more inmates who are ready to start this early. Might I suggest that you solicit the Colorado Penal Board about contributing to the program? Governor Barber is agreeable to allowing parolees to cross the state line in order to take advantage of the program, but you know how secure that is. A change in governor could mean a change in policy.”
 
Heyes snorted. “Don’t I know it! That was a living nightmare.”
 
“Yes.”
 
“But, as long as the governor of Colorado is agreeable,” Heyes ventured. “why would the governor of Wyoming have anything against it?”
 
Kenny shrugged. “Who knows? Like I said, the attitude of the board of directors is becoming more and more hard core. They may decide it’s simply asking for trouble. But, if we have the governors on our side, we stand a better chance of keeping things moving ahead. Why don’t you set up a meeting with Governor Routt and discuss this situation with him?”
 
“Oh.” Heyes felt uncomfortable with this suggestion. “Why would the governor of Colorado be willing to listen to me?”
 
“Why?” Kenny asked him. “Because you’re the one who started this whole thing. You’re the inspiration.”
 
“Me?” Heyes stated. “Kenny, this was your idea.”
 
“An idea that could only take shape, and work, because you stayed true to your parole,” Kenny pointed out. “Heyes, if you had broken your parole, and fled the country, none of this would be happening now.  Allowing you out on parole was a risk that was hard fought for. The powers that were, finally decided to take a chance on you. Like I told you before, if you had thrown mud in everyone’s faces, and run off, nobody would be getting a chance at a parole now. Especially anyone high profile. There would not have been a single official who would have been willing to take the chance again. Whether you like it or not, you are the spokesperson for this program. You’re the one, they’ll listen to.”
 
Heyes sighed. “Crap! Maybe I can take Lom with me.”
 
Kenny chuckled.  “Look,” he offered. “To help you out, why don’t I send a letter of introduction to Governor Routt. I can give him a head’s up about you coming to see him, and why. Let’s face it, Heyes, the more people in high places whom we have on our side, the more likely it is that we can keep the program going.”
 
“Yeah, I know, you’re right,” Heyes agreed. “I never saw myself as a diplomate before. That’ll be the biggest con I ever pulled.”
 
“But for all the right reasons.”
 
Heyes slumped. “How do you always manage to get me pulled into these things?”
 
“It’s not hard.” Then, before Heyes could challenge him on that, Kenny changed the subject. “So, you’re coming to our place for dinner tonight?”
 
“Yes,” Heyes concurred, though he sent Kenny a look at the suggestion that he was easy to manipulate. “I expect Randa and Sarah already have the evening planned out.”
 
“Probably,” Kenny agreed. “I’m looking forward to meeting these twins. So…Walter, huh?”
 
Heyes gave an impish smile. “Yeah. Do you think he’d mind?”
 
“No,” Kenny assured him. “On the outside, I expect he would sputter and curse you for a fool, but I think he’d be honoured.”
 
“Yeah. I hope so.”
 
“I hear he’s already living up to his name sake.”
 
“Oh Kenny! You have no idea!”
 
Xxx
 
It had become apparent, right from the start, that the Heyes twins were as different from one another as night was to day, winter was to summer.  Yet both caused their parents no end of both concern and overwhelming pride as the years passed and they grew into their own person.
 
Walter, like Rebecca and Anya before him, took on much of his father's colouring.  The shape of the face and the dimples must have been strong in the Heyes family genetics, as they repeatedly showed up everywhere.  The boy's eyes were the same chocolate brown, but the almond shape of them, and the colouring of his hair, took after his mother.  Hannibal's hair, though brown, tended towards the lighter tones, especially in the summer.  But Walter's brown was so dark, it could almost have been black until the sun hit it, and the brown undertones shone through.
 
The boy proved to be a handful.  He lacked patience, and though most children can be self-serving and demanding, Walter took these traits to a whole new level.  When he wanted something, he wanted it NOW and displayed quite the temper when he didn't get it.  He wanted to be the best and he wanted to be the first.  The fact that his twin was older than him, even though it was only by minutes, rankled him far into his adult years.  It was mainly due to Lily's sweet and loyal nature towards him, that enabled the two of them to remained close throughout their lives.
 
Hannibal feared for his son's happiness.  Seeing the boy developing, he had to finally accept some hard truths about himself, truths he would have preferred to leave in the shadows.  Hannibal, after much head butting and internal turmoil, had finally come to realize how his own arrogance and feelings of entitlement had created its own bed of hot coals for him to lay in.  Finally, when in extreme hindsight, he came to realize these facts, he consoled himself with the illusion that it was due to his tragic beginnings.  If it hadn't been for the civil war, if he hadn't lost his family at such a young age and under such violent circumstances.  If he hadn't spent his formative years at Valparaiso.  It was these events that had moulded the young Hannibal into the angry and arrogant outlaw, who took what he wanted, when he wanted it. 
 
Now, seeing those same traits showing up in his son, he finally had to admit to himself that these were not due to outside influences.  This is who he was.  All those other events, that he had conveniently blamed for his choices, could no longer hold up under pressure.  True, with his parents' love and continued influence, he probably would not have become an outlaw, but the traits that had lead him there, would still have been the same.
 
Perhaps, like Abi, he would have turned to law enforcement instead of the criminal trail, and been just as single-minded and bull-headed in that capacity, as he had been as the notorious gang leader.  Then a thought hit him that sent a shiver down his spine.  Perhaps the reason that he and Tom Morrison were such volatile adversaries was because Heyes recognized much of himself in the lawman.  He could never be as cruel as Morrison was, but that same bullheadedness, that same determination to win at all cost, now stared him in the face.
 
He was forced to admit that his son was already genetically wired for a difficult path in life.  There were going to be many lessons he will be forced, by his own stubbornness, to learn the hard way, with plenty of knocks and bruises at every step.  The father's heart went out to the son.  He could see the boy's road stretching out before him, as though it were written in a book and there wasn't anything Hannibal could do, to divert it.
 
He sent up a silent prayer to the powers that be, to allow himself and Miranda to stick around long enough to raise their children into adulthood.  If they could remain there for Walter, to support him on his journey, then perhaps, they could help to make his path a little less rocky, and the lessons not quite so painful.  The last thing he wanted for any of his children, was for them to follow the same path he had laid out for himself.  He felt confident that Sally and Lillian would stay true, but the Hunter would only need an excuse to rebel, and then he might be lost to them. Just the thought of that possibility broke the father's heart.
 
As for the physical attributes, where Walter was dark in both appearance and temperament, Lillian was light and sunshine, itself.  Where Walter took after the Heyes family, Lillian took on many physical traits from the Curry line.  As earlier mentioned, she inherited the famous dimples plus the perky nose, but her hair and eyes were a different matter.  The soft brown baby fuzz was soon replaced by blonde curls and the dark infant eyes gradually paled to an ultra-marine blue.
 
And yet, there was no denying her heritage.  Where Walter embraced his father's extroverted traits, Lillian epitomized the introverted part of him.  Hannibal smiled, when he recalled Abi describing Rebecca to him, that she had been so much quieter than Anya, so much more the little thinker, rather than the exuberant doer.  Now, Hannibal could clearly see the same differences in the twins.
 
Yet, though perhaps not surprisingly, since he was a parent now, Hannibal worried about the happiness of his youngest daughter, as well.  He knew, she was extremely intelligent, but she rarely showed it and often struggled with the most basic of her lessons at school, simply through lack of attention.  She was a dreamer.  It was not unusual, to find her sitting by herself on the front porch, with a vacant look in her eyes and a soft smile upon her face.
 
Miranda was constantly having to snap the child out of it.  Getting and keeping her attention in the here and now, was more wearing upon the mother's patience than trying to keep track of her overly energetic son.  At least they always knew where Walter was, even if what he was doing was undesirable. But Lillian was secretive, quietly sitting on her own and completely lost in her own thoughts.
 
Sally shrugged it off as nothing to worry about.  Lily had simply been born in the wrong time, so she retreated inside her own head, to create a world where she was free to be who she was.   She would eventually find herself and learn how to be comfortable in the world that was presented to her.  Why did the adults seem to think this was something to be upset about?  Lily was a beautiful soul and given time, she would find her way.
 
Hannibal and Miranda would exchange looks and shrug their shoulders.  What did that mean; born in the wrong time?  She was here, what other time could there be?  Sally would not elaborate and ran off to play skipping rope with her friends.
 
Still, Sally's words gave the parents some comfort.  They had long since learned not to ignore comments made by their eldest daughter.  Even the most casual observations, especially those that made no sense at the time, invariably revealed their meaning later on down the road.  And Lillian did indeed, become the little darling of the Heyes and Curry clans.  She was so sweet and loving in temperament that no one could stay mad at her for long, not even her over-bearing brother.
 
The relationship between Walter and Lillian amazed everyone.  Though often it is said that twins have a stronger connection to each other than separate siblings, these two were so different in character and appearance that it did not seem possible that they would bond so completely.  Though River was usually successful in enticing Walter to behave, on those days when he was particularly obnoxious, Lily was the only one who could get Walter down off his high horse and see reason.  It was her who got him to school, and it was her that made sure he stayed in school, rather than run off to pull the pin out of the mercantile delivery wagon's wheel.  It was her that kept him grounded.
 
In return, he was her grand protector.  When the other children teased her for being 'strange', the Hunter wouldn't hesitate to bloody some noses to set them straight.  Neither Hannibal nor Miranda could find it in their hearts to punish him for this.  And again, Hannibal would be taken back in time, to his own protectiveness towards his younger, and then smaller, cousin, at Valparaiso.  So, the boy would be reprimanded in front of the offended parents, but then given a pat on the back in private.  Just be more discreet next time, alright?
 
Lillian worshipped her brother, and Walter adored his sister, despite the unfortunate timing of their births. Sally, who could easily have felt like the odd one out, actually blossomed in her role as older sister and mother's helper, even though it was River who did most of the helping.  Sally did not have a jealous bone in her body, except when it came to Fannie.  Fannie was not up for grabs.  Fannie was her horse, given to her by her papa, and she made that stance very clear, long before her younger siblings were old enough to even think about it.  Heyes would smile and muse to himself that it was fortunate they had moved into a larger home on some acreage AND that they had an in with at the local stud farm.  More horses were in their future.
 
Xxx
 
The Double Chance Ranch and Security grew and prospered, making all of the company’s shareholders more than just financially secure. It would not be fair to say that Hannibal and Jed became wealthy, beyond their wildest dreams, because both of them could dream pretty big, but they did alright for themselves. Their reputations as being trustworthy private detectives began to grow, and soon they were well known and respected for digging out the most ingenious corporate money launderers and embezzlers. Heyes thrived on the challenge, and Jed always got a kick out of snapping the trap. They had fun.
 
Ned had fun, too. Only the finest quality mares were selected to spend time with that gentleman, and that’s when Jesse permitted any outside breedings. On the most part, he kept Ned exclusive to their holdings, and that stud repaid the kindness by doing a right fine job of reproducing himself. It wasn’t long before he was considered one of the best Quarter Horse studs in the West, and the only one in Colorado who was worth breeding to, or buying the get of, if you wanted a top-notch ranch horse. The earnings made from Ned’s first full season alone, as stud, was enough to get the Double J up and running in the black again.
 
The parolee program went through some learning curves in that first year. It wasn’t profitable, but nor was it intended to be. The parolees were kept and fed, and in return, they did whatever was needed to keep the ranch up and running. Kenny had been right about them regulating themselves. If any one of them started getting ideas about running off, or causing trouble, he was soon put in his place by the others. Most of them were there to earn a clean slate, and none of them wanted to go back to prison.
 
The ranch lucked out in the beginning of its second year, when a young parolee by the name of Cal Emmerson joined the program. He had grown up on a ranch, until bad weather and bad timing had driven it into the ground. He’d succumbed to the outlaw trail in an effort to save his family home, but instead, earned himself five years in prison. Kenny felt that he was basically, a good kid and just needed a chance to prove it.
 
Having spent his childhood around horses and wranglers, Cal was a natural when it came to handling the young horses. He loved it, and with Deke teaching him even more gentling ways, Cal soon took over as head wrangler at the Double Chance and decided to stay permanent. Of course, part of the reason for the decision, was that he’d fallen head over heels for River, and he was intent upon pursuing his interests.
 
River was not that keen, at first. She was happy in her position as nanny for the Heyes family. Why would she want to jeopardize that? Besides, she was far too young to be taking on a husband, so Cal was just going to have to wait. And he did, too. On the date of her 20th birthday, Cal proposed marriage to River, and she accepted.
 
As a wedding gift, all hands got together, and built the new couple their own home, right there on the property. Cal continued on as head wrangler, and River maintained her positon as nanny. Even after her own children began to arrive, she managed, much to Miranda’s amazement, to keep both sets of broods on an even keel. Even with Walter thrown in the mix.
 
Jed and Beth did as they had planned on doing, and their family grew, both with their own natural born young’uns, and a couple of adoptees thrown in. Everyone, not just Miranda, were amazed at how well Beth handled everything. Even as her family grew, she carried on as financial adviser and book keeper for both ranches, and never seemed to miss a beat. Of course, the young woman who had been hired right out of the orphanage, to take over the secretarial responsibilities in town, helped out a lot. She and Beth, sharing an interest in numbers and thriving on tracking down discrepancies in the books, soon became fast friends.
 
Heyes and Miranda decided that three was enough for them, and Sally was secure in her position as the eldest. By the time she actually did come to meet her older sister, she and Anya were no longer children, and sibling rivalry did not exist between them. As a child, Sally ended up having plenty of cousins, both blood and honorary, to keep her occupied, not to mention, her own two siblings. But the time she was able to spend with her mother, either in the kitchen, or out riding their horses, was very special to both of them, and they jealously guarded those times that they were able to spend together.
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Keays

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Posts : 1431
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Re: Life Goes On   Sat Sep 03, 2016 1:48 pm

The first year of marriage for Harry and Isabelle was tumultuous, to say the least. There were plenty of yelling matches, as each tried to maintain the upper hand. But after a year of fighting, they both seemed to tire of it, and called a truce. Isabelle decided to let Harry think that he was the boss, and Harry was happy to believe the lie. But most surprisingly of all, was Isabelle’s transformation into an unofficial, undercover agent.
 
Though Pinkerton’s and Bannerman’s no longer hired women as agents, Heyes and Curry had no such prejudices. Whenever a woman’s subtle touch was required to gain information, Isabelle was recruited. Like a feminine snake-in-the-grass, she was a natural at slithering her way into the hearts and confidences of their quarry and acquiring the goods, as they say. Harry couldn’t have been more proud of her, and the marriage thrived. As hoped for, they never did have children.
 
The first summer than Nathanial Brenner came to visit, the ranch house was still under construction. As it turned out, David and Tricia offered their spare bedroom for the young man to use, in exchange for reading rights to his essay. Hannibal ended up enjoying the process. Though at first, he was anxious about drudging up old memories, once he started talking about them in a more relaxed setting than a courtroom, he found the whole experience to be cathartic.
 
By the following summer, the Double Chance was an up and running facility. The main house, though not so opulent as to compare with Big Mac’s ranchero, was an impressive, and state of the art dwelling. The two storey log home consisted of a wrap around veranda, six bedrooms on the upstairs floor, and on the main, a large, inviting entrance, family room, large dinning room and an impressive parlour for entertaining prospective clients and buyers. It also had a large, convenient kitchen, and an indoor privy!
 
The walls of the family room were adorned with a steadily increasing collection of family portraits, wedding pictures and new arrivals. The dinning room and parlour were home to photographs of all the horses that had helped bring the Double Chance into being: Fannie, of course, had the place of honour, as the matriarch, then Karma, her daughter, Daisy, and her son, Ned. On the other side of the room were the stallions, Australian, and next to him, the big handsome bay stallion, only known as Jack, who was Karma’s sire. Then, Daisy and Ned’s sire, Pine Knot. On the far wall, being displayed all by itself, was a large full body painting of Ned, looking all splendid and pleased with himself.  And a commissioned painting of Karma’s portrait hung in the living room where mostly just family and friends could view her.
 
Splendid stallion that he was, Heyes decided not to breed Karma to Alejandro after all. That mating would do nothing to promote their bloodlines and now that Hannibal had an invested interest in their Quarter Horses, he thought it best to stick with that. When it came time to retire Karma to making babies, he bred her Pine Knot’s half brother, Lock’s Rondo and again, the quality came through.
 
So just as the family portraits increased in numbers over years, so too, did the equine portraits increase. Patrons and tourists, entering the famous ranch house would feel like they were walking into a museum, filled with statues and portraits and paintings of the long line of champion Quarter Horses. And, the opportunity to immures themselves into the rich, full history of not only the West, but of the two notorious outlaws, who made good.
 
Xxx
 
SUMMER 1895
 
The fire in the pit was still burning with the added fuel, and as the gleaming turned to full night, the shadows of the men seated around it, danced and flicked along with the flames. It was a warm summer evening, and no real need for the warmth of a fire, but sometimes, there’s just something about sitting around a fire that brings a certain ambiance to casual and relaxed conversation between friends.
 
Buckets, filled with sugar water had been placed, strategically, around the outer parameter of the circle, in order to keep away the flying annoyances, while the men quietly discussed plans, family and passed heroics, well into the night. Blu was stretched out by his master’s feet, contentedly listening to the conversation, but not feeling an need to contribute.
 
“That’s two years that went by real fast,” Jed commented, as he took a swig from the whiskey bottle, and handed it to his right.
 
Lom accepted it, and partook of the contents. “This is a real up and coming place. You boys have put yourselves on the map.”
 
“How is your place coming along, Jed,” Kenny asked. “Is it going to rival Heyes’ house, here?”
 
“You bet’cha,” Jed confirmed. “Can’t have him bein’ one up on me.”
 
Heyes chuckled softly. “With the plans you and Beth have for family, you’re going to need a place twice the size of this little abode.”
 
Wheat snorted. “Little abode! You gone all rich and fanciful on us, Heyes. And you too, Kid. Dang. Between the to of ya’, you got enough room ta’ house the whole state ‘a Wyoming.”
 
“What do you mean, rich and fanciful?” Heyes asked, all indignant. “It’s a ranch house. I designed it to be big, so people can come and stay. Like now. Even at that, with this group, the place is bursting at the seams. Hmm, we might have to add on to it.”
 
Everybody laughed at that.
 
“There are those of us, who don’t mind sleeping in the bunk house,” Joe pointed out. “You only have four hands right now, and that place is big enough to house 20.”
 
“Not just house ‘em,” Wheat pointed out. “But set ‘em up in style. Dang! That place is more comfy than the leader’s cabin was, back in Devil’s Hole.”
 
“I’m certainly comfortable in there,” Mr. Brenner confirmed. “It’s nicer than my dorm at college.”
 
“You’re welcome to come back to the house, once some of the guests have gone,” Heyes reminded him. “There will be plenty of room.”
 
“Yes, I know,” Nathan assured him. “But it’s interesting, listening to the stories those men have to tell. It’s giving me a different perspective on the outlaw life.”
 
Wheat snorted. “Them fellas are outlaw wanna-be’s. None ‘a them ain’t done nothin’ too serious. It’ll be more interestin’ when we get a real outlaw in here fer you ta’ interview.”
 
“I already have a real outlaw to interview,” Nathan pointed out, and sent a pointed glance over to Heyes. “Not to mention yourself, and Mr. Curry.”
 
Wheat shifted on his log, and coughed with embarrassment. “Oh well, yeah. ‘A course ya’ do.”
 
“How many rooms does it have?” Kenny asked, getting the subject back to the bunk house.
 
“It’s got 10 bedrooms, each with two bunks apiece,” Wheat informed him, relieved to find a way out of being on the spot. “And each room has its own damn stove! And that ain’t countin’ the common room and kitchen. Geeze, Heyes, I’m surprised you can get them fellas out’a there to go to work.”
 
Heyes took a sip of whiskey, then passed the bottle over to Jesse. Then he shrugged. “Just because a man made some mistakes, and has to work hard to get back on his feet, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be comfortable.”
 
“I have a feeling, there is more to it than that,” David commented. “You didn’t really need to make the bunk house into a hotel.”
 
Heyes and Kenny exchanged humorous looks.
 
“You’re right,” Kenny concurred. “Myself, Heyes and Jed had a serious discussion about an issue that concerned us all. And that was security.”
 
“Yeah,” Jed continued. “None ‘a us have the time ta’ be nurse-maidin’ these fellas. We had ta’ have some way ‘a incouragin’ ‘em ta’ stay put.”
 
“And what better way,” Heyes explained, with a smile. “than to give him such a comfortable place to live, that he doesn’t want to leave?”
 
“But then he don’t wanna leave at all,” Wheat pointed out. “Come time, when his parole is up, we’ll have ta’ take a shotgun just ta get ‘im off the place.”
 
“Well,” Jed explained. “We’re hopin’ that once a fella’s parole is up, he’ll be feelin’ pretty good about himself, and want ta’ move on ta’ his own life.”
 
“You can always threaten them with being transferred to the Second Chance,” Scott Medgar suggested. “They certainly won’t find the accommodations there, quite so luxurious.”
 
“Nor at the Double J,” Jesse put in.
 
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Harry put in. “The longer they stay past their parole, the worse their accommodations get.”
 
Silence ensued around the fire, as Harry’s comment sunk in.
 
“That just might work,” Jesse commented.
 
“Yeah,” Heyes quietly agreed, as he considered the possibilities.
 
“What?” Harry sat up a bit straighter. “Ya’ mean, it actually is a good idea?”
 
“Yeah, Harry,” Jed told him. “Ya’ do come out with ‘em, on occasion, ya’ know.”
 
“Well yeah,” Harry agreed. “A’ course I do. That’s what I’m here for, you know. I’m the ideas man.”
 
“Well, I wouldn’t go so far as ta’ say that,” Jed countered. “But ya’ do have a knack of stumblin’ across one or two, just by talkin’.”
 
“Best way, Kid,” Harry informed him. “Best way.”
 
Jesse was still busy, contemplating the idea. “I can afford to put up a larger bunk house,” he said, speaking his thoughts out loud. “The Double J is well into the black, now. We could use a new bunk house, anyway.”
 
“Just don’t make it too nice,” Heyes pointed out. “That would be defeating the purpose. But, if we’re going to do that, we would have to use the Double J, and not the Second Chance.”
 
“Good point,” Scott agreed. “With Allie’s halfway house for hardship women already set up there, having ex-cons moving in as well; that could be asking for trouble.”
 
“Yes,” David agreed. “I’m sure those ladies already have enough to deal with. They don’t need a bunch of fellas coming around, soliciting their attentions.”
 
“Yeah,” Heyes affirmed. “So, like I said; it would be up to the Double J to take on the over-flow. On the other hand, some of them might be worth keeping on. That new fella, Cal, he really has a fine hand with the young horses.”
 
Kenny smiled. “When I learned his history, and took note of his way with the cats at the prison, I thought he would make a good candidate for this program. I’m glad to hear, he is working out.”
 
“So far,” Heyes agreed.
 
Scott stretched and happened to glance over his shoulder, towards the ranch house.
 
“Must be getting late,” he commented. “All the lights in the house are out. Just the porch lantern is burning. Everyone must have gone to bed.”
 
All eyes turned towards the house.
 
“It can’t be that late,” Heyes commented, as he glanced up at the star lite night sky. “The moon’s not fully up yet.”
 
“It was a busy day for everyone,” Jed pointed out. “I ain’t never seen so many young’uns all in one place. And I gotta admit, I was gettin’ dizzy, tryin’ ta’ keep track of ‘em all.”
 
“There is quite a brood, isn’t there?” David concurred, and smiled at Joe. “And more on the way.”
 
All eyes shifted from the house and zeroed in on the young sheriff.
 
“Something to tell us, Joe?” Jesse asked him
 
Even in the flickering light of the fire, Joe’s embarrassed, but pleased smile shone through.
 
“Yeah,” he concurred. “Pansy’s in the family way.”
 
A chorus of ‘woohoo’s!” made its rounds of the group. Those who were sitting closest to Joe plastered him with back slaps and hair ruffling, and the young man smiled through it all.
 
“Welcome to fatherhood,” Jed said. “Your life is about to change.”
 
“That’s for sure!” Heyes concurred. “But it’s not all bad.”
 
“Oh, come now,” David protested. “There’s nothing better. You fellas who don’t have children, have no idea what you’re missing out on.”
 
“Yeah, and I’d like to keep it that way, too,” Wheat grumbled.
 
“I married too late,” Lom mused. “But when I see the relationship that Martha has with her adult children, I wonder sometimes. It might’a been nice.”
 
“Let’s have a drink to that,” Scott suggested. “To fatherhood, and congratulations, Joe.”
 
“We can’t,” Harry commented. “Nothin’ left in the bottle.”
 
“Ye of little faith,” Heyes reprimanded, as he reached behind his chair. “I just happen to have a second bottle, right here. I had a feeling the first one wasn’t going to last long.” He uncorked it, raised it in a toast to Joe, and took a drink. “Congratulations, Joe. May this young’un be the first of many.” Then he passed it on to the next in line.
 
Unnoticed by those around the fire, as the bottle made the rounds, a slightly waving lantern had slowly made its way towards the group. It stopped, just outside the ring of celebrators, and Kyle’s face, like a spectre in a ghost story, appeared out of the flickering shadows.
 
“When you fellas gonna be callin’ it a night?” he groused. “Me and them boys got us an early mornin’ tomorrow.”
 
“If’n them boys can’t sleep through the little bit ‘a noise, we’re makin’,” Wheat answered him, “then they didn’t work hard enough today. Maybe we can remedy that, tomorrow.”
 
“Well,’ Kyle hesitated, not wanting to be the bringer of more work. “I suppose, most of ‘em are sleepin’.”
 
“It’s just you, that ain’t,” Wheat stated.
 
“I can’t help it,” Kyle defended himself. “I’m worried about Ames.”
 
“C’mon, Kyle,” Jed said. “Pull up a log and sit down. Here, have a drink.”
 
Kyles’ wide grin showed plainly in the lantern light. “Sure!”
 
Joe took his drink from the bottle, and passed it along to Kyle.
 
“Why are you worried about Ames?” Kenny asked. “Isn’t he here with you?”
 
“Nope,” Kyle informed him. “He done found hisself a lady friend, down there in Californie. He figured that summer was the best kind ‘a courtin’ weather, and he didn’t wanna lose his place in line.”
 
“He stayed down in California on his own?” Kenny asked, somewhat surprised.
 
“Yeah,” Kyle concurred. “Ain’t that alright?”
 
“Certainly,” Kenny assured him. “Ames is a free man. I didn’t think, he was ready to be on his own yet, that’s all. Good for him.”
 
Relieved, Kyle’s smile grew, and he took another swig from the bottle, before passing it on.
 
“Yeah,” he continued. “Ain’t nothin’ like a lady ta’ give ya’ incentive.”
 
“Except you’ve been mopin’ around, like a cat that’s lost its kitten,” Wheat complained. “It ain’t like ya’ never gonna see ‘im again.”
 
“I know.” Kyle was again on the defensive. “Yur missin’ ‘im too.”
 
“No, I ain’t,” Wheat denied. “I’m glad ta’ be rid ‘a the little firebug. I’m almost thinkin’ ‘a stayin’ on here, come fall. It might be worth it.”
 
Heyes perked up at the sound of that. “Are you serious, Wheat?”
 
“Well…I ain’t sure,” Wheat grumbled, trying to back off his statement, now that his bluff was getting called. “Stayin’ here, inta’ winter fer yer weddin’, almost did me in.”
 
Heyes slumped. “I suppose the colder months are hard on you.”
 
“Yeah,” Wheat concurred, but with a slightly changed attitude. “But it does seem ta’ be getting’ better. What did ya’ have in mind?”
 
“It’s great, having you here in the summer, ramroddin’ these fellas,” Heyes explained. “But we really do need a full-time foreman. I was kind of hoping, it would be you.”
 
Wheat pondered that suggestion for a moment. Kyle’s eyes flicked back and forth between his ex-leader and his current one. He wasn’t sure which way, he wanted this to go.
 
David was skeptical. “The reason that you’re feeling better, is because you’re living in a dryer climate,” he pointed out. “I’m not sure, you moving back here, year round, is a good idea.”
 
“It’s worth a try, though, ain’t it?” Wheat countered. “I gotta admit, I kind’a miss it here. I don’t much care fer desert livin’, and Californie seems ta’ attract a lot ‘a loonies. People here are more my kind’a folk.”
 
“It won’t do you any good, if you catch pneumonia,” David pointed out.
 
“Being the foreman, he wouldn’t necessarily be out, working the stock,” Heyes commented. “It would be more supervising, and managing. He could take it easy, the first winter, and see how it goes.”
 
“Yeah!” Wheat agreed, liking this idea, more and more.
 
David still looked skeptical. “I’m concerned, that’s all,” he admitted. “It’s your decision, of course.”
 
“David,” Heyes complained. “You’re not happy if you’re not concerned about someone.” Then he backed off, when David sent him an exasperated glare. “Yeah, alright! I guess, in this case, you do have a point. But it sure would solve some problems, if Wheat and Kyle moved back here, full-time.”
 
“What do you think, Kyle?” Wheat turned on his partner. “You wanna go on livin’ in Californie, or come back here, where we belong?”
 
Kyle looked around at the group, kind of wishing that he had stayed in the bunkhouse. He didn’t like being put on the spot.
 
“Dang, I donno,” he admitted. “It’s kind’a nice, down there in the winter. Still,” he looked around through the darkness, “it’s awful nice here, too. I ain’t never lived so good.”
 
Heyes grinned, hoping that he had won the debate.
 
“And we’d pay you well, too,” he added, as more incentive. “Both of you. And if Ames wants to come back, full-time, he’d get a regular hands full wage. Which is more than what the parolees get.”
 
Wheat grinned. “We’ll think on it,” he stated. “Still a ways ta’ go before the fall, anyways.”
 
“Yeah,” Kyle agreed.
 
“Good.”
 
David sighed, his mind already going over the various different medications he had on hand, to help stave off pneumonia. A decongestant, to keep the lungs clear would certainly help. There must be more he could do though. His mind raced over the possibilities. He would do some research when he got home again, and order some things in, just to have on hand.
 
Jesse stretched and yawned. “I don’t know about you fellas, but I’m ready for bed.”
 
“Yeah,” Scott concurred. “Probably time to call it a night. Allie and I need to get an early start tomorrow.”
 
“Us, as well,” Lom seconded. “It’s been nice, getting together, though.”
 
“Yeah, it has,” Heyes agreed. “I’m glad you could all make it. Kenny, you’re staying on a couple of more days, aren’t you?”
 
“Yes,” Kenny answered. “I’d like to ride out, and take a look at the stock tomorrow, if that’s alright.”
 
“Sure,” Heyes said. “Never miss an opportunity to show them off.”
 
“I certainly appreciate you gentlemen being willing to talk with me,” Nathan stated. “I’m still pinching myself, just to make sure it isn’t all a dream. The hardest part about writing this essay, is deciding what stories don’t need to go into it.”
 
“I know, you’ve barely scratched the surface,” David said, “but, so far, what has surprised you the most about Hannibal?”
 
Nathanial didn’t even have to think about it. He spread out his hands, gesturing towards the group around him.
 
“This,” he answered. “Two successful ranchers, who are both pillars of their community. A Bannerman detective, two sheriffs, one prison warden, a doctor, and three ex-outlaws. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a diverse range of friends for anyone, let alone, someone of Mr. Heyes’ background. He’s even rubbing shoulders with various state governors. Mr. Curry as well. I think that says a lot for the integrity of both these men, and it’s going to make for some very interesting reading.”
 
“So,” David continued. “You expect to do well with this thesis topic, then?”
 
Nathan grinned. “I expect to get honours.”
 
Everybody laughed, and David nodded in agreement.
 
“From what I have seen of your writing, so far,” he stated, “I expect you well.”
 
Heyes and Curry exchanged humorous glances.
 
“See, Heyes?” Jed said. “We’re gonna be famous.”
 
Heyes chuckled. “I’m just telling it, like it is, Kid.”
 
Groans made the circuit, while Wheat snorted audibly.
 
“Just don’t forget about talkin’ to the backbone of the Devil’s Hole gang,” he grumbled, indicating himself and Kyle.  “Ya’ gotta have someone tellin’ ya’ the truth ‘a things. Just listenin’ ta’ Heyes preening hisself, would give ya’ a lopsided idea of the outlaw life.”
 
“Hey!” Heyes took exception. “I had hard times, too, ya’ know.”
 
“Yeah, Heyes.” And Wheat gestured toward the house. “Real hard times.”
 
The group chuckled as they stood up, knowing that Wheat was just needling his boss. Even Heyes smiled, as he stood up and stretched out his back. He wasn’t the only one either, all of the more seasoned men stretched and rubbed stiffened legs, to get the blood going again. Blu jumped up, recognizing that the party was over, and sat waiting, with lolling tongue, for his boss to head back to the house. Heyes and Jed collected up the buckets of sugar water and used them to douse the fire. Those heading to the bunkhouse, followed Kyle and the lantern to light their way, while those heading to the main house, used the light from the porch lantern to guide them.
 
Even at that, Kenny tripped over his own feet, and grabbed Heyes’ arm to keep from falling.
 
“Oops,” Heyes said, as he helped his friend regain his balance. “You’re a little drunk.”
 
“I am not,” Kenny denied, then tripped again. “Okay, well maybe a little.”
 
Xxx
 
Hannibal stretched and yawned, then sighed deeply as he snuggled back into his blanket. He wasn’t quite ready to get up, but he knew that process was inevitable. Once he was awake, his mind would start to turn and any thoughts of being lazy and laying in for awhile, would be whipped out of his consciousness and sent running with shame.
 
He groaned. He didn’t want to get up yet, but his mind was starting to pick up speed, and the soft light coming in through the bedroom window, indicated that dawn was already past. He stretched again and reached over to feel for his wife. Her absence from the bed, beside him, brought him completely awake, and he turned his head to look upon the place that she usually occupied.
 
Sitting up, he glanced down to the two bassinets and found that they were also empty. Was everyone in the household up, but him? He sat quietly for a moment and listened. He couldn’t hear anything, but then, in a house this size, that wasn’t too surprising. He sighed again and pulled himself out of bed. Pulling on his cotton shirt and trouser that he had purchased in Mexico, he padded, barefoot, out to the hallway, and then made his way downstairs.
 
Half way down, he began to pick up on childish tones coming from the living room. Considering that this was where most of the older children had bunked out for the night, it was not surprising that they were all now congregated in there.
 
He reached the main floor level and glanced into that room. Sure enough, it appeared that the whole brood of the next generation, were in there, playing and chattering, as children do, without a concern about what the oncoming day might bring them.
 
Then, his nose twitched, as the familiar aroma of freshly brewed coffee came his way. His eyes lit up with the glint of addiction, and he was pulled, inescapably, towards the kitchen. He entered that large and welcoming space and was surprised to see only Miranda and Belle there, making preparations for breakfast.
 
“Good morning,” he greeted them.
 
Both ladies turned and smiled at him. Miranda came over to give him a hug and a kiss.
 
“Good morning,” she returned. “Didn’t expect to see you up, this early.”
 
“Isn’t everyone up?” he asked.
 
“Heavens, no,” Belle informed him. “The children got us up, but everyone else is still sleeping in. How late did you men come to bed, last night? I for one, did not hear a thing.”
 
“Neither did I,” Miranda admitted. “And usually, I hear you coming to bed, no matter what the hour.”
 
Heyes shrugged. “I don’t know what time it was. Bed time.”
 
Belle smiled at him as she picked up the coffee pot and poured him a cup.
 
“Here you go,” she said. “We weren’t going to begin cooking breakfast until everyone was up. But if you would like something now…”
 
“No, no,” Heyes assured her. “Coffee’s fine for now.”
 
“Alright,” Miranda agreed. “But be off with you. We want to have everything ready to go. There’s quite a gang here to feed, this morning.”
 
“Yes ma’am,” Heyes accepted, then gave his wife one more kiss. “I’ll be out on the front porch, enjoying my coffee.”
 
Heading towards the front of the house, Heyes smiled as he noted that the front door was already open, to allow the fresh morning air to waft through the rooms until the sun became too intense to make it feasible. Pushing open the screen door, he walked out onto the wooden porch and felt the temporary coolness of the planks, wash up through his bare feet.
 
He continued to stand there for a moment, allowing the coolness from the wood, and the soft morning breeze to freshen him. He took a sip of coffee, and smiled. Belle must have had cream already in his cup, and waiting for him. He sighed. It was little things like that, that made him feel good, made him feel loved, letting him know that he always had, and always would, have family.
 
He sucked in a deep breath and walked further out onto the porch, and to the steps. The coolness now turned to warmth, as he stepped out of the shaded area and into direct sunlight. It was pleasant now, the warmth seeping into his stiff shoulders and chasing away the chill from his bare feet, but he knew that it was going to be another scorcher of a day. Now was the time to enjoy it.
 
Eying the chairs lined up along the wrap around veranda, he decided against them. They were still in the shade, and he was ready for some more warmth to help ease his morning’s aches and pains. That was the problem with having lived the live he had lived; by the time you hit your 40’s, the body reminds you of all the silly things you did. All the knocks and bangs, cuts and bullets, and just plain wear and tear, come back to haunt you, and insist on coffee and summer warmth to entice them back into the shadows.
 
No wonder Wheat was hesitant about coming back for a Wyoming winter. Heyes sighed again, as he came half way down the steps, and then sat down there to gaze out upon his property. He still found it hard to believe that this place was his. Granted, a portion of it belonged to the shareholders, but the land itself, and the house, were all his, free and clear. That was a strange feeling.
 
He sipped his coffee and noted that there was smoke just starting to rise from the main chimney of the bunk house. The fellas were up, getting coffee started so they could all indulge in a cup, before coming out to tend to livestock. Wheat said that they had organized their routines really well. Being on a rotation schedule, each man took turns being the cook for the day. The down side of that was that he had to be up earlier than the rest, to get the coffee going. The up side, was that he had first dibs on the food.
 
Heyes smiled. They’d be out soon, to feed the horses and put the mares and foals out on pasture for the day. Even in the summer, those horses were considered too valuable to leave out over night. The ranch could not afford to lose any of those foals to night stalkers, predators and rustlers, alike. They all came in at night, which meant that they all had to be turned out again, in the morning, and stalls had to be cleaned, before the men had breakfast. Heyes grinned at the thought of others having to work hard, while he could sit and relax on his very own front porch. Hard work was good for these young fellas; it helped to build character.
 
A child’s laughter then caught his ears. Looking over in that direction, he was surprised to spy his toddler son playing in the dirt of River’s vegetable garden. What was he doing out here, all on his lonesome? Walter was wearing only his nappies and a t-shirt, which is what he generally wore to bed during the warm summer nights, so Heyes surmised that nobody knew that the child was out here.
 
Heyes smiled wickedly, his dimples digging deeply into his morning stubbled cheeks. What a ruckus that’ll make, when Miranda, or Sally, or River discover that they are one child short. Especially when that one child, was Walter. That little hunter tended to get up to no end of mischief when left to his own devices.
 
The father sat and watched his son for a while. Walter was sitting on his haunches and digging holes in the rich, fertile soil. He had already pulled up some of the leafy vegetables and had flung them around the garden in his joyful play. Heyes knew that he should be stopping his son from this behaviour, as River had put a lot of time and energy into growing her garden, and the fruits of her labour were very tasty on the dinner plate. But the devil in him rejoiced at watching his young son playing in the dirt with such carefree abandon, and he didn’t have the heart to reprimand him.
 
Then, finally, as Walter was pulling tenaciously on the leafy head of a buried bunch of radishes, Hannibal decided that it was probably time to put an end to it.
 
“Walter!” Hannibal called over to him.
 
The child perked up his head, and his big brown eyes locked on to his father’s. His mouth opened into a huge grin, and a loud and joyous, childish laugh filled up the morning silence. He leaned forward, getting his hands and knees underneath him and straightened his legs. He stayed in that crab-like position for a moment, hands and feet planted into the rich soil, while he got his balance, then he stood up and began the unsteady waddle towards his papa.
 
Hannibal grinned, his eyes alight with laughter, as he watched his son work his way towards him. From the tops of his eyebrows, to the bottom of his bare feet, the child was covered in dirt, and laughing at the sheer joy of being dirty.
 
As Walter got closer to him, Heyes could tell that there was something of great value, clutched in the tiny fist.
 
“What have you got there?” Hannibal asked him.
 
“Da!” Was the only explanation the father received.
 
Walter arrived at the bottom of the porch steps and without hesitating, he once again dropped to all fours, and began to climb them, still keeping his right hand clutched around his treasure.  Arriving to his father’s level, he stood up and swayed, dangerously. Heyes reached out and took hold of a tiny elbow, just to make sure the child didn’t all over backwards, then held out his other hand, palm up.
 
“What did you bring me?” he asked.
 
Walter opened his fist and allowed the contents to drop into his father’s hand. Then he stood back and awaited the reaction.
 
Hannibal gazed at the pile of moving dirt. His brows went up, as the dark granules trickled through his fingers, to reveal four large, fat, worms, squiggling around his fingers, trying to find a new place to hide.
 
“You brought me worms?” Heyes asked, hinting at incredulousness.
 
The child turned shy, his dirty hands coming up to hide his face, but the giggling could still be heard coming out from behind cover.
 
“You little hunter,” Heyes teased him. “What’s River going to have to say about her garden, now?”
 
The pudgy fingers spread apart, just enough for a rascally glint from those warm brown eyes, to shine through. The dimples, that were so much like his father’s, began to grow and to deepen, and with the pleasure of his joke taking him over, the child gazed lovingly at his papa, and then, with a mischievous giggle, he smiled—impishly.
 
 
THE END
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