Two Years Later
Annette and Fletch Schweer’s home was filled with more joyful noise than usual. Annette was deep into planning Ella’s wedding. She and Fletch were married two years to the day that she planned to marry Max Willer.
The most joyful addition to the Schweer family came nine months after Annette and Fletch were married. They were blessed with twin boys, who they named Martin and Ben. She knew twins happened quite often in her family and she was hoping two would come along. It meant they had one bedroom left, but that wouldn’t slow them. The children would double or triple-up if necessary.
“Are you sure you’re going to make it?” Fletch asked as he came down to the kitchen. “I complain of long days at the Shop, but you do twice as much, and the smile never leaves your face.”
“I prefer to be busy. There was a time I would have complained but everything I do is for family. It’s worth the sweat on my brow,” Annette chirped. “If you’ll take the boys for a bit while I finish preparing the guestroom, I’d appreciate it. My mother was going to be here this morning, but she and Aunt Fern are putting finishing touches on the dress.”
“Do you just refer to it as the dress?” Fletch asked. “She’s the third person to wear it. We’re going to have to work on starting the next generation that can get married the dress.”
“We may never have a girl. Imagine if we have a dozen children, and they’re all boys. Wouldn’t that be something? Your prayers for a boy would be more than answered,” she quipped.
“It wouldn’t matter, as long as they’re healthy and have your even temperament,” Fletch pointed out.
Annette handed Martin to Fletch who was the spitting image of his father. He even had a cleft in his little chin. Ben had her eyes and looked like Matthew Prader had when he was a baby, according to Mrs. Prader. The boys were fraternal and that was a good thing because they could easier develop their own identities. The twins had taken their first steps and were crawling everywhere. Grandpa Prader encouraged them to roam, and Annette had come to accept it as long as they hadn’t gotten lost in the meadow.
Before Ella’s wedding was the anniversary of Martin Schweer’s death. They visited the cemetery as a family on that day. Fletch had finally managed to move both his parent’s bodies to Abilene. They laid in peace together not far from the resting places of Cass and Sven Applebaum. Ben Napier’s body was close by too. Tom and Grace were coming with them this year to pay respects to the ones who came before them.
“Welcome, Tom,” Annette greeted her friend. “Fletch is around back with the boys, and you can put your stuff upstairs. Is Grace making her way in?”
“She’s coming but moving slowly as you can imagine. I wish I could take some of the discomforts away from her. This last few months of pregnancy is tough,” Tom stressed.
“I have a little advice for you. You can make up for her discomfort after the baby is born. She does most of the work and can’t be separated from the infant for long. However, if you take the baby for fifteen minutes here and there, it will be a huge help. Fletch has the boys now for thirty minutes and it feels like hours.”
“Fletch is a devoted father since he has a void in his life to fill. I’m going to try and be the same way. Neither of us had a father to grow up with,” Tom said.
He waited until Grace caught up and then left the women while he went out back with Fletch.
“I’ll get you settled in your room if you think you can make it up the stairs,” Annette said as she looked in awe at Grace’s belly size.
“I’m slow but don’t worry, I’ll make it. It’s not as bad as Tom thinks since I’m a lot tougher than my husband,” Grace jested. “I shouldn’t say that yet because I still have two months until the baby comes.”
“Are you sure they’re only one little Napier in there?”
“The doctor said there’s only one heartbeat. He’s going to be a huge boy,” Grace predicted.
“It might be a girl.”
“No. It’s a boy since I’m convinced Tom’s father has a hand in it.” Grace smiled as she toddled up the stairs.
Annette didn’t doubt that Ben was looking down on his son and wife Betty. He had been buried in Abilene and wasn’t going to rest in peace until they moved back to the town. They bought the old Applebaum house after Cass died and Betty would be moving with them. Grace’s mother, Nellie, had gotten married and had decided to remain in Redding.
Cass Applebaum died in the most peaceful manner possible. She was invited to dinner at the Schweer’s and had been able to meet the twins. She had been beaming with delight at seeing a new generation form. That night she went home to bed and never woke up. When she hadn’t shown up at her quilting circle the next day, Minnie Willer checked on her. She had gone to sleep as she had always claimed, with her Rosary Beads and a photograph of Sven clutched in her hands. Cass said she had to have them with her as proof of her devotion when she arrived at the gates of heaven.
Annette couldn’t help thinking of the woman often as most of their furniture had been given to them by Mrs. Applebaum. She had started to clear out her unused rooms. When Annette first laid eyes on the furniture, she had thought Fletch must have spent his life savings.
Mrs. Prader was at the annual visit to the cemetery to pay her respects but also help with the boys. It was an emotional and somber moment for Fletch and Annette needed to comfort him. He had been in the habit of visiting his father’s remains in the canyon with all the other unnamed deceased. When it came time to move him, it would have been a near-impossible task but Fletch recalled a pendant he wore around his neck. Tala’s father had presented him with it to protect him in the afterlife. That’s how Fletch knew to move the right body.
Annette wore her auburn hair in a neat bun as she usually had. A son was on either arm when her mother came towards her with hands ready to grab one of her grandsons.
“You came early, I assume you were paying respects to Matthew and Luke,” Annette mentioned as Ben practically jumped into his grandma’s arms.
“Indeed. I come to visit every day I’m able considering I avoided this place for years,” Mrs. Prader said. “I was touched to find out you and Ella were tending to their graves all along.”
“How did the dress fitting go. Was Ella able to stand still so she didn’t get stuck with a pin?” Annette asked jokingly since her sister was known to have a hard time not moving.
“She may have gotten poked once or twice, but we finished. I was talking with Pastor Fenton about how things worked out. I tragically lost two sons, but God blessed me with Fletch, Max. Ben and Martin. Nothing can make up for losing your brothers, but I can take joy from what I have.”
“I’m glad you found a rainbow in the clouds. If you think of it, that’s exactly what Fletch and Tom did. Their fathers are gone but look at all they have.”
Pastor Fenton said a prayer for the departed as Annette held tightly onto Fletch. The sadness of the day would be tempered by the absolute joy of Ella’s wedding.
Everyone except Tom and Fletch dispersed after the prayer. They talked for about an hour. Fletch had told Annette that the two exchanged intimate stories about their fathers. From how they started out it was hard to believe what good friends they had become. It was their time in jail together that bonded them.
Annette was sitting in front of the hearth with both boys when Fletch crept down in the early morning.
“Looks like they’ve eaten and are ready to take a second go at sleeping,” Fletch spoke in a whisper so he wouldn’t wake them.
“Ben and Martin have a sense when Mother and Father need a quiet moment,” Annette remarked.
“I think it might just be a coincidence.” He laughed and so did Annette.
They laid the children under a soft blanket and snuck away to the kitchen. They could hear if the boys cried since they propped the door open.
“Things have been crazy this week. You are handling everything with grace as you always do. When this is over, by that I mean the wedding and the guests, we should spend a week at the cabin,” Fletch suggested.
“I love the sound of that. The boys will love it and we can create new memories there as a family.”
Fletch pulled his wife in for a kiss.
“I can’t believe I still feel tingly every time I kiss you. I truly can’t believe how blessed I am. I thought most of my life was going to be spent alone. You brought light into my life. I love you for that and so much more, Mrs. Schweer.”
“I love you too, sweetheart. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I look at you and the boys as you sleep, it’s magical. I got everything I wanted and there are times I have to pinch myself to believe it’s real,” Annette gushed.
They both wondered about Louis and the moose. Last they checked they were both still alive. Fletch was about to kiss Annette again when Martin appeared at their feet. He looked up at them with his big brown eyes and giggled. They melted in happiness.
Annette met Ella in the bedroom they once shared. Ella and Max were going to live on the farm with the Praders. They had built an extra room and had their own entrance. Max wasn’t interested in taking over his parent’s general store. His father had plenty of years left until he retired, and the two other Willer boys would be happy to step in.
Ella loved Max and then Sam and finally Max again. Sam was more than happy to step aside because Ella was too much for him to take. She was opinionated and emotional but also smart and funny. Max took her antics in stride and acted as a calming influence on Ella.
“You look beautiful. I see you managed to have the neckline lowered a bit,” Annette observed.
“The half-inch I managed to get Mother to agree upon took an hour of negotiation. I’m a modern woman, you know. I wanted to look the part,” Ella pointed out.
Annette laughed like only Ella could make her. “You’re one of a kind, Ella. I don’t know if a person can live in Abilene and be a modern woman, whatever that is. The half-inch was worth it because you look stunning.”
“It’s because I’ve never been happier,” Ella gushed.
“I’m so happy you’ll be living here so I won’t have to worry about Mother and Father as they grow older. You’ve really grown up from the tempestuous little girl who shunned responsibility.”
“I just followed your lead, Annette.”
The sisters embraced, and Annette finished getting Ella ready. The farm was set up just as it had been for her wedding, and she figured it had to be good luck for her sister.
They munched on teacakes and roast pig after the ceremony. It was nice to attend a wedding at the farm that wasn’t her own. Annette had been so nervous on her wedding day that she hardly remembered a thing.
“Linc, you get taller each time I see you. What is Mother feeding you?” Annette asked jokingly.
Her 16-year old twin brothers were growing into responsible hard-working young men. A great deal of that was owed to their father, of course, but also to Fletch. He was like the big brother they had never had and listened to what they had to say. Fletch realized it must not have been easy to grow up in the shadow of two brothers who died.
“He might be taller than me but I’m more handsome,” Michael chimed in.
Annette laughed. “Tall and handsome matter some but being an honorable gentleman is what really counts.” She winked at her brothers and went to find Fletch, the original honorable gentleman.
As she was making her way through the crowd she ran into Uncle Satchell.
“Just the young lady I wanted to see,” he said.
“How are you this evening and how are things at the office?” Annette inquired.
She stopped working for her uncle when the babies were born. She promised she’d return when the boys weren’t quite so dependent on her. She figured a few hours a week wouldn’t be too hard on the children, and her mother would be happy to help. The boys seemed as dependent as ever and she was hoping to have a third as soon as possible. The office no longer fit into her plans.
“I’m losing control of the office without your help. I realize a mother of two hardly has time to work outside the home. I thought I’d offer you something you won’t be able to refuse,” Uncle Satchell stated.
“I’m willing to pay for you to take the classes in Duluth to become a real nurse. I’ll pay for a place in Duluth while you’re going to school and the boys can go with you,” he offered.
Annette found Fletch across the lawn with her eyes. She was watching him with Ben the entire time he was talking. He could have offered her one-hundred bars of gold and she wouldn’t have accepted. Nothing in the world was as important as her family.
“I simply can’t afford the time, Uncle Satchell. I loved the work I did at the office, but all that caring is needed elsewhere. I hope you understand,” Annette said compassionately.
“I have to compliment my brother for helping raise such a wonderful woman. Fletch and the boys are lucky.” He patted her on the shoulder and no feelings were hurt.
Annette walked straight towards Fletch, but again she was delayed. This time it was Sam, whom she was surprised to see at his ex-sweetheart’s wedding celebration. Until she saw who he was with. It was Ava Willer, Max’s sister. She supposed things like that were to be expected in a small town.
“Hello, Sam. I rarely see you out of The Saddle Shop and without your apron on,” she remarked.
“I’m willing to come out when it concerns Ava,” Sam said as he looked at Ava with love.
“The two of you enjoy the celebration and the wonderful food. I hate to run but I see my baby needs his mother.” Annette scampered away before Sam could see that the twins were both laughing.
She fell into Fletch’s one free arm. “I saw you from across the lawn and it took me forever to get to you. Are you and my father talking about work?”
“Yes, you caught us. I know tonight was supposed to be about family only, but we couldn’t resist. We’re thinking of breaking down the wall to the empty shop next door and adding blacksmith services,” Fletch floated the idea.
“That’s a bold move.” Annette turned to her father. “Do we have the money to take on such a project? You’d know, since you’re the numbers man.”
“Yes, we do considering The Saddle Shop is turning a hefty profit this year. Max says he can make us some money at the farm and the boys are coming of age,” Mr. Prader explained.
“It’s going to mean more time away from home in the short term. That makes it up to you.”
“We’re a family, and we’ll pull together and make it work. The Saddle Shop will be the legacy we pass on to our children, so I say yes.”
Annette decided not to bring up Uncle Satchell’s offer. Fletch would try and make it work because it had been her dream. She looked at her twins and husband as realized that dreams could change.
Annette picked up Martin and Ben climbed up Fletch’s leg. They had been married two years and it had been the best two years of her life, so far.
With everything happening at The Saddle Shop, their trip to the cabin had been delayed until springtime. The boys were walking by then and their getaway was spent chasing them through the meadow. It was tiring but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
The only change to the cabin since it became theirs and not just his, was the bed. It had to be big enough to sleep four, so it took up most of the cabin. The boys were splayed out on the bed, leaving very little room for Fletch and Annette. They didn’t care.
They whispered so they didn’t wake the boys.
“Do you hear something outside? It sounds bigger than a bear. I bet it’s the moose,” Annette joked.
“Could be. That animal likes you,” Fletch remarked. “We should come up here every spring since the boys love it.”
“Ah, there’s one problem with that,” Annette said.
“Seeing as there will be five of us, I think yes, too cramped.”
Fletch shot up in bed and woke the twins. “We’re going to have another baby! How is it possible that I love you more every day, Mrs. Schweer?”
“I don’t know. I wonder the same thing about loving you.”