Daisy set a steaming hot pie on the window sill so it could cool as she finished lunch. Soon the kitchen would be full of laughter and talking, as it was with every meal.
She loved preparing food for her family, which was so much bigger than she ever could have imagined.
“Mama!” the cry came from the bedroom. Daisy rushed back to check. Leo was awake. His little chubby arms reached up for someone to pick him up. Daisy scooped the little boy up against her. Just a little over four years ago, she’d been delivering baby Hope. She’d never imagined that she would have a bundle of joy of her own in such a short time.
When she and Robert found out they were expecting a baby, they’d been ecstatic, even though it was very soon. They’d been so excited to be starting their family, which they hoped would one day grow even bigger.
Daisy kissed Leo on the cheek. He had her hair, but he had Robert’s face. She often imagined that the two of them looked identical in every way. Robert’s mother confirmed that fact.
When she got back to the kitchen, it was already filling up. Mrs. Fowler was back with Hope. They’d gone to call on someone nearby that morning. Keith was washing his hands at the basin, and Robert would most likely be back very soon from working with their herd of cattle that grew each year.
“Are we ready to eat lunch?” Daisy asked Leo, setting him down by Hope. The two of them were around two years apart and were more like siblings than aunt and nephew, which was a strange thing to think about.
“I’m so sorry I didn’t get back sooner to help, you must be exhausted.” Mrs. Fowler took off her coat and immediately set about serving plates, putting them on the table, and corralling everyone to their spots.
Daisy laughed and placed her hand on her stomach. She wanted to tell Robert about her news first, but Mrs. Fowler had noticed her acting a bit differently lately.
Just like the first time Daisy had been pregnant, Mrs. Fowler often treated her as if she was now the most fragile thing on earth.
“I managed perfectly fine. I hope you had a nice visit.”
Mrs. Fowler nodded. “We did. I never thought I would have friends again. Three years ago, when we started over in this city after everything that happened, I figured that I had traded my only chance for a worse situation. I never imagined people could forgive what I’d been associated with and tolerate me as one of their own. Now I actually have friends who want to see me and have something to do with me. It’s amazing.”
“Of course you do. What Zachary did back then was not your fault. It never was.” Daisy smiled kindly at Mrs. Fowler. They’d built a small cabin a short distance away from Robert and Daisy’s cabin. Mrs. Fowler, Hope, and Keith all lived there. They’d offered to try to start a place of their own, perhaps their own ranch or own home, but Daisy and Robert didn’t see the need for that. Besides, having Robert’s mother and siblings around was a blessing. Over the years, they’d become like a second family to Daisy.
The front door opened, and Robert joined them in the kitchen and washed his hands, then kissed Daisy lightly on the lips.
He looked tired, but wore a happy grin. Daisy passed him his food, and they all took their seats. They didn’t always eat an afternoon meal together. It depended on the day, and what they were doing.
“Sorry, I’m a bit late. Are you okay?” he asked.
“More than okay.” Daisy wanted to tell him her news but decided she would tell him after lunch. She wanted to surprise him and see the excitement on his face.
Daisy looked at the little figure stretched out on a trundle bed beside the big bed she shared with Robert.
Robert stood behind her, his arms wrapped around her waist and his head by hers.
“Leo really is growing so big. Sometimes I wonder if he is our little baby. He’s almost a man now.”
Daisy giggled. “Yes, he is. I have something I wanted to talk to you about, too.” Daisy took a step back and turned toward him.
“Really? What is it?”
“I…you know how you wanted our family to grow sooner than later?”
Robert stared at her in confusion before understanding began to bloom in his eyes.
“Yes.” Daisy laughed. “We’re expecting another baby.” Daisy hugged her stomach for a second before Robert was wrapping her up in his arms, spinning her around, and kissing her.
“I can’t believe it! We are going to be parents again.”
“We really are.” Daisy sighed as he set her down. She didn’t know how long it would take to have their second baby. Having him or her so soon was a surprise, but a pleasant one, just like when they’d found out about Leo. “How do you feel about it?”
“Overjoyed.” Robert ran his hand over his chin, where he might have had a beard if he didn’t shave himself every single morning without fail. “I’ve prayed to God for this day to come, and he’s finally granting my prayers.”
“I’m glad.” Daisy walked over and sat down on the edge of the bed she shared with Robert. She undid her hair and started running a brush through it to prepare for bed. She was going to tell her parents now, and Emily. They were going to be so happy for her. First thing in the morning, she’d go to their home, which wasn’t far from here.
It was around a five-minute walk on foot. When she and Robert had found somewhere to live, they’d made sure it was somewhere close by. Emily came over nearly every single day when she could. Her little sister was growing up to be a beautiful young lady. Soon, she’d be old enough to be considering marriage and a family herself.
Robert sat down on the bed beside her and pulled out an envelope from his pocket. Daisy was surprised to see it was from the same city where Zachary was in prison.
“Is that….” Zachary had never written back to Robert. Even though it had been three years since everything happened, Robert still hadn’t stopped writing to Zachary. He didn’t write him every single week anymore, but once a month, or sometimes every other. Last month, he’d written something different in his letter. He’d told his father that if he kept ignoring his correspondence, Robert would have to stop sending it.
Daisy was as well aware of Zachary’s sentence as Robert was. He was not going to get out of jail for a long time, if ever. He’d chosen his path when he’d done what he did with his gang. Robert and his mother and siblings were the only ones to walk away from the whole scene with little more than a bit of supervision and a new opportunity for life under their belts. Jeremy had been doing well in his new life, and Daisy was aware he’d be coming over the next day to introduce them to the young woman who he’d kept a secret up until now, but was planning on getting married to.
“It’s a letter from Zachary. Would you read it to me?”
Daisy nodded, accepting the letter. As she stared at it, she remembered the man who had pulled her out of her normal life. Those weeks had been some of the most frightening, and she still remembered them with fear, but they had also helped lead her to the man who she loved more than herself.
She unfolded the grimy paper within the envelope and began to read.
I am sure you are surprised to be receiving a letter from me, especially since I have made a point up until now not to write to you for anything.
Your letters have reached me regularly. I read every single one, even though sometimes I am tempted to tear them up and throw them away after what you did to me. You betrayed me twice, and burned everything I worked so hard for to the ground. I’m not sure how you expect forgiveness after that.
When I read this letter from you today, I figured it was time to accept your efforts. I am not leaving this place any time soon, and I hate it. Maybe writing you from time to time will ease the pain of it. How are you doing?
“Why are you writing to him?” Daisy asked after a long pause when finishing reading. “Will he ever change or apologize for what he did?”
“I’m not sure that he will. He is an angry man who gave up his family, up to the point where he was willing to risk our lives for what he wanted. I write to him because I feel like it is my responsibility to show him another side to life. My father was always in charge, demanding everyone around him do exactly what he wanted. I figured…maybe if I could show him that I was willing to give him a chance in a setting where he was doing the right thing, serving a sentence, however he felt about it, maybe I could help him see the error of his ways. It makes no sense.” Robert turned his hands up.
Daisy shook her head. “It does make sense, Robert. You’re doing what you feel like you should for your father. Maybe you feel like if someone had shown him more kindness and basic human consideration before, he might have made different decisions.”
Robert nodded. “I know this letter is not an apology, but it is a start. I will be here waiting for when he really wants to change. He will never get out of jail, but maybe one day he could become a better person.”
Daisy smiled in encouragement. She didn’t know if it was possible for Zachary to ever own up to his mistakes or give his family the apology they deserved, but she hoped it was. The fact that Robert was hoping it would happen was admirable, and she loved him all the more for it.
Robert paced on the porch. They were waiting for Jeremy to come for dinner. It wasn’t uncommon for Jeremy to come over. He was there for more dinners and meals than he wasn’t.
Robert loved having his best friend around. His ranch was doing well, and it was nice to share it not only with his family, but with Jeremy. Today Jeremy was bringing someone special. For the last seven months, he’d been talking about a young woman he’d met. He was very secretive about who she was and said it was because he wanted to make sure she was the right person before he introduced her to everyone. Robert was hopeful she was the type of woman Jeremy needed.
As a condition for allowing them to start normal lives, the sheriff made both him and Robert agree to a few conditions three years ago. One of them was that they would check in with the sheriff periodically to make sure they were still on the straight and narrow. The other condition was that they would be careful who they and their families were around. So far, they had both met those conditions and surpassed them.
Jeremy was now working with the sheriff to complete training to become a deputy. For the last three years, he’d worked different jobs in town, but he told the sheriff that when he felt the best was when he’d helped the sheriff and his deputies bring Zachary down. He wanted to do something more with his life.
Robert was happy for him. He never wanted Jeremy to lose the connection and family he felt he had with the gang. He was happy he’d replaced those relationships with healthy ones.
Jeremy’s wagon started up the long drive that came up to the door. Robert watched as they approached. Daisy stepped out onto the porch to join him, with little Leo on her hip.
“Here, why don’t I take him?” Robert was worried about Daisy overdoing it. She had a tendency to push herself to do so much more than was easy or comfortable. It was something he admired about her, but also something that made him worried when it came to her pregnancy. He wanted her to stay safe and strong. If he’d seen anything with his mother’s pregnancy with Hope, it was that things could get out of hand.
He never wanted to see someone he cared about in that precarious position again. It was a miracle his mother had survived. They had thought it was childbed fever, but it seemed it was something less deadly, and she pulled through.
“What do you think she’s like? Do you think she’s what Jeremy needs?”
Robert shrugged. Jeremy had grown his relationship with Daisy, as if they were siblings. Both he and Daisy cared about Jeremy and his future.
“I hope she’s exactly what he needs. He’s seemed happier since she came into his life.”
They didn’t have much longer to speculate. Jeremy pulled the wagon to a stop a few feet away and rushed to go around the front to help his lady friend down. She walked up to both him and Daisy and extended her hand.
“Robert, Daisy, this is Kayla.”
Robert shook Kayla’s hand politely. She had long red hair and green eyes.
“It’s nice to meet you both. I’ve heard a lot about you.” Kayla shook his hand politely, then hugged Daisy. “I am so happy to finally meet you. And who is this?” Kayla took Leo’s hand in hers.
“This is Leo,” Jeremy said, beaming proudly.
Robert chuckled. “You are his godfather, you know.” He and Daisy had both decided that they wanted Jeremy to raise their son if anything ever happened to them.
“Why don’t we go inside and sit down? I can’t wait to get to know everything about you.” Daisy led the way into the house and the parlor. Robert followed along. His friend looked happy, and the girl he’d chosen looked like a proper young woman who cared about him very much. He had a feeling this would turn into something special.
“So, do I have your approval?” Jeremy asked.
“My approval?” Robert swung his legs against the pasture fence where he was sitting. He and Jeremy had excused themselves after dinner and were sitting under the evening sky, enjoying a quiet conversation before they said goodbye for the night.
Daisy and Kayla had enjoyed the evening and were in the kitchen talking, laughing, and having fun together. They seemed like long-lost sisters who could talk forever.
“You don’t need my approval, Jeremy.”
“I know, but I want it. I want to ask Kayla to marry me. I figure you have a lot more experience with this sort of thing. After all, you’ve been married to Daisy for almost three years, and she’s changed your life.”
“You have my approval, Jeremy. Kayla seems like a very nice young woman. I’m glad you’ve found someone to share your life with.”
“As am I.” Jeremy smiled and shook his head. “I thought…Well, for a while, I thought it wouldn’t ever happen. It’s been such a long time since we left the gang, and I’ve struggled with changing my life so drastically, leaving everything else behind. Kayla has really helped me with that. When we met, I just knew she was the one.”
“She’s a minister’s daughter. That ought to keep you in check.” Robert laughed. He’d been a little surprised when he heard what sort of family Kayla came from. She was the opposite of what they’d used to be. It was a good combination, in a way.
“I know. I am going to be a deputy next year. The sheriff told me that all my hard work has been paying off, and soon I’ll start officially training. Crowder is a good man. He cares about this city, and one day, I want to be able to make as much change as he does for people here.”
Robert smiled up at the bright, twinkling stars in the sky.
“Look at us. If you would’ve told me this would be my life when I was a young man, I never would have believed you. I would have said you were crazy. Yet here we are, far away from the gang life, far away from lawlessness. We have one another, our families, our friends. There is so much to be thankful for.”
“You’re right.” Jeremy smiled. “I have you to thank for that. You got me out of that life.”
“No, I didn’t.” Robert felt strongly about that. He’d had the last three years to reflect on everything that happened.
“What do you mean?” Jeremy looked over at him, confused.
“I mean, you got yourself out. You made the decision to leave. The life you have now, the changes you’ve made, they are all you.”
Jeremy was silent for a moment, then jumped down from the fence. “Come on, let’s go back inside. I have something very important to ask Kayla.”
Robert wasn’t about to be asked twice. When they got back into the house, Kayla and Daisy were still talking in the kitchen. Robert went over to Daisy and stood by her as Jeremy stopped in front of Kayla. He dropped to one knee and held up a ring.
“Kayla, you mean the world to me. I know that I should have done this months ago, and I wasn’t sure what exactly you’d want me to say, because I can’t possibly come up with words to describe how you make me feel, but I do want to ask you, will you marry me?”
Kayla covered her mouth with her hands.
“Yes, yes, of course.” She leapt into his arms.
Robert hugged Daisy tight to his side. He remembered when that was them, and he’d become the happiest man on earth. Daisy smiled up at him, tears in her eyes, tears of happiness for their friends. This was a good day.