5 Years Later
“Maaaamaaaa!” a little voice cried out, screeching its way through the crowd of people dispersed along the lawn. Eddie’s hair stood on end, the suit he was wearing crumpled and obviously scrunched from where it had been pushed up along his elbows. “Mama! Mama! She licked me! Samantha licked my head! She said she gave me the gooies!”
He ran headlong into his mother’s legs, nearly tackling her backwards as he ran away from his sister chasing him, her body careening to a sudden halt as she saw where Eddie had run to.
Elvira watched with amusement, covering her laugh behind her hand as her mother swooped down to grab Eddie up off of the ground, soothing his little hurt feelings with ease. Her heart filled with appreciation for how easy her mother made it look now, laughing loudly at the sight of Samantha trying to back away from her, and Elvira laughing at all of it from where she stood by the back door.
In the five years since Mrs. Bartlett had changed her diet for the doctor’s diagnosis, it hadn’t once ceased to amaze Elvira what a difference it had made. Slow at first, to be sure, but now she could very well have been the same woman that she had been before she’d ever begun to seem sick. Elvira had worried herself near to being sick, herself, before moving out of her family home and into her place with Owen after their wedding, fearing that she’d need to go back for her mother relapsing, but that hadn’t happened once.
She’d popped in daily at first, expecting a regression in her mother’s condition, but the more time that went on, the healthier she seemed. Eventually, Elvira had dropped her visits to a more reasonable frequency, and they’d all profited from that. The evidence was in the way that the Bartlett property was wreathed in decoration.
Fine tablecloths covered the picnic tables that had been set up in the backyard, with expertly arranged flowers placed atop them and her mother’s finest china pulled out to serve their guests with. Even the trees were done up to look nice, handmade lace decorations hanging from the branches and swaying in the light breeze they had been graced with.
“Elvira!” her mother cried, raising her hand and calling her daughter over with a small smile. “Elvira, honey, did you already put the sweet tea out? I cannot for the life of me remember if I asked you or Jenny to do it, and I haven’t had time to check.”
Her mother’s voice was pleasantly harried, obviously trying to put together the finishing touches on the party that was already setting up around them. Elvira smiled fondly and smoothed Eddie’s hair back into place as even more guests filed their way in from the house, where her father was leading them out to where the rest of them were out back.
“You asked Jenny, and she did it about an hour past,” she reassured her mother. “Everything is in place, everything looks lovely, and you haven’t forgotten even the smallest of details, Mama. Stop worrying and enjoy your guests!”
Leonora Bartlett smiled back at her daughter, shaking her head and tucking a stray red curl behind Elvira’s ear. It made Elvira’s heart swell again, seeing the love and appreciation in her mother’s eyes. “I can’t help worrying. One day, you’ll know, too, when you have kids of your own.”
The words struck Elvira, a shadow of seriousness passing over her features and her torso leaning in as she parted her lips.
Whatever she had been about to say was cut off by the guest of honor running full-tilt through the pair of them, his long legs carrying him right to the sweet tea pitcher. “Zack! Zack, I found it! Zackary! The tea is over here!” John called, his voice echoing around the yard.
Zackary came at a lazier pace, walking next to Owen, the pair of them laughing as they approached the group Elvira stood in the middle of.
Even five years later, watching her husband walk toward her like that made her flash back to their wedding day, seeing him standing at the end of the aisle smiling at her like he had been. He still made her heart race and her palms feel sweaty, despite their being married for just under five years.
“You get the first glass, buddy, this party is all about you!” Zackary called back, coming to stop next to Elvira and her mother with an amicable nod of his head. “Mrs. Bartlett. Mrs. Nichols,” he greeted, grinning at the pair of them and doing a fancy little half-bow in jest.
“Don’t you Mrs. Bartlett me,” Leonora laughed, swatting at his shoulder as Elvira helped her get Eddie down from where he was trying to wiggle out of her arms. Elvira had to bite back a laugh at the way her mother turned from jesting to serious at the drop of a hat. “How is he doing? How did today go? Did it change any? The pressure of knowing he’s not apprenticing anymore?”
Mrs. Bartlett fired off the questions at a rapid-fire rate, concern just beneath them. It was a concern that Elvira shared. The day Zackary had approached them about John coming around the blacksmith forge after school had been one of great turmoil in the Bartlett house, with no one quite sure how to approach it—certainly not once Zackary had offered to apprentice him.
Elvira’s mother had always worried that John would spend the rest of his life living at home, unable to provide for himself as her other children would be—and, if Elvira was honest, it was a worry that had rubbed off onto her, as well. Seeing him now, finishing his apprenticeship a good two years ahead of schedule, was something of a victory.
“Mrs. Bartlett, that boy has a head for blacksmithing, and I don’t say that lightly,” Zackary reassured her, winking slyly at Elvira from the corner of one eye. “I don’t doubt that he’ll be taking clients from me in a matter of months.”
Elvira’s mother’s grin was large enough to cut her face near in two, her relief evident as she reached out to squeeze Zackary’s shoulder. “I can’t ever tell you how much it means to us,” she muttered, her eyes misting with unshed tears. Elvira reached out herself, taking her mother’s other hand and squeezing it comfortingly as the woman drew herself back together. “No, really, don’t start in on what a help he’s been. You have no idea. I worried about John for so long… and if you hadn’t taken the time to notice his interest…”
“Then I’d be short of the help I need at the forge,” Zackary answered back seriously, his joking demeanor dimmed in the face of his own gratitude. Elvira appreciated the honesty in his words more than she did the words themself, and she could see it was the same for her mother as well.
Owen moved to stand behind Elvira, his arm moving over her shoulders to pull her to his side. She rested her head against his chest, smiling softly as his thumb brushed over the edge of her shoulder. “That’s two out of three children gainfully employed, Mama,” she teased, breaking up the tension and drawing all eyes to her. “I’m a bookkeeper of my own standing, and now John is a blacksmith.”
“That only leaves four others,” Mrs. Bartlett laughed back, grinning at her daughter. “A blacksmith and an accountant. Maybe one of the others will be a doctor; you’re all more than smart enough.”
“Oh, Mama, don’t force any of them through medical school,” Elvira laughed. “Especially not Eddie. Eddie with a scalpel is the scariest thing I can think of!”
“And she knows scary,” Zackary chimed in, waggling his eyebrows. “Don’t forget, our Mrs. Nichols here has been held at knifepoint and gunpoint!”
“No one here needs reminding of any of that,” Mr. Bartlett boomed, coming up behind the rest of them and wrapping his arms around his wife. “I think that boy is still awfully lucky I didn’t get my hands on him before he was straightened out!”
Elvira sighed, rolling her eyes and elbowing her husband for chuckling at her side. “Peter, not ‘that boy,’ daddy,” she chided gently. “I think we’re all just lucky that Peter ended up being such a good kid and not the type to go doing those things on his own.” She felt her husband squeeze her shoulder in support and narrowed her eyes in faux upset at her father’s loud laughter.
“Peter, then,” Mr. Bartlett consented.
“Peter?” a loud, male voice repeated. Sheriff Henderson eased his way into their group, a cup of sweet tea in hand as he clapped Zackary on the shoulder in greeting. “Are we talking about Peter Davis over here? I meant to check up on him this last month, but I got bogged down with that cattle rustling case. How’s he doing?”
Elvira’s lips twitched, holding in her amusement at the genuine concern in the sheriff’s voice. He’d gone from being the most against giving Peter a second chance to his staunchest supporter over the years, heralding him as a case for second chances.
“He’s doing well,” she answered honestly after a beat. “His nose is still clean,” she joked, looking up at Owen beaming. He had just as much pride in Peter’s accomplishments as Elvira did, and she could feel his desire to update them, as well. She nudged him softly, watching his grin grow as he caught her intention.
“He just got a full-time job at the local hotel in town there doing night auditing for them. That on top of his other monthly gigs puts him well providing for himself and his family. And he’s sweet on one of the hotel girls,” he added with a laugh, his right cheek dimpling. “He and his mother are doing very well now, as are his siblings. He’s even talking about sending one of his brothers away for some higher education.”
“Oh, that just makes my heart glad,” Mrs. Bartlett sighed, covering her chest with her palm as if to prove it. Elvira nodded in agreement, holding her husband’s hand instead. She ran her finger over the wedding band on his left hand, again reminding herself that, without Peter, none of what she had now would have been likely to happen. It felt like a whole other world, her past with Owen, but that didn’t make it any less real.
“I sure am glad to hear that,” Sheriff Henderson rumbled, lifting his glass as if he were cheering the boy on.
“We have so much to celebrate,” Mr. Bartlett agreed, pulling John to his side as his son came up alongside him. “John’s apprenticeship, my wife’s good health, my son-in-law’s and my daughter’s good deeds…”
“Ally coming to visit in a few months!” Elvira chimed in, grinning at the surprised faces that turned to her. “Oh,” she sighed suddenly, turning toward Zackary with a small frown. “I’m sorry, I know it might be awkward, given everything…”
“Oh, shucks, me and Ally ended on good terms, Elvira, don’t you worry your pretty head about me none. I’ll be glad to see her. Maybe she’ll bring that fella she let take her out down there for us to meet, too,” Zackary replied good-naturedly, his eyes twinkling back at Elvira’s worry.
“Did I just hear Ally’s coming back to visit?” Margaret’s voice joined the fray. She cut through several bodies, making a wide berth around Owen as she cut to her aunt’s side. It still hurt Elvira to see the distaste that her cousin had for her husband, but it was becoming less and less troublesome over the years.
Margaret was a harder case to win than even Elvira had been, but Elvira knew she was coming around—albeit very, very slowly. Owen just had to keep being his kind, charming self, and eventually she would see it for the truth that it was instead of the farce she considered it. She just couldn’t shake her personal upset over the story she’d been told for so long about he and Daisy Mae.
“I thought Ally said she wouldn’t be coming again until there was a reason for her to?” Mrs. Bartlett asked slowly, her face lighting with sudden excitement. “Is she engaged to this new beau of hers? Is that why she’s coming home?”
“Not quite,” Owen laughed, answering for Elvira. She was too excited to put into words what they had decided to share with their family today. Her stomach broke out in butterflies, her nerves battling against the warm rush of happiness that consumed her. “We do have more news to celebrate, though,” Owen continued.
Elvira looked around at the confused, happy faces of her family and sunk even further into her husband’s side.
“Is someone else getting married, then?” Mr. Bartlett boomed, looking around at the people gathered. “John?” Elvira’s father joked, looking to his son at his side in faux surprise. “Do you have something to tell us?”
“Married?” John repeated, scrunching his face into one of disgust. “Me? No. Never. I’m perfectly happy without anyone but mother bossing me about,” he muttered, reaching onto the table at his side and grabbing a piece of fried okra.
Elvira was the first to laugh, grabbing the hand of Owen’s that was on her shoulder and moving it lower. She could feel the quickening in her stomach again, stronger than those butterflies that were dancing there over sharing the news. She placed his palm slowly over her rounded belly, pushing it until she felt the rumble of his laughter in his chest still as he, too, felt it.
The exchange seemed mostly missed by those surrounding them—all but the two women, who were now looking to Elvira in varying degrees of shock and emotion.
Elvira looked to her mother first, smiling at the tears that lined her mother’s eyelashes, confirming that guess that she hadn’t uttered out loud yet. She watched her mother’s hands lift, pressing into her mouth as happy tears began to leak down her face, drawing everyone but Margaret’s attention to her instead.
“Leonora? What’s wrong?” Mr. Bartlett asked concernedly, grabbing his wife’s shoulders and trying to force her to face him.
Elvira met Margaret’s gaze head-on, catching the flash of disappointment across her cousin’s gaze. It hurt, cutting her slightly, but the way Margaret forced it away and turned to smile at Elvira after a moment instead made her heart warm all over again. She knew how Margaret felt about Owen, but seeing the lengths she was willing to go to forget that for the love she had for Elvira made Elvira all the more appreciative of the smile on her cousin’s face.
“Elvira?” Mrs. Bartlett finally asked, drawing her gaze back to her mother. “Are you…?”
Owen laughed, everyone else still looking on in surprise, and he wrapped both of his arms around his wife, his palms pushing into the movement of the kicking at her stomach. His framing of her stomach with her arms pushed the fabric of her dress further down, revealing the unmistakable bulge that had been hidden beneath her skirts.
“We,” Elvira stressed the words, patting Owen’s hand, “are expecting a baby, yes.”
The crowd around them broke into surprised laughter and applause, everyone talking over one another all at once. It was Mrs. Bartlett flying across the space between them to gather Elvira and Owen into a bone-crushing hug that finally forced the tears out of Elvira’s eyes, as well. She had been waiting to share the news for weeks, trying not to overshadow everyone else.
Even John’s, “Yuck, a baby,” couldn’t dim her mood any.
Her lips spread into a grin, surrounded by the happy crowd of her friends and family. They had come together to celebrate so many different accomplishments, being able to add welcoming her and Owen’s first child into the world to the list only made it all the more heartwarming for her.
This was her family, this was her life—and sharing it with Owen was more than she had ever been able to imagine.