Zoe leaned against the counter and stared out the kitchen window. It was a familiar and heartwarming sight. Joseph was chasing Jonah around the yard, the little boy shrieking with laughter. They’d just finished morning chores. Jonah had learned how to milk a cow all on his own nearly a year ago, in time for his third birthday.
Even though Zoe had improved her milking skills over the years, she was certain Jonah would do it better than her in a matter of a few years. He seemed to take to it naturally. She watched as Joseph scooped him up and spun him in a circle. As she watched, she placed a gentle hand on her growing belly.
There was a time in her life where she vowed she would never have another child, but all of that changed when she realized how much she loved Joseph. It was the natural progression of their family and love to add another child to their lives. The front door of the cabin opened and Joseph walked into the parlor, then the kitchen with Jonah holding his hand.
“Did you see us, Mama? Papa was playing with me outside.” Jonah spoke well for his age. He received compliments everywhere he went.
“I did see you. The two of you looked like you were having a lot of fun.” Zoe knelt down to his level and wiped a dirt smudge from his cheek. He was an intelligent little boy who loved to learn about everything.
Shortly after their scare with the gangsters who wanted to steal him away from them, she had decided with Joseph that Jonah should call him papa if he wanted to.
Jonah had taken to the idea easily. He knew he had come from a different man, but that Jonah was his papa. Zoe had explained it to him in the simplest way she could, and to her relief, he didn’t have many questions about the man who was her husband years ago.
“Why don’t you help me set the table? It’s time to eat.” Zoe kissed him on the forehead and stood up to watch him set the dishes in their places on the table. Jonah loved to help around the house and ranch wherever he could. His helpful attitude was one of the things that Zoe loved most about him.
“Are you alright?” Joseph asked, pulling her closer to him and placing a hand on her stomach.
“I think so. My stomach has been a bit sore today. It’s pretty interesting to think that any day now, we will have a new baby with us. It’s been so long since I cared for a tiny baby. I’m starting to worry that I won’t remember how.”
Zoe rubbed little circles over her dress. She was afraid of more than that. She was afraid that Jonah wouldn’t like being a big brother and sharing her and Joseph’s attention with a sibling. It was an irrational fear, but it still worried her.
“Whenever he or she decides to come, we’ll be ready.” Joseph took a step back and helped Jonah with one of the plates he couldn’t reach.
Once the table was set, Zoe dished up the food and they all sat down. Martha and William were coming over for a visit that afternoon, and she had a lot of preparations to get into place before they arrived.
Zoe sat down at the little table in her room and looked at the letter sitting in front of her. She’d had it for a week now and hadn’t opened it yet.
It was from her father. He hadn’t written her for almost a year. After she’d told him how she truly felt about Michael and how she hated what he’d done to her personal life, he had never said much. He’d only answered in short little sentences, almost as though doing her the courtesy of letting her know he was still alive. His letters had taken longer and longer to arrive, and now it had taken almost a year to receive one.
What worried her about this letter was its thickness. She could tell it contained several pages, unlike his normal letters that barely held a small slip of paper with a few scrawled words. She was scared of what she would find inside of it.
Even after all of these years, she still loved her father and longed for that relationship she’d always wanted. She looked out the window. There was still no sign of Martha and William. Maybe it was time to get reading this letter over with. It had sat on her little table for nearly a week and a half, because every time she was about to open it, she would start imagining all the different things it might hold and she wouldn’t want to know and would distract herself with something else.
Today, she didn’t allow herself to do that. She took the letter opener from a nearby drawer and opened up the envelope. She pulled out two decent-sized pieces of notepaper, filled with words. She recognized her father’s handwriting. He’d written this letter all right, as uncharacteristic it was of him to write so much. She leaned back in her chair and began to read.
My dearest Zoe,
I hope this letter finds you well. I know it has been a good amount of time since we have spoken and since I have written. It is of no fault of yours that this has happened. I must tell you that a few months ago, I fell ill. This illness was like nothing I have ever had before, and it made me think that those would be the last few days I spent on this Earth.
When I was on my deathbed, I began to think of you and everything you told me in that very honest letter nearly three years ago. Back when I read that letter, I was too arrogant to think that anything you said was true or had any merit. I realize now that I was wrong. I never should have pushed you to marry a man that neither of us had met. I never should have put you in the position I did. I was so focused on success and what people thought of us both that I nearly destroyed your life.
As I was lying there, thinking I would never enjoy a conversation with you again, I realized I was happy you found the love and happiness so few find these days. I was so glad to imagine you with a man who loved you and cherished you just as I did your mother. I am so sorry for the way I have acted and treated you over the years.
I see now there is so much more that is important over money and reputation. I don’t know if it is too late to repair our relationship, but I want you to know that I am truly sorry for my actions and words from the past. If you would give me another chance, I would like to rekindle what we shared when you were a little child, sitting on my knee for a story before bed.
I would like to schedule a visit to come and meet your new husband, and get to know my grandchildren. If you are not open to this, I have no option but to understand and respect your wishes. I love you very much and will never fully forgive myself for how I treated you.
With deepest love,
Zoe wiped a tear from her eye as she read the last words of the letter. She had never expected that she would receive such an apology from her father. She never thought she would have a relationship with him again one day. She remembered those days he spoke of, when she was little and determined and demanded her bedtime stories before she went to bed.
She wanted that relationship again, and even though it would be hard to find, she was willing to try.
The sound of a wagon pulling up in front of the house made her stand and splash some water over her face before rushing out as fast as she could. She would think of the perfect reply to her father’s letter later. For now, she had visitors to attend to.
She hurried down the porch steps and stood in the front yard, her hands on her hips, trying to ease the ache there. The last month of pregnancy was just as trying as the first time. She recognized a third person in William and Martha’s wagon whom she hadn’t expected to feel so friendly toward a few years ago.
He had proven himself to be a good man, once he was allowed to be. After he’d helped them put his family in prison, he had turned his life around completely. He had gotten a job at the wood mill and was now making furniture for a living. He had gotten to know Martha better and better until he and Martha decided to officially court.
Martha jumped down from the wagon and rushed over to Zoe. She wrapped her arms around Zoe and pulled her into the best hug she could.
“You’re getting so large! I won’t be able to hug you soon. I hope that baby comes fast.”
Zoe giggled. “I know. It’s hard to walk normally now.” She lowered her voice. “How are things going with Adrian?”
“Is it okay I invited him to come along with us? I know you always say it doesn’t bother you…”
Zoe shook her head. “Of course, it’s okay. Adrian has convinced both me and Joseph that he’s a changed man. I have to admit when I first heard about the two of you, I wasn’t convinced, but the way he has treated you over the years—well, he’s more than proven himself.”
“You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear you say that. You’re my best friend, and I couldn’t be with someone you hated. When I first met Adrian, you know I had no idea he was the one threatening to take Jonah.”
“I know.” Zoe smiled. “All is well that ends well. Come in, the food is almost ready.” She led the way up the porch and Martha followed, with Jonah jumping and skipping ahead of them. Zoe was being completely honest when she said she was happy for Martha and Adrian. The two of them seemed very happy together, and she couldn’t be happier for them.
“So, you’re about to be a father for the second time. I never would have thought it if you told me five years ago.” William shook his head. “It looks like I’m the only one who hasn’t settled down with a wife and children.”
“You sound jealous. Maybe you should get a mail order bride for yourself. A friend once told me that it was the best way to find a wife.” Joseph punched William playfully in the arm.
“That friend sounds very smart. Speaking of smart friends, I heard from the sheriff that Adrian’s family still aren’t anywhere close to getting free. They may spend the rest of their lives locked up.”
Joseph nodded. He’d spoken with the sheriff himself a couple of days ago and heard the same thing. He had been keeping a close eye on everyone involved in the big show down they’d had against Adrian’s family. He didn’t want to have any surprises when it came to that. He knew it would always be a bit of a threat if he wasn’t paying attention.
“I think Adrian was the only decent one of that family. He deserves the second chance he got.”
“I know. I was skeptical about him as a man for my sister, him having a criminal background and everything. He was very honest with me about everything he’s done, and asked my permission as well as my father’s. I suppose we both figured he’d been punished enough.” William shrugged. “I am just glad my sister is happy.”
Joseph gave a curt nod. “Me too. It’s good to see her and your whole family happy. Come, I think Zoe has things ready to eat. You can leave the wagon here.”
William followed him and the two of them went up through the house to the kitchen. Martha and Zoe were dishing up plates of food and Joseph’s father was talking with both Jonah and Adrian.
Joseph took a seat across from Adrian. He still remembered how they met, when he was asking around town about Zoe, it was strange to think that he was a part of their family now, in a sense. Everyone sat around the table and Joseph’s father said grace.
“Uncle Adrian, do you like it?” Jonah asked, pointing to the delicious fried chicken, roasted vegetables, and fresh bread on the table.
“Of course. This is delicious. Your mother is the best cook in Colorado.” Adrian grinned.
Zoe blushed and Joseph gave her a kind smile. Adrian wasn’t wrong. Zoe really was a wonderful cook.
“So, Jonah,” Joseph’s father started, “what do you want the baby to be, a boy or a girl?”
Jonah shrugged. “It’s okay if it is a boy or a girl.”
Zoe reached over and tousled his hair. “That’s right, it is all right either way because you are going to be an amazing big brother.”
Joseph watched the interaction with pride swelling in his heart. Maybe his life as Jonah’s father hadn’t started in the conventional way, but he had taken to the role very well. He loved Jonah so much, he had no distinction in his mind as to whether he was his by blood or not. That didn’t matter. Joseph listened as jokes were exchanged, and a conversation speculating whether the baby would be a boy or a girl started. It didn’t matter to him which it was either, as long as the baby arrived safely and Zoe was all right.
Joseph walked up to Zoe who was beside Jonah’s bed, looking down at him.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, wrapping an arm around her waist.
“Nothing, I was just noticing how much he’s grown. He’s no longer the little baby I brought here to Colorado. He’s a boy now. Soon, he’ll grow up to be a young man, and eventually, he will even find a woman to love and start a family of his own.”
Joseph nodded. “You’re right. He is growing up fast, but that’s not a bad thing. Every single stage of life brings new challenges, and I have to say I have been enjoying them with Jonah, and we will enjoy them with this new little one, too. You know, when I first wrote to you looking for a wife, I thought I might lose my father in a year or less. Now, he has been healthy for more than three years. I attribute that to you and Jonah.”
“We didn’t do anything special.” Zoe looked up at him. “If anything, we brought more trouble.”
“Nonsense. You were the one who gave my father something to be happy about and according to the doctor, that can make all the difference.”
She leaned her head against his shoulder. “I know I tell you this often, but I feel so lucky to be here with you and your father and the rest of the people I’ve gotten to know. I got a letter from my father last week and finally read it today. It seems even he wants to start up a new relationship. Things are so good, and I am so blessed, I feel overwhelmed by it sometimes.”
Joseph kissed the top of her head, resting his lips against her soft hair for a moment. “You aren’t the only one who feels like that. I was bitter and hurt and determined to keep myself closed off from the world forever, and then you and Jonah came into my life and broke down all those walls. Sometimes, I feel like I’m going to wake up and it will all have been a lovely dream that I made up in my sleep.”
“It’s not a dream. It is a blessing, though. It just goes to show that even when our lives seem like they can’t possibly get any better, God still has a plan for us and can turn it all around.”
“You’re right.” Joseph took a step back and pulled her toward the bed. “We should get some rest now. When our baby decides to come to this world, you need your strength.”
Zoe laughed. “I’ve heard second babies like to come at night. Do you think he or she will be born tonight?” She pressed her hand on her stomach.
“Probably not tonight, but soon. William and Martha want to know as soon as you start having pains. Everyone wants to be here for us.”
Zoe sat down on the edge of the bed. “We have a lot of good friends.”
“We do.” Joseph got under the quilts and stared up at the roof. He had so much warmth and happiness in his heart, he didn’t know what to do with it. Today had been a good day.
It was possible that all future days wouldn’t be as good. It was true, in the past three years, they had dealt with their fair share of challenges and disappointments, but it didn’t matter. At the end of every day, they ended up back in this room, together, safe and happy. That was what mattered.
They had one another, and they had their family, which would soon be growing. Zoe was right about their friends, too. They had no shortage of community, and it made Joseph feel as if he couldn’t possibly be more blessed and happier than he was right then.