Bard Valentine Invitational 2009
Readers familiar with my writings will recognize these characters.
Please look for the next Sweetwater Saga book, Fireweed, to be released soon by PD Publisher.
KC led the way out from the bedroom she shared with her brother, Charley. She was dressed for the coming day in a soft flannel shirt and a pair of pants made from pieces cut from her mother’s worn out denims. Her feet were covered in a pair of soft, fawn-skin moccasins and she skipped silently down the hallway passing the third room on the floor, a yet unused bedroom that would be her brother’s when he grew a bit older. Stopping abruptly at the top of the stairs, she took a good sniff at the air and smiled as the aroma of freshly fried bacon filled her nose. She spun to face her mother and brother. “I is hungry,” she announced before spinning back around.
Jesse Branson chuckled at the not unexpected declaration. Not old enough to negotiate steps on his own, Jesse carried her son, similarly dressed to his sister. “She’s always hungry,” she told Charley who nodded in agreement. Watching KC who had already started her descent, she called out to her daughter. “Hold up there, Sunshine. Didn’t momma tell you to always hold onto the railing?”
Without stopping her progress, KC raised her hand to wrap fingers around the smoothly sanded wood banister. “Yes, Mommy.”
The trio descended from the upper level of the house to the main floor, the steps ending at the edge of the wall separating the front parlor from the kitchen at the back of the house. The sun streamed through the large windows overlooking the front porch, its radiant morning rays bathing the furniture and walls in brilliant oranges and yellows.
Looking for her other mother, as well as her breakfast, KC turned away from the parlor and skipped into the kitchen. Four place settings were prepared on the sturdy table positioned off to one side of the large room. In the center of the table, tendrils of steam rose from the helpings of eggs, bacon, and biscuits placed on a large platter. Beside each plate, a glass of chilled milk had been placed and cups of steaming coffee sat beside two of the plates. KC ran to her chair and climbed up to sit on her knees. “Where’s momma?” she asked as Jesse settled Charley into the highchair.
“That’s a good question, Sunshine,” Jesse said glancing over her shoulder. Her eyes moved to the screen door but she spotted no activity on the back porch. “Jennifer?” she called in a calm voice not wanting to upset the children. A quick look out the window near the corner of the room verified that her wife wasn’t sitting in the porch swing.
“I go look,” KC said scooting to the edge of her chair.
Jesse placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “No. You stay here and eat your breakfast,” she said reaching for the serving spoon on the platter. She placed a scoopful of eggs on KC’s plate then she placed a smaller scoopful on Charley’s plate. A couple of pieces of bacon and a biscuit were added for each child. “You two eat and I’ll go look for momma. Keep an eye of your brother.”
“Okay,” KC agreed then picked up her fork and pointed it at Charley. “Eat,” she commanded even though the boy had a firm grip on the end of a bacon strip while he gnawed on the thick meat.
Jesse rustled her son’s thick hair. “Good boy. I’ll be right back,” she said walking back into the front parlor. Crossing the room, she stopped at the screen door at the front of the house and looked out. “There you are, darlin’,” she said pushing the door open. “We were wondering where you disappeared to.”
Jennifer Branson turned her head and smiled. She was sitting on the edge of the porch, her legs stretched down the steps and crossed at the ankles. “Morning, sweetheart,” she said, pulling her bare feet up and placing them on the first step.
Jesse dropped down to sit beside Jennifer and draped her arm over her wife’s shoulders. “Morning, again,” she said before pressing her lips to her wife’s for a quick kiss. “Young ‘uns expected you to be waitin’ for them in the kitchen. What are you doing out here?”
“I’m not sure. I was pouring the milk and I just had this overwhelming urge to come out and watch the sun come up over the mountains.”
“Seems it does that most days.”
“Yes, but… well… my mornings are so full getting KC and Charley up and dressed and fed…” She drifted off, not quite sure how to express her feelings. “It’s such a beautiful sight.”
“And one you don’t get to see too often?” Usually, Jesse woke before the others and left Jennifer to tend their children while she attended to the ranch animals and other chores. But this morning, Jennifer’s morning hug, always given just before Jesse left their bed, had seemed more forceful than normal. Jesse had sensed her wife needed her more than the horses in the barn and had allowed herself to be held under the covers. When the children had began to wake, she offered to take care of them while her wife prepared breakfast.
“It’s silly of me.” Jennifer reached for her cane. “I suppose we should see to the children.”
“Sit,” Jesse gently held her wife in place. “I’ll go keep an eye on those rascals. You stay put. You deserve a morning to yourself.”
Jennifer shifted and placed her head on Jesse’s shoulder. “It is beautiful,” she said of the sky painted in various shades of reds, oranges, and yellows.
“Guess we should have faced the house the opposite way.”
“Hmmm,” Jennifer considered the option. “Wouldn’t have worked.”
“Then I’d be wishing I could sit on the porch swing and watch the sunsets.”
Jennifer smiled and straightened before lifting her cane from the porch surface. “Come on. Let’s go inside before those two darling children of ours have consumed the entire platter.
Jesse rose to her feet then helped Jennifer stand. “If they do, I’ll put them to work mucking out the barn to work it off.”
“You would, wouldn’t you?”
“Jesse?” Jennifer asked as she carried the last of the breakfast dishes to the sink where her wife was bending over a basin full of hot water.
“Weren’t you going to ride out and check on the herd this morning?”
“Then why are you up to your elbows in soap suds?”
The rancher shrugged. “Guess I figured I’d stick around for a bit longer and help out. Seems you… Well, it just seemed like you was feelin’ a little down.”
Jennifer placed the dirty dishes at the side of the basin then wrapped her arms around Jesse. “I’m not sure what I was feeling this morning.” She rested her chin on her wife’s shoulder, gazing out the window above the basin. “But whatever it was is gone. So leave the dishes to me and you get on with your chores.”
“Are you sure? I don’t mind—”
“Yes, I’m sure.” Jennifer eased to her wife’s side and nudged her with her hip. “Now, git.”
“Mommy, I go too?” KC asked from where she sat with Charley near their toy box tucked into a corner of kitchen.
“I think your momma has plans for you today, Sunshine,” Jesse said as she dried her hands on a towel.
“I thought we’d do some work in the garden,” Jennifer informed her daughter. “There are lots of weeds to pull.”
“Uck,” KC groused while her brother clapped his hands excitedly.
“Those two are as different as night and day,” Jesse noted. “KC can’t get enough of cows and horses and Charley would spend all day in the garden or listening to you read stories.”
“Almost as different as you and me,” Jennifer agreed with a grin.
Jesse pulled Jennifer into her arms. “Seems we have a lot more in common than not,” she said before pressing her lips to her wife’s. “A lot more,” she added after Jennifer pushed her away with a laugh. “Okay, young ‘uns, I’ve kissed your momma so now it’s your turn.” Both children jumped to their feet and ran toward Jesse who scooped them up in her arms. After plastering kisses all over their faces, she set the giggling children on their feet. “I should be back mid-afternoon,” she said as she walked to where her Stetson and coat hung on wooden pegs.
Jennifer met Jesse at the door to the back porch. “Be safe.”
“I will. Don’t go out too soon, there’s still a chill in the air.”
“I’ll wait until the sun reaches the garden.”
KC and Charley stood on either side of Jennifer as they watched Jesse walk to the barn.
“Sound asleep, both of them,” Jesse said pushing the screen door open and walking out of the house. Dressed in her nightshirt, she padded across the back porch to join Jennifer who was waiting on the porch swing. “I expected KC to put up more of a protest.” Their daughter never wanted to go to bed and it was a rare night when the girl drifted off to sleep so quickly.
“She worked hard in the garden today,” Jennifer said as Jesse settled beside her. “Must have filled five buckets with weeds all by herself.”
Jesse laughed. “She can get a might done when she puts her mind to it.” She wrapped her arm around Jennifer’s shoulders when her wife leaned against her. “Sunset is almost as beautiful as the sunrise this morning.” Jennifer sighed contently. “Darlin’?”
Jesse took a deep breath before continuing. “I was thinkin’—”
“Uh, oh,” Jennifer teased then giggled when probing fingers tickled her ribs. “Jesse, stop!”
“Then, be nice.”
“I promise.” Jennifer shifted to sit in Jesse’s lap, stretching her legs out on the swing when her wife’s strong arms encircled her. “What were you thinking?”
“Maybe I could spend more mornings around here.”
“Why would you want to do that, sweetheart? You have more than enough to keep you busy around the ranch.”
“Well… Seems to me…”
Jennifer cupped her hands around her wife’s face. “Jesse, what’s going on inside this beautiful head of yours?”
“This morning got me to thinkin’. If I helped out more in the mornings then you could have time to…”
“Sit on the porch and watch the sun rise?”
“Yes. And time to… Well, to just do whatever it is you want to do without worrying ‘bout the young ‘uns.”
Jennifer gently pressed her forehead against Jesse’s. “Sweetheart, that is a wonderful thought.”
“But I would hate that.”
Jesse pulled back in surprise and gazed quizzically at Jennifer. “You would?”
Jennifer placed a finger against her wife’s lips. “I know. And if you had offered it to me this morning, I probably would have accepted.”
“But not now?”
“Because I would miss too much.” The mystified look on Jesse’s face told Jennifer that her wife had no idea what she was talking about. “Sweetheart, I don’t know why I had to see the sun come up this morning. Maybe it was because somehow I knew it would be the start to a most wonderful day. And it was. The children and I had a wonderful time working in the garden. We talked and laughed and the hours flew by. I’m not sure I’m saying this right, Jesse, but being here with you and the children makes me so happy. And being your wife… Well, I just can’t imagine anything that could make me happier.”
Jesse scratched the back of her head. “So, you don’t want me around more?”
Jennifer gazed lovingly into her wife’s eyes. “I would love to have you here every minute of the day, sweetheart. But we have a ranch to run. And we have the Silver Slipper in town to see to. And the dress shop. And two growing children. And…”
This time it was Jesse who pressed fingers against Jennifer’s lips to stop her. “I get your point, darlin’. But my offer still stands.”
“Thank you. And if I ever feel a need to watch a sunrise again, I’ll let you know.”
Jesse settled back against the swing, tightening her hold on Jennifer. “Make sure you do.”
“Did KC really go to sleep?”
“You think we might…” Jennifer asked as her hand slipped inside the unbuttoned collar of Jesse’s nightshirt.
Jesse stood, lifting Jennifer in her arms as she did. She padded to the screen door and pulled it open. “I love you,” she whispered carrying Jennifer inside.
“You’re about to find out.”
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY
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