Authors: Judy Christenberry
Then Ellis took the stand. Brad knew any judge worth his robes would see through the garbage he hurled at the court. Under no law could a man like him deserve Anna and Davy.
Apparently the judge felt the same way. He named Sarah the guardian of the two
children and promised they would send the official papers to her in a few days.
When they exited the courtroom, Brad lifted Sarah up and whirled her around. When he brought her back to the ground, she hugged his neck.
“Brad, we did it!”
“You did it, sweetheart. You and your stepfather,” Brad said to her.
“Yes, he was my best witness, wasn’t he?”
She hugged him again. “Let’s get out of here. I want to get on the road.”
“Not yet. There’s something we’ve got to do first.” He handed her his cell phone. “Call the kids.”
He told her the number and she dialed, nearly bouncing on her feet with excitement until someone answered.
“Kate? It’s Sarah. We’re finished and we’re coming home.” Her lips broke into a wide smile then and she blurted, “I did it, Kate. The kids are mine!”
realize the kids will be yours for life?”
After traveling quietly for almost an hour, Brad suddenly realized that. He didn’t stop himself from voicing his thought.
With their mother dead and their father hopefully in jail for the rest of his life, she was all they had.
“Of course I realize that. That’s why I had to win. I have to take care of them. They’ll always be my family.” He glanced her way and found Sarah staring fiercely at him, as if making sure he realized that she had accepted her responsibility.
“I understand that, but that means you have to make enough to support them. That won’t be easy.”
She squared her jaw and stared straight ahead. “I know that.”
“Are you going to stay in Sydney Creek?”
“If I can. But when Abby doesn’t need me anymore, I’ll have to go wherever I can get a job.”
“It’s a heavy load.”
“Yes, but they are my family.”
“Okay. I just wanted to be sure you’d thought it out.”
“I knew what I was doing when I took them away. I couldn’t leave them in the home with that monster.”
He reached out for her hand and squeezed it in a comforting gesture. “They’re lucky kids, Sarah. They’ve got you.”
Sarah didn’t respond.
After a couple of miles he spoke up again. “Cheyenne’s coming up. How about we stop and eat there?”
“Only if we go to the drive-through. I really want to get back to Anna and Davy.”
Brad smiled. “I figured as much. That’s not a problem. I can eat while I’m driving.”
They stopped at a barbecue place and were back on the road in a matter of minutes.
They drove in silence as they ate. He looked at Sarah occasionally, but she kept her gaze on her food or the passing scenery. Was she avoiding him?
“Sarah, did I upset you?”
Her head spun around until she was looking at him. “No, of course not.”
Then she turned away again.
He wasn’t sure what he’d done. Maybe he shouldn’t have pushed her about the reality of having the kids. But she needed to be sure of her choice. Not that he thought she was wrong. If something happened to Abby and Nick, he wouldn’t hesitate to take care of Robbie and the twins. But he’d have help. His mom and Mike were there. And the other kids, Charlie, Julie, Jason and Matt, would all help, too.
He wasn’t alone.
Sarah, however, had no one.
The realization sobered him. Made him admire her all the more. She was ready to
meet the challenges ahead, no matter how difficult life became for her.
He’d never met such an amazing woman as the one seated next to him.
Despite his desire to tell her, he knew it was probably best to let that topic rest for now. Instead he chose small talk. “Was your sandwich good?” he asked.
“Yes, it was.”
“Would you tell me if it was bad?” he teased.
“Probably, but it was good.”
“Really? You always like everything. Are you being honest?”
That seemed to put Sarah over the edge. She snapped at him, “Yes, I am, and I’m tired of your attitude! You’ve provided everything I needed this week. Of course I liked your choices. You never once considered yourself. Did you think I didn’t realize that? And now you want to complain because I liked what you provided for me? You’re being impossible!”
“I was supposed to make this week easier
for you. I appreciate your enjoying how we managed. It wasn’t difficult to please you. But I have to say that can be bothersome. You never complain.”
“That’s because you have no idea how horrible my life was until I ended up in the middle of your family. I’m sorry you don’t appreciate what you have.”
“Hey! I appreciate my family! I know they’re wonderful!”
Brad was about to speak but stopped himself. When had they started arguing? And why? He didn’t want to fight with Sarah, especially now, when they should be celebrating.
He decided not to talk at all, letting a long silence fill the truck cab. After a while he turned on the radio, found a football game and settled in to listen to the game.
It was safer that way.
Sarah leaned against the seat cushion and closed her eyes. She was disappointed with
Brad. Back in Denver he’d been wonderful to her. But now he had insisted on presenting her future to her. She knew it was grim. She knew she’d taken on a lot. But she had no choice. She couldn’t have left the kids there in the house.
She’d done what she had to do. All along, she knew it wouldn’t be easy. She didn’t need him telling her that. Or pointing out how alone she was. But the three of them would make it.
Without someone like Brad in her life.
She’d almost believed he cared for her. But she knew better now. He’d only taken her to Denver because Mike had asked it of him.
Once more, she was alone and responsible. And it would always be that way.
The family was waiting for their arrival. Abby had allowed the three children to stay up until Brad and Sarah returned home.
“Are you excited, Anna?” Abby asked, smiling at the young girl.
“Yes, I’ve missed Sarah.” Anna’s voice was still soft, as always, but there was an underlying sense of excitement.
“I bet she missed you and Davy, too.” Abby took the little girl’s hand in hers.
Nick looked out the window over the sink. “I think they’re here. Abby, stay seated. You don’t need to be rushing out to greet them.”
“Yes, Nick, I know.” Abby turned Anna’s hand loose. “But you can go meet her, honey. It’s all right.”
Both Robbie and Davy joined Anna in running to meet Sarah and Brad. Nick stood at the door, watching. “Sarah just hugged Anna and Davy, and Robbie, too,” he said with a grin.
“That’s so nice of her.”
“Now she’s ushering the kids into the house.”
“Good. I’m anxious to hear all the details,” Abby said. “I can do that sitting down, Nick,” she said before he could protest.
“I know, sweetheart, but you go to bed as soon as they tell us about the trip.”
The group burst into the kitchen and Sarah came at once to Abby to hug her and thank her for taking care of the kids.
“They were very good, Sarah. No problem at all.”
“I’m glad. And I’m thrilled I got custody of them. We’re legal now.” She turned to the kids. “You’re going to be my children now. Okay?”
“Okay,” Anna said with a big grin.
“What happened to Daddy?” Davy asked.
“He was taken to jail, Davy.” Sarah looked Davy square in the eye. “What he did was very bad. He has to pay the price of his actions, and he probably won’t get out of jail for a very, very long time.”
Anna moved closer to Sarah, hearing her sister’s words. Davy looked at her and then said, “Okay.”
“Can we call you Mommy?” Anna softly asked.
“Of course, sweetheart. I’m your mommy according to the law. So it’s official.”
“But your name is Sarah,” Davy said.
Sarah smiled. “You can call me Sarah or Mommy, whichever you prefer.”
Davy nodded in agreement.
“Okay, it’s time for you guys to be in bed,” Nick announced.
Sarah said, “I’ll help them to bed and then come back. Are Mike and Kate coming over?”
“Yes, Nick’s going to call them now.” After Sarah and the kids had left the room, Abby turned to Brad. “Kate made a cake for your homecoming. Can you get down plates and forks for the six of us?”
“How did you and Sarah manage?” Abby asked as he set the table.
“Fine.” He didn’t add any details.
Nick hung up the phone. “Mom and Mike will be right over. I’d better go help Sarah settle the boys.”
Kate and her husband arrived before the pot of coffee Brad put on had finished. When they asked how the trip was, all he said was “Fine.”
Sarah exclaimed when she saw Kate’s cake as she and Nick came back into the kitchen.
“Kate, that was so nice of you,” she said.
“It’s the least I could do. You must have done a great job in Denver.”
“Thank you. I’m so appreciative of all your support. You’ve taken us in and given me a job and a place to live, taken care of the kids during this week. I couldn’t ask for more.”
She hugged Kate and Mike. Then she sat down beside Abby as Brad and Nick poured the coffee and tea.
“Oh, this cake is delicious,” Sarah said.
“Brad, how do you like it?” Kate asked.
Everyone exchanged looks.
Then Kate said, “So what did you two do to entertain yourselves when you weren’t in court?”
Brad said nothing.
“Brad took me to a movie. And we took a tour of the mint, saw lots of money, and we went up to Buffalo Bill’s grave on a bluff above Denver.”
“We went up there when we took the kids on vacation once.” Kate smiled at the memory.
“It was lovely.”
Brad looked away from Sarah.
“Well, the cake was delicious, and I appreciate all you’ve given me. But now I think I should head up to bed. Good night, and thank you again.”
She left the table and went to the bedroom she shared with Anna.
As soon as she left, Nick turned to his brother and blurted, “What the hell happened?”
Brad said nothing.
“Did you and Sarah have a fight?”
“What exactly does that mean?” Nick asked.
“I did what you said. I supported her and stayed with her for all of it. But coming home, I thought she should realize what she’d done. So I questioned her about taking the kids, and how difficult it would be.”
“You think she didn’t know that, Brad?”
Abby asked. “And what made you think she had a choice? Sarah loves those kids. Of course she knew what she was doing!”
“Yeah. So she told me.”
“I don’t blame her for being upset. Of course she had to take the kids,” Kate agreed.
Brad threw up his hands. “Okay! Okay! I’ve got it. But it’s not going to be easy to get a job that will pay enough for them when she leaves here.”
“There are a lot of places she can be the housekeeper. And room and board for the kids isn’t that bad.” Nick looked at his brother. “Is this going to cause trouble between the two of you?”
“Not on my part.”
“Good, because we don’t want Sarah harassed. I don’t know what I’d do without her right now,” Abby added.
“I understand. Did you miss me during the day, Nick?”
“Of course. I’m glad you’re back before we got any bad weather.”
“I’ve been wondering about that,” Brad
said. “I mean, what if a snowstorm comes and the babies come at the same time? How are you going to get Abby to Pinedale?”
“I don’t know yet. When she gets close to the time, I may take her to a motel in Pinedale and stay with her as much as I can.”
Brad nodded to his brother. “Right. I can take care of things here.”
“Thanks, brother. It’s good to have you back.”
Sarah was up early the next morning, preparing a special breakfast. She was putting on the finishing touches when Brad walked in.
“Morning,” he mumbled as he went past her.
“Morning,” she replied. She saw him pour himself a cup of coffee and couldn’t help thinking of how he’d greeted her back in Denver. And how she looked forward to seeing him.
“Want me to wake the kids?” he asked.
“That would be nice if you have the time,”
she said, with her back turned. Even to herself she sounded formal and stilted.
He left the room.
Sarah opened the oven and took out perfectly baked cinnamon rolls. She put them on the table and then started scrambling eggs.
“Wowee! What is that delicious smell?” Nick exclaimed as he entered the kitchen. “Cinnamon rolls!” He smiled at Sarah. “It sure is nice to have you back.”
Sarah returned his grin. “Thanks.”
He came close to pick at one of the buns but Sarah shot him an exaggerated leer. He pulled his hand back.
“So, you’ll watch out for Abby today?” he asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“I left you my cell phone number if Abby has a problem. We need to head for Pinedale if there’s any hint of a delivery. It’s only about six weeks before she’s due.”
“All the way to Pinedale? I thought you had a doctor here in Sydney Creek.”
“Not yet. We’ve been growing, but we’re not big enough to draw our own doctor.”
“Don’t you worry, Nick. I’ll keep a close eye on her.”
Then, running in front of Brad, Anna and the boys came in, dressed for school, and Sarah busied herself with their breakfasts. “You have to eat at least a spoonful of eggs with your cinnamon rolls,” she reminded them.
Davy made a face and Robbie laughed.
Nick spoke up. “She means you, too, Robbie.”
“But she’s not my mama!” Robbie protested.
“Sarah is helping us out and you’ll do as she says, or I’ll be talking to you out in the barn, so we won’t upset your mama.”
“Yes, sir, Daddy.” Robbie’s hangdog air didn’t bring laughter to Davy. He reached out to share his friend’s feelings.
Within minutes, Brad picked up his cup and plate and placed them in the sink.
Nick looked at his brother. “Are you in a hurry this morning?”
“We’ve got a lot to get done. And I heard on the news this morning that a storm is moving in.”
“What kind of storm?” Sarah asked.
“A snowstorm. It’s early, so it probably won’t last long,” Brad said.
“But I don’t even have winter coats for the kids,” Sarah said.
“Don’t worry,” Nick assured her. “Robbie probably has an extra one for Davy. And we can check if Julie left one that Anna can have.” Robbie took Davy to his room, while Anna followed Brad to his sister’s room.
Each of the kids came back with a jacket that fit. Nick told them they could keep the coats. “Say thank you to Nick,” Sarah told them, and she looked on them proudly when they did.
At the sound of a vehicle outside, she called, “There’s the bus. Have you got your books?” She held out their lunches as they passed, and wished them a good day.
Since the men followed the kids out the door, Sarah finished cleaning up the kitchen. She realized how glad she was to be back. Even if Brad wasn’t speaking to her.
Later, she picked up after the kids and decided to start a load of laundry. She finally got to Brad’s room to collect the linens. He’d sort of made his bed, but she stripped it and gathered the dirty clothes from his trip. His scent clung to the sheets and the shirts, and she couldn’t help herself. She buried her face in the fabric and inhaled. They smelled of the outdoors, of his cologne, of Brad. Surprisingly she felt nostalgic for their time together in Denver.