For personal use and select distribution only © May 2001 by "Tiff" Amber Stockton
Times to Treasure
by Tiffany Miller
The morning sun's rays crested the horizon and the light filtered in through the upstairs window of the homestead, coming to rest upon the sleeping forms in the bed. Sully was the first to stir, and he carefully turned to face his wife without waking her. He brushed back a strand of hair from her face, then tenderly ran his fingers down her cheek and around her jawline. Every day, he thanked the Great Spirit for bringing Michaela to him and allowing them to share their lives.
Unable to resist, he leaned over her and gently placed his lips on hers. In a semi-conscious state, she immediately responded, partially stirring from her slumber.
"Mmmm," she moaned, lazily, stretching a little as she began to come fully awake.
"Mornin'," Sully replied with a lazy smile.
Michaela slowly opened her eyes to find Sully's face mere inches from her own. "Good morning, Sully. If I must be pulled out of my dreams, that certainly is a wonderful way for it to happen," she teased.
"Glad to oblige," he teased in return, kissing her lightly. He reached down to caress her abdomen, only showing a minimal increase in size, then leaned back on his pillow and opened his arms, into which she eagerly moved. He pulled her snugly against him, and began to lovingly caress her bare arm.
Michaela laid her head on his chest, just beneath his chin. "Mmm, I could stay like this all day," she murmured as she habitually drew small circles with her finger on his chest.
"Why dontcha?" Sully asked.
She lifted her head slightly to look up into his face. "Sully, you know we have Brian's graduation and Katie's birthday coming in a few days, and there's so much to do, but not enough time in which to do it," she replied.
Sully chuckled. "Leave it to you to be frettin' over somethin'."
"Do I honestly have any choice in the matter? These events are quite important, especially Brian's graduation. It only happens once. I want to be certain that everything runs smoothly and that nothing is forgotten."
"Brian's graduation ain't the only thing that happens once," Sully pointed out.
"Oh?" Michaela looked into her husband's face, a puzzled expression on her own.
"Don't tell me you forgot what else happens this time every year," Sully remarked.
"Katie's birthday, I know," Michaela replied, a little too succinctly.
"That ain't it, either," Sully stated, still unsure if his wife was serious or not.
"Perhaps you'll need to remind me," she told him, fighting hard to keep the grin from her lips.
Sully recognized the look, and immediately his demeanor changed. "Nah, I'm sure you'll figure it out." He turned his head back to look up at the ceiling, appearing unconcerned with her attempt to tease him.
"You're probably right. In the meantime, I have a lot to do today and in the coming days, and I should begin working on it." She began to rise from his arms, but he held her fast, cupping her face with his left hand as he covered her lips with his own. She immediately melted into his embrace and sighed when he pulled slightly back. "Perhaps those items can wait a few moments longer," she whispered before meeting his lips again.
They both broke apart when they heard a giggle coming from the side of their bed.
"Katie!" Michaela reprimanded, pulling the covers up to her shoulders and turning to face their daughter. "What did Mama and Papa tell you about knocking?"
"I'm sor-wy, Mama," Katie replied with a slight frown. "I hear you talk and I wanna talk, too!" she explained.
"Is that so, Kates?" Sully asked.
"Yes, Papa," the little girl replied.
"And what is it you want to talk about?" Michaela inquired.
"My birf-day!" she answered honestly.
Michaela reached down to help lift Katie onto the bed with her and Sully, and Katie climbed in the middle of them. "Your birthday, hm? Sully, do you know of a birthday coming up?"
Sully forced a puzzled look on his face, appearing to be deep in thought. "Nope, not that I can recall. Brian's graduatin' this week. I know that, but don't know about any birthdays."
"My birf-day!" Katie exclaimed, looking back and forth between her parents. "Brian tell me!"
"Oh, your birthday!" Sully quickly grabbed his daughter and began tickling her, holding her down as she wiggled back and forth on the bed.
"Stop, Papa, please!" Katie weakly protested between her bursts of laughter.
Sully released his daughter, but leaned down and placed a kiss on her forehead. "Yeah, you're gettin' older. Pretty soon, ya won't be my little girl anymore," he stated, forcing a pouting look across his features.
"I always be Papa's wittle girl," Katie stated with assurance. "Love you, Papa." Immediately, she threw her tiny arms around Sully's neck and buried her face against his chest.
He immediately stroked her hair and placed a kiss on top of her head. "Yeah, you'll always be my Kates, ain't nothin' gonna change that."
Katie lifted her head and looked at her father. "Nothin'? Not new baby?" she asked in childlike innocence.
Sully cast a look at Michaela over Katie's head and shared a smile with his wife before returning to look into his daughter's upturned face. "Not even the new baby, Kates. No matter what, we'll always find time for you."
"Promise," Sully replied.
"Good!" the little girl stated, returning her head to Sully's chest and snuggling against him.
"Mmm, seems I'm not the only one who's helpless to resist your charms, Mr. Sully," Michaela teased.
"I think ya got it backwards. I'm the one who can't resist my two favorite girls," he replied. "One look from either of ya, and it's a hopeless case."
"Wouldn't have it any other way," Michaela stated, mindful of Katie as she leaned and placed a quick kiss on Sully's lips. She then threw back the covers, swinging her legs over the side of the bed and standing to her feet. "Come on, Katie. Let's go get dressed," she beckoned to her daughter.
"All right, Mama," Katie replied, sitting up and scooting to the edge of the bed before hopping down to the floor beside Michaela.
Michaela leaned across the bed and gave Sully a lingering kiss. "I'll see you downstairs." She took Katie's hand and left their bedroom, pulling the door closed behind her.
* * * * *
"Good morning, Brian," Michaela called, stepping down off the stairs and walking around to the kitchen to begin preparing breakfast.
"Mornin', Ma," Brian replied, not even glancing up from the book he was reading.
"What book is that?" Michaela asked.
"It's actually a collection a news articles that have been written over the years," he replied. "Miss Dorothy loaned it to me, so I could take a look at the different styles of different columnists and writers," he explained.
"Sounds interesting." Michaela moved into the kitchen, set some water to boil for coffee, then came around the other side of the wall with Katie and set the little girl in her custom-made seat Sully made to replace her high-chair.
"Can I have paper, Mama?"
"Certainly, Katie," she replied, turning and walking to the desk to retrieve paper and pencils for her daughter. "Now, be careful to stay on the paper, please," Michaela admonished once she returned and placed the paper in front of Katie.
"Why?" Katie asked.
"Because Mama doesn't want to have to scrub the table," Michaela replied.
"I will, Mama," Katie promised.
"Brian, what would you like for breakfast?"
"Hm? Oh, oatmeal's fine, Ma. I gotta head out a little early so I can return this book to Miss Dorothy before school," he answered.
"All right, oatmeal it is!" she announced, walking back around the wall into the kitchen again, only to be pulled into Sully's arms. "Sully!" she exclaimed, then immediately lowered her voice.
"Shhh," he whispered, putting a finger over her mouth before replacing his finger with his lips. "So, did you remember the other thing that's comin' up this week?" he asked after pulling back, placing his arms around her waist and looking directly into her eyes.
"Of course, I know, Sully. It's our fourth anniversary," she replied. "You didn't think I'd forget that, did you?"
"Well, you sure were puttin' up a good act upstairs," he returned.
"You knew very well that I was teasing," she countered.
"Mm, so four years, huh? Is that all? Sure seems like more!"
Michaela pulled back a little. "And just what is that supposed to mean?" she demanded.
"Nothin'," he replied, releasing her and turning towards the counter. "So, what's for breakfast?" he asked, changing the subject.
She shook her head and smiled, then walked over to the cupboard to pull down some bowls. "We're having oatmeal, and don't think this conversation is over," she warned.
Sully stepped up to her and moved his lips close to her ear. "Can't wait for the rest," he whispered, causing Michaela to shiver as his breath caressed her skin. He kissed her temple before walking into the other room to be with Brian and Katie.
Michaela quickly dumped the oats into the bowls, then took some of the water from the pot on the stove and poured it over the oats, stirring the mixture to a creamy consistency. She placed the bowls on a tray and took them in to everyone, then returned to retrieve two cups of milk for Brian and Katie and coffee for her and Sully.
"So, Brian, you gettin' excited about graduatin' the end of this week?"
"Sure am, Pa," Brian replied. "I can hardly believe it's here, already."
"Seems like only yesterday when you were climbing into my lap and asking for me to read you a story because you couldn't sleep at night," Michaela began, giving Sully his coffee and taking her seat at the table. "Now, here you are, graduating from school and moving on with the next phase in your life."
"Yeah, time sure does fly!" Brian agreed.
"How does time fly?" Katie wanted to know. "It has wings?"
"No, Katie." Brian laughed. "It's a figure of speech. It means time passes really fast."
"Oh." She looked at her parents, who were smiling, then looked back at Brian. "But, why you say it flies?"
"Think of an eagle, Katie," Brian began. "You know how fast it seems to go by above our heads?
"Yes," the little girl replied.
"Well, my time in school seems to have gone by just as fast," he explained.
"All right." Katie nodded, turning her attention back to her oatmeal.
"Have you heard anything from Colleen and Andrew?" Michaela inquired. "I'm surprised they're not down yet."
"Oh, they're already gone," Brian answered. "They were up early and left, said they wanted to stop at the Chateau and see Dr. Fulton."
"That's right, John did mention that he had met them in Philadelphia," Michaela mused.
Brian finished the last of his oatmeal, then stood and took his bowl into the kitchen, returning a moment later and grabbing his books. "I gotta be goin'," he announced, leaning down and kissing Michaela on the cheek. "See ya after school," he called, heading out the door.
"Well, I believe we should finish and head into town. I have several patients scheduled, not to mention discussing plans with Grace for a certain special event this Saturday," Michaela announced, sharing a secret look with Sully.
"Party? For me?" Katie asked, looking up from her oatmeal, surprising both of her parents that she was even paying attention.
"No one said anythin' about a party, Kates," Sully replied, "but that don't mean there ain't gonna be one," he quickly amended.
"Well, let's get ourselves into town," Michaela stated, standing to her feet and going into the kitchen to clean up the minimal breakfast dishes.
"I'll hitch up the wagon," Sully announced from the other room, and Michaela heard the door open and close.
"All right, Miss Katie, it's time to get ready to go," Michaela called from the kitchen. "We need to get you to Miss Madeline's, so Mama can go to the clinic."
"All done," Katie replied.
"Very good!" Michaela praised when she saw Katie had eaten almost all of her oatmeal and only spilled a little on the table. Taking a wet cloth, she wiped Katie's face and hands, then lifted her from the chair and sat her on the floor. "Go get your doll, and let Mama finish the dishes, then we'll join Papa outside with the wagon."
"Yes, Mama." Katie obeyed Michaela's instruction.
A moment later, Michaela returned from the kitchen, grabbed her coat and medical bag, then held out her hand towards Katie. "All right, let's go!" she encouraged, and closed the door behind them.
* * * * *
"So, ya got any ideas on what you're wantin' to do for that little one of yours?" Grace asked, bustling back and forth from the cookstove to the table where she was beginning her preparations for the noon patrons.
"To be honest, Grace, I don't really know," Michaela confessed to her friend. She wordlessly offered to snap beans, so she would feel useful as they talked. "There's so much happening this week, I hardly know where to begin. I don't really want to make a big production of Katie's birthday, since she is only three years old, but I also don't want her to feel like she's being ignored in the wake of Brian's graduation from school."
"I doubt you'll have to worry about that, if Sully has anythin' to say about it," Grace replied with a smile.
"You do have a point," Michaela agreed.
"Course, I'm sure Brian graduatin' ain't the only thing on your mind this week, is it?"
Michaela sighed. "No, there's also our anniversary, but like Katie's third birthday, it's only been four years for Sully and me. It's not like our first or our fifth," she tried to explain away any reason to make it overly special.
"No, you're right, but that don't mean you can't find a way to make each one equally special. Show me where it says you're only allowed to celebrate certain years in grand fashion!" Grace stated.
"So, are the two of you plotting out secrets, or is this a discussion anyone can join?" Anna Marie approached from the dining area, carrying some tin cups and plates from some of the customers who visit during the slow times.
"We're just talkin' about everythin' Dr. Mike has happenin' this week and wonderin' what to do about it all," Grace replied.
"Let's see, there's Katie's birthday, Brian's graduation, and your anniversary. My, you are going to be busy!" Anna Marie laughed.
"I'm well aware of that, and if I make it through this week without pulling all of my hair out, I'll be happy!" Michaela chuckled.
"Now, how old is that little one of yours going to be? Three?" Anna Marie asked, moving towards the sink where she began scraping the food off the plates. At Michaela's nod, she continued. "Well, why not do something simple for her. Perhaps invite your friends to come to homestead and make some finger sandwiches with tea, coffee and milk, and of course a cake," she suggested.
"Yeah, and for Brian's graduation, since Sarah and others are graduatin', we can have a town picnic in the meadow!" Grace added. "Everyone can bring their own food, and it can be a potluck picnic, like we have sometimes after Sunday services."
"That almost sounds too simple," Michaela replied, "but, I love the idea!"
"By doing it this way, Katie still receives her special moment with close friends, and the entire town can participate in honoring those who have completed their studies at school," Anna Marie continued. "I believe Sarah mentioned to me that there are two others who will be graduating as well."
"Not to mention that you an' Sully'll be free to enjoy your own special time together by week's end," Grace teased with a knowing smile.
A slight pink crept into Michaela's cheeks, and she dipped her head slightly, focusing on her task of snapping the beans.
"Would ya look at that!" Grace remarked. "Married four years and still actin' like a newlywed!"
"As I recall, Grace, you're not exactly innocent of your own blissful moments with Robert E!" Anna Marie countered.
"No, but she sure is good at hidin' it from most folks." A new voice was added to their conversation, and the three women turned to see Robert E standing in the doorway leading to the main room. "Came in to check on the little guys," he explained as he walked over to his wife and greeted her with a kiss. "Dr. Mike, don't go takin' any pointers from Grace about actin' married. People'd think you ain't!" Robert E advised with a glint in his eyes.
Grace raised the knife she was using to dice some vegetables and pointed it at him. "You'd better get yourself into that other room, Robert E, before I make that statement true!" she mockingly threatened.
"See what I mean?" he replied, placing a quick peck on Grace's cheek. He immediately moved towards the back room where his son and daughter stayed during the day, and the three women shared a few moments of laughter after he disappeared.
"And how are those little ones, Grace?" Michaela asked, recovering from her mirth.
"Oh, just as bright-eyed and full of mischief as they can be!" Grace replied. "One thing's for certain, they sure do keep Robert E and me on our toes, but we wouldn't have it any other way! Six months old and growing like weeds. Robert A's already cuttin' his second tooth, an' Olivia's showin' signs of not bein' too far behind."
"Well, they're due for another check-up soon, so I expect to see you and them before too long," Michaela reminded, the doctor in her taking charge.
"Oh, don't you worry, Dr. Mike, you will. But, I ain't gonna add more to your already full schedule this week. I'll wait for the festivities to die down and bring them on by in a couple weeks," she promised.
"In the meantime, why don't we begin making a list of things we may need for the two parties this week," Anna Marie interjected.
"Well, I don't expect either of you to lift a finger for Katie's birthday," Michaela stated. "We're having it at the homestead, and I am fully capable of making a few finger sandwiches and a birthday cake," she reassured them.
"Not to mention that ya got Colleen back for a visit, so she can do the bakin'," Grace teased.
"I suppose it's pointless to try to pretend that I don't still have some problems in the cooking department," Michaela agreed with a smile, and the other two nodded their heads in agreement. "Nevertheless, consider yourselves both invited Thursday evening, and your families as well," she added. "Katie's birthday is the eighteenth, so having the party on that day makes the most sense. I won't be sending out actual invitations, but inviting those as I see them."
"We'll be there," Grace and Anna Marie answered in unison.
"Now, what about the graduation picnic?" Grace asked.
"Well, like you said, Grace," Anna Marie began, "everyone in attendance will be bringing their own contributions, so if you're wanting to organize it, I would think you only have to concern yourself with providing the drinks and perhaps one or two of your famous desserts."
"You got a point, Anna Marie." Grace nodded. "Suppose we should talk to the Reverend about settin' up between the church and the schoolhouse, and I'd think you'd be the one to do that," she stated, giving Anna Marie a pointed look.
"I'd be happy to speak to Timothy about it." Anna Marie didn't miss a beat, and Grace and Michaela shared a quick look at their friend's comfort with her growing relationship with the Reverend.
"I'll speak to Dorothy about placing an announcement in the Gazette," Michaela offered, "since we won't have church services where everyone will be gathered in one place. I would think Saturday would be the perfect day, immediately following the ceremony," she added.
"I agree," Anna Marie stated.
"Seems like we got it all planned out," Grace remarked. "Now, we just gotta get everythin' done in time!"
"Speaking of time, I am expecting another appointment in about five minutes, so I need to return to the clinic," Michaela announced, finishing the last of the beans and dropping the snapped ends into the smaller bowl. "Thank you both for your help."
"Our pleasure, Dr. Mike," Grace replied. She and Anna Marie returned to their preparations for the noon meal, and Michaela left through the main dining area.
* * * * *
"Where could he possibly be?" Michaela paced back and forth in living room of the homestead in front of the fireplace. "He said he wouldn't be late for Katie's party."
"Ma, Sully said he'd be here, and he'll be here," Colleen reassured her.
"Perhaps he's planning something special for Katie, Michaela," Andrew suggested, coming to stand behind his wife, who occupied one of the two wingback chairs.
"I just don't want anything to go wrong. Brian is upstairs, occupying Katie until Sully returns, and I don't want any of our friends to arrive before he does." She continued her pacing, nervously wringing her hands as she walked back and forth.
"Mama, where's Papa?" Katie asked from the stairs, causing Michaela, Colleen and Andrew to turn and look in her direction.
"Sorry, Ma," Brian apologized. "I tried to keep her busy, but she got away from me and ran towards the stairs."
"It's all right, Brian," Michaela reassured him, coming over and lifting Katie into her arms. "Papa will be here any minute, sweetheart."
At that moment, the door flew open and in walked Sully. "Sorry I'm a little late, but I brought someone with me I thought you'd all like to see," he announced. Sully stepped back towards the door and gestured for the person accompanying him to enter.
"Cloud Dancin'!" Katie exclaimed, squirming in her mother's arms to be put down. Michaela immediately obliged, and the little girl ran to her Cheyenne father.
"How is my fair one?" Cloud Dancing asked, lifting Katie into his arms.
"I'm three!" the little girl replied, proudly holding up three of her fingers to back up her statement.
"You are very wise," he remarked, "and I can see your mother and father in you. Would you like to hear a story about how they both helped the chief of my people escape from the army?"
Katie nodded eagerly, and Cloud Dancing walked over to sit cross-legged on the rug in front of the fireplace, settling the little girl in his lap. Wolf rose from his place in the corner and joined them on the rug, immediately laying down and curling into a ball.
Cloud Dancing exchanged a brief glance with Sully and Michaela before beginning. "Chief Black Kettle was hurt, and your father helped bring him to see your mother, so she could help...."
Brian came to sit in the other wingback chair, and Andrew moved around to perch on the edge of the chair where Colleen was seated, all of them intent on the story being told.
"Where did you find him?" Michaela whispered, coming to stand beside her husband.
"I didn't find him. He found me," Sully replied. "I was on my way home, and somethin' told me to take the long way, so I changed directions and turned my horse to travel along the north road. I came to a clearin' and I had a strong urge to stop. Not two minutes later, Cloud Dancing rode out from the bushes. I'm actually surprised our horses didn't sense each other before I saw him."
"Did he say what brings him down here?"
"Yeah, wanted to be here for Katie's birthday," Sully stated simply.
"He came back from his people in the north just to be here?" Michaela asked, surprised but extremely pleased.
"Katie's every bit his family as the Cheyenne. After all, she's his daughter, too," Sully pointed out. "Did ya really think he'd miss this special day for her?"
"You have a point, and I'm very happy to see him, here. I wish he was able to stay around for longer periods of time. I know Katie loves hearing his stories, and I am always learning about more medicine from him."
"Well, he's here, now, so let's enjoy the time we do have. Speakin' of which, anybody else comin' to this party?"
"I did tell them to come around six, and it's not quite that yet," Michaela began. "I am certain we can expect a few of our friends."
"Until then, I'll close the door," Sully said. "Wouldn't want any bothersome creatures comin' in." He put his hand on the doorknob and was about to close it, when he was met with resistance from the other side.
"Don't tell me the party's over already?" Matthew remarked.
"Are you kiddin'? It's just startin'," Sully replied. "Come on in, Matthew! Lydia," he added, when he saw the young woman standing behind Matthew.
"We saw the Reverend, Anna Marie and Sarah on our way out of town, and Grace and Robert E and the twins weren't far behind," Matthew announced.
"I suppose I should begin preparing the food," Michaela said. "Make yourself at home, Matthew, Lydia. Cloud Dancing has joined us, and he's telling one of his stories to a very enraptured audience!" She nodded in the direction of the living room and smiled. No one had even looked up at the new arrivals.
"I'd say they're interested!" He held out his arm to Lydia. "Shall we join them?"
"Of course," she replied.
Michaela watched as Colleen greeted Matthew and Lydia with a hug and Andrew shook their hands. Sully came to stand behind her and placed his arms around her waist, lovingly caressing her swollen abdomen.
"Really paints a cozy little picture, don't it?" he whispered, leaning his chin on her shoulder.
"It certainly does," she agreed.
"Won't be long before Katie's up and grown and married, and this little one, too," Sully observed, putting a slight amount of pressure where their baby grew.
"Oh, please don't rush things that much, Sully!" Michaela pleaded. "Let's enjoy them while we have them. That day will come soon enough."
"Guess you're right." He stood up straight when he heard the sound of a wagon outside. "For now, we got a party to handle," he stated, and they both walked to the door to greet the first of their guests.
* * * * *
"All right, Katie, blow out the candles!" Michaela instructed her daughter, nodding at Brian to assist without being noticed.
"One. Two. Free." She counted and inhaled a big breath, paused a moment, then blew with all of her might. She immediately blew out two of the candles, but the final one only flickered. Brian quickly expelled a puff of his own breath, making certain Katie didn't notice, and the little girl clapped her hands in excitement at extinguishing the flames.
"Very good, Katie!" Michaela praised, removing the candles from the cake before picking up the knife to cut pieces for everyone.
"You're a big girl, now, Kates," Sully echoed as he placed a loving hand on top of her head.
"All right, everyone come and get your cake," Michaela announced. As she cut the squares and placed them on the plates, Colleen helped distribute them.
"Hard to believe that little one is three already," the Reverend remarked. "Seems like just yesterday, I was christening her at the church."
"She sure has grown a lot this year," Robert E added.
"Yeah, she ain't such a nuisance in the store, and she ain't sold any more of my stock for a penny, neither!" Loren interjected, watching as Katie unsuccessfully tried to spear a piece of cake with her fork.
"Loren!" Dorothy admonished. "How could you say such a thing? She's just a little girl, and she didn't know better!"
"Well, it's the truth, ain't it? Besides, you didn't exactly escape her mischief, either, as I recall," Loren pointed out.
"No, she did make quite a mess of the ink for the printin' press," Dorothy recalled.
"And ya can't forget helpin' Miss Teresa erase the chalkboards that day," Brian added, working with Sarah to help Katie balance a piece of cake on her fork as she tried to get it to her mouth before it fell off again.
"I remember that morning on a visit to our home while I was still in confinement so close to the end of my pregnancy," Grace said from across the room, where she was tucking her sleeping son and daughter into the bassinet she and Robert E had brought with them. "It was all she could do to stay put in the chair where Michaela told her to sit."
"My, but she had an adventuresome day that day," Anna Marie observed. "I remember hearing everyone talk about it at the café, but I'll admit it certainly sounds more humorous six months after the fact."
"Time certainly does have a way of making the negative aspects of our memories fade," Michaela agreed. "Even ones made by a toddler's antics," she added, causing everyone to laugh, as they turned their attention to the subject of their conversation.
"Well, we ain't out of the woods, yet," Sully remarked. "Why do you think we're usin' tin plates and cups instead of Michaela's nice dishes!"
"Very wise move, Sully," Andrew observed with a smile.
"It is good she has such friends and a family who will help her learn as she grows," Cloud Dancing spoke up from a little behind Dorothy. "Many young children do not have this gift."
"Well, I'd say she's doubly blessed," Dorothy interjected. "Not only does she have a loving family and close friends, but she has a second father who can share with her about his own people and help her have an appreciation for all living things, people and animals and nature alike." She finished and gave Cloud Dancing's hand a brief squeeze.
"Katie will certainly never want for love and attention, that's for certain," Michaela agreed.
"You just be sure you make time for her once that little one arrives," Grace pointed out.
"You ain't gotta worry about that, Grace," Sully assured her. "Michaela and me have already talked about it, and while it's still a few months away, we made a promise to Katie and to ourselves that we'd reserve a special time just for her, even after the baby arrives."
"Yay! Baby!" Katie suddenly announced, and everyone looked to where Katie sat, icing and cake adorning her cherubic face. "Mama have baby in her tummy! I gonna be big sister!" she told everyone present, clapping her hands at their laughter, innocently unaware that they were laughing at her appearance and not her words. However, she was just happy to be the center of attention again. "Mama, can Wolf have cake, too?"
"Katie!" Michaela admonished, more lovingly than in exasperation. "Wolf most certainly can not have cake. In fact, I believe Wolf should be outside for the time being."
"I'll take him, Ma," Brian offered.
"Look at the mess you've made of yourself and the cake." She immediately walked into the kitchen, dampened a towel and returned to clean what she could of Katie's face and hands.
"We couldn't help it, Ma," Brian explained, returning to the table after putting Wolf outside. "Sarah and I tried to help her keep it on the fork, but it just wouldn't stay. She was gettin' tired of tryin', so she gave up and just used her hands."
"She was having so much fun, Dr. Mike, we didn't have the heart to spoil it," Sarah added.
"It's all right, Brian, Sarah," Michaela reassured them. "No harm done. Everything washes. The important thing is that Katie is enjoying herself, and there's no doubt about that!"
While Michaela wiped the area where Katie had made the mess, those gathered began to disperse from the table and found seats in the living room. Several private conversations ensued, as everyone mingled and enjoyed the festive atmosphere.
"So, Brian, are you excited about graduation on Saturday?" the Reverend asked, then paused. "You, too, Sarah," he added.
"Yeah, Reverend," Brian replied. "Seems it can't get here fast enough..."
"But, it also seems like it happened so fast," Sarah finished for him.
"So, do the two of you have any plans for what you're gonna do?" Robert E asked.
"As a matter of fact," Brian began, taking hold of Sarah's hand and sharing a look with her before continuing, "Sarah and I have decided to court, officially, that is," he announced.
"That's really good news!"
The positive responses all mingled together from everyone gathered, and Brian and Sarah simply sat quietly and smiled, thanking everyone in turn.
"What does Michaela have to say about this?" Dorothy wanted to know.
"What do I have to say about what?" Michaela inquired, coming to join the group, Katie on her hip.
"I told him about me and Sarah courtin', Ma," Brian informed her.
Michaela paused for a moment, then realized all eyes were turned towards her, everyone expecting her to say something. "Well, what do you expect me to say? They're certainly of age to make that decision," she stated, and almost sighed at the collective expulsion of breath it seemed everyone was holding as they waited for her answer. "You all act as if I would forbid them to see each other!"
"Well, you did almost do that to me, Ma, when I announced that Ingrid and I were gettin' married," Matthew pointed out. "An' I was a year older than Brian is, now."
"That was different," Michaela retorted. "I was still getting used to being a mother, and I wasn't thinking clearly. I simply over-reacted," she added with a bemused grin, which turned into a smile at the chuckles and laughter from her friends. "Besides, you told me you were getting married, not that you were going to court. That's an entirely different thing."
"So, other than that wonderful news, what else do the two of you have planned?" Grace swiftly changed the subject back.
"Well, I'm gonna work for Miss Dorothy at the Gazette and look into takin' some classes in Denver in the fall for college. I wanna pursue writing, but I'm not sure I'm ready for college full-time yet," Brian answered.
"I'm going to take in a little sewing in the evenings, but mainly help Dr. Mike with Katie and Miss Teresa and Mr. Slicker with Colin during the day," Sarah replied. "When I'm not caring for them, I'm going to help Miss Grace with the twins while Mama works at the café."
"Speaking of the twins," Robert E began, "what do ya say we get them on home, Grace? It's already past their bedtime."
"You're right, Robert E," Grace agreed, standing to her feet. "Michaela, Sully, thank you for inviting us, and Katie, happy birthday, sweetheart!"
"Bye, bye, Miss Gr-wace!"
"I suppose we should be heading home as well," Anna Marie announced. "Timothy?" she beckoned, touching his shoulder and standing with him.
"Now's as good a time as any," Dorothy echoed. "Loren, are you ready?"
"Sure am," he replied.
Words of farewell and hugs were exchanged all around as everyone gathered their belongings and left to return home. When the last of their guests had gone, Michaela closed the door behind them and turned to face her family, who was busy cleaning up from the party. In no time at all, the dishes were cleaned and put away, and everything was put back in order.
"You're more than welcome to stay with us, Cloud Dancin'," Sully told his brother. "I'd hate to see ya go rushin' off again, when we don't see ya much as it is."
"I accept your offer, my brother, but I can see you have a very full house. If it is all right with you, I will make a place for myself in your barn," he stated. "I do have to return to my people Saturday morning."
"We're honored to have you with us, Cloud Dancing, for as long as you can stay" Michaela assured him, shifting Katie from one hip to the other.
"It is settled, then," he replied. "Good night my fair one," he spoke to Katie.
"Night-night, Cloud Dancin'," Katie replied, kissing her hand and blowing it in his direction.
He reached out and made the pretense of catching it and putting it in his pouch, making the little girl giggle in delight. He nodded to everyone, opening the door and stepping outside, then closing the door behind him.