Ten Years Later
Jackson swung the hammer against the nail over and over until he was certain it was secure. He pulled on the ranch sign, making sure it wasn’t going to collapse again. Once he was positive the sign was secure, Jackson dropped the hammer to the ground and climbed down the ladder. He removed his cowboy hat and wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. He stepped out past the sign and looked up at it. In big letters it read Safe Haven Ranch, in smaller letters it said For Children, and then in even smaller letters it said Matt 19:13-15 (“Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.”) After Pa was moved into a nursing home and Emily got old enough to own the ranch, she made it into a summer camp for kids who had been in trouble with the law. The ranch had saved Em from a life of a criminal, and she wanted it to do the same for others. She hired more help to build a shed with bunkbeds, bathrooms, showers, and a living space. She also had the barn fixed up so it was safe for kids. The light fixtures had to be fixed, and the stalls needed to be more secure. The fencing around the ranch needed to be taller and more reliable so that the horses couldn’t jump it and escape. The only thing on the ranch that didn’t need to be fixed was the old ranch house. Emily did some remodeling in it, but nothing drastically changed. Jackson was proud of the work that she had done with the ranch, and so was Brian and Johnny. She had come a long way since the time when she first stepped foot on Pa’s ranch. Nobody could believe the work she had accomplished.
Jackson packed up his tools and the ladder and shoved everything in the bed of his truck. The old rusty truck that Pa owned broke down shortly after the old man was put into a nursing home. Brian purchased a red Ford, and then gave it to Jackson and Emily as a wedding present. It was now starting to rust and shake, but it still worked. Jackson climbed into the driver’s seat and turned it on. He put it into drive and drove it down the dirt road towards the house. The horses in the field ran next to it all the way, enjoying the race. He stopped the vehicle in front of the barn and unloaded all of his tools. He handed the ladder to a couple of the ranch helpers and then marched up to the house. He skipped up the porch steps and patted Joe on the head before going inside. Once he was inside, he took his cowboy hat off and hung it on the wall. He stomped off his boots – not wanting to take them off – and stepped into the living room. The sky blue walls complimented the sunlight that was shining through the windows. The fireplace mantle was lined with pictures of Emily’s family. Her parents and sister smiled down on her whenever she spent time in the living room. There were also pictures of Em’s and Jackson’s wedding. They got married in the small-town church, but then took their wedding pictures on the ranch. Jackson wore his cowboy hat and boots the whole time, but Emily just wore her boots. The bottom of her white dress was dirt stained by the time they were done taking pictures, but she claimed that that made it even more special. Jackson laughed at the memory as he took the stairs two at a time and walked on to the second floor.
“Em?” he called out as he walked down the hallway.
“In here,” the woman answered from their bedroom.
Jackson walked past what used to be the guest room; he and Emily had turned it into a nursery as soon as they found out they were pregnant. The man stood in the doorway and gazed into the room that contained so much hope for the future. They had decided to paint each wall a different color: green, red, yellow, and blue. In one corner sat a white crib with a mobile of horses. There were shelves of stuffed animals, family pictures, kid’s books, and toys. Next to the crib sat Pa’s old rocking chair with a knitted blanket draped across it. Everything about the room warmed Jackson’s heart and made his smile reach his ears.
“Jackson? Did you need something?” Emily called out.
The man tore himself away from the nursery and walked into their bedroom, which was Pa’s old room. Emily wanted to keep the original paint, even though it was a hideous off-pink, but they replaced most of the furniture. They decided to keep the bedside tables and the dresser, but everything else was put into storage. As Jackson stepped into the bedroom, he saw Em standing by the bed folding clothes. The first thing he looked at was her swollen belly. She was seven months pregnant, so her entire body had expanded to a size that scared Jackson. Her ankles and feet had swelled, so she had to wear flip-slops everywhere. And her hands had swelled, as well, so she had trouble picking up really small stuff. Even though it looked like she had swallowed a planet, Emily glowed with joy. Her curly strawberry blonde hair draped over her shoulders, and her gray eyes sparkled. Jackson thought she was simply beautiful.
Emily noticed Jackson was staring and looked up to meet his gaze. “What?” she smiled.
“You’re so beautiful,” the man proclaimed.
“Stop it!” Em laughed. “Stop it…” Her smiled was glued onto her face as she went back to folding the clothes. “What did you need?”
“It’s almost three, which means Pa will be here any minute,” Jackson stated. “I think we should head outside.”
Emily nodded in agreement and put aside the laundry she was working on. The woman wobbled out of the bedroom and into the hallway. Jackson watched his wife as she rubbed her swollen belly with one hand and gripped the railing with the other. Emily took the steps one at a time, and her husband followed behind her. Eventually, they both made it to the main floor safely. Emily staggered over to the door and slipped on her bright pink flip-flops. Jackson watched from a distance, knowing that if he interfered, Em would get irritated. He stayed back as she opened the screen door and stepped out onto the porch. Joe immediately woke up and walked over to his mistress. The dog was starting to get slower and older, but Emily savored every minute she had with him. She carefully bent down and kissed Joe on his head before walking down the porch steps. Jackson walked behind her and they both stepped onto the ground. Emily leaned against the porch and rubbed her stomach some more; Jackson looked at her with concern in his eyes.
“I’m fine,” Em reassured her husband.
Jackson was about to respond, but then they both saw a cloud of dust in the distance. A white van finally became visible, and it slowed down as it got closer to the ranch house. Emily pushed herself away from the porch and stood next to Jackson. He grabbed her hand as the van stopped in front of them. A nurse hopped out of the driver’s seat and opened the back of the van. She stretched out a ramp and then disappeared into the back of the vehicle. She then reappeared, carefully pushing a wheelchair down the ramp and onto the ground. There was an old man hunched over in the wheel chair. His white hair was disappearing, but his white mustache was very prominent above his lip. And his bushy eyebrows hung over his gray eyes, making him look sad all of the time. The nurse wheeled the old man over to Emily and Jackson and then stopped.
“Pa,” the nurse whispered into the old man’s ear. “Pa, this is Emily.”
The old man sat up a little and looked at the pregnant woman. “Emily, huh?” Pa grumbled. “I knew a girl…named Emily. You look just like her. Except…for the baby…of course,” Pa slightly chuckled. “When are you due?”
“Two months,” Emily responded with a smile.
“How lovely,” Pa remarked, his gray eyes sparkling just like Em’s.
“And this is Jackson,” the nurse introduced the man.
“It’s nice to meet you…Jackson,” the old man outstretched his hand. “I’m Ernie.”
Jackson gently shook Ernie’s frail hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, sir.”
“But you can both call me Pa,” the old man informed. “Everybody does. Not quite sure why, though…”
Pa suddenly trailed off and stared into the distance. Emily glanced at her husband, then the nurse, and then turned back to the old man in the wheel chair. “Pa?”
“How about we go inside and I make you some tea,” Em suggested kindly. “I have a very special yellow tea kettle that my grandpa left me. There’s quite a story behind it.”
“I would love some tea,” Pa smiled up at Em, making his cheeks wrinkle and his mustache wiggle. “Thank you.”
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