6 Months Later
Rosemary held her breath as the coach pulled into town and approached the stage, snow flying in the wake of wiry wheels. Would they have dared to come? As of their last correspondence all was well: They'd accepted the tickets she'd sent and would arrive on today's coach. They wouldn't back out now, would they? She craned her neck to peer into the stage coach, which was full up this time of year as many people were flowing in and out of Hope Valley for the holidays.
That's why she insisted on coming alone… just in case they'd changed their minds. She knew to raise Harriet's hopes just to have them come crashing down would be more than any of their fragile hearts could bear. But oh, if they truly did come for the promised visit, how her heart would sing. She clutched her fingers together inside her mink muff as a lady of fine means exited the coach, followed by a gentlemen much older. In her hurried state she didn't have time to nose into who the new visitors were. The only thing that was of import was if her own visitors had arrived. Next out of the coach came a man handsomely dressed in a full suit and vest, complete with bowtie. His brow was furrowed under the locks of dark brown hair, and dark circles adorned his eyes as if he came weighted with more than just physical luggage. His hand lagged behind as if holding onto something… a young towheaded boy barely five years of age exited the cab and looked with wide wondering eyes around the town. It was them!
Before she knew what was happening, she emitted a joyful shriek and made her way to the carriage. The gentleman's blue eyes, identical to her own, widened as she came close, a small smile gracing his lips. "Rosemary, is that you?"
She clapped her hands together. "Yes, heavens yes! And that must make you my half brother—Samuel!"
He nodded and shifted uncomfortably, all the while holding the boy's hand. Although she wanted to throw her arms around about them both, she instead approached them carefully, as if they could be somehow be spooked and retreat back into the coach where they would be taken back East. She reached her hand out to the small boy who was huddled behind his father. "And that must make you Liam."
The boy hid behind his father's leg, but not before she could see his blue eyes, an exact replica of his father's, looking at her in question.
"Liam, this is the lady I told you about. Your…" Samuel's voice caught, "your aunt Rosemary."
The boy kept his head down and Rosemary slowly lowered her hand. Why, he was her own nephew! And adorable as could be. "It is more than a pleasure to meet you, Liam, and… Samuel." She looked back up to the big brother she hadn't known she had until just recently.
Samuel's eyes briefly misted. "I cannot tell you how thankful I am that you reached out." He glanced at the shy boy by his side, "Liam, say hello."
Liam shook his head, but after several promptings, finally offered his hand to Rosemary.
She smiled when she realized his hand was sticky. Just as any boy of five year's hands should be. "I am so happy that you both came. It will be the best present Harriet has ever received. Let's get you checked in at the hotel and I'll share the plan with you. You see, this town is small, and word travels fast, so if we want to surprise her, it must be tonight."
With a twist of his wrist, Samuel put a light gray fedora over his thick dark hair. "So soon?" He accepted the suede travel bag from the coach driver and flipped him a coin all with a charming smile adorning his face.
Rosemary nodded. "I do realize it makes for a big day for the both of you. You'll have just enough time to rest and freshen up before meeting us for the big reveal this evening."
Samuel clicked his tongue. "I never could imagine all this would happen this Christmas Eve… it's just astounding. You are sure Harriet will be pleased to see us? At our last meeting we had words… nasty words, and haven't spoke since."
"Now I don't claim to know everything, but I have a feeling all will be just fine. Harriet seems to have turned over a new leaf since entering Hope Valley. This town has a way of doing that."
Samuel looked around the town and as he did so, she again observed the dark circles under his eyes. Perhaps they could convince him to stay too. God only knew what world-worn fatigue he was carrying with him.
"I do say it has a certain small town charm to it," Samuel said, his lips curving in a small smile. "Much different than out East."
"We sure appreciate you traveling all the way out here. I know we do not know much of each other, but I hope you know I am not content to leave it that way." She smiled up at him.
"I gathered that much from your letters. I do have to say it was comforting to read your correspondence these last few months. I know Liam has always wished for cousins."
Liam lifted his head and smiled, this time sweet dimples accompanied the gesture.
"I hope you are ready for the attention of not just one doting cousin, but two," she said, holding up two fingers and smiling at the boy. "They are not quite as grown as you but my, how they will enjoy a child nearby this next week."
She took hold of Liam's free hand, "Let's get you both settled."
After a thirty-minute procedure of getting her half brother and nephew checked into the hotel, Samuel and Liam sat down to bowlfuls of chili and her with her tea, as she shared her idea for introducing them to Harriet. Of course any performance she'd directed included plenty of song, and my, she had the perfect plan. But after describing Liam's singing part, Samuel's eyes had grown solemn. "I don't know quite how to say this tactfully, so I will just say it," Samuel raked his hand through his hair, "The boy does not speak." His jaw twitched.
She gasped and looked over the little angel who was busy crunching crackers to put in his chili. "Why not?" She had heard of such things but usually it was due to a vocal cord deformity or in some severe cases, as a response to severe trauma.
Samuel placed his hand on Liam's shoulder and gave him the warmest smile she'd seen yet. "Let's just say, we are working through things. Right, buddy? We've got each other."
Liam sat silently, his crackers and chili suddenly forgotten.
She waited for Samuel to expound on the fact, but instead, he sat upright. "So, when do you expect us tonight?"
Rosemary shifted her eyes from the little boy. "Oh, um… 6:20 p.m. Precisely."
Not long after, they had stood to leave and she parted with a hug for each of them. During her whole solitary walk back to the house questions plagued her mind. Why didn't the precious boy speak? What was the larger story? Had he endured some type of accident or trauma of some sort? Her heart broke in two not only for her nephew but also for the man who was his father. Something was not right. As tempting as it was for her to nose right into it, for now, she'd do all she could to play the part of the understanding and supportive aunt and sister. But there just had to be a way she could help.
Now, at the Coulter home, she stomped the snow from her feet at the door and hung up her coat. The coziness of the candlelit room surrounded her, the form of her dear husband relaxed in slumber on the settee, both babies asleep under his arms. She tip-toed closer and placed a kiss on his cheek. He immediately opened his eyes and looked at the clock. "We were just taking a little afternoon nap. I guess time got away from us. Is all going as planned?" He gave her a hopeful look.
She smiled back. "All according to plan. They will arrive at twenty past six. Just enough time for the performance and the reveal."
"And you think it will proceed without a hitch?"
She nodded. "This is the time of year known for miracles. I am just giving this one a bit of… assistance."
"That's my Rosie." Lee smiled and placed a light kiss on her cheek. "Why don't you get refreshed before our guests arrive? I've got it all under control here," he motioned to the babies.
She nodded. "I daresay you are quite capable, Leland Coulter. I will be back down shortly."
Fifteen minutes later, Rosemary came down the stairs in her Christmas Eve outfit, her hair freshly spun into a curly updo, and her evergreen frock shimmering with sparkles. Just as she stepped on the landing, a knock came at the door. With Lee upstairs tending to Micah, she crossed the room and swept open the door, a beaming Harriet and blushing Bill stood there on the welcome mat. "Oh, the newlyweds! Do, come in!"
Bill and Harriet proceeded to stamp their feet on the welcome rug. Bill, with a large box in hand, went to the table to set down what looked to be a fully cooked turkey, a variety of sides, as well as several wrapped presents. Just as quickly, he went back to Harriet and assisted her in the removing of her overcoat, pausing to nuzzle his face into Harriet's ringlets as he whispered something only her ears could hear. She giggled and pushed him away. "That's reserved for our house, silly."
Rosemary lifted an eyebrow. She was still not used to the public display of affection between the two but was glad her mother has found her match.
Hillary blushed and addressed her. "Bill insists on carrying me over every household threshold we pass. I've tried to insist that it only applies at our residence but he doesn't seem to want to listen."
"Can you blame me? I will take any chance I can to get my hands on my wife." Bill smiled unabashedly as Lee walked down the stairs, Micah Patrick in his arms. The baby boy waved a chubby hand at Bill in greeting.
"Awe, did you see that?" Bill laughed as he waved back to Micah.
"His first wave," Lee beamed at his boy.
Rosemary approached Micah. "You are such a big boy! A big big, boy!" She said in her mushy baby voice. She hadn't known that she had a voice like that until the babies had arrived. But truly, the first wave was a reason for celebration. They had been working on a 'hello wave' for simply months.
From across the room, Madeline banged the edge of the small crib with a small toy. "I think someone else wants to say hello," Rosemary said, scooping the little angel into her arms and bringing her to towards the couple. Harriet crooned out a hello and played with Madeline's balled up fists.
Bill leaned forward. "How is Princess Madeline this evening?" His voice was soft and so unlike the usual gruffness he displayed. The babies knew exactly how to turn his tough demeanor into mush as did his new wife. He was practically unrecognizable to those who had known him before.
Rosemary smiled. "Now, we have a show, of sorts, to put on for the two of you. Presented by yours truly." She swept a hand towards her little family.
"Please have a seat." Lee motioned to the settee and Harriet seated herself.
"What is this?" Bill grunted as Lee passed.
Lee cleared his throat. "Please, just go along with it. Rosie's been working on this ever since—" he let the words hang, "well… for a long time."
Bill nodded as he sat down on the settee and draped an arm over his new wife.
Happy with the arrangement, Rosemary shifted Madeline on her hip, took Micah from Lee's arms, and went behind the make shift curtain they had put together. Princess Madeline had an important part to play. So did Micah, and so did… well, one other little player. But they would get to that, soon. She only hoped that Harriet would be pleased and not too shocked. It wasn't her wish to cause her mother grief, but judging from Harriet's recent openness and lightness of heart, things would go along just fine.
Lee stood in front of the curtain. "Welcome to the show", he said and then went to wind the victrola before lifting the curtain to reveal the display underneath. Thanks to Elizabeth and Jack's artistry, a beautiful background Hope Valley, the mountain range behind, and wild flowers graced the sheet on the back wall. In front of the display was the two babies, in their prams.
Rosemary cleared her throat. "We have come up with a song for you, Harriet, dearest grandmother," the soft strains of the victrola sounded in the background, "And you too Bill, as you have joined the family and are officially Pop-Pop."
Bill smiled at the endearment.
"But first," Rosemary cast a look at the clock which read 6:20 on the dot, "we would like to invite some other key players to help us with our performance."
Harriet looked around the room. "But I thought it was just the four of you."
Rosemary put a hand to chest, in effort to still her racing heart. "We aren't the only ones who call you grandmother you know."
Harriet looked confused, then a look of astonishment crossed her face. "No, you can't mean…" she put a hand to her mouth.
"Let me reacquaint you with two very dear people." She lifted her voice toward the direction of the front door. "You may come in now."
All was quiet, the room full of anticipation.
Too quiet. Did Samuel and Liam back out of their plan after all?
She moved from her post by the curtain just as the door scraped open. The attention of everyone in the room shot to the door where the young Liam, dressed handsomely in a suit, held a cluster of dried lavender. Samuel stood behind him, his gray fedora casting a shadow on his face, concealing the emotions there.
Harriet gasped and tears came to her eyes. "Saints alive… Samuel is that you?"
Harriet stood up, and Bill stood up with her, his hand on the small of her back.
The room waited in anticipation, but then slowly Samuel urged Liam forward and they walked to the middle of the room. Immediately Harriet reached out for her son, but then paused as if wondering is he'd allow it.
"I…" Harriet clasped and unclasped her hands, "I don't deserve you coming here. Surprising me. Bringing my grandson. I… I have been horrid towards you. I thought you'd never speak to me again."
Samuel removed his hat and cleared his throat. His stormy blue eyes clouded, and the circles under his eyes seemed to darken a shade. Just as suddenly as the emotions whisked across his face they were gone. He set his jaw and put his hand on Liam's shoulder.
"I'd like to officially introduce you to my son, Liam." With a shaking hand, Samuel pulled Liam closer.
"Oh, Liam, my dear!" Harriet touched the soft cheek of the young boy in front of her as he extended the dried lavender bouquet he carried with a little smile.
"He was wondering," Samuel nodded towards Liam and cleared his throat, "If it's okay to call you grandmother?"
The boy stood by silently, but the hope was evident in his eyes. Almost as if he were pleading for a chance to belong.
Harriet reached out for the boy, her eyes roaming over his face, tears spilling from her eyes. "I would like nothing better."
Harriet looked around, almost as if she were afraid to speak, as if the miracle of the moment would evaporate into thin air. "What a surprise. I had no idea that tonight—" Harriet stopped, a sob in her throat.
Samuel's solemn face softened, the guarded eyes now just looking resigned and weary. "It was all Rosemary's idea. She reached out to us months ago. She said I wouldn't regret giving you a second chance. That family is family regardless of what has gone on in the past. I…" he ran his hand through his dark locks, "I am willing to give it a shot. I'd like to know you. And Liam would like to know you as grandmother. Would you allow us that convenience?"
Harriet exhaled in unbelief. "Allow you? I would beg you! Please, please dearest son, give me another chance. I… I want to make up to you for all the times I failed you. For all the years we have lost. Would you give me a second chance?"
Samuel nodded and the room relaxed as they shared a hug. Liam reached around to embrace them both.
After a moment, Rosemary motioned to Liam. "Come now! It is time to present the song we have prepared for grandmother." She motioned to the babies in the prams, who weren't quite ready for song instruction, yet she would sing their part.
The boy walked to his spot on the makeshift stage, and proceeded to stand in front of the babies, his smile beaming. He extended his hand to each of the babies' little balled up fists in a silent hello. Madeline gurgled and Micah coughed.
"That's their way of saying hello." Lee said. "And I am Uncle Lee."
The boy looked up at him through his lashes and nodded slightly.
"I hope you like presents because there is a whole passel of them for you under there," Lee said motioning to the brightly lit Christmas tree.
The boys eyes went wide as he looked at the packages under the tree.
Rosemary came close. "We have wanted to know you for so long. You are our family."
"And family belongs together," Lee said from his spot near the babies.
Harriet's eyes shone with tears. Bill blew his nose into a handkerchief.
"Places please," Rosemary said and Samuel proceeded to the stage next to his son. "This is a gift for Grandmother and for our new Pop-Pop, too."
Rosemary nodded to Lee as he cranked the victrola anew and the three of them— Samuel, Lee, and Rosemary— sang together while Liam and the babies each twirled a ribbon in the air:
"Let me call you grandmother
I've waited for you
Let me hear you whisper
That you love me too
Keep the kind light glowing
In your eyes so true
Let me call you grandmother
I'm in love with you."
Harriet smiled and clapped her hands as the song concluded. She approached the babies in the prams and gave them kisses on the cheek as they gurgled and smiled contently. She next hugged Liam and placed a kiss on his cheek then approached Samuel and put her hand on his cheek. "I believe there is enough love in this room to right all wrongs, do you?"
Samuel dipped his chin, one long dark lock flopping against his forehead. "I believe there is more than enough to bring us through."
Harriet continued to converse with the son she had missed so dearly, soft murmurs escaping her lips and tears trailing down her face.
Rosemary sighed and turned towards Lee. He lifted his arms out to her and she accepted the hug, melting into his side as they continued to look on at the miracle that had taken place in their presence tonight. God had taken all that had been shattered, isolated and buried in fear and was in the process of restoring it… piece by piece.
And that was what Christmas was all about… the Prince of Peace coming to pave the way for reconciliation. She had a feeling what they witnessed tonight was the beginning of a very much larger story.