Elizabeth stood in the middle of the street, unsure of how to react. "Why didn't Lucas tell me that his mother, and my editor for that matter, was stopping in Hope Valley for a visit? Elizabeth thought to herself. Surely, he must have known about her coming here when we spoke earlier this afternoon, why didn't he mention it?" Elizabeth wondered.
Elizabeth Thornton took her writing very seriously and moreover very personally. So when Helen Bouchard practically insinuated that Elizabeth had a lackadaisical attitude toward getting her book published it upset her, to say the least. For a brief moment, Elizabeth seriously considered canceling her date with Nathan. However the more she thought about it, the more she realized how much she needed to go. She wasn't going to let Helen Bouchard's snaky comment ruin her evening out.
"Are you ready?" Nathan directed toward Elizabeth.
Elizabeth paused for a moment before responding "Ready." Elizabeth said with a slight tone of uncertainty. "Come on, Jack." Elizabeth said to her son, continuing to grip his hand tightly.
Elizabeth and Allie both held Jack's hands for the rest of the way to the cafe. However, when they came upon the front steps, Elizabeth passed to lift Jack up onto her hip as the yang boy was still a little clumsy when it came to climbing stairs.
"Ladies first." Nathan said as held the door open for Allie and Elizabeth.
"Thank you." They replied, simultaneously.
Setting foot into the cafe, Elizabeth was instantly greeted by the pleasant aroma of freshly baked bread and pies wafting in the air. Next to Abigail, Clara made the best baked goods that Elizabeth has ever had the pleasure to try.
"Mmm," Allie happily sighed, "I am definitely going to get some of that."
"Sit wherever you'd like," Clara said looking slightly flustered, "I will be with you in just a moment."
"We're in no hurry." Nathan assured.
Placing his hand gently and habitually on Elizabeth's back, Nathan motioned Allie and Elizabeth toward the empty table in the back corner, near the woodstove.
"Oh," Elizabeth paused, "Jack will need a highchair."
"I'll go grab it. You girls sit down."
Nathan walked back through the open curtains and into the kitchen where he saw Bill standing at the stove dressed a full-length apron.
"Looking good, Bill." Nathan quipped.
"Nathan, what are you doing back here?"
"I'm looking for a highchair."
"Isn't Allie a little too old for a high chair?" The older man teased back.
"Well, it not for her, it's for…it's for Jack."
"Oh, I see." Bill couldn't help but smile. "In that case, there is one right over there, beside the cabinet."
As Nathan was walking back out into the main room, he nearly bumped into Clara who was coming through carrying a large stack of dirty dishes.
"Whoah," Nathan exclaimed while backing up to let Clara through, "I am so sorry."
"That's okay." Clara expressed with a deep breath. "Bill, another order of pot roast, and one order of chicken and dumplings."
"On it." Bill answered.
Nathan proceeded back over to the table where Elizabeth, with Jack on her lap, and Allie were sitting.
"Here we are." Nathan said as he slid the highchair up to the table before sitting down himself.
"I'm getting the pot roast." Allie declared. "Uncle Nathan is a good cook, but his post-roast, Allie said with a wry expression, it's a tad dry."
"What? I thought you liked my pot roast."
"Well…" Allie teased, causing Elizabeth to laugh.
"I am so sorry for the wait." An apologetic Clara said as she approached the table, handing them their menus. "Could I start you off with some drinks?"
"May I please have a lemonade?" Allie politely asked.
"You certainly may. And for you Elizabeth?"
"I will have a lemonade as well, and Jack will have a small glass of milk."
"Two lemonade, a glass of milk, and…"
"Make that three lemonades." Nathan interjected.
"Coming right up." Clara said as she placed her pad and pencil back into her apron pocket.
"So Mrs. Thornton, what are you going to get?"
"I'm not sure. I can't decide between the oven-roasted chicken or the meatloaf. What are you getting Nathan?"
"Here we are, Clara said as she neared the table carrying a graying of drinks. Your lemonades…
"Thank you." Nathan, Allie, and Elizabeth replied.
"…And and here is your milk." She said with a smile.
"What do we say, Jack? Can you say thank you?"
"Thank you." Jack said, slurring his words together.
"You are so very welcome." Clara leaned down to say.
"Now," she remarked while standing up and taking out her pad and pencil, "are we ready to order or do you need a few more minutes to decide?"
"I think that we are ready, Elizabeth?"
"What you like?"
"I am going to have the oven-roasted chicken with a side of steamed vegetables. For Jack, he will have the chicken and dumplings."
"I would like the post-roast special."
"Great choice." Clara remarked as she scribbled down the order. "And for you, Nathan?"
"What do you recommend, the oven-roasted chicken or the vegetable soup?"
"Hmm," Clara paused to think, "I really like the chicken. Bill seasons it with smoked paprika, it is delicious. Also, it is served with green beans, mashed potatoes, and a freshly baked roll."
"That sounds wonderful, I'll have that."
"Great." She replied while taking the menus from the table. "We'll get working on your order right away."
"I am so glad that you were able to join us for dinner, Mrs. Thornton." Allie stated happily.
"We are too, right Jack?" Replied Elizabeth as she turned toward her son who was sitting quietly beside her.
"Has he been talking much?" Allie asked
"A few words here and there. He's more of an observer though. He likes to sit quietly and watch."
"Kinda like Uncle Nathan." Allie grinned.
"Uh, Allie…" Nathan stammered.
"I think that you're right, Allie." Elizabeth said firmly as she happily glanced toward Nathan.
"Is Jack more like you or his dad?" My uncle Nathan says that I'm a lot like my mom and my Grandpa said that I looked just like she did when she was my age."
"I am sure that you and your mother are very similar. I didn't have the pleasure to know her, but from what your Uncle has told me about her, I know she must have been a wonderful person. I'm sure that I would have liked her very much. I like you don't I?" Elizabeth said with a sincere grin.
"My Grandpa told me that she used to keep a journal to write down her thoughts and feelings in, just like you suggested I do."
"How is that going?"
"So, so." Allie shrugged. "Somedays I can hardly think of anything to write, and then other days it seems like I have more thoughts than I have paper."
"I'm like that too. Elizabeth assured. Sometimes things happen and you have all these thoughts and feelings and you just can't help but write them all down."
As Elizabeth told this to Allie, she could help but think how much writing she would be doing tonight. She hadn't anticipated this, but she was feeling happier and at ease, than she had in quite a while, and Elizabeth knew it was because of the company.
While waiting for their food, Nathan noticed Elizabeth's eyes widening as Clara walked by the table carrying a plate of her homemade blueberry cobbler topped with a single scoop of the creamed vanilla ice cream.
"Excuse me for a moment."
Nathan slid his chair out from beneath the table, causing a slight screech as the chair scraped across the wooden planks of the cafe floor, and walked over to Clara who was heading back toward the kitchen.
"Clara." Nathan called out quietly.
"Yes?" Turning abound as she replied.
"Is it possible to hold two slices of cobbler aside for later? One strawberry rhubarb and one blueberry."
Clara briefly glanced over at Elizabeth before responding, "Of course." She smiled.
Nathan casually walked back to the table and sat down in his seat beside Allie.
"Uncle Nathan, Allie justly remarked, Mrs. Thornton was just about to tell me about the time that she accidentally burned down the teacherage."
"Oh really?" Nathan said playfully as he looked at Elizabeth.
"Yes as a matter of fact was." Replied Elizabeth who felt her cheeks turn a bright shade of pink.
"Well, by all means, please continue." He said, unable to hide his emerging smile.
"I will." She retorted.
Elizabeth told Nathan and Allie of the time she had unintentionally set fire to the town teacherage. It was her first night in Hope Valley, and Elizabeth's dress has gotten soaking wet from being outside too long in a thunderstorm so she was forced to remove it, placing it near the stove to dry. Unfortunately, it somehow must have gotten too close to the flames because before she knew it, her dress had caught on fire. Elizabeth rushed out the door toward the well, but by the time she came back with a bucket full of water, the old, dilapidated building was completely consumed by the blaze.
"I had never been so humiliated," Elizabeth admitted, "but Abigail was so gracious and kind to me. She offered up her spare room, and her clothes until I could send for some of my own. It didn't take long after that for us to become the best of friends."
"She sounds like a wonderful person." Nathan stated.
"You would like her, and she, you. Hopefully, when she comes back to visit soon you will be able to meet her and her son Cody. He's about your age, Allie."
"The other kids have told me about him, he sounds nice."
"Nice." Nathan mumbled, his jaw clenching.
Though Allie didn't understand what her Uncle meant, Elizabeth had a hunch. Allie was growing up, and beginning to notice boys which made Nathan uncomfortable to sat the least. She saw it in his face every time Robert and Allie would walk home from school together. It was a simple, innocent crush, but that didn't matter when it came to fathers. Elizabeth knew this all too well.
Partway through the meal, Jack started to become a little unsettled and fussy. When Elizabeth began to stand up to take him outside, Allie immediately got up from her chair and offered to do it herself.
"May I take him?"
"Are you sure?"
"Mmhm," Allie said eagerly.
"Thank you, Allie."
"No problem, come on Jack." Allie said as she reached down and grabbed the little boy's hand, leading him out the door.
"She's so good with him." Elizabeth complimented.
"Yeah," Nathan grinned, "she is."
"Nathan,' Elizabeth said in a serious manner, "do you…". Elizabeth looked down in hesitation, unsure if she should continue.
Nathan immediately noticing Elizabeth's concern, reached over and placed his hand upon her's. "Lizabeth, I want you to know that you can tell me anything, but please don't feel like having to."
Nathan's words brought Elizabeth much comfort. She knew that Nathan would never force her to do anything she wasn't ready for. He was patient and thoughtful. "It's just that, do you ever think of what we could be like together as," Elizabeth breathed deeply, "as a family?"
"All the time." Nathan boldly answered. "Lizabeth, I know that I haven't always been the most forthright with my feelings for you. Partly because I was unsure if you could ever feel the same. However, things have changed, I've changed. "Lizabeth, Nathan sighed, I care about you and Jack very much, and I know Allie feels the same. When I came home tonight to tell her about dinner, Nathan laughed, she practically leaped off the sofa to get ready."
"Nathan," Elizabeth said as she looked affectionately into Nathan's deep, blue eyes, "you and Allie mean a lot to me too, and I do want to see where this goes and what it could mean for us."
"I want that too."
"I will need for us to take things slowly."
"I understand. I don't want to make you do anything that you're uncomfortable with or you're not ready for."
"Thank you, that means a lot to me. More than I can possibly say."
"Elizabeth we'll take it one day at a time, step by step."
If Elizabeth were completely honest with herself, she was terrified. Frighten by the uncharted waters ahead of her. However, Elizabeth also she knew that couldn't let fear control her life. She couldn't live a life of what-ifs, that would only be denying herself, Nathan Allie, or Jack the chance at great happiness. though she more than a little hesitant, Elizabeth believed with all of her heart, that love was worth fighting for.
A few moments later, Allie came through the door with Jack sitting comfortably and happily upon the young girl's hip.
"He got tired of walking." Allie told Elizabeth and Nathan as she placed Jack back into his highchair.
"Where did you guys go?" Elizabeth asked.
"We just walked back and forth on the porch a few times until Jack here got tuckered out."
"Thank you for doing that, Allie. I really appreciate it." Elizabeth said warmly.
"I didn't mind at all. I enjoyed it. I've always wanted a little brother."
"Well, Elizabeth began to say, as she felt her cheeks turn a bright shade of pink again, I can tell that he is quite fond of you."
"I like you too, Jack." Allie winked
"Well, how was everything?" Clara asked while clearing the table of the dirty dishes.
"Delicious." The group replied altogether.
"I am so glad to hear it. I'm just going to take these plates back to the kitchen then I will be right back out with you blueberry cobblers."
"Wait, Clara! We didn't order cob….did you do this?" Elizabeth asked as she turned to look at Nathan.
"Do what?" He replied with a boyish grin.
"How did you know that blueberry cobbler is my favorite dessert?" Elizabeth beamed.
"Is it? Huh, what a coincidence." Nathan said in a nonchalant manner.
Elizabeth didn't know what to say. She was at a complete loss for words. Though there was a part of Elizabeth that was truly flattered by the grand, romantic gestures and attention from Lucas, in all their time together, she never felt the way that Nathan made her feel right now-cherished. Nathan listened to her, really listened to what she had to say and he paid attention to the small details about her, like her appreciation for Ralph Waldo Emerson or her favorite dessert.
Clara came by a few moments later, carrying a plate of the most delectable-looking blueberry cobbler and a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie. As she set them down on the table, Elizabeth didn't hesitate in taking a bite. "Mmm, she said, her had her covering her mouth, this is so good. How is yours?"
"Really good." Allie exclaimed. "I've never had rhubarb before, but I like to try everything at least once. If you never try anything new, then you'll never know what you're missing out on." She said before taking another bite.
"If only life were simple." Elizabeth thought to herself.
Elizabeth wanted to open herself up to love again, but the thought of that frightened her in more ways than one. Elizabeth never imagined sharing her life with anyone else but Jack. He was her first love and for the longest time, she thought he would be her only. Then she met Nathan, who before she knew it, had made his way into her heart. He made her feel special and cared for. He was kind, honest, and selfless. He challenged her to be a better person, made her rethink things she thought that she already had settled in her mind. But, he was a Mountie. A life with him would be brought with continual fear and worry. Elizabeth knew she couldn't handle the pain of losing Nathan the way she had lost…
"Look at Jack!" Allie laughed, interrupting Elizabeth's reverie.
Elizabeth looked across the table at Allie who was pointing at the little boy who had blueberry filling all over his face and on the front of his overalls.
"What happened, big guy." Nathan said as he looked upon the blueberry stained boy.
"Oh my goodness, Elizabeth exclaimed, "look at you! Let's get you cleaned up. Umm, does anyone have a napkin I can use? I've seemed to have misplaced mine." She said while searching the table as well as the floor for the navy blue cloth.
"Here," Nathan said as he handed his napkin to Elizabeth, "use mine."
"Thanks." Elizabeth said gratefully.
Elizabeth twisted the end of the napkin and dipped it into her water glass. She then gently wiped Jack's cobbler-stained face and lightly dabbed his overalls. "Well, Elizabeth sighed, I supposed that's as good as it is going to get until we get you in a nice, warm bath. With lots of soap." She laughed.
"If you're ready, I'll go pay the tab then we can go."
"I'm in no hurry, whenever." She smiled.
"Be right back." Nathan stood up and tucked in his chair before walking over to the front counter.
Elizabeth lifted Jack out of his highchair and put him down on the floor while holding his hand as he often had the tendency to wander off when she wasn't looking.
"Are you ready to go?" Nathan asked Elizabeth and Allie has he folded his wallet and placed it back in his pocket.
"I'm ready, Allie?"
"Mhmm." The young girl nodded.
"Okay then, after you."
"Have a good night!" Clara bade.
"Thank you, you too." Nathan said with a wave goodbye.
As the door shut behind them, Elizabeth, Jack Allie, and Nathan stepped onto the boardwalk and began to head for home. As they rounded the corner near the row houses, Little Jack paused in the middle of the road and gurgled the words, "Up."
"Up?" Nathan said back while looking down at the little boy. "Up we go then!"
Nathan put his hands beneath Jack's arms and with little effort, lifted him over his head onto his shoulders.
Elizabeth smiled and laughed. "I'm guessing that you've docent his before."
"Well, I'm not the world's greatest uncle without reason."
"World's greatest, huh?" Elizabeth said sarcastically.
"That's what it says on my birthday card."
"I used to love to sit up on Uncle Nathan's shoulders," Allie said with a smile, clearing remembering some fond times of just her and her Uncle Nathan, "I used to pretend I was on top of a high mountain peak, or a tall tree deep with the forest."
Nathan smiled a bittersweet smile as he remembered the days when Allie was just a little girl, no bigger than Jack. Some of his fondest memories are of him and his best girl, whether it was teaching her how to bait a hook, or how to swim by throwing her into the lake near his parent's farm, or singing her to sleep when she was afraid of the dark.
Nathan sighed as he looked at the girl walking beside him. He could hardly believe how much she had grown since first coming to live with him. She was just four years old then, now she was nearly thirteen. Raising a young girl on his own certainly had its challenges, but looking back, Nathan knew wouldn't change his life with all for anything in the world, She was his little girl, no matter how much she grew, she would always be his little girl.
Shortly thereafter, the family came to the row of blue and white houses that they called home.
"Home." Jack pointed as they neared Elizabeth's row house.
"That's right Jack, we're home."
"Here you go, Nathan said to Jack as he lifted him down from off his shoulders and onto the steps of Elizabeth's fort porch.
"I had a wonderful time tonight," Elizabeth was the first to say.
"Us too." Nathan said, and Allie nodded.
"Uncle Nathan and I are going fishing tomorrow after church. You could come if you'd like." Allie blurted, her eyes were hopeful.
"We would like that very much," Elizabeth said as she looked down at Jack who was smiling up at Nathan, "but we couldn't possibly intrude on your special outing."
"You wouldn't be intruding. Right, Uncle Nathan?"
"We would love it if you both could join us." Nathan promptly answered gleam in his eye, a smile across his face.
"Well then, Elizabeth swayed, we accept."
"Great!" Allie excitedly exclaimed.
"We usually come after church first, so we can change out of our dress clothes, so about Allie and I meet you at your house at around noon?"
"Alright then, see you tomorrow. Goodnight Lizabeth, big guy."
"Night." Elizabeth wasted before trying around to go inside. "Come on, Jack it is time for you to have a bath."
Elizabeth walked inside and set Jack down on his blanket while she prepared for his bath. She first fetched the kettle and filled it full of water before placing it on the heated stove. Then she grabbed her apron from its usual place on the hook by the back door, and slung it over her head, tying it loosely but securely.
When the kettle began to whistle, Elizabeth removed it from the stovetop and poured the hot, steaming water into the washtub.
Elizabeth rolled up her sleeves, then dipped her elbow into the water to check its temperature. "Are you ready for your bath?" Elizabeth asked Jack while standing in the kitchen.
Elizabeth stepped over into the living room, picked up Jack before removing his blueberry-stained overalls and placing them into the full laundry basket. "Looks like I will doing laundry Monday afternoon." Elizabeth sighed.
As Elizabeth slowly and carefully set Jack down in the tepid water, the young boy giggled in delight. "Does that feel good?" Elizabeth asked her young son who was grinning from ear to ear.
Elizabeth took the bar of ivory soap from the shelf above the sink and lathered it in her hand before gently rubbing it onto his skin. Elizabeth then took a pitcher of the remaining clean water and slowly poured it over Jack, being careful not to get any soap in his cornflower-blue eyes as she rinsed off all the suds.
"You were such a good boy." Elizabeth beamed as she lifted Jack out of the tub, wrapping him a soft, warm towel.
After patting Jack dry, and putting on a clean diaper, Elizabeth dressed Jack in his nightie. She then carried him upstairs to the nursery and set him in his crib, covering him with his blanket and handing him his teddy bear.
"Goodnight my sweet boy." Elizabeth whispered while leaning down and kissing him on the top of his head.
Elizabeth tip-toed softly out the door, closing it quietly behind her. She then changed into her nightgown and robe before making her way into the kitchen for some tea. When the chamomile had steeped for serval minutes, Elizabeth, with her teacup in hand, walked over to her desk and sat down. Pulling the desk drawer open, Elizabeth took out her red, leather journal and began to write.
"Knock, knock." Nathan said as he gently tapped on Allie's bedroom door, before entering. "Are you bout' ready for bed?"
"Mhmm," the girl replied as she looked up from her book, "just finishing this chapter."
"Okay, but don't stay up too late. We have church in the morning."
"I won't." She said with a slight eye roll.
"Hey, you are never too old for a bedtime."
"Uncle Nathan, I'm thirteen. Before you know it, I'll be grown up and moving out." She teased
"Don't grow up too fast."
"You don't have to worry, Uncle Nathan, I will always want to be your little girl."
"Even after you grow up and move away?"
"Even then. If that's okay with you."
"I wouldn't have it any other way." He said, leaning forward for a hug. "Night, kiddo."
"Good night...I love you."
"I love you too."
"Love you more."
"Not possible." Nathan replied wholeheartedly before closing the door behind him.
Though Nathan was unsure if his relationship with Elizabeth would work out the way he hoped, tonight was certainly a step in the right direction.
Authors Note: I hope you enjoyed this story! With the less-than-stellar episodes on Sunday, in my completely unbiased opinion, I was inspired to write something a bit more positive Also, I am just starting to write for public view, so I appreciate any constructive criticism that you readers can offer. Once again, thank you so very much for taking the time to read my little stories, and for all the reviews. It means more than I can say!
PC: ET online