Katie glanced towards the clock on the mantle, realizing that it was still very early. Despite its crumpled state on the bed, her mother's wedding dress still shimmered from the light of the window, seeming to grow more brilliant as the day wore on. She knew it was just her mind playing tricks on her, but it still made her smile. She would be the third woman to wear this dress. It was full of happy memories, those of which she couldn't remember. She had been far too young to remember much from Colleen's wedding, yet she clearly remembered the way her sister had almost glowed as she walked down the aisle. The rest of her memories were distant and gray, but that one remained.
His footsteps echoed up the stairwell, down the hall and into the bedroom, before he finally appeared with a tray carrying two cups of steaming coffee and a steeping kettle.
"I figured this was gonna take awhile. I made a full pot." Katie accepted a cup gratefully, noticing that he had already put in the right amount of sugar for her. Three and a half lumps. He knew her too well sometimes, she thought. "You're just lucky my ma taught me the right way to make coffee."
"You're lucky she was able to teach you anything at all. You always were a stubborn boy."
"I was stubborn?" he asked with a laugh. "Come on, Kathy. I remember you refusin' to wear a party dress on your fifth birthday, 'cause ya wanted to go fishin' instead. Your ma had to fight ya tooth and nail to put it on." Katie took a sip of coffee and placed it back down on the tray between them. "Sure hate to see the struggle you're gonna put up when they try to get ya into that thing." He pointed at the dress, and Katie rolled her eyes.
"I think my weddin' day is a little more important than my fifth birthday party, Elijah," she said quietly, not noticing the way he stared into his coffee cup as she said those words.
"I think it's your turn." Katie looked down at the two opened letters that she had carefully placed aside. The fear of not knowing what she was about to read made her hand tremble, and Elijah noticed. "Maybe we should stop here."
"No. These letters were written for a purpose."
"To be read by you?" Katie sighed and gently opened the third letter.
"Be adventurous, Elijah."
"You're forgettin' that your little adventures usually get me into trouble." She was about to say something smart, but he pointed to the envelope. "Just get on with it, Kathy."
"Don't rush me."
"I ain't rushin'," he replied, seeing the fire in her eyes. "I just want ya to hurry up, so we don't get caught." Katie finally pulled the letter from the envelope and unfolded it. Her eyes adjusted to her mother's careful, deliberate handwriting and cleared her throat.
"Sully," she began, the name catching in her throat. "I faced my mortality in more ways than one. Not only did my life flash before my eyes, when I was trapped by the bear at Luke Silver's house, but also when Mr. McCall left his son in my care. I had never thought I would have children, and taking in Charlotte's was quite a learning experience. But when this helpless infant needed me, I quickly fell in love with the idea of having him in our family. I didn't think his father wanted him. Nobody else would take him, and the only options were to give him to a family who wanted him for work or to send him to an orphanage. I couldn't let that happen. I couldn't let a little boy who was beginning to feel like a part of the family, be sent away." Katie smiled a little. It was so very much like her mother to want to help out, no matter what other struggles she was faced with.
"I think your ma told us this story before," Elijah said quietly. Katie nodded.
"In some ways, he reminded me of you. I know it sounds silly. He was left without his family. He needed someone to love and to love him back. He needed family. Sully, when I saw you with Brian, I saw the father in you. I imagined the way you would have been with Hanna. I could see the shine in your eyes, when you looked at Mr. McCall's son. I knew the kind of man you were, when you offered to take him in on your own." Katie's eyes scanned over the words again. She wondered how life would have turned out differently had her mother kept the child. She noticed how her mother kept going back to Sully's life before she came along. "Honestly, I could have seen myself taking in this child, despite the fact that it would have considerably limited my time with patients…the few I have. I knew he needed a family who could be there for him all of the time, and I felt a little guilty, because my mind was on expanding my practice, while I was trying to find him a good home." The room grew chilly again, and Elijah added a few pieces of kindling to the fire.
"Is that all?" Katie shook her head.
"When we were trapped together at Mr. Silver's, I wasn't sure I would ever see my family again. I was there with you, and that was a comfort, but I honestly thought for a little while, that we were going to die there. But, you kept me calm. We worked together very well, and we survived. Seeing my life flash before my eyes for two very different reasons was an experience like no other I had ever gone through. But, I see so much in you that I've never seen before. I feel closer to you. I know that giving that child back to Mr. McCall was nothing like the pain you went through losing your Hanna, but I had grown to love that boy. I had to let myself trust that he was in good hands. Then I looked at you, and I knew you knew it was right. I trust you, Sully. I hope you know that. I hope you find your family." She placed the paper down and looked across at Elijah.
"It's strange to read this. For all of my life, my ma and pa have been….It for each other. I suppose that knowin' that my ma wanted him to have a family is a good thing. Things could have turned out very differently, Elijah."
"That's true, but they turned out the way they did. You're here. You're happy. You're about the start the rest of your life. They made the right choice at some point or another, don't ya think?"
Katie shifted on the floor, feeling restless again. "But how did they know? These letters confuse me."
Elijah shook his head and stretched out across the rug, looking at his friend affectionately. "Kathy, can't you tell when two people are fallin' in love?" He picked up Sully's book and flipped open the page to where he left off. "Now sit still, stop fidgetin', and listen to the wise one here."
Katie fell to her elbows, catching her chin on her fists as she scoffed saucily, "You?"
"No girl!" He knocked her elbow loose with a soft push, causing her to land in a thud next to him. "Your pa!"
"Ouf!" She grunted, as her hair fell in front of her face. "Do you want me to be black and blue walkin' down the aisle?"
"You certainly would add color to that spankin' white dress!" Elijah laughed, holding up his arms, as he watched her tighten her fists. He caught her hand before she could strike him, and he swiftly pulled her wrists behind her back. She pushed against him, as if she still intended to hit him with the full weight of her body, and he held her still, calming her, as her determined jaw locked. "Hey, hey, hey… You're about to burst, aren't ya? You don't want to hit me. Not me. It's O.K., Kathy. You don't gotta fight so much. You'll know when you need to know."
Slowly, her body relaxed, as she looked into his eyes, and when he felt all the tension release from her body, he let go of her hands. Before he could move away, she wrapped her arms around his neck gratefully, pulling him into a fierce hug. "Read to me, Elijah. Please."
"If ya let go of me, maybe I will." Katie sheepishly pulled away from him and returned to her place by the fire, where she tried to sit as still as she possibly could.
Elijah joined her, eyeing her statuesque attempt, but instead of commenting, he began to read. "Mike," he started, "it's been a strange couple of days for me. It started the night I saw you hold Mike in your arms. When Mr. McCall named him after you, I wanted to call you Michaela. I still haven't though." Katie looked up, frowning. She put her hand over the book and looked into Elijah's eyes.
"How come you never call me Katie?"
He shrugged. "Because everyone else does."
"Why not Katherine?"
"Kathy…" He tried to pull the book back, but she pushed her hand down on top of it.
"It's not important. Let's just read." Elijah pulled the book from under her hand and found his place again. "It seems too intimate, when I'm still standing across the room, watching you rock a Cheyenne baby in your arms, while Brian's swaying in front of my feet. Watching you, it was the first time since Abagail died that I could picture myself being a father again. I can't tell you how that frightened me. Hanna never even opened her eyes, but in that room with singing, guitar playing and you, a little boy with sleepy eyes looked at me, and I lifted him in my arms, and I wasn't afraid anymore." There was fear again. She almost didn't recognize it in her father, because he had always been her hero. She had only seen it once in her young adult life, but even then, his resilience had allowed him to move on and overcome his doubts and weaknesses.
Elijah smirked suddenly, his face turning up in a knowing grin, as he continued, "Turns out, you keep me too much on my toes to be worrying too much like that. For a woman that could hardly ride a horse a few months ago, you sure have a tendency to get yourself in trouble in the most remote places. It's a good thing you listened to me, despite the fact that you didn't trust my judgment at first." Elijah paused and looked up, remembering the previous letter about Dr. Mike's complete trust in Sully and winked at Katie. Katie shook her head. She wasn't sure who got the story right now. Elijah paused, softening, glancing at Katie, as he read the next lines slowly. "But if anything would have happened to you—well, I'm just glad we made it out alright. That you're safe."
Katie smiled, curling down beside the fire, relaxing as she looked into the flames. "I didn't tell you, but I was disappointed when you told me I couldn't take care of the baby by myself." She stiffened, as she heard those words and turned back to Elijah who was watching for her reaction again.
"Go on," Katie pressed.
"I had a little girl. I would have been a good father if she lived. I would have built her a doll house and taught her about the Cheyenne and carried her with me everywhere. I would have given her the world." Elijah stopped, as Katie's eyes dropped. Hanna. Katie had never asked, but she somehow knew that if Hanna had lived, she probably wouldn't be here. Why her? What made her special? She pushed herself to her feet and ran out of the room.
Elijah almost called after her but stopped. He knew too much. So much of her was in these letters, and the words had transcended time and circumstances and people. A few moments passed, and he could hear her slow, steady footsteps returning down the hallway. When she walked in the doorway, she was carrying a hand carved dollhouse in her hands.
"Look," she whispered proudly, her eyes glistening bright in the morning sun. "He was right."
Elijah smiled at her and read the last lines quietly. "But I guess it's better this way. I suppose you were right. Mike is with his real pa. I still have that little boy asleep on my shoulder. And I can still hope, can't I?"