Crane paced nervously and tried to tie his tie, but found that he couldn't remember how. He stood in the room he'd shared with Daniel for most of his life and tried to focus on the steps his father had taught him.
"Dad! When am I ever gonna wear a tie?" He protested.
"Well, if you're lucky, a beautiful girl like your Ma might take a fancy to you. You'll wanna take her somewhere nice from time to time, and just to prove how much you love her, you'll put a tie on." His father told him stepping behind him and laying the tie over his shoulders.
"I'm ten, Dad. Can't it wait?"
"Stop whining and listen. Step one: lay it over your shoulders." They stood together in front of the mirror. "Step two: wrap it around twice, like this." His father's hands were sure and strong. "Last step, bring it down and through. There you go."
Crane studied his reflection in the mirror. He looked older with the tie. He looked nice.
"You like nice son." His father said his hands steady on his shoulders. "Now, go show your Mama, and then get changed because those stables need mucking." He grinned at Crane.
"Maybe the horses would appreciate the tie." Crane said looking up into his father's eyes.
"I'm sure they would." And they laughed together.
Now, he wished more than anything that his father were beside him.
"Need help?" Adam stood in the doorway.
"Yes!" Crane said. "I can't keep my hands steady."
Adam stepped behind him, and watching him in the mirror, Crane was astounded, not for the first time, how much Adam looked like their father. Adam's hands were quick and sure and he quickly had the tie tied.
"How's that?" Adam asked.
"Perfect." Crane sighed. "The girls about ready?"
"Just about. I don't know really. Hannah kicked me out. Molly looks . . . well, you'll see soon enough." Adam smiled.
"Were you nervous?" Crane asked him.
"Well, I sort of didn't have time to be nervous." Adam said. "I was nervous later, when I brought her home. But I was sure." He looked at Crane. "I was never more sure of anything, you know?"
"Yeah." Crane said grinning. "I guess we better go downstairs, then."
"Hold up." Brian said from the doorway.
"Brian!" Crane said embracing his older brother. Since his return Brian had moved back into the bachelor apartment, but had kept to himself. He was quiet and serious. He came for family dinner, mostly because Hannah insisted, but he didn't join in the conversations, and sometimes he would just get up and leave right in the middle of dinner.
"I got something for you." Brian said. He handed Crane a small box that held a silver ring.
"Oh, no, but that was for you." Crane said handing the box back.
"No, Bri. It was Daddy's first. Adam gave it to me, and now I'm giving it to you." Crane looked at him.
"But it is yours. You should keep it." Crane said.
"Nah, I don't need a ring to remind me of her, and she'd want you to have it. You wear it and remember love's the one thing that always lasts. Huh?" He reached out and hugged Crane to him.
"Thanks Brian. I really . . ." He couldn't say anymore afraid that he would cry. "Thanks."
"Well, I guess it is time to marry old Crane off, then, isn't it?" Brian said.
"I guess so." Adam said smiling with tear-filled eyes. "You boys go downstairs. I'll make sure that Molly hasn't come to her senses and run off." He smiled and watched his brothers go down the stairs, and paused at the landing of his room. He knocked.
Hannah's face appeared in the crack of the doorway. "What?" She asked grinning.
"Crane's waiting for his Mrs. McFadden." He said his dimples showing as he grinned at her. "Is she ready?"
"I doubt any woman is ready to be a Mrs. McFadden." Hannah said. "But you can tell the pastor we can get started." She stepped outside the door closing it behind her. "Make sure Guthrie and Ford combed their hair, would you, please? Marie said she'll keep Katie with her and remind Evan that he and Ford are in charge of the boys."
"What?" He said staring at her.
"Adam! Weren't you listening?" She said exasperated.
"I was distracted by how pretty you are when you get all bossy." He said kissing her.
"Oh, stop it." She said. "Go on, now. Everyone's waiting."
"Yes ma'am!" He said and turned to go.
"Adam?" She said softer.
"What?" He asked hesitating a step below her.
He looked up into her face. If he closed his eyes, he would still be able to see every inch of her face; her long dark lashes, the light shadow of freckles that ran across her nose and stretched out over her cheeks like a butterfly spreading its wings. There was a tiny scar by her left ear, where she'd fallen when she was seven, and when she had a real deep down smile her dimples showed. It seemed as though he had known her his whole life, and also felt like if he studied for the rest of his days he could never come to the end of knowing her.
"She was sent to me by God." Brian had said.
"Adam?" She asked again worried that he hadn't responded.
"I'm sorry." He said. "He's doing the best he can, honey. He'll be . . ." He stopped himself from saying "fine" or "better". They didn't seem to be the right words. "He's got our love to help him heal. Try not to worry, alright honey?"
She nodded her head and he reached out to hold her chin in his fingers and kissed her.
"I know everyone's gonna be talking about how pretty Molly is all day long." He told her. "But I looked all around out there, and you are the most beautiful girl here, but don't tell the bride. I don't want her feelings hurt." He winked at her, and then took the stairs two at a time.
The sun had set hours ago, and the party had broken up. The bride and groom had driven off about an hour ago to head to Sonora and then on to Mendicino for a week. Bright white lights were still stretched out across the yard and everywhere was the evidence of celebration. Guthrie sat on the front steps, his chin in his hand. He looked back at his brothers who sat on the porch.
"I say we leave it." Daniel said. "One of us is bound to get married sooner or later."
"Well, you are next." Ford told him.
"What are we Amish? We got to get married in birth order? Listen, the whole alphabet thing makes us hokey enough. I say old Guthrie here, should be next." Daniel said laughing.
"No way. I plan to finish tenth grade first!" Guthrie said irritated.
"Well, that's two down, one to go." Adam said coming onto the porch having somehow wrangled his sons to bed.
"Where's the Hannah?" He said looking around.
"She's feeding Katie Joy. Inside, I think." Izzy told him.
"There's everybody." Brian said walking up to the steps of the porch from the barn. He sat down next to Izzy who immediately leaned against him.
"Play for us." She said to him. He looked at her, and kissing her forehead, he shrugged and pulled out his harmonica. "Only if Mr. BigTime will play along." He told her. He looked up at Daniel who nodded and went to get his guitar.
Hannah followed him as he came back onto the porch with his guitar. Katie slept in her arms, full and content and she sat down on the bench next to Adam who wrapped his long arm around her.
The notes of the harmonica were soft and melancholy, but as the guitar joined in, it strengthened the song. Together the music was lifted up, sustaining them.
Hannah looked across the breakfast table and did a quick head count. "Where's your sister?" Hannah asked her youngest.
"She's with Uncle Brian. They went riding." The toddler responded as his father lifted him into the high chair.
"Oh." She said looking at her husband and was surprised to see the streak of silver that laced his dark hair. "That's alright then. Alright then boys, let's eat." Adam winked at her as she sat down, and impulsively she got out of her seat and walked down the length of the table to where he sat, and leaning over kissed him. He pulled her towards him so that he held her in his arms sitting on his lap.
"Dad!" Jeb protested turning to his ten-year old twin brother. "They're kissing again."
"Seriously, you two are embarrassing." Jackson agreed.
"You be quiet." His mother said rising and leaving her husband's arms.
"Someday you boys will turn a corner and see a girl, and then you'll understand." Adam said winking at his wife.
Brian rode at a steady pace, his arms around his red-haired niece.
"Come on!" She said. "Midnight can go faster."
"Yeah, but your Mama would kill me if I let you tear around here at full gallop." He told her.
"Can we go up to the meadow?" She asked him. "I packed a lunch. You said we could go fishing."
"Alright, but we have to make just one stop, right?" He said.
"I know. I picked some flowers for you."
They walked the horse once they got close to the cemetery and then he tied Midnight off at a tree just outside the gate. He walked, his nine-year old niece at his side, and she reached up and slid her hand into his. When they got closer, she carefully arranged the flowers in the vase beside the grave.
"I forgot to bring more for them." She said. "I always forget that."
"That's alright." He said.
She studied the headstones.
Adam J. McFadden
Beloved Husband and Father
"Would Grandpa have liked me?" She asked him.
"He would've loved you. You could have asked him for anything, and he would've got it for you." He grinned at her.
"It's strange, isn't it?" She said. "They almost match." She knelt before the other two headstones looking at the letters.
Kathleen Rose McFadden
Beloved Wife and Mother
and next to it:
Kathleen Grace McFadden
Always in our Hearts
"Jack says he's the third Adam and that the whole ranch will be his because of it. But I'm the third Kathleen." She looked up at her uncle.
"You are. Do you want the ranch?" He looked at her.
"No, not really. I want to be a teacher someday. Jeb says I'm bossy enough." She looked at the graves again. "I just don't like him acting like he knows everything. Can we go fishing now?"
"Sure." Her uncle said.
As they walked together hand in hand, she turned to him and said, "You know, my friend Anna's mom is divorced. She's really pretty."
"And?" He said helping her up onto the horse.
"Well, you aren't married either, and if you liked Anna's mom, we could be cousins." She peered down at him with bright green eyes.
"You've been spending too much time with your Mama." He said climbing up onto the horse behind her.
"I was just thinking . . ." She said.
"Did I ever tell you about the time your father tried to wrangle a bull to the ground by himself?" He said.
"You are changing the subject." She told him.
"He about nearly got himself and me killed in the process." He said ignoring her. He waited.
"Alright, tell me." She said.
"Well, your daddy was just about ten years old and decided he wanted to prove he was the best cowboy around so he . . ."
She leaned back against her uncle as they rode together into the brightness of the coming day.