Guthrie knew she had opened it as soon as he walked in the room. She was humming as she pulled a dutch apple pie out of the oven. The whole house smelled of it. She smiled seeing him.
"There you are. Why did you take the late bus?" She asked him as he sat at the kitchen table with one eye on the pie.
"I stayed so Mr. Whedon could help me with my essay. He didn't like the rough draft." He grinned at her.
"Well, it left room for improvement that's for sure." He studied her. She seemed as though she'd been browned by the sun.
"You work the ranch today?" He asked her.
"I helped your brothers some. How can you tell? Do I smell like cows?" Her eyes widened horrified.
"Nah, you smell like you. You look sun-tanned. Why did you make the pie?" He asked her.
"I had apples." She said turning back to the stove to check on dinner.
"Hannah McFadden, you are a terrible liar." He said rising and kissing her on the cheek.
"Hannah Joy McFadden." She corrected him with a wink. "Go do your chores, son. That pie will be cool when you're finished."
"Yes, ma'am." He said and disappeared out the back door. She watched him sprint across the yard to the barn, stopping to give his brother Ford a shove as he did. Ford turned and chased after him, and she watched the brothers laughing run to the barn together. Her heart was filled with nothing but happiness just then. She loved her brothers, and she was forever grateful to the in-laws she'd never met, that she was able to spend her days with their sons. She turned back to the stove and realized it was time to switch out the laundry, again. She smiled inwardly thinking that no matter what else occurred in her life, there would always be laundry.
Adam looked up as she came down the stairs. She'd stolen one of his shirts, again. She reached for her jacket as she hit the bottom step.
"Don't you have any clothes of your own?" He asked rising from where he'd been waiting for her on the couch.
"I like yours better." She smiled at him and he shook his head.
"You stay away from my clothes, Hannah." Daniel said laughing at them. "Adam, there buys at the mercantile, but I send out to New York for my fancy duds."
"You shop at the dollar exchange." Crane said peering over his glasses at his brother. "And why would she wear your smelly clothes. You can wear anything that's mine, Sis." He told her. "As long as you let me borrow that brown skirt of yours." He winked at her.
Evan, who had been sitting at the table beside Crane drinking a glass of water, spit his water out laughing. "If you loan him your skirt, for God's sake make sure I have a camera first!" Evan said, and Crane gently smacked the back of his head.
"You boys get your own dinner tonight." Adam said. "We might be gone for a bit."
"Where you going?" Daniel asked.
"On a hike." He said.
"A hike? You must be crazy! You worked all day and now you're going hiking?" Evan shook his head at Adam.
"I am crazy, you idiot." Adam said. "I just happen to be crazy about Hannah, that's all." He smiled at her and kissed her.
"Oh, go on your hike!" Crane said as his brothers protested their kiss. "Then you can kiss her all you want."
"I aim to." Adam said winking and holding open the door for her.
Guthrie was sitting on the front porch with Brian who was explaining the ins and outs of cleaning a rifle. They looked up.
"Don't worry, Sis." Brian said. "I'll feed the babies for you. You have a nice afternoon."
"Thank you." She said smiling at him. Adam watched as Guthrie followed Brian's step-by-step instructions. He carefully cleaned the rifle.
"Nice work, shrimp." Adam said squeezing the back of Guthrie's neck. "You listen to Brian, he knows what he's talking about. Ask him about the time he shot out Mom's kitchen window on accident."
"Listen here, Junior, I never accidently shot a tractor, now did I?" Brian said.
"I told you about that name." Adam said in mock anger. "Don't think you're too big, either, Brian. I can still take you down."
"Sure, old man. Sure. You better not just now, your girl's waiting on you." He said winking at him.
"You are lucky she is, pal." Adam said stretching himself to his full height.
"Who's your money on Guthrie?" She asked him. Guthrie studied his older brothers carefully.
"My money's on you, Hannah. You could kick both their asses without even trying." He grinned.
"Guthrie James McFadden you watch your mouth!" She said shaking a finger at him.
"I can't help it if I was raised by wolves." Guthrie said with a grin.
"I know we can both take him." Adam said with a look at Brian.
"Without breaking a sweat. You clean up your language around the ladies, Guthrie, or we'll tan that hide of yours." Brian said. They laughed and Hannah and Adam walked down the steps together with fingers intertwined.
"Go on and get a coat, you little outlaw." Adam said hesitating at the bottom step and looking back at Guthrie.
"Coat?' Guthrie looked up surprised.
"You coming or not?" Hannah asked, and she grinned as Guthrie sprinted to get his jacket.
They stood together under the oak, and although extremely curious, Guthrie had said nothing the whole hike. He simply tagged along behind them wondering what they were up to. Adam carried an old backpack, and it wasn't until they reached the oak, that he pulled out what was inside.
It was the box.
His eyes grew wide, but went immediately to Hannah's face, and watching him, Adam felt a wave of love for his littlest brother.
"It's alright, Guthrie." He said.
"Hannah?" Guthrie asked having to see for himself.
"I'm fine, Guthrie. He was trying to apologize, which is a good thing I guess. Some things are hard for me." She explained and Guthrie nodded.
"What was inside it?" He asked her.
"Well, some of it I kept. He sent his Bible, which I have and a letter. He sent some pictures that I can show you later, but you can look and see what else." She told him indicating the box in her husband's hand. Guthrie pulled out the empty whisky bottle and the photo of Hannah with her father.
"This is him?" He asked her.
"Yes." She answered.
"That's you." He said smiling. "Geez, you look little. You look happy though. You were happy even though he wasn't nice. I don't understand that."
"You were happy your whole life long, Guthrie." Adam said to him.
"Yeah, I guess that's true. Some folks would've been surprised by that I guess. 'Course I wasn't really an orphan."
"No." Adam agreed.
"What are you gonna do with it?" Guthrie asked her.
"I'm gonna bury it, and be done with it." She said. "He died a long time ago, but sometimes the past hangs onto us."
"Yeah." He said remembering standing in the rain beside his parents' graves just a few months ago. It was Hannah who had found him and come to him then; sick as she was, she'd stood in the rain with him, and helped him wrestle with his own past.
"You aren't an orphan either, Hannah." Guthrie said and Adam could've kissed him.
"You sure you wanna be a rancher, Guth?" He said instead. "Maybe you should be a preacher."
Guthrie laughed at the idea. "No way! I'd have to wear a suit!"
They dug a hole, and then Adam handed Hannah the box. She looked at the picture one last time before setting it inside. She held the box in her fingers wondering at all the turmoil it had caused. Gently, she set it in the hole, and stepping back she reached for Adam's hand.
"Go ahead, Guthrie." She said and he began to cover it over with dirt. She began to cry as he did, surprised by her own tears and Adam wrapped both arms around her, kissing the side of her face.
"He's dead and buried now, Hannah Joy." Adam said to her as Guthrie worked. "You belong to us. This is your house, your land, your family."
Guthrie finished and turning to face her said, "And you know all about the rules of our house Hannah; no orphans live here." He smiled at her and standing on tiptoe he kissed her on the forehead.
"That's right." Adam agreed smiling down at his brother. They turned and looked out across the valley as the sun began to sink. The two brothers standing with Hannah between them holding onto her hands.
"I'm going back." Guthrie said after a time. "I better help Brian with dinner. He thinks he can cook, but let's face it, he's got nothing on you." He grinned at her.
She nodded and pulled him into a hug. "Thanks Guthrie. Thanks for looking out for me." She kissed his cheek, but he squirmed away from her.
"Easy on the mush." He said smiling at her. "I'll see you at home, Mom." He hit the word hard, so that she would understand what he was really saying; what he was too chicken to say. She nodded her voice lost in tears, and they watched him as he ran toward home, his long legs carrying him far away.
"I hate that he'll be grown soon." She said with a sigh. She looked up at Adam and smiling wrapped her arms around him.
"Me too. I remember thinking long ago - I'll be thirty-four when Guthrie is eighteen - and it seemed so far away - a life time. I didn't know it would go by so fast, or that I'd be sorry to see it go." He sighed. "And what about you?" He asked her. "Are you okay?"
She stepped away from him, so that she could really look him in the eye and holding his gaze she smiled so that her dimples showed. "I feel free of it, I guess. It still pains me, but not like before and I guess it is good to know that he felt remorse. It is good to know that in the end he regretted it. But you were right, it doesn't really change anything. It doesn't change me. He lost his hold on me, a long time ago. He was never really my father. You're my family now."
"You got that right girl, and I will be for always; until time itself ends." He leaned in and kissed her deeply.
Later that evening, as they walked across their ranch together under the stars toward the big white house that was their home, she realized that for the first time since the box had arrived - no since even further back than that to when the doctor had held her hand and explained very gently that their would be no baby- that for the first time since then she felt a pure, holy and unexplainable joy, and laughing out loud from it she turned to her husband with a grin and said, "I'll race you home!" But before she'd even finished the sentence she'd already begun to run toward the bright lights of home laughing aloud the whole way back as Adam followed after calling out, "You're a cheater! Girl, you better run!" And he caught up to her just as she reached the steps sweeping her up into his arms, both of them laughing as their brothers came out onto the porch drawn by their laughter. Inside Adam's arms, laughing still, she smiled up at her family, and pausing to kiss her husband she went inside her home filled with love and joy.