Hannah Moss McFadden stood under the powerful steaming water of the shower and tried to shake the feelings of congestion and weariness. She knew she was fighting a cold and that it was just a matter of time. The alphabet brothers, as she sometimes thought of her family, had been sick. C, D, E and G had all gotten better, but over the last ten days - A - G had all been sick - with the exception of F, who had a reputation for almost never getting sick. It appeared that H might soon follow.
She breathed the steam into her lungs, hoping it would do the trick. She had no time to be sick. It would be Thanksgiving in just a few days. Adam and Brain still felt somewhat horrible, and she had so much to do to be ready. She wanted to stay in the hot shower longer but knew that she had better get moving - besides the hot water wouldn't last all morning!
By the time Adam and Crane came in from early morning chores, she was starting breakfast and packing lunches. The coffee was steaming and Brian had crawled out of bed too.
"Thank God there's coffee." He said sitting slumped at the table.
"There's old lazy bones." Adam said stepping in the kitchen with Crane close behind.
"I'm very sick." Brian protested.
"This whole house is a giant box of germs." Crane said. "Only, Hannah here remains uninfected!"
"And Ford, but that boy has been sick three times in his whole life!" Brian said.
"Don't tempt fate!" Adam said kissing his wife. Her warm cheek felt good against his cold lips.
"I just hope it doesn't back around us." She said setting a plate of scrambled eggs on the table. "All we need is for everyone to get well, just in time to get sick all over again." She sighed, and turned back to the counter where she was making lunches for the younger brothers. "Adam, you should take it easy today. You still are sick." She said glancing over her shoulder at her husband.
"Nah, only wimps get sick. Me, I'm strong as an ox." He glanced at Brian.
"You mean stubborn as one." Brian said wryly.
"Har, har." Adam said. "Where's the pipsqueaks?"
"Crawling slowly out of their nests. Slow start this morning. I couldn't get Daniel moving for nothing." Crane said.
"Geez, Crane. That's particularly weak grammar for a college man." Adam said sipping his coffee.
"I only use fancy talk when I'm in town." Crane said. "The women like it, so I use it sparingly here amongst you uneducated cowfolk."
"Nice." Brian said. "I'm only book uneducated - now, if you want to know something about women . . ."
"Talk to me." Hannah said interrupting and grinning at her brother-in-law, who shook his head at her.
"She's trouble." He said to Adam pointing a finger at Hannah.
"You have no idea!" Adam said with a grin one arm wrapped around Hannah's waist.
"You aren't gonna start kissing are ya? I just woke up!" Evan said staggering into the kitchen, followed closely by Ford who was hopping into his boot.
"I guess not. Now that the babies are up." Adam said. He reached out a hand and roughed his brother's hair. "You boys are late. Better put a hustle on. I won't be happy if you miss that bus. Where's Guthrie?"
"He crawled into my bed." Ford said. "He claims he was looking for a shoe, but he hasn't moved a muscle. I think he fell back asleep."
"I'll get him." Hannah said.
She found Guthrie sprawled out across Ford's bed sound asleep. She smiled at her little brother-in-law. He looked even younger asleep. She reached out and ran her hand through his hair.
"Guth. Guthrie." She said softly. "Time to wake up."
He opened his eyes. "Really?"
"'Fraid so, cowboy." She smiled at him, sitting beside him on the bed.
"Are you sure? I was hoping it was still night."
"Me too, but no luck for either of us." She smiled at him, and patted his cheek gently with her hand. "Get moving or you'll never make that bus." She rose and turned to leave the room.
"Alright." He said and rose reluctantly.
Hannah went down the hall and nearly ran smack into Daniel.
"Sorry." He mumbled.
"You okay?" She asked him. Daniel's hair was a mess and he rubbed his face with his hand.
"Overslept. Tell me there's coffee." He looked up at his sister-in-law.
"There is but I don't think there's enough to do the trick." She grinned at him and patted the side of his face gently with her soft fingers.
"Probably not." He sighed and they went downstairs together.
"Did you get the baby out of bed?" Adam asked her with a grin.
"He's crawling this way now." She said.
"Hey, there Dan'l." Brian said with a smile as Daniel poured himself a cup of coffee. "You wrestle a bear this morning?"
"Just feels like it." Daniel said slumping into a chair.
"Well, good morning princess." Adam said with a laugh. "Hope you got your beauty sleep."
"Don't be mean." Hannah said.
"I like her." Daniel said winking at Hannah.
"Me too!" Adam said rising and putting his mug in the sink. "I'm serious fellas. You better catch that bus. That goes for you too, short stuff." He said looking up as Guthrie dragged himself into the room. "I know none of us are feeling any good, but there's only two days of school this week, so I'm pretty sure you can manage that."
He headed out with Brian, Daniel and Crane following close behind. Hannah followed them out onto the porch, but soon regretted it; it was so cold. Brian, Daniel and Crane continued on to the barn, ready to tackle a cold day's work, and get back to the warm house as soon as possible, but Adam hesitated.
"You're freezing. Go inside." He said to her.
"Don't over do it, Rancher Man." She told him as he wrapped his arms around her. "You aren't really well yet."
"Cowboys are never sick. We're too tough." He teased her.
"Too bull-headed, maybe." She said.
"What about you? You feeling alright?" He asked rubbing her arms to keep her warm.
"I'm better than you." She said with a grin. "Besides I got tons to do to be ready for Thanksgiving." He smiled at her.
"I know what I'm thankful for." He said giving her a kiss, but she pushed him away.
"I don't want your germs!" She said laughing. She turned to go back inside where it was warm.
"Don't you work too hard, girl!" He called to her as he crossed the yard. "See you this afternoon." He lifted his hand in a wave and disappeared into the barn.
She returned to a flurry of activity as her younger brothers-in-law raced to find backpacks, books, coats, gloves and lunches. They burst in and out of the room and til at last they exploded out of the house and down the road to catch the bus. Hannah sat down at the table with a sigh, her head was pounding and her throat ached.
I do not have time to be sick. She thought with a shake of her head.
Hannah spent her morning trying to finish up her secret projects. She wanted this first Thanksgiving with her new family to be special. She had spent many days planning, working and preparing. She had decided to make all the boys new shirts and had finished shirts for everyone except Adam. She hoped to finish his this morning. She was amazed to discover that of all the classes she'd taken in her life, the two that were proving to be the most useful to her were both classes she'd signed up for on a whim. First-aid and home economics had not been on the top her list back when she was in school but she wished she had paid better attention now.
She pulled out his half-finished shirt and set to work. She held the soft blue fabric in her fingers thinking how good he looked in blue. She hoped he liked it. She hoped they all did. It hadn't been easy but they had found a happy peace. She didn't feel like a stranger or an outsider like she had in those first few days. She felt that she was home; at long, long last.
She worked steadily and after a couple hours had finished the last tedious button hole. She smiled looking at Adam's new shirt and then remembering something she'd read in a book, she sewed a small square of lace inside the hem. It would be hidden unknown to everyone but him - and her; a small piece of soft lace from the collar of the dress she'd married him in. She blushed shyly imaging explaining it to him. She tucked his shirt in the back of the closet with the six others she had made.
That's when she found the box. It was labeled simply:
Mom and Dad
She hesitated, unsure, but her curiosity was overpowering. She pulled it down off the shelf and slowly pulled the lid off, peering inside.