The early morning sun peaked out from behind the mountain tops and shimmered brightly through Elizabeth's bedroom window. As the warm sun gleamed upon her face, Elizabeth slowly opened her eyes, waking up from a deep, restful sleep.
Flinging the covers off herself, Elizabeth climbed out of her bed and headed down the hallway toward Jack's room. Always ready to see his mother in the morning, Jack would prop himself up by holding tightly onto the crib rail and wait for Elizabeth to come and fetch him. As soon as Elizabeth rattled the doorknob, she would hear little Jack's soft giggles emerging from the other side.
Peering through the doorway, Elizabeth smiled as she eyed her fair-haired little boy waiting for her as usual.
"Good morning, my sweet boy." Elizabeth gushed as she walked over to the crib. "Did you sleep well?" She asked as she reached down and lifted him out of his crib.
"Momma." Jack gurgled as Elizabeth gave him a gentle, morning kiss on his forehead.
Elizabeth cherished these little moments with her son. The giggles and smiles, the soft touches and snuggles. How she wished that she could stop time and relish in these tender moments forever. The hardest part of being a mother, Elizabeth thought, was letting your child grow up, and even though Jack was only two, she was already longing for the days when she held him in her arm and rocked him to sleep. She wanted Jack to stay like that forever, but Elizabeth knew that wasn't very realistic. All she could do was take it day by day, never taking for granted, these precious moments with her little boy.
Elizabeth carried Jack down the creaky staircase of her row-house. The floorboards, with time, had begun to separate from the studs causing a jarring squeak whenever anyone stepped on them. "Another thing that needs repairs," Elizabeth mumbled to herself.
Setting Jack down at the table, Elizabeth sauntered across the floor toward the kitchen to begin making breakfast. She pulled down a large, copper pot from on top of the stove and filed it partway with water and just a dash of salt. When it began to steam, Elizabeth poured in the oats and stirred occasionally over medium heat. When it was done cooking, Elizabeth took out a bottle of milk from the icebox and poured a tad over the warm oats before serving.
"Do you want some oatmeal?" Elizabeth asked Jack who was waiting patiently in his highchair.
Elizabeth took a spoonful of the oatmeal and held it up to Jack's mouth, who giggled in delight as he took a bite of the yummy cereal.
After finishing breakfast, Elizabeth brought the dirty dishes into the kitchen and set them in the sink, before heading upstairs to get herself and Jack ready for church. For Jack, Elizabeth picked out a pair of dark blue overalls and a light blue shirt to wear with it; and for herself, she chose a pale, green skirt with rick-rack trim near the hem and a white, eyelet blouse with flutter sleeves.
After getting dressed, Elizabeth sat down at her mahogany-stained dressing table to do her hair. As she clipped back a thin strand with a simple hairpin, Elizabeth paused as she noticed her gold wedding band glistening in the light. Breathing deeply, Elizabeth lowered her hand and held it out in front of her gazing at the reminder of what was and what would have been.
It saddened Elizabeth to admit it, but as she stared down at the golden wedding band, she realized, fully realized, perhaps for the first time, that this chapter of her life, the one which this ring symbolized, had come to a close.
"I will always love you, Jack," Elizabeth said softly, "and your son will always know what kind of man you were. Honest, brave, a man with true character and a heart of gold. "But Jack," Elizabeth solemnly whispered, tears welling up in her eyes, "I think that I am falling in love with Nathan Grant. I need you to know, though," Elizabeth sighed, " that my feelings for Nathan will never and could never diminish what you and I had together, what we have together in little Jack."
"Lord," Elizabeth prayed with all her heart, "please help me to know that what I am doing is right."
Slowly, and carefully Elizabeth twisted the ring until it slid off her finger. She sat at her vanity for a few moments, taking the time to reflect on the significance of what she had done. Then, ever so slowly, Elizabeth opened her vanity drawer, and pulled out a hand-carved jewelry box, placing the ring inside "I will always love you, Jack." She said once more before closing the lid of her jewelry box and returning it to its proper place inside the drawer.
As Elizabeth and Jack were busy getting ready for the day, a few houses down, so were Nathan and Allie.
Allie, not being much of a morning person, reluctantly lifted her sleepy head from her soft, fluffy pillow before shoving the covers to the end of the bed. As she meandered toward the door, the tired girl nearly bumped into her Uncle Nathan who was coming to wake her up.
"Good morning," he greeted, "I was just coming to see if you were up yet."
"Barely." Allie groggily replied as she rubbed her eyes. "What time is it?"
"Not quite eight o'clock."
"I didn't realize it was so late. I suppose I had better get dressed then." Allie stated while hinting with her eyes for Nathan to leave the room.
"Oh, right." Nathan realized. I'll meet you downstairs." He said before promptly leaving the room.
Sometimes Nathan had to remind himself how much Allie had grown up in the last few years. She was no longer the four-year-old girl who liked playing in the mud or collect bugs, but rather she was becoming a young lady who sometimes needed privacy.
As soon as the door closed behind Nathan, Allie walked over to her closet and riddled through her selection of dresses. Though normally not one for frills, she pulled out the blue frock that Nathan had given her for her birthday last year. The dress consisted of a ditsy-floral patterned skirt with a simple blue bodice, flounced sleeves that hit near the elbow, and a thin ivory-colored sash around the waist.
It didn't take Allie long to get dressed and styled her hair in a half-up/half-down do, which she tied off with a cerulean-blue ribbon. After fetching her Bible from her bedstead, Allie made her way downstairs where Nathan was sitting at the table, drinking a cup of coffee reading his Bible, and taking notes.
"Good morning." Allie warmly greeted from the bottom step of the staircase.
"Oh, hey kiddo. I was wondering when you would be coming down." Nathan said, setting his pencil down on the table.
"I'm not interrupting am I?" She questioned.
Allie knew that early in the morning, before dawn, Nathan would sit down at the table to read his Bible and pray. When she asked one day why he did this, he told her that he desired to do God's will in his life every single day, but could not do this unless he took the time to get to know God, Himself. By studying His word and praying, Nathan said to her, he felt closer to God. He found strength and he found wisdom. "As Psalm 143:8 says, Allie recalled Nathan telling her, 'Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift my soul unto thee.'"
"No, I was just finishing up. Would you like some breakfast? I could make you some scrambled eggs or perhaps some oatmeal."
"I think I will just have a slice of toast with jam. I wouldn't want to ruin my appetite for all the fish that I'm going to catch later."
"You think so?" His eyes beginning to widen.
In a self-assured manner, she replied, "I do."
'Well, I guess we'll just have to find out." Nathan replied. Now, how about you get the jam and I will toast the bread."
Nathan stood up from the table to began fixing breakfast. As Allie moved about looking for the jar of preserves, Nathan cut two slices of bread before placing one between the metal coils of the toaster. When the inner side began to darken, Nathan flipped it around so that both sides were equally crisp.
"Do you want strawberry or raspberry jam?" Allie asked Nathan as she stood, peering into the cupboard.
"Either is fine," Nathan replied as he set the napkins and plates on the table.
"Strawberry then." Allie nodded while pulling the half-empty jar of homemade, strawberry perseveres from off the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet.
Allie and Nathan sat down at the table and clasped their hands together. Nathan thanked God for His continuous blessings and protection, the beautiful spring morning, and of course the joy of his life, his little girl, Allie Mayes Parks, soon to be Allie Mayes Grant.
Nathan and Allie soon finished their light breakfast before gathering their things and heading out the door. As they stepped outside, they were immediately greeted by the welcoming sounds of the lark's melodious song. A soft, gentle breeze carried the sweet fragrance of wildflowers newly in bloom, and beneath the glow of the bright, golden sun, gleamed the blades of dew-drenched grass.
"Spring is my favorite season." Allie happily declared as she and Nathan casually walked along the graveled path. "Mrs. Thornton was telling us in class the other day that she believed, 'spring is when life's alive in everything.' Mrs. Thornton said the someone by the name of Christina Rosinni wrote that."
"I think that you mean Christina Rossetti."
"Oh, yeah." Allie blushed.
A little while later, Allie and Nathan arrived at church, where several members of the congregations were gathered already. As they neared the little, white building, Nathan noticed Rosemary and Lee Coulter walking in together, hand in hand; Fiona Miller and Faith Carter talking together on the front steps; and Roy Sampson, his son Oliver, who was standing quietly by his side, and his wife Edith who was gently cradling their newborn daughter, Hazel Grace, in her arms.
After giving and receiving several hello's, nice to see you's and good morning's, Nathan and Allie made their way inside where they were immediately approached by Florence.
"Constable Grant," Florence called out in a concerned manner.
"Morning Florence, Ned." Nathan politely greeted the telephone operator and shopkeeper who stood at her side.
"Have you heard about the town council's proposal regarding the installation of a telephone in your place of residence? With the town growing the way that it is, and the people settling nearby from who knows where we're bound to get more than a few miscreants wandering about town. It would be a great comfort to the townspeople to know that their Constable can be reached in there was to be any sort of emergency."
"Well, I suppose that if the council members agreed that it is a necessary use of municipal funds, then I have no objections."
"Good." Florence nodded. "Allie, it was very nice to see you."
"You as well, Mrs. Blakely."
As Florence and Ned left to take their seats, Allie turned toward her Uncle, the corner of her mouth moving upward to form a wide grin. "Are we getting a telephone?" Allie asked, barely able to contain her excitement.
"I don't know," Nathan, we might be."
"I hope so! Anna's parents got one installed in their house recently. It would be so neat if I could talk to her whenever I wanted."
"Allie, you know that if the town council decides to do this, then neither of us is to use it for personal matters. Its purpose will be used in an official capacity and for emergencies. Understood?"
"I understand…but not even when I get home from school before you get done with work?"
Nathan chuckled. "Well, I suppose that we'll have to talk more about it when and if it happens. Now, Nathan said as he placed his arm around Allie, let's go find a seat."
Elizabeth scurried down the road as quickly as possible with little Jack in tow. She hadn't realized how late it had gotten. One minute she was sitting down to do her hair, and the seemingly the next minute it was nearly nine o'clock. When Elizabeth glared up at the clock, she promptly grabbed Jack from off her bed and hurried out the door, unintentionally slamming it behind her.
When she and Jack neared the building, Elizabeth heard the faint melody of her favorite hymn, Day by Day, being played on the piano. Not wanting to disrupt the service, Elizabeth quietly but swiftly entered the church and eyed the room for an open pew. Elizabeth often chose to sit near the back, just in case little Jack began to fuss during the service. Most of the congregation didn't seem to mind the occasional coo, being parents themselves they understood that such interruption can be common with young toddlers. However, Elizabeth knew that when little Jack became restless, innocent coos would soon be followed by louder shrieks. So, Elizabeth often found herself listening to the sermon from the front steps of the church. Peering through the back rows on each side, Elizabeth soon spotted an empty spot beside Lee, Rosemary, Allie, and Nathan.
"Good morning," Elizabeth whispered as she walks in beside Allie.
"Good morning Mrs. Thornton, hi Jack," Allie whispered back.
As the final hymn, It Is Well, With my Soul, came to a close, the congregation sat down in union as Pastor Zeke stepped up to the pulpit. "Good morning," he greeted with an orotund voice, "before I began today's sermon, I have a few announcements to make. Firstly, I would like to welcome the newest member of Hope Valley to church this morning, Hazel Grace Samson, who was born to Roy and Edith Sampson on a bright and early Monday morning. Congratulations, to the proud parents, and also to their son Oliver who is now a big brother to a beautiful baby girl!"
Pastor Zeke went on to remind the congregation about the upcoming Resurrection Sunday service and picnic. "Bill Avery, he declared, is graciously offering up his time and services to direct the church choir this year for a very special performance. If you wish to be involved with the choir, please talk with Bill after the service. Now, please open up your Bibles to the book of 1 Chronicles. 1 Chronicles chapter 29, verses 11-12.
"As human beings," Pastor Zeke began, "we like to think that we are somehow in control of the things that happen in our lives. However, the fact remains that there are many things beyond the realm of our control. Neither you nor I have the power to choose the outcome of every situation. We can make choices, but we cannot dictate the results. Instead of being fearful of the uncertainty that life brings, however, we can take great comfort in this knowledge that the Lord has dominion over this world, He is omnipotent, and He has a divine and perfect purpose for our lives. As it says in 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, 'Thine, O Lord is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come of thee, and thou reignest overall, and in thine hand is power and might, and in thine hand, it is to make great, and to give strength unto all.'"
After offering a closing prayer, and singing one more hymn, pastor Zeke bid the congregation well before dismissing them to enjoy the beautiful, and warm spring day.
"Would you like to join Lee and me for lunch this afternoon, Elizabeth? You and Allie are welcome to join us as well, Nathan. The more the merrier I always say!" Rosemary exuberantly stated.
"Nathan! Bill called out as he made his way toward the younger man and his niece. "Sorry to interrupt, but can I talk with you and Allie for a moment."
"Of course. Excuse us." Nathan directed toward Lee and Rosemary.
"It's probably relating to the adoption". Elizabeth explained as Nathan and Allie stepped off to the side to talk with Bill.
"Adoption," Rosemary gasped, is Nathan adopting Allie?"
"Oh, that's wonderful," Lee remarked.
"It is, isn't it."
Elizabeth was spieling from ear to ear and Rosemary being Rosemary took it upon herself to get all the details. "Is there something going on that I should know about?"
"Rosie," Lee muttered under his breath and with a slight roll of the eyes.
"I just,…I really don't think that it is any of our business."
"Lee Coulter, of course, it's our business. Elizabeth here is our friend, and you should be just as concerns for her well-being as. I am." Now, you were saying Elizabeth."
"What do you mean nothing? Didn't you have dinner last night?"
Elizabeth's eyes narrowed causing slight wrinkles on her forehead. "Yes, but how did…"
"Oh, I saw you guys walking home together last night through the living room window, but that's beside the point. How was it?"
"It was nice." Elizabeth reluctantly shared.
"Is that all?" Rosemary asked, knowing that there was more to the story.
"We had dinner, and…" Elizabeth swayed back and forth uncomfortably, "…and now we're going fishing this afternoon. He, Allie, Jack, and I."
"Elizabeth, that's wonderful, but have you told Lucas yet?"
"No," Elizabeth sighed, not yet. I am going to though, tomorrow morning, before school."
"Are you nervous?"
"I thought that I would be," Elizabeth said while fixating her eyes on the tall man with the dreamy, blue eyes, "but I feel at ease. I don't if this will lead anywhere, but I think I ready to try."
"I'm so happy for you, Elizabeth."
"Thank you, Rosemary. You're a good friend."
"Only good?" Rosemary laughed.
"What did you want to talk with us about?" Nathan said with concern. "Is there something wrong with the adoption proceedings?"
"No, no. Nothing like that. It's actually about the choir."
"The choir?" Nathan turned toward Allie, who replied with a shrug.
"Well, as you both know, I am directing the church choir this year for its annual Resurrection Sunday recital.
"Yes, I heard. I'm looking forward to it."
Noticing the look on Bill"s face. But that's not why you wanted to talk with us this morning, is it?"
"No, it isn't. As it so happens, I've been having some difficulties getting the congregations to donate the time needed for the rehearsal. Most of the town folks have withdrawn from participating. That's where you two come in.
Well, Bill, I don't sing, but Allie here has a beautiful voice, I'm sure she'd love to sing in the choir.
"Totally!" She promptly exclaimed. "I mean, I would love to."
"Great, now I just have to find someone for the
"How about Lee?" Nathan suggested.
"Have you heard Lee sing?" Bill leaned in to whisper.
"Carson has a…" Nathan began to say.
"Walter Jamison!" Bill interrupted with the snap of his fingers. "Excuse me, I have to go catch up with him before he leaves."
"What was that about?" Elizabeth asked as she stepped closer to Nathan and Allie.
"I am going to sing in the choir, Mrs. Thornton!" Allie stated enthusiastically.
"Oh, Allie. That's wonderful."
"It certainly is," Rosemary said from behind.
"Are you in the choir Mrs. Coulter?"
"I most definitely am!" Rosemary said confidently causing yet another eye-roll from Lee.
"Are you in the choir too?" Allie turned toward lee to ask.
"Lee!" Rosemary interjected. "goodness no. Why Lee couldn't hit the right note to save his life." Rosemary teased.
"Okay, and on that note, Lee quipped back, we should get going. Sweetheart?"
"See you both later," Elizabeth exclaimed as her friends walked away, toward home.
"Well, turning to Elizabeth to say, Allie and I have to change out of our dress clothes and grab the fishing poles, first, so how about we meet outside your house in half an hour?"
"Sound like a plan."
"Alright then, you both in half an hour."
When Nathan and Allie got home, neither wasted any time getting ready. Allie immediately rushed up the stair into her bedroom and quickly changed from her dressier frock to her pinkish-brown romper. Then, hurrying back downstairs, skipping over a step here and there, Allie went out to the backyard to fetch the jar of live bait which she kept tucked in the dirt.
"Are you ready, kiddo?"
Nathan was no longer wearing the tan-colored suit that he had on just moments before. Instead, he was dressed in a pair of dark-brown trousers and a blue-checked shirt that complemented his deep blue eyes.
"Mm-hmm," Allie replied, holding up the rusty old can of worms, grub, and few crickets.
"Let's go then."
Nearly the same moment that Allie and Nathan stepped onto their front porch, so did Elizabeth and Jack.
As Nathan and Allie were walking toward Elizabeth and little Jack, the young boy broke away from his mother's grasp and began toddling down the road as fast he could in the direction of the uncle and his spunky niece.
"Nat'an," Jack giggled, "Up."
Nathan could hardly believe his ears. He cared about this little boy so much, but he hadn't realized the feeling was mutual.
Nathan paused to hand the fishing poles over to Allie, before reaching down to hoist jack up onto his shoulders again.
"You like this, huh?" Nathan looked up at Jack, who had the biggest, and the cutest grin across his face.
"I see that he found you." Smiled Elizabeth.
"That he did."
"So, where is this fishing hole? Timbuktu?" Elizabeth laughed, realizing that they had been walking for quite a while now.
"Just a little bit further," Nathan responded. "I found this spot when I was out on my rounds one day. You know, Fletcher's cabin isn't too far from here."
Part of Nathan's job involved patrolling even the more remote and secluded areas of Hope Valley. Many families had cabins deep into the backwoods, so Nathan was sure to come but at least once every month to check and see if the people needed any food, medicine, or general supplies like thread, rope, or sometimes lumber for repairs on their cabins.
After passing through the thick woodlands, Nathan, Elizabeth, Allie, and Jack came to the clearing where a pool of standing water lay beneath the warm rays of the sun. Water Lillies floated on the shimmering surface, reeds and grasses stood tall along the water's edge.
"Here we are."
Nathan set Jack down on the ground and held his hand as they walked closer to the pond.
Allie found a fallen log nearby to sit on while she began to bait her hook. She reached down into the can and pulled out a long, slimy worm. She then took the barbed end of the hook and pushed the worm through several times, just below the hook's knot.
Then walking to the muddy bank, Allie flicked her pole in backward motion before casting it forward into the water. "Are you coming, Mrs. Thornton?" Allie asked Elizabeth who was standing up top.
"I can do this," Elizabeth said to herself with a deep breath. "I'm a mother for goodness's sake, I can do anything. Coming, Allie!" Elizabeth called out.
Elizabeth walked carefully down to Allie and picked up a spare fishing pole from off the ground. "So, how do I get the worm," Elizabeth asked as she glared repulsively into the can, "to stay on the hook?"
"I'll show you," Allie reeled in her pole then walked over to Elizabeth, "where is your worm?"
"Still in the can."
Without hesitation, Allie picked up the largest worm that Elizabeth had ever laid eyes on. "Here," Allie said while holding out the slithering annelid toward Elizabeth.
Elizabeth reluctantly took the wiggling worm from Allie's grasp. "This isn't so bad." Elizabeth realized.
"You just take the worm head, which is the darker end, and slip the barbed end of your hook through. Since this a longer worm, you can do it a few so it's more secure."
"Now, all you have to do is cast it into the water and wait for a fish to bite."
"You really like fishing," Elizabeth said as she glanced over at the young girl with a wide grin.
"I have for as long I can remember. Uncle Nathan used to go with my mom and me before she died."
"Not your dad?"
"No, he wasn't around much," Allie said lowering her head toward the muddied bank. "And then," Allie continued, "when my mom died he just up and left in the middle of the night. Didn't even say goodbye."
"Oh, Allie. I'm so sorry."
"It's fine. I hardly even knew him. My Uncle Nathan's been more of a Dad to me than my real father. I"m lucky to have him." Allie perked up.
Allie and Elizabeth both stood near the edge of the water, patiently waiting for a bite. As she waited, Elizabeth glanced over at Nathan, who was crouched down with Jack.
"Then," Elizabeth overheard Nathan say to Jack, "you take the worm…"
"Worm?" Elizabeth heard little Jack say in reply.
"That right, Jack, a worm." Nathan smiled with the joy and pride of a father.
Nathan came around Jack and guided the young boy's arm as they cast the baited line into the water, causing a small ripple. "Now, Nathan said to the young boy, we wait. You see Jack, fishing is not just about catching the big fish. It's also about learning how to be patient, enjoy the great outdoors. It's about sitting still in the serenity of nat…"
"I got one!" Elizabeth squealed loudly.
"Keep your rod up, Mrs. Thornton!" Allie cheered.
"Nathan, Elizabeth panicked, what do I do? I've never fished before. What do I do?"
"Allie, could you come to keep an eye on Jack?"
Allie walked over to Jack, who was contently holding his line in the water, as Nathan stepped over beside Elizabeth. "Just relax, let the drag and rod do the work." He calmly instructed.
"I don't reel it in yet?" Elizabeth said while fighting against the feisty trout.
"Not yet, he's still fighting it. If you crank him right away, you risk breaking the hook. This way, you're tiring the fish out so he'll be easier to reel in."
"So when do I reel him in?" Elizabeth said to Nathan who was standing close behind her, his arms wrapped around her, his hands strongly upon her's.
"Now!" Lift the tip of the pole upward, then reel him in as you lower it back down. I'll go grab the net."
Nathan promptly fetched the net, and when Elizabeth had reeled it to the shallow water, Nathan dipped the net into the water and scooped up the tiresome and sizable rainbow trout.
"Look at him!" Allie exclaimed, her eyes wide as saucers. "I've never seen one so huge!"
"Look at what you mother caught, Jack."
Nathan brought the fish closer toward little Jack, who then stretched out his hand to touch it.
"What does it feel like, is it slimly?" Elizabeth asked her son.
"Want to hold it?" Nathan asked Elizabeth.
"No thanks." She answered rather quickly. "I'll hold him after he is filled and ready for the frying pan."
"Is that an invitation to dinner?" Nathan said playfully, his crooked smile emerging.
"Only if you catch more fish!" She flirted back.
"Well, I'm not one to shy away from the competition so,...you're on."