Nearly two months had passed since her father’s death, and as early spring sunlight streamed through the dusty window of her father’s—now Uncle Cullen’s—bedroom, Sadie sat cross-legged in front of her father’s old trunk. The mix of worn leather and wood smelled of dust and cedar, and she inhaled a breath, mustering up the courage to sift through her father's belongings—a collection of memories and keepsakes from a life that now felt like a distant dream.
Her fingers brushed over old photographs, worn tools, and a few books, each item stirring a pang of longing. It was odd to look at these things, knowing her father would never touch them again. They had all once been his, used by him, treasured by him. For them to remain here on this earth and in this house with him gone felt odd in a way, as though now they didn’t have a home—owned by no one.
She moved a few of the journals out of the way, and a stack of envelopes tied with a yellow ribbon fell loose, slipping out to the side. Sadie cocked her head, reading the return address.
“Miss Maggie Colton,” she said to herself.
Who was that?
She grabbed the stack of envelopes and untied the ribbon, sliding a letter from one of the envelopes and unfolding the piece of paper.
My dearest Clint,
Words cannot express my utmost excitement at your proposal. Of course, my answer is yes, I will marry you. I will be on the stagecoach on the tenth of April, and I look forward to meeting you and your daughter in the town of Lone Hollow. Until I see you, take care of yourself and Sadie. I love you.
Forever yours, Maggie
Sadie's brow furrowed, and she blinked as she read the letter two more times before folding the paper and stuffing it back into the envelope. She looked through the other letters, counting ten in all, and while she didn’t read any of them, she could imagine they were along the same lines as the one she read—professing love and excitement about a budding courtship that Pa hadn’t told Sadie about.
Why didn’t he tell me?
This woman would have been her stepmother.
Did Pa not think he should tell his own daughter?
"Sadie, breakfast's ready!" Uncle Cullen's voice echoed from the kitchen, pulling her from her thoughts.
She quickly re-tied the ribbon around the letters and placed them back in the trunk before making her way to the kitchen, where the smell of eggs and bacon filled the air.
Cullen was at the stove, flipping the last of the bacon, and he motioned toward the table set for two, a routine they had settled into since he’d moved into the ranch.
“Grab my plate too, would you?” he asked her.
She grabbed both plates from the table and moved into the kitchen, heading to the stove, where he scooped up some eggs and bacon, dumping the food onto each plate. She returned to the table and sat, waiting for him to join her.
“Care to say the blessing?” he asked as he sat across from her.
“Dear Lord, we are thankful for this food and all the blessings you give us. Amen.”
“Amen,” he repeated.
Sadie grabbed her fork and stabbed some of the scrambled eggs, shoving them into her mouth. She watched her uncle do the same, and while he took a second and third bite, she swallowed her first and paused.
“Uncle Cullen, may I ask you something?”
“Why aren’t you married?”
He froze mid-bite, staring at her while he blinked. For a moment, she wondered if the question would anger him, and she almost regretted asking.
“Um,” he finally said. “Well, I was married, but my wife . . . my wife passed away.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
He nodded, returning to his breakfast.
Sadie glanced down at her eggs, moving them from one side of the plate to the other with her fork while she contemplated asking him the next question on her mind. She didn’t want to make him angry but wanted to know the answer.
The latter desire won out.
“Uncle Cullen, have you ever considered marrying again?”
He froze again and cleared his throat. “No. I can’t say that I have thought of it in the past.”
“But what about now or sometimes in the future?”
“I don’t know about now. I’ve kind of got a lot on my plate.” He chuckled, then, as he calmed, he stared at her for a moment with one eyebrow raised. “Is there a reason for your questions?”
She shrugged, hoping to hide her small white lie. “No. I was just asking.”
He continued staring at her for a moment, then went back to eating. She finished her eggs first, then the bacon, washing down the pork strips with water before taking her empty plate to the sink to wash.
Uncle Cullen followed her movement, setting his own plate in the sink. “I was thinking we need to go into town soon for some supplies, being that it’s now about a week and a half into April and planting season will start soon, I want to get some seed. What do you think? Should we go tomorrow?”
She paused, furrowing her brow. “April? It’s April?”
“Yeah, I think it’s the tenth.”
The tenth of April. That was the day Maggie would arrive on the afternoon stagecoach.
But was she still coming? Had she heard the news about Clint’s death? Who would have told her? Surely, no one knew about her if Pa hadn’t even told Sadie.
Surely, she was still coming.
“Uncle Cullen, can we go into town today?”
“Yeah. I was thinking about making an apple pie, and we don’t have any more in the root cellar.”
“I don’t know that the general store would have apples this time of year, Sadie.”
“But we could check.”
He inhaled a deep breath, and Sadie’s heart pounded at the thought of him saying no.
They just had to go to town today. They just had to.
“All right. We can go today. I’ll get the horse and wagon hitched up while you wash these dishes. We’ll leave as soon as you’re done.”