The Last Goodbye, the First Hello (#1)

The Last Goodbye, the First Hello (#1)

ONE

Sadie sat by the window, her fingers tracing the frost patterns on the glass. Outside, the harsh Montana winter draped the world in a blanket of white, its cold fingers creeping through the cabin walls. She was waiting for her father, Clint, to return from his trip, and her nine-year-old heart fluttered with anticipation, thinking of the stories he would bring back and the small trinkets that he always managed to find for her.

What would it be this time? She loved her jewelry box that he’d brought home from the last trip, but it had just sat on her nightstand empty without any necklaces or rings to put in it. Perhaps he’d get her a locket to put inside.

She would like a locket.

Especially one she could put a picture of her mother in.

She missed her mother so much.

The gate opened outside the window, and the movement caught her attention. She peered out, expecting to see her father’s familiar figure, but instead, she saw Pastor Duncan approaching, his face somber under the brim of his hat.

He knocked at the door, and as she opened it, Pastor Duncan removed his hat and nodded. “Good afternoon, Sadie. May I come in?”

Sadie nodded and opened the door more, letting the pastor inside. She’d always liked him. He gave her candies nearly every Sunday at church. But his visit today didn’t feel right in her chest. Something wasn’t right. Something was wrong.

“My pa isn’t here, Pastor Duncan. He’s away on a business trip. He should be home soon, though. I can tell him you stopped by to see him.”

Pastor Duncan knelt before her, and his eyes filled with a kindness that made Sadie’s stomach twist with unease. “That won’t be necessary. I came here to see you.”

“Me? What for?”

“I have some bad news.” He sucked in a breath. “There’s been an accident.”

“What kind of an accident?”

“A bad one, I’m afraid,” he said softly. “I’m sorry to have to tell you, but your Pa, he . . . he won’t be coming home.”

Panic began to bubble in Sadie’s chest, and she backed away from the pastor. “I don’t understand. Why isn’t he coming home?”

“I’m sorry, Sadie, but your pa . . . he’s gone. He . . . died.”

Tears filled her eyes, and she dropped to her knees, wrapping her arms around her body to hug herself. “No, that can’t be. You’re wrong. You’re mistaken.”

“I wish I was mistaken. But I’m not. I’m so sorry.”

“But Pa promised me he’d be home today. He promised.”

“I know. But he’s not going to be able to keep that promise.”

Sadie crumbled to the floor, and as she screamed, Pastor Duncan wrapped his arms around her and drew her close to him. Her father, her towering hero and the foundation of her world, was no longer coming home. The room around her felt vast and hollow, as if the walls were vanishing, taking away the echoes of laughter and the warmth that had once filled the space. The idea of never hearing his voice or his laughter again, of never hearing his stories, or of never saying goodnight while he tucked her into bed sent a piercing agony through her heart, an intensity of pain that seemed to consume her very being. He had been her anchor, her everything.

She’d already lost her mother.

Now, she lost her father.

She was an orphan.

“I’m so sorry, Sadie,” Pastor Duncan whispered. “But God has a plan for all of us, even in times of sorrow.”

“And what plan does God have for me? Where am I going to go? What is going to happen to me?”

“Well, your uncle Cullen will come and take care of you.”

“Uncle Cullen?”

“Yes, he is your father’s brother. He’s agreed to take over the ranch and live here with you. He will be your guardian now.”

Pastor Duncan let go of her trembling body and stood, making his way to the door. He opened it and motioned outside. Sadie stood, wiping the tears from her cheeks. Her father had told her about his brother, but she’d never met him.

Pastor Duncan backed away from the door, turning back to Sadie. “Uncle Cullen will take good care of you. He’s a good man, strong and kind, just like your pa. You’ll see,” Pastor Duncan said, trying to offer some comfort.

Sadie nodded, but the words felt empty.

Uncle Cullen walked inside the house before she had much time to think. Nearly twice the size of her father, he towered over her. His face was etched with grief and concern, yet there was a hint of distance to his expression, as though he didn’t want to be standing in front of her.

They stared at one another for a long minute until Uncle Cullen turned to Pastor Duncan.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” he said.

“You have to.” Pastor Duncan laid his hand on Uncle Cullen’s shoulder. “God never gives you what He can’t carry you through.”

To be continued . . .
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