Even today, two years and nine months since the rape, she couldn't stand to be in the dark. Emily Malone stood over Andrew's bed in disbelief that he was two years old already. Where had the time gone? She shook her head in wonder as she gazed lovingly at her little boy. Being a single mother was hard, but she wouldn't have missed it for the world. As always, it amazed her that such a wonderful blessing could come out of such a horrible attack. She pulled the blanket up to her son's chin and turned to leave making sure the night light was on.
Emily stopped and stared back at her son's crib, everything would be different tomorrow night at this time. They would be on the family ranch in Texas. She'd missed her Uncle Arty and Abigail a lot over the past few years. The time had come to go back home with her son. Emily knew that she wanted him raised around family. Andrew would love the ranch. It was full of cows, horses and it had the perfect little creek that had always been fun to play in. She would miss her friends here in New York, especially Michael. Although never romantically involved, Michael was the rock she leaned on and would never have made it through that terrible night and the time after if it hadn’t been for him.
Emily opened the door to Michael. “Michael, what are you going to do without me?” She said with a smile on her face.
“I’ll be alright. I still have Rick to spend my nights with.” Michael said.
Knowing that Michael would not be alone made it easier for Emily to leave.
Michael drove them to the airport, leaving the movers to finish packing the rest of their things. At the gate, Michael turned to her and said, “I’m going to miss you two, but I'll be out there in two months. Call me when you land.”
“I'll miss you too. I love you, and I couldn't have done this without you.” Emily said with tears in her eyes.
She hugged him close and he leaned over and kissed Andrew. As she walked through the tunnel to the planes, she looked back one more time as Michael waved and nodded to her. Then she and her son headed home to Texas.
Austin Mathews paced back in forth in the airport lobby, looked at his watch, and then he sighed because the plane was running late. He had already wasted his morning driving out here to pick up his boss's niece and her son. Now the plane was delayed, which meant his afternoon would be shot too. Finally, the plane landed and as he watched the passengers come through the waiting area, he watched for the one who matched the pictures back at the ranch. Finally, he saw her coming through the gate carrying her son, who was wide eyed and looking at everything.
Emily, who had been sent pictures from Abigail, knew exactly what Austin looked like, and walked right up to him. Emily held her hand out to Austin. “Hi, I’m Emily. Thank you very much for coming out here to pick us up. I told Uncle Arty that I would be fine taking a cab, but you know how he is.”
Austin smiled, “It’s no problem at all.” Austin stood there starring back at the gate.
Emily confused, she asked him, “What are you looking at?”
Austin looked at her and said, “I thought you were traveling with someone else, a man named Michael?”
Emily said, “No, Michael isn't with me; he won't be here for two months. I told Abigail that, but she must have misunderstood me.
Austin couldn't imagine letting the woman he loved, especially somebody as beautiful as Emily, and their child move by themselves and not see them for two months. He didn't know that Michael guy, but he knew already that he wouldn't like him.
“It's about an hour and a half to the ranch; how about we stop and get something to eat?” Austin asked.
“Oh. I don't want to be more of an inconvenience, than I have already been.” She glanced at her son.
Austin realized she was torn between wanting to get some lunch and not wanting to burden him even further. “If you don't mind, I'm a bit hungry”
Emily smiled. “Okay then, that would be great.”
When Austin pulled into a parking spot, Emily unbuckled Andrew and they went inside. Austin wanted to take that time to get to know Emily a little better. She seemed nice and was very beautiful. She was not too tall and not too short with her long black hair hanging down her back in a braid. She had a nice even tan that gave her a beautiful complexion. She couldn't be more than a size six.
They walked in and found a table to sit at in the back of the cafe. After a minute of looking at the menu, they ordered their food. Andrew got chicken nuggets and fries, Emily ordered a grilled chicken salad with ranch dressing, and Austin wanted a double cheeseburger with fries. The waitress said she would have their food in about fifteen minutes. Emily was really hungry since she had skipped breakfast to finish last minute packing.
Austin looked at Emily and said, “Tell me a little bit about yourself. We will be seeing a lot of each other around the ranch. I feel like I already know you since Arty talks about you all the time.” Emily smiled. “Okay, here is the short version. I have lived at the ranch since I was ten. My parents were killed in an accident and my Uncle Arty raised me with the help of Abigail. Abigail is like a mother to me. I love the ranch, and I couldn't wait to bring Andrew here. Now listen to me. You probably didn't really want to know my whole life story. You will learn fast that when I get to talking I don't always know when to shut up.”
Austin didn't mind at all. “No, it's fine. I have heard a lot about you from your uncle. He sure loves you; he talks about you all the time.”
Their food got there and they all ate. When they were finished eating, Emily took Andrew to the bathroom. It was going to be a long drive and she was trying to get him potty trained.
When they got out, Austin had already paid the bill. He said, “We should probably get going.” Emily agreed, “Yes, you are right, but let me pay for our lunch. I didn't mean for you to pay for me and Andrew.”
Austin said, “No, really, it's fine. Don't worry about it.”
They got Andrew all buckled in his car seat and started their long drive. Emily could remember so much as they drove down the road. She grew up here, and was so happy to be back. Emily sat there looking out of the truck window thinking. She knew Andrew would have a much better life here than he would have had in the city. The city had more crime than she wanted around her son. She would not even leave her house after dark alone anymore. It was hard to get completely over all of her fears, but Emily had been to therapy, and that had helped. The thing that always made it hard was the fact that she knew that the guy who raped her was walking free. She could have seen him in the store or a gas station and not even known it. It had been awhile since she had thought about it; the ride was so long and quiet that it left plenty of time to do nothing but think.
Emily must have had a sad look on her face because Austin said, “Are you okay? You just went somewhere for a minute. Do you want to talk about it?”
Emily looked over at him, not ready to tell him her whole sad story. She didn't know him yet and honestly she may never tell him. She said, “Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I am tired from the long flight.” Austin felt like there was something she wasn't telling him, but he didn't want to pry. “We will be there soon. I know Arty can't wait to see you. Abigail has been cooking and baking all day.”
Emily laughed, “That sounds like Abigail. She has worked for my Uncle Arty for thirty years, and she practically raised me. I know they love each other. I have always felt that they were more than just friends and always wondered why they never got married, or at least admitted to being a couple.”
Austin said, “I don't know, some people are happier if they stay separate. For some reason some people don't like the idea of making it legal. My parents did nothing but fight when they were married, but when they got divorced everything was great. There was only one thing that I disagreed with that my mother did; she never let my father in on anything that was going on in my life. I got hurt one time and went to the hospital. I broke my arm, and she never even called my father. I think even if you don't live together the father has a right to know what is going on in his kid's life. I am sorry. You didn't need to hear my boring life story.”
Emily was glad to get her thoughts off her own sad story, “No, I loved hearing about you. Abigail talks about you all the time. I feel like I have known you forever.”
Emily couldn't help but think about how great Austin was. She wished she could be with him, but she didn't even know him. How could she feel that way about somebody that she only met moments ago? It just felt like she had known him her whole life. He was so easy to talk to. Emily'd never felt like that before, and she didn't even know if he had a wife or a girlfriend. He wasn't wearing a wedding ring, but a lot of guys didn't when they did ranch work; the ring could get caught on something. She had not even made it to the ranch yet and she was already thinking about a man. She knew that she better stop thinking like that. Austin was probably being nice and making small talk. He didn't even know her, how could she possibly think he would be interested in her?
Austin turned to Emily and said, “If you need anything, you let me know. I am at the ranch every day.”
Emily liked hearing that. “Thank you very much. I might just take you up on that.” The closer they got to the ranch the more excited Emily got. Driving down the road she saw different farmers with produce stands set up. Emily missed these in New York; she loved going up to a table and having a farmer that had been farming for many years tell a story about his crops. She felt like people cared around here. Back in New York nobody ever talked to anyone else; people never took a minute to say hello to one another. That was one of the main reasons Emily wanted to move back home with Andrew. She wanted him to have family, and learn how to talk to people, and respect people and things in life. She was afraid that he would miss out on those lessons living in the big city.
She didn't want Uncle Arty to be paying for everything that she wanted. It was going to be a while before her trust fund came in, and she wanted to make something of herself. Emily could now say that she had a very successful career, a beautiful baby, and a wonderful best friend. Emily did not regret her decision to move to New York. Yes, some bad things happened, but so did a lot of good things. Now it was time to go back home to her family. It wasn't much further to the ranch and she couldn't wait. She asked Austin, “How long have you worked for Uncle Arty?”
Austin said, “I have worked for him for a little over a year, but it feels like I have known them my whole life. They are so easy to talk to. I really love Arty and Abigail.”
Emily knew exactly how he felt. “Do you live on the ranch?”
Austin laughed at that. “I might as well since I am there all of the time, but I actually have a house about ten minutes down the road; it's actually a house that Arty built for me on his land. I owe a lot to him. He has been like a second father to me. Most of the time I am working at the ranch.”
They would be at the ranch in about twenty more minutes, and Emily could not wait. She was getting more excited by the minute. She turned around and started waking Andrew up. Andrew sat up in his seat and looked out the window. He could already see Uncle Arty's cows in the field. He sat in the back seat of the truck and made moo noises. That made Emily and Austin both laugh. Austin joined in making noises too. Emily smiled at the two of them. She couldn't believe how good he was with Andrew. Most men wouldn't take the time to make her son laugh. That was the difference in the big city people and the ranch folk. The country life was like another world. The people were different and they seemed nicer somehow. Emily was very happy to be getting there. This day seemed like it was never going to come. The flight was so long, but the truck ride had been pretty nice. Austin seemed really great, and she couldn't wait to spend some more time with him.
Finally Emily saw the long dirt road leading up to the beautiful two story ranch house. She couldn't wait to see Uncle Arty and Abigail. Dust was flying up from the road, and Andrew was laughing at all of the dust clouds. This was the first time he had been to the ranch. They finally reached the house; Abigail came running out, and Emily ran up and threw her arms around her.
Emily said, “I have missed you.” Austin was getting Andrew out of his car seat when Uncle Arty came running over to him. He picked him up and swung him around in a big circle. Andrew was laughing the whole time.
Uncle Arty was very excited. He said, “I have so much to show you; your new house that Austin built, the playground, and everything else.”
Emily said, “I have missed you so much Uncle Arty. I am glad to be home.”
Austin said, “I am going to give you guys some time alone. Just call me if you need me.”
Emily looked at him and said, “Thank you for the ride.”
Uncle Arty started showing Emily everything. He started with the huge playground he had built for Andrew. Andrew's eyes lit up. Next he showed her the house. Emily fell in love with it instantly; it was the most beautiful cabin that she had ever seen. It was perfect with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a huge kitchen because she loved to cook. Emily ran right over to Uncle Arty and gave him a big hug.
She said, “I love you, and I love this house. I have to tell Austin what a great job he did the next time I see him. Thank you very much for everything.”
Emily could not wait until tomorrow when all of her furniture and other things would be there. Tonight she and Andrew would stay at Uncle Arty's house.
The next day the big moving truck got there, and Emily was full of excitement. Abigail offered to watch Andrew for the day so that Emily could get some stuff done. When the truck finally left, there were boxes everywhere. It was going to take a long time to get this all put away. Just then Emily heard a knock at the door; it was Austin.
“Hi”, he said. “Uncle Arty thought you could use my help today.”
Emily looked at him and said, “Yes, that would be great, if you don't mind.”
Austin said, “I don't mind at all.” They didn't waste any time before they got started emptying boxes.
Emily was really beginning to like Austin even though she didn't even know him. She knew that she had just met him, but she couldn't stop thinking about him. He was extremely nice and he was spending his day helping her unpack and organize her house. He was probably only doing it because Uncle Arty asked him to. Why would this great looking and super nice guy want to get mixed up with a single mother? He probably wasn't interested in an instant family. Emily decided that it would be best if she just concentrated on the job of unpacking. After hours of working nonstop, Emily told Austin, “ Let's take a little break. I will make some iced tea for us.” Uncle Arty had gone shopping and fully stocked all of the cabinets, the freezer, and the refrigerator. Emily could not believe that he had gone to all of that trouble. They went out on the porch swing to take a break.
Emily asked Austin, “So, tell me a little bit about yourself; I told you my life story.”
Austin said, “Okay. I will go first then you have to tell me more about you. I am thirty-five and pretty much a loner. My parents have both passed away and I don't have any other family; Arty and Abigail are the only family I have. That is about it for my life story.”
Emily smiled and said, “You won't find better people than Uncle Arty and Abigail. I love them more than anyone in the world. Well except Andrew of course.”
Austin thought that it was kind of strange for her to say; she hadn't mentioned Michael. Every story that Arty and Abigail had told him about Emily started with Emily and Michael. All of the stories were happy ones. Now Emily was here and Michael wasn't. What was he missing? Things didn't add up for him. She said that Michael would not be here for two months. Austin couldn't help but wonder if maybe they weren't as happy as he thought they were. All Austin kept thinking was that he had to know. He would never think of coming between two happy people, but if they were not happy he wanted to be the one to make her happy.
Emily said, “Well, Are you ready to get back to unpacking these boxes. I need to go get Andrew soon.”
Austin snapped out of his thoughts and said, “Oh, yeah, let's get to it.” Emily knew that it would take a few days to get everything the way that she wanted it, but it was really starting to look good. She couldn't wait to show Abigail. They worked for a few more hours and then decided to take a break for the night; Emily could do the rest by herself. She couldn't wait any longer to show Andrew his room. Just as they got back to Uncle Arty's house, Abigail was standing at the door holding the cordless phone; Michael was on the phone she told Emily. Emily ran for the house. She had to tell Michael about the house. It had only been two days since she saw him, but she already missed him. He told her about his new boyfriend, Tracey. Emily laughed that his boyfriend had a girl's name; that made Michael laugh too. Then she had to tell him about Austin.
Finally Michael laughed and said, “You have got it bad for this guy. I have never heard you talk about any guy like this before.”
Emily laughed and said, “I better go before you spend all of your money on this call and then you can't come and see me. I love you and I will see you soon.”
Austin was sitting outside waiting on her to finish on the phone. He didn't know why, but he hated the fact that she was talking to another man. He could see the smile on her face as she came out of the house.
Austin asked Emily, “Do you want to do anymore tonight?”
Emily could see how tired Austin looked so she said, “No, I think I will call it a night, but I would like to thank you for all of your help. How about you come over tomorrow night and I will cook you dinner.”
Austin, very happy with that idea, said, “Yeah, sure that sounds good to me.” Emily was very happy. She couldn't wait until tomorrow.
Emily woke up early and got out of bed. Andrew was still sleeping when she started putting away more things. She was being very careful not to make too much noise so she didn't wake up Andrew. She was getting more excited about tonight every minute. Austin would be coming over for dinner. She had already decided that she would make a homemade beef stew, with a salad and bread. She worked on it all day. Emily realized that she hadn't heard from Austin at all today. She hoped that he hadn't forgotten. Then she started feeling a little bad. Why would he want to hang out with her and her son, when he could be out there finding a woman with less drama in her life?
Austin was getting ready to go to Emily's house for dinner. Then he realized that this was not a date. She was only being nice to him for helping her out. That made him a little sad. Austin finally got there and Emily told him to come right in. They sat down and had a very nice dinner. They talked for hours after Andrew was put to bed. Austin was so glad that Emily hadn't spent the night talking about her and Michael, but he was surprised that she hadn't mentioned him at least once. It was not yet midnight and Austin thought he should probably go. He didn't want to, but he knew that he should. “I should go. It is late and we have a lot to do on the ranch tomorrow.”
Emily said, “Okay. I understand. I hope to do this again sometime.”
A couple of weeks went by before Emily saw Austin again. It was time to start gathering the heard on the ranch. He was doing very long days. Finally she saw him coming out of Uncle Arty's house when she was about to go in.
She said, “Hi, I haven't seen much of you lately.”
Austin said, “Yeah, I'm sorry I haven't stopped by. I have been meaning to; it has just been very busy around here.”
Emily said, “Abigail is going to keep Andrew for a few hours so that I can check out the ranch. It has been so long since I have seen it. Would you like to go riding with me?”
Without taking a minute to think about it, Austin said, “Yes.” They went to the stables, put saddles on two horses and started out on their ride.
Emily couldn't wait to find out more about Austin, “Are you married? If that is too personal, then don't answer. I sometimes talk before I think.”
Austin said, “Don't worry about it. You can ask me anything. No, I am not married. I never found the right woman.” Austin looked at Emily. “What about you?”
Emily said, “I never found the right person either. It is just me and Andrew.”
Austin thought it was strange that she didn't follow that up with something like, now she had found the right person in Michael. He couldn't figure out why she said that it was only her and Andrew. They went riding some more. Emily said that she remembered a small creek with a spring running through it.
Austin said, “Yes, I know where that is, I will show you.”
When they got there, Emily was amazed at how beautiful it was. They got off their horses for a little while. Emily loved this ranch with all of her heart. It brought back many childhood memories. She used to come and play in this creek when she was younger. She would spend her summers outside been every day until dark. She loved riding horses and playing in the creek. Then she would help Abigail in the kitchen. She had so much fun there. That was what she wanted for Andrew. She wanted his life filled with great memories.
Austin looked up and saw some rain clouds coming in. He said, “We should get back before it rains on us.”
Emily said, “Yes, you’re right. I don't want to leave Andrew too long either.”
Austin hated the fact that it was going to rain. He was really enjoying spending time with Emily. He wanted to spend some more time with her so he asked, “Are you doing anything tomorrow?”
Emily said, “Well, actually I need to buy a truck. I hate having to borrow Uncle Arty's every time I need to go somewhere. If Uncle Arty is feeling up to it, then I am going to see if he wants to take me into town.” Austin just found a way to spend some more time with Emily.
He said, “Don't worry about it, I will take you. I will pick you up at 8:00 in the morning.” Emily was glad to hear that he wanted to take her. She really enjoyed spending time with him.
They got back to the stables and put the horses away. Austin said, “I had a really good time. We should do it again.”
Emily agreed with him and they walked to the house. Andrew came running. He had a big cookie in his hands and an even bigger smile on his face. Emily looked at Abigail with a smile. “I can see you two are having fun.”
Abigail said, “Andrew is a very good helper. He helps me make the cookies and then he helps me eat them.”
Emily took Andrew and headed to her house.
Austin said, “Hop in the truck; I will give you a ride.” Emily and Andrew got in the truck just as it started to rain; they made it just in the nick of time got. When they got to Emily's house she asked, “Would you like to stay for dinner?”
He said, “Yes, that would be great.”
Just then the phone rang and it was Michael. Emily talked for a while and then told him that she would call him back later, that Austin was there.
Austin said, “You didn't have to hang up on my account. I know that you miss him.”
Emily said, “Yes, I miss him, but he was calling to tell me that he will be here in two days. He finished things sooner than expected.”
Austin's heart sank to the floor. He had wished that Michael would never come back. He was slowly falling in love with Emily. They finished dinner and decided to call it a night since they would see each other in the morning.
Emily called Michael back after Austin left. “So Michael, how is your boyfriend Tracey doing?”
Michael laughed, “He is fine, but I am more interested in how your boyfriend Austin is doing.” Emily laughed and said, “I really wish he was my boyfriend, but I am taking things very slow.” Michael said, “Well, I better go; I will see you in two days.”
The next morning Austin had come over just like he said he would. He knocked on the door and asked Emily, “Are you ready to go.
Emily said, “Yes, I just need to get Andrew ready. Is it alright if he comes with us?”
Austin was surprised that she thought she had to ask. “Of course it is alright. You never have to ask to bring your son. I love that little guy.”
That made Emily very happy to hear. She only wished that he loved her.
They spent the rest of the day together going from car lot to car lot until they found the perfect truck. Emily bought it without taking a second thought. Austin thought that it was a little strange that she didn't wait until Michael got there tomorrow so that they could pick out a truck together, but nothing about their relationship was making much since to him. He also thought that it was strange that she never talked about Michael at all. Austin really wanted to ask Uncle Arty or Abigail about Emily and Michael, but he thought that it would be wrong to go behind her back like that.
Emily said, “Are you ready to head back to the ranch? I have a lot of stuff to get done tonight; Michael will be here tomorrow. Oh, wait. Have you heard about Michael from Uncle Arty and Abigail?”
Austin hated the thought of Michael coming. With a blank look, he said, “Yes, Abigail and Uncle Arty talked about you and Michael a lot before you got here.”
Emily said, “Good. You will love him. He is only staying a few days, but it will be a great few days.”
Now Austin was totally confused. How could that man be away from his family for two months and then only stay a few days? Why has he not moved here? Austin hated Michael more and more every day. If Emily was his girlfriend, he would never leave her.
Emily noticed that Austin looked a little mad, “Are you alright?”
Austin, startled a little, said, “I guess I was day dreaming. I am fine. Let's get going.”
Emily buckled Andrew in his seat that she put into her new truck. Then she went over to Austin. “Thank you for doing this for me. I have something for you back at my cabin if you want to come there.”
Austin would take any excuse he could get to spend time with Emily. He said, “Yeah sure, I can follow you back to your house, but you really didn't have to get me anything. I don't mind helping you out.”
They pulled into Emily's driveway and she told Austin, “Come in and make yourself comfortable. I need to put Andrew in bed.” When she got back she handed Austin a small box. He opened it and inside was the most perfect gift anyone had ever given him. It was a silver pocket watch with the scenery of the ranch on the front. It had the creek and some horses on it and on the back of it Emily had it engraved. It said, “To the greatest man I have ever known. Love Emily”
Austin was speechless. He didn't know what to think. Did she really love him or did she sign everything that she writes, love Emily. Austin without thinking, grabbed hold of Emily, pulled her to him and kissed her ever so softly.
Just then she heard Andrew cry. She told Austin, “I will be right back. I have to check on him.” Austin could see that she was a great mother. Emily went to check on Andrew; he was fine and had already went back to sleep before she got in to his room.
Emily came back into the living room and suggested that they watch a movie. She put one in the DVD player and then they got comfortable on the couch. Austin put his arm around Emily and they laid there watching a movie until they both fell asleep. Emily woke up first. She looked down and saw that she was lying in Austin's arms. She had been there all night and it felt wonderful. As much as she hated it, Emily had to get up. She promised Abigail that she would be there first thing today. Michael would be there that evening, and Abigail wanted to get some baking done. She was cooking Michael a special dinner tonight. Emily didn't want to wake Austin; he looked too peaceful so she wrote him a note.
It said, “Austin, last night was great. Thank you for staying. I didn't want to wake you. You looked to peaceful. I am at Uncle Arty's. I promised Abigail that I would be there early this morning. Michael will be here this evening and Abigail needs some help getting things together. I can't wait for you to meet him. I know you will love him the way I do. I will see you later.” Then she went and got Andrew ready. Emily and Andrew headed over to Uncle Arty's.
Austin got up to a quiet house. He looked around, but didn't see anyone. When he made it to the table, he saw the note. He picked it up and read it. He felt like the wind had just been kicked out of him. Michael would be there. How could she seem happy about Michael coming after spending the night with him? The more Austin thought about it the angrier it made him. He decided to keep himself busy. Uncle Arty had an old barn that he wanted torn down; it had needed taken down for the last few years because it wasn't safe anymore. Uncle Arty was surprised that it hadn't fallen down by now. With Andrew there now, Uncle Arty wanted any buildings that were not safe to be taken completely down. Austin decided to throw himself into his work. He always got more accomplished when he was mad.
Emily finished with Abigail and had seen Austin go into the old barn; it had been hours ago. Abigail suggested that she take Austin some lunch and something cold to drink. She packed some sandwiches, chips, fruit, and iced tea. Emily headed up to the barn.
Austin had been working nonstop since he got up there. He hadn't even realized that it was past lunch time; he had so much going through his head right now.
Emily came walking in with a picnic basket. She said, “Hi. Are you hungry?” Austin didn't know what to think. Emily had time to think about him even though Michael would be there in a couple of hours.
He said, “Yes. I guess I am. I hadn't noticed that it was getting so late. You didn't have to do this, but thank you anyway.”
Emily smiled, “Well I can't take all of the credit. Abigail suggested it. I just agreed that it was a good idea.” They spent the next hour sitting and talking about what a great time they had last night.
Emily didn't want to rush into anything. She knew that it would be asking a lot of somebody to get involved with her. She was a single mother who didn't even know who the father of her child was. It would also take her some time before she could be completely honest with someone about what happened to her. It was a very hard time in her life, and she wasn't ready to talk to Austin about it. Emily just hoped deep in her heart that Austin would be willing to give her a chance. She was falling in love with him fast.
Emily left Austin and went back to Uncle Arty's to help Abigail some more. Andrew was busy playing with Uncle Arty on the playground. Abigail and Emily spent the next few hours baking breads and a cake. Abigail planned a huge meal in honor of Michael. She was going to make: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, salad, bread, corn on the cob, and a cake for dessert. Michael was going to love all of this good home cooking. He didn't get food like this in New York. It was always fast food that you had to eat in a hurry. Emily could not wait for him to get there; she had so much to tell him, mostly about Austin. She and Austin were getting closer by the day. She hoped that Austin felt the same way that she did.
It was getting late and Michael would be there in about forty- five minutes. Emily decided to take Andrew home to get him cleaned up; he had been playing in the dirt all day. She could tell that Andrew really loved it there. She took the time to change her own clothes too. She had been baking with Abigail all day, and she had flour all over her shirt. By now, Emily was starting to get excited. She got Andrew back in the truck to go back to Uncle Arty's. She wanted to show Michael everything and wished that she had more time to do it. She really wanted to introduce Michael to Austin; she wanted her best friend to meet the man that she loved. The only problem with that was that she didn't think the man loved her back.
Austin finished working for the day and decided to go straight home. Usually he would stop in for dinner with Abigail and Uncle Arty, but that night he didn't feel like it. He wasn't ready to see Emily with another man. He had already decided that he would stay clear of them for the next couple of days. He didn't think his heart could take seeing some other man put his arms around Emily. Austin knew that they could have something really good together. It seemed to him that Emily and Michael couldn't have much of a relationship. Emily lived here with Andrew and Michael lived in New York. What kind of relationship could that really be? They had such a good time last night. He loved the way she fell asleep in his arms; he wanted every night to be like that. Why does he always seem to fall for the wrong women? Emily was perfect except for the fact that she had Michael. Austin didn't want to be the reason that Andrew's parent's split up, but his parents were divorced and he turned out fine. He decided that he couldn't keep going back and forth like that all night. He took a shower, fixed something to eat, and went to bed. His plans were to stay clear of Emily and Michael for the next few days.
Emily saw a car coming down the drive and knew that it had to be Michael. He was finally there. She ran out on the porch to greet him. When he got out of the car, he didn't make it to the porch before Emily was running to him. She hugged him so long that time stood still.
Emily said, “I have missed you so much. There is so much I have to show you and tell you.” Michael smiled. “I have missed you too, but you're squeezing the breath out of me.” They both started laughing when Abigail came out to interrupt.
“Are you two going to stay out here all night or would you like to come in and eat?”
Michael was starving because the trip had been very long. He said, “I will race you to the table.”
Abigail laughed as she watched them run toward the house like kids. Emily was glad to have her friend back; it was a shame that it was only for a couple of days. Michael was hoping to stay longer, but he had a story that had to be done next week. He could only stay about three days, but she understood.
After they ate, they all sat around talking for a while.
Emily said, “I hate to be the one to break this party up, but I need to get Andrew home to bed.” Emily and Michael headed for her house. She put Andrew to bed and then she and Michael sat up for a few more hours talking. Emily told him about her night with Austin last night.
Michael said, “It sounds like things are coming along pretty good for you. I hate to be the one to bring the mood down, but have you thought about telling him what happened yet?”
Sadness filled Emily's face as she thought about it. “No, I don't think it is the right time yet. It is just too soon, and I hardly know him yet. I want him to fall in love with me, not feel sorry for me. I don't want somebody to feel sorry for me and think that they have to take care of me. I have been doing just fine on my own the past few years. I had you of course and I couldn't have done it without you. I will tell Austin when I think the time is right; if things ever get that far.”
Michael said, “Oh, I think things will work out great for you. It sounds like things are already moving in that direction.”
They talked for a little while longer and then decided to call it a night. Michael was exhausted from the flight and then renting a car and driving another hour and a half. It was already two in the morning and Andrew would be up by 8:00.
The next morning Andrew came running filled with excitement about Michael being there. He ran to the living room where Michael was sleeping on the hide a bed couch. Michael woke up smiling. He had really missed that little guy; he went from seeing him every day to not seeing him for two months and that was a big change.
Emily got up and fixed a big breakfast for them. Then she told Michael that she wanted to show him the ranch. Abigail had offered to keep Andrew today so that they could have some time to visit. Emily got the kitchen cleaned up and got her and Andrew dressed. Then she and Michael went over to Uncle Arty's house to drop off Andrew.
Abigail came to the door right away and said, “I have been waiting for this little guy; I have big plans for him today. We are going to finger paint. I have it all set up.”
Emily couldn't help but laugh. “Do you know what you are getting yourself into? He is going to have a mess everywhere.”
Abigail smiled, “I don't care. I love having a little one around. It has been a long time since you were his age. You two go have fun today. Don't worry about us.”
Emily and Michael headed for the stables. They saddled up two horses and started out their ride. The first thing that she wanted to show Michael was the creek; it was so beautiful this time of the year. It was early fall now and the leaves had started turning colors. The scenery was perfect. He wouldn't see scenery like this when he got back to New York. They rode across the ranch for a couple of hours with time flying by.
Back at Uncle Arty's house, Andrew was having the time of his life. Austin just got there for lunch. Abigail always fixed him lunch. He didn't want to come there today because he wasn't ready to meet Michael, but he didn't want to disappoint Abigail. When he got there, he noticed that Emily and Michael were nowhere in sight. He walked inside and saw Andrew playing with Abigail.
“Hi, you guys. What's going on here?”
Abigail had paint on her face, but she was having a great time. “Your lunch is on the table.” she said.
Austin went to the table to eat. The whole time he was thinking how could a father not see his son for two months and then leave him with Abigail all day and not even spend time with him? It made him mad to think about it. Austin finished his lunch and then went back up to the old barn to finish tearing it down. Working helped him keep his mind off Emily and Michael.
Emily told Michael, “I guess we better head back and check on Andrew. Abigail had probably fixed you a big lunch too. She loves you to death.”
Michael was starting to get a little hungry. “I really love her too. I hope I get the chance to visit with Uncle Arty too. I know he is busy on the ranch right now.”
“Yes he is. I wish he would slow down a little bit.” Emily said.
They got back to the house after putting the horses up. They were right; Abigail had a big lunch fixed for them. She told them that they had just missed Austin. That made Emily a little sad because she wanted him to meet Michael. Emily told Michael, “I will make sure that you meet him before he leaves.”
Uncle Arty came in a few minutes later to eat. He told Michael. “Come on Michael. I want to show you the cattle.” Michael was writing a story about cattle farmers. Uncle Arty told him, “I can answer any questions that you have.” They took off for a few hours in the truck.
Emily looked so tired that Abigail said, “Why don't you go take a little nap. Andrew and I are fine, and Michael will be gone for a few hours.”
Emily was tired. She and Michael had stayed up so late and Andrew always got up early. She decided to take Abigail up on the offer. Emily went into the den to lie down on the couch and fell fast asleep.
Austin came in for a break as he often did. He wanted to fill up the small thermos. Abigail told him that it was in the den beside the desk; she told him that Emily was asleep so be very quiet. When he saw her laying there so peaceful, he couldn't help but fall in love with her. He realized that there was no sign of Michael again. Was he planning on spending any time with his son? Austin knew that he didn't like this guy at all. He also knew that he would only be here for two more days and that he would have to meet him eventually.
Emily woke up a few hours later when she heard Michael and Uncle Arty coming in. She got up to go check on Andrew and found him taking a nap. She laughed, “I guess nap time runs in the family.” She looked at Michael and Uncle Arty, “Did you two have a good time?”
Michael looked a little tired, but said, “Yes I really enjoyed myself.”
Emily started helping Abigail with dinner. Abigail believed in fixing a nutritional meal every time. She never fixed anything fast and easy. It was always a good home cooked meal that always tasted delicious. Tonight she had fixed a pot roast with carrots and potatoes. For her side dish she fixed broccoli with cheese sauce. Abigail was a wonderful cook and her meals were always perfect. Michael had not had meals like this ever; he had lived in New York his whole life. Everything was fast paced most of the time, grabbing some fast food. If he did want to sit down and eat, he could go to a nice restaurant, but it didn't compare to Abigail's home cooking.
After a few hours of visiting Emily said, “We should probably get going back to my house.” After they put Andrew to bed they decided to sit out on the porch swing. Emily said, “Have you called Tracey since you have been here?
Michael said, “No, I have been so busy. I will call him tomorrow. I think he is the one for me. I really think I am in love now.”
Emily knew how he felt. “I think I am in love too. I am afraid to tell Austin though. What if it is too soon or he doesn't feel the same way? Then I will have ruined a perfectly good friendship.” Michael thought for a minute. “I see your point, but if you don't take a chance then you will never know. I mean look at me, I take chances every day. You can't live your whole life being afraid. Believe me, I know how much you went through and it is tough to trust people after that. If you love this guy, then I say go for it.”
Emily always loved how Michael wasn't afraid of anything. She wished that she could be more like him. The thought of telling Austin that she loved him scared her to death. She would probably just take it slow and see how things went.
Emily was a little sad. Michael would be leaving soon. She wanted to spend as much time with him as she could. Tomorrow they would be having dinner with Uncle Arty and Abigail again. Abigail wanted to give Michael a nice goodbye dinner; he would be leaving the day after tomorrow. They decided to go to bed since it was getting late. When they got up Emily was going to take Michael into town so that he could get a little sightseeing in before he headed back home.
The next day they got up early and went into town. Emily showed Michael all the best places. They took Andrew to the park for lunch; he loved the park even though he had that huge playground at home. After they left the park, they decided to go shopping. They wanted to surprise Abigail with something for everything that she had done for them. They went from store to store trying to find the perfect gift. Finally, in the last store that they went in, just before they gave up, they found a beautiful gold antique looking locket on a gold chain. It was perfect. Abigail would love it. They couldn't wait until they got back to give it to her. They decided to go ahead and head back before it got too late.
Just as they pulled up to a four way stop, a big 4- wheel drive truck came out of nowhere and smashed right into them. The truck spun around and hit the light pole hard. The noise of the crash was extremely loud. Parts were scattered all over the road. She didn't know what had just happened. Emily jumped out of the truck and opened Andrew's door. She was so scared, but she had to see if her son was alright. Andrew was crying, but he didn't seem to be hurt. She asked Michael if he was alright. Michael said yes. Then they went over to the other driver to check on him. The other driver said that he was fine, that his brakes went out. He was very sorry and would pay for everything. The whole front end of Emily's truck was smashed in. There was no way that she could drive it home; they would have to call Uncle Arty to come and get them. Emily got out her cell phone to call him. She heard a hello from the other end but didn't recognize the voice.
She said, “Hi, this is Emily. Who is this?”
Austin answered, “It is Austin. Is everything alright?” Emily started to cry. It all hit her all of the sudden that she could have just lost her son in an instant.
She said, “I am sorry. We just had an accident. I can't drive my truck home and I really need a ride home. Andrew is so scared right now.”
Austin stopped her, “Okay, slow down. You are talking so fast. I can't understand you. Is everyone alright?
Emily took a deep breath. “Yes, I think we are all fine. We are at that small store on the corner of Main Street. Can you come and get us?”
Austin said yes instantly. He was scared and wasn't thrilled about having to meet Michael this way, but he had to go check on Emily; he had to be sure she was alright.
Emily and Michael waited for the tow truck to get there; then they walked over to the cafe to get Andrew an ice cream. They knew he was scared from the wreck. They had some time before Austin would be there.
Emily told Michael, “I am so sorry. You come here all the way from New York just so that I can get you into a car accident. What a friend I am.”
Michael said, “It was not your fault. Don't worry. I still love you.” Emily laughed. Andrew was playing with a new toy he had bought at the store. It didn't seem to phase him that they were just in an accident.
Austin was pulling in now, after what seemed like hours. Emily ran to him and gave him big hug. She needed to feel his arms around her. As much as Austin loved feeling her, he knew he had to pull away. Michael was there.
Emily said, “Thank you so much for coming to get us. Andrew really needs to get home; this shook him up a lot. Oh, before I forget. Austin this is Michael.” Austin, not too happy to have to meet Michael, said, “Hi, nice to meet you. Let's go ahead and get going.” Michael got in the back seat with Andrew and Emily got in the front with Austin.
Emily told Austin, “Tomorrow night we are having dinner at Uncle Arty's and Abigail's if you would like to come. It will be Michael's last night here, so we thought we would all get together. He will have to leave the next morning.”
Austin could not believe that Michael was still planning on leaving after only being here a few days. He could not imagine ever leaving Emily. He didn't want to spend time with Michael, but he said, “OK. That sounds great. I will be there.” He couldn't believe those words just came from his mouth. They finally made it back to Emily's house. Her truck would be in the shop for a couple of weeks. She was back to borrowing Uncle Arty's. Austin said that he needed to go, but he would see her tomorrow night. Emily thought that he seemed very quiet on the ride home. Maybe he was just tired from working on the ranch all day.
Emily put Andrew to bed and then went back to the living room where Michael was. She said, “I think I am just going to go to bed. I have a terrible headache right now.”
Michael said that he was really tired also. Emily went to sleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. She was so tired that she started having nightmares; she started reliving that horrible night when she was raped. She was yelling, “No, stop. Please don't hurt me.”
Michael came running. “Emily, wake up. It is just a dream. You are alright now.”
Emily woke up. “I am so sorry. I don't know what had gotten into me. I guess the scare of the wreck brought up some bad memories.”
Michael felt bad for Emily. He didn't always know exactly what to say in this situation, but he sat there with her until she fell back asleep. Then he went back to the couch and went to sleep himself.
The next day they got up and sat at the table with some orange juice.
Emily said, “Thank you for last night. I am sorry that I woke you.”
Michael said, “It is alright. You know that I love you.”
Emily smiled and said, “I know you do. I am going to start some breakfast.” They knew that after breakfast they would have to go over to Uncle Arty's and let him know that they were alright. He had called twice yesterday and once today already. He wanted to make sure they were alright. They got dressed, got Andrew dressed, and then headed over that way. Uncle Arty came running as soon as he saw them coming. He ran out and hugged Emily and asked if she was alright. After reassuring him that they were fine, they all went into the house. Emily had brought the gift for Abigail; she wanted to give it to her this morning. Abigail came down the stairs just then. She ran over to Emily and gave her a big hug.
Emily said, “I am alright, and I have something for you.”
When she gave it to Abigail, tears filled her eyes. Abigail said, “Oh, Emily. It is beautiful, I love it so much. Thank You. I love you.”
They spent the rest of the day getting everything ready for tonight. Abigail wanted everything perfect. They were going to start the outside grill. Abigail had planned on grilling steaks, having baked potatoes, grilled vegetables, and strawberry shortcakes for dessert. Abigail always planned her meals in the mornings, that way she had everything in order for dinner. The day went by kind of fast and before Emily knew it the sun had went down and it was time to start dinner.
Michael told Emily, “I am going to go outside and call Tracey. I haven't talked to him today and I want to tell him when I will be leaving in the morning.”
Emily said, “Okay, tell him hi for me.”
Austin was getting ready to go over to Uncle Arty's house; he still didn't know why he agreed to go sit with the woman he loved and her boyfriend. He just always seemed to get himself into uncomfortable situations. Maybe things wouldn't be that bad. All he had had to do was eat dinner, make some small talk and then get out of there. How hard could that be? He decided to take a quick shower and wear the new shirt that he had bought the other day. The least he could do was make himself look presentable. He got into his truck and headed over to Uncle Arty's house.