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Five Years Later

Wyoming 1884

“Mommy!” Jasmine exclaimed as she ran into the kitchen and buried herself under Caroline’s skirts.

“What’s the matter?” Caroline demanded as she continued to stir the cake batter she was busy mixing.

“Gregory is trying to throw a toad at me!” Came her daughters muffled response from under the folds of fabric.

“Am not!” Gregory exclaimed defensively as he entered the kitchen at a whirlwind pace and skidded to a stop on the hardwood floor.

“What’s behind your back?” Caroline asked as she fought back a smile. Gregory kept his hands clasped firmly behind him and shrugged.

“Nuttin.” he mumbled. Caroline couldn’t help but laugh when the toad in his hands let out a loud ‘CROAK!’ Gregory was so much like his uncle, his namesake, that sometimes Caroline wondered if she and Ethan hadn’t made a mistake by giving him her younger brothers name.

“That’s a pretty loud ‘nuttin’.” Caroline replied. She pointed toward the door. “Take the toad back outside and stop trying to scare your sister.”

“I wasn’t trying to scare her. I just wanted her to pet it. She ain’t nothing but a big ol’ crybaby.”

“Am not!” Jasmine spat angrily from beneath Caroline’s dress.

“Folks must be right when they call me crazy.” Grayson said with a laugh as he walked into the kitchen. “Because I could have sworn I just heard your skirt talk.”

“That was me, uncle Gray.” Jasmine said with a giggle as she poked her head out of her hiding spot.

“Well I’ll be!” Grayson exclaimed with feigned surprise as he covered his chest with his wrinkled hand. “What are you doing under there?”

“Gregory’s toad is trying to kill me.” Jasmine replied in a very serious manner. Caroline was unable to keep herself from laughing lightly. Jasmine was the most dramatic three year old that Caroline had ever known.

“Is that so?” Grayson asked, clucking his tongue against his toothless gums. “Why I ain’t never heard of a killer toad before.”

“It ain’t a killer toad, Uncle Gray. It’s just a regular one.” Gregory replied as he held it up for Grayson to see.

“That’s funny, because I thought you said it was a nuttin.” Caroline reminded him with a raise of her brow. Gregory gave her a sheepish grin that reminded her of Ethan and then he ran for the door.

“Come on, Uncle Gray, help me put it somewhere safe!” he exclaimed. Grayson started toward the door laughing and Jasmine jumped out from under Caroline’s skirts and joined them.

“Keep it away from my chickens!” she yelled.

Peace and quiet once again overtook the kitchen of their small, homey cabin and Caroline poured the cake batter into a pan. Ethan had been gone for nearly two months taking some cattle to market and getting supplies but he was due home today and she wanted to have this cake done before he arrived.

She had news to tell him about the tiny life that was growing inside of her. Their third child. She placed the pan of batter into the oven and then stood straight and laid her hand over her stomach.

Life had been so hard for so long. Death, pain, fear and desperation had seemed as if it would never end for her or for Ethan. But finally they had a home and a family of their own. The ghosts from their pasts were dead and they were happy.