For personal use and select distribution only (c) June 2000 by Helen Taylor
ALL HEARTS LEAD TO HOME
by Helen Taylor
"Joey," Michaela called her youngest. "Where are you?"
Joey came running from the barn. "Right here, mama." He was covered in hay, and followed closely by his dog. "Licorice and I were playing in the hay."
Michaela smiled as she helped him brush the hay from his clothing. "So it appears. Where's Katie?"
"Don't know," Joey replied. "She was in the house last I saw her."
A puzzled frown crossed Michaela's forehead. "I must have missed her." She turned to go into the house. "Oh, papa is coming home in a little while. We're all going to Grace's for supper, so, get ready."
"Sure, mama," Joey nodded and ran into the house ahead of her, only to run into his sister. "Mama's looking for you," he continued as he ran past her.
Katie waited for her mother to enter the house. "You wanted me, mama?"
Michaela nodded. "I need you to get ready. We're going into town for supper." She looked at her daughter. "I didn't see you in the house earlier. Where were you?"
Katie looked at her mother, a very innocent expression on her face. "In the room. I was working on something."
"Oh, something you want to share?" Michaela asked.
Katie smiled, shaking her head. "It's a surprise." She smiled. "I'll get ready now." She started toward her door, but stopped and turned. "Papa has been home a lot lately, hasn't he, mama?"
Michaela looked at her daughter. Ever since she and Sully renewed their marriage vows the past Christmas, Sully had made it a point to be around much more. If he did take out-of-state (oh, yes, Colorado became a state) assignments, he made sure the absences were not too long. Of course, she loved having him around and especially, the attention he paid to her and the children. Then, too, with Cloud Dancing back in his life, the two men had much to catch up on. "He certainly has," she smiled as she answered her daughter, "and I'm glad."
"Me, too," Katie replied and skipped the rest of the way into her room.
Michaela's thoughts wandered through the past few years and she sighed as she thought of her grown children and grandchildren. With Matthew so close and Brian settling in since his military obligations ended, she was content. But, there was still Coleen. St. Louis wasn't exactly the other side of the world, but it felt like it when she saw the many reminders in the homestead that whispered "Coleen" whenever she looked at them. Oh, how she wished Coleen would come home.
"Anybody home?" Sully's voice interrupted her thoughts.
"Up here, in our room," Michaela answered him and waited until he joined her. "Hi," she greeted him with a quick kiss.
Sully looked at her and smiled. "Hi yourself. But, is that anyway to greet your husband?" he teased as he drew her into his arms. "I told you, 'forever I do', and I meant it." He kissed her lovingly.
"Oh, Sully," her muffled voice whispered into his neck. "I love you."
Sully smiled at her. "That's better." He kissed her again and continued, "The wagon is ready. How long before you and the kids can make it?"
Michaela said, "In just a little while. The children are getting ready, and all I have to do is fix my hair." She began to gather it into a pony tail.
Sully took the brush and shook his head. "No, leave it down. I like it that way." He brushed her hair, watching her reflection in the mirror as he did so. "See? Beautiful," and he kissed her on the top of the head.
"Thank you," Michaela smiled at him.
"We're ready," Joey and Katie came in. "Hi, papa," they both ran to their father.
Sully was ready for them as he hugged them tightly against him. "You're looking good," he added as he shooed them ahead of him. "Let's go."
As they rode toward town, the children were busy talking about school and Michaela was quiet, enjoying the ride, as well as the company of her husband. She moved closer to Sully.
Sully smiled at her. "I asked Matthew and his family, as well as Brian and Sarah to join us. I didn't think you'd mind."
"Of course not," Michaela beamed at him. "With Sarah expecting, it'll give us a chance for some woman-talk." She squeezed Sully's arm. "Can you believe it? Brian is going to be a father."
"And you'll be a grandma again," Sully laughed.
"And you'll be a grandpa," Michaela punched him lightly. "Where has the time gone?"
Sully hugged her to him. "It doesn't stand still for anyone. I'm just glad I am able to spend it with you. When I think of how empty my life would be without you, I… oh, well, I'm glad you came to Colorado Springs."
"Me, too, Sully," Michaela snuggled closer.
"Matthew, Brian," Joey called as he waved to his brothers, and jumped out of the wagon before it had fully stopped.
"Be careful, Joey," Katie called and followed her younger brother as soon as the wagon stopped. She, too, hugged her brothers and nephews. "I hope you have a girl, Sarah," she told her sister-in-law. With Coleen away, all we have is boys around here. Even Cloud Dancing adopted a son and Grace and Robert E have two boys. I'm surrounded," she continued as she hugged Sarah.
"We'll see what we can do," Sarah smiled at her young sister-in-law. "Come on, you sit by me."
They all sat around one big table and Michaela smiled as she noticed that the table kept being expanded with each passing year. She looked at Sully who was thinking the same thing. "We've started something," he added aloud as he took his place beside his wife.
"Hey, Pa," Brian began as he managed to get a word in. "Did you know that they're going to expand the railroad all the way through the mountains?"
Sully nodded. "That's going to be quite a feat. Are you planning to work on it?"
"I've been asked," Brian nodded. "With all that I learned in the Navy about contracting and building, the company offered me a good job. With the baby coming, I figured it would come in handy."
Sully smiled at Brian, shaking his head slightly," Still can't quite picture you as a pa, although you certainly took good care of Katie and Joey when they were small."
Brian grinned. "That was good practice. I remember when you and ma got married and I was betting on a boy." He looked at his siblings. "After Katie came, I didn't care. She was great, and Joey, too. I guess for myself, I'd like a little girl, but a boy will be fine, too." He looked at Sully and continued, "By the way, Mr. Wright mentioned something about you doing some surveying…."
Sully nodded. "Yeah, he offered me a job to help them blast through the mountains." He looked at Michaela. "I told him I needed to discuss it with my wife and family first."
"Go for it," Matthew shook his "pa's" hand. "They couldn't find a better man."
Michaela knew there was some danger in the job the railroad offered her husband, but she also knew that he was one of the most qualified men around, and that he took his work very seriously. She looked at her husband now. "I agree with Matthew. Go for it."
"You don't mind?" Sully asked, a little surprised because Michaela was always worrying about him being out in unexplored areas, and the thought of blasting had always worried her, ever since Matthew almost died in a mining accident.
Michaela looked at him. "Of course, I'll worry, but I know how careful you are and I'm sure you can do the job."
A slow smile spread across Sully's face as he leaned closer to her and kissed her. "I love you, you know," he whispered.
"I know," she replied. "Just promise me that you'll be careful."
"I promise," Sully answered her and shook Brian's hand. "It'll be great working with you, son."
Brian smiled. "It sure will, pa." He looked at his mother. "And, don't worry, ma, pa always keeps his promises."
They were interrupted by Horace. "Dr. Mike, I have a telegram for you. It just came in." He handed it to Michaela. "It's urgent."
Michaela took it and her face paled. "Oh, God, no.." she whispered as tears flooded her eyes and she handed the telegram to Sully.
Sully put one arm around his wife as he scanned the telegram. "Ma, come quick. Andrew very ill. Coleen."
"I've got to go to her," Michaela clenched her arms to her chest. She looked at Sully.
Matthew had taken the telegram from Sully and then handed it to Brian. They both went around to their mother trying to comfort her and each other.
Sully pulled his wife up into his arms. "We'll both go," he assured her. "Matthew, Brian, can you take care of Katie and Joey for us?"
"You know it," Matthew replied as both he and Brian nodded.
"We'll leave on the first train out of here in the morning," Sully began. "I'll make the arrangements." He kissed Michaela on the cheek and turned to his sons. "Take her home. I'll be along shortly."
Grace and Robert E also tried to comfort their friends. "He'll be alright, Dr. Mike, don't worry."
Michaela dapped at her tears and nodded at her friends. "Thank you, Grace and Robert E." She then looked at her children, whose faces revealed the worry and concern.
"Mama, will Andrew be fine?" Katie asked as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
Michaela hugged her close. "I hope so. Coleen didn't say what the problem was, but… come on, now, let's go home. We have a lot to do before morning." She turned to her oldest son. "Ready, Matthew?"
Matthew nodded and kissed her gently on the cheek. He turned to Brian. "If you'll take my family home, we'll be on our way."
"Sure, brother," Brian replied. He, too, kissed his ma. "Don't worry, ma.. everything will be fine."
Michaela accepted his kiss and hugged him close a moment. "I'm sure it will, Brian."
The ride back to the homestead was a quiet one as everyone's thoughts were with Coleen so far away. Matthew helped them get settled in and left when Sully came home.
"We're all set," Sully informed Michaela and then helped her settle their two youngsters in for the night. "Joey, you'll stay with Matthew, and, Katie, Sarah said she'd love for you to stay with her. Is that alright with you both?"
The children nodded.
"Papa," Katie whispered as she pulled his face close. "I love you."
Sully kissed his daughter lovingly. "And I love you, princess." He then went over to his son. "You, too, son, I love you, too."
"I know," Joey smiled up at his father. "Love you, too."
Michaela had watched her husband with their children and silently thanked God for that love. She also kissed their children good-night and then allowed her husband to lead her back to their bedroom. She sat down on the edge of the bed and realized that tears were flowing down her cheeks.
"What is it, Michaela?" Sully began tenderly as he sat down beside her and pulled her against him.
"I'm just so worried about Andrew and Coleen" she whispered as she put her head on his shoulder. "He must be gravely ill, or Coleen would never have wired."
Sully nodded, as he pulled her closer. "But, there's not much we can do about it now. Let's just hope for the best until we can get there."
Amidst tears, Michaela and Sully bid farewell to their children and then settled in their compartment in the train that would take them to St. Louis. Sully had wired Coleen that they were on their way. He watched his wife as she gazed out the window, not really seeing the mountains and meadows pass by. "I spoke with Cloud Dancing," he began as he took Michaela's hand. "He said the spirits were not clear where Andrew is concerned. He doesn't know what that means."
Michaela leaned against her husband. "I hope Andrew doesn't d…," but tears choked back anything else she might have said.
Sully tightened his hold on her. He did not know what to say. Somehow, Cloud Dancing's words and his gut feelings were not very encouraging, so, he just comforted her as best he could. And, that's about all he could do for the rest of the journey to St. Louis.
When they arrived, they were met by a Dr. Robert Wills, a colleague of their daughter and Andrew. "You must be Dr. Quinn and Mr. Sully," he began as he extended his hand. "I'm Robert Wills. I work with Andrew and Coleen." He led the way to a waiting carriage. "We don't know what's wrong with Andrew. He complained of a headache, and the next thing we knew, he was burning up with fever. We called in a neuro specialist. He's checking him now. Coleen would have been here to meet you, but..."
"We understand," Michaela replied. "How long before we get to the hospital?"
"It's just a few minutes from here." Dr. Wills replied as they set off.
As soon as they came to the hospital, Michaela and Sully went to the intensive care unit where they found a very pale, almost ghost-like Coleen.
"Ma," Coleen called out and ran into Michaela's open arms. "Oh, ma, he's so sick.." and the tears flowed freely.
"I know, I know," Michaela planted kisses all over her daughter's face as she held her tightly. "We're here now."
Coleen looked at her mother and then drew Sully into their embrace. "Oh, pa…" she continued and held on to them for dear life.
"Coleen," Sully whispered as he also held her tightly. "We're here now." He and Michaela guided their daughter to a nearby seat. "Where are the children?"
"Andrew's ma came and she's taking care of them," Coleen replied. "I'm so glad you're here." She continued as she hugged them both again. She looked toward the closed door. "The neuro specialist just arrived a little while ago. He's with Andrew now." She then looked up and for the first time realized that Robert Wills was also there. "Oh, Robert, I'm sorry. Thank you for picking them up from the train."
"Don't mention it, Coleen. Both you and Andrew are my friends. I'm happy to do whatever you need." He sat down on a nearby chair and waited with them until the specialist finished his examination of Andrew.
"His fever is still high, but not quite as high as it was before," the specialist explained as he came out to report on Andrew's condition. "He's conscious and complains of his neck hurting." He looked at them and hesitated.
"And?" Michaela asked. "I'm Dr. Quinn, Coleen's mother." She explained her interest.
Dr. Louis Pierre Partone, the neuro specialist, looked at her. "And… well, it appears he has some paralysis in his legs." Anticipating Coleen's shocked gasp, he continued, "But, it's too soon to say whether it's permanent or not. We can only hope."
"You mean he won't be able to walk?" Coleen asked.
Dr. Partone replied, "I told you it was too soon to speculate on the outcome. Right now, our main concern is to break that fever and get him off that critical list. I've ordered several new medications that should help."
"Of course," Coleen nodded. "Wh…what are his chances?"
Dr. Partone looked at her. "I won't lie to you. He's a very sick man, but, the fact that the fever has come down some makes me think that his chances are better than they could be. Let's just take it one step at a time."
Coleen nodded and Michaela followed Dr. Partone, speaking with him as they left the corridor. Robert also excused himself and went about his rounds, while Sully stayed with Coleen, comforting her the best he could.
"Are you alright, Coleen?" Sully asked after a few moments.
Coleen nodded in his embrace. "Thanks, pa, for being here."
"Couldn't think of any other place I'd rather be right now," Sully kissed her on the forehead. "I only wish it was under happier circumstances."
Coleen snuggled against him and looked up when her mother returned.
"He told me about the same thing. It seems to be some form of bacterial infection, or something like that. He's going to discuss it with some of his colleagues all over the country. Maybe they'll come up with something." Michaela explained as she sat down next to them. "Dr. Partone says it'll be alright to go see Andrew when the nurses are finished with him."
"You're staying with us, aren't you?" Coleen asked her mother. "We have plenty of room."
Michaela looked at Sully who nodded. "We'll give Margaret a break and get reacquainted with our grandchildren." He smiled at his daughter. "We'll stay as long as you need us."
"Thank you," Coleen hugged him tightly. "We could always count on you, pa."
Two days after their arrival, Dr. Partone advised Coleen that Andrew was out of the woods as far as the fever was concerned, but he had no idea why the paralysis had set in, nor how long it would last. He suggested that they begin exercising Andrew's muscles to keep them from deteriorating.
Andrew was very despondent. He felt helpless and began to get very moody, even to the point where he didn't want to see anyone. Dr. Partone advised that they allow Andrew to go home in the hopes that familiar surroundings and the children would lift his spirits. With the help of Michaela and Sully, as well as Andrew's mother Margaret, Coleen was trying her best to get things back to normal; however, Andrew seemed to regress more and more with each passing day. It soon became obvious that Michaela and Sully could do no more and Coleen agreed that they should return to Colorado and their life.
"Coleen," Michaela began when they found themselves alone in the kitchen. "I have an idea."
"I'm listening," Coleen looked at her hopefully.
Michaela continued. "Do you remember when Sully had his bout with paralysis years ago? We took him to the hot springs and made him exercise. Today he's good as new."
"Do you think it might help Andrew?" Coleen asked hopefully.
"It couldn't hurt," Michaela answered. "You and the children could stay with us, and I could more than use your help at the clinic and I'm sure at Colorado Springs' hospital (that's right - Michaela had a flourishing practice, with a full partner, and more than enough work to keep them both busy, as well as being on staff at the hospital). It would give me more time to spend with Katie and Joey and enjoy my grandchildren. What do you think?"
Coleen remembered Sully's paralysis and how hard they worked to get him well. She nodded. "Now, if we can talk Andrew into it…"
It took a lot of convincing, but Andrew finally agreed to give the Springs a try. He knew that moping around at home was not helping anyone, but he was so depressed that sometimes he just wished that he had died. He told Sully and Dr. Mike that living with them would only be temporary, as he planned to find a place for his family, should the recovery take longer than a few weeks.
So, Sully and Michaela left with the knowledge that their daughter would soon be coming home, at least, for a little while. When they got back, they made arrangements for Andrew and Coleen to stay with them, as well as their three children. Andy was enrolled in school and Andrew said that even if he couldn't work as a doctor for a little while, he could watch Michaela Elizabeth and Martha, as well as the older children after school, while Coleen worked with her mother.
And, thus, the therapy of exercise and the hot springs began in earnest. After two weeks, Andrew seemed to respond just a little, which gave them all hope, and they increased the frequency of the treatment. Slowly, but surely, Andrew's feelings returned to his legs and eventually, he managed to walk with crutches. Since his hands were not affected, he soon began to join his wife at Michaela's clinic, and before long, felt confident enough to resume some of his doctor skills.
"My legs are getting stronger," Andrew began as they all sat around the supper table. "And, I feel that I can return to most of my doctoring duties. So, maybe, we should think about returning to St. Louis," he continued.
Coleen looked at him and then at her mother. "Robert has been in touch. He said they really need us back."
Michaela glanced at Sully and then back to her daughter. "You know I've loved having you work with me, both of you, and Colorado Springs has more than enough business to add more doctors to its hospital staff, and my practice could use your specialties, too. But, it's your decision. "
"We'll think about it," Andrew replied. He looked at his son. "What do you think, Andy? Would you like to go back to St. Louis?"
Andy shook his head. "I like it here, papa. I like going to school with Joey and Katie and all the cousins. I made a lot of new friends, too, and grandpa and Cloud Dancing have taken us fishing, and I like riding horses. You can't do that in St. Louis."
"No, you can't," Andrew agreed. He looked at his wife and smiled. "Well, maybe we can talk about it. Coming back here has brought back a lot of memories."
Coleen smiled. "It has." She then looked at her mother and winked. "You know, ma, this fried chicken tastes great."
Sully grinned. "Your ma has turned into a pretty good cook, Coleen."
"Thank you," Michaela acknowledged the compliments. "When I remember my first try at frying chicken…" she laughed as she recalled how she burned the outside while the inside was still half-raw. "Thank God for Grace's café."
Everyone laughed with her.
Andrew changed the subject. "By the way, has anyone heard anything about Preston? I see the Lodge is still under the old management."
"Last we heard he was in Denver," Sully replied. "You know, he said he'd be back, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he showed up some day."
"Things have changed," Coleen added. "Hank and Jake…they've done quite well - both being married and having children. I hear Hank's son Zack is quite an artist."
Michaela nodded. "Yes, he did some of the illustrations in Brian's book about Colorado Springs. They worked well together. Now, he's traveling throughout the West painting and having exhibits in the East, as well as in England and other parts of Europe. He's very talented."
Coleen thought back and remembered how shy Zack was and how, despite his learning problems, he was able to express what he thought the world was made up through his artistic hands. "Does he come home often?"
Michaela shook her head. "He did while he helped Brian with his book, but now that Hank has married and has a new family, Zack doesn't want to get too involved. Besides, he's a grown man and used to being on his own. Then, too, although he's not fond of all the attention he gets through his work, he loves to draw and paint, and travel."
Sully stood up. "Look, why don't you women folk go in the other room? We'll take care of the clean-up. Right, boys?" He looked at Joey and Andy.
Although they didn't like the idea of doing dishes, both Joey and Andy nodded reluctantly. "Right," they replied.
Michaela almost felt sorry for the young boys as she saw their very disappointed looks, but, she smiled at her husband. "Thank you," and kissing him lightly, she followed her daughters and granddaughters into the other room.
"What can I do?" Andrew asked as he started piling up plates.
Andy looked at his father and then quickly went over to help him. "You can dry. Joey and I will take the dishes to grandpa, and then put them up after you've dried them."
"Sounds like a good arrangement," Andrew agreed and smiled at his son.
Later that evening, as Andy and Joey were getting ready for bed, Andy began, "You know, Joey, since papa has been here, he's changed."
"What do you mean?" Joey asked.
"He's different," Andy answered. "I mean, he acts more like grandpa… like…well, back in St. Louis, he was a lot more… I mean, he didn't talk to us kids much. I guess he was always too busy. But now, well, even if he doesn't talk with us, he acts like he doesn't mind having us around. In St. Louis, I kinda felt like…Oh, I don't know."
Joey smiled. "You mean he acts more like he loves you?" When Andy nodded, Joey continued. "I've noticed. He doesn't fuss at you and the girls like he used to when you first came here. He's more fun to be around now, too."
"Yeah," Andy continued happily. "He's a real papa now."
"Who's a real papa?" Sully asked as he came into the boys' room. Joey hugged his father.
"Andrew," he replied, "he's more like you now."
Sully smiled as he sat down on the bed. "And what does that mean?"
Andy sat down beside Sully. "He laughs more and he's more happy, like you, grandpa."
Sully put an arm around his grandson. "He's had a lot happen to him in the last few months. I guess it took getting used to."
"It's not just his not being able to walk too good," Andy began. "He was always too busy before he got sick. He never had much time, I guess."
Sully said, "Well, it's bedtime for you two. Your mas will be in before long. So, all set?"
The boys nodded as they crawled under the covers.
Sully joined his wife in their bedroom. He smiled as he saw her brushing her hair. "Hey, that's my job," he began as he took the brush from her and began to brush her hair.
"Do you think maybe Andrew and Coleen might consider staying?" Michaela asked him hopefully.
"Don't know," Sully replied. "At least Andrew said something about talking about it. When they first got here, all he talked about was getting back as soon as he could." He looked at his wife in the mirror. "He's changed since he's been here."
"I noticed," Michaela smiled. "He acts more human." She became serious. "When he and Coleen first married, I had some doubts. I mean, it was as if Coleen was always bending, er.., giving in. When they came home this past Christmas, Coleen was not as happy as she used to be."
Sully nodded. "Even in St. Louis, before they came back here, Andrew seemed to be in his own world, but, I've noticed him change. He's much more patient and seems to smile a lot more. I guess it's the air out here." He smiled as he finished brushing his wife's hair. "It changed you, too."
"Me?" Michaela asked, pretending to be surprised.
Sully turned her toward him. "Yes, you. You were so primp and proper when you first came, with that Boston accent and Boston ways. That's why I kept my distance."
Michaela smiled. "I remember the first time you kissed me. I wasn't expecting it."
"I wasn't planning it," Sully replied. "But, when I looked at you.. you were so beautiful and I couldn't help myself." He brushed some of the loose strands of hair out of her face. "And you're still just as beautiful," he added as he kissed her tenderly.
"Liar," Michaela whispered as she returned his kiss. "But, I love to hear you tell me anyway." She enjoyed the tranquility his embrace offered, and stayed a little longer. "We have been through a lot. I guess I fell in love with you the first time you helped me, But, you were so different from the men I knew that you kind of frightened me. Then, when I knew I loved you in my heart, my head fought against it." She sat down on their bed, drawing him beside her. "When you came to Boston, I was afraid to let you know how I felt. I was confused and tried to convince myself that it was Boston where I belonged. But, when you left, I realized you were my world and you were taking it with you. That's why I came back. I did not want to live the rest of my life without you."
"For not being a gambling man, I took a big chance," Sully began as he pulled her against him. "I had missed you and the children so much, and when it looked as if you might not come back, I knew I had to try to fetch you, as they used to say. You acted so distant that I was ready to go back and forget about you. But, the kids made me see that it was Boston that was changing you, and, since it was part of your life, I had to compromise. So, I tried to become a part of it. Just when I thought I was making progress, William proposed to you, and I thought I had lost you for good. So, like a puppy, I ran, back to Colorado Springs to lick my wounds." He pulled her tighter. "I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't come back."
Michaela looked at him and noticed a tear trickling down his cheek. It was one of the things that made her love him so much. Despite his sometimes rugged exterior, Sully was a man with deep feelings and sensitivity. She kissed him. "You had my heart. I had to come back."
"And I'm keeping it, forever," he whispered as he returned her kiss.
"Mama?" It was Katie knocking on their door.
"Come in," Michaela answered her daughter. "Is something wrong?"
Katie shook her head as she walked over to her parents. "I can't sleep. Can I sleep with you and papa?"
Sully smiled as he picked up their daughter. "Did you have a bad dream?"
Katie again shook her head. "I just can't sleep. I tried and tried, honest."
"In that case," Michaela began as she pulled back the covers. "I don't think it will hurt this once, do you, Sully?"
"Nope," Sully replied as he placed his daughter in the middle of their bed. After they settled down, he asked, softly, "Want to tell me what's wrong?"
Katie hesitated. "I was just thinking… Brian was telling Sarah about how his ma died and how mama became his ma and you his pa. If anything happened to you and mama, I don't know what I would do."
"Nothing's going to happen to us, princess," Sully assured her. "Besides, worrying about something that may or may not happen doesn't help. You need to think about things that are real and now, like, how much your mama and I love you." He kissed her lightly. "Right?"
"Right, papa," Katie replied and hugged him. She then snuggled down into the covers. "I love you, papa. You, too, mama." She sat up and said, "I just remembered something." She crawled over Michaela. "I'll be right back." She ran out the room and before Sully and Michaela had a chance to recover from her sudden departure, she was back. She handed a wrapped little package to her mother. "I made this for you and papa," she added as she climbed back into the bed.
"What is it?" Michaela asked shaking the little package.
"Open it," Katie told her excitedly and watched as Michaela pulled off the paper. In it was a photograph of Michaela's mother, with Katie, Joey, Matthew, Coleen, and Brian. On the bottom, her mother had written, 'Thank you for these grandchildren. With love always, Mother.' Grandma took us to have the picture taken during the wedding. She told me to give it to you when I thought it would be special."
Michaela's eyes filled with tears as she looked at the photograph of her mother and her children. "It's beautiful, Katie. Papa and I will always treasure it." She kissed her daughter. "But, what's special about now?"
Katie looked at her parents. "Everything."
Michaela watched her daughter a moment and smiled as she saw how much Katie looked like her father. "You're always special to us, too, Katie." She kissed her and leaned across her to kiss Sully. "Right, papa?"
"Right," Sully replied and then blew out the lamp. "Good-night."
"Good night, papa. Good night, mama." Katie replied. She snuggled against her mother.
Michaela put her arm around her daughter and pulled her closer. She hummed softly as she stroked her daughter's hair. "Sweet dreams, Katie," she whispered when she felt her daughter relaxing against her. The love she felt was so strong that she reached out and touched her husband, whose hand clasped hers tenderly. "Good night, Sully."
"Good night, love," Sully replied as he kissed her hand and then welcomed the world of dreams.
"Michaela," Andrew began a few days later when they were alone in the clinic. "Did you mean it about working with you?"
Michaela's eyes lit up. "Of course, Andrew. Does that mean you're considering staying?"
Andrew shrugged. "Well, Coleen and I haven't exactly decided, but I didn't realize how much home meant to her, and," he added sheepishly, "me. Working with you and at the hospital and seeing how you find the time to be with your family and all, it made me think that maybe Coleen and I belong here." He hesitated. "You know, Coleen and I were having problems when I got sick. But, since we've been here, it's been so much better. I mean, I love her more than I ever thought I could. She's always been there for me. I'm afraid I can't say the same, but, now, maybe I can show her how much she means to me." He coughed embarrassingly. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to go on like that."
"Oh, Andrew, don't be," Michaela smiled as she put her arm through his. "Love has to grow and we have to make room for that growth. I knew you and Coleen loved each other, but I always worried…I mean, you seemed to grow apart instead of together as the years passed. I remember what Sully told me a long time ago. It was just before we were to be married and my mother and sisters came for the wedding. Mother literally took over and tried to run the show. She even had comments about the house Sully built for us. I remember wondering about it when Sully asked me when was I going to see things through our eyes. It was then that I realized that it would be Sully and I for the rest of our lives and we had to work together to make it work. And, it has. Even after all our years together, I still feel about him as I did then. He looks at me and makes me feel beautiful. He holds me and makes me feel safe. He loves me and the world disappears. He takes care of our children, and I have no fears." She suddenly realized that she was talking too much. "Oh, Andrew, now I need to apologize."
Andrew looked at her. "For what?" He shrugged. "Do you think I could ever make Coleen feel that way about me?"
"She already does," Michaela assured him. "Just give her a chance to show you."
Andrew smiled. "Thanks, Dr. Mike." He kissed his mother-in-law on the cheek. "She is your daughter, after all."
Michaela was humming as she put her last records in the file. "Hi, Sully," she greeted her husband cheerfully as he came into the clinic.
"Ready to go?" Sully asked as he went over to her.
"Go where?" Michaela asked. It was only 2 o'clock and she usually didn't leave the clinic before 4.
Sully smiled. "Don't ask questions," he teased. "It's not too often I can get away from my job these days. Besides, Coleen said she and Andrew can take care of any emergencies while your colleague is at the hospital." He winked at his daughter who had come into the room. "Right, Coleen?"
"Right, pa," Coleen replied and helped her mother get ready. "Don't worry about the children. Sarah said she'll be more than happy to watch them."
"But where are we going?" Michaela again asked Sully as they mounted the horses. Sully shook his head grinningly. "You don't give up, do you?" They started out of town at a slow and steady pace. "Would you rather I kidnap you again like I did years ago?"
"Of course not," Michaela replied and then smiled as she recalled the time Sully had taken her away at night so they could spend some time together. "But, it was fun," she added laughingly.
When they got to the Red Rocks, Sully helped her dismount. He put his arm around her as they walked toward the rocks. "We can watch the sunset while we eat." He produced a basket. "Courtesy of Grace."
"What's the occasion?" Michaela began as she watched Sully spread out the blanket." When he looked at her, she continued. "Last time you were offered a job in Montana, if I remember."
Sully nodded as he sat down and pulled her down beside him. "And you were willing to leave everything and come with me, if I remember. I remember, too, back at the homestead. You were holding Katie and walking around trying to decide what you needed to take and what you could leave. You told Katie that you would remember everything for her and then tell her about it when she got older." He looked at his wife. "It almost broke my heart to listen. I knew what a great sacrifice you were willing to make for me."
Michaela shook her head. "I told you before that you had my heart. I couldn't very well live without it, so, I had no choice." She looked at him. "So, why are we here this time?"
Sully smiled. "I was surveying for the railroad earlier this morning when I started thinking about you, the kids, everything. I don't know why, but the more I thought, the more I wanted you with me. After a while, it got to the point where I asked myself 'why not?' and an hour later, I was at the clinic, and, here we are."
"Sounds like a good reason," Michaela took the hand he offered as they walked toward the rocks.
"You know, Michaela," Sully stopped and took her into his arms. "I feel like I did when we got married, both times." He bent down and kissed her ever so lightly. "My mind… it keeps remembering things that made me fall more deeply in love with you, like.. how you looked with all that mud.. how you took up the fight for the Indians.. how you treated Grace and Robert E., how you sometimes dove head in without checking how deep the water was. The time we checked the water for mercury poisoning - you were so stubborn." He smiled. "As was I," he admitted. "Then, when we jumped over the cliff, when you came back from Boston, when you helped me in Washington..so much.. Do you realize how much a part of me you have become? When I'm alone out in the wilderness, just thinking about you makes me feel safe and warm, and then I keep seeing you with Katie and Joey, the older kids, their kids, our friends…and I miss you, so much." He rocked her gently in his arms. "I've never been a very religious man, but, I know there must be a God. Who else could have made someone like you? I'm just thankful He let me find you." He kissed her and when he tasted salty tears, he tipped her face up. "Tears?"
Michaela hugged him tightly. "Oh, Sully, I love you so very much. And, I, too, thank God for you. Remember when we stood here after we had agreed to court? We both had doubts as to whether we had enough in common to make our relationship work. I said I knew where I wanted us to be, but neither of us knew how to get there, but we were both willing to chance it. I'm no psychic, but, I'd say we made it, wouldn't you?"
"No doubt," Sully replied and kissed her again.
They ate as they watched the sun set over the hills. When the last light of day disappeared on the horizon, Sully prepared the bedrolls for sleeping. As he lay with his arm around his wife, he looked up at the stars. "I remember the book of poetry you had and reading to you. You were so shocked by some of the words, but, as always, you soon lost some of that reserve and we shared many moments reading about things we felt, yet hesitated to put into words. I guess that's what makes books so great. They put things into words that we often try to hide." He began kissing her.
Michaela returned his kisses and surrendered to the feelings those kisses awakened within her.
As the sun rose, Michaela turned slightly in her husband's arms and smiled. "Good-morning."
"Good-morning," he replied lazily as he kissed her. "You must have had a good dream," he continued as he stroked her hair out of her face. "You smiled several times."
"Byron Sully," Michaela pretended to scold him. "Were you watching me sleep?"
"Ah-huh," her husband answered with a grin. "You are so beautiful. I never get tired of looking at you." He kissed her as he traced the hairline around her face. "So very, very beautiful," he continued huskily as he kissed her again.
Michaela returned her husband's kisses with the same fervor they were given and the feelings those kisses ignited could only be satisfied by him. "You still make me feel like I did on our wedding night," she whispered against him. "I was so worried that you'd be disappointed in me."
"Disappointed?" Sully looked at her. "I waited quite a while for that moment, and, you were worth the wait. I couldn't get enough of you - still can't," he continued as he kissed her again.
Michaela smiled and after a while began, "Are we going the spend the whole day in bed, not that I would mind it, or .."
"Well, I could use something to eat to give me more strength," Sully smiled. "You're quite a woman, Michaela Quinn." He stood up and pulled her up with him. "Especially with no clothes on," he continued as he wrapped a blanket around her.
"Oh, Sully, you're impossible," she replied as she headed for the waterfall. "I'll just wash up and then I'll fix you some breakfast."
Sully watched her a moment and then followed her into the water. "I can wash your back," he answered her questioning look.
"Ah-huh," Michaela smiled knowingly, but opened her arms to him.
They enjoyed their two-day adventure, but, as with all good things, it had to end and they returned to the routine of daily life. Yet, there was a special sparkle in Sully's eyes whenever he watched his wife, and, Michaela seemed to glow when she looked at him.
"Sully," Andrew began a few days later as he was helping him stack some of the wood Sully had chopped. "Do you have a minute?"
"Sure," Sully replied as he sat down on one of the stumps nearby. "What's on your mind?"
Andrew hesitated. "Well, Coleen and I have been talking a lot about our future and I believe we'll take Dr. Mike up on her offer. I've spoken with the hospital administrators and there is no problem about Coleen and I being on staff there, too. In fact, they offered me the position of the doctor in charge of their newest edition - an emergency type area where people can be treated and either be admitted to the hospital or be treated and go home."
"That sounds good. We'll be happy to have you back with us. I know Michaela's going to be especially happy about it." He smiled, almost more to himself than for Andrew's benefit. "I like seeing her happy."
Andrew looked at his still young-looking father-in-law, and saw the love in his eyes. "That's obvious. When I first saw you and Dr. Mike together, I couldn't understand what you had in common. You were so different from each other, I mean, your backgrounds and all. But, as I got to know her and you, I could see that despite the differences, you felt the same way about a lot of things - the Indians, children, the town, the people in it. And, one didn't need glasses to see how the two of you felt about each other, and still do. What's your secret?"
Sully grinned. "No secret, Andrew. I love her and I let her know it. I enjoy being with her. She's smart and beautiful, even if she is headstrong at times. She brings out the best in me, I guess. When I'm around her, I see things in ways I never thought about. I feel things I never knew I could feel. Cloud Dancing used to say that Snow Bird, and now, Dorothy, fill him. I guess that's what it is - she's so much a part of me that she's with me all the time. It's kind of hard to explain, but I feel her, in here," and he pointed to his heart.
Andrew looked at Sully. "How did you learn all that, Sully? I mean, you didn't have a pa around, nor a ma, when you were a young boy. I'm sure your ma gave you lots of love, but .. how did you know Abigail was the right one for you, and how did you know Dr. Mike was?" He hesitated. "I know Coleen is right for me, but.."
"There are no buts, Andrew. You either know or you don't." He picked up a nearby stick and started whittling on it. "My ma never said anything bad about my pa, although I know he hurt her a lot. When my brother died and she ended up not being able to handle it all, I used to blame her for leaving me all alone. I used to wish I could die, but, it wasn't meant to be. So, I drifted for a while, and eventually, ended up in Colorado Springs. Cloud Dancing and his tribe took me in and I learned a lot of things about them, life, and myself from them. When I met Abigail, I was young and she was the first girl that paid any attention to me, so, we got married. Don't get me wrong, I loved Abigail, as much as I could when I was 20. When she died, along with our baby, I figured if that was all that life could offer, I didn't want any part of it, so, I became a kind of recluse and went back to live like my Indian brothers. I didn't have a lot of friends. Loren blamed me for Abigail's death and it took him a long time to forgive me for taking his little girl away from him. When I did get into town, Charlotte was about the only one that held out a kind hand and I tried to repay her by doing small things for her and the kids. Then, one day, there was Dr. Mike." He shook his head with a smile. "I'll never forget how I felt the first time I saw her. She was about the prettiest woman I had seen in a long time, and I had no thoughts of her ever caring for me. She was so.. so Boston, and, to tell you the truth, I thought she was too much of a snob to ever make it in Colorado Springs. As time passed, I began to admire her courage to overcome all the little obstacles life set in her ways. Despite being rejected by most of the townspeople, she kept right on, and when Charlotte died, leaving her those three kids, she accepted them, too. It wasn't long before I began to realize that my feelings for her were more than just friendship. But, I was scared. I didn't think someone like Michaela could ever be interested in someone like me. So, I tried to be there for her to help her in any way I could." He wiped his forehead. "I watched her with the children. What had started as an obligation to a death promise became a love affair between a woman and three orphaned children. Brian was the easiest. He needed a ma and at his age, just about anyone could have filled that role. Coleen was a little harder. She was older and had loved her mother very much, so, it wasn't easy for her to accept a stranger as a substitute. As for Matthew, he was downright opposed to the idea. He figured he was old enough to take care of his sister and brother, and didn't need someone telling him what to do. But, the kids soon fell under her spell, just like the town did, and just like I did. But, I fought hard against it. When she almost died with influenza, I realized just how much she meant to me, but I was afraid to tell her; I guess, I was afraid she would reject me."
"How? I mean, what about Abigail?" Andrew asked. "You loved her, too."
Sully looked at his son-in-law. "Yes, I did, as much as I could love anyone back then. But, after I met Michaela, and some of those feelings started taking root, it was thoughts of Abigail that tried to suppress them. I mean, I had lost a wife and child, and doubts and guilt started to enter my heart. How could I allow Michaela to come into my world, still filled with memories? I struggled for a while with those guilt feelings. But, Cloud Dancing told me that man was not made to be alone and I should listen to my heart." He again looked at Andrew and then looked toward the homestead. "I realized that I couldn't fight what I felt for Michaela. So, I decided to chance it. When I found out that she loved me, too, my heart felt like it would burst. And, through the years, that love has grown deeper and stronger. Even with losing our second child and almost losing the homestead and my troubles and eventual pardon, she and the children have stood by me when everyone else thought she was a fool. What I feel for Michaela is so different from what I felt for Abigail. I know it was love for Abigail, and it's love for Michaela, but there is no comparison. They say that there is someone for everyone. I thought Abigail was that someone, and probably, had she not died, we would have spent the rest of our lives together." He saw Michaela coming toward them. "But, just look at what I would have missed," he added with a sigh.
"Hey, you two, are you hungry?" Michaela asked as she walked over to Sully.
"A little," Sully answered as he put his arm around her and started walking toward the house. He looked over his shoulder at Andrew, who was watching them.
"I see what you mean," Andrew winked at his father-in-law and followed them into the house.
"What were you and Andrew talking about so long?" Michaela asked her husband as they were getting ready to re-join Andrew and Coleen for a game of checkers.
Sully shrugged. "Men things, and," he smiled as he went over to her. He lifted her hair away from her ears. "Nope, they're not red," he added as he kissed her lightly. "Wha..?" Michaela began as he continued nuzzling her ears.
Sully watched her reflection in the mirror. "Your ears. They should be fiery red. I talked enough about you to make them burn."
"And what did you say?" Michaela asked seductively.
Sully smiled. "Oh, about how lovely you are, about how much you mean to me, about how dull life would be without you, and about how glad I am that you became part of my life." His lips placed small kisses from one ear down her neck to the other ear. "And, if you keep looking at me like that, I won't be responsible for what happens next."
"And what's that?"
"As if you didn't know," he replied as he picked her up and carried her to their bed.
"But, what about the checkers game?" she asked as he lay down beside her and pulled her into his arms. He kissed her passionately. "It can wait…" he continued as he started to undress her.
Michaela murmered. "But Andrew and Coleen - they're waiting." However, she was soon lost in her husband's attentions.
Coleen looked at Andrew as they sat at the table where the checkers board had been set up. "Do you think we should wait a little longer?
Andrew smiled and shook his head. "I don't think so. I have a feeling Sully and Michaela don't have their minds on playing checkers tonight." He took his wife's hand and pulled her into his arms. "In fact, neither do I." He led her to their bedroom.
Michaela looked a little uncomfortable as she served breakfast the next morning. She looked at Andrew and then at her daughter. "Sorry about the checkers last night, but Sully and I…well," she began to blush.
"We were tired," Sully finished for her and then noticed that both Coleen and Andrew were laughing. "So were we," Coleen began as she looked at Sully and then at her mother.
Andrew nodded. "Too tired for checkers anyway," he added with a chuckle and then turned to his son and elder daughter. "Hey, Andy, your mama and I have decided to move back here. What do you think?"
"Honest, papa?" Michaela Elizabeth began excitedly. "Oh, papa, thank you." She left her place at the table and before Andrew knew what was happening, she had flung herself into his arms. "Oh, papa.." she hugged him tightly.
Andy, too, had gotten up and gone to his father. "Me, too, papa, thank you from me, too," he added as he also hugged his father. He then looked at his uncle. "Isn't it great, Joey?"
"You bet," Joey replied. He looked at his mother. "May we be excused, please?"
Michaela nodded with a smile. "Go ahead. In fact, all you children may be excused. It's a lovely day out and since there's no school today, have fun."
The children didn't have to be told twice. They were gone in a few seconds. Even baby Martha tried to follow her siblings.
"Whoa, angel," Michaela picked her up. "I think you're still a little young." She kissed her granddaughter and hugged her against her. "Tell you what. Since it is Saturday, and I don't have to be at the clinic, why don't I watch you while your mama and papa take the day to go house hunting, or whatever they want." She again kissed her and then looked at her daughter. "Is that all right with you?"
"Thanks, ma," Coleen answered as she went over to her mother and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Andrew and I would love to." She looked at Sully. "What are you going to do, pa?"
Sully smiled. "Oh, help your ma and keep an eye on the older kids. I might even take them fishing." He kissed Coleen on the cheek. "You and Andrew have a good time."
"Thanks, Sully and Michaela," Andrew began as he took his wife's hand. "Come on, Coleen, before they change their minds."
Michaela laughed as she watched them leave. She turned to Sully. "I guess they didn't miss playing checkers last night."
Sully grinned as he took his granddaughter from her. "Come on, Martha, you can help grandpa feed the chickens while your grandma finishes in the house." He kissed Michaela and started to leave, but turned at the door. "I didn't miss playing checkers, either." He winked at her and then went outside with his granddaughter.
And, so, Michaela was completely happy again. She not only had Sully and their two children with her, but all her older children were now living close to them. Andrew and Coleen purchased a ranch not far from them and Sarah and Brian presented her with a new grandson, Brian Edward, whom Katie immediately called Eddie.
Post-script: It was in the early 1900s that polio was diagnosed as a virus and for many years, it ravaged throughout the country causing many deaths and paralysis. It wasn't until the mid 1950s that Dr. Jonas Salk's discoveries about the disease led to a vaccination and eventual oral vaccine to erradicate the disease once and for all.