For personal use and select distribution only © August 1998 by Jennifer George

Helping Hand
by Jennifer George

It was a warm spring day as Sully made his way home. The chill was gone from the air, the birds were singing, and there
was a slight breeze blowing. It was the kind of day that makes a person want to run barefoot through the grass with the one they love. It was exactly the thing Sully was thinking about as he steered his horse toward home. Only he wanted to do more than run throughthe grass with Michaela! He couldn't wait to get home to his beloved, to see her beautiful face, and those of his children, especially his fair-haired Kates.

He had been gone for 4 weeks on a surveying job for the government. This was thelongest he had been away from his family in a long time, since that terrible time year before last when he was in hiding. He was grateful that Michaela understood that he had to go away for periods of time to earn money for the family, though he knew it was hard on her. It was hard on himself too! He would lie awake at night and think of Michaela, and often dreamed about her, about making love to her. The dreams were always so vivid, as their love for each other is.

At the same time, Michaela was finishing up the lunch dishes, smiling all the time. She knew Sully would be home some time today and couldn't wait to see him! He had been gone such a long time. She laughed to herself as she thought about how excited the toddler upstairs asleep in her bed was, knowing herPapa would be home soon. As Michaela went about wiping off the table, she looked out the window and saw their new neighbor, Jack Marshall, repairing the paddock fence. She smiled at the reason for his kindness as she placed a hand over her abdomen. Her heart skipped a beat, knowing that she'd soon be able to give Sully the good news. She went outside to speak totheir new neighbor, to thank him once again for his kindness.

Sully smiled as he neared the homestead. Wanting to surprise Michaela, he got off his horse and walked the last ¼ mile home, a spring in his step. However, his smile and the spring in his step was short lived. As he got nearer to the homestead he saw a strange man repairing the paddock fence. He also saw Michaela talking to him as he swung a hammer down on a nail. He was going to introduce himself to this person when he heard Michaela laughing. Suddenly he was struck by the familiarity of the scene before him. He thought to himself how that should be him repairing the fence … it should be him making Michaela laugh.

His reverie was broken when he saw the strange man touch Michaela's arm. A surge of jealously ran through him. He led his horse into the barn through the side door, then walked back around to where Michaela and the strange man stood. As Michaela's back was to him, the neighbor was the first person to see Sully approaching.

"Well, hello there! You must be Sully" the man said.

"Yes" Sully answered curtly.

Michaela was startled when she discovered Sully behind her, and not being one for public displays of affection, she had to hold herself in check, to keep from throwing herself into his arms.

"Oh Sully, y…'re home", Michaela managed to stammer. "Uh, this is Jack Marshall, he just moved into the old Taylor homestead".

Jack Marshall held out his hand to Sully. Michaela noticed the slight hesitation from Sully when he extended his own hand to shake it, and noted that he wasn't smiling. She looked questioningly at Sully, wondering what was wrong.

"One of the cows got loose and broke the fence, and with Matthew gone to Pueblo, Jack volunteered to fix it", Michaela said with a smile. "In fact, he's been a big help while you were gone Sully."

Sully noticed that Michaela called him 'Jack" and not "Mr Marshall'. "I guess I owe you a thanks, Mr Marshall." Sully said flatly.

"No need to thank me. And please, call me Jack."

"So…what brings you to Colorado Springs?", Sully asked, without a hint of interest.

"I uh..I moved here about 3 weeks ago, came from Virginia."

"And your *wife*?"

"I'm a widower", he replied, feeling a little uncomfortable. Jack felt it was time he left. "I uh..I've got to be gettin on home, got chores to do. It was nice to finally meet you Sully, good day Michalea." He untethered his horse and left, Sully's eyes following him.

Michaela turned to Sully, smiling she threw herself into his arms. "Oh, Sully, I've missed you so much!" Sully held Michaela loosely, his emotions fluttering between love for the wife he missed so much, to jealousy and anger over Jack being there in his place.

Michaela noticed that he wasn't holding her as tightly as he normally did, and his hug felt like the one he gave her after finding out about the miscarriage. She drew back a little, her hands on Sully's shoulders. "Sully, whats wrong?"

"Nothing….nothing at all" he said, managing a smile as he kissed her lips.

"Sully, please…I can tell when something is bothering you. What is it?"

"I…its nothin. There's chores to be done. Where's Brian?"

"He's with Adam. They've been working on a project for school. Its due in a week, so they've been quite busy working on it."

"No problem, I can take care of the horses and muck out the stalls by myself."

"Oh, you don't have to. Jack took care of that already."

"Well then, I'm sure we need some wood chopped.", Sully said, looking perturbed.

"Oh, no need to Sully, Jack did that yesterday."

"HE WHAT!" Sully yelled.

Michaela looked startled at Sully's outburst, not quite understanding it."Brian's been busy, he hasn't had the time to do all of his chores. I would've done it myself, but….I was…rather tired. You see…"

Sully interrupted, "What else has he done around here while I was gone. And just what were you two laughin about when I got here?", Sully said, not quite yelling, but with his voice still raised.

"Brian's done some of his chores, and what do you mean about laughing?"

"Not Brian! Jack! What else has he done while I was gone? And did I not hear you two laughin' when I came home? What was all that about?"

"Jack…He's just helped me out…I needed some help while you were gone,and since Matthew's been in Pueblo …. I … he …" Michaela was getting flustered. "Just why are you so upset?"

"Things just seemed a little too chummy between you and him." Sully muttered.

Just then Brian came running up to the homestead, "Pa, you're home!" He ran up to Sully and hugged him hard. He'd missed his Pa too.

Sully hugged back, his eyes boring into Michaela as he did. Michaela was getting exasperated, but not wanting to upset Brian, she let it go for now. Smiling she asked Brian why he was home so soon.

"Adam had to go help out his Ma and Pa on the farm". We're going to meet again later. Can I spend the night as his home? We're gonna to get up early so we can get the project done tomorrow."

"I don't know Brian. There's chores to be done. " Sully said. Then thinking about it, wanting to prove to his wife who the man of the house is-- because it certainly isn't Jack!-- he said "No, wait, its go ahead and spend the nightwith him. Your project is important".

"Thanks, Pa! Hey Ma, whats for dinner?"

"Venison stew"

"Oh yeah, I forgot Mr Marshall got us a deer!"

Sully's eyes popped open wide at what Brian said. He had just opened his mouth to speak when Michaela asked Brian to go inside and check on Katie. She knew Sully was really angry now - though she didn't quite understand why, their neighbor was only helping them. She didn't want Brian to know somethingwas wrong and she didn't want it to spoil Sully's homecoming for him.

"Just what else has "Jack" done while I was gone?" Sully asked.

"Just mending the fence, helping Brian by doing his chores in the barn…bringing us a deer, and chopping the wood."

"Why is he doin all that. Why not Brian..or Matthew?"

"Sully, I told you, Brian was too busy to do it all, with Matthew in Pueblo and all." Stepping closer to Sully, she wrapped her arms around him. "Why are you so upset?"

Without so much as hugging Michaela back, Sully said "Nothin" and walked off.

Michaela just stood there. She knew he was going off again to think. He did that when things were bothering him. She didn't like it, but she knew it was something he had to do. She came to understand this after that night in the abandoned cabin, after she had hit her head. It was then that she understood why he left after learning of the miscarriage, why he left after Brian fell out of the tree so long ago. She sighed, and turned toward the house, thinking as she went inside how this was not the way she thought Sully's homecoming would be. He'd been gone so long! She thought that by now they would be up in their bed, she thought she'd be telling him her surprise by now. She so badly wanted to be in his arms, both of them expressing their love for one another in a way they loved so much!

Later in the evening, Michaela, Brian, and Katie were sitting at the table eating the stew. Michaela looked at Sully's chair opposite hers, wishing Sully were there. He was supposed to be. After all, he was home finally. She pondered why Sully was angry with her…she'd done nothing wrong. Suddenly, the door opened and Sully appeared.

"Hey Pa, I was thinkin ya forgot about the stew!", Brian said.

"Sorry Brian, just lost track of time", Sully said, with a smile for Brian. He kissed Katie's cheek, and sat down at his place to eat.

Michaela looked at him, wanting to see in his eyes if he was still angry,but he didn't make eye contact, didn't look at her. She sighed again, and went back to eating, though she couldn't taste any of it. After finishing her meal, Michaela stood to gather her's and Katie's dishes.

Sully immediately jumped up saying "No, I'll do the dishes…you go sit down .. read a book or somethin … one of your medical journals." Michaela looked at him quizzically. She started to say something, then thinking better of it, she closed her mouth and took Katie over to play by the fireplace as Brian left to go to Adam's house.

After doing the dishes, Sully cleaned both tables, then the floor. Then, after looking around, he headed outside and proceeded to sweep the porch and front steps. After deciding that the homestead was as clean as it was going to get he went back inside.

Not seeing Michaela and Katie, Sully figured she had taken Katie up to bed. Feeling rather filthy after 4 weeks without a proper bath, he decided he could really use a hot one…would give him time to think before going up to Michaela. He wanted to know why Jack Marshall had taken over for him, had taken his place. He also wanted to know if Jack was beginning to take his place in other areas of Michaela's life. They had sure seemed quite comfortable together when he got home …"too comfortable", he muttered to himself.

Sully got the tub out from under the stairs, then set about boiling water. While the water was boiling he went upstairs to get a towel. He hoped he wouldn't run into Michaela, he wasn't ready to talk with her yet. He was in luck, as he could hear her singing Katie to sleep in Katie's room. Temporarily forgetting his worries, Sully smiled at hearing Michaela sing. She wasn't very good at it, but it didn't matter to him, and it suredidn't matter to Katie! Returning to the present as he walked into his and Michaela's room, he grabbed a towel and headed quickly back downstairs.

After pouring the hot water into the tub, Sully shucked his filthy shirt and his buckskins, and slid into the hot water. The water was so hot, steam rose up off it. Sully sat back and stared into the steam, in a dream-like state, thinking about the day's events. Through the steam he saw Michaela, worn out from what he figured to be a long day at the clinic, trying to yield an ax tocut wood for the fireplace and stove. Tired as she was, she was having trouble getting the ax very high above her head. After a couple of swings,he saw her sway a little, then sit down on the ground, before jumping up to run in the direction ofthe bathroom, her hand over her mouth.

Sully shook his head and closed his eyes for a moment, as if he wasn't sure why he was seeing this. He knew he had never seen Michaela chop wood. When he opened his eyes back up, instead of seeing Michaela chopping wood, he saw her with a rake in hand, mucking out the stall in the barn and taking care of the horse. Sitting on a bale of hay, he saw Katie crying and knew she was crying because she was hungry. He saw Michaela get exasperated, drop the rake, and with a resigned shrug, pick up Katie and head toward the house. Sully closed his eyes again. His brow creasing, he wondered why Michaela would be doing this herself. Where was he when she did this??

He waited a few moments before opening his eyes again. Staring into the steam once more, he again saw Michaela. This time she was trying to hold a piece of the paddock fence up with one hand, while trying to use a hammer to pound a nail into it with the other hand. Her normally beautifully combed and styled hair was disheveled, her blouse partially untucked from her skirt. She looked like she was having a hard day, and a harder time getting the nail into the board. He cried out when he saw her hit her thumb with the hammer, tears falling down her face as she sucked on her thumb. It was then that he noticed how pale she was, and the dark circles under her eyes. He immediately felt bad, he felt it should've been him repairing the fence.

Sully closed his eyes again, this time for a while. He realized the spirits were talking to him, for he saw Michaela through the steam the same as he did in the sweat lodge when he had that terrible headache. He now knew he was seeing Michaela from these past few weeks. He thought about all the things Michaela had to do on her own this time he was gone. He knew Matthew had to be away, and with Brian having so many responsibilities of his own, that he couldn't possibly do everything for Michaela. He also thought about howhe knew he had to be out of town, how it couldn't be helped. He was doing a job he loved, and Michaela understood that.

With the spirits guiding his thoughts, he realized it was unfair of him to be angry at Michaela for getting help from someone else. He also felt foolish for thinking this man was going to replace him in Michaela's heart. He knew better…he knew how much she loved him. It showed in her actions…how she greeted him with a smile all the time, how she so readily ran into his arms when he came home - except when there were friends around - Sully thought to himself with a smile. He loved her so much, properBoston propriety and all! He thought about how she responded to his touches and kisses, how she opened up to him. He thought about how she would smile lovingly at him across a room, how she would fix his favorite meals for him, how she always seemed to know when he needed some holdin' and how she knew when to give him some space. He loved her with all his heart, more than life itself. "Michaela, I love you so!" he thought to himself. His body started to warm with the fire growing inside of him, a firefor Michaela. It was then that he opened his eyes … and when he did, he saw Michaela standing next to the tub, wearing one of his shirts.

He smiled up at her, the special smile he reserved only for her. "I love you, too" she said, smiling back.

"Michaela…I didn't say that out loud"

"I know" Michaela responded, still smiling. It amazed her that she and Sully seemed to be able to speak to each other without talking. The bond they shared was so strong, it took her breath away.

"You're wearin my shirt."

"I always wear your shirt to bed when you're away", she said shyly, dropping her eyes. Then looking back into his eyes, "It helps me get through the night when you're gone".

"I like the way you look wearin' it" he replied seductively, his blue eyes shining.

Michaela moved so that she stood behind his head. Suddenly she pushed his head under the water and he came up sputtering.

"Wha…what was that for?"

"Your hair needs to be wet if I'm going to wash it for you"

Sully smiled, tilted his head back and putting his hand on the back of her head , he brought her face down to his so he could claim her lips with his own. It was a long kiss, finally broken off by Michaela as she reached for the soap and commenced with washing his long beautiful hair.

"Michaela, I'm so sorry for bein' angry with you. When I got home today I saw another man repairin my fence and makin my wife laugh. I thought he was takin my place…both around the house…and…with you."

Michaela stopped washing for a moment and started to interrupt.

"Wait ….While I was sittin here, the spirits helped me see you … see you tryin to chop wood, then gettin sick, probably cause you were overworked..see you tryin to mend the fence and hittin your thumb. I realize now how wrong I was to think Jack was takin' my place. I know he was only doin it to help you .. cause Brian couldn't…"

Without warning, Michaela dunked his head under the water again. She did it to rinse his hair and to stop him from talking. She hoped when he came back up out of the water he would let her speak - she wanted to tell him her secret, that there was another reason for their neighbor's help. But, it was not to be, because when he came back up…

"…and I'm sorry I'm not here to do the things that need to be done .. and that you and Brian often have to do them yourselves. I'm really grateful to Jack for helpin' you out. Not only do I owe him a thanks … I owe one big apology."

There was a pause as Michaela waited to see if he had more he wanted to say, then kneeling down beside the tub, Michaela reached into the water to grab his hand and hold it. Momentarily speechless, Sully just stared at her.

"Sully, you never have to worry about someone taking your place in our hearts. We undertand that you must go away sometimes. We miss you terribly while you're gone, but it's not because you're not here to help with the chores. We miss just seeing you .. seeing your smile .. hearing you laugh. I miss just being with you .. feeling you near me .. I miss kissing you and holding you."

Michaela noticed the love shining in his beautiful blue eyes. "Sully … Jack didn't just help with the chores because Brian wasn't able to … he helped because he … well … because I couldn't do them anymore. He volunteered, and because it wasn't good for me to do such strenuous things, I let him."

"What do you mean, you couldn't do strenuous things? The only time you couldn't was when you were pregnant with Katie…" Sully stopped for a moment, finally realizing what Michaela was trying to tell him. "Michaela, I saw you gettin' sick …. are you pregnant?" he asked with hope, his eyes shining even more.

"Yes" she fairly whispered, leaning in to kiss him.

"You're so beautiful!" he said, his heart swelling with his love for her as he brought his hand up to once again cup the back of her head and deepen the kiss. He slipped his other arm around her waist and, without warning, pulled her into the tub with him. Normally this would have stunned Michaela, but she was so involved in the kiss, she hardly noticed she was now in the tub with Sully, and that the shirt of Sully's that she wore was now soaked …and plastered to her skin.

When the kiss finally ended Sully's hands still held Michaela's face close to his own. "I love you so much .. so much more than I can ever express. I love knowin' that you're carryin' a part of me inside you." He looked down at her body then, to place his hands on her abdomen, but his hand stopped in mid air as he beheld the site of her beautiful body, covered by his now wet shirt. Instead of touching her abdomen, he lightly touched the valley between her breasts, then letting both hands roam slowly over each breast, he looked up into her face, and saw her blushing fiercely. "And I love it when you blush", he said as he kissed her again. This time the kiss became more and more urgent, the fires within them growing ever stronger.

Sully found the hem of his shirt and peeled it off Michaela's body, breaking off the kiss only to pull the shirt over her head. As the kiss was momentarily broken off, Michaela moaned, and went back to kissing him with fervor as soon as the shirt cleared her face. How Sully loved it when his wife was enthusiastic! He never seemed to be able to get enough of her, and she of him.

Becoming breathless with the passion ignited between them, Sully finally broke away. He ran his finger over her warm and swollen lips. As they stared into each others eyes, their hands roamed freely, exploring every hill and valley .. alternately kissing and whispering words of love. Finally, Sully picked up the soap, and started to wash Michaela's beautiful body, slowly and tenderly, not missing an inch. Michaela lost herself in her husband's sensual wash, a deep moan escaping her lips as his hands passed over the most intimate part of her body. He finished the task with a passionate kiss.

Wanting to reciprocate, Michaela took the soap out of his hand, and started to wash her husband. Taking the same tender loving care as he had, she slowly and sensually washed his tanned muscular body, paying particular attention to *his* most intimate part. Sully sucked in his breath then, never ceasing to be amazed at how far his proper Boston bred wife had come since they started to court. Smiling demurely, Michaela looked up at Sully, then ran her hands up his sides as she planted kisses on his chest, starting at the water line, and working her way up to his neck … then kissing the outline of his jaw, then back to his lips. They lay in the water kissing passionately until the water was too cold to stay in the tub any longer.

Michaela looked at Sully and smiling her crooked smile said "Sully … there's only one towel".

"Well then..I guess we'll have to share" Sully said with a smile.

Sully stepped out of the tub and grabbed the towel, then helped Michaela out. Together they proceeded to dry each other off, again, neither missing an inch of the other, leaving little kisses where the towel touched the skin. Wrapping the towel around Michaela, he picked her up and carried her over to the fireplace. Setting her down on her feet, yet keeping her very close to him, he knelt down to spread out a quilt. Running his hands up the back of her legs, he placed a kiss on her navel as he rose back up to his feet. He then gently lowered her down on to the quilt, and after taking a long loving look at his beautiful wife, Sully placed a few more logs on the fire. Then laying down beside her, he took her in his arms and whispered, "You and me are like a fire burnin. If you tend to it … take care of it … feed it ... it keeps growin bigger, and burns brighter … like our love."

Michaela smiled at Sam's words of long ago. "You remembered."

Sully brought his face down to hers and claimed her lips, kissing her with more passion than they thought possible. The passion grew and the fires within both of them burned brighter and brighter as they moved rhythmically together, the momentum building until their passion exploded into a cataclysm of fire, causing Michaela to cry out Sully's name.

As their heartbeats returned to normal, Sully and Michaela lay in each others arms, gently caressing each other, whispering words of love until they both fell asleep, waking in the middle of the night to make love again and again.

Shortly after dawn broke, Sully awoke, gathered his wife into his arms, and took her upstairs to their room, laying her down in their bed so she could sleep some more. She needed all the rest she could get now, he thought to himself as he smiled at the thought of her pregnant with his child again. She was so beautiful pregnant, he didn't think it possible that she could get any more beautiful than she already was. He kissed her abdomen, then quickly dressed and went back downstairs to gather up the dirty shirt and buckskins he had left by the tub, and gathered up the shirt Michaela wore, smiling as he remembered how she looked when it was wet. Then he took care of the tub, leaving no trace of the previous night's activities for Brian and Katie to see.

Michaela woke to the sound of Sully's voice outside the bedroom window. Rising, she started to walk toward the window, then realizing she was nude, she slipped on her nightgown. Looking out the window, she saw Katie on Brian's horse, Sully beside her. He was teaching her how to ride.

Michaela quickly donned her robe and brushed her hair, then went outside. Standing on the porch, she saw Sully get near the horse's head. "Who's that sittin on my back", he said in a deep voice, acting like the voice was coming from the horse.

Katie giggled. Clapping her hands she said, "Katie!…Pa, horse talkin!"

Sully, stifling a laugh, said in a deep voice again, "Katie! Who's Katie? I've never had a Katie on my back!"

"Katie Sully! Pa's Kates", Katie said, giggling again. Sully's heart swelled with love for his daughter. Even though he was gone for periods of time, he knew then that his daughter knew how much he loved her … that she was his "Kates".

Michaela came up to him and put her arms around his waist. Smiling, she reached up to kiss him. Sully felt proud to have such a wonderful … and growing family, and he knew that he never again had to be afraid of someone taking his place.

The End