Letters from Owen, Part Three – Plain

Letters from Owen, Part Three

by T. L. Haddix

All Rights Reserved

Copyright 2017

Part One | Part Two | Part Four | Part Five


April Fool’s

April 1, 1967

The white-blond down swirled softly on the baby’s head, a layer of hair so fine it was almost ethereal. Tiny Richard Ira George Browning was only a week old, but already Sarah could see a strong resemblance, aside from the color of his hair, to her brother Jack.

“He has your nose and mouth,” she said softly as she traced the baby’s almost invisible eyebrows.

Jack, seated beside her on the couch, touched his son’s foot with a reverent finger, smiling when the baby pushed against him. “He’ll grow up to be a handsome man, no doubt.”

Sarah bumped her shoulder into his. “He probably won’t break any mirrors. Oh, Jack, he’s so adorable. Gilly did a good job. Be sure and tell her I said so when she wakes up.” Gilly had gone in to rest a short time earlier, still recovering from the difficult birth.

He snorted, but his eyes were twinkling. “That she did, and I certainly will. She hates that he’s the last one we’ll have. How do I help her through that, sis?” His voice turned serious, his face earnest, as he sat forward and scrubbed his hands through his hair.

Sarah rubbed his back. “You love her, and you give her time. It’s that simple.”

Gilly had had a rough pregnancy with Ricky, as they were calling the baby. When she’d had Michelle, his older sister, four years ago, things had gone smoothly. But she’d had a couple of miscarriages since then, and while she’d managed to carry Ricky to term, she’d been sick the entire time. She’d had to have a C-section to deliver him, and the surgeon had told Jack then that she couldn’t risk another pregnancy.

Jack, who was head-over-heels devoted to Gilly, was terrified of losing her, and after the news, he’d put his foot down. She’d agreed, and she’d gotten her tubes tied two days after Ricky was born. While she understood the need for the decision, it was devastating to her nonetheless. To Jack too, Sarah knew.

“She wanted a houseful, you know,” Jack said quietly, his gaze going to Michelle, who was playing in the corner of the living room with her dolls. “We both did. But we have two beautiful, healthy babies, and we thank God for them. We’ll simply have to spoil them rotten.”

“I have little doubt that’ll be the case.” Sarah tucked her hair behind her ear. “Speaking of babies…”

Jack sent her a sidelong glance and grinned. “I know you, Sarah Jane. You’ve got baby fever again, don’t you?”

She made a face at him, but her cheeks felt hot, and she couldn’t meet his eyes. Thankful she had a close enough relationship to Jack that they could speak so frankly, she said, “I haven’t told Owen yet. I’m planning to this afternoon. I don’t know how he’s going to feel about number four.”

Her brother turned to stare at her more fully. “You’re expecting?”

“Yes.”

Jack’s smile softened, and he touched her shoulder. “How about that? Congratulations.”

“Thanks.” She smiled, though the expression was tinged with sadness. “I don’t think we’ll go to Georgia this year. The timing… well, it’s probably best if we stay here.”

Every year since they’d gotten married, she and Owen had made the trek to Savannah, where Sarah’s mother and sister lived. They’d stay in a little cottage close to Eliza’s house, usually for a month or so, since Owen could write anywhere he found good light. This year, however, Sarah and Jack’s sister, Kathy, had taken a turn in her fight against severe depression. It had gotten so bad that both Eliza and Charles, Kathy’s husband, were afraid she was going to have to be institutionalized.

“Maybe, maybe not. I’d see what Mama thinks. Maybe you could go early, before you’re showing?” Jack said kindly.

Kathy had lost her two children years earlier in a horrific tragedy that had left her with debilitating depression and anxiety. When she’d found out Gilly was pregnant with Ricky, following on the heels of Sarah having a miscarriage while they were in Georgia last year, she’d had trouble coping. A recent change in medications had only made things worse, and though her doctors were trying to help her, there wasn’t a lot that they could do.

“I’ll talk to Mama about it, see what she thinks. I know she could use our company right now, but it might be more than they could all handle, having us there. I hate being so far away from her.”

“So do I,” he confessed. “Especially now. And I miss Dad so much. He’d have been overjoyed to have so many grandkids. Maybe if he’d still been alive…”

They exchanged a long, solemn look. The possibility that their father, Ira Browning, could have prevented the tragedy that had cost Kathy her children was something they’d discussed over the years. He’d died less than a year before it happened, and the family had still been reeling from his loss when Moira and Junior were taken in a vicious attack that had nearly cost them Kathy as well.

“You know we can’t go down that road. It serves no purpose other than making us sad,” Sarah told him quietly. “But I miss him too. I hate that he never got to see our kids. Maybe he did though. I like to think he’s their guardian angel. That’s probably silly.”

Jack winked at her. “Only if it makes me silly to think it too. So how are you going to tell Owen?”

She laughed. “In a letter, of course.” With a reluctant sigh, she pressed a kiss to Ricky’s forehead, then handed him to Jack. “I’d best head up the mountain. He’ll be getting home any minute now, and I need to give him a hand with the kids. Do you think… do you think he’ll be happy about number four?”

They’d not exactly planned this pregnancy, though they’d not been doing anything to prevent it either. Owen had said months ago that they’d leave it up to the universe, but when she hadn’t immediately fallen pregnant, Sarah had figured a fourth baby wasn’t in the cards. She’d easily gotten pregnant each of the three previous times.

Jack snuggled the baby into the crook of his arm. “He’ll be ecstatic. A word of advice, however—given what happened last year in Georgia, he also might be scared. I know each time Gilly told me she was pregnant after the first miscarriage, that was always in the back of my mind.”

“It’s in the front of my mind,” Sarah said. “I’ll ask you for advice now—any wisdom you can share?”

He gave her a one-armed hug. “Just love each other and try not to worry about the what-ifs. Easier said than done, but try not to let the worry steal your joy.”

A few minutes later, as Sarah walked up the path that led to the top of the mountain where she and Owen lived, she went over and over Jack’s words, as well as Dr. Boggs’s advice.

“One miscarriage after two successful pregnancies doesn’t alarm me,” the kind doctor had said yesterday after he’d performed the exam confirming her suspicions. “You’re healthy, you take care of yourself, you don’t do any ridiculous things that might put you at risk for losing this child. As horrible as it sounds, miscarriage is not an uncommon event. As a matter of fact, most women who have children experience at least one. People just don’t talk about it.”

“Is there any way to know? Anything I should look out for or do to prevent it from happening again?”

He patted her hands. “Sometimes I have an idea that a mother won’t make it to term. She’s sickly or there’s a lot of spotting early on, for example. I believe you were quite ill in the last weeks before you lost your child last year, weren’t you?”

Sarah nodded. “Almost as soon as we got to Georgia, I got sick and stayed sick until it was over. And I spotted too.”

“And this time? Any of those issues?” When she shook her head, he nodded. “Something else to consider is that oftentimes, if a woman makes it past the first twelve weeks, she has a very good chance of delivering a baby. You’re at close to eight now, if our calculations are correct.”

She knew about the twelve-week mark, as she and Gilly had both been within that first trimester when they had their miscarriages, and she’d done some reading after she’d healed enough emotionally.

“So you’re basically telling me to stop worrying, right?”

He chuckled. “Basically. I know it isn’t easy, but do try. And if you have concerns, all you have to do is call or stop by.”

“And what about traveling? Should I avoid it?”

The doctor considered the question. “So long as you stop often and stretch your legs, don’t get too tired, I think you’ll be fine.”

“No, it isn’t easy,” she said to herself now as she stopped on the path at the spot where Owen had asked her out on their first date. She placed a hand on the damp rock that still wore its winter chill. Here on the east face of the mountain, it didn’t get a lot of sun, and the rock wouldn’t fully warm up until late summer.

Continuing on, she passed the tree that marked the Campbell property line. Years ago, she’d regularly trespassed on this land, having no notion that someday she’d be married to the reclusive man who owned it. That trespassing had led to chance meetings with Owen—though he’d not been in his human form—that had set their story in motion.

Within a couple of minutes, she reached the waterfall and pool where they’d had so many dates, both before and after their marriage. As a matter of fact, she was fairly certain John had been conceived one hot summer night on top of the large, flat boulder overlooking the pool, and as she made her way along the bench of land that led to the top of the boulder, she smiled. Every step she took brought her closer to Owen and their family and was filled with memories, laughter, and love. Most of the memories were good, and the happiness that pervaded their life, winding like a thread throughout the days and weeks and years, helped ease the ache of the memories that weren’t as warm and cherished.

They’d driven to town that morning to do a few errands and had stopped on the way home with some supplies for Jack and Gilly, as well as to see the baby. When their own kids, six-year-old John and three-year-old twins Emma and Ben, had gotten restless, Owen had rounded them up.

“Time to head home, you little hooligans, before you tear the house down or wake Gilly. She needs her rest.”

“Do you mind if I walk?” Sarah asked. “I’d like some fresh air.”

He sent her a searching look. “Not at all. Everything okay?”

“Mm-hmmm. I just want to stretch my legs.”

But she’d also wanted a chance to be alone for a few minutes and review in her mind what she’d said in the letter she’d written early that morning. Too, she’d been holding Ricky when Owen and the kids had left and she’d not been quite ready to hand him over. Driving around the mountain to their home took about as long as the walk up from Firefly Hollow, where Jack and Gilly lived in the old homeplace.

Moving faster now that she was past the waterfall, she soon reached the edge of the trees. The meadow opened up in front of her, with the barn some distance away on her left and the renovated farmhouse she and Owen called home situated to her right. The early spring flowers were blooming in earnest, though most of the flower beds were still fallow, waiting for warmer weather and sunshine to call them to action.

Owen’s Bronco was parked beside the house, but there was no sign of him or the kids. Sarah grimaced—she’d not meant to stay so long with Jack, as she’d known the kids would probably be a handful by the time Owen got them home.

“I should have timed it better,” she said as she reached the front porch.

But Owen stepped outside just then, with a welcoming smile as though he’d not seen her in weeks, never mind that he’d left her only twenty minutes earlier, and her heart melted.

“Pretty girl, have you come to whisk me away to your enchanted kingdom?” he said in a low voice, pulling her to him for a lingering kiss. “I could allow myself to be ensorcelled if you have.”

Sarah leaned into him, more than happy to return his embrace. “I believe it’s more likely that I’m the one ensorcelled, sir. You’ve lured me to return to your lair from afar.” Unable to continue with the fantastical teasing, she dissolved into snorting giggles against his chest.

With a relaxed grin, Owen held her closer and lightly danced her back and forth. “Your children are sound asleep, madam. I think we’d better take advantage of that while we can.” He kissed her again, this time with considerably more heat. “Maybe they’ll even stay asleep long enough for me to seduce you twice.”

“Then let’s stop wasting time here on the porch,” she murmured against his lips before nipping him.

He lifted an eyebrow even as he opened the door and walked her inside. “My kisses are a waste of your time?”

Sarah tugged on the hem of his shirt, slipping it from his pants as they moved down the hall toward the bedroom. “Oh, no. Never such a thing. I live to be kissed by you, husband. But considering what you just started and what I know about your seduction methods? The front porch isn’t where I want to be at the moment.”

Close to an hour later, she was draped across his chest, tracing his muscles with her fingertips. “I love these lazy afternoons, you know,” she said around a yawn. “Goodness, but you’ve worn me out, Owen Campbell.”

“Mm, and you me.” Then he gave a little groan. “I think I just heard tiny feet hit the floor upstairs.”

“I guess I’d better get dressed then.” She started to roll over but stopped when he kissed her. Pulling back before things got too heated, she whimpered. “You’re too tempting. Do you know that?”

Owen pushed her hair back off her face and smiled. “I’m nowhere near as tempting as you. I love you, wife.”

Catching his hand, she placed a kiss to his palm, then lightly bit the heel. “And I love you. I need to get supper started anyhow, so I guess it’s a good thing they’re waking up, but I’ll remember this later.”

There was no doubt about the kids being awake now, as the soft pitter-patter from upstairs grew more pronounced, accompanied by childish laughter.

“Back to work we get,” Owen said as he pulled on his pants. “I’ll go round them up.”

Once dinner was in the oven a short time later, Sarah padded barefoot down the hall to the living room. She stopped in the wide doorway and watched Owen interacting with the babies, her heart near to bursting it was so full of love.

John was seated beside Owen, cross-legged on the floor, his pose mimicking Owen’s. Ben was next to John, the three of them forming a semicircle. John was handing Ben building blocks one by one, which he placed on a haphazardly stacked tower in front of him. Emma, ever watchful, was snuggled up in Owen’s lap, no doubt waiting for the perfect moment to strike her brothers’ creation and bring it tumbling down.

When Owen glanced up and saw her standing there, he grinned. “Come join the fun.”

“What are we building?” she asked as she walked inside.

“A fort, Mama,” Ben told her. “We’re gonna put Dolly inside and rescue her.”

John sent her a look that was so mature and resigned it had her stifling laughter. “Emma says she won’t knock it down this time.”

From his tone, he clearly didn’t believe his sister. Sarah couldn’t blame him—Emma loved to wreak havoc on the boys’ forts and buildings.

The curly haired imp turned her eyes to Sarah. “I won’t, Mama. I pwomise.” Then she chortled, a belly laugh that was infectiously cute and irresistible and had both her parents grinning like fools.

John sighed loudly, not as charmed as Sarah and Owen. “See?”

“Emma, it isn’t very nice to tear things down once they build them,” Sarah told her, brushing a wayward curl back off her daughter’s forehead. “Why don’t we go sit on the couch and read that new book I brought you from the library?”

The little girl stuck out her lower lip, pouting as she considered the offer. After studying Ben’s fort for a long minute, she shrugged and clambered off Owen’s lap. “Do I get Dolly back, Mama?”

Sarah caught her face and gave her a smacking kiss on the cheek. “Absolutely, as soon as Johnny and Ben mount a successful rescue campaign.”

With a tentative peace agreement reached, Emma settled in on the couch with Sarah. Owen stayed on the floor with the boys, not supervising but simply being near them. For what had to be the millionth time, Sarah said a quick, silent prayer of gratitude for having him. He was such a good father—kind, loving, and patient—a sharp contrast to his own father, from what she had heard.

Since Owen worked from home, he was the one taking care of the kids three days a week while she worked part-time at the library in town. Getting their routine straightened out had taken them a little while. She’d not gone back to work until a year after John’s birth and had waited until the twins were almost two before ending her maternity leave.

But she loved her job, so they’d decided it was time for her to go back, and they’d decided against trying to find a babysitter. Instead, Owen had simply adjusted his writing schedule. On the days she worked, he took care of the children and whatever else needed attention, working around the kids if and when he could. On the days she didn’t work, he escaped to his studio, and Sarah did her best to only call him back to the house if there was an urgent problem. Plus, most nights he went back out and worked late for a couple of hours after she’d gone to bed.

Now, with the fourth baby on the way, she realized she probably wouldn’t return to work until this child was at least two, if not older. That might mean losing her position for good at the library. If that was the case, she’d deal with it when it happened.

A few hours later, the day was winding to a close. With the kids bathed and tucked in bed and the last of the evening’s chores completed, she and Owen met in the downstairs hall.

He slipped his arms around her from behind and kissed her neck. “I believe you said something about a rain check earlier today?”

Sarah’s eyes fluttered closed as his hands traced the skin of her belly, moving upward. “Yes, but I have something for you first.”

He paused. “A present?”

“Um, of a sort, yes.” She pulled away and went to the table beside the front door, where she’d stashed the letter. When she turned, she bit her lip as she studied him. “I hope you like it.” Gathering her nerve, she handed him the letter.

He smiled. “I always like your letters. Want me to read it now?”

She nodded. “Please.”

Feeling ridiculously shy, she moved around him and sat on the stairs. Owen joined her, frowning with curiosity as he sat down and carefully unsealed the envelope. As he read, Sarah watched, her hands pressed firmly between her knees to keep from biting her thumb, a nervous habit she’d not realized she had until Emma came along and did the same.

After a long, tense minute, he drew in a shaky breath, then slowly expelled it as he looked at her. “Really?” he asked in a low voice.

“Yeah.”

He swallowed hard as he folded the letter, then set it aside and wrapped her in a tight hug. “Oh, Sarah.”

To her surprise, he was shaking. When she pulled back to try to get a look at his face, he stopped her with a fierce kiss. The kiss was brief, but he kept one hand tangled in her hair, his face pressed to hers. The dampness on his cheek was another surprise, and she touched his closed eyes.

“Aren’t you happy?” she whispered.

He nodded and cupped her face. “More than I can tell you. It’s just… after last year… are you okay?”

She covered his hand with hers. “Yes. I talked to Dr. Boggs about it, and he mentioned some things from last time that were probably signs.” She told him about the sickness and the spotting. “I’ve had none of that this time. He basically told me not to borrow trouble because there’s nothing we can do anyhow, but he thinks I’m fine, the baby’s fine.”

“God, I hope so.” He gasped. “Oh, no. What we did earlier—”

“Is perfectly normal and natural, and it didn’t hurt me. You didn’t hurt me.”

He scowled. “I could have been more gentle. If I’d known… I’ll be more gentle in the future.”

Sarah nipped him then used her tongue to soothe the place she’d bitten. “You’re welcome to try.”

The scowl deepened. “Sarah Jane…”

She sighed. “I’ll behave. Damn it.”

“I’ll make it worth your while, and it won’t be forever,” he murmured, then kissed her again. “I love you so much. Four babies, huh? This one’s a boy, right? I’d hate for Emma to have sisters. She needs to be a princess.”

She laughed outright as she got to her feet. “You’re just afraid of being outnumbered, and she’s always going to be a princess regardless of whether she has sisters or not. All our daughters will be.”

He grumbled good-naturedly as he stood. “Princess Hellion, I expect. She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, but I swear that girl lives to torment her brothers.”

He carefully tucked the letter into its envelope, and Sarah knew he’d place it in the ornate, hand-carved box he’d purchased a couple of years back to store his most precious correspondence in. Touched by that simple gesture, she slipped her arms around his waist and rested her head against his shoulder.

“You’re such a good man, a kind man, fierce when you need to be, strong enough to need me. I’ll love you until the end of time, I do believe.” She yawned, suddenly worn out. “I’m so sorry. I think it’s past my bedtime.”

Owen hugged her close. “Then let’s get you tucked in. Maybe I’ll even tell you a bedtime story.” He waggled his eyebrows, making her laugh.

She pulled away, keeping their hands entangled. “Oh, really? I can’t resist that offer. How does it start?”

He lifted her hand and kissed the back. “Once upon a time, there was a lonely man destined to live out his life forever tormented by the past and without love. Then he met a girl with sapphire-blue eyes, and the world opened up. My world opened up. You saved me, you know. I don’t think I’d have been able to stay in this world without you. I think I’d probably have shifted into the wolf one night, gone for a run, and never returned.”

“Oh, Owen…” Her throat was tight, and she had to fight to not cry as he kissed each of her hands in turn, then embraced her. “There’s no way I would ever let that happen to you. I think I’d have known on some level, even if we hadn’t met, and the universe would have put us in each other’s path to prevent it.”

He smiled softly. “So maybe we’re both enchanted and this is a fairy tale of some kind. Is that what you’re saying?”

She ran her hands up his chest and wound her arms around his neck. “Something like that, only it’s worlds better because it’s real. With any luck, we have at least fifty or sixty more years with each other.”

“Oh, no. That won’t be long enough. I’m aiming for hitting a hundred and twenty. Think we can make it?”

She gave a soft laugh as she gazed at him, utterly content and happy. “I think we just might, and I’m looking forward to trying.”


October 15, 1967

Owen recognized the nurse who came to fetch him from the waiting room as the one Sarah had butted heads with each time she was in the maternity ward. If the sour look on the nurse’s face was any indication, she remembered him as well. Regardless of her antagonism, he followed her down the hall, unable to speak even if he tried. Aside from knowing that Sarah and the baby were all right and that she’d had a girl this time, he’d been languishing in the waiting room without news for what felt like hours. The nurse’s not-so-sunny disposition didn’t interest him in the least. Getting to his wife did.

She stopped in front of a closed door. “She’s already talking about going home. I’ve called Dr. Boggs. You either need to quit getting her pregnant or get her to show some common sense, Mr. Campbell. It’s a pure miracle she hasn’t had complications from being so stubborn.”

Owen didn’t dignify her statements with a response before he went past her and closed the door in her face. The curtain was drawn, blocking the view of the bed from the door.

“Sarah?” he asked softly.

“Here. Oh, Owen, come meet her. She’s so beautiful.”

He stopped to wash his hands, a move that would have no doubt surprised the nurse in its caution. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Sore, tired, and groggy, but fine.”

When he finally got around the curtain, her radiant smile punched him in the heart. “I love you so much.”

She laughed, then winced, and extended her arms to hand him the baby. “She’s here! You’re in trouble now, Papa.”

Wrapped in a pink blanket printed with tiny elephants, the baby felt too light to be real.

“Is she okay? Tell me about her,” he said in a hushed voice as he sank into the chair beside the bed, not taking his eyes from his daughter. “Hello, angel.”

Sarah sniffled, and when he glanced up, he saw that her eyes were damp. Before he could ask, she waved off his concern. She cautiously repositioned herself in the bed. “My heart’s full, that’s all. As to how she’s doing, she’s our second heaviest baby at an even seven pounds. Twenty inches long, so she matched her brothers on that but is shorter than Emma by an inch. You’ll see all her fingers and toes are as they should be,” she said as he carefully unwrapped the baby. “She’s perfect.”

Owen sat back to look her over, inspecting her tiny feet and hands with awe and pure joy. He laughed around a tight throat as she kicked her legs vigorously and waved her arms, looking quite mad at having been uncovered.

“There, there. I’ll tuck you in again. She’s feisty. She looks like you.” He locked eyes with Sarah, and for the first time in several hours, he felt as though he could breathe freely. “Thank you.”

She took the hand he held out, grasping it tightly as she winced. “It’s just a cramp, not unusual,” she said through gritted teeth. “When do you think they’ll let me escape this time?”

He studied her closely. She was as beautiful as ever, but she did look tired. The last few weeks had been uncomfortable for her, more so this time than with her other pregnancies, even with the twins. “I think you should stay tonight and see how you feel in the morning. The kids are with Eli and Amy for the next few days, and I’ll be here in town at George and Rosemarie’s tonight in case you need me.”

Sarah narrowed her eyes at him. “Have you been talking to that sourpuss nurse?”

He glowered right back. “She’s an idiot, but she’s not wrong about you needing rest. I think Dr. Boggs will agree this time. If you rest tonight, you should be fine in the morning, and I promise that if you are, I’ll spring you. We’ll have an old-fashioned jailbreak if you like.”

She groaned around a chuckle. “Complete with horse and dynamite? I want to be home.”

“I know you do.” Carefully getting to his feet, he perched on the edge of the bed and handed her the baby. Once she was snuggled in Sarah’s arms, he bent down to give his wife a long kiss. “Tomorrow, please? For me? I’ll get Dr. Boggs to agree to let me spend the night here if you will.”

“And her? Make them leave her with us?” Concern was written on every line of Sarah’s face. Knowing she’d always have to fight with the nurses to keep the babies with her was one of the things that Sarah dreaded most about giving birth.

“Absolutely.” He rested his cheek next to hers. “Sweet wife, I love you so much.”

She nuzzled him. “And I love you.”

The baby started fussing, steady little grunts that sounded like a strong, mewling kitten.

“She’s hungry. It’s time for her first meal.” Sarah fumbled with the buttons on her nightgown, letting her hand fall when Owen reached out to help. “Thank you. Here goes… let’s see what we get. Oooh, that’s unpleasant,” she said as the baby latched on to her nipple.

He winced. “I didn’t realize it hurt so much. God, Sarah, I’m sorry.”

She shook her head as she smoothed a hand over the baby’s dark hair. “It’s just for the first little bit. It helps my womb heal, and my nipples aren’t used to this, so it’s uncomfortable. We’ll be old pros in a few days.”

The sight of his wife feeding their child overwhelmed him. Such a simple, natural thing, yet so intimate and profound.

“I need to sketch you two,” he said in a low voice. “Once we get home, I need to put this on paper.”

Sarah closed her eyes and leaned into his hand as he cupped her cheek. “I’ll consider that. What did my other babies say about their new sister?”

He chuckled. “All sorts of things. John was disappointed that she isn’t a boy, and Emma wants to know if she has to share her dollies. Ben wants to meet her.”

“My sweetest boy, he’ll dote on her. John will come around. Emma… might take some convincing.” Sarah looked up at him, her eyes weary but full of laughter. “Just as we expected.”

“Yep. So… what do you think we should name her now that she’s here and we’ve seen her?”

Sarah kissed his hand. “I like Rachel Mia. It’s soft but still strong. It’s a good name that will carry her through time. I know you were partial to Samantha Christine, but I don’t think it fits her.”

“I can live with Rachel Mia. It’s a pretty name—strong, like you said. It suits her.” He touched the baby’s cheek and helped Sarah change sides. “It’s so funny how she doesn’t resemble her siblings when they were born, though I think I can see a similarity to Johnny in her.”

“Me too.”

Dr. Boggs came in then, and after a brief discussion, he agreed to Sarah’s terms. “I know better than to argue with you, young lady, but I am glad you’re staying here tonight. I think you need a little more rest this time around.”

“I’ll be fully recovered by the morning,” she warned him. “You’d better be here to let me out.”

He laughed and slapped Owen on the shoulder. “You have your hands full, sir. I’ll see you two tomorrow unless you need me before then.”

Once he was gone, Owen looked at Sarah. “Satisfied?”

“Absolutely.” Her eyes were heavy, and she yawned. “Your turn, Daddy. Think you can hold her while I take a nap?”

“I’m more than happy to hold her.”

For a long while, he sat there quietly, rocking the baby in the rocking chair, studying her sleeping face and Sarah’s.

“Soon I’ll write your letter, little Rachel. I have to let my emotions calm first, else it won’t make any sense. My sweet daughter, I’m so glad you’re here.” He placed a careful kiss on the baby’s forehead and sighed. “What to write you, little one? Let me ponder a bit.”

By midnight, the hospital was quiet. Rachel was tucked safely into her bassinette, and Sarah was sound asleep. Owen had closed his eyes and tried to rest, but he hadn’t been able to. The tiny lamp on the bedside table was still on, giving him enough light to see by. Deciding it was time for him to put pen to paper, he reached into his satchel and pulled out his supplies. Using Sarah’s rolling tray as a table, he closed his eyes and settled on the words he wanted to use, then he started writing.

Sweet Rachel,

It’s very late as I sit here in the hospital room with you and your mother. The two of you have had a busy day, and right now you’re both resting. I’m a mess, unable to sleep from all the thoughts rolling around my head, and if it wouldn’t wake you up, I’d hold you as I count my blessings.

You’re a whopping fourteen hours old already and so beloved it would make your head spin to know. My second daughter, you’re not second place at anything other than the order of your birth. I’m overjoyed to have you here with us, and so is your mother.

It’s a crazy, chaotic world you’ve been born into, Rachel Mia Campbell. That’s the first time since your birth I’ve written those names together, by the way. Someday, you’ll understand how significant an event that is for me.

Regardless of what the future holds, for now I imagine you’re a bit confused. You’d gotten used to that warm, cozy place where your mother held you against her heart, and now you’re out here. An early birthday present for me, to be sure. You jumped ahead of me by a week, but that’s all right. I couldn’t ask for anything better than for you and your mother to be here, happy and healthy.

When you come home with us, you’ll meet your brothers and sister. I expect you’ll be less awed by them than they will be by you, at least initially. We’re a close-knit little family, your mother and siblings and I, and we welcome you into our fold with open arms. You tipped our numbers into dangerous territory, you know—I’m outnumbered. True, if one splits our numbers evenly, it looks like a fair democracy. Six of us, three boys, three girls.

The reality is that you girls have us gents outweighed and overwhelmed in every sense. Unless your mother and I try again and have another boy, I fear I am in for a giggling, girly ride as you and your sister grow up. As my nerves couldn’t handle another pregnancy, I think I’ll stick with my current odds.

Your brothers and I will just have to hold on and build lots of forts and play with lots of soldiers and toy trucks to compensate. I’ll do my best to keep them from hiding snakes and frogs in your bed and your sister’s, but I suspect I might do better to keep Emma from being the antagonist in that respect. She has a morbid fascination with bugs and the like, much to John and Ben’s disgust. We might be in for a bit of a bumpy ride, especially if you take after her.

I’ll let you in on a secret—just like I told Emma in her letter when she was born, I wouldn’t change a thing. I adore my daughters, both of you.

You, Rachel Mia, look just like your mother. As the hours wore on today and some of your wrinkly appearance started to fade, the likeness became more and more apparent. That probably means, if you continue to resemble her so strongly as you grow, that you’ll have me at your mercy with just a smile. That’s something else I wouldn’t change—a man should be smitten with his children, don’t you think? I certainly am with your siblings.

You’re getting fussy and your mother is stirring, so I’d best close for now and help the two of you. Before I go, however, I want you to know how much I love you, how I’m looking forward to getting to know you as you grow. I never thought my world would be so full of love in such a short period of time, the seven years since I’ve come to know and love your mother, and I’m glad to share that world with you. Welcome to my heart.

With deepest love,

Your father