Ellie, Casper, and Bryce took to parenthood like a duck to water. Due to Bryce and Ellie’s open work hours, there was always someone home to watch the baby. Despite Bryce’s initial reluctance to be a father, Alex had him wrapped around his tiny little finger from the jump. There were many nights Bryce spent with the child, rocking him to sleep and giving him his late night feedings. As far as Ellie and Casper were concerned, Alex was just as much Bryce’s son as he was their own.
In fact, Bryce would encourage Casper and Ellie to get out of the house and have some fun while he stayed at home with the baby. Alex was finally old enough to sleep throughout the night and he cherished the quiet winter evenings he spent sculpting.
When Alex was two, Ellie revealed to her partners that she was pregnant again. She bought another white crib to put into the nursery, secretly hoping for a daughter this time. Ellie had heard that if you eat three watermelons when pregnant you will have a girl. She didn’t put much stock into that old wives’ tale but found herself consuming an ungodly amount of the fruit just in case. Regardless, a healthy six pound, seven ounce baby girl was born on a snowy Monday afternoon. They named her Brynn.
Brynn was a quiet child who had a surprisingly somber demeanor for one so young. Miles once said that she carried “the weight of the world upon her small shoulders”. It’s true, her gray eyes betrayed a keen intelligence and it was unnerving how even at the age of three, their little princess had already mastered the perfect withering glare. As Bryce used to say, “Brynn will grow up to either be Leader of the Free World or the Empress of Evil”. She took her studies seriously (unlike her Athletic older brother) and set her sights on becoming a Star News Anchor while still in grade school.
Campbell arrived right before the throuple’s Adult birthdays. Although he was a spitting image of his mother, Cam’s personality was most definitely his own. The youngest Bradshaw had a penchant for mischief and a rebellious streak a mile long, if setting loose one hundred frogs in Mr. Pearson’s sophomore biology class was any indication for what was to come. Deeply loyal, Cam always put his family first. His older brother Alex was his idol and everything he wanted to be when he got older. Brynn had a tendency to be a total nag but when Lorenzo Moretti snapped her bra strap one day in the school cafeteria, best believe Campbell was there waiting for him with a knuckle sandwich.
Tragically, some time after Cam was born, Dwight Howard passed away. Apparently he had not been doing well for some time. Andrew Hatfield was still working for the Howards but was busy raising his own family with Bryce’s sister Layla. Dorothy had powered through, determined to run the farm by herself if necessary. She came from a different time where as long as there were cows that needed milked and crops that needed harvested, there was no time to cry. Nevertheless, she persisted.
As soon as Ellie received the news about Dwight, she raced to the Howard farm. Dorothy was at the stables, attempting to remove the bridle from her horse, Willowmere, without much success. In a moment of weakness, the elderly lady had allowed three small tears to trickle down her wrinkled face, as she sobbed quietly into her beloved horse’s coat.
“Dorothy!” shouted Ellie, running towards her old friend. “What ever are you doing?”
“Oh Ellie, you’re here. Andrew was supposed to be here tonight but Kate’s got the chicken pox and Layla works late. I took Willowmere for her nighttime walk and now I can’t get this darn bridle.”
“Let me take that,” Ellie said, removing the bridle with ease. “I can brush her, clean her hooves, and put her in her stall if you want to go inside for some tea.”
“I appreciate your help but I don’t like you fretting over me like this. I’m sure it’s just a bad day,” Dorothy tried to reassure her, even as she wrung her mangled, time-worn hands.
Ellie started brushing Willowmere’s coat. She missed working on the farm. When was the last time she had visited the Howards? Ugh, it had been too long. And now Dwight was gone and it was only a matter of time before the arthritis took away the full use of Dorothy’s hands. Should she ask Casper and Bryce if they wouldn’t mind letting Dorothy live with them?
Dorothy scowled, “Eleanor James as I live and breathe you better cut that out right now.”
“Cut what out?” Ellie asked innocently, setting the brush down and walking over to her friend, a plan already forming in her mind.
“I see the way you’re looking at me. The way everyone looked at me today during the funeral. Well I don’t wish for your pity,” shouted Dorothy. “I wish…I wish…”
For one moment, Ellie feared that Mrs. H was about to have a heart attack and they were going to have two funerals in less than twenty-four hours. Then the fire left Dorothy’s eyes with such an abruptness that left the old lady’s face appear older as it sagged in defeat. It was so silent that Ellie could hear the crickets and frogs down by the pond.
“I wish Dwight was still here. I wish my body wasn’t broken and my mind was still sharp. I wish I wasn’t selling the farm to go live in a retirement home,” Dorothy cried.
Ellie wasn’t surprised to hear she was selling the farm but the idea of Dorothy in a place like a retirement home made her incredibly sad. Surely, they could put her in the spare bedroom. After the Howards took Ellie in, she gained a roof over her head, three hot meals a day, employment, but most importantly, a family. Without the forgiveness and kindness from people like Casper and the Howards, Ellie’s life on Aspen Islands would certainly have turned out differently. She hugged Dorothy. “Stop that nonsense about a retirement home. You’ll come live with us.”
Dorothy smiled sadly. “You know, Dwight and I were never lucky enough to have kids of our own. I used to wish we had but I reckon that’s why we met you and Andrew. We sure loved both of you.”
“I love you both too,” choked out Ellie, dreading what was next.
“Ellie, it’s been my pleasure to watch you go from an angry, rebellious street rat to a loving partner and mother. When I first met you, I would never have been able to predict the kind of relationship we would have. But you and I, we’re thick as thieves. So you should already know that I would never want to be a burden. No,” Dorothy shook her head. “You need to focus on raising your kids. I’ll be alright. As long as you promise me one thing.”
Many years later:
“You know, Ellie, you never told me what you promised Mrs. Dorothy.”
After that night at the stables, Ellie had learned that Dorothy was actually in hospice care, not a retirement home, and the old bat neglected to tell her she also was terminally ill. Ellie paid for Mrs. Howard’s medical bills up until her death, which was three years later. To Ellie’s knowledge, she was the only one to visit the old lady in her final days. The funeral was small with only Ellie’s family in attendance.
Ellie smiled. “She said one word. Love.”
Casper threw an arm around her shoulders. “And did you?”