Authors: Robin Lee Hatcher
To my friend LaDonna Thomas,
who has touched countless lives because of her servant’s heart.
Thank you, LaDonna, for being
an example of His light wherever you go.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10, NASB
Karen opened her eyes to the sterile brightness of a hospital room. MacKenzie Gleason, her father’s attorney and longtime Butler family friend—about the only one that was left—stood at the bedside, staring down at her with a look of exhaustion and concern.
“You found me,” she whispered. “I lived.” If she’d had the strength, she would have cursed him.
She closed her eyes. “Why didn’t you let me die, Mac?”
“Suicide isn’t the answer.”
“It was Daddy’s answer.”
His hand alighted on her shoulder. “But Randolph was wrong. He was very, very wrong.”
Tears welled behind her eyelids, but she refused to let them fall. She had cried for days after her father’s death, but no more. She wasn’t going to cry anymore. Not for him. Not for herself. Not for anyone. Not ever again.
“Everything is gone,” she said after a moment. She looked at
him again. “And so has everyone. Why have
bothered to stick around?”
“I guess I’m as stubborn as you are, Miss Butler. And I’m your lawyer. I’m hoping to collect my usual, inflated fee.”
Despite herself, she smiled at his stupid joke—but it was a smile without humor.
“Things will look better tomorrow, Karen. You’ll see.”
Mac was mistaken. About life. About death. About tomorrow.
He should have let her die.
Saturday, February 14, 1931
My name is Esther Ruth Thompson, and today is my twelfth birthday. Because I am always writing stories on whatever paper I can find, Mama and Papa gave me this journal to keep my thoughts in. So today, I begin writing the story of my life.
Mine is not a very exciting life, living on this farm in Oregon. I go to school in a one-room schoolhouse on the edge of town, several miles from here. I have one sister, Sophia. She turned thirteen yesterday. She is my dearest and best friend, and I love her more than anyone in the world, except for Mama and Papa.
I don’t know what I want to be or what I want to do. Maybe I will become a great writer. But I doubt that. Miss Godwin, my teacher, says I have an average mind and that it will take great discipline for me to amount to anything.
I think that was a horrid thing for a teacher to say to her student. Don’t you?
Thursday, August 6, 1931
I could hardly wait for family prayers to be over this evening so I could hurry upstairs to my desk. I wanted to write down what happened today.
First, Goldie had puppies. A litter of six. They are the cutest little things I’ve ever seen. Well, maybe they do look more like rats than dogs, as Papa says, but before you know it, their eyes will open and their coats will get long and silky like Goldie’s. Mama says I must find homes for all of them, that we have more than enough pets around the farm. I almost cried at the thought. I wish I could keep them all. But then I saw her holding and petting one of them, and I think maybe we’ll be able to keep at least one.
I was so excited and wanted to share the news with Sophia. So I went looking for her. She was supposed to be returning Mrs. Sprague’s butter churn. Which I guess she did. Only I found her behind the barn with Earl Sprague. And he was kissing her!
They both blushed the brightest reds when they saw me. Sophia was furious, and she grabbed my arm so hard I thought I would have bruises to show for her anger. She made me swear I would never tell a soul. And I promised. But I never said I would not write it in my journal.
I wonder if any boy will ever want to kiss me. I cannot imagine even wanting one to. It seems a lot of nonsense to me.
A hot, dry wind swept across the high Idaho desert, driving eddies of dust ahead of it. The sun glared down upon the side of the house, bleaching what remained of the yellow paint that had once made it a bright spot in a bleak setting.
Not that this land of sagebrush and rattlesnakes, jack rabbits and coyotes, wild horses and range cattle didn’t have its own unique beauty. It had plenty. And Sophia Taylor couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Not in the dead of winter with snowdrifts piling against the front door nor in the blistering heat of summer when water holes went dry and each day seemed a full week long.
Seated in her rocking chair on the front porch, Sophia closed her eyes, her thoughts drifting backward in time. Through the years. Over the decades. Back to the first time Bradley had brought her to the Golden T Ranch.
Ranch? Hardly. There’d been nothing but land and wildlife. No house. No barn. No fences. No cattle or horses. But her husband had been full of dreams for the future. Their future. They’d worked hard, the two of them, to make those dreams come true.
“And we did it, Bradley,” she whispered. “We made them come true. And now it’s even more than we dreamed.”
He’d been gone nearly thirty-two years, her Bradley, but there were times Sophia expected to turn and see him sitting beside her on this porch that he’d built with his own two hands. Times she thought she could feel his arm around her shoulders as she watched the setting sun, splashes of orange, purple, and pink spilling across wispy clouds on the horizon. When she closed her eyes, she could see him and their daughter, Maggie, and Lucky Sam, the hired hand. She could see the cattle and the cowpokes, the dogs and the horses. They were all there in her memories, almost real enough to touch.
Funny how the older she got, the closer she felt to the past than the present. Maybe her time to leave this earth was near at last.
I’m ready whenever You say, Lord. It’s been a good life, and You’ve blessed me in abundance.
Yet, even as her silent prayer drifted through her mind, she knew with a certainty it wasn’t yet time. There was something still to be done. Something unfinished. She didn’t know what, but God would reveal it to her in His time.
She opened her eyes and watched as twelve-year-old Billy Slader galloped an ugly Roman-nosed horse into the yard. It was nothing short of a miracle the boy didn’t fall and break his neck, the way his arms and legs flopped around.
She rose from the rocker. “What is it, Billy?”
“You shoulda seen me. I roped a calf. I did it. I really did it.”
“That’s wonderful.” She looked up the canyon, knowing Dusty and the other boys couldn’t be far behind.
But before the riders came into view, Sophia’s attention was
drawn toward the highway by the sound of a car coming up the long narrow drive. She didn’t recognize the automobile as belonging to anyone she knew, and this county wasn’t exactly a hot tourist attraction.
“Who is it?” Billy asked.
“I don’t know.”
The car stopped. The engine was silenced. Sophia squinted against the glare of sunlight, trying to see who was behind the wheel. At last, the door opened. When the driver stepped into view, Sophia gasped.
“Maggie,” she whispered, her hand over her heart.
But even as she said the name, she knew it couldn’t be her daughter. Margaret Taylor Butler had died four years before—and had left clear instructions that her mother wasn’t welcome at the funeral.
The young woman shaded her eyes with one hand. “Is this the Golden T?” She walked toward the house.
The resemblance was remarkable, Sophia thought. The young woman had the same glorious blond hair as Margaret had when she was a girl, the same intense blue eyes. She was tall and slender, and she moved with the grace and confidence of a model on a fashion-show runway.
Could it possibly be—?
“Are you Sophia Taylor?”
“Yes.” Her pulse was racing. Her mouth was dry. It had to be her. It had to be—
“I’m Karen Butler.” She hesitated a moment, then added, “Your granddaughter.”
Sophia swallowed a lump in her throat and blinked away the sudden tears that blurred her vision. “Yes, I know who you are.” She smiled sadly. “For just a moment, I thought you were your mother.”
Karen didn’t reply to that nor did she return Sophia’s smile. Instead, her gaze flicked toward the house, her expression disdainful.
That, too, was very much like her mother.
“Come sit in the shade.” Sophia motioned toward the chairs on the porch. “It’s too hot to stand in the sun, and you must be tired. You’ve come a long way.”
With obvious reluctance, Karen did as she was bid.
“Billy, would you pour us some lemonade? The pitcher’s on the top shelf of the refrigerator.”
“Sure, Miss Sophie. Be right back.” The boy disappeared into the house.
Questions swirled in Karen’s eyes as her gaze followed Billy, but she didn’t voice them.
Softly Sophia said, “I’d almost given up hope of ever meeting you. I’ve often prayed the Lord would grant me this desire of my heart.”
to meet me?”
Her granddaughter’s question nearly broke her heart. “Always.”
Before she could say more, Dusty and the three other boys rode into the yard. Noah and Ted immediately called out to Sophia in excitement after their first full day on the range. Hal, the eldest of the boys, remained sullenly silent. As usual.
Only Dusty seemed to notice they had a visitor. “You boys put up the horses,” he said as he dismounted, then handed the reins to Ted.
He strode toward the porch, his long legs eating up the distance in short order. He moved with that rolling gait common among tall, lean cowboys. Despite it being only June, the sun had bronzed his handsome face, exaggerating the tiny lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth. When he reached the bottom step, he removed his Stetson and raked the fingers of one hand through his thick brown hair. “Afternoon,” he said, his gaze once again on Karen.
“Dusty, this is my granddaughter, Karen Butler. Karen, this is Dusty Stoddard.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Miss Butler.” He climbed the three steps to the porch. “I’d shake your hand, but I’m a bit dirty.”
“That’s quite all right,” Karen replied in a chilled tone.
Dusty glanced toward Sophia, his expression inscrutable. Then he slapped his Stetson back on his head as he said, “Where’s Billy?”
“In the house, getting us some lemonade.”