I wake less from the smell of breakfast being prepared as I do from the sounds of the children. Well, their sounds and the fact that Nessa just jumped on the bed square in the middle of my chest. I squeeze her tight and then nudge her off of me so that I can get up and dressed. I see Ike in the doorway. Monica was nearly as torn up as I was when he died so there was never a question of what we'd name a son, should we have one.
Heading out of our room-I've done some work on the house since first we met-I spy my lovely wife. She's every bit as beautiful as when I first laid eyes on her. She gives me a smile and I know once again that somehow all the prayers I never dared give voice to were answered anyway.
The Express ended three or so years ago. Before it did, I got back here every chance I could. Nessa was just learning to walk when I came back for good. I had been able to save a good amount of money and that allowed me to buy some livestock. We're still more a farm than ranch but with the kids, I'm glad to have the cows. I added onto the house. We have a separate room and so do each of the the children but there's another on its way soon and, while it will stay with us for a bit, eventually Nessa or Ike will be sharing a room.
I don't care if it is a boy or a girl. I never have. Some men will go on about having a boy to carry on their name but this name's not mine anyway. It's one they gave me at the mission. They said it was in honor of the cross Jesus was hung upon but I think secretly it was also a jab at my demeanor. I was an angry child. We all share the name Cross now and there's a good feeling in turning something good that I wasn't so sure about before.
It is nice to have a boy though. I think of the things I'll be able to teach him someday but then, I teach most of those things to Nessa too. If I learned nothing else from sharing a bunkhouse with Lou all that time, I learned that being a girl doesn't say anything about what you can accomplish. I know the moment anyone sees who her father is; the odds are going to be stacked against her anyway. At that point, no one is going to care if she's a proper girl or not.
Though seeing her as she grows, people would have to see me to know what she is. I once referred to her as 'half-breed' and Monica corrected me and said "quarter". She's right, there's far more white in my children. Nessa has her mother's olive skin and deep, dark eyes. I can see my more angular features in her but no one would know she's got any Kiowa in her at all unless they meet me.
Ike, on the other hand, is like someone sculpted a miniature me and brought him to life. It's like looking in a mirror. I wonder what the next one will be like.
"Papa," Nessa's voice cuts through my thoughts, "Will you teach me today?"
I had been promising to teach her to ride and today was as good a day as any for it. She'd been on a horse before but always shared the saddle with me.
"Sure thing, little one," I answered. Truth was, though she didn't need to know this, she had me so wrapped around her finger that the answer to nearly any question she could ever ask would be 'yes'.
I scooped up Ike as we headed outside. Monica needed a break from him underfoot. She gave me a smile that said I had read her mind. Her English was far better these days but still few words passed between us and we needed fewer still.
Our lesson was interrupted by screams from inside. I got Nessa down and left the horse in the corral to run toward them. I was pretty sure I knew what was happening and I was right. I told Nessa and Ike to go play in his room. Nessa was such a good girl, even at four years old, she didn't complain at all about having to take care of her little brother.
I knew the time was very close for Monica to have the child so it didn't surprise me to see her in the state she was. I delivered Ike and knew I was to deliver this one as well. I suppose it was better than when Nessa was born and she'd had to deliver her alone. I cannot imagine the fear she must have had and she never speaks of anything but how wonderful it had been to hear our daughter cry upon entering the world. She'll never know the times I've wished I could have been there, less to hear that cry than to be there for her. Monica doesn't usually labor long and I could tell that she was close. I looked to see and there was the head already present. Monica was so strong. She wasn't silent and yelled and screamed every curse word she had ever heard and in every language she knew. I still don't think I could have ever done what she was doing. I was so in awe of women, especially mothers. Men went out on quests of their own design to prove themselves brave and women simply brought life screaming into the world and then sat there in the knowledge of what they had done never needing ceremonies to their bravery and strength. I've heard women described as the weaker sex and that is just not so. They bear more pain and burdens than we do.
At last the child was in my hands and I saw that we had another daughter. She was simply beautiful like her mother and sister. In a few days I might be able to tell what she looked like but childbirth is almost as hard on the child as the mother and there was no way I could divine anything from the face before me except that she'd want to eat soon. But I knew that she was beautiful because she was mine and she was healthy and pink and crying. I didn't have to call for the children. They heard their sister's cries and came running to see. I don't think Ike was too impressed. He would have still liked to be the baby. Nessa was captivated by her little sister.
"What's her name?" she asked.
I looked to Monica. We'd had many discussions but had not settled on a name yet, we had thought to have another week or so to think. I knew that she had thought maybe to name a girl after her mother and I nodded to her.
"Beate," she said. She told me it meant happiness and joy and I thought it was perfect as those were the very things that my family brought me.
At night I rolled in bed to face Monica. She was smiling and nursing Beate. I believe there's not a man out there that can understand how happy my life is. I knew I'd be sending some letters out to tell my extended, surrogate family about our new addition. That moment, there was no other family than Nessa and Ike asleep in their rooms and my beautiful wife nearing sleep herself as she fed our daughter. I thanked the spirits silently for a sudden and violent storm those years ago and then kissed Monica's forehead before kissing tenderly the top of my baby girl's head. I heard a soft rhythm on the roof as a gentle rain began to fall and that seemed to be just right too.
If Not for You by Bob Dylan
If not for you, babe, I couldn't find the door
If not for you, baby, I'd lay awake all night
If not for you, my sky would fall, rain would gather too
If not for you, my sky would fall, rain would gather too
If not for you, winter would have no spring