They got home well before dark. While Joe and Little Joe milked and tended the stock, Anya put Sally in her sling and walked across the meadow down to the creek. The cow and calf grazed near the willows, the calf didn’t have to be kept up to protect the milk, though all it enjoyed was its mother’s company since she’d gone dry. Joe hadn’t bothered to scythe down the weeds since he didn’t have to worry about the coming calf. The stand of Queen Anne’s lace waved its graceful heads, its regal beauty given no hint of its hidden use. Anya had often gathered wildflowers on her walk, bringing back an apron full of Black-Eyed Susan’s, bright Indian Blanket, and Texas Bluebonnets, loving the way their colors brightened the cabin. She’d never been especially fond of white, but today, filled her apron with the lacy white flowers and nothing else.
Emma had sent home enough chicken and dumplings for another meal. With biscuits from breakfast and Emma’s conserve, it made a festive supper. Little Joe licked his plate and Sally kept squealing and reaching for the conserve, long after she plastered herself with hers. They laughed as they cleaned the little ones up. The children were reluctant to settle in bed after their exciting day and the hilarity at supper. Joe lay on the cot with his little namesake was still while Anya rocked Sally.
He came back to the table and took Anya’s hand. Looking pointedly at the pot of white flowers, he said, “You want to be careful with those. You know they made the cow lose her calf. I don’t want nothin’ happenin’ to you. A baby is just a baby.”
Anya started crying. “Joe, I don’t even know if I want this baby. I was hopin’ things could go on the way they were. You have already taken in your dead wife’s little ones and now this. This baby was forced on me. I don’t know if I can do right by it, let alone love it. I think it might be better if you let me do what I need to do and after, if you want, we can figure somethin’ out. We can make a clean start or I can leave once I am back on my feet if you want. We ain’t married and you done took care of me a long time. You don’t owe me nothin’. You could always look for a woman to come stay and help out till she’s bigger. The West is full of women who need somebody to do for an’ a place to stay.”
Joe was a man of few words. “Anya, I know what it is to be alone. I never knew my pa, these younguns don’t know their pa. You done without a ma. The world don’t have to be such a cold place. You’re are a good woman an’ I seen how you love these little fellers. I want you, and that little feller you’re a’carrying if that’s the way you see it.” He picked up his hat to go to the barn.
Anya looked from Sally to Joe as a tear dropped on Sally’s blonde head. She reached out, putting a hand on Joe’s shoulder. “Stay, Joe. It’s time Sally started sleepin’ in with Little Joe.”
Tenderly, Joe tucked Sally in on the far side of the cot with Little Joe, then put out the light.