Chapter 24

Zack waited in the family room with the other men, but he seemed to be the only one that wasn't pacing. He sat back in the rocker, working a piece of wood over a bucket, waiting for another glimpse of Ella, who flitted through the parlor every now and again with an update or barking orders.

The women had been with Hannah for hours, and all the men were privy to were her screams. At one point, Zack started to regret his decision to stay, but then Ella swept into the room, her hair falling out of it's pins, her brow creased with worry, her eyes sparkling. That vision in itself was reason enough for him to be here. Above all else, she was being kind to him, paying attention to him even. Whenever she came into the room she made a point to say something to him, something personal, private, something quiet enough for just him to hear, which made him feel like a very special man indeed.

Just as thoughts of her were putting another smile on his face, in she rushed, her face glistening, her eyes shining, her hair askew. His smile grew even bigger as she came closer, her purpose clear, she was coming to speak to him.

She walked right up to his chair, all of the male eyes in the room on her, hoping to glean a piece of information from her. She bent down, her lips coming dangerously close to his ear. "Your mother asked if I'd make some food for everyone, figured that everyone was getting restless and could use a bit of something in their stomachs. I was wondering if you might be willing to help me."

He stood quickly, "I'm at your service, miss."

Ella giggled pleasantly, a sound he had aimed to induce. He figured she could use something to break the tension of whatever was going on in that room. Zack followed her to the kitchen, satisfied to walk behind the swish of her skirts. "What should I do?"

"I thought some stew would be nice. It's comforting, filling and warm. I'll make a little broth for Hannah, I doubt she'll be able to keep down anything hardy, but she needs something. The pains are only coming on her every so often, but when they come they're fierce. I've never seen anything like it. Women gave birth on their own in Baltimore, I was never privy to one before," Ella said quickly, nervously.

"And how do you like it?" Zack asked, placing a basket of potatoes on his sisters kitchen table.

Ella turned, her lip quivering. "It's terrifying!" In an instant, she was in Zack's arms, shaking. He couldn't help but relish the feeling, even if Ella was fearful of the events that were taking place. "And to think that some day…it could be me…"

Zack shushed her, gently running his fingers through her fallen hair. "No need to worry about that now. Stew, let's set our minds to stew. What do we need?"

Ella cleared her throat and pulled herself out of the hug, her eyes locking with Zack's. "How could I have missed your consideration all this time?"

"I wonder, seeing as I'm just full of it!" He winked at her, pulling a bushel of carrots from the pantry.

Ella giggled again, a sound he would never grow tired of. The truth of it being that she had missed his consideration because he had chosen not to give it. He had allowed himself to believe that she was someone she was not. But here, standing beside him, he knew her for her strength, resourcefulness, and immense capabilities. Where would they be today if he had noticed it all sooner?

"Maybe if you had been a bit kinder before two weeks ago…" She laughed again, this time more than a giggle, it was full of happiness and spirit. She pulled a packet of dried beef from the basket she had brought and set it to soak in a bowl of seasoned water.

"I already apologized for that I believe," he said with a slow steady tone, keeping an eye on her as he spoke.

"Yes, I believe you did," she answered, turning her head to bestow a smile upon him. "Now, get to peeling those potatoes. Just take off the peels mind you, I don't want to see big hunks of potatoes in the garbage pail."

"Whatever you say! Let's just hope you don't see any blood in the pail with those peels."

"Oh stop whining. You've been sitting in that parlor whittling a piece of nonsense all day. Just pretend you're whittling and you'll be finished in no time. And when you are, you can set to those carrots."

They worked together brilliantly, Zack tackling all she set him to with a fair amount of ease. He noticed that as she did her part, with a skillful hand, that she hummed rhythmically to whatever she was working on. Dashes of spice and chopped up pieces of vegetables went into the pot swiftly, and it all came to a rumbling bubble after not too long, filling the house with it's rich aroma.

"Why don't you let me sit here with the stew, and you go check on the girls? I haven't heard any screams for a while." Zack offered, giving the pot a convincing stir as she looked on.

She didn't answer, but offered a nervous nod, turning quickly to go back to the bedroom. Zack smiled again trying to find something he could do for Ella while she was gone, hoping to anticipate what she would ask for when she returned.

Not long after she went back to Hannah's room, the screams started again. And this time, they continued, only short moments between them. Zack had no idea his sister was capable of such noises. He would not have imagined any woman to have such power within her lungs, and yet, she screamed. It seemed they intensified each time, but perhaps that was because the pauses between were getting shorter and shorter. Zack wondered if he could dish out the bubbling stew to his brother-in-law and father who were getting increasingly nervous in the other room, but decided that they probably wouldn't be able to manage something so normal at this point.

Suddenly, the screaming stopped, followed by a different kind of screaming, it became more like squeals, excited squeals. After only a moment, Ella and Dora rushed from the bedroom, and Zack was the first to see their excited smiles.

Hours later, after everyone had captured their first glimpse of Hannah's baby boy, Zack still couldn't stop smiling. He was an uncle! Zack wasn't the only one that couldn't stop smiling, everyone in the house seemed to be wonderful moods. His mother was chirping about and giggling at everything, sweeping past the baby every chance she got. Ken, Hannah's husband was beaming, and Dora and Pete were practically giddy.

"I think it's time you take Ella home," Zack's dad said, joining Zack on the bench he was sitting on.

"Well, she's had a long day, and your mother won't hear of leaving, so Hannah is in good hands. I can't see any reason why she should stay."

"I guess I didn't realize how late it was."

"I think Ella's nodding off in that chair over there, seems to me she can't keep her head up."

Zack had been watching her for a while, but he hadn't really noticed how heavy her eyelids were getting. He supposed he had let his own trances get in the way of seeing reality. Standing, he realized just how tired he was himself, and he had not endured the stress of the labor as Ella had. Ella's head was just falling to her chest when he reached her chair. Resting a gentle hand on her shoulder, she jumped, then looked up at him, weariness clouding her eyes usual sparkle.

"Ella, I think it's time to go. Come on, I'll take you home."

Without a word, she nodded, letting her eyes fall closed once more. Zack didn't see any other choice, sliding his hands beneath her, he lifted her from her chair. Whispering their goodbyes, he carried her to the wagon and settled her there. Then, climbing beside her, he positioned her head on his shoulder, wrapping a protective arm around her.
"I think I could get used to quiet rides home with you. Watching the darkness with your head relaxing on my shoulder. Listening as pieces of your dreams escape from weary lips. I think you're going to have to marry me Miss Ella Robinson, and I think you're going to have to do it soon." Zack sighed, part of him wishing Ella could hear him, the other part of him glad that she was asleep, unaware of how deep his feelings really went. He would make her see soon enough, and then, he could take her for all the late night wagon rides he wanted.

Okay, so less than a month for this one... I'm making some progress with my writers block! Hope you enjoyed the interaction! Thanks for sticking with it :)