Author: MJ
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Ray was content. He sat next to Hank riding home from the beet factory where they both worked the night shift this time of year and just experienced that contentment. It was cold and dark, a good time for reflection. One part of Ray's mind responded to Hank's conversation and made suitable replies while the other part luxuriated in his expectations of what awaited him at home.

Home! His home! How Ray's feelings about where he lived, where he had indeed lived all his life, had changed over the last seven months. And all because of Livy.

For years after the deaths of his parents and then Danny, Ray had simply existed within those rooms that had once held such a happy family. Ray let the farm work take over his life and worked every day to exhaustion to avoid the feelings that threatened to overwhelm him. Good people from the church, Mrs. Pratt for instance, could see what was happening and did their best to keep Ray connected. But Ray wasn't so sure that he wanted that connection. It had nearly killed him when Danny died. Just spending time in the house was a constant reminder of all that he had lost. Ray couldn't bring himself to change anything and the house itself took on the bereft air of a once-vibrant, but now lost soul.

But Livy had changed that even before she arrived and Ray discovered that it was certainly God's will that she do so. Why else would he put in the indoor plumbing with hot and cold running water if not to make life easier for the unwed, pregnant woman coming out to share his life under his protection? Ray's plan was to marry this woman who needed his name, raise her child as his own, she whom he would grow to appreciate over time all the while protecting himself from the risk of loving and losing again. And then after Ray actually met Livy, suddenly there were reasons to make changes. To think about children. To dig that swimming hole. To put in a telephone. To read and take in new ideas. To take a new look at the cellar and the treasures down there.

Ray smiled to himself as he thought about his and Livy's early attempts to get to know one another. How they each reached out, missed, and then withdrew into themselves. Livy, to avoid being abandoned yet again. Ray, unsure how to reach this woman who was so different from anyone else he knew. He marveled at Livy's creating a home for him and now for Danny. She looked at the house as an extension of him and his family, using all kinds of things he'd had no use for, and turned his parent's house into a real home again. Ray remembered like yesterday the unsuccessful recipes that Livy tried before she hit her stride, all those jalapeno peppers!

Ray shivered to think how he nearly lost Livy right after Thanksgiving and was again so grateful to Martha for talking to him plainly about what Martha thought Livy needed. Ray was so thankful that he professed his love to Livy that day she was planning to leave. Livy might have been abandoned physically by one man and then abandoned emotionally by another, her father, but she would grow to know that Ray was not like either of them. Ray loved deeply and well. Ray loved Livy and would stand by her, no matter what. And he would tell her that as often as she needed to hear it.

Ray enjoyed these rides home from work with Hank. They traded off driving so that Martha and Livy would be able to get out and about. It really was very remote out here and Ray wondered that Livy could be so very happy in a place so different from what she knew. But then he remembered that she said there were more people around than you'd think. Ray watched Hank and Martha together and he watched the other couples around him drawing in the ways they acted towards one another. It helped remind Ray of the way his father was towards his mother, and the way Ray wanted to treat Livy. All the ways that husbands and wives speak to each other without words. And Ray was a good learner because those ways had been there all along, waiting for the right person to tap into Ray's whole heart.

Ray loved watching Livy learn her mothering skills. It was clear that this was all so new to her and, without her momma to guide her, Livy said often she appreciated Martha's counsel. He loved that Livy might have felt awkward and shy as she nursed Danny at first but that she grew in confidence every day.

And Livy was working her magic on him, too! Even with the demands of a new baby, Livy was making every day special in small ways. Ray noticed that his coffee cup was always ready at hand when he settled down to do paperwork at the desk. Livy remembered that coffee from the day she found the old dugout and excitedly told him all about her discoveries as he sat at the desk working. Those mornings he came back to the house after the chores there was always a hot breakfast waiting for him - plain eggs and oatmeal. Mid-day there was a big meal waiting for him to share with her. Maybe when the weather warmed up they'd have picnics, too, Ray hoped. And then Ray knew they would have those picnics because Livy would know how much Ray would like them and she'd make it happen. And best yet, when there was an open seat next to him, it didn't matter where -- at home, the church potluck, Martha's and Hank's - Livy was there.

Christmas, in particular, had been wonderful this year. The happiest Ray had been in years. He'd come on Livy one evening stringing popcorn and cranberries and the next day he drove down south to cut a small Christmas tree for the house. He remembered how surprised and delighted Livy had been with the tree and chuckled gently, prompting Hank to ask if Ray was thinking about Troy again as they drove home. And then Ray thought of how, after Ruth and the boys had left after cookie baking, he teasingly pulled her under the mistletoe and kissed her gently and that she kissed him back with her whole heart, blushing furiously afterward.

That little Danny had solved the issue of when Ray would join Livy in his parent's bed! Neither Ray nor Livy had figured out how to handle that one...each hesitant so early in their new relationship and so soon after Danny's birth. One night Danny just couldn't be comforted and Livy's walking Danny became Ray's walking him, to Livy, to Ray…then silence as Danny finally fell asleep in Ray's arms. In an attempt to avoid starting the whole cycle over again, Ray eased himself gingerly onto the bed where Livy slept the sleep of the exhausted and quickly fell asleep himself with Danny on his chest. The morning brought a warm and cuddly Livy burrowing into Ray's side as he awoke and observed his little family. That was end of the bunk room for Ray! And Livy determined never to have brussel sprouts again until Danny was weaned!

Hank pulled up to Ray's house. Ray thanked him, reminding Hank that he would drive tomorrow night. Hank watched Ray bound up the front stairs of the house and disappear quickly inside. Hank took a moment before heading home to Martha to note how welcoming the house seemed now. Hank loved his young brother-in-law and was so happy at the changes in Ray that Livy had brought with her. Ray knew he was loved and that he loved Livy, that much was clear. Even the kids had noticed how happy Ray was. Yes, both those wounded souls were healing, healing each other.

Hank shifted his thoughts to his own wonderful family and thought about the magic that Mother and Father Singleton had planted in their children's hearts. Daniel had had it, too. Hank headed home grateful as he always was for the life he had and the people around him.

Livy would not be waiting up for him, Ray knew. Danny would have been fed and Livy would be sleeping all curled up in what had been his parent's bed but with enough room for Ray to slip in and warm himself on these cold nights. Ray would be careful not to let too much of the frigid winter air in as he eased himself close to her, grateful for the warmth and her willingness to share it. Livy moved gently in her sleep, turning towards him, wordlessly telling Ray what he already knew. He was loved.

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