“What are you sayin’ Tom?” Leah asked, terrified that she had indeed, heard him right.
Standing to his full height of six feet, two inches, Tom Barkley said, “I’m sayin’ I’m takin’ my son back ta Stockton with me Leah.”
“But you can’t!” she cried, clutching the sleeping infant to her breast. “He’s my son too Tom! You can’t take him away from me. He’s all I’ve got!”
“Look around Leah,” Tom said sensibly, gesturing to the barren cabin and more importantly to the life Leah had made for herself. “Do you really want him raised like this? You have nothin’ ta offer him. Victoria and I have worked hard and our hard work is finally payin’ off. Give the boy a chance Leah,” he begged. “Torie and I can offer him a good life, a better life than this. He’ll know nothin’ but hardship if he stays here.”
“He’ll know love!” she shouted, her teary eyes ablaze.
“He’ll know that with us,” Tom implored. “Torie will come ta love him as much as I do.”
“Will she Tom?” she demanded angrily. “Will she love another woman’s child as much as she loves her own? A child who is the product of a brief affair by her husband? Will she be able to forgive your transgression with me and take him to her bosom as her own? Or will she despise him? Will she think of us together every time she looks at him and make him pay for something that’s not his fault?”
“Torie’s not like that Leah,” Tom said earnestly, “She’ll be angry at first, of course she will. But her anger will be towards you and me, not at an innocent child.”
“I won’t give him up Tom!” she yelled. “Not for you or for anyone else!”
“Leah, let’s be reasonable,” Tom said angrily. “That boy is my son. I want him to have my name. I won’t see him raised as a bastard in a place like this,” he said sweeping his arm around the small room.
“A place like this?" Leah yelled. “For three weeks, this place was your haven! Your home!”
Sighing heavily, Tom said, “I know that Leah and I appreciate everything you did for me. Hell, you saved my life. I can never repay you for that. But we have ta think of Heath’s life now. Let me give to him, the things I can’t give to you. Don’t make him suffer out of your own selfishness. Let him have things in life, things that you can’t give him that Torie and I can. Our spread is getting bigger every day. Let him be a part of that. Let him grow up with his two brothers, Jarrod and Nick and be a part of a real family.”
Leah turned away, her tears dripping down on the sleeping child’s face. “I am his family Tom. The only one he’s ever known. Please don’t do this,” she begged. “You have two sons already. Please don’t take mine away from me.”
Walking over to her, he placed a firm hand on her shoulder and said, “Don’t think of yourself Leah. Think about what’s right for Heath. If you love him, give him a chance. Don’t begrudge him the kind of life that Torie and I can offer him. He deserves better than that. He deserves better than this.”
“I can’t give him up Tom,” she sobbed. “It’s like askin’ me ta rip out my heart and go on without it.”
Taking her by the shoulders and turning her to face him, he said, “You can have other children Leah. You can marry and start over with a man who will give your children a name, a home, a better life than this.”
Smiling sadly, she looked up into his blue eyes and said, “For a while Tom, I thought that man was you.”
Looking down at the tiny infant sleeping in her arms, he said, “For a while, I thought so too Leah. And if I hadn’t regained my memory, well, maybe things could have worked out that way. But once I realized who I was and that I had a family waitin’ for me back in Stockton, I had to return ta them Leah. Surely you can understand that.”
“I do understand Tom,” she said softly, “I wouldn’t have expected anything less of you.”
“Then take the money Leah,” he said softly, gesturing to an envelope he had placed on the table earlier which contained three thousand dollars. “Take the money and start a new life for yourself. Get out of this God forsaken town once and for all.”
“And go where Tom?” she asked bitterly. “Dare I come ta Stockton as well? Or would that be too much of a scandal for your darling “Torie”, to have both, your wife and your lover livin’ in the same town!”
“Please don’t do this Leah,” Tom said. “Let’s not make things harder than they already are.”
“You want me ta make this easy on you?” she asked sarcastically. “You want me to give you my blessing while you take my son away from me, the only person in this world whom I love and who will love me back unconditionally?”
“Leah please….” Tom moaned.
“Is that why you brought that money here Tom?” she asked angrily. “To buy your son from me and make sure I keep quiet about it?”
“You know that’s not true!” Tom shouted angrily. “I didn’t know about Heath until I arrived here this evenin’! I brought that money here because I care about you Leah. I’ve been thinkin’ about you ever since I left and I wanted to do whatever I could to make things easier for ya!”
“By takin’ my son away from me? How is that makin’ things easier for me?” she demanded.
“Stop thinkin’ about yourself and think of our son!” Tom yelled. “With that money, you can go somewhere and start over, and with Torie and me, so can Heath!”
“I won’t give him up!” she said stubbornly, clutching her infant son to her bosom.
“I’m afraid you have no choice Leah,” Tom said sadly. “I’ll do whatever I can ta take my son home ta Stockton with me. I’ll get a lawyer if I have to. You can’t fight me on this and expect ta win Leah. You don’t have the money or the resources. All you’ll do is make things twice as hard on yourself. Do you know how bad a lawyer can make a woman in your position look?”
“Oh dear God, do you really think I care how I would look!” she wailed. “What do I care about that, as long as I have my son with me!”
“He’s my son too Leah! And I want ta make a better life for him and by God, I’m gonna do that with or without your permission! I won’t stand for it Leah. No son of mine is gonna be raised like this! No son of mine is gonna be raised a bastard.” He took a ragged breath and tried to calm his nerves. “Now I’ll be leavin’ first thing in the mornin’. You have my son packed and ready ta travel. I don’t want ta hurt you Leah, but I’m not leavin’ Strawberry without Heath.” Turning, he walked over and opened the door. “I’ll see ya in the mornin’,” he said, as he walked out and closed it softly behind him.
“Oh dear God!” Leah sobbed as she sank to the floor of the small cabin. She rocked back and forth, holding the wailing baby in her arms.