Claiming her Joy’s Lost Piece – Extended Epilogue

Serena checked the time, then headed to the front of her classroom. 

“Okay, everyone, that is it for class today. Don’t forget to bring your homework in on Monday.” Serena stood by the door and said polite goodbyes to her students as they filed out. She hadn’t thought three and a half years ago that she would be a teacher at a university. It was strange how life changed things like that for her. 

She had been teaching law at the university for two years now. She loved being a teacher. It was something she never knew she would like. At first, she had thought she wanted to start her own firm, but then she’d been offered the teaching position. 

Once the last student stepped out the door, she gathered up her books and different things and put them into her book bag, Serena headed out the door. She had to hurry back to the ranch. She and Ruben had their special horse class for kids today. They did it four days a week, and it was a joy, despite keeping them pretty busy all of the time. The fact that her class at the university ended early on Friday was a big help for making it work.

Serena slipped into her blue car and put her seatbelt on before leaving the university parking lot. So much had changed these past three years. The excitement that had thrown her and Ruben back into each other’s life was practically forgotten. Owen had finished out his time in jail, then had followed it up with his community service. He had finished his probation three months ago and was once again working at the hospital. 

Everyone was very happy to hear that he was also attending group therapy to keep him from being tempted to gamble again, the thing that caused his issues in the first place. Serena turned the radio up a notch as she turned and headed down the highway. Tonight was hers and Ruben’s third anniversary of being married. 

She wanted to do something special. Maybe make a nice dinner or something. Ruben hadn’t mentioned anything to her about it, and she was starting to wonder if he’d forgotten. He hadn’t waited three weeks after the night they kissed under the moon outside her parents’ house to propose to her. Of course, in his style, he proposed in front of both of their families, with a large display of flowers, signs, and shows of his affection. Serena smiled at the thought of it. It was truly one of the most elaborate and well-thought-out surprises that she had ever received in her life. 

When she pulled up the driveway of the Welsh’s ranch, she could see that four of the ten children who came to their program were already in the horse pasture with Ruben. Nadia was on the outside of the fence, looking in. Serena smiled, spotting her friend. Even though she and Callie had kept in touch after what happened at the warehouse, she still found herself closer to Nadia. Nadia seemed to understand a lot of things about her, despite the fact that she wasn’t married. 

Serena got out of the car and headed right over. She left her things in the back seat for later. She was already running late, and it was a bad example to the kids. 

“There you are,” Nadia said. “I was wondering if I was going to fill in for you.” 

“Nope. I’m here, on time. Barely.” Serena winced. She didn’t mean to be late, but the drive had taken longer than she expected. “What are you doing here, and why are you so dressed up?” Serena raised a brow. Nadia was wearing a fancy blouse and a black skirt. It was strange to see her outside of her police uniform. Her hair was pulled back in a half braid that ended at the back and fell loosely with the rest of her hair. She looked beautiful. 

Nadia blushed. “Actually, I’m here to see Owen. We are going out.” 

“What?” Serena couldn’t keep the surprise off her face. She had imagined many a man for Nadia, but she hadn’t thought of Owen. 

“Yes, I know. It’s strange. But during everything that happened, we kind of became friendly, and he is a lot more charming than he seems. He asked me out for lunch. I said yes, we’ll see where it goes.” 

“I see. Good for you.” Serena really meant it. She wanted to see Nadia happy. After all the hardships in her life, she deserved it. Owen may have had his issues in the past, but Serena had to agree, he was a good man. “I hope you have a ton of fun.” 

As if he had overheard them talking, Owen walked up. He looked a lot more mature than he had years ago. Maybe it was the wrinkles by his eyes or the somberness in his look. Serena knew he’d learned a lot in jail and then serving his community service and his probation afterward. 

“Serena, it’s good to see you.” Owen held out his hand. He still came back every Friday and left every Sunday night or Monday morning. Things were like they were back then, when all the excitement happened, only a little different. 

“It’s good to see you too, Owen. I hear the two of you are going on a date?”

“Yep. After she asked me more than a dozen times, I had to say yes so I would have room in my message inbox.” Owen laughed as Nadia elbowed him in the ribs. 

“That is most certainly the opposite of what happened.” 

“I believe you both.” Serena giggled. “I have a class to teach, but the two of you have fun.” 

“Happy anniversary,” Owen said with a wink as he led Nadia away. Serena nodded in response. She wished that Ruben had said that to her, but he hadn’t mentioned it at all that morning. Usually, it was the first thing he said on their anniversary day. It was strange. Maybe she was reading too much into it and shouldn’t care. She let herself into the horse pen and paused for three more students running up the driveway. 

“Just in time,” Serena smiled. 

She and Ruben had decided to start a program for troubled teens after everything that went down. Seeing how many drugs were in that warehouse made them both aware of how necessary it was for them to help their community in other ways. With Ruben’s parents’ permission, they had started helping kids with horse therapy. They would teach kids about horses and how to handle them, then eventually ride them. They would finish out their classes in Mrs. Welsh’s kitchen with delicious desserts and cool drinks. 

“There is my beautiful wife.” Ruben pulled her close and kissed her on the forehead, making all of the kids either laugh or make a disgusted face. They were ages twelve to fifteen, which gave a whole range of reactions. It was a shock to Serena that twelve-year-old kids struggled with drug addictions.

Serena pulled back. “Okay then, let’s get back to what we are learning today.” She sent Ruben a stern glance filled with fun. She always pretended to scold him when he showed her any affection around the kids, but she secretly liked it. It was important for them to see an example of a good relationship. If her and Ruben’s relationship could be described in one word, good was a really great one. 

—*—

Ruben stood on the porch and waved goodbye to the kids as they left after class. One of their students hadn’t come today, which was worrisome, but he would check on it the next day. He always checked up on them. In a way, he thought of them as his own children. 

“I’m going to help your mom get lunch on the table. I know I’m starving.” Serena smiled up at him. 

“Sure, go ahead. I’ll be in later. I want to go and find out what my dad is up to.” 

Ruben had noticed that his dad seemed more withdrawn lately. Despite his thoughts three years ago, things between them still weren’t exactly great. He’d tried his best to patch them up, but things were going too far. He needed to talk with his dad and get to the bottom of things. 

“Okay. I’ll see you later. Love you.” Ruben could see the hesitation in her eyes. She was waiting for him to mention their anniversary. He was keeping his mouth shut. He had some spectacular surprises, and he could only pull them off if she thought that he’d forgotten altogether. This year was going to be great. 

“Love you, too!” Ruben called after her. 

He hurried down the porch steps and toward the back of the house. His dad had a bench he’d installed behind the barn last year. Ruben had noticed that he went there when he wanted to think. Sure enough, his dad was sitting there. He looked older than Ruben remembered him. His shoulders were a bit more slumped, and the wrinkles on his face plentiful. Ruben hoped that they could build something before it was too late. He didn’t want their story to end like this. He walked over and sat down on the far side of the bench, leaving some space between them. 

“Dad, what’s going on?” Ruben asked softly. He’d tried pulling his dad into activities he didn’t have an interest in. He’d tried getting his dad to help him with the kid’s program. He had tried brushing things away. He had tried so many things, but maybe it was time to just listen. 

“I don’t know, Son. A lot.” 

“Why don’t we ever talk? I feel like we aren’t close, and I’d like to change that.” It was probably the most honest Ruben had ever been with his dad. He missed him. He still idolized the man of his childhood, and he was starting to realize that maybe it was time to accept the man in front of him, instead of wishing for someone who was no longer there. 

“I don’t know. Maybe we should.” His dad looked over at him, his eyes full of sadness. 

“What’s the matter?” Ruben really wanted to know. 

“I am not sure. I guess I keep feeling guilty. Do you think what happened to Owen was my fault?” 

Ruben was surprised. After three years, they had never spoken of Owen or what he did. His dad would go to visit him in jail, and then he would wait for him every weekend when he came home. Their relationship had continued on as normal, but his dad had never expressed any insecurities about whether or not he was to blame for Owen’s transgressions. 

“No, it was not your fault. I know how you feel. I thought it was my fault, and that was why I was going to take the blame for him. A certain part of me thought that I might have been to blame for not being a better example or for doing something wrong. But in the end, I came to see that it was simply Owen. He was the one who chose to put himself in that position.” 

Ruben’s dad nodded slowly as if he were thinking about it. “I keep thinking back to that time. I think that maybe I was too hard on both of you, or maybe I wasn’t honest enough with you. Maybe I didn’t talk enough with the two of you, and that is why he did that. I just…it’s hard to come to terms with that he almost killed a guy.” 

Ruben shook his head. “But he didn’t. He didn’t kill that guy, and that’s the important thing. Your son is not a murderer. He got out of what he was in, and now he is on his way to a better life.” 

“I know.” 

“Dad, if you ever want to talk about anything, I’m here.” Ruben wanted to say more, but he didn’t want to overdo it. It had been such a long time since he and his dad had done even this much, and he wanted to preserve the moment. 

“Thanks.” Ruben’s dad stood and patted him on the back as he stood too. “Let’s go get some lunch.” 

Ruben smiled. There was progress. He wasn’t going to hold back anymore. The next time that he had something to say to his dad, he was going to walk up and say it. He loved his dad, and he wanted him to know it. It was his responsibility to build that relationship back up. When he stepped into the house, his stomach rumbled. His mother had been cooking again.

Serena was learning to cook better. There were a few recipes that she did great at. Then there were others where she was just off by a little. Ruben never complained, but he never turned down eating with one of their families either. He couldn’t wait for this evening. She was going to be so surprised. 

—*—

Ruben paced the living room back and forth. Everything was in place. Now he just had to lay in wait. He heard her as soon as she started up the porch. She was no doubt looking for him. It was already five p.m., and she was no doubt looking for him to make one final attempt at getting him to remember. 

She opened the door, and Ruben stepped forward. Serena audibly gasped. 

“Serena Bolton, would you have dinner with me tonight?” Ruben asked, holding out a bouquet of roses to her. He had set up candles all over the house. He had also set out more bouquets of flowers and soft music. Of course, this wasn’t where the main event was taking place. 

“I…Ruben…I thought you forgot.” 

Ruben shook his head. “I most certainly did not forget our third anniversary. I just wanted it to be a surprise. Do you know how hard it is to surprise you?”

“Consider me surprised.” Serena giggled. “I would love to have dinner with you.” 

“Okay then. Let’s blow out all these candles, so it doesn’t burn down the house, and then we will go to dinner.” 

“It’s not here?” Serena looked surprised. “Nope, but it isn’t too far away either.” Ruben hurried to take care of the candles, then took her hand and led her back down the porch steps. He led her back behind the house and behind the barn. He knew the moment that Serena spotted his setup. He was grateful that today wasn’t windy. It was the perfect night. He had laid out a large blanket on the grass. He’d decorated it with battery-powered candles and flowers. In the middle, a picnic basket awaited them. He’d even strung up little strings of light above the whole thing. 

“This is beautiful. How did you do it?”

“Very easily, actually, with a bit of forethought.” 

Serena shook her head. “You know, I was going to make you dinner or something, but it never would have been this fancy. I will never cease to be amazed by you.” 

“You should cease to be amazed, I am not that special, and I have a confession to make.” 

“What?” Serena laughed out loud. 

“I might have asked our moms to help me with the food. They both had so many ideas that they kind of pitched in their own thing, but I think the theme is Italian. Also, your mom made cinnamon cookies.” 

“That sounds perfect.” Serena stood on her tippy toes and planted a kiss right on his lips. “I love you.” 

“I love you, too.” Ruben gave her a quick hug, then led her over to the blanket. He pulled out two plates and forks and made a show of serving her up a little bit of everything. Before they started eating, he reached over and took her hand. “I know that I don’t tell you this often enough, but you are the best thing that ever happened in my life.” 

Serena’s eyes filled with feeling, and she leaned forward just a bit as if waiting impatiently for his next words. 

“I think about those eight years that we lost, and sometimes I wish that we could get them back. Other times, I know that because we lost those years, we have better ones now. I have enjoyed spending every minute of these past three years with you. I love what we do. I love the tiny family that we have, even though we haven’t started growing it yet.” 

“We could, you know.” Serena smiled. “Start growing our family.”

“Really? What makes you say that?” Ruben was surprised. He and Serena had talked about waiting a few years before starting a family. 

“Just…well, I heard Callie found someone new about six months ago. Apparently, he’s a pretty good guy, and they are talking about marriage and a baby.” 

“And that made you want to have kids all of a sudden?” Ruben asked. 

“No. I just figured that I found a great guy three years ago, and we are stable, and we have everything that we could possibly want, so what is stopping us? If Callie is ready to make that commitment after six months, surely I am in three years.” 

“You would make a great mom.” Ruben smiled at the thought. He had always wanted kids someday, and having them with Serena was perfect. He had never imagined another woman being the right person because Serena had always been his person. 

“Thanks. How about we say grace and start eating while the food is hot, and then we can talk more about kids?”

Ruben laughed. “That’s a good idea.” 

He closed his eyes, took her hands in his, and said the most heartfelt prayer. He thanked God for everything that he’d given them and for giving them this moment together. They never knew how many moments they had left, but that was all right. They had each other, and God had blessed them wonderfully. Ruben had a feeling that he was going to bless them in many more ways that they hadn’t even imagined yet.

THE END


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5 thoughts on “Claiming her Joy’s Lost Piece – Extended Epilogue”

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Great story line with action, gang involvement, romance old and new and just truly enjoyable. Had some difficulty going between books. Highly recommend this novel to all types of readers who like clean reading. I read as a ARC and like the writers style.

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