Summary: Two years ago, the girl Joe Cartwright loved moved away and married another man without an explanation or even a goodbye. Now she is back – as a young widow.
Rating: T Word Count: 5,543
When Spring Comes Again
It was 6 o’clock in the morning; the sun was just making its way over the horizon, when Joe finished his stable-mucking duties and turned back toward the main house. On the porch stood his father with a fresh cup of coffee in his hand.
“Good morning, son,” Ben greeted him.
Joe started. “Pa? I didn’t…I mean, good morning,” he stammered.
“You’re up early,” Ben said sipping his coffee. “Any special reason?”
“Well, I heard Jenny was back. I thought I’d get my chores done and ride out to see her.”
His father raised an eyebrow. “At this hour?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” Joe admitted.”No, I didn’t plan on showing up at her grandmother’s house at the crack of dawn. Especially not after all this time Jenny has been away. I just…needed something to do to clear my mind. Figure something out.” Silence. The young man stared down on the ground, unable to think of how to continue.
“You still seem troubled, Joseph. Would it help to share what’s on your mind?” Ben eventually asked smiling at his youngest son, but Joe averted his gaze.
“She might need some help settling in again,” he mumbled.
“She has been through a lot, son.”
“That’s all the more reason she could use a friend.” He faced his father. “Other than her grandma, I don’t think she has anyone else right now. Jenny and I have known each other since we were seven years old. Apart from the past year, I’ve always been there for her. From the first day I met her.”
“Where’s your Ma and Pa, Jenny?”
Taken aback by the boy’s blatant question, Jenny mumbled “They’re dead.”
“That makes you an orphan,” the other child smirked. “You’re as good as a bastard.”
Jenny spun around with a frown. “You take that back. It’s a lie!”
“I won’t. And it’s not a lie. You’re nothin’ but a bas—”
Jenny balled her fingers into a tight fist and drove them into the boy’s stomach as hard as she could.
He cried out in surprise and pain as he doubled over, his arms wrapped around his abdomen.
“Now ya take it back, or I’ll really give ya something to cry about!” Jenny shouted.
“Yeah, you heard her!” Seven-year-old Joe Cartwright came up behind them. “Take that back, Jake, or she— I mean I,” he corrected himself, “will really give ya something to cry about!”
“You? You uppity Cartwright brat. You ain’t much better, with your Creole bitch of a mother!”
Not knowing the word “bitch” was an insult, Little Joe retorted, “She was only half Creole!”
Jenny, on the other hand, snapped, “Shut your trap, you ugly liar!”
Jake looked at her, confusion written over his face. “I didn’t say nothin’ more about you being a bastard. I just said Little Joe is one, too!” He sounded almost offended.
Jenny lowered her head, and with an enraged “stinky liar!” she charged at the tormentor, butting him in the chest. The force sent him to the ground, flat on his back. Before he could act, she was over him, punching his face and upper body with tightly-clenched fists.
“You take that back! You take every single word back, do you hear me? You rotten, stinking liar!”
Miss Jones turned her attention from the blackboard to the commotion she heard outside. Tearing the schoolhouse door open she spotted two of her pupils scuffling in the dirt, and rushed through the unruly crowd of children. Seizing and separating the two, one with a cut lip, the other sporting a bloody nose, she demanded an explanation.
“What’s the meaning of this?”
“He… slipped,” Jenny explained, “and hit his lip. I was about to help him up, but I fell and hit my nose. Isn’t that right, Jake?”
The boy nodded with a sullen expression on his face. “Yeah…That’s right,” he mumbled to his shoes.
Jenny looked up at the teacher and smiled.
Miss Jones couldn’t do anything but let the children go. When she had removed herself far enough to be out of earshot – Joe gave Jake a triumphant smile. “See? I told you to leave Jenny alone or I’d have your hide!” He turned to Jenny. “See? You don’t have to be afraid as long as I’m here.”
“Yes, Jenny was a very spirited little girl,” Ben chuckled. “You were all lively children.”
“Lively? I seem to remember hearing you use terms like ‘unruly’ and ‘boisterous’ more than a few times,” Joe smiled. “But for the most part it was just Mitch and I who got into trouble.”
There was a thumping on the staircase. Seconds later, his door flew open and there stood Mitch Devlin, eight-year-old Joe Cartwright’s best friend. He was hot and out of breath. Little Joe studied him closely and drew his conclusions.
“You’ve been running,” he stated.
“Of course I’ve been running,” Mitch said irritably. “Do you think I’d fly in on a magic carpet? Are you coming out? I’m heading over to Jenny’s. She’ll wanna come along for some frog hunting.”
Joe nodded. Sure he wanted to go out. Especially if Jenny would join them.
“I’ll just be a second, have to eat breakfast or Pa will have my hide,” he explained while he and Mitch thundered down the stairs, making the whole ranch house shake to its foundations.
“Little Joe, no forget you promised Hop Sing to water the garden today! Tomatoes getting dry!”
The family cook – Hop Sing – poked his head round the kitchen door. Joe gave the little Chinaman an assuring nod. Of course he would water the tomatoes. Later. Just as soon as he had assured himself Jenny was not lured away from him by another young boy. Mitch for example.
Joe drank a glass of milk, ate some of Hop Sing’s biscuits, and raced to the door before the Chinese cook had time to issue even half of the instructions he surely had intended to give him along with his breakfast.
When Joe caught up with Mitch, the other boy was already sitting under a big tree in the Carvers’ garden, waiting. He was staring with an idiotic expression on his face at something. That something was Jenny. She sat on her swing wearing a plain green dress, swinging back and forth.
“I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee, I’m going to Louisiana, my true love for to see.”
Joe gazed longingly at Jenny and sighed. He adored her. So did Mitch. Joe had decided to marry Jenny as soon as he’d found the perfect place to live. Unfortunately, so had Mitch.
Now all they had to do was get Jenny to come out. For some reason, Joe and Mitch Devlin didn’t feel it was right asking her directly. Strictly, it wasn’t even right to play with girls. But it couldn’t be helped. Everything was much more fun when she was with them. And anyhow, she wasn’t the kind to hold back when there was some fun to be had. She was as daring and quick as any boy.
Jenny swung and sang and looked as if she didn’t have the faintest idea she was being watched.
“Jenny!” Joe called.
“Oh, Susanna, oh don’t you cry for me. For I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee…” Jenny continued.
“Jenny!” Joe and Mitch shouted together.
“Oh, is it you?” Jenny looked surprised. She jumped off her swing and walked over to the boys.
“Coming for some frog-catching?” Joe asked.
“Could do,” Jenny said.
“Well, I wouldn’t go as far as stating that you and Mitch were the only offenders,” Ben said, throwing a loving look at his brown-haired offspring.
“Do you have anything particular in mind, Pa?”
No more pencils,
no more books,
no more teacher’s dirty looks.
Miss Abigail Jones flashed one indignant glance at Joe Cartwright, Jenny Carver and Mitch Devlin. The three of them ran for the door like the wildest herd of cattle, with the impish result that they swept by the other children in the cloakroom and disappeared out of the schoolhouse among them just as Miss Jones was in the act of stalking down the aisle and rooting this evil passion out of their small, imperfect mortal hearts. Miss Jones had made this last day before the summer break a memorable one for all her students. They had studied, analyzed and devoured The Tragedy of Macbeth. Miss Jones couldn’t see how any ten-year-old could be anything but delighted and hailed with enthusiasm, but apparently a few pupils of hers lacked any sense of admiration for the splendor of such a romantic masterpiece.
Joe saw from the corner of his eye how Miss Jones appeared in the doorway behind them and gazed out over the schoolyard. But he and Jenny had already crossed the road, and soon the entire school building was out of sight. They met with Mitch Devlin, Sara Dagliesh and Seth Pruitt, and soon they were rewarded with laughs, cheers and vigorous thumps on their shoulders for this great accomplishment.
All five of them so exhilarated, full of energy and desire to live. It was the first day of a long and promising summer. A summer without homework, tests, and endless hours behind a desk. Unfortunately, Miss Abigail Jones had not given up the habit of informing parents or grandparents of their children’s bad behavior only because school was out. Both Little Joe and Jenny were reprimanded for their misconduct and sentenced to extra chores at home.
“I thought it was worthwhile to clean the chicken coop and rake the stall before breakfast,” Jenny concluded two days later. “I counted the cost. Even if Miss Jones hadn’t told Grandma, I meant to be extra good in other ways to make up for it.”
“Like I said, we’ve always been friends,” Joe said.
“If I remember correctly, you two were more than just friends for a while…”
It was true, later they had been sweethearts for a short time. Joe was proud that Jenny had chosen him to take her out. Jenny was like a magnet to all who came near her. Every young man wanted to be with Jenny, yet she was completely oblivious to her popularity. She was open and generous and showed no sign of shyness despite her reserved manner.
Eighteen-year-old Joe emerged from the dusty interior of the barn only half an hour after arriving at the annual spring dance. Despite the early hour, his legs were soft and his brain was vibrating with music. And something else.
He heard Jenny’s ringing laughter behind him, her response to something Matthew Sprague had said. Joe buttoned his jacket as he waited for her, turning round to see her come out and take a few tentative steps toward him.
“My escort disappeared,” she said. “I assumed he needed fresh air, just like me.”
Joe smiled into her warm eyes, sucked into the sheer blueness of them. Jenny stood in front of him, her shoulders pulled up. She put her feet close together, and smiled at him.
“You are feeling all right, are you?” he asked.
She carried on smiling and nodded. “I feel wonderful,” she said. “Thank you for asking me to the dance tonight Joe.”
His own smile broadened. “Thank you for saying yes, Jenny. You are the best dancer in the territory, you know. And the prettiest.”
He faced her, his body unmoving, fighting back the urge to pull her into his arms and never let go.
“Would you mind taking me for a walk to watch the sunset?” she asked. “Just the two of us? Please?”
She took one small step toward him, almost imperceptible, and the warmth from her mouth entered his. He gave in and pulled her close. Her hair smelled of lavender. She wrapped her arms around him, holding him tight. Shivers ran up and down his spine. Joe leaned forward and kissed her. Jenny’s lips were warm and soft.
“The meadow is beautiful in the sunset,” she whispered against his neck. “Let’s go down there.”
He could only nod.
They climbed a fence, went across a pasture-field, and were swallowed up by the woods, crossed and recrossed by animal trails. The world disappeared behind them and they were alone in a realm of wildness and magnificence. Joe watched Jenny’s dark, flowing hair slip through the massive brown trunks, followed by a little wandering, whispering, wind of dusk among the tree crests.
The fragrance of pine trees filled his senses as he followed Jenny, until the trees fell away before them. They found themselves in the open: a small meadow, bathing in glowing light as the sunset transformed the sky into a blaze of pink, orange and purple.
He reached out and touched her face, and she drew in a breath. Every nerve ending in Joe’s body ignited. Jenny gazed at him with big, expectant, nearly pleading eyes. Joe tilted his head to hers and kissed her on the mouth, the lingering kiss made him melt. She responded, tentatively first, then she reached around the back of his neck and pulled him closer. The kiss deepened.
The sensation of her lips spread a blanket of warmth all over his body and soul. Joe held onto the feeling of her body against his and the taste of her heartfelt kiss as long as she would let him.
They were inseparable until the last months before Jenny moved away and vanished from his life. Jenny had withdrawn more and more, and Joe spent hours awake at night wondering why. Then one day when he knocked on the door to Jenny’s house, nobody answered. Two years later Joe still remembered the pain he felt realizing Jenny had moved without even mentioning it to him, without saying goodbye. He learned from Mitch that she had married Matthew Sprague.
Why Jenny so suddenly left Joe for this other man, had caused the entire territory to raise their eyebrows. The person most taken aback by the whole affair, though, had been Joe himself. He still didn’t know what had caused this downfall.
“We didn’t see each other for long,” Joe defended himself. “And we were so young. It was—
“Not even two years ago. Make sure you go there for the right reasons, son.”
A gamut of emotions ranging from uneasiness to nostalgia to awkwardness passing through him now exploded into unexpected and unreasonable anger. “Her husband just died, and she is moving back to her grandmother because she’s nowhere else to go. I’m going there as a friend, and nothing more. You shouldn’t even have to question my intentions, Pa!”
“Calm down, Joseph. I’m not questioning your intentions, son. I just know that strong emotions have a tendency to cloud any man’s judgment. I want you to consider what impact your emotions might have on others.”
On his way to the kitchen, Joe almost collided with his oldest brother.
“You’re up early,” Adam remarked.
“Yes, I’m up early,” Joe grumbled. “For the second time today: I’m going to see Jenny.”
“Jenny Carver? The girl who left two years ago for another man?”
“The girl who’s been my friend since our first day at school. Apparently, her husband passed away a few weeks ago. She’s back to live with her grandmother again…”
Adam’s face reflected disappointment and distrust.”How convenient.”
“I didn’t ask for your commentary,” Joe countered, his voice reverberating much too loudly.
“Of course not.”
“I just… I want to know what happened to make her leave me.” Joe said in a more subdued voice.
“Well, that shouldn’t be hard, but coming to terms with it could prove to be more complicated.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know the story of Pandora. She was given a box by Zeus and warned never to open it. She couldn’t resist the temptation.”
“I’m not afraid of the truth, Adam.”
“Neither was Pandora. But once the box was opened, it could never be closed, and all the misery she released could never be put back.”
“I appreciate the warning. Now, would you please get out of my way?”
“It’s so easy, at your age, to make a terrible mistake.”
Joe snapped again. “At my age?”
“At any age,” Adam said. “I just don’t want to see anybody get hurt.”
“Then, older brother, I suggest you move. Right now!”
Joe pulled Cochise to a halt and dismounted. With the sun warming his green jacket, he took a couple of steps across the front lawn and breathed in the clean air. In front of him, Jenny’s grandmother’s tiny house was trim and neat. Bright tulips dotted a small landscaped bed off the front steps. Everything looked the same as it always had this time of year, the way he remembered it from his visits as a child… Not to mention one of his last visits before Jenny slipped away from him..
The furniture and the house had been allowed to age together with dignity. So her grandmother’s purchase of a new set of decorated dishes had been a surprise for Jenny, and she had immediately invited her new suitor to dinner to “try them out”.
“She is a charming old lady, don’t you think?” Jenny had asked.
“Incredible,” was Joe’s reply. “If I were around eighty-five, I’d marry her.” They had smiled at each other and shared a kiss.
Joe looked up at the house again and hesitated, but it seemed foolish to turn back now. Jenny could just ask him to leave if he was coming at an inconvenient time. Friendships were tried in times of hardship, and he didn’t want to be someone who, out of exaggerated caution and even cowardice, avoided friends in trouble.
The main door was at the back of the house, and for several long seconds he stood at it with his hand raised, remembering the last time he knocked on this door.
He could hear someone coming to greet him. The footsteps paused for a moment before they continued the rest of the way to the door. The door opened and there she stood with a big smile. She took his breath away with her beauty.
“Welcome, Joe. Come in.” They hugged briefly. “I hope you’re not starving. My planning was much too optimistic, so it’ll be a while before dinner is ready.”
“No problem, I’m fine.”
Joe followed Jenny into the kitchen.
“But the starter is ready,” she smiled. “I hope you like oatmeal biscuits, I made them especially for you.”
Jenny placed the tiny, dry biscuits on one of the larger dishes, took the plate and led Joe into the dining room where the wooden drop-leaf table was set with silverware, linen serviettes, and the new decorated dishes. She hadn’t even skimped on the candles.
“Please, sit down and try one,” Jenny said, setting the plate before Joe.
He picked up one piece of bread and took a nibble. He might as well have chewed on a piece of wood.
“What do you think?” Jenny asked.
He nodded with a smile he hoped didn’t reveal too much of his growing unease. “You didn’t have to go through all that trouble—”
“Oh, it was no trouble at all!” Jenny smiled. “Now just help yourself. I don’t believe I’ll have any just now. I’ll run out and stir the fire up in the stove.”
She hurried back to the kitchen while Joe dropped the biscuit on his plate with a resounding clatter; his first and only bite growing in his mouth.
His mouth fell open the moment he laid eyes upon the filet of pork.
“It looks… delicious,” he said, gulping hard at the sight of the shriveled pieces of meat, scorched black.
“Maybe it’s a little too well done?” Jenny asked.
“It’s a little burnt on the surface, but I bet it’s perfect on the inside.” He gave Jenny an anxious look to see whether she could hear that his words didn’t match his tone of voice.
“I don’t understand, it seems to have shrunken in size…” Jenny pondered as she served him a generous portion.
Joe inspected the food on his plate: under the layer of soot the meat was pink and cold to the touch. He tried to hide his unease. “It’s… raw…”
“Rare,” he hurried to correct himself. “It’s rare. Like in fine restaurants.”
Jenny beamed. “And some mashed potatoes,” she said, putting a serving dish with strange-looking lumpy mass on the table. She spooned a profuse serving of the soggy substance on Joe’s plate. It would have been enough to keep Hoss full for a week.
Joe closed his eyes and suppressed a deep sigh. “Jenny, I don’t know how you managed to make all this,” he said- and that was no lie. How someone could fail so completely with their cooking was beyond him.
Jenny’s face flushed with delight. “Oh,” she said, modestly. “Don’t say too much before you’ve tasted it.”
Joe forced himself back to the present. With his heart pounding, he gave the wood a sharp rap. A moment passed in silence, and Joe was about to turn and leave when the door opened.
“Hi, I’m Joe Cartwright. I wondered if Jenny…”
He left the rest of the sentence hanging in mid-air, feeling stupid for introducing himself so formally. Jenny’s grandmother, Margret Carver, knew very well who he was.
“Forgive me for bothering you, that’s not what I intended, I just thought…” He sought for words but found none.
“Would you like to come in?” Margret Carver asked, pain evident in her watery eyes.
“Do you think it would be all right?”
She nodded and stepped aside, letting him into the entryway. Joe took off his jacket and hat while the older woman went into the kitchen, letting him find his own way.
The door to Jenny’s old room was open, and he tapped at the doorframe.
“Jenny? It’s Joe Cartwright, can I come in?”
On the bed, surrounded by trunks and two big carpet bags, sat his friend. She looked up at him in surprise, eyes swollen and lips cracked. Her hair hung in uncombed strands over her shoulders, and she appeared to have aged ten years since they last met. “What are you doing here, Little Joe?”
“I came by to see how you’re doing,” he said, feeling disconcerted.
Jenny looked like a dead woman condemned to walk the earth. Nothing of the energetic, warm, lively girl he had known was left.
“Oh, I’m doing well, thank you,” she said without conviction. “As you can see, I’m not really presentable, so… if you forgive me, I’m rather busy—”
Joe held up a hand to stop her. “I lied to you, I’m sorry. I’m not here to see how you’re doing. I know you’re not doing well.” Taking a deep breath, he came in and sat down beside her on the edge of the bed. “I didn’t mean to disturb you, Jenny. I came by to tell you I care about you,” he said, “and that I’m here for you. If you need help to unpack or…”
“Thank you, but I’ll manage.”
“… or if you need to talk.”
A thousand different emotions flitted across Jenny’s face. Then she sighed. A long, deep exhale that appeared to release much more than air from her body. His unease grew bigger.
“Look… Sometimes you need somebody to share your thoughts. Not to give you advice but to listen. Jenny, would you…” Joe hesitated, squirming as he sat there on the bed. “Could you imagine talking to me?” He paused and waited for her reply, hoping she would say yes. He felt a great protective instinct when he saw her much too thin body and the tormented expression in her eyes.
“I don’t know what to say. Where to begin.”
“We could start by taking a ride to Lake Tahoe. If you want to talk, then we’ll talk. If not, then… we’ll just sit there for a while. How does that sound?”
She stared down at her folded hands for a moment, then got up from the bed. “All right,” she said. “Give me half an hour, then I’ll come along. I have some unpacking I want to do first.”
“Good.” Joe nodded and stood up, ready to leave.
“Wait,” she said as he was at the door. “I forgot to tell you something.”
She reached out to him. For a moment it looked as if she would shake his hand goodbye. Instead, she wound her arm around his neck. “I’m glad you came, Joe Cartwright.”
Breathing her scent in, Joe cupped the small of her back and pulled her toward him. Jenny pressed her head against his shoulder as he wrapped one arm around the back of her head and secured the other around her back.
So am I. Jenny, my Jenny. You’re back and I’m holding you in my arms. If I could, I would stop time and stay like this forever. With you.
Lake Tahoe sparkled like an icy sapphire in the sun. Joe walked down toward the rocky shore, balancing along the waterfront. He sat on the ground and looked over the water. The wind rippled the glittering surface.
“Mind if I join you?”
Joe turned, hadn’t heard her steps through the sound of the waves.
“Hi Jenny. Please, do.” He smiled and patted the spot next to him.
They sat in silence, gazing out over the blueness in front of them.
Joe picked up a pebble. “Can I ask you something?”
“That sounds pretty formal,” he laughed, giving Jenny a poke in the side to show he was teasing and was rewarded with a smile that disappeared instantly.
“I’m sorry, Joe. It’s just a bad habit I’ve developed over the past two years.”
“Well… that’s what I wanted to ask you about.” He skipped the pebble across the water. “Your past two years. What did really happen?”
“I moved away…” Her voice trailed off.
No one spoke for several minutes until he noticed her peering at him.
“It’s not easy, is it?” He skipped another pebble.
“Coming back home.”
She stared at the water.” No. I guess not…”
She closed her eyes and smoothed her hair in an unconscious gesture. Joe studied her gray complexion and the bags under her eyes.
She feels awful.
“What happened?” he asked, knowing he was entering an emotional zone. What had caused the downfall of their relationship? “Why’d you leave without a ‘goodbye’?”
Silence ensued; the air felt frosty.
“It had nothing to do with you.”
Joe looked at the girl beside him, with an urge to take her in his arms again and hold her. “Why, then? If it had nothing to do with me, why don’t you tell me why?”
“I was married, Joe.”
“I know. And I’m sorry for your loss.”
An uneasy expression slid across Jenny’s face. “I didn’t mean to…. You don’t understand.”
“Please, tell me what happened.”
Jenny turned to stare at him. “You have no idea how many times you crossed my mind, how many nights I dreamt of you after I left.”
“You did? Jenny, I wrote you so many letters, but I never heard back. I stopped when I heard you were married. I didn’t want to interfere. I wanted you to be happy. You had moved on in life.”
She brought her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, staring unseeingly into the distance. “Joe, I never stopped thinking about you. I wanted to write you back, to explain, to come home so we could talk…”
“How come you didn’t?”
Jenny sat in silence then lowered her head. “It’s complicated.”
Joe put his hand on his friend’s. His voice was calm and clear and showed nothing of the frustration he felt inside. “Jenny,” he said, “you’re the nicest, prettiest girl I know. But more than that, you’ve always been one of my dearest and closest friends. We’ve known each other since childhood. I wish you would still trust me enough to give me a chance to help you. As a friend, nothing more. Because I think you could use a friend right now.”
Emotions kept at bay for two years engulfed Jenny. Her eyes glossed over as memories ripped through her.
As her tears fell, Joe leaned forward, put his arms around her and ran his hands over her back to comfort her. His embrace was warm and his words sincere. “Please don’t cry.”
How could I let Matthew rip my innocence away that night? How could I be so foolish?
How could I let him treat me the way he did?
How could I kill another human being?
Questions tumbled through her consciousness, generating more tears.
Pulling back, she gazed up into Joe’s face; the sorrow in his eyes almost made her break down anew. With effort, she stifled her emotions, swiping her hands across her cheeks. Embarrassment arose. “Forgive me for crying. I’ll try not to.”
“Sometimes crying helps. You were the one who told me that, don’t you remember?”
“Is it true your Ma and Pa are dead?” Joe asked when the first day of school was over and the rest of the children had taken off in different directions. They sat on the seesaw, waiting for Adam to pick Joe up with the buckboard. Joe had suggested Jenny could ride along with them since her house was on the way.
Jenny nodded. “Uh-uh… I live with my grandma.”
“My Mama died too. Pa and my brothers are takin’ care of me.”
“Did you cry when you lost your Ma?” Jenny asked.
Joe turned to her, eyes wide, deeply suspicious. “Why?”
“Because… I did when my Ma and Pa died. I still do at times. I bet you think I’m silly.”
He thought for a minute, then shook his head. “Nah… I don’t think you’re silly. I think you’re brave.”
“For sayin’ out loud you cry for your parents. I never tell people I still cry for my Mama. Not even Mitch knows.”
“When you’re hurtin’ all inside, crying sometimes helps takin’ some of it away,” Jenny mused. Then she looked up at him with a sharp glare. “But don’t ya’ dare go telling folks I’m a crybaby, you hear? If you go tattle on me, I’ll hit you!”
“I won’t tell on you if you won’t tell on me.”
“Pinky swear?” The girl held out the little finger of her right hand.
Joe nodded. “Yeah, pinky swear.”
The two seven-year-olds sat in silence for a while.
“Little Joe? Why do people die? Why do people change all the time?” Jenny shook her head. “If you’re here, you’re here, I think. Know what I mean?”
“I understood exactly what you meant,” Joe said. “I just didn’t have a good answer to it. I still don’t…”
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” Jenny recited. She tried to fix her gaze at the distance again. “Life doesn’t always turn out the way we want. We can’t always explain why we do the things we do, not even to those we love.”
“There’s also ‘a time for every season’,” Joe said. “A time to break down, and a time to build up.”
“You never learned that one, did you?” Jenny flashed him a sad but wry smile. “‘To every thing there is a season’…”
Joe shrugged. “Isn’t it more important to know what it all means? I know that when spring comes again, it lands with a freshness of beauty and new possibilities. There will be ‘a time to heal, a time to build up, a time to laugh and a time to dance’ again…” He fell silent for a minute. “The Lord takes away, – but He also gives.”
Without thinking, Jenny leaned in fast, running her fingers over the back of his head she pulled him against her.
Dropping his forehead to hers, Joe took her face in his hands, his thumbs stroking her cheeks. “Jenny…”
After a moment of conflict in his eyes, he leaned in and brushed his lips against hers. He drew in her scent; his breath grew heavier as his mouth claimed hers.
There was a different zeal now than two years ago. His hands encircled her waist as he kissed her. Like he was giving her every kiss he wished he could have given her the past two years, and every kiss he wished he could give her in the future. All of them, at once.
Jenny didn’t get lost in his touch. She didn’t get lost in his kiss. She didn’t get lost in him at all.
For the first time in two years, she felt at home.
This was where she belonged. Their souls felt connected like two pieces of a puzzle.
I love him. I’m in love with Joe Cartwright. I’ve always been.
Written for the 2017 Ponderosa Paddlewheel Poker Tournament.
The words/phrases dealt to me were:
6 o’clock in the morning
when spring comes again