Summary: A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, when it comes to affairs of the heart.
Rating: T (1,360 words)
Sweeter than Wine
“This is such a lovely spot for a picnic, Joe,” commented Jenny Parker as she smoothed the skirt of her dress before lowering herself onto the blanket on the ground. “I’m so glad you chose it.”
“It’s one of my favorite spots,” Joe Cartwright answered with a smile. “I’m just glad the ground is dry enough for us to sit on it. After all the rain we had last week, I wasn’t sure. There are some parts of the Ponderosa where the mud is still an inch thick.”
“Well, it’s nice and dry here,” said Jenny with a smile. She looked out at the vista in front of her. The green meadow was dotted with yellow and white wildflowers, and the large mountains looming behind the field seemed to have been splashed with tan and olive patches below their snow-capped peaks. At the edge of the meadow, a forest of pine trees was growing, and the wooded area seemed to stretch on forever. An eagle soared overhead; a doe and two fawns were grazing at the far end of the meadow. “This is such an idyllic place,” Jenny added with a sigh of contentment. “I feel like we’re the only two people on earth.”
“If I were the only man on earth, I wouldn’t mind it if you were the only woman,” observed Joe, offering the girl his most charming smile. He moved across the blanket, edging closer to the lovely blonde in the pale violet dress. “I think you and I could find something to do in our own little Garden of Eden.” Joe moved his head closer to Jenny’s, and puckered his lips a bit in anticipation of stealing a kiss.
Stretching out her arm, Jenny quickly put her hand on Joe’s chest and gave a small push. “Joe, behave yourself,” she insisted primly. “I told you I’m not the kind of girl who kisses a man she knows only casually. In Philadelphia, where I grew up, girls are taught to conduct themselves properly at all times. And young men mind their manners.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, this isn’t Philadelphia,” Joe replied softly. “We do things a little differently out here in the west.” He leaned forward, trying once more to move his lips closer to Jenny’s. But the girl turned her head away from him and pushed harder against Joe’s chest.
“I think you’d better get the picnic basket from the buggy,” Jenny instructed the youngest Cartwright. “I’m getting a bit hungry.”
“All right,” agreed Joe with a sigh. He got to his feet and walked slowly toward the road a few yards away, where the buggy was parked. A single horse stood in the traces, and the animal looked up as Joe approached. After giving the young man a disinterested stare, the horse returned to grazing on the tender grass by the road.
Pulling a basket from the back of the buggy, Joe turned to look back at the young woman seated on the blanket. Jenny was gazing out at the meadow, enjoying its beauty. Joe, on the other hand, was enjoying the beauty of the girl on the blanket. He also was feeling frustrated by her.
Joe had met Jenny Parker at a dance in Virginia City almost four weeks ago. He had been charmed by the beauty and intelligence of the girl who had been in Nevada less than a month, but had only managed to dance with her twice. His invitation to join him for a ride in the countryside had been rebuffed, and his subsequent wooing of her with flowers and candy had resulted in only an invitation for afternoon tea in the parlor of her parents’ house. The cooler Jenny acted toward Joe, the more Joe felt as if he were facing a challenge. He was determined to kiss Jenny Parker. Joe just knew her lips would be soft and pliable, and her kiss would taste like honey. He could imagine the intoxication of that kiss, a kiss sweeter than wine.
But after weeks of pursuit, Joe was no closer to getting a kiss from Jenny than he had been at the Virginia City dance. She maintained that a proper girl did not kiss a man until there was an “understanding” between them. Joe had no interest in marrying the young blonde, or even committing to a long-term relationship. But he did desperately want to kiss her.
Whether it was boredom, or the longing to enjoy a perfect spring day after a week of rain, or finally giving in to Joe’s repeated requests that caused Jenny to accept Joe’s invitation for a picnic, Joe didn’t know. And he didn’t particularly care. He was just happy to have the lovely young girl spending the afternoon with him. Joe was sure that he could break down her defenses with his charm.
Joe was carrying the basket of food toward the blanket when he saw Jenny leap to her feet and scream. He dropped the basket in the grass and rushed to the girl’s side.
“Joe! Joe!” Jenny shrieked hysterically. “There’s a snake! Right there by the blanket! A snake!”
Instinctively, Joe reached for the pistol that was usually resting in the holster on his hip, but realized immediately that he had left his gun at home. He hadn’t anticipated a need for a weapon during a picnic on a sparkling spring day.
“Joe! Do something!” cried Jenny. “He’s going bite me!”
Moving forward cautiously, Joe kicked at the edge of the blanket with his toe. Almost immediately, a long green snake slithered out from under the cloth and into the grass. Joe could tell a glance that the snake was a harmless one and posed no danger.
“Be careful, Joe!” Jenny shouted, the hysteria still evident in her voice. “Be careful!”
Turning toward the frightened girl, Joe was about to reassure her that the snake was harmless when a thought suddenly struck him. “I’ll protect you, Jenny!” he called to the girl, and began looking around in the grass. Joe spotted a stick a few feet away, a limb about two feet long and an inch thick. He snatched up the stick and walked slowly toward the snake. Holding the gnarled wood tightly, Joe began beating the ground with the stick, striking the earth so as to not actually hit the snake that was slithering even faster through the thick grass.
“I got him!” Joe yelled. “I got him, Jenny!” He carefully slid the stick under the belly of the snake and pulled the reptile from the ground. Flicking his wrist sharply, Joe flung the snake away, sending it flying through the air. The snake landed about ten feet away, crashing into a patch of wildflowers as it fell to earth. Silently, Joe hoped the snake hadn’t been hurt.
“Oh, Joe, you’re so brave,” declared Jenny, the relief evident in her voice.
“Are you all right?” Joe asked anxiously as he walked up and stood next to the girl.
“Yes, thanks to you,” acknowledged Jenny.
Enfolding the girl in his arms, Joe could feel Jenny trembling. “Everything is all right, Jenny,” he crooned softly into her ear. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“Oh, Joe, I was so frightened,” murmured Jenny. “I feel so safe with your arms around me.”
“I would never hurt you,” promised Joe. He moved his face close to Jenny, fully expecting her to turn her head away. But this time, Jenny turned her face toward Joe, lifting it a bit to offer him her lips.
Joe needed no further invitation. He put his lips on hers, feeling the soft touch of her mouth. The two young people embraced each other tightly and pressed their lips together for several moments before Jenny pulled away. Easing herself back from Joe, the beautiful blonde smiled at the handsome young cowboy. “I’ll go get the basket of food,” she said softly.
As Jenny walked toward the basket which he had dropped in the grass, Joe ran his tongue lightly over his lips. Just as he suspected, Jenny’s kiss was sweeter than wine.