Summary: A girl tries to rekindle her romance with Joe
Rated: K (4,200 words)
Forgive Me My Love
Sarah stood in front of the house in which she’d grown up and thought about how strange how just looking at a house can bring back so many memories. Wonderful memories and bittersweet ones all at the same time … all mixed up together. She gave a sad smile as she remembered all the happy times she’d had with her parents and brothers in those years when she’d been a small girl and how she’d missed both Tom and Albert when they moved away. Still, that’s what she got for being the youngest … the much longed-for and treasured girl after two sons.
As she opened the gate and walked up the small path that led to the front door she wondered for a moment if that was why she and Joe had always got on so well? He too was the youngest in his family … and the apple of his father’s eye. She remembered how they had played together as children at school and later had formed a deeper attachment to each other as young adults. She couldn’t really understand it in one way, for she’d never been a real beauty and Joe was known to have an eye for such things … but they were comfortable in each other’s company and suited each other well. Friendship had grown to admiration and then to a deeper first love that had blossomed as time went on.
Sarah hesitated as she got to the front door and reached out to touch the swing on the porch, setting it rocking back and forth slowly. It creaked slightly on its chain and she frowned, realising that without anyone to oil it now, it must have gone rusty. It didn’t take long for a house to fall into disrepair and she thought about how much work she’d have to do to get it habitable again now that she was back. She sat down on the swing and allowed her mind to drift back to that last evening that she and Joe had had together before she’d left on the stage. Both of them had been so sad to think about how long it might be before they’d see each other again, but since her parents had now both gone there was no way that she felt strong enough to stay here by herself and had made the decision to go to Cincinnati and stay with her brother Tom while she worked out what to do.
Joe had spoken of marriage that night as the ideal solution. He’d said that if they married then she could come and live on The Ponderosa and they’d be happy, but she hadn’t been sure. She knew that she loved him … oh God how she loved him! … but they were both so young and she’d needed time to think. She could tell by the look in his eyes that he had been upset about her decision … even angry … and she wondered how he’d react now that she was back again.
“Dear Joe,” she whispered softly. “I hope you forgive me for going. I had to my darling … I needed time to sort things out.” She hoped with all her heart that they would be able to pick up the threads of their lives again where they’d left off and her heart raced as she thought about the kisses that she remembered so well. Her skin tingled as she closed her eyes and thought back to the feel of his hand on her cheek, his beautiful green eyes gazing into hers and his soft breath on her neck as he bent his head to kiss her there with soft fluttery kisses. “Oh my darling,” she breathed softly. “Oh Joe. I’ve come back to you my love. I hope you can forgive me for leaving you before.”
Adam put the last of the sacks in the back of the buckboards and grinned at Joe. “Well what do you say to a cold beer before we go home?” he said.
Joe shook his head. “No thanks Adam,” he said listlessly as he pushed the sacks into position. “You go ahead though. I can wait.”
Adam gave his brother a frustrated look. “Joe come on,” he said. “It’s not like you to knock back a drink. You can’t go on like this forever you know.”
Joe shrugged. “I just don’t feel like a beer,” he said. “Ain’t no law against that, is there?”
“No .. but it’s not just the beer,” replied Adam. “You’ve been burying yourself in your work these past few weeks and that’s not like you.” He gave his brother a cheeky grin, but received nothing in return. “Come on,” he urged. Touching Joe on the arm. “Come and have a beer.”
Joe shook off his brother’s hand on his sleeve impatiently. “I said no,” he replied shortly.
Adam sighed. “Alright,” he said. “Have it your way then. “But I’m going to have one. If you change your mind, then come and join me.”
Joe nodded and sat down on the edge of the buckboard as he watched his brother cross the street. He knew that he was being difficult to live with at the moment …. they all told him that he was … but he just couldn’t seem to help it. He didn’t feel like doing anything since Sarah had gone and … he stopped his thoughts from going in that direction, for it hurt too much to even think about it. She had gone and that was all there was to it. He knew that he had to pick his life up and start again, but he was finding it just so hard.
Everywhere he went he saw her face and heard her voice. Life was just so empty without her and he couldn’t seem to shake himself out of this lethargy and start living again. He sighed as he got up and ambled down the street, knowing exactly where his feet would be taking him without thinking about it. He’d been drawn back to her house so many times before … it seemed to help him to connect with her memory just by looking at it.
As he walked, he felt the burning rage inside him that was always there just below the surface threatening to boil over. It was something that he couldn’t seem to control. It was so unfair! Why did she have leave? He couldn’t see the sense in it at all. She should have stayed and loved him instead of traipsing off to live with her brother, for if she had then by now they would have been married and everything would have been fine. Instead, she’d made the choice to go. His heart hardened against her, even as he longed for her and he hung his head and clenched his fists as he thought about his lost love that now would be no more.
He stopped on the sidewalk and leant against a pole as he gazed at the small white house across the street. The swing on the front porch was swinging slightly in the breeze and he stared at it as he remembered the good times they’d had sitting there and the kisses they’d shared. His eyes narrowed. “She didn’t really mean it,” he muttered to himself. “She didn’t really mean it when she said she loved me. If she had, then she wouldn’t have gone away.”
Sarah looked around the room in dismay. So much to do! The dust seemed to be an inch thick on the covered furniture and the curtains needed a good dusting as well. She fingered them gingerly. The floor was …. Her heart beat faster as she looked out of the window and saw a lone figure leaning against a post on the other side of the street staring at the house. Joe! “My darling,” she murmured. “Oh Joe!” She ran to the front door and opened it. As she emerged from the house she felt a slight breeze rock the porch swing slowly and it began to creak again. She stood in silence, drinking in the very look of him … his slim hips, his muscular shoulders, his hat tipped back on his head to reveal those gorgeous curls that she loved so well. “Joe,” she breathed and held up her hand to wave in greeting.
Joe didn’t respond but simply stared at the swing, his eyes lost in thought and his lips narrow. She knew that look well. He wasn’t happy and she knew immediately that he was probably thinking about her and how she had left him. Sarah’s heart lurched. “Joe!” she called. “Joe!” She began to run down the path and opened the gate just as his brother Adam come up beside Joe and said something to him. Sarah saw Joe nod and … with a last sorrowful glance in her direction … follow his brother down the street. “Joe!’ she called after him, but he didn’t acknowledge that he’d even heard her.
Adam glanced at his younger brother, sitting in silence beside him on the buckboard. It was so unlike Joe to be so quiet, but it was typical of how he’d been acting these past few weeks. “So,” he said, trying to sound jovial. “You looking forward to the dance tomorrow night?”
Joe shrugged listlessly and picked with his finger at the wooden seat. “I guess,” he replied.
Adam tried again. “Did Hoss tell you that he finally summoned up the courage to ask Bessie Sue?”
“That means that you and I will have to ride in … I suppose he’ll be wanting the buggy.”
Adam shot his brother another look. “Should be a good night,” he tried again.
“I suppose so,” sighed Joe. “To tell you the truth though, I don’t know that I’ll go.”
“It’ll do you good to get out socially,” advised Adam.
Joe shook his head. “I just don’t feel like it,” he said listlessly.
“Joe you’ve got to stop this,” said Adam. “Sarah …”
“Don’t talk about her!’ interrupted his brother. “I don’t want to talk about it!”
“Alright,” said Adam. “But you should forgive her for going you know. It might be good for you to get out more and meeting people.” He smiled at his younger brother. “Never thought I’d be saying that to you.” There was no response from Joe so Adam patted him on the shoulder. “Just say you’ll think about coming,” he said. “No pressure.”
“OK,” said Joe. “I’ll think about it.”
Sarah took one of her dresses out of the cupboard and held it up in front of her, swaying slightly from side to side as she smiled at her reflection in the mirror. “I’ll show you Joe Cartwright,” she whispered, simpering at her reflection. “I’ll be so beautiful at that dance that you won’t be able to ignore me …. No matter how upset you are with me.” She patted her hair. “I think I’ll do it up in ringlets,” she murmured. “Joe loves it so like that.”
She put the dress down on the bed and began to fiddle with her hair, wondering if she had made the right decision about not going out to The Ponderosa to see Joe. Perhaps it would have been to see him without a crowd of people around them as there would be at the dance, but after yesterday when he had seemed to ignore her, she just wasn’t quite sure how he would react when she confronted him. There was a certain degree of safety in seeing him at the dance, as he couldn’t possibly cause a scene there.
It was obvious to her after yesterday that Joe was still upset. He hadn’t wanted her to go in the first place and hadn’t even seen her off that morning when she’d left on the stage. If only he would give her the chance now to explain … to tell him how she’d felt and why she’d had to go the way she had. She’d missed him so much and now that she was back, she ached for his touch. “Oh my darling Joe,” she said, putting her hand on her reflection in the mirror. “Please give me the chance to explain. Please let it be how it was before.” She squared her shoulders in a determined fashion and smiled again as she continued to do her hair.
“Take a look at Hoss,” said Adam, sidling up to Joe as he stood against the wall watching the dancing and grinning at him. “He seems to be getting on well with Bessie Sue, don’t you think?”
Joe nodded. “Yeah,” he said looking at his brother and his date sitting by the front porch eating their supper. “He’s doing fine.”
“How about you?” asked Adam. “You having a better time than you thought?”
Joe shrugged. “It’s OK,” he admitted.
“How come you’re not dancing?”
Joe shrugged again. “I’m just sitting this one out,” he said. Always a popular choice for the ladies, he’d found that he had been in great demand, as for once he didn’t have an official date for the dance. He’d had so many hints from many mothers who’d dragged their daughters up to the handsome Cartwright and begun conversations with him, that he’d felt obliged to keep asking the daughters to dance. He hadn’t sat down once and this was the first time that he’d been able to actually stand back and observe the dancing. “I don’t really feel like dancing much,” he added. “But I don’t seem to be able to avoid it.” He gave Adam a plaintive look. “Cover for me, will you Adam? Here comes Mrs Barnett with her daughter Millie and I couldn’t stand having to dance with her!” He disappeared into the crowd and Adam was left to face the determined woman and her young daughter with a false smile.
“Well good evening Mrs Barnett,” he said politely. “Millie … my you’re looking lovely this evening.”
Mrs Barnett scanned the crowd. “I thought I saw your brother Joseph talking to you a moment ago,” she said. “Where has he gone?”
“He just had to step outside for a while,” said Adam, smiling at the woman. “Millie, would you care to dance?”
Mrs Barnett practically pushed her daughter into his arms. “I’m sure Millie would,” she said, thinking that one eligible Cartwright was just as good as another. “Now you two have a lovely time.”
Adam kept his smile plastered on his face as he led the girl onto the dance floor, thinking how much his younger brother owed him right about now.
Joe made it as far as the front porch and breathed a sigh of relief as he stood staring out into the dark street beyond. He had never felt like this before at a dance, but it was true that his heart just wasn’t in it. If only Sarah …. He pushed the thought aside again. “Adam’s right,” he said softly to no one in particular. “I’ve got to forget about you Sarah.” He turned away and went into the dance again.
Sarah had spent the entire dance waiting for Joe to notice her. She had never really enjoyed these functions as she was a naturally shy person, but since going out with Joe had learnt that she could have fun at them. He was that sort of person … always on the lookout for a good time and dragging everyone along with him. As she’d entered the room, her heart had nearly stopped at the sight of him …. his gorgeous slim body as he danced with Amanda Patterson on the dance floor. She’d forgotten just how handsome he was and now … dressed in his best blue suit with his curly hair all slicked down …. he looked as gorgeous as she’d ever remembered.
A sharp stab of jealousy went through her at the sight of him dancing with someone else and she’d edged her way towards him. As soon as the music had finished, she started to make her approach wondering just how he would react to her being there, but before she could even get to him he was back on the dance floor again with Amelia Soames.
That seemed to be the pattern throughout the whole night so far. He was certainly popular, but then she’d already known that. Many times she had sensed the jealous eyes of the other girls on her when she’d been with Joe, wondering no doubt why he had chosen to escort her and not themselves. She figured that since she hadn’t been around they would make a beeline for him … and it seemed that she was right. He didn’t sit down for one single dance and it was as much as she could do to get near him at all. Let alone make sure that he saw her.
No one spoke to her, but then she hadn’t expected them to. She’d never been the confident type at these functions, preferring Joe to take the initiative in conversations. She’d nodded a couple of times to others, but not actually spoken to anyone …. all her mind focussed on Joe and how he might react to her when they did finally talk.
It wasn’t until about halfway through the evening that she saw her chance to speak to him. For some reason she noticed that he ducked away suddenly while speaking to his brother Adam and headed for the door. Quickly, she stood up and followed him, her heart fluttering wildly now that the moment had approached.
He heart went out to him as she saw him leaning on a post on the porch outside. He looked so sad and she ached to be able to make him smile again. He had such a beautiful smile. She took a step forward on the porch and opened her mouth to speak, but at that moment she heard Joe speak softly. “Adam’s right, I’ve got to forget about you Sarah.”
Sarah stepped back into the shadows, her hand on her chest and her eyes swimming with tears as she watched him walk back into the room. “Oh Joe!” she murmured softly. “Oh my darling Joe … how could you say that? How could you think that you need to forget about me? I know I hurt you my love … but please … please don’t forget about me!” With a strangled cry, she ran down the stairs and up the street.
Joe turned to see his father standing behind him. “Hi Pa,” he said and then turned to lean on the fence again and watch the horses in the corral. “Adam’s doing well with that chestnut.”
Ben looked over to where his eldest son was putting the horse through his paces. “Yes he is,” he said. He leant on the corral fence next to Joe and put his hand on top of that of his son’s. “How are you doing?” he asked.
“OK,” said Joe, not taking his eyes off his brother and the horse.
“Really?” Ben persisted, looking at his son.
Joe shrugged. “Well …” he said, “sorta.”
Ben smiled. “I know what it’s like to lose someone you love son,” he said.
Joe nodded. “I know you do,” he acknowledged. There was silence for a few minutes. “I just feel empty inside,” he said quietly.
“I know son,” said his father.
“I know that I shouldn’t …” continued Joe. “But I also feel angry with Sarah for going away. That doesn’t make sense I suppose, does it?”
“I think it does,” said Ben. “When this sort of thing happens we’re not always rational Joe. I remember being very angry when your mother died.”
“You did?” said Joe.
“Yes I did and I didn’t even why at the time. Sarah going away made you feel lost without her and that has made you angry.”
Joe nodded. “I do feel lost,” he admitted. “I just … I just wish that I’d swallowed my pride and said goodbye to her when she left. I was so angry with her.” He shook his head. “I still am.”
“You have to let it go son,” said Ben. “Your anger and your hurt is eating you up and it’s not helping anyone. Let it go.”
Joe nodded and smiled at his father. “I’m trying Pa,” he said. “I’m really trying.”
Sarah felt that there was no help for it …. She had to know one way or the other if Joe was willing to have her back again. Judging by his reaction … or rather lack of it … outside her house that day and also at the dance, she really doubted it. He hadn’t seemed the least bit pleased to see her … but she had to hope that once they talked, he’d see it differently. She had to try and make him understand how she had felt about him …. how she still felt about him.
As she sat on the front porch swing she made up her mind that she would need to do it today … she couldn’t wait any longer. It was now or never, for she had to know how he truly felt about her. If Joe …. Sarah gave a start as she recognised a familiar figure in a green corduroy jacket pass on the other side of the street, walking slowly with his head bent and his hands in his pockets. “Joe!” she breathed, wondering what on earth he would be doing in town once again. Her heart leapt as she considered if he’d finally come to talk to her about how things stood between them.
Slowly she got up from the swing and walked down the short path, following him to the outskirts of town. Poor love! Her heart went out to him as she observed his hunched shoulders and his whole demeanour. He looked so sad. She hurried to catch up with him, practically running in her haste to overcome him and confront him.
Suddenly she stopped as she realised that Joe was walking across the meadow at the end of the street towards the small stream that flowed there. It was a spot where they’d spent many a happy afternoon and she’d always seen it as their special place. Darling Joe …. he hadn’t forgotten. Perhaps he was going there in the hopes of seeing her?
Sarah’s heart lifted as she followed him across the meadow and walked up behind him. “Joe?” she said softly. Joe said nothing, but merely stared out across the water. Sarah sat down next to him and he gave a sigh. “I’m sorry Sarah,” he said softly, still staring straight ahead. “I should have come and seen you off that day, but I just couldn’t.”
“It’s alright Joe,” she said.
Joe put his head down on his knees and closed his eyes. “I wish I’d had the chance to say goodbye,” he murmured. “Why did you ever have to get on that stagecoach?”
“It doesn’t matter now my darling,” said Sarah. “I’ve come back and it doesn’t matter any more.” She reached out and stroked him on the cheek and he lifted his head, cocking it to one side as if considering something. She brushed his cheek again and he smiled. “I love you Joe,” Sarah said.
Joe sighed and stood up. He looked across the stream for a few minutes and then walked a few steps away and stood looking at a small stone on the ground. “I love you Sarah,” he murmured softly.
Sarah stood up and walked over to stand beside him. “Darling Joe,” she said, touching his arm. “Please forgive me my darling.” Joe said nothing. “Joe?” she tried again. “Please say that you forgive me for going.”
Joe hung his head. “Goodbye my love,” he said softly and walked away.
Sarah stared grief-stricken after him. “Joe!” she called desperately. “Joe! Come back! I love you Joe! Don’t leave me like this!”
Joe continued to walk away and didn’t turn around. Sarah began to sob and fell to her knees in the long grass. “Joe!” she cried, holding her arms out to him. “Don’t leave me my darling! I’ve come back Joe … I love you!” She watched as her love continued to walk away, her tears almost blinding her as she fell on the stone at her feet. She looked down and gasped as she looked at the stone and read the words that were etched into it:
1837 – 1858
Suddenly the memories came back with a rush. The sudden lurching of the stagecoach as it rounded the bend. The sickening thud as they hit the edge of the road and began to hurtle down …. down … ever down …. Sarah bent her head and wept, while across the other side of the meadow a young man in a green corduroy jacket walked slowly away.
Other Stories by this Author
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