Heath’s Heart  (by Mrs. Nick B)

Summary:  Heath’s Heart takes place about five years before he arrived in  Stockton. It’s a little short story about the two different Sarahs in Heath’s past life before he became a Barkley.
Category:  The Big Valley
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  3000


He was dogged tired and the poor horse he rode was even more so.  He had promised himself, the first watering hole, they would stop and rest since he wasn’t in any rush to get home; leastways no one really expected him.

He blinked his eyes, not believing what laid before him.  He had been on this trail a hundred times before, how come he never noticed this place before?  His blue eyes beheld a lush green vista.  Trees and bushes full of life, surrounding a babbling brook being fed by a small waterfall across the liquid divide.  Had he noticed it before, he would have most assuredly stopped here, for it seemed to him that the chilly February air didn’t see fit to disturb this place.

The cowboy dismounted, loosely tethering his horse so it would be free to graze and water.  He laid on his belly near the shore, cupping his hand to taste the cool liquid.

“Pure spring water, tasting the way God intended,” he said to no one. He sat up, untied his neckerchief, dipped it in the water and wiped his face and the back of his sweaty neck,  ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness, Heath,’  he heard his mother say a  thousand times, he chuckled at the memory.

 “Yeah Mama, I know, you don’t have to tell me twice.”  He spoke it outloud only to hear a human voice. “Powerful hot for a February; guess January thaw came late this year.”  He pushed himself away from the shore and leaned back on his elbow, spreading his neckerchief out to dry.  He bent his leg and took in the quiet scene.

There wasn’t much need to hurry, he told the family he was going to be gone a while. He knew Mama and Aunt Rachel would be anxious to see him, but he was tired and he and his horse needed to take this rest, just like he needed to be alone now to think.

*****

Mama understood why he had to leave, but not Hannah; she just shrugged her shoulders and warned him, “Heath son, you’re on a fool’s errand!”

“Maybe so Hannah, but I got to look for her, I need to go and talk it out.”

“Let him go Hannah, young love needs to be cherished and nurtured.  Heath needs to find his own way.”  Aunt Rachel always encouraged him to follow his heart in whatever he wanted.  Even though she knew Hannah was right.

*****

He did find her in a most unlikely place for a girl, on the campus of the University of Berkeley. She sure looked different then he had remembered her, all grown up, like a woman, not the girl from the little mining town of Strawberry.   There she stood under a Dogwood Tree talking to a fellow his own height, with slickback dark hair, a real easy smile, the kind that girls always go for,  Heath thought, and piercing, brilliant blue eyes.  But Heath was determined and he defiantly walked up to the pair.

“Sarah, can we talk?”

“My God!  What are you doing here?!”  She returned a shocked gaze.

“I need to talk to you. Can we talk?”  He said in a determined tone, not willing to back down from his stance.

“Obviously Sarah, this young man needs to talk to you, so I shall meet you in the library later?  That is if you’re sure you’ll be all right?”

The blonde woman placed her hand warmly on the gray suited gentleman, “Thank you, I’ll meet you in twenty minutes Jarrod; I’ll be fine.”

“Very well.”  The elegantly dressed gentleman made a slight cursory bow to Heath,  gave him an easy smile and left them under the tree. They both watched as the gray suit headed toward the gleaming white buildings.  Then she turned toward Heath with an annoyed look.

“I cannot believe you followed me here!  I thought I made it clear to you Heath Thomson.  It’s over between us!”

“Well, seems you made it clear to everyone in town except me; because you took off without so much as a good bye.  Why did you do that Sarah?  I thought you and me were special together, I thought we had something.  What did you run off for?”

“You know why Heath!  You’re just too stubborn to see it. I want something more; I don’t want to be in a mining town all my life, living by what the earth yields.  I want something more for myself; I want to make a life for myself, to learn, to travel, to be somebody!”

“And you think you’ll find it here?”

“I could, I don’t know, but I need to follow my dream.  Heath don’t you have a dream to follow?”

“Sure I do, you know that, I want to have a ranch of my own some day.  A wife and children, and I thought I was going to have it with you.  Listen, I know I got nothing now, but I will have!  You just see if I don’t.   Some day I’ll have me a spread and a place where Mama don’t have to work no more for Uncle Jim, and Aunt Rachel can just  take life easy, and Hannah, I’ll have a place for her too where she don’t have to take in washing and all that.  I got dreams Sarah and I thought you wanted to be a part of them.”

“No Heath, not anymore, not with you.”

“Why?  Because of what people say about me?!   Or is it what your Pa says about me?!”

“There you go again!  Always looking for a fight!  Always arguing!  I can’t live like that Heath, don’t you realize that?”

“But we can go away, we don’t have to stay in Strawberry, we can go down to San Diego, remember we went down there once, you and me, we had a great time!”

“That was for a few days, at a carnival. We were young and in love and we took off together.  We were just kids Heath, but that was then and this is now.  We’re not kids anymore.”

“I asked you to marry me, Sarah.”

“And I gave you my answer, please accept that.”

“I thought you loved me, I thought we loved each other.”

“I do love you Heath, but not enough, not nearly enough for you.  You frighten me.  You’re angry all the time; you always want to lash out at everyone.  You don’t let anyone get close enough to love you, not even me, and I’m tired of the struggle.  I can’t take it anymore.”

“What are you talking about?  I thought we cared about each other, you just said you loved me.  I’m not angry with you I would never hurt you Sarah, you know that don’t you?”

“No, you don’t understand, we would just destroy each other.  I can’t deal with your temper; you won’t let anyone get close to you other than your own little family.  I couldn’t be a part of so small a world Heath; I need to be in the world, to spread my wings.   You just want to gather up everyone you love and build a wall so no one will touch you, I don’t want to be inside that wall Heath; I need to be a part on the world around me.  You offer me loneliness.”

“I thought I was offering you my love Sarah, cause it’s all I really got to give you know, but I could change, you’ll see.   I can be what you want me to be, please Sarah, don’t leave it like this.”

The last words she said to him were, “I’m sorry Heath, I have to go, I’m so sorry.”

*****

The flat rock skipped over the clear water twice, he searched for another one when he heard another skip out and dunk into the lake.  Heath turned quickly, his hand catching his gun handle as he turned behind him.

“Anything you can do I can do better.”

Standing behind him was a freckled face red-haired girl about seventeen wearing rolled up jeans over her bare feet and a soiled white shirt two sizes too big for her.  Her hair hung long and loosely about her shoulders.  He thought she might be kind of pretty if she cleaned up a bit.  She sure did have the widest, prettiest smile he ever seen; still he wasn’t really in the mood to be talking with some stranger, even if it was just a girl.

“Who asked you?” He shielded his eyes from the sun, looking up at her.

“Just saying is all…”  She smiled as she scrunched down not waiting for an invitation to join him.

“I could skip that rock five times if I wanted too.”

“Sure you could,” She said in a doubting tone.

“That’s right, I could.”

“Bet you can’t”

“Bet I can.”

“Go ahead then, let me see you.”

“You said bet.  What have you got to bet with?” Heath taunted.

The girl pulled out a smooth, round piece of wood from her back pocket.

“This here.”

“Why that’s just an old piece of drift wood you found some place.  You want to bet me with a piece of wood?  Do you think I’m crazy or something?”

“Well, if you were smart; a smart boy would see something in this here piece of wood.”

“I ain’t no boy and don’t you be calling me that!  I’m nineteen and I’ve seen more in my nineteen years then you would ever see if you lived to be eighty.”

“Hah! If you’re so smart and seen so many things then how come you can’t see what this piece of wood can be?”   She sat beside him and held out the soft wooden bit in the palm of her hand.

“Let me take a gander at it then.”  He moved to take it, but she closed her fist, pulling it back.

“Nope, you got to win it first.  You said you can skip a rock five times, that’s the deal!”

He slowly stood and wiped his hands on his brown pants.  “Okay, little gal, I’ll take your bet, but you better be ready to pay up!”

He searched the ground for the best flat rock he could find.  He was bound and determined to win that prize from her.  Finally finding a rock he thought capable of doing the job.   He gave it a few flips in his fingers, eyeing it carefully, satisfied, he gave her a lopsided grin.  “This here is the winning skip rock.”  She returned his smile showing what he thought was the cutest little dimples at the corners of her mouth he ever laid eyes on.

“I’m waiting.”  She warned, placing her small fists under her chin as she watched him, her hazel eyes sparkling in a smile.

He surveyed the ground water, giving it some thought and studying his shot.  He thought he heard a little giggle from her but decided to ignore it. He shook his wrist to loosen it, causing the girl to roll her eyes, “I’m still waiting…”

“Quiet, I’ll lose my concentration!”

“Sorry.”   She said teasingly.

Heath gave her an irritated look, “Would you quit pestering me?!”

She decided to remain quiet, watching as he made some mimicked flicks of the wrist.  In one smooth snap of his hand he grinned as the glider flew over the water, skipping six times before it landed with a dunking sound.

He whooped and hollered, jumping up and down as he did so, “Did you see that!  Six times! Six times!  Boy howdy that was a beauty!”

The redheaded girl jumped to her feet and clapped her hands together, delighted.

“That was wonderful!  You’re great!”

He rewarded her with the most handsome wide grin she had ever seen.

“Well I thank you for that!”

“You’ve certainly earned your prize!”  She pulled the dark brown wood out of her pocket and laid it in his outstretched hand.  He brought it to eye level and studied it for a long time, turning it around in his hand over and over again, staring at every nook and cranny.

“What do you see in it?”

“It’s a nice prize; I can see lots of possibilities in it.”

“Like what?  Can you show me?” She said hopefully.

“Don’t know, you got any imagination?”

“Imagination?!   Why I got more imagination in my little finger there then you have in that whole body of yours!” She pouted at him, raising her baby finger in the air.

“Is that a fact?”  He smirked.

“That’s a fact!”

Heath was about to sit down on the ground again, but thought better of it and waited for her to sit first.  She plopped herself down, resting on her knees.  He joined her on the ground just before he pulled out a knife from his pocket.

“What are you doing there?”

“You’ll see, have patience will you?”

She watched and waited as he skillfully whittled off little shards of pulp, gently digging in the small areas of the wood, smoothing off each bit of space.

“Can’t you talk and whittle at the same time, or are you too stupid to do both?”

“Now, I was thinking about given you this here thing, but now I’m wondering if I should even bother after a remark like that!”

“I’m sorry; Ma always said I didn’t know when to keep my mouth shut.”

“And your Mama is always right, don’t forget that.” He pointed the knife in her general direction for effect.

“Can you tell me your name?”

“Yep.”

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“What’s your name? You didn’t tell me yet.”

“You didn’t ask me for my name, you just asked me if I could tell you my name.”

“You’re a very aggravating person.”

“Seems to me you’re the one who’s a mite aggravating.  I was here minding my own business taking a rest with my horse when you came upon me and started the aggravating.”

“Can you… I mean, what is your name?”

“Heath.”  He never once stopped his work on the wood bit in his hand.

“Got a last name?”

“Yep.”  This time he just gave her an impish smile, she sheepishly smiled back.

“All right, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want.”

“Never said that; you never asked.”

“Heath what?”

“Heath Thomson.”

“Now that wasn’t too hard, was it?”

“Not for me.”  He turned the piece of wood in his hand and carved the middle part of it.  She watched his hands intently as he sculpted the piece.

“What are you doing there Heath?”

“Putting my initial in this here piece.  Mama always said when you think you did your best you should always put your mark on it.”

“Can I see it?”

“Soon as I finish it you can.”

She waited patiently as he worked.  He took up his dried neckerchief from the ground and polished the wood to a nice sheen.  “There, it’s done, here you go.”

He handed her the polished wood bit.

“Oh Heath, it’s beautiful.”  She examined it, admiring the intricately detailed design.  “Do you know what day it is today?”

“Friday.”

“Oh Silly, it’s more than Friday.  It’s Valentine’s Day.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a day when people who care for each other give each other valentines.”

“Oh, so what’s a valentine look like that people want to give it to people?”

“It looks like this.”  She opened her palm to show the heart he had whittled with the ‘H’ in the middle of it.

“A valentine looks like a heart huh?”

“Yes, don’t you want to give this to your girl?”

“Don’t have a girl, you can keep it.”

“Wouldn’t feel right in keeping it if I wasn’t your girl Heath.”

“Well then, you can pretend.   What’s your name?  I’ll carve your initial in it.”

“Sara.”  She smiled at him.

“Sarah?  Hah, wouldn’t you know it, should have figured, you being a pain and all.  Never known a gal named Sarah who wasn’t.”

“Why Sara’s a good name!  In the Bible Abraham’s wife was name Sarah and she was a fine and faithful wife too.”

“Old Abraham got lucky it seems to me.”

“Well you can’t go around thinking every Sarah is a pain.”

“No, I suppose it wouldn’t be fair to judge people by a name, leastways I should know that. Here’s your initial.   What do you think?”

“It’s beautiful, but I can’t accept this if I weren’t your girl.”

“Would you accept it if you were my girl?”

“I would be right proud to accept it Heath!”

“You got a dress you can wear to a church social they got coming up on Sunday next?

“Yes.”  She said brightly.

“Okay then, I’ll take you and that’ll make it official, you can be my girl if you want.”

“Really, Heath? You mean it?”

“Don’t say nothing I don’t mean.  Besides, you said I shouldn’t judge a person by his name, so I’m guessing your more like Abraham’s Sarah, then any other Sarah I ever known.”

“Thank you Heath.'”

“You’re welcome Sara.”

“Heath?”

“If, I was your girl and this day being Valentine’s Day, wouldn’t you give your girl a kiss?”

“Reckon I would, being this is Valentine’s Day and all.”

Heath leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Heath, could you do that again, one more time, right here.”

Sara pointed to what Heath thought were luscious pink lips.  He smiled, moved closer and gave her a very tender, sweet kiss on those lips.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Sara.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Heath.”

***The End***

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