Death of an Angel (by DebbieB)

Summary:  Joe is in love for the first time and plans on making this blue-eyed angel his wife.  Will an unavoidable accident shatter his dreams of happiness?

Rating:  PG13 Contains on questionable scene (6,500 words)

 

 

                      Death of an Angel

 

 

“Where you headed son?” Ben Cartwright asked his youngest son, Joseph. Ben watched as his son mounted his pinto.

 

Turning the horse around in order to face his father who stood on the porch of his home, Joe noticed the worried look that appeared on his father’s face. “I’m the cause of that,” Joe thought to himself.

 

“I’m just going to ride up to the lake for awhile. Please don’t worry Pa, I’m fine. I just need to be alone for a little bit. You understand, don’t you?” Joe said in a voice that was close to sounding like a plea.

 

“Yes, I understand, completely. Remember Joseph, I have been where you are now, not once but three times. Go ahead, but please be careful,” Ben instructed Joseph.

 

Smiling down at the silver headed man that was Joe’s sold rock in his life, Joe told him, “I will Pa, I’ll be back later, honest.” And with that Joe turned his pinto around and headed out of the yard.

 

Joe thought about his father. Yes, Pa was his anchor, his lifeline. How many times this last year had his father tossed him that line? More times than he could count. Joe wondered if he would have been able to make it this far if his father had not been there for him. But he had been there, every long lonely day, and every nightmare filled night.   Pa had held him each and every time he had cried and had wiped away all those tears. When he was just about ready so succumb to the sorrow that plagued his heart and soul, Pa had been there, refusing to allow him to give up. What he owed his father for his love, his encouragement, his wisdom, patience, understanding and his faith in him could never in a lifetime be repaid.

 

“Thank you God for giving me Ben Cartwright for my earthly father. Thank you for making him the kind of father that you knew I would need and thank you for both of my brothers, Adam and Hoss, who love and care for me, especially during those times I tend to make it really difficult for them to do so. I know I am truly blessed having this family. Thanks God for letting me be a part of their lives,” Joe prayed.

 

Joe pulled his horse to a stop just on the edge of the secluded little alcove and tied the reins to a low hanging branch. Walking the short distance to his favorite spot, he sat down propping against the nearest tree. As he reached out his hand, he touched the soft bed of pine needles that lay as if someone had once fashioned them into a bed of sorts. His eyes sought the crystal clear waters, and stared at the lake, seeing nothing but blue as he closed his eyes remembering another time, another blue.

 

 

Rebecca Elizabeth Adams had arrived in Virginia City on the Monday afternoon stage. She had traveled for months off and on from her mountain home nestled within the Smoky Mts. of East Tennessee. Her life had been in chaos for the last year and she had hoped that a change would help restore order to her life and perhaps she could find peace of mind.

 

Rea, as she was known, rested upon the wonderfully soft bed in the spare bedroom of her Aunt Daisy’s suite above the café in which her aunt owned and operated. Reflecting back on the circumstances, which had led her to this frontier community, she sighed deeply. Just a year ago at the ripe old age of seventeen she had married her best friend and childhood sweetheart, Matthew Cable. Six months later she found herself a widow, her new husband, Matt, killed as a result of an accident. He along with several other men had been helping their neighbor, Abe Birchfield, rebuild a barn that had been destroyed by fire. Matt had been at the highest point of the new barn when he lost his footing, causing him to fall some twenty feet to the ground below. Matt had died instantly when hitting his head and neck on the rafters on his final descent, thus breaking his neck.

 

The memories of her young husband and all they had endured together brought tears to Rea’s huge, sky blue eyes. Matt had been the love of her life. She could not remember a time when she had not been in love with him. She could recall his brown eyes and the love that spoke there, the long lashes that seemed to lie on his cheeks when the eyes were closed. Rea remembered the muscular build of Matt’s body, large and powerful for a man of his size, yet gentle and caring. She longed for his touch and remembered the feel of him as he made love to her for the very first time. How she had thrilled to his love making each and every time there after. The old longings began to creep into her very being and she turned into her pillow allowing the tears to flow freely until at last sleep claimed her.

 

 

 

Little Joe Cartwright had yet to meet Miss Daisy’s niece, newly arrived from Tennessee. But he had heard some of his friends talking about what a real looker she was. Joe had every intentions of seeing for himself; he never could resist a pretty face. Joe had planned this very night to have supper at Daisy’s where her niece was said to be working. He wanted to see if his friends were right when they had told him that she had the bluest eyes they had ever seen.

 

When Joe stepped into the café he was greeted immediately by Daisy. “Why hello Little Joe! What a nice surprise.”

 

“Howdy Daisy. Got anything good on the menu tonight?” Joe asked as he gave the motherly Daisy a hug, all the while scanning the room with his eyes.

 

Laughing she returned the hug. “You know perfectly well young man everything on my menu is good. Come on, sit down.”

 

Joe followed Daisy to a table over in the corner closest to the swinging door that separated the dining room from the kitchen. She knew this was his favorite table, or at least it was Hoss’ because of the proximity to the kitchen.

 

“Have a seat honey, Rea will be out to take your order in just a minute,” instructed Daisy as she moved toward the front door to greet a family of new-comers who were here for an evening out.

 

While Joe waited for “Rea” to wait on him, he searched the room with his eyes a second time. He still had not located the girl who had caused such a stir among his friends. So intent was he in finding the pretty face, he was not aware that someone had spoken to him.

 

“Excuse me, I asked if you were ready to order?” came the soft voice, laden with a southern drawl.

 

Coming to his senses, Joe turned his face toward the girl who stood before him. What he saw caused him to draw in sharply his breath. The world suddenly stopped, his heart skipped several beats, he was sure, and to his own amazement, he found for the first time in his life, he was speechless.

 

Before him standing no more than five feet two inches tall was the most beautiful young woman he had ever seen. She was petite by all standards, slim with an hour glass figure. Her hair was the color of golden wheat, falling in soft curls to her shoulders and beyond. Her features fine and delicate, her hands showed work but yet maintained ladies like qualities. Raising his eyes to meet hers, he became lost in the depths therein. Lake Tahoe was what came to his mind first; though the lake had never been this blue. The Nevada sky on a cloudless crisp autumn day was his second thought and his third thought was that in those blue eyes, Joe noticed sadness greater than he had ever seen in one so young.

 

Finding his voice at last, Joe smiled his most radiant smile and asked for the special of the house for the evening. As Rea was writing down his order, he rose from his chair and in a gentlemanly manner that even his brother Adam would have been proud of, he introduced himself.

 

“Pardon my manners, Miss, my name is Li—Joe Cartwright,” said Joe, omitting Little from his name, not wanting to make himself to sound any younger than his nineteen years. “You must be Miss Daisy’s niece?”

 

“Yes I am. It’s nice to meet you Mr. Cartwright, I’ll be right back with your order,” said Rea as she turned to escape to the kitchen.

 

Once inside the kitchen Rea let out the breath she had been unaware that she had been holding. ‘Shame on me,’ she thought, ‘I was staring at him as openly as he stared at me! Whew,’ she breathed as she dipped hot beef stew onto the plate she held in her trembling hand.

 

Those green eyes had seemed to bore all the way through to her soul. Try as she might, she had been unable to break the stare, knowing full well that the young handsome man had taken in every inch of her. But Rea had not felt insulted, she reasoned that there had been no malice in his observation of her body as there had been in the eyes of the other young men who had come to check her out.

 

Joe Cartwright was a gentleman, raised by a loving father who insisted on manners and respect, both in public and within his home. Daisy had already told her about the Cartwright family, mainly Little Joe. She smiled to herself, she had noticed when he introduced himself to her he had not added the endearing nickname.

 

She turned, leaving the kitchen to take Joe his supper. Stopping at the door to take a deep breath, she smiled as she neared the table of the green-eyed man who watched her.

 

“There you are Mr. Cartwright,” Rea said as she placed the plate of stew, biscuits and hot coffee before him.

 

“Just Joe,” he smiled.

 

“Excuse me?” asked Rea.

 

“Mr. Cartwright is my father, I’m Joe but my friends call me Little Joe,” Joe informed the beautiful girl. “Except when my pa’s mad at me, then it’s Joseph!” laughed Joe.

 

Rea noticed how his green eyes danced in amusement as he spoke and joked about himself to her.

 

“Rea, that’s what my family and friends back home call me. When my father is mad, it is always Rebecca Elizabeth Adams!”

 

Why she was feeling so light hearted all of a sudden, she could not figure. She had been so sad for so long. Now within a matter of ten minutes a total stranger had her laughing. And a very good-to-look-at stranger to boot she thought.

 

 

 

It was not long after that first meeting that the good people of Virginia City began noticing the young couple. Every minute that Joe found himself free of work or chores at the Ponderosa, he was sure to be seen at Daisy’s café. When Rea was free from helping her aunt, she was in Joe’s company. The beautiful blue eyed southern girl and the handsome green-eyed Virginia City boy made a striking pair and were soon the talk of the town.

 

Rea who was now over eighteen years old was in somewhat of a shock, having found herself so drawn to Joe. Because she had spent her whole life in love with one boy she now found that she was taken back at these newfound feelings she was experiencing.

 

With Matt she had experienced love for the first time, a love born out of honesty, respect, and the fact that they had known each other so well and for so long. It was as if everyone, friend and family alike who had lived in her Cades Cove community of Tennessee had always known that she and Matt would one day marry.

 

Matt had been a few years older than she had when they married. He already had a small cabin and a few acres nestled in the woods. He was more mature than she had been and seemed to have more wisdom about matters than she herself had. But that hadn’t bothered her, she was happy to have Matt take the lead, figuring most of the boys her age were too immature for her liking. So when Matt had asked for her hand in marriage, she had agreed and with her parents blessings were married three months later.

 

Rea’s wedding to Matt had been a simple affair. She had worn her Sunday best dress and tied her hair up with ribbons and added a few flowers for the final touch. Matt had dressed in his best dress suit, used only for funerals and weddings, this wedding being his own. She remembered how handsome he had been and how full of love his eyes were for her as he watched her walk with her father down the short aisle of the church to stand at the alter with him, ready to become Mrs. Matthew Cable.

 

She had taken her wedding vows seriously as she repeated the words the preacher had spoken. Promising to love, honor and obey until death do part, little did she realize that parting would come so close on the heels of promising.

 

But Rea had a new life now, one she liked and enjoyed. She had a new home, made new friends, both male and female, she loved living with her Aunt Daisy and most of all loved being with Little Joe Cartwright. She found him exciting and funny. She loved that he could make her laugh at nearly anything, something she had not felt like doing in a long time. Thinking back, she realized that she had never laughed so much in her life. Matt had been more of the serious type while her parents, especially her father, had been very strict. Her up bringing had been done mostly in church, her father and grandfather Adams, having been both traveling preachers and pastors of the Baptist churches in Cades Cove and the out lying areas.

 

Being with Little Joe always lifted her spirits. His laugh alone put the merriment into her heart. He was sweet, he was kind, and he was gentle. He always used his manners and he treated her like a lady. Rea had spent several evenings at the Ponderosa with Joe, getting to know his family. Here was a family like none she had ever known. Ben Cartwright, Little Joe’s father, was a man who by just the sight and size of him, commanded respect. His eyes, the color of chocolate, spoke of great love and kindness when addressing one of his sons.

 

Joe’s oldest brother Adam, was Joe’s senior by twelve years. At first Rea had thought that this brother was what she would refer to as uppity. But later, as she got to know Adam, she realized that he was very soft spoken, thoughtful and very obviously educated. That fact alone was enough to intimidate her. Nonetheless, Rea liked Adam and had spent several evenings enjoying listening to him playing his guitar and singing his ballads.

 

Rea’s favorite Cartwright family member, next to Little Joe, was Joe’s other brother, Hoss. Here she found not only the largest man she had ever known, but also the kindest. His eyes spoke of love for his family, his heart was full of care for his home and the land which his home stood. Hoss had shared with her tales about all of his critters, past and present. In Hoss she had found a true friend and what she admired most about this giant of a man was his gentleness and his open love of his family, namely his baby brother, Joe.

 

 

 

Joe was happier than he had been in all of his nineteen years. He was in love, real love, for the first time in his life. At times he felt as if his heart would surely burst wide open when thinking of Rea. Never before had he felt such strong feelings for a girl. Lying alone in his bed at night his thoughts strayed, wondering what it would be like to take the beautiful young woman into his arms and make love to her. At times when he had been really close to her, his body had begged him to find out. Just remembering the times he had stolen kisses from her would at once awaken his desires.

 

Oh, he thought, this is driving me crazy! Joe had in the past been sweet on several girls. Even some of the girls in the Bucket of Blood saloon had stirred the desire in him but as of yet he had not given in to that yearning. He had waited and hoped that maybe someday someone really special would come along. Maybe that someone was here now, in his life, just maybe.

 

 

Saturday evening arrived and Joe was hurrying to get dressed for his date with Rae. As he stood before his mirror combing his hair, Ben walked by the partly opened door. Seeing his son primping, he smiled to himself thinking what a good-looking son he had.

 

“Hey handsome, going somewhere?” chuckled Ben.

 

“Sure am, got a date with a blue-eyed angel,” replied Joe as he stood back to admire his appearance in the dresser mirror where he could see his father standing in the bedroom door.

 

“Well, have fun and Joseph, be careful,” cautioned his father.

 

Ben had begun to worry about his youngest son and his relationship with Rea. One would have to be blind not to see how much Joseph loved the pretty girl. More than one of his friends had commented to him about the young couple.

 

“Ah Pa, don’t worry, I know how to drive the surrey,” Joe teased, knowing what his father really meant when telling him to be careful.

 

“Joseph, that isn’t exactly what I was referring to,” began Ben.

 

Laughing, Joe turned to his father and placed both of his hands on his father’s broad shoulders.

 

“Pa, don’t worry, really, I know what you are talking about,” grinned Joe.

 

Leaving his father smiling after him, Joe left for the waiting surrey. Jumping in and heading toward town, Joe knew in his heart how very hard being careful was becoming.

 

 

As usual thought Joe, Rea looked beautiful. Her new blue dress matched the blue in her eyes. Rea herself was thinking how handsome Joe looked, dressed in his white shirt and black string tie, topped with the green jacket he always wore. That green jacket always seemed to add to the color of his emerald eyes and it was difficult for Rea to pull her own eyes from Joe’s face.

 

As they rode along enjoying the comfortable silence Joe asked Rea, “Tell me about you life back in Tennessee.”

 

“What do you want to know?” she said, turning to look once again into Joe’s face.

 

Joe pulled the horse to a stop where they could enjoy the view of the lake. “This is Lake Tahoe, isn’t it beautiful?” Joe said. “It is my favorite place on the ranch.”

 

As the pair looked out over the moonlit lake, Rea had to agree to its beauty. The moon cast it’s light on to the still water, giving the appearance of diamonds gleaming in the dark.

 

“Where I come from Joe, the mountains look as if they are on fire. The clouds rise up from the valleys giving the appearance of smoke. The Cherokee’s call it ‘Tanasie’, meaning ‘Land of the Big Smoke.’ Cades Cove in it’s own right is as pretty as this, Joe. It is a flat, fertile valley surrounded on all sides by the mountains. Hunting there is very good. The deer were always coming out of the woods and into the fields to graze right along with our cattle. And you could hunt bear, turkey and if you were lucky, you might be able to get a wild hog,” Rea said as they sat comfortably on the old blanket that Joe had taken from the surrey and placed on a bed of pine needles within a secluded little alcove which over looked the lake.

 

“Of course we always had the most common of wildlife to hunt, squirrel, grouse, quail, and rabbit. And if you liked to fish Joe, there are plenty of streams that ran through the fields and the forest. One thing for sure, you’d never really have to worry about going hungry,” finished Rea, laughing lightly.

 

“You make it sound really nice. Do you miss it much? I mean, you were born there, its home to you, right?” asked Joe as he reached up and removed a pine needle from Rea’s golden hair. Joe caught the scent of lavender in her hair and the sweetness sent his senses reeling.

 

“Yes, I miss it at times, Joe. I did grow up there, just like you did here. I fell in love for the very first time there, I married in the same church that my great grandfather Adams had started and I buried my heart in the cemetery out behind that same church. Yes, I miss it, a part of me will always be there, in the Cove,’ explained Rea as she turned from Joe and gazed out at the lake, seemingly lost in her memories.

 

“I think I know what you mean, I feel the same way about the Ponderosa. I am the first Cartwright to be born here. My ma is buried here, I’d hate to think of leaving,” Joe told her as he also turned to gaze at the lake.

 

The young couple sat in silence for several minutes before Joe finally asked, “Rea?”

 

“Yes, Joe?” replied Rea, turning to face Joe. Rea noticed how Joe’s eyes had taken on a darker hue than was normal for his green eyes. She wasn’t sure what she was reading there.

 

Softly Joe asked, “Do you think you could be happy here? I mean…with me?” he asked, all the love he held for the young woman showing in his eyes. “ I love you, Rea,” he added in a soft whisper.

 

Rea sat quietly looking into Joe’s face. She knew that Joe had just opened his heart to her. She also knew that for Joe to be doing so, he had left himself wide open to heartache if she did not choose her words carefully, very carefully. Fleetingly her thoughts turned to her deceased husband, Matthew, remembering he had, years earlier, asked her the same question that Joe was now waiting an answer to. She understood that she was to Joe, what Matt had been to her, a first love. A love so tender, a sweet innocent love, unburdened, without cares, without hurts and sorrows. Was she ready now to start over, to begin anew? Was she ready to give her heart away a second time? Was she sure she did love this handsome, sweet, green-eyed man-child enough to risk whatever might lie ahead? Could she trust him forever with her heart, with her life? Could she give of herself both body and soul completely?

 

Looking into the face and eyes of the expectant man before her she knew what her answer would be. Her heart was telling her and her mother had always advised her to ‘follow you heart, it will never lead you wrong’. She was ready to follow her heart.

 

“Joe,” she said taking one of his hands and cupping it with her own two. Smiling into his eyes she continued, “I love it here, yes, I could be very happy, and Joe,” she paused, “I love you, too.”

 

Joe hoped that the woman to whom he had just professed his love would not notice the tears that had suddenly appeared unannounced into his eyes. Gathering Rea gently into his arms, he placed his lips to hers, kissing her softly at first. As Rea responded to the kiss, Joe’s own kiss became more intense, until at last she opened her mouth and received his tongue. The thrill that past between the two lovers sent shivers through each of their own bodies. Joe moved Rea gently to the ground, never taking his lips from hers. At last he slowly moved his lips to her neck and began kissing the soft spot under her chin; he worked his way to the side of her neck, stopping at the ear to nibble the lope. A soft moan escaped from Rea’s partly open mouth. Joe stopped long enough to look at Rea’s face. She had begun to perspire slightly and her breathing was becoming shallow.

 

Rea kept her eyes closed and whispered to Joe, “Don’t stop Joe, please, don’t stop.” Her desire for him was so great that it had begun taking total control over her body and her mind.

 

Joe wasn’t sure how or just when they had removed their clothing, only that now both he and she lay naked in the cool night air. Neither seemed to notice the chill so intent were they in putting out the fire that was consuming their bodies.

 

“Now Joe, now,” cried Rea as she arched her body to receive what Joe was offering.

 

Joe remembered the feeling that past through his body as he entered her for the very first time. All of his desire, his longing and his need of her spewed forth too soon, not giving either the satisfaction they both craved. Before he could remove himself from her, Rea locked her arms around Joe’s neck whispering, “It’s okay my love, let me show you how.” And with that Rea began caressing his body with her hands, with her fingers and finally with her lips until Joe found himself once again wild with passion and desire.

 

“Slowly, slowly,” Rea instructed as Joe began moving his body to match the movements of hers.

 

Joe’s breath came in ragged gasps, as his movements became the driving forces that would ultimately take him to the point of total surrender. Rea cried out as she reached the peak of ecstasy and began her final descent. Joe pushed once more and his heated body quivered and jerked in total submission to his desires.

 

Twice more that evening, Joe and Rea made love in the moonlight that shone brightly on the banks of Lake Tahoe. Never again would Joe be able to come to this spot and not remember what had taken place this night.

 

 

 

Joe straightened his back and leaned back against the tree. Everything had been perfect then, his happiness complete. Rea had agreed to marry him. Plans were being made and his family was happy for him. They had come to love his blue-eyed angel and welcomed her into their family as daughter and sister. The Cartwright home was filled with the sound of laughter, both male and female. It was alive with activity, all preparations were being made and the hustle and bustle of people helping poured from nearly every room in the large home.

 

And then tragedy struck. Joe rested his weary head on his knees that he had drawn up to him to bring warmth into his body. He shivered slightly. “I need to get home,” he told himself. “Pa will worry.” But the heart broken man could not make himself get up. Joe closed his eyes and his thoughts took him back to that awful day.

 

 

He had come into town to pick up his new suit for the wedding. Adam and Hoss had come into town earlier to try their suits on so Ben had decided to ride in the wagon with Joe. They had another list from Hop Sing that needed filling and intended to take care of that after the fittings.

 

“You run on down to the tailor’s Joe. I have to see Roy Coffee for a minute and I’ll meet you there,” Ben had informed the future bridegroom as both father and son jumped down from the wagon.

 

“Sure Pa, but hurry, you have to try on you suit, just in case it needs fixing,” Joe smiled at his father as he tied the horses to the hitching post.

 

Ben thought he had never seen his youngest son so content. Joe appeared to glow with happiness. Ben was pleased with Joe’s choice of wife; he respected the young woman and had come to love her as a daughter. She would make a good wife for his son he thought. True, he would prefer to keep his baby with him for a few years yet, but he refused to interfere in his son’s happiness. With these thoughts in mind, Ben headed into the sheriff’s office to talk with Roy Coffee.

 

Joe was making his way to the tailor’s shop, stopping occasionally to speak with passing folks who wished him well on his pending marriage, when he heard his name called.

 

“Joe! Joe!” called Rea as she stepped from the boarded walkway and started across the street to where Joe was once again talking to friends.

 

Joe turned toward Rea to let her know he had heard her, as he continued his conversation with the couple who had detained him. When Joe heard the scream that came from the center of the street he knew instantly who had made the blood chilling noise.

 

Jerking his head in the direction of the street, the scene that his eyes witnessed was forever stamped into his memory. The earth ceased to rotate, the sunshine minutes before so bright had suddenly stopped shining and his brain registered no sound to his ears. His body seemed as if it were frozen in the winter ice. And though he tried, no movement could be made until at last the lady, to whom he had been speaking, screamed.

 

Awakened from his shocked condition, Joe heard a man screaming, “NO! NO! Oh God NO!” and realized that it was his own voice that he was hearing.

 

Joe ran to the middle of the street where a runaway freight wagon, laden with out going freight, had just collided with his future wife. Joe’s screams as he gathered Rea’s broken and mutilated body into his arms, brought his father running from the sheriff’s office. From the opposite end of town, Adam and Hoss were making their way through the crowd of people that had gathered, to come to their brother’s aide.

 

The scene that met the eyes of the three older Cartwright men tore at their hearts. Ben found his eyes over flowing with tears, as did Hoss. Adam swallowed several times and tried blinking away his own tears, with little success. There in the street sat young Joe Cartwright holding in his arms the dead body of Rea Adams. Joe was rocking back and forth and cared not that the wails that were torn from his heart were heard by all.

 

Instantly, Ben was beside his son. “Joseph, Joseph,” whispered Ben as he put his arms around his youngest son.

 

“She’s dead Pa, she’s dead, my beautiful angel,” wailed Joe, his sad eyes seeking his father’s face.

 

“I know son, I know,” Ben tried to comfort his over wrought son.

 

“Here Joe, let me have her,” Hoss said, trying to remove the battered body from Joe’s arms.

 

“No! No!” screamed Joe, refusing to relinquish his hold on his beloved. “Pa! Help me! Help me, please!” Joe begged as he turned into his father’s chest, burying his face, his sobs uncontrolled. Ben immediately wrapping his son’s shoulders in a tight embrace.

 

Hoss gently gathered Rea’s body into his arms as Ben gathered his heart broken boy into his own arms. Slowly making his way through the throng of curious bystanders, Ben carried Joe into Doc Martin’s office, followed quietly by Hoss. Ben felt certain that Joe would need something to calm him down and steady his nerves before they would be able to take him home.

 

Hoss carried Rea into the back room of Doc’s office where he laid her broken body gently on the cot there and covered her with a white sheet. Grief stricken, Hoss cried tears of sorrow, both for the loss of this beautiful woman who would have been his sister and for his baby brother who he knew would carry his loss for years to come.

 

When Hoss entered the room where his father had taken his youngest brother, Adam was already with his family.

 

“He’s in shock, Doc gave him a sedative to calm him down.” Adam informed Hoss. “We can take him home in the morning, looks like he is going to be out for sometime. Doc said to just let him rest here til then.”

 

“Okay…Poor thing. How’s he ever gonna get over this Adam? How?” cried Hoss as he wiped away more tears.

 

“With our help and with time I suppose. Pa would know far better than we.” Adam explained to Hoss as he placed his arm around the big man’s shoulders, trying in some small way to offer comfort.

 

 

 

The days that followed were lost to Joe. He walked around as if in a fog, he did what he was told, went where he was sent, he ate small portions, worked as instructed, but slept little. Each night had been filled with nightmares that disturbed his sleep and that of his family’s as well.

 

Life in the Cartwright home continued like that for several weeks before Joe gradually began coming to himself. He found himself and his father alone one night sitting before the fire that burned brightly in the massive fireplace which warmed the great room of the Cartwright home.

 

“Are you okay son?” Ben asked Joe as he came to sit on the stone hearth facing Joe.

 

Joe, who sat on the large wood table, was staring into the fire. It broke Ben’s heart to see how unhappy his young son was. It was all Ben could do to hold his own tears in check as he watched his son who appeared lost in thought.

 

“I’ll do,” Joe answered, never looking at his father.

 

“Joe, let me tell you something son,” started Ben

 

“Pa,” began Joe, at last looking up, into his father’s face.

 

“No Joe, let me finish, please,” Ben began as he cupped the boy’s quivering chin in his hands and forced the boy to meet him eye to eye.

 

“You know son, everyone has trouble in their lives. No one can escape it. It comes in some form or shape and people either hides it way down deep inside, or they bare it and go on. Others worry or complain about it. Sometimes people rebel and allow themselves to become old and bitter by it. They let their hopes die and let their hearts turn cold,” Ben explained to his son, releasing his hold on Joe’s chin.

 

Ben got up from the hearth, moved to sit next to Joe and wrapped his arm around the shoulders that had begun to shake.

 

“Joe, it is the wise man that accepts whatever God sends. You have to be able to bend as a tree does during a storm—-yielding. Remember that God never makes a mistake. Trouble is a part and parcel of life, and no man can grow with out strife, trouble, sorrow or regrets. Son, when we learn to accept, we’re given great grace and courage, and faith along with strength to face what comes at us daily.” Ben continued.

 

“Son, look at me,” said Ben as he once again gently turned Joe’s chin so that he could look into his eyes. “Someone once said ‘For the grandeur of life is born or defeat—For in overcoming we make life complete’”.

 

“Joe, it’s time to move on, life goes on, you have to. Rea learned how, she moved on when her husband died. She would want you to do the same,” finished Ben.

 

Joe looked at Ben and the tears ran from his eyes. Lovingly, Ben gathered his grieving son into his arms and held him as he wept. When at last the tears were spent, Joe whispered to his father, “I loved her, Pa.”

 

“And she loved you, Joseph,” the father said as he kissed the top of the curly headed young man.

 

 

Joe got up from his spot on the ground where he had been sitting for such a long time. It had grown colder out and he shivered slightly. As he untied Cochise and started to mount, his father rode into the little alcove where Joe and Rea had first made love.

 

“I was getting worried son,” Ben said as he adjusted his position in the saddle.

 

“I’m sorry Pa, I was just starting back,” he informed his father as he sprang into his saddle.

 

“Are you okay?” questioned Ben, concern evident in every feature of his face.

 

“I’m fine Pa, now. I just had to come up here for awhile. I had to say good-bye. I had to tell her that I loved her and I had to know that she was okay.” Joe said as he looked into his father’s caring eyes, so filled with love for his son.

 

“Is she son? Okay, I mean?” Ben questioned.

 

“Yes Pa, I realized that she is with her first love, Matt, and that they are together. Most important, I believe that they are happy now, both of them. I can accept that Pa, she loved him first and he died loving her, which makes it all right for me. She will always be my first true love no matter how long I live, and no one can take away the memories I carry in my heart that she and I shared together. She will always be my blue-eyed angel.”

 

Joe smiled at his father and for the first time in many months Ben saw the lights come on again in the emerald eyes of the man, Joseph Francis Cartwright.

 

 

THE END

Aug. 2001

 

Note: Parts of the conversation between Ben and Joe while in front of the fireplace were taken and jumbled from a verse by Helen Steiner Rice. (Trouble Is A Stepping-Stone To Growth). I liked the message and thought it fit the situation. No infringement rights were intended.

 

The names Cable, Birchfield and Adams are actual names of families living in Cades Cove, Tennessee during the 1800’s. Adams, having been one of my family’s surnames related to the Baptist churches in the cove’s area. No resemblance to actual persons was intended.

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