Summary: A romance ends badly.
Genre: Western, Drama
Word Count: 1037
Joe stood at the window of the darkened bedroom, staring out into the night. He heard the door behind him open, saw the room brighten a bit as a lamp was turned up, and then heard the squeak of bedsprings as a body lowered himself onto the mattress.
“I loved her, Pa,” Joe said quietly, knowing without looking that it was his father who had entered the bedroom. “I thought she loved me.”
“I know,” replied Ben quietly.
“Turns out, she just loved the idea of living on the Ponderosa, having access to our money, and adding the Cartwright name to hers,” Joe continued. He turned toward his father, a bruise around his eye and a cut on his cheek clearly visible. “I was just a bonus.”
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Ben thought a moment before he spoke. “She had us all fooled, Joe. Maybe she even fooled herself into thinking she loved you.”
“No,” answered Joe emphatically. “She didn’t love me. If she did, she wouldn’t have been so willing to leave Virginia City with Garrett McCain. She didn’t give it ten minutes thought when McCain offered her the chance to marry him and live in San Francisco in that big house of his.” He gave a rueful smile as he rubbed his chin. “I could have saved myself some bruises if I had realized it. I should have just let her get on the stage instead of charging in to rescue her in front of you, Hoss and half of Virginia City.”
“You thought you were saving her, Joe, preventing McCain from taking her away unwillingly,” Ben pointed out. “You didn’t know she wanted to go with him.”
“I sure found out in a hurry, though,” declared Joe. “She really lit into me after the fight. Made it perfectly clear that she wanted a ‘refined gent’ like McCain, rather than a ruffian like me.”
A small smile appeared on Ben’s face. “I have to admit that I’ve never seen you look so surprised. I think your jaw dropped to the ground when she turned her back on you and went to McCain.”
“Yeah,” Joe agreed, giving a half smile in return. “Hoss said something about my looking like I could have swallowed a cloud of flies.” Then his expression became serious. “How could I have been so wrong about her, Pa? I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, and I thought she felt the same way.”
“Joe, your feelings for her were true,” Ben stated. “And in a way, her feelings were too. The difference was you would have lived with her anywhere, whether it was on the Ponderosa or a sod hut on the prairie. She wanted to be with you but only if it meant living on the Ponderosa.
“Yeah, until a better offer came along,” said Joe bitterly.
Getting up, Ben walked over to his son and put his hand on Joe’s shoulder. “I don’t think you can really ever know for sure what’s in someone else’s heart, son. That’s where faith and trust come into play. You have to have faith that someone loves you, and trust that they won’t betray that love.” He shook his head. “It’s not easy to find someone to love you the way you love them.”
“You did,” answered Joe. “Three times.”
“I have been very lucky in my life,” agreed Ben. “But I’ve also known the pain of having that love taken away from me.”
“Would you have done it again if you knew what was going to happen?” asked Joe curiously. “I mean, would you have given your heart to each of them if you had known it was only going to be for a short time? If you knew how much pain it was going to cause you when they died?”
“Absolutely,” Ben stated with certainty. “The joy of their love more than out-weighed the pain of their loss.
Joe took a deep breath and then blew out the air. “I guess I just need to forget about her. Pretend it never happened.”
“No, Joe, don’t forget,” Ben counseled. “Having known her will help you realize what true love really is. I pursued a few girls before I found Adam’s mother, and I knew at once Elizabeth was different. You’ll know when you find the right girl. There will be a special feeling, something that wasn’t there when you were with her. You need to remember how you felt about her to know the difference.”
“I guess,” said Joe with a shrug. “But right now, it just seems like a part of my life that I want to put behind me.”
“It will get better,” Ben promised. “It will take time, but eventually the hurt does heal, and then all that will be left is the memory of a girl who was just one of those false steps you made along the road of life.”
“Now you are starting to sound like Adam,” stated Joe with a smile.
“I guess I am,” agreed Ben, grinning. He patted Joe lightly on the back. “Come on, let’s go downstairs. Hop Sing has cooked up a big dinner and made apple pie for dessert.”
“Well, I guess I could drown my sorrows with some apple pie,” Joe said a bit mischievously. “That is, if I can hold off brother Hoss long enough to get some.”
“I promise you’ll get as much apple pie as you want,” declared Ben with mock solemnity. “Even if I have to hog-tie your brother to make it happen.”
As Joe left the bedroom to walk downstairs to dinner, Ben lingered a moment. He thought about Joe’s question. He had known the answer without having to think about it. Ben knew that he wouldn’t have given up a moment that he had spent with each of the women he loved, despite the sorrow that their deaths had caused him.
As Ben moved to follow Joe downstairs, he remembered the line by Tennyson: ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Ben couldn’t have agreed with Lord Alfred more.
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