Summary: Saying goodbye to a loved one can make one re-think their priorities.
Author's Note: This is the 12th installment of my Sweetwater Romance series, following Nothing Sweet: Kid. This comes at the end of the Season 3 episode Presence of Mine Enemies. This installment was not part of the original plan, but one of the shots at the funeral just grabbed my eye and the body language of the three characters just spoke to me. This is what they said.
She stood there feeling cold. It wasn’t necessarily a cold night out. But right now she was freezing.
She’d removed her hat out of respect and stood, clutching it tightly to her, trying to hold in the screams and sobs that were banging their fists on the inside of her chest, making every attempt to escape. She said nothing, afraid that the slightest word would tumble the fragile control she clung to.
She didn’t know how to do this. She didn’t want to be here, to say goodbye to her brother. It wasn’t fair. Of all of them, why him? He shouldn’t be dead. She should be. But he was the one who’s body lay there, his face covered by the grey blanket Buck was pulling up over it. She flinched as Buck let the blanket settle into place, for a moment seeing black herself, as if it were her under the blanket. As it should have been.
Ike. She missed him so much already. He was always there to provide a solid shoulder of comfort, to listen when she needed to talk or to simply sit there with her in silence if that’s what she wanted, to ride out at her side to take on the world. He’d always accepted her as who and what she was, maybe because few had rarely offered him that same acceptance.
She flinched infinitesimally as Buck lowered the torch to the branches and logs they’d helped him pile up under the bier earlier to create the funeral pyre. As the flames caught and spread, crackling with an unholy joyful chitter, she fought back the tears, swaying in her effort to stay upright.
Her hands tightened around the brim of the hat she held to her abdomen. She felt as if it was the only thing holding her together. That if she let go of it, she’d fly into a thousand pieces here and now.
She had a sudden, piercing longing to feel his arms around her, holding her tight, helping hold her together. But he stood several feet away, stiff in his own grief… and anger. And she didn’t know how to close the gap that was growing steadily wider between them, wider with each moment, each second, each beat of her heart.
He’d given her an ultimatum and she didn’t know how to answer it. She couldn’t fathom saying goodbye to him, too. Not after all they’d been through together. She just hoped, with that small corner of her soul still able to feel hope, that if they had a tomorrow it would be worth the wait.
He refused to look her direction. She’d ridden several lengths behind everyone else as they’d made the somber procession to this lonely place out on the prairie. It had been Ike’s favorite spot in Rock Creek, a rise overlooking the town and surrounding farms. That’s why Buck had chosen it for his final resting place.
He’d fought every instinct he had not to drop back and ride at her side. But he’d told her what happened next was up to her, now he needed to let her make her choice. No matter how hard that might be for him. Could he say goodbye to what they had, if that was her decision? He didn’t know. But the die was cast now.
He hunkered in on himself, clenching his jaw to remain stoic as the body of his brother was slowly eaten up by the flames of his funeral pyre. He’d never felt more alone. Cody stood just inches from him on one side, Emily on the other. But he might as well have been the only person there for all the comfort he took from their presence. The only one who could offer that comfort stood stiffly several feet away. He could see the pain vibrating through her body and the need to run to her and wrap his arms around her was almost insurmountable.
He’d set his feet down a path with an end he couldn’t foresee. For once he’d left the control in someone else’s hands and it scared him to the bone. Until she made her choice he could only trust in everything they’d been through together and the love they’d shared.
Unnoticed, silent tears began coursing down his cheeks.
He stood watching the flames release his brother’s spirit to walk the starry path to the afterworld. It was a good funeral. It had been a good, though unnecessary, death. Ike had died giving his life for someone he loved. No man could ask for more from life.
So why did he want to ask so much more? He wanted back the years with his brother that man’s bullet had stolen from him. He wanted back the peace of mind Ike had always brought him. He wanted back the future Ike could’ve had with Emily, the love, the marriage, the children and grandchildren. He could see that future so clearly in his mind. But now it was all gone.
Would he see Buck in the afterlife? He was no longer sure. His Kiowa side said yes. Killing Neville had been the right thing to do. A life for a life. But Teaspoon seemed to think he’d done something wrong and that concerned him. He trusted Teaspoon in a way he trusted few white men, few men period. If Teaspoon thought something was wrong, he needed to at least think about it.
Buck was so lost in his thoughts he didn’t notice the slight mist that began to fall, then turn to a heavier rain that soon soaked through all his clothes. He wouldn’t have noticed if a full storm had broken out around him, lightning, thunder and all. If he had, he would have thought it appropriate that even the skies were mourning the passing of such as gentle, loving soul as Ike’s.
He didn’t notice as his family, one by one, gently laid a hand on his shoulder in commiseration, then trudged toward the horses, mounting up and riding off, quickly swallowed by the black of night. He didn’t notice Teaspoon escorting Emily to the buckboard and driving away. He didn’t notice anything at all.
Hours later, long after everyone had gone and even the rain had cleared out, he watched, still unseeing, as the first rays of dawn spread over the prairie, casting all in a rosie glow.
“How can it be so pretty?”
He turned, surprised by the sound of another’s voice near his ear. There he saw Lou, sitting crosslegged on the prairie ground at his side. Her face ravaged with a grief that seemed to match his own. He nodded. The world should be dark and drear, in mourning as they were.
“What are you doin’ here?” he finally asked, his voice rusty from pain and disuse. He’d said little since Ike’s death. He didn’t look at her as he waited, almost uncaring, for her response. But, she sat so close he could feel her shrug.
“Dunno,” she answered. “Thinkin’, I guess. Didn’t really wanta go back to the bunkhouse. Too… cold.”
Unsure if it was her words or her tone, but something about what she’d said bored straight through the brittle shell he’d erected around his heart and struck home. He turned to look at her.
“Whatta ya mean?”
“Kid,” she answered simply.
“What happened?” he sighed.
“Kid thinks….” she stopped, gulping back a sob. “He thinks I don’t care, cause I needed some time alone after…. well, after. Now he’s sayin’ I gotta choose.”
Buck looked at her a long moment. He thought about that future of Ike’s he’d just watched go up in smoke. He couldn’t do that again.
“Choose Kid, Lou. Choose him. Choose life. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Life’s a fragile thing and it can disappear in the blink of an eye. Don’t waste a minute of it.”
Without another word, he stood and strode to his own horse, leaping agilely into the saddle without ever touching the stirrups and dashing off into the rising sun, arms spread wide and high, his head flung back to face the sky.
It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday, Boyz II Men
How do I say goodbye to what we had?
The good times that made us laugh
Outweigh the bad.
I thought we'd get to see forever
But forever's gone away
It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.
I don't know where this road
Is going to lead
All I know is where we've been
And what we've been through.
If we get to see tomorrow
I hope it's worth all the wait
It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.
And I'll take with me the memories
To be my sunshine after the rain
It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.