Author's Note: This is the 10th installment of my Sweetwater Romance series, following Sweet Song. It comes toward the end of the third season episode, Presence of Mine Enemies.
The pale, skin, shiny with sweat. The slow, shuddering, agonized gasps for breath. The silence that made her ears hurt.
With a sudden gasp, she couldn’t take it anymore. She turned and fled the room, unable to withstand the pain of watching him die, unable to accept the loss.
Dashing down the street, she heard none of the normal sounds of a day in Rock Creek. Only the thudding of her own booted feet as they pounded out a rhythm on the boardwalk. It was a rhythm repeated inside her own chest. It felt like her heart was trying to beat its way out of the cage that was her flesh and blood body. Or, maybe it was simply, desperately trying to beat hard enough to sustain two lives, just as her mind had tried so hard to will him to keep breathing, keep living, just one more moment, just one more second. If so, just like her mind, her heart was destined to fail.
She skidded in the loose dirt as she slowed her forward dash long enough to wrench open the barn doors.
She gasped for a breath that wouldn’t completely come. The walls of this place that was normally a refuge from the cares of the world suddenly felt like they were closing in on her. She was back in that cage of pain, the one she’d thought she’d escaped when she’d joined the Express. Except this cage turned out to be worse. Much worse. It was infinitely more painful to ache for someone else’s loss than to suffer one’s own. How come no one had ever warned her?
Grabbing a bridle, she stepped over to the first stall. Too desperate to escape now, she didn’t pause to open the stall door, instead vaulting over it. She landed with a thud next to the tall, black horse with a white blaze down it’s velvety nose who’d helped her outrun many a threat this last year. Maybe he could help her outrun this one.
It snorted in startled surprise, backing away from her at first, ears flattening to its head in fear. Then, with a whiffle, inhaled deeply and recognized her scent and anxiety. Stepping closer to her once more, the animal leaned in, offering comfort.
She was frantically pulling the top of the bridle over the horse’s ears when the stall door opened behind her.
“Lou?” came the hoarse greeting. “Are you alright?”
“What the hell do you think” she gritted out, clenching her jaw to keep from breaking into the tears building behind her eyes. Tears that would soon build a new cage around her, one that came with frilly aprons, long skirts and screaming babies. I’m a boy, she chanted to herself over and over again. Boys don’t cry! She refused to turn around and see the truth of her lie rolling down his cheeks.
“Please,” he begged, reaching out one hand to put it on her shoulder. “Come on over to the bunkhouse. Tea… Teaspoon wants ta talk ta us. Says we need ta stay tagether right now.”
She stiffened. No! No more!
She pulled away from his touch, a touch that had, for the briefest of moments, relieved the seemingly unrelenting pain crushing her under its weight. Turning her back on that comfort, on that need for another human being that just led to the risk of more pain, she instead flung herself up onto her horse’s back, not even bothering to saddle it.
Leaning down, across the animal’s neck, she hissed, “Stop hoverin’! I thought I tol’ ya I needed my space?! Now, back off!”
Clicking her tongue to her mount, digging her heels into its sides, she urged it forward at top speed, forcing him to jump out of the way or get trampled.
Soon, woman and horse were galloping away from the velvet barred cage of love and friendship that had suddenly showed it’s razor sharp iron teeth in the harshest of betrayals.
Moving in sync with her mount, alone out on the prairie, she raised her head toward the unjustly, brightly shining sun and howled her grief into the prairie wind, letting it rip the pain away out of her throat as it dried the hot tears that were melting away all the soft curves she’d foolishly allowed to develop over the last few months, leaving behind only jagged edges.
Solitude was safety. Solitude was sanctuary. Solitude was solace.
Caged, Within Temptation
These are the darkest clouds
To have surrounded me
Now I find myself alone caught in a cage
Mad World, Susan Boyle
And I find it kinda funny
I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I'm dying
Are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It's a very, very mad world... world