Westbound (Love Travels West, Book 1)

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Chapter 12. Clinging to Yesterday.

Some of us think that holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go—Hermann Hesse

Chapter 12.

Clinging to the Yesterday.

   It was perhaps the first dinner Jake and Dannie ate together without glaring at each other or thinking nasty thoughts about the other person. It had grown very dark by now, the only light coming from the fire. The rain continued to come down, but it was no longer as strong as before, more of a light drizzle instead of a storm.

   "By tomorrow it will all be gone and we can continue without a hitch," Jake informed. Dannie nodded her head, though she hardly heard what Jake had said. She was busy thinking over Jake's life and everything he had gone through. 

   "I'm not working for Calhoon, just so you know," she suddenly stated. It took Jake some time to figure out what on earth she was talking about.

   "Oh, that, yeah," he laughed at last. "I sort of figured that out by now. You don't exactly behave the way a girl of Calhoon's would. Right from the start Bessie made herself appealin' to me, while you seemed determined to make me dislike you."

   "I did nothing of the sort!" Dannie argued. "I was only so disagreeable because you insisted on being so cross. Admit it Jake, you were mean to me on purpose."

   "Yeah, I guess I was," Jake scratched the back of his neck in embarrassment. "I'm known in these parts to be less than kind to the female race. When we get to the Circle 4 just ask Mr. Martin's daughter, she'll tell you all the horrible things about me. No one knows anythin' about me. I tend to keep my past to myself. And that's not because I'm afraid someone will give me away to Calhoon, but cause know they'll all jump at me with advice and 'words of comfort' that won't help, but only add to the sting. People mean well, but I know they won't understand so I keep it to myself."

   "If it is any comfort, Jake, I think I do understand," Dannie's voice was gentle and sweet. It was a tone she had never used with Jake before, and something in it touched Jake's heart. They were both leaning against a large bolder watching the Arizona night as it spread out from the entrance of the cave.

   "What do you mean?" He asked in an equally gentle voice.

   "Who comforts us in all our tribulations," Dannie softly quoted. "That we might be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, with the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. I know what it is like to suddenly lose your entire family and be stranded all alone. without a clue of where to go. I really don't like to talk about my past because people jump around telling me what I should do. They all tell me to be a governess; as if that is all I am good for. I know we come from very different worlds, Jake, and that our life stories have been very different, but I want you to know I understand your sorrow. I know what it is like to try to go on with a heart that has been torn to shreds. I know God has a plan, Jake, and I know He is watching over you, and someday, He'll make all the wrongs right again." Dannie fell silent after this statement. She suddenly felt very silly for the way she had been behaving and the words she was saying.

   Jake looked at her in the faint glow of the fire. Her hair was still down, reaching to the lower half of her back, her eyes were fixed on her hands, which were playing with a little twig. There was something different about her. He couldn't exactly say what, but somehow the Danielle Preston he was looking at right now didn't at all remind him of the Danielle Preston he had met at the Callaways. 

   "You've got a twig in your hair," he suddenly noticed. "Hold on a sec, I'll get it out." Reaching over, he played with the twig until he freed it from the knots. Dannie's hair was silky and thick, and it didn't quite feel the way he had thought it would. "That's what happens when you dance about in the rain." He joked, throwing the twig away. "Maybe next time you'll listen to the voice of reason before you run around doing silly things."

   "Thank you, Paul." Dannie suddenly gasped and turned beet red. "Good heavens, did I just call you Paul again?"

   "Yup, seems you have quite the habit."

   "Oh, I wish I could just shrink and disappear!" Dannie buried her face in her hands, "I don't know why I keep doing it, I've never called people other names before. I'm so sorry, Jake, this is the third time I've done it in one day."

   Inwardly, Jake had to admit it was getting rather annoying that Dannie kept calling him Paul, and it was even more annoying that she did it when there was something of a tender moment between the two of them. He didn't want her to feel bad though, so he gave a kind chuckle. "Don't worry, it's alright, I'm not offended, though I am wondern' why you keep doing it."

   "Um," Dannie tried to keep her blush under control. "I suppose it's because the only time I've ever been alone with a man was when I was with Paul, and so I just call that name out of habit."

   "Ah," Jake nodded his head, "I think you mentioned meeting Paul when you were sixteen?"

   "It's not something I like talking about," Dannie pointed out.

   "I don't like talking about my life either, but I told you the whole thing from cover to cover. Come on, return the favor, tell me somethin' about yourself and the man you keep confusin' me with."

   The much hated blush came rushing back. "I am not confusing you with him," Dannie stammered. "It is just...well...I'm not used to being alone with men. I bumped into Paul two weeks after my sixteenth birthday."

   "You bumped into each other?"

   "Yes, quite literally. I was reading a book and wasn't watching where I was going and walked straight into him."

   "You were walkin' down a street readin' a book?"

   "No no, I had gone out for a walk in the fields, and had taken along the book Papa had given me for my birthday. It was so interesting I just couldn't put it down."

   "And what was Paul doing out in the fields?"

   "He was visiting his aunt, but being a city person, he found the quietness of the country rather dull and had gone in search of some amusement."

   "But instead he found you."

   Dannie frowned. "Yes, instead he found me." Despite herself, Dannie found her mind wandering back to the day she first fell in love. It was a bitter memory, but there was sweetness to it as well.

   "What did he look like?"

   "Paul? He was very handsome. Not quite as tall as you, but he had a good stature and dark brown hair and a pair of the bluest eyes you could ever have imagined. He was from a pretty good family, well dressed and had extremely good manners. And he was smart, he was so very smart, if Mamma ever worried about me outsmarting a man, that was not possible with Paul." Dannie gave a sad laugh at this. "I guess that was why I thought we were right for each other. We both liked the same books, we liked to converse on the same subjects. More than once Paul told me I was the only girl he felt comfortable talking with. I didn't gabble on and on about the weather or try to fill him in with the latest gossip, I could speak of things that had meaning and worth. I still remember the day he got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. I was the happiest girl in England that day."

   "Why didn't the two of you get married right away?"

   "He had to finish studying first."

   "Ah right, you mentioned it earlier, he was studying law or somethin'?"

   "Yes. He wanted to complete his studies and get himself established before marrying. It was a prudent plan, after all, one has to be able to support a family and since I had no money, it would be all up to him to take care of us. His uncle is a lawyer in Manchester, and he left there to practice his profession, and save up for marriage. He was gone for a long time, but we communicated a lot by letter." Dannie paused for a minute to wipe away a tear. "It must have been in Manchester that he met his future bride. She had beauty, wit, and some money. His letters became a little less frequent, I thought it was all just because he was busy working and saving money for us to marry." Dannie let out a sad laugh. "Meg is right when she says I am very naïve. Any girl might have noticed the strange way he was behaving and thought it very odd, but not me. I went about preparing for the wedding and for my married life as though nothing was the matter. At one point his letters became practically nonexistent but at that moment I was too caught up with my parents illness to notice. And then the day came when I received a note from the doctor, saying that Mamma and Papa were dead." Dannie bit her lip, trying to keep her emotions from running away with her. "I wrote to Paul, begging him to return, and he came for the funeral, but not to comfort me." Here Dannie's voice turned bitter. "He could have written to me beforehand, explaining he was breaking out engagement, he didn't have to show up and drop it all on me like a bucket of cold water. Just like that, in one day, I lost my whole world. Meg called me crazy when I stated that I was going to America, but I wasn't crazy, I was desperate. I came out here with nothing but a little hope and a lot of determination. And if the Martins refuse to take me in, I won't let that stop me either. I've long decided I won't allow fear get the better of me, or let it dictate to me what I should do."

   "Don't worry," Jake soothed. "If the Martins refuse to take you, I'll help you get established. I thought we already decided you could go to the Callaways, they did invite you to come if things get bad."

   A smile crept onto Dannie's face. "We really should speak of something more positive," she said, "all we've done is discuss very depressing subjects."

   "Do ya like music?" Jake asked on impulse.

   "Do you have a musical instrument?" Dannie answered with a question.

   "I've got this." Jake pulled a harmonic out of his coat pocket. Dannie's eyes lit up. 

   "You never told me you could play the harmonica!"

   "Yeah, well, can't say I felt very comfortable tellin' it to someone with a musical background."

   "But you will play something now?" Dannie begged with pleading eyes. "I've never actually heard anyone play the mouth organ before."

   "Seein' as you've asked so politely for once." Jake teased. Dannie laughed and settled down more comfortably. Jake brought the harmonica to his lips and began playing. The music that filled the cave spoke of long cattle drives, of the sun's burning heat, and of nights spent beneath the stars. It rang of danger lurking behind ever corner, of outlaws on the loose, of gunfights and shoot outs. It was as though the life Jake led as a cowboy flowed from his little instrument, speaking of both the romance of his lifestyle and the realism of it. Dannie closed her eyes and let her imagination take her far away. So far away that she didn't even notice when at last Jake ceased to play and returned the harmonica to his pocket.

   "I think we should hit the sack..." Jake's voice died as he looked over and noticed that Dannie had her eyes closed. "You seem to have a habit of fallin' asleep on me." He chuckled in a whisper. "Do I really make such a great pillow?" He gave his arm a bit of shake, Dannie hardly stirred. "You sure fell asleep," he kept whispering. "What the hell am I supposed to do with you now?" Looking over, he noticed the bedroll Dannie had spread out earlier on the other side of the fire. Carefully Jake stood up and lifted the sleeping Dannie in his arms.

Dannie stirred a little from this action. "I'm sorry, Paul," she mumbled. "I hadn't meant to fall asleep."

"Jake, Dannie," Jake softly corrected as he carried her to the cluster of blankets. "It's Jake, not Paul." Kicking one of them aside with his foot, he placed Dannie down as gently as he could. He then took the blanket and covered her with it. Standing up, Jake gazed at Dannie as she slept. "Though I'm wonderin' if you wish it were Paul?"

   Jake walked back to where he had been sitting and poured himself the last bits of coffee. He leaned against the wall of the cave and sipped the hot, black beverage. Staring at the fire, he could make out the form of Dannie as she slept on the other side, her long black hair slightly tangled on the cave floor. "You fall asleep in my arms but you are imagining you're in his," he spoke to her in a whisper. "He broke your heart, he deserted you, but for some reason you still wish it was him here with you and not me. No matter what happens, it's him, always him." 

   Jake fell silent at this. Come to think of it, why should he care? Dannie had annoyed him from the very start. She was demanding, she was rude, and she could be very loud. The two of them were worlds apart in just about everything, Jake couldn't think of one thing they had in common. Not to mention it wasn't like she was all that pretty. And yet, sitting here, watching her sleep, Jake found it really bothered him to know she was in love with another man. 

"Just for one day, Dannie, could you forget about him? Just once could you let it be me and not Paul?"

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