Sometimes Love Means Letting Go – Part 1

Posted by on Jan 3, 2019 in Roots and Branches, Short Stories, Sometimes Love Means Letting Go | 0 comments

The Sixty Seven Ranch, south of Laramie, Wyoming
Wednesday, 9 December, 1891


James Anderson Black returned home as he had left, blown in by a winter storm.

Danica Black was at the stove making dinner, a big pot of her family-famous chili con carne. Since the kitchen was the warmest room in the house, other family members had gathered there as well. Katja Black Steele sat quietly in her mother’s old aspen chair, rocking her newborn son. Her husband Jonathan sat nearby soaking his foot in a pail of warm water and muttering imprecations at it as he did.

As Dani stirred, her thoughts, as they so often had this past year, turned to her missing eldest son. It had been back in January and they’d been here in the kitchen—Sandy, and Rob, and herself—arguing as another winter storm raged outside.

“And I think the problem isn’t my age, it’s that you can’t stand the thought of having a half‑breed in the family. You’re no better than the scum in town who called her a dirty squaw,” Sandy accused.

“You know that’s not true,” Dani protested. “We think Raven’s a wonderful girl.”

“In fact, if you’d be willing to wait another year or two, we’d be fine with you marrying her,” Rob added quietly.

“Why wait? I’m seventeen, almost eighteen. Kat wasn’t even seventeen when she ran off and got married!”

“That is true,” Rob allowed, voice calm as always. “But your sister was a very old sixteen, and you are a very young almost eighteen. ”

“That’s got to be one of the most illogical things I’ve ever heard out of you, which proves that my age isn’t the real issue here. Well, hear this: I don’t care if you think I’m too young or not. I love her, and I’m going with her,” he declared loudly, and left the room with a crashing of the door.

Right on cue, the kitchen door crashed open and Dani let out a squeak of surprise. A blast of wind swirled about the room before the door was slammed shut once more. She stared wide-eyed at the tall figure who’d come in with the cold. His form was nearly hidden by a buffalo coat and sheepskin cap, a bright scarf wrapped around his face and chin, and one arm held securely across his front.

But a mother knows her son, no matter how oddly he’s dressed, and Dani would have known those hazel eyes anywhere.

“Sandy!” She rushed toward him, but he backed away hurriedly, fumbling with his coat as he did. From inside its warm confines, he drew out a bundle and thrust it toward her.

His eyes were pleading as he asked hoarsely, “Help her? Please, Mama?”

Help her? Unexpectedly, the bundle let out a weak cry. A baby? Oh mercy. What has happened?

As usual, Kat had already figured out what was needed. “Bring her here,” she ordered from her corner by the fire, laying her son in the cradle and rearranging the shawl draped about her shoulders.

As soon as his burden was placed in Kat’s outstretched arms, Dani wrapped her own arms around her son and held him tight. He stiffened, but then collapsed against her. She led him to a chair; he dropped down into it and burst into tears.

“She’s gone, Mama,” he whispered. “Raven’s gone. She kept bleeding, and no one would come to help her, and now there’s just me and Rose.”

“Oh, Sandy,” she murmured, soothing unkempt hair back from this face. “Bachgen, I’m so sorry.”

He seemed to catch hold of his emotions, because he swallowed hard and pulled away slightly, roughly scrubbing the tears from his bearded face. “Everyone said I should give her away, send her to Raven’s folk. But the only thing I could think to do was to bring her here.” He swayed then as if dizzy.

“When was the last time you ate?” Dani asked.

His face twisted. “A while ago. I didn’t dare stop for food once mine ran out, because I knew I had to get her here as soon as possible. But the smell of that chili of yours is enough to make a man light-headed with anticipation even when he’s not half-starved.”

From across the room Kat called softly, “What is her name, Sandy?”

“Rose-in-Winter Black.” His tone sounded almost defiant.

“What a beautiful name,” she said sincerely. “Well, Rose is taking her own sweet time about this, but that’s not a bad thing. She’ll probably fall asleep as soon as she’s had her fill. When she’s done, would you like me to put her here with Jack?”


Sandy got up unsteadily and wobbled over to where his sister sat calmly nursing his daughter. In the cradle by her side another black-haired baby lay sleeping.

“That’d . . . that’d be awfully kind of you.” He paused to steady himself, then added, “Thank you doesn’t seem adequate, Kat.”

She didn’t look up at him, just stroked Rose’s dark hair with a light finger, but she did smile. “What else is family for?” she said softly, then, “Strange, how very like Jack she looks, while you and I look nothing alike.”

“Is that your boy’s name? Jack?”

“Jackson Samuel Steele,” she clarified.

Sandy recognized that proud, besotted, overwhelmed tone. Raven had sounded just the same. Look, Hawk. We have a rose in winter, she’d announced as she’d cradled the tiny squalling bundle close to herself.

Tears threatened again at the memory.

“Congratulations,” he managed to remember to say. “How old is he?” The babe didn’t look all that much bigger than Rose.

“One week tomorrow,” Kat said.

“Rose will be a week old . . . today,” he said slowly. Only a week? Has it really been that short of a time? It felt like forever. He swayed again, his stomach flopping angrily and his head spinning.

“Why don’t you go to your room?” Mama told him. “Your things are still as you left them. Change into something dry and warm. I’ll bring you some food in a few minutes.”

“My horse—”

Jon had been unusually quiet through their whole conversation, watching without saying a thing, but now he spoke up. “I’ll take care of it,” he said, fumbling for his sock and boot. That seemed odd, but Sandy’s brain couldn’t focus enough to figure out why.

Sandy, please,” Mama begged. “You’re half-dead on your feet. Rose is safe. Now go take care of yourself before you drop.”

“Yes, Mama,” he said meekly and stumbled down the hall to his room.

He’d just finished putting on some of his old clothes and was sitting on the edge of his bed wondering what the heck to do next when Jon hobbled in with a giant steaming bowl of beans and meat and a plate of corn muffins.

At Sandy’s confused look he grimaced. “This weather screws up my foot something fierce to begin with, and then this morning a cow decided to do a jig on the same foot. Couldn’t even manage to move around enough to take care of your mount. Mrs. Dani got Pa to look after him though.”

He sat down heavily on the chair by the door and motioned for Sandy to eat.

In between bites, Sandy asked hesitantly, “House is awfully quiet. Where is everybody?” Not that he wanted to see more people, but he did wonder.

“The captain’s in town with the twins. The college asked him to teach a course this semester, and he agreed but only if Logan and Lewis could enroll. They usually go up on Mondays, spend a few days at the house, then come home on Thursday.” He paused. “That’s tomorrow. But with this storm blowing in, they’ll probably not head home until Friday or later.”

Sandy held in his sigh of relief. He wouldn’t have to face his father yet.

Jon continued, “Even plebes get Christmas off, but since New York is so far from here, Ellis will go to Gettysburg or down to Virginia. He hasn’t decided yet. As for everyone else, the hands are in the bunkhouse, Pa’s in the stable, and Maggie’s up in her room—she’s been feeling poorly, so she’s stayed away from Kat and the baby.”

At that Jon stood and limped over to gather up the now-empty dishes. With his free hand he pointed at the pillow. “Orders from your ma—get some sleep,” he said with a grin.

That was the last thing Sandy remembered until the smell of breakfast awoke him the next morning.


to be continued…

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