The events of this story coincide with the episode, "Return Engagement." Just when Sully finally proposes, Michaela's fiance, David, who was thought dead, turns up in Colorado Springs, forcing Michaela into the dilemma of choosing between the two. I have taken the liberty of quoting contemporary writer and poet, Joan Walsh Anglund. Her statement expresses to me the essence of the episode and was the inspiration for the additional "scenes" which follow.
By. C. Foust
"The mind reasons…the heart knows." ~ Joan Walsh Anglund
SULLY sat before the campfire with knees drawn to his chest. Now and again he leaned forward and poked a stick through the fading embers. He watched the popping sparks twirl up through the darkness then disappear as their glow was stolen by the cool night air. Four days and what seemed a lifetime ago he had felt something akin to the fiery energy of popping, twirling sparks. Anxious contemplation took him back to the moist heat and earthy aroma of the sweatlodge.
"I want to be with you…I need to be with you."
"I will love you all my days…Will you marry me?"
The fervent kiss that followed was unbelievable—her eagerness unmatched in his wildest dreams. Neither of them wanted it to end. And when it did, the strength of her embrace astonished him. He lovingly caressed her face, gently tracing its perfect features with trembling fingers. Her soft sighing sounds seemed in perfect harmony with the thumping bass notes of his own heartbeat.
He closed his eyes to savor the memory. He wanted to be with her now. He wanted to touch her face. He wanted to look into her eyes and see her looking back at him. He wanted to hear her sighing with pleasure. He wanted her to stir the sensations that raced through him when they kissed. He wanted her to love him—more than anyone else. His heart enlarged to near bursting and then melted inside his chest.
She had said "Yes," yet just two hours ago he had offered her the freedom to say "No." No to him—Yes to David. He stirred the sparks upward again trying to catch sight of the exact moment when each one ceased its existence. His very soul shivered—a hopeful effort to warm the cold reality threatening to steal the reason for his own existence. Trying desperately to cling to happy thoughts, he relived the night they had shared the news of their engagement with the children.
His feet seemed to take flight as he tread lightly up the trail toward camp. He felt whole in a way he hadn't since Abagail died. Had he ever seen such a bright and happy smile on Michaela's face? It was obvious that she was confident about the marriage. After all the ups and downs of their courtship he was happy. Delirious! he thought, was a better description. He had finally stopped asking himself how it could be true. He was just thankful that now it was sure and certain. They would be married as soon as he built a new house, a year at the most. A year—too long, much too long, but they could not possibly live in the homestead. She would need privacy in their new life as husband and wife. He would need it, too. Her passion for other things—her work, the children, the affairs of the town, the Cheyenne, left no doubt in his mind that she would be a passionate and enthusiastic wife. He would not allow lack of privacy to hinder their full enjoyment of every part of marriage.
Horace and Myra's wedding was day after tomorrow. They would wait a few days and announce their engagement. As private as he usually was with personal matters, he found himself impatient for everyone to know that Michaela was his now—and he was hers! His pride was in her, not himself, but he did admit that it would feel good to see Jake and Hank finally accept the fact that Michaela found him worthy of her love and trust.
Glancing back inside the leanto, he remembered unrolling his blanket that night and going to sleep the happiest he had ever been in his life—even with Abagail. His pleasure was thin and fleeting as vivid memories of a another night—an awful night, swirled inside his brain.
He could barely put one foot in front of the other as he stumbled into camp. It had been a long day with the wedding and the shock of learning that Andrew Strauss was actually David Lewis. His mind was numb, his emotions frayed, from wondering what would happen next. Michaela was in no state at the present to understand and control her emotions either. And what of David? What was he thinking now? He had liked Andrew—David right away, the first white man he'd known to be genuinely concerned about the world of natural beauty that the Cheyenne had taught him to appreciate. He had found in him a kindred spirit—something he had not enjoyed among the men in Colorado Springs. He was sure the bond that seemed forming would have grown into a strong friendship. What should he expect now? As it had turned out, he would give anything to relive the moment when "Andrew" had stepped up to the wagon to say good-bye. For the thousandth time he wished he had just let him go with "it's been nice knowin' you."
One miserable thought led to another and memories of yet another tumultuous night pushed their way forward through his melancholy.
His feet seemed leaden as he trudged back to the leanto, remorse coursing through his soul. He had pushed David. He couldn't believe that he had lost control so quickly. The anger had begun to build the moment he opened the door and found David sitting in his place at the supper table. David had been so congenial—offering hospitality, as if he had the right in Michaela's home. He was already repulsed by David's deception—to see him sitting there—Mister Boston Manners, acting as if all was well with the world, only made it worse. They had scuffled and then David had confronted Michaela for a decision. "Don't go." Her whispered words thundered like banging drums in his heart, causing it's rhythm to pulsate wildly. He reproved himself for calling off their engagement. At the time it seemed right, but now, out here alone, the emptiness pressing in, he regretted the hasty words spoken from hurt feelings. The pain of possibly losing Michaela forever seemed to crush the very breath from his lungs. He would have to talk with her…sort things out…see what she was feeling and thinking. Surely they could work through this.
The mountain chill and dying embers won Sully's attention, interrupting his ruminations. He stood wearily and walked over to the neatly arranged rack of firewood. Reaching forward, he felt a teardrop moisten the back of his hand. He wondered if David was the cryin’ sort.
He stepped off the clinic porch to join in stride with David. Crossing the meadow, both in calmer moods, they recounted their separate journeys to this painful predicament. They had both known heartache and now they both hoped for love—one of them would get more heartache. For himself, he'd accepted the true nature of things while watching them work together on Grace's eye. He could see their compatibility. They were from the same world—both of them intelligent and knowledgeable about medicine and countless other subjects that he would never even care to give a second thought about. He could see how the two of them might share an agreeable life together. Michaela liked to talk about things to no end, sometimes exhausting his attention. He easily imagined that she and David could spend hours discussing some topic of mutual interest. What happiness would she enjoy with him if her heart belonged to David? As much as he loved Michaela, he knew he must free her from any sense of debt—either to her promise, or to spare his feelings.
It was done—she was free. Would he have to remember tonight as the last time he held her in his arms? How long would she take to decide? The fire gone out, he crawled under his blanket and willed sleep to overtake his ragged mind.
~ * ~
THE morning sun and a stiff neck woke Sully from the same position he had slept in all night. After eating a few bites of jerky and forcing down a sip or two of coffee, he was anxious to be on the move. He hiked up to the high meadows with his bow. Two rabbits and a squirrel later he headed down to the homestead. Anticipating that Michaela would be away, he hoped for some time alone with the children. They were very unsettled by the turn of events with David. Glad to find them trying to carry on a normal routine, he offered to help with chores. Colleen heated water for the stew while Matthew and Brian dressed the game.
When everyone seemed ready for a rest they shuffled inside for a cool drink. The children were quiet—bewildered by how they should handle their feelings. Brian especially was very angry. Sully had known for a long time that Brian already thought of them as father and son. He held Brian on his leg, just as he had on the happy night he had asked permission to marry their Ma. He spoke calmly and lovingly, hoping his words would help the children understand that they must not pressure Michaela because of their love for him. They must give her the freedom to choose who would make her happy—the person she would live with for many more years than they would be with her. Matthew and Colleen, though unhappy with this advice, knew it was the right thing to do. Brian being still a child, and loving Sully so much, could not yet be so generous.
"I hate it that he showed up! We were all so happy before he came. Ma loves you, I know she does, and you were gonna be our Pa. We were gonna be together all the time. I don't want her to choose him. I want you."
"I know Brian…and I want all of you…and your Ma more'n anything, but you gotta see that if she's not happy in her heart we won't be happy either. Folks who please others out of obligation sooner or later grow resentful and bitter. They get miserable and everybody around them gets miserable, too. We don't want that kind of life for your Ma, or for us."
"I guess I understand…but I still wish he'd never come."
"Me, too, Brian, but he did and now we gotta leave it up to your Ma."
Brian buried his face in Sully's chest as tears began to spill. "Have you cried about this, too, Sully?"
He took a deep breath. "Yes I have, Brian…and it helped…a little. Don't hold back cryin' if you need to."
Sully gently enfolded him in strong, loving arms. After a quiet moment, he playfully bounced Brian off his leg. "Hey, how 'bout we try gettin' the hang of that new velocipede."
Matthew and Colleen joined them in the yard, hoping to lighten their heavy spirits by cheering Brian's repeated attempts to master the unfamiliar act of balancing, pedaling, and steering. He was catching on to it when Michaela appeared walking up the lane to the homestead.
At just the sight of her Sully's heart sang—albeit in a minor key at this moment. The brief touch to her arm as he left rekindled the warm sensations of the oft-remembered kiss in the sweatlodge. The possibility of losing her overwhelmed him. He could not imagine life without her—never touching her, holding her, kissing her again. He had never shared so much of himself with anyone as he had with Michaela—quiet conversations, dreams for the future, the "song" their hearts had begun to sing together. His tired eyes stared at the sliver of crescent moon. What would he do if she chose David—take off into the mountains? How would he live with the pain—would it be the same as losing Abagail and Hannah? He knew somehow it would be different—Abagail and Hannah had not chosen to leave him. Again he sat before the fire, poking with the stick, watching the sparks, praying with all his heart. The night dragged on. As weary as he was, sleep would not come.
~ * ~
THE sun was high and blazing hot and he was exhausted, but Sully continued with the chore he had begun at sunrise. The familiar sound of thudding ax, of splitting wood, the heavy trill as the separated pieces fell among their own kind—all of it together offered an almost musical comfort to his burdened emotions. Still, his anxiety was intense.
Michaela's voice was barely audible. He turned his head just enough to see her from the corner of his eye, not trusting himself to look directly at her. He didn't think that crying in front of her would go along with his decision to leave her free to choose. He kept the ax in motion, knowing if he gave up the mechanical rhythm he had locked himself into, the fragile composure it had bought him would be lost. He heard "appreciate" and "decide." He eked out a response, figuring she had chosen David. She said something about the past and the present. He heard "if you'll have me." Then—"will you, Sully?" His breath trapped itself somewhere in his chest. What was she saying? He turned his head away to hide the twitching smile that tugged at his lips. Half-wanting to be sure that he completely understood what she meant, half-wanting to hear her actually say the words, he turned to ask, "Will I what?"
He heard, "Will you marry me?"
He stood still, flexing the muscles in his feet, trying not to race over to her like an excited schoolboy. Setting himself in motion, he gave the ax a quick sharp thrust to the ground. He turned and walked slowly to her. She had never looked so beautiful. Taking her hands in his own, he looked into her eyes and managed to speak, "Yes," tenderly kissing her lips.
His caged emotions broke free. He took her by the hand, pulling her out into the field, sweeping her into his arms, hugging and kissing her—long…slow…sweet. She returned his kiss with the same joy and abandon of the sweatlodge. At last he held her at just enough distance to look into her eyes, his hand to the back of her head. "I love you," kissing her forehead, "I love you," kissing her cheek, "I love you," kissing her neck. He wanted to say it forever. The reserve he had maintained these last few days let go through tears and laughter.
"Oh, Sully…come over here…sit with me," leading him to a spot beneath the towering trees at the edge of the meadow. "In my heart I knew you were the one I truly loved, even in my confusion and shock. Your leaving me free to decide helped me know it all the more. The 'what ifs' about David are laid to rest. My heart knows absolutely that it's you I love—now and always. I…I'm just so sorry for the pain I've caused you."
"Let's don't talk about it anymore. All I wanna think about now is you and our future together."
Michaela cradled his face in her hands. "Let me hold you," she whispered, adjusting her position so that he could lean into her arms. She felt the tension of past days easing away from him as he relaxed with his head against her heart. Humming softly, stroking his hair, kissing his forehead, she felt welcome release of her own stress as well.
"Sully, how soon do you think we can be married…I know you want to build our house…how long will it take?"
"A year at the most, if there's no hitches…should be done by next Spring."
"The way I feel right now, that seems like such a long time to wait. I want to be with you now…for us to be together…everyday…all the time."
Sully raised up, unable to conceal a wide grin. "I feel the same way. I can't stand the thought of leaving you every night at the homestead…but we'll make it 'til Spring. We got lotsa plannin' to do…you know how you like to plan, here's your big chance."
She laughed, "Yes! And right now I'm planning to tickle you."
He grabbed her hands as she reached for his ribcage. "Oh, no you don't, I got a better plan."
"How 'bout you and me gettin' all dressed up and ridin' over to Manitou for some supper and dancin'. I'll borrow a carriage from Robert E. and we'll celebrate."
"I'd love that…what time shall I be ready?"
"Well, since I like sittin' close to you, let's leave early so we can go slow and enjoy the ride…say around four o'clock. We'll get there by six for supper…how's that sound?"
"That sounds like a wonderful plan. I need to take care of a few things at the clinic…then let's tell the children together…again…when you come for me. They'll be so happy…they love you so much."
"We got lots to be thankful for, Michaela."
Her grateful heart agreed. "Yes…yes, we do."
They hugged each other tightly once more and parted with a feathery soft kiss. He watched her make her way down the trail until she was almost out of sight. "I LOVE YOU," he shouted, hands cupped to his mouth. She turned and waved, then with the biggest smile he'd ever seen, disappeared from view. Sully dropped to his knees and breathed a prayer of thanksgiving. Making his way toward the leanto for bathing supplies, he checked to be sure his feet were touching the ground.
MICHAELA was dressed and ready, peeking out the window from time to time, obviously anxious to see whoever was coming. Even with all their begging as she was getting ready, she hadn't told the children who she was dressing up for. They could tell she was preparing for something special but they were too afraid to guess with who, wishing to prolong any acceptance of David as long as possible. When Sully arrived, dressed in his Boston suit, they looked at each other hesitantly, wondering what meaning they should make of the occasion. It seemed to them she was taking turns being with David, then with Sully.
"Hey…come on in," Brian mumbled as Sully stood in the doorway.
"Is that anyway to say 'Hello' to your Pa," he teased.
"Hooray!" Brian squealed, almost knocking Sully over as he wrapped his arms around his waist.
Matthew and Colleen joined in with hugs and tears of relief and joy. Their delight this second time was even greater than before.
With assurance to the children that they would be home by midnight, Sully helped Michaela into the carriage. Waving good-bye, they laughed as Brian ran alongside shouting, "Bye Ma! Bye Pa! Stay as long as ya like! Have a good time!" When their pace left his voice in the distance, Michaela immediately snuggled up close to Sully, slipped her arm through his, then reached up to kiss his cheek. "I adore you, Byron Sully."
At what he considered a safe distance from the homestead, Sully slowed the horses to a full stop. Dropping the reins, he gently grasped her hands for warm and wonderful little kisses. "I adore you, Michaela Quinn." Gazing into her beautiful eyes and beaming face—her love filling him completely, he wondered how it would be possible to contain more. In his heart he knew—next Spring there would be room.