When I didn’t see anyone, I stood up and for the first time in many years I started walking into town. The town hadn’t changed must in those years and having patrolling it I knew where the VFW was.
When I got there I could hear the music playing and people laughing. I stood outside for a long time just listening. The music stopped and I hear some said “would the birthday girl come open her presents”. I knew that it was now or never.
I went through the door. I was glad that everyone was facing the other end of the room watching Paula walk up to a table full of presents.
While I was watching her some took my arm. I turned and Amy’s mom was standing there looking at me. She said you know you’re going to make her one happy girl.
She had no sooner said that when I heard a scream and I turned to see Paula running toward me and I felt Amy’s mom pushing me from behind.
I felt like slow motion. I saw Paula running to me and everyone turning to see who she was running to. I may have turned and ran if it wasn’t for the fact that Amy’s mom was pushing me from behind. Then all of a sudden Paula was jumping into my arm saying you’re here.
She kissed both of my cheeks then was pulling me to the front of the room to the table. She pulled me around to the other side and then gave me another kiss on my cheek then started to open her presents.
She would read the name on the card that the present was from then point to them and then thank them. Then she would look at me. After the third time I figured out what she was doing was introducing me to them and vice verse. I think that everyone else figure this out at the same time because the next gift was from one of her aunts whole family and as she said there name they stood up.
After she had open the last gift she thanked everyone again then took my hand and led me off to a table that was off to the side by its self. After we sat down Amy’s mom brought over two drinks then left.
She thanked me again for coming. I said the only thing that came to me, told her that I was sorry that I didn’t have a gift for her. I had hardly got it out before she was in my lap hugging me and saying that me being there was the only thing that she wanted for her birthday.
I don’t know how long we sat there before I felt someone tugging on my shirt. We both looked and I tensed up when I saw a little girl standing there.
Paula put her hands on my face and made me look at her. She said it was ok this was her niece Heather. Then she looked at the girl and asked her what she wanted.
Heather spun around and asked if we liked her new dress. Paula told her it was beautiful. Then Heather looked at me and asked if I liked it. I looked at Paula and she was smiling and nodded her head.
I looked at Heather and told her I thought it was beautiful too. With that Heather took off running across the room. As I looked around I saw that a lot of people were watching us.
I looked at Paula and I told her that I think that I should go so she could spend time with everyone else. She put her head down on my shoulder and said she understood but she wanted for me to give her, her first dance since I wouldn’t be there to give her the last dance.
She got up out of my lap and pulled me up and wrapped her arms around me and put her head down on my shoulder. Then she started to move us to a song that only she heard. Someone figured out what was happening and music started playing.
I know we danced through at least two songs before for I heard someone asking if they could cut in. I looked and the lady standing there looked familiar. Paula said sure mom.
Paula looked at me smiling and just nodded then stepped back. Her mom moved fast to take her place and put her head down on my shoulder. I just keep looking at Paula smiling as she watched us.
Her mom whispered “I hope you know that you made Paula the happiest girl in the world tonight by coming here. I know that you feel like running but I just had to thank you for coming and for so much more but I can tell that it’s time to let Paula finish her dance”.
She lifted her head and called Paula. Paula walked over to us and as she got there her mom stepped back and Paula step back into my arms.
As we danced I could feel her playing with my hair while telling me that she didn’t know her mom was going to do that but I made her so happy that I didn’t run out.
I didn’t figure out what she was doing till my hair was loose and she started wrapping it around us. She looked up at me and said “I was wondering what this would feel like while I was washing it today and it feels even better than I thought it would”.
We danced like that till I felt a tug on my shirt. I looked down and saw Heather looking up at us. She asked if she could dance. I looked at Paula and I’m sure she saw the fear in my eyes.
Paula said I’ll hold her if that’s ok. Paula unwrapped my hair from around us and slowly picked up Heather while looking at me the whole time. She was holding Heather with one arm on her hip and her other arm around me. She moved us to the music till Heather asked could she wrap my hair around us.
I knew Paula couldn’t without letting go of me and I could tell that she was afraid that if she did I might run for the. I put both of my arms around her and Heather and her smile seemed to get even bigger. She took my hair and wrapped it around the three of us. Then she moved Heather closer and we both held her.
I don’t know if we danced for one or two song before someone announced that it was time for the last dance. Paula unwrapped my hair from around us as her mom took Heather.
Paula rewrapped my hair around us and put her head down on my shoulder and said I hope this is a long song.
As the song ended Paula gave me a kiss on my cheek and whispered thank you. She stepped back and led me back to the table and after I sat down she quickly tied my hair back up then came around in front of me.
She kneeled down it front of me holding my hands. She said “I have to go say goodbye to everyone and thank them for coming. I know you won’t be here when I get back, so I want to thank you again for coming, you don’t know how much it means to me”. She stood up and gave me a kiss on the cheek, then slowly turned and walked to a waiting group of people.
As I was heading out the door I looked back and saw Paula turn to look at the table we were at.
I did everything I could to keep from running back to my camp, but as I was going through the church’s parking lot I turned and went into the grave yard.
I sat there telling them about the party and that all of their family were there. When I told them about Heather and that I was sure that Emily would have loved her I broke down. Memories that I had forgot or blocked out from the day that I found out that they were missing, the funeral, the day I visited the site of the accident and finely to the call that had me locking out the rest of the world started to return.
I didn’t know that I was talking about that month out loud till Amy’s mom said she understood. I looked up and around so fast because I thought it was like earlier. When I saw her sitting across of me she said “you have thought so hard on the bad parts that I think you have forgot all the good parts of your life with Amy and Emily. There are people who never get to share the joy of sharing a pregnancy with the one they love, feeling the first kick of your unborn child with the one you love, being there in the delivery room to see her take her first breath and to see the relief then the joy on your lovers face.” Then she took a deep breath and said “Amy told me that these were some of the best memories she had”.
She got up and said it was time for her to go and as she passed me she put her hand on my shoulder and said “you know there’s still someone that loves you”. Then she walked away.
Since I didn’t hear her car I guessed that she must have followed me from the party.
I knew what she was talking about, when she said, you know there’s still someone that loves you. She was talking about Paula, I saw it for sure tonight in her eyes and by the way she acted and maybe that is why I feel the way I do right now.
I realized that I cared a lot for her as I walked to her party, I was happy when I was with her and she looked happy when we were together. I realized that I was right, the reason winter was so long was because I wanted to see Paula. I don’t think it was love then but she sure had a special spot inside of me after last summer. But I also felt so guilty, it felt like I was betraying Amy with the feelings I was having for Paula even though I didn’t know if it was love yet.
Then there was other things to think of, like I didn’t really like being around people but Paula, I couldn’t asked her to come and live the life style that I am. Even if she did there was an age different, she just turned 18 today and I didn’t even know for sure how old I was. I had a guess of some were around 40, but that was all it was, a guess.
Everything was getting so confusing, I was thinking of maybe heading down south early to try to figure things out. As I laid down I again felt someone watching me.
I felt it when whoever it was watching left some time later.
When I woke it was to the sound of rain hitting my tent. I felt a little sad because I knew that Paula would not be coming today. As I pulled out some dried venison to eat, I thought about last night.
Last night I knew that what I saw in Paula’s eyes was love for me but I wonder if it was truly love or puppy love that had been smoldering and just truly burst into flames or had I just not seen it before.
After eating I packed up some of my thing still not sure if I should leave early or not. I weighed out staying or leaving and one didn’t tip the scale one way or the other.
I was lost in thought when I heard someone yelling. I through open my tent and heard it again. I move to the edge of the drop off at the front of my camp and looked around. What I saw had me in a panic. Paula was holding on to a tree maybe a quarter of the way across a creek. Now any other day this creek was little more than a trickle of water except when it rained. Then it was a fast moving creek of about fifteen feet across and in some places ten feet deep.
I moved as fast as I could screaming for her to hold on. I knew that if it swept her away it would take her over the many drop offs as it carried her down the mountain. I had made this same mistake the first year I lived in the mountains myself.
All kinds of thoughts keep going through my head, how was I going to get across to her, what if it started to sweep me down, I knew she would try to help me and that would just mean that both of us would get swept down the mountain.
As I got closer to her I saw that a tree was down across the creek but the water was flowing over the far end. I knew that if I could get a little more than haft way across I could jump the rest of the way but I would have to run on the wet log. I also knew if I fell, I would more than likely get caught up in the branches and get pulled under.
I didn’t have a choice, I didn’t even slow down. I made it just a little farther then I thought I would then jumped. I didn’t even slow down till I got to where she was. I told her to hold on as I pulled off my shirt and tied it to a small tree that was about a foot into the water. Using it to steady myself I made it to the tree she was holding on to.
When I told her to take my hand I could see that she was to afraid to let go of the tree she was holding on to. I had to move back and change the way I was standing if I was going to get her. As I started to back away she screamed for me not to leave her. I asked her if she trusted me and all she could do was shake her head yes.
Once I had changed the hands that I was holding my shirt with I moved back out to her. The way I was now I could put an arm around her waist and once I did I told her to look at me. I told her I would not let her go but she needed to let go of the tree now and hold on to me.
She didn’t move and I just stood there holding her. When I saw her starting to move I braced myself the best I could, knowing what was coming. It was a good thing I did because she pushed off the tree and wrapped her arms around me.
She was still holding on to me even when I moved us away from the creek. I keep talking to her and finely she loosened her hold around my neck. It was a good thing to because I was starting to get a little light headed. I started to walk us down the path.
Once we were at the church I told her that I wanted to make sure she was ok, that was the first time that she let go of me. When I stepped back I could see that even with the rain poncho she was soaked and besides being wet and muddy she looked ok.
I told her that she needed to get dry and with that she took my hand and started across the parking lot and down the street. I knew where she was taking me but I didn’t stop her because I knew she was scared and if she wouldn’t have been I knew she wouldn’t be doing it.
As I walked with her I took my other hand and grabbed the hand that was holding mine. When I pulled my other hand away she stopped but I quickly put my arm around her waist.
As we walked neither of us said a word. I was thinking that this had not helped me in figuring out how I was feeling about all of this and I knew that it would just strengthen the way she felt for me. I had just saved her life.
As we turned down the street that I use to live on I felt like running and she must have felt this too because she held on even tighter.
As we got in front of my old house I stopped and she turned to me. She put her head on my chest and just said she knew. I was holding her till I heard a door open and someone yell “you to get in here and out of the rain”.
I looked up and saw her mom standing in the door. When I looked back Paula was looking at me and I was sure she was starting to cry. I told her that I had to go, she started to say something but stopped. I told her I would be ok. She kissed me on the cheek and ran into the house.
I saw that her mom was trying to smile at me as I turned and walked down the street.
I sat in the grave yard between Amy’s and Emily’s graves and talked to them. It had stopped raining sometime during the night but I knew better then to try to make it to my camp. I moved under a big pine tree and fell asleep.
I woke to Paula calling my name and when I stood up I saw her mom and Amy’s standing beside her on the path. When I said over here she turned and when she saw me she started running to me.
When she tripped I was moving as fast as I could to get to her. She had just got to her feet when I got to her and at the same time we both asked “our you ok”. We both said we were fine and then started to laugh.
Now I knew I must have been a site and smelled something but she did care as she wrapped her arms around me.
Now besides the mud that covered most of my clothes anyone who knows buckskin know that the way you cleaned and tanned it the old way was with smoke but when it got wet two things happen one it smelled and two it got stiff and ruff.
When she stepped back she said “boy are you a site” and I just laughed. She took my hand and started pulling me back to her mom and Amy’s.
As we got close her mom ran to us and wrapped her arms around me and said thank you again for saving her. I saw Amy’s mom just smiling at us. I looked at Paula who was still holding my hand tight like she thought that I might run away and she was smiling too.
When Paula’s mom stepped back she asked me if I spent all night out in the rain. I just nodded yes and she just shook her head. She then grabbed my other hand and said come on we brought you something to eat. Then started pulling us down the path, as we got to the last bend in the path I stopped.
Paula’s mom looked at me and Paula said we will wait for you here, can you go get the food.
Amy’s mom walked pass us saying wait here I’ll be right back.
We sat right there in the path and ate. Once we were done Paula’s mom gave her a kiss and said she would see her later. She turned to me and gave me a hug and said I hope to see you again. Then she turned and left us standing there.
After they were gone Paula asked if I thought that we could get back to my camp. I told her we should be able to as it didn’t talk that long for the rain water to run off. Then I told her not to ever scare me like that again.
She kissed me on the cheek and took my hand and started to lead me up the path.
After getting back to camp I changed and put my wet clothes over the fire to dry. We spent the rest of the day fishing.
Weeks seem to fly by. We spent every day together unless it was raining. We took lots of walks and had a few picnics at our spot on the other side of the lake. She did ask me to come to her grandfather’s birthday party but only once.
One day I saw that the weather was starting to change and I could tell that it was going to be an early winter. I think that Paula knew that and the day that she came in to my camp and saw that I had all my skins pack she knew what this meant.
When she sat down I saw that she was sad so I sat down next to her and held her tight. We sat that way for a long time before she looked at me and said “take me for one last walk”
I stood up and took her hand and we spent the rest of the day walking in the woods. As it always seemed we ended in the same valley that I had found her in four years ago. I held her tight and I could tell she was crying. I kissed her forehead and she looked up at me and said she didn’t know if she could make it another winter waiting on me.
I felt that what she said had two meaning but I didn’t know what to say to either of them so I just pulled her tighter. After a bit I led us up the ridge and walked her down the path till we got to the last bend. She hugged me so tight I didn’t think she would ever let go. She gave me one last kiss on the cheek and left without saying a word.
I went back to my camp and finish getting thing ready to leave.
I waited all the next day for Paula to come but for the first time this summer she didn’t and I understood. Last night it got real cold and I knew that if I didn’t get started I might get caught in the pass. So I packed the rest of my things and that night I went to say my goodbyes to Amy and Emily. The next day it was Wednesday and after packing my tent I headed south.
I made to the pass and was standing at the top looking around I could see the snow clouds coming but I didn’t know what way to go for the first time. Finely I made up my mind and headed down.
That Sunday when Emily woke up there was fresh snow on the ground so she knew what that meant. When Amy’s mom showed up she saw her crying and asked her what was wrong. Paula looked at her and said I stayed even longer this year because of her. All Amy’s mom could tell her was she understood.
After church let out Paula went to put the flowers she had on the graves. Amy’s mom stopped Paula’s mom from following her, telling her that she needed to say her goodbyes too. When Paula stopped and screamed and dropped the flowers the two ladies ran to her. When they got there they saw what Paula did.
In between the two graves there was no snow where I had laid all night and my foot prints leading away from the graves. I was standing just up the path watching them. When I heard Paula scream I came out running. I saw them turn around and Paula start to come to me when Amy’s mom stopped her and said something to her. It didn’t matter because I keep running to her.
I only slowed down when I entered the grave yard. I walked to Paula and wrapped my arms around her and gave her our first real kiss. When I leaned back she had tears running down her cheeks and I tried to kiss them away as fast as they fell. Finely I looked at her and asked her if she was ready to go home. She grabbed my hand and started pulling me to the parking lot and as we walked pass someone she would tell them “he’s home”.