Sometimes

"Just because somebody doesn't love you the way you want them to, doesn't mean they don't love you with all they have." - author unknown

She doesn't love me the way I love her.

Sometimes when he watches her she seems so very grown up and it breaks his heart because even though they're almost the same age it seems she's passed beyond him and she'd never look at a boy like him who still drinks Sasparilla instead of beer, and only shaves once every few days.

He wants to tell her to wait for him, that he's growing, too, that he'll be a grown man one of these days, old enough to come calling, old enough to ask her to be his.

And then he remembers that she's the owner's daughter, and he's only a ranch hand, and Betsy loves all of them like brothers, and not the way he loves her.

She doesn't love me the way I love her.

Sometimes when he watches her in unguarded moments she seems so very young and fragile, like a china doll in a store window, and he's overcome with a desire to protect her, to keep her safe, and shelter her from the world out there.

She doesn't yet know all people are capable of, for she's never seen men gunned down in cold blood, never been accused of a crime that could mean her life or at the very least a life behind iron bars. But he has, and it makes him feel old before his time.

She sees him watching and snaps back to attention, into her adult ways, but not before he sends a smile her direction, a friendly smile and not the promise to protect her that he wants to make instead.

She doesn't love me the way I love her.

Sometimes when she teases him, like the first day she ran away with his vest, or when she pushes him - good clothes and all - into the lake, he laughs, truly laughs as he hasn't in more years than he can remember.

With her he can be a little boy, a child with no worries. She expects nothing of him, no responsibility, no stoicism of a young man reaching tentatively toward adulthood.

They can be children together, not the owner's daughter and a 30 a month cowhand.

And he loves her even more because with her he can be happy.

She doesn't love me the way I love her.

Sometimes when she's frightened and there's no one else around she runs to him, throws her arms around his neck and holds on. In that position, arms pinned to his sides or awkwardly draped around her, there's little he could do to protect her from real danger, but it doesn't matter. It makes his heart glow to realize she knows he will protect her, that he'd die before he'd let anyone hurt her.

She smells of clean soap and worn leather, wildflowers and fresh hay, and he breathes it in, finding it a hundred times more wonderful than the fragrances the women in the saloon use, the pungent smells of flowers wafting past him with a rustle of satin as they move from table to table.

It's not an embrace, he knows, but he can pretend, can't he?

She doesn't love me the way I love her.

Sometimes when they ride together over the land, she goes on a little ahead of him and the wind catches at her hair and dress, twining through the curls hanging over her neck. She looks back, laughing, face flushed, hair askew, and she takes his breath away.

She's beautiful and she doesn't even know it and he loves her all the more because she isn't vain or proud like the girls he's seen in town who look like a doily pasted on a card.

She's alive and warm and vibrant in a way they'll never be and he knows, deep inside, that he'll love her for the rest of his life, no matter where he goes or how long that may be.

She doesn't love me the way I love her.

Sometimes when it's late at night and she's asleep he stands on the porch of the bunkhouse and looks up at the house on the hill, at the little window near the top where Betsy sleeps inside, and he wonders if she ever dreams of him, if she mentions him in her prayers - God bless Randy - or if she's even thinking of him now and then.

He dreams of her, of white lace and a little church, of a house in the meadow he could build her. It wouldn't be as grand as her house, and there wouldn't be fancy books, and fine wallpaper, but he would try, work his hands to the bone to see she had the best.

She wouldn't have a piano all her own, but he would sing to her every day, and maybe she would sing to him.

They might even have children, little boys and girls with her eyes and his cornsilk hair, dancing around them, voices calling over the clatter of supper dishes.

He wonders if she even likes his singing.

She doesn't love me the way I love her.

Sometimes when she sings he imagines she actually means the words of the song...I love my Randy...and his heart slams against his rib cage, knees weak, smile wobbly, looking for all the world like a newborn colt trying to find his feet.

He never sings sad songs with her, for it doesn't seem right, and he imagines he sees her eyes light up when she looks his way, that the smile is warmer than the ones she gives the rest of the crowd, a special one reserved only for him.

He never misses a note on the guitar.

She doesn't love me the way I love her.

Sometime when they dance he hates himself for his clumsiness because she's perfect, every step in time to the music, and he keeps tripping over his own feet, stepping on her toes and bruising her.

She rarely complains, offering him pained smiles as the evening goes on, and finally he let's her go, watching her dance with Trampas, or the Virginian, or Steve, all of them whirling her around the floor effortlessly, charming her with pretty words that he can never seem to say.

He hates himself for the way his tongue gets wrapped up in knots when he tries to tell her how pretty she looks, or when he wants to ask her to walk with him under the moon.

He hates that he's never had much book learning, never learned proper manners, or worn fancy clothes. And most of all he hates himself for being so imperfectly suited, so far below her charm and grace, the beautiful way she talks and looks, and he knows he'll never be good enough for her, and that no matter what he does she'll always be the owner's daughter and he'll always be a ranch hand.

She doesn't love me the way I love her.

Sometimes he wonders what she'd say if he told her how he feels, even though he already knows.

She would let him down gently, crushing his hopes with a velvet glove, shattering his fragile world with a sad smile as she tells him that she loves him, too, that she'll always love him, as a brother, as a friend. She might even cry as she kisses his cheek - a sisterly kiss - cry because she's hurt him simply by telling the truth, that she's destroyed all he's let himself dream in one single instant.

So he doesn't tell her.

Because, sometimes, he can pretend that she loves him the way that he loves her.