For Always

by: Sarah Stodola

NOTE – I did use a very slight idea from another author, Heather (“Lost Sheep 2”), in creating this work. Heather, please don’t mind… it’s only cause I thought it fit so well. It’s a compliment to you, really. 🙂

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FOR ALWAYS

How could you do this to me?!!!

Okay, okay, I know you don’t have a lot of choice. But do you have to be so danged calm about it?! It’s almost like you *want* to go! Why? I know you care about those people, but don’t you realize that I care about people too? And I ain’t even *interested* in going anywhere! You say I don’t understand. What almost hurts inside is the fact that you’re not putting me down, telling me I’m a little kid. You’re just saying, gently, that I don’t understand. What don’t I understand? I understand one thing — you’re leaving. And I may never see you again!

“For always.” We’ve said those words several times in our life here growing up together. We said it when I was just little, and you decided that I was okay as a best friend after all, even if I was two and a half years younger. We said it when I was ten years old and we became blood-brothers. We said it when we were old enough to run shine and chose to always work as a partnered team. And now you’re looking at me, those soft blue eyes of yours gentle, saying it again and wordlessly asking me to say it back.

I feel tears spring to my own eyes, but I turn away. Uncle Jesse scolds me, but I don’t listen. How can you ask me to say something I know won’t be true? It won’t be always. You’re going away, across the sea, and I’ll never see you again.

Dang it all, Luke, can’t you see I need you?!

And I always have. You’ve always been there; I’ve never had to cope with life completely alone. You’ve pulled me out of every jam I get myself into. I don’t even really worry about speaking my mind around the other kids, cause I know that even if they get mad, you’ll be there to fight for me. I depend on you emotionally, too — don’t you know that? You’re my strength, cousin, the only strength I really have sometimes. I’m way too emotional, too easily hurt for my own good. But you’ve always been there to be by my side, to make me feel safer, stronger, with just a glance or a smile. I love you like I’ve never loved anybody, Lukas. Not even Uncle Jesse. I love him and Daisy a lot, of course, but somehow you and I seem to be tied to each other. And I admit it freely — I’m scared to death of losing that.

It isn’t just your going. If I knew you were coming home, I could handle it. I’d be living for that day, but I could handle it. But I don’t know if you’re coming back. There’s a good chance you won’t. And I’m scared. Little-kid-losing-his-mama type scared. I don’t know how I’d survive if you… died…

I bite my lip at the thought, tears threatening again. You’re still looking at me; have all my thoughts really happened in milliseconds? They must, because the world seems frozen around me. You’re asking me to believe you’ll come home. But how? How do I believe something I really can’t? I’ve heard too much about men coming back only in a box. Remember Jacob Frasier? He came home that way two weeks ago… about the time your name was chosen by some bureaucrat in Atlanta. They just draw a name out of a hat and send the poor boy to his death. Are you going to your death? I don’t want to see you come home like Jacob! I don’t know how I could live that way! I don’t know what I’d do.

I’m not really angry anymore, Luke. I just want to cry. I want to hug you and tell you all my fears. I want you to hold me and say it’ll all be all right. Somehow if you say it, I know I’ll finally believe it. I’m scared, Lukas. I’m so very scared, and I already feel lost, alone. You’re the only one who has ever understood me fully. And I think I’m the only one who really understands you. You’re so good at hiding your thoughts and feelings. When I watch that neutral mask slide over your face, I know that no one else will be able to see a thing you’re thinking. But I see it. I see it all. The tiny flickers in your eyes, the imperceptible shadows of expression on your face, are an open book to me. I know it annoys you sometimes. But we always end up laughing about it, cause even though I live on the opposite side of the emotional scale, no one else can really completely see me, either. You always manage to look through the anger and see the hurt whenever some kid makes fun of how I act. You let me yell and rant and rave, until I’m so tired of it all that all I want to do is curl up in a ball in some corner. Then you come, gently, and pry me out of myself, and things are back to normal.

How am I gonna survive life without you? By myself, without you to talk to, to turn to? A quick flash of anger rises up in me again, but then dies. I look up from the boards under my feet, into your eyes, and see again the gentleness there. I hesitate, wanting so badly to respond, but so afraid to open myself up to be hurt any more. I shove my hands in my pockets and look away.

Uncle Jesse tells me to quit acting like a spoiled brat, and I bite my lip. Can’t he see that I’m not? But you speak softly to him, in my behalf as you always have. It’s something else I don’t know how I’m gonna live without.

The train whistle blows, and you take a step backwards. “You know I love you, little cousin,” you say almost sadly, and then you turn to leave, to get on that train and go far away from Hazzard County. I watch you, heart tightening with every step you take, and I clench my fists inside my pockets. Suddenly I pause, and loosen my grip to pull something out of the right pocket and look at it. I’d forgotten all about this thing; it apparently made it through the wash. Just a little piece of junk I picked up by the lake a week back, only now after it has been washed, it doesn’t look like junk.

I look up, at you walking away, and suddenly yell, “Luke!” You turn and glance at me, one eyebrow up in question. Ignoring Uncle Jesse and Daisy, I run across the platform to stand in front of you. “I got somethin’ for you.”

“What is it, Bo?” you ask, glancing at the train. “I have to go; if I miss this ride, I’ll be in big trouble.”

“I ain’t gonna make you miss it. I just… here.” Opening my fist, I hold out the object that is all I have to give you. It’s not much, I know, but I know you’ll understand. “Keep it with you always. To remember me.”

You tilt your head curiously, then set your duffel bag down and reach into my palm to pick up the wide band of cheap-grade gold that I offer. “What’s this? Where’d you get it?”

“Found it. By the lake. It’s all I have…” I point to the inside. “It’s got some kind of symbol in it, but I don’t know what it means.”

You glance down and lift the ring to study it in the sun, then you smile. “That’s an infinity sign, Bo. It means forever, never-ending.”

“Well, I guess it fits how I feel, then.” Weird. It’s almost like I was meant to find it in the mud.

You meet my gaze, and then smile and slip the ring on your little finger. “It fits good in other ways, too. I promise I’ll wear it all the time. I gotta have some piece of you with me, or I’ll go nuts.”

“I feel the same way,” I admit.

“Oh!” you suddenly exclaim, as if startled. You dig into your jacket pocket, and I frown curiously. “Dang, I almost forgot this! I’d have really kicked myself when I got there and realized it.”

“What is it?” I ask.

“Something I got in town for you yesterday.” You hold out a small brown paper-wrapped package. “Go on, hurry up. I’ve got a train to catch.”

Laughing a little, I fumble with the paper, and finally unwrap a rectangular wooden box. Sliding the lid open, I blink down at the leather knife case inside. “Wow…”

“Look at it.”

I hand the box to you and snap open the leather case to pull out a knife much like yours. Only this one’s even nicer, with fake-wood decorative carvings along the handle. I snap open the blade, locking it open and hefting the weight. It has good balance. “Wow, thanks!” I grin, almost forgetting that it’s a going-away present. But then that catches up with me again, and I look back to you.

“A boy who’s just passed his sixteenth birthday needs a knife of his own. Besides, you won’t have me around to borrow from anymore.”

“…Yeah.” I snap the knife shut and slide it back into its case, then I look at you. “Luke, promise me something else. Please.”

You hand me the wood box too. “Sure. What is it?”

I blink back tears. “Please come home. Please. Alive.”

Your eyes search mine, seriously. “Are you afraid I’ll come home like Jacob Frasier?”

You’ve always been able to do that; read my mind almost as if you can see what’s there. I nod, biting my lower lip again. “Yeah. I guess I am.”

You put both your hands on my shoulders, and I look up. “Bo, I swear this. I’ll come home. Alive. I’ll be all right, and we’ll meet again on this platform. I swear it by the blood of our bond, brother.”

Something in my chest breaks, and I finally smile, the expression of relief quickly widening into a grin. It’ll be all right now. There is no greater oath possible, not even that of family name or honor. Blood is the oath between us here, and that can never, ever be broken. “Okay,” I find myself saying, actually believing it. I blink tears back again, but this time they’re not from fear. “I believe you. I’ll wait for your letters like a hound dog for his food, though.”

“Me too,” you laugh. You ruffle my hair with one hand, and I laugh too, not even complaining as I normally do. “I love ya, cousin.”

“Love you too.” I leap forward and hug you again, then step back as I hear the whistle blow its final call. “You better go, or the train’s gonna leave without you.”

You turn and look at the conductor, who’s waiting with a slightly impatient, yet understanding, expression on his face. “Yeah.” You sigh. “Guess I’ll see ya around, little cousin.”

“When you come back, I won’t be so little,” I mock-threaten, grinning. Then the playfulness fades, and I nod toward the train. “You better get going. Or I’ll never let you go.”

You reach down for your bag, then hesitate and hold your arms out instead. I leap into them, holding on tight and burying my face in your shoulder.

“Write soon,” I whisper, fighting the urge to outright cry.

“I promise. I will.” You hug me again, then disengage yourself from my unwilling hold and step back. You pick up the duffel bag and turn to walk away without another word. I watch you speak briefly to the conductor and then get on board, trying to engrave the image in my mind deep enough to last for the next several years. You grab a window seat and glance back at me, and I raise one hand high to wave.

“For always!” I yell on a sudden impulse, clenching my fist as though I were clasping his hand, copying the hold we had used when we became blood-brothers. “For always, Lukas Duke!”

You hold your hand out the window and copy the gesture, then wave as the train pulls away. I wave back until I know you can’t see me, then lower my arm and watch until the last car has rounded the bend, disappearing into the trees.

Uncle Jesse comes up behind me, and puts his hand on my shoulder. “You gonna be okay?” he asks with a whole lot more softness than he showed earlier. I nod.

“Yeah. But I’m sure gonna miss him.”

“He’ll miss you too; you know that.”

I nod again. “Yep. He told me so.” Then I look up into his face, into kind dark blue eyes, and I smile. “But he’ll come back, Uncle Jesse. After all, we did swear for always.”

END

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