Oxeye Daisy - Patience
She'd nearly twisted the stems into a knot, her fingers wringing at the life of the flowers with every breath.
"He'll be here." The voice of reason, soft and sure.
"He's an hour late." She could hear the crack in her tone, the unladylike edge in her words. "What if something has happened to him?"
Rachel touched Louise's arm, rescuing the daisies in her bouquet from a violent and painful end. Lowering herself onto the pew beside her young friend she nodded slowly, coaching her face into a calm and pleasant mask. "Nothing… nothing would stop him from coming for you. You know that."
Louise nodded but her expression hadn't changed. The corners of her mouth were pinched, lines furrowing into her skin from the strain and worry she couldn't seem to shake. "When I saw him last night… before he went back to the bunkhouse… he seemed… distracted." The bouquet in her hand shook and a few petals broke free and fell toward the flower, sliding down her skirts.
"Sweetheart," Rachel fussed with an errant curl of Louise's upswept coif and tucked it behind her ear, "he loves you, more than anything in the world. He will be here."
Looking up at the preacher standing up in the corner of the church, his face a carefully schooled mask of patience, Louise felt like apologizing to the man again.
The wood of the pew behind her creaked and she turned slightly on the seat to see what was happening.
From his seat a few feet away Noah shrugged. "Sorry, I was just… moving."
She gave him a smile, it wasn't his fault that the pews were badly made and barely holding together. It wasn't his fault that she was about to jump out of her skin.
A polite cough reminded her that the assembled audience didn't just include members of her family, many of the townspeople had turned up waiting to see the wedding of the rider turned bride and the man who was supposed to stand by her.
Getting up on her feet, Louise nearly squeezed the life from the flowers she'd carefully picked for her bouquet. "I'm sorry," she began, willing her voice to sound stronger than she felt, "I'm sorry for the… delay." She looked to the open doorway one more time before addressing the crowd. "I'm sure all of you have things to do today, but I want to… thank you for coming."
She opened her mouth to say something… but the words were gone from her head. Rachel stepped up to stand at her side, setting a reassuring arm over her shoulders.
Louise wanted to wiggle away. It was too much. Too close. Too… embarrassing. She heard the whisper. She wasn't sure if it was Mrs. Thomas or the other woman sitting beside her. The two of them were leaning in to each other, whispering in turn, throwing looks in her direction. She could only blink back the tears.
Someone spoke to her, close to hear ear. The soft baritone timbre of his voice seemed so clear, but a moment later she couldn't remember who it had been. Noah? Buck? She couldn't look any of them in the face. "I'm… fine," she answered to no one in particular, "someone should tell the musicians that we won't… need them tonight."
The emptiness of the room echoed in her ears and she waved off the kind words and gentle hands.
"Please… I need some time… alone."
She had no idea how long it took for them to leave. The later afternoon sun slanted through the open doorway and somewhere in the back of her mind she knew that she'd been sitting there too long. Too alone.
The flowers lay scattered at her feet, their stems twisted and broken.
A creak of wood caught her attention. Someone must have come back to get her, worried what she would do now.
The shadow that cut through the sunlight was familiar to her, pulled at her heartstrings and reassured her that it hadn't been broken beyond repair.
She swallowed a tearful gasp, her hands twisting in the fabric of her dress. She couldn't manage to say a word.
"I wasn't sure you'd be here." He moved closer, the reach of his shadow lengthening across the boards. "I knew I had to come here first… to see if you were here."
Louise nodded and stood, amazed that her legs could hold her up at all. "I waited."
"I should have been here, Lou. I should have been here, but-"
"Do you still want to marry me?" She squeezed her eyes shut. She couldn't bear it if he told her-
"More than anything in the world."
The tension drained from her body and she finally looked up at him, a cry of alarm her first reaction. He wore a bloody bandage around his arm, his hat in his good hand.
She felt so very small. All the horrible angry things that had run through her head disappeared as he met her in the aisle and pulled her tight against his side. "I'm sorry, I-"
He silenced her with a kiss; a gentle press of his lips against hers. Louise wasn't sure who it was… but one of them was trembling. "Don't apologize, Lou." Another brush of his lips, this time against her cheek, brushing away a tear. "I'm the one who was late… I'm sorry you worried about me… worried that I wasn't going to marry you."
"I kept hoping… praying…"
He took her hand, his hat falling to the floor somewhere near their feet. "I'll never let you worry again, Lou… I'm gonna be the man you can count on."
She nodded. "You'll just have to forgive me if I grab onto your shirt once in awhile… to make sure you're still there." She looked away, ashamed of the need in her voice. "That sounds silly, I-"
"No," he squeezed her hand and brushed a kiss across her knuckles, "I wouldn't mind if you did that every day, twice on Sundays if you wanted to." His expression changed slightly, his eyes seemed darker, older. "'Cause I promise, Lou, that I'm gonna be the man… who gives you something to hold onto."