As the buckboard pulled into town, the driver gently nudged his passenger to wake her up. She lifted her head from his shoulder and opened her eyes to the familiar sight of the cemetery as they rode by. Their first stop would be to the hotel to get a room for the night. After that, they would go to the little church and find the preacher. He, of course, would be expecting them. They always came to town on this day. They always searched him out. He always went with them to the cemetery to say a few words over the grave. Then he would leave and watch them as they stood over the stone for a while longer.
As the buckboard got closer to the hotel, the passenger couldn't help but look around at the town she had not seen for a year. It was a small town that had changed very little since the first time she had been there, even with the war. She thought back to the first time she had been there. So much had happened in the short time she had been there. She wondered if her life would have been different if the events of those two days had been different.
The driver stopped the buckboard in front of the hotel and jumped down. He held out his hand to help his passenger carefully climb down. With just a look between them, she went in to the hotel while he climbed back onto the buckboard to take it to the livery stables. Most men would have considered this day a wonderful day to remember. For him, it was bittersweet. It was because of that, he came to this town each year. After he left his horse and buckboard with the stable boy, he quickly walked back to the hotel to see her standing outside the door, holding some flowers, waiting for him. It hadn't been that long ago when it was him standing there waiting for her, only his flowers had a different purpose. The memory made him smile.
"Do you want to go up to the room first?" he asked.
"No, the clerk said the preacher should be up at the church," she replied.
The couple quietly headed toward the church hand in hand. Why they had started this ritual, neither one was sure. After coming back the first year, it just seemed natural to come the second year. By then, it became something they felt they needed to do, like they owed it to him.
The couple walked up the steps and opened the door to the church.
"I wondered when you would be getting into town," the preacher said without even turning to see who had entered the sacred place.
"We just got in," the man told him. "Figured it was best to find you first."
The preacher led the couple back down the steps and the short distance to the cemetery. Once he had found the stone they were looking for, he opened his prayer book.
"Lord, we pray for Your child, Adrian Dawkins. We thank You for the gifts he gave us and pray that he has found a place by Your side. We also pray that You make those whom he left behind ever mindful of the gifts of life You have bestowed upon us. Amen." He closed his book as the woman carefully knelt down and laid the flowers on the grave. He stood there for a few moments before turning to leave the cemetery, not saying a word to the couple. Several minutes later, the woman looked up at the man beside her and smiled. He smiled back, took her arm, and led her out of the cemetery and back toward the hotel.
They had had a nice evening after leaving the cemetery. The quiet dinner and walk under the stars was spent reminiscing about the good things life had given them. Once her feet started to hurt, he led her back to the hotel and up to their room. Neither of them had slept very much. Instead they had cuddled up to each other, lost in their own thoughts. By morning, they were both ready to begin the trip home.
They had only been traveling for a couple of hours when she woke from her peaceful doze. She looked at the man controlling the horses and decided to ask the question that had been haunting her for so long.
"Why didn't you go back to Virginia to fight?"
He must not have realized she was awake because it took him a minute to understand what she was asking him.
"Because of my promise," he replied.
"Yes, the promise I made to you five years ago. I promised never to ride on without you. I don't know what I would have done if somethin' would have happened to you in Virginia."
"But what about fighting for your memories?" She hadn't even thought about the promise. It warmed her heart to know that he remembered it and wanted to keep it so badly. "You told me that leavin' would be the hardest thing you ever did, but stayin' would be harder." She never had fully understood what he meant by those words.
"Leavin' you would have been the hardest. But stayin' and not being with you, that's what would have been harder." He hadn't really understood what he was saying at the time either, but thinking back, he realized that was the only thing he could have meant.
"But what about your memories?" she asked.
He paused before answering, "The first time I saw Dorithia in Rock Creek and all my childhood memories came back, I thought it was because of her. After she died, I guess I realized that it wasn't her and it wasn't the land. It was me. I was the one burying the memories, trying to take them away. I was the one in control of them. Once I understood that, I didn't have any other reason to go back, just a lot of reasons not to." She smiled at him. "Yeah, you were one, but the thought of seein' Cody on the other side, or fighting for something that Noah had fought against his whole life. I guess I didn't see a good reason to go. Protecting our home was and is more important." He laid a hand on her stomach. "Protecting our family."
Satisfied with his answer, she laid her head on his shoulder again. This was why they took this trip every year. Not just to remember how their life together had started, but to remember why their life had turned out the way it had.