by Tonny

Artwork by LaraMee.

It wasn’t an important date in his life anymore. It hadn’t been an important date when he was a child and getting food on the table was a greater concern than when one of them had been born. The only time when it had been a day of importance in his youth was when he’d turned twelve and his father had stated that he was a man now; fit to do a man’s job, and had given him his own knife.

That had been a proud moment.

You can’t miss what you don’t have. Birthdays just weren’t a big deal. Life was hard, but good, surrounded by family, and Christmas was the big thing. Not someone’s birthday.

That had changed when he’d met HER. The most beautiful girl he’d ever seen and the loveliest. Long auburn curls, laughing green eyes and a mouth made for kissing. When he found out what her birthday was, it had immediately become a very important day for him. A day to give her little gifts, do something extra for her. He loved giving her things, do things that she liked.

Bring her flowers when he came back from the high pasture where the horses grazed in summer.

Carve something beautiful for her out of wood during a horse sales trip.

Buy her something.

They didn’t have enough money that he could buy her something very often. The times he had to regretfully leave a beautiful scarf behind in the store, or couldn’t afford to buy her the soft flowery smelling soap she loved had been too many. But he always managed to save enough for her birthday and get her something really nice. Not something for the work around the ranch, but something just for her, for her alone.

On her birthday, when she told him he shouldn’t have, he could tell her that yes, he should, it was her birthday after all, the best day of the year. It was the day she had come into the world.

She had been just as bad. She’d managed to wheedle the date of his own birth out of him and had never failed to make it into a celebration after that. She wouldn’t let him get up without first having made slow, sweet love and she would make sure all his favorite food was in the house. It soon became clear to her that those gestures meant more to him then any gift she could buy and she would always think of something to make him feel special. That day, the 31st of July, became a day of joy. She made it a day of joy.

The slow, sweet lovemaking in the morning ended with Adam’s birth, but he brought so much joy to their life that it hadn’t mattered. They just found better ways to end the day, especially their birthdays, when Adam would finally sleep. Always a bundle of energy, on the three birthdays they had in the year and at Christmas his precious son became unstoppable.

Chris smiled, remembering all the birthday gifts his son would shower him in on his birthday, or Sarah on hers for that matter. Beautiful rocks, deer antlers, a piece of wood looking like a bird that had been given a place on one of the window ledges and even a dead mouse once for Sarah.

While Sarah had tried not to scream, Adam had looked at it adoringly. “Look mom, you can see how tiny the feet are, look, isn’t it great?”

It had taken some explaining to tell the boy that no, they couldn’t give it a nice place in the house, because it wouldn’t stay that beautiful. It would rot and start to smell soon. Together he and Adam had buried it in the garden and marked the little grave with a stone, so they could dig it up later and Adam could have the tiny bones.

Sarah had shuddered about that endeavor. “Men,” she’d muttered under her breath. But even she couldn’t resist examining the small bones when they had really dug them up eight months later, on Adam’s birthday. Adam’s birthdays had become the most boisterous, the most joyful ones, including Buck and his antics.

After their death there were still three dates important to him. The day Sarah had been born, the day Adam had been born and the day they had died. Oh yes, especially the day they had died….

He’d forgotten all about his own birthday. It hadn’t mattered anymore, like nothing else had mattered anymore. He didn’t want to think about it. That day had been a day of joy because of his family. With his family gone, that day was gone.

He didn’t need Buck to throw it back in his face. He didn’t need that son of a bitch to come up, slap him on the shoulder and in front of the whole saloon congratulate him on his birthday. It had made all the others come up as well. Not just his fellow peacekeepers, but everyone who thought to know him, wanting to shake his hand, wanting to buy him drinks.

By that time he’d really needed those drinks, so he had accepted those.

After the drinks he had immediately taken off and the scowl on his face finally seemed to make it clear he was not amused, was not in the mood for some celebrating and he definitely was not going to tolerate any more silliness about his BIRTHDAY.

Chris looked at the bottle he’d taken with him to this secluded spot far out of town and held it up in a salute to Pony. “To a really stupid day,” he muttered, before taking a healthy swig. “May there never be another.”

“Ya don’t mean that Chris. Don’t say it.”

“Vin.” The bottle made a salute to the tracker who had come up silently, holding Peso at the rein. “Alright, to what shall I drink then? And don’t tell me to drink to health or happiness, or I’ll deck ya!”

Vin tied up Peso at the same tree as Pony and settled himself beside the gunslinger.

“Ya know, I don’t even know when my birthday is. Reckon I don’t even really know my age.”

“Believe me, birthdays are over… overrated.”

“Are they?”

No, they’re not, not when you are with people you really love!

Chris looked at his friend. Vin stared solemnly back. “Meant a lot to Sarah,” he finally acknowledged. He somehow couldn’t seem to keep things from Tanner. “And to Adam.”

“And ta you.”

“They did then. Why ya here, Vin? I ain’t gonna celebrate. The people I celebrated my birthday with are… are gone.”

“Nope, ain’t here ta celebrate. Wasn’t hard ta see yer not in the mood. Figured it got something ta do with yer memories. Ol’ Buck figured it out as well. He’s in a sorry state right now, lamenting ‘bout how he brought back yer grief, how he should’ve known better.”

“Yeah, he should!”

“He meant well.”

It came out before Chris could stop it, “Don’t make it hurt any less.” He immediately took a healthy swig from the bottle, so he didn’t have to look at Tanner. Damn, how could he let that slip!

Luckily Vin said nothing. No sorry’s, no hollow phrases, no platitudes about time healing everything. Bull, all bull.

They just sat there in silence, like they had done so many times before.

“Why you here, Vin?” he finally asked again.

“Ta share that bottle.”

“Ain’t that much in it.”

“Brought a new one.”

Chris looked at the tracker, into the familiar blue eyes. There was no pity there, only friendship. Good, he would have had to punch Vin if he’d seen pity.

Only friendship….

“Why you here, Vin?” he asked a third time, softly, questioningly.

“It’s still yer birthday, pard,” Vin said just as softly. “I ain’t gonna let ya drink yerself in a stupor all alone on yer birthday. So I’ll jist join ya.”

Chris nodded. Silently he handed over the bottle.

No more words were spoken. No more words were needed.

The End