Excerpt from Sisters
by Lynna Banning
October 2020

     Rooney kept looking at her, his eyes assessing.  “Aha.  Now I’ve knowed you a long time, honey-girl.  Ever since yer ma died and left you in charge of her sister.  Kinda watched you grow up.”  He patted her hand.  “What is it you ain’tsayin’?”

     Verity looked up into Rooney’s sharp blue eyes.  “How do you know there’s something I’m not saying?”

     The old man chuckled.  Cuz I’m half-Indian and smarter than most people.  So tell me what’s weighin’ on you.  You know I ain’tgonna tell anybody.”

     “Oh, Rooney, I hardly know where to begin.  I’ve cared for my sister Ellie ever since she was seven years old.  There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her.”

     He dipped his head in a nod but said nothing, just looked at her and waited expectantly.
     “Well, you know about Deputy Jack Mallory losing his arm,” she said.  “When he was injured Ellie moved him into our guest bedroom, and then she sent to Fort Hall for me.  I think she was afraid she couldn’t care for him and teach school at the same time.  So I moved back to Smoke River.”

     “I reckon you’ve done right well, Verity.  I hear Jack Mallory’s taught himself to shoot one-handed.  In fact, I hear he can outshoot Sheriff Rivera, and that’s sayin’ something.”

     Verity sighed.  “Yes, Jack’s recovery is admirable.  He had to learn all sorts of things when he lost his arm, how to shave one-handed, how to chop wood, everything.”

     “Bet you’re mighty proud of him.”

     “Yes.  It hasn’t been easy for him, but Jack is a man who doesn’t give up.”

     Rooney sent her a sharp look.  “Your sister Ellie proud of him, too?”

     “Ye-es.  Of course, being busy with her teaching, she hasn’t watched Jack as closely as I have.”

     He chuckled.  “Which is how close, exactly?|

     “Just . . . close.”  She felt her cheeks turning pink.

“Uh-huh.  Thought as much.  You’ve gone and fallen in love with your sister’s fiancé, haven’t you?”

     She closed her eyes and let her head droop forward.  “Yes, I have.  But he belongs to Ellie, not me.”

     “Well, now.”  A long sigh escaped him.  “Seems to me people don’t ‘belong’ to other people.  Even married people don’t ‘belong’ to each other.  They choose to be together.  Yer sister Ellie has chosen Jack, and you don’t want to come between them, is that it?”

     “Yes,” she said quietly.  “That is it, exactly.”

     They rocked the swing in silence for a while, and then Rooney cleared his throat.  “Well, now, I’m gonna tell you something, Verity-girl.  People can choose who to marry themselves up with, but they don’t choose who they love.  An’ sometimes, a person loves someone they don’t marry up with.  They can’t help it, they just do.”


     “You hear what I’m sayin’, Verity?  You can love whoever you darn well please.  Nobody can stop a person from doin’ that.”

     “Oh.”  Her mind was so swirly she could think of nothing else to say.

     “Now, you notice I’m not askin’ about Jack’s feelings, and that’s because they don’t really matter at this point.  What matters is how you feel.”

     Verity twisted her hands in the folds of her skirt.  “I thought perhaps I would get over it after they got married.”

     “Honey, it don’t work that way,” Rooney said gently.

     “Then what can I do?”

     Nuthin’.  You feel how you feel, and that ain’tgonna change.  You want to protect yer sister from hurt, and you think maybe when she marries Jack it will all work out.

      “Yes, I do.  I would do anything for Ellie.”

     The swing creaked to a sudden stop.  “Now that’s jes’ plain wrong-headed, Verity.”

     “Wrong-headed?  How is it wrong-headed?”

     “I watched you over the years, honey-girl.  In all that time you never did one damn thing fer yourself, it was always fer Ellie.  Spoiled her rotten, you did.  How long you gonna keep sacrificin’ yourself for yer sister?”

     “But she’s my sister!  My younger sister.”

     “Don’t make no nevermind.  Your first loyalty oughtta be to yourself, not yer sister.  It’s not smart to keep on sacrificin’ yourself, puttin’ her first all the time.”

      Tears stung into her eyes, and she shook her head.

 Rooney patted her hand.  “Now, Verity, about Jack’s feelings.  I’m guessin’ you know what they are, or you wouldn’t be all tied up in these here knots.”

     She nodded.  Her hands began to shake.

     “Well, my girl, you’re not gonna like this, but I’m gonna say it anyway.  You don’t get to play God, Verity.  You get to be honest with yourself, and with your sister.  And eventually with Jack.  Yer obligation in life isn’t to make everybody else happy.  Yer obligation is to be honest with yourself and make yourself happy.”

   “But Rooney, that seems so—so selfish.”

     The swing jolted into motion again.  “I bet there’s been a thousand times you’ve wanted to tell Ellie to grow up.  Am I right?”

     “Well, yes.”

     “So now I’m sayin’ it to you.  Grow up, Verity.  It’s about time you cut yer sister loose.”