She stood under the spreading branches of the grand old oak in front of the hacienda, watching her husband make his way through the crowd towards her. Unconsciously, she smoothed non-existent creases from her lavender silk skirt, and tucked a stray wisp back into the elegant upsweep of her dark brown hair. She watched him move slowly through the sons and daughters, grandchildren and friends, light heads and dark, accepting a kiss here, stroking the dark head of a child there. He presented a fine figure in his new suit, hair and mustache neatly trimmed, touched by a few gray hairs that only hinted at his age. Her husband reminded her of his late father, though they had no particular feature in common. There was something about his bearing which conjured a clear picture of the old man. She realized her husband must be about the same age his father was when the brothers first arrived at the ranch. Now here he is: the patriarch, the man everyone goes to for advice, the wise leader who reigns over this bountiful land.
She wondered, "Do all these people only see a strong man, still spry and handsome, powerful and full of vigor? Or can they see the gray hairs as evidence of each unhappy event which put them there?"
She noted his cravat looked worse for wear, and the gold pin stuck in it was a little crooked. Apparently her husband had won what must have been quite a struggle with the silk tie. He had insisted he could do it on his own, so she had left him to his own devices and gone down to the gathering.
Now he was searching for her amongst the people gathered on the patio. When he finally found her face, he smiled and moved to her side. He took her hands in his, transporting them both back to the day twenty-five years ago when they had vowed to belong to each other.
'Til death do us part. 'Til death of all three of us, I think.
She raised her face to accept his kiss, surprised at the amount of passion he put into it, and looked into his blue eyes. They were as bright as when she had first seen him, getting off that stage, standing next to the young man he would learn to call brother. Beautiful blue eyes. At least some things never change.
As I look into my husband's eyes, I see not only his love for me, deep and abiding, but admiration and promise. Then something subtle passes across his countenance, like a shadow cast by a quick-moving cloud. When I look into those cherished blue eyes I see them change and suddenly realize that I see much more than the man I married. I see a lifetime of choices and regrets and the consequences of our actions. I see his brother in them, and when I do, it's as if, just for a moment, my husband is no longer standing beside to me. His brother takes his place, standing there, smiling down at me with that look in his eye that tells me not to take him so seriously.
I see the two men merge, their differences becoming non-existent, and I cannot determine which one is looking at me. Where does one man start and the other end? Once, long ago, these brothers appeared to be separated by insurmountable differences. It didn't take them long to find a place within themselves in which they could honestly say belonged to the other. They knew some fundamental common thread beyond just being born to the same father bound them. Over the years that bond grew stronger, and although they differed in appearance, one light, one dark, there were times they seemed so alike.
When I returned from three years at the Ladies' College to my beloved home, the two brothers looked at me in a new light. I admit I dressed a little differently, and wore my hair up more, but it was as if I had shucked off a shell and emerged a different person. Perhaps I was, a little, for returning to the ranch after so long an absence made me see all the cherished, familiar things and places as if from a stranger's point of view. I saw these familiar people from a different point of view, too.
They knew I hadn't changed at the core, but that was when they started to treat me differently. And I admit I looked at the two men before me with a judicial eye, as if each was a horse to be judged upon its merits: beauty of form, temperament, and staying power.
There was a new power within me, not only of being able to attract these two handsome men, but also of being in the enviable position to be free to decide which road to take. In the end I chose the brother who needed me the most, taking advantage of the closeness which the act of comforting provides. He had suffered personal loss during the time I was away, and I think the familiarity of our situation broke down barriers which would not have existed with someone not from the ranch. His vulnerability spurred me to nurture and encourage him to become more than the man he was before. As our love grew in strength, and matrimony became inevitable, I would observe his brother looking at me, his features bearing a look as if he wasn't quite sure what he had missed. I found that by wedding one brother, my life and love became even more entwined with the other. Eventually, it was difficult to tell where one man began and the other ended, so enjoined were we.
When my husband's brother married and had children of his own they became part of the whole family, each one belonging to all of us. And when a child died, and then the mother, his pain and anger and fathomless sense of loss belonged to everyone. No emotion could truly be called his own, for his brother, and indeed, all of us felt his misery so keenly.
And when my husband's brother passed from this earth it was not a peaceful thing. He did not go easily in the end. He fought death when it came, riding it like a bucking horse, determined not to be thrown. But this time, my love, this time the horse won. It tore at all of us, as if something had cut our hearts out, and it became my task to console the inconsolable.
Sometimes when I lay in bed at night with my husband entwined in my arms, his dear head nestled at my breast, I feel his breath warming my heart. I stroke his shoulder and imagine it is the body of his brother joining with mine. The hair is a different color; the form of his body familiar but changed. And I wonder what would have happened had I made a different choice, twenty-five years ago. Would I now be a widow? Would my intervention have been enough to alter the terrible chain of events which led to his death? Would I look into his eyes and feel the presence of his brother? I agonize over these unanswerable questions until my husband shifts his weight and mumbles in his sleep. But I am a practical woman, and these flights of fancy do not stay until daybreak.
We are like a fabric woven of different threads all from the same cotton, just dyed a different color. I know that by wedding one brother, I bound myself to both of them for life, and beyond.
Do I have regrets? I have been mother to the children born of both brothers, and have lived a full life with my extended family in this rich and rolling land. I have loved and been loved by the two men who influenced so many facets of my life. How could I regret that?
I do have regrets. I regret that I never made those travels to foreign lands. I mourn the deaths of my babies. These things have faded a little with time, but one regret seems to grow with the years; becomes deep and sorrowful to the point where I can barely stand to think of it. My regret is that I have to look into my husband's eyes to see those of his brother instead of having the living man among us.
I regret that I have done my dear husband the grave injustice of loving his brother more than he.
The husband and wife held hands as they stood in the small cemetery. They did not bow their heads, nor shed tears when they looked at the headstones. They silently read the words on the markers:
And the one at the end, dated ten years earlier: