The Part Before We Say Goodbye
This one takes place after Boys' Club and before Different Directions I & II, which can be found in Just You, Me and the Governor issues 14 and 15.
It was a cold early spring morning, and as I woke up, I instinctively reached for the figure sleeping at my side. "Mmmm," I mumbled. "Good morning."
"Morning?' came a slightly raspy baritone. "Honey, it's still the middle of the night. Go back to sleep." He rolled over, slid an arm around me, and resolutely closed his brown eyes. In a moment he was snoring softly, although I was a good deal warmer than I'd been before.
Unfortunately, I was also wide awake. This wasn't entirely a bad thing, as it enabled me to contemplate the way his unclad body felt, pressed against mine, and the scent of him. His warm breath tickled my ear. I wouldn't have minded lying there like that all morning, even if he insisted on sleeping half the day away.
But there was something I needed to do, first. I unwound his arm from around me, and climbed out of bed.
"Ella? Where you going?"
"To check in on Rachel," I replied. But when I looked at him, lifting himself up slightly, blinking in the unaccustomed light with the slight scowl of the newly-wakened, I found myself not moving, just looking back at him. His dark hair was all messed, and it took all my willpower not to go back and run my hands through it. Instead, I took another long look, and then I let myself out into the hallway.
Kid Curry was standing there, his face and dark blond hair still damp from washing.
"Heyes always said you were the one who liked to sleep late."
He smiled. "Ordinarily, yeah. But Sandy asked me to help her bring some things in from the smokehouse. I think she aims to pack us enough food to last a month or so." And whatever Sandy wanted, the Kid was going to give her. I wondered if she was aware of her power over him, yet.
"Where is she?"
"In the kitchen, making a special breakfast. Rachel's with her."
I looked at him blearily. "All right. I'm going down to the kitchen to say good morning to my daughter, and then I'm going back to bed."
"Heyes awake yet?"
"Get him out of bed and you're a dead man, Jed. He's all yours for the next two or three months."
The Kid laughed. "I'll just check on a few things with him, and I'll tell him I'm under orders not to let him out of the room."
When I reached the kitchen, Sandy was busy at the stove, fully dressed in one of her simple black dresses and with her dark hair loosely tied back. Rachel was sitting up in a cradle she was getting too big for. I picked my daughter up in my arms, as she made appropriate "happy to see mama" gestures. "Are you cooking breakfast for the entire Fifth Regiment?"
"I figured they ought to have a real good breakfast before starting out."
"If they eat half that they're not going to be starting out. They're not going to be able to move."
"You just don't understand men," she said, only a little smugly.
Apparently I didn't understand feeding them.
I kissed my daughter, and put her back down in the cradle. "Now, honey, mama's going to go back to bed for a little while, and you're going to stay here with Sandy and watch her make food. Okay?"
Rachel nodded solemnly, her dark eyes just like her father's. "Mama," she said. "Night-night."
I didn't really want to leave her, but she wasn't the one who was riding off this morning. Her father was.
When I let myself back into our room, Heyes appeared to have fallen back to sleep. Normally he was the one up and about preparing things before he and the Kid left town. Something must have tired him out, I thought. Or maybe someone. I smiled, remembering last night.
But as soon as I climbed into the bed and pulled the covers over me, he rolled over, practically on top of me. "For cryin' out loud, Ella, I thought you were never gonna get back. A man can't lie here pretending to be asleep all day."
"Why would you do that?"
He grinned, his dimple deepening. "No point in getting out of bed and dressed when I'd just have to get back into bed and undressed, now is there?" He leaned over and kissed me, a slow lingering kiss that I felt first on my lips and then through every part of my body.
"Do you really have to leave today?" I asked, breathless, when we'd broken apart for a moment.
"We promised Lom we'd be in Wyoming by the fifteenth. We're already cutting it close." He pulled himself up slightly as he spoke.
"What kind of work is he giving you?"
"Honest, a few months long, and very well-paying. That's what he promised."
"We don't really need the money."
"The Kid and me, we owe him. We'd still be on the run if it wasn't for him. Besides, you know I don't like livin' off you. It don't feel right, my wife takin' care of me. And there ain't a whole lot of work for me or the Kid in Blue Sky, Montana." He shook his head, obviously exasperated. We'd had this conversation before.
"I'm sorry, Heyes. I'm . . . I'm going to miss you. Do you have any idea when you'll be back?"
He smiled, and his dimple showed again. That dimple always did something to me. "I'm gonna miss you, too. I'm not gonna miss you drivin' me crazy with all these questions, but I guess I should've figured if I was gonna marry a lawyer I was gonna get cross-examined a lot."
I slid my arms around his neck, and he leaned in to kiss me, again and again.
"Objection," he said. "Opposing counsel is wearing too much clothing." And in a moment my nightdress was off. He'd slept in nothing, so as he drew me close against him, I felt the touch of his skin against mine. He felt so good, his lean, hard muscles, his chest with its dark curling hairs, and his flat belly, his hips, his muscled thighs. He'd been home all winter but I'd never gotten the least bit bored with having him there.
His hand touched my breasts, stroking one nipple, and then the other. Then he lowered his head, and his lips were at my breast, kissing and teasing my nipples until they were hard and yet so very sensitive at the same time. Meanwhile, his hand moved on further down, sliding across the sensitive flesh of my belly and then between my legs. The touch and the kissing felt so good, and as I relaxed into them, I felt myself slipping deeper and deeper into that quiet dark place where there was nothing but that feeling, more and more intense as the world narrowed to just that central core.
I heard someone crying out, and then Heyes laughing gently at that someone. At me.
"Quiet it down now, honey. The whole house is gonna know what we're up to."
As soon as I'd recovered enough to speak, I said, "And they wouldn't have known otherwise?"
"Guess they would, at that."
He pulled himself up on top of me, balancing so that he didn't weigh on me too hard, and yet I could feel all of him against me. It felt good and I tried to memorize the feeling, wanting to be able to call it back when he was gone. He arched himself up, and I could feel his manhood sliding against my thigh, and across it, into me. He thrust, and thrust again, and I responded to him, our bodies working together. The thrusts came faster, harder, and finally I felt all his muscles tighten and heard his cry of abandon as he came.
My husband rolled onto his side, and held me close to him. "Yeah, I'm gonna miss you all right. Not just this, I mean, but . . . "
But this worked so well. Even when one or the other of us was frustrated, him because I was spending too much time getting ready for a trial, me because he'd come home late and tipsy after playing cards in the saloon, this was always right between us.
"I know," I said. "You'll keep busy, you'll see new places and do new things. But at night, I won't be there with you."
It would be the same for me, when he was gone. I'd fill my days and evenings with work, and Rachel, my friendships and the goings-on of my community. I'd think about him, wish for his return, but enjoy my quiet tranquil days. But at night, the emptiness of my bed would sometimes be too much for me, and I'd find an excuse to go sleep with Sandy and Rachel.
He hugged me tight, and then untangled himself and sat up at the edge of the bed. "Guess we'd better go face that breakfast, huh?"
He washed up first, and I freely admit I lay there and enjoyed watching him. He was slim but broad-shouldered, and I watched the muscles of his back playing as he lowered his head to the wash basin. After he'd washed, he shaved, and then began pulling on his clothes -- first the underlayers, to keep him warm on the open range, then his black shirt and tan trousers, followed by his vest and finally his boots. He'd save his gunbelt for later -- Rachel was getting to an age where her fingers were becoming curious.
When he'd finally dressed, I got out of bed and started my own morning ablutions. Between the stays, all the petticoats, the seeming dozens of tiny buttons on my shirtwaist, and putting up my hair, it took me awhile to get back to the kitchen.
Heyes and the Kid had already done some serious damage to Sandy's gigantic breakfast by the time I got there. Caroline, my young ward, sat with them, idly toying with some bacon while she wrote in a notebook. Before Sandy had come back to us, Caroline used to try to help out with the domestic side of things. Now she mostly studied, which she was good at, and got underfoot, which she was very good at.
"What are you doing, Caroline?"
"Translating one of your old legal briefs into German," she replied, as another girl might have said "my embroidery" or "reading a novel."
"Why're you doin' that?" asked the Kid.
"'Cause it's fun," she said.
We all looked at each other.
"Uh, Caroline, your idea of fun is kinda scarin' us," said Heyes, finally.
She looked at me, her light blue eyes round with wonder. "Are they laughin' at me?"
"Caroline, honey," I began. "It's just not a regular thing most girls your age would do for fun."
"Yeah, but there's nobody too regular around this house," she replied.
Heyes nodded. "Now, that's true, Caroline. A couple of notorious ex-outlaws, a beautiful Indian princess" (Sandy had never met her father, but we had a pretty good idea he'd been a native tribesman), "the only lady lawyer in Montana territory, and the smartest, prettiest little girl in the whole United States." At this he got up, and took Rachel into his arms. "Yeah, around here you're really pretty ordinary, Caroline. Now anyplace else, people'd probably pay good money just to see you."
Caroline smiled and kept on with her translating.
Sandy finally joined us, with a giant plate of griddlecakes, as if she hadn't already provided food enough for a week. I took some, not having eaten anything yet, and the Kid, with his astounding appetite, took a big helping. His eyes never left Sandy the whole time she sat there, across the table from him.
But after awhile there were no more reasons to delay their departure, and it was getting closer to noon than it should have been. So Heyes kissed Rachel, then me, while the Kid took Sandy's hand in his for a lingering moment. Then he surprised Caroline by swinging her into a goodbye dance, which made her giggle.
"Now that's what girls your age generally do for fun," he advised her, and she solemnly promised she'd keep it in mind.
We watched them ride away. Then I played with Rachel for awhile and, as Sandy put her down for her afternoon nap, I headed out to the office.
My partner was sitting at his desk, getting ready for our meeting, when I walked into the room. He looked at me for a moment, his aquiline features softening. "He's gone?"
"Yes," I said. "This is the part I didn't count on, Jeremy. The part where it feels lonely."
"It's all right, Ella. It's all right to miss him. Someday the two of you will live together like a normal married couple."
"I don't know. I don't know if we ever will. Maybe it'll always be this series of goodbyes." I leaned over and pick up a file from his desk. "Only one way not to think about it. Let's get to work."
I sat down at my desk and opened the file, but Jeremy spoke to me from across the room.
"He'll always be back, you know that?"
"Yes," I said. "Yes, I do." But somehow knowing it didn't make me feel any less lonesome.
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