Torch

Torch

“I don’t know, Heyes.  All the sheriff said was he had to lock me up, pendin’ positive identification.”  Kid Curry’s whisper was low, spoken between the bars of the jail cell, and only loud enough for his partner to hear.

“Identification?  You see anyone we know since you been in this town?”

“No one.”

“Well someone sure must think they know you!”

“Yeah, well, thinkin’ they know me might just be good enough, so get me out of here!”  Curry’s hands rattled the door of the cell.

“Can’t chance it, Kid.  The sheriff thinks I’m your lawyer, Joshua Smith.  And as your lawyer, I gotta inform you, breaking you out won’t only make you look guilty, it’ll look bad to the governor too.”

“I don’t care how bad it…” Curry began, only to be silenced by the unlocking of the thick wooden door that separated his cell from the sheriff’s office.

An elderly man pushed wayward strands of silvery-gray hair from equally gray eyes, dimmed by age.  He squinted.  “It’s him, June-bug, I’m sure of it!  Knew it when I saw him comin’ outta the livery!”

The sheriff held the weighty door, while the elderly man held out his hand.  “C’mon in here,” the scratchy voice of the elderly man insisted.  “Well?  Tell him, June-bug!  Tell the sheriff this here fella is Jed Curry, also known as Kid Curry, wanted outlaw.”

Heyes cast a worried glance in the Kid’s direction, but Curry’s attention seemed focused on the figure at the door.

The toe of her black boot stepped tentatively into the cell area.  Her navy skirt swished against the dirty floorboards.

Kid Curry’s eyes moved upward, past the plain, white blouse.  Strawberry-blonde ringlets escaped from the knot at the back of her neck.  The woman’s head lifted.  Curry gazed intently at two green eyes, deep, soft.  Sad.

The scratchy voice spoke again.  “It’s him, Sheriff, and my granddaughter can vouch for that!  And she could sure use that ten-thousand dollar reward, I tell ya.”

***

Before I even entered the sheriff’s office, I knew what I would find, or shall I say, I knew who I would find.  Premonition, intuition, call it whatever you’d like, I could feel his presence.  Jed Curry was in that jail cell.

I stepped through the door, knowing his eyes were on me.  My recognition of him was immediate and came as no surprise.

The emotions that surged the moment our eyes met, however, that was the surprise.

Years had passed since the day I’d last seen him, but I remembered every moment, every word.  Grandpa was right.  I still carried a torch.  It was like it had all happened, only yesterday…

The summer sun beat down on the barn, giving the hay extra fragrant sweetness, but from our bed in the loft, we barely noticed.  All it took was one look, and Jed’s warm blue eyes melted my heart.  His hands gentled me like a skittish foal, and his lips whispered promises, soft and convincing.  I was his for the taking, and he knew it.

I was in love.

In retrospect, I know, Jed Curry wasn’t.

If he loved me, he would have asked Grandpa for my hand.  If he loved me, he never would have left.  These were the justifications I repeated to myself, as I stepped through that door, ready to betray the man I had once thought I loved, handing him over to the sheriff, claiming the reward that was rightfully mine.

“It’s him, Sheriff, and my granddaughter can vouch for that!  And she could sure use that ten-thousand dollar reward, I tell ya.”  Grandpa’s voice shook me from memories, bittersweet.

I met the blue eyes.  Familiar, yet somehow, foreign.

***

Emma Southerland.  She looked even better than she had in my dreams.  I swallowed back the greeting I longed to give her.  To acknowledge my recognition would have surely sealed my fate.  I struggled for the icy gunman’s glare, or the look of indifference that would deny our history, or my memory of it.  With luck, Emma had forgotten me.  So much time had passed.  So much had happened.  She was probably married, with a family.

“It’s him, Sheriff, and my granddaughter can vouch for that!  And she could sure use that ten-thousand dollar reward, I tell ya,” the elderly man declared.

And suddenly I remembered.  Emma’s grandfather.  The man with the shotgun who had taken aim, ranting threats and curses, as I struggled with my pants and scurried from his barn like the rat I had most certainly proven myself to be.

That was the only time I had seen him, but now he looked somehow, smaller, less threatening.  Shoulders stooped from years of hard work.  Eyes, no longer clear and bright, but even now, smoldering with rage over a granddaughter, defiled.

I had never seen Emma again, until now.

I met her eyes and knew, our recognition had been mutual.

She was no longer the innocent girl I had known.  She was wiser, more mature.  Less trusting.  But Emma remembered me, of that I was certain.

I closed my eyes, awaiting the words that would send me to prison for the next twenty years.

***

Ten-thousand dollars.  Grandpa was right, I sure could use the money.

I turned to the sheriff.  “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m afraid my grandfather is mistaken.” I tried to still my pounding heart.  I had never lied to my grandfather, not since that day in the barn, and I had certainly never lied to a sheriff before.  “Grandpa, he does look similar to that boy I once knew, but,” I turned and met again those warm blue eyes.  “But, I don’t know this man.”

Surprise, then relief flooded Jed Curry’s countenance in a sudden rush.

Our eyes met again and I saw his silent question.  Why hadn’t I identified him?  Wasn’t ten-thousand dollars reason enough?

I turned and walked away.

***

It was dark and late, but I waited, horse saddled, saddlebags packed, outside Emma Southerland’s house, ready to leave and never look back, just as soon as I…

Just then, Emma stepped onto the porch.  In the distance thunder rumbled.  She sat on the step.

Cautiously, I approached.  “Emma?” I asked quietly, not wanting to startle her.

She didn’t look up, but I knew she heard.

“Why’d you do it?”

Thunder rumbled again, more loudly this time.  Finally, Emma spoke.  “There was a storm that night too.”

“What?”

“The night you left.  It stormed, and I worried if you were safe.”  She gave a disgusted laugh, which sounded suspiciously like a sob, and I knew she regretted having given me so much as moment’s thought.  It was only then she raised her eyes to mine.

I tried to read her thoughts, but too much time had passed.

“Leave,” she began in a hoarse whisper.  “I don’t want anything from you.  Not even ten-thousand dollars.”

Lightning flashed, with a loud crack of simultaneous thunder.  The door of the house flew open and a young boy hurled himself into Emma’s arms.  Soft blond hair curled around Emma’s fingertips.  “Mama!” he cried.  Then, realizing the presence of a stranger, the boy grew suddenly quiet.  “I didn’t know we had comp’ny,” he whispered, eyeing the man suspiciously, with wide, blue eyes.  “Who is it, Mama?”

Emma didn’t speak.  She just held her son and then she stood, eyes riveted on mine, and suddenly I understood.

“I don’t know this man,” she told her son, carrying him into the house.  “Never did.”

The door shut tight, behind them.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

July 2012

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2 Comments

2 thoughts on “Torch

  1. Gin16

    A really good story, I liked it very much, I did not expect the ending.

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