I’m Outta Here
A pre-dawn glow lit the eastern sky. Rex, the haughty rooster, king of the chicken coop, burst forth in song, reminiscent of the tuneless crackling of the voice of an adolescent boy.
Virginia, eyes closed in a happy smile, sighed. The presence of the man beside her felt warm and wonderful in the early morning chill. He had stayed the night, hadn’t left when sleep claimed her like he had countless times before. She held her breath, not daring to stir, not wanting to break the magic spell that had kept him close.
Could she be dreaming? Eyes still closed, she reached for him. Beneath her hand, she felt the rise and fall of his chest, his breathing deep with slumber. His heart beat, strong and steady. He was here, he was real.
Soon, too soon, the cow would be bawling, eager to be milked. There would be eggs to gather and bacon to fry, biscuits to bake and laundry to… She stilled her racing thoughts and willed them to remain here, in this moment, alone with the man she loved.
Seeming to sense her growing wakefulness, he rolled to his side, draping his arm across her, possessively, protectively. The coolness of her skin caused his eyes to open.
Virginia lay uncovered, exposed to the crispness of the morning, as well as to his feasting eyes. His brain told him to cover her. Desire, told him otherwise.
He lifted his arm, only momentarily, just long enough to rub the sleep from tired eyes, then placed his hand gently at the base of her spine. Virginia looked so small, or his hand so large, by comparison. His fingers moved upwards, warming her as they traveled, south to north, then back again, and he heard her quiet, contented murmur.
She rolled to face him, opening her eyes and greeting him with a smile. Sleepily, she muttered his name. Not the alias Lom had given, but his own name. The name that assured him she knew him, accepted him for who he was, maybe even loved him, though heaven only knew why.
Overcome with gratefulness, he reached for her.
It was her voice that brought him back to his senses. They lay together, a tangled mass of oneness in her bed, sweaty amidst rumpled covers in a full morning sun. She had said something, asked something, that most likely required a response, but lost in his haze of satisfaction, he had no clue what the proper response should have been. “Hmmm?”
“Nothing,” she mumbled, rising from the bed.
He watched, admiring her once again, the way she moved, seeming to glide across the small room. As she pulled her dressing robe around herself, he caught a parting glimpse of her body before it disappeared behind the thin fabric. Then, a glimpse of two sad eyes as she abruptly turned and headed for the kitchen.
He fell back against the pillow and laced his fingers behind his head. What had brought about her sudden change of mood? Even as he asked himself the question, he knew the answer. A woman wanted things from a man, but they were things a wanted man could never give. Things like marriage, home, and family. Things like hearing him whisper those three words that could never cross his lips, not as long as he was wanted.
She knew how he felt, didn’t she? But to speak the words, to tell her… Telling her that would be like asking her to wait, but wait for what? Amnesty? Virginia might as well wait for the second coming, since he and his partner were no closer to amnesty than the rest of the world was to the rapture.
Things between him and Virginia were better left unspoken. No strings, no commitments. That way, when the day came that some bounty hunter finally tracked him down, shot him dead, or worse yet, hauled him off to the penitentiary, Virginia would be free, not tied to a man who was never worthy of her from the start.
He crossed to the window and looked out on her small plot of land. In the meadow, beneath a sturdy oak, stood two wooden crosses staked amongst a million wildflowers.
He poured some water into a basin and readied himself for the day.
Virginia had lost at love before–the graves of her husband and child were proof. And he had no desire to cause her to suffer grief like that, not ever again.
Stupid! Downright foolish! In a vulnerable moment, Virginia had uttered those ridiculous words, the ones she knew he never wanted to hear. He was an outlaw, not the type of man to appreciate flowery talk from a woman.
“Morning.” His greeting preceded two arms circling around her from behind while she stood at the stove, adding bacon to her skillet.
She turned toward him, still wrapped in his embrace, and planted kisses on his freshly shaven face and neck. “You smell good.”
“So do you,” he confessed, drawing her into a lingering kiss.
She giggled, and he hoped it signaled the return of her carefree mood. “I think that’s the bacon you smell.”
He grabbed a freshly cooked rasher and popped it into his mouth, then sucked in air to cool the too-hot mouthful. “Good,” he nodded. His proclamation came out garbled through his chewing. “But not near sweet as you.” He licked his fingers, then kissed her again.
“You wouldn’t want to milk Felicity, would you?”
“Who ever heard of a cow named Felicity?” He shook his head and grabbed a pail, heading for the barn.
A shadow fell. “My daughter,” she answered after the door had shut behind him.
It had been more than three years since the calf had been birthed. The blessed event had occurred in the wee hours of the morning, with Virginia, her husband and their little daughter in attendance. “We’ll call her Felicity, like Grammie,” the child had declared. “‘Cause Grammie says her name means ‘happy,’ and baby cow makes Mama happy!”
“You made me happy, baby girl,” Virginia whispered, then tore her eyes away from her daughter’s grave to rest them on her husband’s. Her late husband’s. Joe wasn’t her husband anymore and she needed to stop thinking of him as such. He had left her. Left her alone in her grief not two weeks after the death of their only child. The same fever that had robbed Virginia of her baby had stolen her man, and though she knew it made no sense, she cursed Joe for dying.
Virginia drew in a ragged breath and her eyes moved to the barn just as the door swung open. She watched him swaggering toward the house, swinging the pail as he walked, and as he drew closer, she heard him whistling a happy tune. Discretely, she brushed at a tear.
A heavy silence had settled in, like a thick fog between them. Breakfast was finished and still, the two sat, sipping coffee, not talking. Finally, he broke the silence. “I can’t stay, Ginny.”
“I know that,” she snapped. Her voice sounded cold. She lifted her eyes from her empty plate and looked around the room. When he left, the house would be empty too. She glanced out the window, toward the old oak and a new emptiness took its hold deep inside. “When do you have to leave?” Her eyes held his now, and although her words had asked one question, her heart gave voice to a very different plea. “Take me with you!”
He lowered his eyes. “Ginny, I…” he began.
“When do you have to leave?” she asked again.
“Tomorrow, first light.”
“So we still have today.” She smiled, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “And tonight.” She masked raw emotions with a mischievous wink.
Virgina fingered the tablecloth’s frayed edge. Should she speak now, or forever hold her peace? If there was a chance he shared her feelings, any chance at all, didn’t she owe it to herself, to both of them, to tell him? Virginia’s face grew somber again, and her sad eyes held his.
“What?” he asked, concern in his voice.
Emboldened by fear of loneliness, she dared to speak her mind. “I want you to know, I’m not expecting anything from you. And you don’t have to say anything at all. Just listen.”
Skeptically, he nodded agreement.
“I love you.” There. The truth was out. Self-consciously, she broke their gaze and rose to clear the table. Without meeting his eyes, she continued. “I been wanting to tell you that for a long time,” she sighed. “Just thought you should know.”
He saw her swipe at a tear, and instantly he was behind her, surrounding her with his arms again. He held her for a long time, wanting to speak the words he knew she longed to hear, but to give her false hope would be a crime greater than any he’d ever committed. “I… I don’t know what to say.”
“I already told you, you don’t have to say anything.” She struggled free of his embrace and began washing the dishes.
He reached for her arm, but she shook off his grasp. “Ginny, you’re a good woman. Too good for a man like me.” He turned away to run a shaky hand through his hair. “I can’t give you the things you deserve. What you need is a good man who can give you a home, and a life, and love you the way a man ought to love a woman.”
She wheeled around to face him, her eyes bold, despite her tears. “Because you don’t?”
Her words caught him off guard. “Because I don’t what?”
“Because you don’t love me the way a man ought to love a woman.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“Please, don’t.” The hurt in his voice was obvious. “Don’t ask me to make promises I can’t keep.”
She had turned away from him again, and although he thought she might have been crying, when she spoke, her voice sounded calm and controlled. “I don’t want your promises. Promises are cheap and easily broken.” He saw her glance out the window again, toward the old oak.
He fumbled for words. “I’m not sure what it is you want from me.”
Virginia looked him squarely in the eye. “I told you I love you, and I meant it. Now I’m asking you plain. Do you love me?”
It would have been the easiest thing in the world for him to tell her how much he loved her, then pull her into his arms and make love to her until the sun rose again and he had to leave. But with those words would come the promises, the promises he knew he would have to break.
He swallowed hard and touched her cheek. “Ginny…” Considering his former occupation, thief and con-man, he was astounded that the telling of this one lie would be so difficult. He squeezed his eyes shut, one hand still caressing her cheek, the other opening and closing nervously at his side. He opened his eyes to find those two sad eyes, still holding his, still seeking the truth. “Ginny, I…” he shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
She quickly turned away, one hand rushing to cover her mouth. “I understand,” she managed, nodding. “It’s probably best if you leave. Now, please.”
The setting sun cast long shadows up on the ridge, just north of town, where the two partners sat, mounted. The town in the valley below them was already shrouded in dusk.
One of the partners watched as flickering street lights were lit along Main Street. The other’s eyes seemed glued to a small cabin in the distance.
“You want to go back?”
He nodded. “But I can’t go back.”
“Then how about we get outta here?”
“Go ahead. I’ll catch up in a minute.”
“I’m sorry.” A supportive hand was placed on his shoulder. “I know how you feel about Virginia.” After a moment, he clucked to his horse, then rode into the sunset.
Alone on the ridge, he whispered into the falling night, “My partner might know the truth about how much I love you, Ginny.” He reined his horse to the west. “I’m only sorry you never will.”
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.