All She Ever Wanted
For my beloved husband, Matthew. My heart belongs to you! … Grace
Grace rocked slowly in her chair near the fire. This night was a cold one. The snow had stopped falling and the moon shone brightly on the newly snow-covered world, lending a magical glow. Cold nights like this were hard for Grace, made her bones ache even more than usual. Hours earlier she had given up her tossing and turning, choosing instead her favorite chair, downstairs, near the fire. She found herself reading, once again, the story of the first Christmas found in the book of Luke. She finished reading, tucked an old, dry leaf back into the pages of her Bible, and sat rocking, staring into the fire.
The flames had a hypnotic effect, causing Grace’s mind to wander. She allowed her thoughts to settle on her dear family; Paul, her prankster-turned-preacher son, and his wife, Ginny. Grace was delighted the couple had been able to return home for Christmas this year. She missed them so terribly since they had begun their work at the far away mission. Grace would not be surprised if the two of them had an announcement to make, come Christmas morning. Ginny had a glow about her and Grace’s suspicions told her the family circle might be expanding over the next few months.
Her thoughts turned to her daughter, Anna. What a lovely young woman she had become! So full of joy and enthusiasm for her teaching! Grace had done a mental inventory of the bachelors in the area and was quite sure none of them was fit to be courting her daughter. She hoped the Good Lord would see fit to send His chosen young man to Anna sometime in the near future.
Grace’s smile grew wide, thinking of her husband, Matthew. Honest, hardworking, strong, and gentle. He had the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. They sparkled when he smiled.
As Grace allowed herself to enjoy her memories, another pair of blue eyes came to mind. Another smile that had melted her heart so many years before…
Gracie Lewis plucked a ripe, red apple from the low branches of a tree and put it in her bucket then, changed her mind and took a juicy bite.
“You ’bout done with that bushel?” called her sister, Martha, sounding like she was some distance away.
Martha was a couple years older than Gracie, almost thirteen, and very good at apple picking. Fact was, Martha was good at doing all those things young ladies were supposed to do. Cooking, cleaning, sewing, staying clean, and acting like a young lady should. Gracie’s talents did not lie in those areas. Much to her mother’s lament, Gracie’s talents included things like cleaning fish, playing pranks on her brothers, getting dirty and throwing… Stuff. Anything she could get her hands on. A ball, a rock, apples. Throwing apples seemed to be her specialty. And Gracie Lewis had incredible aim.
“Bushel ain’t quite full yet! Why don’t you come over here and give me a hand?”
Martha, knowing well the reason Gracie’s bushel wasn’t full, shook her head and started off in the direction of her sister’s voice just as two strangers approached from the other side of the creek.
“Howdy miss, you live around here?” A dark haired man startled her when he spoke.
He was leading his horse, which appeared to be limping badly. She hadn’t known anyone else was around. Since the Lewis ranch was far from the nearest town, not many people passed through.
With a frightened look, Martha nodded her head yes, when suddenly,
“Ow! What the?” The second man cried out in pain rubbing a spot on his jaw.
“Get outta here! Stay away from my sister!” yelled a young voice, squeaky with fear.
Hannibal Heyes looked up just in time to find the source of Kid Curry’s pain. A little further downstream, a small female arm was letting loose with another apple, this one aimed straight for his own head. Heyes and Kid dodged quickly behind a tree to escape the barrage of fruit being hurled their way.
Martha ran toward the place upstream where her father and brothers were working, bucket of apples dropped and forgotten.
“Look little lady, we didn’t mean to startle ya. My horse threw a shoe a few miles back. We’re lookin’ for some food and a place to rest up. Maybe you could point us to a ranch or somethin’?” Heyes yelled from his place behind the tree, sincerely hoping this approach would work with the scared young girl. Her aim was pretty good, several apples having hit their mark even through the cover of the trees.
“Stings a mite, don’t it?” Heyes spoke to Kid, rubbing a sore spot on his arm, but from the look on Kid’s face, Heyes thought he might be ready to draw on her.
“My sister’s gone to get our Pa, so ya might as well start runnin’!” was the girl’s response, followed by one more apple to emphasize her words.
Curry had had enough. He came out from his hiding place behind the tree. “Look, we don’t want any trouble. We just…” Seeing the girl reach down, presumably to replenish her apron supply of ammunition, Kid ran as quickly as he could across the water toward her. He pinned her arms to her sides with both his arms around her as she hollered and squirmed. He was eye to eye with her now, nearly yelling himself, “Will you stop wigglin’ and listen for a minute?!”
But the wiggling didn’t stop. Gracie, seeing anger in the man’s eyes, continued trying to free herself from his strong grasp. Muddy creek banks being what they are, Gracie found herself slipping backward into the creek, taking the angry man down with her. The two lay, both a bit stunned, covered in mud, with Kid positioned embarrassingly on top of the girl.
At precisely that moment, Kid heard the familiar sound of a rifle being cocked. “Get off’a my daughter.” The angry male voice was low and even.
Instinctively, Kid lifted both his hands above his head as he rolled off the girl into the mud. “Look, mister, I can explain…” Kid began, but was interrupted by Heyes, as he approached cautiously, hands also in the air, from across the creek.
“As we were tryin’ to explain to your daughter, sir, we aren’t lookin’ for any trouble. We’re just tryin’ to find some food, a place to rest. Horse threw a shoe a ways back.” Kid closed his eyes praying his partner’s silver tongue could get them out of yet another mess.
The man eyed both strangers, sizing them up in his mind before he continued, “Your friend always wrestle young girls like that?” His rifle was still aimed directly at Kid’s chest.
“Only when the girl pegs him with apples first,” explained Heyes, giving the girl’s father a tentative smile.
“You OK, Gracie?” her father asked and Gracie nodded, as she picked herself up out of the mud. She wasn’t hurt, just scared. She didn’t know a look from a man could shake her to the core like that.
The girl’s father looked from the smiling man to the man covered in mud (and a few red marks where his daughter had no doubt “pegged” him good). Lowering his rifle he began to chuckle. “Name’s Lewis,” he said, offering a hand up to the man on the creek bank. “Carl Lewis. And this here’s my daughter, Gracie.” Turning to his daughter he continued, “Gracie, ya need to apologize to these gentlemen. Ya can’t go throwin’ things at people just fer bein’ in need’a help an’ hungry.”
“But, Pa…” she started, but her father silenced her with a look. Obediently she did as her father asked, although she avoided looking directly at the eyes of the two men, especially the one who had grabbed her.
After the introductions were completed, Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones walked upstream with Mr. Lewis to the place he and his sons had been working. Gracie squished her way home in her muddied state, she and her sister carrying a bushel of apples between them.
Carl Lewis’ sons, Zack and Aaron, eyed-up the two strangers approaching with their father. Aaron, the youngest Lewis family member, noted the wet mud beginning to cake onto one stranger’s hair and clothing. Turning to his eldest brother, Aaron whispered, “Bet Gracie pegged him good!” Zack elbowed his little brother, but had no chance to answer before his father introduced the two men.
After meeting the boys, Heyes asked, “Mr. Lewis, ya mean to tell me you and your family cart water clear from the creek every day?” He and Kid joined the Lewis boys in hoisting a barrel filled with water into a waiting wagon.
“Only way we can see fit to get the job done. Least until we can get a new well dug. Just hope we can get to it ‘fore the snow flies.”
The last few months had been hard for the Lewis family. Running a ranch was hard work in the best of times, but the recent summer drought had made things more difficult. The horses were not much of a problem, the fenced pasture allowed them to drink directly from the spring-fed creek which was, thankfully, still flowing strong. The well however, had run dry. This made simple tasks like washing clothes and washing children almost impossible for Mrs. Lewis, who was also expecting a new family member to arrive in a few months. Lizzie Lewis shook her head as she looked out the window to see her younger daughter arrive home…covered in dirt again. Martha brought the apples to the kitchen and greeted her Ma with a kiss.
“Gracie’s washin’ up outside and then we’ll get these cleaned. Maybe we should make a couple pies too ’cause I think we’re havin’ company for dinner.” Martha relayed the story of the arrival of the two strangers to her Ma. Lizzie, although at times exasperated by the behavior of her younger daughter, had to admire the girl’s desire to protect her family. She inwardly smiled when Martha described the apple-flinging/creek-dipping incident.
Supper that night was a feast to Kid and Heyes, better than they’d eaten in weeks on the trail. It was a celebration to the Lewis family who so rarely had company. Everyone seemed to be happily chattering at once and enjoying each other. Everyone except Gracie. She sat quietly studying the two men. She found it difficult to look Mr. Jones in the eye, but glanced at him whenever she thought he wasn’t looking. He was quiet and seemed friendly enough at the moment, but Gracie remembered all too well the menacing look in his eyes earlier that day. They looked different now. Kind of warm and comforting.
Mr. Smith did most of the talking and was dark-haired with dark eyes and a nice smile. He told stories quite well and her brother, Aaron, seemed to really like him. Gracie could tell by the way he hung on every word the man said. Actually, it looked like Martha liked him pretty well too from the way she kept refilling his coffee and asking if he needed anything else, exactly what she should be doing too. She chided herself and got up to help her sister. She filled her brother’s glass with milk before serving dessert. Leaning in to offer a piece of pie to Mr. Jones, Gracie noticed how nice he smelled. She also noticed with horror, a bruise beginning to form on his jaw.
After dinner, Carl Lewis offered the two visitors a cigar and the three men retreated to the porch to enjoy the evening. The men talked on for hours about horses, cattle, the price of wheat and eventually the subject turned to the drought.
“Mr. Lewis, I’ve been thinkin’ that maybe we could help you out with your problem.” Kid gave Heyes a questioning glance at this remark. The two hadn’t discussed any plan. Kid listened as intently as Mr. Lewis while Heyes continued, “Seems you have your hands full right now, cartin’ water and carin’ for your ranch. If you’d be willin’ to hire us on, we could prob’ly dig that well for ya.”
Any reservations Kid had about Heyes’ plan remained concealed behind his stoic expression.
Carl Lewis rubbed his chin considering the proposition. “I wouldn’t be able to pay ya till after the horses sell, come fall. But if ya’d consider stayin’ for room and board till then, I s’pose we’d have a deal. Got a bunk house ‘long side the barn. Ya’d be comfortable there I think. Sure could use some help with that well too. Wha’d’ya say?”
Night shadows gradually overtook the Lewis family ranch. Gracie, who was supposed to be in bed already, sneaked off to her favorite place, to contemplate the events of her day. She sat in the corner of the barn loft, cuddling one of the kittens who resided there. She hadn’t set out to eavesdrop, really she hadn’t. It just happened that the loft shared one thin wall with the bunkhouse and, well, Gracie could hear every word Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones were saying. She carefully listened.
“This is workin’ out even better than I thought, Kid! We’re runnin’ a little low on funds and I wasn’t lookin’ forward to sleepin’ on the ground the next coupla weeks.” That was Joshua talking.
“I don’t know, Heyes. That Gracie keeps staring at me like she knows me or somethin’. I think we ought’a get outta here. The sooner the better!” Kid’s voice was barely more than a whisper but loud enough for Gracie to hear.
True, Gracie had to admit to staring at Mr. Jones. ‘Thaddeus’ he had asked her to call him. But the staring had nothing at all to do with recognizing him, or even with being suspicious of him. Gracie couldn’t seem to pull her eyes away from the handsome young man who had dumped her in the creek. It was something about the way he’d looked at her with those blue eyes that had unnerved her. Sent a chill right to her bones at first, but later, they were so…different, nice. Confusing thoughts for an eleven year old girl.
“She’s just a child, Kid. She’s never been on a train or in a bank, I’m sure of that. How could she recognize you?”
“We’ll do this your way, Heyes. But I don’t like it!” his partner answered with a scowl.
Kid? Heyes? Banks and trains? Gracie decided to keep her questions to herself until she could figure out the truth about these two.
Breakfast the next morning started with the traditional Lewis family Bible reading followed by a prayer in which Carl Lewis gave thanks to The Almighty for the arrival of two new helping pairs of hands on the ranch. After giving thanks for the food, the eating began. Heyes was astounded at how much the growing Lewis boys could eat in a short amount of time. They certainly put his partner to shame. Work assignments were given out to each member of the family including the two newest members, Lizzie Lewis having declared Thaddeus and Joshua part of the family already.
After breakfast it was Gracie’s job to clean the stalls. Thaddeus approached, running a hand over the animal’s neck. “That’s a fine horse,” he said, hoping to break the ice between them. He felt he’d really scared the girl the day before and hoped to put her at ease. “Ya know, I’d like to apologize for gettin’ ya all full’a mud yesterday.” Gracie looked back at him. The blue eyes were still friendly this morning. They even sparkled when he smiled. Finally, she broke their gaze, her head dropping in shame.
“I’m sorry I threw apples at ya, too.” This time she really did look sorry.
Unconsciously, Kid rubbed at a bruised spot on his face before holding out his hand, “Friends then?”
“Sure.” Gracie smiled back this time, placing her small hand in his large one. She liked the feel of her hand in his and, when he smiled at her, it made her feel kind of funny inside.
Heyes was just rounding the corner of the barn when Kid came out. “She throw anything at ya?” Heyes didn’t try to hide his smile as Kid sent him a look that clearly told his partner to keep his mouth shut.
Carl Lewis appeared at the door of the house and kissed his wife tenderly before heading toward the barn to catch up with Kid and Heyes. They would pick a site for the new well today and hopefully, the men could begin digging before the day was over. “Isn’t Aaron joinin’ us this mornin’?” Heyes asked. He saw Zack Lewis, the eldest of the Lewis children, making his way toward them. He was almost 15 and did a man’s work each day, but the youngest boy, Aaron was not with him.
“He’s got schoolin’ to do this mornin’. He ought’a be done by the time we’re ready to dig.” Carl and Lizzie Lewis were adamant about their children’s education.
“Didn’t realize we were anywhere near a school,” Heyes replied, noting the wary look Kid was sending his way. The two reformed outlaws thought they were far from any town.
“We ain’t. But the Missus does a real good job of getting’ the kids studyin’ every day. Aaron though, hard to get him to sit still long enough to practice his readin’.”
The men gathered the tools they’d need and set off to find the best location for the new well. As they worked together, Heyes grew quiet. Aaron had so easily wedged his way into Heyes’ heart. Maybe it was because the child reminded him of himself so many years ago. Maybe it was because of the open admiration the boy seemed to have for him. Whatever the reason, Heyes would come up with a plan to get the boy reading.
As the four of them worked together throughout the day, Heyes noticed the relationship between Carl Lewis and Zack. It was clear the two liked and respected each other. He wondered what it might have been like to have his own father around when he was 15. Would he have chosen a different path? And Kid was about Zack’s age when he’d first strapped on that gun belt. What would Kid’s life have been like if his Pa had been around?
Near the creek, several days later, Heyes rested in the shade of a tree. He and Kid found it beneficial to start work early in the morning when the air was still cool, and then take a longer break for lunch in the heat of the day. Kid had formed a fishing pole from a stick and lazily held it in a half-hearted attempt to catch a fish. Heyes leaned back against the tree trunk reading again, his worn copy of ‘Life on the Mississippi’.
Aaron approached anxiously, looking forward to his afternoon which would be spent working with the two men. “Whatcha doin’?” he asked Heyes.
“Hi Aaron. I’m readin’.” Heyes kept his answer simple, hoping to catch the boy’s interest.
“Why’d anybody do that if their ma weren’t makin’ ’em?” Aaron’s nose wrinkled with his obvious distaste for reading and Kid masked a chuckle, pretending to clear his throat.
“It’s a real good book. Ya want me to read some to ya?”
“Ya can if ya want. I’m not sayin’ I’ll listen too close.” The boy sat down on the creek bank near Kid.
The daily, lunch-time reading became a ritual and soon ‘Life on the Mississippi’ had been read cover to cover. Heyes had even managed to encourage Aaron to try some of the sentences on his own, and to Heyes’ delight, the boy was catching on.
“What’ll we read next?” the boy questioned eagerly, as Heyes closed the book.
Heyes gave a laugh and promised he’d have another book tomorrow. But this time, Aaron would have to read part of the time every day.
“OK! Deal!” he declared, and the two shook hands.
Sunday being a day of rest, Kid would usually ride out early in the morning, not coming back until it was time for the noon meal. This habit was a curious one to Gracie. Her pa never did such things. Sometimes Joshua went with Thaddeus and sometimes he didn’t. Gracie decided she’d follow him on one particular Sunday.
Kid Curry stood, tin cans lined up on a log, feet spread shoulder width apart, concentration written on his face. Gracie watched him from behind the cover of trees, her jaw dropping, as six cans spun off the log before she had even seen him draw.
As he placed the cans back on the log for a second round of practice, he spoke. “Ya can come on out and watch if ya want, I know yer back there.”
Gracie came out from behind the trees, a little embarrassed at having been caught following him. “That was real fast!” She couldn’t keep the admiration from her voice.
He got ready to fire again, this time with Gracie standing slightly behind him to one side. Just before he was ready to draw…”Ping!” One of the cans flipped off the log. Then again…”Ping!” a second can flipped. Kid turned, wondering what was going on, and saw Gracie release a third small rock. “Ping!” Gracie’s mischievous grin caught his eye and the two laughed together.
“Ya got good aim, Gracie.” He rubbed his jaw, teasing her.
They shared a morning of target practice, before returning home in time for dinner.
The weeks passed and hints of autumn filled the air, with the Lewis family growing more fond of Joshua and Thaddeus by the day. In fact, they wondered how they had gotten along before the men arrived. The men worked hard, joined the family in laughter and had earned a place of respect in the Lewis household. Lizzie had grown to love the two like her own sons. She’d sorely miss them when they left. Carl said they had more than earned their keep.
Kid and Heyes joined the Lewis family, as they made their annual trip into town to deliver horses to the train. Carl Lewis would be paid for the horses and he could in turn pay Kid and Heyes for their work with the well. The men had certainly done more than their fair share. Heyes had even come up with an idea for placing a pump inside the kitchen, making Lizzie’s load lighter. Another pump was located in a small room containing a large wash tub. Here, laundry could be done or baths could be taken with minimal carting of water from outdoors. Hours of labor would be saved for the entire Lewis family.
Gracie rode quietly in the wagon, knowing her days with Thaddeus were numbered. The well was finished. Her Pa would be paying them the money he owed them. There’d be no reason for them to stay any longer.
“Hey, Gracie! Come on! I wanna show ya somethin’!” Gracie was pulled out of her dismal thoughts by Thaddeus calling to her.
She jumped from the moving wagon and hit the ground running. Her mother shook her head, calling words of caution to her daughter’s back. When she drew near his horse, he reached a hand down and pulled her up behind him in one fluid motion. She held on tight as they raced to the top of a rise. Thaddeus pulled the horse to a stop and both dismounted. Before them was a beautiful valley. They stood looking across in silence together. The sun reflected off the autumn colors, which were just beginning to show on the tips of the tallest trees, creating a peaceful effect that was almost magic. Breathtaking. Thaddeus picked up a beautiful reddish leaf and tucked it into one of Gracie’s pig tails.
She was glad she hadn’t missed this moment, glad he’d chosen to share it with her.
Town was busy when they arrived. The men and Zack took care of business while Ma and Martha went to look at yard goods at the mercantile. There was lots of sewing to be done for the new baby that would be arriving soon. Having no interest in yard goods, Gracie was assigned the task of keeping her younger brother out of trouble, so the two went exploring together.
Remembering the promise she’d made herself weeks earlier, Gracie decided to see if she could discover anything about the names ‘Kid’ and ‘Heyes’. The two stopped outside town hall, near a wall covered in wanted posters. “Practice your readin’,” Gracie instructed Aaron, just to keep her brother from asking her too many questions.
They stood for a while, Aaron’s voice softly sounding out words. Gracie’s eyes clouded with sadness when she found what she’d been looking for. Kid and Heyes. Banks and trains. Exactly as she feared.
That evening was spent camping on the trail back toward home. It was a wonderful night, spent sharing stories and songs around the fire. Making memories Gracie would keep for a lifetime.
The following night found them home again. Kid and Heyes packed, ready to leave at first light. Gracie made her way to the loft, her safe place. So much on her young mind. Thaddeus often joined her in the loft and she hoped tonight would be no different. He and Joshua would be leaving in the morning. She wouldn’t have another chance to tell him. Could she tell him that she loved him and he was the man she was going to marry, he just didn’t know it yet? That was something eleven year old girls just didn’t do. They kept those things secret. And the wanted poster outside the sheriff’s office threatened to ruin her carefully laid plans for the future.
“Thought I’d find you up here.” There was that smile again, causing her stomach to do the now familiar little flip.
She held out a small grey and white cat to him, taking a calico into her arms. A mouse scampered away through the straw, safe for now. “Which one do I have this time?” Kid was aware Aaron had been naming the barn cats.
“You got Huck and I got Tom,” the girl replied.
“Tom? Thought that calico was a girl cat.” He gave a questioning glance at the cat Gracie held.
“She is a girl, but Aaron wanted to name them from the book Joshua read with him.”
The two sat quietly for a while listening to the purring cats, as Gracie worked up her nerve.
“I need to ask you somethin’, Thaddeus,” she watched his eyes carefully, as she went on, “’bout Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes.”
The silence was thick. Kid’s eyes betrayed him. Even an eleven year old girl could recognize their guilt. He said nothing and saw her eyes begin to fill with tears.
“That’s why you have to leave, isn’t it?” she went on, trying to fight back a sob.
“Gracie, it’s kinda hard to explain. Sometimes life gets complicated.” He found himself swallowing down the lump in his own throat.
Her tears were flowing freely now, as she threw her arms around his neck, small cats scattering into the straw. “It doesn’t matter! I love you anyway!” She accidentally blurted out her secret.
“That’s real sweet, Gracie.” Kid held her for a while and let her cry onto the shoulder of his soft, warm coat, as he searched for words. “Ya know, one day you’re gonna find a real nice man, a good man. You’ll get married and have a nice family. You’re gonna ferget all about me.”
She pushed herself back from him, looking one more time into the eyes she’d come to love. “You are a good man and I’ll never stop lovin’ you!”
Later that night as she lay in her own bed, she whispered again to the night, “I’ll never forget, never!”
Gracie never forgot. Pondering on it now, Grace realized Kid had been a scale by which she had measured all potential beaus during her growing up years. She admired his air of confidence, his gentleness and his sense of humor. Gracie had decided then and there any man in her life would have those qualities. No man could live up to the measure, until the day she met Matthew Williams. She knew immediately he was different from all the others and she had been right. The blue eyes that sparkled when he smiled had been so familiar. His confident manner had turned her head. But it was his generous spirit, his kindness and gentleness, even though he tried to hide them beneath a rough exterior; these were the things that won her heart. This was a man she could love.
Although Gracie had carried Kid Curry in her childish heart all these years, Grace’s heart belonged to Matthew. It was Matthew who had been there through the ups and downs of life, the day to day happiness and trials. They had laughed and cried together, worked and played together, argued and made up together. They were happy.
Grace rose from her rocker, placed her worn Bible, containing one dry leaf, back on the mantle and turned from the fire. Christmas. She had nothing more to wish for this Christmas. She had all she ever wanted. Matthew, Anna, Paul and Ginny – the gifts she never thought to ask for, who turned out to be the most precious. Instead she breathed a silent prayer for her long ago friends. “May they be safe and warm, loved and happy. May they feel as much joy and peace in their lives as I have felt in mine.”
Grace made her way slowly up the stairs, back to her own bed, the bed she had shared with Matthew for nearly 30 years. She tucked herself under the quilt, snuggling in close to feel the warmth of her husband. Matthew sensed her presence and pulled her even closer, putting an arm around her waist. “Merry Christmas, Matthew,” she said quietly, even though she knew he was still asleep. And to the night she whispered, in the way she’d done so many years before, “Merry Christmas. I’ll never forget.” Grace closed her eyes and slept the sleep of a contented heart.
More of Grace’s memoirs: Thirty
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.