No Place Like Home

No Place Like Home

June 1902 – On a Train  from San Francisco to Sheridan

Nora Curry watched the changing landscape race by outside the window of the train, absently running her thumb over the edge of a silver band on the third finger of her left hand.  Glancing to her right, she smiled at her resting husband and dropped her gaze to the matching silver band he wore.  It was quite possible, she decided, she had married the perfect man.  She closed her eyes, remembering one special day out of the many they had already shared.

***The scene was breathtaking.  Looking one direction, Nora saw the San Francisco Bay, with ferries and boats passing each other, coming and going in a busy pattern. In the other direction were roads running up steep hills, with houses dotting each side.  Overhead gulls cried, a peaceful sound.  In the middle of the bay was the island.  Alcatraz, Jed had told her.  A military prison. Nora noted how his voice had grown somber with the thought and had avoided any further discussion of the place.  She returned her eyes to the dancing water.

“Beautiful!”

“It is,” Nora agreed, turning to see Jed’s smiling face as he joined her on the picnic blanket.

“I was talkin’ about you,” he greeted her with a kiss, and Nora blushed.

His eyes glimmered with excitement.  “I got us somethin’,” he announced.

“What?”  Her eyes mirrored his feeling.

“These.”  He opened his hand, revealing a matching set of silver wedding bands.  “Didn’t think you really wanted to wear that one forever.”  He removed the gold band from her middle finger where she had been wearing it, since it was much too large for her ring finger.  “I think this one’ll fit you a whole lot better.”  He slipped the silver band onto the proper finger.  “You like it?” he checked.

Her eyes glistened while she placed the second silver band on his finger.  “Not near as much as I love you!”***

The train was entering Wyoming now, drawing closer to the place she would call home for the rest of her life.  A place she’d never seen and, other than Jed, with people she’d never even met.  Nora’s eyes stayed focused out the window, but she saw nothing.

Jed watched her, nervously twisting her silver band and had seen her glance at his.  Without realizing it, he checked for the gold band and chain, now hidden in his vest pocket.  As soon as they got home, he would tuck it away with his Colt.  Two mementos of a life that had once been, locked away together, forever.

“Somethin’ botherin’ you?”  He covered her hand with his.

“What makes you say that?” she nervously attempted denial.

“You fiddle with your ring when you got somethin’ on your mind.”

He knew her well, too well for someone she’d met only six weeks earlier.  Nora looked down before returning her gaze out the window.  “What if they don’t like me?”

“What’s not to like?”

“Jed, I never even met the Heyes family before.  I’m a stranger to them.”

“Look at me,” he touched her chin, turning her face to his.  “You’re no stranger, Nora, you’re my wife.  And they’re gonna love you as much as I do,” he reassured her, but then thought again.  “Well, they’re gonna love you for sure, but nobody’s ever gonna love you as much as I do.”

“You really think so?”

“I know it, Nora.  Wait and see.”

Pair-o-dice Ranch

“And Uncle Jed never said nothin’ else about her?”

“Never said ***anything*** else about her,” Christina corrected.  “And no, Sam, he didn’t.”

“Not even her name?” Lillian pressed.

“Not even her name,” Heyes assured his inquisitive daughter.  “Like we told you before, your Uncle Jed sent us a telegram a few weeks ago, saying he wouldn’t be coming directly home from Texas because he’d gotten married.  Now he sent us another one telling us when their train would arrive.  Simple as that.”

Heyes experienced a momentary twinge of remorse, at having so effectively schooled Jed Curry in the art of concise telegram wording.  Had his instruction not been so successful, perhaps they would know more about the new Mrs. Curry.  Important things.  Like her name.

Heyes hoisted his youngest daughter into the wagon with the rest of the family.

“Any more questions will just have to wait until we meet her.”  Christina had directed the statement toward her curious offspring, but her focus remained on her husband.  She saw the tension in his shoulders, the clench of his jaw, the apprehension he tried to hide behind the veil of his dark eyes.  Jed Curry was married.  He had a new partner.  Where would that leave Hannibal Heyes?  Christina smiled to herself, wondering if Kid Curry had suffered similarly, oh so many years before, when she and Hannibal Heyes had merged their interests, for better or worse.

The wagon jostled toward town.

“I don’t like ‘er.”  This from Rosalyn, their youngest.

“You haven’t even met her,” Lillian countered.

“Still don’t like ‘er,” Rosie insisted.  “Unc’a Jed missed my,” there was a pause while a thumb and baby finger were pressed against a tiny palm and three more were raised, “…my ‘free’ birfday, ’cause’a Mary!”

“Who’s Mary?” Sam wondered.

“Pa said Unc’a Jed got Mary!” the child answered, challenging her brother to deny the fact, “an’ that’s how come he missed my birfday!”

“Got m-a-r-r-i-e-d!” Sam enunciated slowly and distinctly for his younger sister.

Silence and the downturn of a three-year-old lower lip preceded a sniff.  “But Unc’a Jed is s’post’a marry me!”

“You can’t marry Uncle Jed, Rosie,” Sam informed.

“How come?”  Another sniff was followed by more serious lip-wobbling.

“Well first, ’cause he’s yer uncle an’ second, ’cause you’re only a little girl!”  Sam rolled his eyes, shaking his head at the ridiculous notion.

Tears threatened to spill from Rosie’s eyes and she buried her face in her mother’s skirt.

Christina replied with reproachful tone that couldn’t be mistaken, even by an eight year old.  “Thank you for your tactful explanation, Samuel.  Perhaps we should save any further discussion of Uncle Jed’s new wife until we actually meet her?”

Heyes sighed, trying to shake a heavy sense of foreboding.  “Good idea.”

Train Station – Sheridan, Wyoming

The train was already pulling away from the platform when the Heyes family arrived.

“There he is!” Sam cried, running when he spotted him.  “Uncle Jed!”

Jed put down two bags and stooped into a hug.  “Watch the ribs, eh Sam?  They’re still a little sore.”

Hugs were exchanged all around, as well as some good-natured back-slapping between two life-long friends.

“Well, where is she?” Christina finally asked, surveying passengers who were still milling around the platform, locating bags and various other parcels.

“Nora?”  Jed looked around.  “She was here a minute ago.  Maybe she…”

So the wife’s name was Nora.  Heyes’ eyes were drawn immediately to a lovely woman just stepping from inside the train station.  A ‘Nora’ if he’d ever seen one.  She was tall, blonde, sophisticated-looking.  Rather similar in appearance to a woman they’d both known long ago, Grace Turner.  Elegant.  The kind of woman the Kid…or, Jed, would certainly be attracted to.  Heyes approached, determined to put his best foot forward.  “Excuse me.”

She turned, her blue eyes sparkling.  “Yes?”  Her voice sounded hopeful.

“Over here!”  Curry was motioning him toward the family group where he stood, a young girl at his side.

Heyes turned again to the woman.  “My partner failed to mention how lovely you are, Ma’am,” Heyes began, removing his hat, “or,” he motioned toward the girl standing near Jed, “the fact that you have a daughter.”

There was a distinct, yet subtle, lift of the woman’s brow in confusion, or perhaps amusement.  She smiled, “I’m afraid you must be mistaken.”

“Heyes!” Curry’s voice called again, “Over here!”

Heyes glanced back toward the assembled family members, then turned again toward the woman.  “You mean…you’re not Nora, the woman my partner married?”

She shook her head.

“And that’s not your daughter?” he motioned behind him with a thumb.

She shook her head again.

“So the girl standing next to him,” Heyes closed his eyes in embarrassment, “She must be the wife?”

The woman shrugged and nodded.  “It would seem so.”

“Right.”  Heyes cleared his throat.  “Sorry, Ma’am.”

The woman giggled and waved as Heyes backed away.

“…Christina, Lillian, Sam, Rosie,” Curry was busy pointing out each family member, “and my partner, Hannibal Heyes.”  He exhaled a happy sigh and, smiling, pulled the young woman closer before continuing, with starry eyes, “Heyes family, this is Nora, my wife.”

“I’m so happy to meet all of you.  Jed has told me so much about you.”  Her smile was nervous, but genuine.

Christina was first to step forward.

Nora extended her hand.

Instead, Christina welcomed her with a warm, sisterly hug.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Nora.  Welcome to the family!”

Lillian followed suit.

“You talk funny!” Sam remarked, and received a poke from his older sister.

Heyes was next.  He hugged Nora, hoping he was successful in masking his initial surprise at her age.  “Welcome, Nora.  I look forward to getting to know you better.  Much better.  We all do,” he spoke on behalf of his family.

Rosie pushed past her new Aunt Nora, going directly to ***her*** Uncle Jed, hugging his leg possessively.  “I missed you, Unc’a Jed.  Real bad!”

“Ya did?  Well I missed you too, Rosie-girl,” he confessed, and hoisted the child to his hip, wincing only slightly as his ribs protested.  He glanced at the two bags, still sitting on the platform and Nora reached for them.

Heyes grabbed one and Sam quickly snatched the other.  “Do you have more trunks in the baggage car?” Heyes wondered.

“No, this is everything,” Nora answered.

“Nora lost pretty much everything in the storm, Heyes.  But it sure made packin’ for the move easier,” Curry quipped.

“I want to hear everything!” Christina chimed in, taking Nora’s arm as she directed her to the waiting wagon.  “About how you met, about your wedding, your trip.  Everything!”

Following behind them, Jed met his partner’s eyes, communicating a quick, unvoiced question, “Well?  What do you think of her?”

Strange.  For the first time in his life, Curry was unable to read Heyes’ silent response.

Pair-o-dice

Dinner that night, back at the Heyes homestead, was an interesting affair.  Nora patiently endured her role as subject of an inquisition.

“You always live in Texas?”

“No, I was born in Chicago.”

“Really!  I once lived in Chicago,” Christina attempted to interject, but was cut off at the pass as more questions were hurled Nora’s direction.

Sam – “What’s it like in Texas?”

Lillian – “What it like in Chicago?”

Sam – “Do you know Sam Houston?  He’s from Texas too.”

“No, Sam, I never met Sam Houston.  In fact, I believe he died a  number of years before I was even born,” Nora smiled.

Heyes bit his tongue.  Indeed, a good many things had happened before Nora had been born, especially in the life of Jed Curry.

The barrage of questions continued, fired more quickly than the emptying of Curry’s .45 during target practice, a dozen or so years earlier.   Nora took time to answer each question as completely as she could before fielding another.

Rosalyn Heyes envisioned a target practice of her own, daggers sailing from the child’s dark eyes.  Once, Nora even felt a sharp kick to the shin from under the table.  When she raised her eyes to Rosalyn’s, the tip of a pink tongue emerged, quick and snake-like, from between two potato encrusted lips.

When the meal came to an end and children had been hustled off to their after dinner tasks, Heyes stood.  “A toast!”  He raised his glass.

Three glasses were raised in response and Nora admired, not for the first time, the unique etching and long, twisted stem of the antique Georgian goblet she held.

“To the newlyweds,” his glance took in the couple, then caught Christina’s.  “A long and happy future.”

Christina lifted an eyebrow, encouraging her husband to continue, but Heyes brought the toast to a close by raising the glass to his lips.

Had Curry’s eyes not been so full of Nora, perhaps he may have noticed the uncharacteristically brief speech from his silver-tongued partner.

As it was, Heyes’ reservations were only detected by Christina.

***

“This is it, Nora.  We’re home.”

They had walked the short distance from the Heyes residence to the small cabin Jed called his own.  They stood on the porch and he pushed the cabin door open.

Nora glanced around for a moment, surveying the ranch, the cabin, the man who was her husband.

Home.

Home was the memory of a second story flat in Chicago, where Nora and her father had been happy.  Home was one rented room in Texas, now scattered to the wind.

Home.  Four simple letters, holding a lifetime of hopes, dreams and the promise of things to come.

“I’m s’post’a carry you over the threshold.  For good luck, I think.”

Nora nodded, allowing him to lift her and carry her inside.  When he set her down, Nora stood with her arms still encircling his neck.  “It’s perfect!”

“Perfect?”  He slipped a hand from her waist.  “Nora, it’s too dark to see anything in here.  Let me light a lamp so you can…”

“Don’t!” she whispered, her breath tickling his ear.  “I don’t need to see to know it’s perfect.”  Her arms wrapped more tightly around him.  “It’s got you…” Nora pressed closer, accentuating her message with lips, barely brushing the skin of his neck, “and me.  And our home, it’s, it’s…”

Jed covered her mouth with his, before completing the sentence Nora had begun, “…Perfect!”

***

Christina removed her necklace and placed it in its velvet lined box.

Heyes silently unbuttoned his shirt, hanging it on a peg inside the closet door.

A matching bracelet joined the necklace.

There was a rustle of covers as Heyes took his place on his side of the shared bed, pulled a book from the nightstand and opened it.

Several moments passed before Christina joined him.  “You going tell me what’s bothering you now, or wait until the middle of the night?”

“Who says anything’s bothering me?”

Following the usual conversational pattern, Heyes would deny at least once more, maybe twice, before finally divulging the problem to his wife.  Christina waited.

“I’m fine.  Really, Christina.  Go to sleep.”  He kissed her forehead.

“Alright then.  As long as you’re fine.”  She rolled to her side, face away from him, and pulled the blanket to her chin.  She didn’t close her eyes.

“She’s too young for him!”

Christina smiled.  The floodgates had opened.  Soon, the full confession of Hannibal Heyes would pour forth.

“And I’ll bet she doesn’t have a clue about his past!”

“Do you really think Jed would marry a woman without being sure she knew exactly WHO she was marrying?”

“You don’t know him like I do, Christina!  Jed’s always been a sucker for a damsel in distress!”

“And that trait has gotten him married… How many times in the past fifty years?”

“Just ’cause Jed don’t marry ’em all don’t mean he ain’t a sucker for ’em.”

Christina sat up in bed, pulling her knees to her chest and leaning forward on them.  Hannibal’s slip back to the unpolished language of his youth was a sure sign he was beyond the normal state of upset.  “Okay, so what has Nora said or done to cause you to distrust her?”

A tense silence ruled, while Heyes considered.  Finally, he crossed both arms over his chest.  “Well, I think she’s a gold-digger!” he declared triumphantly, satisfied at having come up with some tangible explanation for his lack of acceptance concerning Nora Denning.  Scratch that.  Nora ***Curry.***

Christina’s hand covered her mouth and she tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a giggle.  “I’m sorry.  A gold-digger?  Jed lives in a run-down, one-room cabin, way out here in Nowheresville, Wyoming and you think Nora picked HIM as her mark?”

“Jed is a rancher.  A land owner,” Heyes stubbornly clung to his assessment.  “And…and… I saw her checking out your grandmother’s antique wine glasses!” he finished in a rush.

Christina shrugged.  “Alright, I’ll give you that.  Grandmother’s Georgian goblets are exquisite, but I hardly think Nora knew about them when she married Jed.”  Christina wiped away her grin and paused for a calming breath.  “Hannibal, if Nora was looking for a ranching land owner, I hear Texas is full of them.  Why wouldn’t she just set her sights on one of them?”

“Because Jed’s famous.  Infamous anyway.  He has that notorious quality that some women find,” he fumbled for the right word, “…Irresistible!”

“So, now you think Nora DID know exactly WHO Jed was when she married him?”

Heyes shot her a reprimanding look.  “Don’t twist my words!”

“I’m not twisting, I’m clarifying.  First you said Nora didn’t know WHO she married and now you think she sought Jed out deliberately because he is notorious.  You can’t have it both ways.  You need to pick.  Which?”

A disgusted sigh was released as Heyes relinquished that particular part of the debate.  “Alright, so maybe Nora’s not a gold-digger, but I still say she’s too young for him!”

“I’m younger than you.”

“Only ten years or so, Christina.  You’re MUCH older than she is.”

Christina grew quiet.  “So you think Jed should have looked for someone OLDER to marry.  Someone MUCH older…like me.”  The look that accompanied her statement would have struck fear in the heart of many-a man.  It most certainly would have caused a wise gambler to fold.

Foolishly, Heyes pressed on.  “She’s barely older than Lillian!”

“Nora is not a child!”  The ‘look’ had now transformed to a full-blown glare.  “She’s a grown woman who happens to be in love with your partner.  And in case you haven’t noticed, Jed loves her too.  Get used to it, Hannibal!  I am finished with this conversation!”  Blankets billowed as Christina roughly turned to her side, away from her husband, this time with angry flourish.

Another sigh escaped Heyes’ chest.  This one, not disgusted, but resigned.  “I’m sorry, Christina.  I didn’t mean to say you were old.”  He pressed in close behind her, with his fingers caressing her shoulder.  “I guess I’m just jealous.”

The continued, icy silence caused him to re-think what he’d just said.

“No!  I mean…I’m not jealous that Jed’s wife is so young and…and…”  Another long pause and a swallow from Heyes.  “I mean, I think I’m jealous that, after all these years, Jed’s found a partner that’s not…me.”

The pitiful sound of the admission caused Christina to turn toward him.  She placed a hand on his cheek.  “Do you remember the day I first arrived here at Pair-o-dice?”

Heyes nodded.

“Do you remember what I told you then?”

“Yeah, you said you didn’t want to be my partner.  You wanted to be my wife.”

“Exactly.  And I’m sure Nora feels the same way, Hannibal.  It’s not your place she wants to take in Jed’s life.  It’s a place of her own she’s looking for.”

His smile was back, revealing two charming dimples.  “How’d you get so smart, Mrs. Heyes?”

“Well, I did marry a genius,” she smiled, then kissed him.  “A notorious genius at that!”  Another kiss.  “And it just so happens I find this notorious genius completely…Irresistible!”

Denver

“That’s the last of them, Mr. Newman.”  Calvin Ford tucked the final contract into his portfolio.  “The transfers are complete and all deposits have been made into the accounts you have designated.”

***’The end of an era,’*** Alexander Newman thought.  If his son were alive, perhaps he would have… But both his son and daughter-in-law had been killed, shortly after the birth of their first and only child, Christina Newman Heyes, who today, lived a life of her own, on a Wyoming ranch.  Alexander’s days of wheeling and dealing in the world of business were now, history.  “And the house?” he asked, already knowing the answer, but needing confirmation.

“A buyer has already submitted a bid, sir.  For the house and its contents, minus any personal items you should choose to declare, of course.  Provided you find his offer acceptable, the transaction can be completed soon.  At your convenience.”

Alexander nodded.  A transaction.  His life’s work, his home.  Everything.  Reduced to a simple transaction.  “Very well.  I believe we are finished for today, Mr. Ford.”

“Yes, sir.”  The attorney stood and prepared to leave.  “And Mr. Newman,” Calvin Ford paused, grasping the older man’s hand and meeting his eyes, “It’s been a pleasure, doing business with you.  I won’t forget you, sir, or the principles you’ve taught me.”

“I couldn’t have made a better decision than appointing you administrator, Calvin!”  Newman’s blue eyes sparkled and he gave a wink.  “You’ll make me proud!  I’m sure of it!”

“I hope so, sir.”

When Ford left, Alexander sat alone in the office of his home.  These walls had once held family.  His wife, Estrella, and their son.  Years later, their granddaughter.   The place would more rightly have been described as a mansion.  Huge, beautiful and decorated in the finest of taste.  But to Alexander, it only felt, too large, cold and empty.  He was alone.

Suddenly tired and dizzy, he reached for the powder he kept in the top drawer of his desk and stirred it into a glass of water.  “Laurette!” he called for the housekeeper.

“Yes, sir.”  The trusted housekeeper appeared.  As always, at her employer’s beckoning call.

“Give me a hand.  We’ve some packing to do.”

Pair-o-dice

“You’re awful quiet.”  Jed Curry rode his horse away from the herd, now gathered around the feed wagon he’d just finished placing in the meadow.  One wagon horse trailed behind him.  Heyes led the other.   “Somethin’ on your mind?”

“Huh?  No, no.  Just tired.  Been real busy with you gone.”

“Heyes, I known you all my life.  You’re always busy an’ it don’t ever make you quiet.  Somethin’s on your mind.  You gonna tell me what it is?”

“It’s nothing, Jed.  I’m fine.”

“Fine, huh?”

“That’s what I said, didn’t I?”  A hint of irritation cooled Heyes’ tone.

“Christina’s okay?  And the kids?”

“Everybody’s fine!  The ranch is fine, the newspaper’s fine, I’m fine!  Everything is,” he waved his hands for emphasis, “FINE!”

Curry rubbed his chin with a gloved hand.  “Amazin’.”

Heyes’ irritation grew more obvious.  “What’s amazing?”

“Amazin’ you’re not better at lyin’.  And to think,” Jed shook his head, “the reputation you got playin’ cards.”

“What are you talking about?  I can bluff good as I ever could.”

“Really?”

“Really!  Can we just drop it?”

“We could…if I knew WHAT we were droppin’.  This got somethin’ to do with Nora?”

“That is absurd!”  Heyes rolled his eyes.  “Just stop.  I don’t want talk about this anymore.”

“That’s obvious ’cause it’s the same thing we been NOT talkin’ about ever since I brought Nora home.”

Silence from Heyes.  Then he released a long breath.

“Tell me, Heyes.  Did Nora say somethin’?  Do somethin’?  What?”

“No, of course not.  She didn’t say or do anything wrong.”

“But you don’t like her.”

“It’s not that.  She seems nice enough.  Real nice.  And it’s obvious you care an awful lot about her, but…”

“But…”

It seemed there was no way out of this conversation.  “But…she seems kind’a young.”

“Is that all?”  Jed let out a sigh of relief.  “Sheesh, Heyes, I thought the same thing at first.  I mean, Nora’s older than she looks, but still…”

It was at this point, Jed Curry began to babble, a state here-to-fore un-witnessed by humankind.

“See, Nora did her probationary training ‘fore she became a full-fledged nurse an’ then, after her father died, she moved to Texas, where she was nursin’ when I met her, ‘cept really she met me first, ’cause I was unconscious for the first couple’a days, even durin’ a sponge bath apparently, an’ then when I woke up, I thought she was… It was her voice, Heyes.  Like I known her forever.  Anyways, see Caleb, ya know, the boy down the hole with me durin’ the storm, he didn’t have no one an’ he sort’a latched onto the two of us, me ‘specially, but then the Kramer’s baby died and Nora was so sad, I had’ta do somethin’ an’ then…Heyes, it just felt so right holdin’ her!  It was just like Christina said.  That’s one smart woman you married, Heyes, you know that?  You gotta hang onto her.  So, it was just like Christina said, like lightnin’ strikin’ or somethin’ but I fought it, ’cause I thought Nora was too young, or I was too old, one or the other, but it didn’t matter ’cause turned out Nora was thinkin’ the same thoughts ’bout me, only she was too scared to let it show ’til the last night ‘fore I was gettin’ on the train to come back to Pair-o-dice and then… Lord, when she kissed me, Heyes, it was like… I knew.  I just KNEW!  I didn’t wanna ever…”

“I get it, Jed.  You love Nora.”

Jed stopped, and breathed.  Then he laughed and nodded.

It was quiet for a while, as Curry came down from his emotional rush and Heyes digested a small measure of what had just been shared.  One thing was clear and certain.  Nora Curry, young or old, now held the key to his partner’s happiness.

“Look, Jed, to be honest, there is something else.”  He reined his horse to a stop and Curry followed suit.  “I never realized what it must have been like for you, when I first brought Christina back here to Pair-o-dice.  How you must have felt… I don’t know, left out, alone,” he cleared his throat nervously, “maybe even jealous.”

“Jealous?  What would I have had to be jealous about, Heyes?  You were still here.  You and me, partners, just like always.”

Heyes studied Jed Curry, giddy as a starry-eyed schoolboy over his newly wedded wife.  Life was good.  Very good.  He smiled.  “Right.  You and me, Jed.  Just like always.”

***

A knock came at the already open door of the Curry cabin as Nora was clearing breakfast dishes the next morning.

“I need to go to town, check in at The Tidings.  Need anything?” Heyes asked, leaning against the door frame.

“Not me, but Nora, you could use some stuff for makin’ dresses, couldn’t you?”

She nodded.  It was true.  During their days of honeymooning, Nora had picked up a few dresses, suitable for travel and dinners out.  As for everyday clothing, Nora was severely lacking.

“Uh…You might not want me picking out your woman-stuff, Nora.  How about you ride along and do your own choosing?”

“I could use some fabric.  Some for clothing and some to brighten the cabin up a bit.”  She gave Jed a questioning glance.  Hannibal Heyes was her husband’s best friend, sure, but he had a knack for making Nora feel like the cadaver on which she had once assisted in the performing of an autopsy – vulnerable, and exposed for thorough examination.

Jed answered with a nod of confidence, misunderstanding his wife’s reservations.  “This is your home now too, Nora.  And the place could sure use some freshenin’ up.  Go ahead, get whatever ya need.  I got ranch work to do this mornin’.

“Alright, then.”  She turned to Heyes, still leery, yet cautiously optimistic.  “Give me a few minutes.  I’ll meet you in the barn.”

***

The wagon rolled toward town in silence.

“Nice day,” Heyes ventured.

“Sure is,” Nora answered, and again, silence ruled.

“Look, I got an idea,” Heyes began.  “How about the two of us making an attempt at getting to know one another?”

She shrugged, “Alright by me.  Where should we start?”

“Well, I assume Jed’s told you some about me, but I really don’t know anything about you.  Did I hear you mention you were from Chicago?”

“Yes.  I was born there.  Lived there until I moved to Texas a few years ago.”

“Christina used to live in Chicago too.  Maybe you knew each other?”

This drew a laugh from Nora.  “I doubt it.”

“Why is that?”

“From the little I know of Christina, I don’t think we came from the same part of Chicago.  I didn’t see much of neighborhoods like the one she lived in unless I was making meat deliveries with my father.”

“That’s right.  Joseph Denning.  Jed said your father was a butcher.”

“He was the best.”

“And you miss him.”

“Every day.  Tell me something I don’t already know about you.”

“Jed’s told you a lot about me?”

“Well, to be honest, I knew some about you before I even met Jed, from newspapers and novels and such.  My father had an interest in the Wild West and your name came up…oh, once or twice.”  She gave him a playful smile.  “Jed’s too.”

“Nora, just so you know, nothing in those dime novels is true!  Lies!  All of it!” Heyes chuckled.

“But really, what should I know about the great Hannibal Heyes?”

His face grew serious and Nora sensed a subtle shift in his demeanor.

“I’m not the ‘great’ anybody, Nora.  I’m just a man who broke the law so many times I got good at it.”

She studied his face, noting signs of remorse, regret.  There was a painful honesty in his voice that assured Nora, their roles as examiner and examinee had just been willingly and deliberately, reversed.  “But you’re not that man anymore.  You’ve changed.”

“A great man would be the one who never broke the law in the first place,” he reminded, still not meeting her eyes.

“And you’re raising your son to be such a man?”

His response was little more than a whisper.  “I hope so.”

“Then maybe greatness is in the eye of the beholder.”

They fell silent again, but this time, the silence was comfortable, as each considered the other in a new light.

Just as they pulled up in front of the mercantile, Heyes looked at Nora and grinned.  When the brakes were set, Heyes jumped down, assisting her from the wagon.  His eyes met hers, dancing, as if he knew a secret.

“What?” she wondered.

Heyes winked.  “So you kissed him first, huh?”

***

“How are things at the paper?”

Hannibal Heyes shut the door behind him, hung his hat on a stand near the door and was promptly tackled by a pint-sized version of his wife.  “Wanna go fishin’, Pa?  ‘Cause Uncle Jed said he was busy, so if me an’ Sam was gonna get any fishin’ in, we’d have to ask…”

“Hold on, just a minute, Rosie!  Mind if I say hello to your mother first?”

An impatient sigh was followed by the even more impatient tapping of a miniature foot.

“Things at The Tidings are fine.  Next issue is ready to go to press.”  Christina was greeted properly, with a lingering kiss.  “How was your day?”

“Mmm.  It was good before, but now it’s looking even better.”

Heyes gave his wife a mischievous grin.  “I’ve got something for you!”

“It’s a letter, Ma!” Rosie piped in.  “Pa’s holdin’ it, ‘hind his back!”

Heyes raised an eyebrow of reproach at his youngest, who had spoiled his surprise.

Rosie cast her eyes downward momentarily before her smile returned.  “Ya gonna open it now, or wait ’til after supper?”

“It’s from Grandfather Newman.”  Christina’s hand shook as she slid a letter opener across the envelope’s seal.

“If it was bad news, he would have sent a telegram,” Heyes assured her.

Christina responded with a hopeful nod, already reading.  “He’s coming for a visit!”  It was more of a delighted squeal than a statement.

“When?”

“Looks like he’ll be arriving on tomorrow’s train!”

Heyes slowly let out the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.  The news that Alexander Newman, Christina’s grandfather, at age eighty-nine, was well and planning a visit to his granddaughter’s home was truly good news.  Heyes would welcome him with open arms.  So would the children.

Rosalyn let out the breath she had been holding too.  There would be no fishing today.

***

“You’re what?”  Jed Curry stopped mucking out a stall and crossed the barn to more effectively glare at his wife.

“Thinking about taking a job with Dr. Walker.”

“Why?”

This drew a laugh from Nora.  “Because it’s what I do, silly.  And today, when Heyes and I ran into him in town, Dr. Walker mentioned that he could always use an experienced pair of hands.”  She rolled her eyes in Jed-like fashion.  “I AM a nurse, or had you forgotten?”

“‘Course I remember.  We wouldn’t’a met if you hadn’t been a nurse.  Only now, you’re my wife.”

“Yes?”

“Yes what?”  He moved a step backward, studying the woman in front of him with a confused expression.  Exactly WHICH part of ‘You’re my wife’ hadn’t been clear?  Sheesh!  After a few weeks of marriage, Jed figured he’d have had a better handle on interpreting the strange language spoken by his wife.

“Yes…” Nora stared in bewilderment.  “Yeeeees… Expand on whatever you were trying to say!”  Sheesh!  After a few weeks of marriage, Nora figured she’d have had a better handle on interpreting the strange language spoken by her husband.

“I said, you’re my wife.”

“Right.  And you’re my husband.  What’s your point?”

“My point is…” Jed fumbled for words, “You’re my wife.  You WERE a nurse…but now…”  His tone grew more defensive and he crossed both arms over his chest.  “You’re my wife!”

Nora’s jaw fell open as clear understanding dawned.  She placed both hands on her hips and dug in her heels, in her own defensive posture.  “I can’t believe it!  Of all the stubborn, bullheaded… You mean to tell me… Just because we’re… What makes you think…”  Finally, she threw her hands into the air in exasperation.  “Fine!  If that’s how you want it, then… FINE!”

Nora stormed from the barn, leaving Jed alone, head spinning.  Fine.  Now there was a word he understood.  Only trouble was, ‘fine’ never meant ‘fine’.  Not the day before when Heyes had said it, and he was darn sure ‘fine’ didn’t mean ‘fine’ when Nora said it either.  He returned to the stall and flung another shovelful toward the wheelbarrow.  ‘Fine’ meant he’d just dug himself into one deep pile of…somethin’.

Denver

“You have everything, Mr. Newman?  Your medication, reading material for the train ride?  I made sure that everything in your trunk was packed securely.”

“Laurette,” he silenced the woman with a kiss to the top of her head.  “I have everything.”

“There’s nothing else you need from the house?  Because I’m sure the new owners wouldn’t mind if you took…”

“I have everything I need.  Stop fretting.  I’ve met the new owner.  He and his wife are a fine couple.  And they love to entertain.  You’ll become indispensable to them in no time.”

“Thank you, sir.  I appreciate your vote of confidence.”  A shy blush tinted her cheeks.  “But, well, you’ll be sorely missed, Mr. Newman.”

“As will you, Laurette.”

“Yes, sir.”  After a final goodbye, she stepped outside.  “Bless you, sir!”

Alexander watched from the porch as Laurette made her way down the long drive.  He shut the door behind him and surveyed the place he had called home for more than sixty years.  Tomorrow morning, he would be leaving.  He turned, faced the staircase and ascended.  ***’Never look back,’*** he reminded himself.  ***’Forward.  Always forward.’***

Pair-o-dice

“Knock, knock.  Nora?”  Christina tentatively pulled the screen door of the Curry cabin open a few inches and poked her head inside.  “Okay if I come in?”  Without waiting for a response, Christina entered, and headed straight for the cook stove, lifted a lid and breathed deeply.  “Mmm!  What is that glorious aroma?”

“Rosemary Chicken.”

“Smells really good.”

“Help yourself.  Don’t think anybody else will be eating tonight.”

Christina moved to the table and sat across from Nora.  “Sometimes it helps to talk.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Do you want to tell me what happened?”

“Wish I knew.”

“I take it you and Jed had an argument?”

A nod from Nora.

“Let me guess.  He was being stubborn?”

Nora shrugged, noncommittally.

“And you said some things you wish you didn’t?”

She met Christina’s eyes with a question.

“No, Jed hasn’t been talking to me.”

“It just shows, huh?”  Nora stood and moved to the window, pulling back the curtain.  She caught sight of Heyes, crossing the yard, headed toward the wood shop.  “When Heyes and I were in town today, we ran into Dr. Walker and he mentioned he could always use a good nurse.  It got me to thinking and I mentioned it to Jed when we got back.”

“I take it he didn’t like the idea?”

“He wouldn’t even let me finish!  He made me so mad.”

“What did he say to make you mad?”

“He said…” There was pause while Nora recalled Jed’s specific words.  “He said I was his wife,” she finished, lamely.

“Oh.”  Christina bit her lip, rolling this around her brain.  Finally, “And, that made you mad because…?”

“Look, Christina, I’m a nurse.  It’s what I do.  It’s what I AM!  I don’t know how to be anything else.  And I’ve left everything behind, everything, to come here!  Yeah, I know I didn’t have much, but, this is Jed’s home, Jed’s family, Jed’s LIFE and…”

“And you’re trying to figure out where you fit in?”

Nora sat back down next to Christina and nodded.  “And I don’t take kindly to being told what to do, even if the person doing the telling is my husband.”

“Do you think Jed was really telling you what to do?  Or is it possible that, maybe he was trying to share HIS expectations for both of you?”

“I don’t know, Christina, it didn’t feel like sharing.  It felt more like telling.”  Nora fingered the edge of the tablecloth quietly, considering.  “You think maybe I ought to try talking to him again?”

“I think that would be a fine idea.  But this time, listen too.”

“I’ll try, but sometimes it feels like he’s speaking a different language.”

This drew a laugh from Christina.  “I have a feeling our husbands might say the same of us.”

As both women left the cabin, Nora shut the door behind her.  “Christina?”

“Hmmm?”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For talking.  Listening.  For making me feel like maybe I can belong here someday.”

“You already DO belong here!” Christina assured.

“Thanks.  I appreciate it, more than you know.”

“What are sisters for?”

***

“Trouble in Pair-o-dice?”  The words came from the door of Curry’s wood shop, where Heyes stood.

“It’s that obvious?”

“I’m a gambler, remember?  Reading people is what I do best.”

Jed released a long sigh.  “I don’t know how it happened, Heyes.  One minute, everything was fine and the next…”  He shrugged, still at a loss for an explanation of the sudden turn of tide, which left him stranded, here, in his wood shop.

“I know exactly what you mean.”

“You and Christina fightin’ too?”  He cast a concerned glance Heyes’ direction.

“No, not at the moment anyway.  But trust me, I’ve been in your boots a time or two.  If it’s any consolation, Nora’s moping too.”

“You talked to her?” Curry perked up.

Heyes shook his head.  “Got a feeling I’m not the man she wants to talk to.”

Jed’s shoulders sagged again.  “Well, she sure don’t wanna talk to me.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that, if I were you.”  Heyes moved a chair close to where Curry sat with his feet up, staring out the window.  “When you’re first married, it’s hard getting used to each other.  Sort of like,” He glanced around for inspiration, “like when you’re making one of these tables.”  He rose and ran a hand across its surface.  “That’s smooth, Jed.  And soft.  How’d you get it so smooth?”

“Sandpaper.  Lots of it.  Started off with the courser grit and worked my way down to the finer stuff.  And I think I already know what you’re gettin’ at.”

“Oh?”

Curry shot his partner an irritated glare.  “I know what an analogy is, Heyes.  Just ’cause I’m not editor of a newspaper…”

“Sorry.”  Heyes raised his hands in apology.

“What you mean is, Nora and me, as a couple, will eventually be fine and smooth as that tabletop, only right now, we’re more like course sandpaper, rubbin’ each other the wrong way.”

“Not forever, Jed.  Just for a while.  Until you get used to each other.”

“How long you s’pose that’ll take?”

“Hard to say.  It’s different for everybody, but…”

“Jed?” Nora’s voice called, from just outside the wood shop.  “You in there?”

Heyes smiled and whispered, “Maybe, not too long!”  He playfully punched Curry’s shoulder.  “Maybe not too long at all!”  Heading for the door he called, “He’s here, Nora,” and winked as he passed her.

Nora let the door swing shut behind her and moved to where her husband sat.  “Your supper’s getting cold.”  She bit her lower lip and hesitated.  “And I got worried.”

“Didn’t mean to make you worry.”

“And I didn’t mean to make you mad.”

“C’m’ere,” he pulled her into his lap.  Maybe, when they were actually touching, communication might come easier.  “You kind’a took me by surprise earlier, when you said you wanted to work in town.  I thought that…”

“Go on.  You thought what?”

“I thought you’d be happy here, at Pair-o-dice, takin’ care of me and our kids.”

“But we don’t have any kids.”

“Not yet.  But I was hopin’ that soon…. I thought we were both hopin’.  Didn’t you say you wanted lots’a kids?”

“Jed, I’ve been on my own quite a few years.  I’m used to just taking care of myself.  Making my own decisions.”  Nora moved from his lap and Jed reluctantly released her.   “And I loved being a nurse!”  She was pacing now.  “I was good at it.  It’s harder than I thought to leave behind.”

“So you want to take the job with Dr. Walker?”

“I didn’t say that, I just,” she covered her face in frustration, “I just wanted to talk to you about it but then…”  Her emotions were too jumbled to sort.  “I don’t like you being mad at me.”

“You were pretty mad at me too.”

“Yeah,” she conceded, “but I’m not anymore.”

“Me neither.”  He pulled her back onto his lap.  A kiss signified an end to their first argument.  “Guess we’re both pretty new at this whole marriage thing.”

She nodded agreement.

“So, you wanna talk about the nursin’ job now?”

“I don’t know if I want to take Dr. Walker up on his offer or not, but it would be nice to know I could talk to you about it, without both of us getting mad.”

“What about us havin’ kids?”

“More than anything, I want us to have a family.”

“Me too.”

“But what if it doesn’t happen?”

“Nora, we only been married a couple months.”

“But, what if, say a few months down the road, I’m still not in the family way and I think I want to go back to nursing?”

“I guess, IF that happens, we can talk about it then.”

“Really?  Without arguing?”

“Promise.”

“But if we can’t agree?  How will we decide, flip a coin?”

“Whose coin?” Curry teased, then turned more serious.  “I’ll make you a deal, Nora.  IF, by next spring, a baby’s not on the way and you think you wanna work for Doc Walker, then…”  He kissed her again.

Nora returned his affection, giving Jed the definite impression that the process of making up could make the occasional argument more than worthwhile.  “Then what?”

“Nora, I think we communicate best when we’re not talkin’!”

***

Nora’s boot tapped at the screen door.  “Hey, someone wanna let me in?  My hands are full of pies!”

“I got it, Ma!” Sam answered, running to hold the door.  “They smell real good, Aunt Nora.”

“I have more food set out on my kitchen table, waiting to be carried over.  You two want to help?”  Her question took in both Sam and Rosalyn.

“Sure,” Sam piped in, answering for his sister, as well as himself.

“What’d ya do that for?” the little girl asked, half-way between her own home and the Curry cabin.

“Grandpa Newman’s coming on today’s train and we’re all having dinner here at our house tonight.  Don’t you want to help?”

“I wanna help Ma.  I wanna help Gran’pa Newman.  I just don’t wanna help HER.”

Sam sighed.

Rosie stopped to pet Lucy, a barn cat, who pranced through the yard, proudly displaying a trophy from her most recent hunt.  “What’cha got there, Lucy?” the child wondered, “Lunch for your baby kitties?”

Lucy dropped the offering at the feet of her most devoted human.

“For me?” the child laughed.  A sudden glimmer lit Rosalyn’s eyes and a set of dimples made their presence known.  The expression was reminiscent of her father, at the inception of a ‘Hannibal Heyes’ plan.

Sam narrowed his eyes, suspiciously.  “What are you smilin’ at?”

“Just happy Gran’pa Newman’s comin’!” Rosie giggled.

Sam shook his head and went into the cabin.

Rosie glanced around nervously before scooping the offering from the ground and quickly depositing it into her apron pocket.

Train Station – Sheridan

“Alexander!” Heyes waved as the white-haired gentleman stepped from the train.

“Ah, Hannibal, my boy!” he greeted Heyes with a back-slapping hug.  “Where are Christina and the children?”

“Home, preparing a feast.  Are you ready?”

“As soon as I collect my trunks, son.”

The title ‘son’ had been bestowed upon him by Alexander Newman years ago, indicating Heyes was a loved and accepted member of the Newman family.  The sentiment was shared by Heyes.

“Trunks?  More than one?”

“Gifts, my boy.  Inheritance for the great-grandchildren.  No sense making them wait until after their old great-grandpa is gone to enjoy, eh?”

“Don’t go spoiling them, Alexander.  We’ve talked about this before.”

“I know, I know.  But what good is being a wealthy man if I can’t share with the ones I love?”

Two trunks were loaded into the wagon and the two set out for Pair-o-dice.  Just before sunset, they reached the top of a rise, overlooking the ranch.

“Stop, son.  I want to take in the view.”  Alexander inhaled deeply of the mountain air, then closed his eyes, as if committing the scene to memory.  “You’ve named your home appropriately, Hannibal.  Pair-o-dice surely is a little slice of Heaven.”

“Glad you think so, sir.  Jed and I, we sure liked it from the start.  Christina and the family, and now Jed’s wife too, well… It’s home.  Ours.”

“Home,” Alexander echoed.  Home and family.  The two were synonymous.

Pair-o-dice

Hugs and heart-felt greetings were exchanged all around, along with a few tears shed on the part of Christina.

“It’s so good to have you here again!  Finally, after all this time!”

“It hasn’t been that long, has it?” Alexander challenged.

“We’ve been to Denver, visiting you, but you haven’t been to Pair-o-dice since before Rosalyn was born,” Christina countered.

“Too long then.  But I’m here now.  And this must be the new Mrs. Curry.”  He stopped in front of Nora, meeting her gaze with his clear, dancing, blue eyes.

“Nora.  Please, call me Nora.”

“Only if you’ll call me Alexander.”

“Oh, but I couldn’t!”

“Grandfather then, since you and my Christina are practically sisters.”

“Alright.  Grandfather.”  Nora tested the name, liking immediately the feel of it, as well as the man.

“Supper is ready,” Christina motioned toward the door.  “Why don’t we go in and sit down?”

***

An abundance of good food, family and happy conversation made Grandfather Newman’s arrival an evening to remember.

Christina surveyed the loved ones, gathered around her table, with a heart of thankfulness.

Heyes watched his wife.  How long had it been since he’d seen Christina this happy?

Nora’s eyes studied Grandfather Newman, then her husband.  They wandered briefly to Rosalyn, who sat across the table, sending her an angelic smile, which Nora returned.  The child had her father’s eyes, that was certain!  “I was just thinking, Mr. New… I mean, Grandfather, that Christina must favor her grandmother’s side of the family, rather than yours.”

“Ah, my Estrella!  Yes, Christina is the image of her grandmother!”

“Grandmother Newman was from Spain, Nora,” Christina informed.  “Grandfather met her on his travels and swept her off her feet, in a beautiful tale of romance!”

Alexander rolled his eyes, reminding Nora of her Jed.  “Shush, Christina!  I’ve no desire to tell that story tonight!”  He pushed back from the table with a yawn.

“We could read some’a MY book,” Rosalyn suggested, tugging at Alexander’s hand and leading him toward the sitting room.

“Well, what book do we have here,” Newman asked, as the child crawled into his lap, cuddling in for a long stay.

“Wizzer D’Oz.”

“***’The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’***  by L. Frank Baum.  I don’t believe I’ve read this one.”

“It’s new, Gran’pa.  I just got it from Unc’a Jed.”

“Just from your Uncle Jed, not from Aunt Nora too?”

“Her too, I guess.  Pa already read some, but you can start again, at the beginnin’.  Read,” she commanded.

Alexander obeyed.

“Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with her Uncle Henry…” *

“Pa an’ Unc’a Jed use’ta live on the great Kansas prairies too, Gran’pa.  Did’ja know that?”

“I did.”  Alexander read on.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen…

“Rosalyn really loves that book you and Jed gave her.”  Christina washed a plate and handed it to Nora for drying.

“I’m glad.  You think maybe she’s finally starting to accept me?  Tonight at dinner, well, I may have been imagining it, but I think she smiled at me.”

“Did she?  Good.  I knew she’d come around.  Just like Hannibal did.”

“You about ready to head for home, Nora?” Jed propped the screen door open against his shoulder.  “I’m tired.”

She stacked the last of the dishes on a cupboard shelf.  “Almost done.  I’ll be out in a minute.”

A grin tugged at one corner of Nora’s mouth.  Growing ever more efficient in her translation of the vocabulary of Jed Curry, Nora recognized that the word ‘tired’ didn’t mean ‘tired’.  No, the phrase, ‘I’m tired’, used in this context, implied something quite opposite!

***

“He’s very handsome.”

“Who?”  Although Jed had asked the question, he couldn’t have cared less about the answer, since he was home, alone, with Nora, finally, after hours and hours and hours of…well, being with Nora NOT alone.

“Mr. Newman.  I mean, Grandfather.”

Whose idea was it to sew all these buttons down the back of a woman’s blouse anyway?  Not a man’s, obviously.  “Alexander’s almost ninety.”

“Maybe I find older men attractive.”

“Guess you do,” he chuckled, “seein’ as how you married one.”  His large fingers continued to fumble with buttons designed for hands much smaller.  “Help me out here, huh?”

Nora assisted before concentrating on the buttons of her husband’s shirt.  “His eyes are like yours.”

Jed successfully freed one hand from his sleeve and pushed Nora’s camisole from her shoulder.

“My father’s eyes were blue.”

Kisses descended her neck.

“How about your parents?”

A long kiss substituted for his answer.

“‘Cause I was just wondering what color eyes our kids might have.  Grandfather Newman’s are blue but Christina’s are brown.  Rosie’s are brown like her both her parents.  Mine must be more like my mother’s but yours…”

“Nora…”  It was a whisper as he lowered her to their bed.  “Maybe if you’d quit talkin’ we could find out!”

***

Rosalyn was snug in her Grandfather’s lap, listening intently as Alexander read, depicting a different voice, for each character, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion.  Christina sat, letting down the hem in a pair of trousers Sam was quickly outgrowing.  Heyes played checkers at the table with Sam, while Lillian grilled him for details on his quest for amnesty, a summer writing project.

The scene was peaceful, serene…and suddenly shattered by a blood-curdling scream.

Heyes, Christina, Lillian and Sam ran toward the Curry cabin.

Alexander, past the age of running anywhere, stayed with Rosalyn, noting her contented, even smug, smile.  “I don’t suppose you’d know anything about that scream we just heard?”

“Who, me?”  Two brown eyes batted, innocently.  “I didn’t do nothin’.  Was sittin’ right here with you the whole time.”

Newman hadn’t spent his life succeeding in the world of business only to have the wool pulled over his eyes by a three year old, no matter how cute.  “I didn’t ask if you DID anything, I asked if you KNEW anything.”

“Um…. I know Aunt Nora’s a sissy, like the Cowardly Lion.”

“And you know this because…”

“‘Cause she prob’ly wouldn’t be screamin’ like that over a itty bitty little mouse,” she gestured with tiny fingers, “if she wasn’t.”

“And this itty bitty mouse,” Alexander mimicked the child’s gesture, “Where do you suppose it was hiding?”

“Maybe…under her pillow?”

“Oh, Rosalyn!  You didn’t!”

A shrug, then, a tentative nod.

“Why?”

“‘Cause I don’t like ‘er.”

“She likes you.”

“No she don’t.  She wants ever’body to THINK she likes me, ‘ceptin’ she’s really a wicked ol’ witch!”

“That’s a mighty bold accusation.  You have any proof of that?”

“‘S’true.  She foun’ Unc’a Jed in the twister an’ now she wants ta send me back ta Kansas like Dorfy!”

“To Kansas?  Where your father and Uncle Jed were born?  Why would you think your Aunt Nora wants to send you to Kansas?  And what’s a dorfy?”

“Not dorfy, D-O-R-F-Y!  The girl in the book.  Dorfy went to D’Oz in a twister an’ the wicked ol’ witch sent her back to Kansas!”

Alexander chuckled under his breath.  “I think you’re mistaken.”

“I ain’t!  It’s just like Wizzer D’Oz.  An’ I don’t wanna go ta Kansas ’cause Pa says he don’t never wanna go back there and neither do Unc’a Jed!”

“No one is sending you anywhere, Rosalyn.  Do you really think your father and mother would let anyone send you away?”

Rosalyn frowned.

“And do you really think your Uncle Jed would marry anyone who wasn’t nice?”

In a last ditch effort, Rosalyn pleaded her case.  “What if she tricked him into thinkin’ she was nice, but she ain’t?  What if she’s really mean, just like that wicked ol’…”

“Rosalyn…”

Rosalyn’s head dropped, defeated.  “I guess not.”

“So you’ll go on over right now and apologize to your Aunt Nora?”

“If I have to.”

“What?”

“I mean, yes, sir.”

***

By the time, Heyes, Christina, Lillian and Sam arrived, Nora’s screams had faded into mostly incoherent rambling, interspersed with a handful of identifiable words, albeit, unsuitable for the tender ears now listening outside her door.

Jed stepped onto the porch.  “We’re fine.”

“What happened?” Christina gasped.

Curry attempted to suppress the urge to laugh, but was failing, miserably.  “It was just a mouse.  We’re fine,” he assured the small assembled crowd, then covered his mouth as another chuckle erupted.

A cry of, “…NOT funny!” came from inside.

“Nora, you gotta admit, it was kind’a funny.  I mean the size of that mouse compared to the size of that scream you let loose…”

Heyes covered his mouth and received a poke from Christina.

“You wanna laugh?!  Go ahead!”  A tiny carcass sailed through the air before the door of the cabin slammed shut.

Jed remained on the porch, clad only in his drawers.

Alexander and Rosalyn arrived.

“Miss Rosalyn has something she would like to say.”

The child stood, silently.

“Rosalyn?”  Heyes and Christina waited, suspicious.

“I’m s’post’a say I’m sorry ’bout the mouse.”  She looked from her parents, to her uncle, then hung her head.

Jed stooped to the child’s height.  “Are you tellin’ me you had somethin’ to do with this?”

“Yes, sir.”  Two puppy dog eyes held his.  “I done it, Unc’a Jed.  An’ Gran’pa Newman says I gotta ‘pologize to Aunt Nora.”

“Uh…right now might not be the best time for you to talk to your Aunt Nora, Rosie.  She’s a touch… Let’s just say Aunt Nora’s not exactly feelin’ her usual happy self at the moment.”

“‘Kay, Unc’a Jed.  I’ll come back tomorra…if I ain’t grounded.”

The Heyes family started for home, but Alexander stayed behind.  He tipped his head toward the closed cabin door, sharing a few words of wisdom.  “Reminds me of my Estrella, that one!” he grinned and slapped the younger man’s shoulder.  “Trust me, Curry,” he winked, before turning to leave, “she won’t stay mad long!”

“I hope you’re right, Alexander.”  Jed knocked lightly.  “They’re leavin’ now, Nora.  You can open the door.”

Nothing.

“Nora?”

The sound of crickets filled the night.

“Aww…c’mon, Nora!”

***

Alone in his room, Alexander struggled to the bed and sat on the edge.  He pulled a packet of powder from his jacket and fumbled as he tapped some into a glass of water.  He lifted it to his lips with a shaky hand, then, closed his eyes, shutting out the pain of another pounding headache.

***

The next morning, which dawned bright, clear and warm, found Jed Curry whistling as he measured oats into the horses’ troughs.

Alexander entered the barn.  “Ah, so Nora let you back in the house after I left.”

“Sure did.”  Curry’s smile spoke more than his words.

Heyes and Sam joined them.

“Hi Grandpa.  Me and Uncle Jed are riding out to the herd today.  Won’t be back ’til after dark.  Wanna come with us?”  Excitement was evident in the boy’s voice.

“Thank you for the offer, Samuel, but your father is going into town in a few hours and I already asked if he wouldn’t mind my tagging along with him.”

***

“…And you’ll remember what your father and I told you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”  Rosalyn recited the golden rule, which had been strongly reinforced the night before.  “Treat Aunt Nora as good as I want her to treat me.”

“Good!” her mother praised.

“…An’ it ain’t funny to put dead mouse under her pillow, even if Pa an’ Unc’a Jed DID laugh.”

Before Christina had a chance to respond, Rosalyn had rushed from the kitchen to carry out her penance.

***

“Knock, knock!” Christina called, standing just outside the open door of the Curry cabin.  “Someone wanted to drop by and give you something.”

“Flowers!  For me, Rosie?  How thoughtful!  Thank you!”

“Ma said I had t…”  With a discrete poke from behind, Rosalyn changed course.  “Ma said you’d like ’em.”

“And?” Christina prompted.

“An’ I’m real sorry for what I done an’ I won’t do it ‘gain.”  She hung her head low, waiting for absolution.

Nora met Christina’s eyes, sending a grateful message.  She lifted Rosalyn’s chin.  “Apology accepted.  I’m getting ready to bake cookies.  Want to help?”

“For Unc’a Jed?”

“Yep!”

The child beamed.  “Ma, can I?”

Christina agreed.  “Run and wash your hands.”  Turning to Nora, she lowered her voice, “She’s all yours.  Good luck.”

“You think she’s ready to make peace?”

“Well, if there’s one thing Rosalyn loves almost as much as her Uncle Jed, it’s baking cookies.”  An afterthought struck.  “Oh, but just to play it safe, don’t talk about the Wizard of Oz book!”

“Huh?”

Rosalyn was already returning.

Christina finished in a rush, “I’ll explain later.  Just bake and talk.  No book!” she reminded as she turned to leave.

Nora nodded without understanding.

“Should we start with sugar cookies?”

“Sure,” the child agreed, “‘Cept, Unc’a Jed likes the choc’ate ones.”

“He does?”

“You didn’t know that?” Rosalyn puffed with pride, realizing she possessed valuable information of which Aunt Nora had no knowledge.

“No, I didn’t.  We haven’t been married all that long and I’ve never baked cookies for him until today.”

“You haven’t?  I have.  Lots’a times.”

“It’s a good thing you’re here to help me then.”

Nora smiled softly and the child returned it, tentatively.

“Got choc’ate?”

“Sure do!”

Before long, the last batch of chocolate cookies was being set out to cool.

“Ready to taste them?”

Dark curls bounced up and down.

“Okay, I’ll pour us some milk.”

Rosalyn chose two cookies for each of them, one sugar and one chocolate, and placed them on a plate.

“Which is your favorite?” Nora asked, mouth full.

“Choc’ate, just like Unc’a Jed.”

“Mine too.”  Nora watched tiny fingers fishing a broken chunk of cookie from the bottom of the glass.  “You know, I think you and I have a lot in common, Rosie.”

“Yeah?  Like what?”  A soggy cookie chunk found its way into Rosie’s mouth.

“Well,” Nora began slowly, treading carefully, “We both like chocolate cookies and…” Nora took a deep breath, “We both love your Uncle Jed very, very much.”

Rosie paused, mid-chew, then her shoulders drooped.  “He was s’post’a marry me,” the child confided.

“I know that’s what you wanted.  Do you think you and I can ever be friends?”

There was a small shrug.  “You gonna let me marry Unc’a Jed too?”

“Uh…I don’t think that’s legal,” Nora stumbled, “at least not in Wyoming.  But maybe,” Nora smiled with sudden inspiration, “maybe you and I can make a deal.”

“What kind’a deal?” Rosie wondered, skeptical.

“How about IF, when you’re my age…”

“How old’s that?”

“Twenty-five.”

“Wow!”

Nora wrinkled her brow, then continued, “If, by the time you’re twenty-five, you still want to marry your Uncle Jed, then the three of us will sit down together and have a long discussion.  Deal?”

“You mean it?  You’d really let me marry Unc’a Jed?”

“Ah-ah-ah!” Nora raised a finger.  “I said we’d discuss it, but not until you’re twenty-five.  And until then, you and I are friends, deal?”

Two dark eyes narrowed, considering.  Rosalyn licked milky fingers before extending her hand.  “Deal!”

Sheridan

“And then,” Lillian concluded her guided tour of The Sheridan Tidings, “when Pa gets an edition ready to go, I come to work with him and help with the printing.”

“And I take it today’s the day?”

“Today’s the day.”

“Well then, I’ll leave you two to your work.”

“What are you going to do, Grandpa?”

“There’s uh…something I seem to have forgotten while packing.”

“Okay, Grandpa.  Maybe the press will be running by the time you get back.”

“I hope so, Lillian.”  Alexander stepped onto the porch, closing the door of The Tidings behind him.

Heyes followed.  “Be right back, Lily.”  He met Newman’s eyes.  “Something you want to tell me, Alexander?”

“What might that be, son?”

“If I knew, I wouldn’t be asking.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about, Hannibal.”

“Look, Alexander, you can fool the kids and you might even be able to fool Christina, but you can’t fool me.  I know you too well.  We’re too much alike.  There’s something you’re not telling me.  You ‘forgot’ something while packing?” Heyes mimicked.

Alexander hung his head.  “You’re right.  You know me well.”

“So?  Out with it.”

“I’m not exactly here for a visit.”

“Business?”  Heyes was immediately curious.

“No.”  The elderly man sat on a bench and Heyes joined him.

“I’ve put my affairs in order, Hannibal.”

“Put your affairs in order?”  A sudden surge of panic seized him.  “Alexander, are you telling me you’re ill?”

“Do I look ill to you?”  The fire snapped in his eyes, belying Newman’s actual age.  “No, there’s nothing wrong with me!  Nothing more than any other man of eighty-nine.  I’ve retired!”

Heyes quickly covered for his uncharacteristic sigh of relief.  “Without even mentioning it to Christina?”

“A man can’t continue in my business forever and it didn’t appear you or Christina would be leaving Wyoming any time soon, so I’ve passed the reins to my associate, Calvin Ford!  I’ve moved on!”

“Moved on to what?”

“To Sheridan, that’s what!  I’m looking for a place to live in town.  I’ll finish out my days here, close to the only family I have.”

“You sold your house in Denver too?”

“Isn’t that what I’ve just been explaining?  You need to learn to listen, boy!”

“Yes, sir.  But, if you’re looking for a home, why not share ours?  I know Christina would love to have you with us.  I would too.  And the children…”

“I’m a man of independence!  You think I want Christina hovering every second, treating me like an old man?”

“You?  An old man?”  Heyes laughed.  “Sorry, Alexander, but the idea of anyone mistaking you for an old man… It’s downright  humorous.”

Alexander blustered, attempting his best ‘offended’ performance.  “You would dare to laugh at an aged, unemployed, homeless…”

“Enough with the dramatics, okay?  I have an idea already.”

“A ‘Hannibal Heyes’ plan?” Alexander beamed.  “Knew I could count on you, son.”

Pair-o-dice

The sun dipped low, painting the clouds in shades of pink and purple over the hills, west of Pair-o-dice.  At the Heyes homestead supper had been long since eaten.    A pot of stew simmered on the back burner of the cook stove at the Curry cabin, waiting for Jed’s return.  Nora sat on the porch, a book open on her lap, but watching the twilight sky, rather than reading.

“Aunt Nora!”

Nora dropped the book, startled by Lillian’s cry.

“Aunt Nora!  Ma says to come quick!  Grandpa Newman’s acting strange!”

“What do you mean, strange?” Nora asked, as she and Lillian hurried across the yard.

“He was reading to Rosie and then he just slumped over and started mumbling.  Now he’s just sitting there, not saying anything.”

“Where’s your father?”

“He’s in the barn.”

Listen to me,” Nora stopped, taking Lillian by the shoulders.  “I need you to go to the barn now.  Tell your father to saddle a horse and get Dr. Walker.  Quick!  Understand?  Then come back in the house to help your mother and me.”

Lillian nodded, already running toward the barn.

Nora entered the house and saw Alexander on the settee, unresponsive to Christina’s pleading.  She touched Christina’s shoulder.  “Heyes has gone for the doctor.  You and I are going to make Alexander more comfortable and then you’re going to see to Rosie,” Nora nodded toward the frightened child, cowering in a corner.  “Alright?”

Christina nodded, thankful for Nora’s calming presence.

After removing his shoes and covering him with a blanket, Nora spoke softly.  “Alexander, can you hear me?”

A sound resembling the word ‘yes’ escaped his lips.

“Good.”  Christina is upstairs with Rosalyn and Heyes went to get Dr. Walker.  I’ll wait here with you until they get back, alright?”

Again, the ‘yes’ sound was repeated.

Nora’s voice continued to sooth Alexander.

Lillian arrived from the barn.  “Pa’s on his way to town now, Aunt Nora.  What else do you need me to do?”

“Maybe you could go upstairs and keep your sister entertained and send your mother back down here to help me.”

“Alright.  Anything else?”

“Yeah.  Before you go, you can put on a pot of coffee.  I got a feeling it’s going to be a long night.”

***

“What are you doin’ in the barn, this time’a night?”

Heyes looked up to see Sam and Jed arriving home from their all day ride, and checked his watch.  “Guess it is pretty late.  I was waiting for you.”

“Somethin’ wrong?” Curry wondered, voice full of concern.

“Alexander’s suffered some kind of spell.  Doc Walker is with him now.”

A worried Sam cut in, “Grandpa Newman’s sick?”

“He’s resting comfortably now.”  The voice came from just outside the barn door as Doctor Walker walked toward his rig.

“He’s going to be alright?” Heyes asked, hurrying to where the doctor stood.

Jed and Sam followed.

“Apoplexy can be devastating, even fatal, but it appears Alexander was lucky.  The effects seem minimal.  His speech is already returning to normal.  I’m hoping for a full recovery, eventually.”

“Eventually?”

“Apoplexy?”

These questions came from Heyes and Curry, respectively and simultaneously.

“Apoplexy is the result of an interruption of the blood flow to the brain, Jed.  And yes, Heyes, I believe Alexander will make a complete recovery, eventually.  In the meantime, he’ll need the assistance and support of his family.”

“How long?”

“A few months.  Maybe more.”

“He’s not gonna like havin’ to stay put here in Sheridan, when he’s got a business to run in Denver,” Jed speculated.

“Not anymore.”

Three sets of eyes, Dr. Walker’s, Sam’s and Jed’s, fixed on Heyes’.

“Alexander retired.  Sold his home.  He’s made a permanent move to Sheridan, to spend time with his family.”

“He’s moving in with us?!” Sam asked, excited.

“For a while.  Maybe now it’ll be longer than a while.  He was hoping to buy your cabin, Jed.”

“Huh?”

“Providing you and Nora agreed.  And I told him you probably would, figuring the two of you might want to build a bigger place, to raise a family.”

Curry said nothing, digesting this new bit of information.

“Aunt Nora’s havin’ a baby?” Sam squealed.

“Huh?” Jed’s head snapped up, eyes flitting nervously, from Heyes to Dr. Walker.

“Whoa, now, all three of you!  I never said that!  I’m tired and I’m going home to get some sleep.”  He climbed into his buggy.  “I suggest you do the same.  I’ll be back tomorrow to have another look at Alexander.”

***

The soft glow of lamplight streamed from beneath Alexander’s bedroom door.  Heyes pressed it open and entered, listening as the gentle cadence of Lillian’s voice imparted its sense of calm, ministering to him, as well as to Alexander and the other family members gathered at the bedside.

Alexander rested comfortably, observing the assemblage, small in number, yet greatly loved.  Christina sat in a rocking chair, her husband, Hannibal, stood near, with a supportive hand on her shoulder.  Rosalyn lay beside him, her head on his arm, drifting off to dreamland.  Sam joined his sister, flopping at the foot of the bed.  And Lillian, book open in front of her, bound them together as she read.

“My darling child!” she cried, folding the little girl in her arms and covering her face with kisses. “Where in the world did you come from?”

“From the Land of Oz,” said Dorothy gravely. “And here is Toto, too. And oh, Aunt Em! I’m so glad to be at home again!” *

As Lillian closed the book, Alexander’s hand covered hers.  He winked, and the sparkling blue eyes took in the entire Heyes family.  “Home!” he quietly exclaimed, “Glad…to be…home!”

***

Weeks had passed since that night.  The family crisis was now far behind.  Although Alexander would have preferred to progress more quickly, Dr. Walker and Nora had declared him well on the road to a full recovery.

“Nora?”

“Hmmm?”

Jed and Nora were alone, together, in their cabin, cuddled close.  Nora was almost asleep.  Jed was deep in thought.

“You’re a good nurse.”

“Mmm…”  She sounded tired.

“I mean, not just good that night, real good in fact, takin’ charge like you did, lookin’ to Alexander, sendin’ Heyes for the doctor, organizin’ Christina and Lily, seein’ to Rosie when she was scared.  But since then too, helpin’ with Alexander’s care and all.  Everybody can see it.  The family, Doc Walker…me.”

“That’s nice.”  She patted his hand, eyes still closed.

“Could you wake up and listen?  I’m tryin’ to tell you somethin’ important.”

“Sorry.”  She rubbed at her eyes and propped her head on one hand.  “Go ahead.  I’m listening.”

“I’m tryin’ to tell you, I finally get it.”

“Get what?”

“What I should’a got all along.  You’re more than my wife.  You’re a nurse.  A good one.  It’d be wrong of me to keep you from…from doin’ what you do.”

She tenderly caressed his cheek before she kissed him.  “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“For understanding.”

Her smile was warm and the way she was looking at him made him feel like, well, like he supposed every husband must long to feel.  Like the most important person in her world.

“So anyway, I been thinkin’, if you wanna take Doc Walker up on his job offer…”

“Jed,” she interrupted, her voice soft and full of love, “I’ve got something I’ve been wanting to tell you too.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”  Nora snuggled closer, kissing him again.  “You’re more than my husband.”

“You talkin’ ’bout my bein’ a rancher?”

“Besides being a rancher and a carpenter.”  Her fingers intertwined with his.

“A former outlaw?” he chuckled.

“No.”  Nora shook her head, guiding his hand until it rested low on her abdomen.  She pressed her hand over his, whispering, “You’re going to make one fine father!”

Their eyes met, with a silent communication that made words obsolete.

A baby.  His and Nora’s.  Jed closed his eyes and kissed his wife.  “Ya know, I love you, Nora Curry.”

Home.  Home and family.  The two were synonymous.

A happy giggle welled up from within.  “Always!”

1900-The-Wonderful-Wizard-of-Oz.-Original-book-art-from-1900

* Author’s Notes – Quotes are from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum.  Published 1900.

Another story in The Sheridan Collection can be found at the following link:  Perspectives on Paternity (or True Lies)

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.

April 2011

 

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