Out of the Storm

Out of the Storm

Pair-o-dice Ranch, Sheridan, Wyoming – May 1902

“How come I can’t go with Uncle Jed?”  Eight year old Sam leaned his chin on one hand and pushed the food around on his plate with the other.

“Because you have school,” his father reminded him, for the third time that morning.

Sam Heyes would much rather have been working with his father, riding fence lines, even cleaning out the barn.  But he would have especially enjoyed a train trip with his uncle, and some time away from school.

“Will ya bring me back somethin’ special?”  The boy tried a different tack.

While his Uncle Jed laughed, Sam finished his pancakes, then hurried up the stairs to retrieve his books and join his sister, Lillian, who was almost ready to begin the walk toward school.

Lillian despised being late.  Her diligent study, suggesting more maturity than her twelve years, had already allowed her to advance quickly at the school in town.  Her teacher had even speculated that Lillian would soon surpass the limitations of the small school, suggesting that her parents seek to further her education elsewhere.  Lillian had her mind set on being a writer one day and traveling the globe to see exotic places, like the ones in the books her father had read to her since the day she was born.

“I’ll hitch up the team.  Meet you outside when you’re through here, Jed.”  Hannibal Heyes, hair still dark and thick despite his years, lifted his youngest daughter from her chair and dipped sticky, almost-three-year-old fingers in the wash basin.

“Wiff ya, Pa!” she yelled.  Rosalyn jumped at any opportunity to be near the horses, or near her Pa.

“‘Course you’re comin’ with me.”  He swung the child to his shoulders and winked to his wife before he trotted off with Rosalyn toward the barn.

Christina handed Jed a large package and answered his unspoken question with a smile.  “For your trip.”

Christina Heyes had been married to his partner for well over a decade and had taken care of Jed Curry nearly as well as she took care of her husband, since the very first day.

Jed smiled back and accepted the package from Heyes’ wife, giving her a kiss on the cheek.  “You spoil me, Christina.”

When the wagon pulled up in front of the house, Jed threw his bag in the back.  Heyes said goodbye to Christina, while Uncle Jed said goodbye to Rosalyn.

“You be real good for your mama now, ya hear, Rosie?”  The child nodded and gave her uncle a sticky kiss before running to hug her father’s legs.

Heyes said his goodbyes with a few more kisses for Christina and one big hug for Rosalyn, then, waved as the wagon pulled out of the yard.

“Ya know, you’re only gonna be gone a few hours, Heyes.  Not a week like me.”

“Can’t help it, Jed.  I miss ’em when I’m gone.”  His smile was evidence of the fact.  Heyes changed the subject to business. “You wired the money to the bank in Goliad?”

“Yeah, Heyes, I…”

“‘Cause ya know, if those bulls aren’t what we hoped they’d be…”

“Heyes, I think I can…”

“And if Christina wasn’t still recovering from that bout of…”

“Heyes!”  The dark-haired partner finally stopped talking, long enough to hear the words of his closest friend.  “I wired the money, I know a good bull when I see one, and I know you’d like to go with me, but you’re needed here right now.”

“Sorry, Jed.  I know you’re perfectly capable of handling this.  I’m just a little nervous about us changing course like we are.  Switching from raising horses to beef cattle.  So many Wyoming cattle ranchers have gone belly up.”

“You and I aren’t exactly typical Wyoming cattlemen, Heyes.  We’re gonna be okay.  Would you trust me on this?  And if you won’t trust me, trust Christina.  She’s been tryin’ to convince us cattle is the way to go since the day you met her.”

“Our backs aren’t quite what they used to be.”

“That’s what the hands are for, Heyes.  You think you could relax a little?”

Curry fell silent, knowing Heyes would talk himself through his fears, eventually.  Changing course in their business was the right thing to do.  And this was the right time to do it.  Standing just inside the gateway to the twentieth century, it was clear Christina’s vision had been correct:  Horses used for transportation were quickly becoming a thing of the past.  Beef.  Consumers would continue to purchase beef.

***

The platform was full by the time they reached the train station. The two shook hands.

“I’ll be home in a week!”  Jed boarded the train just as it lurched forward.

Thinking of their many partings over the years, Heyes called after him, “Kid!”  He slipped back so easily into the use of the old, familiar nickname.  “Be careful!”

Goliad, Texas – Sunday May 18, 1902

Nora Denning walked the four streets over and two streets down from her rented room toward her second job. Her nursing position with the town doctor paid enough to get her by, but working at the inn on an occasional day off gave the regular cook some time with her family.  Nora didn’t mind.  And who would Nora spend time off with anyway?  Besides, the few extra coins she earned went directly into her ‘rainy day’ fund, a habit instilled by her father.

“Afternoon, Miss Denning,” came the balding storekeeper’s greeting as she passed.

Nora nodded and smiled at the older man who reminded her so much of her own dear Papa.  “Sure and it’s a fine day to be livin’!” she finished as her father would have, his Irish brogue echoing through her memory.

She suppressed a familiar pang of loneliness.  Although she missed Joseph Denning, and though Nora’s life wasn’t exactly what she had envisioned when she left home for the freedom of the West, her life was definitely hers.

Nora raised her eyes to the big Texas sky and noticed this day was beginning to look anything but fine.  The weather was taking a serious turn for the worse.  She quickened her pace in order to reach the inn before the dinner rush and before the storm.

***

The train was late pulling into Goliad.  A string of storms had slowed travel.  Fallen trees obstructed the track in several places, making extra stops necessary.  Before the train came to a full stop that Sunday afternoon, Jed was on the move, hoping to finalize all the details of his deal with the local rancher as soon as possible.

“Got a horse for hire?” Jed asked an elderly liveryman.

“How long you plannin’ to need one?”

“Just for today.  I’ll be back before nightfall.”

The man lifted his eyes to the sky.  “How far you headin’?”

“To the Double J.  Maybe you can give me directions?”

“The Double J?  That’s a fair piece from here.  Don’t know as I’d be considerin’ a ride that far with a sky lookin’ this heavy.”

Jed joined the man in surveying the darkening sky.  The delays in travel had already put him days behind schedule.  He wondered if the owner of the ranch had given up on him, despite the wires he had sent in explanation.  He needed to meet with the rancher and close their deal.  Today.  “I been left out in the rain a time or two.  I’m not gonna melt, old-timer.”

“Whatever you say, stranger.  Just so’s we’re clear, ya bring her back past midnight, I charge ya for another day.”

***

Before Jed made it half way to the Double J, the approaching storm impeded his progress. The rumbling thunder grew closer with each passing minute.  He’d need to find shelter quickly if he planned to stay out of the storm.

Jed shivered with the quick drop in temperature.  Voices on the wind caught his attention.  Singing voices.  A church.  He urged his horse forward.

The wind was blowing harder by the time he entered the churchyard.  A young boy struggled against it, trying to make his way back inside from an outbuilding, resembling a salmon trying to swim upstream.  Jed’s eyes widened with terror when he saw it.  A Texas twister, a big one — headed right for them.  He called out to the boy, but the wind stole his voice almost before it left his throat.

Dismounting, he let his horse run free.  The creature would be better off seeking its own shelter.  He fought the wind, each step a battle with the elements, a battle the boy appeared to be losing.  Finally reaching him, Jed threw one arm around the child’s waist and held on tight.

The boy fought him at first until he noticed the stranger pointing toward a freshly dug hole.  He nodded in understanding.  At this moment, the hole wasn’t a grave; it was life-saving shelter.  Working together, they reached the edge.  The boy hesitated, remembering his fear of graveyards, just before he felt the stranger’s push.

A blinding flash preceded a deafening crack.  In an instant, everything in Jed Curry’s world went black.

***

Chaos, hysteria. The words ran circles in Nora’s mind as she surveyed the ruin.   Mothers roamed the streets of Goliad, desperately seeking children, missing after the storm.  Husbands in search of wives, neighbor in search of neighbor, families in search of their homes.

A group had been organized, under the direction of Dr. Lucas to set up a make-shift clinic on the lower floor of the courthouse.  The upper floor was gone, but the structure still seemed relatively sound.  It was the largest building still standing and they needed somewhere to tend the wounded.

The dead?  Another team had been organized by the town sheriff to attend to them.  Bodies would need to be identified, families notified, monumental tasks given the magnitude of the destruction.

So many to be cared for and so little with which to do the caring.  Nora’s mind returned to her task, evaluating the sea of patients one at a time and making the agonizing decision — Who would receive help first?  Nora wasn’t alone. There were others to assist, but not enough.  Not with so many injured, so many dead.  How many more would be die before morning?

Nora closed her eyes, hesitant to look on the suffering of her town, her neighbors.  The temporary clinic was nearly full, but the list of names outside the morgue was growing at an alarming rate.

She lifted her head at the sound of another approaching wagon.  ‘Please, Lord, no more dead, no more injured,’ her spirit cried.  Thankfully, this wagon carried only two passengers in addition to its driver.

The first was a young boy, eyes wild with fear, but appearing physically unharmed.  The second was a man.  He was so pale, on first glance Nora thought he was already dead, but as they moved him, a weak moan escaped his lips.

“Found ’em outside the Methodist Church.  Never would’a knowd they was there if the boy hadn’t ‘a been hollerin’.  They was hid down an open grave.  Smart thinkin’ or they’d ‘a died with the rest.  Tree limb fell, must’a knocked this one pretty good ‘fore he fell down the hole with the boy.”  The driver nodded toward the motionless man.

“This your Pa?” Nora asked the frightened boy.

He shook his head in response, but didn’t speak and refused to release his grip on the injured man’s hand.

“It’s alright.  We’re going to take good care of him.”

Tuesday

Nora jerked awake, glancing around to make sure her momentary lapse had gone unnoticed.  She’d never dreamed of falling asleep on the job before.  But then again, before the storm, she’d never dreamed it was possible to fall asleep while leaning one’s head against a door frame.

Only two days had passed since the twister and already life had taken on a familiar pattern.  It was nature’s cruel reality — life goes on.  Amidst so much death, so much destruction, there were still needs to be met.  Many of the injured had been treated and returned to their homes, if they had homes to return to.  Some stayed with friends or relatives. A number of patients remained.

The boy, Caleb, waited at the clinic until someone could be found to take him in.  His family, along with everyone else inside the church, had been killed when the building collapsed.  Only he and the stranger had survived.  Caleb, who didn’t know the man’s name, said the stranger saved his life.  His hero was still unconscious, and he refused to leave his side.

Nora poured herself a cup from the ever-present coffee pot.   She hadn’t taken the time until now to wonder who kept it filled, but was grateful just the same. She laid a hand on Caleb’s shoulder.  “No change?”

Caleb shook his head, “He stirred a little during the night, but his eyes never opened.”

“I bet Mrs. Lucas has breakfast ready.  Why don’t you go and get some?”

The boy started to refuse, but Nora read his thoughts.  “I’ll stay with your friend.”

“Promise?  You won’t leave him ’til I come back?”

“Promise.”

A hungry Caleb smiled his thanks and ran out the door.

Nora set to work immediately preparing to bathe her patient, noticing, not for the first time, just how handsome he was.  She guessed he was close to fifty, though judging strictly by his muscular frame he could have been much younger.  It was the touch of grey near his temples that gave him away.

As she removed his nightshirt, Nora caught sight of the gold band he wore on a chain around his neck.  She remembered now, having seen it when he first arrived, glistening against his tanned chest.   She’d been busy at the time, fighting to save the man’s life, so she hadn’t given the ring much thought.  Now, with a moment or two to spare between patients, curiosity got the better of her.

She lifted it gently, reading its inscription.  “Always,” she whispered.  So he was married. ‘Lucky woman!’  Blushing, Nora checked over her shoulder, making sure there had been no witness to her unintentional thought.  Funny, he didn’t wear the band on his finger, like most married men.  But then again, some men didn’t want to advertise the fact that they were married.

Careful of his injuries Nora finished her work and re-dressed her patient in a clean nightshirt before changing the sheets on the cot.  She dipped a cloth in cool water and held it to his dry lips.  His mouth moved as if to swallow, so she repeated the action until he lay quietly again.

***

The familiar fragrance of lilacs surrounded him.  The cry of gulls, the soft lapping of waves against a sandy shore called to him, luring him.  He smiled when he saw her.  She was washed in moonlight, her white, satin robe slipping from her shoulders as she moved toward him.

‘Jed!’  Her voice held a longing, a longing he shared.  Gently, she rested her hand over his heart, over the gold band.  Her touch spread warmth that filled him.

Jed took in the vivid green of her eyes, the shape of her mouth, her smile.

‘Always!’ her whisper reminded him, before her image began to fade, slipping further away, deeper into nothingness.

“Maddie!”

***

Rhythmic puffs of warm breath on his face roused him from the dark, silent place.  Jed Curry turned his head on the pillow and heard a moan escape his own lips.

“I think he’s waking up!”  It was the shrill voice of a child.

“Sam?” It hurt to talk.

The child’s voice spoke again, more softly this time.  “Can you hear me, Mister?”

Something passed across his forehead, his face, his neck.  It was cool and refreshing, like the woman’s voice that went with it.

“You’re safe now.  Can you open your eyes?”  The voice was so familiar.

There was pain in his chest, his head hurt.  It was hard to breathe.

“Shhh…” the voice soothed, “You’ve suffered a bad injury.”

Injury?  Had he been shot?  Was a posse chasing them?  Where was Heyes?

His eyes blinked open and he tried to still the spinning room.  A girl and a small boy sat near him.

The girl dipped a cloth in cool water and wiped it again across his aching head.  She smiled when she saw his eyes begin to focus.

“I’m glad you’ve decided to join us.  I’m Nurse Denning.  This fine young man is Caleb.  He’s been taking real good care of you.”

Nurse?  Jed looked around trying to take in his surroundings, trying to remember what happened.  Beds, or what he thought were supposed to be beds, were scattered around one large room.  Was this some kind of hospital?

“You’re in Goliad.  Kind of a make-shift clinic we set up here in the courthouse after the storm.”

The storm.  The boy.  Fragments came back.  Jed licked his lips before attempting to speak again.  He tried to focus on the boy.  “Thank you.”

“Weren’t nothin’, Mister.  ‘Specially after what you done for me.”

What had he done?  The twister.  The grave.  He remembered now.

The girl, the nurse – she didn’t look old enough to be a nurse – was speaking again.  “Is there someone we can contact for you?  Let them know where you are, that you’re alright?”

Alright?  He sure didn’t feel alright.  He tried to nod his head, but quickly changed his mind.  Did it hurt more to talk or move?  He’d try talking again, quietly this time.  “Heyes,” he managed to whisper.

“Your name is Heyes?” the girl/nurse asked.

But the man was closing his eyes again.  This time he looked more comfortable as he slept.  A good sign.

Sheridan – Tuesday

“No news?”

Heyes ran two worried hands through his hair before sitting back in the kitchen chair and accepting the cup of coffee Christina held toward him.  “No.  No news of Jed anyway.  The station master confirmed that his train arrived in Goliad not long before the storm hit.  It was a bad one, Christina.”  He sipped from the cup as Christina joined him at the table.  “Funny, the telegraph lines are still working.  My messages got through.”

“To the Double J?”

“To the Double J, to the hospital, to the sheriff.”

“And no one has any information?”

“Don’t think they’ve gotten the telegram to the Double J yet, since it’s so far outside of town, but I heard back from the hospital and the sheriff.”

“And?”

“Jed isn’t listed among the patients being treated at the hospital.”

“That’s good news then.”

Heyes shrugged.  “Maybe.  Sheriff says there’s no Jed Curry on his list either.”

“At the jail?”

Two tired, worried, eyes met Christina’s.  “The sheriff’s list is for the morgue, Christina.”

Her hand flew to her mouth, as the finality of the word ‘morgue’ took its toll.  She steadied her nerves, taking his hand between both of hers.  “This is good news, Hannibal!  Jed is NOT dead!  And if he’s not at the hospital, then he’s safe!”

Heyes nodded and the two sat quietly, heads together.  “Christina?”

She raised her head to meet his eyes.

“If the telegraph lines are working and Jed’s safe, then…”

Her whisper finished the question Heyes couldn’t voice.  “Why hasn’t he contacted us?”

Goliad – Wednesday

“Mornin’, Caleb.”  Jed opened his eyes the next morning, glad he was able to remember the name of the boy whose face hovered inches from his own.

“Nurse Nora!” Caleb yelled, sounding more like the whistle of a train to Curry’s ears.  “He’s waked again!” the boy announced proudly, as if he himself had been the man’s healer.

“Good morning, Mr. Heyes!”  The nurse smiled down at him as she reached behind her back to tie a fresh apron neatly in place.  “How are you feeling this morning?  I’ll get a breakfast tray and the doctor.  I’ll be right back.”

Heyes?  Why had she called him that?  His head was still foggy and he wasn’t really hungry, just thirsty, but she was gone before he had a chance to speak.

“Ya want some water, Mister?”  Caleb held out a glass.

He did want the water, but he’d need to sit up first in order to drink any.  Jed struggled, trying to reach an upright position and as he did, bumped his side.  “Ahhhh!”  A stabbing pain shot through him.

The nurse appeared again carrying a breakfast tray, the doctor following close behind her.  “Oh dear!  Are you alright?  If you’d have waited, I’d have helped you sit up.”  She set the tray down and fluffed pillows behind him, trying to make him more comfortable.

“My side.”

“Hello.  I’m Dr. Lucas,” the doctor’s voice piped in.  “You have some broken ribs to go with your other cuts and bruises.  But those are nothing compared to the bump you took to your head.”   He checked Jed over thoroughly, looking into his eyes and listening to his breathing with his stethoscope before inspecting his ribs.  The doctor seemed to know exactly where to push to extract maximum discomfort.

“How long?” Jed managed, trying to stifle a groan.

“Before the ribs heal?  Weeks.  But you have a good nurse.”  Jed caught the doctor’s quick nod of appreciation toward Nurse Denning.   “Do as she says and you’ll be fit as a fiddle in no time.”

“I’m grateful.”  Jed’s glance took in both physician and nurse.

When the doctor left, Nurse Denning moved the tray nearer Jed’s cot.  “This is just broth.  You need to start out slow.  But if you can manage to keep this down today, maybe tomorrow I can bring you some real food.”  She gave him a teasing wink.  “Oatmeal, if you’re lucky!”  Her look changed to one of genuine concern.  “You think you can manage this by yourself, Mr. Heyes?  Caleb’s here if you need help.”   She would have liked to stay, but there were other patients in need of her attention at the moment.

“Fine.  Thanks.  Wait!”  He stopped her, just as she was turning to leave.

She turned her attention back toward him.

“My name’s not Heyes.  That’s my partner.”

“I’m sorry.  I must have misunderstood, Mr… What is your name?”

“Curry.  Jed Curry.”

He saw Nurse Denning’s eyebrow arch, as if she recognized the implication of the two names used together.

After a moment’s pause, she nodded.  “Pardon my mistake, Mr. Curry.  I’ll make sure your medical record is changed.”

Curry sat smiling to himself as he watched Nurse Denning walk away.  Caleb caught him following her with his eyes.

“Uh…She’s got a nice smile, huh?”

Caleb returned his grin, certain it hadn’t been Nurse Nora’s smile the man was looking at.

***

Not long after Jed had finished his breakfast of broth, with help from Caleb, a dour-faced woman approached with a basin of water and soap.

“I’m Nurse Watson.  If yer done eatin’, I’m gonna sponge bathe ya,” she announced.

He raised an eyebrow and Caleb was gone in a split second, not wanting Nurse Watson to mistake him for a patient.

Despite Curry’s protests, Nurse Watson proceeded with her task, dipping a washcloth in warm, soapy water.  He clutched at the bed sheet when she tried to toss it aside.

“I think…”  Jed caught her wrist before the hand could venture any lower, his words more forceful now, “I think I can take it from here, ma’am!”

“If you say so.”  Nurse Watson tossed a clean nightshirt on the bed before she left.

Some time later, after he was finished washing, Jed struggled with the nightshirt.

Nurse Denning arrived, carrying fresh linens in her arms.   “If you’d like to try to sit up for a while, I’ll help you into a chair.”

Without waiting for him to ask, she assisted him with his shirt, being careful not to bump his sore ribs.  She leaned in close, tucking a blanket around him comfortably.  The smell of antiseptic surrounded her, but on Nurse Denning, Jed found it, strangely, alluring.

Her face was close to his when he asked, “So where were you when I needed you?”

She looked puzzled.  “I don’t understand.”

“Nurse Watson and her sponge bath.  You could have rescued me from her, ya know.”

Nurse Denning laughed.  “Ahhh, yes.  Nurse Watson can be a bit…”  She searched for the right word to describe her coworker.  “Brusque, but she’s very capable.  And very thorough.  We take turns with the bathing.”

Though Curry said nothing, his eyes carried a teasing glint.

Picking up on his silent innuendo, her expression changed to one of disgust.  Had he no morals?  He was a married man!  What kind of woman did he think she was?  “You slept through my turn, Mr. Curry.  And trust me, it was nothing to get excited about.”  She shot him a look and shoved another pillow into a fresh pillow case with more force than necessary.

“Next time then?”  He bit his tongue, too late.

“Well, Mr. Curry,” Nora’s green eyes flashed, “I guess there won’t be a next time.  Nurse Watson said you wanted to do it yourself from now on.”

Nora gave the pillow one last punch and tossed to him as she left.

Wednesday afternoon

Caleb was sleeping on a newly vacated cot next to Jed’s when Nora arrived with lunch.  It appeared Mr. Curry was sleeping too, so she set it on a small table and quietly turned to leave.

“I offended you earlier, ma’am.  I’m sorry,” Jed whispered, not wanting to wake the boy.

Nora jumped at his words.  “I thought you were asleep.  I didn’t want to wake you.  Dr. Lucas says sleep is nature’s cure.”

“I wasn’t sleepin’.  Just restin’.  Got a minute?”

Nora placed his meal close to him, before she pulled up a chair and sat.  If he remained cordial, so would she.  She let out an exhausted sigh.  “Feels good to sit.”

“I see you’ve been plenty busy.  Storm must have been a big one.”

“Most of the town has been destroyed.  A lot of people were injured.”  Nora hung her head.  “Many of them didn’t make it.”

“Like Caleb’s family?”  He tipped his head toward his companion.

“Dr. Lucas is trying to find someone to take him in.  His family was in the church when the twister hit.  No one there survived.  Only the two of you.  How’d you come to be in the churchyard anyway?”

“I had just arrived in Goliad on the train.  I was tryin’ to make it to the Double J when the storm caught me.”

“Did the rancher know you were coming?  Should I inform him that you’re here?”

“Might not be a bad idea.  My partner might try to contact him.  I’d like to try to get a message home too if it’s possible.”

Nora nodded.  “I’m sure your wife and family are worried about you.”

Jed looked perplexed.  “Wife?”

“She’s got to be wondering where you are, if you’re safe…”

Curry cut her off.  “I know I took a pretty good blow to the head, but… Wife?  I would think I’d remember havin’ one of those.”

“I thought, I mean, you have a wedding band.  And when you were unconscious you asked for…” Nora wasn’t sure who was more confused, her patient or her.  “Who is Maddie?”

He attempted to mask his surprise, hearing Madelyn’s name, after all these years.  “Ah!  So you thought I was married.  Nurse Denning, I assure you, I am not now, nor have I ever been, married.”

“You say that like you have something against marriage.”  She challenged him with her eyes.

“No.  Not really.  Just don’t think I’m cut out for it.”

“She your sweetheart then?”

Nurse Denning was good!  Like a Bannerman Detective or something.  He was beginning to squirm under her scrutiny.  “Do you interrogate all your patients?”

“Not all of them.  Who’s Sam?” she insisted, undeterred.

“That would be my partner’s son, Sam Heyes.  He’s eight.”

Nora still didn’t fully understand, but decided it didn’t matter.  She held out her hand.  “Maybe we’d better start again.  Nora Denning.  Nurse. Goliad, Texas.”

He smiled, grasping the small, outstretched hand.  “Jed Curry.  Rancher.  Sheridan, Wyoming.”  Then he added, smiling, “No wife.”

“Jed Curry, otherwise known as, ‘Kid’ Curry?” Nora resumed her questioning, eyebrows raised.

Could he never escape his past?  He rolled his eyes and nodded.  “That was a long time ago, Nurse Denning.  Somethin’ I’ve tried to put behind me.”

“I know.  You were granted amnesty.  You and Hannibal Heyes.”

He noted that her words carried no judgment, only stated facts. He nodded toward Caleb, who was still sleeping peacefully.  “We don’t need to tell him that bit of information, do we?  Kinda feels nice, bein’ admired for somethin’ other than a fast gun.”

“I think that can be arranged.”  She gave him a warm smile.  “Besides, I think Caleb might be a little young to remember just who,” she giggled and lowered her voice to a whisper, “’Kid Curry’ is!”

He laughed softly.  “What about you?  Aren’t you a little young to remember him too?”  Jed pulled the tray toward him.  It was the first time he’d felt truly hungry since the accident.

The green eyes flashed again, just as they had before.  “Just how old do you think I am, Mr. Curry?”

Jed gulped, nearly choking on his first bite of food.  Guessing a woman’s age was always dangerous territory.  “Uh…I don’t know, nineteen?” he asked, mouth full.  She didn’t look pleased with his guess.  “Eighteen?” he amended, still chewing.

She crossed both arms in front of her and huffed, “I’m twenty-five!  Will be next month anyway.  I’ve been nursing almost five years now!”  She broke eye contact, as if caught in a half-truth.  “Alright, so maybe three of those years I was only a probationer, but still…”

Hoping to bring the conversation back to safer ground, Jed glanced at his bandages.  “And I, for one, am glad you chose to become a nurse!”

Seeming to forget her injured pride, Nora leaned forward, resting her chin on her hands.  “So, Jed Curry from Wyoming, you’re a rancher,” she lowered her voice and glanced toward the sleeping Caleb, “former outlaw, and you don’t have a wife.  Anything else you’d care to share?”

Jed laughed out loud this time.  “You seem to know more than enough about me already!  It’s your turn, Nurse Denning from Goliad.  And by the way, I love hearing your accent.”

“My accent?  I don’t have an accent,” she replied, beginning to feel more comfortable.

Despite Nora’s denial, the accent was there.  Irish, just a hint.  The one-generation-removed-from-the-motherland type, blended with a northern flavor that was, to Curry’s thinking, quite pleasant.  He listened as her ‘non’- accented voice continued.

“I grew up in Chicago. I barely remember my mother.  She died when I was quite young.  Papa was a butcher and he had one weakness.”

“What was that?”

“Dime novels!”  Nora smiled, remembering.  “Instead of bedtime stories, I’d sit on Papa’s lap each night while he read out loud the tales of the Wild West.”  She snitched a bite of his biscuit.  “May I?” she asked, already chewing.   “You know, he admired you.”

“Admired me?  For the stuff in the novels?”

“No, no, not that.  He told me once how he admired your courage, yours and your partner’s.  Said that admitting when you were wrong and changing your ways showed the true measure of a man.”  Nora studied her patient, who sat quietly listening, eating.  He was easy to talk to, that was for sure.  “And when Papa read the account in the newspaper about how you stood up to that gunman, leaving your gun in the street…Boy!  Would he be jealous of me, meeting you face to face!”

“What’s his name?  He still live in Chicago?” Jed asked, finishing his lunch.

“Joseph Denning.”  Sadness clouded Nora’s otherwise bright eyes and she shook her head.  “Papa’s gone now.  I was studying to be a nurse when he died.  After I finished my probationary training I answered an ad for a nurse in Goliad.  Never did care for the Chicago winters.  Been here ever since.”

“I’m sorry, about your father I mean.  Sounds like you loved him very much.”

“Thank you.  I did,” she nodded.  “But I really need to get back to work.  I’ll take your tray if you’re finished.  And I’ll see to it your message is sent to Sheridan right away.”

After she’d gone, Nora Denning remained in Jed’s thoughts.  He realized that although he’d asked about her, the information she shared was mostly about her father.  Was she married?  Was there someone special in her life?  And more importantly, why did he care?

Sheridan – Wednesday

Sam watched, studying his father’s worried expression as they carried out the list of daily chores together.  His father usually viewed this time as an opportunity for father/son bonding.  Today, Sam noted the quiet tension.

“You’re awful worried about Uncle Jed, huh, Pa?”

Heyes tried to put on a more cheerful face.  “Your Uncle Jed is pretty good at taking care of himself, Sam, but you’re right, I’m thinking about him.”

Their conversation seemed to take a sudden detour.  “Pa, do you think I’m dumb?”

“Who told you you were dumb?”

“Lillian.”

“Sam, I think most twelve year old girls think their little brothers are dumb.  That’s just how it’s supposed to be.”

Sam thought about this for a while, knowing his father had no sisters.

“Did Uncle Jed’s sisters think he was dumb?”

Heyes’ eyes took on a far-away look, as they always did when he remembered childhood days.  It didn’t seem as painful now, not with a family of his own.  He wondered if memories still haunted Jed.

“As I recall, they did, Sam.”

“But I’ll bet they cared about him.  Lots.”

“Sure they did.  Why all the questions about sisters?”

“Well, if I was lost and didn’t have you and Ma to look for me, Lillian would find me — even though she thinks I’m dumb.”

Heyes smiled.  “I’m sure she would, Sam.”

“An’ Uncle Jed don’t have no Pa or Ma or sisters to come lookin’ for him, does he?”

“That’s true Sam.  But we’re his family.”

“Uh-huh.”  He paused briefly.  “Then, how come we’re not lookin’ for him?”

Heyes shared a dimpled smile with his son.  “Lillian sure was wrong about you, Sam.  You are definitely not dumb!”

“So we’re goin’ to find him?!”

“I’ll make you a deal.”  Heyes stooped, rustling the boy’s dark hair with one hand.  “Your Ma and I discussed this last night.  If we don’t hear anything before the day’s over, I’ll leave first thing tomorrow to find him.”

“Me too?”

“Uh…No.  I need you to stay here and keep an eye on your mother and sisters.”  He winked, sealing their masculine agreement.

“Pa!”  It was Lillian’s excited voice.

“What’s wrong?”  Heyes met her half way across the yard.

“I stayed after school, to help the teacher with a project and the man from the telegraph office found me!”  She held an envelope up before she leaned forward, one hand on her knee, trying to catch her breath from running.  “It’s from Texas!  It’s got to be about Uncle Jed!”

Christina had already rushed to join them outside, Rosalyn on her hip, after hearing Lillian’s call.

The entire Heyes family waited, holding their collective breath while Heyes opened the envelope.

“He’s alright!  It will be a while before he can travel, but Jed is alright!”

Goliad – Thursday

“Good morning!”  Nora sat down, smiling after placing her favorite patient’s breakfast tray on the table near his bed.

Jed stretched, as best he could considering his still sore ribs.  Her smile was contagious and he returned it with one of his own.  “Wakin’ up to your smile would make any mornin’ good.”

She looked away, blushing.

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”  He sat up carefully, before starting in on the breakfast she had brought him.

Nora watched him, still smiling.

“What are you smillin’ at?”

“Got something for you.”

“For me?”

“A telegram.”  She removed an envelope from the pocket of her apron.  “From Sheridan, Wyoming.”

“You gonna sit there holdin’ it, or you gonna open it and read it to me while I eat?”

Nora hadn’t expected to be invited into the private correspondence between the life-long partners.  “Really?  You want me to read it?”

“Why not?” he shrugged, mouth full.

She ran a finger across the seal, removing the envelope’s contents.  “Message received.  Relieved.  Come?  Love from family.  HH”

“It’s from Heyes alright.  Short and sweet.”

“You’re a lucky man.”

“What’d’ya mean?”

“Mr. Heyes wrote, ‘Love from family’.  Having a family that loves you, that makes you a lucky man.”  She held the envelope toward him, message neatly tucked back inside.

Jed reached for the envelope.  As he took it, his fingers brushed her hand.  “Guess I am lucky.”  He smiled again as he glanced toward his bandages.  “In more ways than one.”

“You want me to send one back?”

“Yeah.  Tell Heyes he don’t need to come.  I’ll let him know before I leave for home.”

“But you’re going to need…”

“His wife needs him right now.  Besides, I got you and Caleb lookin’ out for me.”  From the corner of his eye, he saw Caleb arrive with a chunk of wood held in one hand and a small carving tool in the other.  “How’s the project comin’?” Jed asked, inspecting the boy’s work with a practiced eye.

“I’m havin’ trouble with this part over here,” Caleb pointed, then grinned.  “Hi, Nurse Nora.”

“What do you have there?” she wondered out loud.

“Just a little somethin’ artsy we been workin’ on,” Jed answered for them both, already focusing on Caleb’s dilemma.  “Alrighty, I can see the problem right here.”

Caleb leaned closer.  So did Nora.

“Now, what ya gotta do is take your knife like this,” Jed instructed with his large hand over Caleb’s smaller one, “and then you kinda twist like so,” he demonstrated.

Caleb continued, unassisted.  “I did it!” came his cry of delight as the form of a hand-sized  horse began to emerge from the wooden chunk.

“Sure did,” Jed praised.

“Well, with you helpin’ me, I did.  Thanks, Mr. Curry.”

“Ya better finish that outside, Caleb, so Nurse Nora don’t get mad at me for leavin’ wood shavin’s on her clean floor.”  He winked.

Caleb obeyed, nodding his thanks.

“You never told me you were a toy maker,” Nora remarked.

Jed laughed.  “Not a toy maker, no.  But I do like workin’ with wood.  A hobby, I guess.  I like makin’ furniture, that sorta thing.  Somethin’ I picked up a few years back, when me and Heyes were visitin’ a friend in New England.  Got a wood shop back home.”

“A rancher and a carpenter.  Impressive, Mr. Curry!”  She met his eyes.

He held her gaze for a moment, before flashing his most charming smile.  “I do my best, ma’am!”

Goliad – Next week – Wednesday

Sometime during the night, an infant’s weak cry woke Jed from a sound sleep.   He didn’t know much about babies, only what he’d learned from Lillian, Sam, and Rosalyn when they were small, but he knew enough to recognize when something was wrong, terribly wrong.

The soft glow of a lamp illuminated the area behind a curtain.  He rose and made his way carefully through the dark.  Shadows moved quickly and purposefully behind the curtain.  Nora, Dr. Lucas.   A young couple sat nearby, tearfully reassuring one another.  Then, silence.

The baby’s mother let out a desperate, mournful cry.

There was no misunderstanding the shake of Dr. Lucas’ head when he faced the young couple, bearing the sad news and left, shoulders sagging.

Nora came out from behind the curtain, bearing the small bundle lovingly.  “I’m so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Kramer.”  She wasn’t sure they even heard her words, but her glistening eyes and the tender way she handed the child to its mother’s loving arms conveyed her sympathy.  The couple nodded their thanks.

Jed hadn’t noticed Caleb, who stood inches behind him, taking in the scene with tearful eyes of his own.  The boy stepped forward and offered the couple an eight year old’s version of comforting words.  Curry remained motionless.

Mr. Kramer patted the boy’s head in a sign of gratefulness.

Jed still held back watching the couple, each one supporting the other as they left.  He continued to watch Nora’s shadow, long after Caleb had returned to his cot, as she cleaned the area where she and Dr. Lucas had just waged a battle with death, and lost.  Her quiet sob drew his immediate response.  In a moment he was behind her, arms around her, speaking softly in her ear, not knowing exactly what he said.

Nora turned and he held her, gently rocking back and forth, soothing her with his voice, stroking her hair with his hand.  She buried her face in his shoulder, finally allowing herself the release of tears, after too many days spent facing death and disappointment.

Deep inside, Jed felt something snap, like the weakest link of a chain giving way.  Feelings that had been too long locked away, broke free and surged through him like an electric current.

Nora stayed close, drawing strength from Jed’s embrace, as well as comfort.  If her mind and body hadn’t been so spent, perhaps she might have acknowledged the strange stirring inside her heart.  Instead, she smiled up at him with a warm look of gratitude, then, wordlessly, returned to her task.

Thursday

“Guess what?”  The tragedy of a few hours earlier seemed long ago and far away as a pair of smiling eyes welcomed Jed to another new day.

Nora’s smile snagged his heart like a fishing hook.  And the memory of her in his arms the night before…”How ’bout you just tell me and save me guessin’?”

“Dr. Lucas says he’s going to release you today, only you can’t let on I’ve told you.  I’ll get in trouble.  Doctors are supposed to be the ones delivering good news.”  She shrugged.  “I never was good at keeping a secret.  Whenever I get excited about something, it just seems to bubble right out.”

“You excited to get rid of me?”

“Don’t be silly!  You and Caleb are the two bright spots in my day!  But I know you’re anxious to get out to the Double J, finish your business, and get home to Wyoming.  You’re buying a couple bulls, right?”

“Yup.  Changin’ over from horses to cattle ranchin’.”

“You ought to make a nice profit shipping stock, seeing as how the rail runs pretty much a straight line between Sheridan and the meat packers in Chicago.”

“That’s right, your father was a butcher there.”

“Uh-huh.  Smyth and Jonas – Butcher and Deli.”

A scene flashed from somewhere in Curry’s memory.  “Look, Kid, just like old times.  Smith and Jones.  Almost.”

“No!”  Astonishment was clearly written on his face.

“Yes.”  Nora looked at him like he’d lost his mind.

“Your father was the butcher and you helped out with customers in the front of the store.”

“Right.”  Had she told him that?  They had talked about so many things over the previous days, it was hard to remember every detail.

“And your father was real friendly and spoke with a real thick Irish brogue.”

“Uh-huh.”  She wondered where this conversation was headed.

“And YOU wanted to see the whole west someday!”

Nora’s face fell and she looked at him with suspicion.  “How did you know that?”

“You told me.”

She shook her head.  “No I didn’t.  I haven’t told anyone that in years.”

“It was years ago you told me.”

Maybe that bump on the head was still giving him trouble.  Her eyes narrowed.  “What are you talking about?”

“About fifteen years ago, me an’ Heyes were headin’ to Wyoming from the east coast and we took a wrong train.  We ended up in Chicago, so we got off to get something to eat before we got back on a westbound train.”

“At the Smyth and Jonas – Butcher and Deli!”  She covered her mouth with a hand.  A surprised whisper escaped.  “That was you?”

“Me an’ Heyes!” he smiled.

“I remember!  I thought you were the most…Never mind.”  She blushed, remembering the intensity of her school-girl crush on the much older cowboy.  “I was only a little girl.  How could you possibly remember?  You invited me to look you up, if I ever made it to Wyoming.”

“The invitation still stands.”

Surprised at his suggestion, and unsure of the sincerity of the offer, she studied his eyes.  They sparkled with a challenge, or maybe a dare.

“Better be careful, Mr. Curry.  I might just take you up on that!  And this time, I know your name!”

Friday May 30, 1902

Wyoming.  The notion was crazy.  It was just one of those pleasantries, something nice someone says to be polite, but doesn’t really mean.  Surely Jed Curry hadn’t really invited her to his ranch in Wyoming.  Nora had known it would be only a matter of time until Jed Curry returned home.  His life was there.  Heyes was there.  His family.  Jed had never given her reason to think of him as anything more than a friend.  Any feelings she thought he may have had for her were certainly only in her imagination.

Nora walked the short distance from the clinic to the inn where she had been staying since her own place had been destroyed along with most of the town.  She was so lost in her dismal thoughts, she didn’t hear him call.  At the touch on her elbow, she startled.

“Didn’t you hear me?” Jed asked.

“No.  Guess my mind was wandering.”  She suppressed the desire to tell him where her thoughts had been.

“I thought maybe we could walk for a while?  Talk?”

Nora nodded and took his arm, enjoying the warmth of his closeness, even if it might be for the last time. They walked through the streets of Goliad.  Some reconstruction projects had already begun, even less than two weeks after the storm.

“I finished my business with the rancher out at the Double J.  I’ll be leavin’ for Sheridan real soon.”

So this was it.  Goodbye.

“Oh, did you hear?  Dr. Lucas found a home for Caleb.”  Nora smiled and squeezed his arm.  “Mr. and Mrs. Kramer, you remember, the couple whose baby…”  Death was always so much harder to accept when it happened to one so young.  “Anyway, they said they needed Caleb as much as he needed them.  Caleb sure seems happy about it too.”

“That is good news.  Real good news.”

The light in Nora’s eyes assured Jed she thought so too.  They glistened, reminding him of Santa Marta, where the sun’s rays danced like diamonds off the water’s surface, just before it sank into the Pacific.  Nora was the sea.  Her emotions, running deep and changing quickly, were readable through her eyes.  Right now, her joy was evident with their sparkle.  A moment earlier, they had been clouded, grey with sorrow over a child lost.  He’d seen her anger, flashing like a storm but now, they seemed to change again, with an emotion he didn’t understand.

For a long time, neither one said anything, Nora reminding herself that a lady didn’t speak her feelings — Curry reminding himself he was twice her age.

“So you plannin’ on staying at the inn for a while, or are you findin’ a place of your own?”

She shrugged.  She hadn’t given her living arrangements much thought.  Her mind had been otherwise occupied in recent days.  They stopped walking just outside of town and Nora looked up at the wide open Texas sky, stars dotting the black velvet canvas.  “Don’t rightly know what I’ll do.”  She wanted to add, ‘without you’, but held her tongue.

There was nearly a quarter-century between them.  They were different.  Incompatible.  If Nora was the sea, then he was dry land.  Firm ground.  Immovable.  He needed to leave, end things before they had a chance to start.  “Whatever you decide, I wish you the best.”

He was standing close to her.  So close she could smell the clean, fresh scent of his shaving soap, so close she could feel the warmth that radiated from his skin. Close enough that reason was beginning to lose its battle with desire.  A voice urged her on, from somewhere deep inside.  ‘Tell him how you feel!  You can’t let him go!  Not without knowing!’  She stepped closer still and raised her lips to his.

Curry would have been a liar if he claimed to be surprised.  The powerful force of nature that drew them to one another was undeniable.  Like waves drawn to shore.

Nora’s lips moved softly.

She needed someone to build a life with, not him!  But Jed’s lips seemed to have a mind of their own.  He felt them responding.  “Nora…”  There was more to what he had planned to say, he was certain.  But at the moment, he couldn’t recall what it might have been.  His hand moved to her back, pulling her even closer, deepening their kiss.  Not firm ground.  Sand, shifting in the pull of Nora’s tide.

Her lips parted slightly, her breath escaping in a small gasp.

Nora was so sweet, so innocent.  She needed someone to keep her safe, to protect her from, from…  What was he thinking?  She needed someone to protect her from him!  By sheer force of will, he pushed away.  “We can’t do this!”

Confusion on her face, Nora stepped back, slowly beginning to comprehend.  Her eyes dropped in embarrassment.  “I’m sorry. I thought you…”  Her hands flew to her flushed cheeks.  “What must you think of me?”  She turned away.  “Trust me, I do not make a habit of throwing myself at men!”

“No!  Nora, I could never think that!”  He grabbed her arm, turning her toward him again.  “It’s just…Nora…”  He swallowed hard, then finished in a whisper.  “I’m NOT what you need.”

As his words sank in, Nora’s humiliation turned to anger.  She pulled her arm away.  “Don’t tell me what I need!  I’m a grown woman, capable of making up my own mind!”

He had said the wrong thing.  He would try again.  “Maybe if I were still twenty-five…”

This only intensified the fire in Nora’s eyes.  “From the stories I’ve heard, I wouldn’t have liked you much at twenty-five, Mr. Curry!”  She stressed the use of his formal name.  “Robbing, running from the law, using a weapon to get what you wanted.  No, I much prefer the man standing in front of me now.  At least I thought I did, until a minute ago!  A man who saves a little boy from tornado, comforts him when he’s mourning the loss of his family.”

Not knowing what to say, Curry stood silently, afraid another wrong word would push Nora Denning away forever.

Her anger began to subside and Nora found her hands shaking.  “A man who makes me laugh, comforts me when…”   Her thought was swallowed up in a sob.  “A man who makes me feel…”

She stopped, unwilling to further bare her soul, only to be rejected.   Nora wiped a tear from her cheek, furious with herself for allowing him to see her cry.  She turned away from him again and took a deep breath, attempting to regain her composure.

When she felt more confident, Nora spoke.  “I’m sorry for my outburst, and for how I acted this evening.”  She started to walk away.  “It won’t happen again.”

His gentle touch on her arm stopped her.  “Nora, please, don’t go.”

Her back was still toward him, but she made no move to leave.  This would be his only chance.  Speak now, or forever hold his peace.

“My head is tellin’ me you’d be better off without me, Nora.  But my heart…My heart’s tellin’ me…”

She turned toward him, her eyes filled with questions.

He pulled her closer.  “You think we got a chance?”

Nora’s eyes held his, but she said nothing.

Jed leaned forward, finding the answer he sought, when his lips met hers.

“I don’t wanna lose you,” he managed between kisses.

Her reply was unintelligible, garbled through more kisses.  “…Nah-gony-wer!”

He took her hand.  “Come on.”

“Where are we going?” she asked, her head still spinning.

“Justice of the Peace.”

”Now?”

“Didn’t you just ask me to marry you?” he asked, eyes teasing.

Nora shook her head, laughing.  “I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere.'”

He shrugged, giving her the grin she couldn’t resist.  “Close enough.”

***

They stood together in the parlor of the Justice of the Peace.

“Jed?” Nora asked, as the enormity of what they were about to do began to sink in.  “Are you sure?”

“Why?  You changin’ your mind already?  Not half an hour ago you asked me to marry you and now you’re gonna leave me standin’ at the altar?”

“I most certainly did not ask you!  You asked me!”

He pulled her closer, enjoying their exchange.  “Ya know, Nora, you’re gonna need to get used to snow again.  Got a feelin’ a Wyoming winter might make Chicago seem tame.”

“I thought you were moving to Texas!” she teased.  “Ah well, so I’ll move to Wyoming.  Not like I got a place to live here anyway, or any belongings to pack.  And I won’t miss the twisters either!”

The Justice of the Peace joined them, pulling on his professional robe.  With his wife serving as witness, they prepared to begin.

“Anyway, Papa always wanted me to marry a nice, Irish, Catholic, young man.”

“Uh…Nora,” Jed whispered, warily.  “I’m not Catholic!”

“You’re not?”  She feigned shock.  “Tell me you’re Irish!”

He shrugged.  “I guess so.”

“Shall we begin?”  The Justice’s words went unnoticed.

“You guess so?!”  Nora rolled her eyes.  “A true Irishman would certainly KNOW he’s Irish!”

“Ya know, you got a real cute accent,” he whispered near her ear, his mischievous eyes twinkling.

“I do NOT have an accent!” she insisted, disproving herself with every accented word.

Another whisper.  “Sure do!  ‘Specially when ya get riled, like ya are right now.”

His breath was sending tingles through her, making it difficult to focus on the importance of the vows they were about to take…and whatever question the Justice was asking.

“Mr. Curry, Miss Denning, are we ready to start?”

Nora turned toward the impatient official and raised a finger of pause.  “Could you give us just a moment please?”  She pulled Curry back several paces, her voice turning serious.  “Just how old are you anyway?  Give or take a couple years.”

“You mean, you don’t know?  I would have thought in one’a those novels your father read…”

“If we’re going to be married, I think I have a right to…”

“How old do you think I am?”  He raised one eyebrow, with a playful grin.

Two fiery green eyes challenged two sparkling blue ones.  “Jed Curry, you are the most infuriating…”  Her next words were muttered.  “Not Catholic, barely Irish, and definitely not young!”

The Justice of the Peace exchanged a doubtful glance with his wife before addressing the couple again.  “Are you two sure you want to go through with this?”

Two heads turned to bark in unison.  “YES!”

They moved to take their places.

“Wait!”  Nora’s feet suddenly froze.  Nervously, she ventured one final question.  The deal-breaker.  “We ARE having kids, right?”

His answer came with a wink of confidence.  “Lots of ’em!”

Nora raised her eyes heavenward in a silent prayer of thanks and let out a sigh of relief.  “Alright, Curry, if we’re going to do this thing, I say, let’s do it!”

They joined hands and nodded toward the Justice of the Peace.

A solemn atmosphere prevailed once the ceremony began.  Both uttering their responses with reverence, sealing their commitment.  However, neither one was prepared when the Justice asked, “Do you have a ring?”

“Uh…No, sir.  No ring,” Nora told him, covering for her almost-husband’s momentary bewilderment.

“Wait!” Jed fumbled for something inside his shirt.  “I got one.”

Nora shook her head.  She had not yet discovered the story of that gold band, where he got it, or how he came to wear it.  And she had no intention of wearing some other woman’s hand-me-down.  “It’s alright, Jed.  We don’t need a ring.”

“Nora, I been wearin’ this ring a long time.  Carryin’ it here,” he pointed to his chest, “next to my heart.”  His voice was sincere and filled with emotion.  “I’m trustin’ you with my heart now, so I won’t be needin’ this any more.  Please, Nora, will you wear it?  At least for today?”

How could she say no?  Nora simply nodded.

As he placed the gold band on her finger, he whispered, “Ya know, I love you, Nora Denning.”

“Always!” she promised.

***

One boot slipped off.  Nora let it drop to the floor.  The second one fell close behind.

From his position on the bed, Jed watched as Nora sat in front of the mirror, untying a satin ribbon and brushing her fingers through her long curls, allowing them to fall free.  The action was simple, performed without conscious thought.  He smiled with the realization that it was a scene he would witness every night, for the rest of his life.  He rose and crossed the room, his fingers following hers down the soft, silky path.

She turned and looked up into his eyes.  “What would you say the odds were, of us finding each other again?  I mean, it can’t be just coincidence that we met in Chicago so long ago and now we’re…”  Nervous laughter escaped her.  “I can’t believe we’re married!”

Married!  He couldn’t believe it either.  Coincidence?  More like destiny.  When Nora stood and he pulled her into his arms, Jed felt the same surge of electricity he felt every time she was close, every time they touched.

‘I’m telling you now, one day, some special woman’s going to come along and you’re going to feel like you’ve been struck by a bolt of lightning!’  Jed chuckled, remembering his conversation with Christina fourteen years earlier.  “I’d say the odds are better I’d be struck by lightnin’.  Twice!”

Nora surprised him by backing off a step, but her eyes still carried a love-filled message.  “I got something I want you to have.”

“You got somethin’?  Nora, I thought you lost everything but the clothes on your back in the storm.”

“I did.  Except for this.”  She reached for a silver chain that hung around her neck and, lifting it from her own, she placed it instead around his.

A silver medallion hung at the end and Jed took it between his fingers, turning it so he could see more clearly.  The image of a man and a child were imprinted there.  He met Nora’s eyes with a question.

“It’s Saint Joseph.  It belonged to my father.”

“Your father’s name was Joseph too,” he recalled.

“Yes,” she began, then hesitated.  “How did you know that?”

“You told me, Nora.  You think I don’t listen when you talk?”

Nora tipped her head, thankful for her new husband’s attentiveness.  “Anyway, you have a lot in common with Saint Joseph.”

“I got somethin’ in common with a Saint?” Curry laughed softly.

“Don’t laugh,” she chided.  “I know you’re not Catholic, but my father was.  Saint Joseph was a father, like Papa, and like I hope you will be one day.  And you know what else?”  Nora waited, eyes shining.

“Can’t imagine.”

“He was a carpenter just like you!” she added, smiling.  “Papa wore that medallion always, until the day he died.  Since then I’ve been wearing it.  And I’ve been thinking.”  She took a deep breath and stepped closer.  “Jed Curry, I’ve been wearing this a long time.  Carrying it here,” she pointed to her chest, “next to my heart.”  Her voice was sincere and filled with emotion.  “I’m trusting you with my heart now, so I won’t be needing this any more.  Please, Jed, will you wear it?”

Jed’s response came in the form of a kiss.  More followed, growing with intensity as each moment passed.

“Nora?”

“Mmm-hmm?”

“How much of the West have you seen?”

“You’re thinking about seeing the West…Right now?”  She slipped out of his arms, breathless, and moving slowly toward the bed, loosening the buttons of her blouse as she backed away.  “I only got as far as Texas.  Why?”

“I been thinkin’.”  He pursued her, fingers fumbling with his own buttons.  “Instead of goin’ right back to Wyoming.  We could take a little trip.  Maybe see some of the West, at least California.  San Francisco’s somethin’ else and I know you mentioned…”

“I can’t believe you remember that!”

“Just got done tellin’ you I listen when you talk.”

Her blouse had fallen away, followed by his shirt.  Other items of clothing now lay discarded in a path that stretched the length of the room.

“How about it?  Just you and me.  We can take the long way home.”

“That sounds too good to be true!”  She stopped, bumping into the edge of the bed.  She lifted a hand to his cheek.  “YOU are too good to be true!”

He pushed the camisole from her shoulder and it too, fell away.  “Hard to believe you’re that same little girl from Chicago,” he breathed, his eyes moving over Nora appreciatively.

“I’m not a little girl anymore!” she assured, drawing him even closer.

“I can see that!” he confirmed, in a husky whisper.

“Nora?”

“Hmm…”

He kissed her again.  “How did you know what was inscribed inside this ring?”  His finger tenderly circled the band she now wore.

Nora silenced her husband with a kiss.  “I’ll tell you the whole story…”  She folded her hand into his.

He waited.

“Right after you tell me the story of how you came to wear it!”

Author’s Notes:

A tragic tornado struck Goliad, Texas on Sunday, May 18, 1902.  Several churches were destroyed including the United Methodist Church , where fifty people were gathered.  None of them survived.  This tornado was one of the deadliest in Texas history.

The Sheridan Collections continues with:  No Place Like Home

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

 July 2010

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Maz McCoy's Stories

Alias Smith and Jones Fan Fiction

calicoasjstories

Come through the catflap for Alias Smith & Jones fanfic with Calico

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