It was December 21st the next time she saw him. He was some way off walking in the opposite direction but she knew him instantly. That same easy walk, an arm casually resting on the back of his companion, his other hand moving rapidly to support his animated speech, acknowledged by the intermittent nods of his friend’s head. Her heart was trying to beat itself right out of her chest and she had to will herself to take her next breath. It was him all right. He’d had that same effect on her the first time she’d seen him almost exactly five years earlier…
URGENT HELP REQUIRED
As she straightened up after placing her notice in the Mercantile window, Miss Amelia Baker found herself staring into a pair of intriguing brown eyes. Her heart beating wildly in her chest, she felt the heat of a blush spreading across her cheeks as a wide dimpled grin appeared on the face before her. Reluctantly shifting her gaze to the right she was captured again by a pair of amused blue eyes, the owner of which touched the brim of his hat in greeting. Brown eyes then pointed to the notice and indicated himself and blue eyes with his thumb. Pulling herself together, Amelia gave a slight nod and went to the door to let them in.
Brown eyes offered his hand. “Ma’am, I’m Joshua Smith and this is my partner Thaddeus Jones. We’d sure like to hear more about this job”. He looked to his partner to back up his words, which was given by a nod and his own outstretched hand in greeting.
In an effort to regain her self composure, Amelia cleared her throat and, accepting their handshakes, introduced herself, “Miss Amelia Baker. I’ve just sold my parents’ store – they died a few weeks ago you see. The new owners are arriving the day after tomorrow so they can be settled in for Christmas, which means I have to be out by tomorrow, December 21st. I’m renting a small house about five miles out of town. There may be a little extra work in making it habitable, for which I’m willing to pay $5 a day with bed and board.”
A look passed between the two men as they said in unison “Each?”
After agreeing terms and arranging to report for work bright and early the next morning, Heyes and Curry headed to the saloon for a celebratory drink.
Their progress across the street was observed by two very different people for two very different reasons. Amelia was mesmerised by the easy, casual movement of Mr Smith as he walked, hand lightly placed on his partner’s shoulder. She didn’t understand the emotions she was feeling, both delicious and scary. She tried to pass it off as the after effects of the stress following the sudden death of her overbearing parents. They had both succumbed to the recent outbreak of influenza to sweep through the town and Amelia couldn’t help feeling a little guilty at the sense of freedom and relief she had felt at their passing. She had put the shop up for sale immediately, wanting to move away from an unhappy, loveless childhood and the previous prospect of a life of control and drudgery. She had transformed from the shy, unnoticed, young girl serving in her parents shop, to someone with all the possibilities in the world in front of her. Her lustrous auburn hair and pretty hazel eyes were unmasked for all to see.
Her transformation had not gone unnoticed by the other observer watching the partners. Sheriff Lewis Robertson had dreamed of rescuing Amelia from the clutches of her selfish, stifling parents for years but the Bakers had made it virtually impossible for any young suitor to get anywhere near their daughter. They made no secret of the fact that their sole purpose for having a child was for unpaid labour, home-drudge and future caretaker for their old age. He had miscalculated the intelligent and determined mind hidden beneath the dowdy appearance and subservient demeanour. He had been caught off guard by the speed with which she had finalised her affairs and arranged to get as far away from her previous life as quickly as she could, her temporary lease giving her time to decide what she wanted to do with her life. His plans to rescue her were going to have to be rethought. He definitely had his eye on those two drifters!
After a friendly game of Poker, a few drinks and a nourishing bowl of beef stew at the saloon, the partners made their way back to the hotel for an early night.
“Miss Amelia sure is pretty, ain’t she Heyes?” The Kid mused as he climbed into the bed he shared with his partner. When no reply was forthcoming, he turned a worried glance at his cousin who was staring at the ceiling – “Heyes?”
“Hmmmm – errr yes I suppose she is” was the distracted reply. Kid’s worry intensified! Their new employer’s reaction to his partner had not gone unnoticed but it was Heyes’ reaction to her that was worrying Kid. They’d both had their fair share of female admirers and it was Heyes who constantly reminded him that they were in no position to reciprocate those feelings. But here he was, if not exactly mooning over her, she had certainly got a foothold into his head.
They had the wagon loaded and were on there way before noon the next day and Kid didn’t fail to notice the Sheriff watching them intently from the sidewalk in front of the jailhouse. Heyes, though, was totally oblivious to the threat, driving the wagon with Miss Amelia - who quickly became just Amelia - sat beside him. The pair’s easy chat and flirtatious looks were making Kid nervous. Heyes’ dimpled smiles and sparkling brown eyes were on full display and Amelia’s pretty blushes and soft laughter was concrete evidence that they were captivated by each other. All too quickly for Heyes and Amelia, but not a moment too soon for Kid, they reached the cabin.
Over the next few days, Kid watched with concern as the pair grew closer. By Christmas Eve the cabin was homey and comfortable and the boys’ jobs were finished. Amelia paid them what was owed and insisted they stay for Christmas Day for which she had planned a feast for them all. She was dreading the time they would have to leave. The two men were a handsome pair and she enjoyed their lighthearted banter and obvious close relationship. More than that, Joshua was awakening all sorts of feelings she had never felt in all her 21 years. She was sad and confused at their sudden announcement that they would be leaving the day after Christmas. Their decision was made right after she told them that Sheriff Robertson was coming out to check on how she was settling in her new home on that day.
Christmas Day was wonderful. It was the best Christmas Amelia could ever remember and the best for at least 21 years for the boys. Dinner was a festive feast as promised, the sherry was flowing and the three sang Christmas carols around the roaring fire. Amelia had gifted the boys hand knitted warm socks and as Heyes kissed her cheek in thanks apologising for not having anything for her, she breathlessly whispered in his ear “I have a gift in mind”. Producing a sprig of mistletoe she moved her face and captured his lips in a passionate kiss. The spell was broken by a loud cough by Kid “Ahem, errr Joshua I think we should be hitting the hay – we have an early start in the morning”.
When Amelia went to the kitchen, Kid spoke urgently “Heyes – you know you can’t get involved, it’s just not fair on any of us. We gotta go tomorrow before that Sheriff gets here, he was real suspicious. Besides, we need to go before things go too far. How many times have you said the same to me?”
“I know, I know Kid – but the way she looks at me ….. ahhhh I don’t think I’ve got the strength to resist much longer!”
Sometime later, Heyes was awakened from a light sleep by the creak of the door opening. Amelia stood framed in the doorway, the lamp in her hand silhouetting her gentle curves under her long white nightdress. She beckoned him with a slight movement of her head and with only a moment of hesitation and a quick guilty glance at his partner, Heyes got up to follow her across the hall to her room.
The next morning, Kid tapped impatiently on the door across the hall. He spoke urgently to the mop of tousled brown hair which appeared in the opened crack of the door. “Heyes, we gotta go, NOW! Sun’s been up a while and we can’t risk meeting the Sheriff. I’ve packed our stuff and the horses are ready. Come on Heyes, your clothes are all laid out.”
“OK Kid – give me a minute”
“We ain’t got a minute Heyes, the Town’s only 5 miles away”
“OK – half a minute”
As the door shut, Amelia turned to face Heyes with tears in her eyes, she had heard them use their real names.
“Now I understand why you have to leave Joshua. I’m glad we had the time we had – I won’t forget you.”
Heyes could only hold her tight for a few seconds and choke out “Me too, I’m sorry ….”
She put her finger to his lips “shhh – no regrets – it’s what we both wanted. You’d better hurry”
With a heavy heart he quickly followed his partner out of her life.
“Get the beers in Heyes. I’ve got to go back to the Mercantile before it closes – I forgot gun oil.”
Kid was crossing the street when he saw her and their eyes met. She was as lovely now as she had been five years ago, a bit curvier maybe but it added to her overall look of contentment. Seeing her brought back memories of an uncharacteristically quiet Heyes for several weeks after they left her and Heyes’ drunken confession one night that in different circumstances there could have been something special with Amelia. But they’d got through it - they had to.
Their connection was broken by the sound of running feet and excited shouting “Ma, Ma look what Pa gave me look – he said I’m his deputy”. The Kid’s jaw dropped as a little boy of around 4 years old with a mop of unruly brown hair, big brown eyes and a wide, dimpled grin, came running towards her. He was proudly pulling on a miniature shiny star pinned to his shirt.
“That’s real nice “Deputy” Joshua,” she said as she hugged the giggling boy.
She caught Kid’s eye again and gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head before turning to lovingly greet her sandy haired, blue eyed husband, Sheriff Robertson.
Still in a state of shock, Kid turned and hurried back to the saloon to give Heyes the news that they would be moving on in the morning. He didn’t have to lie – Heyes would see right through that – the fact that he’d recognised the Sheriff was after all the honest truth.