So out of the four of us, I guess I’ve always been the least likely to tell my stories. Not that I don’t have any, just that I don’t really enjoy being the center of attention. My Jed always says, “Listen, Sandy, a beautiful woman like you’s gonna get noticed, so you might as well enjoy it.” Of course he’d say that. But I’d still rather listen.
And what stories there are to listen to! Hannibal Heyes, with his legendary silver tongue, is full of them: about his and Jed’s outlaw days, and their quest to go straight. He’s even got some really good ones about some of their more recent adventures, running H & C Security Services. Jed’s quieter, but not nearly as much quieter as he thinks. Anyway, he spends a lot of time subtly or not-so-subtly correcting Heyes. Hannibal Heyes hates to let accuracy get in the way of a good story, although I’m pretty sure that sometimes Jed corrects things even when Heyes got them right. And Heyes’ wife Ella, well, she’s a lawyer, so storytelling is a big part of what she does, too, in court and outside of it.
But with the children getting older and leaving home, I’ve been thinking a lot about all the things they might not know or remember, things they might wish they’d known about later. And, you never know, it might be that historians are going to remember about Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes, once the most successful outlaws in the West. So, wouldn’t they want to know what Kid Curry’s wife has to say for herself? Or, for that matter, historians might want to know about Ella, too, what with her being the first lady lawyer in the state of Montana.
I guess I must have said something about it, because when Christmas came around, Jed bought me the prettiest leather-bound journal, in a dark green with patterns tooled on the front. And Ella and Heyes gave me a brand-new fountain pen of my own, not one of our boys’ cast-offs or something that came home by accident from someone’s office
Jed went off with Heyes this morning, “Goin’ fishin’,” he said, even though I can’t recall him ever going fishing voluntarily in his entire life. “Starts too early,” is his usual response. So I’m pretty sure he’s trying to give me some time alone with my journal and my pen, and here I am.
The first story I have in mind to set down isn’t about Jed’s and my courtship, or any of the adventures we had back then, but something that happened when the children were small.
Ella and her law partner, Jeremy Chadwick, were off in Bozeman or Missoula or some such place, on legal business, and likely to be away for the better part of a week. Melanie Chadwick, Jeremy’s wife and my dearest friend aside from Ella, came to me with a suggestion I almost couldn’t believe.
“So why don’t you and Jed send the children over to me? Have a few days and nights on your own. Mine have been wanting to have a sleepover with Joshua and Thaddeus and Sarah for the longest time, and of course with Bella, too.”
Melanie had five of her own – or had the sixth and youngest one been born by then? – and adding another four to the mix for a couple of nights sounded like a lot to me. But her parents lived in town, so she had lots of help. And much as I loved our little ones, some time on my own with Jed sounded almost like a miracle. We could go for long rides in the foothills, and have some private time in the evenings. Just like when we were courting.
“Oh, Mellie, that would be amazing. The kids would love it. But only If you’re sure?”
Melanie just laughed. “Honestly? I’m looking for things to occupy myself, without Jeremy around. Anyway, Mary’s home from Denver and it’ll be a romp.” Mellie’s sister Mary was a lady doctor without any children of her own, who regarded the little ones as delightful playthings, partly because she always went back to Denver after a couple of weeks.
How could I say no? And what could possibly go wrong?
Before I go any further, don’t worry. I’d wonder, too. And of course the children were fine, all of them. They came home tired and happy, a few days later, Thaddeus and Joshua and Sarah and Bella.
It was Jed and me who had an . . . interesting time.
The problem was, we forgot about what happens when Hannibal Heyes gets bored.
Things started out fine. Heyes stopped by our place late that morning. He and Ella live in a big white house her parents left her, right on the edge of town, with lots of property. There’s a small apple orchard behind the house. When we got to the point where we all decided that maybe even that big house wasn’t quite large enough for all of us, we built another house for Jed and me and our little ones, just on the other side of the orchard. Had it built, really, because Jed and Heyes? Both of them are good at many things, but anything to do with hammers and nails and saws isn’t high up on that list.
Our house isn’t too far from the Heyes’s, because you can’t really separate Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes, not by much and not for long. Ella and I agree that the reason our marriages have worked out so well is that we never tried. And we were in and out of each other’s houses all day long, anyway, especially because Ella can’t cook. Well, not anything anyone’d actually want to eat. So both kitchens are basically mine, although later on Bella learned and got real good at it. We still have dinner together every night, in one house or the other, at least whoever’s around.
As I was saying, Heyes came to the house for breakfast that morning, and said he was going to the saloon to play poker. “Hoping maybe some of the locals’ve forgotten how often I win. Can’t hardly get a good game here in town.”
“Have a good time, Heyes,” said Jed. “Me and Sandy are goin’ for a long ride this afternoon, and then we’re lookin’ forward to some alone time.”
Well, he couldn’t have stated it any more clearly, could he?
It was a beautiful autumn day – fall comes early here in Montana, but it was bright and crisp and perfect weather for horseback riding. Jed was wearing that old sheepskin coat of his, and his dark gold hair shone in the sunlight. He looked just like the man I first fell in love with. Well, he always did, and my heart sings when I see him, even all these years later. I know it sounds sappy, but it’s still true.
We rode away from town, and into the foothills, and it was about the most perfect day maybe ever, the kind you want to just stretch on and on.
At least, for the first three hours, after which Jed started grumbling a little. Luckily, I’d packed a picnic, knowing the way to my man’s heart was absolutely through his stomach. It’s a wonder how he’s stayed so trim, all these years.
So we snacked on cold chicken and cornbread, and I’d brought some apple pie – one slice for me, two for him – and we talked about the evening to come.
“We could go out for dinner, to Austin’s, or the Blue Sky Hotel, if you like.”
“Mmmm,” I said. “Maybe tomorrow. Tonight, I was thinking of a glass of wine in front of the fireplace.” And we both smiled, thinking about what that might lead to.
We rode some more, until even I felt satisfied at the good long run. There’s nothing that makes me feel freer or more myself than riding outside of town, where things start to get wild.
Jed says it’s a little different when you’ve got to keep going to the next place, when you don’t have a home to go back to.
When we got back to the house, we washed, and I changed into one of my prettiest dresses. When I come downstairs, my husband whistled.
“You really are the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“You, too,” I said. I ought to say handsome, which there’s no doubt about. But with that curling dark-gold hair and those blue, blue eyes, sometimes pretty comes to mind.
Jed just smiled. He was sitting on a settee right in front of the fire, and had a bottle of that good wine uncorked, and two of the real pretty crystal glasses that I think had come all the way from San Francisco. He handed me a glass.
I sniffed it. Ordinarily, I don’t care much for wine or spirits, but this smelled delicious. A sip, and it tasted even better.
We clinked glasses, and I had another sip. He emptied his glass, but instead of pouring another, he slipped his arm around my shoulders, and I nestled close. For the longest time, we just looked into the fire. With no children, no Heyes, the crackling of the fire was the only sound.
It was heavenly.
I must have started to doze off, so content there with him, when the outside door opened and closed. The distinctive sound of booted feet sounded in the hallway, and in another moment, the door to the parlor banged open and closed.
“Evenin’,” said Hannibal Heyes.
I could feel Jed’s glare without even seeing his face. “Heyes, what part of Sandy and me lookin’ forward to some alone time did you not understand?”
Heyes shook his head. “Too quiet over at home. Promise I won’t stay long.”
But he pulled an armchair up next to our settee, right by the fire. “No glass for me?”
I started to get up, to go fetch him one, but Jed, his hand still around my shoulders, squeezed lightly.
“Sandy, you stay here with me. Heyes, you want a glass, you know where the kitchen is.”
Heyes stood up. “Right back,” he said, cheerfully.
Jed let go of my shoulder, and we parted a little and turned to look at each other.
“Heyes,” he said, shaking his head. “Only hears the parts he wants to hear.” But he was smiling now. “Hasn’t changed in all these years, and I guess he’s not gonna change now.”
I just laughed. “I knew what I was getting into when I married you.”
A moment later, Heyes returned, not with one of the good wineglasses, but a water glass. “First thing I could find,” he said, pouring a sizable amount of wine into it. He took a healthy swallow. “Mmm, not bad at all.”
“Thought you were gonna amuse yourself playin’ poker at the saloon,” said Jed. “Hopin’ you were, anyway.”
“Tried,” said Heyes. “Folks in this town still won’t play me for money, though. They say I’m too good. There was one game goin’ on with some out-of-towners, I was aiming to get a serious game, but apparently they’d been warned.” From his pocket, he produced a small sack, and poured out a surprisingly large pile of matchsticks, the only stake anyone in Blue Sky, Montana, would gamble for Hannibal Heyes. “Thought maybe you could use my winnings. I think they were eager to get rid of me, so’s they could play for real.”
“Ain’t you got a book to read or something?” asked Jed. “Seems to me there’s quite a few of them in your house.” Ella’d inherited her parents’ substantial library, and she’d been adding to it for years.
“Reading’s just not the same when there’s not someone around to interrupt me every five minutes.”
“Or you could practice that guitar?” I asked.
Heyes grimaced. “Broke one of the strings and the new one hasn’t come in yet. Besides, it’s not so much fun without an audience.”
Poor Heyes. Nobody seemed to want him around at the moment, and apparently he didn’t really enjoy it on his own.
So we settled in and spent awhile talking about nothing in particular – about the weather, and the children, and when Ella and Jeremy were likely to get home. And then, as they usually do, Jed and Heyes got to reminiscing about the past.
I know my husband is sincerely reformed, but he does seem to light up anytime he and Heyes start to talking about their outlaw days. Between the plans that came off, and the ones that didn’t, and something that Kyle did, or Wheat, it felt like there was always something more to talk about.
Finally, despite everything, I couldn’t stop myself from yawning.
“That dull?” asked Jed.
I shook my head. “I always love to hear your stories, both of you. But I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, lately, and I need a good night’s sleep.”
Heyes picked up the bottle, and went to pour for Jed. “Another?”
But Jed shook his head. “Think I’ll join Sandy for an early night.”
“Fair enough,” said Heyes, and rose. “What time should I come by for breakfast tomorrow?”
“Just don’t come by too early.” And Jed gave him one of his patented Kid Curry no-fooling-around looks.
But, of course, the next day brought something entirely unexpected.
To be continued tomorrow.