For personal use and select distribution only © April 2000 by "Tiff" Amber Stockton
Katherine walked away from the mercantile, hoping to gather her few purchases and return home without being seen. She stepped onto the street and saw Benjamin coming out of the grainery. She closed her eyes, praying silently that he wouldn't see her. She picked up her skirts to walk faster, but no sooner did she get past the bank when she heard her name.
Pretending not to hear him, she continued to walk, making it to the edge of town but finding it increasingly difficult to ignore him. His voice was getting louder, evidence that he was getting closer. He must be thinking something was wrong, by now. She never purposefully ignored him, and she was sure he knew he was being heard. She knew she hadn't been in town in almost two weeks, so his concern was warranted, and she was surprised that he hadn't tried to seek her out before now.
"Kat!" he said again and grabbed a hold of her arm to stop her.
"Ouch!" she exclaimed and pulled away.
"The horse kicked me yesterday when I was cleaning some rocks out his hooves."
Ben pulled up her sleeve and saw the tell-tale finger marks making the black-and-blue bruise, and he knew she was lying again. "Kat, when are you gonna get away from him?"
"You know full well what I'm asking."
She turned away from him not wanting to face the reality of the situation. Katherine Elise Dawson, her name long ago shortened to "Kat" by Ben, was born and raised in Rockridge, Missouri. She was ten years old when she met Ben. He had moved here from St. Louis with his family when he was thirteen and had almost immediately adopted her as his kid sister.
They soon developed a great friendship, she teaching him how to fish, and he teaching her how to play chess. They were almost always inseparable, and gradually, a tender love grew between them. Everyone assumed that they would one day marry, but when Ben left to go fight in the Civil War, some began to doubt it. He wrote often, promising to return and asking her to wait for him. She wrote back saying that she would. However, just before the war was over, the letters stopped. No one knew where Ben was or what had happened to him. Even though everyone else thought he was dead, Katherine never gave up believing that he would one day return to her.
After four years, fearing that she would become an old maid waiting, she married Arthur when he asked. It had shocked a lot of people, but no one had heard from Ben, and they realized that Arthur was the next best match for her. It broke her heart to give up on Ben, but she convinced herself that she would learn to love Arthur, keeping Ben as a fond memory of her past.
Ben finally returned, six years after the War had ended, and he told everyone what had happened to him. He had been missing in action and wounded, left for dead in the woods near Appomattox, Virginia. He awoke, not knowing where, or who, he was. If it hadn't been for the family who had found him and nursed him back to health, he never would have survived. It had taken him several years, with the help of that family, to solve the mystery of who he was. After recovering from a concussion which occurred from falling from his horse, the memories had returned. He thanked the family for their hospitality and kindness, immediately returning home.
"Kat, look at me," he pleaded, gently turning her towards him. It took all of his willpower not to gather her into his arms as the pain he saw in her sad, green eyes.
Katherine saw nothing but concern reflected in the deep pools of blue, and she couldn't hold back anymore. A sob escaped her throat as her knees buckled. Ben grasped her tightly and led her over to a grassy knoll under a tree, where he gently led her to sit beside him. He didn't want to rush her, so he just sat with his arm around her shoulders, giving her comfort. Neither of them knew how long they sat there, but finally Katherine sat up and wiped the tears from her eyes, giving Ben a half-hearted smile.
"I'm sorry, Ben," she sniffed. "It seems that I am always burdening you with my problems."
Ben gave her shoulders a squeeze. "Kat, how many times do I have to tell you that you're not a burden? When I came home and found you married, it nearly killed me. But, I didn't give up. I found every excuse to drop by your cabin and make sure you were alright. I just couldn't accept that what we had was over, but I wasn't about to put any unneeded pressure on you, so I just remained your friend. And what kind of a friend would I be if I allowed you to keep your pain buried inside?"
"I know that, but you must get tired of me getting your shirts wet all the time." She made an attempt at humor.
"Chalk it up to needed practice," he replied, leaving her to discern his meaning.
She understood, clearly, but chose to ignore what he left unsaid. "Well, I don't have to tell you how much I appreciate you and your friendship. Things are just so hard to handle, and you're the only one who seems to really care." She stared off at nothing in particular, and Ben waited for her to continue. It was rare for Kat to open up to him, and he didn't want to spoil anything by speaking at the wrong moment.
Kat took a deep breath. It felt so good to finally tell someone what she was feeling. "Sure, my friends in town smile when they see me, asking me how I am, and sure, from all appearances, Arthur and I are perfectly happy, but you are the only who knows the truth, and I didn't even have to tell you. I get so tired of playing games and hiding the truth. There are times when all I want to do is scream out to everyone what Arthur does and how cruel he is. Whenever we're together in public, he's the perfect gentleman.
"It was the same way during our first year or marriage. He came home every day and greeted me with a smile, bearing flowers, candy, or other sweet gifts several times a week. We were very happy together, but all of a sudden, it was as if a stick of dynamite went off inside of him, and he started coming home angry, yelling at me to get his supper on the table or getting mad when it wasn't cooked to his satisfaction. At first, his bouts of anger were fairly infrequent. I only endured them every once in a while; however, recently, they've become a regular occurrence, happening almost three times a week.
"He vents most of anger by yelling, but once in a while, he grabs my arm or.......hits me," she finished in a mere whisper. She took a deep breath and continued. "I've tried to talk to him about it, but he just waves it off as unimportant. He always apologizes for what he says and does, and he's always very gentle when he's not angry. I just don't know what is causing his anger. He has never come home drunk, and as far as I know, he's never even set foot in the Saloon. I keep thinking that it's something I've done to make him unhappy, that maybe he blames me for something that's not going the way he wants it to go." She stopped as if considering whether or not to continue. "Maybe.......maybe he's angry because I haven't given him a child, " she finished in a pain-filled whisper.
"Kat, listen to me!" he pleaded, taking her hands in his. "There is never, EVER, any reason for a man to hit a woman or any living thing! Arthur might apologize, and he may even be sincere, but he never has the right to hit you! Do you understand?"
Ben saw her wince, slightly as she nodded, and he regretted his vehemence, realizing that he had clenched his fists as he spoke. One, lone tear escaped from her eye and trailed down her cheek. He produced a clean, white handkerchief and tenderly wiped the tear from her face, then held the linen to her nose. When she was done, he handed the linen to her to keep.
The entire time that Kat was telling her story, Ben had sat quietly, listening to her and allowing her to feel no trepidation in being honest with him. However, the moment she began making excuses for Arthur's behavior, it took a lot of control for him not to stand up and shout out his feelings. What kind of man would be so two-faced all the time? What kind of man would come home to a wife and yell at or beat her because of some suppressed anger he was feeling? What right does any man have to beat any woman, wife or not?
Ben had always been taught to be respectful to all women, whether they deserved it or not. He had been worried about going to a new school when they first moved into town. Being the youngest of four boys, he was always feeling like he had to do something big or be different to be noticed. He met Kat his first day of school and just felt a kinship with her that he had never had with any other girl he knew. Mixed with that was an ingrained desire to look out for her. From the scraped knees she got playing baseball to the teasing she endured for being a tomboy, he wanted to protect her.
Now was no different. He had been biding his time, waiting for the right moment, but he couldn't wait any longer. Somehow, Kat would be with him in four days when he left town. She had a cousin in Colorado whom he knew would welcome them with open arms. He sold his farm, making enough money to purchase supplies and two horses, with enough left over to buy land wherever they went. He could stay at his cabin for one more week, but before that, he would take Kat away and make sure that no one harmed her ever again.
"Come away with me, Kat," he said, all of a sudden.
"What?!" she replied, trying to clear her head and wondering if she had heard him correctly.
"Now, hear me out," he began and held up his hand to stop her protests. "I have been trying to get you away from here for almost two years. You need to get away from Arthur, and my land is not bringing me any profit. I sold my farm three days ago to Mr. Franklin and bought two fresh horses and supplies. You have a cousin in Colorado who would love to see you. We can leave at the end of the week, and no one would be the wiser."
He waited for her to protest. Hearing nothing, he continued. "Kat, I only want what's best for you. I'm sorry that I went away. I'm sorry that I wasn't here to stop you from marryin' Arthur. I know this goes against every one of your beliefs, but it goes against mine as well. I only want to see you smile again. So, please, say you'll come with me," he pleaded earnestly. Unconsciously, his thumbs stroked the backs of her hands as he saw her lower lip tremble, the way it did when she was nervous. It felt like an eternity before she said anything.
"Yes," she said, barely a whisper.
"What?" he asked, not sure whether she had actually spoken, or if he had imagined her saying what he wanted to hear.
She turned her eyes to look into his face. "I said, yes, I'll go," she repeated.
Ben couldn't believe his ears. He was so happy, he threw his arms around her and hugged her to him. Kat returned the hug, seeing Mrs. Olmstead watching them from the Mill with a frown, and pulled back, standing to her feet. The last thing she needed was rumor of scandal spreading about town, just when she had gotten up enough courage to finally do something about her situation. If anyone suspected anything bad about her before she left, she didn't think she could go through with it. She dusted off her skirt and Ben stood beside her.
"We really shouldn't be seen together like this."
Ben looked around. She was right. It wouldn't do for anyone to see them together and then get suspicious when they both disappeared. They needed to continue as if nothing had changed. "You're right," he agreed. He reached out to clasp her hand and gave it a firm squeeze. "Meet me here at midnight in four days. We'll leave then."
She nodded, not trusting herself to actually speak. He released her hand, and she stepped away, walking towards her cabin. She briefly wondered why he hadn't made plans to catch the stage somewhere outside of town, or even the train, but then realized that it would be harder to track them on horseback. She turned around to wave once, then continued on her way. Ben returned the wave, then watched her back until she disappeared from sight. He gave himself a mental shake and left to begin finalizing plans for their trip.
Ben waited for Kat by the tree, holding tight to the reins of their two horses. He prayed no one would discover their plan, and he had worked very hard to cover his tracks, saying, to anyone who asked, he was going to visit his cousin, Caroline, and her husband Charles. Since Arthur was away and wasn't expected back for a week, and since Kat rarely came into town, no one would question her lack of appearance.
The horses suddenly whinnied, and he started at the sound of footsteps but smiled when he saw Kat approaching. She didn't return his smile, and he knew it was because of the turmoil raging inside of her. She was closing the door on the only life she had ever known, and it was bound to cause her to worry. Despite the memories of the pain Arthur had caused, she did say that there had been pleasant times, and she was sure to wonder if she was doing the right thing. Still, she had two things going for her: God and him. Both wanted the best for her, and Ben was sure that not matter what happened, God would help them through it.
He wordlessly took her bag and hooked it on her horse, checked supplies one last time, helped her into her saddle, mounted into his own and led them on their way. With the first steps of the horses, they both turned around to look at the town, lost in thought, wondering what their future held.
Will Ben and Katherine ever see Rockridge, Missouri, again? What will their friends think when they realized what they did? How will their friends feel? How will Arthur react when he comes home to find his wife gone? What awaited them on this journey? Would they even make it to Colorado? How will they be received when they arrive?
Neither knew the answers to the many questions running through their heads, but maybe Colorado Springs would offer them the chance to start fresh. Anabel had told Kat all about the lady doctor and the friendly townsfolk. Maybe this was where their dreams could come true.
Sunlight streamed through the window in the upstairs bedroom, but the inhabitants of the Sully household were already awake and beginning their day.
"So, how're my two favorite ladies this mornin'?" Sully greeted his wife and baby daughter as they sat in the rocking chair.
"Papa, I fawit lady, too!" Katie demanded from the doorway.
Sully turned to see his three-and-a-half-year-old daughter standing with her hands on her hips and a defiant look on her face. "You're right, Kates," he corrected and walked over to swing her into his arms, giving her a kiss. "How are my *three* favorite ladies, this mornin'?" he repeated and bent down to kiss his wife good morning and plant a kiss on baby Marjorie's soft head.
Katie looked at her baby sister in bewilderment. "Mama, what baby doin'?"
"Marjorie's having her breakfast, Katie."
"Why Mawjoy eat you?!"
Sully and Michaela both laughed and Sully explained, "Kates, Marjorie's not a big girl like you, so she needs special milk your Ma's got."
"When she grows up, big and strong, like you, she'll drink her milk from the cow, like we do," Michaela continued.
"Mama got milk. Cow got milk," the little girl mumbled to herself. "But, Mama not cow!?" she exclaimed, trying to make sense of what she was being told. This brought another laugh from her parents.
"No, Kates, you're right, your ma's not a cow. She has special milk that's only for babies. As soon as Marjorie's big enough, your ma won't need that milk anymore."
"Mama got peshal milk for Mawjoy? And when Mawjoy get big, milk be all gone?"
"Yes, Katie," Michaela replied.
"Okay!" she stated, satisfied with the explanation. "Papa, bweakfas! Down!" she demanded, squirming in her pa's arms.
Sully set her on the floor and watched as she ran for the stairs. "Be careful!" he called after her, and turned back to his wife. "You gonna be down soon?"
"Yes, in about five minutes," she answered.
He leaned down to give her another kiss, caressed his daughter's soft hair, and turned to leave. Michaela watched him go, then turned her attention back to her daughter and the soft, suckling noises she made as she ate. Her chubby fingers clasped Michaela's index finger tightly, and Michaela began to rock gently. "How did I ever deserve to be so blessed?" she thought. She could hardly believe a year had almost past since Marjorie was born. Where did all the time go?
"Are you sure you're alright watching them both?" Michaela asked Maryann from the kitchen where she was finishing preparing her children's mid-morning snack.
"Yes, Dr. Mike, I'll be fine," Maryann said, walking into the kitchen. "Especially since Marjorie has already eaten and is sleeping. This one's no trouble at all," she said and bounced Katie on her hip, producing a giggle from the little girl, "and I know that Matthew and Carolyn will be here at noon to take us to meet you at the Café for lunch. Don't you worry about us; we'll be fine."
"Come on, Michaela. We gotta be goin' if we're gonna get done everythin' before lunch," Sully called from the front door. "I got the horses all ready."
"Alright, I'm coming," she replied and turned to Katie. "Give me a kiss, Katie. I'll see you at lunch.
"Bye-bye, Mama," the little girl answered, giving her ma a kiss.
"Bye, Kates," Sully gave her a kiss as well.
"Bye-bye, Papa. See soon!"
The door closed behind them and Maryann looked at Katie. "So, what are we going to do, today, Katie?"
The little girl thought for a moment and exclaimed, "Play teacups!"
"Teacups? But, you don't have any, do you?"
"I use Mama's."
"Um, Katie, I don't think that's a good idea. Your Ma wouldn't like that very much." At the pout on the little girl's face, she amended, "But, we can play pretend teacups!"
"It's where we play like we really have the teacups when we don't."
"Oh. I like that!"
"What we can have, though, is a blanket for our party. Come, help me spread it out." Maryann watched the little girl as they played. It would be great to have a baby around, but for now, she would have to settle for being an aunt to her soon-to-be nephew or niece. Carolyn was so lucky to have met Matthew and now be married, living on her own and be starting a family soon. She even had her own job working with their mother in the bookstore. When would her turn come? She sighed. "I'm too young to be thinking about marriage and motherhood, anyway," she told herself and settled in to teaching Katie how to pretend..
"Class dismissed for lunch," Ms. Teresa announced and watched the children file out of the schoolhouse. Katherine walked around to collect the papers from their morning history lesson. "You have adjusted well to the students these past few months," she complimented, her Mexican accent coming through very strongly. "I know that you did not get a lot of time to work with them before the summer, but with last few weeks of this school year, you are doing very well."
"Thank you," Kat replied. "They're a joy to teach and very well-mannered. Of course, after meeting some of their parents, sometimes I wonder why?" she smiled.
Teresa chuckled. "Yes, I can agree with you about that. Even so, you have no idea how much I appreciate your help, especially knowing that I will be leaving soon." She paused. "When you arrived in town a few months ago, I had discovered that I was pregnant and had just begun to think about looking for an assistant to help me. You were a blessing to me and the children. With this little one coming," she placed her hand, lovingly, on her swollen abdomen, "it is very comforting to know that I will be leaving the class in such good hands."
"Well, it's nice to know that you trust me enough to leave me in charge of the class," Kat replied with a laugh, setting the collected papers on the desk as a knock was heard on the door. Jake Slicker, the town's mayor and barber, and Ms. Teresa's husband, walked in and took off his hat.
"Teresa. Miss Dawson," he greeted.
"Jake!" Teresa exclaimed, happily going to greet her husband. "Why have you come out here at this time of the day? It is only lunchtime."
"Well, business is real slow, and I thought I'd come take ya to lunch." He looked at Katherine. "That is, if ya ain't got plans, already?"
"No, as a matter of fact, I'm meeting Ben, so you two go ahead," she assured them. "I will walk with you, though, if you don't mind?" she said and began following them towards the door.
"Not at all. We would love to have you accompany us," Teresa replied for them both and Jake nodded. He closed the doors behind them and walked down the stairs to place a hand around his wife's waist.
"Jake, I was just telling Miss Dawson how much I appreciate her help in the classroom, especially with our little baby coming soon," Teresa began.
"Yeah, Teresa and me are real happy ya come when ya did."
"Thank you, Mr. Slicker. I also told your wife how much I love teaching. Back in Missouri, teachers had to go to college first, so I never even thought about that job. Besides, I was so busy with taking care of my house, that I didn't have time to think about another job. But, here, it's really great to have a job to help pay for the boarding house. I always loved school, and Mama always made sure my brothers and I went. When I finished, though, I realized how much I missed being around the children. I never knew that teaching would be so much fun!"
Jake cleared his throat. "Well, it's real great that you feel that way, 'cause me and Teresa been talkin' about her leavin' when the baby comes, and I'd like ta know if you would want to take over teachin', permanent. You said how much ya like it, and it's obvious the children like you. It'll save us the trouble of lookin' for another teacher."
Katherine could hardly believe her ears. Did Jake just offer her a permanent teaching job? What should she say? What if Arthur somehow managed to find her? What would she do, then? "Thank you, Mr. Slicker. I am happy for the offer, but would you mind if I thought about it, first?"
"Sure! Take all the time ya need. I just thought now would be a good time to tell ya about it," he replied.
By now, they had reached the Café, so Jake and Teresa left to go find a table. Kat looked around and spotted Ben seated already. He waved when he saw her and beckoned her over. He noted the big smile on her face when she sat down.
"What's got you so happy?"
"I was just talking with Jake and Teresa, and he offered me a permanent job as teacher once their baby arrives and Teresa has to leave!" Kat told him.
"That's great, Kat! You'll make a great teacher!"
"Well, I haven't told him I've accepted the position yet," she explained. "I have a lot to think about, like Arthur, for example? No one here knows about him, except Matthew Cooper, and I want it to stay that way. Still, I do have to consider the possibility of him finding me."
Ben reached across the table to take her hands in his. "Kat, how many times do I gotta tell ya? Ya ain't gotta worry about him. I'll make sure he don't bother ya ever again. And I know our plan will work. Ya just gotta trust me."
"I do, Ben, but..."
He placed a finger over her lips to silence her. "No, buts. Now, let's talk about somethin' more pleasant. How long do ya have for lunch?"
She agreed to drop the topic for now, but she wasn't to keep pushing it away. They would have to talk about it soon and face the reality of the situation. "About a half hour. The children will be back, then, and we still have about two hours of school left," she replied.
"Well, then let's order. We don't want to waste any more time," he said as he waved to Grace so they could order.
"So, what are we gonna do for Colleen and Andrew's welcome home?" Sully began the conversation, once everyone was settled.
Matthew and Carolyn had arrived with Maryann, Katie and Marjorie a few minutes ago, and Brian had run over from school to meet his Ma and Pa as they had planned. Katie was helping Marjorie eat the small pieces of carrot on her plate as Sully held the baby in his lap.
"We gotta have a party!" Brian started the suggestions.
"And I think we should keep it private, just a few close friends," Michaela continued.
"Yeah, but that would be the whole town, Ma!" Matthew added. "Ya remember how they were when Marjorie turned one, and Colleen and Andrew mean a lot to this town" he reminded them.
"True," she replied. How were they going to work this out? It had to be something unique and special.
"Why don't you have the party at your home in the afternoon and open the invitation to anyone who wants to come? That way, they can come when they can," Maryann suggested.
"That's a wonderful idea, Maryann!" Michaela exclaimed.
"In fact, you can leave the food and decorations to Maryann and me, and you worry about inviting everyone and getting the Homestead ready," Carolyn offered and Maryann nodded in agreement.
"Are you sure you want to do that?" Michaela asked.
"You're askin' for a lot of work!" Sully echoed.
"Of course we do! Your family has been great friends since we moved here last year, and this is our way of saying thanks for all you've done," Carolyn assured them. "You helped us in feeling accepted, especially with our bookstore right next to your father's library, and then you gave Maryann a job watching your two little girls. I'm not sure we would have stayed if it hadn't been for your friendship. Then, I would have never met Matthew and this little one wouldn't be on its way," she added, placing her hand on her abdomen and squeezing her husband's hand, lovingly. "We owe you a lot, and we would love to do this for you."
Michaela shared a happy look with Sully, and he communicated his agreement with his eyes. "Alright. We would appreciate it, very much. But, you must also promise to ask for anything if you need it," she instructed.
"We promise," Carolyn agreed.
"We havin' a party?!" Katie finally joined the conversation.
Maryann picked up the little girl into her lap. "That's right, Katie. Remember when we had a party for your third birthday and Marjorie's first?"
"Well, this time it's for your sister, Colleen and her husband Andrew, so I know you're going to help your Aunt Carolyn and me, right?"
"I wanna help. Papa said I'm a good helper!" the child replied.
"That's right, Kates, ya are," Sully agreed.
"It's all settled then," Michaela closed the topic. "Now, how about we finish our lunch. We don't want Brian to be late getting back to school, and we still have a lot to do if we're going to have this party ready in time for Colleen and Andrew's arrival."
Marjorie finally tired of being ignored and decided to make herself known. "Mama! Bardee!"
Everyone turned to the little girl, trying to figure out what she was trying to say. "What was that, Marjorie?" Michaela asked.
"Bardee ," the girl repeated.
"I think she said party, Mama," Katie explained.
"Oh," Michaela laughed. "That's right, Marjorie. Colleen and Andrew are coming home, soon. Come, give Mama a kiss," she requested and took her daughter from her husband. The little girl smiled and gave her mama a wet and slimy kiss, smeared with leftover carrots from her lunch. Michaela pulled away, setting the child down in her lap and reaching for a napkin to wipe both of their mouths, laughing with everyone at the table. Marjorie continued with her new word, making everyone laugh, much to the delight of the little girl who loved having an audience.
"Matthew!" Ben called when he saw the lawyer heading towards his office.
Matthew turned to see who was calling him. "Afternoon, Ben, what can I do for ya?"
"I was wonderin' if I can talk to ya about Kat. Or, more specifically about filing for a divorce."
"You're married?" Matthew asked, confused. Didn't he own his own cabin and wasn't Miss Dawson staying at the boardinghouse. And weren't the two of them eating lunch and laughing at Grace's a little while ago? Why would he be asking for a divorce? Oh, wait! Miss Dawson had that trouble with her husband in Missouri! That must be what Ben was referring to. "Oh, I see. Of course, come on in," he invited, and opened the door to his office.
He offered Ben a seat and walked around the other side of his desk. Once seated, Matthew began, "So, what's on your mind?"
"Well, ya know how Kat, uh Miss Dawson, had that trouble with her husband back in Missouri?"
"Yes," he encouraged Ben to continue.
"Well, I'm pretty sure that Kat and me put enough distance between him and us, but she's still worried. She's sure that she would never return to him, but is there anythin' we can do here to protect her from him? I mean, technically, they're still married, so is there a way to file for divorce without him bein' present?"
"Sure. If that's what Miss Dawson wants, I can have the papers drawn up, have her sign them, and then mail 'em to him. But, if you wanna remain unknown, that's not the best idea. Still, there's really nothin' else she can do. Once the papers are filed, she just has to wait and see what he will do. If he signs them, she's free. If not? Well, I really don't know." Matthew explained.
Ben thought about everything. If what he heard was true, it was Kat's only chance for happiness again, away from Arthur. He could only wonder what Arthur would do when he received the papers, but that day would come soon enough. For now, he had to be there for Kat. What would she think of his interfering? Would she be angry because he tried to help? Or would she appreciate his doing what she was too afraid to do?
"Before I do anythin', though, I need to know a little more about Miss Dawson's past," Matthew broke into Ben's thoughts.
"How much do you need to know?" Ben asked, cautiously.
"Don't worry. Everythin' ya tell me will be held in complete confidence, and no one will ever hear about it. I just need to make note of it in my files in case some trouble arises down the line," Matthew assured him.
Ben shrugged his shoulders. What harm would it do to tell Matthew about Kat's past? He started with what he knew of Kat's marriage and gave as much detail as he could remember, making sure to repeat what he thought important so that Matthew could write it down. Eventually, Kat would have to come and talk to Matthew, herself, but that was going to take a little work. "Who am I kidding?" he thought. It would take a lot of work. For Kat's sake, though, he would make sure she did it.
* September, Silver City, New Mexico - Mrs. William H. Antrim, mother of Billy the Kid, dies
* October 6th, Sioux City, Iowa - Gordon party leaves for prospecting trip to the Black Hills, the party is composed of twenty-six men, one woman, Annie Donna Tallent, and her six-year-old son, Robert.
* October 15th, Denver, Colorado - four dead Italians found in house at 634 Lawrence Street, they had been slashed to death, Dave Cook and Frank Smith traced killers to Trinidad, Colorado and arrest three other, two were arrested in Taos, New Mexico, the leader and one other got life in prison, two received ten years and one was acquitted, the leader was pardoned February 18th, 1885
"Do you think Colleen and Andrew will make it home in time for the party?" Michaela asked Sully that afternoon.
"I don't see why not," he replied, watching her walk back and forth across the room as he leaned against the corner of her desk. "We sent em a telegram, and they replied sayin' they had some time off comin' up, and would love ta make the trip. It don't take too long ta get here from Philadelphia by train," he assured her. "So, quit you're frettin'."
"I'm not fretting," she disagreed.
"Then why ya pacin' like that, and actin' restless?" he countered and grabbed her arm as she walked by him the next time. He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her to him. "If ya got all this pent up energy, I can think of a lotta different ways to put it ta use," he suggested.
Michaela blushed and looked at the floor. It didn't matter that they had been married for four years, Sully could still make her blush whenever they talked about intimacy. He placed his thumb under her chin and raised her eyes to meet his. She soon became lost in their depths and their lips met of their own accord. The world dissolved into the background, and all that was evident was the kiss they shared. The bell rang outside the Clinic door, and they broke apart.
"Come in," Michaela called, hearing the bell. Flustered, she immediately stepped out of Sully's embrace and walked around to her chair behind her desk to sit down. The door opened and Katherine walked into the room. "Good afternoon, Katherine, what can I do for you?" she asked, rising from her desk to come stand by the woman.
"Good afternoon, Dr. Mike," Kat replied, then seeing Sully, added, "Did I interrupt something? I can come back?"
"No, you're not interrupting," Michaela said, a little to quickly. She didn't dare look at Sully or the smirk she knew would be on his face.
"I was out back of the schoolhouse, gathering wood for the woodstove since it's been a little chilly lately, and I dropped one of the logs. There was a piece of bark or something sticking up, and I got a cut," she finished, then held out her left arm where strips of her petticoat had been wrapped tightly around the wound to stop the bleeding.
"Let's have a look here," Dr. Mike began and led her over to the examining table.
Sully cleared his throat. "I best be goin'. Good afternoon, Miss Katherine," he said and placed a quick kiss on Michaela's lips in parting. He walked to the door, then paused. "I'll be here at five ta pick ya up," he told his wife in parting.
"It looks like you stopped the flow of blood. That's a good sign. And it doesn't look too deep, but you will need some stitches," she explained and gathered all of the necessary materials she would need for the suturing. "I'll need to clean the wound first, too," she continued. "I won't lie to you. This will sting a lot, so if you want to grab onto the table, you may."
"I got a better idea," interrupted Ben from the doorway, occupying the spot where Sully had stood only a minute before. "You can squeeze my hand," he offered and came around to hold Kat's right hand. She smiled her thanks, then grabbed Ben's hand hard when Dr. Mike poured the antiseptic over her arm and blotted it with a cloth. Next, came the stitches, and since there was on a few, Kat told Dr. Mike she wouldn't need anything for the pain. She again squeezed Ben's hand, and it was over before she knew it.
"Now, I'm going to want to see you in a few days to check on these. And, you can't get them wet." She began wrapping some bandages around her arm. "These will help keep them dry and protected from your clothing, but you'll still need to be careful," she admonished.
"I will, Dr. Mike," Kat promised. "Thank you."
Ben handed her a few coins. "Will this cover it?"
"Certainly." Dr. Mike accepted the coins, then turned to go document everything in her patient files.
Ben placed an arm at Kat's back and turned to leave. "Um, Ben? I'd like to talk with Dr. Mike for a little while, if you don't mind," she told him.
"Oh, sure. "I'll wait for ya outside," he told her as he stepped onto the porch, closing the door behind him and taking a seat on the bench.
Kat turned to Dr. Mike. "Are you busy, Dr. Mike? Because if you are, this can wait....." Kat turned towards the door.
Dr. Mike looked up from her desk and smiled. "No, of course not," she assured her and set down her quill pen. "Have a seat," she invited. "What's on your mind?"
Kat sat down in the chair opposite the desk. "It's Ben," the young woman sighed.
Dr. Mike smiled, remembering what it was like when she first got involved with Sully. The same look was in Katherine's eyes that was in her own. "He seems like a very nice young man," Dr. Mike encouraged her to continue.
"Oh, he is! But, that's not exactly what's been bothering me. You see, no one here, except Matthew, knows this, but......." she paused, assuring herself that she was doing the right thing. One look at Dr. Mike, and she knew she could trust her. She sighed deeply, telling the story to Dr. Mike and purposely avoiding the fact that she and Ben left Arthur back in Missouri, completely ignorant to their departure. "Now that's it's over, and I'm here again with Ben, I was wondering....that is...." She paused to gather her thoughts, clutching and re-clutching the folds of her skirt. "Do you think it's alright to have feelings for another man when you haven't even been gone from your husband for a year, yet?" she finally blurted out and raised her eyes to meet Dr. Mike's.
Dr. Mike smiled. Ever since she met Katherine, a trust had formed between them. She knew the young woman thought of her as a mother, so she wasn't going to treat this question lightly. Even though it was obvious Katherine didn't tell her everything, she would speak when she wanted. That was one thing she had learned from Sully, not to press, but to be patient. Michaela stood and walked around her desk, to where Katherine sat, and leaned back against the side.
"I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject, by any means," she began and Kat nodded, "but I also know that there is no predicting what will happen in matters of the heart. You and Mr. Holbrook obviously have something very special for it to last through the years of the War and his delayed return, as well as your past marriage. It's obvious that he cares about you, deeply, but I wouldn't rush things too much. But, don't be too evasive, either, or you might risk losing something very special." She paused. "Believe me, I know," she finished in a whisper, turning her head and getting a faraway look in her eyes.
"But you and Sully, you're so happy and so right for each other. Everyone can see that the two of you are perfectly happy," she countered.
"Yes, we are, but it wasn't always that way," Michaela confessed, and for a reason beyond what she knew, she felt compelled to explain. "I was raised in a high-class home in Boston, and I was taught that certain "feelings" shouldn't exist between a man and a woman, that a "good" girl wouldn't admit to it. I had been engaged prior to coming out here, but I lost my fiancé in the War, at least I thought I did. I met Sully my first day here, and something sparked, something I had never felt with David. What started as friendship grew into a love that I wouldn't admit existed. I convinced myself that I wasn't feeling what I felt, and because of that, I almost lost him. Even when it turned out that David hadn't died, and he came here, Sully left me free to decide between them. Thank goodness he didn't give up that easily," she finished with a laugh.
Kat smiled, too, a new-found appreciation for the doctor who had become a mentor to her, in a way, since she arrived. "So, you had trouble with the feelings you had, too?"
"Yes. I was confused that I should feel so strongly for this one man. True, it had been a lot longer since my previous relationship with David, but the circumstances are still the same as yours. If I hadn't finally admitted that Sully was everything to me, I'm certain that we wouldn't be where we are today."
"So, you're saying that I should be patient with my feelings, but not so much so that I push Ben away?"
"Exactly. Just take the time to explore these feelings. Go for walks, for picnics, talk a lot of time to just talk things out..."
"I don't know, Dr. Mike," Kat interrupted. "You're encouraging us to be alone together? That's when my feelings get the most confused."
"Well, I'll admit, if we were in Boston, I certainly wouldn't be suggesting that the two of you go out unchaperoned," she laughed. "However, I've learned a lot out here since I arrived, Sully teaching me the most. Things here are different from the larger and more settled areas, and I truly do not think that Ben would ever press you for anything more than you are ready to give." She paused to take Katherine's hands in her own. "Remember, he has waited for you through the War, through his years away afterwards, and through your marriage. You at least owe him the courtesy of your friendship, and that's the best place for a deeper relationship to begin."
Kat squeezed Dr. Mike's hands and stood to her feet, giving the doctor a hug. "Thank you, Dr. Mike. I really appreciate the advice."
"Katherine, ever since you walked in my door that first day you arrived, asking me for some salve for the blisters you had from riding, I knew that our relationship would be special. I'm happy for you both, and I'm glad that I can help in any way I can," she said, sincerely. An idea suddenly struck her. "Why don't you and Ben come to supper tonight, at the Homestead?" she invited. "I know Sully and the children won't mind."
"I'd love to, Dr. Mike, and I'm sure Ben would agree. As much as we love Grace's food, it will be nice for a change of scenery," she confessed with a laugh.
Together, they walked to the door and Dr. Mike opened it. "Fine. Meet Sully and me here at five, and you can follow us home," she instructed.
"We will, Dr. Mike," she agreed. "And thank you, again."
"My pleasure," she replied. "Afternoon, Mr. Holbrook," she greeted, warmly, as she closed the door.
Ben stood to his feet when Kat stepped out onto the porch. "What was that all about?"
"Dr. Mike invited us to have supper with them tonight at their Homestead," Kat explained.
"That'll certainly be a welcome change," he agreed.
"That's what I told her."
"Well, I was on my way over to the Mercantile to pick up some more nails for that fence out at my place that needs fixin'. Wanna join me?" he invited, holding out his arm.
"Actually, I was thinking about going back to my room at the boarding house and taking a little nap until five. It's been a busy day, today, and with Dr. Mike and Sully's two little ones, I'm sure it will be a busy evening, as well," she smiled.
"Okay. I'll pick you up a little before five, then," he told her in farewell, reaching out to give her hand a squeeze.
Kat made sure that Ben had disappeared into the Mercantile before turning towards the Gold Nugget. She had to talk to Anabel, and she hoped her cousin was there. She smiled when she came to the swinging doors, hearing the heated voices coming from within. Yes! Anabel was certainly here, and so was Hank, her husband, from the sounds of things. She pushed through the doors and followed the sound of the voices, clearing her throat when she came to stand in the doorway of Hank's office.
Two heads jerked around at the sound, and Anabel smiled when she saw her cousin. "Kat! How nice to see you!" she greeted, coming to embrace her in a warm hug. "Sorry about that little scene you just saw," she apologized, referring to Hank with a nod of her head in his direction. "We were having a little disagreement."
"Disagreement?! Ya call that a disagreement?! That was a fight, and it's not over yet," he warned.
"I must apologize for my husband," she began. "Why don't we go into the main room and chat," she invited.
"Oh, no ya don't," Hank stopped her, grabbing her arm. "Ya ain't gonna walk out with this unfinished. I know you! Ya'll pretend like we didn't even have this conversation, then act like what you said's how it'll be. Well, I ain't lettin' ya win that easy." He pulled her back against him. "And you're stayin' right here until we get this thing settled."
"Maybe I can help," Kat offered. "What's the fight about?"
Hank started to explain, but Anabel cut him off. "I suggested to Hank that he think about serving meals in the evening to the customers, and he didn't like the idea."
"Damn straight, I don't like the idea. This is a saloon. My customers...."
"Our customers," she corrected him, reminding him that she was part-manager.
"Our customers come here ta drink and have a little fun. They want a meal, they can go to Grace's. It's bad enough ya convinced me to give up the entertainin' girls I had, now ya wanna go and turn this place into a buzzin' restaurant!"
"You didn't give up the girls' entertaining. They're still here, or at least some of them. They just don't entertain our customers in the back rooms anymore. They provide the fun out in the main room. And don't tell me that it hasn't been good for business, since I've seen the books! Profits have almost doubled since last year, and you know it!"
Hank couldn't argue with that, but that didn't mean he wouldn't try. He just didn't have it in him to give into a woman, any woman, even if that woman also happened to be his wife. "Profits doubled cause I expanded ta two floors and added more room down here, with them stairs over there and that fancy light hangin' from the roof, not cause I ain't got women workin' in the back no more," he argued.
"Yes, those things helped, but if you would offer meals, too, it will make things even better," she continued to push her point.
"Why don't you compromise?" Kat interjected.
"Compromise? How?" Hank and Anabel asked together.
"Well, why don't you just serve something like steak and potatoes as an option, but don't force it on your customers? That way, if they want something to eat, they can get it while they're here enjoying themselves. You already have a cookstove and kitchen area in the back, so it wouldn't cost you anything except the purchase of the meat and potatoes and someone to cook, but I'm sure you can afford that. We had a saloon just like this one back home and you'd be surprised at how popular steak and potatoes are, especially with the cowboys around here."
They both considered that possibility. True, it would make them both happy, and it wouldn't cost them anything much, and what they lost in purchasing, they'd make up in the sale of the food.
"Why didn't I think of that?"
"Because we were too busy both trying to get our own way, as usual," Anabel pointed out with a smile.
"Ya gotta admit. Things sure ain't borin' with us."
"You're right about that," she agreed.
"Sides, if we didn' fight, we couldn' make up, and makin' up's the part I like!" he said, leaning down to kiss her neck.
Kat cleared her throat again and they broke apart. "As much as I would love to allow the two of you to kiss and make up, now that you're argument's settled, I need to speak with Anabel, if you don't mind."
"Not at all," Hank replied. "We'll finish this later," he promised with a smack to her backside as he left the room to go get his whisky and other drinks ready for the coming night.
"Now, what's so important, Kat?" Anabel asked.
"I need to talk to you about what I'm doing about Arthur," she replied.
"Well, come and sit down and tell me all about it," she invited. "I'm glad you've finally decided to do something."