Miss Addie’s Boys

Terri Sutro

The stage rumbled along the snowy path.  For the two men inside, it was less a spine jangling experience and more a few moments of peace and safety.  For at least inside the coach, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry didn’t have to worry about posse’s, unfriendly bounty hunters or lawmen all seeking to put the two outlaws behind the bars of the Wyoming Territorial Prison.  And this time the end of the ride meant a job. 

Lom Trevors Sheriff of Porterville, Wyoming, their friend and once upon a long time ago companion in outlawing, had gotten word to them as he usually did.  Lom had been trying to stay in closer contact with his two young friends.  He knew how stretched their patience was. 

It had been over a year since the Governor of the Wyoming Territory agreed to a provisional amnesty deal for the two men.  It should have been finalized by now.  But the political winds were still blowing in favor of the men who owned the banks and railroads.  And they had no interest in hurrying final amnesty for the two men who had proven to be their biggest nemeses. 

So the routine continued.  The two outlaws would telegraph Trevors from whatever town they found themselves in.  They’d ask same question each time.  Any word?

Trevors would do what he could to encourage them that it would happen soon.   To just be patient a little longer. 

 This time, however, he also asked them to do him a favor.  They were working a small job for a friend in Denver when the message reached them.   Lom’s telegram was brief.  A friend had a problem and needed his help.  He couldn’t go himself and anyway that wouldn’t have helped.  He said he’d sent a packet that would explain everything and contain the funds they would need to get to the job.  It said to be ready that there wasn’t much time. 

So once again they sold their horses and gear and waited.  The thin packet arrived a few days later.  It contained a hundred dollars and two train tickets to Santa Fe.  A cryptic note from Lom instructed them that from Santa Fe, they were to take the stage to Esperanza Nueva, Arizona.

  Neither man had heard of it.  There was nothing else in the envelope.  They sent another telegraph to Lom asking for more information, but there had been no reply.  They sent one more message before they left for New Mexico figuring that there would be more information waiting for them when they got to Santa Fe.  But again, there was nothing.   

At the stage depot in Santa Fe, they found that only one stage went to the small town.  And by some twist of fate, it was leaving immediately.  Either they took it now or,  they waited another week.   Maybe longer depending on the weather. 

They both knew jobs were scarce, so was money.  So, when it came time to either board the stage or wait, they listened to the coach driver yell that those that was going should get on board as he wasn’t interested in waiting.  They shrugged a resigned why not and boarded the stage with bedrolls and saddlebags slung over their shoulders headed for one more short-term job. 

They’d been traveling for five days now.  They’d moved from the bigger, somewhat more comfortable coach they’d started out on to the smaller one that would take them the final four days.  The driver pushed the team of horses as hard as he could, but the weather had grown progressively worse.  It has been slow, arduous going. 

 Heyes moved the tarp aside and peeked out of the window of the coach.  He watched the big puffy flakes fall outside and wondered how he was going to get himself and his cousin through the next month.  The holiday season had never been easy for the two men.  Two many memories and too little hope combined to cast a pall over them. 

Heyes, the eldest of the two men, always took it upon himself to be responsible for the gloominess.  As though the things that had happened to them, past, present and even future, were entirely his fault. 

Some years were better than others.  When they’d been outlawing they drowned the time in train or bank jobs or in too much hard whiskey and women.  The winter holidays at Devil’s Hole weren’t much.  But the place was home and the men almost a family.  They’d all made do. 

After they’d agreed to the terms of the amnesty deal, most holiday’s had been strained and difficult.  No family except each other, little money and no real place to call their own.  Hardest of all were the memories neither wanted to talk about and the dreams neither wanted to share for fear they’d never come true. 

This particular stretch of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas was the hardest.   Everywhere they went they found memories of their childhoods in the faces of families laughing and being together.  Each face reminding them of the families they’d lost and the emptiness of their lives.  They mainly tried to make the time better for the other, but in truth they were both relieved when the holidays were finally over.   

Neither man talked about the amnesty much anymore.    They were both at the point of knowing in their hearts that it wasn’t going to happen.  They both wanted to believe, but it was just getting too hard. 

Heyes reached for the pocket watch he always carried.  He closed his eyes wearily realizing it was no longer in his vest pocket.  He’d been forced to sell it when just before they had arrived in Denver.  He’d parted with it painfully.  It had been his father’s.  The last and only memory he’d allowed himself.  Found hidden under his father’s lifeless body by a little boy forced out of childhood on a farm in Lawrence, Kansas so long ago. 

He’d held it in his hand for a long time before he went into the Emporium and finally parted with it.  He watched the shopkeeper shine it up and put it in the glass enclosed case.  He’d had a fleeting desire to take it back.  But what good was a watch when there was no money for food or a room.  So he turned his back on it and returned to the hotel, telling his cousin he’d been unlucky in a poker game and lost the watch. 

Kid had looked at him strangely, but hadn’t questioned him. 

Heyes, relieved that he didn’t have to lie anymore let it go.  It didn’t make any sense to pour salt on an already open wound that the holidays were for the younger man.  They’d done without before, but for some reason this time was different. 

He’d always meant to go back for the watch as soon as they’d made some money.  But the job in Denver had taken them out of town almost immediately.  Then Lom’s telegram came.  There just hadn’t been a reason to go back to Denver.  At least one that Heyes felt like explaining to his partner. 

Christmas.  Heyes let his deep brown eyes close wearily and took a deep breath. 

The holidays had come soon after they’d made the decision to go straight.  The two men had been excited with what the future held and full of hope that the freedom they sought would come quickly.  They’d found work with a large family and shared the time with them.  They’d both enjoyed that.  Being with family, their hearts full of hope that the next time Christmas came around, they’d be free.  Maybe even with someplace of their own.  Maybe even a family.  

But this would be the second Thanksgiving and Christmas that they were using the alias’ Lom gave them and nothing had changed.  Except maybe the hope had faded.  It had been a hard year.  Especially the last few months. 

They’d found a town with a small saloon, a smaller hotel and a sheriff they didn’t know.  They’d played some poker and made small talk with the waitress in the hotel.  They kept to themselves as much as possible.   They both relaxed some.  No one seemed to take special notice of them.  It had been nice to have a warm hotel room to call home, rather than a make shift shelter where the freezing rain and snow could find them.  They’d even talked about looking for work that would allow them to stay for a while.

All that changed very late one night as they made their way back to the hotel after a long night of poker. 

A local cattleman had a money belt full of proceeds from a sale.  A genial man, he’d accepted both his winning and losing graciously.  The atmosphere had been friendly and the whiskey plentiful.  Both men were weaving happily as them stumbled across the street and headed for their room. 

There had been no warning.  No furtive glances signaling recognition.  No call out.  No challenge in the daylight.  Just an explosion that knocked Kid to the ground.  And a second one that chased Heyes as he dropped down next to his partner.  Kid squirmed on the ground, trying to get to his gun.

“Kid?  Kid you all right?”  Heyes whispered frantically as he drew his gun and returned fire. 

“Yea, who was it…could you see him?”  Kid had his gun out now and was trying to sit up. 

Heyes shook his head.  “Come on, let’s get out of the street.”  He helped Kid up and supported him as they dashed for the water trough.  Two more shots rang out as they dove for cover.   

The deputy on duty rushed out, gun in hand.  “What’s goin’ on”  He turned this way and that in the street, his eyes still not adjusted to the dark.  “You there, come on out.”  He pointed his gun at the two outlaws, slowly rising to their feet, guns held in front of them.  “Drop them guns.” 

They obeyed silently. 

Heyes staggered as Kid faltered against him.  “My partner’s hurt…”

“We’ll see ‘bout that.”  The lawman started towards the two, but turned suddenly at a movement in the street.  He fired as the man raised his gun.

The man fell back onto the ground, silent, his gun still clutched in his hand. 

The deputy grimaced and turned back to Heyes and Kid.  “All right, come on out.”

Heyes draped Kid’s arm around his shoulder holding onto it with one hand.  His other arm supporting the man around the waist he guided him forward.  “Look, we were just walking to the hotel when that guy shot at us. My friend’s hurt and needs a doctor.”

“Anyone see anything?”  The deputy questioned any of the people who had come out to see what the disturbance.

“I can, Deputy.”  The cattleman stepped forward.  “They were playing poker with me.  We left the Silver Palace at the same time and I heard the single shot from that man.”  He pointed to the body. 

“All right them, Mr. Everett.  Good enough for me.  Someone show these boys to the Doc’s office.  Rest of you, take this one…say, anyone know him?”  He looked around to the shaking of heads and sighed.  “Take him over to the undertaker and we’ll sort out the rest of it in the morning. 

Some of the men took charge of the body and started towards the end of the main street of town.

“Come on boys.  Feel bad this happened.”  Donald Everett took a position on Kid’s other side and together with Heyes they headed towards the doctor’s office.  

By morning things were calm again.  The two men were still at the doctor’s office when the Sheriff came by.  He had eyed them carefully as Heyes spun out the reason they needed to leave so quickly.  He nodded thoughtfully as Heyes detailed the important job waiting for them.  He knew there was more, but the lawman had no real reason to keep the two men.  The witnesses had been clear as to who should bear the blame in the shooting.  And Donald Everett took time to reiterate what he’d seen. 

The Sheriff took the paper they wrote out for him, shook their hands and hoped that their word was good.  He intended on sending a telegram to Sheriff Trevors of Porterville just to make sure, but for now there was little he could do to hold them.    Begrudgingly, the Sheriff told them they could leave.    

By mid morning, Heyes had them packed and headed out of town.  They’d ridden out as quickly as they dared, Kid clenching his jaw against the nausea and pain.   The bullet had dug a deep path through Kid’s side.  Not as serious as some of the injuries he’s sustained, the bullet had gone clear through.  But he’d lost a lot of blood.  He needed rest, not running. 

They’d stopped more frequently than Heyes would have liked.  But he knew Kid well enough to know the younger man would never admit to needing rest.  And he’d fight through the pain regardless of how bad it got.  Heyes grew increasingly worried as he changed bandages, continuing to see the angry redness that surrounded the wound grow.  He knew that meant infection. 

He slowed up, stopping for nearly a full day telling Kid the rabbit he’d killed and cooked hadn’t set with him.  Both men knew what he was doing.  But Heyes carried out the charade and Kid was too tired to fight with him.  The next day Heyes gave Kid a small dose of laudanum for the pain.  Risky, but necessary and they started out again.   

Another small town had given them respite, for a night.  Heyes, even more of a restless sleeper now, had risen before dawn.  He pushed the curtain aside, watching the sun make it’s first foray over the horizon.  He took an exhausted breath and turned back to his cousin, still asleep.  Sorry Kid.  He whispered, turning back to the sun.  And the men.  He sucked in air as he saw them gathering across the street.  “Kid.  Kid, we got company.  Come on, Kid ya gotta wake up.”  He gently shook his partner and hastily stuffed arms and legs into his clothes. 

“Sleep…I gotta sleep Heyes…you go…”  Kid closed his eyes again.

“Sleep later.  Come on Kid…”  He finally got the man out of bed, dressed and down the back stairs.  Back on horseback, they’d once again gotten away.  Yea, gotten away.   Only to find eight or ten someones behind them.  

Heyes tried to joke about this posse at least not having a Apache. 

Kid tried to laugh. 

Both knew exactly what the other was doing. 

Finally, it became obvious they couldn’t outrun the men.  They skidded off onto a rocky trail.  It was rough riding, with tight switchbacks and thorny brush.   Kid could barely stay in the saddle.  They reached a flat space and could see buildings in the distance.  Heyes knew what he had to do.  If he could draw their pursuers, maybe Kid could get to town and hide or get a train somewhere safer.

They argued over the plan.  Finally Heyes took the reins and led Kid’s horse towards the trail leading to those buildings.  He smiled his quicksilver smile and told him not to get into any trouble.  He forced the reins into Kid’s hands and slapped the horse’s flank, just hard enough to get him moving. 

They both knew the plan.  If separated, they’d get to a telegraph and wire Lom where they were.  Heyes watched Kid propelling along the trail, weaving from side to side.  He said a silent prayer that his cousin could stay astride and get somewhere safe.  Then he got moving. 

He tied a bushy branch to his saddle and re-mounted.  He tested the length, just long enough to drag along side.  Then he took off at a zig zag pace up a trail into the mountains.   He fervently hoped that the feeble deception, the rocky trail and the noise of his horse’s hooves on the trail would draw the posse. 

He smiled a grim smile when he heard them behind him.  He urged his horse on as faster than he dared.  Kid might be safe, but now to make sure he didn’t get himself caught.

Kid regained control of his horse as he approached the town.  He steadied his breathing and his balance in the saddle.  No one was behind him.  He had a sick feeling Heyes wasn’t faring as well.  He glanced down at his side.  Fresh blood seeped through the bandages and his shirt.  It hurt like blazes.  He felt dizzy and held on to the saddle horn with white knuckled fists.  He needed to get the injury tended to.  And he would.  Just as soon as he knew Heyes was all right.  He closed his eyes for a moment and let everything settle inside him.  When his eyes opened he was ready.  With one look at the mountains ahead, he took off at a gallop backtracking his way to where he’d left Heyes. 

*****

Heyes luck had run out almost immediately.  He rounded a bend just a bit too sharply.  His horse slid and fell, throwing Heyes off.  He hadn’t been down long; just long enough for the group to catch up. 

The posse hadn’t been gentle with Heyes.  Angry that they’d been tricked, they felt justified in taking that anger out on the one man they did have.  They found the blood that had trickled to the ground as Kid had ridden away.  Leaving two men behind to guard Heyes, the rest rode towards town and the rest of their reward money.

*****

Kid knew they were coming.  He dodged their path by taking a less direct trail.  He ignored his body’s cries for rest and for nourishment.  It took him most of two long days to get to the camp.  He crept closer noting the two men who sat close to the warmth of the fire.  He also saw Heyes, bound and gagged, lying on his side too far away from the fire to feel any of its heat.  His knees were drawn to his chest and he wasn’t moving.   In just that one glance, all the pain and exhaustion Kid was feeling were replaced with anger and fear that he was too late.  .  

He drew his gun and pulled his coat tighter around him.  No sense letting the men know exactly how badly he was hurt.  Catching them by surprise he quickly disarmed them and tied them together. 

“Heyes…”  He knelt down and gently turned his partner’s body. He could feel the man shaking and felt the cold in his hands as he cut the bonds.  “Heyes…it’s me, can you open your eyes?”  He cut the final ties on Heyes’ legs.  He frowned in concern.  “Heyes…” 

“Bbbb…’bout ttt…time you got here.”  Heyes eyes fluttered open.  His voice stuttered with the cold but his eyes were focused and alert.

Kid shook his head.  “Well I was a little slowed down…can you ride, don’t think we should take advantage of these fella’s hospitality too much longer.”  He helped Heyes up and draped a blanket around him. 

Heyes knelt back down next to the fire and studied the two men who had been his captors.  “I can ride…you leavin’ them next to this nice fire?”  He held his hands out, feeling the chill drain from his hands. 

“Heyes, we don’t got time for games…”  Kid lead Heyes’ horse towards him. 

“But we had such a…nice time together, I’d really like to repay them somehow.”  Heyes rose, his eyes darkening as he watched the men squirm.

Kid caught a look at his partner in the light of the fire.  His face was bruised and the way he was breathing left no doubt of the damage done to his ribs.  “Heyes…”  He held onto the horse fighting the dizziness that pushed itself to the surface again.

Heyes looked carefully at his partner.  “Oh God Kid, I’m sorry…I thought…never mind.  Let’s get outta here.  I don’t much like the company.”  He joined his partner and much slower than either man was used to, they mounted their horses.

“Thought you might need this.”  Kid handed Heyes back his gun.  

Heyes grinned and nodded. 

“You got lucky tonight boys.  Now we’re gonna take your horses and leave.  ‘Spect your friends will be back soon.  Remember how lucky you were.  Shame to spoil that.”  Kid tipped his hat to them and the men rode off. 

*****

They’d made their way back to the town at the end of the trail, watching the posse ride out.  It might have been funny.  Except they didn’t have the energy to laugh.  As soon as they reached the town, they’d sold the horses and gear and found the first train headed anywhere.  They’d gotten off early at a water stop, walked to the next town and boarded a stage coach.  It didn’t matter where it went. 

There hadn’t been time for either to properly heal.  They inched their way towards full health, not really able to just stop somewhere.  They’d kept moving.  Through a series of increasingly smaller towns.  This time of year jobs had been few and far between.  The pay meager.  Heyes had parlayed some of their earnings in poker games, but one thing happened, then something else and there just never seemed to be money. 

What there was, was a growing emptiness borne out of too much running and the fear that amnesty was just a foolish dream or a very clever way for the Governor of the Wyoming Territory to solve the problem of Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.  It all threatened to overwhelm the slender thread of hope they both hung on to.  

They talked for a while about going to San Francisco.  But that took money they didn’t have.  They knew friends like Soapy Saunders or Silky O’Sullivan would welcome them.  But for once the idea of greeting their friends with empty pockets was something they couldn’t face.  They just couldn’t impose on their friends again. 

Both men felt empty.  The emotions that swirled in their minds made them testy with each other and anyone else that they came across. 

Kid had been taking this particular holiday season harder than those before.   His voice turned bitter as the two men sat alone in the saloon the night Lom’s telegram arrived.  He poured Heyes another glass of beer and talked about how the Thanksgiving celebrations were just beginning and that he guessed that meant they’d be leaving soon.  It was a harsh reminder that neither man had a place or people other than each other. 

Heyes at first thought it was just Kid joking around.  But his cousin’s eyes were an icy blue.  He didn’t know what to say. 

Now, with Thanksgiving only a few days away, they both just wanted it to be over.  The holidays.  The dream of amnesty.  It didn’t seem to matter which. 

When the young boy delivered the thin envelope containing Lom’s telegram, they exchanged glances. 

“Just open it Heyes.”  Kid shoved his glass away, slopping beer on the table.  “We been here too long anyway.”

*****

Sadly grateful for this small job, they didn’t talk about it.  The need to take it hung unspoken in the air between them.  Heyes handed Kid half the money.  They both stuffed it in their pockets and boarded the train in silence. 

*****

The coach shuddered through a hole on the trail and jerked Heyes back to reality. 

He shivered in the chill and pulled his worn trail coat closer around him.  He glanced at Curry on the seat across from him.  His arms crossed, hat tilted down over his face, he seemed to be dozing.  Well at least he was resting.    He closed his eyes against the headache that along with broken ribs and labored breathing had been his constant companions ever since the beating he’d taken at the hands of the posse. 

The coach stopped suddenly.  “Hey, you fellas in there!”  The stomping on the roof of the coach and the shout from the driver startled Kid awake. 

Heyes signaled it was ok.  “Yea, what!”  He shouted back, sticking his head out from behind the canvas tarp that covered the window. 

“End of the line.  Just made it to town.  Weather’s gettin’ too bad to travel.”  

Heyes looked at Kid and shrugged.  “Guess this is where we get off.”

Kid yawned and stretched.  “Good a place as any.”  He swung the door open and stepped out looking around.  The wound he’d received had healed.  Mostly.  But he still favored his side.  Reaching up he accepted the bags the coach driver tossed down and handed Heyes the ones belonging to him, grimacing only slightly as the falling bag forced him to move a bit too suddenly. 

“Uh, where exactly are we?”  Heyes called out, his words drowned out by the coach clattering off.  He grinned.  “Guess it’ll be a surprise.  And I guess we won’t be making that job Lom has for us.”  He looked around.  The streets were quiet, not many people out in this weather. 

“Yea, I love surprises.”  Kid’s scowled.  “Maybe this where we were supposed to be Heyes.”  He looked around but saw no signs identifying the name of the town where they’d been dropped off.  “I sure hope so.  Think we can spend some of the money Lom sent?  A hotel room and a good meal would sure be nice.”  He shielded his face from the increasing snow flurries and tried to find the Sheriff’s office.  Frowning as the flakes hit him.  “Ya know Heyes, maybe the Wyoming Territorial Prison wouldn’t be so bad.  I mean it’s not snowing in there.” 

Heyes laughed.  “Now Kid, you’re just tired.  And hungry.  Let’s get settled and you’ll feel better.  There’s the hotel.”  He pointed at a neatly painted two story building on the opposite side of the street.  Slapping the younger man on the back he stepped off the boardwalk.  The cold air felt good and he took a deep breath, only to find his ribs didn’t want that kind of exercise.  His face reddened as the coughing fit bent him double. 

They didn’t see her stride quickly towards them.  A woman’s shrill voice accosted them.

“Well there you are.  I must say I wasn’t sure you’d come.  But, well here you are.  Well come along, the ranch is a good hour out of town and this storm isn’t getting any better.” 

“Ma’am?”  Heyes turned towards her. 

“Yes, that’s right.  We can get acquainted once we’re home.  Now come along.”  She shooed both men towards a sturdy, black carriage and started walking quickly herself.

“Miss Addie, everything all right?”  The deep voice of a man came from the open door of the building the three had been standing in front of.  The one with no markings identifying it. 

Kid closed his eyes.  Well he found the Sheriff’s Office all right. 

“Why of course Sheriff…Jackson.”  Her voice softened.  “Just fine.  I’m looking forward to seeing you and Rosalind at dinner on Thursday.  We’ll just be going along now.”  The woman took another step. 

“Aren’t you gonna introduce me Miss Addie?”  He turned inquisitively towards the two men.

The woman’s breathing quickened and she turned.  “Why of course.  How foolish of me.  These…these are my sons, Patrick and Michael.”  The eyes she turned on Heyes and Curry begged them to agree. 

The men exchanged quick glances, imperceptibly asking and answering, what the hell is going on and I don’t know, but let’s play it out.

“Uh, nice to meet you Sheriff?”  Heyes extended his hand tentatively. 

The lawman nodded.  “Well it’s a pleasure to finally meet you two.”  He grabbed Heyes’ hand and pumped it enthusiastically.  “Let me see.  Patrick, right.”

Heyes blinked.  “Patrick…”  It came out as almost a question, but the look on the woman’s face told him he had that was correct.  “Patrick…yes, that’s right.”  He smiled, then frowned, not sure what last name he was supposed to use. 

“Then that would make you Michael Donnelly.” He squinted at the man.  “Looks to be the spitting image of your father.  That picture you have on your piano, Miss Addie.”  He reached out his hand in greeting to Kid.

Kid met it even more hesitantly than Heyes, sure that as soon as the hand was extended handcuffs would be slapped on.  But all that happened was a firm hand shake. 

“Lookin’ forward to your good cooking, Miss Addie.  Boys, glad you could make it home for the holidays.  Always better with family.”  The man strode off.

Heyes and Kid turned to the woman. 

She hadn’t moved since the Sheriff’s arrival and now stood biting her lip, a look of angry determination mixing with just a slight trembling.  “Thank you.”  Quickly she caught herself.  “I mean, let’s go.  Your money’s at the house.”  She walked to the carriage and quickly climbed up onto the front seat. 

“Heyes? You got any idea….”  Kid started.

“Nope.  But my guess is she’s in some trouble.”  Heyes twitched a snowflake from his nose.

“Yea, trouble.  Just what we don’t need.”  Kid looked towards the carriage. 

She sat stiffly in the seat, looking straight ahead. 

“Yea, but Kid, the Sheriff has seen us.  Probably wouldn’t look good for us to just leave.  Anyway, the with the storm coming in, we couldn’t go anywhere.”  Heyes shrugged. 

Kid sighed.  “Yea, ok Heyes.  But we’re not stayin’.  We’ll just go out to her place, see what’s what and as soon as the storm clears we leave.”

They hurriedly crossed the street and climbed into the carriage, Kid taking the front seat and Heyes stretching out in the back with their bags.  “Ma’am.”  His voice was clipped, polite but curt as he shifted next to her. 

“Where abouts are we ma’am.”  Heyes on the other hand was good cheer himself in the back.

“Esperanza Nueva.  Where were you expecting to be?  You are from Lom Trevors aren’t you?”  A fearful look crossed her face. 

“Well what d’ya know about that, Thaddeus.  Yes ma’am.  Lom sent us.  Said you had a job for us.”  Heyes leaned forward trying to see her face. 

She evaded his glance.  “I’ll explain it to you when we get home.  I hope you’ll find a way to act the parts you’re being paid to play.  It’s only a few weeks.  And the money is good.”  She waved her hand at Kid to get started.

The men exchanged glances.  Well they’d found the job all right.  But what exactly the job was….  “We’ll sure try ma’am.”  Heyes said jauntily as the wagon lumbered down the center of town.

*****

The house sat back from the road, almost shy about it’s size and appearance.  It was a once green Queen Ann home with two large turrets on either side of the main part of the house and gingerbread trim everywhere.  It sat on a wide expanse of land, the emptiness softened by the fluttering of snowflakes that dusted the trees and shrubs.  There was a large barn and additional outbuildings clustered in the distance.  And good sized corrals had been fenced in behind the house.    And as though standing guard, two stone lions had been placed on either side of the steps leading to the porch. 

As the carriage approached, the men could see cracks in some of the windows and faded and peeling paint.  They remarked later, it looked tired.  And just a bit lost. 

The ride to the house had only taken less than the hour the woman had indicated.  It just seemed longer, the silence emanating from the woman like a shield.

Kid had taken the reins before they left town and expertly guided the carriage slowly and steadily forward following the woman’s curtly given directions.  He was comfortable concentrating on getting them to the woman’s house and didn’t feel impelled to talk.

Heyes gave up when two sets of eyes met his attempt at conversation with something less than interest.  He pulled his thinning trail coat closer around him and sat back, losing himself in his own thoughts. 

*****

She climbed down as soon as the carriage stopped, hastily gathering the few packages from the back seat and waking hurriedly to the door. 

Kid had almost gotten to her side in time to help her, but she brushed by him.  “I suppose I’ll just put the horses up.”  He called out, just a bit too sharply.  He wished he hadn’t put such an edge to the words when he saw her face.

“Oh, of course.  Yes, just over there.  There should be hay and oats…”  The words lingered, unfinished.  “Thank you.  Just come in when you’re done.”  Her voice at the end could barely be heard and she quickly entered the house. 

Heyes watched Kid watch the women and waited.  The blue eyes finally focused on the brown ones.  Heyes smiled gently.  “I don’t know Kid.  But this is the job Lom told us about.  And we did get paid.” 

“Heyes we’re supposed to be her kin.  Her sons.  How’re we gonna pretend to be that.”  He looked quickly at the house then back at Heyes.  “And the Sheriff seems mighty friendly.  Comin’ to dinner.  You wanna be caught in a lie like that with the law sittin’ across from ya?”  He started unhitching the horses.  “I don’t like it Heyes.”

Heyes took a breath and watched the frosty exhale.  “I know Kid.  But we’re here.  And we’re both tired.  Let’s just give it a couple of days and see what happens.  I got a feeling the lady isn’t telling anyone the whole truth about why she bought a couple of sons.”  He hopped down from the seat and slapped his cousin on the shoulder.  “You need some help?” 

Kid shook his head.  “Nah, you go on in.  No sense both of us freezing.”  He watched Heyes frown.  Then added... “I’ll be along.” 

Heyes nodded and reached for their gear.  “OK, but don’t blame me if you don’t get to pick which bed is yours.”  He smiled and started for the house.

“Heyes!”  Kid yelled after him.  “I always get the top bunk.”  Smiling, he led the horses towards the barn.

Heyes watched the man for a moment.  Maybe this would be all right. 

*****

“Ma’am?”  Heyes entered the house and stopped just inside the door.  He didn’t see the woman, although he heard movement from the back of the house.  He stepped further in, noting the shiny dark wood of the floors and the bright colored area rugs.  The curtains were of white lace, tied back with bright calico bows.   

Not getting an answer he dropped the gear on the floor by the staircase and wandered through the parlor towards the direction of the noise.  “Ma’am?”  He repeated himself as he walked through the dining room into the kitchen.  The table and sideboards were also in dark wood, so polished he was sure he saw his reflection in the table.  Linen runners in cream broke the darkness.  A bowl of fruit sat on the center of the table and Heyes had to stop for a moment, the apples and oranges looked so inviting. 

“Ma’am.”  He said for a third time as he entered the kitchen and found her.  She’d traded her heavy coat for an apron and was bustling around the large kitchen arranging pots on the woodstove.  She was comfortable here and it showed in her face and in the way her body relaxed.  “Would you like some coffee?  I just put it on, it won’t be but a moment.”  She finally turned to him.  “I expect you’ll be wanting an explanation for all this.” 

Heyes took a deep breath enjoying the smell of the freshly ground beans.  “Yes ma’am, if that’s all right.  Lom, Sheriff Trevors didn’t tell us much.  Other than you had a job for us.” 

“I met Sheriff Trevors many years ago.  He’s a good man and has always been very kind to me.  I…maybe we should wait for your friend.”  She opened the stove and put a large pan full of roast and vegetables in.  “I could show you where you’ll be staying….”  The tentativeness had returned to her voice.

Heyes didn’t miss the change.  “Thaddeus will be along in a minute.  He’s just finishin’ up with the horses.  Might be easier if you told us both at the same time.  By the way, my name’s Joshua Smith and my friend’s is Thaddeus Jones.”  He smiled at her and accepted the cup of coffee she held out to him.  “Although, I guess we’ll be usin’ something different for a while.”  He smiled.  “Patrick and Michael?” 

“Yes, yes, just for a while.  You and your friend seem like nice boys.  I’m sorry I was so abrupt with you in town…I know I can trust you…Lom said you could help me…I hope that’s the case.”  She blushed, and looked away.  She’d said too much.  They were here to do a job, no need to tell them everything.  But this one’s eyes invited conversation.  She’d have to watch that.  “Well, your room is upstairs.  There’s only one, but it’s quite large with two beds.  You and Mr. Jones should be quite comfortable.”  She didn’t look at him as she went past. 

He cocked his head slightly and followed her up the stairs, gathering their gear as they got to the entryway.  He could see Kid approaching and hesitated for a moment. 

She stopped and turned to see what the delay was.  She saw Heyes watch Kid walking up the gravel path.  She saw the concern cross his face as Kid stopped for a minute to take a breath.  How like…. 

He turned as he felt her eyes on him.  “Sorry ma’am.  Just waitin’ for my partner.  You go on up, we’ll be right behind you.”  He smiled wondering what it was he saw in her eyes.  Sadness or a curiosity.  He wasn’t sure which. 

The door opened and Kid stepped in.  Looking around, he didn’t miss any detail of the house.  “Ma’am.  Horses are all taken care of.”

Heyes grinned.  He was always amazed at how Kid could enter a room and in less than a minute have every detail committed to memory.  He always found it comforting when they’d cased a bank and returned to the Hole to work out the details.  With Kid there it was like having a drawing of the building inside and out. 

“Thank you Mr. Jones.  I was just going to show Mr. Smith to your room.  If you’ll both just follow me.”  She turned and took some more steps.

“You all right?”  Heyes asked quietly as Kid reached for some of the gear. 

“Fine.  Just tired that’s all.”  His eyes told a different story.  Tired, yes, but a weariness that was more than just physical.  He grabbed the saddlebags and started after the woman.

Heyes hesitated just a moment before following them up.  One thing at a time Heyes.  Kid’s gonna be fine.  Everything’s gonna be fine.  And if I say that enough it’s gonna be the truth.    

*****

When they stopped climbing, they faced a wide hallway that led to the two halves of the house.   More rugs dotted the hardwood.  They could see the wood to the right was worn slightly.  To the left, it appeared new.  

She turned left and led them to their room.  She opened the door and stood back.   “You’ll be staying here.  I hope it’s all right.  The fire’s been laid and the linen’s fresh.”  She didn’t go in, but stood at the doorway.

They walked in silently.  It was bigger than they were used to, the stone fireplace on one wall waiting to be lit, the windows on the other wall frosting up in the cold, the colorful quilts on the matching brass beds lending a warmth and friendliness to the room. 

“Is it all right?”  She asked, peeking in.

“Yes ma’am, it’s just fine.” Heyes turned back.

“Better than we’ve had in some time, ma’am.”  Kid added quietly. 

“Well supper will be ready in a little while.  I’ll leave you to unpack.  The washroom is that door we passed down the hall.  There’s water for a bath if you want and I’ve put out towels for you.”  She didn’t seem to know what else to say and just sort of stopped.  “Is there anything else you might need?”

“No ma’am.  We’ll be fine.  Don’t trouble yourself about us.  We’re used to taking care of ourselves.”  Heyes smiled at the woman.

She returned a tentative smile and closed the door as she left.   

Kid dropped the bags on the bed closest the door.  “Did she say anything?”

Heyes stretched out on the other bed, thought a moment then sat up and took off his dusty and damp coat and boots.  He lay back down and crossed his arms behind his head.  “Not much.  I don’t think she wants to talk much.” He sat up.  “Kinda like someone else I could mention.” 

Kid frowned and took off his coat.  He looked around for someplace to put it, finally selecting the hooks on the wall by the door.  Fashioned out of branches, well worn by other coats hung there over the years.  “Wonder if there’s time for a bath before supper.”  He ignored Heyes’ comment. 

Heyes just chuckled.  “G’on, I’ll get cleaned up later.  I think I’m just gonna take a nap.  The lady just put supper on ‘fore we came up so there’s time.  Save some water for me.” 

Kid nodded and took his boots off.  He walked slowly out of the room and opened the door he hoped was the washroom.  The large porcelain tub sat in an alcove across from a small wood-burning stove.  His eyes widened.  A number of large buckets stood under a hand pump.  He followed the attachment on the pump down the wall, through the floor.  Frowning, he tentatively picked up a bucket and held it under the pump.  

“Well what d’ya know.”  He smiled as he pumped bucket after bucket of what he discovered was very hot water directly from the pump.  In a very short time the tub was full and steaming.  He stripped his clothes off quickly and sank into the water determined to relax.  The hot water stung the still sore gash on his side.  The wound had closed, but would take a while to be completely healed.  He washed quickly, sliding down to scrub his hair and face, then settled back with a contented sigh to just enjoy the quiet warmth. 

Heyes heard the click of the door close and lay there for a moment just enjoying the quiet.  Finally he forced himself to get up and light the fire, waiting for it to catch.  He removed his gun belt before he lay back down.  A bath would be nice.  Wash some of the past few weeks off.  Sure hope this job works out.  For both of them.  Kid seemed close to the end of his patience with the whole amnesty deal.  Kid.  He had to get Kid to talk.  Funny, it was usually Kid who was trying to make him do the same.  Kid always knew when something was eatin’ at him.  And he always was bound and determined to get it out of him.  Heyes grinned to himself as he settled on the bed on top of the covers.  He couldn’t remember feeling this tired.  That beating….  He winced with the memory.  His eyes fluttered closed.  Should’a taken a bath first.   I’ll just close my eyes for a minute… The feather bed was firm and comfortable and the room warm.  A faint aroma of dinner floated past him making him smile happily at the prospect of a real meal.  He gave in to the tiredness and drifted off. 

*****

Kid stepped out of the tub and wrapped himself in one of the thick towels stacked nearby.  He arched his back and rolled his head to stretch his neck and shoulder muscles.  It was warm and steamy in the room and for the first time in months he felt some of the knots his muscles were tied in relaxing.  He reached for a second towel to dry himself, then changed his mind.  Unwrapping himself from the first towel he vigorously towel his hair leaving it a mass of tousled blond curls.  He finished drying himself and looked at the heap of clothing.  Shaking his head he wished he’d thought to bring his other set.  The clean ones.  Making a decision, he wrapped himself in the towel again and cautiously opened the door.  Seeing no one he ran back to the bedroom. 

He started to say something then saw Heyes deep in sleep.  He laughed silently and picked up his saddlebag.  He walked silently to his partner and drew a quilt over him, making sure he was well covered. 

Just as silently he returned to the washroom and dressed.  He looked at the tub, still full of now cold water.  He looked from the tub to the window and shook his head.  Nah, can’t just throw it out.  He saw the stopper, but he wasn’t sure what would happen if he removed it.   Guess it’s gonna have’ta wait a bit.  Sighing, he gathered his clothes and walked downstairs.  He was drawn to voice.  She was singing. 

She seemed startled as he entered the kitchen.  “Oh, I didn’t hear you.”

“Sorry ma’am.  Don’t stop on my account.  It was pretty.  What was it you were singin’?”  He sat in the chair she motioned towards, still holding his dirty clothes.

“Oh it was nothing.  Just something I used to sing a long time ago.”  She studied him.  “Was the bath all right?” 

“Yes ma’am.  That’s the most amazin’ thing ma’am.  The way you got it rigged up.  It comes out hot.  But, when you pull the stopper out….well where does the water go?  Didn’t want to take a chance and flood the house.”  He smiled curiously.

Her laughter was soft and at the end a bit wistful.  “My husband. He was an inventor.  One day he decided that it was too much effort to carry the water inside.  There is a natural hot spring that runs throughout the property, you see.  And he never did like the tub here in the kitchen.  So he fixed it.  Hot water.  Inside the house.  And when you just pull that little stopper out, the water drains right outside.” 

Kid whistled softly.  “That’s downright amazin’ ma’am.  Your husband away?”

Her faced closed.    “My husband died fifteen years ago.”  She walked forward.  “If those are dirty, I’ll wash them.  Dinner won’t be ready for at least an hour.”  She reached for the clothes he was holding. 

“Oh no, ma’am.  If you just tell me where I can do that.  You shouldn’t…..” He didn’t get a chance to finish.

“It’s just some clothes.  If you’ll tell your friend to bring his, I’ll do them both.”  Her voice had returned to the curt, almost angry tone it had when they first met. 

“Yes ma’am.  He’s sleepin’ now.  But I’ll let him know.”  He rose.  “Ma’am?  I’m sure sorry ‘bout your husband.  Must have been hard for you, raisin’ kids alone.”  Kid knew he’d said the wrong thing as soon as his words reached her. 

Her face stopped.  “My children are gone.”  Her voice was flat and empty.  It didn’t welcome answer. 

Kid froze.  “I’m sorry ma’am….” Finally he backed out of the room cursing himself for being stupid.  He’d assumed the room he and Heyes were belonged to her children.  He sighed deeply.  If her husband was dead….  Great.  He’d hurt her feelings and stirred up things she obviously wanted to leave alone.  But if her children were gone…did that mean dead too?  And is that was the case, then why were they here?  Pretending to be her kids.   He rubbed his eyes.  It was too much to think about on an empty stomach.  He climbed the stairs hoping Heyes was awake. 

*****

Tiptoeing into the bedroom, Kid relaxed as he saw Heyes stretch.  He wanted to talk to his partner, but he knew how badly the man needed rest.  He knew the signs in the other man and knew Heyes was only telling part of the truth when he said he felt fine.  He knew the beating and treatment Heyes had received had left him weak.  And he knew that Heyes gave himself the extra burden of making things ok for them both, especially during this time of year.  Rest wasn’t something Heyes did very well.  His mind seldom stopped working on something even if there wasn’t anything to work on.   

Kid smiled to himself remembering many early mornings at the Hole when his threat to hog-tie him to his bed was the only thing that got Heyes to sleep.  He shouldn’t shut Heyes out like he’d been doing.  Wasn’t his fault that…. well anyway, it wasn’t.  “Heyes?  You awake?”

Heyes sat up slowly swinging his legs over the bed and stretching again. He struggled to keep his eyes open and shook his head to clear the fogginess.  He yawned and finally focused on his cousin.  “Yea Kid.  Wide awake.  Somethin’ smells wonderful.”  He looked at the darkness outside.  “How long did I sleep?”  He got up on unsteady legs, steadying himself on the brass footboard. 

“Little over an hour.”  Kid watched his cousin.  He was in worse condition than he thought.  Heyes was pale, with dark shadows under his eyes. 

“That long.”  He looked at Kid, smiling.  “How was the bath?”

Kid smiled like a little boy.  “Heyes you won’t believe it.  She’s got this contraption – why you can pump water up from the ground and it’s already hot.  Oh, I gotta drain the water.”  He walked quickly from the room leaving Heyes staring at his back in confusion.

“Kid?”  He enjoyed seeing Kid happy, but had no idea what he was talking about.  He quickly followed him down the hall to the washroom and watched incredulously as Kid rolled up his sleeve and reached into the tub of water.  “What in the…what’re ya doin’?”

“You’ll see.  Heyes, I never seen anything like it.”  He pulled his hand out and grinned as the water drained out. 

Heyes leapt forward.  “You wanna flood the whole house?” 

Kid held him back.

Heyes watched the water draining out of the tub, but it wasn’t going anywhere he could see.  He frowned, then grinned.  “It’s goin’ outside isn’t it?” 

Kid nodded.  “Her husband did it.  He was some kind of inventor.  He’s dead Heyes.   Fifteen years.  And she said she didn’t have no kids.”  Kid’s smile faded.  “What d’ya think it means?” 

They both turned as the last of the water made a slurping sound as it disappeared. 

Heyes chewed his lower lip for a moment.  “Means we got a lot more questions to get answers to Kid.  Means you got a bath and I didn’t.  Means, I’m starvin’ and somethin’ smells wonderful.”  Heyes slapped Kid on the back.  “We’ll figure it out.  Maybe she’ll feel like talkin’ over dinner.” 

*****

Heyes brushed and straightened his clothes and splashed some water on his face.  He felt a bit more rested and confident in his ability to make sense out of this job.  He and Kid walked downstairs as the grandfather clock boomed out six chimes. 

“Only 6.  Seems later somehow.”  Heyes looked at the carefully laid table as he and Kid entered the dining room.

“It gets darker earlier here.”  She set a basket of fresh baked bread on the table.  “Pastor we had once said it was God’s way of shooing everyone home to be with their family…”  Something unspoken hung between them.  But she brushed it away. 

“Something sure smells good, ma’am.”  Kid’s mouth was watering. 

“Well I usually eat a bit later, but I thought perhaps after your trip you might be hungry.  Sit, please.  I’ll bring dinner out.”  She motioned for them to sit near the head of the large table, then left the room.

“Heyes, something happened to that lady.”  Kid sat and reached for some of the bread.

“I know.  I wonder how she knows Lom.”  Heyes passed Kid the butter and took a piece of the bread for himself.

“Well I hope it’s all right.”  She set a platter between she and Heyes.  The aroma of roast and potatoes filled the room.  “Can I ask you to carve the roast Mr. Smith?”

Heyes jumped up.  “Yes ma’am.  And it’s Joshua ma’am.  And Thaddeus.  As long as we’re gonna be here, might as well get to know each other.”  He smiled and tested the weight of the carving knife and fork.

She looked at him and finally smiled.  “Yes.  I am sorry.  I’ve been terribly sharp with you boys.  And you’ve done nothing to deserve that.  Please, my name is Addie.  Addie Donnelly.”  She looked first at Heyes then at Kid, hopefully.  “Did Lom…Sheriff Trevors tell you anything about what I needed you to do?”

Heyes and Kid exchanged glances as Heyes stacked thick cuts of roast on the plates. 

“No ma’am…Miss Addie.  We’ve learned over the years to trust Lom.  So when he sent us word of this job, well ma’am, maybe you could tell us what it is you want us to do.”   He spoke gently to her. 

“How was it you even knew it was us Miss Addie?”  Heyes passed a heaping plate to Kid.  “At the stage, I mean.”  He passed a second plate to the woman, then finally prepared one for himself.

“Could we say a blessing first?”  She suddenly reached for their hands. 

“Well Thaddeus and me…course Miss Addie.”  Heyes took the woman’s hand.

“Will you say it ma’am?”  Kid took her other hand.

She nodded and thought for a moment.  “Dear Father, thank you for this food to sustain us and your presence to nourish us…and for the company of friends who you have provided.”  She smiled a bit hesitatingly.

“Thank you Miss Addie, that was real nice.”  Kid released her hand and looked just a bit too desperately at the food in front of him.

Heyes chuckled. 

“Well land sakes, start.  No sense in lettin’ it get cold.”  She laughed and picked up her own knife and fork. 

“Yes ma’am.  Thank you ma’am.”  Kid breathed a sigh of relief and dug into the food. 

The next hour passed quickly.   Both men couldn’t bring themselves to ask the woman questions.  They knew it was going to spoil the meal  if they discussed business.  And for at least right now, it felt good just making small talk and enjoying the plentiful amount of food Addie had prepared for them. 

She chatted about the town and some of the events planned for the holidays.  The men listened and talked about some of their travels.  They laughed as Kid put his plate out to accept a third helping of roast. 

The meal was devoured eagerly by the two men who hadn’t had this kind of dinner in a while.  The woman nibbled at her food.  She mainly watched them.  She watched them tease one another.  She watched the genuine affection pass between them.  She watched their eyes.  She’d had to make judgments about people in the past.  She made a decision that she could trust them.  She hoped she was right.   

Finally, Kid pushed his chair back.  “Miss Addie, that is the best meal Joshua and I have had in as long as I can remember.  Thank you.” 

“Yes ma’am, would you like Thaddeus to clean things up and let you rest a bit?”  Heyes had a mischievous twinkle in his dark eyes.  But the shadows didn’t seem so dark and his face had good color to it. 

Kid glared at him and sighed.  “Don’t mind Joshua, Miss Addie.  He just never learned how to treat a lady proper.”  With that he rose and started gathering plates.

“Oh no, you shouldn’t do that.  It won’t take me but a minute…”  She also rose, quickly to stop him.

Heyes laughed again.  “It would be our pleasure Miss Addie.  You just go on in the parlor and we’ll take care of this.” 

She looked at the two of them.  “Well, I am a bit tired…all right, but just put it all on the table.  I’ll wash it up later.  After dessert.”

“Dessert, ma’am?”  Kid’s eyes opened wide.

She laughed at his reply.  “Yes Thaddeus, I made an apple pie.  I hope you like apple. Folks say my pies are quite good.”  She was relaxing in their presence more than she was used to and more than she intended to. 

“Yes ma’am.  Why it’s my favorite.  You go on now.  Joshua and I will have this done in no time.”

She nodded gratefully and walked to the parlor. 

Heyes grinned at Kid and picked up his stack of plates. 

Kid shook his head.  Thaddeus will take care of this.  Heyes, I swear, one of these days…” 

 The comfortable sparring was in full bloom before they got to the kitchen. 

“Heyes your hands will not be permanently damaged from washing a few dishes…”  Kid grumbled amiably.

Heyes looked mournfully at his fingers.  “All that hot water…I’ll never be able to open a safe again…”

“We’re retired, remember.  You shouldn’t even be thinkin’ about safes.”  Kid stepped into the parlor and froze.  He nudged his partner back into the dining room.  “She’s sleepin’.  Let’s give her a while.”

“I’ll make some coffee.”  Heyes looked innocently at Kid.

Kid groaned.  “And after that nice meal too.”  He shook his head resignedly. 

They’d just poured the coffee and sat down when she re-appeared.  “Oh I’m so sorry.  I just drifted off.  You made coffee.”

“That’s all right isn’t it ma’am?”  Heyes offered her a cup and she nodded.

“Of course, I just should have put it on.  My it’s…” She swallowed the sip quickly.

“It’s all right Miss Addie.  My partner’s coffee could seal off holes on a roof.”  Kid had a long standing tolerance of Heyes’ coffee.

Heyes looked hurt.  “My coffee’s just fine.”  He took a sip and tried not to grimace.  “It’s on the strong side, but…”

“I have just the thing to…help it along.”  She went to the tall mahogany cabinet that stood against one of the walls and took out a cut crystal decanter.  “My father said a spot of good Irish whiskey could make swamp water taste good.”  She handed the bottle to Kid.

“Well it’s not swamp water, but…” Kid poured a bit in her cup, then in Heyes’, finally in his own.

Heyes just looked put upon. 

“Would either of you be ready for that apple pie?  We could have it in the parlor.  It’s so much cozier in there.”  At their vigorous nods, she continued.  “It’s my turn.  You two just make yourself to home.  I’ll be right back.”  She shooed them into the other room and went to the kitchen.  It was spotless.  Plates washed dried and put away.  The pan she used for the roast, scrubbed and sitting on the cook stove. 

She grasped the back of one of the sturdy pine chairs as tears filled her eyes.  She listened to the softly garbled voices of her guests from the other room and wondered if she dared hope that any of this was going to turn out all right. 

*****

They rose in unison as she entered the parlor. 

Kid stepped quickly over to her to take the platter she carried.  The smell of apples and cinnamon wafted over him.  “Thanks Miss Addie.  Is there something for Joshua too?”  He laughed and set the heavily laden platter on the coffee table and sat down directly opposite it.     

They all laughed again. 

Heyes stoked the fire and finally settled in a large wing back chair. 

Addie cut two large pieces of pie and handed one each to the men.   She carefully poured coffee into the two softly flowered china cups, slowly adding the sugar and cream as the men requested.  Finally there was nothing else for her to do and she sank slowly onto the sofa next to Kid. 

“Miss Addie, don’t you think it’s time you told us what this is all about?”  Heyes set his cup down and asked softly. 

She took a deep breath and tried to smile.  “Yes, yes I suppose so.  You’ve both been very patient with me.  I’m afraid it’s not a terribly exciting story.  It’s actually rather silly.”  She looked up to find a pair of brown eyes and a pair of blue eyes watching her, gently encouraging her to continue.  She sighed. 

“When the holidays come each year, my friends in town always act so sad that I’m alone.  They go out of their way to include me in things even if…well I don’t mind being alone.  But this year, they pushed and pushed about how it wasn’t right, my family not coming and, and….”  She sighed again.  “Well finally…I don’t know what got into me….but I finally said of course they were.  Things happened a long time ago.  No need to do into all that, it was so very long ago.  But my boys left.”  There was a deep frown on her forehead and she looked down at her hands.  Finally she sighed and looked up.  “That’s why I said I didn’t have children.  It was terribly foolish.  Of course I don’t even know where they are to ask.  And even if I did…well they wouldn’t come.  Not now.  After all these years.  I didn’t know what to do.”  She returned to studying her hands.  “I told you it was terribly silly.” 

“So you asked Lom to find you two sons.”  Heyes prodded.

She looked up.  “Yes.  I’d met Lom…well I’d met him a long time ago.  He was always kind to me.  I accidentally ran into him when I went to Cheyenne last month and it all came out.  He said he thought he might have the answer to my problem, if he could only find it.  I suppose he meant if he could find you both.  You travel a lot he said.  So here you are.  And all you have to do is pretend to be my sons, Patrick and Michael until after Thanksgiving.  Then we can make an excuse that you both have to leave.  I know it’s a silly fix I’ve gotten myself into, but…can you help me?  Will you?”  There was a terrible desperation in her voice that neither man missed. 

“If it’s all right Miss Addie, can Joshua and me talk about it?”  Kid exchanged glances with Heyes.

She looked startled.  “Oh, of course.  Of course you’d want to think about it.  I thought…no, it’s all right.  Can you let me know in the morning?”  She rose.  “I suddenly feel very foolish and very tired.  Thank you both for listening to me.  Is there anything else you’ll need tonight?”

“No ma’am” came the voices in unison.

“All right then, I’ll say good night.  Please help yourself to more pie if you like.”  Her skirts swished as she turned to leave.  “Thank you.  Truly, whatever you decide, it will be all right.”

*****

“What’s wrong Kid?  Nice lady, pretty simple job.  Nice place to stay.  You seemed to enjoy her cookin’.”   Heyes was genuinely surprised.  Kid never turned away from a person in need or in trouble.  And regardless of the type, Miss Addie was definitely in trouble. 

The men had moved into the kitchen and were sitting at the table.  Heyes watched Kid work on a second piece of pie.

“Don’t know Heyes.  Something about her story just doesn’t sit right.  Why’d she say she didn’t have kids if they just ran off?”  Kid jabbed his fork into a cinnamon speckled piece of apple. 

“Maybe she was just embarrassed.  I mean having her kids run off like that can’t be easy for a lady like her.”  He frowned.  “Wonder what could’a made them do that.  And where their pa was.  Think he really died or just run off too?”

Kid scraped off the remaining bits of pie and put the dish with the others in the sink.  “I don’t know Heyes, but there’s something she’s not telling us.  And when we find out, I just hope it’s not gonna be too late.  You comin’?”

“Yea.  Hey Kid?  You think she’d mind if I tried out that bath contraption?”  Heyes smiled dreamily.

Kid shrugged.  “Don’t see why.  I’m turnin’ in.  One of us didn’t get a nap.”

Heyes followed him out of the room and up the stairs.  “And one of us didn’t get a bath.  I tell you Kid, you are gettin’ proddier every day.  Why we should just start callin’ you Wheat.” 

“Heyes, don’t push your luck.  I’m in a forgivin’ mood right now, but that could change.”  He smiled to himself as he sat on the bed and started removing his boots. 

“It’ll be fine Kid.”  Heyes was momentarily serious. But he grabbed his carpet bag and went in search of the washroom before Kid could respond.  “Hot water anytime you want it.”  He shook his head.  What’ll they think of next.” 

Kid ignored him and continued to remove his clothing.  Once the door closed he breathed a sigh of relief.  Yea Heyes.  Fine.  Just like this time every year.  Next year Heyes maybe it will be fine.  For you anyway.

 Kid climbed into bed and squirmed around till the covers were right.  He punched the pillow into the proper shape and finally closed his eyes.  His forehead was creased with thoughts he’d been facing for weeks and had finally come to terms with.  He was going back to Devil’s Hole.  Those men weren’t the best, but it was home.  And right now all Kid Curry wanted was that.  Home.  Some kind of home.  Someplace familiar. 

He told himself that he never really stood a chance of that amnesty anyway.  There’d always be someone who knew him.  Or who wanted to earn their reputation by killing Kid Curry.   And that meant that as long as they were together Heyes was always in the line of fire.  Or at risk of being blamed for something because of him.  That was only part of it.  Kid faced the other part weeks ago.  He was just plain tired.  Of running.  And never having money.  And hoping for something that wasn’t gonna come.  And as soon as this job was done he was going to tell Heyes.  And he wasn’t going to let Heyes talk him out of it. 

He punched the pillow again forcing himself to listen to the crackle of the fire until he drifted into an uneasy sleep. 

*****

For his part, Heyes was happy.  Well as happy as Hannibal Heyes allowed himself to be.  He’d found the washroom and was right now soaking in hot sudsy water.   He’d studied all the bottles lining the shelf and finally poured a little from one of them in.  It filled the room with a soft scent.  

His eyes narrowed as his body relaxed.  He watched the moon drift past the window and could see the snow still falling outside.  He thought back on the day as he puffed his last cigar.  Kid seemed better.  Some of his good humor returning.  But there was still something he was keeping to himself and that wasn’t like Kid.  Well maybe after a couple of days rest – Thanksgiving was two days off – he’d feel more like talking.  Maybe it was just the time of year.  Maybe it was that gun shot he’d taken.  Heyes made a mental note to ask about that in the morning. 

His eyes closed sleepily and he drifted into a pleasant nothingness.  He forced himself to get out of the tub only as the water cooled.  Drying himself off, he dressed in his clean set of long johns.  Pushing the sleeve up, he pulled the stopper and watched the water drain easily down and out of the house.  Shaking his head in amazement, he opened the door and peeked out.  Relaxing at the dark and empty hallway he stepped out of the room, headed for the bedroom.  A sound distracted him and he walked to the head of the stairs to try and hear better.

A soft sobbing was coming from below.  He knew it was the woman.  He also knew that Kid had been right.  She wasn’t telling them the truth.  About what he wasn’t sure.  Oh Miss Addie.  What are you hidin’.   He hoped they could help her. 

He tiptoed back to the bedroom and quietly closed the door behind him.  He dropped his clothes on the chair and stoked the fire again so it was burning brighter.  “Kid?”  He whispered softly.  Receiving no answer, he climbed into his bed.  Turning, he could see his cousin’s face in the firelight.  Kid was sound asleep.   “Sleep well cousin.”  He watched the reflection of the flames dance around the room until they gently lulled him to sleep.

*****

Heyes woke to the sound of voices.  He couldn’t quite recognize them or understand what they were saying.  He stretched from his toes to the tips of his fingers and realized something.  The dull ache that had been his constant visitor since the beating was duller. When he sat up, the room didn’t spin.  He felt better than he’d felt in a while.  Kid’s bed was empty and the stack of clothes he’d left on the chair was gone.  The room was warm – someone had added some fresh logs to the fire.  He scratched his stomach and wandered to the window. 

Kid and the woman were hanging clothes on lines stretched between two posts.  Their voices floated up to where he was standing. 

The day was clear and the amount of light told Heyes it wasn’t early.  The sky was that hard blue that makes a man squint away from it.  He hurriedly splashed some water on his face and got dressed. 

“Mornin’.”  He shouted from the door.  He’d watched Kid hand the woman piece after piece of clothing for her to hang on the lines.  “Pretty cold to be leavin’ clothes out here.” 

They both turned at his voice. 

“Morning Joshua  I won’t leave them out long.  Just enough to get the fresh smell of daytime.”  She smiled as she hung his shirt up. 

“Everything need that smell ma’am?”  His cheeks pinked as he watched her hang his long johns up.  

She laughed.  “Never you mind that.  Help yourself to coffee and biscuits.  Thaddeus has already eaten.  I’ll be in in a moment and make you a proper breakfast.  You go on in too Thaddeus.”

Kid handed her almost the last piece in the basket and walked towards Heyes.  “Morning.” 

“Guess we’re stayin’.”  Heyes grinned as he sat down and reached for the biscuits. 

“Yep.”  Kid poured him a cup of coffee.  “Man would be a fool to pass up food like this even for a couple of days.  Not to mention the coffee.”

Heyes tried to look hurt.  “Ya know Kid.  All those days at Devil’s Hole, you never once complained about my coffee.  It hurts me to think you held how you truly feel back from me.”  The words came out as a joke, but as soon as they came out of his mouth, Heyes wished he’d found something else to tease his cousin about. 

Kid’s eyes narrowed and darkened, but he was silent.

“Kid, I didn’t mean anything…I was just…” Heyes was interrupted as Addie entered the house.

“Well that’s done.  Now, let me fix you some eggs and bacon.”  Addie stopped seeing the looks on both faces in front of her.  “Is everything all right?  Thaddeus said you’d be staying for a while.  You will won’t you?” 

Kid’s face softened.  “Why sure ma’am.  Don’t mind us.  We been together so long….”  He ran out of words and looked to Heyes.

“Course we’ll stay Miss Addie.  As a matter of fact there looks to be some things we can do to help out.  Some windows are cracked and some of the fences are down.  Only fair we help, after your kindness.”  Heyes stood and brushed the crumbs from his shirt.  I’ll just get my jacket and Thaddeus and me’ll get started.”

“But you haven’t eaten.  And I wasn’t expecting to have you work.  I mean, you’re doing me such a favor.”  She seemed lost at what was going on between the men.

“I’m fine Miss Addie.  How ‘bout it Thaddeus.  We should start on that gate out front….”  Heyes rambled about the various things that needed fixing until they back upstairs and out of earshot of the woman.  “Kid I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean…well I know you got something on your mind and I wish you’d just get it out.  Maybe I can help with it.  When you’re ready, I mean.”

The tension eased.  “Not right yet Heyes.  I got a bit more thinking to do.”

“You all right to do some work around here?  Your side feeling ok?”  Heyes buttoned his coat and shook his gloves out. 

“It’s fine.  And the day I can’t outwork you even with a half healed gun shot wound, is the day I’ll just retire to a rocking chair on a front porch somewhere.”  Kid grabbed his own gloves and headed downstairs. 

*****

The two days before Thanksgiving went quickly.  The two men worked on the house and the barn, patching holes, shoring up fences, repairing the porch that encircled the entire house. 

Addie spent most of her time preparing for the day itself.  Baking and cleaning the house.  It had been nice having people here again.  The house was so quiet most of the time.  She found herself laughing more as she listened to the two young men spar with one another while they worked.  And it had been so very nice to have company at meals.  She didn’t want to admit it, but she was already preparing herself for the day they’d leave.  She prayed that somehow that day would be delayed.  Just a bit longer. 

*****

Thanksgiving day dawned clear and cold.  Another taste of snow lingered in the clouds and powdered the trees

She rose early, making sure there was breakfast for them both before getting ready for church.  “Now you’re sure you won’t come along?”  She inquired as they helped her to her carriage. 

“Not much on church goin’, ma’am.  But we’ll be happy to drive you to town.  Might be safer if we did.”  Kid tucked the blanket around her.

“I’ve been driving this carriage down this road for most of my life.”  She smiled.  “Thank you for your offer, but I’ll be fine.  Now don’t do too much work while I’m gone boys.  This is a day of rest for both of you.  You’ve already done so much.”  She clucked the horses forward, then pulled back.  “And don’t get into those pies.”  She laughed as she again urged the horses to move.

“Us, ma’am?  Why the thought never crossed our minds.”  Heyes smiled broadly as she drove off.  “Imagine us, getting into those pies.”  He grinned at Kid.

Kid chuckled.  “Don’t know Heyes. That berry pie is mighty tempting.  You want to start back on the porch?”

“In a minute.”  He perched on the porch railing looking out across the land. 

Kid stood at the entryway.

It was very quiet and very peaceful.  An occasional bird call was all that broke the stillness. 

“Guess we could finish up on the porch.  Probably get it done before dinner.”  Heyes was focused on one of the outbuildings.  It had burned the year before and now stood a forlorn memory in a field of snow and icy blue sky. 

“Yep.  Kinda nice just bein’ here for a spell.”  Kid was pretty certain Heyes had figured out what was on his mind.  He’d dropped the subject completely.  That usually meant he knew what was going on and was just trying to figure out how to work it. 

“Sheriff’ll be here for supper tonight.”  Heyes shifted so he could see his cousin, his hand ran over the smooth wood of the railing they only just put up the day before.   

“No reason for him to be suspicious of us Heyes.  We’re supposed to be here.”  Kid walked down the steps towards the barn where they’d kept their tools and supplies. 

Heyes watched the man he’d spent his life with.  He knew Kid had made a decision of some kind.  He figured he knew what it was.  He just wanted his cousin to say it.  Then he could talk him out of it.  He hated feeling helpless.  And Kid’s not talking was making him just that.  This had happened before and Heyes had always pushed Kid to talk.  This time, something told Heyes not to do that.  The same something that told him to wait and let his cousin work this out on his own.  “So, we’ll finish up the porch?” 

“Yep.  Might as well get it done.”  There was a finality in his voice.

“Sure you’re talking about the porch Kid?”  Heyes words were lost on the wind. 

******

Sheriff Jackson Kennedy arrived promptly at noon.  A tall man, he stood over six feet with piercing dark eyes.  He’d brought peace and relative safety to the town he now called home.   He’d been widowed almost five years before and took very seriously the upbringing of his only child, his daughter Rosalind, a bubbly, very pretty girl of sixteen. 

“Miss Addie!”  The girl cried as she entered the house.  She ran to the woman and they hugged.  “Thank you for inviting us for Thanksgiving.” 

“I’m so glad you and your father could join me.., I mean us.”  She took the girl’s coat and walked to the Sheriff.  Let me have that Jackson.”  She reached for his jacket just as he folded it in front of him and their hands collided. 

They both smiled at each other.

Rosalind giggled. 

Heyes and Curry smiled too.  Although the thoughts that were in both men’s minds were more on the fact that their hostess and the Sheriff were, at the very least, friends.  And that the one thing they didn’t need was a Sheriff close by. 

 Rosalind turned her attention to the two men.  “Hello, you’re staying with Miss Addie aren’t you.  You must be Michael.  I’ve seen a picture of you when you were a little boy.  And you must be Patrick.  It’s so nice that you were able to come visit your mother.  I’m Rosalind Kennedy.” She offered them her hand.  “Will you be staying long?  It’s so lonely for Miss Addie to be here all by herself.  My father visits when he can, but…”  she looked around confused when her father started choking.  “Are you all right father?”

“I couldn’t agree with you more Miss Rosalind.  It is nice to be here.”  Heyes chuckled. 

“Well, if everyone is hungry…”  Addie blushed and laughed. 

“Everything smells wonderful Miss Addie.  Can I help you?”  Rosalind re-joined the woman. 

“Of course child.  And we’d better put the food on the table before the men start complaining.”  She took the girl’s arm and led her to the kitchen.

“See you’ve done some work around here.  You planning on staying around?”  Sheriff Kennedy seldom minced words. 

“Don’t know yet Sheriff.  Me’n…Michael here have business in Denver.  We might have to leave soon.”  Heyes tried to remember anything the woman had said about where they were from or what they did.  But she hadn’t really told them much.

“Thought you were from Santa Fe.”  The Sheriff’s eyes narrowed and he studied the two men before him.

“Uh, Santa Fe…why sure, but we have business in Denver.”  Heyes stumbled just a bit.

“But we live in Santa Fe.”  Kid tried to help him. 

“Just what line of work are you in?”  The lawman’s eyes narrowed even further.

“Dinner’s on the table.” 

The Sheriff looked up at the sound of Addie’s voice, missing the relief that spread over the faces of both Heyes and Curry.

All three men joined the women at the table, gazing longingly at the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables and fresh baked bread that sat waiting for them. 

“Well sit on down, it won’t do anyone any good if it gets cold.”  Addie laughed.  She seemed happier than she had been before.  She motioned to the Sheriff to take the head of the table and she joined Rosalind on one side.  Heyes and Kid sat opposite them. 

Once again, they joined hands for the blessing. 

Kid seemed only a bit uncomfortable holding the Sheriff’s hand and he tried not to seem too eager to let go of it. 

Dinner was relaxed.  Friendly conversation about Rosalind’s plans to leave for teaching school in Boston.  The plans for the dance on Christmas Eve.  Heyes and Curry told stories of some of their post outlaw adventures.  They evaded the issue of whether they’d be staying.  The Sheriff complimented them on the work they’d done around the house and volunteered to help them finish. 

Finally they all sighed and pushed their chairs back. 

“Well I guess I should get to straightening this up.”  Addie smiled contentedly and rose.   

“After a meal like that, I think I’d like to stretch my legs a while.”  Heyes rose.  “Leave that for later.”  He took her arm and smiled at her.  “Why don’t we enjoy the day just a little more.”

“Can we walk to the lake?”  Rosalind jumped up.  “It’s always so pretty there.  And it’s not far.”

“The lake it is.”  Kid took Addie’s other arm.  “Is that all right?” 

“Why yes…yes, of course.  The dishes will still be here later.”  Addie smiled at the two men.  “It’s cold out there, everyone bundle up.” 

They left the dishes and walked slowly to the far edge of the property where the natural lake had frozen over.  It was ringed with dark shrubs and trees still powdered with snow.  The day was clear and crisp. 

Walking weather Kid said. 

Kennedy had replaced the two younger men on Addie’s arm and they lingered behind the others as the group walked. 

Rosalind linked arms with Heyes and Kid, chattering happily.  “My father is in love with Miss Addie.  I wish he’d ask her to marry him.  But he thinks he’s not good enough, just being a sheriff I mean.  I’ve told him that’s foolish….oh look, isn’t it pretty?”  She rushed ahead to the edge of the lake.  “Why it’s frozen solid!”  She called out. 

Heyes’ eyes twinkled mischievously as he looked at the lake.  “Well that’s the best kind of skating lake.”

Kid frowned at this partner.   “Uh, Patrick…now we don’t know it’s frozen solid clear through…” 

“Nah, why this lake is as solid as the one you used to skate on as a boy.”  Heyes grinned and tried not to laugh. 

“You used to skate?”  The girl grabbed Kid’s arm.  “Will you teach me?  I mean I know how to a little…”

“Why sure he will Miss Rosalind.  Why Michael here is a cham-peen, skater.”  He avoided Kid’s murderous glance. 

The girl looked up at Kid with big hopeful eyes.   

Kid gave Heyes a just wait glance, but was perfectly trapped.

“There used to be some skates in the barn.”  Addie called out. 

“Of course there were.”  Kid muttered.  “Well let’s go find them.”  He grabbed Heyes’ arm and propelled him towards the barn. 

“Heyes if I drown, it’s gonna be on your head.”   Kid whispered fiercely as they entered the barn.  And that water’s freezin’.  Cham-peen skater.  Heyes, it may take a while but I’ll find a way…” 

“Now Kid, I was just tryin’ to distract the Sheriff.”  Heyes smiled as he held up two pair of old ice skates.

Kid groaned.  “Good reason to be leavin’ in the morning.  If’n of course I live through this.”   

“Sure Kid.  In the morning.”  Heyes was in good spirits.  Kid seemed more like himself.  Maybe it wasn’t anything.  Maybe it was just being hurt.   

Kid proved himself a natural if not expert skater.  He wobbled a first, managing to stay upright.  After one full circle alone, he took the girl’s arm and skated her across and then back.

“Oh can we do it again!”  She laughed gaily as they made it safely back to the starting point.  “Please.” 

“One more time.”  Kid tried to scowl, but he was enjoying himself.  It was the kind of simple joy that he’d not been able to experience for a long while.  Just having fun with no worry about anything.  He skated quicker and the girl, at first hesitant, allowed him to hold her arm tightly and lead her around and around the lake, finally making a figure eight in the center before he skidded them to a stop, showering Heyes with ice shavings.  They were both flushed and laughing.

“Father, did you see me?  I was skating?  Oh it was wonderful.”  She hung onto Kid’s arm as Heyes helped get her skates off and her shoes on.  “Thank you Michael so much for skating with me.”  Then she ran to her father.  “Did you see me?”

Kennedy laughed and hugged the girl.  “I saw you.  You were beautiful.”  He kissed her head. 

She turned to Addie.  “Oh, Addie thank you for letting us come.” 

Addie smiled and stretched her arms out to the girl.  “Rosalind, your father is right.  You are absolutely beautiful.  And I should be thanking you.  All of you.”  She looked in turn at each of them.  “For making this such a special day for me.” 

The two men watched the others start back to the house.  Kid took the skates off and traded them for his boots which Heyes handed him. 

“Didn’t know you could skate like that.”  He teased as they walked back.  

“Me neither.  And I don’t plan on doin’ it again.”  Kid stopped.  “Heyes?” 

“Yea Kid…come one I’m freezin’.  Aren’t you cold?”  He saw the serious look on his cousin’s face.  “What is it Kid.”

“I like these people.  I don’t know what happened to Miss Addie, but the longer we stay here…well, trouble seems to follow us Heyes.  And I don’t want it to hurt any of them. 

“Neither do I Kid.  But we promised to help her and we don’t really even know the kind of trouble she’s in.”  Heyes wrapped his arms around him, trying to stay warm. 

“Think we might make it worse?”  Kid’s eyes were a troubled, deep blue.

“I think we might make it better.”  He frowned at Kid’s lack of expression.  “Look Kid, this is the first chance we’ve had to rest up in months.  Miss Addie…well she deserves somethin’ more than just a big empty house.   Maybe our bein’ here is supposed to help her get that.  Anyway, what could happen.”

Kid grimaced.  “Don’t say that…every time you say that…” 

“You coming boys?  The house is nice and warm and I’m going to make some cocoa for us.”  Addie called back to the men.

“Yes ma’am, we’ll be right along.”  Heyes called back and turned to Kid.  “A few more days?” 

Kid sighed.  “I don’t know Heyes.” 

They walked the rest of the way in silence. 

*****

They found the others clustered in front of the fire warming chilled hands and backsides. 

“Anyone for dessert?”  Addie brought out the last of the berry pies and a large chocolate cake.  The aroma of freshly brewed coffee and cocoa warming on the stove came from the kitchen. 

“Yes ma’am.”  Kid said just a bit too eagerly.

“Well which one?”  Addie held the knife ready.

“One of each?”  Kid smiled hopefully.

Everyone laughed again as Kid blushed. 

“Just a growin’ boy.”  Heyes teased. 

Kid made a face at him, but accepted the plate with large pieces of each dessert on it. 

They settled back around the table quietly enjoying the end of a pleasant day. 

“So, you boys didn’t answer my question.  How long are you planning on staying around.  Your Ma could use some help around here.”  The Sheriff steadied Addie’s hand that nearly dropped the coffee pot at his statement.

Kid choked on the piece of cake he’s just put in his mouth. 

Heyes told himself to breath and speak slowly enough to figure out what to say before the words actually came out.  “Well Sheriff, like I said.  We got business in Denver, but I reckon we’ll stay around a while.  To help…our…Ma, of course.”  The last word barely came out. 

“Well that’s good.  That’s real good.  I….” The man seemed to relax with Heyes’ answer.

“Father…”  Rosalind looked anxiously at the man.

Kennedy smiled.  “I know honey.  Miss Addie, Rosie here wants to go into town to see old Ron Evan’s boy.  So if it’s all right, we’ll be taking our leave of you.  Sorry to leave you with such a mess to clean up.  I could drop Rosie off and then come back…” 

“Oh no Jackson, it’s fine.  We’ll be fine.  I’m so glad you both could join us today.”  She walked the two to the door and bid them farewell. 

“Be seein’ you two soon.”  Kennedy said as he shook hands with Heyes and Kid. 

“Why sure Sheriff.  Real soon.”  Heyes smiled and gratefully closed the door.

They returned to help Addie clean up.  When things were done, she excused herself, saying she was tired.  “I don’t know how I’ll ever thank you for coming here.  It’s meant so much…I mean you’ve been so kind.  I wish there was something I could do to repay you.  Are you eager to leave?  I know I only asked Lom for help though Thanksgiving….I am sorry, I seem to be rambling.  I’ll understand if you must leave.  Thank you both again.”  With that, and suddenly embarrassed, she quickly hugged first Kid then Heyes and rushed upstairs. 

They didn’t move for a moment. 

Then Heyes cleared his throat.  “Nice lady.”

“Yea.  Very nice.  You want some more coffee?”   Kid turned towards Heyes.

“Nah.  You tired?” 

“Not really.” 

By silent and mutual consent they returned to the parlor, “So.  We leavin’ in the morning?”  Heyes tossed another log on the fire. 

“Yep.  I am anyway.  You should stay.  Safer anyway, split up for a spell.”  Kid looked into the flames, refusing to make eye contact.

So that was it.  Heyes took a deep breath wishing he’d been wrong about what had been bothering Kid.   “Always been safer together Kid.” 

The other man didn’t speak. 

“Kid you know that’s not…few weeks before Christmas, well it’s not the time…Kid what’s wrong?  You haven’t been yourself in weeks.” 

Kid finally faced his cousin.  “Maybe that’s exactly who I’ve been Heyes.  Myself.  Now I’m leavin’ in the mornin’.  And nothin’ you say is gonna change my mind.  So don’t go trying to use that silver tongue.  Ain’t gonna matter.”  He rose abruptly and walked upstairs. 

Heyes heard the door to their room close.  He frowned and walked to the fire.  He liked the feel of the warmth on his back.  He had to figure out what to do.  He couldn’t let Kid leave, but he was at a loss as to how to stop him.  He’d seen Kid in these moods before.  But they usually passed after a couple of days.  This one was different.  Heyes took a deep breath.  He didn’t want Kid to leave.  Not ever.  But especially not now.  He wanted to go upstairs and tell him that.  What he did was to climb the stairs and stand next to his cousin’s bed watching him sleep.  But for once, Hannibal Heyes found himself without the magic words that could fix the problem. 

*****

He told himself he’d wake up early.  Before Kid.  He told himself he’d talk some sense into his stubborn cousin and that everything would get settled.  As though splitting up would make anything different.  He told himself after a night’s sleep he’d know exactly what to say and how to say it.  Then he fell asleep knowing it would be all right in the morning. 

The next morning he did wake up early.  He stretched and took a deep rested breath.  The sun streamed into the room and for a split second he felt at peace.  The next second he remembered.

He turned to find the bed next to his empty.  He bolted upright looking around the room.  No Kid.  Damn.  He grabbed his clothes and dressed on the way out of the room and down the stairs.  He still had his boots in his hand when he ran through the parlor and out the front door.  Nothing.  Maybe if I start now, I can catch him.  He grabbed his coat from the hook by the front door as he raced through the house and into the kitchen.

“Joshua!  Good heavens, what’s wrong.  Where are you going?”  Addie was pulling some biscuits out of the stove.

Heyes skidded to a stop, just short of running into her.  “I gotta go Miss Addie.  I gotta catch up with Thaddeus.”  He jammed his hat on and rushed out the door.

“But Thaddeus is right out back…”  She stared after him confused and knowing he hadn’t heard a word she said.

Heyes rushed to the barn, threw his gear on his horse, leapt into the saddle and bolted from the barn.  He’d nearly gotten to the road when he realized he’d ridden right past Kid who had been standing next to the back door watching him with an amused expression on his face. 

He stopped and sat there for a moment trying to decide exactly what he should do to his cousin.  He turned his horse not entirely sure whether to hug Kid or flatten him.  By the time he’d returned to the barn, he still wasn’t sure.  He considered it a sign that once again, Kid was nowhere in sight.  He was grumbling to himself as he walked the horse into the barn and started removing the saddle. 

“You in a hurry to get any place special?”  Kid’s voice teased Heyes from the shadows inside the barn.

Heyes continued to mutter for a second.  “See you decided to stay.”  He turned seeking the source of the voice.

There was quiet for a moment.  “Well Miss Addie was real pleased with the porch and I just figured I’d stay till we got it done.  That’s all.  Then I’m leavin’.”  He was quiet again.  “Don’t go readin’ anythin’ into this Heyes.  I’m just tryin’ to help the lady, is all.   I thought about what you said about her needing someone right now.  I’ll leave as soon as the porch is done.”

Heyes smiled to himself.  “Sure Kid.”

“Heyes.”  The way Kid said it warned Heyes not to push it further.

“You wanna get started.”  Heyes sauntered out of the barn.

Kid shook his head and sighed.  “It’s just a few more days Heyes.  That’s all.”  Kid followed him out into the morning sun.  He watched his partner amble over to where they’d left the things needed to finish the porch.  He reminded himself it would be better if he left.  He told himself for the thousandth time all the things he’d almost convinced himself of.  That Heyes would be better off without his temper.  That the Governor would give Heyes the amnesty quicker if Kid Curry, gunfighter…no, killer wasn’t around.  That as long as he was around Heyes would be in danger from men who wanted to take Kid Curry down.  And didn’t much care if they used Heyes to do it. 

Kid pounded all this into his head as he joined Heyes.  Silently accepting the hammer he took a stack of boards and walked to the opposite side of the porch from where Heyes was standing. 

Heyes’ eyes followed him.  For a while things seemed to be smoothing out.  Now, it looked like they were back where they started.  He thought about what might have happened to make Kid so mad.  He knew the waiting was tough on him.  He made a mental note to tell Lom that he had to do something quick.  He knew Kid would be safer without him.  There were a lot of railroad and bank men who would do pretty much anything to get even with Hannibal Heyes.  Even if that meant using Kid to do it.  And then there was the time of year.  Heyes peeked over his shoulder.  Kid should’a had a chance for a family.  “Ow….”  He hollered as his lack of concentration had made him miss nail he was aiming for and bring the hammer down on his thumb.

“You all right?”  Kid didn’t look up.

“Yea.  I got another thumb.”  Heyes growled. 

“Well see you keep it.  We got a lot of boards to nail down.”  Kid growled back.

Heyes sighed and brought the hammer down just a bit too hard.  It was gonna be a long time till Christmas.   

*****

Heyes had been wrong.  The days went by quickly.  The work just seemed to find them.  The porch was fixed, but the roof leaked.  The roof got patched but the house needed painting.  The house got painted, but…well there seemed to be something that always just needed doing. 

And while Addie never asked, she always seemed so pleased and amazed that things were getting done, neither man could find a way to just stop.  She brightened a bit more each day.  The sadness in her face vanished and she seemed younger.  Particularly when Sheriff Kennedy would visit. 

The Sheriff visited often.  He seemed to grow more comfortable around the two men, as though he had come to accept them.  He told them repeatedly that he was grateful for the work they were doing for their Ma and that he hoped they’d decide to make their home in his town.  

Privately, to Addie, he voiced a concern that they never seemed to answer any questions about themselves.  But noting the worry in her face, he listened to her  answer that they were just getting used to everything and decided it made sense.  He never asked again.  And as the days passed, his concern faded.    

The two outlaws tried to stay clear of the Sheriff whenever he’d visit, always remembering work that needed doing.  One time when the Sheriff had asked them why they were running off whenever he showed up, Heyes told him it was so he could spend more time with Addie.  He seemed to like that.  At least he smiled and never asked that question again. 

They were both cautious men, however, knowing his interest was a sure sign that they should leave.  For some reason though they didn’t.  Maybe because it was the holiday time of year.  Maybe because they liked Addie.  Maybe because they knew her story wasn’t quite done.  They couldn’t quite put their finger on it.  Even Kid who kept insisting he was leaving, couldn’t quite bring himself to go.  So, when things kept cropping up that needed fixing, both men simply set about taking care of whatever it was.   There wasn’t a discussion.  Whatever it was, just got fixed. 

Physically, both Heyes and Kid were doing better than they had been in some time.  Heyes had laughed at Addie’s teasing about him being so thin, but he’d eaten heartily and his usual gaunt appearance had vanished.  So had his headaches.  Kid still was troubled, but his restless tossing at night had lessened.  He walked steadier and the bullet wound had completely healed.   

Both men found comfort in the simple routine they’d developed during the past few weeks.  They’d rise, have breakfast and work on whatever was the latest part of the house that seemed to fall off, break down or similarly greet them.  At noon Addie would have a have their meal ready.  Then they’d go back to working.  After supper, they’d listen to Addie play the piano or visit with people who’d stop by.  Occasionally the men would go to town to play cards, sometimes Addie would go with them to visit her friends. 

            Before anyone realized, it was Christmas.

*****

            Kid stood outside the house and looked around cautiously waiting for them.  Nothing had broken in two days.  It was time to go.  He knew it.  He let himself be talked into going to the dance in town.  He didn’t want to upset Addie or Heyes.  It would be hard enough when he actually left. 

Now, standing inside the Church Hall, he wished he had stayed his ground and not come.  He looked around at the people crowded inside.  They’d decorated it with red and green streamers and filled tables with food.  Boys stole kisses from girls under mistletoe balls.  The fiddler played carols mixed with square dances. 

            Heyes was dancing with the shopkeeper’s assistant.  He was laughing at something she said. 

Kid watched his cousin’s face.  He was happy.  Kid inched out of the room.  It’d be ok to leave now.  He rode slowly back to the house intent on packing.  He decided he’d leave first thing in the morning.  He’d tell Heyes…no.  He’d leave a note for Heyes before he left. 

*****

“Hey Kid.” 

Kid jumped at the unexpected voice. 

“You ok?  You left the party kinda unexpected.”  Heyes tried to quiet his rapid breathing.  He’d raced back to Addie’s home when he saw Kid slip out of the hall. 

“Yea, well I just didn’t feel like bein’ there.”  He continued to stuff his belongings in his saddlebags. 

“You leavin’?”  Heyes stayed propped at the door.

“Yep.  And don’t try to talk me out of goin’.” 

“Mind tellin’ me why?  Or don’t I even get that much.”  Heyes took a step into the room.  “I mean the fact that we’re partners don’t allow me an explanation?  Or were you hopin’ to just sneak off and not even say good by.”

“I was gonna leave a note.  I didn’t want to…drop it Heyes.  You ain’t gonna change my mind.”  Kid brushed past the dark eyes.  “Look it’s better this way.” 

“Better?  Better?  How’s it better?  Kid we been doing pretty good.  I mean I know it’s been tough, but it’ll be over soon.  I just know Lom’ll be tellin’ us we got that amnesty any day now.  I can just feel it.  Kid?”  Heyes followed his cousin down the stairs, talking all the way.  “Come on Kid.  We still got stuff to do around here.  Miss Addie…”

“Now don’t go bringing’ her into this.  We got everything fixed up here that needs it.  Let it go, Heyes.  For once, just let it go.”  Kid’s voice faltered as he reached the bottom of the stairs and he had to push himself to continue. 

“But Kid.  You can’t leave.  It’s Christmas.”  Heyes sounded lost and very young.  He knew Kid was leaving.  For real.  He was pushed nearly to panic.  It couldn’t just end like this.  He had to find a way.  He barely heard his own voice, it was so soft.  “Please Kid…” 

They both turned as the front door opened and Addie stepped in. 

“Oh there you two are.  Why you rushed out of the party so…I was worried.  Are you both all right?  I had a wonderful idea.  I was wondering if you could help me with some decorations.  I don’t usually do anything, but this year…well this year I think I might.  And they’re up in the attic.”  She finally saw the saddlebags slung over Kid’s shoulder and her face conveyed clearly her dismay.  “Thaddeus?  You’re not leaving?  Not now.  Why it’s Christmas in two days.  Surely you….  Is everything all right?”

Kid looked guilty and embarrassed.  “I’m sorry ma’am.  I need to be leavin’.  I was gonna leave you a note…thank you for your kindness.  I hope things work out for you.”  He took another step towards the door.

“But Thaddeus…”  She looked at Heyes’ troubled face and felt tears filling her eyes.  “I’m sorry…whatever’s wrong, I wish I could help.  Are you sure you have to leave now?  Maybe another day or so…” 

Kid frowned.  “It’s nothing you did Miss Addie.  Nothin’ anyone did.  It’s just that I got things to do and the sooner they get done the better for everyone.” 

She took a step forward and hugged him for a long time.  “All right.  If it’s what you must do.  I wish I could repay you for everything you’ve done.  I know you were just play acting my son, but I…well I’ve grown terribly fond of you both.  I’ll miss you Thaddeus Jones.”

Heyes coughed.  “Um, Thaddeus?  Maybe you can help me bring those decorations down from the attic before you go.  Been feelin’ a mite dizzy lately.  That knock on the head must’a done more damage that I thought.”  He took hold of the banister and swayed to verify the truth of his statement. 

Kid sighed.  He scowled at Heyes. “Joshua there’s nothing wrong with your head that a good mule kick wouldn’t fix.”  He looked at Addie.  “All right.  I’ll help bring things down.  But then I’m really leaving.”

“Well you can’t do it now.  It’s pitch black up there.  Can you stay until the morning.  It won’t take much time.  And if you must go, I can at least make sure you have a good breakfast.”  Addie touched his arm.  “Please?”

Kid stared at the two people in front of him.  Then shook his head.  “Yes ma’am.  After breakfast.”  Kid turned and marched past Heyes back up the stairs.

Heyes smiled at the woman.  “Just hard this time of year is all ma’am. 

“For all of us Joshua.  For all of us.”  She paused.  “Will he be all right?  He really won’t leave before Christmas will he? 

“I don’t rightly know Miss Addie.  When Thaddeus gets his mind fixed on something, it’s darn near impossible to unfix it.  Maybe he’ll feel different in the morning.”  Impulsively, Heyes hugged her, then went upstairs.

“Kid?  Come on Kid talk to me.”  Heyes stared down at his partner, who was lying in the dark of the bedroom.  “I know you’re awake.  All right Kid, we’ll play it your way.”  He prodded the fire and added another log, quickly removed his clothes and crawled into bed.  He listened to Kid’s breathing change and he knew that the younger man had fallen asleep.  He lay awake for a long time trying to figure out what was going on.  And what was going to happen in the morning.  Finally, he surrendered and drifted off. 

*****

Christmas Eve dawned snowy.  Great white puffs fell steadily all morning, covering the house.  The trees looked like they’d been sugar coated and the land surrounding the house was an untouched field of white.  

This time Heyes did wake first.  He got out of bed and as quietly as he could, he picked up his clothes and slipped out of the room.  He bathed and shaved quickly, listening for anything that sounded like his partner leaving.  He hastily pulled his clothes on and walking back down the hall, re-checked the bedroom. Kid was still sleeping.  He carried his boots downstairs and pushed the door to the kitchen open. 

“Good morning Joshua.”  Addie was cutting slices from a slab of bacon.  The aroma of freshly ground coffee hung in the warm kitchen.   “Thaddeus still sleeping?”

“Mornin’ Addie.”  Heyes sat down and pulled his boots on.  “Yea.  Guess that’s good.  If he’s sleepin’, he’s still here.”  He chuckled, but they both knew he wasn’t really trying to be funny. 

“What’s happened Joshua?  Is there trouble between the two of you?  I haven’t asked many questions about you, but I know you’re close.”  She handed him a cup of coffee.

He sipped it thoughtfully and thought about what to tell her.  “I don’t know Addie.  Thaddeus and me, well we’re cousins.  Been together our whole life.  We lost our families during the Border Wars and well, ma’am, I just don’t know.  He’s always been good about talking me out of things when they get the better of me.  Better at working them through.  He is, I mean.”  He took the plate of food she handed him. 

“Maybe he just needs time Joshua.  This time of year is difficult for many.”  There was a wistfulness in her voice that clearly said she was one of the many it was difficult for.  “Do you think there’s any way we can convince him to stay?”

Heyes looked up, caught by something in her voice and by the trace of sadness lingering around her eyes.  “Don’t know ma’am.  He knows his own mind and seems pretty set.  Maybe morning will make a change.  That and your breakfast.  Yes ma’am.”  He grew serious.   “He likes you Miss Addie and well Thaddeus wouldn’t ever do anything to hurt a lady, so maybe he’ll change his mind.  I’m sure gonna to try and see that happens.” 

He rose.  Well, guess I’d better get started bringing the things down from the attic.”  He handed her the plate and nearly collided with Kid in the doorway.  “Well, ‘bout time you woke up.”  He turned sideways to allow Kid in the kitchen.  “I’m gonna go start bringing things downstairs.”

Kid look distressed.  “Overslept.  Never happens.”  He grumbled. 

“Well almost never.  Have breakfast.  I never tasted biscuits like Addie’s.”  Heyes grinned and headed for the stairs.

“Morning ma’am.  Guess I should go help him.  No tellin’ what trouble he’ll find if’n I don’t.”  He turned to leave.

“Wait.  You should have breakfast first Thaddeus.  It’s all ready, you just have to eat it.”  She passed a plate heaping with eggs, bacon and biscuits to him. 

He looked longingly at it.

“Go on.  Joshua will be fine for a minute.  Anyway I wanted to talk to you.”  She sat down opposite him.  “Are you all right Thaddeus?  You seem so troubled.  Sometimes talking about a thing makes it easier to bear.” 

He studied her eyes and voice.  He did want to talk.  He wanted to tell someone every thing that had been weighing on him for weeks.  He wanted to tell Heyes.  Something always stopped him.  Maybe just the idea of adding to the burden Heyes placed upon himself.   He moved the eggs around on his plate, studying them.  “It’s just…well, I…” He started slowly and his eyes rose.  He saw her eyes cloud as though she was remembering having a similar conversation with someone else.   He couldn’t add to her burden either.  “It’s nothing, ma’am.  Just got some things on my mind.  Don’t trouble yourself.”  He put the forkful of eggs in his mouth, chewing more out of habit than this particular hunger.

“Joshua said you lost your family.”  It was her turn to study him.  He was so much like the real Michael.   Gentle and quiet.  Never wanting to trouble anyone. 

“Yes ma’am.  Like a lot of others.  Now it’s just me and Joshua.”  Kid pushed the eggs around on his plate.  “We’ve done better than some.”

“I can see that.  You’re two wonderful young men.  Why is it you haven’t started families of your own?”  She collected his empty plate and turned away.  She missed the pained expression that crossed his face. 

“Hey Thaddeus, you gonna help me with this stuff?”  Heyes voice came shouting into the room.  “Seems to be a lot of boxes up in the attic.”

Kid looked up grinning.  “Guess I should go help him before he hurts himself.”  He said quietly.

“I’m sorry, Thaddeus.”  She quietly added.  “He’s worried about you.”

“Yes ma’am.  I know ma’am.  It was a long time ago.”  He smiled gently as he left the room to find his partner. 

*****

Thirty minutes later it was almost done.  The attic had been emptied of nearly everything resembling a Christmas decoration.  Kid was just bringing down the last of the boxes. 

Heyes sat cross legged in the middle of the room, boxes all around him.  There was a glittery trace on his cheek and a bit of curled red ribbon on his shoulder.  He sorted through a box full of shaped cloth decorations, looking at the stars and bells with a little boy wonder. 

“Would you like some more coffee, Joshua?”  Addie smiled as he looked up at her.

“Why thank you Miss Addie. That’d be real nice.  We just about have it all down.”  He rose in one fluid movement.

She handed him the coffee and reached towards his shoulder to remove the piece of ribbon.

“This is the last of it, Joshua.”  Kid joined them, his arms laden with three large boxes.

“Thank you both so much.  You’ve done so much for me already.” She helped him balance the boxes to the floor.   “I’ll never be able to properly thank you.”

Heyes walked towards his cousin.  “No trouble a’ tall ma’am.  Why Thaddeus and me should be payin’ you, for all the food and mendin’ our things.”  Heyes pulled the box open and was examining the contents. 

“I just wish you could stay a bit longer.  Oh I know I only said through Thanksgiving, and here it’s Christmas, but…”  She stopped suddenly.  “I’m sorry.  I have no right to press you.  Oh my cookies!”  She cried out catching a scent on the breeze and rushed out of the room.

“Nice lady.  Shame to leave her day ‘fore Christmas and all.    Heyes was intently studying the contents of the box he’d opened.   

“Don’t say it Heyes.  I’m leavin and that’s that.”  Kid stared at the boxes stacked on every surface in the parlor.  “Sure does have a lot of things.  He lifted out an crystal angel from one of the boxes.  He turned it around smiling at how the edges caught the light and reflected rainbows throughout the room.   

“Pretty.”  Heyes said, smiling.

Kid’s smile disappeared at the word as he was jarred back to reality.  “Yea.  Pretty.”  He set the angel down on the small side table.  “Well guess you can handle it from here.”  He looked down.  “Heyes…” 

“Only another day till Christmas Kid.  What’d it hurt to stay.  One more good night’s sleep, another of Miss Addie’s fine meals.  We could help with all this.”  He’d walked towards the younger man, sweeping his arm out to emphasize his point.  The tip of his hand caught the lamp that sat next to the angel on the small table and threatened to crash into it. 

Heyes made a grab towards it just as Kid reached for the angel. 

They succeeded in running into each other just as Miss Addie re-entered the room.  The lamp teetered on the table and righted itself.  The angel bounced on the thick section of throw rug under the table. 

“Will you watch where you’re goin?”  Kid shouted.

Heyes’ forward momentum was such that even if he’d tried to stop he couldn’t have.  As it was, he skidded on the carpet and propelled himself directly at Kid.

For his part Kid grabbed Heyes’ shoulders to steady himself.

Heyes landed against Kid and they both toppled to the carpeted floor.

Shouting and sputtering, they attempted to get up, yelling at each other and at the source of laughter. 

“Oh I’m sorry, are you hurt?  You’re both all right?  That was so funny, the two of you.  You looked like little boys.”  She held out a tray of freshly baked cookies.  “Maybe these will help some.” 

The two men glared at each other, but helped the other up.

“Thank you ma’am.  Someone just doesn’t understand about putting his big feet in the way of others.”  Heyes took one of the cookies.

“And someone doesn’t understand about not runnin’ into someone.”  Kid took a handful of cookies.

Heyes looked at the stack of cookies in his cousin’s hand and a smiled twitched at the corners of his mouth.

Kid glared ever harder at Heyes, but his eyes were sparkling as he lost the battle with a grin  “Well we gonna unpack this stuff or just let it sit here.” 

Heyes squinted at him, then finally smiled.  “Sure partner.  Let’s get movin’.”

“Are you staying Thaddeus?”  The woman’s voice was full of hope. 

“Well if I don’t, Joshua here will probably trip over his own feet and wind up breaking everything.”  He paused.  “So if it’s all right Miss Addie, I’ll stay a bit longer and help put this stuff up for you.” 

Heyes turned, a muted chuckle emanating from his throat.   

“Shut up...Joshua.”  Kid grumbled as he swallowed the last of his cookies and started unpacking one of the boxes. 

Heyes turned back to his cousin, his face one of the pain and insult only family can endure at the hands of family.  But he was whistling as he returned to his cross legged posture on the floor with a box in front of him.  He held up a star cut out of material.  A memory traced itself in his mind and for a moment he was sitting on the floor of a different house. 

Addie bustled around the room, setting things out, her eyes remembering where they used to sit so long ago. 

“Uh Joshua?  Think we got ourselves just a little problem.”  Kid was holding a box full of red velvet bows. 

“Huh, oh sorry Thaddeus.  What problem?”  Heyes twirled the star around, studying it with the eyes of a little boy. 

“You see anything missin’?”  Kid was trying not to smile. 

Heyes looked around, frowning.  “Missing?  No, I don’t….”  He grinned.  “Yea, I suppose we should have one of those.”  He rose.  “Miss Addie, where might we find a tree?”

She started then laughed.  “Oh dear.  Right out back, that stand of trees is on my property.” 

They nodded and grabbed their coats. 

“I’ll hold and you can chop.”  Heyes said as they started down the path to the trees.

“Or I’ll hold and you can chop.”  Kid said. 

“I think I chopped the last time.”  Heyes stopped.

“Heyes I can’t remember the last time.”  Kid faced him.

“Well I’m sure I chopped.”  Heyes started for the trees.

Kid started to speak, but gave up.  “Fine Heyes.  I’ll chop.  And if the tree accidentally falls on you, it won’t be my fault.”  He mumbled the last part. 

“I heard that.”  Heyes shouted over the ever increasing gusts of wind.  “Hey there’s a good one.”  He pointed to a tall pine tree dusted with snow.

“Nah, that’s the one.”  Kid headed towards a cedar. 

“What’s wrong with mine?”   Heyes pouted as he pulled at branches and walked around the tree. 

“Nothin’.  Just that mine smells better.  Anyway yours has a hole in the back.”  Kid hefted the ax to get a feel for it.

“How do you know that?  You got eyes that can see in the back of that tree?”  Heyes sounded like a petulant 8 year old. 

They faced off and finally laughed. 

“Hold it back some, so I can get a clear shot.”  Kid waited till Heyes had pulled the tree back.  He tried not to laugh as Heyes found himself covered in snow that had shaken free from the tree. 

It was easy work and within an hour they’d gotten the tree in the house and managed to get it attached to the cross beams that would hold it upright. 

“Oh boys it’s wonderful.  It’s been so long since there was a tree.  It always stood right there and the train set went all around it….”  Sadness darkened her eyes.  “I’m so grateful…thank you both for being here.”  She hugged them both just a bit too tightly.  Then pushed the memory aside.  “Well where shall we put the bows?  And the stars?” 

By nightfall the house was covered in bows and stars.  In cranberry garlands.  In fancy glass angels and Christmas trees and simple button and thread spool decorations.  The two men had collected pine branches and set them on the wide mantle over the fireplace.  Addie had pinned bows and ribbon to it. 

Now they sat sipping warmed cider.  “Will you be coming with me to Christmas Eve service, boys? Sheriff will be by in about an hour.  He volunteered to take me.”

“Thanks ma’am.  But…”  Heyes started.

Her frown stopped him. 

“Yes ma’am.  If that would please you Miss Addie, Joshua and I will go to church with you.”  Kid rose.  “I’m gonna go get cleaned up.”   He excused himself and went upstairs.

They were silent for a while. 

“I’m so glad he decided to stay.  I’m so glad you both decided to stay, Joshua.  It’s truly meant more to me and I can say.”  She walked to the stairs.  “But I’d best get ready myself.” 

Heyes sipped the cider in the quiet parlor.  He walked around studying the different decorations, straightening one, moving another.  The memories surrounded him, for once not entirely unwanted.  Sounds and smells flooded his mind.  A beautiful dark haired woman with a trace of an Irish accent in her voice calling him to breakfast.  The smell of cinnamon from the cookies she always baked special just for him. 

No, not for him.  For that little boy he used to be.  He picked the glass angel up, holding it with both hands.  How like her.  Everyone always said Muirean Heyes was an angel. 

Heyes smiled.  Maybe time did heal some of those wounds he and Kid had suffered so long ago.  He put the angel down and went to get ready.

*****

Both men were uncomfortably stiff as they made the journey from Miss Addie’s to town.  They wore their nice suits, and Addie had starched the collars of their shirts.  They would have preferred being in their trail clothes. 

The Sheriff’s carriage was larger than Miss Addie’s.  They shared the back seat leaving the front for the Sheriff and the woman.  They learned his daughter had already gone into town.  Even though it was a short ride and the conversation pleasant, the idea of being in such close proximity to a sheriff caused the two outlaws to maintain rather a quiet demeanor. 

The small church was nearly full when they arrived.  Miss Addie sat with the Sheriff in one of the pews towards the front.  The two men found seats close to the aisle in the last row .  They both felt awkwardly out of place. 

Just before the service started, a man, woman and their three daughters rushed in, laughing and apologizing for being late.  That squeezed in next to Heyes and Curry forcing the men to move next to the other parishioners already seated nearer the center of the pew. 

Kid found himself sitting next to a boy of about eight who studied both the man and his gun curiously.  Heyes turned and found himself being watched by a pair of big blue eyes that belonged to a little girl of no more than six.  She smiled happily at him and grabbed his hand. 

Kid chuckled softly. 

Heyes glared at him, then smiled as the little boy took the hand of the fastest gun in the West. 

The service itself was simple.  The hundred or so residents of Esperanza Nueva listened to the Reverend Mr. Simms talk about the meaning of the holiday.  He was a simple man and his faith genuine.  He knew everyone in this town and had ministered to them all at one time or another during his ten years there.  He signaled and on cue Nellie Booth touched the keys on the organ, her clear soprano voice leading everyone as they sang Amazing Grace. 

“Aren’t you gonna sing?”  Carrie Kenyon was indeed only six.  But from the moment she learned she could talk, she seldom held her tongue.  She focused her attention on the very quiet man sitting next to her.  “Don’tcha like church?  My ma says church is good for you.  She said if you don’t go to church you go to a bad place.  You don’t wanna go to a bad place do you?  You gonna sing?  We always sing on Christmas.  But the cookies are better.  My ma said you can’t have cookies if you don’t sing.  If you don’t sing can I have your cookies?

Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were both legends in their own unique way.  Heyes was the master of charm.  Right now, the legendary silver tongue was frozen.  If he could have gotten a word in, if someone had had the courage to ask him, he would have been the first to admit not having the answers to most of Carrie’s questions. 

“What kind of cookies?”  Was all he could finally get out.

Kid choked and tried not to laugh.

Heyes glared at him again.  

Reverend Simms nodded to the organist and a familiar tune filled the Church.  The two men stiffened as the voices rose in song and the memories of past Christmas Eve’s washed over them. 

*****

A friend from the old country had arrived in Lawrence.  The song had been a gift for his old friend Daniel Heyes.

Both men’s eyes were closed, remembering their parents laughing as they tried to learn the words and the sound the voices made as they filled the Heyes’ parlor that last Christmas Eve. 

*****

Heyes was jerked back to reality as Carrie tugged on his jacket.

The “no cookie” warning evident in her eyes, Carrie filled in the words she didn’t know with humming and it was apparent that she expected Heyes to follow suit.

His dark eyes studied her for a moment before he turned to his cousin.  A small smile lit his face.  “Shame to disappoint a lady.”  From somewhere inside of him the words to the carol surfaced and his husky baritone joined the others, softly at first.  Then as the words came back to him, his voice grew stronger.

Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior Holy.

            Heyes heard Kid’s clear tenor join in.  He turned, smiling at his partner, who grinned in return. 

And through all His wondrous childhood
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly Maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

Jesus is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heaven above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.

            “That ends our service.  Thank you all for sharing your time with us.  I hope you all will join us for some of the fine food the ladies have made.  May God bless you all.”  Reverend Simms stepped down and made his way down the center aisle, walking with the people who filed out of Church. 

            Kid stood up and waited as the pews emptied.  He smiled at Miss Addie as she walked out with the Sheriff.  “Nice Heyes.”  He whispered, chuckling.

            “I only did it because of the cookies.”  Heyes whispered back, just a bit too firmly.  A smile played at the corners of his lips and his eyes sparkled.

            They lingered behind the others deciding whether to join them at the Church Hall or return to Addie’s home. 

            “I remember your Ma singing that.”  Kid studied the ground.

            “And yours too.”  Heyes studied the stars.  “Think we should join them?”

            “Well there are those cookies.”  Kid grinned.

            Heyes laughed.  “Cold night too. Bet they have hot cider in there.” 

            “Then why are we standing out here.”  Kid slapped Heyes on the back and left his hand on his cousin’s shoulder as they followed the sound of music and laughter to the Hall steps.

*****

Carrie Kenyon was waiting for them.  “You sing good, guess you’ll want your cookies huh.”  Carrie looked up at Heyes.

He squatted to meet her eye to eye.  “Well darlin’, how ‘bout we share.”

She nodded vigorously and impulsively reached up and hugged him.

Heyes was obviously startled, but hugged the little girl back.  He looked into the grinning face of his cousin and smiled back.

            “I’m gonna go get your cookies.”  Carrie shouted as she ran off.

“You will join us for dinner won’t you boys?  I hate to think of Miss Addie spending Christmas Eve without the two of you.”  Sheriff Kennedy walked down the steps and flung his arms around the shoulders of the two men. He was in a festive mood.  He’d also come to a decision regarding the woman he’d come to know and love.  Not giving them much choice he guided them inside. 

“Uh, course.  Wouldn’t think of missing it.”  Heyes smiled, at the man as he left them in search of Addie.  He glanced at Kid and shrugged.  “Sorry. Didn’t see any way out of it.”

Kid’s face didn’t reflect anything.  “I know Heyes.  It don’t matter.”  He’d resigned himself to staying through Christmas Day.  “Probably better anyway.  Got something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”

Heyes grinned.  This was good. Kid was finally going to tell him what was troubling him.   Then he could fix it.  “Sure Kid.  You want to talk now?”

Kid shook his head.  “Maybe when we get back to Miss Addie’s.”

The church hall was full of laughter and fiddle music.  The people gathered around the food tables to sample the pies and cakes the ladies supplied.  The two men were still by the door.  This was a small town and everyone seemed to know everyone.

“There you are.”  Addie greeted them and took their arms.  Now both of you come on in and have some food.  There’ll be dancing in a bit.  And there are a lot of pretty girls who will love dancing with two such handsome young men.”  She deposited them at the food table.  “We have some of the best cooks anywhere.  Now I know you must be hungry after all that work today.  Can I fix you a plate?” 

“Addie, why we’ve been looking for you everywhere.”  Two middle aged women rushed up to her.  “Aren’t you going to introduce us?”  The coyness in their voices around the two handsome men was not missed by anyone.

“Ruth Edgar and Violet Samples, these…”  She took a deep breath.  “…these are my sons, Patrick and Michael.” 

Even though they’d been in town for nearly a month, they’d stayed close to Addie’s house.  They’d met some of her friends, and others at the poker table, but this was the first time practically everyone in town had a chance to meet Miss Addie’s boys. 

The room seemed to close around the three of them.  So many voices that they couldn’t tell who they were talking to.  Suddenly the fiddler started playing and the accordion chimed in.  The group broke free and couples paired off for dancing.  Sheriff Kennedy bowed stiffly and took Addie’s arm. 

Heyes and Kid exchanged glances. 

“Nice town.”  Heyes mumbled.

“Yea.  Real nice.”  Kid found himself faced with Rosalind Kennedy. 

“I know the man is supposed to ask, but will you dance with me Michael?”  She put her hand out giving Kid no choice.

“Pleased to Miss Rosalind.”  With a backward glance at his cousin, he led her onto the crowded center of the room.

Heyes watched his cousin dance.  He looked at ease.  He hoped Kid was enjoying himself.  Enough so that this talk of leaving would be put out of his head.  Surely the telegram he’d sent Lom would be answered soon.  It had to be.  He’d practically begged Lom to talk to the Governor.  His last ounce of hope was spent on that. 

Heyes’ introspective moment was interrupted by a tug at his vest. 

“Here.”  Carrie held out a cookie shaped like a star and frosted with white icing.  One of the points was missing. 

He looked at the cookie, squinted and then looked down at her.

“It broke.”  Carrie looked hopeful that he’d believe her. “Honest”

Heyes nodded.  “My cousin used to say the same thing when he was your age.”

Carrie’s mouth drooped.  “It was just a little bite.”

Heyes smiled.  “Only one way to make up for eatin’ a man’s cookie.”

Carrie looked wide eyed at him.

“Have to dance with me.”  Heyes bent down and picked the child up. 

“You mean it?  You want to dance with me?  But you’re a grown up?”  The little girl was very confused.  He father danced with her on her 6th birthday.  But not at a grown up dance.

“If it’s all right with you.”  Heyes said gently.

The little girl’s blond ringlets bounced as she vigorously nodded. 

There were smiles and chuckles as he took the tiny hand in his and still carrying her, began to dance. 

Kid danced by.  “Like your choice of dancin’ partners, Joshua.” 

Heyes just grinned. 

The rest of the evening proved enjoyable for everyone.  Heyes and Kid both danced with Addie and most of the other ladies present.  After their initial hesitance, they found they had no problem fitting in.  Everyone wanted to know about Patrick and Michael Donnelly.  The story Heyes had put together with some details from Addie seemed to be accepted readily. 

The children were put to bed in the room next to the hall.  

Heyes slipped in, he thought unseen, and knelt by Carrie.  “Here sweetheart.”  He folded a cookie in the shape of a star with white icing into her hand. 

He was rewarded with a sleepy smile.

He straightened and approached the door stopping short when he saw Kid standing there smiling at him.  “Don’t say it.”  He growled.

His cousin, standing there watching, held up his hands in surrender. 

Heyes tried to scowl, but it was a futile attempt.  “I need some punch.”

“Uh huh.”  Kid laughed.  “Come on.  I think I know just where it is.”

*****

The church bells had chimed ten times when the fiddler called for the last dance.  Husbands led wives onto the floor.  Young men sometimes shyly, claimed their young ladies.  Sheriff Kennedy held back, not sure.  But he watched Banker Fingate start towards Addie.  He hastily cut him off.  “May I have this dance Miss Addie.”

“Why yes, Jackson. Thank you.”  The woman blushed as she took his hand and let him lead her to the floor.

The two outlaws watched.  “Good she found someone like that.  Someone who’ll care for her.”  Kid said quietly. 

Heyes nodded.  “She’s a nice lady.  It’s good that some good luck found her.  Guess it always eventually.”

Kid chose to ignore the comment.

The music stopped.  People began gathering their belongings and bidding their friends good night.  The food was packed up and distributed to those who had the need.  The cries of “Merry Christmas” could be heard echoing in the still night.

Addie and the Sheriff joined the two men.  He helped her into her coat. 

“What a wonderful evening.”  The woman’s smile was radiant.

“Yes, yes it was.  Miss Addie…well, I wanted to ask…I mean…I wanted to talk to you but…well there just wasn’t the time and…”  The Sheriff looked helplessly at the two men. 

“I think we’ll wait by the carriage.  You coming Joshua?”  Kid grabbed his arm and pulled him away.

“Huh…oh, yea, we’ll be by the carriage.”  Heyes winked at the Sheriff. 

*****

They were enjoying the quiet when Addie burst out of the Hall and came flying towards them.

“Guess it went well.”  Heyes joked.

Addie careened into them  She was flushed and crying. “Please take me home.  Please.”  Her voice was filled with desperation.

Sheriff Kennedy and Rosalind rushed up.  The man looked panicked and the girl was crying.

“Addie…what did I do…I only…Addie, please tell me what I did.”  The man’s voice was full of pain at causing the woman such torment.

Kid helped Addie into the carriage. 

“What happened?”  Heyes angrily asked the Sheriff.

“I asked her to marry me.”  Kennedy said helplessly.

“You asked…”  Heyes anger dissipated.

“Joshua.”  Kid had the reins in hand.

Heyes gave the Sheriff one more look and shrugged.  He climbed onto the carriage seat next to the woman.  “Can you get a ride home?”

“Yea, don’t worry ‘bout us.  Take care of Addie.”  The Sheriff put an arm around his daughter’s shoulders. 

Kid snapped the reins and the carriage moved forward. 

“Addie, what happened?”  Heyes took the woman’s hands from her face.

“Please Joshua, not now.  I can’t…not now.  Please I just want to go home.  Please.”  She looked lost and terrified.

“All right. Don’t worry.  We’ll have you home in no time at all.”  Heyes put an arm around her.

She buried her face in her hands and left them there until they reached her house.  Heyes helped her down and she ran in.  By the time they entered the house, they heard her bedroom door slam shut. 

*****

They got the carriage safely into the barn and the horses tended to.  When they re-entered the house it was quiet and dark.  Lighting the lamp, they sank onto the chairs in the parlor trying to sort what had happened at the end of the dance. 

            “What d’ya think happened?  If Kennedy said anything to her…Heyes, I don’t care if he is the law…”  Kid whispered angrily to his partner.  “No man’s got the right to hurt a lady.”

            “He asked her to marry him.”  Heyes responded quietly watching the anger drain from Kid’s face to be replaced with confusion.

            “He what?  Heyes isn’t that supposed to make ladies happy?”  Kid frowned and leaned forward.

            “Usually.  There’s something else Kid.  Somethin’ the lady’s hiding.”  Heyes rose quickly and paced back and forth in front of the fire. 

            “Yea, well everyone’s hidin’ something Heyes.  But why wouldn’t she say yes.  Her husband’s dead…”  Kid’s eyes widened.  “Unless he isn’t.”

            “Yea, that’s what I was thinking.”  Heyes stopped walking.  “We gotta do something to make her happy again Kid.  Not fair this time of year for a lady like that to be sad.” 

Kid stood up.  “Got any ideas?  Aside from turning the clock back to before he asked her…” 

“That’s it!  Kid that’s a great idea.”  Heyes laughed at what was going through his head.  “And if we do it now, it’ll be a surprise for her in the morning.  Come on Kid, we got work to do.” 

Kid looked confused again. “What’s a great idea?” 

Heyes walked quickly towards him, carrying the lamp.  “Turning the clock back.  The train set.  We gotta set up the train set Kid.  I don’t see it, it has to be upstairs.  Remember Addie said it was supposed to be under the tree.  It was something she remembered that made her happy.  We have to set it up Kid.  Maybe it’ll make her happy again.”  He headed to the stairs. 

Kid looked skeptical.  “Heyes she didn’t look all that happy…Heyes…” He watched his partner’s back disappear up the stairs.  “Hope you’re right.” 

*****

The attic was nearly emptied of boxes labeled Christmas.  The two men searched for nearly an hour, trying to be as quiet as they could so as not to wake the woman sleeping below them.  All they found were boxes of children’s clothes, toys, lots of books, and in general a lifetime of memories.  But no train set. 

Once they heard her call out.  They replied they were just putting some of the boxes away.  They heard her door close and breathed a sigh of relief. 

They were about to give up when Kid grunted and pulled out a small cardboard box, covered with years of dust and cobwebs and bound with a now faded red ribbon from behind a large trunk. 

“Think I got it Heyes.”  He pulled the ribbon undone, sneezing  as the dust drifted up to him, and opened the box.  A small brightly colored train set lay still partially wrapped in the box.  “Yep, this has to be it.”

“That’s great Kid.  Let’s get outta this attic, I’ve had enough cobwebs to last a lifetime.”  He grinned in the shadowy light.  “We have plenty of time to put it together.  It’ll surprise Addie in the morning.”  Heyes brushed some of the offending cobwebs from his face. 

“Yea, ok Heyes.”  Kid had a feeling this wasn’t going to be a good surprise. 

They walked downstairs, back to the parlor.

“Heyes why d’ya think it’s still wrapped up.  Like it never even got used.  Addie said it was always around the tree.  And this was for a little kid.  I thought maybe Addie’s sons left when they were older.  But now I don’t know.”  Kid took the train engine from the box and looked at it.  “I don’t think we should do this Heyes.” 

Heyes was suddenly doubtful.  “Maybe it got forgotten.  Hidden away up there.  And maybe this was something new.  To replace something old”  He said hopefully.  “Let’s put it together and see what it looks like.”

It didn’t take them much time to put the little train together.  They set it in a small loop just under the tree.  It looked at home there.  Kneeling side by side, both men stared wistfully at the toy, both knowing the memory they were re-living.  One of a hand carved train shared by two little boys a long time ago. 

Addie crept downstairs.  She was exhausted, but couldn’t sleep.  She stumbled barefoot into the parlor and saw them.  In that second the years turned back to another Christmas and another pair of boys kneeling before the tree, laughing as they played with the train.  A day that had started out so joyously and ended with her life in ruins.  Her eyes filled and overflowed, she felt the room spinning, her life in pictures flashing as it went round.  She reached out to stop it, then the world went black. 

Lost in thought, the two men didn’t hear the woman enter the parlor and stand staring at them until she moaned softly.

They turned simultaneously, watching her sway and her knees buckle.  They reached her just before she hit the floor.

*****

She was coming to as they got her to the sofa.  Kid handed Heyes a glass of the Irish whiskey.  She coughed as he held it to her lips and poured a small amount into her mouth.

“Take it easy, it’s all right.”  Heyes said softly.

“Patrick?”  She blinked trying to clear her head.  “Patrick, where’s Michael.”

“Miss Addie, it’s Joshua.  And Thaddeus.”  Heyes held the glass to her lips again, but she turned her head away. 

“No..no, please.”  She blinked again, recognizing the men.  Her head sank, as she started crying.  “I’m so sorry.  I’m so sorry.”  She kept repeating the words.

“Ma’am, you don’t have anything to be sorry for.”  Kid knelt in front of her.  “Miss Addie, tell us what’s troubling you.  Maybe we can help.”

She looked up.  “You’d hate me.   If I told you what I did…what I am…you’ll hate me.” 

The men exchanged glances.

“Ma’am, we all have something in our past we’re not proud of.”  Heyes set the glass down and exchanged looks with Kid.  “We were hoping you wouldn’t find out our secret ma’am.  But if it’ll help you see nothing you did could be as bad as…well, we’re outlaws Miss Addie.  Wanted men.”

Her eyes opened wide.

Kid spoke up.  “My name’s Kid Curry and his is Hannibal Heyes, ma’am.  We’re wanted in Wyoming.  Now, we’ve gone straight and we’re trying to change our lives.  But, well we both aren’t real proud of the life we’ve led.”

She frowned and it was obvious she was trying to understand what they’d said.  “You’re outlaws?  That’s not possible.  I’ve heard of Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes.  Why they’re bank and train robbers.  That’s not you two.” 

Heyes smiled.  “Yes ma’am.  It is.  Like my friend said, we’re tryin’ to change our ways and if we’re lucky, the Governor of Wyoming is gonna give us an amnesty.  Sort of a clean slate so we can start over.”

“I don’t know what you did Miss Addie, but I know you.  And I’ve seen you with the people in town.  Looks to me like you started over.  Is the past so important?”  Kid sat down next to her. 

She looked up tearfully and nodded.

“Why don’t you just tell us what it is.”  Heyes encouraged her. 

She looked at the eyes watching her.  She’d come to trust these two young men.  Even more, she’d come to see them as the sons that she’d lost.  She didn’t want to lose them like….  There didn’t seem to be much choice.  She couldn’t lie to them.  Not any more.   She closed her eyes and began.

“I was only 15 when I was married.  We lived in Boston.  Patrick was born a year later.  My beautiful Patrick.  He looked so very much like you Joshua, dark hair and eyes.  My husband, Louis, and Patrick and I came West as many others did seeking freedom from the city.  We got as far as Cheyenne.  Louis was killed.  It was an accident, but it left Patrick and I stranded.  We had no money and no family to ask for help.”  A tear escaped down her cheek.  “I was so desperate…I did the only thing I could…please understand I was just a child and no one would help.  It was do the one thing I could or be on the streets.”  She paused and took a deep breath.  The tears were falling freely now, but she didn’t seem to notice.  After a few moments she started again.  “I sold myself.  I said it was just to get a stake to leave Denver.  But the days turned to weeks and months and finally I no longer even thought about anything.  Patrick was one year old when I met the man who changed my life.”  Now she looked up.  Knowing she’d see scorn and disgust on the men’s faces.  Instead she saw sadness. Caring.  “You don’t hate me?”  It was a very young voice, almost childlike.

Kid took her hand.  “Nothing to hate Miss Addie.  You did what you had to to take care of your son.  Nothin’ wrong about that.”

She looked astonished and grasped his hand.   Turning to Heyes she inquired the same with her eyes.

“Think my partner said it all.   What happened next?”  Heyes, propped a pillow behind her. 

She leaned back and relaxed a bit.  “It was one night so long ago.  A man came into the saloon.  He was so handsome and seemed nicer than most.  I went up to him and he agreed.  We went upstairs and he told me his name.  He was so gentle, most…”  She blanched and shivered at the memory.  “…most weren’t.  He fell asleep.  I was so lost by that time…I searched his coat for my money.  He had a thick wad of bills.  Nearly $1,000.  I knew it was wrong, but it seemed like the answer to a prayer.  I took it and snuck out.”  She took a breath and relaxed her hold on Kid’s hand.  

Then she started again.  “I was waiting for the stagecoach the next morning when he found me.  I thought he was going to have me arrested.  Or beat me.  I was holding Patrick and so very frightened. I pulled the money out of my bag and tried to give it to him.  That’s when the miracle happened.  He looked at me and at Patrick for a long time.  Then he put the money back in my bag.  All he said, was take your son and give him a good home.  Don’t ever feel like you have to sell yourself again.”  She smiled just a bit.  “And that’s how I came to love Lom Trevors.”

Both men sat up straighter at the sound of their friend’s name. 

“Lom?”  Kid said, a broad smile creasing his face.

“That must have been when he just started riding with the Devil’s Hole Gang.”  Heyes was also smiling. 

“Yes, when we met some years later, he told me more about who he was.”  Addie pushed herself back on the sofa. 

“So when did you come here?”  Heyes also sat back and crossed one leg over the other.

“Directly from Cheyenne.  The last place I wanted was a big town.  This was the farthest the stage went.  I got off here and stayed.”  She let go of Kid’s hand. 

“But you said you had two children…”  Kid knew from the look on her face that she hadn’t finished telling her story.  “I’m sorry Miss Addie.  You don’t have to say anything else.”

She patted his hand.  “No, you deserve the whole story.  There’s not much more.  I met my husband to be almost as soon as I arrived.  He was a brilliant man.  Strict, but kind.  He was an inventor.  The wonderful things you see in this house are because of him.   I told him I was a widow and he believed me.  We were married a year later.  Michael was born when Patrick was just two years old.  Oh he was the happiest baby.  The four of us were so happy for ten years.  I thought I had put it all behind me.”

Her face constricted.  “Until one day I was in town with my family and one of the girls I worked with at the saloon appeared.  Well she rushed over and hugged me and said it looked like I’d done good for myself.  I got my family away as soon as I could, but my husband questioned me.  I lied and told him she was a saloon girl I met in Cheyenne and that was it.  I knew he didn’t believe me.  He kept pressing me.  On Christmas Day it all came to an end.  We went to church on Christmas Day.  He sent me home with the boys, saying he had one errand to run.  What he really wanted to do was talk to that girl.  She told him everything.”

New tears streaked down her face.  “When he came home, the boys were playing with that train.  He exploded at me.  He called me…well he called me so many names.  I tried to explain, but it didn’t matter.  He said he was taking the boys.  I begged him not to.  He said I could never be a fit mother.  And that if I did anything he’d tell the world exactly who I was and I’d lose not only my sons, but everything else too.  I wasn’t sure there was anything to lose.  He told me it would ruin any chance my boy had for a decent life, if they knew, if everyone knew what their mother was.  He said he’d left enough in the bank to see me through and that he’d continue to send money.  But he never wanted to see me again.  And I was never to try to contact the boys.”  She sank against the cushions, depleted. 

“And for all these years, you’ve lived here and never tried to reach your sons?”  Kid stood up and went to the cabinet holding the whiskey. 

“I tried once.  The letter was returned unopened.  That was fifteen years ago.  Every year a transfer arrived from an attorney I have never met.  It’s deposited to my account at the bank.  Everyone there assumed it was family money.”  She shrugged.

Heyes frowned.  “And no one wondered where your husband and children were?” 

“Remember Joshua, the town was terribly small then.  It grew some while my husband was here, but it’s really only in the past five years that it’s become a real town.  We didn’t have many friends, there just weren’t that many people here.  Some wondered, but never asked.  They assumed I’d brought it upon myself.  As I had.  The only one who helped me and stood by me was Sheriff Kennedy.  He thinks my husband took the children and left.  I told him I’d had people search for them, but that I’d finally learned only recently that my husband had died.  The children were happy where they were and I didn’t want to disrupt that.  I was very convincing.”  Sadness etched itself across her face. 

“Now you see why I was so upset.  I like Jackson.  I think perhaps I love him, but I never dreamed he’d ask me to marry him.  What was I to say.  I’m married still.  And what would he think if he knew what I’d done.  He’d hate me.”

“If I recall you said we’d hate you too.”  Kid smiled gently. 

“He’s a good man.  You should tell him.  Give him a chance.  I’m betting he wouldn’t care about your past.  He loves you Miss Addie.  That’s all he’s seeing.”  Heyes rose and offered her his hand.

She accepted it and stood up. 

They walked her to the stairs. 

“You should try to get some rest.  We have a big day ahead of us.”

“You’re both so kind.  I’m sorry for all the lies.  I’ve been so frightened someone would learn about all this for so many years.  Perhaps you’re right.  Perhaps it really doesn’t matter.  I’ll tell Jackson when he comes tomorrow…or should I say today.  Do you suppose he’ll still come?” 

They shrugged.

“It doesn’t matter.  You both will be here.  And that’s all that matters.  Merry Christmas Joshua.  Merry Christmas Thaddeus.”  She kissed them both on their cheeks.    She started up the stairs.

“Merry Christmas Miss Addie.”  The men called after her.

She suddenly turned.  “You’re really Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry?” 

“Yes ma’am.  I’m Jedediah Curry.  He’s Hannibal Heyes.”  Kid grinned at her curious expression.

“Hannibal and Jedediah.  Good names.  Fit for the men who wear them.”  She resumed climbing the stairs, peering over the banister in front of her bedroom door.  “Thank you.  Both of you.  For coming here and for staying.  And for more than I could possibly list.  Will you stay long enough for me to know you both better.  Will you tell me who you are?  Both of you?” 

“In the morning, over a nice strong cup of your coffee.  Kid grinned at Heyes.

*****

“Kid?  You asleep?”  Heyes voice floated in the flickering light of the fireplace in their room.

“Yea Heyes I am.”  Kid grumbled back to him and buried his head further in the pillow.

“You wanted to talk to me.  Somethin’ you had to tell me.”  Heyes persisted.

“It can wait Heyes.”  Kid rolled over and covered his head with the pillow.

“Are you sure, cause I’m awake.  You think Miss Addie will be all right?”  Heyes sat up and rolled onto his side to face Kid.

Kid was silent for a moment, then propped himself up on an elbow.  “No man should treat a lady like that.  Even one who made a mistake.  Hard to imagine a man taking her kids.” 

“Yea, doesn’t seem right he’d just leave like that.  After bein’ married ten years too.  Wonder if they’re out there wonderin’ what happened to their Ma.”  There was an undertone to Heyes words that caused both men to fall silent.  “Think she’ll tell Kennedy?”

“Don’t know.  I hope so.  He seems decent enough.”  Kid settled back down.  “I bet if she just tells him, he’s gonna understand.”

“Well he’s coming for dinner tomorrow…today, so I suppose we’ll find out.  Think he’s still comin’?”  Heyes was wrestling with too many problems.  There was no possible way he could close his eyes before something was settled.  “I hope he comes.  Maybe we can talk some sense into him.”

“Yea Heyes I think he’s comin’.  I think he loves the lady and I don’t think he’s ready to give up on her.  Now, can I get some sleep.”  Kid growled at his partner. 

“No need to get proddy Kid.  I’m just worried.  That’s all.”  Heyes was quiet for a moment.  “Kid…”

“I’m still leavin’ Heyes.”  Kid lay back down and stared at the ceiling.  “I should’a left ‘fore now.  Maybe I couldn’t bring myself to.  It’s nice here.  And I like Addie a lot.  But tomorrow, I’m going.”

“I know Kid.  I just don’t know why.”  Heyes brushed the hair off his forehead.  “I know this waitin’ for the Governor to give us the amnesty is hard, but it’ll come.  It has to.  And I bet it’s soon.  And it is nice here.  And safe.” 

Kid snorted.  “Safe?  With that Sheriff around.  Yea, that’s real safe.”  He paused finally deciding to tell Heyes everything.  “I’m goin’ back to the Hole, Heyes.  I don’t know if the amnesty is gonna come or not.  I just know, I can’t keep running and hiding and getting shot and having no money.  I’m tired Heyes.  From the inside out.  Just don’t matter any more.  The Hole’s more like home than anyplace else.  Don’t try to convince me otherwise.  It won’t work.” 

Heyes sat straight up.  “You’re crazy…we can’t go back to Devil’s Hole.  It’d be giving up everything we’ve fought for, for…for over a year now.  And you think Wheat’s gonna just let you ride on in and stay?  Come on Kid, you’re not thinkin’.  Just give it a little longer.  And if nothing happens, we’ll decide what to do.  Go back to the Hole or somewhere else.  But it’s gonna happen Kid.  I know it.”

Kid didn’t speak for a moment.  When he did his voice was not angry.  It was resigned.  “You’re not listening Heyes.  I didn’t say we…I said me.  I’m goin’ back.  Alone.  Now will you let me get some sleep.”  He rolled back over and pulled the covers over his ears. 

Heyes lay there in the silent room for over an hour.  He listened as his cousin’s breathing became regular, knowing the younger man had fallen asleep.  He wished he could do the same.  Kid’s words struck him hard.  Kid couldn’t go back to Devil’s Hole.  Aside from losing any chance at amnesty, that lifestyle would get him killed.  He rubbed his face and wished he could postpone morning until he had a plan.  He finally slid down and pulled the covers up around him.  Stick with me Kid.  Just a little while longer.  He whispered to his cousin’s back.  He finally fell asleep.  But his rest was troubled with visions he kept fighting off.  Finally after waking for the fourth time to check that Kid was still there, he gave up.  Gathering his clothes, he tiptoed out of the room and went downstairs to the parlor. 

He added logs to the fire and stoked it until it blazed.  He looked at the Christmas tree sitting in the corner of the parlor and the room full of decorations.  He sighed loudly and sank onto the sofa, burying his head in his hands. 

One of these Christmas’.  It’s gonna be good.  For both of us Kid.  I just gotta work harder at figuring it out.  Weariness hit him hard and sudden.  I’ll just stretch out for a while.  He lay down and pulled the soft throw down from the back of the sofa.  Tossing it over his legs, he let himself be lulled by the warmth and the smell of pine and cinnamon, finally losing himself to sleep. 

*****

“Mornin’ ma’am.”  Kid stopped short at the head of the stairs.  He’d woken early.  Found Heyes downstairs, then quietly washed, dressed and packed.  He’d hoped to leave before the others woke. 

Addie stared sadly at the saddle bags slung over his shoulder. 

“I’m sorry Miss Addie.  It’s just something I’ve gotta do.”  Kid couldn’t meet her eyes.

She hugged him and kept hold of his hands.  “Thaddeus…no, I should call you Jedediah now.  Whatever you decide will be the right thing to do.  I’ll only say one thing.  You and Joshua are two special young men.  I don’t know all of what you’ve been through, but I know it’s been hard.  More than you such young men should have to bear.  Through it all, you’re kept your goodness.  You didn’t choose a path others in your position did.  You chose your future.  And more than anything, you’ve taken care of each other.  It would be a terrible shame for anything to pull the two of you apart.”  She stepped back from him.  “Now, I’m going to make you breakfast. And I won’t hear any argument.  If you’re set on leaving, you won’t do it with an empty stomach.  Not as long as you’re a son of mine.”  She frowned and blushed.  “You know what I meant.”  Then she turned and started downstairs.  “Come on now.  It’s Christmas.” 

Kid watched her walk down.  He thought about just walking straight out of the house.   Heyes was still sleeping.  Addie wouldn’t stop him.  Addie.  The guilt overwhelmed him.  She hadn’t even blinked when they told her who they really were.   Still treated them like they were…he looked away.  Like family.  Heyes.  He suddenly felt foolish.  He’d let things build up.  Heyes was right.  Running away wouldn’t make it better.  At least together they stood a chance.  And they were family.  All they had right now.  But someday….  No.  Someday was out there.  Today was here.  Right here in front of him.

He felt better than he had in weeks.  Like some shadow that had forced itself into his life had finally been forced out.  He started quickly downstairs to let Heyes know that he’d changed his mind.  He’d only taken a few steps when he was stopped short by his cousin racing upstairs.

The dark eyes blazed and Heyes’ forehead was creased in a frown.  “Now, I don’t want to do this, but so help me, I’m not lettin’ you leave.  If’n I have to hog tie you to that bed in there…well I don’t want to, but…well damn it Kid you’re not givin’ me any choice.  Now, we can talk this all out and figure out what to do. Later.  Maybe tomorrow or the next day.  But today, you’re stayin’ and that’s it.”  He put up two clenched fists and stared at Kid with a look challenged the man to defy him.

Kid straightened and stared back at Heyes and at the two fists that faced him with both surprise and humor.  “Think you could stop me huh.”  The blue eyes danced. 

It was Heyes turn to be surprised.  He caught himself quickly and a smile twitched at his mouth.  “Been doin’ it since you were two.  Don’t think the years changed much.”  “Well?”  Heyes narrowed his eyes at Kid.  “You gonna make me flatten ya?”

Kid tossed the saddlebag behind him and he laughed.  “Well Heyes, when you’re right, you’re right.”  He slapped Heyes on the shoulder and sauntered by him downstairs.  “Miss Addie!  I smell pancakes.  I hope you got a lot of them.  I could eat a horse!”  Still laughing loudly, he turned back.  “Well if’n you want any, you’d better get yourself down to the kitchen.”

Heyes turned, arms still upright, fists still clenched.  It worked!  I think it worked.  Why’d it work?  Heyes shook his head.  Every time he figured he knew all there was to know about Kid, the man would show him something else.  Heyes scowled.  He was very glad that he was so straightforward and uncomplicated.  Someone had to be.  “Leave some for me!”  He shouted, as he took two stairs at a time.

*****

“I can’t believe you’re really outlaws.  And such famous ones at that.”  Addie accepted another cup of coffee from Heyes and smiled fondly at both men.  “Two such sweet boys like you.” 

They both smiled, embarrassed at her words. 

They’d shared much of their story with her over breakfast and now they lingered at the table. 

“Well ma’am, there are days when I can hardly believe it myself.”  Heyes chuckled.  “But we made choices back then.  Seemed like the right ones at the time.” 

Kid nodded.  “And we’ve changed our ways.  We haven’t broken the law since the Governor promised us amnesty.”   

“It can’t be easy.  Is there some reason the Governor hasn’t granted you the amnesty yet?”  Addie had listened intently as Heyes’ had explained the agreement Lom had secured for them.

Neither man answered for a moment. 

“Don’t know what the Governor has in mind.” Kid said a bit too sharply.  Then he smiled.  “As for it being hard, well sometimes it gets…well, more times than not I’ve been ready to give up.”  Kid smiled to himself.

“And someone’s helped you learn patience?”  Addie prodded.

Kid laughed.  “Yea.  Heyes here is a master at patience.”  He laughed even louder. 

Heyes feigned hurt. 

Addie rose.  “Your folks would have been proud of you both.”

Both men were stung by the words. 

“No ma’am.  I don’t think they would have been.”  Heyes said softly.

Kid looked at him, knowing exactly what he was thinking. 

She put a hand on each of their shoulders.  “You did wrong.  But you never turned mean like some did after the war.  You protected and cared for each other.  And now you’re trying to change your lives for the better.”  She closed her hand over each shoulder firmly.  “They would have been very proud.  Now both of you go into the parlor.  I’ll just clean up in here and join you.”   She shooed them off.  “And mind you, don’t be getting into those presents.”

*****

By the time Addie joined the men in the parlor, they’d stoked the fire and lit the lamps so the room glowed.  

Later, they drove Addie into town for Christmas Day services staying with her as she purposely waited until just before the service started to go in. The two men sat on either side of her at the back of the church.  She kept her head down and refused to make eye contact with the Sheriff.  She rushed out as soon as the service ended, and before the Sheriff could reach her.   Once at home, the three sat talking and greeting Addie’s friends who stopped by from time to time to exchange gifts.  It was mid afternoon when things quieted down. 

Then Kid found a music box tucked in a corner cabinet.  He turned the key and a waltz started playing.   He bowed and offered Addie his hand.  She blushed, but accepted and he danced her around the room.  Heyes wound the box up again and took his turn. 

They finally collapsed onto the sofa laughing. 

Addie went to the kitchen to make final preparations for Christmas supper.  She hoped that her guests would come.  They hadn’t heard from the Sheriff, saying otherwise, and both men tried to convince Addie that there was no reason he wouldn’t.  They both hoped that was true. 

They sat back in their chairs and watched the fire. 

“Think it’d be all right to open a present?”  Heyes said, sneaking a look at the gaily wrapped boxes under the tree. 

“Just like when you were a kid, Heyes.  Never could wait.”  Kid grinned at him.

“And you…you tore into the presents like they was gonna up and run off.”  Heyes also smiled.  “Kid?”

“Yea Heyes.”  Kid stretched out and closed his eyes, relaxing in the comfortable room.

“You’re really not leaving?” 

Kid sighed, then frowned.  “Probably should.”  He held up his hands stopping Heyes from interrupting.  “But I’m not.  We started all this together and however it ends, I guess we should be seeing that together too.”  He frowned at the look on Heyes’ face.  “Now don’t go gettin’ soft on me.  Just makes sense.  Wouldn’t be right to disappoint old Lom after everything.  Anyway, no tellin’ what kind of trouble you’d get into without me to look after you.”

“Trou…me!  Who’s always finding ways to help people that need helpin’ and that always turns into trouble.  Who just can’t let it go.  Not me.  No sir.  Why without me you’d…”  Heyes sputtered and laughed the words out, then grew serious.  “It’s gonna happen Kid.  I know it.  Maybe not right now, but Lom’ll keep at the Governor till he has to sign it just to get rid of him.  Give it time.  We’re doin’ all right.   Maybe we can stay with Miss Addie for a while longer.  Still a lot of work to be done around here.”

Kid looked at his partner.  “That might be nice Heyes.  She’s a nice lady.  Maybe we can help her find her sons.  Can’t believe they wouldn’t want to see their Ma.”  He rose and walked to the fire, poking it until it crackled, and the flames shot up.  “Merry Christmas Han.”  He said quietly, not looking at the other man.

            The smile faded from Heyes’ face, replaced with something else.  Something he was glad the younger man didn’t see.  Something from deep in his heart.  By the time Kid had turned to face him, the smile was back on his face.  He cleared his throat and started to respond when there was a loud knock on the door. 

            “Will you boys get that.”  Addie called out from the kitchen.

            Kid walked by Heyes.  “You comin’ partner.” 

            “Right next to you partner.”  Heyes flung an arm around Kid’s shoulders.  “Better be the Sheriff.”

            “Heyes, I never thought I’d hear you say something like that.”  Kid smiled. 

            “Me neither.  Guess things are changing.”  Heyes laughed and pulled the door open.  “Well, Sheriff, Miss Rosalind, we were hopin’ it’d be you.” 

            The two entered the house shaking off snow and handing more packages to the men.  Rosalind quickly handed her coat and hat over to Kid and rushed into the kitchen.  The three men stood at the door, awkwardly waiting for someone to say something. 

            “You’d best come in.”  Heyes finally put everyone out of their misery. 

            Kennedy nodded and took another step into the house.  He didn’t remove his coat.  “Wasn’t sure if Miss Addie wanted me to come.  But Rosie was so excited…”  He let his words drift off.

            “She wanted you to come.”  Heyes smiled.

            “You gonna come in or are we all gonna freeze standing here.”  Kid reached for the man’s coat. 

            Kennedy’s face lit up.  “Well after last night…yea, I’m gonna come in.”  He handed his outer things to Kid and followed Heyes into the parlor.  “I don’t know what I said…”

            “Listen.  I think you love her and she feels the same.  But she’s got some things to tell you and they won’t come easy.”  Heyes offered him a glass of whiskey, but the man declined. 

            “And if you care about her, none of it’s gonna matter.”  Kid entered the room and stood by Heyes.

            The Sheriff looked at the two.  “She’s lucky to have you both.”  He said simply. 

            “Oh there you are Jackson.”  Addie had taken off her apron and re-pinned the curls that had gotten loose during the dancing.  “Supper will be a little while yet.   Rosalind’s promised to watch it for me.   I’d like to talk to you.” 

            “Of course Addie.”  He looked around. 

            “No.  Alone, please.”  She walked to the front door.  “Perhaps we could walk.”

            The Sheriff was at her side, holding her coat.  “Sure.  We’ll walk.” 

            Rosalind peeked out as the door closed.  “If my father doesn’t make this work out, I’m never going to talk to him again.  They’re just perfect together and he needs her.”  She glared at the men, daring them to say anything different.  When they didn’t, she nodded and returned to the kitchen. 

            “Love’s a complicated thing.”  Heyes said seriously.

            Kid nodded.  “You ever felt that way about anyone Heyes?”

            Heyes frowned, thinking back on the women he’d known.  “Not like that Kid.  Never figured I had much to offer a woman.  Bein’ on the run I mean.  No kind of life for a woman.”  He looked at his partner.  “You?” 

            “Once.”  Kid smiled wistfully. 

Heyes looked surprised. 

Kid continued.  “Never told you.  Didn’t matter.  She didn’t feel the same.  Anyway, even if she had, wouldn’t have made any difference.  We were outlaws.  Couldn’t bring a woman into that.”

            “I’m sorry Kid.  I wish I’d known.”   Heyes frowned.  “Maybe I…”

            “No.  You couldn’t.  It wasn’t meant, Heyes.  Maybe one day it will.  No sense looking back.  It won’t change anything.”  There was no sadness in Kid’s voice.  Just the reality of their lives. 

            The fire sputtered. 

“Fire’s low.”  Kid turned to his friend.

Heyes got up.  “I’ll go get some more wood.”  He walked slowly by where Kid was sitting and paused wanting to say something, but not knowing what.  “One day Kid.”

*****

            Heyes walked slowly to the neatly stacked woodpile in back of the house  His heart was suddenly heavy with what he’d heard.  Kid had found someone.  But because he’d been an outlaw he had to give her up.  That had to be it.  What was really eating at Kid.  Kid was a good man.  Women knew that.  She wouldn’t have given him up.  He had to have been the one who ended it.  Because he wouldn’t allow anyone to be in danger because of him.  He picked up a log.  This amnesty had to happen.  He looked up and whispered in silent prayer…please.

            “You all right?”

            Heyes was jolted back to earth by Kid’s voice.  “Yep.  Kid, I’m sorry.  I should’a done more to make this amnesty work sooner.”

            Kid stacked two logs onto the one in Heyes’ arms.  “Nothin’ you could’a done Heyes.  The Governor’ll sign it when he’s ready.”  He stacked more logs.  “Don’t keep chewin’ at it Heyes.  It’s not always your fault.”  He added one final log.

            Heyes knees wobbled at the load and he scowled at Kid.  “What d’ya mean not always.” 

            Kid laughed.  “You comin’?  Cold out here.” 

            “You wouldn’t want to help with this.”  Heyes sank ankle deep in snow.

            Kid started to say something but stopped and pointed towards two people standing close together by the lake where they’d gone ice skating. 

            Heyes followed Kid’s direction watching them as the man suddenly reached forward, wrapping his arms around the woman.

            “I’d say they figured it out.”  Kid turned back to Heyes.  “Say you need some help with that?”  He said innocently.

            Heyes rolled his eyes.   “Yea, thanks Kid.”  He looked at the couple in the distance and nodded.  “Looks like the Sheriff and Miss Addie got their Christmas presents early.”

*****

            The two men had finished stacking the wood by the fire and had added logs to get the blaze crackling steadily again by the time Addie and the Sheriff came into the house.

            He had his arm around her waist and they stood close together in the entryway for a minute. 

            Rosalind came running out of the kitchen.  “Well?  Did you ask her?”  She demanded of her father.

            By now Heyes and Kid had joined the others and stood watching, broad smiles on their faces.

            Both Addie and Kennedy blushed and tried not to look as though anything had happened. 

            “Father!”  The girl  stamped her foot angrily.

            Addie and Kennedy looked at each other.  “I’m happier than I can possibly say.  Sheriff Kennedy has asked me to become his wife and I’ve accepted.” 

            The girl screamed happily and ran to hug the woman.  “Oh, I knew you’d say yes.  Father was so worried…but I knew.” 

            “Congratulations, Sheriff.  You’ve found a very special lady here.”  Heyes reached out to shake the man’s hand.

            “I have to admit I was hoping you’d both be happy for us.  I’ll take good care of her, boys.”  Kennedy looked like he was going to burst with pride and happiness.

            “I have no doubt that you will Sheriff.”  Kid also shook the man’s hand.   “And now…Patrick and I can get back to our business…knowin’ our…Ma’s in such good hands.”  

            The two exchanged glances again. 

The Sheriff chuckled.  “It’s all right son.  I know you and your friend aren’t Addie’s boys.”

            The men straightened and every ounce of relaxation drained from them.            

Addie stepped forward.  “If I was to going to start a new life with Jackson, there couldn’t be any secrets Joshua, Thaddeus.  I told Jackson everything I’d done including my deception about you two and how Lom Trevors had sent you to me to help.”

            “Any friend of Lom Trevors will always be welcome in my…our home.”  Kennedy looked sheepishly at his bride to be. 

            The two outlaws breathed simultaneous sighs of relief that friends of Lom Trevors seemed to appear at just the right times. 

            The momentary quiet was broken by a loud growl from the direction of Kid’s stomach.  He folded his arms over the noise quickly.

            “Guess it must be time for supper.  Thaddeus’ stomach always knows exactly what time it is.”  Heyes joined the others in laughter as they all walked into the dining room.

*****

            Supper was boisterous.   Glasses brought together in toast after toast and the sound of laughter mingled together until it was nearly dusk.  The room emptied quickly as the group finally remembered one other tradition of this day.

            “Presents!”  Rosalind shouted as the last of the food was cleared and the plates stacked in the kitchen.  “We nearly forgot the presents!”  She ran into the parlor and dropped onto the floor in front of the tree.

            The others hastily followed laughing at the way she abandoned any pretext of being too grown up to care about presents to searching through the packages for anything with her name on it. 

            Within minutes ribbon and wrappings covered the floor.  Addie cried when Jackson offered her a small box containing a slender band of gold.  He couldn’t hide his astonishment when he opened the box containing the new hat he’d been admiring for months now, looking at the woman with wonder that she’d know it was exactly what he wanted.  There were dresses and a golden bracelet for Rosalind, books and a bottle of perfume that she happily waved under everyone’s noses. 

            The two outlaws found packages with their names on them, containing new, heavier shirts to replace the worn ones Addie had mended.   There was also a card from Addie for each of them with a hand drawn scene of the two outlaws standing in front of the house they'd spent so much time working on. 

They both felt the heft of the envelope and swallowed, not wanting to open them.  Addie insisted and they slowly opened the cards to find five shiny $20 gold pieces for each of them. 

Kid tried to hand the coin back to her.  "Ma'am, we can't take this.  Isn't right, after all you've done for us."

“Thaddeus is right Miss Addie.  Wouldn't be fair.”  Heyes hesitated only a moment before chiming in with his partner.  He knew how far that money would take them during the rest of the winter. 

“Boys, it's a trifle measured against what you've given me.  I can never fully repay you for...for giving me the courage to face my past.  And now I have a future I would never thought possible.  Money can't ever say how grateful I'll always be that you came to me when you did.”  A tear escaped down her cheek. 

            “Here now, supposed to be a happy day, no tears.”  Heyes cleared his throat and presented a package to Kid. 

            Kid stared at it then at Heyes. 

            “You gonna take it, cause I can’t take it back.”  Heyes tried to be grumpy, but he was smiling too broadly for anyone to take it seriously.

            “Yea, I’m gonna take it.”  Kid laughed and took the package.  In a second the wrapping was shredded and Kid was holding a finely tooled gun belt of a deeply tanned leather.  The buckle was a burnished brass with simple etchings on it. 

            “Thought yours was looking’ a mite worn.”  Heyes said softly. 

            Kid smiled back as him then looked down at the buckle, fingering the metal.  He frowned as he caught something etched in the lower corner and chuckled softly as his forefinger covered the tiny KC.  “Thanks Joshua.  Never had one this fine.”

            “Just see that you don’t lose it.”  Heyes said as gruffly as he could manage. 

            “Wait, I got yours.”  Kid ran towards the stairs as the others watched curiously.  “Well you always look so I hid yours under your pillow.  I’ll go…” He was interrupted by pounding on the door.

            “Well whoever could that be.”  Addie pulled the door open.  “Oh.  Oh, for Heavens sakes, Lom!  How wonderful.  And you’ve brought friends.  Come in. Please all of you, come in.”  She hugged the lawman.

            “Lom!  Now this is a surprise.”  Heyes walked to his friend as the man entered the house.

            “I expect it is. Addie, always good to see you.”  He smiled and returned the woman’s embrace. 

            “Lom.”  Kid hesitantly stretched his hand out. 

            “Oh.” 

            They all turned at the sound of the woman’s voice.  She was pale and visibly trembling.  “Patrick?   Oh…is it really you.  Michael. My sweet children.  Can it be possible.”

            The two men stepped out of the shadows of the entryway and closer to the woman.  “Ma…” The taller, dark haired one whispered.

            Then they all seemed to move at once. 

            “Patrick!  Michael!  My sweet loves.”  Addie cried out and rushed open armed to them.

            The two men met her also with arms outstretched. 

            The other people watching this scene turned away, not wanting to intrude on their moment. 

            “But I don’t understand…if they’re Miss Addie’s son’s…”   Rosalind turned to Heyes and Kid.  “…who are you?”

            Lom coughed.  “Maybe we should move in here.  Give them a little privacy.”  He led the way into the parlor.  “Well boys, I’m glad to see that you were able to help Miss Addie.  Looks like she was able to return the favor.  You’re both looking well.” 

            Both men smiled. 

            “Sheriff Trevors, I’m Sheriff Kennedy.   Heard a lot about you.  Glad we finally had a chance to meet.  And this is my daughter Rosalind.”

            They exchanged nods. 

            “Your name’s come up Kennedy.”  Lom’s demeanor indicated that had been a positive statement.  “Miss Rosalind.” 

            “You’re Sheriff Trevors of Porterville?”  The girl’s eyes were wide.  “I’ve read about you.  I still don’t understand…”

            “Quiet Rosie.  It’s a long story.”  Kennedy addressed the girl.  “Can you go make us all some strong coffee?”

            The girl frowned.  “All right.  But you’ll just have to tell me the whole story anyway.”   

            “Uh, Lom…”  Heyes grinned.  “How’d you find Addie’s sons.   She told us she’d tried but never had any luck.”

            Lom frowned for a moment.  “So everyone knows you’re not really…”

            Kid finished his thought.  “Yea Lom.  Addie told Sheriff Kennedy everything.” 

            Lom nodded. 

            Heyes smiled broadly.  “Right after he asked her to marry him.”

            “What!”  Trevors turned abruptly to the other lawman.

            “And right before she said yes.”  Kid laughed.

            “Well I’ll be…Kennedy, you’re getting yourself a fine woman.  See that you take good care of her.”  Lom’s voice was stern.

            “I intend to.”  Kennedy looked towards the woman and young men, still holding on to one another.

            “You’re really not Miss Addie’s sons?  Who are you really?  And how do you know Miss Addie?  Sheriff Trevors, were you really an outlaw?  You must know a lot of famous men?  Why I read….”  Rosalind’s re-entry was complete with a steady barrage of questions as she set the tray down. 

            “Rosalind!”  Kennedy’s voice quieted the girl.

            “Yes father.   I’m just curious.  That’s all.”  The girl’s attention was drawn to Addie and her sons, who finally entered the room.

            “It’s all right Rosalind.  I did a very foolish thing and these two men were helping me.  I’ll tell you all about it one day.”  She walked to Kennedy and took his hand.  “Jackson, I’d like you to meet my sons.  Patrick, Michael, this is Sheriff Kennedy.  My fiancé.”   

            There was an awkward moment of silence. 

            “Not sure we could call you Pa.”  Michael said looking at the man.

            “I’m not sure what to call anyone.”  Patrick said, his eyes laughing.

            “Oh good Heavens.  I haven’t introduced you all.  I was so taken…I never dreamed this day would happen.  You’ll have to forgive me.”  Fresh tears trickled down Addie’s cheeks and she held her son’s hands tighter.  “These two fine young men are my sons, Michael and Patrick.”  Her smile lit her face with happiness. 

            “I’m Jackson Kennedy and this is my daughter Rosalind.”   He approached the three slowly, gratified when the men extended their hands and welcoming smiles. 

            They all turned towards Lom, Heyes and Kid.

            “Well you all knew Sheriff Trevors, but these two wonderful young men are…”

            “No, let me do these introductions Addie.”  Lom said. 

            Heyes and Kid turned simultaneously towards him, their hearts quickening. 

            “Like you all to meet Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.”  He said simply, enjoying only for a minute the surprised  reactions on nearly everyone’s faces.

            “Lom…”  Heyes started as he and Kid moved closer together, an instinctual move developed over a lifetime of watching each other’s backs.

            There was a click as Kennedy’s gun, drawn and pointed at first Heyes then Kid was cocked.  “Don’t know what game you’re playin’ here Trevors, but it’s not funny.  Now are these two really Heyes and Curry.  Cause if so, I’ll be takin’ them into custody.”  There was no humor in his eyes and he drew his daughter behind him.

            Trevors held up his hands and laughed.  “Put it away.  These men are Heyes and Curry all right.  But it’s not what you’re thinkin’.”  He moved in front of the two men, turning back to address them.  “Sorry boys.  I couldn’t help it.”

            Kennedy didn’t move.  His eyes darkened with anger.  “Look Trevors, I know you and the Devil’s Hole Gang have more than a passing acquaintance.  I don’t know what the hell’s goin’ on here, but I do know that you sent two wanted men to help out Addie.  And you put her in danger by doin’ it.  And if there’s an explanation, I’d like to hear it ‘fore I put you all in a cell.” 

            Trevors was suddenly all serious.  “Put that thing down.  Addie was never in danger from these two men, same as no one’s in any danger now.”

            “Jackson, please.  They told me who they were just last night.  Please, put that gun down.”  Addie went to his side, her voice pleading. 

            The man wavered and finally lowered the gun.  “This had better be good Trevors.”

            Lom took a deep breath.  “Sorry boys.  Didn’t mean to scare you.  But you two have pulled so many things on me…well it doesn’t matter.  Why don’t we all sit down and I’ll tell you a story.” 

            “A story…Trevors, just say what the hell’s goin’ on and be quick about it.”  Kennedy pointed his gun back at the two outlaws.

            “Well like I said.  These two fellas are Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.  And before the Governor of the Wyoming Territories offered them an amnesty they were the most wanted men in the West.”  Lom was enjoying himself now. 

            “Amnesty?”  Kennedy’s arm dropped to his side. 

            “Yep.  If they stayed clear of trouble for a year they’d have their slates wiped clean.”  Lom turned back to the two men, who had inched closer to the entryway while he was talking.  “Come on back here boys.”

            They stopped short and looked at him through squinted eyes.  They trusted Lom.  But they weren’t sure what he was doing.

            Heyes made eye contact with Trevors and something passed between them.  He grasped Kid’s arm.  “Let’s hear him out.”

            Kid’s head jerked around to face his cousin.  “All right Heyes.  But if this turns out to be a bad idea, don’t forget whose it was.”

            Lom chuckled. 

            “Lom, please go on.  Jackson, will you please put that gun away.  Patrick, Michael, come sit by me.”  Addie took their arms and pulled them down onto the sofa with her. 

            Rosalind suddenly rushed out of the room.

            “Rosie!  What’s gotten into the girl.”  Kennedy growled at no one in particular.  He started after her, but she rushed back and pushed something at Heyes.

            “Can you sign my book?”  Her breathless question caught them all off guard.

            Heyes looked down at the dime novel.  “Desperados:  The True Story of Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.  The title glared out at him.  He looked at Kid and started laughing. 

            Kid fought it, but finally he too laughed. 

            “Rosie, come over here and stay away from those two.”  Kennedy yelled across the room.

            “But Father…”  She sulked her way to his side. 

            “Will you get on with this!”  Kennedy had lost all patience.

            Lom smiled.  “Glad to.”  He motioned for the two outlaws to come into the center of the room.

            Kid hesitated.

            Heyes put a hand on his shoulder.  “All right Lom.”  His voice was a strange mixture of concern that somehow he’d trapped them both and hope that Lom had something good to tell them.  Finally.  Part of him wanted to run out of the room  But there wasn’t any way they would outrun things now.  Whatever Lom had in mind, it was his play.

            “Well boys, before I headed to Santa Fe to find Patrick and Michael I stopped in Cheyenne to see the Governor.”  He smiled gently and reached inside his coat pocket.

            Kid slid his hand to his gun only to find he’d forgotten to put it on.  Things were so peaceful here he didn’t like to wear it inside the house.  His heart raced.

            “He said you’d have to wait a bit longer.”  Lom pulled out a carefully rolled document from his pocket. 

            Heyes felt his head spin.  No, it couldn’t be that.  Kid…Kid I’m sorry.   He felt the younger man’s presence next to him, but couldn’t look at him.

            “So you came to take us in Lom?  No other reason to bring us that piece of news.”  The bitterness was evident in Kid’s voice.  “You set this whole thing up so you’d know where we were Lom?” 

            “Kid.”  Heyes said softly.  “Let him finish.”

            “Why?  Why Heyes.  We’ve done everything the Governor wanted.  And for what.  He never meant to give us the amnesty anyway.  He just wanted us out of business.  And he got that.”  He turned angrily away from Heyes and directed a cold as ice stare at Trevors.  “So Lom, you gonna be the one to bring in Heyes and Curry?”  He brushed away Heyes’ hand.  “No Heyes.  I want to hear it from him.”

            Lom’s dark eyes blazed.  “You want to hear it from me?  That right Kid?  You too Heyes?  Think I’d do something like that?  Well I’ll tell you then.  He said you’d have to wait.  And I told him you had waited.  And waited.  And that you couldn’t wait any longer and that’s when he said I was right!”

            The three men glared at each other. 

            “What d’ya mean he said you were right!”  Heyes hollered at him.

            “He said I was right about you waiting too long!”  Lom yelled back.

            “So what’d he do!”  Kid joined the yelling.

            “He signed it!”  Lom shoved the papers at Heyes.

            “He signed what!”  Heyes took the papers but didn’t look at them.

            “The amnesty ya damn fools!”  Lom’s exasperated voice nearly shook the room.  This hadn’t gone anywhere near like what he’d planned. 

            Heyes froze.  “What?”

            Kid peered at the documents Heyes had gingerly unfolded. 

Lom’s voice softened.  “He signed the amnesty boys.  For both of you.  It’s done.  You’re both free.”  Lom expelled a great breath of finality.

            Both men looked at the papers.   And at each other.  And back at the papers.

Neither were actually seeing the words printed there. 

Heyes hands were trembling.

“Is it real Heyes.”  A shaky whisper reflected Kid’s feelings.

            Addie rushed to them.  “Oh, I’m so very happy.”  She was crying again.  “I’m so very happy for you both.”

            Heyes swallowed and finally looked at Lom.  “It’s real Lom?  Really real?” 

            The man nodded and smiled.  “Yep.  As real as us all standing here.”  His voice softened and reflected the genuine fondness he felt for the two young men.  “You did it Heyes.  Kid.  You’re both free men.  Come and go as you please.” 

            “Anywhere?”  Heyes mumbled.

            “Anywhere Heyes.”  Lom smiled broadly. 

            Heyes was trying as hard as he could to control his emotions.  He didn’t exactly know what he was feeling.  “We did it Kid.”  He finally choked out. 

            Kid’s smile engulfed his entire body.  “Yea Heyes.  We did.”  Then he started laughing.  A great laugh that filled the room. 

            And one by one everyone joined him until the walls did shake with the joyous sound of laughter and freedom and family.

*****

            Much later on, they finally bid each other good night.  Sheriff Kennedy pulled a sprig of mistletoe from his pocket and in full view of everyone kissed Addie soundly.  Everyone applauded.  Lom, Patrick and Michael lingered longer.  Addie begged them to stay, and Heyes and Kid said they could be out of the bedroom in no time.  But they said their things were back in town.  Finally they said goodbye.  But they knew this time that come morning Addie’s sons would be home at last.  At last it was just Addie and the two no longer outlaws.

            She poured them tall glasses of milk.  “To help you sleep.  I’m so happy you don’t have to run anymore.  Where will you go?”

            Heyes gulped his milk, startled at the question.  “I don’t think we ever thought…”

            Kid laughed.  “Nice mustache Heyes.”  He held up his glass of milk.

            Heyes grinned sheepishly and removed the white ring from his face.

            “I guess we hoped it’d happen, but maybe we never expected it to ma’am.”  Kid again looked at his cousin.

            “So we never really figured what we’d do if it did.”  A crease formed in Heyes forehead.  “Guess we’d better do some thinking.”

            “Will you go home now?”  She collected the glasses.

            They did not reply. 

            “I’m sorry, it’s really none of my business…” 

            “No, it’s not that…it’s just, well I’m not rightly sure we have a home anymore Miss Addie.”  Kid took a breath.

            “At least not the one we started at.”  Heyes rose. 

            “Can we help you with any of this?”  Kid also stood up.

            “No, I won’t hear of it.  I’m so full of happiness I won’t sleep tonight anyway.  You go on upstairs and get some rest.  Now there’s plenty of room, so there’s no reason for you to rush off tomorrow after Patrick and Michael come home.  Think about it all right.”  She embraced each of them in turn, kissing their cheeks.  “You know, I never thought I’d ever see my sons again and now I have them back.  But I want you both to know you’ll always be my boys too.  I want you to know you have a place here anytime you need or want it.  This is your home now.”  

            They watched her walk into the kitchen. 

            Exchanged smiles said everything they were thinking.  Home.  A mother who’d lost her sons.  Sons who’d lost their mothers.  They knew they’d more than likely not return.  It was the knowing they could that filled them with something they’d not had since a summer day in 1863.  Peace.  Like the dark being that had followed them for nearly twenty years had finally vanished. 

            They walked slowly upstairs, undressed and crawled into the beds, finding somehow Addie had managed to slip a cookie onto each pillow. 

            Chuckling, they lay in silence enjoying the last treat of the day.

            “You ever think about what you’d do if we got it Heyes?”

            “Sometimes.  You?”

            “Sometimes.  You think of a place?” 

            “Lots of them.  San Francisco would be good.  Soapy and Silky are there.  And there has to be opportunity there.”  Heyes loved the noise and constant activity of the city. 

            “Maybe Wyoming.  That’s about as close to home as we’ve had.”  Kid preferred the open spaces. 

            “Lot of folk in Wyoming won’t take kindly to Heyes and Curry being free.”

            “That might just be anywhere Heyes.”

            “Maybe we go to San Francisco and do a little celebrating.  Then we go…home.”

            “Sounds like a plan Heyes.” 

            Heyes rolled over.  “What’s this?  Somethin’ else from Miss Addie?”  Heyes pulled out a small wrapped package from under his pillow.

            “I plum forgot with everything goin’ on.  Merry Christmas Heyes.”  Kid rolled over so he was facing the other man, a funny smile on his face.

            Heyes held the package to his ear, then he looked at Kid, his own face quizzical.

            “Well you gonna open it or just hold it.”  Kid feigned exasperation.

            Heyes grinned a little boy grin and tore the wrapping aside.  His look of astonishment had Kid laughing again.  “How…where…how’d you get this?”  He whispered.

            “Heyes, if’n I told you how I did everything, why’d you need me around.”  Kid smiled.  “Think it needs winding.”

            Heyes nodded and gently wound the button at the top of the pocket watch he gave up, knowing in his heart he’d never see again. 

            “Uncle Daniel wouldn’t want it left behind.”  The younger man said quietly. 

            Heyes held it to his ear and smiled at the soft, steady tick tock.  “Kid…”  He stopped, suddenly flooded with emotions he hadn’t allowed to surface for so many years. He shut his eyes against them, but found for once he didn’t want them to go away. 

            Kid watched his cousin work through a lifetime of pain and waited for him to work through it.  “Heyes?”  He finally whispered.

            The dark eyes finally opened.  They glistened with tears.  “Kid…”  He smiled. “I guess it doesn’t have to be Kid any more does it.  And your life doesn’t have to be in a holster.” 

            “Neither does yours Heyes.  Or in that silver tongue.”  Kid swung his legs out from under the covers and sat up.

            “Thanks Jed.  Never thought I’d see this again.”  He gently put the pocket watch  on the side table.

            “Well, seemed a shame to let the banker take it.  Although it did seem funny…him bein’ a banker and all…but I figured better keep it in the family.”  Kid chuckled. 

            “Banker, huh.”  His smile flashed in the darkness and he lay back down. 

            “Yep.  Thought for a minute I recognized him.”  Kid curled up under the covers and his eyes drifted closed.  “Night Heyes.”

            “Night Kid.”   Heyes pulled the covers up to his chin and snuggled further into the feather bed.  “Kid?”            He heard a big sigh.

            “Yea Heyes.”  Kid punched the pillow a few more times till it was the way he liked it.

            “Jed?”

            Kid lifted his head from the pillow at the tone in Heyes voice.  “Yea Heyes, what is it?”

            “Merry Christmas.”

            Kid smiled into the pillow.  “Merry Christmas Han.” 

            “Kid?”

            “Heyes, Christmas or not if you don’t shut up and let me sleep I’m not gonna be responsible for my actions.”  Kid punched the pillow just a bit too hard and found feathers suddenly floating over his head.  He flipped it over and buried his face in it. 

            “No need for that kinda talk.  I was just thinkin’.  Maybe San Francisco.  For a while.  Be nice to visit as free men.  And with money.  We could stay at the Palace.  Think of it Kid.”

            “I’m thinkin’ about sleeping Heyes.”  Kid mumbled grumpily. 

            Heyes yawned and closed his eyes.   He still couldn’t quite believe everything that had happened.  They were free.  They could start over.  But would people let them.  The men whose banks and trains they’d robbed.  Would they just be willing to forgive so easily.  His eyes flew open. What if he’d just imagined…he leapt out of bed and tore at his clothes searching for the paper.

            Kid instantly alert was up, gun in hand. “What?  Heyes, what is it?”  He looked around but neither saw nor heard anything.

            “The paper.  Kid I can’t find it.  It was real wasn’t it.  I mean I didn’t just dream it all did I.  We got our amnesty.  Lom really was here.”  His voice shook.

            Kid started to laugh, but stopped himself.  He holstered his gun and knelt by his cousin.  “It’s real Heyes.  Here.”  He turned the man to the table where the two precious sheets of paper lay.  “It’s real Heyes.  It’s real.”

            Heyes held the vest he’d been searching tight in his hands, staring at the documents then back at Kid.  “We did it partner.”

            Kid nodded.  “Sure did.  Think we could get some sleep now?”

            “What?  Oh…sorry Kid.  Guess it’s just been so long…night Kid.”  He got quickly back into bed rolling tight into the covers.

            Kid once again fixed the bedding to his satisfaction and took a deep breath. 

            Heyes lay awake for a long while.  He was silent in his thoughts.  Freedom.  They could go anywhere they wanted.  Do anything they wanted.  What would they do?  San Francisco was tempting.  It never slept.  And they had friends there like Soapy and Silky who could help them get started.  But they had friends in Wyoming too.  And the chance for families.  He rubbed his eyes and rolled over onto his stomach.  They’d talk to Lom in the morning.  Maybe they couldn’t even go back to Wyoming.  San Francisco was a better choice anyway.  Sighing deeply he finally lost the battle with sleep and drifted off.

*****

            They both enjoyed long baths the next morning.  It was a luxury they weren’t accustomed to on such a regular basis.  They weren’t sure how long it would be before they’d be able to enjoy it again.  By the time they’d finished with that, shaved,  packed their things, cleaned and laid the fireplace with fresh logs it was almost 9. 

There were voices from below.  From what they could tell Addie’s sons had come by early.      

“Think we should give them some time?”   Heyes peeked over the railing.

Kid took a deep breath, his mouth salivating at the breakfast aroma drifting upward.  “Nah.  I mean, they’re gonna have a long time to get re-acquainted.  Anyway, we can’t just stay up here.”

Heyes nodded eagerly. 

Gathering their jackets and saddlebags they started down. 

            “Mornin’.  Kid entered the kitchen first. 

            Addie smiled.  “Morning, Jedediah.  Hannibal.” 

            Kid smiled.

            Heyes grinned.  He wasn’t used to hearing his given name.  But Addie had already told him that she had no intention of calling him anything other than that and he couldn’t find any good reason for arguing with her. 

            The two men at the table looked at the two men standing warily but didn’t speak.

            “Did you sleep well?  It was such an exciting day.  Patrick and Michael were here practically at first light.”  She smiled fondly at them. 

            “Guess we were eager to see our Ma again.”  Michael finally spoke.  He emphasized the words our ma only slightly. 

            Heyes smiled wistfully.  “Yes ma’am.  We slept just fine.  Your Ma is a fine woman.  Not many would’a done what she did.  Even after she knew who we were.” 

            “Nonsense.  Lom said he was sending help.  I didn’t know he was sending two angels.”  She handed them large cups of coffee.

            They men chuckled and looked at each other. 

            “Don’t rightly remember ever being called that.  You Heyes?”  Kid sat down across from Michael.

            Heyes joined him.  “Well not for a very long time anyway.” 

            “Must you leave so quickly?”  Addie put heaping plates in front of the two men.

            “They probably want to…to…well get started, Ma.”  Patrick stared steadily at Heyes. 

            “Patrick’s right.  Kid’n me should be heading out.  You three have a lot of years of catching up to do.”  The longing was back in Heyes’ voice. 

            “Well I mean you don’t have to leave right away…I know you’ve both done a lot for our Ma and we’re grateful.”  Patrick smiled at Heyes.  “Stay through the holidays why don’t you?” 

            Michael chimed in.  “The weather’s still bad, travel would be easier then.”

            “And we can get to know each other better.”  Addie sat next to her eldest son. 

            There was a knock on the front door. 

            Addie sighed.  “I seem to be having more company now than ever in my life.”  But there was a contented smile on her face.  “And I’m not complaining one bit.”

            Lom and Sheriff Kennedy entered the kitchen.

            “Jackson!  And Lom.  My two favorite sheriff’s.”  Addie kissed Jackson on the cheek. 

            “Ours too.”  Heyes teased, then grew serious.  “It’s still all right isn’t it Lom?”

            “Course it is.  Governor knows what’d happen if he went back on this.”  Lom’s cryptic response was not missed by either Heyes or Kid.  “Anyway, got a telegram this morning.  Governor wants you both back in Cheyenne as soon as I can get you there.  Seems he thinks this is important enough to throw a real big shindig at the Mansion.  He’s planned it for the Sunday after the New Year.  If we leave on today’s stage, we should be able to catch the train in Santa Fe.  If the weather holds, we should just make it.”

            “Oh.  We were just trying to talk Hannibal and Jedediah into staying.”  Addie looked at Lom.  “Isn’t there some way to delay it?”

            “Sorry Addie, Governor’s got his heart set on it.  Not to mention half of his staff running around like chickens with their heads cut off to get things ready.  Stage leaves in a couple of hours boys, probably best you finish up breakfast and say your good byes now.”  Lom put his hat back on.  “Addie…take care of yourself.  Boys, if’n she doesn’t see to it that you do.  I’ll be on the porch.”  He hesitated just a moment.  “Uh, Jackson, somethin’ I’d like to talk to you and Addie’s boys about.” 

            They didn’t move.

            Lom was a bit more forceful as he continued.  “On the porch.” 

            Kennedy straightened, understanding.  “Course.   Come on boys.” 

            The younger men rose hesitantly, but followed the others out. 

            “I’ll give it to Lom.  He’s about as subtle as a stick of dynamite.”  Kid got up and walked over to Addie.  “Don’t think I know enough words to say thank you.”  He hugged her.  “I’ll leave that to my cousin.  All I’ll say is I’m glad things worked out.”  He hugged her again.  “And thank you.” 

            “Please take care of yourself.   I….”  Her eyes filled as she held his face.  “I learned to hate saying goodbye.  So I won’t say it to you.  God bless you and keep you safe. Be happy, Jedediah.” 

            “Yes, ma’am.  Not much at goodbye’s myself.”  His voice was choked.  He quickly hugged her again.  “I’ll be outside.” 

            She came and sat beside Heyes who finally looked at her and smiled. 

            “Guess it’s down to you and me.”  He said as he made eye contact.

            She nodded.  “Hannibal, you have so much ahead of you.  Put the past behind now.  Those shadows are gone.  I know you’ll take care of Jedediah.   But take care of yourself too.  Let go of some of that weight you choose to carry on your young shoulders.  You both made choices and you’ll continue to make them.  Some good.  Some not.  That’s the way of life.  I can tell you this.  The type of men you are.  What’s in your hearts, well your folks would have been proud of you both.”

            He looked up sharply.  “No ma’am.  I told you.  They wouldn’t.  We’ve done things they would have been ashamed of…”  His voice cracked. 

            “And you’ve changed.  You’re different men than you were when you began outlawing.  But I know…and don’t argue with me young man…I know what you both are.  And I’m proud to know you.  And to have been able to call you my sons.  Even for a little while.”  She grasped his hand.

            “Thank you Addie.  We’re trying to change, to lead lives maybe our folks would have been proud of.  With the amnesty, well maybe we have a chance at something new.  I’d like to give Kid a chance at a family.”  He tightened his hold on her hand.  “Patrick and Michael are very lucky to have you Addie.”  He looked away, momentarily caught up in something that might have been.

            “Right now I feel like I’m the luckiest woman alive.  Not only did I get my sons back, but I had a chance to know you.  And Jedediah.”  She smiled softly at his expression. 

            “Don’t know if I’d call that luck ma’am.”  He grinned. 

She was quiet for a moment.  “Did I ever tell you that Esperanza Nueva, roughly translated means new hope?  I think you’ve always carried hope with you my dear, even in the darkest times.  Perhaps you’ve been afraid to let it out. Don’t be afraid any longer.  You and Jedediah hope for everything wonderful.  That’s what I’ll be hoping for you both.”   She slowly released his hand and stood up.

            He quickly followed, clutching his hat in front of him. 

            “Are you just going to stand there?  Or do I get a hug?”  She smiled and reached out to him.

            He grinned and embraced her.  “Thank you.”  His husky whisper was barely loud enough to hear.  He held on, not wanting her to see his own dark eyes filling with tears.

            She drew back.  “It’s all right to let it out, son.”

            He looked down and smiled.  “Just don’t tell Kid.  Never live it down.”

            “Of course.”  She whispered back.  “It’ll be our secret.  I’ll walk with you.”  She took his arm.

            He pushed the dark hair off his forehead and settled his hat on.  Covering her hand with his own, they joined the others.

*****

            Kid and Lom had saddled the horses and they stood calmly in the morning sun.  It was a cold, but clear day. 

            Addie linked an arm with Kennedy.  “I was telling Hannibal how lucky I am Jedediah.  In Patrick and Michael’s return and in knowing you boys as well.  Remember, you’ll always be my boys.”

            “You boys ready?”  Lom fastened his heavy coat. 

            The two men looked at each other and then at Lom and simultaneously said Yep.

            Laughing, they mounted their horses and turned heading towards town. 

            They stopped at the edge of the property to turn and wave one last time at the group still on the porch. 

            “Let’s go Lom.”  Kid shouted as he spurred his horse forward.

Heyes laughed and raced to catch up.  “We got a future to get to!”