Kid had misread the train schedule. Again. They had arrived at the station an hour earlier than necessary which was an hour that Heyes could have slept through. To make up for the lost hour of sleep and to pass the extra time, Heyes found a bench out of the way of most of the passenger traffic, stretched his feet out in front of him, pulled his hat down over his eyes, leaned back and proceeded to return to a semi state of conscienceness. Kid resigned himself to the other end of the bench where he watched other passengers slowly assemble in the station. Then he, too, dozed off.
Kid woke in time to see a young woman enter the station towing a small boy by one hand and juggling a couple of bedraggled pieces of luggage in the other. She deposited the luggage and the child in a chair across from their own bench before approaching the ticket window. The boy sat in the chair only a few moments before he wiggled down to stare at Heyes’ outstretched body while standing just a few feet in front of man’s crossed boots.
"But, sir, he is just a little boy. I don’t understand why he would have to have a ticket." The soft weary voice pleaded, with whom? Heyes slowly realized the voice was not in a dream but was an actual person in the station. Slowly he pushed his worn black hat back and willed his eyes to open. In his dazed state he couldn’t be sure the figure before him was real or a remainder of a dream. It seemed like, what was that word? Deja vu. He felt like he was staring into a still pool of water and the reflection staring back was his own as a mere child, not much beyond the toddling stage.
"Well, ma’am you could hold the child on your lap but in your condition I’d say that would be extremely uncomfortable for both of you." The station master continued reasoning with the distraught lady.
"Did my husband wire any money for the child’s passage? He was to send money for our journey. He assured me there would be enough for tickets and incidentals," the young woman continued in her spent voice. "Please check to see if you have anything for Mrs. Heyes, Rachel Heyes."
Heyes’ eyes widened as the woman’s name reached his ears and his body straightened against the back of the bench. The vision in front of him remained unwavering, the warm dark brown eyes staring hard at him. Heyes noted the condition of the child’s clothing as being threadbare and a size or two too large for the small frame that wore them. The youngster desperately grasped at a piece of stick candy that itself looked well worn.
The station master reported back to the woman after searching for the elusive money or ticket. "Sorry, Mrs. Heyes, there is nothing," his voice starting to adopt an impatient tone.
"How much is a ticket for the child?" a familiar masculine voice asked the station master.
Heyes unwillingly turned his attention to the window where he witnessed Kid inquiring about the ticket price. He’s butting in where he doesn’t belong. Again. The thought fleetingly crossed through Heyes’ mind. He focused on the figure next to Kid, a small framed woman wearing a neat but tired outfit that ill fit her, seemingly too large in parts and too tight in other areas. Then he realized the woman was with child, not in the cumbersome late stages of pregnancy, but in the intermediate area of definite roundness. Glancing back to her face he frowned, something was distressingly familiar about her. But what? She seemed almost frail and lacked the glow that often accompanies pregnancy, her brown hair was dull as if she had been riding dusty trails. The brown eyes were awash with unshed tears as she watched Kid reach into his wallet and extract the amount of money needed for the child’s train ticket. What did she say her name was? Mrs. Heyes?
"Thank you, sir, I’m afraid I can not possibly repay you. You see, I had expected my husband to wire me some money, but for some reason it is not here." Her tone had changed from weariness to one of gratitude. She managed to smile at the good-natured blond headed man, known to some as Kid Curry, a notorious bank and train robber; he smiled back. His smile brought color to her thin cheeks.
"That’s okay, ma’am, uh, Mrs. Heyes, my pleasure to help you," Kid responded graciously.
Suddenly the boy ran to his mother and tugged at the rounded skirt. "Mama," the small voice clamored, "Mama, look!" To Heyes amazement, the child pointed to him and he stood ready to defend himself against anything the child might blame on him. "Daddy," the child voice claimed.
Heyes was not ready for that charge and he felt his own face grow flush with the misidentification. He waited to hear the mother explain to her small son that the strange dark-haired man was not his father but merely a stranger that resembled his father. He heard nothing and did not even see the woman’s lips move with such an explanation. Instead she picked up the child and stared in Heyes’ direction. Her eyes took on a far away look as she assessed his features. Heyes felt a shock rush through his body as his chocolate brown eyes met her own large moist brown eyes. Rachel! The name and face finally registered with the outlaw and drug him backwards in time. How long ago? Three years? No, four years ago he had spent considerable time with a young delicate woman, a whore, by the name of Rachel. Could it possibly be. . . her?
"Hello, ma’am, my name is Joshua Smith," he heard his own baritone voice introducing himself as he approached the woman. He extended his hand to the woman. She took the time to set the boy down before grasping his hand in her own in a routine handshake that seemed awkward, but the warmth and strength of the hand empowered her with a renewed confidence.
"I’m Rachel, eh, Heyes," she offered blushing with her own introduction. But her eyes steadily searched his for a recognition of the borrowed surname. She thought she detected a glint of interest in the handsome features that she knew she would never forget, or be unable to recognize, as the father of her first born. What did he claim his name was? Smith, Joshua . . . she let that name settle into her memory.
"Mama?" the tug came from about her knees. "Is it?" the young voice asked in a childlike whisper.
"This is Joshua Smith, hon," the woman’s face lit up when she knelt to speak to the child. "He does look a great deal like your father," she whispered back. The mother straightened the child’s shirt then hugged him tight, hiding tears from the youngster’s eyes. "Are you ready for a train ride?" she asked when she felt she had sufficiently gotten a grasp on her emotions. Damn mood swings! How was she going to manage this? She had dreamed of this encounter for over three long years, yet she was so completely unprepared. What happened to all of those speeches she had practiced and polished. Would he even remember her at all or was she just a plaything to him, useful for a brief period in his life? She stood to face him again.
"I’m sorry, Mr. Smith, if my son has caused you any embarrassment or offended you. He has never met his father but has heard my description of him every day of his young life, like a bedtime story. He desires so much to see the man, almost as much as I do." The youthful mother had become more animated since she first approached the station master, as though something inside of her had awaken from a deep slumber. Heyes did not wonder what that awakening was but was speculating how long she would be willing to continue her charade.
"No harm done, Mrs. Heyes," Joshua smiled down at her, now marveling at how much her features had changed and softened since her son had pointed to him declaring Heyes as his father. She looked more like the woman he had fallen in love with those four years ago.
"Come, Harrison, it’s time to board the train!" she smiled at the waif who held her hand and turned to retrieve her luggage.
"Let me help, Mrs. Heyes," Joshua found himself relieving her of one of her cases as he claimed his own carpetbag and saddlebag from under the bench.
I’ll take the other one for you, Mrs. Heyes. Can you handle the boy okay?" Kid asked earnestly as he rescued her from the remaining bag.
"I’ll be fine, Mr.…?" she frowned realizing she did not know his name or at least could not recall it. Or, did she? Hannibal had often described his charming cousin, Kid Curry, to her and warned her to stay clear of him as he gathered women and broke hearts on a daily basis with his sky blue eyes, blond curls and flirting smile.
"It’s Thaddeus Jones, ma’am," Kid supplied with an amused smile. He found Mrs. Heyes and young Harrison intriguing. Whatever could his cousin think of this woman, who calls herself Mrs. Heyes, traveling in a delicate condition with a young son, Harrison, minus the company of an irresponsible husband? Kid stole a glance at Heyes and discovered his was not a look of amusement but one of deep concentration. Kid awaited the inevitable reproach that would surely come from Heyes for Kid involving them in this woman’s problems. What else could he be so upset over? The child mistaking him for his father? Well, maybe he should be worried, thought Kid, they do look a lot alike.
The woman settled the boy in a forward facing window seat before sitting in the seat next to him. "Do you mind if we join you?" Joshua questioned before he flipped the seat back in front of her to face the woman and child. Thaddeus was mildly surprised by Joshua’s continued interest in the woman.
She nodded her approval, "By all means," her smile betraying her obvious joy. She seemed more relaxed once actually on the train and even excited when it pulled away from the station.
"Where are you headed, Mrs. Heyes?" Joshua opened the conversation smiling at her yet eyeing the boy who took turns looking out the window and staring at Heyes.
"Please call me Rachel." She couldn’t wait to hear his baritone say her name again, wondering if it would still sound the same. "I’m going to stay with my sister, at least until after the baby is born. She lives in Manitou Springs." Turning slightly to face Mr. Jones she continued, "Mr. Jones, I owe you an apology. I wasn’t exactly truthful with you back there at the ticket counter."
"How’s that, Mrs. Heyes?"
"Please, it’s Rachel," she corrected. "I knew there wasn’t any money or tickets waiting for me. I. . I haven’t seen Mr. Heyes for sometime." She looked at her hands for a moment before finishing, "I was trying to get to that man’s good side, hoping he would just let Harrison on. I just barely had enough to pay for my own ticket yesterday afternoon. You see it is rather hard for me to find work." She chanced a glance at Heyes to see if he would make any comments to her confession or profession. He did not. He just watched her with what she hoped was great interest.
"When is your baby due, Rachel," Heyes let the name escape and was surprised at the small rush he got from saying it. Almost as good as the tingle he felt from her uttering his own name. He thought he detected a slight spark in her eyes at the sound of her name.
"In a little more than three months, Mr. Smith."
"Call me Joshua," and he added, "and he’s Thaddeus." The smile that followed crossed the chasm between them and showed up on Rachel’s face. "The little one must have gotten up early," Joshua motioned to the now sleeping form of the child. Even asleep he looked like Heyes.
Thaddeus rose to excuse himself to search for food in the dining car. "Would you like me to get you anything, Rachel? Or something for the boy?"
"No, thank you, Thaddeus, you’ve already done plenty for us," she replied gratefully.
After Thaddeus walked from the car, Joshua leaned forward and took Rachel’s hands in his own. Rachel was surprised by the move but more so by the question that followed. "Is the boy my son, Rachel?" he asked softly, barely above a husky whisper.
She couldn’t hide the emotions she was feeling and the tears streamed down her cheek. Damn! She felt a gentle tug at her hands and she rose to join Heyes. He gently pulled her towards him and she instinctively buried her face in the security of his hold, tears surely wetting his shirt. He allowed her this release for a time then offered her a handkerchief and whispered into her hair which was softer than it looked at the station, "Did you think I wouldn’t remember you? I could never forget those weeks I spent in your company back in Wyoming four years ago. I’m sorry I left you without a word, but it was pointed out to me at the Hole that my actions were becoming very predicable, a dangerous thing for a wanted man. Then Kid, the Gang and I went on a robbing spree and by the time we returned to the area, you were gone. I asked about you in different places, for sometime, but then realized it was better if I didn’t think about you. I haven’t visited a whore house since." He stroked the loose brown tresses and planted a tender kiss amongst them.
With some control Rachel’s soft voice answered his question, "I have always believed he is your son, I discovered I was pregnant just shortly after you left and you were the only man I was with during that time. I know you may not believe that, but it is the truth. After you left I could not stand that dirty little town any longer so I moved on to another equally depressing town. I continued on with my profession and despite all the girls pleading for me to give the baby away, I could not. He looked so much like you." She gazed lovingly across to the sleeping child. "I got pregnant again, a big mistake, but it made me decide that being a whore is not what I want. I decided the best thing to do would be start fresh somewhere new, hence my exodus to Manitou Springs. I started calling myself Mrs. Heyes to keep the stares down and few have questioned me." She risked looking into Heyes’ face which had remained close to hers, nearly forehead to forehead. "I have told Harrison every night about how much I loved you and I describe you to him in great detail, leaving out the part that you are a wanted man. Wherever we are, he looks for men to fit the description. Today was the first time he had felt he had succeeded."
"He’s a bright child, Rachel, insightful even." With his finger under her chin he titled her face to look into his eyes. They shared a quiet moment staring into the familiar eyes from the past and then he kissed her slightly parted lips. They were salty with tears yet they too were familiar and he allowed himself to explore and enjoy the long time dormant feelings their taste was awakening.
A stirring from the boy brought them both to their senses. "What are you going to tell him?" Heyes asked Rachel in a whisper, both of them watching the sleeping three year old.
"The same thing I’ve been telling him, I guess. It is the truth, mostly." She let a sigh escape.
"Perhaps by the time he is old enough to understand why I could not stay with you, I will be a truly free man. The Kid and I have asked for amnesty," he whispered into her ear. "Perhaps then I can reintroduce myself to him." They sat together for a while with their fingers intertwined, Rachel’s head leaning against Heyes’ shoulder, rocking to the gentle motion of the train and watching the napping child.
The time was not long enough, soon the euphoric spell was broken with the return of Kid who came offering tidbits to Rachel and the now awakened Harrison. Beef sandwiches and apples were soon distributed to them and Kid was amazed at the joy Heyes seemed to experience while watching the pair devour the offerings. The rest of the day passed with light talk that was often geared to the level a three year old could understand. At one point Heyes had moved to Rachel’s original seat leaning in close to Harrison, pointing out landmarks through the window and weaving tales about animals native to the area. Too soon they pulled into the Manitou station. Heyes and Kid helped Rachel and Harrison disembark to the train platform.
Kneeling down Heyes looked into the soulful deep brown eyes of the child, his son, "Harrison, you are a smart boy. I hope you understand that wherever your father may be or travel, he will be thinking of you and that he loves you and your mother." The boy threw his arms around his father’s neck and squeezed with all the might of a three year old. The man hugged the child back then released him to his mother.
"Good luck, Rachel Heyes." Joshua spoke in a solemn voice. Rachel relished hearing the baritone utter her name once more with the addition of his own name connected to hers. "Know in your heart that Mr. Heyes loves you as much as a man in his position can." Without thinking about it, he gathered her in his arms, one last time, for that long overdue good-bye. The kiss was longer than what mere acquaintances would feel comfortable with but that lovers would relish and wish for more. He gently let her expanded being go, in time to hear a feminine voice call to her from down the platform. She turned to acknowledge her sister then turned back around to say thanks and good-bye but found that only Thaddeus remained on the platform; Heyes had retreated to the refuge of the train.
Thaddeus smiled weakly at the lady he had come to the aid of, confusion clearly etched on his brow. "Good-bye Rachel," was all he could safely say. He shook hands with Harrison and ruffled his hair. "You remind me of someone. Be good, okay?" And with the chuffing of the train signaling its departure Kid grabbed a handrail and easily swung aboard.
Returning to his seat Kid found Heyes had flipped the seat around and was sitting near the window watching the platform move by. Kid lowered himself into the seat next to him letting out a sigh.
"Thanks Kid," Heyes’ mumbled appreciation was barely audible.
"Thanks for what, Joshua?" Kid responded in a normal voice scarcely looking at the solemn figure beside him.
"Thanks for buying my son a ticket."