WILD HORSE ADVENTURE

SHARON KENNISON

 

 

          He had been sitting here for more than an hour, waiting and watching to see if this was a trap, if there was anyone out there.  But so far he had not seen anything, ‘cept for the lone horse in the meadow.  The tall, dark-headed man shifted trying to get into a more comfortable position, but finally gave up that task.  The day was dark and gloomy and had been threatening to rain since morning. But over the last few hours the temperature had started to drop and the wind had shifted to the northwest, bringing with it a hint of snow.  Great he thought. Stuck here, alone, and snow on the way.  How much better could it get?

          Hannibal Heyes was not someone who needed to be surrounded by a crowd, but he was used to having his partner along for conversation. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry had been partners for many years now, and had developed a knack of knowing what the other needed or thought, often before they had said or thought it.  They traveled around together, looking for work, or looking for ways to avoid work and still eat, and waited for the Governor of Wyoming to grant them their amnesty.  They were staying out of trouble, but so far no amnesty had been granted. So they continued to travel around, occasionally having to dodge a posse or leave town in a hurry.  Lately that had been happening a lot, which was why they had decided to separate and travel alone.  A posse had gotten too close outside of Denver, so the pair had decided to take different routes to Porterville, where they planned on talking to Lom Travers, to see if there was anything new on the horizon.  Heyes knew it was still a week until he was due in Porterville, a week which was going to be very long indeed.

          Which is how he ended up where he was currently.  He had spotted the horse in the meadow and, as they were more comfortable being with other horses instead of being alone, was trying to decide if it was a trap or if there was something wrong with the horse.  Heyes had earlier walked around looking for footprints, but had only seen one pair, and they always were headed towards the meadow and away again.  If the horse was hurt, he was an easy prey for predators, including the cougar.  Heyes had been on the receiving end of a cougar attack, and didn’t wish that on a living animal.  If Kid hadn’t been there, well Heyes wouldn’t have been here today. 

          After another thirty minutes, Heyes decided that this was not a trap, and eased from his position to walk into the meadow.  He had ground-hitched his horse earlier, and from where he stood he could see his horse munching on the thick grass of the meadow.  He deserved some good grass, thought Heyes, after all the hard work he has done recently.  Heyes’ eyes turned back towards the horse in the meadow.  He was a magnificent animal, at least 15 hands tall. Powerful muscles rippled underneath his coat and his ears were pointed, on alert for danger. He was constantly moving his head to be able to view the land from all directions.  His coat shown like the sun on a July morning and he had 4 white socks.  When he turned his head towards Heyes he could see a brilliant white blaze running the length of his face.  Heyes could see old scars on his sides, which indicated this horse was probably part of a herd of wild horses.  Something which was seen less and less these days.  Civilization was encroaching into the once open lands and that meant less room for the wild creatures.  In watching the horse, Heyes had noticed that he favored his right front leg, limping very badly.  Whether it was a bruise or broken, he had no way of knowing unless he could get close enough to the animal to examine it.  And that could prove be a difficult task.

          Heyes worked his way to the animal, moving very slowly so as to not frighten him any more than he already was.  While he moved, Heyes kept an ear alert for any sounds of approaching creatures, both four legged as well as two. When he was within 20 feet of the animal, Heyes started talking softly to him.  He usually seemed to have a way with horses and was now using this gift to try to calm the nervous animal.  Let’s hope his silver tongue was working today.

          He continued to ease towards the animal.  With his hurt foot, the animal was having trouble moving away, as he obviously wanted to do.  His eyes were white and he was snorting frequently, his breath coming out in puffs of white in the lowering temperature. Heyes was feeling pretty good with himself, having reached a distance of about three feet, when he heard the cock of a gun behind him.  He stopped moving, silently cussing himself for missing the sound of someone approaching.  Nothing seemed to be going right for him today.

          “Stop right there and don’t move,” came a definitely female voice from behind him.

          “Well, I’m not moving right now.  A gun at my back and a wild horse in front of me, leaves me no place to go.”  Heyes put his hands in the air, moving slowly still trying to not frighten the horse in front of him.  He didn’t want to be on the receiving end of a sharp hoof.

          “Step to your right, slowly, now move.”

          Heyes took several steps to his right and stopped.  He figured he could now take a look at the person holding a gun on him, so he turned around. 

          She was tall, almost as tall as he was.  Wrapped in a heavy coat against the chill of the day, and a hat pulled down almost to her eyes kept him from seeing anything else about her, but he could tell that she was not skinny.  Gloves covered her hands and boots protected her feet.  But what he did notice were her eyes, the color of coffee with a hint of milk, looking directly at him.  And in those eyes he saw……pain, age, tiredness.  Someone who had seen too much and done too much for someone her apparent age.  But he also saw wariness. She only broke her gaze to glance at the horse, and than her eyes changed to compassion, love, and tenderness.  And in that moment Heyes wondered what it would be like to have someone look at him in that way.  Something he had never had, at least not since he had lost his parents, but had longed for over the years.  Mentally he shook himself, guess it was from too many nights alone and too much time to think.  Kid always told him that he thought too much, maybe he was right.

          “What’s your name?” Heyes asked the woman.

          She looked back at him, “Doesn’t matter. What are you doing here and what did you think you were going to do to this horse?”

          Heyes shook his head. “Nothing. I saw him here and was afraid he was hurt, so I was coming down to take a look and try to help if I could.”

          She laughed but the laughter didn’t reach her eyes.  “Like King would let you get that close.”

          “His name is King? Did he tell you that?”

          She shook her head. “No, that is what I have been calling him, cause he is such a regal animal. I come down here several times a day to check on him, bring him feed and make sure he is doing well.  He has let me touch his muzzle, so it won’t be long before I will be able to take him home.”

          Heyes had been listening and hearing what wasn’t said. Loneliness. Now there was something that he understood.

          Risking getting shot, Heyes started to lower his hands, drawing the attention of the woman back to him.  “Don’t try anything, ya hear.”

          “Oh I won’t. It is just that my arms were getting tired, and I figured you could shoot me with them down just as easy as you could with them up.” Heyes ended the sentence with a small smile on his face, one that wasn’t lost on the woman.

          “What’s your name?” she asked.

          “Joshua, Joshua Smith.”

          She nodded, “Joshua. That’s a good name. My brother….” But the sentence was never finished.  She used the gun barrel to point in the direction of Heyes’ horse.  “You should go now before…”

          A clap of thunder followed by a lightening strike near them shook the ground, causing the wild horse to rear and Heyes’ horse to bolt.  Heyes started to chase his horse but realized it was a losing battle. Gone was his gear, his rifle, and his extra clothes and coat. And now the rain, which threatened all day, started to pour. The wind kicked up and threw the rain into his face, stinging pelts of water, which made it hard to see. Great, another wonderful event to make his life more miserable. Where was Kid?

          The woman pulled her collar up against the rain.  She picked up the sack, which lay at her feet and poured out the contents onto the ground. She knew that King would find it later, but for now she needed to get back home.  Glancing again at the stranger, she quickly and deftly ran back up the slight incline to where her horse was tied.  Tucking away her rifle and putting a foot in the stirrup, she easily lifted herself up and settled into a wet saddle.  Gathering the reins, she started to turn away, but gave a quick glance towards the man still standing in the rain. A battle raged inside her head as to what to do, but she knew in her heart that she couldn’t leave him stranded out here. It was a good ten miles to the next town, and with this weather he would be dead before morning. Sometimes she wondered about herself. 

          She turned her horse in the direction of Heyes, who was trying to decide what to do next.  Walking her horse down the incline, she stopped in front of him and removed a boot from the stirrup.  Heyes looked up at her, not believing what he saw.

          “Well, are ya gonna to take all day or are we going to get out of this rain?”

          Heyes didn’t need a second invitation.  He put his boot into the awaiting stirrup, and gripping the saddle horn hoisted himself up behind the woman.  As soon as he was settled behind the saddle, the woman turned her horse back up the incline and put him into a gallop.  Heyes wrapped his arms around the woman, shut his eyes, and buried his face in her back to try to protect himself for the driving rain.  He had no idea where they were headed, but figured it couldn’t be worse than being left stranded afoot out here in this weather.  Time would tell.

          Heyes didn’t look out until he felt the horse stop moving, than glanced up to see a cabin in front of him.  Figuring they had reached their destination, he dismounted and waited for his companion to get down, but she turned her horse towards the barn. Once there, she dismounted and opened the door, disappearing to the barn.  Heyes wasn’t sure what to do, but decided to risk entering the cabin alone.  Anything was better than being outside in this mess, which had turned to first sleet than snow during their ride. Inside the cabin, Heyes saw that it was warm and inviting.  A fire was burning softly in the grate, and a pot was simmering over the fire, causing the entire cabin to be filled with an inviting aroma.  This caused Heyes to realize that he hadn’t eaten all day, and his stomach grumbled in protest of this event.  Thick quilts covered the bed and pillows were pilled up on top of the quilts.  What looked like miniature curtains covered the windows, and these now were pulled open, letting in what light was available.  Jars of preserves were stacked on shelves along the wall.  Another rifle was standing beside the fireplace, in case it was needed.  A rocking chair and an old overstuffed chair faced the fireplace.  In the kitchen, a definitely well worn table sat in the center surrounded by four mismatched chairs.  On the counter there sat a pie, which if he wasn’t mistaken was apple.  So she could bake.  That might make for a pleasant evening. Potatoes were in a bin, and various pots and pans were stacked up on other shelves.  She obviously had been living here for a while now.  But Heyes knew from looking around that there wasn’t a man living here.  In fact, he believed that she lived here alone.

          Heyes glanced up as the woman came through the door.

          “What are you doing?  Get over here and take those boots off, you are tracking up my floor. You want to mop it?” She kicked off her own boots and placed them beside the door.

          Heyes was red-faced, having forgotten to remove his boots upon entering the cabin.  Years of hotel rooms had caused him to forget many of the manners, which his mother taught him all those years ago.  “I am so sorry,” he said as he walked back over to the door. He too removed his boots and placed them beside the door.

          The woman had removed her coat and hat, placing them on the hooks so they could drip onto rags and dry.  Heyes followed suit, aware for the first time just how drenched his coat was, not to mention his jeans. He looked up at the woman, getting to see her completely for the first time.  She had long dark brown hair, which she tied back out of her face.  Flannel shirt was tucked into jeans, and white socks covered her feet.  She had long, slender hands, which he could tell were callused and toughened from work.  She had picked up a poker and was encouraging the flames to grow.  Shortly the temperature inside the room increased, and the flames cast shadows on the walls.  Heyes hadn’t realized how dark it had gotten since they arrived. 

          The woman stood and walked to the windows, closing the curtains and blocking out the snowstorm which had developed outside.  She turned to face the man, not sure what would happen now, but sure that whatever it was, she could handle it.

          Heyes had to admire the woman.  Obviously living alone, all the way out here, tending for herself and her stock. And for the willingness to help a stranger, something he seldom saw these days.

          “I want to thank you for helping me out and not leaving me there.”

          She shook her head.  “Didn’t do it for you, did it for me.”

          Heyes didn’t understand. “How’s that?”

          She met his gaze.  “I couldn’t live with myself if I had left you stranded out there. So I did the only thing I could.  But just remember, I do know how to use my gun and I will if I have to.”

          Heyes had no doubts that this was true.  He nodded his head in understanding. He also liked the way that she had cared for her horse before anything else, this showed character. And character was something he liked in a person.

          “Well, I can’t go on not calling you something, so would you mind telling me your name?”

          She looked at Heyes for a few seconds, than spoke. “Chris. My name is Chris.”

          “Well, nice to meet you Chris.” Heyes glanced around the cabin.  “Nice place you have here. Very comfortable and inviting.”

          “Well, I like it. It is home.”

          “Are your parents going to be home soon?”

          He instantly saw her face shut down.  “They are dead.” And her tone was that that was the end of that conversation.

          Heyes heard a scratching at the door of the cabin.  Chris started towards the door, than stopped.  "You might want to move over by the fireplace.”

          Heyes figured it would be in his best interest to do as she requested, so he moved, standing with his back to the fire.  A very nice place to be.

          When Heyes was away from the door, Chris opened the door a crack, just far enough to allow the entrance of the largest dog that Heyes had ever seen.  A head the size of a horse and piercing eyes turned towards Heyes.  He could hear a growl coming from deep inside the dog, and feared he would be on the receiving end of those sharp teeth showing fiercely. He figured that an attack by this dog would make the cougar attack seem mild.  He tried to not show fear, but was not very successful at this attempt.

          Chris had reached down and was talking to the dog, patting his back and rubbing his ears.  The fierce dog looked up at Chris and licked her cheek, looking back at Heyes with a you had better watch it look. Heyes understood all to well the message the dog was saying.  Chris stood up and looking at Heyes said, “You will be alright, as long as you don’t make any sudden moves.”

          “No sudden moves, got it.”

          Chris was not used to having strange men in her cabin, heck she wasn’t used to having anyone in her cabin, so was not sure what to do next.  The darkening skies were no indication of the time.  She figured it was going to be a long night.

          “You might as well sit down and get comfortable.” 

          Chris walked around the chair, headed to the kitchen.  The dog managed to stay between Heyes and her, keeping a wary eye on Heyes the entire time.  Heyes started to drop into the overstuffed chair, but realized if he did that he would get the chair all wet. One blunder a day was enough, or had he done two today? He was starting to lose count.

          “So you never told me what you were doing out this way.”  Chris was adding wood to the cook stove, trying to coax a fire into starting.

          “Just riding around. I am suppose to meet a friend in Porterville next week. Until then, just moving around, trying to find some work.”  Heyes remained standing but had turned his back towards the fire, in the hopes of drying out somewhat. He was starting to get chilled from the wet clothes. The last think he needed was a cold.

          “Well, you won’t have too long of a trip.”  Chris had looked back into the room and seeing Heyes still standing, “Why haven’t you sat down?”

          Heyes glanced towards Chris.  “Because my jeans are soaked, as well as the rest of my clothes. I didn’t want to ruin your chair. Besides, I am chilled, and the fire feels good.”  Heyes tried to not shiver as he spoke.

          Chris re-entered the room. “Guess I didn’t think about that. You did have on a very light jacket. Let me see what I can do.” She headed into the bedroom and rummaged through a trunk on the floor. From this she withdrew a pair of jeans, a flannel shirts, and some thick socks. She carried these back towards the fire and handed them to Heyes.

          “May not be the best fit, my Dad was bigger than you, but at least they will be dry. You can go in there and change.”  And she headed back into the kitchen.

          When Heyes had changed and spread his clothes on the hooks to dry, he ventured into the kitchen. The smells of coffee hung in the air, and Chris was in the process of cutting biscuits. Placing these on a tray, she slid them into the oven and shut the door. Without asking, she poured Heyes a cup of coffee and placed it in front of him. He picked it up, wrapping his hands around the cup and found warmth, which slowly seeped into him.

          “Supper will be in about twenty minutes, iff’n ya think you can last that long.”

          “I think I will be fine. Anything I can do to help?”

          Chris shook her head, “No, everything is just about done.  Won’t be fancy, but should be filling.”

          Conversation was stilted, neither knowing what to say to the other. Chris sat the table and waited for the biscuits to be done. When they were, she placed them on the table, adding butter and jelly. Heyes had carried the pot from the fireplace and now sat it in the middle of the table. When everything was added, both parties sat down. Chris bowed her head and said a prayer. Heyes thought about Kid and hoped that he was warm and safe.

          Hot biscuits and stew hit the spot where Heyes was concerned, and he busied himself with eating. She was right, it wasn’t fancy, but Heyes didn’t remember when he last ate something that tasted this good. So good in fact that he had seconds, or was it thirds. He felt guilty about eating so much, but Chris insisted that there was plenty and kept refilling his plate. When at last he had eaten all he could, Heyes sat back and looked at Chris.

          “That was so very good. Don’t remember when I last ate so well.”

          “Why thank you Mr. Smith, any compliment is appreciated. I get so used to my own cooking that, well, I often don’t think about it.”

          Heyes looked at Chris. “So what is a young lady doing out here all alone.”

          Chris walked to the stove and retrieved the coffeepot, refilling both of their cups.    

          “I wasn’t always alone. I came out this way several years ago, from St. Louis. With my Ma and Pa, and my older brother.”

          “Joshua?”

          Chris nodded, “Yes. Pa wanted a new life, one he couldn’t get in St. Louis. Too many people, didn’t sit well with Pa. So we ended up here.”

          Heyes took a sip of coffee, waiting for her to continue. When it seemed she wasn’t going to, asked, “So what happened?”

          Chris looked down into her cup. “They died about a year ago. Pa of the fever. I think Ma died of a broken heart. They are buried out in the back.”

          “What about your brother?”

          “Don’t know. He left one day shortly after Ma died, and haven’t seen or heard from him since. I figure he is dead, else he would have come back. So now it is just me. And Blue,” she indicated the large dog who had seated himself at her feet. On hearing his name, Blue looked up and was rewarded with a biscuit.

          “Why don’t you go back?”

          Chris shook her head. “Because I like it out here. This is my home. And besides, where would I go?”

          “Back to St. Louis, you must have other family there.”

          “No, neither Ma nor Pa had any brothers or sisters. Besides, I need to be here in case Joshua comes back.”

          Chris stood and carried the dishes to the sink. Heyes stood, picking up what he could carry, and added his to the ones already in the sink.  Walking to the window, he pushed back the curtains and looked out.

          “Looks like a real blizzard out there.”

          “Yeah, figure it will last all night. I need to go tend to the stock, before it gets any worse.”

          Heyes made for the doorway, “Let me. It is the least I can do in return for everything you have done for me.”

          Chris started to protest, but the idea of going back outside in this blizzard was not what she really wanted to do. So she headed back into the bedroom, and returned carrying a heavy coat.  “At least wear this. Your jacket is just too light.”

          “Well, my good one is on the back of my horse, who knows where he is by now.” Heyes slipped on the coat, and took the gloves she also offered.

          “There is grain and hay in the first stall. There are two horses and a couple of cows.”

          “OK,” said Heyes, turning up the collar of his coat. Opening the door, he could just barely see the barn. He must be crazy he thought. He stopped as he felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning around, he saw Chris standing there.

          “I will put a lamp in the front window, so you can find your way back. And when you get back, I will cut you a piece of that pie you were eyeing all through supper.”

          Heyes laughed. “It’s a deal,” and headed towards the barn.

         

          Heyes had finished the chores, and needed to head back. But he found himself sitting on a bale of hay, thinking. Remembering actually. And wishing. Wishing for a place like this for his own. A family of his own, with some kids running around. A wife tending the garden and making the house a home. Would he ever have that? Or was he and Kid destined to travel around forever, never able to put down roots. As long as the amnesty wasn’t granted, there was no way they could ever endanger someone else. They never knew when they would be spotted and chased. They could never put someone else in the line of fire. No matter how much they wanted to have a real home. And Heyes realized that he was thinking more and more about having a home. He would like to have a couple of kids, what would he call them? And Kid could live just down the road, cause he would never be happy unless Kid was close enough to be a part of his family, just as he always was. He remembered so many times when they were growing up, of fishing together, footraces, eating supper at each other’s house. Good times, before everything was lost.

          Heyes shook himself out of the past and stood. He needed to get back. He wanted to get to know Chris a little bit better. But he still found himself hesitating. The reason why he wasn’t sure. Maybe because she represented what he wanted and couldn’t have? What he would give almost anything to have. The time was not right, but would it ever be right for Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry?

                  

          She finished cleaning the kitchen and putting away the remnants of supper. A fresh pot of coffee was brewing, and the pie had been transferred to the table. He would be cold when he came back in, so she added some wood to the fire. She had a large supply of wood, so was not concerned about staying warm. What was concerning her was the tall, dark-headed man who was now currently in her barn. She had the feeling he wasn’t exactly who or what he said he was. But for some reason she trusted him. Maybe because he represented exactly what she had longed for, someone to work with her and make her house a real home. She would like to have a couple of kids; she could imagine them looking like their father. He would teach them to ride, while she taught them to cook and tend a yard. She could see them, tucked into bed at night, listening to their father read them a story. Just like her father did for her.

          She shook her head, pulling herself out of the future, one that would not happen. Why she continued to dream about it, she would never know. She needed to live in the today, and to hang up that fairy tell world, a world that would never exist for her.

         

          Heyes hung the coat back on the hooks, this time remembering to remove his boots at the door. The light in the window was the only reason he was able to make it back without getting lost. The snow, if anything, was heavier now than before. He glanced up to see Chris sitting at the table, a book in front of her. Walking slowly that way, looking towards Blue the entire way, Heyes sat himself down in a chair at the table and waited patiently for her to speak.

          “Thanks for the help in the barn.”

          “Thanks for not leaving me out in the rain. I doubt I would have made it through the night, what with all this snow.”

          Chris poured Heyes a cup of coffee and pushed the pie plate in his direction. “Help yourself.”

          Heyes didn’t need anymore incentive to put a big slice of pie on his plate. Taking a bite, he was drawn back to older times, when his mother used to bake.  He remembered how hard it was to wait for supper to be over before the pie was served. His mother was a wonderful cook, among other things. Unknown to Heyes, a wave of sadness was evident in his eyes, a look that was not missed by Chris. Chris stood up and taking her cup and plate, walked towards the fireplace, sitting down in the rocking chair. Heyes followed, sitting in the overstuffed chair she had offered earlier.

          “You have heard my tale, so what about you? Your parents?”

          Heyes looked down at the plate, not sure where to begin, or if he even wanted to. But somehow he knew it would help.

          “I grew up in Kansas. My parents were wonderful and I had a really good life. My cousin lived down the road and we were always together.”

          Heyes took another bite of pie, a method of delaying the rest of the story. Chris waited.

          “One day, we were headed home when we saw smoke coming from the direction of our homes. The raiders had hit while we were gone. Everyone was dead. They didn’t care, they just left them the way they had fallen.”

          Heyes cleared his throat and continued. “I buried them that day. We walked into town, but no one there wanted to help us out. The town didn’t care. They sent us to a boys home, were we lived for a few years. Than we ran away, and well that’s about it.”

          “Where is your cousin now?”

          “He’s the person I am meeting in Porterville. He had some things he needed to do.”

          “What kind of work do you do?”

          Heyes smiled. “Just about anything. Have tried it all over the years.”

          Chris sipped on her coffee. “You never married?”

          Heyes shook his head, “No, didn’t seem fair to a lady, what with moving around so much.”

          “Well, why didn’t you stay instead of moving?”

          Heyes was silent. And Chris didn’t push.

          Heyes looked at Chris. “Tell me about King.”

          Chris rocked slowly. “I found him a few days ago. He had been hurt, not sure from what. But I knew he was going to have trouble building up his strength. So I take him some grain a couple times a day. I am getting close enough to pet on him, and he doesn’t seem to mind.”

          “What do you think you are going to do with him?”

          Chris shook her head. “I’m not sure. For now just try to help him. When he is well, if he wants to stay he can. But if he wants to go, that will be his choice.”

          Heyes thought about what she had said. Kinda like life in general.

          “You pie was very good. Thank you.”

          “You are very welcome.”

          Heyes looked around. “So what do you do to entertain yourself during the nighttime?”

          Chris looked at Heyes. “I usually just read. There are some cards in the drawer in the kitchen, if you are interested. My father liked to play cards, so he had them. Never had the heart to throw them away.”

          Heyes walked towards the drawer she had indicated, and looked inside until he found a well-worn deck of cards. He carried them to the table, where he shuffled and dealt out hands. Imaginary players were better than none at all.

          “You want to play?” Heyes asked Chris.

          “No, thanks. I’ll just read.”  And she turned her eyes back to the book.

         

          Several hours passed, with each person involved in his or her own thoughts. Chris found that no matter how many times she read a page, she didn't understand the words. But she kept reading, for appearances sake. Heyes was not faring any better. He couldn’t make a pat hand to save himself, something which was unusual for him. His thoughts returned to a life he couldn’t ever have. After a time, he decided it was time to give up and walked back to the chair and sat down. He watched as Chris read, watched her from profile. He could tell that her life had not been easy, how could it have been. But through it all she had not given up, not gone back to St. Louis like so many would have. That spoke volumes.

          After a while, Heyes realized that she was not turning the page. So either she was a very slow reader, or else she was only holding the book and pretending to read. Heyes smiled at this, which caught Chris’ eye. She turned to him.

          “What are you smiling about?”

          “You,” Heyes said.

          “What about me?”

          “You weren’t reading any more than I was playing cards. So why don’t we both stop pretending and talk.”

          Chris put her book down and meeting his eye asked, “What do you want to talk about?”

          Heyes waited before answering. If she answered him, he would have to answer her. And that was the one thing that he had never told to anyone, even to Kid.

          “What is it that you want from life?”

          Chris was startled. She hadn’t expected this question, so she thought long and hard before answering.

          “I learned a long time ago that I can’t afford to live in dreams. Fairy tales exist in storybooks, not real life. Real life doesn’t have knights on white horses who ride up and rescue a girl from a life full of work. So it is best to not dream about what one can’t have.”

          Heyes considered this.  “But if you could dream, and mind you I am only saying if, what would you want from life?”

          Chris drew in a breath, and released it slowly. “I would want to have someone for my own, someone who would work with me, build a life with me. Someone I could talk to on long, cold winter nights. Someone who could help me do chores, and build this place into the ranch I really want. Someone who would love me, and only me.”

          “What about kids?”

          Chris nodded, “Oh yeah, a couple. Boy like his dad, girl with dark hair and eyes. Course she would be a tomboy, how could she be anything else. They would grow up strong and healthy, and some day marry and live not far away, so I could see the grandchildren when they arrived. That’s my dream.”

          Heyes was amazed at how closely their dreams were interwoven. Like she had read his mind.

          “Now its your turn.”

          Heyes smiled. “I was thinking how close your dream is to mine. Only difference is my girl would look like her mom, but she could have dark hair and eyes, so guess that works too. My cousin would live down the road and all the kids would play together. We would eat Sunday Dinner together every week. And celebrate the holidays together.”

          Heyes leaned forward. “Strange how dreams from different people can often be the same.”

          Chris nodded. “But I have no chance to make my dreams come true. You can. Or can’t you?”

          Heyes shook his head. “Not now, and maybe not ever. It just doesn’t seem that life works too well for me. I don’t know if I will ever be able to search for my dream.”

          “When will you know? Or will you?”

          “A lot depends on what happens in Porterville next week. If things go well, might be able to go after my dream. But if it doesn’t….” The remainder of his statement hung in the air, but they both were able to hear what wasn’t spoken.

          They sat in silence for a long time, each lost once again in their own thoughts. Heyes finally stood, walked over to where Chris sat, and squatted down in front of her chair. Blue was watching Heyes, growling a little, but not making an effort to come between this man and his master.

          “No matter what happens, don’t forget your dream. You can make it happen.”

          He slowly reached out to cup her cheek with his hand. Looking into her eyes, he didn’t see fear, just loneliness, and sadness. He slowly lifted his face to hers, and softly kissed her lips. The contact lasted for a few seconds only, but Heyes could feel jolts of energy surge through his body. Breaking the contact, he straightened. He had never felt anything like that before, and the sensation shook him straight to his soul.

          Chris maintained eye contact with Heyes for a few seconds than said, “I guess I will be going to bed now. I will see you in the morning.” And standing, she disappeared into the bedroom, Blue following behind.

          Heyes rose from his position on the floor and retook his seat in the chair. Thoughts were flying through his mind, and the confusion there was amazing. He glanced up when he heard

her re-enter the room.

          “I brought you these,” holding out some quilts and a pillow. “Thought you might need them tonight.”

          Heyes stood to take the offered covers. “Thanks.”

          “Good-night,” said Chris. And with that she turned and walked away.

          Heyes sat up long into the night thinking. Thinking about what would happen in Porterville next week, and what might happen following. About the time the first rays of sun were trying to peek under the closed curtains, the outlaw’s eyes had finally drifted down to cover his brown eyes.

         

          Chris dressed quietly. She didn’t want to wake the man in the other room, she wasn’t sure how to face him this morning. She had laid awake long into the night thinking about that kiss, and what it meant. She didn’t know why she didn’t stop him, but knew it really was something she had wanted to happen. And now, how to deal with it this morning. But deal with it she had to. There were chores to be done and meals to cook, and staying in her room all day would get neither of those things accomplished. So bracing herself one last time, she pushed the door open and stepped into the living room.

          Expecting to see him still asleep, she was surprised to see that he was gone, the covers neatly folded and lying on the floor. Glancing at the rack, she noticed that the coat she had loaned him yesterday was gone, but his jacket was still there. Walking over to the window, she opened the curtain, letting in the sunshine. The snow had ended sometime during the night. The door of the barn was open, so that must be where he had gone. Well, if he was going to do chores, she had better get to cooking breakfast.

          Heyes opened the door to the aroma of coffee and biscuits. He removed his coat and kicked off his boots. Walking to the table, he noticed that Blue had now positioned himself in front of the fire, but didn’t take his eyes off of Heyes. Chris turned around in time to motion Heyes to sit down.

          She placed on the table bacon and eggs, fresh biscuits, and a pot of coffee. Sitting down, she once again bowed her head and said a prayer. Heyes once again hoped that Kid was doing well, was warm and dry, and knowing Kid was being fed as well as he himself was.

          Breakfast was a pleasant time. In discussing the day, they decided that there was too much snow to try to get to King, and Chris hoped that he would be all right. Heyes reassured her that he would, even if he didn’t believe it himself.

          Chris cleaned up the dishes from breakfast while Heyes thought about the day.

          “Is there anything that needs to be done?”

          “There is always something to be done. I need to clean the barn. And more firewood needs to be brought back in. I need to clean this place, it is a mess. I plan to go to the root cellar to get some meat for supper. I just hope there is enough flour here to do some baking.”

          Heyes smiled at the thought of more baking. This just might turn out to be a good day after all.

          “How long do you think it will be before the snow clears enough to get out.”

          “Probably some time tomorrow, the next day at the latest. Depends.”

          Two more days. Not enough time, but Heyes had long ago learned to take what he had been offered, and do his best with it.

          “Than I will get started on the outside work. See if I remember how to clean a barn. I will see you later.” And standing, he walked to the door. After putting on his boots and coat, he took another quick look at Chris, and headed back out the door.

         

          The rest of the day passed in a blur to both of them. Heyes finished the barn and brought in wood, while Chris cooked and baked, and cleaned the already clean house. Supper was a simple matter, enjoyed by both. That evening, they took turns reading to each other from the book that Chris had already started. Heyes taught her how to play some poker and marveled at how quickly she picked up the skill. Towards evening, they stretched out on the rug on the floor, in front of the fireplace. Heyes allowed Chris to use his arm for a pillow, and they both watched the flames dance around in the fireplace. No words were spoken, and no more kisses were exchanged. It was enough for both to just have this quiet time together.

          Heyes woke to find the fire had burned down to embers. Chris was no longer by his side. Somehow he felt an emptiness inside, something he was not used to feeling. Standing up, he stirred the fire into blazing again, and soon the room was warm and inviting. He guessed he had better get the chores started. In opening the door, he noticed that a lot of the snow had melted, leaving a muddy mess. Guess it would be time for him to leave soon. And that thought made him even sadder.

 

          Sitting at the breakfast table later that morning, Heyes found he didn’t have much of an appetite. He pushed the food around on his plate, but managed to eat very little of it. Glancing at Chris, he noticed that she too hadn’t eaten much. Finally both gave up trying to pretend to be interested in eating. At least Blue would have a good breakfast.

          As Heyes sat holding his cup, the time had finally come which they had both been dreading. “I guess it is about time for me to head out of here. The snow has cleared enough that I should be fine in getting into town.”

          “Yes, the weather is getting nicer.”

          Heyes found he needed to delay for a little bit longer. “You want to take a ride down and see how King survived the storm?”

          Chris looked up. “Yes, I would.”  And getting up, she headed towards her coat and the door. She didn’t want him to see the sheen of moisture, which was now in her eyes.

          At the barn, Chris saddled her horse, while Heyes saddled the other horse. Grabbing a sack of grain, and some extra hay, they sat off in the direction of the meadow. The ride was muddy, but both the horses were sure-footed and all too soon they had arrived. Chris looked expectedly towards where she had last seen King, and was elated to see him there still. He looked up at their arrival and snorted a welcome.

          Chris rode as close as she dared, than dismounted. Holding her hand out, she walked towards King. He reached out his muzzle and touched her hand, and stood silently. Chris poured the grain on the ground and added the hay. She stroked his powerful neck while he ate. But all too soon he was finished, and once again lifted his head to her. He nuzzled her face, than trotted a short distance away.  Chris noticed that his limp was gone and he seemed to be fine now. King reared up, almost as a way of saying thanks, than galloped away and out of sight.

          Heyes watched the events from where he sat on his horse. He knew that this represented more than a horse leaving. It was time for him to leave too, because, like King, he couldn’t stay. As much as he wanted to, it was not possible.

          Heyes dismounted and walked the distance to where Chris stood, still in the morning. Reaching out, he placed his arms around her shoulders and held her tight. Both were saying good-bye in their own way.

          Heyes was started by the sound of steps behind, and grabbing his gun from its holster, he pivoted and aimed towards the sound. There, standing behind him was his horse. The saddle looked a little worse for wear, but the rest of his gear was in place. Walking over to pick up the reins, he patted his old friend, someone he never thought he would see again.

          “I see he has stayed, waiting for you.”

          “Yeah, I guess some things work out.”

          Heyes turned towards Chris. “I had better go now. I want to thank you…” but she stopped him.

          “NO, just go. Before it gets any harder.”

          Heyes reached out and pulled her into a hard hug, one which had to last for a long time. She returned the action just as fiercely. And they stayed that way for a long time.

          Separating at last, they stepped apart.

          “I hope that your news in Porterville is good. That you meet up with your cousin without any trouble. And that you get the chance to live your dream.”

          Heyes looked at her. “If things go well, would you want to know about it?” Heyes was unsure of the answer he so much wanted to see in her eyes.

          She nodded, “By all means. When you get the chance to follow your dream, I so much would want to know. You’ll know where to find me. I’ll be here.”

          All Heyes could do was nod. He remounted his horse and with a quick glance, turned and headed away. He knew enough to not turn around again, cause if he did, he would never make that appointment. And right now, he wasn't sure if he really wanted to anyway.

 

          Heyes walked his horse down the center of town looking for signs of Kid Curry. He tied up at the hitching post in front of the sheriff’s office and glanced around. He spied a tall blonde-headed man headed his direction, smile a mile wide.

          “Joshua, how are you? I was beginning to get worried.”

          Heyes returned the smile, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “No reason to worry.”

          Kid knew his friend and knew when something was wrong. “So everything went well?”

          Heyes looked at his friend, but wasn’t ready to tell him everything just yet. Maybe later. Maybe when he could actually follow his dream, he would tell him about his days in the snow. And the woman who would forever be a part of his dream.

          He turned and walked into the Sheriff’s office. Kid followed behind. He knew that when Heyes was ready he would talk. But for now, they were together again, and that was what mattered.