Author's Note: Set after "The Debt"
… and given the chance I'd lie again." - Just to See You Smile - sung by: Tim McGraw
"Jimmy." Polly's voice had that slight edge of sugar that told him he was in for it.
He set his mug down on the bar and lifted his head to see through the folks scattered about the saloon floor. It took a moment to see the petite figure navigating through the assortment of folks in Polly's place on a Saturday night. "Hey, Lou."
She smiled at him and something deep inside him ached. Bullet holes aside, this went deeper… more painful than a physical hurt.
"I was just wondering," She worried her lower lip ever so slightly between her teeth, "if you were still planning on… you know?"
Jimmy leaned in closer, his eyes widening slightly as he waited for her to finish her question.
"Well, hello, Lou." Polly swept past them, brushing a kiss on Lou's cheek. Not to ignore her other favorite she set her hand gently on Jimmy's shoulder. "Everything quiet, Jimmy?"
He gave her a wink and a rakish smile. "Of course it is. Folks know who I am; they won't cause any trouble while I'm here."
Polly rolled her eyes ever so slightly in Lou's direction and poured a glass of sweetened tea for her young friend. "It's good to know that some things'll never change, hmm?"
"Thanks, Polly." Louise took the glass in her hands and smiled. "That's what I'm hoping." She took a sip of the sweet brew and cast a glance in Jimmy's direction. "You healin' up alright?"
His smile warmed, his eyes softening as he nodded. "Take more than a few bullets to keep me down."
The pads of her fingers went white against the glass. "That's just it, Jimmy. It only takes one… Sometimes I think you forget that you're just…" She looked away, studying some invisible speck on the wall.
Polly brought out a tray of wet glasses from the back room and set them on the counter behind the bar. She picked a rag and started in on the first glass at hand, deftly wiping the surfaces to dry them. Lou reached for one but Polly stopped her with a little shake of her head. "You two talk. This keeps me busy until the next cowboy starts bellyachin'."
"Don't worry about me, Lou." Jimmy picked up his mug and turned it slightly in his hand, cupping it in his palm for warmth. "I can take care of myself-"
"You were going to take on the whole Garrett gang by yourself." Her voice was soft, but edged with reproach.
The jab was well placed and she couldn't quite tell if he lowered his head, contrite. "I never meant to get you involved, Lou. If I'd known-"
"So help me," she began and seemed to change her mind mid-thought, "Jimmy… I can't help but worry 'bout you." She touched his arm, just a simple brush of her fingertips against the sleeve of his shirt, but it was enough to stun him. "Remember what I said… the night before the Garretts rode in?"
He lifted his gaze from her hand on his arm and looked into her eyes. It was almost as though he pitched forward from a cliff and into a dark canyon. A half a moment later he was back in another saloon, the scent of fresh hay tickling his nose.
"There's four of them and two of us."
"Not two!" He'd wanted to shake her, make her see reason… make her run away. Didn't she have any sense?
"Lou." Oh, how he'd wanted to argue with her. To say more. To scream at her and get her to put her backside in her saddle and ride for home, but he couldn't bear to see the hurt. He couldn't do that, not when she was looking up at him with those warm brown eyes that made him forget exactly what it was he worried over. She was so close. So warm. So Lou.
He'd set the pitchfork down. He'd needed a few seconds to pull himself together before he did something stupid. "You have a… wedding to go to and a whole new life to start." He said the words and he meant them. He meant them, even when he tasted something akin to castor oil on his tongue. The words were true. He didn't lie, not to her. Well, not about this.
"And how do you think I'll feel at my weddin' if somethin' happened to you?"
He'd faced down gunfighters that had killed more men than he had. He'd faced down men that had ice in their veins and while he'd been scared, they'd never shaken him to the soles of his feet. Then why was it that this woman, who weighed little more than a sack of grain, could?
"I ain't arguin' with you, Jimmy." She swept her tongue over her bottom lip and looked up at him with something he couldn't… wouldn't… name in her eyes. "I'm stayin'."
It took a moment and an effort to swallow the lump in his throat before he could nod and answer her. "I remember."
"Then why have you been… avoiding me since we got back?"
He straightened up on his chair, ready to argue with her. Ready to tell her that she was wrong. Ready to tell her that he was just busy that she… "You've had all that weddin' stuff to do… I just didn't want to get in the way."
"In the way?" Lou let out a sigh and turned for a moment when a few of Polly's glasses clicked up against each other as the Saloon owner was stacking them up. When she turned back to Jimmy her eyes were dark with hurt. "How can you say that?"
Shrugging a little he struggled to find the words. "I remember when Celinda got married. She had all them dresses to worry over… and the flowers and… food. I dunno, Lou…"
He set the mug on the counter top and at nearly the exact moment his fingers left the warm ceramic surface her fingers covered his. "I found a dress shop full of wedding dresses, Jimmy. Do you know how impossible that is out here?"
His expression was enough of an answer. "No, but-"
"A whole shop full of white dresses for weddings, and there I was, surrounded by lace and silk and satin. Just when I'd made up my mind and gone to pick one up I saw the Garretts ride out of town." She saw the dark worrisome shadow fall over his expression and squeezed his hand gently. "I was standing there waiting to get my dress, Jimmy, but the moment I heard that they were riding for Fenton there was only one thing on my mind."
Jimmy looked down into her face, desperate to say so many words he had no right to. It would be a big risk, telling her what he wanted but she had made a choice… he knew he had to make things right for her… to let her be happy. So he gave her a big swaggering smile. "Saving my worthless hide."
He saw the effect his words had. The way her eyes watered and her expression crumbled just the littlest bit.
Jimmy shifted his hand, taking her hand in his and warming her fingers with his own. "Lou, I'm sorry. I didn't want to make you cry, I don't know what to say to you."
"Just tell me that you know how much you truly mean to me, Jimmy. Tell me that somewhere behind that big smile you hurt as much as I do. I have a feeling you'd say anything to me right now just to make me smile…"
He opened his mouth to say something and tried to find the right words. "I just want you to be happy, Lou." She was too close to him to be comfortable and the way she moved her fingers along the skin of his palm was damn near intoxicating. 'I want one of us to be happy.'
She gently removed her hand from his, looking down at it for a moment before she lowered it to her waist. "Seems like we're alike in a lot of ways, Jimmy." She let go of a breath, her shoulders sagging just a little. "We both try to make other people happy."
He reached out to touch her but she moved down the bar just out of reach, a ready smile on her face for Polly. "Sorry I can't stay, Polly." She moved away between the tables, pausing a few feet away to turn back and look at him. "I want you to be happy, too, Jimmy." She lifted her chin a fraction of an inch and the light from one of the hanging fixtures seemed to glitter along her lashes. A moment later she was gone.
Jimmy was pretty sure he'd just done something stupid. He wasn't sure what, exactly, but there was a nagging suspicion it had been something of monumental proportions. It wasn't so much anything he'd said or any one thing that Lou had said either, it was the pointed look Polly was giving him.
Correction: angry stare was more like it.
"Ohhhh," She narrowed her eyes at him, "don't you 'yes, Polly' me… I swear you and Teaspoon are too alike for my own good." She picked up her drying rag and a poor unsuspecting glass and went to work wiping at the inside, nearly wearing a hole through it. "Sometimes for a man with eyes as sharp as yours, Jimmy, I don't think you see the words written on the page."
He paused with the cup a fraction of an inch from his lips, his gaze watching to the closed doors of the saloon in the mirror on the wall. "I never was much of a reader."
Her shoulders slumped and she set the glass down with a sigh. "That's what I'm afraid of, Jimmy."
Breathtaking Moments - The Look in Your Eyes
Author's Note: Thanks to Liz for helping to hone the tension