Kid sloshed through the river toward the bank, leaving Jimmy behind. He barely spared a glance for Rosemary as he struggled to gain his footing on the bank. "Seein' as how you can't trust me, there's no sense you standin' beside me at my wedding."
He seemed to be waiting for a moment, but Jimmy didn't say much of anything with his lungs full of river water.
"I'll be on my way now…" he turned to Rosemary finally and gave her a slight nod as he set his hat on his head, "I wish you luck, Rosemary… I may not agree with you hidin' information from me… but… I wish you luck." He nearly glanced back at Jimmy to see if he'd made it up onto the bank, but instead he wheeled his mount around again and headed off to Rock Creek.
Rosemary picked her way down the embankment and reached out a hand to Jimmy. He shook his head and nodded toward the high point of the bank where the wagon was.
She didn't move away. "James, I'm sorry."
That got her a look and a grimace. "What do you have to be sorry about?" He winced at the pain in his jaw. "You didn't knock me into the river." Grabbing a hold of an exposed root he pulled himself up the bank one boot in front of the other, the squish of water under his foot providing most of the noise as he climbed.
Rosemary turned to see Kid and Katy moving away toward the horizon. "If we hurry, we can catch up and-"
"Let him go." Jimmy slapped his soggy Stetson against his thigh and looked up after his fellow rider. "He's angry… give him time to calm down. He may not like hiding the information from him, but I think he'll see reason later." The words were positive, but as he took hold of the wagon to lift himself up inside he looked at Rosemary and she could see the pain and disbelief on display.
Stepping around the wagon, Rosemary settled herself beside him and looked in the direction of Seneca. "We should get started if we want to reach Seneca without those men tracking us, and-" The wagon lurched into motion and Rosemary was nearly bumped out of her seat. Turning back around she looked at Jimmy. "There's nothing to keep us from Seneca now."
Jimmy flicked the reins again, his gaze steady over their heads. "I'm not goin' to Seneca… at least not yet."
Lifting her chin a fraction of an inch, Rosemary's tone seemed to ride the rail between flat and cold. "I thought the Kid told you that you weren't welcome."
An impatient little sigh slipped past Jimmy's lips. "That may be, Rosemary… but I ain't goin' there for Kid."
Rosemary looked closely at Jimmy's face before she leaned back against the seat, her voice growing distant and a little cold. "I see."
Jimmy didn't spare her a glance. "Don't make it into somethin' it ain't, Rosemary."
She looked off toward Seneca and clasped her hands tightly in her lap. "I'm not."
"I made a promise, Rosemary… that's what this is about. A promise to a friend."
Rosemary reached out and set her hand on Jimmy's leg, trying to draw his attention, but the sudden volley of gunfire shattered any chance to continue the conversation. Winding the reins around the brake Jimmy lurched sideways knocking them both to the ground and out of reach of gunfire.
The breath knocked out of her, Rosemary was more dead weight than anything else as Jimmy struggled to get her to her feet. "I just need a minute, James… to catch my breath."
Wincing in pain Jimmy grabbed up Sundance's reins and pulled the mare closer. "We ain't got even a minute."
A stray bullet snatched bark off of a tree a few feet from Jimmy's head and he all but tossed Rosemary up into the saddle. "Ride!"
"No, James! Come with me!"
"I'll hold 'em off... go!!!
"James, No -"
Jimmy slapped Sundance's hip and she took off running for home.
Lou leaned against the railing outside the church and scoured the horizon for a sign… anything.
He'd promised. He said he'd be there. Sure, it wasn't so much just the fact that he wasn't there… or that he'd promised in the bunkhouse, right there in front of Teaspoon and Rachel, but when they'd been in Benton she'd told him… spelled it out for Jimmy Hickok that she wanted him at her wedding. Needed him there or it just wasn't going to be right.
It just wouldn't.
"You wanted to see me, Lou?" Jesse stepped outside the door and tucked it closed behind him. "Rachel said you had somethin' you wanted me to do?"
For a moment she looked past him at the door to the church. Everyone else was in there. Buck and Cody… Noah and Teaspoon… Rachel and the Kid. A smile touched her lips and lifted her spirits. Jimmy wasn't the only one who'd made a promise.
"Jesse, I need you to do me a favor… I need you to give me away."
"Give you away? Ain't you marryin' the Kid?"
She couldn't help smiling at his confusion. Jesse was young… sometimes too young for his ambitions. "Jimmy was supposed to walk me down the aisle and give me to Kid, but he's not… here."
Jesse shrugged. "I'm sure he'd be here if he could. He ain't the kind to forget somethin' like this."
She'd heard the thought before. It had echoed around in her head and Rachel had said it more than once. Even Polly who had stopped by early that morning to bring flowers to cover over the mess of her curls had told her the same reassuring words. But somehow it wasn't until Jesse said it… Jesse who wouldn't say something just to make her feel better… who didn't know enough to state anything more than we he was thinking. Jimmy 'would' be there if he could. So, where ever he was… she hoped he was alive and on his way.
Jesse gave a little sigh as he stood with his hand on the church door. "Lou, come on… are we gonna go and do this or-"
"We're … I mean I'm goin'." Lou turned around and blinked away the glittering tears from her lashes. "I just thought…" she looked back toward the trail into town and then quickly turned to the door, giving Jesse a nod. "Open the door, Jesse. I've got a wedding waitin' for me."
Buck gave her a silly grin and she resisted the urge to smack him for the third time since the wedding. "What?"
He blinked at her a few times and his grin grew wider. "Sorry, Lou… Louise," he seemed to swallow hard on her name, "I'm still gettin' used to…"
"Me bein' a girl?"
His smile only widened. "No… you've been a 'girl' for most of the time we've been friends… I'm just gettin' used to the fact that you're not gonna be ridin' with us… rollin' out of your bunk for breakfast with the rest of us. It's gonna take some time."
The song ended and his hand dropped from her waist, but she held onto his other hand. "I'm not leaving for good, I'm just not a rider anymore. Things won't change that much, right?"
He gave her hand a squeeze and together they let go, Buck took a step back so he could see her in the soft light of the paper lanterns. "You'll always be my friend, Lou… that'll never change." A moment later he disappeared into the dwindlingcrowd.
Louise touched her hands to her mouth, stilling the quiver of her lips. It was the only way she was going to keep from crying.
"I hope you saved me a dance."
She gasped in a breath, her fingers balling up in surprise. It was a moment before she could speak. "Jimmy."
"Sorry I'm late… I tried-"
She whirled on him as he stepped out of the shadows. "But you're here. You came. That's what matters."
He gave her a shrug and a little shy smile. "Sure, I guess… but I was hopin'… to take you down that aisle."
She knew her eyes shown with tears; the lower half of her vision was swimming as she nodded. "I held off as long as I could."
A nod. "Glad you didn't hold off. That wouldn't've been right." He turned his head to the side looking at her from head to toe. "You're a beautiful woman, Lou… but today… there just ain't words." He moved closer, but the surrounding dark of night seemed to cling to the lines of his body even as he stepped into the light of the lanterns. "How about that dance?"
Lou looked helplessly at the nearly empty band stand. Half the men had left for the evening and the only instruments left wouldn't create much of a song to dance to. "I dunno, Jimmy, the band-"
He slid a hand around her waist, his touch gentle and searching as he held out his left hand for her to take. "Seems to me we've always had our own kind of music."
She blinked up at him. "What are you talkin' about?"
Stepping to the side she followed his lead, making a half turn as he began to speak. "Remember Willow Springs, that man with the trumpet?"
Laughter bubbled up through her throat and they took another few steps, their hesitant dance becoming a waltz of memories. "Yes… how we danced in the street!"
"Exactly," he stepped back and drew her with him, "like the sound of poker chips on the table at Grace's." There was laughter in his eyes. "Or the hollow hit of a frying pan against Tompkins' head."
They swayed to the rhythm of his words, drawn into a dance they'd never forget.
"Hooves poundin' against dirt when you pulled me out from under those horses… the hiss of saw blade when we had to fix the corral gate later."
He nodded. "And shovels full of dirt when we had to dig the well."
"Me cryin' like a baby on the way to Willow Springs."
Jimmy curled a finger under her chin and lifted her gaze to his. "I remember the crack of wood in the fire and the way the wine poured out of the bottle. The sound of you laughin'… that was enough for me."
Lou closed her eyes for a moment, her lips curving into a smile. "Certainly had enough music for a dance or two…"
She felt his lips brush her cheek and his breath warm the side of her face.
"Our own song."
The sounds of the party had all but died away for her; she leaned closer to hear his whispered words. "That's how I'll remember you the most, Lou… in that blue dress, lookin' so beautiful it hurt to look at you."
They finished their dance to the music of her laughter and she pulled away as the rattle of a wagon broke through the sounds of her memories.
Rosemary Burke, her hair blowing about her face set the brake on the wagon and turned to Teaspoon, her voice dying in the darkness surrounding her.
It all came back to her. Kid said they'd been traveling with Rosemary when he'd gone to ride on ahead… to pick up their rings. She must have been traveling with Jimmy. Why had she been left behind? Lou turned to Jimmy, but the night beside her was empty. The smile on her face faded as she searched the confused crowd.
Rachel was suddenly at her elbow, guiding her along until Kid met her at the very edge of the knot of townsfolk. He looked down at her, the dark of night shadowing his eyes. "Let's go, Lou."
She shrugged off his hand and tried to look over his shoulder. "What's wrong, Kid?" Rosemary's stilted words gave way to a wail of sorrow and Lou felt terror take hold of her, clawing at her spine. "Did something happen to Nathan? Jimmy's sister?"
A knowing look passed between her two friends and Lou's knees went weak. "What is it? What aren't you telling me?"
Kid held her up, his hands strong and still gentle on her upper arms. "Lou… it's been a long day for everyone… let's go to our room and get some rest. Tomorrow-"
"Tomorrow? The more you keep tryin' to push me to leave the more I know I have to stay. What happened Kid? Why is Rosemary here alone? Jimmy-"
Kid's grip on her arms grew painful the expression in his eyes sharpened, glittering with pain. "I don't want you to hurt tonight, Lou… not tonight." He let out a pained sigh. "I wanted you to have one perfect night." He leaned forward, the fringe of hair that fell over his brow tangled with the flowers crowning her head. "We'll get through this, Lou… together."
He turned, shifting his arms around her, cradling her against his side.
The crowd gathered around the wagon seemed to shift their gazes in turn to each of the members of the small Express family, returning most to the young bride and the marshal, each with the same sad pitying look stretched across their features. She kept a tiny flame of hope alive in her chest, that this wasn't nearly as bad as everyone was making it out to me. She even tried to muster up a smile when she called out to Teaspoon as he stood beside the wagon. "Teaspoon, I-"
It wasn't the shadows laid across Teaspoon's face that knocked the air right out of her lungs, or even the depth of sympathy radiating from his eyes… it was the silent silver rivers of tears coursing down his cheeks that had her nearly doubled over in pain. "No… no…" she tried to turn around, her eyes searching the crowd for any sign of… for any possible sight of… "Jimmy."
Rosemary's wail rose above the sound of blood rushing through her ears and somewhere from a great distance she heard Rosemary's explanation of how Jimmy had saved her life… sending her on ahead… how she'd turned back to find him-
"We'll take him home."
Lou almost looked around for the person who'd said the words until she felt Kid lean closer and whisper into her ear. "You're right… we'll take him to the Station."
"We'll take him home… where he belongs."
Rachel brushed a tear from Lou's cheek. "We'll take care of him, Louise… you and Kid, you go on and get some rest."
"No!" The single word of denial rang above the crowd and everyone stilled suddenly as if waiting for the word to fall to the ground at their feet. "He was comin' home to family… and we're still family. There'll be time enough for ourselves, but right now… we've got somethin' more important than celebratin' to do."
Steeling herself, Lou stepped closer to the side of the wagon, gently lifting the edge of the cloak that Rosemary had hastily covered his body with and she smiled down at Jimmy's still form.
She ignored the pleading voices and gentle hands that tried to draw her away as she leaned closer so that he could hear her last words to him. "Can you hear it, Jimmy… can you hear our song?" She wiped away the tear that fell on his cheek and bit down on her lower lip for a moment. "I can."
*thanks to Liz, Dani and Cindy for weighing in on the title… most times the title is just 'there' this one… this one was hard to find… it really gave me fits… it was hard to find something that just 'summed it up'…