Jimmy stared down at the deep tracks in his arm before trying one more time to tie a clean cloth around the jagged wounds. The pain was near blinding as the cloth clung to the ragged edges of his skin and he swore under his breath.
The sudden words and hard tone set off another round of scurrying noises in the corner and Jimmy lifted his head to peer into the shadows. "I ain't gonna hurt you."
Angry eyes glared out of the corner. "I ain't got no problems hurtin' you, Mister."
Lifting the cloth at the corner, Jimmy felt pain burn through his skin. "I believe you." Shaking his head, Jimmy started down at the floor. "No good deed goes unpunished."
There was only stunned silence from the corner as a knock sounded at the door. Jimmy pushed himself up off the bed and crossed the floor, keeping one eye on the corner of the room in case his guest took a fancy to the lamp on the table or maybe taking the cheval mirror in hand and over his head.
He opened the door on a young maid with wide eyes and a armful of supplies. "The missus told me to bring you this stuff… said you were hurt." She barely saw the tracks on his arm when he'd taken hold of the tray and stepped back in the room. With a soft shove from this boot, the door swung closed on the curious young woman.
Jimmy set the tray down on the small marble-topped table by the door. The heavy serving tray slid into the vase filled with wilting wildflowers and made a suspicious click against the side. Maybe it was the length of the stage ride weighing on him, or the recent losses the Express family had faced, but Jimmy's knees wobbled a bit and down he went into the comforting arms of the wing-backed chair.
He saw the shudder of fear that went through the young woman cowering in the corner and couldn't seem to keep his heavy sigh in check.
Reaching for one of the rags on the tray he dipped it in the bowl of water Mrs. Simmons had sent up. With his jaw set in a squared line he kept quiet as he washed the jagged tears. He wrung the cloth out several times before he was satisfied that the wounds were clean.
"I know 'you' probably don't care if I get my arm all swelled up and sore, but my friend Emma would have a fit, seein' as how she taught me how to clean up my sores."
He slanted a look her way when she hadn't made a dash for the doorway. She wasn't showing the glowering anger that had been pounding away at his skull since he'd called out the first bid.
"They sent up some food if you want to have some." He nodded to the plate closest to his elbow. "Looks like a few of Mrs. Simmons' famous biscuits." Jimmy set the cloth aside, as far from the food as possible and picked up a plain white strip of cloth and loosely wrapped it around his wrist. It was hard going since he was using his left to doctor the right.
"Why ain't you touched me?"
He tried to cover his shock at her sudden question, concentrating on the task of binding his wound. "Well," he began slowly, measuring the weight and tone of his words, "after the last time I touched you a man would have to think twice."
"Thought you was gonna use me ill." The thin tone of her voice said it all. It was the tone of a woman used to pain and violence and she spent every breath bracing for the next bit of pain to come her way. It burned him that she thought he'd hurt her… but then again…
"I said I wasn't." She probably hadn't had many men in her experience that didn't lie to her one way or another. "And I won't. I don't hurt women."
The last little bit was bitter on his tongue. Sure he didn't set out to hurt women… but life with Jimmy Hickok. Well, it could be a pain.
"Then why'd you buy me?"
His hands stilled the bandage loosening yet again as he thought over his answer.
She didn't feel like waiting. "There's two reasons a man like you'd buy a slave like me."
"Is either one the need to be lectured to death?" The words were uttered under his breath, but he was sure she could hear them.
"You got somethin' you want done at your place or inside your home." She gave him another hard measuring look. "So, which is it?"
"You're awful bossy for a woman who thinks I bought you out of spite." He signed and looked down at his arm; one of the tears had started to bleed again. "I guess I bought you 'cause of my friend Noah." Before she could come to another wrong conclusion he continued on. "First time I met him, he was buying two slaves from an auction and folks weren't quite sure what to make of him… you see, Noah was black."
"Was?" There was a hesitance to her tone that made him smile.
"Yeah," he sighed, "he died a little while ago and well…" he smiled a little, the corners of his mouth curling up in memory, "I miss him. Today, when I walked by that auction and I saw you standin' there all full of spit 'n vinegar… lookin' like you were ready to claw out the eyes of the first man who tried to be mean, I couldn't help but think you had his spirit."
"You bought me, cause I reminded you of your friend? I don't-"
"Noah was born free and he wanted other folks to know what freedom felt like… so he bought slaves just to set 'em free. Most likely he'd spend a fortune over the years, but that was Noah… he was a good man." He could feel his throat closing up with unshed tears.
He didn't know when she'd moved, but all of a sudden she was standing before him, her hands reaching for the wounded arm. He could have flinched… his instincts told him to yank his arm away before she hurt him again, but there was something in the way she reached for him… something tender and hesitant that he didn't want her to run away.
"Why don't you let me help you with 'dat bandage, 'fore you make a bigger mess of your arm?"
He gave it over to her, his eyes watchful, but the fear he'd felt quickly gave away to the wonder of how quickly she was able to bandage the wound she'd caused. Emma had a way like this… Emma and Lou, the way they talked while they worked so you were almost lost in the sound of their voice and pretty soon-
"That'll do. It ain't pretty and I cain't say that them scratches'll heal clean." They both looked up quickly, gazes meeting in a mix of confusing emotions. "I'm sorry, mister. I thought-"
"I know what you thought." Jimmy pulled his arm back against his chest slowly, contemplating the last hour of his life. "Can't say that I blame you." He slowly nodded his head again and again as he pondered his actions. "I pop up outta nowhere and buy you like you're a horse in an auction and I guess I should've tried to explain myself back there… but they were all lookin' at me like I'd done something they'd agreed with… it didn't sit well with me… I just wanted to… I meant to-"
"Do somethin' for your friend." She gave him a ghost of a smile. "I can understand that."
Jimmy stood, slowly… he didn't want to scare her anymore than she already was. He reached out his injured arm hand open… waiting. "I guess we could start from the beginnin'… I'm Jimmy, Jimmy Hickok."
Straightening her posture and lifting her chin a fraction of an inch, the young woman squared her shoulders and took his hand in a firm grip. "I'm Molly, nice to meet you Mister Jimmy."
"Nice to meet you too, Miss Molly."
Author's Note: Thanks to my betas: Liz and Cindy