Jimmy slouched in a chair in a dark corner of the saloon. A bottle of whiskey sat by an empty glass on the table in front of him. Next to the glass was a letter. The letter had been opened and read. Now it sat with an almost accusing presence. His name in the dark ink written on the envelope, James Butler Hickok, shouted a reminder of the man he used to be.
All around the rest of saloon there was light and heat. Cowboys traded trail stories at the bar, while other men settled down to a hand of cards, and the working girls did their best to entice them all into spending more money and perhaps heading upstairs. No one in the saloon dared approach the man scowling out at the crowd from the corner table. When Wild Bill wanted to be left alone, there was no one fool enough to try and join him. Even Wild Bill's favorite girl, Meggie, gave him a wide berth once she had delivered the whiskey he had asked for.
Jimmy leaned forward and grabbed the whiskey bottle to pour himself another shot. As he did so, he caught the eye of a young cowboy who had been attempting to surreptitiously look at the famous gunslinger. Realizing Wild Bill was returning his gaze, the young man blushed furiously and quickly glanced away. A sardonic smile ghosted across Jimmy's face. "Some folk are still afraid of me," he thought as he looked again at the letter, "some folk anyway."
He tossed back the shot, the quick burn of the liquor giving him the courage to pick up the letter and unfold it again. The wavering candlelight in his out of the way corner and the whiskey in his system made it difficult for him to focus on the neat handwriting. He dropped the pages back on to the table and looked instead at the envelope. He wasn't sure how she even knew where to send the letter, but he supposed he'd been in this town for a while and with the papers reporting on his "adventures" a person could follow his movements if they wanted. He briefly wondered if this was the first letter she had sent, or if there were others waiting to be collected in towns where he had moved on more quickly.
His glance fell back on the letter. He didn't actually need to read it. The words were burned into his memory already. She had shared news of her family and all the riders. She was worried that he wasn't taking good enough care of himself, and she thought he should settle down somewhere and maybe find a wife. The fact that she still cared had made a tiny crack in the ice that had formed over what had been his heart, but it was the final words of her letter that had truly begun to melt that protective layer.
"We miss you and wish you would come home. No matter what has happened, you will always have a place here with us. You're a member of our family and it's not the same without you. Love always, Emma"
He didn't know how she could still feel that way, not with what he had become. A part of him longed to take her up on her offer. He could catch the stage to the nearest railroad station and then take the train to Omaha. He would be there in a few days, a week at the most.
He knew, though, that he couldn't. He couldn't put them all at risk. Danger followed him where ever he went, thanks to what he had become. He may not be the man she still believed he was, but there was enough of that man left deep inside for him to know their safety mattered more than what he wanted.
He leaned forward and poured another shot. He threw the liquor back and surveyed the crowd, always on alert for any potential danger. He may have allowed himself a momentary lapse tonight, but no matter, tomorrow he'd harden his heart again and live the life he'd made.
Song Lyrics: Hurry Home by Jason Michael Carroll "It doesn't matter what you've done, I still love you. It doesn't matter where you've been, you can still come home."
Author's Note: Thanks to Raye for a fantastic beta!