He had spent days in the dark room. Jed visited often, Teaspoon too. Even Kid had spoken with him, haltingly of course, the strain of trying not to judge, not to ask questions making the conversation dull and ponderous. Lou never came. A few times he had been dozing, his head foggy with laudanum and pain and opened his eyes to see her walking silently from the room like a ghost. This morning Kid had shown up with a handful of clothes, which he draped on the back of a chair telling Jimmy that the doctor said he could get up if he wanted, but to take it slow, and absolutely no riding. He said the last with a fierce look at Jimmy and the under current was clear; he wasn't going to be able to run away this time.
It had taken hours for Jimmy to work up the courage to get out of the bed. He'd laid there as the family had breakfast, and listened to the shouts and laughter of the children with a mixture of awe and envy churning in his heart. The children went to school and their parents started the work of the day and the house fell silent. Jimmy rose and stretched with a groan at the pain in his side. He caught sight of himself in the wavering vanity mirror and grimaced at his own reflection. His skin was white, like a grub or the underbelly of a fish, the color of things that dwelt in the dark, too unnatural to be seen by the light of day. He hadn't done an honest day's work in years and his body had dwindled until he was scrawny and tough, nothing but gristle beneath his skin. The bandage around his middle was stained with his blood and he prodded at it tenderly, wincing as the cotton pressed against raw flesh.
Having had enough of his sad reflection, Jimmy pulled on the clothes Kid had left him. The shirt was rough cotton and it billowed around him, half again too big for his slim chest. He shuddered at the suspenders left on the chair. He wasn't a suspender man, never had been and God willing never would be. Kid hadn't looked so monstrous the few times he'd stood in the room's shadows and talked to Jimmy, but the clothes were at least a size too big and Jimmy felt like a child dressed in his father's clothes. He cast his eyes around the room but his guns weren't there and he hadn't really expected to find them. He hadn't been without them for a long time. Even while lying in bed he had missed them, missed the heavy weight against his leg, the comforting embrace of the belt. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves and opened the door.
He found Lou sitting on the front porch in the sunshine, a basket of mending at her feet. Out on the clothesline, his black trousers and black coat looked sinister hanging between the children's brighter calicos. There was a second chair sitting on the porch and he gently lowered himself into it, a hiss of air escaping through his teeth as the muscles around his middle stiffened with pain. She must have known he was there but she made no effort to acknowledge him. Instead she just continued sewing his shirt on her lap. The quiet rasp of the needle as it passed back and forth through the fabric set a soothing rhythm. Jimmy looked at her. It was his first opportunity to really see her since he'd been there and he studied her carefully, noting the changes since he'd left so many years before. Her hair was longer, tucked up loosely with strands that fell in elegant disarray down her neck and beside her ears. At the corners of her eyes, tiny lines had been etched, so fine that he cold not be certain they were there.
She must have felt his stare because the pink rose in her cheeks and she said, "I'm sorry I didn't have your own things ready for you today. I know you're used to finer things than Kid's."
"Smaller, maybe. But not finer."
She looked over at him and a tiny laugh escaped her lips at the sight of him swimming in Kid's shirt. The sudden joy on her face passed and she turned back to her sewing with a sigh. "You don't eat enough, Jimmy; you look wasted away." He had no response. There were a million things he'd once thought of telling her, but now that he was with her, he realized how unworthy his words were. He couldn't tell her about the saloons and the women, about trading on his name for credit at the poker tables. She still expected him to be a good man; he'd thought his sudden departure would have broken her of that habit. She snipped the thread on her needle with a pair of silver scissors and tied off the end. She ran her hand over the mended tear. "Won't ever be as fancy as it once was, but it's serviceable at least." She picked up his vest from the top of the basket and smoothed it across her lap. There was a gaping hole, the fabric frayed where the bullet had hit him. "I can patch this for you, if you'd like, but I ain't got any fabric even close to this." She dug to the bottom of her basket and pulled up a bag of scraps, taking them out and laying them against the burgundy vest. She shook her head. "None of these will do. You'll just look foolish..." she sputtered, a mix of emotions bumping around in her throat.
"Lou." Jimmy put a hand over hers. "Lou, it's alright. I don't mind looking foolish. I don't mind even just leaving the hole if it's easier for you." Beneath his hand he felt her fingers clutching the vest tightly.
She looked over at him with a tight smile. "Next time I'm in town I'll take a look at what Tompkins has. Might have something that will match it better." She laughed and shook her head at him. "You sure turned into a dandy, Jimmy. Never expected to see you in something like this." She pulled his velvet sash from the basket and waved it at him teasingly. The fringe at the ends fluttered on the breeze and tickled Jimmy's fingers as he reached for it.
"It was a gift," he said defensively. He grabbed it from her and rubbed the fabric between his finger and thumb. For an instant his mind wandered to Agnes.
"Who from?" asked Lou. "Somebody who'd want to know you're alright?"
Jimmy shook his head, dislodging his pensive thoughts. "No. Nothin' like that." Jimmy watched Lou as she bent to pick up a pair of Jed's trousers. She spread them out across her lap and started patching a torn knee. He studied the graceful arc of her neck, the steady movement of her fingers, the shadow her lashes cast on her cheek. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, listening to the flapping of the laundry, the faint sound of thread through wool. He felt as though he were in paradise.
"Jed thinks the world of you, you know."
He cracked one eye open at her voice. She hadn't looked at him; her eyes were still focused on the sewing in front of her. He let his eye fall closed again. "He's a good kid, Lou; you done good." The wind blew across his face gently, like an old friend just saying hello.
The needle fell silent. The wind stopped. Jimmy opened his eyes and looked at her. She held her hands still and stared out at the laundry on the line. He watched her jaw as it clenched and unclenched. "Jimmy, I ain't gonna ask questions 'bout where you been or what you been doin'." She looked at him, her eyes reflecting the rough and tumble girl he'd once known, the refinements of the past years falling away from her face to reveal her gritty resolve. "But if you hurt Jed - "
He interrupted her. "I'd never hurt him, Lou."
"Leavin' like you did hurts people, Jimmy."
"Lou, I'm sorry - "
"No apologies, Jimmy, that's not what I want. I just want us to have an understanding. I don't forgive where my family is concerned. Jed loves you, he worships you; you're gonna have to live up to that or next time the bullet that hits you is gonna be mine."
Jimmy nodded. "Fair enough, Lou, fair enough." She turned back to the sewing in her lap and Jimmy watched as the clothes danced on the line, the sleeve of a child's bright green shirt reaching towards his coat as the breeze pulled it just out of reach.