Topic #20: The Things We Do For Love
||Just Name It And It's Yours
He watched the bartender pour a shot of the amber liquid, feeling his pulse quicken as the man came closer with the glass. He tossed a coin on the bar in payment and reached for the shot.
He lifted the glass, holding it up to the flickering light of the lamp behind the piano just off to his left. The light seemed to dance in the liquid – he could almost taste the sweet burning now.
He turned back to the bar, still holding the glass at arm’s length. He’d been on the move for two weeks, running, always running. Sleeping under the stars, not seeing a town until now. Two weeks without a whiskey – and he was thirsty now.
Rock Creek seemed a lifetime away – and with it the reason he’d sworn to quit drinking. But with distance came reasons to break that vow. Why shouldn’t he have this drink? He’d caused people he cared about too much trouble – put them in danger. And he had left, left the trouble and the people behind.
Left the best thing that had ever happened to him behind . . .
He stared again at the whiskey, noting with interest that his hand was shaking. And then he put his arm down, watching the liquid splash out of the glass as it hit the bar.
The best thing . . . the best woman ever to come into his life . . .
Mike Stalder turned and walked away from the bar. He kept walking right out of the saloon, down the street, and over to the livery. He wouldn’t be staying in town after all. There was still too much temptation – too much danger in that bottle of amber liquid. He still wanted that bottle much too badly.
But there was something he wanted more.
Rachel watched the last of the children leave the schoolhouse for the day, then she made sure that the door was shut tight. There was a cold late-October wind today, and she wanted to keep it outside. She still needed to clean up and prepare a few things for the next day’s lessons.
She had just turned her attention to cleaning the chalkboard when she felt a cold gust of wind at her back. She really needed to talk to one of the boys about fixing the balky latch. Rachel shivered and turned around, expecting to see that the door had blown open.
She never expected to see him standing there.
Mike pushed the door shut and pulled his hat off. He stood there a moment, just looking at her. He thought about the last three months – the shaky days and weeks, the fight against the pull of the whiskey bottle, the pain of going through the struggle alone. In the next few moments he’d know if it was all worth it. “Hello, Rachel.”
She hesitated, reaching down to pick up the eraser she had dropped. When she stood up, he was still there. “Mike.” Damn, why was she shaking so much?
He stepped farther into the room, wringing the brim of his hat nervously. “You’re looking more beautiful than ever, Rachel.”
She stepped out from behind the desk, closing some of the distance between them. “You’re looking real good yourself, Mike,” she said. And it was true – he looked so much healthier than when he’d been in Rock Creek. She couldn’t quite grasp what the difference was, but it was more than just the bullet wounds he’d been suffering from then.
“I’m feeling good,” Mike answered. He hesitated, suddenly unsure of the words to use next. Maybe it would be best to just be blunt. He set his hat down on a desk and stepped forward, closing to within a few feet of her. He needed to see her clearly when she heard his next words. “Rachel, I’ve been sober since I left Rock Creek, over three months now.”
“Oh, Mike, that’s wonderful!” She smiled and stepped forward until they could almost touch.
The genuine smile on her face made him relax a little. “It wasn’t easy,” he admitted. “Lots of times, I really wanted that drink.”
“I remember having days like that,” Rachel said softly. She shivered at the memory.
Mike just nodded. “I’m sorry for before, Rachel. For the things I did that hurt you.”
“It’s all right, Mike. I’m just glad you’re doing well.”
“I am doing well, thanks to you.”
“What I did, getting sober, it was for you.” He shook his head – that hadn’t come out quite right. “I mean it was for me, but because of you.” Seeing her look of confusion, he took one more step and reached for her hand. “Thinking of you got me through those days, Rachel.”
She stood silently for a moment, considering that. “I don’t know what to say, Mike.”
“Say you’ll give me another chance,” he suggested.
Rachel could feel herself starting to tremble, and she wasn’t exactly sure why. She took a deep breath, unsure of what to say.
Mike reached out to take her other hand, turning both of them until they were eye to eye. “We had something special, Rachel – at least, I think we did. Until I made a mess of things with the whiskey.”
“It was good,” Rachel whispered.
“It can be again,” Mike said quickly. “No whiskey this time, just you and me.”
Could it really happen . . . “You’re staying in Rock Creek?”
Mike grinned. “Ma’am, you are looking at the new freight agent for Wilson and Lockett Freighting. The Rock Creek office opens next week.”
Things were happening way too fast. “I don’t know what to say,” she admitted.
Mike’s expression turned very serious. “Rachel, all the pain, the shakes, the terrible longing for a drink that seemed to reach right into my gut – it’ll all have been worth it if you’ll give me that second chance.” He dropped to one knee, still holding her hands. “Rachel Dunne, will you do me the honor of allowing me to court you?”
Rachel caught her breath, a mixture of a sob and a gasp. She dropped to her knees in front of Mike. “Mr. Stalder, it would be my honor to be courted by you.”
Mike realized he had been holding his breath, waiting for that answer. Now that he’d heard it, he finally exhaled, then drew in another deep breath. His legs were shaking, and he dropped to both knees. Then he slowly wrapped his arms around her. “I’ll do it right this time, Rachel. I promise.”
She returned the embrace, feeling warm and happy in his arms. “We’ll do it right this time, Mike. We’ll do it right,” she whispered.
"Jimmy! Jimmy, come on, do this for me just this once and I promise I'll never ask again!" Cody begged as he followed Jimmy onto the porch of the bunkhouse.
"You promised me that two weeks ago, Cody. The answer is no," Jimmy stated as he opened the door to the bunkhouse then tried to close it quickly, leaving his bunkmate on the other side.
He wasn't fast enough because Cody caught the door and entered behind him. "Come on, Jimmy. What do I have to do? Just name it and it's yours." He followed as Jimmy went to sit on his bunk.
"I don't want anything you have to offer now leave me be!" Jimmy said, becoming extremely annoyed.
"What's going on?" Noah asked, as Kid, Lou and Buck looked on curiously.
"Cody wants me to take his ride on Friday so he can attend the dance in town," Jimmy explained.
"If I go on that ride, I'll be back too late to attend the dance and I already promised a certain young lady that I would escort her for the evening," Cody told them. "So you see, I have to go and I need someone to cover for me. It's serious this time. Boys, I'm in love," he cooed into the air, bringing his hand to his heart.
"I think I'm gonna be sick," Lou muttered to Kid, who tried to hold in the laugh he felt starting.
"You're as much in love as you were last week and the week before that," Jimmy said. "Now get it through your thick head, I ain't gonna help you. Besides, I got my own date for the dance."
"Does this love interest have a name?" Noah asked Cody.
"Corinne Jones," Cody said slowly as if he was savoring the sound of the name.
"Well the Jones part sounds made up," Buck stated, smiling.
"Probably is, if the girl's smart," Noah said. "This way, she can go to a dance, get her feet stepped on all night and no one will know it was her dancing with the dashing Mr. Cody. Oh, and I bet she's just passing through town for that one night, too."
The others joined in the laughter Noah started.
"She is too a real person," Cody said, trying to defend himself. "For your information, her family just moved here. I met her at the general store and she was instantly taken with my charm. I knew right then and there that she was the one."
"The problem is, does she know that she's the one?" Kid asked between laughs.
"Kid," Cody said, realizing there were others in the room. He turned eager eyes toward the rider.
"Uh, no way, forget it," Kid said, holding up his hands in protest.
"Come on, Kid. It ain't like you and Lou can even go to the dance together as a couple, seein' as how she's supposed to be a guy."
"Thanks for reminding me," Kid said sarcastically.
"Yeah, Cody, just 'cause they can't go doesn't mean they can't do some dancing of their own," Jimmy reasoned.
Kid blushed and looked away as Lou jumped down from her bunk. "You guys are disgusting!" She stormed out of the bunkhouse, hoping they hadn't noticed the guilty look she and Kid had exchanged at being found out. It was going to be one of those rare occassions when the two of them were all alone at the station so they had planned on taking full advantage of it.
Jimmy, Noah and Buck cracked up even harder at that insult.
"We might be," Noah called after her. "But we're pretty accurate in what we say."
"You guys just don't understand," Cody began. "She takes my breath away, it's really love this time, I'm tellin' ya. She's got these big green eyes, big smile, and even bigger personality."
"So that's what you're callin' them now, huh?" Noah asked.
"If I were you, Cody, I wouldn't go around talking freely about Miss Jones' personality, especially when Lou's in the room. She might get upset, seein' how she can't exactly flaunt her personality," Jimmy told him, carefully avoiding the blue eyes shooting daggers at him from across the room.
"I'm sure that wouldn't matter to her, since I'm positive Kid here has seen them and approves of them. That would be the important thing to her, right, Kid?" Noah remarked.
Not looking at anyone as they broke out into laughter once again, Kid stomped toward the door. He pause long enough to say over his shoulder, "Lou was right, you guys are disgusting!" He slammed the door on his way out, only to hear it open instantly and a whiny voice stop his hasty exit.
"Kid, come on, just name it and it's yours."
Kid sighed. "If I do this for you, you'll never ask me again?" Cody nodded eagerly and even though he knew it was an all out lie, Kid agreed. "Alright, but since Lou and I can't be together Friday night like I promised - no comments from you about that - I'll have to make it up to her. A picnic sounds about right, for Thursday, I think - a nice, all day long picnic by the swimming hole. And in order to do that, you're gonna have to do mine and Lou's chores plus whatever job Lou promised Rachel she'd help with."
"I can't do all that plus my own chores," Cody wailed.
"Fine, then forget it," Kid said and started walking away.
"Alright! Alright!" Cody called after him. "The two of you are free on Thursday."
"Thank you very much, it's been a pleasure doing business with you," Kid said and ran off in search of Lou.
"Come on, Ike," Cody begged. "All you have to do is Kid's chores and I'll do whatever you want. Just name it and it's yours." He stood with his hands help in prayer that Ike would say yes.
*I'll do it for two of those thick drawing tablet's Tompkins sells at his store. The good ones, not like what I have now.* Ike signed.
"Those things are expensive, Ike!" Cody exclaimed but quickly changed his tone as Ike started walking away.
"Fine, I'll have it for you in the morning," Cody sighed. This wasn't staying a cheap date anymore, but at least she was worth it. "Just don't forget, Thursday you have to do all Kid's chores. I'll have my hands full with Lou's and my own," he muttered.
Ike waited until Cody walked away then his face broke into a huge smile.
* * * * * * * *
"Buck, please, you're the only person I haven't borrowed money off of lately. It's real important, I need to get something in town," Cody pleaded. "I know I'm askin' for more than I usually do but I got no choice - look, whatever I can do to make it up to you, just name it and it's yours."
Buck rubbed his chin as he looked around the yard. This was a very tempting offer. His eyes finally found their target and he looked back at Cody, hiding his smile. "Teaspoon gave me the job of replacing the shingles that blew off the roof of the bunkhouse last night. Do it for me and we'll call it even. Should only take you a few hours, tops."
"I ain't that good with a hammer and you know it. It'll take me all day," Cody complained.
"Then find someone else to beg money off of," Buck told him as he started to walk away.
"You win," Cody said. "After I go to town first thing in the morning, I'll get started on the roof. And I better be done by nightfall 'cause I'll be kinda busy on Thursday."
"That's not my problem," Buck said, handing him the money then walking away, grinning.
* * * * * * * *
The next morning, Cody did his usual chores as fast as he could, hoping he could get away with not doing all of them. He rode into town and was back before Rachel was done with the breakfast dishes. He handed Ike his tablets then headed straight to the toolshed.
With Buck watching from a comfortable seat on the bunkhouse porch, Cody climbed the ladder, tools in tow. He gave the Kiowa a nasty look then set to work. As he pulled nails from the tin box, he said, "She loves me, she loves me not ... "
* * * * * * * *
Cody woke up bright and early Thursday morning. He had no choice, actually. The roof had taken him longer than he figured it would. Of course, daydreaming about the dance didn't help any. Now he had to do his chores that he'd ignored yesterday plus get started on today's. Then he had to work on Lou's as well. At least he wasn't the only one doing double duty, he noted, as he saw Ike working on the corral fence, which he knew was one of Kid's jobs for the day.
While Cody slaved away all day yesterday, Ike had drawn on his new tablets as Buck sat with him on the porch. Now, Cody watched as Lou brought out a picnic basket and blanket and met Kid, who was waiting with their horses already saddled. He sighed as they rode out of sight. "Have a good day off," he muttered. He tried to make himself feel better, thinking about Corinne and what kind of dress she would have on, hopefully tight.
Needing a break from mucking out stalls, he headed to the house to complete the job Lou had promised Rachel she'd help her with.
* * * * * * * *
"Rachel!!" Cody whined, not ten minutes later. "You can't do this to me, it's humiliating. What will the guys say if they see me like this?"
"That's not my problem. You're the one who came knocking on my door, saying you were here in Lou's place. Well, this is what I needed her help with, so now you're stuck," Rachel told him, not feeling one bit of remorse.
"I can't believe I got trapped into doing this, it was supposed to be so simple," Cody said, feeling sorry for himself.
Rachel shook her head at him. "Serves you right. Maybe now you'll know better than to fall in love with every woman you come across. Now stand up tall and hold still, so I can pin up this hem."
“I thought you might like some coffee.”
He looked up and smiled. She stood in the doorway, a large mug perched on a small tray. When they were with guests, even at dinner, he would drink his coffee from one of those dainty little cups with the flowers painted on the side. But when it was just them, when it was just him and a late night of correspondence, answering letters for newspapers and book publishers – like tonight – he preferred to drink his coffee from a tin cup like he once used beside a campfire. A mug that was large enough for him to wrap his hand around, drink from without the fear of breaking it, a way for him to remain connected to his past.
“Thank you,” he smiled warmly as she set it beside him. When she perched herself on the arm of his chair, he automatically wrapped his arm around her waist.
“Another late night?”
He sighed as he appraised the correspondence he’d neglected over the past month while they’d traveled. “Hopefully not too late.”
“Just be sure you come up to bed,” Nicolette smiled down at him.
“I always do, and I always will.” Then he laughed as his eyes twinkled, “Besides, these old bones can’t handle sleeping in a chair anymore. I’ve grown soft in my age. Or I’ve just grown accustomed to your soft curves besides me.”
“William,” she laughed mockingly, then brushed a quick kiss over his lips. “I’ll leave you to your work. The sooner you get done, the sooner you can appreciate my curves.”
He groaned as she walked away, but couldn’t help laughing. All these years later, she could still surprise him. And he still loved her as much as he did when they were first married.
It hadn’t been easy at first. She had to adjust to living in America, not having many people around her that could understand French. He had to adjust to being a husband, and not just a suitor with someone content to only see him every couple of days while he managed his show. There were days they stumbled, there were days they fought, days they cried and wondered if they’d been too foolish, too hasty in getting married. Would it just be easier if they admitted their mistakes and walked away?
He began sleeping in his office at the arena, not coming home as often, throwing himself into his latest plans for the show. All the while Nicolette waited patiently for him to come to his senses. And when he didn’t, she did the only thing she could. She threatened to leave, hoping he wouldn’t see her bluff.
Suddenly the thought of being alone, adrift, wandering again frightened him. He realized that while he promised to love and cherish her, he hadn’t, and he vowed to make it right. He vowed to prove to her that she hadn’t made a mistake marrying him and that she wouldn’t be better off returning – disgraced – to France.
He began relying on his foreman to oversee the day to day tasks of the show. He trusted his accountant to handle the bank accounts instead of insisting on managing them personally. He cut back the overtaxing rehearsal schedules, and the show actually improved because the performers weren’t exhausted by the time the lights came up.
And he began to woo his wife. He brought her breakfast in bed, came home and surprised her by taking her to lunch. Actually turned away his foreman one night when the man dared to interrupt dinner with a matter that could clearly wait, and sat with her, spent time with her, got to know her interests, her hobbies, the ways she occupied her days. He didn’t buy her off with trinkets and gifts – though when he saw something he was certain she would love he bought it for her and couldn’t wait to see her eyes light up in excitement – he showed her that his heart, his body, his everything was truly in their marriage.
And she stayed, as she always intended to. She told him of her deception the same day she told him he was going to be a father, and he laughed and pulled her close, thanking his lucky stars that he was a lousy poker player with his wife.