Author's Note: This story is a follow to the story Love and Memories that was written for the Writer's Ranch Anniversary contest. Eventually there will also be a part 2, once it gets written!
Jimmy drank the bitter swill he held in his hands. God, this stuff was awful, he thought, glowering at the bartender in front of him.
The young red-haired man, behind the worn bar, shrank at his hard stare. But that was not unusual; most people shrank at his stare. After all, he was a man to be reckoned with. He shook his head. He hated that phrase, to be reckoned with. But that is what he was. He was a legendary gunfighter. It was a choice once foisted upon him and now embraced by him.
As he picked up the newly refilled shot in front of him, he gave the barkeep a tiny, very tiny, nod of approval. The young man had broken out the good stuff. Of course he had, the good stuff was for people like him, Wild Bill Hickok.
He gulped the drink in a single swallow and motioned toward the shot glass. He wanted to get good and drunk. Being drunk kept him from thinking too much.
"Um," a voice from behind him said timidly, "Mr. Hickok, your room is ready."
Jimmy turned around and saw a boy, about twelve or thirteen standing there. The boys shrugged. "Mr. Riggins said to let you know."
"Thanks," Jimmy said gruffly. He turned back to the barkeep and threw a few coins on the table.
The barkeep nodded his thanks.
Jimmy slowly rose and followed the boy outside.
"You can check in whenever you are ready," the boy told him.
Jimmy nodded then asked, "Say, you know where a John Reynolds lives?" That's the reason he was in the town of Turkey Creek, to see John Reynolds. Apparently Mr. Reynolds was in a range war with someone.
The boy pointed eastward. "Take the road thata way and eventually you'll see a big old house. That's his place."
Jimmy gave the boy a curt nod as he began striding toward his horse which was tethered outside the saloon. He sighed softly as he unwrapped his reins from the post. John Reynolds and men like him were why he was a man to be reckoned with. For almost six months, he had been stepping in to these range wars and settling them. Sometimes just knowing Wild Bill Hickok was coming to town was enough to solve the dispute. Sometimes just his presence alone was all that was required to get the two warring parties to the negotiating table. Sometimes a knock on the offending party's door was all that was needed. And then sometimes he faced another gunfighter, hired by another rancher.
His reputation had grown by leaps and bounds since he had started answering these letters which had been coming to him for quite a while now. After JD Marcus' first book, the letters had trickled in. Lately that trickle had become a flood.
He grinned. Not losing a gunfight was a hell of a way to keep the letters, not to mention the money, coming. For most of his life he barely had two nickels to rub together. Now he never worried about money. He had more of it than what he knew what to do with.
He looked up as a cowboy stepped back, away from him and into the saloon. I reckon smiling like that, with no one to smile at was enough to cause anyone to run away, Jimmy thought. He recalled another time, another smile, when a saloon girl had told him his smile had sent chills down her spine.
Unbidden a memory of yet another time, another girl, popped into his head but he quickly shook it off. That girl was gone, he reminded himself. She left him. He had been happy with her. Very happy, it was the kind of happy he would have liked to have been for the rest of his life. Being with her had given him hope that there was something more in life for someone like him. But as it turned out, he was going to get even less that he had ever expected. He was going to be alone, away from his family and the girl he loved.
Jimmy cursed himself for not drinking more. Drinking and fighting were the only things made him stop thinking about her.
Jimmy forced his thoughts back to the subject of money. He really never knew how much money he had. That was the downside of his life these days. He never stayed in one place long enough to open a bank account. So whatever money was in his pockets is what he had. Today, he had enough to get by for a while. But after he met with John Reynolds, he would have a lot more, he thought. He could buy a nice steak dinner, a pint of whiskey and a nice saloon girl.
But oddly enough, these thoughts did not please him. Nothing pleased him. Not anymore.
He moved to mount his horse. As he swung his leg back behind him, he felt his boot kick something and saw a box fall to the ground, and cans were rolling into the dirt road.
Jimmy quickly jumped off his horse and with one hand holding his reins, he grabbed a can. "Sorry," he began, ready to hand the can to its owner. But he froze. The girl who had left him. The girl he had not been able to track down for months was standing right in front of him.
"Shelby," he whispered.
Shelby turned and took the can from him. "Thank, Mister…" she looked at him expectantly.
Jimmy's rage boiled over. How dare she pretend like they did not even know each other? Who the hell did she think she was? He shoved the can in his hand at her, angrily pushing her backward with the force of the movement.
Shelby took a step to regain her balance. "I'm sorry," she said evenly, "I didn't mean to inconvenience you."
She was sorry? Shelby would normally have shoved him back, or tossed the can at his head, or fallen into the road and had the townsfolk turn on him. She never took any guff from anyone. I shove her on the road and she apologizes? What the hell? Jimmy's head was so full of thoughts he could barely focus on Shelby. He was angry, hurt, and some part of him was elated. Elated to see the girl he loved with all his heart once more.
She looked at him carefully. "My name is Michelle, Mrs. Michelle Draper. Not Shelby," she finished, giving Jimmy a pointed look.
Jimmy stared at her. "What the hell kind of game are you playing?" he growled. Shelby and he had been engaged and then one day she vanished. Shelby had vanished before. But that was early on in their relationship. Before she left, they had been preparing for their wedding. And now she was married? To someone else!!
"I'm not playing a game," she said softly.
"Yeah, right, and I'm the damned queen of England." He glared at her. "Just drop the act and tell me why you left."
"Do you know me?" she whispered, a light Jimmy had not seen previously in her eyes, appeared.
"What does that mean?" he asked, feeling his anger turning into confusion. Shelby played a lot of games, some of them naughty, some of them dangerous, and some were just to have fun but she was not playing. Jimmy knew her well enough to know that. This girl in front of him was scared and excited at the same time. But it was not because Wild Bill Hickok, or her fiancé, James Hickok, was standing right in front of her. Her reaction was about something else.
A tall gray-haired man stepped between them. "Mrs. Draper," he said warmly. "How are you today?"
"Fine," Shelby, Mrs. Draper, whoever the hell she was replied.
"Didn't we have an appointment today?"
Shelby clapped a hand to her mouth.
"If you head over to my office now, I will meet you there. June can start your checkup," the gray-haired man told her.
"Yes, of course. I'm sorry I wasn't there. I completely forgot about the appointment," Shelby said.
"It is not a problem, truly it isn't," the man assured her.
"I'll see you soon," Shelby said. She looked at Jimmy once more before she began hurrying away.
As soon as she was out of earshot, the gray-haired man turned to Jimmy. "You know her?"
Jimmy was half expecting to be warned off. Well, this old geezer was not about scare him off. Not after finally finding Shelby after so long. It had been nearly six months since he had last seen her.
His mind went back six months in time. He and Shelby had just had dinner. Jimmy had been trying to lure her back to his, their, home. But Shelby had refused. She kept saying it would be better to wait.
"Like fine wine," she had laughed.
"What?" Jimmy exclaimed. "What's wine got to do with you leaving me alone at night?"
"It'll be sweeter with time passing," she said with a grin. "I want you to miss me"
Jimmy leaned in to her. "I miss you," he murmured, before he kissed her hungrily.
After a long while, Shelby pulled back, her breath coming quickly. "Waiting will make the wedding night better." Jimmy wondered if she was trying to convince him or herself.
He had rolled his eyes, but he had not pushed the issue further. If she wanted to wait until the wedding, he'd wait. He'd have done anything for her.
Jimmy had taken her home that night and when he stopped by the next day, after lunch, she was gone. He had not seen her again until right this moment.
"You hear what I just said?" the gray haired man demanded.
"Huh?" Jimmy said, feeling rather sheepish, daydreaming about Shelby like that.
The man shot him a look of disgust and Jimmy was tempted to wipe that look off his face. But the other part of him just wanted to hear what the man had to say.
"Mrs. Draper, you know her?"
"I don't know a Mrs. Draper," Jimmy said coolly.
The gray-haired man looked at him expectantly.
"I do know a Shelby Wilson," he added, his voice turning bitter as the word missus reverberated in his head.
The man sighed. "I'm Doc McGee. I have been treating Michelle, Shelby," he paused, waiting until Jimmy nodded at him before continuing. "Her and her husband moved here a couple of months back -"
"Six months ago?" Jimmy interrupted. Is that why he had not been able to find her? A new name, a new life? He had not even considered that possibility. He had considered the possibility that she had been killed, because of his reputation. But no one had laid claim to killing her. No one had bragged about murdering Wild Bill Hickok's fiancée so he had begun to discount that idea. After all, killing Shelby would have been a message to him. But there had been no message.
Lately, he had been thinking she ran out on him. That thought had festered inside him, causing his bitterness to grown by leaps and bounds. Shelby had left him, without so much as a note.
"About," Doc McGee replied.
"Well, then, if she's all set in her new life, I won't interrupt it," Jimmy said angrily. He began to move toward his horse.
"If you know her, maybe you can help her."
Jimmy stopped. "Ask her husband to help her."
"He hasn't been able to."
"Too bad," Jimmy scowled.
"If you really do know her, maybe you can help her remember."
"Remember? Remember what?" Jimmy exclaimed loudly.
Jimmy sat in the saloon. He was not drinking, a fact that made the young barkeep very nervous. The barkeep had asked him no less than seven times if he needed anything and each time he had asked, Jimmy had waved him away.
He liked this spot by the window. It afforded him a good view of the doctor's office. After his brief conversation with Doc McGee, he went to the saloon. He considered getting another drink but decided against it. He wanted to be clear headed when he met with the doctor again.
The doctor had told him to stop by in an hour but instead of meeting with John Reynolds, like he was supposed to, Jimmy had decided to keep a watch on the doctor's office. He wanted to see Shelby. See her leave and with whom she left with, he thought grimly. He wanted to see that damned husband of hers.
And a few minutes later, his vigilance was rewarded. Shelby and a small blond haired man stepped out. Jimmy could not really see the man; he was blocked by Shelby. And, he thought irritably, it was hard for him to focus on that man with Shelby there. His eyes drank in every inch of her. She was thinner than when he last saw her. Her dark brown hair was tied up in tight bun and she wore a plain white bonnet. A bonnet? Shelby hated bonnets. Why was she wearing one? She also had on an ugly gray dress and just hung on her.
He watched as the couple walked down the street and disappeared around the corner. He waited a few minutes, threw some money on the table and then hurried outside, quickly making his way to the doctor's office. He pushed the door wide open.
Doc McGee jumped when the door slammed against the wall. Then he saw who was there and chuckled. "You like making grand entrances?"
Jimmy felt a wave of foolishness rise inside him. He was acting like he was coming into a saloon, ready for a brawl. This doctor was not his enemy. He was the only person who was going to give him information about Shelby.
Jimmy took a seat across from the doctor, who was seated at a small, wooden desk. "Sorry," he muttered, "habit."
The doctor put a thick file in front of him. "This is her file."
"Can I read it?"
The doctor shook his head. "Not now. I'd like to hear what you have to say first."
Jimmy quickly told his tale. He left out they met, how he and the other former Express riders had helped her out of a heap of trouble. But he did tell the doctor about their engagement and how one day she was there and then she was gone.
"I thought she was dead for a while," Jimmy admitted.
"What changed your mind?"
"No one bragged about it."
"Killing her would have been about you?"
Jimmy nodded. "At least that's what I figured."
"You sure she just didn't walk out on you?"
"I thought that. I thought that for a long time."
"I don't know," Jimmy answered, his eyes filling with sadness. "She's married." He met the doctor's eyes. "But you said she doesn't remember anything." It was that fact that gave him hope. Hope that Shelby had not left him because she had stopped loving him.
"She and Peter Draper moved here six months ago. He brought his wife in and said they had been in a wagon accident. He was concerned about her because she couldn't seem to remember anything. Not even her name."
Jimmy frowned. Had she left him for this Draper fella and gotten into an accident?
"And then a few days later, he asked the preacher to marry them," the doctor continued.
"Why?" Jimmy's scowl deepened. "I thought they were already married."
"That's what he said." The doctor shrugged. "Peter said he thought it might help his wife remember."
"But it didn't?"
"Nothing he does, none of the stories he tells her, or the memories he shares help her. In fact, these stories often upset her."
"Is that why they are coming to see you?"
The doctor nodded. "I don't know what else to do. Mrs. Draper's head injury has healed."
"She had a large wound on the side of her head when I first saw her. I think that injury caused her to lose her memories," the doctor explained.
Jimmy frowned. When had she gotten hurt? "Is it possible she was injured somewhere else?"
"I assume so. Peter said they had been traveling. Why, what are you thinking?"
"I don't know," Jimmy shrugged. "But maybe he took her and she got hurt or she got hurt in Rock Creek and then he brought her here." Or maybe she left him, got hurt and then that fella found her and brought her here.
"What do you think about her husband?" Jimmy asked.
"I don't know much," the doctor replied. "He owns a small farm, keeps to himself. He and Michelle," he paused, "go to church on Sundays and stay for the socials."
"So what makes you think I can help her? Her life seems just fine," Jimmy said, his anger bursting out. His life had gone to hell since he last saw her, all because he had lost the woman he loved while her life was just dandy.
"Sometimes, when Peter talks, she stares out the window, like even imagining what he is saying is causing her physical pain. At the church functions, she tries to make jokes, help out with the food, but he always stops her from talking to the other folks."
"So her life his miserable because he likes to keep to himself?!" Jimmy raged. Who wouldn't want to be alone with Shelby?
"Like he's hiding," the doctor said gently.
"Hiding her?" Jimmy asked, his anger evaporating.
"I don't know," Doc McGee said, "you probably think this is all crazy. And here's the craziest thing."
Jimmy crossed his arms, waiting.
"The other day my wife sent some pie to my office and I asked the Drapers to share some with me."
Jimmy could only stare at the man.
"Mrs. Draper burst into tears when I handed her a slice and Peter just said she doesn't like pie but he looked as confused as I did."
"Shelby can't eat pie unless she's drinking," Jimmy paused, "or I'm holding her." Holding her tight, letting her talk about that particular pie and what it meant to her.
The doctor gave Jimmy a sad smile. "Pies have a lot of memories for her?" he asked kindly.
Jimmy could only nod.
"It's that kind of thing and then whole marriage rush that made me suspect Peter," Doc McGee explained.
"I couldn't understand the need to get married," he paused, "if they were already married."
Jimmy's eyes widened. Now Shelby was stuck with the man. He began to think she did not come with this Peter person by choice. A flicker of hope began to grow inside him. Maybe Shelby did not willingly leave him.
"Michelle, Shelby," the doctor corrected himself, obviously deciding that he believed Jimmy's story, "could barely stand up and he wanted them to get married. Why not wait until she was better?"
"Because she might remember and leave him?" Jimmy guessed. "Without that legal tie."
"I was thinking that."
"So why didn't you stop the wedding?" Jimmy demanded.
"It wasn't until this past month that I began to suspect Peter. Up until then I thought his intentions were good."
"You suspect him? Why because of the way he reacted when she cried?" Jimmy exclaimed.
"Yes," the doctor replied. "He did not know how to comfort her. And lately," he stopped.
"Lately?" Jimmy prompted him.
"She's had some bruises," he said quietly, his voice filled with sorrow.
Jimmy jumped to his feet. "I'll kill him," he growled.
"They are legally married," the doctor reminded him. "She's his to do with as he pleases." He motioned Jimmy to sit back down. "I have a better idea," he continued.
"What?" Jimmy asked skeptically, reluctantly taking his seat. Nothing sounded better than putting a bullet between that weasel's eyes.
"I think if you spend some time with her, give her something real to remember, she might recover her actual memories."
"And how I am supposed to do that? You won't let me kill the man? How am I supposed to spend time with his wife?" Jimmy asked in disbelief.
The doctor shrugged. "I think you are resourceful enough to figure out a plan. And if you need any help, I'd be glad to be of assistance."
The man was crazy, Jimmy decided. But it was nice feeling he had an ally in all this.
"I just have one thing to ask of you," the doctor added.
"Don't tell her you know her and tell her about her past."
"Then how am I supposed to help her?" Jimmy exclaimed.
"Be subtle. Guide her to her memories but don't force them on her. I'm afraid what will happen if she is forced to remember. She might be blocking them out for a reason. I think it would be better for her to remember on her own."
Jimmy sighed heavily. He had no idea how he was going to accomplish all this.
"I do have one idea," Doc McGee told him
"I'll send her to the apothecary and you be there."
"And then what do I do?" Jimmy exclaimed.
"My guess is she'll approach you, the rest you'll have to figure out."
Jimmy paced outside the apothecary, nervous as a cat.
After meeting with the doctor yesterday, he had ridden out to see John Reynolds. John Reynolds was certain another gunfighter would be coming and he wanted Jimmy to greet him when he arrived at his ranch. Of course he did not know when the other gunfighter would be coming, but John Reynolds had paid Jimmy handsomely to wait.
This all suited Jimmy just fine. He needed some time to try to do what the doctor wanted about Shelby. And even better, he had some money to spend, maybe on her, if it would help. It sure could not hurt.
Jimmy shook his head. His thoughts were so jumbled. He took a deep breath and sat down on the chair that was on the store porch. Doc McGee said she would come to him. Just let it happen, Hickok, he told himself.
A few moments later, Shelby came out of the apothecary, holding a small bag. She stopped, and stared at him.
He tipped his hat. "Afternoon."
Shelby gave him a quick nod and moved toward the steps, but Jimmy noted that she was still looking at him.
He rose quickly and grasped her arm. "You were just about to go tumbling down those steps," he told her with an easy smile. Easy, yeah, right, his insides were churning like crazy. Nothing about this situation was easy.
"Oh," she glanced backwards at the steps, "thanks."
"Maybe me saving you can serve as an apology."
"An apology?" Shelby's brow furrowed.
"I was awfully rude yesterday, knocking your cans down like that, and then I didn't even apologize for it." He gently rubbed her arm with his other hand.
"Oh, that." Shelby stopped. "You dented my cans," she said, a teasing light appearing in her eyes and for a moment Jimmy was certain she remembered him but just as quickly the light vanished. "And you also made me late," she added glumly.
Jimmy guessed she was referring to her husband when she said late. He supposed Peter Draper was not pleased with his wife last night, being late for their doctor's appointment, he thought. He had better not have laid a hand on her, he raged inwardly.
Shelby stared at him, still not removing her arm from his gentle grasp. "I need to be going," she said softly, while making no attempt to leave.
Jimmy only nodded, wishing he knew what to say, how to keep her with him. But nothing came to mind. His heart was too full for his head to think properly. But it gave him a good feeling to know Shelby was not running off. She appeared to be wishing she had something to say to him too.
"Mrs. Draper," the doctor called out cheerfully.
Shelby pulled her arm free and turned to look at the doctor while Jimmy shot him a grateful look. Hopefully that doctor had more to his plan than a supposedly chance meeting.
"I have a box of the tonics we talked about," the doctor told Shelby.
"Oh," Shelby said, she glanced furtively at Jimmy before she spoke again. "Can I get them tomorrow? I walked to town today."
The doctor shot Jimmy a meaningful glance.
Jimmy immediately knew what the doctor wanted him to do. "I'd be happy to take you home, help you out with those supplies," he said quickly.
"What?" Shelby exclaimed. "No, you don't have to do that. I mean you don't even know me." She stopped at stared at him, and Jimmy was certain she was searching his face for a clue. She obviously sensed something about him but clearly did not know what it was.
"I feel bad for how I behaved yesterday," Jimmy said. "This will make things square between us."
"No, you don't have to," Shelby said once more. She moved backward and nearly fell down the steps again.
Jimmy quickly caught her.
"I don't know what's wrong with me," she whispered.
Jimmy moved to take her hands in his. She was shaking. "Please," he murmured, "please let me do this for you." He meant so more than a simple ride home. God, he loved her. It took every ounce of strength he had not to pull her close and tell her how much he had missed her. But somehow he managed not to.
"It'll help ease my guilt," he continued, forcing himself to give her a teasing smile.
"Who knew knocking down a few cans could cause so much guilt?" Shelby returned his smile.
"You'd be surprised," Jimmy told her, his eyes locked with hers.
"Well, how can I say no then?" Shelby met his steady gaze.
"You can't," Jimmy answered. "Shall I meet you at the doctor's office?" he asked.
"I'll have the supplies ready by the time you get a buggy," Doc McGee said, his interjection causing Jimmy to finally break his gaze from Shelby. "Ask for Buddy. He'll help you out down at the livery."
"Buddy?" Jimmy asked. What did it matter who he spoke to?
"Only Buddy," the doctor reiterated.
Jimmy gave Shelby's hands a quick squeeze before he finally released her. "See you soon."
Shelby nodded and Jimmy could feel her eyes on him all the way to the livery.
Jimmy pulled the reins, stopping the horse in front of the doctor's office. He quickly jumped off the buggy and hurried to the porch in front of the doctor's office. Shelby and Doc McGee stood quietly, waiting.
"Is that the tonic?" he asked, pointing to a crate on by the doctor's feet.
"Yes, indeed," Doc McGee replied cheerily. He seemed quite happy. This must have been his plan all along, Jimmy decided as he lifted the crate.
Once the crate was safely stored in the back of the buggy, he turned his attention to Shelby. "Ready?" he asked.
Shelby nodded, even though she looked anything but ready. She stood by the doctor's side, chewing her lower lip. Clearly she was having some misgivings about his offer to take her home.
Jimmy held out his hand and she clasped it tentatively. As he helped her onto the buggy, he looked back and the doctor and mouthed "Thanks."
The doctor gave him a grin that stretched from ear to ear.
Jimmy snapped the reins and slowly began moving out of town. It was once they had past the last building that Shelby spoke. "Thank you for doing his."
"I told you it would help ease my guilt," Jimmy reminded her.
"And that's it?" she asked suspiciously.
"Why? Does it appear as if I have bad intentions?"
"You called me Shelby."
"You remind me of her." Jimmy hated lying but he told himself that this really was not a lie, just a bit of misdirection. She did remind him of Shelby.
"Was she important to you?"
"Is she dead?"
"No." Just misplaced.
"Are you married to her?"
"No." Not yet.
"Did you end things with her?"
"I'd never end things with her."
"But you aren't with her now?"
"It's," Jimmy paused, "complicated."
"And I remind you so much of her that don't mind being seen with the town freak?" she asked.
"What?" Jimmy could not hide his surprise at her words.
"Town freak, oh come on. I'm sure the doctor has filled you in about me."
"He told me you lost your memories, yes. I wouldn't say that makes you a freak."
"Yeah, then why does half the town avoid me," she muttered under her breath.
Because your husband pushes them away, Jimmy thought. "I'm not avoiding you," he said softly.
"So why does a big shot like you want to spend any time with me?" she asked but there was no anger in her voice.
"Big shot?" Jimmy countered, hoping to buy himself some time as he was not sure how to answer this particular question.
"Aren't you a big shot?" She studied him. "You are dressed awfully nice for Turkey Creek."
Yes, he was dressed a whole lot nicer than when he last saw her. He made more money these days. And he had learned that dressing the part made the job of gunfighter a whole lot easier. "I've got a part to play," Jimmy answered honestly. Didn't she realize he was a gunfighter? If not, he certainly was not going to tell her. But then again, Shelby, his Shelby, never knew who he was until he had told her.
"Do I play a part?"
"Are you asking me if I'm using you?"
Jimmy shook his head. "I'm not."
"Then why are you taking me home?"
"I want to."
She looked at him suspiciously.
"Something wrong with being neighborly?"
"No, I guess not," Shelby replied reluctantly.
Jimmy looked ahead. "Am I going the right way?"
"Yeah, keep heading this way." Shelby gave him a small smile. "Sorry, I forget you don't know where our place is." She looked at him. "Sometimes I get the feeling you know everything about me," she added softly.
Jimmy swallowed hard, wishing he knew what to say. But words had never come easy to him and this situation just made it even more difficult. But fortune, or Doc McGee, smiled upon him once more. One of the buggy wheels groaned loudly and then cracked.
He reflexively grabbed Shelby around the waist when the buggy pitched to the right.
So that's why Buddy had been so insistent on him taking this particular wagon, Jimmy realized. He mentally thanked Doc McGee once more for setting this whole thing up.
Jimmy pulled Shelby close and held her against him.
"I'm married," she whispered but Jimmy noted that she did not pull herself out his arms.
"I can't do this," she said and Jimmy reluctantly released her.
He jumped off the buggy and helped her off.
"Can it be fixed?" she asked, staring at the broken wheel.
"Not out here."
Jimmy turned to look at her. Why was she apologizing?
Shelby was still staring at the wheel. "I must seem crazy to you."
"No, I -" Jimmy began. He was pushing things, confusing her further. He was supposed to work on memories, he reminded himself. Not trying to figure out a way to kiss her.
"Every day I wake up and I try so hard to remember. I try to remember why I married Peter, why I'm living in this town and I just can't," she cried. "I don't know what I'm doing. Ever."
Jimmy took her back in his arms, stroking her hair.
"My mind is always whirling and when you held me," she paused, "hold me, it stops."
"I'm glad," Jimmy murmured.
"But it's not right." Shelby moved out of his embrace.
It was right, but Jimmy could not tell her why it was right. "Target shooting always helps me," he said.
"What?" Shelby exclaimed.
"Target shooting," Jimmy explained. "It always quiets my mind."
"You want me to shoot? A gun?"
Shelby stared at him for a long while. Jimmy felt his face begin to flush. He had finally been able to work something they had done together into a conversation and this is how it turns out. It turned out just rotten. Shelby clearly thought he was the crazy one now. Great, so much for Doc McGee's brilliant ideas.
After what seemed like be an eternity, Shelby said, "Okay."
Jimmy lined up six bottles on a fallen tree trunk. "I know it ain't level the whole way cross, but it helps your aim if you don't just go down a single line, firing away," he explained as he handed her one of his colts.
Shelby gave him a wry smile. "Thanks, Teach."
"Just pay attention," Jimmy told her, feigning sternness. "Hold the gun straight, but don't lock your arms. The colt has a kick after you fire, so be ready for it." He moved to her side. "Ready when you are."
Shelby pulled the trigger, and the gun's recoil sent her reeling backward. Jimmy noted that her shot was way off too.
Automatically, he put his arms around her and put his hands over hers, raising the colt so it was just below her shoulders. "Let's try again. First, find your line of sight."
He saw Shelby close one eye then she adjusted the colt, aiming it at a bottle.
"Now squeeze the trigger."
Shelby fired and the glass bottle shattered into a million pieces. Jimmy steadied her so she remained in place when the recoil shot through her body.
"I did it!" Shelby said happily.
"Do it again," Jimmy encouraged her. He put his arms around her once more, just to steady her, of course, but let her aim and fire the gun.
She shot three times and hit three bottles. Shelby leaned back against him, looking out at the broken bottles. "I'm a good shot," she declared.
"That you are," Jimmy murmured, as he pressed his lips against her neck.
For a moment, Jimmy froze. What was he thinking? He knew he should not kiss her, but he could not help himself. Feeling her body pressed against his, it brought back too many feelings - desire, longing and a pang of sorrow. But he could not have stopped himself from kissing her if he had tried.
But instead of pulling away, as he had expected, Shelby turned around and kissed him on the lips. Jimmy took the gun from her hands and placed it next to him as he eased Shelby on the ground. She was returning his fevered kisses with the same passion as they were being given.
He unbuttoned buttons of her blouse as Shelby pulled his shirt off. It was only when he felt her unbuckle his gun belt that Jimmy actually had a thought. Not out here. Making love to Shelby out here was not safe. He was a gunfighter. He needed his gun on him when he was outside.
He pulled away. "Let's go back to my hotel room," he murmured, drawing her upright.
Shelby blinked at him. "Wh-what?" she stammered. She shook her head as if to clear it, and then suddenly jumped to her feet, grabbing her blouse. "Your hotel room!" she exclaimed. "You said you weren't using me!" she said accusingly.
Jimmy got on his feet as quickly as he could, buckling his gun belt and putting on his shirt rapidly. "I'm not," he said quietly. "I would never use you."
"Shut up! I'm nothing, a nobody. I know you are a big shot. So why try to seduce me?"
Jimmy tried to catch her hands but she danced away. "I'm not," he said plaintively. How did he make her understand? He loved her.
"Don't," she cried, moving away from him. "Did you run out of money for saloon whores?"
Jimmy winced. "It's not like that," he said brokenly, reaching for her once more.
"Leave me be," she shouted before she turned and ran.
Jimmy ran after her but she quickly vanished. She could not have outrun him, he decided. Now where was she?
He moved quickly through the woods then suddenly he felt a pain in his belly. Shelby jumped out from behind a tree. She dropped the tree limb she had whacked him with and grabbed him by the shoulders, flipping him over her hip.
For a second, she stared at him, dumbfounded by what she had done. Then she turned and ran.
Jimmy cursed himself. He had forgotten that Shelby could defend herself. Her brother had taught her all kinds of little tricks. Her tactics were designed to slow an assailant down and she definitely had slowed him down.
He struggled to his feet, gasping for air.
"This is what my pa paid for?" a voice said, stepping toward him.
Jimmy looked up. He was pretty sure that was John Reynolds son, Ty, standing in front of him. He was with a few ranch hands.
"He's a fraud," one of the ranch hands declared. "I can't believe that little gal knocked you out."
"She didn't knock me out," Jimmy scowled. Shelby had gotten away because he did not want to hurt her. Her techniques did not work on people who actually wanted to harm her. But these idiots had witnessed a legend being made a fool of by a slight, little girl. Reputations were easy to gain but hard to maintain. This incident was definitely going to hurt his reputation.
Another chimed in, "I told you he was too young to be Wild Bill Hickok."
"Shut up," Jimmy growled. "You want me to prove who I am? You wanna draw on me?"
"You might be faster than me, but that don't make you Wild Bill," the ranch hand retorted.
Ty laughed. "Wait till my pa hears about this."
"He cheated your pa," a ranch hand reminded him.
"That he did. Probably spent all my pa's money already." Ty looked at him contemptuously.
"Get the hell out of my way," Jimmy snarled, shoving one of the ranch hands.
"This boy needs to learn you don't cheat John Reynolds," Ty announced.
Each of the ranch hands grabbed one of Jimmy's arms.
"My pa paid for a legend, not a cheat," Ty told him before he slammed his fist into Jimmy's face.
Jimmy groaned as the doctor tightened the wrap around his ribs.
"Done," Doc McGee declared. He handed Jimmy a bottle. "This should keep the worst of the pain away." He gave Jimmy an assessing look. "You want to press charges?"
Jimmy shook his head as he buttoned his shirt. He did not want to speak. His eye was blackened and his jaw ached on both sides of his mouth. Not to mention the pain in his head. The doctor had told him he probably had a concussion and a few cracked ribs.
"You are just lucky Buddy wanted to get his buggy back. You could have been out there for days, considering the shape you are in."
Jimmy sighed. After Ty Reynolds and his buddies beat the hell out of him, Jimmy had limped to the buggy and then collapsed. Lucky for him, as the doctor mentioned, Buddy came out looking for his buggy and brought him back to town. The doctor had just finished patching him up.
"I strongly suggest you get some rest," Doc McGee concluded.
"I will," Jimmy mumbled. He got off the exam table he had been sitting on.
"Need some help getting to the hotel?"
"No, I'll manage."
"Can I ask how it went with Shelby?"
"Good until I scared her off by kissing her," Jimmy replied quietly.
The doctor sighed. "I supposed that was inevitable, given how you feel about her."
Jimmy studied the tips of his boots. He had no control when it came to Shelby. Never did, never would.
"If you are feeling up to it, we can try again in a few days."
Jimmy nodded. He would not give up on Shelby.
"Get some rest, son," Doc McGee called out to him as he left the doctor's office.
Slowly, Jimmy made his way to the hotel. As he approached the stairs, the clerk called out to him. "Mr. Hickok," he snickered.
Jimmy turned back around and limped to the front desk where the clerk was. "What?" he demanded as loudly as he could.
"Mr. Reynolds cancelled your room."
"What?" He had paid for a week. Not that blowhard, Reynolds.
"He said he'd keep the money you paid for the room in return for the lack," the clerk snickered, "of services you provided. He said you should be happy he ain't pressing charges of fraud against you," the clerk told him happily.
Skinny little worm was mocking him, Jimmy fumed. But he was in no shape to argue and he really did not know what to say. He was who he was. He was never the legend the ten cent novels made him out to be. He was just a stupid fool who was really good with a gun.
He reached into his pocket and threw some coins on the desk.
"That will be enough for tonight and tomorrow night," the clerk informed him smugly.
"And that's when I'll leave," Jimmy declared, shooting the clerk a menacing look. He was please to see the clerk deflate at his harsh words.
He turned and slowly went up the stairs. Each step upward sent a stabbing pain through his leg. It was just a bad bruise, it was not broken, he reminded himself. Doc McGee said so.
He entered his room and fell onto the bed, not even bothering to get undressed. Sleep is what he needed.
The next morning, Jimmy finished the last of his breakfast and threw a few coins on the table. Slowly he made his way out of the hotel restaurant.
He had fallen into bed when he had gotten back to the hotel yesterday, slept all afternoon, through dinner and did not wake until this morning. When he finally awoke, he made his way back downstairs and had just finished eating breakfast.
The rest had helped ease his pain, well his physical pain, considerably. He no longer moved like an eighty year old man, just a sixty-year-old one, he thought wryly. He stopped by the front desk, pleased to see the smug clerk from yesterday was gone. In his place was an older, gray-haired man.
"I'm gonna stay one more night," he told the clerk, dropping a few more coins on the table. He hated that he had to ration his money this way. But the way he had figured, he would stay an extra night and then would be able to ride, ride slowly, but ride nonetheless, back to Rock Creek. It would be cheaper than paying for a stage to take him home. He would worry about Shelby once he was healed. He would come back and figure something out with Doc McGee. He was not in any kind of shape to stick around and try to win her back.
"Thank you, Sir," the clerk replied, gathering the coins.
Jimmy turned and made his way back up the stairs. He would rest a bit more then maybe stop by the doctor's office for a quick check up and a discussion about what to do about Shelby.
He reached for the door of his room, surprised to see that the door just swung open. He put his hand on his colt, expecting Ty Reynolds to be there. But instead, much to his shock, and joy, he saw Shelby there.
Shelby rose and moved toward the door. She pushed the door shut and locked it. "No one knows I'm here, and I want it to stay that way," she explained before she turned to face him. "I hope its okay that I let myself in." She stopped, staring at his face. "What happened?" she whispered, placing her hand on his cheek.
Jimmy shook his head. His face could wait. "What are you doing here?" he asked quietly.
"Who did this to you?"
Shelby sighed heavily.
Jimmy reached out and brushed his thumb against the scar just above her left eyebrow. "I need to know what you are doing here," he told her firmly.
Shelby put her hand over his. "I have another one, here." She moved his hand to the side of her head and Jimmy's felt a raised ridge.
"What happened?" he asked with a frown.
"I got hurt in a wagon accident. Doc says that injury might be why I can't remember," She gave him an assessing look. "You don't know how I got that scar, but you know how I got this scar, don't you?" She pointed to the one above her eyebrow.
Jimmy could only nod. After she had gotten that scar, he had been sure of her love for him. She still had not admitted it to him. Even after he had told her that he loved her, she had not told him about her feelings for him. But then she had been hurt, and she had hidden that injury from him for as long as she could. At first, Jimmy had been furious. How could she have hidden something so important from him? But when he realized why she did it, he realized the depth of her feelings for him. Shelby had kept her injury a secret because she did not want him going after the man who did it, to keep him from possible injury, or worse.
"So what happened to you?" Shelby asked.
"Can you go first?" Jimmy said quietly.
Shelby gave him a sad smile. "You are a mule," she declared. But then she continued to speak. "Part of the reason I'm here is because of that scar. I have no idea how I got it, but I knew you did."
Jimmy shrugged. Was he supposed to tell her about her own life? Doc had told him to lead her to her memories, not give them all to her.
"The other reason might sound crazy. I told you half the town thinks I'm crazy."
"I don't think you're crazy."
She gave him a rueful smile. "What I'm going to say will just prove them right."
Jimmy looked at her expectantly. Did she remember him?
"Every day when I go over the little bridge to get to town, I want to throw myself off of it," she began.
"No." The word was torn from his throat. He grabbed her wrists. "Don't ever do that, you hear me?" he said, his voice breaking at the thought of losing her forever.
Shelby's eyes filled with tears. "I hate my life. I hate every single day. I don't know what anyone expects from me, or what I'm supposed to be doing. Nobody needs me or wants me. I have no reason to exist."
Jimmy felt a sharp pain inside him. He hated hearing the anguish in her voice.
"And I'm stuck with a man I don't know and don't like," she continued. "I don't even know why we are married. I'd leave him but I didn't know how to get away from him. Where would I go if I wasn't with him? I can't remember anything else, my family, my friends, nothing. So every day I felt more and more stuck."
He should have killed that Peter. Doc McGee was wrong to talk him out of it, Jimmy thought.
"So the only idea I had to get away from this life I hated was to throw myself off the bridge. I thought about it every day." Shelby tilted her head to one side. "But I didn't think about it yesterday."
Jimmy stared at her.
"Yesterday I wondered if I'd see you in town."
Jimmy pulled her close.
"I wondered what stupid thing you'd say to get me alone with you," she laughed. "So instead I figured I'd do something to get us alone together."
Shelby looked up at him. "I asked the clerk which one was your room yesterday. Today, I went up the stairs, pulled a pin from my hair and opened your door with it." She smiled, "I didn't know I could do that."
Jimmy smiled as well. She was very good at picking locks.
"We knew each other, before I lost my memories, didn't we?" Shelby asked softly. When she saw Jimmy hesitate, she added, "You can tell me. I won't break like a china doll."
Jimmy could only nod.
"What was I to you?"
Jimmy picked her up; all his aches and pains disappeared into nothingness, while Shelby wrapped her legs around him. "You are everything to me."
As they tumbled on the bed, he said, "I need you, I want you." He eagerly sought her lips and kissed them. "Don't ever leave me," he beseeched her.
"Was I the girl you described the other day? The one you said I remind you of?"
"My Shelby," Jimmy whispered as he rolled on top of her.
As Shelby snuggled against him, Jimmy took one of her hands in his, entwining her fingers with his own.
"I take it we've done this before," Shelby said with a smile as she moved even closer to him.
"A few times," Jimmy grinned.
Shelby kissed his bruised cheek. "You gonna tell me about how you got so beat up now?"
Jimmy sighed heavily. "Do I have a choice?"
Shelby laughed. "Nope."
"After you left me in the woods, I got jumped by Ty Reynolds," Jimmy told her glumly. It was not easy telling the woman you loved how you got humiliated, he thought.
"Why would Ty beat you up like that?"
"You know him?" Jimmy asked, an unexpected stab jealously rising up inside him.
"A bit, from church." Shelby stroked his cheek. "Why'd he do this to you?"
"They saw how easy you knocked me around so they decided I wasn't a real gunfighter, just a fella acting as one to steal John Reynolds money," Jimmy told her quietly.
Shelby's eyes grew wide. "This was my fault," she breathed.
"I'm so sorry. I didn't know I could even knock you over like that and -"
"I knew, I should have been more careful," Jimmy said firmly. "Those fellas didn't believe who I was from the beginning. They were just looking for something to prove that I was a cheat."
"I shouldn't have left you," Shelby said sadly. "I'm sorry."
Jimmy kissed the top of her head. "It's not your fault. You got nothing to be sorry for."
Shelby looked at him. "Are you a gunfighter?"
"I don't know anymore. Once Ty spreads the word about how he thinks I'm a fake, most people won't believe I am a gunfighter," Jimmy said thoughtfully.
Shelby gave him a curious look. "Are you happy or sad about that? Do you want to be a gunfighter?"
"I think I'd rather be a lawman," Jimmy replied. "Maybe Ty Reynolds did me a favor." He leaned in toward her, kissing her.
"I'm hungry," Shelby whispered.
Jimmy rolled his eyes. "You are always hungry," he teased. He sat up, pulling Shelby up as well, mentally calculating the amount of money he had. How could he afford to buy her lunch? He hated having so little money. He supposed he could buy her lunch if they left tomorrow.
"Huh?" Jimmy said. He had been so busy thinking about his money that he did not hear what Shelby had just said.
"I said," Shelby said in mock sternness, "do you like cheese sandwiches?" She reached over him and picked up a picnic basket that was next to the bed. Jimmy had not even seen it there but he was happy to see it now.
Jimmy grinned, his worries about money dissolved instantly. "I most definitely like cheese sandwiches."
"Good," Shelby told him, "I brought plenty." She rummaged in the basket and pulled out two sandwiches. "I brought some cake too."
Jimmy unwrapped the sandwich and took a bite. "No apples?" he teased. Shelby loved apples. She ended most of her meals with an apple.
"Apples?" She gave him a puzzled look.
Jimmy waved a hand it her. "Never mind," he said, suddenly feeling uneasy.
"I like apples?" Shelby persisted.
"Yeah," Jimmy replied. He took another bite, quickly changing the subject. He did not want to focus on what he knew about Shelby. Because it was plain as the nose on his face, that Shelby was unnerved by his statement about apples. "The bread is good."
"Yeah, it's delicious."
"I baked it."
Jimmy smiled. "Then I love it." He swallowed and asked, "What made you decide to bring food?"
"I figured if I was up here, with you," Shelby paused, "I'd be here a while." She gave him a wicked smile. "And I didn't want anyone to know I was here, so…"
Jimmy kissed her. "You planned on getting me into bed, and having your way with me, didn't you?"
Shelby wrapped her arms around him. "At least I'm feeding you."
"I'd rather have you here than a Christmas dinner," Jimmy told her.
Jimmy woke about an hour later. It would be dark in a couple of hours. He needed to do what had to be done right now. He crept from the bed and dressed, then sat in a chair by the window. He would wait until Shelby awoke and tell her what was going on. He did not want her to wake up alone.
A few moments later, Shelby opened her eyes. She sat up and let the sheet drop. "Come back to bed," she said alluringly.
It took every ounce of strength he possessed not to jump back into bed with her. "I need to do something first."
Shelby frowned, pulling the sheet up. "What?" she asked suspiciously.
"Call out Peter."
"What?" Shelby exclaimed. "What on earth for? He's no gunfighter." She stopped. "You are going to kill him," she said flatly. "Why?"
Jimmy moved to the bed and lifted the side of the sheet, so her ribs were exposed. "That's why," he said harshly.
Shelby did not even glance at her ribs, which were covered with faded bruises. "Don't."
Jimmy stood up and stalked to the window, leaning back against the wall. "And why the hell not? Look what he did to you? Did he knock you down and kick you?"
"Yes," Shelby replied evenly.
"But I don't want you to kill him."
"He beat you, fed you lies about your life and you are fine with it? What? Are you sweet on him?" Jimmy burst out. He hated feeling this way. But he hated knowing that Shelby had been with Peter. Yes, it was not her choice. But who said feelings had to be rational?
Shelby wrapped the sheet around her, and got out of bed. "How could you say that to me?" she cried. "You think I wanted to be beaten? You think I wanted to sleep with him? He was my husband. I didn't have a whole lot of choice in either matter." She turned away from him and began gathering her clothes.
Jimmy rushed to her side. "I'm sorry," he said plaintively, "I'm a jerk. I hate him for taking you away from me, for hurting you. I don't care if he slept with you. That doesn't change the way I feel about you. Not one bit. I'm just being a stupid, jealous fool." He wrapped his arms around her waist. "I'm sorry, Shelby. I'm sorry."
"Why on earth are you jealous of him?" Shelby stopped moving and leaned against him.
"When you went missing, at first I thought you were kidnapped or worse," Jimmy swallowed hard. "I thought someone hurt you to get to me."
"Because of your reputation as a gunfighter?"
Jimmy nodded. "But I never got any word about who did it." He stopped.
"And?" Shelby looked at him, puzzled.
"And I got in my head that you left me. Maybe for someone else."
"Were we not getting along?"
"We were getting along just fine. I didn't say it was a sensible thought," Jimmy told her ruefully. "But I couldn't get it out of my head. And now I'm acting like a jealous fool. I'm sorry, Shelby."
"You've got no reason to be jealous. I never loved Peter. But you have to know this; I don't know how I feel about you."
Jimmy's heart dropped into his boots.
"I can't remember what we had," Shelby said sadly.
"Do you like being here, with me?" Jimmy said, almost cautiously.
Shelby put her hand on his chest, smiling. "Most definitely." But her smile quickly vanished. "I am just so confused. I want to be here, but I don't know why. Were we in love?"
She looked at Jimmy, questioningly, and he nodded.
"But I thought Peter and I had been in love too," Shelby continued. She sat on the bed and put her head in her hands. "I don't' know what to think anymore."
Jimmy sat beside her. "I think that's to be expected. Considering what you have been through."
Shelby dropped her hands and sighed. "You know, Peter didn't always hit me. It was only recently that he began hitting me. I think the lies he told me were to mold me into someone he wanted me to be. But I wasn't that person and so he hit me because I wasn't what he wanted me to be."
She turned to face him. "I can't be who you want me to be either."
"What does that mean?" Jimmy exclaimed.
"Nothing," she muttered, looking away.
"Shelby," Jimmy said expectantly.
"I don't want you to call Peter out."
"Why the hell not?"
"Because then I'll never know what happened. I want him to tell me how I ended up here. He can't tell us anything if he's dead."
"Fine," he grumbled.
"I won't call him out. What you said, finding out what happened, it makes sense. I'm assuming he took you, but maybe I'm wrong. It would be nice to find out what really happened," Jimmy said.
Shelby smiled. "Thank you." She glanced out the window. "We should go now, while it's light."
"My thought exactly," Jimmy answered, pleased to see they were at least on the same page about this.
Jimmy and Shelby walked slowly to her house. He did not have enough money to rent a buggy and honestly, he did not want to ride. His body was just too battered to tolerate riding a horse.
Besides, he thought with a smile, walking, holding Shelby's hand, telling her about Rock Creek and the people who lived there, had been enjoyable. He hoped he could spark a memory or two, but he did not. He sighed inwardly. He knew it would not be easy to help her regain her memories, but he just wanted her to remember so badly.
Just you remember, Hickok, he thought, she's here, holding your hand and that's a whole hell of a lot more than you had a few days ago.
When they got to a small, wood house, they stopped. "We're here," Shelby said glumly.
Jimmy squeezed her hand. "Let's go find out what Peter knows."
Shelby hugged him suddenly, burying her face in his chest. "I don't want to stay here, with him."
Jimmy lifted her chin. "You don't have to." He paused; her words earlier about not knowing how she felt about him were ringing his ears. "You can stay wherever you want."
Shelby nodded. She took a deep breath, and moved out of Jimmy's arms. She walked slowly to the door and opened it. Jimmy moved right behind her. Together they peered inside, looking all around the small house.
"He's not here," Shelby said her voice full of bewilderment. She hurried to the back and Jimmy found her looking in the closet. "His things are all gone."
Jimmy walked to the dresser and picked up a picture. He recognized the blond haired man in it with Shelby. Shelby was wearing a familiar blue dress but her expression was utterly blank. The man, however, was smiling broadly. "This him? Peter?"
Shelby moved toward him. "Yeah."
Jimmy frowned. "He looks familiar."
"Really? From where?" Shelby asked hopefully.
"I don't know," Jimmy replied. He waved the picture. "Can I keep it?"
"Sure, I don't think it will matter. I think Peter is gone," Shelby said sadly.
"Gone, are you sure?"
Shelby sat on the bed, her eyes filling with tears. "All his things are gone." She fell backward. "Now I'll never know anything."
Jimmy lay down beside her, stroking her hair. "We'll figure it out. You'll see. Once we get home, we'll start asking questions. Teaspoon might have some ideas too."
Shelby did not reply. She merely looked at the ceiling miserably.
Jimmy put his hand on her throat. "Where's your necklace?" He had noticed last night that the cameo that had brought them together was no longer around her neck. He could not even remember the last time he had seen her without it until he saw her in Turkey Creek.
Shelby turned to look at him. "What necklace?"
"Your cameo? You always wear it."
She shook her head. "I never had a cameo."
Jimmy frowned, an idea popping into his head. "Doc McGee said you were hurt when he first saw you. He said Peter said you were hurt traveling here. What's the first thing you remember?"
"Waking up, somewhere, asking Peter what was going on." She frowned. "I remember being upset and him saying something but I can't really remember it. The first clear memory I have is seeing Doc McGee's face. When I said I didn't know my name, he wanted to keep me at his house until I was better, but Peter said he was my husband and we had been married for one year. He thought by getting married again, on our anniversary, I'd remember the real thing." She closed her eyes. "It was all a lie," she said wearily.
"Yeah," Jimmy said softly.
"And now I'm stuck married to him."
"We can get a judge to annul it. He married you under false pretenses."
Shelby opened her eyes. "Really?"
"That's something at least."
"Do you remember if you had the cameo then?"
"No," Shelby replied thoughtfully, "I don't think so."
"I have two ideas about all this."
"Spill it, Mister."
Jimmy smiled. She was sounding more and more like the Shelby he knew. "One, Peter took you and you hit your head in a struggle with him and somehow the cameo got lost. But I can't see anyone as small as Peter taking you without a fight that no one even heard."
"What's your other idea?"
"That you were robbed. Someone hit you in the head, and then took your bag and your necklace. Peter found you, hurt, and he brought you up here."
"I know I've seen Peter someplace. It has to have been in Rock Creek," Jimmy told her resolutely.
"And Peter brought me here, to Turkey Creek? Why would he do that?"
Jimmy shrugged. "He wanted you, for himself. Once he realized you couldn't' remember anything, he must have thought up this whole plan of telling you you were his wife and filling your head with lies."
Shelby rolled on her side, leaning her cheek against her hand. "Sounds a pretty far fetched idea."
"Peter wanted you for himself, Shelby. I'm sure of it. The way Doc McGee said he kept you away from people, the way he fed you all kinds of lies. Heck, he didn't even want to leave you alone with a doctor when you were hurt. That sure seems like something a man who was hiding someone would do. You must have woken up at some point in time and when he realized you couldn't remember anything, he decided to kidnap you."
Shelby shuddered. "I don't like how it all sounds."
"Neither do I."
Shelby sat up. "Let's get out of here. I'm getting the willies."
"Don't you want your things?"
"No," Shelby said quickly. "He bought me those things. I don't want anything, nothing that will remind me of him."
Jimmy took her hand and squeezed it. "Then let's go."
Jimmy sat on the examining table in Doc McGee's office, swinging his legs back and forth, back and forth, as he waited anxiously. He and Shelby had stopped by so the Doc could check him out and let them know if he could travel safely. Doc McGee agreed to the idea of travel but only if they went by stage. He offered to loan Jimmy the money and Jimmy had accepted readily. He would pay Doc back as soon as he was in Rock Creek and working for Teaspoon again.
It was then Shelby had asked to speak to Doc McGee in private. At first Jimmy had thought it was about him, if he was really okay to travel. But then his imagination took hold as Doc and Shelby remained out of earshot for an ever increasing amount of time.
Maybe Shelby was remembering, maybe her head was bothering her; maybe she was leaving word on how Peter could contact her. He rubbed his aching jaw. Shut up, Hickok, just wait until they get back in the room, he chided himself mentally. Quit making yourself crazy.
It was then Shelby opened the door and walked in. She hopped up on the table next to him. "How are you?"
"Fine," Jimmy answered, waiting to see what she would say next. Shelby had to have been discussing something important with Doc.
"I expect you are wondering what we were talking about."
Jimmy shrugged, making his face as blank as he could. But it was hard. His insides were churning a mile a minute.
Shelby turned to meet his eyes. "Please don't take what I'm going to say the wrong way."
No good conversation ever started that way.
"There's so much I want to say."
"You have helped me, in so many ways."
Okay, when was the shoe gonna drop?
"I know you thought I was going back with you."
"You aren't?" Jimmy asked softly. It was even worse than he had imagined.
Shelby shook her head. "I can't just jump into a relationship with you. I know we were in one but I don't know you. And more importantly I don't know myself."
"It was that thing I said, about the apples." Jimmy recalled the expression on her face. She was so troubled by his stupid statement.
"Yeah," Shelby replied quietly. She took his hand and squeezed it. "I don't know myself as well as you know me."
"I won't say stuff like that," Jimmy interjected quickly. "I won't say nothing about you unless you ask first."
Shelby gave him a sad smile. "You were acting natural and if I put all these restrictions on what you can and can't say, it will make any conversation we have really difficult."
"But I knew it was wrong the minute I said it."
Shelby shook her head. "It wasn't wrong. It was completely natural to tease me about something I always did. But the thing is, I never did that here. I have no idea if I still love apples or if I have switched to cherries."
"So this is goodbye," Jimmy said sadly. He had found her only to lose her again. He wondered if a heart could actually break because right now it felt like his was snapping into a million pieces right about now.
"No," Shelby said quickly. "I just need some time."
Well, at least she was trying to cushion the blow.
"I want to learn who I am so when you say something about what I liked or used to do, it won't throw me so much." Shelby put her head on his shoulder.
Please don't say it.
"It isn't you, it's me."
And there it was. The tattletale words of a relationship ending.
"And I need to figure out who I am before I can figure out who we were." She lifted her head and looked at him carefully. "Do you understand?"
"Sure," Jimmy replied, hoping he sounded cavalier.
Shelby shook her head. "Don't do that."
"I thought you didn't know me," Jimmy snapped, his frustration and hurt finally boiling over.
"I don't, but I can see it in your eyes. You don't believe me when I tell you I just need time."
Jimmy could only shrug.
"I don't know myself and I know you know that," Shelby said firmly. "I also don't know how I feel about you."
"Yeah, I got that," Jimmy retorted sharply, jumping off the table. He glanced out the window. "Maybe I can still catch the stage." And get the hell away from you.
Shelby jumped off the table and positioned herself between Jimmy and the door. "Now you wait just one cotton-picking minute!"
"I am only doing what you want," Jimmy said, keeping his voice silky smooth.
"Really? Or are you trying to punish me?" Shelby glared at him.
Jimmy's only response was a hard look.
"Hmpf, I thought so," Shelby narrowed her eyes at him as she crossed her arms. She looked ready for a fight, Jimmy thought.
"Are we done? Can I go now?" Jimmy was in no mood to fight however, he was hurting and he wanted to go somewhere and lick his wounds. In private.
"Is that what you want? You want us to be done? Because I don't! That's not what I'm saying!"
Jimmy took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. "Then what are you saying?"
"I'm asking you to wait for me."
Jimmy's eyes widened. "What?" he breathed the word. He had not been expecting that, not at all.
Shelby smiled at him. "Now you are speechless? Amazing."
"What do you mean wait for you?" Jimmy asked, still reeling. He tried to keep his spirits from soaring but he couldn't. She wanted him to wait for her!!
"Wait until I get to a place where a simple comment about something I used to do doesn't send me into a panic. Wait until I figure out what love means. I told you about Peter. I thought we were in love. But even after a half an hour with you, I realized that what I had with Peter wasn't love."
"But…" Jimmy looked at her expectantly.
"I want to be with you, but I don't know if that's love. That's all. I just need time to figure these things out. Doc said I could live with him and his wife. I could help him out here to earn my keep. And while I stay here, he will look up what is out there about memory loss." Shelby watched him closely.
"Do you know how long you'll be here?" Jimmy asked softly.
"No." Shelby looked at directly at him. "I understand if you can't wait."
"Okay," Jimmy said slowly. She may not know it, but she was becoming more and more like the woman he knew and loved. Shelby said the hard things, never flinched, and never looked away. She looked right at him as she asked something he knew was difficult for her. And the fact that she met his eyes was one of the things that Jimmy loved most about her. Bad news, good news, it really did not matter. Shelby would wait for it and you'd never know from her reaction what she was expecting. It was something he saw in himself; something that had bound them together - this need to look like you could not but hurt. But just like him, Shelby could be hurt and the last thing Jimmy ever wanted to do was hurt her.
"Okay, I'll wait."
Shelby flung her arms around him and burst into tears.
"Now what?" Jimmy asked, holding her tightly. He was doing what she wanted.
"I will miss you," she sobbed.
Jimmy smiled into her hair. She was as contradictory as she ever had been. But he kept that comment to himself. He was learning. "I'll miss you too," was all he said.
Jimmy tipped his hat to Mrs. Mason, who was walking down the sidewalk, as he exited the marshal's office. He had been in Rock Creek for three months now. Summer had given way to fall and Jimmy was working once again as Teaspoon's deputy.
After some groveling, okay, a lot of groveling, Teaspoon had given him his job as deputy back. Yes, he had learned the error of his way; yes, he would be a responsible citizen and not just take off whenever he felt like it; yes he understood what duty was and that a job as deputy was not to be taken lightly.
Teaspoon had been very understanding when Shelby had first vanished but he was not so understanding about Jimmy embracing the legend of Wild Bill Hickok. Jimmy was glad that episode of his life was over. Most folks rarely referred to him as Wild Bill anymore and no one called him out. Who knew Ty Reynold's beating would be such a blessing?
Jimmy was convinced that Teaspoon only forgave him because he knew how losing someone you loved could make you do crazy things. Teaspoon had also understood why Jimmy was so ready to make an honest life for himself. He was doing it for Shelby. So when she returned, he would be a suitable beau for her.
Jimmy had also moved back into the small house he and Shelby were going to live in. He was paying for it so why not live there? It was odd, he knew that. A single man living in a house meant for a family. But that house meant a lot to him. He did not want to sell it. Even after Shelby had been gone for weeks, he could not sell it. Selling it would mean giving up. And even though he had acted like it was over with her, Jimmy had never been able to truly stop himself from hoping he'd see her again. And luckily enough, he had seen her.
He had not seen her since his return to Rock Creek, but they had written to each other a few times since that day in the doctor's office. The last letter he had received from her had both infuriated and elated him. The infuriating part was about some ball she had attended and how Ty Reynolds had walked her back to Doc McGee's home. Had she completely forgotten what Ty had done to him? Or didn't that matter to her anymore? These thoughts were balanced by her questions about his friends. Jimmy could not help but think she was getting ready to come to Rock Creek, and wanted to prepare herself for the people she would meet.
When Jimmy heard the rumble of the bi-weekly stage coming into town, he automatically looked, hoping to see Shelby's face. He did this every single time the stage rolled into town. Somehow, he always ended up wandering outside about this time and lollygagging on the road if the stage was running late.
As always, he looked carefully at the windows of the stage, searching for Shelby's face. He thought he spotted her, but he kept his hopes from rising too high, as once before he had thought he had seen her. When he thought he had spotted her a few weeks ago, his heart had started to pound, only to drop to his boots, when he realized the brunette he had spied was not really Shelby.
Jimmy blinked. Then he blinked again. He could not help but smile. Yep, this time it really was her. He waved his hand. "Shelby," he called out.
She turned and when she spotted him she smiled.
Jimmy hurried to her side and pulled her into his arms. He could not even speak for fear of making a complete fool of himself. It was just that he was so happy to see her again.
Shelby looked up at him. "Gonna help me with my bag?" she grinned.
Jimmy nodded. He had so many questions - How long was she going stay? Was she here for good? Did she regain her memories? What made her decide to come back? Had she made any decisions about them? And what was Ty Reynolds to her? But he was still unable to open his mouth and say anything. He only released her and looked toward the pile of bags the stage coach driver had created.
Shelby gave him a curious look. "Something wrong?"
Jimmy shook his head.
"I should have told you I was coming, shouldn't I?" she asked, a touch of regret coming into her voice. "Warned you, maybe," she muttered under her breath.
"No," Jimmy said quickly, proud that his voice only quavered a little bit. "That's not it."
Shelby looked at him expectantly.
"I'm just so glad," he said finally.
Shelby let out a soft sigh of relief. "Phew, because for a minute you had me worried."
Jimmy smiled at her words. She looked good, really good, he thought. He could not tear his eyes away from her pretty face.
She put her hand to her hair, catching Jimmy's intent gaze, but completely misunderstanding the reason he was watching her so closely. "I must look a sight," Shelby said, with a regretful smile.
"You look beautiful."
"Liar," Shelby told him with a small shake of her head. "Is there any place I can clean up?"
"Our, er, my place," Jimmy said, hoping she did not notice his misstep.
"Okay," Shelby nodded, her eyes avoiding his for an instant.
She had noticed, Jimmy thought, stupid, stupid, stupid. She wasn't even here five minutes and he was already making the same mistakes he did back in Turkey Creek.
"Let me get my bag," she continued, moving to the shrinking pile of bags.
As she reached for a small carpet bag, Jimmy grabbed it. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.
"Don't start apologizing. I told you I won't crack like a china doll," Shelby chided him. As they began to walk, she added, "One of the reasons I came back is to find out more about us."
Jimmy glanced at her. One of the reasons? What were the other reasons? They began to walk to their home and Jimmy felt an awkward silence building. To break it, he asked "How's Doc?"
"He's fine. He told me to give you his best."
"I haven't remembered," Shelby told him softly.
Jimmy reached out and took one of her hands in his. "I'm sorry. How are you, otherwise?"
"Okay." She squeezed his hand. "I missed you."
Jimmy smiled. "Me too." The awkwardness he had been feeling began to evaporate.
Shelby returned his smile. "Good," she teased. Then suddenly she said, "Can I ask you something?"
"How do you feel about me?"
Jimmy stopped in his tracks. He did not want to say it. He did not want to frighten her off.
"When I was in Turkey Creek, I went to three weddings."
"And a ball," Jimmy muttered.
Shelby laughed. "You upset about what I said about Ty?"
Jimmy looked down the road, refusing to answer her.
"You forget what the rest of that letter said?" she persisted.
Jimmy continued to stare intently at the road.
"How Ty walked with me and Doc, and his wife. He just joined up with us when we were leaving the ball."
Jimmy turned his gaze back to her. Yes, he had forgotten that part, he thought feeling utterly silly now.
"You really think I'd let someone who hurt you walk me home?" Shelby asked, turning serious.
Jimmy shook his head. God, he had hoped not.
"You think I want to walk with anyone else?" She grabbed his shirt collar and pulled him close and kissed him. "Does that tell you how I feel about you?" she demanded.
"I think I need more persuading," Jimmy smiled.
"How far is the house?" Shelby asked. "I can persuade you plenty in private," she told him, a mischievous look coming into her eyes.
Jimmy groaned. "Too far," he answered. Their house was at least three miles away. They should have ridden but he could not have gotten himself, Shelby, and her bag on his horse, hence the decision to walk. He had figured they could use the time to walk. But now he wanted nothing more but to get inside his house. He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her into him.
"So let's get walking."
Jimmy and Shelby had only begun walking, arm in arm, when he realized what she had said to him. "You said earlier," he paused, "that the way you kissed me should tell me how you feel about me. So how do you feel about me?" He hoped he sounded lighthearted and not nervous at her answer.
Shelby's eyes twinkled. "I also asked you how you felt about me," she reminded him with a teasing smile. "But I'll be nice. I'll go first.
"I went to three weddings," she began. "And at each on I asked some people how they realized they were in love."
"At one wedding, the bride was expecting. She wasn't sure getting married to her fella would have been something she would have done if she wasn't expecting but she was happy all the same." Shelby looked off in the distance, as if remembering the bride's words. "She said, sometimes life just happens and the way it happens is the way it's supposed to be.
"At another one, the bride told me she and her husband had grown up together. He had been her best friend for as long as she could remember, and then he kissed her and it was like magic. She couldn't even imaging living the rest of her life with anyone else.
"At another wedding, I asked an old married couple. Their story was a little more complicated. She had been married before and when her husband died, she thought she'd never marry again. Her husband had been the love of her life. But then she met another fella, and that fella kept coming 'round, asking her to walk, bringing her flowers, and one day, when he didn't come, she found herself going to his store to find out what was wrong. Turned out, nothing was wrong; he was just busy with lots of customers. So she jumped in and started helping. That's when she knew she cared about him, not just because he brought her things or made her feel wanted, but because she wanted to be with him when he wasn't there, and when she thought something was wrong," Shelby met his eyes, "she really wanted to be at his side, to help him any way she could."
Jimmy nodded, wondering which of these stories Shelby thought was most like theirs, if that was the point she was meandering around.
"Then one day I asked Doc how he knew he was in love with his wife. He told me it was the day she made him a buttermilk cake."
Jimmy laughed. "Sounds like something Doc would say. Too bad it doesn't make a lick of sense."
"Eugenia, his wife, told me later that the cake was just awful. And she doesn't know why he tells people that story. But I think I know why he does."
"He didn't tell me how they fell in love. He just muttered something 'bout her being pretty. But the cake tells me he loved her when he realized she wasn't perfect. I don't know the rest of it, but I'm guessing he either ate it all and when Eugenia realized he ate her awful cake, she must have decided that he really cared about her not to hurt her feelings that way. Or he teased her about it and she didn't mind and that made him realize she was a good sport and could handle life's little ups and downs, that he have more than a pretty bride, with her, he'd also get a partner." Shelby looked at him. "I don't know if I have done their story justice, but does it make sense?"
"It doesn't have to be perfect to be love."
Shelby gave him a small nod. "I guess that's what he meant to say. He probably thought me asking all these people about love, and at weddings nonetheless, meant I was looking for some pie-in-the-sky answers."
"What kind of answers were you looking for?"
"I wanted to see how people answered them, if people said the same things. Did love have some common themes?" She gave him a wry smile. "They weren't any common themes. But what really surprised me was how different all those answers were."
"Do any of them apply to you?" Jimmy asked cautiously.
Shelby eyes sparkled at him. "All of them."
"All of them?" Jimmy exclaimed.
"Sometimes life just turns out the way it's supposed to be. I ended up far away from you, but you still found me and now I'm here again."
"With you," Shelby told him firmly. "I don't remember our first kiss, but I remember the kiss in Turkey Creek. After that kiss, I knew I didn't love Peter."
Jimmy grinned at those words.
"I told you about the bridge and how I knew I wanted to see you again. And after you got hurt, I didn't want to leave you."
"But you did," Jimmy said, unable to hide his sorrow at that separation.
Shelby covered her mouth for a moment. "I'm sorry. And if you can't forgive me for pushing you away, I understand."
"There's nothing to forgive," Jimmy squeezed her shoulders. "I know why you did it. And I'd rather have waited for you to be sure than have you always wondering." He looked down at her. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure," Shelby looked up into his eyes. "It's not perfect, but it's what I want. I don't know who I was, but I know who I am, at least more than I did a few weeks ago. And I know I want to be with you. I don't know if it's fair to you -"
"Let me be the judge of that," Jimmy interrupted. He kissed her hard.
When he finally released her, Shelby managed, "How far is this house now?"
"Right 'round the bend."
They hurried to the small house and when they reached the threshold, Jimmy carried her inside.
Shelby finished buttoning her dress and asked, "I'm going to a boarding house?" she asked, a note of hurt coming into her voice.
Jimmy hurried to her side and sat next to her on the bed. "It's not like that," he said quickly. "I want you here. I want you here so bad I can taste it. But I don't want you to feel like you have to be married to me. The last thing I want is for you to feel like you did with Peter."
"I won't," Shelby began.
"I remember what you said, that you didn't have any friends, or family, and you didn't know what else to do but throw yourself off a bridge to get away from Peter. You have friends here. I think it would help you to get to know them again so you wouldn't feel so tied down to me."
"And you think that's how I feel about you?" Shelby exclaimed. She met Jimmy's eyes. "I love you."
Jimmy smiled. "I love you, too. But you don't know me." He hated hearing those words in Turkey Creek, but he realized the truth of them, especially now.
"I know I love you. All those stories made me realize love is a feeling, it's not just about memories."
Jimmy took her hands in his. "This ain't about love. I want you to have choices, to have a life and to choose to share that life with me."
"And I can't choose now?"
"What are your other choices?"
Shelby scowled at him. "So I stay in a boarding house," she said glumly.
"You used to, before. Rachel, she managed the waystation during the Express days, now runs the boarding house. She let you stay for free and you repaid her by helping out around the house."
Shelby fell back onto the bed. "And what will you be doing?"
Jimmy lay down on the bed and pulled her close. "Courting you."
Shelby smiled up at him. "So this is courting?" she teased.
"Mmm, hmm," Jimmy replied, nuzzling her neck. Then suddenly he sat up. "I should tell everyone where I am. Teaspoon will have my hide if he thinks I disappeared again."
"They know I can't remember, right?"
"They know." Jimmy smoothed her hair back. "Should we get cleaned up and go meet them?"
"Might as well get it over with."
Jimmy pulled her up. "You ain't got nothing to be nervous 'bout."
"Who says I'm nervous?" Shelby challenged.
"No one," Jimmy smiled. She was nervous. He knew that. But he also knew better than to push the subject. He had to give her a chance to gather herself but do it in a way that did not offend her. "If you want, you can stay here, freshen up and I can let them know you are here and then we can meet up with them later, for dinner."
Shelby nodded. She touched her head. "I'd like that. I must look a sight."
"You look beautiful but I know you'd like to fuss over yourself."
Jimmy laughed. Shelby had always been a little vain. She knew how men turned to look at her when she walked down the street. He was glad to see that she was still the same girl, memories or not. "There's a basin in the back." He pulled her close for another kiss. "I'll be back soon."
Shelby smiled at him. "I know you will."
Jimmy opened the front door and called out, "Shelby." A finger of fear stabbed at him when he got no response. Dammit, he thought, just when he thought everything was finally going well. He hurried to the bedroom where he last saw her.
Much to his relief, he saw Shelby sitting on the floor, rummaging through a box in the closet. "What are you doing?" he asked.
Shelby looked up at him and said, "Snooping."
"Find anything?" Jimmy asked, sitting down beside her.
"All these things," she pulled out a box, "whose are they?"
Jimmy glanced at the box, with a few dresses, blouses, skirts, and underpinnings. "Yours."
"Mine?" she said softly, looking up at him. "You kept them all?"
Shelby rose to her knees and got in front of him. "I just learned something about you."
"What?" Jimmy asked, sliding his hands around her waist.
"You are a romantic," Shelby smiled.
Jimmy pulled her close. "Or a fool." He held her tight. "I just couldn't give up."
"That's one of the other reasons I'm here. I need you to believe."
"In you, always." Jimmy held her face in his hands.
Shelby sat back down, obviously flustered and Jimmy was pleased to see it. In a way, this is how they had started - Shelby had been the confident one, or at least she had acted that way. It was only later on that he actually saw how much he stirred inside her. And how hard it was for her to actually admit it.
"I got something for you," Jimmy told her.
"From your friends?"
"No," Jimmy replied, "but they were glad to know you are back."
Jimmy opened a drawer in the stand beside the bed. He removed a small pouch and handed it to Shelby.
Shelby opened it and removed a cameo necklace. She clutched it tightly, staring at him.
Jimmy put his hand over hers. "Something wrong?"
Shelby shook her head. "I thought it was gone," she said softly. "Robbery or whatever."
"I found it a few weeks ago," Jimmy explained. "I went to a couple of towns nearby and looked in the general stores, to see if anyone tried to sell a cameo and I found it. I was keeping it as a surprise."
"Did you find anything out about the men who sold it?"
"Just drifters. I don't know where they are now." If he did, they'd be dead.
"How 'bout Peter? Did he have anything to do with the cameo turning up in a store?"
"I showed his picture to Teaspoon. He thought he worked at the general store. Tompkins, the owner, said he up and quit a couple of days before you vanished." Jimmy frowned. "I showed it to the other store keeper and he didn't recognize him at all."
"You think he planned the robbery?" Shelby swallowed hard. "As a way to kidnap me?"
"The thought crossed my mind," Jimmy admitted. "I just don't know why. I don't ever recall him even speaking to you."
Shelby shuddered. "And to think I was married to him."
Jimmy wrapped his arms around her. "You are away from him now," he told her, "and I'll never let him near you again." He held her for a long while. "You ready to go?" he asked, finally.
Shelby nodded. "Just let me fix my hair."
"I'll get changed too." Jimmy stood up and pulled a tan shirt from the bureau and started to put it on.
"Not that one, the blue one. You know I can't stand that shirt," Shelby said, pinning a curl back.
Jimmy turned around slowly, staring at Shelby as she began rummaging under the bed for her shoes.
"What?" she asked when she saw him staring at her. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Did you hear what you said?"
"Yeah, I said wear the blue shirt. I can't…stand that… shirt." Shelby stopped, frozen in place.
"Maybe we should just stay here. I don't want to push things," Jimmy said. He did not want the little progress Shelby had just made to be ruined by a flood of information. His friends meant well and he was sure they would not deliberately push her, but just their faces alone would be a lot of memories for Shelby.
"Maybe I should just look around here tonight," Shelby agreed. She sat down on the bed heavily, crossing her arms.
Jimmy sat down beside her. "It's a good thing, you remembering."
"I know but what if that's it? What if I can't remember everything, just little snippets?"
Jimmy put his finger on her lips. "Just let it happen. Either way, it'll be fine. I love you, memories or not."
Shelby exhaled loudly. "Keep saying that, okay." She clung to his shirt.
"For the rest of my life," Jimmy promised.