For a long time Marietta Winslow, Mari to her friends, was never sure about what the feeling she had for Jim was. She cared for him like he was her brother; they were always playing together along with Jesse and Frank James and Jim's brothers Cole and Bob Younger. They were cousins the James' and Youngers. Mari was the only girl but she wore pants and shirts like the boys and once or twice when her hair was tucked under her hat, she had been mistaken for a boy. Jim and Mari were the same age and Jesse four years older, the others were either the same age or older so when the war broke out and they went off to fight. Jim and Mari were only eleven at the time and they were left on their own. They rode out to the hill with the boys, and watched as they disappeared into the distance, not knowing whether they would ever see them again. That's when the games stopped and Mari had to be "straightened out" as her mother said. She was moulded into a "fine young woman" and Jim and Mari hardly spoke but the feeling was still there.
A few months past after the war started and Mari missed the games she'd played with the boys. The bond with Jim weakened.
The war raged for four years and the boys returned home, only to find that there was another war to be fought. The railway was heading west to open up the frontier and the owners wanted the farmland in Liberty. Both the James' and the Youngers turned down the money for their farms. Then one night the railway tried to persuade the Youngers again and it ended in disaster. Cole shot two of the railway men and was sentenced to be hanged the next day.
Jesse and the other boys freed him and caused the rest of the farmers to refuse to sell their land. Cole hid up in the woods until the army left town and it was safe for him to return. On the night he returned there was a huge party up at the Younger house and everyone was invited.
"But ma I really wanna go." Mari begged on the night of the party.
"NO I will not have a daughter of mine associating with an outlaw any more."
"Ma their not all outlaws."
"My word is final and I swear if you even think of sneaking out of this house to go I'll see to it you never leave this house without me or your father again."
"You evil woman" Mari yelled and the screamed as her mother grabbed her hair and dragged her up the stairs.
"How dare you? Get in there and stay there." Her mother shouted as she slammed Mari's bedroom door shut. For a few moments Mari sat staring at the door until she had suppressed the temptation to kick the door with all her might. She grabbed her best dress and changed into it before stuffing some of her other dresses and clothes under her sheets and arranging them roughly to look like a body. She sat at the end of her bed and waited for twilight to come before she opened her window and slowly climbed out and closing her curtains and the window behind her. She shuffled across the rook to the side of the house and slowly lowered herself down and jumped down between the cart and the wall. She smiled to herself and ran off towards the Younger house. When she arrived she could see that Jesse and Zee Mims were already dancing and Bob and Cole were happily dancing with two girls from town. A smile spread across Mari's house as ran down the hill to the party.
"Mari" Frank shouted. "Oh my god"
"Frank" Mari smiled as her dear friend hugged her tight.
"God have I missed you and the boys" She sighed.
"Well you had Jim" Frank smiled.
"Yeh well my ma decided I wasn't to speak to him anymore."
"Well your ma ain't here tonight. HEY JIM" Frank yelled. Jim was across the field with Jesse, Zee and two other girls, one of whom had a tight grip on his arm. He turned to see who had called him when he spotted Mari.
"MARI" He shouted running to her. Mari laughed and ran to him. Jim stopped.
"Wait your ma ain't here is she?" He asked and Mari shook her head. "Good" Jim replied and lifted her up and spun her around. That night as they all sang and danced railway men rode past the farm and blew up the house and then went onto Jesse and Frank's house and blew their house up too, killing their dear mother.
That was the last straw. Jesse and Cole started up the James-Younger gang and began stealing the railway money, blowing up tracks, and causing havoc.
A year passed and then the gang went to pull their biggest stunt yet, stealing one hundred thousand dollars from a bank near Liberty. Mari had just turned sixteen and was there with her father to meet a man named Alan Pinkerton. He was in charge of the Pinkerton detectives and was incredibly rich and so naturally as her father wanted her married, he wanted Mari to marry someone rich like Mr Pinkerton. That's when it all started. The gang had fallen into a trap and they were in trouble until Jesse helped them get away. Mari was watching them ride off when she spotted a gunman aiming his rifle at them, she recognised him as one of the Pinkerton's men.
"NO." Mari screamed and ran at him knocking him to the ground. His gun flew from his hand and he grabbed a pistol from his waist. He scrambled up from the floor aiming it up at her and she froze.
"Now Missy you just get out my way or I'll kill you too." He grunted.
"Not likely." Mari said as her knee hit his stomach. She grabbed the pistol and hit him in the head with the handle. He fell to the ground unconscious and she stood in amazement at what she'd done. Until she saw three men running at her with more guns. Mari grabbed the nearest horse and pulled myself onto its back. She galloped off in the same direction as Jesse and the gang. She heard people shouting to shoot her and she felt fear run through her veins paralyzing her body as it went. She reached a nearby town at dusk and she tied up my stolen horse outside the salon. Mari wandered in and found the boys sitting round a table playing poker. Jesse and Jim were talking by the bar.
"What are you doing here?" Jesse asked as he came over with Jim.
"Long story. But to cut it short, one of Pinkerton's men was 'bout to shoot you. I damn 'near got myself shot stopping him." Mari said.
"Well ain't that swell; now the best damn damsel in distress we had is back with the gang." Cole smirked.
"Well Mari this is our good friend Tom, he fought in the war with us." Jesse said pointing to the stranger across the table from Mari.
"Hey there." Mari smiled.
"So, whatcha bin doin since we last saw ya' little lady." Bob asked.
"I got in deep trouble for sneaking out to your party and then my ma carried on "straightening me out." Mari sighed.
"What?" Jim said confused.
"I got turned into a "proper lady." She sighed.
"A proper lady." Bob said in a high pitched voice. "Well Mam may I have this dance." He stood up and bowed.
"Well good sir I must thank you for saving me for the temptation these men were placing before me. Every one knows a lady doesn't play cards." Mari said standing up and curtsied to Bob.
"Yeh well, you ain't no lady." Frank smirked, throwing his card down.
"I am I was taught by my mother."
"Yeh but your ma ain't no lady" Cole joked and they all laughed.
"So you being a real woman I take it you've been with a man." Frank said calmly as he looked at Mari from under his hat. She felt her checks burning as the boys stared at her. Mari glanced at Jim and he was staring too, with despair in his eyes.
"There are some things that have to wait until after a marriage." She said and saw hope refill Jim's eyes.
"Now gentlemen, are you ready to your money were your mouth is." Mari said settling back at the table. She won eighty dollars and then decided to go to bed.
"Well boys I'm done, I'll get us some rooms for the night." She said disappearing to the bar.
Within an hour Mari was sat snuggled up on the floor by the fire in my room and watched the flames dancing across the logs and was lost in trance until a knock at the door awoke me from it.
"Come in." She said sitting up straight. Jim popped his head round the door. "Hey." She smiled.
"Hey." He said nervously as he closed the door.
"The boys are all asleep and I couldn't … so I thought I'd see if you were awake." He smiled.
"Well have a seat."
"Thanks." He said settling down beside Mari on the threadbare rug, he shivered and she pulled the blanket round the two of them.
"So you're all set to get married then." Jim sighed.
"Well my father thinks so. I'd much rather carry on as I am."
"Well I want to marry for love but my father wants me to marry someone rich, like Pinkerton."
"Pinkerton." Jim jumped. Mari nodded.
"That's why we were in town today; he wanted me to meet him."
"You're not going to though are you?" He stuttered.
"No of course not"
"Mari can I ask you a question?"
"Course you can."
"Why did you stop talking to me when the war started?"
"Jim, I had no choice my mother made me."
"But you were one of the gang."
"There were only two of us left Jim it wasn't the same."
"You didn't give it chance."
"Things had to change Jim and they have."
"No you've changed." He shouted jumping up.
"I thought we were friends, I thought you were one of us. But you're just another stuck up tart." Mari's hand caught his cheek and tears filled both their eyes.
"I'm so sorry." She gasped.
"Yeh so am I. Sorry I thought that you were the same girl." Jim sighed as he turned to leave and Mari grabbed his arm.
"I am the same girl Jim. I'm still one of the gang. Why else would I be here? Why else would I have stopped that guy with the gun?"
"I dunno, I just …"
"I dunno I just thought that it was because … because you love Jesse."
"You think I love Jesse."
"Well every one else seems to."
"Well I'm not everyone else am I?" Jim just stared at her. "Who did I dance with at the party, you, who did I share my secrets with as a child, you, who did I always pick as my hero in the games we played. You"
"Jim I didn't stop that guy because of Jesse or Cole. Or any of the others, I stopped him because of you."
"Me." Jim muttered, Mari nodded. "But why?"
"Because I love you Jimmy Younger."
"Really" Mari nodded. "I love you too." He replied grinning as she stared into his eyes and his lips touched hers ever so softly. And for those few seconds time froze. Everything else disappeared and all that mattered to them was the other. He pulled back, and stared at her. She stroked his face and slipped her hand around the back of his neck and pulled him towards her again. His hands gripped her waist and Mari stumbled on the back of her dress and they fell onto the bed. Her hands fumbled with the buttons on his shirt and the straps from his pants. His hands struggled blindly with the ribbon on her dress and soon his hands were caressing her naked skin. He kicked off his pants and pulled the bed sheets over the two of them. Her hands stroked his chest and his fingertips danced over her hips.