"Her Lovely Hands"
A "Gunsmoke" story by MarMar1
Disclaimer: This story is written and offered for enjoyment purposes only. No profit is expected (oh, please, like I could sell this!) and no copyright infringement intended. "Gunsmoke" belongs to Viacom, et al and all material profit is theirs. "Gunsmoke", the concept and the characters, belong to the creator of the concept and to those who so lovingly brought the characters to life. Without them, none of our little fanfiction efforts would mean much.
"Her Lovely Hands"
Oh, how he loved to watch her play cards! He gave a half chuckle at the thought, hearing in his mind the hearty laugh of disbelief she would give if he ever said that aloud for her to hear.
Matt Dillon had approached the Long Branch, the final stop on his early evening rounds, timing the confident stride of his long legs to bring him just to the outside of the swinging half-doors. His hands had reached for the door tops, but rather than stepping through, the tall marshal had stepped back into a shadow. With his customary eye sweep of the interior he had confirmed what his ears had told him: it was a quiet night everywhere, even at Dodge City's best and most favored watering hole. His brief surveillance had revealed a table of five engaged in a half-hearted game of poker, a young cowboy making time with one of the girls, and another of the girls at the bar having a beer with a couple of local farmers talking with Sam. Down at the far end of the bar stood Kitty Russell passing the time with a lazy game of Solitaire. It was this sight which had caused Matt to quietly fade back from the light.
From his vantage point he watched as she slowly laid out a new game, her motions smooth and easy, unrushed, almost elegant. Thumbs hooked on his belt buckle, he twitched a little, thinking of the intimate touch of those lovely hands, delicate yet firm, confident at their task. Rocking back on his heels, Matt forced his thoughts away from favorite memories. It wouldn't do for him to be caught out on Front Street with his weapon fully loaded.
It wasn't often that Matt had the opportunity to observe Kitty this way, uninterrupted. Oh, he frequently watched her, but usually as she interacted with others, at work or in conversation with Sam or Festus or Doc. When Doc was around, Matt knew that he was the subject of scrutiny himself. When the saloon was busy, he gladly watched her work the room. It delighted him to see the effect she had as she moved among the men, encouraging a card game, laughing at a joke, serving a drink, fending off the good-natured advances. It always amazed him that she was able to maintain the balance and mood of the crowd. He had often seen just the touch of her hand to an arm or shoulder be enough to calm a tense card player, enough to let a man feel acknowledged even when she didn't have time to stop and chat.
It was her hands that he watched now. He noted how the rings she wore on her fingers glinted, matching the glint of the lantern light on her fiery hair. Matt smiled, thinking of the fiery debates they had shared over her card dealing at the saloon and his desire that she stop. It had not been the first time he had been up against the blaze of her temper and force of her will, but it had been one of the longest sustained battles. It wasn't until after a fatal confrontation between a player and the dealer down at the Oasis Saloon that Kitty had promised him she would no longer deal at the Long Branch. She knew he did not question her honesty, that he was only concerned for her, her safety as well as her reputation. He, in turn, knew that her promise was not based on concern for herself; she was confident in her abilities with both the cards and the players. Her promise was a sacrifice, a rare concession to him, rarely asked and rarely given, rarely needed. It was why he knew she would be surprised to know how much he loved to watch her play.
It wasn't the game he enjoyed, though Matt knew she was possibly the most skilled dealer and player he had ever seen and that she was equally adept with legitimate and not-so-legitimate skills. No, for him it was the physical act, the way she handled the cards, which intrigued him. He watched now as Kitty shuffled the deck. He watched her well-manicured fingers caressing the cards like a lover; they bent to her touch, molded to her desire, and moved at her command. Chuckling deep in his throat, Matt rocked back on his heels again thinking about her skill.
She would often end a Solitaire game in the middle, collecting up the cards even though there were still moves available. When he had questioned her, she had said simply, as if it were obvious, that there was no reason to continue as there was no chance to win. He had thought it was just an excuse, but a few times he had asked her to continue a game she was ready to forfeit and each time she had been proven right. Even when the play extended for some time, ultimately the game had all been unwinable. Alternately, at times she would say that the game had already been won and there was no need to move all the cards into order atop the aces since she was just going to shuffle them again anyway. Matt had given up trying to figure out how she always knew. Once he had asked her if she used her 'extra' skills in her frequent Solitaire games. Looking up from her cards, Kitty had said, "Oh, Matt, I would be cheating myself." And with a small smile she had returned to her game. Her tone had been sincere, the delivery even; it was the twinkle in her eyes that had teased him. Since then Matt had watched whenever he had the opportunity, but he had never caught a thing. Still, he would always suspect that Kitty used all those games to keep her card handling skills honed.
He had never caught anything, but he had learned something. He had learned that he could gauge her mood by the way she handled the cards. He could tell nothing, no more than a stranger, when the game was poker. It amazed him that this woman, this incredible, beautiful woman, whose emotions ran so deep and strong, could sustain the monotone, even, non-descript demeanor required of great poker pros. With Solitaire, however, there was no such requirement.
At first, he was likely to confuse some moods, but over time he had perfected his skills of observation and interpretation. The quick, bright flutter of the cards that indicated she was happy, maybe excited about something, were definitely not to be confused with the crackle and slap of the cards when she was angry! He had not made that mistake more than once.
There was the slow, languid motion of the game when she was just passing time. At times it might appear she was barely paying attention. Matt knew better; when it concerned cards, Kitty Russell always paid attention. In fact, even when it appeared casual and random, she always knew what her hands were doing.
A subtle, yet important, difference was the hint of intensity in her game that was enough to tell Matt that she was deep in thought, working out a problem or making plans. These were times it was best to approach quietly, letting Kitty lead the conversation. Matt had discovered he not only learned more this way, he often found himself the recipient of her gratitude when she completed her ruminations, and Kitty's special gratitude was always a treat.
Her game tonight matched the quiet of the town. It was calm and smooth, her hands sliding along the cards, placing them with an easy precision. Matt rested easy as he noted the pace of her game. As he watched, a slight smile touched her full lips, perhaps in response to something overheard from the poker game where the men were laughing. She called to Sam and spoke quietly when, wiping a beer mug, he stepped down to the end of the bar. Sam nodded, smiled, and returned to his duties. All the while her hands continued their movements and the four stakes of cards at the top grew steadily.
Hearing sounds of activity down the boardwalk, Matt started to move forward to the swinging doors, stopping as usual to scan the room. As he did so, Kitty lifted her head and looked straight into his eyes, almost as if she had expected to see him there. As their eyes locked, Kitty offered him her wonderful smile. Watching him enter and walk toward her, acknowledging Sam and the others on his way, she scooped together her cards. Her eyes still on Matt, she placed the deck of cards to the side, tapping it gently a time or two before letting her fingertips caress the top card, the expression in her eyes taking on a look that Matt knew well. He suspected that he and Kitty might engage in a little private game of their own a bit later, if the town maintained its current quiet state, and he would gladly provide her every opportunity to practice and hone her skills with her lovely hands.