READ AND REVIEW!
Ok, I'm gonna level with all of you. The reason for my prolonged absence (disappearance?) is because I honestly didn't know how to end this story. Aside from killing everyone and making a bunch of readers very confused, I just couldn't figure it out. But then I had a flash of inspiration! It was one of those moments that hits you while you're in the bathroom and you have to scramble around in your drawers for lipstick or an eyebrow pencil just so you can write it on your mirror before you totally forget it. So, I'm pleased to announce that I have indeed figured out how to end this story. Go me.
The soft incandescent glow of two hundred paper lanterns bathed the square in amber light. Beneath the gentle twinkling of the lamps the entire town had congregated, or so it seemed. From her perch on the steps of the half completed courthouse, Amelia was able to see well above the throngs of people. Many were dancing on the plank floor that had been constructed at the foot of the stairs, swirling and laughing to the bawdy music. Others were busy taking in the fair that bordered the square. Where earlier that day there had been nothing but dirt road and rubble, now there stood upwards of fifty booths. Venders from all over California had arrived that morning with the purpose of peddling to the excitable festival crowds. At dinner Jackson had complained of the uselessness of the thing, saying that Hill Valleyians would rather lose limbs than lighten their purses, but it appeared he had been wrong. Drunk from the thrill of the spectacle, men and women swarmed the stalls. They crowded around the various displays with enthusiasm, watching wide-eyed as the salesmen demonstrated the newest inventions and not hesitating to part with their money.
Amid the eagerly bartering booths, Amelia caught a glimpse of Marty. He was dressed in one of Emmett's suites, which was a bit too large for him, and was awkwardly hobbling around on the crutches Dr. McKinney had fashioned for him. He appeared to be enjoying himself, smiling as he carefully picked his way through the crowd toward a stall selling revolvers. Amelia's heart sank a little. She had missed him today. Jackson had successfully monopolized her time all afternoon and well into the evening. It had been a very tiresome day, and the sight of Marty looking so handsome in his suite (albeit too big) made her long for the coziness of his arms around her. Unfortunately…
Jackson touched her elbow lightly, making her jump. He smiled his impossibly white smile at her and bent his lips to her ear. Amelia blushed in spite of herself. He smelled like leather. She caught several girls glaring at her with contempt and blushed some more.
"There are some people I would like for you to meet," Jackson drawled. The wisps of his breath sent shivers down her spine. He was such a jerk, she wished he wasn't so goddamned attractive.
The people Jackson introduced her to were all important and all utterly forgettable; business owners and members of the local government who worked with his father. They all made the same conversation and shared the same polite smiles, congratulating her on the good fortune of being seen with Jackson. Jackson, for his part, had the grace to accept their compliments humbly, nodding polite thank yous before redirecting the conversation back to Amelia. Obliging and affectionate, Jackson was nearly the perfect escort. He kept her close all night, his hand always the ghost of a touch on her arm or near the small of her back, and whenever he spoke it was almost exclusively to sing her praises. Amelia was startled at first by the shift in Jackson's demeanor, but as the evening wore on she decided that it really wasn't all that bad. He was still a jerk, but perhaps she had judged too quickly.
After all Jackson's friends had been met and promptly forgotten, Amelia found herself idling alone at the corner of the dance floor. She bounced on the balls of her feet to the music and watched the calico and gingham skirts twirl past her. Amelia glanced down at the painted silk dress Jackson had insisted on buying her that afternoon. It was a soft cream with tiny moss colored polka-dots and a very elaborate bustle. The dress had been being used as a show piece in the seamstress's shop window until Jackson had bought it and was very obviously the most expensive gown at the festival. She would have felt absolutely stunning if she hadn't had the sneaking suspicion that all the other girls found her ridiculous.
"I like your dress." Marty limped out of the throng of onlookers to stand next to her. He grinned lopsidedly, his eyes taking in the ornate hairdo Mrs. Hubert's maid had fabricated. "You look like a doll or something."
Amelia rolled her eyes.
"Well thanks, but I feel like an idiot. I kept telling Jackson I didn't need all of this stuff but he said he couldn't let a lady attend the festival in 'rags'. Self-important jackass."
"Where is Prince Charming?" He asked, eyeing the crowd.
"He said he was going to get us something to drink," Amelia sighed apathetically. "I'm hoping a stray bullet from the revolver booth picks him off before he gets back."
Marty's grin widened even more. "Come on, he's not that bad is he?"
Amelia didn't answer right away. Jackson was arrogant and condescending of course, but she couldn't help but feel there was more to him. The evening had turned out to be somewhat of a fairytale with Jackson attending to her so carefully, so chivalrously. Jackson. The thought of his name sent unexpected butterflies fluttering in her stomach. Her face grew hot. She looked at Marty's smiling face and felt the butterflies wither into guilt.
Emmett wasn't quite sure how to breach the subject. He and McKinney were far from pals. Tolerant acquaintances more accurately summed up their relationship and Emmett didn't know how he would take to a stranger digging around in his personal life. Still, Emmett had to at least try and talk to him. If McKinney knew anything at all about trains (and it seemed to Emmett he knew a great deal) he would be almost invaluable to their chances of getting back to 1985. Such an opportunity could not be passed up because he was afraid of hurting the doctor's feelings.
He found McKinney among the cluster of tables that was the evening's makeshift beer garden. He was sitting alone, watching a poker game at the next table and drinking a glass of whiskey.
"Evening, Art," Emmett said with a grin. McKinney looked up at him stoically and nodded. "Mind if I have a seat?"
"Be my guest," McKinney said politely.
Emmett pulled out the chair next to him and sat down. For several moments they sat in awkward silence. Emmett's fingertips drummed on the wooden table top and his eyes darted nervously about the tables, looking anywhere but at McKinney. The doctor cleared his throat impatiently. Emmett took a breath and got right to the point.
"At the train station the other day, you mentioned that you had built a train."
McKinney's eyes, which until then had been mildly annoyed, went dark and he leaned back in his chair.
"Trains," he corrected him. "I assisted in the building of several."
Even better! Emmett's heart leapt in excitement. He drew nearer to McKinney and lowered his voice.
"Do you remember how? If I asked you to build a steam turbine, could you?"
A frown creased the doctor's young face. He knocked back the rest of his whiskey.
"There are few things in my life I'll never forget," McKinney said, glaring at the empty glass, "and that is one of them. Yes, I remember."
Emmett's mouth went dry. His luck was just too brilliant.
"And you could build one?" He repeated in a rush.
McKinney looked long and hard at Emmett, his face a storm cloud. Emmett felt his good fortune slipping away. What had he said?
"No," McKinney said sharply.
"But, you just said—"
"I said I 'could' build one, I never said I 'would'," McKinney hissed.
"I don't understand," Emmett pressed, getting a little annoyed at McKinney's abrupt change in mood, "If it's a matter of money I can pay you."
"Let it go, old man," McKinney growled, slamming his glass down on the table. "I said I wouldn't."
He stood violently, nearly knocking over his chair, and stalked off. In seconds the crowd had swallowed him and he was gone.
Utterly deflated, Emmett slumped back in his seat. He felt the beginnings of a headache start to smolder at the edges of his brain. Why couldn't it ever be easy? Just one time, just this one time why couldn't it be as simple as "hey, buddy, do me a favor?" Emmett closed his eyes and rubbed his temples, his headache was already burning its way across his forehead.
"Mr. Brown? Is everything all right?"
Emmett jumped so hard he nearly fell off of his chair. Clara yelped and caught him by the arm. The weight of him almost took her down too. Emmett steadied both of them against the table, accidentally pulling Clara's waist flush to his torso. The scent of her lavender perfume flooded his nostrils.
"I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Brown," Clara apologized breathlessly, her brown eyes scanning his face, "I didn't mean to startled you."
"No, no it's alright," Emmett dismissed, reluctantly letting go of her. "I didn't hear you coming, Miss Clayton. Did I hurt you?"
"I'm fine," she said, smiling. "How about yourself?"
"Much better now," Emmett said before he could stop himself. They both blushed. Clara looked at her feet, her smile stretching even wider.
"Mr. Brown, how many advances do you plan to make toward me this evening?" Her eyes glittered teasingly at him.
"I beg your pardon, Ma'am," Emmett said, standing and giving her a slight bow. "I didn't mean anything by it."
Clara laughed her twinkling silver laugh and Emmett's blood pumped faster. He turned his hat in his hands and shuffled his feet, suddenly fifteen and awkward again. Well…more awkward.
"There are a few booths I've been wanting to see," Clara said after a moment. "Have you walked that way yet?"
"No I haven't," Emmett lied quickly, thankful that she knew what to say. He offered her his arm. "Shall we?"
If Marty had sensed her hesitation he didn't let on. He just laughed at the serious expression on her face and gave her shoulder a playful shove.
"It wasn't a trick question, Aims," he teased.
Amelia forced herself to laugh with him, relieved he hadn't been able to read her thoughts.
"What did I miss?" Jackson asked as he joined them. Their chuckling died as he glanced from one to the other expectantly. "Just between siblings, then?" He passed Amelia a glass of lemonade.
"Sorry, Jack," Marty said with a smirk.
The corners of Jackson's lips twitched slightly but he said nothing. The informality had not sat well with him. He turned to Amelia.
"It's getting late, Miss Brown," he said.
"Oh, I'm not tired," Amelia said, sipping her lemonade.
"All the other ladies are leaving," Jackson insisted. Then purposefully he added, "I'd like to see you home safe."
Amelia's cheeks grew very hot. She clung to her glass of lemonade, swirling the contents around and avoiding looking at either of them. What was she supposed to say? Either way she would be in trouble.
Marty spoke up for her, surprising everyone.
"Go on, Amelia, I'll tell Dad." He was still smiling like he found everything a huge joke. Amelia found that worse.
"Are you sure?" She asked pointedly.
"Of course he is, he said so," Jackson said, taking her arm and steering her away gently.
Amelia threw a glance over her shoulder as Jackson marched her through the throngs of people. Marty was still smiling after them, but the rigid way he was standing told Amelia there was something wrong. She sighed, not excited for the talk they were sure to have later.
As expected, the smithy was dark when Amelia and Jackson approached it. The only light that fell on them was the residual glow from the festival and what moonlight was able to filter through the clouds. The latter made Jackson's honey gold hair shimmer romantically. She caught herself watching the strands dance across his face and looked away, cursing herself.
Jackson led her to the barn door and waited patiently as she fiddled with the big lock. For some reason her hands felt very large and cumbersome. After several agonizing moments it clicked open.
"Thank you for walking me home," Amelia said quickly, attempting to squeeze through the door and into the safety of the shop before any more regrettable thoughts came to mind.
Jackson chuckled, a low enticing sound, and placed a large suntanned hand delicately on her waist.
"Is that all?" He asked, pulling her toward him so slowly Amelia barely knew it was happening at all. She tried to back away and met the barn door. Jackson smirked and ran the tips of his fingers down her shoulder. "Miss Brown, I must confess you've bewitched me."
"H-have I?" Amelia asked, casting around desperately for a way out.
"I must apologize for my actions early. I fear I came across as…less than genuine. You were right to be angry, I was hardly a gentleman. Please forgive me."
"Sure, whatever…no big deal." Too close, oh God why are you so close?
Jackson closed the gap between them further. His hands slid down the silk of her dress and came to a rest on her hips. Amelia tried to squirm away but Jackson's hands held fast to her, pressing her almost painfully against the barn door.
"Please don't leave me like this, Miss Brown," Jackson purred into her ear, nuzzling the sensitive skin under her earlobe.
"What are you doing? Stop it." Amelia shoved against his chest but it had almost no effect against him. "I'm serious, get off. Let me go!"
"You would leave me? I stand here burning for you and you would leave? You don't mean that, Miss Brown." Jackson's hand roughly cupped her right breast and he bit into the side of her neck. "Tell me you don't mean that."
"I don't…stop…I don…"
Amelia's voice failed her. Her head was swimming from the pressure of his hand on her breast, from the gentle nips he was trailing down her neck. She wanted nothing more than to go inside and lock the door and send Jackson away forever. Her brain was screaming at her to do it, but the rest of her body seemed to have other plans. She felt herself lean into him, yielding. His stubble scratched her cheeks, her lips. They burned as he kissed her. It was rough but practiced, slow and circling and just long enough to make her groan when they parted.
"I knew you'd come around," Jackson's voice was a satisfied whisper against her cheek. "Until next time, Miss Brown."
Amelia didn't light any lamps in the smithy. She crossed the hay strewn floor in complete darkness, finding her way to her stable room from memory. Once inside, she stripped off the painted silk Jackson had purchased, tearing it beyond repair in her haste to be rid of it. When it was off, torn and mangled, she kicked it to the corner of the room.
It wasn't until she had thrown herself onto the bed that the tears came.
"Why didn't you call on me today?"
Jackson froze, one foot in the stirrup of his saddle, and turned to squint into the blackness of the alley next to the courthouse. At first all he saw were shadows. Then one of them shifted and Bea materialized a few feet in front of him.
"You've taken to lurking around alleyways now?" Jackson asked dryly. "You've been reading too many gothic novels, I fear."
Bea ignored the comment.
"I expected to see you," she said. There was an edge to her voice, a sharpness meant to cut him. "You promised to come the other night and you didn't, and all day today I've seen you about with that Brown girl."
Jackson swung himself up onto his saddle. His horse snorted and shifted its weight.
"Jealousy is not attractive on you, Beatrice," he said. Bea gazed up at him with a look of contempt. "Do you honestly think you have anything to fear from that child?"
"It you that I'm worried about," she said icily.
Jackson's lips twitched. He steered his horse toward her, stopping by her side. Bea glared at him. In one fluid motion, Jackson bent and pulled Bea's face to his. He kissed her painfully hard. She wrapped her arms about his neck, meeting the swirl of his tongue with her own. When he pulled away Bea was left breathless and lightheaded. She ran her palm up the length of his thigh to his belt, tugging gently.
"Be with me tonight." It was more of a command than a question.
Jackson offered her his hand and helped her onto the back of his horse.
Marty walked home alone from the festival. He had seen Emmett dancing with a woman and decided it was best not to interrupt him. One of them had to have a good time, might as well be Emmett. All things considered, he deserved it more.
He hadn't necessarily had a bad time. The guns had been pretty cool and he had been able to have all the free beer he wanted, but watching Amelia get carted around by that Jackson jerk all night long had been torture. He had put up with it the best he could for Aims' sake, but by the end of the night Marty had been ready to punch his pretty face in.
There were no lights on in the smithy when Marty arrived. He had been expecting to see Amelia up and waiting for him but even her room was dark. He thought about peeking in to check on her and decided against it. She was probably asleep. He'd see her in the morning.
Marty lay down on his cot and stared at the blackened ceiling for a long while. Now and then he thought he heard somebody crying, but it came and went so quickly that he couldn't be sure. Deciding it was the wind, he drifted off to sleep.
That night, he dreamt he punched the pretty off of Jackson's face.