"You may kiss the bride."
The young man looked at the even younger woman in front of him as she rubbed a hand over the barely noticeable bump in her lower abdomen. Her eyes were wide, frightened like a rabbit being chased. He hesitated. But just as it had through the 'I do's' and the vows, his prodding came in the form of a shotgun barrel nudging into his back.
He glanced around at the faces in the small church. None were familiar and all seemed to be glaring at him. Returning his eyes to the poor, frightened creature before him, he could see the tears beginning to form in her eyes. Leaning forward to press his lips to hers, he just caught the whisper that escaped her.
He kissed her. It was a gentle kiss and the first they had shared. He might not love her but she deserved gentle at the very least. The kiss was shortened by her dissolving into tears. Cody stood up sighing. This was not how he pictured his wedding day.
He looked suspiciously at the men around him and placed an arm protectively around his new wife. It felt strange to think of anyone as his wife but then Cody knew he'd better get used to it. The minister had just pronounced them man and wife.
Her name was Josephine and what her last name might have been before today, he did not know but it was Cody now. Cody had heard some of the others call her Josie but they hadn't exchanged even enough pleasantries for him to know if that was a preferred nickname or what. They had only met once before and it wasn't the type of meeting that could have caused that bump in her belly.
It had been a few months earlier when he had last been through town so the timing would have been right. That was probably about when she became in a family way. The place had seemed friendly enough at the time, friendlier than it had today at any rate. There had been some festival going on then and Cody had found himself face to face with this same freckled girl. She had made the peach cobbler he was enjoying—at least he knew she was a good cook, which was a serious consideration for him—and he had told her how much he really liked the cobbler. She gave him a smile that made him wish he had time enough to at least take a walk with her and maybe try to steal a kiss. That time didn't exist that day and he had ridden away. In fact, he hadn't even caught her name. It was hard to miss today though as he had uttered the words "I William take you Josephine."
As he led her out of the church, Cody could feel the fear rolling off of her in waves. He knew some of her fear was of him but he couldn't shake the thought of how bad her situation must be that it was preferable to wed herself to a man she'd met a few moments months before. His determination to protect her solidified. William Cody was many things. He knew his friends would point out that he was a joker and that he ate too much but he was also a man of honor and whether he understood the situation or not, he would not leave a woman in peril. And he had sworn in front of God and a congregation of angry folks to care for this woman. Cody would take those vows seriously. He might not love her or even really know her but in a rather unconventional way she had asked for his help and he would give it.
They made it out of the church and Cody saw his horse being brought around along with one for Josephine.
"Are you sure you're alright to ride?" he asked softly and she nodded never raising her eyes.
So Cody walked her to her horse and made sure she made it onto the saddle safely before he mounted his own horse and nodded to her to follow him. There had, at first been discussion or really a near threatening suggestion that he stay there but he convinced the man he figured to be her pa and the others to let him take Josephine with him. He had a job, he reasoned, and people who'd come looking for him. At the very least he had to go back and tell everyone what had happened but then he turned on what little of his charm hadn't evaporated at gunpoint and told them how it would be nice to start off in their own little place and he could take care of her. It worked and he was glad. The terror in her eyes at thinking she would have to stay was enough to convince him that she needed to leave this town. And he really did need to at least notify Teaspoon, Rachel and the boys that he wouldn't be coming back if that had been the case. It felt good to have the town at his back even if part of it was following him home.
Once he knew he could turn around and only see the faint outline of that town he stopped his horse and turned to Josephine. Her reddish hair trailed over her shoulders and her head was down as far as she could look and still direct the horse behind his own. He waited for her to come alongside him but she didn't. She halted her own mount a few feet behind him.
"Why don't you ride alongside me?" he asked.
She nudged her horse and allowed it to take the few steps needed to catch up to him.
"You can look me in the eye too," he said gently, "I ain't going to hurt you."
She lifted her eyes but then they darted away again so quickly and he could see her fighting to not cry.
"I thought maybe we should stop and at least get some introductions out of the way," he went on trying for his normal jovial tone.
"I'm sorry, William," she said as the tears began to fall. He reached a gloved hand and wiped away a few of the tears.
"Now right there is what I mean," he told her keeping his voice as light as he could, "My name's William but most folks call me Bill or Billy. My ma calls me Willie and the rest of my family calls me Will. And the guys I work with just call me Cody. Now you can pick any one of those that tickles your fancy but William is awful formal."
He paused and watched her as she dared another glance to him. Her lips pressed together in something almost resembling a smile and she nodded.
"Now," he continued, "I know your name is Josephine and I heard some in the town call you Josie and even one or two call you Jo. Unless you tell me, I won't know what you'd like best. Of course I could just call you darlin' but I ain't sure we know each other quite that well or even if you'd like that very much at all."
"Josie," she whispered and it was almost lost in the breeze but Cody caught it all the same.
"Alright then, Josie," he said smiling, "Now I feel like we're at least friends." He took a breath and note of her grateful expression. "Here's the plan. It's going to take a couple days to get to Sweetwater at the rate we're going and I don't want you riding as hard as I usually do. The guys won't be worrying too bad so I think we'll be fine. I ain't up for another ride for a few days and I ain't bringing anything in. I stay in the saddle for a pretty long stretch so if you need to take a break to rest or, well, just to take a break, you let me know. Don't be shy neither. I don't mind stopping and I don't want you overdoing."
"Why are you being so nice to me?"
"You're my wife," he said simply and while it was strange and he had thought to have a few more years as a free-wheeling bachelor, he sort of liked the sound of it. "It ain't how I ever figured to get a wife but I don't give my word lightly. Are you okay to ride for a while?"
She nodded and they moved on. Cody couldn't handle the quiet for very long though. He wasn't quiet when he was riding alone. He would sing to himself or talk to the horse. Having an actual person alongside and not talking felt unnatural. He looked over at Josie and saw her studying the area around them.
"So Josie," he began and wasn't even sure what to ask her but he had to say something. "Who were those other guys? I figured your pa was the one shoving the shotgun in my back but I didn't quite get who them others was."
Cody had ridden in earlier that day and thought nothing of anything in the town until he heard a woman holler, "Him!" and he really didn't take note of that until three burly guys dragged him off his horse.
He'd found himself facing an angry looking man with a gun in one hand and dragging a girl by her upper arm with the other.
"You sure this is the fella?"
The girl, Josie as it had turned out, merely nodded, not even daring to meet his eyes.
"My brothers," Josie now said softly. "They didn't hurt you, did they?"
Cody shook his head ignoring his sore ribs that came when he had denied having anything to do with how Josie got in a family way.
"No, they didn't hurt me at all," he said amiably.
It got quiet again. Cody couldn't for the life of him think of anything to say to her and Josie was offering little by way of conversation, actually she was offering nothing at all. But then after a while she broke the silence.
"Bill," she said tentatively and Cody looked over to her in question. "I need to stop, please."
He nodded and took note of how uncomfortable she looked. He saw a stand of trees up ahead and gestured that they could stop there. Somehow he thought that she might need to make water and the trees would allow her some privacy. Once stopped, he jumped down and hurried to help Josie from her horse.
"That's not necessary," she said once her feet landed on the ground.
"Maybe not," he said, "But I feel better about it."
Cody pointed to the trees but didn't say a word for fear of embarrassing Josie. They might be married but he never knew a woman who wanted to talk much about her necessary functions. Even Lou kept such things to herself. Josie nodded and Cody figured his guess had been right about why she needed to stop for a bit. When she re-emerged from the trees she looked sheepish.
"It seems like I have to do that all the time now," she said rubbing her belly.
Cody took another look at the sky and made up his mind.
"I hate to do this to you, Josie," he began, "But the sun's getting low and we ain't going to make a town before it's down by quite a bit. We could push on, I suppose. But I really think it might be better to make a camp here tonight."
"If you think that's best," Josie said meekly and it concerned Cody because even though he had not seen it from her, he doubted that meek was a normal state for her to be in.
"I do," he told her decisively and set to getting things settled for them but he soon saw Josie working right alongside him collecting wood and trying to make something for them to eat.
"You could rest," he offered but she shook her head.
"I've caused so much trouble for you," she replied fighting to keep her emotions in check. "You shouldn't have to make your own supper too. You have a wife and I need to act like it."
There was something in her demeanor that informed him she wasn't only referring to cooking for him with her words. It would probably surprise those who knew him and if he said this aloud, he would be accused of dishonesty for sure but up until that moment he hadn't even considered what typically happens on a wedding night. He'd shared the company of a woman before and he enjoyed it as he figured most men did but Josie wasn't some sporting girl and the fact that she had been with someone to make a baby didn't change that. He actually hadn't even taken the time to really look at her.
Now that he did he found what he saw to be pleasing. She had red hair and he recalled from the church that afternoon that her eyes were blue. They were a darker blue than his, perhaps closer to Kid's eye color. A spray of freckles dotted her nose and cheeks and when she offered it, her smile was sunny and warm. He knew he wasn't seeing her at her best but she was a pretty enough girl, he thought. While she cooked, a peaceful look overtook her and Cody found that even more pleasing. If he could get her to calm down and stop being so frightened of him then she would be quite pretty indeed. Her eyes lifted to his and he knew he didn't have a look that he would normally offer to a girl he found fetching but maybe that was good since she was so skittish and whatever look he was giving her was enough to conjure a smile from her.
"Supper's ready," she said softly, "I'm a good cook when I have more to work with. Least that's what the boys always said."
"Clem, Zeke and Larry," she explained, "My brothers. They didn't have much nice to say to me until suppertime but then they fawned over what I would cook. I guess you can see none of them got skinny on my vittles."
She seemed to be rattling on nervously and Cody felt the need to rescue her.
"Well, I already know you can make a damned fine peach cobbler," he said and Josie seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. "I'm sure this'll be just fine. I never expect too much when I'm on a ride."
He sat down to eat and the quiet settled between them again.
"This is real good, Josie," he noted, "Rachel will be glad, I think, to have another female around."
"Well, I guess I'd better prepare you for who you'll meet," he replied and then launched into a brief explanation of everyone at the station. When he finished he placed a hand over hers. "Don't worry if you don't remember all the names at first. The guys are pretty good that way."
The food was finished and Cody went and got their bedrolls. He noticed that Josie looked very uncomfortable when she came back from the trees where she had obviously had to take care of her personal business again. He nodded for her to sit next to him and, for the time being, forgot the bedrolls.
"I think we need to talk about some things, Josie," he said and wished they didn't have to. He was used to being the one who always had something to say, who could at least convince others that he always knew what to do but right then he was not even remotely sure of himself. Cody knew he couldn't even effectively fake it.
"See, the thing is," he began, "I know what usually happens on a wedding night and I can tell you do too. But I can also tell that you maybe don't really want to do that and I ain't so sure it's the right thing either. I care for you some and I think you're real pretty but that don't make it right, I don't think. The other guys might be surprised to hear me say this but unless it's your profession, I ain't too interested in being with a woman I ain't in love with and I frankly don't know you enough to be in love."
"You don't want me?" she asked and Cody couldn't even figure what she was afraid of but she was afraid of something. That much was sure.
"I don't even know what I want but making you more uncomfortable ain't it," he told her, "You don't really want to be doing that with some guy you don't hardly know, now do you?"
"I'm your wife," she whispered, "It don't matter what I want."
"I think it matters very much what you want."
"I know you didn't want this and I know you got forced into it," she blurted out and began crying, "It's all my fault too. I lied and I don't even have to tell you that because you know I lied. You knew I was lying all along. This ain't your babe and you know that too. But I'll be a good wife to you. I'll cook for you and I'll keep a nice house and anything else you want from me. I will. I promise. You can start tonight. It's okay. You know I ain't pure or nothing."
"That shouldn't matter," he responded, "You still deserve to get treated nice. You had your reasons for lying and I don't think you're ready to tell me what they are but they must have been good reasons if you were willing to get yourself hitched to a man you only met once for a few minutes. Must be your other choices was even worse. You don't know a thing about me. For all you knew I could've been cruel and someone who would hit you or something. I ain't. You'll understand that in time. I can't hurt a woman. I might not've made that baby but it's mine all the same now. We'll raise him up together. Somehow I think we'll be fine but we don't have to be fine all to once and things don't have to happen tonight."
"I remembered you," she said quietly, "When you was in town before and said such nice things about my cobbler. When I saw you I thought…I just knew you could be gentle and if I had to be married to someone I thought I'd sure like to be married to someone who could be gentle. I'm sorry. You being kind is more a reason to not do something like this to you. I was selfish."
"No. You're scared. I don't know what of but I hope it ain't me. You don't need to fear me. And I ain't going to let anyone else hurt you neither."
"If you think anyone's going to come looking for me, you don't need to worry," she assured him stiffly, "It ain't like there's someone out there madly in love with me wanting to raise up this baby. He wouldn't come for me. And I wouldn't want him to either."
"So the father wasn't a sweetheart of yours?"
She shook her head.
"I ain't never had a sweetheart," she said dipping her head.
"So some man just…just…took you?" Cody fumed jumping to his feet and beginning to pace.
"It didn't exactly happen like that either."
He stopped his frantic pacing and looked at her.
"Then how did it happen?" he asked, "Who fathered this child?"
"I can't say," she replied, "I'm sorry."
"You can't say 'cause you don't know or some other reason?"
"I know who the father is," she asserted and acted a little indignant and nearly angry.
"I didn't mean no offense," he grumbled, "But I'm starting to take some. I ain't asking a hell of a lot from you, Josie. I ain't asking for your body. I ain't asking for you to be some perfect wife. I don't need or want any more apologies from you. But I will say you owe me one thing right now. I ain't going to hurt you but we sure ain't going to start our marriage off any kind of happy without you giving me the truth. I think you owe me that."
"I-I can't," she stammered, "You'll hate me even worse than you already do."
"I don't hate you," Cody said sounding exasperated, "I know you're scared of something but if he ain't going to come after you then I don't see why you can't tell me what happened and how you came to be expecting."
"He said he'd kill me if I ever told anyone," she whispered, her voice shaking.
Oh don't even start with me about how I am neglecting other stories and then starting new ones...I know! But I will finish the others too...and this wasn't my fault (gee, ever heard that before?)! See there was this writing workshop I was doing and it was about different kisses and writing just the kiss itself to set a mood...there are different kinds of kisses, you know...and then I was looking through some pictures of Josh Brolin (anyone blame me?) and I found a pic from his first marriage (to Kathleen Devlin!) and he was holding his son in his arms...so yeah figured shotgun might've been involved in that wedding and one of the categories for a kiss was discomfort and the opening scene here was written...what was I supposed to do?
Anyway, this will take many twists and turns before it is done and it is all mapped out...-J