Josie went into the house for the night humming. She wouldn't have to put Bill off tonight since he wasn't home. She had half an angry thought that he was probably with some whore but then thought she couldn't even be mad at him. Eventually he might meet someone he could love so completely that he wouldn't even think about those women.
"You sound happy," Rachel noted as Josie made her way through the sitting room. The girl just smiled at her.
"I'm making some tea," Rachel continued, "Maybe you could sit a bit with me?"
Josie sat down on the small couch and watched as Rachel poured the tea. This was not an idle request for tea and it was clear that Rachel had something on her mind.
"I guess there's no way to do this other than to just come out and start with it," Rachel began, "I'm worried about you."
"But I'm fine," Josie said and she held up her hand, "See it's healing real good and the baby's doing good too. It kicks all the time now."
"That's not what I meant, sweetie. I'm glad your hand wasn't hurt worse and you know I'm happy that you and the baby are healthy. I worry for your heart, honey, for your happiness. How long are you going to stay married to a man who doesn't love you? How long can you stay with a man you don't love?"
Rachel paused and then added, "Especially when there is someone you do love who loves you right back."
Josie nearly choked on the tea she'd just taken a sip of. Then her lip began to tremble and her face crumbled.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered as her face fell into her hands, "I messed everything up. I ruined your family. I broke my vows and the commandments. I-I'll go tomorrow. I'll leave."
"No honey," Rachel said reaching for Josie and pulling her into a tight hug.
Josie fought the embrace for a moment but then it felt so good to be held. It was almost like having a mama again. Soon Josie was hugging back, knowing she didn't deserve the comfort but needing it too badly to care.
"No, you can't go," Rachel went on, "I want you to stay."
"But I made such a mess of things."
"Things were already a mess. Seems you've just tried to make the best of what you got handed."
"But I didn't," Josie protested, "I made them worse."
Her sobs renewed. Rachel just held her and petted her hair.
"You talk as if we get a say in who we fall in love with, Josie."
"If I didn't make Bill marry me…"
"Then you wouldn't've met the man you do love," Rachel reminded her, "You'd be alone and probably your pa would've kicked you out by now. Sometimes things are meant to be even though they hurt and get confusing. But you are not leaving. I told you that your home is with me as long as you needed it and you, my dear, need it."
Rachel let Josie cry a bit more and then patted the girl on the back.
"It's getting late," she observed, "Let me help you get ready for bed."
"I know what you can do. But I know it always made me feel good when my mama would brush my hair for me at bedtime. I ain't saying I can be anything like your mama but I can brush through that pretty hair of yours."
They went upstairs and Josie changed into her nightgown and turned to see Rachel in her nightgown smiling and holding a hairbrush. Rachel settled on the bed and Josie sat in front of her.
"You should wear your hair down more, Josie," Rachel said as she began pulling the brush through Josie's long hair. "It's so pretty."
"It's not pretty," Josie said, "I wish it was like yours. Blonde hair is so beautiful."
"Well, I seriously doubt that Kid would like it any better if it was blonde. Or should I say, Ben?"
"How did you know?"
"I was looking," Rachel said simply, "So tell me about it."
"I can't…It ain't right."
"Sweetie, there's lots of things that aren't right but finally getting to see what love and happiness feels like, well, I count those things as very, very right."
Josie would wonder later what it was that finally shifted in her. Maybe it was the way Rachel held her or how cared for she felt to have Rachel brushing her hair or maybe she just couldn't hold it in any longer.
"Oh Rachel, he's wonderful! He's so beautiful and when I look at him, it feels like my heart stops. And when he says my name…I can't even…and his smile when he talks about something that makes him happy or when he's caring for Katy. He has this way of making me feel like I'm the only girl in the world and everything I say is important. I never felt like that before."
Rachel hugged Josie tight.
"This is what I wanted you to feel all along. So have you two talked about how you feel?"
Josie nodded somberly.
"We're going to tell him—Bill. When he gets back. We're going to tell him about us…that we love each other and that I want a-a-ˮ Josie lowered her eyes and whispered, "Divorce. It's terrible. I know everyone here will hate me and that's hard because I love the boys so much but poor Benny. Those are his brothers and they might all turn on him. He's just doing it for me. I don't deserve such a thing, I don't think. But then I can't see any way to be but with him. I'm scared. I don't know what's going to happen. It's going to hurt Bill and he's a good man. He don't deserve to be hurt like this. It's a sin what we're doing, you know. I mean we ain't done…but still what we feel and even…well, we kissed and I know that's wrong. Can God even forgive what we're doing?"
"I have seen some things in my lifetime. Some of them beautiful beyond measure and some horrible beyond understanding. I just have to believe there's a reason for things. I have to think that maybe something—God or fate or angels or something—sent Cody your way to get you away from some people who I would hope when their time comes have to explain much more to God than you do. Maybe the whole reason for everything was so you could meet your love and be able to have and keep this baby. I don't know but I do know that love is a precious gift and if more people remembered that, we'd have a whole lot fewer problems in this world."
Josie was crocheting on the porch late the next morning with Kid leaning on the railing watching her and talking. They had all been talking amiably at breakfast and she and Kid had struck up a conversation that was plausible to continue after breakfast so he stood there and the others were none the wiser for the time being.
Her head shot up at Noah's call of 'riders coming' and her complexion was ashen.
"Guess it's time to let the cat out of the bag," Kid said solemnly.
"No, Benny," she said in a panic, "Not yet. He's so tired when he comes in and it'll make it worse. Just a little bit longer."
"Alright," he agreed, "A little while. After supper we'll tell him. He'll be in a good mood then. You have to know that I can't send you to his bed one more time. I just can't do it. He'll have to know tonight—before bedtime."
She nodded and then got up to leave the porch to welcome Jimmy and Bill home. Her sweet Benny offered a hand to help her down the steps. Just a gentlemanly gesture and not one that anyone would think too much of but it meant the world to her to touch his hand for just those moments. She knew no one else saw the squeeze he gave her hand before releasing it. It wasn't meant for anyone's knowledge but hers. That one gesture gave her the strength to offer a smile to Bill as he dismounted his horse.
Jimmy looked worriedly over to Cody as they entered the yard. He had seen the furtive looks and rushed conversation between Josie and Kid. He wasn't sure exactly what but something had changed. He knew in his heart that Kid would never break his word about making love to Josie but something had changed between them. Only the day before and he would have immediately drug Kid to the barn and beaten the snot out of him but things were different. His head was muddled and he knew he didn't have the experiences to figure out what to do on his own. He looked over at Josie pasting a smile on her face for her husband that might have fooled Cody but Jimmy knew was fake. Ike was waiting to take Sundance for him but he just shook his head.
"Thanks Ike," he said, "I need to go on into town for a little bit. I appreciate the offer all the same."
Ike shrugged and watched as Jimmy rode away.
Jimmy needed to talk to someone about everything. He knew he'd rather not talk to Rachel though with her female intuition he thought she might already have at least an inkling of what was going on. He just wasn't sure how to bring up such a thing to a woman. He couldn't very well talk to the other guys and if he talked to Kid or Cody or even Josie…well, he wouldn't quite know what to say or how much to say. But he knew someone who might just know what to do. The old man hadn't failed to come through for him before.
"You got something to say, Hickok?" Teaspoon said from under his hat as he leaned back at his desk, "Or you just really like the view from the doorway?"
"I uh, I actually needed some advice," Jimmy said as he entered the office fully and sat down in a chair opposite the desk. He looked up to see the older man had straightened his hat, leaned forward and had one eyebrow arched as he waited for Jimmy's question so Jimmy continued. "I came upon some knowledge recently. Seems someone has a secret from someone else and that someone else would be mighty upset about it and then I discovered the someone else had a secret too. Now that secret should make the someone else less upset by the secret the first someone was keeping but I don't think it will. So I guess I'm not sure what I should do being as I am the only one who knows both secrets."
"Don't supposed you'd like to tell me what either of these secrets might be concerning so's I'd have half an idea what in the Sam hill you're talking about?"
"I wish I could, Teaspoon," Jimmy said grimly, "I really do. I hate being the only one carrying this but I just can't."
"Well, that does make this harder," Teaspoon mused, "All's I can say is that in matters of the heart—as I suspect this might be—sometimes it's best to not interfere. I can't speculate much more'n that without more information. Now if you think more hurt might come from not telling then I guess you got to tell someone but otherwise it might be best just to let sleeping dogs lie as it were."
"I don't know about harm or good in the telling but these dogs ain't sleeping, I don't think. They look to be pacing and getting edgy."
"Son, you got a good head on your shoulders. I think if you just take a breath and think a bit you'll come up with the right thing to do. Unless you want to tell me more, that's the best I'm going to be able to do for you."
Jimmy nodded his understanding before he wandered out squinting his eyes to the midday sun. He had hoped Teaspoon could have told him what he should do. Should he tell Cody about Kid and Josie? Should he tell Kid what he saw on the ride between Cody and Sylvia? But the old man was right, unless Jimmy could say what was going on then Teaspoon couldn't tell him what to do and Jimmy just knew that telling yet another person these things he knew wasn't right—not yet anyway and maybe not ever.
Kid watched Josie hug Cody and saw Cody kiss her deeply. It killed him a little to see such a thing. He heard Josie tell Cody she was glad he was home safe and he knew she meant it. She always worried when any of them were away. Kid wanted to share her sentiments and maybe he did a little but God help him, a part of him wondered how much easier things would be if Cody hadn't made it home in one piece, if he hadn't made it home at all.
The very thought sickened him. This was love, he knew it. Love was supposed to be a beautiful thing. It was supposed to make everything good. It had turned him into a man longing for his brother's wife, encouraging her to get a divorce, wishing his brother harm. It had turned him into someone he didn't even recognize. Kid looked on helplessly as he saw Cody climb the porch and sit next to Josie while she worked on that blanket. There was no mistaking the love in Cody's eyes as he looked at her but then, when Cody looked away, Josie looked out into the yard and met his eyes. She smiled. Kid's heart was once again full and he doubted nothing that had to be done.
Josie hated that Benny had to see how Bill kissed her. It wasn't a typical kiss he would give her when he returned and she knew that Benny noticed too. She could see the anger flash in his eyes and she felt a bit of it too. Not only was that kiss horribly upsetting to Benny but she understood what it meant.
Once she and Bill were on the porch and he was making small talk she dared to ask.
"What was her name?"
She watched the color drain from Bill's face.
"I ain't mad," she told him, "You said before you left that we'd talk when you got back and I guess this is that talk. I was scared when you told me you loved me 'cause I ain't ready to say it back. Now I see you weren't really ready to say it in the first place. It's okay."
She wasn't sure where she had found it in herself to say those things, to be so bold but she guessed it had something to do with the man with the soft brown curls across the yard. What she said was true but Bill looked like he wanted to dispute it.
"Bill," she said before he could form an argument, "You are a sweet man but please do not lie to me. It's alright. I told you I ain't mad. You been good to me, you have. Don't spoil it by telling me lies."
Cody was truly taken aback but then deflated by her words. She was right.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I do care for you, Josie. I really do."
He wasn't sure who this strong woman in front of him was but he sort of liked her. She excited him and he hoped that her passionate words could turn to passionate actions that night.
Josie raised her hand and laid it on his cheek.
"I know you do Bill. I know you always have."
Josie couldn't bring herself to join in the dinner conversation at all. She knew what was to come and it tied her stomach in knots. She picked at her food and looked over to see Benny was doing the same thing.
"Ain't you feeling good, Josie?" Cody asked, his eyes filled with concern that was nearly Josie's undoing.
"I'm fine, Bill," she answered conjuring a smile that felt so wrong. "I guess this just isn't setting right with me tonight. It happens sometimes. Something sounds so good and then it's in front of me and I can't even choke it down."
She knew she talked too much. It was suspicious. She willed herself to just shut her mouth.
"That does happen," Rachel jumped in seeing what was happening, "I remember thinking that blueberry pie sounded good for a month solid when I was expecting and then I would make it and not even be able to look at it or stand the smell. Henry ate a lot of blueberry pie in those days."
Everyone chuckled and Cody made some remark about how he could get used to blueberry pie every day. The attention was off of Josie and how much or little she was eating. Josie caught Rachel's eye and Rachel gave a small nod. Josie smiled. It was comforting to know that there was at least one person on her side…well, hers and Benny's.
Conversation resumed and no one took any further notice of Josie except to tell her that she had once again prepared a wonderful meal. Cody got three helpings himself and an extra piece of pie. Kid just kept pushing the food around his plate. It wasn't that he had any problem with the meal. He considered it a perk that someday this would be the kind of fare he could expect his Josie to make for him. And she was his Josie. That was the reason for his lack of appetite that night actually. When Teaspoon had asked why he wasn't eating much, Kid had brushed the question away saying he had eaten too many cookies that afternoon and now wasn't that hungry. Thankfully no one seemed to remember that he had barely touched the treats Josie had brought to the bunkhouse that day.
At long last, the only people in the bunkhouse were Kid, Josie and Cody. Josie was clearing dishes and tidying up the bunkhouse while Kid was still absently pushing his food around his plate and Cody was nearly licking the crumbs from his plate that had held his second piece of pie.
"This sure was good, Josie," Cody said with enthusiasm, "Can't get nothing like this when I'm on a ride. You don't know what you're missing, Kid. Her crust is so flaky and just melts in your mouth. I asked her once what her secret was and you know what she said? Love. She told me she puts love in everything she cooks and that's why it's good. I think it's something else though. Maybe that is all it is."
All the while Cody was rattling on, looks were passing between Kid and Josie. She looked fearfully at him and he nodded back to her. It was time. She came over to the table and sat next to Kid. And they both looked at Cody waiting for him to at least take a breath. Finally he stopped talking and Kid looked solemnly across the table. Josie's hands were folded in her lap and out of sight but she reached next to her and gave Kid's hand a squeeze which he returned. Whatever happened, whatever they had to face, they were together in this and doing it for each other.
"You know you got a weird look on your face, Kid," Cody said trying to smile but somehow feeling that it wasn't right to. "You got some bad news for me or something? News about my sister maybe? You look too serious."
"Cody," Kid began, "I need to talk to you. I need to tell you something."
Cody could see Josie's lip start to quiver and the resolve in Kid's eyes. It scared him.
"You ain't sick are you, Josie? Nothing's wrong with the baby, is it?"
She just shook her head and continued fighting the tears.
"Cody, just listen," Kid continued, "We need to tell you something. And I need you to know it wasn't something anyone set out to have happen. It just…we just…oh hell Cody, Josie and me fell in love. We didn't plan it but we both feel it. It wasn't right to talk in front of the others about something so private but we're asking for you to understand that this wasn't in our control. It's just something we felt. Like magnets…you know how magnets work? They're just drawn to each other and there isn't really anything you can do about that pull."
"No," Cody said shaking his head, "No, you are not sitting here calmly telling me you fell in love with my wife! You are not, Kid! What are you even trying to do with this? Just see how bad you can hurt me?"
"We're asking you to understand," Kid said, "We're asking you to grant Josie a divorce. Step aside and let us be together."
Kid saw Cody's hand go reflexively to his hip and was thankful the rule about guns at the supper table was still in place.
"You bastard!" Cody bellowed and Josie let out a small squeak of fear when Cody stood and threw his plate across the room. "We're all brothers, you say. You know the right things to do, you say. And you take up with another man's wife! To hell with you! To hell with both of you!"
Josie clung to Benny's arm as she watched Bill storm out the door.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"It's okay," Kid said standing and heading toward the door. "You should probably stay here but I have to talk to him."
"I have to come with you," she said defiantly.
Kid nodded but then placed a hand on her arm.
"Just stay back, okay? I know I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you or the baby. And he might not realize it right now but Cody couldn't live with that either."
"I'll be careful," she agreed and they both walked out into the growing night to find Cody still visibly seething.
"Cody," Kid began but was cut off.
"You are the last person I want to hear a damned thing from right now. You should go by your real name, you know. It fits you better. You're worse though. Benedict Arnold betrayed his country. You betrayed your own brother."
As he spoke, Cody walked off the porch and into the yard where Kid followed him wincing at the words.
"I never meant-ˮ
"You never meant what, Kid? You never meant to steal my wife? You never meant to commit adultery? You never meant to destroy my hope for a family? What is it you never meant? God, you really are a bastard."
Cody's voice was rising with every word he said and it was carrying to the rest of the station well. Soon the others were gathered around and trying to figure what the fight was about. Jimmy knew and stood near to Kid and Josie. He still wasn't sure where he came down on this whole situation but he worried for Josie's safety and he knew Kid was probably going to need a friend pretty damned bad real soon, if he didn't already. Rachel stood near Josie. Teaspoon stood off to the side but between the feuding brothers. The others weren't sure what to do.
"Yeah," Kid yelled back, "All of those things. Damn it, Cody, this wasn't how things was supposed to be. I was supposed to be with Lou anyway. And even when that didn't work, I never set out to fall in love with a woman who was someone else's. You got to know that about me!"
By now the others heard enough and Ike, Buck and Noah all stood behind Cody.
"I thought I knew that," Cody yelled, "But I guess I didn't."
Cody emphasized his point with a punch to Kid's jaw. Maybe Kid was surprised by the punch or maybe he felt he deserved it but it laid him out for a moment or two. Josie screamed and Rachel hurried to see to her. Cody took advantage of Kid being down to jump onto the man he had long seen as a brother and land a few more punches before Kid found some leverage to roll and began pummeling Cody.
"No!" Josie screamed, "Benny stop! You'll kill him! Please stop!"
Her words cut through to Kid when even Jimmy's and Buck's arms around him trying to pull him off failed. He dropped his fists and stood. Stepping back from Cody he just looked blankly ahead. He still wanted to beat on him some more. Suddenly every time he knew that Cody had touched Josie, his Josie, came to him and he wanted to kill him right then. But Josie was crying and begging him not to and for her, he would control himself and his anger.
Cody stood and wiped the blood from his mouth and then looked at Kid and his blood boiled over once more as he lunged at the other man who was not even raising his arms to protect himself.
"Bill! Stop! It's not his fault! Not only!"
And Cody did stop. And he looked at Josie and something seemed to fall into place in his mind.
"You!" he said with a sneer, "You…so shy and quiet and acting all fearful. And you turned on me. You said you was so scared everyone would think you was a whore because of the baby. Maybe they ought to think it. Maybe they ought to know you're nothing but a dirty, disgusting whore. You throw yourself at me to get out of what you say was a bad place and then give me the cold shoulder while you're keeping my brother warm!"
"I ain't no whore! You should know that! You're quite the expert on them now, aren't you? Well me and Benny didn't do half what you did with that saloon girl! And at least I love him!"
All of the onlookers took a step back at that. They weren't even sure what they were shocked most about. It could be that Cody'd been getting friendly with the saloon girls while married and it could have been that he'd told Josie about it or it could have been that sweet little Josie just stood up for herself like they worried she'd never be able to do. It might even have been hearing the declaration of love from her mouth.
"Well, I ain't giving you no divorce," Cody growled at her, "I'm going to bed. Our bed."
He began to stomp off but Rachel caught up with him.
"Cody, I know you're hurt and angry. I know and you've every right to be. But don't you think it would be better to sleep on the couch for tonight? Josie should have the bed. I know you're angry with her but you aren't angry at that baby, are you? That baby needs her to stay healthy and rested."
"Never said she couldn't sleep in the bed with me," Cody grumbled, "She's still my wife."
"Cody, sweetie, this has been a very emotional night," Rachel nearly cooed at him, "I think it would be best if the two of you had a little space for a while. Maybe things will be clearer in the morning and maybe they won't but being that close when you're as mad as you are and she's as frightened as she is…I just don't think that's good for the baby, or anyone else."
Cody nodded finally that he would take the couch.
Out in the yard, Teaspoon was giving Jimmy a glare such that Jimmy nearly wilted under the weight of it. Teaspoon now understood what Jimmy had been talking about earlier and wasn't any too pleased to have had this come on him like it did. Jimmy tried to give a look that said that it was Teaspoon who had said basically not to interfere.
"I don't know what everyone's looking at," Teaspoon said addressing his boys, "Ain't none of you that good looking that you all got to stand around staring at each other."
Reluctantly the guys started wandering away but still they stole glances at Kid and Josie. She had gone to him and was studying his face where Cody had beaten it.
"Oh Benny," she said through her tears, "I am so sorry. Look what he did to you."
Her fingers traced over the places on his face that were just beginning to swell as her eyes shone a bright love for him. Jimmy could see what was in her look to him. He could see it and he knew that he had been standing behind the right man. He knew Cody didn't mean any of the things he said to Josie but he knew that backing love was the right move. Looking across, he could see the others beginning to understand as well.
Kid looked deep into Josie's eyes and she looked back. No words passed between them and they didn't even kiss. She just touched his face and he rested his hands one on her shoulder and one on the curve of her belly. With every movement of her fingers over his face, his shoulders relaxed a little more. There was relief in having this behind him, behind them. He moved the hand that had rested on her shoulder and lightly skimmed it over her cheeks, tracing where her tears had gone and were still going. This might not be over but the worst of it was and Josie was here in front of him, crying for him, caring for him. He had hated the hurt he'd seen in Cody's eyes but he'd do that ten more times if it meant they were together.
The others, Buck, Noah, Ike and even Jimmy stared even as they tried not to. They couldn't help but feel for Cody. He had thought he was living a life it turned out he wasn't. And their first instincts had been to be angry with Kid but watching the pair now, it was evident their love had a light that everyone could see.
So this chapter was not fun to write. Cody's so hurt. Things are so fractured. And it isn't going to get better for a while...it's only just begun too hit the fan. I thank you all for sticking with me. And as always, I thank my dear Myrtle for holding my hand through the ugliness.-J