Reflection on the Past


It had been a month since that horrible night in which I lost my daughter. She had walked into my life and just as quickly walked out. As I sat here at her grave, I reflected on our short time together and remembered our beginning.

I was just a young girl when I met Cole Yankton. He was the first man I had ever known. He treated me like a woman and made me feel special. I guess that is why I so easily gave myself to him. When he left me just a few months later with the promise of marriage, I believed him. Yet that promise never materialized. What did come from that relationship was a beautiful red haired, blue eyed little girl that I named Rose after my grandmother. Yet, as her father left me with promises, I left her with promises. Neither of which came true.

As I sat there reminiscing, I thought about her birth. It hadn't been easy. It is a good thing that Pan had taken care of me and there was a doctor present. Mercedes was born in breach position. At one point the doctor thought he would lose us both, but being strong stubborn redheads, we survived.

The moment I placed her at my breast and she suckled, I was hopelessly in love. As I looked back, I wondered how I could have just walked off and left her behind. The six months we were together was blissful. Pan provided everything I needed to take care of my baby and allowed me the time to bond with her. Melanie helped so much too. When I was able to go back to dealing cards, Melanie and I would take turns caring for Mercedes. I would feed her then go downstairs for a few hours to work. I would always come back up in time for the next feeding. This went on until I knew I had to make some changes and find a better life for me and my daughter.

That is when I made the decision to leave Rose with Pan and Melanie. I made arrangements to go to San Francisco to find Cole. I knew once I found him and he knew about his daughter, he would make a life for us. Then when we got settled, I would send Melanie the money to bring the baby to me.

As I traveled west, I worked in saloons earning money for the journey and saving some toward the time Melanie and the baby could join me. One night I was dealing cards and overheard a conversation at the next table. When I heard the name Cole Yankton, my heart started pounding. What was said devastated me. The best I could get from the conversation was that he had become involved with a group of outlaws robbing banks throughout California. I decided right then I wouldn't bother with him. I would find a place and settle down. Then I could send for Melanie and my baby. I had already been gone for a couple of months and I missed her terribly.

The next day, I gave notice, packed my bags, and headed farther west. Why I didn't just go back to New Orleans, I don't know. I guess because of all the bad memories there and I wanted something better for my daughter.

Lost in thought, I didn't hear anyone until I felt Matt's hand on my shoulder.

"Kitty, what are you doing?"

"Matt, I just felt drawn to be close to her. This is the only place I can find that feeling."

Matt pulled me up off the ground, wiped the tears from my cheeks, and drew me into his arms.

"Honey, I know that you miss her. I do too. We all grew so close in that week we had together, but you can't keep doing this to yourself."

"I know Matt. It's just so hard to put it all behind me. The" what ifs" won't leave me alone. We had such a short time together. "

"I know sweetheart, but you are going to make yourself sick. I can already tell you have lost weight. Maybe what we need is a trip away from Dodge."

"Oh, Matt, you know the trail herds will be coming in just a few weeks. Besides, just as sure as we make plans, something will come up and you won't be able to go."

"How about we take a few days and go out to Jake Worth's cabin. He said I could use it anytime I wanted."

"I would love too. Are you sure you can get away?"

"Things are quiet right now and I am pretty sure Newly can handle anything that would come up. Can you be ready to go in a couple of hours?"

"Sure, I just need to put a few things in a satchel and talk to Sam."

As we walked toward town, my thoughts again drifted back to my time with Mercedes. I loved Matt and what he was trying to do, but I didn't think it would shut off the memories flooding my mind.

When we reached the Long Branch, Matt squeezed my arm and headed on to the jail. I entered the saloon and saw Sam wiping down the bar.

"Sam, I am planning on going out of town for a few days. Do you think you can handle things until I get back?"

"Sure, Miss Kitty. It shouldn't be a problem."

I headed up the stairs to pack. When I reached my rooms I walked over and ran my hand over the wooden treasure box that had belonged to Melanie. After Mercedes died, I had looked through the box. It mostly contained Melanie's things. Jewelry, ribbons, a lock of Mercedes hair, the picture of Melanie, the baby, and me were among the items. There was also a picture of Mercedes taken about a year ago in Abilene. Melanie had written her name, age, and town on the back. I was so grateful to have this picture. I took the box and the picture sitting down in the large chair by the window. As I stared at them both, my mind drifted back to that first morning Mercedes was in Dodge.

I had left my room and knocked on the door of Mercedes' room then I opened it. Mercedes was still lying in bed. She looked so beautiful and young under the quilt with her red hair spread across the pillow. She seemed so familiar to me.

"I hope I didn't wake you."

"No, I was just getting ready to get up."

"Would you like to join Matt and me for some breakfast?"

"I would love too. Just give me a few minutes to wash up and dress and I will be right down."

"Don't rush, Matt isn't here yet. I will be downstairs when you're ready."

I headed downstairs and decided to work on the books. I was sitting at the back table when I heard movement at the top of the stairs and at the same time saw Matt at the batwing doors. I watched Matt as he looked at Mercedes. It was as if he were trying to figure out where he knew her from. I had felt the same way when I met her last night.

"Good morning, Ms. Wiltse."

"Morning, marshal."

"I hope you slept well."

"The best sleep I have had in months thanks to you and Ms. Russell."

"Well, let's go eat, I am starved."

"You're always starved mister."

We headed out the door and down the boardwalk to Delmonico's. The three of us received several looks as we entered and sat down at a table. I guess it was because of the resemblance between the girl and me.

We had an enjoyable breakfast. It was funny to watch the expression on Mercedes face when Matt ordered his large meal and then again when they put it in front of him. It brought back memories of my first day in Dodge.

"Matt, do you always eat that much?"

"Little lady, I am a growing boy who needs all the sustenance that he can get."

Mercedes laughed at that and I could tell Matt had an admirer.

After breakfast, Matt walked Mercedes and I back to the Long Branch and then went to the jail to work.

We made our way up to my room and I sat down on the settee. I could tell there was something on Mercedes mind, but I decided to just wait and see what it was. She walked across to the fireplace and took down the picture of Matt and me.

"How long have you and Matt been together?"

"Almost sixteen years. That picture was taken in St. Louis several years ago."

I remembered her telling me her mother's name and how everything fell into place. Standing before me was my daughter.

We talked about everything. Who her father was, why I left her, and why I never came for her. When it was all said, we held each other and cried for all that we had lost. Matt found us later that evening exhausted asleep side by side on my bed.

When Matt came through the door, I woke and got up. He took me in his arms and held me. Since Matt had known for years that I had a daughter, it didn't take words for him to know who Mercedes was. He held me while I sobbed for all that had transpired. When I had finally calmed down, Mercedes was awake and we all sat around and talked.

I went downstairs and made sandwiches and coffee in the kitchen. We sat around the table in my room and ate. All was quiet while we ate. Afterwards, Matt and I sat on the settee and Mercedes took the large chair by the window. I think we were all hesitant to speak, but I had had a question that I wanted the answer too.

"Mercedes, did Melanie ever tell you how she came up with your name?"

"Didn't you give it to me?"

"No, sweetheart, I named you Rose after my grandmother."

"That's why you didn't react to my name. No wonder you didn't know I was your daughter as soon as you heard it. It is so unusual. It wasn't until I said momma's name that you knew who I was."

"Melanie must have changed your name after she left Pan's with Mr. Wiltse."

Matt sat quietly listening to us talk. He sipped on the brandy I had given him.

"Mercedes, I didn't bring it up this morning, but Festus and I went out to the wagon this morning. We buried your momma and brought the wagon into town. If you want to go out and put a marker on her grave, we can take you out there tomorrow. I hope you're not upset that she was buried on the prairie, but I thought it best."

"Marshal, I would like very much to go back out there and say a final goodbye. Would you go with me Kitty?"

I had gotten up from the settee and was standing over by the fireplace. I was lost in thought as to all that had transpired in the last twenty-four hours. Realizing my daughter had asked me a question, I turned around and answered.

"Yes, darling, I will. I loved Melanie very much when we worked together at Pan's. We were best friends. Really more like sisters. I still struggle with wondering why she left Pan's taking you with her and not telling anyone, but I can't really blame her. If I hadn't left you behind to begin with, we wouldn't be going through this now."

Matt got up and walked over to me. Sitting his glass down, he took my shoulders in his big hands. As he looked at me, I saw the love shining through. He had always been my strength and he was now too.

"Kitty, I have to go do rounds."

"Will you be back?"

He pulled me into his embrace which surprised me with Mercedes in the room.

"Yes," he whispered in my ear, "if that's okay."

I whispered back, "It's more than okay, cowboy."

"Good night, Mercedes. See you in the morning."

Mercedes sat in the chair staring out the window. I sat down in the chair next to hers. For the next few minutes, we were both lost in thought.

"You love the marshal very much don't you?"

"Yes, we have been together a long time."

"Why haven't you married?"

"Matt has convictions that the badge and a family don't mix. He doesn't want to leave a widow and possibly children behind."

"Is that the way you feel too?"

"It's hard sometimes to accept. I would marry him in a heartbeat if he would ask, but I love him too much to let the lack of a piece of paper to come between us. I'm not going to say I haven't been upset with him a time or two over it though."

"Did he know about me?"

"I told him years ago all about you. I don't think there is anything I haven't told him. We both have a past and we accept that. It doesn't change the way we feel about one another."

"Sweetheart, I am sorry. I have regretted the day I left you all these years. Had I known that Melanie would take you away to where I couldn't find you, I would never have left you behind."

"Come here."

Mercedes got up and came to where I was sitting. I pulled her down onto my lap and drew her into my embrace. She laid her head on my shoulder and wept. I held her close as tears ran down my cheeks.

We set that way for quite a while before either one of us moved. It felt so good and right holding my daughter as I did seventeen years ago.

Finally we both got up.

"I think I will go to bed, Kitty."

Giving me a hug, she turned toward the door and opened it. Just before she walked out, she turned back and said, "I am glad I found out the truth. Good night."

"Good night, honey."

It had been a very emotional day. The daughter I had lost was now found. I just hoped that we hadn't been apart too long that we couldn't form a close relationship.

I decided to go down stairs and make sure everything was in order. Sam was just finishing up.

"I was just getting ready to head home, Miss Kitty. Did you need something?"

"No Sam. Just a little restless so I thought I would come down for a few minutes. Matt should be by in a few minutes. You go on home and get a good night's sleep."

"Miss Kitty, I know it is none of my business, but I was wondering about the young lady. She looks so much like you. Is she a relative?"

"Sam, Mercedes is my daughter. I had her back when I was working for Panacea. You remember her don't you? We were separated when she was a baby and I lost track of her."

"Oh, Miss Kitty, I am so sorry."

"Well, she is here now. At least I have that. "

Just then Matt came in the batwing doors, shutting the main doors and locking them after he was in.

"Good night, Miss Kitty. I will lock the back door on my way out."

"Thank you, Sam. Good night."

"Want a drink, cowboy or are you ready to go on upstairs?"

"Let's bypass the drinks. You're all the stimulation I need."

I chuckled at his response and we headed up to my room.

The next morning, I woke to find my bed empty and the sun shining in the window. I must have been more tired than I thought having not remembered Matt's kiss before he left. It was his habit of always kissing me before leaving and whispering "I love you."

I looked at the mantle clock and couldn't believe it was eleven o'clock. I quickly dressed for the day and went next door to check on Mercedes. She probably thought I was lazy. I knocked, but got no answer.

I went on downstairs hoping to find her there.

"Sam, have you seen Mercedes?"

"She came down around eight, Miss Kitty and asked where she could find the marshal. I told her he was probably at the jail, but if not try Delmonico's"

"Thanks, Sam. I am heading down to the jail. I will be back later."

"Okay, Miss Kitty. I hope you find her."

As I walked down the boardwalk, I ran into Doc.

"Well, young lady, where have you been all morning, lazing in bed."

"As a matter of fact, yes."

"We missed you at breakfast."

"We, who is we?"

"That big overgrown marshal of yours and your beautiful daughter."

I was stunned that he knew, yet like Matt, I had very few secrets from Doc.

"Curly, you're just too smart for your own good. Do you happen to know where I might find the marshal and my daughter?"

"The last I knew, they were headed to the jail. Something was said about checkers."

I headed on down to the jail. As I started to open the door, I heard laughing. I smiled to myself. It was so good to know that my daughter and my cowboy were enjoying each other's company.

I opened the door and there sat my loved ones enjoying themselves over a checker game. It seemed so right for them to be sitting there having fun. Anyone who didn't know them would think they were father and daughter. Tears came into my eyes just thinking about it.

They both looked up at the same time.

"Well, I see you decided to get out of bed, Red."

"Very funny, Matt. Why didn't one of you wake me up?"

"I looked in on you before I headed down stairs. You were sleeping so soundly and looked so peaceful that I decided not to bother you. You're not upset with me are you."

"No, sweetheart, I'm not. I did need the sleep."

"Matt came in just after I got downstairs and offered to take me to breakfast."

"I am glad you two are having such a good time. You all wouldn't be interested in taking a lady to lunch would you?"

"We would love to Kitty and then I thought we would take a buggy ride out to Melanie's grave."

"Sounds fine, Matt. Is that okay with you, Mercedes?"

"Yes ma'am."

I knew it was too soon to expect, but I was hoping that Mercedes would start calling me momma. I knew I needed to be patient and hopefully it would come.

Mercedes led the way. Matt placed his large hand in the small of my back and we headed to Delmonico's. It always felt so good to feel his touch even if it was just a gentlemanly gesture as we walked down the boardwalk. My love for this man grew more each day.

After lunch, Matt headed to Moss' to get a buggy. Mercedes and I headed to the Long Branch to let Sam know where we would be.

"Sam, we are going for a buggy ride. I should be back to help with the evening crowd."

"That's fine, Miss Kitty. Take your time and enjoy yourselves."

It was a pleasant ride across the prairie even with what we were heading too. I spotted some wildflowers growing along the road.

"Matt, stop. Maybe Mercedes would like to pick some of these flowers for Melanie's grave."

"Oh, that would be so nice, if you wouldn't mind Marshal."

Matt slowed and stopped the buggy. He got down and then helped us out. We stood by the buggy as I watched my daughter pick flowers. This brought on thoughts of what she would have been like at three or five out picking flowers with long red braids in a cute little dress and pinafore. Melancholy started to take hold, but I pushed it aside. I wanted to cherish each moment from here on out and not dwell on what might have been.

After gathering quite a few, we got back in the buggy and continued on. Matt had made a wooden marker with Melanie's name, year of birth and death. As we approached the site, tears started rolling down Mercedes cheeks. I pulled her close to me. She laid her head on my shoulder and sobbed.

"It's hard to believe she is gone. I miss her and have so many questions I would like to have answers for, but they died with her."

We reached the grave and again climbed down from the buggy with Matt's assistance. We all walked over to the grave together. Matt placed the marker on the grave using a rock to pound it into the dirt. Mercedes laid the flowers on the grave and knelt down beside it.

Matt and I walked back toward the buggy. I could tell my daughter was talking, but couldn't hear what she was saying. I knew it was things meant only for Melanie.

After a while, she walked back over to the buggy.

"Thank you so much, Matt for coming out here and burying momma. Also for the marker and letting me pick the flowers. This all means so much to me and gives me closure on this part of my life. Now I feel I can move on to the next segment."

Then she came up to me and we embraced. It felt so good to hold my daughter in my arms. Then she said something that made my heart swell.

"Melanie was a good momma to me for seventeen years. She loved me and kept me safe, but she's gone. Now I have my first momma to share the rest of my life."

Pulling from the embrace, I looked at my daughter. Her lovely face and crystal blue eyes were filled with love as she looked at me. How lucky I was to finally have the baby I gave birth to here with me today. I was truly blessed. Matt pulled us both into his arms and it felt blissful. I sensed I finally had the family I had desired for so long. We stood there like that for several minutes.

"I think we need to think about heading back to town, ladies. Let's go eat supper."

"Matt Dillon, I think sometimes food is all you think about."

Matt scowled as Mercedes and I both laughed. He helped us into the buggy and we headed back to town.

Once we got back to Dodge, Matt let us off at the Long Branch with the promise of picking us up for supper in about an hour and took the horse and buggy back to Moss' stable.

Things were quiet in the Long Branch so Mercedes and I went upstairs to freshen up before Matt came to pick us up. I changed into my green dress that Matt likes so well. I knew after supper I would need to help Sam. I was hoping Doc would come in and spend time with my daughter. He had been busy with patients over the last couple of days and hadn't been able to really visit with her.

As it turned out, Doc came in Delmonico's just shortly after we were seated. He joined us at the table and we enjoyed each other's company as well as the food which for a change was very good.

"Young lady, how are these two treating you?"

"Oh Doc, they have been wonderful to me."

"Did you happen to beat Matt at checkers this morning?"

"Yes, I did," she said chuckling."

"She seems to take after Kitty with her skills at checkers. I don't think I plan to play billiards or cards with her."

We all laughed. It felt so good. Family was a wonderful word and it seemed at that moment I had it all.

We left Delmonico's and headed for the Long Branch. When we entered, things were quiet. I headed to the bar getting beers for us and a sarsaparilla for Mercedes. When I got over to the table I heard her asked Matt about her adopted father.

"Matt, have you heard any more about my papa."

"No honey, there hasn't been any trace of him. Either he has been in hiding or never made it to Dodge. I will keep looking and let you know if I hear anything."

It was probably wrong, but I hoped he never showed up. From the things Mercedes had told me about him, I really didn't want him in her life anymore.

The next few days seem to fly by. My daughter and I spent time just talking. She helped me with the books for the Long Branch and I was showing her other aspects of running the business.

We shopped at Jonas' store, spent time in the dress shop, hat shop, and bought more than either one of us needed. It was so much fun and the look on my daughter's face was priceless.

Our time together was precious to me. We would sit up and talk in her room in the evenings. I was so glad it wasn't time for the cattle drives. With it being quiet, I was able to take all the time off I wanted and spend it with Mercedes. Sam was more than glad to work. Things were quiet for Matt as well, so he spent time with us too.

Mercedes had been with us for almost a week. We were up early this particular morning. Matt had come to take us to breakfast. As we ate, Matt asked us our plans.

"Ladies, what are your plans for the day. I have some paper work to get caught up on. Then I thought we might go horseback riding. Mercedes do you know how to ride a horse?"

"Oh yes, Matt, I love to ride, but I haven't been on a horse in a long time."

"How would you both like to go for a ride? I have to ride out with some papers to Jake Worth's and then I thought we would stop by and say hi to the Ronnigers."

"Matt that sounds like a wonderful idea. I haven't seen Bess in a while and I would love to introduce her to my daughter."

"Okay, then it's settled. I will come to pick you up in a couple of hours."

"Sounds good Matt, I need to get some orders ready for the drummers coming through tomorrow."

"Matt, would you mind if I tagged along with you to the jail."

Matt looked at me and smiled and then he looked at Mercedes."

"That's okay with me if Kitty doesn't mind."

"Sweetheart you go along with Matt if that is what you want. I will see you both later."

It was so good to see them bonding. I hoped as time passed, they would be as close as a father and daughter.

Shortly after I finished my orders, Matt and Mercedes came through the batwing doors.

"We have the horses outside, Kitty so when you two are ready we can leave."

Mercedes and I went upstairs to change into our riding clothes. It didn't take long and we were headed out of town. It was a beautiful day and our trip out to Worth's was uneventful. After Matt had delivered the papers, we were on our way toward the Ronnigers. I was so excited about Bess meeting my daughter and to see what Mercedes thought about all the Ronniger children.

We were about a half mile from their house, when something spooked Mercedes' horse. The next thing we knew, she was on the ground. I couldn't get my horse stopped soon enough. Matt was off and to her before I was.


"Kitty calm down."

The fall had knocked her out, but she was slowly coming around. Matt checked her for broken bones and started asking her questions as soon as she was conscious.

"Kitty, I think she is going to be alright. She will probably be sore and maybe have a headache, but otherwise fine."

"What happened?" Mercedes asked as she tried to get up."

"Just lie still. I don't want you moving until I know you are okay."

Matt gave her a drink and continued to check on her. He put his bedroll under her head and had her lay there quietly for a bit.

"Sweetheart, now do you think you can stand up."

"I think so."

Taking her by the hands he helped her stand. She seemed to be okay.

"Do you think you can ride, honey?"

"Yes, Matt, I think I will be fine."

"It isn't that much farther to the Ronnigers and then you can lie down for a little while before we head back to town."

Our visit with Bess and Will wasn't what I had hoped. Mercedes laid down on their settee in the living room. We sat around and visited. Bess and I got a chance to talk in the kitchen while making coffee. We had been friends for years, so she knew the story about Mercedes. It would good to share with friends.

We made it back to town about supper time, but Mercedes just wanted to go to her room. I was getting ready to follow her up.

"Kitty, I am going to have Doc come over and check her out. Then I will go get supper if you want me too."

"No, Matt, I will just heat up some soup later if we decide we want anything."

"Okay, I'll be back after rounds."

Mercedes had already gotten into her nightgown and was in bed when I got to her room. Shortly after, Doc knocked on the door. He checked her over good and said she would be just fine. He gave me some powders to give her to help her sleep and said it would also help with the soreness.

"Doc, we have plans to go to Spring Creek for a picnic tomorrow. Should we postpone it?"

"No, honey, I don't think so. She will be right as rain after a good night's sleep."

After Doc left, I sat down on the bed by my daughter.

"Sweetheart, can I get you anything."

"No momma, I just want to sleep. Will you lay down with me until I go to sleep?"

I was so shocked at what she called me that I almost missed what she asked.

I kissed her on the forehead and lay down next to her. She lay so still I thought she had gone to sleep quickly. I was just about ready to get up when she spoke.

"I hope you don't mind if I call you momma. I know we have only known each other for a short time, but it just feels so right."

"Honey, I know it is new for you, but I have known you for years even though I have just been around you this past week. I love hearing you call me, momma."

Life was good and I was very happy.

I dozed off and didn't wake up until I heard a knock and the door open.

"Is she okay?"

"Yes, Doc said she would be fine. He gave her some of his powders. She asked me to lie down beside her. I guess I fell asleep too."

I got up, pulled the quilt up on my daughter and we left the room. Going into my rooms, we both started getting ready for bed. I went into the washroom to change. When I came back out, Matt was sitting on the settee with two snifters of brandy. As I took my glass, I told him what she said to me.

"Matt, she called me momma."

"Oh Kitty, I know what that means to you."

"Cowboy, I don't think things could get much better than they are now. I love you, Matt."

"I love you too, Kitty."

We sat in silence for a time. Just sitting close, deep in thought.

"Honey, are we still going on the picnic to Spring Creek tomorrow."

"Doc didn't see any reason we shouldn't."

"Good, I am looking forward to spending time with my girls. Do you think she has ever been fishing?"

"I don't know, but it sounds like your excited about teaching her if she hasn't."

"I enjoy spending time with her Kit. She reminds me so much of you when I first met you."

"If we are going on a picnic, I would suggest we head to bed."

"Sounds good to me."

We lay down and Matt reached out and pulled me into his arms. It felt so good to be engulfed in those strong limbs. We kissed and then drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, Matt left to do rounds. I got up and dressed for the day. I had ordered our picnic the day before so it should be ready when we were.

After I was dress, I went next door to check on my daughter. She was up and dressed as well.

"How are you feeling this morning?"

"Except for a little soreness, I feel fine. I am so looking forward to this picnic. It looks like it is going to be a beautiful day."

We headed downstairs and found Matt waiting for us. He had picked up the picnic at Delmonico's. I got several bottles of sarsaparilla and put them in a burlap sack. The buggy was out front so we climb aboard and headed to Spring Creek.

"Are we really going to do some fishing?"

"We sure are. Have you ever fished?"

"No, but I sure am looking forward to it."

Sitting next to Mercedes and listening to the excited way she was talking with Matt about fishing warmed my heart. I could tell it was going to be a great day. It wasn't long until we had reached out destination.

While Matt and Mercedes got their poles ready to put in the water, I put the burlap sack with the sarsaparilla in the creek to cool. I spread out a blanket and sat down to watch my two favorite people. Life couldn't get any better.

Our day was just about perfect. Mercedes out fished Matt which tickled me. It looked like she was her mother's daughter. I usually always caught more fish than Matt.

We enjoyed our lunch and then took our shoes off and waded in the cool water of the creek. Even Matt joined in.

All too soon, it was time to go back to town. Back to the Long Branch and the responsibilities of the badge. We packed up the poles, picnic basket, and blanket and headed to town.

Matt delivered us to the Long Branch and said he would see us later. Mercedes and I headed up stairs to wash up and change. She finished first and came to my room sitting down on the bed watching me fix my hair.

"Kitty, Kitty, honey, wake up."

For a moment, I was still in my room with my daughter, then as I woke everything came rushing back to me. The card game, the shooting, and Mercedes dieing. I guess while remembering, I had fallen asleep.

"Oh Matt, I don't think I can do this. I miss her so much. Why did it have to happen? Why did she have to leave me?"

Matt just picked me up, sat down in the chair and held me in his arms. We just sat in silence for a while. Then I noticed that I didn't have the box and picture. I had let them fall to the floor when I fell asleep. I looked down and saw something white sticking out from the bottom of the box. Matt saw what I was looking at and reached down and picked them both up. Taking the box, I turned it over and found what looked like a letter sticking out. The box apparently had a false bottom and the letter was between the two. I pulled it out and opened it.

Dear Kitty,

I don't know if this letter will ever reach you or if I will ever see you again.

I am so sorry for what happened. I didn't mean to take your daughter and leave without a trace. When I met Carl, I fell hopelessly in love. Then he asked me to go away with him and get married. I told him about Rose and he said we could take her too. I explained that she wasn't mine and that I was waiting for you to send for us. He told me if I was going with him, I would just have to forget about you.

I was so crazy in love that I chose to take your daughter and do as Carl said. No one at Pan's knew his name, so it wasn't hard to just disappear. We headed west and finally ended up in Abilene. He insisted I change Rose's name to Mercedes. I found out later that she was a girl from his past.

It wasn't until we got far enough away from New Orleans that I knew I had made a big mistake. He wasn't the gentleman he portrayed to me at Pan's. He forced me to do things I never thought I would have to do just so he would have gambling money.

Again, I am sorry for the heartbreak I have caused you. Your daughter is so precious. It has been a joy to raise her and watch her grow into a beautiful young lady. Her birthday is coming up. It is hard to believe it has been seventeen years since I saw you.

I am not well and we are traveling north toward Kansas and I hope Dodge City. I had heard from some patrons in Abilene that a Kitty Russell owned the Long Branch saloon. I hope that is true and that Mercedes (Rose) finds her way to you if something happens to me.

Please forgive me for what I have done.



As I read the letter, tears streamed down my face. How could I go on with Mercedes gone? Then I looked at the man holding me in his arms and I knew that I couldn't, but with his strength and love, I would survive.

I leaned in and kissed him.

"I love you so much and I don't know what I would do without you. You are my strength."

"Together, Kitty. We will get through this together."

Matt helped me pack some clothes and we left an hour later for the cabin. The few days we spent there was like a balm to my soul. We took walks, talked, and made love. By the time, we came back to Dodge, I knew things would be okay. There would be good days and bad days, but with my strong cowboy, I would make it.

The End