His head hit the floor of the kitchen with a thud. What happened? Right, he had to go and get comfortable. Leaned back on two legs of the chair and she tipped him. The pain shot through his head and he winced once from it and again at her derisive laugh.
"Wild Bill, huh? You don't look so wild to me. Tame as a little pussycat aren't you?"
He knew better than to speak. He just rolled to his side and hoped this was the end of it. It wasn't. She just circled around him. He tried to at least keep his knees to his chest and his head down. She usually didn't risk hitting him in the face anyway. That required getting their stories straight. Oh she knew he'd lie, less to protect her than his own stinking pride but they needed to have the same lie.
"You're pathetic," she spat and he knew it was true. It wasn't a thought that lasted long though. He felt the sharp pain in his lower back. Once…then once more. Yeah, he'd be peeing blood later. He involuntarily rolled to his back to protect it from further assault when the foot rested between his legs, right on his crotch.
"If this wasn't the only thing about you I like, I'd step down. Nothing else to you worth a damn."
"Martha," he choked out desperate for her to stop, to bore of hurting him, to just leave him alone. "Please, I'm sorry."
"You got that right," she said, "Sorriest excuse for a man I ever saw."
He was horrified to see she had the cast iron skillet in her hands. As if the pointy toes of her boots weren't bad enough.
The assault began in earnest. He wished that he knew what got her into these moods. He knew men who got like this when they drank but she rarely touched the stuff. Some days things were almost nice between them. They would smile and he was almost happy they were together. But then some days the tiniest thing would set her off and here he would be. She hadn't been happy about coming to Rock Creek. Maybe that was it. Maybe they should move.
He tried to think, to keep his mind going on anything besides the pain wracking his body. He thought of the times Martha would smile and how it almost made her beautiful. He thought of when he used to ride and how free it was to just climb into the saddle and ride like the very wind that flowed through his long hair. He thought of his friends. He thought of how they loved him even when—maybe especially when—he was least lovable.
He knew that was why he came here. Why he had brought her here. Maybe he thought that if she saw him around people who loved and respected him, she'd see something good in him. Maybe he just needed to be reminded that anyone had ever seen good in him.
He tried to think of Emma's warm smile and Teaspoon's kindly and patient nature. But then the pain came, worse than normal. This might be the worst. He surely shouldn't have come. He didn't know what he had been thinking to try to make a decision for them, for himself even. He wasn't capable. He made stupid choices. He always had.
Jimmy fought the tears. They would only make this worse and he understood that. What woman wouldn't be furious to find herself stuck with a man so pathetic and weak as to cry? Of course, she wasn't stuck with him. Their marriage was common-law after all. She could leave and return her name to what it was before and no one would ever know or care. Maybe one day she'd be tired of being mad at him and do just that, leave. His mind carefully schooled his features to not show the slight smile at that thought. Once he had begged her to stay, promised he would change, be better. Now he wished she would just leave.
His thoughts stopped when he realized she wasn't hitting or kicking him anymore. He warily looked up into her scowling face.
"Why do I even bother?" she hissed at him. "Get up off the floor. And clean this mess!"
She stomped off toward their room muttering to herself.
"All the men in the world and I get stuck with that sorry ass excuse…"
Jimmy exhaled. It hurt to do it and suddenly every blow she struck came back to him. Breathing was going to hurt for a while. Lots of things were going to hurt for a while. He'd have to make up some story or other. A simple trip and fall wouldn't explain how hard it would be to move and breathe. He moved to try to get on his hands and knees and hissed at how reluctant his right arm was to support any weight. He finally managed it, gritting his teeth to keep from crying out. He managed to get himself to his knees and then use the toppled chair to lean on for a moment. Finally he grabbed the side of the table and dragged himself to his feet. The pain was almost blinding and he just stood a moment and breathed heavily. Slowly, gingerly, he moved. It hurt to stand up straight and he guessed that was mostly from the kicks to his lower back. He bent and set his chair upright and then slowly moved around the kitchen cleaning it. Their supper was half eaten and needed to be disposed of. Dishes needed washing. Once he was finished, he went outside and somehow managed to get some water and take it into the barn where he had a space with a small mirror. Lighting the lantern, he took in his reflection. It depressed him as it always did. The defeated look in his eyes, the hunched shoulders.
He was no man. She was right. Maybe he never had been. Things got tough and he ran. He always ran. That's no man. Men faced things. Men didn't run from responsibilities, from hurt, from reality. He did. Martha was right. He was the sorriest excuse for a man.
Turning away from the mirror, he sighed. It hurt like hell. It was time to see how bad it was this time. He began to unbutton his shirt and nearly stopped and gave up. His fingers had taken some hits, or she had stepped on them. The tears fell down his cheeks and into his mustache. There was no more reason to stop them. He knew what he was. There was no hiding his weakness from himself. There really was no hiding it from her either but his tears only egged her anger on.
Finally his shirt was open and he slid it carefully off. He looked over at his right shoulder which was where the pain was radiating from. It was swollen and turning colors but it didn't look like anything was broken. Maybe the muscles just got bruised. That was a relief. Broken bones could be serious and in a joint like the shoulder, it might never heal right. Looking down, it wasn't hard to see why he was having a hard time breathing without pain. The marks on his ribs were already visible. He felt over them and confirmed a couple of ribs were for sure broken.
He wondered, and not for the first time either, why. Why she stayed, why she stuck with him when he wasn't worth anything but her anger. It wasn't love. She used to say she loved him but he knew as well as anyone that falling in love meant you could fall out as easily. When he came in for bed, she would possibly apologize but she would no longer claim to love him. When this had started she did. He still remembered the first time it happened.
He had said something that upset her. What it was now, he couldn't remember that part but he was sure it was stupid. Stupid things were the only ones he could come up with anymore. She had slapped him hard then. Hard enough to leave a mark. He had been so shocked that he almost lifted his hand and hit her back. Almost. He couldn't though. He couldn't hit a woman. He couldn't even defend himself. She could be hurt. They might not have had a wedding with vows and all but he had promised her all the same that he would never let harm come to her. It kind of went without saying that meant he would never hurt her.
He'd done it once though, tried to stop her. He had caught her hands as she started swinging at him. He fought to keep her from taking the swing. He'd had to hold her hard enough to leave finger marks on her forearms and she had threatened then to get the law. To tell everyone that Wild Bill Hickok was such a no good coward he had to resort to beating on women. Somehow it was worse to think of her lying about him than it was hiding the truth.
He made it back into the house mentally noting that he would need to do some wash tomorrow. He'd surely hear about it if he didn't. Entering their bedroom he saw her. She was reading by the lamp on her nightstand.
She looked up at him with a smile that disappeared when she saw the marks on his still naked torso.
"I am sorry, you know," she said.
"I know," he replied, "I know I make you mad. You should have better, Martha."
She stood and went to him and rose slightly onto her toes to kiss him lightly. Then she began to undo his pants. When they were half down, she nudged him to sit on the edge of the bed and pulled off his boots and pants. She hiked her nightgown enough to allow her to straddle his lap and then she kissed him fully. When they broke apart, she began lifting the nightgown over her head.
"I ain't so sure I'm up to this," he said almost timidly. She could be vicious if her needs were not met and he was in bad enough shape already.
"Shh," she murmured into his ear nibbling it as she spoke. "You lay back and get settled and I'll take care of you, make you feel all better."
He did as he was instructed and she climbed atop him. He did feel better. It was maybe the only part of them together that still worked and for a while he had thought it was worth any of the rest of it but now he wasn't so sure about that. Maybe nothing was worth what she did. After much effort he found a position to sleep that didn't put too much pressure on his bruised shoulder or broken ribs. It wasn't a good sleep but then he hadn't had that since long before he met Martha.
The next day, Jimmy was sort of excited. Kid said he'd be stopping by to help out around the place. It would be a relief to have an extra set of hands around to fix things up but first he had to get the wash done and on the line which wouldn't be an easy task with his injuries. He had gotten things washed and was dreading the reaching and stretching that would be required to get the clothes hung up. He nearly jumped when Martha came up alongside him. Sometimes she would still be nice for a day or two after she had blown up at him. And usually the worse the blow up, the longer she would be nice. He hoped that was the case today. It wouldn't be long before Kid got there. If he was seeing to new injuries then…well, the lies would all be exposed.
"I'll take care of this, sweetie," she said softly. It was almost contrite, apologetic. But then her look turned. "We wouldn't want your little friend to know what a pathetic excuse for a man you are."
He fought to keep from wincing at the deserved insult. He was pathetic, he was weak. He was weak but he wasn't dead…yet. Maybe he could stand up to her. Maybe he could tell her to go. The house was in his name, she had no right to it. He was with family. But if he sent her on her way, what would she tell people? What would he have to tell people? What would they all think of him? They liked her. Teaspoon had said so. She was a strong woman. Feisty. Fiery. She had spunk. These were good things and he was lamenting him. What would Lou think if he couldn't keep up with a strong woman? He just couldn't.
He walked off to try to get started on some chores. The house was in good shape but the outbuildings were a little rough. He had hoped he and Kid would be able to get some progress made on them. It wasn't going to be easy. He could hardly lift his right arm and moving at all hurt with his ribs.
He saw Kid ride up and hid the wince that waving caused him. Kid saw it anyway.
"Don't tell me you hurt yourself again," Kid said amiably.
"Fell out of the loft yesterday," Jimmy answered with a frown. He was sick of lying and it felt especially wrong to lie to friends. "Guess I should be glad I didn't break my damned neck."
"Jimmy," Kid said suddenly worried, "We should get you to the doc."
"I'm alright. Bruised and banged up is all…nothing to worry going to no doc for."
"You sure?" Kid asked. "You ain't moving good.
"Bruises, I told you," Jimmy said, "Stiff and sore today. It'll be fine."
They didn't work very long. Kid said he had to get back home but it was an excuse. Jimmy knew it was and it depressed him further. Either Kid was worried to work Jimmy too hard or he could see…he could see the shame in him. It didn't matter. Kid leaving meant that Jimmy was all alone. He almost grabbed Kid and blurted everything out. He knew he couldn't take too many more beatings like this.
In reality, it was neither. Kid needed to get to somewhere he could talk to someone who could help. He had suspicions that didn't make sense. He had to find Teaspoon…and maybe Rachel too.
Kid reached the marshal's office quickly. Rachel and Teaspoon were both there.
"What are you in such an all fired hurry for?" Teaspoon asked.
"It's Jimmy," Kid answered, "He's hurt. Says he fell out of the loft. I think he's lying though. I think he's been doing lots of lying."
Rachel and Teaspoon drove the buckboard quickly to Jimmy and Martha's house.
"Why do you think he's lying?" Teaspoon asked.
"Think about it," Rachel said hoping she was wrong. Hoping they all were. "If he was a woman and was getting hurt because he suddenly got clumsy, what would you think?"
"I might think she had a husband or beau who was laying hands on her."
"But how in tarnation could a man of Jimmy's size get beat on by a woman?"
"Is he supposed to beat her up instead? Is that what you taught him? Or is he supposed to fight back? Which of them would end up hurt if he did that? Who would you believe about what happened? Do you honestly think women can't be just as evil as men?"
"I think I need to give that boy a piece of my mind," Teaspoon grumbled.
"And I think you're staying away from him. I'll see to him."
Teaspoon grumbled as he brought the buckboard to a stop. Rachel didn't even give him a chance to walk around and help her down. In fact, she was on the small porch of Jimmy's house before Teaspoon was even down himself.
"Stay right there," she said before knocking on the door. "If I need you, I'll holler."
There was a long wait before Jimmy opened the door. He was bent over and looked terrible. Seeing who was at his door he tried to straighten up as much as he could.
"Hey Rachel," he said, "What brings you here?"
"I needed to check on you," she said patting the side of his face. "Are you here alone?"
"Martha's in town," he affirmed.
"Good," she said and walked past him into the house. She stopped part way into the room and turned to face him. "Stop trying to pretend you're not hurt. Get your shirt off and show me."
"I'm fine, Rachel."
"James Butler-ˮ the harsh sounding words died when she saw his eyes dip and his hands fly to the front of his shirt.
"Jimmy, I'm sorry, sweetie."
She moved slowly to him and placed her hands over his.
"It's okay. Just let me see where you're hurt."
"I'm okay," he whispered, "I'm okay. Really. Just some bruises."
"Jimmy, let me see."
He dropped his hands to his side and let her unbutton his shirt. There was no hiding the gasp that escaped her when she saw him, saw how he was hurt. This was no fall from the loft. She bit her lip to keep from crying and took a breath before speaking.
"Jimmy, these aren't just bruises. Your ribs are broken."
"Fell," he offered weakly. He was fighting so hard to not cry. Rachel was so tender to him. If she knew…she'd laugh and turn from him. He knew it.
"No you didn't. Come here."
She pulled him to sit next to her on the couch and leaned his head toward her. He shifted around so his ribs wouldn't hurt worse. Once his head settled onto her bosom with her fingers trailing over his long hair the dam broke and he began to cry. Once he started he felt like he wouldn't stop.
"You're safe now sweetie," she said softly, "It's alright now. I know."
He stopped crying right then. He thought he might stop breathing.
"I fell," he insisted, "I did."
Rachel took his face in her hands and held his gaze to hers.
"You were vulnerable," she said, "I don't know why and she might not either. But people like her…they can see if you're vulnerable. She played on that. You must've been feeling plenty low when you met. She's got you believing the worst."
"True…it's all true."
"No. Jimmy it's not true. You're my good boy…you've grown to a good man. How many men would've turned to violence themselves? How many? How many might've killed her? You could've easy. You know you could. But you didn't. Because you're better. You tried to do right here, Jimmy. But there's no right to be found anymore. That's not your fault, it's hers."
"What kind of man gets beat by a woman?"
"A gentle one, a wounded one. What kind of woman gets beat by a man? It happens honey. It happened to me. I was lucky enough to have a friend who helped me see my worth and get away. Let me show you what you still have."
"I got this," he said helplessly and lifting his hand weakly to the house and his chest.
"No, honey, you've got family. You've got friends. You've got a good heart and you've got a case for divorce."
"We never really got married," he said sheepishly.
"Even better," Rachel said standing up. "We'll pack her things. No more Martha."
"The others," he said in a panic, "They can't know."
"They already do. We love you. Let us love you, Jimmy. We've been waiting all along for you to come back to us. You've never been perfect and that's never mattered."
Jimmy tensed as he heard the screen door open and Rachel just held him tighter.
"Rachel?" Lou's voice called out.
"We're right in the sitting room, Louise," Rachel called back holding Jimmy tighter as he nearly thrashed against her trying to shake his head. She just stroked his head and whispered that everything would be alright.
"Jimmy…what happened to you?" Lou exclaimed on seeing her friend. His right shoulder was facing her and it was ugly and black and blue and a few other colors and combinations of colors that looked, in a word, angry. His ribs were obviously broken. She could see that clearly from across the room.
Jimmy didn't answer. He was afraid to. Lou had been his friend. Lou was strong and tough.
"Louise," Rachel said sweetly, "Would you be a dear and pack Martha's things? She's in town right now but she'll be moving out on her return."
"Did that woman do that to you? Did she, Jimmy?"
Lou's jaw dropped as Jimmy not only didn't answer her but seemed to crawl deeper into himself, even drawing away from Rachel's arms.
"Oh my God," Lou cried, "She did. She hurt you, didn't she? You're damned right she's leaving, Rachel. Nobody hurts my brother and gets away with it."
"There's time for that later, Louise," Rachel scolded softly. "Please collect Martha's things. We need to put this behind."
Lou nodded but before she left the room she walked over and crouched down next to Jimmy. She brushed the hair from his face.
"We're going to make this right again, Jimmy. You are my brother and you're a good man. You've always been a good man…maybe had a blind spot or two where women are concerned, but a good man."
Lou then stood and went to pack Martha's things.
"See?" Rachel cooed to Jimmy, "It's going to be just fine now."
Jimmy just nodded. He was so tired. He'd been tired for so long. It felt good just to be held, to be cared for, to be loved. It was something he hadn't known in far too long. Somehow he had allowed himself to believe he no longer deserved all this. But his family thought he did. They thought he was worth it.
The screen door opened and closed again and Jimmy actually lifted his head to see who had come in. Kid stood before them and tried not to react to the marks on his brother's body.
"Martha's riding up in the wagon now," he said softly as if trying to get the information to Rachel and yet have it bypass Jimmy's ears. "What are we supposed to do?"
Just then Lou appeared with two bags.
"Take these," she said handing her husband the bags. "And follow me. Don't you worry, Jimmy. She ain't getting nowhere near you again."
"Are you okay to lay here a little while by yourself?" Rachel asked and he nodded.
She stood and helped him settle on the couch and then pulled a blanket over him before slipping onto the porch.
"How is he?" Teaspoon asked.
"Once we get rid of her, someone should probably fetch the doctor. He's got broken ribs and I'm not sure his shoulder is doing alright."
Teaspoon nodded grimly and rested a hand on the butt of his gun. He looked over at Kid who rested a hand over his gun as well. Rachel held tight to the barrel of a shotgun and Lou had her gun in her hands. This was his family and he was proud that the years had not changed how willing they were to fight for each other. They were good kids, all of them.
Martha drove the wagon up and stopped a short distance from the porch.
"What are you all doing here?" she asked pleasantly enough.
"Handing you your things so you can get gone," Rachel said not pleasantly at all.
"Excuse me, but this is my house!"
"Now, that ain't actually true," Teaspoon said easily, "House and land is in Jimmy's name. He don't want you no more and you two ain't legally married. As of right now, you are trespassing on private property. As marshal, I'd politely suggest that you take your bags, climb right back onto that wagon and get on out of here."
"And if I don't?"
Lou stepped off the porch holstering her gun as she went.
"Then you get to find out how well you do against someone who'll fight back," she sneered, "The menfolk might have something against hitting a woman but I ain't got no problem with it!"
"You wouldn't dare!"
The surprised look on Martha's face when Lou's fist connected with her nose was nearly comical. No one moved to help her at all. Eventually Martha got over her shock and got up. Lou threw the bags at her feet and they all watched satisfied as she grabbed them and left.
They watched her on her way until they couldn't see her anymore. Finally they turned around to see Jimmy standing in the doorway.
"Yeah," Kid said, "She's not coming back."
"I should feel better, right?"
"Probably at least a little," Kid said putting a hand on Jimmy's uninjured shoulder. "Might be okay to be a little sad though too. Knowing you, you probably loved her."
"Yeah…I did. Stupid, huh?"
"Nah," Teaspoon interjected, "You're just a hopeless romantic. Something I know a little about myself."
Jimmy smiled sheepishly at the older man. Teaspoon had always said Jimmy was most like him of all the boys. Maybe he was right.
A short while later found them all accompanying Jimmy into town and to the doctor. Teaspoon drove the buckboard and Lou and Kid rode along beside. Jimmy and complained that he didn't need four people escorting him to the doctor like some child. He didn't need to go to the doctor in the first place. They had insisted.
Though as he sat there with Rachel squeezing his hand reassuringly he felt better for having his family near him. His body was broken and his heart was too but he would heal and he would be alright again in time. For the first time in longer than he could remember, he wasn't ashamed and he wasn't alone.
Okay...so the gold star goes to Earthdragon...for guessing what Martha really was. I have lots of reasons for writing this...I think the biggest is that it hadn't been written before...at least not here and very rarely do I see it in a heterosexual relationship. Anyone who wants all my reasons for this story can message me...I have many...anyhow I need to write something nice for poor Jimmy...he needs some good times. My poor sweet Jimmy.-J