Two Angry Women
C.J. glanced from a scowling Liluye to an equally serious Esther May. Liluye held her shotgun at waist-level, the two barrels describing circles centered on C.J.’s midsection.
Esther May’s appearance in her long johns gave C.J. the perspective he had missed.
“Oh, no! Do you think I was following you? No, I wasn’t—well, I was, but not to spy or anything. I mean—I knew you were gonna take a bath, but I wasn’t gonna watch.”
“What exactly were you doing, C.J.?”
There was enough light to see their immediate surroundings. To C.J., Esther May in her sweat-stained, trail dust darkened underwear was an enchanting illumination. His chest tightened, and he balled his fists to keep from hugging her.
From The Heart
“OK, let me start again. After all this time, I just wanted to be close to where you are.” He dug a toe in the dirt. “I know it sounds lame, but I thought maybe we could still talk—I could hear your voice; it’d really be you.” He shrugged and shut up.
Esther May paused, then holstered her revolver in the gun belt she carried. She had a short conversation with Liluye, who left with obvious displeasure.
“She doesn’t like me,” C.J. said.
“Do you like her?”
“No. Can’t say I do.”
“She’s an Apache. I think if it wasn’t for you, she’d have put that buckshot in my belly instead of in the dirt in front of me.”
Esther May chuckled. “You may be right. Now, stay put while I get my bath. In the morning, we’ll go to the fort.”
On The Trail
By mid-morning, they were well up the northeastern slope of Four Peaks.
“It feels good to be among trees again,” Esther May said. I hope to find something like this for a homestead.”
“I ’spect you can,” C.J. said. “I’ve been up on the rim. There are tall pine trees, elk, deer, bears, and it’s a lot cooler. Surprisingly little water, though. It’s water that’ll make or break your dreams.”
“Why would you leave such a place to come down to the desert floor?”
Don’t Tell Everything
Why indeed? C.J. wasn’t about to admit to falling in with rustlers or having an affair with an Indian woman.
“Apaches,” he said.
The answer seemed satisfactory.
“Liluye is going ahead to see if she can arrange safe passage for me,” Esther May said. “I hope she’s successful. It’d be a shame to come so close to the place Dad and I wanted and not be able to build it.”
Ask About Me
C.J. hoped she’d show more interest in what he’d done or intended. Didn’t she miss him as much as he missed her?
Instead, she asked, “What’s the fort like? I heard about it down at Florence.”
He explained the layout of Fort McDowell, the families that lived there, and the Verde River.
“That river put me in the situation you thought you might be in last night,” he said.
There I Was
He told her about being caught bathing in the officer’s picnic spot and the altercation with Lieutenants Kicker and Baby Face.
Esther May laughed. “Oh, my. It’s no wonder you took the sutler’s job and left the fort.”
“It wasn’t because of them. I reckon I can go toe-to-toe with either of ’em. I had to get out of there ’cause of the meanest, cruelest critter I ever run into.”
“He must be something.”
“She. Her name’s Sally.”
Esther May narrowed her eyes. “Saloon girl?”
C.J. put on a studied face and rubbed his chin. “Quite possibly. I wouldn’t doubt it.”
The Monster Is
They rode in silence for a few minutes, then C.J. said, “Did I mention that Sally is probably six or seven years old?”
“I didn’t see that coming. She must be fascinating; perhaps you’ll introduce me?”
“I doubt I’ll have to. I’ll tell you about her when we stop at Mud Spring tonight.”
Will Esther May show more interest in C.J., or will she keep her distance? Don’t forget to leave your comments.
Men are good at misreading signs, choosing the wrong person, or just plain being unaware of proper relationship conduct. For all who have loved and lost, here’s an article that may help.
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