((Aww, Kaze, he is a sweetheart! I like him very much.))
His words did little to reassure her, nor did the polite removal of his hat. In fact, it made her just a little more wary of him. He had obviously been well-educated and born into wealth (an education wasn’t cheap, you know!), but had left it for some reason. Not that he wasn’t well-to-do now, if his attire was any indication. And Gwen, too, sported an expensive gown, and that pendant around her neck must have cost a pretty penny too. They weren’t quite as polished as Miss Sarah and her escort, but they did make a handsome couple, all things aside. Her girl had always had good taste in that department, anyway. And she couldn’t deny the man had a certain charm- much like young John Henry, she thought with a little shake of her head.
She would have to get used to the fact that her girl wasn’t his anymore.
Walker was introducing them, now, though, and she took in the names carefully, watching each one and forming a quick opinion of them if she didn’t already have one. Celestine was a demure young lady, reminding her of her mother when she had been young. Miss Sarah was still as gentle and sweet a woman as one could hope to meet, and the gentleman at her side seemed a perfect match with his soft, lilting accent and gentle blue eyes. Galatea was about as different from Gwen as night was from day, but there was still something that drew one to her. Doc, if she had heard the name correctly, was a charmer, certainly. Belle seemed timid and shy, but she had no doubt that the girl would be a good influence on the group. Will was a character.
Well, her girl apparently liked men with degrees. That was nothing to sneeze at, though she was wondering what it was in. Certainly not dentistry, unless her girl really had lost her mind. Or maybe Essie was the one losing it, come to think on it. But Miss Sarah intervened then, taking her arm and saying something that put a smile on the darker woman’s face. Engaged? To the fine-looking Tarquin, no doubt. She let herself be led away, though she did see some hesitance in Gwen’s face. She didn’t want to let the woman out of her sight, but she trusted Tarr and Sarah, and contented herself with her gambler. Once they were out of sight, though, she shifted closer, her voice soft, meant for only him.
“How do ya want to play this out, sugar?” She didn’t like lying to Essie, not one bit- even if, technically, they weren’t. They hadn’t said he was dead, had they? “I don’t like this one bit. What’s she even doin’ this far West, if she didn’t know we were here?” Worried eyes sought his. She wasn’t the shy type, usually didn’t need him to reassure her- but right now she was feeling vulnerable and needing a bit of reassurance. Made sense, really.
But she settled in to wait, lighting a cigarette herself. They usually smoked very socially- if one lit up, so did the other- or, on occasion, simply shared the same one. Walker was contemplating lighting one as well, when Will made his excuses.
“And I’m going in before I start smelling like an ashtray. Uncle Walker, Mama- father,” he said the last with that little smirk, as if teasing that he hadn’t given the game away, before turning his steps back towards home. He knew Annie would just be waking up now, and, if he was lucky, would make it there and back before anything happened and he was needed.
Essie wasn’t surprised the home was large, but she was surprised that it was surprisingly cozy, and not stuffy as the home Gwen had grown up in had been. This was a home that was clearly comfortable, and the family was well-loved. But she didn’t stare- though she did get a fright when the door opened to admit Will, who she hadn’t caught sight of. He laughed, though, and steadied her with his hands on her shoulders.
“Easy! I didn’t mean to startle you,” he laughed.
“Ach, laddie, ye know better than tae sneak up o’ people like that.” Tarquin chided, coming down the stairs with a wide-eyed baby on his hip. The infant blinked owlishly, then, spying her father, squealed in delight, arms extended instantly.
“Daddy!” Will’s heart melted at that, and he scooped her into his arms immediately, kissing her noisily and cuddling her against his chest. He was an exceptional father, and his stance echoed that of a very young version of his father. The child was clearly his- the hair color and stubborn jawline echoed his- but even if these things had been different, she would still look like her father. He rubbed his nose against Annie’s, and she responded with a happy giggle.
“Why, hello, darling.” The pet name was a family favorite, one that Will had also taken to using for his daughter. “Did you have a nice nap, hmm?” She just giggled, and he could see that she had gotten plenty of rest- and gleefully chewed on a damp towel. He quirked a brow at Tarquin. “You’ve gotten in on it too?”
“Aye.” He grinned. “’lessen ye wan’ a cat aboot.” He hated to hear Annie fuss- it broke his heart. Essie was looking longingly at the baby in Will’s arms, though, and he shrugged before handing the infant over. If his mother and father trusted this woman, then he did too. Simple as that.
“This is Anne Leigh, but we usually call her Annie,” he said it softly. “She’s the reason I wrote looking for someone.” The baby carefully regarded the woman, before giggling and clapping her hands.
“Oh, she is precious, Mister Will,” Essie murmured it. The infant was striking, and would only grow more so with time, if her Aunt and Grandmother were any indication. And then there was the promise on the Holliday side, too- her Great-Aunt was certainly beautiful, too. “She will break hearts everywhere, she will.”
“It’s just Will,” the young man said it softly, so as to not offend. “I know you think it’s respectful, but if you really want to respect me, call me by my first name.” He was gentle, though. Will had inherited his father’s ability to be firm, but gentle at the same time, and his mother’s natural empathy for all people.
“Oh, I couldn’t do that, Mister Will.” She tore her gaze from the baby, then.
“Even if I’m asking you to?” Will kept his voice firm, but not cruel.
“I’m sorry, Mister Will. It’s just… please. It’s just my way. I don’t mean to offend.”
“Then none taken,” he said it softly, as he retrieved his daughter. “I don’t tolerate formality well.” He shrugged, but smiled. “Have a good evening.” He left with his daughter then, and Essie looked towards Sarah and Tarquin.
“You have a lovely home,” she said it almost wistfully. “Oh, girl, I can’t tell you how glad I am that I found you.” She hugged Sarah again. “Now- let’s get back to that family of you’rn.”
She could tell he was nervous by the way he kept fidgeting with his hair, and she had to stifle a giggle. Poor Luke was nervous. She squeezed his arm in support, though, smiling that pretty smile she had, as if that would help him relax.
She remembered meeting him- of course she did. She had noticed the handsome young man lugging a block of ice, and found herself admiring him. When she had next seen him, she had gone out of her way to put herself in his path, though he had dodged her. Finally, she had just flat out asked him his name. He hadn’t ignored her, not at all, and she had found his ducking head and shy blush quite fetching, in fact. She, like her mother, did not see wealth in purely materialistic terms. Did she enjoy her fine things? Of course. But she knew that a good person could be born in a shack just as easily as a palace. So far, she had not met his parents- nor had he met hers. But she knew that, if they were to see one another regularly, he would have to meet her family, and she figured tonight was as good a night as any.
He had dressed up as much as he could, tonight, and she thought he looked handsome. She had chosen one of her more simplistic dresses in order to match better with him, and it seemed to be working. He would not stand out among the group- unless one noticed how awkward he was among them.
“Luke, it’ll all be alright.” She spoke reassuringly. “My father’s not half as scary as people say he is.” Although, this was his only daughter, and one of his ‘girls’. He did have a habit of being fiercely protective of his daughter. But Luke Grant was not the average suitor for a young girl such as herself, and she liked that about him. He was always respectful, always polite. He treated her as if she were made of fine china, always so gentle with her, even though his hands were roughened from working. These weren’t like her father’s hands, or Will’s, or even Uncle Tarquin’s. These hands knew hard work, but they were always gentle with her, never rough or cruel. “Besides, mama will bring him around. She always does.” If her father was the head of the household, her mother was the neck- able to turn his head, and always willing to go toe-to-toe with her stubborn man. His next comment, though, made her look at him curiously.
Mean? This wasn’t mean, not at all! She shook her head with a little laugh.
“This? This is all love-talk between them. Especially my parents,” she said, noting that her mother’s sharp gaze was starting to stray towards the young man- who was constantly shooting fearful looks at the quiet gunslinger she was wrapped around. “The worse they are, the more affectionate it is.” She smiled. “Why, your family doesn’t tease each other like this?” She caught sight of her father’s mocking wink and rolled her eyes. ‘Daddy, stop that’ was clear in the expression. She might have even said something out loud, if her mother hadn’t turned towards them, still maintaining contact with the lean frame of her man.
“Celeste?” She called, letting the girl lead the young man over. Galatea smiled reassuringly at him, as well, hoping to calm him. She had seen the young man many times, but this was the first time Celestine was actually bringing him along to a family affair. Everyone was nervous upon meeting the Holliday/Shaw clan, she knew, but she didn’t want the young man to fear the group.
“Mama, Daddy, this is Luke Grant,” she reassuringly squeezed his arm again. She had grown up in a family where affection was freely demonstrated- from a chaste squeeze of an arm to a passionate kiss as her mother slid so effortlessly into her father’s warm lap- and so, this was a natural movement for her. Her mother often soothed her father this way. She deliberately used the term ‘daddy’- though she usually did call him that, anyway- it would hopefully keep things calm, and reassure the gunslinger that he was still, first and foremost, the most important man in her life, and she still loved him. “Luke, these are my parents. And my Uncle Walker,” she included him, and he smiled. The boy was looking mighty uncomfortable, but he would surely loosen up once he got to know them.
“Mister Grant,” Galatea smiled charmingly now, a fetching tilt to her head, even as she felt the man behind her shift his gaze to the boy again. She sighed, turning back towards him, a chiding smile on her face. “Oh, John, quit scarin’ the boy.” The tone was light, but the words were not, evidenced by the use of his first name. She gave him a little nudge with her hip, too- but she chuckled. Their wayward members were returning now- and Celeste obviously wanted a little privacy, for she leaned in close to her young man.
“See? They’re not so scary, are they?” She hoped he didn’t find them to be, at least. Her mother was going out of her way to be gentle with the boy. And, for all the rumors floating about her family, they were not factual. Her mother was a god-fearing woman in her own right- her uncle and aunt were, too. She had been raised with a healthy fear of the Creator, herself. She knew many people looked down on her mother for being unmarried with two children, and held similar disregard for her father, calling him a cold-blooded killer. But they had raised two children together, and neither one had quit the other’s side for years. Love was the bond that held her family together, not a common last name. And her father, while quiet and withdrawn, was a generous and loving father to her, and to Will- and a devoted and gentle mate to their mother.
Tea laughed again when they approached, Essie looking much more relaxed. She lightly brushed her lips against her man’s cheek before turning again. “You look less likely to fall over, Mama Essie.” She broke away to hold the woman again, this time without the tears. “I missed you ever so much.”
“You stopped writing.” She said it softly.
“I’m sorry.” She said it just as soft. “You’d have been so disappointed in me if I had, though.” Her head didn’t hang- her past couldn’t touch her anymore in that way- but her eyes did soften, a hint of the young girl Essie remembered coming to the fore.
“Girl, what could have been so bad that you couldn’t tell me?” She shook her head. “I don’t care what you’ve done. I still love you just as much as I did when your mama told me to raise you and your brother as my own.” That nearly broke through the thick exterior of Galatea Shaw, so she steeled herself, slowly exhaling.
“Believe me, Mama Essie, you don’t want to know half the things I’ve done.” Her voice was quiet, now. She didn’t want to even think about those things- except to know that, despite them all, she was very much loved and looked after by the one man she could honestly say she loved above all else.
“You think I didn’t find out you were Galatea Shaw?” She huffed it. “Girl, those wild tales reached back home, at first. Heard about you and Mister John- didn’t believe most of ‘em.” She shrugged. “I assume you were a girl of the line, judgin’ from those loose morals, just as I assume Mister John did become a gunman and gambler. But that’s the only truth in those early stories.”
“I was more than the typical girl of the line, Essie,” she murmured.
“Just as I’m sure he wasn’t an average gambler,” the older woman put in.
“Never that,” Tea agreed, eyes straying to his with a little half-smile. “Exceptional. Flashy, even.”
“Always did have an eye for flash, Miss Gwen.” Her gaze followed. “I will say this- he’s a handsome one.”
“Handsome is as handsome does,” she murmured. She had always found him attractive, and he was indeed looking quite handsome tonight, as he always did whenever going out- and nearly every night besides. She resumed her place with him, then, against his side where he could easily wind an arm around her waist.
Sarah started off with Tarquin, Celestine and her date, as well as Walker and Belle, on their heels. Galatea was perfectly content against her man, and as a result, the pair was lagging. Sarah wouldn’t permit it, calling them both- and, naturally, she used her brother’s first name. Essie froze in place, turning slowly, looking the redhead dead in the eye.
“Another one?” She tilted her head curiously. What were the odds?
Galatea just shook her head with a laugh.
"God almighty, look at that body!"