((Luke can ask Tarr questions- he has a pretty solid “alibi” for his life history now. EDIT; there Tarr history.))
Tea wasn’t sure what to make of the girl, at first. She certainly had a way with children, and already Annie was babbling away, happy to have a new playmate- and Will was allowing it, even. She caught the look on his face, and sighed. He was moving on, finally. His laugh was as airy as it had once been, and he cast amused glances at everyone. The girl answered, but followed with a question- and Tea laughed outright. Poker game?
“But of course, dear.” She cast an affectionate, teasing grin towards Doc. “He’s just so persuasive when he wants to be. Decided he didn’t want to take the chance of me crawfishin’ and took my heart instead of my soul.” She winked, all in good-natured fun. “Of course, it has nothin’ to do with my mama havin’ red hair. Not at all.” A chuckle, low and throaty. But Annie was happily demanding attention, and the young woman seemed all too happy to oblige. She was good with children, clearly- and when she started to speak, Tea found her eyes on Will, who was looking at Abigail like he’d just been thrown a lifeline. She watched with interest as the girl began to fold the paper, watching it take shape. With the kiss, she smiled- Annie was involved and giggling happily. When instructed to blow on it, the babe chirped with delight as the sparkles formed, and the flower was revealed. Galatea gave a little sound of surprise and delight,
while her son’s green eyes widened slightly.
“That was amazing,” he breathed it. She looked embarrassed, or worried, and he shook his head. “That was…” what was that? Besides amazing, that is. Or maybe it was just her that he found amazing. Tea nudged Doc lightly, an amused smirk on her face. He was apparently right- Will was perhaps starting to heal already.
“Amazin’. Yes, honey, we know,” Tea teased gently. He rolled his eyes for form, but was laughing. When the girl rose, she smiled. “You didn’t have to honey, but I’m not one to always buck tradition.” She smiled gently. The gifts were lovely, if different- but she appreciated it, and the explanations that went with them. “These are lovely,” she said softly. The girl also did not seem to mind that Will had a child. Not in the least. So she either assumed or had heard that Will’s wife had died.
The evening was pleasant, to say the least. Will had hardly left Abigail’s side, which was surprising to say the least. But he had gone to help his uncle at the clinic, leaving Annie with the girl, who was teaching her her name. The baby was trying, giggling, when the group came home, Celeste making way for her father. But Will dropped back at the dark-haired girl’s side, allowing her to lean her head on his shoulder without complaint- which got a few raised brows. But Will was in fact a Holliday and he did buck the system at times- this was one of them.
“She’d be welcome here,” he replied softly against the halo of her dark hair.
It had been so long since he’d felt the light weight of a woman’s head on his shoulder, been able to drink in the faint hint of perfume and the scent of her hair. But women were fascinating and terrifying things. He let her linger, until the family said their goodnights and went to bed. He handed Essie his daughter, before chuckling softly. He rose, bringing Abby with him, and looped an arm around her waist instead of her arm, keeping her close. This was also a clear sign that she was with HIM and if anyone had a problem with it, he would gladly correct them.
“Come on, darlin’. I’ll walk you home,” he spoke softly. He led her quietly, stopping outside the gate again. He bowed, kissing her wrist lightly, in an affectionate manner, before sighing. “Now I know I want to see you again.” His voice was soft. “Goodnight, Abigail.” He smiled, watching her enter before turning his steps towards the nearest saloon. He was feeling mighty lucky tonight.
He pushed the doors in, eyes scanning the crowd and laughing as he noticed his father, in the back. He tipped his hat with a smirk, before shedding his jacket, loosening his cuffs, and heading towards the billiards table.
She knew he didn’t object to her using his chest as a pillow. He actually encouraged it more often than not. It was amusing- it should have been uncomfortable for him, but he liked having her close and it made him feel normal- and she took care to keep her weight light. He was warm, due to the almost constant fevers that wracked his body, but he was also comforting. He had one arm securing her against him, and she laughed softly, shifted to kiss his jaw lovingly. “I know that, my handsome pistoleer.” She purred playfully. Another term of endearment she used often enough, but didn’t really use publicly. “But the one man a girl can always count on to be in her corner is her daddy… in most cases.” Present company excluded, of course. Her own father had, after all, disowned her.
She yawned, then, as he kissed her lightly on the cheek. She rolled over, just to blow out the candle, plunging the room into darkness, and found her way back to his chest. She settled more comfortably now, one leg hooking over his both for comfort and possession. He did make for an excellent pillow and hot water bottle, so she drifted off as he did. Morning would come soon, and she’d be damned if she didn’t enjoy his proximity. She was in the arms of Morpheus before she could register it.
She woke when he stirred, snuggling closer to his warm body, making a sound of protest when he moved. But it was time to get up, and she let him go with a yawn, before slowly rising herself. She took her time, though, especially with her hair. It wasn’t so much the length as it was the thickness when it came to her vibrant locks. But she brushed them out expertly, dressed in record time, and was finished just as her gunslinger was putting on his hat. She flashed him a smile as he exited, only to hear the door down the hall open, and a sudden squeak of surprise and shock, and shook her head.
Apparently Celeste was up as well.
She stabbed her hair into place viciously.
She would show him! She had deliberately chosen a dress that matched her eyes, drawing them out to perfection, and it was particularly fine, too. And her hair was not down, nor in the loose ponytail she normally pulled it into, but half-up, leaving some strands to flirt around her face. She fussed with her hair again, patting it into place and looked at her own reflection. The neckline was flatteringly modest, and emphasized her feminine little figure to perfection. She looked nearly fully-grown, she thought, and smiled. Yes, she would show him! His evasion and misdirection would be wasted on her. She was so preoccupied with these thoughts that she nearly walked into her father.
She nearly rammed right into him, and had he not extended his arms to steady her she would have. Uttering a little squeak of surprise, her hand fluttered to her chest. “Daddy, you scared me half to death!” She responded when he spoke, shaking her head. “I’m not in any hurry,” she protested, but he knew her and when he quirked up a brow, she sighed. Her father was not the type to be nosy, sticking himself into people’s business, but this was his flesh and blood. She mirrored his gesture, though hers was more amused. “It’s trivial,” she said softly, as though assuring him she was alright, before leaning in and pecking him on the cheek. “Really, Daddy, it’s nothing.” Grinning now, she looped her arm through his. Breakfast smelled wonderful, already, and her mother made the father-daughter duo a trio, claiming his other arm with a laugh before they headed downstairs.
Will was markedly absent this fine morning, though it was his day to spend in the clinic, so he was probably there already, with his daughter, of course. But her Uncle Walker was at the table, and she rushed to hug him tightly, echoed by her mother instantly. Instantly he relaxed, tension wearing off instantly. He was still family, still welcomed, still home. He chucked under Celeste’s chin with a laugh.
“Go easy on the boy, honey.” He shook his head. “God-almighty! You look like your mama at that age, make no mistake.”
“I reckon she knows what she’s doin’, Walker.” She kissed his cheek, happy to have her baby brother home. She, too, caught the rebellious look on her daughter’s face, and knew she was employing the icy-cold disinterest that she had learned from watching her redheaded mother.
“Aye.” Tarquin chuckled as he kissed Sarah once, deeply. “We willnae be back so late. Just tae the Cheyenne.” He sipped at his coffee. “I be off.”
“Wait for me,” Celeste scarfed down a strip of bacon, conveniently taken from her father’s plate- he wouldn’t object, never did when it made less for Tea to bitch at him for not eating.
“Celeste!” Galatea tried, but the girl flung her arms around her aunt, kissing her cheek, repeating the gesture with Essie and Walker, pecking her father on the cheek and knocking his hat askew, kissing her mother before darting after her uncle. The girl ate like a bird anyway. Still… “She’s going to regret goin’ without breakfast if they’re ridin’ out that far.” No country folk wanting them to stay for company, or waiting with dinner like the previous day. And the Cheyenne weren’t exactly the friendliest people- not outright hostile but sure to be suspicious of the girl who was with the doctor in her mother’s stead. They had become accustomed to Galatea after some time, tolerated her, but it had not been easy to win anyone over.
“That girl is going to be trouble,” Walker laughed. “With a capital ‘T’.”
“Of course she is.” Tea laughed. Really, Celeste was well-behaved for the most part- stubborn, though. And hard-headed. Temperamental. Moody.
Well, she pitied poor Luke. She shook her head and daintily began to tear into her own breakfast.
He had been anticipating she would remain home today, so when she attached herself to his arm he was surprised- and with every step he tried to dissuade her. It was boring. He was just going out to the Cheyenne. Luke would be there, too. But she stayed in step, and he sighed when they arrived. Luke was there, looking miserable. He had clearly spent a restless night, as Celeste had. He smiled as they approached, somewhat sheepishly. But her blue gaze stayed on her uncle, or a passerby, or, as they approached, even the big draft horse nearest her as she patted his neck. Anywhere that didn’t feature the good-looking young man. But she could feel his eyes on her, and haughtily sent him that regal, hooded look as she finally looked towards him.
She almost softened- almost, but he was deceiving her, and so she forced herself to give him a haughty response that would not have been out of place had she been raised in Georgia as her father had been. “Mister Grant.” She said it flatly, no enthusiasm in her tone.
Tarquin’s greeting was far better. “Morning, me lad!” He smiled, as if telling the boy not to give up on Celeste, before heading into the clinic. “I’ll just be a tick.”
She almost followed him. Almost. But the horse nearest her was pleased with her petting and had put his nose to her hand, and she was timidly stroking his muzzle. She didn’t want to displease the animal- it wasn’t his fault. From the blaze down his face she knew this one to be Nic, and she cooed to him softly for a moment, watching his ears flick forward, listening. She only stopped cooing to the massive gelding when she heard Luke mention her name, blue eyes snapping to his face with indifference. Cold. It was as if she were made of marble. But his voice was gentle, soft… and then he mentioned the night before, and the word ‘interrupted’. Cautiously, hope started to flare in her eyes. And that made her feel even worse, because he had been going to tell her, apparently…
With the hope came a softening of her stance, no longer regal or a cast statue. But he wouldn’t see that, because his eyes were on hers- that dark, nearly black gaze she loved- and her eyes were wary, cautious in their hope. He spoke of his mother, then- his gaze fleeing hers, finding the bow at her collar fascinating, and he was tense and his breathing was shaky. She almost reached for him, to comfort and soothe, but she was still upset and didn’t know what he was getting at. It wasn’t until he mentioned what his mother was that she responded- but it was not what he would have expected. She looked about furtively- no one else was around, but she wanted to be sure- she wanted him safe. Satisfied, she stepped closer, just in time for him to admit he didn’t know what happened to his birth mother- and she nearly reached for him, then.
Now she felt ashamed for doubting him.
At that moment, his eyes finally met hers again. And she shook her head, finally closing the gap between them. She didn’t touch him, not yet- she didn’t want him to recoil from her. “You didn’t lie,” she said it softly. “You just didn’t tell me everything.” And that had hurt, clearly. “It hurts that you didn’t trust me enough to tell me everything… but I can’t blame you.” She added. Her position in society was enough to scare most people off- but, then, he had seen her family dynamic, and how loved Essie was, despite her skin color. “I don’t blame you.” A sigh. She didn’t like fighting, not with him or anyone. At that moment, Tarquin came back.
“Well… we’re heading out tae tha Cheynne today.” He said it as he swung up into the wagon. Celeste hesitated, before looking at Luke.
“Luke, help that wee lassie up, will ye?” He waited for compliance before they headed off in the right direction. This time Celeste was more relaxed, not distanced from Luke, but she rested her head on Tarquin’s shoulder and dozed, having not spent a very comfortable night. He waited until he was sure she was asleep to speak with the boy, softly. “Ye are lucky.” He slanted the boy a look. “This one ‘ere doesnae care iff’n ye carry mixed blood, she just wants tae be with ye.” Before the boy could say any more, he shook his head slightly. “I ken from tha go. So did Tea.” He kept his voice soft. “She doesnae care. Tea was raised by Essie, ye ken. That woman loves her as if she were her biological mother, an’ Tea loves her the same.”
“Anyway….” He sighed. “Ye are to polite to ask, so..."
“I was born in Dublin, Ireland, to a family of merchants.” He started, though his mind told a very different tale. ‘I was born on a farm in Mississippi. To a family of cats who weren’t really cats.’ “The only son. Well-loved and well-bred.” ‘The runt of the litter, the throwaway son, the castoff.’
“I ran away tae sea when I was sixteen. Wanted adventure, excitement!” ‘I was taken from them by an older gentleman who wanted a companion. I was the gentlest kitten, and he liked me. He picked me up and took me with him. My story is his story, and he lives through me, now.’
“Found my way to Boston- I had tha money, so enrolled in classes to become a doctor.” ‘I stayed by his side for years. His wife had died, his daughter married and moved away. I was all he had left. He named me Tarquin, for I was a little prince sure to become a king. He loved me.’
“I moved south when I was ready tae start a practice.” ‘My master died when I was ten. I sat by his side and tried to fix him, heal him- but he was old. He had lived a long, long time. I mourned for him. The house smelled of death.’
“Did well there.” ‘His daughter took me away to Georgia. She died from complications caused by her husband beating her two years later, and her husband had no want for a cat. He beat me, humiliated me. Because I dared to ask for food in my bowl, when he had not fed me in a week. He took his belt to me, whipped me mercilessly. But he did not remember the open door. I escaped.’
“Enjoyed Southern hospitality and the refined qualities they have.” ‘I managed to heal myself, but I scarred horribly. Those scars will never heal.
“And then I met Tea.” ‘And then I found Tea. She slid down from her horse to see me, and she was kind. Sympathetic. She offered me her hand, and I could sniff it, before she pet me. She held me, then- she let me cuddle into her, and at last I found home in her.’
“She was the sweetest thing, even back then. Had an eye for kindness.” ‘She nursed me back to health, letting me sleep beside her at night. She fed me and brushed me and said if she ever met the man who had whipped me she would whip him. God, I loved her. My mistress…’
“Her young man got sick, so he lit out towards the West. He had to.” ‘Doc Holliday was born the day John Henry left. It broke her, shattered her. And my world shattered along with her.’
“She was betrothed to a monster of a man. I didn’t like him, and neither did she.” ‘She always said you could judge a man by how he treated animals. Holliday always stroked me gently, never harmed me, and allowed me the pleasure of his lap. This man told her to drown me, for he would not allow her to keep a pet. He had been the one to scar me, after all.’
“She left him standing at the altar.” ‘I was waiting for her. She tore off into the distance with me by her side.’
“She headed West, and I followed her. She needed looking after.” ‘Especially after that night. She needed me, and I lay beside her and let her cry into my fur, nuzzling and licking her as if she were my mate to try and comfort. I tried purring to calm her, but it didn’t help. She was only seventeen, and she’d been violated and shamed.’
“She got bored with being entertainment and decided to open her own place.” ‘She needed to move again. Never could stand being in one place for too long.’
“Asked me to go with her.” ‘Taught me how to shift that last night in the Gold Nugget. She shifted herself, and taught me how. Hurt like nothing else, that first time. I fell into her arms, shivering, and she held me throughout the night, stroking, murmuring.’
“When she opened the Silver Star, I was with her. I moonlighted as a pool hustler in those days.” ‘She began to teach me human ways, customs. But she still distanced herself from me. She called me handsome, let me sleep beside her, but she never accepted me into her bed, or heart, that way. I knew she was for Doc, at that time, and I concentrated on becoming human.’
“She left the Star and headed to Texas with her favorite girls. I went along too, just as I always did. She met Doc there. He just liked her for some reason, and took her along with him.” ‘He’d carried a torch for her, even after all the time had passed. I saw the way he let her cuddle with him that first night, and the way he kept her in his lap the next night. He took her with him to his room, that night- and there was no degrading exit that night, she stayed in his bed. He asked her to stay with him, both because she was a distraction and because he had been fond of her.”
“He took her with him, and of course there was no room for me.” ‘She needed him, and he needed her. Who else would have them? They were all passion and fire- and love.’
“I stayed on for a few years.” ‘With Lottie. But it wasn’t the same, and I stopped shifting, staying a cat until I forgot how to shift. Lottie got married, and I felt I was in the way. I left.’
“When I headed out again, I happened to run into Tea and Doc.” ‘I was a cat, again. Doc was in the middle of a stare down with someone over Tea, and I was so overjoyed to see him I hopped up in his lap, purring and yowling. He wasn’t happy- he put me right down.’
“And then I met Sarah.” ‘And then I saw Sarah.”
“She was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen.” ‘She was prettier than I remembered her being. I made straight for her. She was happy and scooped me up, right away, letting me cuddle.’
“Then Tea had Will.” ‘Then I remembered how to shift. I stayed with them, despite the wary looks and anger on Sarah’s part. I delivered Will myself- I was the first one to hold him outside his mother, and the first one to fawn over him.’
“I suppose the rest is history, though. I stayed with them, eventually courting and wooing Sarah Holliday- and now, we’re getting married.” He chuckled. “There! That is the longest story of my life I’ve ever given!” He laughed. It had made the ride pass pleasantly, at any rate.
Will had spiffed up for the first time in a long time. Not that he looked scruffy before, mind- but he took more pride in his appearance. He’d fetched Annie early this morning, fallen into bed, and slept like the dead. He woke late, and bolted for the clinic after getting dressed. Tarquin had left, and he found he was famished. “Well, what do you say, Miss Annie? What do YOU want for breakfast, punkin?”
“Pamcake!” She squealed.
“Punkin, I don’t think anyone other than Miss Essie makes pancakes out here.”
“Wan’ pamcake!’ She looked resolutely at her father.
“You have your grandmother’s attitude,” he sighed.
“Ga?” She asked.
“Yes, punkin.” He chuckled. His daughter couldn’t say ‘Galatea’ to save her life. “How about eggs?”
“Wan’ pamcake.” She sniffed.
“Eggs and toast?” He offered, but his daughter gave him a resolute stare. “No?” His smile turned wicked. “How about we go see Essie?” She clapped her hand in delight. “Maybe she’ll make you some pancakes.”
“That’s right, punkin.” He chuckled as he swung his daughter onto his shoulders, keeping her safe, but giving her a new vantage point. Because he was tall, she could see over most people’s heads, and she giggled. Her daddy was tall! He headed up the path, his laughing daughter on his shoulders, and headed in just in time to see his mother swat lightly at his father’s arm- but she was laughing. Clearly, he’d said something to set her off.
“Ga!” Annie squealed, and she reached for her granddaughter, kissing both cheeks.
“That’s it! I have another one to spoil, now!” Annie giggled, because the word ‘spoil’ often meant she was getting something. This was no exception, as Galatea had a pancake waiting for the baby. She squealed happily and dug right in. “I figured ya would swing by. When Celeste was her age it was eggs. All eggs.” She laughed.
“I remember.” He laughed.
“You were the oddest. Beets. That was all you wanted. Beets.” She wrinkled her nose. “You sure gussied up today,” she added, looking critically at her son.
“Uh-huh,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s been almost a year since Allie died. It’s time to stop mourning.” He shrugged. His suit may have been black but the accessories were sharp and brought out his looks.
“That’s good.” She nodded.
“I’ve got to get to the clinic,” he said softly. “Bring her by when you get tired of her fussing.”
He headed for the clinic, only to find that there was already someone there, waiting patiently. His lips turned up into a smile as he approached, and he tipped his hat charmingly. “Morning, Abby.” He gave he the customary kiss to the wrist as he opened the door. “Ladies first,” he chuckled before propping open the door. Today they had time to study her journal, and he looked at it curiously, quirking a brow.
This would be a good day. He could feel it.
"God almighty, look at that body!"