A dark-haired man rode towards the farm, his dark hat battered and pulled low, his gear coated in trail dust. He wore a gun tied down like he knew how to use it, and in general had the air of an outlaw—a man used to looking behind him wherever he went, and never relaxing for too long.
John suppressed a sigh and went back to hoeing the field to get it ready to plant corn. He couldn’t help his errant thoughts: sometimes that life sounded pretty damned good.
But the rider didn’t pass. He cast John one sharp, assessing look and reined his horse over.
John stopped hoeing. “Howdy,” he offered.
The man stared at him. “Kid—”
Just then, Martha burst out of the house, and ran down to the field and the road. “Who’s this?” Her voice sounded sharp and harsh, as it had been sounding to him more and more lately. Sometimes he wondered what he must’ve seen in her, when he married her.
It was thoughts like these that made him feel guiltiest of all. Shamed, he bent over the field, slicing into the earth with the hoe he’d just sharpened. It had been dull; he should’ve done it before he fell off the roof that way. Must’ve been getting lazy…
The cool earth felt pleasant beneath his bare feet, and his muscles were warm from exertion. It was a pleasant enough feeling in the early part of a cold spring day. It might not be so pleasant later, but for now, the early-morning thrift of birds and hoeing made him feel… nearly at home. As though he belonged here, almost.
“Kid,” said the dark-haired man to John very softly. Then he raised his voice with false joviality to greet Martha. “Howdy, ma’am. I was just asking this gentleman for directions, and a cup of cold water.”
John raised his eyes in disbelief. The man was smiling and raising his hat to Martha.
“Town’s that way.” She jerked her head, hands fluttering behind her apron, eyes suspicious and hard. She stood short and squat, her dark hair pulled tightly back. John had told her it would look nicer down, but she’d told him to stop being foolish and get back to work.
“Indeed? I thank you, ma’am. Now how about that water?” The smiling stranger’s expression didn’t change from one of utter charm, but he didn’t wait for a reply, either. He swung down from his saddle, and held the reins in one of his dark-gloved hands.
John leaned on the hoe and scraped a hand back through his messy, sandy-colored hair. He wondered who would win this round, his wife or the stranger. Martha looked unwilling to give this man even a drink, but she hurried after him towards their little shack.
John wondered again how he could’ve let the roof get into such poor shape. He regarded his repair job critically. It had been the best he could do, with his head still hurting and him feeling a bit unsteady-like sometimes. But he’d have to do a better job before winter came.
In front of the house, the stranger raised a tin cup to his lips, still smiling. He drank a little, and said something. The reaction from Martha was immediate. “No!”
She marched towards John and grabbed his arm. “Come on—you’re hiding in the cellar.” She was strong, despite her short stature, and jerked his arm roughly. John went with her, not happy about looking weak in front of this stranger, but not wanting her to be so distressed, either.
She’d done such a good job, nursing him back to health after his fall. Even when he didn’t remember who he was, or who she was, or anything about the farm. He’d had to relearn everything about it, in these last few weeks. Even the cow and chickens had treated him suspiciously at first, like a stranger. But he was finally getting used to the farm again, and if he sometimes felt wistfully that he didn’t belong here, he knew it was just daydreams, longings for another life of adventure that a farmer just couldn’t have.
The stranger walked beside them, quickly. “Ma’am, it won’t work. You can’t hide him forever, and someone’s bound to recognize him. Or the posse will be back through. Now you can let him go with me, or you can wait till someone recognizes him and takes him away from you. Either way, you can’t keep him for free labor.”
John’s head jerked up, and he met the stranger’s dark gaze, astonished. Was this man saying…?
“Sorry, Kid,” said the stranger apologetically. He reached up and pushed his hat back, an oddly familiar, heart-lurching gesture. “You don’t really belong here, and you’re not married. You’re Kid Curry, and you’re on the run from the law with me, Hannibal Heyes.”
“Heyes,” said John, as if in a dream.
Could it be true? That he had a different life from this one of toil and drudgery, and never feeling like he really belonged? Of course, it wouldn’t be a picnic being on the run from the law, but right now he didn’t care. The thought of leaving was sweet—just leaving with this man, and not having to worry anymore that he didn’t remember his wife, because he’d never married her in the first place.
“I’m sorry,” said Heyes, his dark eyes serious. “But we need to hurry.”
“He’s mine! You can’t have him!” Martha rounded on the man. “I’ll—I’ll turn him in myself before I let you take him away! I’ll turn you both in.”
She started back towards the house at a determined march. Kid knew she was going for the gun. It was his gun, a nice piece that he always felt happier when he was holding or cleaning, or practicing with. Even with a head injury, John—Kid?—was good with it. He could shoot squirrels real far away, and birds, and rabbits. Even though the hunting was scarce here, they’d eaten good the last couple of weeks with his shooting skills.
Now he glanced at Heyes, and some communication seemed to pass between them; Heyes caught the expression in his eyes, and moved forward swiftly and smoothly. “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, ma’am,” he said, planting himself in front of the door, an immovable object.
Martha stamped a foot and screamed, “Stop him, John! He wants to take you away!”
They both looked at John/Kid.
And he hesitated.
He looked at Martha, her eyes dark with temper, her brow showing the brewing storm that would culminate in either tears or a raging yelling fit. Once again, he felt guilty looking at her. It was too much for her to handle, this farm alone.
But if he really didn’t belong…
He bit his lip. Something seemed to fall into place. The way she never wanted him to touch her. The way his old clothes hadn’t fit right. The way—everything.
“Who’s really your husband?” he asked in a steady voice.
She brought a foot down again. “No one! You!”
She made a sound halfway between a scream and a growl. “He left! He went prospecting for gold! But he’s been gone too long and I needed help on the farm.”
Heyes interjected smoothly. “Then ma’am, I suggest you hire some help. Don’t trick men who’ve lost their memory into it. How would your real husband like it, if he came back and found out?”
“He’s not going to come back,” she said, her voice so low and full of sorrow it made John’s heart ache.
Hannibal Heyes looked past her, and jerked his head at John. “You go in the house, collect everything that’s yours. Then we’re going.”
Still, John hesitated. He longed—he ached—to go with this man. Heyes was sort of familiar but not quite familiar, like an old sock you hadn’t seen in months, stuck in the trunk for winter. A comfortable old sock you’d get used to again in no time, but right now, it looked too red and garish to ever have been yours.
He wanted to go with this man, and rediscover his life, even if it was a hard one. But… Martha.
Heyes gave him an exasperated look, as if he somehow knew exactly what John was thinking. “I’ll give her some of the money I earned at poker. That way she can hire some help, at least for now. All right, Kid?”
John nodded. He noticed Martha looked relieved, too, and stopped looking so stony and upset. “How much?” She turned to him abruptly, away from John.
John—Kid—left them to dicker it out, and headed into the cramped cabin. He looked around, then found his boots, the one shirt that fit him, his gun and extra bullets.
He changed into his shirt, pulled on his boots, and headed out to Heyes, saying goodbye to the only life he could remember. He felt so excited he could hardly see straight.
Heyes was waiting on his horse, looking around impatiently, like a man with places to go. Or a man on the run.
Kid walked past Martha. She gave him a grumpy, half-regretful, half-angry look. It held the tiniest hint of apology. “I nursed you back to health, you know,” she said. “Not everyone would’ve. I’d never have turned you in.”
“I know. And I’m grateful—for everything.” He bent and, quickly, before she could get away, gave her a kiss on the forehead. She looked indignant.
He didn’t wait to be scolded. Long steps took him towards the horse and Heyes, where he belonged.
Heyes held down a hand to help him up, his eyes commanding and laughing and relieved, looking at Kid like he knew every inch of his past.
Kid swung up into the saddle behind Heyes. It was going to be interesting getting to know him again. Something told him life with Hannibal Heyes would never be boring.
Heyes wheeled the horse back towards the road and started down it again at a brisk pace. They left the farm behind.
“Have a good vacation, Kid?” asked Heyes.
Kid held onto the saddle, so he wouldn’t have to wrap his arms round Heyes. Heyes still felt like too much of a stranger.
“I can’t let you out of my sight for a second, can I?” asked Heyes. There was a laugh in his voice, and something beneath it, a great stirring warmth and relief. “Kid, I’m so grateful you came with me, and so quick, too. We can outrun ‘em now, I know it. But if you’d hesitated too much longer…”
Still Kid didn’t answer. He didn’t know what to say to this man who talked like he was practically his brother.
Heyes cleared his throat. “I know you don’t recognize me yet, Kid, but give yourself time. It takes a little time, but we’ve got all the time we need.”
Kid nodded, but he felt strange.
“Not ready to talk yet, Kid?” asked Heyes, quiet and serious. “That’s okay. I’ll do all the talking for now.”
Something about that felt right to Kid. Really right. “Okay. Maybe you could tell me my name.”
“You’ve got two names. Jed ‘Kid’ Curry, and Thaddeus Jones. The first name is your outlaw name. The second name is the one you’re using while trying for amnesty.”
“Amnesty?” asked Kid. The word seemed familiar, but he couldn’t swear to its meaning. “What’s that mean?”
For some reason, Heyes laughed. It sounded so familiar and comfortable to Kid that he found himself smiling as well. “What’s funny?”
“Nothing. You asked me that once before, and it got us started on the whole thing. But hey, I don’t mind explaining everything again. Kid, it’s awful good to have you back.”
Something about the warmth in his voice allowed Kid to say what he felt, too. “It’s good to have you back, too, Heyes. I think I missed you.”
“How could you not?” asked Heyes in a cocky voice. “You still good with your gun? Didn’t have any trouble shooting straight when you tried?”
“Nope, I’m still good. Am I famous or something?” asked Kid, halfway hoping, halfway ashamed that he wanted to be a gunfighter.
“Kid, are you famous? Oh boy, are you famous. Sit tight, I’ll tell you everything…”