The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Cara

 

 

Johnny and Polly

What happens when Johnny meets Polly Foley again – five years later? An episode tag for Foley

Johnny stepped out of the telegraph office and into the cool February afternoon. Adjusting his hat, he began silently cursing the events of the day. He had ventured out of his usual territory after getting a tip about some cattle that were going cheap because someone was selling up. It had taken a bit of convincing to get Murdoch and Scott to agree to him going this far out their usual range, and now, here he was on the way home, with an injured horse and a small town to stay in. He could imagine the reception his telegram would receive but his options were limited. He could take the stage home, leaving Barranca behind – not likely – or rent a horse, trailing Barranca behind – which would take forever, and potentially do long-term damage - or wait for his horse to heal. Hopefully, as it only appeared the horse had pulled a muscle it would just take a couple of days. He realized that he was lucky that was the only injury. He sighed deeply, looking up and down the street that looked like those of so many other towns he had visited.

Turning to continue down the street to the hotel recommended by the livery owner, he heard a voice speak hesitantly behind him – “Johnny, Johnny … Lancer?”.

He turned and spotted a small, auburn haired woman wearing a dark green dress, with a small child clutching her leg –“Polly, Polly … Foley?” he responded. He looked down and smiled, “That can't be Martha?!”.

The woman smiled brightly and said “yes, yes it is” and giving the girl a gentle push forward with a soft invitation to ‘go ahead' the little girl stepped over and said shyly “nice to meet you, sir” while looking straight into his eyes.

Johnny smiled brightly at the little girl, taking in her long, dark brown hair tied back with abow and big brown eyes, the bright smile and soft rag doll clutched under her arm. “Nice to meet you too” he replied. He looked back at Polly saying, “what brings you here?”.

Polly smiled at her daughter and put her hand on the young girl's shoulder. “We live here – I work at the hotel over there” she replied, pointing to a three-story white building with a wrap-around porch kitty corner from where they were standing. “What're you doin' here?” she asked.

“Barranca got injured on the way home”, he replied. “I'm killin' time until he can make it back to Lancer”.

“Oh well, if you need a place to stay, we have a room at the hotel” she said, smiling.

Johnny hesitated. He remembered how she didn't want to go back to her old life, but working at a hotel? Not that Johnny could judge her too much – after his childhood he knew how limited the options were for a woman with a child – but still, Polly had seemed so certain that she wanted a better life – a different life –for herself and Martha.

Polly looked at him closely, seemingly suspicious of what he was thinking. “My friend Sue owns the hotel – her husband had … came into it …”.

Martha interrupted her mother, smiling and saying “he won it in a poker game!”.

“Martha”, Polly admonished gently, “remember, that is not polite to say, also, please don't interrupt”.

“Sorry Mama” the little girl said, looking down at her feet and pouting slightly.

“Anyway,” Polly continued, glancing down at the little girl, “Martha and I help out – baking, cleaning and other things that need to be done.”

Johnny smiled. He had always hoped that Polly, and Martha, had managed to find a place for themselves, and it appeared they had. “Well, why don't we walk over together and see what we can find?” he said, looking at Polly.

Polly took the little girl's hand and started walking, with Johnny falling into step beside them. While it was not far, Johnny had the impression she was hurrying to get him there. “Polly,” he asked, “are you rushin' for a reason?” Suddenly he had an idea “I didn't mean anything when I asked about the hotel, you know”.

She stopped at the street crossing and looked up at him closely “sorry Johnny”, she said hesitantly looking down at Martha “I can understand your question. But we have made ourselves a good life here. A life to be proud of.”

“Of course, Polly”, he replied with some contriteness, “I should never have thought otherwise.” Looking for something else to say, he asked as they waited for two stages to pass before crossing the street to the hotel “how do you know Sue?”

Polly blushed slightly as they started to cross. “I knew her from before … Martha,” she said hesitantly. “Martin – her … suitor … at the time - got the hotel, they married and decided to run it. She was always asking me to come help them, but I wasn't interested. Then, I … changed my mind”. She smiled down at the little girl walking beside her. “This is where we came after Martha was born – Sue and Martin are … like family – well, Martin passed away last year, so it is just her and I … and Martha” the little girl looked up smiling proudly at her mother “runnin' the hotel now.”

They reached the other side of the street and walked to the front of the hotel. All of a sudden Martha yelled out “Mama – Sally is in the street” and she pointed to her doll lying in the centre of the crossway.

Johnny yelled “I'll get her” and turned and briskly walked into the street, avoiding a horse coming in his direction. He scooped the doll up and coming back to the mother and daughter, handed the doll to the little girl. Martha looked at him, her eyes big and saucer- like ,“thank you, sir” she said excitedly, “thank you very much – I don't know what I would ever do without her!”“You're welcome, querida,” Johnny replied, looking down at her “you need to take good care of her to make sure nothin' happens.”

He smiled as he heard the young girl starting to chastise the doll “now Sally, you know better than to go into the street like that.You have to hold my hand the whole time we cross. If you do something like that again, Mama might have to paddle you. It is very dangerous and you could have gotten hurt!” Johnny looked at Polly as the girl was speaking and noticed her small smile and slight blush.

They walked up the two front steps to the door of the hotel. Coming into the building, Johnny saw a high wooden desk in the middle of a white wall. Behind the desk hung a board with numbers, with keys and mail slots below, and immediately to the left of the desk was a swinging door. To the right and slightly forward from the desk were a couple of high back burgundy chairs with a low table of dark wood between, on which nestled a small green fern. The chairs were positioned to look out the front window, which was curtained with white gauze. On the wall to the left, a swinging door moved and he could hear the sounds of conversation and people eating – his stomach grumbled slightly, reminding him that it was lunch time.

Polly smiled at him – “why don't you go into the dining room and see if you can get some lunch. Sue is probably servin' right now and you can make arrangements for a room after.”

“Thanks” Johnny said, asking “where're you goin'?”

“I'm going to help with the food”, she replied, “we were supposed to be back before, but were delayed at the doctor's office – don't worry, though, we'll see you around,” and she took the little girl's hand and went through the swinging doorby the desk, through which he could see a stove, counter and people moving around – obviously the kitchen.

Hesitating slightly, Johnny pushed his way through the dining room door. As he smelled the aromas of roast beef and mashed potatoes, he smiled, a smile that got larger when he saw large pieces of apple pie going past him to a table.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny finished his lunch slowly, trying to think of a plan for the rest of his day. He figured he could go to the saloon, maybe join a poker game and have a few beer – there must be a saloon in this town somewhere - then see Barranca, make sure he was doing okay at the livery, and then head back to the saloon. While it was an acceptable plan – something that he had done many times in the past – he wished it wasn't the only thing. He realized he was missing his family again – he would rather be at Lancer, where there was always something to do and probably someone to talk to. He was used to these feelings now, but they still surprised him sometimes. Usually he was happy initially to go away, but towards the end, particularly when the trip ended up being longer than expected, he couldn't wait to get back and see them. Chat with Scott, maybe get up to something with him. Have Maria make him a nice supper. Tease Theresa. Hell, he even found himself missing the Old Man's yelling after particularly long trips.

He looked up to a small voice saying “Are you finished, sir?” and recognized Martha waiting to take away his plate. He noticed the other tables in the small dining room were empty, and he saw Polly going around and removing the white tablecloths and napkins for washing. He could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner.

“Yes, thank you” he replied, the child's politeness bringing the same out in him. He smiled at her and said “you don't need to call me, sir, Johnny will do just fine.”.

The little girl looked at her mother who was listening to the exchange. She made eye contact with her daughter and smiled, nodding her head. “I hope you enjoyed your pie, Johnny” she replied, smiling at him again and removing his plate, taking it into the kitchen.

Johnny smiled and looked at the woman working across the room “she's really somethin', Polly.”

“Thanks, Johnny,” she replied. “As I said, we've got a good life here. How's your family?”she asked “I don't know if I ever was able to say how much I appreciated the help they gave me.” She seemed to invest much meaning into that little phrase

“Don't worry – we all knew,”he replied, looking at this woman that he had once known so well but that seemed so different now. “They're all doin' fine – Scott is seein' the school teacher – looks sort of serious there. Theresa married a ranch hand a couple of years ago, but he got injured on a cattle drive – pressed between some cows and a fence – we managed to get him home, but the doc wasn't able to fix him, and he died shortly after. Theresa moved back in with us after that.”

“I'm sorry to hear about Theresa. Did they have any kids?” Polly asked.

Johnny shook his head. “They weren't really married that long”. Polly looked back at him, amused. Johnny blushed slightly and smiled, starting again, “they weren't really married that long, and we wondered for a bit, but no, no kids”.

Martha came back in the room and looked at the adults. Polly pointed to the pile of laundry on the floor and the little girl sighed, and walking over, picked it up and carried it into the kitchen.

“And Murdoch?” Polly asked.

“He's the same,” Johnny replied, “still loud”.

Polly smiled and chuckled. She had heard some of his yelling.

“Mama”, Martha asked, coming back into the dining room “can I go outside and play now?”

“Are you done your chores,” Polly asked.

“Yes ma'am,” she replied, counting on her fingers, “I brought the laundry all into the kitchen, and all the dishes are at the sink, and I finished my lunch”.

“Okay”, said Polly, “you stay where I can call you though”.

“Yes ma'am” the little girl replied again, going back into the kitchen and out the back door Johnny spied.

“What are you going to do now, Johnny?” Polly asked.

“Not sure”, he answered, “not used to havin' quiet time like this – I might just go the saloon and see about joinin' a poker game, or somethin'.”

“Would you like another cup a coffee before you go” Polly asked.

“If you'll join me,” Johnny said, surprising himself by saying it. But he realized he would like to talk to her more, find out how her life was going, what she thought of things.

Polly looked at him and smiled again. He noticed suddenly that she seemed to have been smiling a lot since he had seen her earlier this morning – something he didn't associate with her earlier life. She had been fun and laughed a lot then – in a way, that had been her job – but she hadn't really smiled a lot, at least not in the way she was smiling now. A smile that seemed to start at her mouth and spread to her eyes – which he noticed were a brilliant shade of green, slightly lighter than her dress.

Polly went into the kitchen and returned with 2 cups of coffee and 2 pieces of pie. Placing the items onthetable , she returned and came back with a pot of cream and a bowl of sugar. She carefully added a spoonful of sugar to her cup and a bit of cream, pouring some of the liquid on her pie as well. Johnny watched as she stirred her coffee thoughtfully. “So”, she said, looking up at him from her cup “how is ranchin' suitin' you?”

Johnny was about to respond when a tall, large-boned, blonde woman came into the dining room from the kitchen. “Polly?” she asked.

“Sue”, Polly said standing up, “this is Johnny – I told you about him earlier – I think he's lookin' for a room”.

Sue came over to stand beside Polly, her blue eyes taking him in – Johnny could swear she was trying to figure out his intentions towards her friend. She seemed to look at him, piercing him with her blue eyes while using her size to loom slightly above him in his chair. He certainly wasn't comfortable with the feeling and went to stand up, so at least he could be on his feet and reach his gun easily if she came at him.

He put out his hand for her to shake. “Ma'am” he said, surprised by how off balance the woman made him feel and wanting to dispel any thoughts she might be having, “if you have a room for the next night or two, I would like that. My horse has pulled a muscle, and I'm just waitin' for him to heal up before headin' home”.

She seemed to look him over and then suddenly smiled, and shook his hand. “Yes, I think I have a place you can stay. I' ll go make sure it' s ready – you two enjoy your coffee” and she left the room heading into the lobby.

Polly watched her leave and then turned back to Johnny. “She can be a little protective of me”, she explained – “as I said, we've been friends for a long time … she helped me before as much as she could, and knows what I want for Martha now. She wants the same.” She sat back down and took a bite of her pie.

Johnny sat down as well. “Do you think I should check my bed before I get in?” he asked, remembering the way the woman had looked him over.

Polly laughed, a startlingly clear and happy sound, again something different from what he remembered. “I wouldn't worry about that none” she said, “Sue is a business woman, if nothin' else. Your bed will be proper, and she'll do her best to make sure you're comfortable – but not too comfortable,” she added smiling

Johnny smiled back at the last part. “So, how're you findin' life here?”he asked.

“Good” she replied. “Didn't you already ask me that?” she asked in a slightly sassy tone.

Johnny smiled “I guess I'm wondering what you really think of things. You know, how's it really goin'.”

“Oh,” she replied “how does it feel to be … livin' like …this” she said, investing much meaning in the final word. “Well – whatta you really think of ranch life?”

Johnny hesitated, picking up his coffee and looking into the cup. Why was he asking this woman, this question, right now? What was he trying to do? He knew how he felt even after five years – like it was this great thing, this wonderful second chance. But that sometimes, late at night, still he would wake up and just want to run screaming away from all of it - the responsibility, the caring and everything else - even though he knew he would regret it forever if he did. That missing Scott, Murdoch, Theresa, and Maria implied something - and that even though he was getting used to the feelings, it was still hard for him. That he got tired sometimes of having to worry about how what he did would impact the future and others. He had to admit that part of him wondered if others whose life changed felt this way too. He put his coffee cup down on its saucer and started to say “look, I'm sorry …”.

Polly put her hand on top of his. Johnny looked up and saw her smile. “It's hard,” she said, “even after all these years. I'm lucky – I have Sue and she understands how hard it is, and I can talk about the past with her. And there is Martha who deserves everything. But sometimes it's hard to be … responsible … to have to think about what others 'll think. To always have to consider … that wasn't something I had to do all the time before. Or at least if I did, it was for different reasons.”

Johnny smiled at how she expressed. “Yeah, it's hard – I feel like there is always part of me that is worried … .worried I won't do it right … worried …”.

“Exactly,” she replied, “worried you won't know what the ‘right' decision is …”.“But,” she said, getting up and gathering together their pie plates, “it's nice to get to do this. I wouldn't give Martha up. And she needs this”, and she headed into the kitchen with their dishes . Johnny realized then the extent of feeling she had for her little girl – she said that several times – it was what Martha needed.

Polly came back into the dining room with a pot of coffee, offering him some. Nodding his head yes, she continued “I told a lotta different stories about my early life, but the truth is, I didn't have many choices. I was where I was because of that. I want more than that for my little girl, and this is the best way to get that for her.”

Johnny looked at her, watched her sit in her chair and add more cream and sugar to her coffee. “What happened in your early life?” he asked.

“A story for a story?” she replied.

“Yes” he said, wanting to talk to someone that seemed to understand a lack of choices in life, and how hard it was to accept something different.

So, she told him. How her father had been a hard, religious man, believing that women bore the mark of original sin through life and that the only way they could get past this was through service to their husband's and family. How her mother had protected her from the worse of her father, including allowing her to attend school. Made her dolls. Taught her stories, despite her father's belief that the only book necessary was the bible. And then, when her mother died when she was 10, her protector was taken away, and she was suddenly thrust into the centre of his views – and his violence. How he would beat her every Sunday after church, based on the thought that she had ‘probably done something that she ain't been caught for'. How she was forced to drop out of school, run the household, and care for her 5 brothers. And then, how, when she was 14, a farm hand pushed her against the fence and kissed her. And her father, coming across her struggling, grabbed her, viciously slapped her across the face, and calling her a ‘jezebel' banished her from the house despite her tears and attempts to explain. And so she had left, not knowing what to do. She travelled from their farm, coming to the little town not far away. She managed to catch a ride with some people to another town, and looking for something to do, finally came to the saloon, and … then she stopped. Looking at Johnny she said “And you know the rest. What about you?”

So he told her his story – his mother leaving Lancer and telling him his father had kicked them out because he was embarrassed by his Mexican wife and mixed son. Growing up in rough and tumble border towns. Watching his mother struggle to support them – and helping her from a young age. Seeing that the people who seemed to get the most respect were the pistoleros, even though they often ended up dead. Of the hours of practising to be good with a gun. Of developing his ‘Madrid' persona … some of which she already knew.

Sue came in, interrupting their conversation, and the dimness in the room made Johnny realize how long they had been talking. “Polly, are you ready to set up for supper?” she asked. “It's almost 4”.

Polly shook her head and smiled at Johnny. “Sorry, Sue,” she replied. “We were talkin' about old times. I'll start.”

“When do y'all serve supper?” Johnny asked, thinking about where we would get his next meal.

“We usually serve from 5:00 to 7:00. Would you like to join us in the kitchen after?”Polly asked, glancing at Sue. “The 3 of us usually eat after things are cleaned up a bit”.

“That would be nice” said Johnny, smiling.

“7:30 then” Polly said – “but be warned, it can be a bit hectic” and she smiled that beautiful new smile again.

“I'll go visit Barranca for a bit and get my stuff. Is my room ready?” he asked Sue, looking at the older woman.

She smiled at him “yes – I'll get you your key” she said, turning to leave the room. “You can head up whenever you like” she continued with her back to him as she went through the swinging door to the lobby.

Johnny watched the door close then smiled at Polly “I think she's warmin' to me”, he said chuckling a bit.

Polly smiled and replied “see you at 7:30.”

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny entered the lobby, hurrying as he was a few minutes late. Barranca seemed to be feeling better- he actually let his foot touch down for a brief second or two, making Johnny hopeful that they could leave soon. He pushed open the door to the kitchen, taking in the sight before him. Polly and Sue were placing platters of food on a scarred, round, wooden table with four chairs set around.

A heavy-set, older woman was pulling an apron over her head while walking to the back door, preparing to leave. The dishwasher – a young man with light brown hair and the beginnings of a mustache – was putting away the last pot, his eyes on the woman taking off the apron. She turned and said to him “come on, Bobby, walk me home – it ain't safe out there for a woman alone at this hour.”

Bobby smiled and putting down his dishtowel, called out “see you tomorrow” heading towards the door.

Sue and Polly responded “see you tomorrow Bobby. See you Muriel – great food today!”.

He had the feeling this was a well-practiced dance, with everyone playing their role.

Polly walked over to some stairs that were hidden in the corner and called up “Martha, dinner”, while smiling at Johnny. He moved to the table, seating himself in a chair. Martha came running down the stairs at a ferocious pace, slowing as her mother said “no running inside, young lady”. She came over and started setting the table, sitting down when everyone had their plate and cutlery.

When Polly and Sue finally sat down, the food was passed around without much discussion. He noticed Martha pass the peas to her mother without taking any, but her mother put a spoonful on her plate. The girl looked at them with a grimace.

“Remember, if you don't eat your vegetables, no dessert” Polly admonished lightly.

Johnny leaned over to the little girl “I don't like peas much either” he whispered conspiratorially.

“I don't know why we have to eat them”, the little girl pouted.

“Well, I was always told they help you grow bigand strong and keep you healthy”, he said, smiling slightly at the pout.

“Yeah, I know”, she replied, “but why do they have to taste so bad?”

“Do you know what's for dessert? Is it worth it?” Johnny asked, continuing to whisper.

“Yeah” the little girl said, smiling, “Mama made chocolate cake this morning and I know there is some left.”“

Oohhh”, he replied, “I think chocolate cake is worth eatin' a few peas for”.

“I know”, Martha said, “but …” she left the rest of it unsaid as Polly looked at her, motioning for her to start to eat.

“So Johnny”, said Polly, looking at his vegetable-free plate and passing the peas to him, “how is Barranca doin'?”.

Johnny picked up the bowl and put a spoonful on his plate, giving them a look similar to the one Martha had earlier. “He seems comfortable. I'm hoping by tomorrow he'll be able to put a bit of weight on his foot. If so, then I should be able to head out in a couple of days”. Sensing Martha watching him, he scooped some peas with his fork and put them in a mouth, chewing as little as possible and swallowing quickly. He looked at the little girl and smiled as if to say ‘that wasn't so bad '.

The rest of the meal passed with light conversation about the hotel, some of the guests and some news from town – Martha sharing that her friend Nancy's cat had had kittens the other day and Nancy's mother had thought they could see them tomorrow. Polly narrowed her eyes slightly looking at the girl and said “we're not getting' a cat”, but Martha just looked at her mother and smiledsweetly. Johnny suspected she was already preparing her arguments for when the kittens were ready to leave home.

As everyone finished, Sue and Martha cleared the plates to the sink, stacking them carefully. Polly went through an entrance way covered with a heavy piece of leather. She returned quickly with four slices of chocolate cake, already on plates. She passed them to everyone's spot and offered coffee to the adults, shaking her head at Martha when the look girl looked at her hopefully.

Johnny took a bite of cake and was amazed at the richness and texture - this would rival Maria's (not that he would ever tell the woman that ). “Wow, this is amazing, Polly. Did you make this?”.

“Yes, Johnny,” she replied. “I do most of the baking around here. My mama was a great baker, and she taught me.”

“Wow”, he continued “it might not be so bad if I have to stay here longer if I can have somethin' like this every night”.

Polly smiled at the compliment and blushed slightly – something else he couldn't remember having seen her do. He found himself looking into her eyes and smiling slightly at what he saw there – the warmth, the laughter, the slight embarrassment at his compliment.

“You should try Mama's strawberry shortcake” Martha exclaimed, breaking the momentary spell. “It's the best anywhere – she entered it in the fair last year and won a ribbon!”

“Really,” replied Johnny, “I wish I coulda been around for that,” and he smiled as Polly flushed lightly at her daughter's statement.

They finished their desserts in companionable silence, with Martha picking up the plates and taking them to the sink. She then went over to where her mother was sitting and whispered something in her ear.

“Well, why don't you ask him?” Polly said, smiling at her daughter. “But he might have plans” she continued in a warning tone.

“Johnny?” Martha asked, moving a little closer to him, “would you like to play checkers?”

Johnny smiled at the girl, surprised at her comfort with him – they had only just met. “Sure, querida”, he replied, “that would be fun”.

The little girl ran from the table to the store room, coming back with the board and pieces.

They set up the game and played, while Polly and Sue cleaned up from supper. He noticed how Martha leaned forward on her chair, excited at the game, seemingly caught up in the movements. When Polly finished the washing she came over to the table, and Sue continued drying and putting the dishes away. Martha stood up from her chair and Polly then sat down on the same one, with Martha then sitting on her mother's lap. Her mother put a light kiss on her cheek and smoothed her hair. He managed for Martha to win the game, and enjoyed seeing how excited she got when she took his last piece.

“Martha”, Polly said when they had finished “time for bed”.

“But Mama,” the child started to say

“now Martha” her mother said with a hint of steel, before the child could continue.

“I'll come up and read you a story when you're ready”, said Sue, “if you go quickly”.

The child smiled, stood up from her chair and turned to Johnny, “thanks for the game” she said, suddenly moving towards him and putting her arms around him in a quick hug.

Johnny was surprised at first, but returned the embrace, patting her back lightly. “Good night, querida” he said, “see you tomorrow”. He watched the girl and her mother head up the stairs.

Sue looked at Johnny for a moment. “Polly told me what happened with you and your brotherwhenMarthawas born. It was nice for y'all to help her that way”, she said, studying him carefully.“I remember you from before, you know”, she continued suddenly, “and Polly told me about your father and how things changed.”

“Well, sometimes life takes you different places” Johnny said somewhat pointedly, looking at the woman and thinking about what Polly had said about her past.

Sue looked at him, understanding the challenge he was putting forward. “Yes, sometimes it does”, she replied, “but you got to be able to see the possibilities.”

They looked away from each other when Polly entered the kitchen. “She's ready for you, Sue” she said to her friend. “She was mentionin ' somethin' ‘bout three stories tonight”.

“We'll see,” the other woman replied smiling. Sue headed across the kitchen, saying “see you later, Johnny” and patting Polly on the shoulder on her way past. She then went up the stairs

Polly came and sat at the table with Johnny. “Would you like some more coffee?” she asked. He nodded yes, and she got up to get the pot, filling his cup and one for herself.

“Tell me about, Sue?”he asked.

She looked at him questioningly. Seemingly happy with what she could read on his face, she started to speak. “Well, when I first started working in the saloon, Sue was there. She was like a big sister to a lotta us younger girls, but for some reason, her and I really hit it off. She helped me a lot – originally, I was just servin' tables and helpin' in the kitchen, but as I got older, she helped me with the other … things that were goin' on”. She looked at him, and he nodded his understanding. “Anyway,” she continued. “She had been sort of seein' Martin for a while – from before I met her. He was a gambler – not one of those hard ones, but one of the charmin' ones – always had a smile, maybe even a joke for people. He could be hard – he had to be doin' that - but he never started anythin' and if he could, he would try to stop it before it got violent. So one night, he's playin' poker in the saloon, and someone throws this hotel into the pot, and doesn't Martin win. He gets this look on his face, like he was in shock, and then he looks at Sue and she looks back and they both smile. So, the next day, some of us girls are hangin' out in the kitchen, waitin' for the day to start, and Sue and Martin come in and say they've just gotten married and are movin' here to start a new life. So, we're congratulatin' them all and huggin' and everything, and Sue pulls me aside and says that she is goin' to write me, and that she wants me to write her, and that if I ever want somethin' different, to come to the hotel. We wrote back and forth for a bit, and every letter from her ended with her sayin' that if I want somethin' different, to come to the hotel. I sent her a letter tellin' when I married Frank – but never got a chance to write again after that … Frank and I moved around a bit.' She looked down at her hands at that point, and then took a drink of her coffee. ‘Then, when I was tryin' to think of a place to go after Martha was born, I remembered Sue sayin' about comin' to her if I ever wanted somethin' different, so I came here.”

Johnny smiled, remembering when they took her to the stage. He looked at her. “How did it go?”.

“You sure you want to hear all this?” she asked, looking at him. He smiled at her, a long slow smile that he hoped conveyed his interest. She smiled back, blushing slightly. “I'll never forget that trip. The stage ride was horrible – it was hot, and the stage broke down, and Martha cried most of the way. It ended up takin' five days. And when we finally got here, I pretty much looked like somethin' the cat dragged in from the heat and tryin' to deal with Martha. I came up the steps and in the door, and Sue was standin' behind the desk, puttin' mail in the slots and I said ‘Sue, I want somethin' different.' And she turned and looked at me, and then rushed over from behind the desk and hugged me so tight. And Martha started to cry from bein' squeezed – I had been holdin' her all wrapped up in her bla nket against my shoulder and I don't think Sue realized she was a baby. When she started to cry, Sue let me go and I put Martha down into my arms and Sue looked at her and asked ‘who's this?' and I said ‘this is Martha – we both want somethin' different, for the two of us'. And Sue looked at me and said “I have the perfect room for both of you – upstairs'. And she picked up my bag and started up the stairs. And we've been here ever since.”

Johnny smiled at the end of the story.

“So,” Polly asked, “a story for a story – how is it really goin' with your family?”.

And Johnny talked – about how when Theresa started seeing Peter, aranch hand, none of them had really thought he was good enough – they all wanted her to marry someone, well, someone important, with money and a future all outlined. But how he had worn them down with his easy manner, broad smile, and obvious love for the girl. How Murdoch had built them a little house not far from the hacienda so they could be close, and Theresa could visit frequently – particularly when Peter was away. And then the cattle drive, where he had gotten between some cows and a fence, and the cows suddenly turned, and he was stuck, and squeezed - something that could have happened to any of them. The long way home. Theresa's tears. The grief that came over her and how she moved back in with them because she couldn't live in their little house anymore. And how she was slowly coming back to being the happy girl she had been before, but wasn't quite there yet and he was worried she never would.

And he told her about Scott and the school teacher. And how they had a rather emotional relationship – there seemed to be a lot of tears and yelling and then silence – things that he just didn't associate with his brother, and that he didn't really like the woman but didn't feel he could say anything to Scott about it – for that matter, he didn't even want to talk to Murdoch about it. But that he worried how it would affect the life they had built together.

And then he talked about Murdoch. How they seemed to be getting along better these days – how he was accepting having a father. That they were beginning to show how much they cared for each other and that he was realizing that so much of the yelling was out of concern.

Johnny looked around, noticing that it seemed to be late – really late. He could hear the grandfather clock in the dining room striking 11, and was surprised that they had talked so long.

Polly went to stand up, taking their coffee cups to the counter. Johnny watched her go, smiling at the domesticity he was seeing - again. She turned to look at him – “I need to go to bed” she said, “mornin' starts early here – and I'll be bakin' bread. See you tomorrow?” she questioned.

“Yeah,” he replied “I don't think Barranca will be ready to head out for at least two more days.”

“Good night then – see you in the mornin'” she said, heading over to the stairs.

Johnny watched her go up.“Good night” he replied, and then headed through the door to the lobby and up the stairs to his own room.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny woke to feel sun on his face. Wondering what time it was, he pushed aside the heavy quilts that covered him and stood up from his brass four poster bed. Looking out the window onto the back yard of the hotel, he realized it was probably much later than he usually got to sleep – it felt good to sleep in, but he was a bit surprised that he had. Washing his hands and face quickly using the pitcher and basin on his dresser, he dressed and headed downstairs, wondering about breakfast. He came across Sue looking at the mail in the lobby, and she looked up at him, smiling slightly.

“Good morning, you slept late.”She continued “it's after nine – you missed breakfast, but you might be able to convince Polly to make you somethin' in the kitchen.”

Johnny smiled at the thought and pushed his way through the door. “Polly” he said, seeing the womanstanding at the counter with her hands in a big bowl of dough. She looked at him and put her finger to her lips and then motioned him to come in. When the door closed behind him, she pointed to the corner where Martha stood facing. Johnny leaned his back against the kitchen door, watching to see what was happening.

“Okay, Martha” she said, “come over here and tell me why you were in the corner.” The little girl walked over to her mother, looking down at her feet. Her mother put her hand under her chin, pulling the girl's face up so that their eyes could meet. She then put her hand back down.

“I'm not supposed to hang around the front of the hotel, unless someone is with me”, the little girl answered contritely.

“Why not?” her mother questioned.

“Because it is busy and dangerous, and because it ain't proper for a young girl to be hangin' out in front of a hotel, even if she lives there. But Mama, I was only tryin' to help the delivery man!” the little girl attempted to explain.

“I know you were only tryin' to be helpful Martha, and that is why we're here right now and not talkin' about this in your room”, her mother said with some firmness to her voice, looking down at the girl with a slight frown. Martha squirmed slightly when her mother mentioned ‘talking in her room'. “Next time a delivery comes, you come and get someone to help – you do not go out to help. You could get hurt. Or you could get the delivery people hurt by being in the way.”

“Yes ma'am”, the little girl replied, looking back down at her feet.

“Now go outside”, Polly admonished, “but you stay in the backyard today”.

“But Mama, I'm supposed to go see Nancy's kittens today” the little girl complained, looking back up at her mother.

“Martha, you stay in the backyard – you can go see the kittens tomorrow. Hopefully by then you will be remembering to stay where you're supposed to”.

“Yes Ma'am”, the little girl replied, looking down and heading out the door.

Polly looked at Johnny and smiled. He moved closer to her, looking at the contents of the bowl. “Are you just up?” she asked.

He nodded, “Sue said I should come in and you might be able to fix me some breakfast”.

“I'll see what I can find” she replied, taking a plate and heading behind the leather curtain, which he now realized led into a cold room which they also used for storage. She returned with a piece of ham on the plate and two eggs. She looked at him, and he smiled at the sight, watching her head to the stove. “Sue and I manage breakfast by ourselves”, she explained, “the cook comes in for lunch and dinner. I use this between time to get the baking done.”

He spied abowl of apples resting on the counter and walked over to it, picking one and holding it up slightly. She nodded at him and he took a bite. After chewing and swallowing, he looked at her with a small smile and said “glad I had permission – wouldn't want ta have ta stand in the corner,” he teased.

Polly gave a small laugh. “I don't imagine that a little time in the corner would scare you too much” she replied, looking up at him as she reached for a plate from a shelf by the stove. She plated the freshly fried ham and cracked the eggs directly into the pan. She then reached into a cupboard and pulled out a basket containing a couple of biscuits which she quickly walked over to the table after reaching into another spot for some cutlery. Heading back to the stove after she had placed the items she was carrying down, she put the eggs on the plate beside the ham, picked it up t e now filled plate and brought that to the table for him, along with some butter and jam. Going back to the stove, she picked up the coffee pot, poured some into a cup and brought that over as well. Johnny walked the short distance to the table and sat down, looking happily at his plate. He sensed Polly moving around him, and noticed that she was going back to her bowl of dough.

He ate silently, watching the woman out of the corner of his eye as she shaped the bread into loaves and then started to make a cake. Looking at the pies already on the counter, he realized she had been quite busy and wondered at the amount of work it took to run the hotel. “What kinda cake are you makin'?” he asked.

She smiled at his question “shortcake – Martha's mentionin ' of it yesterday reminded me we have some strawberry preserves from last year that I can use. Also, it's her favourite and we ain't had it for a while”.

He noticed the smile that was on her face as she mixed the batter, seemingly happy with her work and he chuckled slightly. She shot him a questioning look, and he smiled at her and said “I'm just thinkin' about how happy you seem”.

“I am” she replied, shrugging slightly. “I like what I do.”

He smiled again. “I'm glad” he said, surprised at the words – and the fact that they were true. He finished his cup of coffee “ Thanksfor the breakfast . I'm goin , to see Barranca now – I'll see you later.”

“Johnny?” she called as he headed out the door.

“Yes” he replied. “Umm … would you like to join us for supper again?” she asked, seemingly uncertain for a moment.

“That would be nice” he replied, realizing he was looking forward to seeing her again, “see you at 7:30”.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny woke up from a nap, feeling somewhat groggy from the unexpected afternoon sleep. After checking out Barranca - who seemed to be healing slowly, perhaps enjoying his break from the day-to-day – he went to the saloon for a couple of beers and some lunch, and finding nothing of interest there had returned to his room to rest before supper. Wondering what time it was, he got up from his bed, and after splashing water on his face, went back downstairs. He could hear the grandfather clock mark 7:30, and realized he was just on time for dinner. Rubbing his face, he headed through the door, noticing the same pattern as the previous night– Martha setting the places, Sue and Polly bringing the food to the table, the cook and dishwasher heading out. Smiling in greeting, he took the same seat he had used for the previous meals and waited for everyone to be seated before helping himself to the food in front of him. As the conversation started to flow, he joined in, surprised at how easy he found it.

When the meal was done, the clearing started and Polly then proceeded to bring out pieces of the shortcake she had made that morning. Martha smiled brightly when she saw the dessert, crying “thank you, Mama” with obvious delight when it was placed in front of her. Johnny tried a bite, and again was amazed by how delicious the dessert was – light, fluffy, with a creamy frosting and a sweet strawberry filling.

As everyone was eating their dessert, Martha looked up and asked “Mama, can we play cards tonight?”.

“I don't know,” Polly replied, “I think everyone is kinda tired, and Johnny probably has plans”.

Johnny looked up “I'd be happy to play” he said, surprising himself somewhat. But he realized he was not looking forward to returning to the saloon, and that really, he would rather spend time here – actually, if he was truthful, he would like to spend more time with just Polly.

“Please, Mama” Martha cajoled, turning puppy dog eyes to her mother.

“I'll play' Sue said.

“Okay then,” said Polly, giving in, “go find the matches”.

Johnny looked up surprised, but when the girl started to hand out the matches and Polly dealt the cards, he realized they were playing poker for matchsticks. He chuckled to himself, imagining if anyone from home were to see this.

After playing for some time, and Martha seeming to accumulate a large number of matchsticks, Polly called bed time. While the little girl pouted slightly, she got up to go easier than the night the before, again turning to himsaying “good night, Johnny” and giving him a hug.

He was better prepared for the move this time, and easily hugged her back, saying “good night” and giving her a light pat on her backside as she moved away.

Polly went to follow her, but Sue stepped in and said “I'll take her up – I promised her another story last night”. Polly looked surprised, but stepped back, letting the older woman take the girl upstairs. She turned back to Johnny, gathering up the cards. He started to put the matches back in their box. “Would you like some more coffee?” Polly asked, in the same way as last night.

“Sure”, Johnny replied “unless you need to get to bed?”.

Polly smiled, “I can stay up for a bit.” She came back with two full cups. “Never thought I would see Johnny Madrid playing poker for matchsticks”, she teased, looking at him, seeming to test how he would take the comment.

Johnny laughed, happy that she recognized the situation as well “cain't say I like the thought of the guys at home seeing it, but it was fun. I know I said this yesterday, but Martha really is a delight.”

Polly smiled at the compliment to her daughter.

As he watched Polly moving the cards around, he asked “wanna play some more?”

“For matches?” she asked, surprised.

“Sure”, he replied. Watching as she dealt out the cards and the matches again, he asked “how did Martha start to play?”

Polly smiled, “Martin … Sue's husband” she said, looking at him to make sure he knew who she was speaking about and going on when Johnny nodded, “well, he kept playin' after they came here – not in the same way as before but for fun. And Martha would see him practicin' and would want to play with him, so he taught her. I was fit to be tied at first, but he figured it was important for her to learn the game, and was going to teach her how to recognize when someone was cheatin' when she got older.” Looking at him to see if he was still interested, she continued “he spoiled Martha somethin' fierce – her doll, Sally, that she carries around, well he found it somewhere and just had to get it for her. He got her other ones as well , and other stuff too . Whenever there was a new dress at the store, he'd be over there lookin' at it, tryin' to see if it was right for her. She's really been missin' him”.

“What happened?” he asked, after she laid down her hand, winning the pot.

“Did you guys get hit by that influenza last year?” she asked as she dealt their next hand.

“Yeah, we lost a couple of hands, and some people in town died.”

“Well”, she continued “it was really bad here too – Martha got it - we were real worried about her – but just when she seemed to be gettin' better, Martin came down with it too. And, well …” she stopped speaking and he could tell that she was missing him, just like Martha. “Sue is startin' to get better, but …” she let the words hang.

“It takes time,” he said, thinking of Theresa and how she had been since Peter.

Johnny laid down a straight, making a motion to take the next pot, but Polly smiled and put down a flush, laughing at the surprised expression on his face. He looked up at the sound and smiled into her face, and proceeded to change the topic to something happier. And then they continued to talk into the night, about the past, present, and even, tentatively, their ideas for the future.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny awoke the next morning to the sound of rain against his window. He realized that even if Barranca was feeling better, he wouldn't want to take him out today for fear he would slip and make things worse. Slowly he got out of bed, frowning at the thought of another wasted day, but smiling when he remembered last night, and the cards and laughter with Polly.

He headed downstairs, finding Sue in the lobby again. She looked up at him and said “you missed breakfast again. I don't imagine you sleep like this on that ranch of yours.”

“No”, he replied, “must be that comfortable bed of yours.”

She smiled at him and said, “try the kitchen again if you're hungry.”

Heading through the door, he realized how comfortable he was feeling in this place. He looked to see Polly with her hands in a bowl again, making more bread he guessed. Martha was sitting at the table with a miniature tea pot and three dolls, each with a cup and saucer in front of them.

“Good mornin', Johnny”, Martha said to him, smiling “Wanna play tea party?”.

He heard Polly cough and didn't have to look up to imagine her smile. Before she could say anything, he replied “sure, querida, but I don't rightly know how to play.”

“I'll show you”, she replied. “Here, come have a seat” she said, leading him to the table by the hand. After he sat down, she asked him formally “would you like a cup of tea, sir?”,holding out a cup and saucer.

“Yes ma'am” he replied, taking the offered items.

She then proceeded to pour from the teapot, and he noticed water coming into his cup. She then offered him a plate with cookies “would you like a cookie?”

Polly spoke from behind “Martha, let me get Johnny some breakfast, he might have things to do today rather than play.”

Johnny smiled at the girl who looked a bit chagrined at her mother's comment. “How ‘b out I play with you until my breakfast is ready?” he asked her, noticing the bright smile that came out at that comment. Polly harrumphed lightly behind him and he noticed her heading into the store room with a plate. She then proceeded to quickly come out with some sausages and eggs, which she cooked at the stove. Johnny took one of the cookies, winking at Martha, and a sip of his ‘tea'. She smiled and promptly filled up his cup, and introduced him to the dolls at the table, and share some stories about their ‘lives'. He looked up at Polly when she brought his breakfast to the table.

“Martha”, she said to the girl, “go find Sue. She'll probably need help with the rooms.” When the little girl hesitated, she said “now Martha”, fixing her with a gimlet eye before the girl stomped off. Shaking her head she looked at Johnny and said “sorry about that. Martin was always good at playin' with her, particularly when it rained – he would play tea party for hours, read her stories … play cards …” Polly looked off a bit.

Johnny swallowed his bite of breakfast and looked at the woman, “don't worry about it Polly,” he said “it don't bother me none – I think I can play a bit of tea party while I wait for my breakfast.”

The woman smiled and moved back to her bowl. “So, what are your plans for today?” she asked by way of changing the subject.

“I'll check out Barranca, make sure he's doin' better. Cain't leave today, though, even if he is– I would worry about havin' him slip in the rain. After that …not sure … “

Polly came over with the coffee pot, checking on the progress of his breakfast. “I hate to ask this of you, but if you're lookin' for somethin' to do, one of the door handles on a room is not workin' right. We have a handy man that usually fixes that stuff, but he is sick right now and can't come in. Would you have a look at it?”

“I'd be happy to,” he replied, liking the thought of helping out, and a finite task to do. He finished his breakfast and turned to look at Polly working the bread dough, surrounded by the doughnuts and cookies she had obviously made earlier that day. He picked up his plate and walked it to the sink, turning around and catching her look of surprise. He smiled and then quickly grabbed a doughnut and a couple of cookies before winking outlandishly at her and making for the door. He heard her sudden burst of laughter as he headed out the back.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny removed the handle from the wooden hotel room door, taking it apart to try and determine the problem. Martha watched him intently, obviously fascinated with what he was doing. He had agreed to let her watch, with the understanding that she hold things and pass tools whenever required. As he pulled the pieces apart, he felt rather than saw the little girl move in closer to get a look. He silently handed her some parts, thinking that maybe it just needed to be taken apart and put back together to start to work right. As he began to put it back together, the little girl crowded in even closer, obviously fascinated with the process. When he finished, he picked up the tools and followed the little girl back down the stairs and into the kitchen.

Realizing they were in the middle of the lunch rush, he joined Martha sitting at the table, smiling when Polly put a thick roast beef sandwich in front of him and asmaller one in front of the girl, returning with a plate with doughnuts and cookies which she placed in the centre of the table. She then came back with two apples, which she placed by their sandwiches. Bringing the coffee pot and a cup for Johnny, she placed a glass of milk in front of Martha. Watching the girl pick at her sandwich he thought for a minute and said “if you finish your lunch, querida, I'll play checkers with you”.

“Really?”, the girl said brightly.

“Yes”, he replied, and putting a bit of steel into his voice he added,“but you have to eat all that your mama wants you to.”

“Okay” she said turning back to her sandwich and taking a big bite. Polly looked over at them and smiled, and Johnny smiled back and started to eat his lunch.

When they were finished eating, Martha went to the store room, carefully trying to avoid the people scurrying around in the lunch rush. They then set up the game and proceeded to play, Polly smiling at the twoofthem when she came to refill his coffee cup . He smiled back as he looked up into her eyes. She patted his shoulder, and he put his hand on hers enjoying the momentary warmth.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Dinner was a quiet affair that night, everyone seemingly tired of the rain and wanting to move around more. Again, Sue offered to take Martha up for bed and Polly smiled at Johnny while heading for the coffee pot. As she refilled his cup, he thanked her, and tried to think of something to say. All he could think about was the way it had felt when Polly had touched his shoulder earlier. Even though it had been a small thing, for some reason it had made his temperature rise and he had not wanted even that simple motion to stop.

Johnny watched Polly as she sat beside him at the table and stared down into her coffee cup. He reached out and placed his thumb under her chin, gently lifting it up. When her eyes met his, he used his thumb too slowly and gently stroke the line of her chin and then moved in and kissed her. He felt her surprise and then her mouth softened and she slightly opened her lips. He moved to put his arms around her when he heard Sue call from upstairs “Polly, we cain't find Martha's nightgown.”

Polly broke off from the kiss, giving Johnny a soft look and then moved to the stairs yelling “comin''.

Johnny turned to watch her head up the stairs and then cursing softly to himself headed out of the kitchen, and the front door of the hotel, into the rainy night.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny sat at a small, corner table in the saloon, a bottle of tequila in front of him, watching the entrance way. The saloon was like many others he had been in – a bar opposite the batwing doors, with a dirty mirror and glasses on a counter top– and no doubt a rifle underneath the bar in case of trouble. A couple of men – probably local ranchers - stood up at the bar, drinking, and about half of the dozen or so tables around the room were filled with men, mostly ranch hands, and some saloon girls, drinking and talking. A poker game had just begun in the corner. He had had one shot from his bottle of tequila, but was playing with the glass, trying to organize his thoughts. A saloon girl came up to him, her lipstick slightly smeared , but he just waved her away. Dios – what had he been thinking? He respected Polly – everything she was doing - putting her life together, taking care of Martha – and he had kissed her! He could not deny the attraction he felt for her, but still … and then he remembered the way her lips had responded and flushed slightly.

He thought of returning to Lancer – where things made sense - but realized that he would already miss Polly – the smile she got on her face when Martha chatted away about innocent things, the way she had looked in the light of the lamp the night they played cards, her sense of humour and the way she would laugh … Dios, he had to stop thinking like this. And what about Martha? He had to admit he had feelings for the girl. He had enjoyed – more than he would ever want to say – playing tea party and other games with her and having her help him fix the door. But nothing more could come of things. He needed to go back to Lancer and have things get back to normal.

Drinking another shot of tequila he joined the poker game in the corner, hoping it would distract him from the thoughts running through his head.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny woke late again the next morning, with a slight headache from the night before. He remembered playing poker, although his concentration had been off. Another girl had approached him but he had shook his head at her. He had tried to focus on his cards, drinking his bottle of tequila. When the bottle was about half finished, he had returned to the hotel, noticing that the rain had finally stopped. It was definitely time to return home now – hopefully Barranca would be better and he could get things back on track. It did not matter if the trail was wet – he needed to get home.

Coming down the stairs, Sue looked at him carefully from the front desk. Without saying anything to her, he went into the kitchen, not sure what his reception would be. Polly was making bread and she looked up at him, surprise on her face. “Johnny” she began, at the same time he said “Polly” … and they both suddenly laughed at the sudden awkwardness between them.

Before either of them could begin to speak, however , they heard a sharp cry from outside and Martha yell “dammit, Tommy Johnson, you give her back to me”.

Polly turned on her heel and walked quickly out the open back door, Johnny following closely behind.

They found Martha standing over a brown haired boy of about her size who was lying on the grass on the ground, his overalls and colourless shirt askew. They were playing a tug-of-war with Sally, Martha crying as she tried to get the doll away from him.

Polly came right between the two, pulling the doll out of both their hands and demanding in a loud voice “what is goin' on here?”. Both children looked at her with guilt in their eyes, and the boy brought himself up to a sitting position. “Tommy Johnson, you know you are not supposed to be in our yard. What are you doin' here? And Martha, why is he on the ground?” Polly turned an angry face to both children, and Johnny stayed on the small porch outside the back door, watching the scene.

Martha looked at Polly and said in a quiet voice, obviously knowing what her mother was thinking, “I didn't hit him, Mama”.

“Well then, why is he on the ground, young lady?”her mother asked sharply. Martha continued to look at the ground, squirming, and answered in an even quieter voice, “I stepped on his foot and then kicked him”. A small laugh escaped Johnny. Polly looked over at him with a glare and Johnny tried to bring his face back to neutral as he continued to listen from the porch. Polly returned her gaze to the little girl and said “go to your room, please. We will need to have a long talk about language and proper behaviour for young ladies.”

“But Mama, he took Sally” the little girl declared, a slight whine to her voice.

“Now young lady, and no sass”, Polly said, pointing to the back door.

“Yes ma'am”, the little girl replied, turning and heading into the house after a smart swat to the backside from her mother. Johnny smiled down at the girl as she passed him, but she did not look up to notice.

Polly turned her attention to the boy sitting on the ground. He stood up and Polly looked down at him, her eyes narrowing. “Tommy”, she said in a forceful voice, “after the last fight between you and Martha, you know you were not to come into our yard except with your mother or me. What are you doin' here?” The boy looked down at the ground, and Johnny felt his eyes narrow into a glare. What was that boy doing here then? Was he teasing Martha? When the boy did not speak, Polly continued “you go home now – and you better tell your mama that you were here. And if I catch you back here uninvited again, I'll deal with you myself.” After that threat, the boy started to run out of the yard, speeding up after catching the glare Johnny gave him.

Polly took the two steps to the porch where Johnny stood, and, looking at Johnny and shaking her head, went into the kitchen. Johnny followed her, trying to think of what he would say. Polly placed the doll on the table and moved back to her bowl, taking the dough out and shaping it into loaves. Johnny watched the motion, her strong hands and how she shaped the bread, finding the movement of her hands oddly attractive . Suddenly, she shook her head and turned back to him saying “you need breakfast”. Placing the last piece of dough into a loaf pan, she wiped her hands and headed into the store room, coming out with some eggs and cheese. “How about an omelet today, for somethin' different?” she said.

After he nodded, she broke the eggs into a bowl, beating them lightly and then pouring them into a pan she had heated up on the stove. She then proceeded to cut some cheese into small pieces. She brought a basket of biscuits, with butter and jam to the table, and then moved back to the stove where she flipped the eggs, scattering the diced cheese over top. She then slipped the eggs onto a plate, and grabbing some cutlery, brought everything to the table. Placing it in front of him, she got a cup and the pot of coffee and brought it over to him.

“Sit with me?” he asked and she looked at him, hesitating and then nodding slightly.

She poured walked to the stove and poured them both some coffee , returning to the table and sitting, saying “I cain't sit long – Martha's waitin '.”

Watching her blow on her coffee before taking a sip he asked “what's goin' on with that boy?”

“Listen, Johnny” she started, “it's been real nice havin' you here, talkin' to you about things, but, I need to watch what I have here. I'm sorry if … “ and as he heard the words coming out of her mouth he could not help himself but he leaned over and kissed her again, gently but insistently. He felt her tense, but then like the night before she seemed to give in, kissing him back, and opening her mouth slightly.

Sue came into the kitchen, calling “Polly, what's goin' on with Martha? She's in her room, cryin'”.

When her eyes fixedon the two of them, Polly quickly pulled away from Johnny and looked at her friend guiltily. She got up from the table and said “I'll go talk to her”, heading up the back stairs.

Sue continued to look at Johnny, who picked up his fork and started on his breakfast. He could feel her continue to stare and then she turned and walked out of the room. Realizing that he had been holding his breath, he let it out in one big exhalation. He finished his breakfast and, after taking his plate to the sink, walked from the kitchen into the lobby where Sue was behind the desk, sorting mail.

She looked up at him as he headed for the door and asked “Johnny?”. When he turned and looked at the woman she seemed to hesitate before saying “see you for dinner tonight?”.

He looked at her closely and saw the shy smile that came across her mouth and replied “7:30”.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny rode Barranca on the road out of town, noticing a slight stiffness to the horse's gait.  As Barranca loosened up over the first couple of miles, Johnny realized that he could probably start for home the next day, hopefully making it to Lancer in time for supper the day after.  Looking ahead, however, he noticed people working on the road and going further along, that a small bridge was out and the water underneath was flowing forcefully over some rapids.  Stopping to see what was happening, he jumped off Barranca and went over to talk to the man that seemed to be in charge. 

While the small , grey -haired man looked him over, Johnny asked “what's goin' on?”.

“The bridge got knocked out by the water runnin' after that storm the other day.  The town has organized some people to work on it – bridge should be back in order in a couple more days,” the man replied.   

Johnny thought about his options, “is there ‘nother way around?” he asked. 

“Not really”, the man said in response “you would have to go through the bush and it would probly be a long way down before you could cross the river because of the way it's flowin'.  It's probably worth waitin' the two days for the bridge to be back in place.” 

“Can I help?”  Johnny asked, thinking that at least he would then have something to do while he waited – something to think about other than the hotel … other than Polly. 

The man looked at him closely “anxious to get out of town?” he asked, somewhat teasingly.  When Johnny didn't respond, the man continued “nah, we've got lotsa people workin' on it – too many and nothin'll get done.” 

“Thanks for the news,” Johnny replied and getting back onto Barranca turned back on the road.  Having not ridden for a few days, he decided to ride through town and follow the road for a bit, hoping the fresh air would clear his thoughts.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny walked into the kitchen, seeing everyone already seated at the table.  When Martha looked up at him, he smiled at her, noticing her unhappy face – although she managed to smile slightly in response.  She looked back down at her plate, pushing around her food. 

“Martha,” Polly cautioned, “eat your supper, please.” 

The girl obediently put a piece of chicken in her mouth.  Johnny took a seat and helped himself to the food on the table.  Noticing the quiet mood, he ate his meal, wondering what was happening.  When everyone had finished, Martha got up and took the dishes to the sink, and Polly said, “time for bed”. When the girl opened her mouth to say something in response, Polly pointed her finger towards the stairs and the girl headed in that direction, with her mother on her heels.

Sue looked at Johnny as Polly and Martha headed up the stairs.  “How's your horse?”  she asked the man, and he looked at her, realizing the hidden meaning behind the question. 

“I took him for a ride today – he's fine to leave tomorrow, but the bridge out of town has been washed out.  Looks like it'll take a couple a days to fix, so I'll be here until then – if that's okay, of course?” he added, watching to see how the woman reacted to the news. 

“Polly has worked hard to build a life here, we all have,” Sue said getting up and taking the coffee pot off the stove.  Coming back to the table, she poured herself a cup and then wordlessly offered him some. 

He nodded his head yes and replied “I know – I respect that.  I am really impressed with everythin' she has done and … well … Martha.  She seems like a special little girl.” 

Sue smiled at words about Martha, “yes, she certainly is that.  She's smart as a whip …” she stopped when Polly re-entered the room.  “Everythin' alright?” she asked Polly, looking at her closely. 

Polly smiled slightly at the question and replied “yes, she'll be back to her regular schedule tomorrow – we just had a few extra things … to work out today.” 

Sue smiled slightly at Polly's wording.  “I've got some things to finish for tomorrow.” Turning to look at Johnny, she said “I`ll say good night to both of you now”.  She patted Polly on the shoulder before heading up the stairs.  

Polly smiled at her friend's back saying “good night, Sue” and then heading to the coffee pot.  Moving slower than usual, she picked it up and returned to the table, filling her cup.  Seeing that Johnny's cup was already full, she returned to the stove, sighing slightly as she sat down. 

Johnny looked at her and noticed a tiredness that didn't normally seem to be there.  “Are you okay?” Johnny asked. 

“Yes … Martha and I had a bit of a talk, and she's goin' to apologize to Tommy tomorrow. Most times I feel like I don't know what I'm doin' – how I should teach her right from wrong – but every once in a while, I feel like maybe things 'll be alright.  Today was hard, but she has to learn that she cain't let go of her temper – you probly ain't seen it yet, but she really does have a temper and she has to learn to manage it.  She starts school in the fall, and she cain't go around lettin' it run off.”

Johnny thought of his own temper – and his father's – and smiled a bit.  “I can understand that – but you don't worry about bein' too hard on her ?” heasked . 

Polly looked at him through narrowed eyes “of course I worry about that!  But she has to learn – and whatever age she is, cussin' and hittin' ain't right.  And if she does that kind of thing in school, it'll be even worse.” 

Johnny raised his hands indicating defeat.  “You're right” he said, “and she is a sweet little girl, so you must be doin' somethin' right”.  Looking to change the topic he said “Barranca's feelin' better, but the bridge is out – looks like I'll be around for another couple of days.” 

Polly smiled into her coffee cup.  “I guess we can put up with you for a bit longer,” she said teasingly, “but Johnny …” she began in a more serious tone. 

He put up a hand to stop her “I need to say sorry for last night and this mornin'.  I was out of line.  Do you think you could stand to talk with me anyway, maybe play some more cards?” he then gave her his most charming look, the one designed for getting extra dessert from Maria, and other things he was not supposed to have. 

She smiled and laughed at him “you always were a charmer” she murmured, going into the store room and coming out with the cards and matches.  They then proceeded to sort out the cards and play into the night, chatting and laughing and talking about life.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny awoke late again – wondering about the habits he was getting into in this place. Thinking about last night, he did not feel he could face Polly again – his thoughts were pressing in on him, he was having too hard a time thinking about tomorrow when he would leave. Needing to clear his head, he quickly got dressed and after washing his face with the pitcher and water bowl, walked down the stairs into the lobby and out the door, heading for the livery to get Barranca.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny walked into the lobby of the hotel as the sun was beginning to set. He could hear sounds of food and conversation coming from the dining room. His mind had not cleared through the day – really, all he found he could think about was that he was going to really miss Polly - her smiles and laughter, the way she would tease him unexpectedly, even be slightly sassy, how she could mention Madrid and it did not upset him – like she accepted it and didn't really care about his past. And Martha – how the little girl could look at him a certain way and he could feel himself melt, the way she played checkers, watching the game carefully, how she loved to tell stories about her dolls. Unbidden, the thoughts he had had throughout the day came back – the two of them at Lancer. Polly working in the kitchen alongside Theresa and Maria. Martha running around outside, him teaching her to ride a horse. Him and Polly taking her to the school.

He went up to his room, ignoring the rumbling of his stomach. What was he going to do? He tried to clear his thoughts as he took off his boots and gun belt and lay down on the bed, closing his eyes.

He woke suddenly to the sound of knocking on his door. “Who is it?” he called, getting up off the bed and grabbing for his gun which he had laid on the dresser.

“Polly” he heard the woman call out, and he went to open the door. She looked at him, “sorry to bother you”, she said, “ Sue said she forgot to bring towels to your room” and she held out the ones in her hand to him.

He looked closely at her and saw the tense look on her face. Feeling guilty about not speaking to her that day after everything that had happened between them, he felt he had to explain “sorry I wasn't around today – I had some things to work out”.

She shook her head at him “you don't owe me an excuse” she said, looking down, “do you have towels?”.

“Polly” he began,

“Johnny” she said interrupting him “you're goin' home tomorrow. It has been real nice seein' you again, and talkin' about stuff with you, but we both have of our lives. Maybe we'll see each other again but probly not.” And with that she pushed the towels at him in such a way he had to take them and, went down the stairs to the lobby, while he watched her walk away.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny sat at the corner in the saloon, a bottle of tequila in front of him. Dios, he had to get out of this town! More thoughts started to enter his head –Polly working the bread in the bowl, her strong hands … shaking his head, he poured another shot of tequila and drank it quickly. He then stood up and went to join the poker game in the other corner.

^_^_^_^_^_^_^

 

Johnny felt the morning sun on his face but did not want to acknowledge that it was time to get up . He had left the saloon after a couple of hands of poker , returning to his room and resolving to leave the next day , forgetting everything that had happened . Finally rising from his bed , he dressed and washed his face with the water from the pitcher . Grabbing his saddle bags, he went down the stairs , thinking about the best way to proceed . He heard the grandfather clock strike nine and realized the dining room breakfast would be over – if he wanted to talk to Polly she would be in the kitchen, probably alone . He hesitated slightly and then pushed his way into the room, seeing her with her hands in the sink, washing the morning's dishes.

“Polly” he said, and she turned to look at him, taking in his saddle bags.

“Headin' out?” she asked, and not waiting for an answer turned back to her sink and continued “it was real nice seein' ya again – hope your trip back goes well. Give …”.

He interrupted her saying her name again and she turned to look at him again “Polly … will you … and Martha … come back to Lancer with me?” he asked, surprising himself somewhat with his words.

Polly looked at him “what are you sayin' Johnny Lancer?” she asked, her surprise evident, and a bit of suspicion in her voice.

He walked towards her, pulling her arm to turn her around and face him and then putting his arms around her waist. “Polly Foley …” he started again, smiling at the look on her face, “will you marry me?”

~ end ~

To Settlin' In --->

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