Kitty picked up the snifter of brandy and felt the expensive liquor trail its warmth down her throat and her upper chest like the finger of a lover.
She was still flustered. Her inability to sleep or calm her mind, however, wasn't caused by being kidnapped and driven off into the darkness by a disturbed man who claimed, although he barely knew her, that he loved her. No, it was caused by the hurt that one of her dearest friends was going through.
Festus had decided to leave his friend Cleavis' body in the mine until he returned her back to The Long Branch. When he pulled up in front of the saloon, he hopped off the seat and then reached up to help her down from the buggy;
"Festus," she said, "I'm sorry about Cleavis. I think he had…. problems before he arrived in Dodge. There wasn't anything that you could have done to prevent what happened. To him or me."
"Thank you, Miss Kitty. I'm jest glad that you wasn't hurt none. I shore couldn't fergive myself iffin that had happened."
"Why don't you have a drink before you head back out to the mine? You've had a terrible shock and it's chilly tonight."
"No, I'd best jest git this over and done with. Cleavis needs layin' out proper-like. It's disrespectful to leave him a layin out yonder like that." He climbed back up onto the buggy seat and nodded his hat to her. "I'm gonna take this here buggy down to Moss Grimmick's and leave it first. This 'el be poor ole Ruth's second trip out there," he said, gesturing to the mule tied to their buggy. "I'll need to git Cleavis over to Percy Crump by daylight unless I want ever body in town gawkin' at 'im."
Kitty watched with consternation until he was out of sight. His curved back and slow movements telegraphed how beat down he felt.
Poor Festus. She would never forget the look on his face when Cleavis sank back, dead, onto the rocky ground. It certainly wasn't Festus' fault that he had died, but he would blame himself. It was his nature. Once he believed you a friend, you were his responsibility. She'd seen it enough times to know. Festus didn't abandon or betray his friends.
People who didn't know him well tended to underestimate him because of his appearance and his lack of education. Kitty knew how shrewd he really was. Oh, she knew that he played it up a little because when he was proven right nothing gave the Arkansan more satisfaction. He would twist his mouth into a grin and squint his eyes, especially when he pulled one over on Doc Adams.
Tonight, though, was going to be rough.
Kitty held up the brandy glass to the light of the lamp on the table studying the rich amber liquid as it swirled back and forth. She was completely lost in her thoughts, contemplating everything and nothing, so she didn't hear Matt Dillon call her name from upstairs. The big man came to the rail which overlooked the saloon floor, and he saw her sitting alone, glass in hand.
She didn't need to look up to identify the sound of the footsteps when she heard them on the creaking stairs.
He made his way to her table and paused, looking at her in the dim lamp light.
"Kitty?" His voice was soft and probing. "I, uh, crossed paths with Festus headed back to the mine, as I rode into town."
Matt sat down across from her, not beside. Kitty needed to sort things out on her own terms without him crowding her.
"He told me what happened. I'm sorry." He placed his hat on the table beside the bottle. His blue eyes were tender when she finally looked at him.
"So am I. Matt, I tried to be as clear to him as possible that I wasn't interested. The only other thing I could have told him was that there was someone else in my life, but that would have led to an entirely different can of worms." Kitty picked up the brandy and finished if off.
"This wasn't your fault. From what I understand, Festus spoke with him, too, and tried to steer him clear of you. Cleavis wasn't listening to what anyone was telling him. He was delusional, about a lot of things. Not the least of which was the mine apparently and how he came to own it." He took a deep breath, and said, "Believe it or not, as someone wise once told me, you're not responsible for everyone you meet."
The comment elicited a slight smile. "Whoever told you that was no sage," she said, barely above a whisper, and tears which were barely attached to her lashes stubbornly refused to fall.
Matt reached across the table and took her soft, delicate hands in his own rough oversized ones.
"Let's go upstairs and get some sleep. Things will look better in the morning; they usually do. Right now, you're tired. Hell, you watched a man bleed to death tonight. That's not an easy thing to stomach for anyone."
When she made no effort to move, he rose and took the brandy bottle and glass to the bar. He returned and reached down for her hand. "Kitty, let's go upstairs, honey."
She nodded without answering and rose to go with him.
Matt sat down on the settee in her room upstairs and pulled off his boots and then hung his belt and gun on the bedpost. He watched as she sat down at her dressing table, but she made no move to get on with her evening ritual. A ritual with which he was quite familiar after their years together. After all he did have a key to the place.
He stepped up behind her and began to pull the pins carefully from her hair, watching as pieces of spun red-gold fell free, still curly. When finished, he carefully placed the pins on the dresser and tenderly ran his hands through her long silky hair, massaging her scalp and then her neck until he felt her relax under his hands. Instead of brushing it, he used his fingers like a comb and straightened the curls. When he finally stopped and rested his fingers on her shoulders, she placed one of her hands on his.
"Thank you. Go to bed. I'll be right there."
Matt looked into her eyes in the mirror. Mirror Kitty smiled at him and he leaned down to kiss her cheek.
"I'll be waiting," he said softly.
When she returned her makeup was gone and she had on a light white cotton gown. She climbed into the bed beside him and he pulled her close.
"Are you feelin' any better," he asked, as he turned on his side, resting his chin near the top of her head.
"A little. I just can't stop thinking of Festus. And poor Cleavis with his crazy fantasies."
"Festus will hurt, but I think he knew better than you understand that Cleavis had problems for a long time. That's most likely why his parents sent him away, and he ended up living with Festus' family for a while."
She absorbed Matt's observation and remembered how his hand on her arm had hurt. He had been out of his mind. He could have killed her, intentionally or not. She shivered at the chilblains that appeared on her skin.
Tucking herself into her lover's chest, Kitty listened to his even breathing and the steady beat of his heart. He was exhausted from being in the saddle for so long. She kissed his chest where his heart was and then picked up his hand and held it to her lips. She loved this man so much. She had orchestrated her entire life around him, to be near him, to have him in her arms like this. Oh, she might never understand his stubbornness about that damn badge, but nothing made her feel more content or happy than being right here with him, away from all the responsibilities that tugged at him constantly.
She also loved Festus like a brother and her heart ached for him. Tomorrow she'd help him with the funeral preparations, but tonight she could do no more for him.
Tonight, she'd sleep in her cowboy's arms and silently thank God, like she did every time he came back to her safe and sound.