"Doc, I'm stepping outside to get some air. Be right back."

Doc leaned in and cupped a hand around his ear. It was hard to hear above the din in the room. "What's that, Kitty?"

Hand on the door knob, she raised her voice just a bit, "I said, I need to get some air." She slipped out the door leaving behind the sounds of the Ford County Sociable. Doc watched the door close behind her and pulled his timepiece from his pocket. He'd give her minute or two by herself, knowing darn well that what Kitty needed was most certainly not fresh air. What she needed was for a certain United States marshal to appear, and she couldn't stop herself from going outside to see if there was any sign of him. Idly fingering his watch, Doc thought about the situation. Three days ago Matt was a state when he rode out, such that, when he said goodbye to Kitty, he barely remembered to mention that he'd likely miss the sociable. Boy that irked her mightily. Matt missing yet another event was bad enough, but brushing it off with barely an explanation – well - that made a bad thing a whole lot worse. Fact was, the Ford County Sociable was the biggest party of the year. Everyone went – everyone but Matt Dillon, or so it seemed. Doc sighed and stuffed his timepiece back into his pocket. It hurt his heart to see Kitty so upset and disappointed, but as usual he saw both sides. Matt didn't have the kind of job that could be set aside at will, much like being a doctor. On the other hand, the big lawman was away for so many events, it was easy to wonder if he really tried as hard as he could not to miss them. Right now there was one thing that was abundantly clear. It was time to be a good friend to an unhappy young woman who he cared deeply about. Doc slipped outside and spotted Kitty in the middle of the deserted street, peering into the distance as if wishes could make things so. Standing motionless, eyes intent, red hair aglow in the moonlight, she looked like a painting. It felt almost wrong to intrude, but it was time to bring her back to life. "Any sign of him?" She jumped, startled by the voice, and shook her head. "It was silly of me to keep hoping. When Matt used the words – likely wouldn't be back for the sociable - I thought maybe there was a small chance that he ….." Her voice petered out and she gave a last look down the street before joining Doc by the door. "Doc, you knew all along that I didn't come outside to get air." She offered a small smile. "Please don't think that I don't appreciate you taking me to the party. You've been a wonderful escort. It's just…"

Doc put up a hand, "Kitty, no need to say a word. I'm just sorry Matt didn't make it back tonight. Now, let's make the best of it." He offered his arm with a gallant flourish. "A glass of punch is in order. And I have a special something to give it a kick." Kitty smiled and took his arm. "Sounds perfect." They slipped inside and made a beeline for the refreshment table. Doc filled a glass with bright red punch and, with quick glance around, pulled a flask from his pants pocket. "A special blend for a special lady." He poured a good amount of amber liquid into Kitty's punch. "Drink it down, doctor's orders." She took a sip and raised her eyebrows. "Strong medicine from a wise doctor." She drained the cup and was getting a refill when she saw Festus walk in the door. He'd left a short time ago to do late-night rounds in Matt's absence, and had obviously made short work of it. He hurried over with a sly smile, "Miss Kitty, I noticed you ain't been dancin' much tonight, but the fiddler's about ta play the last dance o' the party. How's about you and me do some fancy steppin', ya know, ta show 'em how it's done. What ya say?"

Kitty nodded with enthusiasm and downed the last drops of her refilled glass. "Let's do it." With flushed cheeks and a bright smile she let Festus lead her to the dance floor. They lined up with the other couples, and the fiddler took off like lightening. Everyone moved in a circle, rushing along to keep up with the rollicking tune. As they flew passed the back window, Kitty happened to glance outside. She froze in her tracks. Festus pulled up short. "Miss Kitty is somethin' wro…" Kitty broke away to get closer to the window. Festus followed at her heels. The redhead's eyes widened. She stamped her foot and crossed her arms in front of her. Matt Dillon was sitting on a bench in the back yard, hands behind his head, staring up at the stars. He had one foot crossed over his knee, as if he had no care in the world. She glared at Festus. "Did you know Matt was back?"

"W-w-why no Miss Kitty, an' he looks settled back, as if he's been settin' a spell. Why do ya suppose he's out thar instead of in here?" Without offering an answer, Kitty pushed through the gleeful circling dancers and flew out the door. With her eyes snapping and smoke coming out of her ears, she marched around the building to the back yard. "MATT DILLON." He looked up sharply. She glared at him through the darkness. "What are you doing out here? You said you'd LIKELY miss the sociable, but you're back. You're back but you chose not to join me inside. You chose to sit out here alone, looking up at the stars. Matt, it's the biggest sociable of the year. You know how much I wanted you there." She put her hand on her hips. "I am just so …." He jumped to his feet. "Stop it - stop it Kitty. The sociable is nothing. It means nothing. It's not important. Can't you understand that?"

Kitty froze. She felt like she'd been slapped. Matt had never spoken to her like that – never, in the 5 years they'd been a couple. He saw the look on her face. His voice softened. "Kitty, I – I …" She shook her head sharply and took a step back. He stared at her for a long moment. The air around them thickened. He shoved his hat on his head. "I've got to make rounds."

"Rounds are done." Her voice was icy; "Festus did them while you were lounging back here staring at the stars."

He shrugged and walked off, "I'll do them anyway."

"Kitty, Kitty." She turned and saw Doc hurrying across the lawn. "Festus said Matt was back. When did he get here, and where's he hurrying off to?"

"I don't know, and I don't care. Doc, would you please walk me home?"

Doc knew better than to press for answers, and they walked side by side in awkward silence. When they got to the Long Branch Kitty muttered her thanks and hurried up the stairs to her suite. She sat down at her vanity, pulled off a shoe and hurled it across the room. It bounced off the wall. The second shoe followed. How dare he. She picked up a brush and yanked it through her long red hair. With every stroke her brain shouted: How dare he. How dare he. After way more than 100 strokes, she set the brush down wishing that untangling her emotions was as simple as untangling her hair. Her eyes rested on a simple, but beautiful silver comb that sat beside her jewelry box. She'd had that comb for 5 years, and treasured it. It was the first gift Matt had given her and, as with all of his gifts, it was carefully chosen and presented with tenderness and love. She ran her finger across the comb. Matt was special, she'd known it from the moment she set eyes on him. Everyone knew he was strong and brave and honest, but few realized how deep his caring went. He felt things to his core, and he trust her enough to let her see that. She lifted her eyes and looked in the mirror. Kitty Russell, stop and think. Matt doesn't act that way, especially to you. Something must be very wrong. Set aside that anger and hurt. Something happened out there, and whatever it was, Matt needs you. She quickly retrieved her shoes, slipped them on and went to her closet for a shawl. It would be chilly out at this hour - chilly, dark and deserted. Any man outside at this time of night would be falling down drunk, up to no good or both. No woman would be out at this hour – no woman in her right mind. Kitty tightened her shawl around her. What of it – after the words they'd exchanged, Matt wouldn't be coming up to see her. So, it was up to her to find him. She lifted her chin and steeled herself for whatever the dark night held. She had to talk to Matt.

TBC