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Based on the song “Big Iron” by Marty Robbins
It takes a certain type of woman to survive heartbreak. That’s what my ma used to tell me. I never used to believe her stories. They were all to teach my sister and me not to tell lies and not to be greedy.
I knew for a fact that the world wasn’t filled with talking rattlesnakes that aimed to teach you lessons. Instead it was filled with rough and lawless men called cowboys. I knew this because the older boys of town imitated them. They fashioned their hands into pistols and walked around making the click, clack noise of spurs. Tina and I would watched them as they played, mocking up shoot outs and gun fights.
My head barely surpassed the height of Pop’s saloon countertop the day I saw my first real gun fight. Ma came out to where Tina and I were feeding the chickens, took us by the hands, and shut us up in our room. Locked from the outside, we were stuck in a place with no windows.
I knew enough even at that tender age to reckon whatever Ma didn’t want me seeing was worth getting in trouble to see. Leaving Tina tucked up in bed with her dolly; I pried up the three loose floorboards nearest the wall, revealing the small crawl space beneath.
I came out in the next room over, Grandpa Norris’s. His had a window that overlooked the street. Not being tall enough to see out of it, I pulled up a chair and peeked through the foggy glass to witness the scene below.
Out in the street there wasn’t the usual hustle and bustle. Instead, two men, fifty paces apart, stood looking at each other with the devil in their eyes. I didn’t understand it, but one second both were standing, and the next, one was laying dead in the dust and the echo of a gunshot was sent bouncing off the distant hills.
From that day forward I was painfully aware of the mortality of man. So it came to be that when Ma finally passed on from tuberculosis, I was not as badly affected as Tina or Pop. Instead I took on Ma’s responsibilities at the inn and kept right on living.
The town I was born in will be the town I’ll die in, just like Ma, God bless her. I’ve known that ever since I could understand the concept of death, ever since that day of witnessing the murder of a man by the hand of another.
People just don’t leave this place, Agua Fria. They come and they stay.
Except for one man, a nameless man who road in from the south side one hot, breathless Monday afternoon. . .
Kendra came bustling into the inn, skirts rustling like a thunder cloud. Her face was flushed and her eyes were filled with gossip. I looked up for only a second from my work—polishing away the smudges from glasses—to know that she was about to distract me good and well from what I should’ve been doing.
“I came as fast as I possibly could, Lizzy,” Kendra panted, falling against the countertop like a rag doll. She motioned for water and I filled the glass I had been polishing.
One long swig later, Kendra began her tale:
“I was hanging round the pub, watching the poker game, when little Tommy comes in and yells that there’s a rider coming up from the south. Says he’s a lone rider, kicking up dust on the finest horse west of the Mississippi. People started talking right, and most of the men folk say that he’s an outlaw, loose and running, wanted for murder and pillaging and all the likes. Paul”—the pub owner—“sent little Timmy to fetch the sheriff so he was ready to arrest the son of a—”
Both Kendra and I looked up as the inn door creaked open, the rusty hinges screaming out their protests.
A man stood outlined by the hot sun. He was tall and fit, wearing dust covered riding leather. Hanging at his left hip was a big iron gun, rusty and grit covered. As he walked up to the counter, the spurs of his boots clicked against the hard wood. Kendra and I watched as he took a seat before the counter and took off his hat, revealing a head of matted brown curls. His face was dirty and two days stubble shadowed his jaw. Kendra nudged me forward.
Chores forgotten, I left Kendra and came to stand before the stranger.
“What can I do you for?” I asked.
The stranger looked up into my face, sizing me up from the soles of my boots to the tip of my head. I knew I was nothing to look at, compared to Kendra I was as plain as a cheap kiddy saddle, but the man kept looking, none the less, and finally seemed to like what he saw.
“Whiskey,” he said simply.
I rested my hands on my hips. “This here inn doesn’t serve whiskey till the sun goes down.”
The man looked up and down the counter. No one else was there, like usual. Most preferred the pub, where alcohol was served even during the day.
“Do you offer board, then, or do I have to wait till sundown for that, too?” he asked finally.
“A quarter for the first night includes supper and any laundry you’ll need done,” I offered, ignoring his jibe. “Beyond that it’ll be a dime every time you bed down.”
“What about a horse?” he asked.
Knowing I’d already inflated prices enough (we hadn’t seen a good customer in weeks) I lowered the fee from the usual dime, “A nickel and you can keep him in the stable out back as long as need be.”
The stranger slapped down thirty cents as he got to his feet. He retrieved his hat and clicked out the front doors to go attend to his horse.
The minute he was done, Kendra was upon me.
“Do you reckon it’s true? Is he a murderer and such?” she asked, her heart pounding so hard in her breast that her chest was heaving.
“A good paying one if he is,” I said simply, returning to the glasses.
Kendra snorted. “Course he’d pay you good—I’d go about guessing that that’s blood money, taken from a cold corpse felled by the big iron that rested upon his hip.”
“Poetic words for an unlearned southerner like you,” I said, eyebrow cocked.
“Only right for a handsome outlaw such as him. Besides, you ain’t much more learned than me,” she countered. Seeing that I would not lend my ear to her love struck ramblings, Kendra left, aiming on going to bother the poor stranger as he took care of his horse.
I ducked beneath the counter, broom in hand, and swept away his dusty boot prints with the care and attention normally rewarded a task much tougher than cleaning. After the room was as spick and span as it had been before the stranger’s entrance, I went down the hall to see to it that the spare bedroom’s cot was made and fitted with clean linens.
Halfway through the task, the stranger came in, a hefty saddle bag over his shoulder and a long barreled rifle in his hand. Instead of speaking, he just tipped his hat in my direction as he dumped his pack and gun in the corner.
“Better take off your spurs,” I advised as I swept a rag over the bureau to get rid of the dust. “You’ll scratch up the floors and rip at the carpets.”
He obliged, removing the silver spurs and placing them on the bedside table.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said as I finished up by pulling a box of matches out of my coat pocket. I lit the only candle in the room and placed the match box on the bureau top beside the stubby old thing.
“My pleasure,” I said. “Supper’s in an hour; leave out your laundry and I’ll have it to you by morning.”
“Ma’am?” he voiced just as I was leaving.
I paused, hand on the door knob.
“I ain’t an outlaw like the whispers say,” he said quietly. “I’ll bring you and your folks no trouble.”
“Trouble’s bound to find you anyhow,” I replied before closing the door behind me.
Tina was behind the counter when I returned, the hem of her skirt muddied from her day spent at the trading post. After unloading all of the groceries I bid her up to her room so she could clean up before supper.
The inn, although lonely and quiet during the day, was a bustling place right about supper time. All the respectable folks that had no Mamas to cook them dinner came calling, wishing for some of Tina’s famous stew and Pop’s story telling.
The topic of discussion that night was mainly focused on the stranger, who hadn’t come out from his room despite the fact that he had paid for a meal.
“D’ya reckon Texas Red knows ‘bout ‘im yet?” Tina asked me quietly as we were pouring out bowls of stew.
“First off, young lady, correct your grammar, Ma would be furious to hear you talking like a red neck. Second off, Texas Red runs this town. No doubt he’s heard about our guest already,” I said before ducking beneath the counter to pass out stew.
Texas Red had come to Agua Fria three months before. He was an outlaw, a cold-blooded killer of twenty men. He and his gang lived outside of town but came in for food and drink and company every once in a while, when they weren’t busy looting or stealing. During their visits they spent most their time at the pub. Ma had been a good God fearing woman and had never given riff raff like that drink or board, and I had kept up the inn’s proud reputation. I would sooner die than let scum like Texas Red under Ma’s roof.
Halfway through supper Pop came home, covered in traveling grime. He had taken the old mule and our only horse to the next town over, which held nearly triple the population as Agua Fria, to sell our oldest steer. I had been hoping the past few days that he would come home with coins jingling in his pocket, but was disappointed to only find twelve dollars new to our name. That ox, however old, had at least been worth twenty.
“Would you like supper, Pop?” Tina asked, for she was better at hiding her disappointment than I was.
“That would be mighty welcome, Tina,” Pop said with a sigh.
Now too angry to deal with merry customers, I excused myself with a tray of stew and a small bottle of whiskey to go and see if our guest wanted supper to himself.
I had feared the whole time Pop had been gone that he would be cheated, and he had. Not exactly the toughest cookie in the jar, Pop had done as best as he could by Tina and I ever since Ma had died, but the man’s will had died with his wife.
The stranger’s door was closed, but his laundry had been neatly folded and set out in the hall. I took up the clothes—which smelled of camp fire smoke and horse—and replaced them with the tray of food. Rapping my knuckles lightly against the door, I made it known to him that supper was waiting before walking back to the kitchen to leave the man to himself, which was what he obviously desired.
“Don’t you want to hear Pop’s story, Lizzy?” Tina asked when she caught me halfway up the rickety back stairs. I had already taken care of the day’s laundry and was tired enough to sleep for a week.
“Naw, I’m going to bed,” I said.
“Suit yourself!” Tina said before racing back out to the front room.
I changed into my night gown and blew out the candle, crawling beneath the warm sheets. Before my head even hit the pillow I was out like a light, my ears echoing with the click, clack of silver spurs.
The next morning came too early for my liking. Knowing she had stayed up late the night before, I let Tina sleep in. Pop’s door was closed tight and I left it that way, still too upset to face my father. His twelve dollars wouldn’t get us far, especially with the prices rising like the sun in the east.
I was so deep in thought that I was taken by surprise to see our guest sitting alone at the countertop, busily cleaning his big iron gun with a spare piece of rag.
At seeing me he stopped in his work and said, “Thanks for the supper.”
“You paid for it,” I replied.
A half smile crept across his face. I could see that he had washed up the night before, getting rid of the dust and dirt of travel. His hair was nicely combed and his cheeks were smooth and slightly pink from just feeling the tip of a razor. Without his coat and chaps—which he had given to me for washing—he looked quite regular. I had always suspected that cowboys like him looked wild and lawless all the time, but I had guessed wrong.
“An oil cloth would get the grit off,” I said from where I was busily scrubbing away at last night’s dishes.
The man looked up from his gun, setting down the old rag. “Well, I ain’t got one of them.”
“I don’t either, but what I do have is some grease that’ll do just the same,” I offered. Before waiting for an answer I ducked back into the kitchen and retrieved the grease vat. Picking out a clean rag, I dipped a corner of it into the bucket and returned to the stranger.
“Where’d you learn a trick like that?” he asked, watching as I rubbed the corner of the rag in circular motions down the barrel of the big iron. Every mark disappeared beneath the cloth. The weapon was heavy in my hand. It seemed cumbersome and awkward to fire with, but it sure was intimidating.
“You learn a bit living this far west,” I replied. “Here, you finish this up, I’ve gotta get back to dishes,” I said, handing the gun back across the counter to its rightful owner. As the gun passed between us, our fingers touched for a heart beat’s time. I pulled away quickly, a blush spreading across my cheeks.
We carried on in silence until Pop came down, dressed in his work clothes.
“Who’s this, Lizzy?” Pop asked, even though he knew exactly who the stranger was because of all the gossip that had been flying around last night. He was just too scared to say it, seeing that any man that carried such a gun around surely knew how to fire it.
“I don’t actually know his name,” I said.
Pop turned to the stranger. “Gregory Banks, nice to meet you,” he said holding out his hand.
“You too, sir,” the stranger said without offering up a title in exchange.
Slightly taken aback, Pop grabbed a half loaf of bread and walked out, whistling, leaving me and the stranger alone once again. I cut two slices of toast and laid out a bowl of jam. We ate breakfast, silent as the grave, and once he was finished with his meal, the stranger stood.
“I’ll be back tonight. Can I leave my pack in the room?” he asked.
I nodded. “Let me get your laundry before you leave, it should be dry by now,” I offered.
After handing over the jacket and chaps, the stranger tipped his hat and left. Seconds after he was gone, Kendra burst through the doors a second day in a row.
“Did you talk to him anymore?” she asked.
“A little,” I replied.
“Well,” Kendra said, saddling up to a barstool. “I heard that Texas Red’s furious about hearing that an unknown outlaw’d come to his town without so much as a ‘how d’ya do?’”
“And what does that low life plan on doing about it?” I asked.
Kendra leaned forward conspiratorially, so much so that she was nearly falling out of the low cut bodice on her dress. “I reckon Red’ll come to town and challenge the stranger to a gun fight, one on one, on Main Street, like he did to that sun of a gun that came in here thinking he’d rob the town bank!”
My memories made me look down the nose at such duels. They were ugly and evil, and they only meant trouble. “Well, if that killer so much as steps a toe into my inn coming to look to bother one of my guests I’ll have his head,” I threatened.
Laughing, Kendra replied, “I always did admire your courage, Lizzy! Let’s just hope that you won’t have to prove it!”
The day went as usual, quietly rolling by. Tina came and helped me with dusting and cleaning. I fed the chickens and watered the horse. As promised, the stranger didn’t return until late. Supper was in full swing when the door flew open, silhouetting the stranger against the moonlight.
Silence fell upon the revelers as the stranger walked up to the countertop.
“Whiskey,” he told me quietly.
I poured the alcohol and handed over the glass.
Most everyone’s eyes were on the big iron strapped to the stranger’s hip. No one wanted to say anything that would cause the man to pull the thing.
The stranger finished his whiskey and reached into his pocket. “How much do I pay you for tonight?” he asked.
“A dime,” I answered. “Though I can take payment for however long you’ll be staying.”
Two dimes were laid down on the counter. “That should cover it,” he said.
“You’re not staying longer?” I asked.
The stranger glanced around, aware that everyone in the inn was eyeing him curiously.
“I’ll be gone the minute I do my business,” he said simply.
“What is your business?” I asked, curiosity finally getting the best of me.
The stranger met my gaze and held it, his light blue eyes blazing. “I’m an Arizona Ranger, and I’ve come for an outlaw called Texas Red. Won’t be long and I’ll be gone,” he answered, loud enough for the rest of the room to hear. He finished the remark by throwing back his whiskey. With that he got up and retired to his room, the sounds of his silver spurs against the hardwood the only noise.
Talk escalated the minute the sound of the door closing reached our ears. Everyone wanted to get in their piece. Seemed as if possessing that small nugget of truth gave them right to make up more wild rumors about the stranger.
I ignored the calls. My heart was beating a hundred miles an hour and it seemed as if I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs. As I had looked into the stranger’s eyes, something had changed within me. I had never been a girl like Kendra who had a different love every other day. In fact, I had never felt strongly about any man in town. But this Arizona Ranger, this wild, courageous man had finally broken down my defenses, which I had painstakingly built the day of Ma’s death. His gaze had stirred something within me so powerful that I did not have the strength to fight it.
“Lizzy!” Tina repeated.
I looked up. “Yes?”
“Pop wants another glass of whiskey!”
I poured the amber liquid and handed the cup off to my sister, all the while thinking of the stranger who had just signed his death wish. Twenty men had tried to take Texas Red, twenty men had made a slip, and twenty-one would be the Arizona Ranger with a big iron on his hip.
I got up early the next day, hoping to catch the stranger as I had the day before. I found it devastatingly hard to keep calling him the stranger, seeing as he was nearly as familiar to my heart as I was, but I had no other name to call him.
The front room was empty. I raced down the hall and knocked on the spare room’s door. At hearing no answer, I opened it a crack, but found it also to be deserted.
As a last ditch effort, I burst out the front door and rounded the inn until I came upon the stable.
“Hey!” I called.
The stranger looked up just as he was about to mount his horse. He didn’t say anything, just watched me, waiting for me to talk.
Chest heaving, I cried, “Don’t you want breakfast?”
A smile played at the stranger’s lips. “I’ve got some,” he said, patting his saddle bag.
“Where are you going?” I asked, trying to buy myself time with the stranger.
Instead of answering, he asked instead, “Would you like to come?”
Excitement bubbled up inside of me, threatening to burst forth in the form of song. I surprised myself. Never before had I put pleasure before work—but that had most likely been because I had never truly felt pleasure before.
“Yes,” I answered, breathless.
Ranger (since he obviously wasn’t going to tell me his name, I decided to call him that instead of “the stranger”) mounted his horse and steered the gentle mare out of the stable. He stretched out his hand to me, palm up.
Heart hammering, I grasped his hand and he hoisted me up onto the saddle behind him. I was sure he could feel the speed of my heart rate, as close together as we were.
I wrapped my arms tight around Ranger’s waist as he kicked his spurs into the horse’s flanks. As the creature picked up speed the wind increased, ripping at my hair, which I had left loose in my rush to get down stairs. Town disappeared behind us and with it, my responsibilities. Let Tina work for once, seeing as it was usually her who left on a whim.
As we blazed through the open prairie, more speed gathering in the horse’s legs, my grip on Ranger grew tighter and tighter until I was afraid of breaking his ribs.
“Hold tight!” he cried.
Suddenly the horse was flying over a felled log and we were air born. I let out a whoop and tightened my grip even more.
We rode till lunch, even then pausing only an hour before remounting. Ranger was a born rider. It felt as if we were flying as we blazed over the open ground. I ignored the soreness in my legs and butt, enjoying myself too much to waste time thinking of minute discomforts.
The sun was just beginning to sink into the horizon when we came upon a small stream. Ranger jumped down first, landing among the sweet smelling sassafras. I stayed in the saddle as he tied his horse to a nearby sapling. Once the task was finished, and a handful of grain had been given to the beast, the stranger turned his attention to me.
“Do you need help?” he asked.
I blushed. “I fear my legs are so sore I won’t make it down.”
“I’ll help you,” he offered, reaching up his hands. I swung one leg across the saddle and made to jump down with Ranger’s aid. But my boot became caught in the stirrup, and suddenly both of us were falling. Ranger landed among the sassafras, me on top of him. At the noise of my shriek of surprise, the horse shied away, whinnying.
“Graceful dismount,” Ranger said, laughing.
I rolled off of him, my face beet red.
“Are you hurt?” he asked, alarmed at my silence.
“Only my pride,” I said shakily.
Ranger laughed again. “I won’t tell.”
That embarrassment behind me, I laid back beside him. We were so close that our shoulders touched, a minor thing considering that I had shared the saddle with him nearly all day, but that had been necessary. This contact was voluntary. The sky, open and cloudless above us, seemed bigger and more endless than I had ever seen it before.
“It’s beautiful,” I whispered.
“You never get tired of views like that,” Ranger agreed.
Suddenly I was reminded of the world outside of just Ranger and me. “Are you really after Texas Red?” I asked.
“I’ve been tracking that scoundrel for two months,” he answered. “I won’t go back till I’ve gotten him—alive or dead, it doesn’t matter.”
“He’s a killer,” I said, hoisting myself up until I rested on my side, elbow dug into the soft ground for balance. “Every man who’s tried to take him so far has died,” I whispered.
Ranger mirrored my position so that we lay face to face. “Then I’ll have to break the tradition,” he said cockily, not taking his eyes from mine.
Once again I was caught up into their spell, unable to speak, unable to move. I did not protest as Ranger slowly leaned forward, his eyes still holding me captive, and gently brushed his lips against mine. I closed my eyes and reveled in the gesture. The kiss was short, not even a heart beat’s time, but it was sweet and loving none the less.
“I should take you home,” Ranger said suddenly.
I opened my eyes and watched as he stood and brushed the dirt off his chaps. He replaced his hat and went to retrieve the horse. Ten minutes later, we were back in the saddle, my arms tight around Ranger, my face buried in the soft leather of his jacket as we sped back into town.
As we came up to the inn, I narrowed my eyes at the shuttered windows.
“That’s odd,” I said.
“What?” Ranger asked.
“The inn’s quiet. It’s still supper time,” I answered.
Ranger hopped down from his horse and loosely secured the reins to the hitching post. After helping me down, we walked to the front door of the inn, not speaking, the only sound was that of Ranger’s silver spurs.
The doors opened and suddenly I was grabbed by two pairs of rough hands. Shouting followed, I adding my own screams of protests to the din, but when I saw the glint of pistol barrels in the candlelight, I fell silent, butterflies in my stomach.
Texas Red stood in the center of the room, which was filled up only with his gang of ruffians. I could see Tina and Pop, both behind the counter, not daring to move. Two of Texas Red’s nastiest gang members had me, both with their gun barrels thrust threateningly into my side.
Ranger had been left at the door. His hand lingered over the big iron on his hip, his eyes sizing up the competition.
“You the Arizona Ranger sent to capture me?” Texas Red asked. He flipped his pistol about in his hand, showing off the dexterity with which he handled the weapon.
Ranger’s eyes flickered over to where I was being held before saying, “Depends on who’s asking.”
Texas Red let out an evil laugh. “It’s me, you idiot!”
“You dirty rotten killer!” I yelled, struggling against my restraints. Texas Red made a motion and one of my captors slapped his dirty palm over my mouth to shut me up.
“In that case, why don’t we settle this someplace else,” Ranger offered once I was quiet. “There’s no need for these folks to be hurt.”
“Do you think I care about hurting the innocent?” Texas Red asked.
“No,” Ranger answered, “but I do.”
My heart did a somersault at the words.
Texas Red seemed to think about it. “Tomorrow, if you’re not as big of a coward as I think you are, you’ll come and fight me, one on one, with only one shot in your big iron,” he said. At his words, the men’s grip on my arms loosened. “If you don’t show, I’ll kill every man woman and child in this town,” Texas Red threatened. He took a few steps forward until he was in front of where I was being held. He lifted his pistol and pressed the muzzle of the gun into the soft flesh of my neck, just below my jaw. “Starting with her.”
The morning passed so quickly. Ranger stayed in his room, where he had disappeared to after Texas Red and his gang had left. Tina and Pop hadn’t left me alone since, always hovering at my elbow. I think they feared that Texas Red would suddenly appear and kidnap me. Tina hadn’t even bothered to ask me about my day spent alone with Ranger.
Word of the gun fight had spread like wild fire through Agua Fria. People had already flooded the inn, the only reason being that it had a perfect view of Main Street, where the duel was to take place.
Whereas everyone else couldn’t shut up, I hadn’t spoken since.
I was scared. Not for myself and what Texas Red would do to me, but for Ranger. During his time in Agua Fria, Texas Red had committed six of his twenty murders. I did not want Ranger to be the seventh man to die at the hand of that dirty, no good villain in this town.
Everyone suddenly grew silent. I looked up from the glass I had been polishing.
Ranger stood in the entryway to the hallway. He looked as fearsome and wild as he had on the first day he had come to the inn. On his hip hung the big iron gun, polished to a shine. His eyes scanned the crowded room, lingering on my face.
“Do you want a whiskey, son?” Pop asked.
Tina’s jaw dropped, abhorred that Pop would serve whiskey at eleven o’clock in the morning. Every man, woman, and child knew that this inn did not serve alcohol during sunlight hours.
“That would be much appreciated, sir,” Ranger said in his usual low, calm tone.
Everyone watched as Pop poured out the drink and handed it to me. I took the glass in both my hands and ducked beneath the counter. Ranger—and everyone else—followed me with his eyes as I crossed the room to come and stand before him.
I handed him the glass. He downed the teaspoonful of whiskey in one sip.
Knowing that this might be that very last time I saw this man alive, I did not stop myself from flinging my arms around Ranger’s neck the same time he brought his around my waist. Our lips met and it felt as if the world ended right then. I twined my fingers through the curls at the base of Ranger’s neck. This kiss was much different than the one from yesterday. It was filled with passion and longing from both sides.
Suddenly there was a pounding of hooves outside of the inn, and the whoops of Texas Red’s gang reached our ears. My blood ran cold.
Ranger let me go and handed me back the glass. He pulled off his hat and ran his fingers through his hair. Without looking at me, Ranger ducked past where I stood, crossed the inn’s front room, and walked out onto the street.
There was a mad rush as everyone crowded to the windows.
“Let’s get on with this!” Texas Red roared at seeing Ranger walked out of the inn. “I can’t spend all day waiting to kill you!”
The fact that everyone had just witnessed my kiss with Ranger did not matter. I just wanted this fight to be over, and I wanted Ranger to be the winner.
“Mark this day in history, boys,” Texas Red said as he advanced twenty feet, so as to put the place between him and Ranger at forty feet. “As the day Texas Red killed his twenty-first man!”
Silence. . .
No one dared move. . .
I didn’t even take the risk of breathing. . .
Then, within a second, the echo of the gunfire rolled through the town, but only one man was left standing to hear it.
Texas Red lay dead in the dirt and the Arizona Ranger stood, his big iron in his hand, aimed at the place Texas Red had been only a few seconds ago.
Seeing their leader dead, Texas Red’s gang spurred their horses and left the town, kicking up dust with how fast they fled. At their disappearance, the townspeople of Agua Fria burst forth from where they had hidden, cheering. Never again would the outlaw Texas Red plague our town.
I tried to elbow my way through the crowd. A group of men had gathered around Texas Red’s body. As I passed them I overheard Pop saying,
“The villain hadn’t even cleared leather!”
Finally I reached Ranger. Somehow the crowd of celebrating people had let the hero slip away, behind the inn, to the stables. He had retrieved his horse and was already mounted.
“Ranger!” I shouted.
He stopped mid swing, barely preventing himself from spurring the beast.
“Where are you going?” I asked, barely containing tears.
“I told you that I wouldn’t be too long in town,” he said quietly.
Speechless, I couldn’t think of anything to say. I reached up and laid my hand against Ranger’s leather chaps, as if by holding him I could keep him there.
He took my hand. He brushed his lips over my knuckles. “Thank you, ma’am, for everything.”
The Arizona Ranger dropped my hand, pulled on his horse’s reigns and spurred the beast to a sprint.
I stayed where I was as I watched my first love leave me.
As I said before, it takes a certain kind of woman to survive heartbreak. In truth, I had already done it, on the day Ma had passed away. So I guess you could say that my heart was used to being broken.
That night, after the town had thrown a party to celebrate the death of Texas Red, I lay in bed, thinking of the Arizona Ranger who had come to capture an outlaw, but had ended up capturing my heart, too.