Main Characters: Chris, JD, Buck
Note: This is sort of a companion piece to Home Alone... With Child, and a response to the “Much Like Chicken and Dumplings” challenge located at the Blackraptor’s Chris Larabee Fan Fiction page.
Webmaster Note: This story was formerly hostead at another website and was moved to blackraptor in June 2012.
JD Dunne slumped back in his chair, his eyes focused on something only he could see. Chris Larabee watched him for a few minutes, trying to decide if he was concerned enough about what was bothering the Kid to ask. They were the only two of the seven in town; the blond had broken three ribs in a bar fight, leaving him to watch as the others rode out after a bunch of bank robbers. That meant he was the only “big brother” available for their youngest member to confide in.
With an internal sigh, the man in black said softly, “what’s the matter JD?”
“Casey,” Dunne said shortly.
“Casey?” Larabee repeated.
“She drives me crazy sometimes!”
“What did you do now?” Larabee said with a knowing smile.
“Nothing!” The younger man yelled. Coloring with embarrassment, he quieted and continued. “I just don’t understand her Chris. She just...she...” he spluttered to a stop, unable to articulate through the anger and frustration that radiated off him like heat off the desert floor. “She just makes me crazy!”
A knowing smile tugged at the corners of Larabee’s mouth, but he managed to keep his face relatively straight. “Women tend to do that son.”
JD shook his head and fidgeted in his seat for some time as he tried to make sense of things. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand them.”
“Man ain’t meant to understand a woman, Kid. Just ain’t in the cards.”
“Then why even bother with them?” His innocence shown through, quickly covered over with a blush and grin. “Well, besides...you know.”
Shaking his head, Larabee said, “just because they make a man crazy don’t mean they ain’t worth being with.”
Sighing, the younger man said, “still don’t make any sense.”
Chuckling, the man in black motioned to Inez. After the pretty young saloon manager had delivered two beers to their table, he continued. “Once you relax and realize that you’re never going to ever understand them anymore than you did the moment you met, you learn to just enjoy being with them.”
Dunne saw the faraway look in Chris’ hazel eyes and heard the longing in his voice. He considered asking his friend what had crossed his mind, but realized that he already knew. The specter of Sarah Larabee had made her presence known. It was several minutes before the gunman said, “women are amazing creatures. Just keep that in the back of your mind, JD, and you’ll learn to enjoy their company and endure the frustration. They’ll be the first to tell you, too, that we’re just as hard for them to understand as they are for us.”
“That couldn’t be!” Dunne yelped.
“Oh yes it is, son.” Without thinking about it, Chris began relating the memories that came to mind. “You need to recognize that if you’re ever going to make a go of it with Casey, or any other pretty young thing that you catch in your sites along the way...”
“C’mon, pard, what’s holdin’ you up?” Buck Wilmington called through the closed door. He and Chris had been in town for two days, and he hadn’t had much luck with the ladies. Finding out that there was going to be a social on the third night had given the big brunet renewed hope. The fact that his best friend of two years was wasting time “dudeing up” was frustrating him. His third call through the thin boarding house door got results. “Buck, if you don’t shut up, I’m putting a bullet right in the middle of that damned mustache!” He had been riding Wilmington about his facial hair since the other man had begun growing it a few weeks earlier.
“Stud, if y’ don’t hurry up, no amount a prettyin' up is gonna change the fact that all the good lookin’ fillies will be taken.”
The door finally creaked open to reveal the young blond. Buck whistled at the sight. Chris had on a deep red shirt that even the gunman had to admit looked pretty spectacular on the blond. The pale blue jeans were worn but clean, and his gray boots had been polished. His gray hat had been brushed, and the silver on his belt buckle and string tie clasp gleamed.
“Well stud,” Larabee said with a cocky grin, “you gonna stand there ogling me all night, or can we go?”
Hooting with laughter, the bigger man led off down the hall. They walked with quick, easy strides toward the sound of fiddle and guitar music. Entering the saloon, which had been cleaned up and turned into a wonderland of glowing lanterns and paper streamers, they found tables lining one wall, filled with all types of food. Buck steered them in that direction as much for the knot of young women gathered at one end as for the heavily laden tables.
Chris let his friend drag him across the room, pushing his hat off his head to hang down the middle of his back. While Wilmington began flirting with the giggling young women, Chris headed toward the food. It wasn’t that he didn’t find the young women attractive, but first things first. Filling a plate full of meat, bread and potatoes, he moved to the bar and got a beer. Both hands full, he looked for a seat, settling on one a little off from the crowd. Slouching into the seat, he set to making short work of the food and drink. Several minutes later, he leaned back with a satisfied belch. Catching sight of his friend, Larabee chuckled as he saw that Buck was trying to divide his attention between three of the young ladies.
“It looks like your friend’s got his hands full.”
With a start, the young man turned toward the soft voice...and found himself staring into a pair of dark blue eyes that took his breath away. He didn’t realize he had been staring until she ducked her head, her face growing red at his frank gaze.
“I’m sorry, that was very bold of me,” the auburn-haired beauty said. “We haven’t even been introduced.”
Used to prostitutes and women as untamed as he, Chris found her sudden shyness quite endearing. He stood, reached out and took her hand, holding it as if it were made of porcelain. “My name’s Chris...Chris Larabee.”
Her smile returned, and she looked up at him once again. “Hello Mr. Larabee. My name’s Sarah Connolly.”
“Very nice to meet you, Miss Connolly.”
“Very nice to meet you, Mr. Larabee. Have you been in town long?”
“No ma’am, just passing through.”
“Oh,” the disappointment was clear in her voice.
For reasons he wasn’t completely sure of, Chris found himself adding, “of course I’m not in a hurry to leave...should something catch my interest enough to stay.” He favored her with a smile that she would tell him later nearly sent her to the floor in a faint.
Smiling once again, she said, “Well, I do hope you enjoy your visit.” That said, she excused herself and went to talk to an older couple who had just entered the party.
Chris sat down again, this time in stunned silence, watching her go. What had happened? He had thought she was interested in talking to him...almost flirting even. Had he said or done something to offend her? He began to think so as, over and over again, she glanced his way, then turned quickly away. She would float from one person to another, making small talk, and all the while she would be sending fleeting glances in his direction. Often when she looked away, she would giggle, leaving him to wonder if it was at his expense. It became almost a game after a while; Chris discovered that if he watched her out of the corner of his eye, pretending to be engrossed in the crowd, she stared longer. Soon he was joining in the game, looking away when she turned in his direction.
Finally it became too much for Buck. Leaving his trio of potential conquests, he strode over to his friend. Leaning down, he whispered in exasperation, “son if y’ don’t get over there ‘n at least dance with that girl, I’m gonna be ashamed t’ call y’ m’ friend.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, right. I’ve been watchin’ you and that sassy little filly makin’ eyes at each other. Get on over there and ask her to dance.”
“Buck,” Chris said softly. He moved in his seat so he could look around the other man. “You just go on over there and take care of your own business. I’ll handle mine my own way.”
Throwing his hands up in a show of exasperation, the ladies man stalked off. Returning to the comely trio, he vowed to give up on the blond. Chris Larabee was hopeless when it came to women.
Chris continued to watch Sarah as she made her way around the room, coyly watching him as she did. He wanted to go up to her, to take her in his arms and dance. How could he admit to Wilmington why he didn’t though? He was afraid, pure and simple. He had little experience with ladies; spending most of his time with whores and such. The closest he had ever come to being with a lady was the time he had spent with Ella Gaines, and she would have been as out of place at the dance as he felt himself. She could make a show of being a lady, but deep in his heart the young gunman knew she was little more than a whore herself. That was ultimately what had driven him from her arms. Ella was fun, and they had shared many wild times. He knew that there was no future with her, though. this one, this Sarah Connolly, was different. Suddenly Chris came to a realization that set his heart pounding wildly. He was in love with Sarah.
It became far too much for the young blond, and he strode quickly from the room. Managing to make it to the boardwalk just beyond the door, he leaned against the upright. Pulling out a cheroot, he lit it, inhaling deeply as he fought to calm his rattled nerves. He could square off against three or four drunken cowboys and never miss a step, but let him come up against a tiny little girl with a sweet, innocent smile, and he fell apart. That was it, he would just leave the blasted social and return to his room. He’d have to put up with Buck’s teasing for a few days but if it got too bad, he’d just threaten to shoot him. It would be better this way, he’d just go back to the room –
His heart jumping into his throat, Chris turned to find the object of his frustration and longing standing at the open doorway. “Miss Connolly.”
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine miss, why do you ask?”
“You left so quickly, I thought you had become ill or something.” She moved closer, so close he could smell her freshly scrubbed skin and perfumed hair. “I was afraid that you might have needed some help.”
“No miss...I’m fine,” he repeated, feeling uncomfortable and a little foolish. Why had he suddenly become so tongue-tied?
“That’s good then,” she said, turning to go back into the party.
“Miss Connolly?” He blurted out her name.
Turning back, she said, “yes, Mr. Larabee?”
“I...uh...that is...would you like to dance?”
The lantern light captured her smile, and sent his heart pounding once more. Managing a smile in return, he tossed the nearly forgotten cigarette into the street and took her arm, leading her back into the party...
Chris shook himself out of his reverie to find JD watching him quietly. He considered telling the young man more of his tale, but decided that he had shared enough.
Shaking his head, Dunne said, “I don’t believe any of that Chris! You, acting like some scared little rabbit around a woman? I’ve watched you face off against all sorts of robbers and criminals and never even break a sweat. You’re just making this up to make me feel better.”
Laughing, that carefree laugh he shared so infrequently with his friends, Larabee said, “there’s scarier things in this world than the bad element, JD. Realizing that you’re in love is one of them.” He paused and then smiled wistfully. “But once you face that fear...well Kid, there’s nothing like it.”
The youngest member of their group shook his head, still disbelieving the scenario. Chris Larabee could never be afraid of anything. Dunne sat back, sipping his drink thoughtfully. Despite his doubts as to the older man’s truthfulness, he began to associate the story to his own feelings about Casey. As if his thoughts had brought her there, JD looked up to find the young girl staring down at him.
“Casey!” He yelped. Belatedly he leapt to his feet.
“Mrs. Potter told me she saw you comin’ in here. Thought I’d come see if y’ wanted t’ go ridin’.”
“Uh...” he looked back down to where Chris sat watching them, a small bemused smile on his face.
“Go ahead JD. It’s quiet around here, reckon I can keep a lid on things, busted ribs and all.”
“You sure? I mean, it’s my job an’ all.”
“Go,” he shooed the young man away from the table. “Take the afternoon off. If you want to make yourself useful, go check on my place while you’re out. It’s on the way to the swimming hole.” His handsome face split into a wide grin.
“Well...okay,” he smiled and started off, trying unsuccessfully to dodge Casey as she punched him in the arm.
“Hey, Kid,” Larabee called after him. As the younger man turned back, he said, “just pretend you’re squaring off against Jack Averil’s bunch.” He laughed as the young sheriff’s face reddened and the young woman beside him turned a questioning look from one to the other. Watching them leave, he settled back in his chair. Suddenly he could hear far away laughter and the soft strains of music. His smile softened, his eyes gazed into a distance that had nothing to do with the present. Slipping back into the memory of that long-ago dance, he could suddenly smell a familiar perfume, and feel a diminutive body lean toward him as they twirled around the crowded dance floor. It was a dance that would continue for many love-filled years; one that continued still, if only in his mind and heart.
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