Author: LaraMee Deux
"Buck, come on now. I asked you real nice to let it be."
"Ah, c'mon Kid, let me see it."
"I've already got it wrapped, I'm not going to unwrap it just because you want to make fun of me."
"Ah, hell, I don't need t' see what y' got Casey. I can make fun of y' anytime, anywhere. You're an easy target Kid."
"Oh real funny," J.D. groused and walked away from his friend.
Most of the time he could handle Buck's tendency to make jokes at his expense, but this was not one of those times. He was already nervous about giving his gift to the young woman he had begrudgingly come to realize he cared about. He was also nervous about being with Casey Wells during the Christmas party. Everyone in town seemed to be in attendance, and there was bound to be dancing. He would never admit it to anyone, but he couldn't dance. The last thing he needed was to have Buck making fun of his choice of gifts, his lack of abilities with the fairer sex, or anything else for that matter..
Looking over his shoulder, he saw that Wilmington had gotten sidetracked by one of the young women from the town. Quickly he moved to the big Christmas tree he had helped to set up earlier that day and slipped the meticulously wrapped gift beneath it. Then going to the little buffet that had been set up on one side of the saloon, he looked over the offerings and quickly filled a plate. Feeling someone nearby, he turned to find Wilmington standing a few feet away, watching him, the young woman nowhere to be seen. "Buck, go away. I told you, I ain't in the mood."
"Ah hell, Kid, I'm sorry. I didn't mean t' hurt your feelings." The big ladies man seemed genuinely upset with his earlier actions.
"Yeah, right." Dunne had seen Wilmington pretend such emotions before, so wasn't certain he was buying into it.
"Hey! Now, I'm tryin' to apologize. Seems t' me the least you could do would be t' accept that apology."
"Fine, I accept your apology. Now, go away." He walked away from the table, taking his loaded plate to one of the smaller tables nearby. He sighed when he saw that Buck was following him. Hooking a heel around the other chair's leg, he tried to prevent the man from joining him. Wilmington simply yanked the seat harder and nearly pulled the younger man out of his own seat. Straddling the wooden chair, he sat down and began perusing JD's plate. Dunne pulled the plate out of his friend's reach.
"So…when's your lady love arrivin'?" The former sheriff asked with a grin.
"Casey and Miss Nettie are supposed to come in around six." Wilmington pulled out his pocket watch and nodded, "gives y' about another half hour t' sweat through your suit." He grinned and slapped the young man on the shoulder.
"Buck, don't you have women to chase…angry husbands to hide from… something to occupy your mind with other than me?"
"Ah, c'mon now, Kid -"
"Hey JD," Wilmington was interrupted by a new voice. Both men turned to find Casey Wells standing next to their table, grinning broadly. JD gulped, taking in the vision before him. Casey was dressed in a dark red dress, looking every inch a young lady. The little tomboy who could outride, outshoot and outspit any man was nowhere to be seen.
Remembering their manners, the two men stood, JD quickly removing his bowler. "Hi Casey," he said replied. "You…uh…you're early."
She looked at him with a flash of hurt and anger, but only said, "Aunt Nettie wanted t' come on in so we could get a room at the hotel. That way we can stay later."
Buck decided to teach by doing. Taking her hand he brushed the back of it in a quick kiss. Straightening, he said "Miss Wells, may I say that I have never seen you looking lovelier than you do this evening."
Jerking her hand away, she said, "your mustache tickles, Buck! What are y' doin' anyway?" She rolled her eyes and continued. "You best be savin' that stuff for them fancy women you're always chasin'."
JD chuckled, watching Buck deal with being so soundly rebuked for his actions. He knew the big gunman well enough to know that Wilmington expected any and all women to fall quickly under his spell. Eventually the man would realize what JD had discovered some time earlier. Casey Wells was not the same as other women.
"Well, Casey," Buck said in his best hurt voice, "some ladies kinda like th' way my mustache tickles."
"Reckon some women like t' be chewed on, but I ain't one of 'm," she retorted.
Laughing hard now, JD slapped the older man on the shoulder, nudging him away at the same time. "Buck, reckon y' ought'a go find one a them ladies that'll appreciate your mustache."
Ignoring the young man's hint, Buck said, "aw I'd hate the idea a leavin' you kids sittin' here on your own."
"Buck," JD said through gritted teeth. "Casey and I will be fine on our own."
"Well, that ain't no fun, boy, sittin' here, just th' two of y'. Young folks ought'a be joinin' in on th' fun…not just sittin' in a corner by themselves."
"Buck," Dunne's tone was one of warning now.
Throwing his head back in broad laughter, the big man bowed to the young couple and made his exit. They would hear his laugh ringing across the room for several minutes.
Holding the other chair out for Casey, JD said belatedly, "you…uh…you look real nice tonight Casey."
Dropping to the wooden chair, the young woman pulled it out from under his hand, nearly causing him to fall. "It's 'bout time you noticed."
"Would you…would you like something to…to eat," he stammered.
"Why didn't y' ask me that 'fore I sat down?" She complained.
Exasperated, the town sheriff grumbled through gritted teeth, "I was offering to get you something."
"Oh," she said with a confused look. "Well, since you're offerin', sure I guess so. I'd like somethin' to drink, too."
With a nod, he moved away to the buffet. He returned a few minutes later to find her absently picking through his plate while she watched some of the young couples in the middle of the room, dancing to music from the piano. Looking toward where the piano sat, he wondered if he could pay the man playing Christmas tunes to stop before Casey got any ideas. Setting the plate before Casey, along with a glass of punch, he returned to his seat and rescued his own plate from her. At this rate, everyone in the town was going to have a go at his food before he got the chance.
"Thanks, JD," the young brunette said with a smile. She began shoveling the food in her mouth as if she hadn't eaten for days.
Suddenly realizing what she was doing, and that the young man beside her was staring at her open-mouthed, she dipped her head in embarrassment.
"Sorry," she said softly. "I got so busy getting' ready to come in for this shindig that I forgot to eat."
Smiling, Dunne said, "that's okay. Reckon it does take some folks longer to get ready than others."
"What's that s'pposed t' mean?" She glared at him.
"Nothing," he sighed in exasperation. The girl could never just let him say his piece. Sometimes she was worse than Buck, and he almost wished he didn't have to talk at all when they were around. "I just meant that…well…when folks get busy, sometimes they forget to eat."
"Oh," she stared at him for another moment, but seemed satisfied. With a bit more decorum she returned to eating.
JD tried to extend the food portion of the evening as long as possible, wanting nothing more than to avoid what would happen next. But, finally, he took the plates away. Coming back to sit down, he said, "nice party."
Watching as more couples took the impromptu dance floor, JD decided that he had two options. Taking the less painful one, he said, "I've…uh…got something for you."
"Oh yeah? What?"
"Wait here," he smiled nervously and left the table. Going to the Christmas tree, he looked around for any sign of Buck. Wilmington was preoccupied with not one, but three young women. Sighing with relief, JD hurriedly retrieved the package he had stashed under the fir boughs and returned to the young woman. Sitting it down before her he said in a trembling voice, "Merry Christmas Casey."
"JD!" Her smile threatened to split her face. "What is it?"
She eyed the good sized box wrapped in red paper tied closed with a green ribbon.
"Open it," he was smiling now, partially in relief and partially in excitement. He nudged it a little closer to her.
"Well, wait a minute," she slipped from her chair and hurried over to the tree, nearly tripping over her hem. Behind her JD shut his eyes, visions of the first time he had seen her in a dress…and her bloomers…flashed through his mind. Managing to get to the tree and back again, she sat a box before him. This one was wrapped in green and tied closed in red ribbon. Both teenagers had to laugh at the sight.
Returning to her seat, Casey said, "now we've both got something to unwrap."
"Well, looky here," a deep voice rang out behind them.
With a grimace, JD groaned, "Buck…go away. Please."
"Aw kid, " the big man drawled in a hurt tone. "Y' mean you'd deny a fella th' chance t' enjoy th' holiday in th' bosom of his friends?"
"I'm sure you can find a willing bosom to enjoy the holiday in," Casey said sharply.
Neither man could resist, breaking down in laughter at her quip.
Buck swooped into a bow and said, "well, there are a few young ladies willin' t' spend th' ev'nin' with me. Reckon y'all should take it as a compliment that I'd prefer t' spend m' time with y'all."
"Well, you reckoned wrong, Mister Wilmington," Casey said before JD could even open his mouth. "Now it seems t' me that Esther Collins is throwin' quite a few looks this way. Reckon she ain't making doe eyes at me or JD."
"Miss Esther?" Buck looked around quickly, finally spotting the young woman across the big room. She was standing with a small group of available young women, giggling coyly. Turning back to Casey, he said, "you sure? Looks t' me she ain't even aware I'm here."
"Oh, Buck," Casey said, "she's playin' hard t' get. Soon as you turn away, she's practically droolin' over y'."
"Really? I mean, y' ain't funnin' me, are y' Casey?"
"It's th' honest truth," the girl said solemnly. She and JD
watched as the big man strolled across the room, making a direct path toward the giggling group. Casey turned to JD with a smile. "I had my fingers crossed, so it don't count."
Grinning back, Dunne said, "he finds out you fibbed, though, it ain't gonna matter if you had your fingers crossed or not. He's gonna be madder than a wet hen."
"So be it," she shrugged her shoulders. "Now, seems t' me we got some unwrappin' t' do." Winking at him, she began to untie the bright ribbon holding the paper closed.
JD busied himself with his own gift, finding it hard to undo the ribbon, since his hands were trembling. 'This is worse than trying to face down a whole gang of outlaws', he thought to himself. 'Don't think I was this nervous when I was trying to spring Buck out of jail and those hired guns came up on me'. Finally he worried apart the knot and pulled open the paper, then paused before continuing. Looking across the table, he found Casey watching him. Smiling shyly at one another, they both opened the boxes. And then they began to laugh. Each had bought the other a new bridle; each the twin to the other. Looking at one another, the laughter grew louder, until they were wiping tears from their eyes.
"Well…" JD gasped out, "guess we know…the other…one likes it!"
"Yep…" Casey replied. "But there's…more in…your box…JD."
"Yours, too," the young man smiled shyly once again. They both found a smaller package tucked into the corner of their box. These were different, JD's was flat and soft, Casey's a second gift box. Opening the second gift, Dunne found four muslin handkerchiefs. Each one had his initials painstakingly sewn in the corner, each a different color.
He looked up with a smile. "Did you do this yourself?"
"Yeah," she said with a mixture of pride and little girl shyness. "Took me nearly two months, Mary 'bout had a conniption teachin' me t' do the needlework." Blushing, she looked down at the box in her hands. Opening it, she found a small brooch, silver with a small cameo in the middle.
"Ohhhhh, JD…" she could barely say the words. "It's…it's beautiful."
Looking up, there were tears threatening to spill from her dark eyes.
"Would you…would you put it on me?"
With fingers that barely managed to work, the young man timidly pinned the brooch on her dress. When he finished, she fingered it tenderly.
"I've never had anything so beautiful in my life." Impulsively she stretched across the table and kissed him quickly on the cheek. "Thank you JD."
"Y-you're welcome, Casey," he stammered.
"Do y' mind if I go show Aunt Nettie?" She paused, "I wanna show her the bridle, too."
"Naw, go ahead. I'll…uh…get us some more punch."
With a bright smile that lit her face, Casey Wells hurried across to where her aunt was conversing with Mary Travis and Gloria Potter.
JD sensed a presence nearby and sighed. It was Buck. He knew beyond a doubt that it was Buck. Turning, he found the big man standing there with a broad grin on his face. JD frowned when he saw something he hadn't expected in the big man's expression. Pride. With a wink, the gunman leaned toward him. "Nice job, Kid." Laughing he ruffled the younger man's hair lightly, then turned and walked away. Miss Esther was clinging to his arm.
Straightening his hair back up, JD smiled at the retreating back of his best friend. Maybe Christmas was a time for miracles, after all.
Happy Holidays to all, and may you get your fondest wishes in the year to come