DARK TRAIL HOME

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CHAPTER FIFTY

The Midwinter Celebration was a huge bonfire in the churchyard at the end of town. There were carolers in the street, street performers walked around on stilts, there was a fire dancer, sword swallower and a magician, tables in the churchyard. There were bright banners strung on porch posts. The main street was cleared and roped off for a dance area with lanterns hung from posts and tree limbs.

The sheriff and five deputies patrolled the brick street, walking around with sawed-off shotguns as well as sidearms. The townsfolk parked their wagons on the side streets or in alleyways. Shops stood with doors open to encourage foot traffic. Tyree, Mark and two of Mark’s town friends watched from Turnbow’s doorway as children drew chalk hopscotch squares on the boardwalk. A small gang of noisy boys chased a hoop along the street with their dogs following.

“Mark, Tyree!” Marcie called them from the end of the boardwalk. “Come help carry this food to the tables.”

All four of the young men hurried to assist with unloading the Malone wagon.

The music was becoming more lively as they wandered back to the main street.

Afternoon shadows lengthened like a cat stretching itself. Snowflakes drifted down, sparkling in the firelight. There were pots of fire at various points along the street. The lanterns offered a warm glow, the pots of fire a place to warm hands.

“The dance is starting up. Come on.”

He didn’t need to dance, just having Marcie beside him was enough. When she flashed him that green-eyed smile, he felt the warmth of it to his boots. She was wearing a green dress, one of the few times she’d worn anything other than boy clothes. “You look like sunshine.” He told her.

He let her lead him into the center of the crowd. She laid a hand on his upper arm and pulled his hand to her waist. “Don’t step on my feet now, I’m not wearing boots,” she giggled.

“I’ll do my best.”

She raised an eyebrow in surprise after they danced through two songs.

“You actually know how to dance. Have you had lessons?”

“Oh, yes ma’am. I went to all the best schools.” He smirked. “I don’t think I have had a more lovely partner than yourself, however.”

“Oh, what were the names of these schools?” She laughed.

“Well, there was the Rosebud saloon in Wichita, the Springboard tavern in Springfield, the Mud Flat watering hole in some mining camp in Denver and a big hacienda in Mexico. All the finest establishments.”

“How dreadful.” She laughed out loud.

His heart melted at the sound. “They were pretty dreadful. I would rather spend my entire life right here than ever be in one of them again,” he agreed.

He took her hand and held it against his lips, closing his eyes, smelling the sweetness of her flesh. “Marcie, I hope to have a homestead soon, I just need to scrape up some cash for some tools and supplies. After that, I am going to build a nice cabin. Can you imagine yourself living in such a place?”

“I told you already, Tyree. Remember? I drew it out in the dirt, an enormous living room and a kitchen with an upstairs for the bedrooms.”

“That’s too big to start with. Could you be happy with something smaller for a few years?”

She leaned back and stared at him. He was solemn as he searched her eyes. Their talks had become more serious each time they got together. He had been so careful not to make promises he couldn’t keep.

“Are you suggesting?”

“I’m asking you to marry me. Forgive me if I’m not very good at it.”

“I won’t be answering you, Tyree. You’ll have to ask me properly. But I’ll be thinking about it.”

Properly? What did that mean?

“Tyree Allison. I know we have talked all around this but there is a proper way to do things. If you don’t know how, then I think you might ought to talk to Joel. He knows more than both of us.”

“Oh god. Do you have any idea how much he’d like to rip my head off sometimes?”

“Yup. He tells me all the time. You and Mark both. But you don’t just ask a girl to marry you. You have to be ready to prove you can do more than dance and kiss.” She snickered at his puzzled expression.

What the hell am I getting myself into?

“Marcie. Before I go talking to my bossman. Is there anything you haven’t talked to your brother about?”

She laughed at him. “Yes, Tyree. I left out a couple of things. Now go on and let some of these boys have a dance with me. You’ve been hogging me all evening.”

He focused on her eyes. The warm softness of her made his knees weak. There were a handful of boys and young men trying to get her attention, and he’d hogged her long enough. He shook his head and smiled. “Okay Miss Malone. I spose that’s only fair.” He had a lot to think about now that he’d stuck his foot in his mouth. Mark bumped his shoulder as he stepped away from her. “Cider?”

Tyree took the glass and tasted it. “Good stuff. Not nearly strong enough but still good.”

Four young women surrounded Mark and Tyree as they stepped to the edge of the dancers.

“I suggest you ask one of these ladies to dance. I am sure they are all waiting their turn.” Mark chided him.

Tyree snorted. “Looks to me like they want to dance with you.”

Someone poked him, and he found Katherine smiling at him and cringed. He remembered the last time he had seen her. Marcie had avoided him for a week.

“Why are you so standoffish Tyree? Didn’t we have fun last time?”

“Things changed since then,” he said somberly.

“Oh, I saw you with Marcie Malone. I saw the looks betwixt you. Don’t worry, I won’t tell your secrets. I just want a dance.”

“I ain’t scared of no secrets,” he lied. He lied to himself too when his body responded as she let her finger drift down his arm and tipped her face toward him. He stepped away from her and turned away feeling guilty.

The temperature was dropping when he stepped near the fire pot beside the porch of the saloon and leaned against the post. Looking around the street, he tried to find where Marcie had disappeared. As his eyes scanned the crowd, he noticed a horse standing across at the livery stable. It was dark there, but he was able to make out the brindled coat, that big roman nose with the patch of white over one eye. Clem Kettering had ridden that horse for years. He would know it anywhere.

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