I Love You
Grace awoke in the bed in the medical clinic. Dr. Mike and Dorothy had stayed with her while she rested.
"Grace, how did you sleep?" Dr. Mike asked as she placed a gentle hand on her forehead.
"Fine, thank you," she said as she slid to a seated position. "What are y'all still doing here?"
"I wanted to make sure you were ok," Dorothy said.
"Thank you. I'm fine," Grace said grabbing her friend's hand.
"Grace, what happened after you were rescued?" Dr. Mike asked as she took a seat on the edge of the bed.
"Nothing really," Grace said. "Cloud Dancing said that I was able to ride so they tied up those boys and we started out."
"But why did you ride with Hank?" Dorothy questioned.
"Well I wasn't gonna walk," she said and the two women laughed.
"No, I think she meant why didn't Hank take one of the Crowfelds?" Dr. Mike clarified.
"I don't know. You'd have to ask him."
"Wouldn't you have preferred to come back with Sully?" Dorothy said. "Or Cloud Dancing?"
"Hank was perfectly lovely," Grace said looking at her friends. Their faces held looks of disbelief.
"Hank Lawson?" Micheala asked.
"Yes. He's not brash and unfeeling," Grace said.
"He's not?" Dorothy inquired.
"No. He took good care of me," Grace said. "I owe him my life."
"Grace, I understand gratitude but..." Dorothy began.
"But you don't know what I've been through. You don't know what a blessing Hank was to me, Dorothy," Grace said, her voice stern. Dr. Mike and Dorothy share a shocked look.
"Grace, it's just that..." Micheala started.
"Listen, not all of us think that Hank is the devil in disguise," Grace said. "He saved me and he took care of me and I do owe him. Everything." She watched as her friends' eyes grew wide. "I'm tired now," Grace said as she slid down in the bed and covered herself up. She listened as their footsteps tapped across the floor and the door snapped shut.
She didn't understand why her two very best friends weren't willing to see Hank as the caring man that he apparently was? He didn't have to save her. He didn't have to take care of her but he did. He did it well; and she was more than grateful.
Grace hoped that she would have a chance to tell Hank how she felt although she wasn't sure herself. Feeling his steady heartbeat against her back and his lips pressed against the top of her head every so often, had made the traumatizing events of her ordeal seem like the far off past.But what did all of that mean? She didn't know how to explain why when she had hugged him this afternoon she felt warm and safe and at home in his strong arms. She couldn't think about it anymore. She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Hank woke up the next morning feeling lonely. His bedroom above the saloon was large and spacious. The wooden king size sat beside the window, the full length mirror that was riddled with tiny black spots stood by the door. His trunk, chest of drawers and small closet were in the furthest part of the room.
He lay in bed with his arm outstretched to the cold other side. He frowned. His dream world was so happy and sweet. Nothing like the real world. Hank rolled out of bed, grabbed a tan button up shirt, brown trousers, dark brown boots, a maroon waistcoat and a long maroon scarf with thin dark brown stripes.
He got washed up and dressed. He ran a soft bristle brush through his long blonde locks as he stood in front of his blotchy mirror. Hank sighed and headed downstairs. The stench of old whiskey, sweat and the favors his girls paid on the night previous stung his nose. He set a bottle of whiskey on the counter along with two shot glasses before he went out on the wooden porch. He lit the cigar he pulled from his waistcoat pocket and watched the town come to life.
As he puffed on his cigar, he noticed the sheriff Matthew Cooper coming toward him.
"Morning Hank," he said stopping at the bottom of the stairs.
"Matthew," he said taking a puff. "What's going on?"
"The judge is coming to town on the train next Friday." the blonde said.
"Why so long?" Hank asked.
"He couldn't get here until then."
"If everything goes right, they'll be hanged."
"Are you gonna help or not?" Matthew said annoyed.
"No," Hank said throwing his cigar into the trough. He had wanted to help. He had wanted to shoot the Crowfelds but he hadn't. Grace would never love him and she definitely wouldn't love a killer. Hell, she wouldn't even like a killer. So he passed. He stood leaning against a pillar of the porch as Jake approached the saloon.
"Are you still acting like a little girl?" the dark hair barber asked.
"Do you want a shot or not?" Hank said with a crooked smile as he turned and headed back inside. Jake followed and took residence on his regular stool. Hank poured the morning shot, they took them down and slammed the glasses on the counter top.
"You ready to eat?" Jake asked, rising from his stool.
"Yeah," Hank grumbled. He came from behind the bar and followed Jake down to Grace's Cafe. He was surprised to see her moving around so well. It warmed his heart, how strong she was. The two men took their regular seats and waited. Colleen Cooper was helping Grace today. She busied herself filling drink orders.
"Good morning," Grace said stopping in front of Hank and Jake's table. "What can I get y'all?"
"It's good to see you back here, Grace," Jake said with a smile. "And I'll take the regular."
"It's nice to be back," she said gently. "Hank?"
"Whatever he's having is fine," he said locking eyes with her. "Please."
"Of course," Grace said with a pleasant smile. Hank watched as she walked slower than normal but still gracefully back to the kitchen. A few minutes later she returned with their food.
Grace placed a plate in front of each man. Hank smiled up at her. And she smiled back. He enjoyed his meal but when he was done he didn't leave. Jake bid him goodbye and went back to work and Hank watched as the tables started to empty.
"Hank Lawson, what are you still doing here?" Grace asked as she took the seat once occupied by Jake Slicker.
"I wanted to talk to you," he said smoothly.
"What about it?" Graced asked.
"Grace..." Hank sighed, "don't make this harder than it has to be."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Why did you hug me?"
"I wanted to thank you."
"You already had," he said.
"You deserved a proper one for all you done for me," she said.
"Same thing anybody would've done," Hank said looking cutting his eyes at her.
"But it wasn't just anybody," Grace said grabbing his hand, "it was you." he squeezed her dainty fingers with his cragged hand. "So, I needed you to know that I appreciated it."
"I..." he started again.
"What are you..." she started but he cut her off with a deep kiss. Grace was taken aback by the strength and apprehension she felt in his kiss. It was deep and passionate but it was also unsure and hesitant. When she felt him start to pull away, she put her hand on his cheek and stopped him.
Hank couldn't believe it. She hadn't pushed him off or slapped him. She kissed him back. It was warm and steady. Her kiss made him feel balanced and brand new. He finally broke their kiss. When he opened his eyes, she was sitting there smiling at him.
"What?" he asked, his voice husky.
"Why did you kiss me?" she asked her hand still in his.
"I wanted to," he said. "I don't make it habit of asking first."
"It felt right," he said.
"It did?" she said sweetly.
"It did. I've wanted..." he stopped.
"Look, I don't do this kind of stuff," Hank said avoiding her eyes.
"You can tell me anything," Grace said holding his large hand in hers.
"I've wanted to do that for a long time," he whispered. "I...damn."
"It's ok," she assured him.
"I love you."
"Nothing," he said pulling his hand from hers, he rose from his chair and headed back toward the Gold Nugget as quickly as he could.