Thanks to my betas Suzanne and Margaret. Special thanks to Margaret for inviting Emily into her universe, and allowing the Eliots to play in mine.
“Are you ready to start talking about the wedding again?”
Johnny was settled on a rattan sofa roomy enough for both of them. Emily had padded it with extra cushions and pulled it out onto the patio once the weather was warm enough. Now she tucked herself under his arm, on the side away from his broken rib and his nearly healed incision.
She didn’t miss Beth and Katie quite as much now that Johnny was strong enough to be out of his sickroom for more than a few minutes at a time. Finally, she was no longer just his nurse, and the two of them were rediscovering their old, easy ways.
“Do we have to?” Johnny groaned, then lifted his face to the midmorning sun and closed his eyes. ”I s’pose we should at least pick a date.”
“Do you think we could time it so Katie might be here?”
“In May? Does that give you enough time to plan a wedding the way you want it?”
She hesitated; she hadn’t shared her change of heart with him yet. “It should be plenty of time. I don’t think I want anything formal at all, now.”
“Why not?” He opened his eyes and tilted his head, frowning.
Emily looked away from him. “I’ve been thinking about it. Glen said…that day in town he said that since I was…attacked, no decent man would have me. He said I was ruined. If other people think like that, they’ll be scandalized by a formal—”
Johnny interrupted, his voice firm. “You were not ruined, and anybody who thinks so is just plain wrong. Look at me, honey. You aren’t ruined, and nothing that happened should change our plans.”
He smiled a little. “Plenty of people are already scandalized, you know, because of me. So the way I figure it we’re even.” His smile grew. “No, maybe not. I’m a half-Mexican ex-gunfighter. I’m a lot more scandalous than you.”
She tried to smile back. “I guess with all that’s happened, it’s just sort of been spoiled for me.”
”Oh, phffft. Don’t let it be spoiled, now. I want this wedding to be everything you dreamed it would be. If you want it formal, we’ll make it formal. Whatever you want, Emily. This is for you.”
“It isn’t really, though, is it? It’s for other people. That’s the problem. A wedding is a statement that we love each other and that we want to be together.” She sat up straight, out from under his arm. “Maybe we should look at it like that. What do people need from our wedding?”
Johnny shook his head. His hair fell over his eyes and he combed it back with his fingers. “You think too much.” Grimacing, he reached out and pulled her back close to him. “That’s not how I’m gonna look at it at all. We could have a big formal wedding with all the trimmings or we could ride out of here right now and find a judge to marry us, and it would mean the same thing.”
“Do you want to?”
“Want to what?”
“Ride to the courthouse and just get married?”
“Honey, there’s a part of me that wants to do just that.” He laughed; it was a quiet laugh, but it was the first easy laugh she’d heard from him in ages. It made her happy.
“So should we?”
As soon as she said it she wanted to kick herself. He could no more ride to the courthouse right now than he could fly. To her relief he shook his head.
“No. You’re right about one thing. Other folks want to be a part of it. Murdoch might get put out if we sneak off, and Teresa would have our heads. But we don’t need to plan it just for them, or anybody else.”
For a while they sat without talking. The fog had lifted early that morning. Red-winged blackbirds claimed most of the fence posts along the corrals, and their song reminded Emily of warm summer days in Ohio. She savored the solid weight of Johnny’s arm across her shoulder, the rise and fall of his chest as she nestled closer to him.
“You know, when I was a kid in Mexico weddings were a real big deal. After the Mass the whole village came together to kick things off right. Everybody got to celebrate.”
“Did you want to get married that way?”
“Naw, kids don’t think about that stuff. Well, boys don’t, anyway. The weddings were fun, but when I was old enough to think about getting married, well, the life I led wasn’t the best for bringing a wife and family into it.”
“I guess not.” Thinking of Johnny’s life before he came home to Lancer made her feel helpless, small.
“Hey.” He tweaked her nose. “Don’t get all sad-eyed on me. A lady planning her wedding is supposed to sparkle.”
Emily laughed. “Sparkle? I don’t think I’ve ever sparkled in my life!”
“That’s ‘cause you can’t see yourself through my eyes.” He drew her closer and nuzzled her cheek a little. “You sparkle all the time.”
If he didn’t quit kissing her like that she was going to melt into a puddle right there on the patio. Lord, she had missed his kisses. With an effort she pulled away, but only to the end of the sofa.
“So, May it is?”
“Nope. You haven’t convinced me that’s what you really want.”
Sometimes he saw right into her heart. “Well…there is another reason I wanted to talk about this.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“Um…I don’t know how to say it.” She’d rehearsed it several times, but with Johnny sitting right next to her she felt tongue-tied.
“So? What is it?”
The words didn’t flow as smoothly as she planned. “Are we going to wait until we’re married to…I mean, before we…?” She still couldn’t say it. She risked a quick glance at Johnny. There was a knowing glint in his eye, the faintest hint of a smile on his lips.
“Before we what? Before we eat? Before we climb a tree? What?” He grabbed her and pulled her to him again. His breath tickled her neck as he whispered into her ear. “Before we enjoy each other like we did by the river that day? Ooh, I hope that’s what you want to talk about.”
“It is.” It was hard enough to think straight without his honey-smooth voice distracting her. Emily ducked away. “The further out we push the wedding date the longer you – the longer we – have to wait.”
Johnny leaned back and rubbed his hand across his eyes. “Well, lately it hasn’t been much of a problem, has it?”
“But you’re feeling better.”
“Yeah, I am.” He sighed. “It’s a long haul back, Emily, and I get so fed up sometimes with all the things I can’t do.”
She remembered the feeling from her own recovery – wishing she’d wake up to find everything like it was before, but each morning having to accept anew the pain, the tiredness. Knowing in her head she was getting better little by little, but wondering in her heart if she would ever recover completely – until the day they promised to stay together for the rest of their lives, the day Johnny’s embrace proved to her she would be all right.
“It’s because of how you helped me, that day by the river, that I’ve been thinking about this.”
“Seems like a long time ago.”
Damn her brother. Damn Glen for nearly killing Johnny. They should be married by now, should be living their lives as husband and wife. She clenched her hands tight, then relaxed them. She’d gotten quite practiced at letting her anger go.
“Yes, it does. But that was the day I knew I wasn’t as badly broken as I had feared.”
A smile crept across Johnny’s face. “Yeah? I’m happy to hear that.”
Their eyes met; she smiled back at him. He lifted his gaze over her head, to the mountains. “You know, waiting for you has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
She waited for him to explain, but he didn’t.
Finally she had to ask. “Are you sorry?”
“What? No. Of course not. I’ll wait some more, until we’re all married and legal. It’s the right thing to do for a special lady like you. Unless…” He looked at her with a grin. “Unless you don’t want to wait.”
She pressed her lips together and took a deep breath. “That’s just it. I don’t really want to wait, but like you said, it’s the right thing to do. We should wait. I know we should.“ But she couldn’t forget how tender his fingertips felt on her skin, how exciting his touch was when they lay together. “It’s wrong, I know, but whatever it was you helped me feel that day, I want to feel it again. I know I will once we’re married, but…No, we should wait.”
“Are you sure? What’s wrong with not waiting any more, if we both—”
“Because I don’t want to be with child when I get married.”
There. She’d said it. The real reason—the only reason, really—that she wanted to wait.
“Is that all?”
That wasn’t what she expected. “’What do you mean, ‘Is that all?’?”
“Because if that’s all, well, there’s ways around that.”
She intended this to be a serious discussion; the merriment in his eyes befuddled her. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“I sure hope not.” He was laughing at her now.
“Johnny! What are you talking about?” If she was standing up she would have stamped her foot.
“Ah, Mrs. Morris, what I’m talkin’ about isn’t fit for the ears of an unmarried woman.” He laughed again as he covered her ears with his hands. She grabbed his wrists but he wouldn’t let go, and when she tried to wriggle away her skirt was caught under his leg.
“I’m not an unmarried woman. I mean, I am, but I wasn’t. Oh, darn it Johnny, what’s going on?”
When he let her go, she yanked her skirt out from under him to show she was angry. But then he cupped his hands and held her face to kiss her, and she knew she really wasn’t.
His lips left hers and his fingers caressed her cheeks. “There are ways to enjoy each other, pretty lady, without worrying about making a baby. It’s as simple as that.”
“But I thought—”
“Let’s talk about it later, Emily. This isn’t the place.” He kissed her once more and sat back. She missed his touch on her face. “I just want you to know that if you were rushin’ our wedding plans because you didn’t want us to wait, well, you don’t have to, because we don’t have to.”
She still wasn’t sure what he was talking about. She still didn’t know exactly when the wedding should be. But his words reassured her all would be right in their world.
“Emily?” The lines around his eyes deepened with his smile. “You’ve made me a very happy man.”
The story references several others in the Widow Morris series:
Swimming may help explain why this talk made Johnny so happy.
Hurting explains what happened that “ruined” Emily.
Breathing explains what happened “that day by the river”.
Names and Margaret P’s The Visit explain why Johnny is content to lay around and talk to Emily instead of getting out and doing something.