“Oh, Calamity, you’ll have to be more careful! It’s no good helping people if you make yourself sick in the process.” Katie looked around. “Bill and Danny have gone?”
“Yep,” Calamity replied, checking out the window. A cloud of dust rising over the trees told her the two horsemen were heading for town. “I asked Danny to invite you to the ball.”
“Well that’s very kind, but hardly necessary,” Katie replied, turning Calamity towards her. Nimble fingers began undoing the buttons of Calamity’s wet shirt as they spoke.
“If he didn’t ask you, you wouldn’t be able to go!” Calamity protested. “Wouldn’t want you missin’ out on the biggest party o’ the year.”
“Well that’s true enough, but we have to be careful, Calamity.”
Katie’s fingers stilled as Calamity’s closed over them, gentle and warm.
“I know that. And you know Bill’d be the last person I’d want to go to the dang-blasted ball with, but if Danny’s gotta go with someone, I’d rather it be you than one of those half-dressed women from town.”
“Because you know he’s not going to steal my heart, you mean?” Katie replied lightly.
Calamity sighed. “I’m not so much a fool as people make out, Katie Brown. I’s seen the way he looks at you, and he ain’t never looked at me that way.”
Katie’s eyes were sympathetic, but Calamity pressed on.
“Matter of fact, the only one who’s ever looked at me that way is you, and you’re doing it right now.”
Calamity sighed. “O’course you are.” She looked down at her own rough hands entwined with Katie’s delicate ones. “It’s gonna look mighty suspicious, us sharing a cabin out here all on our lonesome, you know, ‘specially with Bill and Danny fightin’ over you the way they are,” Calamity said. She took a deep breath. “I think we’re gonna need a plan.”
“A plan?” Katie said, eyes wide.
“A plan,” Calamity confirmed. “If you’re going to stay here in Deadwood, that is.”
“I’d like to stay,” Katie said quietly, fingers squeezing gently. “If you think this town’s big enough for the both of us.”
“I reckon we could make space,” Calamity said, smiling a little. “Folks’ll be less suspicious of a married lady visiting her friend. Especially if that friend’s not exactly known for bein’ all ladylike and such.”
“I believe I see what you’re saying,” Katie replied. She was quiet for a few minutes, searching Calamity’s eyes. “But if I...that is, if Danny and I...won’t people think you’ll be jealous?”
Calamity guffawed. “Jealous? Me? Not hardly!”
“But if people know you’re in love with Danny-”
“I ain’t in love with Danny!”
“But people think you are. They’ll think it mighty strange if you’re friendly with his wife, now won’t they?”
“I suppose you might have a point,” Calamity allowed. She frowned. “Well, what do you suggest?”
Katie’s eyes sparkled. “Well I think you’re right, Calamity Jane – we do need a plan.”
As she rode towards Valley Falls, Calamity blinked hard. Now that she’d cried – cried like a little girl – the tears wouldn’t stop. She couldn’t tell if she was happy or sad – or both – and it was mighty tiresome, trying to decide.
“Gettin’ soft, Calamity,” she told herself. “Y’better put all that away, now.”
When Katie had first proposed her plan – taking advantage of Danny’s affection for her, making sure Calamity found them outside before allowing Bill to convince her to chase after Katie – Calamity had balked.
“I don’t need to see you kissin’ Danny!” she’d exclaimed. This was going to be hard enough without having to see it happening. All these emotions – how did women cope? It was so much easier huntin’ a bear or drivin’ an ox team.
“Danny needs to believe that you don’t want to marry him anymore.” Katie’s face was earnest. “Then when Bill convinces you to come and get me, we can tell Danny we’ve talked and you’re fine. You’re over him.”
“I am over him,” Calamity grumbled.
“I know,” Katie said quietly.
“Katie, I…” Calamity hesitated. “I didn’t know. Before I met you…I thought I was in love with Danny, I thought I knew what that meant. But I didn’t.”
“I know,” Katie said again. She raised one hand, cupping Calamity’s cheek. “But we have to do it this way.”
“I know,” Calamity whispered. “Don’t mean I have to like it, though.”
“No,” Katie said, giggling. “It does not.”
Calamity sighed, the wind drying the last of the tears on her cheeks. Things hadn’t gone exactly to plan at the ball, but when she’d realised Bill was looking at her the way Danny looked at Katie – well, it seemed like an improvement. She could only hope Katie agreed.
The stage – a special run arranged for Katie and Calamity – bumped over the ground from Valley Falls to Deadwood.
“I am mighty pleased you agreed to come back to Deadwood,” Calamity said, her heart in her eyes. “Town wouldn’t be the same without you.”
“With such a good friend, how could I stay away?” Katie’s eyes sparkled with affection. “And you and Bill marrying? That was certainly a surprise!”
Calamity shrugged. “It wasn’t hardly planned, but I’d been thinkin’ about children and the like, and I figured…Bill’s as close to perfect for me as any man’s likely to get.”
“He’s not going to stop you riding with the stage, you mean,” Katie said.
“Exactly,” Calamity said. Her smile faded a little. “Bill Hickok knows me about as well as any man can know a woman.” With a deep breath she looked back over at Katie. “Besides, the whole town knows I ain’t no good at cleanin’ and cookin’ and the like. Won’t be hardly suspicious at all if you’re spendin’ your days teachin’ me how to keep house for Bill.”
“You, keeping house!” Katie said. “Now that I’d like to see.”
“I believe you said a woman’s touch was all it takes?” Calamity replied.
“I believe you’re right,” Katie said with a smile.