spacer KEEPING COMPANY (a missing scene from 'Safecracker') by Bonnie Kate Pardoe Butterfly

"Since I'm stuck here with you—"

"Stuck? That's no way for a lady to talk to a gentleman," J.D. mockingly protested. He was far from being a gentleman, though at least no one out west was of a mind to constantly remind him of the fact. And, as for Olivia, well ... he knew growing up as she did — her father dead, her mother a convicted felon, and now, alone in this town of strangers with her mother kidnapped — it just could not be easy for her.

"Sez you!" The seven-year-old defiantly crossed her arms and glared.

"Yeah, sez me," J.D. retorted playfully. "And what are you gonna do about it?"

But Olivia apparently did not want to play this game; she shrugged her tiny shoulders as she absently toyed with the doll J.D. had brought for her earlier; he was not sure that she really liked it, though Mary Travis had thought it very pretty. Even girls this young J.D. failed to understand, though in some ways Olivia did seem to be a bit more complex than most adults he knew.

As the pair sat in the corner of Josiah's still-unfinished church, the young man began to wonder what he could possibly do to entertain Olivia. Certainly he'd had no luck amusing anyone else in this town, and the things he could do well, like shooting straight and riding hard, were not things you could do while trying to lay low.

"J.D.? Tell me a story," the little girl requested, her wide eyes full of sadness, loneliness, and even a bit of apprehension.

"A story, huh? I think I might be able to manage that." J.D. settled himself against the wall as he thought back to his own childhood, to the stories his mother had told him to warm his heart and his soul when their room was as cold as the winter the neglected window panes never quite kept out. "All right ... a very long time ago," he began, trying to remember the exact words that his mother had spoken to him each time she had told this, her favorite story, "far across the wide, blue ocean, there lived a girl—"

"Did she look like me?" Olivia interrupted.

J.D. could not help but smile down at the tow-headed child. How could anyone not want to help this little girl? When she was older, she would fall for some scoundrel like Buck Wilmington or some rogue like Ezra Standish, and she would break his heart!

"Well ... she had long, soft hair like you," J.D. replied, stroking the top of her head. "And eyes that sparkled when she smiled" — Olivia looked up at her story teller and grinned until her cheeks dimpled. "Yup, just like that!"

The girl lived alone in a beautiful cottage between a dark forest and a sunny meadow. One day she gathered her basket and went walking to pick flowers for her dinner table. The sun was so warm on her hands and her face — so wonderful was the feeling that she spun in gleeful circles in the middle of the meadow.

But there were eyes watching her, because no one is ever alone in nature. Some of the eyes were large and brown, and they reflected her joy for life; others, however, were fierce and red, and could not have cared less about her happiness. But, completely unaware, the girl settled herself among the wild flowers, spreading her arms wide to embrace the warmth of the sun.

It was then that he came to her — quite unexpectedly, though she was not startled. He was so very handsome, though she was certain it was for reasons no one else would understand. He wore yellow and black, as if they were a cloak of the most delicate silk that shimmered in the sunlight as he neared.

Had he been an angel, he would have filled her soul. Had he been a poet, he would have sung of summer. Had he been a man, his name would have been like that of a rose.

But he was none of these things.

Perched next to her on the velvety-purple larkspur, the fair butterfly gently stretched his wings, as if in bowed greeting to the beautiful girl. She smiled back at him and sighed with deep contentment as she began to imagine the life they might have together, if only he were a man: how gloriously they would pass the hours, walking through the flowered meadow; how she would be unafraid with him by her side in the dark forest behind their cottage; how she would help him reconcile the world; and how wonderful would be the things inspired by their love.

Gently upon the tip of her finger, the girl lifted the butterfly to her lips, closed her eyes, and wished. A kiss for love and joy and happiness. A kiss to make her dreams — and her prince — real.

But this was not a fairy tale.

The chill of the fading day had come upon the girl and her soul-companion. She opened her eyes to the long, dark shadows creeping silently across the meadow, chasing away the sunlight, the day blooms, and her hope. The butterfly stretched his wings to her again before lifting slowly into the heavy air, then hovered for just a moment before fluttering off into the approaching night.

And the girl cried, wrapped only in her own arms as the forest's shadowy blanket enveloped her.

"But that's so sad, J.D.!" Olivia admonished her story teller.

"Ah, but then she began to remember their wonderful afternoon together," he continued. "Of all the things they had done, of all the dreams they had shared. And she realized that she still had all those things, even though she could not have her butterfly prince. And so the girl continued to love, though she had nothing to show for it but a kind spirit and a glad heart. And through her the butterfly lived forever, as the angel and the poet and the man that he otherwise never would have been. The end."

J.D. sat for a moment, staring down at the silent, young girl. "So, what do you think — did you like it?"

"Yeah, it was nice." Olivia smiled up at J.D. again, her eyes warm and so innocent. "But now can you tell me one about a shoot-out with some bad guys?"

~ The End ~

Much thanks to my friends for their invaluable beta-reading assistance!
No copyright infringement is intended.
Much thanks to Mr. Watson and associates for bringing these characters to life.

( 1998 )