Chapter Twenty-Three | I Will Always Love You

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The sounds of childish joy greeted Cash from her place on the porch. She was reclined in a wicker rocking chair, feet stretched out in front of her, crossed at the ankles. With the heat of the sun pressing down on her she could almost convince herself that she was back on her homestead. Beads of sweat budded on her forehead beneath the brim of her stetson as it rested over her eyes in an effort to aid her catnap.

The sound of tiny feet came rushing toward where she sat. Cash abandoned her R&R, sitting up in the chair and pushing the black hat back to its normal jaunty place on her braided head. Boss and July came racing around the corner. The young boys face was bright with glee and Boss's face held a look of contentment that Cash had not seen before. As the pair of them rushed into the lush astroturf Boss wrapped her arms about the small boy and mercilessly tickled him, July giving squeals of happy complaint. Cash felt herself smile as she watched the duo, Boss's dark waves flying free about her bronze face like branches of a willow tree in a breeze. The two of them raced between white linen sheets hung to dry across lines stretched over the yard, toppling wicker baskets of clean clothes, sprawling the laundry across the grass as they wrestled. 

For a moment Cash had the impulse to join them, but she crushed it firmly beneath a pebble of doubt that somehow weighed as much as a boulder. She had never considered herself as one meant for a family. Watching this pastoral scene made her feel a sort of longing that wriggled in her throat. Cash, as she had been, had no place here and "New Cash", as Tate called her, did not know herself well enough to entertain the thought comfortably.

Boss straightened, July still rolling at her feet. She was wearing a loose white cotton blouse that billowed around her small frame in a pleasing way. A simple skirt of vertical folds fell from her hips in dark blue fabric. The plain attire made her somehow even more distracting than she was in corsets and bold colors. Boss caught Cash's gaze and smiled. A blossom of warmth bloomed in Cash's chest and she smiled back.

"July, come here." Boss beckoned the boy with open arms and he sprang into them. Though Cash had never met the boy's father he must have resembled him in only minutiae of ways. His dark curls and tan skin were identical to his mother's, and wide hazel eyes glittered under heavy brows as he stared up into Boss's warm expression.

"There's somebody you need to meet," Boss said softly in the boy's ear as she carried him toward Cash on her hip.

"That's the lady that saved me with Tate!" July corrected his mother, "I know her already!"

"Yes but I haven't introduced you," Boss said with a laugh, "and you know mommy always likes to be polite."

The boy nodded solemnly. Boss set him down on the step in front of Cash and Cash leaned forward in her chair, elbows on knees, hands dangling down loosely near her boots.

"Hey little man," Cash said, offering him a grin.

"Hi," he said coyly from behind the width of Boss's skirt, only his eyes and top of his curls visible.

"You know, I don't know much about you," Cash said softly. "What's your favorite thing to do?"

The boy pondered this question with the seriousness of a philosophical dilemma.

"I like to play with my train set," he finally decided, "Momma had it made for me, it looks just like a real train."

"That's really neat." Cash nodded in agreement. "I would love to see your train set sometime, if you want to show it to me."

July's face lit up in excitement. "Do you like trains?"

"Sure, who doesn't!" Cash responded. "Did your momma tell you about my bike?"

Boss's expression soured slightly and she let out a sigh.

"A bike?" July was a few steps closer to her, his eyes wide as moons.

"I..." Cash looked around as if someone was watching, "Have a HOS."

July's mouth parted in surprise. "Can I ride it?!"

Cash shot a glance at Boss who was holding her in a firm stare. "Only if your Momma says it's ok, and you gotta wear a helmet, alright?"

The boy bounced on his toes and nodded. "Yes! Yes!"

"You're going to create a monster," said Boss scooping her son back up and blowing raspberries onto his belly. The boy let out squeals of laughter and begged for mercy.

"I'm ok with that," Cash said, leaning back in her chair.

"You'll be fine babysitting then?" Boss asked pointedly.

"Woaaaah," Cash waved her hands in front of her face, "Let's not get ahead of ourselves."

"What happened to your eye?" July piped up.


"No," Cash intercepted, "It's fine." Cash leaned forward and showed July the blinking device. "I lost it in a fight," she said, emphasizing each word with dramatic importance.

"Woah." July breathed.

"A guy stabbed me in the face with a broken bottle--"

"Cash," Boss warned.

"WOAH." July intoned. "What's that do?" He asked, pointing to her aiming assist.

"Helps me shoot guns." Cash grinned.

July almost tipped over with awe. "Mom, you have cool friends," he said before some other childish desire moved him and he dashed back into the house.

Boss sank down on the stair, running one hand through her hair, pulling the curls away from her face.

"Well you certainly made an impression," she said tartly.

"You know me." Cash lifted her abandoned cocktail into her hand and took a long sip. "I aim to impress."

"Is that what you call it?" Boss asked, a sly smile lifting her beauty mark into the crease of her cheek.

Cash shrugged and gave a low chuckle.

"I never thanked you for saving him," Boss said, her voice caught awkwardly in her throat.

"You didn't have to," Cash reminded her.

"I could think of some ways," Boss said lightly.

Cash felt her cheeks flush. "My word," she said after clearing her throat.

Boss stood and slowly approached, her skirt dancing just above her ankles. She lifted the fabric in her hands as she sat in Cash's lap, legs folded over each other, arms quickly wrapping around Cash's neck. She pressed her full lips into the crook of Cash's neck. Cash could not help the sound that escaped her mouth.

"Should we take this someplace more private?" Boss cooed.

Cash had to try several times before words would pass her lips instead of incomprehensible mumbles. "Yes, Ma'am."

Boss smiled and slipped from Cash's lap, taking her hand and leading her toward the interior of the house and toward the bed that was becoming more intimately familiar with every encounter.

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