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Word traveled swiftly in a small town like Augusta. Johnny hadn’t been gone more than an hour before Josephine caught wind of it. Which of course sent the woman’s nerves into a frenzy. He was the sweetest man in town, and the thought of anything untoward happening to him didn’t sit well with her. She’d grabbed a couple of the girls and went to his room to clean it up. Whatever had happened there the night before, there would be no remnants of it when he came home.
Except he didn’t go home; he went to the Branson’s ranch instead. Which meant that she couldn’t sneak in and see him. Her heart had broken when she learned what had befallen the man in Wichita and all she wanted to do was hold him in her arms. To whisper that everything was perfectly fine now and he didn’t have to be in pain anymore. She ached to be by his side, and when Eli came by- twisting his hat in his hand- to fetch her, it only took her a moment to pack a carpet bag and jump into the saddle with the sheriff.
The Bransons weren’t like many of the other families. They didn’t look down their noses at Josephine or any of the other girls who worked in her profession. They knew that people didn’t choose their lot in life, and it was much harder to change their circumstances than others would believe. Ma made sure that Josephine knew what she was in for when she was ushered into Johnny’s room. She spoke delicately to her, yet didn’t mince words. It was a harsh reality and she’d be doing Josephine a disservice if she censored it. Still, no matter how much she was told, it wouldn’t have prepared her for what she saw.
He was sleeping when she first arrived and was allowed to see him. A hushed gasp escaped her lips at the sight of him. He’d never appeared particularly strong, but there was a sallow lifelessness to him now. Bedraggled and beaten, he seemed a husk of the man she’d come to adore. Her eyes flicked back to Ma, who simply nodded and pressed the girl inside the room so she could shut the door. Gingerly, she placed her bag on the floor and gathered her skirts to come to Johnny’s side. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do now. Perhaps sit in a chair and wait for him to wake up.
That didn’t sit well with her; it seemed cold and impersonal. Josephine was neither of those things. Instead, she silently removed her boots and dress, stripping down to her underthings and climbed under the covers into the small bed next to him. Curling herself around the man, she wrapped him in her warmth and placed her head in the crook of his shoulder. This was where she was supposed to be, and here she would remain for as long as Johnny needed her.
@Johnny Buckner Find the beauty.
Johnny was still having more bad days than good. Everything ached, even the leg that wasn't there anymore. He was always cold and had trouble keeping down food. The doctor had warned he'd be sick as his body kicked the dependency on laudanum. But this was more than sick. He'd take back his rotten knee in a second if it meant he wasn't laid up in bed, shivering and sweating, throwing up nearly everything he put in his stomach but broth, tea and toast, and aching all over like he'd just trampled by a horse. Worse still, he knew he was being awful a lot of time when he was awake, snapping at people and sulking when they refused to give him medicine. Whiskey wouldn't stay down, nothing that would help with the pain would stay down.
It was exhausting and even though it was hard to get comfortable, it was better he slept and kept quiet so he didn't upset anyone more than he already did. They'd kept everything sharp away from him. Sensible, because if they'd given him anything with a blade, he'd have laid open his own arms or stabbed his own heart to be done with it. Not that he could keep down anything that required cutting to eat.
Still, he was determined not to be a burden on the Bransons for long. Earlier, he had gotten dressed and used his crutch to limp out to the kitchen. That had nearly done him in, but he wanted to be helpful. He could sit in a damn chair and wash and peel vegetables. Fold clothes. Anything to not feel so hopeless and useless. He'd worn himself out good and Mrs. Branson had sent him back to bed. Still, it was nice she humored him at all.
He dreaded the fits most of all. Besides being embarrassing, Mrs. Branson had to chloroform him if he didn't stop screaming. It worked, but it set off his stomach more and gave him a headache for hours afterward. So far he hadn't needed any today, but it was early still. He was sleeping fitfully but didn't wake up when Mrs. Branson let Josephine into the room. Just moaned and stirred a little, rolling away from the light coming through the crack in the curtains.
Until Josephine climbed into bed with him and wrapped herself around him. Johnny sighed softly, relaxing visibly as he curled into her. Slowly, he started to wake up. Her scent hit him first and he buried his face into her hair and inhaled deeply. Johnny had dreamed of Josephine a few times, but never this vividly. He wrapped his arms around her, weakly pulling her body closer to him.
Opening his eyes, Johnny thought for a minute he was hallucinating. Or dreaming. No, his delusions and dreams were never this nice. He let out a soft, confused chuckle, too tired and wrung out to even fret much about his state of undress or condition. Or to say much. He just clung to her and tried not to break down in tears of relief and shame. As much as he never wanted her to see him such a mess and even though he had no idea how she'd gotten into his room, he was glad she was there.