They arrive in Cripple Creek.
They had decided to spend the night in Denver at a hotel and start off on their trip in the morning. He hadn’t really been able to talk to Anna alone until now.
She sighed, “I would have preferred you not to call.”
His hands slipped under her shirt so he could caress the soft skin on her back, “I only did it because I am worried about you.”
“You could have told me you are worried without bringing Jacob into this.” She said trying to move away. He tightened his hold.
“Sugar, I’ve been trying to talk to you about this trip and you’ve been blowing me off.”
“That is because I do not wish to discuss it. I do not like that you are making such a big deal out of this trip. We are going to be in Cripple Creek for one day and a night. I am not going to go to pieces, Gerard.”
He knew by the tone of her voice when she said his name she was still angry. “I didn’t say you were. I’ll be honest I just hate that you seem to be holding your feelings inside.”
“I have no feelings on the subject.” Anna lied. This time when she tried to move away she used enough force and was free of his embrace.
He watched her cross the room to her suitcase. Immediately she pulled out the black bag. “Let me.” He said softly as he crossed the room.
“I can handle this myself.” Anna said not looking into his eyes, “You know I did survive quite nicely before either you or Claire.”
Her words surprised him, “Oh shit. Is this what all of this is about?”
She turned to look into his eyes, “What?”
He knew he had to word his feelings carefully, “Anna, I understand you are missing the way you and Claire used to be. She took care of you..”
Anna’s eyes flashed, “I am not an invalid. I do not require anyone to care for me. I got along fine before I found Claire and I am fine now.”
He took a step back trying not to let her anger cause him to lose his temper, “Anna, Claire took care of you because she loves you. She didn’t do it because it was necessary. The same goes for me. Don’t you think I realize you would be okay without me? I know you can take care of yourself, you’ve done it for years but that doesn’t change the fact that I want to do things for you.” He lowered his voice, “I want to because I love you.”
Anna stared at him a moment then sat down on the bed. She lowered her head and closed her eyes.
Gerard kneeled down beside her, “Sugar, I just don’t get why you are trying to act so strong in front of me. It hurts me when you do it. I know everything that has happened lately is taking a toll on you. The change between you and Claire, what happened with Hudson, and now this trip. I understand you have to appear strong and unaffected in front of other but now me.” He took her hand in his, “You never have to hide your true self from me.”
When she looked up there were tears in her eyes, “But hiding my emotions is what I was taught. It is so hard for me to change. I can not let Claire see that I am upset. That would be horrible. I want her to be happy.” She closed her eyes again, “I just do not know, so many things are changing so quickly.”
“But you have me.” Gerard said reaching out to brush away a tear, “You have me.”
Finally Anna spoke the words that were in her heart, “But what if you tire of me? I am a pain.”
He couldn’t help it he laughed, “A pain? Oh Sugar are you going to sit there and tell me that I’m not a pain? Shit, woman. Don’t you realize I feel the same way? Sometimes I think what if Anna gets tired of my shit? What the fuck would I do if she decides she doesn’t want me? But Anna, that’s just what being in love causes. You love someone so much that you’re afraid it will go away. But I’m telling you this from my heart. I’m not gonna leave you Anna. I love you with my whole heart. I love everything about you.” He grinned, “Well almost everything.”
Anna’s eyes narrowed, “Almost?”
“I don’t love that you feel you need to keep things from me. I want to know how you are really feeling.”
She thought a minute, “Okay I am feeling scared, nervous, and yet,…there is something about going to Cripple Creek that seems right. Like it is something I should do.”
He stood up then sat on the bed beside her, “Okay, that’s a start. Is part of it because you know the place holds good memories for you?”
Anna sighed, “Perhaps. There are many very happy memories from the town.”
Gerard felt like they were making a break through, “Okay tell me one.”
She shook her head, “In a minute.” Her fingers fumbled with the zipper on the bag.
He took it from her and was pleased when she didn’t object. Quickly he readied the injection then took her arm. Pushing up the material he placed the needle against her skin but paused, “Anna, don’t close your eyes. You know I love to see.”
When her eyes opened he gently pierced her skin. He smiled when her eyes flashed as the liquid entered her vein.
Anna remained silent as he put everything back in the bag.
“Okay now.” He said as he sat back down, “Now tell me about a happy memory.”
Instead on answering Anna asked, “You really do not hate that I need that?”
He shook his head, “Of course not. It is just a part of your life that I accept. It is something I know is necessary because you won’t take it from me.”
Anna sighed, “I can not every time.”
“I know but damn woman I like it when you do, ain’t gonna lie about that. So about the memory.” He gently pushed.
“Can we undress and get into bed first?” Anna asked.
Gerard smiled, “Of course, Sugar.”
Once they were in bed snuggled together Anna spoke, “One of my happiest memories was a day mama and I went into town for supplies. I did not realize it but she had planned something special. It was a few days before my thirteenth birthday so she took me to the Grand Hotel for lunch. I had never been there before and I remember thinking how beautiful everything looked. The table was set with china and the glasses were crystal. It was like nothing we had on the farm. Mama said I needed to know how to act like I lady so she explained proper etiquette for dining.”
Gerard loved the beautiful smile on her face, “So what did you have?” He listened as she recalled the menu from memory. It was almost as if she was tasting the food again.
He listened to her memories of the lunch than asked, “Okay I’m not really up on Colorado history but the town was famous for some kind of a gold rush wasn’t it?”
“Yes that happened in 1890 when I was fourteen. I remember papa coming home from town and telling us all about how a man named Bob Womack had discovered gold. Soon there was a constant stream of wagons passing our place on the way to town. Each man holding on to the hope he would strike it big. It seemed the town changed overnight.”
“You don’t sound all that happy about that.” Gerard guessed.
“Things were suddenly so different. Papa wouldn’t let me us go into town anymore unless he could accompany us. There were too many unscrupulous men.” She shook her head sadly; “It was not a safe place for a woman to be alone.”
Gerard tightened his arm around her, “I can’t believe I’m hearing an actual first hand account about that time in history. This is incredible.”
Anna laughed softly, “Well your girlfriend is quite old.”
He brushed her cheek with his finger, “No, actually she’s quite young in a way, isn’t that right?”
She stared into his eyes, “You mean because I was turned when I was only sixteen?”
“I suppose in a way that is true. If you look at it like that I will forever be sixteen but I feel my experiences have matured me much further than that age.”
“You have witnessed so much.” Gerard said softly.
“Yes but even before I was turned…” She paused and, “Losing my family changed me from a carefree girl.”
Gerard hoped she would explain what had happened during that period of her life but she turned the conversation. “I truly hope that tomorrow when I see the town I will only remember the happy memories.”
“Think any of it will look the same way?”
Anna smiled, “Well according to Alicia many of the buildings from the late 1890’s still stand. Of course they are casino’s now.”
“Alicia is really psyched about this, isn’t she?”
For a moment Anna grew silent but then she explained, “That is one of the reasons I first agreed to the trip. I could see in her eyes how much she wanted all of us to do this. Alicia has a good soul, a kind soul and she wants everyone to be together, especially you and Mikey.”
Gerard was surprised, “Me and Mikey? There ain’t no problems between us.”
“Gee, you must remember that as his wife Alicia is privy to his most intimate thoughts. Your brother feels that since you and I met you have been pulling away from him.”
“What?” Gerard leaned up on his elbow, “Are you serious? He really thinks that?”
“In a way you have. We spend a lot of time together.”
“Well yeah but I don’t get why that bothers him.”
Anna smiled, “Because he misses his big brother.”
“Hey we both have our own lives. I didn’t get upset when he and Alicia hooked up and got married.”
“He’s not upset, Gee just a little sad and Alicia know this. I believe this trip was her way of making time for all of us to be together away from the bustle of the tour. Perhaps you and Mikey can do something together just the two of you.”
Gerard laid back down and thought a moment. “Sometimes I guess I do take Mikey for granted. He’s always been there for me. Fuck, I don’t know what I would have done after my divorce if he hadn’t been there.”
Anna spoke softly, “That was a very dark time for you.”
He closed his eyes trying to force the memories away.
“I am sorry that I have been so lost trying to handle my own emotions that I did not realize where we are.” Anna whispered. A feeling of regret washed over her now that she realized they were in the place where he had married years ago.
Once again he leaned up on his elbow to look down into her face, “Sugar to be honest I haven’t even given it much thought. I’ve been so worried about you but yeah, this is the first time I’ve been in Denver since that day.” He leaned down, brushed a quick kiss on her lips then spoke, “But I know that was a bad day for you too. Claire told me you were at that last concert and that you knew I was gonna marry.”
“From the moment you stepped on stage, I knew.” Anna admitted. “I knew and felt so helpless. I could not stop you, that would have been wrong.”
“But you knew what I was doing was wrong, didn’t you?”
“I believed it was wrong. I believed that from what I had witnessed during that tour that it was a mistake. Still it was your choice to make.”
“A fucking poor choice.” Gerard muttered. “Did you know she didn’t really love me?”
Anna hated to speak about this. “I can not see what is truly in someone’s heart.”
“But you had an pretty damn good idea, didn’t you?”
Anna simply nodded.
“Well that’s all in the past.” Gerard said laying back down. “It’s over and done. The past can’t hurt you unless you let it.”
Anna considered his words but did not agree.
Ray nervously gripped the wheel silently cursing that he’d offered to drive. The closer they got to Cripple Creek the road grew more treacherous. He quickly glanced over and saw that the drop off was straight down. He wondered how many people had died on this road.
Christa smiled, “You are doing fine.” She said softly.
“Fuck, it’s a long way down.” Ray answered. “I didn’t realize this place was so far up in the mountains. This ain’t like driving around Denver.”
“How much further?” Mikey asked from his spot in the back next to Alicia.
“It is not much further.” Anna answered while still looking out the window at the passing scenery. “Soon you will be able to see the town.”
“Good.” Ray said giving a sigh of relief. “I’m ready to put this sucker in park.”
Bob gave Claire’s shoulder a squeezed, “What’s wrong?’ He whispered in her ear. He’d noticed she was very quiet this morning.
Claire smiled at him, “Nothing is wrong.”
He didn’t believe her and had noticed often she had glanced over at Anna.
“She seems okay.” He said softly.
“Yes.” Claire nodded, “She does.”
“But you don’t think she really is?”
Claire glanced over and saw that Anna was speaking to Gerard. She lowered her voice so that only Bob could hear, “She is very good at hiding her true feelings.”
Gerard was holding Anna’s hand when she suddenly tightened her hold. “Oh” she whispered as the van crested the mountain and below she got her first glimpse of Cripple Creek.
“There it is.” Alicia announced happily.
All eyes gazed at the town below.
“It doesn’t look all that big.” Frank said with a frown. “I thought the place would be huge.”
“Oh, look.” Alicia said as the van started downward, “There’s the Molly Kathleen. That’s the mine you can go down 10, 000 feet.”
Christa shook her head, “I don’t wanna do that.”
Mikey looked over the place as they passed, “I dunno might be kinda fun. What do you think, Gee? Later on today do you wanna do it?”
Gerard turned to his brother remembering what Anna had told him last night, “Yeah, maybe you and I can go down in the mine. Might be kinda fun.”
Alicia smiled, “Yeah, you go with Mikey so I don’t have to,” She laughed. “This is so cool. I did a lot of reading up on the history of this place.” She told everyone, “The towns heyday was in the late 1890’s. That’s why a guy named Bob…” She searched her mind trying to remember the last name.
‘Womack.” Anna said softly.
“Yeah, that’s right, Womack. He was the first one to find gold. After that the town got huge when people came all hoping to strike it rich.”
“Most did not.” Anna said her eyes not leaving the window.
“Hey Anna.” Frank said, “How long did you live here?”
Gerard gave her hand a squeeze.
Anna forced herself to look away from the town, “I left here when I was sixteen.”
“So was it still kinda like a ghost town or had the casino taken over?” Alicia asked trying to remember the year Colorado had passed the gaming law allowing the town to add casinos.
In her mind Anna had to quickly calculate what year these people believed she had been sixteen. Gerard knew what she was doing so he spoke up to give her more time.
“I can’t imagine this place a ghost town.”
“Oh it was.” Alicia said eager to share her knowledge. “For years it was very small and only a few people lived here during the winter. Most only came for the small tourist trade during the summers.”
“It was just a tourist town until 1991” Anna said remembering what she had read about the town. She had made sure to read up on the recent history. “Then the casinos moved in and almost every building changed.”
“Oh so you know all about the casinos?’ Alicia asked.
Anna smiled, “Yes, but of course I was not allowed to gamble.”
“Did you live in town?” Frank asked.
“My family had a small farm about a mile outside Cripple Creek. Between here and Victor.” Anna answered speaking the truth.
“Does Victor have casinos too?” Alicia asked excited at the prospect of more gambling.
Anna shook her head, “No, only Cripple Creek got the gaming law passed.”
Ray slowed the van down as they neared the actually main street of town. “It that our hotel?” He asked spying a large building.
Alicia shook her head, “Nope we gotta go through town down this main street then we turn.”
“Okay.” Ray said slowing down even more so that everyone could glace out at the buildings lining Main Street.
When Gerard gently nudged Anna she realized in shock she had stopped breathing. Many of the passing buildings, though altered, still looked familiar. In her mind she was seeing them as they once had looked. She forced her eyes closed a moment and concentrated on her breathing.
“Wow, almost every building is a casino.” Christa said staring out the window. It looks kinda weird having casinos look like old west town shops.”
“The Brass Ass?” Frank giggled reading one of the names. “Okay that’s funny.”
As they neared the end of the main street Alicia told Ray the street where they needed to turn. Soon a large building came into view.
“That’s it.” Alicia said excitedly.
Anna spoke without thought, “The old hospital.”
“Yeah.” Alicia agreed, “It was once the hospital. I think it was built during the gold rush.”
“It was.” Anna answered softly.
Gerard leaned over, kissed her cheek then whispered, “Okay, Sugar?”
She nodded, “Yes, I am fine.”
He wasn’t sure if he should believe her or not.
Ray parked the van and they all began to gather up their bags.
“Okay, I think we should check in, get settled, then walk into town.” Alicia said taking charge.
“Sounds like a plan.” Jamia agreed. “So should we all meet up in about 30 minutes?”
Gerard glanced over at Anna. “Is that okay?”
She nodded while busying herself collecting her things.
“How are you really doing?” Gerard asked as soon as they were in the privacy of their own room.
Anna sighed, “I am fine, Gee. It was just a little startling to see the town again. So much has changed yet I recognize many of the buildings.”
“Like this one.”
“Yes, of course it was a hospital when last I saw it.”
“Does that bother you?”
Anna sat down on the bed willing herself to be strong, “Mama and Daddy never made it here. They died at home but Clarissa was here for three days before she died.”
Immediately Gerard crossed the room and pulled her off the bed and into his arms, “Oh fuck, I’m sorry. I knew this was a bad idea.”
“It is okay, Gee. I am fine.” She whispered. “I just…”
“I miss them so much. It has been over a hundred years but to me it still seems like yesterday. I can still see Clarissa in that small hospital bed. She was so scared and kept asking me why mama and daddy were not there.”
“She didn’t know they’d died?”
“No, as soon as she fell ill she was taken to the hospital. This is where she was when they died. I kept the truth from her but sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing. If I had know she was going to die it might have been easier for her knowing they were waiting for her.” Tears slid down her cheeks, “But I just kept the hope that she would pull through in my heart. For a time it seemed like she might but then she took a turn for the worse. I was at her bedside holding her hand when she slipped away.”
“Anna, who helped you handle everything?” Gerard asked softly while stroking her back and he held her close.
“One of the local churches helped me bury my family.” Anna whispered brokenly. “Because I was so young our farm was taken over by the state and I was…” She began to sob.
Anna pulled out of his arms and swiped at the tears, “I do not wish to talk about this. I can not.”
She looked so fragile he didn’t want to push her. “It’s okay, Sugar. I understand. I’ll tell the others we decided to rest up a bit and we’ll meet them later, is that okay?”
To his surprise Anna shook her head, “No, I am fine. We will go into town with everyone else just as planned.”
“Are you sure?”
She stood taller, “Yes, I am sure. This is something I must do.”
AUTHORS NOTE:Okay I must admit I have been to Cripple Creek many times and I love the place. As a child we went there almost every year but back then it was just a tourist town. I have visited it now that it is a gambling town too. Much of what I will write about the town and it's history is true. I have only changed a few details to fit the story. Oh and The Brass Ass is really a casino. LOL