Bandita Bonita: Romancing Billy the Kid
A Novel by Nicole Maddalo Dixon
Excerpt from Chapter Six
Part IV / The Outlaw
When we had arrived in Sumner I told Billy that I did not want to stay at the Maxwell's any longer. When he asked why, I explained that I did not care for Paulita's passive-aggressive offenses which she attempted to hide within her native tongue. I explained that I also did not care for her brother Pete so much. Asking me why I should not care for him, I told him that I sensed a shift in Pete-I felt him untrustworthy. It was obvious that he did not think much on Billy spending time with his young sister and I warned him that he ought to take this into consideration. Impassive, Billy remarked that if I felt this way, then the best thing for me to do was to stay as close to them as possible.
Humoring me, he said, "Guarde a enemigos cerca". Keep your enemies close.
I knew he believed I was only imagining my suspicions of Pete Maxwell, but I ignored his obtuseness and insisted that I understood the measure of watching closely, but all the same I was simply not up to the task of tolerating the Maxwell's. I told him that perhaps he ought to keep Pete close, especially if he were planning to pay attentions to Paulita.
He accepted my feelings on the matter of not wanting to stay in the Maxwell home and told me he would secure the single room that was attached to the bunkhouse that served as the old soldiers' barracks.
"Will you stay there with me, then?" I asked.
"Sí, contigo. I'll stay with you, of course."
What I could accept in coexisting with Paulita in Billy's life was this: We both understood the importance of our roles; she the dear friend whom he had innocently loved and shared confidences with, and I the object of his devoted, fierce adoration. One who knew not only his deepest secrets, but who also knew and shared in his plights. Our communal value to him was indispensable.
Because of this and our genuine love for him, neither of us would attempt to disarm his feelings for the other. That said, I had no doubt that should I relay my displeasure of Paulita's presence within our relationship he might relent; he might lessen his interaction with the girl. But we were his family, and neither of us wanted to take away the comfort he found in the both of us, even if it meant sharing him with one another. The regret of losing his mother so early in his youth and the subsequent loss of his family as a result of her death-his being cruelly turned out on his own by his step-father, and his separation from his brother and only sibling-meant that we would grant him whatever surrogate kinfolk he could manage regardless of the nature of the relationship so long as the care was true. We would spare him and let him keep any tangible love he found without trouble on our behalf, and we both knew and believed that the other sincerely loved and cared for him profoundly, regardless of how we felt about each other.
Because of our mutual respect regarding our significance in Billy's life and our agreed upon places in it, we banded together when another girl of triviality, Celsa Jaramillo, had managed to ingratiate herself into his interest.
Celsa had traveled from Mérida, Mexico with her family, living in Texas for a time before coming to Sumner not more than a few months prior. Paulita and I declared that we would make her our focal point and use our wiles to deliver her from our pains. We had no time to waste when it came to spending time with Billy, and so therefore we could not allow some frivolous Bessie to enter the picture and cause us any further time deficit as it was clear that Celsa Jaramillo was of no real consequence to him, just one of those girls for him to dally and pass the time with, and so we felt confident in our decision to remove her from the playing field.
We came to the definitive conclusion that Celsa must go, her proud, nasty little attitude towards us (I more so than Paulita) in our gaining Billy's attention and taking it away from her expedited this decision. I was used to this as this was always the case; girls expressly attacked me both vocally and with faces boasting scathing expressions, always fancying themselves competitors of mine who surmounted me in Billy's devotion. The girls of course clashed with one another, but as they regarded me their only real adversary, my occupying an inordinate portion of Billy's heart, therefore making no room for any other, they caused me to suffer their endless streams of jealousy and bitterness, imagining that they could defeat me as a rival in his eyes. The naiveté of these girls never ceased to amaze me as they so very clearly expected to achieve the sort of ardent feelings Billy reserved for me though they had not managed to put in the effort I had and lacked the important history I had shared with him, both the horrific and celebratory moments alike. There was no detail, divine or immoral, that he could not speak of to me rather than let it fester in silence. I had seen that beautiful soul of his turn mean and nasty with a devil-may-care simplicity. It was guaranteed, no matter the plane of torment, that I would understand him without explanation or worry of offense.
And so Paulita and I plotted out our strategy against the bitch Jaramillo, but being of different dispositions, both of which Billy was well acquainted with, oh, we knew we must be careful in how we approached the situation. Paulita must avoid or curb any display of jealousy or wounded feelings, and I any of my typical, spirited outbursts of annoyance at the girl's presence. If we pushed the ballot he might get wise, perhaps even livid and shrug off our efforts as petty. But to hell with it! That girl had it coming!
Having to execute discretion, we would play harmlessly enough. We would draw him away from her casually in an offhand manner and engage in subtleties that would in no way tip-off any suspicion on Billy's behalf of our usual strengths of opinion. We would make it easy, effortless, but all the same a success! We hadn't any plans to make our scheme overt or apparent in anyway. Paulita and I would simply make it a point to interrupt them and loiter about if we found them together, and I would send often for him, having one of the boys fetch him to me and tell him that I was in the mood for his company. It was beautiful in its simplicity! By whatever means necessary I made it a point to stay by his side, an endeavor which he never denied me. Celsa never stood a chance. Nor, for that matter, did Billy, being ignorant to the whole charade.
I might have let it pass and let her have the small fraction of his company that she occupied if she were not so horrible. But the worst infractions of all were the fabricated rumors that she'd divulge about me, spreading her malicious propaganda to anyone who would listen, spilling such fictions as to Billy's true feelings for me; that the well-known accounts of his supposed great adoration for me were in fact false and created as a means to romanticize him. She attempted to further my dishonor by telling the villagers of the little Mexican settlement that he claimed I was a whore, and that he would use me and pass me off to the others for the trouble of being stuck with me, especially when we found ourselves out in the middle of the desert for a period of time and the boys needed entertainment. They would deal me out to make money in the little towns we sought refuge in or to buy silence concerning our whereabouts. She would say that he had confided in her intimate facts, such as how he wished I would leave him be and find another's bed when he was finished with me, or that I would finally take off for home. But, she'd say, he couldn't truly complain, as I was always by his side and, therefore, was always readily available for a tumble and to satisfy his needs. And so, she'd say, he conceded I had some use.
My cheeks grew hot as embers at these accusations, embarrassed as I knew full well that most of the townsfolk had heard these slanders against my character, but Billy himself remained unaware and oblivious, nobody wanting to incite his anger by telling him of such vile accusations. They would come to me and keep me informed on the matter, nobody more so than Paulita, and despite our trifling little rivalry over Billy I knew she took no pleasure in relaying these insults to me. Whatever little snipes and quips that lay between Paulita and I did just that, remained between the two of us with only Billy to roll his eyes at our absurdity. She knew any smear on my name by Celsa was an outright lie and so it would bring her no hope-she would not find any comfort or inclination in it, and to that end and her great credit, what would be the point of gloating over such information that had no basis whatsoever? This sort of psychological warfare was lost on her; she found the whole sorry, twisted and pathetic little incident as base as I and was reviled by it just the same.
"Would you want for me to tell him?" She would ask.
If anyone other than I could gently share with Billy such awful news and keep him calm, it was Paulita.
"No, please. Don't tell him anything. It will only make him hurt and angry. Nothing she says is true and nobody believes her-I can't see the point in bringing him any unnecessary grief. He thinks I'm vulnerable, and he would feel guilt at the thought that I might be affected by this."
As I had said, those who knew me well, which consisted of nearly everyone in the entire little fort, knew the claims that Celsa professed and iterated were untrue, but again, to tell Billy, nobody wanted to be the one to get involved by being the messenger of such disgraceful defamation of his amor verdadero. Josiah and his wife lived at the old fort and had been touched by the rumors but did not know the severity of them. I dare to say that if that had been the case, Josiah "Doc" Scurlock would have come to my defense and allowed nothing in his way of it! At the hearing of my being a subsidiary "whore" to himself and the others he would have been inflamed something awful, and he would have dealt with things then and there and hear of no urging to the contrary by me or anyone else.
Jimmy and Tom threatened several times that they would put an end to it, Jimmy asserting that he would knock her teeth down her throat if she didn't quit, but I made them promise to leave it alone. What would be the use in acknowledging her petty little game? Everybody knew these contrived falsehoods were made by a silly, jealous girl, and that my honor was indeed intact. Still, the whole sordid event proved very difficult for me to accept-jealous, silly girl or not. I had no sympathy for her, understanding she foolishly loved a man whose heart categorically belonged to another with no way for her to change and capture it, so she would lash out with cruel intentions. Marring the sacred bond between Billy and I sat very uneasily with me as one could imagine. And truth be told, I didn't want anyone to reveal these revolting state of events to him, to have him to know and be upset over such an unfortunate topic. I could and would handle it.
After all, she meant nothing but squandered time, and she was especially gratuitous in imparting her proud ego towards me, making it a point to try and tempt my ire and pique my envy by working to fool me into believing that he'd chosen her over me. I'd see them walking together; he'd smile at me greatly and she would make a terrific production of looking down her nose at me to demonstrate her imagined prominence over my own standing with Billy. Oh, I knew the truth of my value to him as it compared to hers, and perhaps I should have parlayed that into being the better person, but then an even greater offense was made at my expense when she deliberately brushed against me causing me to bump into a wall as we passed one another on the street. Naturally, as one might expect of me, I took umbrage. Until then I had been taxing myself over how to go about dealing with her and making her pay for her affronts without causing a magnificent stir, but her physical mistreatment of me forced me to make a mistake in the plan to edge her out quietly. Celsa had, for all intents and purposes, upped the ante of the game.
Once careful not to alert the girl to my displeasure of her lest she complain to Billy and place me in the awkward position of having to sit while he lectured me on appropriate behavior towards the locals, I had blundered grandly when again I had found the two together and, after a bout of rainy weather, tripped her into a rather large, muddy puddle in front of them. I had intended to pull the coup off carefully by nonchalantly, if diligently, sticking my foot out as they walked along-the convenience of that puddle presenting itself before them at the right moment was too appealing to pass up-but I had become positively ecstatic at the thought of watching her falter so spectacularly and grew ambitious in my excitement. Giddy with a laugh, I thrust out my booted foot and gave my leg an extra jolt forward to ensure her calamity. Down she went into the muck and I laughed blissfully! She began to cry hysterically as I cackled, and I laughed even harder at this! Billy gave me such a look of fury that my breath caught in my throat and interrupted my amusement. Helping her up, he continued to stare me down while he comforted and soothed her. The dumb girl didn't even have the presence of mind to become angry with me after she had showed her distaste for me, causing me nothing but aggravation all along. When it comes down to it, you haven't the nerve! I thought. The disdain I felt at her revealed weakness freed my breath and I petulantly clucked my tongue at her stupidity, forgetting all about Billy's anger. What could he do? Cut me loose? Without question, he wouldn't dare! My knowledge of this put him at a tremendous disadvantage when it came to the unpredictability of my potential to embarrass him.
"What can you expect when you flaunt your little romances so casually?" I chided.
"I think I can expect you to act above such behavior considering your station! Where have all your grand little manners gone? My God! We shouldn't let you be so unhappy because it's always a goddamned production with you!"
With a tut I replied, "I've always had a meanness in me and for that I am certainly no patrician! If not for her mistreatment of me then I would not have done something so audacious. If a man insulted you the way she has insulted me, you would outright murder him!"
I had not, as of yet, told him the truth of the abysmal nature of the dispute that ultimately sent Celsa flying into that puddle. I wondered if I should even bother.
"Mistreated you how-all in your head? What's it she's done?"
I ignored him and continued my lecture.
"As long as you conduct yourself so improperly then you might as well expect me to conduct myself the same! My patience is wearing thin with these girls and their brazen pride at being your companion while they think me a fool! Maybe I should take my anger out on you if you so fervently disapprove of my actions as you're the cause!"
"Hell hath no fury…"
"You have no idea!"
"Sometimes I honestly don't know how to stand you! You act out like a goddamned vicious little cat! And that high and mighty attitude! My God!" he sneered.
We stood in in the singular bunk room glaring at one another, and I tried to reason with him, albeit irritably.
"Paulita is one thing, but with that other one it makes three of us in such a small community, and the time I spend with you is precious enough as it is, you know I feel this way! And of course there is also the matter that I don't want to share you with her-or anyone for that matter."
"Christ, of course! That jealous temper of yours…The things you're capable of when you don't get your way! How's it a girl like you could have so many years of proper breeding and have it all go to waste like you was born in a barn? If I believed you were capable of an apology I'd make you give it!"
Make me give it? It seemed that Celsa Jaramillo would have the last laugh. Billy hurt me further by not putting the pieces together, knowing me as well as he should have.
"You're to come to me if there's a problem! How many times should I tell you?"
A problem? This was, by far, more than such a thing by leaps and bounds! I wished wholeheartedly that I would let loose my tongue and just tell him how awful things had been-just how mean-spirited and relentlessly cruel Celsa Jaramillo was, how terribly she had tortured me. But I refused. My pride wouldn't let me. No self-respecting man would let himself believe he owed an answer to anyone, and so therefore neither would I. It was my problem and I handled it. I only wish Billy weren't standing before me now giving me such a hard time and making it worse. I never did like disappointing him, and though I was full in the right, I felt guilt. Not because of what I had done to Celsa, but in how Billy thought of me in this instant. A rumbling of intense emotion nearly felled me and I struggled to hold back tears that grew hot behind my eyes and threatened me at his reproach. No I won't! Don't you dare! I scolded myself. It never ceased to amaze me how, since the day I met him, someone of his orphaned, baseborn rank could not only make someone of my celebrated station feel so terribly small, but because of how close we were, could not know the magnitude of the slight I had suffered at Celsa's hands when it was so well documented! The entire little community was aware and yet he knew nothing! And how could he not suspect something was terribly amiss by my callous retribution? Certainly, I did not treat every girl he paid attention to in this way! That alone meant he should have guessed that I had been provoked, but instead was too angry to see it and could only be bothered to yell at me.
Despite my best efforts, I could feel the hurt beginning to register upon my face as my resolution ebbed, and his expression went somewhat slack at this. He never could bear the sight of me upset. He took in a deep breath and expelled it slowly. The airing of his grievances had allowed his body to relax a few degrees and he squinted at me, his mind working out how he ought to act now that he had begun to calm, understanding full well that I was capable of acting out in such a profane manner when offended, and he placed part of the blame upon himself knowing that his romantic behavior gave the other girls a false sense of entitlement with which to deride me. He began to assume that perhaps Celsa had indeed struck out at me in some way but never guessed at the brutality, so he was absolutely unwavering in his feelings regarding how poorly I had conducted myself with her. Still, he smiled at me gave a slight, amicable laugh. At this, the danger of my tears subsided.