(Old West)

by Jennifer

June 5, 1871

I was awoken this morning, at the most ungodly hour, by the exploits of Mr. Wilmington. His room is adjacent to mine, and I do not recall it ever-falling silent when the owner was in its possession. Most nights, I hope that he finds some other accommodations to woe his endless train of female suitors. I confess he is not very discriminate in choosing his conquests.

At times, I envy him; however, a thousand horses could not drag that piece of news from me. The fairer sex seems drawn to his jovial mood. I could never be that fancy-free. With others I play the part, I exude confidence, but my elegance dissipates when confronted with members of the opposite persuasion. It seems unusual that Mr. Wilmington can find so many kindred spirits. There are few women that attract me, and actually fewer that I dare make a move on. A gentleman never takes advantage of a woman or tries to, unless he plans on being betrothed to her. A piece of wisdom that my father supplied me with before his untimely demise.

As the image of my father enters my unconscious I am reminded of why Mr. Wilmington and his paramours laughter this morning disturbed me so. I was in the middle or a reoccurring dream. I was standing on this cliff overlooking a pond of sparkling blue cider. I was peering over the edge, one foot on land and the other firmly in the air. I am terrified, and I feel someone tugging at my arm, trying to pull me to safety. My head turns to look at my savior. My green eyes meet golden ringlets. It is a face I have known my entire life. It shocks me to discover that it is my mother. For some reasons I can not reconcile her caring whether I live or die. However, it is her trying to pull be back to safety.

I turn away from her at the sound of other voices calling me from just below I can not hear what they are saying. They voices are distorted, faint, and almost unrecognizable. Even so, I think I remember hearing the exuberant voice of Mr. Dunne trying to lure me over the jaded rock. Then the sun's intensity blinds me for a second. When I return my eyes to the magenta sky a pair of eyes stare back at me, looking at me like I am a specimen in a jar.

Then the voices of Mr. Wilmington and his lady friend seep into my head, and I awaken, sit straight up in my feather bed, a lump forming in my throat. These crystal eyes scare me. I wonder whose they are, and what they are demanding of me?

June 7, 1871

Arrived in the saloon around noon. My colleagues were sitting at a table in the corner. I stopped at my usual table after speaking briefly with Inez, and ordering a shot of whiskey. Before long I was knee deep in a game of chance with some less than reputable characters but they had money to spend, and no way of knowing my proficiency with the cards. They are from out of town, and had yet to be warned of my less than stellar reputation.

I won several games in the course of our brief relationship, and found myself rather bored with the game. I had positioned my chair so I would be able to see my comrades. Periodically, I would venture out from behind my cards, searching their faces for the eyes in my dream. I do not find the answers I seek there. I even study Inez when she and Buck are in a brief debate but they are not her eyes and I am almost sorry there not.

The others seem to notice my glances over at their table. When my opponent vacates the premises financially depleted Larabee saunters over and sits down. He does not say a word. We just sit there staring at each other.

Finally, I give in and ask, "Is there any thing I can do for you, Mr. Larabee?"

"No, Ezra," he says, "I'm just enjoyin' the view."

I smile fastidiously at him, and abandon the table for the solace of my humble abode. As I exit through the familiar batwing doors I feel his eyes gauging into my back.

June 8, 1871,

The McCormick brothers are at it again. Good Lord, don't they ever give up? They come barreling into town with five or six hired guns, looking for Dan Clover, another local rancher. Seems there is some dispute over where the lines of their properties cross. The confrontation has been a month in the making. Smaller infractions have occurred in this time, too tedious and ridiculous to recount.

The dispute is settled rather quickly, but not without the use of gunfire. No one was killed, thankfully. A couple of gun shot wounds, some dislocated shoulders, and some bruising. Most of these wound were inflicted on McCormick and his boys. However, Mr. Tanner re-injured his shoulder, and Nathan is now watching him like a hawk, refusing to take his eyes off of him. I almost felt sorry for Vin, but when Chris informed me that I would be replacing him on watch tonight I was not impressed. A night with Larabee, now why does that not sound like an enjoyable evening? Maybe I could convince Mr. Dunne, over an innocent poker game, to take my place.

June 10, 1871

The dream continues to persist. This time, I saw a bible in my hand. At least this symbol makes sense to me, and I can find several meanings for it. It could represent Josiah, or possibly my faith, the fact that I have abandoned my beliefs. Somehow, I know these interpretations are incorrect. It has to represent my father.

I feel his strength as I hold it in my hand. James Standish, was a dedicated minister. I rarely think of him because when I do, I am forced to realize that he would not approve of my present life style. He was firmly against gambling, and the imbibing of alcohol. Funny, I could never understand why he married my mother. They were so different but some how I know they love each other.

When he died, I suspect apart of my mother died with him. I was barely six when a stray bullet killed him. But I know that was a moment that changed my life forever. Sometimes I would blame mother for not being stronger or him for dying, but my anger fell squarely on God's shoulders. The person with whom my father put so much trust in, who took his service, and then spat at him. Today, I still can not enter the Lords sanctuary without the resentment eating me alive.

June 13, 1871

I went to the general store today to see if the jacket I ordered from St. Louis had arrived as of yet. Buck Wilmington and JD Dunne accompanied me. They both needed to pick up some supplies for a hunting trip they were going on. Like usual I found myself listening to their brotherly banter. I felt a familiar sadness descend my person, and found myself thinking about Jamie again.

His memory always strikes me at the most peculiar times. Sometimes, I can not bring myself to look in the mirror because every time I do I am greeted with his face staring back at me or what he would look like now if he had lived. Our relatives and our mother forever had trouble telling us apart. I used to think they were not looking hard enough because there was no way anyone could mistake me for my perfect brother. He was, and still is the bet person I have ever known. Jamie died saving a woman who was being attacked by another man; sometimes I wish he had not been so saintly. I could never understand where is altruism came from. He must have gotten that from Dad, but I do not recall our father ever having as much patience as Jamie. I must have been cursed with my mother's temperament.

Jamie left behind a young wife, Laurie, and a baby daughter, Dawn, he never got a chance to meet. It hurts that he never got to hold his first born child. He had always wanted a family, a real one, to replace the one we had grown up. I visit occasionally, but its hard because I remind her too much of him, but we do write, and she tells me about Dawn. She is nearly ten now, and is very spirited. There is some talk about her coming for a visit. I desperately want to see them. They are the only link I have left to my brother but I would have to explain who they are, and I am not sure I am ready to do that.

Coward, Jamie's voice echoes in my head.

June 14, 1871

I was up extremely earlier this morning. I watched the dawn of a new day, and was some how relaxed by it. I somehow felt more secure, and more rested even though, as of late I have not been able to surrender to the drowsiness of sleep.

From my perch outside the saloon I spy Ella Treeland sweeping out the general store. Mrs. Potter hired her the a few months back but people rarely see her. In fact, she is one woman that our illustrious ladies man will not try and seduce. There is something almost unearthly about her. She rarely says much, and you never know what she is thinking. Sometimes I cat her laughing to herself, and I wonder what kind of joke she hears, but will not share. I have noticed her watching people. It is like she looks straight through them, and can see into their soul: I always advert my eyes from her perpetrating gaze. I am afraid I may be discovered, but none the less, I am drawn to her.

In spite of myself I seek her out. She keeps her soft auburn hair up in a bun. Sometimes I fantasize about removing the clip that holds it into place, and watch it fall down around her face. I think that if I did that I would reveal the truth that she is an angel. It took her awhile to warm up to me, and now we share on occasional cup of coffee, and a conversation that is terrifying as facing down a bullet. She demands honesty, and I give it to her, freer than I have anyone in my entire life.

Today, though, I noticed something strange as I sat there watching her work. I strode across the road, and was by her side in a moment. I am sure she was surprised as my hand titled her face upwards. Hers were the eyes I had been looking for earlier, the ones in my dreams. The exhilaration of my find courses though my veins. I looked deeper into her eyes. They no longer scared me. In fact, looking at them I felt unified, connected with her. I was so in the moment that I pulled her close, wrapped her in my arms, and kissed her for all to see. It did not occur to me that we were standing out in the open or that our relationship had been purely platonic before this point. When I pulled away, she was visibly shaken, and left me standing there, alone.

June 15, 1871

I have stolen away to the stables. I can no longer take Buck and JD's ribbings. Of all the luck, I can not believe Mr. Dunne was up so early yesterday to have seen my indiscretion. I must admit he did restrain himself almost a day before assaulting my person with the assistance of his mentor. Usually, I could handle such teasing but things between Ella and I are extremely awkward. Every time she sees me from across the street she turns the other way. There is nothing I can do to take back what I did even if I desired to.

Even now, with all the teasing in the world, with all the sideways glances and whispering, all I want to do is to kiss her again. Maybe after a few days she will calm down, and I will find the words to talk to her with out sticking my foot in my mouth or saying detrimental remarks, as I am prone to do when I am nervous. I know I must do this. I feel it with everything inside me with a certainty I have not felt since before Jamie's death.

July 18, 1871

The heat is impenetrable. My new green jacket is covered in layers upon layers of dust, and it does not look like there will be a reprieve in the weather any time soon. It is even worse inside than it is outside so I have sworn off poker for the time being. That is, unless I manage to find a few curmudgeons willing to join me outside.

To make things worse Larabee summoned me a dawn this morning. Of course, he did not come himself. I still can not stop laughing at poor Mr. Dunne. He really should learn to adopt a few manners, like the courteously on knocking for instance. The expression on his face was priceless, raw pure emotion, as I aimed my colt conversion at him. You think they would learn to wait until a decent time of day to rise me from my slumber. Next time Larabee is going to have to do his bidding himself. I might enjoy that.

Trouble may be brewing. There has been a string of stagecoach robberies on route to Eagle Bend, and we may be next, so Larabee wants us to be prepared. Unfortunately, the meeting of the minds was to be held at the church which did nothing to improve my mood. Mr. Tanner felt the brunt of my annoyance as we have recently been exchanging barbs with each other. However, our conversations usually retain a degree of civility.

Things ended rather quickly. Vin could not wait to exit; Larabee followed to make sure he was all right. Buck and JD took off on some scandalous adventure, I'm sure. Nathan took off, after giving me a disapproving look. Where I am concerned, that is the only facial expression he has. No matter what I do we will probably never see eye to eye on anything. Nathan is too much like Jamie. Funny, though, Jamie and I got a long fantastically. My prejudices caused the gulf between Mr. Jackson and I. Try as we might, the gulf only gets deeper.

I was mumbling to myself, Josiah came to ask me if I wanted to talk with him, and I shook my head. Then the unfathomable happened I lost control. For the first time since I was a child I cried. Good Lord, I can only imagine what Mr. Sanchez thought of me.

June 19, 1871

The smell of gunpowder is still resonating inside my mind. The bandits that were expected arrived but they did not find what they were looking for instead they found seven gunslingers. They had but four in their fleet. When we finished what they started, two were left, now taking up residence in our local jailhouse.

My altercation with Mr. Tanner was settled when I took down one of men who had been gunning for him. I wish everything were so easy to solve. Until then, their is always whiskey, and of course a game of chance to pass the time.

June 20, 1871

I received a letter from mother today. She is in the middle of some con, and would like my help. This is the second time she has asked. I'm sure mother feels that I am wasting my god given talents here, and from time to time I have thought so to. As things stand I could use a break from my life.

The dream keeps coming, the voices have become distinctive I hear my comrades calling, telling me to jump, to take a leap of faith. I want to, the eyes, Ella's eyes, make it possible, but my mother is still holding on to me. She is stronger, and I feel if I do jump, I will be letting go of something so fundamental to me that I may never get back. I have no idea of what the trade in will be - no idea at all. I can not even calculate the odds.

Josiah came to talk to me today. I had come up with some rehearsed reason for my behavior the other day but his quiet unassuming nature would prevent the lie I had prepared. We sat there a while, and I wanted to tell him, I needed to, but I could not, I was not ready to. Maybe I never will be.

June 22, 1871

I was sitting outside the saloon, enjoying a shot of whiskey, alone, when I felt someone take the seat next to me. I sat straight up in my chair, by body tensed. I turned my head expecting to see Chris but was surprised when Ella's beautiful face came into view.

She waited for me to talk. I could always talk to her, but now things were different. I had made them that way. I sat there a moment, not knowing what to say to her, but then everything spilled out. Not what I had been going though lately, but everything about how I felt about her. I told her I loved her, and it was like it was someone else's voice, but I knew I meant as soon as I said it. I had never uttered the words before that moment. I found myself proposing to her. I even remember getting on bended knee.

If I had astonished her by kissing her, I had stunned her with my declaration. I waited for her answer, but when I saw she was not ready to give me one. I left her sitting there, and I went into the saloon to collect myself. I had only made things worse by my presumption. How could I expect her to love me, when I was nothing more than a con man. Nathan could tell her that.

June 23, 1871

Voices circle in my head faster and faster. The dream comes again and I get closer to the truth. Closer and closer with every step that I take. My mother's hand is on my shoulder tugging me away from the edge of the cliff. I pull away from her and go the cliff. Finally I see the water below, my six comrades, and the long drop downwards. They're calling for me.

"Come on, Ezra the water's fine," JD calls.

Buck who is surrounded by a group of women tries to entice me. "Got a couple of ladies who'd like to meet you." Buck says.

"He's a married man," Jamie tells Buck and slaps him on the back.

Then Buck asks, "Whose going to be his best man?" And I wake up in a cold sweat. Then I know what I am most of afraid of - being alone. I never take any risks in my life. Sure I put my life on the line for this quaint backwater, or on a game of chance. But I never risked my heart until know, and not just with Ella.

Who would be my best man? Buck, Chris, Josiah, JD, Nathan or Vin? Would any of them stand up for me? I have been skirting the edges or our little group for a while now and I am no more certain of whether my presence matters to any of them. In the late night hours, just after the saloon closes, just before I fall a sleep, I sometimes imagine my own death, my own funeral. There is just my corpse being lowered into the ground. No one is there to mourn my passing not even my mother.

I have finished the dream and I am no better off then before. Is it telling me to marry Ella? If so, maybe this is the power on high repaying me for my former crimes. For what more could I do? Ms. Treeland had figuratively run screaming from me. There is no hope. The dream is torment.

June 26, 1871

My excitement knows no bounds. How improbable it seemed to me that my future could once again look so bright. Ella sought me out today, finding me in the saloon, and in the process of consuming libations. She has accepted, and for the first time there is no words in my vast vocabulary to annunciate how delighted I am. The date has been set two days from today. It now seems I am in need of that invisible best man.

They were all at the church engaging in some menial labor. I had no idea what to say, or who to ask. I was terrified but for the first in my life I could not keep the arduous feeling in my heart to myself. It was then that the dream hit me with the intensity of a sack of wheat. Its meaning more intrusive than any attack of conscience in a con.

The dream is symbolic of the two paths that lay before me. I escape my mother's hold, my previous life, and I am venturing towards something else. My bother's lay before me. They combined are my new family. Ella's eyes show her love for me, the bible, my father's faith, and together they allow me to go further, to recognize that I do have family and friend. I will no longer be alone. I have learned to trust my comrades with my life, and something tells me they have too.

I approached the church and climbed the staircase. The usual haunting anxiety was no where to be found. My friends' faces greeted me as I walked through the door. A few query looks on their faces. They were waiting for me to tell them why my lips were formed in a permanent smile. I shook my head at them and they became more curious. Somewhere on my journey from the saloon to the church I had found the truth. I had changed or maybe I just finally saw what I had become since I joined them. My life is no longer just my own. They each own a part and on my wedding day they will each be there, watching my back like they always do. The day will be brighter knowing that what ever happens they will be there with their humor, disapproval, advice and love.

The future lies before me. The problems with Jackson and Larabee must be addressed. No longer can I hide from them. I must go first if we are to go to forward. I entered the church and told my six living brothers everything. My past was reopened for examination. They seemed to understand, and the bond that we had is growing. After leaving them in the church I went to the telegram office, wired Laura and Dawn, and invited them to come to visit. There were some people that I wanted to introduce them to.

It was time my past met my future. It was time to be the man Jamie always believed I could be.


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