Thank you Jo for pointing out that I had posted Chapter 22 twice.
It’s update time again! Hooray, hooray for a new chapter. At least, I hope you are hooraying… they haven’t been getting as many likes or comments the last couple weeks – not that I can complain too much, I haven’t really been around the last couple weeks.
Hmm, I wonder if the little prince will like westerns as much as me…
If you need to catch up, you can find the previous 21 chapters here.
Sheriff Brown made his way over to Mrs. Sorensen’s just as supper was being served. Due to his position in town, and the fact that Mrs. Sorensen had a not-so-secret crush on the sheriff, she quickly found him a place at the table and served him a plate as well. It wasn’t the first time Cole had shown up for dinner and it wouldn’t be the last.
The tenants, and the guest, ate their meals mostly in silence. The only words were those few uttered courtesies essential at a formal table to get dishes and condiments passed around. Brig had a notion that his name had begun to make its way about the town as he got sideways glances from the tenants from time to time as they ate when they had never given him the time of day before. Those same people seemed to slide their gaze back and forth between the sheriff and him and the various looks from anticipation of a confrontation to confusion and fear were funny enough that Brig would have chuckled if it would have been polite to do so. As it was, they were at Mrs. Sorensen’s table and she didn’t abide such behavior.
If he had chuckled, she would have wrapped his hand, or the backside of his head, with a long wooden spoon. She had before. And, if the news of his real name had reached her ears he didn’t think that would keep her from doing it. If anything, she might hit me harder.
After supper, as he had started to do on a regular basis, Brig helped clear the dishes off the table and straighten up the dining room while Mrs. Sorensen went about scrubbing the plates, glasses and utensils to a sparkling sheen. The sheriff, as he also did from time to time when he showed up for dinner, joined them and took over the role of drying the dishes and putting them away.
As the last bit of work was being wrapped up, Mrs. Sorensen smacked the wooden spoon against the back of Brig’s head. Hard. It hurt, a lot and he couldn’t help the “ouch” that escaped his lips and the involuntary reaction to bring his right hand up and rub the spot of impact. He turned with the intent of asking why she had hit him but when he saw the look on her face the question died on his lips. She knows.
“Well, stop fidgeting and let me get a look at you.” Her arms were crossed in front of her and she was half glaring, half frowning, and half curious. Yes, I know that’s too many “halves,” but that’s how it was explained to me and since I wasn’t there who am I to argue. Get over it.
Brig stopped rubbing his head and with a sheepish, uncertain, grin, dropped his arms to his side. He felt like he needed to stand up straight, like he was back in the military getting ready for an inspection. He wasn’t far off.
She uncrossed her arms and stuck the wooden spoon into his chest, “Well, you don’t look like anything special to me, just a drunken fool.”
Sheriff Brown laughed. Mrs. Sorensen swiveled and turned her disapproving gaze on him, “You’re no different.” Cole went quiet mid laugh and mumbled an apology under his breath. The drill sergeant, I mean Mrs. Sorensen, harrumphed and turned her full attention back to Brig.
“You may think you know why I hit you, but you are probably wrong. I don’t care who you were before you showed up at my door. I hit you because you lied to me and gave me a fake name Mr. Coyle. I don’t abide liars living in my house.” Brig wasn’t sure how it was possible, but her frown became even more intense. “I should kick you out.”
For the next few moments the only sound came from water dripping into the sink, plunk, plunk, plunk. The tension in the small kitchen was palpable, a crushing pressure on each of them.
“Then again, aren’t we taught to forgive and forget?” Mrs. Sorensen asked, Brig saw the hint of a twinkle of mischief in her eyes. “Don’t cause any trouble under my roof and you can stay. That is assuming, of course, that you keep up with your payments as well. Now get out of my kitchen before I change my mind.”
Brig said a quick thank you and then took his leave with Sheriff Brown on his heels, neither wanted to risk Mrs. Sorensen’s ire any more than they already had. Cole and Brig headed out to the porch to enjoy the cool evening air. The sun hadn’t set yet but it would only be a matter of time and Cole lit the oil lanterns hanging at either edge of the expansive porch so they would have light when the sun slipped below the horizon.
Brig sat in the rocker he had spurned the opportunity to enjoy earlier than afternoon and after the lanterns had been lit Cole took the one that Emmalou had occupied. Two of Mrs. Sorensen’s tenants that had gone outside after supper to enjoy the evening took their leave when the sheriff and the notorious gunslinger took their seats and appeared to settle in for awhile. The man and woman wanted no part in whatever was about to transpire on the porch. They slipped back inside trying to be inconspicuous and failing miserably.
When they were alone, after sharing a smile over the ridiculousness of the two that had just vacated the porch, Ed started their conversation on a good note, “I watched Ed ride out of town earlier this afternoon. I’m not sure what that means, but I’d take it as a good sign that Blunt is at least trying to get some control over his man. If nothing else, you shouldn’t have to worry about anything tonight.”
“Well,” he continued after the briefest of pauses, “other than Mrs. Sorensen that is. You might need to worry about her. I think I would be if I was in your position.”
The two men chuckled. It wasn’t completely without sincere mirth, but they both knew that she wasn’t someone to trifle with so there was some truth in the sheriff’s statement and that took a bit of the humor out of it.
“I’m assuming your conversation with Emmalou went well enough this afternoon, since you are still here and not chugging along down the tracks.”
It was more of a comment than a question by Cole but Brig chimed in with a response anyway. “It went as well as could be expected. I’m still here, and that’s probably more than we both think I deserve. Let’s say she’s giving me a run out on a trial basis.”
“Better than nothing, better than being back in the bottle, better than finding yourself further on down the road, right?”
“You don’t hear me complaining, do you?”
The two sat in silence for awhile and watched the sun disappear and the first stars pop into life in the darkening sky. Though it was summer and it didn’t get all that cold the lack of movement along with the fine supper in his stomach started to cause Cole’s muscles to cool down and tighten up. He rose and shook them out to loosen them up.
“You coming down to the jail to get your revolver back?”
Brig had considered that already. He wanted it, on his hip, within arm’s reach, loaded and ready to use if needed but it would go a long way to convince Emmalou and maybe some of the other people in town that he wasn’t a bad guy anymore if wasn’t carrying. With Ed out of town, at least for the night, he didn’t see all that pressing a need to retrieve it. “Why don’t you hang on to it for me for now? If Ed comes back looking for trouble then I’ll come get it.”
“What if he doesn’t give you that chance?”
“That’s a risk I think I have to take right now.”
“Suit yourself. You know where to find it if you change your mind. I’ve got to go make my rounds.” Cole started down the porch steps. He stopped when he reached the dirt road and, without looking back at the seated gunslinger, said, “She wasn’t the only one to make an impression.”
Confused, Brig replied, “What do you mean?”
“You got her to agree to visit you on a regular basis, sun tea and conversation on Mrs. Sorensen’s porch. I wonder how many relationships around town started just that way.”
Brig was a loss for words, and so said nothing.
Cole smiled, unseen by anyone in the deepening darkness and because his back was to Brig and no one else was around, “Yep, quite the impression.”
The sheriff walked off and faded into the night without another word. Brig sat in the rocker, un-moving, lost in his thoughts, confused and terrified. I made an impression on her? Couldn’t be, it just couldn’t possibly be…