Chapter 24

I think we should be back on the right chapter this week.  I’m not sure what happened last week.  If you need to catch up, you can find the previous 23 chapters here.

You know you want to find out what happens next…

………

The next two days returned to some semblance of normal for Brig.  He rose early, worked, visited Cole at the jail, ate supper at Mrs. Sorensen’s, retired early each night, and avoided contact with anyone else as best he could.  Steering clear of trouble proved fairly easy because as his name was passed around town the good folks of Gunnison wanted even less to do with him than they had before.  He went from being ignored as just another drunk under the sheriff’s wings to being purposefully avoided.

People went out of their way to walk on the opposite of roads as him when passing on the street.  People in the shops he passed would clutch their belongings to their chests hoping he wouldn’t enter and on the one occasion he had entered, on an errand to pick up some nails to do some repair work on the Gunnison Inn all the other people there on business cleared out.  The owner looked like he wanted to clear out too and trembled so much while the money changed hands that several of the coins eluded him and went spinning and bouncing along the counter.

Initially Brig had worried that his name might cause a decrease in the clientele that frequented the bar but those concerns had turned out to be unfounded.  If anything, business had picked up a bit.  The normal morning patrons continued to come in to get their pre or post work drinks and there was a small but noticeable uptick in new faces.  The regulars didn’t care who served them their drinks they were just happy to be out of the mines in that moment.  The new faces popped in just to be able to say they were served a drink by Brig Coyle.  It was something they’d be able to tell their grandkids about.

“Listen up, once, after walking uphill through four feet of snow to get there, fighting off all manner of creatures intent upon feasting on bones, I stumbled upon a bar where I was served a drink by none other than the one-eyed gunslinger Brig Coyle.  I went on to stumble home, uphill, through five feet of snow after that, taming the west in the process.”

Anyway, moving on, Brig found Emmalou waiting for him on the porch on the third afternoon.  He was so pleased to see her that he didn’t even try to hide the smile that promptly spread across his face.  “Good afternoon, Miss Marsch.”

“And to you, Mr. Coyle.”

She was not smiling, but Brig didn’t let that get to him.  “If you will excuse me I will get cleaned up and join you promptly.”  She said nothing but inclined her head in approval and Brig quickly went about the process of making himself more presentable and then returned to the porch.  She had taken the same rocker she had sat in previously, and Brig pulled up the bench just as he had before as well.

“I’m happy to report that, I haven’t heard anything bad about you in the last three days, Mr. Coyle,” she said when he had settled into his seat.

You don’t look happy to report that, Brig found himself thinking.  She was not smiling, she wasn’t even rocking in the chair, straight backed, serious, all business.

“I have heard people saying that they’d wish you’d leave.”

“Did you tell them that I’m trying to start over, that I’m not the person they think I am?”

Emmalou frowned.  No, she hadn’t said that anytime his name had come up and the people talking had discussed their desire to see him run out of town.  She had considered it, the first time the opportunity had presented itself, but she found herself reluctant to divulge her role in his continued presence.  She knew she’d have to explain herself soon enough, after news of her visits to Mrs. Sorensen’s became as common knowledge as el borracho’s real name but she would deal with that when she had to.  It was cowardly of her, she knew it, and it ate at her whenever she thought about it.

She was angry with herself for getting into her current situation, angry for letting him stay in town, angry for agreeing to meet with him, angry for feeling slightly attracted to him still even as the initial intrigue had worn off, and angry that she was too concerned about her name in the community to be forward and outspoken about Brig’s attempt to live among them, to live a normal life.

All that angry, made her snippy with Brig, even if most of the anger wasn’t his fault, “No, it’s not my place.”  Yes it is, she thought the second the words had left her mouth.

Yes it is, Brig thought, but said nothing.

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence and then Emmalou made things even more uncomfortable by asking, “Will you tell me about that day in Cheyenne?”  She knew she didn’t need to be more specific than that, Brig would know what she was referring to.

He turned pale white and then a dark red that deepened to purple until he remembered to breath.  His color returned to the weather beaten tan of a man that has lived long years working out in the sun, eventually, but his eye showed how truly distraught he was.  His right hand, his gun hand, twitched.  It was the same twitch that had led him to put a bottle in his hand all those years ago, and thinking about it made him wish he could feel his hand with a bottle again.  I need a drink.

El borracho, looked at Emmalou defeated.  He made his right hand grab the front lip of the bench he was seated on to give it something to hold on to.  His good mood from before was a distant memory as the urge to drink filled his mind, his pores, his eye, his nostrils…  His vision swam, he could smell the whiskey, and he licked his lips as his mouth filled with the sweet taste of the brown liquid.  It was such a real hallucination that Brig momentarily believed he had somehow taken a drink.

His body shook, slightly, but enough to snap him back into reality and what he saw first helped him ease up his grip on the bench.  Emmalou was looking at him and her eyes were unmistakably full of concern.  I hadn’t believed Cole that I had made an impression on her, why would she want anything to do with me?  But, there in her eyes, I can see it.  She cares more for me than just to make sure I don’t bring pain and violence to her peaceful town.

 

The need to drink disappeared and the hallucination was forgotten almost as quickly as it had happened.  Maybe I can tell her? 

“Are, are you okay?”  She interrupted his thought process.

Brig realized he had been staring through her and brought his eye back into focus.  “Yes,” he managed though he shook his head from left to right without realizing it.

Maybe I can tell her.

Emmalou cocked her head slightly to one side, her features pensive as she studied the man seated across from her.  Once again, he had surprised her.  She had expected him to be outraged, it was why she had asked the question, or to at least immediately refuse.  She had not expected the very physical outburst of anguish that he had displayed instead.  She was sorry she had asked but it was too late, she couldn’t take it back.

Their eyes met, well, her eyes and his eye, and Brig began to speak.  His voice cracked from time to time and at a few points in his story he stopped talking for long spells before starting up again.  She silently took it all in.  The sun slid across the heavens.  People entered and exited the house off to their sides and passed to and fro along the street in front of the porch.  Another gentle afternoon breeze flowed out of the mountains to herald the cooler evening air that would arrive with night a few hours later.  Brig tried to hold Emmalou’s gaze while he spoke, but occasionally found he couldn’t stand her intense, beautiful blue eyes and dropped to stare through the wooden floorboards instead.

When he finished, Emmalou rose, and Brig rose too, she stepped to his side, and put her hand on his left shoulder, “Good evening, Mr. Coyle.”  She made her way down the steps and headed home.  Brig said nothing in return and did not watch her leave.  After a minute he went to his room and fell asleep.  He didn’t even wake up when Mrs. Sorensen called out that supper was being served.

When he did wake, several hours before he needed to for work, his eye sprung open and he whispered into the darkness, “She placed her hand on my shoulder.”

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