Chapter 37

It’s that time again.  I wonder what Brig is up to this week…?

(And don’t forget all previous chapters can be found here.)

…..

For those of you who are wondering, and absolutely must know, Cole had left the jailhouse moments before to assist Miss Marsch with bringing over the morning’s breakfast.  He’d only made it a block or two down the street when he heard the pounding and turned around to see Ed and his cronies huddled around his jailhouse door.  If they’d been sober at all, they would have easily spotted him as he was walking down the middle of the street.  There, mystery solved, may I proceed with the story now?  Good.

When Emmalou and Cole showed up with breakfast, Brig asked if someone would kindly fill him on what was going on.  While they ate, Cole obliged and detailed out the morning’s events filling in gaps with conjecture as needed.  Though, he really only had to guess where the group had come from and where the four cowards had fled back to since he’d witnessed the rest of it firsthand.

Despite his sour mood from the previous night, Brig couldn’t help but smile when he heard that Ed had nearly blown his own foot off.  “The dang fool.”

Emmalou chimed in with, “I reckon so;” beating Cole to his normal response, and they all laughed.

After polishing off the breakfast provisions, fresh squeezed orange juice, crisp bacon, scrambled eggs, and harvest toast, Cole thanked Emmalou for the meal and then let himself out.  He needed to walk around town so the people could still see his presence and now that he wasn’t shirking his job, he also needed to walk off the heavy meal, and he wanted to give Brig and Emmalou some time to themselves.  Wasn’t that nice of him?  I thought so too.

Knowing full well what Cole was up to Brig was slightly embarrassed and a he avoided eye contact with Emmalou as his cheeks flushed slightly.  He found a particularly interesting looking knot in one of the floor boards and studied it intently.  It was fascinating.

Emmalou was only slightly more composed than Brig.  She had an inkling of Sheriff Brown’s intentions in giving Mr. Coyle and herself some time alone but she did a better job of hiding her emotions.  From her seat, Cole’s chair that she had dragged closer to Brig’s cell, she placed her hands in her lap and waited patiently for her “host” to break the silence.  It was an odd sentiment considering he was behind bars, but she was actually the guest in their current setting.

He hadn’t always been shy but the last few years of his life, spent as a drunk wandering from town to town, had severely limited the amount of time he had interacted with women to the point where he had begun to wonder if he still knew how.

His previous interactions with Miss Marsch had all been instinctual reactions to the situations that had sprung up.  He hadn’t had time to really think about what he was going to say or do.  Spending the last few days behind bars had given him plenty of downtime to think about Emmalou and think about the burgeoning feelings he felt tugging at his guts and the vast possibilities of topics to discuss and the future or lack thereof engulfed him in confusion to the point where he hadn’t been able to hold onto a thought long enough to determine if it was something he should bring up with her.  A veritable tornado of questions had torn through his mind and left nothing in its wake but fractured fragments and scattered words.

With nothing left in his mind but jumbled half-remembered thoughts it actually became easier for Brig to address Miss Marsch because his mind reverted back to instinct.  Without taking his eye off the knot in the floor, the imprisoned gunslinger managed to shake off his embarrassment, find something to say, and start talking.  “I wanted to thank you for taking the time to cook for Cole and me.  We truly appreciate it.”

Across from him, Emmalou dipped her slightly in recognition but said nothing.  Providing the two men with a few meals really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for her; she’d been helping less fortunate families around town for awhile with extra meals as needed.  Still, she contemplated responding with “You’re welcome,” or “It was nothing,” or something along those lines but her uncertainty around her own feelings and around what type of man Brig Coyle truly was kept her reserved for the time being.

If Brig had expected any sort of verbal response it didn’t show on his face.  He only let the silence return for a few seconds before he asked one of the questions his mind had managed to reassemble, “How have you been since we last had a chance to talk?”

It was a silly question because they’d seen each other a lot recently with her delivery meals to the jailhouse from time to time and they’d chatted on each of those occasions.  Plus, in the conversations they’d had on Mrs. Sorensen’s porch it had turned out that he had done most of the talking.  Beyond a few courtesies and pleasantries where placating and vague answers were given he had never asked her how she was before and wanted a truthful answer.  He wanted more than “fine” or “okay” or any of the other stock answers that people give that don’t really mean anything.

She went that route anyway, “I’ve been good, thank you for asking, and other than the obvious difficulties you are facing how have you been?”

Brig shook his head and smiled at her.  “No, Miss Marsch, don’t give me that.  Truly, how have you been?  Is there anything Cole or I could do for you?   Is there anything that’s been bothering you?  Is there anything in particular you’ve been happy about recently?”

Something in her stomach fluttered and she realized that Mr. Coyle had looked up and met her gaze as he asked his questions.  Her heart rate increased, her cheeks feathered with the lightest touch of a red paint stroke, and she was temporarily lost in the swirling depth of his penetrating eye.

I’m happy that you stayed.  The thought sprung to the forefront of her mind but she quickly pushed it away.  It would be improper to say such a thing.  She cast about for a more suitable answer and settled with, “Tired.”

Brig, a look of concern etched on his face, was about to ask if she could elaborate, but she continued on without the need of any further prodding.

“My quiet little town hasn’t been so quiet these last few weeks.  While I’ve tried to stick to my normal routines I’ve found that my sleep is stunted, interrupted, by pressing thoughts and concerns.  I’m worried … “ about your wellbeing, she almost said but caught herself and finished with, “about the townspeople.  I’m even worried about those two gun men and Mr. Sans.  I don’t want them causing any more trouble than the already have but I don’t want any harm coming to them either.

“I know that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  In the world you’ve come from the idea is probably unthinkable.  I just don’t understand why there can’t be a way where everyone comes through this unscathed, without … without gunplay, without violence.  I stay awake long into the night trying to think of solutions to these problems, to your problem, and how we might get everyone out of this uninjured.  That may be naïve of me, but that’s who I am.”

Once he got her talking she had a lot to say.  Brig, sitting on his cot in his cell, took in every word.  There were times where he wanted to interject but he decided to let Miss Marsch have her say.  He had asked, had wanted the truth, and he would let it all come out before he said anything on the matter.

“It seems to me that you also wish there was a reasonable way out of this mess.  You’ve basically told me as much yourself, and thank you again for telling me your story, it meant a lot that you trusted me with it.  Your actions since showing up in Gunnison have also spoken volumes for you: you’ve turned your life around, you’ve put away your gun after putting it back on not because you were asked to but because you felt it was the right thing to do, and you’ve kept yourself from putting the gun back on when the world seemed to rise up against you.”

At that moment Brig felt terrible about his comment from the night before.  He opened his mouth to confess that he had desperately wanted a firearm in his hand after tearing into Ed verbally last night but she swept forward before he got a word out.

“You’ve probably wanted to arm yourself in the past few days, you’ve probably wanted to march out of this cell and face the men that have been threatening you… with the life you’ve led that could only be the natural response.  But you haven’t yet.  You haven’t asked Sheriff Brown to let you out and give you a gun.  You’ve stayed patient and bided your time to see how this whole fiasco plays out.  That has impressed me Mr. Coyle.

“So, yes, I’m tired, and frazzled, and fairly a mess because I don’t know how to help you, how to save everyone, how to protect my home and my town and it has made me feel small and insignificant.  How can we stand up to those who seek out violence and chaos without becoming part of the problem?  We can’t pretend they don’t exist.

“I’m at a loss, drifting along this torrent and not sure I have the strength fight against it if I don’t like where it is taking me.  I can see by your expression that you know exactly what I mean.  That’s good.

“So, I’m taking each day at a time, taking on each situation as it comes up and doing my best to stay in one piece throughout.  My mind is probably taking the worst of the brunt of it all, just listen to me rambling on, but I’m sure the rest of me is equally frazzled and fraying around the edges.”

She took her right hand out of her lap and smoothed a few stray hairs back into the bun she had twisted around at the back of her head.

As she fixed her hair, though it needed no fixing, Brig smiled at her.  It was a thoughtful, knowing, smile full of emotions: concern, tenderness, longing.  “I don’t know that I would agree with that, Miss Marsch, you still look stunning to me.”

Her right hand paused in mid air, she broke eye contact with him, dropped her hand back into her lap and clasped it together with the left hand, and stared at the white of her knuckles as she desperately tried to keep the deepening flush of her cheeks.  She failed.

Brig saw her flush, and though he scarcely thought it was possibly, found her even more beautiful in that moment.  He didn’t tell her though.  He’d already acted improper enough for one morning.  He let her compose herself and then he shifted the conversation to more mundane things: the rapidly approaching change in seasons, what life in Gunnison is like in different times of the year, who she knew that worked in the mines, what it’s like to live in a cell for an extended period of time, etc…  Eventually Cole came back in and joined their conversation; which lasted well into the afternoon when Emmalou finally had to excuse herself so she could go see about putting supper together.

Sheriff Brown escorted Miss Marsch to her home and then did another round about the town, pressing the flesh, solving disputes, and performing the functions he was paid to.  Alone, again, in the jailhouse Brig stretched out on his cot and reveled in the first truly pleasant morning he had indulged in quite some time.

Yes indeed, things were good for him in his cell.  Almost good enough for a man to get comfortable, content, and never want to return to the trials, hardships and responsibilities of life on the outside.  Though, I guess being a guest in jail is probably a bit different from being forced to be here.

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