Another long chapter this week as we start to wrap things up. Though, there may be one more twist up my writing sleeve… Intrigued? Well, I’m not showing you all my cards this week. You’ll just have to keep coming back for the run in to the end.
(Prior chapters can be found here.)
Mrs. Sorensen was chattier that morning than Brig could ever remember her being. She had heard all about their adventure from the day before, from the ambush, to the injury, to where they’d spent the night, and even some thoughts on where Jerry Tunston had headed after he’d fled. She didn’t even pause while she and Emmalou switched out the bandage on his wound. The landlady poked the skin around the injury sight expertly checking for signs of infection and nodded in satisfaction with the job the doctor had done stitching him up.
With Brig cleaned and trussed up again, she turned her attention back to running her household. Emmalou stepped in to help her get breakfast going for Mrs. Sorensen’s other tenants and when Brig tried to help they both shooed him away, telling him to sit down, rest up, get out of the way, in as few words as possible before Mrs. Sorensen went barging into her rambling again.
She’s the town’s main engineer, making sure everyone is running the way they are supposed to be, on the right tracks, and keeping the right time. Brig couldn’t but smile as the train reference came unbidden into his mind. I am a fool for trains still.
Emmalou eventually joined Mrs. Sorensen in conversation, and Brig tuned the two of them out, leaning back into his chair to get comfortable, he shut his eye and let his mind wander. Perhaps the solution is life on the road after all? If I can get hired on by a railroad in some capacity, something other than safety, it would be a way for Emmalou and me to not be tied down a specific place where gunmen could come looking for me.
I guess if I worked a route for too long, stayed with one engine for too long, they might come and search me out anyway… But, I’d be a moving target, harder to pinpoint, and I could make sure I’m always switching up the routes I work on. I could just be another nameless engineer, or stocker, or ticket checker. I could just be one of the faces that blends into the background and nobody notices.
But, that would mean either leaving Emmalou here in Gunnison and only getting to see her when I’m passing through or uprooting her and taking her with me. I don’t like the idea of leaving her here. I don’t like the idea of not getting to see her every day. However, I’m not sure she’ll want to go with me. She’s made a home for herself here, a good life, and I can’t ask her to leave that. Plus, what company would hire me on knowing who I am, and meeting my demands to let her come along?
The background noise of the women talking stopped abruptly and Brig cracked open his eye to find the two of them peering down at him. He smiled sheepishly and went to stand up, but they both motioned for him to stay seated. “Just making sure you weren’t getting into trouble,” Emmalou winked. And they went back to their back and forth while plating for the morning meal. The smells coming from the kitchen wafted out to find Brig and his mouth set to salivating, reminding him of how hungry he was.
Poor Cole must be starving too. Though it’s part of his job to miss a few meals here and there, it comes with the star I guess.
It was then that Brig suddenly remembered that he was probably expected at work that morning too. He pushed himself out of the chair with his good arm to head into the kitchen and let Emmalou know that he needed to run over to the bar and tell Dan he wouldn’t be able to cover his normal morning shift but would be right back, only to have Dan walk through the front door.
Yes, that’s convenient. We’ve been over this before. Sometimes things just happen to work out like that. Can we move on? Okay, good.
“Sit down, there’s no rush. She came over last night before I finished up the late shift and let me know you’d be out for a few days,” Dan said, guessing correctly at Brig’s intentions. Brig and Dan shook hands and then took two seats at the giant table.
Brig was confused, and once again mystified of how Mrs. Sorensen always seemed so completely on top of things, never letting a single line drop, and marveled at how well she kept tabs on the populace. He could say nothing but shake his head side to side as he sat down again.
“How bad is it?” Dan asked while motioning to Brig’s shoulder.
“I’ve had worse,” Brig shrugged while rubbing the palm of his hand around the meat of the sore shoulder. He grimaced as the stiff tissue absorbed the pressure. I won’t be able to shoot with that hand for awhile, he immediately thought before following it with, which hopefully isn’t a problem as I’d really rather not have to shoot with either hand ever again. “Considering the circumstances, I’m pretty lucky it’s just my shoulder.”
“That’s what I heard.” Then Dan nodded towards the kitchen and asked, “How bad is it?”
Bring didn’t immediately follow and furrowed his brow trying to catch Dan’s meaning. Then the big man broke into a giant grin and Brig knew he had been asking about his feelings for Miss Marsch. Smiling ruefully, he answered just before Emmalou and Mrs. Sorensen came in bearing plates full of steaming food, “The worst. I’ve never had it this bad.”
With the food on the table, the rest of the house’s occupants filed in quickly and they all ate and talked and greeted the day properly. None of his housemates seemed overly surprised, or overly concerned, with Brig’s injury and none of them lingered on the subject longer than it took to ask if he was okay and get his response. Then they were off spinning off onto the weather, and the errands they had for the coming day, and all sorts of other gossip that can only keep the conversation from dying in small towns.
After the tenants ate, excused themselves one by one, and went about their days, Brig and Dan insisted on helping Emmalou and Mrs. Sorensen clean up and they fell into a familiar and easy rhythm of putting the table and the kitchen back into order while Emmalou pitched in with other projects and Mrs. Sorensen put together a basket of food to take back to Cole. When everything was spick and span again, they said their thank you’s for the meal, bid their goodbyes and Dan, Emmalou and Brig made their way back to the jail.
Despite Dan’s presence the two walked hand in hand again, because it was a beautiful day, because they could, because they wanted to.
At first Brig had been surprised that Dan was going to accompany them back to the jail, but he figured that once they were all there they would set about figuring out what needed to be done next. As someone he had grown to think of as a friend, one of three he had made in Gunnison in his time there, Brig was glad that Dan was going to voice his opinions on the matter as well. One more mind tackling this puzzle certainly can’t hurt.
As they walked in silence, enjoying the feel of the sun on their skin and the kiss of the early morning chill on their cheeks, a strangely exhilarating and discomforting sensation at the same time, Brig’s thoughts returned to the rails. They were what got me started on this path in the first place. Perhaps it is fitting that they could be my way forward, throw the switch, and continue on down a different path to see where it leads…
The more he thought about it the more he liked the idea, but he wanted to hear what the others had to say, and he wanted to talk alone with Emmalou about it too. He wanted to know how she felt, what she wanted, before he got too set on a decision, because I won’t be doing anything that she doesn’t agree to.
They knocked loudly, as instructed, when they reached the jail door and it took a little while for Cole to wake up, throw some water in his face and pry back the lock so he could welcome them in. As they crossed into building they passed off the basket so Cole could start devouring the contents and Dan swung the lock home again on the door, shutting them safely in. There were important decisions to make and it wouldn’t do for them to be disturbed.