We’ve finally crossed the threshold of the halfway point in what I’ve written so far… which doesn’t really mean anything except I should get back to work on finishing this story… the clock is ticking. As always, all previous chapters can be found here.
Despite her better judgment Emmalou went to Mrs. Sorensen’s home to meet with Brig. Partially she went there because she felt that getting him to leave town was the right decision. Partially she went because she hadn’t gotten the sense that the man she had met in the bar was a murderer, a scoundrel, a scourge of the earth and perhaps he did deserve a chance to prove that. To that end, she was curious what he would say for himself. There was a third reason she went, a private, almost subconscious, nagging in her soul that she barely recognized as attraction, but she firmly denied that as a true possibility.
He is a legend, a mystery, and it must be only natural to be intrigued by someone such as that. That’s all it is.
It wasn’t really lying to herself. She couldn’t have truly explained or understood the complex feelings and emotions coursing through her. It had been quite the day for her. Don’t you agree? She woke up to see a murderer walking the streets of her peaceful town. She screwed up her courage to confront him and send him packing, only to be caught off guard by the man. Then she had been further confused by his offer to meet and spent the remainder of the morning re-living the scene from the bar and deciding what to do.
She was physically and mentally drained, as emotionally trying mornings often leave us, and so she can be excused from not fully examining her true intentions for going to meet Brig. That’s how I feel about it anyway. Anyway, let’s move on shall we?
Emmalou arrived at the multi-tenant home just as Brig was getting back from the jailhouse. Convenient timing you ask? Once again I say, sometimes that’s just the way these things go. He held the door for her and then gave her a brief tour of the common areas. They met Mrs. Sorensen in the kitchen where Brig introduced one to the other, small town that it was they had already met, but they were both impressed with his manners none-the-less.
Brig requested two glasses of “your fine, sweet, sun tea please” from Mrs. Sorensen. Being subject to flattery and being in a good mood, she was happy to oblige. After the two glasses were poured Brig walked with Emmalou to the covered porch at the front of the house, once again holding the door for her on the way. After getting her settled into a rocking chair he excused himself so he could quickly clean away the grime and dirt of his morning’s work.
While alone on the porch Emmalou tried to calm her nerves by taking a sip of the tea, it is really good, and enjoying the cool early afternoon breeze coming out of the mountains to sap away the heat of the day. The porch was built to face away from the main hustle and bustle of the road and take in as wide of an expanse of the Rockies as possible. Later developments had cut off some of the view but it was still magnificent. She didn’t notice on that afternoon though because her thoughts were firmly tied to the matter at hand.
Well, the matter of Brig’s hand, his right hand, his gun hand, and whether it, and therefore, he should be allowed to stay. She hadn’t come up with any new arguments for or against on her own before Brig, smelling and looking a bit nicer, joined her on the porch. There was a second rocker next to the one she was seated in but he pulled up a small wooden bench instead.
He was torn because sitting in the rocker would give him the better vantage point to see anyone who happened to be walking by or up to the house but he also didn’t want to give out any false impressions to Emmalou or any who happened by. So, he pulled the nearby bench, cushioned with a small embroidered pillow top, closer to Emmalou and positioned it so that he was facing her without having too much of his back exposed to the road. There was still a large blind spot directly behind him but there wasn’t anything he could do about that.
I just have to hope that if someone comes up meaning me harm that Emmalou will see them and sense their intentions before it is too late. She may want me out of this town for my past sins but that doesn’t mean she would stand by and watch any harm come to me.
“Thank you for coming this afternoon, mam,” Brig said after having seated himself and taken a sip of sun tea from his own glass. “Do you mind if I call you Emmalou, or would Miss or Mrs. Marsch be more appropriate?”
“No one, other than the sheriff and my parents, calls me Emmalou.” She frowned. This wasn’t how she had thought the conversation would start. What he should call me doesn’t matter if he is going to be on the next train out of town and we never see each other again. Is he trying to catch me off guard on purpose? Is he trying to sway me with his courtesies and chivalrousness?
She studied him and he was the perfect picture of sincerity. His eyes held curiosity that could only come in being truly interested in the answer she gave. His body language was calm, confident, and without any hint of an actor trying to play a part. “Miss Marsch is sufficient.”
“Very well, Miss Marsch, thank you for giving me a chance to try and prove that I’m a changed man… Though I have to say, I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to do that.
“There is nothing I can say to you today that will suddenly convince you I’m trustworthy. I can talk this topic in circles, arguing both sides, that I deserve to go and I deserve a chance to stay. From the inevitability, you are right on that note, my past will catch up to me here and that may lead to some violence spilling over into the lives of people who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. To the argument that perhaps I could be included in the list of those who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Aren’t we all just products of the situations we are thrown into during our time in this world? Sure we may have some control over the men, and women, we become, but aren’t we also influenced by the decisions of those around us. Their actions affect the situations we are presented and thereby affect the choices we have at our disposal to make. Perhaps I have made the wrong choices in my life and perhaps I have made the only choices I thought I could make to save my own life and the lives of others.
“That being said, I was a no good scoundrel. I cannot simply lay my past on the tracks of circumstance. If I had been more patient, more caring, more lenient in my youth I probably would have seen there were other choices, better decisions, I could have made to spare many other lives. There is nothing I can do now to make up for those transgressions and shortcomings. But, please believe me when I say that they haunt my every waking, and sleeping, moment and have shaped me into the better man you see before you now.
“Hopefully better, truthfully. I do not know for certain what kind of man I am today. When you saw me this morning with the gun on my hip it was the first time I had worn one in over three years. Maybe it is a sign that I’m slipping into the same pattern as before and making the same decisions. Maybe it is the only way I can protect myself against those who would do me harm. And now that my true identity is out there, the number of people who wish me ill is probably going to be on the rise.
“Which would once again be an argument to let you put me on a train and send me packing from here as quickly as possible, wouldn’t it? I’m not arguing with that…
“I’ve been on the run for five years. Trying to hide in one bottle after another and erase who I was in the process. I’ve been recognized here and there and forced to move on. I’ve had no stability, no prospects, no family or friends, no life. I’ve no doubt that is what I deserve for my sins. But, perhaps I’ve paid my dues and should get a chance to stop running? I don’t know the answer to that question.
“I don’t know if I should be allowed to stay and try to start a life here. I don’t know what the future is going to hold. Will I be forced to defend myself and take another life? Will I find myself at the bottom of a bottle again? Will someone shoot me in the back as I walk to work early one morning? Will you let me stay here long enough to see what happens or is the risk too great and will you send me on down the line?
“I was a killer, then I was a drunk, and now, while I’m still a drunk, I’m trying to be something better, a decent man. I can’t promise that I have changed. I can honestly tell you that I hope I have. I truly hope I have. I don’t want to be the killer or the drunk anymore, and I haven’t for a long time. So, should you let me stay or make me go? I don’t know.
“I think it will eventually come down to you want to believe me, believe in me, or you don’t. You want to give me a chance to show that I’m no longer the Brig Coyle from my past, or you don’t. I’m taking it as a good sign that you are here and letting me ramble on. If you hadn’t already started to think that I might have changed and that I might be worth a chance you wouldn’t be sitting in that rocker sipping on Mrs. Sorensen’s sun tea. That’s my take on it anyway.
“So, are you going to say anything, or just sit there and let me continue talking myself in circles?”
The afternoon sun was sliding gently across the sky towards the west. A gentle breeze rumbled across the porch and played with the edges of her dress and pulled at a few strands of her hair that had once again pulled free of the bun. Her fierce blue eyes had studied him the entire time he talked, watching his movements and seeing through him. She had hung on every word, engrossed in his story while still weighing his comments and judging their validity. He is right, the fact that I’m here and considering giving him a chance means I’ve already decided he is worth giving that chance.
She suddenly felt very small, crushed by the enormity of the decision that she had taken ownership of. Whether he stayed or went fell to her at that moment and then the aftermath of that decision would then also fall upon her shoulders. If he stayed and innocents fell as a result she would also be responsible. If he left and was forced to wander the rest of his days, returning to the drink, and eventually falling victim to some unnamed demise further down the tracks that would also be on her. Why did I take this responsibility upon myself?
Emmalou understood in that moment a little bit more clearly what Brig had just spoken about. Perhaps some of the decisions he had made hadn’t necessarily been entirely up to him to begin with. We all make choices that lead us down a certain path and the choices we are presented with later are shaped by the earlier decisions. At some point it may be too late to realize you have taken the wrong path, you may have to hit rock bottom to get that understanding and then find yourself in a position where you have to ask permission for the chance to start over…
It is quite the dilemma, quite the pressure to have that sort of power over other’s lives, and Emmalou wasn’t entirely sure what to do. Can you blame her? Are you thinking she should just throw the remainder of her sun tea into his face, call him a liar and murderer and tell him to get out of Dodge, I mean Gunnison? That’s not very nice of you.
“Mr. Coyle, you seem honest and sincere, and I’m not sure what to think about that,” she started. “If I hadn’t seen you as the man you were before I’d be completely convinced of the right decision. As it stands, however, I did witness you in your prior life and I can’t ignore those images in my mind.”
She had been looking at him while she spoke but she broke away and turned her eyes and face towards the dusty dirt road for a time before sweeping her gaze into the vast expanse of mountains in the distance. “You are right, I hadn’t made up my mind about you when I showed up here this afternoon, and your words have given me some insight into who you are now and how it could be possible that you’ve changed, but I still haven’t made up my mind. I’m not sure I want the responsibility of deciding this aspect of your fate…”
Emmalou turned back towards the one-eyed man seated on the bench to her left. His one eye switched back and forth between her two eyes. He was focused on her, but his gunslinger instincts were slowly returning to him and his peripheral vision, on the right side, the side with his good eye, was acutely aware of all that transpired around them.
He hadn’t been truly worried when he put his fate in her hands. He had bounced around so much over the past few years that he had gotten used to not staying in any place for very long. He was growing fond of Gunnison, that was true, but if she had decided he needed to leave he would have respected her wishes and caught the next train heading west. What would have happened after he didn’t know and didn’t care. The type of life he’d led had instilled in him at an early age not to worry too much about the future.
At that moment though, he was concerned. He didn’t want to leave because he wanted to get to know Emmalou Marsch better. He wanted to find excuses to spend more time with her, learn her history, and share the parts of his own that hadn’t been immortalized in newspapers and dime novels. He wanted to give her the true accounts of those stories as well. He didn’t really expect her to give him that chance, even if she did let him stay, but if she does let me stay, perhaps, maybe, anything is possible, right? There is just no telling what the future will bring.
“Perhaps that should be my decision, then, to not make the decision,” Emmalou continued. “Can I recuse myself from that responsibility?” Brig knew she wasn’t expecting an answer from him so he didn’t try to answer and waited patiently for her to speak her piece.
“Maybe not, maybe it’s too late to step aside entirely. But I can delay my answer, right? I can let you stay on while I think things over, make observations and then either come to a conclusion or allow so much time to pass that the conclusion makes itself. How does that sound, Mr. Coyle.”
Brig scratched the growth coming in under his chin, it isn’t perfect but it will serve, and I don’t truly deserve much more anyway. “The only caveat I’d like to add, my only concern, is that you be a fair judge in the coming days.”
Emmalou opened her mouth, irritated, ready to object that she would of course be fair and Brig held up a hand, half apologetically, and half to have her let him finish.
“I have no doubt you are fair, and will be, but it could be very difficult to judge me on my actions alone. There may be situations that arise that force my hand one way or the other through no fault of my own. If you know Ed Sans, if you’ve at least heard his name and some stories about him around town, you’ll have an inkling on my concerns. I promise you I won’t go looking for trouble, but I can’t promise you trouble won’t come looking for me.”
Emmalou had not yet had the misfortune to meet Edward Sans but she had heard stories about him circling around town and understood Brig’s point. That didn’t change anything though. “I will be as fair as I can Mr. Coyle, that is all I can offer, or we could walk to the train station now. The choice is yours.”
Brig didn’t think she had meant to sound as harsh and cold as her words had come across so he took a minute to let the bristling that had started at the base of his neck and the tension in his gun hand fade a bit before he answered. He managed a smile, and hoped it looked genuine, because even if he didn’t feel it completely at that moment he knew he was lucky to be getting the chance to stick around and try to live a normal life.
“Miss Marsch, you’ve got yourself a deal.” Brig considered leaving it at that and then, on an impulse added, “And, if you’d like to meet up, like we have this afternoon, once or twice a week so you can check up on me, or just for some general conversation I’d be up for that as well.”
When she seemed a little shaken by his offer, not quite sure how to take it, he quickly continued with, “Honestly, I don’t have that many people to talk with anymore, and after my name gets out the chances of finding people willing to associate with me is probably going to decline. Aside from you getting to keep a closer eye on my activities, I would appreciate the discourse.”
Not the smoothest, but still not too bad either, right?
Another ramification of all of this I hadn’t considered. Everyone will know him as the man he was before and will avoid him like the plague. How can he try to have a normal life here if everyone is shunning him? He can’t. But, he’s got the sheriff and Mr. Reilly at the Gunnison Inn, surely he doesn’t need me as well… What will people think of me if I’m seen with him?
Brig could tell that she was leaning towards refusing, he tried not to show any emotion but he was disappointed and despite his best efforts his body slouched the merest of fractions. The glow behind his good eye lost a bit of its luster as well and Emmalou picked up on both tells.
I must be crazy. She frowned. Then again, I am sitting on the porch drinking sun tea with a self-confessed murderer and drunk so I shouldn’t be too surprised if I am crazy. “Okay, Mr. Coyle, I’ll swing by every couple of days to sit with you. Though, if I hear anything negative around town about something you’ve done I’ll be around promptly to see you on your way.”
She stood, and Brig stood too, continuing with his courtesies, “Good day, Mr. Coyle.”
“Good day, Miss Marsch.”
She made her way down the steps and into the street beyond. When she left the shade cast by the covered porch the sun hit her hair making it shimmer and gleam and sending butterflies fluttering through Brig’s stomach. It was a feeling he wasn’t all too familiar or comfortable with and he pressed his hand against his side in an attempt to get things to quiet down. It didn’t work.
“What are you thinking?” he whispered as he watched her disappear around a corner as she made her way home. He shook his head, reprimanding himself for being foolish, then picked up his glass and Emmalou’s glass and went inside to wash up for supper. She has control over my fate, and I’ve invited her to examine my life even further. The former me would not approve.