Disclaimer: Not mine. Never will be. No money being made.
Ezra came around the wagon and came to a complete stop as he spotted Buck and Josiah talking. For all of three seconds he squared his shoulders and told himself to stand his ground. You cannot run from him forever Why the hell not? His more than reasonable side asked. Why can’t I keep running from him? Because he keeps following you.
In spite of what was said in the alleyway beside the saloon things were still strained between him and Josiah. Ezra wanted to believe him, but after the week they’d had he wasn’t sure what to believe anymore Hell, he would have bet good money that Vin would never run out on anyone. Let alone Chris But not only had Vin run off . . . he did it with a married woman. And only Vin would be welcomed back with opened arms Ezra hadn’t seen any of the others treating the tracker like he himself had been treated upon his return. Hell, it wasn’t as though Vin had saved their lives Well, maybe he had, Ezra amended But Vin hadn’t done it single handedly, like he had.
There’s one big difference you’re overlooking here, he told himself. No one expected Vin to run; after all he was a man that could be trusted on sight Where as with Ezra none of the usual rules applied . . . simply because he, Ezra P. Standish, refused to play by anyone else’s rules except his own. Ezra shook his head then sighed at the injustice of it all.
His thoughts were interrupted as Buck and Josiah’s conversation reached his ears.
“Come on Buck, I need your help,” Josiah said in an anxious voice.
“Ok, Josiah tell ole Buck what the problem is?”
“Alice is talking as if her and Eugene are coming back to Four Corners with me,” the older man explained. Josiah should have known better than to get involved in something that Buck and Ezra were mixed up in But damn it all to hell, he was tired of Ezra shutting him out and avoiding him. And as much as he wanted to be involved in something with Ezra . . . he didn’t want to get this involved.
Buck couldn’t help but laugh at the expression on Josiah’s face. “Bit off more than you can chew . . . huh Josiah!” he teased.
“It’s not funny!”
“You’re right You’re right. It’s not funny. I’m sorry Josiah,” Buck apologized with a big grin on his face “But I don’t know what you want me to do. I mean my specialty is in getting them . . . not getting rid of them,” he pointed out.
Buck saw Ezra come around the wagons and grinned as an idea suddenly came to him. “No, Josiah I’m just not the right man for this particular job. What you need is someone who can convince Miss Alice that it’s in her best interested to stay here Someone with a silver tongue and a razor sharp mind,” he explained.
“Ezra would never help me,” Josiah said in a quiet voice.
“I betcha he would,” Buck countered Then hollered, “Ezra! Come here!”
They both watched as the gambler slowly made his way to them.
“Josiah here needs your help.”
Ezra stood in front of Josiah and waited, but the older man didn’t say a word. He could see him struggling with what ever he wanted to say so Ezra gave him a gentle nudge. “Well, what is it? I haven’t got all day.”
Josiah gave a little jump at his tone and then quickly explained his problem.
“What does this have to do with me?”
“I want you to help me get away from Alice without hurting . . .”
“Ohhh, so now you want my help. Correct?”
Josiah sighed and once again cursed himself for what he said, “Yes, Ezra I need your help.”
When he didn’t say anything Buck elbowed him prompting him to say, “I’m thinking about it.”
“Well don’t take too long or else Josiah’s liable to be married before he knows it.”
“Married?” Josiah gulped “Ezra?”
Damn the man and his ability to see into my soul and find my weak spots. “Oh all right,” he finally muttered. Then with a grin and much to Josiah’s surprise Ezra placed his arm around the older man’s shoulders and said, “Step into my office.”
Buck smiled as he watched them walk away “Hey! Wait for me!” he hollered then quickly followed them.
A few minutes later a confused Josiah and a grinning Buck sat in front of him. “Are you sure this will work? I mean it sounds awful simple to me,” Josiah said.
“Are you doubting my abilities?”
“Good because sometimes the best way to achieve one’s goal is the simplest way. Trust me Josiah,” Ezra told him. “I won’t let you down.”
“I know that Ezra and I do trust you.”
“It’ll be like . . . what is it Mr. Tanner always says . . . oh yes, it will be like licking butter off a knife,” the gambler told them with a grin. “Of course, I’d never do such a thing, but it would be that simple.”
And it was that simple Josiah could hardly believe it worked Alice and Eugene were staying and he was headed home to Four Corners the same as when he left it . . . unattached.
A couple of days later the small group from Four Corners were finally on their way home.
A quiet Vin sat with his friends around the campfire These were six men he didn’t want to lose the respect of. Things weren’t back to normal yet, but they were getting there He had made his peace with Josiah, Nathan, Buck, and JD, but had yet to approached Chris or Ezra. Vin knew that with Chris it would take action instead of words to prove to the other man that he could indeed count on him. But he honestly had no idea what to do about Ezra Their friendship was just starting to grow and now he feared that it was all gone.
Vin didn’t like feeling like he was on the outside looking in. He now knew how Ezra must have felt after his return to the Seminole Village Hell, he didn’t know how the gambler had done it With a sigh Vin got to his feet and slipped into the darkness.
“Vin’s okay, right?” JD asked.
“Of course, he is,” Buck quickly reassured him “He just needs some time to himself.”
“Vin’s not the first man to make a fool of himself over a woman,” Chris said.
“And he’ll not be the last,” Ezra added then got to his feet and walked away. As he neared the horses he spotted Vin and hesitated “Would you like to be alone?”
“Can stay if you want,” the tracker replied.
With a shrug Ezra continued toward Chaucer and removed something from his saddlebags.
“Ezra . . . I wanted to say I’m sorry for snapping at you like I did . . .”
“No, it is I who owes you an apology Mr. Tanner,” Ezra interrupted him. “It was none of our business what you and Mrs. Richmond did or didn’t do.”
“How about we call it even?”
Vin smiled for the first time in days The smile didn’t last long as a thought occurred to him. “Guess we’re both the black sheep now, huh?”
“Yeah, we ran out on them,” he explained “Now I’m just like you . . .”
“Like me?” Ezra interrupted with a harsh voice “No Mr. Tanner you will never be like me!”
“What? I ran out on them just like you . . .”
“Yes, but you ran because of love and I because of greed. Your cause was just and mine was foolhardy . . .”
“I never loved her I . . . I just . . . just really, really . . . liked her,” Vin told him sounding lame even to his own ears. “It don’t matter why I ran . . .”
“Obliviously it does because they sure as hell aren’t treating you like they treated me . . .”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“For one who is as observant as you are, you can be awful dense at times.”
“The golden boy can do no wrong.”
“Golden boy? I don’t understand.”
“No I didn’t expect you would,” Ezra said “But hopefully . . . you will.”
The Southerner walked away before Vin could say any more. Did Ezra honestly think that the others were treating him different? Were they? He suddenly asked himself. Only one-way to find out, he mused. And that was to stop feeling sorry for himself and go back to doing what he was good at . . . watching and listening.
Two nights later he sat in the saloon half listening to one of Buck’s stories and half watching Ezra glance at them every once in a while with a pensive look on his face. This whole set up seemed all too familiar to Vin It brought to mind those first couple of nights just after they had agreed to the thirty days. The six of them had sat together talking . . . like this While Ezra sat off by himself . . . like that. And suddenly Vin knew that Ezra was right The others were treating him different. But he’d be damned if he let them get away with it.
“Where ya going?” Buck asked him as he got to his feet.
“To sit with Ezra,” he replied. Then grabbed his beer and walked over to where the gambler sat. “Mind if I join ya?” Vin asked.
Ezra didn’t say a word Didn’t even lift his head. He merely waved his hand.
Vin dropped into one of the chairs and immediately leaned it back as far as he could.
“How do you do that without falling?” Ezra asked him with a grin.
“Practice,” he replied with a smirk “It used ta drive them old biddies crazy . . .”
“These old women that ran the orphanage I stayed at for a while,” Vin explained. “You ought ta have seen ‘em. Them old crones were all wrinkly and mean as hell . . .”
“Like Mrs. Wells,” Ezra interrupted with a cocky grin.
Vin burst out laughing, lost his precious balance, and went tumbling back. He managed to keep his feet, but just barely. Which set Ezra to laughing. “Damn, Ez,” he said wiping tears of laughter from his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” the Southern said between laughs “That wasn’t a very nice thing to say,” he admitted and took a deep calming breath.
The Texan righted his chair still laughing occasionally. He reached for his beer at the same time that Ezra reached for his shot of whisky then just as they took a swallow their eyes met and immediately spit their drinks out as they started laughing again. Deep belly laughs that brought tears to their eyes and had them clutching their aching sides.
Beer and whisky dotted the table, their clothes and still they laughed.
“What the hell are you two laughing at?” Buck demanded as he stepped up to the table. He decided that if they were having this much fun then he wanted in on it Hearing laughter coming from beside him Buck turned and saw it was JD. “Now, what are you laughing at JD?”
“I don’t know,” JD confessed. “Them,” he shrugged.
“Well?” Buck pushed with a grin.
“I . . . haven’t any . . . idea,” Ezra panted.
“C..crones,” Vin said around a giggle.
“Crows aren’t anything to laugh at,” Josiah told them clearing misunderstanding.
At that Ezra laid his head on the table and beat his hand of the table. “N..not c..crows,” he said after a minute. “C..crones,” he corrected.
“What the hell is so funny about a damned old crone?” Chris asked. Which set the two men off again.
“Oh, stop. Please,” Vin pleaded. “You’re gonna make me piss my pants!”
Ezra couldn’t ever remember laughing so much Not in his entire life had he laughed like this. “Oh,” he panted and clutched his side even harder.
“What’s wrong Ezra?” Nathan asked.
“I gotta . . . a . . . catch in my . . . side,” the Southerner told them.
“Well, stop laughing,” Nathan said.
“I’m trying. I’m trying,” Ezra said refusing to even look at Vin.
After a few minutes they finally managed to stop Only the occasional giggle could be heard.
“Well, I have a patrol,” Ezra said getting to his feet “I’ll see you gentlemen tomorrow.”
“Night Ezra,” Vin said with a grin on his face.
“Mr. Tanner,” the Southerner said with a small laugh.
The others exchanged a look then Josiah suggested, “We may have to separate those two.”
Chris could only agree.
Around noon the next day the seven of them sat outside the saloon enjoying a quiet afternoon when they heard a wagon came rolling into town. Two sets of eyes widened in sudden humor as they saw who it was. Vin and Ezra, who had five men sitting between them, leaned forward, exchanged a look, and immediately began laughing.
“Aw hell,” Chris swore “You two aren’t starting that again are you?!”