Main Character: Chris
Type of story: Gen, illustrated
This story came about thanks to the inspiring discussions in the LiveJournal Mag7 community. Thanks for the fun, ladies.
The pictures originally are screen captures made by Joy K., slightly altered. Joy, thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to put these up on blackraptor.
It was early morning in Four Corners, the light of the sun still low, when Chris Larabee stepped out of the hotel across the Saloon, the one hedging the corner of a broad alley. He had his usual breakfast in his hand, a mug of hot, steaming coffee. Spurs jingling, black duster swirling around him, he walked to the edge of the porch where he leaned casually against one of the posts, making sure his right hand was free. From there he let his eyes roam the town.
Even this early people were up and about. One of those was Mary. She walked briskly over the porch across from Chris, her eyes on the muddy street. As usual she was wearing an impeccable dress, clean and crisp, clinging to her slim figure in a way he had to admire. He smiled when he realized she was probably trying to find a place where she could cross without getting the hem dirty. When she finally decided to step onto the street, she deftly maneuvered around the many piles of horse manure, skirt held up high, with an ease that spoke of much practice. Her other hand was clutching a notepad to her chest, making Chris wonder what he would be reading in the next Clarion.
He looked further down the street, glancing over and dismissing Mr. Conklin, giving a curt nod to old Coop who was staggering drunk even this early, ignoring the quick and furtive crossing by some townsfolk to avoid passing him, until his eyes reached the jail. He wondered if JD had spent the night there again, like he did from time to time, rolled up on one of the bunks in the cells because it was past Mrs. McFarland's curfew. The owner of the boardinghouse where JD had his room scared the kid too much to try and sneak inside when he was late. Then Mrs. Potter stepped in his line of sight, putting down some baskets outside the Mercantile. Her son and daughter followed, carrying more goods.
Sipping his coffee, Chris kept an eye on the wakening town. Everything breathed peace. The sounds of hammering coming from the church told him where Josiah was. He saw Nathan step off the clinic stairs and head in that direction.
JD came running from the alley where his boarding house was, yelling "Hi, Chris" without slowing down on his way to the restaurant. Buck and Ezra were nowhere to be seen, but that wasn't surprising this early.
And Vin had left town again, riding the wilds around them.
After a last look up and down the street, Chris straightened himself away from the post and walked to the Saloon. There he sat down in one of the chairs on the porch, leaning it backward against the wooden wall. Once he was comfortable, he lighted a cheroot and pulled the book he had taken with him out of his pocket. Soon he was reading, the peace of the small town becoming one with the peace offered by the book. Even so, he never stopped keeping track of everything happening around him. He had to; it was how he stayed alive.
The sun was significantly higher when Ezra came out of the Saloon, a sour expression on his face. After a quick look he pointedly ignored Chris and crossed the street, trying to avoid the horse and occasional ox droppings as daintily as Mary had earlier. When he reached the safety of the porch, he lifted one foot to stare with disgust at the sole of his boot. Chris grinned, and of course that was the moment Ezra turned and looked at him.
Chris almost expected it by now, had even grown accustomed to it in a strange way, finding Ezra's eyes on him at the most unpredictable moments. He couldn't decide if it bothered him or not, but he'd be damned if he would ever let that show to the gambler. He widened his grin into a full smirk, lifting his book in a salute. In answer Ezra turned his back on him with a haughty air that made his feelings quite clear even over the distance separating them. After scraping his boot first along the edge of the porch, then over the upturned brush Mrs. Potter kept beside the door of the Mercantile, he disappeared inside. Chris dove back behind his book, still grinning and idly wondering what Ezra was doing up this early. It was still far from midday.
Not long now before Buck would come out of whatever room he had spent the night in.
Chris had barely started reading again, when a loud, "Hey, pard!" warned him of Buck's arrival. He looked up to see his oldest friend walk toward him with that easy strut he had, nodding to every lady he passed, a broad smile visible underneath his mustache. Chris hid behind his book again, knowing it would do him no good. If Buck wanted to talk, he'd talk.
Sure as hell Buck stopped right beside him and took up a pose against the Saloon wall that said 'I'm going to be here for a long, long time'.
"What you reading?" he asked. Chris held the book up to show the cover. "Walden? That supposed to mean something?" Before he realized what Buck was up to, the book was yanked from his hands. Buck slammed it shut without hesitation and examined it. "By Henry Thoreau, eh? He famous?"
Buck ignored him, opening the book on the first page. " 'When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond.' Shoot, it's about a guy all alone in the woods? What you wanna read that for?" he snorted, closing the book again and handing it back. "I mean, where's the girls? Where's the fun? Least when you built a house in the middle of nowhere it was for Sarah."
Buck fell silent under Chris's stare and looked away. With a sigh Chris leaned back and closed his eyes.
The sharp clearing of a throat warned him Buck was ready to talk again. He hoped it wasn't some stupid apology. The false cheer in his friend's voice told him he was safe from that particular embarrassment.
"Now me, I prefer to spend the night in a warm bed filled with soft curves for company, like Molly's last night. Yeah, Stud, she finally gave in." Chris opened his eyes, relieved to see the familiar twinkle back in Buck's.
"Wanna know how I did it?" Buck asked.
"Nope." Although anything was better than sitting here with his memories, even Buck's stories.
"Sure you do, 'cause this is worth to be told, heck, maybe I should write a book. See, when I approached her last evening, she looked none too pleased, not at all like the satisfaction she radiated this morning. So I decided I needed a bit more than my usual charm."
Chris stretched his legs and crossed his ankles, settling for a long story, his eyes back on the street. He let Buck's words wash over him, so familiar in their rhythm and tone they were soothing, almost. The words became a background noise when he shifted his attention to Josiah and Nathan, walking toward Nathan's clinic. Nathan was cradling one hand in the other, looking angry, while Josiah wore a huge, toothy grin. Yosemite exited the livery with a glowing piece of metal held by a long tong, and answered Josiah's wave with a nod. Soon he was hammering the iron on his anvil just outside the huge double doors. A few of the town children gathered around to watch, the Potter kids among them.
A wagon rumbled along until it reached Watson's hardware. Two burly men jumped off and disappeared inside, almost running over JD and Casey, who came strolling along the porch, JD gesturing wildly. They were talking so loud that Chris could even make out some words over Buck's voice, most noticeably 'riding', 'better' and 'race you'. Damn, he'd have to keep an eye on those two. Better yet, let Buck do it.
Outside the Mercantile Ezra was casually looking up and down the street, before getting his flask and taking a long swig. Then he looked in Chris' and Buck's direction, his face lighting up in a sardonic smile. He lifted his flask to Chris. Chris scowled at him, then eyed the flask with longing. Ezra's smile grew. He put the flask away with dramatically exaggerated movements, petted it once with another grin at Chris, and then he stepped off the porch to cross the street as careful as ever, going straight for the Restaurant.
Damn that infuriating son of a bitch anyway. Couldn't he have come and pick Buck up to share breakfast?
Silence warned him and he looked up in Buck's expectant face. He snorted.
"Hey! Every word I spoke was the solemn truth. And she did say it, I swear."
Chris shook his head, already opening his book.
"You had breakfast yet? Something 'sides your morning coffee?" Buck asked.
Keeping his eyes pointedly on his book, Chris said, "I'm good."
"Hah, sure y'are. So, where's Vin?"
Chris waved to the end of the main street. "Said he needed some real meat."
"Really?" A speculative gleam entered Buck's eyes. "Any change he'll be back before supper with that real meat? Wouldn't mind some deer or hare myself for a change. Pork and veal's nice, but there comes a moment a man wants to set his teeth into something else, long as it ain't mutton. When'd he leave anyway? Can't recollect seeing him since... oh, yesterday morning."
"That's when he left."
"And he ain't back yet? What the hell is wrong with him, sleeping on the hard ground when he could have a room like the rest of us, with a nice, big bed. Come on, at least keep me company. I'll even buy you coffee." Buck jingled his purse.
"Ezra's at the restaurant," Chris offered.
Buck grinned and shook his head. "Ezra's probably still in a bad mood on account of last night. I made him lose a bet."
That caught Chris's interest. "You made him lose a bet? How'd you do that?"
"Oh, as I told you, Miss Molly wasn't on her friendliest yesterday and before I came up with my brilliant strategy Ezra said I didn't have a chance with her." Buck's grin almost split his face in two. "He wasn't too happy when I left with her last night."
Chris couldn't help an answering grin. "So, how much'd you win?"
Leaning close, Buck said, "Enough to make him retreat to his bed real early, for him that is. Why'd you think I offered to buy you coffee?" He winked and sauntered off, leaving Chris shaking his head.
And now he was no longer in the mood to read.
He sighed and put the book on the barrel beside him, debating whether he'd get himself another cup of coffee over at the restaurant after all.
Whiskey would be good, whiskey would be a damn sight better than coffee right now. He looked up at the sun. It wasn't going to be long before the bar of the Saloon opened. He could wait for that, save himself a walk across the muddy street.
Chris settled his hat deeper over his eyes and picked his book back up, searching for the right page, but not really seeing the letters.
Buck never did appreciate books much. Not like Sarah did. She had loved it when he read to her.
So had Adam.
He let the book rest in his lap, simply staring at it. This time it was the sound of a horse's hoofs that made him look up. Peso was walking down the street, Vin slouching in the saddle, completely at ease. At first Chris thought he was going straight to the livery, but then their eyes met and Vin changed course, stopping right in front of him.
With a snort Peso shook his head.
"You keep that ugly cuss away," Chris warned.
Vin leaned forward on the pommel, grinning. "Sure." He nodded at Chris's book. "That any better than what's out there?"
"You get over here after you've taken care of Peso and I'll let you find out for yourself. Good hunt?"
Vin straightened and looked back the way he had come. "Ain't complainin'. Sure's a beautiful country around here. Found some nice spots, with plenty of shade and water. Ideal for camping."
"That a fact?"
They smiled at each other, then Vin moved Peso away. "See you in a sec."
"Hey, what happened to your game?"
Vin's smile grew. "Ate it, what else?"
By the time Vin came back, the Saloon had opened its bar and Chris was waiting with two beer. He watched his friend saunter up to him, the people of Four Corners quickly melting out of his path, no matter how politely Vin smiled at them. Not that Vin seemed to mind. He settled down in the chair next to Chris looking relaxed and content, long legs stretched out. Chris took one of the beers from the barrel beside him and handed it over.
They sat in silence for a while, until Vin nodded at the book. "Recollect somethin' about you lettin' me find out if that book's any good."
Chris picked it up and held it out, but Vin made no move to take it. His eyes locked on Chris'.
"You show me what's inside those pages and I'll show you what's out there."
Their eyes stayed locked until Chris breathed out, "Deal."
"Good." Vin settled deeper into his chair and bowed his head, causing the brim of his hat to hide his face. Chris opened the book. "It's called Walden," he said softly, sure Vin heard him anyway. "Written by a man who lived in the woods for a couple of years, alone."
Chris grinned. "This part's about solitude." He started to read out loud, already knowing in his heart Vin would appreciate the beautiful words as much as he himself did.
" 'This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself. As I walk along the stony shore of the pond in my shirt-sleeves, though it is cool as well as cloudy and windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the elements are unusually congenial to me. The bullfrogs trump to usher in the night, and the note of the whip-poor-will is borne on the rippling wind from over the water. Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath; yet, like the lake, my serenity is rippled but not ruffled'."
The deep feeling of peace was back, more even than before.
It felt good, very good, to do this again.