Note: These little ficlets were originally posted separately, but I've brought them together here. They were originally written in 2001 and 2002.
The Party (Buck JD, Casey)
“Buck, come on now. I asked you real nice to let it be.”
“Ah, c’mon Kid, let me see it.”
“I’ve already got it wrapped, I’m not going to unwrap it just because you want to make fun of me.”
“Ah, hell, I don’t need to see what you got Casey. I can make fun of you anytime, anywhere. You’re an easy target Kid.”
“Oh real funny,” J.D. groused and walked away from his friend. Most of the time he could handle Buck’s tendency to make jokes at his expense, but this was not one of those times. He was already nervous about giving his gift to the young woman he had begrudgingly come to realize he cared about. He was also nervous about being with Casey Wells during the Christmas party. Everyone in town seemed to be in attendance, and there was bound to be dancing. He would never admit it to anyone, but he couldn’t dance. The last thing he needed was to have Buck making fun of his choice of gifts, his lack of abilities with the fairer sex, or anything else for that matter..
Looking over his shoulder, he saw that Wilmington had gotten sidetracked by one of the young women from the town. Quickly he moved to the big Christmas tree he had helped to set up earlier that day and slipped the meticulously wrapped gift beneath it. Then going to the little buffet that had been set up on one side of the saloon, he looked over the offerings and quickly filled a plate. Feeling someone nearby, he turned to find Wilmington standing a few feet away, watching him, the young woman nowhere to be seen. “Buck, go away. I told you, I ain’t in the mood.”
“Ah hell, Kid, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” The big ladies man seemed genuinely upset with his earlier actions.
“Yeah, right.” Dunne had seen Wilmington pretend such emotions before, so wasn’t certain he was buying into it.
“Hey! Now, I’m tryin’ to apologize. Seems to me the least you could do would be to accept that apology.”
“Fine, I accept your apology. Now, go away.” He walked away from the table, taking his loaded plate to one of the smaller tables nearby. He sighed when he saw that Buck was following him. Hooking a heel around the other chair’s leg, he tried to prevent the man from joining him. Wilmington simply yanked the seat harder and nearly pulled the younger man out of his own seat. Straddling the wooden chair, he sat down and began perusing JD's plate. Dunne pulled the plate out of his friend’s reach.
“So…when’s your lady love arrivin’?” The former sheriff asked with a grin.
“Casey and Miss Nettie are supposed to come in around six.”
Wilmington pulled out his pocket watch and nodded, “gives you about another half hour to sweat through your suit.” He grinned and slapped the young man on the shoulder.
“Buck, don’t you have women to chase…angry husbands to hide from… something to occupy your mind with other than me?”
“Ah, c’mon now, Kid –“
“Hey JD,” Wilmington was interrupted by a new voice. Both men turned to find Casey Wells standing next to their table, grinning broadly. JD gulped, taking in the vision before him. Casey was dressed in a dark red dress, looking every inch a young lady. The little tomboy who could outride, outshoot and outspit any man was nowhere to be seen.
Remembering their manners, the two men stood, JD quickly removing his bowler. “Hi Casey,” he said replied. “You…uh…you’re early.”
She looked at him with a flash of hurt and anger, but only said, “Aunt Nettie wanted to come on in so we could get a room at the hotel. That way we can stay later.”
Buck decided to teach by doing. Taking her hand he brushed the back of it in a quick kiss. Straightening, he said “Miss Wells, may I say that I have never seen you looking lovelier than you do this evening.”
Jerking her hand away, she said, “your mustache tickles, Buck! What are you doin’ anyway?” She rolled her eyes and continued. “You best be savin’ that stuff for them fancy women you’re always chasin’.”
JD chuckled, watching Buck deal with being so soundly rebuked for his actions. He knew the big gunman well enough to know that Wilmington expected any and all women to fall quickly under his spell. Eventually the man would realize what JD had discovered some time earlier. Casey Wells was not the same as other women.
“Well, Casey,” Buck said in his best hurt voice, “some ladies kind'a like the way my mustache tickles.”
“Reckon some women like to be chewed on, but I ain’t one of ‘em,” she retorted.
Laughing hard now, JD slapped the older man on the shoulder, nudging him away at the same time. “Buck, reckon y’ ought’a go find one a them ladies that’ll appreciate your mustache.”
Ignoring the young man’s hint, Buck said, “aw I’d hate the idea a leavin’ you kids sittin’ here on your own.”
“Buck,” JD said through gritted teeth. “Casey and I will be fine on our own.”
“Well, that ain’t no fun, boy, sittin’ here, just the two of you. Young folks ought’a be joinin’ in on th’ fun…not just sittin’ in a corner by themselves.”
“Buck,” Dunne’s tone was one of warning now.
Throwing his head back in broad laughter, the big man bowed to the young couple and made his exit. They would hear his laugh ringing across the room for several minutes.
Holding the other chair out for Casey, JD said belatedly, “you…uh…you look real nice tonight Casey.”
Dropping to the wooden chair, the young woman pulled it out from under his hand, nearly causing him to fall. “It’s ‘bout time you noticed.”
“Would you…would you like something to…to eat,” he stammered.
“Why didn’t y’ ask me that ‘fore I sat down?” She complained.
Exasperated, the town sheriff grumbled through gritted teeth, “I was offering to get you something.”
“Oh,” she said with a confused look. “Well, since you’re offerin’, sure I guess so. I’d like somethin’ to drink, too.”
With a nod, he moved away to the buffet. He returned a few minutes later to find her absently picking through his plate while she watched some of the young couples in the middle of the room, dancing to music from the piano. Looking toward where the piano sat, he wondered if he could pay the man playing Christmas tunes to stop before Casey got any ideas. Setting the plate before Casey, along with a glass of punch, he returned to his seat and rescued his own plate from her. At this rate, everyone in the town was going to have a go at his food before he got the chance.
“Thanks, JD,” the young brunette said with a smile. She began shoveling the food in her mouth as if she hadn’t eaten for days. Suddenly realizing what she was doing, and that the young man beside her was staring at her open-mouthed, she dipped her head in embarrassment. “Sorry,” she said softly. “I got so busy getting’ ready to come in for this shindig that I forgot to eat.”
Smiling, Dunne said, “that’s okay. Reckon it does take some folks longer to get ready than others.”
“What’s that s’pposed t’ mean?” She glared at him.
“Nothing,” he sighed in exasperation. The girl could never just let him say his piece. Sometimes she was worse than Buck, and he almost wished he didn’t have to talk at all when they were around. “I just meant that…well…when folks get busy, sometimes they forget to eat.”
“Oh,” she stared at him for another moment, but seemed satisfied. With a bit more decorum she returned to eating.
JD tried to extend the food portion of the evening as long as possible, wanting nothing more than to avoid what would happen next. But, finally, he took the plates away. Coming back to sit down, he said, “nice party.”
Watching as more couples took the impromptu dance floor, JD decided that he had two options. Taking the less painful one, he said, “I’ve…uh…got something for you.”
“Oh yeah? What?”
“Wait here,” he smiled nervously and left the table. Going to the Christmas tree, he looked around for any sign of Buck. Wilmington was preoccupied with not one, but three young women. Sighing with relief, JD hurriedly retrieved the package he had stashed under the fir boughs and returned to the young woman. Sitting it down before her he said in a trembling voice, “Merry Christmas Casey.”
“JD!” Her smile threatened to split her face. “What is it?” She eyed the good sized box wrapped in red paper tied closed with a green ribbon.
“Open it,” he was smiling now, partially in relief and partially in excitement. He nudged it a little closer to her.
“Well, wait a minute,” she slipped from her chair and hurried over to the tree, nearly tripping over her hem. Behind her JD shut his eyes, visions of the first time he had seen her in a dress…and her bloomers…flashed through his mind. Managing to get to the tree and back again, she sat a box before him. This one was wrapped in green and tied closed in red ribbon. Both teenagers had to laugh at the sight. Returning to her seat, Casey said, “now we’ve both got something to unwrap.”
“Well, looky here,” a deep voice rang out behind them.
With a grimace, JD groaned, “Buck…go away. Please.”
“Aw kid, “ the big man drawled in a hurt tone. “You mean you’d deny a fella the chance to enjoy the holiday in the bosom of his friends?”
“I’m sure you can find a willing bosom to enjoy the holiday in,” Casey said sharply.
Neither man could resist, breaking down in laughter at her quip. Buck swooped into a bow and said, “well, there are a few young ladies willin’ to spend the evening with me. Reckon y’all should take it as a compliment that I’d prefer to spend my time with y’all.”
“Well, you reckoned wrong, Mister Wilmington,” Casey said before JD could even open his mouth. “Now it seems to me that Esther Collins is throwin’ quite a few looks this way. Reckon she ain’t making doe eyes at me or JD.”
“Miss Esther?” Buck looked around quickly, finally spotting the young woman across the big room. She was standing with a small group of available young women, giggling coyly. Turning back to Casey, he said, “you sure? Looks to me she ain’t even aware
“Oh, Buck,” Casey said, “she’s playin’ hard to get. Soon as you turn away, she’s practically droolin’ over y’.”
“Really? I mean, you ain’t funnin’ me, are ya Casey?”
“It’s the honest truth,” the girl said solemnly. She and JD watched as the big man strolled across the room, making a direct path toward the giggling group. Casey turned to JD with a smile. “I had my fingers crossed, so it don’t count.”
Grinning back, Dunne said, “he finds out you fibbed, though, it ain’t gonna matter if you had your fingers crossed or not. He’s gonna be madder than a wet hen.”
“So be it,” she shrugged her shoulders. “Now, seems to me we got some unwrappin’ to do.” Winking at him, she began to untie the bright ribbon holding the paper closed.
JD busied himself with his own gift, finding it hard to undo the ribbon, since his hands were trembling. ‘This is worse than trying to face down a whole gang of outlaws’, he thought to himself. ‘Don’t think I was this nervous when I was trying to spring Buck out of jail and those hired guns came up on me’. Finally he worried apart the knot and pulled open the paper, then paused before continuing. Looking across the table, he found Casey watching him. Smiling shyly at one another, they both opened the boxes. And then they began to laugh. Each had bought the other a new bridle; each the twin to the other. Looking at one another, the laughter grew louder, until they were wiping tears from their eyes.
“Well…” JD gasped out, “guess we know…the other…one likes it!”
“Yep…” Casey replied. “But there’s…more in…your box…JD.”
“Yours, too,” the young man smiled shyly once again. They both found a smaller package tucked into the corner of their box. These were different, JD’s was flat and soft, Casey’s a second gift box. Opening the second gift, Dunne found four muslin handkerchiefs. Each one had his initials painstakingly sewn in the corner, each a different color.
He looked up with a smile. “Did you do this yourself?”
“Yeah,” she said with a mixture of pride and little girl shyness. “Took me nearly two months, Mary about had a conniption teachin’ me to do the needlework.” Blushing, she looked down at the box in her hands. Opening it, she found a small brooch, silver with a small cameo in the middle. “Ohhhhh, JD…” she could barely say the words. “It’s… it’s beautiful.” Looking up, there were tears threatening to spill from her dark eyes. “Would you…would you put it on me?”
With fingers that barely managed to work, the young man timidly pinned the brooch on her dress. When he finished, she fingered it tenderly. “I’ve never had anything so beautiful in my life.” Impulsively she stretched across the table and kissed him quickly on the cheek. “Thank you JD.”
“Y-you’re welcome, Casey,” he stammered.
“Do you mind if I go show Aunt Nettie?” She paused, “I wanna show her the bridle, too.”
“Naw, go ahead. I’ll…uh…get us some more punch.”
With a bright smile that lit her face, Casey Wells hurried across to where her aunt was conversing with Mary Travis and Gloria Potter.
JD sensed a presence nearby and sighed. It was Buck. He knew beyond a doubt that it was Buck. Turning, he found the big man standing there with a broad grin on his face. JD frowned when he saw something he hadn’t expected in the big man’s expression. Pride. With a wink, the gunman leaned toward him. “Nice job, Kid.” Laughing he ruffled the younger man’s hair lightly, then turned and walked away. Miss Esther was clinging to his arm.
Straightening his hair back up, JD smiled at the retreating back of his best friend. Maybe Christmas was a time for miracles, after all.
Holiday Traditions (Chris and Vin)
Chris Larabee was hiding. Not from the criminal element or even angry townsfolk. He was hiding from a day. More specifically he was avoiding the excitement, the joy and goodwill being spread by the good citizens of Four Corners as they prepared for Christmas.
He had managed to hold out until two days ago. Then, sitting with the other men in the saloon, he had found himself feeling suffocated. Buck and JD had been arguing, as usual. The Kid had made the mistake of mentioning the fact that he had been thinking of buying Casey a new bridle for Christmas. Buck had started laughing; telling Dunne that he had a lot to learn about women if he thought he was going to make the girl happy with such a gift. It had escalated into a shouting match as they discussed the pros and cons of bridles versus cologne or jewelry.
Pushing himself out of the chair, Chris leaned over JDs shoulder, said quietly “get her the bridle Kid,” and left the room. He heard the quiet that descended over the room, but ignored it. Instead he strode to the livery and readied Pony, walking him down the dusty street to the other saloon. He didn’t want the other men to know what he intended to pick up in his bid to survive the next few days. Exiting the saloon a few minutes later, he carried half a dozen bottles of red eye that he carefully stored in his saddlebags. Climbing into the saddle, he turned the black gelding away from the building, the town, and his friends. He needed to be alone right now, some place that would allow him to breath, let him sort out his feelings. Ever since JD and Buck had begun arguing he heard other voices. His and Sarah’s. They had spent weeks debating the gifts they would bestow on their one and only son for his fourth Christmas. Chris had been excited about the holiday; the first one that Adam would be truly able to enjoy the festivities. But then every holiday had been exciting while he had been a family man…
Riding hard as he tried to shake the memories, the man in black disappeared from town, going to his little shack in the hills to be alone. For two days he had sought solace, but found little. The alcohol did nothing to quiet the memories or still the voices. Not that it ever did, really. He simply thought that if this were truly the season for miracles, perhaps this once he would find a little peace at the bottom of the bottle.
“Miracles,” he said with a sarcastic grunt. There were no miracles, if there were he would not be a widower mourning his wife and son.
The sun was near its zenith when he shuffled out of the little house and slouched into one of the straight-back chairs on the porch. Tilting the half-empty bottle up, he took a healthy swallow and stared out across the countryside. After a time he realized that he was watching someone riding toward the house.
“Shit,” he said softly as he recognized the even stride of the big blaze-faced black. He had half-expected to see Buck or perhaps Josiah before now, but not Vin. He thought the tracker would respect his need for privacy. He considered going back inside and closing the door but realized that it would do no good. If he had seen Vin, Vin had seen him. He sat in the chair and watched the horse and rider approach.
As he came abreast of the porch, Tanner touched the brim of his hat. “Hey, Cowboy,” he said with a soft grin.
“Got a reason for coming out here?”
“Yep,” the tracker said, his expression sobering. “Wanted t’ let y’ know th’ town’s still in once piece, an’ I’m headin’ out for a couple a days.”
“Something going on?” Chris thought perhaps the Judge had sent Tanner on an assignment.
“Nope, just thought I’d go up t’ th’ hills for a spell.” He reached behind him and pulled something out of his saddlebag. “Here, brought y’ somethin’.” He handed a bottle down to the blond. Tipping his hat, he started off.
Larabee wasn’t certain why, but he called out to the younger man. “Want to help me break it in?”
“Certain y’ don’t mind?”
“Wouldn’t offer if I did,” he said honestly. “Got some beans on the stove, too, if you’re interested.”
His smile bright and easy now, Vin nodded. “Never could pass up your beans, pard.” He swung down and ground reined Peso, letting the horse graze at will, and followed the gunslinger into the house. He stood near the stove, enjoying the warmth after the chilly ride from town. Chris set the table haphazardly for the two of them, sitting one of the bottles in the middle along with two glasses. Picking the kettle up from the stove he placed it on the table as well. The two men took seats and ate in silence, just as they often did. Just as they often did many things. In silence.
They had each started on second bowls before Chris said quietly, “JD make up his mind on a gift for Casey?”
Smiling around a mouthful of beans, Tanner nodded. “Bridle.”
Smiling in return, Chris said, “he’s learning. That’s one young lady that ain’t impressed by frills and folderol.”
“Yep, Buck’s about fit t’ be tied ‘bout it. Swears th’ Kid’s gonna ruin everything. Reckon he don’t remember that it was all that advice JD got b’fore just about drove both them young’uns crazy.”
Chris laughed at the memory. It felt good to laugh, he hadn’t done much of it recently. “Buck can’t help it. He’s been a hopeless romantic since I met him. Figures he’s got all the answers when it comes to women…or anything else.”
“Does tend t’ take it as his personal respons’bility to run th’ Kid’s life.”
“Always did like to meddle in people’s lives…we had a few go-rounds about that when we first started riding together.”
Tanner chuckled until he realized that Chris seemed to go somewhere else. He became quiet, waiting patiently for his friend to work through whatever it was on his mind. He had a good idea of course. They had all realized quickly what was behind Larabee’s quick departure from town, and respected his need for privacy. Vin had truly meant to do nothing more than to leave the bottle with Chris and move on in search of his own peace and quiet. The man in black wasn’t the only one who needed a break from the goings on in town.
“Buck never did know when to let well enough alone. He came close to ruining things between…between me and Sarah a couple of times. Always sticking his nose where it didn’t belong.”
Vin nodded, but said nothing. What could he say? Instead he continued eating and waited. If Chris wanted to say more, he would. If not, then it really wasn’t his business anyway. Sopping the last of the juice out of his bowl with a chunk of cornbread, Tanner sighed contentedly. He always said that when he died, if he was given a choice of going to heaven or hell, he’d only need to know where he could get a good bowl of beans.
Smiling at the tracker’s look of contentment, Chris said, “there’s more in the kettle if you’ve a mind.”
“Thought you’d never offer.” The lean young man filled his bowl the third time.
Chris sat back, watching the beans disappear as Vin sat hunched over the bowl as if guarding it. He had noticed that before. Tanner always ate quickly, hardly stopping long enough to enjoy the food as he shoveled it into his mouth. And he usually ate hunched over the plate as if he needed to keep the others away from it. Larabee frowned at the thought. He knew a little of what Vin’s life had been before fate had brought them together, but realized that he didn’t know many of the details.
On the other side of the small table the young tracker leaned back in the chair, drawing a sleeve across his mouth. Winking, he said, “mighty fine food Chris. Thanks. Reckon I’ll be goin’ now.” He pushed himself out of the chair.
Making a decision, Chris said, “why don’t you stay for awhile? Have a drink or two before you head into the hills. You know it’s going to be cold up there by nightfall.”
Seeing something in the older man’s face, Vin said simply, “reckon you’re right. Could use a bit a fortification ‘ginst th’ cold.”
Chris nodded and poured both glasses full. They sat across from one another as they drank. Finally, Larabee said, “take it you ain’t fond of Christmas, either.”
Shrugging the bounty hunter said, “just ain’t fond of all the fussin’ ‘round and ballyhoo. Too many folks in one place, makes it hard t’ breathe after a time. Prefer t’ do my celebratin’ under th’ stars. Reckon it makes it a mite easier t’ ‘member why we’re s’posed t’ be celebratin’.”
Chris grinned, “reckon you got that right, pard. Seems to me too many folks in town are more interested in parties and caroling and such as that. Makes a man’s skin crawl from time to time.”
They drank more of the whiskey with only a word here and there to break the comfortable silence. Chris knew, of course, the reason behind the occasional glance from those soul-reading blue eyes. Finally he said in a quiet tone, “reckon everyone’s figured why I slithered away out here.”
“Don’t think anyone looks at it as slitherin’, “ Vin responded honestly. “No one looks on your pain as a small thing Chris. As for us,” he nodded in the direction of the town, indicating the absent other peacekeepers, “reckon we’d just like t’ be able t’ take a bit a th’ pain away.”
Larabee’s head bowed, hiding the tears that suddenly welled up in the pained hazel eyes. When he could trust his voice, he said only “thanks pard.”
A gentle nod was the only answer, and once more silence took over the conversation. The sun was nudging the western horizon before any more was said.
“Vin, you ever celebrate Christmas…when your mama was alive or anything?”
“We did some things I reckon. I’s so little when she died, ain’t much I can recall with any detail. Kind’a recall wakin’ up t’ find a tree in th’ cabin, and havin’ sweet’nin’ on m’ flapjacks at breakfast. Thing I ‘member best is Mama readin’ me a story. She read it on an’ off all day. I’s too little t’ kin most a what she was sayin’, but I liked what I understood.”
“The Bible story…Christ’s birth?” Larabee guessed.
The tracker looked thoughtful, but said, “reckon she read me that, too, but this was somethin’ differ’nt. Can’t recall a lot of it, just somethin’ ‘bout ghosts ‘n a sick kid.”
The gunman grinned. “A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens.”
“Don’t ‘member Mama singin’ no song, but she sure did seem t’ get het up about it. Said this old guy hadn’t found no love as a kid, an’ ended up takin’ it out on all sorts a good folk. Said if his mama’d been alive, maybe thing’s could’a been differ’nt for ‘im.”
Chris wondered for a minute what Vin would have been like if he had chosen another path as he became a man. What would have happened if Vin Tanner had become a younger version of Ebeneezer Scrooge? Deciding not to pursue that thought, or to correct Vin's misunderstanding about the title just then, the man in black said, "it's been a real popular story for a lot a years. Read it a time or two myself." Vin didn't miss the softening tone in Larabee's voice. "Sarah enjoyed it, too. Hadn't introduced Adam to it yet."
Nodding, the tracker said, “reckon he’d a enjoyed it…later on.”
With a painfully sad smile, Chris said, “reckon.”
Sighing, Tanner spoke softly. “Don’t think folks expect traditions t’ hurt when they start ‘m.”
With a short bark of a laugh, the gunslinger said, “wouldn’t ever start them if they did I imagine.” Then he looked across the table at his friend. His best friend…the man who with a single look had given him back some hope that life was worth living again. This simple, caring man with the soul of a poet and heart of a lion, had shown him the way out of the dark abyss that had been his home for so long.
Vin held the deep, hazel gaze of the man who had become his best friend. The man who had shown him that it was all right to open himself to another person. This tortured, angry man had given him some hope that he could come to rely on others, to trust someone to watch his back. This complex, haunted man whose heart and soul had been taken in a fire by perverse fate, had given him a reason to become part of the wide, often cold, world once more.
And suddenly both men knew that they were in the middle of something that neither had expected…they were standing at the beginning of a tradition.
Chris stepped over to the old trunk at the foot of his bed. Pulling open the lid, he rifled through it for a few minutes. Finally finding what he sought, he carried the small object back to the table. Lighting the lamp in the already darkened room, he opened the slim volume he had kept through the years. Settling back in the chair, he began reading aloud…
“Marley was dead to begin with. There can be no doubt whatsoever about that…”
Across the table Vin smiled wistfully. Somewhere in the corner of his memory he could hear another voice, comforting and familiar, saying those words. He could hear a little boy giggling joyfully. He settled back in his own chair and took in the words Chris had chosen to share with him.
“Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did…”
A Midnight’s Tale (Nathan)
Nathan Jackson stood off to the side, watching the merriment that was taking place. The entire town seemed to be packed into the saloon, the only place in town large enough for such a gathering. Paper chains and pine boughs provided decoration, along with the ceiling tall pine tree that had been carried in that afternoon. There was piano music and dancing, food and drink, laughter and singing. It was one of the most entertaining gatherings the little town had seen as long as he had been living here. He only wished he felt more a part of it.
Jackson sighed. It wasn’t that people treated him badly here; he had suffered much worse throughout most of his life. He never truly felt that he was accepted as a true member of the town however. The other six peacekeepers, the Travis family, some of the others, they didn’t seem to consider his color anymore. Even Ezra Standish held him in some regard, just as he did the gambler, despite their frequent disagreements. But they were a minority. Others still tended to look down their noses at him, give him chilly looks and avoid him all together.
Taking his plate of food and cup of punch to a far table, he sat so he could watch the entire room. He laughed as he watched Buck and JD arguing over something or other. After what looked like a heated exchange on Dunne’s part and a teasing one on Wilmington’s, the bigger man walked away and quickly took up with a young woman on the other side of the room.
“Hello Nathan,” a deep voice greeted him.
Looking up, Nathan saw Josiah Sanchez standing near his table. “Howdy Josiah. Enjoyin’ yourself?”
“Very much so, but I’m getting too old to keep up with these young folks.” He smiled. “Mind if I join you for a few moments?”
Smiling, he nudged the other chair away from the table with a foot, “of course not.”
Dropping into the chair, Josiah sat a plate of food on the table and dragged a sleeve across his forehead. “Think I’m gonna sit out the next few songs. Between Gloria Potter and Nettie Wells, I think I’ve danced a good three inches off my legs.”
His deep laugh booming, Jackson said, “keep it up and you’ll be lookin’ up to JD and Ezra at that rate.”
Affecting a shudder, the preacher said, “I get that short, my knuckles’ll drag the ground.” Looking at the dark man curiously, he continued, “so why are you hiding over here in the corner?”
Frowning, Nathan said, “I’m not hiding. Just watchin’ the goin’ ons.”
“In the corner,” Sanchez reasserted, staring pointedly at the wall behind the healer. Point blank he asked, “are you uncomfortable here?”
With a sigh Jackson dropped his fork into his plate and sat back in his chair. “Guess I’m expectin’ too much, Josiah. Folks are only folks, they ain’t perfect.”
“And if they were perfect?”
Smiling self-consciously, Jackson said, “I’d be a part of th’ town.”
“You are part of the town, Nathan. You’re a very important part of it.”
“Sure, if someone’s hurt or sick or birthin’. The rest a th’ time, they,” he nodded toward the filled room, “treat me like I’ve got something catchin’ or like I ain’t quite human. Don’t reckon many of ‘m would miss me if I wasn’t here. Just like it’s been most a my life.”
“Brother, it takes a long time for prejudices to disappear. You’re right…they ain’t perfect; they’re only human.”
“And so am I,” Jackson said softly.
Nodding, Sanchez said, “so you are, Brother. So you are.” He sighed, adding, “I wish I could stay and talk some more Nathan. But I promised Mary I’d play Santa Claus for Billy and the other children. I could –“
Waving him off before he could finish, the healer said, “I’m fine, Josiah, really. You go get dressed and entertain the children.”
Pushing himself from the chair, the big man said, “meet me for breakfast in the morning, Nathan. Let’s talk some more?”
Nodding, he said, “I’ll see y’ then.” He watched as Josiah went to meet Mary Travis, who would help him get dressed for his performance as Father Christmas. With another sigh, Nathan considered staying to watch his friend come in to surprise the youngest members of the town. Then he decided that he had had enough excitement for the evening. Quietly he left the saloon, stopping on the boardwalk. He considered stopping in to see Ezra, who was missing the festivities thanks to a bad cold. The gambler’s mother had surprised them with a visit, though, and had uncharacteristically foregone attending the party and any chances to make a quick buck, and was tending her son. She’d let him know if the ailing man needed him, as unlikely as that was. Feeling completely useless, he moved through the town and went to his room.
Leaving the lamp unlit, he took off his dress clothes and slipped into bed. Folding his arms beneath his head, he stared into the darkness above him. He wondered, not for the first time, what it was that kept him here. He could live with greater acceptance in the Seminole village, and lord knew he wanted to be with Rain. If he were at the village, he would have the respect due him. He wouldn’t have to continue to prove himself a worthy member of the village as he had to in the town. It wasn’t fair. He didn’t expect to be held in the same esteem as a true doctor; he was always the first to point out the fact that he was only a healer. But he felt that he deserved some respect for his devotion to keeping the members of the town in good health. His dark eyes drooped closed slowly and Nathan dropped off to sleep…
He opened his eyes, staring around the darkened room. He had locked the door, hadn’t he?
“Get up Nathan.”
“I said, who’s there?”
“My name is Samuel. I have come to show you something.”
“Something wrong? You hurt…sick?” Nathan rubbed his eyes, trying to wake up. For some reason he did not fear the intruder.
“I am in no need for your ministrations, Nathan.”
“Then what do you need me for?”
“I am not the one in need. It is you who has need of my ministrations.”
Sitting up in the bed, the healer said, “look, did Buck put you up to this? Josiah?”
“No one put me up to anything, Nathan. Why do you not believe what I am telling you?”
“You ain’t hardly told me nothin’ yet. And I can’t say that I appreciate you just walkin’ in to my room without an invitation.”
“You did invite me, Nathan. You are in need of guidance…reassurance. You may not believe that you’ve made an impact on this town; that you are truly a part of this town, but I am here to show you that you do in fact have an important place here. Your presence is indeed quite pivotal to this town’s very existence. If it were not for you, we would be standing in the midst of a ghost town. Now, get your clothes on and come with me.”
For some reason, Jackson decided to play along with his visitor’s whims. Dressing hurriedly in the darkness, he stepped to the door. “All right, where are we goin’?”
“Only to the landing outside,” Samuel said. He led the way, seeming to drift and float along.
Nathan followed, and joined the strange man at the railing. They looked out upon the little town without speaking for some time. Then Jackson realized that there was something different about the town. “Where is everyone?”
“Gone,” Samuel said quietly.
“Gone where? They were all at the saloon just a while ago.”
“No, that was in another time. We’re no longer in the town that you knew, but in the town that would have been had you not been a part of it.”
“Mister, did you hurt your head?”
Laughing, Samuel said, “no, Nathan Jackson, I did not hurt my head. But if I had, I would trust you to heal me. Now, observe what I am about to show you.” With a wave of his hand, the visitor seemed to bring dawn to the town.
Nathan looked in shock at the buildings below them. They were boarded up, broken down, long unused. Not a single person could be found walking about. “Where are they all?” He asked in stricken awe.
“Gone…moved away or dead. Lawlessness…illness…fear and disillusionment. It all took its toll. The town is just another ghost town; one of those places of broken dreams and ruined futures.”
“All because I didn’t come here?”
“You’re crazy, Mister. Think maybe I should wire th’ Judge about havin’ you put away.”
“In this reality the Judge is dead.”
“Yes. Murdered by Lucas James. The Judge had no one to back him up when he attempted to try the young murderer. When James was freed by his uncle’s hired men, Judge Travis was shot. There was no one there to remove the bullet. He bled to death in his daughter-in-law’s arms.”
“No…” Nathan whispered.
“Nathan, I am not insane. If you search your heart, you will know that I am as sane as you are. I speak the truth…the truth of what could have been.”
Slumping to the bench nearby, Nathan covered his face with his hands. “My God, I must be as crazy as you I reckon. I do believe you.”
With a smile, Samuel simply continued. “The Judge’s death was only a single event that destroyed the town. Billy Travis was killed when he ran into the path of a wagon. Mary Travis nearly went insane after that, and became obsessed with her work. She was killed by young Stutz while she heralded statehood.
“Gloria Potter left town right after her husband was murdered. She had no reason to feel that she and her children would be safe. And she was right. Rape, murder, wanton acts of violence, they all became commonplace occurrences. Every day saw another family leave, another family killed, another family ruined. There was no one willing to stand up for them, to protect them, to care about them.”
“You seem to think I could have kept all this from happening. I was only one of seven men takin’ care a things around here.”
“Exactly my point, Mr. Jackson. Perhaps not everything you have contributed to this town’s existence has been due to your medical expertise. While that in itself is estimable, you have contributed much to this town, sir.”
“But there are six other men – “
“What brought them together, Nathan?”
“What?” He looked in confusion at the man. “The first time we were all together was when we went to help the Seminole village fight off those renegade rebs.”
“Yes, but how did they get together in the first place?”
Nathan frowned, trying to understand what the other man was telling him. Finally he said, “reckon it started when Vin and Chris ran off those fellas that were fixing to hang me.”
“EXACTLY!” Samuel shouted, clapping his hands. “You were the catalyst Nathan. If it had not been for your willingness to treat that man, although you knew he was dying, none of the rest would have happened. As strange as it may sound, your desire to heal others also kept this town alive. Your compassion and humanity helped to make this little collection of storefronts and houses a home for those brave enough to leave man’s so-called civilized world behind.”
“You make me sound awful noble, sir, I think maybe you’ve got th’ wrong man.”
“Nathan,” his visitor said with a sigh, “what must I do to make you understand. Without you, nothing good would happen here. Nothing. Why can’t you understand this?”
“’Cause I’m only one man. There’s Chris, Josiah, Vin, Buck, JD, Ezra…lots a folks have been fightin’ hard to make this town what it is…or was…or would have been…” he rubbed his forehead, feeling a headache coming on.
“All right. What of the others…the rest of what has been described as “the Magnificent Seven”? Shall we see where they are right now?”
“I can tell you where they are right now…or…” his headache pounded harder.
“In the world that was, you know where they are. In the world that is, you do not know them, and they do not know you. Indeed, only Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington have ever shared an association. Would you like to see what has become of the other six?”
“Why not?” Nathan wondered aloud.
“Very well,” Samuel reached out and placed a hand on Nathan’s forehead. “Let them come to your mind, one by one, and you will see the men they are now.”
Sinking back against the railing Nathan felt a warmth, almost like a swallow of whiskey on a cold night, spread through him. His mind began to drift, and visions began to form in his mind…
Vin. The first to come to his aid after Mary Travis. Tanner had watched the drunken cowboys carry him off to hang, and picked up a rifle to make things right. He was bothered to see darkness engulf the vision of the young tracker. A new vision took his place. A simple cross pounded into the ground.
“He had no one to call friend…” came Samuel’s voice, “no one to watch his back. Eli Joe had framed him, and without anyone to care, he was returned to Tascosa and hanged.”
“Ah, damn…Vin…” Jackson said mournfully. “I’m sorry Vin. We should’a been there.” Darkness came once more, and Nathan felt himself drift away. Then a second face came to his mind’s eye.
Chris. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Vin as they entered the graveyard to rescue him. Chris Larabee, who had quickly become the leader of the little mismatched group. Then a different Chris. Thin, haggard, beaten down. He was huddled over a table, a near-empty bottle of red eye before him. He coughed often, the sound harsh and painful to hear.
“He has no one to care for…no one to care for him. Everyday finds him sinking deeper and deeper into the depths of despair. He can barely lift his gun now, let alone fire it. He has consumption; it’s eating him up from the inside.”
“Chris…you’ve got too much to offer the world to go out like this,” Nathan sighed.
Josiah. The man he had known for some time before the others. They had never forged a strong bond before going to the village, but he and the preacher had spent a few hours in one another’s company from time to time. Then, Josiah sitting in the midst of the broken down little church. Oblivious to the fact that someone had entered, slipping into the shadows. A muzzle flash, and the big man fell soundlessly forward.
“He tried to stand against Guy Royal when he threatened Nettie Wells. He was only one man, though. Royal sent one of his hired men to town to take care of what he saw as a minor nuisance. The next day, when Josiah had promised to come and help Nettie and Casey face the man down, Royal went to the Wells place. The women did not die easily.”
Nathan felt hot tears well up beneath his closed lids at the thought of the senseless deaths caused in the name of money and land.
Ezra. The man he still had trouble trusting, no matter what happened. There would always be too much of the grifter in the man for Jackson to trust him. But he had shown his own brand of courage many times. The healer saw in his mind’s eye the Southerner put aside lifelong prejudices and ask if he minded riding with an “old southern boy.” The picture changed; Standish sitting at a felt covered poker table. It seemed like so many other times, Ezra engaging in the games of chance he swore that he abhorred. Nathan decided that perhaps he hadn’t had any sort of impact on this man. And then he really looked at the other man. Standish was playing with a cutthroat attitude, uncaring of his opponent. He was taking the last sent of a poor farmer who had come to town seeking money to save his land, and he was loving every minute of it.
“No one has ever cared about Ezra Standish, he has never known a friend other than a deck of cards. Humanity has given up on Ezra, and he has given up on it.”
JD. The boy who had begun his journey toward manhood in the dusty little Seminole village. The young man who had tried time and time again to prove himself. Nathan watched as Dunne argued with and struggled against him to go help the others. Blood from the knife wound he had just stitched up in the boy’s shoulder was still damp on the Kid’s shirt as he staggered from the church. Rifle in hand he had gone to help stand against the men who had kidnapped Olivia and robbed the bank. But then a new JD took his place. This one was cold and hard, his eyes devoid of any hint of boyishness. He sat with three other men in a tiny shack, glaring at one of his companions. Harsh words, their meaning lost to Nathan, were exchanged. Suddenly JD pulled his gun and shot the other man in the head. He laughed as the man’s lifeless body collapsed to the ground.
“He didn’t stop here, but continued on West. He had intended to join the Rangers, but they wouldn’t even consider accepting a greenhorn in their ranks. He found himself penniless, homeless, and hopeless when a young gang of thugs coaxed him into their midst. It took a surprisingly short time for them to turn his idealism into cynicism, his integrity into deviousness. He’ll live a short life and condemn many others to shorter ones.”
Nathan was beyond words now. JD a killer? It was impossible. The Kid had more heart than brains sometimes, but he was nothing if not compassionate and willing to put his life on the line for anyone who fell into his circle on friends and acquaintances.
Buck. The final member of their brotherhood of the gun. Quick with a joke or a jest, and just as quick with a helping hand or a strong back. He watched Buck as the big man jumped in front of JD, taking Colonel Riley Anderson’s saber across his chest. The Wilmington that took his place rode slowly into a new town. He looked warily and wearily around before dismounting and entering the little broken down saloon. Inside, he looked at the house ladies with a bored expression, finally settling on a young girl who barely seemed old enough to be away from her mother's bosom. Nathan saw the man’s eyes and wanted to cringe. They seemed lifeless and cold. There was no sparkle in the dark blue depths.
“He left the town without ever knowing Chris was there. He became more and more jaded, saw far too much ugliness in the world. Buck finds nothing to laugh about now, and has no one to care about…or to care about him.”
“This is insane,” Nathan said in a strangled whisper. “This can’t be right. All of these men are strong, good, decent men. How could they end up like this?”
“Yes, they are strong, good, decent men, but it is the strength of the union you all share that will build the life you know. And none of it can be without you, Nathan. Do you understand now? Your life is no less valuable than any of the others. Whether they know it or not, the people of this town owe their lives to you. Because of your compassion, they may very well manage to bring this town to prosperity. “
Looking up at the man, Nathan was shocked to see that he was looking into his own face. “But…what…who…”
Avoiding an answer, Samuel said, “no matter how others perceive you, Nathan Jackson, you only have to believe in yourself and your abilities. The most important opinion is your own.” And with that, the man disappeared.
Nathan opened his eyes to find himself in his own room and his own bed. The sun was shinning brightly through the windows, letting him know that he had slept far later than he had intended to. Sitting up, he leaned back against the headboard, pondering the dream he had had. If it was a dream…how could he be certain? Then he realized that it didn’t matter. His own mind, an angel, a madman, it didn’t matter. What did matter was that he felt much better about life than he had when he had retired the night before.
Jumping up, he hurried to the nearest window and peered out. With a smile, he saw townspeople on the boardwalk and heard children’s laughter somewhere below him. The town had not disappeared…or it had been returned…or he had been returned from wherever he had been taken…he sighed and pushed those thoughts into a far corner of his mind. If he thought about it too long he’d be the one in need of hospitalization. And the specifics didn’t really matter anyway. The only thing that mattered was that he knew that he did deserve a place in the town. Hurriedly dressing, the healer left his room to find Josiah. He had a lot to talk about now.
Christmas Miracle (Ezra, Maude)
Ezra Standish scrubbed angrily at his watering eyes and daubed at his sore, red nose. He felt horrible, plain and simple. The gambler could plainly see the face of the snuffling business man he had played cards with two days earlier. The man had insisted that he was only unused to the dusty environment, but that seemed doubtful now. Standish could only hope that the ailing man passed through on his way back to wherever he had come from. He would enjoy relieving the snuffling little “plague carrier” of the rest of his cash.
He heard a noise outside and leaned forward in his rocking chair to look out the window. The stage was just pulling in, bringing more visitors to the little town. He toyed with the idea of venturing forth to ascertain the disposition of the passengers, but decided that he would leave any likely marks united with their discretionary funds this time. The thought of unwrapping himself from the heavy quilt and dressing for an evening at the tables was more effort than he cared to expend at the moment. Nathan had assured him that it was only a head cold, but he had his doubts.
To make things even worse was the fact that it was Christmas Eve. The town was abuzz with merry-makers and revelers who were all but dancing in the street. It made the fact that he was marooned all alone in his rented room even more difficult too contend with. Although he had pretended disinterest, the young Southerner had actually been looking forward to the festivities. That had all been pulled beyond his reach when he had wakened to find that he felt as if his ‘down pilla’s’ stuffing had insinuated itself inside his head, while the inside of his mouth felt very much like the muslin sheets that his aching body rested on. Making a half-hearted effort at his morning ablutions, he had shuffled tiredly outside in search of Nathan and his healing herbs.
Returning with poultices to help him breathe, and a mixture to brew into tea, he bemoaned his fate to the empty room and returned to his bed. A few hours later he was roused from a light sleep by Nathan. The healer brought more herbs and a tray of food, ordering Ezra to eat.
After a quick examination, Jackson informed him that he should be fine in a few days. “I’ll let Chris know that you’re under the weather. See if someone can take your watch for a day or two. It’s just a cold right now, but I sure don’t wanna see it develop into pneumonia. Now, you stay put and rest. I’m gonna see if Inez’ll see to your meals, and I want you to drink as much water as you can. It’ll help.”
With that Nathan had left, and Standish found himself alone once more. He sighed, curling up under the quilt. Why should it be any different now? He had always been alone…and was certain at that moment that he always would be.
“Good lord, Ezra,” he mumbled to himself, “the next thing I suppose, is that you’ll begin spewing forth such things as “bah humbug” and the like. You have a cold. Go to sleep…perhaps your mood will be improved when you awaken.” He rose from the rocking chair and returned to his featherbed.
Drifting toward the comfort of sleep, he snuggled deeper beneath the heavy quilt, till only the top of his head was uncovered. Visions of wealth, companionship, love and comfort melded into a delirious fantasy in the man’s sleeping mind. It took some time for him to rouse from his dreams when the sound of someone knocking on his door beckoned him back to cold reality. Thinking that it was the healer he grumbled, “Mister Jackson it is quite impossible for me to secure the rest you suggested when you insist on disturbing me so frequently.” Just as his complaints finished, he opened the door.
“Ezra, what on earth are you doing up here in this dreary little room?” Maude Standish asked with her usual flair for the dramatic. “There are gentlemen out there with more money than they truly need…” she broke off, finally registering the fact that her son looked in less than perfect health. “Why darlin’, whatever is wrong with you?”
“Nothing Mother,” he said shortly. “Mister Jackson assures me that it is only a head cold."
“Well, what on earth are you doin’ out of bed baby boy?” She fussed at him.
Attempting to ignore the fact that she was responsible for his being out of bed, the young man simply shuffled back to bed and crawled back under the covers. “What brings you here Mother?”
“Well, I was in this vicinity, and thought it would be nice to spend the holidays with my darlin’ son and his associates.”
Ezra looked at her with surprise. He wasn’t certain exactly why, whether it was the fact that she had come to visit him at this time, or the fact that she only did so because she was ‘in the vicinity’. But then he decided that, for whatever reason, he liked the idea of his mother being near right now.
“I’m sorry,” he realized that she had been speaking to him. “What did you say?”
“I asked what Mister Jackson had prescribed for you to overcome this malady.”
“Some of his herbs…liquids…rest...There isn’t much one can do for a cold.”
“Well then darlin’ boy, you rest.” She fussed and tugged at the covers, tucking them around Standish’s shoulders. “I’ll go and get Inez to heat some water and we’ll make some tea.”
Ezra watched as the whirlwind in petticoats that had taken over his room left once more with a flourish. With a smile he wondered to himself what she wanted. He knew Maude Standish just as well as she knew him…if not better. There had to be some reason behind her visit, and there had to be some reason behind her fluttering like a mother hen around him. He decided to let her play her game, however, let her reveal her motives as she went. Chuckling to himself, he allowed the warmth of his featherbed to cradle him. He thought back briefly on past Christmases, but found no comfort there and quickly set the thoughts aside. Sighing, he thought of the current holiday and wondered what memories it would leave behind in its passing.
A short time later, Maude reappeared, deftly carrying a tray as she pushed open the door. Setting the tray on the dresser, she found the herbs Nathan had sent with her son and prepared them in the hot water. While it steeped, she flitted around the room, gossiping about one thing after another. Ezra listened to her, only half hearing the words. It was enough that she was there. Someone was with him, and it made the day seem a bit brighter. He was enjoying the meaningless chatter that filled the room, and that thought surprised him more than he would have believed.
“Here you go, baby boy,” Maude interrupted his reverie. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she held out a mug to him.
Pushing himself up against the headboard, the gambler took the hot drink and sipped it cautiously. Making a face that caused his mother to smile, he said “it is no wonder Mister Jackson Senior declared this ‘boiled skunk’. In all actuality I believe that to have been an overly kind assessment.”
“Well, if it puts you back on the road to recovery my dear, you drink it all up. I brought you some soup as well. Inez promises that it’s the best thing for a cold. Now, is there anything else I can do for you sweetheart?”
“Uh…no Mother, thank you.” He paused, debating whether or not to continue. Finally he said, “Mother, are you aware that there is a celebration going on in town this evening?”
“Hmmm? Why yes darlin’, Inez did say something about that. You aren’t considering going there, are you? I don’t think that you need to be out and about tonight baby boy.”
He smiled. “No, I have no intention of vacating this bed for anything but the most primary of reasons. I only thought that perhaps you would like to partake of the festivities.”
“And leave you alone? I wouldn’t think of it darlin’! Now, are you ready for your soup?”
Ezra felt hot tears burn his eyes. It was a simple thing, but it meant more than he could ever put into words. His mother really did care; below the brash and self-focused woman he had come to know, she really did care about her one and only child.
Maude sat the tray on his lap, and returned to her seat on the edge of his bed. She tucked a cloth napkin under his chin and stirred the soup, blowing on it gently. She didn’t move from the bed, regaling him with more stories. He had no idea which stories were true and which ones she had fabricated. Not that it mattered; none of them involved anyone he knew. He allowed her to ramble on, her words washing over him like a soothing blanket. Once he finished eating, she removed the tray. Going to his washstand she came back with a damp rag and bent over, washing his face.
“Mother!” He yelped, “that’s unnecessary, truly. I am not an invalid.”
“Well, I know that,” she said as she took one of his hands in hers and stroked the rag over it. “But there’s nothing that says I can’t fuss over my baby boy for a little bit.”
Feeling a bit overwhelmed, the young man could only smile weakly and settle back against his pillows. When she finished, Maude coaxed him back down in the bed and snugged the quilt around him once more.
Moving from the bed, she said “now you sleep for awhile. I’ll take the tray away and be back in as soon as I get my luggage taken care of.” Kissing him on the forehead she once more swept from the room.
Ezra dozed of and on through the rest of the day and into the evening. His mother bustled about, making him drink more tea, coaxing him to eat soup, fluffing his pillows and straightening his coverings. He slowly began to simply enjoy her ministrations. Questions continued to tug at the corners of his mind, but he kept them at bay. For once he would take his mother’s actions at face value.
The sounds of carols, laughter and general merriment came to them from time to time as the evening wore on. The young man sighed once or twice, wondering just what was happening. He could almost picture it in his mind; J.D. and Buck continuing to argue over young Dunne’s choice of a gift for Casey Wells, Josiah quoting scripture or regaling the youngest members of the town with Christmas tales, and Nathan hovering quietly at the edges of the crowd. He knew that it was unlikely Chris had returned from his shack and Vin had probably volunteered to take the watch so the others could enjoy the festivities. He could well imagine Mary Travis overseeing everything, like a queen at court. The rest would be dancing, eating, singing and laughing.
A part of him was saddened to think that he would miss this chance to relax and enjoy the strange sensation of being a part of the town. But that sadness was far overshadowed by the more compelling sensation of being cared for by his mother.
Midnight came and went, the sounds of merry-making dissipating with the night. Maude had settled into his rocking chair, reading a book and chatting with him. She continued to monitor his health, forcing liquids on him until he felt ready float away on a sea of foul-tasting tea.
As the night waned, moving toward the early morning hours, Maude Standish allowed a single yawn to announce her need for sleep. “Well darlin’, I believe I shall retire to my own room. Unless of course you need something?”
He smiled. “No Mother, I’m fine.”
“Well then,” she stepped over and delivered another kiss to his forehead. “I’ll check in on you tomorrow morning. Good night baby boy.” She gently stroked his face and smiled before leaving the room.
Christmas morning dawned with a brightness that seemed to match the gambler’s mood. He rose before noon, and was soon looking his usual dapper self. Just as he finished tying his tie, a knock came at his door.
“Come in,” he said cheerfully.
Maude peeked around the door. “Ezra, darlin’, are you certain you should be up?”
“Mother, I’m fine,” he came to stand before her, his green eyes twinkling. “Due very much to your wonderful attention. Thank you Mother.” He kissed her tenderly on the cheek. Uncharacteristically blushing, the older woman simply smiled. He offered her his arm, and they went to join the others for Christmas breakfast.
And For Each a Wish (Josiah)
January thirty-first, a time for reflection on the end of one year and dreams of what the coming year would bring.
The seven men, the peace keepers of the dusty little town, sat together in the dimly lit saloon. Around them townspeople, business girls and travelers drank, talked, argued and celebrated the last day of the year in their own way. The men kept track of what was happening around them with the practiced eye of lawmen, monitoring the crowd for signs of trouble.
Josiah Sanchez sat back in his chair, taking in the eclectic group of individuals that had come together to become a brotherhood. Men who might otherwise never had more than a nod in passing for one another had fate not intervened. He smiled at that thought, at the sense of humor fate must have, placing such diverse individuals in one another’s lives. He looked at each man in turn, marveling at the way each maintained their own identity while blending with the others in perfect harmony. ‘Well,’ he thought to himself, smiling as he watched Buck fussing at JD, ‘perhaps not perfect.’
JD had been driving them all to distraction with more of his tasteless jokes that only he found humorous. Buck, sitting next to him, was doing his best to get the young man to stop. Occasionally he wrapped one arm around the Kid’s neck or put a hand to his mouth, trying to stop JD from talking.
Next to them sat Ezra Standish. The elegant young Southerner looked put upon as he was forced to dodge Wilmington’s long arms as he wrestled with Dunne. On the other side of Standish sat the two who had quickly become the glue that held the group together. Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner watched their friends antics with their usual quiet stoicism. From time to time a grin would touch their faces, barely restrained by Larabee but given full rein by Tanner. They spoke quietly to one another, a private discussion that no doubt focused primary on the business of watching over the town.
Sanchez turned last of all to the seventh member of their little group. Nathan Jackson watched the trio of their more animated friends with that broad, easy smile of his. The dark, handsome, healer laughed that warm, deep laugh of his as they all watched Buck grab JD’s bowler from his head, threatening it with a pitcher of beer if their youngest member didn’t stop the jokes.
Laughing with the others, the former preacher continued his musings. New Years Eve, a time for reflection upon the past and hopes for the future. Hopes. With a slight nod to himself, Sanchez considered his hopes for each of his brothers.
For JD he wished patience. Young Dunne was far too eager for maturity; to be everything he could be. He wanted to make a name for himself; to be accepted as a peer in every way with his surrogate other brothers. He often forgot that life is a journey to be enjoyed rather than hurried through. Josiah wished that “the Kid” would allow himself to be just that more often… a kid.
For Buck he wished fulfillment. Beneath the quick smile and twinkling eyes, the big gunman had a need to be needed; to care for others. He found an outlet for some of it in his relationship with JD, but there was a need for more. Josiah wished that Wilmington would find the person who could truly provide a vessel that could be filled with Buck’s fostering and big, loving heart.
For Ezra he wished contentment. None knew exactly what the young gambler’s life had been before their meeting, but all had an idea. With a mother like Maude, it wasn’t a difficult assumption. The gambler had never felt a part of anything before, Sanchez knew that from conversations they had had. Even though he had been accepted into their little brotherhood, he continued to consider himself an outsider. Josiah wished that the young man would finally know the recognition and sense of belonging he deserved.
For Vin he wished his name. The young man had lived a hardscrabble life, fighting for most of what he had. The one thing Vin had never lost was the heritage of his name. It was something he had to be protective of though, something that was threatened by deceit and a perverse fate. Josiah wished that Vin would know the joy of being able to clear the black mark on the name Tanner, so that he could once more share the pride of his inheritance with the world.
For Chris he wished the restoration of his soul. Unlike most of the other men, the gunslinger’s need was easily known. The murder of his family had burned through his soul as the fire had burned through his home. It had stolen not only the lives of his wife and son, but the essence of his own life. Josiah wished for Chris the acceptance not only of what had happened, but acceptance of the finality of his loss. He wished their leader the peace of mind that would allow him to truly live once more.
Finally the oldest member of the little group that had been called the Magnificent Seven, as well as the Larabee Gang and even seven sons-of-bitches, turned to his closest friend. He studied the profile of their healer, Nathan Jackson.
For Nathan he wished acceptance. Not simply the acceptance of those who were blind of anything save his color, but his own acceptance of his gifts. Jackson had been blessed with a great heart filled with compassion, as well as the ability to heal the physical wounds of his fellow man. However, the former stretcher bearer was always the first to point out his lack of formal knowledge of the healing arts. Josiah wished for his friend the acceptance that his gifts were strong with or without knowledge gathered from books.
Josiah smiled, knowing that he would never voice his wishes for his brothers aloud. Instead he went to the bar, returning to the table with a bottle of good scotch whiskey and seven glasses. Filling each glass, he distributed six of them to his friends and raised the seventh.
“Brothers, a toast. May you each find your hearts desire and recognize it when you do. May your fondest wishes come true in the coming year.” As the other six men smiled and offered words of agreement, seven glasses clinked together to seal the toast. From outside, the sound of the little church bell rang out, announcing the passing of the year. Seven men sat together, facing the new year together.
And if I may, I will echo Josiah’s toast for each of you…those I have met and those I hope to meet in the future. May you each find your hearts desire and recognize it when you do. May your fondest wish come true in the coming year. ~~LaraMee