The night wore on and Chris had settled himself outside the jailhouse, sitting on his chair. The laughter and song that came from the saloon had not ceased for the last few hours. He could see Vin walking over to him. The two merely inclined their heads to each other in greeting. Vin took a spot next to a porch post and leaned his shoulder against it, resting a hand on his gun belt. He looked over at the saloon.
"Go on over if you've got a mind to," Chris said.
Vin shook his head. "Not fer me. I prefer the quiet."
Silence filled the air between them. After a few minutes, Vin finally took a seat in the chair beside Chris and stretched out his legs, resting them on the porch railing.
The unvoiced question hung in the air and Chris knew what Vin was wondering. "I don't trust them, Vin."
Vin slowly turned his attention to his friend. "I gathered that," he replied in a quiet voice.
Chris knew he didn't have to go into an explanation. Vin was willing to trust Chris' judgment on most anything. This time, though, an explanation needed to be given. "When I was first courting Sarah, an acting troupe came through our town. One of the men had been playing a part for so long he began to think he was that character. Sarah and I were walking down the street one night, when he came out in his costume and attacked her. I stopped him before he did any real damage, but I saw he had lost his mind. Have never trusted actors since."
Short...to the point. Message received. Vin nodded. "Understandable," was all he said.
The two fell into their comfortable silence. Chris basked in it. It was good to not feel the need for masks when a good friend was around.
+ + + + + + +
The crash caused Vin and Chris to sit up in their chairs. Their attention turned to the hall. One exchanged look and they were on their feet heading in that direction.
JD hurried out of the saloon and met them in the street. He had also heard the crash from where he had been standing just inside the saloon doors.
Chris nodded to him in acknowledgment. "JD, no one else heard?"
"Naw, the noise in there is getting louder, what with all the singing and laughing. There's Nathan." He pointed to the dark skinned man heading their way. "Boys," he greeted them. "Where'd that crash come from?"
"Inside the hall," Vin replied. "Could be nothin', maybe a dog or cat wreakin' the place. Could be robbers."
Nathan shrugged. "Best to be sure."
"Nathan," Chris pointed to the back of the building. "You and JD go in from the back. Vin and I will take the front. Remember...it's dark in there. Try to keep a level head." He rested a hand on JD's shoulder and gave the youth an understanding look.
JD nodded once. He knew what Chris was worried about. Four months before, JD had accidentally shot a woman while trying to subdue a pair of bank robbers. Though it had been an accidental shooting, the woman had died, leaving JD gun shy and wanting nothing more than to return East. It wasn't JD's being unsteady with a gun that the leader of the Seven was concerned with. It was his being too afraid to use one. "Don't worry, Chris. I'll be all right."
Chris smiled, giving the youth's shoulder an encouraging squeeze. "Good man. Let's go."
The four men drew their guns and went to take their positions.
Vin and Chris were at the front doors. The younger man looked in through a window. "Whoever it is, don't care if they're seen. There's lights on."
"Good," Chris replied. "That'll make our job easier. Let's do it." He took the lead and slowly opened the doors, walking inside. Vin followed close behind; his Mare's Leg aimed to the left of Chris as the gunslinger covered the right angle.
As it turned out their guns were not needed as they saw what appeared to be an unarmed man standing on the stage, his back to them. He was dressed in black pants. Suspenders hung over a white shirt with rolled up sleeves. His long, black hair was tied back, but looked disheveled. Around his feet were the remains of a thick wooden screen, obviously the culprit of the crash.
Chris aimed his gun at the man. Vin lowered his, but kept both hands on it. "Mister? Ya' wanna tell us what's goin' on?" he asked, his voice calm and soft...as always.
"Forgive me," the man said, a nervous laugh coloring his voice. "I seem to have caused a slight mishap with this stage decoration." He waved his arms out and Vin saw burn scars on his left forearm. He wondered if the scars went further up the arm. It was hard to tell with the sleeves. "I did not mean to disturb the mood of the town this festive evening."
"That's all right. You're not hurt, are ya'?" Vin asked. He glanced over at Chris who was letting him take the lead for the moment.
Nathan came in from the left, JD from the right. The man remained still, his head lowered.
"JD, Nathan," Chris finally said. "It's all right."
The two peacekeepers lowered their guns.
"Please," the man said. "I ask that the young man not come any nearer. Ask him to leave."
JD looked at him questioningly. "Excuse me?"
"JD?" Nathan spoke out. He understood what the man was asking. He could see the man's face clearly from his location. "I, uh, I think Chris and Vin can take care of things here."
JD looked at Chris, confused. "I don't understand."
Chris looked at Nathan who casually rubbed his finger down his left cheek. The gunslinger nodded. "JD, I want you to go with Nathan. No arguments."
"And no questions, son. Just do it."
Chris' voice was patient yet firm. JD knew that tone well enough not to argue. He holstered his gun and looked at Nathan. The healer gestured with his head for them to leave the way they came in.
JD nodded, but turned to the man. "I hope I didn't disturb you in some way, sir."
The man allowed a small chuckle. "It is I who fears disturbing you, young man. Perhaps your dark skinned friend will explain it to you."
"That I will," Nathan replied. "I'm the healer in these parts. If you need anything..."
"Nothing," the man spoke out swiftly. Then more softly he repeated, "Nothing, thank you."
Nathan tipped his hat to him. "Come along, JD."
JD gazed at the man who stood mostly in shadow before him. "Good night, sir."
The man lowered his head. "No one has called me 'sir' in a very long time, young man. Thank you. Good night."
JD nodded to him, then followed Nathan out the back of the theater.
The man sighed heavily, raising his face, but not allowing Chris or Vin to see it. "A beautiful youth must never gaze on ugliness too early in life. Scarred innocence comes soon enough to a man. I see no sense in hurrying it along."
Vin placed his Mare's Leg back in its holster. Chris did the same with his gun. "Is there anything we can help you with?" Chris asked.
"Nothing, Mister Larabee."
Chris looked at him, furrowing his brow. "Do I know you?"
"Forgive me. I was told you are the lead peacekeeper. And the man next to you must be your second in command. Vin Tanner, is it not?"
"That's right," the younger man replied.
"I hope you don't think me rude for not greeting you both properly. My scars...run deep. My ugliness is difficult for others to gaze upon."
Vin glanced at Chris then took a step toward the stage. "We are two men well acquainted with scars, sir."
"Perhaps, Mister Tanner, but I am not well acquainted with showing mine."
Vin gazed at the man's back curiously. "Your voice sounds familiar. Are ya' an actor?"
The man laughed as though an ironic joke had been spoken. "An actor...once, yes, but no more. Unless of course the part requires a deformed appearance."
Vin turned to Chris, a look of recognition on his face. "Theodore Marcus," he spoke out and the man visibly tensed at the mention of the name. "Your ear is as sharp as your sharp shooting eye, Mister Tanner."
Vin leaned to his right. "How would y'all know about me bein' a sharpshooter?"
"Forgive me, again. I took the liberty of asking around about you and the others you work with. Some of the actors have all ready acquainted themselves with the people of your town. But to answer your question, yes. I was once an actor named Theodore Marcus. Now...I am nothing more than a stage manager. I set up the props, construct the backgrounds...I suppose I should be grateful Mister Hathaway chose to keep me on at all. The stage is a harsh mistress. When beauty disappears...so do the lights and applause." The tone of melancholy was not lost on the two men behind him. Vin took another step closer. "I saw ya' once play the lead in Hamlet. I'm not a man who can be moved to tears easily, Mister Marcus, but that night I allowed a few to fall."
"That...is kind of you to say, Mister Tanner. And may I return the compliment?"
Vin blinked. "Beggin' your pardon?"
"Your Mrs. Travis was very proud of your poetry. So much so that she showed your printed words to Mister Hathaway. I discovered them quite by accident, I assure you, but discover them I did and was grateful for the opportunity. You have been twice blessed, Mister Tanner, both with beauty and the love of beauty. Do not squander the gifts God has given you. As easily as they were given...they can be taken away."
Vin lowered his head, abashed.
Chris was silent, listening to this exchange with interest. He was proud of Vin's talent and to hear a total stranger compliment his friend filled the gunslinger with even more pride.
"Have I embarrassed you, Mister Tanner, by calling you beautiful? I have seen your face. You have inherited a comely appearance. I have read your words. You have seen ugliness yet you are still able to touch on the beauty that lies beneath its horrific surface...its truth, if you will. How rare a man you are."
Vin shrugged, his head still lowered. "I'm just a man who's seen less than most and more than others."
"And if you saw me, Mister Tanner, would you be able to see beyond the surface?"
Vin lifted his eyes at that question. "I can only see what ya' show me, Mister Marcus."
Marcus' body seemed to shake with controlled laughter. "A good answer. I am impressed. Sharp eye, sharp ear and a sharp mind. Mister Larabee, Vin Tanner must be invaluable to you."
"I won't deny that," Chris replied, softly, not looking at Vin. "When he's not giving me hell, that is."
Vin smiled and Marcus chuckled. "It is better to receive hell from a friend than from an enemy. But perhaps I am comfortable enough, now, to reveal my face to you. It is not easy to reveal one's ugliness to those who are not prepared to look upon it." The man slowly turned to face them.
Neither Vin nor Chris flinched or jerked back at what they saw. The left side of the man's face looked as if it had melted from his head. The lips on the left side of his face were gone and his left eye was covered in a patch. Part of his scalp on that side was hairless and his ear was half way burned off.
Vin swallowed. "Are...are ya' in pain?" he asked with sorrow. It was the first question that came to his mind.
"No, Mister Tanner, although sometimes the memory of the pain haunts me. I normally wear something over my face so as not to scare anyone, or I keep to the shadows. Tonight I was not expecting visitors. I applaud you both for not reacting with disgust."
Chris took a step forward. "Sometimes people are just afraid because their ignorance blinds them."
"Truthfully, Mister Larabee, had I not conversed with you before showing you my face, would you not have cringed away with disgust?"
"Perhaps, Mister Marcus. I won't deny that would have been a possibility, but I would have known enough to ask how you came to be this way."
Marcus smiled as much as his deformed lips could smile. "As you no doubt deduced I was in a fire over a year ago."
Chris turned to Vin a look of recognition on his face. "The actor that was burned."
Vin gazed at his friend curiously.
Chris turned back to the man. "The town hall fire in Kansas City. The newspapers didn't give the name of the actor that was burned. That was you?"
The scarred man sighed with remorse. "Indeed, Mister Larabee."
Chris noticed Vin's questioning look. "Over a year ago, a fire broke out backstage after a performance Hathaway's actors gave. I remember reading about it in the paper. Hathaway lost his son." Chris turned back to Theodore Marcus. "And you..."
"Lost my career."
Chris nodded. "I don't remember much about the reasons behind it, though."
"The reports were thankfully discreet, stating only the facts. It...is not something I wish to delve into, forgive me."
Chris shrugged, giving Marcus a small grin. "Every man holds onto a few secrets, Mister Marcus. I wasn't insinuating..."
Marcus held out his hand. "Understood, Mister Larabee. Needless to say what was given to me was taken away, never to be returned again. Now, instead of gracing the stage in character, I dress it and prepare for others to go on and receive the accolades of the public."
There was a sadness in the man's voice that touched Vin's heart. He had remembered Marcus' talent and had been moved by it. Now that talent had been put to rest, never to be appreciated again. "I understand somethin' of what you're sayin'," Vin said.
"Do you, Mister Tanner? I am curious to know how you would." The question was not snide. There was a hint of genuine interest in Marcus' tone.
Vin hooked his thumbs through the top of his gun belt, making his lean more prominent. "There was a time not too long ago when I lost my sight. Never thought I'd be able to track or sharp shoot again."
Chris looked at him curiously. "When did that happen?"
"Last year, Cowboy, 'fore I met ya'."
Marcus smiled. "Yes. You felt as if you had died inside, didn't you, Mister Tanner?"
Vin nodded, not taking his eyes from the man that so bravely showed himself to them.
"But you regained what was taken from you. Imagine those talents stripped from you forever, not just temporarily. Would you then understand the depth of my pain?"
Vin nodded. "It would be like havin' your life sucked out of ya'. Never bein' able to do what ya' had been gifted to do."
"Exactly, Mister Tanner. And so, I settle for hearing and watching the performances. I settle for being the admirer, not the one being admired. Perhaps the fire was God's judgment for my pride. My boasting of my talent was indeed the result of pride. It is a harsh lesson, but as the Scripture says: 'Deliver up the flesh to destruction, that the soul may be saved.'"
"You sound as if you've made peace with it," Chris opined.
Marcus chuckled again. "Perhaps I have at that, but what I miss is the opportunity to emote. To recite the words I once performed."
"No one rehearses with ya'?" Vin asked, astonished.
"Yes, of course, for I know the lines far better than anyone in the troupe. They come to me for coaching. But the recitals are dry, meaningless, done strictly to test their memory. To recite the lines opposite one who feels them like I do...to have that feeling for one day, for one hour...nothing would compare to it. Not even the applause of a crowd who admires your talent."
Chris looked at Vin, a question in his gaze.
"What?" Vin asked.
Chris turned to Marcus. "Would you excuse us for a moment, Mister Marcus? We need to discuss something."
"By all means."
Chris took Vin's arm and led him a few feet away. "Chris, what's going on inside that brain o' yours?"
Chris just grinned at him.
Suddenly Vin knew exactly what Chris was thinking and he wasn't sure he liked the idea one bit. He shook his head in vehement protest. "You're crazier than I thought, Larabee."
"Why? You love words, don't you?"
"But Buck's got the experience, hell, even Josiah would be better at what you're plannin'. Marcus is a trained actor, a professional. I've only just been learnin' to read fer the last four months."
Chris raised a hand to stop his protests. "And learning fast, too, from what Mary tells me. The point is; Buck's got the flare but you've got the passion. That's really all that Marcus is lookin' for. Just an hour, Vin. We can ask him for something simple. If you're willing to do it, what's the harm?"
Vin began to pace. "I ain't got the education, Chris. This man does Shakespeare fer cryin' out loud. How can I measure up to that?"
Chris smiled. "How can I measure up to your sharp shooting or tracking skills? It's a sure bet he can't measure up to your knowledge either."
"What does reading have to do with trackin' or sharp shootin'?"
"They're things that need to be learned, Vin." Chris gestured with his head to Marcus. "Consider him a teacher."
Vin continued to pace, shaking his head. "It's crazy, Larabee."
"If Ezra were here I'd put money down that you'd do it."
"Hell, if that were the case, I'd agree just so's he'd lose."
Chris turned and started walking toward the exit.
"Where do ya' think you're goin'?" the tracker inquired sharply.
Chris stopped and shot a mischievous grin to him. "Gonna get Ezra."
"Like hell you are," Vin almost shouted, but stopped himself. He glanced over at Marcus who had left the two to talk in private as he continued to work on the fallen backdrop. If the man was hearing any of this, he wasn't letting on.
Chris walked back to Vin, smiling. "Then you'll do it?"
Vin looked away, thoughtful. After a moment he turned to Chris. "Ya' really think I can?"
"I just said so, didn't I? And you know I don't say things I don't mean. Try it for an hour, like I said. If it's too uncomfortable for you, you don't have to go through with it."
Vin turned thoughtful again, rubbing his chin, keeping his other hand hooked through his gun belt. He looked over at the scarred man who continued to work as if nothing else was going on around him. "What if I fail?" he almost whispered.
"By trying...you won't fail."
Vin took another moment to consider the request. He watched Marcus work. Then he remembered back to the time when he had been unable to see. When he got his sight back, Vin had seen the world through a grateful soul. "I reckon an hour couldn't hurt," he whispered.
Chris' grin broadened. "Tell him."
Vin ducked his head and removed his hat. He went up to the stage, holding his hat between his hands. "Mister Marcus?"
The scarred man turned to him, a questioning look in his one good eye. "Yes, Mister Tanner?"
"Chris seems to think I can be the one ya' recite with."
Marcus smiled and he laid his tools down. He walked over to the edge of the stage and sat down again. "And you, Mister Tanner? What do you think?"
Vin looked down at his hat, kneading it. "Well, I ain't educated. Fact is I've only just begun to learn to read a few months ago. I know two other men who would be better at this than me."
Marcus looked at Vin amazed. "You couldn't read a few months ago, and yet, you were able to create such vivid words and hold them inside your mind. That is impressive, my young poet. Very impressive indeed."
Vin said nothing. He kept his gaze lowered to his hat.
Marcus exchanged a look with Chris who was by now leaning against the back of one of the chairs, his arms crossed over his chest. Chris' look was elusive. It was clear he had intervened as much as he was going to. Marcus turned back to Vin. "I can assist you with the pronunciation of words, Mister Tanner. It's the comprehension I yearn to glean from. Only a poet's heart can truly grasp the pictures painted by a poet. Perhaps if I quoted a sonnet for you...then you can tell me what you feel it says. That is what I desire most of all...the point of view of a stranger regarding a poem's interpretation."
Vin cast a look over his shoulder to see Chris nodding to him. He turned back to Marcus. "I'm willin' to give it a shot."
Marcus smiled. "Excellent! Mister Larabee, would you be kind enough to reach into that coat on the chair beside you and pull out the book from the inside right pocket?"
Chris looked down to see a black coat draped over the back of the seat he was leaning against. He reached in and pulled out a palm sized black bound book. On the binding read: "The Sonnets of Shakespeare." He walked over and handed the book to Marcus. "If you'll excuse me, then. I best head outside and inform Nathan and JD things are all right in here."
"Please, Mister Larabee, it is within you the desire to stay...is it not?"
Chris grinned softly. "I don't want to intrude."
"Oh, but we need an audience. Mister Tanner, you wouldn't mind would you?"
Vin seemed caught. He didn't want to do this in front of Chris, but it was obvious Marcus wanted the gunslinger to stay. He looked up at his friend and shrugged. "Ya' know what they say about starvin' the soul," he said, hoping Chris would get the hidden meaning. That had been a line in the poem Chris had written for him to encourage him to keep learning to read.
Chris had gotten the meaning...loud and clear. "Well, if I won't be intruding, I guess I can stay."
"I assure you it will not take very long, Mister Larabee, then you and Mister Tanner may rejoin your friends."
Chris nodded once and went back to the front row of seats where he sat down.
"Mister Larabee, are you familiar with the Sonnets of the Bard?"
"Some of them, yes."
"Which one would you recommend?"
Chris smiled. "I'm partial to number seventy-eight."
"Seventy-eight it is, then." Marcus opened the book and began to read. The actor's voice filled the air with the words, and he quoted them with such sincerity it was as if he had written the words himself. When he was finished, Vin had taken on a lost look. A look in his eyes that said he had gone where the words had taken him. It was a look that Marcus knew well. "Now, I shall go through each line, Mister Tanner, and you explain to me what you feel the Bard is saying. Do not worry if your interpretation is right or wrong...what matters is what meaning you obtained from it."
"I understand," Vin replied. He closed his eyes as Marcus began to quote the sonnet again. "So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse and found such fair assistance in my verse."
Vin kept his eyes closed, shutting out all the sights of the hall. Shutting out Chris, even shutting out the man sitting next to him as he leaned back against the edge of the stage. "I reckon he's talkin' to a person who inspired him to write."
Marcus said nothing in response. He continued to quote. "As every alien pen hath got my use and under thee their posey disperse."
Vin interpreted. "He uses whatever's within his reach to write, even pens that don't belong to 'im. With this person's inspiration leadin' him on, the words flow out on the paper."
Marcus smiled over at Chris who was smiling himself. He nodded to the actor in affirmation. Marcus continued. "Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing and heavy ignorance aloft to fly..."
"The person who inspires sees beyond the sky and gives the writer knowledge, helpin' 'im to open up more to his writin'...to fly beyond his limits."
"Have added feathers to the learned's wing, and given grace a double majesty."
"The writer is able to fly higher than he ever thought he could go, his talent is doubled."
"Yet be most proud of that which I compile, whose influence is thine and born of thee."
"He's askin' this person...this...teacher...not to look on other works they've inspired, but to see the words he created with that person's inspiration."
"In other's works thou dost but mend the style, and arts with thy sweet graces grace'd be."
"Other writer's are simply touched by this person. They've been blessed with grace all ready. The one who inspires just brushes up their style."
"But thou art all my art and dost advance as high as learning my rude ignorance."
"The writer's sayin' this person who inspires 'im is his only source of inspiration, and that they're able to take his ignorance and push 'im forward with his gift."
Vin opened his eyes and looked over at Chris who studied him knowingly. The meaning of the sonnet became clear to Vin and he lowered his head. "Pardon me, Mister Marcus." Without another word he walked passed Chris, putting his hat on as he did so. He didn't look at the gunslinger as he headed for the front doors. Chris stood and watched him leave not saying anything to stop him. He could tell by the determined steps that Vin was uncomfortable with what had just happened.
Marcus watched after Vin, a troubled look on his face. He turned to Chris who walked over to him. "Is there something wrong, Mister Larabee?"
"Nothing, Mister Marcus. Vin just got a message I delivered to him, that's all."
Marcus sighed heavily and closed his eyes. He closed the book and clutched it in his hand. "For one who's had no formal education your young friend is able to encompass in his mind the meaning. Never have I heard such an interpretation given so quickly or so full of understanding."
Chris stood there, looking down. What could he say? Vin had amazed him as well. 'Then again,' he thought, 'when did that young cuss ever stop amazing me?'
"Will he be auditioning tomorrow for the talent show?"
Chris chuckled. "Not Vin. I can guarantee it."
"Then...would you inform him that if he wishes to continue, we can meet tomorrow after the auditions, backstage. Where he can further learn to fly. I will understand, however, if he refuses."
"I'll be sure to tell 'im." Chris held out his left hand. Marcus reached out with his scarred left hand and shook it. In that moment of friendship and respect...the scars were no longer seen.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan saw Vin leave the meeting hall and he and JD walked up to him. "Everything all right?" the healer asked.
"Fine," Vin replied. He turned and headed toward the livery.
JD watched him leave. "What do you think happened in there, Nathan?"
Nathan shook his head. "Not sure. Whatever it is, though, has gotten Vin wound up tighter than a drum."
"My Mother used to say that we always think we have the worst lot in life until we see someone else who's worse off than we are."
Nathan clapped a hand on the youth's shoulder and smiled. "Your Ma was very wise to teach you that."
They heard Chris step out and looked over to him. "Is he all right, Chris?" Nathan asked indicating the scarred man inside.
Chris nodded. "I think he simply needed someone to talk to, Nathan. Seen Vin?"
JD pointed. "He headed for the stable."
Chris knew what that meant. Without another word he headed after Vin, hoping to catch him before he rode off.
He saw the light on inside and walked in to see Vin brushing down Peso's coat. The horse was busy munching on grain and so was oblivious to his master's ministrations. "Vin?"
Vin continued brushing. "Thought I'd head out and scout the perimeter tonight before hittin' the hay, if that's all right."
"Nathan'll be doin' that later this evenin' with JD. What's got your guts in knots?"
"That message ya' sent me tonight. Wanna explain why y'all chose that particular piece?"
"What do you mean?"
Vin continued to brush. "Don't play dumb, Larabee. Ya' know exactly what I'm talkin' about."
"Vin, remember when I told you how I would never stifle your talent? Well the reverse is true. If I can see a way for you to grow in that talent then I'll show you that way. I think Marcus can help you."
"You help me. Mary helps me." Vin stopped brushing, clutching Peso's neck with his empty hand. His body was tense and his voice was on the edge of anger. This was not the reaction Chris had been expecting. He had seen a kindred spirit for Vin in Marcus. For a fleeting moment the gunslinger thought he had overstepped his bounds, then he shook off the feeling. For the first time Chris could see Vin was running scared. What he was afraid of was failing. Chris knew, though, that Vin would not fail as long as he didn't run. "Marcus is different."
"How? Because I don't know 'im?"
"You do know him, Vin. He's what you can become."
"I ain't no actor. Don't reckon I ever want to be one neither."
"Neither is he...not anymore, but that doesn't stop him from loving words. I can tell he's been lookin' a long time for someone like you. Indulge his passion, Vin. Give him someone he can talk to."
"Why is it so important to ya' that I do this?" Vin turned on him, his eyes pleading for a reason. "I just wrote a few poems and suddenly everyone thinks I can turn the world on its ears with a talent I didn't even know I had a few months ago."
Chris let out a breath. He knew Vin could go either way. If he pushed too hard, then an opportunity would be lost. "Tell me you don't want anything to do with words, Vin, and I'll stop pushing you. Tell me what happened in that hall just now didn't open up another door for you. Tell me you're not curious to see what's on the other side. You convince me that's true and I'll let it drop."
Vin looked down. He walked over to a chest that held livery tools and put the brush back inside. He closed the lid and sat down. He shook his head. "Ya' know I can't tell ya' that, Chris. Just...why is it so important to ya'?" He looked up at his friend, the pleading look returned. "No one has ever given a damn about what's inside o' me," he pointed to his heart. "Mary was curious and she encouraged me to write those poems. You encouraged me to keep learnin' how to read. Now...now ya' see me runnin' and ya' want me to learn to fly. What difference does it make to y'all if I don't?"
Chris took a seat next to Vin and clasped his hands together between his knees. There was a silence between them as Chris put his words together. "Marcus is not able to do anymore what he once was able to do so well. His gift is still there, but now it's stifled. He's dying inside, Vin. You've been living so long watching over your shoulder, knowing at any moment someone lookin' to collect that bounty on your head can just cross your path and shoot you dead. Every breath you take is a gift, Vin. I see this glorious talent within you, I see the world of words opening up before you and I don't want to see you waste a single moment. I encouraged you to keep learnin' how to read for the same reasons I'm encouraging you to seek Marcus out. He can take you another step farther. He can teach you how to fly. That's something neither Mary or I can do for you."
Vin did not look up at Chris. The blond man hesitated. He had put his arm around Vin once before and the young man had not shied away from the contact. Chris somehow knew Vin didn't stand for that kind of display with just anyone. He wondered if Vin would shy away now. He threw caution to the wind and put an arm around his friend's shoulders giving him a slight hug. "Think on it, Vin. That's all I'm askin'." Vin had not pulled away or tensed with the hug. Were they that comfortable with each other? Deciding not analyze that part of their friendship too deeply, Chris let Vin go and stood. Without another word he started toward the livery doors. "Chris?"
Chris turned. "Yeah?"
"Ya' know I may love words, but I'm not much of one to speak 'em. Least ways not when I don't have somethin' to say."
Chris smiled with understanding. "Maybe 'cause you ain't had nobody to listen to you before."
Vin grinned a bit, nodding slightly. "You listen."
Chris looked at him. Vin lifted his gaze once more. "I guess I just wanted to say 'thanks'." The 'thanks' went deeper, though, than the word.
Chris lowered his head with a smile. "They're having auditions tomorrow morning around ten. Marcus said if you're still interested, he can meet you at the hall after the auditions are over."
Vin stood and went to pat Peso on the neck. He walked up to Chris. "I'll be there," he said and headed on down the street toward his wagon. Chris went up to the lantern and blew out the light, but the conversation he and Vin just had would light his soul for a long time to come.
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