A Weight to Bear - Josiah
Thanks to Kelly A for her beta skills.
Standish bolted from the saloon and ran, legs pumping and
arms swinging he sprinted. He vaguely heard his name being called, but
paid it no heed. He needed to run. Ezra knocked into someone, almost
bringing them both to the ground with the momentum. The gambler couldn’t
even muster an apology; he just shoved free of the obstruction and continued on.
His heartbeat thumped and echoed loudly in his ears and
he gasped for every breath. And still he ran. The Southerner pushed
through the livery doors and sagged for a moment on the threshold.
Glancing wildly down the stalls he staggered to Chaucer’s stall. Ezra
lifted the blanket from the rail and threw it on his mount. Anxious
fingers tugged the saddle from the rail, but shaking hands dropped it before he
could position it over the blanket. He leaned against Chaucer and wept, a
sob torn from his soul.
Blindly leaving the stables, he placed one foot after the
other in automation. Standish swaggered as though he was drunk, but he’d
barely touched . He stumbled over his own feet,
uncharacteristically clumsy and he started to jog, then found that was not
erasing the pain, so he increased the pace, until he was running frantically with
The gambler lethargically sank to the ground. His
legs trembled and struggled to hold his weight even for a minute longer.
Ezra curled into a ball, hugging his knees to his chest; whimpering, tears
flowed down his cheek. An ache so painful, it burned a hole in his chest
and the tears continued to fall. He panted and puffed, green eyes dull
from exhaustion, and black circles hung tragically under his eyes.
He couldn’t hide his agony anymore, but still
couldn’t bring himself to share. Who would want to listen to a raving
conman? Who could he trust not to throw his soul to the wind, and strip
him bear? Exposed for the world to see. Stripped naked of all
barriers he used so frequently to shut out anyone who tried to get close.
How could he fight without the usual protection that was so ingrained into his
character, that for it not to be there, in itself was a loss?
Ezra hugged his legs tighter, shivering in the cold.
The hard rocks beneath him dug into his side, but the gambler was unaware of the
fact. The Southerner sniffed and rubbed his face on his shoulder, smearing
the emerald green jacket with tears and snot.
Sanchez stormed from the saloon, throwing a look of pure
disgust in Jackson’s direction before forcefully launching open the swinging
doors. What had gotten into the healer this evening? And Ezra had
been moody all day long. But Josiah was bewildered at Standish’s
reaction to Nathan’s uncalled for remarks. Normally, Ezra would not let
the dark-skinned man’s opinion so much as bother him, but tonight, Standish
was wound tighter than a ball of twine.
Josiah glanced up the length of
the sidewalk and across the road, but Standish had vanished. “Where’ve
you gone, Ezra?” Sanchez headed for the livery, certain that the gambler
would go there.
This behaviour was so unlike the
enigmatic man that the seven had come to know. Ezra Standish was
untouchable, nothing bothered the conman, not harsh words or putdowns – he was
so familiar with these they ran over him like water off a duck’s back.
To con and cheat was his way of life and he was so adept at it that it had
become second nature. Ezra wasn’t even aware most of the time that he
used and tuned his skills everyday. Although going into a career in law
enforcement certainly spun a new light on how he implemented each new con.
Josiah climbed up the bank and
stepped over the low fence that surrounded the cemetery. The former
preacher was elected to follow the distraught man, but up until now he’d let
the Southerner have some space. Sanchez watched Ezra from a distance and
bided his time. Praying that he’d know when he should intercede.
Standish had not moved for the last ten minutes, lying curled on the ground.
His sides shook occasionally, but the heart-wrenching weeping had settled.
Without any obvious signs, the older man deemed it time.
“Ezra, son.” The large
calloused hands clasped the smaller man by the shoulders and sat him upright.
Josiah swallowed hard at the despair that blinked owlishly back at him.
Shrugging off his poncho, Sanchez draped it over the gambler’s head, tucking
it in around his lean form. “Let’s get you in out of the cold.”
Standish shook his head and
backed out of the larger man’s grasp. “No,” he rasped. “Can’t…
go back…” his teeth clattered as he struggled to get the words out.
Too many memories in there tonight.
Josiah nodded and drew the black
sheep back in his grasp. “How ‘bout we go over to the church.”
When Standish didn’t immediately reject the idea, Sanchez pulled Ezra to his
feet, and ferried him over to the church.
He’s like a child buried beneath the quilt and blanket,
Josiah sadly mused. His pale face peeped from the covers and his hair
curled ruffled and untidy on his forehead. Sanchez sat by the bed and
watched the gambler feign sleep. He knew the Southerner was not really
asleep, because, although Standish’s breathing was regular and steady, every
so often a tremor stole across his frame that the gambler couldn’t control.
“Ezra, got you some coffee, here.” Josiah leant over the huddled form.
“I know yer awake,” he squeezed Standish’s shoulder.
Ezra sighed and rolled onto his
back. “What do you want, Josiah?”
“At the moment, just for you
to get warm. We can talk later if you want.” Standish stared at the
offered mug dubiously. “It’s only coffee.”
Standish shivered, but sat up in
bed accepting the warm beverage. He sipped slowly, and was marginally
contented by the drink. “I must apologise for my rather, embarrassing
behaviour earlier.” Standish lowered his head, and could feel the rising
heat redden his neck and spread to his cheeks.
“Nothin’ to be ashamed
of,” Sanchez easily dismissed.
Standish bit his lip and drew
his legs to his chest. “But…I need… to explain…”
“Don’t need ta do it now.
You sleep here. We can sort it out in the morning.”
Ezra slid down under the covers
and anxiously looked up at the older man. “Could you... leave the light
Sanchez smirked, but quickly
covered it with the back of his hand. “How about, I turn it down a
Ezra hesitantly nodded. “Where…”
“I’ll be just out in the
main church, practically the other side of the door. So if you need
anything during the night, just call out.” Sanchez blew out the wax
candles and turned down the oil lamp as promised, leaving the room in a faint
glow. “Sleep well.”
Sanchez rolled over on narrow space of the pew;
stretching out his long legs they touched the arms at the end of the seat.
Groaning, the older man wriggled uncomfortably. What had woken him?
He strained to hear anything peculiar to the church, other than boards settling
or the occasional rodent scurrying down the aisle. Then he heard the
muffled sobbing from his room and threw off the coverings and was by Ezra’s
side in a few quick steps.
Sanchez’ big heart broke at
the sight of the smaller man crying in his sleep. Tears shed from under
closed lids and he tugged at the edge of the blanket fretfully. “Son,”
Josiah whispered, attempting to bring the conman from his nightmare, but not
wanting to frighten him in doing so.
Ezra’s eyes shot open and he
sprung up in bed, disoriented and confused. The younger man backed up
against the bed-head and gazed with bewilderment. “Josiah?”
He smiled warmly at the gambler.
“What am I doing here?”
Ezra asked puzzled by his where-abouts. He wiped his hand over his face
and shame grew as he felt the moisture that wet his hand.
“You’re in my room, at the
church. Do you remember coming here?”
Standish frowned, and drew the
blanket up to his neck. “I was at the cemetery…”
“That’s right,” the former
He closed his eyes and tilted
back his head. “I never meant for her to die…” Standish sobbed.
Josiah sat on the edge of the
bed and pulled the gambler into a bear hug. “It’s alright,” he
soothed whispering the comforting words, trying not to distract the gambler.
It was time for the Southerner to share his pain. “Take your time,
Standish turned the wedding band
on his hand, staring intently at the gold ring. “She was so
beautiful,” he sighed wistfully. Gulping, he turned red-rimmed eyes up
at the older man. “Mr. Jackson was right,” he choked on the admission.
“Everything I touch is destroyed.”
“Nathan had far too much to
drink, and should never have said such a thing,” Josiah growled fiercely
protective. “But that can’t be the only reason to have upset you
Standish sniffed and smiled
wryly. How did this man become so intuitive? “No, you are
correct,” he paused and shifted his legs under the covers. “It was
Georgina’s birthday, today,” again he paused, then amended the error he’d
made, “no, yesterday.”
Josiah looked down at the ring
on the gambler’s ring finger. “She your wife?”
Ezra nodded his head as fresh
tears leaked from his eyes. “She loved me, and I killed her.”
Josiah rubbed circles on the
Southerner’s back; he was surprised the conman hadn’t pulled out of his
hold. Hell, he was surprised that the gambler had been married and openly
admitted this to him. “How long were you two married?”
“Not even a year,” Ezra
whispered. “Barely nine months,” he sniffed. “I was anxious
for us to start a family, but Georgina wasn’t convinced. Then it
happened…and I was over the moon, but Georgi…” Ezra swallowed past the
lump, “she wasn’t ready.”
“She totally ignored the fact
that she was carrying our child until she began to show, then she claimed that
she was putting on weight because she was so content in our marriage. She
didn’t want anyone to know, that we were having a baby. Georgi made me
promise not to mention it, and I went along with her, hoping by the time the
baby was ready to come she’d grow to love it, like I had already done.”
By now the tears flowed
continuously down the Southerner’s cheek, but he was so caught up in
reminiscing that he didn’t wipe them away. “She was seven and a half
months, but you could hardly tell. She’d staved her body and the baby so
she wouldn’t look like she was with child. She pretended like it
didn’t exist. Why didn’t she want to have my child, Josiah?”
Standish pleaded for understanding.
“I don’t know, son.”
“We had this disagreement,”
Ezra grimaced and lowered his head. “I wanted to pick out some names,”
he confided. “Instead, I stormed out, leaving her… alone for the
night,” he choked.
“When I came home…” Ezra
sniffed and rubbed at his tear stained eyes. “She…I found her… at
the bottom of the stairs…in a pool of blood,” Standish sobbed.
“She fell down the stairs and
died, while I was off getting drunk,” he added disparagingly. “Trouble
is, I fully believe she threw herself down those stairs in order to kill the
baby, not herself. You want to know the funny part?” Standish asked
Sanchez, a note of hysteria creeping into his voice. “When the doctor
came around later, he said the baby had already died a few months ago.”
“She didn’t even have to do
it,” Ezra buried his head in his hands. “I lost them both,” he
Sanchez hugged Standish to his
chest, tears running down his own face at the Southerner’s torment. The
front of his shirt was damp from where the gambler had rested his face, but he
couldn’t bring himself to push the younger man away. He rocked Ezra
until the sobs ceased and he’d finally slipped back to sleep.
Josiah held on, offering support the only way he knew how. He wondered what names Ezra had picked out for the child, and whether he’d been a father to a baby girl or boy. He swallowed hard, rubbing patterns on the Southerner’s back. He wondered if Ezra had confided in Maude, but felt that he was the first to hear the tragic tale. No wonder the boy found it so hard to trust, when his own wife betrayed him so.
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A Weight to Bear - Series
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