Jeremy stepped through the front door wanting nothing more than to collapse on his bed. He longed to forget about Gabriel’s pain and Sally’s outburst before Mary knocked on the door asking him for help.
Sally sat at the table. Her blank stare made him wonder what atrocities were running through her head.
“Long night,” he said.
“Yes. It was.”
The life in her green eyes returned as she studied him while sipping her tea. They stared at one another in silence; he knew then that she did not understand. Her habit of making wrong assumptions would not bode well for them.
He swallowed down his anger and inhaled deeply.
“What happened last night?” she asked at last.
“You heard Mary. Gabriel was lost. Well, we found him.”
Her expression softened.
“What happened to him?”
“Gabriel was trampled by a deer. His wound looked pretty grave when we first found him, but the doctor saw him and he’s on the mend.”
“I am glad he is all right. It would have been terrible to lose him.”
“I’m sure that you were happy to be the one to comfort our poor Mary in her time of need.”
Jeremy stomped his foot so hard that she jumped up in her chair.
“Stop being dim! My best friend nearly lost his life and you’re making up childish stories.”
Sally shrugged with a smirk.
“Of course. What would I know? I’m a stupid little girl. Those were your words a month ago.”
They barely spoke to one another a month ago. Her words demonstrated how little she thought of the progression that their marriage had made. They had climbed up the snowy mountain only to slide back down.
He trusted her only to be crushed.
He stepped closer to her, holding her wide-eyed gaze.
“I had to hold Gabriel down as he begged for the doctor to stop operating on him. He wouldn’t stop groaning and yelling and there was nothing I could do. It was the longest night of my life.”
She grew serious and closed her eyes for a moment.
“It must have been frightening for him.”
“It was for everyone there. I need to rest.”
“I told Mary that you would bring over some fresh stew for her. She likely won’t leave Gabriel’s side for the next few days and it would be kind to give her a meal.”
Sally’s posture straightened in defiance.
Jeremy threw his head back.
“Please just do it!”
She forced a smile. He hated when she did that.
“Sure. I’ll make some stew,” she said.
“I take it you don’t want to leave this place yet,” she said dryly.
“Not until Gabriel’s health has returned. I can’t leave him like this.”
Sally stared at her cooling tea.
“So we will forget about the murderers.”
“Only for the time being.”
He left her alone in the kitchen and slipped away the moment that his head hit the pillow, entering the surreal world of his dreams. Even there, Sally haunted him.
An idea formed in Sally’s mind as she arose and dressed the next morning. She let it guide her across the corn fields to Gabriel and Mary’s farm. Mary was by the fence feeding her horse an apple. She heard her approach and appeared startled, but then quickly forced a smile.
“Why hello, Sally! Did you stop by to bring me some stew? How kind.”
Sally had never despised anyone as much as she despised Mary.
“False sincerity gets you nowhere, Mary Thomas!”
Mary tilted her head. Mocking her.
“What ever is the matter?”
Sally crossed her arms.
“You know exactly what is the matter. You willingly rode away into the night with my husband and now I have a bone to pick with you.”
“My husband lies on our bed healing from what could have been mortal wounds. I do not have time for your childish grousing today.”
Mary stomped her foot. Sally seemed to have that effect on people.
“Why do you dislike me so much?” asked Mary.
“Do not pretend for one second that you are innocent. I have heard the stories.”
Mary raised an eyebrow.
Sally laughed, sounding wicked even to herself. Someone deserved to pay after what she suffered through the other night. At the end of the day, Mary had Gabriel to comfort her when things went wrong. Despite being an infamous little tart, she found love from a good man. Sally would never have that from Jeremy.
“If I ever catch my Jeremiah alone with you again, I will see to it that both you and your so-called preacher husband are thrown out of this town.”
Mary appeared genuinely troubled. Sally grinned, feeling powerful and loving every minute of it. Only the strong survived. It was the way of things. If Jeremy ever decided to be rid of her, she would lose her entire livelihood. Some men were known to put away wives that didn’t please them and take a new one. She had to ensure that never happened.
“You really know how to make a newcomer feel welcome, don’t you?” asked Mary.
Sally tittered and their eyes met. They were two fighters cut from entirely different cloths. She recognized the look in Mary’s gaze. The desire to kill not for satisfaction, but for survival.
“Get off my property,” ordered Mary. “Now.”
Sally spun around and fled back into the field of corn. Mary would think twice before fraternizing with Jeremy again. With that out of the way, she could focus more of her energy on learning how to hunt with Jacob. She wandered through the tall corn over to the forest where he hid away somewhere. He said that he would find her, but she had no idea how. She could only take his word for it.
The damp earth smelled lovelier than perfume to Sally as she journeyed through the woods in search of Jacob. She carried a basket of apples, carrots, and grapes to give to him. She found the place where he originally set up camp, but it was empty. He was wise to continue moving and perhaps a little foolish to be living so close to the men who would shoot him without blinking.
Breathing sounded from behind her and she spun around to look up at a formidable man. Jacob.
“You were tracking me!”
“How can you move so quiet like that?”
“I will show you.”
“Perhaps being so small might finally come in handy,” she said. “I could move very quietly once you teach me how.”
Jacob smiled down at her. He removed one of the shot guns that he had strapped to his back and handed it to her.
“This is for you. I bought it in town. It’s a fine first shot gun.”
She gaped as she held it, running a hand down the smooth wood of the stock. It was beautiful.
“Are you sure?”
“It is yours to keep. Now, follow me. I first want to teach you how to load, shoot, and re-load.”
Sally became one with her new firearm as Jacob taught her the finer points of loading, reloading, and shooting that afternoon. After several rounds, her confidence in holding and carrying it grew. The forest darkened as the sun slowly descended toward the horizon. She smiled up at her new mentor; he mirrored it.
“Will you teach me to track tomorrow?” she asked.
He nodded and scanned the woods around them.
“There is no better practice than hunting the real thing.”
“Did you hear something?”
“A herd of deer is moving close by. They won’t go far with nightfall being so near. If you can come here earlier tomorrow, we would have a good chance of catching a buck.”
“I will. I’m all caught up on laundry and I can prepare Jeremy’s lunch early before I go.”
He placed his hands in his pockets and smiled down at her.
“I look forward to tomorrow.”
“As do I. Good evening, Sally.”
“Good evening, Jacob.”
She carried her gun like he showed her as she walked back home. Her heart swelled with the new sense of purpose; that purpose rushed through her veins. No matter what happened between her and Jeremy, she now had a valuable skill of her own. She would become her own person – a woman that she alone could be proud of.
Perhaps her problem was that she never had been happy with herself. Her parents loved her and spoiled her as a young girl only to throw her at the first man she spent time with. Women weren’t encouraged to develop and nurture their own interests. Their value was linked with a man.
Jeremy would never be more than a man that she was forced into marriage with. They could pretend that they were happy all that they wanted, but it would never be so.
With a deep sigh, she stepped back onto her property. She hid her shotgun in the barn before going to the house. The lights were on. Jeremy was home.
Her life as a farmer’s wife had nothing to do with her life as a hunter in the woods with a wanted man. She didn’t want either life to end, but she wondered how long she would be able to live both of them at the same time. One would eventually become more important than the other.
Jeremy would never love her like Gabriel loved Mary. Jacob would leave one day. Perhaps both lives would fade.
She opened the door and peered over at Jacob.
“You were gone a long time,” he said.
“I’ll get dinner ready.”
They spent the rest of the evening not saying a word to one another. The strange spell that brought them together for those brief, magical moments had been broken. Possibly forever.