Jeremy awoke sleeping next to Sally in their bed. He almost wondered if he had dreamed everything up, but when he tried to sit, pain ran up and down his legs and he fell back onto the mattress with a groan.
“You’re finally awake,” said Gabriel from the doorway.
Jeremy stared up at the ceiling waiting for the agony to subside.
“I thought I was going to die.”
Gabriel stepped into the room, fidgeting as he stared out the window.
“Your legs took a hit, but we got the bullets out.”
Jeremy rolled over and looked at Sally.
“Will Sally be okay?”
“Yeah. Her shoulder was in pretty bad shape, but the doctor took care of that, too. You’ve both been out for the last couple of days.”
“I guess it’s all over.”
“You could say that. The town is now full of fatherless children and weeping wives.”
Jeremy glared at Gabriel.
“You know what those deacons were capable of.”
“I was happy to return and help you, but now that Mary is here, I want to take her away from this place.”
“Where is she?”
“She went for an early ride. Staying here for the past few days has made us both antsy. Do you think that you could manage on your own now that you’re healing up and feeling better?”
“I think so.”
“Mary saved Sally’s life. She could have been killed and this wasn’t even her fight.”
Jeremy closed his eyes.
“I am so sorry. I know you have both risked everything to help us.”
The energy that used to be between them vanished; something else replaced it. Reality had a way of slowly destroying friendships over time, no matter how strong they were in the beginning. This time, he knew that it would be the last time he would see his friend. He had asked too much of Gabriel and now it was the end.
“You both should go and restart your lives. I can take it from here.”
Gabriel placed his hands in his pockets, slouching.
“We’ll stay the night and leave tomorrow morning.”
“Thank you, Gabriel.”
Gabriel hung his head and left the room. Jeremy gently ran a hand down Sally’s arm as she slept. She was so beautiful and so brave.
He drank from the glass of water sitting at his night table and went back to sleep. The next morning, Sally woke up before him. He left the empty bed and limped out to the kitchen where Sally, Gabriel, and Mary sat drinking coffee. They appeared to be having a heartfelt conversation. Sally dried the tears from her eyes and let out a small cry at the sight of him.
She ran into his arms.
“Oh, Jeremy! We made it.”
“We really did.”
Gabriel and Mary watched them with pensive looks.
“They made pancakes,” said Sally. “Please have some.”
She prepared him a plate of the fluffy hot cakes as he sat at the table. He met Mary’s gaze.
“Thank you so much for helping us fight.”
“I had hoped the fighting days were behind me, but I’m very glad I arrived when I did.”
“What made you think to return here?”
She looked at Gabriel and took his hand.
“I had this terrible gut feeling about him coming back here and I decided to ride after him.”
“She killed Daniel at the nick of time!” exclaimed Sally as she stared at the older girl in awe. “He was standing over me, ready to plant a bullet into my skull and there she was.”
Jeremy blinked back threatening tears as he looked gratefully at the woman who Sally betrayed. Women like Mary and Sally weren’t supposed to exist, and yet there they were, sitting in the same kitchen.
“Thank you, Mary. I owe you my life.”
“You owe me no such thing,” said Mary, tilting her head with a smile.
“It looks like we both married cunning assassins,” said Gabriel with a smirk.
Mary and Sally shared a chuckle.
Though he saw the humour in the statement, Jeremy couldn’t quite bring himself to laugh with them.
Sally and Mary went to the barn to feed the animals while the men washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen. The role reversal was Mary’s suggestion and it lightened the atmosphere. Sally was glad to get some fresh air after being cooped up and unconscious for the last several days.
“I’ll do the heavy lifting,” said Mary with a concerned glance at Sally.
“I still don’t understand how you could help me when I was the reason for your banishment from the town.”
“Really, Sally. Who wouldn’t want to be banished from this town?”
The two young women laughed.
“But in all seriousness I thought I ruined your life and that you would loathe me for all eternity.”
Mary’s soft smile put her at ease.
“I understood where you were coming from once I learned what happened. Your Papa manipulated you into doing deeds for him. You were protecting Jeremy. I understand it.”
“Still, you act as though I did nothing wrong.”
“When I left this place, I went to hunt down a man who killed my sister and friend. He’s dead now and I discovered that my sister is alive. Gabriel searched me out and asked for my forgiveness. My life is better than it has ever been. I could never hold a grudge to a young girl like you, especially after seeing how you risked your own life to fight alongside my husband and your husband. You have lost so much. Your whole family. I can relate to that.”
Sally choked back a sob.
“I secretly wanted to be you.”
“Oh Sally, I hope you see now that the person you are is so special. I hope you never stop discovering yourself. I was proud of you when I saw you out in the field fighting off those men.”
Mary smiled. It was the sort of smile that Sally figured only an outlaw could make.
Sally was speechless as they walked into the barn to start their chores. They worked together, talking about everything under the sun until they finished off spreading grains on the ground for the chickens. The sun shone down on them as they made their way back to the house. In those few hours, Sally made a true friend.
The morning drifted into afternoon and it was time for Gabriel and Mary to leave. Jeremy and Sally saw them off. The men shook hands.
“I wish that we could have reunited under different circumstances,” said Jeremy sadly.
“I would do it all over again if I had to, my friend,” said Gabriel.
By the intense look in his warm brown eyes, it was clear that he meant every word. She was glad for Jeremy that could part well.
Mary took Sally’s hand and they smiled at one another.
“It was wonderful to get to know you a little better,” said Mary. “Remember what I said.”
“I will,” said Sally. “Take care, my friend.”
Sally and Jeremy watched as their friends rode off. He wrapped an arm around her waist and she leaned into him, enjoying his warm strength. Her contentment was interrupted by an awful pang as her mind wandered to everything she had lost and would lose.
“What a terrible, beautiful life we have been living,” she sighed.
“A terrible, beautiful life it is, my dear.”