Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest.
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
|Essay on Man. - Alexander Pope. 1688–1744.|
Ezra was startled awake by a series of loud bangs. It took him a moment and two deep breaths to realize that the cacophony was emanating from the door to his room someone in the hallway was urgently knocking on it.
He rose quickly, foregoing his dressing gown in favor of grabbing one of his guns, and tore open the door.
"Ezra! Come on. You're gonna be late!" It was JD, all but shouting at whatever forsaken hour of the morning it actually was. Was it even light out yet?
"Late?" It was the only word Ezra could manage to utter coherently.
"Yeah. Sunrise service at the church. Don't you remember?"
"I hadn't planned on attending."
"But it's Easter," JD said with an eager grin. "You can't miss out on Easter. That'd be like ... like skipping Christmas!" It had only been a few months, but apparently JD had forgotten that Ezra had done just that. "Mary's organized a pancake breakfast for after," the kid went on. "Then there's going to be an Easter egg hunt for the children. Casey and I have been hiding painted eggs for the past hour."
"It sounds ... lovely," Ezra lied. "Very sociable. But I'm afraid I have other plans." They involved sleep followed by a large shot of whiskey not a minute before noon.
"Good morning, Mr. Dunne." Ezra shut the door, intending to thank the kid later for thinking of him, if he remembered. He set his gun on the nightstand and slipped back under the warm covers, burying himself deep in comfort.
Later that afternoon, Ezra found himself seated outside the jailhouse, perusing yesterday's copy of The Clarion News. Mary had reprinted sketches of an Easter parade in New York City, with men and women displayed in their finest garments. There was also an article about the new Easter traditions President Hayes had brought to the White House and how the town planned to incorporate many of them into its Easter Sunday celebrations.
There was little in the paper to hold his interest and Ezra soon found himself staring off down the street toward the church. Many of the townsfolk still lingered and, judging by the number of buckboards lined up beside the Grain Exchange building, it appeared this holy day had brought into town a lot of the homesteaders. Ezra tended to forget how many of them there were now, their own Chris Larabee among them.
"Not joining in, Ezra?"
The sound of the man's voice startled him. Speak of the Devil, he thought. But he said, "I could ask you the same question."
Chris just smiled and then held up an egg. The shell was stained a pale shade of pink, as if someone had rolled it in a bowl of crushed berries.
"JD talked you into hunting eggs with the children?" Ezra asked. Then he realized it was more likely that he'd been helping young Billy Travis in his endeavors. Chris did seem fond of the lad, and his mother as well. Ezra wondered if it might be because they reminded Chris of his own dead wife and son.
Ezra had once turned his sights on this man, on Chris Larabee, though he knew the once-married man could never be had, at least not by him. Still, he felt something for Chris, something he hadn't felt in a long time, if ever. He'd spent many a night after gambling, tucked up in his bed, still too keyed up for sleep, thinking lurid thoughts about Chris as he jerked himself off.
And though it was clear to Ezra that they differed too greatly in their fundamental beliefs, he was still spurred toward proving himself worthy. At the very least, he hoped that one day Chris might trust him, might respect him, and might even consider him a friend.
"Did you find that all by yourself?" Ezra asked, referring to the Easter egg.
"It was outside my door when I left this morning."
"Ah. Well, I'm sure you can thank JD for his thoughtfulness. All I received was a rude awakening," Ezra replied, thinking he would have preferred a painted egg. "Did you enjoy the sunrise service?"
"Didn't attend," Chris said simply. Ezra raised a curious brow. He didn't expect more of an answer from this normally reticent man, and so was surprised when Chris continued. "Wasn't raised up in it. Used to go just to please Sarah."
Ezra had never thought one way or the other whether Chris was a religious man. Seemed a lot of men in the west saved that particular predilection for dire moments, though Chris didn't strike him as that type of man either.
"Are you telling me, Mr. Larabee, that you don't believe in the Almighty?" Ezra asked seriously.
"I didn't say that." What looked to Ezra to be a slight smile touched Chris's lips just before he turned and stepped off the boardwalk into the street.
Ezra didn't know where the man was headed. Normally, it would have been to the saloon, but Inez had closed the doors today, as she had on Christmas Day. Not even divine intervention would save her if Maude ever found out, though Ezra was sure Inez would find a way to make up for the lost revenue: a little more water in the whiskey or, perhaps, something a bit more clever and less detectible by the patrons.
Still, no saloon meant no drinking and no gambling today. Ezra wondered what he'd do with himself. It wasn't even likely he and the others would be needed to keep the peace. A sober town overflowing with people was not a likely prospect for a bank robbery or drunken brawl.
Ezra pulled a deck of cards from his inside jacket pocket and began to shuffle them.
"Idle hands, Mr. Standish," the widow Potter said. She was wearing what looked to be a new, gray dress. Though she'd thrown off her widow's weeds, it was doubtful she'd ever go back to wearing the bright, youthful colors that Mary Travis now wore.
"Ma'am," he replied politely. He touched the brim of his hat with his free hand while his other hand continued to deftly shuffle the cards. Idle indeed, he thought.
It wasn't long before Ezra spotted Buck making his way up the street, with a pretty young woman on each arm. Beside them was an over-eager JD, juggling three painted eggs in an obvious attempt to capture the attention of at least one of the ladies. He, of course, was failing miserably and Ezra had to wonder why the kid wasn't making time with Miss Casey Wells. It was clear to all how stuck she was on JD.
Then again, Ezra thought, perhaps that was the problem in a nutshell. Maybe JD wanted more of a challenge, or was simply the type of young man who always wanted things he could never have. There was a certain allure to that, as Ezra knew far too well. To dream, for even a moment, that you might be good enough to attain the unattainable ... it was an attractive fantasy.
He wondered if Chris had ever experienced similar feelings, wanting someone he could never have. Ezra didn't think the odds likely. Chris was too confident a man not to simply go after exactly what he wanted. Ezra, however, had to work up the courage to even make the attempt, and more often than not he had to pretend to be someone else to actually get the job done. There was always something about Ezra Standish that was wanting, something he had to cover up or deny or even lie about. At least his mother had given him those skills, even if he no longer used them in the manner she'd intended.
But there was Chris, on the opposite boardwalk, standing tall and confident before the admittedly beautiful Mary Travis, who'd obviously waylaid him. She and Chris butted heads often enough, but Ezra believed it was precisely because of their similarities. They were both intelligent, strong-willed people who'd lost a spouse through wanton murder because of their chosen lives here in the west. Yet, despite their losses, they were still here, braving these lawless territories, unwilling to give up or give in.
Ezra could never relate to such experiences or understand how one could even live through them. How could he ever have a meaningful relationship with someone whose most basic beliefs and convictions were so different from his own?
Still, he couldn't help feeling a twinge of jealousy as Mary and Chris spoke. Uncharitably, he imagined what they might be saying to one another.
"Why, Chris. Whatever are you doing here when you should be over at the church with me?"
"I was just taking a walk, Mrs. Travis."
"We could walk together ... maybe across the meadow ... you could pick me a bouquet of wild flowers...."
"Or, I could just take you right there among them, Mary."
"Oh, Chris! Really. That's hardly appropriate talk for Easter Sunday."
"Won't be Easter Sunday forever."
"Well, perhaps if you'd join me for supper tonight. I've made a ham."
"A ham, you say? How can I say no to pork?" Ezra mocked.
"What about pork, Ezra?"
"Huh. I, uh, beg your pardon?" Ezra looked to the side and realized Josiah was standing over him.
"Were you talking to yourself? I thought I heard you say something about ham for supper."
"Ham? Really, Josiah. Why in the world would I be talking about ham?" Ezra stared the man down and when no reply came, he asked, "Was there something that you needed?"
"Oh, I was just wondering if you'd seen Vin or Nathan? I could use a hand up at the church." Josiah failed to ask for Ezra's assistance and Ezra wasn't foolish enough to volunteer.
"I can't say that I have. But if I do, I would be happy to pass along your inquiry."
"Thanks, Ezra. You do that."
As Josiah headed back toward the church, Ezra glanced across the street and was disappointed to find that Chris was no longer there. He wondered if he'd gone off with Mary after all. He wouldn't really bed her, even in a meadow, would he? Ezra shuddered, disgusted that his mocking conversation had put such a revolting thought into his head. He much preferred to think of Chris involved in more manly pursuits.
"What a thoroughly exhausting day," he finally concluded. He rose from his chair, intent on returning to his room to do something very non-idle with at least one of his hands.
It was Wednesday before Ezra decided to speak to Josiah and Friday before he had the opportunity to do so alone. He found the former priest applying a fresh coat of whitewash to the exterior of the church.
"My dear Mr. Sanchez, if I might have a word?"
"You might. If you'd care to grab a brush." Josiah indicated an empty bucket nearby that held several brushes. Ezra was loathe to join in, fearing the ruin of yet another good jacket, but he had a favor to ask and so bent down and chose the brush with the longest handle. He tentatively dipped the bristles into the whitewash and then, arm outstretched to its fullest, gingerly began applying the wash to the sideboards before broaching the subject of his favor.
"Mr. Sanchez Josiah. I wondered if I might elicit a favor from you?"
"Well, that certainly explains your willingness to help me paint. Don't suppose it'll last past the moment I say yes or no, though."
"Josiah! Your words offend me. Though, I must admit a certain lack of proficiency with ... this," Ezra said, indicating the blotchy mess of white he'd made on the wall.
Josiah shook his head, as if he'd expected as much from Ezra. But he smiled when he reached over with his own brush and silently demonstrated his technique while deftly smoothing Ezra's work into a solid, even coating of wash. Ezra applied his brush again, trying to emulate Josiah's hand and wrist movements.
"Better," Josiah said before moving back to his own section of the wall.
They whitewashed for many long minutes before either spoke again. Ezra wondered why it was so difficult for him to talk to Josiah, especially about this. Surely a man as well traveled and spiritually educated as Josiah would be understanding of Ezra's needs.
"About that favor, Josiah," he finally managed to say.
"Yes?" Josiah did not stop whitewashing, nor did he even pause long enough to look over. Ezra wasn't sure why this behavior bothered him, but it did. Was the man being dismissive?
"Would it be possible ... that is, if you don't mind...." He paused, feeling entirely stupid and suddenly grateful that Josiah wasn't staring at him, waiting for him to continue. Ezra wasn't exactly sure why he had even thought of doing this; he hadn't done it in years. It had been so long since he'd even had the opportunity; he wasn't sure when another would come along. It could be a dozen years or more, if he once again took to roaming the country after what his mother liked to call "business pursuits."
"Josiah," Ezra began again, forcing himself to just forge ahead as he stared at the strokes of white he was making across the wood panels. "I should very much like the use of the church this evening. It's a private matter one above board, even by your standards, I can assure you."
"I'm sorry, Ezra."
"That's it? I don't even get an explanation? Don't you trust me?"
"That's not it," Josiah replied, as calm as Ezra was irritated. "It's Chris."
"Chris?" Did the man have something against him? Was he still harboring a grudge over what had happened at the Seminole Village a moment of weakness, a touch of cowardice that had gotten the better of him? Hadn't he made up for it, time and again? What more could Chris require of him? Ezra wished he knew, because he would do whatever it took to earn that man's forgiveness and respect. "What does this have to do with Chris?"
"He already asked me if he could use the church tonight."
Tonight? This fact caused Ezra to begin to wonder.
"You should have spoken to me sooner," Josiah said, but Ezra barely heard him.
He set his brush into the bucket of whitewash and simply walked away, immersed in thought. Ezra had his suspicions, but he couldn't be sure. He wondered what he should do, what the best course of action would be, what would get him the facts he needed in order to proceed? Perhaps he ought to simply confront Chris? Or maybe he ought to forget all about it chalk it up to fate or divine intervention, warning him off?
Before he could decide, Ezra nearly walked into Chris, who was coming from the livery toward the church.
"Ezra? Everything all right?"
"Fine. I mean, no. I mean...." Ezra forced himself to shut his mouth. Chris stood patiently waiting and Ezra felt an immense pressure to get this right. "Josiah told me you'd asked to use the church tonight."
"And what reason would Josiah have for talking about my private business?" Chris snapped. The harsh words sounded more cautious than anything to Ezra. He hoped he knew why.
"Because I asked to use the church tonight," Ezra explained. "He said he'd already promised it to you."
"You asked to use the church?"
Ezra nodded, not quite sure how to confirm his suspicions other than to just say it. "It's Passover."
"That's why you wanted to use the church," Ezra confirmed.
"That's why you wanted it as well," Chris replied. "But you've been working." He reached out and brushed a thumb across Ezra's cheek. When he pulled away, the digit was smeared with whitewash.
"I was helping Josiah, while I was asking to use the church. But, I stopped painting before sunset." He added the last, knowing how important that fact could be, depending on Chris's level of devotion.
"Well, it's not too bad. Nothing a damp rag won't fix. At least you didn't get any on your jacket." Chris smiled and Ezra returned it. "Shall we?" he asked, gesturing toward the church. And as they climbed the steps, Chris asked, "Have you made arrangements for Seder dinner?"
"No. I live above a saloon, remember?" There was no way to sanctify such an establishment, even if the town had a rabbi, which it didn't.
"Then you're welcome to share my dinner. The only thing is, I don't have a copy of the Haggadah."
From the inside pocket of his jacket, Ezra pulled an envelope that held the carefully cared for parchments.
"I lost mine in the fire," Chris said. "When I lost Sarah and Adam."
"We can make you a copy from mine," Ezra offered.
"A sheynem dank, Ezra."
- The End -
March 2005Please do NOT repost this story anywhere outside of the Blackraptor Fiction Website.Thanks to a friend for the discussion that led to this story. Thanks to Zeke and my other beta reader for catching all my stupid typos.Characters from "The Magnificent Seven" were used without permission and this story in no way signifies support of, or affiliation with, The Mirisch Group, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment, CBS Worldwide, Inc., or their affiliates. No copyright infringement is intended. The story itself and any non-Magnificent Seven characters belong to the author. This story was written for personal entertainment and will not be sold for any reason.