Disclaimers: They are not mine. I don't make profit from these. Thoughts in Italics.
You may want to read Dinner first.
Thanks to my beta Laura, to Angela B., and everybody who asked for a second part.
Feedback is welcome (Be kind, I'm still learning English)
It was late in the morning when Buck left the room he had stayed in the night. Whistling while going to the jail, he was surprised to see J.D. and Vin coming together from the livery.
"You did the patrol together?" The good mood Buck was in showing in his voice.
"Didn't do no patrol this morning," the Texan responded. "We've been busy with Nettie's barn, and it was Ezra's turn."
"Nope, he was going to Eagle Bend at dawn to see his mother," said Buck reaching out to steal J.D's hat. "How are you already back from Nettie's? Is too early to 'ave got there, much less to be back." Buck was confused, to ride in the dark could be dangerous to a city boy like J.D. and he knew Vin would not endanger him like that.
"Didn't Ezra tell you?" J.D.'s quick steps gained ground toward the jail's building. "We " he pointed to Vin and himself, "went with Casey yesterday after she came to town and asked us to help her repair the damage the wind did to their barn." It always amazed Buck that the kid could talk so much in one breath, and walk fast at the same time.
They reached the front of the structure, to find Chris smoking there. After a brief nod, the blond asked, letting them know he had heard at least part of their conversation, "If you were there since yesterday, who did the night patrols?" His gaze rested on Buck, who squirmed a little under the intense look.
"Must have been Nathan or Josiah. They were scheduled to cover town when the young ones patroled the outskirts." remembered Buck. "You took the town this morning didn't you, to cover Ezra's turn.?" the ladies man asked seriously.
"Yes, but it was Ezra who I relieved this morning. He left town after that," said Chris as the group entered the jail.
"Ezra covered night watch too?" J.D. muttered.
"Maybe he changed patrols with Josiah." J.D's quiet voice was interrupted by the arrival of Nathan.
"Morning!" Nathan's mood had greatly improved after his long sleep. "I'm looking for Ezra. I was a little off yesterday and... I didn't mean to be harsh with him, but I was too tired to deal with him " He stopped talking after feeling the scrutiny of the men. Nathan knew that he had been too hard on the conman and had planned to take the morning duty as an apology. "Where is he?"
Chris' posture had become rigid, his mood slowly turning dark. His voice sounded like a controlled growl.
"How tired were you Nathan?"
"I came back from checking Irving's leg and went to sleep until a little while ago." Nathan informed Chris.
"What about Josiah?" Vin asked with concern..
"He was real weary after being with the Browns the entire day, so I suggested a little nap would be good for him but he refused, then I slipped something in his drink to make him sleep," the contrite healer explained.
Nathan felt guilty about that too. Josiah hadn't wanted to rest after coming back to town. And this morning, after really considering his talk with Ezra, he realized that drugging Josiah could have been dangerous if something had happened in town.
"I don't have to ask where you were," Chris said to Buck. "Did you at least tell Ezra where you'd be in case ?"
"Yep, I even explained to him why I couldn't have dinner with him before I went to Rose's," Buck said proudly.
At the sound of twin sighs, Buck questioned, "Everybody forgot?" When Nathan and Vin turned away their gazes he continued. "Damn, it seems no one had dinner with him."
All their heads turned to the door as a female voice started talking.
"And he did all yesterday's patrols, in and out of town. He barely had time to replenish his canteen and used a couple of the stable horses so his would be rested for today's journey.
Her words sparkled with the angry tones.
Not one, of the five present pacekeepers wanted to face her right now.
"Ezra took all the responsabilities each of you dropped on him, so you could help your friends, cool off or sleep." She had turned from J.D. and Vin to Chris and then to Nathan and Buck, who found the floor too interesting.
Chris was the first to look at her, before he asked.
"Did he say...?"
"He didn't say a thing...he didn't rest... and he didn't eat at all the entire day." She was furious, and showing it.
With a controlled voice she resumed her chastisement.
"That's why Inez went after him." At their astonished faces, Mary continued. "Didn't you notice that the saloon was closed?" She was now shaking her head disapprovingly. "Inez was so worried, that she packed some food and left town, just to be sure he arrived in Eagle Bend safely."
Mary crossed her arms and let out a small sigh. Then as she was in the process of leaving, she turned back to say, "Inez thought that he would apreciate the company. After all, the ride does appear to be longer if you are alone." Then she left.
No one should be alone on his birthday.
Inez had reached Ezra not far from Four Corners.
She gave him a not so good excuse of her needing supplies from the other town. The gambler had not believed it, but he didn't point out to Inez the lack of a buggy to carry her purchases.
He doubted his mother would be happy to find that Inez had abandoned the saloon to kept him company in the wilderness, but he was thankful for her sincere company. After all, as soon as he had ridden out he had felt truly alone.
As they traveled, they talked about unimportant things, taking time to appreciate and discuss the scenes that nature was bringing them. They definitely evaded more private themes.
Around late morning, they found a nice place to stop, with enough shade and a great view of the surronding land. They decided to set a little camp.
While Ezra tended the horses, Inez unpacked the food she had brought.
"You came quite prepared." said Ezra, taking a seat next to Inez.
"When I was a child, I always loved the next day of a celebration," Inez said as she made a little fire.
"What do you mean? Can't be the hangovers?" Ezra lifted his eyebrow in a perfect arc.
"No," She chuckled, "It's sort of a tradition in my country. The day after a celebration, the guests close to the family, went back for 'el recalentado'," explained Inez while setting two plates with food.
"Recalentado? What does that mean?"
It means... to reheat, it's like... mmm... Thanksgiving. At Thanksgiving you get a feast ready, but it is almost impossible to eat all that food, so the next day you still have some. So after a celebration, the next day, we share it before it would become spoiled."
"But why would, eating old food, be a good experience?" His questions aimed to ruffle Inez feathers. She suspected, but enjoyed the banter.
"Because you get together again, and some of the food taste better that way. Haven't you ever had any leftovers?"
"Yes." Ezra eyes twinkled with amusement. "But it is not common for your food to survive long, not with Buck and Vin near."
"You know, I always give big portions, but they usually had seconds," Inez stated.
Ezra's mood seemed to deflate with his words. "I guess, today you had too much food left." With a sigh he started to eat.
They ate in silence. They were ready to pick up camp when Ezra looked at her seriously. "It wasn't their fault, you know?"
Inez tried to pretend that she didn't know what he was talking about.
He went on, "Everyone of them had a reasonable motive to not be there."
"That they had it didn't mean..." Inez started.
"You surely are not angry at Vin or J.D. for trying to ensure the safety of the Wells?" Ezra asked.
"Of course not, but " Inez began.
"Nathan and Josiah were both exhausted dealing with the Browns' twins and setting Irving's leg, again, had to be quite a challenge. Would you have denied a little rest for them?"
Inez was deeply grieved at Ezra's lost look as he was trying, too hard, to convince her.
"And of course, Chris and Buck's fight could have been avoided if either of them had accepted their own measure of fault at the bank situation, but they were feeling guilty at having placed the youngest ones at risk by underestimating the intelligence of the bank robbers. And certainly, Mr. Conklin's critisism didn't help either."
Inez had been silent observing Ezra.
"Oh yes, they were real good motives. Perfect ones," said Inez. "To let you bear the weight of the patrols, watch over the town, and not giving you the time to rest or to eat. It's not about the free meal not being enough for them to spend some time in town. It's not about your birthday, after all, you didn't let them know about it. This is about their duty to the people, and to you. They left you alone to face all the responsibility. That's not what friends do, Mr Standish," she stated harshly.
"How would I know?" were the soft words Ezra pronounced.
Then, with his poker face firmly in place, "We better head on if we want to stay on schedule."
He helped her to mount her horse before securing both saddlebags and mounting. But Inez wouldn't let it go.
"You should have told them."
When Ezra didn't reply, Inez continued, "And I'm sure that there are other people in town who would have liked to know about your birthday. Like Mary and Billy, Mrs. Potter and her kids, Yosemite or Mr. Epeler the telegraphist... They appreciate you. It would have been the best time for Billy to give you that box he's being fixing.
Ezra turned to Inez. "Why would Master Billy want to give it to me?"
"Because he made it for you," said Inez rolling her eyes.
They arrived to Eagle Bend in good time. After taking the time to get clean of the trail dust, Ezra joined Maude at the hotel's restaurant.
"Ezra, Darling, I thought you would never come," Maude said as she gave him a peck in each cheek. They had small talk through the meal, but Ezra's mind keep wandering to another place, to Four Corners, the rest of the pacemakers and the townfolks.
It was near noon when Ezra reached Inez outside the hotel.
"My plan was to stay for a couple of days," informed Ezra. All Inez did was agree with a nod of her head as the gambler was still talking. "Would you like to stay? Maybe you could help me chose a couple of new shirts and little souvenirs for Billy and the Potter children."
"I would like to, Mr. Standish, but the saloon..."
"Don't fret, dear lady, your current employer is already aware of Mr Sanchez helping you with that. You are free to stay if you choose to." Ezra's smile showed in his voice, only Inez was still a little worried.
"I didn't ask him, or anybody else, and I'll need a room and..." Inez stumbled for words.
"Already arranged my dear. You can use Mother's room for the next couple of days. She has departed to take care of business in South California and will not be using it. And as for Josiah, if you decide to stay, we'll send him a wire in the morning. I'm certain he wouldn't refuse to help you. We could even suggest to him that having the rest of our crew around would be wise, being weekend and all."
Ezra paused enough to breathe deeply.
"Besides I also wanted to talk with you about my deplorable demeanor. I let my disappointment affect you and made you worry unnecessarily and for that I do offer you an apology. I have been pondering my actions from the last day and I have to admit that I let my feelings cloud my intelligence and did risk not only my well being, but that of the town and all the residents. What a shameful act, but I assure you that this Martyr Complex is already in the past. I'm going to start complaining to them about their duties as often as I can."
Ezra's speech finally came to a halt and he was gazing at Inez with a combination of hope and mischief.
At Inez's, "I'll stay," a smile blossomed on his face that showed the gold incisor.
"Miss Recillos, would you give me the pleasure of your company for a late dinner?" he said with a little bow and holding out his arm.
"Why, of course, Mr. Standish," she responded taking the offered arm. "Dinner with you sounds like an excellent idea."
Continues in Mourning Over Dinner