Part of The Friendship Collection
Warning: death of a minor character
Chris frowned as he looked at the church. Josiah was supposed to be taking the next patrol, but Larabee had yet to see the former preacher. In fact, he hadn't seen the man since the previous morning when he had been presented with a telegram. Looking the other way, he caught sight of Vin just exiting the livery. Leaning against the post, the blond waited for his friend.
"Chris," Tanner greeted, taking up position on the opposite side of the post.
"Vin," was Larabee's reply.
The two men stood in silence for several minutes. "Might as well spit it out before it chokes you," Vin advised.
"Haven't seen Josiah since yesterday," Chris observed.
"Not that unusual. Man has some demons," Tanner observed.
"Got a telegram yesterday morning." One blond eyebrow arched as he saw Vin straighten and tense. "You know what it is?" Larabee asked.
Clenching his teeth, the tracker offered a brief nod. "Might," he replied. "Reckon I best go see." Stepping away from the post, Vin nodded at Chris and headed toward the church.
A few moments later, the Texan climbed the steps of the building and pushed the door open. Stepping out of the bright sunlight into the dim interior, he allowed his eyes a few minutes to adjust and then scanned the interior. It didn't take long for him to spot the hunched figure sitting on the front pew.
Making his way down the aisle, Vin settled on the pew opposite his friend and waited. He didn't have to wait long.
"She's gone," the older man said in the silence.
Uncertain what else to say, Tanner settled for, "I'm real sorry about that, Josiah."
The sincerity of the statement wound its way through the heavy weight of grief and loss that pressed upon the former preacher. Ever since reading the words of the telegram, Josiah knew he would have to ride out to Vista City, but this loss, more than any other in his life, left him feeling completely alone and unable to function.
As if reading his friend's mind, Vin offered, "Want me to get things together for our ride to the convent?"
Turning his head, Josiah stared at his young friend, taking the offer deep inside. One phrase warmed him as he thought nothing would again. "Our ride," he repeated, softly.
Rising from his seat, Vin crossed to his friend, resting a hand on the other man's shoulder. With a gentle squeeze to assure Josiah he was there, he confirmed, "Our ride." When the other man's eyes met his own, Tanner smiled and asked, "You really think I wouldn't have your back in this?"
"Thank you," Sanchez whispered as he wiped his eyes and stood.
"I'll meet you at the livery," Vin said, smiling faintly at his friend.
Vin stood back and waited for Josiah. The ride to Vista City had been somber. Josiah hadn't felt like talking. The Texan respected that.
They had arrived late in the day and been given accommodations in the stable outside the convent. The next day was spent finalizing arrangements and gathering together Hannah's few possessions.
This morning there had been a service just after dawn, Hannah's favorite time of the day. The burial followed shortly afterward.
The nuns had long ago returned to the convent, the casket had been buried and the sun was well past the meridian, yet Josiah stood.
Knowing that they would need to get moving if they were going to make any headway home, Vin pushed off the tree he had been leaning against, intending to go over and see if his friend was ready to leave.
Vin hadn't gotten more than one step before Sanchez lifted his head, wiped his face and turned away from the grave.
"Ready to go?" Tanner asked, concern evident in each word. "We can stay if you need to." There was no way Vin was going to rush Josiah's goodbye.
Not trusting his voice, the former preacher offered a tight smile and patted Vin on the shoulder.
Reaching up, Vin gripped the older man's arm in silent support. A moment later, Tanner felt Josiah begin to pull away and released his own grip. A small sigh escaped the former bounty hunter as he took in Josiah's sloped shoulders and bowed head. The man was obviously hurting and Vin wasn't sure he had the words to help him.
Vin pulled the larger sticks out of the fire, extinguished them and looked at the solitary figure that stood staring out at the plain. A sigh escaped the tracker as he, once again, wished for the words to say to ease the silent pain Josiah was feeling.
As he extinguished the fire, he realized he wouldn't be able to help until Sanchez was willing to accept it. Satisfied that the fire was out, he began breaking down their camp. They would be home before the day was over.
As he picked up Josiah's saddlebag, some of the contents fell out. As he bent down to gather the fallen items, he paused as he reached for the pencil that was lying in the dust.
Scanning the other items, he soon found a scrap of paper and knew what he needed to do.
Though he knew that the others would have taken a lot less time and written much more neatly, Vin was satisfied with his efforts and quickly tucked the paper in the Bible he picked up before replacing the items into the saddlebag.
After breakfast, which Josiah refused, Tanner prepared the horses and guided Josiah back to camp.
Josiah sat on the front pew of the church where Vin had left him. It was just after sunset now and he knew he would have to move soon.
Looking up at the plain wooden cross that hung on the wall, Josiah prayed, "Take good care of my Hannah, Lord. She was the last of my family." The former preacher's throat tightened. At those words, a wave of loneliness such as he had never known swept over him.
He was filled with a sudden need to move, to get away from the loneliness. Grabbing his saddlebag, Sanchez stood a little too quickly, catching the bags on the underside of the pew. The tug on the bags was enough to cause him to drop them.
Knowing there were one or two breakable things inside the satchels, he resumed his seat on the pew and opened the first bag.
With care, he pulled out the first item, a cross Hannah had made, and realized it was too dark for him to truly see the piece's condition, he lifted the saddlebags and strode over to the table upon which sat the oil lamp.
Light flared in the darkness, causing Sanchez to close his eyes for a moment against the light. They were closed only for a second, though, as his need to make sure his treasured items were whole surged to the fore.
Examining the cross, he felt an odd mixture of relief, loneliness and loss fill him as he held this connection to his sister, to his family.
Carefully setting aside the handmade cross, he reached in and pulled out his Bible. He wondered idly if he might find some words of comfort there, knowing in his soul he would. But he wasn't quite ready for that comfort yet; a comfort he was certain would only enhance his loneliness.
As he moved to set the book aside, he noticed a paper sticking up out of it. He couldn't remember putting anything in his Bible and had no idea what it could be.
His curiosity roused, Sanchez retrieved the piece of paper.
Holding it to the light, he could tell it was something Vin had written. It took him only a few seconds to read the words on the paper. The sentiment wasn't long, but it was heartfelt and reached through Josiah's pain and loss, straight to his heart.
With a quick prayer of thanks for the presence of his friends in his life, Josiah set the paper down on the table and headed out of the church, toward the saloon.
Settling into the only empty seat at their usual table, Josiah looked over the faces of his friends.
As his eyes finally came to rest on the young tracker who had not only kept his secret, but brought light to his darkest time, he smiled and thought of the simple, yet profound truth written on a piece of paper that now rested in a circle of light in the church: Friends - family you choose for yourself.
Allowing the warmth of laughter and friendship to flow over him, Josiah couldn't help but think that he had chosen well.