by Judi Milling
Several weeks passed. Everyone settled back into a basic routine in Four Corners. Jenny's awful memories were fading slowly. Vin had carefully watched her. Their evenings together were quiet and basically they stayed their distance. There was something changed about Jenny. She always had a smile for everyone, and especially Vin. But he noticed that even with the smile, there seemed to be a veil between them. He hadn't pushed her into their nights together. It had been only several times that they made love. He wanted her to be herself again at her own pace. He wouldn't push. Jenny had wanted so much to be with Vin, but with the baby growing inside her, she was afraid he would notice changes in her body and might guess. She was filling out more, and her dresses were becoming noticeably tighter. Her breasts were filling out more.
One night while they were together, Vin teased her about her getting softer and rounder and he wasn't sure but he she gained some weight. "Never liked them skinny women." Jenny would laugh but inside she became alert. She had to make a decision.
One night in the saloon, Vin and Chris were sitting at a table. Jenny was singing a beautiful song, very haunting and seductive. Vin turned to Chris fighting with himself whether to ask his friend a question. He knew it might bring up sad memories for Chris, and he didn't want to hurt his friend in anyway.
"Chris, I really need to ask you a question. About women. Woman things."
Chris noticed the concern in Vin's eyes. "Go ahead, Vin, don't know if I can answer it but I'll try."
"Well, damn, uh, when you were married, were there changes in your wife, like how she acted or looked?" Chris saddened not wanting to remember his past, but the concerned look in Vin's eyes, made him decide to try and answer him.
"Vin, a woman, at least my wife, had that wonderful, happy look most of the time. Especially when she realized we were going to have a baby. She got very emotional, running hot and cold. One minute she would be real lovin and the next minute, madder than a wet hen. I also noticed changes in her, the way she started filling out. But after a while, you know, there's no question about it. Why?"
"Just wondering Chris. Just wondering." Chris watched Vin's eyes travel to Jenny. Chris had noticed sudle changes in Jenny. He had noticed that she seemed more filled out than normal. Couldn't miss much in those dresses she wore. Kinda guessing what was going on in Vin's head, he leaned over and slapped Vin lightly on the back.
"Won't know for sure until you ask her Vin or she tells you."
Vin raised his eyebrows back at his friend and with a sigh, "we'll see, we'll see."
Vin turned to Chris. "Feel like making a trip to Tuscosa. I think its time I took care of my business."
Chris nodded. "First we need to see the Judge on this Vin. He could possibly help you. And second, when do we leave?" Vin was relieved his friend wanted to go. He would be a big help, especially if things didn't go right. At least Chris, being married before, could really look out for Jenny. And he knew the others would. Especially Ezra. Vin knew the gambler cared a lot for Jenny, not just because she owned half the saloon, but there was something else. It used to bother him. Wondering what Jenny felt about Ezra. He talked somewhat about it to Jenny one night. She had looked at Vin with those eyes of hers, picked up his hand and held it to her cheek. She told him that it was hard to explain to him how she really felt about Ezra. She loved him but in a special way. And besides, her heart only belonged to him, Vin Tanner. He seemed satisfied with that. Didn't know why it mattered so much to him for her to say that.
Chris was right. The Judge could help him. Judge Travis was a fair man. He never liked to ask for help, but this time he knew he needed all the help he could get. He needed to be free and clear before Jenny and him could go any farther in a relationship. She knew about his situation, but he would wait and surprise her if he could clear his name.
Turning to his friend, Vin tipped his hat. "How about leaving first thing in the morning after we talk to the Judge."
Next morning, Vin told Jenny that he and Chris would be gone for a couple of weeks. She didn't ask why and he didn't offer anything except he needed to get out of town for awhile. He felt too cooped up. Jenny had felt the strain between them after the terrible episode with her stepfather and trying to fight with herself about telling Vin about the baby. Inside, she felt he wanted to be away from her. With Vin leaving, Jenny became more at ease, knowing she had more time to think about what she would do.
Vin hated to leave her, but felt maybe this would give them both some time to think, and if he could clear his name, he could start over. Jenny watched both men leave, one man taking with him her heart. Because when he was gone, she had no heart except the small gold locket that he gave her. Just like her father had done. When he had put it around her neck that night in her room, he said that it also contained part of his heart.
It took some convincing on the part of the Judge, to help clear Vin's name. By the time Chris and Vin had gotten to Tuscosa, things had turned in favor of the man's innocence. The man responsible for the entire mess had been drunk one night, bragging about how he had set Vin Tanner up. He was overheard by the local sheriff and thrown in jail. All Vin needed to do was clear up some paperwork, then he was free and clear. Only thing left was to telegraph his innocence to the towns to ensure his safety.
The judge had also needed Chris to take care of something else for him. Vin volunteered to stay, but his friend knew Vin really wanted and needed to get back to Four Corners. "You have a wonderful lady waiting for you. Don't make her wait any longer." With that Vin shook Chris's hand, tipped his hat and rode off.
It was hot that day Vin headed back to Four Corners. After about a day's ride, he stopped for the night. All he had on his mind was getting back to see Jenny's face when he told her the good news. He knew those golden brown eyes would smile as soon as she saw him. He had no doubt, even though they parted on what seemed some unsteady ground.
Needing to fill his canteen, he found a stream and bent down to fill it up. All he heard was a shot, then pain. After that he remembered nothing. As Vin propelled forward from the bullet, he hit his head on a rock. The next thing he remembered, was a beautiful fair haired woman standing over him. He thought he was dead and he was in heaven. He was laying on something soft, and the woman leaning over him had a light coming from around her. She was wearing all white. Finally his eyes cleared but his head ached terrible.
"Who are, where am, damn my head is killing me."
"Ssshhh," came a soft reply, and he faded off again. It would be several days before Vin regained consciousness, but with only one problem. He didn't know who he was.
Vin's first site when he came to was curtains moving slightly in the breeze through the open window. He tried to sit up but his head ached. "Don't try to move. You've had a nasty accident. Not only were you shot accidentally by a hunter, but you fell and hit your head. Try to rest."
He remembered that voice. The angel. Nope. She was real. She was standing right in front of him and he was awake. He finally got enough strength to sit up and throw the sheet back and swing his legs to the floor. Then he realized he had no clothes on. Looking up and seeing the woman stare back at him, he quickly, threw the sheet back over him.
"Your pants were wet when I found you in the stream. It was hard to do but you needed to get out of those clothes, and you have been in and out of it for days."
Emily thought he looked like a god. He was beautiful. She had been a widow for months, and having a man in her bed, even a sick one was wonderful. It hadn't taken a long time to clean him up. She had been so starved for a man that she felt God had sent him to her. The bullet had gone clean through. Emily had some nursing background so it was easy to clean the wound. She just needed to make sure that it didn't get infected. Her mind went back to the day she had found him. It took all the strength she had to get him into her wagon and then into the house. She was afraid he would die since he had lost so much blood. And his head had a nasty wound on it from falling on the rock. Why, if she hadn't come across him that day, he might have drown in the creek.
He mostly stayed unconscious, sometimes fading in and out for days. Emily thought he was so very handsome. He was so trim and very muscular. Not even her husband had been so beautiful. He kept mumbling things, but Emily couldn't understand what he was saying. Even unconscious, Vin was dreaming of Jenny. Emily was a woman who missed the affections of a man. Her husband had constantly chastised her for being wanton. She couldn't help herself.
Emily wanted this man. Awake or asleep. It didn't matter. Vin's dreaming was real to him. Then his dream vanished and he fell back into oblivion. This man was wonderful. Emily didn't want it to end. Somehow she would find a way to get him to stay.
Vin was confused. He couldn't remember anything. "Where am I? What happened?"
The woman smiled. "You don't remember? Do you know who you are?" When Vin shook his head meaning no, Emily smiled. "Why Jackson, you were gettin water and accidentally shot by a hunter. Then you must have fallen into the creek. That's when I found you."
Somehow, the story seemed strange. "Jackson? Jackson? That's my name?"
"Yes, my love, your name is Jackson and my name is Emily. Don't you remember?"
Vin's head hurt trying to remember. "No, no I'm sorry but I don't."
A bigger smile came to Emily's lips. "Why, we're married! You hit your head harder than I though." With that, Vin would set in a life for months, thinking his name was Jackson and he was married to Emily. Not knowing his real memories laying hidden. And living with a woman who wanted to keep those memories hidden.
A month passed. Jenny's weight had started to show more of her condition. She had finally decided to stick it out, let Vin know about the baby, and see what happened. Ezra was delighted at her decision. He knew Mr. Tanner and Jenny would work it out. Chris finally finished his business and headed back to Four Corners. Chris rode back into town and headed straight for the saloon. He wanted to see how his friend faired with the auburn haired beauty he had also grown to care for.
Walking in, he only saw the rest of the seven, Luke, and Jenny, but no Vin. "Well, how'd it go with you and Mr. Tanner, Jenny?"
Jenny looked surprised. "But isn't Vin with you?"
Chris stopped short. "He left over a week before me. That was close to a month ago." Concern edged on Chris's face. "I think it's time we went to look for Mr. Tanner."
Emily had seen the riders coming up. "Jackson" was working in one of the far fields, so he was not close at all to the house. The men brought their horses to a halt, seeing the beautiful woman meeting them.
"Ma'am. We're looking for a friend of ours. Name's Vin. Vin Tanner. Buckskin clothes, long light brown hair, carries a sawed off rifle." Concern edged over Emily's face. She had to get rid of these men. If "Jackson" came back they would tell him who he was and he would leave. She wouldn't allow it.
"I'm so sorry. I don't know how to tell you this. My husband and I found a man like you described by the creek, with a bullet in his back. He had been dead for several days. Buried him over there by the tree. Didn't seem fittin not to bury the poor man." Emily prayed they wouldn't want his body. She had hidden his clothes so as not to bring up questions from this man she was pretending to be her husband. "I did keep his guns though. Didn't see no horse, so guessum your friend was shot for the horse. Surprised the guns were still there though."
All the men heard was that Vin had been shot and killed. They all had been through so much that the thought of one of them dying alone never crossed their mind. Since it had been awhile, they decided to let the man rest in peace. "Thank you ma'am, to you and your husband for taking care of him. If it is all right with you, we'll leave him to his peace."
Emily gave a sigh of relief and agreed. "Would invite you all to dinner but we are really poor and don't have a lot."
"Don't worry about us ma'am," Josiah piped up, "we're fine. Thank you for all your help."
"Did your Mr. Tanner have a wife or family?" Emily was curious if Vin had left someone behind.
Chris looked at Emily. "Well, he kinda did and was going to have a family too."
"I'm so sorry. Please give her my sympathy." Emily kinda felt sorry for the lie she was telling but not enough to tell the truth.
With that the men turned their horses and headed back home. Chris hated to go back to town empty handed. "I would give anything not to have to tell Jenny about Vin." Chris was shattered. It brought memories back of the loss of his wife and son. They had all seen Jenny's condition, and knew it wasn't going to be easy for her. Chris had told the guys he would take on the responsibility of telling her. Vin and Chris had developed an understanding, a close kinship, and he felt obligated to tell her. God how he hated to see her face.
Jenny knew the news was going to be bad. She saw their faces when they rode up. Her eyes wandered around them, hoping Vin would be there. Chris asked Ezra and Jenny for a quiet place to talk. Jenny followed both men to the back room, hands grasped in one another in front of her. She wasn't prepared, didn't want to hear what Chris had to say. She said nothing. Felt nothing. Not even tears. Not until she was in her room, all alone. Then they flowed. They flowed so hard that she thought they would never stop. If only he had known about the baby. Knew he was going to be a father before he died. She would have to live with that guilt the rest of her life.
Months passed slowly for Jenny. She was not the same. The only thing that kept her going was the thought of Vin's baby growing inside of her. The first sign of happiness was when the baby kicked for the first time. All the guys had been so attentive, that it finally got on her nerves and she told them she needed some space, some times. They respected her and eased back. Ezra became extremely attentive, knowing that she needed someone, someone to talk to. Luke and Sarah had gotten married, and they needed time to grow in their relationship. Both had offered to spend time with Jenny, but she refused, knowing they needed their time.
At first she didn't want Ezra to spend so much time with her, but as the months passed, the time he spent with her were wonderful. When the baby kicked, she had Ezra put his hand on her belly. He had never felt this before. "The little guy sure partakes of a festive time. He's a fighter, just like his father." Ezra had not meant to mention Vin in any way. Jenny saw the hurt in Ezra's eyes. She went over to him, hugged him. They stood there, arms wrapped around each other. Ezra could smell her fresh scent and feel her rounded belly. By damn, he would take care of her and love her as much as she would let him. He felt he owed that to a man who became his friend.
As time came closer to the baby's birth, Jenny and Ezra fixed up a spot in her room. One evening, Ezra had taken Jenny for a walk. "Jenny, Vin has been gone for months now. You need to get on with your life and think about the life of your baby." He stopped, and turned her around to face him. His eyes were sincere and he looked so serious. "Jenny, Miss McNeill, would you do the honor of marrying me? You and your baby both would be well cared for and the baby would benefit from having a mamma and a papa."
Jenny looked at Ezra, tears welling up in her eyes. "Ezra, oh Ezra." She kissed him on the lips and hugged him. "You do me a great honor. But I can't marry you Ezra. It wouldn't be fair to you. You're young and should find a young vibrant woman to marry."
Ezra looked a little hurt but continued. "Jenny, I agree that it would start out a loveless consortium of two people, but maybe with time, we might grow to love each other as it should be. I won't lie to you that our co habitation would be financially beneficial, being partners in all. And the baby would benefit greatly from our union."
Jenny smiled. Yes, life with Mr. Standish would be interesting. He would be easy to love. But could she love him the same way she had loved Vin. If not, Ezra didn't deserve a farce of a marriage, even if it was a good business proposition. She knew Ezra would be very loving, and probably in time they could love one another, and she knew he would love the baby. Maybe they would even have some themselves. But she had to remember that she was a lot older and that having children when she was even older might not be the best thing. She needed time, time to think.
"Ezra, it's not that you wouldn't be a wonderful catch, a wonderful and carrying husband. I need time, Ezra. Give me that. I need to work Vin out of my system before I commit to someone. It wouldn't be fair to you. And I love you for asking." With that she kissed Ezra with a deep longing kiss.
He relished that kiss, and hoped that she would change her mind. "I give you the time you need Jenny." And they walked back to the saloon.
Jenny and Ezra had decided to take a buggy ride on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. He was concerned because her time was close and she had been getting very uncomfortable. Arguing with her wouldn't do any good either. She had really become testy lately. And he had gotten after her about her being a hard headed ornery woman. Jenny just laughed at him, remembering Vin saying the same thing about her. She missed him so much. Time had not helped at all. But having Ezra around was a joy. He made up for some of the sorrow and pain she felt. He was beginning to melt her reserve.
She had insisted that she needed and wanted to go on a picnic. They were quite a distance out, and had spread out lunch. The pain came slow at first, then labor came on with a vengeance. Ezra wanted to get her back to town, but Jenny knew she didn't have time. "Please Ezra, I can't, we won't make it. You'll have to do it."
Ezra looked panicky. "Jenny, I have not a clue as how to deliver a baby!"
Jenny didn't want to show any concern on her part. She needed to make him feel as confident as she knew he could be. "I did some reading and I have been around birthing before."
Several hours of pain, pushing, panting, screaming finally produced a small little pink, crying baby into Ezra's hands. Everything turned out fine, with Ezra wrapping the baby in his coat. "The little guy already has good taste in fine apparel."
"A boy? It's a boy?" Jenny started crying. Ezra placed the baby in her arms, relishing in the sight of mother and babe.
"Well, Miss McNeill, what are you going to name the little man?" Jenny thought of those clear blue eyes of the man she was drawn to when she first arrived in Four Corners. She remembered his long brown hair, his lips, the straight nose, his stance, his dress, his power. She looked down at the tiny little baby. The baby would have his looks. Pain filled her eyes. Ezra became aware of her inner turmoil. "Mr. Tanner was a fine man, Jenny. He would have been proud of you and your husky lad."
She needed a strong name, a name that honored Vin. Her father had been a strong man, a loving man. "His name? I want to name him Aaron, after my father. Aaron Standish Tanner. It's a good name. A good name for a man. He should carry Vin's name. After all the baby is part of him and part of me. And he should also carry the name of the man who helped him into this world. A man who is clever and even though he won't admit it, a man who has a soft heart." Ezra smiled. He was proud too that the baby also carried his name. He was just as proud as if the baby had been part of him. And in a way, he was. Jenny needed closure. She was getting there but she needed something more. He would make sure she would get it. Then maybe she could start living again.
Everyone loved Aaron. But then everyone loves babies. Ezra completely made a fool of himself around him. But he noted that Jenny, even as elated as she was with the baby, still hurt for Vin. It was then he decided to request the help of several of his compatriots. He wanted to bring Vin's body back to Four Corners. He knew it would help Jenny deal with his death. Bring Vin back and put him to rest. After heated discussions, the men finally agreed. He had told them in no uncertain terms that Mr. Tanner's body would be back in Four Corners with or without their help. They realized that the gambler was dead set on doing this. And they knew in their hearts that maybe it would help Jenny to go on. Ezra, Buck and Chris decided to go and bring their friend back. But they decided not to tell Jenny about their plan. She needed to concentrate on taking care of Aaron Standish Tanner. When they returned with Vin's body, then she could put him completely to rest.
Life had been good lately with Emily. "Jackson" was a wonderful husband. He had been disappointed she had not gotten pregnant yet, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Vin felt though that something was missing. He could not put his finger on it. He was having dreams at night about lakes and witches with golden brown eyes. Then six men would show up. He couldn't quite see their faces. At least that's what he told her when he would be calling out in the night in his sleep. She would wake him, and tell him it was all a bad dream. He would lie in bed after Emily would go back to sleep, bothered by those dreams, about the beautiful golden skinned woman, singing enchanting songs, luring him to the lake. He couldn't shake her image. He always woke up sweating. Emily would try to make light of those dreams, telling him he needed to pay more attention to her. She was getting worried he might regain his memory.
He noticed three riders coming up toward the house. At the same time, Emily had been out back hanging clothes up, not hearing the riders. They noticed a man standing in front of the house, something very familiar about his stance. As they approached the three thought they were seeing a ghost. Vin squinted his eyes, noting something familiar about the men.
Chris was the first to speak. "Vin, Vin is that you? My God man, we thought you dead. The woman that lived here said she found your body and buried you. You are a site for sore eyes." They all came down off their horses, came over to Vin, patting him on the back. "What happened to you?" Just then Emily came around the corner to see what all the ruckus was about. Color drained from her face when she saw the men.
Vin turned to her with questioning eyes. His head started to hurt again but with more intensity. He had been having a lot of them lately. The headaches had been coming back with the nightmares. "Gentlemen, what are you doing here. Jackson, you need to go back inside, your headaches, they're worse."
Buck spoke next. "Ma am, this is the Mr. Tanner we asked you about. Why are you lying?"
Emily panicked. She had been caught in her lie. "Please, please, I didn't mean, I mean, he was, he didn't know." She started crying.
Ezra, seeing the entire scenario falling in place, spoke up, "I think we should all go inside and discuss this issue." With that, Emily turned towards the house, with the men in tow, including a very confused "Jackson".
The more the men talked, the more Vin started remembering things. They were still jumbled but little by little falling everything seemed to fall into place. Emily sat next to Vin, one hand in her lap, and the other holding Vin's hand. Ezra, noticing the loving gesture between the two, tried to ease the tension. "Vin, do you know how long you have been gone? It's been close to a year."
Vin was confused. Wanting to know more, Vin questioned the men. "Do you all know why I keep seeing images of a golden eyed woman. Jenny? Jenny. That's her name! My god, Jenny." All of a sudden, things started to come back to him. "I left Four Corners to clear my name to give us a chance to start a new life. I wanted to marry her!"
Emily gasped and pulled her hand from Vin's hand. Emily knew she had lost this man. This wonderful man to a golden eyed woman. A woman he apparently loved. Emily had hoped in time he would really grow to love her, and if his memory had returned, that maybe he would remain with her anyway, because he fell in love with her.
Emily left the room and when she returned, she had his old clothes in her arms. "These are yours. I'm so sorry. When I found you, you were hurt so badly. I was lonely. My husband had died months before. I wanted to help you, take care of you. And when you couldn't remember who you were, I just wasn't thinking straight. I thought that in time, you might really come to love me. I'm sorry."
Vin came over to her and put his arms around her. "I'm sorry, Emily. You are special. I thank you for taking care of me and wanting my love. But I can't stay. I have someone. Someone special." God Vin hated to hurt her. He did love her in a way. But he had always felt something was missing. Now with his memory returning, he knew that something had been Jenny. Thinking he was dead must have hurt her badly. He was afraid to ask the others how she was. If she had found someone else. He was afraid they might tell him the things he didn't want to hear. If she had someone else, then he would leave, and let her get on with her life. He wouldn't want to cause her more pain.
With that, Vin changed into his old clothes. Vin's horse was in the barn. Peso was saddled, and the four men rode off. Vin turned to see Emily standing in the doorway, tears falling. He almost regretted leaving, but he tipped his hand to his hat and turned his horse to ride off with the others. "I will always love you Vin Tanner. Remember me."