Our silence over the next few days created a weight that rested heavily on my shoulders. We stole glances at one another every so often as we rode. Every time we stopped to rest for the night, we sat by the fire and had our stream of consciousness conversations. Our talks were always followed by long moments of quiet contemplation. Perhaps that was why I was beginning to care for him. Other people annoyed me easily, but I found myself beginning to fear losing his company. It was almost eerie how his presence calmed me so.
I had not wanted to admit it to myself earlier, but the sight of the bandit threatening him by the creek struck a terrible chord of terror in me.
While we sat next to one another watching the crackling fire, our horses grazed nearby. The sunset cast a spell over their smooth coats, making them appear like they were part of a painting. I sighed, basking in the lovely moment.
“We should reach Kansas in two more days,” said Gabriel.
His voice was thick with meaning.
I fidgeted, unwilling to speak in case my voice cracked. I turned the logs over with the long stick in my hand. Some things were only meant to be temporary, and that was what made them special. We would part ways as friends, and he would be safe again. He would live on and I would meet my well-deserved fate.
“You’re still going to kill him?” he asked.
“Yes. I have to.”
“I hoped that our conversations might have had some effect on you.”
“My resolve will not be broken, Gabriel. The man deserves to die.”
He was just a boy with a dream to be a healer. I was a woman bound for hell. What an odd pair we were. I hoped God would forgive him for helping me.
I stepped away from him to get away from the heavy atmosphere and clear my head.
“Mary, I am sorry.”
I nearly jumped up at how close his voice sounded. I leaned over to catch my breath.
“You scared the hell out of me.”
“I never meant to make you feel worse. I came here hoping to help you heal.”
“I know that was what you wanted, but I can’t heal from this. The only thing that I can do is move forward to seek justice. God hasn’t seen fit to stop me from my mission yet.”
“That is what I am here for.”
“Gabriel, outlawing is my identity! I would be nothing without it.”
“Have it your way then.”
He threw his hands up in the air and walked away, but his words echoed in my mind.
I awoke the next day after the sunrise to Gabriel singing a hymn. His baritone voice mingled with the chirping birds in the trees. I lay there and savoured the calming sounds. It was our second last morning together and soon he would be a distant memory.
I stretched my tight muscles and finger combed my hair as best I could. I thought that I caught him smiling at my vain attempt to look presentable.
We rode until we reached a swollen creek. The little rapids sang a rather obnoxious song as our unspoken words bounced about in our minds. When we met the setting sun once again, my insides ached. Gabriel was the one help me enjoy sunsets and sunrises again. He had awakened many things in me, things that I thought were dead.
I winced as I thought about the pain that his departure would bring me. I tried not to think about it, but our parting was near.
We carried out our nightly rituals of cooling down the horses and starting up a modest fire. It was Gabriel’s turn to hunt for dinner that evening. He ventured off to find us a rabbit or a squirrel, while I tended to the fire in misery.
The dancing flames hypnotized me, drawing me back into memories that I longed to forget.
Gabriel’s rapid footsteps sounded above the crackling flames an hour later, breaking my trance.
“I caught dinner,” he announced.
“I’m starved,” I lied, eyeing the limp rabbit in his grasp.
Eating was the last thing that I wanted to do as I helped him skin and clean the kill. The uncertainty of how our final night would go made my stomach churn. It meant more to me than it should have.
With the rabbit roasting over the fire, I eased up when Gabriel sat next to me.
“You are so many people wrapped into one existence, Mary,” he said.
My breath caught in my throat. His blunt statements were always laced with some sort of strange magic.
“I never asked to be this way. Besides, you have a few different sides to you as well.”
I smiled at him and watched the shadows dance along his angular face. I wanted to tell him so many things, but I lacked the strength to do so.
It was better to feel it than to speak it. Once words were uttered, they could not be taken back.
We ate the roasted rabbit in our usual silence. I went through the motions of chewing and swallowing, even though my appetite was dead.
“Make sure you eat all of that,” said Gabriel.