“Ella! Focus on me, please.” Hannah’s exasperated voice ripped me from my terrible thoughts. She was holding out a box of clean laundry to me.
It had been over a week since I had learned of Ambrose’s possible visit, and every day the dread I felt in my stomach had grown more intense. Maybe it was my recent independence, or maybe it was Jesse’s probing, but I couldn't help but feel like Ambrose and I were not well-suited to be married, not so soon, at least.
Jesse. Now that was a recurring thought, too. The more time I spent with him, the more I worried about him leaving. It was inevitable, he couldn't live in the boarding house forever. We would meet every day before supper in the barn to “check on” Shadow, even though it was obvious that Shadow was fine and we needn’t worry. Our conversations varied from silly to serious to small-talk, and they were what I looked forward to most now.
“Sorry, Hannah. Lot on my mind today I guess,” I told her sheepishly, taking the box from her and resting it on my hip.
“Anything you want to talk about?” She asked, looking quizzically at me as she hand washed a pair of pants I didn't recognize.
“Um…No, I don’t think so. Nothing big. Just stuck in my head, as usual.” I figured this excuse would work, as I was known for that.
“Alright then, dear. Why don’t you take that up to Jesse’s room? Those are his clothes. Don’t worry about putting them away, just leave them on the bed.” Hannah responded, attention already back to the laundry. She seemed to be paying close attention to a dark colored spot on the pants.
I left the room without another word, feeling a little jittery about going into Jesse’s room. He wasn’t going to be in there, obviously, as that would be improper, but it would be interesting to visit the room he sleeps in every night.
After making my way up the stairs and down the hall, I reached Jesse’s room. It was the largest room available; situated further from my room than any other, it was right next to the boarders washroom. He had left the door unlocked.
Pushing open the door, I immediately caught a whiff of a scent I had never smelled before. Hints of mint, spices, and sweat hit me swiftly, and I breathed in deeply again, enjoying the smell.
The room was just as neat as it was before Jesse began staying in the room, maybe even neater. I set the box of clothes on his perfectly made bed, then opened the top drawer of the little chest residing next to the bed. I began placing the various articles of clothing neatly in the drawer. I finished this task quickly.
I didn't want to leave the room. The smell, the furniture, the neatness all reeked of Jesse, which was a huge comfort to me. I aimlessly began shuffling the clothes I had just placed in the drawer, rearranging them.
I stopped when my hand hit a hard, cool object. The shape was unfamiliar, I couldn’t tell what it was. My fingers closed around the object and pulled it out of the drawer.
I almost dropped the object once I recognized what it was. A gun. I had barely ever seen one, let alone held one. I rotated my wrist around, looking at the gun from various angles. It had smooth dark wood and ornate metal trim. A gun typically wouldn't strike me as beautiful, but that was the only word for it that I could think of. It was heavy in my hand, almost too big for me to hold correctly. I turned the gun, looking into the barrel of it. I could feel my own head tilt.
“What the hell are you doing?” A sudden voice interrupted my trance. Jesse.
His voice startled me, and I once again almost dropped the gun. I tried to hide the gun behind my back, even though it was obviously too late. Jesse has seen me holding the gun.
He strode to where I was standing, pulling my wrist into his calloused hand. His long fingers gently extricated the gun from my hand, taking care not to hurt me or set off the gun. He slipped it into the waistband of his pants above his bottom. After making sure the gun was secure, he turned his hard face back to mine.
“Jesse, I’m sorry. I didn’t—I didn't think that a gun would be in there… I was just trying to be helpful…”
“Ella, stop. It’s not your fault. But you have to know that you are never to touch that drawer again. If anything happened to you because of that gun I could never forgive myself. You never look down the barrel of a gun. If it accidentally discharged…”He trailed off, resting his tan hand on my slightly exposed shoulder.
I had no idea what to say. I was still slightly dazed from holding the gun, it gave me a rush that I’d never felt before. His warm hand felt good on my goose-fleshed shoulder. I found it hard to meet his eyes, I was fairly embarrassed about the situation.
“You have a gun, Jesse?” I questioned.
“Yes, Señorita. Doesn’t your father?” Jesse responded, his face breaking out into a small smile.
“Not that I know of…Should he?”
“Well…He may have a different mindset than I do but there are valuables here. You’re here.”
My lips parted at this. I knew I should respond, but I could not find the right words to respond. His words felt wrong but they felt so right. We both just stared at each other.
“Um… I should go. I have more laundry to put away.” I finally said, breaking the heavy silence. I shrugged out from under his big hand, immediately feeling a chill where the warmth left.
He ran a hand through his thick, dark hair, not saying anything. I grabbed the box that had carried Jesse’s clothes, then all but ran from the room.
My bare feet moved swiftly down the hall towards my room. The rough wood under me scraped my feet, but I didn’t care. I entered my room and locked the door behind me, then sunk down to the floor.
I held a gun. Jesse’s gun. Jesse has a gun. I could have killed myself with that gun. Jesse touched my shoulder. What is happening to me?
I worked to slow my breathing. My heart was pounding. I should have listened to Hannah. She told me to leave the box in the room. It must have slipped my mind with the excitement of being in Jesse’s room. I cursed myself for my inability to follow directions.
After a few moments of steadying my breathing, I crawled across the floor to my mirror, resting Indian-style in front of it. I stared at myself, trying to process my flushed cheeks and wild hair. Despite these imperfections, my eyes looked brighter and more alive than they had in a long time. My small fingers reached up and lightly touched my exposed shoulder, trying to induce the feeling brought on by Jesse minutes before.
A little thump in the room interrupted my haze, and I looked away from the mirror to see Cat making his way over to me. He began rubbing himself on me, then promptly lay down and shut his eyes.
What a great idea, I thought to myself.
I cuddled up next to the cat, dozing off within seconds.
“Ella? Ella! Come down here!” I jolted awake from my little cat nap, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I wasn’t sure how long I had been asleep, it didn't feel long at all. The sun was still high in the sky outside.
“Ella!” The voice shouted again from downstairs. It sounded like Jesse.
Due to the urgency in his voice, I jumped up and hurried down the stairs, lifting my thin white skirt up a bit to move quicker.
“Dammit Jesse, what? What do you need?” I asked loudly, cranky from my rude awakening.
He pressed a finger to his lips and leaned in close to my ear, causing me to shiver.
“You have a visitor outside.”
I jolted away from Jesse in shock, staring at him with my lips parted. I didn’t even need to look, I knew who it would be.
“I’m going to be sick Jesse,” I moaned, pressing a hand against my stomach. “I can’t do this.”
He placed his big hands on my shoulders again, and bent himself down so that he would be at my eye level.
“Do you want me to tell him that? I’ll tell him you feel ill; you don’t have to see him, Ella.” He told me, his light brown eyes searching mine.
What a lovely thought. Ambrose would never let it go that easily, though. He would insist that he sees me.
“No. Thank you, Jesse, but I need to see him…I’m just nervous, that’s all.” I told him a bit breathlessly. “I’ll go right now.”
For the second time that day, I left the warmth of Jesse’s touch. I reached for the knob on our door, twisting it with dreadful anticipation.
I saw him as soon as the door opened. He was leaning lazily up against one of the wooden pillars of our porch, in typical Ambrose fashion. He was more tan than when he left, his hair a bit shaggier. He was still clean shaven, still impeccably dressed. Typical. Even in the dusty gold camps he remained perfect in appearance.
“Ella,” his cool voice broke my thoughts. “You look…Are you okay?”
His concern warmed me a bit. I had forgotten the best thing about Ambrose: he always knew exactly what to say.
“Yes…Yes, I’m good. You caught me napping, I’m afraid.” I answered, speaking my first words to my fiancé in months. It was both surreal and uncomfortable.
He pushed off of the pillar, moving with purpose towards me. He placed his hands on my shoulders exactly how Jesse had moments earlier. I couldn’t help but notice that they were smaller than Jesse’s. And colder.
He suddenly lowered his lips onto mine, hands moving a bit lower onto my waist. The kiss startled me at first, but the longer it went on, the more I melted into him, the doubt and dread slowly ebbing away.
He pulled out of it first.
“What do you say we go for a little walk? We could go down to the beach.” He said, his blue eyes warm for once.
Even though I hated the beach, I agreed.
We began the short walk down the cliffside, Ambrose doing most of the talking. He told me about the gold camp, the terrible mail service, and most of all, how much he missed me.
This Ambrose felt different. He was talking to me, really talking to me. He was kind, and kept stopping to kiss me.
“Who was that guy that opened the door?” Ambrose suddenly asked, interrupting my story about something Hannah said last week.
“What?” I answered, a bit confused at first. “Oh, you mean Jesse. He and a group of men have been staying at the boarding house for a few weeks now. I’m not exactly sure why they’re here, but they are all nice enough men.”
“I see.” Ambrose didn’t seem to like this answer too much. I could tell by the way his blue eyes grew hard. “And do you have a lot of…contact, with these men?”
“Um. No. Of course not, Ambrose. I’m much too busy to really socialize much…”
Lie. I just lied to him, and don’t feel a thing. I couldn’t tell him how much I talk to Jesse, of course. Ambrose is a possessive man.
Ambrose seemed a bit amused at this. He let out a quick chuckle.
“What’s so funny?” I asked him with a confused smile.
“What could you possibly be busy with? Laundry and cooking, you mean?” He responded, smiling even wider now.
“No, Ambrose, that is not all I do. I read with my father, and I take care of the horses, and I…” I wanted to say that I spent time with Jesse, learning about things, but I knew this would not help my cause. I was slightly offended at his accusations.
“Okay, okay. Calm down.”
We had finally reached the beach. It was definitely pretty, I’ll admit that, but I had no desire to really ever visit the beach. I dislike the sand, and the smell, and I get too hot in the dresses I’m always wearing.
We walked around quietly for a few minutes, neither one of us having much to say. I already missed the dust and wood and horses from the boarding house, so I started walking back towards home.
“Mother wants us to get married within the month.” Ambrose told me as we walked back up the steep path.
I stopped dead in my tracks.
“So soon? Aren’t you leaving again?” I said, a bit of panic welling up inside of me.
“Well dammit Ella, don’t sound too excited. I will stay long enough for the wedding, and long enough for you to get settled in.”
“I don’t mean it that way, Ambrose. I just mean…that’s not much time to plan a wedding…” I answered, trailing off. I nervously ran a hand through my thick hair.
“I suppose it is, but Mother insists. She’s so eager to have grandchildren.”
I could feel my own eyes widen at that statement. He kept walking on as if nothing was the matter. Children? I am most certainly not ready for children, especially not when it’s my soon to-be mother-in-law that wants them.
We said nothing else as we reached the house. Ambrose was quickly becoming distant again, I could see it in the way his eyes barely noticed me as he kissed my forehead goodbye. For once, I didn’t care.
After he left, I went to the stable. I slipped into Shadow’s stall and began stroking him. I buried my face into his wiry mane, trying to staunch the flow of tears down my face.
Moments later, I felt big, warm hands on my shoulders gently pulling me away from Shadow. I turned around and buried my face into Jesse’s chest, sobbing uncontrollably.