Wednesday, April 27, 2005

McKenna Monday...Chapter 6: Gunslinger's Grave by McKenna

With every day that passed, I became more anxious about the arrival of Ambrose. I went from impatiently awaiting his return to nervously thinking about it every moment spent awake. Why am I so nervous? I should be excited. He is my fiancée, the love of my life. He is smart, handsome, and successful. What more could I want? 

“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. 

“Children. Wow.”

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. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Chapter 5: Gunslinger's Grave by McKenna

McKenna Monday is here! We're featuring the western romance Gunslinger's Grave by McKenna on Mondays, and the regular Five Dollar Mail chapter on Thursdays. To read GG from the beginning, click on the far right Gunslinger's Grave tab on the top menu, or click here.

I walked alone into town the next afternoon. I considered myself lucky, for I lived just up the main dirt road from the town of Carmel, where the various stores, homes, and the Devil’s Blood Saloon were located. The jail was located right smack next to the saloon, which was an incredibly smart real-estate choice. I primarily needed to go to the general store for my basic needs. 

I had overslept this morning; barely making it to breakfast. Hannah did not seem to mind, which was unusual. Our boarders had gone into town or wherever it was that boarders went before breakfast, so she did not have to cook a huge meal. Maybe that was what explained her cheery mood. After breakfast, I went to check on Shadow, hoping to see Jesse there. He wasn’t.

I thought about many things on my short walk to town. I thought of Ambrose, and about the dangers he must be facing in the gold camps. I had heard stories of the savage, heartless people there, and how they would stop at nothing to get a little money in their denim pockets. I shuddered just thinking about it.

The dry dirt crunched under the bottom of the flat black shoes I was wearing. After a full day of shunning shoes, it felt strange to be in them again, but I worried about what I might step in if I went barefoot through town. And how unladylike! My short-sleeved rust-colored dress was not very thick, so the midday heat did not affect me as much as the day before. 

After a few more minutes of walking down the road, I arrived to the little town of Carmel. There were a few saloons; the most popular being The Devil’s Blood saloon. A few assorted shops and a post office graced the busiest area of the street. The midday rush is my favorite time to be in town; watching the various people fighting and chattering excited me in ways I could not imagine. 

Walking past the already rowdy Devil’s Blood, I turned left into the post office. The door had been propped open by Mr. Smith, the kindly man who runs the Carmel Post Office, most likely to let a breeze in. 

“Miss Daley! Fancy seein’ you here, girl. How’s your daddy?” Mr. Smith asked me as I stepped into the empty post office. Mr. Smith and my father have been good friends ever since my father bought the boarding house. 

“He’s good, Mr. Smith. He’s been keeping busy with the boarding house, as usual,” I responded, taking the mail from his outstretched hand. 

“And Miss Hannah?” 

“She’s as chatty as ever,” I told him, laughing at the thought of Hannah and her constant talking. 

“That’s great to hear, Miss Daley. Tell them both I said hey, and to come visit every so often.”

“I will, Mr. Smith,” I responded, waving to him as I sidestepped the citizens continuously trickling into the post office. I felt lucky to have beat the midday rush.

I was not so lucky at the general store. It was packed with people; women buying items for dinner, men buying tobacco and toiletries, and children purchasing candy. It would take at least an hour for my order to be filled. I took the little pad of paper off of the front counter and wrote out my order list, careful to write my name at the top of the paper. Mr. Jameson, the owner of the general store, would complete my order once he cleared out the crowd. I figured I could return in an hour to get the items.

After five minutes of trying to escape the general store, only to be stopped every few seconds by someone looking to make small talk, I emerged onto the street. I stood in the shade of the store for a few seconds, trying to determine what to do with my time. I still held the mail I had just picked up in my hands, so making sure that nobody was looking, I slipped it down the bodice of my dress. Now free to roam about the town freely, I leisurely stepped into the dressmaker’s shop. 

The dress store was only for those who could afford to purchase ready-made dresses, instead of making their own. Hannah and I alternated between purchasing from the dress store and making our own. It wasn’t that we couldn’t afford the seamstress, Hannah just really enjoyed sewing. The shop was run by a little old woman that everyone called Nanny, and various girls my age that had no family or other places to work. I have no idea what her real name is and I doubted anyone else did, either. Nanny is famous around town for being as tough as a horseshoe, but incredibly fair and generous towards her employees. I loved having conversations with Nanny, as she payed no attention to manners and swore like a cowboy.

As soon as I looked around the store, I knew my day was about to darken. Ambrose’s little sister, Rebecca, and his mother, Loretta, were the only people inside of Nanny’s shop. They simultaneously looked over at me, Loretta’s face breaking into the cool smile that I was sure Ambrose inherited, and Rebecca’s face taking on an air of disdain and boredom. 

“Ella, my dear, it’s wonderful to see you. You look so thin in that dress, has Hannah been feeding you?” she asked me. Loretta Cassidy is a complicated woman. She always managed to slip in something critical about Hannah, even though Hannah did nothing but worship Loretta. She and her daughter are far thinner than I am, but she always feels the need to point out my weight. 

“Of course she has, Mrs. Cassidy. It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve seen you two. Have either of you heard from Ambrose?” I asked them, accepting a brisk kiss on the cheek from Loretta.

“Of course we have, dear. He writes frequently,” she told me. She leaned in and quietly spoke. “I am not supposed to say anything to you and spoil the surprise, but he is coming home soon, presumably to see you.” 

I barely registered that admission. I was still stuck on the “he writes frequently”. Ambrose has written me a grand total of two letters in the four months he had been gone, but he has been writing his mother frequently? This angered me. 

“That’s fantastic! I have missed him so much these past months,” I answered, trying to shake off the uneasy feeling growing in my chest. 

A little noise erupted from Rebecca, who had remained silent up until then. It sounded as if she had tried to stifle a cough, but her face looked as if she was trying to hide a smile. Although she was a year younger than me, I was incredibly intimidated by her. 

“What is it, Rebecca?” Loretta asked exasperatedly. In my opinion, Rebecca seemed like the problematic child, and Ambrose, the golden boy. 

“Nothing, mother. I just cannot fathom as to why anyone would ever miss Ambrose,” Rebecca responded snakily, grimacing as if the thought caused her physical pain.

Before I even knew what was happening, a delicate hand shot out and slapped Rebecca across the face. The cracking noise that Loretta just inflicted upon her own daughter made me cringe. Never, in all my years of misbehavior and backtalk, had I ever been slapped, let alone with such force. Rebecca’s only reaction was her hand shooting up to protect the bright red welt emerging on her milky skin. I could see shiny tears glistening in her blue eyes that matched my own, but they did not spill over. 

“Don’t you dare ever speak another word like that. Ambrose is working hard for our family, little girl. Harder than you’ll ever work in your life,” Loretta spoke harshly. 

I could see where Loretta was coming from, but I disagreed with her harsh treatment of Rebecca. I can’t imagine myself slapping anyone, for any reason. 

“My apologies, dear. We all miss Ambrose, just as you do. Now, if you could excuse us, we have to be going,” Loretta spoke, grabbing Rebecca’s arm roughly and pulling her towards the door. 

I waited a few minutes before I also stepped out onto the street. The store was just making me feel uncomfortable after seeing what I saw. I coughed as I walked down the street, trying not to choke on the heavy dust brought up by the traffic. Not much time had passed, but I decided to just head back to the general store and try to get my groceries. 

The store was miraculously calm when I reentered. I walked right up to the counter, smiling kindly at the flustered-looking Mr. Jameson. 
“Miss Daley, here’s your things,” He spoke, handing me two bags full of my requested items. I handed him my payment then left the store, emerging once again into the warm sunlight. 

I began my short walk back to the boarding house, enjoying the bustle of the roads. I was halfway to the house when I heard a rumble behind me. 

Six horses ran by me, kicking up a storm of dust. The group of boarders were back from their little trip to God knows where. I noticed that Billy was also on a horse, but it did not appear to be Shadow. A little flicker of rage flowed through my body. 

The force of the riders running by me caused me to drop both bags of my groceries onto the dusty road. The anger intensified, and I clenched my jaw before bending down to pick them up.

All but one of the riders continued up the road to the boarding house. I watched as the tall rider of the regal black horse dropped away from the group and came back towards me. Before I knew what was happening, Jesse had swung off of his horse and scooped up both grocery bags, holding one out to me.

I grudgingly took it, expecting him to get back on his horse and ride to the house, but surprisingly, he took the reins in his hand and began walking.

"Are you coming, Señorita?" He asked, turning to look back at me, reins in one hand and a grocery bag in another.

Slightly dazed at the fact a man was helping out with such a mundane task, I followed him slowly.

I couldn't help but admire the entire backside of Jesse Salinas. His buttocks were round and the shape perfectly visible in the comfortable black trousers he wore tucked into brown boots. I could see the tan muscles of his back through the flimsy white material of his shirt.

A cough yanked me from my thoughts. Jesse was still walking, but he had his head turned back towards me and he was looking at me questioningly. I tried not to blush, knowing I had just been caught staring.

“Do you need any help?” He asked me, handling the horse and bag with ease.


His inky eyebrows shot up at my terse response, but he said nothing further. His pace slowed to match my own. 

“So…” I finally spoke, unsure of what to say.

“So.” He answered, obviously trying not to laugh.

“Where have you been all day?” I asked. I figured this was a safe enough question.

Apparently he disagreed, because he immediately looked uncomfortable, visibly struggling to find the right answer. His mouth opened to reply, then shut again. He was clearly trying to come up with an acceptable answer. 

“Never mind. How is Shadow?” I asked him. The horse had been a recurring thought in my mind all day. 

“I was just thinking about him. Shall we go have a look?” Jesse responded, shifting the bag of groceries under his arm. 

Reaching the house, I set the groceries inside then went to the stables with Jesse. Shadow’s tail twitched at the sight of us. He seemed much better than the day before, the treatment had obviously worked. 

“Ambrose is coming home soon,” I blurted out. I immediately felt embarrassed for sharing this information with Jesse. He knows nothing about me or my life, how could he care about this?

As expected, he looked a bit bewildered at my statement. 

“I see. This is a good thing, no?” Jesse asked. He glanced across Shadow to me. 

“Yes, of course! I miss him so much. It will be strange seeing him again, though. It’s been such a long time…”

“Tell me about Ambrose.”

My mind blanched a little more than expected at this. How do I honestly explain Ambrose? To be honest with myself, I would have to admit that I don’t know him that well. I know as much as Ambrose wants me to know. 

“Well… He’s sharp. Mentally, physically. Nothing gets by him. He holds a lot of anger.” I answered, deciding to just be honest. 

Jesse nodded, rubbing Shadow behind the ears. He seemed to be quietly speculating my words. 

“Is that all you have to say about him? No memories, silly stories?” He finally asked me, his voice a bit harder than it was moments earlier.

“Ambrose is complicated. And busy. When he is home, he aids his father in business and when we are together, his mind is always somewhere else…He has little time for anything but business.” 

As the words came out of my mouth, a heavy dread began to set in. What sort of life am I getting myself into? Do I honestly want to be with someone so preoccupied with himself and business? Feeling my hands beginning to shake, I set them on Shadows neck and behind moving them across his smooth hair. 

“What about you, Jesse? There’s really no girl out there?” I asked, trying to deflect the conversation. 

“No, señorita. There has never been a girl for me. Only Caballo,” he told me, pointing at the horse he was riding earlier. His voice gave a strange lilt when he said “Caballo”, not unlike when he says “señorita”.

“Caballo?” I inquired. 

Jesse gave a little chuckle. It was a nice chuckle, one that resonated warmth.

“Caballo means “horse” in Spanish. That’s the language you hear me speaking sometimes. Some words just slip in by habit,” He said, rubbing the back of his neck.

“You named your horse “horse”?” I asked him incredulously.

“No. I named him Caballo.”

I burst out laughing at this. I suppose I could not point fingers, as my cat was named Cat. 

“Alright, Señorita. You should go to the house before your father starts to worry about you,” he said, smiling his cheeky grin at me. 

I shook my head at him and followed his advice, returning to the house to help Hannah make supper.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Chapter 4: Gunslinger's Grave by McKenna

Jesse beat me to the front door of the house. I saw that he was patiently waiting, holding the door open for me, so I sped up my pace a bit, thankful that it was starting to cool down outside. I shot a small smile towards him as I walked through the door. 

I stepped towards the dining room, eager to eat some of Hannah’s stew. I could hear laughter from my father and Hannah. I suppose I smelled like horse, but I was just too hungry to care. 

A hush fell over the room as I entered. Hannah and my father stared at the bottom of my dress, and then at Jesse. I took a seat next to Hannah, hoping to eat quickly then politely excuse myself so that I could bathe. This, alas, did not seem to be a wish that would be granted anytime soon, for Jesse sat down next to me, apparently with the intent of making conversation. I internally sighed. 

Hannah stood up and filled two plates with food, then handed each to Jesse and I. 

“Thank you, Ms. Boone. This smells delicious,” Jesse told Hannah, accepting the plate with a charming smile. 

“You are very welcome Jesse,” Hannah responded, returning the smile. “Although I must say, Ella did help with the biscuits. We had such a grand time making them, it put a smile on my face.”

Good for me, I thought, trying hard not to roll my eyes. There should be more to life than biscuit making! Apparently Jesse agreed, for he directed a chuckle towards me so slight, I wasn’t sure if it actually happened. 

I turned up a corner of my mouth at Hannah, silently cursing her for being so boring. She did not see my smile, however. She had already sat back down, with her attentions on my father and the rest of the men. 

“I think the horse was more interesting, was it not, Señorita?” Jesse’s velvety voice broke my concentration on my food. “His words were quite thought-provoking, if I do say so myself.”

His words weren’t even that funny, but I snorted into the cup of coffee that I was taking a gulp out of, splashing myself with the warm liquid. All eyes at the table snapped to me, and Jesse burst out laughing. 

“Ella, what is going on?” My father asked in an amused tone. Hannah passed me a brown cloth napkin disapprovingly.

I mopped my face, trying not to laugh again. Luckily, the coffee only splashed onto my face and a little bit of my dress, which was already destroyed anyway, so it was not that big of a deal. Hopefully the Cassidy women don’t find out. That would be quite unfortunate, since these damages to the dress are the result of one very attractive man.

Stop, I thought to myself at the idea of Jesse being considered attractive. It is a sin to think of any other man besides Ambrose, who has as much beauty as Jesse, but in a very different way. Ambrose is sharp, always quick with his tongue and admirable in an intimidating way. Jesse is also intimidating in his own way, but more physically then emotionally. From what I’ve seen, he's friendly. He does not to seem to have the disdain for the world like Ambrose, and he is sure to make a nice girl happy one day. 

Once the excitement over my little mishap had died down, my father cleared his throat, his surefire indicator that he was about to start asking questions. 

“So, Jesse. Where are you men headed from here?” Father asked, sipping his own coffee carefully. I suppose he was being cautious after what happened to me. 

“Nowhere in particular. We will probably head to a gold camp somewhere around here,” Jesse answered, turning his head towards me slightly. “We are not in any rush.” 

“What gold camp?” I jumped in, feeling only slightly bad for interrupting my father. 

“I’m not sure, señorita.”

“Maybe you will see my fiancé, Ambrose Cassidy. He’s at one of those gold camps, I don’t know which, but he’s there.” I told him, glad that the only person listening to me was Jesse. 

“Fiancé, wow. Congratulations. How long have you two been courting?” Jesse responded. 

“Oh, well, we never exactly courted. He had to leave soon after our engagement, so I suppose we will have more time when he gets back,” I said, embarrassed about telling these things to Jesse. 

“I see,” he answered, obviously not understanding at all. “You must love him dearly, to wait for him.”

“Yes. I truly do,” I murmured, hoping I sounded convincing, because I really do love Ambrose. He is the best man for me.

“Well, then that is all you need.”

“What about you, Jesse? Do you have anyone?” I asked, hoping that I did not sound rude or nosy. Hannah has accused me of both on multiple occasions. 

His carved face hardened a bit at that question, causing his features to appear even stronger and finer than before. I found myself looking at his eyes again. Beneath the long lashes were eyes of a very curious color; brown like Hannah’s, but much lighter. I had never seen anything like them. 

“No, señorita, I have nobody but my horse and my men. I have no problem with keeping it that way.”

His words made me sad in a way that I could not explain, but I also felt as if I could relate. In a sense, all I have is my cat, my father and Hannah, and of course Ambrose, once he returns. I do not have many friends my age, all of the friends I made in the boarding house were much older and did not stick around for very long.

Understanding that there is some sort of sore spot with this subject, I stood up and began clearing the table. I felt the men’s eyes on me as I made my way to their side of the table, and I did my best to ignore them without seeming hostile. The chatter throughout the table continued, and I moved into the kitchen with all of the plates stacked on my arms, being extra cautious not to drop them and make a scene. 

Hannah usually washed the dishes if I cleared them, so I went back up to my room to get ready for bed. It had been such a long day, and I was positively exhausted. 

My bare feet made no noise as I moved up the stairs and to my room, where I shut the cream-colored door quietly. There was a small washroom adjacent to my bedroom; in it was a large tin tub that was amazing for keeping the water hot, a chamber pot, and a little box to put the dirty clothes that Hannah needs to clean in. There was, of course, an outhouse at our boarding house, but I rarely used it, for it was filled with spiders. 

I put my hand on the little pump of the bathtub and began pushing the hot water out. The hot water came from a little tank in the laundry room, which was right below my room. I pumped until the tub was full, then took my soiled dress off and threw it in the box. Hannah can decide what to do with it. I removed my slip, then stepped into the hot bath, sinking all the way down into the water. 

I relaxed for quite a while, enjoying the enticing water on my skin. I took my bar of soap to my hair first, scrubbing it thoroughly and taking care to remove any tangles as I went. I then washed my body, paying special attention to my feet. I ran out of soap just as I finished my bath, so I would have to go shopping tomorrow. 

I reached for the big drying cloth once I was done, and stepped from the tub’s now-murky water. I dried the moisture off of my skin, then ran a brush that belonged to my mother through my hair. 

After slipping into a sleeping gown and preparing my bed warmer with coals from my fireplace, I got into bed. 

I miss Ambrose