All That Remains

Chapter 5

July said nothing for a few days when Clara told him of her decision to promote Dish above him. He held his peace, but a begrudging feeling brewed within him whenever he thought about it for too long. July knew his skill with horses was no match for Dish's – that had been evident to all from the first day the younger man worked at the ranch. But he felt aggrieved, because he had been there longer and had certainly worked hard. He might not be able to discuss the horses with Clara the way Dish could, or have the easy comradeship Dish did with Cholo, or be friendly with the girls the way he was. July even wondered if his own son preferred Dish over him.

Jealousy burned within him, especially when he watched as Clara and Dish worked together in the lot. July knew theirs was only a professional relationship. Dish had also made that clear from the first moment he arrived at the ranch – he was here for the other woman and her alone. Nevertheless July was quietly pleased when Dish excitedly announced that Lorena had agreed to marry him. The wedding would occur as soon as the preacher arrived on his usual rounds, and the notion had started July thinking. Dish might have been promoted above him but if he and Clara…

July had thought of little else but marrying Clara ever since Dish had proposed to Lorena. Before it had only been a dream he rarely indulged in, as Clara was such a difficult woman to grow close to. But she had taken him in, and Martin too, so July fancied she cared for him a little. Now all he had to do was work up the courage to ask her. But he had little idea how to broach the subject, having had no practice at proposing. He barely remembered how he'd come to marry Elmira, or which one of them even suggested it in the first place. Ellie was a distant memory when Clara was around.

He watched her now, checking over a horse that Dish had recently broken. She seemed pleased at the job he'd done, and Clara was always pleasant to be around when she was happy about the horses.

"He's a fine gelding," July offered from the fence when he was leaning against.

"He is that. This bunch will fetch a good price."

July didn't miss that Clara's response was delivered to Dish rather than him. He looked away. Perhaps he would wait a while before talking about marriage with her… after Dish and the other woman were wed. July nodded to himself, happy with his decision. Maybe she'd be more receptive to the suggestion after seeing another couple get married. July pretended Clara was the sentimental type, allowing himself that dream for now.

Dish and Lorena's wedding was the least sentimental Clara had witnessed. The preacher arrived at the ranch a few days later, tired and irritable from his long journey visiting the properties surrounding Ogallala and eager to return to town. The moment he arrived at the ranch Dish had been a nervous wreck. Having successfully avoided Lorena apart from a few very brief conversations, he was now convinced she would call off the betrothal as soon as their wedding day arrived. But to his surprise she did not. Lorena donned her lavender dress and accepted the wilting wildflowers that Betsey had gathered, and stood next to him in Clara's parlor while the preacher performed the ceremony. Dish was in a state of shock throughout and for the remainder of the day. It only lasted a few minutes, and then he and Lorena were married.

Clara prepared a handsome meal which the preacher attacked with gusto, but it was a somber celebration of their union. Lorena had barely said a word all evening and Dish still wore an expression of stunned disbelief. Sally was feeling sorry for herself and Martin had developed a cough which made Clara anxious and July uneasy over her anxiousness. All in all it was an uncomfortable few hours that almost everyone was pleased to have over.

They sat in the parlor after dinner, but conversation was stilted and sparse. The preacher began softly snoring into his glass of whisky until Clara roused him. She was relieved to escort him to the guest room for the night so she could tend to Martin. The girls followed their mother's lead and wished everyone good night, and July and Cholo returned to their bunks with apparent eagerness to be gone from the cheerless parlor.

Dish glanced uneasily at Lorena once Clara wished them good night, not missing the look that passed between the two women. Lorena remained in her seat, ignoring him, which made him feel all the more agitated. He sat down beside her again, unsure what to say, but within a moment she rose to her feet and began to walk out of the room. Dish remained where he was. Lorena knew he was waiting for her to say something or give him some indication about what he was to do, which aggravated her. Didn't he know, couldn't he see, how terrified she was, how much she was dreading what was to come? Lorena breathed shakily, forcing herself to keep those feelings at bay.

"My room is out back," she said, stopping in the doorway when he had not moved.

Warmth flooded into Dish's face and eyes but Lorena looked away. She left the room and this time he followed.

Soon they were alone in her bedroom, now their bedroom, she thought begrudgingly. Dish looked at her nervously from the opposite side of the bed. Lorena turned away and began undoing her dress, her fingers fumbling nervously at the buttons. With a deep breath she slipped the dress from her body, shivering in her shimmy. She could feel Dish's eyes on her which made her even more nervous. She kept her back turned when she heard him pulling off his boots. He made quick work of his clothes and had slipped under the quilt before she could bear to face him. Not meeting his eyes, she slowly climbed into the bed beside him.

They both lay on their backs, bodies not touching which was quite a feat as the bed was not large. Lorena swallowed with difficulty, trying to fight off the terror that was creeping up from her stomach. She had been dreading this moment and had contemplated refusing him, knowing she could easily do it. One sharp look and a word or two and she knew Dish would leave her alone. But it would only be putting off the inevitable. They were married, and sooner or later she had to live up to the responsibilities of being a wife.

She felt Dish's hand brush her arm as he turned on his side to face her. Lorena felt the tremor in his touch and realized that Dish was nervous too. It didn't lessen her fear, however, or make her feel any pity for him. She swallowed again and chanced a brief look in his direction to let him know she was ready.

Dish was gentle – she'd forgotten that he was. Even in his eagerness to have her he still made sure he didn't hurt her. His eyes sought Lorena's before he entered her, but she turned her head away as she felt a pain she had not felt for years.

Lorena had not been with Gus after he rescued her. For all his jokes about cutting the cards he had never approached her in that way again. She had been scared that it meant he did not care for her, but secretly she was relieved.

Now she found herself under a man once more, even if he was taking care to be tender with her, like she might break. Lorena thought distractedly that she might at that. She found herself imagining she was back sitting with Gus outside Wilbarger's old tent, as they had done so many evenings on the trail. He was drinking coffee and telling her stories while she leaned against his arm and played with the fraying sleeve of his shirt. Lorena refused to let her mind wander back to when she was taken by Blue Duck, or her days in the dusty room above the Dry Bean. Instead she thought of Gus, the sound his voice made as it rumbled in his chest, and the way his whiskers tickled her cheek when he kissed it.

She made no sound, but when Dish finished and rolled onto his back once more, she found to her surprise that tears had run down either side of her face. Lorena turned away from him immediately, surreptitiously wiping her face and she feigned falling asleep. She sensed his disappointment that she would not lay in his arms but she didn't care. Lorena wanted to dream of Gus again, to escape to a time when she had felt safe and protected.

Dish whispered good night but she did not respond.