It was odd he thought to be allowed into a town openly. Cold nagging fear gripped at his chest. If this whole journey ended in disappointment he didn't know what he would do with what was left of his life. He would rather have died at the Hand of God than try to start an honest life by himself. It was the same feeling he had gotten when he had ridden back to find Sara, only to be met with an empty house.
He looked in through the window after receiving no answer to his knocks, what furniture that was within had been covered and pushed to the side. Any hope that she was simply visiting a friend flew out the window. He felt nauseous, and turned to look up the street wondering what his next move should be. That is when he noticed a man looking in his direction. Charlie walked towards him and the man just stood as if he had been waiting for him all along.
"Are you looking for Sara?"
"Yeah, last I knew she was here."
The man studied Charlie hard for a moment remembering all of what Sara had told him the day she had decided to pick up and leave.
"You're one of Wade's gang?"
"Wade ain't got a gang no more."
"So I heard."
"You know where she is?"
"Not specifically." The man could feel Charlie gauging him, and felt uneasy. He had never been this close to killer like him before and could only feel amazement that he was in any way connected to sweet Sara. He could also tell Charlie was starting to get a desperate look to him, and he knew a man like him needed some reason to keep going, to stay straight.
"She left pretty soon after your group came through here: I know where she was headed, but I'm not sure she stayed."
Charlie stayed his rising impatience and waited for the stranger to tell him what he wanted to know. Not his usual way of getting information, but he did not need to go do something stupid and ruin the pardon he had gotten. That would be like a slap in the face to Wade, and a bullet into the heart of whatever might be between him and Sara.
"I shouldn't tell you this being as she asked me not to."
"Then why'd you even wait."
"I believe there are some men that deserve a second chance. And after what you and Wade done I think you might be one of those men." He motioned for Charlie to follow him down the dusty street. Some people barely concealing their weapons as they passed by. "Not everyone knows about the pardon yet so its best you stay with me until you're out of town and avoid settlements for the next little while."
Charlie nodded as they walked to where he had left his horse. He tried to hide the limp but the pain was too much even for him. The wound just would not let him be, and he figured riding hard on it was not doing it any favors.
When they reached the horse, Charlie mounted slowly and made his way to the edge of town. He looked down at the man who was petting his horse. The man looked up squinting in the bright sunlight.
"She was going to visit her father. After that I don't know."
Charlie looked out over the vast plain before looking back down only to find the man had begun to walk off.
"Thank you," Charlie called out to the man, the words foreign to his tongue.
He simply raised his hand in goodbye and recognition without even a pause in his stride. Not turning around until he heard the sound of Charlie riding out to meet the setting sun.
Atlantic City came into view over the small hill just as it had so many months before. What had it been a year? Seemed like an eternity anyway. It had been a long trip especially with him having to break down and see someone about his leg. Nothing they could really do was all they said. So he had stayed off of it for a few days, and stretched it as often as he could. The only evidence of that day in Contention was the slightest limp imperceptible to many.
He descended passing the small cemetery where Sara's father was buried. He spared a glance praying she had stayed around the town. He didn't know how much longer he could keep up the search. Nothing seemed to have changed in the small town. It was a little emptier than before, but the railroad had pulled out of going through that area so most people had left with the broken promise. The few who had remained didn't spare a second glance. They where only there to milk the mine before it ran out and then be on their way.
Charlie dismounted and led his horse the short distance to the saloon where he hoped his long journey would end. The rickety boards creaked under his weight as he slowly pushed open the double hinged doors. The place was dusty and very little light streamed through the closed up windows but it wasn't entirely devoid of the traces of human occupation. The counter was cleaned and the kitchen had a fire going in it. He didn't hear any movement upstairs and decided the kitchen was his best bet.
He could tell someone was there as he got closer, the familiar shuffle of feet and clatter of dishes reaching his ears. He eased around the corner relief flooding through his veins.
She stood her back to him bent slightly over a pot in the fire stirring it slowly. Her hair and clothes were messier than he could ever remember but she seemed to be healthy, tired but healthy. Every word he had planned to say flew out the window and he found himself unable to utter a sound as he stood there watching. Sara turned to reach for a bowl when his figure caught the corner of her eye and she jumped almost knocking everything on the small table over.
Charlie took a few steps forward one hand raised outward, "I'm sorry I didn't mean to startle ya."
She took a step back mindful of the fire as she eyed him warily. "I…I thought you were dead."
"They said Wade killed the entire gang in Contention, in exchange for a pardon." She motioned to a small newspaper on the corner of the table.
"Well sort of. We did."
"Wade and I killed off the gang and he had made a bargain for my pardon as long as he got on the train."
"Oh," She said sitting down at the table lost in her own thoughts, "Well it's a good thing it was only for him getting on the train."
"He busted out of Yuma two weeks ago."
Charlie laughed, "Figures."
"It's not funny."
"It is if you know him." Charlie said easing into one of the chairs opposite. He looked around, "So I reckon this place needs a little fixing up."
"Not worth it. Everyone's leaving and Atlantic City will be a ghost town in a year…or less."
"How long you plan on staying?"
"Till I hear back from my relatives in Baltimore."
Charlie nodded. He had been skirting the reason he had come the entire conversation. And despite how short it had been he didn't know of anything else to talk about at the moment.
"I've got enough money to buy some land and keep us comfortable for quite a while." His eyes never leaving her down turned face.
"Charlie." She said it in a half whisper her eyes never leaving the wooden table in front of her.
"I'm not perfect by far, but I can try. I've done farm work before I can do it again," He placed his hand over hers and she raised her eyes, "But only if you're with me."
That was it; that was the ultimatum. Sara goes with him and gives it a chance or he knew he'd be back in a downward spiral. It was a fact plain and simple. She stood and walked over to the small window he had looked out of so long ago.
"I do this you're completely clean."
She turned to him uncrossing her arms, "You listen to me, respect me, and never lie to me. I don't care how horrible the truth might be you never lie." She said emotion rising in her voice, her face determinedly set.
"I swear on my life." Charlie stood and made his way over brushing back the hair that had escaped and fallen in tendrils over her face. She raised her hand to his stopping his movement. "I love you."
He'd never spoken those three words to anyone, and he felt his heart skip a beat when her face lit up with a smile. He kissed her before she could even answer pulling her close as he grabbed onto his second chance, his chance to amend what his life had been.
"Charlie!" Sara stepped out onto the small porch of the ranch house, "Charlie!" She hollered again scanning around the small barnyard for her husband. It was hard to believe it had been four years since she had consented to give him a real chance, four years of difficulties.
They had moved to Kentucky where Charlie managed to buy 45 acres of land. It was beautiful she had to admit, nestled into their own private valley, a small stream running along the backside of the house, lush forest running up the sides of the small mountains, and enough open land for crops. The first year had gone well, but then the drought hit and they had not harvested a decent crop the past three years. It was like that all over the area and most had it worse off. Charlie still had a considerable amount of money from his past occupation to keep them going, but they could not use much of it without raising suspicion. If they could trace the money, the banks could technically take it back.
Bad crops just seemed to escalate the fact they argued about everything. Rare were the days when they did not share a harsh word between them. Despite that fact, he never broke his promise. Charlie never lied and he listened even if he did not want to.
He finally emerged from barn wiping his hands on his pants. He made his way over to the house bracing himself for whatever was happening. He would never have figured himself for one with patience, but it was a skill he had learned to master quickly. If you asked him, he would say he had the patience of a saint.
"What is it now?" Patience he had gained yes, ability to temper what he felt not so much.
"We need to talk."
Sara pursed her lips together, biting back a number of retorts floating about in her mind. Underneath everything, she had to fight back the giddy smile that was threatening to burst forth. Charlie noticed she was in a decidedly good mood despite the cross look on her face and how she had her arms crossed.
"So what was it you wanted to talk about?" He asked a coy grin reaching his face.
"How's the crop?"
"Charlie." She simply stated back.
"Better than last year, but we still need some more rain."
"Yes it is." Charlie made his way up onto the steps where he reclined in one of the chairs, "Now what is the real reason you interrupted me?"
Sara was still facing the barn but she turned her head to look over at him over her shoulder.
"Charlie….I'm pregnant." She waited for him to say anything at all. A minute went by before she looked back over at where he was still sitting. His mouth was hanging open in the most comical look of surprise she had ever seen on a human being. His face slowly morphed into a beaming smile, one she had not seen since the day they had been married.
"I'm going to be a father." He said to himself in a whisper, joy and trepidation swirling around inside.
She could only nod as he stood and crossed the distance between them in a flash twirling her in his arms. He kissed her softly resting his hand on her stomach, even more determined to get the crop in that year.
Fortune seemed finally to be smiling upon them. The rains came and the crops grew, as did Sara. Harvest came and went with the best pull they had had since settling. Throughout the entire winter, Charlie worked constantly to make sure she was comfortable and warm. It was not long before spring came and the wildflowers were beginning to pop out of the ground as small shoots.
Sara felt as big a horse as she nearly waddled around the house. By her calculations, the baby would be coming any day and she could not wait to get rid of her passenger. She and Charlie had not discussed names afraid to do so would jinx the birth. The midwife had said she was coming along very well but complications could always arise at the last minute. It was early dawn and Charlie had already been out on the farm. In those past nine months, everything had changed between them. It was as if they were finally together, a couple, a family. She pulled two plates out of the cupboard and began to prepare the breakfast. Charlie came in kissing her temple before wandering to the bedroom to get cleaned up. It was almost time to start sowing the field again for the year, and he was preparing everything in advance.
That is when he heard a sharp cry from the kitchen. Heart pounding he raced back down the small hallway to find Sara doubled over holding onto the kitchen table for dear life.
"I think we need the midwife."
Without a word, he lifted her easily and carried her down the hall laying her on the bed.
"Just stay as calm as you can. I'll be back soon." Kissing her forehead he sprinted to the barn mounted his horse and rode off quickly to find the midwife. Lucky for them she only lived two miles away and had been expecting them to call any day. As soon as Charlie rode up she was prepared with horse having seen him coming around the bend.
Charlie paced outside the room. The midwife and her young helper had decided it best to keep him out side to fetch things if they needed them. An arrangement he hated as he heard Sara scream again loader than he had ever heard. A brief moment of silence followed and then he heard the shrill wailing of a baby. He sank down in the chair, officially a father, when he heard Sara scream out again. Fear ripped through his chest. Something was not right. A few minutes later the baby's cries increased as everything seemed to die down. Every fiber of him wanted to rip the door off its hinges but he could not move. He stood there paralyzed until the midwife opened the door. The smile on her face unnerved him.
"Congratulations Mr. Prince you have twins."
"What?" He asked dumbly not sure his brain was processing everything correctly.
"A boy and a girl." She said opening the door so he could come in.
He stepped into the room his eyes immediately going to the bed where he found his Sara lying peacefully with one bundle in her arms. She was pale and tired looking but no worse for wear. She smiled up at him before turning her attention back to the baby.
"Charlie." The young helper said gaining his attention as she handed over another small bundle, "Your daughter."
He took the small form gingerly, afraid he would break it, before moving to sit beside the bed. The two women quickly finished cleaning up before moving out of the room. Charlie finally raised his eyes to look at Sara again and his son.
"Which one came first?"
"Little Ben here can claim the role of the older brother." She said meeting his gaze.
"I figure we owe him everything we have right now. This is my way of saying thank you."
"I think he would like that." Charlie said nodding, turning his face back to the girl who was trying to get his attention.
"And this little angel?"
"It's up to you." She said knowing what he would use if given the chance.
"Belle, after my mother."
A/N and that is all folks. Big thank you to all who have read and reviewed this story!